Sunday, March 25, 2007

Signs of Spring around here

First, are these new shoes we found at a little shop in Lititz. They are called "Funky Feet" and come in a variety of designs. These are a little too lively for me, and I wish I'd opted for something a bit more subdued. At only $20, these will probably go to Molly and I'll go back for something quieter. Don't get me wrong, I adore them. But at 51, they seem to mock me.

Next up, the creamy yellow crocuses outside the front door. The color is soft and gentle. It's kind of unusual, since generally the yellow crocuses are more riotous and golden. These are more buttery.
They've been buried under the snow twice since the first bloom, but don't seem any worse for wear.
I was wandering around earlier and noticed that some daylilies and hydrangeas need to be transplated.
The elderberry that was stomped into oblivion over the Christmas tree season seems to be making a comeback! Yay! And the J. Artichokes appear to be a big favorite with the groundhogs around here. They are laying all over the ground - partially eaten, with those big "munch marks" all over them. But there are still plenty for everyone. I'm having not-so-pleasant images of the tiny bits that they are gnawing sprouting up all over the place.

It's about time to wander down by the creek. Lots and lots of mud down there. In another month we'll be able to see if all the natives we transplanted last year made it. VA Bluebells, Trillium, Wild Ginger, Dutchman's Breeches.... I can't wait!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Almost Foraging Time Again!

The chickweed never did die off around here, but so many other greens are starting to pop up. It's time to mention the cookbook "Wild Foods for Every Table". Blogger seems to be having issues with photos at the moment (ggrrrrr...), but we'll load the cover later.
This cookbook amazed me as it came together! Not just typical recipes that foragers have known for years, but terrific innovative and interesting recipes that use the wild veggies in a way we aren't all used to - as a regular part of the the diet.
The recipes are incredible - for delightful soups, salads, main courses, side dishes, and desserts - as well as scrumptious dips, appetizers, and beverages. They came from experts in the field, and from people like me - who have been passionately learning about wild edibles for years.

My first recipes came from Billy Joe Tatum's Wild Foods Fieldguide and Cookbook. I adore that book, and still reach for it first for many plants. It is in sorry shape. This book isn't a fieldguide, but there are some pictures and some essays to help the novice get started. Wouldn't it be great if someday, somebody felt the same way about this cookbook as I do about Billy Joe's book?

Some other great wild foods books:
Edible Wild Plants - Peterson Field Guides - Lee Allen Peterson
Medicinal Plants Field Guide - Peterson Field Guides Steven Foster/James Duke
Using Wild and Wayside Plants - Nelson Coon
Weeds of the Northern U.S. and Canada - Royer and Dickinson
Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants - Badford Angier
Edible Wild Plants, A North American Field Guide - Elias & Dykeman
The Forager's Harvest - Samuel Thayer
Books by Steve Brill
Books by Peter Gail

I could go on and on - but beginning with a good field guide is important. Most larger bookstores have section devoted to Field Guides and/or Nature. Look for titles that involve the words Edible Wild Plants, Wild Food, Weeds, and Foraging.
If, every year, you could add one wild green to your diet and feel comfortable with it - how to find it, prepare it, and store it - think how much more diverse your diet would be, and how much more self-reliant! Most people only eat a few vegetables to begin with (tsk, tsk) so learning 6 or 8 wild veggies and a similar number of wild fruits and nuts can take you a giant step towards being able to find your own food.
Some people know a lot about wild grains and mushrooms too. Add a rabbit or pheasant from time to time, and a couple chickens and goats. Suddenly, the grocery store is taking a lot less money out of your pocket each week.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Welcome Spring!

I'm just a couple days late welcoming spring, but with the snow just melting from the yard, not too many people noticed.
Today was an "open the windows!" kind of day, and all the dust-bunnies blew out from under the furniture. It felt wonderful! The birds are certainly making the most of the longer days, and their calls and songs fill the air. The pine trees in the tree farm below the office window is home to thousands. They perch on the uppermost tips of the trees singing to each other. Just last week I threw seed out on top of the snow to get them through the last of the winter. We are lucky enough to be watching some partridges outside this year. They were raised and released last spring, and some of them have stuck around. Gorgeous birds, they scurry more than they fly, and they make a soft "chukking" sound. I hope there is a nest nearby.
We managed to get the next issue of the magazine off to the printer today. It might have been a record! The deadline was the 15th, and we dawdled the first couple of days. This issue went together so smoothly - we were amazed. But - we did have to add pages again. The list question for this issue invited readers to send 100 words about themselves, and we were amazed how many responses we got. We think that everyone will be interested to see who they are sharing their recipes and ideas with - and we were fascinated with the intros. We also had a contest for a cover illustration. The winner (by Deborah Stiffler) is above, a photo of pansies and johnny-jump-ups. It was also a Readers' Spotlight issue. We had several new and innovative products to review. Then there were oodles of wonderful articles, recipes and crafts. When we get them in the mail, I'll post the cover and table of contents.
It's been a busy winter, but nothing compared to the spring that is gearing up. Hang on! It's going to be a bumpy ride!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

just a quick hello

I've been a bad blogger!
It's been so busy around here. This time of year should be slow and easy, but that hasn't been the case at all.
We just finished up the on-line incense class, and it was really fun! I think everyone had a good time and if they haven't already, they will wind up with a couple nice batches of nice incense. It lasted a week, and the pace was perfect for me.
We thought we'd have soap into the early part of summer after all that we made for the farm show, but it looks like we need to make quite a bit. We'll be working on that in the coming days in between work on the magazine.
The next issue is in the works. We've got all the articles and ads, and we have a winning photo for the cover. We had a contest on the Yahoo group, and of the several entries, Deborah Stiffler won with a beautiful shot of violas. We'll start putting it all together in earnest tomorrow, and hope to have it off to the printer by the end of the week so it can go out in plenty of time to be there before May comes around.
We also just finished up a show. It was ugly. We have to try new things every so often, and sometimes it is just to remind ourselves to stick to our own rules. Ug!!! The foot of snow we got up here on the hill made the last day of the show particularly hairy, and we'll just put that all behind us now. Weather has not been our friend this year.

One nice herbal note - I ordered 6 blueberry bushes from Papa Geno's the other day which should ship the beginning of next month. I can't wait to get them into the ground. Molly is a nut for blueberries and will sit and eat a quart of them (without sharing, I might add). It will be lovely to have more berries than she can eat! Maybe I'll get some. I'd love to learn to make fruit leather with them, and possibly juice and paste.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Lancaster County Soapworks in the News!

Good clean fun / Making soap and cracking jokes is all in a day's work at Lancaster County Soapworks

By Catherine MolitorisLancaster New Era
Published: Mar 09, 2007 10:13 AM EST
LANCASTER - Maryanne Schwartz wants washing up to be an uplifting experience.

Schwartz operates Lancaster County Soapworks Etc. from her Manheim home, where she makes a variety of homemade soaps and aromatherapy products.

"Our soap is much more moisturizing than what we call 'corporate' soap," says Schwartz, who gets help running the business from her sister, Tina Sams. "There is an overabundance of oil in our soap. It's super-fatted and full of glycerin."

Schwartz, 59, may be cleaning up now, but she didn't start out determined to make soap.

She and Sams operated an herb business at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire — where they became affectionately known as the "Twisted Sisters" — and ran the Herb Basket in Landisville from 1994 to 2000.

Although they were happy with herbs — Sams, 51, continues to publish The Essential Herbal magazine — they were always looking for something else.

Raised by a single mother with three other siblings, the sisters knew firsthand what it was like to run a business.

"Our mother was a real entrepreneur," Sams says, noting that their mom operated an in-home answering service and baby-sitting business. "We were raised around business."

One day, after reading an article on making soap, Schwartz decided to try it. She invited her sister over, and they began what they thought would be a simple process.

"We thought, 'Why should we buy soap when we can make it ourselves?' " Schwartz says. "It'll be easy."

They didn't even let a lack of instructions deter them.

"Today, if you want to make soap, it's all over the Internet how to do it, but back then, there weren't a lot of resources for us," Schwartz says. "Literally, the instructions we found said, 'Put this with this, stir it up and sell it.' "

While Sams' daughter was at preschool, the sisters started making soap.

It didn't turn out well.

"We stirred, and we stirred and we were still stirring when nursery school was over," Schwartz says.

"We should have known," Sams laughs. "Nothing's ever easy for us.

"Still, the women were determined.

"For some reason, we stuck with it," Schwartz says. "We kept trying, and we still aren't sure what happened, but something clicked, and at some point, suddenly, soap happened."

Their first successful batch was lye-heavy and brittle, but it was soap nonetheless.

"We finished a batch, put it out to cure for two weeks and came to see it," Schwartz says. "When I walked in (the workroom), it smelled like soap ... I went to wash off (residue), and it started to make suds. I yelled out, 'Tina! Get in here! It's sudsy!' "

That moment — what Sams calls "achieving soapdom" — was all the inspiration the sisters needed to perfect their product.

Before long, Schwartz was adding flavoring oils, food coloring and any experimental ingredients she and Sams could come up with to make their soap as good as it could be.

"We tried peppermint, paprika, cocoa — you name it," Schwartz says.

Joking about their grocery shopping in the early days, she says checking out with a basket full of anything from cans of lye to distilled water, Crisco, aloe gel, carrot juice and baby oatmeal was always an interesting experience.

"We would usually assure the checkout people that we were making soap, not planning to dissolve any bodies," Schwartz says.

After much trial and error, the sisters were convinced they had a desirable product, which they took to the Landis Valley Herb Faire.

"We said, 'If we sell two bars, we'll consider it a success,' " Schwartz remembers.

They sold 22, and Lancaster County Soapworks was born in 2000.

Customers liked the soap's moisturizing nature and unique scents.

"With commercial soap, the maker extracts the glycerin for other uses," Schwartz says. "Our soap is very moisturizing."

Their No. 1 seller is lavender soap, but they offer many other options, including apple, mint, green tea, blackberry sage, apricot freesia and a blend they call "Wise Woman."

"We have patchouli and sandalwood — we have all the hippie products," Schwartz says.

Their "Happy Wanderer" soap, made with jewelweed, is particularly good for combating poison ivy or insect bites. "Wise Guy" is made with beer instead of water.

Schwartz's products are available in local stores, including the Amish Farm and House in Lancaster and The Old Candle Barn in Intercourse, and she and Sams are building a budding wholesale business, with clients as far away as Florida and Wisconsin.

Schwartz says her most frequently asked question is, "How long does the soap last?"

A lot depends on the user, she says."Are you a hairy man? It won't last as long," she laughs. "You can prolong the soap by letting it dry out between uses and not letting it sit in water."

Along with soap, Lancaster County Soapworks offers "sniffing jars" — blends of herbs that battle anything from sinus stuffiness to PMS.

Sams has developed a line of hydrosols, an essential oil-type aromatherapy product, and the sisters also sell shower sprays and bath scrubs.

Schwartz and Sams are not sure what the future holds, but they plan to continue working for themselves as long as possible.

"We get to play every day," Sams says. "There's a little ballet we do when we make soap. We can anticipate each other's moves. It's great."

Adds Schwartz, "We don't know what our future plans are, but whatever we do, it'll be fun."


To learn more about Lancaster County Soapworks Etc., 2839 Hossler Road, Manheim, call 653-5666, or visit

CONTACT US: or 291-8758 (Lancaster Newspaper)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Recipes for Nettles in the local paper!

It was a week ago Sunday, and the Lancaster Sunday News ran an article about how to gather, clean, and prepare nettles. I was so thrilled! This veggie is incredibly nutritious, fairly easily found in this part of the country - and most of all, the recipes are becoming mainstream. Every forager is at some point amazed that people lost in the wilderness find nothing to eat, while sitting on a mound of chickweed or lamb's quarters, burdock or sweet violet. So it is with great pleasure that I've shared these recipes with some of the foraging groups, and now with you!

Nettle Tapenade Crostini with Anchovies
This was adapted from David LeFevre, executive chef at Water Grill restaurant in Los Angeles:

2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 slices crusty French bread, sliced on the bias

In a small pan over low heat, cook the garlic in the olive oil until soft but not browned. 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and brush the slices of bread with the mixture.
Grill the bread (you can use a stove top grill) over medium heat until golden brown and crunchy. Reserve.

Tapenade and assembly:
2 Tbsp minced onion
5 cloves garlic minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
6 c stinging nettle leaves, washed
3/8 c chicken stock
1/3 c kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 c chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1/4 c chopped fresh oregano
20 marinated white anchovy fillets

In a large saute pan over medium heat, cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil until they begin to sweat. 1 to 2 minutes. Add the nettles and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes.
Add the chicken stock and braise until the greens are soft and the liquid is evaporated. Remove from the heat and cool. On a cutting board, mince the nettle mixture and put it into a mixing bowl. Add the olives, sun-dried tomatoes and herbs.

Place about 2 Tbsp tapenade onto each crostino, then top with 2 anchovy fillets. Serve immediately.

Servings: makes 10 crostini.
Each crostino = 117 calories; 5 grams protein; 11 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 6 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 7 milligrams cholesterol; 502 milligrams sodium.

and another from the local paper:
Nettle Frittata with Green Garlic and Ricotta
adapted from "Local Flavors" by Deborah Madison

3 c washed nettle leaves
2 T olive oil
1 head green garlic, minced (or substitute 2 garlic cloves)
1 c finely chopped onion
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 large eggs
1/3 c pecorino Romano, grated
1/2 c ricotta
1 T unsalted butter

Heat the broiler, Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the nettles and, using tongs or rubber gloves, put them into the water and blanch them for about 1 minute. Drain and when cool enough to handle, press out the water, chop into a rough cut and reserve.

Warm the olive oil in 10-inch skillet. Add the garlic and onion and cook over low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the nettles and season with salt and pepper.

Beat the eggs with 1/2 teaspoon salt, then stir the nettle and onion mixture into the bowl and add the pecorino. Add the ricotta, leaving it a little streaky.

Wipe out the skillet and return it to the heat with the butter. When the butter has foamed and then subsided, pour in the egg mixture. Stir until the ingredients are emulsified. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook until the eggs have set up around the edges and are golden on the bottom, about 6-7 minutes. The center will still be slightly jiggly.

Slide the pan under the broiler and cook until the top is set and golden, about 1 minute. Check to see that the eggs are cooked (the frittata should be set in the center); cool slightly or to room temperature before serving.

Each serving: 233 calories; 14 grams protein; 5 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 18 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 304 milligrams cholesterol; 430 milligrams sodium.