Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Exploring the Russian Market in D.C.

By Molly Sams

About two weeks ago I went down to DC to meet up with some friends and have a fun, touristy weekend. Unfortunately it rained the entire time and was almost always freezing. So when we would go out into the elements to forage for food I would usually try to find little store or small tourist center to explore. My favorite place was the Russian restaurant and market. I’ve always been a bit of a Russophile and jumped on the opportunity to explore new cuisine and all the shelves of black bread, kefir, and (my favorite) chocolate. To anyone who has never tried Russian food I highly suggest it. You will not love everything but you will find one or two things that you will obsess over for the rest of your days.

What We Ate

For me, that thing was NOT red caviar on puffed pastries. They looked and sounded absolutely wonderful and I was thrilled to finally give the delicacy a try. I regret to say I was not a fan. There was cream cheese everywhere, it tasted fishy without the texture of fish, and I ended up eating the fancy cucumber art while my friends ate the rest (luckily). The entrée definitely made up for my first experience. I had a simple piece of salmon with grilled veggies that were marinated in “traditional Russian spices.” From what I gathered that meant a surprising amount of anise, some sea salt, black pepper, and parsley. It was simple but absolutely delicious.

What We Bought

After our meal we went to the market and Ken had to practically drag me out kicking and screaming. I could have easily spent all day in the tiny market asking the poor woman “what did what,” and “why use this for that?” Luckily both the woman behind the cash register and my friends were very patient with me.

The first thing I saw were sour cherry preserves and I immediately thought of my mother and began looking through the shelves for the best option. Of course that was difficult to find since I don’t speak Cyrillic but I think I managed.

Once I had made my way out of the canning products I saw their little shelf of home remedies. One bottle that intrigued me was sea-buckthorn oil. It came in a sweet little bottle and I thought, “hey why not?” and when I went up to the counter to ask the woman about the product she explained to me that it was full of anti-carcinogenic properties and was full of minerals. I don’t know if I will ever use the contents of the bottle but I’m glad I bought it nevertheless.

I also found the cutest little bottle that I now refer to as random green oil. My mother and I have a guess it is plantain oil because of its emerald hue and use on bug bites but the woman could not give me a definitive answer. Again, I’m simply thrilled to have it – even if I never actually use it.

Finally I found tea that was simply called “bastard agrimony.” After looking it up online it is apparently similar to agrimony in affects but not in shape. The box I purchased was full of loose tea and I’m excited to give it a whirl. I will let you all know what I think.

And of course there was the chocolate. I. Loved. The. Chocolate. While the little Russian girl on the label was, unnerving, the chocolate behind her visage was absolutely delicious. There were plenty of other chocolates filled with fruit, liquors, and heaven knows what else but I went for the classic milk. Unless you’ve had Russian Chocolate before I suggest doing the same. Even the milk is still darker than what Americans are used to and it is not as oily as American chocolate.

All in all it was a fun, unexpected experience that I would suggest to anyone running around the greater DC area. Now if I could just get my hands on that Vladimir Lenin flower vase they had…

Link to market: http://www.rus-uzcuisine.com/

Saturday, March 19, 2016

This, That, and Oh Yeah... That Other Thing

This entry is more of a newsletter than a blog post.

#1  Sale

We're running a sweet sale right now until the end of March on all of our downloadable books and back issues.  Type the word  spring  into the coupon code at check-out, and receive 30% off the price.  www.EssentialHerbal.com
This is a great time to read up and make those lists before heading out to the herb shows and festivals!  Speaking of which...

#2  Herb Fest Workshop

Maryanne and I are doing a workshop at the PA Herb Festival on healing herbal vinegars, like 4 Thieves and Fire Cider.  You must pre-register and pre-pay, and can do so at this LINK

#3  Housekeeping

When we process your purchases, it is EXTREMELY important that you have given us the correct information from your credit card.  If it is incorrect, our processor will not allow the charge to go through.  If you check your statement online, it will appear as "pending" but will not go through - and we will not be paid for the purchase. 
SO...If we ask you to check the ZIP CODE to be sure that it matches what your credit card company has on file, it is because we need it.  If we ask you to check the EXPIRATION DATE and the CCV CODE as well, it is because we know that one of those three pieces of information has been given to us incorrectly.  Usually a typo, sometimes an error, but no matter how many times we "try running it again," if you don't give us the correct information, we will not be paid for the order. 
<>smoothing feathers<>  Thank you.

Friday, March 11, 2016

That’s My Bag: What I keep in my bag for spring


So I know Cosmo, Elle, and every other magazine in the world have done this so I thought, “Hey! Why not do one for TEH?” I always love finding out what everyone carries with them throughout their day. It opens up new insights to their personality, what they deem important, and sometimes I find things that make my life a million times easier. While I am like many girls with a bag full of hair ties, pens, and mints there are definitely some herbie influences that I have picked up since I began studying herbalism. Hopefully you’ll find some good ideas from my bag and please share what’s in yours!

Pen and Pad

Because I get to study with, work with, and generally learn about herbs all day every day I have a lot of notes I take. Because I prefer the old fashion pen and paper when taking notes so I put my phone down and write like the wind. I find that I remember things better when I physically write them down and I will often go back to my notes time and time again if they are written.

While many of my notes do end up transposed into an official notebook on my computer, I find that having the initial pen and paper helps me create and manage the flow much better. My notes are organized from what to do herbally (crafts, tinctures, recipes) to knowledge such as history or chemistry.

I know my system is somewhat, well, unique (and meandering) but it works for me. I always suggest anyone studying herbs keep a notebook on their person. You never know what information you may pick up!

Envelopes or Ziploc Bags

I usually keep a few envelops in my bag in case I find a plant that I cannot identify. It is a good way to keep it safe while everything else moves and rustles in my bag and it is still in decent condition for when I bring it to my mother and ask her, “What the heck is this thing?!” She usually laughs then and lets me in on the joke. It is also a nice system because you are still able to see the plant with all your senses when looking it up online. You can root out the lookalikes based on smell, touch, and taste, something you cannot do with just a picture on your phone.

Because I’m constantly chugging water, iced tea, and iced coffee during the spring and summer, my lips can get pretty chapped. The lip balm my family makes is great to help your lips repair in between water bottle refills and it helps your lips maintain good health even if you forget to put it on for a day. I will warn you to keep an eye on it on especially hot days. Like any lip balm it can melt and move around in the tube, which can make a mess of things. I usually combat this by putting it in a plastic baggie before going in my purse or just keeping it at my desk and using it throughout the day.

The git spritz we make smells wonderful and I have found it works incredibly well while I’m hiking or camping. I don’t know why but ever since I was little the bugs have loved nipping and biting me. With git spritz I’m shocked to see less bug bites after a long hike and I’m actually able to stay sane during camping.

Jasmine Hydrosol

We just bought jasmine hydrosol from Sunrose Aromatics and Oh. My. Gosh. It smells amazing! I feel like every time I spritz it on I smell like I just soaked in a jasmine tea bath. I enjoy the scent because it is light and perfect during the warmer months. I will be keeping it with me to spritz whenever I want a cool down or have a scented pick-me-up.

Obviously I’m not dragging a huge shovel behind me throughout the day but I do like to have our small handheld cobra digger either in my car or bag. If I’m on a hike or walking around and I see an abandoned plant or I’m offered one from a friend I like to have the cobra because it makes it easier to dig the plant out. Then I can put the plant a sturdy market bag to carry it home. I’m always so thankful every time I remember to bring this little guy with me. You never know what you will find!

Thursday, March 03, 2016

So, you want to be a vendor?

The siren song of throwing out a table and taking easy money is calling your name?  Let's talk. 

It's been ages since we started this particular journey.  In a college course, I was assigned the task of doing a paper on the history of one of the out-lying farmer's markets in the area.  While interviewing the owners, we learned how inexpensive booths were.  We just HAD to set up.  It was research after all, and that paper *did* wind up being published by the historical society, so it was sort of worth the effort.  It was late October and early November.  Outdoors.  It was certainly an educational experience.

It was The Green Dragon Market in the late 70's.  The booth was $9 and we got to stand outside from dawn til 9 pm on those blustery, frigid Fridays.  Big learning curve!  We made stuffed primitive calico tree ornaments - that people insisted on sniffing (a sign of things to come).

We've got some war stories.  There was the time the bird nest loaded with eggs fell from a tree into our (unwrapped) soap display.  There was the sick kitten that walked across our table (really, don't ask), the high winds, the time the organizer ran through the fest, yelling about the violent storm headed our way, cars stuck in mud, stifling heat, exploding bottles of violet syrup, and worst of all, crowds that saw us as scenery to the main event.

On the other hand, we've made some great friends at craft shows, gotten valuable business advice, made some incredible contacts, and almost always wind up with a couple of new wholesale accounts and a speaking engagement or two.  Our first published book was mostly because a publisher was a few booths down and it was an opportunity that we just couldn't let get away....

Some of the things we've learned:
  • It may be really hard to stay positive, but try anyway.  This is a tough one for me because I start thinking about the work and orders piling up at home during slow shows.
  • Add height and different levels to your display to boost sales.  A flat display doesn't generate interest.  This can be done as simply as sticking smallish boxes under the tablecloth.  Always have a tablecloth.
  • Resist the urge to make 100's of everything.  Usually a dozen of any one item has been sufficient for us - except when we've released a new book or something similar.
  • Cover a wide range of price points if you can.  We've had days where we made our money one dollar at a time on incense, and other days where the high ticket baskets and garden art sold.  You won't know until you get there which will work, AND if it is a multi-day festival, no two days will be the same.
  • Change is important, and you need to bring it along.  For a decent show, take 50 ones, 6 fives, and a couple tens.  Don't forget coins, either.  Write down the exact amount that you take along so that you know to subtract it from the money box at the end of the show.
  • If the show doesn't go well, make it valuable in another way.  Talk to other vendors.  You might be surprised what can be learned, traded, or sold.
  • Comfortable shoes.  Maybe more than one pair so you can switch during the day.
  • Make your display work for you.  We went from displays that required hours of set up to those that go together in minutes.  We stole an idea from Susanna at The Rosemary House.  She uses crates that can carry AND display wares.  Baskets are great too.  Use them, sell them, poof!
  • If you don't bring food and drink, there might not be any available, or it might cost a fortune.
  • Have a show box that you do not unpack between shows.  The things inside STAY there, so you can be sure you always have them.
Your show box may have additional things, but these are pretty standard:
- money box with change
- tablecloth(s)
- tape
- Command hooks
- stapler
- Sharpie or Magic marker
- calculator
- pens
- tacks
- scissors
- label paper
- writing tablet
- festival paperwork/rules
- credit card charging equipment
 It's funny how much this list has changed in the years since I wrote it.  It used to say "knuckle-buster" and tablet, for instance.  Soon you probably won't need a pen, money box, calculator, or writing tablet.  I'd still want them, though.
Other things that we've come to feel are absolute necessities would be wheeled conveyance contraptions and a step ladder.

Vending can be a lot of fun.  It can also be hot, sticky (or cold and clammy) long days of growing disenchantment.  A lot of that is up to you, but if you get terrible neighbors there's not much you can do about that.  In time, you may be able to control who your neighbors are a little bit, and lessen the chance that they will encroach on your space, use your booth as a walkway, or any number of other rude and annoying habits of bad neighbors.
Have fun, and here's to blue skies, calm breezes, and good crowds!

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Hands Across the Water

I'm sick to death of the lack of civility and professionalism being exhibited by candidates for the top office in our country. 
A newsletter from my daughter's high school Alma Mater arrived today and reminded me that there are still people trying to reach out and understand others who are not exactly like them.
This particular newsletter discussed the Model United Nations Program that my daughter was also fortunate enough to travel to The Hague to participate in back in high school.  Each school group is assigned a different country, and then debates for that country in the UN.  It was a world class opportunity for her and one in which I wish all children could take part.
One of the instigators (possibly THE instigator for this particular local school - but I don't feel like researching it) was Frederick "Chip" Smedley.  Chip happened to be my second cousin, the one kid my own age on that side of the family, so when we were little we were fairly close.  We grew apart as time passed, however.
He's been gone from the school for about 7 years, and he passed away in 2013, leaving behind thousands of grief stricken ex-students.  The memorials left on social media were unending and very touching.
Reading the newsletter today, the writer spoke of the "traditional dim sum dinner" the first night in the Netherlands.  It struck me that if that was indeed a long-standing tradition (I'll have to ask Molly), it would have been Chip who started it and the students who participated this year would not have had the opportunity to have met him.  For some reason, that really chokes me up.  He's become a part of history or tradition, I guess.

It seems that with so much noise being generated by those who wish to keep us separate and filled with fear, I am once again full of gratitude for people like my cousin who see the need and find a way to get strangers from different cultures together... to show us that we are all human. 

Sorry it took me so long to thank you properly, Chipper.