Monday, December 31, 2007

home for the holiday, and gone again

First, he is healthy, and all grown up, and seems happy.

Second, he is still my baby, but he is SO BIG!
And so smart, and so independent, and getting some wrinkles!
It's a funny life, it keeps on going. Can't freeze it anywhere along the path. Would I want to?
But back to big... when I hug him my ear is right there, at his heartbeat. That is what always gets me right there. Every mom remembers that first listen to her baby's heartbeat.
The years compress with that hello hug, and that goodbye hug.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Oh Frabjous Day

Caloo! Callay!
Patrick is home.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I've discovered Google Books

Text not available
 About this book  Read this book "Little Gardens for Boys and Girls"  By Myrta Margaret Higgins
A charming bit of gardening advice for the children of 1910, found on page 57:
"Foxgloves and larkspurs are two of the best perennials to have. The foxglove is very thrifty and a great attraction to bees. The larkspur is so superior to many flowers, one can hardly look on its heavenly blue and not be good."
Text not available
 About this book Read this bookLittle Gardens for Boys and Girls By Myrta Margaret Higgins

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Recipe: Easy Provincial Bean Soup

You say Provencal - I say provincial: the difference is in the mind of the speaker. But is a crock pot of bean soup anything but rustic?
We usually (for 36 years?!?) have either ham or a turkey but I was hoping on this Christmas Day 2007 to have an easy to serve, non-traditional main dish.
After a month of parties, we're all ready for some relief from the groaning table. And there have been some pressing medical issues in the family, so the company was the point, not the production number.
But it all worked out anyway that there was too much food for the feast, and not nearly so much cleanup as post Thanksgiving. And grandma had time to hold her granddaughters, the best gift.

Here's the menu we had this year:
Provincial Bean Soup (made with turkey stock from the Thanksgiving bird and home grown herbs)
Dearborn Holiday sausage, provided and grilled by son, Skip
Cheesy potatoes, provided by son, Tony
Pumpkin Bread (made with puree from the little pie pumpkins, cooked and frozen after Halloween)
Herbed Potato Rolls (link) (made with home grown herbs)

Cheese spread and crackers, chips and dip
Veggie tray and dip

and for dessert:
Brownies, provided by Tony
and, Tada! Blueberry pie (made by Herb with berries we picked at a local farm)

We completely forgot to break into the tin of gingerbread boys, that I've been safe keeping since I made them around Thanksgiving. Oh well, there's another weekend get-together coming, when Patrick finally gets here.

Everyone liked the soup, especially with the grilled sausage and no one complained about the break from tradition, so I'm thinking next year maybe gumbo or chili? I have an authentic gumbo recipe that's lotsa fun.

This bean soup recipe is really easy, because I use the beans that come in a bottle, already cooked, and jazz it up. Everyone thinks you made it from scratch. I used to soak and cook the beans, and believe me, this way is just as good. Herb Sr. said it was excellent, so I must have done something right. Here's the recipe, my riff on the recipe on the bottle of Randall Great Northern Beans:

Provincial Bean Soup

Heat a quart of your best(frozen) turkey broth until warm and pour in crock pot. Turn crock pot on and set to high.
Tie some twigs of fresh rosemary together with a length of dental floss and put the bundle into the broth to take out before serving. (I also added a few small fresh bay leaves but forgot to fish them out.)
Meanwhile, pour a bit of e.v. olive oil in a hot skillet. In the hot oil, saute about a generous cup each of minced onions, celery and carrots and about 4-5 crushed garlic cloves until they are softened and starting to color.
Add a large jar of beans and warm. Stir it all into the crock pot with the broth.
Add a handful of chopped dried tomatoes (the recipe calls for diced canned tomatoes), sprinkle with ground bay leaf (I grind my dried bay leaves in a dedicated coffee grinder), fresh ground black pepper, and lots of fresh thyme. (The recipe also calls for chopped fresh parlsey, but I forgot to add it. Oh Well!)
Cook on high until it boils and begins to thicken, a few hours, then turn down to keep at serving warmth.
Serve with shaved Parmesan cheese, rolls and sausages. Bon apetit.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

the little mother

All the Christmas parties this year, and so much serious adult conservation about Brittany Spears' little celebrity sister getting pregnant. Like, is it our business? Like, who cares what celebrities do in their private lives? Like, is THAT all you have to think about in the season of giving?

I heard opinions from a lotta people and I'm sure you did too, but did you hear anyone mention this:
Biblical historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists say the woman who bore the child that we claim to follow was probably a young unwed mother.

Tsk, tsk.

Who was it said, Judge not lest ye be judged?
This is what I'd tell Brittany's sister - ignore the hypocrites, love your baby, and just remember, with some folk, you're damned if you do - and you're damned if you don't.
'Nuff said.
Ave Maria, love that tune. It makes my Christmas Eve.

A small post post: I'm proud to note that not one of my company mentioned Brittany's sister's faux pas at our festivities.

Monday, December 24, 2007

the fourteenth grandmother

Wasn't that video about the thirteen grandmothers great? I'm just dismayed that no one considered adding a fourteenth grandmother to represent the indigenous Caucasian, European women who understand the value of their cultures to humanity. We are not all of the imperialist conqueror mindset. Although come to think of it, the 'wise women' of the European landmass were systematically subjugated and murdered throughout history to silence their contribution to the perennial debate, so perhaps no one knew where to find the fourteenth grandmother... but I'm wandering off the path.

Right this moment I'm just taking a break from the festivity preparation to add to the story I began two days ago ... the Solstice, the crane, the holy day... why does the activity of vacuuming carpets lead my mind to wander along submerged paths and faint trails? Back to the thread of the story...

After seeing the crane fly over at dawn, I Googled "crane" and "legend" to find out what other cultures associate with the crane.
Wikipedia was a good place to start, and if you look you will see legends and associations and symbolism about the crane goes way back in the history of humanity. We all know about the story of the Japanese schoolgirl who made a thousand cranes to commemorate health and life and peace after the destruction of war.
But classical western culture told stories about the crane as well.

I must get my shower and get to the grocery store, but I wanted to leave you and me here with this turn in the story: the crane, which visited me on the solstice dawn, is the messenger of peace, good health, life.
Wasn't that the message of the baby who will be born again tonight?
Hopeful things to wish you all for the new year.
Let us pursue these ends: peace, life, good health.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Winter Solstice notes, part deux.
Yesterday I left you with the picture of me standing with coffee in hand looking out the south west corner window at the gray light of a cloudy dawn. So I'm standing there and suddenly out of the east a gray crane flies directly overhead, so low that I can clearly make out the toes of his feet.
Dawn, the Solstice, the visitation of a crane.
Gotta be something there, something the world is trying to say. Telling me, in the way the world speaks, something I must focus on, to think about, to tell you. Our ancestors would have thought so. They wouldn't have missed the hint.
Our grandmother's grandmothers would figure this out and tell the story. Maybe that is the story, right there.
Listen to the world, tell the story you hear. Make sense of it.

What Would the Grandmothers Do?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Good Morning, Starshine...

the Earth says 'Hello'...
You twinkle above us...
We twinkle below.

"It is true that we need the land, but that is not the whole story; for the land also needs the people. It needs to feel the pounding of our feet to the rhythm of the dance, needs to hear the laughter of our children and it needs to hear the ancient stories told in a sacred manner." -saying of native people of Central Australia

My Farmer's Almanac tells me that the shortest day of the year, what pagan people honored in worship as the Solstice, is "around" December 21, yesterday. That means this morning's sunrise is the sunrise that milleniums of people around the world have celebrated.
Herb's radio playing Scott Horton interviewing the other Scott Horton woke me up before dawn today, and a few minutes later I was dancing in the shower to the storyteller's steel drum poem playing on NPR's Living on Earth (what a great show) ... That is called waking up on the right side of the bed.
In a happy spirit and guided by intuition, which is the best way, I thought to play Google's 'I Feel Lucky' and search for the words solstice legend. The first site I looked at gave me the quotation above, which I feel is perfectly fitting for today's inspiration. As you can see it is still dark outside, so I think I'll pause now, make a cup of coffee, and greet the sun.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Misses Holly and Ivy

I'm dreaming of a greener new year

Inpiration can come from someone you know, right in the neighborhood... we met Holly at the Grand Blanc Farmer's Market last summer and she was curious as to if I knew of any local, organic soaper ... someone who could sell her something special for a very special baby shower she was giving for a relative. The special theme to this party was all about giving the hope for a cleaner better world to her grandchild, and she carried out this ambitious theme by making every part of it greener, more sustainable, more local, more kind to our Mother Earth, who, after all, represents the grandmother to us all.
After she began relating all of the cool things she was planning, I promised myself to write about it on this blog but the Flint Journal beat me to the punch and did a much better job.
The party reportedly turned out terrific, and The Flint Journal details (at this link) below many of the tips and tricks that Holly used to teach us all how we can make change for the better happen too.

Forget pink and blue; this Flint baby shower is all "green"
Posted by Elizabeth Shaw
The Flint Journal
October 28, 2007

FLINT -- Every new grandma wants a bright future for her first grandchild.

Holly Lubowicki may be working harder than many on that future: The longtime environmental activist is hosting a "green" baby shower today -- complete with how-to guides for guests -- as a surprise for son Christopher and his wife, Audrey.

When you're talking about bringing a child into the world, you're talking about the future. I want to show people there are better ways to do things, in order to sustain life for future generations," said the Flint resident. "I'm hoping this is a good start to my grandchild's life."

A program assistant for Keep Genesee County Beautiful, Lubowicki is well known in local environmental circles for "walking the talk."

But the green shower idea just grew on its own, she said.

"Originally, I just thought 'I'm not doing any stupid crepe paper and paper plates -- I'm doing all compostible sugar cane and corn fibers.' But I'm like a crazed woman once I get an idea in my head," she said, laughing.

First she tossed out the disposable servingware in favor of her grandmother's china and silver. Then she dumped the entire concept of throwaway decorations.

"Since it's going to be at a church instead of my home, I have to create that warm, cozy environment elsewhere. But I'm trying to be as nonconsumer as possible."

She scavenged from a Dumpster at Goodwill an old crib where guests will place gifts, then hauled in wicker baskets, potted perennials and furniture from her Flint home.

Party favors include handmade natural soaps tagged with green Web addresses, and homemade paper embedded with wildflower seeds that can be planted to bloom in the spring.

"I wanted to ask people to carpool and not use wrapping paper and cards, but I figured that might cross the line," she said. Her own gifts are wrapped in receiving blankets and tied with baby shoelaces.

The menu is all locally grown and produced organic foods, from a salad of mixed greens grown at Whetham Organic Farm in Flushing Township to preserves made from wild autumn olive.

"The traffic at farmers' markets really drops off in September because people think once the tomatoes are gone, everything's gone," said Pat Whetham. "But people still have lots to sell -- greens, carrots and potatoes, just about any kind of root vegetables. Some, like parsnips and Brussels sprouts, are only this time of the year."

Buying organic AND local isn't always easy: Much of the organic produce sold at large chain stores is shipped in from out of state, and not all locally produced food is organically grown. Always check the labels or ask the grower, said Whetham.

"It's not enough to just use a local bakery -- you have to know where the flour comes from," Lubowicki said.

When she couldn't find a local organic cream cheese, she simply learned how to make it herself.

All the effort won't be lost on the guests: The decorations include a huge map and chart highlighting the origins of all the foods and products, with tips on how to apply green strategies to everyday life.

"The way we eat has a huge impact on environmental issues," she said, including energy, fossil fuels, pesticides and farmland preservation.

"You can show people it can be done, it can be positive and you can have absolutely wonderful tasting food. I don't care how much time it takes. I'm having a ball."

Organic offerings
Holly Lubowicki's baby shower menu includes salad with edible flowers and homemade dressings, maple-glazed Brussels sprouts, country French three-seed bread, pesto, garlic spread, jalapeno jelly, fruit preserves (strawberry basil, blueberry lavender, autumn olive, raspberry-cherry and black raspberry), fruit cheesecake, brownies, ice creams (ginger, pumpkin, vanilla and peach) and more. Where did it all came from?
• Vegetables: Whetham Organic Farm in Flushing, Lawrence Farm in Millington, White Pines Farm in North Branch, Law Family Farm in North Branch.
• Fruits: Almar Orchards in Clayton Township, Coyners Organic Farm in Flushing Township, Ware Farm in Manistee County.
• Breads and grains: Hampshire Farms in Kingston, Westwind Milling Company in Argentine Township, Pleasanton Bakery in Traverse City, John Simmons Farm in North Branch.
• Eggs: J.B. & Sons in Montrose.
• Dairy products: Thomas Organic Creamery in Henderson, Calder Dairy in Monroe County.
• Garlic: Full Moon Flowers in Lapeer County.
• Preserves: Food for Thought in Honor.
• Herbs: Byrne Family Farm in Attica.

To learn more about organic and local foods:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A little holiday fun

"If you can't laugh about our continuing desperate need to be hip, then you aren't yet hip," she said, snapping her fingers, yeah.

Found this site yesterday while clickin' the links... pages and pages of Square Americans celebrating the holidays.
Made me smile, and hope you smile too.
That woman above is wearing my blue plastic catseye glasses.
Merry, merry.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A gift for Grandmas with computers

Some link I followed a few days ago brought me to this neatest website called Lookybook! Online children's literature, YES!
If you're a grandma you know even the littlest children are familiar with computers in their homes and they watch "online content" the way we used to watch Lassie and Timmie on the tube. But we want them reading books too! We want our grandbabies in our arms, listening to our voices reading to them, turning pages to see colorful pictures that we can pause to discuss and appreciate.
Lookybook is for us.
Here's a sample - sign up for free, find books you like and put them on your own virtual bookshelf, for next time the grandbabies come over.

The Story Goes On
Written by Aileen Fisher | Illustrated by Mique Moriuchi
8 x 11 | 32 pages | Ages 4-8 | Roaring Brook Press | Published in 2005 | ISBN 9781596430372
In this exquisitely illustrated picture book, one of America's foremost poets for young people describes the ongoing cycle of life.

Go ahead, click on the book, turn the pages, see what fun it is!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

crafters are like snowflakes

Back in the olden days (when the boys were little and the funds were short) we used to decorate for the Holidays with home crafted paper crafts - construction paper chains, colorful origami boxes, Victorian pleated fans and angels, white paper snowflakes.
There is a big home craft movement growing again among the younger generation, probably a reaction to the sameness of all that cheap imported repetitive junk we see in the stores.
Witness the success of Etsy! I could spend hours looking at all the creativity there.
(On the same wavelength The New York Times Magazine ran a story about the craft movement and Etsy this past weekend. Heres a snippet:

Handmade 2.0
By Rob Walker
December 16, 2007

The declaration from something called the Handmade Consortium materialized on a Web site called in late October. “I pledge to buy handmade this holiday season, and request that others do the same for me,” it said, and you could type in your name to “sign” on; within a few weeks, more than 6,500 people had done so. “Buying handmade is better for people,” a statement on the site read in part, and “better for the environment,” because mass production is a “major cause” of global warming, among other things. There were links to an anti-sweatshop site and a Wal-Mart watchdog site.
The pledge echoed the idealistic language of a tree-hugger activist group, but actually the consortium’s most prominent member was the online shopping bazaar Etsy, a very much for-profit entity that bills itself as “your place to buy & sell all things handmade.” Etsy does not fulfill orders from an inventory; it’s a place where sellers set up virtual storefronts, giving the site a cut of sales. While eBay rose to prominence nearly a decade ago as an endless garage sale for the auctioning of collectibles and bric-a-brac, Etsy is more of an online craft fair, or art show, where the idea is that individuals can sell things that they have made. How many such people can there be? At last count, more than 70,000 — about 90 percent of whom were women — were using Etsy to peddle their jewelry, art, toys, clothes, dishware, stationery, zines and a variety of objects from the mundane to the highly idiosyncratic. Each seller has a profile page telling shoppers a bit about themselves, and maybe offering a link to a blog or a MySpace page or a mailing list; most have devised some clever store or brand name for whatever they’re selling.
Read on here...

Like I was going to say, no two home crafters are alike, just like snowflakes. Think of two crafters, using the same ingredients and the same techniques... their hand crafted goods are still individual, they still reflect something from the personality of their creator.
There is value in making things, keeping the eye interested and the mind working. Some is art, some is not, but handcrafts speak for the individual, the unusual, the unique. The human.
Which leads to thinking about ... snowflakes...Snowflakes!
I found this site yesterday, and made the snowflake at the top of this post. It's free, it's fun! Click the link and Try it! (I fixed the link, sorry!)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Yipee! Herbie wins a Silver!

Our favorite local apple orchard makes the best cider in the world, and we just happen to have a wine-maker in the family. Put the two together, and I get some lovely homemade apple wine. I knew Herbie's wine was good, but a silver medal on his first entry in the Great Lakes Olde World Syder Competition (GLOWS) is a well-deserved Attaboy.

The tale begins thirty something years ago when we were tent camping at Sleeper State Park in Caseville, Michigan. Late in the day, some folks pulled into the lot next to us just as it was beginning to sprinkle raindrops (our usual camping weather). They had a new fangled tent that they hadn't tried out yet and Herb helped them put it up, and later at the picnic table we shared a bottle of their homemade apple wine.
A few months later, a letter came in the mail from Bob Graham, of Brisco Brokers distributor of baking ingredients, with the detailed recipe for Herb to make his own delicious spiced apple cider wine. I won't share the recipe here, it is lengthy and wine making is an art I haven't explored. I have a winemaker in the family, after all!
I will reveal the recipe calls for local cider and cinnamon, cloves and mace. Herb's Porter's Cider Wine is surprisingly clear but subtly flavored with the spice, and the quality of the apple cider is a key to the quality of the flavor. Over the years, Herb has learned to taste the cider as it develops over the season (from Porter's Orchard in Goodrich, Michigan) (because the apple varieties change from week to week) and judge when it has reached the perfect tree-ripened apple-y flavor, late in the season.

Anyway, last month Herb was reading The Michigan Beer Guide (it encompasses all craft brewing and we began reading it after our son re-introduced Herb to craft beer brewing which is very popular among some serious young men) and he mentioned a competition.
Lightbulbs appeared over our heads, why not enter a bottle of his spiced apple cider wine? The rest is history...
Herb is listed as a Silver medal winner in the non-commercial division under Other Specialty Cider/Perry. The weather was threatening to make the drive to Grand Rapids difficult, so we stayed home the day of the competition, but next year you may see us there, tasting, enjoying the event, and learning more.
I've posted a few photos of Herb bottling his wine last winter... one bottle left! It's time to make another batch, and Porter's cider tastes great right NOW!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

a new gadget

I just added a new blogging gadget today that I found while surfing (or as we say in Michigan, sledding) the internet. Check out any links in the writing and a little snapshot of the linked page appears in a balloon, awesome! Hope it adds some fun to your reading. This snippet from the source, Snap Shots, explains how it works:

"Sometimes Snap Shots bring you the information you need, without your having to leave the site, while other times it lets you "look ahead," before deciding if you want to follow a link or not.
Should you decide this is not for you, just click the Options icon in the upper right corner of the Snap Shot and opt-out."

Also, while Googling blogs about Flint, Michigan, my hometown, this morning I found one I thoroughly enjoyed reading and will bookmark: Flint Expats, written from far away, beautiful San Francisco. I read a lot of blogs, and don't usually leave comments on them, but this one is so well done that I took a moment to leave a comment and got a reply! If you love Flint with all of it's scars and beauty, take a look at Flint Ex Pats.
I'm particularly thrilled to see some of my old favorite Flint spots discussed, photographs included, and there are plenty of intriguing links to explore.

Speaking of leaving comments... please do! It's nice to know someone out there is visiting.
And finally, this blog is now somewhere in the vast links list of Absolute Michigan, I think under hobbies (as I didn't easily find the gardening list.) I heart Michigan, and I intend to explore lots of Michigan blogs this winter. If I find one I particularly like I'll tell you!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

a no-cost no-cal gift for my gardening friends

Nationally known gardener Ken Druse and his garden buddy Vickie Johnson have been broadcasting an enjoyable weekly radio program for some time now, and here is the link to listen online:
Real Dirt Radio

For folks who "Ipod" (in other words listen to an .mp3 player) or who can listen online, the show (and the past the archived episodes - 25 or so) is available for free from Apple's ITunes store (Google it). Just type Real Dirt into the search box in the upper corner of the ITunes store and subscribe for free from the results page.

By Sheer Coincidence, on the very week when I sent this message to our Master Gardener volunteer coordinator to share on her list-serve, Ken and Vickie were discussing herbs and the Herb Society of America.

Vickie was telling about this year's collaboration between the HSA and Park Seed, that you will see when you get your Park Seed Catalogue. (Every gardener in America gets the Park Seed Cat, right?)
As I understand it, a committee within the HSA made a list of their Top Ten Easy and Annual Herbs, and Park will be selling a promotional package (link) in coordination with the 75th Anniversary of the HSA.

I must comment on both Park Seed and the HSA. The Park Seed catalogue is how I got into growing plants from seed so many years ago. It was my winter dream book. I grew unusual things from seed back in the days when our local nurseries only carried common plants and trips to Bordines Nursery were reserved for my birthday.
The Park Seed catalogue introduced me to the world of plants and led me to look for more seed sources, down the road to J.L. Hudson Seedsman, Richter's, and more.

Obviously, a seed packet can stretch the budget, but growing plants from seed gives a depth of knowledge that buying transplants does not. Following this thought back to herbs, if you are thinking of using your plants (herbs are useful plants by definition), you simply must know their Latin name. For instance, look at the sorrel in the Park package... it is NOT the same sorrel as you will find growing in the vacant lot. Learning to look for the right variety of a plant means learning their names. Common names are not adequate for a true herbie.

I've heard some (usually inexperienced) gardeners dismiss bionomial nomenclature as high hat, for instance, but if you are an avid garden catalogue reader, you learn botanical latin as if by osmosis. And once naming plants properly takes root, you only feel silly with pronunciation, which fortunately can become an ice-breaker in conversation if handled well.
I've read that no one really knows how Latin was pronounced in Classical Roman times (any more than a typical modern American would understand spoken Middle English) and binomial nomenclature only really gained popularity with Carolus Linneaus in the 1700s, so I personally give people the benefit of the doubt when they try talking about Clematis or Yucca and hope for the same grace in return.

Pronunciation is not the point, what the person is saying about the plant is what matters. But we need to be talking about the same plant, especially if we intend to use it herbally. But enough said about the common name-botanical Latin debate, I digress. Things have really changed since the 1970s, and we have all kinds of plant and seed selection we never had before, but the Park Seed catalogue is still great for a cozy winter afternoon read.

Whenever I go through my old seed stash that I store in a Tupperware box in the back of the fridge, I'll run across those little gold foil packets from Park Seed and recall the years ago gardens when I grew this or that, reliving good memories.
My seeds might be past viability but my memories were only dormant.

And Congratulations on your 75th anniversary and Thank you to the Herb Society of America. The HSA was founded back when herbs were certainly underappreciated and almost forgotten as garden plants. The Herb Society of America was a force behind changing all of that. They showed us what a small group of committed gardeners could do.

let the silly season begin

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

more alternative holiday music

Joni Mitchell's If I Only Had A River
Sung by Allison Crowe

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

the path turns

I'm sure you'll agree... the best gift is another day with those you love.

Monday, December 10, 2007

inspiration in incremental steps

Funny, how wandering links from website to website can take you down paths you never imagined. It was a good path today. Looking for a craft site to remind me of how to securely attach ribbon to a wreath, I came across a series of crafters and artists who are deeply interested in the spirituality of their work. The end of this journey was the following website - no arts and crafts involved, but a dose of inspiration.

Is this the Season of Shopping? Is the Prosperity Gospel, all intertwined with Fundamentalism and Blind Faith and Deservedness of Blessing and Unquestioning Patriotism to (abandoned) Shared Core Values that we no longer as a nation take time to understand - is the 'Prayer of Jabez' what America has sunk to? If manifesting good is the goal of prayer, this richest self described Christian nation in the history of the world has fallen sadly short.

But no, Virginia, there are still those who understand the importance of the Sermon on the Mount... Here is a link to my inspiration for the day... The goals are listed there.

The prayer of the million prayer march is as follows:
"The world now has the means to end extreme poverty, we pray we will have the will."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

inspiration from the old story

Shepherds, yes. The humble competent workmen were visited in person. Lucky. Even without angels, there is a lot to be said for winter night skies. Go outdoors and look up. Be amazed.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Yard art

Inspiration from what others do...

In other words, Peace on Earth! A fine wish for the Christmas Season... what could be wrong with that?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Snowballs and snow forts

On reflecting about the entry below, who says snowballs and snow forts can't be poetry, to a boy?
I guess the poetry is in the reflection, isn't it.

(Reference 'below'. Blogging will cause a new bit of language - when bloggers want you to read something previously written, we need to say see below instead of above.)

Here's' a little hint to moms of kids, take photos of the snowmen while they are fresh, when you're a grandma you'll appreciate the memories.

Anyway, I like this bit I ran across in my Utne Magazine e-mail update this week, and thought to share it with you. In our area, there are two Christmases, no matter what the politicians say about the economy. They don't come near Flint with their soundbites and disaster recovery aid.

I'm desperately seeking inspiration, like a grown up Charlie Brown. Problem is, I know the story, it always works, sooner or later. It's just so hard getting there again.

So my goal in the next few days will be to find and share some inspiration, just in case you need it too. So here's that Utne Magazine survival tip:

Happiness is cheap. In fact, real happiness comes from little things like a chocolate bar, an afternoon nap, or a good book, Science Daily reports. University of Nottingham psychologist, Dr Richard Tunney compared the happiness of lottery winners with non-lottery winners, asking each group what they did to make themselves happy. The study found that "cost-free" activities, like pursuing a hobby or laying in a hammock, contributed more to happiness than buying stuff, even expensive stuff. "It appears that spending time relaxing is the secret to a happy life,” said Dr Tunney. “Cost-free pleasures are the ones that make the difference—even when you can afford anything that you want." This is good news for people who think that happiness is constantly out of reach: A good nap is really all people need. —Brendan Mackie

And remember, hugs are free, so hug freely.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Look, boys, there are diamonds in the snow."

Tony was small enough to believe me when I said that, he wanted to go outdoors and scoop up the snow to sift out the diamonds. But I never knew if the older boys understood the poetry in nature, if they saw what I saw. They saw snowballs and forts to be sure, but did they see sunlight turning snow into treasure?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007


I ran across this cute gadget a few days ago. Click on the link below to find out what kind of holiday treat you are...

You Are a Gingerbread House

A little spicy and a little sweet, anyone would like to be lost in the woods with you.

Serendipity: Herb is a gingerbread house too! We could be a little village...

As long as I'm talking about gingerbread click here for a low cal version of the holiday treat! Fun, eh?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Good Pie Gene

Yes, there is a pie gene. What is so difficult about a flaky crust, people?
Here's the secret - it isn't the recipe, it's the technique. A heavy hand, a bad attitude, inattention to the 'now' of the dough... if you aren't committed to the pie, it won't be good. (She said in her Mr. Miyagi voice.)

The pie gene can be transmitted to others. Then they can help you in the kitchen. Especially useful on those bad attitude days. I've passed the gene to Herb and Herb Jr. so we're covered.

What is truly amazing is that Pat and Tony are just now beginning to sound like they are becoming interested in cooking - THANK YOU FOOD CHANNEL!

After a lifetime of pie making, it really does make pie making more fun when one does the filling and the other does the pastry. And having passed the baton to Herb for the pastry end of the project, I'm happy to do fillings when needed.

What brings on this pie reverie? We just finished our third pumpkin pie in two weeks. The first, to adjust the recipe for the 2007 pumpkin filling (every year the pumpkin filling is slightly different.) The second, for company on the holiday itself (along with a Northern Spy apple and a Detroit blueberry). And the third we just made to have another pumpkin pie to go with leftover turkey - it was so good this year.
I'd better quit now, I feel an emoticon coming on:)

So why am I talking about the pie gene? I thought last year I'd lost it! My pumpkin pie filling last year was overspiced and heavy. (No one said so, but a cook doesn't need folks to tell you when something isn't up to par.) Looking back I figure my fresh spices were stronger than I'd been used to... I'm usually heavy on the spice, and I'd purchased some really nice strong ground cinnamon from Frontier where you select from cinnamons determined by country of origin and percent of oil. So this year I measured more carefully, adjusting for the strong cinnamon.
But the heaviness was the question. I like a light but still creamy pumpkin filling. This year what worked was to make sure I beat the eggs before stirring in the rest of the ingredients, and then making sure to whisk the filling one last time before filling the crust and immediately slipping it into the 425 degree oven to start before turning it down to 350 to finish.
Technique, paying attention, what did I say.

People who sit there and tell you about the great deal they got on a five dollar pumpkin pie at the grocery store have no taste buds, you might as well give them a Mickey Dee and call it a day.
Along the same vein, I hear paint by number paintings from the 60's are collectible now.

Anyway I though I'd share my tips for flavoring pumpkin pie filling. Do the regular recipe whichever way you make it - my mom used evaporated milk and I use Eagle Brand, either way is good. Use two eggs and add a swig of vanilla extract. And finally, add a solid dollop of molasses, which gives the cooked pumpkin a deeper flavor.

Always looking for a new technique is what keeps cooking fun, so next year when I go to roast my pumpkins, I'm thinking I'll drizzle them with a bit of molasses at that stage, just to see what the difference will be.

I'm one of those old school people who loves Thanksgiving - family, food and peace. The stores were shoving aside the garden merch for the Christmas merch back in September, so I'm yearly becoming more curmudgeonly about The Halloween-Christmas convergence. Thanksgiving is the non-commercial holiday. A last look at the past year. Tomorrow, December first turns the page and for me that means a turn of season. Please don't be sucked in with the commercialization of a meaningful passage of time. It's all about your time, folks, and how you spend it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Break from Holiday Music - with more Holiday Music

If you can only hear the classics like Frosty the Snowman or Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree once or twice before becoming tired of them, here's a change of pace: today I'm listening to some interesting streaming Christmas albums from Sufjan Stevens here. I particularly like the original work ... but you have to look for them, they're mixed in with traditional music in the 5 albums. Check these out: We're Going to the Country, It's Christmas Be Glad!, Put the Lights on the Tree, Come On Let's Boogie to the Elf, That Was the Worst Christmas Ever, Hey Guys It's Christmas Time, Did I Make You Cry on Christmas Day? (Well You Deserved It), and Christmas in July, and Sister Winter.
If you look around you can find a link to more Sufjan info ... (Sufjan family photo courtesy of

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Worried About the Toys?

Consumers Union has an updated page on product recalls: NOT IN MY CART

Monday, November 26, 2007

turkey'd out - with a heritage turkey

Yep, three nights of eating leftover turkey does the trick. I'm turkeyed out.
The holiday was good, most of our local family made it, and Patrick's absence will only serve to remind us all to press him more insistently to come home next year.
The mashed potatoes just weren't the same.
Ah well, he already has his plane ticket to come home for Christmas.

But I did want to tell you about our turkey this year. We inadvertently had a Barbara Kingsolver Thanksgiving, a la her fine book, Animal Vegetable, Miracle, which I read this summer, at the time never thinking I'd have the chance to buy a heritage turkey for our table.

But a few weeks ago I was at a centennial farm in the neighborhood, buying some straw bales to use in my garden, and the subject of turkeys came up. I saw some turkeys in a wire pen in a side yard, and some more 'pet' turkeys running around in the backyard, and asked the owner if turkeys were as dumb as people say (no)... and we got into a conversation.

The family had been tossing around some ideas, CSA farming for one, and my enthusiasm got me on their call list in case they decided to harvest their birds. So I got the call!

Bring a cooler and a check, and the fresh homegrown and local turkey was mine:)
(I'm sorry about that happy face emoticon, I do them in e-mail, and it somehow just fits, although I know they are a dumb substitute for what I should be doing here, words.)

These turkeys were raised by this farm family from eggs, and kept in a large moveable pen to give them the nutrition, cleanliness, and mental health of free birds. (I know, 'sing Free Bird', hehe.)

Weeds, as every herbie knows, are chock full of nutrition. Mixed weeds have the goodness of deep green, and their diversity brings each weed's uniquely healthful qualities to the turkey that consumes it, and by that path, to our plates.
Same for the little bugs that the turkeys consume in their pecking. The ground that the pen laid on the previous week is pecked clean and naturally fertilized. And the birds are protected with fencing from the devestation of fox, coyote, and running into the road.
The moveable pen idea is a good one - I think it's called a "tractor" in some circles, as in 'chicken tractors', you can google it.

The farmer, Ginny, was quite interested in cooking methods; she suspected that these birds might be too different from what we are used to eating, and the preparation might be an issue. As with most animals who get exercise, the muscles are darker and more flavorful. She'd done some research and gave me a printed out recipe I can, through the wonders of the internet, share with you now:

Now Ginny can rest assured, our turkey was delicious! But it was a little different from the butcher shop Amish fresh turkey that I usually buy.

The shape - it was long, pointy and svelte! I was expecting to feed 10 adults, and the turkey was only 12.3 pounds, so I bought a back up turkey breast (see above). But we never had to even slice into the backup bird. I sent sandwich material home with Skip and Tree.
I had to roast the birds in the oven, not the roaster I had planned on and the legs hung over the side of the pan. When I was making stock later, I noticed the leg bones and breast bone were noticeably longer than any turkey bones I'd ever seen!

RECIPE: Roasted Heritage Turkey

My roasting method was to put the unstuffed bird on a rack over a pan, breast side down, and start it in the oven at 475 degrees, turning it down to 260 degrees after a half an hour. Altogether the roasting time was 4 hours for our 12 lb. bird.
Before roasting, I crammed the cavity with handfuls of freshly cut parsley, sage and rosemary, and an onion, and "larded" the top with four large strips of good bacon, and never had to do another thing.
The pan-drippings made great gravy and the stock was excellent.

Anyway, I read a nice quotation a few days before Thanksgiving that I'd like to underline here:

"The company makes the meal."

The turkey was good and worth remembering, but the family, going out of their way to be together, is the best part of Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

My Lady Bug

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Holiday Spirit, part 2

If you missed the Ladies Night Out evening at Crossroads Village on Monday, you oughta plan to do it next year!
The Master Gardeners had a spectacular table that I know they worked on for weeks, and there was a community project having to do with making afgans, but I'm really not crafty. I did, however sign a strip of the quilt the ladies of the Village will be piecing together to show next year. I wrote Merry Christmas & Peace on Earth and signed the names of all of my girls - hopefully next year we can all see it together.

I had a nice chat with a lady who raised alpacas - she spins their fiber and had felted some very nice bags and hats and things. There was plenty to look at and sample in the Village - food, decorations, music, and the weather was still not so darn cold that we couldn't spend time walking around and drinking it all in. I want to thank Milli (even though, yes I know, she doesn't use computers and won't be reading this) for a nice walk around the Village - I'm keeping her in my thoughts.

Back in the Warehouse, the ladies of the GCHS did our part, with a couple of complementary "make and take" projects for the visitors: lavender buds in a bit of tuille, tied with ribbon for drawer sachets, and bath tea bags: scented epsom salts in heat-sealable teabags. So many of the guests had questions about herbs and the Herb Society, it made a good outreach event for our group.

I did have enough sense to bring my camera at the last minute, and even with the low lighting in the Eldridge house, got a few photos to share with you. Our dear old Eldridge House looks pretty good, doesn't it, like something out of another, simpler time...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Getting in the spirit

I had a great day Saturday at Crossroads Village, working with the ladies of the Genesee County Herb Society. While one team worked in the Eldridge House, decorating that mid-1880's family home for the Christmas season with historically appropriate, natural and mostly herbal decorations; ourdoors we gardeners cleaned and put to bed the culinary herb garden, the fragrance and cutting garden, and the doctor's medicinal garden at the Doctor's office next door.
There's Norma, our president.
The kitchen smells like cinnamon and herbs when you walk in from the cold.

(Hi Milli, Sharon and Joanne!)
Here's the doctor's office, from the backyard:

And the doctor's garden (there's Diane):

I must say, Michigan can have some glorious, memorable autumn days.

(A note to the ladies of the Genesee County Herb Society: if you'd like to see more photos of our doings, double click on the orange Flickr badge on the right side of the screen... for the 'friends only' viewing permission to see more GCHS photos, write to me and I'll pop an invite in the e-mail.)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

My latest caper(s)

Sounds like a spy novel, eh? No such luck, just more garden trivia.

Well, a heavy frost has hit the nasturtiums and they are history. I did enjoy their reliable perky brightness this year, although why I planted the common mix instead of one of the really pretty varieties is a question for later.
Here's a photo:

The l-o-n-g hot summer of 2007 encouraged the annuals around here to bloom prolifically and lots of flowers means lots of seeds, if'n you don't go and kill off all the local pollinators with chemicals...

I'd always read and heard in herbie circles that you can make a pretty good substitute caper with the "buds" of nasturtiums but it took me this long to try it. For one thing I didn't cook with capers, being the chief cook and bottle washer for a gang of three hungry boys and their dad. Capers were always a tad la-te-da and I was busy and HAVE YOU SEEN THE PRICE of a bottle of capers?

For another thing I never knew what was meant by 'buds', I always considered buds to be immature flowers. NO, folks, the part you make nasturtium capers with is the unripened seeds.

Care for the recipe? It's really easy and a great payback on the price of a packet of seeds. that, and I got to enjoy the flowers all summer, right up until October.

Nasturtium Capers

First dissolve 1 Tbls. kosher salt in 1/2 cup water. (Boiling in the microwave does it fast.) Allow to cool to room temperature. While the salt water is cooling, gather about a half a cup of unripe nasturtium seeds (anything from indian bead size to fully expanded but still green), and wash if needed and remove any stems.
Add the seeds to the salt water and allow to soak for 24 hours.
The next day, drain the seeds, place them in the jar you want to save them in, and cover with 1/4 cup boiling vinegar. Cap and refrigerate.

This recipe makes a small jar. These measurements are all approximate, I don't know how it could be easier. The vinegar can be flavored with herbs if you like, or try different kinds of vinegar.
The color isn't as green as capers, but maybe adding some ascorbic acid to the salt water might remedy that. I notice the caper jar's list of ingredients includes ascorbic acid.
They are a bit crispier than real capers which may disappear in time, and there is a slightly different peppery nasturtium-ish flavor, but they are a pretty close approximation to capers. On the other hand, you made them. You know how they were grown and how they were processed, and they are from your backyard. Cool.

Here's what they look like, my nice crispy nasturtium capers (on the right) and the store bought real capers for comparison:

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is up for debate in the Senate this week. Please take a look at my cranky blog to see what's at stake and what you can do. The model is there for an easy phone call you can make.

This is a bipartisan issue: the solution is conservative in the best sense, and progressive in the best sense. For family farms, for wise use of resources, for nutrition programs, for our shared values, call.

Monday, November 05, 2007


ab·scis·sion [ ab sí sh'n ]
1. cutting off: the act of suddenly cutting something off
2. detachment of parts from plants: the natural process by which leaves or other parts are shed from a plant
[Early 17th century. < Latin abscission-< abscindere "cut off" < scindere "cut up, divide"]

My tree of life has lost a branch, damn canker.
All we can do is hope for the spring.
Root, sap, the reemergence of green leaves, flowers and fruit.
Meantime, I will miss you, Kevin.

"A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.
A good deed is never lost;
he who sows courtesy
reaps friendship,
and he who plants kindness
gathers love."
Basil (329-379 A.D.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

dusting off some old files

Busy busy busy. Helped the veggie plotters clean up the beautiful veggie garden yesterday and spread 12 yards of compost over the beds, and then a friendly little ladybug...

and a tiny sweet pea...

... showed up at the door last night for tricks and treats, so I was pretty well tuckered out by ten o'clock.
(Nice, wasn't it, how the little ones ended up with a gardeny theme in their costumes:)

But the paperwork for the herb garden project is due, so today I had to spend time indoors getting organized. My least favorite part of anything, paperwork, record keeping, whateverrrr.
Anyhow, while I was looking in my old files, I ran across a powerpoint presentation that I'd made after the garden tour back in June.
I'd like to share it, but I can't figure out how to send these powerpoint things in e-mail. I did figure out how to turn one into a slide show without too much difficulty. So here it is, without the nice transitions and it isn't much different in visuals from the earlier Herb Garden Tour movie, but the story focus is slightly different, and I found another catchy folk tune to accompany... and the Henry Beston quotation says so much in favor of herbs, it's one of my favorites.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Roasted Roots

Earlier this fall I took the grandbabies out to my friend Ulrike's place for pumpkins and a hug, and she gave me some of her husband's turnips that he raises to feed the deer that show up in their back forty. (They are both wonderful craftspeople, she with her pressed flower creations and he makes the most beautiful collector quality bows for hunters.)
Wow! You should see her herb garden! A huge garden with sturdy picket fences surrounding it, the herbs she loves mixed with the flowers she presses, and all in raised beds to keep it German neat and tidy.
But I'm always wandering off... back to the turnips. What to do with turnips? I'm used to roasting potatoes but I got a couple of new vegetable-based cookbooks this summer and Pat has been supplying recipes with the CSA veggies... so somewhere along the line I got the idea to roast a mixture of other root veggies along with the potatoes, a roasted root veggie melange so to speak. The mixture of sweet and pungent roots, roasted together, is delicious!
Here's the general recipe:

Wash and dry veggies (and trim if needed): I used turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots. Parsnips would be nice too. Dice the veggie roots into cubes.
Place veggies in oiled pan (half sunflower and half olive is nice), sprinkle with good salt and fresh ground black pepper, and your choice of herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, savory) and toss to coat lightly.
Roast at 400 degrees, tossing every 15 minutes or so, until golden browned. (At least an hour, depending on the size of your dices.) Do twice what you need and the next day you can quickly reheat the leftovers in a non-stick pan. The leftovers could easily go into a soup or stew as well.
Easy and good for you!

I went back and read this recipe again for some reason, and Yikes! I forgot the garlic! Add about 5 fresh crushed and chopped cloves of garlic to the veggies and toss them in the oiled pan. How could I have forgotten one of my very favorite veggies? Sorry.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Grand Blanc Farmer's Market

Closed for the season yesterday, hope to see you all back again next year!

Farmer's markets are pretty, aren't they? And small markets like this one are great because the people are so darn friendly. I took these pictures back in August, but every Sunday was just as lovely.
I bought farm-raised chickens from Hampshire Farms this summer - they taste more chicken-y than the insipid boneless skinless blobs of flesh from the grocery store. I know they were raised humanely and fed well with organic feed grown right there on the farm. Nice to think about. And the leftovers made outstanding stock.

This little block long street in Grand Blanc goes directly from the City Hall to the Physician's Park. It's a nice place for outdoor events. The city planners want to put up stores there to generate revenue, but this useage as an event venue is great in the meantime. We need walkable places where the cars aren't zooming past!

The free acoustic music and the presence of the Heritage Museum folks were homey touches (and I bought a nice handmade rug) and on the last day the vendors on the end with the grill looked like they were having a good time. I should have taken a picture of my friends staffing the Master Gardener information and outreach table, another friendly touch. We spent some nice times kibitzing. Next year I'll have to bring my camera and get some more pics.

I especially appreciated the Sunday market in Grand Blanc because the vendors were all selling their own products and their own local produce. They didn't drive to Detroit's Eastern Market to pick it up early in the morning and resell it to me in the afternoon.

My friend Pat was selling her certified organically grown veggies, so lucky for us, we were able to pick up our CSA half share at the local market here in Grand Blanc every week instead of the farther drive to the Flint Market or the even farther drive to her farm.

I didn't have to spend time in the produce department at the grocery store at all this summer. Between what we grew in our small yard (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and herbs, sour cherries, rhubarb and strawberries) and the 1/2 share of the CSA we had nearly everything I wanted.

We pick our own blueberries and raspberries at our favorite local berry farms, and get our apples and cider at Porter's Orchard in Goodrich. But on visiting the market on Sunday I had the chance to pick up the necessary odds and ends that Pat didn't grow - pumpkins, plums, sweet cherries, real apple cider vinegar (the organic kind with mother) from Al-Mar Orchard, and local organic eggplant and onions from Lawrence Farms.

Next week is the last official week of our 20 week CSA agreement, but Pat has bonus food still to harvest because the weather has been so darn good, and we'll get to go to the Flint Farmer's Market to pick it up there.
I think I posted this before, but here's Pat again... a happy memory for the winter.