Thursday, December 31, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

Grocery shopping has taken on a whole new meaning since Herb retired.
We spend twice as long, we move twice as slowly, we spend more.
My friend Jan warned me, "Never let (him) take over pushing the cart."
I think that is a good general all around warning for new retirees' wives.

Anyhow, this week, near the end of our seemingly endless trek, Herb slowed down to an interminable snail's pace. I'm not kiddin'. I thought maybe The Old Timers was kicking in.
After a few minutes, I figured out he was searching for something near the front of the store check-out aisles. Every s-i-n-g-l-e lane.

The new year's The Old Farmer's Almanac is a tradition in our house, and I'd forgotten. No wonder he was spending so much time in the magazine department while I was picking up mouthwash and aspirin in the next department over. We bought a copy. Mission accomplished.

(An oldie but goodie, eh? I just tripped across it while Googling for the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne. The grocery store reference was totally coincidental with my vignette above. Wooo.
Speaking of coincidences AND oldies but goodies, Herb brought home a season of Northern Exposure on dvd, from the library, the very day I posted that Solstice clip below. He doesn't read the blog - and we hadn't been talking about N/Ex either. Let me repeat, Wooo - I'm beginning to think Googling is the new Tarot, or tea leaves. )

Modern old gal that I am, I get free weekly updates in my email. "Wit and Wisdom delivered to your email box from The Old Farmer's Almanac," a.k.a. the Almanac Companion Newsletter. You can subscribe (link)

Here's a sample of Almanac-ky type information/trivia that I love to read, from this week's newsletter (slightly edited):

New Year’s Eve—December 31
Among the various superstitions surrounding the advent of the New Year is the nearly mandatory practice of noisemaking at midnight.
Now looked upon as mere revelry, it was once meant to drive out the old year and banish evil spirits, who would be scared off by the noise.
Many end-of-year practices actually date from ancient times. As early as 2600 B.C., Babylonians celebrated the new year with 11-day-long feasts and originated the noisemaking habit.
• In ancient Thailand, guns were fired to frighten off demons.
• In China, firecrackers routed the forces of darkness.
• In the early American colonies, the sounds of pistol shots rang through the air.
Today, Italians let their church bells peal, the Swiss beat drums and pots and pans, and North Americans sound sirens, car horns, boat whistles, and party horns—as well as set off fireworks—to bid the old year farewell.

Hogmanay—December 31
The Scottish celebrate Hogmanay, the word children use to ask for their traditional present of an oatmeal cake.

The custom of first-footing is also an important part of the celebration. The first person to cross the threshold into one's home, called the first footer, is an indication of the year to come. Although the tradition varies, if the first footer is tall and dark, the year will be a good one.

December 31—the Full Moon is blue
The 31st brings a second full Moon this month—a so-called “blue Moon”—to adorn the final night of the year. When there are two full Moons in a single month, the second is often called a “blue Moon.” On average, a "blue Moon" occurs once every 2-1/2 to 3 years.

This full Moon is called the Long Nights Moon by some Native American tribes.

What’s “NEW”?
The beginning of a new year has always been a matter of preference!
• Ancient Egypt believed that it occurred when the Nile overflowed its banks.
• Some Native Americans waited for the ripening of acorns.
• The Romans, in 153 B.C., were the first to use January 1, but this date wasn’t accepted by the American colonists until 1752.
Today, Orthodox Eastern churches celebrate on January 14; the Chinese New Year falls between January 21 and February 20; and the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, arrives between September 6 and October 5.

What’s “AULD”?
“Auld Lang Syne” is sung at the stroke of midnight on December 31 in almost every English-speaking country in the world.
Written by Robert Burns in 1788, it was first published in 1796 after Burns’s death. “Auld Lang Syne” literally means “old long ago” or, simply, “the good old days.”

Don't forget to pick up your copy of of the 2010 The Old Farmer's Almanac. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Craft: Firestarters for the depth of winter

November was so busy (wasn't it?) I'm only finally getting a chance to catch up now ... so today I want to shed a little light on a simple craft that I contributed to a craft sale/open house that the Herb Society participates in every fall at our local historical tourist attraction, Crossroads Village.

Marketed to deer widows, Ladies' Night Out is a lot of fun - the weather is a factor, but by early November the lovely Christmas lights are up at the Village, and women who attend get a preview showing, as well as all the other goodies the Village marketers and supporting organizations brew up. The Herb Society last year ran out of our complementary make-it-and-take-it heat sealed tea bags filled with lavender, and this year, we ran out of bags for our fill-your-own potpourri bags. The event gets bigger every year! and selling our crafts and baked goods helps fill our 'ways and means' coffer to spend on our programs and projects.

That said, my friend Ulrike gave me a bag of pine cones when she was clearing out her excess craft stores last summer, so I Googled around and found some recipes for good old fashioned waxed pine cone fire-starters, like the ones we made in Girl Scouts when I was a kid. This is what I came up with:

Craft Recipe: Waxed Pine Cone Fire Starters

In a double boiler, or better yet, in a Pyrex measuring cup placed in hot water in a controlled heating pot such as my dedicated former Fry Daddy, melt old candle stubs and/or canning paraffin until just liquified. Fish out the old candle wicks and discard them.
(Let me mention, melted wax is dangerous, flammable. Watch it carefully and keep the temp low - just enough to melt your wax.)

Place candy or mini-muffin sized paper cupcake liners in a mini-muffin pan. Smoosh a wad of cotton dryer lint in each cup. Carefully fill each lint/liner with some melted paraffin and set aside to dry.
Meanwhile, wrap a length of candle wicking around the bottom of each pine cone, leaving a bit to light sticking out. Dip these pine cones in the melted wax, using a tongs. While still soft, place each dipped pine cone in turn on it's own wax and lint-filled cupcake liner to dry. The melted wax dripping from the pine cones will stick the cones to the lint.

When thoroughly dry, take the whole waxed cone/lint/paper with the tongs, and dip the whole thing again in colored, scented wax. For the second, colored, dipping, I used old red, then green, candle stubs from Christmases Past. (To add depth of color, add some peeled Crayola crayons.) For a Christmas-y scent, I added a swig of cinnamon oil (find it in the candy/frosting making aisle) to the red wax, and peppermint oil to the green wax.
Allow to dry thoroughly in the mini-muffin cups. Voila!

Package for gift giving by filling the bottom of clean recycled baskets (re-gifted, thrifted, or garage sale rejects) with holiday tissue paper. Arrange the fire starters in a single layer. Add a bow or some greenery - they can be dressed quite prettily. They cost practically nothing to make, except your time.

Finally, I printed "Use and Safety" inserts to package in each basket, (you always hope that people act like adults around fire. But You Never Know!) Here is the text:

Caution: These are fire starters, NOT candles! They burn hot -with a flame- for about 20 minutes.
Use ONLY for starting fires in fireplaces and fire pits.
Expect about 2 Tablespoons (1/8th cup) of wax to melt from them, so plan accordingly. If using in a fireplace, place on a small fireproof pan to protect your firebrick from melted wax.

To use: Lay one starter on its side with the wick underneath. Light wick and edges of paper liner.
Add tinder or fatwood, larger sticks, then larger wood and logs in sequence.
Always use safety precautions around fires.
Never leave fire unattended.
Douse ashes completely when finished.

Note: Anxiety ridden mother that I am, I did a test run on the patio, so I could write with authority on the safety and use concerns ...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

My version of Elderberry Cough Syrup

It's really pretty tasty! And I think it's working during this germ-y season... I'll let you know.

I made some elderberry tincture last winter after taking a class by Jim McDonald that turned me on to tincturing, and then finding dehydrated berries for sale at a reliable beer-making supply shop.

Oh! BTW, a little news: Herb just learned this week that he won a third Silver Medal in the 2009 Great Lakes International Cider & Perry Competition, for his locally sourced, homemade (non-commercial) spiced apple wine. It really is good!

Back. Anyway, my tincture seemed nice, but I never really had a need to use it. I seem to be awfully healthy for such a broken down old gal (knocking on wood).
The only elderberries I've been able to find 'growing wild' are so near to roads that I don't trust their safety. This spring I planted a couple of tiny shrubs from the Conservation District in my backyard, but of course they need some time to grow.

Elderberry has been talked about by so many herbalists, especially during the recent season of flu scare, that I thought I'd try my hand at making and using 'it'. Most of the cough syrup recipes I've seen seem similar enough, so I thought I'd do my own riff and let you know how it turned out.

What I did
In a large saucepan combine:
1/2 cup dried elderberries
2 cups hot water
Bring to a boil while stirring constantly, then lower the heat and simmer about an hour, mashing berries occasionally.
(If you used fresh berries, you would only need a little water to keep from burning the berries initially, and you could simmer just long enough to juice the berries, but that's another recipe.)

Keep the lid on while simmering, and don't boil. If you can smell the berries in clouds of steam, then valuable essential nutrients are escaping into the air.
Remember, mash occasionally.

Pour it all into a cheesecloth lined 4-cup measuring cup to strain. Let sit to drain thoroughly.

Squeeze gently and discard berry pulp. (I set it aside to feed to my worm bin.)

Measure liquid and pour back in saucepan. To 1 1/2 cups juice stir in one generous cup of honey, heating briefly to blend well.

Remove from heat. For enhanced keeping quality, stir in 4 oz.* vodka, brandy or tincture.

Here is my innovation: I added that Elderberry tincture that I had made last fall. Double the berry, double the fun!

*By volume 8 + 12= 20 oz. : 20%= 4 oz.

I bottled mine in a quart canning jar with a plastic lid. It's pretty nice syrup - it's be good over ice cream or cake, or for an aperitif or a nightcap.
But to use 'medicinally' in the folk tradition, an adult dose would be a teaspoon a day. But look at the ingredients - a Tablespoon wouldn't hurt either, or stirring a teaspoon into a cuppa tea more often than once a day wouldn't hurt, might help build your resistance to cold and flu.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Cwaazy Cwis-mas

It was a Great Party!

At least we had one adult in the house...
"Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better."
- Albert Einstein

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Every Christmas is the same, but different

We put our tree in the great room this year, a good plan because Patrick slept on the fold out couch in the living room. It is a smallish tree this year, but the lights are reflected in the glass corner windows.

Where the tree was last year, the nativity set is center front. The girls loved being able to rearrange the scene. One minute Baby Jesus is in the loft, the next minute, K puts all of the sheep in my slipper to keep them warm through the night.
These ceramic pieces have been well loved by children through the years - ears missing, a horn chipped off, multiple glued fractures. That's Okay with this grandmother.

Peace on Earth, Good Will to All.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"One kind word can warm three winter months."
- Japanese Proverb

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Safe, and well hugged by his mother, for two, no three days. Verifiably healthy and whole. The best gift.

And he brought his dear friend. Makes it easier to say goodbye again.

What did we do? We watched movies that Pat brought (District 9, Up (which I loved!), and Lost season 5) we ate too much, he read and rested, we talked and opened presents, we looked at phone photos of his kitten, we went out to dinner at his favorite Italian restaurant with Tony and the girls, Mom took his picture, we hugged goodbye.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Recipe: (Roll and Cut Out) Sugar Cookies

Our little baker's helpers made Christmas cookies for Santa. 'A' wouldn't sit still enough for a photo, confirming the effect of too much sugar on 2-year olds, but 'K' seems to be enjoying herself as she shows off her handiwork.

The girls took home gingerbread cookies and sugar cut outs for their daddy and mommy, and to leave a few for Santa on The Big Night. Mission accomplished.
This is my new favorite recipe for a rich, short-but still soft- Christmas cookie.

RECIPE: Christmas Sugar Cut Outs

Sift together into a bowl and set aside:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a stand mixer bowl, combine thoroughly:
1 cup butter, softened
1 three-ounce package Philly cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar

Beat in:
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla

Then gradually stir in the dry ingredients, at medium speed, until incorporated. By hand, form the dough into two balls, wrap and refrigerate for an hour or so.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Roll dough 1/8 to 1/4" thick.
Cut out shapes and place on parchment-lined baking sheets.
Bake about 7 minutes, until the bottoms just begin to show color.
Cool pans a minute on racks, then remove cookies to rack and cool.

When thoroughly cool, decorate with icing as desired.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Recipe: Gingerbread Cut-out Cookies

I made the sugar cut out dough (above) and this dough for gingerbread boys on Friday, and refrigerated it so we'd have it ready for the girls to cut, bake and decorate.
The MOST fun about being a grandmother is when K comes over and tells me she wants to do a 'project'.

This recipe for Gingerbread Boys has been our favorite for 33 or so years.
Now A grabs one in her little fist, runs around the table, and chants,
"Run, run, run, as fast as you can!
You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man!"

Gingerbread Boys

Sift together, and set aside:
3 cups flour (you can go 2:1 A.P. to whole wheat)
2 t. cinnamon
2 t. ground ginger
1 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda

In a stand mixer bowl, cream together:
1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark molasses
1 egg
1 t. vanilla extract

Stir in dry ingredients until well incorporated. Form dough into two flattened balls, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Roll dough on a lightly floured board, to 1/4". Cut shapes and place on parchment.
Reroll and cut rest of dough.
Bake 8-10 minutes.
Cool 2 minutes on sheet before removing to rack to cool.
Makes about 8 big Gingerbread Men and a lot of small ones.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

We had to do something crafty for Christmas

I've seen this one everywhere on the web this year. I first learned to make Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments from the Herb Society, when we made homey decorations one year for decorating the 1880's Eldridge House at Crossroads Village. If you want to make some, they add a non-caloric but delicious scent to the seasonal festivities, here's a thrifty tip: buy your cinnamon, cloves, white glue and applesauce at the dollar store.

Recipe: Cinnamon Applesauce Ornaments

(not edible)

1 c. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. ground cloves
2/3- 3/4 c. applesauce
2 tbsp. thick white craft glue

Combine ingredients, drizzling a little glue at a time until dough reaches the right consistency for rolling, not too wet, or crumbly. Work 2 to 3 minutes (knead) or until smooth. If it is too dry, add applesauce, if too wet, add more cinnamon. Knead ball on cinnamon-sprinkled surface until it holds together well.

Roll out (with cinnamon sprinkled rolling pin on cinnamon sprinkled surface) to 1/4 inch thickness, do not roll any thinner. Cut shapes with cookie cutters.

Use a drinking straw to cut a hanging hole. Using spatula, place on parchment lined baking sheet. Let air dry for 24-48 hours, turning ornaments occasionally to prevent warping, or dry in a dehydrator, or, in a low oven bake at 170-200 degrees for a couple of hours until dried out. Place on rack to cool.

Sand rough edges with an emory board if needed.

If desired, paint with acrylics after completely dry. For fake frosting, use a white fabric paint.

When you pack the ornaments away, cushion them to keep them from breaking. And, if they start to lose their scent over the years, add a drop of cinnamon oil to bring back the scent.

You can use these in a myriad of ways from gift package tie-ons to tree ornaments. This year, the girls strung them on 1/8" red ribbon and used them like a garland on the front of the old dresser where we keep their books.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gingerbread and p.j.s

The girls spent the night on Sunday, and we made a "project"... Here they are Monday morning, taking turns yawning and admiring 'our' handiwork from the evening before.

They're so cute. They pick up words and phrases so seriously. They like things placed just so, and done they way we did them last time they were here. When they insisted on staying up past Grandma's bedtime, I told them I was going to turn into a pumpkin at midnight. A week later, K surprised me by using the same phrase, as in "Gramma, A's going to turn into a pumpkin!"

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Our weekend adventure

On Sunday we took K and A to a local Christmas tree farm to find a small fresh tree for our Christmas. When the boys were young we used to go out to the saw-your-own tree farm and agonize in the snowdrifts over the perfect tree, but lately I've become the master of Not Sweating The Small Things.
Last year we cut a volunteer seedling Norway spruce from our backyard, and the year before we bought a generic whatever tree from a lot. It's been a few years since we bothered to get out to a farm, and all I can say is, "Wow! Tree farms are really getting to be somethin'!"

We rode a two-horse drawn wagon out to the tree fields, visited (no waiting in line!) Santa Claus who gave the girls candy canes, fed apples to the reindeers, chased (not really) chickens, toasted and ate s'mores (the girls got marshmallow in their hair and their new hats, but they had such fun), picked out a Frasier Fir tree, rode back to the tree care area for a tree-shaking and tying onto the car while we noshed on more cider and doughnuts. The weather was warm enough to have fun with toddlers, and the operation, Trim Pine Farms, was so smoothly run, it made for a great afternoon.

Cute hat, huh? A picked it out herself - the minute she saw it she said "I have ears" and that was that. At least she wants to wear a hat this year!

She loves chickens - she remembered feeding the chickens at the orchard back in September, when we picked plantain and dandelion leaves to feed to the birds, and she began rooting around in the weeds.

Here is K talking to Santa. She actually sat on his knee twice, to get more apples to feed the reindeer, but A is still shy of Santa. She gets close, but just can't bear to sit on that lap, even for reindeer apples and candy canes.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

appropriate for the solstice

"There is a continuity about the garden and an order of succession in the garden year which is deeply pleasing, and in one sense there are no breaks or divisions - seed time flows on to flowering time and harvest time; no sooner is one thing dying than another is coming to life."
- Susan Hill and Rory Stuart

"Life is a series of little deaths out of which life always returns."
- Charles Feidelson, Jr.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Two out of three ...

... and Patrick will be home for Christmas.

"Gratitude is the memory of the heart."
- Jean Baptiste Massieu

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Easy, Flaky Pie Crust

As long as we're talking pie...
It's not that hard to make a good pie crust! People keep fiddling around with recipes, but the smartest thing to do, frankly, is to spend time fiddling around with your technique.

Pie crusts are 'short'. That means they don't like to be over heated or over handled. So cool it!

I learned my Mom's pie when I was a kid, and even (surprise!) won a pie contest with my blueberry pie, at the El Rancho restaurant, if anyone remembers that Flint area moment in time.

As a young wife, I over worked the task. tried variations, and even tripped myself up in the making of pie shells. For a while I'd forgotten the fact that although empty baked pie shells required pricking with a fork to keep them in shape, baked in the crust filled pies, like pumpkin for instance, do not need pricking.
And if fact, if you prick a raw crust and fill it, it will not bake properly. It was a head slapping moment when I realized my mistake after a few failures. Live and learn. Mom was "gone" by then, or I'm sure she would have helped me figure it out faster.

After 20 years or so, I taught my Mom's crust to Herb, and he'd taken it over. I rarely make a pie crust any more, but we have cut WAY back on the pie desserts, due to the cholesterol. It's nice Crisco has decided to make their shortening with non-trans fat, but a few years ago at a Slow Food workshop at Applewood (The Ruth Mott estate in Flint), the chef-owner of a Fenton restaurant, The French Laundry, shared some excellent locally sourced fruit pie, and his recipe, and it was mmmm. lovely.
His crust recipe was, by the way, a lot like mine with the emphasis on technique, only he uses half lard or butter. Can't eat that too often, but the flavor was a memory revived.

Here are the basics of Mom's piecrust:

Sift together:
2 cups flour (I like unbleached King Arthur A.P.)
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. baking powder

Cut in to crumbly crumbs:
3/4 cup cold shortening

Don't cut together too finely - that is overworking the 'short'.
Mix in a scant 1/3 cup ice cold water - don't overmix. With fingers, gather and shape dough into 2 flattened balls, put in a plastic bag and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Roll one chilled ball on a floured pastry cloth with a floured rolling pin, to 1/8". Transfer to pie plate and trim edges.

For baked pie shell: Shape ruffled edge with thumb and fingers. Prick with a fork, and bake at 475 degree for 8-10 minutes. Cool and fill.

For single crust filled pie: Shape ruffled edge, fill and bake as directed in recipe. You can also prebake this crust but I never needed to do that.

For double crust (filled of course) pie: Fill, then roll second ball and fit top crust on top of filling. Dampen edges of bottom crust, trim both crusts to fit, and press together to seal. Shape ruffled edge. Bake as directed. You can sprinkle with granulated sugar before baking, I only do that with rhubarb pie. I never glaze with milk or egg wash either.

There you have it. Practice.

Pumpkin Recipe - Two Pumpkin Pies

Two! years ago, around Thanksgiving, I wrote my definitive comments on pie, pumpkin pie, and the coming holidays. But I never actually wrote out my pie recipe. So this year, I'll fix that sin of omission.
I've used the popular condensed milk recipe for many years, with a few personal additions (vanilla extract and molasses) - it's a foolproof recipe for a busy cook. Should I include it here? okay.

Creamy Pumpkin Pie

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a single 9-inch crust pie shell, unbaked.

Blend together in a large bowl:
1 egg (or 2), beaten
16 0z canned pumpkin (2 generous cups of homemade puree)
1 can Eagle Brand condensed milk
1/8 cup molasses
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t each: nutmeg, allspice, ginger
1/4 t. cloves

Pour into a prepared pie shell. Bake 50 minutes or until done. Test with a dinner knife inserted 1" from the edge. If you watch carefully, pull the pie out just as the center is inflating. Wait longer, and the pie will be overcooked. Cool.
Best served still slightly warm from the oven. Refrigerate leftovers.


Well, that is a fine pie, but this year I made Mom's old evaporated milk recipe with my little variation, and I think it beats the other.

My Mom's Pumpkin Pie

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a single 9-inch crust pie shell, unbaked.

Beat together in a large bowl:
2 eggs (3)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
a good slurp of molasses
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. ginger
1/2 t. allspice
1/4 t. cloves

Stir in, blending well:
1 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (up to 2 cups)
1 1/2 cup Carnation evaporated milk

Pour into a prepared pie shell. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Then lower oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 30-35 minutes, or until tests done (see above). Cool.
Best served still slightly warm from the oven. Refrigerate leftovers.

NOTE: This is different from the recipe on the can which, among other differences, adds flour (?) and only brown sugar. I've experimented by adding more pumpkin, but, if you do, remember it all has to fit in the pie shell, and the pie filling level does rise slightly from the action of the beaten eggs. So have a pyrex cup nearby to cook the extra in, just in case.

Nostalgia: Mom's recipe starts with a hotter oven, and the tradition was to bake the mincemeat pie first at the hotter temperature, and removing it and putting in the pumpkin pie. This is the first year in my life that we didn't have a mince pie for Thanksgiving. Times change and tastes change. My son brought a cherry pie with three kinds of cherries that he's been perfecting. We can have a mince pie for Christmas.
"It is utterly forbidden to be half-hearted about gardening. You have got to love your garden whether you like it or not."
- W.C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman

Saturday, November 07, 2009

"Winter is the season dominated by bare soil: the whole gardening cycle begins with the care and preparation of the earth during winter so that it will feed plants the following year. One of the things I enjoy about digging (and there are lots of things I enjoy about it) is the smell of the earth that is released by the spade cutting in and lifting clods that have been buried for a year. Not only does the soil itself have a real scent, but the roots of the crop or plant - even weed - that has been growing there will also contribute to the mix, creating something new out of the vague remnants of last season's garden."
- Monty Don, The Sensuous Garden, 1997

Along the same train of thought, some British scientists have found a physical basis for the effect that gardeners and poets have long observed. Getting close to freshly turned soil is elevating.

Soil Bacteria Work In Similar Way To Antidepressants
02 Apr 2007
by Catharine Paddock, Medical News Today

UK scientists suggest that a type of friendly bacteria found in soil may affect the brain in a similar way to antidepressants.

Their findings are published in the early online edition of the journal Neuroscience.

Researchers from Bristol University and University College London discovered using laboratory mice, that a "friendly" bacteria commonly found in soil activated brain cells to produce the brain chemical serotonin and altered the mice's behaviour in a similar way to antidepressants.

They are suggesting this could explain why immune system imbalance could make some people vulnerable to mood disorders like depression.

Lead author, Dr Chris Lowry from Bristol University said, "These studies help us understand how the body communicates with the brain and why a healthy immune system is important for maintaining mental health".

"They also leave us wondering if we shouldn't all be spending more time playing in the dirt," he added.

Dr Lowry and colleagues became interested in the project when they heard that cancer patients treated with the bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae reported increases in their quality of life. They speculated this could be because the bacteria were activating brain cells to release more serotonin.

(Here, I snipped a short bit about serotonin. If you want more info, Google the article:)

Apart from having a range of pharmacological actions, serotonin constricts blood vessels, sends messages between cells in the brain and within the central nervous system, regulates secretion of digestive juices, and helps to control the passage of food through the gut.

Different parts of the brain and the body need different levels of serotonin. In the brain for example, the hypothalamus (involved in mood regulation) needs a lot of serotonin while the cortex (involved in many complex processes like thinking, memory, attention, awareness and consciousness) only needs a little.

The brain keeps serotonin levels in balance using at least three mechanisms. One way is by releasing it, a second way is by inactivating it once it is released into the synaptic space between the nerve endings, and the third way is by absorbing it, a process known as "reuptake".

Low levels of serotonin are linked with a number of disorders including aggression, anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, irritable bowel and fibromyalgia.

Antidepressants work by increasing serotonin levels in particular areas of the brain. One type, known as monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors reduce the brain's ability to inactivate the free serotonin. Another type, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work by slowing down the reuptake process.

The friendly bacteria in this study appear to be having an antidepressant effect in a third way, by increasing the release of serotonin.

"Identification of an immune-responsive mesolimbocortical serotonergic system: Potential role in regulation of emotional behavior."
C.A. Lowry, J.H. Hollisa, A. de Vriesa, B. Pana, L.R. Brunetb, J.R.F. Huntb, J.F.R. Patonc, E. van Kampena, D.M. Knighta, A.K. Evansa, G.A.W. Rookb and S.L. Lightmana.
Neuroscience Available online 28 March 2007

Article URL:

Sunday, November 01, 2009

"An exercise in faith, it has been called, this consumptive pastime of ours, to believe that a bed, once more colorful with handwritten plastic than plants, would become a billowing border the following spring."
- Daniel Hinkley and Robert Jones

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"In the sheltered heart of the clumps last year's foliage still clings to the lower branches, tatters of orange that mutter with the passage of the wind, the talk of old women warning the green generation of what they, too, must come to when the sap runs back."
- Jacquetta Hawkes

Whoooo. The remaining leaves all fell at once on one rainy windy day. The world looks as old as me, spooky for Halloween, not like last year's glorious last hurrah.
This evening I found a sweet little mouse in my kitchen; her name was Minnie.

And a beautiful purple fairy (with green woolies underneath her gossamer costume) was discovered in my living room, stealing candy, as fairies will do.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A walk in the woods

Our favorite cider mill was so crowded with tourists out for their once yearly trek to buy pumpkins and jump in the bounce house that Pa just drove right past, even though K does dearly love bounce houses.
I know, the business world is tough, and this is what brings in the spenders... sigh.
We'll be back when the bounce house is gone.

We went for a walk instead.

At the State Park, we hiked in the woods (two miles is a lot for little ones! SOME of us got carried part way) we collected pretty leaves, and we threw rocks in the lake.

We saw native Witch Hazel blooming, and found Sassafras 'mittens' shaped like Michigan.

After a snack in the pavilion, we played on the old swingset until thoroughly tuckered out.

October's flaming leaves 'lighting the way to winter', indeed.

The shame of it is, we saw a total of two other couples walking their dogs, during the whole afternoon. A few miles away, the plastic bounce house was jumpin' and shakin'. Do I worry about America? Yes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Our Big Day

Ashley was already Family, this day made it official. She was a beautiful, earnest, optimistic, lovely bride. And Tony looked dreamily happy. I wish I had more photos to post... maybe I'll get some soon.

by Noel ‘Paul’ Stookey

- Wedding Song -
He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts.
Rest assured this troubadour is acting on His part.
The union of your spirits here has caused Him to remain,
for whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name,
There is love. There is love.
Oh, a man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home.
And they will travel on to where the two will be as one.
As it was in the beginning, is now until the end:
woman draws her life from man
and gives it back again and there is love.
Oh, there is love.
Well then what's to be the reason for becoming man and wife?
Is it love that brings you here or love that brings you life?
Or, if loving is the answer, then who's the giving for?
Do you believe in something that you've never seen before?
Oh, there is love. There is love.
He is now to be among you at the calling of your hearts.
Rest assured this troubadour is acting on His part.
The union of your spirits here has caused Him to remain
for whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name -
there is love. Oh, there is love.

Friday, October 16, 2009

"October's poplars are flaming torches lighting the way to winter."
- Nova Bair

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pumpkin Recipes - Pepitas

As long as we are making squash for dinner, or pumpkin puree for recipes, or even just decorating with a carved jack-o'lantern, it seems silly not to use the seeds... they are so good for you! So, when you clean a squash - most* kinds have nice edible seeds - put the seeds in a colander to wash and toast them for snacks.
BTW, "pepita" means squash seed in Spanish.

*I have tried the seeds from various squashes. Not all are good to use. Pumpkin seed are well known taste treats, but, for instance, the seeds from the local farm stand's favorite squash, the Pink Banana, are huge... but they are all fiber-y shell and very little nutty center. Chew on a few of those babies and you'll end up with a mouthful of cardboard.

Wash the seeds, removing any stringy fiber and return to the colander. Dry with a kitchen towel. Place in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Sprinkle with the scantest amount of vegetable oil. I like sunflower or peanut oil for the nutty taste.
Sprinkle with salt and, if desired, with herbs or seasoning*, tossing with a spatula to coat, and returning to the single layer.
Bake in a slow oven, turning occasionally to brown evenly. I've toasted them at 200 degrees for up to an hour, or 350 degrees, turning often, for a half an hour.

*pumpkin pie spices, barbecue dry rub, Sazon Seasoning (achiote and culantro).

Pumpkin Recipes - Quick Bread

Pumpkin Quick Bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line 3 loaf pans with waxed paper (a dab of Crisco will make it stick in place).

In a large bowl, thoroughly combine sugar and wet ingredients:
3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil (sunflower or safflower)
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

In a separate bowl, sift and combine dry ingredients:
3 1/2 cups a.p. flour
2 t. salt
2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
1 t. cloves
1 t. allspice

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet. Add about a half cup of water if the batter is too thick. Optionally, you can stir in 1 cup of chopped walnuts, chopped pecans, raisins or dried cranberries.
Pour evenly into pans, and bake for 1 hour, until a toothpick tests clean. (It usually takes at least ten more minutes.)

Note: You might have read recipes using more water. My recipe uses less water because I make my own pumpkin puree instead of using canned pumpkin.
Note: For a lower cholesterol recipe, you can use egg substitute for the eggs, and replace half the oil with applesauce. Frankly, the result is not as good (I'd call it rubber-y).
Note: I've also substituted our CSA spelt flour for the a.p. flour and loved the result.

Pumpkin Recipe - Pumpkin Pie Squares

I made these pie squares when the boys were living at home. They liked them and it was a change from the traditional pie, although I think they're a tad sweet. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream.

Pumpkin Pie Squares

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut together in a large bowl:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup quick oats
1/2 cup butter

Press crumbly mixture into a 9x13 pan. Bake 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, beat together:
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 12-oz can evaporated milk
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
pinch cloves

Pour mixture into baked crust. Bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut together:
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 T butter

Sprinkle topping on hot 'pie' in oven and bake another 15-20 minutes.
Cool enough to cut in squares. Serve with a spatula. Refrigerate leftovers.

Pumpkin Recipes - Helen's Pumpkin Spice Bars

Have pumpkin, will bake.

Pumpkin Spice Bars

(A good way to use pumpkin - or any winter squash- from the kitchen of Helen E., who brought this nice sheet cake to the Genesee County Herb Society's refreshment table many years ago, and gave me the recipe.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a jelly roll pan (15X10X1").

Beat 'wet' ingredients in a large bowl:
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil (safflower or sunflower)
2 cups pumpkin

Add 1/2 cup raisins. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, sift together 'dry' ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/4 t. cloves

Beat dry ingredients into wet. pour batter into pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
When thoroughly cooled, frost with cream cheese frosting (recipe follows) and sprinkle with 1 cup of chopped walnuts. Cut 4 X 8 = 32 2" x2" bars. Leftovers should be refrigerated.

NOTE: in this case, cutting the oil with half applesauce (to reduce the cholesterol and the cost) doesn't seem to change the texture enough to dismiss the idea.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 3-oz pkg. Philly cream cheese, softened
1 Tbsp. milk
1 t. vanilla extract
a dash of salt

Gradually stir in, then beat until smooth and spreadable, thinning if necessary with more milk:
2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar

Thursday, October 01, 2009

"For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad."
- Edwin Way Teale

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dealing with the Plethora, IV

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

This recipe is my adaptation of a recipe in the G.M. Girl's Club Cookbook. It is probably best to use a stand mixer to put this one together.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease (well) and flour a Bundt pan, or a 9x13" cake pan.

Cream together in large bowl:
3/4 cup margarine (or butter)
3 eggs
2 cups sugar

Beat in:
1/4 cup orange juice (or lemon juice)
1/2 cup milk
2 t. vanilla extract (substitute coconut extract for a rich flavor)

Stir in:
2 cups grated zucchini (I've used up to 3 or 4 cups of zucchini, and it doesn't seem to be a problem)

Sift together in a separate bowl, then stir into wet ingredients:
2 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon

Optional stir ins:
1 cup chopped nuts or chocolate chips

Spread evenly in pan, then bake for 50 minutes to an hour, until it tests done with a toothpick.
Frost the cooled cake, or not. I don't think it needs any additions, except if you really wanted to splurge on the calories, add ice cream and warm chocolate sauce.

NOTE: A great version I made years ago and jotted down included additions of raspberry flavored chips, 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped, and 1/4 t. peppermint extract.

Dealing with the Plethora, III

Zucchini for lunch?
Here's a great recipe for a zucchini bread that I love to eat spread with peanut butter. The added sunflower nuts (shelled seeds) make it special. For many years I made your typical zucchini bread with walnuts or occasionally with raisins, but I like this better!

(I started posting this yesterday, along with the other zuke recipes ... but then K and A arrived, and we went off to play. The girls loved sandwiches made with this bread. They spread their own peanut butter and jam, to the PB&Jelly song ... what fun!)

(Warning! A (gasp!) Political Note on my 'happy talk' blog:
I also appreciate the fact that this recipe calls for sunflower oil, a healthy alternative to the Genetically Modified - sourced oils such as soy, corn and canola that I no longer use. I believe in voting with my wallet, which is why I don't shop at Wallymart or eat at fast food chain restaurants. So kill me.)

Sunflower Zucchini Bread
Source: Country Living Gardener magazine (1993)

1 3/4 cup unsifted flour (I use spelt when I have it)
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup hulled sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raisins
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1/2 cup sunflower oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shredded zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a loaf pan (I use a minimal amount of shortening to stick wax paper to line my loaf pans. Never have a problem with sticking.)

In a large bowl, thoroughly combine dry ingredients, then stir in peel, raisins and sunflower nuts.
In a separate measuring cup combine the shredded zucchini with the wet ingredients.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just incorporated.
Spread batter into the loaf pan and bake 55-60 minutes, until cake tester comes out clean.

Cool bread in pan for at least 10 minutes, then on wire rack until cool.

Dealing with the Plethora, II

Zucchini for breakfast?
Sure, zucchini fritters are just another name for pancakes if you serve them with maple syrup or fruit jam.

A recipe? Just take your old favorite corn fritter or potato latke recipe and substitute shredded, drained zucchini for the corn or potato.
If you're making them to serve as a side for dinner, serve with a dash of salt and pepper, no syrup. When we ate hot, fresh Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes) on the street in front of the wonderful Medieval cathedral in Koln, Germany, they were served with applesauce.

Here's how I make Easy Zucchini Fritters:

Put a couple of cups of shredded zucchini (and/or summer squash), squeezed to drain well, in a bowl. Stir in an egg or two. Beat in enough biscuit mix to make it look like a very thick pancake batter.
Like any fritter measure by 1/4 cups into hot oil and fry on both sides.
Keep warm on a paper towel and serve hot.

Dealing with the Plethora

... of zucchini.

The best thing about using a microwave oven in the summer is that you can steam veggies in no time at all, and you don't add a lot of humidity to an already humid afternoon. Three minute corn on the cob? Wrap 1-4 shucked cob(s) in a sheet of paper toweling, wet it, place it in the microwave oven and cook on HI for 3 minutes.
No pot of boiling water, no humidity.
Believe me, if you have always lived in an air conditioned home, you are one of The Lucky, and you should count your blessings.
But on to the topic of the day, zucchini, a gift from the garden that keeps on giving.

We've been backyard veggie gardeners since before the days when it wasn't 'kewl', and after I finally relented to modernism and let the guys add a microwave to the kitchen remodeling plan back in the late eighties (after our third son was born and life was hectic) I adapted the following zucchini recipe from an old Flint, Michigan Junior League's cookbook.

Cheezy Zucchini Casserole
4-5 servings

2-3 cups zucchini, diced

Microwave zuke on HI in a covered bowl with a small amount of water (1/4 cup?) about 5 minutes. Stir and nuke again a few minutes if needed, until tender but not mushy. Pour into a colander and drain well.

Combine, in the bowl:

1 egg
1 Tblsp. flour (heaping)
1/2 - 3/4 cup sour cream (I use my homemade Greek yogurt, but don't tell Herb)
1 - 1 1/2 cup shredded cheese, your choice
1/2 cup bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled

Stir it all together, then fold in the zucchini.
(At this point you can refrigerate it to finish later, but it will need another minute of cooking in the following step.)
Microwave on HI for 3 minutes. Stir lightly, then sprinkle with more crumbled bacon or buttered bread crumbs, and microwave for about 2 more minutes.

And remember to pick your zucchini while they're still small!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

the day after Earth Day

Remember the little guy with the broom following the parade at the end of the intro to The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show? I often picture myself as that little guy.
So after all the great Green Celebration online and in commercial advertising of What We Can Do To Save the Planet for the past few days, and after watching the auditorium in Bay City filled with citizens wearing "Clean Coal" baseball caps and t-shirts touting "Clean Coal = Michigan Jobs" ... I'm feeling a tad cynical.
Note to World: There IS NO Such THING as CLEAN COAL.

Funny, some of the biggest financial supporters of the Wanton Earth-destroyer former president are giving away those energy saving curly light bulbs in their big box stores this week. There has to be a catch.
Ah, yes, mercury.
Invite a curly bulb into your home, invite a mercury contamination site.
Better turn your lights off, or switch to LED fixtures.

If you already have curly bulbs in your home, it might be wise to bone up on the proper way to dispose of these bulbs and how to clean up after breakage. Have a plan.

In case you haven't heard much discussion from your news, or governmental services, or enviro-green-gardening clubs, maybe you can start a local discussion, or at least spread awareness of this small but potentially significant issue.

(UPDATE: I just heard on NPR today the Republican party in Michigan is fighting tougher mercury regulations. But I must admit, politicians on the Right have no lock on stoopid - a prominent local Democrat was there in Bay City touting the air and water for jobs swap deal as well.)

Luckily, a few weeks ago, Sheryl from sent this information on CFL bulb breakage from the Natural Resources Defense Council, to pass along to others.


1) Open a window before cleaning up, and turn off any forced-air heating or air conditioning.

2) Instead of sweeping or vacuuming, which can spread the mercury around,
scoop up the glass fragments and powder. Use sticky tape to pick up remaining glass fragments or powder. Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or wet wipes.

Dispose of the broken bulb through your local household hazardous waste program or recycling program. If that service is unavailable in your area, place all clean-up materials in a trash container outside the building.

Wash your hands after cleaning up.

5) If vacuuming is needed afterwards,
when all visible materials have been removed, vacuum the area and dispose of the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag. For the next few times you vacuum, turn off any forced-air heating or air conditioning and open a window before doing so.

NOTE: The most common risk of mercury exposure to children comes from canned tuna because kids eat so much of it. Give them chunk light tuna rather than white albacore, since it's lower in mercury, and limit the portions and frequency according to their weight. Pregnant women should do the same. Get guidelines from the NDRC.

UPDATE (2:30 pm): I just opened an email from the Environmental Working Group with added valuable advice on curly light bulb (CFL) cleanup:

Cleaning up broken CFL bulbs
If a bulb breaks in your home, proper clean-up procedures can reduce airborne mercury concentrations by roughly half.

Follow EWG's 10 step clean-up checklist (link).

The most critical steps:
* Keep children and pregnant or nursing women away from the contaminated area.
* Close doors and open windows to allow volatile mercury vapors to vent outdoors. Stay away for 5 to 15 minutes.
* Scoop up bulb fragments and use tape to collect tiny particles. Seal the waste in a glass jar with screw-top lid. (Second choice: a plastic jar with a screw-on lid.)

This point on the EWG 10 point cleanup list is disturbing:

6. If a bulb breaks on a rug or carpeting:

Fabrics are harder to clean than hard surfaces; removing all mercury may be impossible. Hang a CFL-contaminated rug outside. Experts disagree on whether to vacuum carpeting. EPA recommends doing so and cleaning the vacuum afterward. Scientists with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection disagree: after testing various CLF cleanup scenarios [link], they concluded that vacuuming can spread mercury vapor and permanently contaminate the vacuum.

Keep infants, children and women of childbearing age away from the carpeting for several weeks.

Disposing of spent CFL bulbs
Each state has its own laws and regulations for recycling or disposing of spent CFL bulbs. Learn about your state's recycling and disposal options at this EPA lightbulb site
Also,, a nationwide recycling information site, lists retailers like Ace Hardware, Home Depot and IKEA and municipal programs that accept burnt-out CFLs.

And, if you've ever had a thermometer or thermostat break ... the EWG adds:
"Thermometers, thermostats and silent switches made with mercury contain more toxic material and pose a much greater health risk. If one of these items breaks, read EPA's clean-up instructions at:"

The EWG website also has a thoughtful discussion on proper placement of CFLs in the home - don't put them in children's rooms, recreation rooms, or workshops where breakage is more likely. Don't put them in pole lamps. Don't use them in rooms with valuable carpets.

There is a buying guide on the EWG website as well, listing the bulbs with the least mercury in them. Check out the EWG Green Lighting guide for more discussion (a .pdf link is at the EWG site here).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

a small bit of comic relief - Chia Pet!

I was bopping around the channels on the Tube a few evenings ago, after Herb had turned in for the night, and landed on a random channel showing a stage set with the big word, SALVIA! written across the backdrop ... a gardening show?

No, Dr. Phil (whom I admit I have no patience for), was pushing and pulling some willing edjit (where do they get these people?) through the wringer concerning her inability to parent her son, her problem being that she was letting this kid use drugs, including the latest boogieman of the plant kingdom, (gasp!) Salvia.

Salvia, indeed.

You'd think a doctor would have a better grasp on basic botany than to allow his stage designer to smear a whole genus of diverse but related plants by putting just their in-common name up on a Dr. Phil's Billboard of Shame.

Scatter shot Phil was actually aiming at Salvia divinorum, a hallucinogenic Salvia used by indigenous North Americans in their religious tradition, but that big sign offended the herb gardener in me ...

I happen to like Salvias.
I use various Salvias for colorful yard ornamentation, to stuff my poultry, and to flavor my signature tea blends.
I even use one member of the great Salvia genus for Silliness.

Okay, everyone, now sing along with me...
"Chi, Chi, Chi, Chia PET!"

My depressed local area shaping up to be Garage Sale Central for 2009, I found a Chia Pet Kitty locally, for less than a song on Itunes.

(On consideration, I don't know why my family never bought me a Chia Kit for a holiday or a birthday - did they think I was too sophisticated? Ha! Shows how little they know me, or listen to my broad hinting.)

Anywho, I sent away for Chia seeds, Salvia hispanica, from Richters, who also sells the bad Salvia, by the way.

So, my friends, follow along with me on a little pictorial tutorial on the "Greening of the Kitty".
First: soak your Kitty. Overnight. Soak a small quantity of the Chia seeds as well. They generate a delightful mucus. This project is great for adolescents of all ages.

With your fingers, spread the mucus-y Chia seeds into the grooves on the Kitty.

Devise a little tent of plastic film to keep the seeds hydrated. Place Kitty in a bright spot, remembering to refill her water cavity as needed.

In a matter of a few days, rootlets form, and leaflets.

Another day with good light, Greenness.

And in a few days, with spritzing and watering Kitty, here is what you have:

Cute, huh?
Here is what Richter's catalogue says about Chia:
Incredible supergrain!
An ounce of Chia seed has as much omega-3 as 8 ounces of Atlantic salmon, as much calcium as a cup of milk, the fibre of 1/3 cup of bran, the Vitamin C of 2 oranges, the potassium of half a banana.

Aztecs called it "the running food" because messengers could run all day on a handful of seeds.

The J. L. Hudson seed catalog mentions there are 900 species in the genus Salvia, and of S. hispanica writes that the mucus-y Chia seed hydrated in water or juice "resemble(s) frog's eggs, the whole being drunk and is quite refreshing. ... also an old California-Mexican remedy for diarrhea."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Egg Hunt

My grand-babies, aren't they lovely. Little Aubrey loves finding the eggs but puts them in Kayla's basket. Sweetheart.


I'm looking at other Easter Egg Hunt postings on Flikr and notice all of the lovely parts of the country where the grass is green and the leaves are unfolding. Hmpfh!


Nature's Easter colors hereabouts are mainly blue sky and dirt brown everything else, with a few hints and spots of promise in spring green alliums, inch high rhubarb with its pink green ruffles, reviving green primroses and greening up iris leaves.


The crocuses and scillas are most of what provides the spots of color in Mom Nature's cheeks, but what nature doesn't provide, we do for ourselves ... pretty dresses, colored eggs, plastic toys that hint of summer fun.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A Day to Bless the Sun

Somehow along the path this morning I ran across this reference (link) to a tradition called The Blessing of the Sun and somehow it fit with my mood today. Although we got five inches of snow on Sunday night, it just feels like Spring is coming... Is it because there is the sound of birds calling now instead of the quiet of winter, or other obvious signs of of the season, or just the noticeable change in the length of day and the noticeable warmth coming from my old friend, the Sun.
So for a while before I kept my movie date at the Flint Institute of Arts, I amused myself a bit by reading up on The Blessing of the Sun.
(Don't you love Google (link)?)
So, God created the Sun on a Wednesday, and this is a special one.

After the movie, my friend and I sit around a while and talk about the film, and our worlds, and sometimes, like today, about our creative lives. What a joy to have someone to talk to. Friends are like blessed sunshine.

Along that train of thought, about creativity, here's my latest stepping stone. (I threw it on the melting snow outside the back door to get a photo of it in the blessed sunshine. Isn't that poor croaked crocus, the one of the bunch that had the strength to stick up out of the snow, pathetic?)
Can you guess what the flower on my stone is? Herb had a hard time. I guess I need to learn more about cutting glass to achieve more botanically correct leaves. It's been so long since he saw a dandelion, I'm sure that's it.

Here is a line from Wikipedia about The Blessing of the Sun:
"Birkat Hachama (ברכת החמה, "Blessing of the Sun") refers to a Jewish blessing that is recited in appreciation of the Sun once every 28 years, when the vernal equinox, as calculated by tradition, falls on a Tuesday at sundown. Jewish tradition says that when the Sun completes this cycle, it has returned to its position when the world was created."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Word on 875 from the OCA

I've read a lot of scare mail from people who are upset about a proposed Ag bill, reminiscent of the way the internet rumor mill was abuzz with het-up herbalists back in the mid-90s when the DSHEA bill was in Congress.
Does anybody beside me remember the tempest in a teapot that DSHEA was, and what was the result of that ginned up "populist" anger?
Back then the fear (much of it was being fed by Anti-Clinton fever) was that the government was going to raid your garage if you were hanging your homegrown sage to dry and arrest you if you received basil seeds in the mail.
I am not kidding.

The result of that hysteria was a weakening of the FDA (read this link)... and now we have adulterated peanut butter and wonder why.
But that's the free market for you.

I confess I haven't read this bill. (Don't get me started on that... most bills don't get read even by our Representatives, under any president, yours or mine.)

My opinion? I think the current fear mongering is another case of manipulation by a certain political mindset who are masters of the art of suggestion, and who repeatedly have convinced average citizens to work and vote against their own best interests. There is a great book about this by Thomas Frank titled "What's the Matter With Kansas", a phrase that emerges in my mind whenever I read some of these email FWDs that I get in the old inbox.

I have read a lot of chatter about this bill, and since I trust the Organic Consumers Association, I thought I'd post their thoughts on the issue.
The OCA sends a free email newsletter that you can sign up for, if such things are important to you.

One more thought. Most people don't know their farmer. Most people can't afford to know their farmer.
You should know, though, that good certified organic farmers already do "keep records" for purposes of their certification.

There is always a way to do things dirtier and cheaper. We need to think in terms of the health of our nation in our rule making. The "free market" is not going to protect our food supply.

HR 875 Update: The Biotech Companies are Destroying Traditional Farming (Just Not in this Bill)

* By Alexis Baden-Mayer, Esq.
Organic Consumers Association, March 25, 2009

The following note is typical of the calls and e-mails Organic Consumers Association has been receiving this week:
"Do you know anything about HR 875, a 'food safety' bill that was written by Monsanto, Cargill and ADM? I've heard a few individual activists scream about this as the death of farmers markets, CSAs and local organic food, yet have seen no alerts from any of the reliable groups, including OCA. Any idea what's up with this?"

HR 875 is a food safety bill that, as it is currently drafted, could be applied to all farms, including certified organic and farm-to-consumer operations. The bill would require farms to have a food safety plan, allow their records to be inspected, and comply with food safety regulations.

For the record, Organic Consumers Association does have an alert on HR875. As OCA points out in our Action Alert, we cannot support a "food safety" bill unless it provides protection or exemptions for organic and farm-to-consumer producers and cracks down on the real corporate criminals who are tampering with and polluting our nation's food supply.

Having said that, OCA supports aspects of HR875 that call for mandatory recalls of tainted food, increased scrutiny of large slaughterhouses and food manufacturers, and hefty fines against companies that send poisonous food to market.

The now discredited ultra-libertarian notion that companies or the "market" will regulate themselves is not only ludicrous, but dangerous, whether we are talking about the banking system or the food and farming sector.

When researching this issue, Organic Consumers Association turned to trusted sources within the organic farming community. We suggest the following resource for further reading:

An Integrated Approach to Food Safety
Russell Libby, Executive Director
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Letter from the Farmers Market Coalition on HR 875

Organic food healthier and more intensively inspected—but not magically protected from humans or pathogens
Rodale Institute

To get a sense of the food safety issues that Congress is trying to deal with, read Jill Richardson's (La Vida Locovore) write-up of a March 19, 2009, hearing in the House Energy & Commerce subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations on the salmonella peanut butter outbreak :

Of course, Monsanto and large corporate agribusiness are out to destroy traditional farming. Unfortunately, while many people have been distracted by HR 875, the biotech companies have been hard at work pushing their agenda (see below). We need to keep working together to work towards positive alternatives, such as organic agriculture and the green economy.

A ban on rBGH-free labeling from Monsanto's successor Eli Lilly
A bill that is working its way through the Kansas legislature would prevent farmers from labeling any dairy products sold in Kansas as being "free" of genetically modified bovine growth hormone (rbST or rBGH). Farmers could say that the product comes from cows that haven't received injections of the artificial bovine growth hormone, which stimulates milk production (and increases the use of antibiotics and the presence of pus in milk). However, such products would also be forced to include disclaimers saying that the federal government has found no significant difference between milk from cows injected with rbST and milk from those that have not received the hormone. While there is an exemption for certified organic milk, OCA opposes this law. It has Monsanto's fingerprints all over it. The revolving door that brought Monsanto executives through the FDA is the reason the federal government took the position that there's no difference between milk produced with or without rbST. Monsanto sold rbST to Eli Lilly in August 2008, but the pro-rbST strategy hasn't changed much.

Monsanto uses closed-door lobbying to block Montana bill that would protect farmers
Montana Senators sidelined a seed bill that sought standards for how biotech companies test crops for patent infringement, burying the bill after getting a private dinner with Monsanto representatives.

Epitopix's E. coli vaccine
A vaccine for E. coli has been conditionally approved by the USDA. Now the USDA can force this new animal drug on all beef and dairy producers rather than focus on the cause of E. coli and its spread, feeding cows grain instead of grass, confining cows in pens where they wade in manure their whole lives right up to slaughter, and the manure lagoons that leak into the water and onto nearby vegetable farms.;TM=58133.16

Monsanto's gene-altered drought-resistant corn
The chemical companies have yoked farmers with increasingly expensive and ineffective fossil-fuel-based inputs that contribute to global warming. Now they propose another techno-fix: gene-altered drought-tolerant crops. Trouble is, the crops don't do well under non-drought conditions. Monsanto invests $2.6 million daily in its research. Think how many people could be eat healthy food on long-term, sustainable basis if Monsanto and its partner the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested $2.6 each day in organic agriculture!

Indian farmers protest Monsanto seed experiments that threaten their farms
One farmer said, "Monsanto is a criminal corporation known to have sued or sent to jail scores of farmers elsewhere for doing what farmers around the world have done for millennia -- saving their seeds."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Faith in a seed

I dream gardening by habit.
Not in my genes, or from childhood training, but cultivated through an adult lifetime of passionate, if self taught, interest in the subject of green and growing things.

Confession: my enthusiasm for most of life has been on auto-pilot lately.
This has been an exceedingly long Michigan winter, but, unlike my usual practice I've only closely read maybe two of the cascade of garden catalogs that found my mailbox this year... and only ordered from one.

But with Spring comes Hope, and sometimes just following through the patterns that have been imprinted is the solution to getting through the foggy times.

Snow is in the forecast, and it's too cold outdoors to enjoy pruning the shrubs, so today I sat down at the computer and listed my plans for the growing season - if only revealed by the signs and hints found in seed and plant lists which I'll share with you now:

Seeds From Richters (Canada)

Ambrosia Seeds 1.60/pkt 1.60
Chia SowNatural(tm)Seeds 2.30/pkt 2.30
Cumin, Black Seeds 1.20/pkt 1.20
Honesty Seeds 1.20/pkt 1.20
Marigold, Lemon Gem Seeds 1.60/pkt 1.60
Marigold, Orange Gem Seeds 1.60/pkt 1.60
Scullcap, Baikal Seeds 1.40/pkt 1.40
Thyme, French Seeds 1.60/pkt 1.60
Wolfberry, Chinese Seeds 2.30/pkt 2.30

Herb Plants From Companion Plants (Ohio)

3 x Acorus calamus (SWEET FLAG (bareroot)) = $9.00
Longevity: HP (in USDA Zones 4 to 11)
Lighting Conditions: PS-FS
Average Height: 5 feet

1 x Santolina rosmarinifolia (Santolina rosmarinifolia) = $4.50
Longevity: HP (zones 6 to 9)
Lighting Conditions: FS
Average Height: 2 feet

2 x Salvia scleria (CLARY SAGE) = $9.00
Longevity: B (zones 4 to 9)
Lighting Conditions: FS
Average Height: 2 feet

2 x Marrubium vulgare (HOREHOUND) = $9.00
Longevity: HP (zones 3 to 8)
Lighting Conditions: PS-FS
Average Height: 18 inches

3 x Salvia clevelandii (BLUE SAGE (Cleveland sage) = $13.50
Longevity: TP-HP (zones 8 to 10)
Lighting Conditions: FS
Average Height: 3 feet

Woodie Plants From Genesee County (Michigan) Soil Conservation District

1 Tamarack (Am. Larch) $2.00 ea
Native. Full sun, moist to boggy soil, fast growth 40-80'.

4 Elderberries $3.00 ea
Full sun to shade. Moist, rich soil. Variable growth to 8'.

2 Serviceberries $3.00 ea
Native. Full to part sun, average soil. Moderate growth to 15'.

1 Hazelnut $3.00 ea
Full sun, average soil. Medium fast growth to 10-15'.

Vegetable plants requested from Pat Whetham's Organic Farm CSA

3 okras
3 eggplants
6 cabbages
1 tomatillo

Seeds from 'Rack Packs' / a.k.a. 'impulse purchases'

Borage (Cook's Garden)
Sunflower 'Sunspot' (Thompson & Morgan)
Thyme, Old English (T&M)
Banana (T&M)
Olive (T&M)

And finally, seeds that found me by chance:

Lemon seeds - from a Meyer lemon.
Basil 'Serata' - from MHA conference.
Parsley Italian Dark Green - from MHA Conference.
Fenugreek seeds - from Sharon Paulsen, GCHS Herb Study for January, 2009.