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.