Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Garlic Escapade

Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

This is an article I wrote for The Essential Herbal Magazine, Jan/Feb 2020

For years, I’ve been growing a couple of varieties of garlic that I first got from local organic farmers, Cliff and Arlene Kindy.  They lived a few miles down the road from me, and over the years, I had come to consider them my organic gardening mentors.  Now that I’ve moved to the next community over, I still take time to visit them, and we discuss my new gardens and fruit trees, and I ask lots of questions.  They’ve even stopped by to see what I’m doing, and offer up any advice I might need.  For example, I’ve got a thistle problem, and Cliff told me that he’s found planting sweet potatoes in areas where thistle grows will help eradicate the invasive pest.

Last fall, I got it into my head that I wanted to try some new varieties of garlic, so I ended up ordering from the Maine Potato Lady.  I chose a couple of varieties claiming to be hardy and long keeping, prepared my soil, and planted in October as usual.  I had the worst garlic harvest I’ve ever had, despite doing everything right, and growing conditions being favorable.  What the heck happened?

As serendipity would have it, I just so happened to find some garlic growing wild in a ditch on the property.  I noticed it this summer when it sent up scapes which started forming bulbils.  This reminded me of the story Cliff told me about one the varieties of garlic he grew.  His dad had found the garlic growing wild, collected some of the bulbils, and planted them.  Cliff got some of this garlic from his dad, and each successive year planted the largest cloves, until he ended up with huge, beautiful heads of garlic with fantastic flavor.  With this story in mind, I decided I wanted to grow the ditch garlic, and see what I ended up with in a few years. You know me, I immediately went into research mode, and what I found was illuminating, explaining my poor garlic harvest.

I learned garlic is well known for its propensity for regional adaptation.  The reason Cliff’s garlic grew so well for me, is because it’s been growing in my area for decades.  The garlic I got from the Maine Potato Lady has adapted to the growing conditions of Maine, and would take several years of growing here in Indiana before it would become anywhere near as productive as the Kindy garlic.   This ability to adapt to local growing conditions has me a little excited about the ditch garlic I found.  To begin with, where did this garlic come from?  Could this be garlic gone wild from the garlic Isaac Hagerman planted when he first established the farm back in the mid 1800’s?  Of course, I’ll never know, but you can see why I’ve decided I want to try to grow and improve it.  

Further research into propagating garlic led me to the work of landrace seedsman, Joseph Lofthouse.  He defines landrace growing as “an intimate relationship between a location, a farmer, and a population of genetically-diverse seed.”  As gardeners, I imagine we’re all at least a little acquainted with the concept of the loss of crop diversity, due to the monoculture of industrialized agriculture.  Saving our own seed is one way to help preserve genetic diversity, but it’s also the way to end up with varieties that will best perform in our particular locations.

Garlic has been grown for millennia by cloning, and is effectively sterile, rarely producing true seed. The bulbils produced in the scapes aren’t true seed, but another way to propagate by cloning.  Cloning, asexual propagation using plant tissue, results in plants that are genetically identical to the parent plant.  Examples of cloning would be stem and leaf cuttings, onion sets, seed potatoes, strawberry runners, grafting, etc. However, plants grown from seed, sexual reproduction involving pollination, are genetically different from the parent plant.  So, it goes to reason that to encourage genetic diversity, it’s preferable to grow from seed, as opposed to cloning.  This last sentence really glosses over a more complex subject, which I’m not going to get into.  Lofthouse has been working with garlic to obtain true seed, and further develop garlic that will continue to produce true seed for the sake of genetic diversity and better regional adaptation.  If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at what he’s doing, a google search of his name will take you directly to his website. 

What I’m doing with this ditch garlic is two-fold.  First, I removed bulbils from a lot of the scapes, being careful not to damage the few flowers interspersed between the bulbils. I then left those flowers to continue to bloom, in the hopes that they might be pollinated and produce some seed. Lofthouse warned that this may or may not work. In his first attempt, he obtained 2 seeds from 2,000 plants.  I was working with a few dozen plants, and I think I may have ended up with one seed, but it’s not a great looking seed.  I’m going to try again next year.  The second thing I’ve done is dug up a few heads of the garlic.  In October when I planted my two varieties of Kindy garlic, I also planted 30 of the largest cloves from the ditch garlic.  When I harvest it next summer, I’m hoping the heads and cloves will be a little larger, and that a few years of repeating the process will result in my own unique variety of garlic, adapted to my particular growing conditions.

This brings me to an interesting observation I’ve made here at the new place.  Yes, I still think of it as the new place, despite having been here for a little over 2 years.  I’ve discovered that our property sits inside a microclimate encompassing a few surrounding miles.  The first summer we were here, many times when rain was moving in from the west, it would miss us, and it ended up being a rather dry summer.  The same thing happened last summer, so I started watching the weather systems on weather maps as they moved.  I noticed a strange thing happening.  About ½ mile to the west, the weather system would suddenly hit a line and ooze around it, reforming again to the east of us.  It looked like a little hole in the system that would move around us like an amoeba. I watched this happen over and over again, always leaving the surrounding few miles untouched by rain.  This spring I was studying the USDA hardiness zone map, and discover that most of the northern part of Indiana is designated zone 5b, but that my farm is located on a small little island of a few miles that is designated zone 6a.  This little island corresponds almost exactly with the little hole of weather I was observing on the weather maps. In chatting with a neighboring multi-generational farmer, I mentioned my weather observations, and he confirmed my observations, saying it had been that way as long as he could remember.

Considering the failure of the Maine garlic, the story of the Kindy garlic, my discovery of the local microclimate, and then the discovery of the ditch garlic, is it any wonder I’ve gone completely garden nerd at the prospect of this garlic experiment?  If you’ll be patient along with me, I’ll be sure to include an update in a future article.

Update: Today is August 12, and I harvested my ditch garlic experiment last month, and wanted to share the results. It was a huge success. If you look above at the picture of the heads of ditch garlic I dug up last year, they are a little over an inch in diameter, and the largest cloves were about the size of the fingernail on my little pinkie. Take a look at the size of the head of ditch garlic I’ve got in my hand in the picture below. The garlic to the left is some of the Kindy garlic. In just one year, the ditch garlic is pretty much the size of any normal cultivated garlic!

The Lost Gardens Of Heligan

Monday, October 7th, 2019

In August of last year, I visited my brother where he lives in Cornwall England. Because of my fascination with Victorian gardening, a visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan was at the very top of my list of places I wanted to visit.  I don’t know if modern gardeners are aware that many of our gardening techniques and favorite varieties of plants are due in large part to the innovation of our Victorian predecessors. If you were to have the opportunity to look at a Victorian seed catalog, you’d be floored by the scope and variety available at the time.  Many of those old heirlooms have been lost forever, and we no longer have access to the plant diversity of the Victorian era.

Heligan was the estate of Cornwall’s Tremayne family for over 400 years. The thousand acre estate was at the height of its glory when WWI broke out in 1914.  As happened to estates all over England during the war, many of Heligan’s gardeners were called to serve their country, leaving the grounds untended and deteriorating.

A particular aspect of British history I’ve found so thought-provoking, is the cultural shift of WWI, resulting in the blurring of the lines between classes.  After fighting in the trenches, side-by-side with the wealthy, the working class no longer viewed them with the same awe and respect. They were no longer satisfied to work in service to the wealthy, and sought to improve their means elsewhere.  Consequently, many estates were forced to downsize or sell portions of their property.

Heligan escaped the fate of so many estates, was not sold, and sat neglected and forgotten for decades.  It wasn’t until 1990 that the gardens were rediscovered under 70 years of debris. A distant Tremayne relative had inherited the property, and set out to explore what he had acquired. One of his first finds was the Thunderbox Room (the commode), where the signatures of those long forgotten gardeners were found scrawled on the walls, under the date, August 1914, and the words “Don’t come here to sleep or slumber”. This struck the imaginations of the discoverers, and sparked their desire to see the gardens restored.

The grounds, expansive as they were, and my time limited to one afternoon, I made the choice to spend my time exploring the walled productive gardens.  Upon entering the garden, it opened to a central path down the middle, which was lined by an espalier apple archway. To either side of the central path, were the different sections of vegetable plantings.

One particular vegetable, quite popular in the Victorian era, and little known today, was Sea Kale.  It’s a vegetable I’d love to try, but won’t because it’s incredibly labor intensive, and not suited to my growing region. Grown for it’s spring shoots, and forced under terracotta cloches in winter, Sea Kale requires plants established two years before harvesting.


Because I’ve read about it, and watched an interesting tv series (The Victorian Kitchen Garden produced by BBC2 in 1987) which mentioned it, I was especially fascinated with the “hot walls”.


These walls were equipped with furnaces and chimneys where fires were kept lit to warm the walls. These walls kept early spring fruit blossoms from being damaged by frost, and helped ensure the ripening of maturing fruit.


As you can see in these pictures, the furnace is on the back side of the wall, and espalier fig trees are growing on the opposite side.


There were a number of different glass houses positioned along the walls around the garden: A citrus house, peach house, vinery, and melon yard. Growing in some of the glass houses were grape vines, melons, cucumber, tomatoes, pineapple, citrus trees, and peach trees.


Just south of the vegetable garden was a walled flower cutting garden, where you can see the peach house in the background.


One of the earliest finds in the garden, was the head gardener’s office.  There was a palpable feeling of nostalgia in the room, which was found intact, looking as if everyone had just stood up and walked out.


The gardens were impressive, but what resonated so strongly was that initial find, the Thunderbox Room. To one side of the entrance to the Thunderbox room was a mint garden containing many different varieties of mint.


To the other side was a small herb garden honoring the fallen soldiers and gardeners whose names are written on the walls of the Thunderbox Room. Each marker names the herbs in the row, the name of the soldier, the date of his death, or that he returned.


The restored Lost Gardens of Heligan are not only a rare glimpse into a bygone era of gardening, but a tribute to the gardeners who tended them, and sacrificed their lives in service to their country.

The wall bearing the gardeners’ names is now recognized by the Imperial War Museum as a ‘Living Memorial’, and the fallen soliers are commemerated in this song, Names On a Wall.

Names On A Wall by The Changing Room from The Changing Room on Vimeo.



Cooling Summer Lassi

Friday, March 22nd, 2019

A few years ago I discovered lassi, a cooling beverage made with traditional Indian curd, and flavored with herbs and spices.  From everything I had read, Indian curd is tart and thick, not the same as American yogurt.  Not able to find Indian curd (dahi), I started to research, and discovered many Indians here in the States will use buttermilk in place of yogurt to make lassi.  One day, while shopping in a local Indian grocery, I happened to find myself chatting with the owner, also the owner of the neighboring Indian restaurant.  I asked her about curd and making lassi, and she told me that her restaurant did indeed use buttermilk to make their lassi.

Buttermilk is a staple in my kitchen, and I make my own by the half-gallon.  If you’d like to try your hand at making buttermilk, I’ve got you covered here.

Originating in Punjab, India, lassi is very popular in the sweltering heat of Indian summers.  Sold by street food vendors all over India and Pakistan, lassi is traditionally served in handle less clay cups, and sometimes topped with a dollop of clotted cream.  Lassi are either sweet or salty, and made by blending curd with herbs, spices, and sometimes fruit.

When making lassi, there is a lot of room for personal preference.  I like sweet lassi to be really cold, thick and creamy, so I add a big handful of ice cubes to mine when I blend it.  I like the salty versions thinned down, so I add both ice and water when I blend them.  The recipes I give can be tinkered with to suit your personal taste.

Mango Lassi
3/4 c buttermilk
3/4 c Alphonso mango pulp
1/4 to 1/2 t ground cardamom
1 t rose water (optional)
3 T sugar
Ice cubes or water (optional)

A note on mango: Your typical grocery store mango won’t give the desired results for this drink. They tend to be fibrous and not very rich tasting. If you don’t have access to fresh Alphonso mangos, then canned pulp is recommended. You can usually find it in a well stocked international or Indian grocery.

Combine ingredients and blend well, either in a blender or with a stick blender.  Garnish with a sprinkle of cardamom, and if you’d like to splurge, a pinch of saffron.





Traditional Punjabi Sweet Lassi
1 1/2 c buttermilk
1/4 c water and/or ice
3 T sugar (or more to taste)
1 t rose water
1/2 t cardamom

Combine all ingredients and blend well.


Salty Lassi
1 1/2 c buttermilk
1/4 c water or ice cubes
1/4 t salt
1/4 to 1/2 t ground cumin
6-12 mint leaves

Combine ingredients and blend well.



Adapted from an article I wrote appearing in the May-June 2018 issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine.

How About Hops?

Friday, September 7th, 2018

The following is an article I wrote for the September/October 2016 issue of The Essential Herbal Magazine.

How About Hops?

I planted my first hops more than 20 years ago.  At the time, I was a young, budding herb enthusiast, not entirely aware of the plant’s place in the herb garden. I planted it for the ignominious reason of covering an old rusty fuel tank sitting right in the middle of the farmyard.  The only thing I knew about it was that it was used in beer.  That was the beginning of a long relationship with the bitter herb.


I’ve since come to know hops in great variety.  A number of years ago, before the craft beer revolution became the craze it is today, I was introduced to the then small world of craft beer. It was there that my hops education began. I’ve traveled the country in search of beer, tasting 77 different styles of beer from a total of 648 different breweries, from all 50 states, and 56 different countries.  I’ve obsessively taken notes and recorded more than 3600 reviews of the beer I’ve tasted.  In that time I’ve learned that all hops are not created equal. The number of hop varieties used in brewing is more than 170, with several new varieties being developed every year.

Hops (Humulus Lupulus), a hardy climbing perennial, produces annual bines (yes – bines not vines) reaching up to 25 feet a season.  Each fall the plant dies back to a crown of rhizomes, from which the plant can be propagated.  Hops are dioecious, male and female, the female plant producing the flowers, also referred to as cones. Hops are native to the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, and were first noted in history by Pliny the Elder during the first century.  Despite this early mention in history, hops didn’t make any notable appearances until the eighth century in France, and again in the twelfth century in Germany when hops began to be used in the making of beer.  Prior to its use in beer, hops was a wild plant used as a vegetable and for its medicinal properties.1

Hops is a relative newcomer to the world of traditional medicine, Historic references to its medicinal use aren’t found until around the fifteenth century. After that time, we begin to see it referenced for use as a digestive aid, diuretic, cleansing the blood, liver, and spleen.  As history progresses into the nineteenth century, we also see it used as an antibacterial, a tonic for digestion, for inflammation, restlessness, as a sleep aid, and for a whole host of other minor complaints.   There have been a few modern studies conducted on the medical efficacy of hops as a sedative, and quite a bit of anecdotal evidence of hops being effective as a digestive bitter, and for possible estrogenic activity. 2

From a personal standpoint, I’ve had good results using hops as a mild sleep aid, along with passionflower.  I prefer to use it in tincture form, but many herbalists make dream pillows, stuffing small pillows with hops.

If you were to do a quick internet search for hops’ use in beer, you’d end up with information overload.  Looking up its use as a folk remedy would yield some quick results also.  However, you would find very little on its use as food. To the best of my knowledge, there are no hops cookbooks on the market, and I’ve only run across one mentioning hops as a vegetable.

With interest in craft beer gaining momentum, driving the growth of new breweries and hops farms at a staggering pace, home brewers, breweries, gastro pubs and chefs alike have begun looking to hops for new uses.   As a local chapter leader of a national women’s craft beer organization, Girls Pint Out, I’ve had the opportunity to become acquainted with many of the hop growers, brewers, and bar and restaurant owners in my local community.  It was at a recent Purdue University hops growing workshop, that a group of us discussed the potential of using hops in food.  Having experimented with hops in my own kitchen, I was able to share some of my own experience, and also walked away with quite a bit of new information and plenty of ideas for further experimentation.

Three parts of the plant can be used in food: tender young shoots in the spring, tender young leaves, and the cones, which ripen in late summer or early fall, depending on the variety.  To date, I’ve not run across any use of the rhizomes in cooking.

In the spring, the first few bines to develop are bull shoots.  Bull shoots do not produce high yields of cones, so are trimmed out within the first couple of weeks.  The shoots that develop after the bull shoots are trained upwards, and produce flowers more heavily.  However, it takes a lot of shoots to have enough for a recipe.  The home grower, with only a few plants, is going to be hard pressed to gather enough for more than one meal, and would most likely need to harvest more than just the bull shoots.  Hops shoots have been pronounced the “the world’s most expensive vegetable”, coming in at over $1000€ per kilo – that’s about $500 per pound!  Some sources cite hops shoots here in the States at $128 per pound, but I’ve never seen them in my grocery store or farmer’s market.

Tender young hops shoots are much like asparagus, and can simply be sautéed with a little olive oil or butter, garlic, salt and pepper.  Hops shoots can also be pickled, included in egg dishes such as quiche or frittata, or rice dishes like risotto or pilaf.

So far, my only experiment with hop leaves has been using tender young leaves for stuffed hop leaves, as opposed to stuffed grape leaves.  I did find one recipe online for hop leaf pasta dough. I’ve made green pasta from chlorophyll extracted from spinach leaves, so I find hops leaf an intriguing possibility.

The bulk of my experimenting has centered on using hops cones as a flavoring.  Without getting bogged down in the science, hops flowers are divided into two categories:  bittering (high alpha acid) and aroma (low alpha acid). For the sake of cooking, I suggest the use of aroma hops (ie. Amarillo, Saaz, Willamette), which will impart a bit less bitterness, and more aroma and flavor than bittering hops. The flowers can be used in several forms: fresh or dried cones, tincture or infusion, or hop pellets from your local home brew store. Because the season for hops flowers is short, I preserve them by making tincture, and drying. The oils in the flowers are volatile, so store the dried flowers in a zip bag in the freezer to extend shelf life.  I do have some hop pellets, and am experimenting, but not yet entirely comfortable making recommendations for their use.

Use a light hand when cooking with hops flowers.  The flavor can be incredibly strong and bitter, so think of it as a spice or a seasoning.  The point is to enhance, but not overpower. Also, the alpha acids in hops flowers are hydrophobic and bond with fat molecules, so the flavor is easier to manage in fats.

Try infusing honey and honey mustard with hops, or using hops tincture as a bitter in cocktails.  I love homemade lemonade with hops. I add a little more hops than in the following recipe, and drinking a glass usually makes me feel sleepy.


¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 ½ cups water
¼ cup simple syrup
2 teaspoons hops tincture

Hops Ice Cream

3 cups half and half (or 1 ½ cup cream and 1 ½ cup milk)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Handful of fresh hop cones

Combine half and half, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a heavy bottomed pan.  Gently heat the mixture over medium, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Heat until mixture thickens slightly, but don’t bring to a full boil.

Place hops into the hot mixture to infuse.  This next step is important.  At about 15 or 20 seconds, taste the mixture.  Continue tasting until it reaches the desired flavor, and then immediately remove the hops.  The cream mixture pictured took about 30 seconds to attain an herbal hoppy flavor without any significant bitterness. The exact time is going to depend on personal preference and the variety of hops being used.

Cool mixture in refrigerator until 40°F or below.  Churn according to ice cream machine directions.  Ripen ice cream in freezer overnight for best texture.


  1. The Short and Bitter History of Hops, David Martorana, Philly Beer Scene, April/May 2010 Edition.
  2. Hops (Humulus lupulus): A Review of its Historic and Medicinal Uses, Uwe Koetter, Martin Biendl, HerbalGram. 2010; American Botanical Council


Why I’ve Neglected My Blog For Almost 2 Years

Friday, August 31st, 2018

It’s really simple.  We bought a wreck of an 160 year old Victorian farm.

We moved into it, and we’re renovating it while we live in it.  A little over a year into tearing it apart, replacing old knob and tube wiring, running new duct work (the previous owner allowed renters to have cats, who decided the registers were a good place to pee), cutting down trees, tearing out brush, fixing up the barn so the animals had a place to live, and trying to establish my gardens, I’m finally beginning to feel like myself again.

I think I may be ready to attempt some blogging again.  I did write a few articles for an herb magazine in the last year, so I’m going to add those over the next few weeks, and then I’ll try to work on some new material.

This is what the place looked like in 1899.  I wish it still looked like that, but alas, it never will again. With our boys grown and moved away, we needed something to do.  I suspect we’re going to be working on the place till the day we die. We’re taking it one project at a time, saving and paying for each project as we go.  I have been taking pictures since we started working on it, and will eventually get around to sharing.

For now, I just wanted to come out of hiding, offer my excuses, and let you know I’m not gone forever.


Handmade Vs. The Wal-Mart Mentality

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016




I finished knitting up a cowl for myself, and had uploaded this picture to my facebook page, offering to make another for the low, low price of $75.  It resulted in a conversation between a couple of my knitting friends.



The timing of the conversation coincided with my train of thought while working on a pair of fingerless mitts.  I no longer depend on income gained from handmade items.  However, I do make a living selling supplies to those who earn a living selling handmade items.  I’m very familiar with both ends of the stick.

When I first went into the handcrafted soap and personal care products business 15 years ago, the running rate for a 4 ounce bar of handmade soap was approximately $4-5 a bar.  These days, the cost of raw materials has more than doubled, but I still see some of my long time customers selling bars for nearly the same price, and it breaks my heart.  I’ll never forget an old farm wife stopping at my soap booth, looking longingly at the selection I had on display.  She told me she really wanted to buy some, but if she did she would have to hide it.  When I asked her why, she told me her husband would blow a gasket over the price, when she could buy a 10 pack of ivory soap for $2.

If I had a nickel for every person who has taken a look at one of my handmade items, and said, “That’s so cool! You should really sell your ________.  If you do, I’ll be your first customer!”,  I’d be a wealthy woman.  The cold hard truth is that makers and artisans usually struggle to get a fair price for their work. I have tried to sell some of my handmade items, and guess what?  Most of the people who told me they would buy never have.  The subject of pricing among my maker and artist friends is a hot topic. It’s not a subject taken lightly, and most agonize over it.

I have a question for you.  How much do you earn for putting in a 12 hour shift at your job?  I’m going to use my fingerless mitts as an example, although they are a gift, and not for sale. They are rather complicated, and the pair will take me approximately 12 hours to complete. If I were to charge $10 an hour for my time and the cost of the yarn, the mitts should have a minimum price tag of $120! Needless to say, I’m probably never going to use this particular pattern for selling.




Beetroot & Feta Salad

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016


Winter gardening here in Northeastern Indiana has been more fun than usual this year, thanks to an unseasonably long and warm fall. One of the tricks of maintaining a winter garden in our northern climate is careful planning so that plants are well enough established to hold well in cold weather. This year, it’s been mild enough that I haven’t had to cover anything with mulch or protective row covers. This morning’s harvest, pictured above, came out of the garden in beautiful shape.  As the colder weather of December and January move in, things won’t look quite so vibrant, but will still be perfectly good for the kitchen.

Lunch today was beetroot and feta salad, close to the last one I’ll have.  I should have planted an additional row of beets, because I’ve only got enough left for one more meal. I didn’t spend much time trying to get a picture, because I was hungry.  I’ve noticed a lot of beetroot salad pictures online, and want to know how they manage to keep their feta perfectly white?  Beetroot is messy, and colors everything it comes in contact with. I’ve got the purple fingers to prove it.



I’m not going to give exact amounts, because I only ever make this to serve one.  My husband hates both beets and feta. You can’t really mess this one up, because the ingredients are so simple.

Beetroot & Feta Salad with Parsley
A few beetroots, boiled, peeled, and cubed (about 1 1/2 cup per serving)
A big handful of parsley, chopped
Feta, cubed or crumbled
Fresh lemon juice
Olive oil, amount equal to lemon juice
A couple of garlic cloves, finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste

The easiest way to cook beetroot is with the skin still on. Trim the tops and bottoms, and boil them whole until fork tender. Drain and rinse with cold water. Let them sit in the pan with cold water, and they will be easier to handle.  Slip the skins off and cube.

Combine lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper into a vinaigrette.

Combine beetroot, feta, and parsley. Drizzle with vinaigrette.

No, I Haven’t Quit My Day Job

Saturday, November 26th, 2016



Apparently, a little clarification is needed. Yes, some of my friends and family have been wondering about seeing me peddle wares on Facebook and Instagram. No, I have not closed up my 9 to 5 business of the last 15 years.

Here’s the deal.  I like to make stuff. The problem is I make more stuff than Bart and I can use.  You only need so many scarves, which is a problem when you’d like to keep knitting, but you’re hooked on high-end handspun, hand dyed, really super expensive art yarn made by your dealer talented friend in Iowa.  Then there’s soap.  I usually make batches of soap that result in about 14 bars, and I don’t like to limit myself to just one scent.  Are the 5-10 different bars of soap in my shower really necessary? Bart produces gallons of maple syrup each spring, and it’s more than we can eat by ourselves, so we get rid of some of it.  I collect herbs and spices like some women collect shoes and purses. I grow them, buy them, pickle, infuse, and smoke them.  No, no!  Not that kind of smoke!  As in, I put them in the smoker with wood chips, and make them taste smoky. The list of stuff I make is mind numbing. It’s getting out of control, but I really don’t want to stop.

Anyway, I decided the solution was to revamp my old Etsy store, and try to sell my surplus, so I can justify continuing to make more stuff.  I hope it works, because I really don’t want to curb my hobbies. You can find a tab for the Etsy store at the top of the page. I’ve got more stuff to list, but I still need to take pictures.  Mulled maple syrup will be added shortly.

So, yeah, to answer the question, I still have my day job.



Food Traditions

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016


This isn’t exactly a rant.  More random musings from the garden and kitchen. Plus, I’m writing this more for the sake of journaling, than thinking anyone is going to benefit from anything I have to say.  It’s a very hot muggy day, and I’m trudging back and forth between the garden and kitchen, taking breaks to cool off while I finish planting my fall garden – peas, beets, carrots, spinach, pak choy, lettuce, cabbage.  If I don’t finish planting this week, it’s going to be too late.

It always feels a little strange to be planting at the same time I’m dealing with the glut of a late summer garden.  I’ve got a bumper crop of poblano peppers and eggplant this year.  Once it cools off this evening, I’ll fire up the grill and get the peppers charred, and will work till bedtime getting them peeled, seeded, packaged, and in the freezer. This is just the first batch. There are more left on the plants than the number I picked this morning.


Anyway, back to my musings. While I’m taking my indoor breaks from the garden, I’m going through old cookbooks and a few articles, planning a couple of new ways to preserve my red roasting peppers and eggplant.  As I’m reading about making Serbian Ajvar, I find myself comparing my new fangled American preserving to Old World  preservation. Old food traditions exert a strong pull on me.

As much as I love modern conveniences and technology, my heart thrills to explore old forgotten, labor intensive methods of food preparation.  I prefer my mortar and pestle to my food processor, my big chef’s knife to about any gadget you can name, and I never recoil from a recipe that calls for 30 minutes of slow heat and stirring, or something that requires several stages of preparation over a period of days, or even weeks.

Another aspect of old traditions that appeals to me is community.  My time spent preparing my harvest is solitary, and I know it can’t be helped, but something inside me screams that this isn’t right!  This isn’t the way it should be done.  Historically, communities have come together to harvest and prepare the fruits of their labor. Grandmothers, mothers, and daughters, passing down recipes and methods from one generation to another, sitting together talking, sharing stories and wisdom as they snap, peel, chop and grind.

I’m conflicted. Sometimes I think I’d give up this world I live in for an older way.  And I don’t mean that in a “cranky-old-lady-reminiscing-about-the-good-old-days-like-they-were-better” kind of way. I think  something’s been lost that we’ll never be able to get back.  But, this is the world I’ve been given, so I’ll just keep learning what I can about old methods, and choosing to do things the hard way.

A Cautionary Tale

Sunday, June 19th, 2016



It’s been a while since I’ve felt like writing. Life is messy, and sometimes blogging falls by the wayside.  This morning I feel like writing, because the house is quite, I have no one to talk to, and I just scared the crap out of myself.

My husband, Bart, was out till the wee hours of the morning bowfishing with our son, Kuyler, who came home to spend some time with his dad on Father’s Day.  They will be sleeping in quite late today.

I was up bright and early with the sun, and went out to do my morning chores in the barn. While I was feeding chicks and changing water in the brooder, I pulled the door closed behind me, so no chicks would get out. I stood there looking at the door feeling stunned.

I never pull the brooder door completely shut, because there’s a latch on the outside. It’s a very sturdily built cage about 4’x10′, about 6′ tall, enclosed with 1/2″ hardware cloth.  I was locked inside with 25 baby chickens!

I had no idea when the guys would be waking up. And even when they did wake up, they weren’t going to be looking for me, because I’m always off doing my own thing.  I don’t carry my cell phone around the farm with me, so it was in its usual place on my desk in my office.

I stood there in my cage, contemplating several hours keeping company with the chickens. I’m not sure I can describe those first few minutes while I was still absorbing my situation, before my head started working out possible solutions.




I wasn’t too keen on the idea of trying to kick out the hardware cloth. When Bart builds something, it doesn’t come apart easily, and the hardware cloth wasn’t simply stapled in place, but fastened with heavy-duty U nails.  Then I noticed the piece of wire I use to hold a gate shut (pictured on the right hand side of the cage).  The wire is threaded through the hardware cloth, and then wrapped around the wire of the gate. I have the gate in place to prevent the hens from trying to nest in that corner.

It took me about 10 minutes, but I was able to pull the wire through, and then use it to jimmy the outside latch.  For a while, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off.

The moral of this story?  I’m still thinking about it.  I have looped a piece of wire through the latch, and run it inside the cage for now.