Friday, February 26, 2010

Considering Personal Balance

"To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wildflower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in one hour."
(William Blake, "Auguries of Innocence")
*Note: I'm writing a great deal for my herbalist course. This is a highly distilled version of my thoughts today.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Snow Day Debauchery, Part 2

Snow days require comfort food. Omelets definitely fit that bill. I had an abundance of good food in my refrigerator, thanks to Pure Sprouts (my new organic food delivery service), and Flint Hill (eggs and dairy), so I was set. I added a few things from my home pantry, and here's what happened.
Yummy Healthy Omelet
  • Saute shiitake mushrooms and diced sweet onion (as much as you want) in farm fresh butter.
  • Roll up a leaf of well washed and trimmed Swiss chard, then cut in tiny slivers with a kitchen scissor. Cut directly into the pan. Saute everything until it begins to soften.
  • Beat 4 fresh eggs, and pour over the vegetables. Cook until it is nearly firm, but not burnt, then cut into quarters in the pan. Flip each quarter and cook the other side.
  • Use a carrot peeler to cut thin slivers of smoked Gouda (mine was goat Gouda...yum!). Put some slivers on 2 of the quarters, then cover them with the other two quarters.
  • Top with remaining Gouda slivers, parsley (mine was dried, but fresh would be great), and radish sprouts.
  • Give one to someone you love and enjoy the other one. Mmmmmm!

Snow Day!

I'm a 52 year old kid when it comes to snow days. You would be too, if you were a teacher! If you don't get a call the night before (and that rarely happens), you wake up full of expectation in the morning. There's a routine to it: wait for the call, check the weather station, listen to the radio, check the web-site...and then, the moment arrives, and you breathe a sigh of relief: SNOW DAY! Now, this is where the child in me retreats and the adult in me comes out to play. My shoulders relax, I find a warm robe, I put on my favorite socks, and I either grab a few more winks or start my leisurely day. Heaven!
This one started with tea. I'm learning so much about herbs that I can't help experimenting. Today's blend was chamomile, white willow, mint, feverfew and rosemary. I also cut a lemon into the teapot. I have the beginning of a sinus infection; if I'm right, these herbs should sooth me. And hot tea on a snowy day? You can't go wrong.
I like to hang out in the sunroom to watch the snow fall. It's incongruous up there, and I enjoy that: colorful, growing orchids, cacti and garden starts indoors, cold white blizzard outdoors. Kind of like the juicy center of a chocolate covered cherry. Oh my.
Then the best part of all: a book, a computer, a drawing, a movie: something that engages my mind, while I watch the snow fall, with my feet up on the soft, fat sofa-recliner. Today it's this blog and a scary movie (my guilty pleasure). And my tea, of course. And my socks and jammies, and the afghan my mother crocheted for me a decade ago. You can't beat it.
Well, a chocolate covered cherry would be nice....

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Blast from the Past

Is it any wonder that I love farm life? Check out the date on this photo. That, my friends, is me and my Grand-Pop Gottier.
You can take the girl out of the know the rest!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pedicures for the Girls

It was hoof trimming day at the farm. My job was to hold the goats; they didn't know this when I arrived. They thought I had food. I usually have goodies for them (they love strawberries!) They all beg for whatever I might have on hand.
Just look at those girls! They love me. They tell me the news:
And then we get down to business. Hoof trimming involves lots of hard work. And lots of kisses. Goaties love kisses. And food. Especially food.
It was a satisfying afternoon, and a good end to the weekend. But the real question is: what color polish should they choose? Should they go with a cheeky red, or a more subtle pink? After all, it's not a proper pedi without a little "bling"!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Herbert Chicken and Pure (Sprouts) Goodness

Big news! I just joined the coolest group around. It's called "Pure Sprouts", and it's an amazing innovation. In addition to being a bona-fide member of all the right organizations (PASA, Buy Fresh, Buy Local...and many more), it's convenient and high quality. And they deliver right to your door. That's right, Lehigh Valley...right to your door. Awesome, right? AND, get this: you order and pay online. Who can beat that? I ordered Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, beets, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes and shitake mushrooms. You can see them below: Did I mention that everything is local (if possible), and organic? If local isn't available, organic still applies. I think this is a great way to augment my own homegrown and preserved foods while I'm learning to do better at planning for the winter. They have grass fed, organic meats, cheese and eggs too. I don't need the eggs or cheese because I get mine straight from the source at Flint Hill Farm, but I did order some grass fed chicken breasts for next week. Yum!
By the way, I've been busy this week. I've been reading about herbs and their various uses (I'm taking an online course to get my feet a little wetter) which is a pleasure to me, as it's purely for my personal enrichment/ life path. I bought a few additions to my herbal pantry last weekend, and have been using them to make teas and tinctures (and some darn good dipping oil!). I already have a pretty extensive collection of culinary herbs, but I'm expanding my horizons. There's so much useful information out there on the web!
Do you have any idea how lucky we are to live in this era of easily accessible information? I was thinking about that just the other day, as I sat down with a book and remembered how I used to absolutely cherish at a time. I used to drain every drop of information from my favorite books, like a curious vampire, then tuck them away like trophies. Those times have changed, for sure, though I still enjoy the feel and convenience of a book, and still have shelves (piles, cabinets, drawers...) full of them. But now, we're not limited to the occasional lucky intellectual hit. Now, we have Google. Now we're only limited by our own curiosity and ability to choose reliable sources. Wow. But I digress.
Below, you see my Pure Sprouts goodies lined up on the counter, along with a few cloth dinner napkins I made from a thrift store tablecloth. I got enough fabric from that tablecloth to make at least 12 napkins, all for less that $4.00. I'm going to try to cut down on my family's paper towel usage. They're nice napkins. And quite a deal.
Last but not least, tonight's wonderful, organic dinner. Now, I've never had Jerusalem artichokes before. I've known about them since my teens, and know what the plants look like, but have never harvested one wild. You eat the root (rhizome). They're something like a cross between a turnip and a potato, with a sweeter taste; interesting. I like them. I sliced my root vegetables, added some dried, homegrown rosemary, sea salt, black pepper and olive oil, then sliced a piece of local herbed chicken sausage into the pan. I roasted the dish, covered, at 350 for awhile (I didn't time it...sorry), then took it out when it was tender. YUM! (I have to share this with you: Spell check just told me that it should be "Herbert chicken", not herbed chicken. It made me laugh.) I believe I'll call it Herbert Chicken from now on.
The greens are the organic kale I received today. I started by frying about 1/4 pound of bacon from my freezer until it was just about cooked (but not dry), then removed it from the pan. I poured off half the fat, then sauteed 1/3 of a large sweet onion and 3 chopped scallions from the farmer's market until they softened up, then added my chopped kale. When the kale began to soften, I added about a cup of re hydrated navy beans to the pot, with a little salt and some red pepper flakes. I could live on this stuff.
I've decided to keep using the "Fresh Sprouts" service until my garden starts producing, and maybe even after for organic meats. The delivery man was personable and kind, and they seem to be reliable and dedicated to high standards. You can't beat that! I recommend them. And, no, my recommendation was NOT solicited. It's all my own! As Martha Stewart would say,"It's a Good Thing."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A New Direction

I've made a decision. I'm going to further study herbs. I have always been interested in them, but I never had any formal education or serious conversation with people at my own level. They either seem to be experts or disinterested, and while I have attended many conferences and talks, and have read many books and identified and used many wonderful plants, I want to take it one step further. I want to make helpful concoctions in my kitchen, along with the good food. I want to balance on the edge of delicious meals and helpful nutrition, using indigenous plants and home grown vegetables. I want to be an herbal locavore...more so than I was before.
So here's how I'm starting: I'm taking an online course (for enrichment) first, and creating an organized notebook (and an organized digital file). I'll do that while the weather is cold and I'm starting my seeds for this year's garden. Then, in the spring/summer, I'll decide my next move. I'm not sure what direction it will take, but it's something I've always been interested in, and once again I feel like I'm coming home (to myself).
I've already learned a few things that I didn't know before. I've learned what "Ayurveda" means, and what my "Doshas" are. I've learned about the progression of the history of herbal medicine throughout time. I've learned about the need for balance, in a more gentle system that's not reliant upon chemicals for maintenance (and I hope I can get to that point!), and I've learned that there is a strong, safe relationship between traditional medical practitioners and practicing herbalists. I don't know where I'll fit in this continuum; I only know that I've always been someone who relates to plants and nature, and that I have great faith in natural balance. I'm not "in" balance, really. It's going to be a journey. I'm ready for a journey. I have my foot on the pedal, and I'm about to take off.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day / Anniversary

OK, it's sappy. But it's the truth: it's our anniversary. Everyone should be able to celebrate anniversaries. I spent the morning cooking. Nothing new there. Heart shaped omelets were new, though they were a small part of the morning's cooking. The 4 cards that Peter gave me with sweet messages were new. The wine setup he bought for our home brewing hobby was new. The regular kitchen activities, however, were decidedly commonplace. So was Peter's morning nap on the couch, under the crazy quilt. Comfortable. Just like the smell of beef barley soup. We shook things up at about noon, when we headed for Easton.
This is the view from the end of Julia's street. She had offered us her vintage gas range, and we went to take a look at it. It was sweet: stovetop griddle, rotisserie, ample surface space; too ample, in fact. It won't fit, so we had to turn it down. But Easton was beautiful in the clear light. I miss the river, MY river. I knew every inch of the Lehigh throughout the length of Easton, and I've paddled every inch from the headwaters to the Delaware. I learned how to paddle there in Easton, when I wasn't being taught on more active water up north. Pretty bridge, isn't it? There are more.
After Easton, we went to the Sands casino in Bethlehem. It was a lark...a day of play. We were determined to quit when we were ahead, and we did. We left about $100 ahead of when we arrived, after playing for a couple of hours and having two glasses of wine and lunch. Just so you know: the music there was hypnotic. SCARY hypnotic. The place was beautiful, with an industrial theme and hanging bars of light, but I'd love to see a study of the effect of that music on the patron's inhibitions and ability to think rationally. At any rate, I cut myself off when I began to lose, and Peter followed suit. We ate lunch (I indulged in carbs: pizza), then left for the farm.
I've been missing my girls, and apparently they have been missing me too. I got lots of velvety goat kisses. I got dog kisses, cat kisses, and people kisses. It was a pretty wonderful day.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

PASA Pictures

I attended this year's PASA (Penna. Association for Sustainable Agriculture) conference last weekend. In the blizzard. On a whim. I'm SOOOOOO glad I did. What I found there was profound; in the midst of the season's first actual blizzard, alone, I found something wonderful. THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! Peter once said that, when we were walking the street of New York, and I understood. He felt at home there, like things made sense. I felt that way at PASA. The unselfconscious women, the long hair, the plain clothes, the bearded men: there were MY people. Funny it should happen in State College, PA, but there it was. A little piece of my soul.
I had to take one of my previously planned vacation days to get there before the snow. I'm glad I did; though I managed to get there before the afternoon lectures on Friday, by the time I was ready to return that evening (my motel was a few miles away) the roads were too snowy to navigate in my light truck, so I had to take a cab. But I digress.
The first lecture I attended was by the author and keynote speaker Lisa M. Hamilton. Her stories of farmers that buck the system, that transcend the agribusiness machine and maintain their connection to the earth on an intimate level were wonderful. She read excerpts from her book, "Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness" which I'm currently reading and enjoying, and explained the relationships she had made and the insights she had gathered. Her experiences further validated my own; the farm I've been working with and the people I have met have become that much more noble in my mind since hearing her stories. Here she is:
There were so many wonderful presentations. I bought audio Cd's of those that I was unable to attend, so I could still learn what they had to teach me. It was a wonderful conference. It was so fulfilling, and even though I live in a small city and have limited land, my experiences at Flint Hill Farm, my urban gardening and my past experiences were all enriched by what I learned there. Below you see the silent auction and raffle. I was amazed by the variety and quality of the artisanal products offered by the farmers in Pennsylvania. We are a very fortunate and fecund state.
I bought some hand-painted, hand spun wool, and some multi-colored roving to make a scarf on Friday. On Saturday, after digging out my truck in street shoes, I returned and bought a pair of hand knitted socks. I spent the rest of the weekend in those socks. I wasn't the only member who walked the halls on the Penn Stater in my stocking feet that weekend. My people...
The other keynote speaker, Michael Reynolds, was wonderful. He was brilliant, real, thoughtful, fun. He was someone I'd like to spend time with. He is an architect who has a vision; he uses the materials available to him in a manner that makes them most useful to the final inhabitants of the homes he builds. His sustainable houses are the solution to the world's problems of both energy consumption and material conservation. I bought a copy of his movie "Garbage Warrior", which I first viewed on Friday night at the conference, in a snowstorm. He was there that night. I was too smitten to speak to him. ("I'm not worthy..."). I love old hippies.
Here's what I woke up to the following morning. Long story/short: I made use of the city's taxis. I shared one with a couple from Bermuda who had come in just for the conference. I met a former Penn State alum who was driving in his retirement. I met a mom who was supporting her family. I met a nice neo-hippie guy who knew about PASA through his girlfriend. And one guy didn't talk much, but that's OK. He got me back alive. Those roads were a mess! We got 18 inches of snow that weekend. I was really happy to have my 62 degree, no frills motel room (knowing Earl has made me appreciate shelter, no matter how humble). That coffee pot was my best friend (along with my new socks and my wool blanket from home!) (More stories of the presentations to follow).
The moral of this story is this: follow your heart. I found a little bit of my lost self at PASA. It's easy to push back those parts of your soul that are inconvenient when you're raising children and paying bills, but they won't go away. And when they whisper to you, you need to listen. I listened. And I found them despite the snow last weekend. It was a good experience. I'll go again. I'll keep listening.

February Gardening

This is what happens when you lose a few potatoes in your pantry (if you're lucky!) These little purple potatoes (below) were bought in the late fall, and were found about a month ago in a bowl under a pile of recipes. Miraculously, they had only sprouted eyes, and were intact (thanks to Crunchy Chicken's "Freeze 'Yer Buns" Challenge, no doubt.) I've been reading about growing potatoes in old tires, but was tireless (ha), so I appropriated a garbage bin and planted them near the bottom in an inch or two of soil. As they have been growing, I've been adding soil. I'm near the top today (this picture is a few days old). I think I'll plant some cress on the surface once I top it off. It can live on the deck this summer.

Speaking of cress, I discovered this plant (below) in the Johnny's Seed Company catalog. It's called "Upland Cress". I've read about it before in my herb books, but wasn't sure of what I was finding, so I ordered a packet. I can tell you this: it tastes like watercress. I LOVE watercress. The germination rate was excellent, so I divided it tonight. The container I divided it into is actually a Tupperware snack saver that I picked up at the local thrift store for $2.00. I drilled several holes in the segmented container, then used the lid as a reservoir for water. I've been looking at the newer pots with their reservoirs, and decided that it was pretty darn easy to duplicate that technology. The remaining cress is in a plastic shoebox that my mother wanted to get rid of. It's drilled and nested in a second one...once again, low, recycled tech. The African violets are an experiment. They're housed in various cups and pots that looked like they might be appropriate for them. I LOVE flea markets and thrift stores. Treasure hunts!
This cache of lettuce needs to be separated as well, and I'll be doing that tonight. I have a stockpile of old Model Magic containers from my previous days as a consultant for Crayola. I'll nest them like I did with the two containers above, and we'll have some nice, long-lived planters. My last gardening upgrade will be to thin and replant my celery. It, too, was a prolific germinator, and I have a great start on the season. I need more lights! Not a terrible thing to say, considering. This promises to be a good gardening year, so far.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Another Yummy Drink

These ladies know their stuff! They presented one of the classes at PASA, entitled "Winter Misery Relief: Wild Plants for Food and Medicine". The first lady, pictured below, was Grace Lefever, of Sonnewald Natural Foods. She and Faye Burtch (the second picture) shared the presentation, which offered nonstop hints and tips on using the generous bounty that surrounds us. So many plants have beneficial properties; more than you can imagine in your wildest dreams. Educating yourself on what's available to you free and naturally is the greatest gift you can give yourself. These two ladies offered an anectdotal, easy discussion on a variety of medicinal plants, as well as practical applications and uses for them. I've been studying herbs for a long time (informally), and they still gave me great insight into many of the simple plants I live with.
Grace Lefever
Faye Burtch

Faye had wonderful stories of her personal experiences with cayenne for heart health and other herbs she used in her practice. She was inspiring.


The following recipe came from the lecture.

I drink this one cold. Put the following into a teapot, then cover it with boiling water:
2 lemons, quartered and squeezed (put the rinds in the pot after squeezing) a pinch of cayenne powder. Yes, cayenne pepper. It's really good.
Put the lid on the pot and let it steep, then pour it into a bottle and refrigerate. Drink it like lemonade. Use your favorite sweetener.
Good for your heart and stomach; also to improve arthritis.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Teas and Waters

Just a note: I learned that you can make wonderful, healing drinks from things you most likely have on hand. When I arrived home today, I did just that. Here's my favorite of the three I made.
Just plain good for you tea: For 1 teapot:
  • 1/2 orange,juice and rind
  • 1" turmeric root, sliced
  • 1" ginger, sliced
  • handful of lemongrass greens, cut up


Boil water, then pour over the herbs, covering to preserve the essential oils. Let steep for at least 10 minutes. Pour a cup, sweeten to taste. YUM. Even Peter liked it.


Good for nearly everything that ails you...if you're me.


I'm in love with Michael Reynolds. Peter would be too if he heard his presentation.
PASA was awesome; I have so much to digest that I'm taking a day or two to write it out before I lose it. I'll be back as soon as I'm done to share more pics. In the meantime, look up "Garbage Warrior" and Michael Reynolds.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thrift Store SCORE

"I weel keel you while you sleep, oblivious chunky one."
Notice the devious little kitty with the glowing eyes, sitting in the box of greens behind the recliner? That's Gris-Gris, our Alpha cat, planning his assault. Poor Hobie, his larger, slower adopted brother has no idea he's being stalked. But that's not why I took the picture.
We've been wanting a recliner. We nap once in awhile, mostly on the weekends in the winter. We're slowing down a little, and that's fine...but the pretty Pier One wicker and wrought iron chair wasn't the most comfortable seat in the house. Comfort wins. And guess where I found this one? And for how much? Can you guess?
Family Services Thrift Store. $21.99. OH YEAH. Naps will be forthcoming (if we can extract the cats).
I'll be trying to beat the blizzard (I switched a personal day from April to tomorrow because of the impending storm) to travel west to State College, PA tomorrow for the PASA conference. I'll try to blog from there, if I can. It looks like an interesting conference.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Food for Thought

Hubby's hands, ingesting.
Broccoli Raab, asparagus, onion, mushrooms, sweet peppers and beef strips and gravy. The raab had to go (and I love it!)

Back to the food conservation issue: I have kielbasa and tomato sauce. It'll be a meal soon. I'm glad I didn't use the kielbasa yesterday in my eggrolls (which were yummy, by the way...but my kitchen is trashed). I had an epiphany today. A Scooby-Doo Swirly Memory Moment.
Memory: Zerns, ca. 1976. (Zerns is a local farmers' and flea market. Part of my LIFE. BIG part). Very hungry. VERY, like I'm going to faint hungry. Sausage sandwich with fried onions, peppers, and tomato sauce on a roll, smelling oh, so belly-rolling good. Got one, through the grace of God (and my flea market friends). Hot, sweet, filling the void and giving me strength wonderful. Heaven. Like I was going to expire, and now I'm not. Heaven. Roll up in a ball and purr afterward heaven.
Here's a question for you. I know there are people out there who have lived their lives, and have stories to tell. Tell me...tell us...have you ever really been hungry? Really, scary, where- will-it-come-from hungry? Has that shaped your life? In the wake of the tragedy in Haiti, in the shadow of the economic crisis here in America, with thoughts of Darfur and so many souls facing famine, disease and death in our world, have you been hungry without a source of nourishment nearby? Do you know there are little kids who live that way in our own neighborhoods, right now, every day? Forget guilt, and accusation aimed at their parents. Those babies are hungry. Those few lean times I've experienced have served me; they've taught me to help. We are so blessed. This issue of waste reduction is a travesty, in a way...the solution should be a given. Help others. It's what we're here to do.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Food Waste Reduction Challenge FAIL...Well...Sorta

Failing = Learning.
I'm participating in Crunchy Chicken's Food Waste Reduction Challenge. In accordance with the spirit of the challenge, I am trying to limit my food waste; I made cabbage the other day. I didn't like the recipe. Soooooo....I considered my options, and came up with egg rolls. Cabbage, a mild meat or shrimp. a little soy sauce and garlic powder, spring roll wraps (from the freezer), and away we go. Right? I piled it in. Sealed up those nice, sloppy rolls with a little corn starch in water, dumped a few in hot canola oil, and....and....watched them disassemble themselves in the oil. It was ugly. I spooned all the oily vegetable material out, and put it into a bowl. Picked away the egg roll wrappers, and set the mess aside. I rewrapped the remaining egg rolls after removing the innards from the outards. I dumped the outards. The NEW wraps were tight and well sealed. And I tried again.
These are the old, sloppy rolls. They should look like fat cigars.
Success. The oil needs to be fairly hot so the egg roll will firm up before it spills its guts. KEY bit of information. The rolls need to be tight and well sealed. In this case, less truly IS more. And the result will be savory, recycled cabbage leftovers. YUM. And those egg roll wrappers last forever in the freezer. I'm sure you could make your own with a pasta machine, but I like the lady who owns the Asian grocery store, so I buy as much as I can from her to help keep her little store in business (at the corner of 12th and Walnut, Shelly!). She makes a WONDERFUL homemade tofu for $.50 a block. I got some fresh turmeric root there, too...a great anti-inflammatory herb; she has everything you can imagine. I'm going to explore the turmeric next; my grocery-store lady told me it's great as a tea...for ulcers, skin care, etc.; I googled it. She's right. I'll try that tonight. Turmeric is a wonder-herb. Life's good.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Water Sports

There's not much entertainment for a kid-er-CALF in the winter on the farm. Hey, check out this cool fountain!
If you bite it just the right way, it goes up your nose, and the people laugh. They laugh too hard to take the picture at the right moment. But I had to compose myself, anyway. That water was cold! Pfffttt! Then you can do it again! They really like that! Pretty cool, huh? Who said a farm in the winter is boring? Wait till they see what Mama does when SHE drinks the cold water. That's REALLY funny. Her tongue comes way out and she licks up her whole face. Daisy and I can hardly stop laughing!