Dinner: A Love Story

June 11th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Dinner A Love StoryI think some people are born magicians

Hatching artful diversions

While we watch dazed

The bullet catch

The cabinet escape

The elastic lady

Seamless 5-ball cascade juggling

We stare mouths open

Amazed.

Oooo!

 

My firecracker friend Jenny is magical like this.

And now for the next trick!

Pretzel chicken

Fava bean crostini

Lemony-potato smash

I am so blown away.

She has written it all down.

Voila!  It’s HERE!

 

 

 

The Seed Bomb

May 31st, 2012 § 14 comments § permalink

Seed bombs are magical little nuggets of clay, compost and native seeds used to surreptitiously improve areas you’re unable to reach.

To determine native species in your area, ask a smart friend, or visit the Native Plant Database.  My family and I live in the Northeastern U.S., and our seed bombs include (among other seeds) eastern red columbine, red milkweed, butterfly weed, New England aster, joe pye weed, lanceleaf coreopsis, blazing star, wild bergamot, sweet coneflower and rigid goldenrod.  Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care.  As mentioned previously, choose seeds wisely.  You certainly do not want to select invasive species that will threaten biodiversity.  Consider species that create habitats for other native critters like butterflies and birds.

To determine your soil type, do the squeeze test:  take a handful of moist (but not wet) soil and give it a firm squeeze.  Most likely, one of three things will happen:

 

 

  1. The soil falls apart as soon as you open your hand.  This means you have sandy soil.
  2. The soil holds it’s shape, and when you give it a little poke, it crumbles.  This means you have loam.  Perfect for a garden—it retains moisture and nutrients, but doesn’t stay soggy.
  3. It holds it shape, and when you give it a little poke, it sits stubbornly in your hand.  This means you have nutrient-rich clay soil.  Perfect for this project.

If you have dreams of a yard-ful of annuals, perennials and veggies, yet have the horrible misfortune of heavy clay soil (I can relate), today you are in luck.  There is little need for clay amendment in your seed bomb recipe.  Just head to your backyard and collect some clay soil.  If your soil is sandy or loamy, however, you must add natural clay (often found in natural stream banks), terracotta clay powder or air-dry clay (found in art supply or health food stores).

Like making a mudpie, making a seed bomb is not an exact science.  Use the below recipe as a guide, but your measurements needn’t be exact.

Seed Bomb Recipe:

3 parts clay (see note above)

3 parts dry organic compost or worm castings

1 part small native perennial seed

1 to 2 parts water (added by the Tbs)

The mixture should be moist, but not wet. Knead it with your hands, being sure to incorporate all seeds.  Roll it into 1 to 2 inch balls.  Set them on newspaper to dry for 2 days before using, or store on a sunny windowsill before throwing over a fence.  Your seed bombs are ready to wreak havoc on green wastelands.  Just throw and they will grow.  Rich in nutrients, the clay and compost aid in germination and help strengthen plant root systems.

Nicely packaged in a handmade bag, seed bombs make fantastic handmade gifts for friends, family and teachers.  Include a nice note or quote like one of these:

  • Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.  –Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.  –A.A. Milne
  • Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy.  –Shel Silverstein
  • The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.  –Roald Dahl
  • Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart. –A.A. Milne
  • Small as a peanut, big as a giant, we’re all the same size when we turn off the light. –Shel Silverstein

Once you have perfected the seed bomb, you may get the urge to branch out and attempt other small-scale unlawful acts. Do not mention my name during your interrogation!

Now, Joanie or Johnny Appleseed, plant something already!

 

 

 

The Guerilla Gardener

May 20th, 2012 § 6 comments § permalink

It’s time for unlawful mischief.  It is time to plan swift small-scale attacks and organize aggressive mini mobile units to exhaust opposing forces.  It’s time to take back orphaned land all but forgotten.  To arm yourself with trowel, seeds, bulbs, saplings, and a vision of verdant green.  It’s time to plant everywhere.  Anywhere.

Fare-the-well sterile orphaned lots with rubble and rubbish—vacant unloved spots thrust between broken buildings and wildness!  It’s time to whisper plans to each other—to break ground and work silently, stealthily—to race home and dance with heart exposed and arms in the sky.  We will win!  We will win!

Guerilla Gardening.  Unbeknownst to you perhaps, this (slightly) unlawful silent underground movement—the unauthorized cultivation of plants on otherwise neglected public or private land in response to dwindling green space—is cropping up all around us.  The idea is to reclaim green space, regardless of who actually owns it.  Technically, guerilla gardening is illegal.  You must accept the fact that some might view seedbombing as vandalism, just performed with plants instead of spray paint, rocks, matches or eggs.  One part beautification, one part eco-activism, guerilla gardening is a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts—free-range planters on a mission.

But, it’s more than just planting.  It’s putting green where it’s not expected—putting something common in an unusual place or something uncommon in a usual place—surprising people and making them re-evaluate their position in the natural world.

Never underestimate the power of a plant.

Before grabbing your spade (Holy moly!  I can’t wait!), ask yourself the following:

  • Will you be part of an organized gang (launching your green thumbs into an unstoppable offensive of wax myrtle at Calumet and Main) or will you work solo, impulsively scattering shooting star seeds in pavement cracks on your way to the post office?
  • Will you be a one-time guerillero, or will you be making this a regularly scheduled habit of dogwood debauchery?  You’re far more likely to avoid trouble if you bring smallish people with you.  This lends some credibility to your act.
  • Will you work in the early morning, evening, or furtively at midnight?  I highly recommend early morning hours to avoid detection from suspicious passersby.  Or, you may opt to be discovered.  If so, wear THIS.

Where Do I Plant?

If not working alone, you should meet with your trusty gardening team (mine has small, steady hands) and do some research.  Look around you and consider a few unloved orphan spots close to home—empty pots or concrete planters, abandoned public gardens, vacant car parks—even a gap in pavement can serve as a modest blank canvas.  Now, let’s be clear.  I don’t advocate tossing seeds or planting plants in your neighbor’s weedy flowerbed, and you don’t need to plant a farm or a community garden.  Just one plant will do for now.  You do need a sunny spot and good soil.  You may consider planting at first in a portable pot.  Placed near a street sign or next to the barber’s door, this may be the ideal start to a career of gardening with intention.  Of course, you should sneak by to water it every so often, or leave with it a kind sign: I’m yours.  Water Me Please.

What Should I Plant?

If possible, find a generous gardening friend with a good plant or seed selection.  Otherwise, purchase species from a local plant or seed supplier. Often, native wildflower seed mixes are available.  Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care.  Choose perennial species wisely.  You certainly do not want to select invasive perennials that will threaten biodiversity.  Consider species that create habitats for other native species like butterflies and birds.  For a list of recommended native species in your area, visit the Native Plant Database.

The following are your planting options:

 

Before…..

Native Bulbs:  Usually planted in the fall, these miraculous little storehouses are simple to plant and bring a spring surprise.

Native Plants, Shrubs and Trees:  Just pop in a plant.  Choose hardy, preferably perennial native plants that are easy to maintain.

Annual Plants with Big “Wow” Factor:  Choose plants that will catch someone’s eye—plants with a powerful punch.

 

After….

Classic Clay Seed Bombs: These little fistfuls of compacted clay, compost and native perennial wildflower seed break down over time and eventually plants sprout in place of dirt, weeds and invasive species.  Seed bombs are used to surreptitiously improve areas that a guerillero is unable to reach.  Locked vacant lots or roadside embankments—all are promising native plant nurseries.  Keep in mind that seed germination is highly dependent on water.  Keep track of the weather.  Scatter the seed bombs on the ground—over a fence onto an empty lot—right before an early spring rainy spell to ensure germination.

Pre-made seed bombs may be purchased HERE and HERE.  Or, check back in a few days for my GREAT GUERILLA SEED BOMB RECIPE.

Please send me your before and after photos–I’d love to see.

Now, go forth and garden!

 

 

Candied Citrus Peel

April 22nd, 2012 § 5 comments § permalink

This recipe is super easy.  The peels taste just like sweet lemon drops. You’ll be certain to have your kitchen stocked with a jar or two of these from now on—ready to grab for that upcoming day hike or camping trip.  You may love them plain, with only a dusting of sugar, but in the end you may opt to dip your peels in chocolate for extra yumminess.  Look out!  These peels disappear fast!

 

You will need:

5 organic, un-waxed thick-skinned lemons (or 5 limes, 2 oranges, or 1 large grapefruit)

2 cups sugar

¾ tsp cream of tartar

Semisweet chocolate (optional)

 

What to do:

  1. Wash the lemons and slice off both ends with a knife.
  2. Make 4 equally spaced lengthwise slices just through the peel of each lemon.
  3. With your fingers, pry each section of peel off each lemon, leaving as much white pith on the fruit as possible.
  4. In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a simmer.
  5. Add the peels to the simmering water.  Simmer for 2 minutes and strain with a colander.
  6. Rinse the peels with fresh water and wash out the pan with soap and water.
  7. Repeat 2 more times, each time using fresh water to rinse peels and saucepan, and fresh cold water to refill saucepan.
  8. The pith of the fruit has a bitter taste.  If the peels are very thick, use a spoon or butter knife to scrape off most of the pith from the peel. This should rid the peels of bitterness.  But don’t remove all the pith from the peels—it will provide some structure and tastiness.
  9. Combine 2 cups sugar, 2 cups water and ¾ tsp cream of tartar.  Slowly bring to a simmer, whisking often.  The sugar syrup should be clear before it reaches a simmer.  Be careful—this liquid is hot!
  10. Add the peels to the sugar syrup (add enough water to completely cover the peels) and simmer gently for about 1 hour, until the mixture forms a thick syrup and the peels are translucent and tender.  The temperature should be about 230 degrees.
  11. To test for doneness, lift a peel slice from the syrup with a slotted spoon, let it cool slightly and then sample.  If you can easily bite through the peel, it’s done.  If not, continue simmering peels until tender.  If the syrup becomes too thick, add additional water.
  12. Turn off heat, gently remove peels from the sugar syrup with slotted spoon and lay separately on a wire rack set on an edged baking sheet.  Watch out!  The peels will be very hot.
  13. Once cooled, cut each peel into thin strips (no wider than ¼ inch).  These can be great knife practice for smallish hands, but be sure to work carefully.  Set peels separately on a clean wire rack to dry overnight.
  14. A few pieces at a time, toss each peel in a sugar-filled bowl to coat.
  15. Store in an airtight container.

Candied peels are best used at least two days after you’ve made them—they won’t have dried sufficiently if used right away.  After no longer gooey to the touch, they should be kept refrigerated in an airtight container.  They will last several weeks (assuming they are not gobbled up before then by unicorns).

 

And try this:

  • Dip peel ends in thinned royal icing or tempered chocolate and place on parchment-lined baking sheet to cool.
  • For orange peels, try adding ground ginger or nutmeg to the sugar.
  • Chopped, the candied peels may be used as a topping to pudding, custard, ice cream, pie, fresh granola or cookies.
  • Remaining citrus and cooled liquid and may be used as simple syrup to make amazing homemade lemonade Just add juice of 5 lemons (leftover from the above recipe) and water to taste and refrigerate.
  • Or, on the eve an especially long day, concoct a comforting cocktail.  Cool the remaining citrus and liquid, and serve with your spirit of choice.

Note: I originally published a version of this (sans above cocktail tip, of course) in Whip Up’s Action Pack Magazine for kids (Issue 6).   Chock full of quality projects for creative curious kids who love to do stuff, Action Pack is a downloadable high-quality ad-free e-magazine by Kathreen Ricketson.  Diagrams and photos illustrate each boredom-busting step-by-step kid-friendly project—make a lemon battery, a citric acid fizz popper, cinnamon sticks wooden jewelry and handmade chalk.  For more hands-on projects like this one, click HERE.

 

 

Homemade Citrus Body Scrub

March 25th, 2012 § 15 comments § permalink

It’s been way too long.  Truth is, the school garden is in full swing and I’ve been busy getting small hands dirty—turning over the winter cover crop, preparing the beds, planting sugar snap peas, packaging and selling spring seeds—it is that time of year.  Time to get dirty…. and then time to get cleaned up!

And nothing does the trick better than a handmade sugar scrub.  Upon completion of this practical project, you will have a novel and crafty cleanser-softener-smoother-moisturizer combo guaranteed to tempt even the most stubborn grimy kid into the tub.  In fact, you and your crafty team will be inclined to make oodles of these scrubs for deserving friends, dedicated teachers or for yourself—yes, even you are entitled to a complete body exfoliation with invigorating natural citrus scent.  Not only will your skin be healthy, it will feel smooth and smell delicious.

Natural sugar scrubs are fun, simple, and inexpensive concoctions. No cooking is necessary, and most ingredients can be found right in your kitchen cupboard.  Make a big batch, keep some, and give some away.

 

Materials: 

You’ll need the following:

  • A small, clean plastic or glass container with a lid.  A short, squat, wide container is best.  This could be found in your recycling bin or at a thrift store.
  • Sugar.  Coarse natural brown or white granulated (raw sugar works great), or a mix of both will work to exfoliate the skin.  Do not use soft brown baking sugar.
  • Oil.  Any oil that originates from a nut or fruit will work as a moisturizer, and will leave your skin soft and hydrated.  Light apricot, olive, avocado, jojoba, coconut are good choices.  Do not use cooking oil like corn oil—this will make a funky smell and a too-slick feel.
  • Natural additives.  You may add a small amount of any of the following: citrus juice (orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit), honey, aloe vera, vitamin E oil, essential citrus oil (sweet orange, lemon, grapefruit)


What to do:

Before starting, remind everyone that some ingredients used can sting eyes and that the resulting concoction smells really yummy but tastes really horrible.  Yuck!

In general, you’ll want to measure 2 parts sugar to 1 part oil.  Add enough oil to turn your sugar into the perfect slushy snow mixture.  Pour all ingredients into a small bowl.  Stir until ingredients combine.  Pour into clean container.  Label your container.  Cover the label with transparent packing tape.


Now for the fun part:

At the sink, or in the tub or shower, scoop a small amount of the scrub into your hand and massage gently onto your damp skin for a minute to exfoliate and moisturize.  Wash it off with water.  Pat your skin dry with a clean towel.

You can keep the remaining scrub in the sealed jar.  Use the sugar scrub no more than once a week.

Upgrade it:

For a pick-me-up:  An easy way to make your scrub even more luxurious is to add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.  Try citrus oil like grapefruit, sweet orange or tangerine.

For extra-dry skin:  Add a small amount of Aloe vera gel or vitamin E oil as a moisturizer.

Nice mixes to try:  Grapefruit and peppermint; orange, clove and lemon; almond and orange.

Add herbs or flowers to the mix:  Shredded ginger, orange peel, lavender flowers, linden flower—all of these are great options.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Because you can never be too careful when it comes to your skin, before you use the scrub, do a patch test on the inside of your arm to see how your skin reacts.
  • Do not use citrus oil (such as sweet orange, lemon or grapefruit) on your skin before you plan to spend the day in the sun.  Your skin is more likely to get sunburned.
  • Do not use on your face or neck.  And never use it on irritated skin.  If you have a sunburn, rash or cut, skip the scrub.
  • Also, as with anything that contains oil, a body scrub will make the tub or shower slippery.  Do not apply the scrub to the bottoms of your feet while in the shower.  You may slip.  Also, be sure to give the tub its own “scrub” when you’re done.

 

BODY SCRUB RECIPES:

O.J. Coconut Scrub

In this scrub, sugar granules gently exfoliate the skin.  The combined power of coconut, mango and orange provide nourishment.

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup sugar

½ cup coconut oil

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

¼ cup mango puree

To do:  Chop mango into small pieces without peel.  Place in blender to puree.  Mix sugar into coconut oil in a small bowl and stir well to combine.  Stir in orange juice and mango puree.

 

Grapefruit, Aloe Vera Scrub

This scrub makes your skin feel moisturized and fruity fresh.

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup sugar

4 Tbs jojoba oil

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs fresh grapefruit juice

2 Tbs aloe vera gel

2 drops grapefruit essential oil

To do:  In small bowl, combine sugar, grapefruit oil and juice.  Stir well to combine.  Add remaining ingredients.  Stir well.

 

Sweet Orange and Lime Scrub

This tropical scrub exfoliates and leaves skin silky smooth.

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

4 Tbs coconut oil

2 Tbs fresh lime juice

6 drops vitamin E oil

2 drops sweet orange essential oil

To do:  Mix sugar and oil in a small bowl.  Stir to combine.  Add remaining ingredients and stir well to make a paste.

 

Honey and Orange Scrub

Honey is a natural humectant, which means it attracts moisture and keeps it where it should be—under your skin.  This scrub hydrates, moisturizes and protects your skin.

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

4 Tbs dark organic honey

2 Tbs fresh orange juice

To do:  Mix ingredients until you have a smooth paste.

 

Salty Sugary Scrub

This scrub leaves your skin soft and moist.  Just perfect for dry skin.

Ingredients:

½ cup coarse brown sugar

½ cup sea salt or kosher salt

2 Tbs coconut oil

2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

2 Tbs dark organic honey

To do:  Mix all ingredients until you have a smooth paste.

I originally published this article in Whip Up’s Action Pack Magazine for kids (Issue 6: Zap and Zest).  This downloadable high-quality ad-free e-magazine by Kathreen Ricketson is chock full of quality projects for creative curious kids who love to do stuff.  Diagrams and photos illustrate each boredom-busting step-by-step kid-friendly project—make a lemon battery, a citric acid fizz popper, cinnamon sticks, wooden jewelry and handmade chalk!  For more hands-on projects like this one, click HERE.

 

 

Topping it Off: Eco-Friendly Gift-Wrapping

December 15th, 2011 § 10 comments § permalink

It’s become clear that sometime during the next few weeks or so, you may have something to give me.   Quite possibly it will be something that doesn’t cost much.  Maybe it will be free—a shoulder massage, a ukulele tutorial, a list of trustworthy sitters, your timeshare in Antrim, Ireland—in any case, since you know I am a surprise-junkie, it will likely require some sort of superawesome wrapping to ambush and wow me.

This will be easily done, I think, since it is still fall here and I’ve recently discovered some mind-blowing tutorials HERE and HERE on transforming fall leaves into crafty decorative flowers—perfect for topping off your thoughtful gift.  I understand you may be concerned that fall is coming to a close, and leaves are becoming scarce and crinkly and delicate, and it might just take longer than expected for you to figure out just how to get those leaves folded.  Just.  Perfectly.  I am here to prepare you for alternatives.

This project requires a Felted Wool Ball, needle and thread, remnant wool felt, and a small collection of felted sweaters.  First, prepare the “petals” for the project.  With sharp sewing scissors, cut the felted sweaters into long zigzaggy strips, leaving a connection on the bottom edge—pointy or rounded tops.  Cut thin sweaters into narrow strips (for inner petals) and thick sweaters into wider strips (for outer petals).

I keep a stash of these strips handy for noteworthy projects like button bracelets and collars for small lively monster friends.

Next (and this is optional) use a felting needle, felting pad and skinny wool roving to embellish the wool ball, adding spirals or dots or anything else superfancy (see Dry Felting).

With needle and thread in hand, stitch the bottom edge of one narrow zigzaggy strip around the sides of the felted ball until you meet up with the starting point.  Cut off the extra end of the strip.  Stitch a wider zigzaggy strip around the sides of the ball, matching bottom edges and overlapping the first strip until you meet up with the starting point.  Cut off the end.  Stitch a third (the widest) zigzaggy strip over the first two.  Cut off the end.

Next, cut a large leaf-shaped piece of wool felt.  Place this piece on the bottom of your flower and sew around the edges, attaching it to your flower top and covering the rough zigzaggy strip edges.  Good job.

Gift ribbons can be easily made with light cotton fabric scrap.  Cut in about an inch from the edge.  Grab fabric edges and pull away, leaving raw-edged ribbon.

Wrap your gift with a larger fabric scrap, tying with raw-edged ribbon.

With needle and thread, secure flower onto ribbon.  Ta da!

 

Note: don’t attempt perfection with these felted flowers.  As with other projects, quirky outcomes are preferred over conventional.  That said, remind yourself that, in nature, some flowers are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, and some even lose petals.

Celebrate the uniqueness.

 

There is No “I” in Pie

October 26th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

As mentioned here and here, I don’t like to cook.  Or even to bake, really.  For me every meal is a trial.

There have been a few times when I actually have enjoyed my time in the kitchen.  Almost all have involved a glass or two of wine.

And, so when my smallest person returned from school the other day determined to enter a homemade apple pie in the farmers market pie contest, I immediately broke out in a cold sweat.

I have never baked a pie.

My pie-o-phobia is mostly due to years of extensive advice provided by well-intentioned gastronomes—freeze the flour, mix with a light hand, roll from the center, pre-cook the apples, heap them up high, wet the top crust—to me, this is dizzying.  But how do you dismiss a small pie-obsessed enterprising firebrand who makes a completely convincing case—Mom, we could do it together, she says.

In the end, I have learned that if you can make a purple Play-Doh pie (and my daughter is a self-proclaimed master), you can make an apple pie.

Oatmeal, hazelnuts, boiled cider, sour cream, ground cloves, lemon zest, pepper, melted apple jelly, vodka—all can do wonders for an apple pie, I’ve heard.  We stuck with a few simple ingredients we had on hand—fresh fruit, flour, butter, eggs, sugar.  Homemade pie can only be as yummy as the produce put into it.  We put in a mixture of local Honeycrisps, Macouns, Jonathans and Crispins.  Other late-fall blends could include Northern Spy, Pink Lady, Rome, Cortland, Braeburn, Rome, Idared, and Black Twig.

 

The Recipe

This recipe is perfect for making one double-crust apple pie.

Flaky Butter Crust:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter, chilled and diced
  • ½ cup ice water

In large, refrigerated bowl, combine flour and salt.  Cut in butter only until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in water, a Tbs at a time, until mixture forms a ball.  Don’t overwork the dough.  Shape dough into two flat disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour.  Unwrap one dough disk and roll out on wax paper.  Invert over 9-inch deep-dish pie plate.  Ease dough into pan bottom and corners.  Refrigerate.

The Rest:

  • 6 cups apples, quartered, cored, peeled and sliced very thin
  • 1 Tbs lemon
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 eggwhite
  • 1tbs milk
  • 1 Tbs butter, frozen

Set pizza stone or cookie sheet on center rack of oven.  Preheat oven to 475.  Brush bottom piecrust lightly with egg white.  Bake for 5 minutes.  In large bowl, mix apples with lemon.  In separate bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add apples and mix.  Add salt and mix.  Arrange apples in layers on dough-lined pie plate.  Heap them up high, since they will cook down a bit.  Cover filling with diced butter.

Roll out second dough disk.  For a lattice-top crust, cut ¾ inch strips and carefully weave onto filling.  For a solid crust, center dough onto filling and cut steam vents near crust edge with paring knife.  Trim and tuck edges.  Place pie in freezer for 10 minutes.  Brush top with a light layer of milk and sugar.  Reduce oven temperature to 400.  Bake on preheated pizza stone until top crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Fasten foil rim around crust edge.  Continue baking until juices bubble thickly at pan edges and big slow bubbles rise up through the vents, about 35 more minutes.

Transfer pie to wire rack and (the ultimate challenge) commit to an hour-long mouthwatering wait.  At least.

 

The Story’s End

At this point, you are most likely at the edge of your seat wondering about our pie contest outcome.  To our complete surprise, the pie was a prize-winning one.  Yay!  And so, later that week at a friend’s house, composed and confident, in an attempt to replicate success, I made the same exact world-class pie and popped it into the oven.  And broiled it.  A total flop.  I will spare you the gory details.  And yet, I remain fully committed to trying this recipe out with fresh local Anjou pears next week, er tomorrow.

Now, go forth and bake ye some pie!  And at Thanksgiving dinner (It’s coming, you know!) when folks ask your kids, What have you been up to lately?  He or she may reply, Oh, nothing much.  Just hanging out. 

And making the best pie ever.

 

 

The Smopsicle

July 25th, 2011 § 10 comments § permalink

If, in fact, you did come over sometime soon (and our fingers are crossed), my little team and I would whip you up a batch of our favorite simple, all-natural organic summer smopsicles—quick and easy smoothie pops that run salty preservative-y saturated fat-ty high fructose corn syrup-y snacks clear out of town.

Most ingredients can be found at a farmer’s market like ours.  But we’ve been known to make these pops in the thick of winter.  As luck would have it, we’ve found that frozen fruit works best, so these days we squirrel away peak-season favorites in our freezer.  Thankfully, though, we’re not picky.  We’ll freeze and eat just about anything smoopsicle-worthy.

Here are some of our superfabuloso recipes.  Most are not ours, really.  We’ve stolen bits and pieces from aunts, close friends, neighbors and complete strangers.

 

Basic Smopsicle Ingredients:

1 cup plain or vanilla organic yogurt (Greek live and active bacterial culture is best)

3 to 4 Tbs concentrated fruit juice (orange, pomegranate, cranberry, any favorites will do)

1 cup fresh or frozen fruit (plus extras for testing)  (strawberries, raspberries, sliced peaches, mmmmm)

Blend all ingredients, saving 2 or 3 Tbs fruit, until smooth.  Pour a few Tbs of blended ingredients into pop molds.  Add fresh, whole fruit layer.  Add another blended layer, and fruit layer. Finish with a blended layer.  Pop in pop sticks.  Pop in the freezer.  Wait…..

 

Waterminty Pops:

2 cups seedless watermelon chunks

3/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt

¼ cup raspberries (frozen or fresh)

3 to 4 fresh mint leaves

Cinnamon

1 Tbs honey, stevia, agave, maple or your favorite natural sweetener, to taste

Puree watermelon, honey and mint in blender.  Pulse in yogurt and cinnamon just until smooth.  Pour into pop molds and freeze.  Note: we’ve been known to pop chocolate chips into this recipe post-blending for “watermelon seeds.”  Mmmmm.

 

Mangopsicles: (inspired by Moosewood)

1 large ripe mango, peeled and cut into chunks

2 ripe bananas

3 to 4 Tbs orange juice concentrate

1/8 tsp ground cardamom

Puree all ingredients in blender.  Pour into pop molds and freeze.

 

Note: as a quick alternative to any recipe above, add ½ cup crushed ice and blend with ingredients to make smoothies.  Drink immediately.

 

Sometimes it’s hard to wait.

A Bird in the Hand

June 15th, 2011 § 9 comments § permalink

ChickadeeTwenty thousand years ago, before the babies arrived, before the Era of Massive Laundry, I spent some time living in the woods.  It was during this time that I could smell the dusty sweet scent of an approaching storm, could lean on a tree and determine its type by the bark, could work out which direction the fox was heading from its tracks, and could decipher just about every forest snap, cackle, and peek—separately noting, unriddling and interpreting each sound in my mind.  Each revealed something of importance— bird-twittering love, hawk overhead, nestlings being fed—and each evoked a vivid image of feathers or fur and a sense of belonging to it all.

I did this unknowingly.  Would just sit there and listen.

I am rusty now.   And everything takes more work.

Field GuideThis spring at our house we’ve been making homemade field guides for these kinds of things.  And we’ve been trying to get a good look and listen.  We hold hands and hold our binoculars and hold our sharpened pencils and little guides, and we just sit there and listen.

PhoebeThe past two weeks were spent attempting to find out who moved in next door—a hardy fly-catching little guy, with a creamy belly and olive-colored wings.  And just this morning we got a good look at him while heading out to school.  A phoebe.

Looking at nestThere are over 10,000 species of birds in the world.  About 925 have been sighted in North America.  In New York’s Hudson Valley, where we live, there are just over 100 commonly breeding species.  With practice, these birds can, of course, be identified by sight.  But a good birder can identify a species just by hearing their call or song.  There is something to be said about “seeing” a bird with closed eyes.  Some species like our cedar waxwing have just one single simple call.  Others, like our brown thrasher, can sing over 2,000 songs.  No kidding.

NestlingsLearning bird songs takes patience, perseverance, persistence and a great deal of practice.  Ideally, while in training (which could literally, if you are like me, take a lifetime), you would befriend  (or preferably marry) a spirited warmhearted nature-lover, who, energized by your incessant pestering, repeats excitedly, “That’s a Dark-eyed Junco; Yup, that’s a Dark-eyed Junco; Yes, sir-eee, Bob!  That’s a Dark-eyed Junco; You got it!  That’s a Dark-eyed Junco.”  And just when it’s fairly clear you’ve perfected it all—well, just that one single passerine—the same patient friend will suddenly announce “That chipping sound is an alarm call of the Dark-eyed Junco, but the call before that was it’s contact trill note” and so on and so on as the tireless bird goes through its repertoire of 200 zillion sounds.  That’s an actual number.  It is potentially overwhelming.

My birding advice:

  • Listen to one instrument, not the entire orchestra.  Pick out the piccolo, then the oboe, the cello, the bass, etc.  Find individual notes from each instrument.
  • Learn one or two common local birds first.  Use these calls and songs as the standard for new ones that you hear.
  • Imitate what you hear.  If you can, count the notes and sketch the bird and the sound.
  • Use gimmicks.  If a bird sounds like a perky R2D2, then take note of it.  You can use your own gimmicks, putting words to a bird’s song, or you can use the widely accepted ones—called mnemonics.
  • Use field guides and online resources like Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Song Mnemonics, Nature Songs and What Bird
  • Write everything down and keep it close.

Nestling in HandWhy?  Birding provides a fantastic opportunity for us to connect to the natural world.   It allows a deeper understanding of habitat requirements and intra- and inter-species relationships, provides an even playing field—with both parents and kids starting at the same level, actively listening and working together for a common purpose, and requires no fancy terminology, musical training or conceptual framework.  By putting a teeny, feathered face on the world outside us, birding helps foster a sense of unity with nature and prompts interest and involvement in local green issues.  It can help teach an environmental ethic and can demystify basic ecology concepts.

More importantly, it can stimulate curiosity and passion.  Like you’ve never seen before.

Mnemonics we often use:

Bubble, bubble, glee-gleek 

Cheer-a-lee, cheer-up….

Cheer-a-lee….fancy Robin-y song

Cheer, cheer……woop, woop, woop

Robin with sore throat, and Chick burr

Chik-a-dee-dee-dee

Chipping trill (mechanical)

Chirping trill (softer than Chippy)

Chirr, chirr, chirr

Conk-a-ree

Drink your teeeeeeea!

Drop it, drop it!  Cover it up! (repeat)

Fee-bee

Here, here, come right here, dear

Here I am.  Where are you?  (repeat)

Meeee-ew…. and mocking phrases

Oh, sweet Canada Canada Canada

Cheeva, cheeva, cheeva, cheeva

Pee-a-wee…. Pee-yer

Queer, queer, queer

Teacher, Teacher, Teacher

Three-A….. Three-A

Wich-ity, witch-ity, witch-ity

Whinny (downward)

Whinny (evenly-pitched rattle)

Wik, wik, wik, wik, wik, wik

Wolf whistle, squeaky squeal, clucks

Who are you, you, you (sadly)

Yenk, yenk yenk (with a cold)

Zeee-zeee (high-pitched crickets)

Zee-zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee

Zur-zur-zur-zree!! (raspy)

Cowbird 

Robin

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Cardinal

Scarlet Tanager

Black-capped Chickadee

Chipping Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-winged blackbird

Eastern Towhee

Brown Thrasher

Eastern Phoebe

Northern Oriole

Red-eyed Vireo

Gray Catbird

White Throated Sparrow

Tufted Titmouse

Eastern Wood Peewee

Red-headed Woodpecker

Ovenbird

Yellow-throated Vireo

Common Yellowthroat

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Flicker

Starling

Mourning Dove

White Breasted Nuthatch

Cedar Waxwing

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated blue warbler

Just walk outside and listen.


The Family that Camps Together

June 2nd, 2011 § 29 comments § permalink

Indian LakeIt is essential for every family to spend quality sleepless nights together in a tent—to strip off the tie, the watch, the shampoo, the cell phone, the bed —to forget the paperwork, the appointment, the meeting, the post, the tweet and get seriously dirty.  Camping allows unstructured exploration.  Every day starts with only the faintest outline of an agenda, with little expectations, rules or constraints.  Pajama fishing, rock scrambling, hill hiking, worm finding, fairy house making, dusk swimming, s’mores making, star gazing—each puts your problems into perspective.  And every day ends with a snuggly grubby family zipped up in an undersized bug-free (hopefully) spot.

FishingAdmittedly, planning for a weekend camping trip is overwhelming.  To streamline the process, all our gear (tent, sleeping bags and pads, first aid, fishing poles, tackle box, pocket knife, lantern, flashlights, tarp, matches, cooking supplies) quietly anticipates an upcoming adventure in a corner of our small attic.  As well, over the years we have found that the key to camping success is to 1) talk it up beforehand, 2) share the pure camping joy with another valiant venturesome family or two, and 3) have good bug stuff.

BreakfastAlthough we typically camp in the Catskill Mountains, we spent last weekend in the Adirondacks.  Here in the Hudson Valley, our particularly cool, wet spring has produced a bumper crop of spicy garden radishes and crisp looseleaf lettuce.  Yum!  Sadly, the overflowing lakes, ponds and streams just to our north have also produced a bumper crop of vampiric pests.  A contingent of four different types of pests form the core of the biting or blood-sucking brigade within the Adirondacks right now, protecting the area from human overpopulation—black flies, mosquitoes, no-see-ums and deer flies.  They have much in common—mouth parts that bite or pierce, females that feed on blood, and love of water.  Alas, we camped on a lake.

CampfireIn the Adirondacks, great swarms of insects, capable of raw torment, exist in such large numbers that the term “the Adirondack wave” is commonly used to describe the act of swatting these vermin hordes away.  It has been said, “If you don’t use bug dope, you’ll be eaten alive.  If you do use bug dope, you’ll only be eaten half alive.”  Last weekend, we were eaten half alive.

Bug GoopJust a note on DEET.  The majority of bug repellents contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) as their active ingredient.  DEET is a registered pesticide.  Need I say more?  Don’t use it.  My friend Jen makes superamazing bug lotion and spray with shea butter, lemongrass and pennyroyal.  Due to differences among insect species, repellents containing multiple essential oils are more effective than those containing a single ingredient.  Any mixture of following is fine—citronella, eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary, cinnamon, lemongrass, cedarwood—but keep in mind that some people are sensitive to plant oils.  Before applying to skin, put a small drop on a cloth and keep it nearby to test for any allergic reaction.  Also, don’t be skimpy with natural remedies—reapplication every half hour is necessary, especially if you’re busy swimming and sweating.

 

Beeswax Bug Goop

2 oz beeswax

2 oz sweet almond oil

1 oz jojoba oil

½ oz canola oil

40 drops essential oil blend

 

With beeswax: Heat almond, jojoba and canola oils in saucepan and add beeswax.  Allow the mixture to cool slightly and then add essential oils.  Pour into a sealed container.

 

 

Lanolin Bug Salve

2 oz anhydrous lanolin (natural wax)

2 dropperfulls neem seed oil

60 drops essential oil blend

 

Warm the lanolin under hot tap water.  Mix all ingredients and pour into a sealed container.  Refrigerate to harden.

 

No-Bite Bug Spray

1/8 cup apple cider vinegar

1/8 cup almond oil, witch hazel or grain alcohol

1/8 cup distilled water

60 drops essential oil blend

 

Mix all ingredients and add to a smallish spray bottle.

 

 

And, just in case….

Mossy After-Bite

Dragonfly 1First, try not to scratch, since you should not apply this to open skin.  Then, soak a cotton ball in witch hazel and apply to the bite for a few minutes.  The astringent tannins, procyanadins, resin, and flavonoids help soothe pain and reduce swelling.  Apply essential camphor oil (mostly harvested from the wood of Asian camphor laurel tree) with a cotton ball and wait for a minute.  Camphor, a common ingredient in commercial anti-itch gels, stimulates nerve endings and relieves symptoms of pain.  Then, apply a drop of essential tea tree oil to further reduce the itch.

ExoskeletonJust a note: Although swarms of vampiric bugs can cause much misery, their presence should not be used as an excuse to avoid camping in the backcountry.  Or the backyard.  Also, remember to wash your hands thoroughly if handling amiable arthropods like our sweet dragonflies or any other cuddly camp critters.

Dragonfly 2And remember, pack in, pack out!

 

 

 

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