...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Workshop Pilgrimage: Winter Woolen Festival

Where can you go and find such happy people on a grey, sooty-snow day in winter? A Winter Woolen Festival, that's where. (Or are they just slap-happy, made giddy by hours of sitting in front of the dulcimer players?) Kidding aside, I made an impromptu trip--not a garden or kitchen pilgrimage this time, more a festival pilgrimage--one dedicated to crafters who work in textile arts.

A friend blogger invited me to it when she spotted my drop spindle post last week. What an odd thing it is, the world of blogger friendships. This festival was my first opportunity to meet her in person, although I felt like I already knew her blogger persona pretty well, as she knew mine. Still, it is an added richness to interact with cyber friends in a more tangible setting.

What's more, she's a gifted spinner, and took me to the point of more often looking like this (see above) than looking like this (see below) as I was still focusing too much on the "drop" part of using a drop spindle.

The workshop was essentially a benefit for the community's historical society and thus was held in a local museum/historic mansion. Both buildings of the estate were filled with booths catering to the supply needs of every woolen craft specialist. Dining room tables were surrounded by knitters, felters, embroiderers, rug punchers...Stairwell corners had musicians and spinning-wheel spinners tucked into them, and the third storey ballroom had large scale workshops running throughout the two-day event. Everyone was wonderfully supportive to a newbie like me, as I took my "lesson" in spinning right in front of a roomful of woolen craft experts. At one point, the roving provided in my starter kit was proving to be difficult to manage. A man selling roving and homemade soaps at a nearby booth reached out with a handful of gorgeous turquoise wool. "Try this," he said, knowing that in this setting, eavesdropping was the norm; and his wool was, in fact, much better for the task at hand.

So that "new thing to try" I mentioned last week has already led me to a bonanza of enjoyment, and I'm not even good at it yet! What's more, Cindy Bee introduced me to another new hobby that uses the same roving wool I use in spinning: felting. I bought a felting needle and made a mental checklist of the other supplies I'll need to get started on it.
As a last word, I'm hoping Cindy shows up in this blog again. She's a master gardener who intrigued me with a description of her tea garden--an herb garden dedicated to a variety of ingredients geared toward homemade teas. I can't wait to make that garden pilgrimage soon!

Happy spinning!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sabbath Rest: on Being Stewards of the Earth

How many of us have childhood memories of helping grandparents and parents harvest food from the earth, maybe even perching our little feet on a fence rail and watching as adults tended animals like chickens and cows, creatures whose lives became part of our own in more ways than just as the entree on our dinner plates? Not to sound old, but--my how times have changed!

Rarely ever do I turn political on this blog, but one issue is dear enough to me--in fact is the heartbeat of this blog--that I make mention of it as a devotion just this once. Power and politics are changing the very essence of our God-given commission to be stewards of the earth, changing the tools we have. Modern science partnering with business capital, this pairing is mutating seeds such that a small grower's independent sustainability based on the natural law of seed retrieval from his growing crops (which is, incidentally the very reason those fruits and vegetables hang on the vine) this is gradually, almost secretly, becoming illegal. The "new way" means one generation of seed creating one generation of plant and nothing more. For more seeds, a grower will not be able to simply go to the garden and preserve the best plants' seeds. One must go to the chemical lab instead. We've learned to abhor human slavery, but enslaving the earth and its other creatures: this is simply good business.

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. Genesis 2:15
What a beautiful assignment! And while man's task now involves the sweat of his brow, there are still so many intimate gifts between God and man in this arena--if man respects God's part in the arrangement.

Take the gift of the subtle scent wafting up from live Baby's Breath. Lean in and breathe deep--you'll see where it gets its name! That God should offer something so lovely and tender to teach us about His nature, such snippets make blatantly true Paul's words to the Romans:

From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn't worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they became utter fools instead. Romans 1:20-22

Many have decided that God's invisible qualities are not displayed for our benefit through the sky and the earth but rather that such offerings are rather a random development. Those "foolish ideas of what God is like" we see even now. And yet, for some of us, the hope remains that eternal power and divinity continue to be the Lord's domain. We still hear Him ask:

And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom [his] lord shall make ruler over his household, to give [them their] portion of meat in due season? Luke 12:42

And because we believe, we continue to take our humble steps to be stewards of the visible.

To read more on what prompted these reflections on this weighty task of stewardship, consider the heartache featured in the article linked below. Then re-read the verse from Luke and ask yourself whose heartache you're feeling. Might it not be the ache of the God who makes the nourishing rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike? Does He not grieve over how far we have drifted from His life as it is given symbolically through nature?


As for me, I pray I will ever be counted as on one of those wise and faithful stewards, planting my heirloom garden, knowing I'm just a small part of an age-old tradition that personal wealth and power have no business interrupting.

Friday, February 25, 2011

To everything there is a season...

...and a time for every purpose under heaven. So goes the old proverb, but there's one season we rarely visit voluntarily: the season of failure.
My husband always says--when coaching young athletes, "I challenge you to fail at something every day." By that he means, try something new; reach for something beyond your current capabilities; explore life! For me right now that "new thing" is using a drop spindle to create my own yarn for knitting and crocheting. Pictured is my second spindle-full, set against the backdrop of an afghan I'm crocheting. Though it is clumsy and inconsistent in texture, I'm more proud of that new yarn than I am of the coming afghan, proud because this is a new feeling in my hands. This new skill will widen the range of my own responsibility in creating my textile products. I'm also getting ready to try a little more advanced level of Fair Isle knitting because I know that even those skills I have can be kicked up a notch if I can just accept the sacrifice of excellence as I'm learning. While sticking to things I "know" may insure appealing results, trying something new and embracing those clumsy first attempts will offer a whole new, although less tangible, benefit. New untried and unfamiliar things appearing in our hobby list keep us in touch with humility and compassion and reminds us of the value of hope.
Once upon a time, gardening was that new thing for me. I remember that first season I tried gardening. I planted a seedling marked "squash" on its label. I watched it grow and produce fruit. I waited for that fruit to change colors before I picked it, thinking it unripe. It never changed, and eventually it simply rotted on the vine. I reckoned it a failure--that plant. Only later in the fall did I, while shopping at a produce market, find the very same vegetable I grew. Not having been raised on squash, I did not realize how many different types of squash were "out there" for the growing. When I saw that mound of squash at the market, I laughed out loud. Why I'd grown beautiful squash, and never realized it! Every new venture comes with risks. A sense of humor and reasonable expectations help you weather those first "failed" attempts. A sense of perseverance bounds over the season of being a novice and leads you to those days when you are an artisan, a master. And that season lasts the rest of your life! Brother Lawrence would probably agree that there is something eternally beneficial in exploring such seasons of life.
Children happily learn new things...every day. Watch one and you'll see: tireless effort, personal satisfaction with modest progress, wonder and the thrill of discovering new worlds of knowledge and skill. So, when adults strive to learn new things, they keep alive one of the best parts of childhood.
Happy failings!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire...

Is it that time of year at your house yet? I'm talking about that time when you sigh and wonder whatever possessed you to order such a BIG box of citrus from that neighborhood kid out fundraising? Or maybe the long-range ice storms stirred some subconscious, deep-body fear of threats like scurvy as if you were some long-haul 18th century sailor--so you bought the biggest mesh bag on the citrus display at the supermarket? And just maybe, like me, this was the year you got a little over-enthusiastic during holiday immersion and seeing a bag of pre-roasted chestnuts, you thought: it's high time I tried those! Little did you know, if you're like me, the idea of roasted chestnuts (after all, they write songs about them!) far surpasses the actual tastiness. Finally, maybe, like me, you HATE to throw anything away that is fresh and good for food, good at least according to somebody's taste buds if not your own at the moment?

All that drives this post, one dedicated to fringe uses for items you had to have but now, not so much. Creativity where error and ignorance are the original muse. For instance, why not take those chestnuts and some of the orange peel and mix them with dried rosemary and some pine-scented essential oil to get a texturally interesting winter potpourri? The scent may be a little more subtle than what you'd buy at that shop that plays the dulcimer music in the background, but it makes up for its mildness of scent with its visual appeal as a centerpiece.

Then, too, this is the season for nearly obsessive skin care given those icy winds that attack your face every time you go out to shovel snow...AGAIN. From somewhere in the back of my mind rises the memory that citrus is a great source for homemade beauty products. Not having a library book handy on the topic, I surfed the web, and from these two websites alone, I discovered enough ideas that I could go to the kitchen and simply create the following personal spa day package:

FIrst, I'll use that orange juice and pulp mixed with cornmeal to make a paste and have a homemade body scrub. Or, I might use my morning coffee grounds mixed with 1 T of salt, which makes for a more invigorating body scrub for my morning shower. While there, I"ll be letting my face mask made of canned pureed pumpkin and beaten egg exfoliate my face without being abrasive (see chapping winds comment above), then I'll take the juice from pureed cucumber and honey as a toner before moisturizing and going on with my day. Want the links for the recipes? Here they are:



Who says you have to eat everything that's edible? Some edibles are perfectly happy to go "out of the box" and become useful to you in a number of other ways, from the physically comforting to the decorative!
Happy re-purposing!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sabbath Rest for Valentine's Day with John Eldredge

I've been saving this one specifically for today...I knew I wanted to share it on Valentine's Day from the first time my eyes scanned the words. This text is from John Eldredge's book, Epic.

If you learned about Eden in Sunday school, with poster board and flannel graphs, you missed something. Imagine the most beautiful scenes you have ever known on this earth...Then imagine all on the day it was born...

We have grown dull toward this world in which we live; we have forgotten that it is not normal or scien-tific in any sense of the word. It is fantastic. It is a fairy tale through and through. Really now. Elephants? Caterpillars? Snow? At what point did you lose your wonder at it all? Even so, once in a while something will come along and shock us right out of our dullness and resignation.

We come round a corner and there before us is a cricket, a peacock, a stag with horns as big as he. Perhaps we come upon a waterfall, the clouds have made a rainbow in a circle round the sun, or a mouse scampers across the counter, pauses for a moment to twitch its whiskers at you, and disappears into the cupboard. And for a moment we realize that we were born into a world astonishing as any fairy tale.

A world made for romance.

Creation unfolds like a great work of art, a masterpiece in the making. And just as you can learn about an author by the stories he tells, you can learn a great deal about an artist from the works he creates. Surely you see that God is more creative than we can possibly imagine, and romantic to the core...

I daresay we've heard a bit about original sin, but not nearly enough about original glory, which comes before sin and is deeper to our nature...We remember, if only faintly, that we were once more than we are now.

God created us in his image, with powers like unto his, own--the ability to reason, to create, to share intimacy, to know joy. He gives us laughter and wonder and imagination. And above all else, he endows us with that one quality for which he is most known.

He enables us to love...

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Midwinter Garden Calendar Review

As I type this, the weather man is telling me all about the wind chill advisories keeping the layer of ice on my garden firmly entrenched--at least until later in the week. But...this weekend, comes a big thaw! If he's right, I know I'll want to get out and breath the first air that holds a hint of spring. This weekend might also be a good time to run through the midwinter to-do list, just in case another weather system comes through after this weekend, thwarting any gardening efforts for yet another week or two. So, here is what the Gardening Basics book recommends for midwinter gardening activity. Both the edible and ornamental garden calenders are merged here, seeing so much overlap exists:

Test soil pH before applying lime

Hang up garlic bulbs to dry

Plant fruit bushes and trees

Plant garlic (if you haven't already)

Lift and store root crops for further winter use

Check fruit in store

Plant hedges

Lift layered plants

Start forcing rhubarb

Lift leeks and parsnips as required

Disinfect canes and supports not treated earlier

Make a new compost heap

Take root cuttings

Collect and compost leaves as they fall

Cut down the dead tops on herbaceous perennials

Order seeds and bulbs

Check stored corms, bulbs, and tubers for mold and rot

Clean and service lawn mower if not done earlier

Knock heavy snows off hedges and conifers before it turns to ice (unless it started out ice, as in our area recently)

Insulate cold frames against frost

Happily, the next calendar will be the late winter one, coming early in March. By then, Hubby and I will spend less time staring out at the scene and more time being involved in it. I don't know about you, but after this exceptionally harsh winter, I'm looking forward to spring all the more!

Happy winter-work!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sabbath Rest: God "goes public" with glory

Recently in my city, a heavy ice storm stopped our usual buzzing around, and all suburbia simply stayed indoors and stared out windows. It is easy to gaze out in growing seasons at nature's flourishes--butterflies and birds and bees--and see God's glory all around. It is easy to be a child and glory in any season...

But it is more difficult when adult life grows inconvenient and uncomfortable because of weather, when the places we looked for those renewals of hope, signs of life--a newly ripe tomato or a blooming squash plant--are too far away on either side of our internal calendar. How do we muster glory when all we have out our back window is a blanket of ice glaring back at us. More difficult, but not impossible...

This week, I read reflections on the magnificence of God's glory displayed through John Piper's book, Desiring God:
In creation, God 'went public' with the glory that reverberates joyfully between the Father and the Son. There is something about the fullness of God's joy that inclines it to overflow. There is an expansive quality to His joy. It wants to share itself. The impulse to create the world was not from weakness, as though God were lacking in some perfection that creation could supply. 'It is no argument of the emptiness or deficiency of a fountain, that it is inclined to overflow.'
But that overflow glory and fullness of joy are more subtly presented some times of year than others. Still, I set my heart to find it, even now, and this is what I saw:

While all the rest of the bird-world stayed hidden away, one lone little bird, colorless and without any graceful song to recommend it, perched at the tip top of a sunlit tree. What was in that little bird's mind, I wondered? Indulge me in a bit of anthropomorphous thinking. I couldn't help figure that this little bird considered the beauty of the scene worth the lonely perch, the chill in the air...the sacrifice, however sacrifice should define itself in bird terms.

Subtle, but a glory to be embraced even in the depths of winter.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Kitchen Pilgrimage: Lakefront Cabin in Wisconsin

or...how low (tech) can you go...and still cook these days?

I'll share with you a bit from my personal journal today as it chronicles our weekend trip to a wintry little cabin on Lake Michigan--a birthday trip gifted to my by my husband. Besides taking you along to enjoy the time with me, I'll share how I coped (much like when I go camping) with the loss of much of my kitchen gadgetry.

January 29, 2011

We arrived late last night in deep darkness and snow. Momentarily "lost" along the wooded lane coming here, we reviewed directions via Blackberry access to our email direction, we were soon and rolling along again. Obviously, we are a techno family, but this weekend would be sans technology--no TV, no computer, no radio...and the only phone line, we traced from the wall jack to a cabinet that was nailed shut! Still, we had electricity. We had running water. We were wrapped in all the comfort we needed, right?

Before entering the cabin, though, we weren't so confident about that comfort factor. The snow was rather deep and had not been shoveled. We trudged around the base of the cabin on the frontage road side looking for a path up the hill where the little structure was embedded. Finding a handrail, we pulled ourselves up a snow-buried stone stairway to the crest of the little hill. There, we found what hardly qualified as a front door--more like a side shed door. Uncertain of it, we shuffled along the lakeside length of the cabin, searching for another entrance; but finding none we resigned ourselves to this humble door as our Main Entryway.
After unhooking the door and prying it open against the snow, we stepped into a closet-sized mud-room. There we were plunged into a pitch black quiet, leaving the sound of crashing waves and the minimal reflection of sky light bouncing between clouds and snow. The place was far too dark to find the prescribed hiding place for the key: tucked in a garden glove hanging on the wall. Being the moderns we are, though, we used our cell phones as flashlights, and thereby found the key and opened the door. After a quick tour of the uncommon little cabin, we unpacked quickly and bedded down for the night.

(a daytime view of that front door)

(trying to decide where to park)

The next morning brought a steely grey sky with it, although the snow had ended. We'd brought fruit and muffins for breakfast so we munched on these as we planned our day. I'd had the forethought to bring instant coffee which I made with bottled water (the well water smelled heavily of sulfur) in a teapot. A quick survey of the kitchen showed our limitations: no microwave, no dishwasher, basic cookware, an old dining table badly listing toward the living room and covered in a cheery vinyl tablecloth. What's more, the light above the table did not work, so a candle lit dinner would be not just romantic but required tonight.

(an old-fashioned push-button stove and a heavy porcelain sink were primary features in the cabin's little kitchen)

By this time, the teapot was singing, so I made my instant coffee and sat down to make a shopping list of a sort. We planned to lunch in the little town of Oostburg, do some grocery shop there, and then return to the cabin for supper. Not that we were rushing around. I took the time to sit in the window seat, bundled in my favorite fleece pajamas and homemade-knitted footies, drinking coffee and perusing the guestbook. The guests were quirky and eclectic, like the cabin they felt called to visit. As one woman put it, "being here is like the adult version of discovering object permanence..." Another who came in early spring commemorated her visit by pasting in little seeds and delicate flowers. Nearly everyone drew pictures or wrote poems about their stay. Something about the remoteness of the place and the reflections of its other guests took my mind back to a favorite recurring dream I have. In it, I go up a dark, cumbersome stairway. Cobweb covered and paint chipped, it appears abandoned for decades. But at the top, I find a doorway--Alice in Wonderland small--that opens into a fabulously decorated, expansive and serene apartment.
This weekend, so far, feels like that!


We went out to lunch at a little pizza buffet, stopped at a local grocery and finished our errands including an impulse stop at a local bakery. We bought a mound of pastries there, expecting to pay a fortune. The final bill: $13.00. We've decided we love this town! Back at the cabin, I unpacked the groceries, put on my snow boots and grabbed the camera. I planned to use the afternoon snapping pictures along the beach. But following the weekend's theme, those things worth doing would require extra effort. The public access path was 6 ft. deep with mounded snow. As I was resigning myself to taking shots from the back patio, I spotted a little trail--a private path down from the cabin. With careful footing, it was navigable and led me to the beach. My walk on the beach was unlike any beach walk I've ever known. Two long corridors of snow, separated by icy ridges, served as the beach, and I walked that ice "road" and listened to the waves. Though I was near the waterline, I could not see it behind the billowing mound of snow frozen between me and the waves.

(one spot where an icy "crag" broke away for a view of the ice-littered lake)

Finally, I returned to the cabin, shoveled a path from the wood pile to the door, stocked the wood box and started a fire. Soon, it would be time to fix dinner, but not before warming myself beside that fire.

Dinner could take one of two courses: either significantly simply, or else utterly time-consuming and complicated. Nothing much in between. Such was the humble offering of the little kitchen. I chose the simple route: dry garlic toast, a variety sampler of deli salads and shaved ham, a ready-made tray of mixed cheeses and the one thing I cooked: creamy vegetable soup. Don't think, however, that I put too much effort into that soup. It was a dried mix to which I added a can of cream of mushroom soup and a few cups of milk. I whisked it all together and set it to simmer for about 20 minutes.
The resulting meal was a finger food and drippy spoon delight! And, sink-side cleanup was minimal, leaving plenty of time for conversation by the fire and candle-lit Scrabble at the table, all the while munching on dessert pastries from that little bakery.

It was simple, but one of the most enjoyable meals I can remember eating for a long time!