...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, November 28, 2011

Honoring Your Craft

The following article excerpt is taken from Sally Melville's knitting series Book 2: The Pearl Stitch/Becoming Intuitive.  Seeing that I'm knitting gift socks (this pair for instance is for my mother-in-law's birthday.  Shhh, don't tell her you've already seen them) and seeing that the prospect of offering handmade gifts--whether knitted or otherwise--swirls around in many folks' heads this time of year, I figured it an appropriate time to share her words of wisdom:

A survey done on Canadian radio posed the question, "What is the most dreaded Christmas present?" 
The answer was not the heavy-as-a-brick fruit cake...It was a handknit sweater!
I'm not sure what this says about our craft. Perhaps it harkens back to a childhood in which one desperately wanted a Red Ryder BB gun but was given a brown and orange, ill-fitting but practical handknit sweater.
Whatever this was about, we can all make it our personal mission to override such a dreadful stereotype...by learning all that we can to be the best knitters we can and by raising public consciousness about the knitting community.  Here are my suggestions:

  • Knit in public. (You'll answer questions, meet other knitters, learn a trick or two, and perhaps even teach a new knitter.)
  • Access your knitting community.(...visit shops, bookstores, Web sites...to which you can connect and from which you can learn.)
  • When you knit for others, make sure it works for them! (This may mean knitting something you don't like--in a style you don't like, in a stitch pattern you don't like, in a color you don't like.  It may also mean ripping and re-knitting to make it fit.  But they get what they want--which does much for knitting--and you'll learn from the experience.)
  • When you find yourself excusing a mistake ("a blind man on a galloping horse will never see it"), you need to fix it...or repeat it.  If done three or more times, it becomes a design feature.
  • Notice--and compliment--the knitting you see. (If I see someone wearing what I think is a handknit sweater, I ask, "Is that a handknit sweater?"  If the answer is "Yes," I then ask, "Did you make it yourself?" If the answer is again "Yes," we start a conversation and perhaps bond for life.  If the answer is "No," I then say, "Someone loves you very much.")
 Happy gifting!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Small Business Saturday Goes Holiday Green

Black Friday--Cyber Monday.  Between them falls Small Business Saturday.  What do you do with that?
Not that many years ago, the "norm" of what we patronized as "business" was indeed local and small.  More than likely we knew the owner or at least his son. Putting attention to it seemed irrelevant.  Not so these days.  Now people are intentional about putting pennies where their neighbors' next Thanksgiving dinner gets funded. 
Our own nod to the local economy this year has very much been related to the farm life around us.  We shopped farmer's markets all summer, bought our apples and cider and winter squash from farm goods stores this fall.  Now we take that support to the local tree farm.

If you've never decked a live Christmas tree, or if you've only bought one from the parking lot of your favorite grocery store, you might want to consider merging your intentionality about supporting the local economy with your objectives for exploring family tradition and heritage by searching out a local Christmas tree farm.

This year, the day after Thanksgiving was a beautiful day, warm and bright and perfect for choosing a tree. 
The tree selection at the nursery near our home was excellent.
"Even if I weren't buying, I'd come here just to walk and breathe the air!" They say olfactory memory is the strongest sort of memory. What a great way to trigger the spirit of Christmas, even before you open the totes and bags of decorations!

What's more there's that entertainment value found in watching the nursery staff work with your chosen tree.
Watching the tree on the tree shaker is certainly good for a few giggles.

Then as they prep your tree for loading...
 ...you can browse the nursery's gift shop.

While the shop is busy, still the pace is not frenzied;
nor is it overwhelming as are many holiday displays in department stores.

You still get ideas for decking that new tree...

...or the mantle...

...and the hot cider is often complimentary.

After a just a little shopping, the tree is ready to load and make its way to your home.

So while the tree farm's fields may look too pristine from the road to warrant cutting, still...riding the hay wagon to the field, choosing the tree, flipping the tassel on your Santa hat out of your eyes as you take a saw to the base--all these bring with them a greater holiday reality than you'll find digging plastic branches out of a box under the stairwell.

Some people use a live potted tree destined to be planted after the holiday, but those who decorate with a tree cut from its native forest gain a "foolish" sort of wisdom that will anchor hidden roots into their collective family soul.  For sure, a new tree will be planted by the farm's staff; but this tree's sap has pulled its last from the soil.   The sacrifice of life--even plant life with its sweet aroma wafting from the cut branch, this cost points to a deeper, more distant mystery: one that Christmas Advent barely broadcasts, one hidden well enough that young joy isn't jarred by the sight of it in the doorway. 

Many use the ash from palm fronds to celebrate Ash Wednesday, that church holiday lodged in the dark and cold of winter.  Not us, though...our family devotions will hopefully use the ash from this blessed tree, and we will receive its final gift for celebrating its and our Creator.

Happy holidays!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Gardener...by Robert Louis Stevenson

Lest we forget as we move from a season of much doing into a season of reflecting:
play with the children!
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sabbath Rest like Brother Lawrence

 Brother Lawrence is that monk who carried the message that finding God in everyday events brought the pilgrim the added gift of finding His presence everywhere.

Most recently, I found Him while knitting, more specifically while making a pair of socks.  Praying while knitting is not a novel idea, many have done it before me--but I'm not thinking of breath prayers or thematic prayers right now...I'm thinking of listening-prayers, not so much of speaking-prayers.  Oh, I spoke for a while, but then I asked God if He had something to say to me, and immediately the thought came to mind:  slow down.

I rolled that thought around in my brain as I continued to knit.  It could mean so many things--that slow down.  I used to think such an answer too vague; but as our relationship grew I realized, Your words always come with many threads of potential, those threads that weave the balance between divine speech and human free will, threads that preserve the integrity of both in the pattern of a life.  Slow down.
I was working on a pair of socks; seaming the toe of one--an awkward business with two two knitting needles, a tapestry needle and yarn that seems to have no good place to hang.  The seaming happens backstage of the primary cast:  the needles and stitches-in-waiting.  I heard You again.  Slow down.  Does it seem like nothing is happening?  Allow that plenty is happening--needful seaming in places out of sight.  And this will mean something soon...something that has nothing to do with making socks.

Then after the toes were seamed, I tried a new thing:  reinforcing the heel and toe.  I experimented with this sock pair, trying different methods of reinforcing.  Herein, the Message burrowed deeper into my soul because I learned that I could not make an invisible reinforcement while working on the side of the fabric normally hidden--the back side, even though this was the prescribed method.  This method--in my hands, at least--left jagged scars on the front of the fabric.  But if I worked from the front side, the "show" side, and made delicate reinforcing stitches hidden just under the surface, well then the sock remained beautiful and  became strong.  And this will mean something, too.  All I need do is store it up in my heart.

For who hath despised the day of small things?...the eyes of the LORD run to and fro through the whole earth.  --Zechariah 4:10

My God, you are always close to me.  In obedience to you, I must now apply myself to outward things.  Yet, as I do, I pray that you will give me the grace of your presence.  And to this end I ask that you will assist my work, receive its fruits as an offering to you, and all the while direct all my affections to you.  Amen.  --Brother Lawrence, The Harper Collins Book of Prayers

God's blessing on all your work.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pie in the Sky...

...is a more probable find than a pie bearing a beautifully fluted crust if it were coming from my oven.  See?

Obviously, my pie crust skills are woefully underdeveloped.  But that doesn't mean I have no ambition.  I'm willing to learn.  So, in an effort to achieve a pie crust worthy of holiday display, not to mention flakiness and flavor worth eating, I'm looking for a mentor in the easiest place to find one these days:  online.

I think this article gave me a few pointers that will offer some measure of--if not success, at least improvement.  And if not, I'm comforted in the knowledge that I have other friends in the same boat with me, ones who figure their pie crusts find their best use after dinner, but not as dessert: more as big pucks in the after dinner hockey game.

Happy improvements!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sabbath Rest with St. Francis

How much do you know about St. Francis of Assisi, beyond his love for animals, captured in statuary so frequently?  Here's a snippet about his life, if any life can be so captured:
"The son of a wealthy merchant, as a young man he served as a soldier, renowned for both bravery and high living.  After his conversion at the age of twenty-three he embraced a life of poverty, in imitation of Jesus...In 1208 he set out on foot, to preach the gospel.  He was soon joined by others, who were inspired by his gentle love and radiant joy, and they eventually formed themselves into a religious order."  One of his more famous prayers--Brother Sun, Sister Moon--fits the blog so beautifully I thought I'd share some of it, along with a few more "human" photos, as part of a giving thanks series here near that holiday solely dedicated to thankfulness:

...praise be to you, my Lord, for all your creatures, above all Brother Sun, who gives us the light of day.  He is beautiful and radiant with great splendour, and so is like you most high God.  Praise be to you, my Lord, for Sister Moon, and the stars.  In heaven, you fashioned them, clear and precious and beautiful.

Praise be to you, my Lord, for Brother Wind, and for every kind of weather, cloudy or fair, stormy or serene, by which you cherish all that you have made.

Praise be to you, my Lord, for Sister Water, which is useful and humble and precious and pure.

Praise be to you, my Lord, for Brother Fire, by whom you lighten the night, for he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praise be to you, my Lord, for our Sister Earth, who sustains and governs us, and produces varied fruits and coloured flowers and herbs...

Praise and bless my Lord, giving thanks and serving him with great humility. 
--from Robert Van de Weyer's Book of Prayers

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Recipe Forgeries

Recipe forgeries, there is no such thing, right?  We tweak them, adapt them, modify them, play with the fat and the calories and the gluten, but recipes aren't like works of art now, are they?  Well, I took a recipe for "brats with apples and onions" from The Quilter's Kitchen as "inspiration" for my own not-quite-a-forgery recipe.
This part in the skillet was mostly the same as if I'd followed the book's recipe religiously, pretty closely in fact right up to the bottle of beer I didn't pour on it.  But the final product isn't a skillet of chunked up brats and apples.  It's this:

...something completely different and hardly a forgery!  I love taking what I have on hand in the pantry and icebox and draping them over the basic frame of a tried-and-true recipe.  In fact, this recipe for pork loin and autumn vegetables was a successful enough overhaul that I made it my first "post" to a recipe site where I keep my cyber recipe box.

Happy recipe building!

Camo...It's Not Just for Hunters

Camouflaging can cut down on cleaning.
...this time of year.  Following up a busy garden season with immediate holidays can seem daunting unless you have a good sense of humor.  Cartoon compliments of Don Aslett's Make Your House Do the Housework.

Happy hiding!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Seeing the Jar Half-Empty...

...or half full isn't the optimism/pessimism qualifier in this case.  We're talking about  thinking ahead--as in what to do with the jar when it is fully empty.
Maybe you're winding down the canning season and find that you were overly enthusiastic when it came to buying jars in the first place.  Or maybe your shelf of empty jars is gradually geting fuller as you are eating more than you're canning.  Either way, and you may wonder what to do with all those jars while you wait for canning season to roll around again.  If so, you might want to take a look at these things to do with jars that will keep you happily using your jars throughout the winter season. 

Happy adapting!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hopes That Bloom All Year

"The great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it." ~William James

...to that which autumn sends across the plains of winter...

I'm going to tell you a story.  It's the story of two little girls who became good friends and remained friends into adulthood.  As grown women, their favorite shared hobby was gardening.  They'd visit nurseries together and shop through garden catalogs.  When one of these women contracted cancer, the other brought her fresh flowers all winter and planted her garden in the spring. When the woman with cancer died, her friend no longer tended her garden, but instead began tending many others...

Ever consider melding your cherished hobbies with some form of volunteering?
I've blogged before about how I'm teaching knitting and crocheting to young people, creating textile goods that will travel to Africa to become warm bedding for children in orphanages.  But that's just one hobby with the potential for a greater good.
Another hobby-sharing potential that rings my heart bells springs from the story I just told.  It's called Hope in Bloom.  Like the Knit-a-Square organization I've already introduced, this group also began through the inspiration of an individual's circumstances.  Now Hope in Bloom continues to create gardens for cancer patients through donated supplies, fund raisers and the work of volunteers. 

How are they received?  Twice-recurring episodes with cancer led this garden recipient to make the following commentary about her garden:
"The minute I read about Hope in Bloom, I cried. I knew a garden was exactly what I needed. The stress of chronic doctor’s appointments and cancer monitoring had taken a toll on my family. The day of the planting was the most beautiful experience filled with amazing goodwill and love. I have never felt so cared about by so many people all at one time. My husband, Gary, and I will never forget this moment in our life. We love to go out to our new backyard to sit on our bench and watch the birds and the butterflies. It gives us a chance to pause, to be alone with nature and with each other without the chaos caused by this disease. It is a very spiritual experience. I love to tend to my garden. I care about each flower, each leaf. I love and nurture the plants, and they bloom over and over as if they love me in return. This garden is a gift. I can’t wait until next summer to see what blooms first. Now, I actually look towards the future because this garden has given me the gift of hope..." The rest of her story can be found here: http://www.hopeinbloom.org/gardens/jamaica.htm

Gardening and preserving:  one of mankind's oldest models of efficiency.  They mark the efficiency of sending what grew yesterday in one form or another toward tomorrow's hope of life.  Why not try bringing that efficiency into your giving?  Overlay your volunteering and donating with the mantle of a beloved hobby.  You'll find you never hesitate to give...

What record have you left in this world of your caring?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sabbath Rest with Oswald Chambers

One of my favorite devotionals over the years has been My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  Today, I give you a sampling of this book, and while it is "scheduled" to be read on February 10, I think here in the eye of the storm that runs between the end of the gardening and canning season and the beginning of the holiday one, it is an appropriate read:

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Classic Recipes Get a Healthy Update

Recipe favorites bound in that famous gingham cover
Yesterday we applauded butter, today we remember it is a food to enjoy in moderation.  But our grandmothers didn't compose heart-healthy recipes by quite the same standards we use today.  So how do we adapt their flavorful recipes by modern science's recommendations? 
One way is to replace some of the fat in a baking recipe with applesauce.  The apple crumb pie recipe I pulled from the 1968 version of the Better Homes and Gardens "New" Cookbook is a good case in point.  The recipe begins straightforward enough.  Take 5 to 7 tart apples, easily found at a good price this time of year; pare, cut and core them and arrange them in a pie shell.  Sprinkle mixture of 1/2 C sugar and 3/4 tsp of cinnamon over the apples.
(Here's where the recipe gets its "healthy" twist.)  Cut 6 tablespoons of butter into 1/3 C sugar and 3/4 C flour.  This was changed to: 3 tablespoons of butter and 3 of homemade spiced applesauce.  Sprinkle mixture over the apples.  Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. 
The only real inconvenience here is that the new topping isn't as crumbly as the original, leaving you with sticky fingers as you plop it across the surface of the apples.

The finished product looks remarkably like its high-fat cousin and is sufficiently tasty!  You're on your own, however, when it comes to beating that temptation to drizzle carmel sauce over the top.

Happy adapting!

Friday, November 4, 2011


"Butter makes the bitter batter better..."
So goes the old tongue twister, but it's true.  Such is its gift to most any food it melds with in the heat of an oven, a food like the humble little batch of blueberry apple crisp I made this afternoon.  But some foods just like some plants, can touch our muse to rouse higher thoughts, foods that come as emissaries of things transcendent.  I think butter must have come to this poet that way, and she wrote a lovely tribute to it.

Butter, like love,
seems common enough
yet it has so many imitators.
I help a brick of it, heavy and cool,
and glimpsed what seemed like skin
beneath a corner of its wrap;
the decolletage revealed
a most attractive fat!

And most refined.
Not milk, not cream,
not even creme do la creme.
It was a delicacy which assured me
that bliss follows agitation,
that even pasture daisies
through the alchemy of four stomachs
may grace a king's table.

We have a yellow bowl near
the toaster
where summer's butter glows
soft and sentimental.
We love it better for its weeping,
its nostalgia for buckets and churns
and deep stone wells,
for the press of a wooden butter mold
shaped like a swollen heart.
--by Connie Wanek, Reader's Digest, November, 2011
Happy autumn baking!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"Thoughts for Festive Foods"

Have you ever searched out a cookbook published in your birth year?  I found one today.
While prepping breakfast at the drop-in center for homeless teens where I volunteer, I came across this book which they graciously allowed me to borrow.  A quick glance told me it was probably a donation for it surely didn't "fit" the no-nonsense fare of the drop-in center; nor did it fill much of a gap in my own cooking life.  Although it was published in my birth year--and I'm not THAT old, it seemed more likely to fulfill the needs of people who lived 150 years ago, apart from the use of that new-fangled invention:  baking powder. 

For instance, modern cookbooks rarely differentiate between recipes for the hostess herself to make versus ones prepared by the full kitchen staff.  (In fact, I can't think of a single cooking friend who has enjoyed the assistance of a scullery maid.  Well maybe one...)

So what sort of menus are we talking about?  Here is a sampling.  Should you find yourself in any of these "festive" situations, feel free to request the appropriate menu.  I'd be happy to forward it to you.  The next time you're preparing:
a symphony luncheon
a summer artists' luncheon
a garden walk tea
a post polo dinner
a "6 p.m. Before the Opera" dinner
Opening Night Chafing Dish Supper
or my personal favorite:
Curling We Must Go stag supper
let me know of your menu needs.

Or, should you be curious about making spaetzle, blintzes, escabeche, braised sweetbreads, or any sort of cake still termed an "icebox" cake, or if you'd like options on 13 different vegetable and herb garnishes for enhanced presentation--well, I'm your source gal for any of these!

Yes, for the entertainment value, I'll give this cookbook five stars.  And maybe some of the recipes--while quirky in their presentation--might nevertheless be worth trying.

I'll let you know, just as soon as I find me a 14 pound goose.