Revival

After the long silence of a brutally cold winter, the cacophony of this spring is outrageously wonderful. Even the nights are conspicuously noisy with the peeping of frogs and the peenting of woodcocks (also known by the adorable name of “timberdoodle”) These unusual birds have such a comical look, with long bills and tubby bodies held up on stubby legs. Each evening a small group of them has been overnighting in my garden, probably drawn to the earthworms, their favorite food.  Bluebirds have returned to our area too, with the brightly colored males sweetly declaring ownership of their chosen perch. They have been showing interest in the birdhouse that my children made with a little help from their papa as well! My chickens have taken notice of the changing seasons too, and we are finally finding eggs in the nesting boxes again after a long hiatus. I am always taken aback by the differences when I crack open the first home grown egg of the year after a long winter of store bought eggs. The shells are thicker, the yolks are dark gold rather than pale yellow, the flavor is rich and delicious with just a little salt and a few drops of Sriracha. Would you like to see a demonstration? Of course you would:

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Store bought egg is on the left, home grown egg is on the right.

Green eggs!

Green eggs!

Notice the green shells of my Ameracauna eggs. This breed is one of my favorites, in fact if I could keep only one breed this would be it! The coloring of the hens is varied, their personalities are friendly, and they are hardy and low maintenance.  And they have the cutest fluffy cheek patches!  It gives them a charming salty-sea-dog sort of look.  Yaaaarrrrrr!   I also have Barred Rocks, New Hampshire Reds, and Cuckoo Marans.  Soon I will be getting more chicks, and maybe I will discover a new favorite breed, but until then these girls are hard to beat!

Ameracauna pullet, Miss Gingersnaps

Ameracauna pullet, Miss Gingersnaps

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Can Do!

03-29-2013 017As I mentioned previously, I have a huge backlog of fruit waiting to be canned in my freezer.  But before I could even face that task, I had a sad failure to face down:  my last batch of marmalade.  In fact, I haven’t broken out my canner since I made it MONTHS ago.  The recipe was for a Grapefruit Marmalade with Vanilla and Rosewater (strange, I know.  But soooooo good), and I don’t know where I went wrong!  It tasted and smelled divine, but as time passed it became clear that it just wasn’t going to gel.  Bummer.  But since I am a very stubborn so and so, I refused to throw out those perfectly sealed jars, and instead called the Pomona’s Pectin Jamline.  Pomona’s is a special kind of two part pectin, which doesn’t rely on sugar to gel, so you can use only as much sugar as your taste dictates rather than the insane pile of the stuff that ordinary pectin demands. The lady who answered my call was so helpful, and it’s a good thing I called because from what she said, the way I was going to attempt to reprocess (reheating the marmalade and sprinkling in some pectin powder) would have been a disgusting failure.  See,  if there is already a large proportion of sugar, as was the case, the pectin would not have distributed properly and instead would have formed nasty globs and grains.  Eeeew.  What I was told to do instead was dissolve the pectin separately in a cup of boiling water, stir vigorously until it dissolved, and then dump the mess (which looked suspiciously like frogspawn at this point) into my heated marmalade, and can from there.  I would share the recipe, but as I said it didn’t work initially, and you don’t want to take the same convoluted path I took to get here, trust me!  Perhaps an edited version is in order…  But how did it turn out?  Beautifully!  The chewy bits of peel taste like those old fashioned orange section candies, with just enough grapefruit bitterness to keep it interesting, and a touch of sweet vanilla and just the faintest suggestion of rose.  Perfect for all those sophisticated high teas that I serve to highfallutin’ ladies in frilly white lace frocks.  At my trailer in the boondocks, yeah….  And awesome on an English Muffin.  Maybe with Nutella, oh boy!   The Boonville Farmer’s Market will be opening before you know it in early April, so if you’ve got to try some come see me there!

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Spring Fever

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Lovage seedling

Sick children have taken precedence lately, but I will try to squeeze in a quick post while I catch my breath momentarily!  I’m afraid that whatever the children have rather resembles the stomach flu, and I’ve come down with a terrible case of spring fever as well! Springtime in Missouri is a tumultuous time. Bluebirds are scoping out this year’s nesting site, geese are flying high overhead, and my chickens are showing renewed interest in the tiny sprouts of grass that are peeking out through last year’s dead sod. The wise native trees have yet to show any greenery, they know full well that today’s gentle warmth could be cruelly cold and re-frozen in the next moment. I went to a fruit tree pruning workshop recently with the Young Farmer’s Group, and gained the confidence to make some well placed cuts on our young orchard.  I have finally started a few flats of seedlings (mostly herbs, greens, cabbages, eggplants, and peppers), and still need to clear the winter’s accumulated clutter and fire wood out of my greenhouse to make way for the oncoming deluge of transplants.

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Roselle

I was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of my roselle seed, which sprouted the day after sowing despite the fact that the seed is about 3 years old! I bought the seed from Baker Creek Seeds, and if you’ve never heard of them you are in for such a treat! They have an incredible selection of heirloom seeds, and have signed on to the Safe Seed Pledge, so you can be sure it’s all non-GMO.  Roselle is a kind of hibiscus, and the calyces are used to make Red Zinger tea.  The tea has a pleasant sweet-tart taste and a gorgeous red colour.  It’s such a fun plant to grow, and in our summer heat and humidity can grow dramatically huge, flowering in the fall with pretty cream coloured hibiscus blooms.  Perhaps this year I’ll also try making a jelly out of it.  I still have a freezer full of last year’s berries that are waiting to be dealt with however…

Think outside the box!

OOTBS

I was recently contacted by Out of the Box Sampler and invited to participate in their monthly sampler boxes.  What an exciting opportunity, and a great chance for me to get some of my great smelling stuff into the hot little hands of some (hopefully) interested people!  They are basically a Birchbox type monthly sampler, with a focus on homemade products. They offer several different size box options, filled with handmade food, bath and beauty, jewelry and who knows what other goodies!  Each month has a different theme, March’s box is named “It’s Raining Cats and Dogs”, and is pet themed.  Next month’s will be called “For Peep’s Sake”, and I submitted an assortment of natural perfume samples, solid lotion bars, and moisturizing cream samples. If you would just like to try out a sample perfume set by the way, they are now available in my store. I like to throw in a nice little sample with every order but if you want to try them ALL for just a few bucks, now you can. Because really, who can tell what something smells like just from reading some words on a screen or looking at a picture? Perhaps if my descriptive powers were greater, but alas. Too bad smell-o-vision didn’t catch on!

Sample set

Next month if all goes well I will be submitting again,  I’m already planning some new goodies so that people won’t be getting the same products. Hmmm, I’m thinking sugar scrub, bath salts, lip balms…. what else?

Perking away…

I have already shared a little bit of my tincturing process with you.  In a nutshell, you take something medicinal or fragrant, soak it in alcohol for a few weeks to a month, then strain it out until you’re left with a potent brew.  But what if you, like me, are short on that most virtuous of virtues, PATIENCE?  Day after day, you wander by those tantalizing bottles with sinister floating bits of whatever material you’re just itching to work with.  You shake them. You open the lid, take a smell.  Hmph, day after day all you smell is booze.  When will this torture END????  Well luckily for us, there is another way:  percolation!
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If you’re thinking that word sounds a bit like the way coffee is made, you’re right.  It’s the same principle, only with alcohol instead of water being used to dissolve the active components and wash them through into the solution.  Percolation was originally a pharmacist’s trick.  I won’t lie to you, it isn’t exactly a beginner’s method and takes a bit of dexterity, and not all herbs will percolate well.  It also won’t work well with small amounts of herb, say less than 2 ounces, since the percolation cone won’t be full enough to provide a uniform column.  But I swear, when it works it’s like MAGIC.  Which is why we all started working with herbs in the first place, so that we could play green witch/magician/alchemist what have you, right?  No?  I digress…

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Love potion!

My first batch was a damiana love potion, which is a story in and of itself.  You can find it for sale here through Poppyswap, a fun website with an emphasis on herbs.  Valentines day was coming up, and I wanted something really special to share with my sweetie, who as I have said is the one who first taught me how to make tinctures.  It would need to be tasty, fun, effective, and safe (which it is, and I am hearing reports back from others who agree!)  I spent days poring over my herbal books, looking up articles, and knitting my brow until finally I came up with the recipe.  And I was running out of time!  Somewhere in my travels I came across this very helpful (but rather long, be forewarned) video and worksheet from Wintergreen Botanicals and the pieces started falling into place.  If you’re short on time, I’ll summarize:

Large perc cone

Materials:

Dry, powdered herb, at least 2 oz for a small percolation cone, at least 4 oz for a large cone

Percolation cone, which can be made if you have steady hands (thanks hubby!) by cutting the base off of a Perrier bottle, large or small.  You will also want to grind the sharp edges off with a dremel or glass appropriate sandpaper.  Save the cap, you’ll need it.

Regular mouth canning jar

2 coffee filters

So to begin, since I suck at math (it’s the only thing Barbie and I see eye to eye on), I will refer you to the above worksheet to work out all you genius calculations so you know how much menstruum (alcohol) you will need and such.  Moisten your herbs with a small amount of alcohol until it is the texture of damp sand, and let it sit overnight.  The next day, you take your damp herb and pack it into the cone, which you have lined with a small cone of coffee filter paper to keep it from rushing out the bottom.  Divide the herb into three additions, packing gently at first, then more firmly, and the final packing fairly firmly with a tamper of some kind, a tincture bottle works nicely.  You want to be sure that the level of the herb is even and flat.  Once it’s all packed you top it off with another piece of filter paper, and top it off with a clean flat stone or something to keep the alcohol from pushing aside your carefully packed herb.  Take the cap off the cone, carefully pour some alcohol over the top, and place the perc cone in the mouth of the canning jar.  If you’ve done it right, eventually the alcohol will come out the bottom, now you put the cap back on.  It might take a minute or two to start dripping.  You should be able to see the fluid descending in an even, uniform band through the herb.  Adjust the tightness of the cap until your drip rate matches the tempo of “Stars and Stripes Forever” (according to the brilliant Michael Moore, one of my favorite herbalists and the man many credit with reviving the lost art of percolation)  Now you wait for a matter of hours, NOT  weeks or months!  Unless it doesn’t work, in which case you just dump the whole mess into a jar and do your tincture the old fashioned way, maceration 🙂
Keep checking back on my Poppyswap page, where I will be adding new tinctures in the upcoming weeks!

Kodama

Kodama solid perfume

Today I’ll be talking about the first scent blend I conceived. I had been studying and using essential oils for several years already at the time, but hadn’t really strayed beyond mixing two or three oils at a time. Which is nice, as far as it will take you. Sometimes what you have to say can’t be compressed into a tidy little soundbite however. Spending time in nature has always been an important source of inspiration for me, right from early childhood when my parents would take me on camping trips along the Oregon coast in our musty wall tent. The sights, sounds and smells of those excursions are with me still, the dazzling sunlight glinting off the waves on a rare sunny day, the silken mist wrapping itself around me on a more common foggy day, the crash of the surf, the cascading song of the wood thrush, the luxurious cushion of moss covering nearly every surface of the forest floor.

The wonderfully wild Oregon coast

After moving away from my beloved coastal forests, I was filled with longing for those craggy, misty wild places I had wandered through. I wanted to create an immersive experience, a scent picture that I could dive into whenever I wished, regardless of whether or not I had the time to go on a long, lazy hike through the woods. To do this I would have to think in a new way, and pull out all the stops, reaching into some new corners of my repertoire.

Guidepost tree

Guidepost tree

I started with one of my favorite aspects of the woods, moss, which was represented by lichenous oakmoss. The absolute is incredibly potent, deep, and dark. To represent the fragrant moist soil, patchouli makes a fine base. I was once repulsed by the smell of patchouli, until I smelled a bottle of beautifully aged high quality oil. It was a far cry from the rough edgy stuff that many people associate with the hippie era. Or perhaps it was me,and not the oil that had changed, and matured somehow. Powdery, earthy, soft, and bitter in a pleasant way. Next the trees themselves would need to be taken into account. For this I chose brightly scented black spruce and rosemary. To bring out the scent of sun warmed tree bark, I used warm scented vetiver. Often when you are in the woods, you will smell intriguing scents which are impossible to pinpoint. Perhaps a hidden wildflower is in bloom, or a tree is seeping with resinous sap where a woodpecker has been prospecting. To bring these into the picture, I turned to clary sage and some cheerful citrus oils.

Kodama scent roller

For my recent reformulation, in a base of jojoba and almond oil, I have added the complex and difficult to classify oil of spikenard. It has been used in Ayurvedic medicine primarily for its sedative properties, and is mentioned in the Bible in the Song of Solomon. I also added the clean, herbal tea tree oil. The oil base has the advantage of showing its top notes with more ease than the solid perfume, which seems a bit more persistent but also heavier.

Shimenawa

The name of this blend is from Shinto folklore, the ancient native religion of Japan. The Kodama are tree spirits, similar to the Dryads of Greek mythology. They are said to inhabit certain trees, and to be able to wander though out the mountains at will. Cutting down such a tree is thought to be a cause of misfortune, and thus these trees are marked with a rope known as shimenawa.