Sunday, January 12, 2020

An Amazing Set of Coincidences

In the summer of 2003, our son had been accepted into the PA Governor’s School of Information Technology (PGSIT) which involved a four week stay at Temple University in Philadelphia. 

Two weeks into the program, the families were permitted to come visit for the day. While he was gone, a friend from Arizona had come to visit us and we thought it would be fun to take the time we would all have together to go out to a favorite of ours, the beautiful grounds of Longwood Gardens and enjoy the day.

We had been there for hours and traveled all over the grounds. We were taking a break and I leaned my cheek against my left fist. My engagement ring dug into my face and I looked at the ring.  The diamond was gone.  My heart sank. I was sure I would never see my diamond again!

On our way out, we reported the loss to the lost and found for no other reason than we thought we should probably do so for insurance purposes.

The next day, I called our insurance company and started a claim. 

A few days later, a received a call from Longwood Gardens.  Someone had found my diamond! They would be back in the area in a couple of weeks and had left a phone number for me to contact them so they could return it.

I called and as it turns out, THEIR son was also at PGSIT - and their family had decided to visit Longwood on their visiting day!  Their youngest found the shiny stone and the mother thought it was probably a rhinestone from a fancy dog collar, but took it and put it in her purse.

They were from Pittsburgh and as it turned out, soon after they got home, Bailey Banks & Biddle, the jewelry store, was having a day where they would evaluate jewelry free of charge and the woman happened by and pulled the stone out of her purse.  From what she told me, they greatly over-valued it, but it was enough that she realized it was not a rhinestone and got in touch with Longwood.

We met the family on the day we all showed up to pick up our kids and they returned my diamond.

So, if I hadn’t reported the loss..
If the other family hadn’t decided to visit Longwood…
If the mother had not decided to put the diamond in her purse…
If  she had not happened to be near Bailey Banks & Biddle during an evaluation day…
If they had not been wonderful, honest people…

When I called my insurance company, the woman I spoke with was amazed at my story..

I should mention that shortly before all this happened, I had taken the ring to a local jeweler to have it cleaned and the prongs checked.  Apparently they weren’t as strong as they appeared…   After I got the stone back, I took it back, told them the story and asked them to remount it. They suggested a 6 prong, rather than 4 prong setting and I can’t remember, but I’m pretty sure the work was done at a discount.

Because of arthritis in my fingers, I haven't been able to wear my rings for some time.  Maybe it's time to get them resized.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Tomato Basil Tart

I cannot believe neither I nor my sister have blogged this recipe. Now, when tomatoes and basil are both so available - this is a perfect way to use them.  W usually make it at least once a year and since it can be eaten at room temp, it is a really good dish to take to a pot luck gathering.
Tomato Basil Tart - 8 appetizer or 4 main dish servings
(Picture shows recipe doubled.)

9" frozen pie crust - not deep dish
1/2 C mayonnaise
1-1/2 C shredded mozzarella
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
4 medium tomatoes
1/8 t ground white pepper
1 C loosely packed basil
4 cloves garlic
Fresh basil leaves (optional)

Pre-bake pie crust according to package directions.
Remove from oven. Sprinkle with 1/2 C mozzarella. Cool on wire rack.

Cut tomatoes into wedges; drain on paper towels.
Arrange wedges on melted cheese in the baked pie shell.
In a food processor, combine basil and garlic. Cover and process until well chopped.
Sprinkle over tomatoes.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine remaining mozzarella, mayonnaise, Parmesan and pepper.
Spoon cheese mixture over tomatoes and basil mixture, spreading to evenly cover the top to the edges.
Bake in a 375 degree oven for 35 - 40 minutes or until top is golden and bubbly. Serve warm. If desired, sprinkle with the optional basil leaves.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Treasure these days...

Merry Christmas to all - and best wishes for a wonderful New Year, 2019!

Holidays like this tend to make me reflective. I think back to when we had a houseful of loved ones for the holidays.  We seemed to host most of them and enjoyed it thoroughly.

When my husband and I were first married, I thought it was time for me to take over the job of entertaining.  I was the oldest child of five and our mother never really enjoyed making a big meal and all that it entailed. Our grandmother, in her day had hosted and was not about to retake the job. I, on the other hand, had the time and enjoyed all the hoopla quite a bit.  I was hesitant about cooking the turkey, but got over it with help from a well-timed article in one of the women's magazines that year. It turned out quite well and a new tradition was born...  Once I got the scheduling down, the rest was fun.  Desserts and anything else I could manage was made ahead and the day fell into a rhythm.

Those first years, we were the only married ones of the kids and we would have a great time, eating, drinking, playing games and generally having fun. Sometimes we would extend the circle and invite my in-laws or my uncle's family and the table would swell.  Sometimes, friends would be in town and they would join us. Sometimes we couldn't quite get everyone together for the occasion because of work, other obligations or travel and the group would be a bit smaller.

As time went on, the brothers and sister would bring friends and eventually married and brought spouses.  We were a slow group to reproduce, so we were still a bunch of young adults with Mom and our grandmother, Mimi.   It was just always a good time...  except, as we got older, there just seemed to be something missing.  It was time to start families...  For some of us that was easier said than done.

Slowly, we started adding to the family around the table and it was wonderful. As the family grew, the dinners changed.  We were never quite sure who would show up, but at some point, almost everyone would get here.  The children were the center of attention and the days of leisurely ruminating were gone.  It was exuberant - full of joy...   exhausting!  But we loved every moment of it.  Four generations celebrating together.  That time was brief, but wonderful.  Looking back, to me it was idyllic.

Now, the children have grown and Mom and Mimi are gone.  One brother has passed and another has obligations with his own family.  My sister lives nearby, but her daughter has moved to the west coast and our son is in Colorado this year. 

Our holidays are so different now. We (my husband, my sister and I) tried going out for the meal last year.  It was good, but my husband missed the ensuing days of left-overs and I even missed preparing the sumptuous meal eaten at home.  This year, we decided to make a small turkey and I almost managed to make reasonably sized side dishes, but old habits die hard and there are containers of left-over veggies, turkey, etc filling every space in the fridge.  Parts of two pies (down from 4 or 5) haunt us.

The big tree is still in the field this year and all the many decorations are still in the attic.  We just have a little lit-up ceramic tree as evidence of the day.  Of course, it will easily stow in the hall closet and I won't be swamped with the sadness of putting it all away on New Years' Day as I used to be in the old days.

It was nice and we threw our respective food restrictions to the wind for the day, but those few perfect years when the kids were small make us ache for those days.  How does that quote go from Splendor in the Grass?  "We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind."  So very grateful for the wonderful memories we have and trying to adjust to this new way of celebrating.

Anyhow, what I'm saying is, please, even in the crazy whirl of the holidays, treasure these days with your family.  They are brief and wonderful.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Herbal Cold & Flu Recipes

We're doing a talk today about using herbs to stay comfortable through the winter months. We put together a number of herbal recipes and, rather than print out a bunch of copies, thought we'd post them here for their reference - and yours! 

Elderberry Syrup (Tina Sams)
I make mine a little different each time, depending on what is around.
If using fresh berries, I first squeeze the juice of a lemon into a pan, and then simmer the berries along with some cinnamon chips or a broken stick, slices of ginger and I love a cardamom pod or two. Cardamom is anti-viral, as is cinnamon!  Sometimes if there are some old vanilla beans around, I'll toss one of them in too.
I smoosh it every so often with a potato masher.
After 30 minutes or so, I strain the berries in a mesh strainer, and then pour them into a square of tight knit cloth (I cut up old t-shirts specifically for this job) and squeeze the dickens out of them to get as much juice as possible.

If you're using dried berries, use about 1/2 cup of berries to perhaps 2 cups of water and the juice of a lemon. Continue as above with the fresh.

Measure the juice. Add an equal amount of sugar (I usually add an additional 1/2 cup or so), and bring to a boil for about 3 minutes, skimming off any foam that may rise to the top.

There are alternatives to sugar, such as honey, maple syrup, and/or alcohol in varying amounts. I just find the sugar easiest.

I would like to caution against agave, since it has been found to be produced in the same manor as high fructose corn syrup (from starchy roots) and in fact it is often either adulterated with hfcs or is totally corn syrup!

Chest and Cough Syrup (Tina Sams)
Today I made a syrup specifically for this thing that seems to fluctuate between my head and my chest. I got out some Osha, Licorice root, Elecampane, Wild Cherry bark, Ginger, and Lemon to start a decoction. A decoction is different than an infusion, because roots and barks need to simmer for a period of time, while infusions involve leaves and flowers that are steeped in boiled water for a few minutes. There is another, newer definition of infusions, but for our purposes, this will do.
I filled a small pan with water, and put all ingredients except the lemon in to simmer for 45 minutes. I added the juice of a lemon for the last 5 minutes.After it was done, I

strained it out. You can see here that my favorite method of straining things is with a steel mesh strainer lined with fabric from an old tshirt. As shirts wear out, they are washed and cut into squares for this purpose. They work beautifully.

There was 2/3 of a cup of decoction, so I measured out 2/3 cup of sugar, and added a good dollop of honey. At that point, I also added 1/2 ounce of goldenrod tincture.
It all went back into the pan, and was brought to a boil for a few minutes before being poured into bottles.The decoction alone could be drunk without being made into syrup, and I will make some more for after dinner tonight. It's nice to have it ready to go, though.

Cold & Flu Fighter
(formulated by Brigitte Mars)
This spicy tea relieves swollen nasal passages and calms an upset stomach. Place an inch of the herbs in a quart jar. Fill with hot water and steep for two hours. Strain and refrigerate. Reheat whenever you need relief.
2 parts peppermint leaf
2 parts elder flower
1 part elder berry
1 part ginger root

Respiratory Rescue
(formulated by Sara Martinelli)
Congested lungs will love this aromatic breath of fresh air. Place two teaspoons of the mixture in a strainer, add one cup hot water and steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
2 parts oolong tea
1 part rosemary
1 part chamomile
1 part rose hips

Sore Throat Soother

(formulated by Deborahann Smith)
Steep two teaspoons of this soothing herb blend in a cup of hot water for quick throat relief. Licorice root also adds a sweetening effect.
1 part slippery elm
1 part licorice root
1 part marshmallow root
1 part anise (Pipinella anisum)
1 part wild cherry (Prunus virginiana)

Andrew Weil’s Ginger Tea
For cold relief, Weil suggests steeping a tastier ginger tea. He advises grating a 1/2-inch piece of ginger root and adding it to 2 cups of boiling water. Turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper; simmer another minute. After taking the tea off the stove, add 2 tbsp. lemon juice (fresh) and one to two cloves of mashed garlic. Add honey to taste. Let the tea cool slightly, pour it through a stainer and serve.

Herbal Steam Inhalations
When you're very congested, it is a relief just to breathe in the steam from a hot bath or shower, or put your face over a bowl of steaming hot water. It helps relieve congestion and sinus pressure. It is even more effective when you add herbs to the water. The easiest way to do this is to run some very hot water into your bathroom sink, and add some chamomile, eucalyptus, or thyme to a tea ball or tied up in cheesecloth. Lean over the sink with a towel over your head (to keep the steam in your little "steam tent") and inhale deeply for several minutes.

Echinacea Tincture
To make a tincture, simply fill a quart canning jar about 2/3 of the way with fresh Echinacea blossoms, then pour 80-proof alcohol (or apple cider vinegar -- it won't be as strong as the vodka solution will be, but it will still work) to fill the jar. Let it sit in a cool dark place for two weeks.
To use your Echinacea tincture, strain the mixture and store in a clean jar in the refrigerator. Add a teaspoon of the tincture three times per day to fruit juice, herbal tea, or water.

Essential Oil Vapor Rub
10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
10 drops peppermint essential oil
 3 drops thyme essential oil
 1/8 cup olive oil
Once the oils are combined, rub them over your throat and chest, then cover up to help increase the warming effect of the herbs. This is very effective when done right at bedtime, as it helps relieve congestion and allow you fall asleep easier.

Herbal Fever Remedy
1 ounce dried Elder Flowers
1 ounce dried Peppermint Leaves
1/2 pint distilled water
Mix the herbs. Place in a quart saucepan. Pour 1/2 pints of distilled boiling water over it. Cover and allow to steep in a hot place for 10 to 15 minutes (do not boil). When ready, strain into another saucepan. Sweeten with honey if desired.

Basil tea may be helpful in the beginning of a cold, encouraging a sweat to reduce fever - a pinch of ground cloves

Rosemary Gladstar’s Immune Boosting Soup

1 ounce dried astragalus root
4 ounces fresh dandelion root, thinly sliced (or 2 ounces dried)
4 ounces fresh burdock root, thinly sliced (or 2 ounces dried)
1 tablespoon grated fresh gingerroot
1 tablespoon dried kelp, dulse, or other sea vegetable
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-size onion, chopped
5 to 8 medium-size fresh shiitake mushrooms
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup miso paste, (any variety)
Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and reduce heat. Add astragalus, dandelion, burdock, ginger, and sea vegetable; cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Strain, return broth to pot, and keep over medium heat. In a saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat; add onion and mushrooms, and saute until tender. Add garlic; saute for a few more minutes. Add entire mixture to broth. Turn off heat, and stir in miso paste.

FireSider Elixir  - modified from Rosemary Gladstar's Fire Cider
In a quart jar, combine:
1 full head of garlic, cloves peeled and smashed
1 lemon, sliced
1/4 cup grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup grated fresh horseradish
1/4 cup grated fresh turmeric (or 2 T powdered if not available)
1 med. chopped onion
1 chopped fresh cayenne pepper
Cover with raw apple cider vinegar for 2 weeks, shaking occasionally.
Transfer to larger jar, and stir in

1 - 2 cups raw, local honey (depending on taste)

Continue steeping another 2 weeks.
Use by the Tablespoonful at the first sign of a virus.  Also helpful for allergies, indigestion, and sinus stuffiness.  May even increase energy and assist in weight loss.
If you need to take some before the month passes, it should be fine, but leave it to steep as long as you can.

Some optional addtions:
1 tsp. peppercorns. 1/4 cup elderberry. 1/4 cup dried medicinal mushrooms (reishi, oyster, maitake, etc.), Turmeric, Other Citrus fruits and peel

This delicious, spicy vinegar can be mixed with water or juice to cut the vinegar.  We like to use it for a marinade for chicken or pork.  It also can be blended with olive oil for a zippy salad dressing!

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Kombucha - a lesson in Timing and Value

I sometimes think my timing is off. Not only that, I apparently don't understand the value of things and tend to undervalue myself.

Witness kombucha. Kombucha is a yeast like organism which is grown in a sweet tea medium to produce a fermented drink that many find to be refreshing and helpful. The drink is now sold in grocery stores in many flavors.

In May 1995, I was given a kombucha starter.  Some of the things I had heard about it were:
1) It may keep hair from turning gray.
2) It may help with sleep and energy issues.
3) It may promote weight loss.
There were other things, but any one of the things mentioned was good enough for me!

I brewed the tea and, along with my sister, started drinking it.  I think it also seems to remove obstacles because, by mid-June, we had signed the lease on a full-time shop that we had not even really considered a possibility until after we started drinking the tea...

The shop, which we named"The Herb Basket," was in a little town with not much else there to draw business, but we were featured in a full page article in our local Sunday paper.  It was a great piece of advertising for us.

You may be wondering how this connects with kombucha. Well, we decided that to draw folks out to our shop, we would offer them kombucha starters - for free.  These things were still rather "fringey," but they were selling on the internet for $25 even though we were under the impression that they should be freely shared.  They reproduced every week, and we had 5 batches brewing, so we figured we'd be fine.  No.

Within a week, we had a waiting list of 150!  We worked our way through the first 150 and went on to give away more than 300 "babies," more properly called scobies.

Seeing the demand for kombucha now in the grocery store is a little galling, especially since most folks don't realize we GAVE them the scobies for free.  Occasionally we'll see someone from the old shop and they will tell us what the tea did for them and thank us for selling it to them.  If only! $7500 would have come in mighty handy during those early days of the shop, but it was only our labor, a little tea, sugar and distilled water.  So many times I have given away things I have made and without charging, the value is negligible. I should have learned by now, but probably not.

We have attended events recently, and listened to speakers from the little local breweries that make the kombucha on the grocery store shelves or in their own little hole in the wall tea rooms.  I feel I need to correct some of the things they say, but figure they are doing things the commercial way and I would just confuse things - after all, they have titles, like "master brewer" or some such and we were just pioneers...

It is a recurring theme though and it becomes somewhat disheartening when we are merely trying to be fair or decent and watch those who have no compunctions about those ideals just flying past us. 

I wouldn't change a thing though.  Over the five years that we had the shop, we heard so many great stories about the tea and how it helped people.  We had some wonderful times and met people we still consider friends because of  that crazy "mushroom."

Friday, December 09, 2016

John Glenn

At 95, a death is not a shock, but the death of John Glenn is certainly an event. As the last living member of the original 7 Mercury Astronauts, it is the end of an era.

The astronauts were all idols in those days, but as the years have gone by, it has become clear that John Glenn was the real deal.  We have so very few real heroes any more.

I remember, as a young girl, when the original 7 Mercury astronauts were announced - heroes for our time. We followed them in the news. The excitement of the space program was a source of national pride and excitement.

I was in junior high school by the time his historic flight was set to go and remember how the launch was rescheduled over and over.  We discussed how nerve-wracking it must have been, getting geared up and ready to go time after time, only to have the flight scrubbed. The day he circled the earth, I was in the school library watching on one of the rare TV's in our school. I believe another TV was set up in the auditorium and many of the students were there trying to watch the tiny screen on the stage.

It was one of those events you never forget. There are a number of those in my lifetime, but this was one that filled me with pride.

So, it may be trite but, "Godspeed, John Glenn."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

(Life's a) Beach!

We've talked for some time about making a soap for summer that we would call "Beach Soap."  It would smell fresh and "beachy," and it would be colorful.  We mixed up a great scent and decided to chunk up a bunch of our other colorful soaps and add them to a base of "golden beach" - no sand included!

This was the result:

I have some pieces of our first experimental batch in my shower and every time my eyes fall on them, they make me happy.  I see a golden beach with all the colors added of bright beach towels, umbrellas, pieces of shells and the ocean. Those things make me very happy.

When it came time to name it, we have found that a little goofiness adds to the sales appeal, so we decided on "(Life's a) BEACH!"

Available online (wholesale only) at Lancaster County Soapworks - or for personal use (retail) at The Essential Herbal.