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.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sliced Tomatoes with Mozzarella & Pesto

As soon as locally grown tomatoes were available, my husband brought some home and asked me to make some sliced tomatoes with "mozzarelli" cheese.  (Yep, that's how he says it and I've finally stopped trying to teach him how it should be pronounced, but it still drives me crazy!)

I always like to add fresh basil pesto to the dish and as his craving lasted for a couple of weeks, it was getting difficult to keep up with the pesto because my basil plants had not matured to the point where I could pick it every day or so.  Eventually, he said he had eaten enough and I didn't have to make it any more and the basil emergency was over and the plants got a chance to really grow now that they had been nicely pruned.

Today, he brought in a box of our own tomatoes and again made the request.  I looked outside and saw that with the combination of really hot weather and lots of rain, our basil plants were quite healthy.  I've actually been aware of it and have been worrying that I should make a batch of pesto, even if it were only to freeze.

I harvested this big bunch of basil - there's plenty left on my 2 big, healthy plants.

I make kind of an abbreviated version of pesto with mostly basil, lots of the garlic we grew over the winter, olive oil and a little parmesan and salt.

Then it all goes in the blender or food processor.  I have a mini food processor that works great for small amounts - or for chopping onions and celery for other recipes.

I prefer the larger food processor, but I used it for something out in the shop and it seems to have taken up residence there.

So, today everything went in the blender.  I think I have to add more oil to it to get the blender to work properly than I would if I were using the big old food processor, but it works.

You can see that I got about a cup of pesto from the basil I brought in.  I would say I used maybe 2 tablespoons of the pesto for this dish.

The tomatoes are sliced and a bit of pesto is spread on each one.  It is so strongly flavored that it only takes a bit for each slice.

Then a Mozzarella slice is placed on each slice and either a bit more pesto is added or, in this case, a small basil leaf.

Back when I was scrounging to find enough basil to keep us in pesto, I purchased one of the basil plants that is sold in our grocery store and have it growing on the kitchen windowsill and when I was trying to decide how to finish this platter, I grabbed a few leaves from that plant.  It needs a lot of pruning too!

The finished platter  - ta da:

Pesto does not keep well, so I will freeze what is left over for later use.  I freeze it in ice cube trays and when it is solid, I dump it into a plastic bag so tat I can just grab a cube to defrost for a pesto dish like shrimp and pasta, or to add to a sauce or soup.  It is a great fresh green taste to have available in winter!

Monday, August 15, 2016

"Flexible" Bran Muffins

This spring, my sister, Tina brought a few of these along to an herb fair where we were vending. I hadn't eaten them for a while and grabbed one mid morning. Oh my!  It was such a nice treat - and quite filling to help get me through until we closed in the afternoon.

The basic recipe was from a diet we followed quite successfully years ago called Maximum Metabolism.  My sister and I have experimented with the original recipe to see, I think, how much we can change it and still have it work!  At any rate, this is basically the original recipe:

Double Bran Gem Muffins     400 ยบ F  14-16 MIN.
1 C. Wheat bran
1 C. Oat bran
1 C. Whole Wheat flour
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon

2 large (ripe) bananas, mashed
1/2 C. Skim milk
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 T. olive oil
squirt of honey

Line muffin pan with paper liners and preheat oven.

Combine all dry ingredients.  In separate bowl, combine liquid ingredients.  Mix all together until just combined.  Scoop by ¼ Cups into pan (Actually, these don't really rise very much, so you can fill the cups.)  Bake 'til toothpick comes out sticky, but clean.  Try adding dried cranberries - substitute orange juice for milk.  (Max Metabolism)

When we are done with them, these are not the muffins my home ec teacher described.  They are heavy and chewy and full of texture.  We add nuts. We add berries. We add chopped fresh fruit. We add granola. We add coconut.  If we could think of anything else we'd probably add that too, but they are a perfect breakfast - and delicious! The recipe will hold a LOT of additions.

The additions to this batch included fresh peach chunks and black raspberries that happened to be in the freezer from last summer.  I also had a bag of sliced almonds and one of English walnuts in the freezer and coarsely chopped a handful of them.  I happen to love finding a piece of nut in a muffin!

A good habit to get into is to peel and throw any over-ripe bananas in the freezer so they are available when you want to make these muffins.

I will say that because of the fresh fruits I used - especially the large chunks of peach (I would cut them smaller next time,) I was uncomfortable leaving these out on the counter, so I froze them in a zip loc bag and just removed one or two at a time.  They can be defrosted quickly in a microwave or on the counter.

When we made these according to the original recipe, I used to love to eat them in the morning with apple butter, but the more we add, it is really unnecessary to use any kind of spread.

Addition 8-10-18 - Still eating the muffins and have found them to be an excellent breakfast for someone with diabetes 2!  (All the fiber cancels out a lot of the carbs.)
Another change we have made is substituting yogurt for the skim milk - I like mango or coconut, and throwing some chopped coconut in with the dry ingredients. I also add a small can of (drained) crushed pineapple. It's like a trip to the islands!

This recipe is very forgiving and by adding a lot of goodies, we wind up with more than 12 muffins - or 12 very large muffins!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Midsummer Magic and Mugwort

My sister has been distilling mugwort and selling the hydrosol.  I was curious how people were using it and assumed, since it is to be distilled during a full moon, that it is probably a magical use.

I remembered that we had long ago acquired a booklet by Adelma Simmons titled, "Midsummer Magic and Mugwort" and went on an all-out hunt for the booklet.  I thought it would be fun to see what she had to say about it before I consulted the internet.

If you don't recognize the name Adelma Simmons, she was one of the first "famous" herbalists in the modern era.  Her farm was named Caprilands and she was well known in the herbal community.

After a relatively short time, I located the booklet:

I was shocked to find there was absolutely NO mention of mugwort in the whole booklet. That Adelma was a quirky one... I can only guess that she liked the title but really had nothing to say about mugwort - or just forgot it was in the title!

After doing a quick search on the trusty internet, I found that probably the reason people want the mugwort hydrosol is for the same reason they want her white sage hydrosol, for protection and cleansing of negativity.

I could have just checked her website - as I did to find the links - and would have found the same answers.

Both are used in a similar manner to smudge.  Smudging usually involves smoldering herbs so that the smoke will cleanse a space, but these lovely, fresh sprays will do the same job without having to burn anything or smoke up the house.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Life After Facebook

After much frustration and soul-searching, I recently made the decision to leave Facebook.

Through the primaries and ensuing craziness of this political year(s!) I have lost respect for people I once held in some esteem. I found myself biting my tongue so many times that it became painful. I do not need to go on about politics. People who know me well know how I feel and I don't believe I will change anyone's mind.

I had become accustomed to reporting on various things in my life - if only for my own enjoyment - and have felt stifled as I composed posts in my mind but had nowhere to put them.

So, the thing that probably is more responsible than any other for causing my lack of posts here, has now brought me back.  I saw someone on TV yesterday who was sharing one of those lists of things that a woman should not do after a certain age. Apparently Facebook and mini-skirts are things we should stop using around the same time.  If this were true, I would be way past my expiration date on FB anyway!

I will say that since leaving FB a couple of weeks ago, I have discovered a number of projects that have languished.  Most recently, the extra time has led me to start cleaning out my closet.  So far, this has resulted in a bonanza for Goodwill - two big garbage bags of clothes along with another of shoes. Things just collect.

This blog was originally started to promote my lamp working and sadly, between the time constraints imposed by operating my soap business and failing eyesight, I have neglected my torch as badly as I have neglected this page.  I suspect cataract surgery may be in my not too distant future so we will see what happens.

Cleaning my jewelry-making/craft room is one of my soon to be accomplished activities and we will see what comes of actually being involved with my beads, etc again...

Anyway - I'm hoping I will be stopping by much more frequently again.  I may just have to comment on a beautiful day or discuss a new project, but I'm back.