Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pear Recipes from the Blooming Kitchen Garden

Pears: A Little Bit of Elegance, a Whole Lot of Delicious!

Considered "the Gift of the Gods" by the epic poet Homer, pears are cousin to both the apple and the rose - a noble pedigree indeed! With their buttery flesh and delicate, slightly floral flavor, they are wonderful eaten right out of the hand - perhaps with a bit of Stilton or Roquefort cheese?
 
Pears can be used as substitutes for apples in many dishes, but you may want to tweak the seasoning - perhaps reduce the cinnamon and add a touch of nutmeg or cardamom or even lavender instead? They are lovely in a salad of greens with a handful of walnuts and a touch of goat cheese, dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette. Or sautéed with pork chops and sage. And pears lend an elegant touch to many desserts!
 
This dessert can be elegant, with a cloud of Chantilly Cream drifted around the pears. Or it can be down-home cozy with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!
 
Roasted pears
 
Ingredients
3 firm pears: peeled, cored and sliced thickly
1/3 cup Poire William (unsweetened pear juice or apple cider may be substituted)
1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch cardamom
 
Method
  • Preheat the oven to 400F.
  • Arrange the pear slices in an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish. In a saucepan, stir together the Poire William, sugar and cardamom over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves.
  • Stir in the butter until thoroughly melted and then carefully pour this sauce over the pears. Bake about 30 minutes, until the pears are tender and just start to brown.
  • Spoon the pears and their sauce into dessert dishes. Serve with Chantilly Cream or a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Chantilly Cream
 
Ingredients
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 Tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs sugar
 
Method
  • Combine all ingredients in a chilled bowl. Whip with a whisk (or with the whisk attachment of an electric beater) until soft peaks form.
 
Salty caramel sauce is a French confectionary favorite - and pairs beautifully with the subtly sweet baked pears.

Baked Pears with Salty Caramel Sauce
 
Ingredients
4 ripe pears, preferably Bosc, with stems, washed and dried
2 cups pear or apple juice (Calvados can be substituted)
1/4 cup honey
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
 
Method
  • Preheat the oven to 400F.
  • Cut a thin slice off the bottom of each pear (so they will stand), and arrange the pears standing upright in a glass or ceramic baking dish.
  • Shake the juice, honey and nutmeg together in a jar until well blended, then pour over the pears.
  • Bake the pears about 45-60 minutes, basting every 15 minutes or so, until they are tender.
  • Carefully place the pears in shallow dessert bowls. Pour the "sauce" into a small saucepan and boil to until thickened. Spoon this around the base of the pears. Drizzle Sticky Caramel Sauce over the pears and serve.

Salty Caramel Sauce

 
Ingredients
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs water
4 tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
 
Method
  • Put the water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring at the beginning to make sure the sugar doesn't stick to the bottom. Stop stirring and let the syrup cook for 10-12 minutes until sugar caramelizes and turns a lovely amber color.
  • Gently stir in the butter until it melts, then add the cream and salt.
  • This can be refrigerated in a closed jar.
 
Warm sautéed pears with a touch of chocolate - like a warm hug on a chilly day!

Sautéed Pears with Bittersweet Chocolate

 
Ingredients
3-4 firm pears: peeled, cored and sliced thickly
4 Tbs unsalted butter
2 Tbs honey (brown sugar may be substituted)
2 Tbs spiced rum (unsweetened pear juice or apple cider may be substituted, but increase spices to taste)
Pinch cardamom
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
 
Method
  • Preheat a heavy cast iron skillet over a medium flame. Melt 2 Tbs of the butter and add the pear slices. Saute until lightly browned, then add the rest of the butter and flip the slices over. Drizzle the honey and spices over the slices, and continue sautéing until the pear slices are tender and lightly browned on both sides.
  • Carefully spoon the pears and their sauce into dessert bowls. Drizzle melted bittersweet chocolate over the pears and serve.
 
A classic quick bread, this pear loaf is a wonderful accompaniment to the tea table. It can be dressed up with a simple dusting of powdered sugar.

Pear Loaf
 
Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 Tsp baking powder
1/2 Tsp salt
1/2 Tbs ground cinnamon
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, softened,
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cup grated pears
1 Tsp vanilla extract
 
Method
  • Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
  • Combine the dry ingredients (the first five in the list) into a large bowl, stirring to mix well.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and mix well. Fold this pear mixture into the dry ingredients and stir just until the batter is evenly moistened.
  • Pour into the prepared pan and bake at 350°F for 60 to 70 minutes, or until the loaf is browned and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Cool the bread in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, and then turn the loaf out of the pan to continue cooling on the rack.

This luscious and lightly spiced spread is similar in to apple butter, but a touch more elegant.

Pear Butter (Yield 6 half pint jars)
 
Ingredients
 5 pounds Bartlett pears: peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
1-2 cups lemon juice (fresh is best)
3-4 cups sugar
1 Tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch ground cardamom
Tsp of freshly grated lemon zest
Method
  • Combine pears and 1 cup of the lemon juice in a large, heavy bottomed kettle or saucepan. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until pears are soft - about 25-40 minutes. If the mixture looks a bit dry or the pears threaten to scorch, add a bit more lemon juice. When the pears are soft, mash well or puree in a blender in small batches no more than 1/2 filling the pitcher at a time. If you use a blender, be careful not to liquefy the pears!
  • Measure the puree - for every cup of puree you will add 1/2 cup of sugar. Return the puree to the kettle and add the remaining ingredients. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Taste and adjust the spices to your taste.
  • Increase heat to medium and simmer gently about 50 minutes - stirring frequently - until the pear mixture thickens and mounds slightly on spoon.
  • Carefully ladle the hot butter into hot, prepared canning jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Wipe the jar rim well, using a towel dipped in hot water. Center the lids onto the jars and seal the bands "finger tight", as per FreshPreserving.
  •  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove jars and place them on a clean tea towel (and out of drafts) to cool. Check the lids for a proper seal AFTER 24 hours (checking sooner may damage the seal). If a lid pops up, store that jar in the refrigerator and use first.
  • Store in cool dry place up to 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.

As originally posted on Yahoo.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Good Dad, by Jim Daly - Book Review


"In a few short minutes, a man can become a father. But so many don't realize what a father is or what it means."-Jim Daly


As a single mother who raised a son, I approached Jim Daly's new book, The Good Dad, with a bit of trepidation. Would I find reproach for my son's absent dad? Would I find yet one more prophecy of fatherless boys growing into men who cannot be good fathers? or...from the man who heads the ministry of Focus on the Family...would I find hope?

I found hope.

And a few lessons to pass to my son, who is now the loving (and extremely attentive) father of his own infant son.

Daly shares his own story in this book - they story of a boy abandoned by his own father and then abandoned by his step-father before he was a teen. Daly shares his pain, his confusions, his longing for a real father. He shares the lessons he learned on his own path to adulthood and eventual fatherhood. 

Is he perfect? Nope. 

Are his lessons in fatherhood only for men who didn't have fathers - or "good" fathers? Nope.

Daly's lessons are gentle reminders to all fathers - and to all those wonderful men who step in when dad isn't (or wont) be around. Part practical hands-on tips, part philosophy of parenting, part ministry - and all towards the benefit of dad and his children - Daly shares his hard-earned wisdom with the aim towards helping every man realize that with God he can be an amazing dad - a dad who inspires his children, a dad who can share love and loving discipline with his children, a dad who raises children who praise God and praise him as a Godly father.

"We should never let a moment slip by when we can show our kids that we love them."-Jim Daly

I read this with two fingers crossed behind my back that it would have a message of hope for men who were not raised by or with "good dads" - and I am blessed with the message I received.
Jim Daly is the President and CEO of Focus on the Family, a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive.

The Good Dad is published by Zondervan. It can be purchased for $15.99 directly from Zondervan, or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other fine booksellers.

Religion, Christian Life, Spiritual Growth; Teen/Adult

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson through BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trace Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

How to Make Your Own Baby Food - Tips, Advice and Recipes

The baby food wars have been fought for several decades now. When my son was an infant, 20-something years ago, my friends thought I was insane for making his baby food. I started making his food because it saved money, was easy and traditional, and made me feel a little closer my baby - but as I learned more about nutrition, I realized that was I was feeding my baby was healthier. And I didn't worry about the scares regarding glass in baby food, or chemicals in baby food, or various recalls of baby food.

For anyone who thinks making baby food is difficult - put your mind at ease. Nothing could be easier. Baby food is simply softer - mashed or pureed - versions of regular foods. A soft, mashed banana is baby food. A mashed egg yolk with a few drops of breast milk or formula is baby food. You do not need fancy equipment or jars (although they can be nice) - a fork, a potato masher, or a hand-turned food-mill all work beautifully. However, there are a few rules. The first set of rules are basic, Cooking 101 cleanliness rules. These are rules we should all be following when preparing food for ourselves and our families - and not just for baby. But they are far more important when cooking for baby!

Cleanliness Rules

  1. All cooking utensils, containers, spoons, mashers, etc must be clean - wash in HOT soapy water, rinse well in HOT water, and allow to air dry in a clean rack.
  2. Your hands should be clean before preparing any food - this includes under your nails.
  3. Your cooking space and prep space should be clean - countertops, cutting boards, stovetops, microwave - whatever you will be using should be clean.
  4. The containers you will be using for your baby food should be clean - wash in HOT soapy water, rinse in HOT water, and allow to air dry on a clean rack.
Now that your space is ready, you can start making baby food. There are many debates about what is and is not the best food for your baby. I can only advise that you consult with your own pediatrician about any concerns you might have - and spend some time reading up on the current nutritional advice. Also, buy the very best produce you can afford - it makes a difference - but if you cannot afford organic for everything than try to avoid the foods most likely to be sprayed.

Personally, I feel the best first foods (for babies 6-8 months old, who are just starting on solids) are mashed banana, mashed sweet potato, mashed egg yolk (being careful regarding possible sensitivity - and avoiding egg white), and mashed avocado. These foods are all highly nutritious and can be easily mashed - and can be mixed with expressed breast milk, formula, or filtered water to make a smoother puree. And remember, at this stage baby is getting most of her nutrition and calories from breast milk or formula - servings of baby foods should be limited to 1-2 tablespoons per day.

For slightly older babies (8-12 months old, who have teeth and can "self-feed" a little) I like to offer tiny, diced pieces of banana or steamed carrots or roasted/steamed sweet potato. This is the stage where I feel more comfortable introducing grains, such as oatmeal and rice. For this age of baby, I also often start using small amounts of homemade chicken stock or broth to both flavor the vegetables, and they are now more of a "sturdy mash" than "puree" in texture. (NOTE: Commercial stocks and broths often contain sodium and other "no-no" items - so I do not recommend them for baby.)


How to Make Vegetable Purees

Vegetable Purees are an easy and nutritious first food for baby. Common first vegetables are avocado, sweet potato, butternut and other winter squash, and peas. Do not start any vegetable or fruit/vegetable combinations until baby has had each food "solo" for at least one week without reaction.
  1. Carefully wash vegetables, allow to air dry.
  2. Peel, remove ends, hard pieces, and any seeds.
  3. Cut the vegetables into small pieces.
  4. Steam until soft (but not completely mushy) in a small amount of water, allow to cool, and then mash or puree. NOTE: Peas can be tricky because of their skins - a blender or food mill usually gets a smoother texture - or you can push your puree through a sieve.
  5. Test texture, and add small amount of expressed breast milk, formula, or filtered water if the puree needs to be thinned.
  6. Place 2-4 Tablespoon servings of the puree into your container of choice. I used ice-cube trays to freeze batches of baby food, and once frozen the foods were stored in labeled and dated freezer containers.
  7. NOTE: Fresh baby food should be stored in the refrigerator and used with 24 hours. Frozen baby food should be stored no more than 1 month in the freezer before using.
  8. Gently warm baby food to room temperature before serving.
  9. NOTE: IF you use a microwave to warm or defrost baby food, you MUST STIR WELL and test the temperature carefully to avoid burning baby!
How to Make Fruit Purees
 
Fruit purees are an easy treat for baby. Common first fruits are bananas, mangoes, apples, prunes, and peaches. I have found that babies tend to be sensitive to berries - so be careful when starting any berry purees, and do not start any fruit combinations until baby has had each fruit "solo" for at least one week without reaction.
  1. Carefully wash fruit, allow to air dry.
  2. Peel fruit, remove any pits or seeds.
  3. Cut fruit into small pieces. Mash with a fork, potato masher, or food mill.
  4. Harder fruits, such as apples, may need to be cooked first. Simply cut into small pieces, until soft (but not completely mushy) in a small amount of water, allow to cool, and then mash or puree.
  5. Test texture, and add small amount of expressed breast milk, formula, or filtered water if the puree needs to be thinned.
  6. Place 2-4 Tablespoon servings of the puree into your container of choice. I used ice-cube trays to freeze batches of baby food, and once frozen the foods were stored in labeled and dated freezer containers.
  7. NOTE: Fresh baby food should be stored in the refrigerator and used with 24 hours. Frozen baby food should be stored no more than 1 month in the freezer before using.
  8. Gently warm baby food to room temperature.
  9. NOTE: IF you use a microwave to warm or defrost baby food, you MUST STIR WELL and test the temperature carefully to avoid burning baby!
How to Make Meat Purees
 
Meat purees are a bit trickier - a food-mill or food processor is very helpful. Chicken and fish are common "firsts" and both are easy to prepare. I like to introduce meats in combinations with rice and a vegetable, sort of a baby stew. In general, babies should not be eating meat until they are able to "chew" a bit - usually after 8-10 months of age. Speak with your pediatrician about best choices of fish, based on current knowledge of any contaminants, such as mercury - and avoid canned meats or fish for baby.
  1. Carefully wash the chicken or fish. Remove any bones, skin, connective tissues - anything baby might choke on,
  2. Cook thoroughly. I find steaming fish is best, and roasting or poaching chicken is best. Allow to cool once fully cooked (no rare meat for baby!)
  3. Fish can generally be flaked and then mashed. Chicken should be cut into very small pieces and then run through a food mill or food processor with a small amount of liquid until smooth.
  4. Place 2-4 Tablespoon servings of the puree into your container of choice. I used ice-cube trays to freeze batches of baby food, and once frozen the foods were stored in labeled and dated freezer containers.
  5. NOTE: Fresh baby food should be stored in the refrigerator and used with 24 hours. Frozen baby food should be stored no more than 1 month in the freezer before using.
  6. Gently warm baby food to room temperature.
  7. NOTE: IF you use a microwave to warm or defrost baby food, you MUST STIR WELL and test the temperature carefully to avoid burning baby!
Here are a few favorite recipes to get you started - and then have fun researching more online, or making up your own using your family's favorites!

Roasted Sweet Potato for Beginners

2 Sweet Potatoes, scrubbed
Poke holes in the Sweet Potato with a fork. Roast the Sweet Potato on a lined cookie sheet in a 400F oven until tender (about 30-45 minutes). Allow to cool. Cut open and scrape the orange flesh into a bowl. Mash well. **Sweet Potatoes and Apples make a nice combo!

Apple Sauce for Beginners

2 large apples (Macintosh apples are nice because they get soft quickly)
Peel, core, and dice the apples. Place in a small saucepan with about 1 Tablespoon of water, Cook over low heat, stirring and "mashing" with a fork or the back of a spoon. Once the apple is mushy, stop cooking. Drain the liquid (and reserve it in case you need it for thinning) and allow the apples to cool completely. Test the texture, using the reserved cooking liquid to thin it, if needed. **Apples mix well with just about anything - other fruits, vegetables, grains, and even meats!

Eggy Mash

4 hard-boiled egg yolks
1/2 soft avocado
Mash both well together, adding liquid as necessary to make a smooth texture.

Chicken and Rice Baby Dinner

1 Tbs minced, cooked chicken
1/2 to 1 Tbs cooked rice
1 Tbs pureed vegetable of choice

Mash all three ingredients together, adding liquid as necessary to make a smooth texture.

Salmon and Rice Baby Dinner

1 Tbs minced, cooked salmon (or any other fish, as desired)
1/2 to 1 Tbs cooked rice
1 Tbs pureed vegetable of choice

Mash all three ingredients together, adding liquid as necessary to make a smooth texture.

NOTE: High-nitrate vegetables (beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, collard greens, lettuce, spinach, turnips, etc) should not be fed to babies in large quantities. Limit to 1-2 Tablespoons total per day.


I hope you enjoy making your own baby food as much as I did...and as much as I do for my new grandbaby! The times may have changes, but mashing basic foods never goes out of style!


(This originally appeared on Yahoo via the Yahoo Contributors network)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Some days, God is like a fountain

its been an...interesting...year. Lots of changes - good and bad - and lots of stress - also good and bad. And I have repeatedly found myself burning out on trying to do everything myself - leaning on no one but myself. I've been forgetting to let God in. And it shows.

Today, I sat by this fountain during a lunchbreak, and felt suddenly stuck by a longing - the longing to be renewed, refreshed, cleansed of needless care. The fountain with its lovely sparkling water spraying into the pond spoke to my parched soul. I want to be pulled into God's cleansing embrace and then shot back out into the world to sparkle - I want to be stirred up, cleaned up, refreshed. I want to lean on Him - for real. I want to let go and let His Grace soothe and strengthen me.

Thank you, God for showing me today - for always - that all I have to do is lean into you and you will ease my burdens, and refresh me to begin anew.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weekend Reading June 22 '14

This has been a hectic weekend - my wee nieces had a class party at their home for their friends on Friday, then we had "girl night" which consisted of a little barbeque, painting a sticky solution on 2 nearby trees in the hopes of attracting interesting moths and bugs in the deep of the night, many trips outside with flashlight in the deep of the night to look at same bugs, and a Dr Who marathon. Saturday, the girls (ages 8 and 10) each cooked their own eggs and helped make breakfast in bed for their parents - and then I headed to my parent's house for some intensive garden work with my youngest brother. Dad has been in hospital (nothing too serious) so I also did a few loads of laundry and some general household tidying so Mom wouldn't be burdened. Today - Sunday - I caught up on my Bible reading, and visited these lovely places before heading out for a long visit with Dad:

http://theinspiredroom.net/2014/06/18/5-minute-baking-drawer-organization-makeover/

Melissa at The Inspired Room always has something lovely to share - my favorite today is her post on 5 Minute Baking Drawer Organisation (Using What You Have). She
inspired me to rethink my kitchen storage - no reason things cannot be both pretty and organised - and I love love LOVE that she repurposes *what she already has* in her home to achieve this!

I discovered this lovely blog, Grandma Lessons: A Grandmother's Blog on Life, written by Grandma Mema.

I enjoyed Rebecca's breathtakingly lovely nature photos and a slice of life in her Morning Chores post on the homestead at Renaissance.

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

No More Dragons, by Jim Burgen - Book Review

No More Dragons by Jim Burgen


"I finally saw that, in spite of the long list of reasons God could hate me, he didn't."-Jim Burgen


I meant to read this in little bites - a few pages of a chapter at a time - because I was busy and wanted to make sure I read well for the book review. But once I started I could not put this book down until the end - and even then I kept turning back to re-read sections. Yep, I was up til 3am - on a work night - reading this! No More Dragons is part sermon, part confessional, and all inspiring. Jim Burgen takes you through his journey from "the Pastor's kid" to his loss of faith to the moment where God "undragoned" him - and he does this in an incredibly engaging manner. 

As many will recognize, the title and key concept of No More Dragons comes from the classic moment in C.S. Lewis' Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when Eustace is "undragoned" by Aslan. For those not familiar with the tale, Eustace Scrubb is a not-very-nice little boy who becomes a dragon through his own greed and "dragonish thoughts". Initially, Eustace gleefully imagines terrorizing people, and then that recognition of what has really happened dawns on him - he is a dragon - he will never be a little boy again, he will never go home again. He is a monster, and that realization changes his heart. Aslan takes pity on the boy and - in a model of God's redemption of sinners - guides the boy to try and remove his dragon skin. Eustace cannot remove his skin (just as we cannot alone remove our sin), but Aslan can remove the skin if the boy is willing. Aslan removes the dragon skin and brings the boy to a pool where he bathes away the filth of his "dragon-ness" and from that moment he "began to be a different boy" according to the book.

Burgen takes this to the next level, showing how, with the love of God, we can undragon our own lives. He does not claim to have all the answers, and defers to Biblical truth and examples repeatedly - and applies them to "real world" examples any modern person can easily relate to. "Undragoning" is not easy - this isn't a magical process where we say a few token prayers and poof we are healed. No, this is real healing, real change - deep down, inside out. And it requires thoughtful reflection, prayer, and work. We will slip, but we will pull ourselves back up because God is before us, holding out His hand, over and over.


Burgen not only encourages each of us to shed our dragons, and to avoid the dangers of dragons in our lives, but encourages us to "undragon" our very churches - to create real, fruitful communities that support all people in finding the role God meant for them. Even the unsavory people we might shun. 

We read of Jesus with lepers and prostitutes and tax collectors and criminals and those "afflicted of demons," but we all too often shy away from those people - for fear, for distaste, for disgust, for lack of love. I found myself convicted - having at times turned away.

I highly recommend this book to teens and adults looking to turn away from destructive behaviors, looking to create healthier relationships, looking to create a richer relationship with God. Burgen answers hard questions about God, about sin, about living in a broken world - and he doesn't accept anything less than full participation, heart and soul.


Jim Burgen is the Senior Pastor of the Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, Co. Burgen has also written two books for students: What's the Big Deal About Sex? and What's the Big Deal About my Parents? Burgen co-wrote three books with Scott Nickel: PB&J: Key Ingredients for a Better Marriage All my Life, and Grow a Pair.


No More Dragons is published by Nelson Books, an imprint of Thomas Nelson. It can be purchased for $15.99 directly from Nelson Books, or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or other fine booksellers.

Religion, Christian Life, General; Teen/Adult

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson through BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trace Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Children and Nature

This is more a rough drafting of ideas that are inspired by my current re-reading of Last Child in the Woods. A book review will be posted in the next 2 weeks, and I'll likely have more posts inspired by this very important work.

* Children need nature more than they need tablets, iPads, laptops, television, video games, computers.

* In my experience, even young infants are naturally observant of and often delighted by animals and creatures of all sorts, from ants to dogs to squirrels to cheetahs at the zoo.

* All children, from newborn on up, need time outside every day - even in inclement weather (even if only for a few moments in very bad weather). Every child needs to skip thru raindrops, watch clouds roll by, feel ice and snow (if ice and snow happen in their area of the world) and learn the local cycles that tell of weather-to-come, of seasons turning, and of time passing in the day.

* Children best learn many things - but most especially about their world - by experiencing, by touching and smelling and hearing and tasting. A video of "nature" cannot replace walking barefoot in a meadow: feeling soft grass and bumpy rocks and damp earth underfoot while warm sun or soft rain or chill snow falls on your face - breathing in the scents of grasses and flowers and warm earth - hearing the whisper of gentle breezes or the roar of blustery winds thru the leaves of trees, and or hearing varied birdsong, or the scree of a hunting hawk, or the chittering of squirrels...

* Children need time and space to get muddy and dirty.

More to come as I continue reading and pondering!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mulberries and Syrup


The mulberries are almost in season, unripe green and red berries tease the birds and tease me with promises of the dark purple gems of sweet juicy goodness to come!

Mulberries are very common in my area - the trees I picked from as a child are still bearing berries. I brought my son there, and in another year I will bring my grandson and once again enjoy the sticky fun of berries being picked off the tree and then smooshed in little fingers. Mulberries are fragile, they bruise and rot too quickly to sell at market - but if you have a dry day and a few hours, you can pick a few sackfuls of these healthy and delicious berries - and then freeze or preserve what you can't stuff right into your mouth (smile). One quick and easy tip? Lay a clean sheet under the tree...and shake the branches. Berries will fall right into your hands.

I usually pick carefully, but if children are helping you will want to look through for any bits of stem or leaves (which can make you sick). You also want to ensure you *only* pick ripe berries, as unripe berries will give you a tummy ache.

I give my berries a quick swirl in a water/vinegar bath (1 part white or cider vinegar to 10 parts water) and then gently shake them dry in a colander lined with paper towel. Once dried off, you can lay the berries on waxed paper or parchment lined cookie sheets for freezing (once frozen, pop them into labeled freezer bags).

Mulberry Syrup

For a delicious syrup, gently simmer berries in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a small amount of water (figure about 1/4 cup to 4-5 cups of berries) to keep them from scorching. Gently press down on the berries as they cook, to release the juice. Strain the juice into a bowl, being sure to gently press the berries to extract all the juice. For each cup of juice, I add about 1/2 cup organic sugar or honey, to taste. Return to the saucepan, simmer and stir til well combined. Pour into a hot jar, cover, and cool. This will store well in the refrigerator. To store larger quantities, you will want to process in a hot water bath - and I would add 1 Tsp lemon juice to each pint if I were doing that.

How do you like to enjoy mulberry season? Comment below!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Commonplace Book: On Fairy Stories, JRR Tolkien

“Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion.

For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. So upon logic was founded the nonsense that displays itself in the tales and rhymes of Lewis Carroll. If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen.” 


― J.R.R. Tolkien

Monday, June 9, 2014

UNprocrastinate: FINISHING PROJECTS




This week, I am trying to focus on FINISHING the undone craft projects ... finishing all those bits and pieces of projects that are cluttering my desktop, cluttering my craft room, cluttering my mind. Finishing all the half-started or on-my-TO-DO-list-for-months projects, like "why don't I... knit the grandbaby a 3-color cardigan, sew new spring/summer curtains for our bedroom,  make 5 identical aprons as gifts, paint my desk lamp spring leaf green, sew up my scraps into a quilt, make a pinwheel quilt for the grandbaby..."

So far this week, the aprons are finished!



The cardi is still on the needles, but is the number one priority for the week - as well as finishing the bedroom curtains and painting the lamp. The quilts will take longer, but now they are on a time-table, and not just popped onto one of my endless TO DO lists.

I find that these projects really weigh me down if I let them linger too long, and the thrill of finishing a project is just too enjoyable to keep putting off. 

But why? Why do I end up with all of these started-but-not-finished projects? I'm not lazy, and I am pretty darned organized - so is it about priorities? Maybe I underestimate the importance of finishing my craft projects, because they are mine? Maybe my time skills need work, so that I do not underestimate how much time I can realistically give to a project at any given time? or...maybe (heck - not maybe) this is perfectionism raising its ugly head? Perhaps I have these unfinished projects because I am afraid they won't be perfect when I am done? That they won't reflect the time, love, effort and amazingly great taste (smile) that went into making them?

Maybe, just may, its time for me to pray on this. Perfectionism is a sinful state, a state where we try to place ourselves on par with God. It is a state based in pride and that leads to envy, hypocrisy, malice...ugly weeds in any spiritual garden...not weeds I like in my own. 

Bible Verse for Reflection:

"And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men." Colossians 3:23  

I'll be reflecting on this verse - and ensuring that any projects I take on are indeed for my good and God's glory (and yes, I believe God is glorified in a soft sweater knitted in love - or a snuggly quilt - or a hospitable home).

What projects do you have to UNprocrastinate on?