Tuesday, July 10

Drying and Saving Herbs, Part 1

In between trips to Michigan, I tend to my 5,000 square foot garden.  It's one of my passions, and lately, a huge stress reliever.  I returned home last week to a garden bursting with fresh herbs; a nice surprise, to be sure!  The herbs have been doing well so far this year.  It's been great!  It's funny, though, I rarely think to go out to the garden and get fresh herbs for cooking.  I'd love to use fresh basil in Italian dishes, if only I could eat Italian food!  I'd make myself a tomato, basil, and mozzarella pizza...add fresh basil to chicken pasta...throw basil into spaghetti sauce...but alas, it's not to be right now.  I'm focusing on the next best thing, though: drying fresh herbs!  Think about how often you use oregano, thyme, sage, parsley, et cetera for your cooking every day.  Now, think of how awesome it would be to have a whole jar full whenever you need it, and think of how great it would be to know exactly where those dried herbs came from.  If I can do this, YOU can do this!  It's so easy.  I'll show you just how easy it is!  Follow me!

So, here's what you'll need:

Sharp scissors (these are the special herb-cutting scissors I use, click here for a link, and no, I don't get any money for the link)
Herbs cut from your garden or patio pots
Ornament hooks or clothes pins

First things first: cut your herbs.  Try to do it when there isn't much dew on the plants.

Next, bring them inside.  Here I have three kinds of herbs: flat-leaf parsley, oregano, and basil.
Freshly cut from the garden.

Work with one type of herb at a time.  Check each stem for bugs.  Trust me.  I found a snail and a green worm in my herbs.  Remove said bugs by whatever means pleases you.

Arrange in bundles of about the same length.  Rinse with water to remove dirt.  Place on a cloth or paper towel in a single layer and pat dry as best you can.
Oregano--these were really tall, so I cut them in half before washing and bundling them.

Pat excess water with towels, as best you can.  They won't be completely dry.
Bundle and tie with a long piece of twine.  Be sure to tie tightly, because as the herbs dry, they will shrink.  Do not bundle too many sprigs together--it'll take longer to dry out if the bundle is too large.  Tie a hanging loop on one end of the twine.

Lather, rinse, repeat (metaphorically speaking), until all herbs have been washed, patted dry, and tied together.

All tied up and ready to be dried
Find a good place to hang your herbs.  I hang mine in the basement on the same shelves that I use to start my seedlings, near a dehumidifier, but you could hang them in a barn or garage, someplace airy but not too dusty. Hang them with plenty of space for air to circulate around them and allow them to dry.

Leave them be for a month or two.  No need to do anything to them.  I've seen that there are some people who have success drying herbs in their ovens, but I haven't tried that...yet.

Once they are dry, you'll crush them.  We'll cover that in part 2...stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 3

Memories with Dad

I love summer.  I think I always have; it was my favorite time of year as a kid in small-town America.  Once school was out, it seemed like the days were endless, hot, and full of fun.  I'd play with all of the neighborhood kids until after dark and our parents tracked us down and brought us in for the night (grudgingly), and then we'd start all over the next morning--riding our bikes, roller skating, swimming in our pools, playing tee-ball and softball, drawing with chalk, swinging on the swing sets...there was so much to do and it felt like never enough time to do it all.  I relished every second of those hot, air-conditionless days, and when school started again in the fall, I counted down until the last day of school for the next summer break.  These days brought so much fun and enjoyment for me, a feeling that generally lessens with every year of age for most, but that we still long for as adults, I think, if just in the back of our minds.  For me, summer brings back memories of simpler days and old friends.

Our dad, probably taken mid to late 1950s
My sister and I lost our father on May 18 of this year.  As we continue to grieve and try to think of the good times through our sadness, I feel compelled to share a summer memory that involved our dad: The Fireworks.  These were not just your average, run-of-the-mill fireworks.  This was the state of Michigan famous Bay City 4th of July Fireworks 3-day extravaganza.  People would come from all over the state, and many would come from out of state, with campers, RVs, and tents, and camp out in the park or rent a hotel room in the area for several nights to watch the three-day show that our hometown put on.  Sometimes we as a family would drive downtown to watch the short shows during the first two nights: a fifteen or twenty minute display of fireworks each night.  However, on the final day, when the show was forty-five minutes to an hour long, we spent the day at the park.  We, living in town, would simply stake out a spot in the park on the west bank of the river and spend the day there.  Usually, our dad would go with other neighborhood dads and take coolers full of drinks (both kid and adult beverages), along with lawn chairs and blankets, and find the perfect spot to watch the fireworks that would be fired from a floating platform in the middle of the Saginaw River and from the banks along the river.  They always picked a good spot.  Later in the day, the moms would pack up all of the food that they spent the morning preparing, and all of us kids, and usually more chairs, and they would meet with their husbands at the park.  We'd then spend the rest of the usually blazing hot afternoon walking around
the park, asking to go on rides at the carnival that still sets up every year, asking for ice cream from the nearby concession stand, or playing on the ball diamonds if there were no official games being played.  We picnicked and munched, and generally had a great time waiting for the fireworks to start--they always started around 10 p.m., dusk in that part of the world.  When they started, the entire park full of a hundred thousand people on both sides of the river (a huge number for a town of less than 50,000 people) fell into an awed quiet, though--everyone knew that something awesome was starting.  The show would always start with a playing of The Star-Spangled Banner, and then there would be an incredible, deafening thunder of explosions and shells, and the show would begin!  The fireworks would always be choreographed to a patriotic score of music that played on the PA system that stretched across the park, so every firework that went off was in time to music.  It was an incredible feat of planning and timing on the part of all involved in putting on the show, and it never disappointed.  Our dad loved it.  Every year he'd say that it was the best show yet, and he wasn't wrong.  Every year it got better.  Back in 2012, they celebrated the show's 50th anniversary, and I took my husband to see it.  No one had staked out a spot at the park, as that tradition had long since faded when we kids grew up and moved away, but the show was still the same, and our dad once again said that it was the best show ever (and it was!).  We don't go up for the fireworks shows now,
and the show has decreased in length, but I'm glad we made the trip for that special show.  Every time I see fireworks, regardless of where they are, I'm reminded of the times in my youth that were spent eagerly and anxiously awaiting that spectacular show that came once a year to celebrate our nation's independence.  The world changes, and Dad's now gone, but for the rest of my life, I'll never see fireworks without remembering how much he loved them--and how much he loved spending the day with family and friends.  Happy Independence Day, and thanks for the memories, Dad.  We love you and miss you!

And for anyone who might be interested in more information and seeing a video clip from the 50th anniversary show, here's the link: Bay City Fireworks Festival.

Thursday, June 28

A Garden In Pictures

The garden here is in full swing.  We had a huge amount of rain last weekend--four inches--and a little more during the week.  I took the Mantis out and did some roto-tilling when the soil was dry enough earlier this week, but the weeds are already coming back again.  The tomatoes are getting big, the beans are getting tall, our peas are about done for the year, the corn is slowly getting tall, the sunflowers are coming along, potatoes will be ready to dig up soon.  Flowers are beautiful after the rain.  Enjoy a photo tour of a garden in the middle of a great growing season!
A yard full of clover is the perfect home for honey bees!
Lavender in the morning light.
Basil, thyme, oregano, sage...tastes like summer!
Snap peas...these were so sweet and delicious!
Pumpkin plant flowering.
Pumpkin on a stick, AKA ornamental eggplant.  I'll let these dry on the plant and then use them for decorations.
Close-up of the pumpkin on a stick leaf.  These little spikes are on each leaf, and they are sharp!
Beautiful nasturtium.
Viola in the morning sunlight.
There are few things better in life than a bowl of sun-drenched strawberries picked fresh from the garden after a long day!

Tuesday, June 19

It's Been a While!

Wow, where to start?  I've been off of here for quite a while.  So much has happened.  Things that I want to talk about, and things that I don't want to talk about.  I've lost a parent, quit my job, my health issues have gotten worse, and my dog has a rare disease.  I've started my garden again this year, started and transplanted my seedlings, and continue to work on finishing a room in the basement that I'm confident will, one day, be a studio/craft room.  I'm working on opening a new shop on Etsy, but in light of all that's been going on, it's on the back burner right now. 

Herb bed on the left, asparagus bed on the right
My main goal with the garden this year is preservation!  My garden last year was experimental.  I tried several types of plants to see what grew well and what struggled.  Here in northwest Ohio, we have very clay-ey soil.  I wanted to know what could grow without amending the soil at all--it was once farmland--and I learned a lot.  I learned that tomatoes and green beans grow well here (but I believe they grow well anywhere!).  I learned that growing a sweet corn variety next to an Indian corn variety will result in cross-pollination and some seriously unappetizing corn.  Haha, once my hubby found out how I planted the corn, he found it hilarious, because he would have told me not to do it!  I learned that there was no need for more than one plant each of zucchini, yellow squash, and winter squashes, although my abundance of winter squash kept very well in the basement for most of the winter.  I learned that potato plants should be planted in a different area of the garden on account of how wet certain areas of the garden become after heavy rains.  I had great success with carrots last year!  A five-gallon pail was overflowing with the harvest.  I processed and froze them in slices. 
A rainbow of carrot varieties

Sugar Baby Watermelon
Melons seemed to like the growing environment, and I ate some of the sweetest cantaloupe I've ever had from the garden.  I learned that garlic just doesn't like my soil.  Vidalia onions seemed to do well, even though I don't like to eat onions.  Home-grown strawberries are delicious, but hard to maintain and keep de-weeded, and when it's time to replant the patch, there will be a raised bed with weed block underneath.  I started an herb garden directly in the soil last year, but moved everything to a raised bed after the herbs struggled to get established in the clay.  I've tried to start a lavender patch, and some lavender came back and some didn't.  This year, we started an asparagus patch that should yield a harvest, even if only a light harvest, next year.  I dried and preserved herbs at the end of last year, and plan to dry and preserve much more this year (more about that in another post).  I dealt with insect issues and other plant diseases.  I fought a losing battle with weeds that continues this year.  So I say all of that to say that this year, I've planted an abundance of tomatoes, herbs, green beans, potatoes, corn, and melons, with the plan of preserving as much as I can this summer and fall.
Strawberry, before the weeds invaded
Herbs drying on a rack in the basement

I love the education that this garden has provided.  Having a large garden space has been a dream of mine for years.  Thankfully now, I have it and can continue to learn.  And maybe even pass a few tips along to others who read this! :)

Wednesday, December 13

A Simple Christmas Project

I was in a crafty mood recently, and as I often do, I took to Pinterest to find inspiration for a project.  My birthday was a few weeks ago, and I decided that as a gift to myself, I wanted to make this for my birthday:
Project by CraftyMorning.com

I went to Hobby Lobby and found all of the items except the lights, which I eventually found at Menard's.  I made some changes to the snowman to fit my personal tastes, and I think he came out pretty cute!
If you want to make a snowman wreath of your own, here's what you'll need:
  • One larger and one smaller grapevine wreath
  • Spray paint of your choice (the original used white, I used an opaque, shimmery sparkle paint--see picture to the right)
  • Floral picks of your choice (you won't need many)
  • Lights--mine are battery operated, and the original was a white string that plugged in.  I didn't have an outlet nearby, so I opted for battery lights.
  • Roll of burlap for the scarf
  • Small Santa hat
  • Floral wire
  • Hot glue gun and sticks

The first thing to do is attach the smaller and larger wreath using the floral wire.  I simply wrapped it around both wreaths until it wouldn't move any more.

Next, I put some painter's plastic down and sprayed the wreaths.  It took the full can of paint to give it the shimmery white-ish look, but I liked it.  It looks like the wreath has frost on it.  You'll want to leave it to dry for a few hours.  I left it overnight.

Now it's time to assemble everything! 

The next thing I did was wrap the strand of lights around the wreaths. 
I purchased these at Menards.  They look cute, but a warning: the acrylic snowflakes kept popping off of the wire strand and I had to re-glue them back on.

I wrapped them around, trying to space the snowflakes evenly.  After I had them where I wanted them, I tied them to the wreaths on the back with more floral wire.
After that, I tied the scarf on.  I cut a long piece of burlap ribbon--probably about a 5' length-and laid it under the wreaths.  I tied it off-center and let it hang down.

Then, I added the floral picks:
I tucked them in to the wreath, weaving them through when I could.  Once I had them arranged the way I liked, I hot-glued them into place on the back. 
Lastly, I added the Santa hat and hot-glued it in place.  All that was left to do was hang it up!
With the exception of the paint drying, it really only took between one and two hours to put it all together, and I think it turned out pretty cute!  If you give it a try, let me know how it turns out! 

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, May 1

Our New Family Member!

It's been a while since I've had the opportunity to post on here.  We've been busy!  In the last few months, I've started a new job (more on that another time) and we've welcomed a new family member.  These are only two things, but they are BIG deals! 

Before you get too excited, no, I was not pregnant and we don't have a new baby. 

Our new family member is...a...labradoodle!  And he's a cutie!

We got him from a local breeder, and he has been growing like a weed.  We've had him for about a month now, and he's more than doubled in size since we picked him up.  He's a lot of work, but he's been so much fun to have around, aside from the occasional house training accidents.  He's doing well and I'm excited for you to meet him!  So, without further ado, meet Mr. Shiloh Barkington!