Saturday, September 29

Somewhere In Time: Historic Waterville, Ohio

In a seemingly never-ending quest to find a cure for my health problems that have, to this point, baffled traditional medical doctors, I found myself waiting to see a naturopathic doctor in Waterville, Ohio, a while ago--a quaint, sleepy canal town outside of Toledo.  The town, laid out in 1831 but inhabited by settlers about 15 years earlier, is still somewhat unaffected by the metro Toledo suburbs that are slowly but steadily encroaching on the area, a fact that is evidenced by the lack of chain stores and restaurants, as well as the abundance of historic storefronts and homes that can be found all over the village of about 5,000.  Many of the homes along the river date back to the early to mid-1830s.  It makes one feel as though they've stepped back to another time, a simpler time.  I'll go into more detail about my appointment with the naturopath in another post, but after the appointment, I drove around and took some photos before heading back home, a little over an hour away.  I also made a stop at a grist mill owned by the Toledo Metroparks and open to the public, free of charge, and took more photos.  Here is a photo tour of my little day trip...enjoy!  P.S. If you want more info about the Grist Mill, click here.

Tuesday, September 25

Drying and Saving Herbs, Part 2

A while ago, I posted about how to prep your fresh garden herbs for drying.  This is the second part of that post--what to do when the herbs are dried out.  It's super easy!

Once your herbs are dry and crunchy, like this, they are ready to be ground up!

You'll want to get some supplies: bowl, herb scissors, a stem stripper, and an herb grinder (all pictured) or mortar and pestle, funnel, and glass jars.  The one pictured was a gift from my mother-in-law that she found from Pampered Chef, but you can also find them on Amazon.

Once the herb leaves are crunchy and dry, you'll want to remove them from their stems using an herb stripper tool.  Parsley is easiest, because the leaves are just at the top of the stems.  If you don't have a stripper tool, you can just pick the leaves off by hand or strip the stems by running your finger and thumb down the stem (for woody herbs).

Remove the leaves and keep them together.  I put them in a bowl as I'm plucking.  Once you have enough to run them through your grinder of choice, go ahead and do so!

Once the leaves are ground, I keep them in a labeled glass jar.  I just keep adding to the jar as I continue to dry herbs all summer.

Voila!  You have just made your own dried herbs!  And you know exactly where they came from and how they were grown.  Another bonus is that they are fresh, and the smell and taste so much better than the bottles you buy at the store!  

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 here!

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!