Monday, October 27, 2008

WE WON THE SCARECROW CONTEST!


There she is, the beautiful meadow maiden, Hydrangea (so named for her lovely hair). The princesses and I decided that entering into the local scarecrow contest should be a top priority in our homeschooling curriculum this past week, and boy did it pay off. 75 smackeroos was the first prize. Princess Jasmine wants to head straight for the toy store and Princess Clary, well, she wants a puppy. Hmmm. Maybe next spring ....

I bought the Gunne Sax dress a few months back at the second hand store. I saw it and felt compelled to buy it (it does fit me and I thought that the princesses would get a kick out of seeing their mama all decked out like the, um, queen that I am). As I brought the dress to the counter I laughed with the clerk saying that I had no idea where I would wear such a dress. She said, "When you buy something like this, the right event usually appears in your life." I heard her and waited. We were invited to a princess birthday party and I wore it there, but all the while I was thinking, nope this isn't the event that the clerk was talking about. I waited some more, and along came the scarecrow contest which we obviously were destined to win - or as some would say, we manifested the winning of (as some cringe at my grammar).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Medicinal Oils

I have been inspired lately by a herbalist named Kiva Rose who lives in the Gila of New Mexico. http://bearmedicineherbals.com Kiva Rose makes an infused oil from the Goldenrod flowers and uses it for muscle strain, muscle spasms and general sore muscles either from over-use or tension. Since the Goldenrod is flowering in abundance here in Vermont I thought I would give it a go. The princesses and I gathered and garbled the flowers, packed them into a jar, and covered them with olive oil. We'll wait about 4 - 6 weeks and then strain. I'll let you know of the results.

(As an aside, we began homeschooling in the Queendom and herbal medicine making is part of the princesses homeschooling. But don't tell them ... they think we are just playing in the meadow!)

After making the Goldenrod oil, I strained the Saint John's Wort flower oil that had been infusing in olive oil for the past 8 weeks. I use the Saint John's Wort oil for the same purpose as the Goldenrod oil ... the sore, over-strained muscles. The wonderful thing about the St John's Wort is that its little yellow flower makes a surprisingly beautiful red oil!


And yeah, dude, I am straining the oil in a hemp coffee filter. I'm so cool.

While I was picking the Goldenrod, I had an herbal inspiration! A few weeks ago the Goldenrod was flowering alongside the Purple Loosestrife, and the antique white Boneset. It was a color combination that made my heart sing. The Loosestrife is now past and the Boneset is beyond its prime, but next year I will make an oil of the three of them together. I have never heard of such a thing, but this oil was my inspiration. Boneset is traditionally used in a tea (together with mint and yarrow) for achey fevers, the Goldenrod, as I said, also for sore muscles. I imagined rubbing the oil from the three sisters of colorful summer onto the body of a loved one to relieve an achey fever in the winter. Ahh, fall hasn't even officially arrived yet and I am already planning next year's herbal adventures!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Parnassia



I made a new friend this week. Her name is Parnassia (or Grass of Parnassus). I'd never met her before and when I saw her I had that where have you been all my life? kind of feeling. And while I can't say exactly why, something about her feels of Nana.

Parnassus is a mountain in Greece said to be home of the muses and referred to as the home of poetry, literature, and learning. (Thank you, wikipedia) Nana was definitely a life-long learner and avid reader. She read Ekhart Tolle's A New Earth twice! in her last months of life. She played daily sudoku and cross-word puzzles up until a few months before her death (until she was 93 and 3/4 years old). Nana subcribed to the "use it or lose it" view on aging.


But there is something more going on here. When I walked past Parnassia, it was as if she called out to me. She caught my eye and she beamed. As I have mentioned, I'm not naturally visually observant, so my wildflower field guide becomes a learning tool in observation. If I want to learn a plant's name, I must look carefully at the details of its flower, leaves, stem, and environment. The name then helps connect me to the observational details and anchors me to the plant's spirit. And sometimes, as in this case, the name gives me a peak into others' relationships with the particular plant.

Having an animistic world view, I wonder if this pant called to me to encourage me to keep writing ... to stay connected to the home of the muses. And I wonder, with the feeling I had of Nana connected to this plant, if perhaps Nana helped guide my footsteps to the muses doorstep. Or pehaps it's just a big otherworldly conspiracy ... Nana, Parnassia, all of my spirit helpers, the universe, God at large ...working together to keep my inspiration sparked. Am I egotistical to think that the whole universe is working to keep me in check? Am I just plain nuts? Perhaps ... but I wouldn't want to live any other way.

Nana’s Head

My Nana died at home last week at the age of ninety-four. She spent her last eight months in hospice - five months more than the doctor ordered. The doctor warned us early on that Nana would die a terrible death with lots of pain and suffering, but Nana was always stubborn and did things her own way. Telling Nana that she couldn’t do something was a sure indication that she would do it. She said that the last year of her life was the best year of her life and it was definitely my best year with her. It was a year of firsts in my relationship with her. We got to know each other for the first time; she said ‘I love you’ for the first time; we were able to touch each other for the first time.

Nana touched me with her honesty, humor, laughter, and stories. She touched me with her will and bravery. She touched me with her ability to die with grace. I in turn touched her – most often her head and her feet, sometimes her back or legs. I started with her feet the day she moved into the hospital bed situated in her living room. I rubbed lotion onto her calluses; I pressed my thumbs onto her arches. I gently pulled each toe as we talked. I rubbed her back when she was tired and having a hard day, the massage guiding her into a nap. I stroked her head and brushed her hair when she was nearing the end, in hopes of soothing her as she journeyed toward the world of dying.

I know Nana’s head now. Last year I barely knew Nana. Now I remember us laughing together. Now I know the shape of her skull under my fingertips. I know the bones of her feet. I know her ankles and legs, slowly shrinking over the weeks without food. This is all that I wanted. To know my Nana intimately. To see her eyes smiling straight into mine.

It has only been a week since she died, but already I can’t recall the exact appearance of her face. I am not observant of visual details, I am observant of energy. When my husband approaches me smiling because he has just shaved off his mustache, all I see is the smile. When I recall Nana talking, Nana sleeping in bed, Nana at her birthday, Nana sitting in her chair, or Nana in her kitchen when I was a child, these images shift and blur, her face fades, but I see her spirit. Her memory is in my hands, my feet, my head, my eyes, my mouth, my back, my belly, my legs and ankles. Nana is in my heart, opening as I lay my hands on her feet, laughing as she tosses her head back and laughs.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mama Robin

I know I haven't been in the throne long, but I fear that I must give up my royal Queendom. I have been completely outdone. Mama Robin should be Queen of the Meadow.

Okay, honestly, I'm just getting used to this Queen gig and I'm not giving up the title yet, but Mama at least deserves an honorary degree (perhaps an honorary doctorate in Home Economics) or a bestowed title of Duchess of the Meadow.






Yesterday she helped her THIRD clutch of babies of the summer fly from the nest. Well, fall from the nest with flapping wings and then hop along the ground. The first one found cover on the edge of the yard. And I must say that he looks mighty proud.

Mama followed him around the yard, hopping right behind him, trying to protect him from the world as best as she knew how. All the while, she kept searching for worms to feed her young, flying back to the nest to feed her youngster who had not yet found the courage to make the big leap, but who waited patiently for lunch.




And if that wasn't enough, Mama Robin still stove to keep a tidy nest. Every time she fed little Beaker, she would wait patiently for , oh, 4 seconds, until her dear baby eliminated. Yes, this little bird pooped after every single worm, and Mama would pick up the poop and carry it away.
In her mouth. I will never be as queen as that.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Food Porn


And they say plant reproduction is boring. hot, hot hot!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Making Rose Glycerite


Bless your heart ... with Rose glycerite!

A glycerite is an herbal tincture that uses glycerine for the menstruum. A menstuum is the solvent used in herbal tincture making. Plant material (dried or fresh, depending) is soaked in the menstruum for about 6 weeks, allowing the flavor, medicine, and blessed goodness to be extracted from the plant. After six weeks the plants material is strained out using cheese cloth and the liquid medicine remains. In this case the liquid menstruum used is glycerine, but vinegar or alcohol may also be used. Glycerine may be purchased at your local health food store - ask them.

I use a Rose glycerite, not for a medicine for the physical body, but for a yummy, spirit lifting treat. The glycerine itself is sweet and slightly warming. The rose flavor is intense and transports you to the rose garden on a sunny day in June - even when you are tasting it on the seventh day of a snow storm in February when the kids have been at home sick for two weeks and the dishwasher just broke. Yup, it's that good.


I made this Rose Glycerite when we were on vacation on the coast of Maine earlier this summer. (Yes, I do bring a bottle of glycerine on vacation with me). I picked the petals of the Rosa rugosa flowers and stuffed them in this clean, dry (olive) jar. Then I poured glycerine over the petals and stuck a knife into the jar to dispel the air bubbles. I let it sit six weeks and now it is ready to be strained. I'll take it by the dropperful and give its magic medicine to cranky kids (and husband).

If you can't see yourself making this, you can buy it too. I first tasted Rose glycerite made by herbalist Deb Soule from Maine. She makes it and sells it (along with lots of other wonderful products - she is my favorite source for high quality herbal products that have been made with loving intention) from her business Avena Botanicals. Deb says (on Avena Botanicals web site), "Roses are exceptionally helpful for uplifting the spirit, opening the heart, calming the nerves, relieving insomnia and mild depression, dispelling mental and physical fatigue, and soothing irritability associated with PMS, post-partum stress, or menopause." Well, that's good enough for me.

http://www.avenabotanicals.com/rose-petal-elixir-glx-ros.aspx

Monday, August 18, 2008

Life, Death, and a Fisher in the Night


We have a fisher. And I don’t use the possessive verb have lightly; I have been thinking quite a bit about owning and belonging. The fisher is not a pet, it doesn’t live in our house, we don’t own it, but perhaps we own each other. The fisher lives here, on the same piece of land that we do. We share space. Thus we belong to each other.

Last night, soon after having fallen asleep, we, my daughters and I, awoke to a blood-curdling scream outside our bedroom windows. Wikipedia states “fishers are known for one of their calls, which is often said to sound like a child screaming, and can be mistaken for someone in dire need of help.” I would say that this is fairly accurate, if not understated. The girls instantly woke up and started crying. I jumped out of bed, adrenaline surging, and raced downstairs to make sure that our cat was inside (we lost his brother to a fisher last summer). The screams continued and made me think of the Native American war cry: continuous screams that trigger that primordial fear of “I am prey and death is imminent”. The war cry must have been learned from the fishers.

Our cat didn’t come when I called and the screams continued. I called outside and the screaming animal seemed to answer me back – from right over the railing of the front porch into the dark. I called frantically again inside and our cat lazily walked out of his sleeping spot in the basement. The scream that had answered me had been the last.

I hugged my cat and started to cry. The girls stood sleepily in the kitchen, the youngest crying and saying that she didn’t like fishers. I cried and didn’t want to stop. It reminded me of the beginning of the film “Like Water for Chocolate” where the character begins crying while chopping onions and then can’t stop. Tears from fisher-induced death can do the same thing.

My grandmother is dying. So I began crying in relief that my kitty was okay and then for the animal that lost its life and then for my Nana who is dying and then for the overwhelming mystery of life and death itself. I thought about the people, animals, places, and even some plants that are mine and for whom I cry. I thought about the earth that is mine, it is the space that we all share, and I cried for the grief that so overwhelms me. I fell asleep as my little daughter clung to me, scared from the real noises of death lurking outside her window.

Then the morning came as they do … bright, clear, beautiful. The breeze was warm and sweet as I walked through the wet grass of our tame looking yard. The sun glistened exquisitely on the dew-covered clumps of white fur (probably skunk) left behind from the night’s carnage. The birds sang.

And I did what I needed to do. Some might fear nature after hearing the war cry of a fisher; I needed to dive in. I went, alone, to the woods down the road. I walked in a place where clumps of fur on the path are so common that I don’t often think of the death that brought it there. I walked and breathed. I smelled the mud and felt the insects of our wet summer. Our wet summer has brought so much life. There have been more baby birds this summer than I have ever seen before. The foxes come to eat fallen peaches from our trees. A literal flock of dragon flies, their wings shimmering, flew in yesterday’s evening sun diving and swooping to eat the bounty of insects. The dragonflies were mine to love for their shear beauty; the insect massacre a mere prop. And I walked along the forest path, taking in all beauty as mine, stamping my feet and singing out loud as I passed the spot that often (and today particularly) smells of animal musk, and I thought how the fisher is keeping the small population in check during a time when rabies is on the rise. Our fisher is helping keep our land, mine and its, healthy.

I crossed over to the hemlock part of the woods where the squirrels are the guardians, chattering and cursing and chasing all in good time. I was not surprised when I surprised a squirrel that circled its hemlock and began cursing me. But then it surprised me. My eyes took a moment to understand that the small thing less than an arm’s length away, the small damp thing with half closed eyes clinging for dear life to the side of the hemlock was a newborn squirrel and that its mother was the one enraged with me.

I backed up. I looked down. This was a tender, private moment that I had stepped into. Mama kept cursing and I kept moving away until finally I was far enough. Mama ran down the tree, picked baby up in her mouth, and sped away. I leaned up against a tree and began crying again. Some days are like that: the poignancy of life and death seem to be everywhere. When the tears dried I looked up again surprised to see that I was not alone. Directly in front of me, through the trees in the pond, was a floating log lined with six fat geese preening themselves. Seemingly concerned only with their wings and tail feathers, the near miss of baby and mother squirrel eluded them - as the present moment whirled all around.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Gluten Free Blueberry Pie


You look Marvelous!


Gluten free blueberry pie: it is the height of summer. I like a sweet crust with a somewhat tart filling. The taste of the fruit should be bold, not simply a vehicle for sugar. In this pie, I used high bush blueberries (the big ones). Wild blueberries are smaller and have superior taste, but when you have just picked over 10 pounds of high bush, you don’t quibble over variances in taste. I sweetened the pie with honey, which when mixed with the blueberries and a touch of cinnamon, creates a surprisingly floral taste.

This gluten free pie crust is exceptional. I use it for all of my desert pies. Because it is a bit sweet, it complements a less sweet fruit pie filling. The crust roles out well enough to create a lattice top pie, but lets be honest, it is still gluten free and requires some patching (but it does patch easily and beautifully). Also, in all honesty, the Queen is a busy lady. I don’t usually bother with fancy crusts. However while making a hurried pie a few weeks ago for the King’s birthday, I made a promise to the Princesses that at the next pie making I would make enough crust for their own pie creations. The princesses like to add extra sugar and cinnamon to their crusts and are perfecting the single blueberry pie.


Gluten Free Blueberry Pie Recipe
Pre-heat oven to 425°

The filling:
6 cups blueberries
½ cup honey
¼ cup tapioca flour
½ tsp cinnamon
1Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp butter (optional because I always forget this step)

Mix first five ingredients. Set aside.

The Crust:
½ cup cornmeal
1 cup white rice flour
½ cup cornstarch
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp xanthum gum
¼ tsp salt
12 Tbsp cold butter
2 eggs
3 Tbsp cold water

Mix together first 6 ingredients. Grate butter into flour mixture and fluff together with hands. (The Queen prefers grating cold butter when making crust instead of wrangling pea sized chunks of butter as most recipes suggest). Stir in the eggs. Add water one tablespoon at a time. Mix with hands. Role out the crust on a white rice floured surface. Line 9” pie pan with crust. Add filling and dot with butter if you remember. Top with basic crust or lattice if you’re feeling sassy (or have princesses who are pestering for a bit of extra dough). Bake 35-40 minutes.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

We be Jammin'!





Okay, people, put away your fear and preconceptions, today is jamming day!

Canning in general has a bad reputation. Is this you image? A woman (perhaps barefoot and pregnant?) slaving away the day in a hot, steaming kitchen with sweaty, vinegar coated hair pasted to her face. This isn't a prerequisite to canning. A person of any gender, in any state of reproductive development, may preserve food of small or large quantity to enjoy in the months when the garden (or local farms) are under a weight of snow and ice. I won't harp on this point, but with the cost and dwindling supply of petroleum, eating local makes a lot of sense. It can also be fun, rewarding, and a healthy way to eat. (The Ball Jar company should hire me as their spokeswoman.) There is one more thing that I want to say about canning: it doesn't have to be a herculean endeavor and you don't have to can enough to feed your family for 10 months. Yesterday morning I canned 5 jars of raspberry jam in an hour. No big deal. No great quantity. Yet now we have five jars of jam that we don't have to purchase from the store and they don't have to be shipped 3,000 miles from a Californian organic food source (and I might smugly add they surpass the quality of store-bought). Don't let anyone ever tell you that small steps don't matter.

So how did I do it? As Queen of the Meadow, I began with 2 quarts of a purple raspberry aptly named Royalty. Purple raspberries are a cross between red and black. As they ripen they begin red and are edible at this stage, but get better as they turn a shade of purple.

I use Pomona's Pectin which allows me to make jam quickly (you don't have to stand over the stove for hours, pregnant or not) and to use little or no sugar. Without pectin you have to add gobs of sugar in order to get the jam to thicken. This pectin also has a "Jam Hotline" phone number on it. I have called and spoken with "Pomona" as she stood in her kitchen shuffling through her papers to find me other recipes not listed on the box. I felt so cool - in a retro sort of way - to speak with the pectin lady on the phone.

There are clear, concise recipes in the pectin box (as well as in the most preserving book) so I'm not going to give exact details here (email me if you want this recipe). I just want to give you a sense of how easy it is.

You have three pots on the stove: one for boiling/sterilizing jars, one for boiling/sterilizing lids, and one for the fruit. You boil the jars and lids to sterilize them and then let them sit in the hot water. That's done. You boil the fruit and then add your sugar and pectin mixture and boil a few minutes more. That's done. You take the hot jars out of the water, fill them with hot cooked fruit, and put on the hot lids. Done. Then you boil the full jars with the lids on for five more minutes to seal the lids. ALL Done!

I actually used honey instead of sugar for my jam, but you can also use any kind of alternate sweetener - sucanat, stevia, or juice concentrate. Honey definitely adds its own flavor so you have to use a strong enough flavored fruit so that it does not over-power the taste of the jam.

Next week: the wild blueberries!

Taylor Red Raspberries for Breakfast!


In the middle of July the raspberries begin to bear! About five years ago I planted a row of 12 Taylor Red raspberries and 12 Royalty purple raspberries. Taylor begins bearing about a week before Royalty and are one of the best tasting raspberry. In my college days I worked on a large scale berry farm and tasted many varieties - Taylor is the best, although they are more susceptible to some diseases than other berries. My plot has done great so far.

For some reason the raspberries are not decimated by birds like the uncovered blueberries patch. A bird may fly out of the thick brambles when I arrive to pick, but it is usually just one and takes only a few berries. The blueberries usually have a small flock surrounding them.

There is nothing better for a summer breakfast than cereal with raspberries. My husband and I are both gluten intolerant so what I like is cooked rice cereal with maple syrup, almond milk, and Taylor Reds with the dew still on them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Make Way For The Queen

It is a universal law. The number of children and toys on a staircase is in direct proportion to the size of the laundry pile that a mother is carrying up the stairs. I have encountered this law numerous times and I have tried to refrain from being snappish or haughty when I explain to my daughter that playing at the bottom, or the middle, or the top of the stairs is problematic for a mother who cannot see above her laundry load. But perhaps a tinge of superiority escaped the voice of mother-reason because now when I encounter my daughter at the bottom, or middle, or top of the stairs (in accordance to the law) she steps aside, throws out her arm and shouts, “Make way for the Queen!” The first time took me by surprise but as her shouts of “Make Way For The Queen!" grew to a ritualistic quality, so too did they grow on me. I could get used this.

And I did. From my vantage point in the middle of a meadow at the end of a winding dirt road off of another dirt road, there wasn’t a lot of competition for the royal position of Queen. Perhaps it is just a puppet monarchy because the birds and the bees of the meadow seem to do as they please (I’ll leave the children out of this for the moment), but I’m okay with symbolism.

The meadow is my home and while I do orchestrate some garden beds, dominion over the earth has been proven to be an urban legend debunked by Snoops. My Queenly duties entail visiting with foreign species dignitaries like the yellow warbler nesting in the Rosa rugosa, providing a royal presence to maintain the morale of the black flies, and negotiating peace talks among the feuding children.

And now, my dominion has spread to fulfill the role of royal historian and documentarian of my meadow queendom.
All are welcome to take a glimpse at these royal lives. Just be sure that you Make Way for the Queen!