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Currant Jelly

Ruby glowing tart currant jelly is one of my favorites. This year we had enough berries to make a bit of this luscious treat.

Currants

Cook berries over low heat, mashing to extract juice.

Done

Put berry mash on a tea towel suspended over a bowl and let juice drip through for at least 8 hours. Resist the temptation to squeeze the bag as this will cloud the jelly.

Measure the juice then put the liquid and an equal amount of sugar in a pot and cook until it thickens. It’s important to stir constantly or it will quickly burn.


Cook the liquid until it reaches jell point. Here’s how to know when you’re there.

Pour into jars. Jelly will set as it cools.

Making Rose Petal Beads

Have you ever wondered where the name rosary comes from? Originally the beads were made from rose petals!

Here’s how you can make your own scented beads.

Pick lots of petals. They don’t need to be fresh but a strong scent will result in more perfumed beads.

It’s ok to collect petals over a few days.

Put petals in a blender with water and blend until they are a fine purée. The smoother the blend the smoother the final beads.

Next step is to evaporate off enough water to make a moldable clay. I used a crockpot but you can also use the oven on a very low heat. High heat destroys the odor.

Ready clay pulls away from the side and is easy to shape.

Beads will shrink to half their size. I used a nail to make the hole for stringing.

Drying beads. Turn them each day or dry them on a screen. Some got moldy on the side touching the mat.


Finished necklace! The beads smell wonderful and body heat releases more perfume. Beads may stain clothing so do be careful what you wear them with.


Image via Pexels

By Maria Cannon

Gardening used to be a way of life. Even if they weren’t farmers by trade, most people had to grow their own food in order to ensure they had enough to eat throughout the year. Children learned to till, sow, harvest, and preserve as soon as they were old enough because, in many cases, their family’s life truly depended on how well the garden grew.

In the past few decades, food has become less expensive and easier to access. We certainly don’t have to grow our own food anymore, with grocery stores and fast food restaurants on every corner. We enjoy a bigger variety of food than ever, and most of it is available year-round. On top of that, urban areas are expanding, houses are getting closer together, and a lot of people don’t have land for a traditional garden. As a result, tending a garden has fallen out of fashion. 

But like the old adage says, “What is old will become new again,” and the home garden is making a comeback. Farmer’s markets are popping up in every town, and people are finding ways to grow their own fruits, veggies, and herbs instead of buying them at the local superstore. Why? As it turns out, gardening offers many amazing benefits, only one of which is healthy, delicious food.  

First, gardening is earth friendly. If you’re looking for a way to “go green,” growing your own food is a great place to start. Food you buy at the store requires more resources to grow and transport than food you grow at home. When you garden with sustainability in mind, you can reduce your water usage, fuel consumption, and overall carbon footprint since plants naturally absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Moreover, a garden is the perfect place to use food scraps as compost and recycled rainwater for irrigation. Gardens also naturally attract beneficial insects like honeybees. 

Gardening builds community. Back in the day, fresh food from the garden was a valuable commodity. Everyone knew who in town grew the best tomatoes, okra, green beans, and cucumbers, and you could sell, barter, or trade your food for just about anything you needed. In the south, it’s still not uncommon for a friend, family member, or neighbor to stop by and drop off a bag of summer squash the size of footballs or more sweet, red tomatoes than you can count. While social interaction may be a simple side effect of gardening, it’s one of the pastime’s most important benefits. In rural and urban areas alike, groups are even coming together to plant and maintain community gardens in order to combat hunger and improve access to fresh, healthy food.  

On top of all that, gardening is good for you. All the digging and squatting and walking around the garden gets your heart rate up, improves dexterity in your hands, and gives you a healthy dose of Vitamin D. Because it’s physically demanding, gardening counts towards your weekly activity goals. Some studies have indicated people who garden have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke and a stronger immune response. Of course, having a variety of fresh, healthy food at your fingertips isn’t bad either. Eating food free of preservatives, pesticides, and artificial additives is known to promote good health. 

Last but definitely not least, gardening is fun. We all know hobbies are good for your mental health, and gardening is one of the most popular ways to enjoy your free time. In addition to being just plain enjoyable, all that time in the garden leads to lower levels of stress hormones, improved mood, and a sense of satisfaction. In short, gardening makes you happy, and it may even help ward off depression and lower your risk of dementia later in life. 

While growing your own food is no longer a necessity, the benefits of gardening are still numerous, and a new generation of gardeners is emerging to take advantage of them. 

Focus on Rhubarb

A rhubarb plant in its fourth year.

A rhubarb plant in its fourth year.

From being a humble plant that outlasts everything else planted in a garden, rhubarb has become fashionable; it now takes a center role in zingy cocktails, is partnered with various fruits in jams and is a favorite for desserts.

Happily it still is very easy to grow.  Find a spot in your yard that gets some good sun and won’t be disturbed then buy a plant at the nursery or get one from a neighbor dividing their abundant crop.  Be careful to get a plant that has nice ruby red stalks as some types have pale green stems that taste ok but don’t look very appetizing.  These plants do last forever and can grow really large so make sure the spot you pick has plenty of room for growth.

Don’t harvest any stalks the first year and if it looks kind of peaked then hold off for the second year as well.  By the third year you should be all set to harvest a good amount of tart stems.  When you are ready to harvest, grasp the stalk firmly and pull and twist so it breaks off at or near the crown.  Trim off the large leaf and the inch at the base.

Here are some tasty things to do with rhubarb:

Rhubarb Soda

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Bubbly rhubarb soda.

To make a sparkling, spicy soda take several stalks of rhubarb and slice them up.  Put them in a pot with sugar and water and cook the mixture on low heat for 30 minutes.  The mixture should taste quite sweet.  Strain the liquid and let it cool.  Put the liquid in a bottle and add about 1/2 cup of ginger bug starter.   Let sit for three days or until desired balance of bubbles and sweetness is achieved; the longer it sits the less sweet it will become.  Refrigerate your brew at this point to slow down the fermentation.

If you want an instant soda then you can add seltzer water to the rhubarb syrup.

Rhubarb Jam

There are lots of jams you can make using rhubarb.  You can use it straight up, add ginger, mix with early strawberries or even blend it with raspberries.  Here’s a good recipe for freezer jam and here’s one to can up.

Crisp!

Crisp!

Rhubarb Crisp

This is my absolute favorite way to use rhubarb.  The crunchy sweet topping combined with the tangy fruit and a bit of whipped cream is really good.  Here’s how to make it!

Tangy Cocktails

Want to try rhubarb in a cocktail?  Here’s a recipe for a strawberry-rhubarb margarita that is refreshing and new.

What do you like to use rhubarb for?  Share your favorite recipe!

 

Visiting my cousin Kit we made her mom’s pie!

Recipe

Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

Mix dry ingredients.

Add lemon juice and zest.

Very slowly add hot water.

Stir continually until thickened.

Cool and stir then pour into the cooked and cooled pie crust.

Beat egg whites until stiff.

Pile onto cooled filling and bake.

Olive Processing

We are in the heart of olive growing country in Southern Spain and visited a wonderful museum.

Roman jar for storing oil.


Olives have been cultivated here since Roman times and some trees are very old yet still producing.

The olives are picked by spreading sheets under the trees then vigorously shaking them. Once harvested they are crushed.

The paste is put into a press and the olive oil is extracted. It is allowed to settle and the water is drained leaving the oil.

Oil is also extracted using centrifugal force.

Oils are categorized according to flavor, density and other factors.

Trimmed olive branches are woven into baskets.

Soap is made from the oil.

Olive wood is gorgeous when carved.

Madrid Botanical Gardens

This beautiful garden was founded in 1755 and is filled with plants from all over the world.

Even in January there were things to see and learn about.

Calendar on when to plant.

Iris in bloom!

Statues to famous botanists; my kind of place!

Veggie garden

There’s an entire bonsai promenade. This cherry was in bloom.

Multiple greenhouses

Blooming daffodils before the main gate.

Fun with Cable Knitting

Cable knitting is, if possible, even more addictive than Fair Isle patterns.  Best of all it’s pretty easy to do if you have the right tools and some good patterns.  I like using cables on things like mittens and fingerless gloves as it makes them much easier to fit on a variety of hand sizes.

I like these needles for holding the stitches to be cabled.

I like these needles for holding the stitches to be cabled.

 

Cable knitting mittens help them fit better.

Cable knitting mittens help them fit better.

 

Cables are great for fingerless gloves.

Cables are great for fingerless gloves.

 

More intricate cables can be used for small bags.

More intricate cables can be used for small bags.

Here’s a fun site on the basics of cable knitting.

Do you have patterns you love?  Comment here or on Facebook and I will post them!

 

 

Eggnog!

Every year we have a holiday open house and I make homemade eggnog.  This nog will  sustain one through the dark, cold days and bring holiday cheer to any occasion.

Lots of luscious eggs.

First separate twelve egg yolks and whites then beat the yolks until thick and creamy.

Beat them well.

Next slowly add in a pound of powdered sugar and beat until well mixed.

Creamy

Now comes the heavy whipping cream; you will need two quarts of this dreamy stuff.  Add it slowly and beat until thick and well, creamy.

Time for the egg whites.

Let the mixture sit for two hours then beat egg whites until almost stiff and fold them in to the nog.

Top with a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg and have a bottle of brandy or rum on hand for people to add to their cup.  To serve I use a glass punch bowl that I got at Goodwill; this time of year they have quite a selection for great prices.

(As with any raw egg product do be a good host and let people know so they can decide whether to indulge or not.  Sad to say there are some nasty bacteria that can be spread by raw eggs so people with weakened immune systems should probably steer clear.)

 

 

Over Thanksgiving we visited family on Mount Desert Island in Maine. I’d read about the Common Good Soup Kitchen when doing community kitchen work and really wanted to visit. As luck would have it the place was open and within walking distance of where we were staying.

This poster summarizes all the great things they are doing for their community:

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So much going on!

A trip to Maine just isn’t complete without popovers so we visited the kitchen Sunday morning and were delighted with what we found; homemade jam, walnut honey butter and fresh hot popovers.

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A fresh popover with walnut honey butter.

It’s family friendly, a good place to meet new people and there’s even live music.

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Good ambiance

We’ll definitely be back!

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Located right next to the post office just off main street.