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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.

More Fair Isle Knitting

It’s cold and time to knit!  I have been playing around more with Fair Isle knitting and think it could take a lifetime to explore all the interesting colors and patterns that can be used.

small hat

From sheep to hat!

Another pattern

Another pattern

Two contrasting colors work well.

Two contrasting colors work well.

This is one of my favorite color combos.

This is one of my favorite color combos.

 

Nisqually 12-15-3

Using grey, white and a touch of red looks good.

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Color gradations can look good.

Mittens are great!

Mittens are great!

A round up!

A round up!

 

Fingerless Gloves

Each year the knitting compulsion starts to build as the days get shorter and colder; by the holidays it’s in full swing and my main desire in life is to sit by the fire, listen to a really good audiobook and knit like crazy.

Here are some of the different color combinations to try!

This year I have been making fingerless gloves for holiday gifts.  My initial response to these was that my fingers and thumbs were going to be cold but surprisingly they stay pretty warm and it’s great to be able to use your hands for things.

These gloves are easy to make and you can go wild in the creativity department.  It’s also really satisfying to complete your project pretty quickly.

First cast on about 48 stitches; add more if your hands are really big or a bit less if they are small.  I use circular needles as the yarn stays on them, it’s easy to carry your projects around and it makes for a smoother finished product.

Make the wrist first.

Next knit two, pearl two to create a ribbing for the wrist.  You can make the cuffs whatever length you like and can dress them up by using differently colored yarns.  To make really warm gloves knit a long cuff then fold it back on itself to double it.

Once your cuff is of the desired length straight knit a few rows.  At this point you want to put in stitch markers and start adding in a stitch on each row to make the thumb.  Here is where you can get creative with changing the yarn colors or doing cable stitches.

When you have about 17 new stitches added in try the glove on to see if the thumb area is long enough; if not then keep knitting but don’t add in any more stitches.  Once it’s long enough then put the addes stitches on a piece of yarn and knit the circle closed.  Keep going until your glove is almost as long as you’d like it to be.  To finish it do a circle of straight knitting then do the ribbing of knit two, pearl two as you did in the beginning.  Once you have a half inch or so cast off and finish off the thumb.

To finish the thumb pick up the 17 stitches from the piece of yarn and pick up some of the stitches from the body of the glove .  Knit until the thumb is the desired length then cast off.  Trim loose pieces of yarn and then you’re all set!

The season of wondering what in the world to give people for the holidays is upon us.  I really enjoy making people things but it can be a challenge to figure out something that people will actually like.  This has not always been something I have been particularly good at; I remember the year everyone got neon potholders then there were the health bars filled with lots and lots of wheat germ and bran.  Here are some suggestions of things you can make that have had much better receptions!

Stone necklaces are pretty simple and low cost to make and you can put together a range from demure, made with tiny rocks, to large showy pieces with rocks studded with mica.

These stone necklaces are quite easy to make and are popular gifts.

If you like to take pictures then note cards can be fun to make also.  You can get card making supplies at stores like Paper Source.

Cards and a stone necklace!

Cards and a stone necklace!

Goats milk soap makes great gifts; it is easy to ship and can be made in all different colors and shapes to suit even picky people on your list.

You can leave these a natural ivory color or use vegetable dyes to add variety.

People usually love getting homemade herb blends.

Herb blend picture from Kalyn's Kitchen.

Herb blend picture from Kalyn’s Kitchen.

If you are looking for an attractive way to package your homemade gifts putting them in baskets can be quite attractive.  If those baskets are ones you made then all the better!

Baskets can hold other gifts or be a present just by themselves.

A different style of basket.

A different style of basket.

Here’s how to make fingerless gloves in a snap!  Here’s how to do easy hats.

Hat and fingerless gloves are quick and easy to make.

Hat and fingerless gloves are quick and easy to make.

Probably the most popular gift I give is raspberry jam.  This could be a bit challenging to make this time of year but it can be done with frozen berries.

Yum!