May 25, 2016

Gathering and Remembering

Many of you who read my blog regularly know that I write about my mother from time to time.  She was a loving, generous spirit whom we lost to breast cancer two years ago in October.  Last Thursday would have been her 70th birthday.  

She is always with me and often in my thoughts, but this weekend, in celebration of her birthday, I wanted to take some time to slow down and remember more purposefully.  Life gets so busy, its important to give ourselves time to be with our memories.  

Before I went to the cemetery, I took the dogs for a long walk around our property here at the farm, with my big basket and scissors in hand.  As I walked, I collected bits and pieces of various wildflowers, herbs, and other plants I passed.  I came back with quite a collection.  

I laid them out, cleaned up the stems some and appreciated the various scents and colors as I arranged them into a bouquet.  The apple mint burst with freshness.  The catnip might bring her some furry friends.  The peonies were full of color and fragrance.  The little yellow wildflowers were happy and bright.  

With my bouquet prepared, I drove to Spring Grove.  If you've never been there and you live near Cincinnati, you should plan a few hours to walk the grounds.  It is an absolutely enormous and beautifully kept cemetery and arboretum.  We used to visit as children, with my mother, to see the flowers blooming in the spring and feed the swans that live on one of the main lakes.  

It always takes me a while to find the section where she's at, but it's an enjoyable ramble as I pass slowly around lakes and old castle-like chapels.  Finally I found her spot and parked the car.  

My brother had been to visit on Thursday, so she had a bouquet there already.  I pushed my vase into the ground and added my flowers from the farm.  There were some lovely white peonies overflowing with flowers nearby so I added one of these to mom's bouquet too.  

Then I just sat with her for a while, enjoying the peacefulness of the morning and the place.  There's something powerful about allowing yourself to just be present for a bit.     

After a while, I was drawn to a tiny Redbud nearby, with its heart-shaped leaves.  I laid some of leaves down on her grave and said goodbye, for now.

Before I left for home, I walked down to the lake and strolled at its edge.  It is surrounded by imposing, ancient trees like this huge bald cypress, which I sat under for a while.

I have always loved trees.  As a child, I could spend hours and hours by myself in the woods around our house, collecting natural objects, telling myself stories, building things, drawing...  I loved to lay on the ground and watch the leaves on the top of the trees sway.  Trees always felt so calming and grounding, even before I had language to describe that feeling.  When I look back through my sketchbooks and journals, I see that I drew trees everywhere, always with elaborate branches, sturdy trunks and deep roots.  

I found this lovely little poem this morning about the powerful presence of trees.

"The Presence of Trees"
by Michael S. Glaser
I have always felt the living presence
of trees
the forest that calls to me as deeply
as I breathe,
as though the woods were marrow of my bone
as though
I myself were tree, a breathing, reaching
arc of the larger canopy
beside a brook bubbling to foam
like the one
deep in these woods,
that calls
that whispers home

Feeling grounded, I made my way to the car and then on home.

My final project in my day of rememberance was to make mom's signature carrot cake.  I wrote about this last year on my blog.  The first cake I made was last October, to commemorate when we lost her.

She made this cake for us almost every year of our lives and so now I make it for her.  I love that food, particular dishes, can make me feel so connected to certain people.  The clang of the pans as I get them down from the pantry, the swirl of mom's old Cuisinart as it grates the carrots, the smell of the cakes as they come out of the oven, the sweetness of the cream cheese frosting as I lick the knife when I'm finished icing the cake... it all takes me back to the many moments in time with her.  What a gift that our senses offer us if we can take the time to do these rituals and pay attention.  

Happy birthday mom!  You are with us always.

May 24, 2016

Honeysuckle wine continues

The honeysuckle wine adventure continues...  (read the beginning of the project on my post from 5.20.16)

After three days of sitting, my mash was ready to be strained.  This is what it looked like.

The raisins were really swollen and the petals had started to disintegrate.  

I poured it into a large strainer set over a clean pot.  The solids I threw into our kitchen scrap collection for the chickens.  The liquid that I was left with was a sunny golden yellow.  I set my funnel into my sterilized carboy and poured the liquid in.  

It was fizzy - a good sign: fermentation is active.

Using our reverse osmosis system for good, clean water, I filled the rest of the carboy up to the top.  This made the color a little less vibrant.

Then I set the airlock in place, labeled it, and set it aside to work.  My dandelion wine is still fizzing away so I guess I've got some more time to wait before I siphon that one over.

Next I'm thinking Mint Wine because my Apple Mint is taking over the world in the herb garden.  Yesterday I threw a huge heap of it in the chicken run to freshen the air, but I could stand to pull out a lot more.

Anyone have any other homemade wine recipes to share?  Leave a comment if you've tried something unique - I'd love to hear about it!

May 20, 2016

New Brew: Making Honeysuckle Wine

Rita and I have gotten very excited about wine-making since our foray into Dandelion Wine (I'll be posting an update on that project soon - the bubbles are slowing down and it's clearing up so I'll be siphoning it over into a new carboy as my next step).  So, I've been researching other wines we can make from foraged or garden plants.  The one we decided to try next comes from this plant we have growing everywhere in our yards...


It's invasive and we actively cut it back every year, but it's still everywhere.  The boys love to stop and suck on the flowers when we are out for dog walks.  They are just starting to get sweet so it's time to pick.

Rita and I spent an hour or so yesterday evening strolling around from tree to tree filling our baskets with the soft white flowers.

The recipe I found to get us started says to cut the green part at the base of the flower (sepal) off when you get inside but I tried to just pick them off as I went so I wasn't faced with a bowl full of flowers to de-stem.  It made it seem less tedious.

It was a beautiful evening for picking flowers.  It's been raining so much lately.  A clear evening with a lovely pink sunset and time to be outside with a friend is truly something to appreciate.

When we each had about six cups, we came in to measure them and look at the instructions together.

We decided we needed a consult with our local wine-maker, a woman who lives up the street from Rita and used to have a vineyard in her back yard.  We rang her up and she was home, so we strolled over to her house to chat.  

She gave us some more supplies for when our dandelion wine is ready to siphon and explained the procedure for bottling and a little more about the science of wine making and fermentation.  How wonderful to have this resource to tap into so nearby!  We were both grateful for Joan's willingness to share her knowledge and materials.  

Feeling more confident, I went home to make my mash.  

I gathered supplies: 1/2 cup of raisins, my six cups of flowers, 4 cups of sugar, and 2/3 gallon of water (about 10-2/3 cups), and yeast.

The recipe doesn't say what to do with the raisins, but Joan told us they should go into the initial mash with the flowers.  They add some of the properties of grapes to the wine.  So I put my flowers and raisins in a large pot.

Meanwhile, I put my water in another pot and set it to boil.  

When it reached a rolling boil, I turned off the heat and added the sugar.  Do you think I have enough sugar??

This is what the syrup looked like after the sugar was all dissolved.

I poured the sugar syrup over the flowers and raisins to make my mash.  Then I covered this and let it sit until it had cooled significantly.  At that point, I added a pinch of yeast and covered it with a moist towel.

That's where I'm at now.  The recipe I had said to immediately strain it, when cooled, into a carboy, but Rita and I decided we are going to let ours sit three days first like we did with the dandelion wine.  Then we will strain it into the sterilized carboy and top with an airlock.  I'll show you what that looks like in a few days.

The next wines on my list to try are Mint, Watermelon, and Strawberry.  Rita suggested maybe Elderberry if we get a good harvest because they are so rich in nutrients.  I'm also interested in trying to make some kombucha.  

I've caught the fermentation itch!

Happy brewing!

Honeysuckle Wine
(adapted from

10-2/3 c. (2/3 gallon) water
4 c. sugar
6 c. honeysuckle flowers
1/2 c. golden raisins
pinch of yeast

Pick your flowers, removing the sepals (green tips) as you go.  Inside, place flowers into a large pot or crock (unwashed), along with the raisins.  In another large pot, boil your water.  When it comes to a rolling boil, turn off the heat and add your sugar.  Stir until it is thoroughly mixed.  Pour syrup over flower mixture.  Cover with a moist towel and leave it sit until it cools to about room temperature.  Toss in your pinch of yeast (I just used bread yeast), stir and cover again.  Leave it sit three days, stirring daily.  On the third day, strain out the solids and pour your liquid into a sterilized one-gallon carboy.  Fill to the top with water.  Seal with airlock and let it do it's thing.  When the bubbling stops completely and the liquid has turned clear, it's ready to siphon into another carboy to remove the sediment.  We'll get to that step later... check back!

May 18, 2016

Grandma's rose

My grandma Bettie Jean loved her roses. Her green thumb was definitely more devoted to growing flowers than food.  When she had to move out of her last house, my aunt moved this one old climbing rose to her house and when I went to visit recently it was blooming. The blossoms are thick with layers and layers of soft, pale pink petals. I love to stick my face in close and inhale their beautiful fragrance. 

Roses also remind me of my great-grandmother Rose, after whom I was named (Erin Rose). I never met her but her presence was felt through my mother who remembered her and all her midwife's natural remedies with great affection.  Hot milk and honey soothes a young one upset or unable to sleep. Chamomile tea heals many ills. Cooked onions can induce a late baby to come out and meet the world.  So much knowledge stored up in one person and shared lovingly with those around her. 

This is the richness of life and memory.  I am starting my day with a grateful heart for so many beautiful women surrounding me in love. 

May 16, 2016

Learning about my herbs

I was lucky in that when I moved into my home, there was already an established herb garden.  Though I have added to it some, my main job, it seems, has been to keep it weeded and under control.  This spring I painted the old bell post at its center to match the chicken buildings.  Now it has a nice pop of color at its center.

You can see that it is thriving and lush now in early spring.  Let's look at some of what I have...

This pretty pale green mound is Golden Oregano.  I also have the more typical darker Sweet Oregano (no picture of that).  The Herb Society of America says the following about uses for oregano:
"Oregano and marjoram are essential ingredients in Greek, Italian and French cuisine. ... Fresh and dried leaves of oregano can be added to soups, casseroles, sauces, stew, stuffing, eggs, olives, teas, tomato-based dishes, chili and pizza. Flowers have a flavor similar to the leaves and can be a flavorful and decorative addition to vegetables, salads and other foods. Sweet marjoram has a mild, sweet flavor that compliments mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, squash, peas and asparagus, and leaves, flowers and tender stems can be added to stews, poultry, stuffing, syrups, dressings, cheese mixtures, seafood, omelets, pizza, salad, sausages, ice cream, custards, pies and fruit desserts. ... Both oregano and marjoram have been used in folk medicine to treat colds, coughs, gastrointestinal problems and a variety of other conditions, and several plants in the genus reportedly have antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial properties due to the phenol carvacrol. The oils of both O. majorana and O. vulgare are used commercially to scent soaps, lotions and colognes. Both plants have also been used to make dyes. The colorful purple flowers of O. vulgare subsp. vulgare are ideal for everlastings, wreaths and swags, and the leaves and flowers of sweet marjoram, O. vulgare and O. onites can be included in potpourris." (

Last year I planted one tiny Tarragon plant because I like to make Tarragon Chicken Salad in the summer.  This year, it has grown and grown and grown.  It has easily quadrupled in size.  The Herb Society of America says the following about uses for tarragon:
"The leaves are popular in French cooking, usually in mild-flavored dishes, such as chicken and fish dishes, eggs, sauces, salads and pickles. Tarragon is indispensable in sauce Béarnaise, and makes a fine flavoring for vinegar or mustard. In traditional folk medicine, tarragon has been used for digestive problems and intestinal worms, and externally for joint pain. ... Tarragon is also used as a commercial flavoring and in perfumery." (

My little German Thyme plant is also mounding with vigor.  Just this week it began to flower.  I use a lot of thyme in my canning recipes.  For example, my Spicy Pickled Carrots get a few sprigs of fresh thyme in each jar.  The Herb Society of America says the following about uses for thyme:
"Thyme has many uses: in chicken broth or stuffing; in clam chowder and marinades for meats or fish; in sauces; with onions, carrots or peas; in egg dishes with other sweet herbs; even in a baked apple dessert. The flavor can be captured in oils or butter. ... Thyme has been used since ancient times for its antibacterial and antifungal properties (it was one of the Egyptian mummification herbs); it was used as a fumigant and as temple incense and medicinally in many ways. Today, the essential oil thymol is used extensively in mouthwash, toothpaste, and anti-rheumatic ointments. Thymus vulgaris has been used as an antispasmodic ingredient for herbal sore throat and cough preparations, but some sources suggest that it should not be used during pregnancy." (

My chives come back year after year and they also came into bloom recently.  I love their big purple flowers, which taste onion-y as well and can be a fun addition to a salad.  The Herb Society of America says the following about uses for chives:
"The linear leaves are snipped and used primarily fresh, stirred into uncooked foods, such as soft cheeses or salads; or added to cooked foods during the last few minutes of cooking, or as a garnish. Overheating will destroy the flavor. Garlic chive flowers are edible in the bud stage or freshly opened (try in stirfry). The opened flowers are attractive cut flowers with a sweet aroma; flowers of both types dry well for winter bouquets. Snipped chive leaves should be used to flavor butter or oil, which must be frozen if kept more than a week or so (in the refrigerator); or seal in plastic bags and freeze. It is not worthwhile to dry chives." (

I have four varieties of mint growing in my garden: Apple Mint, Pineapple Mint, Chocolate Mint and Spearmint (not pictured).  It is a constant battle to keep them from taking over the world but I do love to make cold summer drinks flavored with fresh mint.  The Herb Society of America says the following about uses for mint:
"Use fresh mint leaves to garnish fresh fruit, iced tea, hot chocolate, and mint-flavored desserts. Steep 1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried mint to one cup of water to make mint tea. Experiment using different varieties of mint in recipes such as orange, apple, ginger and pineapple. Keep mint in a handy location near the kitchen and favorite places to sip iced tea by incorporating mints into container gardens and hanging baskets." (

I just planted a few new dill plants as these are annual herbs, unlike everything else I've shown so far, which come back as perennials.  I use dill in my pickle recipes and in a favorite Greek pasta dish with a rich feta cream sauce and fresh tomatoes.  The Herb Society of America says the following about uses for dill:
"Dill is a favorite culinary herb, both in leaf and seed, and is popular in northern European cooking. The fresh greens blend well with fish, eggs, potatoes, meats, breads, salads and sauces; dill seed is used in pickling and to make a dill-flavored vinegar. Seeds of Indian dill, A. sowa, are used in curry mixtures, and the leaves are used in soups and rice. Dill, along with trefoil, vervain and St. John's-wort, was once said to 'hinder witches of their will.' It is used as a digestive agent for the treatment of colic, flatulence and hiatus hernia. The oil is used commercially in medicines, soaps, detergents, and foods."  (  

I have two varieties of sage in my herb garden.  The first is a common culinary sage and the second is a more ornamental, bushy Russian Sage.  I like to use this herb when making broths, potatoes or chicken. tells us that Sage is good as an anti-inflammatory, an antiseptic, to reduce muscle tension, to relieve indigestion, as a relaxant, and as an aid to memory.  Wow, what a useful plant!  Read more at  

Lemon Balm is something that was here in my herb garden, which - I'll be honest - I have never really used.  Rita, my herbalist neighbor, tells me it is great for use in homemade lotions and cosmetics, but I haven't gotten that adventurous yet.  I do love to pick a few leaves and rub them between my fingers to smell it's fresh lemon scent while I'm out working in the garden.  The Herb Society of America has much to say about the various uses for Lemon Balm.  It has culinary, craft, cosmetic, medicinal, garden and general household uses!  I've been missing out on this versatile herb.  You can read the whole "Lemon Balm Guide" on the Herb Society website:

This one surprised me by coming back, Curled-Leaf Parsley, but in reading about it, I see that it is actually a biennial.  I use parsley in cooking a lot.  One of our favorite summer dishes in sweet southern coleslaw, which uses vast quantities of fresh parsley.  Here is what the Herb Society of America says about parsley's uses:
"Leaves can be added raw to salads, or sprinkled onto a sandwich. It is good in salad dressings, sprinkled over soups just before serving, or added to tomato, potato or egg dishes. It is used in the preparation of meats, stuffings, soups and stews and as a garnish. Parsley serves as a fl avor enhancer when cooked. It is best if added towards the end of the cooking time. Root parsley can be grated raw into a salad, added to soups or stews or cooked and served as a root vegetable. Mix leaf parsley with other herbs into butter to create herb butter. Parsley is one of the herbs in “ nes herbes”, along with chervil, chives, and tarragon. Parsley is best used for fl avoring during its fi rst year becaus e second year is a seed-producing year and the leaves tend to take on a bitter fl avor. Parsley grown with roses is said to improve their scent and keep them healthier. It is also a good companion for tomato plants and attracts honeybees when in bloom.  Leaves infused in water make a good hair tonic and conditioner or can be added to body lotion for dry skin.  Eating parsley leaves serves as a good breath freshener. A digestive tonic can be made by infusing leaves. Parsley tea improves circulation. Root decoctions can be used to treat kidney ailments, or as a mild laxative. Topically, leaves can be used in a poultice as an antiseptic dressing for wounds, bites and stings. Also, applying juice from the roots will reduce swelling. Note: Caution must be exercised when using Petroselinum infusions or decoctions internally. High concentrations may cause in flammation, abortion, or damage to the digestive or urinary systems."  (

I also put some berries in with my herbs since this is a garden that gets less disturbed than my bigger vegetable garden.  A rogue elderberry flew across the street from Rita's garden and planted itself by my mailbox last year.  I moved it up into the herb garden and it is really flourishing there.  It has sent out two shoots to either side, which are quickly growing into new bushes.  I may need to find a spot where these berries will have more room to spread.  Rita gave me some elderberry jam last year, which was divine, so that's what I'm hoping to use mine for when it begins to produce.  I read up a little on the nutritional properties of elderberry juice, and found it is chock-full of good stuff.  Here is a snippet of info that I found:
"Elderberry is used for its antioxidant activity, to lower cholesterol, to improve vision, to boost the immune system, to improve heart health and for coughs, colds, flu, bacterial and viral infections and tonsillitis. Bioflavonoids and other proteins in the juice destroy the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect a cell. People with the flu who took elderberry juice reported less severe symptoms and felt better much faster than those who did not."  Read more at

I also added some strawberries to my herb patch, which have taken off this spring and are filling up the corner where I put them.  The strawberries are my gardener's treat: something I enjoy by myself as my reward for hard work and dirty hands.

Same with the few blueberry bushes I added... nothing like fresh fruit picked and eaten in the same instant.

I hope you have learned something new!  I know I have.  I was most intrigued by the many uses for Lemon Balm.  I can't wait to get home and pick a bunch to bring inside and try out.

May 15, 2016

"How to Cook Stewing Hens and Roosters"

Check out my latest story on Countryside magazine's website.  It tells our experience with harvesting three aggressive Silkie roosters from a friend's flock and figuring out what to do with them because there wasn't a whole lot of meat on these tiny birds. 

May 13, 2016

Baby duck Cupcake turns 1 month old

It's hard to believe this little duck is only a month old!  She is now as big as the adult chickens.

Cupcake and her mamma are beginning to separate.  Mamma is often seen nearby but doing her own thing.  If Cupcake begins to chirp for some reason, Mamma's head pops up.  She knows that sound and checks to make sure everything is ok.  

Most of the day Cupcake roams around on her own in the yard.  She spends some time in the baby pool, forages for food, lays in the sunshine, and chases chickens around.  It's a good life :)

In the evening Cupcake returns to the coop with the chickens.  For a few weeks she and Mamma were sleeping snuggled up together on the floor of the hen house but now Mamma goes in and perches with the other chickens.  Now sometimes Cupcake sleeps in the straw underneath the hen house and sometimes she goes up the ramp and inside to sleep on the bedding in with the chickens.  It's nice because we don't have to chase her down like we do the adult ducks.  I wonder if she will always go in with the chickens or if she will eventually start to hang with the ducks.  Seems like it would be good for her to mix with her own kind, but it is awfully convenient to have her act like a chicken.

She is getting her little tail feathers in and her voice is turning into a deeper squeak.  We should be able to tell sometime soon with more certainty if "she" is a boy or a girl.  Keep your fingers crossed for a girl.  We want more duck eggs!

Happy birthday little Cupcake.

May 12, 2016

In the garden

I've been busy busy trying to get the garden going now that we are safely past frost. It's starting to green up as my seeds germinate and grow. 

The two rows in the foreground here are radishes. I've never grown radishes before but recently had a watermelon radish I really enjoyed so I ordered some seed to try this year. 

The four types of beets I planted about a month ago are thriving. I thinned them out a couple weeks ago. 

I got these a pack of broccoli seedlings to try. This is another new vegetable for me. 

My sweet potatoes are doing well in their buckets. Need to move them to a larger container soon to give more room for the potatoes to grow. I also planted purple potatoes and Yukons in two large garbage cans. 

I got the first two pepper seedlings I ordered from seed savers last week. One is a small sweet pepper and the other is a jalapeño. Should be getting several more plants here soon. 

Butter crunch lettuce is lush. We had a nice salad for dinner yesterday made with this and radish sprouts from when I thinned my rows of radishes. 

Carrots have been slow to germinate but are starting to pop up. 

The boys and I planted this garlic last fall. It's huge!

I have two kinds of kale - curly lead and lacinato. I did see a cabbage moth caterpillar last week but sprayed that plant with Captain Jack's (an organic insecticide) and haven't seen any bugs since. 

My first two rows of corn are up. I planted another two rows yesterday. My plan is to do two rows every two weeks until I fill that side of the garden. 

I also ordered tomato seedlings from seed savers. Look, one has a blossom already!

This time of year it feels like the work is never done in the garden but it's so exciting to see the plants popping up. Next on my agenda is cucumbers and beans.