Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Welcome to 2011!

Beans, Greens, Ham Hocks, Spices, and Crusty Harvest Bread

New Year's Feast


Happy New Year to you! 

Yes, like so many others, I partook of a new year traditon by having black eyed peas, ham hocks, and greens.  Okay, I know, I know.  This isn’t what everyone’s tradition is, but it’s mine.  I tried the Hopping John with the rice and beans and it really turned out awful – major suckage, you might say.  But I do have the pork and the beans in there and instead of having cabbage I have greens.  And because I seem to be out of corn meal (oh the horror!), I am having a wonderful harvest grain bread instead of corn bread. 

A friend of mine, Monica (Hi Monica!) asked on Facebook yesterday where the traditions of eating pork and cabbage, or pork and beans, or some other combination came from and what they mean.  I know I’ve read the explanation at some point but there are likely to be as many explanations as there are traditions.  So, I’ve decided to make up my own explanation.  Yeah, like you didn’t see that coming!

So anyway, I thought about it and of course the greens are in the hope that the new year brings me lots of green so I can continue to feed the critters and pay the bills.  But what’s up with the pork?  And the beans?  Hmm, I guess it could be indicitive that I hope I have enough gas to keep me running about and to keep my car warm but well, okay, that’s not what I want my tradition to be about.  So here is what I’ve decided the history behind MY tradition will be:

The ham hocks are from the lowest part of the hog and is a part that’s overlooked and probably pitched out by some.  The beans are warm, nourishing, and filling.  The greens are simplicity at its finest.  Some people might call them weeds and bypass them but they’re part of the bounty that the earth gives us.  And they’re the color of money (okay, some habits die hard).  With this new year’s day meal I’m reminding myself that it’s the simple things that are going to make me happy and comfort me most in the year ahead.  I don’t need the newest or best or brightest new toy that comes out to make me happy; that happiness would be fleeting and I’d be waiting for the next toy.  All I really need are the warm comforts of home and the simple pleasures of family and friends and the bounty that I can find outdoors and in nature.  And if you know me you won’t be surprised that I added a healthy dose of hot sauce to my meal because even the simple life needs spice!  So that’s what my tradition is all about.

Oh yeah, I AM hoping for some green too!  And for those of you who are cringing about that old cutting board – it’s just a photo prop.  But I like it so I keep it around, mostly hanging on my wall waiting to be used for a photo.

Happy new year to you all.  I’m hoping the year brings you the comforts that make you happy.


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Lavender Goat's Milk Soap

Today I made my first full-sized batch of soap since I had shoulder surgery a while back.  I’ve made some batches of soap that were 2-3 lbs of oils but today I bit the bullet and made a BIG batch.  Yay me!  Woohoo!

This batch started out with 12 pounds of oils and butters and then I added in the essential oil, goat’s milk, clay, and caustic solution.  It’s now a bit over 17 lbs of soap batter and will lose a bit of weight during the curing process.  The curing time is mainly for water to evaporate out of the soap.  Right now the bars would weigh 6.4 ounces each but they won’t weigh that much in a few weeks.  The color will change a smidgen, too.

Truth be told, I was rather timid about doing a 12 lb batch and had horrid visions of being too weak to do it and having a huge caustic mess on my hands.  Luckily that didn’t happen and I managed just fine.  I’m expecting some soreness tomorrow but that will go away – I did it and soon there will be 42 big-ass bars of Lavender Goat’s Milk soap on the curing rack.  Now, what kind of soap should I make tomorrow?

With the dividers, I don't have to cut the soap after it's firmed up.

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Rolling in Clover

Red Clover in a Vintage Ball Jar

I went out to pick some chicory blooms this afternoon but I got sidetracked by the red clover.  I felt bad taking it away from the bees and butterflies that were loving it.  In the end I decided that there was a lot of red clover for them in other areas that I wasn’t going to bother so we are all good.   I didn’t take a lot… just this quart.

I only put itin the jar to see how much I’d gathered and how much it took to cover the bottom of my large harvest basket.  Turns out it is one snug quart!  After I’d taken the photo above I  put the clover in a medium sized tray basket to dry.  I set it outside in the sun and brought it in just a bit ago; I’ll set it back out in the sun again tomorrow.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll get the chicory.  Maybe.

We'll use the sun's heat to dry the clover blossoms.

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I had a great day traveling with my friend (and fellow soapmaker), Laurel!  The first person to leave a comment correctly identifying where I was today will win a prize!

Sorry Laurel, you’re not eligible.

WE HAVE A WINNER!  Erin K correctly guessed via my facebook page that I was at the Hippie Memorial in Arcola, IL.  Erin will be receiving a bar of Hippie Memorial commemorative soap scented with Sandalwood and Patchouli essential oils.  In a tie dye pattern, of course.  🙂

The sun prisms seem very fitting.

And since we already have a winner, here are a few more photos…

My favorite part of the sculpture.

Most of the monument - with an intruding train in the background. How rude.

And me waving the peace sign, of course. And yes, I AM wearing tie dye.

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If I had unlimited funds or even close to enough funds to do it, I’d start a school.  When I think about the field to the north, I envision heading down a road in that direction where there are trees, gardens of herbs and vegetables, fruit bushes, and of course various animals.   Chickens, goats, cows, guinea fowl, cats, dogs, and whatever else comes our way would be present.

Beyond the plantings and animals, I see various buildings – barns of course, but also large cabins with flower boxes at the windows and rocking chairs on the porches, buildings that would house classrooms, workshops, offices, and a small shop where we can sell some of the products that we would make here year around.

What would we teach here at the school?  The traditional arts that are so rare to find these days.  I would bring in artisans and craftsmen to teach the lost skills of chair caning, blacksmithing, quilting, candlemaking, soapmaking, herbalism, distilling and brewing, weaving, furniture making,  how to bake breads and make cheeses, and much, much more.  All of those skills that used to be part of the lives of our ancestors would come to life again at the hands of masters and students.   I would love to go to “camp” at a place like this and surely there are others.  I know.  I know if I build it they will come.

It sounds like a huge undertaking but I’ve had this dream in my heart and my brain for so long now that I see it clearly.  And the truth of the matter is, I already know the people who could teach most of the classes and those people know other people.   I would set up a schedule of classes and bring in people to teach those I, or members of my family, can’t teach.  Our students would come to stay for varying periods of time – 2-3 days or perhaps even a couple of weeks.  Those who wanted a reduced rate on their stay could work in the gardens or help with some sort of maintenance to help pay for their tuition.

Who are those students?  Ahh, they are a varied bunch:  business people who want to have a few days at a slower pace, families who want to get a taste of some of the skills needed for homesteading, retirees who are looking for a new hobby or talent to keep busy, and people like me who just love to learn and learn about the traditional skills.

I have heard of a place such as this and I would love to attend some time but what I really want is to have it all here.  Where I can look out and know I’m part of a revival and that I’m making a difference in the way people live their lives, if only for a day.  Here.  Where I could look out over Swisher Hill School of Traditional Arts  and smile.

Oh yes, I have this dream…

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Blackberry Cordial blooming among the vines

The weekend’s not over yet, but already I’m considering this a great one.

Yesterday I met my mom at the Clinton Farmer’s Market and then we headed to the Urbana Farmer’s Market.  I wanted to get some blackberries from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery but was afraid they’d all be gone by the time we got there… Laurel to the rescue!  My friend Laurel, who is also a soapmaker, sells her soap at the market so she picked up 4 pints of blackberries for me.  Yum!  Thank you Laurel!

I visited with Laurel and her hubby for about an hour while mom was at the fabric store keeping them from economic hard times.   I didn’t buy anything but the blackberries but that wasn’t for lack of wanting!  I did intend to get some pupcakes for my 4-legged babies but I forgot.  (It’s that Etch-A-Sketch memory again!)  I wanted to get some of the gorgeous flowers that were all around, and some cheese but I will get some the next time I’m there.  I was watching my pennies this weekend and the real reason for the trip was to see Laurel.  I hadn’t seen her in a very long time and I missed her.

From the market mom and I went to an estate sale in Decatur where everything was marked 1/2 off by the time we arrived.  Got some good stuff – simple items but they made me happy.    I got a couple of small paperback booklets on identifying wildflowers and plants, a side rail off of a doll bed that I will hang from the wall as a drying rack for herbs and garlic, a picture that is the same as one Grandma Olive had in her kitchen, and a pair of Snowflake Obsidian bookends.  The bookends are very large and heavy and I almost didn’t buy them.  My love of rocks, geology, and nature in general won out and I’m glad I brought them home.  Some areas of the bookends are very smooth and glass-like, some are duller, and some is left in the natural uncut/unpolished rock.  Here’s a bad photo of them.  Maybe when I get them set up with books I’ll take another one.

Snowflake Obsidian Bookends

So, at the end of Saturday:  New treasures found, blackberries made into Blackberry Cordial (now 6 weeks of anticipation), time spent visiting with friends, and a wonderful day out with my mom which ended with a ride through the country and around the lake.  How can it not be counted as a great weekend?  I hope you’re having a great weekend too!

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I firmly believe that we all need a truly lazy day now and then.  Okay, I know I do, so I think everyone else needs them too.  Makes me feel much less guilty that way.   Since it is a rainy sort of day today I’m feeling very lazy.

Yes, I’m sitting (okay mostly lying here) thinking about making soap and I’m firmly decided on which soaps it is I’m putting off making.  Definitely Goatmilk Lavender and something different… Omm which is oatmeal, milk, and maple.  It’s a twist on the old favorite oatmeal, milk, and honey.  But I really wanted to use some of my maple syrup from Funk’s Grove in soap and this simple wholesome soap seems like the perfect match.   And because today is my cousin Amy’s birthday, I’ll be thinking of her while I make soap and she’ll get a bar when it’s cured out and ready to be used.   She’s very sweet and wholesome so the Omm seems like a perfect fit for her.

I really want to get some violet jelly and some dandelion jelly made.  I need to get at the violet before the blooms are all gone.  But, as I said, I am lazy today.  I think I might watch a movie and then I’ll weigh out my oils.  I’m having some arm pain today so I may not get two large batches done today but I will get at least one done.

I must admit that I don’t mind the rainy day because it’s helping my garden grow.  Heh, I really must post a photo of my garden – it’s uhm, amazing.  Yes, that’s the word I’ll use: amazing.  It must be seen to be believed.   Hope you are having a fabulous day where you are and remember to take time out for the simple pleasures.

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