Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


                                           "Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade."
                                                                  ~Rudyard Kipling~

Hello everyone! This weekend we worked at planting the garden.  After working all day for three days, I'm happy to report it is in.  Now for the next four months, my time will be spent weeding and watering, harvesting and preserving.  This is no lady-like, garden-gloves type hobby garden, but a real "provide food for the family" garden.  It takes up the better part of one suburban lot and yields enough  to feed a family of four,  plus plenty  left over for family and friends.  There are five plots each about 30 feet  long by 6 feet wide, plus we grow grapes and blackberries  along the fence and  have a strawberry and blueberry patch.  On a second lot, we have a small "handkerchief " orchard  of semi-dwarf apple, pear and meddlar trees. Since we are vegans (for the most part) all we really need to buy is flour, yeast, sugar and coffee and a few other staples.  Unfortunately, we also indulge too often in a bit of cheese or eggs to bake with, hence we are not true vegans.  But if we were in a bind, we could live off this garden, and in the summer, we often do, not stepping inside a grocery store for weeks at a time.  Not only does that save a lot of money, it saves a lot of calories because I'm not good about  fattening and unhealthy impulse buys!   All of our plants are started from seed, including the onions, which make it very economical.   One plot is dedicated to our favorite type of food, Italian.  All the tomatoes, peppers, onions and eggplants are old heirloom varieties.  If you are going to go to all the trouble to grow a garden, why settle for ordinary varieties that you can find in the grocery store?  It's so much fun to taste something that perhaps the pilgrims ate.   Each year I plant something unusual.  Last year it was broccoli rabe, which was a disaster.  This year, it's woad, an herb used for dying.  So far the plants look like they are doing great.  Oh! By the by, the roses I started  died from neglect when I was sick, so my apologies to those I promised one.  But if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.  I'll give it another go and see what happens. What have I got to lose?  Here's on of my favorite quotes about gardening:

"A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust."...Gertrude Jekyll

Pretty much sums it up doesn't it?

 Above is a picture of my "wild" front yard garden.  Right now the Jupiter's Beard  and the honeysuckle (hummingbirds love these vines)  are in bloom.  Later it will come into its full glory when the hydrangeas and roses make an appearance. I love this time of year, so full of hope, so full of possibilities!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Hello everybody!  Sorry I've been away so long, I guess time just got away from me.  Been spending a lot of time getting the garden ready and planted.  And a lot of time pondering this simple life.   The term "simple life"  really is a misnomer isn't it?  After all, there's nothing simple about growing and preserving your own food, or heating your home with wood, and there's certainly nothing easy about homeschooling. By the by, I want to take the time to tell all you homeschooling moms that I really admire you.

The reason I've been pondering the simple life, is that I got the usual call from S.  S. is a career woman, extraordinaire.  As a matter of fact, she told me that she'd like to work four more years before retiring, so she can say she worked fifty years.  Her first question is invariably, "What's on your agenda for today?"   How can I explain to her that the word "agenda" is not even in my vocabulary these days.  Oh, I have an occasional  appointment penciled in on the calender,  but the days of the five-year planner are long gone.  My agenda is set when I arise in the morning.  If the sky is clear and the forecast says warm, I might do up the laundry.  If the weather is really hot and dry, I might spend most of the day monitoring and watering the garden (as I did on Sunday).  On a blustery day, the  baking is done so the heat from the oven can take the chill off the house.  Or the sun shining in the window, might highlight how dusty everything has become, so an afternoon spent dusting and waxing is in order.  On other days, a particularly thought-provoking Bible verse, might send me in search of answers, and I'll spend all day researching and studying every aspect of it.  I never miss the opportunity to enjoy nature or am too busy to talk (not gossip).  Everything gets done eventually.  Everyone gets fed.  In other words, I am simply living.

Simply living applies to my garden too.  When I had my other blog, I once posted a picture of my front garden.  I received a few comments that it looked rather "wild". I'm pretty sure the commenters didn't mean it as a compliment either! Ha!  But it didn't bother me any, because that is exactly the look I was going for.  The front garden is completely designed around where I can plant things, being completely netted by the roots of two  old maple trees.  Although I'm not the most petite petunia in the onion patch, standing atop the shovel, I cannot get it to budge into the rooted ground.  So when I find a little pocket of earth, I pop a plant into it. The picture at the top of this post is one of my favorite spots.  It's my back steps. It's not the most beautiful garden, but I love it the most because it was completely created by the Creator.  The columbine just sprouted there and the rose rooted under the porch and found it's way to travel up the wall, hiding all the ugly mechanicals that are there.Every time I   approach it, it makes me smile.  A special  reminder to me that He loves me and wants me to be happy.  Now if I were not open to the randomness of life, I probably would have tried to remove the plants and I would have missed all this joy.  There are times when we need schedules and control, but there's such happiness in simply living!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Hello everyone!  I hope you all are enjoying your May so far.  We are getting our April showers a month late here, but that's OK because it gives me time to do all the things I should have done last month but didn't.  Like taking down the heavy draperies and hanging the lace and sheer ones. While I was at it, I  put a vase of pussy willows on the window sill.  One of the things I love most about this old house is that it has nice deep window ledges.  Perfect for flower vases.  Aren't pussy willows wonderful?  Something about them belongs in the fairy tale realm.  By the by, can you see how close our house is to the neighbors?  That should give you an idea about the size of the yard we have.  So no more excuses about lack of yard for not gardening, now!

Now if you have remained with me after my scolding, I will reward you with a picture of my little southern border garden. Ha!  At the moment it is in it's purple/lavender glory, with lilacs, tulips and aliums in bloom.  I'd like to take credit for planning such a beautiful display, but the truth is it is just one of those happy happenstances.  I planted the mini-mini lilacs (they only grow to two feet tall!) but the tulips were there from the previous owner.  And last year I bought the alium bulbs at the end of the season for a deeply discounted price.  After they sat around the house for a week or so, I decided I better get them planted before the snow flew, so I just popped them in where the ground was easiest to dig.  And there they are! The perfect companion to the tulips and lilacs.  What a delight to discover them this spring.  I'm ashamed to admit it, but I had forgotten all about them.  What a wonderful surprise!

May is also, the month of my dear husband Ran's birthday.  He requested kuchen or crumb cake for his birthday.  This picture doesn't do it justice, but it was the last piece grabbed away from you-know-who to get a shot before being eaten.  I love to bake, but with Jamie being not much of a sweets eater and me being perpetually on a diet, I rarely get the opportunity.  A far cry from the days when all the boys were at home and there were always big crowds of  neighborhood children lurking in the kitchen, waiting for cookies or pies to come out of the oven.  My neighbor Pam, dubbed our house The Bakery.  A very nice thing to be, indeed.  So anyway, when I do get an opportunity to bake something, I don't hold back.  Farm fresh  eggs, real butter  and vanilla, cane sugar, and sour cream with the higher fat content the better.  I warn you, this is not a health food! But birthday cakes shouldn't be, should they?


1/2 C. butter
1 C. sugar
2 eggs
1 C. (8oz.) sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 C. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 C. sugar
1/4 C. brown sugar (I use dark)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 C. chopped nuts (I use pecans)

Cream butter and sugar together.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the sour cream and vanilla; mix well.

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; add to creamed mixture and mix well.

Spread half of the batter into a greased 9 inch baking pan.  Combine the topping ingredients and sprinkle half over the batter.  Spread the  remaining batter over top and sprinkle the remaining topping over the batter.  Gently swirl the topping with a butter knife through the batter.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

This is nice served with whipped cream and strawberries.  Maybe for a Mother's Day brunch?  I must confess we eat it  plain and warm from the oven, when the cinnamon part is all melty.  Tastes like a cinnamon roll.  Well, I hope that you all are enjoying and will continue to enjoy your lovely May. Until next time, I will leave you with a verse from my favorite hymn, Simple Gifts:

                                 And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
                                 "twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Hello everyone!  We are a having a nice day today here at  Sweet Briar Cottage.  A perfect "hang the laundry on the line" day.  Hope you are having a lovely day where you are at also!  A few people wrote to me with questions about drying foods, so I thought I'd wrote a post about it and hopefully answer all your questions.

First things first, what to dry?  I only dry fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are grown organically and have been picked at their peak of freshness.  That's easy for me, because I grow all my food, but if you don't have access to your own garden, a good source of such things is the farmer's market, roadside fruit stands, and a good reliable fruit market that specializes in locally grown fruits and vegetables.  It's a colossal  waste of time to preserve fruits and vegetables that have been trucked half-way around the world because they lose a lot of their nutritional value in the process of shipping them plus you lose more in the preserving of them.

There's three ways that you can go about drying your foods; solar, in the oven, or in a dehydrator.  I have a dehydrator made by Excalibur  which costs about $200.  A pretty expensive machine, for sure, but really does a great job on things like tomatoes, peppers, and apples.  In my younger years, I had one of those cheaper ones that you can buy at any big box store.  It did an OK job on drying some things like mushrooms and peas, but I've been equally successful drying those things by the solar or oven method, so I'd say it depends on what you want to do.  Sometimes you just have to wait to buy the quality product rather than settle for a cheaper one.  In the meantime  you can try solar and oven drying.

Solar drying can be difficult.  The extension service says that you need 3-5 days of temperature above 95 degrees and very low humidity.  Something we rarely experience around here.  But if you live in a drought area in the south, you might want to give it a try.  Just put your vegetables or fruits on trays, cover them with some cheesecloth and put them in a sunny spot that is away from animals and dusty roads.  Having lived in some industrial areas, where there was so much pollution, I wouldn't attempt to dry anything outside.  You need clean fresh air.  Anyway, if the temperature drops more than 15 degrees at night, bring your trays inside, or else the dew will rehydrate what you are drying and may cause mold and spoilage.

Another method that I use that's kind of a cross between solar and oven drying is to set my trays inside my car.  You know how hot a car gets inside on a hot, sunny day.  Works beautifully for drying herbs.And I've also used it for peas and broccoli minced fine (we use this in everything; sprinkled into soup and salads, thrown into spaghetti sauce, and cheese sauces).

Speaking of herbs, they are the easiest thing in the world to dry.  For optimum flavor pick them early in the morn and tie bunches together and just hang and dry.  Above is  a picture of some that are drying in my kitchen. A kitchen isn't the best place to dry herbs, as there's a lot of grease and steam lurking about, but these are not ones that I use for flavorings, just for the scent.  To dry herbs, Just gather a bunch together, place a paper lunch bag with holes punched and cut into it over the top and suspend someplace that's dry and out of the direct sunlight.  I don't dry too many herbs, as they remain fresh out in the garden well into late fall and are one of the first things to reappear in the garden.  I do make some herbal concoctions such as Herbes de Provence,  Scarborough  Faire, and an Italian mix.  These three mixtures serve most of my seasoning needs.  I'll write more about them in future posts.

Oven drying is another method.  It's quite not very energy efficient as you have to operate your oven for several hours.  So I like to do this on a cool day, when I want to take the chill off.  You need to have an oven that you can adjust the heat down to 140 degrees.  Arrange you trays so that there is room for air to circulate around them.  Keep the door slightly ajar to help with the air circulation, or if you have a convection  setting on your oven use that.  Rotate the trays every half hour.  You must use caution so that it doesn't get to hot or the fruits/vegetables will harden on the outside before they dry on the inside, causing spoilage.  Plan for enough time to dry your produce thoroughly.  Do not stop and restart the process.  This can cause spoilage.

There's little prep work to drying fruits and vegetables, but there is some.  For fruits with tough skins, such as, blueberries, grapes, cherries, and plums the skin must be checked, or cracked.  To do this blanche the fruit in boiling water for 30-60 seconds, then immediately plunge  into very cold water to stop the cooking process.  Light colored fruits such as apples and pears need to be treated with ascorbic acid to keep them from turning brown and mushy.  You can find this by the canning supplies.  A mixture of 2 teaspoons to 1 cup of water sprinkled over the slices does the trick.  Except for mushrooms, tomatoes and onions, which will turn to mush, all vegetables need to be blanched.  Just use the guidelines for blanching for freezing to do this.  You can find this easily on the internet.

Once you have the dried fruits and vegetables, now what?  Use them in soup and casseroles.  They don't have to be reconstituted for soups.  Just add them to the stock.  As a matter fact they used to manufacture a product called Soup Starter that was just a few dehydrated peas, onions and celery, etc.   To reconstitute the dried fruits and vegetables, just soak whatever amount you are using in twice the amount of water for a couple of hours.  Remember to save  the water.  You can use it like you would vegetable broth.  Of course, dried fruits and vegetables make dandy snacks.  We love the flavor of dried corn.  And the tomatoes are good too.  A winter compote of dried apricots, pears and apples is a lovely thing in the cold winter.  A lot better than something made from anemic fruit that is available that time of year.  Although this was a rather long post, drying fruits and vegetables isn't a complicated process.  As a matter of fact our forefathers, dried apples and beans (leather breeches) just by string them up over their fires.

So I hope that answers all your question.  Next time I'll be back with some lovely things I want to share with you.  Have a nice week until we meet again!