Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving Thanks......

Thanksgiving was held at my house this year, and I have so much to be thankful for.  I was thankful that all of my family could be together again this year - all 30 of us!!!  I am also thankful for the fact there are so many good cooks in my family.  The food was divine!!!  There was turkey and ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, homemade noodles, sweet potato casserole, 7-layer salad, rolls, and 2 kinds of cranberry dishes.  I always make the cranberry salad that my mother-in-law made - red Jell-o, cranberry relish (ground cranberries and oranges), crushed pineapple, and apples.  It is a favorite of young and old - and everyone in between.  But this year I also made a cranberry sauce shared by my herbie friend Big Sue.  And it was soooooooo easy to make.  Here are the directions:
Ginger Lime Cranberry Sauce
1 lb. fresh cranberries
1 scant cup sugar
1 cup apple cider or water
lime zest to taste
1/8 tsp. fresh grated ginger root
Rinse the cranberries and discard any soft ones.  Heat sugar and liquid in sauce pan to dissolve sugar.  Add berries and cook slowly until berries pop.  Add grated ginger while cooking.  Remove from heat and add lime zest.  Cool and cover.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Makes 3 cups.  (I embellished a bit and used about 1 tsp. grated ginger root because I LOVE fresh ginger!)
Hosting a dinner for 30 people is not an easy task.  I worked all week on cleaning the house, making my grocery list, shopping for supplies, and cooking.  Thank goodness that everyone else pitched in and helped make it all happen.  My dad and sisters arrived early to work on the dressing, make the mashed potatoes and cook the noodles, and also set the napkins and flatware at the numerous places on the tables.
My sister Linda cooking her homemade noodles.
Linda makes homemade noodles for many of our occasions and they can't be beat.  She also made the sweet potato casserole that was wonderfully delicious.  It really should have been on the dessert table.
My sister Debbie made all of the desserts this year.  We were celebrating 6 family birthdays as well, but who needs cake when you can have pie!?  She made 2 each of pumpkin pie, sugar cream pie, and pecan pie.  (She makes the absolute best sugar cream pie - my favorite!)  She also brought a cherry delight.  We were all so stuffed from the meal that a lot of the desserts were left over.  We should have taken a break and come back today to feast on the desserts alone!  Maybe we can start a trend -- Thanksgiving Day followed by Dessert Day!  Who's with me on that one??
I do also want to comment on the pumpkin pie.  If you remember an earlier post here, I baked pie pumpkins for the first time.  I scooped out the pulp and delivered it to my sister Debbie for the pie-making this year.  I had never done that before, and in fact, I'm not sure that I have ever had pie baked from fresh pumpkins.  It has always been canned pumpkin.  The pulp was a little paler in color than canned pumpkin and I was afraid that it would be bland tasting.  But my sister asked me near the end of the evening if I had tried the pumpkin pie.  I hadn't.  (Remember -- sugar cream is my favorite!)  So I tried a little sliver and it was delicious!  Because I had scooped it out of the pumpkin shells, but did not puree it (I just used a potato masher) , it had a little more texture to it than canned pumpkin.  And the flavor was WONDERFUL! 
The pumpkin pie!  (I didn't get a picture of it before everyone dug into desserts.)

 So I'm sold on the fresh-baked pumpkin.  I will definitely be growing my own next summer!  I hope you all had a Blessed Thanksgiving holiday filled with love and good food!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting Ready for the Holidays, Part 3

It's been a flurry of activity here lately (oooooh, don't say that word 'flurry' too early in the season!).  It's time to make all of the preparations for the holiday season that kicks off later this week.  It's lots of hard work, and lots of planning.....but always worth it in the end.
I've been making some of my items and selling at other shops this year.  With our Main Street shut down most of the year, it really put a damper on the amount of traffic we got through town.  I am really sorry to say that it closed a couple of businesses and it really hurt the pocketbook of all of the others.  So here's hoping that we get our traffic back now that Main Street is open again.  We sure had lots of people out last weekend with our "Christmas on Main Street" and I hope it continues!
So I've been making potpourri for the holidays and a couple of my favorites are Orange 'N Clove and Gingerbread.  I make the potpourri with whole rosehips, and then a combination of other spices and botanicals.  The Orange 'N Clove has cinnamon sticks, dried orange peel, star anise, some little tiny hemlock pinecones, and some uva ursi leaves for a touch of green color.  My Gingerbread potpourri also has whole rosehips as well as cinnamon sticks, dried gingerroot, some cassurina pods, and my little gingerbread men.  Then they are both scented with fragrance oils and sold by the bag or by the scoop.
I make the gingerbread men out of a sort-of salt dough that I found a recipe for years ago.  It combines flour, salt, and lots of cinnamon with some water into a crumbly dough.  I improvise and use a combination of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ginger for the spices in the dough.  My whole house smells good when I'm baking the little guys.
Cutting out my little gingerbread men.
The dough is rather crumbly, so I've found I have better luck taking a small amount at a time and kneading it together in my hands and then just pressing it out on the countertop instead of using a rolling pin.  I only use a mini cookie cutter, it is less than 1 inch tall.  You could use something a little larger, but anything very big would be difficult to transfer to a baking sheet without it breaking.  You can poke little holes in the top of the cookies if you want to make them for ornaments and use the hole to string some ribbon on them for hanging.  I've also made little wire loops and inserted them in the top of the cookie before baking.  Use some thin florist wire and shape it into little loops, insert it into the top of the cookie, and then bake as usual.  You will then have an ornament loop mounted in the top and can easily string some ribbon through it for hanging.
Rows of my little g-men waiting to go into the oven.
Once baked, these little guys are hard as a rock and can even be painted, if you wish.  I just like them because they add a little whimsy and uniqueness to my potpourri.  If you want the recipe, just email me.  I'll be happy to forward it to you.
So it's back to work for now.  Today I'm beefing up my inventory on herbal eye pillows and lavender sachets.  Then I'm back home this evening to continue to clean the house for the Thanksgiving crew to arrive on Thursday!  I LOVE all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays!!!

Getting Ready for the Holidays, Part 2

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the weekend doing lots of things to get ready for the holidays.  And one of them was baking pumpkins.  I bought them at a Farmer's Market a few weeks ago.  I spent a lot of time at Farmer's Markets this year.  At one point, I was doing 4 markets a week!  I did Greenfield on Wednesday morning, Shelbyville on Wednesday evening, Greensburg on Friday afternoon, and Rushville on Saturday morning.  I was around all of this beautiful produce 4 times a week so we ate good this year!!  I brought home fresh summer squash, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, berries, onions, green beans, and many other good things.  Late in the year I brought home locally grown apples and winter squashes.  So we expanded the variety of vegetables we were eating and they were fresher and less expensive that I would have gotten in the grocery store.  Plus when you buy local, you support your local economy.  I really enjoyed shopping the local markets because the growers also gave you ideas on how to prepare vegetables in different ways and they also offered heirloom varieties that you won't find in grocery stores.
Late in the season the farmer's brought in lots of fall goods:  colorful mums, gourds, pumpkins, indian corn -- I just LOVE the colors of fall!  I bought butternut squash, acorn squash, and even a grey-colored squash that I'd not seen before.  And they were all delicious!!  I plan to grow lots of winter squashes this next year. 
And while the large pumpkins for jack o' lanterns were impressive -- I was intrigued by the little pumpkins that were smaller than soccer balls.  These were 'pie' pumpkins.  They have thicker, sweeter flesh that those large 'jack' guys.  So I had to buy a couple of them and try them out.
I had never baked pumpkins before, but hey, it's no different than baking an acorn squash.  The worst part for me is cutting the little boogers open!  I use a large sharp knife to cut it in half.  Then I scoop out the seeds and stringy pulp.  I place them face down in a baking pan and add a little water.  Then they go in the oven at 350 degrees and bake until they are tender.
Here are the lovely pumpkins that I baked.
I baked these for over an hour until they were fork-tender.  Then I sat them out into another baking dish to cool.  Aren't they a wonderful color!!?  And they smelled wonderful as well.  Once they were cool, I scooped out the inner flesh and left just the empty pumpkin shells to toss out into my compost.  Then I mashed the pumpkin flesh with a potato masher.  You could also run it through your blender or food processor if you like a smoother texture.
Here is my mashed pumpkin.  It's a little lighter in color than canned pumpkin.  The color will vary depending on the variety of pumpkin you buy.  There are many varieties of pumpkins.
So the pumpkin is baked and mashed and in the refrigerator.  I'm giving it to my sister Debbie today so she can make pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving Day.  (She's the pie maker - not me!)  I'm baking the turkey and making the cranberry salad.
I plan to plant some pumpkins this year and would like to try a few varieties of pumpkins.  I'll be scouting the seed catalogs soon to decide which ones I want to try.  I hope to bring some to the Farmer's Markets this coming year and share with you all how rewarding it is to grow your own food, or at least buy from local growers.  I also plan to bake up some of those pumpkins and can the pumpkin pulp.  I may not be a pie-maker, but I make a mean pumpkin bread!  And maybe by this time next year, I'll be a pie maker too!
Later.........baking gingerbread men!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Geting Ready for the Holidays

Well this was certainly a weekend of hard work, surprises and delights.  It was Open House weekend at the store.  Our downtown merchants hosted "Christmas on Main St." and brought Santa to town this past Friday night.  I know, I know, you all want to know why we do that BEFORE Thanksgiving.  Well, in our small, rural little town, all of the shoppers head to the big cities to shop on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  So we do it the week before Thanksgiving while all of our shoppers are still in town.  We had a great turnout on Friday night.  The streets we lit with luminaries and there was a delightful parade that brought Santa to town in a horse-drawn wagon. 
It's a lot of hard work getting the shop ready for Christmas.  The tree is hauled out of storage and strung with hundreds of lights and the Christmas decor is brought out and displayed and everything in the store has to be rearranged to do this.  Cleaned, rearranged, priced, stocked on shelves, etc., etc., etc.  I was really tired, but happy to have it all done.
Our Herb Society in Greenfield makes an herbal potpourri every year that is bagged and given away at the "Christmas at the Riley Home" each year in Greenfield.  We all cut and dry herbs and then we gather together and mix it all up into a beautiful potpourri.  We make 100 bags of our natural potpourri - and it is different every year.
Members of the Hancock Co. Herb Society gather to make herbal potpourri.
This year we again gathered at my shop in Rushville to strip the stems of herbs and flowers and combine it into our lovely herbal potpourri.
The Herbal Potpourri as it was being blended.  Lots of colors and fragrance!!
Some of the items in our potpourri include:  lemon verbena, lemon balm, mint, basil, hydrangea blooms, rose petals (and LOTS of them), oregano, sage, southerwood, thyme, and others too numerous to mention.  It turned out to be one of the prettiest potpourris we have made to date.
The weekend included many other events including my daughter having a stomach virus, (I hated that she was up and down all Friday night sick and on the couch all day Saturday being achy), making little gingerbread men for my gingerbread potpourri, baking pumpkins for Thanksgiving pumpkin pies, and a surprise delivery of some beautiful pink tulips from my niece Julie.  My birthday is today, and Julie and I share the same birthday.  It was so special for her to bring me flowers and visit for awhile.
All in all, it was a good weekend.  Life is good : )
More later

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hooray......moving the greenhouse this week!

We moved to the farm a year ago, but not all of our stuff has been moved yet.  We're only about 5 miles out from our old house in town, and my shop is in town as well.  So I'm back and forth from town to (new) home everyday.  Our son is living at our old house - which is why there is no pressure to get everything moved (NOT really a good thing).  So periodically, I spend some time in the old house sorting through and making decisions on 28 years of accumulation.
But the greenhouse was another story.  There were just too many other things to do beside undertake a big project of moving the greenhouse.  But as we are planning our garden for next year, and wanting to do LOTS more vegetable production, my hubby has been thinking about getting the greenhouse moved to our new location.  HOORAY!!! 
This last year was a challenge driving back and forth to tend to the greenhouse.  But, like I said, I'm in town everyday anyway.  So I would head to town, work in the greenhouse, go to the old house and gather some more items to move to new house, then head to shop to work for the afternoon.  But as the days got warmer in the spring, the quicker the greenhouse heated up for the day, cutting into the time that I wanted to spend in there.  Also, many times I would disappear to the greenhouse after supper and work for awhile in the cool of the evening.  It was a great time to transplant, giving the tender young seedlings the cool of the night to recover before being heated by the sun the next day.  But after completing supper and cleaning up the kitchen, I seldom wanted to drive back into town to work in the greenhouse for an hour or so.
The other thing that I really missed in the greenhouse this past year was my cats.  We had kind of an established routine of heading out to the greenhouse in the morning.  Our 2 cats - Puffy and Rosie would trail along behind me out to the backyard.  I would get busy working in the greenhouse and they would get busy chasing bugs or toads or finding a comfy spot to nap in the sunshine.  I really missed their company this past year as they currently reside at the new house and I really didn't think that they wanted to be loaded up into the van just for a ride back to the old 'hood.
The beginnings of the greenhouse frame at our new location.  Look at that beautiful blue sky!
So this week, as we were blessed with beautiful warm weather, Shawn decided that this would be the opportune time to move the greenhouse.  (Like I have nothing else to do this week!)  But I am happy that progress is being made.  So I spent this week sorting through the remaining plant trays, deciding which ones to pitch and which ones to save, and sorting and boxing pots, trays, and other greenhouse junk that needs to be transported to the farm and stored in a barn until the greenhouse is complete.  Wow!!!  I couldn't believe how much junk had accumulated in the 12 years that I've had the greenhouse.  (I'm SUCH a packrat.  Never toss out 'resources' my Auntie Royla says!)  Most of the junk has been hauled to the farm by me while Shawn and Jake did the heavy work of dismantling the greenhouse frame and loading it onto a trailer and transporting it to its new home.  The work continues, but I'm afraid that today is the last of the warm sunny days that we might see for awhile. 
It seems to me that the worst part of any big project like this is GETTING IT STARTED!  So now it's started and it's progressing.  I can't wait to have it all together and really start planning all of the things we want to plant for next spring!  Seed catalogs.......HERE I COME!!!!!