Tuesday, May 29, 2012

[Pinspiration} Arnold Palmers by the Pitcher

I swiped this picture from the lovely Your Southern Peach blog,  a "women’s lifestyle blog focused on food, style, motherhood, entertaining, gardening and life’s simple pleasures." It first appealed to me on Pinterest as I was looking through the zillions of refreshing drinks that are pinned this time of year. In fact, I've recently pinned a few of my own, mostly from Oven Love

I love lemonade and I super love semi-sweet strong tea, the kind that almost needs the ice to water it down. Generally I make neither unless we have quests coming over because the two of us certainly do NOT need to chug caffeine- and/or acid-laced sugar water (who does?). But there is always a balance to find between what we want and what we need. Last week I asked Julian - tea or lemonade? He said, "both."

Thus, my recipe for Arnold Palmers by the Pitcher was born. Because we had no plans for company, I took the half and half concept of the drink and hit rewind all the way back to the beginning, thus ending up with 2 qts of ice-ready Arnold Palmer-ness. 

Arnold Palmer by the Pitcher
4 regular sized black tea bags, though for the best flavor you can sub one plain w/ one "Lady Grey" tea bag
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 lemon, sliced thinly for garnish

Boil 4 cups filtered tap water and pour over tea bags. Let steep and cool for 5 minutes, drain and discard tea bags. Pour this strong tea over the sugar in your mixing vessel of choice. Then add the tea mixture, lemon juice and cool water to 2qt pitcher until filled. Serve over ice with lemon garnish.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Yesterday, I had a very un-profound epiphany and it has nagged me all day today. I had lunch with a person my grandparents' age. We talked history, politics, education, gardening; it was a very lively conversation. I walked away from it fascinated, curious, and feeling like I know nothing at all.

So what was my epiphany? Simply this: I've got so much to learn. This one thing irritates me so much because, with the opportunities I've had, I certainly should know more than I do. Julian is a very analytical thinker and can chew on a problem for hours, mulling it over and crafting a solution until it is satisfyingly elegant to him. Me? I am a test taker. I want the rush of adrenaline, the deadline, the expectation to perform. We are quite different in this way. He left college with a classic "education", I left with a "degree".

Working now in the university sector, I have so much regret that I did not take full advantage of my education and appreciate the humanities and classic sciences more. I took Spanish, Latin, and French but can speak nothing but English. I read two levels ahead of my grade and yet have never read the most popular examples of classic literature because I could asses the plot well enough to write a report having never read the book.

So the reason this is all un-profound is because I've known for quite a while that I should have learned more. The reason it is an epiphany is that it just hit me yesterday that I have control of the situation and should ascertain tangible ways to continue learning.

I certainly am curious and I "discover" new things every day, but when I say I want to learn, I mean that I want to be intentional about continuing my education. So I'll stop blathering on now and just say I've decided to start this in two ways. I'm going to read Washington, A Life by Ron Chernow and I'm going to make a list of my 50 favorite plants and learn their Latin names. Lastly but not least, I want to continue my study of old hymns, their scripture references and authors' inspiration. I know these seem so random but I think they are just random enough to not feel like work, and something I WANT to learn about anyway. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Strawberry Farming

Check this out. We're now officially "strawberry farmers".  We bought 10 Ozark Beauty plants for $7. They are on planters on the front steps and I am hopeful this will deter the birds that I entice to my backyard using every possible method. Isn't that ironic?

Yes! *makes cha-ching motion*

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

(WIP Wednesday} Needle Turn Applique

I know its not piecey piecey and all like patchwork, but this is one of my many WIPs, the one taking precedence at the moment. I am delighted with it. 

What: The Welcome Bouquet pattern by Bloom Creek for the Beginning Needleturn Applique Class
Where: Country Roads Quilt Shop

See this macro shot so you can NOT see the stitches... at least I hope you can't see them. :)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

{The Wild Larder} Heirloom Iris Part 2

In order for this post to make a little more sense, start by reading this post. It explains my sense of urgency for this little flower.

Now, I will start by saying thanks to River Cottage and the work of John Wright. Over the past year or so, we have become much more aware of the bounty that is all around us and ready for the taking. I was raised neighbors to a dear old lady and friend who "got it" and despite trying to teach me, I never did until now.

Mrs. Widner would dig dandelion roots for tea, pick mint and watercress from the creek beds. She could find a use for any "weed" and encouraged me to do the same but I wasn't on board with her old hippie ways. I didn't realize at the time that her lifestyle would soon be ever so hip with words to describe it like "green" and "sustainable".

With a combination of our new foraging knowledge and appreciation for what Wright calls "the wild larder", Julian and I are paying more and more attention to the things around us and how they may be used for FREE.  This made me perk up ever so much when we were making our usual Saturday morning rounds down the road to the farmers market and spotted this gem:

This place in the road is a spot owned by a family that has an excavating company. They have been filling in and leveling out the spot for a bit now. Unfortunately, this makes our neighbors think that any junk/dirt/rock/trash they have can be dumped there too. Boo hiss, bad neighbors.

Fortunately, someone decided to dump some old dirt which contained some fairly invincible iris rhizomes. We had no idea the iris were there amid the poison ivy and cattails until they bloomed this week. Dear hubby, being quite dear indeed, saw the blooming iris same as I did. He was driving and we pulled into the garage, grabbed the shovel and a bucket, and back down the road we went. We had one of those moments.

We traipsed through the ditches and poison ivy and grabbed a big bunch of rhizomes, plopped them in our container and went on our merry way as quickly as we'd come, iris in hand.

And last but not least, you can weigh in on whether or not I've successfully identified it through the HIPS website. See 'Cardinal' on here and compare with my picture, and let me know if you think its right!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Heirloom Iris

I always wanted to collect something but I never really did. It seemed to me that refined old ladies always talk about their collections of things. I happened to marry into a family that collects collections. Lots of them. I'd never heard of anyone collecting flowers until I met my sister-in-law. 
She collects daylilies, and her great uncle before her did as well. Lucky for her. 
Lucky for me, he also collected iris. 

My mother had delightful irises lining our driveway when I was a child. It was the highlight of my May to get off the school bus to their elegant forms. When Mom and Dad moved off the farm, I took some roots with me. This is what makes iris so amazing. They grow on or just barely below the surface, are nearly indestructible (curse you iris borer!) and grow from rhizomes which are easy peasy to propagate. Thus they are a.) easily collectable from folks you know and b.) easily heirloom-able as their upkeep is minimal and they "bloom and grow forever." *cue Edelweiss tune*

 My great-grandmother on my father's side also collected iris though I did not know it until I moved into my house. My Aunt Co had several which she had gotten from Mama Brown and so gave pieces and parts to me. Lastly, my mother-in-law had several that were her mothers that came from various places including her mother's brother, the aforementioned great uncle from above.

The complicated part, because I have to make something so easy complicated somehow, is that a collection needs to have parameters and "just because someone gave it to me" doesn't quite gel. So, "heirloom" is defined as being 30 years or older. As I happen to be in my 30th year, it seems appropriate to officially declare my iris collection relevant to those varieties established prior to 1982. Though the definition of "heirloom" changes every year, for my intents and purposes, I think I will stick to my year of birth going into the future.

Thanks to The Historical Iris Preservation Society (HIPS), I am going through the database one bit at a time trying to figure out what I have. This also helps me in the stores to decide if an iris I find meet my criteria.

This is my favorite one from our driveway when I was a child. 

  My favorite from my mother -in-law and the lovely "blue" from Aunt Co. 

A whole pile from my mother-in-law / Uncle Johnnie. There are six kinds in this bed but only one has been positively identified.

Do you have old "hand-me-down" iris out and about in your yard? Check out the HIPS website and see if you can learn what is what! You may have a rare treasure on your hands and not even know it!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I was never good at Chemistry (a.k.a. the soap making experiment)

I have wanted to make soap for a while now. At first it was a fleeting hobby-ish thing like candle making. I went to Michael's and was not satisfied with the melt and pour supplies there. I am smart enough to understand that making soap and melt-and-pour are not the same. Then this Christmas, I was gifted a wonderful bar of soap made locally by Smells Like A Monkey. It was delightful and after several weeks of using it, I had the best skin of my life. I've always had sensitive skin and just chalked it up to hard well water, and chemical laced municipal water, and too much sunscreen, or not enough exfoliation. Until this soap, it never occurred to me that my issue was chemical laced soaps and body washes. In case I wasn't already sold on the homemade soap, I went back to the old faithful commercial soap and within days I was so broken out all over my whole body I was going mad. Back to the store for more monkey soap... for $7 a bar. Ouch. Thus, Amanda the soap maker was born.

For starters, I want to thank Rachel at Small Notebook for the best basic tutorial. This really helped me commit to the idea and see how plain and easy it is. I purchased coconut, palm and olive oils for the job, and found the lye as "drain opener" at my local Tractor Supply Company. (Though if you call and ask if they have lye, they will say "no.")

I attempted to infuse natural fragrance into the soap by heating the oils with a big pile o' lemon zest. It made amazing smelling oil but didn't make it through the chemical reaction of the lye. I used the MMS Lye Calculator, a wonderful tool for non-chemistry folks like me.

The lye process was not as scary as I thought it may be, though extreme caution should always be used. I was fortunate to have a spare 1000mL borosilicate glass flask laying around the house as my non-reactive vessel.
I did everything just as I was instructed, EXCEPT being rather frugal and skeptical at the same time, I wasn't keen to put my regular stick blender in a toxic lye sludge and I was too cheap to buy a new stick blender for something I wasn't 100% sure was going to work. And because of my doubts... it didn't work. The soap developed a "false trace".
I could tell that something was wrong but wasn't sure what. I let it sit for a few days, then googled to find an answer when it was apparent that nothing was changing. You can sort of see in the picture above that it has the consistency of greasy pie pastry. I was very happy to find a perfect soap making troubleshooter. I looked up 'crumbly but soft and greasy soap' and learned about false trace and that I could save my soap by remelting. So, I remelted in the crock pot (which made my previously "cold process soap" into "hot process soap"), adding a teensy bit of water to the mix. It took a few hours and a lot of stirring. The texture is not the same as cold process soap but as soon as this cooled and hardened it was usable soap, bubbly and soft, without the 4 weeks of cure time. Ugly, but soap.
I was very encouraged because my mistake turned out for the best, giving me good soap to use while my next batch of cold process soap is curing. Did I mention I went out last night and bought a stick blender?

This post was linked up to the Homestead Barn Hop #62 :

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Today is the day...

Whoo hoo! Today is the day.... for planting out the sprouts.
I've got too many for my bed. I decided to just plant them all, for it is better to give all a chance and maybe have to cull later than to sell a sprout short just because I think there isn't room.

So I have three tomato plants from friend Tina which are an unknown-to-me yellow variety of which she is fond. I like to garden with what some call a sense of happenstance and what I prefer to call the Sovereignty of God. By that, I mean I'm lazy about labeling and I just plant seeds that I want to plant and let it just go as it will from there. This means I have started some of Aunt Ruby's German Green and some Big Rainbow, of those started seeds, I have three plants, so we shall not know until July what's what.

Likewise. I've planted 3 hot peppers of various kinds and 2 plain ol' green bell peppers. This is quite the thing though because last year I was so proud of myself for growing tomatoes and hot peppers for salsa without realizing that bell peppers are needed to bulk it all up. This meant I had to taint my precious homegrown salsa with the store bought stuff (for shame!). Not making that mistake this year.

These sprouts accompany spinach and radishes already in the ground, and a Cushaw squash seed that went in... and a moon and stars watermelon, cause Julian likes them. :) Lastly, we planted, cilantro, dill and lettuce from seed.

What are you growing this season?

Friday, May 4, 2012

A photo-less entry

So, true to my word, I did make the homemade soap over the weekend. I am completely hung up on posting on the blog without pictures. And then, I follow so many wonderful blogs (see here -->) that when I do take pictures, I think, "How come mine look so bad and theirs look so ethereal?" Well, cause they are using much nicer cameras than I... and Photoshop. And some of these people call themselves "stylists" - talk about a job that didn't exist 20 years ago.

Any how. I made the soap and it is UGLY as homemade soap. I'm not sure about it and I need to do some Googling to see if it was a success that looks funny or a failure. Will post that soon.

I have a few works in progress which I will also post. A quilt block swap, an applique project, pants to be hemmed, a band saw box for the oldest nephew, the list goes on.

The yard has burst into spring color which means all the nasty plastic cover ups were worth it when frost threatened these past weeks. Last but not least, I hope to get the plants into the garden bed out back this weekend... maybe even tonight if there is no thunderstorm. Last-er than that, the farmer's market starts tomorrow and we're pretty stoked. With our current habit of restless nights, being awake at 7am won't be that painful after all.

So, I've made out quite the bloggy list there, haven't I? What do you have to do this weekend?