Monday, 10 December 2012

Monday Rundown

At The Cottage

So, I failed to write last week's Monday Rundown post, but I have a good reason! As I hinted a few months back, our family has been going through some major changes.  I wasn't ready to talk about them before, but I think that now is finally the time.

In light of the major stresses of this past summer our family decided it was time for a change. We were doing far too much for far too little reward. So, in the interest of putting our family on a better footing and preparing for a more secure future we decided that Jacob would go to North Dakota to find work.

In case you haven't heard, North Dakota has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation due to oil discovered in the Bakken Shale Formation. So, on October 1st, Jacob packed up what he could carry in his truck and headed up to North Dakota. He made it to Williston, the epicenter of the oil boom, on Wednesday the 3rd, applied for jobs, had several interviews, found a job and started work the following Wednesday on the 10th. It was that fast.

Now, it's not been easy and it's certainly been sad not having Jacob around, but thankfully, we were able to go visit him last week. Thus the reason I failed to post. See, I told you it was a good reason!

So, now a little about our trip. We really had a great time! Will and I rode up on Amtrak's Empire Builder line and we even had a sleeping car. It was so cool! Here's Will with Elly and the bed pulled down and ready to go to sleep. 

 We also got a chance to do some sightseeing while we were there. It was cold, but not too cold so we went to visit Lewis and Clark National Park and trudge around in the snow. The picture below is of Lake Sakakawea. It was cold, but not nearly as frigid as it appears!

The hotel we stayed in had a pool and hot tub, so we got to do some swimming and lounging around. However, the best part of the trip was making pasta with sauce in our room. Jacob helped Will cut up the tomatoes for the sauce. It smelled just like home and I think it gave us all a great feeling of family closeness, even though we were so far away from home. 

So, there you have it, that was our week in review! If you have your own Monday Rundown post a link in the comments! I'd love to hear about your week! 

On The Website

I haven't had much time to work on the website lately, but I'll take this chance to remind you about your opportunity to participate. I can prattle on about our family and what we do all day, but that's not what the website is about. My vision for it is that it is a place to exchange ideas about urban agriculture. That is why I have built in two special pages for you to share your stories and recipes. The cool thing about submitting your story or recipe is that once it is submitted other folks can comment on it and add their own ideas and thoughts about your ideas as well. So, if you get some time, I would be overjoyed if you would share your story with us. You can share your urban ag story, no matter what the size, even if it's just your sprout jar in your kitchen at:

Or if you have a great recipe that you've come up with on your urban farm with your own produce or urban farm produces, you can share it at:

I think that pretty much covers it! Hope you all have a great week!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Our First- {this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. 

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Ritual courtesy of soulemama.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Monday Rundown

In an effort to make this blog more about our family while promoting the website as well, I will now be doing a Monday Rundown post entailing the happenings at our home and on the website. So, here it is, the first Monday Rundown!

At The Cottage

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! We spent the weekend hanging lights, decorating the tree, baking cookies and drinking hot chocolate. The decorations look great, now I just have to put up the boxes that they were stored in.

Handwork Season is in full swing. I've been working on a set of dolls for Will and will post them on Wednesday's WIP post. I've also been trying to put together batik napkins for Christmas gifts, but time in the studio seems to be at a premium these days. In addition, while it's more of preserving season activity than a handwork season activity, I made some lotion bars this weekend as well.

The garden is looking tired with only a few plants hanging on here and there. The chicks from this summer have grown into 5 roosters and 2 hens and have become difficult, if not impossible, to contain. Thus, they have decimated all of my fall vegetables, except for the parsnips, which they can't get to. I'm hoping to get the roosters butchered soon, but there is never enough time in the day.

On The Website

I've been plugging away at the website, albeit slowly. I just put up a page for Family Rhythm. At the bottom of the page you will see a sign up for our Family Rhythm newsletter. This newsletter will be sent out at the beginning of the season as listed on Seasonal Rhythm page. It will include ideas for celebrating all 4 types of rhythm and focus on seasonal activities that you can do at home.

We will also be sending out a monthly urban farming newsletter as well. You can sign up for it on any of the website pages using the sign up form in the right hand column. 

I think that pretty much sums it up! Hope you all have a wonderful week!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

An Update

There have been so many things I have wanted to share on this blog, but I wasn't sure how to come back to it, but I guess now is as good a time as any.

First, let me address some things that have been left unfinished. Last time I was here I was working on a series of posts on rhythm. I had to take a break from them for a while, so they are still not completely finished. However, once they are finished I will not be posting them on this site, but don't fret! I have something even better planned for them! They are going to be offered as a free e-course!

Which brings me to my next topic. Although, I have been absent from this blog, I have actually been working on other projects in the meantime. I am currently putting together a website on urban agriculture. I have taken a lot of tutorials and other information on this blog and put it into website format so that it will be easier to access. I am also putting some of it into e-course format including the rhythm course mentioned above and I'm also finishing up an urban agriculture quick start guide.  The website is still very much a work in progress, but if you'd like to check it out, it is here:

Now, looking forward, I will be using this blog as a more personal family chronicle of what we are doing around here, while any type of informative posts will be put on the website. I hope you will stick around as the website comes together. I have great things planned for it and for this blog as well! 

Monday, 3 September 2012

Seed Saving

As you're thinking about what kinds of goodies to preserve for the winter, don't forget that you can save your seeds as well so you can cut down on your seed purchasing costs next planting season. There are a few different ways that plants produce seeds so saving seeds can be different for each plant, but there is nothing difficult about saving seeds once you know what you're looking for.

Squash, Melons & Peas

Some plants make it super easy to know how to save their seed. Cantaloupe, watermelon, zucchini, peas and most squashes are pretty straight forward when it comes to seed saving. All you have to do is open them up scoop out the seeds, wash them off and dry them out on a paper plate. The picture above shows the peas separated from their pods.


Others are a bit trickier. Tomatoes come to mind. In order to save tomato seeds you will need to use the following method. Scoop your seeds out and place them in a mason jar with enough water to cover them up well. Place a coffee filter over the top of the jar and secure it with a rubber band. You will need to leave this set to ferment over a few days. This process allows the mucousy covering around the seed to rot away so there is nothing to impede the growth of the seed the following year.

After the jar has set out for a few days you will need to dump the contents into a fine mesh strainer and rinse your seeds to remove all of the pulpy material. Once the seeds are well cleaned place them on a coffee filter on a paper plate to let them dry out before you store them for the winter.

Lettuce & Cole Crops

The last group of seeds that I want to talk to you about was the most daunting for me in the beginning. They include lettuces and cole crops. Don't make the mistake I did of letting these intimidate you! They are super easy to collect, although, you have to be willing to allow for the space and time to let them go to seed.

Most lettuces, if allowed to bolt will produce flowers which when allowed to dry will create small seed heads that can be collected and the seeds freed by lightly rolling them between your fingers over a piece of paper. The seeds will drop onto the paper and you can separate them from the rest of the flower to store over the winter. This year I got a bit lazy and instead of pulling things out of the raised beds when the spring season was over I left them in the beds, let them go to seed and put the seeds right back in the ground for the fall season. 

Cole crops are even easier! When they are left to go to seed they will produce seed pods that can be simply plucked from the plant, cracked open and the seeds inside can be collected and saved. The picture below are the seeds pods from our Chinese Cabbage plant. All cole crops will have similar looking pods.

Here are a few tips to remember when starting your personal seed banks.
  • Make sure the seeds you save are heirloom seeds so that you can be sure you will be getting the same plants next year.
  • Label everything! Including the plates, coffee filters and jars you are using to dry your seeds out. Include the type of vegetable, name, year and if you know where it came from originally include that too.
  • There are many templates out there for seed packets so print some off or create your own. Use your imagination to decorate them and include the kids!
  • Talk to your neighbors and friends and let them know what kind of seeds you have and see what seeds they have that they might be willing to trade so that you can add some variety to your garden next year.
  • If possible space different varieties of the same type of vegetable as far apart as possible in order to avoid cross pollination which can create plants that might not be identical to their parent plants.
  • Always gather the best looking seeds from the best vegetables from your crops in order to ensure that you are propagating strong healthy new plants.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

I Need Your Help!

If you've followed this blog you have heard me talk about putting together K-8 curriculum packs for knitting and handwork lessons. I am finally trying to get this project off the ground, but I need your help! I am looking for families who would be willing to test them out for me before I send them to the e-publisher.

I am currently working on getting my knitting lesson plans off the ground and am looking for one or two families to test each of the levels K-8. The knitting classes consists of 8 one hour classes to complete at a rate of one per week. I will email you with all the course documents and each week I would need you to send me an update of a few lines (maybe even pictures?) about what is working and what is not. At the end of the course, with your permission it would be great if you could send me a testimonial that would be suitable for publication on the sale website.

If you are interested please let me know! You can contact me using the Contact Me button on the right side of the screen. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Making Pesto

As mentioned in my previous post, we are now in the preserving season so I thought I would share one of my favorite preserving projects with you. Making pesto!

I only have 4 basil plants this year, but they are doing remarkably well and I think that I should be able to get at least a couple more batches of pesto out of them before the winter.

Pesto is incredibly simple to make. All you need is some basil, parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts. Although, in my opinion, the pine nuts are optional and I often omit them when I'm making pesto. I'm sure others would disagree, but they are expensive and are not something I keep around the house so it's easier for me to just leave them out.

Anyhow, here are a few pictures from my pesto making journey.

The first and most laborious part of the whole process is removing the basil leaves from the stems.

I then cut up several cloves of garlic and put them in the bottom of my blender, add the basil on top, sprinkle the parm on top of the basil and start the blender. Once the leaves are mostly chopped up I begin to add the olive oil until I achieve the desired consistency. I don't follow a recipe, but instead add ingredients as I go to suit my own tastes.

Once I've reached a good taste and consistency I spoon heaps of pesto into these awesome cube trays that I purchased when Will was a baby so I could make and freeze homemade baby food.

Once the cubes are completely frozen I take the cubes out of the tray and put them in a freezer bag marked with the date and contents.

I can usually make enough to last me until the next summer. And preparation is super easy, just take a cube out of the fridge and mix into hot noodles or spaghetti squash and you're set for dinner. Try it out! I promise you'll like it!

Seasonal Rhythm

As promised, here is the first installment of my Finding Our Rhythm series. I have to admit I went for the easiest part of the pyramid first and decided to tackle the rhythm of the seasons. After reviewing the basic comings and goings of our family I've divided our seasons up into five distinctive periods. You will notice that they are based loosely around the old Celtic holidays. Our family generally observes these holidays with some kind of celebration so I figure these celebrations can be an excellent segue into the next season. Each season we will observe a home theme of either Preserving, Handwork, Resting, Planting, Growing.    

Fall - Lammas to Halloween
There are traditionally three fall harvest  Lammas, August 1st to Halloween. The fall season in our house will be dedicated preserving the bounty that we grew over the summer and include things such as canning, freezing, seed saving, medicine making and so on. 

Winter -All Saints Day to Candlemas
Halloween is traditionally considered to be the last of the harvest festivals, so after the Halloween holiday we will turn our focus inward to what we can do while we are inside our home for the winter. Instead of trying to tackle knitting, felting, toy making and holiday gifts throughout the year, and spreading ourselves thin in the process, we will use this time to focus solely on creating a period of contraction and inward focus.

Break -Candlemas to End of February
At this point the holidays are past, but it's not quite time for planting and growing. We will use this time as a period of rest and renewal. We will not focus on growing, planting, handwork or preserving. Instead we will focus on relaxing. Perhaps this will be a good time to take a vacation to a warmer climate or even just a trip to a state park inn or perhaps just a day spa. Whatever we do it will be with the intent of saving up our energy for the coming period of work and expansion. 

Spring - March 1st to Midsummer
From now until midsummer we will focus on planting our gardens for the spring and summer. With planting season we will begin a period of outward expansion that will last until the harvest season.We will focus on preparing our garden beds and planting our seeds. Plotting out new beds and adding to our old beds.

Summer - Midsummer to August
This is the peak of the year and the growing season when our plants and our bodies are at their maximum strength. Life is easy and food is abundant. We will devote this part of the year to nurturing our plants, pulling up the weeds and enjoying the fruits of our planting season labor with delicious seasonal recipes.

This will affect this blog in that I will be creating biweekly tutorials on topics specific to the current season. I will be creating buttons on the side bar that will link to an archive for each season so that you and I can look back and get some ideas on ways to mark the passing of the seasons and how to keep a seasonal rhythm within your own home.

The next topic I will be covering is the rhythm of life from birth to death. I will be reserving the other two points on the pyramid, weekly and daily rhythm, for a much later date as we are currently looking at making some life altering changes that will significantly affect our daily and weekly rhythm. These changes, although they will be difficult in the short term, will hopefully pay off greatly for our family's future. I'm excited and scared and sad and happy about these changes and I will hopefully share them with you joyfully when the time comes. In the meantime, turn your focus inward and enjoy this harvest season and take the time to spend with your loved ones while bedding down for winter.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Finding Our Rhythm

Tomorrow is the first day of the harvest holidays and I think it's a great time to implement a few changes around here. If you read my previous post you will know that we reached a point a couple weeks ago where we ran out of steam. At the time I wasn't sure what we were going to do to get things under control, but slowly and surely the answers are starting to come into focus.

The first thing that has become quite apparent to me is that our family really needs to get into some kind of rhythm that will help us streamline our lives and focus on the things and people we love. I've read over and over how important rhythm is in family life and I guess it took a meltdown for it to sink in.

After examining our lives and doing a bit of research I was able to break our family rhythms down into four sections: 

Life Rhythm
The cycle from birth to death. I don't really have a handle yet on how to pin this down. By observing our birthdays and life milestones? I'm open to suggestions.

Seasonal Rhythm
The cycle of the season of the year. Our family has been okay about being observant of the seasons, but I think we can do better. I'm also planning on dedicating each season to a specific task such as preserving, handwork, gardening and so on. That way we are able to focus on one seasonal task at a time instead of trying to do all the things all the time.

Weekly Rhythm

As the old poem goes,  

Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Churn on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday

We will obviously have to modify this somewhat to fit with our modern life, but the basic idea will be the same. Although, I have to admit that I think this will be the hardest for us to keep up with. I can micromanage the day to day well enough. The seasonal comes naturally. This mid-range rhythm is going to be a bit tougher I think.

Daily Rhythm
We've already been working on this one. I have daily lists posted on our tack board of the things that we have to do in the evening when we come home. I'm going to revise it a bit and add one for the morning as well.

In the next few days I will be dedicating an individual post to each of these types of rhythm with a plan for how our family will keep up with each.

Friday, 20 July 2012


It's been nearly a month since I've written anything. The first week I was absent I was working on another project that I'm trying to get off the ground. The second week I was gone was supposed to have been spent relaxing, but instead it was spent putting out those little fires that life likes to throw at you when you're least prepared. The third week was the breaking point.

After running out of steam Jacob had to go to the hospital and was treated for exhaustion, dehydration, vitamin deficiency and an upper respiratory infection. No great surprise since he works three jobs and takes care of the yard and the animals and helps out with the garden and of course parenting. Thankfully, we have some wonderful friends and family who came to our rescue to help out. However, after all this, one thing has become apparent. We cannot continue to do all the things we do. I'm not exactly entirely sure what we are going to give up yet, but some things are going to have to go. It's going to be a process to see what we can keep and what we have to give up.

I will continue posting here, but perhaps not as frequently. We simply have to get the basics under control before we can put our energy wholeheartedly into any of our projects. Stay tuned folks. I'm not abandoning this blog just yet, but it may be a bit quieter around here for a while.

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Underappreciated Crabapple

Summer is starting to set in and the canning in our house is beginning to ramp up. My latest project has been crabapple jelly. While they used to be a household staple, I think crabapples are rather under appreciated these days, so I thought would share my crabapple reverie with you.

We are very lucky to have a crabapple tree in our backyard and even though we haven't given it the best of care it still provides us with plenty of crabapples for canning. As you can see from the picture above, we don't treat them with anything so they aren't very pretty. Luckily, crabapple jelly doesn't require them to be pretty.

The only thing necessary to prepare them for processing is washing them and removing the stems and blossom ends. Since the cooked mixture, including seeds and cores, will be strained out and a great deal of pectin, which helps the jelly gel, is found in the cores, you wouldn't want to remove the cores anyhow.

Once the mixture is cooked down it has to be strained through cheesecloth. I used a strainer lined with cheesecloth and held up with kebab skewers over a large bowl to collect the juice. The important thing in this step is to make sure, tempting though it may be, that you don't squish the cooked apples and release the apple mush into the juice thus causing your jelly to be cloudy.

After cooking the juice down with sugar and pectin the jars are filled and processed for 10 minutes in a water bath canner. And then voila! Beautiful jars of crabapple jelly!

So, if you find you or your neighbors find yourself being pelted in the head or tripping over crabapples why not put them to good use and try this old fashioned delight!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Preparing for the Solstice

The solstice has always been a special time for our family and right now things are abuzz in preparation for our family summer solstice celebration. Last year we had a bit of a rocky start when I fell off a chair while trying to hang herbs to dry. My rear hurt for weeks! Hopefully, this year will be a bit less ouchy!

While we don't have a specific plan yet, we have worked on a few things and should be finishing up and finalizing this evening. We will also be having airbnb'ers tomorrow night, so I'm hoping that they will participate as well.

Since the solstice is traditionally a night for fairies, Will and I made a needle felted Solstice Fairy, in brightly colored sun-like hues, out of wool last night. We will also be making Solstice Cakes for Will to leave outside for the fairies tomorrow night.

I also made a small knit beehive and bumblebee to put on our nature table since honey is a common symbol of the solstice and the bright yellow color makes us think of the sun. I think the bumblebee still needs some wings, so I might needle felt some on this evening.

Jacob has been working hard to get the area around our fire pit cleared away, and in traditional solstice style, we will be having a small bonfire outside that evening. He's also hoping to get out our camping gear and roast a chicken and some vegetables in the dutch oven over the fire, and of course, no bonfire would be complete without hot dogs and marshmallows.

In addition to fire and fairies, no solstice would be complete without herbs! I will be getting up early tomorrow morning to harvest as much as I can and then Will and I will finish up tomorrow evening. Some will be used to store for winter, some will be used to make a wreath for the door and some will be bundled together to throw in the fire.

I'm thinking I may put together a list of herbs and their meanings and have each person pick out at least three that are special to them to put into their fire bundle. This would be especially fun if our airbnb'ers participate. I will probably write a small secular ritual based on letting go of the past and moving into the future that we can do tomorrow evening with our herb bundles.

Hope everyone has a beautiful solstice! If you're local and don't have any plans feel free to bring a dish and a drink and come and hang out! If you're not local, but have special plans or posts about the solstice I'd love to hear about them, so please feel free to post any links or plans in the comments!

Happy Solstice!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Surprise Chickens!

What a surprise we had yesterday! We'd been inside most of the day and had heard the chickens loudly fussing, but upon looking out the window we could see nothing except a bunch of fussing chickens. Until we went outside to do the evening chores! Lo and behold! Our Ameraucana had hatched 8 chicks!

Which she had proceeded to deposit in my flower garden! Oh, my goodness!

We moved mom and babes to an enclosure all by themselves so that they would be safe and upon inspection this morning they were all tucked up under her wings safe and warm.

I'm so excited that we have baby chicks since it's a somewhat rare occurance for urban chickens to be able to hatch babies! Jacob, who has had chickens all his life and lived on a farm for quite some time, had never actually seen a clutch of chicks hatch. He was pretty proud of our mama hen last night!

It will be interesting to see what kind of egg layers these chicks turn out to be since their dad is a Welsummer rooster, whose breed lays brown eggs, and mom is an Ameraucana who lays green eggs. I'm sure I will be updating more as the little fuzzballs grow up!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

WIP Wednesday

I've been rather neglectful of WIP Wednesday, but I think now is the time to resurrect it.

This week's work in progress is a quick little slouchy beret. I've been knitting for everyone else lately and now it's time to do something for myself. I've let my hair grow out long, but for practicality purposes I keep it up in a bandana most of the time, so I'm hoping this will give me a nice alternative to a ratty old bandana.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Walnut Cottage Canning Contest

Canning season has officially started at our house and I'm sure it has in your house as well. While I can't do a canning contest based on taste until they develop computer taste-o-vision I can, at least,  judge on some visual factors. So with that in mind I present to you Walnut Cottage's First Annual Canning Contest.

There will be three categories:

Prettiest Packaging - Go wild decorating your jars! Think outside the little piece of gingham fabric that one adorned the tops of winter gifts of canned goodies and come up with your own ideas! Take a picture of your decorated jar and tell us what you did with it. Remember to keep it safe and non-toxic!

Best Winter Stash - Who can squirrel away the most and best winter provender? Take a picture of your stash with a list detailing what your stash consists and post it!

Most Creative Recipe - Come up with the most creative recipe that you can while still staying within the boundaries of safe food preparation. Then post your recipe or ingredients to show us what kind of yumminess you came up with.


Rules and How To Enter

  • Anyone can enter the contest. All you need is the desire and ability to can your food.
  • In order to enter you can do any of the following:
    • Write a blog post explaining your entry complete with pictures and information on the category you are entering. Then post a link to it in the comments section.
    • You can also post you pictures and information on our Facebook page if you do not have a blog and then share your post on your own wall so that your friends can see your entry.
  • You may submit one entry per category, but each person will only be eligible for one prize overall.
  • Contest will close at 11:59pm E.S.T. on Sunday, September 30th. The winners will be announced and prizes sent out on October 5th.
If you are participating please feel free to right click save the contest button and post it with a link back to the contest page. I would also love it if you would share the contest information on Facebook, Pinterest or any other social media sites you might be part of.


First Place
 First place winners in each category will win a 6 piece cotton napkin set from Solstice Fiber Arts with their chosen initial or symbol and color.


Second Place 
Second place winners in each category will receive a set of 4 felted fruits in a cornucopia just perfect for a harvest time nature table!

Third Place
Third place winners in each category will receive a box of liquid fruit pectin, a box of regular mouth canning lids and a box of wide mouth canning lids to get you started on next year's canning.

Happy Canning! Check back here often to see any new entries!

Picnic Time

Summer time in our house is picnic time and yesterday we got to go on our first picnic of the season! 
Half the fun of picnic time is getting everything ready. Our menu consisted of roast chicken, deviled eggs, broccoli and pumpkin bread.

Will and I started by boiling eggs and making pumpkin bread from some frozen pumpkin we preserved last year. We even made an extra loaf that's sitting in the freezer waiting for a special occasion.

Once the pumpkin bread was in the oven it was time to finish the deviled eggs. We used Wasabi Mayonnaise from Trader Joe's instead of regular mayo and they turned out incredible! I also used my homemade cucumber relish that you see in the picture. I'm definitely going to have to make more of that relish this summer! Yum!

With everything ready it was time to pack up the basket. I love using mason jars to bring our drinks. It enables us to bring something for each of us without creating a colossal mess!

There were no open picnic areas at the front of the park so we had to follow the road back to the little shelter house.

Where we then unpacked our awesome dinner!I think it's a nice looking spread if I do say so myself!

Once everything was eaten and put away, it was time for play. First on the list was exploring this hollow log. Sometimes, Mother Nature makes the best playgrounds!

Next on the agenda Daddy got to chase Will through the playground equipment and help him slide down the pole and swing across the monkey bars. Daddy doesn't fit too well in children's play equipment, but he was a good sport about it and tried his best.

What a wonderful picnic! There is very little that's better than good food, good times and great family outings!

Hope you enjoyed going along on our family picnic! I've included some of my favorite tips for making you picnic spectacular! I used to be intimidated by the thought of packing and schlepping food around, but after a few tries I learned to love it and as soon as we come home from one picnic I can't wait to go on the next!

  • I said it above, but I'll say it again, MASON JARS! They are perfect for packing your beverages. 
  • CHICKEN! Fried chicken, roast chicken, bbq chicken, cold chicken. However you cook it chicken is a perfect picnic food. 
  • Make sure you have a nice sized picnic basket. Before I got the picnic basket we have now I sometimes used just a regular large sized wicker basket. 
  • Keep a set of melamine dishes on hand just for picnic times. You can also keep a set of napkins on hand as well. (Solstice Fiber Arts Studio sells custom cotton napkins for awesome prices on Etsy!)
  • There are lots of books and articles on picnics, but check out bento box lunch info as well. Lots of cute ideas especially for the little ones. 
  • Make the entire experience an event from the time you start getting ready to the moment you come home. It's not just about the picnic itself, but about putting it together and reflecting as well. 
  • Make your picnic a date for you and your significant other. Picnics can be super romantic as well as super family oriented.

Hopefully this post has you thinking about what to do on your own family picnic. I've added some really cool things in the  Walnut Cottage Home Store for you to take on your picnic. There's a little bit of everything there from play picnic sets for the kiddos to wine and cheese picnic baskets for the adults. Check it out! 

And don't forget, when you go on your own picnic be sure to come back here and leave me a link to your blog post or tell me about your experience in the comments! I'd love to see all your ideas and family adventures!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Let The Canning Begin!

Well friends, the spring chickens have all been butchered and put in the freezer, the summer garden is in and starting to grow quickly and now it's time for canning season. I almost always start off my canning season with strawberry jam and this year is no exception. Although, this year the batch is smaller than normal because the strawberries came on so early that there wasn't time to get to them.

Only about 4 cups of smooshed berries this year.

Still makes for a lot of hot pots on the stove! (I never realized just how black and silver my kitchen is until I looked at this picture!)

I forgot how yummy the berry mixture smells when it's cooking.

And of course here's the finished product. It may be a small batch, but it will be mighty tasty!

Of course, I think with all of the herb jellies I'm planning on this year we will be just fine! I've made a list below of what I'm hoping to get put up this season. It's pretty ambitious so I'm not sure I will be able to tackle it all, but I will be posting updates throughout the summer as I mark things off the list.

If you are new to canning and want a really great reference guide let me suggest The Complete Book of Home Preserving. During the summer canning season it's always close at hand when I'm in the kitchen.

I would also suggest buying a magnetic wand. I forget about this every year until canning season rolls around and I end up burning my fingers, but then I never remember to buy one when I'm not in the middle of canning.

Of course my birthday is next week...and it is on my Amazon Wishlist...hint...hint...

Finally, if you are an old hand at canning, or even a newbie looking for a challenge, keep an eye on this blog because later in the week I will be posting information on a canning contest! Stay tuned!

My Canning Season To Do List
Early Season Canning
Crab Apple Jelly
Mint Jelly
Herb Jelly
Spiced Crab Apples
Strawberry Jam
Chicken Soup
Chicken Stock
Lemon Sage Wine Mustard

Tomato & Mid Season Canning
Cocktail Sauce
Spaghetti Sauce
Mustard Pickles
Dill Pickles
Green Beans
Cucumber Relish
Veggie Soup

Late Season Canning - After Labor Day
Salsa Verde
Apple Sauce
Apple Butter
Green Tomato Relish
Green Tomato Chutney

Friday, 25 May 2012

Tea Gardens

If you've been following along with this blog you will know that our family is a huge fan of tea time. We are also herb gardeners and enthusiasts. So, I figured, now that our herbs are in full swing due to the warm weather I would post about a few of them and their uses.

Bergamot (Monarda didyma)
Not to be confused with the Bergamot orange plant this wonderful herb is a favorite in our garden. It's name is derived from the fact that it smells and tastes very similar to the Bergamot orange which serves as the flavoring for Earl Grey tea. It is also known as Bee Balm or Oswego Tea. It's very easy to grow and is really an enjoyable tea plant to have in the garden. 

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
Hyssop is known as the "holy herb" and has been much loved for it's cleansing properties since ancient times. It is mentioned several times in the bible, but most famously in a passage from Psalms, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean". It makes an agreeable tasting green tea and is sometimes used often in conjunction with the next herb I'm going to talk about.

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare)
Most people are familiar with good old fashioned horehound candy and this is the plant it is derived from. It has a high mucilage content which makes it a great soothing drink. As mentioned above it is sometimes used with hyssop. However, before you go brew yourself a cup of straight horehound tea, please be advised that it is a very bitter herb! You will need to add some kind of sweeter and maybe even temper the flavor with other herbs. Mint is always a good choice for this.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Such a wonderful summer time tea plant. The lemon balm plant is great in both hot tea and iced tea. As the name implies it has a lemony flavor that's very refreshing. We make it mixed with a few other cooling herbs as an iced tea for our family summer solstice celebration. It can also be used in place of lemon in recipes. Just make sure you taste it frequently so you know how much you're putting in. I've also heard of it being used in sorbet, but have not tried it yet. So, if anyone does try it, let me know what you think!

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Cats love it and you will too! This herb makes a beautiful light green tea with a mild flavor. We often mix it with some mint at our house for soothing before bed drink. Easy to grow and very prolific. Once it's in the garden though it's not easy to get rid of.

Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
First, let me issue you a warning if you try to grow mints! They spread like wildfire and are nearly impossible to kill. They will be around partying with all of the processed sweet treats, that we hear don't ever decay, and the cockroaches after the end of the world! That said, they are an amazing tea plant and one that everyone should have in their tea garden. You just want to make sure it is contained in an area where you don't want anything else to grow or better yet grow it in a pot. And if tea isn't you're thing then you can always make the leaves into mojitos or mint juleps! 

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
The leaves, roots and flowers of the Marshmallow plant can all be use for making a fabulously mild and soothing tea. The Marshmallow plant has a high mucilage content which makes it a great choice for a tea that is calming to the mouth, throat and stomach.

This is only a small taste of what we have in our gardens that can be made into tea. There are so many more herbs that make amazing tea plants that you wouldn't even think of. Sage tea, for one, is a favorite at our house. Lavender is another one that, while usually thought of only in perfumery, can make an amazing tea or even a flavored sugar for hot tea.

I will very soon have these very plants up for sale at our Poppy Swap store. They are all naturally grown with no pesticides, so if you're in the market for some dried herbs please think of us! And if you're here local and are interested in fresh herbs send me an email and I'll let you know what's in season!