Liquids and Libations 101: Lemon and other “ades”, juices, natural sodas and more…

Commercial sodas are really bad for you but sometimes you just want something festive or flavorful with a meal, at a party or just because you can.  I love the idea of making your own alternatives. When my kids were young, I made a simple “soda” for them using sparkling water with juice concentrates added.  Perrier was my personal go to. Still is.  (It also comes with lemon, lime or grapefruit already added.)  My youngest used to say that it was “fuzzy” meaning the fizz so I still call my homemade sodas “fuzzy”. perrierflavoured660-660wtart-cherry-juice

Most supermarkets now carry unsweetened juice concentrates. R. W. Knudsen’s line includes black or tart cherry, pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry and black currant, all organic.  Dont’ confuse these with ready to drink juices, however. These concentrates are unsweetened, highly concentrated liquids and are meant to be more healthful that sugary juices. Because they are concentrates, they can be expensive, but they keep for a really long time and a little goes a long way.    While kids might miss the sweetness a bit, you can always add a little honey or simple syrup made with organic cane sugar.  A little goes a long way so these homemade sodas contain much less sugar than commercial ones. You can also add other juices to your “fuzzy” water but if you are trying to maintain a lower sugar content, stick with the concentrates.  You can really mix just about anything and come up with something amazing.  And don’t forget that veggie juices (carrot or beet), herbs and edible flowers can make great additions to these types of beverages, too.

Try freezing some fruits like watermelon, strawberries or peaches, run then thru your Magic Bullet or Ninja and add that puree to sparkling water.   Or freeze whole fruits or purees in ice cub2D274905980369-today-food-icecubes-raisinandfig-140530.today-inline-largee trays and add that to your water.  I love the idea of freezing herbs, flowers, fruits, etc. into ice cubes, using juice instead of water (although I love pretty things frozen in ice cubed made with water, too).  Not only do they satisfy your tastebuds, the aesthetics will please your eye, too.

 

 

 

 

Below are some other recipes I found particularly appealing.

HoneyBasilLemonadeGrapefruit Soda with Honey, Lemon* and Basil

72429ca8c55298387ac933d9a5b17c73Lavender Lemonade* (and other cool things you can do with lavender)   Most people know that lavender smells wonderful and is a calming influence on humans.  We put it in soaps, candles, scent diffusers…all kinds of olfactory settings.  What most people don’t know is that it can be a pleasant addition to foods, as long as it isn’t overdone.  It is cloying of you use too much but paired with lemons, it can be delicious.   The link I included here actually goes to a Pinterest page I follow that has all kinds of suggestions for using lavender in edibles and libations.  I didn’t include a recipe here because if you Google Lavender Lemonade there are literally so many to choose from I couldn’t decide on which one I liked the most.  My own recipe is simple.  I use organic lemons, so I can slice them and pack into a half gallon jar and cover with water.  I make a simple syrup using a food grade lavender essential oil and organic cane sugar (I always make extra because I use it in other things, too) and sweeten the lemon water as it is served over ice.  The lavender in my syrup is made to my own particular level of strength so you can adjust to whatever taste profile you like.   Since the sugar is already dissolved in the syrup, it blends instantly and you can have your lemonade as sweet or tart as you desire.  As I stated earlier, remember that less is more when using lavender in edibles.  Several recipes I saw online used honey but I find honey overpowers the delicate flavor I like personally.  Lavender lemonade can be very soothing and I have even read articles that claim that it can relieve headaches although I have not experienced that myself.
( *I do make lemonade but because I am not a huge lemon fan, lots of times I substitute lime in anything that calls for lemon. Lavender is one thing that is better with lemon, however. )

 

Heirloom Beans-The Giving Sister

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Ayocote Negro Beans

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Mother Stollard’s Beans

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Hidatsa Shield Bean

Sanfrancisco

San Francisco Beans

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of a series on what I call “antique” vegetables or more commonly known these days as heirloom vegetables.   One thing all humans have in common is that we have to eat to live. That is a thread that sews together the fabric of human existence. I love the idea of eating something that is ancient.  It is like there is a purity to it that is lacking in other foods. It not only feeds my body, it feeds my soul, touches something in me that nothing else does.  I imagine what it would be like to live in another time and place and tasting something that someone who lives 100 or more years ago also tasted puts me in touch with that in ways I can’t explain.  It is really and truly living history, a connection with the past.  Culinary time travel in a dish.

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Collection of Heirloom Beans

I am sure you noticed that the title above refers to heirloom beans as being “one of the 3 sisters”.  Corn, beans and squash were grown by early Mesoamericans as part of their staple diet.  According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac:

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Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg

“Corn, beans, and squash are called the “three sisters.” Native Americans always interplanted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters.  By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

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Hutterite Beans

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting. 

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans needed support.
  • The beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three. 
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons, which don’t like to step on them.  
  • Together, the three sisters provide both sustainable soil fertility as well as a heathly diet. Perfection!  
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Jacob’s Cattle Beans

Of course, the corn that these ancient agrarians grew was much different from what we grow today, as well as the beans and squash.  It is possible to find some of these very old varieties and try them for yourself in your home garden or in your kitchen!

Where to find heirloom beans to eat

  • Rancho Gordo calls itself a “New World Specialty Food” company. Rancho Gordo is located in Napa, Calif. and their selection of beans reflects the influence of Mexican and Native American culture.  They buy beans directly from small farmers in Mexico and have been instrumental in helping to save indigenous varieties.  Because these beans have not been hybridized into bland imitations of the originals they retain characteristics that made them staples of the diets of the populations in regions where they were grown.  Recipes at the site.  Rancho Gordo has also published a great book about beans available on AMAZON.
  • Marx Pantry sells heirloom dry beans in bulk (for cooking).  Excellent varieties in sizes ranging from 1 lb. up to 10 lbs.  Lots of other products as well.
  • Elegant Beans offers 28 different varieties of heirloom dry beans.  They also have collections of regional and themed varieties available.  Mohr-Fry Ranch, the grower, has been around since 1855, so it is gets heirloom status, too.   Beautiful selection of beans.
  • Zursun Idaho Great selection of heirloom beans, peas and lentils. Also some grains.
  • Purcell Mountain Farms  A personal favorite.  Not just heirloom beans.  And organic, of course!
  • North Bay Trading  has a nice selection of beans and lentils, as well as some interesting dried veggies and fruits.   Some organic, some not.

 or beans to grow

  • Seed Savers Exchange is the “granddaddy” of heirloom seed collections.  Their selection of heirloom bean seeds (organic and conventional) have names like Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg and Turkey Craw and are as much fun to grow as they are to eat.
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Suprisingly, Baker Creek doesn’t have much of a selection of heirloom bean seeds but I am listing them here anyway.  They do have a great selection of peas.
  • Native Seed  is one of, if not THE, all time favorite seed saving organizations in my archives. Native and indigenous seeds as well as other adapted varieties.  When I first started following them back in 1997, they were not nearly the powerhouse they are today. It thrills me to see how successful success they have become.  Their collections also include the other two sisters…corn and squash.   I LOVE them!  One note:  When you visit their website, click on the pictures of the varieties so that the list of what they have available will open as a new page.  When you look at their opening page of seeds, it looks like they just list beans but when you click the pic, they actually have 78 varieties!  I have never see such beautiful beans, not to mention everything else. Just reading the descriptions is like a lesson in the history of the American Southwest and Mexico, told through food. Many of the descriptions tell you exactly where the seeds were originally collected.  Fascinating stuff.
  • Heritage Harvest Seeds amazing and extensive collection of heirloom bean and other seeds at this site.

 

Heirloom Squash: The Hungry Sister

Amid the melting pot and hodgepodge of cuisines in the U.S., sometimes you have to wonder, “What is American food?” The answer to that question is squash. There are so many types and varieties of squash, I don’t even know where to begin, so I will start with the basics.1d7c97e61bfabeaa8ded012753379bce

The English word “squash” derives from askutasquash  in the language of the Nahahiganseck Sovereign Nation, the native Americans who controlled the area surrounding Narragansett Bay in present-day Rhode Island, portions of Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts. This was documented by Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, in his 1643 publication, A Key Into the Language of America.  Similar words for squash exist in related languages of the Algonquian family in places such as Massachusett. So, now you know.

The Hungry Sister is popular all over the world but she was born here in North America. Squash is native to North America its name translates roughly to “eaten raw” in native American cultures. The Three Sisters were the three main indigenous plants used for agriculture: maize (corn), beans, and squash. These were usually planted together, with the cornstalk providing support for the climbing beans, and shade for the squash. The squash vines provided ground cover to limit weeds and retain moisture in the soil.

Squashes are four species of the genus Cucurbita, also called pumpkins and marrows depending on variety or the nationality of the speaker. Squashes are categorized as summer squash or winter squash, depending on when they are harvested.  Squash is considered a Berry, with an outer wall or rind and a Fleshy interior and seed cavity. In addition to the fruit, other parts of the plant are edible. Squash seeds can be eaten directly, ground into paste, or pressed for vegetable oil. The shoots, leaves, and tendrils can be eaten as greens. The blossoms are an important part of native American cooking and are also used in many other parts of the world. In Mexico, the flower (known as Flor de Calabaza) is preferred over the fruit, and is often cooked in soups or used as a filling for quesadillas.  Gourds are members of the Cucurbita family, also.  In fact, the word “cucurbita, means gourd in Latin. Gourds have been a part of human history for thousands of years, used as everything from food to vessels to ceremonial garb and ornamentation.285237

Four species of the genus Cucurbita are called squash or pumpkins rather indiscriminately, which can be confusing.  Because it is a huge botanical family, unless you are an expert, it is hard to keep up with the differences, since there are many branches and subfamilies of cucurbitae.

  • C. maxima includes the large winter squashes (such as Hubbard and Banana) and some large pumpkins, and numerous smaller varieties such as Buttercup and Mooregold. On this species the peduncle (fruit stem) is spongy and swollen, not ridged. 
  • C. pepo includes the small pie pumpkins, standard field pumpkins, acorn squash, vegetable spaghetti, zucchini, summer crookneck squash, pattypan and most other summer squashes, as well as small ornamental gourds.
  • C. moschata includes butternut squash, among other
  • C. mixta includes the cushaw varieties.

Summer squashes, including young vegetable marrows (such as zucchini [also known as courgette], pattypan, yellow crookneck and kusa) are harvested during the summer, while the skin is still tender and the fruit relatively small (under 2 feet in length). They are consumed almost immediately and require little or no cooking.
Pattypan squash is a summer squash notable for its round and shallow shape with scalloped edges, somewhat resembling a small toy top. The name “pattypan” derives from “a pan for baking a patty.” Its

Bennings Green Tiny PattyPans

French name, “pâtisson,” derives from a Provençal word for a cake made in a scalloped mold.  Pattypan comes in striped, yellow, green, and white varieties. In fine cuisine, its tender flesh is sometimes scooped out and mixed with flavorings such as garlic prior to reinsertion; the scooped-out husk of a pattypan also is sometimes used as a decorative container for other foods. The simple white patty pan is nearly identical to similar squash grown 3000 years ago, making it likely that it was grown as one of the three sisters by some ancient tribes.

Zucchini (US, Australian, and Canadian English) or courgette (New Zealand and British English) is a small summer marrow or squash, also commonly called “Italian” squash. However, zucchini, like all summer squash, is native to the Americas and was introduced to Europe during the time of European colonization of the Americas. Ironically, American familiarity with the plant (and the nickname Italian squash) came about when an improved version of zucchini was re-introduced into the United States by Italian immigrants in the 1920s.  It can either be yellow or green and generally has a similar shape to a ridged cucumber, though a few cultivars are available that produce round or bottle-shaped fruit. Unlike the cucumber it is usually served cooked, often steamed or grilled. Its flower can be eaten fried or stuffed. Zucchini is commonly thought of as a vegetable, and in layman’s parlance, of course, this is more useful; however, by strict definition, the zucchini is a fruit, being the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower. Zucchini are traditionally picked when very immature, seldom over 10 inches length. Closely related, to the point where some seed catalogs do not make a distinction, are Lebanese summer squash or kusa (koosa), which closely resemble zucchini but often have a lighter green or even white color.

Winter squashes (such as butternut, Hubbard, buttercup, acorn, spaghetti squash/vegetable spaghetti and pumpkin) are harvested at the end of summer, generally cured to further harden the skin, and stored in a cool place for eating later. They generally require longer cooking time than summer squashes.

Long Neck Butternut

Asst. Ornamental Gourds

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Pumpkins & Blue Hubbards

 

 

WHERE TO BUY HEIRLOOM SQUASH SEEDS

Heirloom Corn: The Tall Sister

In the legend of the Three Sisters, corn was obviously named the Tall Sister.   The concept of this growing method is that the corn grows tall, offering the beans support.  The Giving Sister, beans (being legumes), pull nitrogen from the air into the soil, benefiting all three. The wide leaves and sprawling habit of the Little Sister (squash) protects the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and reducing the competition of weeds.  Makes perfect sense to me.

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Painted Mountain Indian Corn

It is estimated, based on genetic, botanical and archaeological evidence, that corn was first cultivated around 9000 years ago, originally grown from a possible natural hybridization of the similar plants…a now extinct wild maize and teosinte, a tall Mexican grass.  (Read NY TIMES article on origins of corn)  It absolutely fascinates me that we can trace so much of human history through food plants.  It is one of the reasons that I am so incredible drawn toward heirloom vegetables and fruits. They tell a story that you can experience with your senses…touch, smell, taste, sight.  There isn’t anything else in our experience that can do that.

All Corn is Not Created Equally!

Corn comes in a number of forms, the main ones being:

  • Dent (Zea mays indenata)  Dent corn is often used as livestock feed, in industrial products, or to make processed foods. Dent corn is also frequently referred to as “field” corn. Either white or yellow, dent kernals contain both hard and soft starch that become indented at maturity. Since the mid-1990’s, about 90% of all field corn (dent corn) grown in the U.S. is genetically modified and is used in everything from tortilla chips to corn oil. Field corn that is harvested when the seeds are dry would thus be considered a grain.
  • Flint (Zea mays indurata)  Flint corn, also known as Indian corn, is used for similar purposes as dent corn. Flint corn is distinguished by a hard outer shell and kernals with a range of colors from white to red. (You can remember that it has a very hard exterior by thinking of flint, the stone.) Today, most flint corn is grown in Central and South America.
  • Flour (Zea mays amylacea)  Flour corn is used in baked goods because it has a soft, starch-filled, kernel that is easy to grind. Flour corn is primarily white, although it can be grown in other colors, for example, blue corn. One of the oldest types of corn, flour corn was a chief type grown by Native Americans
  • Sweet (Zea saccharata or Zea rugosa)  Sweet corn is primarily eaten on the cob, or it can be canned or frozen for future consumption. Sweet corn is seldom used for feed or flour. Sweet corn when harvested before maturity is usually considered a vegetable. Sweet corn is extra sweet because it contains more natural sugars than other types of corn. (Field corn contains 4% sugar at the same stage standard sweet corn contains 10% sugar.) Almost 50% of the sugar can be converted to starch only 24 hours after sweet corn is picked, so it is best to eat it fresh!  Note: In 2012, genetically altered sweet corn made its way into supermarkets. Syngenta was the first biotech company to introduce a GMO sweet corn, in an attempt to corner that market. If you wish to keep GMO corn out of your diet, you can check this Non-GMO Project list for companies that are verified GMO-free. 
  • Popcorn (Zea mays everta) Popcorn, a type of flint corn, has a soft starchy center surrounded by a very hard exterior shell. When popcorn is heated the natural moisture inside the kernel turns to steam that builds up enough pressure for the kernel to explode. When the kernel explodes the white starchy mass that you like to eat forms. All types of corn will pop to some degree, but they won’t necessarily have enough starch to turn inside out, or an outside layer that will create enough pressure to explode . One of the oldest forms of corn, evidence of popcorn from 3600 B.C. was found in New Mexico!
  • The final type of corn on our list is pod corn (sometimes referred to as Indian corn, such as in the United States). Pod corn is more ornamental than its aforementioned cousins, due to the uniquely elongated kernels and varied color patterns. Pod corn typically isn’t grown commercially, other than for ornamental purposes.

Though these are the six major categories of corn, there are dozens of other special-purpose corns. Waxy corn, for example, is used as animal fodder or for thickening food. Ultimately, corn isn’t corn isn’t corn. As a consumer it’s important to know that corn used for specific industrial purposes is different than that used for human food.

Growing Corn in a Home Garden

Corn is relatively easy to grow but it does require a good bit of space in a home garden. It also requires warmer weather and a good bit of water to produce quality ears for fresh eating. Since most corns stalks only produce 1-2 ears of corn, it requires a lot of stalks to have much of a yield. By spacing out your plantings, you can have several harvests over the summer, instead of all of it coming in at once.   If you want to grow non-GMO corn, look for open pollinated (OP) varieties because those are generally heirlooms and you can save some seed for the next year, if you only plant one type.  Or you can buy organic seed (which can be OP or hybrid) which is legally restricted from being GMO.

Some heirloom varieties to try:

From Baker Creek:

  • Country Gentleman  Introduced in 1890 by S.D. Woodruff & Sons. Sweet, delicious and milky; tender white kernels on 8” ears. The ears have no rows, as this is a shoe peg type, and kernels are packed in a zigzag pattern. 90 Days to maturity.  Seed can be hard to find and in small quantities but being OP, you can save an ear or two for next season’s seed.  SWEET
  • Stowell’s Evergreen Among the oldest sweet corn that is still in production, predating the turn of the century. It is still a favorite of many, producing tasty white kernels. The plants used to be pulled up when completely ripe, and hung upside-down in a cool pantry; the ears would last well into the winter, in a semi-fresh state. SWEET
  • Oaxacan Green Corn  Stunningly beautiful ears of corn come in a range of greens, from yellow-green through emerald, with every imaginable shade in between. The deeply dented kernels have been used for centuries by the Zapotec people to make a regional favorite, green-flour tamales. Also makes excellent cornbread! DENT

From Restoration Seed:  Great selection of OP, heirloom, Non-GMO and organic corn varieties. Too many to pick one, so just go look for yourself. 

From Sustainable Seed:

  • Luther Hill Developed in 1902 by Luther Hill of Andover Township, Sussex County, NJ.; tolerates cooler weather; very SWEET
  • Golden Bantam Introduced to the corn market by W. Atlee Burpee in 1902;  great for fresh eating or freezing; very SWEET for an open pollinated heirloom corn

From SeedSavers Exchange:

  • Hop McConnell Speckled  “This seed was donated to Seed Savers Exchange by Fred Peirson. During the early part of the 20th century Hop McConnell Speckled corn was commonly grown in the area of Scott County, Virginia where Peirson grew up. His parents grew this variety and used the all-white ears for cornmeal and hominy.”
  • Black Aztec This heirloom corn was introduced to the seed trade by James J. H. Gregory in the 1860s and is said to have been one of the varieties grown by the Aztecs over 2,000 years ago.
  • Mandan Bride This heirloom corn is thought to have been developed by the Mandan Indians of North Dakota. Jewel toned, striped kernels make beautiful flour. One of the prettiest corns available.

From Native Seed  has collections of all types of maize and corn.  Too many to choose just one to list here.  Some of their varieties, like the Hopi Greasy Head, which is pink and purple to the Chapalote “Pinole Maize” which is so deep maroon it is almost black are among the most beautiful corns on the planet.  Take time to look through their collection.

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Kulli Aztec Black Corn

Chapalote Red Corn

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Oaxacan Green

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Navajo Robin’s Egg (Native Seed)

The Legend of the Three Sisters

When the difference between enough food and starvation depends on how successful a crops is, it becomes critical to know how best to grow for the best possible harvest.  Early agrarians were close observers of the cycles of nature and they realized early on that certain plants enhanced the growing of others.   Understanding that these synergistic relationships existed led to the concept of companion and co-operative planting, both of which are elements of modern organic gardening.  I believe that the legend of the wisdom of the Sisters grew out of those concepts.

I love the legend of the Three Sisters. As with so many Native American tales, there is a wonderful lesson in the story.  So much wisdom can be found in myths and legends, plus sometimes there is a lot of truth. The story is about cooperation, interdependence and there is some solid gardening advice in the mix, too.

3-sisters

Because I am from North Carolina, where the Cherokee have a deep, rich history, I have a deep respect for that culture. Here is their tribal version of  the legend of the “three sisters”:

The first sister was very tall and strong; her name was Corn Girl, and she wore a pale green dress and had long yellow hair that blew in the wind. Corn Girl liked to stand straight and tall, but the hot sunburned her feet and hurt her. And the longer Corn Girl stood in her field, the hungrier she got. And every day more weeds were growing up around her and choking her.  The second sister was very thin and quick and fast, and her name was Bean Girl, but she wasn’t very strong. She couldn’t even stand up on her own. She was good at making food, but she just had to lie there stretched out on the ground, and she would get dirty and wet, which wasn’t good for her. The third sister, Squash Girl, was short and fat and wore a yellow dress. She was hungry too.

For a long time, the sisters didn’t get along. They each wanted to be independent and free, and not have anything to do with the other two. So Corn Girl stood there with her sunburned feet and got hungrier and hungrier. And Bean Girl lay there on the ground and got dirtier and wetter. And the little fat sister Squash Girl was hungry too. So Bean Girl talked to her sister Corn Girl and said, “What if I feed you some good food, and you can hold me up so I don’t have to lie on the ground and get all dirty?” And Corn Girl thought that was a great idea. Then little Squash Girl called up to her tall sister, “How about if I lie on your feet and shade them so you won’t get sunburned?” Corn Girl thought that was a great idea too.

So the Three Sisters learned to work together, so that everyone would be healthier and happier. Corn Girl helped Bean Girl stand up. Bean Girl fed Corn Girl and Squash Girl good food. And Squash Girl shaded Corn Girl’s feet and kept the weeds from growing up around them all.

 

Read more about The Sisters here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glass Versus Plastic

If you are reading this blog, then you know that I am all about getting back to basics in the kitchen.  I personally prefer glass over plastic in every situation.  Except for the occasional use of a ziploc bag, I try to keep everything edible out of plastic containers. I use stoneware and Corningware casseroles and I love all clear glass baking dishes.  In my kitchen I use glass canning jars for storage, especially the half gallon ones.

0e4f3af6c2f675801be212e3e2391921I store everything from staples like sugar and flour to pasta and beans in them.  Not only are they far superior to anything else I could use for storage, they just look really cool in the pantry.   Another thing about using glass jars is that saving them (only save the ones you might really use…trust me on that advice) can recycle them back into use.  You don’t have to buy new ones (unless you are canning…always have perfect jars when canning) unless you are going for the aesthetic of having them match.   You can also approach restaurants and other facilities that use gallon size jars (of pickles and other things that come in class containers) to save them for you. And if you want to “spice” things up, there are a number of sites online where you can print off beautiful vintage labels or just buy a can of chalkboard spray paint, paint the lids and you can write directly on them.

There are also some really cool retro jars available, as well as sets of glass storage containers in a variety of shapes, with snap on or glass lids.  I love old style “cracker” jars, the kind that used to be used in general stores for displaying food items.  They generally have screw on lids, so they are air tight and come in a variety of sizes.  And generally, you can also cook in these glass containers (tempered glass), adding to their appeal.  Arcylic containers and stainless steel containers are practical, too, but generally much more expensive and harder to find.

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L.to R.: :Cracker jar; Bormioli gasket top jar; Vintage glass canister; apothecary jars with glass stoppers; Starbucks Frappuccino bottles re-purposed into spice jars

Check out these sources for glass storage containers:

  • Pyrex  Pyrex, the industry standard as far as I am concerned when it comes to glass kitchenware.  One stop shopping, they have so many choices!!!  Pyrex also owns the brands Corelle, Corningware, Bakers Secret, Chicago Cutlery and Snapware
  • Weck Jars   Love these, too. Thanks for the reminder, Janet!  These canning jars all have glass lids and cool shapes.  Nice accessories, too.
  • Glasslock Food Storage Containers    Round, rectangle or square, tempered glass. Nice selection with  BPS free snap on lids.  Lids are not glass and are not heat resistant.  They also have TrueSeal glass rectangle containers that are a bit more decorative with a fluted edge. (Sold by the Container Store)
  • Glass Jars and Terrines Nice selection of bail topped jars, cracker jars, bottles and more (Sold by the Container Store)  There is a great selection of glass topped canisters and more  Check around their website for all products under the Kitchen Storage tab
  • Rubbermaid  Glassware with “easy find lids”
  • Storables has a great selection of Bormioli Fido Gasket Jars  If you don’t know what those are, click the link and take a look. This company also has square glass jars with glass lids, which is something unique and hard to find.  BormioliUSA website here   I threw this one is because I LOVE Bormioli jars and I thought I would share.
  • Ikea has some really cool glass containers
  • Fillmore Container Nice selection of glass jars. They even have the “honey bear” jars in glass which are hard to find.
  • Yankee Container Co  More glassware!!!

 

 

Liquids and Libations 101: Brewed Teas: Herbal, Infused, Traditional, Medicinal

I am a tea freak.  I freely admit it. I have to have tea at least once a day, sometimes more.  My usual “go to” tea is black tea. I like it strong (I put in 3-4 teabags for one cup).  I sugar it and lighten it, English style.  I have an ongoing love affair with the idea of a tea shoppe located down a narrow lane in a village in the English countryside.  Tea, served in the best bone china cups, with scones, clotted cream, marmalades and Madeleines. I can picture it now.

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Weavers Cottage Tea Shoppe, Cockington, Torquay, England

My relationship with tea started in childhood. My paternal grandmother was a tea drinker and she exposed me to it when I was very young.  When I spent nights with her, it was our morning ritual…to have a cup of tea first thing in the morning.  Strong, sweet and milky. And because I grew up in the South, I also love the ubiquitous “sweet tea” of my region. It is my guilty pleasure in an otherwise healthy diet.  I have tried to acquire a taste for unsweetened tea but my taste buds rebel at the first sip, so I have given up that quest.  And I refuse to buy tea in a bottle. Tea should never have preservatives added and should not be sweetened with HFCS.  To me, that is sacrilege, as well as just being unhealthy.

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Beautiful Matcha Powder

Green tea holds little appeal to me, even with all its touted health benefits. With the exception of  one beautiful brew I make with  green tea, blended with some sort of flowery or fruity flavor, depending on what I have handy, sweetened with honey.  One green tea that I do use regularly is Matcha.   “When you drink matcha you ingest the entire leaf and receive 100% of the nutrients of the leaf. Matcha powdered green tea has 137 times more antioxidants than regularly brewed green tea. One cup of matcha = 10 cups of regularly brewed green tea in terms of nutritional content. ~Matcha.com” This powdered green tea is the most amazing green color.  I use it to make a special health muffin because of the benefits it provides plus the color of the matcha powder remains vibrant even after baking. I have also made ice cream using matcha, coconut milk and pistachios and it is fabulous.  I have seen recipes for everything from brownies to pound cake made with matcha. Wellness Mama, a favorite blog of mine, also has a great page on matcha, too.

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Hibiscus Tisane

I am fond of a number of steeped herbal blends, which I cannot call teas because there is no actual tea in them.  What can I say?  I am a tea snob. Herbal blends are actually “tisanes”, which is a French word meaning “herbal infusion”.  Herbal tisanes are included here because of the method of preparation and because most people think of them as teas.  Although there are many pleasant ones that can be consumed just for the taste, many herbal teas are drunk for medicinal reasons.  Chamomile is relaxing, peppermint aids digestion and ginger will sooth an unset tummy. According to The University of Wisconsin School of Public Health and Medicine’s info on herbal tisanes, they can be a good alternative or addition to pharmaceuticals for some patients.  Side effects are generally few, but even those few are generally allergic in character.  Just keep in mind that the effects of some herbs may be powerful  and to use them with caution and the guidance of a professional when employing them for medicinal purposes.

Other beverages that are made using tea include kombucha, jun and pu-erh. These are all fermented teas and an acquired taste for many people.  Personally, I love kombucha and jun but I have not tried pu-erh.  In Thailand, tea leaves are pickled via fermentation and consumed as a snack.

There has been a lot of comment about the high levels of pesticides in teas in the news in recent months. Not just pesticides, but also heavy metals. Since most teas are imported to the U.S. a lot of them are grown in countries that do not have very strong regulations for pesticide usage and heavy metals can simply be in the soil,  both of which are unfortunate situations. In purchasing teas, especially since it has proven health benefits,  you are always better off with a higher grade and always certified organic. I can’t stress that enough. Additionally, much of the tea sold in supermarkets is an inferior grade and sometimes adulterated with additives.  To get the most benefit from drinking tea, spend the extra $$ and get the good stuff.

Tea Factoids

  • Tea is the second most consumer beverage in the world, after coffee and not counting water.
  • It is my personal opinion that loose leaf tea is far superior to bagged tea (tea snob, remember?)
  • If you like chai and you call it chai tea, you are basically calling it tea tea.  Masala Chai is the common name for the sweet, spicy Indian tea beverage so calling it chai is adequate.
    Personally, I love chai and make my own blend. Get my Recipes here.
  • In Japan, drinking tea is considered an art form. A ritual Japanese tea ceremony can take days for the host to prepare.
  • According to Twinings Tea, which has been selling tea since 1706, here are the Golden Rules of Tea Brewing:
    • Tea loves oxygen – it helps the flavor develop, so always use freshly drawn cold water in the kettle.
    • Make sure your pot is clean.
    • Warm the pot by swirling a small amount of boiled water in it.
    • For black tea, only pour on freshly boiled water and do not over-boil it.
    • For green tea, always use the water just at the boil.
    • One teaspoon of loose tea per person and one teaspoon for the pot is about right, but add as much or as little to make it to the strength you like.
    • Some people believe that sugar masks the flavors in tea. Try a fruit tea if you prefer a sweeter taste, maybe?
    • A tea cozy extends the brewing time and can make the tea bitter and stewed. A removable infuser or teabags can help to get round this problem.

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      Antique Victorian Tea Ball

Links to more TEA info here:

  • Strand Tea Company  This company has tons of teas, accessories, suggestions and information about teas, including its history across the world.  (Even though I recommend you buy organic teas,  this company doesn’t appear to have many organic teas. Just because the use of certified organic teas is something that is extremely important to me, I can’t hold anybody’s hand on that. It is a personal choice so I have listed this tea company here anyway.)  I did like the fact that they list the ingredients in their teas, so you could experiment with similar blends of your own.
  • Byzantine Flowers  This link will take you to a great list of herbs for teas and the properties of them.  There is a caveat about the medicinal properties of these herbs, so be sure to pay attention to that. This company has organic teas.
  • Monterrey Bay Spice Company  is one of my go to companies to order teas, spices, oils, etc.  They have a wonderful selection organic products.
  • Mountain Rose Herbs is my #1 most trusted company for organic bulk teas, spices, oils and more. Great selection of all things tea related, too.  They are in Eugene, Oregon.
  • Pangea Teas has a nice selection of green, black and white teas, herbal teas, yerba mate and cool “tea enhancers” like flavored sugars in cubes and all kinds of tea hardware for brewing. The FAQ page on their website is a wealth of information about the subject of tea. They only have two organic teas that I could find on their site, however.
  • Verdant Tea has an array of high end organic and Fair Trade teas.  You can shop for teas based on the farmers that produce them. They have a cool deal to try 5 of their teas for $5.00
  • The Tea Center has all manner of tea, directly from the growers. Loads of organic teas from around the world.  African tea is just coming into fashion and it is wonderful.
  • TeaViews has published a list of the top 30 (according to their research) tea companies, as well as a list of teas that you can check out individual comments about.   The info is good if you are a tea aficionado but for the average person, it might be a little overboard.  6,622 Tea Reviews Published — 5,532 Varieties & Blends — 374 Tea Companies total according to the website.

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Check out my Pinterest page titled “Tempest in a Teapot”  to see more beautiful teapots like these.

Liquids and Libations 101: Aquas Frescas and Flavored Waters

Summer is coming and with hot, steamy weather, I am almost as obsessed about cold, fruity, frosty drinks as I am about popsicles.   This is the first in the series “Liquids and Libations” which is all about some of my absolutely go to summer drinks.  I have a hard time making myself stay hydrated during the long, hot summers here where I live in the South, so I am always looking for ways to entire myself to drink more liquids.   Plus the ones I am sharing here are just plain DELICIOUS!!!

Agua Fresca

When I was running the organic farm in Oregon, one of my crew came every day during the summer with some wonderful homemade agua fresca.  It was my first experience with these amazing beverages and I was hooked from the start.  If you aren’t already making these, you are missing out on the true flavors of summer!  Perfect for parties, too.  Since they are non alcoholic (generally) you can serve to just about anyone.  aguas-frescas

Agua fresca (Spanish “fresh waters”) is a delicious libation that is a combination of fruits, cereals, flowers, or seeds blended with sugar and water to make light non-alcoholic beverages. They are popular in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and the United States.  There is just something about these flavorful drunks that refreshes and satisfies at the same time.  And even though they are made with sugar, they are worlds away healthier than sugary sodas. These flavored waters are easy to make and the possibilities for flavors are basically endless, although I tend to like the traditional ones better.  Mango, melon, tamarindo, pineapple and strawberry are my personal favorites, although I think the only limitation to possibilities might be your imagination!    Here are some suggestions to get you started.  The links will take you to websites with recipes!

That list should get you started but as you can see the possibilities of combinations of summer fruits is almost endless.

Flavored Waters

Unlike Aguas Frescas, flavored waters are exactly that…water that has simply been infused with a single fruit or vegetable or a combination. NO sugar added. All they require is a large container – I use a half gallon mason jar- your choice for flavor, filtered water and space in the fridge to let it get cold.    When you make fruit waters, you don’t want to use ice.  If the water is too cold when you first add your fruit/veggies you won’t get a lot of flavor.   One suggestion I have from my personal experience with making these is that if you are using herbs, you want to lightly bruise the leaves to release their flavor before you add to your combo.   Herbs like mint, rosemary and some of the more highly flavored ones are strong enough on their own without this step but things like lemon balm, fennel and/or more delicately flavored herbs sometimes just get lost in dilution if you don’t take this step.

  • 50 Naturally Flavored Water Ideas from 52 KitchenAdventures.com. The author of this blog wisely points out that flavored waters are a good way to look forward to drinking your daily need for water.  If you are like me, I really don’t like drinking water and making these tasty and beautiful waters is a real enticement to me.
  • Naturally Flavored Waters from The Yummy Life page.  Again good suggestions.  I love her KISS advice (Keep It Simple Stupid).
  • The Best Flavored Waters  from the Food Network.  I love the combinations they have using things like Ginger, Tomato, Basil and Fennel.  Some of these combinations can be soothing as well as hydrating.
  • Sassy Water   According to their website “Sassy water is spruced up water named by Prevention magazine in honor of its inventor Cynthia Sass, who created it for the “Flat Belly Diet”. Sassy water is delicious. The cucumber and lemon are natural diurectics. The ginger and spearmint help relieve bloating.”    Sounds good to me.
  • Detox Waters   50 more suggestions From 54 Health.  I love the idea of anything healthful and detoxing is something we can all use once in a while.  The very nature of drinking a lot of water is detoxifying so enhancing the flavor is just a bonus all around!   Some of the combinations listed on this site sound amazing.

 

 

I’m back!!!

I have not commented much lately because I really just haven’t had anything new to say. There is a reason for that. Several times a year, I go through something that I can’t explain. It is the changing of the season, the weather, the air…the way the whole planet and Universe feels to me. This year, when that seasonal change started, I didn’t have a field to plant or a farm to run, so I didn’t have my usual distraction to keep these things from really affecting me.  It is not unlike SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and I struggle with it. I tend to turn inward and tune out much of column2zzthe rest of the world.   With that said, I do have something I want to say today. I have been deep in reflection lately and some of this applies directly to me but mostly it is what I want to say to anybody reading this blog.

Life is short. Time not guaranteed to any of us and if you are living your life with too much negativity, that is how you will go out….with a whimper, instead of a bang. Don’t leave this world with any regrets. If you love someone, tell them. If they already know it, show them every day. Don’t hold back. If you are not living the life you want, change it. Make it happen. Don’t say you can’t do it. It might take some time but you CAN make it happen. Don’t think that anyone has the right to tell you how to live. You don’t need someone else to validate you so that you can have an authentic life. You are the ONLY validation you need. You are in charge of your life and if you let someone steal your power, that is on you. Reach inside yourself and find what it is that stokes your fire and fan those flames as hard as you can. Find who you were meant to be and just BE. Be real. Be fearless. Be amazing. It is inside of all of us. We are stardust, we are golden. It is what we were made for.