Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Gentle Breeze of Good Will

I went to India in February of this year for three weeks. It was a humanitarian trip to a Tibetan Monastery in northern India to provide medical care to seven different Tibetan refugee camps. The group, Humanitarian Efforts Reaching Out, was comprised of medical doctors, nurses, a couple of guys who can build anything and an extraordinary photographer. My role was two-fold, as a sherpa … we took everything we needed in 50 pound suitcases … and to keep track of the people we saw and the ailments we treated. I know my way around a spreadsheet.

I loved India. It's magical. The colors, the food, the people, the landscape. Yes it has its down side, but the magical part captured by heart.

At the Monastery, we had daily teachings with Tulku Tsori Rinpoche, the religious leader and teacher. He talked, quite a bit, about compassion. He said, "True compassion is understanding that we must never be the cause of suffering or harm to anyone."

I've thought about that one statement a lot lately. The recent hatred that's been spewing forth in cities and communities across this country and the passive acceptance by those who should be denouncing it literally broke my heart. For as long as I've been alive, the conversation about discrimination based on sex, race, age, disability, color, creed, national origin and religion and the fight to eliminate it has been going on. No matter how far we progress, we just don't ever seem to get over this hurdle.

I took this picture of these Tibetan prayer flags at the Monastery as one of my final shots. They had been blessed by the Rinpoche as had all of our group. We left with a greater understanding of compassion and the gratitude that comes in service to others.

Prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom. Tibetans believe that the prayers that these flags represent will be blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion.

It's a simple step to hang some flags. It's much harder to live the principles they represent. But these flags, for me, remind me every day who I want to be and how I want to go through the day.

It's time to spread good will and compassion, but we can't just depend on the wind … we must use our voices, words and actions to combat hatred.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

An Old Tin Can Transformed

My friend Rogelio owns a restaurant with one of the best salad bars in town. You could eat there every night for a week and never make a salad with the same ingredients. It has that many choices.

Most of it is fresh produce - I do live in the Salad Bowl of the World, so it better be. But he does make salads with some canned products - kind of the standard ones you'd find: 3 Bean, Black Bean and Corn, Beet and Mixed Olive. He buys the big #10 cans of the vegetables he needs. AND he was throwing them out in the recycling.

I said, "Rogelio, I want those cans. I can repurpose them." Of course, he gave them to me, shaking his head in disbelief that I'd go through the garbage to get them ... it wasn't so bad. I was on a mission!

So, I brought them home, cleaned them up, sprayed them with a vinegar and water mixture and let them sit outside until they rusted.

And they're beautiful!

I attached a leather belt with a few rivets as a handle - got that at the Goodwill for $2. I sealed them with a clear spray so the patina would be protected.

You can find them on my Etsy store —  Baby Girl Farms — it you want to add a touch of fall to your home decor. You can thank Rogelio!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Symbolic Passion

Passion fruit,  Passiflora edulis — just one of the most beautiful flowers. Just down the road from my house, I stumbled across a fence covered in the vine. It was early morning and the flowers were just unfurling in the warm morning air. And the fruit was just beginning to form.

To me, the flower looks like like something out of a Dr. Seuss story. But that's not how it got its name. Here's the story:
It was named by 16th century Spanish missionaries who came across it in South America. Everything about it meant something to them (the following is from Wikipedia):

  • The pointed tips of the leaves were taken to represent the Holy Lance.
  • The tendrils represent the whips used in the flagellation of Christ.
  • The ten petals and sepals represent the ten faithful apostles (excluding St. Peter the denier and Judas Iscariot the betrayer).
  • The flower's radial filaments, which can number more than a hundred and vary from flower to flower, represent the crown of thorns.
  • The chalice-shaped ovary with its receptacle represents a hammer or the Holy Grail
  • The 3 stigmas represent the 3 nails and the 5 anthers below them the 5 wounds (four by the nails and one by the lance).
  • The blue and white colors of many species' flowers represent Heaven and Purity.
An interesting blog about the healing power of the passion flower. 
I use the fruit to make jam! It's really good! Here's the recipe:

Passion Fruit Jam
20 Passion Fruit
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
Pectin - on hand, if needed

Cut Passion Fruit in half, scoop out seeds and set aside.
Boil skins until soft and transparent - scoop out pulp.
Blend pulp and seeds together.
Cook pulp and seeds - bring to boil then simmer until thick.
Ladle in to jars. Water bath or store in refrigerator.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

From My Bookshelf

Add caption
For anyone who lives by the cycle of the seasons, Jenna Woginrich's book, One Woman Farm, is a celebration of that rhythm. The book chronicles a year-in-the-life at her place, Cold Antler Farm, in upstate New York. With bewitching insight, she harvests the aura of farm life that keeps some of us, with muck boots firmly planted, tied to our homesteads. If you've ever daydreamed about a life defined by the time of year and not by the time of day, then this book will capture your spirit and send it in search of its own patch of land.

She sorts the book into seasonal chapters — autumn, winter, spring, fall and, her most-loved Holy October. Interspersed throughout are spellbinding characteristics that define her time on the farm: cider making in October, lambing in winter, milking lessons in spring and summer gliding in her hammock. She weaves a rich tapestry that is her farm life, complete with tending to her animals, planting a garden, completing unending chores and daily learning, inspiring us to take a step out of our artificial time zones and embrace Earth's natural life cycle.

Her expressive prose is romantic, revealing the intensity of her love for her livestock, her land and her life. It's not easy. The work is hard. The hours long. The trials at times overshadow the rewards. Her lifeline is her determination. She says, "It's harder to fail when success is your only choice for survival."

If, as part of your daily routine, you traipse between chicken coops and tomato beds, eat apples standing under the tree and get goosebumps at the farm store, you will find a kindred spirit in Woginrich and the blueprint to making a dream happen.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

So Good Hand-cranked Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

The custard
The other night, I was half-watching a Food Network show with my guy when suddenly my ears perked up. The host was making vanilla ice-cream in an old hand-crank machine.

Custard into the canister.
I nudged my guy, who was also apparently only half watching (sitting on the couch always makes our eyes droopy), and said, "Wouldn't that be fun to do?" He didn't respond. It could have been that he was actually asleep ... hmmm.

Well, the next morning, there in the kitchen was an old hand-crank ice cream maker. Apparently, he wasn't asleep! The machine had been his dad's and had been sitting in the garage for probably 30 years. He scrubbed it clean and that night we made vanilla bean ice cream. Yippee!

We used fresh eggs from our chickens, heavy cream, whole milk, a little sugar and and one crazy looking vanilla bean. We cooked those ingredients together to make a custard. Once that was cooled, we poured it in to the steel canister, slid in the paddle and locked it down. That canister is then locked in to the wooden bucket with the handle mechanism and then the fun begins.

We cranked! For about 20 minutes. That's all it took to get rich, creamy, delicious ice cream.

So worth the effort. We've been eating it plain. We topped it with strawberries and blueberries. I even added a few chocolate chips — ok maybe more than a few.

But the best way to eat it is right out of the canister! You can lick the paddle!

We used the recipe from the Food Network's Farmhouse Rules.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

My Fair Share

I took a step away from my garden last month and headed to the Minnesota State Fair for a bucket list moment … how much fried food-on-a-stick could my guy and I eat? Turns out we managed to eat 25 different foods in 12 hours. We started the day with fried cheese curds and ended with deep fried pickles — in between we snacked on fried … peanut butter cups, tomatoes, corn fritters, a twinkie, bacon, baklava, donuts, cheese … and that was just in the morning.

Any state fair is a smorgasbord, but not just of food. What really draws me to the fair is the reason state fairs began. Agriculture. Farming. Livestock. A celebration of the rural life. 

As a gardener, I want to see the 14 rows of dried corn cobs showcased in the seed exhibit. It means something to me that 700,000 bushels of corn are grown in Anoka County, where the fair is every year; that 100 bushels of corn produces approximately 7,280,000 kernels. It’s these kind of facts and figures that keep people coming back each year. 

That and the deep fried grilled cheese sandwich bites.

There are fragrant and aromatic livestock barns filled with cows and pigs and horses. One entire  barn is devoted to chickens, geese, turkeys, ducks, pigeons, pea hens and rabbits. An utter bonding of coop animals. Each animal has its own 4-H’er who’s hoping to win the blue-ribbon-best-of-show prize. Camping out in the stall seems to be part of the process. Not sure why they have to wear white pants. That seems to be a real walk on the wild side choice. The barns were full of nose-holding gawkers drawn to the fair for this tip toe through the sawdust moment.

And the deep fried baklava.

The Great Minnesota Get-together, as it’s called, was named by USA Today in 2015 as the best state fair in the U.S. I discovered the secret to its success — the Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter sculpture. I stood rooted to a spot outside a glass-walled refrigerated room and watched a woman turn a 90-pound block of Grade A butter into a life-like effigy of the reigning Princess Kay as she sat bundled up in clothes fitting for the worst of a Minnesota winter. Each of the 11 in her butter court get their own butter head. The best part? They get to take them home, where apparently many have butter parties! Talk about knowing which side your bread is buttered on. The dairy industry is brilliant! If only I could butter up a princess and get invited to her butter party. That would bring me back.

That and the deep fried cheese stick.

In a corner of the Creative Activities (aka as Home Economics) building I found nirvana. The canned food display. Hundreds of jars filled with the best a summer garden has to offer. Jams and pickles ruled the day, but tucked in between were the best efforts of applesauce, sauerkraut, tomato juice and fruit butter — not fried, but still looking delicious — makers.

My heart swelled in harmony with my fellow canners. At least I think that’s why.

It could, of course, have been the deep fried rueben sandwich I had just eaten.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Flower Power

Matricaria chamomilla -
German chamomile
"If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair." - John Phillips

This song always reminds me of daisies. And I love daisies ... of all shapes and sizes. And those flowers that look like daisies, but really aren't like Helianthus annus, sunflowers and Matricaria chamomile. Woven together, these flowers make the definitive  flower crown so reminiscent of an era of peace, love and Bobby Sherman.

As a  child of the 60s, that's my era. The flower power movement, and all that came with it, was blossoming right as I was. That time is a comfort zone for me. My kids tolerate the fact that my radio is tuned to the oldies station, that my fondness for the Mamas and the Papas, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Beach Boys and the Beatles, and so many other distinctive bands is less about any dislike for current music - much of which I love - but more about how that time defined who I am.

A flower-child hippie!

That's what I love about gardening. I can wander around in my tie-dye t-shirt, hair down, hands dirty from digging in the dirt with Peter, Paul and Mary blaring from Pandora on my iPhone planting seeds on my two-person commune. Oh the irony of life!

I grow chamomile because the dried flowers make a very soothing tea. I also grow it because its flower is a bright, cheery face in my garden. That's also why I grow sunflowers and asters and brown-eyed Susans. I also get to blast Van Morrison's Brown-eyed Girl when they bloom.