05 October 2013

The Carambola Tree

On the farm where we lived in Costa Rica, we had many kinds of fruit, oranges, mangoes, mandarines, water apples, mora, to name a few. But one fruit in particular, the carambola, makes me homesick for our tropical mountain top life. Carambola, or as it is known stateside, star fruit, grew on a large tree near the entrance to the farm. The trees branches brushed the ground all around,  you needed to push your way through the branches and stand inside the canopy of leaves and branches, in order to find the fruit. In the soft green/gold light under the branches, you would see the carambola fruits hanging from the branches in numbers that were completely hidden from view when looking at the tree from the outside. It was a magical place, quiet and cool, the ground padded with fallen leaves. You could comfortably stand up inside; it would be a great place to meditate, or for a picnic if it weren't for the vicious little biting ants that also appreciated the shelter and cool. Sometimes I would go in there and just stand,( in my ant proof knee high rubber boots...), taking in the beautiful light and the aroma of ripening carambola.

One day while standing in my carambola tree hideaway, I was blessed with a wonderful encounter. I was just getting ready to pick some fruit for juicing, when I heard a rustling sound behind me. Not knowing what might be joining me, (a poisonous snake came to mind...), I stood perfectly still. Soon a bird with big orange feet came into view.
On the mountain, our Tico neighbors don't know the actual name for it, they just call them Pajero Pato, or duck bird. It is more officially known as a Gray Necked Wood Rail. Photo http://naturalencountersbirdingtours.com since all my photos are taken with the bird in the shadows
For many months I had stalked this bird trying to get a good photo of it, but it is shy of people and disappeared into the undergrowth when it saw me coming. I would often see a pair of them down the lane on the farm under the giant mango trees, dabbling in a puddle after the rain, or ranging through the tall grass on the south face of our mountain, but this was the first time I had gotten to see it up close. Really close! The bird seemed totally unaware of my presence and spent several minutes rustling and scratching around for something good to eat. I dared not move anything but my eyes and lamented that I didn't have my camera with me, but it was quite a treat to just to get to observe it so closely. In the shadows under the tree, the curiously constructed bird with its giant orange feet and duck shaped body, looked rather drab, the color of dead leaves and mud. But as it strolled past me and popped out from under the branches of the carambola tree into the sunlight beyond, its gray neck feathers shimmered with a brilliant green and the mud colored feathers at the base of its neck and back glowed golden orange. It was what I like to call a "God Moment", a moment in time that will never occur again, when the Creator of the Universe is made very real to me.

Like mandarines, carambola are a fall and winter crop in Costa Rica. During the time that they were in season we would drink our fill of mandarine/carambola juice with our breakfast in the mornings. It was so fresh and delicious! Here in the states, the carambola is expensive, and sub par, being that they are usually picked and shipped green, so they don't normally develop their wonderful sweet, tanginess. But the other day I was checking out a new Publix grocery store near us and saw that they had some promising looking carambola. They were yellow on the edges and pinky orange near the center, just like they were when we picked them on the farm in Costa Rica. They were also on sale at $1.00 a piece, so I cheerfully grabbed a couple so that I could make a tropical fruit juice for Shabbat breakfast.

So this morning, when we had our Sabbath breakfast out in the Lil' Swiss Miss, (our 1957 Swiss Colony camper), which consisted of a bowl heaped with apples, oranges, plums, grapes, kiwi and bananas, we also had a rich and velvety glass of tropical fruit punch. Oh was it good!

I made the juice by running it through our Greenstar juicer, but it can be done about as well, (maybe a little pulpier), in a good blender. Here is the recipe:

                 Tropical Sunrise Punch

One ripe carambola
Six large mandarine oranges (also known as clementines), or 8 small ones, peeled
One orange, peeled
One very ripe Ataulfo or "champaign" mango (the small golden mango), or 1/2 a very ripe Tommy Atkins,(the large, thick bodied green and red mango), peeled and seeded.
3/4 cup fresh pineapple
0ne carrot

Run through the juicer and serve. If using a blender, blend all until smooth and strain to remove carambola seeds, citrus skins and pineapple and carrot pulp. It can be chilled, but I think the flavor is more pronounced at room temperature. Serves two in goblets, or four in juice glasses.

Sip and enjoy some of the photos I took of the birds that lived with us in Costa Rica!

Keel Billed Toucan on the farm, Sabalito Costa Rica 2009

Wood Nymph Arenal Observatory, La Fortuna Costa Rica 2009
Pair of Gray Necked Wood Rails dabbling in puddle on the farm, Sabalito Costa Rica 2009

Magpie Jay  on the farm in Sabalito Costa Rica 2009
Blue Crested Mot-Mot on the farm, Sabalito Costa Rica 2009
Chestnut Mandible Toucan, Bijagua Costa Rica 2011
Violet Saberwing in flight, Poas Costa Rica 2011

Violet Saberwing at rest, Poas Costa Rica 2011

Pura Vida!

24 September 2013

Thai Food Raw Style

Thai food is one of my favorite cuisines, so when I started eating vegan raw I was afraid that would be the end of my love affair with Thai food, but I have learned how to have my cake and eat it too! I started experimenting with the basic ingredients of Thai cuisine and have come up with some recipes that satisfy my taste for Thai.
One of the main stumbling blocks to creating authentic Thai dishes that are vegan is that so many of the dishes use fish sauce in them. To omit the fish sauce in Pad Thai wouldn't leave much as far as taste goes, but I have come up with a recipe for vegan "fish" sauce that has all the taste of the sea, but is 100% vegan and raw to boot! The sauce requires a little forethought since it needs a day or so in the fridge to assume its full character. It is a good idea to make it at least a day ahead, when time allows, to let it mellow a in the fridge before using.

Raw "Fish" Sauce

1/3 cup shredded seaweed, ( I use a combination of Wakame and Dulse)
1 1/2 cups water
2 fat cloves of garlic
1/1/2 tsp.peppercorns
1/2 cup Nama Shoyu or Braggs, or Tamari sauce.
1 Tblsp. Miso, red miso or barley miso
 Juice of 1 lime
1/1/2 tsp. organic sugar, (or comparable amount of alternative sweetener)
1/2 tsp. ground ginger or 1 1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. garlic granules
1/4 tsp. chili powder
2/3 cup shitake mushrooms, fresh or dried and soaked
Srirachi sauce, chile paste or cayenne powder to desired level of heat
Soak the seaweed in the water, if using dried shitake then add them to the soaking water as well. When the seaweed is hydrated, pour into a blender and add fresh shitake, ( if using dried shitake, when they are softened by the soaking water cap them and discard stems, then add to blender), blend to make a thick slurry. In a small personal blender place peeled and mashed garlic cloves, peppercorns, your choice of soy sauce equivalents, miso, lime juice vinegar, sweetener, and spices. Blend together to a fine paste, then add to the mushroom/seaweed mixture and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Refrigerate and allow to mellow a few days before using.

With the "fish" sauce problem solved I went on to convert some of my favorite Thai recipes to raw/vegan and invited friends to dinner to test my recipes. The dinner started off with Thai Tomato Coconut Soup, then we had Thai Spring Rolls with dipping sauces and Pad Thai. The meal went over well with our friends and I was happy with the results. As with any foods that are converted from cooked to raw, there is the whole "but this food isn't hot" thing to get past, but then the raw food begins to speak for itself... it is clean and fresh, the textures are interesting, the flavors complex and the colors vibrant. You are getting all of the food's nutritive value, satisfying your mouth and your stomach, you can eat until your heart is content and have no guilt or fear for your waistline... Seems like a pretty easy trade off to me!

This coming Tuesday I will be giving a demonstration for the preparation of a raw Thai Food meal at a raw food group I belong to. I am posting all the recipes for the demonstration here on my blog so that you and anyone who attends the meeting can have access to the recipes if they want to try them at home, so this post will be a little longer than usual.

Raw Pad Thai
2-3 servings
1 pkg. Gold Mine raw kelp noodles, (available at Earth Fare or Amazon.com)
Happy Pho brown rice noodles with seaweed, (available at Whole Foods)
1 cup bean sprouts
1 tsp. Sriracha or other chile paste, (optional but adds character)
1 Tblsp.Nama Shoyu, (soy sauce or Braggs depending upon your preference)
1/2 tsp.Chili powder
1 Tbsp. Uma Plum vinegar
1 scant tsp. sesame oil
1-2 clove garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 tsp.garlic granules
2-3 green onions, cut into thin strips
2 large Medjool date, pitted and soaked in scant 1/4 cup water
2 Tblsp. tamarind
Several sprigs cilantro
Juice of one lime
Carrots, shredded
Zucchini, shredded or julienned
Broccoli cut into small pieces
Red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
Peanuts or almonds chopped
1/3 cup "Fish" sauce
2 Tblsp. almond butter

  Combine the "fish" sauce, the tamarind paste, Sriracha,(optional), chili powder, fresh and granulated garlic, sugar, vinegar, Nama Shoyu or equivalent. If you are using the Happy Pho Brown rice noodles, soak 3 balls of noodles in 115 degree water for at least an hour. Drain well. If using the kelp noodles, drain well. Toss the noodles with half of the Pad Thai sauce and reserve the rest. Refrigerate several hours to allow the noodle to absorb flavors. Right before serving, toss noodles with remaining sauce, the carrots, zucchini, broccoli, and then top with bean sprouts, green onion strips, red bell pepper strips, cilantro and chopped nuts.

Spring Rolls
Happy Pho Brown Rice Wrappers, (can be purchased at Whole Foods or online at Amazon.com)
Shredded, Carrots
Shredded, Zucchini
Kelp noodles or rice noodles
Napa cabbage, shredded
Pickled daikon radish
Bell pepper, cut in thin strips

Place a container of  warm water near your works surface. Take one of the rice wrappers and soak in the warm water until it begins to soften. Place wrapper on clean work surface, smooth out until completely flat. Add small quantity of carrots, shredded zucchini, Napa cabbage,pickled daikon, basil, cilantro and bell pepper. On side of the wrapper closest to you, arrange the vegetables evenly over 1/3 of the wrapper, starting in an inch from either end to allow room to fold ends in. Add small quantity of kelp noodles to the vegetables if desired , then fold the side in over the vegetables. Carefully fold the side closest to you over the top of the vegetables and begin rolling the vegetables up "egg roll style"  in the wrapper. Keep a gentle but firm grip on the roll and tuck the vegetables in as you roll to keep things tight. If using the Happy Pho brown rice wrappers it will be necessary to soak and wrap the roll in a second wrapper, since the whole grain wrappers split fairly easily. If using regular rice flour wrappers, only one wrapper is necessary since there is no bran to make it less elastic.  Right before serving cut roll in half on a diagonal and serve with dipping sauces.
"Peanut" Sauce

 1 cup raw almond butter
1/4 cup coconut milk, make your own, (go here for recipe, or you can make it from young fresh coconut pulp(not quite as rich as milk from mature coconuts), or if you aren't concerned about it being 100% raw, you can find canned coconut milk and coconut creme in most grocery stores.
1/3 cup water
Juice of one large lime
2 Tbsp. Nama Shoyu or soy sauce
\2 tsp. "fish" sauce
1 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 cup cilantro
2 tsp. Srirarchi, chili paste or heaping tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tsp. Uma Plum vinegar
In a blender, blend all ingredients well. Refrigerate.

Spring Roll Dipping Sauce 

1 red chile, (fresh cayenne or ripe red jalapeno)
1 Thai bird chile
1 Tblsp. minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup organic sugar, or comparable quantity of sweetener of your choice dissolved in
1/4 cup 115 degree water
1  Tblsp. "fish" sauce 
1/3 cup vinegar. (equal parts Uma Plum vinegar and rice wine vinegar)
1 large mango

Blend ingredients well in a bullet blender and serve with Thai Spring Rolls.

Thai  Tomato Coconut Soup

This is a great way to start off a Thai dinner. This creamy soup only takes a few minutes, but it has a complex flavor and just enough "heat" from the chipotle to make you feel  like you are eating hot soup!

Serves 4 as first course or 2-3 as dinner

3 cups cherry tomatoes
3 Tbsp.coconut oil
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup cilantro
1 Tblsp.agave, maple syrup or honey
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1-2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tblsp. tomato powder, (optional but really adds something to the soup! You can find dehydrated tomato powder here, or make your own using sun dried tomatoes blended to powder in a bullet blender.)
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup chipotle en adobo or 1-11/2 tsp. chipotle powder
1/2 cup basil shredded thinly, (reserved for serving time)
1/2 avacado, cut in cubes, (reserved for serving time)
1/2 cup chopped cucumber, (reserved for serving time)
1 Tblsp.agave, maple syrup or honey

In a blender, combine all ingredients with 1/4-1/2 cup of water, (depending on the consistency desired. start with 1/4 cup water and ad up to 1/4 cup more if needed), and blend until smooth and creamy.  Divide avocado and cucumber into individual bowls, spoon soup into bowls and top with basil strips.

Blog Hops this post is linked to:
Clever Chicks Blog Hop #53

18 September 2013

A Day at Heart's Ease Cottage

The weather is cooling and the outdoors beckons...I love the fall. I hate to miss a minute of it by having to be inside, but there are lots of things that need doing this time of year, so this day was spent inside. I tried to make the inside feel like it was outside by opening all the windows and doors so that the cool breeze could waft through and the bird song could keep me company while I was working. My husband worked from home so that he would be available to help out with the "heavy lifting". It was great fun to work together!

We recently went on a trip to the mountains, while we were there we picked up a bushel of apples. The apples are beautiful this year! All the rain we got made the large and juicy. We bought 1/2 bushel of Zestar, a tart/sweet crunchy apple, that is good for pies and dehydrating, and 1/2 bushel of Honey Crisp, a sweet, juicy firm apple that is great for eating out of hand. Our first task of the day was to get the Zestar apples pared, cored, sliced and in the dehydrator. Fortunately, we have a handy dandy tool that does all of that in one operation! Da welded the apple gizmo while I soaked the prepared apples in citric acid for a few minutes and loaded them onto the trays.

Some of the apples were too soft to use as apple rings, so I made them into fruit leather...yum! I will post a "how to" and a recipe for Apple Pie fruit leather on another blog entry, so if you are interested check back in a few days!

The next task on the list was to make some spiced purple sauerkraut. I have been wanting to test out a recipe I thought up months ago, but I wanted to wait until the fall when all the produce I needed for it was in season. The technique for making raw sauerkraut is discussed in depth here, so for this post I will not repeat most of the instructions for making sauerkraut, but I will show you what it looks like and give you a recipe.
Da is squeezing the cabbage for me.

This is what the cabbage should look like when it is ready for you to add the other ingredients.

Spiced Purple Cabbage Sauerkraut

4 pounds of purple cabbage, shredded
1 tsp. salt per pound of cabbage
2 apples cored and shredded
1 red beet scraped and shredded
1/2 tsp. ground alspice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp.Turkish  Garam Masala ( any Garam Masala will work fine, or if you can't obtain it you can omit it, or make your own).

Prepare red cabbage, (follow the directions on my tutorial for preparing the cabbage and putting the prepared kraut in the jar to ferment.), once the cabbage has been prepared, add the apples, beets and spices. Work the added ingredients into the cabbage until uniformly distributed, then pack the 1/2  gallon capacity jar (or two quart sized mason jars), with the kraut mixture as directed in the above link to the tutorial. Pace jar in a bowl or other glass or plastic container, I often use a plastic shoe box, no lid required), to prevent an overflow mess. Gasses being released during fermentation may carry some of the liquid out of the jar as they go. The kraut will be ready 5-10 days after fermentation. Check at 5 days, if the kraut isn't sweet/tart enough for you then leave until you get the desired level of tartness. Refrigerate once you have reached desired flavor to prevent further fermentation.

Serving ideas:
Top your salad with the kraut and skip the dressing
Make a raw salad of cubed apples, thinly sliced celery, craisins, chopped walnuts, and the kraut.

If you eat cooked food and meat, this sauerkraut would be a tasty side dish, for broiled turkey keilbasa, with baked apples and pumpernickel bread. It would also be great in a mushroom or turkey Reuben, with Honey Mustard dressing instead of Thousand Island dressing and Pumpernickel bread instead of Rye bread.

So with the sauerkraut on to ferment and the house smelling deliciously like baked apples, (the scent of dehydrating apples and fruit leather), I am on to my next task... tending my indoor garden, which today includes rinsing clover sprouts, starting another batch of Kefir for my hubby, checking on the progress of a batch of Kombucha I started a week ago, and fermenting another batch of pickled Daikon radishes.
My kitchen counter is always in use to produce the sprouted and fermented foods we eat every day. The things that are growing may change from week to week, depending on what the menu for the week is, but you can always find something sprouting or fermenting to add nutrition, interest and probiotic goodness to our diet!

Well, it was a busy and happy day, but now I am beat... I hope that this post will encourage you to try making your own fermented foods to add to your diet! Have a great day!

30 August 2013

What Happened to My Summer?

I looked up from "life happening" the other day and was shocked to realize that it is the end of August already. Where did my summer go?? Well, upon consideration I have decided that we never really had summer here. It was cool late into May which set the gardens back, and then it rained literally for the entire month of June, most of the month of July, and part of August. I think Washington State got less rain this year than we did!

The sun is shining now and it hasn't rained for a week so things in the garden are trying to make a come back. We enjoyed some zucchini before the vine borers finally took their toll, so I was happy for that! The okra has been going strong. The plants are about 7 feet tall... we almost need a ladder to pick them! I don't think anything will disturb the growth of Malabar Spinach, it is almost frightening how well that stuff grows. The flowers have been beautiful, so bouquets of paint box colored zinnias and sunflowers have brightened the gloom inside the house on rainy days. I am grateful for what we received from the garden, but hope that we have a better fall garden, since we lean very heavily on what we produce for our daily meals.

The rest of life has been a blur. My husband was very occupied with work and I have had more to do in his absence, so that accounts for some of the time that has disappeared, but really... I just don't know what happened to the time. I feel like I fell asleep in May and just woke to discover the whole summer has gone by. Did anyone else have a summer like that or is it just me?

I have lots of possible subjects milling around in my head for future blog posts, I am now trying to decide what I want to write about most. I have a raw food demonstration coming up in late September. I will be posting a step by step tutorial and the recipes for that demonstration on the blog, so that my blog followers can see the demonstration as well. But that is in late September... so I need to figure out what I want to talk about now. Maybe I'll talk about what we do to extend the production of our summer garden, or chat about
saving seed from this years garden to use next year. I could  do a tutorial on making stevia extract for use as a sweetener... or show you how to make raw/vegan sushi... hm.-m-m... I can't decide. Do you have any suggestions?  If something I mentioned interests you or you have a suggestion, I would love to hear from you! Why don't you leave me a comment let me know what you are interested in.

Well, I think I will go outside and take some time to enjoy the butterflies in the garden... 

                                        Take care and be well! Elle

27 July 2013

What is going on at Heart's Ease Cottage

This summer has been an unusual one. We have been deluged with rain. We had rain every day for almost 30 days. Not just a little rain... constant rain, heavy rain, more rain than we usually see in a a whole year! One of my four 25 foot beds of tomatoes drowned, many other crops fared poorly as well. We lost the cabbages to an onslaught of slugs that used the rain to cloak their activities, the kale and chard rotted from all the moisture... sigh. But the constant rain seems to have passed, and the ground has dried out a bit, so there is hope for what is left in the garden.

I am harvesting blueberries and tomatoes regularly. As I sit here writing I can smell the tomatoes in the dehydrator, they smell wonderful!  I dehydrate all of our veggies at 115 degrees, so that they remain "raw", with all their enzymes and nutrients intact. I will vacuum seal them as soon as they come out of the dehydrator to protect them from moisture. These tomatoes will be used in many of our meals during the colder months when fresh tomatoes are not available.

The blueberries have been plentiful on the bush but sadly, we lost a lot of them during all the rain. Many of the ripe berries were knocked to the ground by the rains before I could get them picked. Even though we lost a lot of the berries, I still have picked 25 lbs. of berries and have probably that many more still ripening on the bushes. We should have plenty for the table, some for the freezer and some for sharing with friends and neighbors. Even if it is not as many as we usually have it will be enough.

The flowers and herbs have survived the wet conditions and I have been making lovely bouquets for us to enjoy, (yes, I used herbs in my flower bouquets!). I have been cutting the parsley every couple of days for adding to our juicing and as soon as the Sabbath is over I will pick basil to make pesto. The tarragon has pretty much taken over one end of the bed it is planted in, while waiting for it's permanent home to be available, (we are doing some long needed foundation work on the east side of the house where the herb garden resides, so some of the plants had to be temporarily relocated, more on that project later in this post).

The kitchen herb garden is in full bloom with the Rudbekia taking center stage. This garden has been a little hard to access since we have dug out a fair chunk of the walkway access and have supports and plastic sheeting up to protect our 3 foot deep trench from filling with water from all the rain. But I have still managed to keep it weeded, and snip and pick herbs for eating, even with all the construction mess in the way. The comfrey that I planted this year seems to be happy and I have harvested our first batch of stevia. It is in tincture and will be ready for use in a couple of weeks.

The butterflies have shown up in force this year. They spend their days sailing over the gardens, snacking on nectar from the zinnias and buddleia. They look like floating flowers from my vantage point on the deck.

As I was cutting parsley the other day to be juiced with the carrots and other veggies, I noticed this little fella munching away on my parsley. It is a Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar. They show up every year to help keep my parsley and dill well pruned. With their voracious appetite they can make quick work of a patch of parsley, so I always try to plant double the amount I will use, to make sure that we both have all the parsley we can eat!
 If you gently stroke the caterpillar on the back while he is munching, it will give off the scent of chamomile and little orange antlers will appear out of the top of its head and wave a warning at you. I am not sure what the scent and antlers do to deter predators, but I think they are adorable! I love to provoke them, (just a little....) so that they will "threaten" me!

We have been trying to get some foundation work done since January. Actually we have been trying to get it done since the reconstruction after Hugo in 1989, but there was so much to do back then and afterwards life took over and there was no time for such a project until recently. So Da began digging out the area in January, got the footer form built to pour the cement and shortly after was hit with a huge project at work. This project waylaid his efforts until yesterday. Yesterday there was no rain in the forecast so we jumped at the chance to mix, pour and level out sixteen 80 lb. bags of cement.
 Da calculated that he lifted about a ton and a half  yesterday, between the toting bags in and out of the car and to the work area. I wore the skin off both knees and elbows crawling around in tight spaces, moving , tamping and leveling cement. It was hot, hard work, but it is finally done and so the project can move forward.

  Sunday we will knock the wooden footer form apart and back fill with dirt. After that comes the easy part... paying someone to lay the block and finish off that section of the foundation! That will bring to conclusion a major repair that has needed to be done for a long time. As I am writing I hear thunder, so we must be going to get some more rain. I am very glad we seized the opportunity yesterday and got the cement work done. Who knows when we will have another dry day!

I have a special indoor project that I have been working on, as well as the regular "projects" that take up my days during the summer... weeding, harvesting and preserving goodies from our garden. This is a project I am very excited about, but I will save that story for a blog post of its own!

I hope that you are all well and enjoying a beautiful day! Until next time, Shalom!

12 July 2013

Computer Woes

Hi everyone!
    Sorry that it has been so long since my last post... The hard drive in my computer died. I lost a bunch of precious things that can't be replaced. Even though we have a routine back-up schedule for camera downloads, an external hard drive, back up external hard drive, and CD's of all my photos, I still lost hundreds of photos that I was working on by subject that were not in the area of my comp. where I keep raw photos, and all of my original artwork like my most recent artistamps and stationery designs... sigh. I have sulked about this long enough, and have now added an extra step to my back up process to assure I get all my work backed up, not just the photos from my camera, now I am going to stop grieving and move on.
   My husband set out to supply me with a computer as soon as he could. He gave me his, searched out the Adobe Photoshop disks which had disappeared from their normal location and refused to be found for several days and installed Adobe on his comp. so I could continue to work uninterrupted. He has been trying to resurrect an older computer to satisfy his non work related computer use. Did I mention what a great guys he is...? Now I need get over myself and get back to blogging...
  For a few terrifying moments I was afraid that if the source of the photos didn't exist, the photos in my blogs wouldn't be in my blogs anymore, but my husband set my fears to rest by explaining how the photos are called from blogger, not from my computer. If I had stopped to think I would have reasoned that out myself, but I was in full fledged panic mode when I found out my hard disk died and wasn't thinking.
  So now I will be trying to get back into the swing of things and hopefully will be posting on a regular basis again. Until then, I hope you all have a great weekend!

23 June 2013

My Frugally Creative Challenge

I have had an idea for a series of blog entries tumbling around in my brain for quite some time. I have wanted to do a once a week post about creative expression on a shoe string, but there has been no time for such things, since my #1 priority this time of year is the garden. So, I have been promising myself that I could indulge in some creative projects, as soon as the bulk of the early summer garden work was done. As of this week, the garden is planted, the weeds have been subdued, (for the moment), and it has rained for a week solid so I won't have to spend my day moving the sprinklers around the yard for at least a day or two... so I am treating myself to some play time!

I am challenging myself to create frugal projects that are not only inexpensive, but that also contribute to living green byusing re-purposed and recycled materials. I enjoy cruising Goodwill and local thrift shops for garments that can be turned into craft projects, altered couture, hand bags and decorator items. I don't really care what size they are since I am not going to wear them as they are when I purchase them. Actually the bigger the better... The larger the size of the garment the more fabric I have to play with!

This week I had some errands in Charlotte, so I added a stop or two to my list and went shopping at a few Goodwill stores along the way. I wasn't shopping for anything in particular, I was just expecting that I would  find something that would speak to me. The only criteria I gave myself was that I had to choose something that I could start and finish this weekend. My husband was going to be out of town with his folks, and I was going to be alone all weekend, so it was a good time to indulge in project.

At the first Goodwill, I found several things to add to my summer wardrobe, (which I am in great need of having gone down 4 dress sizes since last summer!). But there was nothing that tweaked my fancy for a project. At the second store I did find some items that I could use; some for this weekend's project, and some for my fabric cache.

For my project I found a wrap around skirt made of heavy weight brocade. There were three different colors and patterns in the skirt, one of which was a lightly beaded paisley motif that was the border along the bottom of the skirt; it appealed to me.

 It called to me saying that it would make a great "Hippie Bag", but I wondered if the colors were a little to subdued for that. It was $3.79 for the skirt so put it in my cart and went looking for something to liven up the earth tones a little and provide some sparkle. I found a dress in a complimentary color, that was burgundy Georgette, painted, beaded and sequined with a gold patterned over lay lined with a solid burgundy Georgette. I try not to take things for projects that might better find use as a nice addition to someones wardrobe, the dress was  very formal and well made but there were signs of wear in places so I felt OK about cutting it up. Since the idea for this blog post series is creative expression on a shoestring, I didn't want to spend the 6.99 they were asking for the dress, but it was Tuesday and there is a 20% off on Tuesdays, which would make the dress about $5.60, and it was a size 14, so I would get more than one project out of the fabric, so I got it.

I took my treasures home and drafted a pattern from one of my favorite across the chest style bags, which I will call a "Hippie Bag" for simplicity. I cut the wrap around skirt so that I would be able to get at least two projects out of it, using the majority of the beaded paisley section for my present project. From the formal sequined and beaded dress, I cut enough of the Georgette beaded overlay to cover the top section of the bag and the strap, backing it with the heavier brocade for added body a some durability.

The bag took 4 hours to make from drafting to cleanup, it would have taken even less time if I had thought about removing the beading from the seam area before I started sewing. I broke or bent 2 machine needles and ended up having to do the top stitching by hand since it was difficult to work around the beading and still get a nice straight top stitch. The total cost of materials was less than $5, (if you don't count the machine needles I ruined.). So for around $5 I got 4 hours of entertainment, (1 hour more if you count my shopping trip), a nice handbag that I intend to give as a gift, and I got to exercise my creativity to boot!

 I will continue to blog about frugal ways to be creative, ( as well as my regular posts), and have several projects in mind, but there is an exciting bigger project that I will be posting about very soon... I am extremely excited about it. I am going to keep it a secret for a little longer, but I will give you a hint...

Can you guess what my project is???

Until next time I hope that you all have a lovely day filled with things that make your heart sing! Please feel free to tell me about your latest project or leave me a comment. I love to hear from you!

Blog Hops this post is linked to:

About Our Blackberries

It has been uncharacteristically cool and wet this year. Usually at this time of year we are drowning in humidity, but get no rain so that we have to water regularly to keep our gardens from succumbing to the heat. But this year we have had a lot of rain, and the gardens have been drinking it up with relish. Our blackberries are starting to ripen and they are so juicy and sweet! We picked almost 10 pounds of berries the other day and I need to get out there and pick again if it will stop raining long enough that I can!

We planted several varieties of blackberries that we paid a pretty penny for, but the only cultivar that has thrived in our microcosm is one that we dug up from an old an abandoned homestead years ago. We would go there every year to pick the sumptuous, juicy berries that covered an embankment next to the road. One day we saw a sign that advertised that the land was being turned into a subdivision. We saw a bleak future for our summer berry picking and hated the idea of this wonderful, vintage variety of blackberry falling prey to land development. So when the bramble patch started putting up next years canes we took several buckets and dug some of them up, took them home and began the many year long process of multiplying what we saved from the bulldozer. Normally I would hesitate to dig since we didn't have permission, but they were going to bull doze them anyway, so we were pretty sure no one would care. Now when you drive by our favorite picking spot there is a nicely landscaped berm to a subdivision of McMansions... and  the only berry canes that remain from that particular hearty, disease free heirloom variety are in our berry patch.  We will be eating our weight in berries, freezing and sharing for a few weeks and then it will be time for our blueberries to come in. As I eat my fill of blackberries and have plenty to spread around, I recall the sunny days long ago when our family would go out picking, I will think about the homesteaders who lived off the land where the berries grew, and I will smile with satisfaction knowing that we did our part to save an heirloom variety from being wiped out.
These berries are from a heirloom variety  that thrives in our local weather conditions and produces the largest sweetest berries I have ever eaten!

11 June 2013

A Trip To Wilmington, NC

Recently My husband and I made a trip to visit friends in Wilmington, NC. Friends we met while we were living in Costa Rica, were in Wilmington for the wedding of their granddaughter. Since Wilmington is only a 3 hour drive we jumped at the chance to get to see them while they were Stateside. We also really enjoyed getting to visit with the rest of the family, that we haven't seen since 2009, when they left Costa Rica with their 5 children and sailed to the Mediterranean.

Wilmington is my favorite North Carolina city. It has a beautiful historic section, lots of good restaurants, Flaming Amy's Burritos is a family favorite, and Indochine is another. Both offer an interesting variety of vegan friendly selections. The WWII battleship North Carolina, is moored across the river from downtown Wilmington. It has been turned into a museum and is open to the public. The New Hanover County Arboretum is a lovely place, it is not large, only 7 acres in total, but it well worth the time to visit. Our time this trip was limited. There was too much going on at home to make it a "beach trip", and spend some time enjoying the lovely light sand beaches that are just minutes away from downtown Wilmington. But we did go for a brisk walk at Wrightsville Beach, between rain storms, just so we could enjoy the ocean view for a few minutes while we walked. Once things settle down at home we will make a trip back, specifically to spend some time at the beach.

Inside the Bottle Chapel
On this particular trip we spent what free time we had walking the extensive grounds at Airlie Gardens. Airlie Gardens is  67 acres of gardens, with live Oaks, ponds, thousands of azaleas and camellias, as well as fountains, statuary, art and other features. On a green not far from the entrance to the gardens stands a 467 years old Live Oak. Just past the Airlie Oak stands the Bottle Chapel, constructed by local artists in honor of Minnie Evans, a long time employee of the gardens and resident artist. The chapel's sunny location brings the color of the bottles to life. What a wonderfully unique way to recycle bottles!

The Bottle Chapel

While we were strolling the grounds we spotted a pair of swans on the lake. Upon closer inspection we also saw that the swans were proud parents of a single fuzzy gray signet. I was totally enchanted and spent the remainder of our available time photographing the swan as they fed.

I was really surprised that the swans let me get so close. Swans are notoriously protective of their young.

 It was a great day and I can't wait to go back to Wilmington, but next time I will actually spend some time on the beach!

29 May 2013

Just in Case You Would Like to know...

If you are interested in avoiding Monsanto "Food" here is a link to a list of the companies that are owned by Monsanto: http://www.realfarmacy.com/printable-list-of-monsanto-owned-food-producers/

22 May 2013

Breakfast in Costa Rica

Good morning everyone! I found some very pretty "Champagne" mangoes at Sam's the other day and they made me homesick for Costa Rica. I made all kinds of wonderful beverages with the mangoes on the farm there. Of course we also had loads of other fruits to add to our juices, star fruit, mandarines, mora (a Costa Rican blackberry), bananas as sweet and creamy as vanilla ice cream, several varieties of oranges and water apples, (which we seldom got any of since the birds and small Tico children usually got to them first!) Today I think  I am going to share one of my favorites, made with mango, pineapple, apples, carrots and oranges. The ones I made in Costa Rica actually used mandarines instead of oranges from the huge grove of trees on the farm, but since we are here in the States, I will have to substitute oranges for the mandarines and added carrots to give it more body.  It is a meal in itself!

There were several varieties of mangoes on the farm, but predominantly Tommy Atkins mango, which is the large mango usually found in the grocery stores in the USA starting in late April or early May, and the Ataulfo mango, which is known stateside as the "Champagne" mango. The mango trees lined the lane from the farm house to the cabina for 1000 feet (about 1/5 of a mile). Where the lane terminated and the pastures began there was a huge Ataulfo mango tree that towered 100 feet into the rain forest canopy. The spread of it's branches shaded the area for 50 feet in any direction. Many beautiful tropical plants found shelter there from the pounding rains and heat of equatorial sun. In a hole in the trunk well off the ground, a pair of Keel Billed Toucans raised their young. It was one of my favorite spots on  farm and in good weather in April/May, you would find me "hiding" from the toucans, trying to get some shots of them as they flew in and out of the nest to take turns sitting on the eggs, and later to feed their young ones. The tree was the source of food and shelter for so many plants and animals it would be hard to count, but I know for a fact that we were well fed from it's bounty!

 Mango Tango
This drink is rich and flavorful, sweet but not over the top, with a nice warm after zing from the cayenne. This is a breakfast all by itself and will hold me until lunch with no problem!

2 mangoes skin and seeds removed (see Much Adieu About Mangoes for an easy way to prepare a mango)
2 oranges, peeled and broken into small sections ( for Juicer) or if using a blender juice 2-3 oranges with handheld citrus juicer, or 3/4 to 1 cup orange juice from the store.
1 1/2 cup fresh pineapple, or 1 cup pineapple juice
1 apple, cored and cut into 6-8 pieces, (for Juicer), or if using blender 1 cup apple juice.
4 large carrots , tops removed, or if using blender 1 cup bottled fresh carrot juice
Juice of 1 lemon
1/8 tsp. cayenne, or less according to preferences.

 This is best done in a juicer since it is hard to get apples and carrots smooth enough in a blender. If you don't have a juicer, it can be done in a blender, I would just suggest that you use bottled juice for the apple and carrots and possibly the pineapple.

For Juicer:
Put all the fruit through the juicer and add cayenne to the catch pitcher and stir. Chill if desired.
For Blender:
Blend mango and pineapple, adding juices and cayenne as you blend. (If you don't enjoy as much zing as I do, you can cut down on the cayenne or leave it out, but if you can, try to leave some of the cayenne in for the health benefits.)

This also makes great refreshing pop sickles, but if you're making them for the kids you might want to leave out the cayenne!

I thought it might be fun to have breakfast in Costa Rica, so I am including a video of the toucans on the farm where we lived in Costa Rica! So make your Mango Tango and take a trip with me to see the Toucans! Many thanks to my dear husband who spent many hours sifting through all the video I shot to compile this video clip for me! Unfortunately size restrictions prevent me from posting the video at a good resolution, so some of the detail in the birds is lost, but you will get the idea anyway! I hope you enjoy!

Blog Hops this post is linked to:
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #73

19 May 2013


Today is Shavuot, the forth of seven Biblical Feasts. It is the celebration of the Giving of Torah, when God met with His people at Sinai. Normally Sunday is the first day of our work week and we are busy outside in the garden, but since today is a Holy Day, there will be no work done today.

It has been a rainy day,  in fits and spurts, so I took the opportunity between rain showers to get some photos of the rose trellis that is in full bloom. As I stroll through the wet grass, the profusion of blooms on the rose trellis is a feast for my eyes and is complimented by the scent of honeysuckle that is blooming in the nearby woods... pure bliss.... Both the roses and the honeysuckle are fleeting; the rose on this trellis blooms for only a few weeks and then is done for the season, unless we are fortunate enough to be blessed with a second flush of roses in the fall as we were last year. The honeysuckle will only bloom for a few weeks as well. I try to spend as much time outside in the evenings as possible, enjoying both the combination of the perfume of the honeysuckle wafting up from the woods and the glow that the roses take on at the gloaming of the evening. It is enchanting, like something from a fairytale.

This rose trellis was part of a Father's Day gift that I gave my husband in 2001. He was away for a weekend camping trip in the mountains with one of our sons, so I had the trellis, privacy fence and a deck built for his hot tub while he was gone. It was quite a surprise for him when he returned home from that trip!
 Of course it was a year or so before the rose covered the trellis completely, but it did make its way to the top by the end of the summer. By the next Father's Day the trellis was full of roses and was lovely to look at in the evenings from the hot tub since pale-colored roses make a wonderful show on moonlit nights.

Over the years the other plants we had planted in that area had to give way to this rose's robust habit. There isn't time to fuss with plants that can't hold their own...we are survival of the fittest gardeners, so I didn't grieve much when the Lady Banks Rose lost her place on the privacy fence.

It is necessary to use a little discipline on the other side of the trellis, as we have espalier fruit trees growing along the pathway that appreciate a little more light than the rose was willing to offer so, after it blooms, we prune the rose back pretty hard on that side of the pathway to allow the pear and apple trees their day in the sun.

Well day is done and the rain has stopped, the sun is down and the feast day is over. Tomorrow will be a full day with much to do in the garden, there is kombucha to bottle and menus to plan...but for tonight I think I will take a glass of wine out on the deck and enjoy the evening. I hope that you all have a blessed and restful evening!

15 May 2013


Hi! I have been outside working on garden projects from dawn till dusk for almost two weeks. The house is sadly neglected and will remain so until I can get caught up outside. I have not had time to blog, but I have been composing my next several blog entries in my head, so as soon as the late spring garden crush has passed, I will have plenty to write about!  Here is a photo of some of the foxgloves that I will be adding to the herb garden this year. I  just staged them with the bunny planter for the photo, but decided that they looked so good there that I will get some more to plant around the bunny!  What are you doing to stay busy this time of year? I will be back blogging as soon as I can get all my plants in the ground. I hope this finds you all well and enjoying the warmer weather!
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