Friday, December 11, 2015

Grateful And Peaceful

Hello, friends. I've been away most of this year, due to some serious health complications.

All my life I've been very lucky and very healthy. I had never had surgery, almost never got sick, and had no serious or even minor health issues. I don't know that I appreciated my good fortune as much as I should have.

This spring, in May, I had something apparently minor turn into something very serious and eventually life-threatening. It all happened so quickly, it was hard to understand what was going on. Fortunately my family, and especially my wonderful daughter, helped me with hospitalization and tests and surgery and recovery. I am more grateful than ever for her, and for church friends and others who stood beside me and helped me through a very scary and difficult time.

I was hospitalized for almost a month, and spent another month at home healing and recovering. I was prepared for the fact that six months after the original surgery I would have another surgery, to complete the healing process.  It has been a long six months, and somewhat anxious, but I have appreciated each day feeling better, being able to move more, having less pain and anxiety. More gratitude to friends and family, for all the small things they have done to support me through all the changes.

Now, I am on the other side of my second surgery and home recovering again. This time I was only hospitalized for a week, and the healing process is going very well.  I am grateful I was home before Thanksgiving, and in time to enjoy the Christmas tree my daughter and granddaughter set up for me to come home to share.

I now understand what health changes are like, what is involved with surgery, and how it alters life and mindsets, in a way I didn't understand up to now. I am grateful to the home health caretakers who came regularly to help me with recovery, and thankful to be able to be in my own home and sleep in my own bed!

Often I have heard others who have had health issues and have recovered talk about how it increased their appreciation for the small things of each day, how it changed their perspectives and increased their appreciation of others in their lives. I understand that attitude much better now after the last half-year, and share that feeling intensely.

For those who have wondered about my absence and silence, that should help you understand what's been happening. I've been concentrating on recovery and healing, and in finding peace in life after a brush with the stark fact of my own mortality.  Whew! That sounds way more ponderous than it should, especially coming from me!

I haven't chosen to put the details of my illness here - I don't think it really matters, especially since I believe I'm now on the downhill slope back toward wellness. I don't expect any future recurrence of illness from this, but if this has taught me anything, it has taught me that we really can't know what tomorrow will bring and to just live as fully and mindfully as possible, every day.

Thank you to friends, family and healthcare professionals who stood with me and lifted me up to reach this hopeful point.  I have been doing some small creative projects here and there as I could, but it will be a while before I'm able to really do art again. When I do, I will have a lot of new ideas and feelings to express, that's for certain.

And if you are reading this, and you have been wondering where I've been, give me a comment to encourage me to keep on the path to full recovery. And thank you in advance - I appreciate this, too. Hugs and best wishes to all of you.  Nothing is more important than remembering friends, gratitude and maintaining a peaceful existence.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hi! A New Chapter

Wondering where I've been?
I'm here and there, very quiet and apart.
It's almost Easter time with the grandchildren. I think all holidays are more fun with small children to enjoy them with.

The garden is just waking up, here at the end of March.
I'm still working on my goal to "eat from the garden" and decided to include more flowers and color right along with the edible vegetables. I need to pull up the overgrown lettuce and plant some new things. Maybe over the weekend, if the rain stops long enough.

A year ago I added a screened-in porch to the side of the house, with a deck and brick patio. I spend a lot of time sitting on the porch, watching the birds. Reading a book. Crocheting an afghan. Relaxing.

I've been doing some bookbinding, with handmade papers and embellished papers decorated using a Gelli plate, acrylics, watercolors and colored pencils. I'm crocheting and knitting quite a bit, because it's fun and gives me a restful break.

I just got a delivery of some jewelry findings, so I can make an intaglio necklace I've had pictured in my mind. If it turns out well, I'll take some pictures to share. It will be the first jewelry piece I will have made in a long time, if I do. And I think I will.

I've given myself permission to do whatever thing creatively that I enjoy doing. Or as little as I feel like doing. No production pressures, or pressures for deliveries. Just doing things that I find fun and fulfilling.

And that make me feel creative and productive. And just plain happy.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

In Ground and In Pots

 I have a section of the garden that has small pots full of herbs next to the raised beds. The pots allow me to move things around as the season changes. And hopefully, when winter comes I'll be able to move some of the pots indoors, for fresh herbs all winter.

Here there's thyme, cilantro and purple basil. I want lots of purple basil, so I can use the leaves to make glorious basil jelly!

This container has my special "On The Deck" corn seeds sprouting. This type of corn is supposed to be able to bear well even in a half whiskey barrel. I have this one that's sprouted already, and a second one that is planted but not sprouted yet, to extend the hoped-for sweet corn  harvest. 

I've never grown corn before, my little raised beds are kind of small for it to be successful, but I'm hoping these new seeds from Burpee will turn out well in this container.

This raised bed has all herbs, onions and garlic. Some herbs are perennials, like rosemary, so this bed doesn't get changed out every season like some of the others. This is the bed the harvested garlic bulbs came from. See how some are lying on their sides? It's probably time to get them out, too.

It's so nice to run out to the garden, snip some parsley and rosemary, cut some cilantro and thyme, and run back in to the kitchen and use it! I used to dread it when recipes called for "fresh parsley" or "sprigs of fresh rosemary" - but now I love it!

I have onions, garlic, cilantro, two kinds of sage, rosemary, parsley and bee balm in this bed. I hope by summertime it will be tall and fragrant and bushy with fresh herbs for the kitchen. It is 4 foot by four foot in size.

Monday, May 6, 2013

It's a Yogurt Thing

This is what happens to fresh ripe strawberries. Loaded up with homemade yogurt on top of almond cake. Tastes like springtime, tart and creamy. Sometimes with a drizzle of local honey on top.

I make my own yogurt every other week. I never liked yogurt much, until I tried making it at home and tasted it. It's fantastic when it's freshly made, nothing like the store's yogurt, with its long list of ingredients.

For a starter I use 2% Fage Yogurt because it has 4 cultures in it, and for the milk I splurge and get a gallon of organic milk.
I make the yogurt in the crockpot. I've never had a batch fail, and it really doesn't take that much time.

Before I do anything, I boil water in the kettle and sterilize everything. The crockpot and its lid, the ladle and whisk. Anything that's going to touch the milk gets a boiling water bath, to make sure only the good bacteria get a chance at the milk.

This is 10 cups of organic milk in the crockpot. I turn it on high and cover with a dishtowel, checking every so often until the milk is 180 degrees F.

I check with a candy thermometer until it reaches the right temperature. I try not to boil the milk, turning the crockpot off when the milk reaches 180 degrees.

I like a thick yogurt, so I add 1/3 cup of powdered dry milk per quart. I take some of the hot milk out of the crockpot with the ladle into a sterilized two-cup measuring cup, add the dry milk to that, and use the whisk to mix together. It's too hard to get all the lumps out if you add the dry milk directly to the whole crockpot at once.

Sometimes I add the dry milk in two batches, to make sure there's enough milk to really mix them together well before putting the hot milk back into the crockpot with the remainder of the milk.

I keep the Fage yogurt out on the counter so it can reach room temperature. It isn't time to add it to the milk yet, but that way when it is time it isn't refrigerator temperature when it's added in.

If honey, sugar or vanilla extract are added, this is the time, and they are added the same way as the dry milk. Then the cover goes back on the crockpot and it cools down until it is 110 degrees F. That can take an hour or so depending on the temperature of the room.

When the thermometer reads 110 degrees F, some of the milk is taken out and put into the 2-cup measuring cup, the starter yogurt is added and whisked in well, and all of it is added back to the main crockpot mixture.

Wrapped in a large beach towel, the covered crockpot is put into the oven with the oven light on overnight. The oven light puts out just enough warmth to maintain the 110 degrees for 8 to 10 hours in the oven. But don't forget and turn the oven on!

I usually put the crockpot in the oven before bedtime and take it back out the next morning. The yogurt has firmed up, and it's ready to be ladled into sterilized mason jars. If I plan to make frozen yogurt, I will use a quart jar and make the full gallon of milk. With 10 cups, I like to use the small mason jars with lids, and use one per day at breakfast and on desserts.

Here's a week's supply or so, depending on how many I eat each day, and whether I use a recipe to cook with some of it. It's sweet, tart and thick like cream. Super deluxe on anything you add it to.

With vanilla wafers on the bottom of a bowl, bananas cut up in the middle, a generous dollup of homemade yogurt with local honey drizzled on top - it's just like banana pudding!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cooking With A Green Thumb

This is the first yellow squash of the season. It was raised from seed started in February, and already it's fruiting, here at the very beginning of May.

The garden is varied, with raised beds combined with containers and hanging planters. The main idea is to maximize the amount of food coming out of a small space, including herbs, fruits and vegetables. The raised beds are either 4 foot by 4 foot or 3 by 3, to make it easy to reach inside the beds and take care of the plants. The cedar planks separating the beds are walkways, and keep the weeds down. Plus, they look nice next to the cedar raised beds.

The lettuce is doing really well. We eat a fresh garden salad almost every night. I planted more mixed lettuce seeds yesterday, hoping to get more started before the really hot weather starts.

I've never raised strawberries before, and last October I found two of these strawberry jars on sale and bought them. This spring I filled them with strawberry plants. And look! They are making fruit already, and turning red! These strawberries are nothing like what you find in the store - they are sweet and red all the way to the center of the berry. Strawberries are perennials, so I hope to get even more plants going soon, now that I've seen what I need to do to raise them.

This is the pole bean tee-pee. They have reached the six foot high top already, and are trying for the sky now. I need to cut the growing tips off the tops, so they will bush out more from the bottom. They are blooming like crazy, and baby beans are starting on them. I planted them in February and covered them with a mini-greenhouse until they sprouted and got several inches high. They are Fortex and Kentucky Wonder pole beans. I hope to be harvesting some fresh green beans soon.

And the zucchini is starting to bloom. It always amazes me how huge their leaves get. They are inside a frame with a bug netting over them, to keep the squash bugs off of them.

Tonight the low is going to be in the lower 40 degrees. Chilly for the first week of May. But the garden seems to like the cooler temperatures. With raised beds to grow in, and containers, it's easier to cover them if the temperatures dip down too low overnight.

Eventually the squash, strawberries and beans will be harvested like the lettuce and end up on the menu!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bulbs of Flavor

In October, the garlic bulbs went into the ground in the garden beds. Not having grown garlic before, there was a sense of discovery in planting it. Over the long winter, it grew big stalks and kept an area looking alive and green in the winter garden beds in the months of short, cold days.

The garlic is called "Kilarney Red" - but the planted cloves were white. The books say that when the stalks start to fall over and the lower leaves turn brown, it's time to pull up the garlic. So a few were tentatively dug up, to find fully formed cloves underground.

Growing from October until May from a single clove each, these bulbs are now drying on a rack so they will keep for later use. The outer skins will turn papery and thin, and the bulbs sweet and mild.

It's easy to see now why the bulbs of this garlic is called Kilarney Red!