Monday, December 31, 2012

What Do You See In a Tree?

Just a short, inspirational quote, for today!

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity... and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.
 -William Blake, 1799 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Venison Roast: A Gift From a Good Hunter

Last night I made a very yummy dinner. 

I threw a venison roast into the crock pot with some salt, pepper, and onion, as well as a little water at the bottom, and left it alone all day.  The result was mouth-watering.

Where'd I get the venison, you ask?  

No, I didn't go out hunting, although, to be honest I'd love to learn to shoot with a bow.  No, my father is the hunter in my family.  When I was very little, a lot of our food came from hunting and fishing.  The truth is that if you manage to take down just one deer, you've more than made up for the cost of your hunting license, and the meat gained from it will stock your freezer for 6 months.

The idea of hunting turns some people's stomachs.  I get that.  It seems like a cruel sport in which people kill an animal for the joy of the hunt.  Yes, some people out there are like that... but most are not.

The fact is, most hunters have a deep respect for the wildlife they're hunting.  

Unlike the soccer mom in the meat and poultry aisle, he knows exactly where his food has been.  No surprises, and no worries.  He knows how it lived.  He knows that it's healthy...  Unlike the grocery shopper, who hopes some person in a factory made the correct judgement call.

As he hunts, he doesn't just take down the first deer he sees.  He judges the size of the creature, then decides if it's too big, too small, or just right.  Yes, a hunter will pass up "the big one".  What's the point in taking down a gigantic deer if a large part of it goes to waste?

A good hunter has respect for the eco-system around him.  

If it's legal to shoot say, a moose, and he feels there aren't a good number of them out there, that the population is too low, he'll avoid shooting a moose... even if there's one directly in front of him. A good hunter shares the land.  He doesn't conquer it.

As I ate my venison roast, I was grateful.  

I knew the deer had a full life.  It was running free for its entirety.  When its life ended, it was treated with the respect: there was no waste.  Its death was not in vain.

If only all animals were so lucky.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Planning Next Season's Garden

Last night I got a catalog in the mail that reminded me of something very important:

It's time to start planning next season's garden!

The catalog in question was from Territorial Seed Company.

Since I was still sick yesterday, I couldn't really give it the attention it deserves, so instead, I asked my daughter what we should plant this next season.  She opened my Nook (don't worry... I got the oops-I-dropped-it-in-the-toilet-then-managed-to-flush-part-of-it-down protection plan, so I'm covered), opened her profile, and started using her drawing program.

What we're looking at is blueberries, plums, and raspberries.  Unfortunately, we found out the hard way that blueberries can't share soil with black walnut trees, so those are out.  The juglone released into the soil acts as a toxin.  Drat.

Plums are out, too.  Not because the black walnut trees would kill them, though they might, but rather, because we've extended our lease until only May 31, which means there's a good chance we'd leave after that.  No point in trees we wouldn't be able to eat the fruit from, right?

Fortunately, we already have raspberries in the back, so she'll get those!

Thoughts I'll need to consider, aside from basics like whether the seeds will grow in this yard at all,are things like

  • Companion planting: Which plants can I grow together that will help control pests and disease?
  • Rotation: If I planted lettuce in a plot this year, can I grow it there next year as well?  Or do I need to grow something else?
  • Days til Harvest: If I leave on May 31, will I have enough time to get anything out of what I planted?  What can I leave in-ground for the next people?  It would have to be something not prone to being invasive, but also something that can survive periods without any human care.
Lots to consider!  I think I'll be snuggling up with my seed catalog today, dreaming of my garden-to-be!

What do you think I should grow?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Still Sick... But Not As Sick As Some.

So... yeah.  I'm still sick.

We're pretty sure it's the flu.  People that live in my mom's area have been swabbed "flu positive".  The interesting part?  A large portion of those people (that I know of) had gotten the flu shot, so it's not particularly effective this year.

It's pretty much unheard of that I'm sick for longer than 24 hours, but today, which is day three, I'm feeling pretty much like I did on day one, so I'm sure I'll be back to normal tomorrow... which means real posts again!


Be sure to eat lots and lots of organic fruits and vegetables.  I'm sure that's why I haven't been hit as hard by this as others have.  The nutrients I take in every day are making a huge difference in weathering this illness.

My fevers have held at between 100 and 101.7.  Most other people I've talked to have had their fevers reach up to 102 or 103.  I've been taking acetaminophen to reduce my fevers, but in all honesty, that doesn't seem to be help for more than 30 minutes with this strain of the flu.

What should you do if you're going through this particular strain of flu?  Bathing in baking soda seems to help, as do fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies.  And, of course, drink lots and lots of water.

And, of course, be smarter than me, and

Call your doctor!!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Eat Your Way to Recovery From Illness!


I shuffled downstairs to the kitchen.  I begin to cough.  It's a very weak cough.  Nothing particularly spectacular.  Except that it won't stop... and it feels like my rib cage is trying to exit my chest through my mouth.

Not particularly happiness inspiring.

My husband got sick while we were off at my grandma's house for Christmas, and as an extra gift... he gave it to me.

I'm actually pretty good at not succumbing to illness.  The problem this time, though, is that I was trapped in a vehicle for 4 hours with those germs as I drove my family back home.  Coughing galore.

So... yep.  I got it.

Once I reached the kitchen I made my typical morning blend of carrots, celery, lemon, orange, and apples.  They were all nicely liquefied in the blender, and so they came out as a rather hearty smoothie.  Normally, I like juicing them, but since the juicer requires a lot of cleaning, I opted for a blended mix.

Oh!  And I added some blueberry into the mix, because blueberries just make the world a little brighter, don't you think?

I then opted for some menudo that I made.  The pot was a little too small, so I didn't add the normal amount of water... which means it was super spicy.  Yum!

 I know... it looks pretty unappealing.  But it really is yummy, I swear!

The smoothie is filled with fresh, uncooked vegetables, and is loaded with nutrients.

This helps a great deal.  Since I drink it regularly, I'll probably be less sick than I otherwise would have been.  I've been treating my body right, after all!

The menudo is made using an ancho chile paste.  

All chile peppers have capsaicin, which I mentioned in my sore throat remedy post.  It doesn't actually cure anything, but it does block pain receptors, which is an absolute necessity when even a weak cough is agonizing!

Throughout the day I'll be using my sore throat remedy, since it'll even have benefits in this illness, though I haven't developed a sore throat, yet.  I'm coughing enough that one could very easily develop.  Always a good idea to be proactive!

I'll also have to avoid my cloth tissues, sadly, because they'll only help spread the wealth of germs.  Drat.  Good thing I found those ology tissues, right?

I'm off to go pamper myself with food!  I truly believe that proper nutrition paves the way toward recovery from illness, and my personal illnesses have yet to prove me wrong.  I tend to get less sick, and recover faster than other people I encounter.

So, go eat your fruits and veggies!  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!!!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

What you're looking at is my grandma's freshly cut Christmas tree.  It's about 3 1/2 feet tall, and was once growing on her own land.

Sure, it's not the biggest tree, and yes, there are plenty of trees out there with branches that are much more full.


This one was cut with knowledge of the area it was growing within.  It was chosen not only for its shape, but also with an eye for how its removal would effect the surrounding area's life.  This tree wouldn't have grown to its full potential.  There were others that would have kept it from receiving proper light and nutrients.

Choosing a tree that isn't grown on a tree farm requires proper knowledge of the environment, and I was proud of my family's choice.  Respect for the world around you goes a long way.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Enjoy the Season!

It's the day before Christmas, so I'm taking the day off to enjoy time with my family to the fullest.  

To care for the earth, after all, we have to care for every part of it, including the people within it. Family and friends are precious, so enjoy the time we have with them.  Let them know how wonderful they are, and how they helped form our personalities.

Enjoy life, and enjoy this season!  Everything is precious.  Take nothing for granted.

Have a wonderful Christmas Eve!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Best Holiday Gift Can Be the One We Don't Know We Gave

The Winter Holidays are a time of discovery.

Specifically, a time of self-discovery.  If we take a moment to do so, we all learn just a little bit about ourselves.  The problem, though, is that in modern society, it's hard to do that.

We feel rushed.  

We become more and more stressed.  Christmas turns into a time of panicking about what we're giving to whom, and how quickly we can get that done.  Road traffic volume increases, and we find ourselves shouting at "those drivers" that are making our lives so difficult.  We get in line to buy our prized piece of electronics that was created, in large part, by cruel child labor and poor working conditions for adults, never pausing to consider that the low prices we pay are due to money these businesses don't have to pay for that labor.

We don't think about that, because we can't see it.  

Out of sight, out of mind.  But it happens, and it happens pretty frequently. 

I'm not saying this to point fingers at the heartless consumer - I'm one of those people, quite frankly.  I love my technology.  I mean, every single piece I write uses technology.  I'm just as guilty as everyone else.

Rather, I say it because it needs to be noticed.  If we don't take notice of something, it can't change.  It's easy for us to repeat mistakes if we're ignorant of them.

And that brings me back to the beginning.

The Holiday season is a time of self-discovery.  The hectic nature of this season gives us a glimpse of what we're like under pressure. 

Are we the type of people that are so rushed that we cut off traffic as we hurry to give our money to corporations?  Are we the type of people that take our time, realizing that we'll get there eventually, so there's no need to rush (therefore angering that guy that's about to cut us off)? 

In the course of writing this blog, I've learned that every moment is precious, and that every little thing we do effects someone in some way.  We don't always see what effect our actions have, but we can't ignore that they make a difference.

Especially our emotional responses to events.  

A simple smile can be just what someone needs during this season to keep them from bowing to the difficulties our self-imposed shopping marathon brings.  A comforting hand on the shoulder, given with a smile, can give a stranger who is near bursting with frustration a moment to pause and reflect.

What about - god forbid - allowing that other guy grab that hot toy of the season, while you get something else for a special child in your life?  Trust me:  A four year old won't care if you get something different. 

It's not always easy to do things for others during this chaotic season, I know. 

But we need to try, both for them and for us.  A life without sacrifice of some sort is an empty one.  This season is about giving.  Corporations and media have transformed it into a season of giving high priced, ever worthless, gifts, but it doesn't have to be that way.

We can give of ourselves, and that sort of giving is longer lasting.

Take for instance, that first month that I lived in Minnesota.  It was tough.  I knew nobody at all, and had no clue where to find anything.  I was completely, socially, and even emotionally lost.  Nobody offered to help me find my way, and nobody reached out in friendship.  It was, perhaps, the worst Christmas season that I ever experienced.

Then, one day an immigrant from Somalia saw me wandering around the community center, trying to find something to do with my daughter so that at least she could enjoy herself.  He recognized that I was lost, and came over and told me about something happening at the library that afternoon that she may enjoy.

I never asked for his help.  He gave it without needing me to ask, and I'll always remember that he reached out to pull me from my confused and miserable haze of confusion.

He gave of himself, and he didn't have to.  

He helped me because he was a wonderful person.  He never even gave me his name, which tells me that it was no great struggle for him.  He simply wanted to help.  He saw my pain, and made it his goal to eradicate this misery.  This one action took only a moment, and was simple... yet no one else had taken the time. 

We all need to be a little like him.  

We need to give of ourselves while expecting nothing in return.  It makes a difference.  Our families and friends are important - overwhelmingly so - but so are the strangers around us.  That one small bit of help could mean all the world to someone. 

I know this doesn't seem like my normal blog posts... where the heck is the environmental lesson here?  Well, there's not one.  Not really. 

Rather, today's post is about social responsibility. 

It's about the need to do something for others.  The more you do for others, the more they'll do in turn.  You teach by example, not by lecturing and giving facts.

If you want to 'save the world', you need to start by doing something for the people around you: not because it's the right thing to do, but because they matter... even if we don't know anything about them.  Everything a person does makes some sort of difference.

What will you do?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Eco-Friendly Ideas for Those With No Wrapping Talent

And now it's time for the last minute, panicking because we waited until the last minute, how-in-the-heck-am-I-going-to-get-everything-done-in-time post.

What am I talked about?

Gift wrapping.

Ugh.  I've always been bad at wrapping gifts.  Mine never look pretty and perfect.  I just don't have that kind of skill with paper and tape.  That's just not my sphere of expertise. 

Well, unless we're talking about something that resembles a gift given by a Dr. Seuss character.  I'm pretty good at that.  Just ask my sister that received a lopsided, cone shaped gift that actually looked nothing like the present inside.

My talents clearly lay elsewhere. 

It's because of this that I wait until the last possible moment.  This usually works out pretty well for me.  I have always wrapped as little as possible, finding the wrapping paper to be a total waste. 

Some people, though, really enjoy ripping the paper to shreds as they discover the gift inside. 

Because of this, I actually end up using wrapping paper every now and then.  It's not particularly eco-friendly, but I have a bit of a soft spot for that child-like look of joy that the gift paper shredding types tend to wear.  And indeed, this year, I decided that I'd actually wrap a few gifts, since I had received paper from a few wildlife charities last year, in the envelopes they send asking for donations.

Unfortunately, I went into the basement to discover that water had seeped into the box that held the paper, as well as the bags that had been saved from years past.  Naturally, there was mold.  A lot of mold.

Most of the material couldn't be saved.  What could be saved was crushed and decidedly un-pretty.

That's ok.

I'm a bad present wrapper, after all, so nobody would care that their presents are a wee bit... crushed.  I even had one untouched bag for my brother-in-law's present.  Score!

And I had other options, as well.

One eco-friendly option for wrapping is to wrap one present inside another.

My mom has a dog.  I, therefore, found a Christmas-y  dog blanket and used it to wrap my mom's present, along with some ribbon I already owned.  Simple.  Easy.

And a lot better looking than my standard wrapping jobs.

By using this method, I was able to totally avoid wrapping paper... something that is used once, then thrown in landfills to to sit for years, polluting the world around us.  I was able to make the entire package useful, rather than just the insides.  Blankets and cloth are excellent examples of eco-friendly wrapping.

Other ideas for the Eco-conscious person with no wrapping skills?

  • A Cardboard box.  Seriously.  Put the present in a box (not matter how hard you try, you really can't avoid those things... they're used everywhere.), and go back to your youth - grab some crayons and draw on it.  Color an entire scene, or just color your own patterns.  You avoid wrapping paper, have fun, and make the gift more recipient specific.  You can't go wrong!

  • A Reusable Grocery Bag.  Throw a ribbon around it, and you're good to go.  There's a huge amount of designs to choose from, and whoever the gift goes to has an extra gift - A bag that can be used for years.  Again, you can't go wrong.  You're reducing paper waste and helping your friend or family be eco-friendly.  Awesome!

  • A purse.  Place the gift inside a purse, a backpack, or even a satchel.  Again, the person is receiving 2 two gifts when you use this method, rather than one.  Again, ribbon of some sort will increase the festive feel of this choice.

The sky is the limit.  Anything that a gift can fit inside will make an excellent alternative for wrapping paper or paper gift bags.  All you need is an ounce of creativity, and a few dashes of joy.

And you don't need any talent in wrapping!  Woohooooooo!!!!

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Massive Migration of Canada Geese

The sound was deafening.

Canada geese honked, and honked, and honked.  It wasn't just a single V.  There were scores of them.  I pulled my gaze away from the sky and looked around.  Just about every other person within the grocery store parking lot had their faces tilted toward the clouds, as well, mouths agape.

I wasn't alone in my amazement.

Indeed, I was so awe-stricken that by the time I realized I needed to capture this moment...

Large amount of Canada geese in the sky: 2 V-like segments, and a massive, chaotic curved line.
I kinda missed the impressive part of this group...
this is the small, unimpressive tail-end.

They had flown too far, and I only managed to catch the tail end of this massively huge group.

How's that for bad timing?

Geese have places that they wait until they have a nice sized grouping, and then the group flies off to a new location.  They follow the food, basically.  This means that flying South is not entirely necessary for them.  If food is in abundance, why leave?

These geese were flying Northeast - a far cry from South!

I'm actually used to seeing geese.  

They're permanent residents here, in Southern Minnesota. Seeing V formations is rather common.  I'm not, however, used to seeing enough geese to rival an Alfred Hitchcock film, all flying in one big group!

Basically, this large formation of geese began at what I'm guessing were a few different staging areas that were all based along the same flyway, and relatively close together.  As one group flew over, another group joined them until there was one massive group flying right above me.

I mentioned the term flyway.

Flyways are basically large corridors of waterfowl migration.  These are paths that are consistently used during migration.  There are four different major North American flyways, which encompass Mexico, the United States, and Canada.  My region is in what is called the Mississippi Flyway.  The other three are the Pacific, Central, and Atlantic Flyways.

Evidently, the Canada goose population in Minnesota has gotten pretty huge.  

It's not something that I, a relatively new arrival would have noticed.  Tons of geese?  Yeah, that's normal.  For me, anyway.

Other people, though, are showing concern.  They appear to be a problem for crops... especially soybean crops, which are evidently their meal of choice.

Canada geese weren't always abundant in Minnesota.  Rather, it was the exact opposite.  As explained by writer, Dave Orrick,

"Until a flock was discovered in Rochester in 1962, giant Canada geese were believed to be extinct. Genetically, giant Canadas and lesser Canadas are identical; scientists now suspect the subtle difference in size (they look nearly identical) is the result of giant Canadas migrating shorter distances, if at all, a life that affords them the ability to put on pounds. The vast majority of Canada geese in the Mississippi Flyway today are giant Canadas." (Minnesota goose hunting: Officials worry too many geese for hunters to manage)

And there are a lot of them.

I should be worried about the effect these beautiful creatures have on the farmland.  

Minnesota is a very soybean heavy region, after all, and that means a lot of farmers will have a tough time due to the overwhelmingly huge amount of geese we see.

I have to admit, though, that in reality I'm rather glad that they're consuming such a large amount.  I hope this will cause other crops to be grown in place of soybean.  


Because soybean in the United States is mostly genetically modified.  Genetically modified crops have not been properly tested by people outside of the companies that have modified them.  This, though, is only part of my concern.  I'm not really against genetic modification due to the modification itself.

My biggest problem is the pesticides that go into these fields.

GM crops are modified so that they can work successfully with the herbicides and pesticides that are used on them.  They're created by chemical companies in order to work for the chemicals that are being unloaded onto them... not so that they can feed the starving masses and save the world, like they claim.

I can't help but wonder if part of the reason these giant Canada geese are so abundant and huge has to do with the genetic modification of their favorite food source.  Maybe not, but maybe so, as well.  I'd like to see a study on that.

Will this mass consumption of pest/herbicides have a physical effect on the Canada goose population? If giant Canada geese and lesser Canada Geese are genetically the same, could this simply be a case of us fattening them up, so to speak?  Perhaps we're seeing the same thing in these geese that we're seeing in the human population of the United States.

I'd say a study is in order!  One that is not done 
by chemical companies... 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Snow Day!!!

The Protective Environmental Bubble that encompasses the Faribault area has not yet popped!


The Winter Storm that has blown through the midwest has effected just about every school district around us, causing closings and delays, yet our school district is still on schedule.  What does this mean?

It means my daughter still gets her Christmas party today!  Hooray!!!

Don't get me wrong, the roads are pretty bad.  Parents that I walked by during when I got to the preschool were all talking about barely making it up hills, as well as slipping on some roads.

But me?

I skipped past them with my daughter in our snowsuits and multiple clothing layers, happy beyond belief.  We walked to school, after all, so had none of these worries.

Sure, heads turned as I blew by in my Germany-bought military grade snow pants that were handed down to me by my father, while all of the other parents were shivering in their jeans, and in one case, slippers.  Clearly, this desert girl was going overboard in her full snow attire.


I got to do this on my way back from school:

So I'd say that the snow suit was totally worth the funny looks I got!  Wouldn't you?

And now...  it's time to go back outside.

I'm taking a SNOW DAY!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Learning from Trees

Everything is as it should be.

Isn't it great when we can say those words?  The leaf buds covering my trees, the ones I was oh so worried about, are perfectly normal.

I had never seen this when I lived in the desert Southwest, but perhaps that has to do with the fact that plants in that region don't need to work quite as hard.  The temperatures are very rarely below freezing, so that means (and I'm only guessing here) that the few trees and shrubs in the area don't have to start shooting out buds prior to winter at the same level as woody plants in the upper Midwest.

I was actually worried that the buds had to do with the higher than normal temperatures, coupled with the lack of rain that we received last year.  While this may have had some bearing on the specific timing of the buds' presence, it was not the reason that I saw buds prior to winter itself.

Good to know, right?

It turns out, woody plants generally produce small buds before winter.  During the winter, they're mostly dormant, so the production of leaf buds prior to the season gives them a step up when the spring thaw arrives.

Rosemary's Blog explains that these are called resting buds.  She says that these resting buds are actually a great way to identify different tree types, due to their distinct look.  Fascinating!  She also has some great images on that post that are truly worth viewing.

I'm relieved to discover that the buds I'm seeing are simply due to a different climate zone.  I don't remember seeing them last year, but then, I wasn't looking, either!

It's amazing just how much more a person can see when they open their minds to the environment around them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Time to Relearn the Basics: Leaf Buds as Teachers

Every now and then, something happens that causes you to rethink everything that you thought you knew.

In my case, that happened this morning when I looked out at the house from the fenced-in area of my backyard.  I found this:

Horribly blurry green bud poking out from the tip of a branch.

Yeah, I know... it's a really bad picture.  Try to ignore that.  Instead, look at that green fuzziness in the center.

That's a leaf bud.

See, I always thought that trees started to form buds at the end of winter.  You know... so that when Spring hit, they could burst out with gorgeous leaves.  I mean, that's the way it happened on the Mexican-American border.  It's also what I had always seen/inferred through television.

Yet, there I was... staring at a leaf bud a few days before Winter even truly began.

Shows what I know, right?

At first, I figured it had to do with that one tree.  I went off to take a look at a few other types.

Many red buds poking out from the branches of a pussy willow brush

The pussy willow had a huge assortment of buds.  This one, however, was in the same area of the yard as the tree I had just discovered.  It was also the first piece of large vegetation to burst into life last spring, so I decided to move on to something else.

Walnut leaf bud in close-up, with budding Maple branches in the background

Yep.  The young walnut tree by the driveway was starting to bud, as well.  In fact, the maple in the background appeared to have a plentiful amount of buds.

Clearly, I need to relearn what I thought I already understood.  If it was a single plant displaying buds, I could brush it off, assuming that it was specific to that individual plant, but four different trees?  This was... eye-opening.  Clearly, I didn't know what I thought I knew.

Funny how life works out that way sometimes, right?

It's time to hit the books!  I need to relearn basic botany.

Looks like maybe I shouldn't have slept through Biology 101, right?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Turn a Beloved Old Book Into an Herb Planter

Every avid reader has that one book that they refuse to get rid of.  

The binding has separated from the pages so many times that glue no longer serves to keep it together.  The pages are yellowed.  It has tears throughout.  You hate to admit it, and so you continue to keep it on your shelves, but it's at the end of its natural lifespan.

Heck, it's even at the end of its unnatural lifespan, when you consider all of the face lifts surgeries it has gone through in your attempt to keep it alive.

In my case, it was an Andre Norton novel that I had gotten from a Deleted Books bin at the library.

50+ year old book entitled Breed to Come by Andre Norton

It was in pretty bad condition from the moment I picked it up.  

I mean, there's a reason the library chose to delete it, after all!  Truth be told, it's not even one of my favorite books.  I love Andre Norton, granted, but this wasn't at the top of my Must-Read Norton list.  It just really, really had a great deal of sentimental value for me, for some unknown reason.

It had been stained by food, it had fallen in a (mostly empty) sink at one point, My daughter had chewed on it when she was a baby, and then my dog finished chewing the corners a few months later.

This book had truly experienced a hard life... so I couldn't just throw it out.

So what did I do?

I reused it and made it into something entirely different.  I gave it a second life, if you will.


I turned it into a planter.  Specifically, an herb planter.  I decided to use it to start some seeds, which is actually pretty simple.

  • Press some seeds into a piece of toilet paper.  Be sure they're spaced apart, according to the planting instructions.
  • Use a piece of tape to secure them to the toilet paper.

Tiny black seeds are evenly spaced within a toilet paper square, and kept in place using tape.

  • Place the toilet paper inside the book, between the pages somewhere near the center of the novel.  Glue or tape it onto a page.  Be sure the seeds are at the right depth for in ground planting -  the pages are acting as soil, after all.
  • Stand the book upright on top of some sort of drainage pan or tray, then water the book's pages, just as you would if it was a pot.
Andre Norton's Breed to Come is standing in a drainage pan made from the bottom of a milk jug.

After that, it's just a question of time.

In my case, I have the added surprise of "What am I growing???"  You see, I placed the seeds inside the book quite a while ago, but decided not to set up my herb planter.  Pouring water onto somebody else's creative genius isn't exactly easy for me, even if reading the book is no longer a viable option.

I waited until I had a long period of growing.... absolutely nothing.  

I have the mystery carrots still growing in my lettuce patch, but I really can't tend anything right now.  The ground (aside from those carrots) is frozen.  Now is the time to grow my... whatever.  

The seeds in the book are a total mystery.  

I think they're peppermint seeds.  The size is about right, but I honestly don't know for sure.  All I truly know is that this was going to be a perennial herb garden.  Something that will last.

Andre Norton is a brilliant author, and her books deserve more than a single life, I believe.  

I'm excited about giving this one that chance!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Homemade Honey-Lemon Cough Drops

Honey-lemon cough drops to the rescue!!!

Blond haired, female stick figure with a red cape, arms in position to begin flight

My daughter had a sore throat, as well as a cough.  In most cases, people can grab a few cough drops when this happens, and they're pretty much ok.  This is not, however, the case when the person with these symptoms is four years old.

Giving any standard OTC cough or sore throat medicine to a child that young is inadvisable, and those honey lollipops that are sold for this are pretty expensive... and you don't get very many for the price.

So what do you do?

You make your own, of course.  It takes a lot of time, but the resulting homemade cough drops are worth it. They're yummy, they soothe a miserable throat, and, if done right, boost immunity on top of all of that.  I call that a win!!!

Not to mention the fact that it's better for the environment... that is, if you use local honey, or any other ingredient in the recipe that can be found locally.

Previously I mentioned cayenne as a great choice to quickly rid yourself of a nasty sore throat.  I still stand by that as both the best and easiest method for adults.

But let's face it.

You're not going to be able to get most kids to go for that... as well as many adults.  This, therefore, is Yummy Plan B.


organic Echinacea Plus tea, thermometer, local honey, lemon juice, powdered sugar
  1. Echinacea tea bag
  2. Water
  3. Honey
  4. Lemon juice
  5. Powdered sugar or cornstarch
  6. Candy thermometer (ok... that's not an ingredient.  It's highly necessary, though, so I included it anyway.)

You'll notice I didn't list amounts.  Part of the beauty of this recipe is that you don't need to know specific amounts.  Rather, you use ratios in order to create the amount of cough drops necessary for your needs.

The reason this is so spectacular is that you can make however many cough drops you want, rather than the amount some person you've never met tells you that you need.  In my case, I made an amount comparable to what you would find in a standard bag of cough drops.

The ratio of honey to (prepared) tea is 2:1.  

In other words, 2 cups of honey would be blended with 1 cup of  tea, or, in my case, 1 cup of honey would be mixed together with 1/2 cup of tea.  Easy, right?  I'll be using my personal measurements to explain the recipe, but that ratio is what works if you decide your end result needs to be larger or smaller.


1.  Soak a tea bag in some hot water, as though you were simply going to prepare yourself a nice, hot tea.

Any blend of echinacea tea will do.  The reason I specify echinacea is that it boosts immunity.  This isn't going to cure a cough or sore throat, of course, but it will help your body do the necessary work, thereby reducing the time that you're sick.  That's really what we all care about, right?

2.  Blend 1 cup of honey with 1/2 cup of the tea within a pot on the stove.

Set the heat to medium.  Be sure that the pot is much bigger than you think you need.  This is going to boil, and when it does, you'll want to be sure it doesn't bubble out onto the stove top.  In this case, bigger really is better!  Go ahead and drink the remaining of the tea, because, you know... it's good for you!

3.  Once things really start heating up, add some lemon, to taste.  Keep stirring.  

I like a lot of lemon flavor, so I tend to add just a little under a tablespoon.  The choice is totally up to you.

4.  Boil the heck out of it.

Thick, heavy, brown bubbles of honey

The mixture really needs to heat up, and you'll be standing over the stove for a while.  If you want hard cough drops, the temperature needs to raise all the way up to 300 degrees.  If, like me, you want something a bit more like taffy, it needs to raise only to 260 degrees.

5. Once the temperature is where you want it to be for your own needs, pour it into a pan that's lined with parchment paper.

thin coating of mixture on parchment paper.  A dusting of powdered sugar is visible.

It's going to be sticky.  The parchment paper helps keep it manageable.  Add some cornstarch or powdered sugar if, like me, you panic about it sticking forever.  Let it sit and cool.

6. Hard cough drops: Once it has cooled, break it apart.  
    Soft cough drops:  Tear it into small pieces, and roll each piece into a ball.

Perfect amber colored sphere sitting on parchment.

I know... big difference there.  It's amazing what a 40 degree temperature change can do, right?

7.  Place a large spoonful of powdered sugar or cornstarch into a plastic baggie or other covered container, throw each individual cough drop inside, and shake.

This is done to keep the cough drops from sticking to each other during storage.  Don't throw everything in at once and shake... this may cause you to have some interesting clumps of cough drops, and nobody wants that!

Balls are no longer totally spherical, and are now heavily covered with powdered sugar.
This coating is a bit too heavy for my taste, so I just went through a process
of shaking then pouring out the excess several times.

Store inside the refrigerator.  These lemon-honey cough drops will keep for 6 months.

**Special Note

If you're making the soft cough drops, it's extraordinarily important to place them in the fridge immediately upon completion.  They lose their round shape fairly quickly.  By the time you get them in the refrigerator, they'll more closely resemble disks than balls.  This doesn't change their effectiveness at all, but can make for a bit of frustration in people that prefer to have "pretty" cough drops.

Why do I prefer to make soft cough drops?

With soft cough drops, you can't just crunch and swallow.  This means that my daughter gets more of the throat coating benefits of the honey, while allowing the echinacea to be absorbed into her bloodstream.  Hard cough drops are much easier to deal with during the creation process, but I prefer effectiveness over ease.

Do you have another cough drop recipe that you enjoy?  
Do share!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Taking A Day Off

I'm taking a day off from writing today, since my daughter is feeling rather sick.  I need to run back and forth quite a bit, and this means that I'm not able to properly focus on my writing.

That being said, I'll have a post for you tomorrow that deals with making your own honey-lemon cough drops to soothe a sore throat!


Friday, December 14, 2012

Icicles and Energy Efficiency

Icicles are so cool!!!

Unless, of course, they're hanging from your house, that is.  Ugh.

Obviously, icicles are created by the melting and re-freezing of snow.  Icicles on windows and roofs are partially formed due to heat escaping from a building.  The more heat that escapes, the more frost and snow melts, and the bigger the icicles.  Fortunately, my icicles appear to be an acceptable size.

Icicles hanging from the roof above the second level window.  Possibly 5-6 inches long

This is good.  It means that I'm doing a pretty decent job of creating an air seal in my home that was built in the 1890s, and has minimal insulation due to that fact. I'm happy to say that using shrink wrapped plastic really does make a difference.

I also looked at the attic window.  

The attic is unheated, so I don't actually use it.  Instead, I layered a bunch of blankets along the entry door to keep heat from escaping into that area.

Shorter, thinner icicles hanging from the roof above the attic window.

There are still icicles there, of course, but they're shorter, meaning that not nearly as much heat has managed to seep into the attic as I feared.  The upper roof doesn't have nearly the same amount of heat loss.


In this climate, ice is a fact of life.  

It'll always happen, and I realize that.  My concern, however, is judging how much heat is lost by observation of the icicles.  My neighbors on either side, for example, have homes that aren't quite as old, and the insulation, therefore, is thicker.

Amount of icicles?  

I could could use both hands to count them.  Very different from my own house.

Yet, I could see other homes that had significantly more, as well as larger, icicles hanging from them.  This let me know that I'm going in the right direction.  There's a definite difference in the overall heat inside the house, as compared to last year, and I don't believe that is due to "getting used to it."

I think I'm learning how to increase the energy efficiency of this house.  

Caulking air leaks and using plastic on the windows appear to drastically reduce the amount of time the heater remains on... which is very good, considering my computer is right next to a vent, and when the heater turns on, I'm blasted with cold air that quickly turns warm.

Not exactly a good feeling...

Energy efficiency means decreased ecological impact.  While my ecological footprint is still rather huge, I've lessened its impact tangibly.

How much so, you ask?

I'll be able to give you a guess on that one next month, when I get my December energy bill.  It'll be the first one that actually has an overlap between 2011 and 2012.  I'm rather excited about seeing the difference!

I'm hoping to see a huge change from last year to this one!

** As an aside... if you're interested in knowing the science behind the shape of an icicle (beyond the basic "water melts and you get ice" idea), Science Daily has a rather interesting short article from 2007 about the mathematics behind the process.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Relieve Muscle Aches With Arnica

Ugghhhh...  Ohhhhhh... The agony....

No more than an hour after getting inside the house, my muscles ached severely.  I had been out all day, playing with my daughter and attempting to build an igloo.  It was fun, but the result wasn't exactly pretty.  I knew I was going to be in serious pain the next day if I didn't do something fast!

Fortunately,  my medicine cabinet was well stocked, and there are certain items that are always on hand.  Baking soda, and tea tree oil are two of those items.  The third, though, is the one I use for muscle pain.


Sweet, heavenly, amazing arnica.  There's no better muscle pain reliever out there... or, at least, nothing I've ever discovered.

It never ceases to amaze me just how few people know about it.  Arnica is certainly not rare.  You can buy the cream at any health food store.  They even sell arnica drops in some places... though, those aren't as common.

medicine cabinet shelf holes Arnica drops in a box and Arnica Rub (cream) in a squeezy tube.

To be honest, though, even I didn't pay much attention to arnica until a few years ago.  I knew what it was, but I had never used it.

What changed?

After taking a blood sample at the doctor's office, a nurse grabbed some cream and put some on top of the area in which the horrible, vampiric needle had broken the skin of my arm.

"What's that?"  I asked, intrigued.  I had never received any sort of ointment after having blood drawn.

"It's just a little something to keep you from forming any bruises."  He showed me the small container of arnica.

True to his word, no bruise ever formed... one of the only times I've ever been able to say that.  Naturally, I researched.

Arnica montana is actually a perennial flowering herb that resembles a daisy, and the blossom is what is used to prepare the cream for medicinal purposes.  It's been used in medicine since the 1500s as a way to reduce inflammation and aches.

The herbal form is for topical use only, and should not be ingested.  

The arnica drops shown above are actually heavily diluted.  Never, EVER eat any form of arnica unless it was specially prepared for ingestion, and don't take any more than the package suggests.  Oral misuse can be dangerous.

The cream, on the other hand, you can go crazy with.  It has no known interactions with medications.  It should be used on unbroken skin only, but it's perfectly safe... unless, of course, you're allergic to it.  I've never met anyone that is allergic to arnica, but there's a first time for everything, right?

After playing hard in the snow all day, I ached beyond belief.  I knew that if I didn't do something, I'd be in agony the next day, for sure!  Arnica, of course, came to my rescue.

To be honest, though, I didn't just use arnica, this time.

Normally when it comes to muscle pain, I use arnica, and that's it.  I'm good to go.  I knew that after building masterpieces with my daughter, shoveling an extraordinarily long driveway, making snow angels, throwing snowballs, and building half an igloo, I was going to regret my fun the next day...

So I went into the bathroom and ran some hot water for a bath.  

Hot water soothes muscles, of course, and I needed all the help I could get.  I added some coconut oil, not because it does anything for muscles, but because it's great for dry skin... something that gets worse when environmental temperatures dip.  We all know how much I love coconut oil.

I sat laid in the hot water for around 22 minutes (based on the length of a South Park episode I watched on Netflix), then got out and grabbed my arnica cream.  I used it on all the muscles I knew would be effected... which was, pretty much, my entire body.

I also ate one arnica drop once per hour, which is something I only do when I know my pain is going to be intense.  To be honest, though, I'm not entirely sure the drop form of arnica actually does anything more than soothe my emotions.  A placebo effect, if you will.

The next morning I woke up feeling fantastic.  

My muscles were a little tired, but only as tired as they would feel after a nice round at the gym: a good, healthy tired.  The kind of tired that doesn't effect your ability to function normally.

Well, except my butt.

I never even thought about rubbing any arnica on my gluteous maximus, and I should have.  It was the only part of my body that was in pain.  I couldn't sit for more than a few moments, and that lasted all day.  So, yeah... neglecting to rub arnica in that location was a huge pain in the butt.  Literally.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How NOT to Make an Igloo

Yesterday, I mentioned that I got a great deal of playing work done.

Part of the beauty of the upper Midwest is that the ground gets blanketed with snow.  The especially cool thing about snow, aside being fun, is that the air doesn't seem nearly as cold when it covers the ground, due, no doubt, to its reflecting quality.

This means tons of play time!

After packing layer upon layer of snow gear onto my daughter and myself, we headed out into the snow covered backyard.  Snow suits, thick gloves, scarves, boots, coats, hats, and hoods covered both of our bodies, on top of the fact that our normal clothing was already three layers thick. We both deeply resembled Randy (Ralphie's brother) from A Christmas Story.
"I can't put my arms down!"
First, I noticed that the driveway needed to be shoveled, even though it was still snowing.  If you let it get too deep, after all, shoveling later will be a huge pain in the butt. Some people would consider this a setback in their quest for fun, but not me.  I after all, could use all the snow that was covering the driveway!  I had...

2 snow brick molds: one green, one purple

Snow brick makers!!!

What does a woman that dreams of building a house with her own two hands do when faced with an extraordinarily thick blanket of snow?  That's right!  She goes out there and actually attempts to build one!

Notice that I used the word attempts...

I elected to make an igloo.  Igloos are a brilliant example of sustainable design.  Excess heat is released through a small opening at the top, yet enough of it is kept inside that temperatures are considerably warmer.  The dome structure ensures that heat bounces off the walls and, therefore, doesn't collect in a single area, therefore avoiding collapse.

Like I said... Brilliant!

My father had made one back when I was very small, and it was not only structurally sound, but also designed well enough that it outlasted the rest of the snow on the ground that winter.  I wanted to replicate that awesomeness.  Just one problem.

I'm not my father.

I don't have the same background.  Or experience.  I don't have the same muscle strength.

I should've started small.

Instead, I elected to truly make a nice sized home.  The base of my igloo was a little under six feet in diameter.  It was going to be awesome!

Only... six feet is a little big for a first attempt.  Six feet meant that any mistakes I made would be harder to fix.  A six foot igloo also meant a lot of time was necessary... and the sun sets at around 4:30.


I worked on building my igloo, while at the same time playing with my daughter.  I'd work on pounding snow into the snow brick maker molds, I'd put a snow brick into place, then I'd get into a car created with snow so that I could drive my daughter to an airport so that we could get into a plane that, of course, was also made out of snow.

Or I'd help build a snow man.  Occasionally, we'd make snow angels.  Sometimes we'd have short snowball fights.

You're beginning to see how little time I spent building!  By sunset, I ended up with only this much complete:

Base looks more like a rounded square than a circle.  It's three bricks high.

Rather than call this the beginning of an igloo, I decided to call this a walled patio, since the height of the walls was just below my knees.

You'll also notice a glaring mistake.

Look at how thin those walls are.  Had I been able to get it much higher, it would have collapsed.  There's no way something so thin could hold the weight of a roof!  The walls should have been two, or even three, feet wide.

I may have been dreaming of an igloo, but I really can't complain.  I have a very sturdy walled in area that will hold far longer than the surrounding snow!  Plus...

Tracks are in the thin snow of the structure's interior.  Some grass pokes out.

Since the structure was open to the elements, it felt welcoming to the residents of my yard.  The tracks in the photo above were left by a rabbit that politely came in through the doorway, then left the same way.  I found them the next morning.

So, while I didn't succeed in building an igloo, I did succeed in having a great time with my daughter while increasing my knowledge base.  I'd say this was a win!

Well... except for the aching muscles.  It may be that I played just a little too hard.


There's no such thing as playing too hard!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Living In a Non-Blizzard Bubble

You know that huge Blizzard that raged through the Midwest?

The one that dumped crazy amounts of snow on Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota?  The storm that caused over 500 crashes, and over 1000 spin-outs, leaving cars in ditches for miles upon miles, and knocking out satellite reception due to pounds of snow falling on people's receivers?

Yeah, I wasn't a part of that.

We got oodles of snow here, just fifty miles away from Minneapolis, but we were in this tiny little non-blizzard bubble.  Seriously.  As the snow came down, non-stop, I periodically checked the weather radar maps, and watched the snow move over and around the area that I live in.

This is a constant.  

For whatever reason, this tiny part of Southern Minnesota just doesn't normally get hit as hard as the rest of the state when bad weather comes in. Perhaps the lakes that surround us have something to do with it.  Maybe it has to do with the hills.  Possibly, it's both of these factors combined.

I honestly don't know.  What I do know, however, is that this strangely protective environmental bubble was the reason why this area was settled in from the very beginning (as in, before the Europeans came so long ago).

Therefore, the majority of the storm avoided us.

What does this mean for me?

Well, it means that even though the snowfall was constant, it wasn't as bad as everywhere around my strangely protective environmental bubble.  I, therefore, did the most logical thing possible.

I played.

And played.

And then I played some more.

My daughter and I were having environmentally friendly fun in the great outdoors, building masterpieces in the snow, throwing snowballs, and generally having a great time.

For hours on end.

We ended up completely exhausted... and happy.  No television, not computer games, no technology at all. Well, except for the couple of pictures that I had to take to document this beautiful blanket of snow.

Can you blame me, though?

Tomorrow I'll have more for you, but today I'll just going to sit back with a book and some hot chocolate...

And relax!

Hey!  Playing hard all day long can be exhausting!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Squirrel Tracks and Movement Speed

Yesterday I promised a future update on squirrel tracks, and I thought it would be a while before I delivered.

I was wrong.


As a refresher, this is the shoddy-looking track from yesterday that I grumbled about.

You can't see the foot pads or claws, the track is so old that it's beginning to lose its definition, and the paws didn't come together in that really cool line that I mentioned.  What a rip-off.

Ok, maybe you don't think so, but I sure did.  I love animal tracks, whether I know what in the world I'm looking at or not, and since squirrels are so common in my yard, I wanted a really good track.

And I got that, instead. 

Naturally, I was a wee bit miffed.

Well, I think perhaps that my little critter friends sensed this, because not long after I finished off my blog post, I came back out to this.

Top two paws: large paws spaced wide, Bottom two paws: small paws close together

Absolutely perfect squirrel tracks!

The larger paws at the top of the photo are the hind feet.  The smaller ones below are the front feet.

Seems backwards, right?  The reason for this is that squirrels move in a hopping motion.  They use their front paws to propel their back ones ahead.

A short distance behind those, I found tracks that showed all four paws in a straight line.

Four paws in a line from left to right: Large, small, small, large.

Why do these patterns change?  It has to do with speed.  The faster a squirrel is moving, the farther apart the paws land, so in the second picture, the squirrel was moving at a slower pace.  Here's a visual guide, to clarify:

Four sets of tracks moving diagonally lower left to upper right.  Each set shows the paws coming closer together.  A blue arrow points from lower left to upper right, labelled "Gaining Speed".

Pretty cool, huh?  I think I could really enjoy learning more about tracking.

And I found a really basic guide to a few common tracks via South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks.  It's worth a look if you're interested in tracking and live on the northern side of the country!  Even if you don't have the same mammals in your area, it's a good starting point.

And now I'm heading back outside for more animal tracking joy!!!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Backyard Animal Tracks: A Lesson In Assumption

Seeing snow on the ground, first thing in the morning, always brings a smile to my face.

I woke up before my daughter this morning, which is a feat in and of itself.  This means that I had plenty of time to do my own thing.  I thought about watching some "grown up" tv... you know, like an action flick or a thriller.  Something I don't normally have the chance to do, since I don't want my 4 year old to have nightmares.

In the end, though, I decided that what I really wanted to do was play Ultimate Animal Tracker Detective.  Not exactly something I'm good at, but it's fun, and that's what really matters.

Since it snowed the evening before, I had the opportunity to see what the critters living in the area had been up to.  Standing on the back porch, I saw a lot of squirrel tracks.

This is good.  

I know squirrels by now, so I had a fair shot at having my visions of animal tracker grandeur become a reality.  I ran out with my camera to take pictures.  There was a really nice example of the little guy moving in one direction, then quickly turning and re-tracing his path.

The line of tracks goes diagonally up and left, then back down and to the right.
Add caption

As I stared at the photo, however, I realized that I was going to have to give up my aspirations toward becoming a great and magnificent tracker.Why?

Because I wasn't looking at squirrel tracks at all!  

I made an assumption due to what is common in my yard, and ran with it.  My assumption, however, was wrong.


What I was actually looking at were rabbit tracks.  Here's a close-up of a track a bit further down the trail.

two small impressions, one after the other, then two large impressions, side by side.
He was moving to the right in this photo.

Unlike squirrels, who have more of a squished up look to their tracks, rabbit tracks are y-shaped.  While moving, rabbits land with their hind feet first, and their front feet last, one foot behind the other.

I had a mission.

Since I made the mistake of assuming I had found squirrel tracks, I decided I had to rectify this infraction by finding real squirrel tracks.  I'd search, therefore, until I found them.

Yeah... I have a lot of dumb ideas.

My yard, which was once a pristine white with no breaks except rabbit tracks is now filled with boot tracks. The good news?

squished up print - large hind feet first, smaller front paws behind and "inside" the larger two.
Again, this photo is showing movement to the right.

It's a rather cruddy photo, but I finally found some squirrel tracks along the edge of the fenced area of my backyard, and ended at the base of a tree.

Go, me!!!

While not a perfect image, it gives you an idea of the difference in their tracks.  The bounding movement of a squirrel produces a rather squished up track, as the front and back paws land close together.  Sometimes the tracks look like this, but other times, the tracks will actually come together as a near perfect line of four paws.

That's the look I was hoping to give you.

Oh, well... Never say Never!  I'll be sure to post that particular track when I find it in the future.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cookie Time!!! Jan Hagel, a Dutch Favorite

Cookie time!!!

sketch of me holding a cookie the size of my head, smiling.  2 hearts, 1 star, and a rainbow above me.

Every December I go through a mad cookie-baking spree.  Believe it or not, baking your own cookies is actually better for the environment than buying them in a store.

There are no additional ingredients for preservation, and no gigantic factories using machines to press batter of unknown origin onto a conveyor belt.  It's just you, a bunch of easily recognized ingredients, a few cookie sheets, a stove, and a mixer.

Every December, I take out anywhere from seven to eight recipe cards and challenge myself to get everything done.  Last year I only made three different cookie types, mainly because I was moving to the opposite side of the country.  It was not a good season for baking, considering I also had boxes after boxes to unpack.

This year I took seven recipe cards out.  I plan to use them all.  First recipe?

Jan Hagel

These Christmas cookies are a popular tradition in Holland.  They're spread out onto a cookie sheet and cut into squares or rectangles after coming out of the oven.  And now it's time for a disclaimer:

I've never been to Holland, and have only had one Dutch friend in my entire life... and that was when I was in 3rd grade.  That being said, this recipe may or may not be like the true Dutch recipe.  All I can guarantee is that it's yummy!


  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 egg yolk (save the white)
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of nuts, crushed or diced (I usually use a bit less.  Go by your specific taste)
  • 1 tablespoon of water

Remember the black walnuts that I cured and smashed open with a hammer?  I elected to use them in the recipe this year.  Normally, I use either walnuts or pecans, depending on my mood, as well as what's available in my pantry, but I obviously have plenty of black walnuts, so... they felt like a great idea!


1.  Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Blend together the butter, sugar, egg yolk (don't forget to save the white!), flour, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.  The result will be crumbly.

Dough has large, crumbled texture.

3.  Evenly grease your cookie sheet (I use lard for this, having elected to do away with shortening and cooking sprays).

4.  Drop your crumbly mixture of yumminess onto the sheet, and press it all along the bottom.  Leave no spaces.

5.  Whisk together the reserved egg white and the water.  Stop when it's nice and frothy.

6.  Brush the frothy mixture all over the top of the dough you've pressed into the pan.  It may or may not retain the froth as you brush.  Don't worry about that.  This doesn't really effect the resultant deliciousness.

Pressed dough, shining due to the smooth egg white brushed on top

7.  Sprinkle the nuts on top.  I usually don't use them all, but I'm not heavily into nuts, so this is a personal decision.  How much you use doesn't effect the baking times.

pressed dough glistens due to the egg white/water mixture.  Crushed nuts on top

(I crushed my nuts, as you can see, and the resultant scent very closely resembled golden delicious apples.  Black walnuts are definitely an interesting type of nut!)

8.  Place your pan into the oven and wait for what feels like an eternity, but is really only 20-23 minutes.  When they're ready, you'll see that the top is slightly browned, as are the edges.

9.  Remove from the oven, and cut into squares or rectangles immediately.

Slightly browned cookies, cut into squares:  6 rows, 8 columns

Trust me on this... one year I got distracted and left them alone for about 5 or 10 minutes before coming back to cut them, and, well... let's just say that They ended up getting torn into squares, rather than cut.

Yep.  It was messy.  Learn from my mistake.  Don't wait to cut it!

Now go do the earth a favor and make your own cookies this Christmas, instead of buying them.  This recipe is super easy, and overwhelmingly yummy.

We all love yummy, right?

*** sorry about that yellow spot in all of these pictures.  I keep saying that I need to get a new camera, and more and more it's looking like I really have to do it.  Ugh...

Friday, December 7, 2012

Non-Sugar Sweetener Types: A Diabetic's P.O.V.


I looked up at the sweeteners on the shelf at the grocery store and saw one that I hadn't seen in the past: Monk Fruit in the Raw.  I was thoroughly excited, and immediately grabbed it up.

See, I'm a type 1 diabetic, and have been since age 4.  It wasn't until around 5 years ago that I got my first insulin pump, which allows me more freedom with which foods I place in my body... and when I can eat them, so I spent the majority of my life having to stick to strict dietary guidelines.

This isn't a plea for sympathy - not at all!  I actually think my diabetes has caused me to live a healthier lifestyle than the average non-diabetic in this country.  Rather, it's needed to explain my excitement over finding a new type of sweetener.  I've been raised on artificial sweeteners, because I couldn't use normal sugar in daily food and drink items.

Try to tell a kindergartner to stay away from sugary drinks at a birthday party.

I dare you.

Ah ha ha!  Yeah, right!  Anyone who claims it's possible to keep children away from them is either naive or lying.  And don't even get me started with middle school and the pressure to fit in there...

Regular cokes and sugar sweetened kool-aid were a no-go.  I got the diet stuff, or I got nothing.  This didn't bother me, for the most part.  To be honest, having grown up with diet drinks has caused me to look at the regular ones with that same "Eew... you drink that?" look that everyone else uses with diet drinks.  You enjoy what you're used to.

That being said, I know my sweeteners.  I had diabetes before aspartame (the blue stuff) was a popular item on store shelves (It was approved for store shelves in 1981, then released in 1982, but it wasn't until a few years later that it really picked up in popularity.).  I began with saccharin (the pink stuff), and I didn't like it.  It had a really yucky aftertaste.  It was better than nothing, though.

Well, you know... except that it causes cancer in lab animals... and it takes bad.  

I went on to use aspartame.  It was much preferable. When sucralose (the yellow stuff) came out, I was very excited.  Indeed, when I became pregnant with my daughter, I switched over entirely, since sucralose doesn't cross the placental barrier, unlike aspartame, which has been found, even if it was in minute amounts.  It was artificially created through replacement of three specific hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with variants of the element chlorine. Not perfect, but a step up from the pink and blue stuff, at any rate.

Later, I tried Stevia sweeteners (the green stuff).  Stevia is a natural sugar alternative, so it's it's totally green.  I grew a plant at home, and I bought packets of the powder form.  Stevia has one benefit that the other sweeteners don't - natural fiber.  It was a far healthier choice, of course, but I couldn't handle it.  The problem I had with stevia is the same as what I had with saccharin.

Gross aftertaste.  

As much as it pained me to go back to something artificial, I couldn't stand the aftertaste.  Some people like it.  I'm glad they do, and I wish I did, too.  Strangely, as much as I hated the powder form, I really liked sucking on the fresh leaves.  If I had a sudden craving for something sweet, I'd just go out and pick a green leaf from my stevia.  This was a step in the right direction.  Plus, as an added bonus... I discovered that preying mantises loved to perch on my stevia plant, so I attracted some garden friendly insects at the same time.


That wasn't enough, though.  I needed to feel I could use it daily, and with pleasure....And that brings us back where we were at the beginning of this post.

I took out a packet of Monk Fruit in the Raw.

Henceforth, we will call this "the orange stuff".

Monk fruit grows on a tree, while stevia is an herb.  There was a chance that this might change things for me... maybe cause the sweetener to give off a little less of that aftertaste, or even none at all!

I crossed my fingers. 

The texture of this sweetener is very similar to that of stevia powder: dense and very finely ground.  As I dropped 1/4 of a packet into my coffee (daring, when we consider that I'm a coffee fiend, I know).  I always start with less than I think I'll need.  You never know what you'll get with non-caloric sweeteners, after all!  It dissolved quite well.  Better than sucralose, which is what I mostly use.

Then came the taste test.




I needed more sweetener.  1/4 of a packet was not enough.  I went up to half a packet, and recognized that the sweetening effect was much better.

My review?

Monk fruit sweetener has that funky aftertaste... just like stevia powder.  The good news, though, is that the aftertaste isn't nearly as strong.  It's something I could get used to if I tried.

I now need to evaluate whether or not I'll make that effort.  I know I should.  Health, after all, is a pretty strong priority, and environmental health is one, as well.  Anything that comes from the earth is going to have less of a negative effect on it than its man-made alternative.

But will I do it?  I'll certainly try.  It's worth the effort, all things considered.  What would you do in this same situation?  No wrong answers here, by the way.  Everyone is different.

If it doesn't work out, though, I discovered that the In The Raw sweetener brand makes an agave sweetener, and we all know how much I like agave nectar!

Of course, I highly doubt that one falls into the "non-caloric" category.  I'll need to take a look.