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Honeysuckle Buzz – a Champagne Cocktail from the Garden

29 Jul

So one of my besties’ bridal showers was this weekend:

IMG_6367Observe – I clean up well, and enjoy wearing dresses (not just my bee suit).  Also, my dress is Rhode Island themed.  Not really.  I have always loved nautical things.

Regardless – I was in charge of games and favors (the former, I was not so excited about – the latter gave me an excuse to get crafty)…and then I put myself in charge of creating a signature cocktail for the event.  I walked out into my garden for inspiration and decided to use the last of the honeysuckle blossoms!

I remember as a little girl, walking in the woods with my mother and pulling the stamens out of honeysuckle blossoms and “drinking” the nectar, it is such a fond memory that although the vine is wildly invasive, it’s hard to think of removing it.

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The first step is creating honeysuckle simple syrup, which of course necessitates gathering up some blossoms -erring on the side of whiter rather than more yellow/orange.

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Add hot, but not boiling water to the jar (I sized up – so this is a pint jar), cover it, and let it sit for 12-24 hours.   You should *just* cover the blossoms.

IMG_0048After it’s set – strain it into a measuring cup – for every cup of water, I add 2/3 cup of honey.  You can go 1:1 and for more strongly “scented” syrups  – but I find that the honeysuckle gets lost easily with too much honey – unlike mint which can stand up to it a bit better.  Whisk the honey in until it’s dissolved – on a warm day, you shouldn’t need to add any heat to it – but if you do, you can feel free to transfer it to a pan – just DON’T LET IT BOIL!

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Et voila.  Once it’s done, transfer it to a storage container and move it to the fridge.  Cool & then shake before using!

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The Honeysuckle Buzz

Tablespoon of Honeysuckle Simple Syrup

4 ounces of Champagne

Stir with a bar spoon

Garnish with an edible flower or a honeysuckle blossom (I picked Borage for some color, but the honeysuckle adds a lovely scent)

 

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Pickles are best made at midnight.

14 Jul

Pickles are best made at midnight after the thunder has rushed out the heat of the day. You can sneak into the yard barefoot to pick the grape leaves you’ll need, feel the grass between your toes cold with rain, the night air still breathing the conversations of far away strangers. Everything else you’ll need is inside wrapped in the quiet of the house where soon the rumble of the jars in their water bath will sound like an approaching storm.

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Herbal Sunburn Relief – Skin Cooler

6 Jul

So it’s the 5th of July, and everyone in the house has managed to get at least a spot of sunburn.

I forgot the correct order of operations and put on sunscreen after I had my swimsuit already on, so there’s a funny burn band along my décolletage where it must have shifted. L has a red back. D has red shoulders. Summer has officially begun.

Between us, there are 3 aloe plants in the house, but it’s hard for me to commit an entire plant to this project, so I decided to make something a little broader spectrum.

Herbal Skin Cooler
6 Plantain Leaves
2 Bags of Green Tea (organic preferred)
6 Healthy Sized Branches of Peppermint (not spearmint!) or 5-6 Bags of Peppermint Tea
4-6 Meaty Aloe Leaves

Do this:
* Put the kettle on!

*Gently wash the plantain leaves (more of a rinse, really) and crumple/mush them into the bottom of a quart sized mason jar.

*Gut the green tea bags (and peppermint if you’re using tea bags) and empty the tea into the jar.

*Smush the peppermint branches (stems and all) into the jar (if using branches).

*Fill the jar about halfway (should cover at least most of your plant material) with hot but not boiling water.

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*Set the jar on the counter to cool for 2 hours, shaking occasionally once it becomes cool enough to handle.

*Get the goo out of your aloe leaves. After some trial and error, I decided on slitting the leaf up the middle, cutting off about a 2-3 inch section at a time, flattening the section out, and then using the side of the jar to scrape the goo into the cooled tea. For good measure, I threw the aloe leaf husk parts into the tea as well.

*Cool/steep that in the fridge for at least an hour, shaking occasionally.

*Strain the cooler into a separate jar (or spray bottle) and then store in the fridge for up to 10 days.

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You can dab or spritz this refreshing cooler on any part of your body, but definitely hit up the sunburn spots first.

Plantain has amazing healing properties, peppermint has a cooling kick, green tea is soothing and antioxidant, and aloe does what aloe does…

I was just out watering the garden and when I came back, I spritzed it on my face, neck, and pulse points and felt instantly cooler.

Enjoy!

Herbal Nyquil – or – the effects of Catnip on Humans

27 Jun

Once upon a time, I was a poor college student.  When Christmas time came, I didn’t know what I would do.  So I decided to make herbal neck wraps for my family that they could put into the microwave, heat up, and wear while relaxing after a hard day of whatever they were doing.

I got little bits of fabric and then did research on herbs with relaxing qualities.  Then I went to the co-op and got lavender, chamomile, and catnip – which I’d read all had said relaxing qualities.

I mixed them up in a little bowl, added wheat berries (thermal mass), and stitched up little pouches.  I even made myself one.

A few weeks after Christmas, my dad called me to ask what I had put into the wraps because whenever he or his partner used them, they felt pleasantly woozy and then fell asleep.

I wasn’t sure what could have had that effect.

Then I tried my own out – pleasant wooziness, sleep.  I’d had one with just lavender in it previously and had NOT had that issue.  Chamomile is pretty mild too, so I figured it must be the catnip…further research seemed to indicate that catnip was in fact the culprit.

Now years later, I’m delving more into Things Herbal and remembered my adventures with catnip and decided to see what else it could do.

So one night, many days ago, when I was having trouble sleeping, I tossed some fresh catnip into hot (but not boiling) water:

20130619-201840.jpgLike so.

Steeped it for 20 minutes….mixed it into what I had left of a honey mint julep (effectively creating a catnip hot toddy)…and fell asleep before I had finished drinking it.

Herbal Nyquil.

***Your Mileage May Vary***

The end.

Honey Mint Julep – the tastiest honey cocktail!

24 Jun

So I’m on vacation right now in the South and I’m scheduling a few posts, so I’m writing to you FROM THE PAST right now.

Mint Juleps are my favorite summer cocktail – they’re a no brainer when you have a mint plant in the garden that just won’t quit.  I also, no surprise, have a little honey around (not mine yet, but local and raw and tasty).  So I decided to make my own version of the classic.

First of all – Minty Honey Simple Syrup:

Fill a mason jar (or equivalent) about a third full of mint leaves.  Then 1/2-2/3 full of tap water as hot as you can get it to come out.  The rest of the space in the jar should be filled with honey!  Leave a little “headspace” in there for future shaking.  I like to stir or swirl it a little at first as it’s cooling and then close it up and give it a good shake.  I’d steep that as is for at least 20-30 minutes…get it good and minty.  Shake it occasionally.  I like to make mine the night before and then leave it in the fridge to really get good and steeped.

Next, strain all the leaves out – and combine with a good bourbon (Four Roses is my current fave) at 1 part syrup to 2 parts bourbon.  I like mine sweet!  I’ve also seen a shot an a half of bourbon to 2.5 tablespoons of syrup…but that’s too precise for my taste.

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Serve over crushed ice in a julep cup if you’ve got the gear…or regular ice in something you like drinking out of…and obviously garnish with more fresh mint.  Delish!

20130619-201820.jpgCould also be consumed IN the actual garden….it’s worth considering.

Also, today is my mother’s birthday – so feel free to raise a glass to her.  I think she’d approve.

Processing Beeswax!

14 May

Last night I was chilly – we got temperatures in the 30s – brrr!  I decided to warm up by processing the wax I’ve had kicking around since last August.

IMG_5694It started out looking about like this – only there was a bunch more.  This is stuff I saved in case I want to use it for something.  Old comb turns out to be somewhat useful to have around the house.

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I stuffed it all into a stocking and a muslin shoe bag I had in my Goodwill pile…I think there’s probably a more efficient way of doing this, but it worked fine for the right-then solution…and filled the pot up with water.  I put it on a low simmer, covered it to get the heat up a bit.

IMG_5689It’s important to not leave this bad boy covered for long…or unattended really.  Wax is super flamable and from what I’ve read, boiling does weird stuff to it – so I erred on the side of not letting it get that hot.

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After I’d let it all seep out and then left it to cool in the fridge for a time – I was left with this disk of wax.  I did two batches, so got two of these disks.

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Then I stacked up my burners to get the pan as far from the heat as I could and put the pieces back into the pot sans water to let those melt again.  This part is the super tricky, really really don’t leave the kitchen at all part.  Once it had all re-melted, I poured it through another piece of old stocking and a funnel into molds and got the most gorgeous, pure gold beeswax bars.  It was quite the transformation from start to finish.

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I’m excited to have it, but don’t really have a need for it right now.  If I do, though…..it’s ready to go!

 

Winter Project – DIY Hard Cider Making

12 Feb

I’ve wanted to make hard cider for a long time – it’s my favorite drink and it seems super easy to make. A few weeks ago, L and I got some jugs of apple juice from wholefoods and ordered some cider yeast, airlocks, and stoppers. Our homebrewing package arrived last week and tonight we made the time to sit down and start the process.

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We decided to try two different juices – the wholefoods brand apple juice and a Knudsen cider with some spices in it. My current favorite cider is the JK Scrumpy Winter blend and I’m hoping that the Knudsen cider will more closely replicate that.

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While things were sterilizing, we decided to have a little sip of some apple pie flavored moonshine we picked up around midnight last night from a park & ride in Virginia from the cousin of a friend….because that’s how we do, apparently. Tasty!

We also decided to do a “before” tasting of our juices. I actually like the wholefoods juice better right now, it’s pretty plain but really apple-y. The Knudsen has a sort of “fake” taste to it, but it doesn’t have any weird ingredients….so maybe I’m just reading that in from the cinnamon and nutmeg. L thought the WF juice was pretty spicy all on its own and she was “delighted” by the sweetness and thought the knudsen cider tasted pretty similar…. We obviously have different palates. 🙂

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This is the yeast I picked up – I’d actually been hoping for a mead yeast just to leave as much residual sweetness in the cider as possible (what can I say, I have a sweet tooth!) but it was back ordered and the owner of Adventures in Homebrewing swears by this one, so in it went! I may have shaken it up too much because it was fizzing all over and I’m a little worried that I didn’t get enough into the second jug (the Knudsen).

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Adding to the jank factor on the knudsen, the size 10 stopper, which I’d measured and was pretty sure would fit the jug didn’t – so the WF brand bottle has the proper bung and airlock combo but the knudsen has a rubber glove with holes pricked in the fingers rubber banded over it…we’ll see!

So what we have going on now:
Bottle A:
Whole Foods 365 brand apple juice, 1 cup of white sugar, a tablespoon of local (though not my) honey, and a bunch of yeast – S airlock.

Bottle B:
Knudsen Cider & Spice, no additives on our end, a little yeast, a rubber glove with holes in it. I’ve got fingers crossed that this doesn’t fail – but if it doesn’t start bubbling, I can always add more yeast.

All told, so far it’s taken about 10 minutes. Pretty cool! They’re sitting in my kitchen for tonight, but tomorrow will go in the basement until further notice! I’ll be checking on them about every 3 days to see when the bubbles stop and then we’ll rack and bottle…or something. Adventure, as always.

—-a little update—-

They’re both bubbling this morning, A more than B and obviously with the airlock on A it’s a lot more obvious. I set up my indoor/outdoor weather station with a monitor in the basement (my original plan had been to monitor my hive with it, but that’s moot currently) and found out that it’s just a touch too cold down there for proper fermentation, so I set them up in the corner of my living room with a heavy towel wrapped all around them and the sensor for my weather station tucked between the bottles. Right now it’s about 66 degrees in the house and the sensor with the bottles is reading just a touch colder than that. As long as it stays above 65, the yeasts will be happy yeasts!

Just when you look away…

21 Aug

I got all freaked out over being queenless at the beginning of the season, and then just when I decided I was fine – my hive actually became queenless…I think.

There’s so much about having a warre hive that I totally love, and other parts that leave me a little wanting…

So the hive – I might have killed the queen on the day I tried to take the top half-box off or when I nadired the hive….or the hive might have swarmed on a day that I wasn’t around. I’m not totally sure. I just know that at the end of June there were a lot of bees but that only one (and the half) box were full and at the end of July there were not all that many bees that I could see. In fact, I declared my hive dead at the beginning of August. It seemed like there just weren’t that many bees around and then I watched three wasps walk right in unimpeded. 😦

So I blocked the entrance way down and then left them alone – all I could do really. I talked to the guy I got my bees from and he said that there’s nothing I can do but freeze the hive to kill any possible diseases and start over in the spring.

Then I went out today and there seem like there are a lot more bees around. I can’t tell if they’re mine or if they’re robbers. There wasn’t much pollen coming in, but there is capped brood that I can see through the window. I made a video of the entrance:

 

There are bees hovering a bit, which is a robbing sign, but I’m just not sure. There are also wasps around, but none going into the hive – which is an improvement.
I can’t go out again until Friday, but on Friday I’m planning to put some damp sugar in the feeder. If they’re rebounding, I want to give them the best chance that I can.

One of my ladies in a squash flower.

Squash ripening on the vine.

Pickles I made from garden cukes – my first canning project this year!

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