How to Make Dandelion Wine (and any other you can think of!)

“Honey, you want to harvest these dandelions before I mow?” my husband called out.  Why, I didn’t even know the dandelions were here yet, and there they were in lovely carpets of gold; their lion manes of spring feeding the bees and dotting the yard with color.  I love dandelions.

Using my thumbnail, I simply pop off the tops of the flowers.  Like a little bee myself, I flit from flower to flower.  I filled a quart jar and a half and still left some in the garden beds for the honey gatherers.  The next thing you want to do is to pour the golden flowers into a paper bag and leave it on the porch on its side.  This allows the stragglers to escape.  No one wants ant wine.

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Wine is, in its essence, fermented sweet tea or juice with yeast that feeds off the sugars turning it into a delightful and medicinal drink.

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Bring flowers, one peeled orange, and 16 cups (1 gallon) of water to boil.  Turn off heat and cover with lid and let sit for 15 minutes.

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Strain into a gallon container used for wine making.  Leave a few inches headspace. You will have some tea left over.  Add 4 cups of sugar (I prefer organic, unbleached, raw sugar) and 2 cups of brown sugar (molasses is what makes it brown).  Stir to dissolve.

Dandelions taste particularly good with orange and caramel notes.  I like to add orange extract and butterscotch extracts when making dandelion jelly.  In this case, we are using fresh orange and brown sugar to create those notes.

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Let cool to 90 degrees then add 1/4 teaspoon of white wine yeast.  Stir.  Replace lid and carboy.  Pour a smidge of vodka into carboy to specified lines.  Let sit in a cool corner and bubble away.  It will bubble (the yeast is eating the sugar) for 10 days to 3 weeks depending on what kind of wine you are making.

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When the bubbling stops then it is time to siphon the wine (all but the bottom 1/2 inch of sediment) into super clean bottles.  Place in root cellar for 6 months to a year or more.

You can use any fruit or herb to make wine.  If there is enough juice and sugars in the fruit (like in grapes) then you just add yeast to the juice.  Most things will be made into a strong tea like the above recipe as well as my chokecherry wine and rosehip/lavender mead.  Have fun and experiment.  Use 4-8 cups of sugar.  Use 1/4 or 1/5 of a teaspoon of wine yeast, red or white.

My chokecherry wine was pretty dang strong after a year, but after two years, lord it was smooth, and I highly wished that I hadn’t given away all of the bottles!

30 Days of Real Food (and the science of food)

I wonder when we as a whole forgot how to eat?  I doubt my Depression-era great-grandmas ever had to overthink it; what do we have to eat?  Women all over the world wake up in villages and towns and prepare food every day dictated by culture and availability.  The women in Okinawa make sushi and rice dishes, in Sardinia pasta is being made, in India a curry can be found, in America (and probably other places), we don’t know what the hell we are eating.  Most of us have lost any cultural identity we had and foods are so prevalent, shipped in from everywhere, that we haven’t an inkling of seasonality or even health.  It is incredible that we have forgotten how and what to eat.  Convenience and big companies dominate.

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You can find a fad a minute and I trust none of them.  Keto?  Come on.  Extreme veganism?  Not healthy or realistic.  Paleo?  Don’t get me started.  I might be a housewife, but I do research like a University professor.  I want to know what we should eat, why, when, how, and I desperately want to stop overthinking it.  My theory (which is not a new one) is that we are dying and sick from sedentary lifestyles, stress, loneliness, and chemicals.  Aka: fake food.

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Doug and I decided that in May we would do a 30 day Real Food challenge.  Is that the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard?  Can you imagine great-grandma saying something like, “You guys eat fake food?”  It sounds like a sci-fi movie.  Most of the food that we eat is indeed chemically altered and processed.  For example, my day yesterday: coffee (real!), cereal, almond milk, a cookie, a previously frozen breakfast sandwich at the book store, 3 dates (real!), and a breakfast bar.  I did make a mean Shepherd’s Pie from my daughter, Emily’s recipe.  Instead of lamb, as she called for, I used Beyond Meat crumbles.  Delicious, convincing, but my intuition screams that these new fangled veggie meats are not what they seem.  And they are, in a nutshell, chemically altered.

30 days of Real Food.  Which means, no eating out, and I need to conquer my lack of creativity in the realm of lunches.  Cookies are not lunch, y’all.

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While I figure all that out, I have two great books to share with you.  One is called, 100 Million Years of Food by Stephen Le.  It studies the eating habits from then to now and how in each area of the world, our enzymes and needs changed.  Much of his research comes out as, damned if you do, damned if you don’t, but it is fascinating information.  Yes meat will make you stronger, more fertile, and fast, but you will also peak and die early.  Yes, being vegetarian extends lifespan but at the expense of energy and nutrient deficiency.  Yes, dairy makes you grow strong and tall, but also increases the risk of hip fractures.  (Incidentally there are only a few places in the world that the people developed the enzymes to process dairy; Nordic, Celtic, and some African regions.)  Fruit is good for you unless you eat too much, then you increase your risk of Pancreatic cancer.  The whole book is like that but I enjoy the research and the ideas it triggers within myself.

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The second book is called, The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.  You all know I wanted to attend cooking school, and I have even toured a few, but let’s be honest, I probably won’t work in a restaurant, I just want to be a better cook.  I saved roughly $9000 by purchasing this book!  It is the science and exact how-to’s and why’s of cooking.  Love it.  I can’t wait to cook my way through it, not unlike the popular blog, book, and film, Julia and Julia.  I will have to, for the first time in my life, actually follow the recipe.  But there is no chemically altered food found here.

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Along with our food ideas, we are also walking 3+ miles a day around the lake in the evenings, completing the exercise stations at the lake on the weekends, and incorporating yoga into our routine.  Our hope is, not only weight loss, but more vitality, energy, strength, and overall health, as well as a shift in our thinking so that we can sustain a healthy lifestyle.  Perhaps you would like to join in on the challenge!

Five Decorating Elements to Create the Perfect Space (and taking life slow and easy)

When making a bedroom cozy, or a kitchen entertainment friendly, or in this case, setting up a reading nook, there are specific components to decorating a space to consider.  The addition of the following things will create a peaceful, flowing, and delightful space.

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1. Incorporate plants- Besides the obvious benefits of cleaning the air and releasing oxygen, they are beautiful live creations to share the space with.  Put a small rose in a pot from the grocery store.  Don’t be afraid to bring in big plants and some unusual ones.  I have a poinsettia year round and a large Asian aloe.  Use pots that please you.

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2. Add gentle light- Do not turn on the overhead lights!  Twinkly lights and candles make a space so serene.  Oil lamps add unexpected coziness.  My eyes have been a little funny lately so I begrudgingly hauled up a lamp from the basement and put it behind my reading chair.  It actually feels cozy as well.

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3. Add color- Add at least three colors and then repeat them.  Even if you are an austere type of decorator, add three different shades of white.  My pops of southwestern color all work together because at least some of the colors repeat themselves in the patterns.  The vibrant pink, reds, blue, and the yellow all are found in two or more items.  It doesn’t matter what the pattern is as long as the colors repeat; florals can mixed with stripes and other designs.

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4. Add comfortable places to sit.  We have our two god-awful recliners with chewed arm rests, but covering them with inexpensive blankets transforms them.  A rocking chair with pillows is always inviting.

5. Add things you love.  Like books, or souvenirs, or cats.

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Finally, take time to enjoy your space.  It’s a little crazy out there sometimes.  Everyone is in such a rush.  At the grocery store the other day there was a quite elder woman who moved slowly and kept adjusting her oxygen tube.  She stood in front of me in line and every few minutes she would mutter, “Come on!  Hurry up!” to the people in front of her.  She sighed exasperated and practically bumped the lady in front of her out of the way to get to the counter.  Why on earth was she in such a hurry?  And did she get there any faster?  On the way home, on thirty mile and hour roads, tailgaters checked out my bumper.

Listen folks, life is going to end before we know it and I know y’all trying to get there before it does, but slow and easy is the new beauty secret and anti-depressant.  You will get there when you get there.  We ought to cut everyone some slack and not schedule ourselves to the point of hysteria.  Take some things out of your schedule.  Take time to smile and chat with the cashier.  Drive safely.  If someone is driving in front of you super slow, pretend like it is your grandpa or your granddaughter.  Just easy now.

And after the supper dishes are cleared, pour a glass of wine and set down in your reading and resting area and enjoy the space.  The way you decorate can be a respite from the world.

 

Planting in Glass Jars

Planting in canning jars and other large glass vessels is such a fun idea.  I have seen these a few places now and I love the idea.  My bamboo is planted in a canning jar.  I love the idea of giving succulents in canning jars as gifts.

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I equally love the idea of using larger glass jars to showcase pine trees, like this one that we saw at a restaurant in New Mexico.  They really would have to be for a party or a few weeks of decoration because of the lack of drainage.  But they really are charming.  I can also envision miniature rose bushes in large glass jars lining a table.  The ideas are endless.

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My Easter bunnies

My Easter table this year will seat ten.  Bright colored oil cloth of reds and blues and my new Fiesta ware will be used at each place.  I am making a feast of enchiladas, chili rellenos, beans, rice, guacamole, and icy margaritas.  Perhaps a bit untraditional for Easter dinner but shaking things up is my specialty.  Succulents or miniature cacti in canning jars may very well complete the décor.

So grab those wide mouth jars and plant away!  Gifts and entertaining just got more creative and fun.

 

Two Days in Santa Fe

I am sitting in a coffee shop on the Plaza enjoying a delicious brew in a corner booth overlooking the frost covered buildings and the vast sky that promises warmer weather today.

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I read a study that compared the frequencies of people and places and how we thrive best when matched with our own similar frequency level regarding people and lands.  According to the study, if you were to close your eyes and someone placed a stone from a place that you love in one hand and a stone from a place you do not like, you would notice the difference.  This place matches my frequency.  Whether crossing the Santa Fe Plaza or eating red chile in Socorro or driving though farm land or artist towns, this is my place.  One day…

I adore the architecture and the history here.  The traditional adobe with straw sticking through its ancient walls.  The oldest house in the United States is here and was built in 1598.  Down a small street next to San Miguel church (circa 1636) is the house and free museum.  I loved seeing the tortilla press (not too different than mine) and the stone used for grinding corn into meal (a bit different than my Vitamix) and the other items of the era.

There is a distinctive look to New Mexico.  It is all about the details here.  Punched tin, kivas, adobe, bright trim, murals, and vigas create textures, history, and art in the architecture and design here.

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We brought our granddaughter’s stuffed animal with us and have been capturing moments with it to the delight of Maryjane.

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Now I have seen the fake stuffed animal heads mounted on boards.  They are cheeky and kind of funny from a vegetarian perspective.  In fact, I have long had a stuffed moose head we named Moosletoe hanging in our living room.  One is funny; more than that might be over the top.  However, when I saw this rooster head I started giggling so much that the cashier started giggling, than Doug joined in, and the contagious laughter prompted his coming home with me.  He is hilarious.  Perhaps he will inspire my rooster, Bob, to behave himself.

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Amazing how ten days flies when on vacation.  Thanks for coming along with me, we’ll see you back at the farm!

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A Visit to the Desert Botanical Garden in Arizona

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The Desert Botanical Garden was my favorite outing this week in Phoenix.  It was the only day my friends that we are staying with had off work.   At the Botanical Garden, I learned about the ecosystem and plant life here.

The long, meandering paths lead in circles around the living outdoor exhibits, so it was easy to traverse.  I found myself fascinated by the landscape and the warm sun felt great upon my skin as the four of us wandered around the expansive space enjoying each other’s company and watching exquisite birds.  Fluffy chipmunks darted to and fro and a large hawk hovered near.

We found great enjoyment watching the blackbirds dart full speed into holes in the Saguaro cacti, apartment buildings for the birds.  Hummingbirds happily drank nectar from cactus flowers and trees in full bloom.

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I have an enormous aloe plant in my house that flowers each year and it is always a topic of conversation the first time folks visit my home.  To see these beautiful specimens full of juice and flowering prolifically beneath the Arizona sun was wonderful.

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There is a medicinal herb that I use called Chaparral.  It holds the astounding properties within it to kill cancer cells, repair teeth and kill infections.  It is often hard for me to get.  Its other name is Creosote Bush and there it was, prolific across the desert.

The herb gardens were thick with rich aroma and life as bees darted from tip to tip.

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I wondered how the indigenous people of the land here could withstand the heat.  There were many examples of willow and ironwood structures for cooking, living, and communing.  Gardens and history were provided around the simulated village.

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My husband is a very good photographer and I was happy that he could capture the day for us.  If you find yourself in Phoenix, Arizona, head to the Desert Botanical Garden for a day of history, beauty, and desert magic.

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It has been a lovely six days in Arizona and now we bid a sad farewell to our dear friends and travel east to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Queen Creek Olive Mill Tour

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The day was dusty and blustery, actually cool.  We passed a screened in garden filled with Five Color Silverbeat Swiss Chard, already two feet tall and rows of kale and flowers.  We looked out on the expansive grassy area dotted with olive trees then ducked into the store to avoid the wind.  The shop is charming with everything beautiful.  Every item they sell has a lovely label.  Each shelf meticulously designed and each product mouthwateringly tempting.  A large café serves easy fare like paninis and appetizers.  The smells of the coffee shop waft about the shop mingling with the aromas of wood fired pizza and olive oil.

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Rows of fresh olive oil are available to sample, all made there on the property.  They infuse balsamic vinegars there as well and they line the shelves with arrays of colors. Before we sample anything, we get in line for the tour.  We pass a hedge of olive trees and an ancient stone mill.

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Our tour guide has a staccato German accent and a charming demeanor.  He tells us the health benefits and caloric content of olive oil and the many uses.  He debunks the myth about olive oil’s smoke point (I knew it!  Grandmas in Italy know it as well.)  You can roast veggies, sauté, and do all of your cooking with olive oil without fear of it becoming a carcinogen.  (With that I must add that deep frying anything in itself is a carcinogen!)  I was pleased that I knew most all of what he told the crowd and I had to bite my lip to not answer questions and remind myself that I was not the tour guide!  It was interesting hearing about the IOG and their rigorous standards for purity and taste.  One must always purchase extra virgin olive oil, or second best, virgin olive oil.  Anything beyond that is lamp oil.

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As we munched on a cheese platter of pickled veggies and a Chardonnay Herbed Mascarpone and sipped wine, I reviewed the story of the founders.  A family leaving Detroit with a dream to grow olives in Arizona, raising their children on land, building a company, and succeeding.  Queen Creek Olive Mill is the only olive oil company in Arizona.

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We sampled olive oil and filled a shopping basket.  (We have hardly purchased any souvenirs at all on this trip, but we now have two big bags of food stuffs to take home now!  Our souvenirs are always food orientated.  We meandered through a great Indian grocery yesterday too, filling a basket as we perused rows of delicious and ridiculously low priced teas and spices.)  We would have enjoyed walking the grounds but the weather was not cooperative, but if we go back we shall walk around the beer garden and converse with the trees and enjoy the fresh food and olive oil.

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Queen Creek Olive Mill, 25062 S. Meridian Rd, Queen Creek, Arizona

Japanese Friendship Garden

The gardens are beautiful here in Arizona.  Today we visited the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix.  These wild ducklings befriended me.

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This park is filled with ideas that I would love to incorporate into my own gardens.

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I love the rain chains.  They softly carry water down its rings into a place designated for water flow that carefully takes the water to designated gardens.  The sound is soft and tinkling as the water flows easily down the chain.

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The sound of water is so soothing and a simple solar powered fountain would really be nice near my greenhouse.

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A place to have tea near the water feature would be a lovely respite.

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Koi need to be able to drop below three feet in order not to freeze.  I don’t think it is warm enough in our area to have them, but I do love their gaping mouths and sparkling, colored scales.

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The stone lanterns were used to light meandering paths.

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Statues add something special to ordinary garden spaces.

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This is a lovely, small park with pine trees shaped like bonsai  and entertaining birds, koi, and water features.  Shaded spaces and benches to sit and contemplate round each corner.  They have public and private tea ceremonies.  If you are in the Phoenix area, it is only seven dollars to walk through the Japanese Friendship Garden.

The Inspiring Arizona Landscape and Paint

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Arizona is even more beautiful than I could have imagined.  The brightly colored flowers landscaped down the highways splash raspberry pink along the desert city.  Palm trees and giant Saguaro cacti intersperse.  I had never seen a Saguaro cactus.  I am inspired to paint.

 

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Just last week I was wondering what might have happened to my painting of Chimayo.  Who did I sell it to or who did I give it to?  I love my paintings and always miss them when they sell so I was so thrilled to see it hanging on the wall here.  We haven’t seen our friends in three in a half years and I am overjoyed to be with them.

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My children called them Uncle Monte and Uncle Erik growing up and they are very dear to us.  Monte is a collector of fine art.  Amongst his fabulous collection- still, after all these years- is a painting that my daughter, Emily, painted when she was about seven years old.

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We had fabulous vegan tacos at Mi Vegana Madre and enjoyed the warm spring day alfresco.

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I awoke to a portable easel that Doug had shipped here and was waiting for me for my birthday.  Every year I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  Grateful for birthdays.  Grateful for life.  Grateful for great friends.  For my family.  For travels.  For beauty, for nature, for adventures, for health, for a morning of bird song and sunrise in Arizona.

 

Gone Vintage and the El Rancho Hotel

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There is nothing like the excitement of going on holiday.  I love the lists of things to remember and dreaming of places to come.  My friend, Mindy gave me one of these suitcases and the other I inherited from my Grandma.  To me, they represent the golden era of travel with sleek, hard covers, ready to take on the world.  Since we are taking a road trip, the cases fit nicely in Fernando the Fiat.  The beautiful landscape of New Mexico flies by the window.  Clouds that seem painted on the flat, domed sky.  Red rocks and Creator-made walls of horizontal color schemes.  Breathtaking country.

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Just under ten hours into our trip, down the historic Route 66, we arrived at El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico.  It was such a pleasant surprise.  You don’t always know what you are booking on the internet and this place is just too fun.  Dozens and dozens of old, autographed head shots and photographs from movies being filmed here line the walls.  Some of my favorites.  Some of the greats, Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, Doris Day, Humphrey Bogart.

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The hotel is still like it was in 1936.  A historical beacon carefully crafted to impress the Hollywood set of the era.  The décor is rugged southwest.  Stone and Pendleton and wood.

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We waited in the elevator for the attendant.  The original elevator takes some skill to travel exactly to the correct floor.

 

Memorabilia of a bustling time remain set around the lobby.  A player piano, a place to get your shoes shined, a cigarette machine, and stamps at a fraction of the current rate.

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My vintage looking hat cocked to the side and my beloved old turquoise pleases me as I stand atop the curved wood staircase with red carpet or sit in the lobby with a cocktail imagining the comings and goings of the movie elite and the glamorous upper set with suitcases and sunglasses and perfect 1940’s hair.  A cigarette confidently smoking between fingers and laughter and parties.  I would have loved to have seen it.

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There is rich history in this state that I love and there is more where we are going.  Today we head off to Arizona.

(El Rancho Hotel and Motel, 1000 East Highway 66, Gallup, New Mexico)