Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Crock Pot Season Approaches

Tomato, Basil & Parmesan Soup

Yes, that's right, it's coming. Crockpot Season, otherwise known to some people as Autumn. I just love my big red crock pot and use it pretty regularly in the cooler/colder seasons. I generally prefer not to have appliances sitting out on the counters- it's just a funny thing with me. I put away the toaster, the coffee pot, the mixer, cutting boards, spoon rests- any and all appliances. No wooden knife blocks or canisters. I do have a really neat Ulu in a stand from Alaska, but that's it. But when the temperatures fall, there are stretches of several days when my crock pot never gets put away. We just wash it and let it live on the counter because it's going to be called into duty very shortly. The unspoken expectation around our house is that whichever one of us gets home first starts dinner. Since we both have a 45-minute commute (in opposite directions), we don't usually all show up at the house together until 6:00pm or later. Don't feel like cooking because there are still chores, homework, and Doctor Who episodes on Netflix to get through before bedtime. So crockpot to the rescue! And this recipe has all the hallmarks of becoming classic comfort food at our house.

I found this recipe on Pinterest but it comes from the blog We Pass The Time of Day To Forget How Time Passes, who found it at 365 Days of Slow Cooking, where you can find a stove top version of the recipe. So here we go-

Tomato, Basil, & Parmesan Soup

2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes, with juice

1 cup finely diced celery
1 cup finely diced carrots
1 cup finely diced onions
1 tsp dried oregano or 1 T fresh oregano
1 T dried basil or 1/4 cup fresh basil
4 cups chicken broth
½ bay leaf
½ cup flour
1 cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup butter
2 cups half and half, warmed*
1 tsp salt

¼ tsp black pepper

1. Add tomatoes, celery, carrots, chicken broth, onions, oregano, basil, and bay leaf to a large slow cooker.

2. Cover and cook on LOW for 5-7 hours, until flavors are blended and vegetables are soft.

3. About 30 minutes before serving prepare a roux. Melt butter over low heat in a skillet and add flour. Stir constantly with a whisk for 5-7 minutes. Slowly stir in 1 cup hot soup. Add another 3 cups and stir until smooth. Add all back into the slow cooker. Stir and add the Parmesan cheese, warmed half and half, salt and pepper. Add additional basil and oregano if needed (the slow cooker does a number on spices and they get bland over time, so don't be afraid to always season to taste at the end). **

4. Cover and cook on LOW for another 30 minutes or so until ready to serve.

* The recipe I got has a note that maybe 1 1/2 cups of Half & Half is enough but, nah...
** I actually like to add most of my spices maybe 30 minutes before serving for this very reason. And fresh trumps dried every time.

This is one of those soups that is wonderful with a hearty, whole grain bread along side. We have found that buttered Salt-Rising Bread goes exceptionally well with it also. It also goes well with chenille socks (stay-at-home-socks), fleece jammies, a snugly fur blanket, and a loved one to cozy up with a loved with one with whom you can snuggle. Sorry, fellow Grammar Nazis.


In closing, our butterfly for today comes from Tony at Northrup Photography. This beauty is called a Banded Orange Heliconians (Dryadula phaetusa). It is also called an Orange Tiger Butterfly or simply a Banded Orange. The sole representative of its genus (Drysdula), the Banded Orange Heliconian is native from Brazil to central Mexico, and in summer it can be found rarely as far north as central Kansas.

Thanks for visiting--- see ya again.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Happy Birthday October Babies- It's Calendula Time


Natural Mother's Network

This month's flower can get confusing. Some  sources say October's birthday flower is the Marigold, others say the Calendula, and still others say the month's flower is the Cosmos, all of which bloom beautifully during the autumn. But Marigolds, of the Tagetes family, and Calendula, of the Asteraceae, are not the same flower. Cosmos are a commonly accepted alternative flower. Marigolds are native to the Americas and are the commonly grown French Marigold that Americans use as a bedding plant. Calendula are related to daisies, sunflowers, and asters. I'm going to go with the Calendula as it seems to be the more frequently sited flower for October babies. Besides, I'm an October baby so I get to pick!

French Marigold. Pretty but not our gal this month.

Calendula, native to northern Mediterranean countries, get their name from the Latin words "kalendae" for "first of the month", a reference to the fact that it is usually blooming by the first of each month. Once call "Pot Marigold" to distinguish it from Marigolds of the Tagetes family, the name referred to the fact that calendula were used for cooking. In a cooking pot. Get it? A much more budget friendly substitute for saffron, calendula leaves and chopped petals can also be added to salads or other raw vegetable dishes. The petals, with their slight aromatic bitterness can be used in fish and meat soups, and are frequently used as a colouring for cheese and butter. The whole flower was used as a garnish in medieval times. And chopped fresh marigold flowers can be scattered over rice dishes and even used in sweet dishes like custard or baked puddings.

But it is the calendula's medicinal uses that have given it a reputation of healing. Sometimes called "the mother of skin", it has a long history of use as a wound healing agent and has known skin-soothing properties. Generally used topically, calendula can reduce the inflammation of bee and wasp stings by rubbing a fresh flower on the sting. It has antiseptic properties and has a high concentration of flavinoids which act as anti-oxidants. Calendula has antimicrobial and antiseptic properties as well and is often used in facial toners. The list of medicinal and topical uses for our October flower goes on and on.  In the 1600's the healing properties of calendula were attributed to magic, though today we know that it is the chemical properties of the flower that are the real "magic". It has been used for almost every ailment imaginable for the last 1000 years, from scabs that won’t heal, eczema, athlete’s foot, acne, or even herpes sores. In Russia it was used to treat smallpox and measles, so much being grown in that country that it was once call Russian penicillin. It is one of the earliest known herbal medicines. Calendula blossoms in wine are said to ease indigestion.  I am not an herbalist and am not advocating the use of calendula- I'm just sharing some of the uses of calendula. And be sure that you use the correct plant-Calendula officinalis. The French marigold does not have the same healing properties. The term officinalis refers to the alchemist's workshop, where it was believed that metal could be turned to gold and the skin-soothing properties of calendula were thought to be able to return one's skin to the days of its silky-smooth babyhood. Be aware that some folks do have allergic reactions to calendula so be sure to do a small test patch if you plan to use it topically.

The lore and legend of the calendula is also extensive. It has been used over the ages in love potions and charms as well as for prophesying, psychic energy, seeing magical creatures, attraction, and renewing personal energy. A fresh flower can be worn to court for a favorable outcome of a trial. If you place blossom in your mattress, you will have prophetic dreams... and if you place it under your mattress it will make whatever you dream come true. If you dig up some soil where your lover has walked and use that soil for planting calendula, myth says that your lover would forever by faithful. Add calendula to baths to win respect and admiration. If you’ve been robbed, it will give you a vision of the thief. Simply looking at calendula will draw out "evil humours" as well as strengthen your eyesight.

There are many other uses as well:

  • Yellow dye can be extracted from the flower, by boiling.
  • It's a good companion plant as it discourages pests in the garden.
  • In Asia it are mainly used to make garlands and for adorning buildings and statues of spiritual significance
  • An infusion of the petals can be used as a rinse to lighten and brighten hair.

Porcupine Creek Farm

The colors of the calendula flower, yellows and oranges, are said represent the path of the sun throughout an autumn day. It is thought that the flower holds all of the sunlight of autumn. Those with an autumn birthday are said to be warm, friendly and easy going. You can even use calendula to predict the weather as the blossoms are said to close before a rain.

Calendula Soap. Love In The Suburbs

As for the language of flowers, our calendula has a variety, even contradictory, range of meanings depending upon when and where you are. The hidden message of the calendula during  the Victorian era was "My thoughts are with you" or to symbolize "winning grace". The flower has also been used to symbolize saddness, grief, mental anguish, or despair and is known as the flower of death in Mexico because it is believed that the flowers sprung up from the blood of natives that were killed by Spanish invaders. Calendula is used to adorn gravestones on the Day of the Dead in Mexico. But my favorite meaning of the calendula is for joy. Like I said, contradictory.

Yellow Tomato and Calendula Salad. Prospect: The Pantry
Generally a prolific and easy growing plant, calendula are grown from seed. Though they prefer rich, well-drained soil, calendula will tolerate average garden soils. Yes, they like plenty of sunshine and the blossoms will follow the sun over the course of a day, just like to sunflowers to which they are related. They do well grown in a pot, whether a cooking pot or a garden pot. They bloom from June through the first frost but you may notice a decrease in blooms during the very hottest part of the summer. No worries- they'll start up again when the weather cools. Deadhead for repeated and increased blooming. Though annuals, calendula reseed prolifically. I have seen that there are some "moderately" perennial or biannual calendulas. Strongly attractant to butterflies, the main pest of our gal is the aphid.


And there you have it- Calendula officinalis!

Happy Birthday October Butterflies!
(Happy Birthday Big 'Un)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Bit of Paper For Zippy

Just wanted to share a bit of paper play cutting that I did for my Zippy-Gal. It's not very fancy or complicated but it sure was fun to try. My Zippy-Kid is not really a flowers kind of girl so I'll probably do something more in step with her tastes, such as a Tardis, Minecraft, or tree-climbing theme.

I used water color to paint a tie-dye looking effect and then cut from that sheet of paper. Originally, the letters were just cut out but they didn't stand out enough to actually read readily so I highlighted the letters with a copic marker. Not perfect, as you can see, but huge fun to work on. It sort of has an antique-Bohemian look to it, I think.

I think it looks nice on the mantel with my husband's stick figure drawing of us he made soon after we married. We had bought a 30-acre parcel of land and we laughingly called ourselves the Land Baron and Baroness.

Speaking of paper cutting, how about my Zippy's little bit of work?

This "mask", as we call it, was a third grade art lesson in symmetry. We had just re-done her bedroom in a jungle theme and the mask seemed to fit so into a frame it went and there it is. With the Tardis. And Ten. And a Ood.

Today's butterfly is .....


....the Rice Paper Butterfly, also called the Paper Kite, Wood Nymph, or Large Tree Nymph. It is native to Southeast Asia and lives in wet, evergreen forests flying high in the canopy or in tall forests near rivers in dryer zones. Just look at that striking pattern. Hmmm..... my paper cutting knife is getting some ideas.

Short and sweet today- just sharing a bit of what I've been fooling around with. It's about time to get on to some holiday festivities, isn't it? Thanks for visiting and please do pop back in again. October's birth flower is up next.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Heart Full of Love

Well, life has certainly been interesting around here the past few months. The past few weeks in particular have been, um... a surprise. Yes, I think that's mainly what we've all felt around here. Less than a month ago, my mom went to her physician because she was just so tired all the time. While my mom is considered a Senior Citizen, she certainly isn't "elderly". Always busy, active in a variety of pursuits, interested and engaged in life and the people she meets, it came as a great shock to everyone when her appointments progressed from "a visit" to Stress Test to Heart Catheterization, winding up a couple of weeks ago with open heart surgery.

Cardiac issues do tend to run in my family but mainly it comes down the tree from my dad's side. Mom and I have had the discussion about what to do and how to proceed when my dad knocks over from a heart attack. I figure he'll be on the roof running antenna wires for his Ham radios when it happens. But I never had that talk with my dad about mom. It has seemed sort of surreal around here and even mom has said that she was surprised and even a bit cheesed because she has tried over the years to feed Dad good cardiac food. She really is a wonderful cook and very conscientious about what she feeds her family. No one ever guessed she would be the next one to have the next round of cardiac adventures. In fact, one of the surprises that came out of the medical detective work was that she has apparently had a heart attack at some point in the past.

"My Dishonest Heart" by Audrey Kawasaki
Print available here.

Even though October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I'm going to put in a plug, right here and now, for women's cardiac health. This just can't wait until February, the usual Women's Heart Health month: one of you lovely butterflies might need to now this now.

As many of you know, signs of heart attack in women can be very different than for men. Ladies-- LEARN THESE. Gentleman, LEARN THESE for your female loves and friends. Because no fooling around here: heart disease is the Number 1 killer of American women.

Women are more likely than men to have the "other" common signs of a heart attack. These include shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and pain in the back, neck, or jaw. Sometimes the signs of a heart attack happen suddenly. But they can also develop slowly, over hours, days, and even weeks before a heart attack occurs.
Graphic via Women's Health

A note about women's milder symptoms - About a third of women experience no chest pain at all when having a heart attack and 71% of women report flu-like symptoms for two weeks to a month prior to having more acute chest discomfort or severe shortness of breath. The discomfort is not necessarily centered around the heart. These milder symptoms are under-reported to emergency room staff.

Areas of pain or discomfort associated with heart attack.
Heart Currents

Feelings of anxiety or impending doom are also associated with heart attack.

Please check out the links below, even just one, even if you think you already know enough about women's heart disease. My family is acutely aware of heart disease but still, Mom nearly feel victim. I've had my own heart scares and it never hurts to remind ourselves of how import it is be vigilent about our health.



OK- now for some cool butterfly heart stuff, because you know I love to dive in and discover cool new things in life. That's the point of this blog, after all (see Expecting Butterflies). The question of the day is:

Do butterflies have hearts?

No. Yes... Sort of.

Butterflies do not have a closed circulatory system as in vertebrates (you and I with our vertebral spines). The heart of a butterfly is called a dorsal tube and runs the length of the butterflies body. It pumps hemolymphitic fluid from the back of the body to the front, bathing the internal organs. The heart(s), or area of pumping action, are not much more  than enlarged areas along the tube. Hemolymph is not blood (it is not red and does not carry oxygen) but carries nutrients and wastes.

Dorsal Tube shown in red.
Britannica Kids

Oxygen exchange takes place separately through the trachea which open directly from the body through spiracles on the abdomen. These spiracles are also present on the caterpillar. Seriously, how cool is that?

Well, talk about getting distracted....  I just think the world is an awesome place. Full of surprises and beauty. Sometimes those surprises take the form of unexpected open heart surgery, sometimes it's an incredibly beautiful butterfly. Sometimes it's the beautiful heart of a loved one---- take care of that heart.