Maybe Martha Is Just Bored

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Sometimes I get the urge to participate in some conspicuous consumption – funnily enough, this feeling always occurs when the bank account is at its lowest ebb and it tends to happen more in the winter than in the summer. Maybe it’s because I’m inside most often in the winter and I’m confronted with all the things that I feel are lacking in our interior environment – a proper entertainment unit instead of a cheap coffee table not large enough to accommodate our ancient sound system (we own a turntable that was my gift to my husband for our first anniversary), some modern wood dining chairs instead of the filthy upholstered Queen Anne-s, an amazing light-filled pendant instead of the puny $20 Home Depot special currently burning a hole into the dining table (and a dimmer switch so we can stop eating under interrogation lighting)…well, where do I stop? – So many things I’d love to change if so many other things about my life were different. But I have found a great solution for this insignificant-when-compared-to-having-real-problems crisis though – reorganize!

See, for me, while I may be a traditionalist, I’m not a habituist, and a large part of the craving to buy is to have something new to look at and interact with (part of the joy of buying Ikea furniture is putting it together). But, as I said, financial constraints and, in almost equal amounts, a desire to live within a lighter footprint, has had me trying to deal with my feelings of boredom in a less deleterious way – re-arranging, re-organizing, and re-purposing our things and our space can make me see them in a different way and, at the very least, I get some cleaning done (I’m absolutely shocked by the size dustballs can grow to!).

So today I’m going to tackle the seed starting table which I’d allowed to get in a chaotic mess once I’d finished starting all my plants last spring. I’d had big plans to grow herbs on it this winter and to start some micro-greens but the paraphernalia cluttering the shelves is preventing me from going forward with those grand plans (and when one is a procrastinator, any little obstacle can trip you up).

Shelving Winter 2011

Dealing with the leftover potting soil, pots, baskets, peppermint bunches needing to be stripped and stored, finding a place in the tiny kitchen for the new roasting pan, making a place in the pantry for the new batch of brew (in bottles on the floor), and tidying up all the other odds and ends is going to keep me occupied for the rest of today. Hopefully I’ll have something to show you tomorrow…

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Purposeful Gardening?

Friday, January 14th, 2011

This morning, I was bewildered to read a little blurb in a garden centre newsletter I subscribe to that 2011 is supposed to be a big year for gardening with a purpose.* According to the rationale, this year many of us will establish some kind of point to our outdoor endeavours. I don’t know about the rest of you but I’ve always felt that any time I picked up a tool to cultivate the earth that that was the point – the end in itself. The act of gardening is, in itself, purposeful – you have no need to justify the time you spend on your botanical endeavours, whatever form they take.

*If you want to read the blurb yourself, you can find it here.

Winter Tonic

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

The kitchen garden in winter...and the snow hasn't stopped yet.

The kitchen garden in winter...and the snow hasn't stopped yet.

Wintertime is teatime in our household – or, if you want to get technical about it, herbal infusion time, since some people feel that you can only call it ‘tea’ if it comes from the true tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Whatever you call it, our evening ritual, after the sun has been set for about 3 hours, is to put on the kettle (yes, it whistles!) and ponder my dried herb collection. Will it be lavender and lemon balm? Or bergamot and anise hyssop? Sometimes just rosemary is all I want. But this year, peppermint and lemon verbena are the combination I’ve been reaching for over and over. The flavor and aroma of the sweet mint and floral lemon blended with a teaspoon of unpasteurized organic honey is comfort in a cup on a cold winter night.

Dried herbal teas make great gifts and friends, knowing my fondness for them, have given me many good blends over the years, and I also like to try the intriguing combinations that line the grocery store shelves. But nothing, for me, beats the flavor of herbs that I’ve dried myself and it’s so easy to do – all you need is a dark-ish location with good air circulation and a way of hanging bundles of herbs.

Borage is supposed to be a mood uplifter when ingested but I find looking at this photo from summer gives me a similar boost in mood.

Borage is supposed to be a mood uplifter when ingested but I find looking at this photo from summer gives me a similar boost in mood.

I didn’t dry many herbs this year since I’m having trouble finding the herbs I want to grow at my local garden centers (this spring I’m, unfortunately, going to have to rely on online retailers to provide me with what I need) but I did have an abundance of peppermint and borage, which I harvested regularly throughout the season. I cut fairly long stems, about 30cm long, bundled them in bunches about a couple of centimeters around, and tied them with twine (some people use rubber bands but I didn’t have any on hand). I left long enough ends on the twine to tie the bunches to the shelves on my seed-starting table and, in about 3-4 weeks (the leaves should feel dry and strip relatively easily from the stems but not crumble into dust), I have dried herbs that can be used for anything, including teas.

To make a tisane, I use about a tablespoon of dried herbs to a cup of water and steep for about five minutes. Most teas I sweeten with a little honey and sometimes I’ll add a little lemon. I like to keep it simple and don’t usually blend more than two herbs but you’re only limited by your creativity and sometimes orange peel, a cinnamon stick, and/or a little ginger can make a tea extraordinary. And don’t forget about other parts of the plant such as hips, although be aware that they take a little longer to dry than leaves.

All the things needed to do a herbal infusion.

All the things needed to do a herbal infusion.

My beat up gardener's hands are soothed and warmed by a cup of tea.

My beat up gardener's hands are soothed and warmed by a cup of tea.

It’s so easy to dry your own herbs and, on a cold winter night, when my hands are wrapped around a hot cup of aromatic tea, I’m reminded of summer and the good things I grew – it helps to get me through these dark, snowy times.