To my Christian and Jewish Friends! May you all have a Happy Easter and Passover!
Over the last few weeks I’ve seen many postings using natural dyes for Easter Eggs. The pictures are beautiful and I wondered if I could get my eggs to turn out as nice as the pictures. Over all I had mixed results. Some colors were the same as the pictures – other colors I didn’t come close.
If you want to try naturally dyeing eggs here are two important things to know before you start:
- Natural dyes are not going to be as vibrant as commercial dyes.
- The process will take hours – at least a 1/2 a day or more.
The Day Before Cook your Eggs:
Cook your eggs gently by starting with a pot of cold water on low heat. Don’t bring your eggs to a full boil but just to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Cover and remove from heat and let stand until completely cool. I recommend you do this the night before. By morning you will have perfectly cooked un-cracked hardboiled eggs.
Select your Dyes:
What I liked about natural dyes is that you can use what you have on hand. In my freezer I found a bag of frozen blueberries (blue) and cranberries (red). In my spices I found turmeric which I thought would make a great yellow dye. I wanted a green color and I decided to try using green tea.
Berries Smashed or Cooked:
The blueberries I smashed and added enough boiling water to the bowl to submerge the eggs. The cranberries needed to be cooked until the berries popped open and I could mash them into a pulp. For the turmeric and green tea (4 tea bags) I just added boiling water to the bowl and let them steep and cool. Do not add your cool eggs to the hot dye mixture – this will result in cracked eggs.
Don’t forget the Vinegar:
Hurry Up and Wait:
When the waters were cool I set my eggs into the cups. I first started with bowls but the eggs weren’t submerged enough to be completely covered. I didn’t want to add more water because I felt it would dilute the dye so I switched to using cups and glasses. And I waited and waited…and waited…
After 4 hours of waiting the other colors were ready and I pulled them out. However, the red egg in the cranberry pulp wasn’t doing a thing. So I found some Red Zinger Tea and frozen raspberries in the freezer. I made up a new bowl of red dye and dropped my egg into it and waited another hour to see what happened.
5 Hours of dyeing:
After working on this for 5 hours I decided to throw in the towel! I wasn’t going to get a red Easter egg. Oh well…
Left to right: Red (cranberry, raspberry and Red Zinger Tea) Yellow (turmeric) Purple (blueberries)
Left to right: Blue (blueberries) Yellow / Green (if you look close…) (green tea – however, I think some turmeric accidently got in my bowl of tea resulting in more yellow than green color).
Final thoughts: If you decide to do this I don’t recommend this for really young children – the process takes a long time and unless you have patient children the waiting will be difficult. On the other hand, this process allows for some really cool creative thinking about the natural dye world and playing with other ingredients would be fun. Some of the suggestions from HANE on dyes are:
- Onion skins
- Black tea
If you decide to try using natural dyes and you have success with red or green – please let me know!
I’m always humbled and grateful when asked to speak about what I do here on Thompson Street Farm. This week I was the speaker at a local garden club here in town and I have to say what a wonderful group of ladies! I understand there are 5 garden clubs in town, and this particular club has been together for over 30 years. Can you imagine how much knowledge and experience there was sitting in that room! How cool!
After my presentation on growing micro-greens, a sweet woman asked about how I made my soaps. She identifies handmade soap to her childhood elderly neighbor, Mrs. Jones, peddling her soap door to door. Apparently her soap was extremely harsh that one lost a few layers of skin when using it. I’m guessing from the age of my new friend, “Mrs. Jones” learned how to make soap between World War I and the Depression. In those days, there weren’t a lot of choices for oils other than animal fats and other moisturizing ingredients – which explains the harshness of her soap.
Today there is a world of difference between commercial soaps and handmade. Technically commercial soap is not real soap but a detergent that is created from petroleum based products . Yes, the base ingredient in commercial soap is petroleum oil!
My Decision to make Handmade Soap
(Lavender Soap made with lavender grown on our property)
When I began researching how to make soap it was out of necessity. I had been purchasing a goat’s milk soap from an independently owned health food store for my daughter. My daughter had a stroke before she was born and as a result she is missing 80% of her right brain, so we had many health issues to deal with. She is also a beautiful redhead with extremely sensitive skin. It didn’t matter which commercial soap I used, her skin was as red as her hair and irritated – similar to the reaction to Mrs. Jones soap!
Perfumes were also a huge problem for my daughter. It is not uncommon for children that have severe brain damage to have an over-reactive sensory system. I can only explain it as standing in front of a speaker at rock concert 24 /7. The brain’s sensory system is on overload it can’t filter out and dial down what’s going on around them. If you stop and think about it, our world is pretty noisy. For Katie as a baby, sound, smell and textures was magnified a billion times over.
Its an understatement that the early days for Katie were painful – everything bothered her. For example, my husband loved Irish Spring Soap, but when he came near her she would become overwhelmed and started to scream and cry. We went through a period of time when I dumped every commercially made product including the toothpaste and toilet paper and we went O-Natural! Thankfully, Katie is much better thanks to years of therapy.
The Decision to Make My Own Soap:
(Pine Soap – pine needles are harvested from our own pine trees and now that I’m becoming a herbalist, I’m adding my own pine infused olive oil to this soap!)
When Wholefoods moved to town our small independent health food store went out of business and that ended my source for handcrafted goat’s milk soap. The good news is soap making had become popular and with YouTube at my fingertips, I decided it was time to take control of our soap supply and learn how to make soap.
When I started my research I had a basic list of requirements:
- The soap had to be moisturizing, have a great lather but be a firm enough that didn’t melt into a pile of goo in the shower.
- Ingredients had to be mild enough for daughter’s sensitive skin.
- Oils for the soap had to be found in the grocery store and had to come from the plant world.
- Scents need to be from the plant world (correction/clarification from original posting: I do use fragrance oils if essential oils are not available, too expensive, or I happen to like the scent!).
I knew I wanted my soap to have at lease 2 oils that were great for skin, olive oil and coconut oil. After weeks of research, my first generation master soap recipe was born and it was a Mediterranean inspired blend using 4 oils and raw goats’ milk.
- Olive oil – has been used for centuries as a great skin conditioner and moisturizer.
- Coconut oil – has been used for centuries as a great skin conditioner and moisturizer.
- Canola Oil – creates a stable lather and a great skin conditioner.
- Safflower Oil – creates a wonderful lather and is a great skin conditioner.
- Herbs, flowers, vegetables and goats milk had to be either grown by me or acquired by a local farmer that shared my socially responsible beliefs.
During my research, I learned there is a minefield related to certain common ingredients in soap making. The biggest one is palm oil, and the atrocities associated to the destruction of rainforests to meet the worlds demand for palm oil.
I admit, my soaps are not for everyone, but I can honestly say I try to be socially conscious and intentional on where my ingredients are sourced. It is important to my daughter’s wellbeing and to me. I want to create a product that is safe; with no chemicals or preservatives.
New Sea Salt and Mineral Clay Inspired Soap with Avocado Oil
I have to say I have the best customers! They are intelligent, well-traveled and socially conscious and they are challenging me to take my social responsibility even further! Over the summer I heard a few concerns expressed about how canola oil is grown and processed. Canola oil comes from a plant called rapeseed and most of the crop grown in the world is from GMO seed. Since I refuse to use GMO vegetable seeds on my farm it was an easy decision to do the right thing and switch out that oil and substitute it for sunflower oil.
In addition, I did some more research on the benefits of sea salt and mineral clays in soap. Out of that research I created a new 4 oil sea salt soap using avocado oil. Avocado oil is rich in vitamins A, B, D, and E. Sea salt is known for its relaxing properties and is a natural detoxifier as well as some of the mineral clays that I use – Dead Sea Clay, French Green Clay, Bentonite Clay and Moroccan Clay.
So I say to my new” Garden Club Friend” – try my soaps, I think you will be pleasantly surprised just how good you will feel! Please check out my entire line of soap on website online store.
(Honey, Cinnamon and Carrot Soap – I purchase my honey from a local farmer. Although I might get brave and purchase a hive in the coming year.)
In my town there has been some zoning changes regarding keeping chickens. My town is part urban and part rural and keeping backyard chickens has become very popular. Unfortunately, some chicken owners have not been good to their neighbors by containing the noise from loud roosters and/or containing the flock to their own yards. On more than one occasion I’ve had to wait for a flock of chickens finish crossing the road to get to the other side.
Because of a few knuckle heads, my town changed its zoning regulations to restrict backyard chicken owners to 11 hens on less than 5 acres and no roosters. Honestly, I don’t blame the town for banning roosters – they can be noisy all day and night, some are aggressive and in my opinion are not needed if the reason for having chickens is to have fresh eggs.
A pullet (hen less than 1 year old) will begin to lay eggs around 5 months of age regardless if there is a rooster. Remember your basic biology, when a male mates with a female the result is a baby. However, some people think hens need roosters to lay eggs. If you want baby chicks then yes, you need a rooster.
Once a hen (pullet) is old enough, she will begin to produce an unfertilized egg every day like clockwork. She doesn’t need any help from a rooster to do her thing. I actually prefer to eat unfertilized eggs. On occasion I’ve had fertilized eggs that have had a bit of blood in them, which I find unappealing.
– Hens (or pullets) begin to lay eggs around 5 months of age.
– In the first year hen’s lay small eggs at least once every day and the eggs get gradually bigger as the hen ages.
– Two-year-old hens (depending on the breed) lay larger eggs, but may not lay every day but every other day.
– Three years and older, will lay large eggs less frequently and the older the hen is the less eggs she lays. This is why farmers turn over their flocks on the third year and bring in new pullets.
– A good laying hen in her prime on average can lay 250 – 280 eggs in a year! That’s 1 hen!
– Do you remember the jingle on TV back in the 1980’s– “Brown eggs are local eggs and local eggs are fresh?” Well that was a brilliant ad campaign. How many people fell for it? Do you see me raising my hand?
- Myth: The color of the eggshell does not determine the freshness of the egg. The color of the shell indicates it’s a breed of chicken that happens to lay a brown, white, or blue egg. People thought brown eggs were once white and had gone bad. Which is why egg producers created the commercial – to get people to buy brown eggs since only white eggs had been sold commercially.
To test if an egg is fresh place an egg in a bowl of water. A fresh egg will sink to the bottom. An old egg will float up to the surface of the bowl.
– Another slick marketing campaign used by some health food stores was claiming that fertile eggs are more nutritious than infertile eggs. The goal was to charge more for these “special” eggs.
- Myth: According to “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens” there is no evidence that states that a fertile egg is more nutritious than an infertile egg.
– How many people do you know that gave up eggs (especially yolks) because they were told they cause high cholesterol?
- Myth: Eggs are high in cholesterol however; one would have to eat a lot of eggs to get their own cholesterol to rise. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic:
“Chicken eggs are high in cholesterol, but the effect of egg consumption on blood cholesterol is minimal when compared with the effect of trans fats and saturated fats.
The risk of heart disease may be more closely tied to the foods that accompany the eggs in a traditional American breakfast — such as the sodium in the bacon, sausages and ham, and the saturated fat or oils with trans fats used to fry the eggs and the hash browns.”
So enjoy your eggs!
I love pudding but unfortunately puddings made with any kind of mammal milk do not like me. Over the years I’ve developed an allergy to milk. If I ignore the allergy I pay dearly for it with a serious sinus infection and fever blisters. Those who know me well can always tell when I’ve cheated – the signs are always on my face. Its not pretty…
Not being able to enjoy milk products has been a major bummer for me, as I love artisan cheese, milk, ice-cream, fresh yogurt, puddings and thing else made with milk. So when I saw this recipe on “Cooking Without Limits” blog for a pudding that:
- didn’t require milk
- didn’t require cooking
- used simple ingredients
- interchangeable ingredients
- low calorie
I had try the recipe.
In the original recipe she calls for 200 ml of either soya milk or almond milk. We drink almond milk, but last night we were running low so I dug around in my pantry and found a can of coconut milk. So here is my version of the recipe. (click here for a link to the original recipe Strawberry Chia Seed Pudding)
1 can coconut milk (400 ML)
1 Teaspoon of vanilla extract
(I make my own extract using the a bunch of vanilla beans split down the middle and stuffed into a bottle of the cheapest vodka I can find. It works like a charm!)
Mix the milk, chia seeds and vanilla together in a bowl cover with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator for a minimum of an hour to 24 hours. The chia seeds will develop with gelatin coating which makes the milk become a pudding consistency.
When pudding is ready spoon into a bowl and add fresh fruit and serve. Its that easy!
If you prefer a sweeter pudding add Agave syrup, honey or maple syrup. I added a drizzle of Agave syrup because it has a lower glycemic index.
For those that really counting calories – use the 30 calorie Almond Milk instead of the coconut milk.
“Cooking Without Limits” hit this one out of the park! She gets my highest rating
When I decided to convert our backyard into a micro farm, one of the requirements under our state’s agriculture law and USDA Regulations was to be recognized as a “farm” on both the state and federal levels. Qualifying criteria was to sell $2,500 of agriculture product and/or have livestock. As I was just starting out and didn’t yet have $2,500 of agriculture product sales, I needed to get some kind of livestock, which could include hooved animals, bees, chickens or rabbits.
Local zoning code requiring 2+ acres for hooved animals eliminated that option for me but, since I was in a “rural” zone, rabbits, chickens and bees were fine. I therefore decided on chickens because I could sell fresh eggs and then butcher the birds for meat when they stopped laying at around 2 years old. At least that was my reasoning when I presented my idea to my husband.
Fast forward 6 years later and they are still alive and even were given names “Henrietta 1 – 9” aka “The Girls”. One of them, a poor bird that was being brutally picked on by the brood was named “Sally” by my husband and became his pet. In addition, although I have lost several birds (which I will discuss later), not one of them has been eaten (by a human at least). All in all, the “Girls” truly have lived a charmed life.
If you are thinking about getting chickens, here are a few things I’ve learned over the years.
Spring is usually the time when hatcheries begin to sell chickens. If you are serious about getting chickens, make sure you purchase them from a good hatchery. Chickens carry a lot of diseases and federal law requires that chicks be vaccinated for a nasty viral disease call Marek’s Disease prior to sale. This is a virus that can kill off an entire flock and contaminate others. I was also surprised to learn that the vaccine wears off in 2 years, which is why most birds are butchered within 2 years.
The lesson here is that purchasing chicks from non-registered hatcheries can result in all kinds of flock failures so – “Buyer Beware”. According to University of Connecticut’s top poultry expert, genetics impact long term health and the Marek Virus is found in the genetic line of a particular bird family.
I recommend that you also check out a website called My Pet Chicken . I met the owner/creator, Traci Torres, while we were guests on the Colin McEnroe Show on WNPR CT Public Radio a few years ago and she is a wealth of knowledge on chickens. Her website offers great information and cool products for backyard chicken owners.
A recommended book is “Storey’s Guide to Chickens”.
Once you decide upon a breed of chicken, you’ll need some equipment to get them through the first weeks of life. Be forewarned that having chickens can be expensive in the beginning. As baby chicks need warmth and protection, a safe warm nursery will need to be created.
I picked my chicks up in early March when there was still snow on the ground and it was bitterly cold. Keeping them in the garage therefore clearly wasn’t an option so they ended up in my backroom where I could keep an eye on them. Then the circus began as EVERY critter in our household wanted to sniff, play or even eat our new babies!
Baby chicks make a lot of poop so be prepared to clean your box frequently. They need a box big enough for them, a warming light, a special size water container and baby chick feeder, all of which I purchased at my local farm supply store.
Moving into the Coop
Housing the chickens will depend on where you live. We have very cold snowy winters and thanks to the realities of Climate Change, we also experience extended days of hot/humid days of 90+ degrees. I wanted the coop to be predator proof so I decided to purchase one made by a local farmer, which cost me $600 (without roof shingles and unpainted). I added the shingles, stained the outside with weatherproof stain and, as we are now going on our 6th year, I’m so glad I did this.
The other consideration is not to overstuff your chicken coop with chickens. I had originally purchased 9 Rhode Island Reds and this coop was built for 6 chickens. It was a tight fit and I had to add another roost for them. Overcrowding a chicken coop is not healthy for the birds and can cause health problems.
Since we live in a wooded area we have all kinds of wildlife (i.e. – hawks, coyote, fox, fisher cat, raccoon, possum, an occasional black bear) plus local dogs and cats. As all are potential predators, we fenced in a large section of woods surrounding the coop to given the chickens plenty of room to roam while also protecting them from most of these critters.
My next blog posting will cover choice of bedding, general care and a few things my chickens taught us.
If you have cabin fever from all this snow and extremely cold weather come on down to the CT Flower Show and warm up by thinking about spring! Starting today through Sunday I will be at the CT Flower & Garden Show. I will have a sampling of my best selling soaps plus, lavender sugar scrubs, lavender body sprays and herbal salves.
PLUS! Show offer only! Interested in turning your backyard or small plot of land into cash? Off is only good during the show get $50.00 off my next full day SPIN Farming workshop March 14th from 9 – 4 in South Glastonbury. Show price $150.00 normally $200.00.
Valentine’s Day has certainly evolved and changed since the days I was in grade school and everyone in the class got a Valentine’s Day cards. In today’s world, Valentine’s Day has associated high and expensive expectations. Some people will attach importance to spending hundreds of dollars on this “Holiday” but I’ve always been simple to please. Call me a cheap date but a bouquet of red roses still works for me. In the old days, delivering those flowers to the office got him bonus points and he was “rewarded” later.
After 20 years of marriage, finding ways to make this day special can sometimes be a challenge. We are not as mobile and free as we used to be since our daughter has severe Cerebral Palsy. A nice quiet romantic dinner on V-Day doesn’t always work out for a variety of reasons, usually related to our daughter’s medical needs. In these situations, we’ve learned how to adapt. We’ve been pretty creative in our celebrations, which don’t always fall on V-Day itself but close enough.
When a couple’s life is complicated for any reason(s), finding moments to acknowledge each other’s love is a must. The purpose of Valentine’s Day is to take the time to acknowledge your love for and appreciation of your significant other. Be open to exploring new ways of expressing how much you love each other regardless of how crazy your life may be. Be creative! Only you will know what that looks like and there are no secret recipes or instructions here. However, in my book, a bouquet of red roses for her is always a good start…
Happy Valentine’s Day my Valentines! I Love You!!!!!
As a child growing up in California, I loved to hear the breeze through the Ponderosa pines. Because these trees are so tall (over 230 feet high), there is a distinct sound that I’ve not heard in any other forest that I’ve walked through. That airy sound of the breeze through the trees is what I miss most about my home state. Then there is the smell of pine, which makes me feel refreshed, calm and at peace.
Until recently I didn’t know that pine (all species) have medicinal properties which have been used for centuries by Native American tribes.
Native American’s have been using Pine Medicinally for Centuries
Native American tribes in this region used all parts of the tree for medicinal purposes. A bark decoction for coughs and colds was used by the Abanaki, Iroquois, Micmac, Mohegan and Shinnecock tribes. Bark was also used as a poultice for colds by the Algonquin and for cuts and wounds by the Chippewa. A pitch pine drawing salve was made by the Delaware and Ontario people just to name a few of its many medicinal uses. (HANE: Herbarium, pinus strobus L.)
Here in Connecticut we have White Pine which is a shorter scruffier tree than its cousin the Ponderosa. And, today, pine needles and bark are harvested and dried for use in teas, tinctures and infused oils. Pine resin is the golden jewel of the tree as it has incredible healing properties. White Pine has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, expectorant, diuretic, antibacterial, stimulant, antispasmodic and astringent properties.
Eating my first Pine Needles
Have you ever tasted a pine needle? After our last big snow fall, the sun came out and it was a beautiful day to go out for a walk through our woods to harvest pine needles for my pine soap and salve. I decided to try a needle. Honestly, it was nothing to write home about. It tasted like a pine needle. I had read pine needles are high in Vitamin C and boosts the immune system. I read that not every pine tree species tastes the same. The author encouraged readers to try different trees and go with the one you liked best. However, since I only have one species of trees on our property, what I tasted was what I tasted – pine and I’ll have to take her word that not all pine trees taste the same…
Making my First Batch of Infused Pine Oil
This was the fun part – after harvesting enough pine needles, I loaded up my crock pot and added my oil. As I turned on my crock pot, I was struck by a thought! How would a pine marinade work for chicken. I decided to adapt a recipe for pine needle salad dressing into a marinade. My husband is such a good sport about this stuff – I knew it wouldn’t faze him in the least. I was right – after 20 years of eating my “experiments” what’s a few pine needles with dinner.
The final results were OK – I think I would prefer the chicken barbequed to add a little natural smoky flavor with the pine marinade rather than baked. So I will try this recipe again when the weather gets warmer. However, my husband thought the chicken tasted great.
White Pine makes wonderful Soaps and Salves
I love working with pine. I’ve perfected my drying technique so the pine needles keep their beautiful green color in my soap. The needles also add a great natural exfoliatant, which is another plus. All the benefits of pine, plus a four oil soap recipe make a well balanced soap.
The pine infused oil is another bonus as it can be used in many applications such as salves which is moisturizing for extremely dry skin. The pine salve will also promote healing of small scratches, cuts, burns and other minor skin irritations. During these bitter cold winter months I need something like this as my hands take a beating. They get so dry and cracked (sometimes bleed) that the salve had been a perfect remedy.
I just love pine trees!
I always leave plenty of green onions to overwinter in the garden because, in the spring, it’s a treat to be able to go out and harvest them to add to my salad and/ or salad dressings. Over the years, I’ve created a few short cuts so I have onions ready to go into whatever I’m making.
Chop by hand
If you don’t want to chop the onions by hand, an easier way is to chop them in a food processor – the goal is to chop the greens into small pieces.
The food processor chops the onion into really fine pieces.
Finely chopped onions make great additions to salad dressings.
They are perfect to add to add to hamburger or meatloaf dishes.
Chopped onions are also perfect in a fresh salad.
Fresh green onions in a container store well in the refrigerator so they are always ready when I need them.