Monday, January 30, 2012

Thai Fish Sauce: A Quick Kosher Substitute

We're facing an already-picked stack of green papayas, and the clock is ticking...they were picked because of the freezes and now I need to use them...all!  As I don't have a pressure canner, I'm trying my hand at various green papaya recipes.

There seem to be some Asian recipes online that include green papaya.  Molly Wizenberg's recipe for Thai Green Papaya Salad did sound delicious, (there are different versions of this Thai dish, traditionally called Som Tam, all over the net).  However, I'll have to make it minus the shrimp and the bottled fish sauce.  I've been a reader of Molly's blog for a couple years now, and I trust that when she says her husband makes this and she's addicted to it, it's certainly worth a try.

In order to accomplish that, I need to find a kosher approximation of the fish sauce in order to make it.

A Mock Fish Sauce (and kosher!)
I found this 3-ingredient recipe online, and it's simplicity itself..anchovies, garlic, and soy sauce.  The reviews state that it's not got the truly authentic fish sauce taste, but that it's a satisfactory replacement. And for someone who just needs a way to present green papayas in a delicious meal form without a lot of fuss..and without's certainly worth a try.

I'll report back once I gather the ingredients and pull the dish together.  Anyone ever tried this?  Do you have any other uses for green papaya?

I'm a Tennessee transplant to Florida, so papaya is still new to me...  :)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Easy Homemade Mayo: Mess or Success

Once upon a time...
What do olive oil, egg, lemon, vinegar, and salt grow up to be? If you do it right, it makes great mayo!
If you don't, you fall into the category of folks like me that got downright slimed in the kitchen.  But there is hope, and I survived the learning curve and am here to tell you about the quickie 2- minute stick blender method I just tried...and found successful!

Mayo Schmayo
I grew up in a family that was highly mayonnaise-prejudiced.  My father couldn't stand anything that obviously had mayo as an ingredient.  My mother was a bit more neutral, and also necessarily bargain-conscious, so we got the store brand mayo sometimes, but the other times we purchased Hellman's.  Never has my family on either side made their own mayonnaise.  And up until today, I've been a total Hellman's snob because its texture is less smear-y and the taste is tarter than most others out there.

Hellman's vs Miracle Whip
It's a firmly divided camp.  I've found there are loyal Miracle Whip families, and staunch Hellman's folks.  in our case it was NO salad dressing or Miracle Whip.  It HAD to be Hellman's.  But, that said, I've had plenty of times I couldn't afford anything but the store brand.  I've leaned a bit farther towards liking mayonnaise in things than my father ever did, but I still am not its biggest fan until it comes to sandwiches.

Oh Brother, that Mother...
We all know the saying that necessity is the mother of invention.  Sometimes I intentionally make certain things necessary so that I have to find a better solution, as in this case.  I let myself run out of mayo, and after reading the long list of ingredients on the store jar, I knew making it myself would cut out a lot of preservatives and iffy ingredients.  And it would be cheap.  And it would be REAL.  The mayo labeled "olive oil mayo" at the store may have had some olive oil in it, but it also had soy oil and some unpronounceable additives.  And a a bigger price.

I'm making a penny scream for mercy at the checkout counter these days, and when I see store prices for things I could easily make much more economically myself, I cringe.  I almost never buy baked goods anymore from the store, or cereals. And so on.   I've been long overdue to try my hand at mayo, especially since it's something I need only in small quantities now and then.  But when you need it, there's really no substitute...say for making tuna salad, or a tomato sandwich.  So this week, I  painted myself into a corner when it came to grocery shopping and my weekly meal plan included some things requiring mayo.  It was time to learn to do it myself.

Only a few basic ingredients...
I had seen online the short list of ingredients it takes to make a basic homemade mayo, and asked myself how hard this could possibly be.  The only expensive ingredient in the basic recipe is the oil, depending on what sort is used...the other things are egg, pinch of salt, something acidic like lemon juice or vinegar, and a bit of dry or prepared mustard.  Other spices are optional...

We can't afford the deluxe forms of oils at this point, so we keep a light olive oil on hand, one we buy in the larger bulk size at the bulk warehouse.  It doesn't have a strong flavor, so it's my go-to oil for most things.  When I saw the price of the mayo versus the price of the oil which is mayo's biggest component, it made more sense this week to try my hand at a homemade replacement.

When I got home, I was in a hurry in the kitchen, multitasking several cooking projects.  Sometimes I have great success at this, but that night was the exception, argghhh!   I was reheating some homemade chicken and dumplings and scorched the whole thing (drat!), the quickie frozen pizza I stuck in the oven as its fast replacement was...errr...left for too long and ended up becoming a smoking petrified frisbee.  I was mentally tallying the wasted grocery money as the disasters compounded, all the while chopping left over bits of this and that to put into a hasty tuna salad.

It was time to make the "easy mayo."


I'll sum up.

I never realized the "slow drip oil" method was crucial to mayonnaise-making the classic way, and I never knew mayo is one of those acquired skills of a good cook.  The cookbooks I had pulled out (at this last minute) warned against curdling and separation.  Huh??  Oh dear, this was sounding touchy.   I (wrongly) deduced that maybe a better and faster way to forgo the drip method (which they said could take a long time, drip dripping oil into the other ingredients while whisking) would be to use the blender.  The REGULAR blender, the one that's big and makes smoothies in quantity.

End result?  Oh was enough to put a person off eggs and oil for a longg time.

It was a big mess, and the more I tried to salvage it, the worse it got.  There was actually a section in the Joy of Cooking cookbook instructing what to do in case of a "mayonnaise failure."   I tried their instructions, and just ended up wasting more ingredients.

And had totally slimed the kitchen in the process!

In the end, I had a sink full of oily dishes and nothing to show for the lost grocery ingredients, UGH.

But the fun continues...

Since today is a new day, and I'm not a girl who's easily vanquished in the kitchen (for the sole reason that if I accept defeat, we don't eat), today was a Do Over.  And I did what I usually do when I have to find an easier way to do something...I consult the Oracle That Is Google.

And that is how I found out a STICK BLENDER, i.e. an immersion blender, seems to be the way to go unless you are a mayonnaise snob, a French chef, or MUCH better at making saucy things than I am.

Since my standards are limited to 1.  Know the ingredients  2.  Afford the ingredients  3.  Achieve success and actually produce a real food product, I went the stick blender route.

Here's a video to show how quick and easy this is...

...(and don't think just traditional method flunkies use it -- I also saw a youtube video of Gordon Ramsay demonstrating the stick method himself)

Ingredients, thou are simplicity:
The recipes call for egg, oil, vinegar/lemon juice, often a teaspoon of spicy mustard, and salt.

Where the blender recipes vary is whether to use a whole egg, or just the yolk.  Either way produces a good mayo, though forums on the internet show debates about mayos with whole eggs (meaning including the whites, not the shells, ha) and how anything with an egg white as an ingredient isn't a true mayo.  Whatever.

Apparently the three easy tips for success with the stick blender are: 

1.  Have the egg(s) at room temp before using
2.  Do the stick blending in a narrow container such as a beaker or Mason jar (if it's much wider, it doesn't mix the same...and do not use metal containers.
3.  Position the blender stick blade all the way to the bottom, over the eggs (the other ingredients naturally will rise higher than the eggs, which are heavier, when you dump everything together before blending), and don't move the blender away from the bottom when blending, until the bottom liquid becomes thick.  THEN you move the stick up and down a few times to incorporate the rest of the oil.

NOT difficult!  And it's really good :)

Today, I did it just as the videos show and the online sites describe.  With the stick blender, it literally took two minutes!  Next time I SHALL leave the egg(s) out at room temp, as most of the instructions state.  But it still worked fine with my cold ones straight from the fridge.

The stick blender was set right at the bottom of the jar, over the eggs, and then I started blending it without moving the stick.  It started emulsifying first the eggs and I left it right there till it thickened at the bottom, then slowly moved the stick  around to incorporate the rest of the oil.  I left it in there a couple minutes.  The result was ACTUAL MAYONNAISE...hoorayyy!!!  It then went right into the fridge, and also right onto a tomato sandwich.  And it was GREAT...thick and not runny, and delicious!  (Even to a Hellman's gal)

I'm going to play with ingredients to tweak them to make my own "best" as I keep on trying this.

I went with:

1 egg plus one yolk
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp of dijon mustard
2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp vinegar ( used my homemade pine needled vinegar!)
few shakes of paprika
3/4 - 1 cup light olive oil

But the combinations are endless and there can be plenty of differing amounts and substitutes.

Here are some good recipes out there on the net and some blogs:

As a final note, some pages warn that since raw eggs are an ingredient, there is a risk in using them.  Some sites online show the same stick blender method, but give instructions to first heat the eggs before using.  My Amish cookbook has recipes for "cooked salad dressings" as well.  I will personally be making very small amounts of mayo at a time and using them quickly, and not leaving it out at room temp at all, especially since we're down here in warm Florida.   Use these recipes at your own risk, if you do make the raw egg method...I'm just relaying my own experiments here, but each cook takes responsibility for the safety measures in his/her own kitchen.

Do you make your own mayo or other condiments?  If so, do you have a proven, favorite recipe?  I'd love it if you'd share!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Green Papayas as a Vegetable Dish

I've never cooked green papayas before, so I wanted to start with something really easy.  I decided to just peel, cube, and boil/simmer till cooked, about 20-30 minutes.  We have an excess of papayas right now and they have not been quick to ripen indoors, so it was time to experiment.

I chose one and peeled it easily.  There were bead-like white immature seeds inside this one, and I removed those with a spoon.  The texture of the fruit when cubed was something like a butternut squash, but easier to cut through.  The chunks were very firm, with no stringy-ness.

It cooked up really nicely, and has a mild neutral flavor leaning slightly towards a winter squash without the sweetness, and somewhat like potato but without the granular starchiness.  I served it with sauteed garlic, a pinch of sea salt, a dab of butter, and served it instead of rice as the base for some sauteed/stewed onion, thinly-sliced steak, peppers and garlic.    At least that was Jack's.  I had mine by itself with a side of greens.  The next night, it found its way into some curry, and was just as good that way, too.

Next time, maybe I'll try shredding it raw and making a kosher version of Som Tam, a Thai fresh salad, and substituting my own anchovy/garlic/soy blend for the fish sauce and omitting the shrimp.

I'm delighted to find a "veggie" use for a green fruit we can grow!

I think a lot of folks who don't exactly love the musky flavor of ripe papaya fruits would find a way to love the cooked green fruit because of its vegetable-ish attributes and its very mild and completely different (than the fruit) flavor.

Does anyone out here have any other way to use green papayas?   


Homemade Pine Needle Vinegar: A Balsamic Vinegar Stand-In

Six weeks ago, I picked some of our treasured wild medicinal plants--Y'know, those things some folks refer to as weeds?  Included among them was a harvest of fresh pine needles.

I had read this recipe in which a pine needle vinegar is made by combining apple cider vinegar and clean chopped pine needles.

So I gathered, cleaned, and snipped enough pine needles to pack into a jar, and covered it with an equal amount of ACV per the recipe instructions.  The recipe specifies white pine needles, but its author and all the other herbal recipes I've found online say any type pine needle can be used, the flavor varying somewhat from astringent to pleasantly close to balsamic in flavor.

It was worth a try!  So it's been jarred for 6 weeks, awaiting its debut...

Tonight was the night!  I filtered it into a clean glass jar.  And I have to say, it smelled delightful!

This first batch came to a little over a quart. (I used the correct proportions based on the recipe, but not the exact recipe measurements.)  It has a very piney fragrance, and it does have a balsamic-y flavor minus the's much brighter. No, it does not taste like turpentine, ha!  Even if it had, I'd have used it as a great homemade pine cleaner, but this batch is good enough to eat.   I'm looking forward to substituting it for balsamic vinegar in some recipes.

It's so easy to make, it's definitely worth experimentation, and I will be making more!

Have you ever tried it?  What's brewing/fermenting/cooking in your kitchen?


Thursday, January 19, 2012

You Know You're in the Country When...

Seen in passing, from the car window, on one of our day-drives in more rural areas.  Due to my affliction of a wayyy too urban-based past, I have no idea what a butt pen is.

But I  know where you can get one!

And making up some possible definitions with Jack was pretty entertaining...  lol   :-D


The Best Kind of Mail

Beautiful, and it smells as good as it looks!  There's nothing quite like receiving packages in the mail (anything but bills, right?), and today the bar of handcrafted calendula tangerine soap I won (yay!!) in the recent giveaway over at LaughingDuckFarm arrived.  Thanks, Melodie!  I'm passing along the link one more time for anyone who wants one of these fragrant and skin-nourishing bars for yourself.

Lovely, and it made my day!

Hope yours was good, too :-D

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thrifty Thangs

Thrift Store...the phrase makes me nearly as happy as the phrase Junk Store! (as in the antique store in which you can spend hours digging through dusty boxes, and most things are not overpriced)

As we've de-cluttered, I've been loathe to fill up the cleared spaces with more stuff.  However, I do have a pretty scaled-down mental wish list of a few items I look for in thrift stores.

I've hit the mother lode a few times at a local thrift store that really moves their stock quickly and keeps prices low.  Since I don't even have an "extras" budget, affordable to me means it truly needs to be necessary AND affordable.

Here are some thrift store things over the course of time I've unexpectedly found useful in our home:

1.  Flatware.  Go ahead, laugh!  but I so DO buy it at the thrift store.  I HATE running out of spoons or forks. Whatever my original set used to be, it's not a matched set any more.  But that's okay since I'm not always a matched set kind of girl.  Over the years, spoons have been taken in lunches and ended up who-knows-where, knives were used here and there and in the garden, and...well, voila!  When I found a box full of unmatched forks, knives, and spoons and saw the price, it said Buy Me.  At 93 cents for a drawer full, thrifting ROCKS :-D

2.  Bedside table.  (For my reading lamp, medical stuff, basket of books, and to set mugs of tea.) Actually, the "table" I found was an all-wood, perfect condition piano bench.  Lift the lid?  Vintage sheet music, to the top!  Half price, it was mine for $12.00.   Actually, for me that's at the top of what I'll ever pay, but this was something we'd been looking for.  I can't beat the $12.00 at any bargain store.

3.  Bed linens.  We have a queen sized bed and we use our linens the European way, with a comforter inside a duvet cover as the top cover, and a bottom sheet beneath.  This makes for a really easy mix-and-match.  Any used comforter in good condition (and washed well a couple of times in hot water if straight from the thrift store) can be the filler for the duvet, which fits like a pillow case over it.  I'm allergic to synthetics for the most part, so it's easy to find all-cotton duvets occasionally, and odd or matched pillowcases.  I've found some beautifully embroidered ones as well.  The pillowcases run 50 cents or less, and the duvets perhaps $3.00.  I like very light colored linens on our own bed, so I just buy with that in mind.  Dust ruffles are also a couple of dollars or less, so with a solid color duvet and mix-and-match pillowcases and dust ruffles, it doesn't matter which things go to the wash, there's always a way to put fresh ones on and still have some variety.  I've outfitted the guest bed in the same way.  I wish I'd thought of this system years ago!  P.S.  Yesterday I found a queen sized comforter in a beautiful pattern, Ralph Lauren brand (even though I couldn't care less about brands...just mentioning because it indicates its original cost).  Five dollars, hooray!

4.  Older kitchen items.  Casseroles, utensils, baking dishes.  It seems like the older ones are a better fit in my kitchen, and the price is right.

5.  Curtains and table linens.  I've bought these only when I see something that's a perfect fit for my preferences and if they're the right price.  In the bedroom I have understated lace panels at the windows.  I could never have afforded them from the retail store.  Total cost of these?  Four panels, 4 dollars.  I also pick up some really beautiful placemats and tablecloths this way.  Since there are just 2 of us, a couple placemats at a dime apiece is just fine, and it doesn't take much effort to add that small touch to make mealtime together even nicer.

6.  Dishes, cups, dinner plates.  We have an odd assortment, but they're ones I like.  I leave the expensive ones on the shelves but buy the "grandma-ish" loners and other mismatch china for pennies.  I also use a couple of older china dishes on my dresser to corral the girly stuff like lotion, etc.

7.  Canning and storage jars.  I love finding these, but usually someone's beat me to the punch.  Even so, I'll find the odd canning or storage jar in the older shapes and brands now and then, for a little loose change.

Sometimes we've learned the hard way that just because something's a deal, it's not ALWAYS such a deal.  Beware of stinky sofas.  A friend and I went in together on one for a young family setting up a new apartment.  What had looked great in the store was the worst sense of the word.  Not just stinky, but stanky.  I have one chair I just love from the thrift store, but most times we steer clear of upholstered things since it's hard to get them really clean if they're in bad condition.  And there are some really stinky sofas out there!

Maybe it sounds like I shop thrift stores all the time? I don't. And I don't go to any other type store without a list, because for the past few years we've needed to budget carefully (and I know myself and my tendency towards buyer's remorse.)  Those extras coins add up, so we keep a jar and collect it.  But it's nice to have the option of some quality items as real deals when we do want to carefully aquire something.

Two of my favorite finds were a 6 foot all wood buffet with drawers (in need of stripping and refinishing because someone had gone crazy with stain and polyurethane, ha) half-price at $25.00, and a circa 1970s Singer sewing machine/table with electric treadle, half-price at $12.00.

I know a lot of you guys are bargain-a-holics, so I'm among experts, ha!  

What are some of your tips for thrift stores, and what have some of your best finds been?


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Yay, I Won!

There was recently a giveaway over at Laughing Duck Farm's blog, and yippee, I won some terrific handcrafted herbal soap!!  I'll take pics when I receive it...I've always wanted to learn to make wonderful soaps, but just haven't taken on that project yet.  I love seeing the great originality and beauty of the diverse handmade items from so many other blog neighbors out here.

For a peek at Melodie's great Etsy site, here's the link.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

First Papaya Harvest

This was the first year any of our papaya trees bore fruit.  We never had any put on fruit until this year, and we weren't sure how long the fruits would last before a freeze threatened.  We found out...

One of the trees appeared to be a yellow-fruiting papaya, and the other the ruby type fruit.  We watched with great anticipation as the fruits developed in a spiraling pattern up the trunks, slowly growing larger.  There were nearly 20 on the ruby papaya, and a half dozen or more on the yellow.

We had to harvest all the papayas prematurely, or at least earlier than we would have chosen, when we heard that the temps would drop to freezing for not one day, but at least two in a row.  Still, I wrapped them as well as possible in sheets.  But the night before all that, we went ahead and brought in the fruits that were big enough to allow to ripen and eat.

The yellow papaya fruits were smaller than the ruby papayas, but they still got bigger than what I've seen in the stores.  They are more round, as well.  This one is the first of any of them to ripen since we harvested the lot.  The skins turn mottled and patchy and aren't the kind of "supermarket attractive," but the real treasure is on the inside...

The flesh of the yellow papayas is a pale cantaloupe color.  It appears these seeds were not fully developed, or at least that's my guess, since we harvested them early.

Usually, the seeds are plentiful,dark, and coated with a thick gel coat...papaya "caviar."  We'll save these, just in case they germinate, but it's likely they are too immature to be viable.

But the proof's not just in the hardiness, but also in the taste.  I've tasted some bland and downright yuck papayas before from the store, and others that were wonderful.  For me, papaya has been an acquired taste, but I was pleasantly surprised tonight when we shared a half for dinner.  This particular one had a mellow honey taste with mild papaya flavor...not insipidly mild, and also not heavily musky like some papayas.  It was sweet and tender, so...SUCCESS!!!!

We're new to being able to actually have any fruit to show for our (well, Jack's) tree-growing efforts.  But it is worth the wait!  And I'm not sure I'm yet adjusted, even after 8 years, of having fresh fruit ripening in the middle of winter.  But NO complaints!

Are you northerners eating your jars of apple butter yet and drinking spiced cider?  It's COLD up there :)

And a question for any your papaya trees die all the way back in the winter likes ours are?  If not, what's your secret?

And final question...I posted these pics a larger size than most of my posts.  On your screen, do they bleed over the column edges, or are they just fine?  If they are problematic for some of your formats, I'll shrink them again.

Hope everyone is staying warm!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Herbin' Legend: Swedish Bitters

This past year, I enjoyed taking beginner's steps in making some of our own herbal medicinals.   Many medicinal plants are what mainstream gardeners consider weeds.  Others can be found as easily as looking right in a basic spice collection.

My focus is to use herbs to both help cleanse and regenerate...detoxify and nurture healing.  We use most of our herbs right now in the form of teas made as either infusions (hot or boiling water poured over an amount of herb and steeped) or decoctions (herb brought to a particular temperature/boiling for an amount of time) depending on the recommendation I find in some of the books I have.  Sometimes we use herbal tinctures, since we don't always have a good source for the fresh plants or the dried herb (and if bought they can be expensive).  The tinctures preserve the dried or fresh herbs beautifully...there are specific ways to tincture specific plants, and specific parts of the plants and harvest times that are I am using herbal how-to books a lot right now to learn those things.  I'll make a list of some of the books I'm really loving...soon :)

An interesting development has been that Jack and I have discovered that our personal diets often lacked foods that are bitter, to whatever degree.  Many of the herbs we are using have varying degrees of bitterness, not all unpleasant.  As we accustom ourselves to drinking these throughout the day, and pairing them with better foods including greens that sometimes have a bitter taste, we've come to realize that the actual bitterness within these healing foods is something we've been lacking.  Oftentimes, they help cleanse and tone our bodies, noticeably our muscles, and as a result Jack has had less muscle wear and tear, and less pain or recovery time when his physically-active job runs long.  His legs used to be in knots when he tried to sleep, and he was often plagued with cramps and muscle fatigue.

Tonics made of bitter herbs have been around for lifetimes.

In reading a couple books by the late Austrian herbalist Maria Treben, she repeatedly mentions a particular bitters tonic called Swedish's an article that describes it in more detail.

I decided to make my own Swedish Bitters tincture from the original "recipe," and found a way to order it here (no, I don't get paid to mention this, it's simply where I ordered it).

It's as simple as adding at least 40 proof alcohol to the dried herb mix, covering it and letting it steep in a warm place (sunlight's ok) for 2 weeks, shaking it daily to make sure it gets distributed throughout the liquid.  Then you can strain the liquid off into amber bottles for use.  The instructions state that the herb can be left in the larger container and small amounts strained off as needed.

The herb mixture has a camphor-ish smell, not unpleasant.  (Do any of you get a kick smelling herbs like I do?? OK, maybe I'm weird, but I love it) I lidded my jar with the standard canning lid and ring, but put a piece of plastic wrap underneath it before screwing it on to prevent the alcohol from coming into contact with the metal.

Voila...Swedish Bitters!

We'll use this, when it's done, for a variety of household DIY personal care needs topically as well as take it as a tincture whenever we want our bitters "tonic."

I made some of this years ago, and it keeps indefinitely once made and stored in a dark closet.  It darkens considerably to a black-brown slurry which takes on the strong smell and healing properties of the herbs, for so many uses, it's sort of a  herbal workhorse.  I'll write more on it as we strain off the finished product and use it, but I wanted to include these quick pics to show how easy it is to make, and to see if any of you out there have ever used Swedish bitters or any other bitters formula before.

Anyone?  I'd love to hear your go-to homemade herbal "old faithfuls"!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy 2012 !!!

Greetings...Again...No, really!
Whew, has it really been that long since I posted on the blog?  Well, Happy New Year to all and I hope your winter and holiday seasons have been warm and great!

We had a very low-key celebration of Hanukkah, except for a visit to our friends about an hour away who always put on a lavish and homey homecoming for family and friends.  It was a repeat of Thanksgiving, with a Hanukkah twist, and I contributed some home eats to the mix both times.  Food, friends, and enough eating to fuel all sorts of new resolutions afterwards, ha!  It was a happy time at a distance, too, as we learned of friends welcoming babies to their families during this season...which really is a bright spot for everyone's new year!  I was remiss in getting out ANY holiday cards this year (some years I do better than others).

Around Here
Florida isn't very cold in the winter, but there are some cool spells that seem to coax certain trees and plants into dormancy and give the milder weather ones a time to perk up again.  All the new succulent growth of the re-sprouters can be found now, so I'm putting the sunshine to good use and will be plucking up fresh plantain herb today, and trying to identify other "weed" herbs at their young growth stages...I still lack a good working knowledge of "what's what" in the weed and wild plant world.  So, slowly I learn.  But I  know better than to nibble without identifying correctly first.

Loving Those Weeds and Herbs So Much
Sometimes the paths of necessity and interest converge in unexpected places.  Had we not found ourselves in the situation a few years back of making the most of our situation and becoming more self-sufficient, I think we wouldn't be nearly as rich in life experiences and new interests (really useful ones!) as we are now.  I simply LOVE pairing a better way of eating (and all the while, the simpler and cheaper way has ended up being the healthiest by far) with a burgeoning interest in not only the multi-use plants, but the older uses  of certain plants that have fallen out of use in modern times, AND the use of weeds and herbs as healing foods/herbs.

Thank You For Your Comments!
Sometimes there's a delay in my seeing the comments that get left here, since they no longer (for whatever reason??) no longer always send a notification to my email.  But I find them eventually..and thank you for your recommendations and advice, I take it all to heart!  So please pardon my delays in responding.

I Want to Be An Herbalist
...when I grow up??   Well, now, anyway!  Or taking those beginning steps along that path.  At the moment, I'm in love with some of the simpler "weedy" herbs...nettle, burdock, yarrow, dandelion, chickweed to name a few.  But I'm way beyond infatuation with a tonic here or a cute little box of herb tea there.  I love the way internally and externally the simplest "weedy" herbs (that are the bane of People Who Market Roundup) are THE nutrients this world, this society, this generation NEEDS for vibrant health, cell regeneration, stress repair, and vital nutrients no scientist can adequately list.  I am particularly interested in the simples...single herbs...made into more concentrated but mild infusions.

I found a source only in the past couple of days for dry nettle and for oatstraw.  I'm going to make infusions according to the instructions I found on Susun Weed's instructional youtube videos, since each of these herbs can be made into nourishing infusions, with benefits too numerous to list, that both Jack and I can benefit from.  He's not only my willing partner in these adventures, he's as motivated as I am, and as happy when we find something really good.

For example, he experiences muscle strain since he puts in  a lot of miles walking at his job, a lot of it up and down concrete stairs.  He used to come home with his leg muscles in knots, and they would often cramp repeatedly.  At some point, though we were using it for something else at the time, we found that a very low dose of wormwood tea (made with hot water and the dried herb, very small dose) had the interesting "side effect" of his being able to have faster muscle repair...the days he took the low dose wormwood before work, he had much less muscle tiredness and oftentimes no cramps or pain afterwards at all.  He already was taking Hyaluronic Acid for his joints (we swear by this), so having the simplicity of a couple sips of wormwood tea (it's not for the defines "bitter") as a muscle support herb has been wonderful!   For stubborn cramping, I ran across a mention in Maria Treben's Health Through God's Pharmacy that a simple tea of sage (yep, like the one in the spice rack) could help, so I made that with a heaping teaspoon the next time Jack had leg cramps, and it really helped, along with the wormwood, as well.  This is just our own experience, but it is valid for us.  We just reduced my husband's reliance on 800 mg Ibuprofen, in exchange for a few pennies' worth of herb and an occasional swig from our one dollar bottle of clear liquid Magnesium Citrate (found in glass bottles in the laxative section of any drugstore...another of our cheap tips).  We use the Magnesium citrate in tablespoon doses to add electrolytes anytime there is muscle pain or tightness, or exposure to a lot of outdoor heat.   But I digress...

Back to the Herbs
I've slowly been gathering some reference books around me, too, in order to go forward filling in the learning gap, and to have some reliable information other than things gleaned at random on the internet.  If anyone has a particular recommendation of really good and sound herbal books, I'd love to hear about them :)

A Reader's Experience with the Gynura
I was contacted a few weeks ago by a blog reader who had come across a post of mine from 3 years back about the Gynura procumbens plants we had ordered then.  We have grown them in pots and in the ground ever since, and they were originally purchased because I had read somewhere that in Malasyia and parts of Asia, they are used as blood sugar reducers for diabetics.  When I was contacted by the very nice man recently, he told me he bought some of the Gynura plants for the same purpose and was calling to let me know he ate the leaves fresh daily and his blood sugars were lowered from their original higher readings to completely normal since he began with the Gynura.  I'm just relating his experience, but he was the first person I could find who could provide evidence of a safe dosage amount of the fresh leaves.  He has been taking them a year and a half or more, with completely normal blood sugar readings as long as he continues eating the fresh leaves daily.  So he grows enough plants in his guest bedroom to keep him in the green all year around.

This really jump-started me, and I found further evidence in the meantime that Gynura can be made into an extract in alcohol, so in a couple weeks' time, my own extract will be ready.  I'm finding with certain herbs and plants that an alcohol based extract will keep for a very long time and can be made in concentrations that are therapeutic, portable, and easy to measure out.  There are a lot of good herb books out there with the specifics of preparation and dosage of many types of medicinal herbs.

So, I am my own guinea pig.  I will not go off my prescription medication, no, not yet, but I've already lowered my dose (I've been taking blood sugar-supportive herbs, yay!)   My plan with the Gynura tincture is to start with a couple drops of the tincture, and slowly work up to more drops as my sugar count goes down. I found a scientific study from Singapore that said the Gynura tincture has the similar effect as Metformin on blood sugar, and this is one of the two types of meds I'm on.  SO...I intend to pull a slight switcheroo.  Reduce the one slowly while incorporating the other.  Let's see how it goes.  My doc will be involved all along the way, just saying...

Everything Goes Back to the Eating
I wish I were the person who grew EVERYTHING in our backyard.  I'm not.  Yet.  But we have learned that almost anything homemade from scratch is better than almost anything from a store not homemade from scratch.  That said, we still have our Pan Pizza moments, and I love fresh sushi rolls.

Our diet has improved greatly.  Getting starches to a lower percentage of our meal intake has been a challenge, mostly regarding rice and potatoes.  We have not totally eliminated rice, and we'll never eliminate potatoes, but we HAVE nearly eliminated wheat flour and most dairy (exception, butter).  Since we make black beans, the rice just goes with that so well.  But there's been no more homemade bread, other than a random homemade banana bread loaf, or cake for a celebration now and then.  We've substituted fruit, and a slightly "faster" food concession has been keeping a big can of cold canned peaches or applesauce in the fridge for those moments when we have a sweet tooth.  Adding in the fresh juiced carrots and the greens --- a keeper for good.  And where Jack is, garlic gets added into nearly everything.  Our meats are greatly greatly reduced...I can stretch a few chicken breasts out an entire week as a small addition here and there to meals, but not as a main course.  Simplicity can be delicious and filling.

An Interesting Side Effect
I still have a lot less energy than most other people, or maybe less motivation to drive myself than I did when I was younger.  Or maybe I just like simplicity and hate chaos, and have embraced a slower life.  The interesting side effect embracing a bit of frugality and a big dose of simplicity has been...that other areas of my life are coming into order.  I guess maybe the refusal to be busy for busy-ness's sake has made me a stubborn "simplist" but it's helped me recognize the more important things, and cleared my mind even in small matters, like organizing my house.  Slowly, those forgotten corners are being cleared out in the same way.  I simply don't NEED a lot of possessions.  I can reuse things (like glass jars, etc) rather than create more waste.  I don't need as many clothes, and don't need trendy things.  I don't need constant entertainment...that's been VERY interesting...silencing the voice of the TV the past number of years has helped with distractions.  I'd go through Google withdrawals and Netflix convenience, but I COULD easily adjust to not having this computer.   I'd miss the convenience of emails because we do use that a lot.  But it could be done.  I LIKE the clear spaces in my life now that used to be cluttered with detritus that was unnecessary or not really being enjoyed fully.  In a way, it's like eating a little bit of great nutritious food rather than immense amounts of junk that don't actually satisfy.

So, a good side effect!  Evidence that things are still constructive, a good sign :)

I still have to rest a lot more than a lot of people.  I am hoping this will not be forever.  I am treating that need with respect, understanding my body needs healing.  There is a time to mend...

But while the sun still shines, I'm headed to pick some fresh papaya (yayy!!! our first!) and see if I can decipher the little green leaves that are popping out all over the ground.  I need to learn what they are..there is a world of wealth underfoot!

What does your New Year find you doing and looking ahead to?  Thank you for your comments and advice!

Happy New Year!!