A Gray Gardening Day in May plus the Parris House’s Honey Lemon (or Lime) Mint Tea Recipe

Today I put in most of the plantings for the Parris House vegetable and herb garden.  As some of you who follow me on social media may recall, around the time I was planning to start my seedlings, our local water utility burst an underground water main directly in front of our home, sending thousands of gallons of water in to the basement.  Unfortunately, this is the area where I usually have seedlings set up with grow lights.  The basement was a complete wreck and the cleanup and recovery have taken a couple of months, so…this year…no seedlings.

Fortunately, Smedberg’s Crystal Spring Farm in Oxford, Maine always has a huge variety of vegetable and herb seedlings, so this year, that was my solution.  I am usually picky with my seeds, selecting a lot of heirloom varieties, but this year growing my own plants was off the table and, having used Smedberg’s plants at times in the past, I know I will not be disappointed with my harvest.

I got the following in to the garden this morning, even though the weather on this Memorial Day is gray, cold, and frankly miserable:  tomatoes (three varieties), bell peppers, banana peppers, swiss chard, kale, eggplant, slicing cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, lavender, basil, thyme, rosemary, and oregano.  I have a good sized spearmint plant potted and over near the kitchen door, because let’s face it, that’s an invasive and if I put that in my raised beds it will party on until it’s filled them up.  Also, our rhubarb has come up once again and it’s really time (maybe past time) to cut some of that and make something delicious with it.  There’s still work to do, even though it’s getting so late in the season.  I still plan to add some dye/flowering plants to the herb bed and also to the container area near the house.  My husband put up the electric fence for me again this year and our stalwart plastic owl is standing guard as he has for many years (successfully) now.   In looking over my plant selections I’m pretty sure my Italian DNA is showing.

Here are a few pics of the fledgling vegetable garden.  I assure you that in a month or so, this is going to be lush and just starting to put off some food, that is IF it’s ever warm and sunny for more than a day or two at a time this spring.  I’m starting to wonder.

I really couldn’t resist taking some of the spearmint, even though the plant is relatively young and small.  I love mint in my iced tea and I make my iced tea a particular way.   The recipe is right here for you, if you’d like to give it a try.  Let me put forth the following caveats.  I do not like my iced tea very sweet (sorrynotsorry to those of you in the South; I know this is considered an abomination down there).  In fact, the only reason this recipe has honey in it is because a) I like the flavor of honey and b) I have bees and am about to extract my first load of honey (it will be called Tovookan’s honey and will be for sale – watch for it) in the next few weeks.  It wouldn’t be ok for me to not use it in my tea, after all.  Since I don’t have my own yet, the honey shown in the pic is from Beekman 1802, and it’s delicious.  What I do not like is for sweetness to obliterate the flavor of a really good tea.  Second caveat is that I like my tea like I like my coffee – so strong you could stand a spoon in it.  Please adjust for your own taste.   Third caveat (hello, Canadian friends!) – I am using King Cole tea which my son James dutifully picks up every time he goes to visit his girlfriend in Nova Scotia.  This is a very popular Canadian tea that has ruined me for most other everyday teas, but if you can not procure this, just use your favorite.  Each King Cole tea bag is made to brew 2 cups, so you just have to double how many you use in your recipe.

1 half gallon Ball canning jar or a half gallon container of your choice  (but let’s face it, the canning jars are really cute)

3 King Cole Orange Pekoe tea bags OR 6 tea bags of your favorite tea

2-3 tablespoons honey or to taste (go ahead Southern friends, pour that jar upside down and count to 100)

1 lemon, cut in to quarters (lime is also tasty)

1 sprig of fresh mint, cut in to slices and put in to a tea ball

About 4 trays of ice (the Parris House icemaker broke about ten years ago, the repair guy said $600 to fix it – we use trays)

Fill your kettle with hot water and start it on the stove (or plug it in).  Meanwhile, put the honey in the bottom of the jar, and cut up your lemon and mint.  I don’t worry about the lemon seeds, but if they’ll bother you, remove them.  I put my mint pieces in to a tea ball so that I don’t have to fish them out of the tea later.  This may compromise the diffusion a little bit and you can certainly just put them in whole.  However, do NOT put them in the jar yet.

Once your water is boiling, fill the Ball jar to about a third with it and then stir the honey from the bottom until dissolved.  Add your tea bags, fill to about half with the hot water, and steep with the lid on for as long as you like.  As I said, I like my tea super strong, so I let it get plenty dark, about 10 or 15 minutes (ok, sometimes longer – yes, I know it can get bitter – yes, I kinda like that).  When steeped to your liking, remove the tea bags and add the ice.  Notice that I have not yet added the lemon and mint.  This is because I do not like the lemon to take on that “cooked” flavor that can happen when you’ve put the lemons in while the water is still too hot.  I also think it alters the freshness of the mint.  So I wait until most of the ice has melted and cooled and diluted the tea.

Once the water is not hot enough to alter the freshness of the lemon and mint (about room temperature), add those to the jar.  Let these flavor the tea for at least an hour or two.  I recommend getting them both out of the jar the same day, though, because I think the lemon starts to take on an odd flavor if left in the jar too long.   I store the tea in the fridge so that the flavors stay fresh and so that when I use it it’s very cold.

Unfortunately, today is not an iced tea day.  Today is a hot tea, hot coffee, or possibly even hot chocolate day here in Maine, replete with wood stove burning to knock the chill off.  But…I have to think iced tea days are coming, so try making it this way and let me know what you think.

Happy Memorial Day and happy hooking.

P.S.  I have not failed to observe Memorial Day; in fact, I am always deeply reverent of its origins and meaning.  If you follow me on Facebook you will have already seen a Memorial Day post I wrote for the Paris Hill Historical Society today.  Take a look by clicking HERE.  Thank you!

Depression Era Poor Man’s Cake, Courtesy My Grandmother (and a Coupon Code For You)

My grandmother, Mary Barnard, with my niece, Rose, my son, Robert, and my husband, Bill, circa 1991, at her Little Sebago Lake cottage in Gray, Maine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandmother lately.  I often think of her in challenging times for so many reasons.  At the moment I am realizing that I can no longer realistically run Parris House Wool Works as alone as I have been, because I am running myself ragged (no, threadbare) keeping up with all of the wonderful opportunities I’ve been given.  I have one fantastic helper, a virtual assistant, already started, and two other people waiting for me to get my act and timing together in a smart enough way to hand them some work.  So really, not catastrophic, but the overwhelm is a bit much right now.  Additionally, and more actually truly sad, the canine love of my life, Corgi Tru, was diagnosed with cancer last week and is not expected to live the summer.  She is twelve and she’s had a fantastic life, but I wasn’t ready to face letting her go so soon.

I think about my grandmother in stressful times because I loved her so much and she was such an enormous influence on who I am today.  The very best times of my childhood were spent at her summer cottage on Little Sebago Lake in Gray, Maine.  I was a stressed out child, mostly due to circumstances at home but also because, well, I seem to have been born Type A (I’m working on it). The summer cottage time in Maine with my grandmother was the antidote to that stress.  There were no crazy expectations at the cottage.  I was always good enough.  In fact, I was great, or so my grandmother told me.  We played cards, swam in the lake, climbed hills to find wild blueberries, hiked to an abandoned cellar hole and cemetery, and ate.  We ate ice cream every night at 8 o’clock on the dot.  My grandmother didn’t scoop it out like most people do.  Nope.  She took the paper wrapping off the half gallon – a true half gallon back in the ’70s – and then cut the ice cream in to perfectly even bricks.  I will never know whether she did this just to have nice equal servings or because she had been a Depression era mom and this was the most efficient way to divvy up a box of ice cream.

As I said, my grandmother had been a Depression era mother to three children, my Uncle Courtland, my Aunt Dorothy, and my mother, Elizabeth, all born between 1920 and 1928.  She knew what difficulty really meant.  She lost both of her parents before she was forty herself, and she survived the indescribable worry that must have come with having a son and son-in-law serving in combat during World War II.   As a child I never gave any of these things a thought.  I just knew that this was the sunny grandmother who made my life a dream in the summers and had introduced me to Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, Grape Nut ice cream, daily diary keeping, Canasta, and, perhaps most pivotally, Maine.

I would often awake in the summer time to the delicious aromas of whatever my grandmother was already baking in the kitchen.  Sometimes it was homemade fried donuts, or cookies, or the recipe I’m going to share with you now, Poor Man’s Cake.  Poor Man’s Cake was a Great Depression recipe and I’d bet there are variations of it, if not this same recipe, in your family too.  It may even be older because my copy of the recipe from my grandmother says, “Poor Man’s Cake, World War,” which may indicate World War I.  Her brother, my great uncle Winfield Martin, had fought in France during the Great War and nearly died.  Thankfully, he recovered in a hospital in France, came home and lived a long and good life.  You will notice that this recipe has no milk, no butter, no eggs.  But don’t be put off.  Either this cake is the most delicious and addictive old recipe ever, or…it just is to me because so many memories are attached to it.

Here it is for you to try.

1 pound raisins in 2 cups water, boiled 15 minutes

Add to the raisins…

3/4 cup shortening and mix together

2 cups sugar

1 cup cold water

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp baking soda

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp salt

4 cups flour

1 cup chopped nuts

1/2 jar candied fruit (I don’t know what 1/2 jar measures out to, but feel free to wing it)

Mix all ingredients together.  Bake at 275 degrees for one hour in 3 greased and floured loaf pans.

I know that sounds like a very low oven temperature, but that’s what my grandmother did.  What you end up with is a very soft, very dark raisin/fruitcake, very unlike those doorstop fruitcakes often found in the supermarket during the holidays.  Sometimes she left out the candied fruit and it was more of a raisin spice cake/bread.

This week (May 22nd to May 29th) I’ll offer coupon code POORMANSCAKE in the Etsy and Shopify shops for 10% off your order of $25 or more, and let me know if you try the recipe!

Happy hooking – Beth

 

A Sneak Peek at the First Hookers Circle Project and How You Can Join Us!

Not everyone can join us in the Maine studio to hook together on Tuesdays.  In thinking about how we could create an online community to bring people from all over the country (and possibly the world) together in a common project, I came up with the Parris House Hookers Circle. 

As some of you may know, we shipped the first pattern for the Parris House Hookers Circle in March of this year.  If you’re not aware of it, here’s how it works. Every quarter (March, June, September, December) I will send out a new surprise pattern or kit (you choose!).    You can pay all at once up front and receive a 5% discount on your subscription, or you can pay in installments.  The details are explained on the shop listing HERE.  

So far, we have had three brave hookers sign up, and two of them, Pam Congdon Springer and Carolyn Cooke, have been participating regularly on our Hookers Circle closed Facebook group.  They signed up without having any sneak peek at all at what they might receive, but lucky you, you’re about to get a look at the first pattern we shipped in March and what two of these lovely women did with it.  Keep in mind that they chose the pattern-only option, not a kit with cut or uncut wool, so the color planning was all theirs.

When I set about designing a pattern for the March shipment, we were in the midst of some serious winter storms with spring nowhere in sight.  I thought it might be nice to do a pattern inspired by some of the woodland plants we see here in Maine in spring and then in to the summer, so I chose lady slippers and trillium.  On any hike in the woods of Maine you are pretty sure to see trillium, but the lady slippers are rarer, so much so that it is literally illegal to pick them.  I’m not sure why anyone would, but the state actually protects them as a relatively rare plant.

So here’s what my hookers circle members got in the mail…

Each member received an image of the original sketch as a jumping off point for their own color planning and hooking.

Each member also received a pattern drawn on the grain on high quality linen with 4″ edges all around.

They also received a special little extra in their packages, which for March was a bar of our handcrafted soap.

It took Pam and Carolyn no time at all to get started on their projects, but they posted progress pics throughout their hooking that were fun to see.  We were able to bat ideas around as the projects developed and offer constructive opinions and kudos on the work.  Another benefit of joining Hookers Circle is that mutual support as the projects unfold.

So, what did the finished projects look like?  Of the three members, I have finished pics of two, and permission to post so…without further ado…

This is Carolyn’s finished rug. She chose unconventional colors and a beautiful whip stitched binding that coordinates with the primary background. Her use of purple on the stems of the flowers, and then echoing it in the corners of the design, I thought was brilliant. I think she achieved a really beautiful result here, thinking outside the box.

This is Pam’s finished wall hanging. I absolutely loved the way she incorporated a natural object that you would absolutely find on a walk in the woods as part of the hanging apparatus. She used a coordinating button flaps to attach to the twig and then set the whole thing off with the proddy fringe along the bottom. I think her color choices are lovely. This is another spectacular result I would never have imagined when I was sketching the pattern.

So, this is our fledgling start to the Hookers Circle, a group I hope to grow to at least one hundred members.  No, I’m not kidding.  I really want to get Hookers Circle to at least one hundred members.  I know that that would require employing several people for about a week or so a quarter to draw, assemble, and ship the kits, but I think it would create a big version of the camaraderie that is already developing on our Hookers Circle Facebook group.

If you like this pattern, it will be available for general purchase one year from when it was released, so March 2018.  Hookers Circle members enjoy exclusive access to every pattern for at least one year.  Members can join at any point in the year and subscriptions will run on a rolling basis.  Want to join us in time for the June shipment?  Join here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek at what’s been happening in the Parris House Hookers Circle.  I think spring is finally arriving here in Maine.  There’s still snow on the ground, but I think its time is short, and I will have to start thinking about warmer days and summer sun to inspire the June pattern and kit.

Happy hooking! – Beth

Always Do Your Best, Even When It’s Not “Enough”

Something happened this past weekend that made me think about intent, process, and outcome.  We can not always control outcomes, but we can control our own intent, our own decision making, our own process.  Here’s what got me started down that thought path.

This is my son Robert’s girlfriend Tracy, getting eye to eye with a stray cat.  While they were vacationing for his 27th birthday in Virginia this past weekend, they encountered a cat by the side of the road.  Being cat people, they stopped the car to make sure the cat was ok.  He wasn’t.  It was clear to them that he was injured and sick.  Because it was a Sunday, they had to search high and low for an animal hospital that was open, and finally found one in Charlottesville.  Transporting the cat to this open animal hospital involved several hours of driving for them (on my son’s birthday), and their feline passenger pooping in Rob’s car.

I wish I could say this story has a happy ending, but it doesn’t.  The cat was found to have FIV, which made adoption by Rob and Tracy impossible because they have other cats at home.  More importantly, the cat had a serious brain/neurological injury from what was likely being hit by a car, along with other injuries.  When Rob last spoke to the animal hospital, it was the vet’s opinion that the most humane thing to do would be to put the cat to sleep.

I felt bad for Rob and Tracy.  They love animals (in fact, so much that they build cat beds for their Etsy shop) and had done everything within their power to save this one, to no avail.  I also felt bad for the cat, because I love cats so much and, of course, we have our own crazy orange tabby, Tesla, here at the Parris House who is part of our family.  I told them that they had at least provided this animal with affection and kindness when he was so sick and injured, and that they had sacrificed their own vacation time in an effort to save his life.

This is just how life is sometimes, and we need to remember it.  If we are always obsessed with a safe and assured outcome, we will never take chances.  Sometimes – often – we’re going to win for our efforts.  But sometimes we’re not, and sometimes there’s no accounting for the difference either.  It’s just how it is.

There is a fair amount – more than we’re willing to admit – of uncertainty in life, actually.  It’s why I hug my sons tightly when we have to say goodbye (which is often; they are all grown men now).  It’s why I drive back to the house if I’m not 100% sure I unplugged the iron.  It’s why I take nothing – absolutely nothing – for granted.  It’s also why I do my best and leave the outcome to take care of itself, because it’s going to and maybe not in the way I thought.

Of course, the flip side to all of this uncertainty resulting in disaster is uncertainty resulting in success beyond our wildest dreams.   Life is filled with those unexpected results as well.  For example, I knew that when we approached Beekman 1802 with our work in 2014, there was an off chance they’d say “yes” to it, but I wasn’t really expecting it.  That trip went, and that relationship continues to go, so well that I could never have imagined it beforehand.  From that one chance we (my then biz partner, Jen and I) took three years ago has come many happy pillow recipients, new friends for me, and opportunities I could not have dreamed of.

The same could be said from my experiences teaching at Squam, or from an online friendship that resulted in the recommendation of a publisher for my as yet still a dream book (the proposal is in though…I’m taking a chance…).

We don’t know what’s going to happen in our lives, good, bad, or anything in between.  But we can control the intent, the process, and our own effort.  Therefore, with this one life – this one, brief, amazing, limited time only life – we have to just do our best.  Doing our best creates better odds for the outcomes we want, and better handling of disappointment when things don’t go our way.  When we do our best we have fewer regrets, knowing we gave it all we had.

Next Monday I’ll have a more fiber art related post (although this topic also applies to the way we approach our art), as I am traveling to Rochester, NY this weekend to teach a pretty large group of RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) students rug hooking.  When I interact with high school and college students I see young adults engaged in doing their best to make their dreams come true, and that’s inspiring.  I’ll have the whole story for you a week from today!

Have a great week, and give it your best.  – Beth

 

Seriously, Yes, You Are, and Yes, You Can.

I’ve addressed this topic before, but I think it bears repeating, and I encountered a catalyst for this post again just today.   At Tuesday hooking group we had the loveliest trio of sisters stop in for the first time.   One of them was looking for applique wool, and another was already a hooker.  As I showed them the kitchen area where we cut wool, have classes, eat, drink, and generally be merry, one of these wonderful women said something along the lines of, “I’m not artistic.  I can’t draw a thing.”

Stop.Right.There.

The answer is always, always, “Yes, you are and yes, you can.”  The ladies pictured at left (a different trio) were students in my design class of just that name:  “Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can.”  It’s a fun, information and skill packed, affirming class in hooked rug design where you start with a sketch of your own creation and leave with a fully finished pattern ready to hook.  I was inspired to create this class because I had, and have, heard, possibly a hundred times or more by now, “I’m not artistic.  I can’t draw.”

It’s never true.  As in…never.  

So, what’s the deal?  Why do people – primarily women – make this self assessment?  Certainly they are not being intentionally misleading.  If only they were.  No, they truly, really, sincerely believe that their creativity is inferior or non-existent.  This breaks my heart, perhaps because I’ve been right there and still struggle with the inner critic who I’m learning better and better these days to shut the  *&#% up.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s important to critique your own ideas and work.  We have to do that to make sure that whatever it is we are producing is something that we feel good about and that we applied ourselves for.  I’ve sold patterns discounted as “seconds” that my customers couldn’t find the flaws in, but I knew.  Likewise, I joke that my eraser is my best friend, because I use it more than I use my sketch pencil some days.  So, I’m not saying not to take pride in your work and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have standards, but I think you know where the line is.  You know when the inner critic is not the voice of your commitment to a job well done, but rather the voice of a bully.  You can sense it, and what I’m telling you is:  shut the bully down.

I don’t want to overstate the role of gender in this problem, but as an example, I also had a wonderful male customer stop in to the shop today looking for a particular blue (which, dang, I didn’t have at that moment).  He had a fantastic rug of his own design with him and I asked him to come in to the kitchen and show it off to the ladies who were lunching.  This man is someone who does amazing work and has a healthy commitment to quality.  I have heard him self-critique his work, but the tone is different from that of most of my female students and customers, and when he showed off his rug today he was able to take the many oohs, aaahs, and compliments in a way that showed a humble yet confident attitude toward his work.  Unfortunately, we don’t have nearly enough men rug hooking these days, but I do believe I notice that they bring to the art a confidence that many women, even the most accomplished, either don’t have or don’t show.

Going too far in to how girls and boys are raised in our culture relative to how they are encouraged to show self effacement vs. confidence is way beyond the scope of this post, but just make a mental note of the existence of these differences, and think about how those differences may affect you when:

  • someone pays you a sincere compliment
  • you are invited to try a new art or craft
  • you are evaluating  your own creative ideas or works
  • you are asked to share your work or teach what you know

Maybe you had parents or other important adults in your life who didn’t affirm your talent in some way.  Maybe you had that art teacher who condemned your efforts because she wanted an outcome from you that fit her limited vision instead of being open to and appreciative of yours.  Maybe you’re just an introvert (hello…raises hand…) who isn’t totally comfortable with the attention your talent might or does attract and it’s more comfortable to be dismissive of yourself.   I’m a major introvert who is learning to be comfortable with putting myself out in to the world for the sake of promoting work that I love.   Maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is that gets in the way of your embracing your own creative potential, it’s important to look at it, move it aside, and give yourself a chance at something you’ve up til now believed you “couldn’t do.”

I am thoroughly convinced that every woman, and the occasional man, who walks through the door at the Parris House has an innate and deep well of creativity within themselves.  I respect and honor that immediately and at face value, which is why I wholly reject any assertion that that person is bereft of talent.   This is not just wishful thinking on my part, or my stubborn clinging to a dearly held belief.  It is evidence based.  I don’t know how many students I have taught at this point, but it’s many, and not one – not a single ONE – failed to reveal to me his or her creative nature.  Further, my students always teach me something in return; everyone has something to offer in a creative context.

We are, by nature, creative beings.  How enthralling is that?  We are made for this creativity thing, and all we have to do is find a medium of expression that suits our individual nature.

To summarize, yes, you are and yes, you can.

To sign up for a creative experience at the Parris House, click HERE and bookmark this page because I am adding classes all the time.  I will be adding another date for Yes, You Are & Yes, You Can and am in the process of arranging for some guest teachers to come in for possible classes in art journaling, the intersection of water color painting and hooking, natural dye techniques, and more.

Happy (and confident) creating!  – Beth