Blowsy Days and Strawberry Mint Tea
Chocolate Box Cottage, Volume 2
Week 44: November 5, 2022
A batch of blowsy days ushered in winter weather – but still no frost! Homegrown strawberry mint tea is the perfect way to warm up and relax in the afternoons and evenings. It tastes amazingly like fresh strawberries and is pleasant plain or with honey. If you can find this variety, I warmly recommend it – grown in a pot unless you are prepared to hand over your backyard to a mint plantation!
Go ahead, fix yourself a cup of strawberry mint tea, if you have it, or whatever flavor you have on hand, then sit back and read this post.
Blowsy days are perfect for puttering. But before we get to that, let’s take a quick tour of the 2022 Victory Garden at Chocolate Box Cottage.
Those small tasks in the house and in the garden that have been waiting for an opportune moment – it is now! I move from one task to the next without hurrying and it feels good to take care of them, tie up those loose ends and put things in order.
The garden teepee is fading – it is November after all. The morning glories were attacked by an insect, not frozen, and I still need to determine what it was. The gourds have been harvested, but the vines themselves are still alive, miraculously! And on the fence, a lacy cup-and-saucer vine that got a late start wends its way up the boards.
Green tomatoes are hanging in there. I harvested the sizable tomatoes and left these just to see what will or won’t happen. Cardinal basil is the showiest basil in our garden. It puts on a display of fluffy brilliant purple bracts that rival the zinnias and happen to be great companions for them! I am hoping for seeds to save from these beautiful plants.
Step inside the greenhouse with me! It may be windy and cold outside, but inside it’s a comfortable 52F (11c) degrees.
The Clementine orange on the left displays a small crop of fruit and behind it is a porch pot with orange mint. To the right are two oversize porch pots overflowing with Josephine Norwegian geraniums. There is an interesting story behind these geraniums that I will share one day.
Here I will introduce you to two more greenhouse residents. A Meyer lemon tree seedling, one of a dozen, that suffered from heat and wind in the summer is putting on a fresh batch of leaves. Learn how to plant lemon seeds to grow citrus trees.
My summer blooming amaryllis with strappy leaves has multiplied to become 3 plants in one pot.
The pawpaw seeds are biding their time, waiting for favorable germination conditions. Growing trees from seeds is very rewarding! All the details are contained in my garden journal. It’s just a school composition notebook, housed in a used Ziploc bag with a pencil. Keeping garden records doesn’t need to be fancy or exhaustive. Any notes taken are better than none.
It’s wood stove weather and it’s smart to harness the heat for cooking, but first: a soak in cool water. Soaking the Italian clay bean pot fills all then pores with water, which in turn allow for gentle, even cooking of food.
I soaked a pound of cannellini beans in water overnight with a good amount of salt.
In the morning I rinsed the beans and placed them in the bean pot with fresh water.
I reached into my scrap bag in the freezer for a couple of ends from a couple of onions, and took a bay leaf from my spice drawer.
I brought the pot to a boil on my kitchen stove, then moved the pot to the wood stove, where it continues to simmer gently. In a few hours, we will have slow-cooked beans to add to Taco Soup, with extra to freeze for a future meal.
I consider beans a building block to cooking and keep 3-5 kinds cooked and ready to use in my freezer, along with bone broth, and freezer bread dough.
Having these basics on hand makes it that much easier to put a healthy meal on the table without making a trip to the store. (We don’t live near a store, anyway, but for those of you who do, it’s something to consider!)
Learn to use your wood stove to cook.
Tea at Mom’s
Weekly tea and lunch and Mom’s consisted of Taco Soup and homemade banana bread made from the overripe bananas I abducted from Mom’s fruit bowl last week. Mom’s best friend, Joy, and Miriam joined us, too! Joy brought a wonderful salad with a cilantro lime dressing to complement the soup, plus bevy of delicious toppings. Tea this week was Orange Jasmine, a surprisingly nice pairing with lunch.
Church Christmas Bazaar
There is nothing like the Christmas bazaar to get you into the Christmas spirit early. I have taken Miriam, and Cameo when she was home, to the church Christmas Bazaar every year since she was in a stroller, 20 months old. The girls were so excited they used to hardly be able to sleep the night before! I let them wear their Christmas dresses with tights to the bazaar and we have always made a day of it with Mom/Grandma.
Mom prefers to stay home, finding crowds a bit overwhelming these days and Cameo lives up north, but Miriam and I still enjoy our very special annual tradition.
We have lunch at the pop-up cafe in the church gym and take our time visiting each and every booth – twice! That’s right, we go through the entire bazaar twice. We go home with a big bag of kettle korn and relax with tea and a Christmas movie and chat about Christmas plans.
Sam’s list this weekend included an array of small projects:
- Replace the accelerator pedal in the truck
2. Put away hoses and insulate outdoor faucets
3. Sharpen kitchen knives
4. Add straw to henhouse and bunny quarters
5. Put away lighting/cords used to deter bears (We think they’re gone for good now)
6. Toilet repairs
He also hoped to mow the grass one last time, but the we weather prevented him.
MY THREE BAKING FRIENDS: SOURDOUGH STARTERS
I would like to introduce you to my clan of natural baking leaveners! I depend on them to raise bread, make mouthwatering hotcakes, quick piklets for breakfast, and more. So much more.
MERLIN is my most-used, all-purpose sourdough starter. I call him a mutt because he is happy to gobble up whatever flour I am baking with, whether it’s all-purpose, whole wheat, rye, spelt, and even small bits of non-gluten flours like corn and millet.
***What Merlin makes best: quintessential sourdough boules, hotcakes, crackers, popovers, and crumpets.
SOPHIA is a star in her own right. Sophia is a lievito madre, an Italian sweet starter as opposed to sour. She currently dines on whole wheat flour, but also likes bread flour.
***What Sophia makes bests: the BEST pizza ever with crust a complex wine-line flavor and the perfect balance of airy bubbles and chewiness, and , and enriched breads like Pan de Coco (coconut bread), chocolate, lemon, etc.
DAKOTA PIONEER EVERLASTING YEAST is the leavener of my German grandmother, Emma, and her mother before her, Katerina. Everlasting Yeast eats a steady diet of all-purpose flour, boiled potato, and a little sugar and salt.
***What Everlasting Yeast makes best: sandwich loaves baked in a pan and kuchen, a fruit-topped German coffee cake.
I will share my bakes over the autumn and winter months and thought it would be nice to introduce you to the starters first! Do you bake with sourdough or other types of natural leaveners?
Some for us and some for Christmas gifts. Now we are set for hot cocoa all winter!
Sam and I enjoy curling up together on the couch on Sunday afternoons with a cup of cocoa. It’s so easy – just as easy as a store-bought mix, but tastes SO much better! (And for a real splurge, add a dollop of whipped cream!)
Instead of throwing lemons away after juicing, I zest them first. The zest dries in a couple of days at room temperature on a plate and then is used to refill my Lemon Zest spice jar in my spice drawer. I love, love, love these mini apothecary-style spice jars!
Cameo Joy Four o’Clocks are named after my daughter. The seeds have had ample time to dry. Now it’s time to transfer them to a labeled seed packet. The manilla packets were purchased at a thrift shop a year or two ago. I include the original source of the seeds and year they were acquired on the packet.
I saved another batch of Japanese Plum tomato seeds from another batch of tomatoes; I am calling these B grade. Japanese Plum tomato seeds are no longer available commercially and I felt I needed to save more seeds, even if they weren’t from the best fruit. Grade A and Grade B seeds are in separate packets. Several friends who are accomplished gardeners have volunteered to help me keep this variety going by planting it in their gardens next year.
Our fennel forest didn’t prosper this year; it was severely beaten back by low twenties weather in the spring, so the harvest is small but very much appreciated. The spice jar was refilled and the rest went into a backup jar.
Chocolate Box Cottage hollyhocks were literally dropped from heaven (or a bird) into the Apothecary Garden. The variety is everything we want in a hollyhock: it is tall, it blooms for months, and the flowers are a deep, deep burgundy. I noticed an infestation of tiny weevils in the seeds, so I put the entire baggie in the freezer for a week to kill them. Hopefully we still have some viable seeds here to plant.
A final autumn harvest of Zloty Lan chamomile was air-dried on the china hutch / seed saving station. Enough to fill a pint jar, which was added to my kitchen Tea Station, along with the Wild Chamomile I picked and dried earlier in the summer.
QUICK-FIX HEALTHY MIX COOKBOOK
Make your own homemade mixes! They’re delicious, nutritious, and affordable.
It’s hard to argue with the convenience of grocery store mixes. They’re quick, easy, and usually require less clean-up than cooking from scratch.
Unfortunately, they’re also filled with high levels of sodium, hydrogenated fat, high-fructose corn syrup, msg, artificial flavoring and colors, and a slew of unpronounceable ingredients.
Can you have convenience and have it healthy, too? As a matter of a fact, YES!!
Quick-Fix Healthy Mix authors Casey Kellar and Nicole Kellar-Munoz share a generous helping of recipes:
Rice and pasta mixes
Salad dressing mixes
Spice packet mixes
and SO much more, all made from simple, healthier ingredients.
Search for Quick-Fix Healthy Mix at my favorite online seller of used books using my sharebooklove link. Click the highlighted words and then type the book title in the search bar. It’s a popular book, so if it is not currently in stock you can create a wish list and they will email you as soon as it is available. Using my sharebooklove link allows you and me to both earn points towards free books, thank you! This post contains other links to products and businesses I use and appreciate; some are affiliate, some are not.
I went long this week! You have certainly finished your cup of tea by now. I do pray you have a good week.