Kachoo, Kachoo, Is That You? (Or Me?)

Kosher salt contains no plastic microbits, now sadly found in sea salts

Garden & Kitchen Cures For Colds & More

Last year, colds were rare and there was almost zero flu going around, as isolating, social distancing, and masking helped reduce our exposure to one another’s germs. This winter, as protocols are easing up, it looks like we might need to start taking precautions again. After a wild few weeks and a very busy weekend, I’m feeling a little nervous. A quick symptom review shows cause: Headache, check. Sore throat, check. Stuffy head, check. Drizzly nose, check. Itchy eyes, check. Earache, check. Gotta be a duck, right? Or at least one of the virulent illnesses that make the rounds so quickly. Dang.

When you or the entire household gets nailed by the nasties, head for the kitchen first and you may be able to avoid a visit to the pharmacy. Garden herbs, fresh or dried, can help provide relief in the form of teas, soups, and gargles. The kitchen pantry also supplies natural remedy ingredients for gentle yet effective treatments. For instant relief, put a dab of organic coconut oil on that raw, sore nose. Cover itchy eyes with warm, wet black tea bags (used ones work fine) while you take a five minute break. Drink plenty of hot herbal teas (ginger, chamomile, and peppermint are all helpful) and rest when you can. The especially good news is that these old time techniques reduce the most unpleasant symptoms not by masking them but by promoting a cure.

It Starts With The Sea

Long, long ago, we came from the sea, and our bodies are largely salt water to this day. Thus, sea salt is a very natural balancer for our systems. Sadly, sea salt all is increasingly contaminated with micro-particles of plastics, a form of pollution now ubiquitous throughout the world’s waterways and even found in rain. Kosher salt is mined worldwide (not always in ecologically benign ways), but it is free from plastic bits and other sources of contamination. No matter which kind of salt you elect to use, salty water’s not for drinking, but this simple rinsing and gargling solution eases a sore throat very quickly, cleaning out post-nasal-drip gunk that can turn into a bacterial swamp. Swishing with warm salty water also helps keep harmful mouth bacteria at bay and can ease discomfort when tooth troubles kick up. Swish and gargle several times a day, or at least when you get up in the morning and before you go to sleep.

Salt Water Gargle

1 cup warm water
1/4 teaspoon salt

Stir well and gargle with a small amount in the privacy of the bathroom. And shut the door, unless you live alone, in which case your pets will probably be fascinated and want to play too.

Apple Cider Vinegar Gargle Or Sinus Swig

1 tablespoon organic apple cider vinegar
1 cup (or more) water, hot or cold

Use warm water and gargle as above if your throat stays sore for more than a day. If your sinuses get involved, drink this stuff hot or cold every hour or two while awake to help battle both bacteria and viruses. Taken before or after meals, it’s a fine aid to good digestion. This combo also stops acid reflux almost immediately for many folks, who take it at bedtime to prevent uncomfortable nights.

The Allium Clan

When your body is fighting off colds or flu, turn to garlic and onions for speedy aid. The entire onion family contains compounds that boost the immune system and help fight infection naturally. Since they also add savor and warmth to almost anything, why not harness those powerful antioxidants at every meal? The classic chicken soup remedy still works, but the good news for vegetarians is that chicken is not the magic ingredient; research proves that onions and steam are what do your body good.

Adding a few other vegetables can only help, so add whatever sounds good to you (think kale and sweet potatoes) to any of these soups. Pureed soups are easier on sore throats, and naturally antibiotic herbs like thyme and rosemary are less irritating than pepper, though a little smoked paprika offers body and depth as well as a little bite. Flaked nutritional yeast is a protein-rich, salt-free optional ingredient that adds a nutty, cheesy flavor and gives vegetable soups a richer, savory, umami quality.

An Italian Classic Cold Cure

In Italy, winter is the traditional time to serve this hearty, garlic-based soup, famous for chasing away colds and flu. This sumptuously silky soup is lively with garlic and onions, and the addition of raw garlic makes this soup especially lively (but that step may be omitted if desired).

Traditional Italian Garlic Soup

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 dried hot pepper (pepperoncino)
2 whole heads garlic, cloves peeled and lightly crushed
2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 bunch kale (about 8 ounces), shredded in fine ribbons
1 cup flat Italian parsley, stemmed
1 cup Asiago or Romano cheese, coarsely grated 
 OR 2 tablespoons flaked nutritional yeast
2 slices crusty rosemary- or herb-bread, toasted and cubed

In a soup pot, heat 1 Tbsp oil and dried pepper over medium heat to the fragrance point (about 1 minute), turning to lightly brown pepper on both sides. Add onions, all but 2 cloves of garlic, and salt and cook until onions are soft. Remove pepper, add broth, bring to a simmer, cover pan and simmer for 20 minutes. Add kale and simmer for 10 minutes. With an immersion blender, puree hot soup with remaining olive oil and remaining raw garlic (optional). Stir in parsley and 1/2 cup grated cheese and serve hot, garnished with toast cubes and remaining cheese. Serves 4.



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Make Time For Tea

Dried rosemary, calendula and rose petals make a lovely tea

Herbal Teas For Wild Windy Days

Got time for a cup of tea? I’m working on recipes for calming, fragrant, soothing herbals blends that take the edge off our poor overwhelmed nerves. Last week, this little island in the maritime Northwest got about 8 inches of rain, and today seems to be trying for a new record. My phone’s weather app offers gale warnings, mudslide warnings and flood warnings and that’s just for today. Last week, we in the Seattle area were blasted with tornado warnings as well, and though the twister collapsed before it hit land, the rains were truly torrential. The ground is so sodden that the gusty winds brought down trees and power poles all week.

Tornados are not common here-the last one occurred about three years ago, about 15 miles away as the crow flies. That said, nobody was really surprised to get the warnings, as we all know weather patterns are changing faster than predicted. How many hundred year weather events have we had in recent decades? As the UN’s Climate Change Conference reports make clear, climate change is here and the changes are only going to come closer to home, no matter where home might be.

Check Those Storm Drains

If many of my written ramblings start off with something dire these days, it’s a result of checking in with the news first thing in the morning. As a long time news junkie, I’ve had to reduce my exposure radically just to keep my emotional balance in precarious equilibrium. As always, puttering in the garden and going for walks are my sanity restorers, but when those options aren’t possible, too much sitting makes me jumpier than ever. My neighbors are texting back and forth about hip waters and kayaking; the streets in our little mobile home park are running like young rivers and everyone’s clearing leaves from storm drains to minimize flooding.

That’s vital, because mobile homes are not houses as such. Though newer models are actually manufactured homes which are far sturdier, older mobiles like mine have zero wall insulation (plenty under the floor and roof, though). When our crawl spaces flood, molds and mildews can proliferate, especially in older, un-renovated mobiles. That’s part of why we need more and better affordable housing…

About Those Teas

Time for the fragrant cup that soothes! I’m enjoying a delicious blend or peppermint and licorice root, a relaxing yet uplifting combination that makes my neck muscles soften. If at all possible, I encourage everyone to grow at least a few tea herbs, as a pot of home grown herbal tea begins the day in such a gentle, lovely way. Teapot in hand, go out into the garden (even if it’s just a deck or balcony). Breath deeply of the new day as you harvest a pinch here and a handful there. Back in the kitchen, you might add a dash of cinnamon, grated orange rind, or a little nutmeg before pouring in freshly not-quite-boiled water. As the tea steeps, it scents the kitchen and prepares the palate for a cup of pure refreshment. Taking time for tea, making and drinking it in with full attention, helps us stretch out space in our day for relaxation and simple enjoyment. Years ago, as a very busy mom, I realized that time for tea is really time for me. Since that moment of recognition, not a day has passed without making and taking that precious little chunk of undisturbed time.

Herbal teas may involve dozens of combinations, so it’s entertaining play about, trying this partnership and that, letting the scent and savor of each leaf direct your choices. Over time, you’ll develop preferences and favorites which you want to repeat and preserve. Keeping a tea notebook will greatly assist your researches, however casual. You need not take voluminous notes or record every detail of each blend, but nothing is more frustrating than being unable to replicate a recipe you enjoyed. Simple notes, written as you gather and blend, will prompt your memory reliably when you want to repeat your success. Don’t forget to record your reactions to each attempt, even the duds, for your own responses are the best possible guide in the garden as in the kitchen.

Making Herbal Teas

Herbal teas alter with the seasons and the weather: a breezy, sparkling blue morning calls for a cheerful blend of orange mint, raspberry leaves, and lemon balm, while damp, grey afternoons demand a more stimulating brew of anise hyssop, which tastes like mint and red licorice, bolstered with sprigs of spicy bee balm and a bite of sweet-hot cinnamon basil. Lashing downpours call for a brisk, aromatic cup blended from rosemary, lavender, and lemon verbena, a bright, sassy brew that will leave you singing in the rain. The first snow merits a celebratory cup brewed from mashed rose hips, lemon thyme, and a bit of finely chopped licorice root. Evening tensions ease away under the influence of steeped chamomile, red clover, hops, and pineapple sage.

Serious herbalists may combine a dozen herbs in a single blend, carefully balancing emphatic flavors with mellow ones, brightening a deep-toned mixture with brisk citrus and mellow mint, or adding body and depth to light blends with a touch of bitter culinary herbs or ground pepper. However, utterly satisfying teas can be made from simple combinations such as red currant leaves with chamomile, or lemon balm and spearmint. Indeed, some people prefer herbal teas with just one ingredient. It’s wonderful fun to play with enticing combinations, but in the end, your own taste and pleasure should dictate what you put in your tea pot.

Starter Recipes

Here are some delicious ideas to get you started. Each of these recipes starts with chamomile, a great blender of more potent flavors, and each makes enough herbal blend for 1 quart of tea. Place herbs in a teapot, bring water almost to the boil, pour one quart over herbs, cover and let them steep for 5-15 minutes, depending on your preference. Strain and add honey if desired.

Bedtime Brew                    Rosemary Rose Tea

1/4 cup chamomile                1/4 cup chamomile
1/4 cup lemon balm              2 T rosebuds
1 T feverfew                             1 T rosemary
1 t dried hops                          1 T rose hips

Lavender Citrus Tea         Mellow Mint Tea

1/4 cup chamomile                 1/4 cup chamomile
1 T calendula petals                2 T spearmint
1 T lemon peel                         2 T peppermint
1 T orange peel                        1 T chopped licorice root


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Seasonal Shifts

Do slugs die when they eat deadly Amanita mushrooms?

Daylight Savings & A Death Cafe, With Cake

On Sunday morning, I was caught off guard by the clock on my stovetop, which was not in synch with my phone. At first, I thought there was something wrong with the stove, then realized that Daylight Savings Time had crept up unnoticed. By afternoon, it was very obvious, as the daylight drained away by 4:30 and dusk settled in like a blanket. It surprised me to be so unaware of the time change, since in general, the past few years have made me increasingly aware of seasonal shifts, my own and those of the garden. I find it comforting to notice the incremental changes in day length as the year spins away into winter, then winds itself back up into spring. Those little changes, involving a few minutes a day (more or less), all year round, are easy to assimilate. However, the full-hour jump of Daylight Savings is hard on our bodies, whether we gain an hour, as we seem to in autumn, or lose it when we have to adjust to rising earlier in spring.

The garden, of curse, ignores clocks and calendars and deals only with reality. I’ve been thinking back lately about a year I spent in a ghost town at almost 9,000 feet near the abandoned gold camp of Hecla, Montana. My then-husband and I repaired a tiny old cabin, built an outhouse, and cut 10 cords of wood by hand to get us through the winter. After a few months without watches (remember those?), we lost track of time and dates and found our own natural rhythms that followed the sun and respected the darkness. We gradually shifted from trying to recreate daylight indoors to finding tasks that didn’t need much light, from cooking and knitting to playing music and whittling. All around us, plants and animals responded to the natural changes as they had for millennia by going dormant or hibernating. It was surprising how quickly the cultural habits of time keeping slipped away and how comfortable it felt to live by the sun, not the clock.

The Greatest Change

Autumn is always a reflective time for me, not least when working in the garden. It’s rewarding to pace myself, looking carefully for signs of slumbering bees and frogs and butterflies before yanking fading foliage from dormant plants. The garden is getting sleepy but it certainly isn’t dead. Odd stems of still-blooming mint and oregano still attract late bees, and even the hummingbirds visit them in their daily quest for nectar. The hardy fuchsias are still the hummers’ favorite sip-stops, but as flower choices dwindle, both birds and bees take advantage of anything they can find to keep them alive a little longer. I put out the hummingbird feeders as autumn arrives to keep the Anna’s hummingbirds happy through fall and winter, changing them daily and cleaning them carefully to avoid spreading diseases. Even so, I sometimes find a dead birds (and mice) in the garden, killed by hunger or cold or the neighbors’ roaming cats.

I’m obviously not alone in pondering death’s mysteries at this time of year, but the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving is filled with personal loss anniversaries, those of my second husband and both parents as well as a double handful of friends. When I say loss, I mean death. It’s fascinating to notice how often we slip into euphemism when we talk about death. Passed away, passed on, crossed the rainbow bridge, departed, deceased, left, lost… but they all mean death. Can there be a greater or more inevitable change in life than death? Is it healthy to try so hard to deny or ignore what can’t be avoided? Would we feel very differently about death if our culture taught everyone to see death as a natural consequence of life? The only euphemism I’ve heard that I respond positively to is “walked on”, a phrase sometimes used in American Tribal communities. That resonates with my feeling that we do indeed travel into another reality beyond ordinary sight or knowing.

Talking About Death Won’t Kill Us

I think the best way we can learn to see death in a different light is by having open conversations about it. That’s where the Death Cafe comes in. The idea was sparked in Europe, moved to England in 2011, and soon spread to the US and Australasia. Neither a therapy session nor grief counseling, Death Cafes involve group-directed conversations about death. What’s your own experience with death? Do you ever think about your own death? Trained facilitators are on hand to guide a faltering conversation or comfort someone who might need individual support for a little while, but for the most part, these conversations are far-ranging and fascinating and often funny. There may be laughter as well as thoughtful or tearful silence, and silences are as welcome as spoken thoughts.

Above all, there’s cake. One unfailing tradition of the Death Cafe movement is that talking about death goes better when there’s plenty of cake, and perhaps a cup of tea. Last week, a Death Cafe offered by the Senior Center was over-subscribed, and the in-person events was followed by a zoom version that was also full. Sadly, we were not able to share tea or sliced cake (per Health Department/covid19 regulations), but we could step outside to enjoy delicious cupcakes during the break. The conversations at each table had gone well before the cake break, but were decidedly livelier afterward. Sharing food is one of humanity’s oldest ceremonies, and the refreshments brought comfort to the participants and ease to the talk. At the end, the evaluations were overwhelmingly positive and nearly everyone said they would definitely be interested in another Death Cafe as well as similar ones focused on climate change and ecological devastation. And of course, more cake!

Cafe Cupcakes

Here’s my family’s favorite pumpkin cupcake recipe, crunchy with pecans and lively with bits of dried tart cherries to balance the sweetness. The lemony glaze adds even more zip and is also lovely on scones or zucchini bread.

Pumpkin Cherry Cupcakes

2-1/4 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon each ground ginger and coriander
1/2 teaspoon each of ground cardamom and cinnamon
1/2 butter, at room temperature (very soft)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 cups pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup chopped pecans or any nut
1/2 cup chopped dried tart cherries

Line two standard muffin tins with muffin cups, set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Sift together dry (first 6 listed) ingredients, set aside. Cream butter and sugars, blend in pumpkin pulp, eggs and yogurt. Blend in dry ingredients and stir in nuts and cherries and spoon quickly into muffin tins. Bake at 375 F until set (23-25 minutes), then remove to a cooling rack. When cupcakes cool to room temperature, dip or drizzle with glaze (see below) or any favorite icing. Makes 24 standard cupcakes.

Lemony Glaze

2+ cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or any)
1 teaspoon zested lemon rind
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Put in the microwave for 30-40 seconds or combine in a saucepan over medium heat and cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Let stand for 5 minutes, then adjust thickness with more lemon juice or powdered sugar. Drizzle over cooled cupcakes or dip them into the glaze and return to the cooling rack until the glaze sets up.




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Recycling Halloween Aftermath

Homemade Plastic-Free Halloween Decorations

Composting Pumpkins & Stuffing Stuffies

Last night, our modest community experienced our first Halloween costume parade event. Though only a handful of our 50 homeowners put up decorations, those that did, did it with delightful gusto and exuberance. Rather than have door-to-door trick or treating, treat tables were set out near the most decorated homes, offering treat bags, light sticks and small toys to costumed kids. We invited our neighbors from nearby condos to join us, and someone unknown posted the event on social media, so we had a larger response than anticipated. Fortunately, the result wasn’t overwhelming this year, but so many people asked about next year that we realized that we were at risk of setting ourselves up for repeat performances; on Bainbridge Island, anything fun tends to get turned into an annual event. What have we done?

This morning, the debate was about both commitment (are we obliged to do this again?) and about holiday decor protocol; how long can seasonal decorations be left in place? When does something fun and cute start to look dirty and neglected? Though our pumpkins and gourds aren’t going away yet, I immediately removed the clingy, stretchy fake spider webbing beloved of local kiddos. For one thing, I don’t want birds to get tangled in this stuff. For another, once it gets wet, it’s un-recyclable trash. If gathered up quickly enough, this fine-spun polyester fiber makes fine stuffing for soft toys-in fact, it’s basically the same thing as the commercial stuffing, but differently extruded. Fortunately, all of our fluffy stuff is now clean of leaves, dry, and safely repackaged for stuffy-making. Unfortunately, there are ragged, tattered sheets of this stuff all over the neighborhood, the island, the county, the state, the country. Ack!

Sustainable Holiday Decorations

I’ve never used the fake spider webbing before but I admit that I got suckered by youthful enthusiasm. Regrettable, right? However, I’ve already started developing patterns for crocheted webs and knitted spiders for next year. Made of cotton, linen, wool and fluffy angora (for spider legs, of course), our future decorations will be usable for many years to come. When at last they expire, they can be composted, just like the pumpkins and squash and long threaded swags of colorful fall foliage we make. As long as we use natural fiber twine or thread to make leafy or floral or evergreen swags, the whole business can be tossed in the compost or the green waste bin when colors fade and needles drop.

With a little advanced planning, we can extend this same rethinking to other kinds of decorations. When my grandkids wanted some plastic holiday decorations with long, fluttering ribbons, we made our own versions with cardboard, colored paper and crepe paper streamers. The kiddos always enjoy making things, so I keep their craft table stocked with supplies and rarely need to suggest anything to make, as they are always full of more or less practical ideas. I figure anything not dangerous is worth a try, and experimentation is an important life skill. If failures are treated as puzzles to be worked out, some very ingenious solutions may emerge from the (harmless) wreckage.

Living Trees & Edible Decorations

Though my grandkids celebrate the winter holidays at their own home, we have found some lovely ways to decorate around my little home and garden as well. Rather than bringing a cut tree indoors, we decorate living trees with swags of plain popcorn and apple slices. We stuff fat pinecones with natural, unsalted peanut butter and roll them in sunflower seeds we saved from our towering flowers. This is a super sticky, fairly messy process so it’s wise to have some wet rags, a washable table covering, and a large drop cloth in place before the revels begin.

Wild Bird Seed Cookies

5-6 cups wild bird seed mix
1 cup organic coconut oil
1 cup organic natural peanut butter (no sugar, no salt)

Put coconut oil and peanut butter in a bowl in the oven with just the oven light on and the door closed for about half an hour to soften. Lightly oil the inside of your cookie cutters, then place them on a rimmed baking sheet. Mix as many seeds as possible into the softened oil and peanut butter, then pack cookie cutters with the mixture all the way to the top (they’ll be about an inch thick). Now insert a few toothpicks bunched together or a small dowel into each cookie to make a hole for a string to hang the cookies with. Let the cookies firm up completely before removing them from the cutters. If your house is warm, try putting the baking sheet outside for half an hour or so to firm up. Thread the cookies with natural fiber string or yarn and hang them on an outdoor tree where birds can get them but cats can’t (important where cats are allowed to roam outside). Depending on the size of your cookie cutters, this makes about 8-10 small cookies or 4-6 larger ones.


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