White Memorial Conservation Art and Craft Fair

 

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Another Saturday, another day spent out doors with my husband and grand father in law.  I was more prepared this time and made even more sales, I’m really looking forward to our next show in a few weeks!

The Cuddle-Fish were a huge hit, but the star of the show was the giant donut, it drew a lot of attention to my mini donuts and I almost sold out!  The major changes I made were having more stock and using silly signs instead of individual tags.

Our host, White Memorial Conservation Center, is a massive 4,000 plus acre property covered in trails designed to connect you with nature.  Near the entrance is the visitor center and museum, with disabled birds of prey being cared for out back.  I can’t wait to go back and explore!

 

 

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Eggplant Caprese Stacks

 

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Working with my mother-in-law has a lot of perks, one of which is always getting new food to try.  Mama Kate brought in some eggplant caprese stacks and immediately after trying it I asked for the recipe.

 

Ingredients

3 medium eggplants

1 cup mozzarella

Tomatoes

Fresh basil leaves

3 eggs

1 cup breadcrumbs

1 cup flour

Nantucket Seasoning (a special blend of spices we get every year)

2 or 3 large baking sheets

Non-stick spray

 

Prep

Wash, peel, and slice eggplants into coins about a quarter to a half inch thick

Slice tomatoes into similar sized coins if possible, or enough to be evenly dispersed among stacks

If using fresh mozzarella cut that into coins as well, if you’re resorting to using string cheese like I did, have your husband “string” about a cup of cheese.

Set up breading stations, you’ll need one for flour, one for breadcrumbs, and one with the eggs, add a dash of Nantucket Seasoning to each

Get a helper if you can, someone unafraid of a messy job.

 

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, spray sheet pans with non-stick spray

Toss eggplant coins in flour, cover in egg wash, toss in bread crumbs, set down on baking sheets.  Do this to half of the eggplant coins as the other half will be used to top the stacks.

Place down the next layer, a mozzarella coin on each eggplant.

Next tomatoes

Then basil leaves, be generous with them, there’s nothing like tomato and basil together

With the remaining eggplant; toss in flour, then eggwash, then breadcrumbs, then top every stack with one

Bake in the oven ten minutes per side (or until browned and sizzling)

Allow to cool for a few minutes and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Clocktown Arts & Crafts Fair

 

My husband and I spent a beautiful day in Thomaston at the Clocktown Arts & Craft fair with his grandfather.

Ken Killer of AKA had been making ornaments for twenty two years, they hand scroll ornaments made of recycled Christmas trees found right here in Ct. We showed off some projects in the works along with finished pieces.  Cuddle-fish, cronuts, and cozy jars were my focus. As the holidays come closer I’ll also be showing some ornaments.
The fair was on the Thomaston Green under the constant chiming of the clock tower.  The weather was brisk but comfortable, the people were delightful and took their time at the table talking and getting to know us.

The highlight of our day was when an eight year old ran up to our table and said “would you like a cup of lemonade it’s only twenty five cents and I deliver!”  Obviously we had to buy a few cups! 

Sunday Morning at Harvest Moon

Even at 8am on a Sunday, the streets of Chester are full and boisterous. There’s excitement in the air as the vendors set up for their weekly Farmer’s Market, one tent is completely devoted to exotic mushrooms, another to goat cheese.  I’m not here for the market today though, I’m here for the yoga.

Harvest Moon is a progressive design powerhouse located at 1 Main St. Chester CT and has been referred to as “the heart of Chester”.  The store isn’t about stuff, it’s about community.  Every piece in the store is locally and responsibly sourced, new artists are featured monthly on the walls, and the owners are usually barefoot.  Kids play, adults collaborate, a community develops.  Erica Sunshine and Adam Pipkin have created a fun space in Chester to visit and experience a fresh perspective on what it means to be a small business.

On Market Days, Erica and Adam host a yoga class with a wonderful instructor, everyone is welcome, all levels of practice are encouraged.  I did my best to keep up and was rewarded with one of Adam’s famous juices.  It was a beautiful Sunday morning and I can’t wait to do it again.

You may notice similarities between Erica Sunshine and myself, I’m proud to say she’s my sister. Erica is committed to bringing out the best in everyone, especially the best of Chester.

 

Crispy Tofu – Every Time!

Tofu with an audible crunch, what could be better?

 

Ingredients

Two packages of tofu

Sunflower Seed Oil (enough to keep bottom of pan covered)

Corn Starch

 

Method

Heat oil on medium heat until water skids across the top

Cut tofu into cubes or strips or sticks

Pour 1/4 cup of cornstarch into plastic zip lock bag

Add tofu pieces, seal, shake until all sides of the tofu coated

Add tofu to hot oil in batches, leave enough room to easily turn each individual piece (three batches)

Remove when golden on all sides to paper towel covered plate to drain

Serve it up!  We cooked cauliflower in a tika masala sauce and added the tofu on top.

Vegetarian Eggplant Galettes

In an effort to create a protein that stuck together and had a, dare I say, “meatier” consistency, I went ahead and altered my chick pea burger recipe.  Just another experiment with a fancy name!

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Galette- a savory pancake in French cuisine

 

Ingredients

1 eggplant; skinned, cubed, steamed

1 can garbanzo beans; drained, rinsed

Pasta per package directions

1 egg

1/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp basil

1/2 tsp oregano

1 tsp parsley; reserve half for pasta

3 tbs olive oil

Pinch salt

Several grinds of pepper

 

Method

Cook pasta to package directions

Peel, cube, and steam the eggplant

Drain and rinse the beans

Combine and grind in a food processor (in batches if you need)

Mix all ingredients in large mixing bowl

The mix should stick together well; it shouldn’t be a hard ball, nor a runny pancake, more of a fritter consistency. If it’s too dry, add a splash of almond milk.  If a little too wet, add some more flour a little at a time.

When satisfied with your mix, heat oil on medium heat until water skips across the surface

Cook your galettes in batches; allow to cook about half way through and brown on one side, then flip

Once both sides are brown and crispy, transfer to a plate with a paper towel to drain excess oil

Mix cooked pasta with olive oil, salt, pepper, and the reserved parsley

Serve galettes over pasta, sprinkle with parmesan cheese

 

 

 

The Elusive Lady Slipper

 

I knew there were many varieties of orchids, but I had no idea there were sub categories as well with an amazing span of beauty and characteristics.

 

I’ve always been a fan of orchids, possibly because they’re supposedly hard to maintain, something I relate to.  This past summer I became obsessed with finding an orchid in the wild in Connecticut. Something I thought impossible, especially considering the extinction CT orchids like the lady slipper are facing.

 

On a walk with the man of my dreams the other day I came upon a vibrant lady slipper, sitting off to the side of the trail among fallen leaves.  We had stopped to sip water and I happened to look over and see this rare flower, I couldn’t believe it.  We took many pictures and continued exploring, we will go to the Airline Trail again very soon!

 

It is illegal to uproot or otherwise destroy a lady slipper, take pictures and leave it be.

 

Cypripedium

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Cypripedium arietinum

 

This resilient slipper can be found in most of Canada, New England, and the Great Lakes area.  It is commonly referred to as the Ram’s Head Lady Slipper.

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Cypripedium californicum

 

Often found in clumps or groups, this lady slipper has been known to hold up twenty one flowers on its single stem.

Jack in the Pulpit

 

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Arisaema triphyllum

Arisaema triphyllum, or Jack-in-the-Pulpit (sometimes called cobra lily) is an interesting shade-dwelling flower that lives in Eastern North America, it’s one of my favorite plants here in CT because it looks so tropical.

Jayce and I go on a lot of nature walks, especially on my lunch break.  A few feet down the road from my office is a beautiful park with a thick Hemlock forest ripe for investigation.

I’ve learned recently to look down, especially in the spring.  So many plants are beginning to come up, you’re bound to see something new.  While Jack-in-the-pulpits aren’t new to me, I saw six surrounding me and it inspired further research.

What’s exciting to me is the unassuming nature of the plant; at first glance it looks like poison ivy, or something even less sinister, but at the right angle the beautiful and intricate flower is revealed.

Take a few moments in a shady overgrown forest in the early spring, look a little lower than usual and you’ll see Jack-in-the-Pulpits everywhere!  I think you’ll feel the same excitement I do.

Identifying Jack-in-the-Pulpit

It gets is common name, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, based on its irregular shape.  The flower forms a cup for Jack to sit in with a hood over the top.  Scientifically speaking; the spathe (the cup that forms the pulpit) wraps around the spadix (Jack).  There he sits until forming bright red berries that last through the late summer and into early fall.

The plant has three leaves and in its earliest stages can be confused with poison ivy, so best not to touch these until the flower forms.

Jack-in-the-pulpits grow to a height of about eighteen inches, some reach thirty, the plants pictured above were only eight inches high and quite young.

This species is unisexual, but most flowers are male, once the male dies the female begins to grow and produces its own flowers.  This leads to a hardier plant species because they don’t inbreed, since male and female blossom and different times, the flowers have to pollinate with another completely separate plant in the opposite stage of bloom.

Growing Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Considering its location: a dark, moist forest floor, this plant is rather easy to care for.  It mainly requires compost and moisture, specifically generous composting once a year and deals well with poorly draining soil.

Jack-in-the-pulpit is ideal for shade gardens and bogs, or other moist and dark locations.  It’s a set it and forget it kind of plant, and can be harvested and multiplied relatively simply.

Propagating Jack-in-the-Pulpit

 There are two methods for cultivating your own Jack-in-the-pulpit, from seeds or from offset the plant naturally grows.

In order to grow from seed, you first need to locate and harvest the right thing.  The seeds form in the later days of summer and early fall, if you have a Jack-in-the-pulpit that you visit often, keep an eye out for bright red berries.  Once these form they may be removed with gloves, some say the seeds can be planted directly in the ground in the fall (a half inch deep) or can be brought indoors for stratification.

Remember to use gloves, every part of Jack-in-the-pulpit is toxic in some way, the berries have juices that will cause irritation and blisters for several days.

Stratification means to place the seeds somewhere cold and very dark for two or three months, much like the method of storing flower bulbs off season.  It’s important to place your seeds into a bit of sphagnum moss or another easy going growing medium, then into the back of the fridge in a bag that will not let light through.

Another method of propagating Jack-in-the-pulpit is to dig up the plant once it begins growing off sets.  These baby plants can be gently separated from the mother, then potted and kept indoors if frosts are coming, or until it’s grown at least six inches.  Once ready plant it in the ground in a partly shaded, soggy location!

These have potential to become heirloom plants; while researching I read of a mother who passed her grandmother’s Jack-in-the-pulpits down to her son.

These baby plants grow off shoots which have tubers connected to the roots of the mother plant.  When you dig it up dust off as much dirt as possible, then using a sterile knife, cut the other plants away from the mother by the roots.

This separates the tubers (the bulb the plant will grow from every year) and allows you to spread out your Jacks.  Replant everything you dug up with a little more space between and, if you have time, more compost.  These plants love decaying matter and enjoy heavy composting once per year.

As long as you’ve set your Jack-in-the-pulpit up in partial shade and moist conditions, this plant will thrive without much interference and is rather cold hardy, using snow as an insulating blanket..

Jack-in-the-pulpit Folklore

Also known as Indian Turnip, Brown Dragon, Starchwort, Bog Onion and many others, all 150 plus varieties of Arisaema are known to be poisonous.  Reportedly the roots may be cooked and used to treat rheumatism and soreness of the eye, but this entire plant should be considered toxic to be safe.

Toxic components of Jack-in-the-pulpit

The particular toxin referred to is calcium oxalate crystals; this compound is found on  some plants in a needle like shape, being sharp at one end and dull at the other.  These crystals often develop due to excess calcium in the soil and are likely used as a defense for the plants, if an animal tried to ingest the plant, the calcium oxalate crystals would poison it in two stages.

The initial reaction is a mild numbness leading to painful sores anywhere the crystals may have touched.  Once digested stinging and pain in and around the mouth nose and throat may occur for up to two weeks.

Little tidbit: 80% of kidney stones contain calcium oxalate crystals.

Further…

Whenever you transplant or examine a new plant, its important to practice safety measures like wearing gloves.

Upon initial inspection this plant looks harmless, yet it is so interesting you feel a yearning to lift the hood over the Jack and peer inside.  But in nature it seems the more beautiful something is, the more likely it is to bite.

After learning more about Jack-in-the-Pulpit I’ve decided to transplant some from my back yard into terrariums we’ve been assembling for the wedding.  I’m hoping I can control the environment enough (part shade, moist atmosphere) so I can have a little piece our first home at the reception.  A detailed post on the terrarium project will be coming soon, it’s still in the experimental phase.

Sources

GardeningKnowHow.com

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/jack-in-the-pulpit/growing-jack-in-the-pulpits.htm

TheGardenHelper.com

http://www.thegardenhelper.com/jackinthepulpit.html

HowStuffWorks.com

http://home.howstuffworks.com/jack-in-the-pulpit.htm

Have you spotted any interesting flora in CT or the North East? 

 Have any tips on terrariums and gardening for a  beginner?

Please comment and share!

 

Raising Dwarf Puffer Fish

We’ve been very interested in specimen tanks lately.  It started with a beta, then some zebra danios, a cory catfish, plants, snails, and finally…dwarf puffer fish.

They’re the size of the last knuckle of my pinkie, they swim to the front of the tank when my fiancé walks in the bedroom, their eyes move in different directions!  They are curious and aware, at first glance they appear bland and brownish in color.  Upon further inspection the deep greens and bright yellows appear, their spots are as varied as their personalities and we’ve watched their colors darken and brighten depending on their mood.

Dwarf puffer fish can be found wild near shores in India and they are endangered because they are collected to sell as pets.  In the pet store, you can ask if they were caught in the wild or bred in captivity.

The puffer fish has a big personality, think Napoleon Complex, and can be a bully with their tank mates.  For this reason they are often kept in a separate species tank, but please note we have had success with keeping a cory catfish in the tank, they actually snuggle!

Their diet consists of small animals like copepods, krill, and especially snails; we use rams horn, pond, and Malaysian trumpet.  All of these snails are considered pests, you can go to the pet store and ask for some “pest snails”, they’ll often give you them for free.

We set up a snail breeding tank and haven’t had to worry about our puffers eating (they can be picky and can easily starve).  Some say that flakes and  pellets are fine but these guys are hunters and if you want healthy puffers, give them something to chase!

Pictured below are some rams horn snail eggs, we noticed one of our larger snails clinging to one spot for much longer than they usually do (you’d be surprised how much these snails move). After a while it had disappeared and left behind the eggs pictured on the left.  On the right is about a week later, almost ready to hatch!

 

Our puffers have become our hobby, all four of our tanks stemmed from the purchase of these two, trying to get their tank mates just right (none but the cory catfish worked for  us), water changes at least once a week.

While it’s difficult setting up their initial habitat, once you have your tank ready puffers are quite simple to take care of.

 

Vegan Alfredo Sauce (over peas and noodles obvi)

I was looking for a creamy sauce to mimic alfredo that I could eat with a spoon (I mean pour over real food), after some experimenting here’s what happened.

Ingredients

Rice and quinoa noodles with vegan alfredo sauce and peas, because broccoli is played out (not sorry)

¼ cup fat of choice (I use olive oil)

¼ cup flour

8 cloves of garlic, minced (It sounds like too much as I write it down, but for the sake of reducing salt intake I up my flavors quite a bit)

2 ½ cups almond milk

PINCH of salt (I really can’t help it)

Many turns of pepper

Note: because this sauce is so fatty theres lots of potential to burn, it needs to be watched and stirred gently and consistently throughout cooking.  I find it’s a perfect assignment for my tiniest or most inexperienced helpers.

 Method

While making the sauce, cook pasta according to package instructions

Get your helper and ingredients prepared, things move quickly with white sauce!

Get your medium sauce pot out and on the stove

Oil in on medium heat, let it melt

Add garlic and cook until golden

                Keep a close eye, burnt garlic ruins the entire dish without an effective fix

Add flour and mix until it combines completely

I like to toast it a little extra, browning the flour a bit, in gravies that gives a little more flavor and I assume the same concept applies.

Add almond milk and bring up to a boil

Reduce and simmer until the sauce begins sticking to the spoon and the side of the pan

Add peas to cooked, drained, rinsed pasta and toss

Add sauce to pasta pea mixture

Serve immediately, stores in the fridge but heat gradually if using rice quinoa pasta, it turns into a brick