Violet Unicorn Jelly

The best way to pick wild violets is sitting in the grass with a granddaughter on a sunny Sunday morning.

The best reason to pick wild violets is to make violet jelly.

And the best thing to do with violet jelly is to have a fairy tea party with lady finger sandwiches.

So far, I have pulled off the first two. But if I wait too long to post this, you will run out of time to pick your own wild violets.

On a recent Sunday morning, a friend posted pictures of her violet jelly, and I said to my granddaughter Emily, who had spent the night, “Let’s do this!” While her cousins frolicked around like woodland nymphs, Emily and I sat in the sunny yard picking violets.

And we talked. About this and that and nothing whatsoever.

Picking violets was easy. Violets were all around us, so we didn’t even have to move around much.

But we needed two cups of flowers. No stems. And violet flowers are pretty tiny. It takes a lot of flowers to fill a little two cup container. And then they start to pack down, so it seems like the container is never going to fill up. Eventually Emily got tired of picking, but fortunately did not get tired of sitting with me on the grass. After a while, we had two cups of violet blossoms.

The next step toward making jelly was to make a tea with the violets. I packed the flowers into a quart mason jar and filled the jar with boiling water. As the flowers steeped, the water turned a lovely blue.

Emily went home and the violets continued to steep in the fridge. It was Wednesday before I had time to continue with the jelly. By then the tea was a stunning purple.

I strained the tea.

Into a pot on the stove, I put the tea, the juice of one lemon, and a packet of powdered Sure-Jell. I let it boil a couple of minutes and then added four cups of sugar. After it all boiled again for a couple of minutes , I skimmed and stirred the jelly for about five more minutes. Then I poured the jelly into jars and water processed them for a good jar seal.

Easy peasy.

So I had this very beautiful pinky-purply-colored jelly, perfectly jelled, and no idea if it even tasted good!

Ah, but it does.

It tastes a little like flowers. It is a little lemony. It is hard to say exactly. Some say it tastes like spring. Personally, I think it tastes like a unicorn’s lollipop. It definitely wants to be served on a light spongy lady finger to a granddaughter.

I bought some lady fingers, but they were not spongy. They were crispy, the kind you want for making a trifle or tiramisu. I need the spongy kind, so I am now on a hunt for soft spongy lady fingers.

Once I have lady fingers, we will have a fairy tea party with unicorn jelly sandwiches and fairy tea in pretty cups on the porch. The cousins can all join in.

Or frolick outside like woodland nymphs.

This Little Light of Mine: Beeswax Candles

I recently gifted a dear sister-in-law with two homemade beeswax candles.  This has prompted her to do a blog post about beeswax candles.  And that has been a major kick in the pants for me to share my candle adventure here.

Making candles is so easy!  Just melt and pour.


It took me over a year to make two lovingly gifted candles.  It took about an hour to make the actual candles but a year of research and development to create the plan.

The Wax

It begins with beeswax.  I could buy beeswax pastilles online, but I wanted to use the wax from our own bees.

But first, I had to purify the beeswax.  Normally, purifying the beeswax takes an evening.  I melt wax  from our hives in a pot of water, and a lovely disk of cool wax is ready for me in the morning. However, I have begun purifying it twice, because the second go-round results in a much cleaner wax.  Cleaning it twice takes longer, but once the wax is clean, it can be stored indefinitely and is ready for making candles and lip balm.  You can see how I clean my beeswax here.

The Candle Recipe

With clean wax ready to use, I needed to decide on a candle recipe.  Pure beeswax candles would be awesome, but I had a limited supply of beeswax.  And until we have more success with  our beehives, that supply will continue to be limited.  So, I chose to blend two parts beeswax to one part coconut oil. I used processed coconut oil because I did not want coconut to compete with the naturally sweet smell of beeswax. For that same reason, I  chose not to add any fragrance to my candles.

The Container

Starting simple, I planned to make votives.  I have more than a bazillion votive holders leftover from three daughters’ weddings.  In addition, my aforementioned dear sister-in-law gifted me with about a hundred Yoplait Oui! jars last Thanksgiving. I do not lack for jars, but which jars would be best for my candles?  I picked the Yoplait jars because I was planning to give some to my sister-in-law who, as you may have guessed, is addicted to Yoplait Oui! yogurt and the cute little jars.  (For her clever ideas, you can visit her blog Now That You Are Home.)

The Wick

The most important factor in producing a good candle was to determine what size wick I needed for the jars.  This is where R&D got serious.  I ordered a sample pack of wicks from The Candle Science website had helpful information about choosing the right wick size.  The extremely helpful information said, “It’s hard to give accurate wick recommendations for Beeswax.” But they offered a sampler pack of ECO pre-tabbed wicks to practice with and the advice that beeswax, burning more slowly, will require bigger wicks than paraffin or soy wax do.

So, with a sample pack of wicks and a variety of jars laid out in a grid on a paper bag, I melted the 2/3 beeswax-1/3 coconut oil in a double boiler that is reserved exclusively for playing with wax.  That took about 45 minutes.  Then I poured the hot wax into wicked jars. That part was wicked easy.

The Test Burn

A very important step came next–test burning the candles. If the wick is too big, the candle will burn too fast.  It the wick is too small, the candle will not burn fast enough and the flame could drown in a pool of melted wax.  Another problem with a too-small wick is “tunneling.” Tunneling happens when the wax does not melt to the edges of the container, so the candle melts down into a hole in the center of the jar with wax still along the sides.  The proper size wick should result in a lovely pool of melted wax to the edges of the container after a two hour burn.

We dined by candlelight that night of the test burn.  Although the candles were systematically laid out on the kitchen island in rows labeled by jar and wick size, the science experiment still cast a romantic ambience over the room.

The Results

All did not go as planned.  I ran out of wax before getting to the correct jar with the correct wick size.  All the candles had wicks that were too small.

I melted some of the candles again and tried with the largest wicks in my sample pack.  It seemed to be a tie  between the ECO 12 and the ECO 14 wicks. I decided to go with the ECO 12.

Being an optimist, I ordered 100 wicks. (Add that to the list of things my daughters will be tossing when I’m dead.)

I  made another, smaller,  batch of candles with this year’s wax.  The yield was four Yoplait Oui! jars.

And I think the wick is too small.

And I think that the Yoplait jar is not the best choice for my  candles.  A straight-sided votive would burn better. And I probably should use a smaller jar.  The  4 oz. Yoplait jar is about the same size as a small Yankee tumbler.

Next year, I will try a narrower jar and/or the ECO 14 wick.

But I would also like to try to find the right wick for a pure beeswax burn.

The R&D continues.

Making lipbalm: one way to avoid doing schoolwork

Cappings from honey box ready to be melted into wax for lip balm

Cappings from honey box ready to be melted into wax for lip balm

A box of honey has been spun and the cappings have been melted into a sunny yellow disc. With the school year looming, I am desperate to spend these last few days enjoying summer projects before the first steps into the school building erase these ten glorious weeks of summer.

Or maybe I am just stalling on getting into school planning.

Lip balm is on the agenda. A new batch of beeswax and a recent delivery of Shea butter, lip balm tubes, and new essential oil fragrances have me raring to go.  I ordered my stuff from

Lip balm mise en scene

Lip balm mise en scene

Two years ago, the last time I did this, I forgot to write down what I did. I’m not making that mistake again.

Here’s what I used:

2 oz. beeswax
4 oz. Shea butter
 5 oz. almond carrier oil 
 5 drops Vitamin E 
20 drops essential oil

In a double boiler, melt all the ingredients except the essential oil. Once it is melted, add the essential oil. For this batch I used 8 drops of spearmint and 12 drops of rosemary.
Quickly, before the mixture cools and begins to solidify, use a plastic pipette to fill lip balm tubes. I have a holder that accommodates 50 lip balm tubes. I can’t imagine trying to fill those little tubes without it!

The purple thingy holds 50 lip balm tubes in place.  Plastic pipettes enable me to fill them without making a globby mess.

The purple thingy holds 50 lip balm tubes in place. Plastic pipettes enable me to fill them without making a globby mess.

Once the mixture has cooled, put the caps on. Label the tubes before making the next batch!

This  first batch filled 50 lip balm tubes with a little left over.

The next batch filled 10 larger tubes. I used 4 drops lemongrass, 12 drops lavender, and 4 drops patchouli. Also a pipette of honey.

A note about fragrance:  fragrances are blended according to top notes, middle notes, and base notes.  Like a musical chord.  Top notes come on strong and evaporate quickly.  (Like sopranos.) Middle notes emerge next and last longer. (A shout-out to altos.)  Base notes anchor the chord.  (Yeah, guys!)  There is music and chemistry in blending fragrances.

Fragrance charts are really helpful with this.

The great thing about the lip balm is that it isn’t just for lips. It’s a great treat for tired teacher feet. I bought some larger push up tubes for rolling the stuff on my feet at night.  The lavender is a great fragrance for going to sleep but, before adding the fragrance, I poured two tubes unscented so Mr. BeeMan could treat his icky feet without smelling like a girl!
It’s also great on cuticles, rough elbows, and to smooth eyebrows.  (Mr. BeeMan doesn’t care about his cuticles, but–hmmm–I could attack his eyebrows.)

After the balm is made, labels are needed.  Once upon a time, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find labels the right size for the tubes.  One can buy cute lip balm labels but they are expensive.  I just wanted something I could pick up at Office Depot and print from the computer.  A friendly Office Depot worker suggested that I buy 8 x 11″ labels and cut to size.  That way I could be a creative as I wanted with the labels.  Well, duh, what a great idea.

Of course, my labels are creatively cut into squares.

I spend some computer time tweaking the labels. Then I print, cut, and have a lovely meditative time sticking the labels onto the tubes.  That’s when John points out an editing error.  You got it…after the labels are on the tubes. 

Free tube of lip balm (either size) to the first person to point out the editing error.  John doesn't count--he already got his.

Free tube of lip balm (either size) to the first person to point out the editing error. John doesn’t count–he already got his.

Lastly, shrink-wrap!

Lastly, shrink wrap!

Lastly, shrink wrap!

There are a few reasons why I put on shrink-wrap.

Tip: hold tube in place with a pencil eraser.  The tube won't blow across the kitchen and you won't burn your finger.

Tip: hold tube in place with a pencil eraser. The tube won’t blow across the kitchen and you won’t burn your finger.

  • It’s fun to watch the hairdryer shrink the wrapper to the tube.
  • It keeps the lip balm from gooping up the label, which is just paper.
  • I know which tubes are unopened!  This is kind of important when gifting.
  • It makes the product look official, instead of something I concocted in the kitchen (which I did).

Now that I’ve warmed up to school with the honey harvest-lip balm making activities in math, chemistry, music, art, and writing, I should get to work on my French I planning.  Oh no, that is going to involve new technology.  A rant will probably be posted soon!



How Much Honey?

Honey box filled with honey

Honey box filled with honey

It’s the big question everyone has when we harvest a honey box. How much honey is in there?
Family wants to know, “Will we get some for Christmas?”
Colleagues ask, “Will you have any to sell this year?
Mr. Beekeeper asks, “How many pounds did I carry up from the bee yard?”
Mrs. Beekeeper asks, “How many jars do I need?”

One day this week found Mr. Beekeeper and Junior Beekeeper at home together. With the Star Beekeepers aligned, it was surely the day to harvest honey.

Removing the honey box

Removing the honey box

A peek through the queen excluder at the bees.

A peek through the queen excluder at the bees.

Hive D.  We took the lower brown box and kept the  top box on for a potential fall harvest.

Hive D. We took the lower brown box and kept the top box on for a potential fall harvest.

Only one honey box was harvested this time. Hive D had clearly finished filling one honey box but was still working on their second one. We leave that to them to continue to fill. Hive A, new this year and thriving, already filling two hive body boxes, received a honey box just a couple of weeks ago. We leave them to their work.
Hives B and C, who had come through winter with one hive box, have struggled to fill a second hive box. They currently have no honey boxes on them at all. Hive C had a honey box, but it was removed and given to Hive A.

Junior beekeeper examines the honey box

Junior beekeeper examines the honey box

So we harvested one honey box. In the fall we will see if we can harvest some more.

Junior Beekeeper spins the honey while his sister watches

Junior Beekeeper spins the honey while his sister watches

This was Junior Beekeeper’s first experience with spinning honey. Grandma Beekeeper has been working her arms lifting grandbabies and willingly handed the privilege of honey spinning to the Oldest Grandchild.

He also learned a physics lesson about centrifugal force. As he turns the crank, a basket containing two frames spins round and round, faster and faster the harder he cranks. The honey is pulled out of the frames to the side of the container. When he stops spinning, the honey slides to the bottom of the container. We open the valve and pour honey into the bucket. It’s just like that ride at the fair that he dislikes so much…the one where you spin and stick to the side walls while the floor drops out from beneath you. (Junior Beekeeper is more of a Tower of Terror guy.)

Straggler bee in the wax cappings a day later...right before his water ride

Straggler bee in the wax cappings a day later…right before his water ride

And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened to a lone bee who got processed with the honey. He got spun and dripped out onto the filter. Another lone bee got stuck in the cappings which were also placed on the filter to drain. He was still barely moving the next day when it was time to process the wax. Alas, he went down the drain on a “water ride.” Some people think raw honey should not be filtered, but I personally prefer my honey without dead bees in it.

Spinning the honey is a lot easier than scooping 48,000 cells with a little spoon

Spinning the honey is a lot easier than scooping 43,000 cells with a little spoon

So, how much honey is in a honey box? Time for some math.
There are 9 frames in each honey box.
Each side of each frame contains about 80 x 30 honey comb cells. That’s 2400 little cells per side…or 4800 per frame times 9 frames. That comes to 43,000 little cells filled by busy bees.



Frame filled with capped honey

Frame filled with capped honey

Or about 3 gallons.
One pound of honey equals 1 1/4 cups. We have about 48 cups. So maybe we’ll get 38 one pound jars of honey.

Maywood Honey 2014

Maywood Honey 2014: a delicate fruity blend of black locust, wild  grape, and wildflowers.

Which means Christmas gifts of honey will be liquid gold and jars for sale will have to wait until we see what we get in the fall. Or if one of the weak hives fails to make it, then we get all their honey. But who wants a hive to fail?

The lazy gardner: Drying hydrangeas in September

These were actually cut in August and abandoned (on purpose) in the music room.

If  I were a proper gardener, I would not be drying hydrangeas in September.  A proper gardener cuts blooms at their very peak, preferably in the morning of a beautiful dry sunny day.  For hydrangeas, that would be in late June or early July.  I know of one proper gardener who takes those perfect blooms and plops the stems into a bucket of anti-freeze.  The flowers soak up the anti-freeze and are preserved in their perfect summer state.  Or so I’m told.  I haven’t actually tried it.  A proper gardener also dead-heads spent blooms and trims the bushes back at the right time of year.  That would mean that hydrangeas in September should be cut back and absolutely, positively shorn of all their now-faded summer glory.

But I’m not a proper gardener.  I didn’t dead-head the blooms because they still had color in them.  They weren’t all black and crusty like the cone-flowers or black-eyed susans.  Plus it was hot.  When it’s hot, I’d rather sit on the porch beneath a circling fan and sip iced coffee (preferably laced with kahlua).  So forget about actually cutting back the overgrown bush.  Ack!  That would work up my sticky perspiring glow into an actual froth of sweat.

Overloaded hydrangea

So now it’s September and the cone-flowers and susans are looking ready for spooky Halloween centerpieces.  The hydrangea bushes look like they have been on steroids and plan to take over the planet.  There are actually little baby hydrangea bushes growing and I would love to (get my husband to) dig them up and plant them in other beds, but I have to trim the overgrowth to find them again.  (This I will do myself. If you have seen how he trimmed the lilacs, you would understand.)

Step one is to harvest the leftover blooms.  They are no longer the pure blue that inspires wedding bouquets.  They are turning like leaves into autumnal hues of purple and green.  They won’t go icky brown until after the first frost.  Now is the perfect time to just snip and decorate with them.  I cut the blossoms and arrange them right into the basket.  No water.   Nothin’.  I put the basket in the hallway.  Ta da. Done.  A week later the soft autumnal flowers are dried crispy but retain the same color.

Lest you think I am overly clever, I began drying hydrangeas by accident.  And often, if I am successful, it is because the magic drying fairy has taken pity on me.  The first time I dried hydrangeas, I cut some flowers, put them in water in a vase and put the vase in the music room.  And completely forgot about them.  Um…I do this a lot.  Some flowers don’t mind this.  I have a vase of pretty yellow roses from my orthopedic surgeon that dried quite nicely.  Usually, though, I end up with vases of dried twigs sitting in oogy water with goopy leaves.  The hydrangeas, however, looked great.  I decided after that to leave all the hyrangeas in their vases until dry–and I ended up with a lot of shriveled up hydrangeas.

After much trial and error, I have figured out some general principles to lazy hydrangea drying.

No direct sunlight in the hallway…a good place for drying.

  • Let them dry on the plant until they no longer have the original color, but before they look like toast.
  • Trim off all leaves.
  • Once inside, put the flowers in a dark room, out of sunlight.  This is where a log home is not only the perfect venue for showcasing dried flowers, but also to dry them.  With wood ceilings and surrounded by trees, it is dark inside.  My house has the perfect conditions for drying flowers.

This was a good blooming year. (Or should I go Brit and say “a bloomin’ good year”?)  I have baskets full of dried blooms to show for it.  But only because the flower fairy was nice to me.

These were cut a week ago and are now dry.

Bionic hip mom-mom: Week 1

Just 20 feet to the bathroom

I’m now one week bionic.  With a one-week old titanium/plastic hip, I’m not quite leaping after butterflies in the meadows (although I do have narcotic-induced dreams that get a little bizarre); I shuffle around the house with a walker.  I strategize my day to coordinate my one effort to get downstairs with my actual need to be down there.

The main advantage of being downstairs is the ample expanse of hardwood floor.  Secondary advantages to being downstairs  are the television and being being with family.  The sofas, however, are not so comfortable for me right now.  And the Ravens presented their own variety of pain on Sunday.  Movies are hard to follow while loopy on oxycodone, and pain leaves me a tad impatient with some of the lame conversations that go on around here.  So I mainly go downstairs for the floor.

Hardwood floor is a much easier surface for walker-laps than carpet.  I can really cruise on hardwood.  Forty feet from the kitchen to the front door, another loop of 10 to turn around in the music room and head back to the kitchen–there’s an easy 100 ft. lap right there.  Do that three to five times and I’ve met my walking goal for the day.  But I dare not overextend myself.  Getting back upstairs is a killer.  I’m surely  testing the limits of the railing.  Standing sideways facing the railing, I lift my good right leg first and then join the gimpy left one to it on step one.  Slowly I go, step by step, hanging onto the railing for dear life.  This is one time when I allow John to hover nearby.

All in all it’s better upstairs.  I can lounge in bed or retire to my easy chair with my books and my Nook.  The computer is upstairs, along with a house phone and my cell phone.  I can putter from room to room and do a little tidying, if I choose.  I have a nifty little grabber that I got from the hospital.  With it I’ve been able to retrieve a pill-bottle cap that  I dropped on the floor as well as the charger cable for my Nook.  I can even use it to sort laundry into piles without bending over.

The hospital also gave me a weird little hoojy-bobber to get my socks on and off.  Two hoojy-bobbers, actually.  The one looks like a part of a mini-water slide.  Insert the sock on the end of the plastic tube and stick your foot in it.  Presto!  Sock on foot.  Maybe.  The other is a pole with a hook on it.  Yeah, ok, maybe.  But I can get to my right foot just fine.  And well, to be honest, John just looks so cute down on bended knee putting my sock on the left foot.  He’s like my own Prince Charming.  And I feel like Cinderella.  Why would I deny us that little scenario?  Ok, so he has a little trouble getting up from that position and sometimes the walker gets in the way…but hey, that’s the joy of getting old (er) together.  I laugh at him and he laughs at me.  All right, mostly I just laugh at him.

If John were mean (which he is not, unless you are any employee of the Keurig company who screwed up his Christmas present for me and are giving him the run-around about returning the money for an item never sent)..IF John were mean, he would video my efforts to get into bed.  Getting into bed is  best done with two legs.  You may think you tumble into bed on one knee, but it’s not true.  You need two legs OR two very strong arms OR an odd combination of weak flabby arms, one good leg and satin sheets.

Here’s how to get into bed:  First, the covers must be pulled all the way back.  Flat surface is essential.  Next, back up to the bed with your butt at the midway point on the mattress.  Using your good leg, push yourself straight back onto the mattress as far as you can.  Use your pathetically flabby but increasingly stronger arms to drag yourself further onto the mattress.  You want to be aiming toward the middle of the mattress to ensure that you  actually get to the middle of your share of the mattress.    Slippery satin sheets  are an absolute must if you anticipate  success with this.  The manual from the hospital says you can substitute a plastic trash bag, but that sounds like a Three Stooges episode waiting to happen–with you playing all three Stooges.

Now comes the tricky part.  You can’t just lift your left leg onto the mattress.  Ain’t happenin’.  This is where you hook your good right foot under your gimpy left ankle, gently lift and slide the good leg onto the mattress.  The gimpy leg comes along for the ride.  At first, you need  Prince Charming’s help with this.  But by the end of Week One, it is a mastered skill.

So do I feel better after a week?   I was feeling really decrepit today until I got a phone call.

I answered the phone and  an old lady voice asked, “Is your grandmother home?”  Since I  am the resident grandmother here, I asked, “Who are you trying to reach?”

“Mrs. Harp.”

“This is Mrs. Harp.  Which Mrs. Harp are you trying to reach–Kathy or Christine?”  (My mother-in-law lives next door.)


“Oh, you have the wrong number.”

Wow.  That was a first.  I’ve had my pastor call me and ask if my mommy were home, but grandmother?  I thought I’d pop the staples in my hip trying not to laugh.  Whoever you were, dear lady, you made my day!

Cleaning the Chocolate Fountain

T-day 2010 with the fountain in the kitchen

A chocolate fountain really adds “wow” factor to a party.  We’ve included a chocolate fountain in our holiday parties for several years now.  If you acknowledge up front that the massive amounts of chocolate are mostly going to be tossed out and that you ought to have an empty dishwasher when you put chocolate-coated parts in it to be cleaned, then you can enjoy the extravagant fun of serving a fountain of chocolate to your guests.

However, as I write, my chocolate fountain bowl is set on “warm” to melt the 80 ounces of chocolate that solidified when the fountain was turned off Thanksgiving night.  I have never done this before.  Every Thanksgiving, no matter how late, I don my rubber gloves, empty the chocolate, rinse the fountain parts in hot water, and load them into the dishwasher.  It must be done, because I have always feared the consequences of just turning off the fountain.  This year, alas, I was just too tired to deal with it.

But Thanksgiving was over a week ago!  I know, I know.  Here’s my excuse.  First of all, I staged the fountain down in the mancave this year.  So let’s just blame that on the Ravens game.   I thought the fountain should be where the people would be.  Usually the fountain is the star attraction on the kitchen island where it reigns over pumpkin pies, sugar cookies, and Vienna Cake, and also happens to be two feet from the sink and the dishwasher.   I made a strategic error in moving it downstairs.  People watching football do not dip into chocolate fountains.  They chug beer and hoot and holler.  And then, well, I forgot it was down there.  I guess I should just be glad someone turned the thing off at the end of the game.

Emily Margaret Reber on her birth-day

Then my daughter Julie had a baby.  Minor little family event.  NOT!!! Just kidding, Julie!!!  Emily Margaret Reber was born on Tuesday, weighing in at a perfect 8 lbs 1 ounce and measuring a perfect 21 and 1/4 inches.  Nothing will knock a chocolate fountain out of the forefront of your brain like a sweet new grandbaby who looks just like her daddy and makes faces just like her mommy.  Between spending time with her and attending to my teaching, I didn’t even get around to emailing her birth announcement, so you can imagine how far back in my brain thoughts of the chocolate fountain have been.  As it is, Julie is going to be annoyed that Emily isn’t getting a full post like her cousin John did and she’s going to add this to the list of things that she will never do as a mother, like not taking pictures of the third child and accidentally throwing away her Christmas stocking.

Anyway, there’s a time commitment involved with melting eighty ounces of chocolate on “warm.”  This requires the weekend.  I designate Sunday as fountain clean-up day.

I’ll carry the fountain up to the kitchen and melt the chocolate up there, where it will be easier to clean up the mess.

If I turn it on right after church, it might be melted by dinner time.  Sunday was a little rough, though.  I had a lot of trouble focusing on the sermon (could someone please explain what the video clip about Cinderella’s lost slipper had to do with the geneology of Jesus?).  I came home and immediately passed out for a long nap.

My first thought upon awakening was, “Crap!  The fountain!”  I dashed to the mancave to discover a fountain full of melted chocolate.

“I did my part,” says John.  “I melted the chocolate for you.  Now you can do the rest.”

Thanks, John, for turning a knob.

The good news is that it worked.  Engantée*  in one-use plastic gloves, I ladled the chocolate into a disposable container and then loaded all the fountain parts into a plastic bag to carry up to the dishwasher where they are now being liberated from their chocolate coating.  Using the technique I learned from our school nurse in our annual blood-bourne pathogen seminar, I slipped off the gloves without getting any chocolate on my hands.

The bad news is that it worked.  Now I’ll never be able to convince my helpers to give once last push of energy to clean the fountain.  I can hear them now, “Just turn it off, Mom, and deal with it in December like you did last year.”


Engantée–to have gloves on. (Sorry, but it’s just better in French.)

What do you do with pumpkin seeds?

Pumpkin seed donors

Here’s the dilemma du jour.  Do you have to soak pumpkin seeds before roasting them?  I have toasted them straight from the pumpkin with resulting tough, chewy seeds.  Daughter Shelley, culinary queen in her own right, has either soaked them overnight or boiled them in salt water, both yielding excellent results.  Friday night she was too daggone tired from carving pumpkins to bother with soaking.  She took  a risk, eliminated the pre-soak, and the next morning I could not resist eating her pumpkin seeds for breakfast.  Delicately crisp and addictively salty, they actually went well with my morning coffee–not that I’m planning on doing that very often.  (A pumpkin muffin would be more to my liking!)

So here’s a question.  An interactive show-me-you-care survey.

Since this is jack-o-lantern week and dear readers will have a plethora of pumpkin seeds on and in their hands, here is how Shelley creates pumpkin seed magic at our house:

1.  Cut off the top of the pumpkin.

2.  Get a kid to scoop out the insides.  Boys are preferred because they don’t mind getting their hands all goopy.

3.  (This is optional from the seed standpoint, but since the seeds are really the optional part, do this.)  Get the kid to draw a jack-o-lantern template and then you, the grown-up, carve it into the face of the pumpkin.  If the kid has recently had visits from the tooth fairy, the jack-o-lantern should resemble the kid.

4.  Ok…the seeds.  Rinse them in a colander, picking off the goopy pumpkin innards.

5.  Put the seeds on a paper towel.  Blot the seeds with more paper towels to absorb the water.

6.  Move the seeds to a cookie sheet coated in olive oil. Sprinkle with more olive oil and sea salt.  You can add other seasonings if you like–Old Bay, chili powder, curry powder, etc.

7. Roast in the oven at 375 degrees, stirring occasionally until the seeds are golden and crunchy, about 10 minutes.

8.  Remove from oven.  Sprinkle with more seasoning.  Cool. 

9.  Store in an air-tight container.

Just for the record, there will not be any handmade pumpkin parchment place cards at our Thanksgiving.  But if you are planning on doing so, you can skip the Old Bay seasoning when you roast your seeds.

Adventures in liverwurst

Pioneer John is making the most of his deer bounty.  Not content with mere roasts, he decided to use the organ meats (liver and heart) to make liverwurst.  For those of you shaking your heads and laughing while saying “Poor Kathy…,” it’s not really that big of a deal.  I know for a fact that some of you like giblet gravy, love making appetizers out of chicken liver, and are even known to enjoy pâté de foie gras.  Your issue is not with liverwurst; it’s with Bambi.  To that I say: better to eat Bambi than to have Bambi cause a major accident while running across I-83.

If you want to shake your heads and pity me, it will be over all the other uses for deer that John would explore if given the opportunity (ie., if I let him).  The Native Americans wasted no part of a deer, even using rendered fat for candles and sinews for thread.  John already has a jar of rendered fat that he wants to use.  It’s probably the only candle that smells worse than a cigar.  But I do have to draw the line somewhere and currently it is at John’s suggestion that he use the sinews for surgical thread to stitch himself after do-it-yourself-at-home gall bladder surgery.

So,  compared with that, what’s a little liverwurst?  And guess what?  It looks like “real” liverwurst, smells like it, and even tastes like it (although next time John will cut back a little on the marjoram).  John enjoys his slice on saltines.  I prefer to spread it on baguette and pretend it is pâté de venaison.  Hmm, it would probably be really tasty with a dollop of cranberry-dill sauce. 

John’s recipe came from Bill Mende at in case you want the actual recipe.  The highlights are below:

John’s liverwurst

meat:  venison liver and heart

salt pork

cure #1

onion, grated and cooked

dry ingredients:  sugar, cardamom, ginger, mace, marjoram, black pepper, cloves, coriander, nutmeg

John's liverwurst begins with fresh venison liver and heart


Salt pork adds fat as well as flavor


Next, the meat is cooked

Cooked meat is then put through the grinder

After freezing the ground meat, it is cut into cubes and fed through the grinder again

Spices are added

The really, really cold meat is blended by hand--brrrr!

We fill the water-proof casings as John makes disgusting noises


The liverwurst is simmered in 170 degree water to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.

After a day in the fridge for the flavors to bloom, the liverwurst is ready to eat. And it does taste good with cranberry dill sauce!

Lip balm

Lip balm ingredients

Making lip balm is one project I’ve been wanting to do with our beeswax.   It is relatively easy and foolproof.  The success of a lip balm has more to do with preference than with messing up a recipe.  (This reminds me of a time when I made chocolate truffles as Christmas gifts.  The raspberry truffle would not set, so it didn’t work as a rolled truffle, but it was great as a topping on ice cream!)  So, hard or soft, the ingredients in lip balm will still keep the chapped lips away.

There are many recipes out there for lip balm but most have three basic ingredients: a wax, a butter, and an oil.  Fragrance is optional, but fragrance comes in an oil anyway.  I had the beeswax.  I ordered two butters online from natural cocoa butter and processed shea butter.  I bought almond oil and apricot kernel oil at the health food section of the grocery store.  I also bought (from believe it or not 100 lip balm tubes, shrink wrappers, and a cool (but necessary!) holder for filling the tubes.

I chose a formula calling for 1 part wax, 2 parts butter, and 1 part oil.  To make 8 oz. of lip balm (which filled 80 tubes), I used the following:

2 oz. beeswax (weighed on a kitchen scale)

4 oz. cocoa butter or shea butter (also weighed on a kitchen scale)

3 tablespoons of oil (apricot kernel oil with the cocoa butter, peppermint infused almond oil with the shea butter)

Lip balm tubes ready for filling

In a double boiler, I melted the wax (broken into little bits), then added the butter in small pieces.  When that was all melted, I stirred in the oil.  Working fairly quickly, I poured the liquid into a pyrex measuring cup with a spout, wiped out the double boiler with a paper towel, and then poured the liquid into individual lip balm tubes.

As the liquid cooled it solidified in the measuring cup, so I microwaved the cup 10 seconds at a time just to melt it again for quick pour.  Some people do the entire process with the microwave, but there are enough warnings about microwave explosions to keep me cautious!

Lip balm tubes being filled

From there it was a simple matter of capping the tubes, slapping on a label, and blow-drying the shrink wrap onto the tube.  Ok, to be perfectly honest, the label project took longer than making the lip  balm.  After handwriting labels for the first batch and finding it to be both tedious and aesthetically displeasing,  I resorted to the computer.  Using some Avery address labels and the Avery design and print website, I came up with my little label design. But it took me ALL evening.  At least it’s done and saved for future projects.
And the shrink wrap?  It was kind of fun using the blow-dryer and seeing the sleeves shrink and wrap the tubes, but the dryer also blows the little tubes all the way across the room.  It was a little tricky holding each tube without frying my fingers.

The labels

 So…I have two flavors.  The first (with the icky handwritten labels) is “Cocoa” because it was made with cocoa butter and smells chocolatey.  The second one is called “Maybe Mint” because the peppermint infused oil was not as pepperminty as I would have hoped and you can maybe tell that there is mint in it.  The shea butter is unscented so there really is no discernible fragrance.  Both balms are firm like Chapstick.  The advantage is that they have a long staying power and won’t make John look like he’s wearing lipgloss.  I think I would prefer a slightly softer version that glides a little easier.  Next batch I will use more oil.  Julie is going to remain faithful to her Vaseline, so I’m not too concerned with her opinion. : )  I would, however, appreciate comments and opinions from the rest of you once you’ve tried it.