Monday, January 28, 2013

Brushing Away Winter

One by one, the herbs that Kyra and I were trying to over-winter in the house grew spindly, then started to dry up, no matter how diligently we cared for them. 

At first, I was sad that we had failed.  Then I saw the opportunities that failing opened up to us.

Before returning the dormant (I hope) herbs to the back deck, I snipped off stems, 5 – 7 inches long, and tossed them onto a cookie sheet.  Kyra and I bundled the stems into groups of 4 or 5, and tied the bundles with thread.  Depending upon which stems Kyra grabbed from the cookie sheet, a bundle may have only one kind of herb, or it may have any combination of oregano, thyme, rosemary, and mint.  Finally, I tied a loop in the end of the threads, and hung the bundles upside down to dry.

We hadn’t failed after all!  A week or so later, we had several varieties of “herb brooms” that were ready to give as gifts, decorate our kitchen, and use in winter stews.  It wasn’t what we’d expected, but our winter herb adventure was a success after all.

If the dreariness of winter is starting to get you down, try some of these out-of-season sensory activities to put the spring back in your step.

  • Buy a tiny potted herb or two from your local grocery store or nursery.  Slip the pot into an oversized coffee mug, and keep it on your kitchen window or countertop.  At least once daily, gently brush your hand over the leaves, and breathe deeply.  (Our local Dahl’s food store keeps a variety of potted herbs available year-round for about $3 each.)
  • Instead of using the dried, pulverized herbs that come in those tiny plastic cylinders, choose a few fresh-cut herbs from the organic produce section of your grocery store, and arrange them in a small flower vase.  (The handmade vases I bought at Alewine Pottery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee are perfect for this.) Add a flower or two, if you like, and place it on your kitchen table for a beautiful and fragrant centerpiece.  While dining with your family, snip bits of herb into your soup or stew, or sprinkle on chicken, fish, meat, and veggies.   If you change the water in the vase daily, the herbs should last at least a week (unless you eat them all first!) Then, simply purchase a few new packages of herbs, and add a brand-new taste, and maybe some brand-new conversation, to your family meals.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Popping Up a New Year

Kyra and I love to garden so much that even the cold, snowy, sun-deprived Iowa winter doesn’t stop us.  We enjoy making our daily rounds to care for our pampered houseplants, as well as the geraniums, Gerbera daisies, and herbs that we’re trying to baby through the winter so they can be re-planted outside next spring.  We also enjoy the results of last year’s garden, brewing our dried herbs for tea, crushing our dried hot peppers into soup, and popping corn in the microwave.

Last summer, Kyra and I grew a 4-foot by 8-foot plot of popcorn.  We loved watching the corn grow taller and taller and taller, waving above our heads, and providing a forested hide-away for the cats.  Unfortunately, the plants struggled through the summer drought and beetle infestation, producing skimpy tassels, few ears, and tiny kernels.  We thought our entire crop was lost when a violent wind storm blew through, flattening the entire plot.  Yet later that fall, we were able to glean a few miniature ears of corn from the stalks.

Popcorn is a great crop for someone with disabilities to grow.  The large seed kernels are easy to see and handle.  The plants are sturdy and grow quickly, with ears sprouting from the stalks just at wheelchair height.  The wind blowing through mature corn leaves makes a pleasant shuffling sound.  Harvesting popcorn is easy, too.  You have a large window of time to pick  the dried ears, and they cannot be crushed by clutching fingers, or damaged by being dropped on the ground.  Husking and shelling harvested popcorn are activities that can be shared among people with a wide range of manual dexterity.  Finally, un-popped kernels provide enjoyable visual, auditory, and tactile sensations, and the popped corn smells and tastes great!  Best of all, when it seems winter will never end, you can pop a few of your home-grown ears in the microwave… and dream of next year’s crop.

Kyra’s Microwave Popcorn Recipe

Print the pictures and instructions below, and glue them to index cards to create a picture cookbook or a fun sequencing game.  Be sure to have a bowl of popcorn ready to share as you cook and play together!

1. Put the ear of popcorn in a bowl.

2. Cover the bowl with a microwave lid.

3. Pop for 70 seconds.

4. WAIT until the popcorn cools... the corn cob is HOT!

5. Twist the cob in your palms to shell the popped corn.

Enjoy your popcorn, and your dreams of Spring!