Berry Good Things to Smile About

Listening to my family having five conversations at once. Eating berries right off the bush in the cool, dew-drenched morning. A story in my head that can't wait to be written. Autumn sunrise. Chocolate covered cherries. A surprise visit with a friend at the market.
Ramble off your favorite things as fast as you can and you can't help but smile. Smiling is the secret to health and serenity according to several spiritual traditions. "A deep inner smile spreads like a relaxing elixir making us receptive to transform negative energy into positive. Smile therapy actually lowers the stress hormones cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenaline and produces hormones which stabilise blood pressure, relax muscles, improve respiration, reduce pain, accelerate healing and stabilise mood." (Hodgkinson L. (1994) Smile Therapy, Optima.)
A friend of mine needs a smile. Many issues; health, family, etc., have gone askew for her lately. She doesn't need a sermon or advice. She just has to work through this, knowing she has friends that love her and are there if she needs them.
Since it is the height of berry season here, I am putting together a berry basket to leave on her doorstep.

Filled with berry jam, scones, blackberry tea, a bag of fresh blueberries and a berry candle, I think it will bring a smile to her heart. I needed something to line the berry basket, so I embroidered this quick berry design on a square piece of linen.

Embroidery Pattern (click on picture to enlarge and print)
-2 strand floss, stem stitch
-deep red writing
-berry pink berries (french knot dots)
-moss green leaves and stems (daisy stitch loops)
This would look good on a tea towel, also. I love that this simple design was completely embroidered during one two-hour long John Wayne classic last weekend.
I hope your day is rich with "berry good things" and includes smile therapy. It's fun medicine!

The Vegetable Strike of 2010

We shake our head as we pass the "hot" garden beds with tomato, squash and pepper plants. While the rest of the country is enjoying thick, juicy tomato sandwiches and grilled zucchini, we are lucky to have a few green tomatoes on the vine. It has been unseasonably cool and wet here in the northern coastal region of Oregon. I've planted corn three times and the peppers twice. We haven't had so much as one cherry tomato ripen! And, who has ever heard of a zucchini plant not giving it's all to feed the entire neighborhood?
It looks like we will have to make a trip eastward to Hood River for some fresh, hot-weather vegetables this year. On the bright side, the flowers and berries have never been so prolific!

Berries of every type need picking each day. With over 50 blueberry plants and rows of boysen, rasp, straw, marion and goose berries, the freezer is full and the pantry gleaming with jars of colorful preserves. I am always on the lookout for good berry recipes. Here are three delicious recipes other than desserts that you other berry lovers may want to try.

3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups raspberries (or other berries)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 dash onion powder
1 tsp. "liquid smoke"
Place ingredients in saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes until sauce is thickened and bubbly. Remove from the heat; cool slightly. Transfer to a food processor or blender; cover and process until smooth. Strain seeds. Store in the refrigerator.

Dressing & Marinade:
1 cup sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice concentrate, thawed
1 tbsp. prepared mustard
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. grated onion
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
Combine ingredients in blender and process until smooth. Refrigerate 1/2  to use as dressing. Use the other 1/2 of dressing mixture to marinade 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts for one hour, covered and refrigerated. Grill or cook chicken breasts. Chill.
Sliced chicken breasts (marinated and cooked from above)
Mixed salad greens
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup fresh, firm berries
1 cup crumbled Bleu or Gorgonzola cheese
Plate the above ingredients, then drizzle with the berry dressing.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons butter, cold, cut in chunks
1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing the scones
1 cup fresh blueberries

Lemon Glaze:
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 lemon, zest finely grated
1 tablespoon butter
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Sift together the dry ingredients; the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Using 2 forks or a pastry blender, cut in the butter to coat the pieces with the flour. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and pour in the heavy cream. Fold everything together just to incorporate; do not overwork the dough. Fold the blueberries into the batter. Take care not to mash or bruise the blueberries because their strong color will bleed into the dough.
Press the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 12 by 3 by 1 1/4 inches. Cut the rectangle in 1/2 then cut the pieces in 1/2 again, giving you 4 (3-inch) squares. Cut the squares in 1/2 on a diagonal to give you the classic triangle shape. Place the scones on an ungreased cookie sheet and brush the tops with a little heavy cream. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until brown. Let the scones cool a bit before you apply the glaze.
Mix the lemon juice and confectioners' sugar together in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon zest and butter. Microwave it for 30 seconds on high. Whisk the glaze to smooth out any lumps, then drizzle the glaze over the top of the scones. Let it set a minute before serving.


I Was a Tourist in My Own Neighborhood

I enjoy everyday blessings; the ones that seem insignificant and can go unnoticed when life is on autopilot. It seems the older that I get, the more I prefer my life to be on an even keel. I no longer need mountaintop experiences and never have enjoyed those low valleys.

Still, whether we're one or one hundred, life will have ups and downs and will never be a smooth, even ride. Our jobs, some home remodelling and keeping up with the maintenance of our small, ageing farmstead has my husband and I working long hours seven days a week. What used to be enjoyable has become a chore. We are becoming "burned out."

What would taking one day off hurt in the long scheme of things? Actually, one week wouldn't hurt, but I would settle for a day. And so, we did. At my husband's suggestion, we took Saturday off and became a tourist in our own neighborhood.

A short drive through fragrant fields of flowers that are grown for seed took us to a nearby restaurant for an authentic German lunch. I learned that my husband is as bad at Trivial Pursuit as I am; it is nice to find out new things about your spouse after you've been married so long! Sausage and kraut for me, a reuben for Glen, and then it was onto the next little town for some antiquing before we hit up one of my favorite haunts; Bauman's Family Farm.

This local farm brought back fond memories of visits with my mom and dad each summer. We would always hit up Bauman’s to gaze at the produce picked from the fields each day, drink freshly pressed cider and peruse the humongous flower baskets grown in their nursery. We watched their farm operation grow with each annual visit.

We returned home refreshed, smiling and full from good food. Just one day of beautiful countryside and quaint homes inspired me to start painting. I can't sketch the visions in my head fast enough.

So, when your life is on autopilot or you are burned out with responsibilities, take a day off. We are not so important that the world can't live without us for a day. One day of peace and delight will sort the priorities of life back into their proper order.