A Walk in the Woods

I had the pleasant opportunity to take a walk recently along a mountain ridge. The area had many rock formations with dry, shallow soil. Here’s a little of what I saw growing in these harsh conditions. I was reminded that even when life is difficult, or my spirit is dry, God surprises me with beauty.

Wood Strawberry - related to the Wild Strawberry but has a yellow flower; the berry is not as sweet as the Wild Strawberry.

Appalachian Sandwort - this plant is only found in a few of Pennsylvania's counties and is considered endangered here.

Low-bush Blueberry - it will be a few more weeks before the berries are ripe and sweet.

Greenbrier - this prickly, woody vine provides cover for small wildlife.

Greenbrier Thorns - when these plants form a thicket, they are difficult to pass through.

One of the many lichens on the mountain.

A few more types of lichen growing on rocks. A lichen is a composite of fungus and algae.

Sweet Fern - named for its aromatic leaves. Sweet Fern is nitrogen fixing allowing it to grow in infertile soil.

Wild Rosa Rogusa - a beautiful surprise among the rocks.

Since this wasn't in bloom, I'm unsure if it's Solomon's Seal, or False Solomon's Seal. The plants are closely related.

Hickory Nuts - I think. Do Hickory Nuts trees have catkins?

Can you help? I'm inclined to say this is Wild Radish.

Rodale Institute

Rain water from the gutter runs down a chain and into a rain barrel.

J.I. Rodale is considered the father of the organic farming movement in the U.S. I’ve read Organic Gardening Magazine for many years and many Rodale Press books are included in my library. But I had never visited the Rodale Institute until recently, despite the fact that it is only an hour and a half away in Kutztown, PA. While there, Mike and I took a 2 hour workshop on growing apples organically. And we spent several hours roaming the apple orchards, fields, and gardens. Despite the fact that spring has not yet arrived, we found the farm to be interesting and inspiring.

All the "black gold" a girl could ever dream of!

For over 60 years, the Rodale Institute has been researching the best practices of organic agriculture. A thirty year “Farming Systems Trial” compared conventional, chemical agriculture with organic methods and found that organic farming yields match conventional methods. And in years of drought, organic farming outperforms conventional methods since organic methods build, rather than deplete the soil. This is encouraging news, as I often hear that “organic farming cannot feed the world”. I do not believe this to be true, and research is now supporting that. In addition, the trial showed that organic systems are more profitable than conventional systems!


Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

As a Penn State Master Gardener, I am required to take 8 hours of continuing education each year.  I wanted to take the opportunity to visit a farm just outside of NYC called Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, so I chose a day that a class that interested me was being held. I traveled with my husband, Mike, and my daughter, Jessi, on a cold, winter day through the beautiful Hudson River Valley and over the 3+ mile long Tappan Zee Bridge to the former Rockefeller estate.Continue Reading

Kruschiki: the Ultimate Christmas Cookie

My friend Cristina and my daughter Jessi with the finished cookies.

Crisp. Rich. Not too sweet. They have more than a taste. They have a feel that I couldn’t begin to describe. And they are beautiful. THIS is the cookie of my childhood. A special part of my Polish heritage. We made them every year. And I yearn for a life where time for such things exists. Making Kruschiki takes hours. It’s been 2 years since I’ve made them, and it was probably 15 years before that.

My friend Cristina loves to hear people’s stories. She wants to know who you are, where you came from, what makes you tick. She wants to know your heritage, your traditions, your food. She is why I made Kruschiki 2 years ago. I don’t know when I’ll make them again, but today I can’t stop thinking about them, and so I can at least tell you about them.

The bow tie shapes of dough

Cristina cutting the dough

Frying the dough

Without the powdered sugar

The finished masterpiece

How to Make Kruschiki

Ingredients: 2 eggs, plus 4 egg yokes, at room temperature, 1/2 t. salt, 2 c. flour, 1/2 c. powdered sugar, 1/4 c. softened butter, 1 shot of brandy, oil for frying.

Directions: Beat eggs, egg yolks, salt and butter until thick and lemon colored. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar and brandy. Slowly mix in flour. Knead the dough for 3 – 5 minutes. The dough should be thick and will be a bit sticky. To roll, you will be working with small balls of dough. Keep the rest of the dough in the bowl, covered with a clean, damp dishtowel. On a floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out very thin – 1/8th of an inch. Take a sharp knife and cut the dough into strips about 2″ wide. Then cut the other way on a diagonal to make pieces of dough that are about 2″ x 4″. Cut a small slit (1″ or less) in the center of each piece. To form the cookie, take one end and place it through the slit. Very gently pull the end of the dough through the slit to form a bow shaped cookie. In a large pot or deep skillet heat about 3 – 4 inches of oil until very hot. Test the oil by putting in a small scrap of dough; it should sink to the bottom and then immediately float to the top. When this happens your oil is ready. Fry the cookies in small batches. Fry for about 30 seconds and then use tongs to gently turn the cookies over. The cookies should be barely golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Cool. Dust liberally with powdered sugar. Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

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