Aug 21

Classic Maine Blueberry Cake

The time for blueberry everything is here. Blueberry pancakes, blueberry pie, blueberry cobbler, blueberry scented this, and that. Maine Blueberry season lasts from the end of July through the first part of August. There are high bush blueberries that are usually cultivated, pruned, and make for easy picking. Wild blueberries (low bush) are a hot commodity, and if you are lucky enough you know of a secluded place where these little gems grow. Locals covet wild berries, and most claim they are sweeter than the high bush varieties. Both are available at local Farmers Markets. No matter your preference, it’s hard to choose from the many Maine Blueberry treats. One of our favorites is the Classic Maine Blueberry Cake.

Classic Maine Blueberry Cake

Warm Blueberry Cake made with fresh berries, and topped with Lemon Icing- perfect in the morning with a hot cup of Coffee, or after a Maine Lobster Dinner in the late afternoon!

It was tough to choose which is the best blueberry cake recipe, but this one is most definitely at the top of our list. Rich, fluffy, moist, and bursting with blueberry goodness – this one is sure to be a crowd pleaser!

Ingredients needed:

CAKE

2 cups Flour

1 tsp Baking Soda

1/2 tsp Nutmeg, and Cinnamon

1 1/2 cups Fresh Blueberries

1 Egg

1 cup Sugar

1 cup Sour Cream

LEMON ICING

1-2 Tbsp Freshly squeezed Lemon Juice

Confectioners Sugar

Blueberries we picked early in the day are so delicious in Blueberry Cake!

Local Blueberries picked early in the day are so delicious and will be made into Blueberry Cake, and other goodies!

Making the Cake

You will need two medium size mixing bowls, a good mixing spoon, as this recipe is best mixed by hand, and a buttered/greased cake pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

First combine the dry ingredients in one mixing bowl – flour, baking soda, spices. Mix together. Add the blueberries to the dry mix, and gently blend. (This coats the berries with four to keep them all from sinking to the bottom of the cake.)

Next, in the second mixing bowl beat the egg and add sugar blending the two well.

Then, add to this the flour and blueberry mix alternately with the sour cream, blending gently until completely combined.

Finally, spread cake batter into the cake pan. Place on rack in center of oven. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes and cut into squares. Arrange on serving plate.

To make the Lemon Icing

You will need a small mixing bowl, and a mixing spoon.

First, add 1 tablespoon of fresh Lemon Juice to the bowl.

Then, begin adding confectioners sugar starting with 1/4 cup. Blend well adding more sugar a little at a time, or a teaspoon of water depending on the desired consistency of your icing. If you would like a stronger lemon flavor, add more of the remaining lemon juice instead of water.

Once well blended, drizzle the lemon icing over the pieces of cake. ENJOY!

ByeByeBlueberryCake

Classic Blueberry Cake will not last long – make sure you get a slice!

Visit your local Farmers Market, use as many local ingredients as possible. Maine has many options to choose from, and PYO (pick your own) farms.

May 20

Ticks, what you should know

Finally, the snow is melted and like most Mainers when spring arrives, I’ve been spending as much time outside as I can- in my garden. Cleaning up last years leaves from the lawn, cleaning out perennial beds, and prepping gardens becomes marathon like in hopes to beat the hatching of Deer Ticks! Can we beat them to the punch, and even deter or eliminate the ticks from the back yard? Turns out cleaning up all yard debris is a good place to start!

Ticks lay their eggs in organic debris on the ground. One female Deer Tick can lay 3,000 eggs.

Ticks lay their eggs in organic debris on the ground, or on blades of grass. One female Deer Tick can lay 3,000 eggs.

 

There are things you can do to keep ticks at bay in your back yard!

Make sure all leaves, leaf piles, and yard debris are cleaned up and removed from the area. Ticks seek shelter under dead leaves, and other plant matter.

Ticks like to perch on tall grasses where it is easy to hitch a ride on an unsuspecting passerby, wild or human. This behavior is called “questing”. A tick will grab on to a blade of grass or a leaf with its back legs while reaching its front legs out as far as it can so it’s ready to grab on to a host, when one passes by. Therefore, it is important to keep grass mowed and trimmed.

Keep hedges and shrubs trimmed so air and sunlight can circulate and cut down on the number of hiding places for ticks. Remove brush.

A Lone Star Tick "questing" for a host.

A Lone Star Tick “questing” for a host. Lone Stars are not usually found in Maine.

 

Create a gravel path around the perimeter of your yard. Ticks do not like to hang out on, or crawl across gravel. My grandfather created a two foot wide gravel “path” around the perimeter of his yard that bordered the tree lines, and forest when ticks starting populating Maine. He claimed that it really worked. I have heard this from other sources over the years, as well.

Avoid walking in tall grasses along roadsides, and drainage ditches. Ticks like to congregate here.These areas are warm, moist, and often have lots of host traffic.

Forest trails, and hiking trails are also popular hangouts for ticks- the habitat is right. Deer, moose, and other animals will often frequent these areas, as well as human traffic. Ticks stay where the food source is the most plentiful.

Ticks crawl up after they have hitched a ride! They will grab on to shoes, pants, socks, or your bare leg. It is important to keep them from crawling up your pant leg, shorts, or up your shirt where they can attach, often unnoticed. I spray my shoes, and pant legs with a good natural tick repellent to deter them from grabbing on to a shoe lace, or the bottom of my jeans. Sometimes I will tuck my pant legs into my socks, too!

The peak months for ticks are May, and August through September. This is when eggs hatch, and ticks are most prolific. Larva and Nymphs are the most harmful to humans and other mammals as they carry disease, and are the most difficult to detect and stay attached for the longest amount of time (up to 4 days). They are so small they are hard to see, and cannot be felt when crawling on the skin.

Adult male Deer Tick, female Deer Tick, Larva, and Nymph as seen clockwise beginning in upper left corner.

Adult male Deer Tick, female Deer Tick, Larva, and Nymph as seen clockwise beginning in upper left corner.

 

It is important to check your clothing before going back inside so you can pick off any ticks that may have hitched a ride. Always check your body and scalp as well. Check dogs and cats for ticks before allowing them back into your living space. It is important to protect your pets, too. Dogs can get Lyme disease from an infected tick. There are natural products on the market that are effective for people and pets.

Spraying your shoes and pant legs with an effective natural repellent to keep ticks from latching on.

Spray your outdoor shoes and pant legs with an effective natural repellent to keep ticks from grabbing on. Bye, Bye Black Fly™ is my family favorite.

 

If you find a tick has hitched a ride on you, remove it and dispose of it immediately. If it has not attached itself to you, simply pull off of clothing and flush the tick down the toilet. Do not put in the trash, as it could easily crawl out of the bin, and into your home. Duck Tape is also an effective tool for removing roaming ticks. Once the tick is stuck to the tape, fold the tape around the tick and dispose.

If a tick has attached itself to you or a family member, use tweezers, grab the tick as close to the skin as possible, pull out, and dispose. Disinfect the site of the bite. Watch for any redness, swelling, or bulls eye rash at the site of the bite.

Lyme Disease is spread by an infected Deer Tick.  If you know ticks in your area are infected with Lyme, or you think you may have symptoms, contact your doctor’s office. If you think your dog may have contracted Lyme, call your Veterinarian.

Other information about Ticks and Lyme Disease.

MMCRI – Lyme and Other Vector-borne disease information

Top Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Ticks These Days

Tick Encounter Resource Center

Apr 12

Black Fly Season in Maine

Yup, it’s almost that time again- Black Fly Season! You’ve been waiting weeks now for the snow to melt so you can see the ground, and tangible signs of Spring. Then, you remember the Black Flies!

A near panic ensues to clean up the yard as quickly as possible, to beat the hatching of those little suckers. It becomes the topic of conversation in the neighborhood, and at the local diner. “Wonder how bad they’ll be this year” is the chorus often heard.  The general consensus- if there’s been a lot of snow, regular rains in early Spring, and there is lots of running water during the melt off – there will be a “bumpa’ crop of black flies deah’ “. (This is my attempt at putting the local accent into print!) There is usually a window of 5 to 7 days after the snow has melted, and the ground is visible before the black flies make their debut.

Everyone has their theories as to when the Black Flies will begin to appear, and multiply!

Everyone has their theories as to when the Black Flies will begin to appear, and multiply!

 

If you have never experienced Black Fly Season in Maine, here is my best description. Millions of these tiny, flying, black insects swarm in giant clouds around your head. As you are distracted, swatting at the mass above you, individual black flies take the opportunity to make their way into your hair, flying into your eyes, up your nose, and even your ears! Rarely will you feel them bite. More than one will bite at a time. It is shortly after they’ve bitten that things can get really uncomfortable. Many people experience a welt, and itching. More severe reactions cause swelling. The discomfort does go away in 12-24 hours, but it is enough to keep even the greatest of outdoor enthusiasts inside on a beautiful Spring day.

Black Flies sunning themselves on Red Elder next to a stream in Maine.

Black Flies sunning themselves on a Red Elder by a stream in Maine.

 

Don’t feel forced to stay inside. Wearing the appropriate clothing, and effective natural Black Fly deterant are the place to start. Black Flies always like to go for the head first. They most often bite on the hairline, and the neck. Wearing a hat, or a bandana that keeps the flies from getting trapped in the hair is strongly recommended. For an extra line of defense spray head ware with natural black fly repellent to keep them from landing. Wear long sleeves, and long pants. For extra defense, spray your clothing lightly with a natural black fly repellent, and apply natural black fly repellent to exposed skin to prevent bites. (Disclaimer: Never use any repellents, natural or commercial, on the face or near the eyes, nose, and mouth!)

There are methods for repelling black flies naturally, without DEET or chemical based products. Clothing is a good first line of defense. However, on the really warm and sunny days after a long winter, who wants to wear long sleeves? Many claim eating copious amounts of Garlic will keep them from biting, but who wants to smell like Garlic for all of Black Fly Season? Your best protection is to use an effective, and natural repellent that will keep the black flies from biting!

All Natural Bye, Bye Black Fly™ spray is made in Maine.

All Natural Bye, Bye Black Fly™ spray is made in Maine, effective and pleasant to use.

 

Mainers have relied on Bye, Bye Black Fly™ for more than a decade to keep from getting black fly bites. Customers return year after year to get their Bye, Bye Black Fly™ and enjoy the beautiful Maine outdoors. Many who work outside for a living state it makes getting through the day bearable. People & Planet Friendly™

Click Here for more information about this product.

For more information about Black Flies visit Maine Nature News.

 

Apr 08

Essential Oils, the basics

Pure Essential Oils are complex chemical compounds, most always fragrant, produced by plants to repel pests, or attract pollinators. Herbs, and many flowering plants contain essential oils within the leaves, stems, and flowers. Trees, flowering trees, and shrubs -contain oils within bark, needles, sap, flowers, and fruits.

All Essential Oils are obtained by extraction from raw plant matter, preferably fresh. Methods of extraction vary depending on the plant, and what part of the plant is being utilized. For instance, the beautiful fragrant oil in Orange Blossoms (Neroli) is extracted naturally using fats, purified water, or distilled alcohol. Commercially, a solvent such as Hexane is used, with the aid of distillation to obtain the oil from these delicate flowers. In contrast, the Essential Oil in the Orange fruit is expressed from the peel via cold press. In other words, the oil is literally pressed from the Orange peel by compacting the rinds until the oils squirt out! These two oils smell very differently from one another, and have very different chemical properties, and uses, yet are from the same tree.

OrangeZest_EssentialOil

Grating Orange Zest releases the pure Essential Oils from the peel, and the wonderful aroma! Note the beads of Orange Essential Oil glistening on the plate.

 

The most common method of extracting the Essential Oils from plants is steam distillation. Most herbs such as Peppermint, Sage, Rosemary, and Lavender are obtained through steam distillation. Essential Oils obtained from tree barks, saps, resins, and needles- such as Cedar and Pine- are also extracted by steam distillation. All Citrus fruit Essential Oils are obtained by the cold press method. Essential Oils obtained from delicate flowers, such as Rose or Apple Blossom are extracted with the use of fats or solvents.

Rose

Pure Rose Oil is very expensive, as it takes 50 bushels of fresh Rose Petals to obtain one ounce of Pure Essential Oil.

 

The quality of an Essential Oil is determined by the process in which it is obtained, the quality of the plant matter, and the skill of the producer.  Some Essential Oils go through more than one distillation. Specific chemicals are isolated and extracted from some Essential Oils for pharmaceutical and industrial uses. In today’s market, the types of Essential Oils can be considered as follows – Therapeutic Grade, Cosmetic Grade, Food Grade. However, these terms were created by those marketing and selling Essential Oils. These are not formal terms for quality standards. Currently, there is no agency to over see the quality standard and labeling of these oils here in the United States. Therefore, it is important to purchase oils from someone you trust who is well educated on Essential Oils, and the best uses for them. Don’t be afraid to do your own research!

Prices are determined by the amount of plant matter needed to create a worthy amount of Essential Oil, and the quality of the oil. The only way to know the true chemical make up and purity of an Essential Oil is to have it tested in a lab. Gas Chromatography/ Mass Spectrometry  is the only accurate method for testing Essential Oils. When an oil is tested, the lab running the tests will issue a report, and a certificate if the oil passes muster. There are not many labs in the country that offer this service, and it is very pricey. Unless dealing with a reputable source, most Essential Oils cannot be considered “Therapeutic Grade”. Many companies will insist they offer “Certified Therapeutic Grade” Essential Oils because they can charge more money.

Lavender-GC-MS-Test

Typical GC/MS analysis of Organic Lavender Essential Oil. Pesticides, or synthetic ingredients would also be detected.

 

Essential Oils are commodities; are traded, bought and sold globally. Prices fluctuate with the market, supply and demand, and the success of the plant crops. Prices can also change due to War, Civil Unrest, or Political Policy in countries where some crops are primarily produced. Before coins, or other forms of currency in the world, Essential Oils were highly prized, and denoted ones status in society. At one time in history Sage was valued more than Gold. Ancient archaeological artifacts from around the world repeatedly contain evidence of the use of Essential Oils, Herbs, and Spices thousands of years ago. The Bible contains many references to Essential Oils, and plants of value in that day.

Essential Oil

Pure Essential Oils are comprised of hundreds of chemicals, each having its own unique make up.

 

Today Essential Oils are still of great value to wellness, and every day life. They add flavoring to many foods, candies and confections. Chemical components of some Essential Oils have been used for decades in commercial industry and products. They are used in the Pharmaceutical, Chemical, and Pest Control business(es),too. The use of Essential Oils is growing increasingly popular as more and more people are learning about their uses, and benefits. It is important to get good information.

Click here for a link to Essential Oils approved by the FDA for use in food, and “Generally regarded as safe” (GRAS).

Mar 27

Ginger Root, a Rad Rhizome

Ginger Root Zingiber officianalis is one of the most versatile roots around. It will grow just about anywhere, including indoors. Ginger is popularly known in the US as the main flavor in Ginger Ale Soda. It has been used for thousands of years as a culinary spice, and in natural medicine for healing. Ginger is most often associated with Chinese, Indian, Thai, and North African cuisine, as well as Ayuverdic Medicine.

Maine Root Ginger Brew

Maine Made Ginger Ale!

 

The flavor and fragrance of Ginger are unmistakable. High citrus notes mingle with a low earthy tone, followed by a spicy zing – and a slightly floral after note – that warms the whole body. Ginger is fantastic for cold months of the year. Eating a piece of Crystallized Ginger Root, or sipping a cup of Ginger Tea makes one feel warmer. It also aids in opening the sinuses and calming an upset stomach. This makes Ginger Root a good spice to have on hand during cold and flu season!

Ginger Tea

Hot Ginger Tea is wonderful for easing an upset stomach.

Ginger Root has also been used for its aromatherapy properties, and for skin care for thousands of years. The fragrance of Ginger Root is energizing, and is believed to enhance positive male energy. In some cultures it is believed to increase libido for men of a mature age. Ginger Root is used world wide in skin care products for women to revive the skin, and to help reduce/eliminate age spots.

Ginger Flowering.

Ginger Flowering.

This Summer I’ll be adding some Ginger Root to my own herb garden, to see how it grows here in Maine. It’s flowers are sure to make a beautiful addition to any space, inside or out. We can’t get enough of this Root in our household, all year round!

Ginger Root Soap

Ginger Soap hand made in Maine by Bear Mountain Botanicals! Click on Picture to view more information.

 

Mar 16

How to Make a Snow Candle

This is the perfect project when the weather is freezing cold, and cabin fever is setting in. Spring is not far off now, but some of you in northern Maine, around the Great Lakes, and in Canada will still have plenty of snow for this!

It is simple. A great project to do with kids, and does not involve more than half an hours time -most of which is spent preparing to go outside. It does not require many supplies, and the end result is something useful and beautiful!

 

snowcandlemold

The best days for this project are the coldest, when there is a good snow pack.
I love to do this project with kids (age 7+) because it does not involve a lot of time outside, but just enough to get some fresh air and make you feel refreshed. It does not require the purchase of many supplies, either. Candles do not take long to harden, so kids don’t have to wait long to see the end result.

 

snowcandlesitems

To get started, you will need one pound of wax, preferably non petroleum. ( I use my own blend of plant waxes.) Bees wax is not recommended, only because of it’s higher melt point. Using a wax with a lower melting point, between 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit will give you the best results. One pound of wax yields eight 2 oz. candles.

You will need wick for container candles that has a tab. Make sure the wick you choose is the right gauge for the wax you are using, and the diameter of the candles you are making. Choose wick without a metal or zinc core!! I use a fantastic braid that is 100% natural unbleached cotton, with natural hemp core.

Choose a small saucepan, or pitcher with a heavy bottom (non-aluminum) to melt the wax in . Always melt on low heat, and never leave unattended. (All waxes are flammable if they are over heated!) Use a pan you don’t care about using for cooking in again… note: if you will be melting wax on a wood stove or fire, use a double boiler to melt wax.

An oven mit, or heat proof gloves are needed for the hot pan.Wear half gloves if you have them so it is easier to handle the supplies. It is important that you are able to move about easily and quickly.

snowcandlesdirections

This is the order in which you will want to proceed.

First, prepare your outdoor work area by creating your molds. Choose a surface with 8″ or more of snow accumulation. Use the jelly glass (or container 2″ to 2.5″ in diameter) to create cylinder impression in the snow. Make as many as you need. (For best results, don’t pour wax deeper than 2.5″.) Keep it as level as possible, and make the impression about 3″ deep.

Second, inside -melt your wax on low heat. Just before all the wax has completely melted, remove from heat. Turn off stove top! Take the pan/pitcher of wax to your outdoor work area. Allow wax to cool slightly, until it begins to film.

Third, place wicks into the center of the snow molds so they are standing upright.

Pour wax into the molds as quickly as possible.

Watch the candles form right before your eyes. Once the wax is solid (about ten to fifteen minutes) gently pull candles out of the snow.

snowcandlescompleted

Once the wax has cooled, and the candles have formed, you can remove them from the snow. Note the lovely texture on the surface of the candle kissed by snowflakes! Your candles should be about the size of a votive, with an approximate burn time of 6 to 8 hours.

I hope you find this project fun, and educational!

-D’Arcy

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