Forest Bathing

Have you heard of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku)? Forest bathing was formalized in Japan in 1982, and now is recognized as a cornerstone of their preventive health care and natural healing medicine. Lately, the idea has been spreading around the world.

It’s not about hiking through the forest or counting steps on a Fitbit; the objective is to slow down, be present with all of your senses, and relax among the trees. It’s about de-stressing. Let the trees soothe your spirit.Spending time in natural environments has been linked to lower stress levels, improved working memory, and feeling more alive. Forest bathing has been proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of well-being.

I don’t know anyone who couldn’t benefit from that. C’mon, I’ll meet you in the forest!

Daffodil Hill

Daffy Down Dilly has come to town in a yellow petticoat and a green gown! ~Nathanial HawthorneDriving on a winding country road, and passing statuesque pines, and hills covered in emerald carpet, I thought to myself that this is exactly how spring is supposed to feel. Fresh, alive, and absolutely bursting with blooms! Yes, the drive to Daffodil Hill in Amador County is almost as pretty as the historical ranch itself.Fields of daffodils, farm animals and peacocks greet visitors upon arrival. Meandering through trails you’ll come across’s the original 1880s barn, old wagon wheels, gold rush mining equipment, and antique farm implements. There is no entrance fee, but donations are accepted and there is a small souvenir shop to purchase something special. Daffodil Hill in Volcano has been owned by the McLaughlin Family since 1887. Ancestors bought it from Pete Denzer, who had planted a few daffodils to remember his home country of Holland. The McLaughlin’s continued to plant daffodils through the years, and now plant several thousand bulbs annually. It is estimated that there are 300,000 daffodils blooming now. What a sight to behold!

The generous McLaughlin Family gives us all an enormous gift by opening up their private ranch each year for a few weeks to let the public traipse around the gardens and trails, picnic under shade trees, and soak up all that spring in the country offers. We are undeniably grateful!The stunning photo above came right off  Daffodil Hill’s Facebook page. They ask that you check the page or call daily to make sure the ranch is open. Rainy weather closes the ranch until the trails dry out. Make a day of your visit by stopping in the nearby little towns of Amador and Sutter Creek. Both are fun to visit and get a bite to eat.

What a lovely place to celebrate the arrival of spring!

Bale Grist Mill

A little preview of spring was in the air when we set out to explore Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park in Saint Helena a few weeks ago. We had driven to the Napa Valley just for the day, planning to shop, wine taste, and eat dinner at a favorite restaurant, but we also wanted to get a short hike in. The weather was warm, trees were budding, the sky was brilliant blue, and a trail was calling!

A short walk from the parking lot took us into the park where we first took an interesting tour of the mill. We learned that the mill was built in 1846 by Edward Bale, is fully operational, and is the sole surviving water powered mill in California. Inside the museum/gift shop, bags of grains (polenta, cornmeal, spelt, buckwheat, rye, and whole wheat flours) that the mill grinds are available to purchase. The park is quite picturesque with a babbling creek, stately oaks, rolling hills, and plenty of picnic benches in the shade. We hiked the peaceful trail that connects to Bothe State Park and even found some heart rocks along the way. I left them for you to find. Go take a look!Along the easy, two mile hike we encountered beautiful scenery. After driving in the car for a few hours to get to wine country that morning, and anticipating more sitting on the drive home later in the evening, this little hike was definitely needed. A bit of shopping, some wine tasting, delicious food, and a lovely hike — everything in moderation (even in the Napa Valley), right?!

Italian Lemon Poundcake

Record rain. Heavily damaged roads and main highways. Flooding. Broken levees. It’s certainly been a wild winter here in Northern California after years of drought, to say the least.

In between rain storms I’m out in the yard as much as I can to begin to work on a few projects. Blooming right now and brightening these long February days during this very rainy winter are the Hellebores, Daphne, Primroses, and Daffodils. A love note from heaven was waiting for me to find it as I was doing yard work recently. Imagine the smile it put on my face!Outside, rain pounds on the roof, winds howl, and the creek swells. Inside, lemon pound cake bakes in the oven, filling the house with its sweet aroma.

Italian Lemon Poundcake

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup sour cream

4 Tablespoons lemon juice

zest of two lemons

1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 300 degreesSift flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in the sour cream, lemon juice, vanilla, and lemon zest.Mix half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Mix in the buttermilk and then add in the remaining flour mixture. Mix just until the flour disappears. Pour the cake batter in a bundt pan that has been generously sprayed with baking spray.Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Turn the cake over on a cake platter.

Spread half of the lemon glaze over the warm cake so that the glaze can soak into the cake. Let the cake cool completely and drizzle the remaining glaze over the cake.

Lemon Glaze

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

3 Tablespoons lemon juice at room temperature

Cream the butter and slowly add powdered sugar and lemon juice. Beat well until the glaze is a creamy smooth consistency.Delicious!

Blueberry Baked Oatmeal

It’s cold; it’s raining again, and the grey days have got me seeking comfort foods lately. I love a hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast on a wintry morning and recently found this new-to-me twist on oatmeal online that shouted warm, cozy, and delicious and had the house smelling absolutely scrumptious! The recipe features nuts, oats, fruit and spices, is easily adaptable, and did not disappoint.

Blueberry Baked Oatmeal

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt (or 1/2 teaspoon regular table salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 cups milk of choice (almond milk, coconut milk, or cow’s milk all work)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons melted unsalted butter, or coconut oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ounces or 1 pint fresh fruit, divided (I used mixed berries)
  • 2 teaspoons raw sugar (optional)
  • Optional toppings for serving: yogurt, honey, whipped cream, fresh fruit or maple syrupInstructions:
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9 inch square baking dish. Once the oven has finished preheating, pour the nuts onto a rimmed baking sheet. Toast for 4 to 5 minutes, until fragrant.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, combine the oats, toasted nuts, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Whisk to combine.
  • In a smaller mixing bowl, combine the milk, maple syrup or honey, egg, half of the butter or coconut oil, and vanilla. Whisk until blended.
  • Reserve about 1/2 cup of the berries for topping the baked oatmeal, then arrange the remaining berries evenly over the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the fruit with the dry oat mixture, then drizzle the wet ingredients over the oats. Wiggle the baking dish to make sure the milk moves down through the oats, then gently pat down any dry oats resting on top.
  • Scatter the remaining berries across the top. Sprinkle the raw sugar on top  if you’d like some extra sweetness and crunch.
  • Bake for 42 to 47 minutes, until the top is nice and golden. Remove your baked oatmeal from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. Drizzle the remaining melted butter on top before serving.This makes such a warm and wholesome breakfast or snack anytime. Hope you enjoy it too.

A Gathering We Go

Setting off on a nature walk in our neighborhood with two of our very young grandchildren.

Look for things Mama will like and we’ll make her a birthday present out of them. If you see anything interesting lets take a clipping of it or pick it up and put it in our pockets.How bout this if it isn’t too pokey?

Yes, my love, what a good idea.Back at home we set all of our collected treasures out on a tray with some twine and a sturdy branch and  begin to select items to tie on to the branch.

That’s it; put your finger right there while I tie the knot. Thank you. Let’s do the next one too. That’s so helpful. Let’s see, a bit of moss, some pinecones, a magnolia cone, and what else? Of course, the turkey feather, the rose hips, some twigs, and the heart rock.  Those are all great choices! Where should we put the ribbons? Oh, Mama is sure to love this! What do you think?And here, hanging from a tree branch in their backyard, positioned right outside the kitchen window, is the nature mobile. I’m sure it brings a smile to her face and brightens her day each time my daughter in law looks out the window.Happy Birthday Danielle!

Celebrating the Snow

Sierra snowpack levels and rain are way above normal here in Northern California this year and that’s cause for celebration in my book. Evidently, many others were celebrating all of the recent storms right along with us by taking a trip to snow country during the holiday weekend! A drive to Tahoe usually takes us an hour. Today it was a v-e-r-y slow two and a half hour drive.

We have a few usual spots where we like to go snowshoeing, but we got a later start on the road than usual and we found those to be too crowded. Continuing on and feeling up for an adventure, we came to Camp Richardson on the southwest side of the lake and found parking spaces available! In no time at all we were layered up and had our gear strapped on.What a sight to behold! Just look at this incredibly beautiful winter wonderland!
It felt so good to be out exploring in all of nature’s winter beauty after being cooped up from our rainy weather for so long.Through the branches is our dog, Gemma, prancing around in the snow where there’s usually sand, with Lake Tahoe just beyond.  Ahhh! Here’s a little snow heart along our pathand another amidst the tree branches! There’s so much to celebrate in life. Hope you’re finding cause to celebrate this winter as well.

Tamale Pot Pies

It’s wet out there! And the forecast includes more wild, windy and wet weather each day all week. I’m quite happy to have the time indoors to work on some projects that have been neglected for the last month or two, though, and make some comfort food recipes as well.

This afternoon I made Tamale Potpies. I didn’t have all of the ingredients called for in this recipe from Cooking Light, and so I’ve made due with what I have in my kitchen. There’s no way I’m heading to the grocery store this afternoon!

Tamale Pot Pies

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 cup chopped onion

12 oz. ground chicken (I used ground pork)

1 Tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon salt, divided

1 cup chopped zucchini (this was an ingredient I didn’t have)

3/4 cup corn

1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles, undrained

1 (8 ounce) can unsalted tomato sauce

cooking spray

1/2 cup coarsely ground yellow cornmeal

1 1/2 cups water, divided

3 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded and divided (about 3/4 cup)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion; saute 3 minutes. Add pork (or chicken); cook 3 minutes, stirring to crumble. Stir in cumin, chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook one minute.
  3. Add zucchini, corn, tomatoes, and tomato sauce, bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Divide meat mixture evenly among 4 (10 ounce) ramekins (or in my case, 8, 5 ounce) ramekins coated with cooking spray. Place ramekins on a jelly roll pan.
  5. Place remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, cornmeal, and 1/2 cup water in a medium bowl, stirring to combine. Bring remaining 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Gradually add cornmeal mixture to pan; cook 3 minutes or until thickened, stirring frequently. Stir in 2 oz of cheese.
  6. Divide cornmeal mixture evenly among ramekins. Sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until light golden brown.Along with a green salad and black beans, this is dinner. Just perfect for a cold, rainy evening at home.

The Story of our Lives

As I’ve been putting away the Christmas decorations over the last few days I’ve come  to realize how perfectly our decorated tree tells the story of our family each year.

If I remember correctly we bought ornaments for our very first Christmas tree at Payless. Yep, it was a rainy Sunday in 1982. When my husband got off from work we went together and picked out just a few ornaments and a tree. This is one from that first year so long ago.By the next Christmas we were blessed with our first baby.And three years later, another precious baby boy joined our family.A good amount of our ornaments are family photos in mini frames and hung with ribbon.Throughout the years ornaments have been bought that represent a move to a new home, careers, interests, and now, grand babies. We’ve saved the child-made treasures from way back when, along with the ones the children would get to choose each year to commemorate a new sport or hobby they were interested in. They don’t all go up on the tree each year, but we look through them all, carefully unwrapping each and every treasure, smiling and feeling overcome with nostalgia.

A friend made this felted heart for me a few years ago,and a sweet daughter in law made this one.Gently tucked into luggage, special keepsakes are collected from our travels. This celtic cross came from a trip to Ireland.And this streetlamp with the hanging baskets of flowers was brought home from Victoria.Each one tells a story.Each one, a memory of our blessings. Each one, a snippet from our lives. My cup runneth over.

I wish you hope, health, peace and mad love in 2017. Happy New Year!

“Here’s to the end of this chapter. To all the late nights, early mornings, learnings gained and experiences shared, Here’s to love. Here’s to loss. Here’s to honoring, letting go, and transcending. Here’s to growth. Here’s to expanding. Here’s to a life with other heartbeats that would stop their world to celebrate your magic. Here’s to you, and your blank canvas. Here’s to filling it with nothing less than vibrant aliveness.”

~Nancy Alder

 

Making Merry

The last few weeks have flown by with all of the flurry of activities that December brings. There have been parties and gatherings, shopping and making, sending cards, wrapping, baking, and the decorating. Oh, the decorating!

Along with decorating the inside of our home, I do enjoy decking out our porch and other areas of our yard. The arbors and the little foot bridge across our seasonal creek gets adorned with garland or swags. I buy yards of fresh cedar garland at the nursery, but the rest of the fresh greens I use for decorating have been collected either from the yard or out on the trails with my trusty pruners and a bag for collecting. In my book, nature’s treasures make the best decorations!

A little of this,and a little of that,added to window boxes, window sills, baskets, garden pots, watering cans, and vases makes everything so festive and merry. Wishing you the warmth of home, the love of family and friends, and all the deepest joys this Christmas season.