Botany Barn – Where has the Babbling Botanist Been!?

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Hey Babbling Botanist readers! It’s been a really quiet winter from me on the blog, and I am excited to let you in on one of the reasons why. This winter I spent a good chunk of time on my other hobby (OK one of my other hobbies, it seems I have a lot these days), and turned it into a bit of a side business. I’ve been busy soap making this winter and I’ve opened a store on Etsy called Botany Barn, where I am selling handmade goodies like soaps, lip balms, and other handmade cosmetics that I will gradually be adding to my product lines. In line with my love of homegrown organic foods and preservation, I make Botany Barn products with almost entirely organic ingredients, natural colorants and scents, and make products that are not only good for you, but good for the planet. It has been so much fun getting this going, and I wanted to let you all in on it and also give a shout out to my Uncle Scott who named the store, and my friend Laura who made the awesome logo!¬†Who knows if Botany Barn will take off, but it certainly kept me sane during the ecology and preservation off-season. ūüôā I hope to get back into blogging this summer though (between running Botany Barn and working as a Field Ecologist!) But anyways,¬†if you are interested in where I’ve been this winter, check out botanybarn.com!

Here are some of the things I currently have available:

Three pack of small soaps. I really enjoyed taking adorable photos!

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The five different soaps I’m starting off with. From left to right: Butter Me Up!, Lavender, Peppermint, Nude, and Let’s Face It!

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Butter Me Up!

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Charcoal facial soap

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Lavender

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Peppermint

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Nude

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Five lip balm flavours!

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Thanks for sticking around during my absence, and you’ll hear from me again soon!

July Garden Tour

We’ve been having nearly 100 degree heat the past week or so and the garden is love love loving it. Here’s a little tour! It’s amazing how much has changed since my June 1 garden tour.

Tomatoes loving the heat.

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Broccoli. Wishing I got it in earlier because this heat’s not doing it any favours.

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The first few roma VF tomatoes.

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Pepper experiment is looking awesome! They are also loving the heat. So far I’d say no differences between the pepper sizes, however they are about to that size where the competition within a pot of multiple peppers might be starting to matter. Soon we’ll have peppers coming out our ears!

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The first bell pepper.

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The first jalapeno.

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More tomatoes. I am really making an effort to prune this year and keep them better guided into their cages than in previous years. I think it’s going well.

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The whole yard. I think I do pretty well with the little space I have ūüôā

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Pretty purple pole beans.

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Purple!!

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Climb climb climb.

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More tomatoes, basil, and calendula.

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The chaos of a calendula, tomatoes that grew from seed on their own, and some dill that also grew on it’s own.

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Brandywine tomato.

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Carrots and cucs.

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The cucumbers are also loving this heat. I planted the exact same cucumbers as the last two years, like from the same exact seed packet, and the leaves of these plants are HUGE compared to last year. It’s going to be a gooooood cuc year.

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Babies!

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Massive zuch!

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Beets that really need to be eaten.

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Indigo rose tomatoes.

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Peas are dying, so I’m going to pull them shortly and plant some more beans. I’m definitely doing a better jobs at succession planting this year too.

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And that’s all folks! Having a good garden year?

A “berry” good weekend – things to do with strawberries

Believe it or not, strawberry season is wrapping up here next week! So sad! However, I did do a pretty good job taking advantage of the berries this year. We bought a chest freezer, so I’ve frozen a bunch, and I did some dehydrating, canning, and wine making with the rest last weekend. A berry good weekend indeed. For many of you, berry season is probably just beginning, but whether this is your last week, or first,¬†here is some inspiration for things to do with your berries.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Filling – my first blog post ever, and still one of my favourite recipes. The universe is telling us to put these two awesome items together by having them mature at the same time – you should really listen.

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Strawberry Fruit Leather – Since this post, I’ve learned adding some apple sauce or other more fibrous fruit helps with the cracking and crispiness issue. But I also still love it with just strawberries.

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Strawberry jam – a classic favourite of course. Or on the wilder side, add some wine to your jam and try this strawberry pinot noir jam.

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Strawberry wine – heck yes! It’s really not as hard as it seems by the length of the post. You should really really try it. Shorter, point form directions coming soon to entice you more, since¬†not all of you have the attention span for this novel of a post.

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Or a non-alcoholic beverage  (or alcohol optional I should say) Рstrawberry lemonade concentrate!

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Got a couple handfuls left over still?¬†Flavour some vinegar (or vodka? Post coming soon on that, but it’s basically the same as vinegar)

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Now go, quickly, before they are gone!! Pick some berries! Eat some berries! Can some berries! Dry some berries! Love the berries! And don’t forget to eat some fresh – sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in preservation. ¬†And lay off the caffeine! (Oh wait, that one’s for me.)

The botanist is back!

Wow – I have not written a real blog post in over two months! The last few months are honestly a bit of a blur with finishing up my degree, but I am happy to say that I’ve now defended my MS thesis in Botany and Plant Pathology and I am ready to be back with some new and exciting posts. Thank you for not forgetting about me and thanks to those of you that have still been referring to many of my old posts in my absence, you guys are the best!

In other good news, as a present for passing my mama bought me Ball’s newest invention, pictured below, the¬†FreshTECH Electric Water Bath Canner and Multi-Cooker. This is their picture however, as I don’t actually have it yet (it’s only available for pre-order right now). If you want one, I’d recommend clicking on the link above to amazon since I got free shipping through amazon prime and Ball wants $23 for shipping directly from their site. But anyways – I am super excited about this beast. For one, it’s electric so it frees up one of your burners, and still has the same capacity as a normal full sized canner. This is also a great thing if you have a glass top stove that can be a problem for canning. Also it has a temperature control, so this saves so much headache when you want to do low temperature pasteurization of your pickles! SO AWESOME! However, it doesn’t look to me like it’s actually got temperatures on there, only low, medium, and high, so that’s a bit of a bummer. I’m thinking though that using a thermometer I should be able to pretty easily figure out where to turn it to to keep it at 180-185 F. Then I can mark it on there for the future; but I’ll have to update you on that when it arrives. The electric canner I’ve used for canning class has actual temperatures on it, but no where can I find it for sale (and Janice said it was twice the price of Ball’s when she got them too). See this post for more info on low temp processing of pickles. Finally, it has a spout on the bottom which means no more almost killing yourself dumping out the hot water from the canner. This thing is way cooler than Ball’s last invention, the auto canner. It has a 3 quart capacity – no thank you! For half the price of that thing, which frankly I think is a dumb invention, you can have this awesome canner with a normal capacity and not be limited to only their specific recipes. Note though, this is just hot water bath, not a pressure canner.

Electric Canner

So now that I’m back, I wanted to let you in on what I’m planning for the blog. One thing I’m working on is a new resources tab, which will include things like extension service publications and other resources for safe recipes. I’ve found that it can be hard to find these things online and in one place. Each university extension service often only has their pubs, but there are always valuable and interesting resources missing. Each time I refer to a new publication or tool I use, I’ll add it to that page so that these great resources are easy to find and access.

Anyways, there are many fun new posts coming at you soon. I can’t wait for spring and to get back into canning and gardening (although it’s actually starting to feel like spring here already!) The early spring crops will probably be starting soon!

Is there anything you’d like to see from the blog this season?

Have you been missing the babbling botanist?

Hi there blog! I just wanted to post to let you all know that I am still alive and planning on returning to you soon. Maybe you didn’t even notice my absence but yes indeedy I have been missing from the blog lately, but I promise it’s been for a good reason. The master’s thesis took priority for a bit as I am finishing up in a month! Crazy talk! This is what it looks like right now, and honestly I thought I’d be a little more impressed by it when zooming out but actually it kind of looks short to me. HA! Quality though, it is quality. I do still have to finish up a few parts which are not in here yet, this is basically chapter 1 of 2, but getting close. Anyways, stay tuned, the babbling botanist will be back to babbling before you know it! Wish me luck!

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Year End Canning Reflection

When in the world did it get to be mid December?! I can’t believe. At this time of year, most of us have entered our “net loss” phase from the pantry – i.e. we are now eating more than we are putting up. Because of this, I think it’s an appropriate time to reflect on the things we have preserved this year, and on¬†things we were wishing we had taken better advantage of while they were in season, so we can prepare for next year. Here’s a look at my canning list – just over 600 jars, not including the things I did in MFP class. This may partially explain why I haven’t yet defended my masters… Anyways, before judging me on this crazy list, keep in mind that I often can with a friend, so for many of these large batches I only kept half. I also canned jams for two different weddings, so only about 10% of this jam is actually in my house currently.

Jams and Jelly¬†– 214 jars (ya…I know)

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22 rhubarb orange jam
8 strawberry rhubarb jam
8 strawberry lemon marmalade
46 strawberry jam
5 kiwi daiquiri jam
6 cherry marmalade
36 raspberry jam
26 blueberry lime jam
15 orange marmalade
12 zesty watermelon jelly
12 watermelon jelly
6 habanero jelly
6 inferno wine jelly
6 blueberry butter

Summary ¬†– I definitely went crazy, but actually compared to last year it’s not that bad. I did 95 last year and sure I gifted some of them, but this year a massive percent were wedding favours.

Other fruit things – 46 jars

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4 jars cherry pie filling
8 pints strawberry lemonade concentrate
4 pints rhubarb juice concentrate
5 pints cranberry juice
12 half pint Asian plum sauce
9 pints Victorian barbecue sauce
4 half pints cranberry mustard

I am pretty happy with these items, and I certainly think I will eat it all. I do moderately regret not doing a couple other pie fillings as having those is super super nice for when a potluck catches you by surprise. Otherwise yay fruits!

Pickling – 77 jars

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3 quarts refrigerator pickles
20+? jars dill pickles
19 jars pickled carrots
8 pints zesty zucchini relish
9 pints pickled asparagus
14 pints dilly beans
4 quarts sauerkraut

Other than forgetting to pickle beets, my pickling was pretty good¬†this year. And with discovering low temperature pasteurization my pickles¬†are better than ever. Somehow I totally lost track of my cucumber pickle numbers though. My list said 12 – but I am sure I made at least 3 times that considering my pickling experiment alone was 9…but anyways.

Tomatoes – 189 jars

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8 quarts crushed tomatoes
35 pints tomato sauce
115 pints salsa
14 pints two in one barbecue sauce
9 pints ketchup
8 jars tomato “jam”

Yes…115 jars of salsa. I know, I know… I think about 65 went to me. This number makes me very very happy. Last year I had about 40, and I had a couple left when tomato season hit, so we should be golden. I was super stingy with gifting these so this year my family may get a jar or two… maybe. ūüėČ The only thing I kind of would have liked more of is just plain crushed tomatoes. They have so many versatile uses!

Pressure canning – 82 jars

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22 half pints corn
38 half pints tuna
16 jars spicy tomato vegetable soup
6 pints chicken stock

I am pretty happy with my pressure canning additions to my pantry, and actually a little surprised I didn’t do more. But this winter I plan to do some more stock, dried beans, and other things not necessarily season dependent. Winter is a good time to stock up on chicken, beef or ham stock. Ya, very bad pun intended.

Of course this is just canning, I also froze and dehydrated a lot of things. All the berries I froze are already eaten sadly, I need a bigger freezer, but not the freezer jam and dehydrated goods.

How was your 2014 season? Anything you missed out on that you definitely are planning on for next year?

To conclude, I’d like to introduce a new series of posts¬†I’m starting this winter entitled “Eat it!”, which will feature recipe ideas for using all the delicious things we preserve. Like many other preservation bloggers, I have a little less to talk about during the off season, and I think that talking about ways to use the things we preserve is just as important as how to preserve it. There is no point in putting up 500 jars of goodies if you ain’t gonna eat it! I hope to get creative with these and help you use up some of those items lingering in your pantry, and give you some ideas for things you might want to preserve next season.

Gifts from the Kitchen

If you love food preservation as much as I do, you’ve probably given some food related gifts to family and friends in the past. Mostly I’ve given people things like jams, jellies and pickled goods I’ve made, and decorated cutely as¬†below, but there are so many other gifts that we can give from the kitchen! So, with the holiday season coming up, the Master Food Preservers offered a class called “Gifts from the Kitchen” offering some inspiration and ideas for gifts for the various people in your lives. Teaching this class was a blast and people really had a good time so I wanted to share some of the ideas here that we talked about, and hopefully inspire you to get thinking about some gifts you might like to make in the next month. I thought I would get this post up today in honour of “cyber Monday”, so that maybe we can also be thinking of some homemade gifts on this massive shopping day. Maybe you could make something to accompany or replace a purchased gift, and I’ll offer a couple ideas here to pair a purchased gift with a homemade one.

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The most common gifts from the kitchen of course are canned goodies that you’ve made with love. I like¬†to decorate them with little pieces of cloth, which are actually just quilting cloth squares or scraps from the craft store. Tie a cute ribbon around it and grab some cute tags, and presto gifto! However, when gifting preserved items there are a few other things you should remember. Of course always make sure you are following safe, tested recipes. If you want to play with things not tested that’s your own business, but always be safe when gifting items. It’s a nice touch to add an ingredient list and any information you think people may be interested in knowing, such as when the food was canned, how it was canned, whether it’s low sugar, things like that. It can be nice to put your initials on there or something too so people remember who it’s from (I know people trust my canned goods but maybe not everyone’s). If you want to give canned gifts but don’t have anything on hand, we talked about a few different things that you can still preserve now, which are pictured below. These include, pepper jellies, citrus jellies, jams or marmalade, cranberry jams or jellies (or check out the cranberry mustard I just posted), apple butters and applesauce. The green tomatoes are probably done for most of you now, but green tomato salsa is also an option if you still have some kicking around. There are also a number of other mustard recipes in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving that look really intriguing and can be prepared at basically any time of year, so I plan to try out some more of those soon too. I think it would be really nice to give a couple different ones. The 4 oz jars get harder to find in some areas this time of year, but luckily they are still online here for about the same price.

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Great! What else can we gift? Here is a sampling of some of the things we talked about or made in class, and I’ll talk in a bit more detail below about each of these. Here we have, from left to right, lime jelly and pepper jelly, a dry bean soup mix, a snowman of hot cocoa, flavoured vinegars and two different spice rubs in the front.

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We had a number of stations where people got to make items to take home, and my station was hot cocoa. You had a couple options on how to arrange your cocoa into the jar, but if you search the internet there are a ton of other ways to do it too, and they are so cute and creative!

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I did mine as a snowman (the guy on the left). I got this idea from my nana, who made them a number of years ago for Christmas gifts, but I made mine a little differently, using just one canning jar. All I did for mine was mix 1 part cocoa powder to 2 parts sugar, but you can also follow other recipes with dried milk in them as well. The one we did in class was 1/2 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 cup dried milk, 1/2 cup sugar, pinch of salt, 1/4 cup chocolate chips and 1/4 cup (or to fill the jar) mini marshmallows. Then, make a head out of marshmallows and decorate the jar with a scarf, face and hat made of cut out construction paper and a painted band and lid. Adorable. One of the girls in the class made this girl snowman who became buddies with mine.

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Get creative and have fun with it! All I did was spray paint lids and bands black, draw on a face and glue on some buttons and a scarf and he turned out adorable.

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Alternatively, you can make some cute layers in the jar or bag you put it in.

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Another station that we did was a dried soup mix. Simply layer a variety of beans in a jar. We did equal parts kidney beans, white lima beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, great northern beans, small red beans, black eyed peas, barley, and then half as much of the split peas and lentils. To fit in one pint jar, you need 1/4 cup of each (about 1/8 for the lentils and split peas). We then also included a spice packet, and here’s an example of what it could contain: 1/4 cup minced dried onion, 2 tbsp dried celery (we dried our own to be even more homemade), 1 tbsp bouillon (vegetable, beef, or chicken), 2 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp ground red pepper, 1 bay leaf, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper.

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If giving a gift like this, it would also be nice to include some sort of recipe on how you would recommend preparing the soup. Including a recipe such as this one would work great. I prepared the spice packet to match the spices in this soup, but adjust this however you enjoy your bean soup, and share a family recipe or something. Additionally, a nice pairing to a gift like this could be your favourite cookbook. They turn out quite pretty when layered in the jars rather than blended.

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Another station we did was preparing spice rubs. The one pictured is a steak rub adapted from Family Circle Magazine (November 2012). It contains 1 tbsp kosher salt, 2 tsp smoked paprika, 2 tsp dried oregano, 1.5 tsp dried minced onion, 1 tsp dried minced garlic, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes.

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Simply stir all the ingredients together and package it in a cute way, such as in a little baggie or jar with a bow. Be sure to include the ingredient list, and perhaps a suggested usage. For example, Steak rub: rub 1 tsp spice mix onto both sides of a 1.5 pound steak and grill or broil as desired. A great idea for gifting this might be give it to someone who loves grilling, and include a book on grilling along with the homemade spice rubs.

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Another rub that we did that is really delicious is a lemon cumin rub. It contained: 1/4 cup ground cumin, 2 tbsp grated lemon peel, 2 tbsp paprika, 2 tbsp ground cardamom, 1 tbsp ground cinnamon, 1 tbsp coarse ground black pepper, 1 tbsp cayenne pepper and 2 tbsp dried oregano. This rub is great on chicken. To prepare, dip meat in a mixture of 1 tbsp brown sugar to 2 tbsp water, then apply 1 tbsp of the rub. Let it stand in the fridge for 4-6 hours, then grill. If you are going to do spice rubs though, it can get a little spendy, so buying in bulk is always a great idea. Use home dried herbs too where you can for an added homemade touch. Some things you won’t have though, and they can be hard to find cheap (or at all) so I really like to get things from Mountain Rose Herbs.¬†They have a huge herb selection and they also have bulk discounts if you are buying a ton. They also have some really fun salts and peppers which could also by themselves make fun gifts. Fill a few different 4 oz or 8 oz jars with a variety of different salts and peppers and decorate them for someone who loves to cook.

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The final station was an apple crumble recipe from The Dehydrator Bible (which itself is a great gift). This is a great gift for a camper and includes 1/2 cup dried apple slices (dry your own at home in your dehydrator), 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1/4 tsp dried lemon zest (optional), 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 cup crumbled oatmeal cookie (or we used granola cereal). Place the oatmeal in one bag and the rest in another, and place in a foil tin for campfire baking. This one only stores well for a month or so, so keep that in mind. To include serving instructions, add a tag that says to serve you will add 3/4 cup of water to the apple mixture, and let stand for 15 minutes. Cook for about 10 minutes over the fire (or on the stove on low) and once apple reach the desired softness, add the cookie crumble and serve. 

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All prepared in its tin.

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Those are all the gifts from the kitchen that we made in class, but there are numerous other things that you could gift. One example I posted earlier was flavoured vinegar. A lovely pairing to this would be a salad dressing mixer. I have a very similar one to the one linked here (couldn’t find the exact one) and¬†I love it. When I try and mix salad dressing by hand I often find I get too much oil onto my salad and not enough vinegar, so this is one of those silly toys I once bought myself. There are also some fun bottles with recipes on them, but I can’t vouch for the recipes so much because I always make my own with a lot less sugar.¬†

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Another thing I did last year to give some of my favourite things (with a jar theme of course) was to give people my favourite teas in a ball jar. Pick up some different loose leaf teas from Mountain Rose Herbs, or your favourite local tea shop, and perhaps include a little tea ball with it. OK, that’s all I have for now, and I need to get to bed, so I hope you are feeling inspired! I just wanted to end with a couple of final thoughts for purchasable gifts for the culinarily (ya that’s not a word) inclined¬†people¬†in your life. I really enjoy The Flavor Bible, which is a book full of tons of inspiring flavor combinations. It’s not recipes, but basically a fun index of the best flavor combinations for every type of food out there. It’s inspired a number of great recipes for me and was a great birthday gift last year. Of course for the canners in your life I am always a fan of the classics for safe and tested recipes, which are also of course delicious and amazing: The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, or the smaller Ball Blue Book. Or the newly released (I just got it finally yay!) So Easy to Preserve. Last but not least, my second favourite way to preserve is dehydrating,¬†so I would recommend both dehydrators and The Dehydrator Bible as excellent gifts. Happy gifting, thanks for reading, and enjoy your cyber Monday! Remember as always if you purchase something from one of my links I’ll receive a small amount of commission in return (see “About the Blogger” for more info), but as always I only link to products I love and truly recommend so I thank you in advance if you decide to invest in any of these items.