craft + craft: goodnight, garden with Bell’s Light Hearted
It’s been too long since I have shared a craft + craft! For new readers, this is a series in which I pair a beer with a little project, one craft with another. If, like me, you panic pruned when putting your garden to bed for low temps, this one is for you. We will discuss some ideas for dried herbs (lavender and thyme work well for this craft), how to keep your houseplants extra happy this season, and why Bell’s Light Hearted is the perfect pairing.
Quarantine life, am I right? We are back in our second partial shutdown in Minnesota as of today. I would like to be clear — #StayAtHome shouldn’t force you to be productive (in the way that all of your friends mastering sourdough would be so keen to do). Staying home for me means working from home, writing as much as possible (I’ve got a freelance whopper in the works) and keeping up the house, so it’s not that I have a sudden injection of free time.
But the wonderful break that was gardening, with its call to get me out of a seated position and do a little weeding on my lunch hours, is all tucked in for the season, and it leaves my hands wanting a little action. In light of the fact that I was left with drying herbs hanging all over the house, which is very unfair to my bored cats, here’s a mini tutorial (nothing special required) on making herb sugars. Tutorial number two requires supplies but no special skills.
Let’s crack a beer and gather supplies. I recently participated in a virtual tasting of Bell’s Light Hearted with VP of Production, John Mallett. He challenged participants to hone in on the sensory contributions of Light Hearted’s individual malts and hops, even though it is marketed as a lo-cal beer rather than marketed in terms of flavor. I discovered a pleasant and persistent orange blossom character in this very low alcohol beer. The fragrance reminded me of the streets of Marseille, where it is traditional to cook with orange blossom, and where flowers and delight abound. This lovely floral note will drive our projects today.
Supplies: dried herbs (I used lavender and lemon thyme, but rosemary and oregano work well), sugar, jar.
I plucked lavender off of my (dying) front pots and lemon thyme from my herb garden bed. Keep in mind, if you are in zone 4 like me, many of your hearty, woody herbs may actually still be alive. Rosemary, thyme, and some sage varieties can withstand snow and low temps up until the ground freezes. If you are fortunate to have access to these hearty herbs, let them dry (I prefer to string them up upside-down) for a few days before proceeding. If you don’t have much to harvest, many co-ops sell dried lavender which will work beautifully.
Next, place your herbs in a jar. I re-use a shallow jar because I like the look of it, but a Ball jar is perfect. In terms of size, think about it this way — about a palmful of dried herbs for every half cup of sugar, plus a little head space for shaking. Tailor your jar to how much you’re making.
Cover the dried herbs with sugar and shake. This will scent the sugar with the herb’s essential oils. Of course, each plant is different, and some will produce a stronger flavor than others. Let the sugar sit for at least a few days, and taste. If it reaches desired strength, you can remove the herbs, but I rarely do, because the flavor doesn’t become overpowering by this method.
I use the sugar as a finishing for shortbread, in white tea, and as a substitute for plain sugar in any baked sweet; it will behave as normal sugar when baking. Herb-scented sugars make a great host gift!
If you have even more herbs to put up, lavender makes an anti-moth defense. I tuck it into my summer clothes in the attic. Savory herbs can be frozen in oil to use all winter.
Okay! You’re all warmed up — next is an insect repellent for houseplants that is excellent to have on hand in the case of unwelcome visitors. And this may sound weird, but it also makes a great gift for the houseplant lover in your life. Put the final product in a nice amber spray jar with a pretty label and…voila.
Supplies: Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds or other biodegradable detergent, neem oil, warm water, spray bottle. I also suggest a bowl or container about one gallon in size for mixing.
Grab another Light Hearted. This is a super easy, pet safe, human safe, earth safe, dolphin safe (just kidding) spray that not only repels insects — like the spawn of the devil at my house, mealybugs — but keeps plants happy and hydrated in winter. Nothing that I have ever seen or heard of can be harmed by this three-ingredient spray and I use it on everything to boost humidity AND prevent mealybugs from changing hosts.
Add about a gallon of warm water to a bowl (or nearly fill your sprayer). The warmth only helps to dissolve the soap. Add 1 tablespoon of Dr. Bronners Sal Suds, which will smell of lovely pine. Then add 1 tablespoon of neem oil. Do this last as some people are sensitive to the smell. Stir to dissolve, and funnel into a spray bottle if working in a bowl. Store the leftovers, labeled, in a cool, dark place.
Be sure to label the spray bottle, and go nuts on your plants, especially in these dry months. As a further tip, if you have a lot of mealybugs (those bastards), I suggest putting the plant in the sink, removing any you can manually, and then spraying the thing down from tip to tail. Once it is no longer dripping, remove from the sink.
I hope you’ve gotten an idea or two to keep you happy, sane, and possibly to give as a gift this season! If you have a beer you’d like me to pair with a craft, please reach out!