Saturday, April 24, 2010

Market season begins!

Kalispell opened first, on April 17, and today the Helena market got underway. Helena claims to be the longest-running market in Montana, going from April through December.

Although you can't really call these farmers markets this time of year (I didn't see any produce at all in Helena, except for some potatoes at the Hutterites' table), there is still a fun atmosphere as craftspeople get a head start on their season.

A few food items made an appearance, notably breads and honey.

I find the bear-shaped jars of honey sweet in so many ways.

As for bread, one vendor adds extra ingredients to hers. Here you see dinner rolls made with joy.

Along with many versions of soap, jewelry, and pottery, there were some unusual items, including chainmail created by -- who else? -- the Chainmail Guy. He admitted that sales of his earrings and necklaces were more brisk than the full-body chainmail, but if you happen to want to order a suit, you can e-mail him at

Real estate prices ride the rollercoaster, but it might be worth it to shell out $25 for a bag of gravel. These particular bags also contain Montana sapphires. The woman selling them sets gems and says she has found some truly beautiful specimens in the bags she's looked through. If you aren't a gambler, plenty of polished and set gems are for sale at this table, too.

One potter couple, with clever designs, show their enthusiasm with their slogan.

Along with the usual tomato plants, herbs, and onion sets were some easy-to-care-for house plants. Shown here are the Piggy Back plant (leaves grow out from one another ad infinitum) and the Gold Fish plant (gold-colored flowers form colorful rows). According to the saleswomen, these plants actually prefer crowded roots and overwatering -- if only all gardening was so easy!

Although there wasn't much to eat, there was plenty of food for the soul. Musicians abounded, playing violins and guitars. Here, Madison and Sophia show their stuff. Although the girls had plenty of enthusiasm, passers-by gave them money with the stipulation that they promised to keep practicing. Check back at the end of the season!

April 24 to November 20
Fuller Avenue between Neil Avenue and West Placer Avenue
Saturday, 9 am - 1 pm

November 27 to December 18
Clark County Fairgrounds
Saturday, 10 am - 2 pm

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Comfort food . . . wherever

I must pause to sing praise to Comfort Food, whatever its origin.

For many of us, eating Campbell's condensed soup brings back truly warm memories.

Although the Campbell's world headquarters are in Camden, New Jersey, I can still enjoy a bowlful here in Montana. How else could I make the simple recipe I found in a community cookbook published by St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Big Timber?

Oh, I could have waited for summer, bought tomatoes and peas at the farmers market, cooked and sieved them, and probably made a soup that would make the whole world sing for joy. But somehow that's not a comforting thought when you're sick right now.

After suffering through food poisoning that kept me on the couch for two days, I needed something easy-to-swallow, nourishing, and most thoroughly comforting.

While I rested, I read through the magic series by Edward Eager. I reread these charming old-fashioned books about every other year. I am not ashamed to say they are among my favorite books of all time.

In Magic Or Not? a family moves into an old house with a wishing well (or is it?), and after an exhausting day of unpacking, they eat supper: "The canned soup was tomato and pea mixed, which is delicious. It was consumed in silence, save for the crunching of saltines."

Tomato Pea Soup

1 can Campbell's Tomato Condensed Soup
1 can Campbell's Green Pea Condensed Soup (pea soup with ham not recommended here)
1 can Campbell's Beef Consomme Condensed Soup
1 soup can water




Be comforted.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Coffee Huggers

When you're a self-proclaimed "hugger person" who loves to hug people as well as to sew and drink coffee, creating a company called Coffee Huggers seems like the obvious thing to do.

When Jennae Liberty of Bozeman got tired of throwing away paper sleeves that insulated her hot cups of coffee, she searched the Internet to find a pattern to make her own sleeves out of cloth. After sewing through a pile of fabric and fleece, and after much trial and error, Jennae perfected a product that she began selling in May 2009.

The Coffee Huggers will fit standard 12- to 20-ounce to-go cups. If you like the look of the to-go cups but want to avoid even more waste, Jennae suggested buying a long-lasting plastic version (shown in photo above) from stores like Walmart or Bed, Bath, and Beyond, or a ceramic version from World Market.

I met Jennae last summer at the Bozeman Gallatin Valley farmers market. Her whimsical use of buttons on vintage-looking fabric caught my eye, and I have been a fan ever since, using my own Coffee Hugger regularly and stirring the curiosity of other coffee drinkers.

Not only is the design charming, but the combination of fabric and lightweight fleece is cozy to hold. I don't want to use paper sleeves any more. When I accidentally leave my Coffee Hugger at home, I don't seem to enjoy my cup of coffee or hot chocolate quite so much.

Sharing gratitude

An important part of Jennae's business is giving a portion of her profits to various charities.

"If you're grateful for things in your life and you share that with others, then it's not only going to come back to you, it'll go on to others."

Jennae donates to charities such as the Special Olympics, the Humane Society, and the food bank, which are "closest to my heart, and because I think they help the greatest number of people."

Every entrepreneur hopes they'll have the next million-dollar idea, Jennae said, but start where you are in sharing what your business brings you. "So many people think, 'I can't make a difference, I can't give.' But if everybody gave what they could, even if it was a dollar, think of how much of a difference that would make in someone's life."

Advice for new entrepreneurs

"I love to sew," Jennae told me. She learned the basics from her mother as well as her Grami, a long-time lover of sewing who is still quilting. "I can remember just watching Grami sew when I was a little girl."

Jennae said she makes an effort to buy supplies in local stores, such as the Silver Thimble, Main Street Quilting Company, and Ro Sham Bo Paperie.

The name of her company came after tossing around ideas with a marketing friend at work. "I woke up in the middle of the night and said: 'That's it!'"

Jennae has faced her share of business-related challenges, and she encourages other women to just get out there and see how their ideas work.

"Don't give up. If you want it bad enough, find a way to make it happen. You get out of something what you put into it. And so if you want to get a lot out of something, it's going to be hard work. That's just something you're going to have to accept or not.

"Enlist the help of your friends. There are people out there who want to help you. And they will help you, whether it be coming up with a design for your logo, or helping you get started with selling, or giving you feedback. You can never have enough feedback. I still listen to what people say. I'm still trying to tweak my designs."

Jennae's latest idea: an adjustable hugger
for larger cups or ones with handles.

Where to buy

Although Jennae is currently cutting back on production to spend more time with her family and put in quality hours at her "real job," Coffee Huggers are available upon request, in single or bulk orders, by e-mailing her at You can also buy them in Bozeman at Sola Cafe and The Daily Coffee Bar, and online at

If your organization needs an item for a fundraiser, ask Jennae for her special rate. She can even make huggers in school or company colors.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Feeding a community

Recently, I was able to go behind the scenes of the Big Timber Food Bank, where the all-volunteer staff is passionate about not only giving food to those who need it, but also encouraging them to cook whole, nutritious foods rather than depending on mixes and cans. And, sometimes, a volunteer will add a much-needed hug.

Marlis Arneson showed me the home-like kitchen where shelves are laden with canned goods, sorted dry beans, and even full-sized personal care products like toothpaste and shampoo.

Once a month, each family or individual can go into the kitchen with a volunteer and select 41 pounds of whatever they want. Many food banks prefill a grocery bag -- with food that will last about 4 days -- and hand that out, but Marlis believes people should get exactly what they like and will eat. That way, nothing donated goes to waste.

She explained that 41 pounds sounds like a lot of food, but canned goods, jars of oil, and bottles of juice are heavy. No matter what they choose, the 41 pounds should last about 2 weeks.

The food bank provides recipes to encourage cooking. As much unprocessed food as possible is given away -- things like flour, beans, vegetables, and wheat (see story below).

"You can't believe what this town grows," Marlis said. "We get squash, tomatoes, spinach, and turnips. Potato farmers [in other areas] donate their potatoes. Some people just want to eat out of cans, but we've really got people cooking."

Montana-grown food is canned for the Montana Food Bank Network

Currently, the food bank serves 47 families (many are one-person households), 18 senior citizens, and 41 children. In January, 4,000 pounds of food was brought in and 5,300 pounds of food was given away.

The abundance I saw, overflowing into 3 rooms, 2 refrigerators, and 3 freezers, is the result of Marlis and storage manager Sandy Carroll honing their thrifty coupon-clipping skills and ability to spot bargains. Area store managers are often willing to provide bulk discounts.

Joining the Montana Food Bank Network in November 2009 was a huge help, Marlis said. Regular deliveries of food arrive now from Missoula.

Since the food bank is open only 3 days a week, a few grocery sacks are filled with food that can be eaten without cooking and left at the sheriff's office for hungry people passing through town.

While getting food, people can also pick up items not normally found at food banks, such as wash cloths, pot holders, and -- if available -- crockpots. Often volunteers will direct someone who needs clothes or other non-food items to the local thrift store.

Lots of wheat

Marlis loves to tell the story of a recent wheat donation that stretched every resourceful fiber in her being.

"A guy brought in a 100-pound sack of wheat, and we bagged it up and got some recipes on how to make cereal out of it, and it went pretty well. Then the guy asked, 'Do you want some more?' and I said: 'Sure!' And so here he came to my house with 1700 pounds in a bag THIS big. I thought, 'What in the world are we going to do with all this wheat?'

"So we put it in buckets, and we started really pushing it . . . but over the course of the whole summer we only went through 8 [5-gallon] buckets."

After a few phone calls, Marlis finally found a man in Fort Benton who said he could make stone-ground flour for 25 cents a pound, a real bargain. But although Marlis was expecting a $400 bill, the one that came was for $25.

"Okay, then I started looking at all that flour . . . I knew about the bread lady up at Pine Creek Bakery in Livingston. I just love her wholewheat bread, so I called her and told her what we were doing. She said, 'You know, I'm so impressed with your story, I'll quote you a bid and I won't even charge you for labor.'

"You see, I just want to hand everyone a loaf of wholewheat bread and a jar of peanut butter.

"Then she said, 'It would cheapen [the bill] if you could get donations of honey.' So I put the call out to my homemakers club of ranch ladies along the Yellowstone, and I said, 'We're going to be making this bread for the kids.' And the donations of honey I got from that club will last us 6 months. Gallons and gallons of honey. And that really cut down on the cost of the bread.

"We only have room for about 88, maybe 100 loaves at a time and that lasts us 6 or 7 weeks, and so I go up there [to the bakery] to get more. Everyone likes it, and we've gotten good feedback. The diabetics need whole grains, and it helps out costs.

"Every place you go, you have another good thing happen. It's just amazing; it's just absolutely amazing."

A recipe

Printed here with permission is the recipe for Soup or Sauce (SOS) Mix, which when mixed with water substitutes for a can of creamed soup. The food bank stores this mix in plastic bags and makes it available along with a copy of a small cookbook that shows many uses for it, including creating mushroom or tomato soup, macaroni and cheese, and Chicken Broccoli Alfredo.

Soup or Sauce (SOS) Mix

2 cups powdered non-fat milk
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup instant chicken bouillon
2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning

Combine all ingredients in a re-closeable plastic bag, mixing well.

Yield: Equal to 9 cans of cream soup.

To substitute for 1 can of cream soup:
1. Combine 1/3 cup of dry mix with 1 1/4 cups of cold water.
2. Cook and stir on stove top or in microwave until thickened.
3. Add thickened mixture to casseroles as you would a can of soup.

Store in closed plastic bag or air-tight container until ready to use. Mix does not have to be refrigerated.

How can you help?

Big Timber churches and local businesses support the food bank in many ways. Individuals give food, money, and time as volunteers.

Hunters supply wild game, ranchers donate sides of beef, gardeners give produce. Marlis has even gone to pick apples in a back yard and canned applesauce and jam.

"I have yet to see anything we can't use," said Marlis.

"It used to be that every church had food in the basement [to give away]. This is a community food bank. It's all our responsibility."

Big Timber Food Bank
Suite D, #10 Bridge Street or #11 River Street
Monday and Friday, 1 pm - 5 pm

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

hot cross buns (made by me)

Here are a few images of the treats made for enjoyment after the Easter Vigil at St. Mary's Church in Livingston.