Saturday, June 24, 2017

Cucumber Mint Salad - Weekend recipe

This is an adaptation of a recipe from Turkey.  It goes well with chicken, lamb and salmon.  It is fresh and bright and slightly minty and perfect to brighten up your summer fare.

Cucumber Mint Salad
1 cup plain yogurt
2 Tbls fresh spearmint leaves, minced
1 Tbls lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
dash of salt and pepper to taste
3 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced

Mix all ingredients, except cucumbers in a medium bowl and refrigerate.  Slice cucumber and stir into bowl just before serving and garnish with additional mint.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Strawberry Basil Dip - Weekend Recipe

The other day I had lunch with and spoke to the Antiquarian Study Group of Naperville.  We had great summer sandwiches and veggies with dip and a wonderful fruit salad with great cream cheese dip.  That got me to thinking about fruit dips and I located this perfect recipe to share.  It takes only 10 minutes and a blender to create this, and you will adore it.

Strawberry Basil Dip
This recipe is perfectly timed for using your current local fresh ingredients!  Basil, which is naturally sweet, combines with strawberry and honey to make a perfect dip that is good on lots of things, not just fruit.

6 ounces fresh strawberries hulled (1 1/4 cups)
4 ounces cream cheese, softened (1/4 cup)
3 Tbls honey (herbal honey, like lavender will add a nice touch)
1 Tbls packed fresh basil leaves, purple or green or even lemon all work well

In the blender container or food processor, combine strawberries, cream cheese and honey.  Cover and blend until smooth.  Stop occasionally to scrape the sides as needed.  Add basil and pulse until just chopped.  Serve immediately.  You can make ahead and chill for up to 8 hours, then serve a room temp.  Makes 1 ½ cups.

Friday, June 16, 2017

National Vinegar Day! - Make a vinegar and a marinade

June 16 is National Vinegar Day and I know why it is in the summer.  This is the perfect time of year to make pickles, marinades and salad dressing which all use generous amounts of Vinegar.

I am using this day as a great excuse to write about making herbal vinegars and what to do with them. You can and should only make an herbal vinegar with fresh herbs.  It allows you to capture the flavor of the fresh herbs and save it for use in winter when fresh herbs are scarce.

For step-by-step directions on making herbal vinegar check out my How To.

Here are some perfect summertime recipes to try out with your newly made vinegar.

Cucumber Salad
2 cucumbers, thinly sliced
2 zucchini, thinly sliced
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup herbal vinegar (chive, chive blossom, lemon or thyme will all work well)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 Tbls. salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 pinch red pepper flakes

Arrange alternate layers of cucumber, zucchini and onions in a deep bowl.  Mix vinegar and sugar until dissolved.  Add water, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.  Drain any water from the cucumbers before adding dressing.  Pour dressing over cucumbers, onion and zucchini and allow to marinade for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator before serving.

Herbal Vinegar Salad Dressing
1/4 cup herbal vinegar (lemon, thyme or chives will do)
3/4 cup oil
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
2 tsp fresh lemon thyme
1 tsp fresh Parsley, chopped
Dash of garlic powder

Mix together in a glass jar or cruet, shake well.  Refrigerate one hour before serving.  Keep remainder in refrigerator for up to 7 days.

Lemon Herbal Marinade
1/4 cup lemon herb vinegar (any combination of lemon herbs is good)
1/2 tsp each salt & pepper
4 strips of lemon zest
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil, cilantro, dill, oregano, or a mix of all four
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the vinegar, pepper and salt in a nonreactive (glass, ceramic, or stainless steel) bowl and whisk until the salt crystals are dissolved. Add the lemon zest, garlic, parsley and basil. Stir or whisk in the olive oil. The virtue of this marinade is its freshness: Use it within 1 to 2 hours of making. Stir again before using.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Making Herbal Rub Mixtures for Grilling

This was originally posted on the Supporting Artist Blog back in June 2013.  That Blog is now gone so I thought I would share the recipes here, in case you missed them back then.  For details on What Meat Rubs are and how to use them see this previous post - What is an Herbal Meat Rub?

With Father’s day right around the corner, I thought I would share a few ways to make some great blends of herbs to use for grilling everything from beef and chicken to fish and vegetables.
The Backyard Patch makes several Grilling Rub and Marinade Mixes (LINK) 

Two of the blends are nice and spicy for those who like a robust meat rub:
N’OrleansSecret - This blend will add some punch to everyday dishes and makes a great meat rub for grilling as well as a way to zip up your ketchup for burgers.  Just try 1 Tbls. N’orleans Secret in a cup of tomato ketchup for a spicy summer condiment. 

FourSpice Meat Rub - A nod to the fact that when barbequing the need for a stronger flavor that will hold up to fire is sometimes required,  we created this spice blend (with a few herbs) that can be used as a meat rub.  You can also use it to create a wonderful warm BBQ sauce.  Blend 1 tablespoon Backyard Patch Four Spice Meat Rub with 1 cup ketchup or tomato sauce and a bit of salt to taste, then warm in a sauce pan and serve hot.

If you want to craft your own rubs and seasoning, here are a few blends to try.  At the bottom of the post are a couple of recipes to go with these blends.

Bay Blend for Meat & Poultry
3 parts powdered bay leaf
2 parts rubbed sage
2 parts dried savory
1 part dried marjoram
1 part dried thyme
1 part dried basil
1 part dried rosemary
½ part garlic powder
½ part onion powder

Mix all ingredients. Store in lidded container. Rub into meat or poultry before roasting or broiling, or grilling.

No Salt Seasoning Mix
Good sprinkled on eggs, meat or chicken.  Use 1 to 2 Tbls. as a meat rub.  Blend with butter or margarine over fresh steamed vegetables.   You can even combine 1 Tbls. of the blend with 2/3 cup oil and 1/3 cup vinegar for a tangy salad dressing.

2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. basil, crumbled
1 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. granulated garlic
½ tsp. thyme, crumbled
½ tsp celery seed
½ tsp parsley, crumbled
½ tsp curry powder (optional)
¼ tsp. ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid; shake well.

Peppered Lavender Beef Rub
1 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoons whole white peppercorns
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried culinary lavender flowers
Pinch of savory
In a small spice or coffee grinder, coarsely grind the black peppercorns, white peppercorns, fennel seeds, thyme, and lavender flowers; rub mixture all over the meat. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight (preferably).

This is good on a tenderloin roast, rolled roast, steaks or even pounded Round steak.  Just sear the meat then broil or crock pot cook it until fully cooked.  The recipe amount is calculated for a 3 to 4 pound roast

Fish & Poultry Rub
2 parts sorrel
1 part lemon balm
 ½ part thyme

This blend can also be made with fresh ingredients.  Just finely mince the fresh herbs using the same proportions add to a bit of olive oil and spread on your fish or chicken like a paste.  When using dry herbs combine ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid.  Use as a rub or stuff the cavity before poaching or baking.  Use about 1/3 less on you fish or poultry when using dry versus fresh herbs in this mixture.

Blackening Rub
4 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. black pepper
1.2 tsp. cayenne pepper (adjust for personal taste)
2 tsp. garlic granules
2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp. cumin
½ tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. salt (optional)
Combine the dry ingredients in a screw-top jar, using more cayenne if a hotter mix is required; shake well

Recipe to try

Blackened Chicken

6 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
8 Tbls butter, melted

A generous portion of  Blackening Rub.

Pound the chicken breasts lightly until thinner and of an even thickness. Heat barbecue or cast-iron skillet or grill pan for about 10 minutes, until very hot.

Dip the chicken into melted butter and sprinkle the spice mixture on both sides. Cook the chicken for about 2 minutes on each side, until a black crust forms and the chicken is cooked through. (This cooking process will create a lot of smoke and is best done outdoors. Have a strong exhaust fan operating if cooking indoors.)

Pork Roast with Horseradish & Herbs
Serves 8

1  2-pound lean boneless pork rib roast or loin roast, all visible fat removed
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

2 Tsp. Backyard Patch Butter N Cheese Herb Mix

Preheat oven to 350° F. Place pork roast in a shallow baking pan. Rub horseradish over the surface of meat. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Sprinkle over roast. Place roast, uncovered, in oven. Cook about 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer registers 160°F. Let stand 5 minutes. Slice to serve.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Broiled Buttery Shrimp - Weekend Recipe

1 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 Tbls. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbls. Steak sauce
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce
1 lb. uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined

In a large bowl, combine the butter, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, salt, thyme, pepper, hot pepper sauce.  Add shrimp and toss to coat.  Arrange shrimp in a single layer in a greased 10 x 15 x 1 inch baking pan.  Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat for 6 to 8 minutes or until shrimp turn pink, turning once.  Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Shower bag - Bath Blend of the Month

I go the idea for this recipe from my friend Tina at The Essential Herbal.  She posted a recipe for Bath Scrubby on her herb blog back in 2013 that I have played around with ever since and this is my version of that.

I make shower bags with herbs and soap that can be used to wash with.  The key with a shower bag is the herbs must come in contact with the skin to impart their herbal properties. My solution was to put soap in it so that you would put it in contact with the skin.  Tina's recipe uses only herbs and you just wipe it over the skin after wetting it.  I like the variations that were possible with her recipe and came up with a blend that would soothe my sensitive skin and remove irritation from being outside and sun exposure.

Flower Bath Scrubbie

2 Tbls. calendula petals
2 Tbls  rose petals
1 Tbls  lavender buds
1 Tbls  chamomile flowers
1 Tbls  thyme or sage flowers

This makes about 3/8 to 1/3 of a cup of blend that is enough to fill one 3 x 4 inch cotton  (or you can place them in the center of a 10x10 inch square of muslin fabric and pull the edges together.)  To use in the shower, wet the bag and scrub over your skin.  The soothing properties of the flowers is perfect for your skin.

I like the method of brewing the bag in a pan of water and pouring that into the bath water as the best way to get the benefit of the flowers, but if you want to take a shower with this scrubbie, the key is to make sure the bag comes in contact with the skin.

Here is a breakdown of the benefits of the flowers:

Chamomilereduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while also possessing anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Calendulahas anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, and helps to heal wounds and soothe damaged skin, such as sunburn, cuts and scrapes. 

Rose - Antibacterial and anti inflammatory properties in roses make them wonderfully soothing for skin, especially swollen spots and redness.

Sage - the antioxidants in sage reduce fine lines and wrinkles and other signs of aging.

Thyme - is an anti-bacterial herb that can be used on skin bacteria that creates acne, and an antifungal agent that works on eczema.

Lavenderis rich in a compound called linalool that assists with skin healing while also preventing tissue degeneration keeping skin firm and preventing wrinkles.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Lemon - The unexpected Herb of the Week

Wednesday is a day to focus on a single herb.  Sometimes it is details to grow and recipes to use and other times it is growing or using tips.

This week it is ways to use lemon peels.  Although one could grow a lemon indoors in Illinois, I have never had the windows or space to bring a lemon tree indoors for winter, so I have always gotten my lemons at the market.  But even though I do not grow them I do process the peel and use them in my teas and bath products.  Most of the time I grate the lemons and toast the grated peel in the oven to make sure it is completely dry.  Somedays I get a great peel that holds its yellow color, most of the time it turns a tan color, so if you see little brown flecks in your Lemon Cream Scone Mix, don't panic it is just my dried lemon peel.

Here is a baker's dozen of tips for using fresh and dried lemon peel around your home. Lemon is technically a fruit, but we use it like a spice in recipes, so I tend to treat it like an herbs.

Lemon juice is 5 to 6 % citric acid with a low pH of 2 to 3.  This low acid pH makes lemon juice perfect for breaking down rust and mineral stains.

  1. A juiced lemon can be used to polish copper pots.  Just rub the interior pulp on the pot until the copper shine returns.  Then rinse with cold water.  If you need some abrasion, sprinkle the lemon with baking soda.
  2. You can use these handy juiced lemon halves to wipe up splattered stove tops and messy granite, formica or corian counter tops.  Sprinkle some salt on a lemon half and rub the greasy areas.  Then wipe with a towel.
  3.   Remove mineral deposits built up in your tea kettle.  Fill the kettle with water, add a couple thin slices of lemon peel and bring to a boil.  turn off the heat and let sit for an hour, drain and rinse well.
  4. Clean the microwave.  Place a glass bowl filled with water and lemon rind strips in the microwave.  Cook on high for 5 minutes.  the steam will condense on the walls and make it easier to remove cooked on messes.
  5. Keep bugs out of your kitchen by chopping rind into small pieces and place along windowsills, door ways, under sinks and near openings and cracks. 
  6. Lemon's antibacterial properties make it a good choice for freshening cutting boards.  After cleaning a cutting board, especially wooden ones, you rub the surface with half a lemon and let rest for a few minutes, then rinse.
  7. Add lemon peel strips (with all pulp and pith removed) to your brown sugar to keep it from becoming brick sugar.

  8. Use a vegetable peeler to cut lemon peel into long strips and use them ti garnish cocktails or sparkling water.
  9. Craft your own lemon extract powder.Take peel (making sure to remove all the white bitter pith.) Lay the peel skin side down on a plate and allow to air dry 3 to 4 days.  then run in a blender (or spice grinder) to powder.  Use this powder in place of extract or zest in recipes
  10. Use dried lemon powder mixed with sugar to create lemon sugar.  You can also layer lemon peel strips with sugar to craft a lemon sugar.
  11. Blend the dried lemon powder with black pepper to make your own salt-free lemon pepper.
  12. Folk remedies suggest using lemon peel to help lighten age spots and freckles.  Make a paste of baking soda and fresh lemon peel and a bit of water and place on the spots.  Leave for an hour, then rinse off.
  13. Mix a cup of sugar with grated lemon peel and enough olive oil to make a scrub.  Wet your body in the shower and turn off the water and massage sugar mix all over your skin, rinse and enjoy the softness.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Plant Sale Weekend Recipe 2 - Creamy Cucumber Salad

Yesterday and Today from 8 am to 3 pm the Garden Club of Villa Park is holding their annual plant sale.  The theme this year is Heirlooms, Natives and Herbs.  I was on the committee and helped choose the herbs.  This year we are highlighting culinary herbs.  If things go well we will add medicinal herbs in the future.

As part of the sale we are sharing recipes with visitors unfamiliar with how to use herbs.  This recipe did not make it onto a card, but was in the running.  I thought I would share it with you.  Yesterday I shared a Vegetable Tian. Scroll down to see that post or click here.

Stop by if you can pick up a few herbs or scented geranium, native pollinator plants and chat with knowledgeable gardeners, 320 E Wildwood Ave, Villa Park, IL


2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 cup sour cream
3 Tbls. dill vinegar (may substitute regular vinegar and 1/4 t. dill)
4 tsp. minced green onions

Sprinkle cucumbers with salt in a colander and allow to drain for one hour.  Rinse with clear water and drain 5 minutes.  Mix sour cream, vinegar and onions in serving bowl.  Add cucumber slices and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours before serving.

Interested in making Dill vinegar?  See the steps to herbal vinegar here.

If you want to visit us at the plant sale where we will have information on Herbs and Natives and some of our herbs and even a Club cookbook for sale - you can find us at 320 E Wildwood Ave. Villa Park, IL 60181 for more info, check out the club website.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Plant Sale Weekend Recipe -Vegetable Tian

Today and Tomorrow from 8 am to 3 pm the Garden Club of Villa Park is holding their annual plant sale.  The theme this year is Heirlooms, Natives and Herbs.  I was on the committee and helped choose the herbs.  This year we are highlighting culinary herbs.  If things go well we will add medicinal herbs in the future.

As a way of getting participants excited about the vegetable and herbs we were highlighting, we put together fact cards and recipes for each of the herbs in the sale.  These cards will be available to those who visit the plant sale.  I chose the recipes from my vast collection, using a few that have appeared in my blog in the past as well as new recipes.  In my search I found more than I could use, so I decided to share a with you here.  Tomorrow I will share another.

Summer Vegetable Tian
A tian is a dish of finely chopped vegetables cooked in olive oil and then baked au gratin. But is can also refer to a no-frills round earthenware dish that goes from the oven to the table that originated in Provence France. This dish is 

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium zucchini sliced into thin rounds
1 medium yellow squash sliced into thin rounds
1 medium Yukon Gold potato rinsed and sliced into thin rounds
1 medium tomato sliced into thin rounds
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded Italian cheese

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Finely dice the onion. Sauté the onion in a skillet over medium heat with olive oil until softened (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds).

Spray the inside of an 8"X8" baking dish with non-stick spray (or coat with butter). Spread the onion and garlic mixture over the bottom of the dish. Place the thinly sliced vegetables in the baking dish vertically in an alternating pattern. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme, and rosemary.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. 

Remove the foil, top with cheese, and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown.

If you want to visit us at the plant sale where we will have information on Herbs and Natives and some of our herbs and even a Club cookbook for sale - you can find us at 320 E Wildwood Dr. Villa Park, IL 60181 for more info, check out the club website.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Oregano Varieties - Herb of the week

Oregano or Origanum is a genus of herbs that includes several species including Marjoram.  I have discussed Oregano and Marjoram before so this time I just want to point out the various species and why you should look for different ones to grow in your garden.

Oregano is one of the herbs we will have available at the Plant Sale for the Garden Club of Villa Park, IL  Great Culinary Herbs and Native Plants will be included in the sale on May 12 & 13, 2017 8 am to 3 pm at the Lions Recreation Center 320 E wildwood, Villa Park, IL.

Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare, hirtum) This is the go to for fresh oregano in cooking.  It is highly fragrant, spicy tasting and can even leave a burning tingle in the mouth.  It is a hearty perennial that dies back to the ground in the fall, the reappears around the time the tulips bloom.  In the summer the tiny white flowers arrive on lacy stems.  When using to cook, do not overdo it.  You want it to enhance, not overpower.  It is a fleeting flavor however, so if you do add too much, just cook the dish a bit longer to tone down the flavor.  It is a wonder with summer vegetables, like eggplant, tomato, peppers of all styles and white beans as well as a complement to meat dishes.

Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana) A tender perennial herb with a shallow root system that does not do well in colder winters, most grow it as an annual.  Marjoram attracts honey bees and helps the garden. The flavor and aroma are very herbaceous.  It is softer than oregano, with a slightly camphoric taste but not a fiery heat. The flower heads are tight green balls called knots that can be harvested and dried for flower arrangements or decorations.  The flavor is compatible with many varieties of foods, from summer vegetables to mushrooms, fish, meat and poultry.  It flavors stews, marinades, sautes, dressing, vinegars, butter, and oils making it a must have in most kitchens. You can even take it as a tea to relieve stomach upset and to assist with coughs.

Italian Oregano (Origanum x majoricum) A more recent cross between Greek oregano and Sweet marjoram, Italian oregano tastes like marjoram but has a more perennial habit of Greek oregano, but is not quite as hardy.  It goes to flower later in the season, and springs forth sooner in the spring giving it a longer harvest season than marjoram. An easy-growing plant for the garden or container.  In the garden, use this oregano as an edging plant. Plants spread when happy, rooting along the stems. Harvest leaves or stems anytime during the growing season. Flavor is most intense just before plants flower. Trim plants often to keep flower formation at bay. It has all the uses of both plants above.

Common Oregano (Origanum vulgare) This is an aggressive grower that this nearly identical to Greek oregano except the flowers are pink instead of white.  It however as almost no flavor.  You will find it sold in garden centers marked as oregano (because it is) but it is not the culinary herb you may be looking for.  It can cross pollinate other oreganoes diminishing their flavor or spread so much more quickly that is overtakes the more tasty varieties.  Because of these issues it is best to smell and taste the oregano at the garden center before you buy it to make sure it has the strong culinary flavor you desire.

To care for any of these oregano varieties, cut them back if they begin to flower to keep the flavor at its peak and use them dried or fresh throughout the year.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Body Powder Puff – DIY (for MOM)

Mothers Day is May 14, 2017, so I thought this month I would share a great step-by-step for making a powder puff you can give to mom for Mother’s Day.  And if you don’t have a mom to make one for, treat yourself!

Body Powder Puff
 10” square of fabric or a cloth hanky (vintage items are perfect for this)
½ cup French white clay
1 Tbls. Powdered rose buds
1 Tbls. Powdered lavender buds
20 drops of lavender essential oil
20 drops of rose geranium essential oil
Cotton batting
Rubber band
12” of decorative ribbon (that compliments the fabric)

If you do not have or cannot find powdered herbs, make them yourself.  Using about 4 to 5 Tbls. of dried crumbled rose petals or lavender buds, run them in a blender or food processor or even a clean coffee grinder until you get a fine powder.

Mix powdered herbs with clay and add essential oils.  The oils will ball up in the clay so mash them with the back of spoon to get them to granulate and mix evenly into the clay.

Place the clay mixture in the center of the fabric, which you have laid out on a flat surface face down.
Place the batting on top of clay and gather up the 4 corners of fabric and secure with a rubber band.
Tug in all the edges of the fabric to create a tight ball with no gaps.

Cover the rubber band with the decorative ribbon tied in a pretty bow.

To use: Pat the powder puff on skin, then rub the clay in.  You can also use this to dust and scent the bed linens.  It is fun to find an old tin or cardboard box at a vintage store to put the puff in, or decorate a plain take out box with personalized art.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Rhubarb Chutney - Weekend recipe

This is an awesome sauce over a grilled salmon or chicken fillet.

3 cups fresh or frozen rhubarb
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 cup finely chopped onion
¾ cup golden raisins

1 Tbls. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp minced fresh gingerroot
1 tsp salt
¾ tsp curry powder
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
2 medium pears, peeled and diced
2 Tbls. minced fresh mint

In a large saucepan, combine the rhubarb, brown sugar, vinegar, onion, raisins, Worcestershire sauce, ginger, salt, curry and nutmeg.  Cook and stir until mixture comes to a boil.  Reduce heat, simmer uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes or until rhubarb is tender, stirring occasionally.  Add pears, simmer uncovered 10 to 15 minutes longer or until pears are tender.  Cool to room temperature.  Stir in mint.  Transfer to a bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving.  May be stored in the refrigerator up to 1 week.  Makes 4 cups.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Calendula and Rose Sea salt - Bath Blend of the Month

Last moth I suggested a Calendula Tea for the bath.  You can also make a soothing blend of softening herbs and sea salt that includes calendula.

Calendula and Rose Sea Salt 
Rose petals
Calendula petal
½ cup sea salt

Combine all the ingredients together.  The amount of flowers and herbs is up to you, the more the merrier.  Place them all in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shape well.  Allow them to meld for two weeks before using.  

To Use: Place a large handful of the mixture in a muslin bag and place in a filling bath.  Soak and enjoy.

Rose is soothing to skin and calendula will relieve dry itching and irritated skin. Rosemary is lightly astringent and is rejuvenating and stimulating.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Edibles in your Garden Landscape

Most gardens today are solely ornamental and many of the ones that are edible are tucked into hidden corners of back yards, valued solely for their contribution to the pantry. Before herb gardens and vegetable gardens were relegated to their own spaces, kitchen gardens, cottage gardens, and landscapes around homes were filled plants that were as beautiful as they were useful.

Fortunately, edible landscaping is making a comeback, with more home gardeners choosing to plant attractive edibles that are easy on the eye as well as the dinner plate. A productive, functional and beautiful landscape can be grown on any scale and is especially useful when gardening in a limited space. 

Consider adding a few edibles to your garden from the Garden Club of Villa Park Plant Sale (May 12 & 13, 2017 -  320 E Wildwood, Villa Park, IL)  You can get details and pre-order forms on their website: 

Here are a few basic ideas to get your edibles mixed into your garden landscape:

Height and Depth: pairing together edibles of varying heights in one bed or area creates an interesting look similar to wilder-inclined flower beds. Most vegetables prefer a full day of sun, but some can tolerate 4 to 6 hours of sun.  Any greens and cool-weather loving edibles enjoy the relief of some shade in the hottest parts of the year, so consider interplanting them with taller sun-loving vegetables and edible flowers or herbs. For example, the handsome Spotted Trout Lettuce can be planted under Ping Pong Tomatoes for contrasting colors, depth, height, and a one-stop salad harvest. African Crackerjack Marigolds (a very tall variety) can serve as a backdrop for a row of alternating Red Russian Kale and Purple Vienna Kolhrabi, with Arugula or Spinach interplanted between the brassicas – for a rich landscape of orange, red, purple, and deep green.

In extra cramped quarters, the same effects can be achieved within one pot. For example, Nasturtiums (edible flowers with a peppery kick) can serve as a “groundcover,” draping over the side of a tall container, with one Rainbow Chard and Tom Thumb Pea plant growing up from the center of the pot.

Succession sowing is also a useful tool both for food production and for growing an edible landscape. For example, radishes – a quickly maturing crop -- can be interplanted with Red Express Cabbage – a pretty, petite cabbage that matures quickly, for a cabbage. Sunflowers can be added to complete the trio, which will eventually grow tall enough to shade out the entire area, but not before the radishes and cabbages are ready to be harvested.  You can also use succession planting to give a continuous crop for herbs like dill or cilantro which can form seed rather quickly eliminating the ability to harvest the tasty leaves.

Colorful Contrast: Simply planting your go-to vegetables in a new formation creates a beautiful, new landscape. Planting Purple Peacock Broccoli and Cauliflower in one block will make for a snow white and rich purple/green checkerboard. Grouping a variety of colorful flowers and vegetables in a cluster instead of a row will automatically bring aesthetic interest to a corner of your garden.

The easiest way to create colorful contrast is to let some of your edible plantings go to seed! Not only will you end season with your very own seed bank, but ordinary plants will assume beautiful, new forms: lettuces, for example, will grow tall and bloom like clusters of tiny dandelions; leeks will shoot out one long stalk with a giant, lavender-hued, globe-shaped blossom.

Choose unusual varieties of usual vegetables in the interest of color, nutrition, and flavor. Merlot Lettuce is merlot colored, Lemon Cucumbers are lemon colored, and Rainbow Chard, yes – also true to its name – comes with stalks in varying colors.
purple basil in the center pot,
 edible and color coordinated

Substitute: Another helpful way to think about edible landscapes is to substitute edible varieties for each role you want a plant to serve in the garden. Want a vine to climb up the back fence? How about peas, followed by pole beans: they have beautiful flowers and foliage and also produce delicious pods. Looking for a petite tuft of grass to edge your pathway? How about chives instead – a hardy, perennial with great flavor and attractive magenta blooms. Thyme works great not only as an indispensable seasoning, but as a groundcover too, especially in between a stone pathway. Purple Basil can substitute for a coleus and has the same burgundy foliage.  Adding edible flowers to the flower garden can give you double duty. Chamomile and feverfew look like small daisies; Borage, bachelor Buttons, Love-in-a-Mist can all be eaten; Nasturtiums are well known for the peppery flavor of the leaves and the flowers. And pansies and calendula are also edible.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Fast Recipe for a Busy Weekend - Taco Salad

Brown ground beef in skillet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Drain fat, return beef to skillet and add Fiesta Dip Mix and water stir until well mixed. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 3 to 4 minutes or until water is evaporated.  You can add salt & pepper, if desired.

Set up a bed of lettuce on four plates. Divide ground beef among the plates and sprinkle with green onions, tomatoes, and cheese. Drizzle prepared BYP Ranch Dressing on top (see package instructions).  To add less calories you can use BYP Salsa blend prepared with fresh tomatoes instead of Ranch Dressing.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Spring Green Cleaning 2017

A few years ago I started being serious about removing chemicals from our cleaning materials.  Chas had some asthma symptoms and we always knew he was allergic to preservatives so I began to realize that the chemicals in the cleaning products probably contributed to indoor air pollution.  I started with the easiest things like the dishwasher detergent, and laundry detergent, then moved  to floor and window cleaning, now I have moved to specialty cleaning in the bathroom and kitchen.

I wanted an all purpose cleaner that we could spray on the counters.  My husband cleans up every little spill while cooking and i wipe down the island regularly so we keep the spray bottle on the counter for quick use.

I love the spray bottles that come with our commercial shower solution (I make a shower solution but my hubby goes through it faster than I can make more, so he buys it at the grocery when I am not looking.) The bottles have a built in tube so you can get every last drop from the bottom so I wash out the bottles and save them to use for kitchen and bathroom cleaner.

All-purpose Essential Cleaner
This simple solution will smell good, clean and disinfect.
     1/4 cup vinegar
     1/2 tsp washing soda
     15 drops of eucalyptus essential oil *
     15 drops of lemon balm essential oil *

Place all of these in a spray bottle then add enough warm water to fill the bottle and shake well.  You now have an all-purpose cleaner. You can substitute tea tree essential oil and/or lavender essential oil to replace one or both of the other oils.

To scour the sink you may need something a bit stronger, so make an abrasive cleaner with grapefruit  that smells good and inhibits microorganisms.  To give it more punch you can also add bergamot and lemon oil too.

Do not use this on a fiberglass tub or sink.

Abrasive Grapefruit and Lemon Scrub

1 cup fine grade pumice
1/2 cup clay powder
2 Tablespoons grapefruit essential oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1/2 cup boiling water

Mix all ingredients together and stir.  Store in a labeled airtight container.

To Use: Apply gently with a damp sponge or cloth and scrub.

Creamy non-Abrasive Scrub
Use this on any fiberglass surfaces and anyplace else you do want scratches but need some serious cleaning.

1/4 cup borax
castile soap
1/2 teaspoon lemon grass essential oil

In a small bowl, combine borax and just enough castile to create a thick paste.  Add essential oil and bend well.

To Use: Scoop a small amount of cleaner onto a damp sponge.  Scrub surface and rinse well.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Eight Great Herbs to Grow

If you are new to herbs or want to experiment with an herb garden here is a list of 8 great herbs to get you started.  Remember that less is more in your first garden so pick 5 of these and get started.  I have included a recipe with each one to get your interest in these flavorful beauties peaked.

All of the herbs listed here will be available at the Garden Club of Villa Park Annual Plant sale (May 12 & 13, 2017).  For details and preorder forms (due April 20), check out the club website.

Eight Great Herbs to Grow

Cilantro — is the International Herb Association Herb of the Year for 2017. Cilantro is a cooler weather herb, so some zones may not be able to grow it in the thick of summer. But fresh cilantro from the garden is so fragrant and flavorful, you'll wish you could grow it all year round!  Successive sow a few seeds every two weeks in the same area of your garden to insure leaves to harvest all summer long.  Besides putting Cilantro in your salsa try it in your rice.

Cilantro Lime Rice
1 1/2 cups basmati rice rinsed 3 times and drained
3 cups water
1 tsp. kosher salt
juice and zest of one lime
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, rough chopped

Bring the rice, water and salt to a boil. Lower heat to medium low and cover, simmering until rice is tender and water absorbed. Fluff gently with a fork and add juice and zest of one lime, and cilantro. Fluff with fork until the lime and cilantro are blended evenly.

Basil — Great cooked or fresh, even prolific amounts of basil can get used. Make caprese salads, toss it in pasta dishes and sauces, and whip up some fresh-from-the-garden pesto that you can use now or freeze for later. Basil likes light, but too much direct sun can scorch the leaves. Pinching it back (automatic if you use it often) promotes growth.

Caprese Salad

Serves 4 as an appetizer
8 ounces fresh mozzarella
2-3 tomatoes
1 bunch basil
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper

Slice the mozzarella and tomatoes into thin slices. Lay tomato slices on a platter, top with a leaf of basil, and then layer with mozzarella. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately.

Rosemary — This hardy plant is good-looking and versatile. Use it in sauces, roasts, cocktails, and more.  Plant in a pot and bring in for the winter, as it is not hardy below Zone 8.  I am obsessed with herbal cocktails this year so I have this wonderful cocktail for you to try.

Cucumber-Rosemary Gin and Tonic

1 cucumber
1 lime
3 sprigs rosemary
2 oz. Hendrick's Gin
4 oz. tonic water

Peel one half of a cucumber, and slice a lime into eight wedges. In a highball glass, add three slices of peeled cucumber, 1 sprig rosemary, juice from a lime wedge and 1 ounce gin. Muddle with the back of a spoon.

Strain through a mesh strainer into a second highball glass. Add several cubes of ice, and three slices of unpeeled cucumber. Top with remaining gin and tonic, and serve garnished with rosemary sprigs.

Thyme — I especially love thyme in potatoes (mashed or roasted) and in a lemon butter rub on roast chicken. This small-leafed herb packs a lot of flavor and is called for in many common recipes.  We grow it as an edging and also among the stones in the path because it is low growing and can handle the foot traffic.

Lemon-Thyme BruschettaServes 10 as an appetizer

1 baguette; thinly sliced
8 ounces ricotta cheese
1 lemon; zested
Freshly cracked black pepper
8 springs fresh thyme
sea salt; optional
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Mix together ricotta and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Toast baguette slices in the oven for 5-7 minutes until slightly browned and warm. Spread liberally with seasoned ricotta. Drizzle with honey, sprinkle with thyme. Serve warm.

Oregano — A kitchen staple, oregano from your herb garden will definitely get used in sauces, roasts, dressings, and more.  There are many varieties so always taste yours to make sure you get the flavor you want before bringing home from the garden shop.

Oregano Salad Dressing
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tsp. fresh oregano leaves, minced
1 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh basil, minced (or 1 tsp. dried)
2 cloves garlic, cut in half, skewered on a toothpick
3/4 cup oil

Combine all ingredients, except oil in a jar. Let marinate in refrigerator for 24 hours. Remove garlic. Add oil and shake vigorously. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Chives — Chives are nice in eggs, breakfast casseroles, in mashed potatoes with sour cream, and more. Chives' pom-pom-like purple flowers give your herb garden a nice touch of interest as well. And the flowers make a great herbal vinegar.  Chopped fresh, chives are a great addition to another spring item, radishes.  Spread some cream cheese on your fresh radishes and sprinkle with chopped chives for a wondrous garden snack.

Parsley — Throw it in sauces and salads. Parsley may well be one of the most ubiquitous herbs. It's a little more delicate than some of the others, but worth it to grow, for sure. Fresh parsley is also a surprising natural beauty ingredient that can promote circulation and has antiseptic qualities. Combined with lemon juice, the Perfect Parsley Toner makes a powerful skin toner and purifier.

Perfect Parsley Toner
1 cup water 
1/4 cup chopped parsley 
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Bring water to a boil. Place parsley in a clean heatproof bowl and pour boiling water over it. Allow mixture to cool completely, then strain out solids and mix in lemon juice. Pour into a clean, airtight container. 

To use: Apply to your face with a clean cotton pad after cleansing.

Lemon Balm – Although in the mint family it is not nearly as aggressive as some mint plants can be.  You still may want to contain it in a pot.  Lemon balm is a great seasoning for chicken, fish and vegetables.  You can put the fresh leaves in a salad or toss them with fruit.  The best way to use them is in lemonade.

Lemon Balm Tea Lemonade
For those who are still a bit leery of tisanes, try this citrus drink and enjoy all the curative and relaxing properties of lemon balm too!

3 cups loosely packed lemon balm leaves
6 cups hot water
Juice of 4 lemons (about 1 cup)
3 Tbls. light honey

Pack the leaves into a 2-quart wide mouthed jar or pitcher, using a wooden spoon to bruise them lightly to release their aroma.  Pour the water over the leaves and let them stand for about an hour.  Strain and discard the leaves, then add the lemon juice and honey.  Stir or shake before serving hot or chilled with sprigs of lemon balm for garnish.

You can make this recipe with dried lemon balm.  Use 3/4 cup dried lemon balm leaves, crumbled and increase the water by 1 cup.

All of the herbs listed here will be available at the Garden Club of Villa Park Annual Plant sale.  For details and preorder forms, check out the club website
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