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 ad 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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

More Edible Flowers - Herb of the Week

I previously did a blog post on edible flowers in 2013.  Since that time I have developed a wonderful slide presentation on Edible Flowers with a chart that details what parts of flowers to use.  The program includes herb, vegetable and landscaping flowers all of which are edible in one way or another.  As the weather gets warmer and I start to get antsy for gardening season to begin the thought of some edible flowers generally pops into my head.

These days people recognize that many flowers in addition to being decorative are indeed edible which is why we see a salad topped with nasturtiums or cookies with real rose or pansy petals pressed into the frosting or even a bowl of punch with violets or violas floating on top.  However I am going to give you a few ways to use flowers in a more savory way in cooking.

Chive Blossoms
We will start with my favorite early herb flower - Chive blossoms.  Chives can bloom as early as April in some places but generally show an abundance in early May in my Zone 5 garden.  I make chive flowers into vinegar. using the simple microwave technique.

To make herb vinegar, wash your fresh herbs thoroughly then allow to air dry. Use any type of vinegar with a 5% acidity.  Rice and wine vinegars are very popular, but distilled white works fine too. Place the herbs in a glass heat-resistant jar.  Pour vinegar over herbs to cover completely.  Using the handle of a wooden or plastic spoon bruise the herbs in the vinegar.  Then place jar in microwave for 2 minutes on high. Allow to cool and steep.

In about 2 weeks the vinegar starts to turn a lovely pink and picks up a light onionly flavor akin to chives.  It can then be used to make salad dressing and marinades.  I do sell the vinegar some years, but it is always gone in a hurry.

Vinegar Slaw
3 1/2 pounds green cabbage, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 very large Vidalia or other sweet onion (1 1/4 pounds), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 celery ribs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup chive blossom vinegar
3/4 cup peanut oil
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves

Working in batches, pulse the vegetables in a food processor until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl and toss well. Stir in the sugar.

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, oil, dry mustard, celery seeds and salt and bring to a boil. Pour the dressing over the slaw and toss well. Refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, drain the slaw and stir in the parsley.


Marigolds brighten up the summer months and Pot Marigold, also known as Calendula is a wonderful annual to grow.  I plant them as an edging around evergreen beds as well as my rain garden and my vegetable gardens.  The flowers are bright, colorful and sunny and cannot help but lift your mood and they are totally edible.  You can use calendula petals to make this wonderful vegetable soup.

Marigold Soup
Adapted from Herbs through the Seasons at Caprilands by Adelma Simmons

8 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup brown rice, uncooked
1 cup celery, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium potatoes scrubbed and diced
1 Tbls black peppercorns, crushed
2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
½ cup chives, chopped

½ cup chive flowers, torn and chopped
1 cup parsley, chopped
2 cups calendula flowers
1 cup young calendula leaves
1 Tbls lemon juice (or more to taste)
calendula petals or flower heads for garnish

Combine chicken stock, rice, celery, onions, potatoes and crushed pepper in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes or until rice is just cooked.  Add spinach, chives, parsley and calendula flowers and leaves and cook 5 minutes more.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.  Garnish with fresh calendula.  Serve at once with a flower in each bowl.

Lavender flowers arrive in late summer and give such great aroma of relaxation they tend to be used for potpourri and scented creams and lotions rather than for the savory qualities they bring to food.  They are an important part of a traditional herb blend called Herbs De Provence.  Herbs de Provence can be used to marinades, sauces and as a meat rub.

Simplified Herbs De Provence

Lavender buds

Combine dried herbs in equal amounts and store in a jar with a tight fitting lid.

Herbs de Provence Encrusted Pork Loin

3 1/2 lb. Center Cut Boneless Pork Loin
2 Tbls Herbs de Provence
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
3 Tbls Olive Oil
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1 cup Chardonnay Wine (or any other dry white wine)
1 cup Fat Free Chicken Broth
1 Tbls Cornstarch
1 Tbls Cold Water

Encrusted Pork Loin
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Allow meat to come to room temperature for 15 minutes prior to cooking; then trim any visible fat from your roast and place in a roasting pan; leaving any fat facing up. Combine the Herbs de Provence, garlic, oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl; then brush it on top of the meat. Add the wine and chicken broth to the bottom of the pan and bake until the minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees (approximately 1 1/2 hours for an internal temperature of 160 degrees; which is how we prefer ours cooked.) Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 15 minutes before slicing.

Chardonnay Pan Gravy

Remove the pan drippings from the bottom of the roasting pan and place in a small saucepan. Bring to a slight boil over high heat; then reduce heat to a simmer. Combine the cornstarch and cold water and whisk the mixture into the pan drippings. Stir constantly until the gravy has thickened; approximately 2-3 minutes. Serve over Pork Loin.

Roses are also a great savory for cooking.  You can extract the essence of the petals by making a rose water that can then be used to make cookies.

You can make your own quick rose water.  It has not long term shelf life, so use it up in 6 months and keep refrigerated.  But you can use as a bath splash and in these savory cookies while you have it on hand.

Quick Rose Water
from the Program Body Beautiful by Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh

1 cup firmly packed rose petals, washed
2 cups boiling water

Place rose petals in a ceramic or glass bowl.  Use only fresh petals (no leaves or stems).  Pour boiling water over petals, and allow to steep until cool.  Strain off the petals and pour the scented liquid into a clean bottle.

Directions for use: Splash on after bath or shower or use in any number of beauty recipes.  Will keep refrigerated for 6 months.

Rose Cookies
Adapted from Herbs through the Seasons at Caprilands by Adelma Simmons

1 cup butter
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flower
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 Tbls rose water or 1 tsp rose syrup
2 Tbls caraway seeds
raisins for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cream together butter and honey.  Add eggs and beat well.  Sift flours with baking soda and cream of tartar.  Add to the creamed mixture.  Stir in rose water or rose syrup and caraway seeds.  Drop mixture by teaspoon onto greased cookie sheets.  Flatten slightly with a moistened finger and put a raisin in the center of each cookie.  Bake at 375 degrees until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove from cookie sheets and cool on a wire rack.  Make 8 dozen.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Growing Herbs in Containers - Tips for success

For the past several posts I have shared how to choose, design and plant containers.  This is a wrap up of tips to successful container gardening.

Tricks for a Successful Container Garden
ü  Don't fill a large container in the wrong place: Ever tried to lift a large container garden filled with dirt and plants? It can be overwhelmingly heavy. When using a large or unwieldy container make sure to place your pot where it will live and then fill it – you’ll save your back! 

ü  Make a large container lighter: If you know you are planting shallow rooted plants in a very large container (for example, herbs, annuals, succulents), you can fill the bottom third with empty plastic bottles and cover them with plastic screening, or create drainage with Styrofoam peanuts. Not only does this make the container lighter, but also less expensive because you won't need as much potting soil.
 ü  Don't Drown Your Plants: To avoid over-watering your container gardens, use containers that have drainage holes – lots of them.  Also, make sure to read the moisture requirements for your plants and then follow them. Before you water, check if your soil is moist. To do this put your finger into the soil up to your second knuckle. If the soil at your fingertip feels dry, water your plant.

If you do over-water, leaves may turn yellow and fall off, or your plants may get limp. If your soil is too wet, move the container to a dry, breezy spot until it dries out. If you have the room, you can also move your container garden into a garage or sheltered spot to dry it out, particularly if the weather is continuing to be wet.

ü  Don't Under-water: Most container gardens need watering at least once a day in the heat of the summer. Many, especially hanging planters or small containers, need watering even more often because there is less soil to hold moisture. When you water, make sure to really soak your plants – if you just give them a sip, the water will only wet the top layer of soil. Water until you see it coming out of the bottom of your pot.  Lots of people use water crystals but they are expensive and some tests have shown that they aren't particularly effective.

If your plants do dry out, don’t despair; even the most pathetic, limp, plant might revive with a good drink. If the container is small enough, submerge the whole thing in a bucket of water until the air bubbles subside. For a large container take a skewer or stick and gently poke holes deep into the soil to allow water to reach the roots. Then water generously.

ü  Awkward plant to pot ratio: Make sure to consider the proportions of your plants to your container. A large container stuffed with short plants can look stunted. If you need a rule of thumb (and remember that rules are meant to be broken) try to have at least one plant that is as tall as the container. Also try plants that will spill over the sides.

 ü  Don't buy weak or sickly plants: Buying plants at a reputable local nursery is a good place to start in your quest for healthy plants. You have a greater chance of getting plants that are disease and pest free and well cared for than at a big box store. At a nursery, you can often get a wealth of information and advice from knowledgeable staff. Don't be afraid to ask someone to help you pick out a good plant.

ü  Fear of pruning / Trim your herbs: To keep your basil bushy, use it often or clip it back - the more you use the more you'll have (of course within reason). Cut back parsley and dill before it flowers. When your container gardens start looking leggy or ragged, don’t be afraid to cut them back. You may want to put them in an out-of-the-way spot until they re-bound, but chances are they’ll come back healthier and happier with a good haircut.

ü  Keep Like with Like: Make sure that all the plants in your container garden share the same sun, soil and water requirements. You can find out this information from your seed packets or plant labels. Or get a book on annuals, perennials and herbs from the library.

ü  Feed your Containers: Most potting mix has very few of the nutrients that plants require to grow and be healthy so you will need to add those nutrients to the soil. There are many fertilizers to choose from and flowering plants have different needs than vegetables and herbs. In container gardening what nutrients there are in your potting soil are either quickly used by the plants or are washed out with repeated watering. Fertilizing container gardens with flowers regularly is a key to their success. Add a diluted, liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, every couple of weeks. Don't use too much fertilizer with herbs, it can effect the taste of the herbs.

ü  Know when it its okay to say goodbye: After you’ve tried everything, short of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and your plant still looks dreadful, cut your losses and toss it on the compost pile or in the trash. If only one plant in your container garden is icky, just pull out that plant and replace it.

ü  Don't have unrealistic expectations: Before you make your container gardens, evaluate how you live. Do you travel a lot during the summer? If so, either get self-watering containers, an automatic drip irrigation system, enlist some help to keep your plants healthy and alive while you’re gone or get plants that don't need a lot of water.

ü  Garden how you live. Are you casual or formal? I take a relaxed approach to gardening because it fits well with my personality. I like big overflowing containers with riotous colors and luxuriant blossoms. Some people like neat, well-planned, formal containers.

ü  Give plants protection and environment they need.  Many plants don’t like being whipped by the wind. Big, broad leaves can easily get battered or act like a sail and pull even a big pot right over. Some plants with heavy flowers or fruit, can bend or break delicate stems in a stiff breeze. Conversely, a protected area can act like an oven, retaining heat and cooking plants that don’t like the heat. So choose the location and the plant combination to fit the location your plants will occupy.

Just a few last herb container tips:
1.   Chose containers with trays or get trays and fill them with pebbles.  Herbs do not like to have wet feet, but they also like to have a bit of water to draw on in the heat of the day.  Placing the pot in a tray will keep you from watering twice during the hot days of summer.
2.   Don't let your herbs flower, unless you want to look at rather than eat them.  Herb flavors change when they create flowers, so cut those flower heads off to preserve the best flavors for cooking and tea.
3.   Throughout the growing season pinch back the ends of the branches to promote more branching and the production of more leaves to harvest. 

4.   Check daily for dryness and water when the soil is dry about 1" depth.  Do not overwater and provide good drainage.  To test soil for dryness, poke your finger into the soil: If it feels dry to a depth of one-inch in a 12 inch pot and two inches in a 24” or larger pot, water it.

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