Friday, April 26, 2013

Frisco-Style Salad with Avocado Dressing - Recipe of the weekend

Now is the time of year for great avocados, so take advantage of this good for you oil and make yourself a great salad.

Frisco-Style Salad with Avocado Dressing
Serves 8

Avocado Dressing:
2 large ripe avocados
1 cup sour cream

1 cup light cream
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 dash cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon balm
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 heads Bibb or Romaine lettuce (torn into bite-size pieces)
16 strips crisply cooked thick bacon

1.     To prepare the dressing, place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
2.    Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate a few hours.
3.     To prepare the salad, place ice cold lettuce into cold bowls, add 2 tablespoons of dressing and crisscross two pieces of bacon on top.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

It rained... There was flooding!

As many may know heavy rain hit northern Illinois last week.  Although I can say that I did not suffer any damage or loss at my home (I still live in an apartment on the third floor!) my gardens were not so lucky.

This is the DuPage River, west branch overflowing near my garden.  The first pangs of panic struck when I saw this on my drive over!

I could get up the back entrance to the garden space, but I could not actually get to the garden.  Of my 3/4 of an acre about two-thirds were covered with water.

This is a view from the edge of the garden back toward the road.

The garden rows are underwater and the berm by the road that keeps out the winter salt may be keeping the water in...

It think I have shown the fence before, that is it in the foreground, beyond the fence is the worst part of the garden where you cannot even see that there are rows of plants planted in there.  After taking this photo I left.

My heart was heavy.  I have had this rented land since before I moved into the apartment and we have lived there for 12 years now. I moved all of my personal plants here when we moved so that I could return them to a garden when we finally decide on a house. It gets wet and soggy sometimes in this space and one cannot always go there in April because  it is muddy and I want to avoid compacting the soil, but it has never been like this.

I was at the Garden Clubs of Illinois Convention over the weekend so I have not yet been back to see if the water has receded, but I expect much of it has.  I decided to allow my obligations from keep me from returning and getting upset.  If the plants do not get air they will die as they did not have much growth to sustain them because of our unseasonably cold Spring.

I am lecturing tomorrow night, so I will not have many follow up photos to post, but I will share an update when I have one.  For now I think I have a few pre-programmed posts which will pop up and I will take a few photos at my program tomorrow, but I do not have much else to share as my excitement for Spring is a bit impaired.

I would like to say that I am thankful that I do not have this garden issue and a home issue like so many others around my area do, so I will be grateful about that!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Herb Flea Repellant Pillow

I thought it was time to give a little focus on the pets for a change.  Our cats like to wander on our porch once the weather warms, and this year they have been waiting extra long.  Now the squirrels visit in the winter and give the cats a free show each morning, which means once I open the door I am inviting fleas into the apartment.  So to keep my cats flea free  I make this pet pillow blend which I slip into bags and line the edges of the couch, place under cats other favorite sleeping areas, and sprinkle along the door edge to the patio. 

It is quick and easy to make and you can place the blend in mini tea bags, sew it into the lining of a pet bed, or make a muslin pouch or bag and slip it into the pets bed.

Herb Flea Repellant Pillow

2 parts pennyroyal
1 part thyme
1 part wormwood

Herbs may be cut or whole.  Combine them in a bowl then divide evenly into pouches or containers or sprinkle on the floor.  Do not mix or use if you are pregnant.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Skewered Sesame Shrimp - Weekend recipe

Skewered shrimp are easy to turn during cooking; you can also sauté shrimp on their own. These shrimp are perfect with buttered rice or noodles and sautéed greens. Regular or sugar snap peas would also be a good choice.

Skewered Sesame Shrimp

24 large shrimp (about 11/4 pounds), peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 tsp. dried lemon thyme or lemon verbena
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Thread three shrimp onto each of eight 6-inch bamboo skewers. Combine soy sauce and vinegar in a shallow dish, and put sesame seeds on a plate. Dip each skewer of shrimp into the soy-vinegar mixture, and then dip both sides in the sesame seeds.  In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add skewered shrimp, and cook until shrimp are opaque, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer skewers to a plate. Pour the remaining soy-vinegar mixture into the hot pan, and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 15 seconds. Drizzle sauce over shrimp, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Stinky Shoes - Spring Cleaning Occasionally Series #5

I am not one for wearing shoes.  If it were not for the snow and cold, I might never wear them at all.  As it is I still wear clogs in the winter if there is no snow and if the temps are higher than 20 degrees.  Now just because I where clogs rather than tennis shoes does not mean that I do not have to deal with perspiration odor.  So these three recipes have all worked for me.  The Sage & Citrus one that I share first came from the book "The Naturally Clean Home" by Karyn Siegel-Maier.  She gives lots of recipes for crafting chemical free cleaning solutions, so check it out.  

This recipe gives my shoes an herby smell that most people assume is from the garden and I rarely admit to anything else.

Sage Citrus Sneaker Tamer
If your sneakers advertise the fact that you've been working hard, this recipe will help you keep the news to yourself.

2 cups dried sage
1 1/2 cups dried lemon balm
2 cups cedar chips
1/2 cup baking soda
2 tablespoons grated orange rind
10 drops rosemary essential oil
5 drops lemon essential oil
Combine the dried herbs, cedar chips, baking soda, and orange rind in a glass or ceramic bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon. Add the essential oils and stir to blend. Place half of the mixture in a clean sock and tie the open end shut. Stuff another sock with the remaining mixture and tie off. Place a stuffed sock in each sneaker overnight or when not in use.

I use baking soda and clay kitty litter (the cheapest kind you can get with no fillers or odor reducers is fine) to craft shoe deodorizers.  They impart the herbal scents and work great at absorbing the odors present.  I get mine at the dollar store.

Mint Shoe Odor Remover
With this recipe you get the germ fighting aspects of thyme and lemon grass.

2 cups natural clay cat litter
1 cup baking soda

1 cup calendula flowers
1 cup lemon grass
1 cup peppermint or spearmint leaves
½  cup thyme leaves
10 drops peppermint essential oil
10 drops wintergreen essential oil
10 drops eucalyptus essential oil

Combine the cat litter and baking soda in a glass or ceramic bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. Add the herbs and mix again. Add the essential oils and blend. Place half of the mixture in each of two clean socks and tie the open ends shut. Place a stuffed sock in each sneaker overnight or when not in use.

Stinky Shoe Sachet Blend

Makes 4 sachets

2 teaspoons essential oil of sandalwood
1 teaspoon essential oil of tea tree
1/2 teaspoon each essential oils of lemon and grapefruit
1/4 teaspoon each essential oils of spruce and lavender
4 cups natural clay cat litter
4 clean socks
4 rubber bands

Stir the oils into the cat litter in a glass jar with tight fitting lid.  Cover and let the mixture age for a week. Divide the mixture evenly between 4 socks and close them each with a rubber band. Place a sachet in each shoe and leave overnight. You may reuse the sachets for as long as the scent lasts.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Calendula Infusion and Tincture

I began growing Calendula for its attractive flowers which I knew had some medicinal properties.  One of the first products I put it in was a green tea blend I called “For the Tummy.”  I had read that it was good for stomach issues, and acid reflux, so I combined it with dill, chamomile and lavender to create a tummy soothing tea.  While doing a show I had a customer that touted the great properties that calendula had for the skin and face,.  In fact she suggested brewing my tea and suing it as a facial wash.  Green tea as an antioxidant for the skin was just being explored at that time.

Calendula one of those herb plants that has been significantly respected throughout the ages, due to its medical qualities. The historical past of pot marigold continues to be tracked back to the ancient peoples of India, who used it for curing burns etc. The name we use came from the Romans. It is stated that this particular plant was also utilized throughout the American Civil War, for curing wounds of injured soldiers. Pot Marigold is used in various types such as tincture and an infusion. Studies show that pot marigold includes elements like rutin. It is also loaded with polysaccharides. Because of the occurrence of these helpful compounds, pot marigold is alleged to possess numerous advantages for the skin, digestion and other irritations to skin and internal organs.

About the Plant

Pot Marigold or Calendula belongs to the family unit Asteraceae and genus Calendula which features around 15-20 species. Probably the most commonly cultivated type is usually Calendula officinalis. Calendula flowers are indigenous to some parts of China as well as Europe. Calendula is a flower with a lot of applications. Apart from being cultivated as a lawn plant, because of its enticing yellow-colored flowers, calendula flowers can also be delicious and are also utilized for cooking as well as healing. However, its common name Pot Marigold can get confused with the Tagetes Family, which means that it is vital to ensure that the herb you grow is Calendula officinalis.

About Infusions and Tinctures

Calendula Infusion which is making a tea from the flower heads of the plant, can be made with either fresh or dried flowers. The fully open blooms are usually hand picked and washed lightly by using a light spray of water, before the petals are actually extracted. The water must be blotted with tissues.  To dry the petals, you can spread the petals evenly over a paper towel or let the complete flower heads dry.  I please them in a basket or on a plate on paper toweling and let the air dry during the summer months.  Once dried out completely, gather them in plastic bags and store away from light so the petals do not fade.
To make a mug of calendula tea, add 2 teaspoons of calendula flower petals into a tea infuser and put it in a cup of boiled water. Allow it to brew for around ten to fifteen minutes then, you can enjoy it with or without sweetener.  I recommend honey if you want it sweet.
Tinctures are more powerful and last longer than dried herbs used to craft an infusion. Making a tincture allows you to use the herb in different formulations such as aroma products, salves and recipes.
To make a tincture you needed Dried crumbled herbs, 80 -100 proof vodka or rum (NEVER use rubbing, isopropyl or wood alcohol), and wide-mouthed glass jars with lids (mason jar or equivalent.)  Pour the amount of herb you desire into the glass jar and slowly pour the alcohol until the herbs are entirely covered. Then add an inch or two of additional liquid.  Seal the jar tightly so that the liquid cannot leak or evaporate. Put the jar in a dark area or inside a paper bag.  Shake the jar every day. Infuse the herbs in the alcohol for at least 2 weeks a month or two is better.  You will extract the color as well as all the organic properties of the herb.  When ready to bottle, pour the tincture through a cheesecloth into another jar or dark colored tincture bottle. Squeeze the saturated herbs, extracting the remaining liquid until no more drips appear. Close the storage container with a stopper or cap and label with a date.  Tinctures will keep for quite a long time, but the potency is always best the younger it is.

Wrap up

This herb is considered to have several wellness advantages. It’s commonly used for the treatment of bowel problems like stomach upset. It’s believed that pot marigold can safeguard the cellular lining of the intestinal system. Gargling with pot marigold infusion or tincture is said to be good for alleviating sore throat and irritation of the mouth area. It’s also beneficial for pink eye, a cold pot marigold herbal infusion can be used to rinse your eyes. There have been some studies into the uses of Calendula for regulating menstrual periods. I have used it in both my menopause tea and my PMS teas for just this reason.  According to some research I read. The reason Calendula is so good for the skin is it may overcome bacterial contamination, assist in collagen generation and soothe irritated skin. For this reason it is a great addition to salves, skin spritz’ and sunburn treatments.


Green paper on Calendula and it's germ-fighting properties -

General article on the advantages of calendula -

Views on using Calendula for skin care writen my online herb associate Cindy Jones -

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Weekend Recipe - Berry Salad

This is an excellent spring salad to perk up your taste buds and add a burst of fruit flavor to your next chicken maid dish!
Berry Good Salad
Serves 6

l/2 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
l/2 pint fresh blackberries
10 ounces spring salad mix

4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 ounce dried cranberries
1 ounce dried raspberries
1 ounce chopped walnuts
2 pinches coarse black pepper, or to taste

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tarragon or dill herb vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8  teaspoon ground black pepper

1. To prepare the salad, combine all ingredients in a large salad bowl. Just before serving, add vinaigrette and toss well.
2. To prepare vinaigrette, combine oil, vinegar, mustard, shallot, salt and pepper in a bowl. Whisk well.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Creating a Culinary Herb Garden

In my family bland food was the norm.  I longed for food to taste like it did in fancy restaurants.  My mother however, was not interested in cooking, so as soon as I could cook without supervision, I was let loose in the kitchen.  At first I worked with those herbs that I could find easily in the store, then I worked up to unusual herbs that I needed to grow myself.  Today it is much easier to find fresh and dried herbs in the markets, but those elusive flavors from specialty herbs still require growing them yourself.  So if you love to cook and enjoy experimenting with favors I recommend putting together a Culinary Herb garden for yourself. 

Herbs to Choose
Garnish Herbs

The most useful herbs for garnishing are parsley and chives. You can pluck a leaf of parsley and place it on a plate.  Nibbling the herb after a meal takes away food breath. 

Fresh chives clipped onto a baked potato or
Parsley border
snipped into a salad add a tasty dimension with no fuss.  These herbs are indeed readily available in grocery stores, but in one's own garden, you can have them fresh daily, whenever you need to pluck a few stems for use. 

These are also perfect herbs for a container, so you don’t need a large garden, just place a pot by the kitchen door.

Basic Herbs for the Herb Garden

Experiment with the herbs grown in the garden. The basic herbs most cooks use are:
  • Rosemary
  • sage
  • rosemary
  • parsley
  • chives
  • dill
  • marjoram
  • basil
  • tarragon
  • oregano

Choosing which herbs to grow is a matter of taste and experimentation.  Usually only one or two plants of any variety are needed. Sage, for instance, can grow into a very leafy low shrub. A family of three or four likely won't need more than one plant.
If you love basil, remember it is an annual and not very hardy in cooler temps so placing it in a pot means you can bring it in when the weather cools.

Sweet basil

Exotic Herbs
Holy Basil in bloom
These are those special herbs, like scented geraniums, lemon-scented basil, apple mint, lemon verbena and other less-commonly seen herbs, that you must grow yourself if you wish to utilize them.  Purple Basils and Holy Basil are also among this group as finding fresh or dried can be a real challenge.  

Pineapple sage flowers

I grow Pineapple Sage and Lemon thyme because the tastes of these are so fleeting that even if you can find a source the quality is not always as good as it can be when you grow them yourself.  Choose one or two exotics to start with and experiment with them, then slowly add more to your garden.

Planting the garden
Basil & tomatoes together in rows
Requirements for a Healthy Herb Garden

For the most part, herbs require full to partial sun and an open location with good drainage. Even though they do best in open locations, they still need protection from those drying winds. A hedge or row of trees several feet away would be a perfect location, depending on which way the wind blows in the garden location.  

Herbs are not demanding when it comes to soil conditions, but clay which will hold too much water should be augmented with sand; and sand which does not hold enough water should be improved with compost.  

Till the soil down 15 inches to make it loose for the plant roots and plant according to spacing directions provided by the nursery or a good plant book.  Since spacing differs from plant to plant and are based on the potential of the plant to spread sideways as well as up, you need a bit of guidance for this or you could end up with an over crowded garden.  I recommend Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Herbs for spacing information and sun requirements.  Mulch around the plants to preserve moisture and keep down on weeds.

Thyme bed spaced with room to grow
The most important piece of information you need to start gardening is what your Hardiness Zone is.  I live in northern Illinois which is zone 5a meaning the winter average temp at its lowest is -20 degrees and the summer highest temp averages less than 90 degrees.  For full details on hardiness zones, check out:  the National Gardening Association Zone Finder.

The Herb Garden

Herb gardens can be traditionally laid out with raised beds, decorative patterns, or as a cottage or wildflower garden.  
thyme in a corner bed
You can even plant them in rows as the gardener would plant a vegetable garden.

vegetable-style patch in a raised bed

Whichever pattern chosen, nurturing the herb garden is most pleasurable pursuit.  Walking around the herb garden lightly touching the leaves can inspire recipes to suit the herb rather than herbs to suit the recipe.

The Basil Bed at the Case Western Reserve Herb Garden

Growing and nurturing a culinary herb garden gives you instant access to those special ingredients that add punch to a recipe. Even a few little pots of herbs on a balcony or in a kitchen window may be enough to get you started.  The scents alone will create a fun experience in the kitchen and the wonderful foods created with these fresh ingredients will only make you yearn for more!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Herbal Wedding Ideas

An herbal wedding is wonderful at any time of the year, but with June wedding season just around the corner, now is the time to begin working on a unique and memorable experience for the bride and groom, the family, and all the guests using herbs. If there's a wedding in your future—or any other celebration, for that matter—it will be a special delight if it's rich in herbs.

Of course, if the wedding to occur sooner, everything is probably already settled, and the most you can do is to tuck rosemary into the bride's bouquet and add some sprigs of lavender and mint to the bridesmaids' flowers. But if you have some time for planning, think about the many ways that herbs can be used as a delightful wedding theme.

Romantic Herbs
We treasure herbs because of the special meanings they have acquired. Here are a dozen herbs that brides over the centuries have included in their weddings, with the loving messages they convey.
  • Apple blossom - We choose each other.
  • Burnet – a merry heart
  • Borage - We have courage for the road ahead.
  • Calendula - health and joy
  • Clover (four-leaf) - Good luck to us!
  • Dill - good spirits
  • Daisy - We are full of hope.
  • Ivy - We will be faithful, clinging only to each other.
  • Lamb’s ear - support
  • Lavender - We are devoted to each other.
  • Lemon balm - We will comfort each other, whatever comes.
  • Lemon verbena - unity
  • Marjoram - What a joyful day!
  • Mint - warmth of feeling, virtue
  • Mustard seed - We have faith in our future.
  • Oregano - joy and happiness
  • Rose (red) - Our desire is for each other.
  • Rose (pink) - beauty, grace
  • Rosemary - We will always remember this day.
  • Thyme – courage, strength
  • Yarrow - Our love will be everlasting.
An herbal friend of mine that runs a shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio the Village Herb Shop, is considered one of the experts on the Language of Flowers.  She has a great book available called Flora’s Dictionary which discusses the Victorian meanings for flowers and herbs in more detail than I can here. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Weekend Recipe - Chinese Slaw with Pork

We just had an amazing Ham for Easter made by my Sister-in-Law.  It made me hungry for pork dishes again.  When I was searching for something to try, I came acraoss this great recipe and it is simple.  This time of year when you want fresh veggies but the local ones are in short supply, this is a great way to get a fresh flavor before the garden is ready.

Chinese Slaw with Pork 

     3/4 pound pork tenderloin

     1 cup snow peas   

     6 cups thin sliced cabbage (Napa is best) 

     2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage

     1 cup julienned carrots   

     1 cup julienned green onions



         3 Tbls. soy (reduced sodium is best)

         1 Tbls rice or wine vinegar

         1 Tbls. minced fresh ginger

         1/2 tsp. grated orange peel

         3 Tbls. peanut oil 


Combine first four dressing ingredients in a bowl, then slowly whisk in oil.  Place Pork in a pan and brush with dressing (about 1 Tbls.).  Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.  Place pork in pre-heated 475 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until internal temp. is 155 degrees.  Let stand 5 minutes, slice meat 1/4 inch thick. 


Meanwhile, add snow peas to pan of boiling water and cook 2 minutes.  Rinse under cold water and drain, then cut into julienned strips.  Toss snow peas with carrots cabbage and green onions and mix with all but 1 tablespoon of dressing.


Serve with slices of pork over slaw and drizzle with remaining dressing.  Serves. 4

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Spring Cleaning #4 - general houshold cleaners, Occasional Series

Before we went out of town recently I had some work done at the apartment, so of course with workmen in I needed to give everything a spit and polish.  Since they were replacing my bathroom fan I needed to clean the bathroom and my front hall laundry area.  That is the place were you want a good cleaner that can cut through grime and leave a fresh scent.  I turned to vinegar for that.

Normally when I clean I use the vinegar left over from last season which would not longer be the best for cooking, but of course has not gone bad making it perfect for cleaning.  This year, I sold all the vinegar I made so I had to craft something for just this job.


Herbal Vinegar Spray
The spray is perfectly safe and very effective to use at full strength, but can be diluted 50/50  for lighter jobs.

Fresh or dried herbs
Distilled white vinegar

Roughly chop 1 to 2 large handfuls of fresh or dried herbs and place in a glass jar with a wide mouth and a plastic lid (good choices are lemon verbena, peppermint, rosemary, lemon balm or lavender.)  Add vinegar to fill the jar.  Replace the lid and leave for a few days or weeks to infuse. (I generally like to wait 2 weeks, but in a pinch you can heat the vinegar and herbs in the microwave let them steep for an hour or orvernight and use them for cleaning purposes with all the scent and disinfecting power you need. ) Then strain out the herbs.  Pour into a plastic stray bottle.   

Lemon Vinegar
If you love a lemony scent when cleaning, try this mixture.  For added germ fighting use regular thyme and/or sage.  This is my favorite version which i like to point out makes a killer salad dressing or marinade too!

1 1/2 c. lemon basil

Lemon grass

1 c. lemon verbena
1 c. lemon balm
1/2 c. lemon thyme sprigs
Lemon peel from one lemon
4 c. white vinegar

Place all ingredients in a large glass container and cover.  Steep for 3 to 4 weeks and strain and rebottle.  Remember do not use metal containers or metal lids.

OTHER USES for Vinegar

Once you make the vinegar you can also use it to produce a stronger disinfecting cleaner.  This one is great on soap scum in the shower and you can use the soap version to clean around the toilet and the sink. 

All-purpose Cleaner and Disinfectant

2 cups hot water
¼ cup white vinegar
½ tsp. washing soda
15 drops tea tree essential oil
15 drops lavender essential oil

Combine all ingredients in a reusable spray bottle and shake well.  To use, spray on surfaces, especially cutting boards, counter tops and toilets.  Wipe with dry cloth.  Variation: add ½ teaspoon of liquid castile soap to 2 cups of this cleaner for a great all-purpose cleaner.


Vinegar-free Cleanser
For those who do not like the slightly acid hint of vinegar, you can make this vinegar-free cleaner.  It does not keep as long, so make in small batches so you can toss it after a week or so or keep in the refirgerator for 2 to 3 weeks.

1 cup Dried or 2 cups fresh herbs
Hot water to cover
1/4 tsp. borax
Essential oil

Gather and bruise fresh or dried herbs and place in a glass jar and cover with hot water.  Allow to steep for a few days.  Strain, then add the borax and a few drops of essential oil.  Shake well and decant into spray bottles.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bath Blend of the Month - Ginger Root Bath

This is the third month of sharing Bath Recipes from the Vault. As I sort through my files of saved recipes, I am sharing those that are seasonally perfect for your bath.

If you enjoy making your own blends for the bath, I suggest taking a look at Natural Beauty at Home or Natural Beauty from the Garden by Janice Cox.  There are also many good bath blends in Phyllis Schaudy's The Pleasure of Herbs.

The scent of ginger, especially when you grate it fresh, is spicy yet sweet and mildly stimulating.  It is wonderful for improving circulation and as a stimulant to keep you fresh and wake you up.  In those just before Spring days when the weather can still be too cold this bath will warm you right up.  Go ahead and get a ginger root from the grocery store.  You can even take that root and plant it and grow your own for future uses.

Yield: 8 ounces, enough for one bath

1/2 cup baking soda
2 tablespoons grated ginger root
1/2 cup water

Grate the ginger using a fine grater or microplane.  Mix together all ingredients and pour into a clean container. 

To use: Pour entire mixture into the bath as you fill the tub, stir well.  Soak for 15 to 20 minutes. After bathing, dress warmly, as this bath is super cleansing and really opens up all your pores.
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