Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Day!

It takes the earth 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds to make its way around the sun. So, every four years we add an extra day—or leap day—to February to keep our calendars in sync with the seasons.

Historically, today was a day for a woman to propose to a man (and get a stash of gloves as compensation if he refused). Women don’t need a designated day to propose anymore (although I do need some new gardening gloves), so I see today as a bonus day—a day to stop and evaluate your own journey around the sun, a day to take a leap.

I am going to leap into the adventure of landscaping my house this year!

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Accents That Finish the Dish

Do you sprinkle Parmesan on pasta? Float croutons in your soup? Here’s how to take those finishing touches to the next level—to enhance and sometimes even surprise.

I think I began considering these items when I started taking photographs of my completed dishes to put with recipes on the internet, but if you make it look pretty you can also it taste pretty.

Using the adage of opposites attract you can come up with several ideas to place on a dish, layering a contract like a salty with a sweet or crunchy with a soft or even a neutral with an acid are great examples.

So instead of using croutons on a salad to add a crunchy punch, try healthy nuts like sunflower seeds, almonds or walnuts.  Sprinkle some cinnamon granola on your squash soup or even some pumpkin seeds. Check out some other ways to flavor build with Cinnamon here.

A squeeze of lemon or a pinch of citrus zest will brighten the flavors in soups and rich sauces. Float a lemon wheel in a bowl of chicken soup or add lemon, lime, and orange zest to traditional risotto. I also suggest a sprig of lemon balm whose bright green color will brighten up any dish.

Choosing dried fruits will add some intense sweetness and a different texture.  You can add them to salad, trail mix or steamed vegetables.

Cheese is another component you can add, but less is more.  A few crumbles of blue cheese has a lot of impact when sprinkled on a perfectly seared steak.  When using cheese try a pungent with a softer flavor or a soft light cheese with something that is more pungent.  You know you love gruyere or Fontina or even mozzarella melted on French Onion Soup.

And of course not mention of additions or garnishes would be complete without talking about using herbs.  Way beyond Parsley on the side of the plate, remember that herb flavors are lost during cooking, so adding a fresh herb after the dish is finished brings a brighter more powerful flavor and a splash of color.

Making a grilled cheese sandwich with a spread made from an herb flavored cream cheese will make a new taste you will wonder how you lived without.

If you make pesto, try adding it to something besides pasta.  Stir it into soup, or dab on top of steamed vegetables.  Fresh herbs sparingly added to salad will bring a bright flavor dimension to your salad and your dressing. Basil, Mint, and chives are all perfect in a fresh salad.  

Making an herbal butter is also a way to add herbs easily.  I love herb butter on vegetables, stirred into noodles as a side dish and added to toast or sandwiches.  To see some herb butter suggestions, see this previous blog post

You know the adage that food made by someone else is tastier, well this comes from you becoming nose blind to the scents when preparing the food yourself.  Adding herbs or other scented items at the end before serving will give your nose a wake-up and make the food you make taste even better.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cayenne Hot Pepper - Herb of the Week and Year Number 2

This is the second post on the
         Herb of the Year - Capsaicin 
To see the previous post - here

This time I chose an heirloom variety of cayenne pepper, Capsicum annuum 'Long Thin Cayenne.'  This is an american classic with a long thin shape sometimes known as Red Slim Cayenne or Long Narrow Cayenne.  You can get the seed if you want to try it from Nichols Garden Nursery.

The pepper grows on a bush and can be 2 to 6 inches in length.  They start out as a dark green fruit that will change to bright red,  Long, thin and slightly wrinkled, the peppers can be used to dress up pickled vegetables or easily dried and ground.

Capsicum annuum is a species of the plant genus Capsicum native to southern North America and northern South America. This species is the most common and extensively cultivated of the five domesticated capsicums. The species encompasses a wide variety of shapes and sizes of peppers, both mild and hot, ranging from bell peppers to chili peppers. Cultivars are descended from the wild American bird pepper still found in warmer regions of the Americas.

Although the species name annuum means “annual” (from the Latin annus “year”), the plant is not an annual and in the absence of winter frosts can survive several seasons and grow into a large perennial shrub. The single flowers are an off-white (sometimes purplish) color while the stem is densely branched and up to 24 inches tall. The fruit are berries that may be green, yellow or red when ripe. While the species can tolerate most climates, C. annuum is especially productive in warm and dry climates.

Capsicum annuum has the highest diversity of shapes and the best way to recognize this species is by the process of elimination. All other species have some characteristic traits. Any particular chilli variety not showing those traits, would more likely than not belong to this species. 
According to archaeological research, wild ancestors of this species evolved in Bolivia and southern Brazil and were first domesticated about 6,100 years ago. 

While the species is quite tolerant of weather extremes it is especially productive in warm and dry climates and cannot survive in very cold conditions. They can be grown as perennials where temperatures remain between 60F and 85F all year round. 

I am choosing the Long Thin Cayenne, which is one of the many cultivars of this annual pepper.

Cayenne Long Slim Red is part of the Capsicum genus and is a Chili pepper variety. Its scientific name is Capsicum annuum longum group 'Cayenne Long Slim Red'. Cayenne Long Slim Red is generally thought of as an open-pollinated variety. This variety is a Fruit that typically grows as an Annual/Perennial, which is defined as a plant that can matures and completes its lifecycle over the course of one year or more. Cayenne Long Slim Red normally grows with a erect-like habit with a max height of 1.49 feet. Mexico is believed to be where Cayenne Long Slim Red originates from.

Typically, Cayenne Long Slim Red Chili pepper is normally fairly low maintenance and can thus be quite easy to grow - only a basic level of care is required throughout the year to ensure it thrives. Being aware of the basic growing conditions this plant likes (soil, sun and water) will result in a strong and vibrant plant.

The heat of this pepper can be as high as 30,000 Scoville units. but the range available is Moderate (1,000 to 5,000 Scoville Units) to Hot (5,000 to 30,000 Scoville Units)

Scoville Units
The Scoville scale is a measurement of the pungency (spicy heat) of chili peppers or other spicy foods as reported in Scoville heat units (SHU), a function of capsaicin concentration. The scale is named after its creator, American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville.  His method, devised in 1912, is known as the Scoville Organoleptic Test.

Unlike methods based on high-performance liquid chromatography, the Scoville scale is an empirical measurement dependent on the capsaicin sensitivity of testers and so is not a precise or accurate method to measure capsaicinoid concentration.

In Scoville's method, an exact weight of dried pepper is dissolved in alcohol to extract the heat components (capsinoids), then diluted in a solution of sugar water. Increasing concentrations of the extracted capsinoids are given to a panel of five trained tasters, until a majority (at least three) can no longer detect the heat in a dilution. The heat level is based on this dilution, rated in multiples of 100 SHU.

Bell pepper - 0 units
            Banana peppers and Pepperocini – 100 to 900 units
Pablano and Jalapeno peppers - 1,000 to 4,000 units
Serrano peppers – 10,000 to 23,000 units
Habanero peppers – 100,000 to 350,000 units
Ghost peppers – 850,000 to 1,299,999 units

To Grow

In the garden, they should be grown in full sun or light shade, planted 9-12 inches apart. If they are grown in pots, you can bring them indoors prior to the first frost, and continue enjoying the fruits through the Winter months. As a house plant they should be placed in full sun. Keep their soil evenly moist.

They are very attractive as a growing plant and can be used as an ornamental as well as a vegetable.  They are very attractive among leafy green herbs and non-flowering plants.

Capsicum annuum seeds are best planted indoors 8-10 weeks before the final frost. 

The pot with the seedlings should be placed in a sunny location where the temperature is consistently between 70F and 80F. Capsicum annuum seeds will not germinate if the plants are consistently exposed to temperatures below 55F. 

For best results, it is important to make sure that the temperature of the newly planted seeds does not drop lower than 65 F. 

Make sure your plant gets enough light. Total lack of light or insufficient lighting during germination will produce underdeveloped, scraggly looking capsicum transplants. Cayenne Long Thin will be ready to harvest in 75 days.

Try to plant in a location that enjoys full sun and remember to water moderately. Keep in mind when planting that Cayenne Long Slim Red is thought of as half hardy, so protect with a row cover whenever the temperatures drop. The USDA Hardiness Zones typically associated with Cayenne Long Slim Red are Zone 4 thru Zone 12. Cayenne Long Slim Red requires a loamy and sandy soil with a pH of 7.0 - 8.5 - it grows best in neutral soil to weakly alkaline soil.

Avoid planting Capscium annuum in the same spot that potatoes or eggplant were previously grown. 

Watering Rules: Water immediately after planting so that the soil settles down. Continue watering once a week to keep soil consistently damp until the emerging growth is visible. After germination, reduce watering to once every two weeks to prepare the plant for transplanting. 

If you plant the seed in pots in May they will be bearing fruit in December and you can use them as a holiday decoration.

To Use

As you say, you can dry them, then grind them when needed. You can use them fresh in salsas, chili, stews, etc. You can also freeze them whole, for use at a later time. If you have a dehydrator, you can thaw the frozen ones and THEN dehydrate them for grinding.If you plant the seed in pots in May they will be bearing fruit in December and you can use them as a holiday decoration.

Sweet & Spicy Ketchup
Take about a dozen of them and mince them up. Add one minced habanero and two cloves of garlic. Add a cup of vinegar and bring to a boil. Let boil until you have about 1/4 cup left. Put 48 oz bottle of ketchup in a double boiler and pour the mixture in. Add some brown sugar. Cook very slowly over medium heat, stirring often for about 2-3 hrs. Makes a nice spicy/sweet ketchup.

You can string them together to dry & hang them in the kitchen. It's not a traditional ristra, but a simpler version. You need several ripe cayennes, some dental floss, a needle, and a button. Attach the button to the end of 2' or so dental floss, then one by one string the cayenne peppers by inserting the dental floss through the stem.

They dry fully in 2 to 4 weeks.  You then have a peppers to use easily in your cooking.
Grind the peppers after dry with seeds removed to make a cayenne powder to add to recipes.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Garden Superstitions

When I get bored in the winter I start looking through old nots and information and sorting files.  This year I came across a number of files on various topics.  One was superstitions and traditional practices.  Today I thought I would share a few of those old wives tales.

Gazing balls – You need to keep your gazing ball well polished, because it reflects the sun into the eyes of evil spirits keeping them away.

Ants – a bringer of rain and a harbinger of rain.  According to legend if you want rain find some ants and stomp on them it is sure to bring rain.  If you see ants and they are agitated, then you will be getting rain soon.

Harbingers of frost – Frost is six weeks away if you witness any of the following: If the fawns lose their spots, katydids start to sing or if you see a walking stick.

Catching a cold – If you catch a falling leaf on the first day of autumn, you will not catch a cold all winter.

Protection from curses – planting angelica, snapdragons or chamomile will protect you from curses and spells.

Treatment of scarecrows – It is important to treat scarecrows with care as they have been imbued with special powers to protect the garden.  

Never put up a scarecrow before Easter or on May Day (5/1).  The head should always point toward heaven and be covered with a hat. 

On the longest day of the year, put your scarecrow in the shade.  Give it a glass of water if it is dry.  

You must remove and burn your scarecrow before midnight on Halloween and never let anyone wear clothes that have adorned a scarecrow or there will be terrible consequences.

Planting cucumbers – According to tradition cucumber should be planted in the morning before sunrise, or they will be destroyed by bugs.

Telling time with your garden – Dandelions open between 7 and 8 AM; California Poppies open between 10 and 11 AM; Four o’clocks open at… wait for it… 4 PM; Evening primrose and moonflowers open at 6 PM; and daylilies and dandelions close at 9 PM.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Skin Toner Herbal Bath - Bath Blend of the Month

This time of year the heat and the lack of humidity indoors begins to take its toll on skin.  This blend of herbs will bring back the elasticity and softness to the skin as well as bring relaxation to the mind with its wonderful scent.

Skin Toner Herbal Bath
1 Cup Chamomile
1/2 Cup Peppermint
1/4 Cup Comfrey
1/4 Cup Lavender
1/4 Cup Lemon Peel
1/4 Cup Rosehips, Crushed
1/4 Cup Rosemary
1/4 Cup Sage

Mix the dry ingredients together and store in a lidded jar with a tight fitting lid.

To USE: Place ½ cup of the mixture in a metal tea ball or muslin bag (lace or cotton fabric will also work). As you run your bath, place the tea ball or bag in the tub, under the running water. Then, relax into the water and enjoy!

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