Friday, March 31, 2017

Ginger Lime Dip Weekend Recipe

A spicy hint of ginger is a savory flavor in the midst of tart and sweet to make this a multi-dimensional dip for fruit.

1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tsp grated lime peel
1 Tbls lime juice
1 Tbls honey
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Stir all ingredients until well mixed.  Cover and chill.  Serve with fruit.  Makes 1 cup.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Berry Sorbet-sicles

I love push up frozen pops.  LOVE them.  I also love lemon ice and recently I have been all about simple herb syrup.  A frozen pop can combine all of that.  I have made them in the past with a product called zipzicles, which is a pouch you can freeze your simple syrup creations into to freeze and eat as a popsicle.  You can order some through the mail here:  Zipzicle pouches

Syrups are the tastiest and sweetest types of herbal infusions you can make. Here are instructions for creating your own yummy syrup at home:

elderberry along Kline Creek were I once lived

Elderberry Syrup

1.                  Simmer 2 ounces of elderberries, dried, in 1 quart of water over low heat until the mixture reduces down to 1 pint of liquid.
2.                   Strain the herbs from the liquid, and place the liquid back into the pot.
3.                   Add one cup of sweetener (see note) and warm over low heat until the sweetener and herbal liquid are completely mixed.  NOTE: Sweeteners used can be honey, vegetable glycerin, agave nectar, maple syrup, or sugar.  If using raw honey, be careful not to simmer or boil the syrup, as this will destroy some of the beneficial properties of the honey. 
4.                   At this point, you may add a flavoring extract or fruit concentrate if you wish to flavor it.  Lemon juice may be added for sore or tickly throats, or brandy can be added as a relaxant and preservative.

5.                   Remove from heat, bottle and place in refrigerator.  Your herbal syrup will last for several weeks to months within the refrigerator.

To make a perfect popsicle with this syrup, add 1/2 cup of sparkling soda or seltzer water to the pint of syrup then pour into the pouches to freeze.

Fruit Syrup
You can use a slightly different method to make syrup if you are using berries or fruits.
  1.       If using fresh berries, I first squeeze the juice of a lemon into a pan, and then simmer the berries along with a broken cinnamon stick, slices of ginger and a cardamom pod or two. Sometimes if there are some old vanilla beans around, I'll toss one of them in too.
  2.          I smoosh it every so often with a potato masher.
  3.          After 30 minutes or so, I strain the berries in a mesh strainer, and then pour them into a square of tight knit cloth (I cut up old t-shirts specifically for this job) and squeeze as hard as you can to get as much juice as possible.
  4.          If you're using dried berries, use about 1/2 cup of berries to perhaps 2 cups of water and the juice of a lemon.  Continue as above with the fresh.
  5.       Measure the juice. Add an equal amount of sugar (I usually add an additional 1/2 cup or so), and bring to a boil for about 3 minutes, skimming off any foam that may rise to the top.
  6.        Cool the mixture then add to pouches to make popsicles or freeze in a shallow pan to make a sorbet.

Check out the previous step by step "How To" make an herb popsicle with lemon verbena and lemon balm here: Herb Popsicles.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Glazed Vegetables - weekend recipe

Easter is almost here, so lets cook some carrots.  Root vegetables, especially carrots, are enhanced by cooking.  In fact, the nutrient value of carrots (according to a recent study) is actually higher when they are cooked.

Here are the simple steps to creating great glazed vegetables.

Using a dutch over or deep saucepan, arrange thee vegetables in snug layers.  Add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of butter, a Tablespoon of sugar and water to cover.  Boil until the liquid becomes syrupy.  Finish with herbs and seasonings.

You should have glossy, tender and sweet vegetable, but not cloying.  Much of the sweetness comes from the vegetables themselves.  As the vegetables cook the liquid draws out their sugar and reduces to form a delecate glaze.

This works with carrots, beets, turnips and rutabagas. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cutting, Storing and Using Herbs

Today at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, I share Propagating, Planting, and Preserving herbs. (stop by at 2 pm if you are at the show.) Here are a few additional pieces of information of how to use those herbs you will be growing this year.

Herbs are lovely, but they are better when used.  Not only will the plant thank you by becoming bushier, your palette will thank you for sharing all these gorgeous flavors!

Here is an easy way to wash, prep and store your fresh cut herbs.
  • Wash herbs in a large bowl of cool water, swishing them with your fingers to remove grit.  Lift the herbs from the water with your hands.  If there is a large amount of grit int he bottom of the bowl, wash the herbs again in fresh water.  Spin them dry in a salad spinner or blot dry with a clean kitchen towel.
  • To keep herbs fresher longer, wrap the stem ends of cut herbs in a damp paper towel and stow in a zip seal bag.  Place in your crisper drawer and enjoy the herbs for more than a week.  Works on store bought herbs too! Hard herbs work best with this method, the ones with woody stems, like rosemary, oregano, marjoram and thyme.
  • Soft herbs like to be  treated as you would a bouquet of flowers. Snip the base of the stems and put them in a glass of fresh water, changing out the water every day or two if it starts to cloud. Store them in the fridge.
  • Basil may blacken in the refrigerator so keep it fresh by placing the stems in a glass of water and keep them at room temperature out of direct sun.
  • To quickly separate the leaves from the stems of tender herbs, like parsley, dill, or cilantro, simply give the whole bunch a shave.  Hold the herbs by the stems over a cutting board, leaf ends angled down.  With a chef knife, shear the leaved off the stems using a downward shaving motion.  turn the bunch as you go and you will have a nice pile of herb leaves to work with in your recipes.
  • Chop herbs using a very sharp knife.  A dull one can cause bruising of the leaves.  After stripping the leaves from the stems, gather the herbs into a pile on a cutting board.  Rest the fingertips of you guiding hand on the tip of the chef knife to keep it in contact with the cutting board.  Keeping the tip against the board, lift and lower the knife to chop across the pile as you chop stopping to gather the herbs back into a pile as needed.
Extend the flavor of your herbs by fashioning them into butters, vinegar, syrups and more.

Flavored Butter (sometimes called compound butter)
  • Mash chopped hers plus a bit of salt and pepper into a stick of unsalted butter.  Wrap the butter in plastic and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to a month or more.
  • Melt over potatoes or grilled meat or vegetables, spread on toast or enjoy on crackers with tea.

Simple Syrup
  • Bring 1 cup water., 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup packed hers to a rolling boil in a small saucepan.  Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.  Strain out the herb cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.  
  • Use the syrup to flavor iced tea, make sorbet and prepare an alcoholic cocktail.

Herb Vinegar
  • Put herbs in a wide mouth jar and bruise with the a wooden spoon.  Heat white wine or distilled white vinegar to 110 degrees (microwave on hi for 2 minutes or use your stove top.)  Pour the vinegar over the herbs then seal the jar and let sit in a cool dark place for about 2 weeks to infuse.  Decant and strain into another jar after steeping and enjoy for a year unrefrigerated.
  • Splash on steamed or grilled veggies, douse a grilled salmon or make into a marinade or salad dressing.

Herbed Oil
  • This is a dangerous undertaking, so make with caution and keep the finished oil no more than 2 days in the refrigerator.  Never steep or store at room temperature.  In a blender puree 3/4 cup herb leaves with 1/3 cup olive oil.  Add 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice.  
  • Brush on bread round wit craft bruschetta, drizzle over over grilled fish or add to vinegar to make a salad dressing or marinade.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Chicago Flower and Garden Show - Infusing Cream

Today at 3:30 pm and tomorrow at 2 pm I am speaking at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier.  

If you do not have tickets yet, check out this link.

Today my program is called Infusion
I will be detailing how to infuse the flavors and scents of herbs into salt, sugar, water, oil, vinegar and more.  Here is one of the things I want to share during the program:

Herb infused cream
You can flavor cream with the essence of herbs easily and quickly and then whip up the cream to make toppings on fruit salad, pies and other places where cream is a great addition.

Heavy Cream
Fresh Herbs

  1. Place heavy whipping cream in a container that is not too shallow (you want the herbs to be fully covered while they steep). 
  2. Wash any fresh herbs that you want to use, and rip them coarsely by hand to release the essential oils (no need to chop them up finely, keep them on their stems so you can remove them easily).
  3. Place the herbs in the cream, to submerge fully. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6-12 hours.
  4. Remove the herbs, and now you have herb-infused cream! 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Planning a garden in Four Squares

Some of my favorite days are spent when it is raining and dingy and I turn on all the lights in my workroom and drag out my favorite garden planning books and start to design gardens.  Sometimes they are gardens for my home, sometimes they are gardens for my patio and sometimes they are gardens for some imaginary house I will own with limitless garden space and someone else who will weed it.

Four Square Garden in Williamsburg
In the process of these imaginings I have come up with several great, reproducible ideas for gardens that I thought I could share.  These may help you with ideas for your own space so do not be afraid to borrow all the ideas you can use.

As will my Cottage Garden Plans there will be several different plans presented over several days so you can see the variety this style provides.  Unlike a Cottage Garden, a Four Square Garden is an organized and symmetrical plan.

This Four  Square garden is in Ohio

My husband and I believe the perfect home will be a four square style bungalow and we have been searching for one for years without much success.  However, in sympathy to this I created a garden space consisting of four even squares joined at the center with a decoration.  Although some days that center changes from a pain path into an elaborate container structure or a three dimensional abstract sculpture. Each of the Squares is its own individual theme garden. I like this design because I could call it my "Backyard Patches."

The squares each measure 9 feet by 9 feet this allows for easy reaching for 3 feet in from each side.  I run a path diagonally through each square to give access the to center spaces.  In one design of this garden I made a each square a different use for the herbs: Bath herbs, Tea herbs, Culinary herbs and Medicinal herbs.

Although many herbs cross over from one category to the other I was still able to fill each space with unique herbs.  And I could choose more unusual medicinal or tea herbs when the basic herbs seemed to end up in the culinary patch.  Here were the plants by section:

Culinary                                                               Tea
   Mustard                                                                     bergamot
   Cilantro                                                                      lemon balm
   Dill                                                                             lemon grass
   Nasturtiums                                                                lemon verbena
   Fennel                                                                        anise hyssop
   Chives                                                                        chamomile
   Marjoram                                                                   hyssop
   Oregano                                                                     mints              
   Parsley                                                                       scented geraniums
   Savory                                                                        catnip
   Tarragon                                                                     Meadowsweet
   Thyme                                                                        marigold, scented

Bath                                                                     Medicinal

   Comfrey                                                                      comfrey
   Chickweed                                                                  feverfew
   Nettles                                                                         penny royal
   Lavender                                                                     sage
   Rosemary                                                                    southernwood
   Sage                                                                            thyme
   Marjoram                                                                     borage
   Chamomile                                                                  valerian
   Roses                                                                           betony
   Aloe                                                                            marsh mallow
   Witch hazel                                                                 sage
   Lady’s mantle                                                             ginger
   Peppermint                                                                  St. John’s Wort
   Lemon balm                                                                Echinacea
   Calendula                                                                    primrose
   Clary sage                                                                   catnip
   Thyme                                                                         eyebright
   Yarrow                                                                        sweet cicely

The numbers match the layout in the photo above.

Another Four Square pattern I crafted was the single plant version.  This one has smaller squares within the squares each one containing multiple varieties of a single species, like Basil, Mint, Lemon, and Thyme (I'll use any excuse to plant a variety of thyme species.)

Here is the Plant arrangement list for the drawing above:

Lemon Herbs
Lemon basil
Lemon balm
Lemon thyme

tulsi basil (holy)
sweet basil spicy globe basil
purple basil
purple ruffled basil
lemon basil
lime basil
basil genovese

Garlic and Onion
onion chives
garlic chives

Common sage
Bergarten Sage
tri-color sage
purple sage
golden sage
pineapple sage (focal)

Thyme varieties
lemon thyme
common thyme
silver thyme
golden thyme
wedgewood thyme
french thyme
english thyme

apple mint
variegated apple mint
pineapple mint
curly mint
Corsican mint

Flowering Herbs
Although most herbs flower, as a dedicated herb grower I usually clip the flower heads off as soon as they arrive, but there are some herbs that you actually grow for the flowers.

Scented Marigold
Mexican mint marigold
calendula (Pot marigod)
pineapple sage
Hyssop and anise hyssop

My favorite by far and the one that took me the most time to complete a design for was a color four square garden.  This one was designed with four complimentary colors and a color matching path.  Rather than put a path down the middle of of each square I made the squares only 6 by 6 feet so you could reach all the plants from the outside path.  Notice However that the colors were not placed in squares but in triangles to get the most attractive contrast when viewed from a distance or from above.

Peruvian sage
common sage
Bergarten sage
silver thyme / wedgewood thyme

Dark green to purple
winter savory
purple sage
purple basil

Bright green
lemon balm
lemon basil
pineapple mint
lemon grass
variegated thyme
variegated mint

golden sage
golden thyme
lemon scented marigolds

With this garden I also planned a center diamond to accent the colors with a tiered raised bed
the bottom tier was dark green with rosemary and creeping thyme, the second tier silver with dusty miller and the third tier was purple and green with purple ruffled basil and red flowering thyme

Monday, March 13, 2017

Natural Cleaning with Herbs

In a quest for a life with less chemicals and more natural scents and ingredients around me, I started growing herbs to cook with.  I made teas and cooking blends and introduced my family to the joy of herbs in the diet.  My favorite scent is lemon.  I grow lemon verbena, lemon balm, lemon grass, lemon scented geraniums, lemon thyme and lemon basil.  I found in researching these wonderfully scented plants, that not only were they tasty in cooking and tea, but that they enjoy many germ fighting properties as well.  And when I combined them with other natural disinfectants like vinegar, herbal essential oils and lemon juice I could create cleaning solutions for my household that were effective and non-toxic.

Vinegar is a natural disinfectant because of its acid content.  Plain white vinegar is 99% effective against most bacteria.  Lemon Juice, which is basically citric acid, breaks down the cell membranes of bacteria much like sterilization by heat does.  The pleasant scent can also cut the harshness of straight vinegar.  Add to that the natural disinfecting power of herbs and herbal essentials oils and you have a perfect combination for cleaning and disinfecting without harsh chemicals.

Cleaning and Disinfecting Herbs:

Thyme -The essential oil of thyme contains thymol, a natural phenol with powerful and proven antibiotic and disinfectant properties that kill common household germs. Thymol is at least 18 times as effective as phenol (used in commercial germicides), but much less toxic. Tests have shown its effective against Salmonella, Staphylococcus and Ecoli.

Sage, like thyme, contains natural phenol so is effective on germs and has many anti-fungal properties making it a perfect partner in the bathroom.

Rosemary contains camphor, a powerful anti-microbial.

Lavender – often seen only as a pleasing scent is a perfect partner for cleaning as it has a gentle germ-fighting power.   It can also be used as a disinfectant and insect repellent and Lavender is an antiseptic, natural antibiotic, sedative, detoxifier.

Lemon Grass -  with a very long history of use in traditional Indian medicine to help reduce fevers and fight infectious illness. Lemongrass essential oil is an antimicrobial and it resists contagion. It is a good sanitary disinfectant as well.

Lemongrass Cleaning Cloths
You can use micro fiber cloths, old cloth diapers or torn-up t-shirts.  These do-it-yourself duster cloths offer convenience of disposable furniture wipes without the guilt of contributing to the landfill.  Make several at one time.  I use cloths about 10 to 12-inches square which fit well in the hand.  This recipe will make about 40 cloths this size.  I find 10 to 12 cloths fit nicely in a 1 pint wide mouth mason jar.

3/4 cup water
1 cup white vinegar or lemon thyme herbal vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ teaspoon lemon grass essential oil
10 to 12 drops of lemon essential oil
Dust cloths or rags
1 or 2 wide mouth pint-size mason jars and lids

Combine water, vinegar, lemon juice and essential oils in large bowl.  Soak dust cloths in the solution for 30 minutes.  Squeeze out cloths, leaving them slightly damp.  Lay the cloths out flat, then fold each cloth in half or thirds and roll up.  Place rolled cloths in a glass jar.  Cap tightly with a screw lid.  To use, unfold the cloth and wipe down surfaces as usual.  Launder dust cloths when dirty and infuse again with the mixture.  Because of the lemon grass oil and vinegar these will not get moldy even though you keep them damp and they smell terrific, giving your home a fresh clean scent.

These wonderful smelling cloths can dust woodwork, scrub shower walls and doors, disinfect sinks, tubs and tile and are even good on porcelain toilets and toilet seats.  And if you do not want to make your own we do have these wonderful cleaning cloths for sale. 

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 (I generally like to wait 2 weeks) to infuse, then strain out the herbs.  Pour into a plastic stray bottle. 

Ways to Use your Vinegar Spray:

  1. Clean your coffee maker.  Fill the reservoir with a full strength, undiluted thyme vinegar.  Run the vinegar through one cycle.  Run two cycles of water to rinse.
  2. Remove pesticides from fruits and vegetables.  Wash them in a mixture of 2 or 3 tablespoons of sage and/or thyme vinegar per quart of water.  The antifungal qualities of sage will also help with natural borne fungus and the antiviral qualities of thyme will help against bacteria.
  3. To cut grease and absorb odors on your wood cutting board, wipe down with a lemon, thyme or basil vinegar.
  4. Clean and freshen the microwave mix ¼ cup herb-based vinegar and 1 cup water in a small bowl and heat for 5 minutes.  This will remove lingering odors and soften baked-on food spills.
  5. Mildew removal.  Full strength vinegar, especially thyme vinegar will remove mildew from a shower curtain.  You can add a couple drops of lemon essential oil for a sweeter smell.
  6. Floor cleaner.  To clean floors and kill germs try this recipe: 1/8 cup liquid soap, ½ cup thyme vinegar, ½ cup herbal tea (peppermint smells great, lemon cuts grease, thyme and sage will kill germs.)
  7. Keep your dishwasher clean and fresh.  Add ½ cup herb vinegar to the rinse cycle.

Finally here is something simple and quick you can make to use all around the house for general cleaning.  Washing soda, also known as Soda Ash is sodium carbonate.  I obtain mine (made by Arm & Hammer) at the WalMart, but many grocery stores and health related stores also stock it.
I have heard that some people have trouble getting washing soda so I found this post that explains how to turn baking soda into washing soda

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.

Enjoy the scents of Spring and Spring cleaning without masking them with chemicals and have a wonderful March!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

How Tuesday - Make a Tincture

This time of year people begin searching around for treatment for various winter ailments.  One of the age tested solution is a tincture.  I previously published a post about making a Winter Tincture in 2015. The thing about tinctures is that most people have never heard of them.  Today tinctures tend not to be commonly made at home, but have you ever taken cough syrup?  That is a tincture and the Tonic your grandma used to make or take is in that same category.

A tincture is a plant extract that is preserved with diluted alcohol or glycerin.  You can use the roots, leaves or flowers of a plant to create a tincture.  Because they accomplish the extraction of plant components they are more quickly absorbed and utilized by the body that just an infusion (tea) of dried herbs.

What plants to use to create your tincture will depend on the health benefits you are searching for.  I  recommend Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar as a useful source when choosing your herbs.

To actually make a tincture you need to decide on the herbs, then choose the melstrum (that is the extraction material.) Most popular for this is vodka, although some choose ever-clear or other spirits.  You want something with very little taste of its own and a good amount of "proof."  Vodka is easy to get in at least 80-proof which is what you need.

To Make

Then follow these steps to craft your tincture:

1 crush dried herbs in a mortar and pestle with a small amount of your chose melstrum.

2 pack the crushed herbs into a clean glass jar, fairly tightly and cover with melstrum

3 Store the jar in a dark place, shaking it twice daily.  To extract all the goodness can take as few as two days or as long as  six weeks.  Leave need less time, roots and bark will take longer for the alcohol to penetrate.  You can taste test and visually inspect your blend to determine its doneness.  You want the alcohol to taste like the plant you used, as well as take on a rich color.

4 Strain the liquid through cheese cloth or a coffee filter. You want to remove all the herb residue so you may need to strain more than once.

5 Label the jar and store in a dark cabinet.

Many of my herb friends make these and keep and infuse them in an old working refrigerator.

To Use

To use your tincture you can take it straight by the teaspoon like an old-time medicine.  Or add a teaspoon to a cup of warm water and drink like a tea.  You can add it to fruit juices or honey.  Some herbs have great medicinal benefits, but also a strong medicinal flavor as well, so use your personal judgement to determine the best way to consume your tincture.

Usual dosages vary, but about 1 teaspoon 2 to 3 times a day why you are suffering is the general standard.  More is not always better so do not over do it.

As always a tincture is no substitute for sound medical advice, so always consult your health care professional when working with a home remedy, especially if you are already taking other medications.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Cucumber & Lemon Shampoothie

The lemon in this shampoothie acts as a cleansing agent and the cucumber conditions your hair for the perfect blend.

· 1 fresh lemon
· 1 fresh cucumber
· Olive oil (optional)
· Rosemary oil (optional)

· Blend one peeled cucumber with one fresh peeled lemon and pour the mixture out into a jug.
· Mix it into your hair, massage well, and rinse thoroughly.
· You could even add some rosemary or olive oil to the mixture.
· Use more cucumber if your hair is a bit drier than normal, and more lemon if it is a little oily.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Creamy Vegetable Soup Weekend recipe

2 cups chicken broth
¼ cup diced carrot
¼ cup diced celery
¼ cup finely chopped onion
2 tsp Backyard Patch Soup and Salad Blend (or a combination of thyme and chives)
2 Tbls. Butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Dash salt
2 cups milk
1/2 cup cubed processed cheese (Velveeta)

In a small saucepan, bring broth to a boil.  Add carrot and celery; simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes or until tender.  In a large saucepan, sauté onion in butter until tender.  Stir in the flour and salt until blended.  Gradually add milk.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly.  Stir in carrot mixture.  Remove from the heat; add cheese and stir until melted.  Serves 4.
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