Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Lemon - The unexpected Herb of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Plant Sale Weekend Recipe 2 - Creamy Cucumber Salad

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Plant Sale Weekend Recipe -Vegetable Tian

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

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

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

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

Preheat the oven to 400F.

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Oregano Varieties - Herb of the week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Body Powder Puff – DIY (for MOM)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

Rhubarb Chutney - Weekend recipe

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Calendula and Rose Sea salt - Bath Blend of the Month

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Edibles in your Garden Landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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