Saturday

Homemade Herbed Cheese

Herbed CheeseIf you want to offer your family or guests a soft cheese that's full of flavor and low in calories, try making cheese from yogurt. Once you've drained off the excess moisture, no one will know that you're serving yogurt cheese, and with a few added herbs, it will taste great. Served with a tray crudités (fresh raw vegetables), it'll be a big hit.

Herbed Yogurt Cheese Recipe

2 cups plain yogurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp. minced chives
1 tsp. cilantro
1 tsp.parsley
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. olive oil (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2  tsp. pepper

Place yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined sieve and suspend over a mixing bowl. Allow the yogurt to drain for two hours or more in the fridge. Squeeze out any excess moisture. Combine yogurt and other ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Overnight would be even better.

Friday

How to Make An Herbed Ice Bowl

Keep your dip or crudités cold with an herbed ice bowl. Just snip a variety of fresh herbs, like parsley, sage, chives and thyme, and something colorful, like grated carrot into a shallow dish and add water to cover by an inch or two.

Herbed Ice Bowl Instructions

Suspend a smaller but heavier bowl on top and freeze. Coat the outside of the top bowl with cooking spray to make it easier to remove later. The top bowl will displace water and create a concave surface.

Once your herbed water has frozen, unmold it and you'll have an ice-dish made of colorful herbs. I like to use stainless steel nesting bowls and skip one size in the set. I add a brick to the top bowl for weight. (This is my all-purpose indoor brick. It's actually amazing how often it comes in handy for odd jobs.) Ring molds look great decorated this way too, with dip in a dish in the center and crackers on a platter nearby.

Herbed Ice Bowl Tips and Tricks

If you mix crushed ice with the water, the arrangement will freeze faster and you'll be able to keep all the herbs from migrating to the bottom of the bowl.

I've used herbed ice bowls to hold fruit, fresh vegetables, salad and dip (inside a clear glass dish).

Once you've sourced your bowls, this project can be completed and popped into the freezer in fifteen minutes, and the results look spectacular. There's no waste, either. Once the herbs have thawed, you can use them in soup stock.

Special Notes: If you don't have fresh herbs around, use green vegetables, like kale, cabbage, carrot tops and spinach.

For your first time, do a dry run by making an ice bowl with water only to see if you like the look and thickness of the nesting bowl arrangement you've selected. The walls of the bowl at its thinnest point should be at least an inch and a half thick.

Keep your herb bowl on a platter with a rim to catch melting water, and watch it occasionally throughout the evening to make sure it doesn't overflow.

Thursday

Gluten Free Holiday Cooking

If you're avoiding gluten, holiday cooking can be a challenge. You don't have to throw your hands up in despair, though. I have some content up at TLC's food site about creating holiday magic - gluten free. Please take a look.

There are more and more products available that will make gluten-free cooking easier and tastier too, so the next time you're at the store, check out the specialty food aisle. From soy and other specialty flours, to no gluten blends that mimic the flavor, rise and crumb of wheat flour, you'll be surprised if you haven't checked for new brands in a while:

How to Have a Gluten Free Holiday

How to Make Herb Butter

Herb ButterMake herb butter for the holidays. It's a simple way to create a dramatic an delicious accompaniment to a fine meal.

Herb butters always make meals special. Whether you're serving your own homemade bread, or want to add a unique touch to steamed asparagus or stuffing, fresh herbs and butter make a wonderful combination. I've already written about chive butter as a great pairing with potato dishes, but the three herb butters below are also delicious.

For a designer touch, present molded butters to your guests. You can use special butter molds, or try individual serving molds from your craft store. Once refrigerated, your formed butter pops right out and is ready to serve. Molded butters work well on a buffet or as a take along for fresh breads.

The recipes below call for fresh herbs, which work best, but you can also use dried (I've made notations below); just let the finely ground dried herbs marinate in the softened butter for three hours or more before refrigerating.

Herb Butter Recipe

1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 tsp minced fresh parsley (1/2 tsp dried)
1/2 tsp minced fresh sage (1/4 tsp dried)
1/2 tsp minced fresh thyme (1/4 tsp dried)

Blend well and serve.

This all-purpose herb butter blend is a winner with fowl and stuffing preparations. It's also tasty when served with sweet potatoes or stuffed mushrooms.

Rosemary Butter Recipe

1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary (1/2 tbsp dried)
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 garlic clove minced fine
2 drops orange juice

Blend well and serve.

If you are serving lamb over the holiday, this butter would be perfect. It also works well with beef roasts and game.

Salsa Butter Recipe


1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp minced fresh cilantro (1/2 tsp dried)
1/2 tsp minced fresh parsley (1/4 tsp dried)

Blend well and serve.

This herb butter tastes wonderful melted on fresh corn, slathered on tortillas or added to cornbread stuffing.

Dill Butter

1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 tbsp minced fresh dill (1 tsp dried)
1 tsp minced fresh parsley (1/2 tsp dried)
4 drops lemon juice

Try this on grilled salmon and egg dishes.


Wednesday

Make Chive Butter

This holiday season mix up a quick gourmet treat that's makes a wonderful addition to your table or a thoughtful hostess gift. Chive butter is a delicious accompaniment to stuffing, potato dishes and steamed vegetables. When pressed into a form, it can also make an impressive presentation. The recipe below will only take about five minutes to put together.

Chive Butter Recipe

1/2 Cup Butter (softened)
1 Tbsp. Minced fresh chives
2 Drops lemon

Mix and serve. For a little holiday refinement, place mixture in a mold and refrigerate. You can find food grade molds either online or at your local food craft supplier.

Monday

Save Money Over the Holidays - Make Inexpensive Herbal Gifts

With the holidays fast approaching, it's time to sit back and devise a strategy for gift giving. With so many people on a tight budget, the prospect of holiday gifting may seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be.

Gifts From the Heart


One of the most wonderful aspects of this or any other holiday season is giving of yourself, and what better way to show you care than in making Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa presents with an herb theme. In past posts, I've offered instructions for making many herb crafts and food items. Use the links below to explore a few projects that are easy to put together and make wonderful gifts. From lavender bath salts to a homemade batch of specialty herb blends, you'll be able to find a project that will fit your taste and budget.

Lavender Bath Salts

Bath salts are inexpensive to make, and you don't have to use lavender, either. Armed with a bottle of your favorite essential oil or oil blend, you can make up a batch of bath salts in minutes with a little food dye, Epsom salt and the fragrance of your choice. Let the mixture dry and place in a decorative jar, tin or muslin bag (you can even buy the bags inexpensively in bulk).

Herb Blends

What you would pay handsomely for in the market, you can make inexpensively at home by growing your herbs or buying them in bulk from online suppliers. With a few key herbs, you can make a number of seasoning mixtures that will be a hit as stocking stuffers for the budding chef on your list or as a thoughtful hostess gift.

That's not all. Flavored oils, carpet fragrances and fresheners, and even homemade herbal shampoos and bubble bath are wonderful gifts.

With some planning and an afternoon's work, you can craft baskets or individual items that you'll be proud to give. They'll be thoughtful, homemade and inexpensive. For years, I've given baskets with a lavender theme. I use lavender from my garden, but you can find lavender buds online or use the link below.

Take a look at these URLs for some guidance. There are more projects on The Herb Gardener and across the web, so if you don't see what you're after, keep looking:

Herbal Gifts to Make

Bubble Bath - Lavender (or other scented)

Herbal Shampoo

Bath Salts

Carpet Freshener and Deodorant (Eco-Friendly)

Lavender Sugar Include this Lavender Cookie Recipe

Tea Rub Meat Preparation

Cajun Spice Blend

Old Bay Type Seasoning

5 Star Herb Vinegar

Herbs De Provence

Garlic Oil

Flavored Mayonnaise (Keep Refrigerated)

Tuesday

Make Stevia Syrup


Stevia is a natural sweetening agent. A South American perennial that's sold as a commercial sweetener under the name Truvia in the U.S., stevia can be grown in your backyard herb patch and processed into a powder or syrup for use in cooking and beverages.

To use stevia as a powder, dry the leaves a warm, dark spot, in a dehydrator or in the oven, and then grind them. You can use a mortar and pestle, which can be fun for small batches, or put whole leaves in a coffee grinder.

Depending on the strength of the plant (stevia plants of the same variety can vary in their sweetening power depending on the glycoside content of the leaves) stevia can be up to 200 times sweeter than sugar, so do some testing before you consider adding home grown stevia to your recipes.


Another method for preserving stevia is to make a syrup or liquid from it. You can do this with either straight water (distilled water is best), or alcohol. I use vodka because it's clear, easy to find, flavorless and inexpensive. Stevia syrup prepared with alcohol has a longer shelf life too. If you don't like the idea of using alcohol in a sweetener, you can slowly evaporate some of the alcohol by keeping the liquid hot but below the boiling point for an extended period. I haven't tried this so let me know how it works out.

The less time the mixture steeps, the lighter in color it will be. I've never been able to make a clear liquid, but I think the green tint is attractive.

Stevia Syrup Recipe

6 Cups fresh stevia leaves and stems (chopped)
2 Cup vodka (Inexpensive varieties work just fine.)
4 Cups distilled water (Approx.)

Chop stevia and place in a glass or ceramic container with a tight fitting lid. Add alcohol, cover and shake. Set aside.

After 24 hours, test the mixture for sweetness. If it isn't sweet enough, let stand another 12 to 24 hours. Strain through cheesecloth. Place the strained liquid in a non-reactive pan (like glass or ceramic) and bring it to a simmer. Continue simmering for 20 minutes. Cool.

The stevia syrup will be concentrated. At this point, I usually separate the liquid into two batches. I dilute one half and keep the other half in reserve for a second batch later in winter. Because plants vary in sweetness, add enough water to your mixture to make it convenient to use. This will take some experimentation. I've tried in the past to make my liquid about equivalent in sweetness to sugar, but there's always some variation in flavor depending on the foods and cooking methods involved.

Stevia Syrup Tips and Tricks
  • When processing stevia, dwell time is important. That's the amount of time you let the leaves sit in the liquid, in this case water or alcohol. With many herbs, the longer the mixture sits, the better. In the case of stevia, leaving the mixture to strengthen in flavor can also start to give it a strong aftertaste that can be bitter. For the best results, steep the leaves overnight. If it isn't strong enough, try leaving the batch another 12 to 24 hours maximum.
  • Alcoholic stevia syrup will keep in the refrigerator over the winter. The longest I've used it is from November through January, so about three months. It may hold longer.
  • If you want to go with a strictly water preparation, you can substitute distilled water for the vodka and cut the recipe in half. The mixture should last a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. To make subsequent batches with water over the winter, you can reconstitute dried or powdered stevia leaves in a water mixture, but you'll have to experiment with how long you can steep a batch before it starts to get bitter.
  • If using cheesecloth isn't filtering out enough of the stevia leaf residue, try using a coffee filter instead.
Stevia Syrup Variations

You can add other herbs to stevia syrup to get a more complex flavor. One way is to use flavored vodka. I've tried orange vodka, which was really quite tasty. If I was going to try it again, I'd probably split flavored and unflavored vodka half and half for the recipe.

Another flavoring option is to use fresh herbs. I've made a small batch using mint, which was delicious, and think that lemon balm and pineapple sage would also be good choices.

For more information about stevia, visit:

Growing Stevia
Understanding Stevia

Stevia photo courtesy of Tamara Dourney at Flickr. You can also visit her at: Saponifier

Saturday

Make Herbal Carpet Deodorant and Freshener


If you have animals or children, live in an area that gets humid in summer, or do lots of home cooking, you're probably plagued by carpets that can smell less than fresh. The following recipe will help you deodorize your carpets and repel fleas and other insects.


Herbal Carpet Deodorant Recipe

1 Cup rosemary leaves
2 Cups lavender (Buds and Leaves
2 Cups Baking Soda
6 bay leaves

Crumble bay leaves, chop or crumble rosemary leaves, and then add lavender and baking soda to make a coarse mixture. You can also grind the ingredients fine using a food processor or coffee grinder. I prefer the second method because it smells quite a bit stronger, but it will take more vacuuming to get it all off the carpet later.

Directions for Use

*Sprinkle the mixture liberally on carpeting and leave it in place for a few hours or overnight. To vacuum thoroughly, go over each area of the room at least three times to get up all the residue.

Once treated, don't walk on the carpet until you've vacuumed.

This recipe makes about five cups, which should be enough to treat a 10' x 10' room.

*Test a small inconspicuous area of the carpeting overnight with one tablespoon of the mixture to make sure that there's no discoloration. I've never had a problem, but if you have a light colored carpet it's a safety precaution worth taking.

Sunday

How to Make Garlic Oil

Garlic OilAdding a little infused oil to your savory cooking will make a big difference in the flavor. I always keep garlic oil and pepper oil on hand. Garlic oil is my favorite, and adds zest to garlic bread, salad dressing, marinades and almost any vegetable dish.

Garlic Oil Recipe


One Bulb of Garlic (Separated and Peeled)
2 Cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Five inch long oregano stems with leaves

Directions for Garlic Olive Oil

Make a slit down the middle of each clove of garlic.

Place oil in a non-reactive pan and bring to a simmer. Add garlic. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Add oregano and cool to room temperature.

Strain.

Store oil in a glass jar in the refrigerator. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that you use the oil within a couple of weeks to avoid botulism and salmonella contamination.

Growing Moss on Garden Pots

Mossed PotI've already written about my love for repurposing objects like bowls, pots and pans as plant containers. One way to integrate these finds into the garden is to encourage a natural layer of moss to grow on them. This always works best where you have a shady spot to keep the pot once it's sporting a nice mossy finish.

Recipe for Adding Moss to Pots

1/2 cup of garden moss (This acts like a seed starter.)
1 container plain yogurt
12 oz. can of beer
2 tsp granulated sugar
1 cup buttermilk

Moss Pots - Directions

Combine ingredients and use a blender to incorporate. You want a soupy texture.

Brush the mixture on with a soft bristle brush or sponge brush. Be generous.

I find that highly textured pots work best.

Keep your freshly "painted" pot moist. One good way is to place it in the shade and spritz it with a pump sprayer filled with water (or the garden hose) a couple of times a day until you get the desired effect. You can also do this with statuary or anything else you want to look like a long time garden survivor.

Saturday

Herbed Tilapia Recipe

Baked TilapiaThis is a fast and easy summer dish. If you'd prefer, you can cook it on the grill instead of in the oven; just coat the fish with a little olive oil and butter, and clean/oil the grill.

Baked Tilapia Ingredients

6 Tilapia fillets
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
Juice of 1/2 lime
Salt
Black pepper
2 tablespoon fresh chopped chives

Fish Cold Sauce Ingredients

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped lime thyme or fresh lime juice

Herbed Tilapia Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Season tilapia fillets on both sides with paprika, marjoram, red pepper, salt, and pepper.

Place the seasoned fillets in a single layer on a greased baking dish.

Sprinkle or spray lime juice over fillets.

Bake uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes or until fish flakes when prodded with a fork.

Cold Fish Sauce Directions

While the fish is baking, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, garlic powder, lime thyme (or lime juice) and dill in a small bowl. Serve with prepared tilapia.

Plate fillets with wedges of lemon and sprinkle fresh chives over the top.

Serves 4

Weekend Thoughts


A few thoughts for this warm weekend.

How to Treat Mosquito Bites

Mosquitoes are coming out in force around my house. To help reduce the irritation of a mosquito bite, rub any of these household, garden or medicine cabinet substances on the bite: aloe vera, baking soda, a piece of sliced onion, vinegar, salt, or witch hazel. I've heard that toothpaste and bleach work too. Just use a little, and rub gently. The effectiveness of these remedies will vary from person to person, so if one method isn't getting the results you want, try another.

Rhubarb: Trifling, Tipsy, Fool
If you have a moment, head over to All Things Considered at NPR and check out their piece on rhubarb. They have some interesting background on a few common and not so common dessert terms, like tipsy, parson, trifle and fool. It almost sounds like a song title. There's a rhubarb, berry and cream dessert recipe that looks tasty too: A Dessert for Spring: Rhubarb, Berries and Cream

Growing a Plant Fort For the Kids
The folks at the San Francisco Chronicle have some great instructions on how to grow a sunflower fort for the kids at: How to Grow a Sunflower House

How to Cut Down on Weeds in Your Herb Garden
If you're having some trouble sleeping in the heat, turn your insomnia into fewer weeds by weeding your garden after dark. Turning the soil when the sun isn't shining cuts down on weed germination, so strap a pen light to your hoe and get to work.

Happy gardening.

Thursday

Lime Balm Tea Recipe

Lime Balm TeaLime Balm makes a light refreshing tea that will settle your stomach and help you relax. With its natural lime aroma, it's tasty both hot and cold. Although you can find dried lemon balm at your local health food outlet, you might have to get your garden implements out and grow a supply of lime balm yourself. Don't worry. It's easy to grow both indoors and out, and it can be used in tea either fresh or dried.

Lime Balm Tea Recipe

Steep one tablespoon of fresh chopped lime balm in a mug of boiling water for fifteen minutes. If you like it sweet, lime balm tea tastes wonderful with the addition of a teaspoon of lavender honey or lavender sugar.

To learn more about growing lime balm, visit my article: Growing Lime Balm

Wednesday

How to Grow Lime Balm

Lime balm (Melissa officinalis ''lime") is a perennial herb that shares many characteristics with its cousin lemon balm. It is as easy to grow but has a distinct limey fragrance.

Growing Lime Balm in the Garden

Lime balm is a half-hardy perennial that can add the aroma of lime to your dishes without the citrus. It likes dappled light and moist, fertile soil. Like its cousin, mint, lime balm can be invasive, so contain it with a border, or keep it in a pot. It grows to a height of about 18 inches and will cover anything in its path if you give it a spot it likes. It will return year after year without much encouragement and does well in zones five through nine. Keep it moist through the hot summer months, and give it a layer of insulating mulch in areas that experience triple digit highs.

Propagating Lime Balm

Easy to grow and propagate, lime balm can be started from root cuttings or seeds. Germinate seeds indoors eight weeks before you plan on putting them outside. Lime balm's seed casings are hard, so soak them in hot water for a day before planting and expect to wait a while before they germinate. A few weeks isn't too long.

Growing Lime Balm Indoors

Keep lime balm in a sunny location, and don't let it go dry. Use a quality prepared potting soil, and choose a small pot of five inches or less. Potted lime balm does better when kept crowded. If your plant starts to get leggy, snip it back and give it more sun.

Harvesting and Drying Lime Balm

Harvest throughout the summer by snipping or pinching. Lime balm grows back quickly and can tolerate heavy harvesting.

Dehydrators are good vehicles for drying any plant in the mint family, although you can also dry lime balm by tying it in loose bunches with a rubber band and hanging it upside down in a warm room. You can dry it in a warm oven too. Try a small batch first and check for scorching. The dried leaves should be stored whole in an airtight container away from the light.

Uses for Lime Balm

Lime balm can be used in cooking, potpourri and crafts. It's tasty in a fruit salad, as an ingredient in marinades, and as a seasoning for fish, chicken or pork.

Lime balm tea helps relieve tension, and the dried leaves can be used topically to treat bee stings.

Lime Balm - Possible Drug Interactions

There is research underway that suggests lemon and lime balm may interfere with thyroid and sedative treatments. If you think you may be affected, consult your doctor before using Melissa officinalis.

I like to use lime balm as a garnish for TexMex dishes. If I don't have a lime in the house, lime balm helps create that distinctive limey blending of ingredients, (red pepper, cumin, onion, garlic, and lime) even if I cheated and used lemon instead.

Add an unexpected fragrance to your herb garden with lime balm. It will reward you with distinctive fragrance from spring to fall.

For a tasty lime balm tea recipe, visit: Lime Balm Tea

Where to Find Lime Balm


Lime Balm can be hard to find, but I did locate an online source here: Richters - Lime Balm Purchase Page

Midweek Thoughts

For a wonderful photo of St. Johns Wort, visit Earth and Tree. Hedgewitch has a delightful blog and makes clay jewelry too. Her clay impressions of herb leaves are stunning little gems. I own one myself.

If you love to eat what you grow, head over to How Stuff Works.com and read their article about edible landscaping. If you've ever resented the amount of space your lawn takes up, this article is for you: What is Edible Landscaping?

While you're there, take a look at an article I wrote a while back about garden ornaments. It will give you some background on garden gnomes and pink flamingos while offering up the lighter side of garden décor: 10 Unexpected Garden Decorations

Herbal Wart Remedy

I wrote about this earlier in the week, but I think it bears repeating. Dandelion is a good wart remover. Just take the white liquid released from the root, stem, and leaves of a dandelion and place it on a pesky wart. Repeat four times a day until the wart dissolves.

Make Organic Herbal Shampoo

Making your own organic herbal shampoo is simple and inexpensive. Best of all, you can tailor it to meet your own needs and tastes.

Organic Herbal Shampoo Recipe

Two cups of distilled water
1 1/2 tsp. Soapwort root
*30 drops of essential oil
Decorative bottle

Directions for Organic Herbal Shampoo

Bring water to a boil
Add soapwort root, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and cool for an hour.
Add oil and stir thoroughly
Bottle and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

If you don't grow your own soapwort, you can find soapwort root (dried) online or at your neighborhood health food store.

*You can use a number of different essential oils, either alone or in combination to create a signature fragrance: lavender, rosemary, geranium, rose, and sandalwood are only a few.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluates personal care products, like shampoo, differently from food products. This means that personal care product manufacturers have much more latitude in their formulations.

To insure that the products you use are wholesome and safe for your family, consider visiting the Consumer Reports Green Choices page today. It will give you important information about the goods you're buying. Another useful reference source is Good Guide, where you can get product ratings for eco-friendliness and safe practices.

Tuesday

Make Lemon Furniture Polish

Smarten up your kitchen cabinets or wood furniture with baby oil. Just wipe it on, leave it for a few minutes, and then wipe off the residue. Make it part of a maintenance program by prepping your cabinets with a wood cleaning product like Murphy's Oil Soap first.

Because I'm a dedicated herber, I make my own polish using a cup of baby oil and lemon balm, lemon verbena, or lemon eucalyptus.

Lemon Furniture Polish Recipe

Spray Bottle
Jar with a tight fitting lid (two cup capacity)
Pan
Heat resistant bowl
Cheesecloth or mesh strainer
1-1/2 to 2 Cups lemon balm leaves
1-1/2 Cups Baby Oil


Directions for Making Lemon Furniture Polish

Heat baby oil in a pan till it starts to glimmer or bubble a little.

While the baby oil is heating, add lemon balm to the bowl.

Pour baby oil over the lemon balm and stir gently. Set aside.

Allow mixture to come to room temperature. Pour oil, leaves and all, into a jar.

Seal and place the jar in a warm spot to cure for two weeks to a month. Shake daily.

Strain mixture and pour into a bottle.

Pour a little oil on a soft cloth monthly and apply to your wood cabinets to keep them looking and smelling fresh and clean.

Your homemade brew will be less expensive than retail polishes and won't contain chemical additives. Although baby oil is a petroleum product, it is gentle on your wood. One of the advantages it has over an organic oil is that it will not go rancid, so your wood will always smell fresh and clean.




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Photo1 - LemonBalm1_Wiki.jpg By Datkins (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/07/Lemon_balm_2.JPG http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALemon_balm_2.JPG

Photo2 - LemonBalm2_Wiki.jpg  By Datkins (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Lemon_balm_%282%29.jpg http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALemon_balm_(2).jpg


Photo3 - Courtesy of Morguefile.com

Sunday

The Summer Solstice and Other Sundry Sunday Fare

Sunrise SolsticeI hope you enjoyed this morning's Summer Solstice. It was early, so the possums probably beat you to it! Today will be the longest day and shortest night of the year. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, this is the Winter Solstice, an interesting factoid associated with living on a sphere.

If you enjoy camping, take a look at this humorous piece at the National Parks Traveler site about naked camping. It's fun Sunday reading material.

From perusing the Old Farmer's Almanac this week, I learned that day lilies are edible. You can eat the whole thing, apparently, but the tubers are particularly tasty. Just clean and chop them into salad as you would red radishes.

Did you know that white and black peppercorns are both from the same berry of the pepper plant (piper nigrum):
  • Black Pepper is picked when it's an immature green and sun dried.
  • White pepper is picked after it's had a chance to ripen.
If you accidentally cut an earthworm in half, both sections will NOT continue to grow. At best, only one side will survive.

Once you finish the Sunday paper, if you have a few hours and some ribbon to spare, why not try making a lavender wand? Lavender should be budding or in bloom in many areas. Lavender wands look and smell so nice and are always welcome gifts. Take a look at the step by step: How to Make a Lavender Wand

Saturday

Plant Your Own Saffron Spice

Photo of Saffron ThreadsGrowing your own saffron (Crocus Sativus) is easier than you think and can add some spicy and refined taste to your dishes. Pound for pound, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.

Don't confuse it with Indian saffron, an inexpensive substitute, the red threads and distinctive yellow saffron flavoring you can extract from them is a subtle and unique flavor that you'll develop a taste for quickly . . . if you haven't already.

I wrote some growing instructions and a blog entry last season you might want to take a look at. Saffron comes from a variety of crocus plant. It isn't an early season crocus, but a mid to late summer variety.

In a few weeks, you should be getting some saffron crocus bulbs together. Once you have a few plants in your garden, they'll start to spread out nicely. Within three years, you'll have plenty of saffron for yourself and probably a little extra to give away.

Saffron Blog Entry (With Saffron Flower Photo)
Saffron Article

The photo of saffron threads above was taken by Ranier Zenz and is in the public domain. If you would like more information about it or the photographer, please visit: Saffron Threads

Friday

What is Distilled Water?

Distilled WaterDistilled water is water that has been evaporated and then cooled back to a liquid. During the process of transforming into a gas, chemicals and microorganisms are left behind and the final product is clean and pure. Distilled water typically has a neutral pH (7.0) because most solids in water are heavier than a water molecule and won't piggyback onto the vapor.

In herbal recipes, distilled water is called for because the final product will be less likely to harbor harmful bacteria. Sometimes you'll see me suggest that if a preparation will be used within a few days, you can use tap water, otherwise, use distilled water.

Can You Drink Distilled Water?

Distilled water is safe to drink, but it doesn't have the trace minerals that, say, a fish might need in order to live in it.

Where Can You Find Distilled Water?

You can find distilled water in the water isle of your local grocery store. It undergoes more processing, so it's more expensive than plain old bottled drinking water, but for many herbal preparations, a little goes a long way.

Hope this definition helps.

Thursday

How to Fry Zucchini Blossoms

Squash Blossom
For a taste of the subtle pleasures of a spring garden, try fried zucchini blossoms. You won't find these in the grocery store. They're a special reward for the vegetable gardener. So enjoy one of those unique payoffs for all your hard work.

Fried Zucchini Flower Recipe

6 Zucchini blossoms
1/2 C flour
Pinch Salt
Pinch Pepper
1/4 C Olive oil
2 Pats butter
1 Egg
1 Tbsp Water

Directions for Frying Zucchini Flowers

Wash flowers. Drain

Combine egg and water. Beat well.

Combine flour, salt and pepper in a separate bowl.

Heat oil and butter in a small skillet on medium heat.

Dip flowers in egg and then flour. Shake to remove excess flour.

Place in hot oil for one to two minutes. Turn and continue cooking for another minute. Flowers should be lightly browned on both sides.

Remove and drain. Eat immediately.

Squash Blossom Memories

When I was a kid, squash flowers were my mother's favorite spring treat. She'd pick the flowers in the evening, dip them in egg, dredge them in flour, and fry them up in olive oil cut with a little butter. They tasted delicate and really great. Like the best appetizers, there are never enough.

Squash flowers don't last long in the garden, or after they're picked, so give them a try soon.

If you want some more zucchini flower info, try NPR's (National Public Radio) piece on them from June 18th. You can find it here: Zucchini Flowers

While we're talking about eating your vegetables, why not chop a little mint into your steamed peas?

Tuesday

How To Make Rose Wine

Rose WineMaking your own rose wine can be a hoot. It takes a while, but like making beer, especially if you like to experiment with the recipe like I do, you never know quite what you're going to end up with.

The nice thing about rose and dandelion wines, as well as other seasonal wines and liqueurs, is that they distill a season. In winter, when you're shivering your way to the mailbox, you can think about the summer wine you finessed out of those long, sunny days. After you come in from the cold, it will warm you up in more ways than one.

If you have the time to spend, between pinching pennies and taking the kids to their recreational commitments, growing and processing your own foods can make for some very happy memories and a few good laughs, too. You may not be up to canning your own chow-chow, but a little wine is easy to brew and always goes down well. If it isn't a complete success, at least it will probably be drinkable, and there's always next year to try another batch.

Rose Petal Wine

*16 Cups Rose petals (rinsed thoroughly)
1 Gallon Water
3 Orange rinds, chopped
3 ½ Pounds Sugar
5 Cloves
5 Pepper corns
1 package yeast
2 Cups Orange juice

Combine petals, orange rinds and sugar in a large pot.

Boil water in a separate container and pour over petal mixture.

Bring to a simmer for 30 minutes.

Cool to room temperature.

Add prepared yeast (Follow directions for rehydrating yeast, which may recommend dissolving in warm, not hot, water.)

Add orange juice and spices.

Cover and set aside for three weeks to a month in a dark place to ferment. (This will get fragrant.)

Strain and decant into sterilized jars. Let wine season for three months or so before serving.

*If you want to accumulate 16 cups of rose petals, try harvesting petals a little at a time and freezing them until you have enough for a batch. This is a great summer project. You can have a batch ready to serve for Christmas and New Years.

Special Note: Never use roses that have been treated with pesticides.

This recipe uses no sulfites or special equipment.

Sunday

Grocery Store Vegetables and Herb Seed Sources

Produce Department PhotoI take a perverse pleasure in finding ways to recycle grocery store produce and grow it in my garden. You'd think I'd stop being so tickled and indulge my curiosity some other way than by sticking a little piece of root in a pot to see what happens. My nephew once started a sunflower from a seed he stuck in the office ficus on a dare. No one was more surprised than he was when it sprouted.

Here is my short list of produce department finds. Please fill in any that I've missed. Oh, if you take all of this seriously, I should warn you that seeds don't always produce plants exactly like the parent. There are a number of reasons for this, and it can be disappointing. These plant experiments are lighthearted, so don't expect too much.

Ginger
Actually, all of my ginger stock has come from the grocery store. Once you have a healthy plant growing, you can start harvesting roots from around the base.

Potatoes
Yes you can take those red and white potatoes and grow them in the garden. Do-it-yourself potato towers using wire make it easy to grow potatoes in a small space too.

Scallions
Find a bunch of scallions with a good portion of root still attached and plant them in a pot or in a sunny spot in the garden. I've kept a group of four onions potted on a sunny windowsill for months, snipping green tops as I needed them. This has saved me a few of last minute trips to the store.

Garlic
Buy a bulb and plant it out, pointy end up. This is a long-term project because garlic needs a season to really get going.

Shallots
Follow the same process as for garlic.

You can also buy vegetables, harvest the seeds, dry and use them next year. A good short list would be:

Seed Stock
Pumpkin
Cucumber
Tomato (The seeds have to ferment a little before drying.)
Squash (Other than pumpkin.)
Eggplant
Avocado (This is a tree and won't bear similar fruit, so some nice foliage is the best you'll be able to get. It's a fun project for kids though.
Jalapeno
Red pepper
Bell pepper

There are lots of others. I'm still experimenting.

Even if you don't try this for yourself, it may give you a new insight into those brightly colored produce bins the next time you go shopping. When you're a gardener, it's all material.

Thursday

Dandelion Salad Recipe

Dandelion Pasta SaladWhere dandelions are concerned, if you can't beat them, eat them.

Adding a few dandelion greens to your favorite pasta salad is a fast and easy way to give your salad some nutritional muscle.

Dandelion Salad Recipe

3 cups cooked shell pasta

2 Hard boiled eggs, chopped fine

1 cup Cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup young dandelion greens, steamed, cooled, and chopped

3 Scallions, chopped fine

6 Black olives, rough chopped

1 Tbsp Fresh parsley, chopped fine

3 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 Tbsp. Vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

Dandelion Salad Directions

Combine pasta, eggs, dandelion greens, scallions, olives and parsley. Toss to combine.

Add tomatoes and fold into mixture.

In a small bowl, combine oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add to pasta and stir gently to incorporate.

Take a look at these dandelion entries too:

Dandelion Tea Recipes
How to Make Dandelion Wine
Dandelion Jelly

Dandelion Tea Recipes

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is good for you, and even if you hate it in the yard, its bitter taste can be addictive. Remember, when you drank your first beer or glass of wine, you probably thought that was bitter too.

Dandelion Flower Tea Recipe

8 Dandelion flowers
12 oz. Boiling water
Honey or sugar to taste

Instructions for brewing Dandelion Tea

Pour boiling water over flowers and let steep for five minutes. Add honey or sugar.

Dandelion Root Tea Recipe

1 tbsp. *roasted dandelion root
1/2 tsp. *minced, fresh ginger
1 cardamom seed
12 oz. Water
Honey or sugar to taste

Combine all ingredients except honey and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for five to ten minutes. Strain, add honey, and serve.

*Roasting Dandelion Root
Dig up the dandelion roots. This can be challenging because they have a stubborn taproot. When they're out of the ground, rinse them outside with the hose until the water runs clear. This will probably require some rubbing, particularly if you have clay soil.

Chop roots into thumb size sections and soak them in a sink full of cold water, shaking occasionally. The roots will release any remaining dirt.

Remove roots to a cutting board and rough chop them.

Once the roots have been harvested, cleaned, and chopped, roast them on a cookie sheet in a 150 to 200 degree F oven for two to three hours. You can also dry them in a dehydrator then roast them at 300 degrees F for 10 minutes.

The most productive way to do this is to make a large batch and then use it throughout the season. Dandelion root is surprisingly tasty. To spice up the tea, add *cinnamon bark and a little grated nutmeg.

*Preserving Ginger
If you like the idea of a little ginger in your tea but can't keep it fresh in the fridge for long, try this: Cut fresh ginger root into inch thick pieces and place in a glass jar. Add enough sherry to cover them completely. Seal. The ginger will keep indefinitely this way and be available to use any time you want.

*Cinnamon Bark
An easy way to get small pieces of bark is to break up a cinnamon stick and partially grind it in a coffee grinder.

Some of the Health Benefits of Dandelion
  • A tea made with the dandelion root is a diuretic and can help lower blood pressure and reduce premenstrual symptoms.
  • Dandelion root contains two substances, inulin and levulin, that can help reduce blood sugar, and another, choline, that acts as a liver stimulant.
  • Dandelion is a good source of vitamins: C, K, B2, and A.
  • The white milk in dandelion can help get rid of warts. Just apply the milk directly to the wart and it will start to shrink. Keep applying dandelion juice until the wart dissolves. This will take several daily applications over the course of a few weeks, depending on how large the wart is.
For more dandelion info, head over to:

Dandelion Pasta Salad
How to Make Dandelion Wine
Dandelion Jelly

Wednesday

How to Make Dandelion Wine


I was delighted by an article I read on The New York Times website feed. It's entitled: The Joy of Less. If you have a second, take a look.

Many of my gardening adventures, and even the projects that result from my gardening, are a search for beauty I think, usually in simple things. There's effort involved:  It requires an alliance with nature, which can be uneasy at times. It's a celebration of the natural world too, though, which make it worth the trouble.

Today's project is dandelion wine. Even if you aren't a Ray Bradbury fan, the words probably stir up a dreamy summer landscape, the smell of fresh mown grass and the high blue sky swept by an easy breeze.

Dandelion wine is easy to make, and even though it might take a while, it's a sweet summer favorite.

Dandelion Wine Recipe

*10 to 12 Cups Dandelions (Flowers only)
1 C Honey
2 ½ Pounds Sugar
1 Orange rind, chopped
1 Lemon rind, chopped
Dandelions1 Gallon Water
2 Tbsp. fresh, chopped ginger
5 Cloves
1 Package yeast
1 Cup Orange juice
1/2 Cup Lemon juice

Dandelion Wine Instructions

Combine dandelion flowers, honey, sugar, orange rind, and lemon rind in a large pot.

Boil water in a separate container and pour over flower mixture.

Bring back to a simmer for 30 minutes.

Cool to room temperature.

Add prepared yeast (Follow manufacturer's directions for hydrating yeast before adding it.)

Add orange juice, lemon juice, and spices.

Cover in a non-reactive container (like ceramic, glass, or enamel) and set aside for a month in a dark place to ferment. (This will get fragrant.)

Strain and decant into sterilized jars. Seal. Let wine season for three months or so in a cool, dark place before serving.

Tips and Tricks

*If you want to accumulate 12 cups of dandelions, try harvesting them a little at a time and freezing them until you have enough. This is a great spring project. You can have a batch ready to serve for your Labor Day picnic.

Never use dandelions that have been treated with pesticides.

This recipe uses no sulfites or special equipment.

There's more dandelion fun in store:

Grow Your Own Culinary and Medicinal Dandelions
Dandelion Tea Recipes
Dandelion Jelly
Dandelion Pasta Salad



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Photo1 -  Dandelion2_Wiki.jpg   By Sberardi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo2 - Courtesy of Morguefile.com 

Drying Tea Leaves

Drying TeaHarvest young leaves in spring and process for different teas.

Black Tea - Taken from new growth in spring.

Bruise leaves by rubbing them between your palms. They should discolor to a reddish brown.

Spread them in a single layer on a tray and let them air dry from two to three days.

Apply heat by placing the partially dried leaves in a 250 Degree F oven for 20 minutes. The best approach for uniform drying is to place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer.

Place dried leaves in a container with a tight fitting lid. Keep away from light and moisture.

Green Tea - Taken from very young leaves and buds.

Steam leaves for 60 seconds. You can use a commercial steamer, or place a colander on a pot of boiling water.

*Apply heat by placing the partially dried leaves in a 250 Degree F oven for 20 minutes. The best approach for uniform drying is to place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer.

Place dried leaves in a container with a tight fitting lid. Keep away from light and moisture.

White Tea - Use buds only.

White tea is taken from unopened buds only. You can use the same procedures for drying as you would for green tea.

For more interesting tea facts, visit my articles:

Growing the Tea Plant

The Health Benefits of White Tea

Growing Tea Plant


How to Grow Tea Plant Tea has been cultivated in China for centuries (2009 estimates put it at around 5,000 years). Originally, the most common tea varieties were produced from the Camellia sinensis plant, a type of camellia.

Standard teas, not herbal infusions made from other types of herbs and plants, are processed using a number of steps to make the varieties you're used to like: green, black and oolong. Processing is one of the main determiners of a tea's flavor and medicinal properties. Green and white teas are taken from very young leaves, undergo less processing, and aren’t fermented. They are typically considered better for you and are more expensive.

Propagating Tea Plants

Seeds
Camellia sinensis, or tea plant, needs acidic soil and lots of water. It will grow outside in Zones 8 or higher. Sow seeds in spring when nighttime temperatures reach 55 degrees F or more. Soak seeds in water for a day or so before planting, and keep purchased seeds moist and viable in the refrigerator before planting out. When you start seeds, try placing them in small pots indoors in a sunny window with a combination of perlite and orchid mix. Mist them frequently. Seeds sprout in four to six weeks.

Seedlings
Plant seedlings four feet apart in a sunny to partially shaded spot in sandy soil with a pH of 5 to 6. Make sure the location you choose has protection from the wind and that the soil drains well. Tea camellias are slow starters and can take up to three years to begin producing when grown from seed.

Cuttings
You can also purchase cuttings or young plants online. The tea camellia can grow to 10 feet and live for well over 100 years, so make sure its final home has plenty of room to spread out.



Harvesting Tea from Homegrown Plants

Depending on your climate, tea plants will leaf out at least once a year, usually in spring. This new, young growth is what you'll want to harvest for tea.

A good rule of thumb is that if you can grow camellias in your climate, you can probably grow tea plants.

Growing Tea Plants Indoors

You can keep tea plants in pots and bring them indoors to overwinter in areas that experience a hard frost. Be sure to give them sandy soil and top with a layer of mulch or moss to retain moisture. Your camellia will need a cool indoor winter location that has good light. If you can't provide six hours of light a day, try a spot away from heat and invest in a grow light for your plant. Plants go dormant in winter and stop producing foliage.

In spring, gradually adapt your plant to living outside by leaving it outdoors for longer and longer periods. If you want to keep your plant indoors year round, you will have to give it good light and lots of humidity. Although this can be a tall order, there are success stories out there about tea camellias growing happily indoors in someone's sunny window for years.

In spring, make sure to harvest new growth to keep the plant small enough to stay in its pot. Although it will probably eventually outgrow its container, you can keep the plant small by harvesting young leaves when they appear.

I really love tea. For a little European flair, try buying heat-tempered glass teacups. They showcase your brew and give teatime a special touch.

*I have also dried green tea leaves in a dehydrator.

Proceed to my next post for tips on drying your tea: Drying Home Grown Tea Leaves


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Photo1 - This wonderful photo of a tea plant flower is courtesy of Linda De Volder. You can view Linda's other work at Flickr

Photo2 - TeaCamelia2_Wiki.jpg   By Pancrat (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Camellia_sinensis_Bois_Cheri_.jpg

Tuesday

Make Lavender Oil

Lavender OilYou don't have to buy essential oil to get the fragrance and benefits of lavender oil in your bath, sachet, and even in your cooking. Use  lavender buds to make an olive oil infused mixture you can use for anything from a sleep aid (topically) to a moisturizer that will help reduce the appearance of stretch marks.

Lavender Oil Recipe

  • 1-1/2 to 2 Cups Lavender buds or flowers
  • 1-1/2 Cups Olive Oil
  • 7 Capsules Vitamin E (Pierced and drained, 400 IUs or adjust quantity)
  • Jar with a tight fitting lid (about a two cup capacity, sterilized)
  • Non-reactive pot (glass, ceramic or stainless steel)
  • Non-reactive bowl
  • Cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer
  • Coffee filter

Directions for Making Lavender Oil

Heat olive oil till it starts to bubble at the edge of the pot.

Add lavender and simmer for half an hour on low.

Cool to room temperature

Strain in batches through a large strainer and then through a coffee filter.

Pierce vitamin capsules and add vitamin E oil to the mixture.


Pour into a decorative, sterilized jar.

Refrigerate

The mixture will become cloudy when it's cold but clear up again as it reaches room temperature. It should last about six weeks in the refrigerator. You can also freeze a portion for later use.  Frozen lavender oil will stay fragrant for four to six months.

Uses For Lavender Oil

You can use the oil as a moisturizer, mild antibacterial, bath oil, or dry hair treatment. You'll smell great with a touch of the oil at your pulse points, and it will last longer than many water-based colognes.

If you have potpourri around the house, decorative herb wreaths, lavender wands or other decorative lavender crafts, you can refresh them with lavender fragrance by applying a drop or two of oil.

Special Notes on Using Lavender Oil:

Lavender Essential oil is distilled and very concentrated. This mixture is not an essential oil. It's less strong, but has a good fragrance and can be applied directly to the skin.

Don't use lavender that has been treated with pesticides.

Lavender can cause allergic reactions in some people. If you experience a rash, sore throat, or nausea, discontinue use. If you are having trouble breathing after using a lavender infused product or homemade concoction, seek medical help immediately.


Monday

Pepper Growing Tips and Tricks

Pepper AssortmentPeppers don't take up much space in the garden, but provide a good per-plant harvest and can be used in lots of different ways. You can also employ some creative preservation methods that will offer tantalizing options for using peppers in winter dishes.

The Old Farmer's Almanac has some good advice today for growing large bell peppers. This is also good advice for growing most garden peppers:

Pepper Growing Tips


Give peppers at least eight hours of light a day.

Peppers like rich soil that is high in phosphorous.

Make sure your peppers have good drainage.

Provide them with a soil pH between 6 and 8.

Pepper Varieties to Try

If you haven't put your bell peppers in the ground yet, look for Big Bertha and Goliath varieties for oversized peppers that will fill up a fajita skillet or hold lots of ground beef.

If you like a mix of peppers in the garden, give paprika peppers a try too. They dry well and taste wonderful. This fall you can dry and then grind them into your paprika powder using a simple coffee grinder.

For some adventure, try a habanero pepper plant (also known as a Scotch bonnet), if you can stand the heat. They're the orange peppers in the photo. If you pick them when they're green, they won't be quite so hot.

Sweet banana peppers make a nice change in color, texture, and flavor to the peppers you're probably used to. They are a great garnish or addition to your vegetable pizza.

Jalapeño peppers and red chili peppers freeze beautifully for garden goodness all winter long.

Smoke a few jalapenos to make your own chipotle chiles using an inexpensive smoker or Weber style grill.

If you want to save some of your summer bell pepper bounty for winter enjoyment, roast them on the barbecue, skin, and freeze them. They'll add depth and flavor to your chili, sloppy Joes, and packaged skillet meals.

Many peppers are good producers, giving you an extended harvest into the fall if you're spared a hard frost.

When you're preparing your late summer feast, don't forget those wonderful, colorful peppers. They make a beautiful display tumbling out of a wicker basket, and they'll show your friends and family how productive gardening can be.

Sunday

Iced Green Tea with Mint and Ginger

If you've ever limped through a hot, humid day lusting for a cool and really refreshing drink, this is the one. Green tea is full of antioxidants and ginger is a great restorative. Both mint and ginger are good for an unsettled stomach too. This is my tea of choice from the beginning of July through the end of August.

When you make it, be prepared to fight for what's left in the pitcher. It's that tasty.

Refreshing Iced Green Tea Recipe

*8 Green Tea Bags
1/4 Cup Thinly sliced fresh ginger (You can leave the skin on.)
20 Mint leaves, bruised or torn
8 Cups boiling water
Lemon slice

  • Combine tea bags, mint, and ginger in a non-reactive pot (ceramic or glass would be great).
  • Pour boiling water over herbs and tea. Let steep for ten minutes. Strain.
  • Allow the liquid to cool to room temperature.
  • Pour over crushed ice.
  • Serve with a slice of lemon.

*If you are using a quality loose green tea, start with three tablespoons. Save the grounds and reuse them to make two batches of iced green tea in a day. You can employ an infuser, add the tea to simple drawstring muslin bag, or make a pouch with string and a length of muslin or cheesecloth.

Herbed Chicken Saltimbocca

Sliced ProsciuttoOne great advantage to keeping sage in the garden is being able to use fresh, young sage leaves in saltimbocca, an Italian favorite. Although my recipe doesn't use veal, it's still delicious, with an earthy and herby flavor that will sing the praises of your garden without you saying a single word.

Herbed Chicken Saltimbocca Recipe

6 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (pounded to 1/2 inch thick)
6 Slices Prosciutto
6 Fresh, young, sage leaves
1/2 Cup Flour
1/2 Tsp. Pepper
1/2 Tsp. Salt
3 Tbsp. Olive oil
2 Tbsp. Butter
1/2 Cup White wine
1/2 Cup Chicken stock
2 Tsp. Lemon juice
2 Tsp. Minced Parsley
2 Tsp. Minced Chives

Heat olive oil in a large skillet.

While oil is heating, dredge chicken in flour, salt, and pepper mixture. Shake to remove excess.

*Place one sage leaf on each breast and top with a slice of prosciutto. Press lightly.

Saute chicken with prosciutto in skillet until lightly browned, about two to three minutes on each side. You may need to do this in two batches. Remove from skillet to drain. Set aside. (If you set the chicken prosciutto side down in the skillet first, the layer of ham will stick to the chicken and make turning the breasts easier.)

Remove all but a couple of teaspoons of oil from the skillet. Add white wine and chicken stock. Stir. Allow to simmer until reduced by about a third. Add lemon juice.

Add butter to the mixture in two batches, whisking briskly until the sauce thickens. Add parsley.

Remove chicken to a serving platter. Top with sauce. Add chives and place a sprig of parsley and a slice of lemon on the platter for garnish.

*To distribute the sage flavor across the entire breast, try chopping each leaf into about six pieces and sprinkling the pieces on each breast. This is really effective if the breasts are large.

If you've been looking for a recipe to show off the bounty of your herb garden, this is the one.

Photo of sliced prosciutto courtesy of RobertDiGiorgio under free GNU license.

Saturday

Herb Pots

I paid a visit to Junk Market Style this morning for a look at all of Janice Gurney's wonderful makeshift planters. I have to admit that I think just about anything can make a wonderful pot or decorative cachepot.

When I was a kid, we had plant pots on every windowsill, on our porches, crowding the sides of the stone steps leading up to the front door, and even sharing some of the steppingstones in the yard.

My mother pressed just about anything she could find into service too, including old glass pitchers, discarded pans, straw hats, and even old wooden drawers. She had a knack for bringing it all together with flair.

Eco-Friendly Planters That Give Found Objects a Stylish Second Life


Janice's photos reminded me of those sweet days when we'd visit the second-hand stores just to browse.

If you have a minute, take a look at her pics in: Just Plant It! , and while you're there, Jim Healey has photos of his Rusty Old Wheelbarrow Planter that are worth a look too. The addition of some dill, a little cilantro and a few chives would make them perfect.

Special Note for Planting Herb Pots

When choosing pots for herbs, make sure that you select vessels with drainage holes. Most herbs can tolerate a range of soil conditions, but they demand good drainage. To make sure that your plant doesn't get wet feet (that's root rot for the uninitiated), fill the bottom of the pot with small stones, sand, or even clay pot shards.

If you plan on using a decorative cachepot for display, have a regular old pot inside the cachepot, and elevate the interior pot with a row of marbles or stones so that it will drain well.

If you have a container that doesn't have drainage holes and you want to modify it, there are special tips you can get for Dremel-style drills that can make holes in ceramic. Learning how to use them make take a bit of practice though.

Quick Lavender Bed Bug Spray for You, Your Clothes and Bedding

There must be lots of people out there plagued with bed bugs. I certainly get my share of requests for information about getting rid of these pests naturally. One interesting trend I'm seeing is from people who just want to make sure that they're protected when they go to sleep at night. They're usually sleeping away from home and don't want to make a fuss. They just want to avoid getting bitten.

I'm not an advocate of spraying too much insecticide around. There's an easy herbal solution that will discourage bed bugs from biting if you're staying in a location where you can't treat the entire room or building, but you need to get a good night's sleep without making your skin a bug buffet.

Natural Lavender Bug Repellent


I like lavender as a treatment. It's safe when used in moderation and smells good to people, but bedbugs hate it. Pick up some lavender essential oil and cut it with water. Use the lavender water in the last rinse when you wash your clothes. You can also put it in your iron to steam lavender into your clothes. In a pinch, you can also use it to spritz directly onto bedding, your nightie, and the carpeting around the bed. (Be sure to pull the covers back and give sheets and blankets time to air-dry before you hop in for the night.)

Be careful to follow the manufacturer's directions for using lavender oil, and never touch the concentrated oil with your bare skin. In lieu of other instructions, try:

Quick Lavender Bedbug Spray

4 Drops of lavender essential oil
4 oz. Water

If you aren't planning on spraying the mixture right away, use distilled water and add one tablespoon of vodka to the mixture. Oh, and while you're at it, double the batch to use for multiple applications.


Other Tips to Help Repel Bed Bugs
  • You can add a few drops of lavender oil to your bath to make you skin less appealing to bedbugs. Eating lots of garlic will help too.
  • If you're staying in a hotel or dorm, make a few sachets of lavender buds and keep them under your pillow and in your luggage. Throw a little rosemary into the bags too.
  • Bedbugs don't like heat, so run your hair dryer over bedding, the headboard, and the carpeting near the bed before you go to sleep at night.
For more information about dealing with bedbugs, please take a look at my blog: Natural Bedbug 

Control

Product Link:
Radha Lavender Essential Oil - Big 4 Oz - 100% Pure & Natural Therapeutic Grade - PREMIUM QUALITY Oil From Bulgaria