Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Anticipation is Keeping Me Waiting

As of today, in my part of the world, working in the garden is only a dream. But today is one of the last days of February so the dream will shortly become a reality. I love living in a place where the seasons change but January and February can seem very long unless you have a hobby to keep you going. Planning my garden, working on quilts, reading a good book and playing the piano are just a few of my many interests.

Gardening is in my thoughts daily. I itch to get my hands dirty and to smell the rich odors of earth covered with wet leaves and worms. The work is a little more difficult with every passing year but I still love it. I pray for continuing good health so I can keep up the physical pace that is required to get the garden in order. The sound of the robins chirping their cheerful call and the chatter of the chipmunks and squirrels will call me out of the house. The birdhouses will need cleaning so my precious wrens return. And the pond will need some fresh water that will make a pleasant splashing sound attracting the birds for their spring bath. The wheelbarrow will be waiting to deliver fresh wood chips.

This year I plan on attacking the herb garden in a fury, pulling weeds, rearranging plants, sowing seeds, and re-marking labels. I have also made a promise to myself to keep up my garden journal. It's a great way to keep track of what variety of seeds you used, where you purchased plants, and for making weather notations.

I like to buy my plants at stores that allow a refund when the newly transplanted plant doesn't make it because of reasons beyond my control. Some nurseries allow up to one year for refunds, giving you time for the seasons to pass. I keep a file for all gardening receipts, since I never know when this will happen. Make sure you make a note as to whether the plant is an annual or perennial. You wouldn't want to ask for money back on a plant that was doomed to die in the fall anyway. Oops, how embarrassing!

Well, I think it's time to curl up with my favorite herb magazines, The Herb Quarterly, Herbs for Health, and it's partner The Herb Companion. They all offer great advice, and beautiful pictures. Just what I need for inspiration. You can find more information on these three magazines by clicking on the list in the side panel.

As Carly Simon said in her 1970s hit, Anticipation is keeping me waiting.

One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides. W.E. Johns

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What's for Lunch?

I don't know about you, but where I am it's still cold and there's a fresh snowfall blowing sideways. I keep thinking winter is almost over and then it strikes again. But luckily, February is a short month and so spring is just around the corner.

If you like to stay in and create a nice homey lunch or light supper, here is one of my favorite combinations. Cream of basil soup with homemade herbed biscuits. And as was told to Mikey (if you're old enough to remember) "Try it, you'll like it."

Cream of Basil Soup:

3 c. chicken broth
1 c. minced fresh basil
1/4 c. butter or margarine
3 T. all-purpose flour
white pepper to taste
3 c. milk
1/2 c. sour cream

In a saucepan, simmer broth and basil, uncovered, for 15 minutes. In another saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour and pepper until smooth, gradually add milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Reduce heat; gradually stir in broth and sour cream (do not boil) Yield: 8 servings.

Herbed Biscuits:

Seasoning Mix: Combine and store ahead of time. Makes enough for 8 batches of biscuits or you can also sprinkle it on chicken, pork, beef, or steamed vegetables.

2 T. each of dried oregano, marjoram, and basil
4 t. dried savory
2 t. dried rosemary, crushed
2 t. rubbed sage

Yield: 1/2 cup


1/4 c. chopped onion
2 T. butter or margarine, divided
1-1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
1/4 c. shortening
1 egg
1/3 c. milk
2 T. grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Saute 1 T. seasoning mix and onion in 1 T. butter in skillet until onion is tender; set aside. In a bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening until crumbly. Combine egg, milk, and onion mixture. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Turn onto a floured board; knead 10-15 times. Roll to 3/4 inch thickness; cut with a 2-1/2 inch biscuit cutter. Place on a greased baking sheet. Melt remaining butter; brush over biscuits. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Yield: 6 biscuits

Nature goes her own way, and all that to us seems an exception is really according to order. Goethe

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Shakespeare Theme Garden, continued

Here's Flowers for you
Hot lavender, sweet mints, savory,
marjoram. William Shakespeare. Winter's Tale

Well, I ran out of time and room to finish what I was telling you about theme gardens. Here is a list of herbs you can feature in a Shakespeare Garden:

Balm: Merry Wives of Windsor

Chamomile: Henry IV

Hyssop: Othello

Lavender: Winter's Tale

Marjoram: All's Well that Ends Well

Mint: Love's Labour's Lost

Parsley: Taming of the Shrew

Rosemary: Hamlet

Savory: Winter's Tale

Thyme: Othello

Wormwood: Romeo and Juliet

I am that flower,
That mint,
That columbine. William Shakespeare. Love's Labour Lost

Friday, February 23, 2007

Herb Theme Gardens

If you still haven't planned your garden for spring, think about a theme garden. There are so many ways to do this it boggles my mind, so, for the most part,I'll leave it up to your imagination,

One of the most common herb theme gardens is based around Shakespeare plays. Another is based around Beatrix Potter books. You could also try to do an alphabet garden and put a letter marker by each plant. That's a fun one for children. And then there's the Biblical garden. Plant herbs from the Bible with the verse written on a marker next to the plant. Here are just a few Biblical herbs. Have fun researching some more yourself.

Costmary --(as shown above) mentioned throughout the Bible; also known as Bible Leaf. It was used as a bookmark in Colonial times because it was effective as an insect repellent. It was kept in between the Bible pages and if the sermon was too long, and the parishioner got sleepy, he would nibble the leaf to try to stay awake

Hyssop -- Psalms 51:7 -- also called cleansing blood, used to cleanse holy places by the Egyptians

Lavender -- called Spikenard in the Bible

Mint -- Matthew 23:23

Rosemary -- mentioned throughout

Rue -- the branches were used to sprinkle holy water preceding High Mass

St John's Wort -- associated with John the Baptist

Wormwood -- Amos 6:11

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth....God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Genesis 1:1,31

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Top Ten Herbs of Enduring Happiness

I'm a list maker. I always have been. It gives me comfort and takes worry out of having to remember everyday things. I used to take a lot of teasing from my daughters as they were growing up but now that they have houses and families of their own, I've noticed the list making has taken hold of them, too.

Recently, I came across an old list going back over 14 years. I was just starting to plan this garden at my new, 100-year-old home, and as I was planning what I would grow and the layout, I was dreaming of what it would look like some day. As I purchased or traded plants and seeds, I checked them off my list. I also kept a notebook of pictures from magazines of things that I especially wanted in my garden -- arbors, brick paths, statuary, birdfeeders and houses, and a pond with a waterfall. There are still a few plants left unchecked, but I've noticed that at some point I completed most of my plans, and everything I dreamed of has come true. That was an amazing feeling. Sometimes we can only understand that we have satisfied our dreams by looking back and reading an old list or journal.

Today I am going to share with you the top ten herbs that were on my list. These herbs are most commonly used for cooking as well as for fragrance.

1. Basil -- great with tomatoes, and a must for making pesto.

2. Chamomile -- German chamomile is an annual that grows well throughout the United States. It reseeds itself if left alone, but you can collect the seeds and sow them in the early spring. The small flowers make a very comforting tea.

3. Chives -- a member of the onion family. The pink flowers "pretty up" your garden while the leaves can be chopped and added to salads, eggs, and dips, etc.

4. Lavender -- A bushy plant with slender gray leaves. In mild climates in can be considered an evergreen, but in colder climates the top dies down and fresh new leaves emerge each spring. Use in baking desserts, or as a freshener for your linen closet or in potpourris.

5. Mint -- Likes moister conditions than most herbs. There are many flavors of mint, even chocolate! Beware, it can take over your garden, so you might want to plant it where it can be contained. Use in iced tea, ice cream or other sweet desserts.

6. Oregano -- Goes well in most Italian dishes. Very easy to grow from seed. Originally, it was thought to be more medicinal but during World War II soldiers fell in love with the European recipes that used it and they brought it home to Mom's kitchen in the States.

7. Parsley -- Curly-leaved or flat-leaved varieties. Use in soups or as a garnish.

8. Rosemary -- Fresh piny smell, strong flavor. It's sensitive to cold temperatures so you'll want to bring it in before the first frost. Besides its culinary uses, it can help to relieve nasal congestion.

9. Sage -- Best known for it's use in poultry stuffing. Prefers a sunny dry location. Harvest the leaves before it flowers. Frequent pruning is a must. If you get a cut in the garden, rinse off any dirt on the cut, then press a sage leaf on the cut area. It will seal the cut quickly and stop the bleeding.

10. Thyme -- Goes well with most herbs in meat dishes to vegetable dishes. Has a delicate clove-like flavor. It was used in World War I as an antiseptic. Also a good digestive aid, as well as an insect and moth repellent in linen closets. A favorite of bees, so it's easiest to harvest the leaves before the plant flowers.

But the lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives... Gertrude Jekyll

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Tussie-Mussie Valentine

What is a tussie-mussie, you ask? The answer originally was not as romantic as we think of it now. In Medieval times, when bathing and personal hygiene was not common, small herbal nosegays, or bouquets, were carried by both men and women. They were held to their noses to cover street odors and body odors when in close proximity to other people. Men kept small arrangements in their lapels and women wore small bouquets on their wrists or in tiny vials that were attached to their clothing. Today, we couldn't imagine living like that. It seems as though everything has a scent to it and daily washing is considered a must.

Over time the tussie-mussie came to be a gift. Each flower or herb had a meaning, and in the 1700s in England, the art of sending messages with flowers, called floriography, was developed. In the 1800s, there was a resurgence of tussie-mussie messages in the Victorian era in the United States. Lovers were able to send their deepest feelings through flowers and herbs without the knowledge of others.

Here are a few herbs and flowers and their meanings. I though you might want to select a few for your Valentine or special friend:

Heart Ivy -- Friendship or marriage
Honeysuckle -- Devoted affection
Lemon Balm -- Sympathy
Mint -- Wisdom
Parsley -- Festivity
Pansy -- Thinking of you
Rosemary -- Remembrance
Roses -- Love
Sage -- Good health or long life
Sweet basil -- Good wishes
Sweet Violets -- Faithfulness
Tulip, yellow -- Hopeless love

All you need are some fresh or dried herbs, floral tape with wire, and lace or a Victorian posy holder; you can find them in antique shops, gift shops, and floral shops. It's just a small metal cone-shaped vase. You can even roll some heavy paper or poster board in a cone, covered with the lace and staple to hold in place. Group the herbs in small bunches, and secure each one with floral tape. Make sure you hold back an individual flower or herb for the center to convey your message. Group them together in a pleasing circle, wrapping with the tape as you go. Place in the holder and present to your sweetheart.
Happy Valentine's Day

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that's for thoughts..... William Shakespeare

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble

Yes, I know it's actually Double Double Toil and Trouble but at least my title rhymes with the original, poetic license right? Besides most people think the quote is Boil Boil Toil and Trouble, so mine is not too bad.

Anyway, it's time to bake, not cook, and no, this recipe is anything but trouble, and there's very little toil involved. It's called Herbed Bubble Bread. I found it in one of my favorite magazines, Taste of Home, in the October 2001 issue. Anita from Georgia sent it in to the magazine, so I thank you, Anita. I love this recipe and have used it for several years. It's goes very nicely with a steaming bowl of pea soup or cheddar broccoli soup. Mmmm, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. It will warm you right up on these cold February days, real comfort food. After dinner, I think I'll curl up with a good book and a cup of herb tea. How about you?

Herbed Bubble Bread:

1/4 c. butter or margarine, melted
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. dried thyme
1 package ( 16 oz.) frozen dinner roll dough, thawed

In a small bowl, combine the butter, garlic powder, oregano. and thyme. Cut each roll in half; dip into butter mixture. Arrange in a greased 12-cup fluted tube pan. Pour remaining herb mixture over the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Yield: 12 servings.

I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude. Henry David Throeau

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Sleeping Beauty

Oh, there are so many herbal bath and beauty secrets to share, that I hardly know where to begin. But maybe we should start with a great way to relax and have a good night's sleep. You'll need to plan ahead the first time, but after that it can become a wonderful and enjoyable routine. First we'll make a dream pillow; here's an old Victorian recipe:

1/2 c hops (to encourage sleep)
1/8 c. lavender flowers (to have pleasant dreams)
1/8 c. rosemary ( to remember dreams)
1/8 c. thyme (to prevent nightmares)
2 T. mugwort leaves (to instill dreams)
1/8 c. rose petals (for dreams of love)
Mix together and pour into a small muslin pillow, tuck this inside your pillowcase. You may also like to make a pretty satin mini pillow, decorated with lace and tied with a ribbon. This is a great gift. Be sure to include the significance of the herbs.

Also, plan ahead with this combination: blend 2 c. fresh herbs or 1 c. dried herbs such as lavender, peppermint or thyme, or any combination you like.

You'll also need some table salt and 5 sprigs of fresh or ten sprigs of dried peppermint or lemon verbena, set aside and get ready for your special evening.

Next, plan your evening either alone or with that special someone, light some candles and prepare to make some chamomile tea. All you need is 1 teaspoon of dried chamomile flowers per cup and hot water. Boil water and steep flowers for 3-5 minutes, strain and pour into cups. (Beware: chamomile flowers can cause an allergic reaction if you have an allergy to ragweed)

While your tea is steeping, give yourself a wonderful facial. Simply add those sprigs of peppermint to a hot bowl of water and stir. Drape a towel over your head, and steam your face for 3-5 minutes. Apply your favorite moisturizer.

Next, more hot (not boiling) water (about 8 cups) and a large tub or bowl for your feet. Don't forget to get some towels and take your cup of tea. Put on some Mozart or your favorite New Age music. Add the peppermint sprigs and salt to the water, immerse your feet, and enjoy a wonderful herbal foot soak for 15 -20 minutes. Just sit back and close your eyes. It's been a long day. Hmmm, I can feel it now.
Now it's time to pat dry and moisturize your feet.

Then off to bed with your little dream pillow; now wasn't that fantastic? You should do it more often.

Gardening really has no beginning and no end. In particular, pleasures of the sense of smell really know no seasons. Tovah Martin

Monday, February 5, 2007

Sweets for the Sweet

If you have a sweet tooth like I do, you might like to try some of the following recipes. Have a tea party with your friends or invite a new neighbor over. What ever happened to the old-fashioned neighborhood coffee? We're all so busy now, but maybe all it takes is one person in your area to help slow it down. Start a book club or a quilting bee. Serve tea and cookies and relax!

Some of these recipes will have to wait until spring, so file them away. Spring is just around the corner, there's no way to stop it now.

Violet Honey:

1 cup clear honey
1/2 cup sweet violet petals

Pour honey into the top of a double boiler, or set a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir in the violet petals, cover, and heat for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for seven days. Then reheat the flavored honey, and strain it into a clean jar. Use this honey as a spread, sweetener for tea, or stir it into yogurt for a delicious treat.

Lavender Sugar:

superfine sugar or confectioner's (powdered)sugar
dried lavender flowers

Bruise the lavender flowers slightly, make sure they are stripped from their stems. Add them to a jar with an air tight seal and store. When you are ready to use, sift out the flower petals. 10-15 flower heads will flavor 1 pound of sugar. Sift over cookies, cakes, muffins, or meringues for a delicate flavor and fragrance.

When the flowers are in season, lay a few sprigs next to the teacup on the plate, or a small bouquet on the serving tray. This alerts the mind to the tasteful pleasures that are about to come.

The greatest gift of a garden is the restoration of the five senses. Hanna Rion

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Like Vinegar and Oil

A fun thing to do with culinary herbs is to make herb oils and herb vinegars. It's pretty simple and the results are not only tasty but pleasing to the eye. You can make an oil with a single flavor, such as basil or marjoram, or combine herbs to make your own unique combination. It's really all about trial and error, so get your pencil ready; you'll want to journal what you are doing. There's nothing worse than having great success and then not being able to duplicate it.

Start with a clean, sterile jar or bottle, preferably clear glass. You'll need to be able to keep an eye on what is happening in there. Add a handful of crushed herbs. Let's try oregano, basil and thyme. Pour some vegetable oil, sunflower oil or safflower oil over the herbs. Olive oil may be too flavorful on it's own and overpower the herbs, but it does work well also if that's what you like. If you choose to use the olive oil, make sure you select a good, extra virgin oil, or as Rachel Ray likes to say, EVOO. Be sure that the oil completely covers the herbs. If any are left exposed they may start to mold, spoiling your recipe. Seal the jar or bottle and let stand for one week, then strain the oil to separate it from the herbs. Add fresh herbs and start the process over again, letting it stand for another week. Depending on how flavorful you want your oil, you might have to do this one more time. Taste as you go until it's to your liking. When you are satisfied, pour into a clean sterilized jar and add some flower heads or large leaves. The oil will keep for about for about 2 weeks with leaves and flowers, and 6 months without them. Keep out of direct sunlight. Watch closely for cloudiness and if that happens, you should discard it and make a fresh batch.

Use these oils in your salad dressings, marinades, and sauces. Pour a small amount in soups, or brush it on meats and fish when grilling.

Herb vinegar is made the same but you do not have to strain and add more herbs. The vinegar is enough of a preservative that you can leave in some dried herbs,a few pieces of dried bay leaf, peppercorns, or even chilies for a little heat. Be sure to use a good cider vinegar or white wine vinegar, and you're all set to go.!

Let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
Galatians 6:9