Thursday, April 26, 2007

Barraged with Borage?

Are you barraged with borage? Do you know what borage is? I just learned about it a few years ago. It's not one of those herbs that you see often in recipes, but you might want to consider planting it. Why? Because in late spring to midsummer it produces incredible, blue, star-shaped flowers. Occasionally, white or pink flowers emerge for a nice surprise. Borage brightens up the herb garden which can be kind of drab and dull, and lacking in showy flowers. Note that there are soft hairs on the leaves that will turn into rough pickers later in the season, so you'll only want to harvest young leaves and stems, fresh with flavor.

Borage leaves have a cool, cucumber taste so they go well in salads, sandwiches or wraps, or chopped in cream cheese as a spread. Always use fresh leaves, never dried. The flowers can be floated on a cool summer punch or lemonade, or candied for cake decorations. (see instructions below)

It's also a wonderful companion plant, deterring tomato worms when planted near tomatoes, and it encourages a plentiful harvest for your strawberries.

This lovely herb grows well in Zones 3-10, requiring full sun. It does best in light, dry, soil. No need for fertilizer; it's thrives in poor conditions. Sow seeds in fall or early spring. It does not transplant well, so make sure you sow the seeds exactly where you want them to grow. It will reseed itself easily, with no attention at all. Now, that's my kind of plant.

Candied Borage Flowers: (this also works well for violets and small roses)

Choose the most perfect flowers, pulling them gently off the plant by the black center. Wash carefully with a fine spray and set on a paper towel to dry. Put some wax paper on a tray and sprinkle with superfine sugar.
When the flowers are dry, use a small, fine, brush, and paint each flower with egg white, then dust with superfine sugar until well-coated. Transfer the flowers to the tray. Leave for 24 hours in a warm, dry place (not in the sun.) When they are completely dry store in an airtight container in between wax paper. Now get creative and decorate a cake, cupcakes, muffins, or even as a topping for a pretty bowl of ice cream.

Nature and the garden brings out the best in our characters. Felicity Bryan

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lovely Lavender, an herb for all occasions

The snow is gone and as a matter of fact the temps were above 80 this past weekend. But in true Michigan style, today it's overcast and 67 degrees. That's not too bad and is, in fact, my favorite temperature to be working in the garden, BUT it's a Blustery Day as Winnie the Pooh would say. Every time I try to put some weeds in the wheelbarrow they blow right back out. I guess it's futile. So I came inside to write to you on the proper care of your lavender plant after it's had a long winter sleep.

The lavender pictured above is one that is in my garden. It has not been groomed yet and is just as I found it this spring. The leaves are starting to sprout and are a light feathery grey. This particular variety is English lavender which is hardy to zones 5-10. Leave the leaves around the base in the fall to protect it from the cold temperatures and do not cut it back. In the spring you need patience, especially if the season is early and warm. Wait for the leaves to begin to form so you can tell what part of the stem is going to produce. Then you can snap off all of the old wood and clean away the undergrowth of weeds. This is what I was beginning to do in the following picture.

Soon I'll have a picture of this same plant, strong and healthy and bursting with beautiful sweet-smelling flowers. But the flowers and leaves are not just for potpourri and wreath making. How about baking a lovely spring cake? Here's the recipe:

Lavender Cake

1 1/2 sticks (6 T.) unsalted butter
scant 1 c. superfine sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 c. self-rising flour, sifted
2 T. fresh lavender flowers, or 1 T. dried culinary lavender (found in your local health food store) roughly chopped
1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 T. milk
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 t. water
a few fresh lavender flowers for decoration

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a deep 8-inch round pan with a removable bottom. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the flour, chopped lavender, vanilla extract, and milk.

2.Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour. Let stand for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

3. Mix the confectioners' sugar with the water until smooth. Drizzle the icing over the cake and decorate with a few fresh lavender flowers.

Weed your own garden first. Old Saying

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Where's the Herbs? (it's snowing in Michigan)

Yes, that's right, it's a new picture of my garden and backyard, just taken today. It's April 11th; can you believe it? We are getting hit hard and more snow is coming. Yesterday I noticed the daffodils had rallied after the last cold blast and now they're buried in snow and ice again.

I want spring; I need spring. I need to feel the warm breezes and smell the fresh air coming off Lake Michigan. When Michigan is at it's best, there is nothing else like it. And contrary to what most people think, where I live we usually have good weather for 9-10 months of the year. It's a different story in the UP (and in case you didn't see the movie "Escanaba in da Moonlight" starring Jeff Daniels, UP means Upper Peninsula.) BRRRR! It's cold up there.

Well, there's no hope of getting any pictures of the perennial herbs as they start to grow and produce. I planned on trudging out back to get a shot of the poor daffs but I'm not that stupid. It's cold out!! Now I have to plan my dinner; I'm not in the mood for winter-type recipes like soups and stews, and summer picnic fare doesn't seem right. Maybe I'll just have a nice cup of tea and a piece of toast, it's my answer to everything. Will my husband agree? Probably not. Oh well, it was worth a try.

Bring forth fruit with patience. Luke 8:15

Friday, April 6, 2007

Spring Fever, My Herb and Daylily Plans

I sat down to write about herbs as usual, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I'm yearning to talk about my daylilies.

It's supposed to be spring, and Easter is in a few days, but here in Michigan we are once again covered with a blanket of snow. How disappointing! The daffodils were up and the robins were singing just a few days ago. The daylilies had broken ground and were starting to show a few inches of green leaves. The excitement of the new season is sometimes too much to bear.

And then the snow, wind, and ice settled in again. It happens every year, and I'm old enough to know it does, but it never ceases to disappoint me. The only good thing is that nothing can stop spring and the summer that follows. It's coming, we just don't know when.

Anyway, I have a book of pictures of each daylily in my garden (over 100 varieties now) except for the newbies that I planted last year. I love to peruse the pictures and dream of the beautiful sight in July when they are in their glory. But suddenly I realized that I spend a lot of time dreaming of the future and missing out on today in the process. Gardeners have to dream, that's part of it. I need to plan the new herb area also, and how and when I will move certain plants. But there is beauty in every day that shouldn't be overlooked. As I have told my daughter many times, the skies of Michigan in winter are beautiful if you look at them as an Ansel Adams black-and-white picture. Black trees on a white snow carpet against a grey sky background. What more could a photographer wish for? It's part of the circle of life, and I just have to wait for it to come around to my favorite part. My favorite prayer: God, grant me patience -- and please HURRY!

Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

A Plethora of Parsley

You probably think I have a large herb garden, but that's not really true. I actually have a large flower garden with herbs interspersed and one area set aside for herbs only. It's big enough for our cooking and medicinal uses, and that's really all we need. I have one or two plants of each type that I want and that yields plenty of herbs to dry, freeze, or use fresh. Plus, there are always the potted windowsill plants indoors. I have been known to run out of my favorite herbs when cooking for a dinner evening with friends, but that's when I make an emergency run to the local grocery store. The produce sections in most supermarkets are getting better all the time with the selection and variety they carry. I also like to shop at my local health food store and was quite disappointed when I first discovered that they don't usually have fresh herbs on hand. But there is a plethora of dried and crushed herbs, so that makes up for their lack of fresh. The fragrance in that dried herb aisle is heavenly!

I'm growing parsley right now in my seed tray. Oh my, it looks like I am having a bumper crop. If it transplants well, I will be giving plants to every friend and neighbor I have. According to ancient folklore, parsley only flourishes in gardens where the mistress of the house is actually the "master." Don't tell my husband, or he'll never eat it again. That male ego thing, you know.

Well, if you end up with a good crop of parsley like I have, here's a recipe that will use up quite a bit. It actually calls for fusilli which is a corkscrew-shaped pasta, but any type of small pasta will do. Use what's in your cupboard.

Herb Pasta with White Beans and Bacon

Zest of 1 large lemon, grated or minced
1 large garlic clove, pressed
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 T olive oil
15-oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
4-6 thick slices smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1-2 inch pieces
14 oz. dried fusilli
1 1/2 C. coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 C. coarsely chopped fresh sage
2-3 T. coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
Coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
Grated Romano cheese for serving

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon zest, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. Stir in beans and set aside.

In a medium heavy skillet, cook bacon pieces over low to medium low heat, turning often. Cook until crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towel and drain. Pour off bacon drippings, reserving 1/4 c. in the skillet.

Meanwhile prepare pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain well, reserving 1/2 c. of the water. Transfer pasta to a serving bowl, add beans with their marinade and the bacon pieces and lightly toss.

In the skillet that was used to cook the bacon, heat the reserved drippings over medium-high heat until hot. Add parsley, sage, and rosemary to the hot drippings and saute' quickly, 10-15 seconds. Drizzle and scrape bacon drippings and herbs into the pasta mixture and toss to blend. For a moister coating, add a little of the reserved cooking water. Serve immediately. Pass salt, pepper, and grated cheese at the table.

God Almighty first planted a garden; and indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures. Sir Francis Bacon