Garden, Plant, Cook!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Make Yule Log with Wood, Herbs and Citrus From The Garden.

Yule Log
Dear Folks,

Check out my "16th Day of Herbs & Celebrations" craft project, using fun plants from your garden.

25 Days of Herbs and Celebrations Day 16.

The Yule Log is an old tradition used by both pagans and Christians for different celebrations. 

It is a fun project for the family to create for use in your fireplace, firepit or chiminea (do check on burn restrictions because of air quality).  Parts of the prior years log were saved as kindling for the current year.

Pictured.  I used Rosemary, Myrtle, an Orange citrus rind to hold some dried Roselle, and  few pieces of paper ribbon, glued to a cut branch of one of our peach trees.

If you make this week, it will dry in time to light December 24th or 25th (the wood needs to be already very dry).

Look for my post in a couple of days for January Planting Tips.

Have a Best Day in your Garden and Kitchen!


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

25 + 12 Days of Christmas - herbs + history + fun stuff.

Dear Folks,
Syrian Oregano

With my love of all things culinary herbal, two years ago I decided to expand my research and knowledge into the culinary herbs mentioned in the Bible.

The Biblical lands are home to 3 of the world's major religions and those lands are so similar to our own desert southwest, we can grow those herbs here.

You may wish to bookmark this page so you can come back as you wish to look up a day or herb.

So without further ado - check out my "Herbal Advent Calendar" of multi-cultural herbs and celebrations.

25 Days of Celebrating the Multicultural festivities of December, I thought I would pick an herb or spice which is referenced in the Bible (land of three of the Major Religions of the world) and used in many cuisines around the entire world, as a way of gathering together all the wealth of diversity around us - in true celebration.

A note about the herbs and spices I selected. There is agreement on some of the herbs of the Bible (garlic, onion and mint for example) and some continuing discussion on which plant the Bible referred to.  After many years there is a consensus - although still discussed by some - that the Hyssop of the Bible is Syrian Oregano (Origanum maru).  Since Hyssop (Hyssopus officionalis) is not indigenous to the lands of the Bible but Syrian Oregano is, I have included it as the Biblical plant.

I am including some of the most enjoyed songs of the Christmas and secular celebrations of the month.

Herbs of The Bible

Myrtle, Anise, Cinnamon, Cassia, Chamomile, Chicory, Dandelion, Sow Thistle, Horseradish, Sorrel, Coriander, Lavender, Cumin, Dill, Mint, Hyssop, Garlic, Leek, Sage, NIgella, Laurel, Onion, Mustard, Marjoram, and Saffron.

Cassia (Cinnamomum iners)
Sow Thistle (Milk Thistle)
Coriander (Cilantro seed)
Lavender (called Spikenard in the Bible)
Hyssop – of the Bible is generally recognized as Syrian Oregano Origanum syriacum
Nigella (BlackCumin or Black Caraway)
Laurel (Bay Leaf)

12 Days of Christmas Blog Post links

While some folks, particularly the commercial companies,  celebrate the 12 days of Christmas leading UP to Christmas Day - the 12 days actually begin with Christmas Day and end on January 6th, Epiphany.  Sometimes called "Little Christmas" (our family celebrated this too), these 12 days are usually ended with a "12th Night Feast".

I first posted on the 12 days of Christmas back in 2008.

A nice site for talking to and teaching your children or grandchildren, about the multicultural celebrations of December, is Education World, with this nice page.

If you want to grow more culinary herbs - check out my herb planting chart for purchase ($5.00).  It is a PDF so you can have it handy all the time.  I cover 48 culinary herbs with suggested planting times and food pairing information.  Click here to go directly to the page or find it in the side bar on the top right of this blog.

I hope you find this a fun way to explore herb history and fun ideas.

Have a best day in the garden and kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Garden Harvest and A Holiday Crafting Site

Dear Folks,

I hope you all had a wonderful, peaceful Thanksgiving.

A few days ago, I went out to check on my sweet peppers and tomatoes and filled my apron with a bunch of each!  I have some pepper and tomato plants in a couple of different locations.  This one is a Southwest area which means it gets very little morning sun this time of year but is loving what it gets.

The sugar peas are starting to give me some edible pods.  I am still getting cherries from the Barbados (Acerola) tree.  And I still have lots of sweet potatoes and the occasional eggplant to harvest.  I used the sweet potato leaves for a BLT last night, always fun.  I add fresh basil leaves and a few sugar pea leaves to the "lettuce" portion of the sandwich and those gorgeous looking tomatoes.  Yum.

I like to make my own cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving and through the holidays (pretty much to have on hand all year, in fact).  I try to get organic cranberries and use organic sugar.  I canned up some the day before Thanksgiving.  We use cranberry sauce like jam for any and everything (turkey sandwiches!).

Since cranberry sauce recipes usually start out with "a bag" of, I tweaked the recipe to accommodate whatever size bag you purchase.  For each 4 ounces (by bag weight) you need 1/3 cup of water and 1/3 cup of sugar.  Bring the water and sugar to a boil, stir until dissolved then add cranberries, reduce to a simmer, cover and WATCH, even at a simmer they sometimes want to boil over.  And if you are as bad at multitasking as I am you need to monitor.  :-)  Simmer for about 8-10 minutes until all the berries have burst, stirring once in a while.  The lovely thing about cranberries is how much pectin they naturally have..  They "want" to be a nice firm jam when cooled.  I decided to use 4 ounce jars for canning from now on, as even the 8 oz can be too much all at once.  Even refrigerated they can go bad if you have a guy like my guy who likes to have 4-6 types of jam available all the time.

Fun craft ideas from the Victorian Age.  I have loved all of the BBC special "farm" series shows which each highlighted a farm time in history.  This link is to a special craft page for creating Victorian type Christmas ideas from cards to decorations.


I am posting with links to my 25 Days of Christmas - but wait there's more - and the 12 Days of Christmas!

I am The Herb Lady, so two years ago I decided to expand my research into the herbs of the Bible for the holidays and focused on 25 culinary herbs to create my version of the 25 days of Christmas - sort of an Herbal Advent Calendar.  Be sure to watch for the blog post.

I also then created a post for each of the 12 Days of Christmas which traditionally does not start on December 1st but, in fact, starts with December 25th.

When you get the post you may want to bookmark it so you can come back to it whenever you want to check out "the day".  I have a lot of information in each one.

Speaking of Herbs - check out my Herb Planting Chart for sale as a PDF in the side bar here on the blog. I have information on growing 48 different culinary herbs here in the desert southwest and USDA Zone 9b and above.

Have a best day in the garden and kitchen,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Self Reliant Bundle Sale - Black Friday through Cyber Monday

Dear Folks,

Check out these discount deals on bundles of helpful and useful information.

I participated in a bundle with Self Reliant School and was impressed with the range of experts.

Bundles are a way to purchase a lot of information for a fraction of what you would pay for the book or workshop or method individually.

These discounts are good today, Black Friday, November 24 through Cyber Monday, November 27, 2017

Click here for the bundle offers.
The bundles include:
  1. Christmas Gift Bootcamp-$29.97 (this is the lowest price this product will ever be)
  2. 2017 Back To Basics Living Summit (Lifetime Access) + 1 Year Christmas Gift Bootcamp-$89.94 (this is the lowest price this product will ever be)
  3. 2017 Back To Basics Living Summit (Lifetime Access) + 1 Year Membership to Self Reliant School + all of our books-$187.94
  4. 1 Year Christmas Gift Bootcamp + 1 Year Membership to Self Reliant School + all of our books-$157.94
  5. One Year SRS Membership (Plus Books)--$127.97
  6. Everything--Summit (Lifetime Access), One Year Bootcamp and One Year SRS Membership (Plus Books)-$217.91
The Christmas bootcamp is about making your own Christmas / Holiday gifts.

The Back to Basics Living Summit is 28 experts on a range of self reliant, topics from gardening / farming to cooking to useful methods.  Click here to see the list of experts and their topics.  This summit was live this past September and is now available through this offer to listen to at your own pace.

Click here for more information.  Be sure to scroll all the way through to see the details.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady If you enjoyed this post, subscribe below by entering your email, to get all my posts!
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Monday, November 20, 2017

Around the Garden and some Holiday Ideas and Thoughts

Dear Folks,

Harvested some "Molikai" purple sweet potatoes for a BBQ Saturday.  I have 3 different varieties of sweet potato growing, so I will see what I can get to next.  My SP bed is also home to a huge tomato plant which is still pushing out fruit.

As you get ready for Thanksgiving and last minute shopping, consider setting a box out and adding something to it over the course of several weeks.  This "Reverse Advent" idea is about delivering a box of shelf-stable food to your local food bank  While the image suggests delivering Christmas Eve, the food banks love the idea, but suggest several days earlier so they can actually get it sorted and set up for use.

"Fall" always cracks me up because in our gardens falling leaves are not part of October, but more like when the high winds start in November and December.  We had some high winds Friday night into Saturday morning and the "fall" of the peach tree leaves started.  Some time in December we come out one morning and you can't see the lawn - all at once!

On the flip side of the high winds, the Barbados Cherries I have been watching for ripening suddenly appeared on the ground under and around the tree. This "super" berry is high in Vitamin C and may be more "super" than Acai (and I keep calling the Barbados Acai, but it is actually Acerola).  Delicious - kind of an apple sweet/tart taste.  The good thing about them falling off the tree is they keep ripening.  Of course not as sweet as left on the tree but still tasty.

Fall and the Holidays get me thinking of pumpkin spiced anything and Eggnog.  My niece posted a delicious sounding Eggnog Pancake recipe.  I think I will tweak the recipe a bit and make waffles soon.

I tripped across this cute recycle project for a unique "Christmas Tree" - I love recycled garden tool ideas even if I don't get to use them. The original idea was in the current Country Living issue, but it was not available online so I found a similar one.  Cute!

I also have two favorite funny youtube videos for Thanksgiving.

All about the Baste

Dinner Challenges

Wishing you a peaceful and wonderful Thanksgiving!

I am truly thankful for all of you following me and knowing I've helped to get your growing on.

P.S.  If you missed the December Planting tips post here is the link.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Jam / Fruit Cake and More from The Garden

Dear Folks,

I have written about my "jam bread" before.  When I realized I had 3 dozen jars of my own homemade jam plus other gifts, I decided I needed to find a way to use them up faster.  When you look at a typical fruit bread "cake" (sometimes called quick breads) it is flour, salt, sugar, fat, baking powder, some liquid and fruit and nuts.  I decided to experiment a couple of years ago and discovered I could use jam as the "fruit and liquid" to create a moist and delicious cake.

With the holidays coming I wanted to try two things:  to create a fruit cake which everyone would love and to bake them in canning jars and "can" them for keeping. Below I will give you the basic recipe and the additions added to make a more filled "fruit cake" like you usually see.

Canned cake.  I read a blog post by a sustainable farmer and thought I needed to try that.  I did "can"  one of my batches last spring and it turned out "okay".  I say that because it did keep - I opened a jar one month later and the cake was just as I sealed it up baking day.  The problem was the bottom burned some.

Back to the drawing board as they say.  The old fashioned way of making cakes in cans was to put the can in a pan with boiling water while baking - bingo!  Burning problem solved.

Getting the right amount of batter in the jar is the next challenge.  Too much and it will overflow.  In the pictures you will see 2 sets.  One I filled just a hair over half way and the other about 3/4.  I reasoned that if the more filled one "domed" I could just "squish" it down with the lid, and that worked great.

The next phase will be whether the seals (I heard all the nice pops) worked well and the cake keeps.  In one month I will open 1 each of the half filled and 3/4 filled and see if they are okay (no mold etc.)  Meanwhile we are enjoying the rest of them and sharing them with friends.  They are delicious, moist and filled with fruit and nuts.

You need to make sure you have the new lids ready for when you pull the pans out of the oven.  You need to cap IMMEDIATELY to create the safe seal.

You can make this cake in a loaf pan.  If you decide you want to can them, make sure you WIPE the edges of the jars before putting in the oven, so you have a clean surface when you put the lids on to create the perfect seal.

Baking time is going to be different depending on the size of the jars you choose to use and how much you fill them.  In this case the half filled jars were ready in 45 minutes,  The more filled jar needed another 5 minutes.  Over all plan on 45-60 minutes depending on the jar you use.  The toothpick should come out clean but not squeeky clean.

I doubled the batch you see in the pictures

Jam/Fruit Cake
I try to use organic ingredients like flour, sugar etc. where available

2 cups of all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of oil (I like avocado but any of your favorite could be used)
1 1/5 cups of jam
1 cup of chopped nuts

To the recipe shown I also added 3/4 cup of pumpkin seeds and 3/4 cup of chopped candied roselle petals - I wanted the red and green to show in the finished cake.  See my post on Roselle and candying the petals - they have a lovely cranberry flavor.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

If using loaf pan, grease and set aside - this recipe makes one typical loaf.  After batter is made pour into pan and bake 45-50 minutes.

If canning, make sure your mason jars are squeeky clean, you can put in boiling water for 5 minutes to ensure they are sterilized and place upside down on a towel while you prepare the batter.  Have new lids and a ring for each jar ready.  I would recommend going with either an 8 ounce or 16 ounce jar - not bigger.  Have a towel on the counter where you will put the hot jars.

Have one or two oven pans which will hold the jars and boiling water.  While the oven heats up and you are preparing the batter, bring a pot of water to boil.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together in a large bowl.  In another bowl, beat the eggs, add the sugar and oil and beat well.  Stir into the flour mix.  When combined well add the jam and nuts and stir well to combine.  If adding more nuts and fruit add now and stir well, they will thicken the batter more.

Spray each jar with cooking spray or grease with butter.  Using either 2 spoons or a large scoop fill jars between half and 3/4 full.  Wipe edges of the jars very well with a wet cloth.  Place jars in pan spacing them evenly out.  Pull out the oven rack part way, place the pan in the center of the rack and carefully add boiling water to the pan about half way up.  Slide in the rack and bake for 45 - 60 minutes.  Test at 45 with a toothpick.

When done, quickly remove each jar, cap it tightly and put it on the towel for cooling.  Let cool.  You should hear all the caps ping.  If any do not or they do not seal, make sure to use that jar up first.

I will post again in a month when I open the jars to check on their stability.

IN The Garden

My sweet potato patch and a tomato plant that went crazy once the temperatures dropped out of the 100s is loaded with green tomatoes and I'm harvesting a few tomatoes every day.

I will be checking the sweet potatoes to see what is a good size for this weekend and Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile I have been using the sweet potato leaves for salads, soups and sandwiches.

It is that time of year when our Pineapple Guava fruit is ripening.  This is a crazy fruit to gauge when ripe, so we finally just decided that if it is on the ground and bright green it is ripe.  The flavor is like a slightly astringent kiwi.  You cut them in half and use a spoon to scoop out the fruit.

Microwave meals are a quick breakfast or lunch for us when it is just the two of us.  This is my crust-less quiche or you could think of it as a Frittata.  Use a microwave safe bowl.

Microwave Quiche for Two
2 eggs
1/2 cup of milk
2/3 cups of shredded cheese of your choice
1/2 to 1 cup of shredded greens / herbs (I used sweet potato leaves, basil, and some chopped I'Ioti onions)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional:  Chopped cooked bacon, ham or in my case I used some chopped salami

Grease bowl.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs well and stir in everything else. If the batter looks a little too thick add a tablespoon or two more of milk. Pour into grease bowl, and microwave for 4 minutes, but watch - every microwave is a bit different.  It will puff up and then collapse a bit when you remove it.  It will be VERY hot because of the cheese, so be careful.

Divide and plate up with fruit on the side for a nice light meal.

Find me on Facebook.

Just for fun -- if you are a fan of Pinterest - I have several boards where I post fun ideas, recycle or using herbs.  Click here.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

December Planting & Gardening Tips

Dear Folks,

December brings not only holidays but gardening maintenance and the continuing opportunity to successive sow your winter vegetables and herbs.

Keep kitchen "trash" recycling in mind.  You can replant celery, leek, and scallion roots to get a second harvest.  Pictured is a celery root taken November 11th - I planted it November 6th after soaking for a couple of days.  I do grow celery but when I don't have it in the garden, I buy organic and replant the root.

Successive sow sugar peas, leaf lettuces and greens, carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, cilantro, chervil, dill and parsley for a continuous crop.  Pictured is the flower of my Magnolia Blossom Sugar pea - isn't it gorgeous!

December is the time to prune or cut back some of your perennials.  Around December 15th, cut asparagus back to the ground.  Your deciduous trees should be pruned and shaped by December 31st to get it done before they burst into bloom again.

Don't wait until all the leaves drop off, sometimes nature does not cooperate getting all the leaves out of the way.  I always laugh when the "fall" of our fig tree leaves occurs, all at once (mostly) on a windy December day (not October!) and we walk out to the garden to find a HUGE pile of leaves under or near the fig tree.

Plants you DO NOT prune are tender perennials which may sustain frost damage, but are not killed.  Leave the damage parts on to act as a protective "blanket" until spring when the soil begins to warm again.

My Upper Ground Sweet Potato Pumpkin is still green, but really healthy.  While checking it out, I discovered some new "possible" baby pumpkins, and watched for the blossom to open up and discovered bees working the blossom, but I still got a q-tip and helped some too.  Pictures of the pumpkin, baby pumpkin with flower waiting to be pollinated, male flower and the bees doing their thing.

Baby Pumpkin & Flower
Holiday time can be stressful. Your edible garden can be an oasis from stress.  With citrus fruit ripening like yellow and orange ornaments, pansies blooming, and dill waving in the breeze, winter is only a state of mind here in the Desert Southwest.

Male Pumpkin Flower
November through January can be a ‘rainy’ season for the desert. You can usually hold off on regular watering if you have received a half inch or more of rain within 2 days of normal watering days (except for trees unless you receive 1 inch or more).  Make good use of your water meter to determine soil moisture. 

If rains are heavy this month, in addition to foregoing some water days, you may need to put down Ironite or Green Sand to compensate for mineral bonding "chlorosis" (which makes iron unavailable to the plants) due to both the excess water and the cold soil.  Ironite is not a fertilizer so it will not burn plants -- apply to the drip line (edge) of tree canopy.

Watering Guide:
As the temperatures rise or decrease, a guide (this is only a guide! make use of your moisture meter to check moisture content of soil) For mature gardens would be:
    70s water every 5-6 days for all but trees
    80s water every 4-5 days for all but trees
    90s water every 3-4 days for all but trees
    100s water every 2-3 days for all but trees

Garden Design tip - if you are considering laying out a new garden, use Ironite to 'draw' the garden layout on the soil, easy and safe.

Peach tree borer pests - consider using  "dormant oil" or "horticulture oil" spray on trunks to soil line (not branches) after pruning deciduous trees.

December PLANTING:

Bok Choy
Fennel, Leaf
Fruit, Bare Root
Fruit Trees
Onions, Green
Oregano, Greek
Ornamental Cabbage/Kale (Brassica Oleracea)
Peppers (seed)
Primrose (Primula Vulgaris)
Watermelon (by seed December 15 and after)


Carnation (Dianthus)
English Daisy
Jasmine Sambac (Arabian)
Scented Geraniums
Stocks (Matthiola)
Sweet William (Dianthus)
Sweet Alyssum

Have a best day in the garden and kitchen!

You can purchase my books or calendars through links on the side bar here on the blog.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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