Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - 3rd Day of Christmas

3rd Day of Christmas - December 27th.

East Valley, where the grass was crunchy this morning, the first really cold night of the season brought the temperature down to 30 overnight.

Glazed and exhausted from all the indoor activities? Working in the Desert Garden is a great refresher.

And, consider a pre-New Year resolution to do some hiking. With the many trails and large park systems throughout the Valley, you can always find one to fit your fitness level.

As a former long-distance runner, I let myself go and with my graying age, I have not been in the best of shape. We took of hiking 3 times a week this summer and while I may never be able to run again due to joint issues, I have definitely seen the tremendous improvement. AND, getting outside into the desert is mentally refreshing — it takes the every day issues and reduces them to ‘now' time.

All of your deciduous fruit trees should be almost leafless now and you want to prune them back before they start to bud out, if you have not already pruned them. The challenge is to do this before they start budding if we have a particularly warm December.

Coating/spraying dormant oil on the leafless trees is also done now. Our beloved peach and other stone fruit trees are developed specifically for desert / low chill conditions. The downside is they are more prone to insect damage because the bugs are not totally killed off. Spraying with dormant oil minimizes insert damage and prolongs the life of the fruit trees.


Arizona garden trees frequently have their own ornaments in the form of ripening citrus fruit and in particular oranges. A long tradition of giving oranges at Christmas time arose out of their rarity in cold climates and their being, truly, one of the few seasonally available fruits in the winter.

An easy treat for the kids to make is chocolate-dipped citrus fruit. Oranges or tangerine sections are wonderful for this when paired with dark chocolate. Milk chocolate also works. Many years ago I learned to make fancy chocolates and while the techniques are fun and beautiful, I also tried different easy ways to produce tasty treats. The ideas below are some I had fun with.

Some points:

1) When peeling the fruit it is important to make sure the sections are not ‘broken' exposing juice — the sections should be completely dry before dipping to avoid the chocolate curdling.

2) Remove the white pith as it is bitter. (If you want to make the absolute most of the fruit, zest the orange peel before peeling and dry, store and you have dried orange peel for baking!)

3) Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler - this is the easiest way. Another is to have a pint mason jar, pot and wash cloth combo. Place the wash cloth in the bottom of the pot, carefully measure water into the pot to come to under 1 inch of the top of the jar. Bring water to low simmer and fill the jar with chocolate, place in the pot to melt, stir as needed. DO NOT let any water get into the chocolate.

4) Chocolate for dipping can be special melting chocolate from suppliers like ABC Decorating in Phoenix or Michael's craft stores. OR, you can use baking chips. We like Ghiradelli 60% cocoa as they are the best in taste (in our opinion) and the "good" anti-oxidant qualities.

5) If the chocolate is not ‘liquid' enough for dipping — it should be quite runny — when melted, add a tablespoon or two of real butter.

Orange or tangerine sections
melted chocolate
cookie trays, lined with plastic wrap or aluminum foil
have ready a place in refrigerator or freezer where the trays can rest flat
Options: pretzels and candy canes, dried fruit, cheerios, and red, green, gold or silver plastic spoons

Dip each citrus section 1/3 to half way up, wait until it stops drivving, lay each piece on tray — don't let the pieces touch each other. When the tray is filled place in freezer for 15 minutes or refrigerator for about 25-30 minutes until the chocolate is solid again. The dipped fruit will easily pull off the trays. Store in containers in the refrigerator - use within a week (no problem!)


If you have some chocolate left over try dipping pretzel sticks, candy canes or dried fruit such as apricots.

If you still have some chocolate left over use up by making ‘stacks' — cheerios make a fun ‘crunchy' chocolate treat (and has a little more ‘good things' in it). Gently fold cheerios into the remaining chocolate until well coated. Spoon into miniature paper muffin cups or on the cookie trays. Cool in the frig or freezer.

CANDY CANE BRITTLE: Crush Candy canes into small pieces, pour remaining melted chocolate onto the cookie tray (covered with aluminum foil), spread to thin, sprinkle crushed candy over. Cool in frig or freezer and break into rough pieces.

CHOCOLATE SPOONS: An elegant treat for lovers of coffee or hot chocolate is chocolate cover spoons for stirring. Dip the spoon in the chocolate only to cover the ‘bowl' let excess drip off. They can be placed on a tray to dry or for a really elegant look (no flat spot on the back) you can rig up a drying rack with clothes pins to hold the spoons over a tray to cool.


THE SPIRIT OF GENEROSITY: If you are like me and every puppy, kitten or cutely-ugly dog or cat up for adoption tugs at your heart, and like me I can't take in any more — consider a donation to a no-kill shelter, or a low-cost spay/neuter organization. As they like to point out, donating saves at least one little life, adopting saves 2 (the one you take home and the space it creates for another).

No extra money? Call the shelters and find out if they can accept pet food coupons. Many can use the coupons the way we would — discounts off the purchase of food for the shelter critters.

Two of my favorite animal charities are Animal Benefit Club and Cat Nip and Tuck (a low cost spay and neuter organization). You can make a donation via Paypal at each site (or send a check). If you use the easy donate button on the site, add about .75 cents to cover the paypal fee.

Old Time Radio:

Variety Shows were favorites of radio listeners and particularly at Christmas time, AND during the war. All these old time radio shows include the original commercials and notes about war- time..

December 21, 1944 -- Christmas favorite Bing Crosby sings opens with "Adeste Fideles" first in Latin and then "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" with the Kraft Choral Club, which was Bing's opening Christmas standard every year. The Kraft Choral Club is 70 co-workers of the Kraft offices and factory in Chicago. In 1944, we were in WWII and in the audience there is 100 young ladies from the Navy WAVES and we are reminded that Kraft Cheese only takes two ration points. Listen free.

Merry 3rd day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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