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

Friday, December 26, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - 2nd Day of Christmas

2nd Day of Christmas — December 26th

This day is also St. Stephen's Day, Boxing Day and the first day of Kwanzaa.

"Good King Wenceslas" is a popular Christmas carol about a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (the second day of Christmas, December 26). St. Stephen is the first of the Martyred Saints and he is the patron Saint of Hungary. See "The Spirit of Generosity" for some ideas of giving.

Boxing Day in England and Commonwealth nations, a day on which the gift of cash or durable goods was given to the lower classes and servants.

American wags have ‘grabbed' the concept of boxing day to refer to it as the day gifts are returned to the stores for refund or replacement — I like at the least the notion of the original meaning!

Kwanzaa, begun over 4 decades ago, is a week-long (December 26th - January 1st) holiday celebrated throughout the world, honoring African heritage, marked by an affirmation of a different principal of life each day: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, Faith.

GARDEN: Collect leaves and tree litter for composting and getting ready to plant potatoes.

Plant chamomile - after the hectic pace of Christmas preparation, it will be nice to anticipate a cup of home grown chamomile tea.

KITCHEN: Got leftovers? How about a nice satisfying brunch dish of baked eggs.

3 cups of Mashed Potatoes (leftover or freshly made)
4 eggs
half cup of finely shredded spinach, kale or arugula
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 350 . Have casserole or other pan ready, spray lightly with Pan if desired.
If using leftover mashed potatoes fluff up so they will spread easily. Fold sage into potatoes and spread the potatoes thickly in the center of the oven dish—to about 1 inch thick. Using a small juice glass make 4 depressions in the potatoes. Evenly distribute the shredded greens in the depressions, crack and place an egg on top of each "well." Salt and pepper to taste. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the eggs are just set (poached) but not hard. Enjoy!

THE SPIRIT OF GENEROSITY: If your holiday planning and activities left you little time for charitable work or giving, today is the time to make up for it. One does not have to be wealthy to give. And giving can be of your time, not money.

The East Valley Crisis Nursery (480) 969-2308 — accepts gifts which can either be used by the children and families in the shelter or they are sold to purchase supplies and services. If your family has any gifts received that are not usable - consider donating them instead of returning them.

Random Acts of Kindness: Returning to work and stopping at a drive-thru for coffee or breakfast? If you have the extra cash, pay for the order of the car behind you too — tell the clerk to say "Happy New Year and pass it on"- give the clerk a tip too! Nothing beats an anonymous gift to lift the spirits of the giver and recipient!

Old Time Radio:

Back when Lux Radio was one of the most popular radio hours — stars who made movies such as It's A Wonderful Life, would quickly go into the Lux studio and do a radio version of the big- screen movie. Delightful!

Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed reprise their roles on Lux Radio from the film "It's A Wonderful Life." Victor Moore stars as Clarence the angel. The story follows George Bailey as he considers ending his life. Clarence shows George that not only would he be missed in the world but that It's a Wonderful Life. This is truly an inspiring story and a popular holiday favorite. Listen free.

E-CARDS — Folks if you are not familiar with the work of Jacquie Lawson, please visit her site and play some of the most incredible animated cards you will ever see on the internet. Her work is a mainstay of her small village. For a small membership fee you can send personalized versions of these cards.

Merry 2nd Day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Thursday, December 25, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - Christmas Day!

Dear Folks,

Today starts my blog of the 12 Days of Christmas. May you each celebrate these days in your own way and whether these celebrations are religious & secular (our family's way) or one of them, remember the reasons for kindness and giving, which no one theology or philosophy has a superior claim to. Today's trying and challenging times call for a better way of looking at your neighbors who are also your shopkeepers, repair persons, and clerks.

1st Day of Christmas — December 25th.

If you didn't light your yule log last night, light it this morning, and enjoy the warmth while you enjoy the day and all it means to your family.

A Tradition:
Set a place setting and chair for the unexpected guest (or keep handy). This is an old tradition and has its origins in either remembering absent (at war or far away) or missing family (deceased), and also the delightful surprise of a welcomed and unexpected loved one or friend who drops by.

BACKYARD It is a tradition for some folks to give extra feed to the animals on Christmas Day to remember the animals present at the birth of Jesus, and the leave grain out for the birds. If you routinely feed the birds, give them an extra treat during this cooler time of the year by spreading peanut butter on dry bread and pressing as much bird seed as possible into it. You can string it up with a clothes pin or clip or lay flat on a plate in a spot above the ground.

KITCHEN: And speaking of peanut butter, if want to keep the little ones busy while dinner is being prepared, give them the ingredients to make peanut butter candy logs. Give them an easy- to-clean spot in the kitchen and have handy the necessary kid-cleaning wash-cloth!

Also known as edible play-dough this recipe is one my mom taught us in the 50s. You can just let the children squish the ingredients together with clean hands and show them how to take small pieces, roll them into a ball or log and cover them with toppings of their choice.

1 cup smooth peanut butter
½ cup honey
1 ½ cups dry milk

Mix in large bowl. Shape into logs. Can be rolled in sprinkles, coconut, chopped nuts or mini M&Ms. Chill for a hour or two to harden up a bit.

GARDEN — Make your own tradition of planting something on Christmas Day after the excitement of the mornings activities have backed off some. It fosters a deeper sense of the spiritual renewal of the day.

HERBS: While rosemary is one herb traditionally associated with Christ's Mother Mary and Christmas, the herb Myrtle's symbolism is for Joy, Peace and Renewal.

Myrtle, an edible herb — the leaves, flowers and fruit are edible — is a great herb for the desert. Plant now through February for best success. It can be a lovely specimen plant or planted in groups for hedging. There is standard, dwarf and variegated varieties. This bitter herb has traditionally been used with game meat to give better flavor.

A liquor called "Mirto" is made from myrtle. You can trying make some yourself from the berries alone or leaves and berries by infusing them in vodka, then sweeten.



Charity/Giving/Generosity: If the word ‘charity' makes you think of welfare or handout, try the definition of generosity: "the trait of being willing to give your money or time." — The Spirit of Generosity.

Find any way within your means to give something to someone or an organization today. If you go to the movies, as many folks do after dinner, take along a bag of candy and hand out to others waiting in line. Invite a neighbor you know is alone today for dinner or dessert.

I am old enough and ‘homey' enough, I guess, to enjoy not only music, but also old time radio programs, as background to working, whether in the kitchen or the office. This site is a super source for literally thousands of radio shows from the 20's through the 50's.

Lionel Barrymore reprises his role as Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. A wonderful Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol is the story of a very grumpy and cold hearted Ebenezer Scrooge who wants nothing to do with Christmas and croaks "Baw-humbug" at any sign of Christmas cheer. Orson Welles beautifully narrates this classic tale of redemption and brotherly love. Listen free to the whole program:

For more holiday only programs:

Merry Christmas Day!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady