Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

12 Days of Christmas - 10th Day of Christmas

10th Day of Christmas - January 3rd


If you are going to prune citrus trees, it needs to be done before they start flowering in late January or early February, BUT, consider the real necessity of doing citrus pruning. Many of the commercial citrus growers do not prune out all dead wood because those branches support the fruit ladened branches.

If you have a choice, do not pick your citrus until you are ready to use it — all citrus becomes sweeter the longer it stays on the tree, and the tree is storing it for you, instead of taking up refrigerator or counter space. I have picked my lemons and grapefruit into May with no deterioration in quality, and no reduction in next year's fruit setting.

By the way, that citrus fruit-drop many gardeners see in late spring or early summer is a naturally occurring ‘instinct' of the trees to ‘self-prune.'

If you have not already planted Nasturtiums, get some seeds in the ground for a great spring garden and table treat.

"Nasty" Tips: The hard, rough-surfaced seed of the nasturtium is designed to keep sprouting controlled in irregular conditions. First take a nailfile and gentle nick the seed, being careful to keep from getting too deep. Next soak the seed overnight.

Plant these seeds by burying them their seed depth in a well-draining, sunny location, water in. Unlike many seeds, nasturtiums need darkness to germinate (hollyhock seeds are the opposite they need sunlight to germinate).

You can sow seeds for nasturtiums as early as September by burying them under the edges of summer edibles because the overhead leaves will give them some heat protection when they get started.

Nasturtium flowers and leaves are edible with a nice peppery bite. The seeds can be pickled for a caper substitute — but use sparingly in meals.


Use some of that wonderful fresh citrus to make this great appetizer or salad topper.
Who doesn't need another appetizer - when I go to parties, friends/family ask me to bring this dish.
Make this at least 3-4 hours ahead of time or the day before and allow to come to room temperature before serving.

2 cups green olives (can be stuffed)
2 cups kalamata olives
2 cups medium sized black olives
(You can choose to leave pits in, but warn folks!)
1 orange, zest and juice
1 lime (or lemon), zest and juice
1/2-3/4 cup finely chopped mixed herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, oregano, marjoram, dill, chives, etc. - use at least 3 different kinds - leaves, no stems)
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced or finely shredded
Optional: 1-2 cloves of garlic, pressed or finely minced
Olive oil to cover

Drain olives of any water, but reserve oil if oil packed.

Mix olives, citrus zest and juice, herbs, ginger and garlic, tossing to mix well. Let sit for 1/2 hour, tossing periodically to coat.

Place this mixture in an attractive tall lidded jar, making sure to scrape in all herbs and juices. Use reserved olive packing oil and fresh olive oil to almost completely cover the olives. Cap tightly and turn (up-end) every 1/2 hour or so to keep mixture coating the olives. Serve and enjoy. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 2 weeks — oil will solidify, so bring what you wish to use to room temperature before serving.

Serving tip: Use an edible bowl (seeded cucumber or squash 'boats', bread bowls, seeded- sweet peppers etc.) to serve the olives in. The bread bowl can be cut up at the end and nibbled on, and if the veggie bowls are still fresh, can be used in a salad later that day.


Do you have an old friend or acquaintance that you think of sometimes, but you don't have a lot of regular contact with? They are the one you think of when a problem comes up because they have answers and help when asked?

That is the way I think of the Red Cross organization. They are always there in the background ready to help and they have been doing it since 1881!

By the way, if you ever heard or read the totally false story that the RC folks require recipients to reimburse the RC for help given — it is NOT true. Apparently that story has been around so long, even some of my friends and I had heard it decades ago. See snopes page for some history on the allegations.

When I was a child (somewhere around 1959/1960 don't remember exactly when), I decided to hold a show to raise money for a Charity (my bad memory says I did it for the Red Cross, but it may have been for the Heart Association). I charged my neighborhood pals a nickel each and my girlfriend and I put on a show in her backyard (more room) and raised .76 cents, which with my mom's help I mailed off to the charity. I got a note back from them that I remember I was so impressed with thanking me for the money. (I was kind of imitating the Little Rascals with the show idea, but it worked!)

My little story is by way of saying anyone, in anyway, can find a way to give something to any worthwhile group. I have no idea what my .76 would be worth in today's money, but I did what I could with what I/we had to work with, and it felt great!

You can donate on line as little as $10.00 - add a buck extra to offset processing fees.

Old Time Radio:

Before Spider Man, old time radio had its share of heroes: Superman, Green Hornet, Captain Midnight, Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, Magic Island, Sgt Preston, Sky King, Speed Gibson, Terry and the Pirates, and Tom Mix.

From 1936-52, the "Flight of the Bumblebee" signaled another episode of the Green Hornet. The Green Hornet's saved the life of Kato somewhere during his travels in the Far East and Kato became a loyal friend. Listen free to this episode "Torpedo on Wheels."

Merry 10th Day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Friday, January 02, 2009

12 Days of Christmas - 9th Day of Christmas

9th day of Christmas - January 2nd

Howdy Folks, hope you made it through the end and beginning of the year with little impairment.

January 2nd is also the Feast day of St. Basil The Great, Bishop during the later part of 300 AD, in an area where modern Turkey lies — "Hot-blooded and somewhat imperious, Basil was also generous and sympathetic. He personally organized a soup kitchen and distributed food to the poor during a famine following a drought. He gave away his personal family inheritance to benefit the poor of his diocese." —

There is a lot more to read at the Wiki site, including an almost humorous exchange between the Bishop and the Prefect of the Emperor Valens.


Sweet Bay, Greek Bay, or bay leaf (Laurus nobilis) is the 2009 Herb of The Year, as designated by the International Herb Association a professional trade association of herb specialists and other interested folks.

Many cooks would not have a complete kitchen without dried bay leaf, so it is more than appropriate to consider planting this shrubby ‘tree'.

This plant is a shrub, meaning its many trunks and branches can be pruned to desired shape — although you really want all the nice growth so you can pluck leaves anytime you want them for the kitchen*. Growing much like a citrus tree with multiple trunks rising from the root, it can be frost sensitive in the early years here in the valley, and also can sustain sunburn from hot western sun.

It also grows very, very ssslllooooowww the first several years so practice your garden patience. If happy, it can eventually get to 6-15 feet tall.

Choose a location with a southern, southeast or east exposure where you can gently cover it if need be in the frost winter nights - if you have a block wall fence or side of building with southern exposure that will give it needed extra warmth in the winter and shelter in the summer - - but give it room to grow! Supply it with well draining soil and standard herb watering — water well, then let it dry out some. It does not generally need extra fertilizer if the soil is of good quality to begin with.

It is possible to grow Bay from seed (I've done it) but I do not recommend it. If you can't find the plant for sale locally, you can order Bay plants from one of my favorite suppliers right now (I checked and they have them in stock now -- shipped from California): f5cdf791db

They do have a minimum number of plants to order (can be mix and match) to ensure careful packaging of plants (which MVG does superbly well — great customer service too!)

*Bay leaves and oregano are traditional insect repellants in cupboards or even in bins/containers of flour.

Weather this weekend is supposed to dip again temperature wise and also we may get more rain, then the long-range forecast is showing a rise in temps and sunny days later on next week — perfect gardening weather!


Those ripening oranges in the back yard are just one ingredient in this lovely oil

(From "101+ Recipes From The Herb Lady")
1 cup of fruity olive oil
4 dried bay leaves
1 peel of orange, remove white pith

Heat oil to almost boiling. In a heat proof glass container, place bay leaves and orange peel, add hot oil, cap and let steep for 1 week on the counter. Strain and refrigerate.

Use to make salad dressing; roast fruit halves (like peaches, pears or plums) brushed with a bit of this oil, and a small sprinkle of salt; it is particularly wonderful when tossed with cut up vegetables such as sweet potatoes which are then oven roasted or grilled; try basting chicken or other poultry with this oil for a moister and flavorful resulting meal.

TIP: Store some leaves with your rice or beans in glass jars and pre-flavor them slightly. Also you can infuse wine with bay leaves to make a great tasting sauteing liquid for any foods.


One Step Away! — From What?
Statement, question and answer is the campaign profile of Change.Org a valley organization of help-groups trying to address not just the needs but the solutions, for homelessness. Is a family member, friend, or a neighbor One Step Away from being homeless?

The mission of the umbrella group Human Services Campus "is to use the power of collaboration to provide solutions to end homelessness. Our vision is our community without homelessness and our legacy is a model for collaborative community solutions."

You can donate on their site with a button — not paypal, but easier than other sites donation pages.

Speaking of Neighbors, so much of the struggles going on for many people and because of the wars going on, has reminded me for a long time of the "Victory Gardens" of WWII and the rationing and metal collection efforts that went along with the war time years.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors — Community Gardens — Sanctuary From Stress — Peaceful Places — Home-Cooked Meals. What if . . .

You and your neighbors treated your neighborhood or street like a tiny village. What do you each do, who gardens with what, are their elderly or disable living along, do you like to cook, or knit, or sew. Could you . . .

--Use a neighbor for some of the work you need done
--Make an extra portion of any meal and take it over to the neighbor (better yet ask one of the children to deliver it, so they feel helpful and learn at the same time)
--Share garden planning with neighbors who also garden, divvy up the types of plants, then share the harvest — with gardening space in many modern neighborhoods limited in size, having Henry grow tomatoes, and Lucy grow scallions, chives or garlic, and Michael growing potatoes, image the tasty banquets possible with the shared harvest — trade citrus for other veggies in a street- swap-meet
--Knit something for anyone on your ‘village-street' — do you know you can ‘knit a coat' literally — out of worn out or outgrown clothes — it is a take off on an old-fashioned rag rug, or memory quilt. (I personally love lap throws, have made them, given them and received them.)
--IF YOU need help, make a flyer anyway you can and take them around to neighbors — be considerate and don't litter and be respectful no matter how terrible you are feeling about things, offer to trade anything useful for something helpful — in the olden days barter was as simple as making a home cooked meal for someone who repaired your fence or washing machine.

Older neighborhoods in cities became known for the commonality of their people, architecture and history. Any neighborhood or street can be a community/village of people who do things together when they can and try to be there when needed.

What if . . .

. . . you needed a friend and the people next door and on your street were friends you could turn to? Imagine a small village of friends and they live on your street.

Old Time Radio:

Neck-in-neck with popularity with Nashville's Grand Ole Opry was Chicago-based WLS National Barn Dance. Its toe-tapping listenership covered both rural communities and city dwellers for several decades. In the 1920's, people paid the 75 cent admission to see the performance with a barn loft stage and bales of hay for the musicians to sit on.

(Note: As mentioned in the post from the 8th Day of Christmas - Gene Autry got his start in part on National Barn Dance.)

This show is from December 12, 1942. Listen free.

Merry 9th Day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Thursday, January 01, 2009

12 Days of Christmas - 8th Day of Christmas

8th day of Christmas - January 1st

New Year's Day!

Time to dust the fuzzies from last year out of your head and look to the possibilities of this new day and new year.

Hogmanay is an old tradition of Celebrating January 1st and sometimes January 2ndThe origins of Hogmanay are unclear, but it may be derived from Norse and Gaelic observances. Customs vary throughout Scotland, and usually include gift-giving and visiting the homes of friends and neighbours, with special attention given to the first-foot, the first guest of the new year. -- wikipedia


Time to plant my potatoes! I also will sprinkle in some cilantro seeds along the edges of the potato patch — they grow well together as companion plants.

However, if the only thing you and the family are up for on New Year's Day is sitting out in the garden, take time to enjoy the "betweens" — the stone fruit trees have dropped most of their leaves and some branches are even starting to show buds — the citrus fruit hangs like sunny ornaments ready for the first taste testing to see if they are ripe enough — the sweet alyssum is blooming its little heads off and the bees are coming out for their fragrant nectar — as too are the hummingbirds. The stark contrasts of fallen leaves and bare limbs to the colorful winter flowers makes a textured tapestry for viewing and enjoyment.


A meal of black-eyed peas and ham hock are a Southern tradition for New Year's Day to bring luck and humility to the family.

I have to confess that the idea sounds good, but I don't care for ham hock and wanted something which would cook up faster than the peas, so several years ago I developed my take-off for a wholesome and tasty option for any winter day.

1 carrot
2 inner (tender) stalks and leaves of celery
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (ex: thyme, oregano, rosemary, basil, parsley)
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 smoked turkey leg
1 lb of lentils

Rinse and pick over lentils, set aside. Finely chop carrot, celery, onion and garlic.
Heat oil in large pot. Add carrot, celery, onion and garlic, saute for 2-3 minutes stirring regularly. Add herbs and turmeric, stir to coat. Add turkey leg and enough water to cover, bring to boil and reduce to simmer cooking for 1 hour. Add lentils adding enough water to cover. Simmer until lentils are tender - about 20-25 minutes. Add water as necessary to keep all covered. Remove turkey leg and pick off all meat, dicing or shredding, return to pot, add salt if desired (but taste first!). Serve with rice or crusty bread.

How About A Pick-Me-Up Beverage to go with the Lentils?


Rosemary is a strong herb so you do not need much. If folks in the house have a cold or flu, make this recipe with thyme instead of rosemary. Thyme is long known for its helpful and healthful affects on the lungs. Citrus/vitamin C is good at cutting congestion too.

1 ½ cups of sugar
1 ½ cups of lemon juice
½ cup boiling water
5 cups of cold water (can be mix of ice and water to make the 5 cups)
1 4-inch sprig of fresh rosemary, rinsed and broken in small pieces (OR, twice as much of thyme)
1 tablespoon of lemon zest
Couple of slices of lemon to add at the end
Mix sugar and boiling water to dissolve, add herb and let steep for 15 minutes, strain and discard herb pieces. Mix strained syrup with lemon juice and zest, stir, then add cold water and lemon slices, stir and serve.


As if the homeless crisis was not bad enough before 2008, it got worse with entire families being added to this sad segment of society. Many agencies assist these folks such as United Way and Salvation Army (each wonderful in their own way).

Another you might not be aware of is "Shoebox Ministry" which hands out hygiene boxes to the homeless. This little act reaches folks who still need the dignity of feeling clean. You can donate directly with an easy paypal donation button on their site. This program works in conjunction with many other agencies.

Old Time Radio:

Gene Autry, America's Yodeling Cowboy, was "back in the saddle again" for 16 years on radio, sponsored by Wrigley's Doublemint Gum.

By 1940 Gene Autry was one of the four most popular movie stars in America, a major network radio star, and a top-selling recording artist and proud to have be on the air doing "Gene Autry's Melody Ranch," a radio version of his pictures.

Gene had written many tunes, including "Here Comes Santa Claus," (written in 1949) but earlier in his career via his association with the Wrigley family of Doublemint and Chicago Cubs fame in Chicago, he had learned that owning sports teams was a great investment. Gene went west again, to rope the ownership of Major League Baseball's California Angels, along with a number of radio and television stations. (He owned ranches in Florence and Winslow, and TV stations KOOL in Phoenix and KOLD in Tucson in addition to other stations from time to time in Arizona cities.)

Today's program features songs from Melody Ranch folks and Gene's sidekick Pat Buttram loses Champion Gene's horse. Listen Free.

Merry 8th Day of Christmas & Happy New Year's Day!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - 7th Day of Christmas

7th Day of Christmas - December 31st

New Year's Eve!

The day when folks celebrate the achievements of the outgoing year, or the celebration of opportunities with the incoming year — either way, or both, it is a good time for the spirit of renewal to guide you and your choices.

Folks, I inadvertently left out the Spirit of Generosity section in the 6th day of Christmas post yesterday, so I'm putting two in today :-) — Catherine


Tomorrow is the day I traditionally plant my potatoes, so I get the frame out (mentioned before), loosen up the top soil inside the frame and have the compost or fallen leaves ready for tomorrow's planting. My potatoes have been stored in the frig crisper from last season's harvest, plus any new varieties I have ordered.

If that is more ambitious than you are interested in pursuing, consider sowing in some cilantro (coriander) seeds, there is still time to get a nice crop in for harvesting. Also pick up a spare bulb of garlic at the grocer, separate the cloves and plant 6 inches a part in a sunny spot with good draining soil. In about 3 weeks you will see the leaves growing up, when they are about 8-10 inches tall you can harvest your "garlic scallions" as needed — Use them the same way you would use dried garlic or green onions — their flavor is slightly milder than the dried clove.


What's a New Year's Eve (or New Year's Day) party without a dip?

My take off on the many numerous varieties of Texas Caviar, a bean and salsa ‘salad' this is not only good tasting but good for you. Some variations are:

1)use black-eyed peas at New Year's for a traditional good luck dish; OR
2) garbonzo beans, mint and parsley instead of black beans, cilantro and cumin.

Chips are always great, but I liked the toast points for a little fancier presentation.

3 medium tomatoes
5 green scallions
half a large yellow or orange sweet bell pepper
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
small bunch of cilantro, finely shredded
small bunch of garlic chives, finely shredded
zest and juice of one lemon
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
half teaspoon of salt
half teaspoon of cumin
6 turns of a pepper mill
Toasted bread cut in 2x2 inch pieces and brushed with olive oil OR Corn Chips
Optional: small jalapeno pepper, finely minced

Cut tomatoes, scallions, and pepper(s) into bean size pieces, catch all juices. Mix these with the cilantro, chives, lemon zest and juice, salt, cumin, ground pepper, drizzle with olive oil and fold/stir again. Serve on toast or with chips.

THE SPIRIT OF GENEROSITY (should have been in yesterday's post -- 6th Day of Christmas)

Heifer International OR Heifer Project International is an incredible organization. Taking the well-honed admonishon that teaching a person to fish feeds them for a life time instead of giving them a fish which only lasts for one meal, they have created an organization that tiers the initial gift, allowing the recipient to then turn around and give to the next in line (Passing on of the Gift) — a total win/win/win concept. They fund projects in 51 countries and 23 states in the US (One project Heifer participated in: a project with Navajo Sheep ranchers to bring in new rams to diversify the dwindling gene pool and raise production).

Read Barbara Kingsolver's article (author of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle") on her journey to Peru to view first hand not only one of Heifer's projects but also the celebration of their mantra in practice "not just to get, but to give." Given my love of goats etc this article on the Heifer project's assisting a tiny village in reclaiming decimated farm land in Peru is a great example of what ‘teaching to fish' can do on the smallest level, rising with great power to impact many lives.

Heifer maintains several regional offices in the US — the address below is the one for the Southwest region.

Heifer Southwest Regional Office
330 Main St. Suite 203A
Seal Beach, CA 90740
Phone: (877) 663-1683


Sometimes folks have choices on how they share their spirit of generosity: they may time, but no extra money, or they have extra money, but no extra time. Some folks like a more hands-on participation in aiding others: Volunteering at shelters, food banks, and crisis nurserys (or even being one of the ‘cradlers' so valuable to new-born-with-challenges and premee babies in hospitals). But if you would like a more direct approach to sharing your spirit of generosity look into ‘micro-loan' programs.

To read up some on the concept and some of the various companies providing micro-credit see this New York Times article from 1988 — admittedly old, but still a great basis for understanding where it got started and why it works. ec=&spon=&pagewanted=all

Wikipedia has a good page on FINCA, one of the micro-lending organizations a couple-friend of mine regularly donate to.

Do the recipients pay interest along with their repayments - yes, BUT, not near what they have traditionally paid to local money lenders — loan sharks — up 20% per day vs. Commercially- comparable rates via micro-loans AND the recipients have two immediate benefits to these micro-loans — they do not have to come up with collateral as they would via a commercial bank, and they must participate in a group project to get the loan which in turn becomes a support/training/mentoring group holding them up while they improve their lives and the lives of their families and villages.

And finally for an even more money/hands-on approach to micro-lending, check out I recently read an article about this group, and it sounded so good to me as a person who sometimes likes to see the result of my spirit of generosity first hand (other times I enjoy being anonymous). Once your first loan is repaid you can turn around and lend again or donate out- right to Kiva. Check it out for yourself.

Old Time Radio:

Fibber Magee and Mollie are invited to the Country Club Dance on New Year's Eve. Find the link to listen to the show on this page.

GARDEN REMINDER: In use and cultivation since ancient times, garlic, onions and leeks (the "Pungent Lilies of the Bible") have been both food and medicine. The Children of Israel lament the onions, leeks and garlic missing from their desert diet after leaving Egypt. (Old Testament Numbers 11:5.) "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food," said Hippocrates. And, of course, current science has shown the many benefits (cardiac, digestion etc.) of these pungent lilies in the diet.

January 4th. Plants-of-the-Bible Tour at 1:30 p.m. Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Merry 7th Day of Christmas and a Happy New Year's Eve!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - 6th Day of Christmas

6th Day of Christmas — December 30th

Here in the Valley of the Sun, our growing climate is very similar to the lands of the Bible, so at this time of year it is only fitting that one of the 12 Days of Christmas garden sections should touch on some of the Biblical plants which can be grown in our desert gardens.


Did you know mint was an herb so valued it was tithed? Some other herbs of the Bible lands are: dill, hyssop (actually Syrian Oregano) and Sweet Bay.

Some of the biblical plants you can plant now are: Coriander (cilantro), mustard, chicory, sage, marjoram, violets (and pansies), and fig and pomegranate trees.

More plants of the Bible:

The "Pungent Lilies of the Bible," in use and cultivation since ancient times, garlic, onions and leeks) have been both food and medicine. The Children of Israel lament the onions, leeks and garlic missing from their desert diet after leaving Egypt. (Old Testament Numbers 11:5.)

"Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food," said Hippocrates. And, of course, current science has shown the many benefits (cardiac, digestion etc.) of these pungent lilies in the diet.

Learn more about these and other foods of the Bible Lands at the special tour hosted at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum this coming Sunday, January 4th.

January 4th — Plants-of-the-Bible Tour at 1:30 p.m. Boyce Thompson Arboretum Information: 520-689-2723

E-CARDS. Folks in my post of the 2nd Day of Christmas I gave a link for the wonderful cards of Jacquie Lawson. A fan forwarded the post on to a friend, Timothy Tu, and I have another wonderful e-card site for you to check out - consider a New Year's card for family and friends. A small membership fee (similar to Lawson's site) allows you to send unlimited cards through the year. Frederikke Tu's art work is delightful


If you are still having company and need some different ideas for snacking, try this version of hummus - a lighter excellent taste and good for you too! (Artichoke hearts are number 7 on the top 20 antioxidant lists.)


2 tablespoons sesame seed, ground (if you like you can toast the seeds lightly before grinding) OR substitute 2 tablespoons tahini*
2 cans garbanzo beans (15 oz.), drained
1 can artichoke hearts (not marinated) (13 3/4 oz.) liquid reserved (or frozen, cooked according to directions, reserving the cooking water)
1 teaspoon capers
Juice of one lemon
½ cup packed, fresh parsley, rinsed
½ teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely minced
1 clove fresh garlic, crushed and finely minced
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

In a processor pulse all ingredients, using liquid from artichokes to create the desired consistency. This tasty dish can be a dip or a spread. Serve in hollowed-out cucumber boats or cucumber cubes, mushroom caps, in a hollowed-out roll, with crackers or chips.

*Tahini is sesame seed butter. Using a dedicated coffee mill (I keep one never used for coffee for grinding herbs and making small amounts of nut or seed butters) it is easy to grind the sesame seeds (toasted or raw) to a paste consistency.

Old Time Radio:

Abbott and Costello

Bud and Lou got their start in the usual way - dumb luck. Actually, when they were barely out of their teens, Bud was working in the box office of a local vaudeville where Lou Costello was on the bill. After meeting, Bud told Lou that he really needed a straight man, and that he, Bud, was available. Lou said "Oh, yeah?" "Oh, yeah, and I'll prove it!" They continued on the circuit together. The rest is show-biz history. This episode has the boys trying to run a drug store. Listen Free.

Merry 6th Day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, December 29, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - 5th Day of Christmas

5th Day of Christmas - December 29th

A quiet time in the holiday season, several days after Christmas, many have returned to routine business and work, by this time — taking turkey and cranberry sandwiches with them. School is still out for many children and that means time for either boredom or activities.


Ready the garden area if you plan to grow potatoes (my tradition is to plant them the morning of January 1st). Rake up fallen leaves into the compost pile or for covering the potatoes. We built a moveable ‘bed frame' of 1 x 6s for our potatoes — this contains the compost while the plants are growing. Choose a spot which will be in sun all or most of the time. Harvesting will be done in April and later.

Plant winter flowers to brighten the garden's winter grays. Carnation, Calendula, English daisy, sweet alyssum, nasturtiums, pansies and violets, stocks and ornamental kales and cabbages all are edible and add glorious colors to the garden. Curly parsley plants make great edging and accents to flower beds. Don't forget all the great colored lettuces too.


If you and the children have not had enough chocolate, and since we live in the southwest, here is my secret truffle recipe with a twist — chili powder — if you are not interested in the chili, just leave it out, but I warn you will miss this incredible taste treat — the marriage of mild to hot chili with the dark chocolate is addictive (good for you too within reasonable consumption)

Notes: this is a very rich, soft (but not liquid) at room temperature truffle. Using the dipping chocolate option for coating will allow them to stay more solid at room temperature during parties and dinners. Otherwise it is best to keep all of them refrigerated until ready to eat. They will keep in the frig in covered containers for 3-4 weeks.
12 ounces (2 cups) dark semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradelli 60% cocoa chips)*
6 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup of eggnog (secret ingredient)
1-1/2 teaspoons of chili powder (heat of choice!)
Coatings: Red crystal candy sprinkles, chili powder, cocoa powder, or dipping chocolate **etc
Have plastic (like syran wrap) lined pan ready - pan should be wide enough to make shallow layer of truffle when poured.
In a double boiler or heavy pot on low heat, melt butter and eggnog, stirring constantly. Add chili to butter and eggnog, mix to incorporate chili completely before adding chocolate.
Add chips to melt, stirring constantly (if you do not stir the mixture may burn in not using a double-boiler). When completely mixed and melted (no lumps), pour mixture into prepared pan, refrigerator until firmed - about 2 hours.
Cut the truffle mix into small squares or use a mellon baller, to roll small balls in lightly-oiled or buttered hands, roll in coating of choice (if dipping instead see note below), place on wax paper lined pan, and chill until ready to use.
*If desired, use white chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet (use the best white chocolate made with real cocoa butter)
** Dipping chocolate is special tempered chocolate that creates a hard glossy shell of candy Can usually be found at Michael's (look for Wilton dark).
To Dip Truffles: Roll into balls as noted above and chill. Do not use any other coating if you want to dip the balls. In the top of a double boiler or a clean wide mouth class/china jar or bowl set in a simmering water bath, melt dipping chocolate stirring to keep liquid. IMPORTANT, do not let any water come in contact with this chocolate or it will ruin it.

Once the truffles balls are chilled, using a fork or toothpicks, dip each ball in the chocolate, place on wax paper lined tray and return to refrigerator or freezer to chill for about 15 minutes.


As I've mentioned before The Spirit of Generosity does not have to cost money if you do not have much — just a little time.

Remembering our military personnel. It does not matter what your thoughts about deployment or politics are — supporting the moral of our soldier neighbors and family members is letting them know we are thinking about "them" — not anything else.

For several years now Xerox Corporation has hosted a site to send a postcard to Military personnel stationed around the world. The cards are drawn by children — the selections are patriotic to sweet — the service is free and you can send as many as you like. How neat is that!

Old Time Radio:

Burns and Allen took their original vaudeville routines, to radio and then on to TV and the audiences never stopped laughing at the subtle wit.

Gracie is up to her old tricks again and she won't tell George what she wants for Christmas. She writes out a list of clues to get George to guess what she wants but he's clueless. George is forced to pay Gracie 50 cents for each wrong guess that he makes, eventually he sends Gracie to the psychiatrist. Hans Conried and Gale Gordon also star in this episode. Listen free.

Merry 5th Day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, December 28, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - 4th Day of Christmas

4th Day of Christmas — December 28th

Nearing year's end, many of us are tired and hopeful. It may be the human condition to always see the New Year as an opportunity for re-birth and renewal.

However, not wanting to rush the end of the year, there are still some ways to enjoy the old year.

Asparagus and strawberries! Now is the time to plant both as bare-root. Also when planned carefully, both can be planted in the same bed.

ASPARAGUS — traditional planting methods work best for the asparagus. Choose a spot which will get sun all year long. Work the soil very well to a depth of a foot and a half, adding in compost or well rotted manure. Dig out a trench of about a foot in depth and lay a mound of loose soil down the middle — you can make multiple trenches — they should be 12-18 inches apart. The asparagus ‘crowns' (roots) should be spread out over the mound, 12-18 inches apart. Now fill in the trenches and tamp down the soil lightly — mark where each ‘crown' is. The crown should be about 2-3 inches below the soil level. Water in well.

Asparagus harvesting is done in the spring, as the spears appear BUT, you need to give the plants 2-3 years before heavy harvesting. This spring, harvest only 1 spear from each crown, or if you are getting a lot of growth, you can harvest for 1 week, then allow the plant to re-generate/feed itself for next year.

Harvest by taking a sharp knife and cutting off at or just below the soil level BUT make sure you do not cut into the crown.

Next spring you can harvest for 2-3 weeks and by the 3 or 4th year you can harvest for 4-6 weeks. Allowing many spears to grow uncut means bigger crowns = more spears the following year.

A note — next year in December your asparagus will have produced lots of feather fronds and red berries. When the plant turns golden yellow almost all over, cut back to the ground.

STRAWBERRIES — like asparagus, strawberry plants have a ‘crown' from which roots grow. Unlike asparagus, the strawberry crowns must be planted above ground. After working the soil well, plant each strawberry plant holding the crown in one hand and spreading the roots over a mound of soil, filling in as you go. If the crown winds up below the soil line, gently loosen and pull up until the crown is fully exposed and tamp soil down well.

Water strawberry plants in well to ensure there are no air pockets around the roots.

The strawberry plants can be placed between the asparagus if you leave 18 inches or more between the asparagus, or they can be planted around the outside of the asparagus bed.



When was the last time you made the family "real" hot cocoa? It doesn't take long — the time it takes to warm milk to not-quite-boiling stage. And, as with many homemade foods, you control the ingredients.

Good quality cocoa powder (I use Hershey's but use one you like)
Options: candy cane, cinnamon, chili powder, whipped cream

For each serving the proportions are:
1 heaping teaspoon of cocoa powder
2 measured teaspoons of sugar
6-8 ounces of milk

In a pot place cocoa, sugar, a dash of salt (you only need one small dash of salt for the entire pot), and a little of the milk. Turn the heat on med high and stir the mixture to dissolve the dry ingredients. As the milk heats up the cocoa and sugar will dissolve and mix in well. Add the rest of the milk in a steady stream, stirring. Continue stirring as the mixture heats to desired temperature — DO NOT let boil. Pour into mugs.

Options: Mexican cocoa is made with the addition of cinnamon and an optional bit of chili powder if you like, stirred in the mix while heating.

OR add a candy cane hanging in the cup to use as a stirrer! OR, topped with whipped cream


Do you know about the Cherry Road Christmas Light Display?

This neighborhood in Mesa has a tradition of some awesome Christmas Light displays, AND, the cul-de-sac about 2 streets in has donation barrels for the food banks, at the entrance..

Collect some canned foods — try to image a dinner of only canned foods, meat, carb, vegetable and fruit — no cheapo stuff, please folks, but there is nothing wrong with canned tuna or salmon — think about a combination your family would like. Add some canned or jarred spices too!
Make up a thermos of Hot Cocoa for your enjoyment.
Dress Warm!

Directions: At the intersection of Country Club Drive and Guadalupe Road, turn west on Guadalupe and go to Cherry, turn north. There is a community park on the left and the cul-de- sac is about 2 streets up. Find a place to park — do not block someone's driveway! Drop off the canned goods and enjoy the walk through neighborhood. Some of the folks have backyard exhibitions too. Hours are: Sunset to 9 PM for all the displays. Street-side lights stay on later.


Old Time Radio:

Jack Benny's radio program always included references to his well-known stinginess (in reality, Benny was known as a very giving person). Enjoy his brand of comedy.

Mary comes over to help Jack trim his Christmas Tree. When she plugs in the lights, Jack gets a shock and he tries his hand ate being an electrician by wrapping the cord with "enough tape." Meanwhile a police officer stops by to talk to Jack Benny about disturbing the peace at the department store. Jack almost gets arrested for losing his cool with an old man that kept asking him "What should I buy my wife for Christmas?" and for breathing on someone's Christmas carnation. Listen free

Merry 4th Day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady