Garden, Plant, Cook!

Monday, January 05, 2009

12 Days of Christmas - 12th Day of Christmas

12th Day of Christmas - January 5th

Twelfth Night, Eve of the Epiphany, or Little Christmas Eve

A day and evening of celebration closing out the Christmas holidays, and for some celebrating the traditional arrival of the Three Wise Men to the Child Jesus, on January 6th, the Epiphany. In the Eastern Orthodox Churches, January 6th is their Christmas, so this day is their Christmas Eve.

On the 12th and last Day of Christmas, I thought it would be a nice idea to tell you about the Arizona Interfaith Movement.

Their mission is, "to build bridges of understanding, respect, and support among diverse people of faith through education, dialogue, service, and the implementation of the Golden Rule."

Check out their site and look into the events they sponsor.


Silver and blue are traditional colors used in Twelfth Night celebrations. They also make a lovely combination of colors in the garden. Right now my Mexican Blue Sage (Salvia Chamaedryoides) is blooming — with its sky blue flowers and silvery green foliage it is a bright spot in the rusty and umbra pallette of the winter leaves. The blue morph pansy is also an almost startling find when meandering through the gardens. The silvery leaves of Lambs Ears are coming up all over — I actually need to keep this lovely petable-not-edible plant under supervision or it will take over the entire garden.

Lemon and lime balms are bursting with new growth. On the aromatic side of the garden the fall-planted garlic plants are coming along nicely — I can't wait to harvest full garlic heads this spring.

Consider planting some ornamental kales and cabbages (which are edible). They have lovely silvery/purple and white leaves and make stunning mixes in edible beds along side of pansies and curly parsley.

Garden Reminder: Now through the end of February is your best planting time for all the cool weather veggies and herbs. If you want to try to keep some dill and cilantro going into the warmer time, determine where you garden will have some shade as the sun moves back towards the north, and seed in there. Finish pruning your stone fruit trees now — before the lenghtening days and warming temps produce flowers.

IF your peach and other stone fruit trees prunings have buds on them as you prune, save some branches and bring them inside, re-cut under water, and place them in a vase of luke-warm water. The flowers will open for you and create a lovely arrangement.


The following three-tier recipe set can be used in many other ways, experiment and have some fun with the concepts — these are from my book "101+ Recipes From The Herb Lady."


A poached egg over mixed greens is a midnight snack idea suggested on returning from a night out. The fennel seed condiment (see third recipe) was inspiration for a snack worthy of a stellar post-performance meal, and a nice ending to the Christmas season.

3 cups mixed baby greens
3 poached eggs (see poaching tip next page)
Sliced tomatoes
Warm Herb Yogurt Sauce (see next recipe)

Place one cup of greens in the middle of plate—creating a nest. Slice tomatoes and arrange attractively around the 'nest.'
Poach eggs (you can do this ahead of time—chill and re-warm by gently placing in hot water for 15-30 seconds). Place a poached egg in each greens nest, pour sauce over egg and serve.
Poaching Tip: If you are like me and your poached eggs are not stellar in appearance, an egg poacher is a life saver (the microwave kind work very well—just remember to put some water in each bowl and prick the egg yolk to permit steam to escape).


1 cup of plain yogurt, gelatin-free
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 teaspoons corn starch
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons of Fennel Parsley Condiment (below)

Place yogurt in a sauce pan and very, very gently warm—stirring regularly (using a double boiler may be easier). Add in lemon juice and olive oil. Mix corn starch and water together and pour slowly into warmed yogurt—stirring to desired thickness. Add condiment and stir in well.


1 teaspoon fennel seed, ground
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons water
In a mini-processor or with mortar and pestle, mix fennel and parsley, add oil, and add enough water to make a paste. Store in refrigerator for up to 1 week. Use in following recipes.
Other Uses: As a sandwich spread with sliced chicken; make tuna salad with 1 tablespoon Fennel/Parsley Condiment, 6 oz. tuna, mayo and a bit of salt and pepper; toss with 1 cup chopped tomatoes and a bit of salt and pepper if desired; 1 tablespoon mixed into scrambled eggs.


With limes and cilantro in season, serve this sparkling homemade soda and toast the end of the 12 days of Christmas. (Coriander/cilantro is one of the Biblical herbs.)

1 1/2 cups of fresh lime juice
1/2 cup rinsed and dried cilantro
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup boiling water
4 1/2 cups of sparkling water, club soda, or seltzer
Sprigs of cilantro for garnish

Add sugar to boiling water and stir until sugar is dissolved, add cilantro and let steep until cooled. Strain into lime juice. Add sparkling, chilled water, stir and serve with a sprig of cilantro in each glass.

Option: By the glass — Stir and dissolve sugar in lime juice, add cilantro and allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Strain, and use chilled still, water, club soda, seltzer or sparkling water. Ratio is 1/4 cup of lime syrup to 3/4 cups of water.


This 12th and last "spirit of generosity" is about the Leukemia Society.

Once called the ‘beautiful killer' because so many victims died looking great (no outward symptoms), this terrible disease took my mother in a horrible way, and my young cousin.

Many strides have been made since my mom died, in fact enough that she may have lived much longer had these medical breakthroughs been available then. But more, of course, needs to be done. You can make a donation on the site via a paypal option.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Office of Donor Services
1311 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains, NY 10605

MORE: There are so many worthwhile groups which can use help — financially or through volunteer work. And while organizations like Leukemia Society have great and pressing needs to stop terrible diseases, sometimes the little things in life such as giving a box of hygienic supplies to a homeless person can have as great an impact (see the 8th day of Christmas for Shoebox ministry). Find the spirit of generosity that fits you — small gestures can make big changes.

Old Time Radio:

Dinah Shore was one of the very popular radio songstress' of radio, then going on to host her own show on TV. A very classy lady, she could still hold her own with the silly antics of comedians such as Groucho Marx. Listen free.

Merry 12th Day of Christmas!

Dear Folks, I sure hope you have enjoyed these 12 days of Christmas posts, and that you will come back soon to see what else I have growing and cooking. You can subscribe directly to this blog -- see the box in the sidebar.

Happy New Year!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, January 04, 2009

12 Days of Christmas - 11th Day of Christmas

11th Day of Christmas - January 4th


You still have time to plant fruit trees in the garden, and look forward to all that wonderful fruit in a couple of years. We just had our first navel orange of the season — the peaches and apricots will begin ripening in late April to early May.

Fruit trees and chill hours — specifically stone fruit such as Peach and Apricot (citrus require no chill hours) — need a certain number of chill hours to set fruit. The wrong tree in the wrong climate (temperature zone) may give you lovely flowers but it will not set fruit if its chill hour requirement has not been met.

While heavily researching chill hour requirements in our desert gardens a couple of years ago, I discovered, after the fact, the reason why some of our plum trees, and one of our peach trees, never fruited well — we are in a warmer ‘zone' within the valley and the trees we got needed more cold. While we thought we were choosing the proper chill rated trees, we did not in a couple of cases

What's A Chill Hour, is the name of a booklet I wrote about this factor in choosing bare-root or potted trees for your garden. There is a lot more detail in the booklet, but the gist is this: a chill hour is the amount of hours, calculated from November to March, where the temperature falls below 45 degrees. Stone fruit trees like cherry require anywhere from 900-1200 chill hours in a season to properly set fruit. Our valley zones range from as low as 250 (some areas of Mesa etc.) to 700-900 — some areas of central Phoenix around the Encanto area to Queen Creek.

Varieties of fruit trees adapted for the mild desert climate (many were developed in Israel — remember how similar the climate there to here), require far less hours, and we have a very nice selection from which to choose, but you have to know not only the chill hours of the trees you are looking at, but also the chill hours of your neighborhood. The difference can be dramatic even within a mile of you, and therefore a neighborhood nursery may have trees which do well in the geographic range, but not do well in another section of the valley. For example if a peach tree rated at 400-450 hours, sold in an Encanto-area nursery, were to be planted in our gardens in the east valley, they would not fruit because our neck-of-the-valley is much warmer.

One ‘barometer' of cold in a neighborhood is whether bougainvillea bushes frost all the way to the ground each winter — if they do you are in a much colder area of the valley, if not a warmer area.

Herbs: If you love basil as I do, start seed now inside for transplanting later (late February) to give you a jumpstart on this glorious herb. A basil or chili butter-dipper peach half on the grill this summer is a cook's delight While starting the basil seed, start tomato, eggplant and peppers too.

We are only a month and a half approximately from transplanting these frost-tender plants, so save some well-cleaned gallon, water, or 2 liter soda bottles to use as cloches in the garden when you transplant. With the bottoms cut off they make great transition ‘green-houses' and you can use the cap as a humidity regulator. Take the ‘house' off on sunny days, put back on at night. They can be removed completed when all frost danger is past. How do you know when frost danger is over? Look for some signs in nature: consistent ant activity, flowering mesquite, or night-time temperature predictions that are not below -mid to high 40s into the outer lying areas.


A sunny salad with lots of flavor and good for you (and seasonal) ingredients.
2 oranges, peeled and sectioned (make sure to catch any juice)
6 red radishes, shredded or thinly sliced
1/2 cup fennel leaf "feathers" (loose packed)
2 tablespoons almond oil
1 tablespoon cider or rice wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
Use the ‘feathery' leaves from bulb or leaf fennel -- reserve bulb for other meals. Blend oil, vinegar and salt. Gently toss with orange, radish and fennel. Serve immediately.

Tangerines are in season now and add a lovely sweetness to this recipe. The challenge for most folks with tofu is its blandness, but that is what is great about it, because it picks of the flavors it is cooked/mixed with. You always need a pinch of salt with tofu

1 cup cubed extra firm tofu
½ teaspoon dried savory (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
Zest of 1 tangerine (or orange)
1 tablespoon tangerine juice
1/4+ teaspoon salt to taste
Olive oil
Place cubed tofu in bowl, gently toss with zest, savory, juice and half the salt. Take a clean 12 oz. jar and pour a little olive oil in bottom. Pile mixed tofu in jar (being sure to scrape bowl juices and spices into jar), and add rest of salt to top. Cover with additional olive oil, cap tightly and turn jar to mix well. Turn several times over one hour and serve or refrigerate — will keep for approximately 4-5 days. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.
Serve over mixed greens, or on crackers or slices of apple.
TOFU TIP: Press extra liquid from extra firm tofu by placing in a bowl, covered with plastic of flat plat weighted down with a 1 lb can, then cube.


I grew up in a firefighter family (3 uncles and a cousin were Captains) and love a wonderful retired firefighter, so I have a very special place in my heart for our guys and gals who pull their boots on every morning ready to face whatever the day brings.

Deane is probably typical of the average firefighter or police office in that he does not think he is a hero or brave, because he has never actually saved someone's life at risk of his own. He bridles at the word hero and bravery.

I have a different take on it: Anyone can be a ‘hero' in the sense that they bring unlimited mental and physical fortitude to a sudden and horrible situation and sometimes make amazing rescues for which they should be given every honor society has to offer.

But I think someone is a hero and brave when they willingly go into a fire, face a crazed criminal and also when they put their boots on in the morning and are ready to do that for real that day whether it happens or not.

One of Deane's son-n'laws is a Fireman with the Mesa FD and I was so impressed during a swearing in ceremony of the appreciation by the department of the ‘bravery and sacrifices of the families' who support their guy or gal being a firefighter. I always thought of the families of police and firefighters in the war-time reference — they also serve who only sit and wait.

The 100 Club is a local organization supporting the families of fallen and severely injured Arizona Police and Firefighters. You can donate online via a paypal button.
100 Club
5151 North 19th Avenue
Suite 204
Phoenix, Arizona 85015
(602) 485-0100
Toll Free: 1-877-564-0100

Old Time Radio:

Some of my personal favorite old time radio programs are the detective shows including Nero Wolfe, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar and Nick Carter Master Detective. These type of detective or mysteries are considered ‘soft-boiled' as opposed to the tougher or suspense type, with some fun twists.

Here is an episode from Nero Wolfe "Deadly Sellout" starring Sydney Greenstreet.

Merry 11th Day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady