Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Old TIme Radio Holiday Shows / Music for iPod and mp3 play lists.

Dear Folks,

I enjoy listening to old time radio programs and there are hundreds available for holiday-theme listening.  You can load your iPod or similar mp3 device, create a custom list from the available CDs for party and entertaining background shows/music, or play them on your computer while you are doing chores.

I personally enjoy having the shows and music on while I'm doing holiday cooking and chores. is my source of choice for these shows

Jon, at OTRCAT, offers a daily free download.  The cost of the discs is pennies a show.

Have a great weekend,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

P.S.  Check out my newsletter group post on upcoming classes on sustainability issues.

Monday, December 05, 2011

While Dealing With Your Life -- keep on tending your garden

Dear Folks,

In the last week or so I have read or seen a variety of thoughts on several different 'fronts' of life ranging from the political messages (or non-messages), who does and does not have a job, who is and is not taking advantage of the system, who is (And Is Not) making really meaningful contributions and solutions to our problems, and WHY most people are not satisfied with enough to be happy about their lives!

In the beginning . . . life may have been hard but it was simple.  You needed food, comfortable shelter, clothing and freedom from fear.

When did bigger and more become so important we forgot about quality?

Listen to our friend Jim Pipkin's (Jim's facebook music store is here) new song "Primitive Minds" and contemplate this question:

Why do we as a society now consider that more and bigger is the golden-goal, particularly if more and bigger are really inferior?

Consider a zucchini - no I'm not making a silly statement - anyone who has ever grown or been blessed by friends and neighbors with zucchini, understands the more and bigger in a very micro view - young zucchini are more tender, tastier and more nutritious than older zucchini, and easier to use.  Yet some people want to grow their zukes to the biggest size they can to show how good they are at gardening.  A gardener picking young zucchini will have more, sooner, and better for them than someone who decides they have to have the bigger product.

Two recent articles really caught my attention:

1) an article discussing the degradation of the nutrient value of our food crops over the last 50 years (1950-1999) due to changes in varieties and farming practices -- Consider just one - corn originally a high protein grain crop which sustained cultures for Millenia dropped from a 1950s average of 3.22 grams of protein per serving down to 0.223 grams per serving -- a drop in nutrition by 70+%.  The fact that you would then have to consume something like 3 times as much corn to achieve the same protein content, means 3 times the calories to get that desired protein --  Journal of the American College of Nutrition

2) an article in the Mother Earth News by Bryan Welch (Publisher of MEN) - relating the continued unworkable requirement that the only way to achieve stability is to grow population and 'new' whatevers.

Mother Earth News - December 2011

The article ends in part "...but keep tending your garden."

And that brings my mind back full circle to what is important.

Welch's article got me thinking about ALL THOSE numbers the various economists, government, Wall St., and pundits throw at us daily about whether something is up, down or stable.  I have always questioned the wisdom, for instance, of including 'housing starts' in whether or not our economy is doing good.  Jobs - yes, but housing starts presumes more population is the only way to show progress.

Welch's article takes the premise that what currently fuels growth is not necessity (in its truest sense, like food, clothing, shelter) but the pursuit of luxury are what fuels most of our growth.  We can't be satisfied with what we need, but want to 'to keep up with the Jones," to feel fulfilled and accomplished.  The problem is we are running of out of 'new' resources.

Welch's article is entitled "Unplugging Our Economic Ponzi Scheme" and the idea of a growth fueled only by population growth is a real eye-opening definition of Ponzi Scheme.

If you say the word sustainable to the world at large the collective shudder implies that sustainable means going backwards and nothing is further from the truth.  If something is sustainable it is implied that it will continue on.  "Resources" that are finite can't be sustained, they can only be replaced with something different, rationed (until they are gone), foregone when they are gone, or given only to those in 'authority' or the ones with the most money.

The 2 most valuable activities an individual person or family could do for themselves, right now, would be to learn or hone a skill or trade, and two, tend your garden.

What do I mean by a skill or trade?  I mean something that is not necessarily modern but something that is a useful experience/expertise that can be sold, traded or donated.  If you are a doctor, lawyer or chief of some-company it would still behoove you to learn or re-learn a necessary skill or trade (and yes doctors you have a skill, but it would not hurt to learn how to raise chickens so you have eggs to trade).

Carpentry or wood-working
Simple electrical work
Tending livestock

Skills or trade can certainly be high-tech, but consider what else besides high-tech would be tradeable in a difficult situation.  If the power is out knowing how to hook up a computer is useless, but knowing how to provide a sewn or knitted blanket is not.  Knowing how to cook over an open fire or any kind of a grill - and cook anything you need is useful when you do not have electricity.

If it sounds like I am talking in terms of survival - I am but not as a 'the world is coming to an end' but at what I see as a lack of any reasonable options for those who are without a job - short or long term.  If the stories that I've seen are any indication, losing a job is so mind-numbing for most hard-working people because they did not have a ful-back skill or trade.  The job they had was what they set their minds on having and no other 'what-ifs' were contemplated.

That is what complacency tends to do to us - most of us do not give enough consideration to the 'what-ifs' other than buying insurance to help our family if we die.  Losing a job or jobs is not contemplated because it is the unimaginable "won't happen to me" mentality because there is no back up plan.

How do you learn a skill or trade?  Schools of course, but you can also volunteer as a helper or apprentice to an organization you like. 

When I was a teenager, I volunteered after school several days a week at the local TB association.  I learned office skills there that aided me my whole life, and gave me a foundation for the jobs I later had.  There was the usual office work, but also the responsibility, mindfulness of what was needed to get things done, and concern for doing a quality job with a team, that instilled in me a belief that everyone should work together.  Looking back I was incredibly lucky in my choice of organizations to assist because they treated me with consideration that would normally be accrued to someone much older and/and a paid employee.

When I wanted to learn how to take proper care of the goats I wanted to get, I took 'lessons' from the gal I eventually purchased from.  The lessons included my desire to learn everything that was needed - mucking out stalls, hoof trimming, milking procedures, etc.  Later on I learned to assist while a friend did some of the less appealing things that temporarily cause a minute of pain to kids - not a pleasant job, but a necessary one.

I did not take for granted that learning how to take care of a goat was no different than taking care of a horse or cat or dog - the differences were IN THE learning, not assuming I knew what I needed to know - I wanted to make sure they were cared for by me, correctly, from the beginning, not as an experiment by me, on them.

Because I was a willing 'apprentice' my help and learning were appreciated by my friends and me.

While some of the above may not seem related, I see it all as part of not only the choices we make but as a portend of how we will manage or even survive, if we choose quality over quantity and skill over mindless 'progress'.  I do not think it is progress if we have more but the product is so inferior as to be all but impossible to survive on or with.

In many ways we have allowed ourselves to be 'told' what we wanted and needed.  Companies and ad agencies have perfected the 'entitlement' message.  I have become so suspicious of any use of the term natural or similar that I go look up information on 'it.'  Do you check the real purpose or quality of an item as much as you price check?

When we accept that only others can be the source of our necessities, then we risk having a roof made of paper, garment made of chemicals, or a meal of straw.  That is unsustainable.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sweet Potato Trials - And Arctic Express Coming On Through!

Dear Folks,

My experiment with two heirloom varieties of sweet potatoes has finished and overall I am very pleased with the results.  On July 10th, I planted "Barberman" and "Purple" sweet potato slips ordered from Sandhill Preservation.  The pictures show my harvest on November 27, 2011.

What I Did Wrong.

I had checked about 30-40 days ago for how the tubers were coming along.  Not wanting to 'invade' too much I did not dig my fingers down deep enough, so I decided to wait until Thanksgiving time to harvest (or first frost - which ever came first).  The challenge became that I should have turned off the watering a month ago, to prevent the splitting you see in the collage here.

Sweet Potatoes need a warm growing season, so they are perfect for growing opposite the Irish potatoes (I grow both).  Slips should be planted May through early July for the best results and you can start checking for harvestable size after about 60 days.  To avoid splitting, as I now know, you need to stop excessive watering for the 4 weeks leading up to final harvest (in our case - other areas of the country simply harvest at 90 days or first frost).  Since we generally start into our 2nd rainy season in November, the rain we had this month added to the split problem.

As you can see from the collage, not all of them split.  I am also showing that I'm cutting off some roots to replant.  I am hoping they will 'winter-over' okay - in past years it was a problem to NOT have them continue to grow when I grew them in the ground.  Since I am using large containers, I hope we do not get the killing freezes we had last year.

I would order these again for sure.  The reason I chose a purple variety was for novelty, but also like all blue and purple fruits and vegetables, they have higher antioxidants than their paler relatives.  However, the deep orange and red varieties are almost as high.  If you were to choose the top vegetable and fruit for ultimate nutrient density, fiber, and antioxidant capacity, sweet potatoes and mangos would be the choices.  I'm going to work on a mango again soon (frost killed it last year).

Speaking of Frost - Get Ready For The Arctic Express -- the end of this week the a cold and rainy front is moving on it and will be here at least for a week to 10 days.  IF THE OVERNIGHT forecast is for 40 or lower be prepared to cover and protect your tender plants with cloth or paper covers, and hope we do not get a hard freeze.

Back to the sweet potatoes.  I did have to peel off more of the split surfaces than I had hoped but what I had was a nice bunch which I chunked up, roasted and then mashed with a bit of apple cider and butter, for my post-thanksgiving turkey dinner this past Sunday.

Can't get any better than harvesting sweet potatoes Sunday morning and eating them that afternoon!

I have left the rest of the ones harvested to dry a bit in the sun/shade, and will bring them in to sit on my counter until I cook them up next week.  Sweet potatoes need to be 'cured' a bit and are more delicate than Irish potatoes for long-term storage.  I left some in the pots and will harvest the remainder in two weeks - I will probable prepare some for freezing so I have some a little later.  I also plan on selecting one or two which 'want' to root and seeing if they will store in my crisper, the way I store my Irish for later re-plantings. Will let you all know how that works out.

For those of you who want to grow IRISH POTATOES, get ready to plant later in December, but no later than the end of January.  I have a tradition of planting those on January 1st to finish out my holidays and head immediately into real gardening again. :-)

Have a great week, folks,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Ideas and Thoughts - Worth Repeating

Dear Folks,

I'm sharing some prior posts that I think are fun and appropriate for Thanksgiving.  First up is my Pumpkin Oatmeal side dish - the other aspect of this recipe that I loved was IF YOU have leftovers, they easily can be formed into patties and quickly heated in the frying pan the next morning to go with a hardy breakfast.  There are so many good-for-you things in this dish - you should try it - and let me know what you think.

Here is a side dish for any meal -- warming and satisfying.

1 cup regular oatmeal (not instant or quick cook)
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie spice kind, just plain)
14 oz can of chicken broth (or vegetable)
1/8 teaspoon smoked salt (or sea salt)
8 large basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
Optional: other nuts such as pecans.
Stir pumpkin into broth in sauce pan, add salt and oatmeal and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 5 minutes stirring regularly. Add nuts. Rinse and sliver basil leaves and fold into oatmeal just before serving. (Left Over Tip: form into patties and fry gently in a bit of olive oil, about 1 minute each side (just until warmed all the way through and slightly crusted on both sides.)
Optional: For a sweet version: Add 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, 1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries, and omit (or leave in as you prefer) basil leaves, and use only plain (non-flavored) salt.

Stuffed Pumpkin

First Official Thanksgiving

Listen to old time radio Thanksgiving shows

May you all have a safe, healthy, blessed and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hooked on "SodaStream"? Better mix choices and $ value.

Dear Folks,

If your family begged for the newest convenience device called "sodastream" that lets you make your own fizzy water, you may want to consider something other than their mixes for even better health choices.

Frozen Concentrated Fruit Juices!

The beauty of frozen concentrates is you can find a wide variety of no-sugar-added flavors with just the natural sweetness of the juice.  Add any fizzy water and you have soda!

Do the kids like orange soda?  Easy - concentrated orange juice + fizzy water = Orange soda.

The basic ratio is 1/4 cup (2 ounces) of concentrated to 3/4 cup (6 ounces) of fizzy water.  You can make the finished product a little 'lighter' by simply adding more fizzy.

If you are going to invest in a product that is touted at saving you money, being "green" and letting you make better soda choices for your family -- make it even healthier by using real fruit juices instead of formula mixes.

Sodastream's "natural" flavors are $9.99 for a bottle which makes 25 8-ounce cups.  That is $.40 a glass (cup).

A 12 ounce container of frozen juice concentrate (remember no-sugar-added varieties) is about $1.44 and makes 6  8-ounce cups.  That is $.24 a glass -- you save money and get better product.

I like ideas that reduce waste, limit additions to the land fill, and give you healthier choices.  If you just change the 'mix' you have the convenience of sodastream, limit landfill waste and give your family better flavor choices.  Anyone for pineapple/orange soda!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Herb Lady

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cyber Shopping - How About The Local Kind?

Dear Folks,

I am going to share some of my friends locally produced products and services. Keep them in mind and other locally owned businesses when you shop not only for the holidays but year-round.

Jean Groen with her partner Don Wells is an expert in the edible and medicinal plants of the Sonoran Desert. Together they have written 6 books:  "Foods of the Superstitions Old and new","Plants of the Sonoran Desert and Their Many Uses", 2 children's books-"The Adventures of Flat Cactus Jack" and "The Second Adventure of Flat Cactus Jack...the Mystery Mound", Cat's Claw to Cow's Tongue and Other Lesser Known Plants of the Sonoran Desert", "Grazing the Sonoran Sonoran Desert" (a loose leaf recipe book).

Jean is also a dedicated foodie and loves making jellies from all the wonderful variety of desert edibles - last count about 20 flavors.  She also produces pickles and BBQ sauces.  Jean conducts tours at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  The books can be found at Superstition Mt. Historical Museum, Tonto Visitor's Center, Tonto Monument, Casa Grande Ruins, Besh Ba Gowah, Book Bank in Miami, AZ,  or you can contact them at

Kathy Marshall has her own dairy goat herd -- along with the 'cute' portion of the farm, Kathy gets to create her wonderful lotions and soaps using goats milk.  Goats milk is good for you both inside and outside.  Kathy's lotion customers have reported relief from dry skin, eczema, psoriasis and even diaper rash.  Double Blessings started in 2003 when Kathy wanted a soap that would not dry out her skin and a lotion that actually worked.  Find her on the web, at farmers markets around the valley and check the website for stores carrying her lotions and soaps.

Alice Nelson harvests dried flowers and leaves creating some of the prettiest bookmarks and pendants with them.  Every flower, leaf and petal is handpicked, trimmed and pressed by her.Each are unique and no two are ever the same.

But her main creative talent is her unique earwrap earrings suitable for those with and without pieced ears.  You can purchase through Alice's website, or find her at Fairs in the valley.  The wrap base is hypoallergenic 302 grade stainless steel, adjustable to fit any ear.

Coming up Alice will be at a fair at Greenway High School December 10th and 11th.

Jim Pipkin is a songwriter, story teller, and musician.  It literally runs in his veins -- Jim Pipkin carries on a family tradition of music and storytelling dating back to before the American Revolution.  Jim is a direct descendant of Revolutionary War Patriot Jesse Pipkin, and the grandson of Clifton White Pipkin, a Carolina roadhouse musician during the Great Depression. The Pipkin family has been writing and singing folk and gospel music in America since arriving at Jamestown in the late 1600’s.  Jim has 6 albums out and is working on his 7th.  You can purchase and download individual songs or whole albums.  OR, catch one of his shows around the valley and purchase the CDs.  Got to his website, or if you are on facebook his music shop.
Jim's show schedule is here.

Susan Decker is "Always A Little Behind Crafts" and I can totally understand that Susan could be always a little behind.  It is almost impossible to describe Susan's creative offerings in one little news piece here.  If there is something which can be hand made, Susan has probably created it!  From hand-made greeting cards, to aprons, toys (cloth to wood), home decorations, lunch box options, and purse accessories, you will find Susan's creative touch for every part of your life.  She is frequently at some valley farmers markets but you can easily order from her website  At my request, Susan came up with a 'toy' for my Homemade Kids Meals challenge (a homemade option to fast food meals).  Be sure to check out her crafts for all the gifts you need this holiday season.

To say that the holiday season can be stressful is to woefully understate the experience!  Give a gift to family or friends or yourself of a session with Rolfing Resources and regain your literally and figurative balance.  Rihab Yaqub is a certified Rolfer, Rolf Movement practitioner and Somatic Experiencing practitioner.  I know Rihab as a friend who just radiates positive energy.  Rihab's new studio in Scottsdale is hosting an open house.  This Sunday, November 20th  2-5 p.m. -- Historic Cattletrack Studio Compound -- 6207 N. Cattletrack Rd. #8, Scottsdale, AZ 85250 -- (480) 735-8875  -- stop by for conversation, refreshments and an opportunity to win a free session.  Visit her website for more information about Rolfing.  Gift Certificates are now available.

Patricia is "Feather Wolf" another creative friend who designs websites, beautiful precious stone jewelry and these unique fragrances shown here.  Find her at Mesa and Ahwatukee farmers markets in the valley or go to her website.  News fragrances just added are:  Lavender and Sunshine, Key Lime Pie, Eastern Treasure, Evening Rose,  Flower Mountain, and The Carpenter - I really liked the Lavender and Sunshine!  Click here for a description of each.

Last of my friends - but certainly not least - is Sue Harris a gifted musician but also a handmade soap specialist with a knack for thinking 'outside the bar' for scent inspirations.  I confess to giving Sue some ideas for soaps honoring the upcoming Arizona Centennial but she is the crafting wizard to actually figure out how to make them into cool soaps! My soaps are made in small batches, overflowing with such wonderful oils as olive, shea butter, almond, avocado, cocoa butter, and many others. I specialize in products reflecting the beautiful southwest desert where I live.  Find Sue at local farmers markets or visit her website to order direct.

Find more locally owned businesses and support your neighbors at

Find Farmers Markets around Arizona here 

Put together an ultimate gift basket with soaps, lotions, books, bookmarks, music, fragrances and lunch box accessories all local, all Arizona, all Great! 

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady
My Books

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fun Food Ideas for family and entertaining

Dear Folks,

I have some fun ideas for quick or interesting serving suggestions using foods you can find at your local farmers market.


Pictured is "My Toothpick Caprese Salad"

This is a great farmers market source and east to put together.  I am serving them on orange leaves for easy pickup and to 'catch' any juice from the tomatoes.  (Citrus tree leaves are edible - a little crunchy :-) but perfect for decorating and displaying foods.)

The cheese is Arizona Cheese Co's cheddar curds, wrapped in a fresh basil leaf and cuddled with fresh grape or cherry tomatoes - oh yum!

Need a fast and tasty meal?  Eggs poached in salsa arranged over a bed of fresh market greens, and served with crusty bread.  I enjoy any of the market vendors fresh eggs and Shirley's "Lil Sassy Salsa" for these - Whimpy :-) to beam me up Scott hot.

To wow your guests and grill Dry Bay Fish Company's Sockeye Salmon with fresh herbs and little white wine.  Use aluminum foil to great a package.  Herbs under and over the salmon - single layer - a little white wine for steaming. 20 minutes on indirect grill heat and amazing flavor.

Dr. Humus' tabouleh salad is a great base for dressed pasta, grain (rice, barley, quinoa etc.) or potatoes.  (Cold grain salads are a great side dish - or can be used to 'stuff' cherry tomatoes or mushrooms.)  Make a super nice dip with a quarter to half cup of the tabouleh to 2 cups of Greek style (or drained) plain yogurt - add a couple of chopped scallions and dash of salt and you have a healthy dip alternative.

Or use Dr. Humus' tasty pesto in the same way to make a different flavored dip.  Watching calories - use slices of cucumber in place of crackers.

Pita Bread or chips available from Dr. Humus - their chips go with any of their dips, but use the pita bread to make a super fresh pizza - separate the bread into two, top each with pesto or tabouleh, fresh tomatoes, cheese and bake in toaster oven on "toast" for 10 minutes or a conventional oven at 400 for 10 minutes.

Need some fast hamburgers?  Grab a package of Red Mountain Cattle's ground meat, a potato from One Windmill Farm, and some fresh herbs.  Pick up tomatoes, lettuce and onions for the burgers.  Shred a half of medium washed but not peeled potato for each pound of hamburger,  finely mince herbs.  Toss the herbs with the potato and mix the potato/herb blend with the meat - do not over work the burger meat.  Form into patties and grill as usual.  The potato keeps the grass-fed beef moist.

Bruschetta anyone?   Grab a crusty bread from the market, some of the amazing tomatoes and Dr. Humus' pesto or humus (many taste varieties - all great) - slice bread on diagonal, toast, spread with pesto or humus and top with slice tomato - so good!

Be sure and check out the other wonderful food and craft vendors at the markets and buy great products while supporting YOUR local community.

Have a great day!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Salmon Cakes, and other recipe tips

Dear Folks,

I have been trying to come up with a take on 'crab cakes' using salmon.  Deane loves salmon - I like it best when I make my signature salmon steamed in herbs, but occasionally Deane enjoys the canned, and because I'm not that crazy about it I wanted to come up with something he would really love and I could 'enjoy' with him.

So, I had some left over cooked sweet potatoes, I got some pecans (one of my first thoughts to go with the canned salmon), and we still have fresh basil in the garden.

HARVEST TIP:  This time of year, make sure you harvest your basil AFTER it has been in the sun for a couple of hours, otherwise the flavor and scent will not be as nice -- cold damp air and soil makes the essential oils retreat.


Deane said this one is a keeper!

1 6oz can of boneless, skinless salmon (I used Alaskan pink)
1/2 cup cooked mashed sweet potatoes
10 basil leaves
1 slice of bread
a scant 1/2 cup of pecans
salt and pepper
Lemon wedges.

Process the bread into crumbs.  Grind the pecans into crumbs, don't let it become 'butter' - mix pecans and bread crumbs together - set aside.

Preheat over to 400 degrees.

Drain salmon and flake into small pieces.  Sliver the basil leaves and sprinkle over the salmon,  Sprinkle with salt and pepper (I used coarse salt and fresh ground pepper).  Spread the mashed sweet potato over the salmon.  Add a handful of the bread/pecan mix and thoroughly mix the salmon mixture together.

Take a small handful of the salmon mixture and press together to form a ball or patty, gentle place in bread crumbs and pat more crumbs on top.  Place patty on baking sheet and press down to flatten slightly.  Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Serve with lemon wedges.

Last week when the temperatures dipped down, I was cold so I immediately think of soups and stews.  While I don't mind spending a couple of hours preparing meals, a lot of the time I want something fast.

For fast soups - ready in 15-20 minutes, but with all the home cooked taste and flavor, I rely on pre-cooked meats and my broths.  Here are easy proportion soups to make whenever.   By giving you some ratios you can easily double, triple or multiply to fit your family and company needs.  An old cooking wisdom is with unexpected company a soup or stew is easily and healthfully expanded with the addition of meat, pasta, potatoes or beans and some extra liquid.

1 cup of broth
1/4 cup of bite-size meat and/or cooked beans
1-2 tablespoons of uncooked pasta (I like Barilla-plus for its high protein / fiber ratio)
half a small new potato or 1/4 of a small baking potato, cooked and diced
half a stalk of celery, sliced or diced small
half a carrot sliced or diced small
1-2 tablespoons of diced onion
Salt and pepper to taste
handful of Fresh greens/herbs, coarse chopped (lettuces, basil, mint, kales, arugula etc.)
slurry 1 tablespoon of corn starch to 2 tablespoons of broth or water
Optional:  a teaspoon of olive oil, butter or bacon fat

Optional saute if you have time - saute the onion celery and carrot in the fat for five minutes.  Add broth and proceed.

Bring broth to a boil and add onion, celery and carrot.  If the past takes 10 minutes to cook add it now.  Set time for 10 minutes.  If the past takes 6 minutes add it at the 4 minute mark.

Meanwhile place a handful of the fresh greens in each soup bowl.  When the timer goes off add potatoes, meat and/or beans and cook 1-2 minutes to heat through.  If you want a thick soup, add the slurry before or after the meat etc. and cook 1-2 minutes.  Ladle into bowls over fresh greens.  Serve with a nice crusty bread or crackers.

In the next blog I'm going to give you some FAST AND FUN FOOD IDEAS for your family and holiday entertaining, using farmers market products and recipes to make quickly at home.

SHOP LOCAL FOR THE HOLIDAYS:  In a special newsletter next week I am going to highlight some of my friends and farmers market vendors who have great options of gift giving or something for yourself -- watch for it :-)

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Learn To Can Food! Tuesday, November 22nd

Dear Folks,

This is a lecture I am looking forward to, adding to my growing but not complete knowledge of canning.  Save space in the freezer and refrigerator, have wholesome and healthy choices you make yourself for "putting food by."

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

At the Dobson/Southern campus of Mesa Community College

Sustainable Gardening Workshop Series
"Passion for Canning" with
Andrea Robinson
Hosted by MCC Urban Horticulture Program
Tuesday 11-22-2011
6:30-8:30 pm Kiva Room (Under the Belltower)

Pre-registration and Credit Card payment can be made by phone through
the MCC Cashier’s office at 480-461-7400 and select option 3.
Reference "Urban Horticulture Lecture Series" 

You must Pre-register

Join us as Andrea Robinson shares her passion for canning. Andrea has
been canning home-grown food for over 20 years and believes anything
you can grow or cook can be canned. She got interested in canning
because she wanted to be self sufficient and likes having pre-prepared
meals for a busy lifestyle.

Andrea will demonstrate different canning methods and some of her
favorite recipes in this 2 hour hands-on workshop.

Monday, November 07, 2011

A Community Garden Possibility in Mesa - Let Your Voices Be Heard!

Dear Folks,

HEADS UP!  This is your opportunity to show your support for a
community garden in Mesa.


iMesa meeting includes community garden and energy discussions

          Calling all green thumbs! The next iMesa village meeting
will feature a booth about bringing a community garden to Mesa. We are
in the beginning stages and want to determine community interest and
collect feedback from the gardening community about a possible
location, size, design and type of operation. Whether you’ve
participated in a community garden before or just want to hear more
about it, join us on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. at the Irving School
Historical Center, 155 N. Center St.

                The City of Mesa Energy Resources Department will also
be on hand to discuss the Electric Integrated Resource Planning
process, which assesses customers’ energy requirements and the best
combination of resources to meet the energy needs of the 5.5 square
miles in downtown Mesa.

                The iMesa Central Village Meeting is designed to bring
the top ideas submitted to iMesa out to the community for discussion.
A community garden is one of these ideas along with saving Buckhorn
Baths, revitalizing Pioneer Park and expanding the regional pool
program. iMesa is a grassroots citizen investment effort to develop
projects that will transform Mesa. To find out more about the iMesa
program go to

                Submit your iMesa idea at the meeting and be entered
into a drawing to win an iPod Touch. You must be present to win and
the drawing is at 7 p.m.

                The final iMesa village meeting is on Wednesday, Nov.
16 in the Citrus Village at the Commemorative Air Force Aviation
Museum, 2017 N. Greenfield Road. Ideas in that village include
building a splash pad at Candlelight Park, expanding the regional pool
program and providing more programs for kids.

                After the village meeting process is complete, the
iMesa Citizen Steering Committee will compile the ideas, comments and
votes and present a package of projects to the Mesa City Council in

Donna DiFrancesco

Conservation Specialist

Environmental & Sustainability

480.644.3334 (tel):  480.644.4774 (fax)

PO Box 1466

Mesa, AZ 85211-1466


Building a Sustainable Community  |

Managing water and energy for efficiency, savings, and the

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, October 24, 2011

One Pot Meal - Potatoes, Beans, Pasta & Meat Stew

Dear Folks,

Back in August I posted a recipe for a 'made over' or left over soup/stew using pre-cooked chicken.  I was in the mood for comfort food yesterday, so I re-did the recipe slightly to cook everything in one pot - takes about 45-60 minutes total time.  Really satisfying and re-heats great.

For the first version - here is the link from the old post.


1 can of white or cannelli beans (14 oz. or so)
2 sweet Italian sausages (or 1-3 boneless/skinless chicken breasts)
1 large russet potato (or several new potatoes - about 2 cups when diced)
1/4 cup of tiny pasta (stellini or stars or couscous)
3+ cups of chicken broth
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 heaping tablespoons of corn starch
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt (to taste)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of any herb combination you like - I used dried rosemary, garlic and black pepper

Optional:  Other veggies can be added at the same time as the potato, be sure to increase the liquid to cover all while cooking -- carrots, celery, parsnips, sweet potato

Optional:  slice leek, scallion or onion (I used one thick sliced leek yesterday)

In a 3-4 quart sauce pan, heat olive oil, at medium high.  If using onion, add and stir for one minute.  Add sausage or chicken, set the timer for 20 minutes.  Sear one minute on each side, stirring onions.  Add 1 cup of broth, turn down to medium, cover and cook until timer goes off, turning the meat every once in a while.

Open can of beans.  Do not drain

Scrub and dice potato - leave skin on.   Scurb and dice any other vegetables you may be using.

When timer goes off, remove meat and set aside to cool - when cooled dice and reserve.

Add bean liquid - reserving the beans and 2 cups of broth to pot, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the herbs.  Bring to boil and add potatoes.  Cook for 7 minutes covered on medium.

Add pasta, cover and cook for 6 minutes more.

Make a slurry of some broth with the corn starch and set aside (I like to use a jar and shake vigorously - mixes it very well.)

When the pasta has cooked for 6 minutes, uncover, add beans and meat, taste for salt and adjust seasoning.  Add more broth to make sure everything is covered.  Cook on high for 1 minutes to warm the meat and beans.

While stirring pour in the slurry to thicken - cook for 1-3 minutes more on high.

Serve with crusty bread and a salad and you have a really satisfying meal.

One of the extra nice things about this kind of recipe is you can always add a bit more of 1 or everything and adjust herbs and salt proportionately to accommodate the unexpected guest :-)


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Garlic Up! Onions Too!

Dear Folks,

The garlic I planted October 1st for harvesting next spring is already up - yippee!  I will give it another couple of weeks and count how many heads I can anticipate.  I planted over a 100 cloves of the "Purple Glazer" variety.

These "new" garlic are planted specifically to harvest as head garlic next spring.

I also planted some of my 'older' garlic to harvest over the next couple of weeks/months for green garlic.  Those I planted on October 3rd (along with a native onion I'itoli I got from Vilardi Gardens).

On October 6th I planted red onion sets, very close together so I can harvest over the coming months for scallions - pulling every 3rd or 2nd one - and winding up with storage onions next late spring/early summer.  "Storing" your green garlic and scallions in the ground until you need them is a REALLY good thing!  The second picture shows the onions on the left and the green garlic and I'itoli onion on the right.  (I left my 'measuring' pipe in place over the onions to discourage the birds.  They don't like onions or garlic but will dig up new plantings sometimes to see what I put in :-)  You will also see some volunteer nasturtiums in that picture.  I'm leaving some in and pulling some that may interfer with the intended plantings.

I began to have a problem with the flea beetles attacking my radish/cabbage seedlings, but the garlic coming up has appeared to discourage them.

This bed is the one I recently reclaimed from garlic chive over-growth and so I will also be weeding out baby garlic chives for a looonnnnggg time, but I have plenty growing elsewhere.

Garlic is really one of the easiest (and tastiest) foods to grow.  If you grow for head garlic, plant in sunny location before November 1st, in well draining soil,  water properly, keep weeded and just watch it grow.  Very few pests trouble garlic (except for the occasional bird wondering what you planted there).  If growing green garlic, the same principles apply.  When you pull a green 'scallion' garlic, just replace with another clove and continue harvest/re-plant through May.


Be sure to check the calendar at the bottom of the blog for information on scheduled lectures.  October 19th, 25th, 26th, and November 2nd.  These might be the only ones until after the holidays, so if you need some help with the how-2s on successful gardening or friends / family have been saying they want to garden, check out the details.  Each venue has its own registration contact info.

Have a great day in the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, October 17, 2011

Quick Pickle - More.

Dear Folks,

I posted a recipe for making quick pickles (refrigerator - not shelf-stable) last week.  Over the weekend, I pickled some nice green beans and some leek I had left-over.

I picked up the beans Friday from One Windmill Farm at the Mesa Farmers Market.  (This market has been going on for about 15 years, year-round every Friday.  Great vendors!!!

Last week's post on quick pickles

After I prepared the green beans, I had some left over brine so I tossed in some radishes I had picked that morning, and some sliced up celery.  Let them cool and had them later for a little snack.

That is the beauty of this kind of pickling/brining.  You can enjoy them that day or over the next couple of weeks.  Consider whatever veggie you might have on hand.  You can pickle fruits too and add some sugar to the boiling liquid along with spices.

Have fun experimenting with your garden harvest.  And don't forget to check out your local farmers market for fall goodies.  All the root crops are starting to come in and all can make a nice batch of quick pickles.

And you do not have to make gallons or quarts at a time!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Quick Pickles

Dear Folks,

Preserving food -- always sounds like a lot of work to package up a whole bunch of food for long-term storage.  The challenge for small households or types of food that are not frequently eaten is most food preservation recipes are written for down-on-the-farm harvest time canning.

So I thought I would share a quick pickle recipe for a small batch of cucumbers and whatever herbs appeal to you.  The really good thing about this is, it will last for 2-3 weeks (refrigerated), you can make it whenever you have the ingredients on hand, and they stay really crisp.  If you watch the food shows on TV you may have seen the super star chefs making pickles.  They will do a batch for that evening's dinner offerings.  Same principle.

QUICK PICKLE (see below for sweet or bread & butter option)
(will make one pint of pickles)

1 cup of water
1 cup of white vinegar (Or you can get creative and use red or herb vinegar)
1 teaspoon of salt
herbs and spices of your choice
1 large or 2 small cucumbers***

***Cut into spears 4 inches long, or you can use as many small whole cucumbers as will fit tightly standing up in the jar.

Make sure you mason jar is perfectly clean.

Place the herbs in the bottom of the jar -- I used several sprigs of dill I sun-dried this past spring, and a small hand full of dried garlic chives I also sun-dried this summer.

Arrange the cucumbers in the jar, fitting tight in the jar (this keeps them from floating so they all stay in the liquid).

Bring the water, vinegar, and salt to a full rolling boil.  Pour over the cucumbers, make sure the liquid fully coves the cukes.

Cap the jar tightly and let sit on the counter until completely cooled down.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Ready to use!!

Options:  Try other veggies, but remember they need to be packed vertically for the best taste and preservation.  Green beans, zucchini, peppers, any vegetable you love pickled.

add 1 teaspoon of sugar to the boiling liquid
Herbs/Spices: instead of dill and garlic, place a slice of onion at the bottom of the jar first with 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1/2 teaspoon of caraway or celery seeds and a pinch of tumeric - pack the cucumbers in as above, add boiling liquid cap, cool and refrigerate.


What to do with pickle juice?   Several options:

Drink it on a hot day (like an electrolyte sports drink)
Add it to the compost pile**
Pour on the soil around trees, tomatoes or blueberry (or other acid soil loving plants)**
Use in recipes calling for vinegar - like BBQ marinades

** Don't over-do the use in compost or soil due to the high salt content.  The occasional (a couple of times a year) addition won't add that much salt.

Hope this gives you lots of ideas
-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Sustainability - What Does That Mean To Average Home-Gardener

Dear Folks,

Sustainability is one of the top buzz words now, but what does that mean to the average home gardener.

A way to look at it would be as a simple, seasonal garden plan.  Let's say you want to garden in a container or a raised bed.  I get a lot of questions on container gardening so if I take you through a simple large-pot edible garden, all of the same principles will apply to an in-ground garden.  By-the-way the main reason I favor in-ground is the properly prepared soil gives running shoes to the roots, then can go as deep and healthy as they need.  Plus it is easier for the worms to do their tilling and amending activity in the ground.

So it is October and you get a large (at least 20 inches in diameter) pot.  You put drainage in the bottom.  You can use rocks or several inches of packing peanuts, then put wet paper toweling over them.  That keeps the soil mix from sifting through.

Make a mix of compost and "fluff" - I have recently begun using parboiled rice hulls, Suzanne Vilardi introduced me to and I love it.  It is natural, biodegradable and a good alternative to vermiculite which I have used for years.  I personally got away from perlite years ago because it separates from the soil and no longer works as the anti-compaction component it is supposed to be.  I generally use about 70% compost or superior soil and 30% of the 'fluff.'  Make sure your compost is perfectly rotted.  Hot compost will kill your first plantings.  Fill the pot to within 3 inches of the top and water it.  If it settles a lot add more mix until it reaches that level.

Think about the location for the pot - DO NOT plan on shading it - the whole point of a seasonal garden is to plant at the proper time for the season and sun is the friend not the enemy to edibles.  If you have a full sun location, positioning the plants and seeds won't be a problem.  If you have a location in a typical residential area, then you will need to consider that the tallest plants need to be on the North Side of the pot, to ensure all of the lowest growing plants get their share of the sun.

VERY IMPORTANT -- with any seasonal container garden it is necessary to make sure you plant at least 6 inches in from the sides.  This allows for the soil to act as an insulator to the roots for both cold and heat.

WATERING:  USE A moisture meter to know when to water.  Insert near the center of the pot, and water when 2-3 on the dry side.  Watering sequence will change as we get cooler and then warmer.  Skip next watering is you receive half an inch of rain or more, IF THE next watering cycle is within 3 days of the rain.

2 Pot Options:

1) perennial and Other herbs

2) veggies and other edibles

Perennial and Other Herbs

October - plant a rosemary and thyme plants, centered in the pot about 6 inches away from each other.  Seed in on four sides side 1) dill, Side 2) cilantro, Side 3) any type of pansy or violet, Side 4) 4 cloves of garlic spaced 3 inches a part (growing as green garlic)

--Green garlic harvested like scallions can be successively planted either by starting a new row 3 inches to the side of the first one OR by replacing each clove as you harvest. Usually the first ones are ready in about 6-8 weeks when the top growth is 8-10 inches tall.  You can continue successive planting of the garlic through early May.

December - seed in chamomile 'under' the canopy of the pansies.  The chamomile likes the cool weather and will be ready to harvest by the end of January, give or take.

February - see in basil under the canopy of the pansies and chamomile.   The basil will germinate as the soil is warmed by the spring sun (and IF WE do not have any killing frosts).

March - seed in chives and epazote under the cilantro.  The cilantro will begin to go to seed in March when the temps are in the consistent 80-90s.  Harvest the flowers for use in salads and soups, but allow some to go to seed and harvest, store and re-sow next fall.  Same with the dill, use flowers in salads but allow some to go to seed.  Use some seed for cooking and save some for harvest next fall.

--sow in Portulaca seed in and around the canopy of the rosemary and thyme.  This hot weather loving plant will eventually create a soil canopy keeping the surface cool during the summer.  It dies back in the cooling weather of the fall.

When the dill and cilantro plants are spent, cut at soil level (rather than pulling them and disturbing the rosemary and thyme roots. Toss on the compost pile.

April - pansies or violets may being starting into producing seed.  Harvest dried seed for re-sowing next fall.  When plants die back, crush and distribute powdered plant residue on the pot soil surface.

HARVESTING:  Harvest your herbs as needed, but do not harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at a time, to keep it growing.

Veggies and Other Edibles

October -- Transplant 1-2 bush or pole bean plants or sugar peas - create trellis for them to grow up and position the plants and trellis on the north side of the pot.  See other pot option for some additional sowing -- sow flowers in and around the beans or peas.  Sow calendula for additional petals for salads.  Transplant 2 lettuces, 2 arugula and 2 kale plants east to west in along the center line of the pot.  On the south side of the pot sow east to west:  short half row of short-season carrots and a short half row of radishes. 

--radishes are ready to harvest usually every 30 days, replant seed in hole.  If thinning seedlings, save for salads or rinse and store for making stock later.  Replant carrots as harvested.

--Greens are treated as cut and come again crops.  Harvest 1/3 when 6-8 inches tall and you should get 3-6 cuttings over the fall/winter.

-- green garlic can be planted along the inside 6 inches of the south side of the container and harvested and successive planted through May.

December -- plant strawberries if you have room, near the center of the pot.  Sow nasturtium seeds (nick each seed and soak overnight before planting - can be allowed to go up trellis or sprawl over sides of the pot.

--if you want to change our your root crops sow parsnips and turnips now.  Add 3 swiss chard seeds to one hole in the greens area (large growing leaves).  Re-seed any of the greens which may be spent.

January - sow seeds of tomatoes under canopy of flowers near center of pot (will germinate in warming soil IF WE do not have a hard frost) - when the seeds germinate, keep the seedlings covered with a plastic water bottle with the bottom cut off (cloche) and use the cap to expel excess heat and moisture during the day.  Use the cloche until all danger of frost is over.  IF the seeds do not germinate for whatever weather or other conditions, transplant 2 plants near the center of the pot when available and use cloche until frost danger is over.  Choose determinate varieties - you will not stake or cage these plants but let them sprawl.

February-April -- sow chive seeds along the south east side of the pot - in 6 inches.  Sow soybeans (through May) - they come mature for green edamame all at once on each bush, sow successively for continued crop.  You can change out or add as you have room for a few beets in the root-crop area.  Transplant 1-2 eggplant. tomatillo and/or pepper plants.  Transplant a basil plant among the tomatoes, eggplant or peppers  DO NOT plant both hot and sweet peppers in the same pot.  Sow in Portulaca seed in and around the center area of the pot.  This heat loving edible flower will sprawl and canopy the soil surface during the summer.

May -- transplant or sow 1-2 okra in at the north area where the beans / peas are/were.

August - under the canopy edge of the tomatoes, basil, etc. you can sow greens and cilantro seeds - OR you can allow the rest of the summer garden to finish production and re-do the pot in October with the same sequence as above.

Harvest dried seed from your edibles for re-sowing in their next season.

--harvest beans and peas as they reach an edible size. Allow some pods to dry for seed harvest for replanting next fall.  Replant sugar peas if they are spent in January.

--to fix the nitrogen in the soil from the beans and peas, allow the plants to die off before cutting at the soil level, toss in compost pile.

. . .

More On Sustainability

If you are not familiar with Joel Salatin, you should get to know him and his thoughts and experience as a 'grass farmer' who gets every bit of edible produce, meat and eggs from one of the healthiest farms anywhere and all without the use of un-natural 'stuff.'

Joel has a new book out - I have not read it yet, but I will.  There are a variety of videos on youtube with Joel discussing his passion for healthy and sustainable food.

Folks, This Ain't Normal!

Video on Joel and his book

Some of Joel's practices revolve around the concept of rotational animals and crops.  He will let the cows out into the pasture for a short browse. Then he brings out the chicken tractors where his flocks browse the pasture, eating bugs in the cow patties and spreading the manure around to properly continue the growth feed cycle.

He has his critics, but mostly from the factory-farm crowd and the over-the-top government regulators (whom many believe are controlled by the FFCs), who want to tell you what food you 'can't' produce or purchase.  His point in the new book (he has authored several) is that at no time in history has our food buying and eating habits been so disconnected from 'real'

If I were to personally make an analogy to what he is trying to get across - it would be the sci-fi explored concept of getting everything you need from a pill -- either "Soylent Green" style or just the idea that some people and a whole lot of food processors are trying to make food so modernly convenient that they want it all to come so amalgamated and condensed that no one could even tell where, or what, it came from.  That IS Scary, because we seem to be on the course, as more and more 'fresh' food is being customized to the specifications of not only large processors but also large chain stores, the only thing resembling real is that at one time the food might have been in the ground -- maybe.

I spoke to a soil analysis several years ago about a huge chain I won't name required a grower I won't name to create a specific fruit crop.  The guidelines by the chain to the grower were so specific that the grower refused additional soil analysis which would have made the soil healthier and create a better fruit because it was not required by the chain.

If chains can dictate not only what they want, but how healthy they do or do not want their purchases for the consumer to be, we are in deep do-do as my Deane puts it.

Other foods like "economy" cheese which is little more than food-grade plastic, touted as a source of calcium, because the mineral was added, but there is no protein content, are an outrageous fraud!

What it takes to get the attention of corporation non-health-type mandates is for the consumer to 1) be educated and 2) be vocal on what you want.  They eventually hear it, as the offerings of natural and organic options become more available.

But the consumer also has to be specific. If we do not accept false attempts to get consumers buying what is touted as natural (but is not when you read the label with chemical euphemisms for real ingredients)   The term "natural flavors" is coming more and more into question as what the flavor is actually made from may not be THE flavor it is touted as.

Whether you grow some of your own food (I hope you do) or you want to buy the best for you and your family, you NEED to educate yourself on what you are purchasing.

Do you want real food, or do you want a chemistry-produced euphemism of food?

Be nice to yourselves,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, October 03, 2011

HELLO!! "The" Reason To Grow Or Choose Locally Grown Food.

Dear Folks,

Maybe it is the confluence of events, but in the last several weeks there have been more alerts and recalls of food that seem to be waving the flag to put attention back on where your food comes from.

Let's just put the subject in practical terms -- the more a piece of furniture, a computer, or a piece of fresh food is handled the more likely it is to be damaged.  This is not rocket science per se, folks, but it is a matter of physics  -- the affects of matter moving through time.

So in case you need ONE more reason to put more of your money and energy into buying locally grown produce and other food, or growing some of it yourself, read the article below.

Long Road From Farm To Fork Worsens Food Outbreaks. 

The Reason To Choose Locally Grown

Desert Gardening and Edibles

So many folks still think you can not grow the veggies, fruits, and herbs in the desert.  In an article in the Sunday paper, Gary Nabhan of Native Seed search makes the point that people lived here for hundreds of years and they ate "something".  Go here for the article.

Mr. Nabhan's point is that the desert can and did produce sustainable food for people.

As we look at our climate, with similarities to Provence and Tuscany, what we have is the ability to garden pretty much year round if certain seasonal facts are kept in mind.

--Drainage in the soil is absolutely mandatory to be successful.  You can garden in a container but the same principle applies.  The soil must be 'fluffy' and well draining and there has to be enough space allowed for the root system to expand.

--Edibles need sun - a minimum of 6-10 hours - year round.  In a residential setting you need to map your garden before hand so you know where the sun comes from and what time of year the area(s) get sun.  If you have places with the appropriate amount of sun year-round then you are ready to plant.

--Plant at the right time of the year for the variety.  If you pay attention to THAT element and the other 2 you will not need to shade most plants in the summer.  Planted at the right time, they adapt.  This might be the single most important point for those moving here from the mid-west or north east.  Learning the different planting times.

--Water properly.  Lawn style watering simply does not work for edibles, they need deep watering, a drying out period between the watering to encourage deep roots and you need to learn what "deep" means.  It means watering sufficiently that you can stick a kababo skewer straight down in the soil after watering with out impediment.

--Variety of Plants.  In many cases you can grow anything you grew in other places in the US.  Choosing Native seeds is an excellent start.  Click here for Native Seed Search an outstanding organization dedicated to the preservation of heirloom and historic foods of the southwest and Mexico.

--- Find Heirloom or naturally hybridized options to garden with.  When searching for a supplier look for the "Safe Seed Pledge" (SSP) somewhere on the sites.  These seed and plants nurserys pledge to not knowingly grow, distribute or sell GMO or GEO plants.  Do some research.  Not all hybrids are GMO - some like the colored cauliflowers (which have higher antioxidant qualities) like "Cheddar" (a deep orange variety) was developed in Canada and is sold by some SSP suppliers.  Some suppliers will only carry heirlooms.  Find your own comfort level on varieties to purchase, just make sure they are wholesome.

More Thoughts On Self-Reliance:

Current events are scary.  I don't like the tenor of what seems to be happening - everyone is angry at someone and since we are all consumers in one way or another, the anger is making its way into the selling and buying of everything.

Can you sew, tune your car engine, fix a flat tire, start a fire, bandage a wound, fix electric wiring, clean a clogged drain, put a roof on your home?  Do you think about taking more direct control over all the necessities and handling of emergencies in your life?

If you have a job how can you decrease your expenses and put something aside?  If you do not have a job, what CAN you do, what skills do you have or can learn quickly, to earn money, legally and ethically?  We are in more than interesting times.  People who have been unemployed for a long time, finally have to look at re-training and giving up on the idea that they are only skilled to do one thing.  It hurts to lose the job, which for most people is also part of their identity, and look for another way to earn a living.  While you have a job is a good time to re-evaluate your skill set and consider self-reliance on some things.  Just because I can some of our food does not mean I do not buy food at the grocer, but it does mean that I have a skill set that gives me flexibility.

Some other thoughts on growing some or most of your own food as a way to have more control over your choices.

When making choices in the reality of our world NOW, it does not matter what your politics are.  The reality is laws which target immigration issues are and will have unintended consequences and those consequences will matter, a lot, to all of us pretty soon.  Some analysts are warning of civil unrest - here in the US - and protests seem to be on the rise.  Pretty soon, according to some of the most dire warnings, you won't be able to hire someone to do anything from cutting your landscaping to purchasing dinner at a grocer for the evening meal.

From farmers who worry about finding "anyone" to help harvest, to service companies like restaurants, landscapers and just about every other industry which has a historic use of low-wage earners, one of two things are going to happen:  Jobs "opened up" by tossing out illegal immigrants are going to have to be filled, possibly forcing some businesses to pay higher wages - presuming they are able to stay in business, OR those jobs are going to other parts of the world or they will go away completely (possibly replaced by some kind of technology which "perforce" the business to create).  In most cases the cost to the consumer is going up in either case.  If food from California is considered expensive, consider what food from other countries - as the main source of your food purchases will be.

Referring back to the beginning of this post - what are the consequences of your purchases of food, sourced far away, to wholesomeness and health of your family.

For your own sake buy local or grow local!  (It will also benefit your community and probably your neighbors too.)

Be safe and be nice to yourselves and others,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Friday, September 30, 2011

Planting Now In The Desert - Fall 2011

Dear Folks,

Yesterday I seeded in more beets, carrots, turnips and parsnips, plus radishes, "red" celery and some Kale.

I also harvested and grated my horseradish.  To grow horseradish successfully in the desert you need to plant it in the fall and harvest summer to fall.  The roots take several years to get to good size and this year I harvested the biggest roots I've gotten so far.  Pencil thin 2 years ago, thin carrot size last year and this year and inch or more in diameter on some.   I keep what I want to grate, save some with parts of their tops if possible and replant immediately.  I've been expanding the area out a little get more growing.  Deane can't take hot peppers, but he can enjoy horseradish.   You can find my prior year blogs on horseradish, by using the search box on the sidebar.

Horseradish and ginger and two root crops which can present some difficulty for desert gardeners.  One is a cold-climate lover and the other a true tropical.

I have ginger growing now also, and I found it loves a mostly summer shaded area, although it will tolerate some summer southern sun with dense planting around it.  The shaded area ginger is far happier.

Tomorrow I plant my garlic, an October 1st tradition.  Garlic is very easy to grow, but you need patience, as the mature head is not ready until April.  I am growing Purple Glazer this year, one I've grown before and really enjoyed, as do my market customers.

I have some 'left-overs" I kept in the crisper for replanting and because last year's crop, which was intended to be green-garlic, matured to too-tiny head garlic because of our rare winter freezes, I'm going to re-plant them for green garlic over the next couple of months.

I recently opened up an old bed, reclaimed from the many-years old garlic chives (I will be dealing with seed sprouting for a while I'm sure) to plant the root crops etc. I mention at the top for our use in the coming weeks and months.  You read one of my 'irregular' newsletters I posted yesterday about successive planting here.

For many years I have used the gardens as my laboratory to experiment with my trowel and error edible landscaping so I could find out how to grow the things I love to eat and use in the kitchen.  That T&E is how I can write and help you garden successfully in the desert garden.  We have the climate and the opportunity to grow much or most of the food we need year round, why not take advantage of it!

Unfortunately I have let mint and garlic chives take over several large areas so I am going to rein in the mint and take some space back for more seasonal edibles.  I have given myself quite the chore to get the mint under control.  I planting on restricting it using roof flashing - I will keep you posted on my T&E there and Deane's reactions (RIGHT!!!) to this effort.  He always helps, sometimes doing most of the digging for my projects, but he can't stop pointing out that I'm too successful and neither the garden nor me are trainable.  We will see :-)

The red celery mentioned above is new to me and I am excited about my new experiment to grow it here in the desert.  I chose this because of the licopene aspect and also that this particular variety can be harvested a stalk at a time, once it reaches a good size.  Keep your fingers crossed for me :-)

Have a great time in the garden,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lecture: Introduction To Edible Landscaping In The Desert! There Is An Edible For That!

Dear Folks,

I have two lectures scheduled in the East Valley.  If you already have the information you need to garden successfully with edibles in the desert, pass this on to friends and family.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Introduction To Edible Landscaping In The Desert!  There Is An Edible
For That!

Form and Function:  Edible Landscaping is a blending of a garden which is both beautiful and functional.  Whether you like a free spirit garden or something more formal there is an edible plant for form,
fragrance, texture, and color -- and you get to eat it too. Catherine, The Herb Lady, a valley Edible Landscaping Expert will explain what is needed to achieve the garden of your dreams in this 2
hour lecture.  She will explain what snowsuits in July and Swimsuits in December means.  Why you do not need to shade plants in the summer, and what kind of watering works best and what to plant now and later.

Two Dates Available:  October 19th and November 2nd,  10 a.m. to Noon

Smiling Dog Learning Center
Gold Canyon

Fee:  $15
Register by contacting Dori Lewis:
480 -288-8749
. . .

Are you interested in growing your own stone fruit?  The peaches, apricots and apples we all love?  Do you know what a chill hour is? Chill hours vary all across the valley from as little a 200+ to 900 hours, and it makes a difference in your neighborhood as to what trees will merely bloom and what trees will actually set fruit. My booklet "What A Chill Hour? Help In Choosing Fruit Trees In The Desert Southwest" contains information and charted chill hour history for various cities in the valley.  Available as a download or print (I think the print version is pricey because of the shipping charge), if you have tried to grow and been unsuccessful or you want to start and begin with the right trees, this booklet will help.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Food As Medicine - But What IS IN That Food?

Dear Folks,

Some literal food for thought (or put another way keeping your body healthier but knowing what you are putting in it).

An article from Reader's Digest on the internet points out some of the legal ways food processors "mess" with our understanding of a word or phrase.

Read here.

It really should not be that you have to be a detective to understand what a package means by 'natural flavor' - if something is coconut flavored, shouldn't you be able to connect that description with the words coconut and flavor.  According the article maybe not.  Geesh

I don't know what the average family spends on processed/packaged food vs. fresh (and that includes grains used for cooking), but I'll bet the ratios are probably reversed of what they should be e.g., should be more fresh than processed.

I strongly encourage you to look past the idea that fresh has to be expensive.  It has to be intelligently decided on.  How many meals can you get out of "X"?  What is the size of a healthy meal?  Extending a meal does not have to mean adding tons of starch.  Learn more about complimentary proteins to make better choices pairing healthy foods with each other to maximize nutrition and flavor.

Hope some of these little tid-bits help guide you to better choices.

Have a great day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Friday, September 16, 2011

Slow Food Challenge - Meal Version 2

Dear Folks,

Here is the second and final meal I prepared for the Slow Food Healthy Meal Challenge.  As I noted in my first meal post yesterday, I approached this as a homemade option to a "happy meal" to make something appealing to both adults and children.
Additional Note about Melted Cheese Sandwich Meal Version 1. I forgot to note that a great savory option to the apples is to substitute grilled eggplant and peppers for the apple (or keep the apple in) but make sure you use the basil with both.

Toaster Oven Pizza
Spiced Apples

This is a quick fix pizza and the ingredients are limited only to your favorites and imagination.  If you prefer more doughy pizza’s see the notes below.  I’ve been experimenting with this kind of pizza for a while and finally decided on the 2 flour tortilla layer to make it sturdier.

2 10-inch High Fiber/Protein Flour Tortillas
1 large tomato or 2 medium
1 leek
Half large yellow sweet bell pepper
4 oz low moisture mozzarella cheese
3 sprigs fresh basil
1 sprig fresh oregano
1/4 tsp coarse salt
2 tsp olive oil
olive oil spray
1 apple
½ tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Most of the effort in this pizza is chopping the veggies, you can choose to leave them larger.  This sounds like a lot of work but you can saute, chop and toast the pizza in under 30 minutes total time.

Core and dice the tomato.  Rinse and dry the basil and slice into slivers.  Place the tomatoes in a colander over a bowl, sprinkle with 1/4 tsp of coarse salt and sprinkle the basil over. Set aside to drain.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the leeks, and about 3 tablespoons of water, saute on medium to low heat for 10 minutes.  Browning is okay, stir occasionally, don’t let burn.

Using an apple core and slice the apple into 8 segments and put in a microwave save bowl.  Mix the cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle over the apple.  If you want them hot when served do this last, otherwise, cover with a paper towel and microwave for 2 minutes. Set aside.

Dice the bell pepper. Set aside.

Shred the cheese and separate into 4 piles. (You can always use more cheese.)

When the leeks are done cooking after 10 minutes you are ready to assemble the pizza.

Using a Pyrex pie plate, place one tortilla in it, sprinkle with 1/4 of the cheese and place the other tortilla on top.  Spray very lightly with the olive oil spray and spread the tortilla. Sprinkle with another 1/4 of the cheese.  Next, stir the tomatoes with basil and spread on the pizza, top with another 1/4 of the cheese.  Spread the bell pepper and top with last bit of cheese.  You can always add more cheese.

Turn your toaster oven on the highest temperature and “toast” and place the rack at the highest point in the oven.  Put the pie dish in and turn the timer on for 10 minutes.  Watch, that there is no ‘burning’ of the top cheese.   10 minutes is usually sufficient to melt all the cheese, maybe brown slightly and heat all the veggies completely through.

Cut while hot into quarters or eighths.  This is a very high protein/fiber pizza.  I’m going to show 1/4 slices as a meal.  A small child might find an eighth a filling snack/lunch with a glass of milk, an older child or adult will find a quarter slice satisfying with a glass of milk.

Serve with 4 slices of the apple and beverage of choice.

Nutrition and costs Stats
4 lunches for older child or adult
I am showing, again, only the totals for the meals. If you want the detail email me and I will be happy to send it to you.

Total Stats for 1/4 pizza, half of the apples and 1 glass of milk

Total Per Serving    Protein=20.58    Fiber=9.78    Calories=354    Cost per serving    $ 1.46
On hand sugar, cinnamon, fresh basil and oregano, olive oil, olive oil spray and salt.

#1 Choose a tortilla that is high in protein and fiber - I chose La Tortilla Factory- these usually have a combination of grain sources.   IF YOU prefer to have a doughy base, try a pita or focaccia bread halved as the base.  Dr. Humus and Classico Italiano have the pita or focaccia.
#2 Meaty or any heirloom if you can find them (I purchased the leek, tomato and pepper from One Windmill Farms)
#3 The colored vegetables add not only color to the pizza for visual appeal, they also add more antioxidants.
#4 Fresh mozzarella is wonderful, but low moisture is more nutrient dense.
#5 Milk fat level is a matter of preference and need -low fat is just as nutritious.

NOTES: The wonderful thing about this kind of pizza is you can use any toppings you desire.  Deane loved this version, but wondered if a bit of pineapple added would have made it even more delicious.  You can certainly choose to add meats of your choice, like cooked sausage, hamburger, or healthy choices of cured meats like salami or pepperoni.   By alternating the cheese with the layers of vegetables I used less cheese but still got a nice gooey cheese mix in with the layers.  I served the tomato water from the drained tomatoes because it still has a lot of good things in it and is refreshing.  I have not tried cooking this pizza in a frying pan on the stove top, but I’m going to give that a try.  The toaster oven is just so handy and does not heat up the kitchen in the summer, like the main oven.  The down side is that bottom tortilla does not harden up, which is why I’m going to try the next pizza in a covered frying pan.  I chose a pyrex to keep all the ingredients ON the pizza.

In keeping with the “happy meal” concept, I am showing another of Susan Decker’s cute toys.  Available from Susan beginning the end of September or beginning of October at the Mesa Farmers Market. Susan's site is here.  Either of these toys are priced at $1.50 only at the Market.

I hope you enjoy and are able to try these recipes either as I have presented them or make them uniquely your own.

Have a great weekend,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Slow Food Challenge - Meal Version 1

Dear Folks,

Here is the first of 2 meal versions for Slow Foods Healthy Meal Challenge.  I decided to make "happy meal" versions which I think will be appealing to either adults or children.  I tried for nutrient dense options with a lot of flavor.  Due to time constraints I purchased items from traditional grocers, but you will be able to find many, many of the ingredients or all of them from your local farmers markets.  I chose high quality ingredients, organic when I could so the prices will be in the ball-park when shopping with your local farmers.  I have provided only the totals for the nutrient value and cost.  I would be happy to email the detail to anyone who wants it.  I kept the cost of each meal well under $5 and added a toy option for the children's options.

Yogurt onion dill dippers
Apple Cider

Makes 2 Children’s Lunches (half sandwich) or 1 Adult

2 Multi-Whole Grain Bread slices
2 ounces whole milk, white American cheese slices
8 fresh basil leaves
half of gala apple sliced thin
half cup of yogurt
1 tsp of dried onion
1 tsp of dried dill
pinch of salt
1 carrot cut in sticks
1 celery stalk cut in sticks
Apple Cider

1. Toast bread       
2. Mix yogurt, salt, onion and dill, set aside
3. Layer one slice of bread with cheese, basil, apple and repeat to create 4 layers ending with cheese.  Top with other slice of bread and microwave for 30 seconds to melt cheese.
4. Spoon yogurt dip into glasses and divide the carrot and celery between them.
5. Serve with 8 ounce glass of apple cider (Or substitute with milk)

2 Children’s Meal Stats
Total    Per Child    Protein=11.93g     Fiber=4.25g    Calories=388    Cost            $ 1.73

1 Adult Meal Stats
Total Adult        Protein=21.10g Fiber= 8.2 g    Calories=622        Cost            $ 2.68
On hand:   dried onion and dill, celery, carrots, salt and fresh basil

ADD a toy!  Susan Decker came up with a toy for each of the two meals I’m creating for this challenge.  Susan will have this toy beginning the end of September or beginning of October at the Mesa Farmers Market (Fridays) for $1.50 plus tax.  Susan is only able to offer the toy at that market and not through the mail because the cost would be prohibitive.  She is the most incredibly gifter I have ever met.  Susan's site is here.

NOTES:   Options include choosing a different fruit, bread or cheese.  I used whole milk White American Cheese - low fat versions (I bought Boars Head) will reduce calories by about 40.  The flavor of La Brea multi-grain whole wheat is excellent for people including children who may not like the flavor of whole wheat.  The addition of honey offsets the slight bitterness of the whole wheat and there are a lot of grains in this ‘multi’.  I chose yogurt for the dip to boost the nutrient value over ranch or sour cream.  You can choose to double the cheese and reduce the amount of apple.  Use pear or other fruits in place of apple.  The basil goes well with all fruits, but can be left off if the children are not used to its flavor.

I hope you enjoy this idea for a homemade option to fast food and slow down for a family meal that is enjoyable, tasty and wholesome.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady