Garden, Plant, Cook!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

On The Third Day of Christmas . . .

Dear Folks,

Actually I made the candy tray on the 20th - 5 days before Christmas, but I could not resist showing you this cool project and it is very easy to do.

We tried both waxpaper and parchment paper and both worked but the parchment paper pulled off easier.  My plan is to break the dish up January 1st and use the pieces to flavor hot cocoa or coffee through the rest of the cool days :-)

That day my friends Julie and Jodie and I got together for holiday candy and cooking making and decided to try these and we were delighted with the way they turned out.  Each of us did a different design using candy canes.  Jodie gave us a great idea for the next time (year).  Make mini plates to use as the base for edible gifts, depending on your cookie sheet size you can make several at once.

It is REALLY important to keep an eye on them and do NOT touch the hot dish until it cools completely.  Heated sugar can cause 2nd degree or worse burns.

Directions here:

This nice site also shows how to turn the tray into a bowl - we did not see that at the time we went looking for directions so definitely one I want to try next time too.

. . .

So back to days of Christmas.  I posted to my google group irregular site a complete list of the 12 days of Christmas blog posts (found here on this site, but an easy to find list).

What if you do not celebrate Christmas?  There was a lovely message in an article in the paper the other day by a Jewish writer who suggested if there is a holiday you do not celebrate, take the opportunity to do family things.  Many holidays and Holy Days among various religions and beliefs are family centered, so even if you do not 'celebrate' - consider finding family-centered activities to celebrate your family.
Catherine's 12 Days of Christmas Past Blog Posts.

Have a safe and wonderful New Year!

Remember those less fortunate or who are alone, the simplest of gestures can bring a smile!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Thursday, December 20, 2012

January Planting

Dear Folks,

Save this for after the rush of holiday preparation and enjoyment.

January and February is the time to get the last of the winter veggies, herbs and edible flowers in, and to start planning for spring sowing and transplanting.

As much as I love the holidays I look forward to January 1st DAY to plant my potatoes and look forward to the longer days returning, so that is my tradition - I plant my potatoes on New Year's Day.

Have a joyous and safe holiday season, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year too!

P. S.  Re-kindle the practice of "Random Acts of Kindness" -- the opportunities are sometimes right in front of you {{hugs}}

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

JANUARY Planting Guide

Edible Flowers:
Carnation (Dianthus Caryophyllus)
English Daisy (Bellis Perennis)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum Majus)
Pansies (Viola X Wittrockiana)
Primrose (Primula Vulgaris)
Scented Geranium
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum Majus)
Stock (Matthiola Incana)
Sweet William Aka Pinks (Dianthus Barbatus)
Herbs & Other Edibles
Bok Choy
Fruit, Bare Root
Fruit Trees
Green Onions
Herbs, Hardy Perennials
Jerusalem Artichoke

Desert Gardening in January — besides anything the Chamber of Commerce has to say about Valley winters, gardeners are devouring the seed catalogues and gearing up to hit the plant nurseries for January and February gardening - once the holidays are over gardeners can’t wait to get their hands dirty.  If you are a basil, tomato, pepper and/or eggplant lover, now is the time to start your seedlings for transplanting by mid-February.  In the case of tomatoes, these tender perennials need the sufficient time to grow, bloom and flower before really hot summer nights hit.  The peppers and eggplant seem to thrive along side basil in the hot weather, but they still need time to set down a good root system.
    For herbs, there is still time to seed in dill, cilantro, fennel, anise, chervil and parsley.  Here is a tip: seed these cool weather herbs in the garden where they will have some shade come March, and you will be able to harvest into the warming weather before they bloom and go to seed.
    Cool weather edible flowers such as pansies, dianthus, calendula, nasturtium, stock, snap dragon, and chamomile can also be seeded or planted with an eye to some shade in March, extending their glorious display later into spring.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Plant Markers - Home Made

Dear Folks,

One of the running jokes in our garden is "What did I plant there?" - I either forget to mark, the marker fades or some critter dislodges it.

The "fading" thing is really the most annoying to me.  I make a perfectly good note, on a popsicle stick, in permanent marker or ball-point pen ink and it is faded to nothing within a month.

I love the look of the tin/copper markers, however, 1) they are a bit out of my price range for all the things I need marked, and 2) they don't come in "Turnip, Yellow".

So I got to thinking of punched tin, and wound up at the junction of aluminum foil and ball point pen!

I hope you can make out the letters - "Turnip - Yellow" - it is difficult to get a photo of it.

I used the stick as the back while writing, firmly, on the foil.  The ink may fade shortly but the impression will stay.  I could probably make these really fancy, and may do that, but I am really thrilled I figured out an economical way of keeping track of things in the garden.

Now if I can just remember to make them when I plant something new I have it covered - except for the critter relocation efforts. :-)

Have a time in the winter garden,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pineapple Guava - Fruit and Flower

Dear Folks,

For quite a number of years I have been telling folks about the incredible taste of the pineapple guava flower - like eating a piece of candy.  I am so fond of it - I featured it on the cover of my "Edible Landscaping..." book.

We have gotten so much into the habit of eating the flowers in May and ignoring the ripe fruit in November I decided to "try" and pay attention this year to the fruit.  The trick is to catch it when it is just ripe - literally when it starts falling from the tree.

This slightly acidic kiwi tasting fruit is a real treat when you catch them just right, the fruit does have a 'pineapple' taste.  While the rind might be edible it really is not tasty.  We frequently just pick up the fruit, wipe it off and break or cut open and scape out the fruit with our teeth.  I decided to make up a bowl of it the morning of November 16th (when the cut fruit in the photo was done).  Slice open the fruit and a spoon easily scoops out the ripen fruit center.

The fruit on the right of the plate has a 'bloom' on it - yeast similar to that found on apples or grapes, the one to the left of it I had already wiped off.  I need to do some research and find out if anyone ferments the fruit for whatevers :-)

The flower picture was taken in 2005 when my book came out.

This is really a lovely shrub and does very well in the desert garden with proper culture.  It can easily be pruned to shape like a tree or left as we do as a large specimen shrub.

There is a magnificent example of 'trained-to-tree' at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum beside the herb garden, near the stone cottage.  Until it flowers in the spring the BTA tree looks like any other tree.

This is an evergreen with green glossy finish on top of the leaves and a gray downy underside.

All-round lovely plant with edible flowers and fruit.  What is not to love!

Be safe as you go through this holiday season, and whatever your beliefs, be kind to one another,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Check out my books - available as print or ebook at the publisher's site.

Also available for iPad

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jerusalem Artichoke Harvest - November 22, 2012

Dear Folks,

The morning of Thanksgiving we dug the best performing (at least by size of plants) location of my Jerusalem Artichoke experiment.  I planted a single tuber there this winter (February).  Several weeks ago I did a post on the other location and showed 'a few' smallish tubers.

For you gardeners who want to try these, the other location was watered less and that obviously made a difference.  They survived and did "okay" but not robustly.

The ones harvested in the picture here are a testament to the possibilities, given they came from a single tuber.  The plants themselves were well over 7 feet tall and had to be tied up to the nearby fig tree.  They were watered every 4 days in the summer and are back to every 5 days now.  As the temperatures go down the bed will be watered less - back to every 6-7 days.

I took what I wanted to use Thanksgiving day and put the rest back in a hole to 'hold' -- I tried to find information on the ones that were green (you can see them to the side).  I could not find totally informative info on them and chose not to use them.  I will replant when I finish using up the nice white ones.  A rough estimate would be the total roots available and usable would have filled my gallon mixing bowl - from one tuber.  I know I keep repeating that, but it is important.  The invasiveness of these members of the sunflower family  are well documented elsewhere but now I know they could take over a desert garden too.

For this reason I will grow them only in this one garden area where I can control them.  But I look forward to multiple harvests during the year and fun experimenting with using them.

They are a nice crunchy taste raw and can be cooked in a number of ways.

The flowers do not put out the typical seed, but I took some anyway and will see if they sprout.  The pollinators liked the flowers so even if the seed is not viable the flowers did double duty with their happy sunflower faces and nectar for the flutter-bys :-)

Have a nice day in the garden,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Around The Garden - November 24, 2012

Dear Folks,

I've been trying to do more seeding in of carrots, turnips, radishes, sugar peas and lettuces.  I have some onions just starting to sprout also along with the radishes - always reliable speedy germination.  I'm also trying 'yard long beans' a type of green bean with reportedly wonderful long and tasty edible pods.

Some of the prior plants and my garlic are going strong.

One of my Lacinto (dinosaur) Kale 'summered' over and the funny thing still has usable leaves, and sprouting along the stem.  I'm going to harvest the rest of the leaves today or tomorrow and cut back to the new growth and should get more usable leaves later on.

Meanwhile my sweet orange bell pepper got really going as the summer high heat started to reduce and has some lovely large fruit.  I've been picking some off but am really gratified that some of the fruit still on the plant are nice 'grocery-store' size.

I changed the garlic bed to this location this year and planted not only my regular purple glazer that I like so much but also elephant garlic (on the left side of the picture) which I purchased this summer in the Gilroy area of California.  I keep my garlic in the crisper until planting out on or about October 1st and that chilling gets the bulbs growing fast once in the ground.  This picture of the sweet bell and garlic was taken November 8th (the Kale was photoed on September 29th).  The garlic grew this much in about 37 days.

Next post I'm going to show the terrific production I got out of my Jerusalem Artichoke (aka Sunchokes).

Garden Tip:  Temps are going to start going down so have your frost protection ready for tender plants.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sunchokes - Harvest and a Recipe

Dear Folks,

Well I decided to harvest some of the sunchokes to see how they did.  I have links to the earlier blog posts on this new garden addition.  I planted on February 19, 2012, in 3 different areas to see what worked or did not work.  Low water inground, more water, but less sun inground, and in a pot with more water and a lot of sun.

On Friday October 12, 2012 I harvest from the lowest water area, and pulled up about 2 cups unpared.  I did not clean them right away and that may have been a mistake, because I wanted to leave the peel on for the recipe I intended, but could not get all the soil debris off, so I wound up peeling them winding up with about 1 cup + of diced, raw tuber.

I am pretty pleased with this result.  In this patch I planted about 6-8 tubers initially.  In the other inground area I planted only 1.  That is the place with a little less sun, but more water and the plants are easily 50% taller than the area I just harvested in, so it will be interesting to see how that patch does when I harvest later in November.

Typically the culture calls for letting the plants die back to harvest and literally 'storing' unharvested tubers in the ground, but I had a strong desire to see how they were doing since the plants seemed very happy.

First here is the recipe, then more about my culture practice for this experiment and then links to the prior blogs on the Jerusalem Artichokes aka Sunchokes.

Raw SunChoke Salad
I was looking for a type of potato salad, although I have to say it wound up looking and tasting a bit more like a cole slaw.  (My family background is more of the oil/vinegar type dressing than mayo.)

1 cup+ diced sunchoke
1-2 tablespoons each radish,onion, celery and carrot
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (I could have used fresh but just decided the dried would mix a little better for the taste I was looking for
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
3 teaspoons avocado oil (I chose this oil for its lighter taste - you could use olive oil)
3 turns of the black pepper grinder
1/4 scant teaspoon salt.

Shake the vinegar, oil, salt and pepper to mix.  Sprinkle the oregano over the sunchokes, stir, add rest of veggies, pour over the dressings, toss and chill for about an hour.

We were very pleased with the taste and nice crunch of everything.

My Sunchoke Results

A bit of history.  I have not really paid much attention to the growing of the sunchokes, but last year I was reading more on them and thought if I had the chance I would 1) taste one and see what I thought, and 2) if I liked the taste I would try to grow them.  Well I was in Whole Foods in January, found them for sale and decided to go for it.  I tried them raw and cooked up like a potato and Deane and I both liked them.  I also like the nutrient and other good-food info on them.  Since sunflowers in general really love the gardens here I thought why not?

1st Location - Pot
This single tuber just about jumped out of the ground and pot, quickly out performing in above ground growth the other 2 locations.  I have not harvested this one because during the summer I had to move the pot, discovered the roots had grown through the bottom into the soil and anchored.  Moving the pot, killed the above ground growth.  Meanwhile a lime basil plant and decided it was delireously happy in the pot, so I have not checked the tuber growth yet AND the sunchoke is resprouting.  Later when the basil goes down I will dig up and see what I have.  This pot was pretty much in full sun all day, and watered every 2 days for 10 minutes all summer, spring and now in fall every 3 days.

2nd Location - Inground
This was the location I wanted to really see how it would grow.  This patch is in sun pretty much all day, with tree watering cycle -- every 7 days except for summer when it is every 6 days.  Initially these tubers were stressed quite a bit, wilting 1 or 2 days before the next watering cycle, but I was really interested in whether they would adapt and they did very well.  This was the patch I harvested the batch Friday for the recipe test.  These plants reached about 6-7 feet tall.  There are still quite a few stalks here, so it will be interesting when I harvest in November to see what the final production will be.

3rd Location - Inground
This is in a section we call the Meadow because it is between 2 deciduous trees with a Navel south of it.  It gets between 4 and 8 hours of sun a day depending on the time of year.  These plants are now 9-10 feet tall and all from a single tuber.  This is watered every 4 days during the summer, now every 5 days and in the winter may go back to every 6-7 days.  Because of the size of the stalks, I anticipate this harvest to be pretty good.

I am really pleased with my experiment.  I wanted the 'tree-watering -- #2' location to really perform well because it is also an area where I can attempt to control spread more easily.  One of my challenges is I frequently let plants go where they want and then regret later.  Also since this is an area that is watered regardless of what is planted there, it involves no additional maintenance and upkeep.

I was also happy to see how abundantly the top growth performed in a pot -- I need a larger pot for future production though because the top growth became a weight issue early on causing the pot to lean or try to fall over.  But overall the sunchokes can be grown in a large container and that is a good piece of information for those concerned about this plants invasive reputation.

I am planning on always having some growing.  I also plan on harvesting primarily twice a year -- fall and spring.  I will post more on how all this plan works out :-)

Prior Blog Posts on Sunchokes

February 2012

April, 2012

July, 2012

Have a great day in the garden,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Saturday, September 29, 2012

October 1st - Meatless Monday - World Vegetarian Day

Dear Folks,

If the meat eaters in your family think vegetarian means sticks and twigs, have I got some nice recipes for you.

The North American Vegetarian Society wants people to think about the ideas behind the preference, and you can find out more at the wiki link below.  But there are some very excellent ideas behind having meatless days which do not mean you have to embrace the whole concept.


On this blog I frequently post recipes - many with a vegetarian or vegan basis.

I hope you enjoy some or all of them.  Let me know what you think too!

First up is my more authentic recipe for chili beans - no tomatoes!

Next up is my savory oatmeal side dish with pumpkin.  I think this would go great with the chili recipe.  I developed it to highlight that oatmeal is not just for breakfast - it is a great option to rice, pasta or potatoes for lunch or dinner.  The nice thing about it is - left overs!  You can make them into patties, refrigerate and use the next morning for breakfast, browned and warmed in a frying pan.

And speaking of pumpkin - my fabulous stuffed pumpkin.  I developed it for Thanksgiving but it is great any time you have a suitable pumpkin.

A meal needs a little dessert, doesn't it?

How about a good for you candy?  This is a great holiday treat too, mixes up fast and you can swap out the best dried berries and cereal preferences.  Make sure you use an EXCELLENT chocolate.  This Ghiradelli does have milk in it.  We prefer this 60% cocoa - you can use a higher percentage, it will be less sweet.

Consider making Mondays Meatless - and make it family night too!

Have a great day.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, September 24, 2012

Recipes -- Carrion On The Grill - Bye Bye Buzzards at the BTA

Dear Folks,

Here are the recipes for the sampling I did Saturday at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum for the annual fall send off to the Turkey Vultures who reside there during the summer.

I just had to use this photo, taken by Deane at Canyon Lake in 2007 - perfect don't you think?  You can almost imagine them saying - "I will take mine raw."

For my vegan and vegetarian friends and fans, the basic chili is vegan and vegetarian friendly.  The cornbread has dairy in it.

Bye Bye Buzzards Day at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum
September 22, 2012

Where possible I try to use organic or naturally grown foods, including herbs from my gardens.  Remember when using fresh where dry is listed, you need 3 times the amount of fresh to dry.

Chili Con Frijoles – Two Ways – with and without meat
This recipe is inspired by the traditional use of chili powder to create a sauce (chilies and peppers are a New World fruit originating in the Americas).  There are NO tomatoes* or tomato products (tomatoes originated in South America) in this recipe – it is all about the herbs and spices.  Also I created this recipe to be “off the shelf” easily using canned beans.  Swap out the bean varieties to suit you and your family.  I add Edamame (green soy beans) for their nutty flavor and higher protein content.

*I love tomatoes and tomato sauces.  However I think that people rely too much on tomato products as a condiment, like salt and pepper, which masks the wonderful taste of foods that can be enhanced by herbs and spices.  Using herbs and spices first before adding salt, pepper or tomato products you will learn the food has real flavor hidden by the SPTs.  Looking at so many recipes for stews, chili and sauces and you would think the only thing you need to make it taste palatable is tomato-something.  Give the herbs and spices a chance to really show off the flavor of the basic food :-)

“No Kill” Chili
Vegan and vegetarian friendly.  (In yesterday’s food sampling I doubled the basic recipe adding 1 can of Cannellini beans, including the liquid, and used 2 cups of edamame - not 4 but you can add more or less beans and liquid to suit your preferences.)  The refried beans give the thickness to the chili.  All herbs and spice measurements are listed for dry.  Triple the amount if using fresh.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 cup water
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon Epazote (divided)
2 tablespoons mild chili powder (yesterday’s had a zip to it because I could not find the mild)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 can (15 oz) black beans w/liquid
1 can (16 oz) vegetarian refried beans
2 cups frozen green soybeans (shelled)
Optional: Topping using favorite Corn Bread Recipe.

Heat oil in heavy pan, add onion and garlic and stir for 1 minute, add all spices, and only half of Epazote and 1/2 cup water. Continuing stirring until all are well mixed, add other 1/2 cup water, refried beans and black beans (including bean liquid). Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Add soy beans and continuing cooking for additional 15 minutes adding reserved Epazote in the last 10 minutes.

Optional topping. Set oven to 400 degrees and have ready a medium casserole pan. Mix corn bread batter according to your recipe and set aside. After adding soy beans to chili cook for 5 minutes. Add epazote, stir and pour beans into casserole. Gently pour corn bread batter over beans. Bake for 20 minutes approximately, until bread is golden brown.  IMPORTANT: The chili should be hot from the stove to make the cornbread cook faster.  If you start with cold chili you may need to add 50% more cooking time +/- so keep an eye on it.

Chili recipes are all about options: Add any of the following to the top of the beans before serving or before adding the batter: shredded cheese, chopped fresh onions, chopped fresh cilantro, green chilies or jalapenos if you want heat, chopped celery (I like the crunch).

Carrion Con Carne (I should have called this Carrion Con Frijoles - my Spanish is terrible - I apologize).

To the basic bean chili recipe, I grilled up top round boneless thin steaks that I rubbed with a bit of olive oil and some of the oregano and cumin, cut into small pieces and added to the chili.

True Grit Cornbread
I am not a fan of dry cornbread.  I like it moist and slightly sweet.  The ‘grit’ in the recipe title refers to my swapping out half of the cornmeal called for with corn grits/polenta.

3/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup corn grits / polenta
2 1/2 cups milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup white sugar (I use organic)
1/3 cup honey**
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used avocado oil this time but any good quality oil including olive works nicely)
4 ozs. shredded whiter cheddar

**Tip: use the oil measuring cup to measure the honey and it will all slide out easily into the mixing bowl

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a 9 x 13 cake pan.

Mix the cornmeal and grits with the milk, stir and let sit for 5 minutes while you measure the other ingredients out.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.

In the cornmeal mixture, beat in eggs, oil, and honey, stir in cheese, add flour mix and whisk until batter is smooth.  Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean. (Mine was done at 32 minutes.)

Something Weedy This Way Comes Salad

Organic Baby Spring Greens (5 oz package is about a gallon of greens, fluffed)
about 1 cup of mixed fresh herbs, chopped:
Lemon Verbena
French Tarragon
Mexican Tarragon
Horseradish Leaf
Za-tar (Middle Eastern Oregano)
Basil, sweet and dark opal

I made a simple dressing of 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 6 tablespoons of olive oil and a scant ½ teaspoon of salt.

. . .

Gardening - get your garlic ready to plant October 1st, but no later than November 1st for your own head garlic harvesting in April.  Easy to grow, good for you and makes all food taste better :-)

Have a great week, and be kind to yourselves and others,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Carrion-On-The Grill" Saturday, September 22th - Boyce Thompson Arboretum - Thrillin' Grillin'

Dear Folks,

In honor of the BTA's annual Bye Bye Buzzard's day, I was asked to come up with one of my Thrillin' Grillin' menus.

So I will be dishing up samples of a Halloween-ish style menu in honor of the summer resident Turkey Vultures.

Bye-Bye Buzzards Day "Carrion-On-The Grill"

Carrion Con Carne
No-Kill Chili
True Grit Bread
Something Weedy This Way Comes - Salad
I expect the food to be ready about 11:30 depending on the grill :-)
Event is free with paid admiission.

It should be a gorgeous day - so come out - lots of events that day.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, September 17, 2012

Worth Repeating - 10 Reasons To Be Self-Sufficient

Dear Folks,

I've been really trying to get friends, family and others to understand that being flexible particularly in, during and after an economic challenge is THE KEY to maintaining not only your life style but also your sanity.  If you can grow some of your own food, have two possibilities for income (trade/skill and a 'profession') you can do more than merely survive - you can thrive.

I would encourage you to really think about this, not as a what-if-doomsday concept but really how you can better control some or many aspects of your daily lives.  In other words how can "you control" your resources.

As an intellectual exercise consider what you would not only need in a crisis, but also what resources (product or talent) would be needed by others.  Want some ideas?  Look at craigs list to see what people are selling or looking for.

Here is a nice list of 10 reasons for being self-sufficient, plus the link to the original article  -- Please share this with everyone.  You do not have to get property in the boonies to be self-sufficient and you do not have to do it all.  Even some aspects can dramatically improve your lives.

10 Reasons to Become Self-Sufficient
  1. Freedom from market manipulation – The traditional market-driven investment vehicles are more and more obviously controlled by traders and banking institutions.  The debacle of the private Federal Reserve Bank is just the icing on the cake to a previous decade full of Ponzi-type schemes.  Now, the institutionalized looting of retirement money is being planned.
  2. Hedging against inflation – Have you noticed the price of goods lately?  Even Wal-Mart is silently raising its prices.  People might have a choice whether or not to buy stocks or gold, but people have to eat — the current increases in basic goods portend hyperinflation, and will not ease anytime soon.  Food shortages could make the problem exponentially worse.
  3. 3. Increasing health and wellness – It has now been revealed that some “organic” items have been falsely labeled.  In addition, a host of “GMO-free” brands have been exposed as deceptive.  GMO food lacks the nutritional value of what can be grown in the average backyard.  GMO mega-corporation, Monsanto, has a sordid history and has continuously trampled on our trust.  It is time that we do the work ourselves.
  4. Building community strength – We constantly hear people say, “I don’t even see my neighbors, let alone know anything about them.”  Of course not:  80-hour workweeks and grabbing meals-to-go doesn’t exactly promote community interaction.  With such little time to interact with our immediate community, it is no wonder why many people report feeling disconnected.   In these trying times, it is a local community that can offer the best support.
  5. Working for yourself – Working hours are increasing, pay is often decreasing, and corporate executives are taking bigger bonuses than ever.  This is leading to a prevailing disgust, as people are being forced to admit that they are living lives of near-indentured servitude.  Even for those not working in corporations, working for someone else is rarely as satisfying as creating and working for something where every minute you spend is yours alone.
  6. Having more free time – We have been taught to believe that life on a farm is arduous sun-up to sun-down drudgery where you collapse at the end of the day.  This is not so much the case anymore.  Sure, the setup of any farm or self-sufficient endeavor is often time-consuming and laborious, but new technologies and new skills of manufacturing food via permaculture and aquaponics are offering low-cost start up and minimal maintenance, as these techniques serve to create symbiotic systems that are remarkably self-governing.
  7. Generating food and energy security – The planet is running out of food and traditional energy. Climate volatility, market forces, GM foods, and rising costs of harvesting and transporting food are all conspiring to create food shortages even in the First World.  This trend will not reverse.  And our oil-soaked way of life is being threatened by mounting evidence that the oil lifeline could be disconnecting rather soon.  We should be looking to the air, sun, geothermal, and wave power to wean us from the energy grid.
  8. Acquiring an appreciation for life – As one gets closer to life-giving forces, there is a natural appreciation for how things come into being.  When you have created your garden, toiled there, selected the best for harvest, and have prepared that food for your family and community, the significance of what you have taken part in can be transformative.
  9. Restoring balance – Nearly everything in our society is at a peak, or is drastically out of balance.  The systems and governments to which we have looked for balance restoration are missing in action.  We must take it upon ourselves to restore our own financial and environmental balance sheet.  The best way to do that is to reduce our overconsumption.
  10. Becoming a producer, not a consumer – This is the best way to reduce your cost of living and increase your self-sufficiency.  In the U.S. over 70% of the economy is based on people buying things. This is a clear sign of imbalance and, by extension, it is not sustainable.  Furthermore, we also have seen corporations race to the bottom to find low-cost production on the backs of desperate people.  The exploitation of the Third World to clothe, feed, and entertain the First World is something that most people do not want to think about, but it is abominable. Again, new technologies are making it easier than ever to produce your own food, and even your own clothes.

I hope you find this helpful and encouraging - it is about the positive impact, not the negative.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Natural" Flavoring - Is Not Real - Updates

Dear Folks,

First, I have posted a newsletter on many opportunities to take a class, share some seed, or other topics of interest, so be sure and check out the list.  ***

Those of you who are familiar with my blogs on what is not natural about 'natural flavors' are aware of many of the points which need to be made.  A real natural flavor comes straight from the strawberry, for example, not from - get ready for gross - a beaver anal gland.

I could not resist this bit of satire on food marketing translations :-)

A 60 minutes story on a chemical food flavoring giant, really brings the point home that - the food manufacturing industry is focused on getting you hooked, addicted and otherwise passionate about their food through the use of chemical flavorings, salt, sugar, and fat.  In combination the result has been an American population on the verge of a national health crisis, if we have not already gotten there.

As with high fructose corn syrup claims, the chemical and food industries protest that their products do not create over-addiction to foods, but when you watch the 15 minute segment from the 60 Minutes show, you will hear them talk about the goal of the consumer "wanting more".  The flavorings are even formulated the disappear in intensity to trigger that 'wanting more' desire.

To my mind that means a dedicated goal of a type of addiction.

While they make the point in the video that addiction per se is not their goal and they did not mean to help the American consumer become fatter, they disclaim responsibility for the addiction as a 'side issue' and are now focused on how to make healthier (meaning less salt, sugar and fat) manufactured foods taste better.

The reality is that these flavorings are designed to make poor-value food taste better.  They would not have to use enhanced flavorings if the food was real and truly and naturally tasty.

The business of manufactured food is huge and an enormous part of our economy, jobs etc.

It is up to the individual and the responsible people in family groups to make the best decisions on food options to ensure real health.  Or, are you okay with beaver gland flavored wheat straw for breakfast?

*** Lots of interesting things happening in and around the Valley.  I'm doing a couple but there are lots more.

Check out my newsletter for listings.

Have a wonderful day, and be kind to yourselves,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

August 29th - More Herbs, Less Salt Day!

Dear Folks,

One of those ubiquitous national holidays which are sometimes hilarious (National Gorilla Suit Day! January 31st),  And, no one will worry about "National Chocolate Day" - chocolate is an herb, but many are wonderful reminders of special things or like today's post - think healthier reminders.

The challenge for many folks over the last 60 years (post WWII) is the replacing of the herbs and spices from the kitchen garden with manufactured meals where they added a whole-lot-of-salt to enhance the flavor.  And salt does a great job of lifting the flavor out of basic foods:  meats, vegetables and starchy foods like rice, pasta and potatoes.

We have taken a good thing (salt) and turned it into a bad thing (poor health in the general population).

Enter Herbs and Spices.

In honor of More Herbs, Less Salt Day I would like to suggest you do a challenge taste test with friends and family.   Baked or boiled potatoes, 3 ways.

1)  Plain
2)  Sprinkled with the tiniest squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkled with finely chopped rosemary, thyme, or marjoram, you can use dried.
3)  Tossed with just a hint of olive oil or melted butter or a combination of the two fats and a sprinkle of salt.

Taste test in that order.  The salt sample needs to be last because it would flavor the other samples if done first.   Use apple slices to 'clean the pallet' between samples.

The robust flavors of these kinds of herbs "lift" the flavor of starchy foods giving you the maximum flavor of the potato.

Do you know why celery and celery seed are used in many savory dishes?  Because both contain sodium, and the flavor enhances the food taste giving it the 'flavor of being salted'.

Here are some herbs and spices that contain natural sodium along with high to trace minerals and vitamins.

1 teaspoon of each contain the noted amount of sodium, plus.

Parsley fresh 1 mg - high in vitamins and minerals
Celery seed    3 mg - high in minerals
Celery fresh - 2 mg - vitamins and minerals
Fennel seed - 2 mg - high in minerals
Coriander seed - 1 mg - high in minerals
Cumin seed - 4 mg - high in minerals

Sodium in types of salt:
Fine Sea Salt (with anti-caking agent)  1 teaspoon = 2,360 mg
Kosher Coarse salt 1 teaspoon = 1,920 mg
Pink Himalayan small grain would be approximately the same as Kosher but with added minerals if unprocessed.

A low sodium diet recommends no more than 1 teaspoon equivalent of the sea salt, or as low as 1,400 mg per day.

So the real way to reduce salt without reducing flavor is to FIRST season with herbs and spices.  THEN taste.  You will find you need to add far less salt or no salt to enjoy the real flavor of the food you cook.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Edamame -- Grow and Eat!

Dear Folks,

Do you like Edamame?  I love it!  Besides being a super protein plant source, I love eating a bean that is more nutty than 'beany' in flavor and because of that it makes for a great addition to so many recipes.  Salads, pasta, etc.  I even used it in a vegetarian stuffed pumpkin recipe for Thanksgiving.

The other neat thing about this soybean is that it can be grown here in late spring into early/mid-summer when a lot of other favored veggies can't take the heat.

I planted seed on June 6th and harvested this plant on August 24th.  I was testing in a large pot because the critters got my plants last year before they even got going.

Some points about edamame.  I grew "Envy" Botanical Interests non-GMO.  I planted 3 seeds and one plant came up.

Soybeans ripen all at one time on the bush so it is best to plan on planting successively.  I got 4 ounces of weight in the pod off the one bush.  Some of them were not really large enough to be useable.

Edamame is harvested 'immature' meaning you want them fresh 'green bean' style, not matured and dry.

Just like the frozen kind, these boiled up in 5 minutes and were ready to pop out (bar-food style) for eating.  I did use salted water, but you don't have to if you want to control the salt.

Uses For Your Edamame:
--Make hummus, fun additions include artichoke hearts, capers, olives or roasted peppers - serve in cucumber cups.
--Cold grain or pasta salads become a whole meal with edamame
--fresh eating, I'm sure the children would enjoy popping straight into their mouths - I do :-)
--add to stews and soups at the last minute before serving, just to warm them


One of the things I do regularly in the garden is allow favorite items to reseed in place.  The plants that come up are the most vigorous.  Taking that one step further, how can this natural cycle be improved upon?  By choosing to let certain plants go to seed, selecting the healthiest or most hardy for reproduction.   Horticulturists and gifted amateurs have been doing this for centuries, resulting in wonderful and NATURAL selection for subsequent sowing.

One of the continuing dilemma's in the desert garden is the fact that cilantro and tomatoes do not grow at the same time -- outside of a greenhouse.  There are several 'slow-to-bolt' varieties available, but what if you could grow your own better seed?

Check out this very simple process and give it a try, not only with cilantro, but any crop you enjoy but would like to enjoy more or longer or earlier in the season.  It takes patience, 2 years at a minimum, but you would be on your way to creating a new stronger variety - name if for yourself - you have the right to do so as long as you start with heirloom seed (hybrids are usually already patented).

I confess to not pulling weaker plants and some of them obviously will go to seed.   After this reminder of just how simple the process is, I'm going to pay more attention and selectively encourage healthier plants in my gardens.

Grow better seed the horticulture way.  Click here

Look for my post on "More Herbs - Less Salt Day"

I'm off to a family reunion, back posting and blogging later.

Have a wonderful day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Jerusalem Artichokes - Update

Dear Folks,

Those of you have followed my writings and experimenting in the garden for a while, know I 'trial' things new to me to determine where they do best.  When I eat something for the first time and really like it, I decide if I want to try to grow it -- so this spring's experiment is Jerusalem Artichokes aka sunchoke, earth apple and other regional nicknames.  Helianthus tuberosus is a member of the aster family which includes sunflowers, and this is one of its happiest family members in the garden, I'm finding, but it has some preferences.

Reports of people growing sunchokes is that they are very invasive, so I decided to trial them in several locations where I could keep an eye on that factor.  My plan is to harvest them in late summer or early fall.

In the picture I have arranged so you can see from great response to not so great.  First is the flower which opened up on the tallest plant, which is the next picture.  The plant is in a pot on the south side of my gardens and is pretty much in full sun until about 5 p.m. or so right now (July 1st) - the plant is a good 6 and half feet tall and is watered on a timer every 2 days for 10 minutes - slow release head.

The next picture on the bottom left of the collage is the planting in what we refer to as our meadow garden.  This garden is in a forest of plants with only a north exposure this time of year and is watered every 5 days - about 20 minutes with spigot type heads in the whole garden area.  The plants are about 6 feet tall.

The last pictured sad looking sunchokes are in full sun all day in a tree well system which has been getting watered every 7 days (now just reduced to 6) and is the middle of a parsley/Greek oregano patch.  They are drooping when the picture was taken because they were right at the end of their maximum stress point for drying and the system had only just come on (6th day).  This patch of sunchokes wilted every afternoon from about day 4 on until the day it got watered.  When I first put the tubers in at this location, I added water half way through the cycle to ensure initially that it had sufficient water to sprout.

So some points:

At the beginning of the new year I got interested in sunchokes.  I was reading more about their health benefits (fiber not charbohydrates etc.) and found some for sale at Whole Foods.  Up until this point I had never tasted them.  I really enjoyed them raw, so with options for preparation I decided to plant many of the remaining tubers.  I was also pleased that they 'held' in my crisper for several weeks after purchase.  This is important for 'harvest-what-do-you-do-now' aspect.

On February 19th I planted the tubers in the parsley garden and the meadow garden - it was about a week later (I did not make a note of the actual date - silly me) that I planted the tuber in the pot.

Like most sunflower family members they like the sun and can take all you can give them, if you provide them with adequate water.  Despite the constraints of the pot - that plant is much bigger than either of the other locations so the conclusion is full sun and watering that does not have the soil completely dried out before watering again.  Pot watering was every 3 days going into spring and changed to every 2 when the temps stayed in the 100+ range.

The meadow garden sunchokes would be taller and happier if they had more complete and direct sun.  The 5 day watering cycle appears to be good for them as they never wilt.

The poor tubers in the parsley bed are stressed to the max with my choice to see if they will grow and produce with far less water.  It remains to be seen what kind of production I will get from that bed.

I will post when it looks like time to harvest. From what I can determine at this point they can be planted in Spring and fall for potential harvest twice a year.  If they are productive that will be a good crop to have for us and for some to be sold at the Farmers Market :-)


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Around the garden and Seed Swap Coming Up! & Monsanto At It Again!

Dear Folks,

Been busy with I can't even tell you what - just stuff - but I did get some pictures of happenings in and from the garden.

One evening as the sun was moving behind the fence and plants Deane caught one of our sunflowers backlit, giving it an almost neon glow - it was lovely.

On June 6th I harvested our purple potatoes and some pickling cucumbers.  I was a little later than I should have been for harvesting the potatoes, but got a nice crop.  Immediately made potato salad with wonderful eggs from "The Funny Farm" one of the farmers at the Mesa Farmers Market.  With the purple 'taters and deep orange of the eggs, this was a great salad.

The cucumbers I immediately started a new batch of lacto-fermented sour pickles (good old fashioned pickle barrel type made without vinegar).

Mark Your Calendars!!

Seed Swap July 6th, 9 a.m. to Noon at the Mesa Farmers Market, located south of University on Center on the east side grass area.

If you do not have any seed to swap, come anyway.  FREE!  I will be doing an ad hoc Q&A to help folks pick out seed and learn about sowing in the summer for fall crops.

To get your thinking - I've added these two posters.  I think they say a lot.  One the government used to encourage people to grow some or all of their own food.  And you have probably seen the reference to the fact that 40% of produce grown during WWII in the US was from backyard gardens.  To be sure, the government did all this encouragement during the first to world wars to send more food to troops and overseas, but the bottom line is it gave citizens control over a lot of their food choices.

The second poster is about the government paying more attention to what the big ag businesses and chemical companies want rather than what individual citizens want.  We want choices based on accurate and reliable information, not the FDA or USDA telling it is 'deemed' safe.

Two things on the political scene one just happened and the other is about to happen.  Recently the Senate considered amendments to the "farm bill" - one such amendment would have permitted states to require the labeling of GMOs and a State's right to pass such legislation.  Our two Senators Kyle and McCain voted against that amendment.  There were a lot of other things in the overall bill which had a lot of people worried, but to me the right to know was just voted down.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that the California Ballot to mandate GMO labeling passes and starts the ball rolling for other states to have similar laws.

The next up in the House is the FY 2013 Agriculture Appropriations Bill in which a sly Section 733 (deceptively called the "Farmers Assurance Provision") has been tucked into the language which in essence allows GMO crops and plants to be planted with a waiver of rights to restraining orders, meaning XXX ag business with Monsanto's assistance can get a waiver from the government to go ahead and plant 'while' the challenge is being considered, and would deny anyone, group, or community from getting restraining orders. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregano) has introduced a 'strike' to that section, but other representatives have to agree.

I would urge you to get in touch with your representatives to get them to support DeFazio in this.  Our Senators caved to Monsanto, let's see if our Representatives can actually stand up for our right to be able to block GMO bullying.
. . .

Temperatures - just a reminder as we move into the summer humidity and heat, watch your watering requirements.  You can actually overwater as the humidity rises (less evaporation) and we have (hopefully) a lot of rain.  Also, you plants may suffer chlorisis from the extra water necessary at this time of year.  Evidence is yellowing leaves where the green veins stand out.  Correct with green sand or ironite applied to the surface areas before watering and the problem will resolve in about 2 weeks after application.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Dear Folks,

Our navel orange tree has some interesting looking things hanging around!  129 heads of garlic.

I was a little behind this year in cutting the scapes and getting the heads dug up 2 weeks later - got them all dug last night and then jumped in the kool tub (aka horse trough) to cool off.  Hung them this morning - I use metal hangers, mostly tying or using pinch clothes pins to hold them.  They should be hung in the shade.

Some of the heads are very small and probably won't form full cloves so I'm thinking 1) to dry them in the sun and grind for garlic granules, and 2) I think I'm going to relocate most of the garlic bed to another location this October.  The grapefruit tree is so huge it shades more now than it used to.

For garlic growing novices, you plant Oct 1 and no later than Nov 1st because they need the full winter cool to help form heads.  This hard-neck varieties (the kind you usually find in stores) put out a flower head called a scape, curling around and we cut them back (or should - I let them go a little longer than I should) when they reach the top of the leaves.  Then about 2 weeks later the leaves start to turn yellow and it is time to dig and dry the heads until the outside skin gets papery.  The whole cut scape, harvest heads and dry takes about 3-4 weeks from start to finish.  You can use them right away when dug, but the peel is harder to get off. Air drying allows for longer storage.  Depending on hour hot we are 1-2 weeks usually does it.  I generally save some of the heads in my crisper to replant next fall and I also order fresh from my supplier.

. . .

With Memorial Day Weekend coming up this is a great opportunity to use some fun ways with herbs:

At the Grill:

BBQ HERBS. With Memorial Day and July 4th coming up we all like to think about cooking outdoors. Some tried and true ways with herbs on the que:

BASTING BRUSHES: If you are basting foods, make a basting brush out of stiff pieces of herbs like rosemary, woody basil or thyme or savory. Allow the brushes to soak a bit in the oil or marinade before using.

SKEWERS: The stiff or woody sprigs of herbs make great skewers. Pierce food to be skewered first, for easy insertion of the herb. Soak herbs for 1 hour before using to prevent the herb from catching fire. Rosemary is frequently used, but try others (my favorite rosemary and pineapple). If the sprigs are a little too flexible, try using 2 or 3 sprigs at once.

HERB SMOKE: Soak the herbs for 1 hour before using and add to coals in the last 15 minutes of cooking.

HERB OILS AND MARINADES. Infuse any of your favorites in olive oil or make marinades with fruit juices. Allow marinades to "work" for 1 hour.

DRY RUBS: Rub herb mixes or make pastes out of the herbs with a bit of olive oil or melted butter, and pat or rub into food before grilling.

HERB WRAPS: A wrap is food encased in herbs and either grilled in a foil pouch or rested on the grill. If you don't have enough herb to completely wrap the food (like lemon grass leaves). Sear food one minute on each side and lay the herbs across the top and finish cooking without turning. Fish will work very nicely this way.

Have a wonderful and safe holiday folks, be kind to yourselves and one another,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sustainability and Seven Generations

Dear Folks,

What if . . .

. . . every decision you make, or at least every important decision you make, is considered in the frame of how it will affect your great, great, great, great, great, great, great-grandchildren?

That is the sustainability question called the "Great Law of the Iroquois".

"[it] holds appropriate to think seven generations ahead (a couple hundred years into the future) and decide whether the decisions they make today would benefit their children seven generations into the future." --

So much of our national political discussions in recent years have centered around what debt our grand-children may have, where the jobs are or will be, what is being done NOW to fix the problem of the moment.

In the philosophy of the Iroquois they also looked 'back' 7 generations to see the decisions made that impacted the present generation.

I have questions for myself and society:

If a job is created to fill an immediate need (food on the table etc.) will that job ultimately do more harm than good in the long run?  To the person, their family, the environment, town, society?

Is more really less?  Supersized foods, drinks, plates, vehicles -- goods sold to make us feel successful?  What is the legacy to our future and that of our children and community?

Are we 'entitled' to anything more than real opportunity (every person having the same / equal opportunities for education and work)?  Encouragement is the second rung of the opportunity ladder.

Do we require more ethics of corporations and companies than ourselves?  If I am an ethical person, do I ignore unethical actions?  How do you teach a child ethics without following them personally and professionally?

To criticize without offering a solution which is "doable" is merely to seek to control while offering no sustainable benefit.

To accept at face value, without question, ANY statement, product, or view, of a company or person holding themselves out as authorities and experts, is to give up all or most of our quality of life and that of our family and community to 'others.'

When we stopped growing and making many of our own necessities, to free up time for more education, work and recreation, what did we discard along the way?  Real opportunity?  And, maybe, just maybe we gave up real control of our lives in return for a list of desires manufactured and presented to us as 'entitlements.'

Maybe it is time to put our collective hands back into the dirt, to reconnect with the meaning and focus of our lives and that of our family and community, and the next seven generations.

Gardening is not only good for you - it is healthier -- from digging to harvesting.  Nice blog on the subject.

Permaculture College Australia

I think there is certainly a genetic link for many of us to the soil and dirt.  Reconnecting to the link is a way to step back from 'modern life' and view our home, family and community in all of its wonderful kaleidoscope and look for the real vs. the illusion of what we want and how to get there.  And, the decisions we make, whether we consider it or not, WILL affect the next seven generations, and beyond.

. . .

What can you plant now?

Going into June --
Cucumber, Armenian
Luffa Gourd
Melons, Musk
Peas, Black Eyed
Peppers, Chiles
Portulaca (Moss Rose)
Potato, Sweet
Purslane (Portulaca X Hybrida)

Using existing plantings you can under- seed with:

Happy Gardening!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Around the Garden, Squirrel! and Some Greening News

Dear Folks,

The concept for our gardens is a mix of control and random happenstance, meaning something we intentionally arrange, and other things just happen. Then there is the issue of the critters - squirrel!  (Love that distracted mind reference from the movie "Up" - fits my current age.)  It also fits one of our newest visitors a squirrel that has adopted two old softies.  After spending a good portion of some years humanely relocating the rock squirrels from the gardens down to lakeside, last year Deane secured the sheds from damage by putting in a paver floor.  At the same time a squirrel decided to dig a burrow under the apple tree.  I tried several times to discourage said squirrel, but the reality was the burrow did no damage to the tree, the squirrel was not doing any appreciable damage to the garden, and was occasionally amusing to watch, so we decided to take a wait and see and a live and let live approach to said squirrel. Then she adopted us because she was eating fallen fruit and we put seed out for the birds and the next thing I'm doing is tossing out the occasional peanut - and viola we have a squirrel who has pet humans.  She is nursing young and has taken to tapping on the kitchen window to get our attention.  Sigh.  We are still watching to make sure there is no damage which is too destructive to let be, and she has developed so many funny habits we are hooked.

For those of you who do not know about this 'eastern grey squirrel' look-a-like -they burrow and do not live in trees although they can climb them just fine.  They can be particularly destructive to residential gardens because of the burrowing.  In our case the damage was general the problem of them getting into the sheds and making nests in things like Deane's back up "Turn-Out-Boots" -- special boots firemen use.  Now that the pavers secure the sheds and the fact that squirrels, unlike birds, eat one whole thing and do not take a nibble here and a nibble there, we figure we can live with "Squirrel" - at least for the time being

My Johnny Jump Up Forest - seen from a bug's eye view.  Last year when some violas and JJU volunteered in the lawn I thought it would be fun to put some seeds in the lawn and hope for a flush of flowers this year.  They took a while to get going as we do not do a winter lawn but once they sprouted it was fun to watch and wait for the flowers to come out.  Looking at them from the top and across I thought it would be cool to see them at bug/grass level so Deane accommodated that with his great camera skills.  The lower picture is a long view of the garden trees across the lawn.  Perspective is an interesting tool in photography - the depth behind the flowers is actually only about 18 feet or so :-)

Hollyhocks are always fun to grow.  With this lovely volunteer we just let it go.  This is actually going into its second year.  When you cut the finished flower stalk down here in the desert you may get not only another bloom later on but a bigger plant!  This was taken April 29th and is over 6 feet tall.


GMO Labeling is on the California Ballot.  After collecting almost twice the number of signatures to get this initiative on the November 2012 ballot, Californians will be the first state since Oregon tried it 10 years ago to have mandatory GMO labeling.  Two links below:  First one explains the ballot measure, and the second one is from the Farm-To-Consumer Defense Fund - collecting donations to mount the support of the ballot measure and counter what is expected to be a full on battle with the money from the I\industrial food giants and Monsanto among others.  Give a read and support if you care to.  If Californians are successful or even if they are not, hopefully other groups in states will get similar measures on the ballot.

GMO headed to Ballot - Sacramento Bee Article.

Farm - To Consumer Defense Fund - Donation Link

Other news of a Greening/Environmental note is Vermont is set to become the first state to ban FRACKING.

You may wish to do your own research on the issue of fracking - using chemicals and water to help extract oil and gas - among concerns is the real link to mini-earthquakes in regions known to be earthquake susceptible (a well as other possible areas) and the use of potential ground-water-contaminating chemicals..

The government is set to enact a set of rules that would greatly reduce some of the earlier safe guards considered.  Among other things the companies would only have to disclose the chemicals used AFTER they completed drilling - like closing the barn door after the horse is out.  I personally detest regulations that aim to subvert adequate warnings and safeguards by allowing someone (or whole communities) to sue only after they have had life-changing damage - this is just wrong.

New York Times article on the regulation proposed.

I'm getting real tired of all these people who want to put regulations which do more harm than good on peoples choices particular when it comes to growing and raising your own food, and THEN at the same time set up situations in other food and life realms where you have to wait until you have been severely damaged to show there should have been warnings -- I do not mean to putting reminders on curling irons that they are hot!  Geesh!

Be kind to yourselves folks and start, or add to, growing your own food, I think we may need it more than most people know, and, sooner than later!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, April 30, 2012

Greening - Closets vs. Pantries

Dear Folks,

Saturday I went into town (love that reference but it fits since I'm in the far east valley and going into Phoenix IS 'going to town') and visited the Urban Farm Nursery and attended the Grand Opening of the new headquarters for the Valley Permaculture Alliance.

If you have ANY interest in gardening in your back yard, community garden or your children's school, girl or boy scout gardening projects, check out the Urban Farm Nursery, the first "edible landscaping" focused plant nursery in the state.

And if your interest lays even further into growing and using more of your own food sources like poultry, gardening and other sustainability subjects, I encourage you to join the Valley Permaculture Alliance.  There you will find an incredible resource for classes, events, and a forum to post and answer questions and otherwise share your ideas and experiences.

So, such a wonderful day of visiting and discussing all about gardening and producing some or all of your own food here in our wonderful valley, got me focusing on a question and a puzzle I have been ruminating on for a week or longer.  Why did we get so far away from gardening in our backyards and develop an "oh well" reliance on manufactured and processed foods?

An acquaintance couches the question in terms of moral decay.

Others ponder such related topics as the post-WWII intent to have a better life, give the children more than the parents and grandparents had during the depression and war, continue to encourage women to work outside the home to 'pay' for that better lifestyle and the introduction of TV dinners to allow some of those new focuses to happen.

Keeping up with the Jones we used to call it.  There was a move in the design and development of "housing developments" which moved entertaining family and friends from the front porch to the back yard.  The weber grill was invented in 1951.  (We love our Weber kettle charcoal grill :-)

I have a slightly different take on this phenomenon -- we shrunk our pantries and expanded our closets -- it became more important to pay attention to, and spend more money on, what we put ON our bodies rather than what we put IN our bodies.

Years ago I toured the Rosson House in downtown Phoenix, built in 1880 and restored to a museum.  Not too long after that tour I also toured the The House of the Future, built in 1980 by SRP in Ahwatukee.  It was an eye opening contrast.

Aside from the anticipated differences - a lot of hand worked wood walls, doors and floors in the Rosson House and a modernistic design - complete with computer controlled environment - in the Ahwatukee home, the differences that absolutely amazed me were the size of the closets in the Rosson house - very small less than 3 feet approximately wide - compared to the modern home -- typically huge by comparison.

AND the size of the pantries - I don't remember the detail of the pantries and kitchen but I do remember that the emphasis was on food not clothing in the Rosson House.

So as a society, in the past 60 years clothing became more important than food.  And, further, as a society, we care more about the quality of the clothing we purchase for our family, than we do about the quality of the food we eat.  What is this really about?

Answer:  Convenience and manufacturers more than willing to give us the "letter" of what we say we want as a society, rather than the "spirit" and real meaning of it and our acceptance of "their" descriptions of what we got.

The "pink slime" story captured a tremendous amount of attention because, in part, consumers felt they had been lied to.

The real issue is most consumers are more than willing for a manufacturer to tell us what they have made, where it was made and what they put in it.  Oh, and also just how wonderful we will feel when we wear it and how much time it will save us when we serve it.

In an effort to keep up with the Jones, consumers for the last 60 years have lost a Grandmother or Grandfather's skepticism of something touted as 'easy' and 'inexpensive'.

I'm going to pick on Wal-Mart -- they have built an international empire on cheap, and built in obsolescence -- you can buy ANYTHING which can be bought elsewhere for way less - you just have to replace the object sooner, maybe a lot sooner.  Or if you purchase food from them - they told the grower HOW to grow the cantaloupe - really!  And it was not for the best nutrition or flavor - it was to achieve the 'perfect' always-consistent-in-size-and-color melon.

Wal-Mart can't be totally blamed for giving the consumer what they 'asked' for -- they simply figured out, from a corporate-bottom-line mentality how to give the consumer the "letter" of the quest, not the "spirit."  So what if you have to buy a garden tool every 2 years instead of every 20, so what if you have to take supplements and have more doctor's visits when purchasing inferior (there I said it!) food.  You can get it at discount prices and feel like YOU made good decisions.

Politicians and lobbyists have the same 'symbiotic' relationship as consumers and retail giants like Wal-Mart.

Politicians tell the public they want to give their voters what they are asking for.  Then lobbyists step up and provide the politicians with all the information the politician need to vote on a bill (you did know most politicians rely on the researching reports of lobbyists to get their 'facts' didn't you?), except the lobbyist only gives the politician the 'letter' or bare facts of the information from the sponsoring organizations view, and not the 'spirit' or all factors.

I read a statement to this effect some time ago.   That because of the incredible amount of data available on any given subject the politicians literally and figuratively rely on the lobbyists to keep them informed.  So what gets left out of those lobbyists reports and research is as telling as what gets in.

Enter the consumer - the real power behind the dollar and what does the consumer do - follow the labeling, pitches, advertisements, buzz words and just how wonderfully "convenient" this or that is going to be, and the modern consumer buys not only the product but the promise.

There used to be an old story about a stupid farmer who wanted to save money on feed for his horse.  He was telling the story to a visitor, how he had come up with the perfect way to do this.  He fed the horse not hay but straw.  The visitor inquired how in the world he got a horse to eat straw and not hay.  "I put green tinted glasses on him," replied the farmer, "so the horse thinks he is eating hay."  The visitor noted the poor health of the horse.  The farmer was not worried, he figured the horse would work for him until it dropped and he would get another cheap horse.

Reality Check:  Because we have become such a busy, busy, busy society with information overload on any given subject, and too many things going on all at once, and a society mentality of never wanting to be 'without' something, we make choices on how we spend, not only our money, but our time.

I would encourage you as a consumer to develop a nice healthy skepticism of anything a BIG whatever / whomever tells you is good for you, cheaper or better.  By this I mean, Really Read Labels, do some research, or find a source of information that YOU consider has unquestioned reliability and ethics of information.  Every one has a political agenda because everyone wants things to be as they want them - whether you think of that as political or not, it really is - it is about influencing others to your way of thinking and doing.

So ask yourself this question:   When was the last time you were "influenced" to put on a pair of green tinted glasses, fed straw, and told it was hay?

GREEN TINTED GLASSES aka advertising, labeling, promises
HAY  aka what you think you are getting
STRAW  aka what you really got

So are you going to settle for straw or hay most of the time?

Finally, I think you should look at your pantry and closets, and consider what is really important to your overall life and where is the best balance in decisions.  If I had a large family living in the same home, I would make this a project, dividing up research topics amongst everyone and see what you all came up with.

Have a great day, be nice to yourselves, and your world,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Arizona Sunny 90+ Something Day - What to do?

Dear Folks,

A lot of folks talk about our sun and heat here in the desert.  I look at it as opportunities to 'make lemonade out of lemons' - e.g., My laundry I hung on the line this morning was dry in 3-4 hours, AND

I made kale chips in 2 hours!

Drying veggies, fruits and herbs in the sun is an ancient technique still more than useful today.  I use one of those picnic table tents to keep critters off.

Time involved - 2 minutes to harvest the leaves, 1 minute to rinse and tear, 1 minute to toss with the tiniest bit of oil and sprinkle of salt - 2 hours to done! 

Come up with your own sunny ideas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sauerkraut, dill pickles, preserved lemons & yogurt - what do they have in common?

Dear Folks,

I just made a batch of sauerkraut!  Oh my is it wonderful and "real" sauerkraut.  By that I mean it was made the old fashioned way, which is the theme of this post - lacto-fermentation.  The picture here is my finished sauerkraut at day 10 - the dark area you see in the middle is some of my bay tree leaves and some peppercorns for extra flavor.  The plastic on the top is just to keep dust out.

I have been making my own yogurt from time to time for a number of years which began in earnest when I had my own goats, but even before that I played around with making homemade yogurt and was somewhat successful.  Meaning I did get yogurt but I really did not understand all the principles of it - you add existing live culture yogurt (lacto) to milk, keep warm for 10+ hours and you have yogurt or something which resembles yogurt (fermentation) - tangy, good, maybe not quite 'thick' but useable.

As someone who has a cast iron stomach, I do not usually suffer from digestion problems - the exception is the rare (thank God) food poisoning or stomach virus, both of which knockout all of your good flora and funa.  So I learned a long time ago that eating yogurt got me back on track faster when one of these things hit me and also I genuinely love yogurt and experiment all the time with yogurt in foods - particularly in using it as a substitute for the less nourishing sour cream or mayo.

When one of the Permies on the Valley Permaculture Alliance posted a thread about lacto-fermentation, I checked it out and learned a lot of wonderful new-to-me things including how to make real sauerkraut.  I also learned about what I call 'real dill pickles' - you know the wonderful ones that you could find in old fashioned country stores in pickle barrels or a good Kosher Deli.

What is different about both of these great foods is they are NOT MADE with vinegar but use a variation of the lacto-fermentation activity to "pickle" the cabbage or cucumbers.  People who are passionate about lacto-fermented products will tell you all about the health benefits.  I do not need encouragement - they are just plain good tasting and good for you :-)

Historically, pickling of vegetables and fruits was done with brine solutions to which herbs and spices were added, if desired.  It was a great way to preserve foods for long periods in an age before mechanical refrigeration.  Back in March I posted about corning my own beef for St. Patrick's day - another old use of the brining process to flavor and preserve meat.

When commercial canned products became popular most producers chose vinegar as the preserving agent rather than brining the food.  Both preserve food, but only canning required the 'cooking' of the vegetables before or during the canning process - which of course also cooks the food.

Read up on pickling here at wikipedia

The simple description of the process of lacto-fermentation is the use of bacteria*, which exists on natural or organically grown foods, some salt and the juice of the vegetable or the addition of some water to make the brining solution.  It is basically that simple.  Where the vegetable 'weeps' juice in the presence of salt, like cabbage, usually no or very little extra water is needed.  Where the veggies are mostly whole, like cucumbers you will need to make a brine solution.

Here is probably the most important part of doing this correctly.  The-Food-Must-Be-Submerged-At-All-Times!  The combination of the natural bacteria, brine and no-air, creates an environment which creates lactic acid and acts as the process of 'cooking in acid' which is what pickling is.  (A not un-similar process is fresh cevche where lime juice is used to 'cook' fresh seafood.)

First, I have to say I probably did this a little differently from what others may prefer, but it worked for me.  Many people use ceramic crocks for pickling - a truly old world preference that many have enjoyed.  I wanted to see what was going on and monitor so I used a large mason jar.  Next you have to weigh the veggie down so it is always under the liquid.  I have since purchased glass pickle weights, however - here is what worked really well for me.  I put an 8 ounce mason jam jar filed with water in the wide mouth of the larger mason jar.  I used sywran wrap but it really is not necessary.  What is necessary is that you do not completely seal the surface of the food under the liquid.  Gas will form in the fermentation process and it must be allowed to escape, so a weight of some sort must 'almost' cover the surface of the food, allowing the gas to escape.

After you figure out what container you are going to use, you need to determine how much will fill the container and adjust for the collapse of the cabbage as it weeps.  I did it wrong when I began this batch by putting the cabbage and salt into the jar FIRST.  It only took a half of typical cabbage head before the salt started to cause the cabbage to collapse, then I HAD to chop and add the rest of the head.

So here is the proportions of what you will typically get - 1 head of cabbage - about 4-5 pounds will fill a 1/2 gallon container when it completely collapses and weeps its juices - this can take anywhere from a couple to about 6 hours.

1 head of cabbage
about 3 - 5 teaspoons of kosher salt
As needed a bit of brine made by dissolving 1 teaspoon of kosher salt into 1 cup of water. If making hot, cool completely before using.
Optional:  *Whey from yogurt (contains the good bacteria)

BIG bowl - non-reactive (no metal)
Containers for pickling
Cover of some kind of cloth or plastic to keep dust out but not to seal the container
Wooden or plastic (no metal) spoons or utensil as needed

Shred or chop the cabbage and layer into a bowl large enough to hold it all, alternating with some salt and finishing with a total of about 3 teaspoons of salt.  Cover and let sit for about 2 hours.

Fill your container(s) with the cabbage, pushing firmly down to really pack in.  (The next time I do the sauerkraut I will use quart jars as the width of the 1/2 gallon required me to make the weight 'work' better.  The quarts are completely straight so weighting with the needed space around will be easier).

Add all of the liquid from the bowl.  The jar or jars should have about an inch to a 1 1/2 inches of head space, and there should be at least a half inch of liquid over the mass of cabbage when you are done packing into the jars.  If you need the additional brine add now.

Add the weight and cover lightly with something just to keep the dust out.  Place in a draft proof area of the kitchen where you can keep an eye on it.  By the end of 6-8 hours you should be seeing bubbling in the jar.  You can press down on the weight and release the gas periodically, but it should not be necessary.  You do want to make sure there is always liquid above the mass of cabbage so pushing down may be necessary.  Eventually the cabbage will generally stay down.

Your sauerkraut is done when it stops bubbling - anywhere from about 10 days (like mine) to about 3-4 weeks.  Constant temperature is most helpful, fluctuating temperatures may interfere.  It is not uncommon for a 'foam/or scum' to appear on the top of the liquid and can just be skimmed away.  Your 'kraut should always smell tangy and NOT moldy.  If any mold appears toss completely and start over.

The whole point of this kind of fermentation is that the acid is a preservative made in conjunction with good bacteria or yeast.

I started a small jar of preserved lemon yesterday.  This is done a bit differently where you push the cut open lemons with kosher salt releasing their juices, added water is usually not necessary.  Some folks just make them using an identical process to the sauerkraut, with brine, but most people use the salted cut lemons/push to release juices process.  This is my first real attempt at preserved lemons.  I tried it several years ago and did it completely wrong and it molded (I actually did a lot more "to them" then I should have - these are simple processes.)

*Optional Whey - many fermenters use a bit of whey in addition to the salt/juice/water which jump-starts the fermentation process because of the bacteria in the whey.  I am saving some of my yogurt whey to make the garlic-dill pickles in my next fermentation go-round.

Read up more on the lacto-fermentation thread on the Valley Permaculture Alliance site and consider becoming a member to share and learn as I have :-)  This is a great group of people helping each other with gardening, cooking and sustainability practices.

I am so enthused about the possibilities of fermenting all sorts of veggies and maybe fruits!

Have a wonderful day in the garden and kitchen, 

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady