Garden, Plant, Cook!

Friday, November 18, 2016

In the Garden and Kitchen November 16/17

Dear Folks,

The weather is starting the cooling trend and this is triggering some activity in the garden.  The other day when I notice the Egyptian Spinach seed pods were finally dry enough to harvest the seeds, I also turned my head and found a fun surprise.  My potted sweet potato from last year is flowering!

I have had them flower before, but always when the plant has been in the ground for a full year, wintering over and continuing to grow through cold and into and out of summer.  I "think" this is one of the red or orange varieties - don't remember :-)  I hope this time it goes to seed to hopefully catch edible sweet potato seed.

The Egyptian Spinach (Corchorus olitorius, C. capsularis,) was introduced to me by my friend Jacq Davis over at Epic Yard Farm as a lettuce substitute during the summer.  I was delighted to find this tasty leaf addition to summer salads, soups, and sandwiches along with my sweet potato leaves and my roselle leaves.

Now I have a nice bunch of seeds for re-sowing next late spring and to add to my seed bank.  A fun fact about Egyptian Spinach is that it is the Jute, the plant known also for its fiber to make ropes etc.

My Myrtle (Myrtus communis) has been pushing out berries for a while now and they finally have turned deep blue/purple.  Myrtle is an ancient herb, known in the Bible as the herb of joy.  The entire plant is edible from the shiny leaves, to the gorgeous flowers on to the berries, which can be used in place of juniper berries or rosemary in meals.  Myrtle is best known for use with game meat to minimize the 'gamey' flavor.

I knew from prior reading that myrtle was frequently used in some old, old liquor recipes so I did some research a while back about using the berries in "Mirto" a European Liquor made from the berries.  I made a note in my calendar to watch for when the berries were ripe to try this recipe.  Like a lot these I am starting to call the "40 Day Liquors" you steep for 40 days, then sweeten and maybe depending on the plant steep for another 40 days.  I am trying a very small batch which should be ready to taste before adding the syrup on December 20th.  Recipes note after the syrup is added you can drink a few days.  I will have to see how that goes and let you know.  Myrtle is known as a digestive aid, but it also has a high amount of salicylic acid so it has a long use for pain and fever.  My thought is to use it as an aperitif, sipped before a big meal.

Yes, we have some bananas!  My Ice Cream "Blue Java" put out a stem of bananas and I am really looking forward to enjoying these.  I have been growing this plant for a long time and because of the structure of our garden we have had to take out, move and otherwise fuss with the plants.  They always grow, but not necessarily happy, so when Deane said did you see the bananas ? - I said where?  The flower was kind of hidden because there is a blood orange and apple bracketing the plants.  It really is not the best place for the banana, but I have left it there because at least it was growing so as soon as I could find a better spot I could at least depend on getting a baby plant when I was ready.  The Ice Cream banana is a small fruit but with a "vanilla ice cream" flavor.  When we last able to enjoy them they did indeed have a vanilla flavor to them and were nice and creamy.  So a rare treat to look forward to.

The Johnny Jump-Ups have started to sprout in the lawn.  For a number of years we have enjoyed a spectacular display of a Johnny Jump-Up in mid to late Spring.  About 5 years or so ago, since we do not seed a winter rye in our small lawn, I decided to sprinkle JJU seeds.  Deane kind of shook his head, but when the first spring's bloom showcased a small sea of flowers he agreed they were a lovely site to look at while the garden woke up from winter.  Over the years the self-sowing of the plants now turns the entire lawn into an ocean of JJUs. A peek of what the lawn will look like next spring.

The Pineapple Guava fruit is ripe.  We know this because they fall off the tree when perfectly ripe.  Early experience with trying to determine when this pleasant tasting fruit was NOT ripe, taught us to wait for the fruit to fall.  We have a lot of duff under the trees intentionally so the fruit just drops onto a soft carpet of leaves, ready to be picked up.  I describe the flavor as a slightly astringent kiwi flavor.  We split them in half and scoop out the fruit.  I made jam last year we had such a nice crop of them.
  I was just reading a simple recipe for making fruit wines using bread yeast and I may try that with the pineapple guava fruit this time.  Some of the best tasting foods are good old fashioned methods of preserving foods before "modern" preserving added a lot things many of us would rather not have in our food.  The collage to the left shows the gorgeous edible flowers (taste like a bite of candy) in May and the fruit in November.

Speaking of preserving.  The batch of sauerkraut (lacto-fermented = brining) at 10 days showed a bit of mold on top.  Don't worry.  While not harmful because that is the fermentation taking place, this white mold is simply skimmed off and discarded (I put it in my compost counter pot for adding later to the compost).  I tasted the 'kraut and it was right where I wanted it to be, so I jarred up, adding a bit of my reserved brine I try to keep on hand.  If you look closely at the jarred up sauerkraut you will see a few bubbles at the top of the liquid. It was still releasing gas during fermentation.  By refrigerating it the gas production will cease or slow.  The first time I open these jars a bit of air may escape.  No worries.  These types of fermented vegetables keep a LONG time in the refrigerator.  Over time the sauerkraut will turn more mellow in color but continue to have that nice non-vinegar brine flavor.

CAUTION:  If your fermentation foods ever develop a mold color other than white, discard the whole thing and start over.
  These fermenting foods rely on good bacteria on the vegetable/fruit and wild yeast in the air.  Thousands and thousands of years have proven this is a safe method of preservation. BUT on occasion bad bacteria may be introduced.

So why fermenting vegetables?  The lacto fermentation process produces the same types of good bacteria you find in yogurt.  While vinegar is a great food product, once you have tried brined vegetables like sauerkraut and old fashioned dill pickles, you may not want to go back to the modern vinegar version.  Use sauerkraut in any recipe calling for pickles or capers.

Finally, I shared this picture of my growing garlic but I'm so pleased with it and I want to inspire you to grow garlic I'm showing it again.  While it may be too late for the low desert to get garlic to form heads in the last spring, you can still plant cloves every week or two through the end of April for harvesting "green garlic" to use like scallions. The thicker plants on the right are Elephant garlic.

Wishing you a best day in the garden and kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

December Gardening Tips - Sowing, Planting and a Recipe

Lots of "Green" Garlic - large ones are Elephant type.
Dear Folks,

I have a mix of information for you today.  December planting information and garden maintenance tips

And finally my "Red Hot Chili Truffle" recipe, with my 'secret ingredient' to give it a wonderful taste and consistency. 

If you have never used "green garlic" (I like to call them garlic scallions) they are a great addition to meals.  Whenever you would use garlic or green onions, green garlic will give you a mild to medium taste of garlic without some of the heat associated with cloves.  You use the whole thing as you would a scallion.  You can plant green garlic all the way through April for a continuous harvest.  Harvest when the greens are 8+ inches tall and the clove has swollen a bit.

December PLANTING:

Bok Choy
Fennel, Leaf
Fruit, Bare Root
Fruit Trees
Onions, Green
Oregano, Greek
Ornamental Cabbage/Kale (Brassica Oleracea)
Peppers (seed)
Primrose (Primula Vulgaris)
Watermelon (by seed December 15 and after)


Carnation (Dianthus)
English Daisy
Jasmine Sambac (Arabian)
Scented Geraniums
Stocks (Matthiola)
Sweet William (Dianthus)
Sweet Alyssum

GARDEN TIPS for December
    Holiday time can be stressful. Your edible garden can be an oasis from stress.  With citrus fruit ripening like yellow and orange ornaments, pansies blooming, and dill waving in the breeze, winter is only a state of mind here in the Desert Southwest.
    November through January can be a ‘rainy’ season for the desert. You can usually hold off on regular watering if you have received a half inch or more of rain within 2 days of normal watering days (except for trees unless you receive 1 inch or more).  Make good use of your water meter to determine soil moisture. 
    If rains are heavy this month, in addition to foregoing some water days, you may need to put down Ironiteor Green Sand to compensate for mineral bonding (which makes iron unavailable to the plants) due to both the excess water and the cold soil.  Ironite is not a fertilizer so it will not burn plants -- apply to the drip line (edge) of tree canopy.

Watering Guide:
As the temperatures rise or decrease, a guide (this is only a guide! make use of your moisture meter to check moisture content of soil) For mature gardens would be:
    70s water every 5-6 days for all but trees
    80s water every 4-5 days for all but trees
    90s water every 3-4 days for all but trees
    100s water every 2-3 days for all but trees

Garden Design tip - if you are considering laying out a new garden, use Ironite to 'draw' the garden layout on the soil, easy and safe.

FROST damage:  Do not prune until danger of frost is over - the damaged plant protects the lower growth.


Prune citrus and deciduous fruit trees in December, or no later than early January before flowering starts.

Occasionally our crazy peach trees drive Deane nuts because they still have leaves on them when they start to flower in late December or early January.

The idea with pruning deciduous trees is to get it done before the 'sap starts running' in the warming spring weather.  Because we do not usually have extended cold spells some of the stone fruit trees may not actually go into full dormancy.

The commercial growers like Schnepf Farms have simply adopted the practice of prunning their peach etc. trees after December 15th. This ensures that flower buds will not be pruned off later on.

There is always the challenge of a cold spell coming in January or February while the stone fruit trees are coming into bloom, which in other areas of the country might mean the severe limiting of fruit production.  Here we have not generally found that a short cold period has killed off the flower bloom/fruit production.

If you feel you are in a colder area, you can cover the blooming peaches, apricots, plums and apples with cloth covers if you can reach high enough to make it worth the effort.


Peach tree borers are a problem here in the valley as the special hybrid stone fruit trees are more vulnerable to borers because the pests are not killed off as readily as in very cold areas of the country.

Winter 'dormancy' of the trees is the time to consider treating the trees to an oil spray to discourage the darn pests

Generally called "dormant oil" or "horticulture oil" this is a heavy oil based control which is designed to smother the pests, and therefore can't be applied to the active growing parts of any plants.  It is sprayed on the trunks of stone fruit (not evergreen like citrus) from the soil-base line up.  Make sure you read the instructions carefully.

If peach and other stone fruit trees are new to you and your garden, look for swelling on the buds/edges of each branch which indicates the tree is going into active growth and DO NOT use the spray on those areas. 

Sow tomato, basil, pepper, eggplant, tomatillos and all similar warm-soil lovers beginning Dec 1 or later, indoors.

Start warm weather seeds indoors or greenhouse for transplanting out February 1st (with frost protection handy).
Transplant out February 1st.  Tomatoes in particular need a good 'running start' to give you the first of two crops before the high summer night time temperatures stop fruit set.

Collect things you can use to provide frost protection for the first 2-3 weeks in February  after transplanting.  I start saving the distilled water jugs we use for a Poor Man's Cloche, but cardboard boxes will do alsoYou just have to remember to put them on at night after transplanting and take them off during the day.

. . .
Chocolate is an herb, of course, and what would the holidays be without a recipe using chocolate and since we are in the southwest, chili!

       Notes: this is a very rich, soft (but not liquid) at room temperature truffle.  Using the dipping chocolate option for coating will allow them to stay more solid at room temperature
during parties and dinners.  Otherwise it is best to keep all of them refrigerated until ready to eat.  They will keep in the frig in covered containers for 3-4 weeks.

12     ounces (2 cups) dark semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like
Ghirardelli 60% cocoa chips)*
6      tablespoons butter
1/3    cup of eggnog (secret ingredient)
1-1/2  teaspoons of chili powder (strength of choice!)
Coatings: Red crystal candy sprinkles, chili powder, cocoa powder, or dipping chocolate **etc

       Have plastic (like syran wrap) lined pan ready - pan should be wide enough to make shallow layer of truffle when poured.
       In a double boiler or heavy pot on low heat, melt butter and eggnog, stirring constantly.  Add chili to butter and eggnog, mix to incorporate chili completely before adding chocolate.
       Add chips to melt stirring constantly (if you do not stir the mixture may burn).  When completely mixed and melted (no lumps), pour mixture into pan, refrigerator until firmed -about 2 hours.
       Cut the truffle mix into small squares or using a mellon baller, or roll small balls in lightly-oiled or buttered hands, roll in coating of choice (if dipping instead see note below), place on wax paper lined pan, and chill until ready to use.

       *If desired, use white chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet (use the best white chocolate made with real cocoa butter)
       ** Dipping chocolate is special tempered chocolate that creates a hard glossy shell of candy   Can usually be found at Michael's (look for Wilton dark).
       To Dip Truffles: Roll into balls as noted above and chill.
Do not use any other coating if you want to dip the balls.  In the top of a double boiler or a clean wide mouth class/china jar or bowl set in a simmering water bath, melt dipping chocolate stirring to keep liquid.  IMPORTANT, do not let any water come in contact with this chocolate or it will ruin it.  Once the truffles balls are chilled, using a fork or toothpicks, dip each ball in the chocolate, place on wax paper lined tray and return to refrigerator or freezer to chill for about 15 minutes.

Last - a Tip for Spring.  While you are doing your holiday shopping pick up a couple of packages of RED GLASS OR METAL Christmas Ornaments.

These are great helpers in the spring and summer to deter birds from eating your ripe fruit.  When fruit begins to turn color, hang the ornaments here and there.  Pecking at the glass or metal deters the birds.  It is not a 100% guarantee but you should have more of the fruit for you and family and by pass the potentially dangerous bird netting.  Buy at least 1 1/2 inch diameter size.  You want the shiny kind, not dull or satin.  The shiny attracts the birds.

The ornaments are a lot easier to find now than at other times of the year. 

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Have a Great Day in the Garden and Kitchen!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

My Raw Brussels Sprouts Salad and Some "Calvary" in the Garden and More.

Dear Folks,

I first posted a version of this salad a couple of years ago and I am making it at least twice this holiday time. Once yesterday for a ladies group I belong to.

While I have enjoyed roasting brussels sprouts, seeing some versions of a raw shredded salad a couple of years ago got me creating my own version  What could be more holiday-ish than green and red!

AND this salad is so healthy you will feel quite safe getting second and third helpings.

As with a lot of salads, particularly mine, rations do not have to be exact, except with regard to the dressing oil/acid combos I make.  In this case the ratio the normal ratio of 1 part acid to 2-3 parts oil is changed to about even. I want the lime flavor to stand out a bit to offset the 'cabbage' flavor of the brussels sprouts.

Dried cranberries or red cherries are a high antioxidant addition and we all know how good nuts and seeds are for you.

I generally use avocado oil for these kinds of salads, so the good quality oil is present but the taste does not over whelm the rest of the ingredients, but olive oil would certainly work too.

I grabbed some I'itoli onions from the garden and used my limequats for the acid.  In case you are not familiar with I'itoli they are a local onion, now considered native (brought to the Southwest 400 years ago) and have a wonderful 'shallot' mild onion/garlic flavor.

The prepping of the Brussels Sprouts in the most time consuming part of this so make a large batch because the salad keeps nicely in the frig for several days.

Since I have some salad  left over (I made a double match), I will be cooking up some grains (quinoa and/or barley) this evening for dinner to mix the salad with and have a cold grain/vegetable salad.

My Brussels Sprouts Salad

Proportions of ingredients are approximate. You can add or subtract the ingredients of the salad itself but keep the dressing ratios together. You want a bit of tang from the juice.

1 pound of brussels sprouts
2 tart sweet apples like Gala or Sundowner
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds
1/4 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice (juice your fruit, save 1 teaspoon of juice and rind)
3 tablespoons avocado oil or olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
crushed black pepper


Fruit:  drop apples, increase the cranberries or use dried cherries
Nuts/Seeds: , substitute chopped walnuts or pumpkin seeds  for almonds
Add: add some mild onion like I'itoli
Shred:  a bit of Parmesan Cheese over before tossing.

Optional Herbs: 1 tablespoon finely cut or crushed Rosemary, Thyme, or Oregano.  Add to dressing so it is distributed evenly.

        Make acidulated water: Place reserved lemon juice and rind in bowl with water - this is for the apples.
        Core apples and dice into cubes and immediately place in the lemon water while you prepare sprouts.
        Prep the brussels sprouts by removing any damaged outer leaves, split in half length wise and cut out the core/stem.
        Slice each half in fine layers, essential shredding. Place in large bowl
        Drain apples well and add. Add almonds and cranberries.
        Make dressings from juice, oil, salt and pepper. Shake well and pour over salad. Toss and fold to mix well.
        This salad keeps well for a couple of days in the frig. - if it lasts that long.

Recipe Update:

Eggplant Ketchup.

I made a version of an 18th Century "Ketchup" recipe with eggplant and it turned out so well calling it ketchup is really misleading.  It should be called a "Sauce" or "Relish" or even a type of "Pesto".  After posting the recipe (here), I made some pasta - a mix of edamame spaghetti and a great DeCicco lemon/pepper spaghetti, I tossed the cooked pasta with some of the Eggplant Sauce and it was wonderful.


Some of the Calvary

While checking out my Barbados (Acai) Cherry Tree I spotted a couple of these guys on the tree.

Assassin Bugs are wonderful helpers in the garden.  They are sometimes mistaken for leaf-foot type pests but these are "white hat" bugs, the good ones as keeping aphids and other pests under control.

I have had to use some natural sprays when I do not see an infestation right away, but I try to limit the sprays to using them rarely but you endanger the good bugs when you spray too.

Let them alone to do their thing. They are known for biting (they ARE predators) so say thank you and let them get down to business.

My Chocolate Flower (Berlandiera lyrata) is still blooming (I took this picture two weeks ago) in the morning, wafting cocoa scent as I pass it by.  Delicious aroma!!

Find my month by month calendar and books at your seller of choice.

I hope you have great fun taking the bounty of your garden into the kitchen and creating delicious and healthy meals!

Have a great day!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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