Garden, Plant, Cook!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - 7th Day of Christmas

7th Day of Christmas - December 31st

New Year's Eve!

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Old Time Radio:

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

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

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

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

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - 6th Day of Christmas

6th Day of Christmas — December 30th

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


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

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

More plants of the Bible:

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Old Time Radio:

Abbott and Costello

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

Merry 6th Day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, December 29, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - 5th Day of Christmas

5th Day of Christmas - December 29th

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Old Time Radio:

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

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

Merry 5th Day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, December 28, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - 4th Day of Christmas

4th Day of Christmas — December 28th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


Do you know about the Cherry Road Christmas Light Display?

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

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

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


Old Time Radio:

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

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

Merry 4th Day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Saturday, December 27, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - 3rd Day of Christmas

3rd Day of Christmas - December 27th.

East Valley, where the grass was crunchy this morning, the first really cold night of the season brought the temperature down to 30 overnight.

Glazed and exhausted from all the indoor activities? Working in the Desert Garden is a great refresher.

And, consider a pre-New Year resolution to do some hiking. With the many trails and large park systems throughout the Valley, you can always find one to fit your fitness level.

As a former long-distance runner, I let myself go and with my graying age, I have not been in the best of shape. We took of hiking 3 times a week this summer and while I may never be able to run again due to joint issues, I have definitely seen the tremendous improvement. AND, getting outside into the desert is mentally refreshing — it takes the every day issues and reduces them to ‘now' time.

All of your deciduous fruit trees should be almost leafless now and you want to prune them back before they start to bud out, if you have not already pruned them. The challenge is to do this before they start budding if we have a particularly warm December.

Coating/spraying dormant oil on the leafless trees is also done now. Our beloved peach and other stone fruit trees are developed specifically for desert / low chill conditions. The downside is they are more prone to insect damage because the bugs are not totally killed off. Spraying with dormant oil minimizes insert damage and prolongs the life of the fruit trees.


Arizona garden trees frequently have their own ornaments in the form of ripening citrus fruit and in particular oranges. A long tradition of giving oranges at Christmas time arose out of their rarity in cold climates and their being, truly, one of the few seasonally available fruits in the winter.

An easy treat for the kids to make is chocolate-dipped citrus fruit. Oranges or tangerine sections are wonderful for this when paired with dark chocolate. Milk chocolate also works. Many years ago I learned to make fancy chocolates and while the techniques are fun and beautiful, I also tried different easy ways to produce tasty treats. The ideas below are some I had fun with.

Some points:

1) When peeling the fruit it is important to make sure the sections are not ‘broken' exposing juice — the sections should be completely dry before dipping to avoid the chocolate curdling.

2) Remove the white pith as it is bitter. (If you want to make the absolute most of the fruit, zest the orange peel before peeling and dry, store and you have dried orange peel for baking!)

3) Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler - this is the easiest way. Another is to have a pint mason jar, pot and wash cloth combo. Place the wash cloth in the bottom of the pot, carefully measure water into the pot to come to under 1 inch of the top of the jar. Bring water to low simmer and fill the jar with chocolate, place in the pot to melt, stir as needed. DO NOT let any water get into the chocolate.

4) Chocolate for dipping can be special melting chocolate from suppliers like ABC Decorating in Phoenix or Michael's craft stores. OR, you can use baking chips. We like Ghiradelli 60% cocoa as they are the best in taste (in our opinion) and the "good" anti-oxidant qualities.

5) If the chocolate is not ‘liquid' enough for dipping — it should be quite runny — when melted, add a tablespoon or two of real butter.

Orange or tangerine sections
melted chocolate
cookie trays, lined with plastic wrap or aluminum foil
have ready a place in refrigerator or freezer where the trays can rest flat
Options: pretzels and candy canes, dried fruit, cheerios, and red, green, gold or silver plastic spoons

Dip each citrus section 1/3 to half way up, wait until it stops drivving, lay each piece on tray — don't let the pieces touch each other. When the tray is filled place in freezer for 15 minutes or refrigerator for about 25-30 minutes until the chocolate is solid again. The dipped fruit will easily pull off the trays. Store in containers in the refrigerator - use within a week (no problem!)


If you have some chocolate left over try dipping pretzel sticks, candy canes or dried fruit such as apricots.

If you still have some chocolate left over use up by making ‘stacks' — cheerios make a fun ‘crunchy' chocolate treat (and has a little more ‘good things' in it). Gently fold cheerios into the remaining chocolate until well coated. Spoon into miniature paper muffin cups or on the cookie trays. Cool in the frig or freezer.

CANDY CANE BRITTLE: Crush Candy canes into small pieces, pour remaining melted chocolate onto the cookie tray (covered with aluminum foil), spread to thin, sprinkle crushed candy over. Cool in frig or freezer and break into rough pieces.

CHOCOLATE SPOONS: An elegant treat for lovers of coffee or hot chocolate is chocolate cover spoons for stirring. Dip the spoon in the chocolate only to cover the ‘bowl' let excess drip off. They can be placed on a tray to dry or for a really elegant look (no flat spot on the back) you can rig up a drying rack with clothes pins to hold the spoons over a tray to cool.


THE SPIRIT OF GENEROSITY: If you are like me and every puppy, kitten or cutely-ugly dog or cat up for adoption tugs at your heart, and like me I can't take in any more — consider a donation to a no-kill shelter, or a low-cost spay/neuter organization. As they like to point out, donating saves at least one little life, adopting saves 2 (the one you take home and the space it creates for another).

No extra money? Call the shelters and find out if they can accept pet food coupons. Many can use the coupons the way we would — discounts off the purchase of food for the shelter critters.

Two of my favorite animal charities are Animal Benefit Club and Cat Nip and Tuck (a low cost spay and neuter organization). You can make a donation via Paypal at each site (or send a check). If you use the easy donate button on the site, add about .75 cents to cover the paypal fee.

Old Time Radio:

Variety Shows were favorites of radio listeners and particularly at Christmas time, AND during the war. All these old time radio shows include the original commercials and notes about war- time..

December 21, 1944 -- Christmas favorite Bing Crosby sings opens with "Adeste Fideles" first in Latin and then "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" with the Kraft Choral Club, which was Bing's opening Christmas standard every year. The Kraft Choral Club is 70 co-workers of the Kraft offices and factory in Chicago. In 1944, we were in WWII and in the audience there is 100 young ladies from the Navy WAVES and we are reminded that Kraft Cheese only takes two ration points. Listen free.

Merry 3rd day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Friday, December 26, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - 2nd Day of Christmas

2nd Day of Christmas — December 26th

This day is also St. Stephen's Day, Boxing Day and the first day of Kwanzaa.

"Good King Wenceslas" is a popular Christmas carol about a king who goes out to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (the second day of Christmas, December 26). St. Stephen is the first of the Martyred Saints and he is the patron Saint of Hungary. See "The Spirit of Generosity" for some ideas of giving.

Boxing Day in England and Commonwealth nations, a day on which the gift of cash or durable goods was given to the lower classes and servants.

American wags have ‘grabbed' the concept of boxing day to refer to it as the day gifts are returned to the stores for refund or replacement — I like at the least the notion of the original meaning!

Kwanzaa, begun over 4 decades ago, is a week-long (December 26th - January 1st) holiday celebrated throughout the world, honoring African heritage, marked by an affirmation of a different principal of life each day: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, Faith.

GARDEN: Collect leaves and tree litter for composting and getting ready to plant potatoes.

Plant chamomile - after the hectic pace of Christmas preparation, it will be nice to anticipate a cup of home grown chamomile tea.

KITCHEN: Got leftovers? How about a nice satisfying brunch dish of baked eggs.

3 cups of Mashed Potatoes (leftover or freshly made)
4 eggs
half cup of finely shredded spinach, kale or arugula
1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 350 . Have casserole or other pan ready, spray lightly with Pan if desired.
If using leftover mashed potatoes fluff up so they will spread easily. Fold sage into potatoes and spread the potatoes thickly in the center of the oven dish—to about 1 inch thick. Using a small juice glass make 4 depressions in the potatoes. Evenly distribute the shredded greens in the depressions, crack and place an egg on top of each "well." Salt and pepper to taste. Bake 20-25 minutes or until the eggs are just set (poached) but not hard. Enjoy!

THE SPIRIT OF GENEROSITY: If your holiday planning and activities left you little time for charitable work or giving, today is the time to make up for it. One does not have to be wealthy to give. And giving can be of your time, not money.

The East Valley Crisis Nursery (480) 969-2308 — accepts gifts which can either be used by the children and families in the shelter or they are sold to purchase supplies and services. If your family has any gifts received that are not usable - consider donating them instead of returning them.

Random Acts of Kindness: Returning to work and stopping at a drive-thru for coffee or breakfast? If you have the extra cash, pay for the order of the car behind you too — tell the clerk to say "Happy New Year and pass it on"- give the clerk a tip too! Nothing beats an anonymous gift to lift the spirits of the giver and recipient!

Old Time Radio:

Back when Lux Radio was one of the most popular radio hours — stars who made movies such as It's A Wonderful Life, would quickly go into the Lux studio and do a radio version of the big- screen movie. Delightful!

Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed reprise their roles on Lux Radio from the film "It's A Wonderful Life." Victor Moore stars as Clarence the angel. The story follows George Bailey as he considers ending his life. Clarence shows George that not only would he be missed in the world but that It's a Wonderful Life. This is truly an inspiring story and a popular holiday favorite. Listen free.

E-CARDS — Folks if you are not familiar with the work of Jacquie Lawson, please visit her site and play some of the most incredible animated cards you will ever see on the internet. Her work is a mainstay of her small village. For a small membership fee you can send personalized versions of these cards.

Merry 2nd Day of Christmas!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Thursday, December 25, 2008

12 Days of Christmas - Christmas Day!

Dear Folks,

Today starts my blog of the 12 Days of Christmas. May you each celebrate these days in your own way and whether these celebrations are religious & secular (our family's way) or one of them, remember the reasons for kindness and giving, which no one theology or philosophy has a superior claim to. Today's trying and challenging times call for a better way of looking at your neighbors who are also your shopkeepers, repair persons, and clerks.

1st Day of Christmas — December 25th.

If you didn't light your yule log last night, light it this morning, and enjoy the warmth while you enjoy the day and all it means to your family.

A Tradition:
Set a place setting and chair for the unexpected guest (or keep handy). This is an old tradition and has its origins in either remembering absent (at war or far away) or missing family (deceased), and also the delightful surprise of a welcomed and unexpected loved one or friend who drops by.

BACKYARD It is a tradition for some folks to give extra feed to the animals on Christmas Day to remember the animals present at the birth of Jesus, and the leave grain out for the birds. If you routinely feed the birds, give them an extra treat during this cooler time of the year by spreading peanut butter on dry bread and pressing as much bird seed as possible into it. You can string it up with a clothes pin or clip or lay flat on a plate in a spot above the ground.

KITCHEN: And speaking of peanut butter, if want to keep the little ones busy while dinner is being prepared, give them the ingredients to make peanut butter candy logs. Give them an easy- to-clean spot in the kitchen and have handy the necessary kid-cleaning wash-cloth!

Also known as edible play-dough this recipe is one my mom taught us in the 50s. You can just let the children squish the ingredients together with clean hands and show them how to take small pieces, roll them into a ball or log and cover them with toppings of their choice.

1 cup smooth peanut butter
½ cup honey
1 ½ cups dry milk

Mix in large bowl. Shape into logs. Can be rolled in sprinkles, coconut, chopped nuts or mini M&Ms. Chill for a hour or two to harden up a bit.

GARDEN — Make your own tradition of planting something on Christmas Day after the excitement of the mornings activities have backed off some. It fosters a deeper sense of the spiritual renewal of the day.

HERBS: While rosemary is one herb traditionally associated with Christ's Mother Mary and Christmas, the herb Myrtle's symbolism is for Joy, Peace and Renewal.

Myrtle, an edible herb — the leaves, flowers and fruit are edible — is a great herb for the desert. Plant now through February for best success. It can be a lovely specimen plant or planted in groups for hedging. There is standard, dwarf and variegated varieties. This bitter herb has traditionally been used with game meat to give better flavor.

A liquor called "Mirto" is made from myrtle. You can trying make some yourself from the berries alone or leaves and berries by infusing them in vodka, then sweeten.



Charity/Giving/Generosity: If the word ‘charity' makes you think of welfare or handout, try the definition of generosity: "the trait of being willing to give your money or time." — The Spirit of Generosity.

Find any way within your means to give something to someone or an organization today. If you go to the movies, as many folks do after dinner, take along a bag of candy and hand out to others waiting in line. Invite a neighbor you know is alone today for dinner or dessert.

I am old enough and ‘homey' enough, I guess, to enjoy not only music, but also old time radio programs, as background to working, whether in the kitchen or the office. This site is a super source for literally thousands of radio shows from the 20's through the 50's.

Lionel Barrymore reprises his role as Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. A wonderful Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol is the story of a very grumpy and cold hearted Ebenezer Scrooge who wants nothing to do with Christmas and croaks "Baw-humbug" at any sign of Christmas cheer. Orson Welles beautifully narrates this classic tale of redemption and brotherly love. Listen free to the whole program:

For more holiday only programs:

Merry Christmas Day!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Winter High Notes In The Desert

Dear Folks,

While the holidays can be both enjoyable and anticipated, they can also be draining -- in many ways. One of the reasons I moved from a cold 4 season climate to the desert was to enjoy the warmer winters, and if I want to, I can always go up to Flagstaff and the Snowbowl to play in the white stuff and then flee back down to the desert floor to recover!

The other benefit of living in the desert around holiday time is the incredible opportunity to garden immediately after I'm ready to put the holidays behind me. While gardeners in other parts of the country can only daydream their way through seed catalogs, we desert gardeners can be getting our hands dirty and enjoying the experience!

Watch for my blog on the 12 Days of Christmas Notes -- I will be posting a blog each of those special 12 days.

STARTING TIP: Last frost day here in the Valley of the Sun is typically February 15th - get a head start on your tomatoes, basil, peppers and eggplant, by starting seed indoors on a bright windowsill -- (also - I will be having a variety of "starts" beginning in January for direct planting or starting your own seedlings - email if you have questions).

To get you in the mood, here is a fun family project for those who have either an outdoor fireplace, chiminea or indoor wood burning fireplace. Many of the 'ingredients' for this recipe will be on hand.


You will need a log sized to fit your fireplace/pit/chiminea. (Hardwood is good in a standard metal or brick fireplace or pit, but softwood is better for clay chimineas.)

Rosemary, Myrtle, sage, and/or lavender sprigs

Elmer's glue (Use only elmers - it won't spit toxic fumes)

Orange peels (Using a potato peeler or like, cut long strips of orange peel from two oranges -- this should be done a day ahead of time, so the peel can air dry.)

Whole spices like cinnamon sticks or pieces, star anise, juniper berries, cloves, allspice (If you make mulled cider or wine - save the spices - dry completely -so they won't smoke - and use them on the log or just through a few on the fire to scent the air.)

Ribbon Bow (if you can, make it from paper ribbon rather than synthetic or plastic)

1) Glue the sprigs of herbs attractively around the top half of the log.

2) Arrange and glue the orange peel among the herb sprigs.

3) Now fill in any gaps with glued whole spices

4) Top with an attractive bow (remove bow before lighting, unless the bow is paper).

5) Admire the log until it is time to light it on Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning.

Tradition says the longer the log burns, the more good luck the family will have for the New Year.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

P.S. Amazon has several sources for seeds -- most with flat rate shipping per order.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Hot Sip For Cold Weather

Howdy Folks,

Now that the weather is cooling down even here in Arizona, one of my readers asked about a recipe I shared in a class a couple of years ago. It is also in my "Edible Landscaping ... " book. (The book and my cookbook are both now available as a downloadable book.)

This recipe is antioxidant-rich, warming and soothing for just cold weather, but also colds, flu or allergy symptoms. A take-off of the Asian hot and sour soup, it can be made into just a broth as the recipe notes, or with the addition of finely chopped scallions, pretty pieces of carrot and small noodles a fully satisfying soup. When I make it as a soup, I like to float chive or cilantro flowers on top when serving - pretty.

Why it is good for you -- grandma's chicken soup has been proven (although she always new it was good for you) to help get the family through illness.

Chicken broth helps the body express mucus (the faster you get the virus and bacteria ladened mucus out the faster you recover)
Cilantro is anti-bacterial
Lime juice (or lemon) contains Vitamin C and flavanids
Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory

aka nature's "penicillin"
The holidays can bring illness due to stress. Here is a fragrant, soothing, and healthy broth for whatever ails you. This recipe can be doubled or tripled easily
1 cup chicken broth
¼ inch slice of fresh Ginger Root (peel can be left on)
1/8 cup fresh cilantro (whatever you do - do not use dried!)
1 lemon or lime juice, zested, and juiced (divide juice)

Place broth, ginger, Cilantro, zest and half of the juice in pot, cover and bring to simmer for 10 minutes. Strain, add remaining juice and drink while hot (don't burn yourself!). The heat of the broth is one of the helpful elements to making it work well for you. If you want to make some to keep refrigerated and then microwave it later by the cup, reserve the rest of the juice (or squeeze some fresh as needed), and add after re-heating (a lot of the vitamin c is lost in heat - that is the reason for adding the reserved juice just before drinking).

FOR A SOUP, cook noodles in a separate pot - add carrots to the same cooking water, cook until desired done-ness, drain and set aside. If you are feeling creative, slices of carrots can be cut to resemble flowers - pretty effect in the soup. Have herb flowers and finely chopped fresh scallions for garnish ready.

After making the broth, strain, add rest of juice. Divide noodles and carrots into soup bowls, top with broth, and float herb flowers if desired.

RECIPE TIP: Use chicken, turkey or vegetable broth to cook most everything: potatoes, vegetables, rice, noodles, even oatmeal for a lunch or dinner side dish.

Have a great day!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Nutrient Density--A Simple Way To Compare Foods

Dear Folks,

Do you know what nutrient density is? Do your eyes glaze over when trying to figure it out? I have a simple formula for you to use when shopping for prepared/manufactured foods like bread, milk, yogurt, pasta etc. This is going to be a long blog, folks, but I think you will find it worthwhile.

Personally, I wanted to lose some weight a while back and while I prepare many of our meals fresh and from scratch, and I have made my own pasta, I wanted to figure out a quick-shopping way to assess the nutrient density of processed and manufactured foods.

Two ‘events' got me comparing labels even more than I had before (I was always a label reader for specific elements or chemicals I wanted to watch for).

One was the big low-carb craze and the second was the introduction of Barilla pasta's "Plus" brand — a pasta made with a combination of flours creating a much higher than average protein and fiber density.

Out of an abundance of curiosity when the grocery stores started displaying a low-carb area some time back, I spent about 25 minutes comparing several food items (like crackers) in both the ‘normal' aisle and the low-carb display — I found, not completely to-my-surprise, that the difference between two cracker types (usually manufactured by the same company --one labeled low-carb, and the other their standard brand), was insignificant, a couple of grams of carbs difference, and a calorie difference of maybe 20 per serving.

So much for making a food better, huh? The manufacturers respond to consumer requests by giving them exactly what they ask for — so you need to be specific if you are asking a corporation for something.

The Barilla Plus pasta product turned out to be better than a great deal. I had tried whole wheat pastas and was not delighted with their flavor (the pasta I make from scratch is egg rich and great tasting-but takes a while). My cousin suggested I try this new pasta and I was really pleased with the flavor and even more with the nutrient density. By combining grain and legume flours Barilla created a version of vegetarian-food-combining criteria to make a more complete protein base for this pasta. The result is a very high nutrient density, even when served with no meat or extra cheese (although pasta just screams for more cheese on the sauce).

So here is My Personal Nutrient Density Formula, followed by some foods for illustration (and a really tasty recipe):

Take the total grams of protein and fiber (not just soluble) and add them together and divide them into the total number of calories and you get a ‘factor' - that factor should be 20 or less for best to greater nutrient density — the lower the factor, the greater the nutrient density.

Example Kashi Golean Crunch cereal has 9 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber which equals 17. The calories per serving is 190 — dividing the 17 into 190 equals 11 -- a superior nutrient density.

So why don't I take into consideration the vitamins and minerals? Because I figured if the nutrient density — resulting from protein and fiber -- is superior the vitamins and minerals are present in good to great levels ‘naturally' and if you add enough fresh fruits and vegetables to your meals, you are getting what you need. Also grain and vegetable sources of protein are not complete unless combined (legume and grain) except for soy beans and quinoa which are complete proteins by themselves. Having milk with your cereal in the morning makes all the combined protein useable by the body.

A point about nutrient density of grains - check out rice and corn (corn flakes), two of our most popular grains. Wheat is more nutrient dense overall as long as it is wholewheat or a combination of grains to manufacture the cereal or bread. A corn tortilla by comparison is less nutrient dense than the flour tortilla (check those out at the grocery store for yourself). Oatmeal is on a par with whole wheat. The item you need to watch when choosing whole grain breads, for example, is the addition of any sweeteners to enhance the flavor — a store generic version of 12 grain bread was far less nutrient dense because of the addition of a lot of extra sweetener.

Labels show both gram weight and pound weight for serving sizes usually around 2 ounces or 56 grams, for non-meat foods.

Why take the manufacturers serving sizes? Because by and large they are an okay serving suggestion - much better than the average consumer's dinner plate size idea of a meal component, because you are supposed to eat a variety of foods at a meal to have a balanced intake of healthful foods for optimal health.

So here are some examples of foods we eat on a fairly regular basis with highest nutrient density to lowest. Try the formula yourself . Good fats such as nuts and olive oil are going to have a higher factor, but need to be in the diet to make most of the nutrients you consume actually usable by the body.

About treats and desserts — well most of the time they are going to be way over the formula scale, but try to keep it at something less than a factor of 40 or not eaten too often).

Chunk Light Tuna
in Water Protein 13 Fiber 0 = 13 Calories 60 = Factor 5
Canned Pumpkin Protein 2 Fiber 5 = 7 Calories 40 = Factor 6
Green Soybeans-Frozen
(Edamame) Protein 10 Fiber 4 = 14 Calories 120 = Factor 9
Garbonzo Beans
(canned) Protein 7 Fiber 6 = 13 Calories 110 = Factor 9
Shamrock Cottage
Cheese (regular) Protein 13 Fiber 0 = 13 Calories 110 = Factor 9
Canned Chicken Broth Protein 1 Fiber 0 = 1 Calories 10 = Factor 10
Kashi Golean
Crunch Cereal Protein 9 Fiber 8 = Calories 190 = Factor 11
Shredded Wheat Protein 5 Fiber 6 = 11 Calories 160 = Factor 15
Barilla Plus Pasta Protein 10 Fiber 4 = 14 Calories 210 = Factor 15
Cheerios Protein 3 Fiber 3 = 6 Calories 100 = Factor 17
Roast Beef Hash Protein 21 Fiber 2 = 23 Calories 390 = Factor 17
Old Fashioned Oats Protein 5 Fiber 4 = 9 Calories 150 = Factor 17
Mountain High
Original Yogurt-Plain Protein 11 Fiber 0 = 11 Calories 180 = Factor 17
12 Grain Bread Protein 4 Fiber 2 = 6 Calories 100 = Factor 17
Whole Milk Protein 8 Fiber 0 = 8 Calories 150 = Factor 19
Triscuit Crackers
Fire Roasted
Tomato and Olive Oil Protein 3 Fiber 3 = 6 Calories 120 = Factor 20
Pitted Dried Prunes Protein 1 Fiber 3 = 4 Calories 100 = Factor 25
Walnuts Protein 5 Fiber 2 = 7 Calories 200 = Factor 29
Corn Flakes Protein 2 Fiber 1 = 3 Calories 100 = Factor 34
Brown Rice Protein 3 Fiber 1 = 4 Calories 150 = Factor 38
60% Dark Choc Chips Protein 1 Fiber 1 = 2 Calories 80 = Factor 40
Kroger Ginger Snaps Protein 2 Fiber 1 = 3 Calories 120 = Factor 40
Saltine Crackers Protein 1 Fiber 0 = 1 Calories 60 = Factor 60

You can see that a good old tuna fish sandwich (with only enough mayo to bind) will have a very high nutrient density to calorie intake and if you add tasty options such as chopped apple and celery, some walnuts and a bit of fresh mint or basil, it becomes a whole meal good enough for any member of the family.

How about all the discussions about oatmeal? Look at the nutrient density of oats as compared to rice! Oatmeal is underutilized as a savory component of lunches and dinners. See my recipe I developed to highlight this grain for a hearty side dish.

One of the surprises when I set out to compare manufactured foods was saltines. I have always enjoyed crackers with my cheese and apple. At only 60 calories per serving saltines seemed like a light weight snack option — but there is no nutrient value comparatively speaking. While a serving of Triscuits is twice the calories per serving, the nutrient density along with the cheese and apple, affords a satisfying light lunch. (2 ounces of cheese is about 200 calories, and with an apple and crackers is both satisfying and light enough for an on-the-go-meal.)

Folks, I hope this information is helpful for you in choosing the best use of your food dollars. Nutrient dense also means best dollar value. The empty calories, as the nutrition experts like to say, is like throwing your money away.

And don't forget the economic benefits of growing some of your own edibles.

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

And finally, check out the link at the top right column for a way to save money on the gardening and cook books!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Yes, We Have Some Bananas!

Dear Folks,

Well 13 days after we first noticed the flower bud on our banana, we have bananas!

About every 1-2 days as a petal peels back a new "hand" of banana fingers is revealed. The funny looking things on the end of each banana is a type of flower. Now we have to hope that either it won't frost back, I can keep it protected if it does frost, or if we have to cut if off really green (most commercial bananas are harvested green and allowed to ripen in a dark place), that they will ripen for us. Will keep you posted on the progress. Happy fall gardening!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Saturday, November 01, 2008

It is Going To Be 91 Today--First Frost Alert!

Dear Folks,

No I have not lost my marbles -- we are about to go into one of our seasonal adjustment 'zones' where the temps move suddenly (over about 14 days give or take) 15-20 degrees up or down. Since it is Fall - it will be down. By about November 10th, we will see overnight temp forecasts of 40 degrees. That is when you NEED to start paying attention to the possibility of 'soft frost' before dawn in many areas of the Valley of the Sun.

Traditional first frost in the valley is November 17th -- or there-abouts -- and will be colder sooner for every 1000 feet about the valley mean elevation of 1,000 feet above sea-level. That means folks at the 1700 and above elevation may see frost around November 7th, or there-abouts.

What is happening? As part of my on-going research into how best to garden successfully in the valley, I found by tracking temperatures at night (as well as during the day), that in our cool seasons, most residential areas have 'heat sinks' in the form of building walls, fences, poured patios, sheds and garages. What happens is these areas absorb heat during the day and release it at night -- all to the benefit (during cold times) of your plants. However, all that heat dissipates between about 4:30 a.m. and dawn, so that an evening temperature of around 40 at 11 p.m. the previous night can mean a 32 or less temperature by sunrise the next morning.

So I recommend folks cover frost sensitive plants with cloth, sheets, blankets, newspaper when the night temperature forecast is 40 or lower. No plastic -- it transmits the cold to the plants by contact.

Frost sensitive plants include young citrus trees, particularly limes and lemons, but also include those tender perennials you want to help winter over for next spring: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil are some of the top much-loved edibles. They do not give you anything during the winter, and may look bedraggled, but their larger root system gives you a head-start on production when the soil starts warming up in March.

Enjoy the fall while you enjoy your garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Yes, We Have No Bananas - Yet!

Dear Folks,

Pictured to the right here is the beginning flower bud of my "Blue Java" banana plant, aka "Ice Cream Banana" (it is the burgundy/reddish growth in the left of the picture). The fruit is supposed to have a blue/silver ting to the skin which is the basis for the name "Blue Java."

Did you know you can cook with both the flowers and the leaves, in addition to the edible fruit? During the heavy growing season, my banana put out a new leaf about every 8 days (and once the plant is a good size the leaves are about 3 and a half to 4 feet long -- not including the stem!) and I have used the leaves to steam fish or chicken in (gives the food a great fruity flavor). I found recipes a while back on the internet for cooking with the flowers.

This is the first time I've gotten a flower and we are so excited about the possibility of harvesting our own bananas I was just about jumping up and down when Deane pointed out the flower bud.

Some years ago I had read about the ice cream banana which is supposed to taste like vanilla ice cream and is a dwarf member of the edible Musa (there are some strictly ornamental types) growing to about 12-15 feet tall, and kept my eyes opened for a plant. As with my experience with my lovely variegated (Pink) lemon tree, I just happened across it one day at a Home Depot store, knew what it was and grabbed it up. For about 2 years I did not get it out of its pot, as I did not have the best location in mind for it. It grew baby plants, but no flowers/fruit.

Then last year when I downsized the gardens, we planted one plant in a spot left bare by the removal of an aged peach tree. From July to October 2007 the tree grew 5+ feet (that is the first picture in the collage below).

From October of last year (2007) to today, the tree went through a severe frost, re-growth, to a height of approximately 12 feet right now and then we spotted to flower bud - yippeeee!

So what is there about growing bananas in the desert? Bananas are a type of grass (Monocot plant families) and tropical in origin, and will not take killing frosts (where the ground freezes in addition to above-ground growth). It is considered 'cold tolerant' which translates into USDA Zone 8 and above (Sunset Zone 12+), so a little damage to the leaves during our winters does not kill the main plant, damaging the leaves. Wind also damages the leaves of bananas which will give it a disreputable appearance, but for my time, it is worth some appearance issues to have home-grown bananas.

When I learned about the ice cream banana, and with my sweetie Deane being an ice cream junkie (in addition to a chocoholic) I figured if I was going to try and grow bananas, it would have to be one that tasted like ice cream.

I also planted another smaller plant in a separate location in the garden, more sheltered from the wind. The plant in flower right now also has some baby offsets, which will continue to grow after the main plant dies back (following flower and fruit production).

So we will see what happens. I will keep you posted on how the plant and possible harvesting goes.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thrillin' Grillin' at the Arboretum

Howdy Folks,

Once or twice a year I do a food demo at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in conjunction with their annual Fall or Spring plant sale. Today's demo recipes are below. (The demo is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.). Click on the title of this post to go to the Arboretum site.

I do some foods cooked directly on the grill and prepare some side dishes ahead of time to go with them. The whole point is to illustrate how to prepare foods without salt or fats being the main focus of flavor.

In today's menu I have decided to highlight rosemary, along with garlic, black pepper (I'm using one of my own blends "RosemaryPlus" but you can put your own version together) and an herb jelly for marinating. I usually do one or more side dishes with tofu or green soy beans (edamame) because so many folks either have never tried them, don't know how to cook with them, or think they taste awful. I've 'converted' many to the wonderful ways with tofu (its blessing and its curse is its blandness), and introduced many to the nice nuttiness of green soy beans (the immature soy bean). Since this food is one of only two (known to this point) complete protein from plant sources (the other one is quinoa), its all around nutrient density, plus fiber is something everyone should add once or twice a week to their meal planning.

This summer I got to experiment with making herb jellies using one of my favorite convenience foods -- frozen juice concentrate (remember only get the 100% no-sugar-added varieties -- see my post Sodas and Sorbets), and I was pleased with how they turned out. If you have ever glazed a chicken or turkey with fruit preserves, or made a ham with pineapple slices then using an herb jelly as a marinade is the same concept.

The sugars carmelize the meat, and add a sweet/savory note to it.

If I don't see you today, enjoy experimenting on your own.

Marinated Chicken Thighs
Kiwi/Strawberry/Lavender Jelly and a little Olive Oil for marinade
Cranberry/Raspberry/Rosemary Jelly and a little Olive Oil for marinade

1 to 1 a half pounds of skinless, boneless chicken thighs
half a cup of herb jelly
1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil

Gently warm the jelly to liquify. Place rinsed chicken thighs in a ziplock bag or glass container. Add olive oil to jelly, pour over chicken, seal bag and gently mush the chicken with the marinade. Let rest in refrigerator for 4 hours before grilling. Grill approximately 20 minutes, turning first about 5 minutes, and then turning every 4-5 minutes or so for even browning. Serve and enjoy.

Tofu Salad
Substituting tofu for tuna** in a blend of ingredients gives you a tasty and satisfying sandwich 'salad' that can be served in a pita pocket or a hollowed tomato, avocado, or with crackers.
14 oz. firm tofu, drained and diced fine
half to one small apple diced, and acidified* (I like gala apples for this)
1/3 cup+ diced celery (use the inner stalks and leaves)
1/3 cup of ground walnuts
1 tablespoon drained capers or green olives, minced
2 teaspoons of RosemaryPlus
pinch of salt (tofu needs a little salt because of its blandness)
Enough mayonnaise (or soy mayo for Vegans) to bind together (I prefer real mayo, but the soy mayo works okay - a little sweet for my taste).
Most tofu comes in a sealed tray with water, cut the plastic cover cleanly off, but don't discard, drain container water, put the plastic back on (or replace with plastic wrap) and weigh down with a large can (28 oz type of tomatoes or fruit) for about 15 minutes. The weight presses more moisture out of the tofu, leaving it firmer and drier. Dice tofu into small (1/4 inch) dice.
Toss tofu with RosemaryPlus and salt and allow to sit for 15-20 minutes to enhance flavor. Add remainder of ingredients, mix well with out mashing. Serve and enjoy.
*Placing diced apple in lemon water keeps the apple from turning brown.
**replace tofu with two 6 ounce cans of water-packed tuna, drained. No additional salt is needed.

Bean and Potato Salad
I have a faster way for potato salad when I do not have a lot of time to boil, cut etc. I use frozen diced potatoes (Potatoes O'Brien will also work and sometimes the diced are sold as "Southwest style hash browns"). The addition of green soy beans (or one-inch cut green beans) adds color, and crunch. The lemon juice brings out the real flavor of the potatoes, and rosemary is a super herb with potatoes.
2 lbs frozen diced potatoes
1 lb frozen shelled green soy beans (Edamame)
half a red bell pepper, diced
half a yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon of RosemaryPlus
1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
Olive oil (approximately 1/2 cup)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Gently squeeze frozen potatoes in bag to break up — do the same with the frozen soy beans.
Place potatoes in a pot of cold salted water and bring to a boil. They will be done just about when the water comes to a full boil — about 10 minutes, don't over cook, drain and put back into the hot pot to ‘dry out a little'
Meanwhile bring another pot of salted water to a boil. Pour in soy beans, stir, set the timer for 6 minutes, bring back to a boil and remove from heat once it reaches a low boil. Cover and let sit until the timer goes off. Drain.
As soon as both the beans and potatoes are done sprinkle with seasoning, toss gently. Add olive oil toss as you go (the starch in the potatoes soaks up a lot of oil). Sprinkle with lemon juice, add peppers and toss to mix. Taste for S&P and adjust.

Send this to family and friends and suggest they subscribe to the blog. Have a great day!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, October 06, 2008

Plant Garlic Now and Harvest Great Flavor In The Spring!

Dear Folks,

While places like Gilroy, California and even our own Verde Valley area of Arizona produce lots of garlic, most of the garlic you purchase in the supermarket is from China or other areas of Asia. Why not grow your own? And, become a locavore in your neighborhood. All the information below pertains to 'hardneck' variety garlic, the most common kind found in stores.

For several years I have been planting and harvesting ‘green garlic' aka garlic scallions. It is simple, something anyone can do, and you are able to plant successively for a continuous harvest from fall through early summer. More on the green garlic below. Last fall, however, I really wanted to try growing the garlic to bulb or "head" stage for harvesting my own.

Green Garlic vs. Bulb Garlic.

Both types of garden growing are begun the same way. Beginning October 1st and through about November 15th you can plant garlic cloves for either green garlic or bulb garlic. You break open a bulb/head of garlic separating the individual cloves. Do not peel them. (Purchase garlic at the grocery or order from a supplier I like Ronnigers.)

Plant 2 inches deep, flat side down, in rows or alternate zig-zag spacing approximately 4-6 inches apart, in rich, well-draining soil in full sun or an area where they will get plenty of sunlight — at least 6-8 hours a day.

Water regularly, but do not over-water, and keep the bed weed-free. For green garlic, plant however many cloves you might use in a week or two, every couple of weeks successively. When the tops are 8+ inches high and you can feel that the clove has swollen a bit, it is time to harvest and enjoy. Use the whole clove and top as you would a scallion for a milder garlic flavor than the dried clove. Delicious!

Now for growing the full bulb/head garlic you will not be harvesting until spring because the plant needs to entire cold time of the winter months to form the full bulb Here is what you are seeing and looking for.

Along around late March or into the middle of April (depending on weather) you will see a flower stalk rise out of the center of the leaves — the garlic growth begins with the originally planted clove producing baby cloves attached to and surrounding the original clove, and out of each new baby clove rises a single garlic leaf - grass like.

The flower stalk, called a ‘scape,' curls as it grows with an immature flower ‘bulb' near the top ending in a point. The curling of the scape stalk is interesting to see. When the flower portion of the stalk is just about even with or just a tiny bit taller than the leaves, you need to cut it off near the base of the stalk — and eat it! Yes, the scape is fully edible like the green garlic and is considered a gourmet delicacy.

The purpose, though, for cutting the scape off is the encourage the final bulb to be a tight circle of cloves.

You will now look for the first few leaves (not all of them) of each plant to begin to yellow. It is now time to harvest your brand new garlic bulb.

Gently dig up, softly brush off as much of the dirt as you can without damaging the ‘wrappers' on the garlic. If you need to you can rise them off to get the rest of the dirt off.

You are not ready yet to use the garlic, it must be air dried completely for storage.

In the valley our nice dry spring air is perfect for this. Hang in the shade (a little sun won't hurt it) on the patio, in a shed or garage where there is no chance of it getting rained on, and has excellent air circulation. You can also lay them out on drying screens. You can braid several together for one of those fancy garlic braids (they need to be fresh for braiding). It may take a couple of weeks for it to be dry enough for use and storage.

After it is dried you can cut the roots and stems off. If you made a nice braid you can just hang that in your kitchen for handy access to a bulb when you need one.

If you can store garlic at 55 degrees and it will keep for a very long time without sprouting. If you don't have that cold of a shed or like structure, they can be stored in the crisper of your refrigerator — in cardboard — not touching any other foods. For use remove only as much as you will be needing within a week or two, or the cloves will start sprouting in the warmer kitchen air.

One last thing — save one or more of the heads and store in the crisper (as noted above) until planting time next fall and repeat your garlic growing cycle of flavor!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Aphids Are Coming, The Aphids Are Coming!

Tis' the season to enjoy cooler nights, cooling daytime temperatures, to plant the cool loving vegetables and herbs -- and to fight off the dang aphids! (See picture below to left of 'green' variety aphid clustered on stem)

As we start enjoying the nicer weather here in our Valley gardens the bugs start enjoying it too. The butterflies and moths are looking for places to lay the last eggs of the season (not a bad thing — it is worth putting up with a little larvae/caterpillar damage to have these beautiful pollinators around) — but the darn aphids are another story.

Whether live bearing or egg bearing the damage aphids can inflict on our gardens is amazing. Overnight, almost, live bearing (they are grayish in color) aphids can kill off any member of the cabbage family and they love dill and fennel. I'm not kidding — I have seen the aphids destroy a large dill plant in as little as 3 days.

In companion planting jargon Dill and fennel are called a "trap" plant, due to the fact the aphids will go to it first. Monitor your gardens regularly, hose off aphids at the first sign. Unlike egg bearing aphids the rapidity with which these dang live-baring pests can proliferate is astonishing.

White flies are a form of aphid, far more difficult to control and the best way is to hard-hose plants off a couple times a week, in the evening or twilight.

While the soap sprays are very effective and I highly recommend them, if you hit beneficial insects the spray will kill them too.

The year I was diligent about pouring a little soapy water right down the center stalk of my kale and dill, once a week, I had no problem with aphids and enjoyed the kale and dill instead of the aphids having a feast.

Some of the beneficial insects are (many insects are predators of aphids):
Assassin Bugs — juvenile and adult (middle picture of juvenile going after aphids
Praying Mantis (above right - one of best known garden good-guys)
Lace wings — juvenile and adult (not pictured)

Soapy Water:
Place a quarter teaspoon of original dawn dish detergent into a gallon jug - add some water, shake, let the suds settle down a bit and slowly fill up the jug the rest of the way with water. In the evening, turn the jug upside down once to make sure it is still mixed, and pour about ½ cup right down the center stalk of the plant, so that the water gets into the base of the stalk and bottom leaves — that is where the aphids usually start their work. Do this once a week, or every 5 days if you initially see a lot of aphid activity.

Soap Spray:
To 1 quart of water add one teaspoon each of dawn and any edible vegetable oil — I keep old olive oil, which is no longer good for cooking, for these sprays. Put in a spray bottle and make sure you shake-spray, shake-spray to keep the mixture homogenized while spraying. Get the underside of the leaves of the plant, stalks, and basal leaves. Do this once every 5 days for a total of 3 times. Watch for further infestations, and spray accordingly. Doing the spraying in the twilight or the evening prevents sunburn from the oil in the spray. The 5 days repetition interrupts the pests' life cycle.

When harvesting for the dinner table, just rinse off any residue spray, or soapy water — and enjoy your undamaged garden edibles!

Want to learn more about the bugs in the garden? It is a great learning opportunity for the children too! Also a note of caution — a bug that preys on other bugs is a carnivore — which means they can bite you. While many are not know to readily bite when gently handled — like praying mantis, the assassin bugs will and do bite.

Visit what's that an amazing site begun by a couple of professors which has turned into THE source for families to learn about bugs.

Consider getting a great book on insects: The Kaufman Field Guide to the Insects of North America is a great one — it is a little more technical than some other books, but their inclusions are massive with pages of similar insects to allow you to better ID the critter you found on the back the rose bush. Amazon link in our sidebar.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Friday, September 19, 2008

Homemade Sodas, Sorbets and What About Sweeteners

Getting the kids off (or never starting them on) commercials sodas and sweets can be a challenge. Here are two simple ideas using concentrated frozen fruit juices — the ones with no sugar added, just the natural sweetness of the fruit. If, for instance, your son likes orange soda and your daughter likes berries, orange juice concentrate or kiwi/strawberry concentrate can make great tasting sodas in which you control the contents. See my discussion on natural sweeteners vs. unnatural or unhealthy ones below.

1 part juice concentrate, thawed but chilled
3 parts chilled sparkling water, seltzer or club soda of choice (club soda has added sodium)
Optional berries
Berries can be added for fun, a couple of blueberries for instance can bounce around in the bubbles.
Mix 1/4 cup concentrate and 3/4 cup of sparkling water in a tall glass, add ice, berries and a straw.
For adults you can infuse or add herbs like spearmint, basil or cilantro to make cocktail mixers.

Fruit and herb combinations:
Berries (all) — basil, rosemary, thyme or lavender
Orange — rosemary, thyme or savory

If using a ice cream mixer be sure to have the tumbler frozen ahead of time or whatever the manufacturer's recommendations are. Frozen juices taste less sweet than when drunk as a beverage. The sugar/honey addition should be done to taste. Hint: try 1/4 cup of sugar or honey to 3 cups reconstituted juice. It is fun to experiment with different juices, cut up fruit, and different natural sweeteners.

6 ounces juice concentrate
18 ounces cold water
Optional sweetener of choice*
Optional half cup minced fruit (cutting the fruit in small bits makes it easier for the machine to do its mixing/freezing)

Sweetener must be fully dissolved in liquid - bring 4 ounces of the water to just a high simmer, remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, or 3 tablespoons honey or agave nectar, or 2 tablespoons of molasses, stir to completely dissolve. Cool slightly then add to rest of water, stir, add juice and chill.

Mix juice concentrate and water, stir to combine well and chill.

If using an ice cream maker, start mixer and slowly pour in the liquid, wait about 5 minutes to let the freezing get going well, then add fruit. These makers do not freeze the mix solid, 3 cups of liquid will make 4 cups of sorbet. Remove, pack into a 32 ounce container, cover and freeze.

If no ice cream maker, pour liquid in a pan big enough to keep the liquid at a depth of no more than 1 inch. Freeze for 2 hours, remove and scrap lightly with a fork to break up crystals. Re-freeze for 1 hour, repeat scrap and add fruit. Continue to re-freeze, and scrap every hour until the sorbet resembles shaved ice. Remove and place loosely in covered container and freeze.

When serving allow to sit at room temperature about 10 minutes to soften. Serve with more fruit if desired. A fun option is sorbet sparklers (photo). Place a generous scoop of sorbet in pretty clear glass, like a wine goblet. Top with sparkling apple cider or sparkling water (Adults can use a sparkling wine.)


FIRST No High-Fructose Corn Syrup. The studies are showing not only problems with the way our bodies deal with HFCS (links to childhood obesity and early onset diabetes), but also what appears to be an addictive factor. See "Why No HFCS" below.

Karo Syrup — the one grandmom and mom have used since 1902 for baking has different ingredients depending on which version you are using. Karo Dark does not contain HFCS. Karo Light does. Karo "Lite" has no HFCS but has splenda (sucralose). I suggested to their customer care person they find a replacement for sucralose and I would be happy to use the "lite" version for light uses.

Sugar, honey, agave nectar, molasses, stevia are all traditional, old and mostly natural sweetening agents (even honey is technically manufactured by the bees).

Stevia and agave nectar are considered safe for most diabetics (be sure to check with your doctor). Agave nectar is used in the same proportions as honey (3/4 volume of cane sugar). Stevia (used as a fresh or dry leaf - not powder or liquid), can be infused as one would make tea steeping to the desired strength and strained out if you like. Start with approximately 2 tablespoons dried leaf replacing 1 cup of sugar. Steep for 20 minutes in hot liquid, taste and if needed steep 5-10 minutes longer. Stevia leaf is so naturally sweet that when used only in water — as making the sweet liquid above, it can be reused one more time to make tea or sweeten other beverages.

Every time I read how the ‘new' products (meant to control ‘a problem') are now showing to be biochemically worse (look at the literature about margarine vs. butter) I can't help but go back to the old ways. Certainly not every old way is a better way, but I would rather use real sugar, honey, etc. and real butter or olive oil than the chemically-created alternatives.

One of the reasons I became so passionate about herbs and spices was the idea of bringing out the real flavor of food before adding all the salt and fat generations since WWII got into because they were eating more and more manufactured food instead of what is referred to as "scratch' cooking. Herbs and spices ‘lift' the food taste and satisfaction by enhancing the natural flavor. Rosemary for instance brings out the best taste in any starchy food like rice, pasta or potatoes.

One of the taste sensors of our tongue is sweet. It was put there for a reason! And sweeteners have their long-respected places in our diets. They give us a satisfaction which, before humans figured out how bake, they could only get from fruits and raiding bee hives.

As with all food choices, we have a responsibility to use wisdom with not only our own eating habits but also any children over whom we have a responsibility to care for. As Barbara Kingsolver commented in her book Animal, Vegetable Miracle — what is being accomplished by "picking up junk food on the way to the soccer game?"

Oh, just in case you are thinking About Splenda? In a lawsuit against the manufacturer of Splenda, "the Sugar Association claims that sucralose, the sweetening ingredient in Splenda, is a man-made chlorocarbon and that a complex process is required to first convert sucrose (sugar) into a number of different intermediary chemicals before using "phosgene gas - a deadly weapon used during World War II - as the chlorinating agent to yield sucralose." Trial is set for January 6, 2009

A recent commercial from the manufactures association of HFCS' is obviously trying to dispel fears, but I thought it was interesting that the very quiet final comment was ‘in moderation' by the actress.

Soda and food manufactures moved to HFCS because it was cheaper. I think it is also interesting that Coke's plants in Mexico use good old fashioned cane sugar as a sweetener because our southern neighbors do not like the taste of the HFCS. Remember when the Coke folks got such flack when they first introduced the ‘new' and improved version of Coke back in the 80s with the new sweetener, they had to bring back the "classic?" They just waited until folks got used to the taste of the ‘new' stuff and apparently quietly took the classic off the market.

The site for processors of HFCS has this statistic: "According to the USDA, high fructose corn syrup accounts for roughly 41% of all caloric (nutritive) sweeteners consumed in the U.S." —

Well that's no surprise is it? According to the Center For Disease and Control: "two NHANES surveys (1976–1980 and 2003–2004) show that the prevalence of overweight is increasing: for children aged 2–5 years, prevalence increased from 5.0% to 13.9%; for those aged 6–11 years, prevalence increased from 6.5% to 18.8%; and for those aged 12–19 years, prevalence increased from 5.0% to 17.4%"

And as a general population increase: "In 2007, only one state (Colorado) had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%; three of these states (Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30%." —

Moderation? Who are they kidding? The HFCS producers have been so successful at selling the cheapness of their product that more and more food processors are hopping on the HFCS band-wagon. How do you moderate something which is now gradually replacing other sugars in manufactured products to the extent that pretty soon you will not have an option?

"According to a commentary in the April 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, between 1970 and 1990, the consumption of HFCS increased over 1,000 percent." — and because HFCS does not trigger the chemical Leptin which tells your body you are full, it easy much easier to overeat. —
Other references:
High-fructose corn syrup's dangers:
-- LS Gross, Amer J Clin Nutr 2004;79:774-9.
-- Bray, George A. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79:537-43

I recommend that you do your own research and not just take my word for it.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Greening / Bring It Home!

When you consider ‘greening' options keep in mind family activities at home. They have more benefits than saving gas money. We do not need research studies (although they exist) to show the many advantages to having family night / activity days at home.

Aside from the many garden and cooking projects families can work on together, activities can include educational tools which are also fun, particularly for the younger members of the family.


Jodi Freeman, author of several books for children, developed coloring books to teach about the native peoples of the Southwest. "My Coloring Book About The Old Ones" is both an activity book and a learning tool. Included are pages for the children to draw their own interpretations of ideas. Available in print or download click here. For those home schooling - the benefit of having the coloring book as a download is that each child can have their own copy.

Susan Lovejoys delightful book "Sunflower Houses" is a gardening-with-children treasure, sure to bring the child out in all. Click here for more info on the book.

Board and Card Games: So many of us grew up playing board and card games with friends and/or family, and it seems like while they are still enjoyed by some, maybe exploring some of the great oldies would get some easy fun back into the family home activity selection options. I see board and card games as an opportunity to teach healthy sportsman-like competition as opposed to the ‘take-no-prisoners' variety which field sports can sometimes teach. I put together some of my favorites in an Amazon sidebar link and chose those that have the free-shipping option if you spend $25 - save gas and shipping too!

Old Time Radio Programs. If you think the children and teenagers in your home might not be interested in the old shows, just consider how much time and energy they put into their MP3 and other audio players. Among the many, many options for program options are comedy (wholesome - there is a word you don't see a lot), musical, drama, detective, and holiday themes.

A super and inexpensive source is Old Time Radio Cat. With the holidays coming up, a start for you is the central holiday page for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas click here.

From there you can view the other categories in their sidebar. I am particularly fond of the old detective shows like Johnny Dollar, Nero Wolfe and Texas Rangers, but the old comedy of Fibber Maggie and Molly, Bob Hope and Jack Benny will never go out of style. If you are getting meals ready during holiday time, decorating the house, or enjoying some family time, how about a nice radio program to keep you company? As an aside many of the commercials are still in the programs — both historically interesting and occasionally de ja vue for current events.

And finally my friend Brenda Hyde has the greatest family-centered website. Everything from crafts, to recipes, to tea party, gardening and just plain family fun stuff can be found there. Check out her blog links too.

Find some new or old fashioned ways to enjoy family time at your home!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady