Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Days 4, 5 & 6 of 25 Days of December Herbal Celebrations!

Dear Folks,

Continuing my re-posting of 25 days celebrating herbs mentioned in the bible, here are days 4, 5 & 6 featuring:

Cassia, Chamomile and Chicory

Day 4
Herb:  Cassia (Cinnamomum iners
) Exodus 30, Psalm 45:8, Job 42:14

Like True Cinnamon (Day 3 Cinnamon zeylanicum), Cassia is mentioned in the bible for its perfume and scenting properties in anointing oil, and was traded in commerce.  Job named his second daughter after the herb (Keziah, Job 42:15  Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job's daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.)  We can believe that he must have thought them very special to name one after a valuable trading spice and to grant them an inheritance.

(Image: source: Naturalis Biodiversity Center/Wikimedia Commons)


Make cinnamon sugar for dusting pancakes, waffles, oatmeal or the top of whipped cream desserts.  I keep a shaker jar of cinnamon sugar in the pantry right next to the salt and pepper.

To make a large amount, combine:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Store in glass away from light and moisture.

A small shaker jar holds quite a bit less.  So adjusting for the size of your shaker, 1 part cinnamon to 4 parts sugar,  = 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to 4 teaspoons of sugar.  Add several grains of rice to the shaker to keep the mix from clumping if moisture gets in.

Read More Here:

Day 5
Herb:  Chamomile
-- Isaiah 40:6   "All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field"

Chamaemelum nobile, is the herb most known for its calming and sleep aid properties. Perhaps no other herb is quite as useful as Chamomile to take the edge off some the frensy which accompanies holiday preparations (except maybe Lavender - Day 12)

CHAMOMILE OR CAMOMILE...anyway you wish to spell it,
this herb is worth finding and keeping near by.
By: Catherine, The Herb Lady, Originally published in the East Valley Tribune December 27, 2003
       It is said of Chamomile "May all your wishes come true" (in the language of herbs and flowers-Flora's Dictionary by Kathleen Gips), and that would be appropriate for this hectic but happy season of the year.
       So sit down with a relaxing cup of chamomile tea, put your feet up and I will tell you about this simple herb.
       There are actually a couple of species of Chamomile (the usual American spelling); German Chamomile, matricaria recutita (aka M. chamomilla); annual used in teas and cosmetics; Roman Chamomile, chamaemelum nobile (aka Anthemis nobilis), perennial used in teas, cosmetics and lawns; English Chamomile, chamaemelum nobile 'Treneague' is a perennial non-flowering variety of the Roman species used in the popular "chamomile lawn" of England; and a dyer's herb (yellow coloring) Golden Marguerite, dyers's chamomile, (Anthemis tinctoria 'Kelwayi').
       The tea you are drinking is most likely the Roman variety which most people prefer.
       The apple scented daisy-like flowers and leaves are a calmative (meaning calming) agent, used for insomnia, nerves, as a digestive aid, and there is some research going on into its anti-inflammatory properties.  Teas are generally made from the flowers, but if you grow your own, you can use the leaves also.
       A note of caution. Chamomile is a member of the Compositae (daisy) family, and as such some people are allergic to the flower tea (if you have ever had a "morning after" type headache after sipping chamomile you may be allergic to these types of flowers). A leaf tea may not cause the reaction, although leaf alone is inferior in its actions.
       Chamomile has traditionally been used as a hair rinse for blonde or light colored hair to enhance the highlights (Rosemary does the same for brunets).

Read More Here:

Day 6
Herb:  Chicory,
(a bitter herb of the Bible) Numbers 9:11

The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Exodus 12:8 They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

Hanukkah (Dates vary each year)
The Bitter Herbs used in Hanukkah Celebrations is symbolic of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire.  Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.  See wikipedia for more history and information.

Feast of St. Nicholas called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century Christian Saint and Greek Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (modern-day Demre, Turkey). -- Wikipedia

Read More Here:

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-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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eBundle Coming In January!

Dear Folks,

Do you know what an eBundle is?  I did not until I was asked to participate with one of my writings in a ...

Back 2 Basics eBundle.

This eBundle of author works on a variety of sustainable-focused books etc. will be available, for sale, 1 week only during "Bundle Week" - scheduled January 17 - January 22, 2017.  The buyer has the entire rest of 2017 to download their purchased eBundle.

What is an eBundle?

"A collection of over 60 eBooks, memberships and courses at over 90% off, to help you discover the value of getting back to doing things for yourself, growing your own food, living without toxins, bringing back forgotten skills, and living frugally."

All the details are still being put together, like where and how you buy your copy.  I will keep you updated as I have more information.

This is kind of an exciting new project for me to participate with a collection of authors of like-minded sustainable living ideas and goals.

---You can become an affiliate to earn some commissions from selling the bundle too!  As soon as I have the page/links for you to check out becoming an affiliate I will post the information.

You can also message me through my facebook page to be put on a 'notice' list as soon as I have the affiliate information.

My Facebook Page

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Days 1, 2 & 3 of 25 Days of December Herbal Celebrations.


Dear Folks,

Celebrating the Multicultural festivities of December, I thought I would pick an herb or spice which is referenced in the Bible (land of three of the Major Religions of the world) and used in many cuisines around the entire world, as a way of gathering together all the wealth of diversity around us - in true celebration.

A note about the herbs and spices I selected. There is agreement on some of the herbs of the Bible (garlic, onion and mint for example) and some continuing discussion on which plant the Bible referred to.  After many years there is a consensus - although still discussed by some - that the Hyssop of the Bible is Syrian Oregano (Origanum maru).  Since Hyssop (Hyssopus officionalis) is not indigenous to the lands of the Bible but Syrian Oregano is, I have included it as the Biblical plant.

I am including some of the most enjoyed songs of the Christmas and secular celebrations of the month.

A nice site for talking to and teaching your children or grandchildren, about the multicultural celebrations of December, is Education World, with this nice page.

Day 1
Herb:  Myrtle

By Catherine, The Herb Lady - originally appearing in the East Valley Tribune December, 24, 2005
      Is there a more appropriate biblical herb to contemplate for the holidays than Myrtle (Myrtus Communis) with its ancient meanings?
      Biblical references (Nehemia 8:15; Isaiah 41:19 and 55:13; Zachariah 1:8-11) speak to Myrtle as a symbol of recovery, festivals and the divine establishment of the people in the land.
      Myrtle was woven into wreaths for the winners of Olympic games; was a sacred plant of the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Roman goddess Venus; and the Myrtle-nymphs were prophetesses who taught the god Aristaeus, son of Apollo and Cyrene, how to make cheese, build beehives, and cultivate olives.
      Parts of the Myrtle have been used in tanning which also imparted scent to the leather.

Read the Entire post here:

Day 2
Herb:  Anise
     (Pimpinella anisum) in the family Apiaceae (carrot and parsley) native to the eastern Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia and shares some flavor characteristics with fennel, star anise, licorice, chervil and tarragon.

Although references to translations of the Bible speak of Anise - it is usually Dill which is referred to.  I am including it in this 25 Days posting, because the people of the Biblical lands would have known Anise through the Romans and Greeks.

Anise is used primarily in sweet foods like cookies, such as the popular German Pfeffernüsse around the holidays, it is used to flavor black jelly beans, and liquors such as Italian Sambuca and Greek Ouzo.  From Roman times (and probably earlier) the seeds were chewed for digestive relief.
     Its primary essential oil is Anethol, which is also found in other licorice tasting herbs such as fennel, tarragon and chervil. It also contains a minute amount of limonene (the lemon essential oil). Other essences account for its sweeter taste.

Read the Entire Post Here.

Day 3
Herb:  Cinnamon
Proverbs 7:17

(Cinnamomum verum) -  Ceylon Cinnamon is considered the True Cinnamon contrasted to another Biblical herb Cassia (discussed in the next post - Day 4).  It is the bark of the tree which gives all the wonderful flavor.

While the Biblical reference to Cinnamon is as a perfume (and you can find recipes for making ancient type perfumes using cinnamon, myrrh, and Frankincense) we most think of it for its excellent flavor in cooking and baking.

Taste:  True Cinnamon has a taste described as milder and sweet compared with descriptions of Cassia as strong and occasionally bitter.  Modern manufacturers opt for Cassia because of the bold taste and that fact it is cheaper than true cinnamon.

Medicinal:  The distinction is important because of the medicinal properties of True Cinnamon and toxicity of Cassia in high doses e.g., Levels of the blood-thinning agent coumarin in Ceylon cinnamon are much lower than those in cassia.  True Cinnamon is a benefit in reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels in diabetics.   It is usually recommended to add some cinnamon to the daily diet.

Read the Entire Post Here.

I hope you enjoy these posts.  I will be posting every few days with the following Days of December Herbal Celebrations.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Fall Seed Harvesting - AND, Watch For My Herb Celebration Posts Coming Up!

Dear Folks,

Time to harvest seed.  The summer plants are spent, and have "gone to seed" and are dried, meaning they are mature and viable.

I get questions from folks from time to time on when should they harvest seeds and the answer is when they are fully dried or almost dried.  That is it in a nutshell - and of course nuts are the seed of the tree. :-)

In the first picture working clockwise from the top are:  Garlic Chive Seeds, Egyptian Spinach (Corchorus olitorius, C. capsularis), and Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa).*

Some seeds like the Garlic Chives are pretty evident.  The tiny flowers begin to open and finish by folding back and revealing the black, dried seed.

Egyptian Spinach is an example of the long seed pod type plant.  The pod gradually dries and when fully or almost fully dried, the pod splits easily when you touch it.  I harvested these by hold the pod over a mason jar, pressing the pod, and the seeds freely flowed into the jar.

Roselle seed pods are a round thick skined capsule inside the swollen cranberry red calyx and you have to watch for when the seed pod starts to split at the seams.  If you harvest to soon the seeds will not be the mature, dull charcoal color.

I will package up these seeds for my use and to add to my Seed Bank Inventory.  They will be sown next March/April to give me Lettuce-Type Leaves (Egyptian Spinach and Roselle) and young garlic chives all next summer. 

I also saved the Roselle Calyx, after I shook out the seeds, to make tea and beverages this winter.  The dried Roselle looks quite different from the gorgeous glistening fresh "fruit" but the benefits are the same.  Some Vitamin C and other antioxidants are still present even dried and that nice lemony / cranberry flavor.

* In case you are not familiar with Roselle - if you have had tea which listed Hibiscus or Red Hibiscus as an ingredient, you have enjoyed the flavor and benefits of Roselle.

25 Days Celebrating Herbs of The Bible 

Worth Repeating!

Myrtle, Anise, Cinnamon, Cassia, Chamomile, Chicory, Dandelion, Sow Thistle, Horseradish, Sorrel, Coriander, Lavender, Cumin, Mint, Hyssop, Garlic, Leek, Sage, NIgella,  Laurel, Onion, Mustard, Marjoram, and Saffron.

[Pictured from my garden: Horseradish, Bay, Garlic and Syrian Oregano aka Hyssop.]

All of these herbs and spices are not only referenced in the Bible but also grown in the Biblical Lands.

Since the area is home to three of the major religions,  last year (2015) I posted a different herb each of the 25 (Advent) days of Christmas with history.  I discuss how the herb is used and some recipe ideas for you to enjoy and a craft project or two.  I also chose song links appropriate to the season.  NOTE:  all links in the posts should be good, but I apologize if any are no longer available.

To give you a heads up in case you want to prepare any of the recipe ideas, I am going to post 2 or 3 Days together every 2 or 3 days, instead of daily.  I don't want to miss a posting and I am current fielding some extra activities.

I hope you enjoy this month long Herbal Celebration!

Be sure to check out my side bar and below for gift ideas

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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Monday, November 28, 2016

My Cheese Ball Recipe - Great for a Party or a Snack!

Dear Folks,

Here is a recipe to make up for any gathering - even if it is just a nice quiet family evening.

My Cheese Ball

For a while now I've been wanting to try making a cheese ball.  I know it is simple and folks have been doing this appetizer for years but I kept balking at the Cream Cheese component most recipe ideas start out with.  I LOVE cheese and I want real cheese and real nutrition density.  Then I did some research and created this recipe last year.

Recipe can be doubled etc.

1/2 cup White Cheddar (Arizona Cheese Company makes a White Cheddar with garlic and black pepper-- available at local Farmers Markets)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons of Greek Yogurt (enough to bind well)
3+ Tablespoons of finely diced red and green bell pepper
Sprinkle of paprika
Chopped Walnuts

Blend all with a spatula, then butter your hands and shape into a ball.  Roll in nuts to cover well.  Twist in plastic wrap, and chill.  Bring out about 15 minutes before serving to allow to soften a bit for spreading.

Last year I served this as dessert with sweet potato chips, blackberries, grapes, some spiced nuts a friend gave us and a mix of chocolates and cookies.  A take off on a dessert tray of cheese, fruit and nuts.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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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

My calendar and books make great gifts for the garden and/or cook in the family.

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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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Need Gift Ideas for family and friends who garden or cook?  Check out my books and gardening calendar, your choice of sellers.

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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Friday, November 11, 2016

Homemade Sauerkraut - Lacto Fermented, No Vinegar!

Dear Folks,

I have posted about making good old fashioned fermented sauerkraut before.  Recently I was visiting with family and I don't remember the reason but I mentioned I make my own sauerkraut and I got a request to bring some Thanksgiving for the family gathering!  Well, why not!

Sauerkraut is not just for hot dogs or Polish foods (my mother's side of the family was all about Polish foods).  Use sauerkraut in any dish or recipe that calls for pickles.  The fermented product is healthy and good for you.

Fermenting (also called lacto fermentation) is just putting vegetables in a strong brine and letting the natural yeast in the air convert the raw cabbage to a nice tasty but not vinegar tangy sauerkraut.  If will keep for a very long time in the refrigerator.

Start by rinsing your cabbage (do not wash or use any cleaning solutions), pull off any damaged outer leaves.  I did something different this time and set aside 1 nice looking leaf - I will explain below.  You will need a large bowl - NOT metal.

Cut the head in half and remove the core.  You may find it works best to half the halves and begin shredding.  You can make the shredded pieces as thick or thin as you like.

For a typical head of cabbage you will need about 5 tablespoons of kosher salt.  More if you have a very large head.  You have the option of adding a tablespoon of whey from yogurt when you assemble the cabbage in the jar.  This can kick start the fermenting but is not necessary.  I use only organic yogurt.  Even with Greek yogurt you can pour off a bit of the whey for this use.

Shred sections of the cabbage, place some in a bowl and sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of salt.  Continue adding to the bowl alternating layers of cabbage, sprinkling with salt and finish with salt.  Smooth the cabbage out to make a flat surface and use a plate with a weight to press the bulk down.  Set aside for 2-5 hours.  The cabbage will weep liquid.  This is what you want to happen.

Meanwhile make up your brine.  I now keep a bottle of brine handy if I want to do small batches (I've used this same brine to pickle my caper berries), so I made a quart of brine and used about half of it for this batch.

2 teaspoons of kosher salt for each cup of hot water.   Stir well to dissolve.  The liquid will be cool enough when you are ready to jar up the cabbage for the fermenting.

Use a half gallon or larger glass container. You will also need a pint glass jar as a weight and a light cover to keep dust off.  Many people use dedicated ceramic crocks designed for pickling vegetables, but I like to watch and make sure everything is doing okay.  Sometimes, if the vegetables are not held under the liquid at all times mold may grow on the top.  You can usually just scrape off and discard unless the mold is any other color than white or smells - then you need to dump and start over.

The jars must be sterile or run under very hot water.

The liquid from pressing - will be added to jar.
Start packing the cabbage in the gallon jar, pressing all the while.  Pour liquid from the bowl into the jar.  Then start adding some of the brine.  Remember that extra uncut leaf?  Place over the cabbage inside the jar.  This will help keep the pieces of cabbage from floating up.  Add brine to cover about 1-2 inches over the shredded cabbage.  At this point you can add the whey if you choose to use it.

Small pint jar inside gallon jar to weight down cabbage.
Fill the pint jar about half with cool water and place inside the big jar to act as a weight and keep the cabbage always covered with liquid.  Lightly cover with a plastic cap {looks like a shower cap*), a loose piece of syran wrap or a lint free towel.  The covering is only to keep the dust off.  The fermenting cabbage will produce CO2 and you will see bubbles forming within a few hours.  Place the jar on the counter in a draft free area where the temperature stays constant.  Changes in temperature can impact how long the fermentation takes, with cooler temperatures slowing down the process.

Once or twice a day lightly press down on the inside jar to release the gas.  When there are little or no bubbles - after anywhere from 10 days to 3 weeks - your sauerkraut is done and can be capped and refrigerated.  Some people like to taste during the fermenting process.  If you do want taste periodically during the fermenting, use a plastic or wood fork to pull some out.  Metal is a no-no with a brine solution.

The cabbage gradually changes from green to a light yellow color over time, most of the color change occurs after you put in the frig.

Sauerkraut is not just for hot dogs or Polish foods (my mother's side of the family was all about Polish foods).  Use sauerkraut in any dish or recipe that calls for pickles.  The fermented product is healthy and good for you.

My sauerkraut is usually ready in about 10-13 days, in time for Thanksgiving and my family member who requested it. :-)

You can choose to leave the sauerkraut working on the counter for weeks, as long as you ensure there is enough brine to always have all the cabbage covered in liquid.

Like Asian pickled vegetables you can add other things such as spices like caraway seed to the cabbage.  Do some searching on the internet for ideas to come up with your preferred mix.  Have fun.  Once you master sauerkraut you can move on to something like old fashioned pickle barrel dill/garlic pickles - made the same way, without vinegar. The link to my blog post on my fermented pickles is here Fermented Pickle Recipe. It was part of blog post over the holidays on dill.

Cabbage.  On facebook the other day I saw a great recipe for "Baked Cabbage Steaks".  I always try to find the author of any recipe etc. I post but all I found were multiple versions with differing oven temps and how thick you cut the slices.  If anyone finds the original author, I would appreciate it.

Meanwhile give this delicious and healthy side dish a try.

Baked cabbage steaks.  Preheat oven 400 wash and remove outer leaves trim stem off, cut 1 to 1 1/2 inch steaks brush both sides with olive oil, garlic salt and pepper both sides bake 30 to 40 minutes I like mine at 40 min [author note] so edges start to brown. has a similar version. 

I hope you enjoy making your own sauerkraut!

Have a best day in the garden and kitchen.

*  The plastic cap which looks like a shower cap is an old fashioned way to cover food bowls. NOT for use in microwaves.  They are available in many places on the internet including Amazon.  I tried to find ones made in the US but could not.  I highly recommend them.  I have had my box of them for years and simply rinse with soapy water and let air dry in the dish rack.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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