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Wire fences are functional but sometimes lack color and beauty.  To beautify your fence or trellis try this simple trick of hanging glass between the squares.

making glass decorations for wire fences

To attach wire to the glass I use sticky metal tape.

Pick your glass from a stained glass store or if you are in the Seattle area, Bedrock Industries has a great selection.   Cut two pieces of wire and lay them along the sticky side of the tape.  Smooth them along the edges of the glass and fold the edges of the tape over to cover any rough edges and attach the wire.

making glass decorations for wire fences

Once wire is attached go wild!

 

making glass decorations for wire fences

Here is a dangly piece. Be careful if you do this as the wire can break and the glass may shatter.

 

Lavender Sachets

Opening up a drawer and smelling lavender always brings me back to visits to my aunt and uncle’s Montana ranch.   Making these sachets is quick and easy and they last for months.
All you need is dried lavender and squares of pretty fabric.  If you want a sachet with a stronger smell then you can add a few drops of essential oil but this isn’t necessary.

Strip dried flower buds from stalks.

Strip dried flower buds from stalks.

Cut fabric to size of sachet desired then turn over edges and sew with the right sides together.

Cut fabric to size of sachet desired then turn over edges and sew with the right sides together.

Turn right side out, fill with dried lavender then stitch or tie the open side.

Turn right side out, fill with dried lavender then stitch or tie the open side.

All set!

 

 

Raspberry Shrub

Ripe and ready

Ripe and ready

Shrub is a drink that is sweet, tart, bubbly and cool; the perfect mixture for a hot summer day. The unusual name comes from sharab the Arabic word for syrup.  This colonial era beverage was much sought after as it both quenched the thirst and preserved the fleeting flavors of summer fruit.  It fell out of favor with the advent of soda pop but is now experiencing a resurgence as it can be enjoyed with bubbly water and ice or blended with alcohol for a unique and refreshing cocktail.

Ingredients

The three basic ingredients in a shrub are sugar, fruit and vinegar.  Almost any type of fruit can be used and it doesn’t have to be in pristine condition.  Most sugars will work but white refined sugar competes the least with the fruit flavors.  Cider or red wine vinegar is usually used but if you have other types on hand give them a try and see how it tastes.

How to Make

Once you have your ingredients together you can either do a cold or hot process.  To do the hot process mash the fruit, mix with the sugar and cook until you have a light syrup.  (A third vinegar, a third fruit and a third sugar is a good blend.)  Strain out the seeds, mix in the vinegar and store in the fridge.

One cup sugar

One cup sugar

One cup red wine vinegar.

One cup red wine vinegar.

Berries ready for mashing.

Berries ready for mashing.

One cup mashed berries.

One cup mashed berries.

To do a cold process mix the sugar and mashed fruit then let sit for a day or two in the fridge until the juices are coming out.  Strain out the seeds, add the vinegar and put back in the fridge.  This makes for a fruitier, fresher tasting drink than the hot process version.

Sugar mixed with berries ready for the fridge to sit and let the juices come out.

Sugar mixed with berries ready for the fridge to sit and let the juices come out.

Strain out the seeds.

Strain out the seeds.

Sugar and berry juice mixed together.

Sugar and berry juice mixed together.

Vinegar, berry juice and sugar all blended together and ready to mellow in the fridge.

Vinegar, berry juice and sugar all blended together and ready to mellow in the fridge.

This delightful blend will be quite concentrated so add in bubbly water or ice cubes before drinking.  Gin pairs nicely with this raspberry version of shrub.

Mixed with ice and bubbly water the shrub is ready to refresh!

Mixed with ice and bubbly water the shrub is ready to refresh!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fennel

The herb fennel is so plentiful and grows so well in the Pacific Northwest that some people think of it as a weed and do their best to eradicate it. Horrors!  This plant is useful from its seeds to its roots and should be cherished!

According to Wikipedia this herb was well known to the ancients:

The word “fennel” developed from the Middle English fenel or fenyl. This came from the Old English fenol or finol, which in turn came from the Latin feniculum or foeniculum.  As Old English finule, it is one of the nine plants invoked in the pagan Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century.

In Greek mythology, Prometheus used the stalk of a fennel plant to steal fire from the gods. Also, it was from the giant fennel, Ferula communis, that the Bacchanalian wands of the god Dionysus and his followers were said to have come.

Florence fennel has a wide bulbous base and is used sliced in salads, Bronze fennel is a decorative garden plant and common fennel is what is commonly found in local gardens.

Bronze fennel

Bronze fennel

Here are my six favorite uses of this versatile herb.

  1. I like to put the tips of the leaves in salads.  If you use too much they can overpower more delicately flavored lettuces but a few sprigs give a nice anise flavor.
  2. The full leaves are good for garnishing dishes; they look especially pretty with salmon.
  3. The fennel flowers or “pollen” can be collected and the bright yellow powder can be dusted on pasta.
  4. The hollow stems can be cut into lengths and used as straws to add a slight licorice flavor to cocktails.
  5. Fennel seeds are a key ingredient in both Chinese Five Spice and in French Herb de Provence.  The seeds should be collected when green then dried and either ground for Five Spice or sprinkled into the Herb de Provence.
  6. I love the flavor of toasted fennel seeds.  To make them gather green seeds and over a slow heat in an iron frying pan roast them until they are fragrant and crisp.  They can be added to granola, eaten to freshen the breath after a garlicky meal or used in cookies.
Seed pods from last year - what a waste!

Seed pods from last year – what a waste!

How do you like to use this wonderful plant?

Fennel with Feverfew in front.

Fennel with Feverfew in front.

Edible Flowers

Many of the flowers that grace our yards are edible.  They can be used as accents in a salad or as garnish on a main dish.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Edible flowers

Chive

I like to use chive flowers in salads to lend a slightly onion flavor.  Here’s a recipe for omelets with chive flowers.

Edible flowers

Lavender

Lavender cookies are fragrant and delicious.

Edible flowers

Rose

Candied rose petals are a sweet my daughter likes to make.

Edible flowers

Calendula 

Have you ever made homemade calendula cream?  It’s easy to make and fun for kids to create.

Edible flowers

Elderberry flowers

These can be dipped in batter and fried to make fritters.

Edible flowers

Sage

Sage flowers can be sprinkled over a dish to give a mild sage flavor.

Edible flowers

Johnny Jump Ups

I like to put these on cakes to decorate them.

Oregano!

Oregano bunched and ready to hang to dry.

Oregano bunched and ready to hang to dry.

My family loves Italian style food so we go through a ton of the herb oregano each year. Luckily it’s very easy to grow; you can start it from seed or buy a plant at most local nurseries.  It does best in full sun and doesn’t like to be water logged but do be aware that it self seeds quite easily.

Right now is a good time to harvest oregano!  This flavorful Mediterranean herb is best harvested on a warm, dry morning right before it blooms. To harvest and dry cut it three inches above the ground then bunch it and hang it in a cool place with good air circulation.  Be careful not to make the bunches too big or the stems in the middle might rot.  Once dry I store it in the basement in mason jars and bring up just enough to last a week or so as the heat and light in the kitchen can make it lose flavor quickly.

In addition to adding oregano to the usual pizza and spaghetti sauces here are some other interesting ways to use this prolific herb.

Oregano Infused Simple Syrup 

Ingredients:

1 C. water
1 C. sugar
2 C. fresh oregano

Directions:

  1. Bring water to a boil. Add the sugar and stir until sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add the oregano to the syrup. Boil for 60 seconds and let it steep for 30 mins as the syrup cools.
  3. Pour the cooled syrup through a strainer into a glass bottle jar.
  4. Store syrup in the refrigerator.  Small amounts can be added to sparkling water or it can be used in cocktails.  I think it pairs well with vodka.
The flowers taste good and can be dried for great bouquets.

The flowers taste good and can be dried for great bouquets.

Oregano Lemon Chicken

Ingredients:

  • Four chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup fresh oregano, chopped
  • Juice and zest from two lemons
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup green olives with brine
  • Three cloves of garlic
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat oil in a frying pan, add chopped garlic and chicken.  Cook until the outside of the chicken begins to brown.  Add the lemon juice, zest and olives and turn down the heat.  Cook slowly until the chicken is almost done.  Add the chopped oregano and finish cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve garnished with a fresh sprig of oregano.

Oregano Herb Butter

Finely chop 1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh oregano mix with one cube softened butter. Roll into a log on wax paper then wrap in the paper, put in a plastic freezer bag and freeze until needed.  Can also be immediately but should be refrigerated if you need to store it.  This butter can be used to baste meat, season veggies or on bread.

Oregano Olive Oil Cubes

Chop fresh oregano and mix it with olive oil.  Pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it.  Once frozen put in freezer bags.  This can be used in salad dressings, to baste meats or veggies or anytime fresh tasting oregano is needed.

Baked Feta with Oregano

Take a block of feta and cover it with 4 cloves crushed garlic and 4 T fresh oregano leaves. Drizzle with 1/4 c olive oil and top with a large tomato.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes until bubbly. Serve with bread or crackers.

Herb Crust for Grilled Meats

Chop fresh oregano and mix it with olive oil and other fresh herbs to taste. Cover meat to be grilled with this mixture then cook over a hot fire.  This will both add a nice flavor to the meat and keep it moist.

Do you have other favorite ways to use oregano?  I’d love to hear them!

 

Pickled Snow Peas

pickled snow peas

So many peas!

Each summer I start off eating the new pea pods thinking there will never be enough, soon it’s time for succulent stir fries with mushrooms and chicken then before I know it there are snow peas everywhere and I don’t know what to do with them.  Last year I tried pickling them and they are absolutely delicious!  They are great as is on a relish tray or add a nice zest to salads.

If you have never canned and are gearing up to start this year or if it’s been a while it’s a good idea to get up to speed on safety issues.  This site from the University of Georgia is very comprehensive.

If you have just a few pods, a lot of pickle eaters and space in your fridge then making refrigerator pickles is a good way to go.  These have a brighter color and flavor but must be kept in the fridge as the water bath canning is not done.

If you have limited space or a ton of produce then most dilly bean recipes work well for pickled peas.  Be sure to follow the recipe exactly as peas are a low acid food and must have vinegar added if they are being water bath canned.

pickled snow peas

Pick and wash peas then strip off strings.

  • 1 pounds pea pods with strings removed
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons pickling spice, (toasting this before use makes it more potent and aromatic)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 and 1/2 cups white vinegar (5%) use commercial vinegar as homemade vinegars can vary widely and it must be at 5% to prevent bacterial growth
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1/8 cup pickling salt
pickled snow peas

Pack into jars leaving a half inch of head space at the top.

Instructions

  1. Sterilize your jars while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
  2. Wash and peel the strings off your pea pods
  3. Combine vinegar, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Pack your pea pods into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace (distance between the tops of the beans and the rim of the jar). To each jar, add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 clove of garlic and 1 teaspoon pickling spice.
Garlic, salt and hot pepper are what I like to use.  Sometimes I add sugar and other spices too.

Garlic, salt and hot pepper are what I like to use. Sometimes I add sugar and other spices too.

  1. Pour the boiling brine over the beans, wipe the rims and apply the lids and rings.
  2. Process for 5 minutes in a boiling water bath (start timing when the pot has come to a roiling boil).
pickled snow peas

Here are the peas with the brine solution. They need to be well packed or will float up. All the peas must be covered by the solution.

These can be put in the fridge and eaten in a week or water bath canned for later.

These can be put in the fridge and eaten in a week or water bath canned for later.

 

Dried Lavender Bunches

About the simplest thing you can do to preserve your lavender is to cut it, tie it in bunches then hang it to dry.

Bunched lavender tied tightly with string.

Bunched lavender tied tightly with string.

Be sure the bunches aren’t too thick or they might rot in the middle.  Tie the string very tight or use a rubber band as it will shrink as it dries and all the stems will fall out.

Once you have your cut and tied lavender hang it upside down in a dark place with good air circulation to dry; I tie a string between the rafters in our basement for this purpose.

Drying lavender in the basement.

Drying lavender in the basement.

Once the lavender is dried put it in a basket, cover it with a cloth to keep dust off and store in a dark place.

I toss these dried bunches into gift boxes and baskets to fill empty spaces and bring the smells of summer days.

 

Brining Grape Leaves

Brining grape leaves is best done in the spring or early summer when the leaves are more supple.  These leaves are used to make a Greek dish called dolmades and can also be used as a decorative accent under cheeses.  They have an earthy, salty taste that is complementary to savory foods.

Brining grape leaves

Fresh grape leaves

First pick your leaves, wash them and put them in stacks of about ten leaves.

Brining grape leaves

Pickling salt

Next make up your brining solution with 1/4 cup brining salt to 4 cups of water and 2 1/2 teaspoons of citric acid.  The citric acid is important to acidify the brining solution and prevent botulism.

Brining grape leaves

Citric acid

Once your brining solution has simmered for at least five minutes pack the stacked and rolled leaves in a sterile jar and fill to within 1/2 inch of the top of the jar.  Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Brining grape leaves

All ready!

Focus on Arugula

This week I think my arugula plants have grown about three inches.  This spicy plant can be eaten in salads with an oil and vinegar dressing or used as a zesty garnish.  We really like to top a just baked pizza with this richly flavored plant.

Yum

Yum

Arugula likes cool weather and a nitrogen rich soil.  You can plant it when soil temperatures are between 45 and 60 degrees.  Scatter the seed then cover with 1/4 inch of soil.  It likes to be moist but not soggy.  Because this plant grows so quickly I like to plant some about every two weeks to keep a good supply on hand.

A zesty arugula plant.

A zesty arugula plant.

Here’s a tasty recipe for a quick summer dish:

Arugula with Pasta and Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 4

One package of pasta, (I like to use whole wheat)
About 8-10 cups arugula
Olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved, (you can also use dried tomatoes that have been soaked for 20 minutes in boiling water to soften them up)
2-3 ounces goat or feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta and drain it.  Chop the arugula if the leaves are big. Heat a sauté pan over medium high heat and add a little olive oil. When it is hot, cook the arugula, letting the first few handfuls wilt completely, and leaving the last few just barely cooked.

Add the basil, tomatoes, cheese, and pasta with the last handful of arugula. Turn the heat to high and cook for another minute or two – until everything is hot. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.