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Uses for Love in the Mist

Along with having a beautiful name Love in the Mist or Nigella damascena has many other uses.  This native to southern Europe self seeds prolifically so be ready to weed or put it in a place where it can run wild.

The blue, white or pink flowers look great in cut flower bouquets.

The blue, white or pink flowers look great in cut flower bouquets.

With its deep jewel tones it’s easy to see how this flower has been popular in cottage gardens since Elizabethan times.

The dried seed pods lend shape and interest to dried flower arrangements.

The dried seed pods lend shape and interest to dried flower arrangements.

A relative, Nigella sativa, is known as black sesame and is used as a cooking spice in Indian food.  It is questionable whether the seeds of N. damascena are edible or not so I would not eat them; some sources say they are tasty and others say they are actually quite toxic!

The dried seeds can be used in craft projects.

The dried seeds can be used in craft projects.

 

 

Time to Mulch

Doesn’t the word “mulch” have a great sound to it?  It means to apply a layer of material to your soil to conserve water, prevent weeds and to increase the richness of your soil.  Right now is a great time to do all of these things as the weather will be hot and dry for the next month. 

This plant will get a boost from the compost and I won't need to water as often!

This plant will get a boost from the compost and I won’t need to water as often!

You can use a wide variety of materials to mulch your garden but my favorite is a layer of compost.  I find that my plants need a little boost this time of year and this provides a good one.  Lot of people use fresh grass clippings as mulch but be a bit careful with this as there can be lots of weed seeds, the grass can mat and prevent water from reaching your plants and as the grass breaks down it can tie up nitrogen in your soil.

Go mulch!

Go mulch!

As our days get shorter, cooler and the rain returns mulching can promote slug growth so if you do a winter garden be vigilant for these pests.

Now that you have dried herbs making your own blends is easy! These make great gifts as well as stepping up the flavor of your own dishes.

Lavender

Lavender

Here are some of my favorite blends:

Herbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence usually contains basil, bay leaf, marjoram, rosemary, summer savory and lots of thyme. Lavender can be included too but don’t add too much as it’s pretty strong.  Here is a base recipe to start with but feel free to play around to get the flavor you like.  If you don’t have all of these herbs it’s fine to leave some out.

  • 2 Tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 Tablespoon dried marjoram
  • 1 Tablespoon dried summer savory
  • 2 Tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon lavender flowers
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ Tablespoon dried rosemary
Rosemary

Rosemary

Rub for Grilling

  • 3 Tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 Tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 1 Tablespoon dried savory
  • 2 Tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried fennel
  • 1 bay leaf
Oregano

Oregano

Italian Seasoning

This tastes great in spaghetti sauce, on pizza or in salad dressings.

  • 4 Tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 Tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 Tablespoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried garlic, (you can leave this out and use fresh instead when it’s time to cook)
  • 1 bay leaf

You can put these blends into small jam jars or metal containers.  Keeping air and light out will help the flavors stay bright.

 

Making Strawberry Jam

This year the strawberry crop is huge, sweet and delectable.  With all this bounty it’s time to make jam!  Here’s how to put summer in a jar using a low sugar Pomona Pectin recipe.

Find strawberries at the peak of ripeness.  Avoid fruit that is overly ripe as the jam won't taste good.

Find strawberries at the peak of ripeness. Avoid fruit that is overly ripe as the jam won’t taste good.

 

Wash and slice the berries.

Wash and slice the berries.

 

I like to use Pomona Pectin as you can have a fresher, healthier jam using much less sugar.

I like to use Pomona Pectin as you can have a fresher, healthier jam using much less sugar.

 

Mix up calcium water then add pectin powder to your sugar.  I used four cups berries and two cups sugar for this batch.

Mix up calcium water then add pectin powder to your sugar. I used four cups berries and two cups sugar for this batch.

 

Bring mashed strawberries with calcium water to a boil then add sugar and pectin.  Stir thoroughly and bring back to a boil.  Boil one minute then put in jar.

Bring mashed strawberries with calcium water to a boil then add sugar and pectin. Stir thoroughly and bring back to a boil. Boil one minute then put in jar.

 

Once put in jars put in waterbath canner and boil for 10 minutes.  Check seals once jars have cooled.

Put the filled jars in a water bath canner and boil for 10 minutes. Check seals once jars have cooled.

 

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Calendula Cream

Calendula’s blooming so it’s time to make soothing cream.

Soak the dried flowers in a cup of olive oil for a couple of weeks. To speed up the process the oil and flowers can be gently heated for an hour.

Drain the oil. I added in dried lavender with the calendula petals.

Put the oil in a bowl in a pan of hot water. To get a thick cream add one ounce of beeswax to one cup of oil.

Pour into a container with a cover and enjoy!

Pressed Flowers

I love to press spring flowers then use them on cards or on stationery.  My favorite plants to press are Johnny jump ups, Bleeding heart and variegated hops but almost any thin flower will do.

Pansies hold their color when dried.

Pansies hold their color when dried.

If you want something like calendula then you need to press the petals separately; if you try and dry the whole flower together the center often rots.

These all press well.

These all press well.

If you still have old phone books around they are ideal for this job.  If not you can use newspaper in between book pages with more books on top to add weight.

Try pressing something unusual!  Sometimes colors will fade.

Try pressing something unusual! Sometimes colors will fade.

Some flowers dry white and others get a little brown.

Some flowers dry white and others get a little brown.

 


Here is a nice example from the She Knows blog of what you can do with the flowers when dry.

Simple but pretty.

Simple but pretty.

 

 

 

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.

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!

 

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.