The last couple of weeks I have been in the West African country of Mali doing work for my master’s degree.  My first day in country, on the way from my house to call a taxi at the paved road, a woman working in a small garden plot called out the morning greeting of “I ni sogoma” My work taking videos and pictures for an organization called Mali Health could wait; there were glorious plants to be seen.  I walked over and found the woman growing hot peppers, peanuts, watermelon, papayas, manioc, beans, amaranth and onions under the shade of lime, fig, banana and mango trees.  She lived nearby and said she came each morning to tend her plot, harvest some produce for sale and enough ingredients for her family’s dinner stew.  We exchanged the ritual greetings about our family’s state of health and how well we’d slept then got down to how she grew food in Mali and how I grew it in the states.  With the exception of her growing warm season crops and my focusing on roots and greens we used the same types of compost, chicken manure and careful weeding and rotation planting.

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Red amaranth

Here’s a bit more background on the country:  Mali is a landlocked predominantly Muslim country of about 14 million people.  It is famous for the northern city of Timbuktu, wonderful music, a rich, deep culture and most recently, conflict in the far north.  (It is not Bali, Maui or Malawi; a confusion often made when the name comes up.)

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Hot pepper

The insightful Bridges from Bamako blog has a really good post that sums up why it was so easy to fall into a comfortable conversation with this complete garden stranger.  Here is a summary:

  • The first quality listed is “mogoya” or personhood that promotes plunging in and not just talking with everyone but helping people out as well.
  • The second is “danbe” or dignity, honor and reputation.  Mali has an incredible history and oral tradition that gives people a strong sense of who they are and where they come from.
  • The third is “faso kanu”or patriotism.  I took taxis all over the dusty, vibrant city and the usual conversation was about our respective families and the World Cup then it often moved to the really good things about Mali.  “Awo, Mali ka di.” (Mali is good.) was said with strong conviction by most drivers.
  • Lastly there is “senenkunya” or joking relations.  One of the first questions asked is your last name.  My Malian name is Aminata Diarra and my teasing cousins are the Traores.  When we encounter each other we say with shocked outrage “It’s not possible!  You need to change your last name right now!  You eat vast quantities of beans and you are not a serious person!”  Depending on the pair’s creativity, amount of time on hand and fluency these ritual insults can get pretty intense with great hilarity expressed by everyone present.  This creates a joyful social atmosphere that promotes the building of relationships between strangers.
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The gardener I encountered was a Traore so I took great pleasure in letting her know that she would personally be consuming all the beans that she planted and that she would eat them for every single meal.

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The sun rose, the day progressed and with some regret I left my new found friend and headed off to find a taxi.

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“Jirifuro” – a small garden plot

Here’s a recipe for a Tigadega Na or Peanut Stew that could be made with the harvest from Madame Traore’s plot:

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 pound chicken, beef or fish, cut into chunks (optional)
  • Hot pepper, black pepper and salt to taste
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 3 small sweet or regular potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 (16 ounce) can chopped tomatoes, with liquid or 8 medium sized chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1/4 pound collard greens, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup chunky peanut butter
  1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat; cook the onion, garlic, and ginger in the hot oil about 6 minutes. Add the meat; cook and stir until completely browned. Season with the red pepper, salt, and black pepper. Pour the chicken broth over the mixture. Stir the potatoes into the liquid and bring the mixture to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover the pot partially with a lid, and cook at a simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. Stir the tomatoes, collard greens, and peanut butter into the stew. Partially cover the pot again and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, another 20 minutes or until the meat is tender.

This can be served with rice, noodles or the Malian firm porridge, “To“, that is made from corn or millet.

If you’d like to learn more about gardening in Mali there are quite a few organizations working on gardening programs.  Here are links to a few of these.






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.

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


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Wash and slice the berries.


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


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


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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.


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


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Minty Drinks With Elaine

This post is back by popular demand!

The mint is going wild so it’s time to revisit wise words from Elaine Corets and learn about all the ways she makes her famous minty drinks – from mojitos to sun tea.

Here’s how she makes her wonderful mojitos:

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Go out into the garden and pick several sprigs of mint.  For each drink you need eight leaves.

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Next cut up half a lime per glass.

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Crush the limes and the mint with a pestle.

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Add a spoon of simple sugar syrup.

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Add a shot glass of rum and two shot glasses of bubbly water and you are all set.

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Elaine also makes a refreshing mint sun tea.

To make mint sun tea take garden mint in a jar of water and place in the sun for one day.  That’s it!

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Mint infused vodka can be made by soaking leaves in vodka for one week or until the desired strength of flavor is achieved.

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Mint infused simple syrup for delicious mint juleps is also easy to make.

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Mint ice cubes zip up any recipe.  Elaine chops mint then freezes it.

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Dried mint makes great tea.

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.

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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.

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Once wire is attached go wild!


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


June in the Garden

Walking outside late June the smell of clary sage and lavender is everywhere and the sound of bees does fill the air.

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The onions are close to being pulled. When the tops flop over out they come.


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Golden raspberries are ripe. These don’t make as good a jam as the red ones but they are wonderful for eating right off the bush.


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The flax has bloomed and is going to seed. It will be ready to harvest in August.


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The wheat is heading up well. I should have enough for at least a few loaves of bread!


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The bees love the lavender.


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The apples are coming along nicely and not too much damage so far.


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I love the sharp clean smell of clary sage.


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Tomatoes!!! This year is supposed to be a good one.


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Feverfew dries well for winter bouquets.


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The poppies are in full bloom.

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.

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Strip dried flower buds from stalks.

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

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

All set!



Raspberry Shrub

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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.


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.

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One cup sugar

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One cup red wine vinegar.

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Berries ready for mashing.

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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.

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

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Strain out the seeds.

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Sugar and berry juice mixed together.

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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.

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








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.

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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.

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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.



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.

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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.
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Seed pods from last year – what a waste!

How do you like to use this wonderful plant?

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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:

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

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Lavender cookies are fragrant and delicious.

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

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

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Elderberry flowers

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

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

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Johnny Jump Ups

I like to put these on cakes to decorate them.