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Fresh-from-the-Garden Spring Rolls

Sometimes you just don’t have the time to dive into a multi-step recipe.  Summer days are often quite full of activity.  But summer is also the time when beautiful fresh ingredients abound.   Spring rolls to the rescue!  All you need to do ahead of time is keep a package of thin rice-paper spring roll wrappers on hand.  Follow the directions on the package, adding whatever fresh herbs and veggies are in season to make a beautiful but easy meal.  It can be fun to lay out the different ingredient choices and have each person make their own.  After ingredients are prepped, it only takes a minute or two for assembly.

spring-roll-ingredients

Delicious ingredient options:

-Any fresh herbs on hand: I love thai basil, regular basil, cilantro, mint, scallions, and parsley.

-Edible flower petals: It never hurts to add extra color inside and out!

-Thinly sliced veggies: really this can be any veggie you like eating raw.  Be conservative in your amounts – it is easy to be tempted to over-stuff your rolls.

-Protein and fat: A great way to use leftovers!  Sliced avocados, already cooked fish, pulled or ground meat, tofu (see below), toasted sesame seeds, strips of omelet, or bits or sausage or bacon turn your spring rolls into a satisfying and complete meal.

-Pickles: I prefer the garlicy gingery spark of kimchi in my spring rolls, but really any freshly fermented veggie will do.

-Leftovers: Do you have small amounts of cooked veggies, meat, or beans left over from a previous meal?  Include them in your ingredient offerings.

-Sauce: Dipping sauce is what really makes spring rolls so yummy.  The simplest option is a mixture of whatever of the following items you like and have on hand: soy sauce, rice vinegar, grated ginger, grated garlic, hot sauce, miso, olive oil and/or sesame oil.  Be sure to include at least one salty ingredient, something sour, and an oil.  I like to mix in a generous dollop of peanut butter for a wonderful peanut dipping sauce.

Thinking ahead?  Marinate some tofu. This is great to do in the morning before going to work.  Drain tofu and put into a container with soy sauce, rice vinegar, grated ginger, grated garlic, and sesame oil and shake gently.  Smear with a thin layer of miso paste and leave to marinate during the day. You can also give the same treatment to shredded carrots or sliced cucumbers for some yummy quick pickles.

spring-rolls

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Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

Feasting on Herbs and Flowers

spring-herbs2

This is my favorite time of year to include a big handful of herbs and flowers in every meal.  Herbs have fully leafed out and are starting to grow tender new leaves.  The flowers in bloom are ever evolving, and you’d be surprised to learn how many of them are edible.  While we’re waiting for our first peas, beans, cucumbers, and carrots, I love highlighting the wonderful flavors of backyard and garden herbs and flowers.

tea-flowers

Make tea: Both herbs and flowers make wonderful tea.  Standard flavors like chamomile and mint are easy to grow in your garden and are best harvested at this time of year.  Other familiar blooms and leaves also make great tea!  Try red clover, stinging nettle, sage, rosemary, raspberry leaf, lemon balm, catnip, or rose petals.  Spices from your kitchen like ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon make great additions to tea blends.  Want to dig deeper?  Get a book or look online to learn the healing properties of your favorite herbs and flowers.

fresh-herb-tea

spring-herbs1

Make Herb Pesto, Dip, Sauce, or Dressing: I’m always surprised by how big a bundle of pungent herbs can be used to made a small dish of delicious “pesto.”  Try blending the herbs in your garden with sprouted sunflower seeds, olive oil,  parmesan, and lemon juice for a delicious pesto.  Add a small amount of chicken broth or coconut milk for a wonderful sauce to top your meals.  Add more oil and vinegar, and perhaps some plain yogurt, mustard, and garlic to make a delicious green dressing.  As a bonus, herbs are packed with nutrients and a variety of healing properties.

herb-pesto

Garnish Generously: Flower petals and finely chopped herbs made delicious and beautiful garnishes for meals and toppings for salads.  If you don’t have many choices in your garden, wander into your yard (make sure there are no pesticides or pet waste!) or nearby fields.  Dandelion greens and petals, clover petals, violets, wood sorrel leaves, purslane, chick weed and lambs quarters are all nutrient-packed wild leaves, “weeds,” and flowers that are plentiful and tasty.

may-salad-ingredients

may-salad

 

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Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To School Gardens

Tea Time

fresh-herbs

May in Vermont is truly beautiful.  Bright blue skies and the vivid greens of fields and forests are such a contrast from the greys and browns of early spring.  Song birds and flower blooms add spots of color to the landscape.  Asparagus and fiddlehead shoots have emerged, giving us our first bountiful harvests of the year.  And early spring greens are loving the warm sun, rain showers, and cool nights.  This is the time of year when young herbs are tender and flavorful.  After a winter of dried herbal teas, it’s exciting to be able to harvest fresh leaves for refreshing drinks.  Try making sun tea with your kids – simply leave a jar out in a sunny spot for the day!  We enjoy herbal tea hot or cooled; plain, sweetened with honey or syrup, or soured with a twist of lemon or lime.

mint-lemon-balm-harvest

brewing-tea

The photos above are of lemon balm, mint, and anise hyssop leaves.  Most of the plants in the mint family come up in early spring, and are now tall enough to harvest leaves without hurting the plants.  For tips on harvesting herbs, check out this post.  To learn about drying and preserving herbs and flowers from your garden, click here.  Cheers to spring!

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Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes School Gardens

Make your own Butter

We love good butter in our household.  We’ve believed in the benefits of eating butter from grass-fed cows for some time, and now the mainstream media is now slowly catching on.  Both NPR and The New York Times reported on the recent publication from the Annals of Internal Medicine which concluded that saturated fat consumption did not increase chances of heart attacks or heart disease.  Furthermore, butter made of cream from grass-fed cows is rich in vitamins A and D, along with many other health promoting factors detailed by the Weston Price Foundation.

butter-makingButter can be easy to make (for adults) and fun to make (for groups of kids).  Making butter is a great way for students to learn where food comes from, taste test herbs in an appealing way, use up some energy, and have fun!  Here are several different butter making methods, along with recipes and suggestions for associated games and activities.  When buying cream, remember that the best nutrition will come from organic dairy from grass-fed pastured cows!

butter-in-bowlLeast Effort: Fill your food processor 1/3 full with heavy or whipping cream (if you fill it too full, cream may spurt out the top when turned on).  Turn on the food processor and wait for the liquid to turn into whipped cream.  Continue to blend until the contents separate into milk and butter chunks.  If you stay nearby, there will be a distinct change in sound when the butter separates out after about 10 minutes.  Drain off milk (can be used for cooking) and put your chunks of butter into a cold bowl.  Use a cold spoon or butter knife to push the butter around, squeezing out remaining milk.  Mix in sea salt, spices, or herbs as desired and refrigerate in a covered container.  Homemade butter will have a similar shelf-life to milk because it is unlikely you squeezed out every last bit of milk.

shaking-butterKid-Powered: Remember – each of these steps could be a task for a child… no adult labor is needed!  Fill a pint Ball jar 1/3 of the way with heavy or whipping cream.  Screw on the lid very well.  Turn upside down to make sure the lid is on correctly.  If you’re with a group of kids, stand in a circle or around a table.  As the first child shakes the jar, clap and chant:

Shake butter shake.  Shake butter shake.
__(name)__ is at the garden gate, mixing up a butter cake.
Shake butter shake.  Shake butter shake.
(chant from Project Seasons)

When the verse is done, the child passes the jar to the person standing next to them.  The jar makes its way around the group, getting shaken continuously.  If you are working with a new group of students, the chant can be a great way to learn and remember everyone’s name!  A big ball of butter should separate from the milk within about 10 minutes.  (*if working with a group of students, make sure to see “herbed butter” below*)

Cultured: If you’d like to make cultured butter, you’ll need to sour your cream first.  We do this the same way we make yogurt, except use cream instead of milk.  Once your cream is sour, continue with one of the methods above.  Your two final products will be cultured buttermilk and cultured butter.

chopped-herbsHerbed Butter: Herbs have a very strong flavor, and they’re hard to get excited about for most kids.  In our school gardens, we made and tasted herbed butters to learn about different herb flavors in a more palatable way.  Washed kids scissors can be used by students to finely cut up herbs.  Simply mix chopped herbs and a shake of salt into your freshly made butter.  We often made several varieties, spread them on crackers, and had the students vote for their favorites.  Some of the most popular choices were: garlic chives, chives, dill, oregano, basil, parsley, and sage.  At home, herbed butters can add a fancy twist to your dinner table or plate of hors d’oeuvres.

Enjoy!

Want to learn more?:
Butter is Better via the Weston A. Price Foundation
Rethinking Fat: The Case For Adding Some Into Your Diet via NPR
Study Questions Fat and Heart Disease Link via New York Times
Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
My past blog post about Raw Milk, including our Yogurt Recipe

Categories
Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Warm Up With Herbal Teas

herbal-teaAs temperatures dip back down to zero, I find myself making cups of tea more and more often.  I enjoy picking herbs that energize before work, calm before bed time, sooth the itch I feel starting in my throat, or simply to provide a flavor that seems just right for the moment.  Here are some of my favorites that we grow and dry ourselves:

lemongrass

Lemongrass: This is my favorite lemony herb to use for tea.  I discovered my love of lemongrass in Tanzania, where it grew in every kitchen garden.  Some neighbors used it specifically to treat high blood pressure.  In Vermont, we harvest leaves at the end of the summer, dry them in little bundles (above), and take our plant inside for the winter.

Chamomile:  Chamomile soothes and comforts me.  It’s my favorite bedtime tea.  It seeds itself in our garden, coming back year after year.  If flowers are harvested regularly, the plant will continue to produce vigorously until the hottest driest part of the summer.

Anise Hyssop: These flowers are amazing  pollinator attractors in the garden and make a sweet mild licorice-flavored tea.   Traditionally used to treat respiratory ailments, I love combining hyssop with sage when I have a sore throat or cough.

Sage:  Best known as a culinary herb, I learned about sage’s medicinal properties when I was told to make a gargle with it to treat my sore throat.  I’ve come to enjoy its flavor in a variety of tea blends.

Bee balm:  The source of the flavor in Earl Gray Tea, bergamot is another name for bee balm.  The hummingbirds love this flower in our garden.  It is in the mint family and spreads quickly, so be careful where you plant it!  I harvest petals to add bright red flecks and unique flavor to tea mixes.

Catnip: Another calming herb, catnip seems to have the opposite effect on our feline friends.  We like to use it in tea and sneak leaves into the stuffing of hand-sewn toys for cats.

Coriander:  We harvest coriander from cilantro plants that have flowered and gone to seed.  We save some for planting and some for eating!  Used in Indian cooking, coriander is now a common flavor for craft wheat beers.  It adds a nice citrusy flavor to tea blends.

Mint:  Most people are familiar with this one.  Mint and ginger tea is my favorite for soothing an upset stomach.  Mint tea is also soothing on a sore throat.

Raspberry Leaf:  After learning their use for tea, I now save the tender raspberry leaves pulled from our patch when thinning each spring.  They are said to help treat diarrhea and inflammation of the mouth and throat.

Nettle:  Surprisingly, stinging nettle looses its sting when dried or boiled.  This leaf is very high in iron and can be eaten or used to make tea.  It has a “green” flavor that can be enhanced by adding another herb whose flavor you love.

Sumac:  The red fuzzy seeds of the staghorn sumac have been used in North America for hundreds of years to make a drink similar to pink lemonade.  Sumac is high in vitiamin C and can be used instead of rose hips to add a sour flavor to tea.

Check out past GrowingStories posts to learn how to preserve herbs and flowers and to consider which plants you may want to grow or forage this coming growing season.

tea-counter

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Home Gardens

Summer’s Edible Flowers

Eating flowers is fun!  For adults, garnishing meals with flowers and petals really makes the food seem more special.  For kids,  experiencing edible flowers is a great way to use all five senses, encourages taste testing and trying new flavors, and can seem thrilling in a very controlled sort of way.  I love watching emotions ebb and flow through a tentative six year old gearing up to put a flower in his mouth and taste it.  It really can be quite memorable!  Check out the variety of edible flowers blooming in my garden right now:

Edible-flowers

 

Love edible flowers?  Check out my past posts on Spring’s Edible Flowers and Preserving Edible Flowers.

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Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

Harvest, Preserve, and Use Those Herbs!

Dried-Herbs
Dill, anise hyssop, chamomile, lemon grass, and mixed tea for presents

Growing your own herbs is easy and can save a lot of money.  Often only a sprig or leaf of an herb is needed in a recipe – buying an entire bunch or box at the store is expensive, usually forces you to buy too much, and the product is often wilty and old.  Cooking with freshly picked herbs results in flavorful dishes and even adds nutrition to your meals.  Many herbs are easy to grow right in the ground, in pots on a porch or on a windowsill (in fact, they often “grow like weeds”).  Drying herbs from your garden is also easy and will allow you to stock your cupboard for flavoring winter cooking and brewing beautiful herbal teas.

Herb Pruning DiagramYoung healthy leaves are the best ones to harvest!  They are tender and flavorful at this time of year. Think about what you’d like in your cupboard this winter.  Then harvest and dry the herbs you’d like now.  With most plants – including basil, mint family herbs, nettle, and tarragon – pinching tops off actually results in a more productive and bushy plant.  Check out the diagram to the right to harvest young leaf tips while boosting future yield.  For flowering plants, harvest newly open blooms and your plant will continue to flower through the summer.

fresh-tea
Fresh herb bundle brewing in a Ball Jar

What herbs are good for tea?  We love anise hyssop flowers, chamomile flowers, mint, lemon grass, lemon balm, raspberry leaf, nettle, sumac berries, and sage.   Fresh leaves stay intact in your cup or tea pot, so you don’t even need a tea strainer (left).  This year I’m also going to try bee balm petals, catnip leaves, echinacea flowers, calendula petals, and red clover flowers.  If you harvest and dry healthy tender herbs and flowers now, you’ll appreciate it in the winter!

What herbs are good for cooking?  We always make sure to have dill, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, and tarragon in the pantry.  Parsley, basil, and cilantro lose a lot of flavor when dried, so we freeze them in olive oil instead.

Check out past posts to: Learn how to dry or preseve herbs and flowers from your garden.  Also, if you have young seedlings growing, remember this spring garden tip from last year: Keep Garden Pests Under Control!

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Home Gardens Recipes

Preserving herbs and flowers

Chamomile in full bloom – ready to harvest

It’s the time of year that backyard gardeners start to think about preserving their garden harvest for the winter.  We’ve canned our first batch of pickles and frozen blanched spinach, green beans, and broccoli.  As you begin to harvest the bounty of your summer garden, don’t forget the herbs!  We dry them for later use in cooking and for herbal tea.

The best time to harvest leaves or flowers is in the mid morning, when the dew has dried but the plant is not dried out or stressed by afternoon sun.  Pick fresh growth and full newly-opened blossoms.  Older leaves are woodier and older blossoms fall apart easily.  It’s best to harvest clean leaves to avoid the need to wash them after harvesting.  Leaves should be completely dry before dehydrating.

There are several methods for preserving herbs.  Most of the herbs bought in the store have been dried.  If you live in a dry climate, bunching and hanging herbs in a dry warm place is simple and will work great.  We’ve covered our hanging herb bunches with paper bags to allow for air flow but keep off the dust.

In the Northeast, however, we are blessed with humidity during the mid and late summer.  Using a dehydrator is a standard way for you to do this at home.  We have one with stackable trays that works well for herbs.  A few years ago, however, we realized that the pilot light of our stove (which is on at all times) keeps the oven at about 110 degrees. Perfect for drying things out!  We

Chamomile blossoms spread on a cookie tray and ready to go in the pilot light-lit oven.

place herbs on cookie trays in the oven (without turning it on) for about 24 hours.  We use this method for chamomile and anise hyssop blossoms, and lemon grass, mint, tarragon, sage, oregano and rosemary leaves.  We love using the camomile, anise hyssop, mint, and lemon grass for home-grown herbal tea blends.  The other green herbs are perfect for flavoring soups, stews, and sauces.  They’re often fresher and more flavorful than anything you can find on a store shelf.

 

This basil is just starting to show signs of flower bud formation – harvest before flowers form to allow for branching and future growth.

For basil and other delicate and high-moisture leaves, chopping and packing in olive oil can be a better way to preserve the rich but fragile flavors.  Other moisture-rich herbs include cilantro and chives.  Once dried, they seem to loose much of their spark.  We freeze pesto (recipe below) and green sauce, but it’s also just as effective to simply chop/food process a single herb (use about 2 cups) and mix with olive oil (use about 1/3 cup).  Put the resulting paste in small plastic containers and drizzle a bit of additional olive oil on top so that no herbs are exposed to the air.  This will keep your herbs protected in flavorful until you’re ready to use them in the winter.

Pesto
Combine the following ingredients in a food processor and pulse until a paste is formed:
-2 cups Basil
-1/2+ cup grated Parmesan (best to buy as a wedge and grate it yourself)
-3/4 cup Olive Oil
-1/4 cup Pine Nuts
-2+ cloves Garlic
Enjoy fresh or spoon into small plastic containers, cover surfice in additional olive oil, and freeze