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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

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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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Recipes Uncategorized

Warming Winter Recipes: Ginger and Turmeric

Ginger-and-Turmeric1

Ginger and Turmeric are a powerful pair.  Numerous studies highlight their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.  They are also believed by some to help treat diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, among other diseases.  Equally important, they taste good together and are wonderfully warming on cold winter days.  I especially enjoy the combination of ginger and turmeric in Golden Milk Tea, Curried Broth, and Miso Squash Bisque.

Turmeric’s beneficial compounds are better absorbed by your body when eaten with fat and black pepper, so all of these recipes include both.

 

Golden-Milk-TeaGolden Milk Tea: A warming and nourishing drink, golden milk is tea made with grated ginger, grated turmeric, and coconut milk.  I start by bringing 1/3 can coconut milk and 1/2 cup water to a simmer.  I then grate in about 1/2 teaspoon of both ginger and turmeric roots and a dash of black pepper.  Feel free to add more to taste!  For those of you who prefer sweetened tea, this is delicious with honey.

Curried Broth:  I love featuring broth in our meals, but I sometimes get tired of the flavor of standard chicken or beef broth.  Curry spices, lemongrass, grated garlic, grated ginger, grated turmeric, and coconut milk make this soup base taste totally different.

Curried-Broth

1) When making my broth, I add lemongrass, garlic and onion to the pot instead of the standard chicken broth veggies and herbs.   If you’re not making your own broth, simmer store bought broth with lemongrass for 15 minutes before starting step #2.

-1 quart chicken bone broth
-one large cooking onion, chopped
-1 tablespoon ghee
-2-3 cloves garlic, diced
-1 teaspoon each cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and coriander seeds
-2 teaspoons each grated turmeric and grated ginger roots
-curry powder or paste to taste
-cayenne pepper, black pepper, and fish sauce (or salt) to taste
-1 can coconut milk (full fat)
-2 tablespoons lime juice

2) In a two quart (or larger) pot, sauté one chopped onion in 1 tablespoon of ghee (coconut oil works well too).
3) When onions are transparent, add garlic and seeds and stir.  When seeds are toasted, add curry and stir.
4) Immediately add coconut milk and broth.  Bring to boil and turn down to simmer.
5) Add remaining ingredients.  After simmering for 10 minutes, taste and add any additional seasonings to achieve your desired spiciness and saltiness.
6) Enjoy as a broth or add your choice of meat, legumes, or veggies to make a delicious soup.

Miso Squash Bisque:  A favorite way to enjoy butternut squash.

Miso-Squash-Bisque1-1 quart chicken bone broth
-one large cooking onion, chopped
-1 tablespoon ghee
-2-3 cloves garlic, diced
-1 butternut squash, chunked and seeded (can leave skin on)
-2 teaspoons grated turmeric and grated ginger roots
-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
-2 tablespoons sesame oil and rice vinegar
-1/4 cup miso paste

Miso-Squash-Bisque21) Sauté one chopped onion in 1 tablespoon of ghee (avocado or another mild cooking oil works well too).
2) Add broth, squash, and garlic.  Bring to boil, and then simmer covered until squash is tender (you can check using a fork).
3) Add turmeric, ginger, sesame oil, vinegar, and pepper.  Blend with an immersion blender until very smooth.  Simmer for a few minutes more and then remove pot from heat.
4) In a separate bowl, mix miso with a ladle-full of soup until the miso is evenly distributed.  Stir mixture into soup.
5) Season to taste.
6) Serve with your choice of garnish.  You can see I got carried away with my toppings!  I love using chopped parsley, scallions or cilantro, kimchi, toasted crumbled nori, toasted squash seeds, and/or toasted sesame seeds.

Miso-Squash-Bisque3

Fresh ginger and turmeric roots are best stored in the freezer.  They stay fresh this way and stay hard and easy to grate using a cheese grater with small holes or a micro-plane grater.

Ginger-and-Turmeric2

 

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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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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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Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

DIY Gifts for Food Lovers

Want to give gifts that are useful?  Do you want them to have a personal touch?  Would you rather not spend very much money?  Here’s some of my favorite food related DIY gifts:

IMG_9216Vanilla Extract:  Vanilla extract is easy to make – for step by step instructions, check out this blog post.  For great gifts, buy a nice quality rum or vodka in nip bottles.  Following the recipe on a smaller scale, putting one halved or quartered vanilla bean into each little container.  These will need to sit for a month or two before the extract is fully flavored.

Dried-HerbsHome Grown Tea or Herbs:  Drying herbs and flowers from your garden is a great way to enjoy these home-grown flavors all year round.  Read this blog post to learn how.  Herb or tea mixes are beautiful and useful, and friends will love to know that you grew and dried them yourself!

lentil-soup-mixSoup Mix: Soup mixes are perfect winter gifts.  Make some nice soup flavor combinations using a mix of dried ingredients.  Thes best place to find a good selection is in the bulk section of your local co-op.  Click here for a great lentil soup recipe, made all of dry bulk ingredients.  You can mix everything together in a bag or layer ingredients in a ball jar for a beautiful and long-lasting edible gift.

rainbow-fermenting-veggiesPickles:  You may only want to give fermented foods to select friends and family.  For those who enjoy saurkraut and would have fun trying new fermented veggies, however, this can be a very special gift.  Try layering slices of different colored veggies and adding flavors like garlic, onion, or ginger.  For easy step-by-step instructions on fermenting an assortment of veggies, check out this post.

JarsHome-Canned Food: What did you preserve this year?   Jams, jellies, pickles, salsa, hot sauce, apple sauce – these all make great gifts.  Don’t have a garden?  Consider making a batch of cranberry sauce or orange marmalade – both use ingredients that are abundant in stores at this time of year and make beautiful delicious products to distribute to all your friends and family.

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Recipes

Cooking with Maple Sap

Sap flow was heavy this weekend in Vermont.  We’re entering that muddy and delicious season where driving down most rutted back roads is rewarded by the smell of sweet steam flowing out of a sugar shack.

sap-pourWe put in a few taps this year, but we don’t have an evaporator.  Home-made versions generally rely of a lot of wood or a lot of propane, and the cheapest commercial evaporators are all over $1000.  Why not just cook with sap?

We’ve had great luck each time we sneak sap into a recipe to add sweetness.  We’ve focused on foods that use water like tea, oatmeal, beer, and baked beans rather than cakes and cookies.

oatmeal-sapOatmeal: I boiled my oats in sap instead of water.  Topping it with sweet blueberries and sour raspberries and sprinkling walnuts on top made a delectable breakfast.  The oatmeal was mildly sweet.  If you’re used to unsweetened oatmeal, you’ll consider this a treat.  Compared to the flavored instant packets, however, the sap sweetness is much more subtle.

beer-sapBeer: We’ve been wanting to make more beer, so we’re starting out with a few kits.  We divided the ingredients for a Pale Ale batch in half.  For one half, we followed the instructions.  For the other, we used sap instead of water.  We can’t wait for the fermentation to finish so we can do a taste test!

tea-sapTea and Coffee: Tea and coffee are the simplest ways to enjoy sap.  Adding a teaspoon of maple syrup to a cup of water, after all, reverses all that evaporation work.  For tea, all you need to do is seep your tea bag in boiled sap.  For coffee, use a french press so that you can substitute sap for water without making the internal parts of your coffee machine sticky.

Poached Sweet Potatoes: Our left over baked sweet potatoes needed to get sparked up.  I started by bringing 4 cups of sap to a boil in a frying pan.  The large surface area allows for quick evaporation.  I added rosemary, Bell’s seasoning, and garlic powder to the “broth.”  I was surprised by how quickly the water evaporated!  When the liquid was only about a centimeter deep, I mixed in a tablespoon of cranberry sauce and added my wedged sweet potatoes.  After a few minutes with periodic stirring, the chemistry of the broth changed and it became browner and sticky.  Deliciously beyond poached.  Voila: sap-glazed sweet potatoes!

sweet potatoes sap

Next up? Making Sap Soda by carbonating sap and different herbal sap teas in a Soda Stream machine.  Baked Beans by boiling dried pinto beans in an uncovered pot of sap rather than water.  I imagine that the hour+ of boiling required to soften the beans will allow quite a bit of water to evaporate.  And Poached Salmon in sap with ginger and soy sauce.  Comment below if you have other ideas I should try!!