Tag Archives: herbs

The worried gardener

I planted a small garden last month. Herbs and flowers, nothing too crazy. This was a momentous occasion for me, however, and has been a constant source of worry and joy – sometimes alternating, sometimes all at once – ever since.

garden beginning

The thing is, I’ve never actually been successful in making anything grow. Why would I have planted a garden then? (you may ask) Well, there’s just something about living in Oregon that made me feel like I needed to try again. Everyone here has a garden! Well, OK, not everyone, but many, many people. Many more people than in any other place I’ve lived.

And all these gardens – in front yards, in back yards, in that little strip between the sidewalk and the driveway, in boxes and beds – they are all thriving. Plants just seem to go nuts here. And it makes sense – the temperate weather, the rain, the summer sun. So, I thought, “Why not me? Why can’t I, too, be a gardener – here in the land where everyone manages to be a gardener.”

marigolds

So, here I am. A fretting, uneasy, emotionally delicate gardener watching her little herbs like a hawk and erupting into disproportionate celebration when they, you know, grow. Or don’t die, I’ll take that too. Thankfully, they have been growing, well most of them, and I haven’t yet managed to over- or under- water them.

I was not successful with seeds – none of the flower seeds ever sprouted and only one tender, teeny-tiny cilantro shoot out of a whole mess of ’em managed to pop its head up out of the soil. The catnip and the chives are going gangbusters though. The marigolds are blossoming anew every day. The parsley and thyme are making it. And the mint and lemon verbena are chugging along.

garden1

One of the books I’ve been using as my Bible for this process is Grow Cook Eat by Willi Galloway, and Willi says that one of the mistakes people often make when growing herbs is not harvesting often enough. I have definitely been guilty of this in my past herb-growing attempts. She attributes this to the thinking that you will “save up” all the leaves on the basil or mint or whatever for one big harvest so that there will have enough to do whatever you want to do with it. My reasoning has been much simpler…I’m just afraid to kill the thing.

With Willi’s assurance that harvesting early and often will make for a healthier, fuller plant, however, I recently ventured forth, scissors in hand, and gathered my first harvest of the season.

herb harvest

A mighty harvest it was not (I may have gotten a little sheepish and started to worry I was cutting off too much), but it was a start. And I made the lovely and refreshing herb infused beverages below with my bounty. So, here’s to summer, and new growth!

herb water

Mint & Lemon Verbena-Infused Sparkling Water and Iced Tea

Inspired by Willi Galloway
Makes two quarts total

This isn’t so much a recipe as an idea: take a handful of herbs, throw them into some water, and get creative! Here’s what I did, but please feel free to customize – use more or less herbs to suit your taste, use different herbs, add other flavorings and add-ins. In short, go nuts.

  • 2 1-quart glass jars
  • ~1/4 cup lemon verbena leaves
  • ~1/2 cup mint leaves
  • 8 cups water
  • squeeze of lime
  • 3-4 black tea bags

Rinse herbs and split them between the two glass jars. Fill with water.

Add a squeeze of lime to one jar and the tea bags to the other. How many tea bags you use is up to you – I read somewhere long ago that a good rule of thumb is one tea bag per cup of water, so I added four.

Close up the jars and chill in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours, but preferably overnight. If you’re not ready to drink the water after that, you can leave the herbs in for as long as you like – it just keeps getting more herb-y and delicious – but do take out the tea bags.

When ready to drink, pour water through a fine-mesh sieve to strain out the herbs.

In order to make the one sparkling, you’ll need to have one of the contraptions that does such things and you should follow the instructions for said contraption. If you don’t have one of these doohickeys, simply enjoy the water un-carbonated. For the tea, add any sweetener you like, but it is also deliciously bracing when enjoyed unsweetened.

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On being an ant

I’ve spent the past week being an ant. Which is to say that I’ve been storing up the food and flavors of summer in the hopes that they will help get me through the dark, rainy winter months.

Summer sky

You remember that fable, don’t you? It is one of Aesop’s. In it a resourceful ant spends the waning days of summer storing up food for the winter while an irresponsible grasshopper fritters the days away having fun and playing his…legs (pfft! the nerve) When winter comes, the ant’s home is warm, cozy, and full of food and friends, while the grasshopper is hungry and cold and has nowhere to go.

You can probably tell from this rich description that I have a very specific vision of the fable in my head. The Grasshopper and the Ants, Walt Disney’s version of the fable, was a beloved cartoon that I watched more times than I can count.

I learned from Wikipedia (where most things are learned nowadays) that the fable has been politicized throughout history and that Disney’s adaptation of it has a – unmistakable, now that I think about it – Roosevelt/New Deal angle to it. I always identified more with the responsible ant than the carefree grasshopper anyway, making me the perfect audience for Walt Disney’s political agenda!

The Grasshopper and the Ants

Image from Wikipedia

Annnywho, now that we’ve had that little digression, let me tell you what I’ve been up to lately – besides spending too much time on Wikipedia.

Two weekends ago I took a class at The Pantry from Willi Galloway. It was about growing your own herbs and using them in the kitchen. The class was so inspiring! I immediately went out and bought her book and started planning my garden for next year.

During class we made her recipe for Rosemary Lemon Salt. I’ve been sprinkling it on nearly everything I’ve cooked since. It is so delicious that I took my scissors to my own overgrown rosemary bush (which I learned I should have been pruning several times a year!) and dedicated a large bunch to the same salty-lemony-delicious fate.

Rosemary Lemon Salt

And then this past weekend I bought a big bag of humble Roma tomatoes at the farmers market and roasted them in a low oven for several hours ala this recipe from Orangette. The slow roasting concentrates the flavors of these fleshy, oft-overlooked tomatoes into something that can only be described as magic. Summer magic.

Roasted tomatoes before

Half of those went into the fridge for immediate consumption, and the other half I wrapped individually in plastic and put in the freezer. It’s enough to make me almost wish for the dark, cold, drizzly night in January when I will pull a few of these babies out to toss into a soup or warm pasta dish. Almost.

Roasted Tomatoes after

Last but not least, inspired by this fascinating blog post on using peach pits, I made a peach and basil infused simple syrup. What says summer more than peaches and basil?!

Basil and peach pits

I plan on drizzling this fragrant, light syrup into plain seltzer water or adding it to iced tea any time I need to feel like I’m sitting on the patio with the sun in my face. Here’s to summer…and being an ant!

Basil Peach Vanilla Syrup

Basil Peach Vanilla Simple Syrup

Inspired by BraveTart and Willi Galloway
Makes ~3 cups

True to its name, this syrup really couldn’t be easier. The only thing it requires is time. I let mine steep for about 24 hours, but you could have a perfectly yummy syrup in as little as 4-6 hours. It all depends on how strong you want it to be. This same formula could also be used for any number of delicious combinations!

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 4-6 peach pits
  • 1/2 vanilla bean

In a saucepan, stir together the water and sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

Crush and tear the basil leaves with your fingers to release their oils, and then stir them into the hot liquid. Add the peach pits and vanilla bean.

Cover and set aside to cool. If you are going to let it steep overnight, put it in the fridge. Once done steeping, strain with a fine mesh sieve.

Store the syrup in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

Rosemary Lemon Salt

From Willi Galloway
Makes 1 cup

This salt is addictive. Willi said it is delicious over popcorn, which I can’t wait to try. I’ve been using it to season almost every dish I’ve made in the past 10 days. It adds a bright kick to pasta, rice, roasted veggies, fish, you name it! As with the syrup above, this formula could be used for any number of herb combinations.

  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 1/2 cups rosemary
  • 1/2 cup thyme (preferably lemon)
  • 1 tsp lemon zest

Place the garlic and 2 tablespoons of the salt into a food processor. Pulse until the garlic is roughly chopped. Add in the rosemary and thyme and continue pulsing until the herbs are finely chopped and the mixture looks like sand.

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the herb mixture with the remaining salt. Then spread it out onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and set aside, loosely covered with a clean cotton towel or paper towel, to dry for a few days to a week (until the herbs are completely dry).

Store in a cool, dry place (like your spice cabinet).

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