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Posts Tagged ‘herbs’

It’s April 7th today, theoretically six weeks from last frost.  The three feet of snow on my lawn (plus the inch that fell yesterday) suggest that my plans to plant the main garden on Victoria Day are more than a little optimistic.  It’s -7 Celsius, with no day forecast to be above freezing until the end of next week, at the earliest.  Bleh.

 

I started artichokes in February, twelve weeks from last frost.  They’re a couple of inches tall, now, contributing to the living room jungle.   My permanent windowsill herbs have gone a little nuts; there is a brief span, spring and fall, when the sun is strong enough to really get them growing, and still low enough in the sky to shine directly in the south window.   My scheffelara has grown a foot in the last few weeks.

 

seed starts

 

I sat down this afternoon with a bag of dirt and a bag of seeds.  The result is an inability to find my kitchen table.  Again.  Today’s focus was mostly herbs and flowers; I decided not to pot up any more tomatoes until it looks like spring might actually come, as they do seem to get leggy if I start them too soon.  But we’ve got flats of calendula, zinnia, rudbeckia, pansies, dianthus, and basil on the go, now.  Potential beauty, beautiful potential, right there in my kitchen.  Planting seeds feels like such a hopeful thing to do; an act in defiance of this apparently never-ending winter…

 

daffodils

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Rosemary Salt

I had never really used rosemary for cooking, particularly.  I know it is in the Italian blend herb mix I put in all sorts of things, but I don’t know if I had ever actually used it on its own.  The flavor is nice, but I hate the way the little needle-y leaves stick in my gums, and I could never find powdered rosemary at the store.

 

However, I decided to grow a rosemary plant in my windowsill herb garden, just because.

 

My windowsill herb garden is a little bigger than you are probably imagining right now.  I have a gorgeous, south-facing  window in my living room, six or eight foot long.  I put a shelf under it, and have space for about a dozen 6″ pots…or six 6″ pots, a 10″ pot with a dracena, a 7 foot tall scheffelara, and a big dish of cat food, as the case may be.  I sowed the herbs last spring, and am growing oregano (two pots), lemon balm, rosemary, sage, and thyme.  I had a couple of pots of basil, but it always seemed to have aphids, so I gave up on that one.  The rosemary, thyme, and sage, in particular, were getting out of hand; the rosemary was around two feet tall.  Since we’re just getting into the part of the year where all my houseplants start growing like mad, I decided to give my herbs a serious haircut.

 

What do you do with a huge, foot-long bundle of rosemary branches, though?  Especially when you don’t like the stuff as a dry herb?  I hated the thought of wasting it.

 

I remembered that I have put together a rosemary-salt rub for some chicken in the summer, by grinding some fresh rosemary with a handful of pickling salt in my mortar and pestle, and the solution presented itself.

 

Rossemary Salt

 

It is a LOT of work to grind the rosemary down in the mortar and pestle, and it is very sticky stuff.  Just stripping the leaves off the branches left my fingers feeling like I had dipped them in pine tar.  Then I ground and mashed and ground some more.  The needles hold their shape for a long time, but just as I began to despair, they started to break down and meld with the salt.  It took what seemed like forever; however, the results are worth it.  We’ve been using this salt in spaghetti sauce, and it makes a delightful rub for our home-grown chicken – I just loosen the skin on the breast (by working in from the neck end), and rubbing the rosemary salt into the meat under the skin before roasting it.  I’m sure it would be lovely with pork, as well.

 

If you want to try making your own, I used about equal parts coarse pickling salt and rosemary leaves.  Start small – a tablespoon or two of each, as the rosemary is tough to grind, and tends to leap out and get all over the place if you start with too much.  The salt gets a bit of a sticky, moist texture, but it keeps just fine in a covered container for at least six months (which is as long as we’ve tested, with the leftovers from last summer’s chicken rub).

 

Since I happened to also have sage and thyme, I made an almost-Scarborough Fair mix, grinding generous handfuls of the three herbs with a few tablespoons of pickling salt.  I think that one would be great for seasoning chicken dishes, and I’ll be testing it out in my next vinaigrette mix, as well, I think.  Blueberry-herb salad dressing?  Yes, please!  Now I’m plotting what other herbs I could plant to try this with…

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It’s been hot here this week, with a forecast for more hot days.  I took advantage of a bit of cloud cover this afternoon to make up a pasta salad.  I am not good at following recipes when I cook, but here is an estimation of what I did:

 

Boil one box of penne pasta (we like whole wheat)

 

In the meantime, slice up and fry one package of halloomi cheese until browned on both sides (this is amazing stuff.  You can slice it,  fry it, brown it, and use it like vegetarian bacon!).  If you can’t find halloomi, or don’t like it, I have also been known to just cube cheddar or mozza cheese into the salad – don’t try to fry it, though!

 

Coarsely chop the following vegetables:

 

one red pepper

 

one yellow pepper

 

a small head of broccoli

 

a handful of green onions

 

several mushrooms

 

In a separate bowl, mix up the herb topping:

 

a generous handful (several tablespoons) each of oregano, basil, and Italian seasoning

 

1/2 to 1 tsp of garlic powder, depending how garlicky you like things

 

salt to taste (probably at least a teaspoon, but under-estimate it, as you can add more later)

 

pepper to taste

 

1/2 to 1 cup of shredded parmesan cheese

 

Mix the cooked pasta, fried halloomi (or cubed cheddar) and the raw veggies in a large pot or bowl.   Pour several tablespoons of olive oil over the mixture and stir well.  Start adding the herb mixture, a bit at a time, mixing well.

 

Voila, lunch.  It is great hot or cold, so it is a convenient summer meal!

 

 

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Yesterday was just one of those days.

We went into town to drop the Corolla off for the out-of-province safety inspection, but could not get in until Tuesday. The insurance is only good until the end of the month, and we need to figure out if it is worth fixing up and re-insuring, or if we need to go looking for a different vehicle for me. It was a long, annoying ride to town on three cylinders, and I was a little frustrated that they could not get me in, though I really had no right to be, as I hadn’t thought to book ahead.

We went to the Co-op Agro Centre and Peavy Mart to price out how much it is going to cost us for heat lamps and feeders for the chickens. They don’t come until the last week of May, but I want to be ready for them long before that. It sure would suck to get 50 chicks and find everyone sold out of heat lamps. We did not purchase any equipment yesterday, but we are satisfied that it will not be overly expensive – heat lamps are around $25, and feeders and waterers are about $10. We plan to keep the chicks confined using 2×6 boards, or maybe a couple of plastic kiddie pools…we’ll see.

What we couldn’t find was bedding and/or a selection of feed. The one pallet of feed we did find, at Peavy Mart, Nutrena Starter / Grower Feed, does not have an ingredient list on the bag. This is a real problem for me, as I cannot eat commercially produced eggs. I am not allergic to eggs, but I AM allergic to something they feed commercial chickens, if you can believe that. Therefore, the contents of my chicken feed is going to be critical. The bag had a note that the ingredient list was available from the manufacturer. I checked the website when I got home, and still could not find any indication of what, exactly, was in the bag. I figure if you can’t find something on a website in 10 minutes of searching, it probably isn’t there. I emailed the company (and boy, do they want a lot of personal info before they’ll answer a simple question), and we’ll see if they get back to me. I kind of think they won’t – there must be something to hide.

Though we didn’t buy chicken stuff, we did buy a bunch more garden seed. Not that we probably needed it, but what the heck – we’ve got an acre or so we could plant if we wanted. As the snow has melted, it has become apparent that there is a strip of land along our laneway, which used to be farmer’s field, and is now part of our acreage. It looks to me to be about 60 x 400 feet, based on our survey map and google maps. Hubby and I went and walked the length and width of it (we finally found some survey stakes), and it’s HUGE! I don’t know if we’ll actually plant it all, but we have no reason to exercise restraint, and the seed buying spree is now officially on…

I also started a bunch more herbs in terra cotta pots, to keep in our south window through the winter, so we can still have the odd bit of fresh basil or parsley in January. I was going to set out some of the other stuff in seed starting flats, but got sidetracked with recording. Hubby and I created a database, like a spreadsheet almost, to record information about different plant varieties and seed suppliers and such, so we could compare in the fall and decide what worked well enough to plant again next year. It took a couple of hours to set up, and I had already entered a bunch of information on the varieties we had started in flats last weekend. I went to add some information about the new seeds I was going to plant, and somehow deleted several hours’ worth of work. By two hours past my bedtime last night, I still had not recovered any of the lost information, so I am resigned to having a couple of afternoons’ worth of typing to re-do. Bleh.

At least the started seeds are doing well. In the last few days, the squash, melons, tomatoes, and some of the herbs have come up. Yay! Nothing from any of the peppers, yet, but we planted a couple of terra cotta pots’ worth of hot pepper plants (jalapeno and cayenne), just for fun.

Today I am going to start some of the new stuff – some of it is completely frivolous, like Turk’s Turban, bushel, and birdhouse gourds, as well as a bunch of flowers, and I’m kind of looking forward to growing some ‘fun’ stuff, as well as the veggies…

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We woke up this morning to a sunny blue sky, and the drip-drip-drip of snow melting off the roof.  Cooked up a big ole feed of bacon and scrambled eggs, with toast and home-made jam.   Sat on the front step sipping coffee, and taking in the sun.  It was 5 degrees in the shade, sweater weather at this time of year.

 

In honor of the actual spring weather, this afternoon I sat out on the step and sowed a ton of seeds in seed-starting flats.  Hubby supervised the dogs playing in the snow, and had himself a beer and a cigar (left over from our trip to Cuba last November).  I brewed up a fancy coffee from fresh-ground beans, and used it to wash down a couple of brownies that Hubby baked earlier this week.  We put a Cuban CD in the stereo, and kicked back in lawn chairs on the bit of lawn that has melted through the snow.  It was fabulous!  I’m loving our acreage, today.

 

I have now started peppers (sweet and hot), tomatoes, squash, cukes, celery, melons, broccoli, cabbage, a bunch of herbs, and a few tobacco plants, just for fun.   Over 100 little peat containers of potential are now sitting on my kitchen counter, waiting to sprout!  Planting time is usually the last week of May or first week of June, so probably 6-8 weeks from now.   I may be getting a little ahead of myself, considering we don’t even know where the garden will go, but hey…a little optimism seems warranted, today.  We’re going to try to keep detailed gardening records, so that we can figure out which varieties work best in our climate, and what keeps well.  It’s exciting to finally get started…

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