Saturday, March 31, 2007


Dropped off the face of the earth... no e-mail for three days, and too much to do.
But I'm back: all it took was a bribe of a nice Italian dinner to get the computer guy over to do his voodoo magic on my "settings" which *somehow* got out of whack.
But Thanks, Tony!
Good grief, if I could only read fast enough over his shoulder to figure out what he did to restore my connection.
I should take a class.

Speaking of classes, I brought this quick Lemon Tea Bread last week for my class to sample. The recipe is one of favorites of the ladies of the Genesee County Herb Society, and can be found in our book, "Herbal Favorites."

Lemon Tea Bread
Yield: one loaf

3/4 cup milk
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh lemon balm
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh lemon verbena
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon thyme leaves
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 Tbsp. fresh grated lemon peel

Juice of two lemons
Confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease a loaf pan or 3 small loaf pans.
Heat milk, stir in herbs, let steep 15 minutes until cooled.
Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Stir in lemon peel.
Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, stirring, alternately with herbed milk. Do not over stir. Pour into pan, and bake for 50-60 minutes.
While loaf is baking, combine lemon juice and confectioners’ sugar to form soft pourable paste.
While baked loaf is still hot, poke holes in top with skewer. Pour glaze over hot loaf and allow to cool.
Remove from pan, place on decorative plate. Here is where some sprigs of fresh herbs, preferably lemon-flavored, would make a lovely garnish. Slice to serve.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A spring peepers' chorus in Michigan

Saw this little guy in my backyard. He was sitting in a patch of Cerastium, a.k.a. Snow in Summer. The peepers are singing loudly in the wet spots out in the fields, the prettiest voice of all the amphibians. It's funny, all these years Herb thought I was talking about birds when I said 'spring peepers'.
Click on photo to see close-up. To get an idea of how small he is, those are spruce needles behind him.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

As soon as the ground thaws

I found this recipe for Sunflower Soup in the archives of KGI, Kitchen Gardeners International (link).
Link back to the original for a good article about Sunchokes, a.k.a. Jersalem Artichokes, a native sunflower with an edible root.
The photo is from Monticello's website. Thomas Jefferson noted the native plant.

My personal favorite use for Sunchokes is to braise/roast them along with other root veggies in the pan with a pot roast of beef. Sunchokes have a flavor all their own, and with pot roast gravy they are outstanding.

Sunflower Soup

Two types of Jerusalem Artichoke are available in France, one white and thin, the other round and pale pink. Either one will do but both discolour if exposed to air so cover with cold water or cook quickly after peeling.

Start off by peeling and chopping a large onion and sweating it gently in a covered cast iron pan with a knob of butter and a pinch of salt.
Meanwhile peel and chop a good handful of Jersusalem Artichokes and add them to the pan.
If you want a thicker soup, also add a diced medium-large potato.
Continue to gently cook the vegetables, without browning, for about 10 minutes.

Now add 1 liter of chicken stock (or vegetable stock, if you prefer).
A shake of white pepper, a small pinch of dried sage, bring the pan to the boil and then let the soup simmer for about half an hour.

Turn off the heat, allow the mixture to cool a little and then put it through the blender. Add a little water if you think the mixture is too thick. You should have a soup that is creamy in both colour and appearance.

Test the seasoning, add salt and white pepper if necessary, and reheat. Now you can stir in different finishing touches, for example: a soup spoon of double cream (highly recommended) or a tiny pinch of saffron.
This recipe makes 4 generous bowls of soup.
"Bon appetit!"
About the author, Gill Thompson, is a roving reporter for Kitchen Gardeners International. She lives in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France where she and her husband live in a charming sun-baked house with a lovely garden.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Spring is springing

Winter aconite. I always wonder if they will return. The originals I planted are underneath an old lavender plant, and I can't get a decent photo, but this little patch is in a more accessible spot. The Labrador violets haven't woken up yet, and the Epimedium needs to be cut back before it begins to wake up as well. Reminder: If you click on the photo, you can see the full sized photo.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Another recipe?

Wowsers! Another recipe? I'll bet you thought this was supposed to be a blog about herb gardening. And what's with all the little inspirational quotations, and the poems! Well, folks, that's herbs for ya! The little "useful plants" can be just about anything you want them to be. And for a Michigan gardener, in the winter, we read and cook, and walk down our own figurative garden paths. Spring is returning, though...

First a little seasonal quote, what I call "inspiration." Then on, to the recipe.

"In a garden _ growth has its season. There are
spring and summer, but there are also fall and
winter. And then spring and summer again.
As long as the roots are not severed, all is well
and all will be well."
by Jerry Kosinski, from 'Being There'

Last evening my herb class focus was on growing herbal tea gardens and making herbal tisanes (including my take on medicinal herbs and safety issues. We also talked about low impact spring cleaning. Lots of handouts.)
Along the tea theme, I brought in my Rosemary Scones for sampling.

This short scone recipe is quite old, I was making these before the trendy food people popularized the scones that look and taste like big oatmeal cookies. Not that I have a problem with trendy foodies. I can't! because Comcast doesn't provide Food tv on its basic plan, just a lot of very bad programming. But back to the scones.
These are more along the lines of a biscuit, and like biscuits, their success depends on your technique.
Practice makes perfect. Last night they were pretty good.
Oh, shoot! I forgot the photo. I'll take that right now. Mind these are day-old.

Back. Call me shakey...

I just ate one, still very good. Nice fresh rosemary flavor. My Scottish grandparents (via Nova Scotia, CA) would be proud.

Short Rosemary Scones

Yield: 16 scones.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine in large bowl:

2 cups flour
1 T sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. ground black pepper
1 T. chopped fresh rosemary

Cut in:

1/4 cup butter (chilled)

Combine in small bowl:

1 egg yolk (reserve white for glaze)
8-oz. container 'real' sour cream (NOTE: I've also used 'real' 1/2 yogurt (not 'lite') in place of the sour cream. You could experiment with heavy cream or buttermilk.)

1/3- 1/2 cup reconstituted dried apricots, snipped into small bits

Make a well in dry ingredients. Add egg-sour cream mixture all at once and stir until combined . (Mixture will seem dry. But stir until all ingredients are incorporated.) While stirring, add fruit.
Turn dough onto floured surface and quickly knead 8-10 times, until smooth.. Divide into four pieces. Form each piece into a ball, and flatten slightly.
Cut each piece into 4 wedges. Arrange on baking sheet 1" apart. Brush with egg white, sprinkle with sugar and finely chopped rosemary.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until light brown. cool on wire rack for 10 minutes, serve warm.

NOTE: I like to add reconstituted dried cherries, dried cranberries, or snipped dried apricots. The batch I made yesterday had apricots.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Get yer pepper seeds now... that next March you can be doing what I'm doing, grinding my own chili pepper, ancho powder, and ground paprika.

1. Plant a variety of pepper seeds indoors, grow the plants out in your garden when the soil warms up.
2. Pick pecks of peppers when they're ripe.
3. Dry what peppers you don't eat. I dry ancho, paprika, and cayenne.
4. Store them in a dry place and grind them as you need them.

A few hints:
Cayennes are small and thin enough to string and dry, but if the air is at all humid (and sometimes Michigan is very humid in August and September), then you'll need to use a dehydrator or your oven. Anchos and paprikas have thicker flesh, so they should be cut open to dry. Again, you can do them on screens, but for best quality you can't beat the dehydrator.
Anchos can be smoked in a grill or smoker to add flavor.
I read somewhere that I trust, and it makes sense: grind the pepper seeds with the pepper - they add nutrition and there is an antioxidant element in the seed that helps the ground pepper retain it's color and vitamin content. It also eliminates the step of seeding the peppers. You don't even know they're there when the pepper is ground.
Quality Control.
I know how my peppers are grown, harvested, dried, and ground, and I've never opened up a container of home-ground peppers to find larvae or beetles. I sure can't say that of purchased paprika.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Herbed Potato Rolls

I made these to share with my class. Herb Sr. thinks they are wonderful, and I don't tell how unbelievably easy they are to make. I like them warm with butter and rosemary honey for a real treat.

Herbed Potato Rolls
(Adapted from a recipe found on
Start in bread machine, finish in oven.
Yields: 12-18 rolls.

1 cup plus 2 Tblsp. warm water
2 Tblsp. olive oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tblsp. instant dry milk
1/2 cup instant potato flakes
1 Tblsp. sugar
1 tsp. dry rosemary, crumbled (optional: use chicken seasoning)
1 tsp. salt
3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoon yeast (for bread machines)

Reserve another egg to brush on rolls.
Optional: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or crumbled herbs of your choice for topping.

Add all of the ingredients to your bread machine pan in the order given, or in the order suggested by your manufacturer.
Process on dough cycle. (1:30)
Remove to floured surface when processed. Divide into 12-18 pieces.
Roll each piece into a rope, tie each in a simple knot and place each on a greased baking sheet, 2” apart.
Cover and allow to rise in warm spot until doubled (30-45 min.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brush tops carefully with egg wash. Sprinkle with herbs or seeds if desired.
Bake for 12-15 minutes (depending on size).
Cool covered with a towel.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Photos from the Michigan Herb Associates 20th Annual Spring Conference

It was a bright March day at Michigan State University during spring break... we parked near Spartan stadium and walked a short way to Wells Hall.
I suspect this fellow followed me home.
Jane Taylor, keeping the ship afloat one more time.
Dr. Lownds, Caroline Holmes...
Class with Julie Krist
(Hi Della!)

Jane's farewell, hope we see her again!

Photos from the MHA 20th Annual Spring Conference

Betsy Williams, one of my favorite herb speakers, with books. Her talk was "Green Connections - Old Plants in a New Land."

Ellen Spector Platt spoke on lemon herbs and lavender.
A "zesty" speaker indeed, and all the way from England, Caroline Holmes.

Michigan's very own Colleen French who among her other herbal talents makes the very nicest soaps I've ever used.

Wednesday already! I'm behind from Springing ahead.

The class is going well, but I hate to tell you how small it is! Well, I always say I hate speaking to large groups. Crikey.
Anyway, what is it doing, being Wednesday already? Time flies. Yesterday was balmy enough to keep the door open all afternoon to hear the birds cheering. FRESH AIR!
And only two days before snowdrifts were covering all of anything green.

Flowers blooming on Tuesday March 13, 2007:
Species crocus, purple, they've reseeded around the yard lately. I appreciate how crocuses draw the bees so early in the year. Life. Yes.

Snowdrops,too. Notice how the amateur cameraperson neglects to spruce up the subject. Is that a stick laying across that flower?

Cyclamen coum:
My cameraship is shakey, sorry, but it is what it is. I had to stick the camera under the leaves of the epimedium that is threatening to beat up the tiny cyclamen. I love it when the little fellow blooms, tiny, screaming MAGENTA.

No sign of the winter aconites yet. They surprise me every time. Can't wait.

Peter Rabbit has been hanging around leaving fertilizer. I wonder if he was the culprit that left that stem of snowdrop there. Throwing down the gauntlet already?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Tales of the Michigan Herb Associates Annual Conference

I will post something soon. It's truly been a l-o-n-g week. I do have some blurry photos and some commentary, so stay tuned. But I wanted to post a quickie Cuppa Tea of the Week:
At the conference I had an old favorite: Bigelow's "Constant Comment."
I like a cuppa good old Constant Comment when I'm in the mind of a little pick-me-up.

Ingredients: black tea, rind of oranges, spice, and "natural flavor."

Tea bag in individual wrapper. As advertised on said wrapper:
"The famous delicious blend of fine TEA flavored with rind of oranges and sweet spice." That third generation of the Bigelow family must be rich. I'da said orange rinds and cinnamon and lost half my customers.

More views of the Extension Backyard Herb Garden...

In these shots you can see the pamphlet box that holds folded-page handouts that explain the compost area, and some of the remaining compost bins. The site was originally meant to showcase various methods for backyard gardeners to compost. The herb garden was just planned for a pretty backdrop for the compost demo area. Little did they know...
It's hard to get people around here interested in compost (what a shame!) and the individual on the paid staff who was gung-ho about teaching composting has moved on. But the herbs are still here, and some of us hardy old volunteers.
Most of the finicky, short lived perennial or borderline hardy plants have disappeared over the years. The list of remaining plants is about a third of the original list. Some amount of signage from disappeared plants is or are sitting on a shelf. And the plants that were hardy, agressive or 'happy to be here' have grown with very little encouragement into each other and will need to be divided as we go. Lots to do!

Hope we have a gardening-friendly year. I understand it's an El Nino cycle. I'm not a hothouse violet, but I appreciate enjoyable weather for my gardening time. After all, gardening is my avocation, not my vocation.

Still a blanket of snow covers the ground. I've always grown snowdrops and winter aconite, and in the past few years planted some Cyclamen coum (the zone 5 hardy cyclamen that blooms when the snowdrifts melt) and Hellebores (believe it or not, before I heard Barry Glick speaking at a trade show in Lansing.) I have flowers blooming outdoors when many Michiganders are whining about their lack of garden flowers. But this year the snow has not had a chance to melt off the beds where my little gems are waiting. Patience!

There IS a little chervil still green and alive up near the house in the gravel under the overhang on the south-east side. I saw a big jack rabbit sitting there when it was even too cold for the cats to run out and back indoors on below zero morning a few weeks back. The world is never without some kind of life waiting to be discovered.
Weather this weekend, after all the awful cold we've had in the past two months, is expected to be in the 40's... I believe we'll be thawing, hoo-ray!

Monday, March 05, 2007

the Backyard Herb Garden

The gal who does the powerpoint slide show for the Master Gardener's annual banquet was finally able to dig up an uploadable photo of the project I'm assuming this year. Someone sent her a photo taken on the garden tour last summer.
This photo shows the herb garden at the Extension that I'm planning to renovate.

Crunch time today: 1. Need to finalize info on the garden stepping stone we're having made for the Herb Society. 2. Run by the Community Education office to sign papers for the class I'm teaching starting tomorrow, and pick up a printer cartridge (I hate my printer! I think it prints only about 20 sheets before it starts the low ink warning!)to finish up the first week's handouts. 3. Finish up the handouts and collect the visual aids.

Every class needs a theme. This year my mantra will be on confidence building:
"If I can do it, YOU can do it."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The student CSA organic farm at Michigan State University

This brings back memories of summer! I took the tour two years ago during the Michigan State Master Gardener Association Summer Conference.
Local, sustainable, organic produce... the wave of the future! Those young people give me hope.
I love my coldframe, but if I could only build a greenhouse. I've got Dr. Biernbaum's plans that he handed out that day, but I lack a willing partner.
Wouldn't you agree, fresh homegrown veggies 48 weeks of the year would be wonderful?

Cuppa Tea of the Week

Lemon Ginger Sharpness Herbal Tea, by Stash

In contrast to last week's Lemon Blossom Herbal Tea, this week's tea is lemon flavored, yes, but has more herbal flavors, the ginger being the strongest overall flavor. It should be called ginger-lemon. If Lemon Blossom was an A, Lemon Ginger Sharpness is a B.
Concerning the ginkgo, no one told me I was perceivably more brilliant that afternoon, and I never noticed the advertised sharpness.
This one drink without milk, but sweetener might help.

Ingredients: Ginger root, lemongrass, ginkgo biloba, hibiscus, safflower, citric acid, and natural lemon flavor.

Blurb on the bag wrapper: ... "very pleasing lemon-ginger taste ... Studies in Europe suggest that ginkgo helps increase blood flow to the brain, thereby increasing sharpness and alertness and improving memory."

Wrapper entertainment provided by Emily Dickinson:
"That it will never come again
is what makes life so sweet."