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May 2007

May 30, 2007

Melamine, US manufacturers get into the act

Ahem. For any of you who thought that the problem was limited to not-so-well-patrolled imported foodstuff, check this out.

The FDA alerted feed manufacturers that ingredients containing melamine and related compounds were found in products made by Tembec BTLSR Inc. of Toledo, Ohio, and used by Uniscope Inc. of Johnstown, Colo.

Tembec makes two products, AquaBond and Aqua-Tec II, which it distributes for Uniscope. The products are used in fish feed.

Uniscope also makes a product for livestock feed called Xtra-Bond, and it uses ingredients produced by Tembec. The FDA advised feed manufacturers and others not to use the products and to contact the two manufacturers.


It is probably a good thing that I have a pair of looming deadlines, otherwise I might say something I would regret in the outloud voice. And we wouldn't want that.

May 27, 2007

wcb: Farmgirl's virtualCat is just beau'ful!

orca (cat) in the grass

I am fortunate to have a valiant protector in Mr Bowtie 'ssouri, who is also Farmgirl's virtualCat - which is fortunate for her because he is one MOUTHY thing. She says it's because he's hungry, while someoneElse says it's because he is ready to be marinated in lemon and pepper for dinner. 'ssouri says nothing - which is a rare thing indeed. Today he spent some time out in the sun with me, protecting me from the wily grass. Do you think if I fed him herbs instead he'd taste better?

Weekend Cat Blogging is at the House of the (Mostly) Black Cats this week - click here to bring on the cute.

May 25, 2007

weekend herb blogging: In love with lovage

lovage leaves

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is one of my favorite herbs you have never heard of. The herb's lack of public recognition always seems odd to me. It's a versatile herb with a palate-friendly flavor a lot like celery, yet more complex and nuanced. Fresh, young leaves are mellow enough to use whole in a salad, but it also stands up to long cooking in soups and stews.

The obvious presenting flavor of lovage is celery, but the flavor is more complex than that. Along with the concentrated celery is a large dose of the bright green flavor of parsley and a hint of something sweetly earthy. I use it as a celery substitute whenever it is available and find it provides some ineffable extra taste that I really like.

The hollow stem, a section of which can be up to a foot or more in length and an inch in diameter, makes an excellent straw for drinks, such as a Bloody Mary, where a celery flavor is desired. Lovage stems can be candied, like angelica, as an unusual sweet treat.lovage brush

Excuse me a moment of excitement, but I just discovered a new trick for lovage stems: sliced lengthwise and put in ice water, they curl like the ridged curling ribbon they make for wrapping presents! This offers all sorts of possibilities from the sublime (make a brush for putting melted butter on corn on the cob) to the ridiculous (edible icons of the Flying Spaghetti Monster). Curlicue garnishes. Hair for Halloween monsters. This could be fun.

Lovage is also a beautiful addition to your herb garden. Unfurling from asparagus tip-like bundles in early spring, lovage quickly becomes a hip-high bush of soft green foliage.closeup of new growth on lovage Midsummer sees flower spikes shooting to eye level before opening golden umbels that slowly mature into marvelously tasty seeds, something the birds know as well as I. Come fall, the birds and I vie for themature seeds, with my winnings finding their way into stews and breads over the winter.

Gardeners appreciate lovage because it is easy to grow, tolerating most soil condition and even a bit less water and sun than large, leafy herbs. (It is easy to tell when lovage is thirsty; mine, which is in direct sunlight, droops noticeably on hot days. Fortunately, it revives just as quickly with a bit of water.)

lovage flowersA perennial that, like tarragon, requires a period of cold dormancy, lovage is often grown as an annual in warm climates. If you have to do this, you can save your own seeds, stored in an airtight jar in the refrigerator, over the winter for spring planting.

You can often find plants at a local nursery, although probably not at a 'big-box' store, and seeds are available from a number of sources, including Territorial Seeds and Seeds of Change. Better yet, keep an eye out for a plant in the garden of a friend or neighbor; If you see one, don't be afraid to ask for a start for your garden. A single plant is enough to supply all but the most avid of lovage fan - and two will do for even them - and since lovage self-seeds, there are often small "volunteers" growing around the base of established plants. Spring (now as I write this) is the perfect time to divide lovage clumps, preferably on a cool, cloudy day.

Continue reading "weekend herb blogging: In love with lovage" »

May 22, 2007

Cookie Lavender: Lavender Shortbread recipe

lavender shortbread

"Is this cookie lavender?" Sarah looked up from her herb snipping with a big grin. "I hope it's cookie lavender!"

Most people probably associate lavender with soap or maybe perfume, but not cookies! Who has ever heard of lavender cookies?

Well, let's start with the obvious: yes, they smell like lavender! (and butter, if that helps) The scent is either intoxicating or...well, off-putting might be an appropriate term. I have taken these to several parties and I love the reactions.

PurpleenglishflutterbySome people smell them and immediately get the lavender scent. I can tell because the response is usually a skrinched nose accompanied by a moment while a polite way of ask if they contain...umm, err, soap is sought. (Seriously, I can see the wheels whir. The thought goes: "These smell like soap! OMG! I can't say that? But she knows how to cook! How could she...but she must have tasted one...but...SOAP!" So far, I haven't laughed, but it is getting harder.)

Others simply can't identify the scent.

Every once in a while, a sniff is met with an arched eyebrow, and an inquisitive glance. Those people get a special little note in my internal list of people I can suck into tasting weird creations. Err, I mean recipe testers!

One bite, however, and the cookies have gained a fan. Never fails. These tender little cookies are melt-in-your-mouth buttery with a delicately floral taste. Nary a hint of soap.

There are several types of lavender commonly available, but for culinary uses, English Lavender is what most cooks choose. Most other lavenders are too strong, being either more camphorous than sweet or simply overwhelmingly flowery.

Interestingly enough, English lavender is actually not a scientific designation of lavender. This common name refers to a number of lavender species with the most common being Lavandula angustifolia officinalis, which is most common and prized for its sweet scent and flavor along with superb oil quality. The Lavandula angustifolia species "Hidcote," "Munstead," and "Melissa," along with Lavandula intermedia "Provence" are amongst the favorites for cooking.

Although only a handful of lavenders are suitable for culinary uses, there are a number of others that definitely deserve a spot in your garden. Some of my favorites are:

spanish lavender

Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) has lovely bracts, often called "rabbit's ears" or "wings," making it one of the showiest garden lavenders. I have half a dozen different Spanish Lavender species, including several shades of purple and one or two pinks, but this yellow lavender (said to smell of lavender and rosemary) is going on my endlessListOfThingsIWant right now!

French lavender (Lavandula dentata) has finely-toothed leaf edges and small, pale purple flowers. It is another attractive, and less common, plant for the garden.

Lavandin (Lavandula intermedia) is a hybrid cross between L. angustifolia and Lavandula stoechas with particularly long flower stalks. Lavandin is commonly used for perfume oil and is also common in gardens.

Woolly lavender (Lavandula lanata) has silver leaves and dark purple flowers, making it a beautiful landscaping plant.

Sweet Lavender (Lavandula heterophylla) is an oddly named plant as it is far too camphorous to use in cooking. It is one of the tallest lavenders, however, with spikes of up to 4 feet.

Cookie Lavender (Lavandula cookieus), which isn't a species, but should be, is usually Munstead, but occasionally Melissa, or even Alba, grown in my front garden bed. Soon in Sarah's garden too.

Continue reading "Cookie Lavender: Lavender Shortbread recipe" »

May 13, 2007

Three little lambs

triplet sheep

It's spring and I would be here, except that there are things like this out there! Saw these guys on the way to the CSA and farm market. I love the spray paint - there are a couple hundred sheep and they are sprayed several different colors, makes for a weird looking field!

May 01, 2007

Chocolate-dipped Candied Citrus Peel recipe

Chocolate dipped candied citrus peel

Some friends of mine made these recently, using oranges, grapefruit and limes. Of these, the lime was the surprise favorite of the evening, resulting in some amusing jockeying for proxiity to the last plate of treats.

While I haven't made these myself, I would guess that you can easily double the amount of peel without increasing the amount of other ingredients. More than that and I would increase the amount of water in which the peel is boiled and make more syrup.

Chocolate dipped candied lime peelChocolate-dipped Candied Citrus Peel

Candied Citrus Peel
fruit (pick one) ~ oranges 6 | grapefruit 4-5 | lemons 12 | limes 18
water 12 cups (divided in thirds)
water 1 1/2 cups
sugar 4 1/2 cups
sugar 1/2 cup

Peel fruit in long strips using a paring knife. Remove any white pith from the peel and cut peel into 1/2 x 2 inch pieces.

Put 4 cups of water in a heavy saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add the peel, let it boil again. Cover and reduce heat to low for 20 minutes. Drain. Repeat two more times.

Measure 1 1/2 cups of water and 4 1/2 cups sugar into saucepan and stir occasionally while bringing it to a boil over medium heat. Once it boils, reduce heat to low, attach a thermometer to pan (make sure it does not touch the bottom of the pan) and cook, without stirring, to 230° (thread), about 20 minutes. Add peel and continue cooking over low heat, stirring occasionally, to 240° (soft ball stage).

The syrup will drip off the peel when you remove it from the sugar syrup so you need to set up a wire rack over something that will catch the syrup. If you want to save the syrup to reuse it, use waxed paper; If you are going to throw the syrup away, you may prefer two layers of paper towels on a cookie sheet.

Remove peel from sugar syrup using a slotted spoon and drain on wire racks until the syrup has all drained off. (If you plan on reusing the syrup, pick up a piece of wax paper, fold it in half lengthwise and pour the syrup into a jar. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator.)

Candied citrus peel coated in chocolatePut 1/2 cup sugar in a shallow bowl or on a piece of waxed paper. Roll each piece of peel in the sugar to coat well. Place peel on clean wire racks to dry.

Chocolate dipping
About an hour after peel is rolled in sugar, melt 1/2 cup chocolate (in double boiler or using microwave on medium for a minute or two). Dip half of each piece of peel in chocolate and return to rack to set completely.

Candied peel keep for about two weeks in an airtight container. If it becomes sticky, roll it in sugar again.

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