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August 15, 2007

A Year in Bread in midsummer

berries like grapes

It's too hot to bake!

Well, almost too hot to bake. This month at A Year in Bread we are focusing on quick breads, with Kevin's scrumptious Cheese Bread starting us out. My post is going up tomorrow, but there is a subtle hint here somewhere about the recipe. If I could just remember where I put it.

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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.

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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.

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April 17, 2007

I promise you an herb garden...

sage flowers

Once upon a time, the kitchenMage had the herb garden of her dreams. Wisteria draped the entrance arbor, opening onto a herringbone path interplanted with thyme and moss and edged with lavender and a plethora of mints. Herbs, both common and rare, filled this garden and new finds were constantly finding their way there. Rare thymes and more mints than she could name filled the beds, and the air, with intoxicating scents. A few choice trees also lived there: the prized sweet bay, a pink dogwood bent near horizontal from its attempts to survive its old home, and the maples (no two the same) that defined the border.

Oh, I'm sorry! I was daydreaming there for a minute.

While I would love to have that herb garden again (and it is worth a look, although I apologize for the old, not so great photos) the sad fact is that I don't. Worse, I won't have anything like it for a few more years to come. A few summers from now, I expect to once again walk through a garden like that, although not too much like that.

I have a new house and a new "yard" - if one can call close to nine acres a yard - but after two years, the new garden remains unplanted. When we arrived, the little beds around the house's foundation looked like builders had done the planting: some unkempt low junipers and dozens of pansies, in a stunning array of magenta and white-one shade of each. Boring! (When the foxglove and daisies that had been hidden in winter, when we bought the place, first emerged, it seemed fitting somehow that they were also white and purple.)

Frankly, the only thing to recommend the gardened areas was the blueberry patch. The untended space, mostly Douglas firs (originally planted for timber harvest) with fern-laden undergrowth edged up against wild fog forest, has more to recommend it, including the wildlife. At least most of the time.

chives01

Call me naïve, but I really hadn't counted on the sheer volume of critters in the yard. In addition to the deer and small creatures common to the cusp of field and wood, there's an elk herd - numbering from a dozen to many times that, depending on how close we are to hunting season - wanders through on their way from on valley to the next. I don't even want to think about what the neighbor's escaped cows did to the poor magnolia!

There was a bit of momentary panic at the thought of doing without any herb garden while I wait for fencing to protect my treasures from marauding beasts before I put them in harm's way. Really good fencing. Luckily, it was winter and I really couldn't do much beyond sulk at the idea of life sans garden. That and watch the critters.

Over the first couple of months, I noticed that nary a critter has ventured close enough to the house to see, let alone nibble, the beds of evergreen blobs and rampant pansies. Go figure.

One day it dawned on me. They never came close to the house.

Those beds, filled with plants I found neither useful nor, truth be told, attractive were rapidly emptied and replaced with an herb garden that, while not quite so poetic as the old one, is wonderfully functional and quite lovely in its own way.

This small scale gardening has also been a learning experience. rosemary and chivesThe prominent location and shallow beds call for plants that are beautiful as well as aromatic and tasty so I have selected colorful varieties of some favored herbs: Tri-color and golden sage, variegated mint and thyme, and golden oregano, along with lots of edible flowers brighten front edges, while a swath of many mints thrives in the back, dry stripe under the roof overhang. My favorite rosemary has a home and creeping thyme softens the hard line between concrete and garden Best of all, there are chive clumps everywhere! And I must admit I love being able to step outside in bare feet to harvest herbs, something that was more difficult in the large garden.

it's all edible!

 

 

 

Establishing some plants has been a struggle. The first winter killed all the expensive new tarragon plants and last
winter's freeze/flood cycle took out half of the rosemary yearlings. Those plants sometimes died at the old place too, but with room to plant a hundred rosemary cuttings, rather than a tenth that, half of them dying isn't quite so sad.

 

After two years though, almost everything I need for cooking is here. There isn't a lot of some things, the thyme collection is short a few things (lavender and caraway evade me) and I can't find any lime mint. But there is enough to cook with daily and share with friends. And it is lovely, not looking at all like it was planted as a functional garden. More than one person has commented that it looks like a park.

This garden has also led to my conviction that any small space - even yours - can be transformed into a gorgeous herb garden that will rock your culinary world. Thoughtful plant selection and placement can result in a garden that will improve both your cooking and your yard.

While I know this isn't my old herb garden, it will do for now. In fact, even after the large garden goes in, the little one stays. I just need a cat-sized wisteria arbor.

the sage corner in herbgarden early may

(my herb garden set on flickr)

September 23, 2006

A cook's basket of herbs

Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn's weekly venture into the land of herbs and always offers a collection of international food writers weighing in with delightful ideas for using the goodness that is fresh herbs.

Basketofherbs1 Basketofherbs3The onset of fall in evenTinierTown brings morning fog, cooling afternoon breezes, and the annual wine tasting and auction, an event that always brings out a crowd to sample food and drink before spending a few dollars on a variety of donated goods. Depending on the amount of wine involved, the spending may climb to more than a few dollars...or so goes the devious plan.

Continue reading "A cook's basket of herbs" »

June 24, 2006

whb: grow your own sweet bay

Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn's weekly venture into the land of herbs and always offers a collection of international food writers weighing in with delightful ideas for using the goodness that is fresh herbs. This week's edition is being guest-hosted by Virginie at Absolutely Green who has a French-English blog with some yummy looking pictures of food and France both.

Baymidfeb06Of all the herbs in my garden, I brought three plants with me when I moved, leaving the rest to overwinter in a friend's yard while we got settled. A Tuscan Blue rosemary, the largest of the spanish lavender, and the sweet bay tree rode with me and the cats in the pickup truck. Had I been forced to a decision, the rosemary and lavender could have spent the winter with the rest, but the bay had to be with me.

Pretty strong feelings for an herb whose dried leaves are actually not too bad, widely available and usually inexpensive. For many cooks, bay is a necessary part of the melange of herbs used in things like soups, stews, pot roasts, and, of course, marinara sauce. When used this way, bay provides a difficult to describe flavor that adds a sort of depth and complexity to the dish without leaving a discernable flavor of its own. To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Stewart, I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I don't taste it.

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October 23, 2005

Weekend Herb Blogging: Borage

Kalyn, of Kalyn's Kitchen, has started an irresistible—well, at least to me—meme: Weekend Herb Blogging. Lacking in cats and dogs, but not garden, Kalyn dreamt up WHB as another option for food bloggers at play. Play? In an herb garden? I am so there!

Smpinkborage2

For my first foray, I am showcasing a bit of an aberration: a pink borage flower. As you can see from the picture, the densely-clustered flowers are a lovely periwinkle blue. When I went out the other day to snag a few pictures of the herb garden in late fall, I discovered one pink flower amongst the sea of icy blue. I've been growing borage for at least a decade now and it's the first pink flower I've seen so I was pretty jazzed. (What's that you say? I should get a life? laughs)

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September 05, 2005

I have stevia, now what?

At the beginning of summer, in an optimistic  burst of anticipated frentic energy, I bought a lot of herb starts. And I do mean a lot of herb starts. Most of them got in the ground and are thriving (I'll have to get pictures soon) but then there's the stevia. I bought a couple, stuck them in pots thinking that would make it easy to bring them inside in fall--does that even work?--and stuck the pots in a corner by the blueberries where they'd get water while I figured out what to do with them.

bonus tangential picture in the link

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July 05, 2005

My first article at Saucy...and cake.

Pardon just a moment of blatant self-promotion. My first article, The Rosemary Thief is up at Saucy magazine. In it I get to talk about cooking with fresh herbs, a particular passion of mine, so I am a happy kitchenmage.
And since I need a picture, and I have this one I've been wanting to use, have a slice of my birthday cake. Details later, but suffice it to say it was very, very chocolatey (and the mint is from my garden so there's the tie-in to herbs for those of you keeping score... grin)

Mycake

May 16, 2005

bring on the herb porn, bring on the...cat?

To answer an earlier question, "Yes, it's here!" But I had somehow missed the memory card I needed so it sat for several days...sad...dejected...without purpose... The camera didn't have much to do either. :-(

Well, that was then, this is now...

Lav1

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