Thursday, September 5, 2013

Porch Zen

This is my porch.

This is my wine on my porch.

This is nature in my wine.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Alpine Strawberries

My alpine strawberry plants started bearing fruit in early summer. (Not the originals, sadly. The first heat wave this summer killed my seedlings so I bought two plants from a local farm. Is that cheating?)

Unfortunately, the first heat wave wasn't the only one. I managed to bring the plants back from the brink a couple of times, but I think one of them may have a problem. It has red leaves and some dead outer leaves. From my online research, that could mean black root rot or verticillium wilt. Or, according to a horticulturist, it may just be going dormant for the winter. We'll have to wait and see if it makes it.

The other plant looks a lot better. And they are both giving me lots of delicious, tiny fruit.

This is my version of Claes Oldenburg's Spoonbridge and Cherry. :)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Aaah, Summer

Red leaf lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, and mozarella cheese, all locally grown. Just when it starts feeling like summer is almost over, summer arrives on my plate.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Stories of Peas in Pods

Once upon a time, there were peas in a pod...

These peas are strong! They're ready to knock over their trellis in their search of just a leeetle more light...

Snow white pea flowers have two large petals that look like elephant ears, two small petals that curve inward like wings, and a vertical petal in the middle that botanists call the "keel." Take a close look at clover flowers growing on a lawn - they're in the Pea family too and the small flowers have the same type of petals, but in miniature.

Pea flowers quickly turn into pea pods. (Take a look at the one on the bottom right, mid-transformation.)

Voila! Sun + dirt + seed = lots and lots of pea pods.

Lots of pea pods to shell. While watching TV, of course.

These peas are ready to bust out of their pods.

There are so many delicious ways to prepare peas...
But you can't go wrong with sauteeing in butter. The small pea pods were tender so I left them whole.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Herbal Tips: Getting to Know Plant Families

The second annual Herbstalk took place in Somerville, MA, June 8-9 -- a full weekend of herbal classes and plant walks. Seeing the buzz around the marketplace and the enthusiasm in the classes, it's clear that there is a huge audience for this topic!

In an intensive workshop with community herbalist Mischa Schuler (of Wild Carrot Herbs), I learned tips on identifying plant families and what those plants can do for your health. Three plant families caught my attention, and their basic descriptions can help you recognize some of these in your neighborhood. Ok, so there are hundreds of plant families, but you have to start somewhere.

Illustration from Köhler's Medicinal Plants{{PD-1923}}
Parsley Family (or Carrot Family) (Apiaceae)
Flowers of the parsley family have 5 sepals, 5 petals, and 5 stamen. But the best way to recognize them, I think, is that the flowers bloom in groups that look like upside down umbrellas. (Technically, they are called compound umbels.) All of the flower stems originate from one point.

The parsley family includes anise, fennel, cumin, caraway, celery, parsley, carrot, parsnip, and dill.

Strolling around your neighborhood, you're likely to see wild carrot, also called Queen Anne's Lace. You can eat its greens or root in spring, or harvest its flowers in summer. Wild carrot looks a lot like poison hemlock, but to tell the difference, remember the mnemonic "Queen Anne has hairy legs." Poison hemlock has smooth stems.

The parsley family can ease gas and bloating. Many Indian restaurants have a bowl of fennel seeds for their guests to help with digestion after dinner. Personally, I prefer the candied fennel seeds. Mm, sugar.

The parsley family is also known for decongestant and antiviral properties, Mischa  recommended steeping crushed fennel seeds in hot water for about 10 minutes if you have a cold or sinusitis.Good to know, since I had sinusitis while I was taking this class.

Illustration from Köhler's Medicinal Plants{{PD-1923}}
Mint Family (Lamiaceae)
This is my favorite family. It gets points for making me feel smart - I can recognize a lot of the plants in this family. But they're also excellent healers.

Flowers of the mint family have 5 united petals, 2 lobes up and 3 lobes down. But since you want to harvest these before they grow flowers, it's good to know that they have square stems and opposite leaves. Opposite leaves means that two leaves emerge at each node on opposite sides of the stem.

The mint family includes most culinary herbs, like rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender, oregano, basil, lemon balm, and of course, mint.

This family is known for their volatile oils, which is why they are so delicious. They are also anti-viral and anti-microbial. So a mint tea is good for a cold, and lavender or thyme oil make an excellent additive to a DIY cleaning spray.  And they are good remedies for gas and bloating, just one more reason to keep some mint tea around.

Illustration from Köhler's Medicinal Plants{{PD-1923}}
Rose Family (Rosaceae)
Take a look at the bottom of an apple and you will see a pattern of five, where the five petals of the flower used to be. Or cut it open crosswise, and you will see five seeds laid out in a star pattern. These are clues that the apple belongs in the rose family.

Flowers of the rose family have 5 petals, 5 sepals, and many stamens. (I know, the Parsley family does too, but size is the difference - these are much bigger plants.) These plants also have oval, serrated leaves.

The rose family includes lots of fruits I didn't realize are so closely related: apples, pear, quince, apricot, peach, nectarine, plum, cherry, almond, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, and of course, rose.

Want to learn more about identifying plants in your neighborhood? Mischa recommended some resources (many of which are now on my Christmas wish list!)

Elpel, Botany in a Day (includes use of plants for healing)
Peterson, Edible Wild Plants
Newcomb's Field Guide to Wildflowers (we used this guide to do some of our identifying in the field)
Thayer, The Forager's Harvest and Nature's Garden

And one recommendation of my own, if you happen to find some wild carrot:
North Carolina State University's page on Daucus carota

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Green Greens

I don't know about you, but I am very good at buying fresh veggies and then letting them waste away in my refrigerator. Like lettuce mixes - it's a shame when you think of the effort that goes into growing, harvesting, washing, packaging, and shipping greens across country to my grocery store. So I'm happy to be eating greens from my garden for the past couple of weeks - I pick what I can eat and eat it fresh.

In addition to growing spinach in containers in my backyard, I've been fortunate to be growing in a "borrowed" garden. A friend has some space that she is not using, which I've been using to grow arugula, red sails lettuce, and carrots. The carrots will be awhile yet, but for now, I'm enjoying my own salad mix.

Soon to come, oodles of fresh peas...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Calendula Salve (part II)

A jar of oil has been infusing with calendula blossoms on my dining room table since February, and now's the time to make the salve. Mountain Rose Herbs has a great recipe for calendula salve, among other fabulous things.

I started with a hunk of beeswax. (Whole Foods sells beeswax by the pound. I hacked off about an ounce worth.)

And about a cup (eight ounces) of calendula flower infused oil.

To strain out the blossoms, I covered a glass with cheesecloth...

and dumped the mixture on top.

I poured the oil into my diy double broiler. I don't own one, so my substitute is a metal bowl fitted on a saucepan. I'm never buying a double broiler.

(If you haven't used one, pour some water into the saucepan, enough so it doesn't boil away too quickly, but not so much that the bowl's bottom touches the water surface. The steam from the boiling water heats the beeswax gently, without burning.)

It's melting, it's melting...

And it's melted. I poured the oil-beeswax combination into two small jars.

A few minutes later, I had me some salve!

This was so fast and easy in the end (you know, after the weeks and months of waiting) and it all came about because someone gave me a marigold seedling last year. Next time, lip balm!