Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The BEE"S in the Lavender BASIL

Lavender Basil Lovingly Embraces Cole Crops

I haven't found a Lavender Variety that wants to flourish in my humid Texas Gulf Coast Climate. I've tried them all, only to be disappointed. So I was very intrigued when I discovered this Lavender Basil. A lovely garden friend so graciously shared seeds with me from her garden. 

The discovery didn't come until late in July, so I knew I would barely have time to get them grown to flower for seeds of my own before the chance of an early frost. I had to go for it quickly! I had a fantastic germination rate and quickly added the plants to lovingly embrace the broccoli, cabbages and Brussels sprouts. 

This combination of companion planting showed tremendous benefits in deterring insects that might want to creep into the Cole crops. But more than that, I was totally surprised by the onset of every type of BEE that could possibly be found simply lavishing in lavender abundance.

My deepest dreams of traveling the countryside of Southern France and running through the hills and fields of lavender suddenly became real in my own gardens right here in Texas....only in a basil sort of way. As I began harvesting baskets full of blooms enhanced with the light sweet floral essence, I found myself totally enchanted.

The questions have been pouring in as to how I intended to use my Lavender Basil. When I first caught wind of this herb my first thoughts were on the perfect answer for creating my favorite blend of Herb De Provence.  Since the French version includes both Basil and Lavender...well....  ;)

French Baguettes with Herbs

You may find it delightful in a savory herb baguette! You'll find my recipe right here!

You might enjoy my story about creating your own Herb De Provence as well!!

Happy Gardening!
Pammy

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fresh Amaranth Tortilla Flatbread


Yes, it's not the lighting or the camera, the tortillas are really pinkish red in color.

I call them "Indian Summer," which is not to far off from the Hopi Red Dye Amaranth that I used to prepare them. In a previous post I shared using Amaranth Seeds ground into flour to make homemade pasta.

But here I am using the very young leaves of the Amaranth plant, also known as Indian Spinach. It is remarkably flavored just like normal green spinach you would grow in the garden. I do make the tortillas using regular spinach as well as using several other vegetables from the garden for different flavors.

Freshly harvested Hopi Red Dye Amaranth (Young tender leaves)

Most people who love to garden, also love to cook. I happen to love to bake and am always trying new and creative ways to use the harvest. 

In Texas we love our warm freshly made tortillas. I really began making my own out of desperation, and well, one thing led to another. The fact is you simply cannot buy lovely tortillas that are not made with lard or saturated fats, shortening, preservatives, artificial colors and the list goes on. 

It is indeed difficult to make them without all that bad stuff and to have them taste as good. But I searched and experimented and finally came up with a sure cure fix to an excellent homemade tortilla that frankly beats the socks off of any others. 

This recipe uses pure organic unadulterated ingredients and can be made plain or spiffed up to any flavor you desire.You won't believe how easy they are to make. This recipe makes 8 tortillas.

Ingredients

2 cups + organic unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp organic sunflower oil
3/4 cup organic whole milk (warm)
Steamed Chopped Spinach or Amaranth (to make one over sized cup after cooked)

A Nice Round Soft and Sticky Dough Ball

Directions

1. First, clean and wash your spinach, then chop it up. You will need to at least double up the amount used fresh, because once you steam it, it will of course shrink. Once steamed, set it aside to cool and drain of some its moisture.

2. Next, in a small sauce pan heat your milk on low, just enough to get it warm.

3. In your mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and whisk with a wire whisk. Start with the 2 cups of flour. You may need to add a little extra once you add the rest of your ingredients. Add your oil and 1 good cup of your chopped spinach.

4. You can make this dough by hand or take it to your mixing stand and add the dough hook. Mix on the 2nd setting of your mixer and add the milk a little at a time. The dough will be sticky by should begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If it is still soupy add a little more flour. Start with just 1/4 cup a go from there.

5. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Dust the top of the dough and knead until a nice soft pliable dough ball forms. It should still be very soft and a bit sticky. Do not over work the dough. Doing so will cause your tortillas to become stiff instead of soft and fluffy.

6. Place dough ball into a lightly oiled bowl and turn it once to coat it. Cover it with plastic wrap and then place a towel over it. Set in a warm place and let the dough rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Dough Cut into 8 equal pieces

7. Once your dough has rested, turn it out onto your lightly floured surface. Form the dough into a tube shape of sorts and cut it into 8 reasonably equal pieces. Cover with a towel and let the pieces rest for 10 minutes. While it is resting get out your cast iron skillet, a metal spatula and rolling pin.

Rolled out dough just like a pie crust

8. The next step is to flatten out a piece with the palm of your hand, keeping it in a circle. Next begin rolling it out from the middle towards the outsides, much like you would a pie crust. Lightly dust with flour is dough becomes to sticky. Flip it over and roll from the other side. Do each piece and set them aside until they are all rolled out. The key here is roll them as thin as possible, but not so thin they become hard to work with.

9. Turn your stove top on high heat and begin to get your cast iron skillet hot. Once it is hot, you may turn it down to medium depending upon your stove.

It is fine to use a tiny bit of oil in the skillet, however I found no purpose for doing so. The cook perfectly without it. Place one of your tortillas on the skillet. Let cook approximately 20 to 30 seconds on each side.

The tortilla will puff just a little around the edges when it is done. Keep a close eye to be careful not to burn them. Set each one on a wire rack, just long enough for the next tortilla to almost be done.

 I keep a tortilla keeper handy and set each one inside stacking them while they are still just barely warm. When they are completed I put the lid on. Let them completely cool and then flip the entire stack inside the keeper to keep the bottom tortilla from getting soggy. This process keeps them soft.

 Tortilla Keeper

Of course I cannot share this recipe without a little Native American History. Since we are baking with Hopi Red Dye Amaranth in this recipe I must share. 

When a Hopi woman found a man in which she wished to marry, she would bake a special bread made of cornmeal and amaranth called Piki Bread. 

It would be a reddish colored bread. She would take her bread to the home of the man she wished to marry and leave it at the door step for the mother of the hopeful groom to be.

 If the mother brought the bread inside, then it meant that the marriage was approved. Many times a brother of the hopeful groom or a friend would bring the bread inside so the young woman would not be embarrassed. 

The mother would then taste the bread as well as the mothers sisters, aunts, grandmother...all the women would decide if the woman's bread was worthy to marry. 

There is much more to the tradition and the story but for now, perhaps for the single ladies, we should begin to bake!!  


We that with like hearts love, we lovers twain,
New wedded in the village by thy fane,
Lady of all chaste love, to thee it is
We bring these amaranths, these white lilies,
A sign, and sacrifice; may Love, we pray,
Like amaranthine flowers, feel no decay;
Like these cool lilies may our loves remain,
Perfect and pure, and know not any stain;
And be our hearts, from this thy holy hour,
Bound each to each, like flower to wedded flower.
~Joachim du Bellay "A Vow To Heavenly Venus," ca. 1500 



Happy Gardening!!
Pammy

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Quick Lesson For Pruning And Tying Heirloom Tomatoes

New Beds Being Installed

As we begin planting the heirloom tomatoes this spring, we have found ourselves feeling way behind schedule even though March is not even over yet. It is mostly because of such mild winter temperatures this year that have the tomatoes already wanting to burst out of their pots.

So what has happened is that we are still working on putting in the new beds and planting as we go. It's amazing because I even started my tomato seeds a few weeks later than normal.

Many people have not seen our Top Bar Method for supporting tomatoes. I've just written a recent article for Natural Family Today explaining in detail how this system works. But now I need to show how I prune and tie them as well.

In this photo from the Aggie Horticulture and Extension Service you can see that you keep the suckers pinched out so they don't branch out into new long stems. The suckers are found in the Y of the branches or the crotch so to speak. I also prune the lower side shoots under each cluster of flowers or tomatoes, but leave a couple side shoots above the cluster to keep the tomatoes protected from being sun scalded. This keeps your plant concentrating on making fruit instead of so much foliage.

When I tie them I use a basic jute rope (not the nylon type) and make a figure 8 by looping under a side shoot just under each cluster of flowers and then around to the rope support.. This way when the tomato cluster get heavy they have plenty of support.

The thing I like most about using the ropes to tie the main stem to is that they have some give to them. As strong winds come blowing through the entire plant will sway with the rope a bit. This has kept the stem safe from snapping or breaking. It also has kept the plant safe from digging into wire or wooden stakes with no give to them that can damage the plant.

Last summer we experienced endless days of strong southern gulf coast winds. One of the varieties of heirlooms we grow is called Roman Stripped. After several days of non stop wind I noticed all of these particular plants begin to wrap the ends of their side shoot stems around the rope support. I've never seen this characteristic in any other variety. It was as though they had little hands hanging onto a swing much like a child would do.


Heirlooms show some amazing qualities to adapt to the environment in which they are grown. They acclimate to the soil in your very own garden as well to the weather conditions. Each new year that you save seed from heirlooms they improve with vigor and health. We should never loose the diversity within our food system. The only way to protect them is by growing them.

Many people prefer to go for quantity, but here we strive for quality. You might not get as many tomatoes using this method, but they will yield a whole lot more quality fruit. Your heirloom tomatoes will be gorgeous!

Happy Gardening!
Pammy

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Patty Cake Bars With Cinnamon Frosting


 Patty Pan Squash is so much fun. It is one of the hardiest summer squash I grow.

You're gonna love these Patty Cakes! Patty Pan squash really puts an apple taste to the cake. The squash makes them so moist and the raisins and coconut add so much natural sweetness.

I think it is a misunderstood squash and folks are missing out. This might be especially true for people who love zucchini squash.

I always get asked how to use the patty pan, also know by scallop squash. 

There is a million ways to cook a summer squash. It can even be eaten raw!

I love to grate the patty pans and add it to many different types of dishes and baked goods.

I also love slicing it in its saucer shape when the grill is on. By brushing them with a bit of olive oil and garlic powder, well...it is a grilled delight indeed.

Basically this squash can be sliced, or diced or shredded just like one would do with any other type of summer squash.

Have fun and enjoy!

A Taste of Home recipe modified


I cut the butter way down. There really is no need for what it originally called for. It is so moist all on its own.

I changed the sugars too. Buy using the honey and no refined sugar (also cut way back) it is plenty sweet with the coconut and raisins. I probably could have used 1/4 cup on the turbinado.

The frosting could be eliminated....but then...this is a treat not intended for everyday eating ~Pammy

Ingredients

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup raw pure cane sugar (turbinado)
  • 1/4 cup raw local honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1-3/4 cup unbleached organic flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups shredded patty pan squash (zucchini works too)
  • 1 cup raw organic coconut
  • 1/4 cup organic raisins
  • FROSTING:
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons milk

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder; gradually add to the creamed mixture. Stir in patty pan squash, coconut and raisins. Spread into a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan.
  2. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. For frosting, combine confectioners' sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Stir in butter, vanilla and enough milk to achieve spreading consistency. Frost bars before cutting. Yield: about 5 dozen.

Happy Gardening!

Pammy

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Pickled Three Bean Salad for Canning

Pickled Three Bean Salad

It seems the heat is turned up in Texas already and the bush and wax beans are already slowing down. It will be time to turn them under to grow something else. At least we will get another chance to grow them for the fall garden and put up some more for winter. Spring is just whizzing right on by way to fast for me!

I do love adding Three Bean Salad to my winter green salads! They make a great side dish treat as well. I use our green bush beans, yellow wax beans and dry beans (either kidney or red). I much rather cook up a pot of dry beans for a recipe than simply buying a can of something or other from the supermarket. That just seems plain wrong to me for some reason. It's easy after cooking up a pot of kidney beans to put the rest not used up in the freezer in an air tight container for another recipe.

This recipe is basically an old Ball Canning recipe that I've changed just a little. Makes 6 pints.

Ingredients

About 1 1/2 lbs. Green Bush Beans
About 1 1/2 lbs. Yellow Wax Beans
About 2 to 3 cups cooked, drained Red Kidney Beans
1 large white or red garden onion, thinly sliced
6 peppers (one per jar) Banana, Pepperoncini or your favorite
Boiling water
2-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 Tbsp. celery seeds
4 tsp pickling or canning salt
3 cups 5% white vinegar
1-1/4 cups distilled water


Directions

1.) PREPARE boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
2.) COMBINE green and yellow beans, kidney beans, onions and peppers in a large stainless steel saucepan. Add boiling water to cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently for 5 minutes, until vegetables are heated through.
3.) COMBINE sugar, mustard seeds, celery seeds, salt, vinegar and water in a separate stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and boil gently for 5 minutes, until spices have infused the liquid.
4.) DRAIN hot vegetables and pack into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Ladle hot pickling liquid into jar to cover vegetables leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot pickling liquid. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band until fit is fingertip tight.
5.) PROCESS jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes

Happy Gardening!
Pammy

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Suck em Up Organic Gardeners!

How much simpler can one get in the organic garden? When I start seeing those pests cropping up in the garden I always break out my little hand held vacuum. The wet/dry vacuum is best because by adding a small amount of soapy water inside, as you vacuum up the bugs, they end up in the water and die. I like that!
Why spray anything, whether organic or a homemade solution? It takes the same amount of effort to set the wet vac up as it does a spray rig. I keep mine handy on a wall mount inside the potting shed along with a couple of nice extension cords. Where ever I plug into an extension cord I tie a knot. This way if the cord snags on something as I’m dragging it around it doesn’t come unplugged. I also don’t like using really heavy cords and prefer keeping it lighter with a thinner one. It makes dragging it around a breeze.
Most experienced gardeners are already familiar with which bugs are bad and which ones are good. It’s a good idea to learn about bugs, especially the bugs common to your area. We certainly don’t want to suck up the good guys.
There are many good books as well as resources to be found on the Internet. My favorite book is called Texas Bug Book: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly , written by . Malcolm Beck  and John Howard Garrett . Both  authors have hands on experience that makes it easy to relate while reading. 
Attract Beneficial InsectsThe Leaf-Footed Bug

Common Garden Pests

Sometimes you might find Stink Bugs in clusters on the tomatoes sucking the juice from them. That usually makes it more fun for me when using my wet/dry vac because I can get a bunch of them all at one time. If some fly off, which they will do, I just wait about an hour or so and go back with the vac. Once things have settled down, believe me, they will come back.
I always feel so bad for my northern garden friends who have such an awful time with the Japanese Beetles. I don’t have a problem with them in the south, but have seen the nasty photos posted of them destroying their gardens. My best advice when asked is to do like I do in Texas and suck em up!
The Squash Bugs are a common garden pest throughout the U.S. for most gardeners. Many gardeners have given up on trying to grow summer squash all together. This is another excellent opportunity to use the vacuum. I can usually find them trying to hide out down at the base of the plant. You have to use one hand to pull back a few of the large leaves to expose the insect and aim the hose right for them.
The vacuum is not a full proof method that will get rid of all of the bad bugs, but it will sure cut down on a whole bunch of them. The most important helper in getting rid of the bad bugs is having plenty of good bugs. The good bugs are natural predators that will consume the pests. Making sure you have plenty of diversity and natural habitats will help ensure and attract beneficial insects.

Using Trap crops for bad bugs helps tremendously! It helps by attracting the bad bugs to them. Some helpful plants I use for the Leaf Footed Stink bug are Sunflowers and Sorghum. When I have them growing at a good distance from my tomato plants I find very few pests on the tomatoes. Research for this method was done by the Louisiana State University and found it to be quite effective for organic farming and gardening. 

Happy Gardening!
Pammy

Monday, May 9, 2016

Herbal Tea Gardening


I love experimenting with Herbal Tea Blends. During our hot summers here in Texas a tall pitcher of homemade Iced Tea reflects all of the hard work and time spent in the garden. 

We grow many different herbs throughout the garden in hopes of creating a wide range of diversity among the fruits and vegetables. Many are grown as companions as well as attracting a full range of beneficial pollinators and insects.

I do however enjoy focusing on growing many that are my favorite flavors for Tea and Culinary uses in the kitchen. Although many of our herbs are enjoyed freshly harvested from the garden, it is fun to dry and store them for later use. 

While many herbs are said to be best harvested right before they bloom so that much of the essential oils and flavors are at their height throughout the leaves and stems, I have always found the flowers of many herbs to be the essence of the plants.

Not only do they add beauty to your dried tea blends, I find they truly obtain the flavors of the herb.


For this herbal tea blend I've dried and combined different herbs that compliment the base of the blend.

 For the base I've used Roselle Hibiscus. This is a tropical herb that can be grown in the southern regions of the U.S. It has the close flavor of a cranberry.

I've complimented it by using Bergamot (Bee Balm) leaves and flower petals. The Scarlet Red Bergamots have a very slight citrus flavor and is what is used to make Oswego Tea that you may have noticed in the markets.

Next, for a subtle touch I used Lemon Balm leaves, Pineapple Sage leaves and a pinch of Berries and Cream Mint.

There are a whole bunch of wonderful herbs to grow in your garden for making Tea. I hope to talk more about them soon and some hints on growing them yourself.

 If you do not have the same herbs that I've used for this blend, you can first look for Hibiscus Tea or one called Red Zinger. It will be as close as you could get to my blend.

You can also use most green teas or black teas for making the Honey Spiced Peach Tea Recipe I am sharing. But we have used Fresh Organic Peaches to make a simple syrup, so I would be looking for some, unless you grow your own.

We have several peach trees here in the garden and can't wait until they begin making fruit!!

Ingredients 
2 Qt. Pitcher for Iced Tea

Simple Peach Syrup

1 cup water
3 to 4 peaches, peeled, pitted and diced
1 tsp. fresh ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. fresh ground ginger
1 cup honey

Bring water, peaches, cinnamon and ginger to a gentle boil on medium heat. Cover and turn heat down to low. Let simmer stirring frequently for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Mash any peach pieces left. Strain liquid into your pitcher. Add honey to warm liquid and stir.

Brewing your Herbal Tea



Fill a long tea filter with 3 tbsp. of loose leaf tea. Fold down the top edge and put a staple in it. Bring a little over 1 quart of water to a boil and remove from heat.

Place in the tea bag to steep. Let steep for at least 20 minutes. Add this to your pitcher with the Simple Peach Syrup and Honey. Stir well. Add ice and fill the rest of the pitcher with cold water.

Stir it all very good and it is ready to serve.

 Note: If the tea is not going to be served right away, I will skip adding the ice and leave the tea bag in the pitcher for an hour or so to bring a little extra flavor to it.

Happy Gardening!
Pammy