Thursday, June 25, 2009

Friday Recipes: Summer Herb Drinks

I actually am going to share an article with you today that my co-author, Brenda wrote. It was perfect, I was looking on Old Fashioned Living for some refreshing summer drinks and this really hit the spot. I thought it would make the perfect piece for Friday Recipes!

Cooling Off With Herbs
by Brenda Hyde

You simply can never have too many summer drink recipes, especially when you grow fresh herbs! There is nothing that refreshes more than a glass of herbal iced tea or punch made from herbs you've grown. Also, learn to be creative--substitute another lemon herb for the lemon balm, or lavender for the mint in a cooler. Try different combinations and come up with your own unique summer beverage!

Summer Herb Tea Punch

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 sprig lemon balm
5 sprigs borage (young leaves best)
1 sprig salad burnet
3 anise or anise hyssop leaves
2 cups of hot black tea
Juice of 3 oranges
Juice of 2 lemons
ginger ale
Fresh Mint

Pound the sugar, salt and herbs in a mortar or a bowl with a wooden spoon. Pour the tea and fruit juices over them. Cover and allow to stand for several hours. Strain and pour over ice in the punch bowl, fill the rest of the way with ginger ale. Use fresh mint to float as a garnish.

Iced Spearmint Tea with Strawberry Nectar
From: Herbs: A Country Garden Cookbook
by Rosalind Creasy and Carole Saville

Sugar Syrup:

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
Zest of 1 orange, cut into strips

4 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup dried spearmint, or 3/4 cup fresh spearmint
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup strained freshly squeezed orange juice
Ice cubes
Fresh spearmint sprigs and strawberry slices, for garnish (optional)

To make the sugar syrup, in a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water and orange zest. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let cool. Pour the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a bowl, pressing down on the orange zest with the back of a spoon to extract as much of the flavorful oils as possible. Discard the zest and set the syrup aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil, then remove from the heat. Crumble the spearmint and add to the water; let steep for 5 minutes to obtain a strong infusion. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a large bowl. Discard the mint and let the infusion cool. Meanwhile, place the strawberries in a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. With the back of a spoon, press the berries through the sieve, leaving the pulp and seeds behind. Scrape any purée clinging to the bottom of the sieve, and then add all the purée to the cooled infusion. Add the orange juice and 1/2 cup of the sugar syrup to the tea and stir vigorously. Taste and add more sugar syrup as desired. (Store any remaining sugar in the refrigerator for when you make another batch of tea.) Cover and refrigerate the tea until well chilled. Just before serving, fill a large pitcher with ice and add the tea. Pour into chilled glasses. Garnish with a sprig of mint and a slice of strawberry, if desired. Serves 6.

Borage Cucumber Drink

Sprig of borage
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks
Juice of 2-3 fresh limes
1/4 cup granulated sugar or more to taste
borage blossoms

Place the borage, cucumber, sugar and lime juice in blender with enough water to reach an inch or so below the top. Blend well. Strain and serve over ice. Garnish with a borage blossom.

Honeydew Mint Cooler

3-pound honeydew melon
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups fresh lime juice (or mixture of lime and lemon)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
3 cups cold water
1 cup cold ice cubes

Remove rind from melon, discarding it, and cut enough fruit into 1-inch chunks to measure 6 cups. In a blender puree melon in batches with sugar, lime juice, and mint until completely smooth. Pour into a pitcher with the water and ice. Add the lime juice just before serving and garnish with fresh mint leaves. About 9 cups.

Lemon Balm Mint Cooler

2 cups loosely-packed lemon balm
1 cup loosely-packed mint (apple or pineapple works well)
6 cups hot water
juice of 4 fresh lemons (1 cup)
honey or sugar to taste

Place the leaves into a 2-quart jar or pitcher. Bruise them to release the flavor with a wooden spoon. Pour hot water over leaves and let sit for 1 hour. Strain and discard the leaves. Add lemon juice and honey or sugar to taste. Mix and serve over ice with sprigs of lemon balm or mint for garnish.

More on Old Fashioned Living

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reader's Questions: Gardening and Herbs

The courage to imagine the otherwise is our greatest resource, adding color and suspense to all our life. ~Daniel Boorstin

We're leaving for a camping trip later today, but I'll be back on Monday with more garden tips. Cross your fingers that we don't get rained out:)

My Iris get leaf spot every year. Do you have any ideas for them? I have sprayed them, but they seem to get it again. I have a batch by the house which don't get them, but other places on the property do? ~Ginny

I wonder if you don't need to move them from that soil. From what I've found you need to remove ALL foliage that is infected and burn it-- plus in mild climates you may need to actually destroy the plants that have it because it can continue to live in the soil. That would explain why some of yours have it and others don't. I would start by removing all of the foliage now--and burning it--don't leave even a little piece on the ground. Then see what happens next year and if they still have it I'd try moving to a different location.

Do you have any info. on Bergamot? Mine is blooming up a storm and I can't remember what to do with it! Any recipes? ~Marty

Try replacing mint in recipes with bee balm flowers or leaves. This is really good in teas and punches. To make a tea with bee balm/bergamot add one tablespoon of the fresh flowers or leaves to a mug or pot and add one cup boiling water. steep for 5-8 minutes or so, strain and sweeten with honey.

I also found a recipe for vinaigrette from a Shepherd's Garden catalog I kept around after they went out of business.

Bergamot Vinaigrette

1/4 cup bergamot, fresh chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 small garlic cloves
1 tsp. kosher or sea salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. dried red chile flakes
2/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced

Pour lemon juice into a large mixing bowl. Crush garlic clove, add to bowl. With the back of a wooden spoon, press garlic into lemon juice to release its oil, then discard. Add sea salt and chile pepper, and stir with a whisk. Add olive oil in a thin stream, stirring with the whisk until the dressing emulsifies, then stir in chopped mint and parsley. Serve over steamed beans or other vegetables. Cool and serve.

When, and where do you prune back the snapdragon? I have some planted, they bloomed out beautiful, but are now all brown and falling off! I still have some un-bloomed buds, some of the leaves and stems are turning yellow? Thanks, Steve

Snapdragons should be deadheaded after they bloom. It will keep them blooming until a hard frost in the fall. After they bloom then you'll see a roundish green pod form, which has tons of little black seeds inside. Cut all of these off and the dead blooms. You can trim off a few yellowed leaves if you want. It might mean they need a little bit of fertilizer. I use organic, and it can be put on anytime, then just watered in to the soil. Leave the buds on the plants, and if you deadhead you should get more. In the fall I stop deadheading and let them reseed.

Discover the sweet side of herbs with these recipes on OFL:


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Saving Money on Utility Bills in the Summer Heat

This week in my neck of the woods, we have massive humidity and heat index warnings. 

That means the shades are all shut, windows and doors are closed, there's no using the oven, and the air conditioner is cranked. That can lead to some hefty utility bills!

My good friend, Gary Foreman of The Dollar Stretcher, has shared some great tips with us today on how to stay cool but keep the high costs down. Some may work for you and some may not, but hopefully you can glean something from Gary's financial know-how. 

Way Cool - Keeping Cool In Summer
by Gary Foreman

It's that time of year when most of us begin to wonder how we'll keep cool in the summer without running up a huge electric bill. And there should be a way to do it. After all, the air conditioner wasn't common in homes until about forty years ago. So let's take a look at what we can do to keep cool that doesn't require large amounts of energy.

From the time of the pharaohs the most common method of cooling people has been the fan. And there's a reason for that. Fans work by creating a wind-chill effect on our skin. The movement of air can make it feel like it's 6 to 8 degrees cooler. That's a lot of comfort for just a little breeze!

Fortunately for us, there's a variety of different fans that work with or without air conditioning. Let's take a look at some of the different choices so you can decide which would work best for your home.

We'll start with something called the 'whole house fan'. They create a breeze through an entire house with just one fan. A large belt driven fan is located in the ceiling of the home top floor in a hallway area. The air is pulled through the rooms and halls and into the attic. The idea is that cooler outside air replaces the hot air that would normally be trapped in your home. You can control which rooms benefit by closing doors to block air flow.

Installing a whole house fan isn't cheap. A typical installation by a professional will run in the $1,000 neighborhood. The good news is that it only costs about three cents per hour to operate. The bad news is that you can't use it with your air conditioning and it can be noisy.

A cheaper alternative is to use box fans. Box fans can be placed in windows on the warmest (sunlit) side of the house to pull cooler air through the house. They're relatively inexpensive $20 to $40 and require no special installation. Just set them on a window sill and make sure that they're secure enough not to fall off. Again, they're cheap to operate. About one cent per hour. But they're noisy and work best when the outside temperature is about the same or cooler than the inside temp.

Many of us can't conceive of living without air conditioning. When the outside air is ninety a breeze just isn't enough for comfort. But, you don't need to crank the A/C down to seventy and watch the electric meter spin wildly all summer long.

Fans can help your air conditioner work more effectively by moving the cold air produced around the room. Ceiling fans are excellent for this task. Use of a ceiling fan will allow you to raise your thermostat 2 to 4 degrees. That will result in between 10% and 25% less energy use by your air conditioner. A real bargain when you consider that most residential ceiling fans use about 1 cent of electricity per hour even on the fastest speed. They actually consume less than 100 watts per hour. And they can be used with or without air conditioning.

The biggest disadvantage to ceiling fans is getting them installed. Because of the weight and the motion they need to be safely secured to your rafters. And if you want the wiring hidden you'll be trying to fish it through ceiling and walls. Not an easy or inexpensive task.

Fortunately, portable oscillating-type fans offer an alternative. While they're not able to move as much air as a ceiling fan, one or more in a room can make it much more comfortable.

And installation is a snap. Plug it in and aim the airflow. If you'll be sitting in the same spot for awhile, just direct a gentle breeze at your chair. If a number of people will be in a room or you'll be moving around, aim the fan along one wall so that the air blows in a circular pattern around the room. And one fan can do double duty. During the day in the living room and in your bedroom at night.

Another alternative doesn't work so well. Some of us living in homes with central heat and air are tempted to leave the circulating fan on all the time. Not a good idea. The air being blown into the room circulates through ducts that often pass through uncooled portions of the house. The effect is that you'll be adding warmer air to your living space. So it's best to set it to 'auto'.

Finally, a word about comparing fans. It looks really hard to do. How can you factor in blade size, motor speed, number of blades, the angle of the blades and the size of the motor?

Fortunately, selection can be simplified. Begin by comparing the fans 'CFM'. That's the maximum Cubic Feet per Minute of air that the fan can move. A bigger number is better. Then consider the blade size. Get the biggest that your space and budget will afford. When possible you want to run a fan at a slow speed to reduce noise. It's easiest to do that when your running a fan at a fraction of it's capability.

So don't just watch your electric meter spin you big electric bills this summer. Use fans to replace and supplement your air conditioning. You'll be just as cool and have some money left over for a pitcher of lemonade!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Garden Tidbits: Sunflowers and Herbs

Don't be afraid to fail. Don't waste energy trying to cover up failure. Learn from your failures and go on to the next challenge. It's OK to fail. If you're not failing, you're not growing. ~H. Stanley Judd

Consider recycling your 1 gallon plastic milk jugs. Use a pin to prick 4 holes in the bottom of the jugs. Bury the jugs between plants, fill with water, and it will slowly drip into the soil. You can cut the top off the jug and add more water as it's needed. Sink the jugs about 8 to 10 inches into the soil. If you do use a sprinkler instead or along with this, be sure to do it early in the day, so the water has a chance to evaporate off the leaves before evening.

Try growing chervil this summer. You'll need about 6 weeks to start harvesting, so those in warmer climates can plant outside, while the rest of us can use pots, so we can bring them in this fall. Plant chervil seeds about 1/4 deep-1/2 inch apart and cover lightly with sand. Water carefully in the mornings and it should germinate in about a week. Indoors try planting 3 or 4 seeds in a medium sized pot, using the same method. When you start harvesting, use the bigger leaves on the outside first. Chervil can be used in soups, salads and eggs. It doesn't dry well, so try planting it and enjoy it fresh!

If your sunflowers are in a sheltered position they may not need staking, but that said, mine almost always do. If you can plan ahead and plant them in front of a fence that's the best thing to do. Then tie the stems to the fence. Use ripped cloth or soft plastic (I cut up the plastic shopping bags) that won't dig into the stem. Give it room to move some, but tie firm enough that it won't bend over. If you need to put in an actually stem, then use something thin like bamboo, and you will have to do it a little away from the roots or you could damage them. Next season it would be best to locate them near a place you can tie them, or put in the stakes when you sow the seeds.

On OFL we have tips on how to mulch properly: