Friday, October 23, 2009

Fall Tips: Birds, Houseplants & Herbs

A house is never still in darkness to those who listen intently; there is a whispering in distant chambers, an unearthly hand presses the snib of the window, the latch rises. Ghosts were created when the first man awoke in the night. ~J.M. Barrie

Goldfinches are one of my favorite birds because they remind me of little bits of fast moving sunshine as they hunt for seeds. They will eat seeds from many garden plants and herbs such as catnip, lemon balm, coneflowers, rudbeckia and sunflowers. They also have a reputation for being "weed eaters" because they love thistle seeds and other weed seeds so much that they reduce their number by eating so many! If you have any of these plants in your landscape consider leaving the seed heads rather than cutting them down for the winter.

Many people are convinced their houseplant foliage should shine, so they buy commercial leaf-shine products, but these really aren't good for your plants. They clog the pores and cells of the plant. Instead, wipe the leaves off with a clean cotton t-shirt or other cotton rag, dampened with water. Hold the leaves gently in your hand to clean. Spray your plants regularly and provide good air circulation to keep them looking their best, and give them an occasional "shower" by placing them in your bathtub, giving them a gentle rinse with shower water.

Remember, if you haven't cut back herbs such as oregano, mint, chives, thyme and lavender do it now before winter sets in. If you don't have time to preserve and harvest the plant cuttings, add them to your compost pile.

I have a tip for those who would like to grow Christmas cactus.....

These are "tropical" plants, even though they're called "cactus" make sure they get LOTS of sun in the summer. In fact, I move mine out of the house and put them on the back porch where they get lots of afternoon sun (not directly overhead since they're "inside")...but it's very hot in that porch, so toasty warm for them. Also whenever I'm home at the same time that there is a gentle rain shower, I move the plants out on the porch rail, so they get a good dousing.

I recently purchased an "Easter" cactus (I don't know if that's for real or not, but it did bloom in spring), with white blooms. It's a baby, though, and only had three gorgeous white blooms this past spring. I'm hoping for better in a couple of years. As you said, it takes a bit of time to get them well established and "root bound."

~God's blessings from an avid-reader and friend in Wisconsin, Deb H.

On OFL we have tips on fresh and ground ginger in your cooking:


Friday Recipes: Bread

It's that time of year when everyone enjoys making bread! That fresh smell of bread wafting through the house is completely wonderful. Here's just a few for you to try.

Herb-Onion Batter Bread

3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 pkgs. Red Star instant blend dry yeast
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground sage
1/2 tsp. crushed rosemary leaves
1/4 tsp. ground thyme
1/4 c. butter or margarine
1 c. finely chopped onion
1 1/4 c. warm water
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Yield: 1 loaf.

In large mixer bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, yeast, sugar, salt, sage, rosemary and thyme; mix well. Saute onion in butter until golden; add to flour mixture. Add water and egg. Blend at low speed until moistened; beat 3 minutes at medium speed. By hand, gradually stir in remaining flour to make a stiff batter. Spoon into greased 2-quart casserole. Cover; let rise in warm place until light and doubled, about 1 hour.

Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Remove from pan; serve warm or cold.

Basil Tomato Bread with Chive Cream Cheese Spread

2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 sm. piece ginger
1/2 c. fresh basil leaves or 1/4 c. dried basil
1 scallion, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tomatoes, seeded and quartered
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 1/4 c. sugar
3 lg. eggs
1 stick (1/2 c.) butter, at room temperature and quartered
Chive Cream Cheese Spread (recipe below)

Put flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a food processor and process for 2 seconds. Remove and reserve mixture. Process ginger root, basil and scallion for 2 seconds. Add tomato and tomato paste and process for 10 seconds until pureed. Add the sugar and process for 30 seconds. Add eggs and process for 1 minute. Add the butter and process until fluffy. Add the reserved flour and turn machine on and off 5 or 6 times until the flour has disappeared. Spread dough in a greased loaf pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.

Chive Cream Cheese Spread

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into 4 pieces
1 lg. scallion, cut into 1-inch pieces or a bunch of chives
1/8 tsp. Tabasco sauce

Process all ingredients until well mixed.

More Bread Recipes You Might Like
Greek Loaf
Homemade Amish White Bread
Pull Apart Cornmeal Dinner Rolls
Parmesan Herb Bread
Homemade Multigrain Bread

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday Tips: In the Kitchen

I've been thinking about all the little things I do around here to make life in the kitchen just a little less hectic. Recently I posted on my cooking blog about how I store canned chipotle peppers so that I don't waste the leftovers and so they aren't so hard to access afterward. It received a great response, so I thought I would share that here, as well as some other things that I do to make my life easier.

Storing Canned Chipotle Peppers
Most recipes don't call for an entire can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. They usually call for 2 or 3, leaving you with a bunch of peppers that you glop into a baggie and store in the freezer, then find it impossible to get them out. A much better solution is to wrap each pepper (with some of the sauce) individually in plastic wrap. Then store all the wrapped peppers inside of a zipper sandwich bag in the freezer. When you need 1 or 2, take the individually wrapped peppers out and unwrap them while still frozen. They will thaw pretty quickly, so if your recipe calls for chopped or diced chipotles, go ahead and do it while they are still frozen. Trust me on this, it's a lot easier that cutting them up when defrosted! Here's a yummy recipe for Chipotle Chicken if you would like to try something different tonight!

Making Your Own Taco & Chili Seasoning Packets
My family loves tacos and chili. Years ago I found some recipes for chili seasoning mix and taco seasoning mix, and have never used a seasoning envelope from the store since! the only hassle with that is you have to measure out all the ingredients for the seasoning each time you make dinner. I made things a little easier on myself by mixing up about 4 batches at a time. I set out 4 bowls and measure the ingredients into each one. When finished I pour each one into it's own zipper sandwich bag, then I wrap each sandwich bag in foil. I mark the foil packets with "taco" or "chili" and keep them in the pantry. Next time I make chili or tacos, that's one less step and makes dinner just as convenient as if I were using those stale tasting grocery store packets. :)

French Toast Sticks
My kids love French toast sticks. I'll buy an extra loaf of bread specifically for making this. Mix up your favorite French toast egg mixture. Mine is just eggs, a splash of milk and a few shakes of cinnamon. I cook each slide and set them on cooling racks until they have completely cooled. Then I cut them into dipper sized pieces and place them all on cookie sheets. Put the cookie sheets in the freezer and leave them there for several hours (I leave them in there all day). Then take them off the cookie sheets and toss the frozen dippers into a plastic zipper storage bag and store them in the freezer. Kids can grab out a handful and toss them in the microwave for about a minute and they have instant breakfast.

These are just a few tips from my kitchen. Do you have any great tips to share?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Garden Chores Before the Snow Flies

Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. ~John Muir

Today I have a hodge podge of garden and landscape tips for this time of year. I know some of you have had snow already! We haven't had snow but it was 25 degrees F. Sunday morning. Brrrr...

You can mulch and protect your perennials from harsh winters and the wildlife. After you get a few hard frosts you can add a one inch layer of straw, hay or chopped leaves. This will give the plants a little extra protection. If you've noticed little chew marks on your shrubs or perennials that don't die all the way down after frost, you may want to put a circle of chicken wire around them for the winter. Once you buy the wire you can store it til the next winter when you remove it in the spring. It will keep the rabbits and other wildlife from chewing the bark or stems. This is especially good for newer shrubs or trees that haven't completely established yet.

It's very important to remove any diseased plants and either burn or discard them before winter. The same goes for fallen fruit. You don't want to let it set all winter where the organisms could stay alive til next spring and cause problems.

Did you grow dahlias this year? They have "tubers" sort of like day lilies, but they won't survive heavy frosts. When the frost damages/browns their leaves, cut off the stems 5-6 inches above the tubers/roots. Dig up the clumps, very gently remove from the dirt and rinse them off with water. Allow them to dry outside in a sheltered place (no sun or harsh wind) just until they are dried. Store the clumps whole in a basement or attached garage where it doesn't get below freezing (35 degrees F. or so). You can place them in paper bags, boxes or tubs filled with peat moss or sawdust. If you are using a plastic tub make sure it's not so tight that air can't get in.

If you have had a Christmas cactus for any length of time, you know how hard it is to encourage blooms. Well, unless you are my mom who has the magic touch. The plants will need about 13 hours of darkness in each 24 hour period, and a temperature of about 50-60 degrees F. If you have tips that have worked for you let us know!

We have tips on growing Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus on OFL: