Monday, August 31, 2009

Shades of Green

Green - that's exactly what I see every day as I walk into my Happy Valley Community Garden spot.
Plush green plants growing so very fast in the summer sun.
Green pea vines climbing up their bamboo trellis.
Sun shining on the green leaves of Swiss chard.
Sunflowers towering over the pallet board compost bin.
Green peas and green beans in with the harvest.
So many shades of green!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Perfect Apple Pie

This truly is the perfect apple pie. Absolutely perfect. The best ever! Starting with the perfect apples, yellow transparents fresh from the orchard, then sprinkled with cinnamon, a squeeze of fresh lemon added, then butter on top, the filling is thick, rich and creamy. Both sweet and tarte, it's the perfect apple pie filling.
The crust, complete with its egg wash and sprinkles of cinnamon sugar on top, is light, flaky, perfect for this apple pie.
Here's how to make the perfect apple pie.

The Perfect Flaky Pie Crust Recipe
2 Cups Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Crisco
8 Tablespoons Cold Water
Mix flour and salt together in a bowl. With a pastry blender, cut in shortening until it turns into a course crumbly mixture. Add cold water in the middle of the flour mixture and gently mix in with a fork. When the mixture forms a dough, divide into two balls - one for the bottom crust, the other for the top. Roll one ball of dough out until it is slightly larger than your pie pan and carefully place it into the pie pan. Gently conform the crust into place, trimming off any extra crust from around the pie pan and reserving for later. Place in the refrigerator to keep the dough cool while making the pie filling.
The Perfect Apple Pie Recipe
10 Large Yellow Transparent Apples
3/4 Cup Sugar
3 Tablespoons Flour
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
Few Squeezes Fresh Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Egg White
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon Sugar
Quarter, core and peel apples. Wash and cut apple quarters into slices. Place in a bowl and add the flour, sugar and cinnamon. Gently stir until the flour and sugar has dissolved and the apple mixture becomes somewhat juicy. Spread apple mixture into prepared pie crust. Divide the butter into five or six dots and place evenly around on the top of the apple mixture. Roll out the chilled ball of pie crust dough that was reserved for the top of the pie and gently lay over apple pie filling. Trim any extra pie crust from around the pie pan. Combine the extra pie crust trimmings with those trimmed off the bottom crust and roll out. Using a small cutter, cut shapes out and place decoratively around the edge of the pie. Using that same cutter, cut a few steam vents in the top crust. Place in an oven that has been preheated to 400 degrees Fahreinheit and bake for approximately 45 minutes. When the pie is golden brown and bubbly, remove from oven and place on a cooling rack. Allow approximately three to four hours for the pie to cool and the filling to set. Slice, serve and enjoy. Any leftover pie can be kept in the refrigerator, or frozen to enjoy some other day.
This pie really is delicious, but what really made this pie the most perfect, I'm sure, was being able to share it after grilling the pefect dinner together.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Calendula Body Butter

It feels absolutely wonderful to slather myself with freshly whipped calendula body butter made using some of the flowers from my Happy Valley garden.
Pretty calendula, also known as the pot marigold, and chamomile flowers were picked just a few hours earlier and truly made this a luxurious mixture. Easy to grow, I planted the calendula in my garden this year by directly sowing the seeds in amongst a bed of other flowers. Although an annual, once established, will tend to reseed itself year after year. The chamomile, a plant tucked in a corner of my herb garden and another flower bed at my Happy Valley garden, is another one of those annuals that when once established will continue to reseed itself for years to come.
An edible flower, a pinch of calendula petals adds pretty color to a tossed salad, and I especially like the spicy flavor they add to vegetable dishes. The flowers and leaves possess medicinal qualities as well. Calendula extract has anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties and used topically, it is soothing to irritated tissue. Chamomile, also considered a medicinal plant, is said to have healing properties. Shea butter, extracted from the fruit of the West Afican shea (karite) tree, quickly penetrates deeply into the skin to help restore elasticity, moisture and protects the skin. It doesn't clog pores and is naturally rich in vitamins A, E & F, some of the essential vitamins needed for good skin balance. Extracts of herbs rosemary and sage are also soothing to the skin. The lemon essential oil with natural dissinfecting and astrigent properties is used in aromatherapy to relieve mental fatigue, improve alertness, reduce stress, revive, energize and calm. I quite simply like its fragrance.
Containing many of the wonderful ingredients often found in a healing salve, it really is no wonder that my whipped calendula body butter feels so very good! Here's how to make it.

Calendula Body Butter Recipe
2 Cups Olive Oil
1 Cup Calendula Blossoms
6 Chamomile Blossoms
1/2 Cup Beeswax
1/4 Cup Shea Butter
2 Small Sprigs Rosemary
1 Small Sprig Sage
Few Drops Lemon Essential Oil
Carefully remove petals from calendula flowers and gently wash them with the chamomile blossoms and fresh sprigs of herbs. Dry completely then place in a saucepan with the olive oil. Heat, stirring frequently, until the boiling point. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for at least a thirty minutes. Strain the oil, squeezing as much of the oil as possible out of the flower petals and herbs. Stir shea butter into hot oil until it dissolves. Add beeswax and stir continually over a double boiler until the wax has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon essential oil. Cool. Once the mixture is cool, place in a food processor and process until the mixture is creamy and somewhat fluffy. Fill jars and cap with lids. With no artificial ingredients or preservatives, whipped calendula body butter will keep for up to one year when stored in the refrigerator. Because it is whipped soft and fluffy, it instantly melts when applied to the skin and feels very refreshing. Makes four 8-ounce jars. Enjoy!
Knowing where all the ingredients in this body butter comes from feels good too. The flowers and herbs, from my Happy Valley garden. The olive oil, a popular organic brand from a grocery store within walking distance of my home. The shea butter, beeswax and lemon essential oil, from Otion, a reputable shop in downtown Bellingham that carries the Bramble Berry soap and lotion making supplies and products.
Oh so soothing!
Click here - Purchase Calendula Body Butter - to buy an 8-ounce jar of this yummy calendula body butter for yourself.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bamboo Trellis

The peas have grown so fast at my Happy Valley Garden. Already taller than me, they were well past the top of their current trellis and in need of more support. This seemed the perfect time to make a bamboo trellis. With four eight-foot bamboo poles, one three-foot post and a roll of twine, we created a very sturdy trellis. Forming a frame with two poles at each end, both planted deeply into the soil in an X shape, the three-foot post was placed through the bamboo X. Twine was wrapped around and tied at the connecting points to secure all of the pieces together. Additional rounds of twine were wrapped along the posts as supports for the pea plants as they continue to grow and attach themselves to the trellis. Thanks for your help with those tall parts that were way out of my reach!
Meanwhile, turns out that while working around the pea patch, I found peas ready to harvest. Just enough for one small serving, but the plants are loaded and soon there will be plenty more to share.
Making a bamboo trellis and more garden shots.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Woolley Bear

Sometimes easily distracted, I stopped by my Happy Valley garden intending to pull some turnips, pick what summer squash was ready and give the garden a good watering - at least that was my plan until I found the fuzzy Yellow Woolly Bear Spilosoma Virginica Caterpillar.
The caterpillar of the Virginian Tiger Moth or Yellow Woolley Bear Moth, I found him crawling on a squash leaf. After relocating him to the wooded lot next to our gardens in the hopes of providing him a better environment than my vegetable plants, I went on to tend my garden.
Stopping at nearby Joe's Gardens after I had finished caring for my garden, they had just put out their new crop of garlic braids. With fond memories of how my father often give us a braid of garlic fresh from his garden, I once again have a great supply of garlic hanging in my kitchen.
Thanks to friends Ken and Gwen, I seem to have an over abundance of turnips growing in my garden this year. Even after sharing them with as many friends as will take them, I still find myself trying to come up with creative ways to serve them. Somewhat to my surprise, it turns out that one of my favorite dishes this summer is garlic mashed turnips.
Garlic Mashed Turnips
1 Large Turnip
A Few Garlic Cloves
2 Tablespoons Butter
Lemon Pepper
Wash, peel and dice turnip. Add whole peeled garlic cloves, one tablespoon of the butter, enough water to cover and crack fresh lemon pepper over all. Boil over medium heat until the turnips and garlic are tender. Remove from heat, drain, add the other tablespoon of butter, mash and serve.

And what do I make with all those summer squash? I turn them into an easy to make, very tasty chilled summer squash soup!
It seems a perfect dinner to serve on those hot summer evenings.
Chilled Summer Squash Soup
8 to 10 Small Summer Squash (any combinatio
of Patty Pan, Zucchini and/or Crook Neck)
Fresh Garlic Cloves
4 Cups Vegetable Broth
Assorted Fresh Herbs (any combination
of Basil, Parsley, Thyme, Sage, Fennel and/or Calendula)
Lemon Pepper
2 Cups Buttermilk
Wash squash and fresh herbs. Cut squash into chunks and cover with the vegetable broth in a good sized pan. Add sprigs of fresh herbs and peeled cloves of garlic to taste. Crack lemon pepper over all. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft - about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and chill slightly. Puree in a blender or food processor, then blend in the buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Serve chilled. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator, or freeze in containers to enjoy another day.

Happy dining!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rubus Armeniacus

Probably the most commonly eaten blackberry, the highly invasive Rubus Armeniacus, also known as the Himalayan Blackberry, is considered a noxious weed in the State of Washington. Here in Whatcom County, the Himalayan Blackberry is listed as one of our ten most unwanted pests. In the rose family, the underside of the leaves are white and the berries, besides being delicious, can be used for dye and the roots boiled for a tea that can be used for diarrhea and menstrual pain. A shrubby weed native to Eurasia, the plant aggressively forms dense thickets that have become a thorn in the side of Mother Nature as they take over entire yards, stream channels and ditch banks, choking and shading out nearly all other vegetation in their way.
Yet we like them and each year anxiously watch for signs of their ripening fruit! With pails, boxes and buckets in hands, this is the season when hundreds, thousands of people are seen along the roadsides, streams and yards, anywhere those large patches of blackberry brambles happen to have taken over, picking those big juicy berries.It took three of us to harvest our container full - one armed with big pruning shears to cut away the long thorny branches that seemed to protect the huge clumps of ripe berries, one to pick the berries and one to entertain our dogs. Finding a list of 183 blackberry recipes on the Internet, it's fun to think of the options. Maybe we'll pick more!
I like knowing the source of the foods I eat. These berries, from a large clump of blackberry brambles in the yard of a pesticide-free property on the Trigg Road in Ferndale. After being carefully washed, sorted, mashed, and getting their seeds strained out, they were cooked down to make blackberry jam. Now they fill jars to be enjoyed another day.
Blackberries for jam.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Cinnamon Plum Jam

Yes, more plum jam! This time with cinnamon.
Using the recipe for Rosemary Plum Jam to make my Cinnamon Plum Jam, instead of adding fresh rosemary sprigs when initially cooking the fruit, this time I stirred in a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon just before filling the jars. The aroma, that of warm cinnamon and sweetened plums - its flavor, even better!
Meanwhile, look at today's harvest from my plot at the Happy Valley Community Gardens - flowers, peas, a cucumber, a zucchini, a yellow crook neck squash, herbs and a half dozen patty pan squashes. Looks like I'll be experimenting with different ways to prepare patty pans!
For lunch, I fixed one of the patty pans with my George Foreman grill. After slicing the squash, I drizzled a small amount of olive oil over them and sprinkled pieces of the herbs I'd just picked from my garden - parsley, basil and calendula leaves - then cracked lemon pepper over all.
Snapdragons, fresh from my garden!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rosemary Plum Jam

With just a whiff of rosemary, plum jam made from some of the fruit I plucked from the orchard fills these jars. I love the color.

Fresh red and purple plums mixed together.

Then cooked with a few sprigs of rosemary picked fresh from my garden.

Following the recipe for SURE.JELL® Plum Jam found on the Kraft Foods website, I added a few sprigs of rosemary, removing it as soon as the aroma released so its flavor would be subtle, and then I reduced the amount of sugar just a bit so that the jam would not be overly sweet.
Step-by-Step, making my Rosemary Plum Jam.

This jam is delicious, sweet but slightly tarte. Perfect even on garlic naan (the only bread I happened to have on hand). Not only is Rosemary Plum Jam great on toast (or garlic naan), it's an excellent accompaniment to grilled chicken or pork, and great with brie or goat cheese on fancy crackers.
Absolutely delicious!