Friday, January 29, 2010

Beautiful, Bountiful Basil

Nothing says summer more than beautiful, bushy basil plants in varying shades of green and purple.  Lush and fragrant, it lives its life to the fullest, in the short time it lasts.  Not many things taste better than basil fresh from the garden, so it was another “no-brainer” for this must-haves list.  I apologize for the lack of photo here, but apparently I’ve never taken a picture of basil growing in my garden, and I didn’t want to steal one!  I will take a picture this summer and post it.  If you don’t know what basil looks like, I suggest you Google it and check out all the lovely varieties.


Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is wonderfully easy to grow.  It’s an annual, originally from India.  It’s pretty simple to start from seed, so you can grow lots of varieties this year, or try different types every year, without a lot of expense.  It needs full sun and well drained, weed free soil.  If you start it from seed, you can thin seedlings after they get their first set of real leaves.  It’s also a great candidate for containers.

If you live where it’s good and hot in the summer, basil can get “leggy” and go to seed rapidly.  It sends up a long, slender set of blossoms.  If you just keep pinching these off whenever they appear, your basil will continue to grow lush and leafy, and not get bitter (as it tend to do once it begins to blossom).  In the hottest parts of the summer, it needs to be watered every day (at least where I live), or it wilts.  Did you know that the best times to water your garden are before 10 am or after dusk?  You should NOT water during the heat of the day, or you may end up cooking your plants (although if you are somewhat erratic about watering, like I am, and your choice is water NOW or watch the plant die in the next hour, choose NOW)!

Basil also makes a great companion plant for tomato, improving flavor and helping to repel flies.  For more on companion planting read Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening by Louise Riotte or go here.


Basil should be harvested sparingly until plants get  pretty well developed, but if you’re growing several plants, you can pinch several leaves off of each, and have plenty for dinner!  Once plants are larger and well established, you can cut entire stems.  In the late summer, early fall, you can cut plants back completely, since they won’t last the winter anyway. 

Many people dry basil, but I don’t bother.  It loses it’s true flavor in the drying process, and has but a shade of it’s summer glory.  If you really want to save some for use during the winter to remind you of those warmer garden days, I suggest freezing it.  An ice cube tray works great for this purpose.  Place a few leaves of basil in each space, and cover with cold water.  Freeze, then remove from the tray to another container.  These little cubes of basil are great for tossing into soups and stews, or can be thawed and put into many other dishes.  It’s not quite as pretty as fresh, but it’s still quite good!  (Many thanks to the folks of the Garden Thyme Herb Club for teaching me this trick and countless others.  You will always hold a special place in my heart!)


Basil is highly prized as a medicinal herb in many parts of the world.  It is very high in antioxidants and has a high levels of another compound that improves circulation and respiration.  According to an article by Juniper Russo,

One of the primary medicinal uses of basil comes from BCP, or (E)-beta-caryophyllene, a natural anti-inflammatory compound also found in oregano and medicinal cannabis. BCP found in basil may offer an alternative to medical marijuana, because it offers the same anti-inflammatory effects without the mental and neurological side-effects of illicit drugs. BCP in basil is believed to combat bowel inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis.

Read more at Suite101: Basil's Health Benefits and Medicinal Uses: The Amazing Healing Powers of a Common Culinary Herb

Basil tea is commonly used to help aid or ease digestion (it is a member of the mint family, after all).  It is also said to have antibacterial and antifungal properties.  The scent is also very rejuvenating (try a few drops of essential oil in the bath for a “wake-up” soak) and is supposed to be good for alleviating headaches.  Need a pick me up in the garden?  Plant basil along the edges, where you will be sure to brush up against them, which will release that awesome basil fragrance! 


Basil is an extremely versatile herb in the kitchen.  Used for many dishes you immediately think of (spaghetti, pizza and pesto), it also goes just as easily with fresh veggies, meats, and fruits.  Here are a few recipes.

Classic Basil Pesto

(from the Herb Farm Cookbook, by Jerry Traunfeld)

2 cloves garlic, peeled

3 Tbs. raw pine nuts

1/4 tsp. salt

3 ounces stemmed sweet basil leaves (about 3 cups gently packed)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

[In a food processor] Process the garlic, pine nuts, and salt until finely ground, about 15 seconds.  Add the basil leaves and process in spurts just until no whole leaves remain.  With the machine running, pour the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream.  Stop and scrape down the sides, then process for several more seconds.  The mixture should be ground to a pastelike consistency but a little of the leaves’ texture should remain.  If necessary, quickly pulse the mixture again.  Add the cheese and pulse until just incorporated.

Makes 1 cup, enough to sauce 1 pound dried pasta.


Cinnamon Basil Jelly 

from Cookin’ Thyme, the cookbook of the Garden Thyme Herb Club.

1 1/2 c. cinnamon basil leaves

2 1/4 c. cold water

3 T. Lemon juice

3 1/2 c. sugar

1 pkg. (3 oz.) liquid pectin

Finely chop the basil and place in a saucepan with the water.  Bring to a full boil, cover, remove from heat and allow to steep for 15 minutes.  Pour the mixture into a jelly bag or fine strainer and let it drip.  There should be about 1 3/4 cup of basil infusion.  Put the infusion into a large saucepan along with the lemon juice and sugar.  Cook over high heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a full rolling boil.  Boil for one minute, then remove from the heat.  Stir in the pectin and ladle into sterilized half-pint jars.  Wipe the rims and seal with proper lids.  Makes 4 half-pints.


Hope you include basil in your garden this summer.  If you do, send pictures of it growing, or of the things you make with it!  I’d love to see them, and hear your ideas.  And be sure to come back next week for the next installment of herbs you must have in your garden – Thyme, Glorious Thyme!

Happy gardening!



So yesterday, in a moment of frustration, i texted my good friend mandy that "husbands should come with instructions!" Her response? "shake vigorously before use!" She's just that good...

Monday, January 25, 2010

No, you’re not dreaming…

it really is cinnamon raisin bread.  This loaf has been out of the oven for about 40 minutes – still a little warm, but cool enough to cut it.  Sadly, this piece on the end has been separated from the herd loaf, and will have to be eaten… immediately….


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Turkeys on Parade

I'm home sick today, but the camp guy came in and woke me up this morning and said, "You HAVE to see what's in the front yard!" So I got up and this is what I saw! We've seen turkeys out here before, but only in small groups. We've never seen a group this big! It was impressive. Sorry about the quality of the video, but the camp guy was trying to get out the door and video them all at the same time!


Wednesday, January 20, 2010



There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance.  Pray you,  love, remember.  

  - William Shakespeare, Hamlet, IV, 5

Rosemary has a long history of use as a culinary and medicinal herb.  It happens to be one of my favorites, because I love the smell and the way it looks in the garden, so when I was thinking of the herbs I would use in this series, there was no question that this herb would be on it!  This Mediterranean herb is one of the herbs/essential oils I use the most in my soaps and bath products.


Rosemary (Rosemary officinalis) is a perennial, although in many parts of the U.S. it would actually be more appropriate  to classify it as a tender perennial.  My larger bushes survive the winter pretty well here in northern Georgia, where we live, but they have been a bit “burned” around the edges by ice.  Smaller plants should come indoors, even here in zone 7.  For those of you in zones 9 and 10, you could keep rosemary in your garden as an evergreen!  Those of you in colder climates can move your rosemary in and out, or you can grow rosemary in a pot, provided you give it soil that drains really well.

Although, many herbs are quite easy to start from seed, Rosemary is one that I suggest you purchase as a plant.  I’ve never actually tried starting it from seed, but someone I know who is a better gardener than me, said it was difficult, so that was good enough for me!  Buy at least two plants, since you won’t want to harvest too much from either one until they get bigger.  There are many varieties of rosemary, from large, shrubby types to lower, creeping types.  Do some research and decide which one works best for you and your garden.

All rosemary varieties love full sun and well drained, slightly alkaline soil.  One of the dangers of growing rosemary here in the south is the moisture… plants do well without a lot of water, and are good for southern garden that way.  The problem comes, if they are planted too close together, or if leaves or mulch are allowed to stay too close to the plant.  If that happens, then during our wetter springs and winters, rosemary becomes more susceptible to fungus and powdery mildew.   If you live in an area that is very wet, try growing plants in a raised bed for better drainage.


Harvest sprigs of rosemary with clippers or a sharp knife.  Rosemary will keep in the fridge for a week or two, if you store it in a re-sealable bag or small, airtight container.  It’s also an excellent herb for drying, because it retains its scent and flavor.  There are several ways to dry it, but the easiest and best is to clip several sprigs, tie them together at the base and hang them upside down until they’re dry.  It also makes your kitchen smell great in the process!

Medicinal Uses

Rosemary contains powerful anti-oxidants, and has properties that according to many herbalists relieve pain, aid digestion, relax muscles, ease depression and more.  Rosemary should NOT be used medicinally by pregnant women.  It is good for use in the bath to soothe sores, and ease and rejuvenate tired muscles.

Tired Muscle Bath Salts

2 cups Epsom salts

1/2 cup dried rosemary

1/2 cup thyme

1/4 cup lavender

1/4 cup mugwort (for EXTERNAL USE ONLY)

Mix.  Add one cup to running bath water and soak!

Cosmetic Uses

Rosemary is used in a variety of cosmetic products, like soaps, bath salts and bath teas.  It is especially useful in hair products, like shampoos and hair rinses, as it conditions and tones hair and skin.  It can also be used as an astringent. 

Rosemary Hair Rinse

Pour 2 cups boiling water over 1/2 cup dried rosemary and let steep.  When it’s cool, strain and use as a hair rinse for darker hair. (Lighter haired folks can use the same recipe, substituting chamomile for the rosemary).



According to Jerry Traunfeld in The Herbfarm Cookbook, rosemary has been historically used as a marinade for meats, “not only for its flavor but also because, like sage and thyme, it has antibacterial and antioxidant agents that prevent fat from turning rancid – it acts as a natural preservative.”  Great for meats and potatoes, it can also be used in smaller amounts in baked goods!  Rosemary goes well with other herbs, too like thyme, sage and oregano, is great with lemon or orange flavors on chicken, and pairs really well with garlic.

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies (from Cookin’ Thyme)

1 cup butter                          

1 cup granulated sugar

3 cups flour   

3-4 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Thoroughly combine the butter and sugar.  Add 2 1/2 cups of flour and mix.  Turn out on a board floured with the remaining 1/2 cup of flour.  Knead in the rosemary along with the flour until the dough cracks on the surface and doesn’t stick to the board.  Roll it 1/4” thick, then cut into desired shapes.  Bake on an ungreased cookies sheet 50 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Makes 72 1” cookies.


There are many, MANY more things I could say about rosemary, but since this post is already so long, I’ll stop here – except to say, grow this herb!



next week: Beautiful, Bountiful Basil

Monday, January 18, 2010

New Series - Herbs!

The seed catalogs have started arriving! I love it – just the point of winter when it’s actually cold here, and here come the catalogs full of seeds, plants and other garden goodies, to make me dream of warmer days… and so I have been inspired to bring you a new series – the 10 herbs everyone should have in their garden! I’ll highlight a different herb each week, and tell you what I know about its properties/benefits, how to grow it and give you some ideas on what you can do with it once it's harvested.

Come back tomorrow for the first installment - Rosemary!

Biscuit, part 1

Our oldest son, Biscuit, has had trouble with his ears since he was small. He had round after round of ear infections, with round after round of antibiotics. Our first set of ear tubes made a huge difference! He was still 2, I think, at the time, but he was more cooperative, and less frustrated about things, and the number of ear infections was dramatically reduced, so we were happy that things were going well.

They came and went as they were supposed to, and his ears being what they are, we ended up with a second set. We felt good about them, too, until they fell out after being in for less than 6 months.

Then we began to notice that he was having more difficulty hearing. Our nurse practitioner recommended a new ENT, who removed his adenoids and introduced us to t-tubes. The standard tube used for myringotomy (ear tube surgery) is a small, straight tube. However, after you've had straight tubes, or have had trouble keeping them in, your next option is a tube that is shaped more like a "T". They stay in for an average 2-3 years vs. the 8-12 months span of the straight tube. Because they stay in longer, they also carry a higher risk (about 20%) of "perforation", which is when the tube leaves a lasting hole in the eardrum. He also had an appointment with the audiologist at this point, during which we were told that already had some mild hearing loss due to the scarring on his eardrums from the repeated infections and the previous sets of tubes. It seemed important to not have to KEEP repeating the regular tubes, so we agreed that it was time for the t-tubes. And for almost 2 years, he had VERY few ear infections (for him!), and no real problems, ear-wise. Yippee!

Then his eardrums began to reject the tubes. With ever-widening holes in his eardrums, and tubes that were about to fall out, our ENT had no choice but to go in and remove the tubes, and "clean up" the edges of the holes, in the hopes that they would repair themselves. It wasn't very long before we were BACK in surgery to put in paper patches to help close the holes. They appeared to be working, and things were looking good. But, this summer, he had ear infections that pretty much just blew everything out and now the holes are larger than ever before. And then he failed the routine hearing screening at school.

So back we went to the audiologist, who classified him this time as having moderate hearing loss, and the ENT, who suggested hearing aids and tympanoplasty. Tympanoplasty involves making an incision behind the ear, lifting the ear forward (basically flipping it over, like turning the page), and then repairing the hole in the eardrum with a graft of skin. This seems like a much bigger deal to me than simple tubes, so, as you can imagine, I'm not in any hurry to do this unless it is absolutely necessary! And also, we have no "hearing aid coverage" according to our insurance company (like we just didn't have the forsight to include this in our policy!), and those things aren't cheap!

Thankfully, someone we know recommended her daughter's ENT, and we went this past week for a second opinion. Not because we have a problem with our other doctor, or because we didn't want to take her advice, but just because this seemed like something we needed to be really sure about. And I'm really glad that we did.

His advice, after seeing Biscuit's records, and looking at him (and BEFORE hearing our opinions on the matter) was that he doesn't believe Biscuit to be a good candidate for surgery right now.

SO... hearing aids here we come.

Anyone wanna rob a bank hire me to do some odd jobs?


Friday, January 15, 2010

I'm watching CNN and I'm a mess...

about people I don't even know, but whose tragic experiences have touched me. I'm simply going to pass along to you a portion of a post written on another blog that I read(see Bruce's blog here).

January 14, 2010
Presbyterian Church (USA) Prayer for Haiti
Sometimes in the face of tragedy and feelings of helplessness, all we can do is pray. Then there is the opportunity to offer our prayers, resources and actions when we, together, can be a divine presence of peace and healing. As the global community rallies around Haiti this day, let us begin the journey. Below is a prayer offered up by a few leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) by myself, Linda Valentine, Executive Director of the General Assembly Mission Council and Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly.

We Pray for Haiti

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As the eyes of the world turn to Haiti, let us join our hearts in prayer:

God of compassion
Please watch over the people of Haiti,
And weave out of these terrible happenings
wonders of goodness and grace.
Surround those who have been affected by tragedy
With a sense of your present love,
And hold them in faith.
Though they are lost in grief,
May they find you and be comforted;
Guide us as a church
To find ways of providing assistance
that heals wounds and provides hope
Help us to remember that when one of your children suffer
We all suffer
Through Jesus Christ who was dead, but lives
and rules this world with you. Amen.
(Adapted from Book of Common Worship)

-Bruce Reyes-Chow, Gradye Parsons and Linda Valentine

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Happy National Cut Your Energy Costs Day! No, really...

it really is an official day.  I'm not making it up!  So, in honor of National Cut Your Energy Costs Day, I went in search of some practical and easy ideas for doing just that.  And who doesn’t want to save money AND help the environment at the same time?  And you know I want things to be easier!  This is what I found…
·         Have a professional check out your HVAC to make sure it’s working correctly and efficiently.  Also, clean your air filters on a regular basis, which not only increases your HVAC unit’s functional efficiency, but it also improves the air quality in your home.  It wouldn’t hurt to check your insulation, either!
·         Unplug!  Your cell phone, your small kitchen appliances, anything else that you can stand to plug and unplug regularly will help (or try plugging things into a power cord that can easily be switched off).  Appliances that are plugged in still draw a certain amount of power, even when they’re turned off, and in doing so, generate added heat.  This includes turning your computer off at night.
·         Switch out your light bulbs.  I know we’ve talked about this one before, but compact fluorescent bulbs use less energy and generate less heat than incandescent bulbs.
·         Wash more clothes in cold water.  Apparently, a good portion of the energy used to wash clothes is spent on heating the water!
·         Turn off the “dry” option of your dishwasher.  Your dishes will dry on their own, and this cuts the power usage of your dishwasher.  And while we’re at it – if you can dry clothes on a clothesline, think how many trips through the dryer you’d save your clothes – AND your energy bill!
·         Use a manual option vs. an electric one – things like can openers, mixers, etc.
·         Use your blinds or curtains to your advantage.  Open them to let light in for added warmth, or conversely to keep light out, for easier cooling.
See?  Easy, practical, (mostly) cheap AND environmentally responsible!
ps.  My 8 year old just admonished me because I didn't include - "turn things off when you leave the room" which is what I'm always fussing about at my house!  Good to know he's hearing that one!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Carnation Instant Breakfast Bread…

Just to show you that I really am an idiot the hectic eclectic girl, I’m going to tell you a story…

It’s a story about a girl who got an awesome bread cookbook for Christmas, and who was ready to try a recipe RIGHT NOW!  Can you guess who this girl was?  And in my  her excitement and haste to make this recipe, I she somehow missed the fact that it called for POWDERED milk.  AND in my her excitement and haste to make this recipe, I she somehow missed the fact that it called for powdered milk, AFTER I she had already added the water, and when it was too late to somehow slip it into the sponge (where the water went). 

So here’s me this unfortunate girl, searching around the kitchen for something that resembles POWDERED MILK (which was not, of course, in the house)… and then I had an idea (oh, come on – I know you know it’s me!) – I have some Carnation Instant Breakfast in the pantry!  It’s mostly milk, right?  It was even vanilla flavored!  So I added it, instead of the prescribed milk, and voila, BREAD!  It was actually really good – and you couldn’t even tell that I had gone crazy with the instant breakfast!

So take heart!  You, too, can make random substitutions intentional adjustments to your recipes successfully!

Happy Baking!


Friday, January 8, 2010

This good deed is for the birds...

So the boys and I made some homemade "suet" treats for the birds, since we're having this really cold weather (insert jokes about southerners who don't really know about COLD here).  These are a mixture of peanut butter, bacon grease, crisco, bird seed, oats, dried cranberries and breadcrumbs.  We put some on a pine cone, and the rest went into the muffin tins to be hung, or put in the suet feeders.  Definitely NOT suitable for anything but this cold weather, as they'd melt easily, but they work well for now, and the birds seem to be enjoying them.  They were all over them about 5 minutes after we hung them up!  I looked out the bedroom window this morning and the suet feeder there had 3 little birds right on it - 2 tufted titmouses (titmice?) and a chickadee. 

We're enjoying the snow.  We went down to the lodge and the labyrinth today to check out the snow, and eventually made it down to lake, but we didn't stay out since it was about 12 degrees here.  Daisy really enjoyed the romp in the cold, though.  While we were trudging along all bundled in sweaters and coats, she pranced and ran and went "crazy dog" all around us.  The boys got really tickled at her.  And me?

I got really tickled, too, because I got to spend some time with my handsome camp guy, my amazing kids and my darling dog in a beautiful setting on a snow day!

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Life in the Hundred Acre Wood

As, I think I've mentioned before, we live at a camp.  DH is the camp guy, and the boys and I get the added benefit of being able to live at camp!  We (and by we, I mean the camp, who leases it from the Corp of Engineers) have a hundred acres of mostly woods, with cabins, pool, lodge and more.  And we're surrounded by a lake and by more Army Corp of Engineers property which is also mostly woods, so we see lots of deer, wild turkeys, snakes, birds, the occasional fox, and various and sundry other wild things.  This is something for which I count us extremely lucky.

Most of our encounters are viewings from afar, but sometimes we get a bit closer, like the time Jack (the cat) brought me a small, but still quite feisty rattlesnake!  Or the disappearance of the other Jack, whom we suspect was taken by the coyotes.  Not all of these "up close and personal" encounters are dangerous, though.

Outside our bedroom window, there is a large bush that houses a pair of cardinals and their nest.  It's lovely to look out the window and see those flashes of his brilliant red and her more muted, but still beautiful brown and red.  Lately, though, he has discovered his reflection in the window, and has gone to war with that stubborn bird who refuses to leave his territory!  All hours of the morning, noon and early evening we hear, "thunk, thunk, thunk!" on that window...  We've put the blinds up and down and different times, thinking that might help, but to no avail.  I'm not sure what else to try, but I'm starting to worry about him!  Can birds get brain damage from repeatedly pecking at the window?  And how do I convince the female that it's in her (and her future babies) best interest to convince him to stop being such a bully to the handsome bird in the window?  Or will he eventually decide that it's not a good nesting spot and move?  I'd love to hear any thoughts or suggestions you may have!