Recipe Experiment with new spices and herbs

Sometimes I experiment in the kitchen … the ones that turn out great, I share with you. This stew uses a lot of spices great for digestion, plus some unusual ingredients from the garden. (Yes, I include some dandelion that was growing by the mint and it turned out tasty.)



Calming Ways to Use Chamomile

Chamomile is widely known and used for mild insomnia. But did you know you don’t have to drink it? If you feel restless or anxious before bedtime, you can also use chamomile in a bath or footbath to enjoy the calming effect.

Chamomile likes to grow in full sun

Chamomile likes to grow in full sun

Chamomile is also an anti-inflammatory, due to its essential oil, azulene. This may also help to lower fever. To use a gargle for sore throat, make a double-strength tea.

A cup of chamomile tea is also a digestive aid, both through calming and the bitter compounds in it.

For some individuals, chamomile has an immediate calming effect. (That would not be me.) For others, chamomile needs to be used a few times a day over several days to help. (My hand is raised on that one.)

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

Chamomile is considered safe for children.

How much? 1 tsp dried herb to one cup water for tea.

Prepping chamomile to dry in the dehydrator

Prepping chamomile to dry in the dehydrator

My experience with chamomile out of our garden: Dried and fresh taste very different. Fresh has almost no taste. Dried chamomile has a mild sweet taste.

Resources: Medicinal Herbs - Rosemary Gladstar. The Simple Book of Herbs - Lisa Bedner, R.N., Herbs for Stress and Anxiety - Rosemary Gladstar.

9 Ways to Enjoy Rosemary

I trimmed back a rosemary bush and had to come up with several ways to use a ton of rosemary.

Of course, my favorite way is #9!

How to Harvest Sweet Potatoes (aka Treasure Hunting)

It is my favorite time of year. Not just because of time with family and friends - but because the sweet potatoes have cured and are ready to eat!

A few years ago when we started our garden we were somewhat intimidated by the mass of vines and not knowing how potatoes would be found under the soil. How deep would they be? How far would runners go? What are the ways to get them out? Just pull or get rid of the vines first?

Before you watch the video of the steps we took, here are a few other tips:

  1. Dig what you cut that day. We had sweet potatoes in three beds. We cut down only the beds we could harvest that day because all of the experts say potatoes will rot in ground if the vines are cut off and left for days. We’ve not tested it. We just go with it.

  2. For the size bed we have in the video (4X8 feet) it took about 6 hours for two adults to cut, dig, set up to cure, and clean up the mess.

  3. Curing? Directions say “warm” place and then after 2-3 weeks to cool storage. We’ve never created an ideal environment for curing. We just lay them out, not touching each other, on cardboard in the garage. If it is September, it might be warm. If it is October, it is cool, especially on the garage floor. But they’ve always cured beautifully over 3 weeks.

Happy Hunting!

Critical question for gardening plus our garden updates

I get asked what we are planting in our garden, so I decided to show you here.

This year was different. As we continue to develop our medicinal herb garden, we had much less time this year for our vegetable garden, so we used what we have learned to decide what to plant.

We asked ourselves, which plants are most important to us, because every plant has its unique pests and challenges. This summer we decided to not grow some of our regulars.

Beans require a lot of harvest and processing time. Squash is quick and easy to harvest and process, but the squash bugs are beyond description. I won’t even go there. Melons and cucumbers are nice, but there is not a great way to save extras.

So, tomatoes (easy to grow, harvest, and freeze), peppers (the same), and sweet potatoes (the variety I like are only sold at a store an hour away) were it for us this summer. Spring and fall include a lot of beets and radishes, as their pests are easy to control.

Next year our medicinal herbs should be established and we plan to get back to our regular vegetables. As you garden, for that matter as you live, there is a continual re-setting of priorities.

Enjoy your harvest!

Six Easy Steps for Herbal Infusions

Making an infusion is similar to making tea.  Once you know which herbs you want and if you are using fresh, frozen, or dried, the rest is easy.

For this example, I am using fresh Holy Basil from my garden.  Holy Basil is an "adaptogen" - which helps the body adapt to stress.  

Step One:

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Harvest the stems and leaves before flowers form, in early morning, just after the dew is off. That's the ideal. However, these I harvested at 5:45 a.m. because that is when I needed to make my infusion.  Also, the tops had flowered, so I used them.  Amount?  Enough for 2+ tablespoons fresh per cup of water. (If using dried herbs, use 1+ tablespoon per cup of water.)

Step Two:

Rinse off any obvious dirt.  

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Step Three:

Strip the leaves and flowers to use.  (Some people also use the stems.)

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Step Four:

Chop Coarsely.

Step Five:

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Place the herbs in either a mason jar or a french press.  When I began making infusions I used a mason jar and then strained the herbs through a cheesecloth.  If you are going to make infusions several days a week, invest in a french press to save you time.

Steep for 4 hours minimum.  The longer the herb steeps (generally), the stronger the infusion.  I either make my infusion at night and let it steep overnight to drink in the first few hours of the day, or begin steeping in the morning and drink during the afternoon.

Step Six:

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Drink the infusion within a day or two, putting it in the refrigerator if over 12-24 hours.  Or freeze the infusion in ice cube trays.  This is especially useful for infusions you want to use as herbal remedies.  For example, if you want sweet basil, chamomile, and mint to steep together for 4 hours to help with digestion or headaches, you don't want to wait 4 hours for relief.  Having it made and frozen, you can pour boiling water over 2-3 cubes and have instant help.

If you have questions, or ways that you make infusions, I'd love to chat in the comments.

Patience Pays Off

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These simple pictures don't reflect the emotions they evoke in me. This is an "oh, my" step in a personal journey. We planted this chamomile and coneflower this weekend.

SO?

Have you ever had something that you worked (and worked) toward and no matter how hard and long you worked it seemed to get further away?

Two and a half years ago Doug Traxler and I decided to turn our side yard into a Medicinal Herb Garden. With the help of Nashville Foodscapes and Lisa Bedner, RN and certified herbalist, the soil was prepped, the plants selected, and the garden designed. But then ...

All of 2017 was spent re-weeding. (Ok, not all. We did go to a friend's wedding in CA.) We would weed a section, then by the time the next section was weeded, the bermuda grass would reappear in another area. Evenings. Weekends. Over and over.

This spring we started weeding again.

But you know what happened? Enough of the deep roots were out that there were fewer and fewer weeds and grass. As fewer weeds came up, there were fewer to go to seed.

(Is anyone seeing a life lesson here, too?)

So, this weekend, after making the final layout of one of the herb beds, I was able to plant my first herbs in this garden.

As I sat listening to the rain, I felt such a sense of wonder and hope. "Wow. Something I had begun to feel discouraged over, finally has a tangible proof that IT CAN BE DONE." (Yes, there is still much more to do, but I have hope.)

If you are struggling to make something happen, drink a cup of chamomile tea (not from my garden yet, though ... it's not grown enough) and remember IT CAN BE DONE.

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The best ways to get a family healthy together

Families are pulled into so demands and distractions, and away from living healthy together.  I've worked with several couples and families to improve their exercise and nutrition and I want to share the best ways I've found to help all ages get healthy together.

Your journey starts with questions:

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  • What are the personalities of your family members?  Who is competitive? Who is high-energy? Who prefers solo or methodical activities?  On the other hand, who gets bored easily or wants lots of people involved? While no one will get their liking every time, include each person's regularly.
  • What are the strengths of each family member?  Organized? Research-oriented? Creative? Curious?  You'll want to use each person's strengths to get them excited about the activities.  For example, who can research what supplies to take on a day-hike?  Who can find three hiking trails to pick between?  Who can pack sandwiches for after a hike?  The answers should not all be "Mom."
  • Is your goal to get everyone active and eating well for the moment or to stimulate a love of movement and good food for a lifetime?  (I'm going to guess the latter, so my ideas below reflect a lifetime goal.)

Physical Activity ideas I have seen be fantastic for busy families:

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  • Walk and talk.  This foundational activity is so important.  Even just once a week, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon, allows a free-flow of conversation and builds trust.  My personal experience is from my mother and I walking when I was very young.  By the time I hit my teenage years and needed a sounding-board, we were already in the habit of walking and talking.
  • Jump-rope contests for the competitive ones.  And talk about funny video/photo moments!
  • Too cold out?  Do what my friend, Devika Kumar (the owner of Hendersonville CycleBar) does with her daughter - turn on some funky music and have a dance-off
  • Martial arts.  Most martial arts gyms have both adult and youth classes available.  If there is traditional exercise equipment available, parents can lift weights/cycle while the kids are in class.  Then the kids can do homework while the parents are taking class.  It's not "together" - but it is a shared experience you can discuss.
  • Water sports.  Kayak.  Canoe.  Sail-boat.  Stand-up paddleboard.  Unless you live by the water, these are not daily activities.  But they are great to add in the activity mix and fun motivation, learning skills together.  "The reason we are doing X exercise is so we won't be sore when we paddleboard this summer."
  • Cycling. Depending on your neighborhood your kids may ride bikes all summer, or you may take them to a park to ride.  Simply get a bike for yourself and join them.  And those squats you are doing during the winter will help you with that this summer.
  • Gardening.  Start small.  (Containers or a 4'x4' raised bed.)  This is a great way to introduce kids to how food is grown and get them away from the screen and into the sunshine.
  • Hiking.  A classic family exercise.  But with a few challenges to overcome.  One family I took hiking had one child who was older and faster. The younger child, said she wanted hike the "tough trail" - and, as anticipated, half-way through started complaining.  Watching for frogs, bugs, deer, and so forth proved the distraction she needed.  Lesson?  Even if a child says "let's do the big one" - stick to the easier trails first.
  • Movement games.  This idea goes against "traditional" exercise.  I worked with a family whose father was a "go-hard-or-go-home" exerciser.  The 10-ish year old girls were not.  My goal was to create movement the girls enjoyed and memories that would encourage them to stay active all of their lives.  Frisbee golf, roller-blading, tag games, and so on got them moving and sweating...at least with each other and with Mom.

What about healthy eating for busy families?

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  • One family decided to take one summer and deeply connect.  Little to no electronics and gadgets and passive-entertainment.  They spent their free time cooking from scratch, walking and playing games, and doing projects around the house.  "Busy" did not allow them to do that during the school year, but for a few weeks during the summer they traded passive-busy for connection and healthy eating.  Even now the mother says she keeps some of the cooking habits she taught herself that summer.  (Side note: the family lost weight without trying.)
  • A family I helped start eating healthy decided to divide the meal duties as follows: together they (or the mom/dad) decide the menu for the week and write it on the kitchen chalkboard; the parents order the food; the son (who wants opportunities to drive) picks up the food; the father and daughter have weekly connection time while pre-chopping the veggies for the week; the mom gets her creative outlet in cooking - without having to cut vegetables every day.  Then the kids alternate nights cleaning the kitchen.  The family discovered and used each person's strengths.

Three tips for the "busy-ness":

Shameless boast.  This is my cousin who is heading off to college next year on a baseball scholarship.  We're so proud!

Shameless boast.  This is my cousin who is heading off to college next year on a baseball scholarship.  We're so proud!

  • As kids get older and want to hang out with friends, invite the friends to participate in the exercise or cooking.  This means less time playing chauffeur.
  • "Together" does not have to be "physically together" all of the time. If your goal as a family is to run/walk a 5K together, everyone can train during the week when their schedule allows, then train together on Saturday mornings.
  • Sports-families (like my cousin's above) have a challenge.  Perhaps one child is in baseball and basketball.  Another in gymnastics and swimming.  A third is hooked on video-games. What I've seen work beautifully is each year encouraging each child to select one sport, so there is more time for family activity.  The video-games?  You have to decide how you want to limit that.  But while you are waiting on the baseball game to start, frisbee in the parking lot sounds like a lot more fun to me.

 

 

 

What to plant in your fall garden

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It's spring

again, kind of

Thanks to one of the ViREO Life readers for asking what to plant in a fall garden.  The answer is "Like spring, almost."

The cool weather (spring/fall) crops will germinate faster in the fall, due to the warmer soil.  And some spring pests (cabbage worms, especially) I have found less of an issue in the fall.  The real difference for me is have available floating row covers for when killing frosts begin, to extend the harvest into November and December.

What I plant and why:

  • Beets - the green leaves to blanch and freeze; the beet root to store in the fridge through the winter
  • Lettuce - but much less, since we eat fewer salads in the fall
  • Greens - kale, swiss chard, spinach, as many as the beds will hold, to be able to freeze for the winter (or if a mild winter, cover and eat out of the garden in December).
  • Radishes - I can get two batches of radishes in because they grow quickly.  I won't eat as many radishes as we grow, but I blanch the radish greens with my other greens for freezing.  We get a lot of food grown in a small space because of the 30 days maturity time.  (This means if you live near me and like radishes, you may end up "gifted" with a few.)

Broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts - I do not plant these in the fall, simply due to space.  In the spring I plant them in the same bed where sweet potatoes are started.  By fall the bed is covered to overflowing with sweet potato vines and there is no room.  If you have the space, plant them again as you would in the spring.

Plants I have tried unsuccessfully to "over-winter" are leeks and onions and garlic.  If you want to try planting them in the fall, do so.  If you are successful, let me know what you did so I can try again.

When to start your fall garden?  Late August and early September seem to work for us to sow seeds.  By the time seeds have germinated the weather is cooler.  If I was planting broccoli and cabbage plants, I would not plant them in August, due to the heat.  Other gardeners plant in August, in a shadier spot.

One last note about fall gardens:  if you are planning to plant cover crops (oats, vetch, winter rye, etc.) where your summer crops were, let me know and I'll blog separately about cover crops.  That has been a study-then-learn-by-oops experience for us that I'm happy to share.

Happy and healthy gardening!

Basil in a Bag ... now you can try it at home

A few weeks ago I planted some basil seeds in pre-bagged product.  (See video here.)

Four of the six seeds germinated.  Now, what to do with them?  Eat with tomatoes, of course. Make a basil tea as medicine (yep - details are in the video). Store for the winter.  (Watch to learn how.)

Happy growing.

Remember, you can find your path and fulfill your potential.