Category Archives: Herbs

New Uses for Old Things

This isn’t the first time I’ve geeked out over using old things in a new way in the garden. Remember my tin can and jar lanterns? Or my cutlery plant markers? And you know how I love to think outside the box when it comes to container gardening, like my succulent window “box”, pallet herb garden, and tin can flower pots. I love it when I think of a new way to use something I already have to enhance the look of something in my yard or to solve a problem. So here are some of the new uses I’ve found lately for some old things.

Picture hanging kit = DIY trellis

A pack of picture hangers that cost $1.50 at Target and some wire I already had was put to use to create a makeshift trellis on my wood fence for my trailing nasturtium. Originally, I thought I would like them to sprawl on the ground, but not so much.

Smashed nasturtium leaves look unsightly on my path and probably don’t make the nasturtium feel too happy either. Don’t they look way prettier growing on the fence like that anyway?

Old, rickety ladder = hose guide

I found this old, rickety ladder, which has left here buy the previous owners, growing in no man’s land. It was covered in morning glory and moss and was too weak to stand on, so I leaned it against the fence and it became a shabby chic hose guide. So glad that puppy didn’t end up at the dump.

Patio table and umbrella = dehydrator tray and rack

I needed somewhere to put all the fresh garlic and shallots I just harvested so they could dry out and cure in the sun for a while before I brought them inside to braid and store. As soon as the sun comes out (hint hint, Seattle sun), my garlic and shallots will be ready and thanks to the umbrella, will be protected from all this summer rain.

Tomato cages = sunflower supports

Indeterminate tomatoes often outgrow tomato cages, so this year I’ve begun trellising them in a more efficient way. To put all the cages that I already owned to good use, I’ve used them to support my towering sunflowers. If you’ve ever grown sunflowers before, you know their stalks get huge and can sometimes fall over with the weight of their blooms. Containing then inside tomato cages gives them a little extra support. The stalks that don’t fit in the cage can be loosely tied up to the sides of the cages. Now all we need is a little sun so those babies will bloom! By the way, I use tomato cages to support my peonies too.

Weed cloth = shade cloth

A bit of permeable weed cloth stapled onto four posts at each corner of my lettuce bed has provided my little greens with some shade to keep them from bolting. It’s permeable so when it rains, it lets the natural irrigation pass through and when the sun shines, it protects the delicate greens from wilting in the hot sun. Win win!

Barbecue = super fun container

I recently splurged and got myself a gas grill, so the old charcoal grill was repurposed as another fun herb garden container. This time, I planted lemon balm, mint, lime thyme, and golden thyme. The steam vents in the bottom served as drainage holes. Bonus! And double bonus for those who let their chickens free-range, it’s elevated so your chickens can’t destroy it unless they are mischievous enough to fly up to it.

Coal-heating chimney and cinder blocks = vessels for container gardening

Who needs a coal-heating chimney when you just filled up your Weber with dirt? I certainly don’t. So for now (and I say for now since I’ve only recently discovered how huge borage can get), it’s planted with borage. And tucked in beside it is a couple rogue cinder blocks that are holding lime thyme and shasta daisies. Since those are planted with the holes in the bottom, the containers drain well and allow the roots to travel down beyond the container, where I happen to have pretty good soil anyway. Just have to remember to keep those puppies watered since containers can dry out very quickly, especially when they’re made out of cement.

Grandma Mae would be proud. How are you thinking outside of the box in your garden? What are you reusing?

Tea Time: Homemade Chai

Ok, so I may be a little bit of a chai snob. And it’s not just because I was schooled early on that chai means tea (thanks, r). Chai tea latte? Now that’s just plain redundant.

Maybe it’s because the first chai I ever had was with my friend Maria in a dark, little teteria (tea cafe en espanol) in the Arabic neighborhood of Granada. Chai wasn’t really even on my radar until I was sitting on a cushion, pouring loose leaf, spiced black tea out of a tea pot into a mug with milk and sugar. For a girl who doesn’t drink coffee, it was a revelation and I’ve been hooked ever since.

And it’s not just any old chai that I’m interested in drinking. You can hold your chai tea lattes and cartons of chai syrup. I want spice. That’s probably why I know exactly where I can go to get a really good chai.  Tell me a neighborhood in Seattle and I can probably tell you where you can get the best cup of chai. The folks at Cloud City know exactly what I want before I even have to order. If they serve Morning Glory, I’m in! And in a pinch, a chai tea bag with some steamed milk will do the trick. I’m no chai expert – I just know what I like. I want the spice to come through. I want it to taste like tea. If there is any sweetness at all, it’s just a highlight, not the main attraction.

To be honest, chai is a special comfort. It’s like my morning mac ‘n cheese. I don’t buy one everyday – it’s something I save for a weekend treat. Cupping my hands around my warm cup of chai is an experience that allows me to slow down and tune into my senses. There’s a ceremony to it and even more so now that I’ve discovered how to brew my own.

This process takes a little bit of time, so it probably won’t make sense for a hurried weekday morning routine. And besides, that kind of ruins it. This is an opportunity for delightful, conscious consumption, not for mindless satisfaction on the go. Enjoy it. Take in the smells while it simmers. Pour it into a quaint little tea cup and take the time to enjoy a spot of tea.

Homemade Chai
Adapted from Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it

I put all the whole spices directly into the water and then strained the liquid using a fine sieve when I was ready to drink it. Alternatively, you could put the spices into some cheesecloth and remove when you’re ready to serve.

3 cups water
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 star anise
4 cloves
8 cardamom pods, cracked
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 Tbsp black or Darjeeling loose leaf tea (in a tea ball) or 2 tea bags
1 cup milk, cream, milk alternative (soy/rice/almond)
honey (optional)

Place the water in the saucepan and add the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered for 15 minutes. Keep close by in order to take in the delicious aromas that will start to fill your kitchen.

Add the star anise, cloves, cardamom, and peppercorns, and continue to simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

Turn off the heat, toss in the tea ball or tea bags, cover, and steep for about 5 minutes. Strain, stir in the milk and honey, if you like. Stir to combine and return to medium-low heat, just until heated through – don’t let it boil. Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!

You can refrigerate this chai for up to 1 week, but I really don’t think mine would ever last that long.

A Pallet Turned Herb Garden

Ever since my friend Shango sent me an email with the link to this project, I’ve been itching to try it. For my birthday, my brother-in-law gave me a beautiful, clean pallet and it’s been sitting in my hallway ever since. You may remember that I put this project on my “not to-do” list, but I got a special gift – a gift card to Molbak’s nursery and I just couldn’t resist using it to finally bring this project to fruition.

Originally, I thought I’d fill it with sedum and succulents because you know how I feel about those. But then, after a bit of research and thought, I decided to go with herbal edibles. Succulents are pretty low maintenance and are beautiful for sure, but they would make this project even more expensive than it already is. Rather than using just plain potting soil, you’d need succulent/cactus potting mix, which adds up, especially with this quantity. And buying all the succulents to fill the space is another investment entirely. Besides that, edibles are really my thing and perennial herbs are also low maintenance and beautiful. And I can eat them too! Bonus!

Now since I don’t technically know where this pallet has been or how it has been treated or fumigated, I may not actually eat the herbs I’ve planted in it. But then again, maybe I’ll live on the edge and put a few of those chocolate mint leaves into my next mojito after all.

The necessities:

  • 1 clean pallet
  • weed cloth fabric (look for the thick fabric kind rather than the black, stretchy kind)
  • about 2 large bags of potting soil
  • 28 starts (4 inch pots), preferably perennial herbs or ground cover
  • a heavy duty stapler and staples

The plants:

  • Creeping Golden Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)
  • Marjoram Miniature (Origanum onites)
  • Marjoram Golden Upright (Origanum majorana)
  • Chocolate Mint
  • Crinkle Leaf Oregano (Origanum onites aureum)
  • Common Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
  • Beach/Sand Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)
  • Lipstick Strawberry (Fragaria ‘lipstick’)

The method:

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.

Sunday Supper…on Saturday

The date: Saturday, June 4, 2011

Since I’ll be at a little one’s second birthday party on Sunday, I enjoyed my Sunday Supper experiment one day early!

The menu: Roasted Copper River Salmon and grilled pizza with grilled asparagus, chevre and oregano oil.

The inspiration: A two year old article from Sunset Magazine

That’s right. I’ve been wanting to learn how to grill pizzas for at least two years now. I’ve been making pizza since I started making bread, but grilling them? Now that was just plain intriguing. It even made it on to my dream list. My sister and I have been making dream lists since I was in college – I think it was something she saw on Oprah. I guess nowadays they’re called bucket lists. For me, it’s simply a list of things I’d like to do or own that will contribute to my personal growth (i.e. my ever-growing list of projects). I update them every couple of years in order to put new items on the list as my tastes grow and change and I highlight the items I’ve accomplished as I go. It’s a way of making those things you say you’d love to do, a reality. And today, I got to cross one off. I tucked this how-to article into my recipe binder two years ago and tonight, I finally put it to use.

When I was at the farmers’ market last week, I was talking to this good-looking farm vendor about which asparagus to choose, the super skinny ones or big fat stalks. He said, “That depends. How are you going to cook it? Are you going to grill it?” I gave him sort of a bashful look and said, “I don’t know how to grill.” He raised his eyebrows quizzically and gave me a look that said, “Really? I don’t buy it.” The whole charcoal hassle and monitoring heat was just overwhelming, a job I left to my dad a few sunny afternoons during the summer. But, oh what a difference a gas grill can make because friends, I’ve learned to grill! It’s right outside my kitchen door under an awing so now I can grill year round.

Even Lucy and Penny wanted to get in on the grilled pizza action.

I’m not going to go through the whole process that’s involved in grilling pizza – Sunset already did that. Follow the steps in this how-to article and you’ll be set. I am going to encourage you to check it out though and try it yourself. The best thing I learned from this dinner experiment is the potential it has for a fantastic dinner party. The idea is that you grill the little personal size pizzas (and they are filling, by the way) on one side. Then, you take the pizzas off the grill and let people dress the grilled side of the pizza with a buffet of toppings that you provide. When you’re ready, you put the pizzas back on the grill to finish them – grilling the bottom, heating the toppings, and melting the cheese.  So fun! And delicious! Since this was my first time grilling pizzas, my crusts were a little, um, rustic. But this is a work in progress and I think I have many friends who would enjoy being my grilled pizza guinea pigs.

Oregano Oil

Adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison

In the original recipe, Deborah uses sage leaves to make sage oil, which is especially lovely in the fall and winter when roasting winter squash and root vegetables. I wanted something reminiscent of tomato sauce since tomatoes are not quite in season so I made the oil with fresh oregano. I used this herb infused oil to rub on the asparagus before putting it on the grill and used it to brush on my seasonal pizza biancas (white pizzas). The possibilities are endless!  The crispy leaves that you end up with can be used as a garnish.

4 Tablespoons salted butter
3 medium cuttings of fresh oregano (~30 leaves)
1/3 cup olive oil

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat until it turns pale gold. Add the oregano leaves and let them sizzle for a minute or so. Pour in the oil, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 10 minutes. Pour through a strainer and reserve the leaves. Enjoy!

Makes ~ 1/2 cup.