A Walk Through the Garden…

Good evening from the mountains of Kentucky. What a beautiful morning we were blessed with today! Thunderstorms appeared this evening, but has since passed and the sky is clearing! Hopefully, we’ll be blessed with more sunshine in the days ahead. It’s been a busy day of editing, planning, and creating the course shell for the upcoming class that I’m teaching this summer. The day also consisted of finding an unexpected treasure…in an unexpected place. The best kind of treasures!

This crane has become a regular visitor on our farm.

First, let me say that what I consider a treasure…others might consider to just be an object or even still, junk. So what constitutes a treasure to me? An unexpected visitor in the garden like the crane pictured above who makes regular visits to our small farm. Some tribes of Native Americans believed that a crane visiting is a sign of a blessing and good fortune for those it chooses to visit. I also enjoy the silent visit of the deer standing cautiously in the field, or even lingering in the safety of the tree lines. As long as they stay away from the garden…I enjoy their random visits.

An unexpected visitor.

I also find pleasure in finding unusual rocks or an occasional arrow head. Finding an arrow head fills me with wonders and feeling of being a part of another day or era of time, if only in my thoughts. I like to whisper a quiet thank you for the discovery. Finding arrow heads allows me to make a small connection to my Cherokee ancestors. And then… there’s simple objects like the one that I found this morning. Although, I don’t think they’re really that simple. I believe every little unexpected treasure that I find has a story of its own.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bent to pick ripe cucumbers from their vines this year or how many times we’ve hoed between the plants. However today just on a casual stroll in the garden an unusual object caught my attention. How had I missed this mysterious object? Was this a hidden treasure? There it was awaiting me…half-buried in the soil among the cucumber vines. I carefully unearthed the object to discover some sort of an old and unusual key. A skeleton key…maybe.

I carefully removed the mud left behind from the rain to discover my suspicions were correct, it was a very old key. I had found an antique skeleton key! My imagination soared and questions whirled through my mind. What did this old key once unlock? Who had originally owned the old key? I carefully tucked the key in my pocket and finished my stroll through the garden with my imagination running rapid. Words flowed through my thoughts. I felt the words of a poem stirring deep within my being. I couldn’t wait to add this newly inspired poem to the anthology that I am working on.

What a beautiful treasure!

I shared the small treasure with my husband and our grandson. Of course our grandson was as intrigued as I was, my husband’s curiosity was intrigued as well, just not as much as ours. Our grandson has a vivid imagination and also loves to discover hidden treasures, and tell stories… much like his nanny.

It was an eventful day indeed. I also placed our first batch of dried herbs of the season in labeled clear glass jars. Dried herbs are great for the winter season when fresh herbs may not be available. They also make a great addition to dishes while they’re cooking. Fresh herbs are better added during the last minutes of cooking or even after the dish is complete. I was also excited to fill white envelopes with seeds saved from the dried blooms of basil, lavender and chives! Saving seeds ensures that future herb plants are not genetically altered or modified like many that are unknowingly purchased, but rather from organically grown plants that we nurture from the seed to the harvest.

Dried herbs ready for cooking!

I hope you’ve enjoyed stopping by and visiting our small corner of the world. Feel free to follow or leave feedback. I enjoy reading comments from all of my readers. I also look forward to sharing my recipe for vegan lemon bread that is coming soon. For now, God bless from the mountains of Kentucky!

Vegan Lavender Butter: A Sweet Herbal Treat From the Mountains…

A foggy mountain morning in the mountains.

Good morning from the mountains of Kentucky! As I savor the taste of the rich bold coffee and listen to the comforting sounds of our small farm waking up and greeting the world this morning I am filled with a sense of peace and satisfaction. I enjoy the lulling sounds of the soft raindrops gently tapping the lingering puddles yesterday’s showers left behind, and the sounds of Pretty Boy’s boastful good-morning crows from his high-roost. The trees are filled with an anxious zeal for life from the beautiful sounds of music the families of robins, blue jays, and wrens are making, while a blanket of fog still lingers near the mountains tops and over the valleys creating a cocoon of safety in our little corner of the world. I agree with that all-too famous line from one of my childhood favorite movies, “there’s no place like home!”

Our domer rooster. Pretty Boy.

Today will be another busy day as the life of a professor, nanny, writer, and farm-wife never gets boring. There’s always something to keep me busy, but I can’t complain I can’t imagine my life any other way. Today’s agenda consists of editor deadlines, working on syllabi for my summer II courses, light housework, preparing a big kettle of homemade soup, and hopefully a little garden time, if the weather cooperates. But for now, I promised my readers last night that I’d post my recipe for Vegan Lavender Butter.

Have you ever wondered what to do with all those beautiful lavender blooms? Well wonder no more…I hope you enjoy this delicious herbal treat.

Lavender blooming near the basil.

Rich and delicious lavender butter

First, let me say that the picture does not do this delicious treat justice! But without further delay…here you go! I hope you enjoy it!

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons of your favorite organic plant butter (my favorite is coconut plant butter…see photo below) plain butter for a non-vegan option
  • 1 teaspoon of pure organic maple syrup for a vegan option, honey for non-vegan
  • 3 teaspoons of dried lavender blooms

My favorite plant butter

Dried lavender blooms

Process:

Mix the plant butter, syrup, and dried lavender blooms in a small bowl and set aside in the refrigerator to allow it to chill for at least two hours before serving. As the butter chills the delicate dried blooms rehydrate and soften within the butter to create a smooth and delicious texture. The taste of this delicate and silky sweet treat can be enjoyed on toast, rolls, biscuits or even on a baked sweet potato. Our son-in-law enjoyed it on his steak a few nights ago! He described it as a savory taste that lingers on the back of the tongue.

I look forward to hearing from you and reading your comments and thoughts about this tasty herbal treat. Well, the day beckons me with a to-do list that can’t wait! God bless from my Kentucky mountain kitchen to yours!

Butterflies love our lavender blooms…

Drying Stevia

I love fall, but I’m saddened about not being able to step outside my backdoor and clip fresh herbs. My summer herbs are still green, perky, and plentiful…but their days are numbered! Even though I love fall, and will miss fresh herbs, it’s time to focus on the chore of harvesting herbs. To harvest tasty herbs, the herbs must be green and still full of life. Fresh herbs make any dish taste better. I cut fresh basil this morning for an omelet…delicious to say the least! As tasty as summer herbs are during the hot months…they still kick your dishes up a notch when they are dried. Dried herbs can be used year around, but are especially a treat during the cold winter months. Drying herbs can be a bit of a slow process, depending on the method that you choose. Drying herbs is the process that I thoroughly enjoy the most!

My backdoor herb box

My backdoor herb box

When I made the choice to eat clean, I also made the choice to grow my own herbs. What better way to know that your herbs are truly organically grown! I was also eager to try different types of sweeteners. I found that I love using agave nectar and honey, but sometimes a dry sweetener is necessary. After researching, and speaking with some wise old farmers about stevia, my mind was made up. I would grow and harvest my own sweetener!

Stevia is a beautiful green plant that is very easy to grow. It takes very little maintenance, other than water, regular pruning, and a lots of sunshine! I decided to start small, since it was a new herb in my garden. I planted a very large pot of the beautiful green plant. One pot of the sweet herb has provided through the spring and summer months, and is now ready to be harvested for the fall and winter months ahead.

Sweet Herb/Stevia growing outside my back door!

Sweet Herb/Stevia growing outside my back door!

The process is fairly simple. There are a variety of methods of drying herbs. You may air dry them by placing in them in shallow pans, dehydrate them, hang them to dry, or oven dry them. If you plan to dehydrate your herbs, or in a flat pan, simply clip the desired amount of shoots of the sweet herb, and then clip off the leaves. If you dry them by hanging them, you will not need to clip the leaves.

I prefer to dry stevia in a pan in a dark room near filtered window light. No matter the method discard leaves that may be bruised, or have brown spots on them. Rinse the leaves to remove any pests, or dust and allow to air dry. Once the leaves are dry place them in a dry shallow pan near filtered window light in a dark room. Be patient, and check the herbs in a couple of days. You may occasionally manipulate the leaves to allow even drying. After about two weeks, your leaves should be dry enough to pass the crunch test. The crunch test, is simply hearing the crisp and crunchy sound when you crumble the leaves. If they pass the test, you are ready. If they do not pass the crunch test, allow a few more days and check them again.

Process:

Dry leaves in a shallow pan in a dark room with filtered light

When leaves pass the crunch test, crumble the leaves by hand onto a clean white paper towel or large pan.

Place crumbled leaves in a coffee grinder.

Pulse until you’ve reached the desired consistency.

Place fresh ground herbs in a clear glass jar with a lid. (I prefer glass jars to preserve the freshness of the plant.)

Label the Lid or Jar to identify the herb.

Growing & drying stevia

Growing & drying stevia

Enjoy your organically grown stevia in teas, desserts, canning, and more. If you have enjoyed learning about growing and drying stevia, be sure to check out Drying Fresh Basil. I look forward to hearing from you! I would love to know how you incorporate fresh stevia in your favorite dishes.

Drying Fresh Basil

Clean eating has changed my life in many different ways. I feel better physically, I have more energy and stamina than I’ve had in twenty years, and I’ve lost sixty-eight pounds during this three-year journey. Clean eating has changed the way I see food, and how I see my life. I am enjoying my life, my career, my Christianity, and my family more than I have in a number of years, simply because I feel better! I have learned that clean eating is not a diet, but a lifestyle. So, what does drying herbs have to do with clean eating? Everything! Herbs can enhance the flavor of an ordinary meal…turning it into an extraordinary meal! Herbs grown at home are also organic, and free of pesticides. Growing herbs can also be therapeutic and a source of relaxation.

I have always dabbled a little with small pots of herbs in my kitchen. I enjoyed the convenience of having fresh parsley and chives at my fingertips. But, I wanted more. I wanted a wider variety of fresh unprocessed herbs that were organically grown and free of pesticides. During the winter I planned a herb garden that included fresh basil, dill, a variety of mint, sweet herb, chives, thyme, oregano, and more. A few months later, my herb garden was a reality, and a success! Believe it or not, I raised enough dill to can and process several dozen quart jars of kosher dill pickles, fill my pantry with dried herbs for the winter, and also give an abundance of herbs to family and friends. We’ve enjoyed fresh, oregano, and chives all summer and still reaping the rewards from my small herb garden. I will probably harvest herbs at least two more times before fall at which time I will transplant most of the herbs inside. Transplanting the herbs will allow my family to enjoy fresh-cut herbs all winter, and start a fresh garden outdoors in early spring.

nanny's herbs

My herb box in early spring

basil

One of my pots of basil, oregano, and sweet herb

There are several easy methods for dying basil. I often cut basil, tie it in small bundles, and hang it to dry, I also clip the leaves and dry in flat containers, and occasionally I like to use the dehydrator. My favorite method is hanging basil in bundles in my kitchen. The aroma of the fresh-cut basil fills the kitchen for days. I also prefer the intensified flavor of air-dried basil. Today, I’m going to share step by step instructions of how to air-dry basil in flat containers.

You will need:

Fresh basil
cookie sheets or paper plates
coffee grinder
small glass jar

1.) Cut fresh leaves from basil just before it flowers as the flavor will be at its peak. Discard leaves that have blemishes or bruises.

fresh basil two

Fresh basil mid-summer

2.) Rinse with clear water. Spin dry, or pat dry with a clean paper towel

3.) Lay basil leaves on a flat container such as a lined cookie sheet, or paper plate. I prefer using paper plates.

4.) Place in indirect sunlight. Herbs retain a better flavor if slowly air-dried, rather than drying quickly by sunlight.

5.) Check the herbs weekly until they are dry and crispy.

dried flat

basil leaves air-dried in indirect sunlight for approximately three weeks

6.) Place dried basil leaves in a coffee grinder and pulse until the desired consistency is achieved.

coffee grinder

A great little inexpensive coffee grinder!

7.) Check basil after a couple of pulses to prevent over grinding. Repeat this step until all of the basil is ground.

fine basil

Fresh ground basil

8.) Place ground basil in a clean glass jar. I prefer using glass jars as it helps maintain the herbs freshness.

9.) Don’t forget to label your herbs to prevent any possible mix ups.

glass jar label your basil

I’m anxious for you to grow and dry your own herbs! But, be warned…once you’ve tried both fresh and dried herbs, you’ll be hooked! There’s a distinct difference in the taste, quality, and cooking results. There’s no turning back to store-bought herbs!