Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I love using fresh thyme for just about anything.....stuffed under the breast of a roasted chicken, used in a veggie stir fry, on scrambled eggs, atop grilled fish.  Last year, my great group of thymes - golden, lemon, silver, creeping - all died during August.  Heat or humidity?  That corner of my herb garden is also prone to flooding during real hard rains.
So, I added more soil to raise it up, shored it up with rocks we collect from hikes and sea shells, and a huge amount of black gold, or compost, before planting these pretty lemon and creeping thymes this past weekend. 
Growing herbs, whether in pots on your windowsill, or pots on your deck or drive, or in a garden, are so very easy.  Most are very forgiving, and will issue forth loads of flavor and inspiration for cooking.  I'll never forget my little girls bending over to rub the leaves, then bringing their fingers to their noses and just grinning.  Okay, they're now in their 20s!!!
I have huge rosemary bushes growing in various plots.  Some are upright, which can be used as skewers for kabobs, others are low-lying with a slightly different flavor.  We use the dead limbs, or those after we chop up the leaves, to place on top of the coals or hot grill.  That gives added, smokey flavor to whatever you're grilling.  Learned that from our French friends we visited near Marseilles.
I will also sow seeds for basil after the last frost, and add another sage plant.  I love Greek oregano for summer squash.  And chives and more chives, along with the garlic chives making a valiant comeback this spring.  I usually keep a pot of Italian flat-leaf parsley going too.  Give them all a try.  Fresh herbs are just dynamite. 

So this economy has a lot of us planting veggies - and herbs - in our backyards to cut back on grocery costs, and to provide safe and healthy food for our families.  Sort of a new take on the old Victory Gardens.  But what a win-win.  It's good for us in so many ways - gives us exercise, an excuse to be outside, provides us with great food. . . . . 
My problem is the not-very-dear deer.  We live near a creek, and we're on their pathway.  They love whatever we've got growing.  Short of 8-foot tall fencing, I don't know what to do.
So we planted some mesclun, radishes and sugar snap peas in some pots to place on the deck, thinking that would keep the deer away.  The squirrels, however, thought it was marvelous, and dug deep trenches among the carefully sowed tiny seeds, sprinkled just so with a scant 1/2 inch of topsoil.  I'm thinking squirrel stew, which we do here in the South.
Take a tour this Saturday of some "Urban Farms" with an old friend, Master Gardener Jan Leitschuh, down in the beautiful Sandhills area of NC.  http://sustainablesandhills.org or call 910 484-9098.  Jan has also developed a business of planting edible gardens for folks.

Since I have no fresh veggies or fruit to enthrall you with this week, I'd like to pass on a terrific recipe for granola.  I find granola to be very expensive in the stores.  And full of fats and calories, and lots of added stuff.  I searched online, and found a recipe by a favorite food writer, Mark Bittman of THE NEW YORK TIMES.  I used my own combination of nuts, as he suggested, and did a combo of sweeteners (honey and maple syrup).  And let me tell you, it's awesome.  What a terrific way to start your day.  I sprinkle it over peaches and blueberries I froze last summer.  I imagine it'd be good with yogurt, or strawberries, or ice cream. . . . . 
It takes about 10 minutes to chop the nuts and combine the ingredients, then another 30 or so minutes to bake.  I buy oatmeal and nuts in bulk, so the cost is significantly less, over the long haul, from the boxes or bags you buy in the store.  Not a bad investment for such a terrific outcome.
Start with these basics, then add, as Bittman suggests, other grains, dried fruit, spices, orange zest, peanut butter or even chocolate chips.  

- 6 cups rolled oats (NOT quick-cooking or instant)
- 2 (I did 3) cups mixed nuts and seeds (I used chopped walnuts, pecans and almonds, but wan to add cashews, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds or sesame seeds next time)
- 1 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut, optional ( we don't like the stuff, so I left that out)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
- dash of salt
- 1/2 to 1 cup honey or maple syrup, or to taste (I used a combo)
- 1 cup raisins or chopped dried fruit, optional (I left these out since I knew I'd be using fresh or frozen fruit)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix together the oats, nuts, salt, and cinnamon (use your hands, your best tools).  Drizzle the honey and/or maple syrup over.  Stir until all is moistened.  You might need to add a bit more honey or syrup. 
I divided the mixture between two baking sheets with sides.  Place in preheated oven for at least 30 minutes.  Stir occasionally.  You want the mixture to be browned but not burned so that it will be crunchy.  I left mine in for about 40 minutes.
Remove from oven, then add raisins or dried fruit, if desired.  Cool on a rack until it gets to room temp.  I store mine in a plastic zippered bag in the refrigerator.  Bittman says it will keep indefinitely, but mine won't last long.  I love the stuff!
Source:  THE NEW YORK TIMES.  Jan 9, 2009.

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