What Do We Do Now?

Standing Up To Far Too Much

Like most of my friends, I’m stunned by Saturday’s events in
Charlottesville. Maybe it’s hitting me harder today since I found out long after most people. My weekend was spent participating in the Port Gamble Maritime Music Festival and playing for a benefit event. I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety since well before the November election and have chosen to maintain a media fast much of the time. I don’t have a television and rarely listen to the radio, though I do follow a few trusted media sources, such as NPR, The Washington Post, and YES Magazine. It’s not at all because I don’t care what’s happening in our country and in the world. It’s because I feel immobilized and crushed in spirit by the daily barrage of horrifying, terrifying news.

The constant barrage of inhumane, unconscionable actions, statements, and events is clearly deliberate policy on the part of our current administration. It’s an effective strategy, diluting the focus and sapping the energy and drive of everyone I know who is progressive, kind, hopeful and humanitarian. I am so grateful that some folks are able to use their rage to fuel constructive activism against the relentless tide of malicious cruelty pouring from the White House, Congress, and the Senate. Me? I make a lot of phone calls to encourage my representatives to accurately represent me. Most days, I find myself weeping with desolation because so few of our elected officials red or blue or in between seem able to demonstrate genuine concern for vulnerable populations; people of color, women of all descriptions, those on the LGBT spectrum, refugees, the disabled, the elderly, the young, the undereducated, the underemployed and unemployed, the homeless, the dispossessed, outliers, those who “present different” and don’t quite fit in. The people Jesus always had time for, right?

What Are We To DO?

I respect and admire all religions that encourage people to practice loving kindness and compassion, but as it happens, the tradition I am most deeply acquainted with is that of Jesus. These days, progressive Christians often talk about how uncomfortable it feels to identify oneself as Christian when that label carries so many contrary and even evil associations. (Actually, it has for millennia.) I’m imagining that if I were a progressive Republican I might feel much the same way about claiming THAT label these days. However, no matter which label we might accept or which tradition we follow (if any), most folks I know are asking the same question: What are we supposed to do when the ruling regime ignores, reviles, or actively punishes and endangers vulnerable people?

Given my background, I often remember the Beatitudes, a collection of statements Jesus made in the sermon on the mount. In Jesus’s terms, humble people are blessed. Those who grieve for themselves and others, who mourn the state of the world and the ugliness of inhumane behavior are blessed. Those who are kind, gentle, and able to appropriately control their own actions are blessed. Those who seek social justice are blessed. Those who are compassionate, merciful and generous are blessed.

Blessed or Oppressed

The opposite of beatitude or blessing is sometimes defined as misery, or “being unwillingly afflicted with pain and suffering.” When we know or learn about people who are miserable, suffering, frightened and and oppressed, here are some practical responses:

Feed the hungry

Give clean, pure water to the thirsty

Clothe the naked

Shelter the homeless

Comfort the imprisoned

Visit the sick

Bury the dead

Few of us will be presented with direct opportunities to do all these things but pretty much all of us have daily chances to do at least one. None of us can fix the world but each of us can ease suffering, at least a little. Some people scorn those who just send money to worthy causes but money makes it possible for activists to act. Even so, there is even more power and healing in direct, hands-on action. Such actions don’t have to be huge or even particularly difficult. They aren’t earth shaking, but they do change the world, quietly building community and reducing suffering, little by little.

Take garden vegetables or fruit to a food bank

Make soup for a sick acquaintance

Invite a lonely neighbor to tea or dinner

Knit a chemo cap or a preemie blankie

Send a personal note to a shut in

Shoot hoops with a kid who needs a Big Brother

Play cards with a nursing home resident without visitors

Donate clothing directly to a homeless shelter

Pass along toys to foster parents who take in babies

Volunteer with Hospice

This Little Light Of Mine

None of that works for you? Or all of it works but it’s just not enough? Tonight there will be many gatherings all over the country with people standing to protest the death and damage, the destruction and disrespect, the cruelty of police and protector complicity in Charlottesville and in far too many other places. Gather your friends and community, find a candle and stand on a prominent street corner to hold vigil for lost people and lost values. Stand up, knowing we’re standing up to far too much, but let’s stand anyway and let our little lights shine.

 

 

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Herbal Oils And Vinegars

Garden To Kitchen: Beam Me In

In the Seattle area, the recent heatwave was sadly mellowed by a dense haze of smoke from Northern wildfires. On the worst days, you could taste the tang of burning trees at the back of your throat and eyes itched and burned in sympathy for the fallen. Grey skies and dry weather is not unusual for the maritime Northwest, but our grey summers are usually cool, not steamy like this one. Meanwhile, the gardens go on, the muted heat speedily ripening fruit and flowers and awakening essential oils in herbs, bringing them to full fragrant flavor.

This is a good time to harvest herbs for all sorts of uses, from oils and vinegars to simple syrups and seasoned salt blends, both culinary and for the bath. Tightly sealed in jars and stored in a dim, cool place, dried herbs keep their savor for months and can be stored in the freezer even longer. Right now I’m making herb-infused oils and vinegars of various kinds, some standard, others experimental. As always when playing about, I make small batches of anything I’m not sure about, keeping detailed notes so I can recreate the successes and avoid repeating the disasters. (That is, if I remember to check my notes before trying a seemingly grand notion yet again.)

Capturing Sunbeams

Herbs picked in high summer have almost shockingly vivid flavors, bright and lively, with over- and under-tones missing from dried ones. captured in oils and vinegars, these sunny, summery garden essences contribute sparkle to many dishes. Basil oil and lemon thyme vinegar make a memorable dressing for green, fruity, or pasta salads. A dash of rosemary-shallot oil gives steamed vegetables depth and finish. A drizzle of garlic-chile oil lends pizza pizzaz. Plain soup gains luster from a few drops of lemon-basil finishing oil, while vegetarian chili sings with a splash of jalapeno-oregano vinegar.

To bring out the richest flavors, oils infused with garlic, shallots, and fresh or dried herbs are oven baked until the added ingredients are brown and toasted. In order to evaporate moisture from the foliage or vegetables that could harbor harmful bacteria, heat oils in a non-reactive, wide-mouthed container such as a large glass measuring cup or a glass casserole dish. Once cooled and strained, the clear and deliciously scented oil may be stored in the refrigerator for up to three months. If an oil looks cloudy or displays a definite layer of clear and cloudy oils after straining, reheat it for 30-45 minutes and strain through cheesecloth or muslin again.

Slow Steeping

Similarly, various basic vinegars may be gently heated with spices, herbs, or vegetables such as chili peppers or garlic. (Always heat vinegar in a non-reactive saucepan made of stainless steel or enamel). After steeping for several days or even weeks, flavored vinegars are strained and rebottled in handsome containers for gifting or kitchen use. Pretty though they are, flavored oils and vinegars should be stored in the refrigerator, not a sunny window, since heat and light can cloud them and may promote bacterial growth. For safest use, always refrigerate homemade oils and vinegars after opening.

I find it entertaining to develop playful combinations of herbs and spices with fruit flower petals, spices and even toasted nuts and seeds. For instance, a flavorful oil or vinegar can be made by partnering pink, green, or black peppercorns with organic lemon, orange, lime or grapefruit zest. Try different base ingredients, giving preference to polyunsaturated oils with high smokepoints, such as buttery avocado and blander grapeseed. Mild and almost flavorless, American Heart Association favorite rice oil is an excellent carrier that emphasizes the taste and fragrance of your chosen additives.

Play Time

Now, this is the fun part. Assemble your backbone ingredients and a note book, then jump in and play. Try a little batch of whatever appeals most, perhaps infusing rice oil with rose petals, basil, and lemon rind, or calendula petals, rosemary, and toasted hazelnuts. Wow, right? Vinegars also have particular properties that make them suitable for various partnerings. Mellow apple cider vinegar works well with both herbs and spices, while red or white wine vinegars pair well with fruit, robust chili peppers, and garlic. Like its cousin oil, plain rice vinegar (not the kind made with salt and sugar) boosts delicate flavors without competing; try it with a split vanilla bean, rose petals, and toasted pink peppercorns, or lemon rind, dill, and chamomile petals.

Lemon Thyme & Basil Oil

1 cup safflower or canola oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon stemmed lemon thyme
2 teaspoons organic lemon zest (finely grated peel)

Place all ingredients in a glass 2-cup measure set into a baking pan. Bake at 300 degrees F for 40 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes, then strain through muslin or a coffee filter into a sterilized bottle and cover with a tight cap.

Rosemary Rose & Garlic Oil

1 cup avocado or olive oil
1/4 cup fresh rose petals
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

Place all ingredients in a glass 2-cup measure placed in a baking pan. Bake at 300 degrees F for one hour. Cool for 30 minutes, then strain through muslin or a coffee filter into a sterilized bottle and cover with a tight cap. Refrigerate after opening.

Basic Herb Vinegar

2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (such as basil, tarragon, lemon balm, parsley, cilantro, chives, dill, etc.)

Bring vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan. Roll fresh herbs lightly with a rolling pin and place in a sterilized jar. Pour in hot vinegar and cover tightly. Let infuse for up to 2 weeks, tasting every few days until you like the intensity. When it’s just right, strain through muslin or a paper coffee filter into a sterilized bottle and cover with a tight cap. Refrigerate after opening and use within 3 months.

Fruit Vinegars

If you like fruity salad dressings, try making some of your own and prepare to be amazed at the cleaner, fresher flavors you come up with. You can substitute many kinds of fruit, including other berries, peaches or nectarines, melons or citrus. Strain carefully through several layers of muslin or cheesecloth to remove as much pulp as possible; the result should be colorful but clear, not cloudy.

Raspberry Vinegar

1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
2 cups red wine vinegar or cider vinegar
2 tablespoons cane sugar or honey

Combine all ingredients with 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, cover pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, strain through two layers of muslin lining a fine sieve, pressing very gently to get all the liquid out. Pour into a sterilized bottle, cover with a tight cap and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

 

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Keeping Cool When The Heat Is On

Don’t Forget Water For The Birds And Beasties

This morning I got a text from my local NIXLE emergency notification system warning of approaching high temperatures. Since records were kept, temps have only hit 100 degrees F three times so far, but this week could see a fourth. Weather mavens are calling for a significant heat wave to sweep the maritime Northwest this week. Since we’re in a prolonged dry spell anyway (40 days without measurable rain so far), no doubt we’ve all been watering gardens is not lawns to keep our plants alive. However, record high heat can be very hard on plants and people as well as birds, critters, and even insects. Happily, with a little forethought, we can make a positive difference to those in each category.

While we’re outside helping plants and critters stay alive, it’s important to keep our own cool. Cover your head with a wet bandanna before putting on your broad-brimmed sunhat and your noggin will stay pleasantly cool for about an hour. Wrap crushed ice in a bandanna and tie it around your neck for even longer relief. When I did a lot of gardening for others, I’d keep an ice cooler in my car with zip bags of gloves, socks, and shirts so I could change into cool, dry clothing every few hours. (This works great at the beach too.) After you shower, hang your damp towel on a drying rack and let it cool off the air in an overly hot room as it dries. A wet sheet draped in front of a fan can do the same thing on a larger scale. At night, fill your hot water bottle with crushed ice and snuggle with it for a chilling experience. Tuck it down by your feet to keep them cool all night.

It Starts With Water

To keep birds, critters, and insects hydrated, keep bird baths full and change water out daily. Even if you’ve got your garden on a drip system, use an overhead sprinkler for at least a few minutes each morning to rinse off foliage and keep the dust down. The birds and bees will be delighted with the spray, which will quickly dry off when it’s seriously hot, so you don’t need to worry about creating conditions for mildew. And it’s wise to adjust your expectations; when temperatures soar, many plants will show clear signs of stress, some will go dormant and some will flat-out die. Water may well help struggling plants, but please don’t go overboard–too much can do as much harm as not enough. Plants that have gone dormant will return when they sense it is safe (probably when the autumn rains arrive). Water dormant plants now and they may well drown, since dormant plants can’t handle lots of water.

Then It’s All About Soil And Mulch

Most mature trees and shrubs will do fine, since well established plants can take drought and heat in stride. Plants that are not well established need care, but again, not too much too fast. In the long term, the best thing we can do for our plants is to heal and replenish the soil. One reason I keep talking about compost is that it holds water like a sponge. Soils with plenty of humus don’t dry out as fast, and they absorb water better when they do dry out. Once rehydrated, many plants will be convalescent. DO NOT feed them; this is like giving a giant steak dinner to a chemo patient. Instead, help them build up better root systems by feeding the soil they grow in.

Personally, when droughts arrive, I focus on keeping annual edibles alive. In addition, anything recently planted will need significant watering to stay alive. When temperatures hit the 80’s, plants with immature or compromised root systems may need five gallons of water a day. That takes quite a while, so either treat it as a water meditation and be super patient or run a low, slow hose for a good 15 minutes per plant (use a timer). Similarly, hanging baskets and color bowls that are in full sun might need to be watered both morning and night. In their case, though, a little hit of fertilizer will be in order, since so much water will definitely wash whatever food they had away. Always feed container plantings after watering to avoid burning tender roots!

Cool Treats For A Sizzling Summer

And of course, eating well is an important part of staying cool. I cook early in the morning (if at all) and focus on salads and fruit with yogurt during the day. Refreshingly tart-sweet, rich and creamy tasting, this vegan treat is a delightful palate cleanser between courses when friends gather for a summery banquet. It’s also yummy as a quick pick-me-up on a steamy afternoon. Freeze individual servings in small dishes or make an Avocado Ring With Raspberries & Blueberries: pack a whole batch into a bundt form and freeze, invert onto a serving dish, then fill the center with raspberries and blueberries and garnish with mint sprigs for a very pretty party dessert.

Vegan Avocado Ice

1 cup water
1/2 cup cane sugar
2 ripe avocados, peeled and chopped
2 organic limes, juiced, rind grated
pinch of sea salt

Boil water and sugar until sugar is completely dissolved, let cool to room temperature. Mash avocados with 2-3 tablespoons lime juice, a teaspoon of grated zest, and salt, add cooled syrup and blend very well (stir in more lime juice if desired). Freeze in an ice cream freezer and serve or pack into a glass container with a tight lid and freeze for up to three days. Makes about 3-1/2 cups.

 

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Simple Garden Syrups

Boiling Up Some Garden Bliss

As I write, I’m watching a dainty little doe nursing her long legged spotted fawn just a few feet from my window. Awww, right? So all my kale has turned into Bambi, so my roses and strawberries are pruned to the ground, so my hardy fuchsias are nibbled into weirdly tidy balls (primal topiary?). Baby deer are pretty sweet, gamboling about like lambs and frisking merrily among the container plantings. Sigh.

The only plants that haven’t been deer ravaged are the fragrant herbs, from rosemary, lavender, and chives to thyme and sage. I use fresh herbs daily, in everything from scrambled eggs and sandwiches to salads and stir fries but I also love to make savory herb salts and sweet herbal syrups. This week, I harvested a few rugged rugosa rosebuds from a battered bush that had once overflowed its huge tree pot. They smelled fantastic, so I decided to capture that sweetness in a simple syrup.

Saving Up Summer Goodness

Simple syrups are just that; extremely simple mixtures of cane sugar and water, boiled for a few minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved. Before electricity and freezers were common, most fruits were canned in simple syrups, which helped preserve their quality and flavor. Simple syrups can be flavored with all sorts of things, from vanilla beans and peppercorns to toasted fennel or coriander seeds. In summer, it’s delightful to capture the fleeting scents and tastes of herbs, flowers, and even fruit in such syrups. The primary rule here is to use only organically grown fruit, flowers, and foliage, as pesticide residues are definitely not edible.

Though syrup recipes abound, you may discover that your own preferences demand more or less of a given flavoring agent. Maybe you like a mint syrup that really zings, so you bump it up to two cups of leaves. Maybe you want a thyme syrup that whispers rather than shouts, so you knock it back to a few sprigs. That’s why it’s wise to work out your own recipes by starting with small batches and keeping good notes. Once you make a few, don’t be surprised if you get caught up in a creative fervor. Basil syrup! Cilantro! Spearmint! Meyer Lemon! Rose petal! Keep this mad invention under control, though; while some blends work well (lavender and rose petals, basil and lime), too many ingredients can make for a muddle. (Ask me how I know….)

Basic Simple Syrup

1 cup cane sugar
1 cup water

Combine in a saucepan and boil for five minutes. Cool, store in tightly sealed glass jars and refrigerate until needed. Keeps indefinitely.

Garden Variations

Where shall we start? I love Rosemary syrup, which takes lemonade to new heights of refreshment and sophistication, adds a splash of vim to cocktails or ice tea, and tastes fabulous mixed into a watermelon and cantaloupe salad. While most forms of Rosmarinus officinalis taste similar, various kinds can have decidedly different flavors, so make a small batch with each to see which you find most appealing. I prefer Tuscan Blue for most culinary purposes, though Miss Jessup’s Upright, Spice Island, and Sudbury Blue all boast lovely fragrance and flavor as well.

Rosemary Syrup

1 cup cane sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup leafy rosemary twigs (mainly young tips)

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, stir until sugar is dissolved, then simmer for five minutes. Add rosemary, remove pan from heat, cover pan and steep for 20 minutes. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth, cool and refrigerate in tightly sealed glass jars for up to a month. Makes about 2 cups.

Taking Thyme

Thyme is one of my favorite culinary herbs and I grow as many kinds as I can find. Try making this simple syrup with various kinds; my go-to is made with Lemon Thyme (Thymus x citriodorus), but most forms of Common Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) are also delicious. The only one I didn’t enjoy was a batch made with Caraway Thyme (T. herba-barona), but some people loved it in cocktails (!?). Drizzle a little over steamed green beans, add a bit to a basic vinaigrette, or mix with lemonade or fizzy water for a refreshing summer cooler.

Thyme Syrup

1 cup cane sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup leafy thyme twigs (mainly young tips)

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, stir until sugar is dissolved, then simmer for five minutes. Add thyme, remove pan from heat, cover pan and steep for 15 minutes. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth, cool and refrigerate in tightly sealed glass jars for up to a month. Makes about 2 cups.

Spearmint Syrup

1 cup cane sugar
1 cup water
1 cup spearmint leaves

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, stir until sugar is dissolved, then simmer for five minutes. Add mint, remove pan from heat, cover pan and steep for 20 minutes. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth, cool and refrigerate in tightly sealed glass jars for up to a month. Makes about 2 cups.

Basil Syrup

1 cup cane sugar
1 cup water
1 cup Genovese basil leaves (or any kind you like)

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, stir until sugar is dissolved, then simmer for five minutes. Remove pan from heat, add basil, cover pan and steep for 20 minutes. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth, cool and refrigerate in tightly sealed glass jars for up to a month. Makes about 2 cups.

Capturing The Rose

Rose syrup is deliciously perfumed and tastes amazing in cocktails, fruit salads, or spooned over warm shortbread or ice cream. Stir a spoonful into lemonade or hot chocolate for a romantic moment, or add a tad to a plain vinaigrette, along with a handful of fragrant rose petals, to zip up a plain salad. Use rose petals of the same color for the prettiest syrup. If the flavor isn’t as bold as you’d like, add up to half a cup of food grade rose water (sold in shops that carry Middle Eastern foods).

Rose Syrup

1 cup cane sugar
1 cup water
2 cups rose petals (just opened from buds)

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, stir until sugar is dissolved, then simmer for five minutes. Remove pan from heat, add rose petals, cover pan and steep for 15 minutes. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth, cool and refrigerate in tightly sealed glass jars for up to a month. Makes about 2 cups.

Lavender Syrup

1 cup cane sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons lavender blossoms (opening buds are best)

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, stir until sugar is dissolved, then simmer for five minutes. Add lavender, remove pan from heat, cover pan and steep for 20 minutes. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth, cool and refrigerate in tightly sealed glass jars for up to a month. Makes about 2 cups.

Zesty Lemon Variations

Lemon syrups have a zillion uses and keep indefinitely if refrigerated. Meyer lemons have an especially floral fragrance, and the syrup they make is rather mellow. When I find big organic lemons in the market, I make simple syrup and add strips of lemon peel to the sugar water before continuing with the recipe below. Boil for five minutes, then dry the strips on a baking rack and pour the remaining syrup through cheesecloth to get the zest bits out. I even save those, because they’re delicious sprinkled on butter cookies or used as a garnish for desserts.

(Meyer) Lemon Syrup

1 cup cane sugar
1 cup water
1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 8 organic lemons)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Lemon rind strips (optional)

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil (*), stir until sugar is dissolved, then simmer for five minutes. Remove from heat, add lemon juice and zest, cover pan and steep for 20 minutes. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth, cool and refrigerate in tightly sealed glass jars for at least a month. Makes about 3 cups.

(*) This is where you do the bit with the strips.

Posted in Easy Care Perennials, Pets & Pests In The Garden, preserving food, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Vegan Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments