Monthly Archives: April 2012

Lovage and basil and curly-leaf parsley…these are a few of my favorite herbs

Herbs have been a part of my culinary experience since childhood, but my parents never had a separate herb garden. Instead, herbs were interspersed throughout their massive vegetable garden. Parsley often sprouted randomly between flagstones on the patio, and dill….well, dill just grew wherever it wanted to.

About 30 years ago, I took an herb gardening class, which inspired me to design one at our first house. Since then, we’ve moved twice, and each time, the herb garden has grown larger. When we bought this house, we created the garden around a grape arbor. The grapes never did well despite my father’s attempts to school us in the fine art of grape growing.

Along the way, the arbor began to fall apart and we finally dismantled it and removed the grapevines. Don’t ask my husband about this. You’ll be sorry.

Anyway, the grapes left, but the herbs stayed. Some survive above ground throughout the winter, while others pop back up each spring.

Some years the parsley sees us through the winter and rejuvenates in the spring. This year, it is nowhere to be found, which means planting new seed — the same with basil. That means making do with the dried version until the new plants begin to produce.

But the old favorites are back in droves…lovage, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, chives, summer savory. Dill grows randomly throughout a separate perennial garden.

My all-time favorite is lovage, which is a tall plant with edible leaves and stalks, and resembles celery in flavor but is stronger. The plant in our garden has been moved three times (from one house to the next) and split up and shared with countless friends and family members. Each summer, I have to trim it back two or three times when it becomes too tall and the stalks too woody. New stalks are always ready to take over.

LovageLovage can be added to salads, soups, casseroles, and is easily frozen or dried for future use. It makes a great addition to one of our summer favorites: couscous salad with whatever veggies are available.

Lemon balm grows like crazy. In fact, a former neighbor and I once suggested to our husbands that we just let the lemon balm take over our yards so we wouldn’t have to mow. Let’s just say their enthusiasm didn’t match ours.

We eat a lot of salads in the summer and throw in whatever herbs are available — parsley, basil, lovage, chives. Oregano is a good addition to Italian dishes — anything with pasta.

Oregano

Lemon balm

Lemon¬† balm has a gentle lemon smell and taste, and is good for flavoring fish like grilled or broiled salmon. My favorite use is to add it to mint iced tea (no caffeine) — good for settling an upset stomach.

Not everything in the herb garden is an herb and not everything is welcome there (e.g., horseradish).¬† Technically, this isn’t an herb but somehow it found its way into the herb garden. I don’t even like horseradish, but the hubs does. So does my mom…so much so that every summer, she and a friend dig up their horseradish roots to make pots and pots of horseradish sauce.

In a moment of ignorance, I agreed to let my husband transplant some horseradish from her garden into ours. This was before he created what he and our daughters have dubbed “the man’s garden”. And now it is time for the man to dig up his roots and move them to the man’s garden. In its place, I’ll plant a new herb.

Wonder what it’ll be?

Chives

 

 

Staycation, naycation, or simplification?

Thanks to Canadian comedian Brent Butt, I am not enjoying just any old week of vacation at home. Apparently, Butt coined the term “staycation” in a 2005 episode of his “Corner Gas” television sitcom.

So….”staycation” it is. Others might argue that this is really a “naycation,” but that would mean that I didn’t leave my home. Hey, on Saturday, I’m going to venture as far as Bowling Green to run the BG Fight or Flight 5K. And yesterday, the dog and I sallied up to Findlay — in the middle of a surprise April “snowstorm”.

It did occur to me on Monday night that I might be verging on a temporary bout of agoraphobia, because I’d spent most of two days holed up in my sewing room. Presumably, I was completing some long overdue projects but in truth, I kept getting sidetracked.

Most of the week’s projects have involved further simplifying my life, e.g., digging up an entire perennial bed and moving half of the plants to a new bed. This might not sound simple but the whole idea was to unclutter the bed.

Today’s simplification took place while the hubs was out of town. This is usually when I do BIG projects, which is why he is sometimes leery of leaving me home alone.

Here’s the thing: our “family room” — fondly dubbed the “library” — needed a serious weeding out. Since eliminating tv from our lives, we have accumulated a massive number of old tv series on DVD…mostly stuff from the 70s and 80s, which only those in my age bracket or older will appreciate. Well, that’s not entirely true. Our 26-year-old appreciates them — so much so that she periodically swipes a season of Hart to Hart or Moonlighting.

Of course, thanks to the elder daughter, we also have many seasons of Seinfeld on hand. And yes, we watch them. Unlike her, we don’t have entire conversations memorized.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, but I digress. This is what happens when one is on staycation. There is nothing to keep one grounded and focused.

So… back to the library. I made an executive decision to ditch the VCR and all of the videotapes — with the exception of BHS band and orchestra performances and about 12 years of dance recitals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The room still seemed cluttered, so I purged all of the music CDs. Yep. The hubs has loaded all of our favorites onto his computer. Why keep them?

Lucky for us, child number 2 is a manager at Half Price Books, where they might actually buy some of the videotapes and music CDs. Apparently, vintage sells well.

Ahhh…what a great feeling. For the moment, I’m enjoying empty shelves and ignoring the fact the dust that is now all-too-visible.

 

Hand-painted eggs recall long-gone grandmother

Coloring eggs at Easter probably ranks up there in popularity with icing sugar cookies around Christmas time. When you color eggs with young children, it can get a little messy. I wonder how many dozen eggs my mom must have prepared when all five of her kids were determined to color an equal number of eggs.

Last year, I pilfered onion skins from the grocery store so I could dye my eggs in them. The woman checking us out looked at me kind of strangely when I she picked up a plastic bag with one onion surrounded by loose skins. I just smiled. She shrugged. Those turned out beautifully, especially when I did brown eggs — they looked like chocolate.

Here it is Saturday, the day before Easter, and we haven’t given much thought to Easter prep. No little girls around to sew new dresses for, no adult children home to color eggs with, no relatives to cook for. So feeling a little sad, I began rooting around for something I knew would brighten up the house.

The painted eggs. These are not just any old painted eggs. These eggs were painted by my husband’s grandmother, Bertha Hahn.

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I should explain that I never knew her well; in fact my only personal conversation with her occurred when I was about eight years old and somehow my older brothers had bribed me to do their newspaper “collecting”. All I remember is that my mom sat in the car while I went to the door to collect Mrs. Hahn’s weekly payment. She came to the door with her dress unbuttoned, revealing a laced-up garment. I grabbed her money and ran to the car, completely perplexed. My mom explained the intricacies of the old-fashioned corset.

So, later in life, when I married my husband, I heard stories about his grandmother — most of which explained the corset. But I also learned that she was an artist. On our first Easter together, he pulled out the most beautifully painted tiny eggs I’d ever seen. These were nothing like the dyed eggs of my childhood.

Apparently, each year, she painted eggs for her grandchildren. She raised Bantams, so some of the eggs are very tiny. How she managed to do this without breaking them is beyond me. It had to have taken much patience. (I know this isn’t easy because one year my husband and daughters attempted this.)

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According to my husband, she first inserted a needle in the egg, broke the yolk and then blew out the egg. She then painted each in a solid color. When they were dry, she used a tiny brush to paint flowers, bunnies, and crosses. Each egg includes the child’s name, the year, and often a Bible verse.

Maybe painting eggs like this was a local Swiss tradition. Whatever….while we may not be coloring eggs this year, we’ve got a bowlful of beautiful eggs that easily rival any Ukrainian pysanky.

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A vision in periwinkle, her sidekick in blue

Formal photos have never been my idea of fun. Having to smile for a photographer telling me to say inane things like “Dad has stinky feet” only make me cringe. Next to me, my husband is wincing, his irritation obvious.

The result? Fake smiles.

But it was inevitable that the church directory would once again rear its ugly head. We’d suggested to my mom that the three of us have our photo taken together. That was really the best part of it. Well, that and the conversations that ensued while waiting for the shoot to begin.

Some of my favorite people were there, some coordinating the session, others waiting for their own photo.

One of them sat quietly in her wheelchair, waiting to be photographed with her husband. She was a white-haired vision in periwinkle. Long ago, Mary and I had worked together when she and her husband were trusted volunteers at the nonprofit retail store that I managed. Mary’s personal mix of kindness and humor made even my worst days manageable.

Sitting there in her wheelchair, looking down, she seemed not to sense the others around her, so I bent over, hugged her and told her she was as beautiful as ever. She looked up at me, smiled slightly and then I saw it. That twinkle in her eye. It was still there. Relief flooded my mind. She might not talk much, but she could still communicate with her eyes.

If she could sit through a canned photo session, then by golly, so could I. As Mary and her husband entered the temporary photo studio, I wondered how she would react to the photographer’s antics. Would she be willing to look at him? Would she understand his directions?

The protective part of me wanted to run in there and fill him in on her history…that she’d once been a music teacher. That she had a beautiful singing voice. That — even after years of marriage — she still laughed at her husband’s crazy jokes. That she wasn’t just a woman in a wheelchair. He needed to understand that this wasn’t just anyone and he needed to can his goofy phrases and instead give her the royal treatment that she so deserved.

But I didn’t say a word. I was pretty sure Mary didn’t need my help. After all, she had her Claude. And more than anyone, he would know how to engage her in their photo session. He probably whispered one of his silly jokes in her ear.

She in her periwinkle, he in his blue shirt…I’ll bet it turns out to be the perfect photo.