“Excuse me, What is that in your cup?!”


Chia Seeds

I drink a LOT of water. I’m not a big fan of soda and I water down juice because I think it’s too sweet. My best friend (The Bestie) laughs at me for drinking juice like a kid, but my mom always watered it down when I was a kid and I guess I just never really got the taste of it full strength. When you drink as much water as I do, you tend to start adding things to the water to make it more interesting. I used to add lemon, then when I was pregnant the acid would make me sick. The memory of the taste and the feeling still lingers for some odd reason so now I can’t drink lemon in water.

When I was pregnant, I found out about Barefoot Running and Chia Seeds through Christopher McDougall, the author of Born to Run. He explained that one of the secrets of the Tarahumara’s endurance was Chia Seeds. I am definitely someone that will try anything. So, I searched on the internet and ordered a bag online. (Of course now they’re in the Natural/Organic section of just about any supermarket so it makes it easier to pick up.) I decided to be careful and wait until after I was pregnant to try the Chia Seeds since I just didn’t want to take any chances with The Kid. Instead, I started researching it and used The Hubs as the test subject. The Hubs said he definitely felt a difference on days he had Chia before a run vs. days he didn’t. He just had more gas in the tank. I was amazed that there was so much information out there on this little seed and I’d never heard of it before.

Chia Seeds in Water

The most interesting claim I found was flax seeds which everyone was eating whole weren’t in a form that the body could break down. Seriously? Do you know how much flax I ate? The antioxidants and nutrients in the Chia Seeds was easily available since the seed coat breaks down when you soak them in water. Once you see the gel come out (and they look like alien eggs) you can get all the nutrients without having to grind them. And considering the flax seeds had to take up residence in the refrigerator because they could go bad and lose their nutritive value, I jumped on the Chia Bandwagon quickly because space is always at a premium in my fridge.

Now I put chia in my water daily partly because I know it’s good for me and partly because I like the texture. Okay… it’s mostly because I like the texture. I usually have water in my cup so I have to find ways to keep it interesting. You can make the gel and add a few tablespoons of gel to your water, but I just shortcut it and put about a 1/8 – 1/4 cup of the Chia seeds in my 24 oz water cup in the morning let it sit for while I’m drinking my coffee so the seeds release the gel then keep refilling it with water as needed until I get home. There’s enough Chia to last all day and FYI, it looks crazy. I have had people stop me in the hall at work and ask what is in my cup. People who like bubble tea with the tapioca balls in the bottom say the texture is close to that. Of course I drink it with a straw which helps. If you’re really not into the whole texture thing, then Chia seeds are perfect in smoothies. That way you get all the nutritional benefits and no seeds. Oh… and no people looking at you sideways when they see you walking by with your cup in hand.

Meat Sauce and Not so Meaty Sauce… Whatever I’m in the mood for

I have a huge pet peeve with the marketing of Vegetarian Food.  The idea that a vegetable tastes just like meat is ludicrous.  Meat tastes good.  Vegetables taste good.  Vegetables don’t taste like meat.  They’re not supposed to!  I tend to believe that you would have a much easier time convincing people to give vegetarian food a chance if you didn’t set them up with incorrect expectations.  There are tons of meat substitutes on the market and some of them are good.  I think it’s amusing that they have options like steak and chicken and bacon, and I get that they’re just explaining the gradient of flavor.  But, if you know that it’s not really supposed to taste like meat and take it for what it is, you can find some that you like.  I was vegetarian for about 6 months my senior year of high school.  I didn’t do it for any reason other than I figured I wanted to eat something else for a while.  My dad is an amazing cook and he just alternated.  Some nights everyone would eat vegetarian and some nights I would break out my frozen veggie patties and have that with the vegetable sides.  They didn’t taste like meat, but they were good.  Now that I think of it, I should find out what brand they were and see if they still sell them.

I realize that I am lucky that The Hubs is open minded about going along with my nutty ideas about what we should eat, but I think a lot of people think of vegetarian food and expect a weak attempt at making meat.  That’s just not how I look at our meatless days.  I figure if I just work out how to make something that tastes good then we’ll all be happy.  I try to stick with buying  organic meat which is more expensive so I just buy less of it and sub in meatless options to balance out the budget.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I’m very grateful that I have a Hubs who is willing to at least give it a try.  Which is how I came up with this recipe which I think is pretty cool if you just accept the fact that it’s not meat, that’s it’s actually quinoa and it tastes good in it’s own right.

The Hubs LOVES meat sauce.  I love it too, but I usually find it way too heavy and end up feeling like a sack of potatoes when i’m done eating it so I’ve always lightened it up by using half veggies and half meat in order for us to meet in the middle.  Thanks to the food processor it doesn’t take much time to make.  Using the same basic premise you can make this with meat or without.  The kid likes Quinoa so he loved this and we were still able to get the classic picture of the kid covered in red sauce.

 

Meaty/Not so Meaty Sauce

1 cup black quinoa, uncooked OR 1 pound ground meat (beef/meatloaf mix [whatever you’re in the mood for])

1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned with damp cloth
2 large carrots, peeled & cut into 1-inch pieces
1 stalk celery, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 red pepper, seeds removed, cut in 1-inch pieces
2 spanish onions, peeled & cut into 1-inch pieces
4 large garlic cloves
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp italian seasoning
pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and black pepper  to taste
3 oz tomato paste
1/4 cup liquid of choice (red wine, dry vermouth, vodka, water [whatever you have])
Any Good Red Pasta Sauce 36 oz (or more as needed)
Parmesan Cheese (optional)

Meaty: Add salt and pepper to the meat.  Brown the meat on medium high heat in a wide pan.  Do this in batches so the meat has room to spread and gets nicely browned.  When all the meat is browned set aside in a bowl.

Not so Meaty: Make quinoa according to package instructions.  (If you buy it in bulk, then rinse it first until the water runs clear to make sure you get rid of the soapy coating.) If you expect to be short on time, make the quinoa a day ahead.

While the food processor is running, add the garlic so it gets chopped up pretty fine.  Turn off the food processor and add the mushrooms, carrots, celery, red pepper, and onions.  Pulse the veggies until they are finely chopped.  You do not want to puree them.  Add olive oil to the pan on medium-high heat and add all the veggies.  Add a pinch of salt.  You’re going to cook them for a while so the idea here is to get most of their liquid to evaporate.  Don’t rush it.  It will happen, just move them around the pan occassionally and let them brown.  When you start to see them sticking to the pan, add your herbs & spices.

This part is important.  Depending on how long your herbs have been around they may have varying intensities.  Smell the veggies.  Taste them too.  If it tastes like you need more herbs, add them.  Remember that you haven’t added your “meat” yet so if it seems too intense you still have a chance to even it out.  If it’s not intense enough, add more herbs.

Then add the tomato paste.  Clear out a spot in the middle, and put it in the pan for a minute and leave it to caramelize.  Then start moving it around.  Add a pinch of salt.  Now that everything is sticking to the pan (but not burning), add 1/4 cup of the liquid of your choosing to deglaze the pan.  The idea is to use your wooden spoon or spatula to scrape all of the stuck on bits off the bottom of the pan.  This is where your flavor is and you want to get it in the sauce and not leave it for the dishwasher.  Once the liquid has evaporated, add your black quinoa or browned meat and stir to combine everything.  Then add your red pasta sauce of choice.  Bring it up to a simmer and leave it to cook through.  Before you serve it, check it for herbs, salt and pepper.  Add more of whatever is needed.

Serve over the pasta of your choice with Parmesan Cheese if you’re into that sort of thing.

 

Barefoot Running? Who could have predicted?

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with running.  The Hubs has been trying to get me to run with him so we could become a running couple, but every time I tried it, I hated it.  Then, when I was pregnant, I was listening to NPR.  They did an interview with Christopher McDougall, the author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.  There was something about the way he talked about barefoot running and the  Tarahumara Indians and Chia Seeds that was truly captivating.  I called The Hubs immediately and told him to buy the book and download the podcast and listen to it! Of course he didn’t… As we all know, life gets in the way of good intentions and I forgot to remind him and he forgot to download the podcast. (In his defense, his slightly nutty pregnant wife called him in the middle of the work day raving about something while he was trying to finish a project.)  At the time, the hubs was trying to get his running mojo back.  He snapped his Achilles tendon at the height of his running prowess and had been working his way back (clawing his way back) to that mile time.  Christopher McDougall spoke about how he too had almost given up on running because of an injury no one but a podiatrist could have diagnosed until he found out about barefoot running.  It just seemed like a story the Hubs could vibe with.

The Hubs' Vibrams

Eventually, worlds collided and the Hubs heard about Born to Run from another source.  He bought the book and was as captivated as I was by Christopher McDougall.  He found out that McDougall was giving a speech at a Penn State Campus not too far from us and we decided to go.  Despite the fact that I was pregnant, feeling huge and ran the chance of falling asleep in the middle of the lecture hall.  (I had a hilariously early unintentional bedtime when I was pregnant.  I would think I was going to stay up, but I’d just pass out.) McDougall was wearing Vibrams and no one even noticed until he pointed them out.  The black ones can go completely unnoticed.  That night, The Hubs went home and tried barefoot running and LOVED IT!  He ordered a pair of Vibrams and after an appropriate transition period, started  running “barefoot” and even got me to do it once I had my body to myself again.  The Vibrams give you more protection that you would have if the skin on your foot was actually coming into contact with the pebbles and what not you run over.  They are by the way also great for hiking.  We wore them when we went to Torrey Pines with Buff in San Diego and they made going over the terrain and walking back through the sand MUCH easier!  We even convinced Buff to get a pair!

My Vibrams


Barefoot Running is not something you just jump into.  It requires a transition period if you’ve been running in padded sneakers.  When I used to run, it sounded like Godzilla coming to wreck the town.  The Hubs used to marvel that if he put his hand on my head, he could actually feel the rumble of the impact of my steps as I walked.  One of the many things you have to learn in your transition to Barefoot Running is how to land on the balls of your feet so that you don’t rocket the impact of your entire weight coming down on your heel and straight back up your through your joints.  It takes time to learn how to do that instead of just coming down on your heels like you can in sneakers.  I used to have TERRIBLE shin splints, hurt knees and you name it when I ran in sneakers.  I all but gave up on the idea of me ever running.  Thanks to Barefoot Running in Vibrams it hurts much less to run.  I’m actually finding that I LIKE running…. okay, I love it now.  I guarantee I would have never gotten here without barefoot running.  And it looks like The Hubs may get his dream of us being a running couple afterall.

Iced Coffee… The Next Level

I am a complete coffee addict.  I can function without coffee, but I shouldn’t.  I managed to avoid coffee at all costs when I was pregnant, but now I’m free to return to my glorious addiction.  This love does cause some problems in the summer though.  Hot brewed coffee is best when it’s hot, but during a heat wave it’s just not a good idea.  I heard about cold brewed iced coffee and read a comment from someone who asks places that sell Iced Coffee how they brew it before ordering it.  He said if it’s not cold brewed, he just has the hot coffee.  It seemed a bit ridiculous, but when there’s someone passionate about something, it’ s at least worth checking out.  I figured a Saturday would be the best time to try it out since if it wasn’t good, I’d still have time to make a cup of hot coffee or start over with hot coffee and then add ice.  These sort of tests are not appropriate for weekdays when I need to rush off to work.

I looked all over and found tons of iced coffee making systems.  They ranged in price, but in the end, I chose to do it without the added expense of a “system” and just went with a glass pitcher and some stretch-tite.  I don’t have a coffee maker for my hot coffee (I just use a simple manual drip funnel and a filter), so it seemed silly to buy a whole system for the iced coffee since I was just testing it out.  So, on a Thursday morning while I was setting up my hot coffee, I started the Iced Coffee Test Run:

 

Cold Brewed Coffee

1 Big Pitcher
3 mounding 1/4 cup scoops Coarse Ground coffee
1 generous quart water.

 

The general recommendation I found was to brew the coffee for 12-48 hours (depending on how strong you want it) and it was extremely important to get coarse ground coffee.  Most places that sell coffee beans have a grinder with a coarse setting so that was simple enough.  The other option was to take beans and grind them in a coffee grinder for a short period of time so it was ground, but the store machine was easier.  So, Friday morning, I made my hot coffee and went to sit in my air conditioned work building.

Then, it was Saturday morning (48 hours later)!  Time to test Cold Brewed Iced Coffee!!!…. I made some for the hubs too since I need an impartial (non-addict’s) opinion.  I strained the coffee with the same filter and manual drip funnel I use for my hot coffee.  Then filled up our cups with ice, poured iced coffee in, and added the half & half.  The hubs likes sugar in his coffee (I disagree completely but I try not to judge) so I added some agave syrup to his. …And we tried it.  It was magical!!!  There was all the coffee flavor, plus some other amazing layer of flavor that is usually covered up by the bitterness that I love in hot coffee.  It was so good, I haven’t been able to even consider going back to my usual coffee spot and getting their iced coffee because I know it won’t have all that extra flavor.

 

So now, I’m a well-rounded coffee addict (The Hubs says snob, but we’ll just ignore that).  Hot brewed for winter (or air conditioning) and cold brewed for summer.  Although since I’m a firm believer in hot coffee staying super hot, doing the cold brewed on a workday does save me a ton of time since I can just make it ahead of time and pour it straight out of the fridge.  And I save 30 seconds from heating up the cream in the microwave.  Cold cream is not meant for hot coffee.  It’s just not.  But it is fantastic in cold brewed iced coffee!!

Fruit as Decoration… or a useful approximation

I love throwing parties.  I tend to put out too much food (though I am getting better) and need fairly large platters to hold all the food.  As a result, I have more platters than any one person should have.  I have a clear and obvious problem since I had to dedicate a “room” in my basement just to storage of my party supplies.  I get the platters at a really good price which simply adds to the problem of the addiction.  But having so many platters and so little storage space has presented an interesting solution (yes I have that many platters).  When I’m not having a party, I have to put the platters somewhere so I had to come up with a solution to store them. I also have a problem with the house looking exactly the same all the time.  If I buy some kind of decoration for one room, chances are, it will end up in another room or put away for a season or in a Good Will pile because I just don’t want to see the room look the same for too long.  Constantly changing decorations can get expensive, but as it turns out these two wrongs can make a right.

 

Since I have been known to buy entirely too many fruits and vegetables and the fridge is usually beyond capacity, I use the fruit as my decorations.  I have the platters carefully placed all over the house to accent the shape of various tables.  And these usually get moved around as I get sick of seeing the same platter in the same location and they get switched out for other platters hidden away in the pantry throughout the year.   So, when I come home with my load of fruits and veggies, and The Hubs gives me the “Where exactly do you think that’s going to go?” look I just load up my platters and walk away.

The other benefit to this system is I know which platter I loaded first/last so all the older fruit can be used at once for juice if I come home with another batch of veggies and need extra space.  Now that I’ve instituted the same weekday breakfast of a bowl of fruit from my childhood for The Kid, it’s much easier to look at the platters and see what I have available.  And even though The Hubs may be intimidated by the fridge crammed to the top with veggies, he can browse the platters and grab a healthy snack.  And… I don’t have to go buy another figurine or decorative ball or whatever to decorate the house.  I may still be buying another platter…  No promises on stopping that addiction.

 

I Can Be A Couponer Too!!!

The Hubs and I have decided to embark on a Money Saving Summer. We figured the summer was the best time to test it since we can find more free activities if we get too bored. And if it works we may extend it even longer. So, we cancelled cable and bought an HDTV tuner for the laptop. We hooked up the laptop to the TV and now we have HDTV shows recorded. We rarely watched live tv before other than the news so now instead of random tv in the background we just play music.

I was inspired by all the Extreme Couponing shows and decided to see it I could at least get deals on toiletries to make more room in my budget for the organic stuff and veggies. In the process I found that my hope had actually come true. There are, in fact, coupons for produce. There are even coupons for organic products. And even better there are actually blogs that have tracked down all the sales and can tell you how to use the coupons so you can get products free or even make money using the coupons. I always used coupons and tried not to buy things unless I had a coupon, but there are true money saving/making lessons to be learned from these blogs. I had no idea Target had coupons online. And that you could use the coupons along with a manufacturer coupon on the same item! Same thing with those coupon books at Walgreens. For those in the know, that’s referred to as “stacking” and they are not the only stores that practice it. The thing you do have to check is the coupon policy at the stores and some of the blogs have it there for you. It is not consistent and it’s important to know before you get there. Thanks to following the method I managed to pay $0.03 for more than $40 worth of stuff. So, I am now a believer.

My Savings Receipt -- It's really possible

I usually start my research with three sites: CouponMom.com, CouponDivas.com and LivingRichWithCoupons.com. They have all the sales listed and links to print at home coupons to help you save even more. And they will even give a calculation of your final price. I don’t see myself ever doing a $400 or more trip like the people featured on the show, but it is definitely possible to do it on the small scale and I didn’t even have to give up 60 hours of my week to do it.

 

 

Empty Nesters

For all the years we’ve lived in our house, there has been a duck couple that visits the yard to splash around in our pool in the month before we open it. Every year, they splash around early in the morning for about a month, then we open the pool for the season and we don’t see them any more.  This year, they decided to stick around longer than usual, then a couple weeks ago we saw the male duck alone and thought there may have been a divorce, but it seems we were in for a surprise.  Ever since I learned that ducks eat slugs, I have wanted to have some as pets.  I hate slugs!  They reproduce at a ridiculous rate and leave ugly trails on my veggies… and they’re slugs.  I’ve tried all the usual methods to get rid of them, beer traps (who has the time to refill and empty them daily), copper strips (way too expensive) and have settled on slug bait which is supposed to work even after it rains.  I’d still prefer a much more satisfying method of removing them from the yard than just having the slugs stop eating and disappear.  Every year when the ducks showed up, I would hope that they’d stick around for a while to help whittle down the slug population, but every year, they flew away and I was left on my own to deal with the slugs.

Ducks

Recently, The Hubs joined a running club that runs super early on the weekends.  So, while he was doing one of their runs, I took The Kid for a 3-mile walk around the neighborhood to keep him entertained.  It was supposed to be just 2 miles, but then I realized I forgot to ask The Hubs to buy a paper on his way and he’s usually way too sweaty for stores after running.  It felt like a big hassle to take The Kid out of the stroller and get the pocketbook then load up the car so we just walked to the store to get the paper too.  When I got back to the house the first time to get change out of my car for the paper, I leaned down to straighten some fava bean plants that fell over.  All of a sudden there was flapping about a foot away from my face and a blur flew by me.  I screamed way too loud for 8am on a weekend morning and backed up with The Kid.  I saw a lady duck flying away and looked down to see a nice collection of eggs where she was sitting.  It took me a minute to figure out how I missed her, then it seemed really obvious why the female birds all look like dirt and the male birds who don’t have to hide with the eggs have the bright colors.

I was so happy about my new little duck family and checked on them (from afar) almost daily. Unfortunately, about a week later, I went to check on my little friend and she was gone and so were her eggs.  I’m guessing the eggs became dinner for one of the neighborhood animals.  The good and bad thing about our neighborhood is that there is a diversity of wildlife.  There’s never a dull moment with the hawks, cranes, blue jays,  outdoor cats, etc.  preying on the ducks, frogs, woodpeckers, finches, hummingbirds, etc.  I won’t even get into the madness of the insect populations.  I was at least fortunate that I have been spared explaining the nature cycle to The Kid, but I’m going to have to come up with something better than, “Well, birds eat birds.”  That’s probably not going to cut it.  Well, it looks like I won’t be growing my duck family this year as I hoped, but hopefully my duck familly will return again next year and chose a better hiding spot for their babies so we can try this again.  I need a duck army to defeat the empire the slugs are trying to build in my yard.

We’re Juicing it Tonight

Parenting takes more time and energy than it looks.  So, some of the healthy habits that were easy pre-parenthood take place at odd hours now.  Yesterday, while The Hubs was in class, I went to the produce place.  I got there 10 minutes before they closed and studiously ignored all the hard glares I got from the people working there who just wanted the day to end and go home.  I sympathized, but I needed fruit & veggies so we both dealt with it (at least that’s how I tell it) as I raced through and picked out what I wanted.  As usual, I bought more veggies that 2.5 appetites could handle in a week and headed home.  The Hubs came in from class wiped out and exhausted after a long day.  And as luck would have it, I couldn’t have fit any more veggies in the fridge if there was a crowbar option available with my brand of refrigerator.  So, I did what I usually do when there’s more veggies than room: I juiced.  For the record I am talking about extracting juice from whole fruits and vegetables.  I made the mistake once of looking up “juicing” on the internet and it unfortunately took me a minute to realize why all the search results had to do with power lifting.  Apparently I should have been searching for “juicing for health”.

My parents have been juicing since the days of the Juiceman Jr. which I think came out in the 90s.  The Juiceman Jr. was their first of many juicers.  The Juiceman Jr.  juice was less like juice and more like a meal.  If you’ve looked at the sales descriptions of juicers now that talk about fine mesh extractors, foam removers and horsepower in the motor, it’s because they are trying to get the juice to look like juice.  It didn’t always.  My parents bought several models and brands through the years including Vita-Mix which I  LOVE as a kitchen machine (It’s so more than just a blender), but I don’t think what it makes is as useful as juice from a juice extracting machine since you have to add water and ice to the Vitamix.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s diluted juice.  Great as a smoothie though!  Juice Extracting Machines have come a long way from the Juiceman Jr.  Long story short, after trying way too many machines I’ve settled on the machine by the other Infomercial King: Jack LaLanne.  It’s easy to clean (most important factor), easy to use, doesn’t require a lot of pre-chopping and makes good smooth juice.  It can’t juice bananas or avocado so save those for the smoothies, but it does a great job with just about everything else.

If you’re going to juice, start out small then build your way up.  When I married The Hubs and came home with a juicer, I asked him if he wanted juice (I think he thought I meant store-bought apple juice) and  he said, “Sure!”  S0 ,I made him my usual juice with any and every fruit/vegetable in the kitchen.  I should have started out easy on him, but he likes a challenge so I handed him a glass.  It tasted awful.  To his credit, he wolfed it down and handed me the glass and we didn’t talk about it for a week and then I handed him another glass.  If you’re going to get into juicing, start out with mostly fruit so you get in the habit, then start adding veggies and eventually you can do a 3:1 ratio of vegetables to fruit.  Carrot-apple is a good starting point.  There are recipes that come with the juicers, but if you see one with an onion.  Don’t try it.  Friends of ours tried it and hate may be way to kind of a word to describe their reaction.  Try to vary your juice ingredients as much as possible.  When you get in the habit,  start adding more greens and green vegetables until eventually you can drink a 16-ounce glass of the green juice.  You can juice for taste, but eventually you may want to juice for health.

So, last night around 11pm, the hubs and I had had our juice.  I juiced two big heads of kale, three apples, a pear, and three carrots which gave us a 16 ounce glass each.  The hubs and I have mastered chugging thanks to juice.  You’re supposed to drink it quickly after it’s made to take advantage of all the enzymes and nutrients from the fruits and veggies.  It’s not meant for slow sipping over time and when you get to the point where you’re juicing for health and not taste, there’s not much of a choice.  I’ve been juicing for so long that I don’t know if I actually feel better or it’s a Pavlovian response at this point but I slept perfectly and woke up feeling energized.  I have a bag of collards waiting at home and the hubs is going to get that juice post run on Saturday.  I’m sure he’s excited.

What am I supposed to do with all these herbs? – Let’s start with Mint

When we moved into our house, the first thing we did was remove the massive ugly shrubs that I’m guessing were planted when the house was built in the 60s.  That may also be the last time they were tended to, because they were crazy wild and far beyond the point where I would have considered rehab.  Removing them was no easy task and The Hubs actually had to drag one out using the hitch on the back of his SUV.  The Hubs was one step shy of dynamite to get those shrubs out.  It wasn’t an easy job, but after a lot of hard work and sore muscles they were gone, chopped up and hauled away by the township’s yard waste removal program.  The first thing I planted was herbs (they’re usually the cheapest plants at the garden centers).  I like to try new herbs, but I’m less interested in paying for them so I pay for seed packets and try them out in the garden.  If they work, then great, if they don’t then oh well.  But thanks to trying out some of the oddities that are available as seeds, I’ve grown Cutting Celery (tastes like celery, but easier to grow), Mitsuba or Japanese Parsley (which doesn’ t look anything like Italian Parsley) and Salad Burnet (which is a leaf plant that somehow tastes like cucumbers).

If you put an herb somewhere that it likes, it will grow like crazy for you.  So, if you have a friend who grows herbs and has an established set, chances are they will be willing to give you some of what they have.  Depending on how established they are it may be easier to give you cuttings instead of actual plants, but friends and family are a good source to save some money.  Over the years, I’ve planted many types of herbs and some of them did too well (yes there is such a thing) and this year I’ve offered them to just about everyone I know.  I’ve given away tons so far and the growing season hasn’t even gotten going yet.  I think my friends have stopped looking me in the eye when I mention the herbs for fear that I’m going to try and offer them more.  Thankfully, there’s a program by Philabundance called Share the Harvest that allows you to give away your produce/herbs that your friends are tired of you offering so it goes to feed people who need it.  So, my friends should be able to relax for a while.

One of my favorite no-fuss herbs is mint.  As I’ve learned over there years, there’s no such thing as “just mint.”  There are so many kinds of mint that sometimes it seems like there must be some crossover somewhere.  I can’t leave a garden center without a mint plant if I see one I haven’t grown.  Over the years I’ve grown spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, orange mint, apple mint, mojito mint, salad mint… you get the idea.  Honestly, not all of the mints taste strongly of whatever flavor the namers claim is there, but many of them are pretty and worth the effort to grow.  I HIGHLY recommend that if you decide to grow mint that you do each one in their own separate pot.  Mint is one of the wild child plants of the garden.  Once it’s in the ground it can spread like crazy, take over the growing space of other plants and be nearly impossible to remove.  It constantly straddles the fence of pain in the butt weed and beloved herb.

Since mint grows like crazy you have to figure out something to do with it.  I dried it to make mint tea.  Then I started making syrups.  Whenever I make iced tea for a party, I put out flavored syrup instead of sugar.  I just don’t like using sugar since it never melts and you just end up with half an inch of sugar bunched up in the bottom of the glass and hardly any sweetness in the tea.  Everyone likes different levels of sweetness so syrup is the easy solution for me.  I use cane sugar so my syrup has a browner tint than using regular granulated sugar, but whatever sugar you like should work.

Syrup

Mint Syrup

1 cup mint
2 cups sugar
2 cups water, room temperature

Add mint to medium size sauce pan.  Add sugar and smash it up with a wooden spoon (like you would if you were making a mojito).  Pour room temperature water over the sugar and let it sit for a few minutes as it starts to dissolve.  Heat up the sugar-water mixture over medium heat.  Don’t mix it.  Don’t touch it.  Just watch it.  Watch the mixture until it boils and it looks like all the sugar has melted and it’s clear.  (You don’t want caramel so don’t leave it unattended.) Put the cover on the pan and take it off the heat.  I usually leave it to steep for about an hour so it gets pretty strong.  When it’s done (you can start tasting it at half an hour if you don’t want it that strong), pour the syrup through a strainer into the container of your choice and refrigerate (or use for iced tea).

 

Local Honey

It’s that time of year for some people’s love-hate relationship with flowers to really get going.  The Hubs used to have TERRIBLE allergies.  I used to HATE allergy season because I couldn’t get any sleep thanks to his outrageous snoring.  Along with the runny nose, itchy eyes and the runny nose, he wasn’t getting good sleep either.  So, we were both miserable.  He tried everything!  Anti-allergy medication and even anti-snoring sprays, strips, and pillows.  We used to go to the warehouse stores and stock up on the anti-allergy medicines every year.  At one point he took so much of one that he developed a tolerance and had to switch to another one.  Nothing made a difference.  Despite everything we tried, every year the same thing happened.  Then, I read an article about raw local honey.  They were working on a theory that by taking a spoonful of local honey a day you could inoculate yourself against the pollen that triggered allergies in the same way you teach your body to fight off a virus using a vaccine.  Since the bees in your area would be coming into contact with all the pollen in your area it was best to find the farm closest to your house.  Since most people travel within their own zone (it’s a gardening thing, I’ll explain in another post), it should cover most pollen they come in contact with.

Needless to say I was desperate.  I looked everywhere for local honey and couldn’t find it.  The local supermarkets only had honey from other states and even Whole Foods hadn’t caught up to selling local yet.  Thankfully, I got an email about a pick your own organic farm about a mile from our house.  I went to check it out just to be nosy and finally found some local honey.  I probably embarrassed myself with my yelp of joy, but I couldn’t care less.  It was time to test the theory.  The Hubs was understandably underwhelmed by this idea.  If we had tried every possible option, why would we think something as simple as honey would work.  The first season it didn’t make that much of a difference.  The second season was a little better.  The third season was so good I forgot why I hated spring.

The funny thing is that I used to have an allergy to something in the early fall.  I still don’t know what it was.  My mom found an article on a study that found that some people had an unknown environmental allergy that surfaced in late summer to early fall.  (I don’t know where my mom finds some of the articles she finds.)  The sufferers all had outrageous migraines, but the people running the study couldn’t figure out what they were allergic to so they just documented the phenomenon.  These migraines were so bad that it felt like the room was spinning while I was lying flat in a dark room in an empty and soundless house.  I remember trying to stand up and feeling like my head had it’s own pounding heartbeat.  It took me a while to figure out that the pain medication did nothing for these migraines, but after my mom read the article I tried allergy medicine and it was like a godsend.  Ever since I started doing the annual local honey I haven’t had these nutty migraines (and thank goodness) even without the allergy meds.

When I was a kid, I spent summers in Jamaica and my aunt used to line my cousins and me up every morning and we all got a big spoonful of honey.   It was technically local honey, but no one really thought about it then.  (Jamaica seems small, but thanks to the hills, there are different growing zones so some things that grow in certain areas won’t grow in others.)  We just picked up the honey from a guy not too far from the house.  I remember how much fun it was to go visit the guy who harvested the honey and if we were REALLY good she’d hand over pieces of the honeycomb to us.  (If you read the post on Easter bun then you’ll likely understand that a fight generally ensued depending on who got the biggest piece.)  I love honey.  Yeah, I get that it’s good for you, but I seriously love it.  That’s why I was so confused a few years back because I suddenly started hating the taste of it.  I couldn’t figure out what went wrong.  I used to go to the supermarket and pick up some honey and try to replicate my aunt’s morning routine and I’d just end up spitting it out.  Then I realized that I kept buying Clover Honey.  It was the easiest one to get and always in the biggest bottle so I’d just grab that one and go.  I can’t stand the flavor of Clover Honey.  “Not that there’s anything wrong with it.”  There’s just an aftertaste that I find unbearable.

Thanks to the anything but clover honey search I discovered how many different types of honey there are.  There’s a baker in Canada who only uses blackberry honey from California in one of his cookies because he says the cookie doesn’t taste right with any other type of honey.  So, obviously, I’m going to have to get some to test if it’s true.  There are people devoted to his cookies so he must be doing something right.  So, then I started checking out how honey got it’s different flavors.  Apparently, the only way honey  can be labeled with a “flavor” is if there is a threshold amount of the named plant in a three mile radius from the hive.  The honey bees supposedly only really travel about three miles from the hive so they’re most likely to harvest from plants in that area.  The easiest way to tell is that the package will say “Blueberry Honey” if it’s from blueberry harvesting bees and “Blueberry Flavored Honey” if it has blueberry (whether it’s artificial or natural) flavor added.  You can find honey from bees that harvest from all kinds of plants.  Supposedly lychee honey is one of the more expensive ones and since I LOVE lychees I’m going to have to bite the bullet and order it one of these days just to try it.  It’s not local but the flavor has go to be amazing!  And thanks to the internet you can hunt down any of your favorite flavors.

I would love to have a beekeeping setup at the house, but something tells me that a little boy and a bee hive aren’t the best mix.  I’ve heard that there are people who will basically let your rent the setup if you have an organic garden and they will come and do all the work.  I don’t know if they have the service in my area, but it is a pretty cool idea.  Thanks to the scare a few years ago about the bees disappearing and whole hives dying off, there has been a resurgence of beekeeping.  And since there are rooftop gardens in so many cities, there are also beekeeping rooftops too (something has to do the pollination) so finding local honey in the city isn’t even as hard as it seems like it could be.  The farm where I get my local honey is finally having their open house this weekend so I will be there bright and early to pick some up before Snore Fest 2011 begins.