Adventures in bread making

A nursery rhyme from childhood played in my head yesterday. An obscure little ditty, but well suited to humming while baking bread!

“Blow wind, blow
And go, mill, go
That the miller may grind his corn
That the baker may take it
And into bread make it
And bring us a loaf in the morn.”

The history of bread, by John Ashton, ca 1900

I’ve always wanted to make bread from scratch.

I know, I know… big deal, she made some bread! Yawn… Give her a medal already.

Get a grip Karen, it’s just baking bread, it’s not Breaking Bad. 😉

It’s not like I discovered the Northwest Passage or the Philosophers Stone, and here I am penning a piece on an activity people do all the time, and have done for thousands of years.

Yet, I avoided this my whole life because the act of baking bread held some weird inexplicable romantic quality for me.

It seemed like a mystical process of alchemy only some ancient sage could have practiced, (which it may very well have been to an ancient person), especially that chemical reaction between yeast & water. If you think about it, how did they even come up with that idea so long ago? Amazing, really.

In any case, now that I’ve partaken in this magical process, I realize my fear of the ‘unknown’ was totally unfounded. Isn’t that the way with most things in life?! But I digress…

After what I feel was a successful bread making endeavour, I’m keen to bake just about anything now! Especially after (re)discovering family cook books/recipes from my Mom, and my Great great Grandma’s from the mid eighteenth century. (Thank goodness for Google. It didn’t take long to locate how old weights and measures from old cook books translate into measurements we use today.)

But seriously, aren’t these small, yet lovely personal triumphs in life worth celebrating?

The point is, if I can make bread from scratch, anyone can! If you’re interested in having a go, read on!

The recipe comes down from my Grandma. (She also made the best lemon meringue pie ever, but that’s another post). This bucolic loaf contains just a handful of ingredients, including rosemary and garlic. (Of note, I didn’t weigh the flour like one probably should. Instead, I used a little less than this recipe calls for.)

Nell’s Rosemary & Garlic Bread

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups of water (temperature of that water should be between 105F – 110F to interact with yeast. (I ran water from the tap over the thermometer to get the correct temp.)
  • 1 packet (1/4 ounce) of dry instant yeast
  • 4.5 cups of unbleached flour (I used 4.25 cups)
  • 1 tbsp pickling salt (I like it because it’s coarse)
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp dried & crushed rosemary
  • Olive oil for bowl

Directions

*** Before you begin, take off those rings! They’ll get all sticky with dough. This saves cleaning them. 🙂

1 – Open packet of yeast and empty it into a good size bowl.

2 – Stir in the warm water, which activates the yeast. Stir for a couple minutes. It will start to thicken.

3 – Add the flour and mix it up with your hands. (This is one of the best parts, being at one with the dough! I’d have more photos if my hands weren’t covered in it)

4 – Next, add the salt, rosemary, and garlic. Mix it in well.

5 – There should be a good sticky ball of dough now, so transfer it on to a flour dusted surface to knead, which should be done for about 5 minutes.

6 – Work it into a ball shape by molding it with your hands, and it’s ready for its first rise.

7 – I put a little olive oil in the bowl. Not much, but enough to keep the dough from sticking while it’s rising, so you can get it out easily. Put the dough in the bowl and roll it around, gently, so the olive oil is evenly distributed.

8 – Place a towel over the bowl and leave it for one hour to rise. The dough should expand to twice its original size.

9 – Once that’s done, push your fist gently into the dough while it’s still in the bowl to let out the gas that forms inside.

10 – Dust your surface again and knead the dough for 2 minutes. Add flour as needed.

11 – Put the dough back in the bowl with the tea towel over it and let it sit for another hour.

12 – About 45 minutes into that hour, preheat an electric oven to 425F, or like me with a gas stove, to  450F. It should be good and hot when you put the dough inside.

13 – I used my big 4 quart cast iron cooking pan to bake the bread, and it’s pretty wide, so you could use a smaller one. Lightly oil the pan, (like with the bowl above) and dust it with flour, and some more garlic & rosemary, if you have any left over.

14 – Once that second rising is done, score it across the top with a knife. Not too deep, but enough that there’s some nice texture to it once it’s fully cooked.

15 – Gently place that now larger ball of dough in your pot. Dust the top with a bit more flour, (and rosemary/garlic) and place in oven.

16 – Bake it for about 35 minutes. Take it out, and check it to see if it’s done by piercing it with a kebab stick. If it comes out clean and not smeary, you’ve just successfully baked a loaf of bread. Well done!

17 – I put my loaf on our big cutting board to cool, but a wire rack works too. Don’t cover the bread while it cools or moisture will form on the bread, which is kind of yucky!

Cut the bread and eat it while it’s warm. Yum… Enjoy!

The joys of container gardening – DIY tips and tricks of the trade

Many gardening enthusiasts may not have big yards, but they’re still keen to play in the dirt! Happily, flexing one’s green thumb is not out of reach for anyone!

Small spaces like balconies, decks, and windowsills are itching for a pretty pot of flowers.

Great gardening pleasures can be had by any gardener, even in the smallest spaces. As a former apartment dweller, I can say for the record that anyone who is keen to grow something, can have their own little piece of paradise, too.

Choice of container and design is limited only by the imagination, and of course the amount one is willing to shell out for it!

Containers range in size, shape, and substance. Clay pots, wooden barrels, wire wall/hanging baskets, and plastic urns, are just some examples. However, with limited space, one might want to keep in mind that some containers need to be stored in a sheltered site over the winter, especially clay pots which may crack in really cold climates like mine.

Not unlike a ‘conventional’ garden plot, container plantings require suitable preparation.

Space, light, soil, water access, plant food, and of course weather, should all be taken into account. By seeking suitable plant material for these conditions, one can ensure a bountiful show, so all that effort and investment going into those planters doesn’t go to waste.

Restricted root space may add constraints to plant preferences, too. Over the course of a growing season some varieties (like asparagus fern) are more prolific with their root multiplication than others.

Good drainage is key for successful container gardening. Nobody wants soggy plant roots that inevitably drown. Nothing kills a plant like kindness! (Take it from me, I know, lol.) This is easily avoided by making sure the container has holes in the bottom. With the addition of broken clay pot shards, pebbles, or even Styrofoam chips lining the bottom of the pot, excess water has somewhere else to go.

Along with begonias, geraniums, herbs, or flowing foliage plant bulbs, seeds, and yes, even veggies will thrive in a container!

Just think of the fabulous fresh basil, (plus other herbs), and even cherry tomatoes, all of which can be grown in a very small space. In fact, one year I grew a container full of ornamental corn!

Succulents are perfect for patios, and for on the wall, too! Most of all they’re drought tolerant and as a vertical garden, take up no floor or table space at all.

I like to use unusual containers, for example a bunt pan, which can go on the patio table with the big umbrella right through the hole in the middle. It’s a great way to save space! These can be picked up cheap at most second hand stores! Violets in spring would look nice in them, too.

Tropical plants love the heat and humidity. All of my houseplants go outside for the summer, with the added benefit of making my house seem a lot more spacious during the growing season! Some don’t like too much sun, and there is a downside… when I bring them back in, once again I have to determine who gets the best sunny spots for the winter, (as there’s only so much window space), make sure there are no pests clinging about, (yuck), and our house seems once again, a little less spacious! But that’s okay!

In the past, I’ve layered the two big whiskey barrel containers, (since replaced with cement pots) from our porch with flowering bulbs. Simply plant them beneath the roots of any other plants that are dug in for the rest of the growing season. Tulips, daffodils, or crocus will shoot up and offer a lovely, early spring display! I let bulb foliage die back naturally. Other plants growing around them cover that up, and the bulbs can be planted in the ground, if you have a space, for the next year. It’s a great way to offer seasonal interest!

It’s also fun to experiment with different plant combinations, colours, textures, and foliage every year. Or not, because if you find a planting package that works for you, by all means, go for it!

Do keep in mind that many tender plants may not over-winter in containers, which are exposed to really cold temperatures that gets at their roots, unlike perennials that are insulated from frost by growing directly in the ground.

Unfortunately, most annuals aren’t hardy enough to get through a Haliburton Highlands winter. (However, I’ve had good luck overwintering parsley and kale in our raised beds). But, most annual plants grown in containers are cultivated for one season only and composted.

Geraniums might be the exception to this for me. I do over-winter a few of my favourites by bringing them in the house. Out they go again in late spring once any chance of frost damage is long gone.

In any case, there’s something to be said about gardening in containers!

Imagine a beautiful show without the aggravation of maintaining a big lawn or weeding flowerbeds!

Personally, I’m quite happy to mow a bit of lawn, and weed the garden too, which I find relaxing, though the size of our lawn shrinks every year because my garden keeps expanding, lol, (funny how that happens!) but in this, I may be an exception to the rule.

Happy Gardening!

 

The flower power of Nasturtiums – More than just a pretty face! Edible flower gardening

Nasturtium – A real power flower!

Did you know? Edible flowers contain many vitamins and minerals. They’re rich in nectar and pollen, too.

When I was a little girl, I remember quite clearly a time when my Mom grabbed a daffodil away from my hand (that I’d just picked from her garden), and was about to shove in my mouth to eat.  I have two points to make about this little flashback.

1) NEVER eat anything from the garden unless you know it’s okay! (Daffodils are NOT okay, and your Mom will agree).

2) For some reason, I’ve always looked at flowers in a way that some people look at a big juicy steak!

Years later, now with a garden of my own, (and a bit of knowledge thankfully), I grow flowers that not only attract pollinators, but some I can eat, and so can you!

Rose hips & Lavender

For the rose connoisseur, rose hips are particularly high in vitamin C and may contain up to 50 times more of this vitamin than you’d find in an orange. In this post however, I’d like to talk about Nasturtiums.

I’ve grown these pretty, eye-catching flowers for many years so they’ll trail along the front of my garden border. But the best part is that this plant is edible.

It’s fairly well known that the flower can be used in salads and stir fry’s. With a slight peppery flavour, it reminds me of watercress. More than just tasty, nasturtium flowers are high in vitamin C., (about the same amount you’d find in parsley), and in addition, they contain the highest amount of lutein found in any edible plant.

Lutein is a natural carotenoid found in orange-yellow fruits/flowers, leafy vegetables like kale, (carrots of course), and egg yolk. (A flamingo’s diet is rich in carotenoids which gives them the pink plumage that makes them so beautiful!)

In our eyes, carotenoids are present in macular pigments, where their importance in aiding against ocular disease is currently under clinical research. So eat your plants. 🙂

Saving Nasturtium seeds

I save nasturtium seeds to plant more next year, but I also harvest some unripe pods to create condiments, especially spiced herbal vinegars.

For this recipe, simply steep them in a jar of vinegar for a week or two, along with any other herbs you like for additional flavour, (shake daily), then strain and bottle. It’s really that easy!

The leaves are also rich in vitamin C, and in addition, they contain a sulphur compound that apparently offers an excellent anti-fungal, antiseptic, and antibiotic source when eaten.

Nasturtiums, Hollyhocks, Scarlet Runner beans

Edible flowers should be picked in late morning after the dew has gone, but before the sun is high in the sky. Pick the fully open flowers.

Never eat any flower that’s been in contact with chemicals or other poisons such as pesticides or herbicides. Organic is always the way to go! If you grow it yourself, you know it’s safe for your family. Otherwise, the local farmers’ market is another great source to find healthy food.

Much like growing grapes for making wine, flowers of the same variety, but grown in different locations, will have a slightly different taste.

This ‘terroir‘ as it’s called, (and I just love this word!) 🙂 is pronounced tĕr-wär′. It offers the complete set of local conditions where a particular fruit, vegetable, or herb, (cheese & other hand crafted food), is produced, including the soil-type, weather conditions, topography, obtains its individual character.

Flowers and foliage may taste a little different at the end of the growing season too, and can vary from year to year. Think of dandelion leaves which for me, always taste best in spring.

And, the best part you ask? Flowers are mostly free of calories!

Once more

Do NOT eat ANYTHING from the garden if you aren’t absolutely sure you know what it is first! – Thank you!

More edible flowers

Bee balm
Borage
Calendula
Chamomile
Chive flowers
Dandelion
Daylily
Lavender
Lilac
Marigold
Mint
Nasturtium
Pansy
Rose hips
Sage
Squash blossom
Violet

Have fun experimenting, and happy gardening! ~ Karen

Sharing an elderberry syrup elixir recipe, and DIY kits too!

It’s that time of year, again… Cold and flu season.

We often feel run down around the holidays, which makes us more susceptible to these kinds of viruses. But, many people are turning towards older herbal remedies, especially elderberries, (Sambucus nigra).

The use of elderberries has gained in popularity. With some scientific testing to back it up, elderberries can offer relief from coughs, colds, & even the flu when made into a syrup elixir. Also known for their immune boosting properties, elderberries are rich in antioxidants, and a source of Vitamin C.

It’s one of the best alternatives to big-pharma products, some of which may contain additives that people don’t want to give themselves or their family members. A must-have in many people’s natural cold and flu cabinets, (aka fridge in this case!).

I take a spoonful (a day) at the sign of an oncoming cold, or if I feel run down, or have been around someone else who feels sick. For the past 3 years, (knock on wood!), my elderberry syrup has kept these kinds of viruses at bay.

That’s why I’d like to share our new DIY Elderberry Syrup Kit! Now, anyone can create this lovely, useful herbal alternative.

Available here, at my -> Etsy Shop

This kit includes all the ingredients you need to create your own syrup, plus. easy-to-follow directions, & recipes, & a drawstring bag. .📨 

All you need to have on hand is some honey (or maple syrup), to create a batch of elderberry syrup that will last most of the winter, if kept in the fridge. (Approximately 32 oz, or 1 quart.)

The labelled & organic ingredients include:

× Elderberries
× Elderberry flowers
× Ginger
× Echinacea Root
(Spices) × Cardamom× Cloves × Cinnamon Bark × Star Anise × Eleuthero Root

🙌 Here’s my recipe! (Feel free to share)

  1. Place elderberries, water, herbs and spices in sauce pan.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 45 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and let the mixture steep for an hour.
  4. Using cheesecloth, (or a very fine mesh sieve), strain the mixture.
  5. Transfer your batch in to a jar and stir in 1 cup of honey, (or maple syrup if you so desire).
  6. Keep it in the fridge, sealed for up to 3-4 weeks.

Be well my friends!

~ Karen

P.S. View more of our DIY Kits -> HERE.

Thank you!


*** Please note:
× These statements and products have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

× Please review this product’s ingredients before use to determine if you have an allergy, if you’re pregnant, or breastfeeding. ***Always consult a physician if unsure.

Some virtues, folklore, and use of lemon balm and mint

If you grow lemon balm in the garden, also known simply as balm or sweet balm, you’re likely aware of this Mint family member’s many virtues.

Introduced from Europe, this perennial herb has erect square stems and stands about two feet tall. The whole plant is covered with a soft down, and if the foliage is touched, even as soon as it’s just emerging from the earth in spring, it offers an abundance of that sweet lemon fragrance it’s famous for.

The flowers, insignificant looking really to us humans, are a magnet for bees, so in that respect, not insignificant at all! The Latin name, ‘Melissa officinalis’ comes from the Greek word ‘Melissa‘, which translated literally means ‘bee‘.

According to folklore, apiarists of old would rub the leaves of lemon balm inside older hives, inducing new swarms to remain and take them over.

Lemon balm thrives in poor soil, (I can account for that), and thrives in both sun or shade.

In fact, thrive is an understatement. Like any mint, it is an aggressive and prolific plant. It will take over the whole garden and your lawn if you let it. I suggest planting any in a big pot, then sinking it in to the ground if you don’t want its thick runner roots to escape.

I can’t lecture anyone about that because it did escape in my garden. Now I have to keep it (somewhat) contained by mowing parts of it down, (which likely helps it spread), but that lemon scent wafting through the air as I cut the lawn smells divine!

This herb makes a lovely tea. Hot or cold, it can be used to flavour lemonade. Mixed with Chamomile, lemon thyme, and lemon balm, this soothing tea tastes wonderful. It can be very relaxing if one is feeling stressed. Adding a little honey will sweeten the mix, too.

It must be said however, if one is on any thyroid medication, lemon balm may interfere with thyroid hormone-replacement therapy. It’s best avoided in this case, and I hasten to add, always check with a doctor, pharmacist, or certified herbalist first.

According to Mrs. Grieve, lemon balm as a drink induces a mild persperation, makes a pleasant, cooling tea for feverish patients, and, if used with salt, can be used to ease gout.

As most lemon flavours go, it’s especially nice with fish and pork. It also adds a light flavour to stews and soups. I’ve been drying this and many herbs, for a long time. Mixing them together with sea salt is an easy way to create a rub for meat, poultry, or in a salad. Steeping mints and lemon balm in vinegar, then straining is an easy way to create an herbal flavour to be used on salads, or in other culinary recipes. If you don’t like the flavour, it makes a nice hair rinse, leaving your locks shiny and healthy looking! Just don’t get any in your eyes. It will sting!

I harvest my lemon balm in the morning after the dew has evaporated, but before the high sun of the day. Use it fresh if you can, because that’s when most herbs are most potent in flavour, aroma, and qualities. Otherwise, it’s easily dried and if you harvest it before it flowers, but do leave some behind to encourage bees in the garden. Hung upside in small bunches to dry, it only takes a few days to do this, and when it’s crispy, break it all up and keep it in a jar for future use.

With regards to folklore, and in addition to Lavender, Mandrake, Deadly Nightshade, Cardamom, Plantain, Juniper, Saffron, and a host of other plants, the mint family members, including lemon balm, are considered Witches plants.

The sacred knowledge of these plants in particular were given by the Greek goddess Hecate to her daughters, Circe and Medea, and were considered consecrated herbs by this mythical trio.

According to Culpeper, ‘It is an herb of Jupiter, and under Cancer, and strengthens nature much in all its actions. Let a syrup made of the juice of it and sugar be kept in every gentlewoman’s house, to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies of their poor sickly neighbours: as also the herb kept dry in the house, that so with other convenient simples, you may make it into an electuary with honey.’

Flower language in folklore tells us that Lemon balm and the mint family equates with wisdom, virtue, and abundance. Customary in medieval times, peasants would ‘strew the churches with Mint or other herbs and flowers’ at funerals as a devotion to the Virgin Mary, where a poem from this custom illustrates it well

“Thou knave, but for thee ere this time of day
My lady’s fair pew had be streed full gay
With Primroses, Cowslips, and Violets sweet,
With Mints, and Marygold and Marjoram meet,
Which now lyeth uncleanly, and all among of thee.”

In the Abruzzi region of Italy, women who chanced upon sweet balm or mint would pick and bruise a leaf between their fingers as insurance for the day of their death, and that ‘Jesus Christ would assist them into Heaven.’

Gerarde stated about all mints, “It poured into the eares, taken inwardly against sea scorpions, serpents, and applied with salt, to the bitings of mad dogs.”

All very interesting! But, here’s hoping nobody’s path crosses with mad dogs, serpents or sea scopions.

Another suggestion, if like me, you grow way more herbs than you can possible use, and don’t like to see them go to waste, make some kindling bundles. These take no time to put together and are nothing more than dried herbs rolled into bundles and tied with raffia, used as kindling or fire starters. – Perfect for that cottage camp fire in summer, all you have to do is harvest some herbs, including mint, lavender, thyme, marjoram, etc., tie them together and use when you need them. They offer a lovely scent with which to light a fire, or, as an offering to the gods if you’re feeling particulary Witchy under a full moon.

With all of the information above, I may have either encouraged people to grow lemon balm and other mints, or totally scared them off! However, they are such useful herbs and I recommend anyone growing them in the garden.

As I sit here looking wistfully out the window, observing the three feet of snow still covering my yard, I’m actually looking forward to cutting the grass this year, and inhaling that lovely lemon scent.

 


References

  • The Herb Garden Guide – ERIC ED242477 – Lathrop E. Smith Environmental Education Center
  • The American Herbalist Guild – Pub Med and additional resources
  • The healthy life beverage book – Knaggs, H. Valentine, University of Leeds. Library, 1911
    Publisher, London : C.W. Daniel
  • A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve, 1931
  • Nicholas Culpepper. The Complete Herbal at Project Gutenberg
  • Cyclopedia of practical floriculture, by Turner, Cordelia Harris, 1884
  • Herb magic, by United States Department of Agriculture. Radio Service, 1944
  • Plant lore, legends, and lyrics – by Folkard, Richard, 1884
  • The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes /gathered by John Gerarde of London, master in chirurgerie. by Dodoens, Rembert,; Gerard, John,; John Norton.; Priest, Robert, 1597