gardening, herbal fare, vintage

Garden Travels: Lavender Ridge Farms

Last month, I had the great pleasure of visiting Lavender Ridge Farms, an herbal and culinary destination just up the interstate from my house.

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Located in Gainesville, Texas, this two acre lavender farm has been in the family for more than 150 years.

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In previous generations, the farm grew melons and strawberries. It opened in 2006 as a lavender farm, one of the few such farms in North Texas. (If you have ever tried to grow just a few lavender plants in your backyard garden, you will understand and appreciate why there are few lavender farms locally.)

Visitors to Lavender Ridge Farms are given a basket and instructed on how to properly harvest lavender.

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I was surprised to see that all sorts of pollinators are as attracted to lavender blossoms as humans are.

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In addition to growing and selling lavender, the farm’s gift shop houses many lavender items for bath, kitchen and home. (If you are weak and buy all things herbal, take a trusted guardian. Though I don’t regret buying two cookbooks, a package of their house blend lavender tea, lavender pepper spice blend and an enormous bag of dried lavender buds for future craft projects. Plus. A few plants, including the lavender plant Phenomenal. Below is a display of Lavender Phenomenal, not what I purchased.)

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Lavandula x intermedia Phenomenal is a new variety of lavender that is marketed as durable in our high heat and humidity better than other varieties. Lavender Ridge Farms has had phenomenal success growing this plant.

The farm also sells irises, which can be viewed and ordered in the spring, with delivery and planting that fall.

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Cafe Lavender offers a shady respite, where you can dine in a lovely plant-filled courtyard while overlooking the lavender field. (Sorry, I failed to take a picture looking that direction, I was too enamored by the plants in the courtyard!)

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The cafe’s menu features several lavender infused dishes, such as lavender honey chicken salad and lavender cheesecake. (Both were divine!)

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The farm’s large pollinator garden was aflutter with butterflies the day of my visit.

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I could have spent all day poking around the gardens and viewing the many assorted garden ornaments.

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I loved their creative use of rusty saws and garden implements.

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Lavender Ridge Farms’ facebook page says it best:
An herb’n experience you can’t get in the city.

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gardening, herbal fare

Of rhubarb and nutmeg

I have no clue who first tasted rhubarb and thought, “Why, if one only added enough sugar, this might be edible!” I do know that rhubarb didn’t become widely consumed until sugar became affordable.

When I was growing up, the children in my neighborhood would sit and swing and dare each other to eat a bit of raw rhubarb. “Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peanut yesterday” we would sing as we swung. “Cracked it open, cracked it open, cracked it open yesterday,” and we would snap a piece off and eat it. If we were brave enough. My mouth still remembers that sharp tartness all these years later!

Much like lemon and gooseberry, rhubarb is in a league of its own. Perfectly inedible alone. Wonderfully edible with enough sugar.

As a new Texas homeowner 22 years ago, I thought rhubarb grew like a weed everywhere. Not so. The foliage came up beautifully that first spring. It grew and grew and looked wonderful. Then summer hit. And the rhubarb melted back into the earth from which it had emerged, never to be seen again. I have since thought rhubarb impossible to grow this far south.

Alas, Texas A&M says it is possible! As an annual, not a perennial like northern gardeners grow it. Oh. And through the winter, not the summer. Basically, if you are familiar with growing rhubarb up north, turn everything on its head and you, too, can grow it Texas. Maybe some day I will try again to grow rhubarb. Until then, I will just buy it at the grocery store.

(Texas A&M also says that rhubarb is never eaten raw, which may explain why I still shiver when I think about eating it raw as a child.)

rhubarb

Rhubarb upside down cake

Ingredients:

3 cups sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, melted

Batter:

1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup whole milk

Place rhubarb in a greased 10-ince cast iron skillet. Combine sugar, flour and nutmeg. Sprinkle over rhubarb. Drizzle with butter and set aside. For the batter, in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until blended. Beat in the egg. Combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Gradually add to the egg mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition.

Spread over rhubarb mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Loosen edges immediately and invert onto a serving dish. Serve warm.

Serve with whipped, cream, if desired.

(Rhubarb is technically a vegetable so eating the leftovers for breakfast starts your day off right. Just sayin’.)

nutmeg

If you have never tried fresh ground nutmeg, you must… It is so much fresher than the ground spice bought at the grocery store.

herbal fare

Hibiscus Lemon Bars

I am on a quest…

How to use tea in my baking? Can I (Could I? Should I?) add herbs into all of my recipes? If so, does it add depth to the dish or is the addition merely cosmetic? And: What herbs and teas go best together?

Since I have long been enamored with hibiscus in my garden, I thought it only appropriate to start on this quest with hibiscus tea.

I had tea- and herb-loving company visiting from out of town over Mother’s Day weekend so that seemed like a great time to launch this culinary adventure.

Conclusion: The hibiscus tea gave the lemon bars a wonderful rose coloring, while adding some cranberry-like tartness to the lemon. Lemon verbena, added to the crust, brought nothing to the dish. The crust was made from gluten-free flour and turned out perfectly with no adjustments.

Trinity Rose Tea Shoppe, a locally owned small business, has a wonderful selection of herbal teas. I used their Organic Radiant Red Hibiscus Tea in this recipe.

Isn’t this beautiful? It really is a radiant red!

hibiscus tea

Crust ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Filling ingredients:

1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried hibiscus tea
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup flour

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla together. Add in the flour and salt, mix until it is just combined. Press the dough evenly across the bottom of  a 9×9 baking pan.

Bake the crust for 15 minutes or until it is lightly browned. Set it aside to cool, while leaving the oven on.

To make the filling, stir the hibiscus tea into the lemon juice and let it sit for 15 minutes. Strain and discard the hibiscus.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together until well blended. Stir in the lemon juice and then blend in the flour.

Pour the filling over the cooled crust and return to the oven and bake another 20-25 minutes, or until the filling is set.

Let cool fully before slicing. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

hibiscus lemon bar

gardening, herbal fare

If you give a friend some eggs…

…with apologizes to the mouse and the boy who let him in the house…

If you give a friend some eggs,

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she is going to ask for some milk and cream. When she gets some milk and cream, she will probably ask for some sugar. When she gets the sugar, she will likely need some flour. Then she will want an iPad so she can search for some recipes. When she looks on Pintrest, she might realize that she also needs some strawberries and vanilla. She will probably ask for a whisk. When she is finished baking,

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she will want a broom to sweep up her mess. She will start sweeping. She might get carried away and sweep every room in the…Oh, who are we kidding? She would never get carried away sweeping. Especially in the spring when she has raking to do yet.

When she is done sweeping, she will probably want a nap. You will need to make up the couch with her favorite blankie and pillow. She will lay down and make herself comfortable and call for her puppy. She will probably ask you to read them a story…

“Diary of a Compost Hotline Operator: Edible essays on city farming” might be the perfect book on such a day.

strawberry cafoutis

While our urban town has allowed chickens for the past few years, I still have not taken the urban chicken plunge. I don’t know why exactly, except that my life already seems overrun with animals. Two indoor cats. One puppy. A large garden that seems to attract every wild animal for miles around.

Recently a dear friend gave me a dozen eggs from her own urban chickens. What to do with them? How best to use a dozen fresh eggs? The first recipe was easy to chose, as I have long wanted to make the French dessert, clafoutis. Alas, I used strawberries instead of the usual cherries, which makes the dish a flaugnarde instead of a clafoutis. I like the word clafoutis best, so I am sticking with that. Either way, it is an egg-rich dish, much like crepe batter but baked in the oven instead of the stovetop one by one. The next dish – mini German pancakes – baked in muffin tins. Topped with strawberries and blood orange segments (above, on red and white plate), these will be good for breakfast or a quick snack.

egg shells

Look at these beautiful eggshells! They are almost too pretty to compost.

Eggshells have many garden applications and can be used directly in the garden. Just crush the shells. Scattered around your tomato plants, eggshells – high in calcium – can help to prevent blossom end rot in the ripening fruit. Scattered around hostas, the rough edges can ward off slugs and snails. Crushed eggshells can also be added to your birdfeeders in the spring, as female birds need extra calcium during nesting season.

bibliophile, herbal fare

Cranberry Easter

I introduced you to our dear friend, Mr. Whiskers, back at Thanksgiving. A lovable fellow, though Grandma says he has too many whiskers and not enough soap.

Cranberry Easter, part of Wende and Harry Devlin’s holiday-themed Cranberry series, features Mr. Whiskers, Maggie and Maggie’s grandma. Mr. Whiskers’ friend Seth, lonely after the death of his wife, wants to sell Cranberryport’s general store and move away. “Suffering codfish,” exclaims Mr. Whiskers, as he tries to come up with a plan to keep Seth in town.

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The importance of friendship is at the heart of the Cranberry books. Mr. Whiskers knows “friends always take care of one another. That’s the way it is in Cranberryport – on holidays and the whole year round.” There would always be a place for him at Grandmother’s table. And for Easter, there would be cranberry cobbler for dessert.

The Devlin’s always set the season where you can almost feel like you are in Cranberryport… “The trees began to bud and soon there was a magical green mist all over the land.” What a lovely description of spring! …a magical green mist all over the land…

If you have young children, be sure to check out Wende and Harry Devlin’s Cranberry books. Getting children attached to a series at a young age is a great way to foster a love of reading, as there is security in familiar characters and children will come to look at the characters as friends. What is better to a child than looking forward to Mr. Whiskers making a return visit every Easter or Thanksgiving? Inside family jokes, such as the loveable Mr. Whiskers having too many whiskers and not enough soap, only reinforce the characters and build upon the book and the pleasant memories associated with it. More importantly, getting children active in a book gives them another outlet to experience the book. As much as children love to be read to, they also love to pull up a chair or stepstool and cook with a loved one.  (Other books in the Cranberry series include: Christmas, Birthday and Valentine.)

The recipe at the end of Cranberry Easter is for cranberry cobbler. I have yet to make it, but I did want to share my favorite cranberry dessert recipe – cranberry apple crisp. Thanks to the Devlin’s, I have come to think of cranberries as a year-round ingredient, instead of just a seasonal treat.

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Cranberry-Apple Crisp

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup walnuts (optional)

3 medium apples – peeled, cored and sliced

1 16-ounce can whole cranberry sauce

For the topping, in a medium mixing bowl, stir together the rolled oats, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the walnuts. Set aside.

For filling, in a large mixing bowl, stir together the apples and the cranberry sauce. Transfer the filling to an ungreased 8×8 baking pan.

Sprinkle the topping on the filling. Bake at 375 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until the apples are tender and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm.

If desired, top with whipped cream or ice cream. Makes 6 servings.

*** This recipe can easily be made gluten-free.

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herbal fare

Endive salad with basil and tomatoes

The garden centers are filling up with lush spring inventory, including tomatoes and basil. The perfect pairing. In North Texas, our last average freeze date is March 17th, which means Mother Nature can still throw us a curve ball. We have been known to have a freeze in the middle of April and snow on Easter. This does not mean you have to wait to plant frost-tender plants. It just means that you have to watch the forecast and be ready with frost cloth or old sheets. (I personally favor a five gallon bucket turned upside down over the plant and removed as soon as the air warms up.)

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Endive salad with basil and tomatoes

2-3 endives, leaves separated
1 large naval orange, peeled and sliced into circles
1 large tomato, sliced (or a dozen cherry tomatoes, cut in half)
1/4 red onion, finely sliced (I prefer shallots, personally)
5-6 basil leaves, thinly sliced – extra for garnish, if desired

Dressing:
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
3 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Wash and prepare endive leaves and arrange on a large platter. Zest about half of the orange and set zest aside for dressing.

Cut off the peel of the orange, along with the outer white membrane. Slice into thin circles and arrange over the endive leaves. Slice the tomato and onion and arrange on platter. Top with sliced basil leaves.

To make the dressing, add the olive oil, lemon juice and honey to the bowl with the orange zest and whisk together. Pour the dressing over the salad and sprinkle with the sea salt. Serve right away.

If making ahead, add the dressing just before serving so the endive leaves do not wilt.

Hint for slicing basil: Wash and pat dry basil leaves. Stack basil leaves and tightly roll from one end to the other. Thinly slice the rolled leaves. Separate basil slivers and use as desired.

herbal fare

Cheddar Dill Puffs

If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again. So it goes with dill and me.

I can grow fennel, which is botanically related to dill though miles apart in flavor. I try, try again with dill, which is how it sometimes goes with gardening. As with real estate, gardening is all about location location, location. Until I find dill’s perfect location, I will resort to buying fresh dill at the grocery store.

Fennel growing in my southern Denton county garden in January, despite the record cold:

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Cheddar Dill Puffs

Ingredients:
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur’s gluten free flour)
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cup finely grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, cook the water, butter and salt until the butter melts. Stir to combine. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously about two minutes. The mixture will start to come together and pull away from the sides of the saucepan. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter will separate, then smooth out after each egg is added to the mixture.

Stir in cheese and dill.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop the batter on prepared baking sheets by spoonfuls, about one inch apart. Bake about 25-30 minutes or until the cheddar puffs are golden brown.

Makes around 22 cheddar puffs.

dill cheddar puffs

herbal fare

Lavender lemonade

While I have long cooked with a variety of herbs, I am relatively new to utilizing lavender. It wasn’t until I tasted a lavender cheddar cheese last year that I became intrigued with cooking and baking with lavender. This recipe is one of my new favorite drinks.

Lavender lemonade
Lavender mixture:
Bring 2 cups water with 1/2 cup sugar to a low boil, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Add 1/4 cup honey and 3 tablespoons dried culinary lavender. Cover and let steep 15 minutes.
Strain lavender mixture, pressing down on the lavender to release more of its essence.
In a large pitcher, combine lavender water with 2 cups lemon juice and 4 cups water.

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Chill at least two hours and serve over ice. Garnish with lemon slices, if desired.

Serves eight. (This lemonade goes wonderfully with lavender macarons, pictured above.)
This recipe can easily be cut in half.

herbal fare

Cranberry Mint Green Tea

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Cranberry Mint Green Tea, iced

Bring 2 cups water to a low boil. Add 2 green tea bags and let steep ten minutes. Remove tea bags and chill tea, at least one hour.

Meanwhile, place 1/4 cup frozen cranberries in a bowl with 2 chopped mint springs and juice from two limes. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

When ready to serve, mash cranberry mixture until berries are popped and mint leaves well crushed. Strain mixture into cold tea.

Serve over ice and garnish with mint leaves and lime slices.

Serves two.

cranberry green tea

herbal fare

Strawberry Basil Doughnuts (baked and gluten-free)

On my continued quest to use herbs in unusual ways in the kitchen, I have cobbled together a recipe for strawberry basil doughnuts. Baked. And gluten-free.

Not your typical cardboard gluten-free snack.

Nor are they your grandma’s homemade doughnuts.

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1 2/3 cup gluten free baking mix (I used King Arthur, as it is my favorite gluten-free product)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup strawberries
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease doughnut pan and set aside.
Mix all ingredients together in blender until strawberries and basil are well chopped and incorporated.
Carefully pour the batter into the doughnut pan. (I used a canning ladle for this, but a small measuring cup with spout would work as well.)

Bake for 15-20 minutes. Let set on cooling rack for 5-10 minutes.

If desired, dip the doughnuts first in melted butter then sugar.

(I had extra batter so I made mini muffin with the remaining batter. Same baking time.)