Monday, October 20, 2014

Herb Festival - October 26th - 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. - Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Dear Folks,

I'm back after helping a relative with health issues (doing much better).

The annual Herb Festival at the BTA has now been moved from Spring to Fall - a better planting time for many herbs here in the desert southwest.

Now scheduled for the ending day of the Fall Plant Sale - you can pick up some plants and sample some of my herb-focused dips, and check out the music and other vendors.

Arboretum Herb Festival and Live Music
October 26

 "Herb is the word" during the final week of October's annual Fall Plant Sale fundraiser and Lynnea and Preston are special-ordering a variety of herbs to add to the dozens that they have grown themselves. Our annual Herb Festival has moved to the Fall and strategically scheduled for late October to take advantage of optimal herb planting time. Bring a picnic and join us Sunday for music and the chance to meet members of the Arizona Herb Association and browse items at their booth. Enjoy live music by The Levno Duo from Chandler (Celinda and John Levno, on flute and guitar) and sample savory tastings of herb-infused dips from Catherine 'The Herb Lady' Crowley, all in the environs of our Wing Memorial Herb Garden.

Here is a short list of some the herbs that we'll have for sale.

yerba mansa
rosemary (assorted)
lavender (Spanish)
lavender (English)
mexican terragon
bible hyssop
marjoram (pot)
garden rue
giant cat mint
little leaf cat mint
scented geraniums
society garlic
garlic chives
several different mints

After you return home with all your great plant purchases - check out my November Planting Tips link.!topic/edible-landscaping-in-the-desert-gl-gs-ge/xQe43L7N0SM

 Make it a great month in the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Be Food Informed: America's Test Kitchen

Dear Folks,

I do not regularly tout a particular website/show etc.  There has to be a good reason.

Well America's Test Kitchen, part of Cook's Country is one you should look into.

I think one of the great things about this show / website is they give great information on why recipes work and how to make them work better.  They explain simple science behind the best way to cook/prepare something.  Plus the recipes are plain good.

I used to catch Alton Brown's "Good Eats" show for all of those reasons - then they discontinued it :(

Well get your food-information-fix by signing up for their newsletter and Christopher Kimball's podcasts.

Here is this week's newsletter

Link to the podcasts' page

Some tips from ATK are just great.

How to cook the perfect sunnyside/basted eggs.

I provided a link to the egg recipe in this blog post.

Grill your meat frozen instead of thawed - the frozen meat tip is in the podcast link of this blog.

Have a Best Day!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Swap Your Grits for Oatmeal and UP the Nutrition!

Dear Folks,

So why am I saying swap grits for oatmeal?  Because grits and eggs are a favorite comfort for many folks and while tasty, the grits are not as nutrient dense as oatmeal.  So while you don't have to abandon a favorite meal completely, give oatmeal and eggs a try as an option from time to time.  See the recipes below.

From Leanne Brown's wonderful new cookbook "Good and Cheap" based on budget limitations of SNAP (Food Stamps) one of the best is her use of a fried egg with a savory oatmeal base. (Photo from her cookbook.)

You do not have to be getting food stamps to be 'food insecure' - you just have to be budget-crunched and weary from trying to make good food choices with limited money and trying to figure out ANY good information from food ads and labels.  Having children asking for junk food and sugary cereal (really a dessert and not a breakfast) ups the weariness factor.

Check out the nutrition information for grits vs. oatmeal.

Catherine's Nutrient Density Factor - the lower the number the more nutrient dense - maximum for best nutrition is 20
Note:  Nutrition information is from the USDA Nutrient Database and the Label info on the Quaker Old Fashioned Oatmeal container.

corn grits, yellow, regular and quick, enriched, cooked with water, without salt
1 Cup
Calories 151
Protein 2.87g
Fiber, total dietary 1.6

2.87 + 1.6 =  4.47 divided into 151 = 34

corn grits, white, regular and quick, enriched, cooked with water, without salt
1 Cup
Calories 182
Protein  4.39
Fiber, Total dietary 2.1

4.39 + 2.1 = 6.4 divided into 182 = 28.44

Quaker Oatmeal, Old Fashioned (cooks up in 5 minutes)
1 cup
Calories  150
Protein  5 g
Fiber, Total Dietary  4 g

5 + 4 = 9 divided into 150 = 16.67

Note:  "Instant" oatmeal is "okay" if you do not have anything else, but good Old Fashioned oatmeal cooks up in 5 minutes on the stove and about 2 minutes in the microwave and it has a whole lot less 'stuff' - the instant packages have more sugar etc. and less nutrition.

Extra:  How to, really, fry a sunnyside egg

From America's Test Kitchen comes the best, I mean the best, way to fry perfect sunnyside, 'basted' eggs.

You will have to join their site to print the recipe.

In a nut shell you preheat the pan for longer than you think you should, crack your eggs into a bowl, add salt and pepper.  Use a combination of oil and butter in the pan and have the lid and a timer ready.

I have now used this recipe multiple times and the eggs come out perfect every time.  As good a cook as I think I am (and other agrees) I never quite got the hang of basted sunnyside eggs - this got me doing it right.

For the oatmeal and egg recipe below I have halved the ATK recipe.  I also found that you can reduce the amount of oil and butter and you can also combine them at the same time -- the real trick is hot pan, swirl the fat, add the eggs, cover, cook 1 minute, remove from heat and let sit, covered, 1 minute. Ta-Da!!! Perfect eggs.

Christopher Kimble and the folks at America's Test Kitchen are artists!!

Perfect Fried Eggs

vegetable oil
salt and pepper
unsalted butter

Heat the pan for 5 minutes, add fat, swirl, add eggs, cover, cook for 1 minute, remove from burner and let sit, covered, for 45 seconds to 2 minutes depending on how cooked you want the yolks.

My Notes.  I found 1 minute off the buner perfect for our large to jumbo eggs giving us a fully cooked white with runny yolk.

Savory Oatmeal

Serves 2
1 cup rolled oats
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-3 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 cup sharp cheddar, grated
1 teaspoon butter
2 eggs

Cook the oatmeal with the scallions.
Just before it is done, add the cheese.
[Divide into bowls]
Melt the butter in a pan on medium heat.
Crack in the eggs, then cover.
Fry until the yolks are runny, but the whites are cooked, then top each bowl of oats with one fried egg!

I encourage you to purchase Ms. Brown's cookbook and forward to your favorite food pantry / charity working with the hungry / low income.  She offers a discount on the printed book to non-profits.

Read my blog post of a couple days ago on food insecurity.

Food Insecurity 

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Check out The Herb Lady's books:


amazon - print

Kindle is supposed to be getting the two books sometime in the near future.

Barnes & Noble - print and Nook ebook




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Face of Hunger in America - July 2014 - Food Insecurity

Dear Folks,

This may be one of the most important posts I have ever put together.  Please read and share.  You don't have to live in a run-down neighborhood to be hungry, nor do you have to be unemployed.  You can be on social security, working multiple jobs,  a single parent, or the victim of a tragedy.

Wealth or a good paying job can be a great barrier to understanding, really understanding, what it means to be food insecure.  Someone on the outside looking at a clean, neat appearing, slightly overweight person at the check out stand of a grocery store using an EBT card (food stamps) and think, "hmmm, why does that person need food stamps?"  Likewise they may look at a messy looking individual using the same kind of EBT card and buying colored water flavored with sugar (substitute for real juice), white bread, cheap hot dogs or peanut butter and jelly and think "hmmm, trash, these people need to get a job and stop mooching."

The real trash is the quality of the food they are buying, because they have limited resources and limited knowledge on what to buy, so they give in to the children asking for food and drink and fill them up with what is filling but not anywhere near nutritious enough to help them -- in school, at work, get a job.

If you do not eat nutritious food you do not think well. Period.

And, if you think hunger won't happen to you because you feel secure in your job and life, keep in mind many before you have discovered through tragedy, sickness, or loss of a major career job that it only takes one major life-changing-event to change everything.

If YOU know how to feed yourself and your family in reduced/stressed circumstances, you will always, always be able to keep more of your life together and under control.

You may know someone ,or some people, who can use this information to help themselves and/or to help others.

On the heels of reading an article in National Geographic (NG) on Food Insecurity in America, I came across a free (PDF) cookbook aimed at the working poor and poor who survive on food stamps (SNAP) and food banks.

I read, with disgust, the frequent comments criticizing SNAP recipients for being overweight (there is a reason for that, that nothing to do with too much money); lazy and moochers.

Sure there are those who take advantage of any program, non-profit group, or the government.

But when people who work hard or who are disabled can't get the right foods in enough quantity to keep them out of ER rooms and hospitals there is something wrong with our national conscience.  And, using examples of jerks to keep food and information from those who need it is just plain wrong!

Did you ever look in a donation box of food collections going to food banks?

I have, and they bear out the NG article stating the donations are high calorie, low nutrition, high salt and sugar foods = Cheap!  Mostly that is what people donate, cheap food.

The same kind of cheap food most food insecure families buy for themselves - when they have the money or food stamps.

Boxes of sugary cereal; cans of green beans or corn, some peanut butter and high fructose corn syrup jelly, a rare can of meat like tuna and soups - cans and cans of soup.

Did you ever look at the nutrition label on a can of Cambell's soup?  I have.  In fact I started, but have not completed, a cookbook aimed at eating more healthy from pre-packaged foods, because the basic can of soup, even the ready-to-eat versions, have more salt than protein or fiber.

Growing up there were times when we might have been classified in the new term for hungry - food insecure.  My mom was creative, having spent a good part of her childhood and teenage years on a farm.  I hated a lot of the 'creative' things she made, but she was trying to feed 5 kids plus my dad and her.

She would take a can of Campbell's vegetable beef soup.  Add cups and cups of water and toss in barley and cook until the barley was done and that was dinner.

It was not always like that for us, but I remember it all to this day and food still becomes a source of fear - fear of not having enough or of not having the 'right' things, so I learned how to grow food and keep the pantry stocked with go-to-things so that 'fear' does not get triggered.

Most of today's food-insecure families do not have either the knowledge or the time to learn how to be creative, and they do not know where to go for help.  Food banks are the most wonderful and generous of society's conscience, but they usually are under-staffed with little 'wiggle' room for tutoring on how to put foods together to make them more nutritious and also appealing.

From the NG article:

When she learned that SNAP benefits could be used to buy vegetable plants, she dug two gardens in her yard. She has learned about wild mushrooms so she can safely pick ones that aren’t poisonous and has lobbied the local library to stock field guides to edible wild plants. “We wouldn’t eat healthy at all if we lived off the food-bank food,” Reams says. (emphasis added)

I can't say enough about learning how to grow some or most of your own food.  You take the control of what and when of food out of the hands of other people and into your own hands.

Read the NG article to learn about the real face of the hungry in America, then check out Leanne Brown's cookbook.

Leanne Brown's Kickstarter Program.

Ms. Brown has generously made this PDF file available for anyone to use and share.  Print it out, distribute it to groups that help others, and READ it for yourself and your family.

As a graduate school project Ms. Brown went about developing recipes around the SNAP monthly allocation of $4 a day using healthy ingredients.  $4 a day - that is a Starbucks coffee and people need to eat sustaining meals on that amount.

The challenge for many folks is these recipes require cooking - I'm not being mean here - I'm being practical - to eat better and cheaper means doing some prep work and actually cooking.  It is certainly possible to do many meals in the crock pot.  Make use of limited time to cook large batches up and freeze or save for the next couple of days.

And about the over-weight / poor health thing.

says Melissa Boteach, vice president of the Poverty and Prosperity Program of the Center for American Progress, “people making trade-offs between food that’s filling but not nutritious and may actually contribute to obesity.”  Not to ignore diabetes and other health issues directly related to poor nutrition.

People who are hungry eat to fill themselves up: cheap fast food (very high fat); white bread (some vitamins and maybe some minerals but practically no protein); cheap dairy - I'm not talking milk here, I'm talking fake cheese that has added calcium but no protein.  So they put together a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches for a total calorie content exceeding 500+ calories (estimate) and maybe, maybe a total of 3 grams of protein and no fiber when a meal should have between 12 and 20+ of protein for an adult.

They ate a meal of sugar, salt, flour a few minerals, no fiber and someone outside looking at them figures they are doing just fine. NOT!

Download here

Her recipes are the kind I love to see when teaching cooking.  She uses inexpensive protein sources like eggs to create satisfying, healthy foods - savory oatmeal with scallions topped with a fried or poached egg!

I have touted the benefits of making oatmeal a side dish, not just a breakfast dish - use it in place of rice, pasta or potatoes.

I have used my savory oatmeal leftovers to make patties which can be heated up in the skillet the next morning (or microwave) and served with eggs, some meat or cheese for a filling and fast breakfast.  (Think hash browns only way better for you.)

She makes great suggestions for leftovers, and bases most of the dishes around seasonal vegetables (aka cheaper and better for you).  The recipes are to serve 2 or 4 but can easily be doubled.

Here is one of my Canned Meals recipes - I put together on a camping trip some years ago.  Try for low salt options - if you have the money (it is so interesting that when they leave out things like too much salt or sugar they charge more for it? - I know there is a production reason for this but still . . .)

This is enough for 2-3 people, depending on appetites

1 6 oz. can of water packed tuna
1 8 oz (apprx) can of cut green beans in water
1 8 oz (apprx) can of stewed tomatoes
Italian-type salad dressing/vinaigrette (homemade, dry packaged, or bottled)
1 small can of potatoes
1-2 tablespoons of capers
Other options include canned anchovies, olives, hard cooked eggs, red peppers, shallots, artichoke hearts and you might enjoy a rustic/crusty bread with it also.

Drain canned foods (Arizona Dun-Deane likes to drink the water from everything but the tuna - the bean and tomato water/juice are a cheap V8 sub - might as well use everything!), fold together gently - you don't want to mash the food - add capers if desired, toss with enough dressing to coat well but don't make it soggy. Eat and enjoy. Protein, Fiber, Lycopene, Vitamins, Minerals and some salt and fat - this is the kind of meal that is healthy and satisfying - just watch the salt content of the canned foods.

This not the best example of fresh is best, but canned can be a second option if combined properly.

I hope this post gives you some new information, helpful ideas and please, please share this around.

Thank you

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Farming in Croatia and how it can relate to the Valley of the Sun.

Dear Folks,

I wanted to share with you all a blog post by Greg Peterson at Urban Farm in Phoenix.

Think of this as a blueprint for how to 'grow' a local food system that benefits you, your family, neighbors and community.

While this is not a backyard gardening guide, I think some of the points made by Greg are applicable.

Too often folks get caught up in the 'its too big' or 'what can one little xxxxx' accomplish mentality.

Greg's post is in part about his trip to Croatia and learning about their local food system and how it relates to our food system(s).

Read through the related posts (found on the right side of the site) to learn more of what Greg discovered

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Ribbon Salad

Dear Folks,

This refreshing salad is just perfect for those hot summer days.

Hopefully you have lots of the ingredients growing in your garden :-)


Sometimes my recipes come almost fully formed from my imagination because I have been out what we call "wafting" in the garden and the aromas and visuals give me ideas.

Other times I see a recipe and say "how can I do that differently?" This is one of those. I wanted a lighter, more colorful salad than the recipe I saw, with a special mint for flavoring. Using a potato peeler, creates wide ribbons of flavor for making this fresh salad.

1 yellow crook neck squash, peeled
1 green (light or dark) summer squash/zucchini, peeled
1/2 cantaloupe, seeded, and peeled
1 cucumber, peeled if desired
4 tablespoons pineapple mint, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
4 teaspoons rice wine vinegar (not seasoned)
pinch of salt

Using a potato peeler, cut thin ribbons of each vegetable or fruit, so you have one cup, loose packed, of each. Place in colander over a bowl, and allow to drain and catch juices for 10 minutes. Reserve juices and chill.

Make a dressing by dissolving the honey in the vinegar. Add an equal amount of reserved juices, add salt and stir well. Mix in mint. When ready to serve, gently toss the ribbons to create a mix of colors. Place 1 cup on each plate and pour about 2 teaspoons of dressing over each. Serve immediately.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Places to find my books

My books


amazon - print

Barnes & Noble - print and Nook ebook




Friday, June 20, 2014

Inflation and Gardening

Dear Folks,

Powell over at The Valley Permaculture Alliance posted a good and thoughtful piece on why it is more than time to consider growing some or more of your own food.

I am including it here with the link to the post so you can check out related articles.

One of my all time favorite quotes:

Unemployment is capitalism’s way of getting you to plant a garden. ~Orson Scott Card

To which I would add, and "economy" and "inflation".

"The past two weeks I have been monitoring stories on inflation.  As even the "mainstream media" has reported on grocery prices going up fairly significantly and uniformly across the shelves.  This reinforces another reason to start a garden . . . while it is still likely more cost efficient to buy food from a store it becomes less so (especially using > $4 a gallon gas to travel to and from there) as prices shoot up.  While initial investments in gardening are high in both time and money people have pointed to some pretty easy ways to start.

Our soil is actually pretty good---chock full of nutrients.  It may be alkaline, but generally not so much as to prohibit growing food.  It may be low on carbon and nitrogen, but there are low cost (even free ... start a compost pile at the same time) ways of amending this.  There are ways of dealing with weeds.  It may be compacted but that can be dealt with.  It may be dry.  It may be salty.  It may be convenient to outline or define its bed.  It may require stoop labor.  It may require daily labor.  It may require protection from birds and other competitors for our food.

But inflation at the store = a reason to start devoting time to a garden.  Start small and make your mistakes (and successes) first.

As Catherine will remind us in a week or so, the middle of July is when the winter sowing of seeds begins.  Three weeks to outline, plan and dig a garden bed.  Three weeks to make a start on all the other reasons besides cost for growing YOUR OWN (I grew this!) food.

If you are relatively new to this web site, the VPA or even the area or even visiting from a similar arid environment the how to's can be found here as can people ready to help.

Sadly, I see a day when growing your own food makes more sense economically than buying it.  It is possible that day will be soon.  Part of life is preparing for this possibility before it arrives.  Maybe in the journey you will discover all of the other reasons for growing your own food."

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady