Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Garlic Chronicles - October is garlic planting time!

Fresh, organic garlic.

Pineywoods Herb Farm has been growing organic garlic for seven or eight years now, and each year the heads are bigger and better than the year before. Last summer we finally had enough large heads to sell... about 20 pounds... for our customers to eat and plant at the proper time.  

In mid-to-late October, once the daytime temperature stays below 80, it is time to plant garlic.  If you haven't already done so work some good compost or well-rotted and decomposed manure into your planting bed and make sure all weeds have been removed.  Garlic doesn't compete well with weeds so keeping the bed weed-free is a crucial step at planting time and throughout the growing season.  The soil should be loose and easily dug to a depth of at least 6 inches. Remove any stones, rocks, or large clumps of hard dirt.

A day or two prior to planting separate the garlic into individual cloves, leaving the skin on each clove intact.  You want to select the largest cloves for planting, as larger cloves will produce larger heads.  The garlic will be close to five months old at this point so some of the cloves may be a bit dry. This is normal and expected and shouldn't affect growth after planting.  Any cloves that are very dry and shriveled, or cloves with brown spots, are not good for planting and should be discarded.  

I like to soak the cloves in a weak solution of liquid fish emulsion and liquid seaweed organic fertilizers (see bottom of post for more info) for a couple of hours the day of planting.  The ratio is about 1 tablespoon liquid fish emulsion and 1 tablespoon liquid seaweed in 2 gallons of water.  Put all this in a bucket and stir well, then add the garlic cloves.   Let sit for about 2 hours out of direct sunlight.

Pour off the seaweed/fish emulsion water and let's get to planting!  (Note:  the seaweed/fish emulsion water is rich in nutrients so don't let it go to waste. Use it around some plants in the garden).

Space the garlic cloves about 5 inches apart and plant 2-3 inches deep.  Make sure the root end of the clove (flat end) is planted downward, with the pointed end up. Smooth out the planting area, water well, and that's it!   It takes 7-12 days on average for shoots to emerge from the soil.  That is always exciting for me!  A new crop of garlic is on it's way!

Once the tender shoots are 5-6 inches high and before the first real cold snap of the season I like to add a fairly thick (3-4 inches) layer of pine needles to the garlic beds, nestling up gently around the shoots.  This helps insulate the soil in case of very cold weather and keeps the soil from drying out during dry spells. Garlic doesn't require a large amount of water, and too much water (or soil that doesn't drain well) will rot the cloves.  However, head formation will suffer if the soil gets very dry. Know your soil and water only when soil begins to get moderately dry.

It is not necessary to cover the garlic shoots during cold spells.  If the cloves were planted deep enough and you have a covering of pine needles as insulation, there should be no problem even if temperatures dip into the teens.  

Other than keeping weeds out of the garlic bed and watering when dry there is nothing else to do until late spring.  

Note:  Liquid fish emulsion and liquid seaweed can be purchased at many garden centers, some feed stores that carry garden supplies, Lowes and Home Depot.  I very seldom use any type of fertilizer but when I do it is always liquid fish and liquid seaweed, approximately 1 tablespoon of each thoroughly mixed in about a gallon of water.  This can either be used as a soil drench or sprinkled from a watering can on the leaves of plants.  If sprinkled on the leaves don't do it on a hot, sunny day or it could burn the leaves.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Nut Grinder

My old, reliable, pretty, comforting nut grinder.  There are many adjectives I could use to describe my little nut grinder but these are the first that come to mind.  

My nut grinder is old.  The only thing in my life that has been with me longer is my 82-year-old father (of which I am grateful).  I remember using this nut grinder when I was a very young girl helping my mother cook.  I won't say how old I am, but I know my nut grinder is at least 55-years-old. 

My nut grinder is reliable.  The metal grinding mechanism has never faltered.  And how many thousands of times has that handle with the worn-smooth wooden knob at the end turned?  Ten-thousand turns?  Fifty-thousand turns?  I often wonder.  

My nut grinder is pretty!  Although it was probably a lot prettier thirty or forty years ago, the flower decal is still there, almost in its entirety.  I'm very picky about hand washing it and I make absolutely sure it is thoroughly dried as soon as I've rinsed it.  I don't want to take a chance on any rusting.  I know the red paint was much more vibrant years ago and some of it has worn off, but it is still a pretty little thing, don't you agree?  

My nut grinder is comforting.  Whenever I use my nut grinder (and I use it often) I am taken back to my youth, helping my mother cook something wonderful.  I'm sure she and I had some important conversations while I was turning that handle.  And in later years when I would visit I would still help her make something wonderful, and we would have some important conversations while turning that handle.  

What is the best thing I like about my nut grinder?  The way it grinds nuts. Perfect pieces that are not too small, not too large... just right.  Every time.  

Some time ago I thought I should upgrade my nut-grinding activity to something faster... like a food processor.  If you've ever tried to grind nuts in a food processor it is nearly impossible not to over-process (powdered nuts) or under-process (mostly large pieces, some small pieces, very inconsistent). Then several years ago a friend gave me a spring-loaded up-and-down thing with an x-shaped blade that bangs around on a plastic base.  The results were even worse than the food processor.  So I abandoned the "new and improved" gadgets and went back to my nut-grinding roots.

For those of you who have had the culinary pleasure of eating our almost-famous Lavender Pecan Cookies (and for those of you who will enjoy them in the future), every single Texas pecan is ground in my old, pretty, reliable, comforting nut grinder.  Yes, I grind all those toasted pecans by hand, sitting at my kitchen island thinking about my mother with every turn of that well-worn handle.  Even though Mom is gone, she still has a hand in helping me make Lavender Pecan Cookies.  Thanks Mom!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Cucumber Vine Supports

A number of you have been curious about the supporting structure of my cucumber vines shown in the last post.   This is an easy way to save valuable garden space when growing something like cucumbers that have many long vines that can quickly overtake a large area in the garden.  

The supporting structure is a 16-foot-long cattle panel.   My husband cut one section of horizontal wire off both short ends of the panel, which allows about a foot of wire to be pushed down into the edge of my raised bed and the other end pushed down at the base of our game fence.  The panel is carefully bent over... definitely a two-person job because it wants to spring back straight.  We have it wired to our game fence in several places to make sure it is securely attached.  

I have had this set-up for several years now and it works great. It allows me to plant the cucumbers at the very inside edge of my raised bed, saving most of the remaining bed space for other plants. The cucumber vines stay off the ground and there are no problems with stepping on the vines trying to get to all the cukes.    

Notice the cattle panel bent down on the right, next to the game fence.  The ends of the cattle panel are stuck down into the ground and the cattle panel is securely attached to the game fence by wires.

It is easy to pick cucumbers from underneath the structure. 

The vines grow up on the game fencing.  It is impossible to get anything to grow down... growing down is NOT the way things work in the plant world!

One of many nice, round, lemon cucumbers!

I will have an organic pest control and fertilization workshop this fall.  Come on out and we'll be happy to show you this set-up in person and answer any questions you may have.  Workshop dates should be posted on the "Classes and Events" page of our website late September or early October, and will also be posted in the September or October monthly email newsletter.    

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Power of Beneficial Insects

An organic and sustainable garden/landscape/farming operation can take care of itself. Mother Nature has crime fighters that are ready, willing, and very much able to take bad bugs down.    

It is extremely rare for me to have any type of pest or disease problem.  I've been gardening organically since the late 1980's, and here at the herb farm since 1996 when we bought the property.  The longer someone grows organically the less likely they are to have a problem, but last year my cucumber vines developed a big pest problem.  Within just a few days my cucumber vines went from lush and green to this:

Lots of dead and dying leaves... a very sad sight

I have so few problems with pests that I don't know a mite from an aphid, so I can't tell you what attacked my cucumber vines.  It was something almost microscopic because I couldn't really see any bad guys.  I couldn't see them but their damage was painfully evident.  

I don't use any sprays or pest deterrents at all, not even those labeled organic.  I let nature take its course and I'm prepared to lose a crop if that's the course nature wants to take. Even though the damage was severe I was fairly certain that justice would prevail and the many beneficial insects I have around here would come to my rescue.  To be totally honest I wasn't 100% certain in this case because of the severity of the problem, but I was probably about 90% certain.  So I kept my fingers crossed, my camera ready, and within a couple of days here come the troops:

Beneficial insects to the rescue!

Lady bugs (lady beetles, actually), dragonflies, green lacewings, flies, and more came in droves to take care of the ugly situation.  And take care of it they most certainly did.

It was a period of 18 days between the picture at the very top showing lots of damage to these two pictures directly above and below.  Lots of new leaves have filled in nicely where the damage was done.  

The beneficial insects moved in and completely took care of the problem.  I did absolutely nothing except document it in pictures.  

I have had people tell me they are organic unless they have a bug problem.   If you spray, dust, or apply pesticide in any way you are NOT organic!  Furthermore, not only are you killing the bad bugs but you are also killing the good bugs that kill the bad bugs!  

Organic growing is not an overnight solution.  It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes the knowledge that at some point (almost always within the first couple years of swearing off pesticides) you will lose a crop to bugs.  But don't give in.  Giving in will take you back to the beginning of your organic journey.  Be patient and be kind to the beneficial insects that will make the journey worthwhile.   Trust me.  

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Leeks - after the harvest. And a great recipe.

In the previous post I mentioned that leeks don't get the culinary respect they deserve, which is unfortunate because they are a great addition to many dishes.  Their subtle sweetness really shines when sauteed in butter or olive oil, without the bite or sharpness typically found in onions.

Leeks need to be thoroughly rinsed to eliminate all of the grit (dirt) that may hide out within the layers. This is easy to do with a couple of simple steps.

Cut off the root end and long tops, then peel away the outer layer.  Leeks will look clean but, as we all know, looks can be deceiving.

Root end and tops trimmed, outer layer removed

Slice the leeks in half lengthwise to expose the many "layers", which are actually leaf sheaths.

Carefully fan the layers apart while holding under gently-running water.  This will rinse out most traces of any dirt that could be hiding within the layers.  There may be a hard center stem which should be discarded.

Put long cut side of leek on cutting board and slice into thin slices.  

Put leek slices in large bowl and cover with plenty of cool water.  Gently swish leek slices in the water, then scoop out slices with large slotted spoon.  Any dirt remaining within the layers will be dislodged and will sink to the bottom of the bowl.

Put leek slices on clean dish towel or several layers of paper toweling to drain.

Roll dish towel or paper towel up loosely and let sit for a few minutes.  The towel will absorb excess moisture from the leeks.

Put leek slices on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and put in freezer for several hours or overnight, then quickly transfer frozen leeks (they will begin to thaw within a minute or two) to a zipper freezer bag and store in freezer.  You now have fresh frozen, cleaned leek slices available when needed!

Carrot & Leek Soup

  • 2 lbs. carrots
  • 3 large leeks (about 3 cups sliced leeks)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 Tb. butter
  • 1 Tb. fresh thyme leaves (1 tsp. dried)
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 8 cups low-sodium vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
  • 1 cup white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
  • Salt and Pepper


  1. Trim the carrots and chop them into rough 1/2 inch chunks. Trim the root-end off the leeks and cut the white section into quarters. Slice across into small 1/2 inch pieces. (Save the greens for homemade stock.) Place the chopped leeks in a colander and rinse thoroughly--they are often sandy.
  2. Place a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter, carrots, leeks and garlic and saute for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
  3. Then add the thyme, lemon zest, stock, wine, 1 tsp. salt, and pepper to taste. Cover and bring to a boil. Stir and cover again. Simmer for 20-25 minutes, until the carrots are soft.
  4. Ladle the soup into a high-powered blender. (You might have to do this in two batches.) Place the lid on the blender and open the top vent for steam. Lay a dish towel over the top of the blender and hold firmly as you turn the blender on. Pressure from blending hot liquids can blow the top off and burn you, so be careful--open vent, cover with towel, hold tight! Puree until smooth. Then add the sour cream to the blender and puree again.
  5. Pour both batches back into the sauce pot and stir to blend. Serve warm.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Allium Harvest

Alliums - Leeks and Onions  

The last post detailed our recent garlic harvest.  Today I harvested the first batch of leeks and purple onions. Still more in the garden that will be ready over the next couple of weeks.  

It doesn't seem like many people grow leeks.  Not as popular as garlic and onions, they are nonetheless an important part of my spring and fall garden.  I clean them well, slice thinly, freeze on rimmed cookie sheets and pack into zipper freezer bags to store in the freezer until needed.  Yes, a bit of work initially but well worth it.  Sauteed leeks are good in so many dishes.  And potato/leek soup... delicious!  

The next post will show how to thoroughly clean leeks.  It is easy, but there are a couple of key steps necessary to insure there is no dirt/grit remaining in the crevices.   

Leeks - just pulled from the garden

Like garlic, onions require a curing time prior to storage.  The fleshy leaves need to dry out so the neck doesn't grow mold during storage.  Nobody wants to cut into an onion that is moldy in the center.  If properly cured and stored onions will stay good for several months.  

First batch of purple onions... more to come!

The best onion storage facility is a cool basement.  But who is lucky enough to have a cool basement in Texas?   Not me, so I have to improvise as best as possible.  I have converted one of the bedrooms in our house into a large pantry/storage room.  The floor is ceramic tile so it stays (somewhat) cool.  I put large pieces of cardboard down and spread the onions out, spacing a bit so they are not crowded.  Even though we set our air conditioner to the mid-70's the onions stay good for several months.  The optimum temperature for storage is the 50 to 60-degree range, but of course that is not possible in Texas in the summer.  The mid 70's doesn't seem to cause much of a problem though.  

Organic, sustainable, natural.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Garlic Chronicles

Garlic is in the air... literally.  Over 200 heads of garlic are hanging/curing in the breezeway of our barn and the fresh garlic aroma wafting through the air is definitely not something typically associated with barns.   But if you're a garlic lover that wonderful aroma is a promise of good things to come!

First batch just pulled, ready to be hung in breezeway

Large, full heads!
Our breezeway is the perfect place for garlic to cure.  The north/south barn openings allow for good air circulation which is essential for the curing process.  Curing garlic is important:  it dries out the "neck" (just above the head) which greatly minimizes the chance for mold during storage, and the leaves dry out, transferring their energy to the head.  

Each garlic plant is tied onto strong baling twine put up in a zig-zag configuration in the hay area of our barn.  This tying process is time consuming, but it is also extremely satisfying - I get to admire each and every beautiful, fat, garlic head.  

About 250 heads of garlic!

The next step after curing is trimming and cleaning each head.  The long tops are cut off just above the head, the bottom roots are trimmed close, and a soft brush is used to gently clean any residual dirt clinging to the head.  Then it is time for good eating or storing in a cool place for planting in the fall (called seed garlic).  

I have been planting my own seed garlic for at least seven years, and the heads are larger and more uniform with each passing year.  

Stay tuned... some of this fresh, organic garlic will be offered for sale later in June.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

In Memory of Shane

Donkey Shane and Simone

If you have been out to Pineywoods Herb Farm within the past couple of years you may have seen little Donkey Shane.  Shane just showed up here one day, running through the gate straight down to the barn like she knew just where she was going.  I likened it to the saying, "I wasn't born in Texas but got here as fast as I could."  Shane wasn't born here but got here as fast as she could!

Shane was a real sweetheart.  A bit standoffish at first, I think because she had not had much human contact before she arrived here.  But as the picture above attests, she loved her little pal Simone and would dutifully stand while Simone held onto her halter or even sat on her. They were just the right size for each other.

Shane was the perfect buddy for our blind horse, Twig.  Being blind, Twig is quite apprehensive and unsure of other horses, and rightly so.  Since he can't see he can't readily judge their behavior towards him and he tends to shy away to protect himself.  But the minute Shane and Twig met Twig felt comfortable with her. Many times Twig would be out in a field grazing or laying down and Shane would be right there by his side.  

Shane suffered from a couple of health problems, the worst being a chronic hoof disease that made it painful for her to walk.  It was manageable for about a year but it gradually worsened.  When it was obvious she was suffering and didn't even want to stand I knew it was time to take her out of her pain.  

Twig misses his buddy.  He will perk up his ears and cock his head, trying to hear her eating grass or standing nearby.  He then nickers, hoping she will answer back and come to his side. I feel badly for Twig.

Life on the farm.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cilantro - Love it or leave it

Over the years I have found that people either love the taste of cilantro or hate it.  There rarely seems to be a middle ground.  I have served cilantro pesto several times here at the herb farm and most people love it.  Cilantro pesto contains a few other ingredients that are strongly-flavored... fresh garlic, Parmesan cheese, extra-virgin olive oil... which help temper the pungency of plain cilantro and may make it more palatable to those who don't like it plain. 

I have many customers ask me "why can't I grow cilantro?"  The answer is:  don't try to grow cilantro in the spring, summer, or even early fall.  Cilantro is a cool-weather herb and will bolt and go to seed once temperatures get into the 70's and above.  I only sell cilantro beginning in mid-fall when the temperature is reliably cooler. Cilantro will grow beautifully all winter long, in the ground, and is very cold-hardy.  I never cover mine and it doesn't skip a beat, even when the temperature dips into the teens.  

Sometime around mid-March when the trees bud out and daytime temperatures start to rise cilantro leaves will start to look "lacy" or "ferny", they will grow tall quickly and get small white flowers which will eventually turn to seed; a typical annual plant.  I recently noticed my cilantro plants showing signs of bolting so I needed to get busy, cut them back, and come up with a way to use that wonderful herb.  I cut the leaves and stems from five of my seven plants and got to work making a batch of cilantro pesto.  

Pineywoods Herb Farm Cilantro Pesto

Note:  Ingredient amounts for pesto, whether it be basil, cilantro, or any other herb, is a matter of personal taste.  One "bunch" of cilantro can vary considerably in size so the other ingredients will have to be adjusted depending on the amount of herb material used and on personal taste.  If you love cilantro but are unsure if you like it this much, you may want to substitute some fresh Italian parsley for a portion of the cilantro.  Baby steps.  The ingredient amounts listed below are guidelines and are what I used to make this recipe. Adjust yours accordingly.

5 bunches of cilantro - yielded 7 generous, tightly-packed cups of cleaned leaves & tender stems (since the cilantro will be processed in a food processor tender stems can be included)

Tightly-packed cilantro... a generous 7 cups

I chose to use homemade cotija cheese - 4 ounces.  Cotija is a semi-hard, crumbly, Mexican cheese that I thought would go well.  It did.  Extremely well.   Of course Parmesan cheese can be used, but please... not from a green can.  Use the good stuff.  Cut into small pieces before adding to food processor.

4 small cloves garlic, roughly chopped (or more if you like it extra-garlicky)

About 2/3 cup good, extra-virgin olive oil.  Good olive oil is a must in pesto.

Salt to taste (cheese adds a fair amount of salt so add additional salt sparingly)

Instead of the traditional pine nuts I used about 1/2 cup of toasted pecans, roughly chop before adding to food processor.  Walnuts work well in pesto as well.

Pecans are a great alternative to pine nuts
Add about half of the cilantro and 1/3 cup of the olive oil to the bowl of a food processor and process just a few seconds until cilantro is roughly chopped and the volume is significantly decreased.  Add the remaining cilantro, olive oil, chopped garlic, cotija or Parmesan cheese, nuts, and a small amount of salt.  Process 8-10 seconds or so, then scrape down sides of processor bowl with spatula.  Process a couple of more times for just a few seconds, only until everything is chopped finely.  You don't want to process everything into a puree.  At this point you may want to add a bit more olive oil depending on how "loose" you want your pesto to be.  This is really a matter of personal preference.   A little more salt may be needed as well.

Note the bits of white cheese and pecans in the finished product.  Don't over process!

My finished product yielded almost 4 cups of cilantro pesto.  

Unlike basil pesto which tends to turn dark rather quickly, cilantro pesto stays a vibrant green color.  And it freezes well.  I put about 1/2 cup in small zipper bags, squeeze out the air and put in quart freezer bags.  I can then take out small amounts as needed.  

Cilantro pesto is great over hot pasta and paired with a salad makes for a healthy and satisfying meal.  As an appetizer, spread a bit of goat cheese on a toasted baguette slice then top with a little cilantro pesto.  The marriage of goat cheese and cilantro pesto is marvelous!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Organic? Something to think about.

Growing organically is the only way to go, as far as I'm concerned.  Not using chemical pesticides, herbicides or fungicides is usually the first step for most people but it is only the beginning.  There are other things to think about when you want to keep harmful chemicals out of your food and out of your yard.  

The February/March 2014 issue of Mother Earth News has a very interesting article entitled "Nursery Plants Contain Bee-Killing Chemicals".  This is a good example of thinking organically "outside the box".  Even though you might not use chemicals on your plants or garden/yard area, there are more things to consider.  

If you would like to dig deeper into this subject click here.  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Garden's Bounty in Winter

One would think that with all the sub-freezing temperatures we've been having lately nothing would be growing in an East Texas garden.  Quite the contrary is true.  My broccoli plants are making lots of little broccoli heads, the strawberry plants that went into the ground in October are busy beneath the soil surface putting down a good root structure in preparation for spring fruit.  The garlic plants are also working beneath the soil surface to form nice large heads which will be ready to pull up in mid-late May.  

Carrots!  Carrots are a year 'round crop in my garden.  The carrot seeds I planted in fall are maturing and we've been enjoying fresh carrots for about 6 weeks now, which will continue into the spring (or earlier if I pull them all up before then).  It is such a treat to go out on a cold day and pull up some fresh carrots to roast for dinner.  And there is nothing like the aroma of rich, loamy dirt combined with a freshly-pulled sweet carrot.  

These were pulled on February 1st.  Aren't they beauties?

I hate to waste the carrot tops.  A year or so ago I decided to chop some up and throw in a vegetable soup I was making.  They added a nice texture and subtle taste... kind of like parsley.  Since then I've used them in pasta and potato salads, and green salads as well.  I would think that vibrant green color would provide some good nutrients.

NOW is the time to plant carrots for a spring/summer crop.  And they are so easy, you really don't even have to plant the seeds... just sprinkle them on the soil surface is all that's necessary.  Keep the soil moist until seedlings emerge, then thin a couple of times before you start pulling up small, baby carrots.  They will continue to grow and get larger for a couple of months, just continue to pull up any that are crowded together to give room for growth.  

I like to plant my spring/summer carrot crop in the same beds that tomatoes will go in.  The carrots will get a 6-8 week head start before small tomato plants go in the ground.  Once the tomato plants get larger they do a good job of keeping the carrots cooler and shaded during the hot summer months... a great way to extend your carrot crop into the fall, then it's time to plant again for a winter crop.  

I have a nice selection of heirloom carrot varieties.   Upcoming Seed Saturdays are February 8th and 22nd. More info on Seed Saturdays can be found here.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chili - The Best

I've been making this chili for years - fifteen at least, maybe closer to twenty.  I don't pay attention to any other chili recipe because this one is perfect.  And the vegetarian version is great for those times you feel the need to take a beef break, as I sometimes do.  Try both versions.  You'll thank me.

Mmmm... hot chili on a cold day!

Chili - The Best

About 1 pound lean round steak (lean ground beef can be substituted)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 generous tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 generous teaspoon chili powder
1 generous teaspoon ground cumin
1 generous teaspoon bottled hot pepper sauce (I like Frank's)
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
2 15-oz cans chili beans in chili sauce, either hot or mild (Bush brand is good)
2 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup ketchup
Optional garnishes:  shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, finely diced onions, corn chips

1) Cut round steak into bite-sized cubes and pat dry with paper towel.  Heat Dutch oven over medium-high heat until hot.  Add olive oil to Dutch oven and heat until shimmering.  Add beef cubes to hot oil and cook over medium-high heat until browned on all sides, 5-6 minutes.  Remove beef from skillet with slotted spoon.

2) With heat still at medium-high add diced onion to Dutch oven.  Cook, stirring frequently, 3 minutes then add minced garlic.  Continue cooking and stirring another 3 minutes then turn heat down to low.  

3) Add cocoa powder, chili powder, cumin, hot pepper sauce and Italian seasoning to onions and garlic.  Stir thoroughly until spices are incorporated.  Mixture will be thick.  

4) Add chili beans and sauce, undrained tomatoes and ketchup to onion mixture, stirring well.  Turn heat up to medium high and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, at a slow simmer, until beef cubes are very tender, about an hour or so.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  

Serve with optional garnishes if desired.  Makes about 6 generous servings.

Vegetarian Chili

2 cups finely chopped zucchini - about 2 medium
1 1/2 cups finely chopped carrot - about 2 large

Heat olive oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add zucchini and carrot.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes.  Continue recipe with Step 2 above and cook until vegetables are tender, about an hour.   


Both versions are great for slow cookers/crock pots:  In large skillet cook beef (or zucchini & carrots) on stovetop in hot olive oil over medium-high heat.  Still in skillet continue with recipe through Step 3 then transfer mixture to slow cooker/crock pot.  Add chili beans and sauce, undrained tomatoes and ketchup. Cook, covered, until beef or vegetables are tender, approximately 4-6 hours.

The addition of unsweetened cocoa powder may seem strange but don't omit it!  It lends a wonderful richness in flavor and color that can't be obtained otherwise.  Trust me.

I usually double the recipe and make a large batch at one time.  If you use a slow cooker make sure the vessel is large enough to hold a double batch.  I have a large, 7-quart slow cooker and a double batch of chili fills it to about 3/4 capacity.  Both versions freeze beautifully.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Time Flies

The year - 1983.  I was wandering among the plants of a small nursery situated on the grounds of a large, stately, two-story home on Main Street in League City, Texas.  And they had herb plants!  Of course rosemary, but also thyme, chives, oregano, parsley, sage, and probably others as well.  I had been to my fair share of plant nurseries over the years but had never encountered more than the token rosemary and maybe a chive plant or two in any of them.  What a find this place was!  And to think that the proprietors lived right here on the grounds.  To a plant-lover like me it seemed like heaven.  

I purchased two of just about every herb they had available ... one for me and one for my mother.  I then purchased a strawberry pot (an upright, about 2-foot-tall pot with small holes arranged all around for planting) and proceeded to plant my mother's herbs in that pot. A gift for Mom.

A few years later I would hear bits and pieces about an herb farm in Cleveland, Texas, run by a mother/daughter team.  Along with growing and selling a wide variety of herbs they also hosted herbal lunches and dinners.  Along with being a plant-lover I was also an avid and adventurous cook as well. I had entered (and won!) a few local cooking competitions and I loved to cook for a crowd. So the thought of not only growing plants and herbs for sale right where I lived, but also cooking with those herbs for others seemed like icing on the cake to me.  

I never made it out to Hilltop Herb Farm in Cleveland, run by Madalene Hill and her daughter, Gwen Barclay, but years later I did have the opportunity to meet both of them at the International Festival-Institute in Round Top, Texas, where they lived. They had sold their business in Cleveland and "retired" to the Hill Country. Gwen became Director of Food Services for the Institute and Madalene was the "Grande Dame" of the plants and grounds. It was a perfect fit for both of them.  And again, walking the beautiful grounds of the Festival-Institute, I thought to myself, "Wow... to live and work in a place like this doing what I love best in life... Heaven."  

Fast forward to 2013.  As I am going through some papers I realize Pineywoods Herb Farm has been an active business for ten years.  Ten years! I started selling herb plants, herbal candles and potpourri in 2003, right here where I live.  And a couple of years after that I added herbal luncheons, catering, and special events to my repertoire, right here where I live.  

As I enter my second decade of selling herbs, native plants, wildflowers, vegetable plants, herbal products, and hosting luncheons and special events here at the herb farm, I realize how very blessed I am to be doing what I love most in life.  And of course I could never have made it this far without all my loyal customers and friends.  Customers who have become friends.

Friends, please join me in person here at the herb farm, on the Pineywoods Herb Farm website, and here on this blog, as I thankfully enter our second decade.  My enthusiasm for what I do is stronger than ever and I want to share it with everyone who will listen.