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Indulging my interest in food and flavor, I love to write about cooking, gardening and life's bounty. My new book - "Discover Cooking with Lavender"- is now available

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Airplane Survival Strategy: Bring Food & Water

My husband, John, and I were thrilled to have a direct flight from Seattle to Lihue, Kauai, a mere six hours and ten minutes to arrive in a tropical paradise. Our food strategy included lunch at Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SeaTac) before boarding the Boeing 737 that would take us thousands of miles over the Pacific ocean. In case of a hunger attack, I had packed three Honey Crisp apples and a stash of almonds in my computer carry-on case. After arriving in Lihue, we had planned to eat dinner at a local restaurant. All along the way, we had to modify our plans.

We made it through security at SeaTac, our luggage was checked and we had an hour before boarding our plane, so we went to Anthony's Restaurant and Fish Bar. Looking over the menu, John said, "I intend to eat healthy food during this vacation." He ordered the Northwest Cobb Salad.

"I am debating between the Caesar salad or the Roasted Wild Salmon Salad. What do you recommend?" I asked our waitress.

Without hesitating, she answered, "The salmon salad because it's unique and the flavors are fantastic."

She was so right. The taste of the salmon was perfectly complemented by cranberry relish. Slivered hazelnuts added flavor and crunch.

We left Anthony's and headed for our gate. John noticed on the reader board that our flight now had a stop in Oakland. Our flight would not be direct after all. Due to 100 knot head winds over the Pacific Ocean, we needed to stop in Oakland to take on more fuel. This stop would add three hours to our flight time. Our plane would arrive in Lihue at 11:45 p.m.

We congratulated ourselves on having a healthy meal prior to boarding. After our stop in Oakland when we were airborne again, the cabin attendant announced two options for food service: Teriyaki Rice Bowl or a picnic collection of crackers, cheese and salami. I had decided on the rice bowl when the flight attendant announced, "The good news is you are on your way to Hawaii, the bad news is we are out of food. We have a few bags of nuts we will be bringing through the cabin. We are also offering complimentary Mai Tai's."

A man in my row was allergic to nuts. I reached into the overhead compartment and retrieved three apples from my computer bag. I offered one to my husband, one to my fellow passenger and I ate the third one. An apple has never tasted so good, still cold and crisp. The sweet fresh flavor provided a sharp contrast to the dull stale feeling in the airplane.

John and I ordered wine and nibbled on almonds. When we finally got to Kauai, we were ready for dinner. The rental car representative told us everything was closed with one exception. If we wanted to drive about six miles to Kapa'a, we could get something to eat at the 24 hour Safeway.

At the Safeway, we selected pre-made salads and sandwiches. We grabbed bottled water and two bottles of wine. When we got to the checkout counter, we were told it's illegal to sell wine after 11 p.m. in Hawaii. Happy to have food and water, we drove to our hotel, checked in and ate dinner at 1 a.m. about 12 hours after our lunch in Seattle.

What did we learn from this experience?  Be prepared and plan for the unexpected. During this time of heightened security, we must take responsibility for our own needs. Flight delays or re-routes mean passengers may need additional food and water. Next time, I will bring extra food and water on board.

What are your tips for bringing food for long flights? I'm compiling a list of ideas for packing healthy food for travel and will share it on my blog.

Wouldn't it be great if the airlines provided passengers with tips for making our travel more pleasant? I'd love to discover a snack pack that offers nutritious food choices and also passes TSA regulations.




Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Edible Gifts: A Thoughtful Treat

During the holiday season, I find myself desperately searching for that perfect gift. Frequently, this challenge becomes more difficult because many of my friends and relatives have everything they need and more. The age-old question becomes, “How do I remember the people on my gift list with an appropriate and thoughtful gift?”

My friend, Heidi’s advice is to give edible gifts. “We live on our sailboat, and every inch of space is precious. We simply don’t have room for more stuff, that’s why I give our friends and family edible gifts.” Heidi looks for jams, candy, smoked salmon and fruit baskets that provide special luxury treats for the people on her holiday list.

When I visited Kathy Casey’s Food Studio for her holiday open house,  I found an array of delicious gifts that included cakes, cookies, candy, seasonings, honey, jams and chutneys. The Strawberry Lavender Jam and Blueberry Lavender Chutney grabbed my attention. These items are available at Dish D’Lish in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

At the Sweetlife Farm on Bainbridge Island, my selection included Rosemary Salt, Membrillo, (quince paste) Raspberry Jam and Firehouse Chipolte Cocoa.

When I support local farms and businesses, I am doing my part to help sustain my community. Visiting these shops offers a pleasurable and personal shopping experience. I can talk to the people who created these products. Chatting with Kathy Casey, I asked, “Where do you get your lavender for the chutney?”

She replied, “We grow it in our herb garden just behind our building, we have five varieties!”

This is the type of connection we can have with the people who produce local food products.

This holiday season, give up the search for the PERFECT gift and treat friends and family to a jar of chutney, jam or some other indulgence. Please leave me a comment telling me about your favorite or most memorable gift.

Happy holidays! I wish you peace and joy!



Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Chocolate Treasures

What is it about chocolate? It seems to create magic whenever it shows up. Anne Mills, a chocolatier, creates magic in her Seattle shop where she makes and decorates truffles as well as specialty chocolates.

Anne's store, Eat Chocolates, located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, has a European feel. A frisky calico kitten named Kashmir runs around the shop Brightly painted pottery, hand-crafted leather bags and colorful table linens fills the shelves. The intoxicating fragrance of chocolate lingers in the air, arousing my desire for just one. Anne's business includes importing and selling products from France.

Anne invited me into her kitchen. She pulled out an enormous tray filled with elegant, small candies. "I'll be taking this tray of chocolates to a holiday sale this afternoon," she said.

In addition to selling her chocolates, Anne offers chocolate-making classes and custom-made chocolates with logos, special designs or symbols.

Anne has shoulder-length strawberry-blond hair and vivid blue eyes. She held her rescue kitten, Kashmir, while telling me how she came to this profession.

The romance film, Chocolat, a story of a young single mother who opens a chocolate shop, and, through it, teaches the townspeople how to live more passionately, touched Anne deeply and sparked her dormant desire for creativity and community.

Anne's father's position as a Mobil Oil executive meant she spent most of her childhood far from America. We lived in Libya until I finished 5th grade,” she said. "Gaddafi took over the country on my first day in third grade.”

Her father’s transfer from Libya resulted in the family's move to Nigeria, also a close-knit expat community. She spent high school in Connecticut. She found herself planted in a foreign place where her classmates had little or no understanding of Africa. "It was as if my childhood memories did not exist," she said. She missed her family and friends and the sense of community she came to expect during her time in Africa.

Longing to travel and live abroad, Anne decided to study international relations and enrolled in the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. "I thought that would be my ticket to Europe,” Anne said with a wry smile. "Instead, I married a French man and we moved to Seattle. We had four children and I dabbled in several start-up opportunities. Anne worked at various part-time endeavors including multilevel marketing, calligraphy and starting a French import business with her husband. She was beginning to discover her passion for doing creative, artistic and meaningful work.

Now, Anne is doing exactly what she wants to do, making chocolates, infusing them with exotic flavors and decorating them with edible glitter. Anne's face beamed as she described her chocolate. "Our truffles and chocolate products are made with the finest ingredients including Felchlin Maracaibo chocolate, organic cream and fresh spices, herbs, fruit and nuts.

Of course, my favorite is the dark chocolate truffle flavored with lavender. Anne infuses the ganache (a combination of chocolate and cream, melted together slowly, then formed into the centers of chocolate truffles) with fragrant lavender from Sequim's Purple Haze Lavender.

At Eat Chocolates, the candies, not only please the palate, each tiny piece is a work of art. The picture below shows the beauty of Anne's chocolate sticks - white chocolate with a hint of orange flavor.

Through her chocolates, Anne is building community and collaborating with other business owners.


Friday, December 04, 2009

Holiday Gifts: Five Affordable & Memorable

Five inexpensive luxurious one-of-a-kind gifts that are perfect for teachers, neighbors and relatives who you want to remember this holiday season.

1. A small jar of home-made jelly sends a sweet message anytime of the year. I like to make apple lavender jelly because it is easy, inexpensive and a special treat. My recipe makes approximately 4 six ounce jars.


Apple Lavender Jelly

Sweet and delicate, this simple jelly lets us enjoy the taste of apples and lavender’s fragrance all year round. Use organically locally-grown apples for best results. You can use any variety of apples. Fuji, Rome and Delicious all will work well.

6 pounds apples
1 ½ cups fresh lavender buds, or 2 tablespoons dried buds
½ cup water
3 cups sugar (amount may vary depending on juice yield from apples)
½ cup cassis or Grand Marnier liqueur

1. Quarter apples (don't peel or core).

2. Place apples in large saucepan, then add lavender and water. Bring to a boil and simmer until apples are tender, about an hour.

3. Meanwhile, sterilize 4 (six-ounce) jars.

4. Line a colander with 3 layers of cheesecloth, and place colander over a large bowl.

5. Pour apple mixture into cheesecloth and allow the juice to drip overnight. Depending on the juice content of your apples, you will have approximately 3 cups of juice in the morning.

6. Pour juice into a large saucepan; add sugar. If you have 3 cups of juice, use 3 cups of sugar. If not, use 1 cup of sugar for every cup of juice.

7. Bring juice and sugar to a rapid boil. Continue boiling until the temperature reaches 220ºF, or a drop of the juice forms a hard film on a cold spoon.

8. Stir liqueur into hot juice.

9. Pour hot mixture into sterilized jars and seal with paraffin.

Yield: 4 (six-ounce) jars of jelly


2. I love to give pure lavender honey. Olympic Lavender Farm offers pure lavender honey in 3 ounce jars. You can order this honey on line and it will arrive on your front porch. I like to keep several jars of honey in my gift box to have on hand for hostess gifts or when I want to sweeten someone's day.

3. A gift of fine chocolates delights nearly everyone. Eat-Chocolates offers hand-made chocolates made with the best quality ingredients. My favorite is an elegant box of truffles. The little box contains six beautiful candies that are nice to look at, and sinful to eat. One of these six truffles is dark chocolate with just a hint of lavender, and best of all it is decorated with purple luster dust.

4. Home-made marshmallows, packaged in a cellophane gift bag and tied with a bright ribbon, are perfect for topping a nice hot cup of chocolate. These are easy and inexpensive to make.

5. Lavender sugar, so simple to make, brings back memories of summer sunshine. I like to give small jars of lavender sugar along with my favorite way to use it either in a recipe of simply sprinkled on fresh fruit.

Monday, November 30, 2009

My Shrimp Salad

Once upon a time, Seattle’s premier department store was Frederick and Nelsons. Located in downtown Seattle, this store opened its door in 1890 “selling used furniture during the rebuilding of Seattle after the Great Fire of 1889.” Over the years, the store expanded adding a tea room, and departments such as clothing, shoes, linens, jewelry and cosmetics. In 1992, shopping patterns had changed with the advent of suburban shopping malls, discount stores and specialty stores. Frederick and Nelson’s shut their doors and filed for bankruptcy.  

I loved Frederick and Nelson’s tea room. When I worked at a nearby building, I frequently enjoyed eating lunch there. My favorite item on the menu was their Shrimp Salad. This year when my daughter, Colleen, invited us to Thanksgiving dinner, she said, “I would love it if you could bring your Shrimp Salad. I love that recipe.”

I answered by saying, “I’d love to bring my shrimp salad. It is easy, delicious and healthy.”

Of all the salads, desserts, soups and entrees I’d made over the years, how did this simple shrimp salad rise to the top of the list?

Thirty-year old memories filled my mind - Frederick and Nelson’s tea room, the salad and how I tinkered with this recipe until it was as good as the one offered on their menu.  Back then, I had no idea that “my shrimp salad” would turn out to be my signature dish when Thanksgiving came around.

Frederick and Nelson Tea Room Shrimp Salad

Serves 20

2 pounds shrimp

18 eggs, hard boiled and chopped

3 cups diced celery

3 cups diced green onions

2 cups diced green pepper

½ cups chopped parsley

2 cups mayonnaise

¼ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1.  Add all ingredients in a large bowl. Using a large spoon or spatula, gently fold ingredients together until well blended.

2. Keep chilled in refrigerator until serving.

NOTE: Consider this recipe a blue print. If you love celery, add more.  Sometimes I add fresh crab meat or increase the amount of shrimp in the salad. Vary the proportion of ingredients to suit your taste.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Membrillo and Manchego: Meant for Each Other

Experimenting with new foods and flavors fascinates me. Recently, in a discussion about quince, my friend Jan Schwert mentioned that when she was traveling in Spain, she discovered quince paste.  “This paste is served on crackers with cheese at nearly every meal,” she said.

I wanted a taste of this quince paste and I wanted to know more about it. After discovering the Spanish word for quince is membrillo, I stopped at my neighborhood grocery store. Not sure if they had it, I first looked near the jams and jellies. Not finding it there, I went to the cheese section. A small container was labeled Homemade Membrillo. Suggestions for serving read: “Pairs harmoniously with cheese; excellent as a dessert. Ingredients include quince paste, sugar and lemon. Membrillo, a type of fruit cheese, is wine-colored, and can be sliced or cubed.

If you have quince and a couple of hours you can make membrillo at home. Click here for a recipe and easy-to-follow directions. I decided to buy my membrilo.

Sometimes, this type of paste is called fruit cheese. Fruit cheese - made with apples, pears, plums or quince - is a deeply concentrated fruit paste that can be cut into cubes or slices. Fruit cheese, frequently served on a cheese plate, adds sweetness and flavor.

The Spanish like to serve Manchego cheese with membrillo. In fact the pairing is often referred to as Romeo y Juliet because just like these lovers, manchego and membrillo were meant for each other.

Manchego, sheep’s milk cheese, is hard with a herringbone pattern on its inedible rind. Manchego comes from La Mancha, Spain’s largest wine region and the home of Don Quixote. Aged for 3, 6 or 12 months, Manchego tastes mild and  salty; its texture is creamy and its color is light, nearly white. Manchego has a higher fat content than cheese made from cow’s or goat 's milk. When heated, the cheese becomes soft and gooey.

With the two main ingredients in hand, I was ready for tasting. I spread membrillo on a cracker, added a slice of manchego and popped it into my mouth. The taste intrigued me; the membrillo added a fruity, slightly sweet taste complementing the salty, nutty taste of the cheese. I wondered how it would taste if I put the cheese on a cracker and zapped it for 10 seconds in the microwave to melt the cheese, then the membrillo. Yes, this was divine.

Still curious to discover more ways to use  membrillo, I searched the internet and found a video showing how to make membrillo and manchego quesadillas. I discovered a cookbook, The Spanish Table, offering more recipes.









This recipe, quick and easy, makes an interesting and tasty appetizer.

My husband and I made a large green salad to accompany our quesadillas for a light Sunday supper.








My adventures with food and flavors seem to be endless. I wonder how membrillo and cream cheese with a pinch of lavender might taste spread on toast. That will have to wait for another day. Now I want to hear from you. Have you tried membrillo? What is your favorite way to serve it? Please share your food and flavor adventures. 


Membrillo & Manchego Quesadilla

1 cup grated Manchego

2 ounces membrillo, cut into small cubes

1 tortilla

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1. Place tortilla in skillet over high heat for about 10 seconds.

2. Drizzle olive oil over tortilla. Flip tortilla over.

3. Place grated cheese on top of the tortilla.

4. Place cubes of membrillo on top of cheese.

5. When cheese begins to melt, fold tortilla over itself. Continue to cook for about 1 minute until cheese is melted.

Remove from pan and place on cutting board. Cut into wedges and serve.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Grandma Grace's Quince Jelly

Grandma Grace: The Queen of Quince Jelly

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon making quince jelly. This is a perfect example of how one thing often leads to another. After poaching quince for my quince tatin, I saved the remaining poaching liquid. David Lebovitz described how he turned his left-over poaching liquid into quince jelly.  Since quince jelly holds first place in my list of nostalgic memories, I decided to give it a try. My Grandma Grace’s quince jelly sparkled like an amber jewel and tasted sweet and fruity.

I brought the poaching liquid to a boil, clipped a candy thermometer on the side of my pot. The temperature slowly rose to 225 F. I stirred it with a silicon spatula; it looked thin, more like water that syrup. So I continued to let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Meanwhile, I sterilized the small jars and lids so they would be ready when the jelly set up.

The temperature seemed stuck at 225 F. Would this be jelly or syrup? It did not seem to be setting up. I poured the hot liquid into the jars hoping for the best.

After several hours, I dipped a spoon into the quince jelly. It was still liquid. I was disappointed and perplexed, “what had gone wrong?” I asked.

I went back over David Lebovitz’s blog, “I reduced the delicious syrup on the stovetop until it was thick and the bubbles became large. Once removed from the heat, as the syrup cooled, the pectin in the fruit encouraged the liquid to be transformed into a lovely quince jelly riddled with dark and aromatic vanilla seeds.”

My quince jelly was lovely, amber with dark speckles of the vanilla. Only problem was it was not jelly, it was a thin syrup-like substance, too thick even to be described as runny jelly. Getting a little tired of this entire episode, I emptied each jar back into a saucepan and turned the heat on high. I boiled it for another 20 minutes on high heat. Once more, I washed the jelly jars and sterilized the jars and lids. Finally, I poured the jelly into the jars. Earlier I had four jars of jelly, after prolonged cooking, I ended up with two jars of the most beautiful quince jelly I’ve ever seen or tasted with just one exception. You guessed it; Grandma Grace still takes the blue ribbon.  

Monday, November 16, 2009

Quince Tart Tatin

Quince Tart Tatin

Tart Tatin is one of my favorite desserts. Apple Tart Tatin brings back memories of my grandmother’s apple pies. The apples are soft, sweet and the buttery pastry is delicate and delicious. I’ve also made Pear Tart Tatin. So when I came across David Lebovitz’s recipe for Quince Tart Tatin, I was eager to give it a try.

I began by poaching the quince until it was soft and tender. The poaching liquid consisted of water, sugar, honey, lemon and vanilla.

These little quinces were dry and tough. I simmered them for about an hour before a paring knife slid through without resistance. While the quince soaked up sweetness and flavoring, I mixed up the pastry for the Tart Tatin.

David’s pastry recipe is the easiest I’ve encountered. Flour, sugar, salt and butter were “blitzed” together in my food processor. Then I added a little ice water, and just that fast, I had my pastry dough ready to go. I wrapped it in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator to cool.

In most Tart Tatin recipes, the fruit is partially cooked on the top of the stove in a mixture of sugar and butter. Once the fruit is soft, the crust goes on top and the whole thing goes into the oven. After it is cooked, the Tart Tatin is inverted on a cake plate. The result is a beautiful dessert, with caramelized fruit sitting on top of a butter crust.

For the Quince Tart Tatin, the poaching liquid is cooked in an oven-proof skillet until it is thick syrup.

The poached quince is placed in top of the syrup, and then the pastry crust goes over the quince. Into the oven at 375F, 45 minutes later, drum roll! 

Quince Tart Tatin is ready. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Quintessential Quince

Quintessential Quince

Quince, once considered a symbol of love, has been around for more than 4000 years. This fruit, yellow-skinned, tastes like a cross between an apple and a pear.

Quince belongs to the rose family. This fruit won't win any beauty pageants. Its shape is irregular, its skin is often blemished and its texture is hard and dry.

When quince is poached in wine and sweetened with sugar or honey, the fruit is transformed into a beauty queen. The fruit takes on a vibrant red color, and tastes exotic.

The recipe I used was created by Debra Daniels Zeller. I made one modification. I used lavender sugar. Debra's recipe was recently published on her blog, Food Connections.

The quince soaked up the raspberry wine and filled by kitchen with an unforgettable fragrance. When the fruit was tender and the liquid turned into a rich syrup, I knew it was time to scoop the ice cream. A perfect dessert for a stormy Seattle evening.

I still have six more quince. So tomorrow, I am baking a quince tatin based on a recipe posted by David Lebovitz.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Discovering Pomegranates: Piquant Perfection

Pomegranates, originated in the arid regions of the Mediterranean, grow on shrubby trees. This fruit with its red leathery rind is full of ruby-colored seeds. The edible seeds are both tangy and sweet.

On a recent visit to southern California, I spent a day at the Getty Villa in Malibu. The Getty Villa, modeled after a Roman country house, shows off the lifestyle of this time. Love for symmetry, nature and beauty is evident in the gardens, the architectural details and the sculpture.

Walking through the herb garden, we first noticed the symmetrical plantings of lavender, thyme, mint and rosemary. Olive trees lined the length of the courtyard. A single bright red pomegranate hung from a leafy tree.
Later, back in Seattle, I bought a couple of pomegranates at the grocery store. I cut the fruit open, and looked at the glistening jewel-like seeds. I tasted one and loved the tangy taste and the slightly crunchy flavor.

One pomegranate gave me about 2 cups of seeds. I decided to make some pomegranate syrup. The pomegranate seeds went into my blender and after about 1 minute on high, they had turned into bright red juice. I strained the juice through cheesecloth to remove any grit remaining from the seeds. I added the juice to a small sauce pan stirred in 1/4 cup of sugar and brought the mixture to a boil for about 5 minutes. After letting the syrup cool, I put it in a jar and stored it in the refrigerator.

To celebrate pomegranates, I decided to create a Champagne Cocktail flavored with pomegranate syrup. Piquant and perfect, this festive drink is dedicated to the Romans and their beautiful country homes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lavender Tea Cookies

Discovering a new bakery, especially one that uses herbs, is a special treat.
Botanical Bakery offers a variety of gourmet tea cookies. They use only organic ingredients. The tea cookies are small, crisp and buttery.
I ordered Lavender Tea Cookies on Monday and they arrived on my doorstep in Seattle on Tuesday afternoon.
Botanical Bakery, located in Napa Valley, offers six flavors; Lavender, Cardamom, Cinnamon Basil, Lemon Thyme, Ginger Lemongrass, and Fennel Pollen.
These gourmet tea cookies only rely on three basic ingredients: flour, butter and sugar. They are handmade and are flavored with aromatic culinary herbs and spices.
Serve these small tea cookies with tea, wine and cheese.
You can order the tea cookies online at http://www.botanicalbakery.com/products.aspx.
Stay tuned for my own recipe for Lavender-scented tea cookies. Thank you Botanical Bakery for motivating me to experiment with these three basics - flour, butter and sugar - flavored with aromatic herbs!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I used to believe marshmallows were for kids, camping and jello salads. This summer when I made marshmallows at home, I rediscovered these sweet treats and learned about six of their sensational secrets.

1. Marshmallows get their name from an herb called the Marsh Mallow. The root of this plant contains a jelly-like substance used by ancient Egyptians for both medicine and candy.

2. Marshmallows are easy to make at home. They rely on corn syrup and sugar for sweetness, a little bit of gelatin to give them their sponge-like texture, water, and flavoring.

3. All these ingredients are whipped together for about 10 minutes. The whipping adds air to the confection to yield a light pillow-like quality.

4. August 10th is national S’mores Day. This campfire delicacy, consisting of a gooey marshmallow sandwiched between two graham crackers along with a square of chocolate candy, was introduced by the Girl Scouts in their 1927 Handbook.

5. Marshmallows can be flavored with vanilla, chocolate, fruit, peppermint or even espresso.

6. You can make your marshmallows in whatever color, size of shape you want. Try flavoring them with a tiny amount of lavender, and adding a drop of lavender food coloring. Serve in s’mores and you will earn a reputation as a gourmet cook!

And wait, there’s more: Marshmallows can be frozen. When you are ready to use them, just thaw. Use them in s’mores, as a garnish for hot chocolate or add them on skewers with fresh fruit and pieces of pound cake.

How do like to serve marshmallows? What flavor do you like best?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Discovering Yuca in America’s Heartland

“I thought we would stay home for dinner tonight.” Patty said. “I am going to make a light Southwestern-style chicken soup and a salad.” My sister Patty and her husband, Stan, had picked me up at the Airport in Grand Rapids and we were driving to their home. The early evening sun was still hot and the air felt sticky. I had come to Grand Rapids for Patty’s book launch party at a local bookstore. She Walks into the Sea, Patty’s third book of poetry, had been published by Michigan State University Press in July. I was thrilled to be here for this special occasion.

Sipping cold Sauvignon Blanc, I watched Patty standing near her stove cooking the soup. Occasionally, she would stop and check the recipe in her cookbook, Canyon Ranch: Nourish: Indulgently Healthy Cuisine. The soup recipe called for yuca. If yuca was not available, the author suggested potatoes as a substitute.“What’s yuca?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” Patty replied. “Tomorrow when we visit the Farmers Market, let’s see if we can find out.” Patty diced potatoes and added them to the soup.

The farmers market in Grand Rapids attracts crowds. Patty, Stan and I were lucky to find parking about a block away. The morning air felt fresh and the bright blue sky and sunshine filled the market with vitality. We walked past tables loaded with September’s abundance – blueberries, tomatoes, string beans, potatoes, carrots, kale and more. Turning towards a young fresh-faced woman with long, shiny black hair, I asked, “Do you sell edible yuca?”

The expression on her face was one of confusion and disbelief. “What?”

I repeated my question and she said, “Never heard of it.”

Patty laughed and said under her breath, “I knew she wouldn’t know.”

We went on like this, putting the question to farmers selected randomly. Finally we got a clue from a friendly, talkative man standing behind a counter filled with potatoes. Wearing a sweatshirt with GVSU (for Grand Valley State University) on the front and smiling with a gap-toothed grin, he told us yuca was the root of the plant. He had never eaten it, and did not grow it, however he suggested we talk with another farmer from Turtle Island Farms. “If anyone knows, this guy will. Look for him a couple stalls down on the right.” He pointed toward a booth.

Patty, Stan and I headed right over to ask our question of the day. “Do you grow yuca?”
The farmer had thick shaggy brown hair. Tall and meaty, he was dressed in denim overalls like my grandpa used to wear. He told us he didn’t know. Patty started giving him clues. She told him about her soup recipe. “I think it must be a tuber something like a potato.”

“Yeah, that’s right, it’s a large root. I’m a chef, and I’ve made yuca chips.” He told us. “I slice the yuca and deep fry it. Very good.”

Patty and I wondered about his credibility; how come his story had changed?

After buying blueberries, two types of cherry tomatoes and two flower bouquets, we left the market.

Several hours later, lunch at the Blue Water Grill handed us another venue for our yuca research. Our 20-something perky waitress said, “I don’t know for sure. I think it’s like a potato.” Patty repeated her soup saga and the young woman said “Would you like me to check with the sous chef? He may know more about yuca.”

In just minutes, the waitress returned to our table with a victorious expression. “He said it‘s like a potato and you can buy it at Horrocks Market, a specialty market here in Grand Rapids.”

We couldn’t resist. Off we went to Horrocks Market. As we drove into the store parking lot, we commented on the flower baskets filled with bright green hops and deep purple petunias. Patty and I walked past Halloween merchandise, heading directly for the fresh produce section. Not sure that we would recognize yuca even if we met it face-to-face, we called out to a young man wearing an apron with the Horrocks logo. “Can you tell us where to find yuca?” I asked.

Speaking with an accent, the dark-haired man pointed to a bin full of dark brown tubers. The sign read “Yucca Root, 99¢ lb.” It offered preparation ideas: “prepared similar to a potato, fried, mashed, baked or added to soups.” Health benefits were also itemized on the sign: “The saponins in yuca are similar to steroids like cortisone. It reduces inflammation of the joints, and so is primarily used for arthritis and rheumatoid conditions. Yuca is often included in formulas designed to “break up obstructions,” especially when it comes to reducing inflammation in joints and rheumatism.”

“Excuse me, can you tell us more about yuca?” I asked. “Where does it come from? How does it taste? Have you cooked it?”

First he gave us a pronunciation lesson. “It is yooca,” he said, using a hard U sound rhyming with ‘you’. Not yucka,” he went on, using a short vowel sound like in duck. Then, he told us the root is popular in South America and Mexico. He said it tastes good and is very filling like potatoes.”

“I notice you have an accent, what country are you from?” I asked.

With a warm smile, he replied, “Mexico”.

We selected one yuca, headed for the check out and were on our way.

When we returned to Patty’s house, I googled yuca and discovered it is also called cassava and manioc. The starchy substance when extracted from the cassava root and then dried is called cassava flour to tapioca.

The rest of the weekend we did not give much thought to yuca, but when I was packing my bag for my trip home to Seattle, I did not want to leave it behind. “Patty, would your heart be broken if I took the yuca home?”

“Take it, I am not going to have time to do anything with it. I have more reading this weekend.”

So I put it my suitcase, wondering what homeland security would say when they inspected my bag. I was disappointed when I boarded the plane without even one question. I settled in to my seat and pulled out my Barbara Walters memoir. In the chapter I was reading, she’d been in Cuba interviewing Fidel Castro. After the interview, he’d said, “What do you want to have for dinner tomorrow night when we’re in Sierra Maestra? Is roast pork and yuca okay?”

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Himalayan Honeysuckle

Seattle's summer left town for Labor Day weekend. On Monday, I went for a five-mile run. Panting for air, I struggled up a steep hill. This stunning shrub stopped me with its beauty. Honey bees could not resist these big blossoms. Maybe the summer weather had taken a holiday,however the bees were on duty and the bush was doing its job.
Okay, maybe I was looking for an excuse to take a break from climbing up this slope. I shot photos for ten minutes. What is the name of this plant?
The leaves reminded me of a hydrangea, but the flowers looked nothing like hydrangea blossoms. And what about the berries, so dark and shiny? I had to discover the plant's identity.
Today, when I looked at my photos, I once again marveled the plant's beauty. I emailed the Elizabeth C. Miller Library asking for help. I attached a photo.
The answer? "This is Himalayan honeysuckle, Leycesteria formosa. It is semi-evergreen here (depending on the specific microclimate it grows in)."

Plants That Merit Attention, Vol. 2, Shrubs , (by the Garden Club of America, 1984, p. 172) states:
Needs sun for best bract and fruit color; prefers rich, moist loam; tolerates wind, drought, and air pollution...A handsome woodland shrub best in natural setting or shrub border. Needs sun for best flower and fruit color. May be pruned in spring. Partial dieback in winter not unusual; shrub rejuvenates the following growing season, often growing back successfully from roots....
The website of Rainyside Gardeners (a Northwest site) has a useful page on Leycesteria formosa.
Thank you to Carrie Bowman at the Miller Library for the information.We are so fortunate to have this horticultural library in our community.
I have been looking for some plants to brighten my garden. I think I just found what I was looking for!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Lavender Loves Wine Country

Love this New York Times' piece, "Not Just the Wine Is Purple: Lavender Wafts Across Sonoma". I have read many accounts describing visits to lavender fields, this is the first time I have heard that humming buzz was the main attraction.

Last summer, I also had the opportunity to visit Matanzas Creek Winery in Santa Rosa. My husband and I walked through the gardens, tasted wine and enjoyed the warmth of the California sun. If you enjoy fine wine, beautiful gardens and great food, give yourself a treat and visit Sonoma, Santa Rosa and Nappa Valley.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Magic Lavender Wands

Lovely lavender stars in this weekends harvest celebration. Sunny, hot weather made everything sparkle and shine. I visited Crescent Falls Organic Farm, the venue for the Lavender Sisters celebration. What a treat!
This young lovely woman is showing us how to create a lavender wand. Weaving ribbons around lavender stems results in a regal wand that offers the fragrance of lavender to be enjoyed throughout the year.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Making a Lavender Wand

Lavender celebrations will attract hundreds of people to Vashon Island (just minutes from Seattle by ferry) this weekend. Officially known as the Vashon Lavender Farm Tour, this event is a "must" for people who enjoy natural beauty.
The fields full of purple flowers dancing in the breeze will delight you. The music, food and fun brings us together to admire nature's abundance.
"Lavender: Making it Last" is the topic I will be speaking on Saturday, July 11th, at Crescent Falls Organic Farm. This is the venue for the Lavender Sisters' celebration. The farm sits high on a bluff overlooking Calavos Straits, in the distance Mount Rainier glistens against the blue sky.
If you want to discover how to make a lavender wand, this is your opportunity. Interested in learning how to cook with lavender? Don't miss Denise Kitchel's cooking (and tasting) demonstrations. Maybe you are fascinated by honey bees, then you will love hearing Lois Franz talk about her hives.
Hope to see you on Saturday, July 11th at 11:30 a.m. down near the stone garden at Crescent Falls Organic Farm.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Charming Cherries

Sweet, pitted, caramelized cherries make a fantastic dessert. Whether you spoon over angel food cake, drizzle over vanilla ice cream or use as topping on a fudgy brownie, these cherries are a hit.

The recipe, published in the June 2009 issue of Sunset magazine, is quick and easy. Pitting the cherries takes a little time, however I used a new tool, a cherry/olive pitter. This tool made it easy.

Lavender, a member of the mint family, calls out the fruity flavor of the cherries. I served this at a family picnic. My seven-year-old grandson tasted the dessert and said, "Wait, there's lavender in this dessert and it is yummy." Sam's foodie instincts are beginning to emerge.
Try this recipe now while cherries are in abundance at farmer's markets and grocery stores! Please let me know how you liked it.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Discover Lavender

Two Tall Cool Ones: Summer Refreshment

Looking for a quick and refreshing summer drink? Try this combination of Pinot Grigio with raspberries, orange juice and lavender syrup.

Bright and fresh, this raspberry lavender cooler is sure to delight you and your guests.

Raspberry Lavender Cooler

1 (10 ounce) bag for frozen raspberries, thawed
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup lavender syrup
1 bottle Pinot Grigio wine, chilled
4 lavender sprigs, for garnish

Combine thawed raspberries, orange juice, lavender syrup and wine in a blender. Blend until mixed, about 30 seconds.

Pour into glasses and garnish with lavender sprigs.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Three Easy Ways to Infuse Everyday Food with Lavender

The scent of lavender is pungent with an earthy, pine-like fragrance. Long used in soap and body lotions, this herb is now an essential in the kitchen.

1. Harvesting lavender is easy. When the blooms are almost fully open, simply cut a spike of organic lavender around midday when the blossoms are dry. With your thumb and index finger, rub buds off into a bowl. Store buds in a pantry away from the light.

2. Making Lavender Sugar is as easy as making up a jar of cinnamon sugar. Take 1 tablespoon lavender buds along with ¼ cup of granulated sugar. Food process for 1 minute converting buds into a soft powder. Mix in another 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar. Store in an airtight container. Wait three days before using so the sugar is infused with flavor.

3. For a taste of Provence, next time you are mixing up blueberry muffins, substitute lavender sugar for plain sugar.

You don't need to wait for summer to enjoy lavender. Dried culinary lavender buds are available from PCC Natural Markets, Whole Foods, Market Spices and Local Harvest. Buy some now and have fun bringing the taste of summer into the spring bounty of halibut, strawberries, Copper River salmon and rhubarb. Celebrate nature's abundance!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Picture This: Lavender Oil Used To Create World's First Photograph

Lavender, the Swiss army knife of herbs, seems to be capable of anything and everything. Rubbed on burns, added to soap and lotions, infused in sugar and planted in our gardens, lavender continues to surprise me. Would you believe me if I told you lavender played a pivotal role in the world’s first photograph?

In the summer of 1826, a gentleman named Joseph Niepce created a photograph at his country estate in Eastern France. Ten years earlier, he began experimenting with photography in. Saint-Loup-de-Varennes. Niepce had been fascinated with lithography. He placed engraved images on stone and he had been successful making copies of images using a light sensitive varnish.

When he combined this lithographic technique with the camera obscura, Niepce was successful in creating a photographic image of the scene from an upstairs window in his country home. The image captures rooftops, trees and outbuildings.

Niepce set a camera obscura in the upstairs bedroom window. He used a pewter plate coated with bitumen and exposed it to light for eight hours. The bitumen exposed to the sunlight became hardened. A mixture of lavender oil and white petroleum was used to wash the pewter plate, dissolving the bitumen that was not exposed to light. The result was a positive negative image of the view from that upstairs bedroom. Niepce, recognizing the role of the sun, called this a heliograph.

Lavender, also dependent on the sun for its existence, continues to amaze me. For its versatility and simplicity, this all purpose herb is hard to beat.