Peace Valley Lavender Farm

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Across from the verdent Peace Valley Park, nestled near the shores of Lake Galena in a picturesque part of Bucks County Pennsylvania, there is a wonderful lavender farm. Although lavender is native to the Mediterranean, it can grow where there is plenty of sun and fast draining soil.  Growing 3,000 lavender plants, Peace Valley Lavender Farm specializes in 2 types of lavenders known to do better in high altitude climates such as in Pennsylvania:  English lavenders and some hybrid varieties. Continue reading

Falling for Cookies!

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“Ah, September!  You are the doorway to the season that awakens my soul…but I must confess that I love you because you are a prelude to my beloved October.” Peggy Toney Horton

In the small town where I grew up, I could walk to elementary school and back by myself.  I would even come home for lunch every day.   One of my fondest memories is picking up the pace to get home even faster when I would smell my mom’s molasses cookies permeating the crisp air.  Even though the school was a few blocks away, I could recognize that enticing aroma and knew my mom and the cookies would be waiting for me as soon as I got home.   It was the greatest feeling in the world.  Every fall, when the temperatures start dipping,  I get in the mood for baking cookies.  Here is a half dozen of great fall cookies sure to fill your home with irresitible aromas for creating happy memories for a loved one of your own and to herald in autumn.

(My childhood molasses cookie recipe is found in the monogrammed gingerbread recipe below.  My mom would cut the dough in round shapes.  Using a smaller cutter, she  would remove the center of half the cookies, creating a window similar to that of Linzer cookies.  She would sandwich a bit of her homemade raspberry jam between two soft, perfectly spiced gingerbread-molasses cookies with the jam oozing out of the peekaboo cut out of the top cookie. Pure bliss!)

Spiced Chocolate Cut Outs

Zucchini-Chocolate Chunk

Snickers Chocolate Cookies

Maple-Glazed Apple Oatmeal

Monogrammed Gingerbread

WSJ Oatmeal Raisin

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Crockpot Moroccan Chicken Thighs

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It’s not every day that someone destined to become famous asks you to collaborate on her first book.  Let me explain:  could my desk top be used to download the images of the illustrations going into her first children’s book?  Of course, and I’ll lmake dinner.  Teeny tiny contribution but hey, famous-people-to-be have to eat too, especially if they hold down a demanding 60 plus hours a week real job while writing and illustrating a whole book on the side!   So it was, on a weeknight, that I prepared this dish for my super talented friend Ann.  The book was inspired by Ann’s safari trip to Africa and stars a darling zebra named Charlie.  An African-inspired nourishing dinner it had to be!  And one that could sit until whenever  the guest of honor  would show up.  So was born this savoury Moroccan Chicken Thigh dinner with all the flavors of a tagine and the ease of a crockpot.  Fast and easy for a weeknight but good enough to serve to the special guests in your life.

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Castor Bean Plants: Growing and Harvesting Seeds

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Castor Beans have long been grown as annual ornamental plants. The plants grow to towering heights in the late summer garden with spectacular dark green/burgundy 7-pointed leaves and  clusters of bright coral-red seed pods.  From a distance the seed pod clusters appear to be exotic flowers.  But on closer inspection, they are the plant’s spikey seed heads.  Aren’t they cool?

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The castor bean plant was made famous most recently during the popular Breaking Bad TV series starring chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-dealer Walter White.  Why, do you ask?  Well the castor bean plant is known by its latin name, Ricinus communis.  The water soluble, highly toxic poison “ricin” is naturally derived from the plant’s seeds.  A dose of purified ricin the size of a few grains of table salt is enough to kill an adult human, hence why it made an appearance on Breaking Bad.  Ricin is also the mysterious powdery white substance often mailed to enemies by vindictive evil persons.  But I digress from the plant’s good features.

The castor bean is also known as the castor oil plant and is a member of the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae.  Its seed is the castor bean which, despite its name and appearance, is not a true bean.  The castor bean is composed of 40-60% oil and  is the source of common castor oil.

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The large oval bean-like seeds are highly poisonous and bear characteristic brownish mottling.  Accidentally swallowing a seed is not likely to harm you as the toxin is not concentrated nor purified and will be deactivated by stomach acid.  At the end of the growing season, the seed pods will begin to dry and lose their red coloration. The capsule will turn greenish-grey, acquire vertical stripes as it swells and prepares to split open into 3 sections, ejecting its seeds.  The always evolving changes in the seed pods enhance the plant’s appeal in the fall garden.  You can let the plant self-seed directly in your garden.  Or the seeds can be harvested at this stage and stored in a dry, dark place over the winter and planted directly in the soil in spring, after the danger of frost has past.  The plant thrives best in full sun locations.

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Who knew such gorgeous seeds could be so dangerous?  As long as the seed is not ingested, you can enjoy all the beauty of this fascinating plant in your garden without worry.  It also makes for an intriguing discussion as it is a plant that will attract notice from its sheer imposing stature and fascinating seed pods. Then you can show off your dark side and bring Walt into the conversation!  Are you Breaking Bad in your garden?

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"You clearly don't know who you're talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in dangerr, Skyler. I AM the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No! I am the one who knocks." Bryan Cranston as Walter White, Breaking Bad

“You clearly don’t know who you’re talking to, so let me clue you in. I am not in danger, Skyler. I AM the danger. A guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me? No! I am the one who knocks.” Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad

For more information on this plant, plesae visit the source of this article, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ricinus

 

All About Apples

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“It is remarkable how closely the history of the apple is connected to that of man.”

Henry David Thoreau, Wild Fruits:  Thoreau’s Rediscovered last manuscript

Apple may have launched the new iPhone 7 recently,  but I’ve got apples of a different kind on my mind!  Apple season is upon us and I’ve searched the archives to compile readers’ favorite apple recipes.  From a tasty maple cauliflower apple soup to company-worthy turkey medallions in a flavorful curried apple-shallot wine sauce, there are many recipes to showcase apples in their glory.  Of course apple desserts abound and one of my favorites is a butternut squash-apple Bundt cake with a cider glaze.  If you want to take the apple theme right down to the table setting, I’ve got you covered with a centerpiece featuring votive candles set right into, you guessed it, apples!  Click on the highlighted titles for the recipes.  Enjoy!

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Warm Peach-Burrata Salad with Limas and Corn

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This. Was. Insanely. Good.  A quick  appetizer that was to die for, showcasing the stars of the end of summer harvest: peaches, corn and lima beans.

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This recipe was the result of, and inspired by, a farmer’s market road sign announcing the “Limas are in!”.   Now lima beans and I are not really acquainted other than in frozen succotash, which I don’t care for. But stop at the market I did, for the sake of keeping an open mind.   I discovered they were not already shelled(Horror!  Who has time?) and left empty-handed.  But visions of limas and burrata were dancing in my head and the next day, I put-my-big-girl-lima-shelling-pants-on and went back to get me some limas. Continue reading

Late Harvest Pasta with Creamy Burrata and Salami

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Burrata improves the flavor of summer and the flavor of life!” Unknown

When life lands you in temporary housing, that’s no excuse to not cook a simple yet delicious meal and  be transported to the south of Italy!  This recipe is a springboard to creativity:  it can be adapted to your tastes and to what is seasonal. In a big bowl I tossed half a pound of hot thin spaghetti with a few glugs of olive oil and some hot pepper flakes.  To this I added 2 oz of thinly slivered dry salami, quickly heated in a pan until crispy(pancetta, sausage or bacon would sub well here) then threw in blanched corn kernels from 1 ear, a chopped tomato, a tablespoon of diced red onion and a handful of fresh basil.  Coming in at the end, the pièce de résistance, a whole ball of fresh burrata at room temperature, gently broken into creamy chunks.  Wildly flavorful, full of texture and color, starring the bounty of the late summer harvest, it was an ode to the simple weeknight dinner. The rich creamy burrata put it over the top.   This one’s going on repeat, temporary housing or not!

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