From the Lavender Laboratory


What to do with 8 oz of Lavender oil and 2 cups of lavender buds?

I don’t know. I haven’t come close to using all that, but I can show you what I did do to use about 16 drops of that 8 ozs.

Important: Before beginning experiments, decant lavender oil into a dropper bottle; this will make life a lot easier.

Lavender Laboratory Experiment #1 : Lavender Relaxation & Refresher Spray

  • Fill clean, dark-coloured, spray bottle with filtered water (can be distilled but not necessary)
  • add 4-8 drops lavender oil
  • That’s it. What? You expected more? If this were rocket science, I would not be doing this my friend.

Shake and spritz liberally. But not too liberally if you need to get things done because it might put you to sleep.

Lavender Laboratory Experiment #2: Foot Scrub

What you need:

  • Clean container with screw top lid
  • sugar (any kind; the grain and texture is up to you. I used pure cane sugar)
  • olive oil
  • Approx. 8 drops lavender oil
  • pinch of lavender buds

My jar was a small face-cream-sized jar, so I used a 1/4 cup sugar and filled the rest with olive oil and mixed it. You can use another oil like almond or grape  for example, but a thick oil is nice for something as gnarly, dry and cracked as your feet very moisturizing for your deserving tootsies.

Note that lavender buds are optional…they can look a little bit like mouse turds on the floor of your tub after a good foot scrubbing…so if you’re not easily spooked (meaning you don’t have a tendency to jump into the air landing on the most elevated surface available while screaming “mouse! mouse!”), it’s easy enough to wash down the drain and adds a nice touch to the scrub, otherwise just leave it out.

Lavender Laboratory Experiment #3: Lavender Salt

  • Any amount kosher salt  (in this case about 3 tablespoons)
  • An appropriate amount of lavender as to not over or underwhelm the salt (in this case, a pinch)
  • Combine.

Note: If you have a sea salt mill, combine coarse sea salt and lavender buds in the mill for a more fragrant salt.

Aye, aye captain, but what to do with lavender salt?

It’s amazing combined with lemon and butter(or olive oil) as a rub for chicken destined for the grill…or so I’ve been told and plan on trying.

Or perhaps on buttered popcorn…yum!

Here’s what I did do:

Pan fried asparagus with butter and lavender salt.

Need I say more?

…okay, just a little more:

As you can see, my experiments are none too scientific as I didn’t provide any measurements ( okay, I did mention a ‘quarter cup’ once and ‘a pinch’ more than that…but how big are your fingers compared to mine? See what I mean?),which is to say, experiment for yourself and see because how am I supposed to know how much scent or flavour you like? Have fun and let me know how your experiments turn out. Got any amazing lavender recipes or home-made cosmetic ideas? Please share!

S

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Lavender Fields Forever


My friend and I recently went to the Lavender Festival in Sonoma

The entrance fee was a mere $5 dollars and well worth it. Vendors were set up all around a lavender field full of the Grosso and Provence varieties.

I sound like I know what I’m talking about but that’s only because they also had on-going seminars about lavender and what was growing in that particular field. 

Both my friend and I were rather excited and frolicked through the place gaily for several hours. There was food, wine, stuff to buy, wreath making, photo ops and an outdoor spa demonstrating some of the products.

In the end we came away with some pretty neat stuff. We wanted to buy the whole place, but in an attempt to be conservative ended up with a 16 oz bottle of lavender oil  and a bag of edible lavender to split and from which we could make all the other products on display there ( or so we hoped in our inspired state).

 

Did I end up using any of my portion of lavender oil (all 8 oz of it)? That my friends is for another post. For now, just enjoy the lovely view of lavender! Get yourself to a lavender festival if you get the chance- a great way to spend a few hours ( and a few bucks)!

 

S

 

 

Experiments in the Kitchen: Panko Crusted Ahi Tuna on Coconut Rice with Soy Sauce Reduction


As always, let me start by saying that I am an instant gratification type of cook. Keep it simple geniuses, remember?

So, as fancy as this might look, it really didn’t take much time to whip up.  If it can’t be made in an hour or less,well, then it can’t be made…not in my world anyway.

I’ve been on a “cooking as creative outlet” kick. Who knows when it will abruptly end, but I am riding the wave while I can. This was my first experience with panko breadcrumbs and I think I will definitely be using it again…maybe next time on shrimp!

What you need for the tuna is:

Ahi tuna steaks (thawed or fresh)

Panko breadcrumbs

Oil  (preferably not olive oil as it will be exposed to high heat)

Salt & pepper

Simple right?

Okay, timing is everything, so rice needs to get going first.

I used Jasmin rice ( I like how each grain stays separate and it’s wonderfully fragrant) well rinsed and instead of water I used coconut milk. Fill until about one fingers width above the rice. Bring to a boil, stir and then set on simmer until all the liquid has cooked off.

To add to the flavour, on a whim, I threw in two star anise:

Okay. That’s on the stove. It will take about 20 minutes.

(side note: you could forgo the rice and just make a fresh salad instead!)

In the meantime, you can start the soy sauce reduction which will take 15 minutes:

3 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp light soy sauce (optional)

2 tbsp honey

Simmer and stir often. I threw in sesame seeds just for shits and giggles.

Stir! And then remember to come back and stir it again! Or..keep it super low until you can give it your full attention.

Now, the tuna:

Pat the tuna dry with paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (I’m on a kosher salt kick – love the stuff)

You will only need a few minutes, so make sure your rice is done before you start this adventure.

Fill a pan with an eighth of an inch of oil and heat.

Then dip the salt and peppered tuna in the panko ( I mashed the panko with the bottom end of a small bowl to make it a little finer, but you don’t need to do this).

Then carefully, gently place the steaks in the pan.

For me, this is where it all went to hell. I was not so gentle and oil splashed. I have a pretty ugly if superficial burn on my arm now. So, to spare you this experience, gently place the steaks and don’t freak out if there are some popping noises coming from the pan.

You can see the tuna cooking upwards toward the middle. Let cook for roughly 50 seconds and then flip. If the panko is nicely browned, then you did good! Leave for the same amount of time on the other side and then plate!

Hopefully you remembered to stir the reduction. Drizzle it over the tuna and rice.

I had to keep the reduction warm up until the very end because the honey I used was ridiculously thick, so as soon as it started to cool it was almost like taffy. I could work on the consistency a bit more, but the flavour was delicious!

Yummers. Successful, and all told it took about 35 minutes.

S

Grilled Oysters and Salmon, Oh My! And Baby Birdies Make a Ruckus


I had an “Ah ha! Ho ho! Hee hee!” moment just last week as I cruised through the aisles of the local grocery, desperate for  a quick meal but not ready to totally compromise on quality.  Standing at the meat counter I was eyeing the salmon, debating between the chilean farmed fish for 8.99 per lb and the wild caught at 19.99 per lb. Reason won out and I decided on the affordable since fish is always a hit or miss with the hubby, and then what caught my eye was a nice pile of these suckers at 89 cents each. The guys at the counter are always awesome and ended up throwing in a few extra.

Back at the ranch I had my hubby start-up the grill whilst I prepped the salmon, skin on of course!

Salmon:

On tin foil drizzle liberal amount of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Lay salmon skin side down.

add salt and pepper on top (to taste)

add slices of lemon on top. Fold tin foil mostly closed.

Once the grill was ready, the salmon went on. Couldn’t tell you exactly how long since we usually determine its done-ness by poking at it. Roughly 10 minutes.

Then on went the oysters which required only a minute or so.

This folks was literally the fastest meal we’d every prepared. And all our weariness from the day was usurped by our excitement over  this special treat.

Once the oysters come off the grill, all you need are lime wedges and Tapatio sauce and you are good to go. Be sure, as you crack it open with a sturdy knife, to not spill the delicious juices – you’ll not only burn the crap out of your hands but you’ll also miss out on the added tastiness of the brine.

please try to ignore the purple on my thumb; as an art teacher to kids, I bring my work home with me on my clothes and hands!

Now, my hubby is not a fan of fishy stuff, but he loves this. Surprising indeed! And I have encountered all manner of gloppy, slimy, uncooked, fishy horrors during my stint in Korea, but this is nothing like that. It is pure yumminess all the way and you should try it!

Here’s how the salmon turned out:

And because the tin foil was not all the way closed, steam was allowed to escape and the skin was able to get crispy:

Laying the skin down on oil with salt is key to crispness!

And, because I don’t like to do without greens, here’s the simplest greens prep ever:

Steam a nice bunch of collards, turnip, spinach or mustard greens ( I cheat and buy a cleaned and cut bag with a mix of all of those greens at Trader Joe’s). If you use any of those greens it will take only 5 minutes since they cook up super fast. If you use Kale, expect about 20 minutes. Remember that it shrinks down like crazy, so don’t be afraid to steam what looks like a gargantuan amount.

Remove from water, drizzle a teaspoon of light soy sauce and a half teaspoon of sesame oil on top. Gently mix. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top:

Highly recommended: canned beer. It serves two purposes: 1. a yummy pairing with delicious oysters and 2. as a beer-can trap for awful slugs that keep eating our garden veggies.

Die slugs, die!

It really works! Cut the can in half, fill with about an inch of the beer you can’t finish or has gotten too warm to be refreshing anymore.

Okay, okay we’ve talked about slug death, now on to life! Baby bird life!

The joy of the grill is not just the food but the entertainment we get from the birds that visit our little yard. Right now we have a bunch of hungry blue bird babies and two very tired parents who are continually feeding them. It’s truly remarkable how non-stop it is. Approximately every minute one of the parents lands with some grub to put in their gaping mouths. The babies are making quite a racket with their chirping.

It’s a cut-throat brutal world for the birds. There’s always a threat that another bigger bird will come and drag the babies out for a wee snack. Mom and dad are very watchful and are always suspicious of us. We are always hyper aware of the chirping and when we don’t hear it we fear the worst. But so far, so good.

One wonders how the fattened up babies are going to squeeze out of that hole!

It’s nice to know everyone is well fed.

So try out the oyster thing, it will be well worth it and it’s about the easiest thing you could prepare for a meal.

S

Keep It Simple Genius: Pearl Barley, Quinoa and Veggie Salad


Folks, you know how I don’t like to spend loads of time doing domestic chores. Cooking falls somewhere in the middle. I groan about having to do it at times when I’m just off work and would rather be vegging or doing something creative. But as it turns out, cooking can also be an amazing creative outlet as well and I try to look at it that way. Recently (actually, in April) one of my fellow bloggers sent out a challenge to the blogosphere  to create something out of left-overs, the “Great Leftover Challenge”  at http://dannyskitchen.me/. Well, I didn’t answer the call but now I’ve come around so I’ll post this in honour of the competition I did not participate in. My absolute favourite thing to do in the kitchen is work with what I have left over in the fridge and try to come up with something that completely reinvents it. That to me is the most creative and seems to come to me rather more naturally than a brand new dish. Also, if I don’t have to nip off to the grocery store for any filler ingredients, I consider that the biggest success and triumph. Let me share with you my triumph:

This is what I had in the fridge: Pearl Barley from  the previous night’s BBQ, a half tomato and  1/3 of a box of quinoa.

So I rummaged through the fridge, mind working through possibilities, and this is what I dragged out:

I set the quinoa to cooking. I’ve seen it prepared other ways, but my way is to rinse the quinoa several times to make sure of no gritty chunks ( I lose some grains in the process since they are so dang tiny), then bring water to a boil and put the quinoa in. When it comes to a second boil, stir and then leave it on low until all the water has evaporated. Pretty much exactly as one would prepare rice (though I’ve seen other methods of rice making as well that go against all my asian roots and makes me cringe).

Then comes the chopping and the grating. I happened to have the veggies that I had, but that in no way should limit you. As long as you have crunchy veggies, this dish will be a success. I happen to like the texture of cucumber and cauliflower in salads and was lucky enough to have them in my fridge at the time.

So here’s the ingredients list, just keep in mind it is infinitely changeable:

pearl barley

quinoa

1/2 tomato

1/3 cauliflower

1/2 cucumber

2 celery sticks

2 carrots medium-sized

1 bell pepper

Sorry folks, I’m kind of a pinch of this and that cook. As you will see later, I’m not much for measuring and I rarely follow recipes. I’d say I had approximately a cup of barley and a cup of quinoa.

My personal preference is to grate the carrot into the salad. Easier to chew and it seems to absorb more of the yummy dressing in this state.

Oh yes! And a wee bit of red onion finely sliced or diced. I took a pic to illustrate how little I use. Too much and it overwhelms the salad and also makes for dragon breath that will haunt you for the rest of the night and maybe into the morning!

Don’t forget that this is a wonderful time to fill your compost. If you do not yet have a compost, get on it! It’s absolutely brilliant. It took me a while to convince my hubby that we needed one. He thought it would just attract wildlife i.e. rats and our yard was too small. But I worked on him and we ended up building a small one. He is now a convert. It makes fabulous soil for our little garden, and it feels lovely not tossing all this organic matter into the landfill.

*Side note, the best compost bucket in the world is not the ones they sell specifically for compost but this plastic OXO brand container. It is marketed as a container for pantry items like cereal, etc. because the lid has a top button that you depress and it seals the container. Well, it absolutely works as a compost bucket for exactly that reason: it seals. No smelly fumes emerging into the kitchen AND it’s easy to clean unlike traditional buckets that have all sorts of inconvenient grooves for stink to settle into.

Okay, back to the salad.

As I mentioned earlier I’m not a measurer and as a result I invariably realize mid-way that  I have  chosen a vessel too small for what I am creating. Since I am a salad monster, I should have known better and just gone for the largest bowl possible. But for me, starting smaller helps to reign me back a bit. It is always helpful to have a bowl that is slightly too large so that when you get to the dressing it part of the process, you can easily mix without all the ingredients falling out.

Bowl transfer

Last but not least, when all fresh veg are happily sitting in the bowl, toss the cooked quinoa and some raw sunflower seeds (optional) on top. The quinoa is still warm from cooking, but as it mixes in quickly gets cooled by the veg.

And now for the dressing. Remember, keep it simple my geniuses. If you have a favourite salad dressing in the fridge, good for you! Toss it in.

If you like making your own dressing, do so and toss it in.

I am a sour/vinegar fan and so I favour this totally made up recipe of mine, which I will now attempt to share but keep in mind the measurements are approximations. Keep the phrase “to taste” in mind and make adjustments accordingly. My salad was rather large so measurements are also large.

Asian dressing:

1 lemon or lime (I actually prefer lime but had none on hand and dang it I was not going to the store!)

3 tbsp virgin olive oil

1 dash kosher (or any) salt. Celtic sea salt would be awesome!

2 tbsp light soy sauce (all soy sauce is not created equal and come in many flavours. I recommend Pearl River Bridge Superior Light Soy Sauce)

Rice vinegar (to taste) approx 2 tbsp

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp  agave

1 tsp sesame oil

 It wouldn’t hurt to sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds as well. I know my Auntie R would approve.

Then mix this whole shebang together and…

voila!

A salad even my hubby can enjoy. For me, the essential ingredients are those that give it a variety of texture: the cauliflower, sunflower seeds and grain. I’ve never used pearl barley before, but it was very nice. In lieu of that, brown rice or spelt would do…any grain you enjoy.

So, I hope you give this a try. It’s super simple (any and all ingredients can be substituted with something similar) and pretty quick so long as you don’t mind a little chopping.

Cheers!

S

Attempting to be a Successful Succulenteur and Other Garden Hits and Misses


Many posts ago I started on the path of succulent propagation.  My biggest experiment was using the “let it sit” method with a few leaves I’d gathered that had fallen from a succulent plant at the garden center – NOT stealing as they would have been considered cast offs and no doubt swept up and tossed.

So, to refresh, the method is to let them lie on a bed of Perlite in filtered light until they push out roots and then begin to form their own little plant. A while ago they put out a few tiny roots, but check it out now! The little plant is starting to form at the base ( you’ll probably need to click on the photo to enlarge it so you can really look closely):

 

Also, the heads of my Hens and Chicks have robust roots and are more than ready to be planted…if only I had a place to put them…

 

And, as I may have mentioned before, the art of becoming a succulenteur is really about experimentation. I just made a new observation about one of my succulents. It could almost seem to be a deliberate experiment with two test groups, but in reality it is all just coincidence that I had the same succulent type planted in two very different locations. One is outside in full sun, the other in filtered light. Check out the difference between the two!

 

The first one is in full light, the second in filtered. Note how in full light and heat they have balled up and tightened. In the filtered light they have opened up and stretched that neat webbing to its max. Both are doing well, but they adjust to their conditions in order to do so. Also, the one in full light popped out a lot of babies ( off shoots) in early spring due to lots of consistent rain…unlike the ones in filtered light which rely on my non-consistent watering patterns!

 

On the garden front…well, the Bok Choi bolted. This is the third attempt and the third failure. We’ve had really odd changes of temperature. I’m pretty sure the week of scorching heat is what caused them to bolt. But if it weren’t for the heat, I’m sure the pests would have done them in:

Note all the munched leaves.

 

Our little planter with chard turned into a potty for some nocturnal animal. All the sprouts were dug out and I believe if you look close enough you can even see a turd in the bowl. Boo!

Okay, since we’re on the track of failures at the moment, I may as well tell yo that some of my succulents started looking rather weird in the way they were forming their leaves. Also, I noted aphid-like critters on some of them. It seemed to be spreading, so I uprooted the ones that looked diseased.

 

Also, because of the funky weather, my living rock succulent’s flowers shriveled up and died without actually blossoming. I thought the whole plant would die, but it seems to be doing okay if you disregard the desiccated flowers at its center.

 

Onwards to brighter things! The Romain is doing fantastic. We had our first garden salad of the year a few days ago. The roses are in bloom, my Lambs Ear are taking over the entire patch and the bees are loving the flowers that just started blossoming from them. My Lavendula Dilly Dilly ( yes, the actual name of the lavender I planted, of course I chose it for its name!) is getting ready to bloom as well.

 

 

 

 

Our Purple Iris has run its course

 

 

But replacing it is a new kind:

 

And my established Hens and Chicks are also blooming:

 

And finally, after three years here, a lovely California Poppy has decided to join our accidental garden!

 

Annnnd we have a blue bird family in our little bird house. Every time we step into the garden you can hear the little babies chirping from inside, saying “feed me, feed me, feed me!” Our presence in the garden worries the parents who stand around with worms and insects in their beaks flitting to the roof of the house then away again unwilling to reveal to us where their precious babies are. And in accordance the babies fall silent too; until my hubby and I freeze in our actions to the point of shaking with the extended exertion of it until finally the mommy or daddy decide we’re no longer a threat and finally deliver the food to the anxious and voracious babies.

Mommy and…

Daddy!

 

Also, now that it’s getting hot, we are visited by our friendly neighborhood lizards who love our concrete step leading into the garden.

 

All in all, we are rather happy with our little backyard. We haven’t invested as much time in it as the previous year, but it is still a delight. Everything seems so alive and so active.

 

 

So, despite some failures in the gardening department, on the whole I think it is much more of a success. I’ll leave it at that!

 

 

S

On Roughing It at Big Basin National Park


It’s been quite a while, folks, since I last posted something. I was away on a 4 day, 3 night hiking/camping trip with my husband, his sister and her husband ( who only made it the last day as he was recovering from an infection from cat scratches and bites- yikes!) and two other friends.

How to make succinct what was truly epic. I am still trying to readjust to a real bed, a shower and a stove top on-which one can finesse the temperature with high, medium or low and everything in between.

I think I have about a billion photos. One of the perks of being the photographer is that you “have to stop” to take pictures, making me look less like a wimp and more like an artist. But truly, I was compelled to take photos because everything was gorgeous.

We hiked up from headquarters to a mountain ridge, camped there the first night and then took two days hiking to the ocean, and the last day hiking back. We experienced micro climates: warm and dry on the ridge, cold and damp near the ocean. We experienced moments of ” I don’t think I’m going to make it” and moments of ” I am rocking this so very hard-core!”

My one issue was a bum knee that decided to start twinging on the very first day. Lots of weight from our packs and a few badly placed foot plants and I was thinking I’d have to call it quits. It’s amazing how quickly one can go from feeling really fit and in the zone, to decrepid and like an old hobbled granny needing a walker. On the ups I could just hoof it like a pro, on the downs I had to slow down and limp the thing. But on day two I was loaned a hiking stick which made all the difference. As the days wore on, the packs got a little lighter and my knee a little stronger. By the end I felt like I could have gone at least another day…if not for our absolute longing for a shower to feel clean again!

Dehydrated food was our main fare. I was entirely shocked by how yummy some of that stuff is. The only time is was not thrilling was when too much water was added making for a sloppy mess. I dunno, could be that we would have eaten anything given our exhaustion levels at the end of each day.

Our little beer can stove came in handy. My hubby loves it so much he ended up boiling water for everyone in the group more than once. It’s not as efficient as some store-bought stoves, but man does it get the job done in a jiffy!

Here’s me sitting it out while everyone else does the 1 mile hike down to the creek to filter some much needed water:

We needed to fill our water containers about twice a day. Luckily there was many a stream along our hiking route.

This is one of  many wild irises growing everywhere. Mostly white and a few purple ones.

And there were even trilliums!

Not quite like the ones in Ontario, Canada where I grew up. The petals are much smaller, but still the signature three leaf, three petal plant.

Check out this watering hole where we rinsed off and got more potable water (upstream of where we cleaned ourselves, of course!). Freezing but glorious!

Banana slug love. Eeew. I live in fear of actually slipping on one of these guys. Ugh.

The falls on our second to last day. At times we felt like we were in the Jurassic period and that a pterodactyl or some such ancient beast would appear to eat us whole.

Amazing Red Woods.

Below is our incredible camp site on the last night. It was like a little faerie glen, surrounded by luscious trees like a protective wall with a little bit of sky peaking through the middle:

As if getting to the last camp site wasn’t enough, a few of us opted to hike the 1.4 miles to the ocean.

Voila!

I was pretty stoked. And do you know what’s by the ocean?

Rocks.

You can see in the above photo that I have already acquired one rock and that was within mere seconds of stepping onto the beach. I’m a pro.

And I am perhaps the only back packer who has ever hiked rocks back out with them. Yes folks, that is exactly what I did. Usually the goal is to consume weight over the course of days and end up with a lighter pack by the last day. Uh uh. Not me. I added rocks to my pack.

I couldn’t help it. It’s a compulsion.

My hubby watched me silently as my gaze wandered from the beautiful ocean waves and sky, to the rocks at my feet. He didn’t even say anything. Okay, maybe he may have uttered, “really?” But then he humoured me and left it at that.

People, I used utmost restraint. That beach was a gold mine of amazing rocks.

I could have stayed there for hours. But that would have been decidedly anti social.

So, I tore myself away after a measly half hour or so.

I got home with this loot:

What made this trip so satisfying was the feeling of achievement upon reaching camp after hours of hiking and getting to throw down that heavy-ass pack. Exhaustion makes eating and sleeping that much more appreciated. And perhaps, it can also explain this conversation between my husband and myself as we linked arms and each bent one knee behind us to stretch ours sore calves:

Hubby: “We’re like a two-legged horse”

Me: “…..”

Hubby: “…only with a lot of differences.”

At which time we cracked up and couldn’t stop laughing for about five minutes as we tried to figure out in what configuration a two-legged horse might remain mobile. This illustrates the state of our brains after a 4 hour hike.

All said and done. This roughing it thing was amazing. I am rearing’ to go again. Next time around, I will know how to pack more efficiently, will know what to bring and what not to bring… and I’ll definitely be leaving  room for a few rocks too.

S