Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How to Make Elderflower Fritters

Old-fashioned cordials, medicinal teas and skin-softening cremes are just a few ways the fragrant flowers of elder (Sambucus nigra; Sambucus canadensis) have been used over the centuries. Elderflowers also make delicious fritters, which I've always wanted to try even though I don't typically like fried foods.

So, I did a little research and read recipes from The London Times and Good Food Channel. Here's my adaptation of those recipes, based on ingredients that were available in my kitchen at the time. We ate ours right before the June full moon, lunar eclipse, and can't wait to make another batch.

Elderflower Fritters Ingredients

1 egg
1 cup flour
1 cup organic milk
5 huge heads of elderflower
3 tablespoon of ultrafine baker's sugar
1 tablespoon of Cointreau (optional)
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
Cooking oil

Directions: Pick elderflowers from Sambucus nigra or Sambucus canadensis, which have not been sprayed with pesticides. These flowers came from my backyard tree, which was started from another native tree found an hour from here.

Many recipes recommend you don't wash the flowers, because you'll wash off the pollen that gives the fritters their flavor. So, pick carefully, watch for little critters, shake well and then store in the fridge until you're ready to use. If you can't bear the thought of not washing the flowers, do it gently and then drain in a strainer.

Whisk together ingredients (except the cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of sugar) into a bowl. Let batter sit for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, clip flowers into smaller florets but leave some of the stems.

Fry elderflowers like pancakes, using a spatula. Push flower gently down into the oil until it is golden brown and then flip. Drain cooked flowers on paper towels.

Combine remaining sugar and cinnamon. Dust tops of the cooked fritters with the cinnamon-sugar. Then sprinkle with some flowers and serve warm with frozen yogurt, fruit or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy the pleasures of summer, and tell yourself you can always visit the gym tomorrow...

More about elder folklore, health benefits and recipes.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Part III - Even More Experts With Must-Have Plants

A suburban garden in New Jersey. An apartment balcony in California. Acreage in northwest Ohio. These gardeners may enjoy the outdoors in different ways, but they all know plenty about plants. Here are their "must-have" plants for this year...

Like gardening blogs? There's a good chance you've read Kylee Baumle's Our Little Acre. Her award-winning blog takes place in a rural northwest Ohio garden. Recently, it was awarded not one, but several 2010 Mouse and Trowel awards.

Somehow this dental hygenist also finds time to write Gardening by the Book and co-write Soil Sisters, as well as write for Cool Springs Press GREEN Program. On Twitter, you can find this busy woman at @OurLittleAcre.

This summer Kylee is thinking about plants "that offer a little out of the ordinary," such as Toad Lily (Tricyrtis sp.) suitable for Zones 5 to 9. Toad Lily 'Miyazaki' is shown above, while Toad Lily 'Tojen' is pictured at the top of this blog post.

These orchid-like flowers bloom in autumn, "when nothing much besides mums and asters are really going to town," says Kylee. "Plus, Toad Lilies come in various colors, and the foliage varies from cultivar to cultivar. Some leaves have spots or stripes. Some are golden in color. And some are traditional green. A particularly nice feature is that they add color to shade gardens and are in the mid-height range."

Her second choice is an edible one ... corn. "Where I live, in northwest Ohio, corn is as common as the dirt it grows in," explains Kylee. "Summer just wouldn't be summer without sweet corn. My favorite variety is the white and yellow bicolor, but I'm a big fan of the pure white, such as 'Silver Queen.' " (Shown above.)

"In August, I make a meal out of just sweet corn," she says with a laugh. "I slather the corn with butter and salt and can eat six ears or more at a time. Most people gain weight over winter, right? For me, it's in August." (Shown above is 'Ruby Queen' corn, which she grew in 2008.)

Gardening in a smaller space? You still have plenty of options. Just ask Fern Richardson, who writes the award-winning blog Life on the Balcony. Also a 2010 Mouse and Trowel award winner, the blog has won praise from Sunset Magazine and others. On Twitter, Fern can be found at @LifeOnTheBlcny.

Some favorite plants Fern likes growing on her California balcony...

The first one is ... Aeonium. "There are so many interesting varieties of Aeoniums, you really can't go wrong," says Fern. "I particularly like the variegated and black varieties like the one in this picture. Their floral-like rosettes provide year-round interest and ask for only the tiniest bit of attention in return."

"Another favorite is chocolate mint," says Fern. "This plant is nearly indestructible, and yet so tasty! I love using the leaves in teas, and they're also a yummy addition to banana bread."

When she makes banana bread, Fern adds 2 to 3 tablespoons of dried chocolate mint with the dry ingredients.

In the New York Metropolitan Area, award-winning landscape and design consultant Susan Cohan is busy managing Susan Cohan Gardens and serving on the Board of Directors for the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. That is... when she's not writing her thought-provoking blog Miss Rumphius' Rules or tweeting as @SusanCohan on Twitter.

Susan admits it's not easy to choose only a few "must-have" plants. But she did agree to provide "two finalists culled from a long list of favorites." As she explains, "I won't give a plant the thumbs up until I've actually grown it. So even from a landscape designer's perspective, both are absolute winners!"

Her first choice is 'Red Romaine' lettuce. The plant really stood out among the rest when she recently designed and planted a large vegetable garden.

"I chose plants based not only on their cool weather preferences," says Susan. "But also for the beauty of their foliage. Unfortunately, the flats were only labeled as 'Red Romaine'. But this unnamed red romaine was my favorite of all the lettuces. It is a striking plant that added a punch of color to a very formal vegetable garden and would look great mixed with ornamentals as well."

Her second choice is the 'Abalone Pearl' peony, shown above.

"The peony has a single clear salmon pink bloom held upright on fernlike foliage," explains Susan. "I hardly ever buy plants for myself anymore. And I even thought about this when I saw the plant in the nursery. But as I was ready to leave, I started to feel remorse at leaving it there. So I had to buy one."

She hasn't regretted her decision yet.

Hear Susan Cohan discuss landscape design (and design in general) on Nest in Style.

Like this? Don't miss these other stories:
Must-Have Plants
Must-Have Plants (Part II)

Favorite Winter Plants (Maine Containers)
Favorite Winter Plants (Northern Idaho)
Favorite Winter Plants (Canada)
Favorite Winter Plants (North Carolina)
Favorite Winter Plants (Western Washington)

More expert plant suggestions to come soon!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Part II - More Experts Share Must-Have Plants

As we enter into June, the peak growing season is upon us. So, I turned to two more gardening experts for their "must-have" plants for 2010.

Here are the plants they can't live without this year...

In the San Francisco Bay area, Rebecca Sweet knows plenty about plants. The talented landscape designer owns Harmony in the Garden and her creatively inspired garden designs have been featured in Fine Gardening Magazine. She writes a popular blog called Gossip in the Garden and can be found on Twitter as @SweetRebecca.

Rebecca's job takes her around lovely plants each day. But one of her current favorites is Nicotiana mutabilis purchased at Annies Annuals. (The plant is the tall pinkish-purple flower in the above photo; a closeup photo is at the top of this blog post.)

"This plant might look tender and delicate," explains Rebecca. "But mine has been unbelieveably tough, surviving through freezing temperatures. It towers over 8 feet tall with scads of multi-color flowers that bloom for months. Plant one near a window, and you'll have a room filled with the most heavenly scent."

Another plant that has won Rebecca's heart is the Euphorbia 'Blackbird' shown above. "I'm always on the lookout for plants that give my clients the biggest bang for the buck," she explains. "This euphorbia tops my list. It has the darkest, most velvety maroon-colored leaves, and the flowers are a gorgeous complimentary chartreuse green."

This euphorbia is beautiful in a mixed garden bed, as you can see above. But the plant is also a practical choice. "It's deer-resistant, snail proof and drought tolerant," adds Rebecca. "In our Zone 9 climate, this plant is an evergreen. All it needs is a little dead-heading once in awhile. But watch that sap, as it can be a skin irritant."

Hear more gardening tips from this award-winning garden designer on Nest in Style.

Jenny Peterson is the owner of J. Peterson Garden Design in Austin, Texas. On Twitter, she's known for her gardening tweets as @MulchMaven, and her delightful blog was a nominee in the 2010 Mouse & Trowel Awards.

As much as this talented landscape designer loves flowers, she admits her "must-haves" right now simply aren't flowering plants.

Photo by BambooGarden.org 
Jenny has fallen hard for Bambusa multiplex 'Alphonse Karr'. "This gorgeous clumping bamboo grows up to 15 feet tall," she says. "But it spreads slowly, so the plant doesn't have the invasive qualities of other bamboos. With the lower-to-medium height, it makes a great screen. Plus, the yellow culms are smaller in diameter, making it easy for homeowners to cut back."

The designer likes the Alphonse Karr bamboo in minimalist contemporary landscapes, as well as blended into Asian and tropical landscapes.

Photo by Northern Territory Government, Australia

Another favorite is Mexican Feather Grass (Nasella tenuissima). "I love this smaller ornamental grass and use it at many of my clients' homes," says Jenny. "It grows to 2 feet high. And the smaller size makes it very versatile in the landscape, while the chartreuse green color and fine texture make this plant a beautiful accent."

This grass will reseed, but Jenny says it's easily controlled. She likes to plant this grass en masse or as an accent to other plants.

Coming soon! More must-have plants for June.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bone Appetit! Pup Cakes for Your Pooch

When our loveable mutt Maggie May celebrated her second birthday, we knew she deserved something special. So, we invited all her favorite pups over for a party in the backyard. But that’s not all. We also ordered a professionally baked pup cake by Chef Joanie Veage, owner of RYouBeingServed.

Over the years, Chef Joanie has cooked for well-known stars like the Rolling Stones, Sheryl Crow, Def Leppard, Guns-n-Roses, Meg Ryan, Ozzy Osbourne, and other celebrities. But her favorite customers now are the four-legged kind, who she thrills with recipes like this one…

Muttballs and Pup Cakes

2 – 3 lbs raw, ground chicken or turkey (preferably antibiotic and hormone free)

4 cups of steamed, organic, sweet brown rice

1 cup grated summer squash or zucchini

1 cup grated broccoli

1 cup grated green beans

1 cup grated carrots

1 giant handful shredded spinach

1 small bunch grated parsley

½ cup grated celery

¼ cup coconut oil (optional)

1 tablespoon granulated, organic garlic powder

Prepare ingredients as suggested above. Joanie uses organic or clean, local vegetables in her cakes.

Using a food processor, finely grate vegetables. In a stand mixer, combine all ingredients. For muttballs, scoop 1 to 2 inch ball directly on a baking pan. For pup cakes, scoop directly into a lightly oiled (not sprayed) cake tin.

Bake in preheated oven, 350 degrees F. for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven. Cool.

Store in airtight container and refrigerate up to 5 days. Or, place in freezer bags for up to 6 weeks.

Serve as a small sliver. Or, mix a couple tablespoons with their dog food. For dogs not used to eating this type of food, it’s recommended to start with smaller portions.

As you can see below, the party was a big hit with birthday dog Maggie. Just look at that grin. It says it all.