Herbal Relaxation

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This is the year for you to grow your own herbs! The weather is breaking early and now is the perfect time to start a herb garden. You may be thinking, “I’m terrible with plants,” or “I don’t have a garden,” or “I don’t use fresh herbs.” Well I’m here to tell you that you’re not thinking clearly. Anyone can grow herbs. I mean that. If I can do it in a condo with no natural light, you can do it too. 

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Step One: Get your planting space organized.

This is the easiest part. If you’re lucky enough to have yard to garden in, then you’re set. Clear an area, turn the dirt removing any rocks or large old roots, and lay down fresh dirt (preferably organic). I would also suggest enclosing your garden with some fencing to keep pests out. 

If you don’t have a yard (like myself) or want to grow your herbs away from animals and in a more controlled area, I highly recommend buying an Earth Box. These are for people who can’t grow mold on stale bread. They are absolutely fool proof. Earth Boxes come with everything you need to have an awesome herb garden. You get the planter box (which comes with casters or feet - perfect for moving indoors to avoid frost), dirt, fertilizer, screen and covers. The reason I love these so much is because they’re self watering. You fill the reservoir (shown in the picture above) and it takes care of the rest itself.  You can’t over water and drown your herbs because you never DIRECTLY water them. Brilliant! 


PictureStep Two: Select your herbs. 

This part should be really fun. Consider what herbs you think you will use the most. For instance, I really like fresh basil and use it in a lot of dishes and mixed drinks. The same with mint (funny that they’re in the same family of herbs). So those are no-brainers. I cook a lot of authentic Mexican so that means I never go without cilantro. Thyme is a very subtle fresh herb that works beautifully in salads, with a wide variety of proteins, and can be found in some cocktails. Rosemary is nice for those who like to grill. Its thick stems make wonderful skewers for kebobs. I can go on and on. The point is to think about how you will use your garden. 

My next bit of advice again goes to those who’s thumbs are not green. Buy plants not seeds. If you want to start from seed, you probably should have been at it for at least a month. I’ve never successfully grown anything from seed, not even in grade school when you sprout beans. I do not speak seed language. I like to go to my local green house (or farmer’s market – they should be popping up any day now) and buy starter plants. I always try to pick out organic plants, goes without saying. They usually come in little flimsy containers that squish so that the plant pops out without damaging the roots for replanting. You will probably start seeing lots of starter plants around Mother’s Day. That seems to be the true beginning of planting season. 


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Photo from 'Happy Gardening'

 

Step 3: Plant Your Garden and Enjoy! 

Now it’s time to get your hands dirty and figure out where all of the satisfaction in gardening comes from. My mother-in-law scratches her nails on a bar of soap to prevent the dirt from sticking under her nails. It works really well! So do disposable gloves. If you’re not up for buying all new gardening tools an old plastic cup works great for scooping dirt and fertilizer and watering. Your own two hands can do the rest! Plan where you will place your plants based on the height or circumference suggested by the green house as well as the amount of sunlight your plants will need. Dig your hole just deep enough to cover the roots. Sprinkle with water. Let nature do the rest! 


Here are a couple of cocktail recipes to mix using your fresh herbs:
(These all work for pitcher service as well!)
 

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Photo by Nigel Cox

 

Pimm’s Cup
This is an English standard using Thyme, Mint and Rosemary that is SUPER easy to make. It tastes as great as it looks! 

Ingredients:

1 3-inch piece English cucumber, cut into 1/2-inch slices, plus 2 spears (for garnish)
3/4 cup Pimm’s No. 1*
3 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice or regular lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Ice cubes
2 sprigs each fresh rosemary, thyme, and mint
2 lemon slices
2 fresh strawberries, halved
Ginger beer, chilled
2 rhubarb stalks (for garnish) 

*A blend of gin, liqueurs, and fruit extracts; available at some specialty foods stores and liquor stores. 

Preparation: 

Place 1/2-inch-thick cucumber slices in cocktail shaker. Using muddler or handle of wooden spoon, mash well. Add Pimm’s, lemon juice, and sugar. Fill 2 pilsner glasses with ice; set aside. Add ice to Pimm’s mixture, cover, and shake vigorously 20 times. Strain into glasses. Push 1 rosemary sprig, 1 thyme sprig, 1 mint sprig, 1 lemon slice, and 2 strawberry halves down into each glass. Fill glasses with ginger beer. Garnish with cucumber spears and rhubarb stalks. 

Makes 2 drinks. 


PictureGinger Mojito
This is my twist on a summer classic. 

Ingredients:
1.5 oz Bacardi Rum
12 Mint Leaves
1/2 Lime, wedged
Sparkling Lemonade or Tonic
2 Tbsp *Ginger Simple Syrup

Preparation:
 

Muddle the mint leaves with the lime. Cover with simple syrup and top with ice.  Add rum and lemonade or tonic to taste. Stir well and garnish with a lime wedge and mint leaves. 

Makes 1 drink.
Ginger Simple Syrup 

Simple syrup is just equal parts water and sugar dissolved to create a syrup. This one uses ginger for added flavor. You can use other ingredients to spice up your syrup as well, such as peppercorns, anise, cinnamon, etc. 

Ingredients:
2 cups Sugar
2.5 cups Water
2 large Knobs Fresh Ginger (roughly cut and lightly mashed to release juices) 

Preparation:
Bring water and sugar to a boil. Stir until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.  Add ginger and steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and cool. Keeps for 2 weeks in a closed container refrigerated. 


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Photo by Bartholomew Cooke

 

Pink Peppercorn Thyme Soda 

 This drink was created and is served at Green Zebra in Chicago. 

Ingredients: 

8 whole star anise
2 tablespoons whole pink peppercorns plus additional for garnish
1 tablespoon whole cloves
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh thyme sprigs plus 8 additional sprigs for garnish
Ice cubes
4 cups chilled club soda 

Preparation: 

Toast anise, 2 tablespoons peppercorns, and cloves in small skillet over medium-high heat until aromatic, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Wrap spices in triple layer of cheesecloth; tie shut. Pound with rolling pin to crush spices lightly. Bring 3 cups water and sugar to boil in medium saucepan. Add spices in cheesecloth. Remove from heat; cover and steep 15 minutes. Add 1/2 cup thyme sprigs; cover and steep 10 minutes longer. Strain syrup into medium bowl. Chill until cold.

 

DO AHEAD Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated. Fill 8 tall glasses with ice. Divide syrup among glasses. 

Add 1/2 cup soda to each glass. Garnish with thyme sprigs and peppercorns. 

Makes 8 drinks. 

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