HOME: How To Harvest and Dry German Chamomile

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Some herbs and flowers can be invasive. Chamomile flowers can become that if you are not careful. However, they are very cheery and easy to grow, and the floral, herbal scent is lovely to have around you when you are outside. My chamomile sows itself and comes back every year. I transplanted it to a large pot on the deck, this way I can smell it, have it close to the kitchen, but also keep it in a controlled, growing environment. Chamomile can be used for many different things, but the easiest thing to do is to steep it in tea. And what is better than using your own flowers for your own tea? Especially in the colder months, there is something lovely about enjoying a warm, floral brew from your summer garden bounty in the chilly, grey winter.

Drying is very easy. I will tell you how. Chamomile, like many herbs and greens, enjoy being cut. It's what they are meant for. They will continue to come back and bloom throughout the summer. So by September you should have a nice stockpile of dried flowers you can store in an airtight jar for teas and such.

First, trim up your flowers. I make sure I get some stem as well, it makes drying easier.

Gather your flowers in a bunch. (If you use a lot of pesticides or in an urban setting with heavy air pollution, be sure to rinse them and let sit in one layer on paper towels for a few hours to air dry before bunching them.) With kitchen twine, tie them off leaving a long tail for hanging. Your plats will look a little bare (see above) but they will get flowering in no time, and sometimes even come back fuller from the trimming.

Take a paper bag, and trim off the top about 1-2 inches if need be. You just want the bag to cover the main flower section. Poke large holes all over the bag. This will let air circulate. The bag will prevent dust and dirt from landing on your flowers and protect them from bumps or smashing, as well as catch petals as they dry. Chamomile is very delicate as it dries, and you want to keep as much as possible.

Put your flower section in the bag, and loosely bunch the bag around the stem. Loosely fit a large rubber band around to keep the bag in place. Puff out the bag around the flowers so air circulate around them inside.

Hang dry in a cool, dry place where they will be undisturbed. Could take 1-2 weeks,

When ready, flake off/cut off the flowers in a jar and store for up to 3-4 months. Discard stems and leaves. Make sure your flowers are TRULY dry before storing them in a jar. Otherwise you will get mold.

What else can yo do with Chamomile? I posted some ideas in the way back machine. Here is a link:

RECIPE: Lavender Scented Berry, Coconut and Pecan Scones

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This recipe was originally on a fabulous blog I follow called, "fragrantvanillacake.blogspot.com" The author is very talented, and creates amazing things with a vegan, healthy spin. I saw these scones in my RSS before Father's Day and thought it would be a great addition to the menu, and figured they would freeze well for breakfasts on-the-go during the month. I was worried about the lavender flavor with my husband's palate. He is not a big fan. But I love floral hints in baking so I wanted to try it. If you have an anti-floral eater, the lavender can be skipped and they would be just as lovely.

A couple things to note, I did not go completely vegan with these. I went with straight butter, but you can substitute a vegan butter replacement in keeping with the original recipe. Also, Amy from the blog used frozen blackberries, and seemed to keep them frozen. I used a frozen bag of mixed berries and defrosted them a bit, pouring the juices into the batter as well. Next time I would keep things frozen or use fresh. The extra liquid made things too wet and the dough harder to work with. The scones ended up spreading out too much while cooking. I made a couple other substitutions on account of not finding the ingredients she called for. But I really liked how they turned out and I will make these again for sure. They are healthy and delicious! And stop by Amy's blog and follow her. She is amazing in the kitchen!

Lavender Scented Berry, Coconut and Pecan Scones


2 cups whole wheat pastry/graham flour
1/2 cup sugar in the raw
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick cold butter
2 Tbsp. dried lavender flowers
1 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped
1 cup toasted coconut
1 cup full fat coconut milk, chilled in the fridge and mix well
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
6 oz. bag frozen mixed berries (or fresh)
coconut milk for brushing
Extra sugar in the raw for sprinkling


Preheat oven to 425˚. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. set aside.


In a pan, toast the coconut over medium heat, tossing the coconut around until golden. Pour in a bowl and in the same pan (without cleaning it) toast the chopped pecan. The pecans will pick up a little of the oils from the coconut, too. When the pecans are golden, add to the coconut in the bowl to cool.

Measure the lavender, and with the back of a spoon or with your hands, crush the flowers to refine them a little. (when working with lavender, you may have too many "twigs", an odd texture in baked goods. Crushing will diminish some of the "twiginess".)

With a pastry cutter, cut in the butter into the flour mixture until the texture of small peas. Add the coconut, pecans and lavender and mix well.

Mix the vanilla into the cold coconut milk, and then add to the flour mixture. Using a fork, mix until combined. Pour in the frozen berries and fold in gently.

Roll onto a floured surface and with floured hands, roll into a log about a 4 inch wide. I used a bowl scraper to cut 8 triangles out of the log. You cut the first one at a straight vertical line, and then the second at a 45 degree angle, then the next at a vertical line again. Continue in that way until you have 8, placing each one as you cut it on the baking sheet.

Brush the tops with extra coconut milk, sprinkle with the raw sugar, and bake in the oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown. Enjoy warm or cool!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

RECIPE: Junk Drawer Granola

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I was rummaging around in my baking cabinet and was annoyed by all the miscellaneous half bags of nuts and dried fruit from past recipes that have been loitering about the shelves. I am sure if you look around your baking cabinet, you will find a similar situation. You buy certain nuts, seeds and fruits for various baking adventures, and being prudent, you save your left over ingredients to use another day. Then you forget and buy more and continue saving this and that. Next thing you know, you have a pile of nonsense and not enough of one thing or another to make complete ingredients for anything! 
I mean, how many slivered almonds does a household need?
Well, after finding a fourth half-filled bag of slivered almonds (I guess I kept buying a new bag) I decided the best thing to do was make a granola with all of it. Granola lasts a while in an airtight container and you can easily mix a variety of nuts and fruit that you have lying about doing nothing! I was happy with my concoction because of the maple syrup, honey and vanilla flavors I threw in. It is fabulous on some FAGE Greek yogurt for breakfast or lunch. See what magic you can make by cleaning our your baking cabinet. Using the recipe below as your base, you can make something amazing and improve your cabinet feng shui while you're at it!

Junk Drawer Granola


2 cups rolled oats
1 cup wheat germ
2 cups 7 Whole Grain Puffs by Kashi
1/2 cup flax seeds
1 1/2 cups raw, shelled pumpkin seeds
2 cups mixed nuts (I had slivered almonds to get rid of)
1 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut

1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 Tbsp. warm water
1 Tbsp. vanilla
6 Tbsp. brown sugar
6 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 tsp. salt

6 oz. Craisins (or dried berries of any kind)
1 1/2 cup golden raisins (or other dried fruits)


Mix all the dried ingredients (oats, wheat germ, Kashi, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds and coconut) in a very large mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon and nutmeg to the dried ingredients and mix.

Cover 2 rimmed baking sheets with tin foil and spray with non stick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 250˚.
In a smaller bowl, mix the sugar, syrup, honey, oil, water, vanilla and salt. Heat on high in the microwave for one minute. The mixture will be hot and sugars will have dissolved. Pour the wet into the dry, mixing well. Pour into the baking sheets evenly.

Let bake slowly for almost two hours. Don't over mix while baking, just gently scoot and fold the mixture around every 40 minutes. The mixture should be dried and everything a nice golden color. Let cool and do not mix while cooling so you can keep more clumps together. Pour the dried fruits and berries over the granola, then pour all of it when cool in an airtight container. Voila! Better than store bought!

RECIPE: Smoked BBQ Pulled Pork and Happy Belated Father's Day!

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Urban Domestic "Divas" can be men as well as women (but I guess you can't call them Divas...I will have to come up with another name...). Case in point is my husband who is amazing when it comes to grilling and smoking anything (and a darn good all around cook, too). He smoked this pork butt for 13 hours then cooked it in the slow cooker for about another three. He made his vinegar BBQ sauce from scratch, too. My point is, all genders can be amazing in the kitchen, home and garden, especially SOME OF YOU DADS OUT THERE! Happy Belated Father's Day!

Smoked BBQ Pulled Pork

4-5 lb. pork butt

1 Tbsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
(if you wish you can just use McCormick Grill Mates Applewood Rub)


3/4 cup cider vinegar
2 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. BBQ
2-3 Tbsp. ketchup
1/2 tsp. cumin, ground
1/2 tsp. ground garlic
2 Tbsp. molasses


Make the rub by combining all rub ingredients in a small bowl and mix. Rub over all surfaces of pork. Allow to sit at room temp for a half hour. Meanwhile start your smoker and get it up to 350˚ F and add 3 large Applewood chips approx. 3" x 3" each (soak wood in water for 1/2 hour). Put pork on grill away from hot coals and wood (you want indirect heat). Add a metal pan of water somewhere in the smoker. Cook for 8-13 hrs. During smoking process you may want to baste the meat. Don't use anything with sugar as it will burn. We sometimes use a mix of olive oil and lime juice and baste every 2 hrs. There should be a fatty part of the pork which you put face down on the grill. Smoke that side for 4 hrs. Then, flip the pork over so the fat side is up for the last half of the smoking process.The fat will naturally drip over and baste the meat.

Remove pork from smoker and put in a slow cooker with 1 cup water and cook on high for 2-2 1/2 hours. This will break down the pork further. Remove from slow cooker and let sit until cool and doesn't burn you when pulling it apart. Use to forks to aid you in ripping the pork into small pieces.

Make the sauce by mixing all the sauce ingredients in a large 8 quart sauce pan. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to simmer 10 min. Pour sauce into a bowl and return pan to stove. Add the shredded pork to the pan. Add 1/2 the sauce to the pork, mix well. Taste and decide whether to add more sauce or add a bit more BBQ sauce. It's your call if you like the vinegar tang strong or soft. Serve on your choice of bread or rolls.

(you can also make this in the slow cooker for 8 hrs. on low. You won't get the smokey flavor but the pulled pork will still be fork tender and shreddable!)

GARDENING: Designing your Container Gardens is as Easy as 1, 2, 3!

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Gardening to me is very much an artistic endeavor. I think because I am an advertising art director by trade, and I usually don't get to fulfill my artistic inspiration (especially when clients are asking for logos to be bigger and colors changed to match their new living room couch). Gardening has been an amazing way to explore colors and textures with real, living things. It has been a great outlet for me. And I have really grown to enjoy container gardening.

Containers are more temporary, having to refresh and redo them yearly. It allows you to try and play with different textures, colors and themes and not be locked into a major investment like your property's garden beds. I have found them to be a lot of fun, from choosing the pots themselves to what goes in them. But I do follow a typical easy formula when at the plant store, and it practically rhymes so you can remember it too!

Here it is: Center, Filler, Trailer

Center: This part is a main attraction of sorts, with it's height or texture. It should  have some central prominence. I sometimes get some large, broad leaf plant or some spikes, pussy willows, tree/bush branches or grasses.

Filler: This is usually mid to low height plants, and I choose complementary colors to either the pot design and/or the center plant I chose. It could be some filigree greenery with small flowers, or plants with full tufts of flowers or seed pods, or greens and succulents. Make sure to not crowd these too much, they will need space to grow through the season, but you want a nice, full feeling around the base of the center plant.

Trailer: An important accent to the pot that adds some lushness to the pot itself, especially as the growing season is in full swing. There are many trailing vines and plants that can accent your color scheme or the height/color of your pot. Some may have delicate flowers, others may have colored leaves. There are even some succulents that trail. Pick the right length, texture and color that works for you. Ivy is a traditional English Victorian look while sweet potato vines can accent a variety of red and purple and lavender schemes. The options are endless.

When at the store, I typically grab my options for the pot and stage them together in a grouping to see how they fit and look. It will give you a sense of space, show you if you need more, and if the colors and textures will work well together. Also, if grouping container pots together, it is good for the pots themselves to have different heights and girth to add some energy to the yard. Just make sure the color schemes in each mini-garden work well as a group as well.

Enjoy the wonderful world of container gardening. It is loads of fun!

RECIPE: Billy's Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes

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Vanilla Vanilla cupcakes for me seem sometimes...too...vanilla? However, my one friend LOVES white on white cakes and cupcakes. And in honor of her, I wanted to make her some cupcakes. I did a lot of research on what recipe was THE BEST vanilla cupcake recipe. It seemed that the recipe from Magnolia bakery has a lot of buzz and love, and when I was about to print that recipe, I found on The Kitchn and some other cupcake blogs that this recipe from Billy's Bakery beat the Magnolia recipe, hands down. So I decided to make these, instead. And they did not disappoint. I tasted one slightly warm from the oven and it just melted in my mouth. Delicious!

I tweaked this because I did not have a paddle attachment for my mixer, and I used salted v.s. unsalted butter. The odd thing about these cupcakes is the start of the batter. You mush the butter into the flour mixture with a fork, almost similar to the theory of making flaky pie crusts. The addition of the cake flour with the regular adds to a light, delicate texture. The key is to not over mix these gems. And take them out when they are just getting light golden edges. Let them cool completely before frosting.

Billy's Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes
Makes about 30 cupcakes


1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into 1-inch cubes, softened
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 325°. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine flours, sugar, baking powder with a fork. Add butter, mixing and mushing with a fork until just coated with flour and crumbly.

2. In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla. With mixer on medium speed, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down sides of bowl before each addition; beat until ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat.

3. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about two-thirds full. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes.

4. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat process with remaining batter. Once cupcakes have cooled, use a small offset spatula to frost tops of each cupcake. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Billy's Vanilla Butter Cream
Makes enough for 30 cupcakes


Colored or white sprinkles, for decorating (optional)
1 cup (2 sticks)  butter, room temperature
6 to 9 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter until smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. With mixer on low speed, add 6 cups sugar, milk, and vanilla; mix until light and fluffy. If necessary, gradually add remaining 2 -3 cups sugar to reach desired consistency.

RECIPE: Lemonade Raspberry Beer Cocktail

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This little cocktail was a wonderful addition to the garden bridal shower party I hosted. It is a very refreshing spiked lemonade for eating outdoors. I found the basic recipe from www.myrecipes.com and added my spin to it. You can make some of it ahead of time by mixing the lemonade concentrate with the vodka in a container. That part can keep for up to 3 days. If it is a very hot day, I would keep things par frozen as you make this. It will keep the cocktail colder longer in the heat. Also, a few other people suggested they would cut the beer content in half with some tonic or sprite for a lighter, less punchy version.

Lemonade Raspberry Beer Cocktail
6 servings (we doubled this for the party)


3/4 cup frozen raspberries
3 1/2  (12 oz. bottles)  Leinenkugel's Raspberry Weiss
1 12 oz. container frozen raspberry lemonade concentrate, thawed
1/2 cup vodka
1 lemon and 2 limes, sliced

Mix first 4 ingredients in a large container. Add the lemon and lime slices as a garnish and serve over ice.

RECIPE: Super Easy Almond Raspberry Cake

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Sometimes you can look like a diva in the kitchen with little effort. This is one of those times. Lets face it, in between work, piano recitals, homework and gardening, you don't have time to bake amazing deliciousness from scratch-but you want to look like you did! After all, you have a reputation to uphold. This cake fits the bill.

You won't believe it's a box cake. Seriously. My mother, who is the most amazing cook you will ever meet (born and raised in Italy), gave me this recipe after she made it for her bridge group. She said she could not believe how good it was, and the ladies in her group could not get enough of it. It just made her laugh (my mother rarely makes anything from a box). She said I could share it with you all. I wish I had a better picture for you. This was a shot I took of hers. When I make it I will take a better shot. I had a piece and I was shocked at how good it was, too! It did not taste like a box cake at all! It had a great, refined look with the raspberry preserves in the middle and the light-white cake and frosting. My mother made it with two layers, but you could also cut the two layers horizontally in two, making four thinner layers, and using the preserves on each layer. A perfect easy dessert for leisurely entertaining.

Super Easy Almond Raspberry Cake

1 box Duncan Hines white cake mix
1 tsp. pure almond extract
2 9" round cake pans
1 jar raspberry preserves

1 stick butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. almond extract
1 lb. powdered sugar

Mix cake according to package directions. You may use whole eggs versus the egg whites it calls for to make the cake a little denser, if you wish. While adding the wet ingredients, add the almond extract. Prepare your cake pans and pour the batter evenly in them, and bake. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, whip butter and cream cheese together until combined and fluffy. Add the almond extract and whip some more until creamy. Add the powdered sugar gradually until light and fluffy.

Spread an even layer of raspberry preserve on the top of the bottom cake round. Add a 1/2 inch of frosting over it evenly. Place the second cake round on top. Frost the entire cake and serve. (as mentioned above, you can cut the layers in half and have 4 layers. Make sure to layer raspberry preserves and frosting in between each layer as you assemble.) Garnish with fresh raspberries.

GARDENING: QR codes can be a Gardener's Best Friend

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QR codes are starting to pop up everywhere, kind of like Tribbles (for you old Star Trek fans). For some of you that may not know what a QR code is, you probably have seen them here and there on products, magazine ads, outdoor billboards and building signage. They are little black and white squares with digitized squares, almost like a mashed up UPC code. (see below)

QR codes are great, but you do need a smart phone with a camera to read them. SO if you were like me (up until 3 months ago) and still have a cell phone that just does a silly thing like MAKING CALLS, then you will not be able to experience the magic sparkle dust of QR codes. But if you do have a smart phone, download a free reader such as Bee Tagg, and scan away!

Marketers are finding more and more ways for QR codes to help them with messaging and sales. But more specifically, I have been noticing them popping up on plant tags at some major retailers, and wondered at what content they would be pushing. After scanning a tag on a hydrangea bush, I was tickled to find a complete plant "work up", how to care for tips, and even on some herb plants-recipes and a recipe promotional give away.

This is very handy at the store when you are not sure about certain plant choices, and the tag is only going to give you so much information. You can open your Bee Tagg app on your phone, focus your camera on the code, have it scan, and it will give you options to go to the link provided, emailing the link, showing the link, copying the link or saving it to favorites. If you go to the link, there will be tips on sunlight needs, feeding, moisture, troubleshooting, how to plant, and a nice picture of the plant. If you want to save the info, and go home and look at your garden plans with the info before making a decision, you save the link to your favorites then access it later.

Gardening is a very old pastime. It is a very tactile, dirty, imperfect, physical hobby that doesn't feel like technology fits well with. But as I have shown you is some past posts, technology is finding it's way in all aspects of our lives, and gardening is one of them (gardening apps, plants sensors, etc.). Sometimes technology is too pervasive and steals away time, creativity and deep experiences and connections. But sometimes, it truly helps with the sharing of knowledge and efficiencies. These little QR codes on plant tags seems to me, a great benefit to "Old Fashioned" gardeners like me.
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