Monday, April 30, 2012

Oh, Hail.

View out the back kitchen door.

Ah, the joys of springtime. Saturday evening, April 28 2012, about 8PM. The very beginning of Kentucky Derby week, when everyone has their homes and gardens spiffed up and ready for "showtime"...
It should still be light outside, by the way.
And there should not be balls of ice falling from the sky.
Just sayin'.

View out the front door. 

It sounded like golf balls on the roof... and we were worried that we'd lose a window or two on the West side of the house (luckily, they held).

Both our vehicles are now sporting dimples... and we'll be having a roof inspection done, just in case.
In the garden, peonies and iris took the worst hit; luckily, they have more buds yet to open. The pale-blue clusters of Blue Star (Amsonia) blooms are just shattered. All through the neighborhood, it looks like the beginning of fall - leaves all over the yards - except that the fallen leaves are all green.

Our  neighbor across the street used his leaf-blower to clear all his leaves INTO the street, just like he does every fall. Passing cars blow them into everyone else's yard. 
What a sweetheart. ;)

Some of the bigger hailstones. Yes, these are single hailstones.

Only one thing to say... Oh, Hail. 

Grab the pruners, Say Calm And Carry On! 

Coolin' it!

Spearmint 'Kentucky Colonel'
Mint has been prized for centuries for its flavor, its fresh aroma, and its many uses. It comes in all kinds of flavors, from upright Spearmint and Peppermint to green-and-white variegated Pineapple Mint, trailing dark-stemmed Sweet Black Peppermint, miniature-leaved Pennyroyal... and the list goes on and on!

Its genus name, Mentha, is thought to come from Greek mythology. A nymph named Minthe was turned into a plant by the jealous wife of the god Hades - to soften the blow a little, Hades gave Minthe her lovely scent. Since then, mint has been collected as a tithe by the Pharisees, strewn on floors of synagogues and churches, came to symbolize hospitality, and used in cooking, cosmetics, cold remedies, bathing, medicines... is there anywhere these little plants don't pop up?
Mint Julep and Minted Lemonade on the front porch!
That goes for the garden, too - once you have mint, is there anywhere it won't go?! Mints of any sort can be unbelievably invasive. I remember planting Pennyroyal one year, just for kicks. I bought three little three-inch-square pots of it... and by the end of the summer, I filled a trash can and a half when I tried to rip out the results! It's a lovely little plant, low ground cover, nice scent - just not where I had planted it. Lesson learned: Research before you plant. Especially if it's a mint!
If you don't want to be constantly riding herd on these little lovelies, the best place to plant them is in pots. They like a somewhat moist soil, and can take full sun or part shade. Or anything, really. Mint also loves to be harvested - if you cut it down to the ground once or twice a season, it'll usually bounce back with lush re-growth. Two ways to preserve your mint harvest are drying and making it into a syrup. 
As with just about any herb, pick your mint it on a dry morning , after the dew has dried but before the sun is full on it.  Rinse lightly and pat dry.  To store unused fresh mint, place stems in a jar of water (like a flower bouquet) and cover the tops with a perforated plastic “veggie” bag.  Place in refrigerator.  If keeping for more than a day or so, remove the lower leaves before placing stems in water.
The purist's way to dry mint (and other herbs): Gather the whole stems into bunches and secure with a rubber band. The stem-end of each bunch should be about as big around as a pencil. Hang the bunches somewhere with good air circulation, preferably dark and with a moderate temperature. When the leaves are dry enough to shatter, strip them gently from the stems and store in a tightly-lidded glass jar, away from heat and light.
The non-purist's way: Cut it down, spread it out on paper towels, let it dry. Put the completely-dried leaves and/or stems in a ziploc baggie and stick it in the cupboard. (Guess which method I use?) If you said "Both"... you'd be correct. ;) Either way, be sure to label it! Different varieties of dried mints can look an awful lot alike. 
A cup of tea, a little fresh mint, and Spearmint Syrup

At the time of writing, I have only two mints on hand: a Spearmint cultivar called "Kentucky Colonel", and Candy Mint, which is a dark-stemmed, trailing peppermint with a sweet scent - makes a fabulous peppermint tea!  I usually make the spearmint into syrup, and dry the peppermint. 


Speaking of syrup...
I think it's time for a few recipes, yes?

This syrup keeps a very long time (six months to a year) in the refrigerator, and is great in hot or iced tea, lemonade, and *ahem* alcoholic drinks like the Mint Julep and Mojito. You can also make syrup with other herbs - Lavender, Rosemary, or whatever else sounds interesting.
1 cup (8 oz.) cold water 
2 cups sugar 

6 mint sprigs (Or much more, to taste - I usually put in as much mint as the syrup will cover.)

Boil the sugar and water for 5 minutes. (Start the timer when you turn on the heat.  Around 5 minutes, test with a candy thermometer – at 210 degrees, it should be perfect!)  Cool to room temperature. Add the mint leaves, cover, and  let syrup “brew” overnight or for 12 hours. Stir the syrup a couple of times and strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth to remove mint. Makes ½ pint. (about 8 ounces)  Recipe can be doubled. 

(Technical note: The funky spacing in this recipe is all Blogger's idea. What shows in my "editing" page looks exactly like all the other recipes. *shrugs* ) 


Since Mint Juleps are a Kentucky Derby classic, I'm saving that recipe for the next post. But here's a yummy twist on home-made lemonade:

1/2 to 1 cup (4 to 8 oz.) herb syrup, to taste                                             
Dash of salt
3 cups (24 oz.) water
2/3 cup (about 5 to 5.5 oz.) freshly squeezed lemon juice

Mix all ingredients; chill and serve over ice.   Garnish with a fresh sprig of whichever herb you used to make the syrup.


Adapted by Jules
This is a tasty little bread, with a fresh twist of mint. 

 2 ½ cups flour
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
3 ½ tsp. baking powder
3 Tbl. oil
1 egg
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup orange juice
1 Tbl. freshly grated orange zest
¾ cup milk
Orange Glaze (recipe follows)

Grease one large or two smaller loaf pans. Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the flour, sugar, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Whisk together the milk, juice, zest, oil, and egg. Blend the mixtures together, then add walnuts and mint.  Pour into loaf pan(s) and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. While still warm, pour glaze over bread. 

Orange Glaze:
2 Tbl. orange juice
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. freshly grated orange zest 
Mix all glaze ingredients until smooth.


And who says mint is just for food? Here's a really refreshing treat for your feet.  Dried alfalfa can usually be found at health food or herb stores, or at one of the herb company links listed in the right column on this page.
From The Herb Companion magazine

Combined with cooling herbs such as mint and thyme, alfalfa makes an energizing footbath.  This soak, followed by a simple foot massage using a natural oil such as grapeseed or sunflower, will do wonders for tired, overworked feet.

2 Tbl. dried alfalfa
1 Tbl. dried mint leaves
1 Tbl. dried thyme leaves
1 gallon hot water
2 Tbl. Epsom Salts
Grapeseed or sunflower oil

Place the dried or fresh herbs inside a tea ball or square of cheesecloth.  Fill a large basin with hot water and pour in the Epsom salts.  Float the herbal bundle in the water and let it steep until the water is cool enough for your feet.  Soak your feet in the fragrant water for 15 to 20 minutes.  Pat the skin dry and massage one of the natural oils listed above into your feet.  Makes enough for one footbath.


I know this barely scratches the surface of all we can do with mint - the hardest part is knowing where to stop! I encourage you to experiment with it - if you plant mint, you'll probably have plenty to work with. Enjoy! ;)