Article by Wendy Hanson Mazet
It is the end of the year. Within hours we will say goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017! If you are the one hosting the end of the year parties, you may be making last minute trips to the store to ensure everything is perfect for family and friends.
If you are a gardener like me, there is always a little extra challenge when it comes to entertaining holiday guests. There seems to be an expectation that I will have something fresh from the garden included in my dishes or drinks. Yes, even when it is below freezing outside, and I do not have a greenhouse.
But, it is actually easier than you might think to use fresh herbs and greens in festive holiday drinks and dishes, even if it is freezing outside.
First off, what is still in the garden? If nothing, that is OK. You now have your first easy New Year’s resolution. Make a plan to change or build just one raised bed to include PVC hoops over the top. Then cover those hoops with either outdoor grade plastic or frost blankets in winter. Even though it has been in the single digits at my home many times this season, I still have healthy curly leaf kale and rosemary.
Trying to use both of these in my holiday party planning was easy. First I used the kale to make my own version of a spinach dip, and then I used my rosemary in some well-known and some not so obvious ways.
You can do a lot with rosemary in cooking, but I wanted to surprise my guests with an out-of-the-ordinary rosemary application– drinks! Many people think rosemary is just for cooking or for garnish, but once you have tried infusing the herb’s aromatic oils into drinks, you will want to keep experimenting.
At my little get together, I will have three different drinks that take advantage of my fresh rosemary. Next to the sourdough, turkey and cheese bites, which include fresh sage and a rosemary mayonnaise spread, I will have two versions of a ruby red grapefruit and rosemary, honey/agave cocktail.
To make this drink, use ruby red grapefruit juice, vodka or gin, lemon juice and a warmed liquefied honey or straight agave with a sprig of rosemary for garnish. If you make it like a martini, add a sprig of rosemary in the shaker too. This drink is great and can be made to fizzle. Just add either a little Champagne instead of the vodka or gin. Or, take out the alcohol and use sparkling cider or soda water for the designated drivers.
Yes it is different, but you can adjust things to make it just right for your taste. When preparing it, check your flavors. If you use fresh-squeezed ruby red grape fruits, you may need to add more honey or agave. If you use a concentrated ruby red grapefruit juice, it will already be sweet. The honey or agave could end up making your refreshing drink into a dessert.
Another beverage that uses rosemary is the Rosemary Champagne Fizz. It is an easy, sweet and festive drink. Combine sugar, rosemary, gin and cranberry or ruby red grapefruit juice with Champagne or Prosecco.
If you do not like the fizz and people want to sit back and take it easy, try a lemon and rosemary bourbon sour. Watch these “sit back and relax” drinks though, the alcohol can sneak up on you with quite the kick.
When I make fun and refreshing drinks like these, I love using fresh ingredients to liven things up. I pull from my garden when I can. But, when I want to make drinks or dishes with fresh herbs that I do not have or that are out of season in my garden, I make trips to the store!
Even though many of my favorites like mint, thyme, lavender, basil and berries are not in season here right now, it is summer somewhere else. What is not in season here is in season there. It is wonderful to be able to purchase fresh cuttings or even plants from my local market or nursery. I can then keep those plants in my kitchen window for the winter. When the snow melts and spring is on its way, I will just place them out in the garden.
When making last minute additions to your meal or your holiday get together, think fresh and check your garden. You never know what creations you can come up with. All of your friends will rave about them in 2017.
Making the most of winter months for gardeners
Sidebar by Wendy Hanson Mazet
It seems that being a vegetable gardener and a cook go hand in hand. It must be that people who crave fresh and flavorful fruits, vegetables and leafy greens know food can be fresher and its flavors more intense when it is homegrown.
In winter we mainly use preserved or stored goods as the outside temperatures make water into ice. By modifying your garden just a little, you can still harvest many herbs and greens all winter long. By simply installing a few PVC hoops over a raised bed, you can make a mini hoop house. Then just use plastic, Remay, frost blankets or whatever you may have that will allow light through and keep heat in.
Some of the hardy herbs and greens for winter growing and cooking include rosemary, thyme, sage, hardy varieties of mint, kale, collards, spinach, wild arugula, winter-hardy lettuces, radishes and turnips.
No matter what you grow in your mini hoop house, there is always a feeling of amazement when you go outside in frigid temperatures to check on your garden. You will feel the warmth and see the healthy vibrant plants even though it might be snowing!
Go ahead and give mini hoop house growing a try. Gardening is full of ups and downs, we learn from our failures and bask in our success. I hope 2017 offers you a bountiful gardening year.
Wendy Hanson Mazet is a horticulturist and certified arborist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have questions about your plants? Contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or email@example.com, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.