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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hydrosols in Facial Mists, Toners and Cremes for Enhancing & Beautifying Skin

There are many floral hydrosols that I enjoy incorporating into my skin care blends.  Some of my favorites are rose, orange blossom, lavender, calendula, lemon balm, and chamomile.  I love orange blossom hydrosol.  It makes my Calendula Orange Blossom: The Daily Lotion smell so sweet. You can make just about any hydrosol you desire....all one needs is a steam distiller.

Here's a beautiful copper steam distiller made by Al-Ambiq.  These pictures were taken last fall at Rootstalk Festival, an herb conference celebrating plants, people and planet benefiting Cascadia Wildlands.  The good folks at Mountain Rose really did a fine job putting on this conference.  It was my favorite thus far.  It was held in Oregon and I can't say enough about it.  Sadly, this was the first and last Rootstalk Festival they will put on.

This is Ann Harman's copper distiller (from Morning Myst Botanicals).  She presented a live demonstration on how to assemble the distiller and make essential oil and hydrosol using lemon thyme plant matter.

Hydrosols, or essential waters, are a co-product of essential oil making.  Hydrosols and essential oils are created when you steam distill plant matter.  In this case, after assembly, Ann added water and plant matter into the distiller.  As the distiller produces heat, the plants release their essential oils and are carried through the distiller's coils.  
It vaporizes the water and the essential oils from the plants. The condensing coil, shown here in this picture, is a coil submerged in cool water.  When the steam travels through the condensing coil, the steam and essential oil condenses from a vapor into a liquid. The liquid (hydrosol and oil) drips into the glass receiving element shown below.

Here, you can see the results of the steam distillation process: the darker golden line above the water is the essential oil and since oil and water don't mix...the oil will float above the water.  The water portion below the essential oil is the beautiful hydrosol.  Hydrosols also possess the  fragrance of the plant. Although the fragrance is not as strong as the essential oil, it is still a delicate representation of the essence of the plant.

Hydrosols are not only deliciously fragrant, they carry many of the benefits of the plant. They carry beneficial plant acids and are anti-inflammatory. Hydrosols help heal, tone, restore pH balance and hydrate skin.  Hydrosols are also wonderful because of their antioxidant properties. Plant acids can have wonderful impacts on the skin. Rose hydrosol, for example, has a long history for being known to help hydrate skin and reduce fine lines on the face. 

Due to its mild and therapeutic benefits, I use calendula hydrosol topically to help heal irritations on my cat, Basil.  Like many cats, Basil does not like to tolerate much in terms of therapeutic intervention, but he enjoys the calendula hydrosol when applied to his skin.  He is very allergic to fleas and if he gets bitten he will quickly get inflamed lips and sores. After applying the hydrosol with a cotton ball on his skin, his inflammation is reduced and his sores heal faster. 

I encourage you to keep researching and reading about the many benefits of hydrosols in skin care. For facial mists, I love to keep it simple: rose and lavender hydrosol.  Rose hydrosol is a wrinkle fighting beauty secret and lavender is so loving to the skin making it wonderful for even those with the most delicate and sensitive skin.

When purchasing hydrosol for skin care, be sure to purchase from a distiller whose main objective is to make hydrosol rather than essential oil.  If it's a hydrosol that is a byproduct of essential oil, then the flowers and plant matter used may not be as fresh and full of the wonderful watery elements you want when enjoying hydrosol.  However, if the distiller's main objective is making hydrosol, then you will ultimately have the best representation of hydrosol.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Figs: For Your Health and For Dessert!

Two years ago, herbhusband and I planted two fig trees, botanically known as Ficus carica.  We planted Brown Turkey, or Texas Everbearing fig, for their ability to both handle the hot dry summers and cold freezing winters we experience in central Texas. 

Last year, we had an early freeze in October and lost the figs that hadn't finished maturing on the trees.  That was so very sad.  They had grown quite a bit their first year - up to 6 feet.  However, their roots were new to their home and the trees froze to the ground. 

This year, in early spring, the figs sprouted new growth and grew to be over 8 feet tall! We have been excited to harvest figs throughout the summer and fall.

Earlier this month, the leaves dropped but the figs remained and continued to ripen.  Heavenly! I started to worry about a deep freeze we were scheduled to get and decided to harvest all the figs - ripe or not.  I must have brought in a hundred figs.  I placed ripe figs on the kitchen counter and the unripe figs in a brown paper bag to encourage ripening.  So, just after two years of growth, the figs have nicely established root systems making them much more resistant to climate changes.  Hurray!

Now, the new task at hand was discovering a new and delicious way to savor all of these figs!

 I knew I wanted to saute them with red wine and really was craving a figgy dessert sooo....here's what I did. 

Rinsed and sliced ripe figs and sauteed in a pan with red wine, maple syrup, a few sprigs of rosemary from the garden, and a hint of freshly grated nutmeg.  I gently sauteed the figs just until they were warm and lightly cooked.  (It's good to gently cook and not over cook figs to keep their shape and texture on point).

After about 2-3 minutes, I removed the figs and then I was left with this gorgeous jewel toned sauce!

Leaving the rosemary sprigs, I added just a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and created a red wine reduction over low heat.  The maple syrup, red wine, rosemary, and balsamic mingled together and became one fantastically delicious herb infused sauce!

A perfectionist would strain the sauce before serving to remove the tiny seeds left behind from the figs....but I was so excited and eager to eat this deliciousness....that thought just didn't cross my mind :)

I gathered a couple scoops of good quality vanilla bean ice cream and then placed the sauteed figs over the ice cream.  Then, I spooned and drizzled the red wine reduction over the figs and ice cream.  Oh heavenly days, this was so good! The reduction gently melted the ice cream and the taste of maple syrup paired with hints of rosemary in the reduction is simple bliss!

Figs can be eaten fresh from the tree (as Briar and I enjoyed this summer and fall) and can be made into meals, jellies and jams or dried.  Figs are a great source of fiber and have superb nutritional value.  They contain antioxidants, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin K. 
Eating a few figs a day helps stimulate the digestive system and helps us stay healthy. 
I hope next time you see figs in the grocery store or in a farmers market you don't pass them up - they are so good! I also encourage you to grow your own! They are easy and fun to have in the garden.
Until next time, HCH.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

December Gardening in the Texas Hill Country: Beta Carotene & Vitamin C Power heading into Winter

This has been an amazingly warm fall and winter.  Typically we receive our first frost (just enough to kill everything back) by late October.  This year, we are heading into the second week of December without one damaging freeze yet! Incredible.  Well, the clock is ticking.....we are gearing up for our first deep freeze this week.  That means I've been very busy in the garden trying to capture and harvest every last drop of the late summer and fall garden. I've carried armfuls of fruits and veggies inside the house and there's so many foods I'm excited to share with you today!

First, I want to share one of my most favorites: The Romeo Carrot.  This carrot grows to be three inches or shorter and is just the same in diameter.   They are popping up from the earth on their own letting me know they are ready to be enjoyed!

I planted them in late summer/early fall and they mature pretty quickly. I must say, these are the sweetest and tastiest carrots I've ever had.  I peeled them and sliced them and gently sauteed them with a little butter, salt, pepper, and freshly ground nutmeg.  Oh they are so tasty! I was eating them with my fingers hardly able to wait to plate them up!

I also chopped fresh parsley from the garden and added them to the sauté at the end.  So sweet and savory.  I will certainly be enjoying these again and again. 

As I gobbled them down, I started wondering if there was a relationship between the primarily orange and reddish foods coming out of the garden as we head into winter.  Exploring my curiosity, I noticed a lot of the food coming out of the garden is packed full of beta carotene and vitamin C. 

Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant and full of age fighting properties.  It also boosts the immune system and helps improve night vision.  With the days growing shorter, we sure have a lot more night in our lives and eating fresh organic carrots is not a bad thing if you ask me.  I need all the help I can get when walking in the dark checking on plants and the greenhouse not to mention driving in the dark at only 6pm!

Peeled organic carrots from the garden: I love all the different shapes and sizes!
Before it freezes this week, I went ahead and harvested every single bell pepper, fig, pumpkin, tomato and herb I knew would be damaged by the cold temperatures. Did you know all bell peppers are a good source of Vitamin C? Yellow and red are higher, but even the green bell pepper is a great source of Vitamin C!  So all these wonderful fresh foods sitting on my kitchen counter are great sources of beta carotene and vitamin C! What a blessing from mother earth. 

Heading into winter, it's important to feed and nourish our bodies properly with fresh sources of vitamins and minerals.  Our immune systems will certainly get a work out in the months ahead.  Last night, I made a fresh salad with sliced tomatoes and bell peppers with a squeeze of Meyer lemon juice and a dash of sea salt.  A tart and savory treat.  The combined juices could have been a specialty juice blend all its own!

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) thriving in the December garden
Parsley has been used as an after dinner herb, both pallet cleansing and bad breath reducer.  Parsley is also a great source of potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and niacin. 

Parsley is also a good blood cleansing herb and can help rid the body of toxins. It's so easy to eat and versatile. I like to make cuttings from the fresh sprigs and keep in a slender vase in the kitchen. It keeps very well and stays fresh in water....and best thing is you can use the sprigs throughout the weeks in your nightly cooking.  Chop finely and dress up any weeknight meal for a gourmet treat :)

Tonight, after I came home from a long day at work - I saw the abundance of tomatoes, peppers, parsley, sage and Swiss chard on my kitchen counter.  I also had grass fed ground beef waiting to be introduced into a meal tonight, too.  I had no idea what I was going to do when it just was so obvious I had no other choice but to make it.  Stuffed bell peppers with sauteed tomato, beef, garlic, parsley and sage. 
I started by browning the grass fed beef along with one seeded habanero pepper (I have so many I always try and use them here and there).  I took the seeds out to keep the flavor but not the heat.  Fresh habanero is so sweet and adds complexity to the dish.  It's a wonderful stimulating herb for your nose, taste buds, and circulatory system. 
Next, I drained any excess fat and added about two cups chopped tomato.  After the tomatoes started to reduce, I added one minced garlic clove, two sage leaves, 1-2 leaves chopped Swiss chard leaves,  and freshly chopped parsley (about two tablespoons).  While cooking I halved and seeded 4 bell peppers.  Once everything was simmering and reducing in the skillet, I gently added the halved peppers facing up just to gently steam them.  After a couple minutes of steaming the peppers, I removed them and plated them.  I then stuffed them with the ground beef sauté.

I love this since it was made all in one skillet.  No need to get overly fancy for a Monday night - but it really hit the spot....home cooked vitamin packed goodness but not all the fuss. 

Next time, I want to share with you how I made a wonderful figgy treat! It's a sticky, delicious, gourmet, must-have dessert you can make right at home :)

Until nextime, HCH