Last minute gift idea: Christmas Quinoa

The last stretch before Christmas–do we mob the mall for those last minute things or pay overnight shipping  OR do we get creative.                                                   I love homemade gifts.

As we head into the final days before Christmas, I will be posting projects that can be made in about an hour (once you gather all the materials!)  Give joy in a thoughtful way!

One of my favorite food discoveries this past year was Quinoa. I season it with fresh herbs (love what cilantro or basil do to quinoa’s nutty flavor!) , drizzled with garlic infused olive oil, fresh grape tomatoes and sliced black olives. I make a big batch, toss in the herbs, refrigerate it and have it as a quick lunch or dinner. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WAH) is a plant (Chenopodium quinoa) native to the Andes Mountains. It is popular for its high protein and nutrient value.  To learn all you really want to know about this plant go to http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/quinoa.html

Cook quinoa like you cook rice.

Basic Quinoa Recipe

2 cups water          1 cup quinoa

Place quinoa and water in a 1-½ quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until all the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). You will know that the quinoa is done when all the grains have turned  transparent, and the  germ has separated. Quinoa is really easy to do in a rice cooker. Follow directions for the rice cooker using the same information as rice.  Makes 3 cups.

Bottom jar: quinoa, middle jar:pecans and a layer of dried cherries, top jar: brown sugar cinnamon topping

Inspired by the book Mary Jane’s Outpost by Mary Jane Butters.(ISBN 978-0-307-34580-6), I found the idea for topping quinoa just like a morning bowl of oatmeal. Tried it, love it, thinking this could be packaged up for gifting.

Christmas Quinoa                                Give a gift basket with a mini rice cooker and this quinoa collage of jars with the directions for a college student to take home  or stack the tower of jars with the directions in a gift bag for a favorite foodie.

Package in small wide mouth canning jars or other decorative jars that stack well:

1st jar- 1 cup Quinoa

2nd jar- a layer of pecans and a layer of dried cherries (or try dried cranberries or blueberries)

3rd jar: 1/2 cup brown sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon powder (mix well)

Give the cooking and serving directions: Cook the quinoa according to the basic directions.

While steaming hot serve,  topped with pecans and dried fruits then sprinkle with the brown/cinnamon sugar mix (to taste) .

Grateful

Thankful…we hear that a lot this time of year. I think the spirit of thankfulness we feel now, should happen every other day of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for a day set aside to reflect on it all, but feel a bit swirled under by all the black Friday stuff. Thursday is just a speed bump to Friday. How did this happen? I remember as a kid when every store was closed and it was truly a holiday where time was spent with family (a bit Norman Rockwell-esque).  Forgot the whipped cream? Too bad because the Winn Dixie was buttoned up tight and there wasn’t a store open…anywhere!  I recently asked a cashier at a grocery store if she had plans for the holiday and she said she had to work. I told her what a bummer to have to work on a holiday and she brightened up and said she volunteered so she could have the time-and-a-half pay. Somehow,  it still made me sad.

So if Thursday is just another day on the calendar that happens to be a big day for turkey farmers, then grateful should be a part of every day. Find a quiet time in each day to reflect, even for just a few minutes. There are many mornings when I am simply grateful that I can put my cold toes over a warm heater vent.  Lord, I am grateful for: a warm house, a summer morning in the garden with the discovery of a bloom that wasn’t there yesterday. The range of brilliant colors of fall leaves.  The first daffodil to brighten the grey skies in the spring, a phone call from a far-away friend,  the giggle of a four-year old, all my girls home at the same time.  The list could go on and on, but the message is to be grateful for the simple things and seek thanksgiving in every day.

Grow a (Paper) White Christmas

Tis the season to start your paperwhites!  Fragrant and easy to grow, Narcissus tazetta commonly known as “paperwhites” are bulbs that are native to warmer climates and grow easily without a chilling period.  This classic indoor bulb is intensely fragrant with elegant star-shaped clusters of white flowers that are popular at holiday time. Once planted, watered and placed in a warm spot they will bloom within 4 to 6 weeks. I always plant mine the first week in November and then plant another group in a few weeks to stage a longer period of bloom and color all season long.

Paperwhites lend themselves to holiday decorating because they can be planted in unusual containers to fit a theme such as teacups and glass bowls. Cluster potted groupings on a mantle or mixed into centerpieces among greenery, berries and bows for a living and fragrant element to your holiday décor.

How to plant:

Gather supplies-

-4 to 6 inch round, 4 inch deep pot. Use terra-cotta or any decorative bowl; just make sure there is a drainage hole in the bottom.

Bulb Beauty- Cobalt beach glass in a clear pot and small chip green glass in a champagne glass.

-3 to 5 Paperwhite bulbs (the most common variety is sold as Paperwhite “Ziva”) Choose bulbs that are firm, with rich brown papery, outside layers. A bit of green stem showing is OK.

-White rock chips or try a touch of creativity by using beach glass, marbles. Use anything heavy enough to keep the bulbs upright.

How to:

In the bottom of the pot, place at least two inches of the base material (rock or glass, etc.). Depending on the size and style of the pot, you may need to go deeper.The bulbs top should set just below the rim of the pot.  Set the bulbs firmly on top of the base; roots down and stem up. A 4 inch pot will hold 3 bulbs and a  6 inch pot holds 5 bulbs. Loosely fill the pot with remaining base material to the rim.  About half of the bulb should be exposed. Water well and place in a warm spot,  away from direct sunlight,  until green shoots emerge to about 4 inches.

Bring the pot into a sunny spot and keep evenly watered. Do not over-water. The blooms will last longer if kept in a cooler area of the home.

Give them a holiday spirit!

Paperwhites tend to get tipsy. The problem is,  the slender stems grow tall with all of the flower weight at the top, making the stems bend and fall over.

Researchers with the Flowerbulb Research Program at Cornell University have remedied a solution to this top-heavy blooms; alcohol. When paperwhite bulbs are grown in a diluted solution of alcohol, the plants reach a height of up to 1/2 their normal growth yet the flower size is not affected and they bloom just as long. The water/alcohol stress on the plants is just enough to stunt their growth, let’s just say it Continue reading “Grow a (Paper) White Christmas”

Puzzle Pieces

” Who knows just how creative and eco-friendly you can be? You’re only limited by your imagination–and ambition…   I am not saying we must all run out to the salvage yards, scooping up bits and pieces to save them from the landfill. Oh heck, yes I am! Some of the most creative uses of garden art were rescues from such places.”  Joe Lamp’l , The Green Gardener’s guide.

Recycled windows=cool greenhouse!

One thing my mom always says…creating a display garden at the Northwest Flower and Garden show is easier when you build as much as you can ahead of time. It is starting to become like a big puzzle. We build, dismantle and then put the pieces back together at the show.  Build day today just before the rain set in.

Plastic bottles from Gig Harbor High, getting ready for show time!

Count down to building in the convention center…7 days!!!

In the Garden with Courtney

A dance partner at the Huntington Botanical Garden

Well then, let’s get to it! Hi there, I’m Courtney Goetz. I’m a seventeen year old senior attending Gig Harbor High School, and as you know, a display garden designer this year at the Northwest Flower and Garden show.

I think the best way to introduce myself is telling you how I got into gardening.

     Growing up on the potato farm in Idaho, there was never a time of boredom. Being seven years old, most of what I did was make mud pies on Grandma’s porch, play on the farm equipment, and have sprinkler fights or pick off the buds on the Lilac bushes to throw at my older sisters (sorry Mom, never knew  they actually had a purpose on the plant.) We had a 460 acre farm, and I picked random places to explore, build forts on and claim as my own. Along with adventures, I helped my mom in the greenhouse and in the flower fields not as a chore, but just because it was something fun to do. We even got a field trip of my kindergarten class to come out to the farm and learn about plants and take home a planted sunflower seed.

         After we moved from Idaho up to Washington, our play space was reduced to a claustrophobic amount. But, there still was an acre of unexplored and very native vegetation, and if I could crawl through bushes to it, it was mine. I can think of three places that I claimed.

Two different spots were in the front yard with tall trees, Salal, Huckleberries and a stick fort with tree stump chairs. Another spot was in the backyard: it was my hide-and-seek spot. I’d crawl about 12 feet into the thick of bushes and clear out a tiny space only I could fit in.

I used it so much the dirt became quite comfy, and no one could ever find me because they’d give up so easily. 🙂

     Seven years later, most of my evidence is gone or cleared away. But as we cleared away bushes, the forest of native plants changed to perennials and yard maintenance. I was gardening, whether I liked it or not. Don’t worry, most of the time I did. My love for gardening matured from exploring stick forts to having flower beds and cutting lavender.

Courtney Cosmos!

     The fascination of gardening with kids is being able to see the effects of their effort with a touch of unknown science, e.g. planting a seed and watching it grow into a sunflower. My fascination was no different than normal, I just believe it was prolonged exposure to it. I was lucky to be a part of my mom’s work sometimes because I knew not many my age had the opportunities or knowledge I had. And I’m not saying it is effective to have a child grow up in a high maintenance yard to get them to like gardening, I’m saying the little extra exposure and education from my parents really shaped my love for it all.