When Good Mint Goes Too Far

You may have heard that mint is best planted in containers; that if left uncontained, it goes invasive.  Let me show you what mint will do when left to its own minty devices!

This is the flagstone pathway I built, OK placed, a few years back.  I love it because it lets me walk barefoot into the garden 20 times a day.  There’s no cement underlay, just fabric underneath that’s supposed to keep weeds at bay.  As you can see, that fabric is no match for mint.

the path overtaken... by mint. and black eyed susan vine. and even some chives.
the path overtaken by mint. and black-eyed susan vine. and chives…

The greenery here is “apple” mint — a sweetish, slightly fruity-tasting, fuzzy variety — a wonderful mint, but one which I never meant to plant anywhere near this area — yet here it is, doing it’s best to take the place over.  There’s some black-eyed susan vine in there too — see the pretty pink flowers?  Also invasive!  Plant one vine, and each of the many lovely flowers it drops will produce very viable seeds.  Perfect if you’re looking to cover a back fence, but a real pain in the middle of the garden.

So what prompted this mint situation?  A few years ago, the grapevine now gracing our trellis shared a half-barrel container with a variety of herbs, among them — you guessed it — my favorite apple mint.  When the grapevine failed to thrive in its container, I replanted it at the base of the trellis, taking great care (ha!) to remove any tiny bits of mint roots that were intertwined in the grape roots.  So much for “great care”, because some tiny bit of root did in fact get planted, and though I did make some (fairly feeble) efforts to pull out the mint as it grew and multiplied, eventually those roots found their way into the fertile soil under the flagstones (probably the best soil in the whole garden, since that’s where the earthworms hang out).  The march of the mint was on!

one little, two little, three little mint tips... leads to four little, five little, six little mint tips!
one little, two little, three little mint sprouts… leads to four little, five little, six little mint sprouts!

So, we’ve got a case of invasive mint.  It’s growing fast; but since I’m the one who has to deal with it, it’s not going anywhere fast.  Having a mint forest underfoot kind of annoys my accountant husband, who like to see his flagstones-and-pebbles neatly in rows.  I’m more willing to accept, and want to work with, a garden that’s a bit out-of-control.  It’s boring being in control all the time, and frustrating trying to be in control all the time.  So, I just pull out mint that is growing too far (it will NOT be allowed into the garden beds!), and cut off the sprouts when they get too tall.

The absolute upside of growing mint over a sizable distance is the proliferation of mint “tips”.  They’re the best part of the mint; the newest, prettiest leaves, perfect for eating or as garnish.

Our Pippa is a mint-tip connoisseur. Only the freshest and finest of leaves will do.
Our Pippa is a mint-tip connoisseur. Only the freshest and finest of leaves will do.
lemonade
lemonade “with benefits”!

A glass of delicious homegrown mint-enhanced lemonade is just the thing after a morning spent managing mint!  Find my (extremely locally) famous recipe for Apple-Mint Lemonade here.

Take a leaf out of mint’s book, and

Grow Where You Are Planted.

: )     Jen.

Caesar Salad {GF}: A Love Story

Of the 9 hens we bought this spring, only 1 has begun to lay. Since my neighbor and I share the hens and eggs, this means one egg per family every other day.

Come on, the rest of you girls, time to earn your keep!!!

Luckily I know a delightful way of feeding one’s family using just one homegrown egg: turn it into dressing for a Caesar salad.  My family’s been eating and making this salad forever — I’ve had the recipe memorized for at least 30 years.  To make it now with our own beautiful backyard eggs is a joy.

First though, I must share a little Caesar salad love story.  While living and working in Switzerland, I met a man I suspected was through-and-through wonderful; possibly even The One.  It was ridiculously bad timing, of course — I’d just quit my banking job and all systems were “go” for a return to the States.  Plus I hadn’t traveled all the way to Switzerland to fall in love with a guy from — dear Lord — New Jersey?!?!  But the attraction persisted and appeared to be mutual and finally one night he invited me to his (crappy bachelor pad) apartment to cook dinner. (It was not a good apartment.  A 20 minute walk — uphill both ways — from anything!  Surrounded by grumpy old Swiss neighbors with impeccable hearing; heaven forbid someone flush a toilet after 9pm!  Little did I know, that night, that this would be my crappy apartment, too, in just about 2 months’ time.)

Anyway, back to dinner: I’d decided to go bold and was starting with my mom’s Caesar salad.  We ate the salad — he said he loved it, but who knew, was he just being polite?  I went back into the kitchen to get the next course.  And then, glancing back into the dining room, a magical sight to be seen — my guy, salad bowl tipped to his mouth, drinking up every last drop of pungent, potent dressing.

At that moment, watching Bob pay our family’s favorite salad dressing the ultimate in respect, I knew: this was my person.

(It freaks him out a little when I tell this story.  He was just drinking good salad dressing.  The rocking of my world was unintended.)

So here it is, my recipe for a classic Caesar salad, adapted slightly from the way mom used to make it.  Mine’s garlickier; she takes the more refined (and classic Caesar) approach of rubbing the garlic around the bowl, then tossing it away, rather than mincing and adding it. If, post-Caesar, you plan on kissing a person that is not already in a committed relationship with you, you may omit the minced garlic.  You’d be silly though.  And misguided.  : )

Caesar Salad

1 tsp. freshly chopped garlic

2 2-inch long strips anchovy paste (available in most grocery stores, though you might have to look for it.  Can substitute 2 anchovy filets (or more.  yum.)

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar (sherry or champagne vinegars work too)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

the juice of 1/2 lemon

1 egg yolk (Coddling the egg helps separate the white from the yolk.  Gently drop a whole raw egg into a mug of very hot but not boiling water for 2-4 minutes.  Remove egg, rinsing under cool water to cool the shell quicker; then crack it, using fingers to catch the yolk while allowing the whites to slip through.)

1 large head Romaine lettuce, rinsed and dried, thick (tasteless) stems and ribs removed, hand-torn into bite-sized pieces (hand-torn lettuce shows 64x more love than knife-chopped lettuce.)

Parmesan cheese, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

In the bottom of a large salad bowl, combine garlic; anchovy paste; Worcestershire and vinegar.

Add olive oil and lemon juice, whisking until mixture is emulsified.

Just before serving, whisk in 1 egg yolk.  Finish dressing with a tsp. or so Parmesan cheese.

Before adding the lettuce, taste the dressing.  No two Caesar dressings are ever quite the same. It should be tart and pungent, but balanced.  Too tart?  Add more Worcestershire and/or olive oil.  A little bland?  Maybe squeeze that 1/2 lemon 1 more time; add a touch more vinegar; a few drops more Worcestershire.  Add in lettuce and toss the salad well.

Serve immediately with additional Parmesan and fresh-ground black pepper.  Makes enough for 4 regular people, or the 2 of us.

And don’t be surprised if someone — a special someone — wants to lick the bowl.

Summer Salad with Peaches, Prosciutto, Burrata & Candied Pecans {GF}

This salad matches perfectly ripe, sweet-tart peaches to peppery greens; rich, creamy burrata (a cream-filled ball of fresh mozzarella cheese); tasty, salty prosciutto; and the pure decadence of candied pecans.  It’s a perfect start to a Labor Day barbecue, or a super-satisfying meal on its own.

This photo is not my best work, but it does tell the story — there wasn’t time to go get the “good” camera, or try to get the “perfect picture”, because we just couldn’t wait to start eating!  And even the kids had seconds — incorporating fresh fruit into salad is a fine way to get kids eating unfamiliar greens.

IMG_7753

Don’t you just love “cooking” that simply combines gorgeous ingredients, to maximum effect?  There’s really no room for error when everything that goes into a dish starts out delicious.  Here’s the recipe, if you can call it that:

Summer Salad with Peaches, Prosciutto, Burrata & Candied Pecans

6 cups fresh salad greens; peppery varieties like arugula, mustard greens, etc. work well

3 ripe peaches, cut into bite-sized wedges

3 pieces prosciutto di Parma, torn into bite-sized pieces

1 mound burrata, cut into bite sized pieces

drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil

drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar (can substitute regular balsamic vinegar)

handful of candied pecans (toasted almonds would be delicious, too)

Place fresh rinsed greens on a platter.  Drizzle with a good quality olive oil.  Place peach slices, prosciutto, and burrata over greens.  Drizzle reduced balsamic over salad, then top with candied pecans.

Sources:  The greens and peaches are from my garden and from the grocery store (Jimbo’s to be precise). The prosciutto comes from Costco, where it is very reasonably priced; and the burrata, olive oil, reduced balsamic, and candied pecans are all from Trader Joe’s.  Which makes it so easy; and cooking on Labor Day should be easy!

Enjoy the holiday weekend!  Eat well & be safe.

Jen.