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Blood Orange Cake with Cardamom and Sugared Rosemary

Have you “sugared” your rosemary this year?

Neither had I. Until we went to our nephew’s wedding last weekend in Tucson, Arizona, sugaring rosemary wasn’t on my list of things to accomplish for the new year. But then, everything changed.

The morning of his wedding was one of those sun-drenched, crystal clear days so typical of winter in southern Arizona. It was a wonderful day to be outdoors. After a mid-morning breakfast, we took a short drive to see the charming 1929 casita he and his bride-to-be had purchased only a few weeks prior to the wedding. Driving down a tree lined, winding road we caught a glimpse of the property.

As is common in the desert, his one-half acre yard was missing the lush lawn and greenery that is found in Dallas. Instead, pebbles and stones provided the foundation for a lovely display of cactus and willows. Citrus trees dotted the landscape with their yellow, orange and lime green polka dot affect. Walking along the enchanting pathways, we felt the serenity and peacefulness of this quaint desert setting.

But it was the blood orange trees that called my name. They were putting on a spectacular show with colorful hues of red and orange. Branches were drooping with the weight of a plentiful crop. It was time for harvesting and I was ready to take on the task. With clippers in hand and a 6’ 4” husband by my side, we harvested our way through every blood orange tree on the property. It was a delightful experience.




Once back in Dallas, and thanks to a sister who drove out for the wedding then delivered our blood oranges a few days later, we are enjoying our bushel basket full of my favorite citrus fruit.

Linda and the blood orange tree.

Art harvesting blood oranges.










Anxious to try a recipe that I stumbled across right before Christmas, our Arizona trip gave me the main ingredient; blood oranges. After a little experimenting, I finally settled on the combination of two similar recipes and prepared Blood Orange and Cardamom Cake for my husband’s birthday this weekend. If you’ve never made a blood orange cake accented with the fragrance of ground cardamom, be prepared for a flavorful and moist treat.

Linda’s Blood Orange Cake with Cardamon and Sugared Rosemary

*Note: Many local groceries are currently hosting citrus-fests, etc. Now is a good time to use those sassy little blood oranges in your favorite recipe. Or, search the internet for a blood orange cake recipe. There are some fun ones to choose from. Just don’t forget the “sugared rosemary” for a nice Texas finish!

Linda Alexander

To Make Sugared Rosemary:
Dip fresh rosemary sprigs into a cup with water. Drip off excess and set on a parchment lined baking sheet. Generously sprinkle the wet rosemary sprigs with sugar, flip them over and repeat. Allow to dry for about an hour or more.

If you would like the blood orange cake recipe, please let us know in the comment section.

When Words Fail

    Probably almost all of us have had those situations where mere words alone seem to fail us.   Occasionally it is in the happy times, such as an upcoming marriage or a new home, when there are too many well-wishes that one wants to say.  However it is often in the sad, gut-wrenching times when one feels at loss for words.  At these times for gardeners, the language of symbolic herbs and flowers may be of help.

Tussie-mussies (a.k.a. tussie mussy) are symbolic bouquets of flowers and herbs.  Though often associated with the Victorian era during which the language of flowers and herbs were codified and instructions for making tussie-mussies were found in books such as Godey’s Ladies Book, the actual history of the tussie-mussie goes back much further than Queen Victoria’s era.  In fact, due to the lack of hygiene and sanitation, the use of nosegays to mask odors has been traced to medieval times and can be found in several cultures such as Greece, Turkey, and the Aztecs of Central and South America.  Because the meanings of herbs and flowers were derived from various cultures, some herbs and flowers took on widely divergent meanings, sometimes even opposite meanings.  For example, according to an article in Mother Earth Living, the inclusion of basil in a tussie-mussie meant “best wishes” in Greece, “hatred” in Italy, and “sacred” in India.  However a few herbs and flowers have retained their same meaning throughout the world.  Rosemary is an herb that commonly means “remembrance.”

In compiling a vocabulary of symbolic herbs and flowers, most people start with lists of herbs and flowers and their meanings found in books such as Tussie-Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers by Geraldine A. Laufer and The Illuminated Language of Flowers by Jean Marsh.  Though it helps to have a wide variety of herbs and flowers available, even a very small bouquet of mixed flowers can say “love.”  As opposed to a typical large bouquet, a tussie-mussie is normally just the size of a nosegay.  Tussie-mussies can be presented in a small vase or, if you really want to get fancy and be historically-correct, antique tussie-mussie holders can be found on Ebay. Just be sure to include a card that explains the meaning behind each herb or flower.

Flowers and herbs gathered for a tussie-mussie

Over the years I have made tussie-mussies for friends who have new jobs, weddings, and babies.  I have also found the language of flowers to be especially appropriate in those sad times, such as a bouquet that was given to a friend who was placed on hospice.  That tussie-mussie  (composed of geranium for friendship, Lamb’s Ear for kindness, thyme for courage, rosemary for remembrance, sage for wisdom, bay for peace, peppermint for warmth of feeling, honeysuckle for gentleness,  oak for strength, and, of course, flowers for love seemed to say it all.

Carolyn Bush

Picture by Starla Willis

Tussie- mussies by some of our school children here.

West Dallas Community School Third Graders In The Garden

The 28 third graders who came to our garden Tuesday did not need much coaching in appreciating nature.

WDCS Third Graders Harvest A Carrot The loved the carrots and took them back to school for afternoon snacks.. Rosemary was another hit. Last week one of the kids  said he would sleep with Rosemary under his pillow. Maybe  there  will be alot of Rosemary under pillows this week!

WDCS Children PIcking Rosemary

It was a day of garden based education:  learning  the science of compost, how to attract wildlife to the garden, growing vegetables like beans, carrots, lettuce, and swiss chard; and how flowers  regenerate by seed.  Third Graders At The Demonstration Garden From West Dallas Community School

Class dismissed!


Spring Is Coming To Dallas!

If you’ve never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom.  — Terri Guillemets

Please don’t take this quote harshly, enjoy these pictures of spring blooms from our garden.  If you have never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by spring blooms, maybe today is the day!

Pale blue blooms of Rosemary in our Entry Garden:

Rosemary In Bloom At The Demonstration Garden

Narciuss Campernelle. This narcissus  has a fragrance so sweet, they are also known in East Texas cirlces as “sweeties”.

Narcissus Campernelle In Front of Red Yucca Foliage

  Narcissus Grand Primo faithfully blooms every year and muliplies into larger and larger clumps to enjoy.  Our bulbs are from The Southern Bulb Company in Golden, Texas.  These Heirloom bulbs are the equivalent of a  ‘slam dunk’ for gardeners. Plant them in the fall.  They will make points for you each spring.Grand Primo Narcissus


Fall Herbs

Paula taught a class at our garden last week about fall herbs.  She gave us the name of a new sage: New’re Year’re Sage and gave it the thumbs up for taste.  We will all have to look at Dallas garden centers to try to find it.

She reminded us to plant Cutting Celery, which smells and tastes like celery.  Chop up the slender stalks and leaves of Cutting Celery for tuna and  in any dish that call for celery.  I’ll bet she uses it in Bloody Mary’s too!

Fall Herbs For Texas Gardens

We talked about Bay which Paula uses fresh in her recipes and doubles the amount of leaves.  For instance using 4 when her soup recipe says 2.  When purchasing Bay, you want to make sure you are buying the culinary version.

Bay Leaf

Paula says hold a leaf up to the light; if you can see the veins of the leaf, you have the correct Bay.

Mexican Mint Marigold

 Texans use the licorice flavored leaves of Mexican Mint Marigold as a Tarragon substitute and the flowers as an edible garnish.  It is blooming now in our Demonstration Garden.

It’s not too late to harvest Basil to make a few batches of Basil Butter for the holidays or Basil Ice Cubes.  Use your Basil now because it will be gone after the first frost.  
Basil Ice Cubes: Wash and dry your Basil and remove the leaves from the stems. Discard the stems. Finely chop the leaves. Fill an ice-cube tray with chopped Basil, scooping one tablespoon of the Basil into each cube. Fill the cubes with vegetable or chicken broth. When they freeze, pop them out of your tray and into a Ziploc bag in your freezer.  Yum-Basil all winter to be added to soups and vegetables!
We can also rely on Rosemary, Hot and Spicy Oregano in salsa and enchiladas, Lemon Verbena, and Italian Parsley to perk up our fall menus.


A “Farm to Table” Menu

Looking Back at the May Master Gardener Meeting

Planning to feed over 125 Master Gardeners a satisfying lunch fresh from our garden can be quite a daunting task.  Preparations must start early.  This year was no exception. 

In late January Jim set out over sixty 1015 onion slips.  By mid March it was time to plant green bean seeds.  We weren’t sure of the variety because the seeds were given to us.  However, they ended up producing one of those “bumper” crops.  Then in April some radish seeds were added to one of our raised beds.

Already in the ground and doing well after three years were four different varieties of blackberries:  Natchez, Rosborough, Womack and Brazos.  Also, our upright rosemary was so large it was about to overtake the raised bed planted three years prior. 

Blackberry Blooms at the Demonstration Garden

As May rolls around with the thought of providing a healthy and delicious lunch for our Master Gardener friends it’s time to get started with menu ideas.  Our speaker for the event was going to be a professional “bee keeper”.  How appropriate for our group since we all value and understand the importance of bees in the garden.  

Why not offer the group a “honey” based menu?  Here’s what we finally decided was doable with limited oven space but volunteers determined to meet the challenge. 


Rosemary Chicken Skewers with Satay Sauce

Rustic Onion Tarts

Garden Salad Bowl with Fresh Green Beans and Radishes

Honey Lime Vinaigrette

Old Fashioned Blackberry Cobbler 

Blackberries Picked for our Cobbler

Here’s how we did it.  The onions were fully developed and ready by mid May so the harvesting and drying in bundles of eight began.  At the same time, our blackberry bushes were heavy with luscious ripe berries in beautiful shades of purple, black, and burgundy.  Picking them over the next few weeks was a treat. Our strategy was: eat one, pick a dozen.  And so eventually we dutifully harvested over 15 gallons and sent them to the freezer.  

Happily, our “garden to plate” plan produced the following: 

  • Enough 1015 onions for ten rustic tarts (each tart yielded 12 slices)
  • Plenty of “thyme” for flavoring the tarts
  • Blackberries to make six 13” x 9” cobblers (each cobbler fed 25)
  • 125 10” rosemary strips for the chicken skewers
  • Six gallons of green beans for the salad
  • One lonely radish (if you have to supplement somewhere, why not with radishes?)  Rosemary Skewers on the Grill

Thanks to Abbe’s husband, Neal, for bringing his grill to cook the chicken skewers on site.  What an enticing smell as MG’s were arriving!  It was a delightful morning for our event.  Lots of full and satisfied gardeners celebrated the joy of locally grown, fresh organic food.   

Waiting in line for homegrown cooking!

 Now it’s time to get our hands dirty again and put that fall crop in the ground.  After all, some new menu ideas are buzzing around in our heads! 


Rosemary Chicken Skewers

Rosemary Chicken Skewers


Rosemary Skewered Chicken Tenders 

20 rosemary branch skewers with foxtail end, approximately 10” (soak skewers in water for one hour)

Chicken tenders or breast cut 1” x 4”

Lemon-half moon cut ½” thick

½ cup lemon juice

1 Tbs. lemon zest

1 Tbs. garlic, minced

4 Tbs. basil, chopped

1 teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon chili flakes

4 Tbs. honey

½ cup olive oil

Salt and pepper for seasoning 

1.  Weave chicken strips onto skewers.

2.  Combine ingredients and marinate skewers overnight.

3.  Season with salt and pepper just prior to grilling. 

Serves: 10 

Satay Dip 

1 Tbs. good olive oil

1 Tbs. dark sesame oil

2/3 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)

1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)

1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh ginger root

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 Tbs. good red wine vinegar

¼ cup light brown sugar, packed

2 Tbs. soy sauce

½ cup smooth peanut butter

¼ cup ketchup

2 Tbs. dry sherry

1 ½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice


Cook the olive oil, sesame oil, red onion, garlic, ginger root, and red pepper flakes in a small heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat until the onion is transparent, 10 – 15 minutes.  Whisk in the vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, peanut butter, ketchup, sherry and lime juice; cook for 1 more minute.  Cool and use as a dip for grilled chicken skewers.


Yield:  1 ½ cups






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