Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cultivating Pleasure

Have you ever dreamed of walking out your kitchen door to pick fresh herbs straight from the garden? Of not having to run to the market to make a new recipe, or opening the fridge door to find sadly drooping herbs?

Wouldn’t it be enormously satisfying to simply turn any average meal into a colorful gourmet delight?

My patio herb garden is alive and thriving though I’m not much of a gardener. I am bathed in the fragrances of tarragon, mint, basil, sage, chives and lemon verbena, oregano, rosemary and cilantro every summer morning when I step out on our patio to watch Ted spread birdseed along our wall so we will have feathered company.

All my varieties of thyme are not only thriving, but flowering and begging to be picked and enjoyed! Summer is the season I do the most harvesting because all herb flowers are edible and make the most exquisite garnishes.

Here is a photo from my favorite restaurant, The HerbFarm near Seattle. It is their oven-roasted salmon atop a lemon-thyme butter sauce surrounded by all kinds of herb flowers. The chef suggested we taste a different herb with every bite. Heaven! I duplicate this dish often now that wild sockeye salmon is in season from the book The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor by Jerry Traunfeld (William Morrow, 2005)

(One guest was so enamored of the flavors she asked if she could literally lick her plate!)

Later today, I will pay a weekly visit to my basil to pinch off the tips that are beginning to flower so it will grow even bushier. I’ll carry packages of seeds in my pocket—cilantro, chervil and dill—and every time I clip some to use, I’ll make a little hole with my finger nearby and pour in some seeds, pat the ground level and water lightly, so my crop will continue regenerating.

It has taken many seasons of setting out plants and inserting seeds to discover where each herb feels most at home and flourishes. Investing just a small amount of time and nurturing has paid off with such an abundance I even make bouquets of herbs, tie them with ribbon, and take them along as gifts when I visit friends. Pictured here are basil, lavender, mint, garlic chive blossoms, nasturtiums, savory and thyme flowers and tarragon.

Tending a summer herb garden—so full of color and flavor and fragrance—cultivates all our senses. Like many joys of life—worth the labor.


Always served with menus, is the Herbfarm Salad, a green salad made with up to 30 ingredients, each literally harvested and assembled on the plate one leaf a time – a delicious work of art. (The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld features a chart listing 50 possible choices.)

Here is my adapted version of the recipe for the perfect dressing:

For one generous cup

¼ cup aged sherry vinegar

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped shallot

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

¾ cup mild extra-virgin olive oil

Fresh herbs to blend into the dressing: 1 to 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped English or lemon thyme, lovage, mint, oregano, marjoram, or French tarragon; 2 to 4 tablespoons coarsely chopped basil, dill, chervil, or chives.

Puree all ingredients except oil and herbs in a blender or food processor. With the machine running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream. Whisk in fresh herbs.

TO PREPARE IN ADVANCE: If not using within a few hours, store tightly covered in the refrigerator; it will keep for several weeks. Bring to room temperature and shake or whisk it well before you dress the salad.


  1. As usual, Diana, your posts are a delight to the palate and appealing to the eye...like your cooking :)


  2. Oh could those little herb bundles BE any cuter? You are clever!

  3. Thank you both! So encouraging!

  4. What a great idea - a bouquet of herbs for a gift! I like to have fresh herbs like rosemary and/or basil, cut and in a vase in my kitchen or bath. The fragrance is wonderful and more pleasant than artificial sprays.