Archives For Karen Z.

Traveling Down the Glacier

The new North Branch Trail addition opens!

Karen Z. —  September 8, 2014 — 4 Comments

There’s more to the new North Branch Trail addition than meets the eye.

It’s a great story to tell the kids or to share with a biking buddy as you try out the North Branch Trail addition

On the surface (literally), it’s a lovely new bike/pedestrian trail that slopes down from Green Bay Road, skirting the north edge of Turnbull Woods and linking up to the outer road of the Chicago Botanic Garden. But dig a little deeper (literally and figuratively), and you’ll find the reason for that slope: the “hill” is actually the remnants of a glacier. Its proper name is the Highland Park Moraine. It’s one of a series of five, collectively called the Lake Border Moraine System, found on the inland border of Lake Michigan.

MAP: The moraines of the region, including Highland Park Moraine.

A helpful map for visualizing the ups and downs of the moraines and the valleys in between. Source: Luman, Donald E., LiDAR Surface Topography of Lake County, Illinois. ©2013 University of Illinois Board of Trustees. All rights reserved. LiDAR map courtesy of the Illinois State Geological Survey.

Flashback to geology class: a moraine is a giant accumulation—a ridge—of clay/sand/gravel pushed forward by the leading edge of a glacier, then left behind as it shifts its motion and melts/recedes. Moraines vary in sizes and heights.

Glacial ice that once covered northern Illinois began to recede about 14,000 years ago, leaving the five moraines, like scallops in the landscape, with the oldest to the west, the youngest to the east.

Oldest and furthest west is the Park Ridge Moraine; to the east of it is the Deerfield Moraine. The lowland between them is the West Fork of the North Branch of the Chicago River. Third is the Blodgett Moraine; its creation dates back to 13,000-plus years ago. The valley between it and the Deerfield Moraine is the Middle Fork of the North Branch Chicago River. (The West Fork, Middle Fork, and Skokie Rivers come together to form the North Branch Chicago River.) Next comes the Highland Park Moraine, formed about 13,000 years ago; Green Bay Road was built along its crest. The Chicago Botanic Garden lies in the Skokie River Valley between the Highland Park and the Blodgett Moraines. Finally, a bit north and east lies the Zion City Moraine, the youngest of the five.

As if all that isn’t cool enough, the Highland Park Moraine is also a mini-section of the Eastern Subcontinental Divide: water from the Highland Park Moraine drains toward Lake Michigan (Great Lakes watershed) on the east side, and into the Skokie River Valley (Mississippi River watershed) on the west side.

ILLUSTRATION: A chart showing the geological specifications of the Highland Park Moraine.

Most people are familiar with the Continental Divide near the middle of the country; a secondary divide travels along our edge of Lake Michigan.

Planning & Planting

PHOTO: Lake sedge (Carex lacustris).

Sedges do well in spring rain/flood conditions, helping dissipate water through respiration.

Planning for the new bike/pedestrian path included much deliberation about the plants that were already growing at the site.

As construction neared, ecologist Jim Steffen reached out to Glencoe Friends of the Greenbay Trail and Betsy Leibson, who heads up the all-volunteer group, which is dedicated to restoring the sections of the Green Bay Trail bike path that run through their town (and ours).

Steffen offered to donate hundreds of sedges (Carex pensylvanica and Carex hirtifolia) that were in the path of construction—and then helped Leibson and volunteers dig them up for transplanting along their trail. The sedges are reportedly thriving. GFGT showed their appreciation in such an appropriate way: see their July 14 post about it here.

 


PHOTO: Bike.5 Reasons to Love the North Branch Trail Extension

  1. It’s safe (for all the bike riders who’ve wobbled in a vehicle’s wake on busy Lake Cook Road!).
  2. It’s ADA-accessible: 10 feet wide, smoothly paved, and appropriately inclined.
  3. It’s convenient for pedestrians heading to and from the Braeside Metra train station.
  4. It’s family-friendly for strollers and toddlers, and shepherding groups of kids toward the Garden.
  5. It’s the long dreamed-of and anticipated mile-long missing link between Cook County’s North Branch Trail and Lake County’s Green Bay Trail.

Become a Bicycling Member!

How smart is this? A special membership for those who ride their bikes to the Garden instead of driving. With plenty of perks included (discounts, member magazine, tax deductibility), but sans parking privileges, it’s a sensible and cost-efficient (just $50 annually) way to show your support for the Garden.

PHOTO: Happy bikers.

Become a bike member of the Garden!

A bike membership makes a great gift for the bikers in your life, too.

Check it out here!


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Lunchtime? How about a pickled pepper sandwich?

Courtesy of volunteer Larry Aronson

Karen Z. —  August 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

Out at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, there’s a whole group of volunteers with really interesting career histories and double-digit years of volunteer service. Larry Aronson is one of them.

You’re likely to find Larry on Thursdays at his favorite volunteer station: the Pepper Discovery Cart. There, he presides over 120 different pepper samples and flavorings. “When I started volunteering 11 years ago, there were four pepper samples and a book on the cart,” Larry says.

PHOTO: Pepper spices from the Pepper Cart.

Think there’s only one kind of paprika? Think again.

So he made it his mission to add to the cart. Dried peppers, ground peppers, pepper flakes and pepper sauces. Peppers from Brazil and Peru, France and Spain, China and Japan, Africa and South America. Well-known peppers like paprika (the seasoning made from dried and ground pimento peppers) and obscure peppers like Capsicum chacoense (an ancient species).

Ask Larry a question about peppers and he’ll not only have the answer, but he’ll also add a conversation-starting fact or story to go with it. What’s his favorite pepper to eat? It changes over time. The Brazilian malagueta pepper is a current favorite that is “better than Tabasco,” Larry says.

What’s the hottest pepper he’s got? Used to be “Ghost” (Buht jolokia), until he got a sample of Trinidad moruga “Scorpion.” Its heat level is said to be the same as pepper spray—essentially, inedible.

Which peppers does he use in recipes? Cayennes. Jalapeños. Habañeros. Why? “Because they have the most universal and interesting flavors,” Larry says. He should know—he eats peppers every single day.

Speaking of recipes, Larry recommends a favorite resource: Chile Pepper magazine. He owns every issue, and says it has the best recipes in the world.

PHOTO: Volunteer Larry Aronson at the Pepper Discovery Cart.

Volunteer Larry Aronson at the Pepper Discovery Cart—come and chat with him on Thursdays!

A professional chef and baker on his non-volunteer days (he’s owned 27 restaurants in his six-plus decades of cooking, including Chicago’s My π Pizza), Larry likes to re-create recipes for great food that is new to him. (He’s in the process of writing a cookbook now.)

While talking recipes, Larry mentioned that he had a new favorite sandwich, using his favorite recipe for pickled red peppers. Naturally, we asked if he’d share.

Larry Aronson’s Pickled Red Peppers

  • 1 ounce sugar
  • 1 ounce salt
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon pickling spice, tied in cheesecloth
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled, cut into ½-inch slices
  • 1 medium onion, peeled, cut into ½-inch slices
  • Fresh red pimento peppers, cut into ½-inch slices (amount will depend on pepper and jar size; may substitute other sweet red peppers, such as red bells)
  • Fresh red jalapeño peppers, cut into ½-inch slices (amount will depend on pepper and jar size; may substitute serranos)

In a saucepan, bring the first six ingredients above to a boil. Add the carrots to the boiling liquid. When carrots start to soften (test with a fork), remove from boiling liquid.

PHOTO: Pickled red pepper and turkey sandwich.

Larry’s favorite sandwich: turkey/mayo/pickled red peppers on homemade white bread

Pack carrots, chopped onions, and a mix of 50/50 chopped sweet and hot peppers into sterilized jars. (Follow manufacturer’s instructions for sterilizing jars and lids.) Pour hot pickling liquid over vegetables, filling to ¼-inch from the top of the jar. Seal with sterilized lid and screw top. Let sealed jars cool.

Larry stores his pickled peppers in the refrigerator for several months.

To make a great sandwich: On homemade white bread, spread mayo, then layer with sliced turkey and pickled red peppers.

Alternate serving: Cube fresh turkey and combine with mayo and pickled red peppers as turkey salad. Delicious served with chicken, too!

Our volunteers are awesome.


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Herbal Mixology

Fun summer drink recipes from Herb Garden Weekend

Karen Z. —  August 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

So many great ideas came out of our most recent Herb Garden Weekend (always the fourth weekend in July) in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden! Here are a few to get your taste buds going:

  • Add a bit of mint to a basil pesto (a Chef Series tip)
  • Grow thyme in unexpected flavors: orange, lime, lemon (all are growing in our kitchen herb garden)
  • Dry and mix your own herbes de Provence (check out our recipe here)
  • Infuse lavender blossoms in lemonade (delicious advice from local vendor Three Tarts)

Speaking of infusions, “herb mixologist” Kasey Bersett Eaves had enthusiastic crowds at the demo tent on Saturday and Sunday, as she opened our eyes to the world of herb-infused beverages.

From Garden to Glass

PHOTO: A sprig of basil tops off a mason jar basil lemonade.

Muddled basil adds a refreshing twist to lemonade.

Just about any herb you’d grow in your yard can be used to flavor drinks. Herbs + fresh fruit = a yummy base for all sorts of hot and cold beverages. Grab what’s in season in the yard and experiment. A few fresh ideas: 

Basil + strawberry
Mint + raspberry
Sage + cherry
Rosemary + watermelon
Lemon verbena + honeydew melon
Thyme + cucumber
Lavender + berries
Dill + lime
Oregano + berries
Cilantro + watermelon
Tarragon + peach

Thirsty for more? Let’s move on to muddling.

Muddling 101

Infusion starts with muddling.

Here’s the first rule of muddling: Don’t overmuddle. Muddling is the process of gently—repeat, gently—bruising the leaves of herbs. As Kasey said, “If you hear the leaves tear, you’re overmuddling.” The goal is to release the fresh, green taste and aroma of the leaves, not to break or pulverize them (think Cary Grant, not Iron Man).

PHOTO: The Fountainhead Chicago mixologist Kasey Bersett muddles basil leaves in a Mason jar.

Herb Garden Weekend presenter Kasey Bersett Eaves demonstrates proper muddling technique—check out the natural wood muddler.

Here’s the second rule of muddling: always hold your arm at a 90-degree angle, pressing straight down from the elbow through the wrist through the muddler. (What’s a muddler? Read on.) Press down once, release, and rotate the jar a quarter turn. Repeat five more times. Six presses are about right for a single drink—more if you’re making a pitcher’s worth.

Here’s the third rule of muddling: muddlers are very cool. Essentially a press that reaches to the bottom of a glass or pitcher, muddlers can be found at most kitchenware stores, both in hardwood (walnut, maple) and stainless steel versions. Yes, a wooden spoon works, too. Vintage aficionados: look for stainless steel bar sets from the ’50s and ’60s. That big bump at the end of the long swizzle stick is a muddler.

Infusions

Herbal infusions are a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that idea that’s easy, healthy, and really tasty (hot on the restaurant scene, too). Kasey shared her recipe:

PHOTO: A mash of water, sugar, watermelon, tarragon, and basil steeps to create a flavored syrup.

A muddle of fruit and herbs, destined to become a tasty beverage.

Herbal Water Infusion

  • Fresh herbs (see list above)
  • Fresh fruit (any but bananas; see list)
  • 2-quart jar or pitcher
  • Muddler or wooden spoon
  • Water

Wash fruit and rinse herbs thoroughly. Place enough herbs inside the jar to cover the bottom. Add about a cup of fruit. (Amounts of both will vary according to taste—feel free to experiment!) Bruise fruit and herb leaves with muddler to release some of the juices and flavor. Do not pulverize! Fill jar with ice and water. Cover and refrigerate for two hours. Strain water into glasses. Refrigerated infusions will keep in the refrigerator up to five days.

Icy & Sweet: Herbal Tea

In summer, iced tea is the beverage du jour. Love sweet tea, but don’t like its sugar? Kasey’s tea recipe uses fresh stevia—an herb that’s 30 times sweeter than sugar—plus other herbs from your garden for a greener version of sweet. Just add ice and a tall glass.

PHOTO: Mint infuses in a quart mason jar for 24 hours.

An infusion of mint and stevia makes a refreshing, instant herbal tea— just strain and serve over ice.

Backyard Herb and Stevia Iced Tea Concentrate

  • ¼ cup stevia leaves
  • 2 cups water
  • 1½ cups fresh herb leaves (mint or lemon verbena taste best, but feel free to experiment!)

For concentrate: Rinse and drain herbs. Add all ingredients above to a small, nonreactive pot and bring to a boil on the stove. Let boil for one minute; remove from heat. Allow mixture to steep and cool six hours or overnight. Strain cooled liquid into a glass jar. Store in the refrigerator up to one week, or freeze for later use.

To use: Mix 1 cup of concentrate to 3 cups water, or to taste. 

Simple Syrups Rock

“Simple syrups” are called that for a reason: they’re truly easy to concoct. Added in place of sugar to your favorite lemonade, soda, sweet tea, or cocktail recipe, simple syrup is the secret to a full-flavored summer drink.

PHOTO: Tarragon simple syrup and fresh peaches enliven a sparkling wine cocktail.

A simple syrup drink made with tarragon + peaches + Prosecco = lovely.

Easy Herbal Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup herb of your choice (whole leaves or lightly chopped, packed into measuring cup)

Rinse and drain herbs. In a small, nonreactive pot, stir water and sugar together over heat until sugar dissolves, bringing the mixture just to a boil. Add herbs in, stir gently for 30 seconds, then remove from heat. Let the mixture cool (approximately 30 minutes). Strain.

Store the syrup in an airtight container in the refrigerator for use within a week to 10 days, or freeze in ice cube trays for convenient later use.

Simple syrups make memorable cocktails. Add a splash of herbal simple syrup to a champagne flute before topping off with Prosecco or dry white wine for a cheers-worthy toast. Or enjoy your herbs on ice—freeze the syrup in ice cube trays (top off each cube divider with a small herb leaf for garnish before freezing) and use as a sweetener for iced tea or cocktails. Imagine a glass of bourbon that slowly becomes a mint julep because you added minty simple syrup ice cubes! 

PHOTO: An array of cocktail mixers and cocktail recipe books.

Stock the hippest minibar in town—yours—with your own herbal elixirs, concentrates, and simple syrups from the Garden Shop.

Interested in dabbling in the cocktail arts yourself? Kasey recommends The Home Distiller’s Handbook as a good starter guide. Find drink enhancers and more at the Garden Shop, including elderflower and rose elixirs, and the mysterious Owl’s Brew tea concentrate—best with bourbons and whiskeys. Cheers!

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

True Garden Love Stories

Summer of Love

Karen Z. —  July 20, 2014 — Leave a comment

Of all the summer evening sights at the Chicago Botanic Garden, only one can compete with the flowers: the brides.

38 Weddings at the Garden in 2013!

Beautiful in their gowns, stepping delicately into the Krasberg Rose Garden or walking down toward the fountain at the Esplanade, they trail bridesmaids and tuxedoed men and happy families. As they pass, we onlookers stop in our tracks, smile goofily, gawk unabashedly…and let our thoughts turn to romance.

Over the years, the Garden has been the site of many a romantic story for both staff and visitors.With summer in full swing—and romance in the air—here are a few more of our favorites.

2013: It Takes a Flash Mob

Early on a 2013 summer evening, a seemingly random group of visitors slowly gathered at “the Ken,” the lovely green field with the photo-perfect view of the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden. As a young couple approached, a few people walked out on the grass, took their places, cued the music, and began to dance. Popping up from benches and stepping out from trees, others skipped into the action…and suddenly the young man of the couple jumped into the flash mob and joined the choreography, while his girlfriend threw her hands up to her face in surprise. 

PHOTO: A group of people dancing on the Ken, a green field in front of the Japanese Garden.

When the music finished, the crowd of friends and family formed an aisle, and the young man lowered to his knee to propose.

 

PHOTO: Wedding proposal at the Garden.

She said yes.

2008: Starting off on the Right Track 

The engineers in the Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America love to tell the story of the groom-to-be who worked closely with them on a one-of-a-kind, finely-timed marriage proposal.

Strolling leisurely through the Model Railroad Garden with his girlfriend, the thoughtful young man arrived at a pre-determined spot just as a miniature train pulled up (guided by engineers in the wings). Surrounded by a curious crowd (and the wedding party-to-be), he stepped over to the track, reached down to the flower-bedecked gondola car that bore an engagement ring in a box, and dropped to one knee to ask for his lady’s hand. She said yes. 

2005: Where to Hide a Ring in Spring

PHOTO: Heather Sherwood and husband Tommy.

She said yes—Heather and husband Tommy married in McGinley Pavilion.

Like any workplace, the Garden has its share of romantic stories starring staff, too.

For horticulturist Heather Sherwood, the story began with a memorable date: 5/5/05. She worked late that day, and was ready to head for home when her beau came by and insisted on a stroll around the Garden to see the tulips in bloom. After quite a long walk, they came to the Graham Bulb Garden, where he asked her to look at something strange inside one of the bright red tulips planted there. Leaning in, she saw something…shining. He reached down, pulled out the diamond ring he’d hidden there, and proposed on the spot.

1989: Dedicated to the One I Love

PHOTO: A tree tag labeled, "Will you marry me?"

When you make a tribute gift of a tree at the Garden, a tree tag marks your personal dedication. See what other tribute dedications you can make here.

It’s 25 years later, but the hybrid paperbark maple tree in the Waterfall Garden that bears the dedication “Will you marry me?” (Scott asked Laura; she said yes) is still called the “marry me tree” by our staff.

(Curious romantic? Find this unusual maple near a bench at the path split between the third and top levels of the garden. In fall, its leaves turn a brilliant red, and in winter, its cinnamon-brown bark peels to reveal beautiful texture amid the snows of winter.)

Sketch by artist Tuki79 of deviantart.com of Chip and Dale Disney chipmunks.Timeless: “Oh No, I Do Insist!”

A former horticulturist recounts having weeks of critter problems in the Heritage Garden, when a man dressed in a chipmunk costume sauntered into her garden, grabbed her, and started dancing. Turned out to be her future husband, who asked her there and then to marry him.

Love: it’s in bloom at the Garden.

Daisy Chain

Music and Dance to Enhance Your Romance

Daisy Chain

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Flower-Powered Picnic

Summer of Love

Karen Z. —  July 19, 2014 — Leave a comment

What does your mental checklist look like when you think “romantic evening”? Does it include picnicking? Flowers? Music? Dancing? Sunsets? Selfies? Walking hand in hand?

Spur-of-the-moment picnic? We have you covered.

PHOTO: Grilled salmon over a bed of julienned greens.

The Garden Grille is open ’til 9 every evening (last order, 8:30 p.m.) and, yes, you can get it to go!

On Monday nights at the Chicago Botanic Garden, start with the first item on this list, and all the rest should fall right into place. That’s because Monday night is picnic night. It’s also Carillon Concert night—but more on that in a moment.

A romantic picnic need not be formal or fancy. The secret to making it romantic is a personal touch—something that both reflects your personality and makes the evening more fun. It could be a picnic blanket with a story. It could be real plates/glasses/flatware instead of plastic. It could be a home-cooked meal or an out-of-the-ordinary beverage.

One of our favorite ways to make picnic fare more special—whether it’s homemade or store-bought—is with edible flowers.

Dress your picnic with love.

Gathered from your garden or from a trusted source (no florists or foraged flowers, please—read why here), edible flowers can make even the simplest dish taste more interesting and look decidedly more romantic:

Edible flowers.

PHOTO: Pansy blossom

Violas or pansies come in beautiful and dramatic colors (including near-black), and are shaped like little hearts. Their flavor is sweet and perfumed. Conversation starter: the word “pansy” comes from the French “pensée,” or “thought.”

PHOTO: Nasturtium blossom

Nasturtium flowers’ summery colors—yellow, orange, red—beg to be tossed into salad greens, where they’ll deliver a bit of bite (peppery, radish-like). Decorate cheeses, dips, and even a humble potato salad with nasturtiums’ edible blossoms (the pretty leaves are edible, too).

PHOTO: Rose petals

Rose petals are quintessentially romantic. Use the petals from heirloom roses rather than hybrids—the former have the fragrance and thin delicacy that the latter do not. Add rose petals to salads, ice creams, homemade vinegars; candied, they’ll store for months.

PHOTO: Lavender blossom

Lavender buds are delicious sprinkled on a fruit salad (terrific with berries, cherries, figs). Lavender has more than fragrance and flavor to offer: it’s a natural source of calcium, iron, and vitamin A.

PHOTO: Chive blossom.

Chive blossoms are so beautifully purple that you’ll be tempted to use them on everything, but a little of their onion flavor goes a long way. Float a few florets on a chilled potato-leek or spring pea soup for all the extra zip you’ll need.

Carillon concerts every Monday night in summer—be there with bells on!

PHOTO: View of the carillon from the Nautilus.

Tables at the Nautilus on Evening Island are a great place for a Carillon Concert picnic.

Now back to the third item on the checklist: music. Monday night is Carillon Concert night, when carillonneurs (such a great word) local, national, and international take the stage to new heights at our 48-bell carillon. With such a global lineup, the musical repertoire is always rich and surprising. Dancing is, of course, both spontaneous and encouraged.

Picnickers can gather any time before the 7 p.m. concerts. (Every 15 minutes between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. there’s a carillon tour and demo—a great way to break the ice and/or keep the kids intrigued.) The lawn at McGinley Pavilion is a favorite spot to set up your picnic—and to prepare for those selfies, as the sunsets are simply spectacular.

As for the last item on the checklist—walking hand in hand—we’ll leave that to you.

Daisy Chain

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org