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This tea cookie features flavors of lemon and mint

Recipe: Other herbs also work in this delicate treat

Two cookies on a red plate
These little tea cookies are enhanced with lemon and mint. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

Lemon says "winter" to me as much as cinnamon and ginger do. It must be because Californians' lemon trees -- the Meyers, Eurekas and other varieties -- this time of year are full of beautiful yellow fruit, contrasting so nicely with the shiny green leaves.

Lemon also is a wonderful partner with fresh herbs. When I went looking for a lemon cookie recipe, I found quite a few that incorporated thyme and some that had rosemary, but the one that caught my attention included fresh mint. Alternative herbs mentioned included lemon balm -- which is also part of the mint family -- and lemon verbena. That recipe I had to try. (It's at landolakes.com, if you want to see the original.)

I doubled the amount of lemon zest and fresh mint listed, and reduced the sugar. (I also used tart lemons, not the mellower Meyers.) The resulting cookie is small, delicate and still pretty sweet -- an ideal cookie to accompany a cup of afternoon tea. The mint is subtle. Next time I'm going to try the recipe with fresh lemon verbena. To really up the lemon factor, I might use a bit of lemon extract instead of the vanilla.

Two lemons and a pile of mint clippings
Lemon and mint are complementary flavors.

Meanwhile, I have half of this first batch already rolled and frozen, reserved for another grey winter day.

Lemon minted sugar cookies

Makes about 50 two-inch cookies

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or lemon extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (from 2 large lemons)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves, lemon balm or lemon verbena
Sugar for rolling
Instructions:
In a large bowl, cream the butter and shortening with the sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and whichever extract you're using, and mix thoroughly.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. On low speed, mix half the flour mixture into the butter mixture until combined, then the remaining half. Gently stir in the lemon zest and chopped mint.
Chill the dough at least 30 minutes. (You can bake it right away, but chilling makes the dough easier to roll and keeps it from spreading too much.)
When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper, or just leave the sheet ungreased.
Put about 1/3 cup granulated sugar in a small bowl. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls; I used a melon-baller to keep them all the same size. Then roll the balls in the sugar so they're just coated, and place on the prepared pan abut 2 inches apart. No need to flatten them.
Baked cookies and dough to freeze
I baked two dozen cookies and froze the rest of  the batch
for another day.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookie edges are very lightly browned. Cool on a rack for a few minutes before removing to cool completely.
To freeze cookie dough: Roll into balls, but don't roll in the sugar coating. Freeze until ready to bake, then roll in sugar and bake dough without defrosting it. Cookies will require a minute or 2 more in the oven, but do keep an eye on them.


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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