I was recently told I was allergic to molds that are typically found in the ground. This is bad news for me.

Gardening is my therapy. There aren’t many things better for my state of mind than smelling the dirt, seeing colorful blooms and clipping herbs from my garden. So I have no choice but to take the shots or whatever they tell me I need to be able to play in dirt!

My second line of defense to fight off insanity is watching the parade of birds soaring in for a bite from our bird feeders. Every morning and evening, I watch the steady stream of sparrows, finches, cardinals and wrens fighting for a perch at one of two feeders.

In some of the hardest times of my life, I have found solace in watching birds and reminding myself that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father knowing it.

With my love of dirt, blooms and birds, the perfect place for me to be this Saturday is at the Birds, Bees and Blooms event at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens and Historic Bamboo Farm.

The Ogeechee Audubon society will be hosting bird walks at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and giving advice on creating your own backyard bird sanctuary. At 11 a.m., the presenter will be Amanda McNulty, renowned horticulturist and TV personality from Clemson Extension and host of the TV show “Making It Grow." There will be a plant sale after the presentation to put what you learned into action!

Throughout the day, wildlife experts from the Orianne Society and T.E.R.P.S will be teaching about and introducing you to their turtles, gophers and snakes. Learn from Debbie Odum of Gene’s Nursery how to grow your own tea, while the Deep South Orchid Society shows how to grow orchids.

While all these things are more than enough reason to visit the gardens this Saturday, the real treat is seeing their 52 acres of land in spring splendor. I can’t wait to see Stan Gray’s Louisiana Iris Garden in full bloom!

I had the honor of sitting next to Stan at a luncheon a few months back and just listening to him made me want to quit my day job and go to work in his iris garden! The man is passionate about his irises and their role in the important new Species Preservation Project. So look for Stan among the beautiful irises and draw from his fountain of knowledge while you’re there.

The gardens will have a special admission price of $5 per person and children younger than 10 are admitted free! It’s a great, affordable opportunity to get the whole family out of the house to enjoy the beauty of spring and (don’t tell the children) maybe learn something new.

You can even pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at one of the picnic tables scattered throughout the gardens or take a blanket and find a shaded spot at the Iris Garden. You can’t take alcohol in the gardens, but all other foods and beverages are allowed. If you’re not up to packing a picnic lunch, there will be gourmet hot dogs and shaved ice from Kona Ice available.

I love a picnic and highly recommend you consider this option. I like to pack my melamine dishes and glasses instead of paper ones. It cuts down on litter and adds a little class to the meal. A flat sheet works in the place of a blanket, as it weighs less and is much easier to wash.

A nice sandwich, some veggies and a good Mason jar of sweet tea served on the ground or near a bed of irises sounds like a fairy tale to me — even if I’m allergic to dirt! I hope to see you at the gardens this Saturday. Here are some recipes to fill your picnic basket when you visit.

Teri Bell is co-owner of Miss Sophie’s Marketplace at the Mighty Eighth in Pooler. Go to sophiesmarketplace.com.

 

 

Avocado Chicken Salad Roll Ups

Ingredients:

• 2 cups rotisserie chicken, shredded

• 1 ripe avocado, mashed

• 2-4 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt

• 2 tablespoons lime juice

• 2 tablespoons red onion, finely diced

• 2 green onions, sliced

• ¼ teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

• ½ teaspoon garlic powder

• 1 ½ tablespoon fresh cilantro (optional)

• ½ cup Cheddar cheese, shredded

• 5-6 tortillas (8- or 10-inch diameter)

 

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except tortillas (start with 2 tablespoons of Greek yogurt and add more if salad seems dry). Stir until evenly blended.

2. Spread a portion of the mixture over a tortilla and roll up tightly. Repeat with remaining salad. Refrigerate roll ups for 30 minutes.

3. Slice with serrated knife into desired size pieces.

 

 

Italian Pressed Sandwich

Ingredients:

• 1 loaf ciabatta bread

• ½ pound deli ham, sliced

• ½ pound provolone or mozzarella, sliced

• 1 15-ounce jar roasted whole red peppers, drained and patted very dry

• 2 cups spinach leaves

• ¼-pound salami, sliced

• 1/3 cup pesto

• 3 tablespoons olive oil

• Salt and pepper

 

Directions:

1. Slice bread in half horizontally.

2. Spread pesto on one half of the bread and olive oil on the other and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Layer the ham, peppers, provolone, spinach and salami on one piece of bread and top with the other piece.

4. Wrap sandwich tightly in plastic wrap several times.

5. Place the wrapped sandwich on a cookie sheet. Put something heavy on top of it, such as a large baking dish, bricks, a cast iron pan, etc.

6. Store in refrigerator overnight or at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours. Remove plastic, slice and serve!

7. Garnish with olives, if desired.

 

 

Garbanzo & Black Bean Salad (Balela)

Ingredients:

• 1 15-ounce can Bush’s garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

• 1 15-ounce can Bush’s black beans, rinsed and drained

• ¼ cup onion, chopped

• ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil)

• ½ pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half

• 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

• 2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

• 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped

• 2 tablespoons lemon juice

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 1 clove garlic, pressed

• 1 ½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar

• Salt and black pepper, to taste

• Feta cheese, optional

 

Directions:

1. In a medium bowl, mix together the garbanzo beans, black beans, onion, sun-dried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and herbs.

2. Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper.

3. Drizzle the dressing over the salad mixture; lightly stir. Add feta if using.

4. Refrigerate salad several hours or overnight for best flavor.

 

 

Mock Boursin Cheese Dip/Spread

This is a perfect recipe to pack with some veggie snacks. Whip up a batch to keep in the freezer for a last-minute appetizer. It’s also great on bagels! I took the liberty of putting fresh chives in my dip to add some color for photos, but for best taste (and longevity), using dried herbs works best.

 

Ingredients:

• 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature

• 1 stick margarine, at room temperature

• 1 small clove garlic, minced

• ½ teaspoon dried oregano

• ⅛ teaspoon dried basil

• ⅛ teaspoon dried dill weed

• ⅛ teaspoon dried marjoram

• ⅛ teaspoon dried thyme

• ⅛ teaspoon dried chives

• ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper

• Salt to taste

 

Directions:

1. Place all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and combine well.

2. Place in an airtight container to refrigerate for a couple of weeks, or freeze for up to 3 months.

 

 

Fruit Tea

Ingredients:

• 2 family-size tea bags

• Assorted fruits and herbs

• 8 cups water

• 2 quart Mason jars

 

Directions:

1. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags. Allow to steep for 5 minutes.

2. Divide the tea between the two jars and add 2 cups of water to each jar. Add sliced fruit and bruised herbs to jar. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

3. For sweetened tea, add simple syrup (1 cup sugar dissolved in 1 cup of water) or Agave syrup to cold tea to taste.

Note: I used raspberries, orange slices and mint in one jar and strawberries and lemon basil in the other jar. Both were delicious!