So much basil…so little time

The Summer season is filled with so many wonderful foods that are fresh for such a short time. But canning, freezing, drying and preserving allow us to stretch the season to last the year around.

One sad exclusion to this bounty has always been fresh basil leaves. Once dried, all the volatile oils are lost, and it might as well be parsley. In my quest to find ways to extend the freshness life-span of my all-time favorite herbs, I began freezing it a few years back. I can never eat all I have, fresh, before it gets wilty and sad, so I have used this method for keeping it amazing so much longer.

The Basil Cube!

Begin with fresh, clean basil. It doesn’t matter how many you have. You are limited only by number of ice cube trays you can fit in your freezer. You can also make one single cube, if you only have a little bit to work with.

whole basil plants

whole basil plants

Strip all the leaves from the stems. All we are using is leaves for this project.

leaves only

leaves only

The cut or tear the leaves into small to tiny pieces and begin to cram them into a clean ice cube tray.

basil bits

basil bits

Then, pour enough water to cover the bits over the tray. I like to use filtered water, but I can’t imagine it makes much difference, really, what kind you use.

cover with water

cover with water

Then, pop the tray into the freezer for a minimum of 5 hours, but overnight might be best.

The next morning, you have perfectly portioned, ever-fresh basil leaves which can be used in sauces and soups all winter long. I store mine in a zip-loc bag so the flavors aren’t diminished by air, or shared among food that doesn’t need the pungency of basil.

basil cubes

basil cubes

Because the leaves are frozen, this method will not give you back fresh leaves, like you might need to make pesto, but it does retain the flavor of fresh basil. Because cooking removes a lot of the flavor, drop the cubes in to your sauce immediately before serving. Just let ’em melt, and give the pot a stir. Boom! Fresh basil flavor, any time of year!!! And, don’t forget to grow your own, to really Stick It To Monsanto.

An endless Summer to you all!

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Handcrafting Fresh Food~ or Summer 2015!

Just about the time I fell off the blogoshere we moved into a new house. Now, the house is great, and it has everything I need in a home, including a wood stove (finally!) and even my very own bathroom. But the “farm yard” is gone.

My chickens live off-property, and I am not completely thrilled with their accommodations, but overall, they are fine, and are laying well.

A tisket, a tasket...

A tisket, a tasket…

The “garden”, however, is a whole new ballgame.

The "Garden" 2015

The “Garden” 2015

My entire growing, recreating, outdoor space consists of an 8×24 foot wooden deck.

At first, I was heartbroken, thinking there was no way I was going to be able to grow any appreciable food this year.  But, I asked myself, ‘How many times have I said, “You can grow food, anywhere!”‘?  Well, this was my chance to prove it.

I started with the potted herbs we brought from the other house.

rosemary's baby

rosemary’s baby

oregano, sage, thyme, and curly spearmint

oregano, sage, thyme, lemon balm and curly spearmint

Then, we rescued 3 blueberry plants we found on the property, in pots.

blueberry hill

blueberry hill

Also, a couple of bedraggled strawberry plants we found, repotted and began loving:

strawberry fields, forever

strawberry fields, forever

They rounded out our berry patch nicely, with the raspberry canes we brought from the old place.

raspberries

raspberries

Then we got seed potatoes and shallot bulbs:

potato shrub

potato shrub

shallots and cilantro-becoming-coriander

shallots and cilantro-becoming-coriander

Soon, Spring sprung and I went kind of tomato-crazy, given the amazing south-facing exposure of the porch garden

"Sweet Millions" cherry tomatoes

“Sweet Millions” cherry tomatoes

Amish Heirloom "Brandywine"

Amish Heirloom “Brandywine”

the standard, Oregon Coast favorite, "Early Girl"

the standard, Oregon Coast favorite, “Early Girl”

Heirloom "Purple Cherokee"

Heirloom “Purple Cherokee”

All season long we have been eating from the “salad bar”

salad bar

salad bar

I can hardly wait for the lettuce and the tomatoes get ripe at the same time.

So far, we have eaten from all the herbs, and have harvested loads before they bloomed. Here is a bundle of my first lavender blossoms:

first lavender wand

first lavender wand

and here is the second batch of fresh blueberries:

done deal!

done deal!

The watering requirements of a microclimate like mine are somewhat shocking. Most days, we water morning and night. If it isn’t above 60 in the rest of the area (which translates to about 75-80 on my porch) we can get by with only watering in the morning. But we have huge plants in comparatively small pots, so they dry out quickly. If I had it to do over, I would employ the gardening “hack” of burying a 16 oz. water bottle, with it’s bottom cut off, upside down a few inches deep in each pot, so I could fill it with water and leave it to leach in, as needed, during the day. Maybe next year.

I know it may seem like I have been neglecting my handcrafting, as evidenced by my chronic lack of blogging, but please understand… I have been so busy handcrafting fresh food (and working to pay for the millions of gallons of water they require living in pots!), I haven’t had a lot of time to blog about it.

Still I am trying to make time. Things happen so quickly at this time of year. Starting seeds becomes transplanting becomes harvesting in no time. I am trying to keep up through pictures, so I can both blog, and reminisce, at my leisure.

I am so excited about my future projects. There are pumpkins and zucchinis besides, and having never done them in pots before, I can’t wait to see how that turns out. Plus, there will be the preserving of all these tomatoes! I have never had such a perfect place to grow the “hot crops” , here on the coast, so my yield is going to be staggering, compared to any of my other gardens in this climate.

Take that BigFood!!! Also, my very favorite way to #StickItToMonsanto

Also, despite having very little space to work with, I have committed some of my space to a group of “Rescue Roses”, as well. They came to me spindly, and covered in powdery mildew and black spot. A bit of love and care and some time in the sunshine has made all the difference for them. They say “Thank you” every day.

Food is most important, but beauty is also worthy of nurturing.

peaches and cream

peaches and cream

pink and perfect

pink and perfect

And that, friends and neighbors, is Awesome America!

Have a wonderful Summer 2015, and Happy Handcrafting!

 

 

 

Making Handcrafting Easier: Make-Ahead Mirepoix

mirepoix: ready for the freezer

mirepoix: ready for the freezer

I know it is mid-Summer right now, but Winter is coming.

Lately, the urge to stock up and fill the freezer and pantry has become an obsession for me!

I have recently made chicken stock and canned it, have frozen several whole chickens I got for a good price, and have added some veggies to the freezer and pantry. Today, as part of making dinner for tonight (chicken pot pie), I decided to turn all the celery onion and carrots into ready-made batches of mirepoix, the Holy Trinity of all Fall and Winter savory meals. It will come straight out of the freezer and into a pot of ready made stock for stew, chicken and dumplings, soups or casseroles.

Taking the 30 minutes to sautee and soften the veg, today, will give me time back when I need it, during the busy holidays, when my time is better spent making cookies and watching movies and spending time with my friends and family.

Mirepoix is 50% onion, 25% carrot and 25% celery. You may make your mix in any combination and in any size batch you wish. I like a cup or 2 in each batch. You can also add fresh or dried rosemary and/or thyme for a lovely herbal boost of flavor.

Sautee the veg until soft. Cool. Bag and freeze.

That’s it.

Later, no need to thaw, just pull it out of the freezer, add it to a quart of stock, add 1 cup of chopped cooked chicken, and any assorted fresh veg you might have at the time (mushrooms, beans, broccoli, etc). Bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer. Boom. Soup. Drop in biscuit dough for chicken and dumplings. Top with biscuit dough or mashed potatoes and bake for pot pie or shepherd’s pie. Wholesome, homemade real comfort food is ready when you are.

Now, that’s Awesome America! Take that BigFood. This is how we Stick it to Monsanto. One delicious meal at a time.

Dandelion Coconut Muscle Relief Oil

This year, I have put no energy, whatever, into ridding my space of dandelions. In fact, I have put them to work for me!

This kitchen magic: Dandelion Coconut Muscle Rub

Wonderful for undoing, when you have overdone it.

It requires:

  • A glass canning jar including lid and ring, larger than total volume of finished product
  • liquified coconut oil
  • a large handful of flowering dandelion tops
  • A sunny afternoon window sill, daily for 2 weeks

That’s it.

Place the dandelion flowers in the bottom of the sterile, entirely dry jar.

flowers! not weeds.

flowers! not weeds.

 

Pour the oil over the flowers to entirely cover.

shake daily, while a liquid.

shake daily, while a liquid.

Place lid and ring on jar and firmly tighten.

Place jar in the sunny window.

solid coconut oil and dandelions

solid coconut oil and dandelions

 

The oil with solidify when it isn’t 76 degrees, so it needs to reach that temperature every day, and be shaken gently. This is completely easy if it can “live” in a western or southern window in the Summer, because the sun does the warming. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, the jar can be placed in a shallow pan of water and gently warmed, but this is definitely more work and dedication.

Shake daily for 2 weeks and strain.

wamr, strained oil

warm, strained oil

finished product

finished product

The finished product is a wonderful oil rub for sore muscles as is, and would make an ideal additive to beeswax for a heavier salve.

 

Waters, Waters, Everywhere!

…and every drop is delicious to drink!!!

We all already know we need to make sure we drink plenty of water, but also that it can be a bit boring. We’ve been having the conversation over on the facebook page  and have come up with some pretty great ideas for some flavored waters.

The idea, or “recipe” if you will, for all the Flavored Waters is the same. Place a handful of the flavor (could be anything! depends on what you want it to taste like) into a pitcher or mason jar and cover it with pure water. Place in the fridge overnight. Strain, and drink.

The first one I made is nothing but spearmint and filtered water.

spearmint flavored water

spearmint flavored water

I also grow peppermint and orange bergamot mint, and look forward to using them all in flavored waters. But there are a million mind-blowingly awesome ideas!

orange bergamot mint

orange bergamot mint

peppermint

peppermint

Growing your own herbs and veggies and fruit to add lets you know the items are fresh and entirely wholesome. Take that, BigFood!

My friend Babs contributed her favorites: lemon balm and cucumber, strawberries, watermelon and oranges. Imagination+minty herb+ fruit/veggies= yummy flavored waters!”

Friend Tara, of Hello Granola offers: It’s so fun! Berries, oranges, lemons, basil, cucumber…on and on…”

Friend Teena says,we do this daily! I love it! Lemons, mint and cucumbers are my favorite. I also love strawberries with oranges and basil. It also helps me drink more water!”

Each item and combination offers its own health benefits. Not only are we staying hydrated, we can also stave off headaches, fatigues, icky tummies and stress with our creative possibilities.

So let’s harvest some awesomeness and cover it in water.

Bottom’s up!!!

Polly wanna cracker?

How about one loaded with protein and Omega-3 fatty acids?!?

I have been making my own crackers for about 6 weeks, now, and each time I make a batch, I modify the recipe a little. I am always attempting to improve on my recipes, as I experiment, and this time, I found a winner!

Now, please understand, as I give this recipe, my Mother taught me to cook using a little something she always called “ungefahr”, which is German for “approximate”. To her, it was an all-encompassing term which means, “you’ll know when you feel it”. A little of this and a little of that, added until you can just tell it’s right. This recipe is loaded with ungefahr.

The original recipe was for Graham Crackers, and can be found at kitchensimplicity.com . As I am making a savory cracker, today, the recipe had to be modified to limit the sweetness, but retain the texture and crunch.

I made a simple cracker built around the same ingredients and principle of techniques, and it was pretty good. This one came about because I sort of went nuts (or rather, seeds) with the add-ins. The result is delicious and super-healthy.

Savory Seedy Crackers:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (I use a very coarse, freshly ground flour from my local whole food grocer. It is commonly called “Graham flour”)
  • 1 1/2 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, seasoning salt, herbs or seasoning of your choice. (rosemary, cracked black pepper, thyme are all lovely choices)

here is where things get a little ungefahr…

  • aprox. 3 tbsp. flax seeds, 4 tbsp sunflower seeds, 4 tbsp raw pumpkin seeds all finely ground in a coffee grinder or food processor
  • this batch, I also added a small handful of cashews, finely ground

whisk all the dry ingredients together until fully incorporated. Then cut in:

  • 1/2 cup cold butter

when the mixture is incorporated it will resemble coarse crumbs and when grabbed it will stick together, but will break apart easily. Then add:

  • 1/2 cup water (more if needed to form a dough)
  • 1/4 cup honey

mix together until a dough forms. Add more water a tbsp at a time, if needed.

Knead until a smooth, somewhat elastic dough. Divide in half.

Roll between 2 pieces of parchment or plastic wrap (do yourself a favor and wipe the counter with a damp towel before laying out the plastic wrap. It helps it to stick to the counter, and not move around while you roll). Roll to 1/4 inch thick, as uniformly as possible.

Once rolled, take the entire sheet and flip it on to the cookie sheet. Cut into crackers using a pizza cutter. If you have ragged edges or parts that are thinner than the rest, peel them away and re-roll with the second half of dough. Sprinkle with coarse salt, and/or garlic powder or seasoning salt.

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Check. If the edges are done, remove the done 0nes and then continue to bake until the middle is also done. If they aren’t done enough, the crackers will be squishy. If overdone, they will taste like charcoal. Watch them closely! They burn easily. Continue baking for a few minutes at a time until it is done all the way to the middle.

I always lose a few to burning. These are my offering to the birds 🙂

Roll and bake the second half of the dough, or refrigerate for up to a week.

Cool the crackers, completely, and store in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks. (mine never last that long)

These are glorious with hummus or cheese or peanut butter.

Delicious!

savory seedy crackers

savory seedy crackers

 

Groceries from “Garbage”

…or Magical Manifestations!

Today’s magical tip is for handcrafting fresh, new food from old food bits. Specifically, regrowing green onions.

This is the easiest kitchen-grown project, ever, and will supply fresh onions for as long as you keep them in water. Just snip what you need, and leave the root bases in the cup or jar. Here’s how it’s done~

4 days ago, I bought a small bunch of green onions at the grocery store. I paid more, and got organic, because I knew these were going to become a semi-permanent fixture in my kitchen window. I cut off the green parts of all the onions and placed the bottoms, with roots, in a cup of water. (somehow I have lost that picture)

2 days later, it looked like this:

2 days growth

2 days growth

It is important to change the water when it gets murky, as the onions are growing in it.

this morning, it looked like this, Voila~ready for use!

4 days growth

4 days growth

 

After a long day…

a nice cuppa

a nice cuppa

…I owe it to myself (and my family!), to treat myself to a handcrafted form of relaxation. I know myself well enough to know I need to take good care of myself in this way. Taking time for a ritual cuppa, an herbal blend tisane, reduces my stress, balances my hormones and helps to prevent a lowered immune-response, thus keeping me healthier and more resistant to disease!

I have been “taking tea” since I was a teen, and I have perfected the art in all manner of financial situations. So, I offer my compendium of ways to enjoy and benefit from herbal blend teas from ghetto to gourmet.

The only difference between high rent and anything else is in the process. There are splendid stainless steel tea kettles, and cups with built-in strainers. One could spend a fortune on the very best and most highly advanced accouterments and if you have the means and the inclination, I highly recommend it.

For the rest of us, there are a wide variety of ways to make tea-

  • bagged tea is infinitely the easiest, but not the most cost effective. I am a huge fan of Stash teas, myself.
  • iron-closed paper tea bags. These can be purchased empty and filled with your favorite herbal blends. I love them! I use a curling iron to seal the bags, so I don’t even have to drag out the big iron.
  • Tea balls/bamboo strainers. Very economical, and last a long time.
  • Drip coffee maker. Throw a handful of herbs in the strainer basket and brew! Nothing could be simpler. *Be cautious with strong-smelling herbs (ie, valerian) because they can permeate the plastic of the filter basket with their scent.

Once you have your method worked out, it is all about the herbs. All of these blends are caffeine-free, and have specific effects. ***Please consult your medical professional, herbalist or Witch Doctor before ingesting any herb! This information is not intended to cure any disease or put me in an actionable position! I am not a doctor or an herbalist…;) ***

After A Long Day:

  • lavender 3 parts
  • chamomile 1 part
  • passionflower 1 part

Balance:

  • lavender 2 parts
  • rose petals 1 part
  • chamomile 1 part

Pick-Me-Up (as effective as a cup of coffee for mental acuity and focus, with no side effects):

  • Peppermint 3 parts
  • Lemongrass 1 part

Can’t Sleep:

  • lavender 2 parts
  • chamomile 1 part
  • hops 1 part
  • skullcap 1 part

All of these herbs are readily available at local herb stores, whole food markets and on the internet (when I didn’t have a local herb shop, I bought from Mountain Rose Herbs). Obviously, the more you buy, the cheaper it is, per ounce. Store any unused herb in an airtight seal jar (best kind, a mason jar or similar re-purposed jar and lid) for up to 1 year. But the fresher, the better, so try not to get nuts. I like to buy about an ounce at a time. Then I have enough for individual use, as well as making these blends up in advance.

There is so much to be gained from a handcrafted cuppa. Brew a cup, have a seat. Breathe in the scent. Savor the flavor…mmm…