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!

Cubist Coffee: or, Handcrafted Summer Mornings

Ahhh, Summertime! Where I live, it is very temperate and pleasant. But in many, many places it is just too darn hot! Especially for a hot beverage to start the day. So this Handcrafted Hack is in celebration of getting your caffeine, without having your eyes sweat. *It should be noted, before we even begin, as with so many handcrafted projects, this is not instant! The cubes will need to be frozen overnight (minimum of 8 hours. 12 is better) I saw a post on facebook about making coffee ice cubes, and decided to put the theory to the test. I decided to start sort of small, since it was an experiment. I brewed about 1/3 of a pot of very strong, lovely coffee.

start with strong coffee

start with strong coffee

Then, I used a clean, empty ice cube tray

clean tray

clean tray

I filled the tray pretty full, and let it sit on the counter for an hour or so, as I filled it hot. You could simply turn off the coffee pot and let it cool before you pour. Obviously, you don’t want to put anything hot into the freezer, as it puts all your frozen foods at risk of thawing.

cooling coffee

cooling coffee

Then, place the trays into the freezer, where they won’t be disturbed until the next day. Just a note, here, I stacked my 2 trays I made, and the coffee froze onto the bottom of the top tray, which, of course melted into dark coffee drips as I was taking it from the freezer, and using the cubes. There is a pretty significant potential for mess, here, so, maybe, don’t wear white while you participate in this process. The next morning, I pulled the cubes from the tray and placed them in my glass:

iced coffee on!

iced coffee on!

Now, because I was just having an “iced latte”, I simply added milk (cow’s milk, for this experiment, but, of course, you can use whatever you fancy), and was on my way. As the cubes have melted, the coffee is mixed into the milk. It has been a spectacular way to start the day.

Iced latte!

Iced latte!

It should be noted that this concoction could just as easily be a mocha (add chocolate syrup), or a flavored latte (add syrup) or a blended drink (drop the lot in a blender and whirl). The thickness of the blended drink is the coffee cubes, which do not water down a blended or on the “rocks” coffee drink. And, let’s don’t miss the obvious indications for both alcoholic additions and ice cream! I believe this idea could easily b adapted to a bunch of other applications, such as tea-cubes for your iced tea (in any flavor, or even herbal); freezing juice cubes, or adding your favorite protein/diet/supplement powder to the mix. So, today’s tutorial not only saves a fortune in coffee house prices, but sticks it to both Monsanto and Starbucks! Double bonus for Awesome America!

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!

 

 

 

It’s ALIVE!

Greetings, all and sundry!

I am positive, by now, you have decided I died of eating nothing but handcrafted food. Or, worse, fell off the Handcrafted wagon, and was lost in a mire of Monsanto.

But, NO! I just had a lot of other stuff going on in my life.

Still, I am back in the saddle, and am ready to share some of the cool stuff I am doing and learning, lately. But first, the past year… I have still not mastered cheese . This saddens me, but I remain hopeful that one day I will get it.  I am still entirely sold on handcrafted toothpaste, and still use my own every day. It has helped me with a lot of the problems I was beginning to have with my aging teeth. I am not as keen on long-term use of the coconut oil and baking soda deodorant, and have eliminated the baking soda because it caused me to have some pH issues. No big deal, but after a month or so, my skin reacted and I didn’t like it. If I took a break, I could use it for about another month, but, ultimately, it happened again, anyway. So, I use just plain coconut oil most days and regular deodorant for “potentially sweaty” days.

I am still making my own sauces and soups and smoothies and croutons and bread. But not so much diligence on crackers and granola  . I am getting back in the swing of things, again, though, so I expect to have better reports very soon.

So, as to new stuff, I just got a brand new, giant food dehydrator- 10 racks all with mesh liners and the fruit leather trays, for $15!!!  🙂  I have been waiting for ages for this to manifest in my life! I have employed many other preservation methods, but have felt I have been missing a vital aspect of pantry-filling without it.

I wanted to get started immediately (of course!) so I went shopping for one of my favorite dried fruit items, bananas. They are easy, and practically instant, prep-wise. My shop had organic bananas for sale for $0.10 more than the regular, so I splurged for the good ones.

All I did was slice the bananas as consistently as I could, and pop them in a single layer on the tray. I started 4 full trays, from 2 bunches of bananas.

sliced bananas in the dehydrator

sliced bananas in the dehydrator

Then I turned on the machine (125 degrees) and will now wait the 12 hours to check for doneness. I like mine a bit “leathery”.

 

Tomorrow, I will be back with the finished product, which I will store in a mason jar with tight fitting lid.

Fruit snacks are as simple as that. Later, I am going to make fruit leather with apples and raspberries (because red is my favorite flavor!).  Take that, Big Food!!!

Thanks for tuning in, my precious blueberries! I look forward to a busy, prosperous and entirely handcrafted Summer!!!!

Stocking the Pantry: Canned Peaches

Today’s surprise trip to the Farmer’s Market resulted in some gorgeous peaches, and since I have been dying to can some this year, I decided to dedicate these to this purpose.

Right off the bat, I want to say that this is possible because I have finally embraced the notion of “No such thing as too small a batch” to bother with. I know women who won’t even heat a kettle of water unless they are working with 20 pounds or more of produce, but if I waited to can until I had 20 pounds of something I would have a pretty sparsely populated pantry. I am employing some water-saving tactics here, though, and I will include these instructions as I go.

Start, of course, with ripe, unblemished fresh fruit. A bump or 2 is ok, but watch for overripe fruit with lots of soft spots. The flavor just isn’t there, and the will go to mush in the canner, even with a cold pack.

fresh peaches

fresh peaches

Before you begin, make a sugar syrup (approximately 2 cups of sugar in 4 or so cups of water). Boil the syrup for at least 10 minutes. Longer if you like a heavy syrup (the water cooks away and leaves a thicker, more concentrated, sugary syrup. I like mine a bit lighter).

Put all the jars you may need to contain the fruit in a canning kettle and boil them off to sterilize. Once the water is boiling, this same kettle can be used to blanch the peaches to make them easier to peel. Always peel your peaches (or tomatoes) before canning. The skin just gets weird and rather undesirable.

see that peach in there?

see that peach in there?

Drop the peaches into the boiling water and let them bob around (or sink) for about 3-5 minutes. Fish one out and test for peelablility. The skin should come away easily as the immediate flesh begins to cook from being in the boiling water and allows the skin to release. Now, some varieties of peaches peel more readily than others, and I am not going to lie; some are an absolute pain in the arse. Those just have to be peeled more like a raw potato, removing a bit of the flesh at the same time. I pray you find the easiest peeling varieties at a Farmer’s Market near you. I had some of each to work with, today. Always ask when you buy them to avoid varieties whose skin clings.

skin coming away easily after blanching

skin coming away easily after blanching

Once blanched, peel them. Then, either halve or slice the fruit for packing. Wide mouth jars work the best for peaches, but if they are slices, regular mouth ones will work,too.

quartered peaches

quartered peaches

Then cold pack the fruit into the sterilized jars. You can allow them to settle down, but don’t “cram” as much in as will fit. You will need to leave plenty of head space at the top of the jars to allow for expansion.

cold pack

cold pack

Pour syrup over fruit, leaving the appropriate head space, and wipe the edges of the jars. Firmly tighten lids and rings and place in the still boiling water. For this mission, we have used only 1 kettle of water for sterilizing jars, blanching fruit and water bath canning the jars. From a rolling boil, begin timing for 20 minutes.

back into the same kettle

back into the same kettle

When your timer goes off, remove the jars from the water bath and place them on a towel on the counter, where they can rest overnight or until cool.

done!

done!

You will want to think about how you will use them, later, to determine what size jars to use. If you have a small family, you may want to use pints, rather than quarts. This batch, I did one quart, to use for peach cobbler, and 2 pints to use for crepes with peaches (which is my husband’s favorite), during the winter. If you have a large family, you may want to strictly can quarts.

These beautiful jars of late-Summery goodness will be waiting for you in Winter, when it feels like Summer may never come again. There are no preservatives or chemicals and yet they are perfectly safe to use within one year of canning them.

There is no better way to stick it to Monsanto than choosing healthy organic produce in season and canning it for later. Take that BigFood!

Now that’s Awesome America at work!!!

Stocking the Pantry: Blackberries in Winter

berries on the vine

berries on the vine

This has been a banner year for blackberries in my climate. I have been picking a pint a day from the vines in my own yard, and more from random patches I have found on walks with my dog. I have made loads of jam, frozen some and given them away, but I have been searching for a new way to preserve them, and have remembered a trick from my childhood.

fresh harvest

fresh harvest

Fruit can be canned whole or sliced in a sugar syrup. I have tried this with the blackberries, and they are just lovely this way!

First, the syrup: I like a light syrup in mine. It doesn’t detract from the natural fruit flavor, and keeps their original color, beautifully.  My syrup is as follows: 1 cup of sugar to 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and continue a full rolling boil for 10 minutes.

Wash and dry fruit. Pour berries into a sterile jar to within 1 inch of top. Pour syrup over berries to same level (1 inch from top). Tightly fit lid and ring, and place in canning kettle. Cover jars with water to 2 inches above tops of jars. Bring water to a boil and begin timing. 10 minutes processing is all that is needed for this type of canned fruit.

Remove from water bath, and cool on a towel on the counter overnight.

That’s it! The fruit will last up to a year unopened on the shelf.

canned berries, ready for the pantry

canned berries, ready for the pantry

Later, when you are hankering for blackberries when it is cold outside, and Summer is a distant memory, your perfectly ripe berries will be ready for you!

One possible use for them is to stir a teaspoon of corn starch into the cool syrup and berries and heat them in a saucepan. When the syrup returns to clear (from being opaque) and the syrup is thick enough for your taste, it’s ready to be a delicious, nutritious pancake syrup, ice cream topping, or filling for a layer cake. The possibilities are endless. Summer can go on and on this way, no matter what the calender says!

Now that’s Awesome America!

Stocking the Pantry: Apple Pie Filling

pie filling!

pie filling!

One of my many projects, this Summer, has been preparing the pantry for the Autumn and Winter months. Without these preparations,  in order to enjoy fruits and veggies, I would have to choose a commercially prepared product of dubious origin and treatment. This way, I have my very own treasures, prepared from “scratch” awaiting my need for them all Season long!

Today’s project description is for Apple Pie Filling.

I began with the yellow transparent tree in my back garden. Known for their soft texture and tendency toward graininess, once these apples are ripe their only real function is applesauce and apple butter, which I have made and enjoyed many times. But this year, I decided to pick them a day or 2 before being entirely ripe. The texture remained firm and the flavor, amazing!

apple tree

apple tree

The only safe apple seems to be grown organically, or as they are in my neck of the woods, “grown by Nature”- never watered, sprayed, fertilized by humans at all. If you can find an apple tree then, by all means, use those apples. If not, buy the good stuff and use those.

yellow transparent apple

yellow transparent apple

Pick only the number of apples you plan to use immediately. Peel, core and slice apples into a bowl of water with added lemon juice, to prevent a certain amount of browning (some is obviously inevitable, but no worries. Cinnamon and nutmeg are brown, too).

apple prep

apple prep

Place apple slices into a large saucepan or stock pot, and coat with a liberal dusting of corn starch. I am not going to give amounts, because that all depends on the amount of apples you begin with. Add sugar (the amount also depends on number and sweetness of apples), ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, cardamom, ginger, and/or whatever spices you like in your apple pie. Hand blend these ingredients well, until apples are uniformly coated with the mixture.

apple, spice, starch mixture

apple, spice, starch mixture

Then, on medium heat, begin to cook the apples down. The length of time this will take is entirely dependent on the type and ripeness of apples. With my yellow transparents, it took about 10 minutes or so. Firmer apple varieties will take longer. The goal is to cook them until they are about halfway as cooked as you would like them when the pie is finished baking. Taste the mixture throughout the process. Nothing in it will hurt you, “raw”, so don’t be afraid to taste all along the way. To ensure enough sugar (if you accidentally add to much, give it a squeeze of lemon juice to balance), to create optimal spice balance, to detect doneness, all can be done with tasting. Be sure you like it before you go further!!!

pie filling!

pie filling!

Then, pack the mixture into sterilized glass jars. To sterilize, you can run them through a dishwasher and heat dry them, you can boil them seperately, in a canning pot, or you can fill them with boiling water from a kettle and leave them full until the apples are ready.

Then, place the jars, tightly lidded, into a water batch canner, and adjust water level to 2 inches or so above the tops of the jars. Bring the water to boiling and begin timing 25 minutes from rolling boil.

When they have been processed, remove them to a towel on the counter and allow to sit overnight, undisturbed. Their seals should begin “popping” almost immediately.

Next morning, the ones whose lids are sealed can be removed to the pantry. If the seal isn’t right, place it in the fridge and use it within one week.

When it is time to make pie, the jar can be emptied into an unbaked pie crust, and baked at 350 degrees. Lattice designs and other cut-outs are popular in 2-crust pies. But my favorite apple pie is crumb-y! (this can also be dumped directly into greased pan and topped to make apple crisp)

Apple Pie Crumbs:

1 stick of butter, softened a little (not squishy)

1/2 to 3/4 cup of  packed brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves, ginger, cardamom, allspice (each)

Using your hands, squish it all together until the mixture will stick together when you make a fist around it, but also breaks up easily into course crumbs when you break it apart.

Pour this crumb-y mixture over the pie filling and bake as usual for pie or crisp.

The convenience of having apple pie filling already made when I am ready to throw a quick pie or crumble together is going to be amazing! The same process can be achieved with many other types of fruit, so don’t hesitate to experiment! Holiday baking can be quick and easy if you are prepared!!!

Handcrafted Holiday Desserts, quick and delicious! Take that BigFood. Stick it to Monsanto with America’s most fond symbol of Home; Apple Pie!!!

 

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.

 

Handcrafted Summertime!

This morning I started the first batch of experimental ice cream of the Summer! I just got a second-hand ice cream maker, and have been dying to try it out. It was forecast to be a scorcher, here on the Oregon coast, so I knew today was the perfect day for it. I used a frozen custard sort of recipe, which I will add to the recipes section soon.

But the biggest Handcrafted WIN of the day was the air conditioner unit my husband built!

homemade AC unit

homemade AC unit

He used ideas he found on the internet, and for under $22 built a really effective air conditioner that cools down our teeny house fast!

cooler $4.99

cooler $4.99

Materials needed:

  • styrofoam cooler
  • small personal fan
  • dryer vent tube parts
  • milk jug of water, frozen solid (also, a block of ice of any shape would work, so long as it fits in the cooler)
  • the fan, placed face down in the cooler

    the fan, placed face down in the cooler $11.24

We bought all these materials today, and the price was about $20. The cooler was $4.99, the fan was marked down from $14.99 to $11.24, the tubey things were $2.49 each and we needed 2. The frozen milk jug was free 🙂

Then, all he did was cut a hole in the lid of the cooler the same size as the fan, insert the tubey things into the front of the cooler, cutting around the inside, so they are a snug fit, place the ice into the cooler and plugged it in.

the tubey vent things (I don't know what they're called)

the tubey vent things (I don’t know what they’re called) 2 @ $2.49 each

BOOM! Handcrafted AC unit, that was very cheap and easy to make, does not use a lot of electricity, and really works!

homemade AC unit

homemade AC unit