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!

Advertisements

Going Bananas

Ok, so here is the finished banana chip project. It went splendidly to plan. But I did make a minor modification in the plan:

done!

done!

I started the project dehydrating the banana slices on 125 degrees, but found, before I went to bed, they were drying out faster than I anticipated. So I turned the temperature back to 115. I had my husband turn the machine off at 7am, when he gets up, to complete a 12 hour cycle.

The chips were perfectly dried. Chewy, flavorful and lovely.

Just a note as to quantity- I expected my 2 large bunches to become a quart mason jar of dried chips, but they ended up being more like 2!

finished product

finished product

I am told that if you spray a fine mist of lemon juice over the slices they will stay truer in color. But I couldn’t be bothered. The color of them doesn’t put me off at all. If it bothers you, lemon juice is an option.

Thinking ahead to fruit leather, I am thinking of using the applesauce I canned in the Fall, and a puree of some fruit I have in the freezer. I have raspberries and blackberries, so I am excited for the future of healthy snacking!!! Take that BigFood!!!!!!

That’s it for today. It’s Day 5 of a 10 day run at my day job, so I will be along when I have time and inspiration.  Be well. Handcraft. Be awesome America! Stick It To Monsanto!

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.

 

We Be Jamman’!

‘Tis the Season for beautiful, jewel-shade, berry jellies, jams and preserves of all kinds.

jam supplies

jam supplies

I’ve been making cooked jam since I was a teenager, and it has always the same method, the same tools, the same ingredients. I like the fact I can spend a few uncomfortably hot Summer days cooking, and be rewarded with a year-supply of sweet, delicious condiment for my toast, peanut butter sandwiches and yogurt.

But this year, all that has changed.

I have made the most glorious change, and it has resulted in a jam with less sugar (and by less I mean 3/4 of a cup of sugar vs. 8 cups of sugar per 4-5 cups crushed fruit) that is a sure set, no need for lemon juice (in the basic berry recipe), a recipe that can be doubled or tripled (or more, if you have a large enough kettle) with no loss of gelling, and that results in perfect fruit distribution through the whole jar. That change was Pomona’s Universal Pectin.

best pectin EVAH!

best pectin EVAH!

The instructions I am going to give are for my experience with a triple batch~ which begins with 12 cups of topped, squashed strawberries. These instructions are taken directly from the information leaflet included in the Pomona’s Universal Pectin packet. One 1 oz packet will complete 1 flat of fresh berries.

for best product, always buy organic berries

for best product, always buy organic berries

washed, topped berries

washed, topped berries

Before beginning the process, I boiled all the jars needed for the batch I was making, for sterilization. The lids and rings were also placed in a separate pan and brought to a boil at this time. While this was happening, I topped berries and made up a jar of the Calcium water (monocalcium phosphate, which activates the pectin, included in the packet) as directed by the instructions ~ 1/2 tsp calcium powder per 1/2 cup water, shaken well to mix. There will be a lot of this left over after your recipe, and it can be kept for several months in the fridge, for future batches).

calcium water

calcium water

The squashed berries and 6 tsp of the calcium water go in the cooking pot, to be brought to a boil.

bring berries to boil

bring berries to boil

The sugar is measured separately (can be also be made with honey, using this recipe) and placed into a bowl. The pectin powder is added to the sugar or honey and blended. (I was making this recipe for family, and they are accustomed to a very sweet jam, so I used 2 cups of sugar per batch- in this instance, 6 cups total. The recipe calls for between 3/4 a cup to 2 cups per batch).

As soon as the fruit comes to a boil, the sugar or honey/pectin mixture is added to the pot, stirred thoroughly to incorporate and dissolve sugar and pectin, and brought back to a boil for 4 minutes.

Then, the finished jam is placed into the sterile, still-hot  jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace in each. The rims need to be wiped to remove any jam which would compromise the seals. Then lids added and rings tightened.

filled jam jars

filled jam jars

All the filled jars go back into the boiling pot to be water-bathed for 15 minutes past boiling. This is to kill any remaining germs, to allow it to remain fresh for many months on the shelf.

All the jars are removed from the pot, and placed on a towel on the counter to seal and cool. Once the tops “pop” which indicates a complete seal, I flip them over and over as they cool (every 15-20 minutes) so the fruit distributes evenly throughout the jar. The bigger the jar, the longer this takes. Fruit floats in the jam jar, so if this step is skipped, there will be a fruit layer on top and a syrup/jelly layer on bottom. This is a natural occurrence, as sugar is heavier than fruit.

In roughly an hour (for smaller jars, or 2 for quarts- I know, crazy large for a jam jar, but my Dad eats jam at every meal, every day. His open jars never go bad before he empties them!) the jam is finished, the gel process complete and the fruit completely and evenly distributed throughout the jars.

finished jam, fruit well-distributed through jar

finished jam, fruit well-distributed through jar

This recipe is simple, a ton of time is saved by the ability to double and triple the recipe, so much cheaper and healthier because there is between 3- and 16-times less sugar in the jam as conventional pectin recipes, and the result is positively foolproof! You may never buy jam again. Take that BigFood!

Jars of jam make amazingly welcome gifts for all occasions, and are appreciated by everyone who receives them!

No treat so decadent as a mouthful of sweet Summer when the frost is on the pumpkin, or the snowdrifts pile up against the house.

Enjoy!!!!

Tillamook Creamery responds to questions about GMOs

I have become ever-mindful about the foods I am eating, and increasingly more so in recent months.

When I learned that Land O’ Lakes butter was made with GMO-grain fed cow’s milk, I decided to pose the question to our own Oregon Coast neighbor, the Tillamook Creamery.

Tillamook Creamery

Tillamook Creamery

Here is how that exchange went.

My email to them:

message: I recently became aware that Land O’Lakes uses GMO materials in the manufacture of their butter. I am assuming this is related to the diet of their herd, but who can say?
My question is, does Tillamook use GMO- affected products in the manufacture of your butter, milk, ice cream, cheese, yogurt, etc.
A lot of us who buy these products have chosen Tillamook because of the proximity of Tillamook, to where we live (also on the Oregon Coast. It allows us to fancy ourselves loca-vores (despite so many of the products being made elsewhere, in reality).
But all of us are careful to try to avoid GMO products and processes which use a GMO-affected product. We need some straight answers about how Tillamook utilizes GMO affected products and grains.

 

… after a week or so, this was their response:

Hi Rachel,

Thank you for reaching out to us directly. We know the GMO topic is a sensitive and important one to some consumers, and we want to be as accurate as possible in responding to questions and concerns about it.  First and foremost, the core ingredients in all our products are milk and cream of the highest quality produced in the most natural way possible, and neither of these ingredients have exposure to GMOs.  In regards to some of the additive ingredients – particularly to our ice cream and yogurt – the answers are a bit more complex.  At this time, and in the absence of any clear standards or definitions around genetically modified substances, it is hard to categorize which ingredients are – with certainty – GMO-free.  We do use some ingredients like natural flavoring (e.g. sugar or corn syrup for sweetening), natural coloring (e.g. beet juice), and stabilizers (e.g. corn starch and soy lecithin) that have the possibility of being derived from GMO sources because of the pervasiveness of GMOs in agricultural crops in the United States.

Our farmers know that healthy cows make the best quality milk and part of this is a healthy diet.  The farmer-owners and all the dairymen who supply milk for Tillamook dairy products use a variety of forages and grains for feed. While the mixture varies dairy to dairy, it’s likely to include a mix of grass, alfalfa, some corn silage, and grains such as barley or soy. All of this is balanced by a nutritionist who also adds a vitamin/mineral supplement to ensure the healthiest cows possible, and thus the highest quality milk.  The feed used by our farmers and suppliers is both home grown on our farmer’s fields and purchased.

At this time, and in the absence of any clear standards or definitions around genetically modified substances, it is hard to know if the feed purchased for every cow contributing to our milk supply is GMO-free. In today’s market, it is extremely difficult to source feed for cattle that is 100 percent verified as GMO-free, given how pervasive GMOs are in the grain supply chain.  Even organic feed for organic farms is extremely difficult to verify as GMO-free because of cross-pollination. 

I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if you have any more questions.

Thanks,

Callie O’Sullivan
Consumer Loyalty Team
Toll-free: 1-855-Loaf-Love (562-3568)
Tillamook.com | Tillamook Twitter | Tillamook Facebook

________________________________________________________________
My hat’s off to Tillamook for responding to my inquiry in an intelligent and sensitive manner.

I appreciate them not treating my question as trivial and also for giving me the most thorough explanation possible, under the circumstances.

I really wanted the answer to be a very simple and straight-forward “No”. But that isn’t the world we live in.

I will continue to use their butter and cheese (even though they refuse to remove corn syrup from their ice cream 😦 )

Just thought others might want to know how this company responded to a direct question about GMO-affected products.

Raw Strawberry Jam

I have become completely addicted to jam in my homemade yogurt, but I am also not happy with all the sugar in the jam I have been eating.

So, this Spring, I have decided to try some experimental jams that use little or no sugar, whatever. This batch is made of nothing but strawberries, chia seeds and water. My berries were so sweet and good I didn’t even add the honey I had planned to use to sweeten it.

The recipe comes from naturesnurture.com:

  • 1 cup fresh, washed berries
  • 1 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp water
  • sweetener to taste

 

fresh, raw ingredients

fresh, raw ingredients

First, I washed and topped the berries and squished them into the measuring cup

1 cup berries, 1 tbsp chia seeds

1 cup berries, 1 tbsp chia seeds

Then, I added 1 tbsp of whole black chia seeds, which become very gel-ly when they get wet. They also have no flavor, whatever to interfere with the recipe’s taste.

adding the chia seeds

adding the chia seeds

My berries weren’t really super-juicy, so I added 1 tbsp of water.

adding water

adding water

Wait one hour, and boom. Jam!

jam!

jam!

I made one batch for now, which I will keep in the fridge, and one batch to try to freeze. I have no information on how this will affect the texture, so I am giving it a shot. Berry season is waaaayyyy too short to only be able to enjoy this when they are in season.

one for now, one for later!

one for now, one for later!

I will provide an quality control update, when I thaw the freezer batch.

Happy Berry Season!!!!

2 Months of Handcrafting…

Making America Awesome, again, through self-sufficiency!

Since I began my journey down the Handcrafted Road, I have learned so much, tried so many new things, and gained confidence from both epic successes and epic failures.

When I started this journey, I already made all my own bread and brownies. Since then, I have added quite a few things and began handcrafting them, rather than buying them. The list is pretty impressive, if I say so myself.

I have tried:

the reveal

the reveal

cottage cheese curd

cottage cheese curd

laundry ingredients

laundry ingredients

I like all of these products very well, and will probably make them again.

Here is a list of products I have mastered, love and use every day. I will never have to buy these items again:

green onions after over a week

green onions after over a week

ready to use, or store

ready to use, or store

cherry cashew vanilla granola

cherry cashew vanilla granola

boom. quart of liquid coconut-castile soap for $1.89

boom. quart of liquid coconut-castile soap for $1.89

Boom!  Body Wash.

Boom!
Body Wash.

soup!

soup!

I am also using a marvelous toothpaste made of coconut oil and baking soda. But I haven’t done a blog post about that yet!

My dream of providing healthy, effective alternatives to store-bought, chemical-laden products is coming along at lighting pace. Yes, it takes longer. Yes it is more work. Yes, it would be easier to buy them. But it is also cheaper, safe and gives me a chance to stick it to the Corporate Machine a bunch of times, every day.

All toll, I think it has been a successful 2 months! I can’t wait to see what I handcraft next!

Handcrafted Liquid Castile Soap

As good (or better!) than Dr B’s, but cost $1.89 a quart to make*. Simple, fast, effective, and safe for the lake down the hill from my septic system drain-field.

I started with 1 bar of Kirk’s brand coco-castile soap. This is an all-natural bar soap, ingredients: Coconut Soap, Water, Vegetable Glycerin, Coconut Oil. 

the base

the base

I grated it with a hand grater. This was the hardest “work” of the whole project. It is a pretty solid bar, and if you have a food processor, you might want to chop it up in there. I don’t have one, or I would have.

kinda hard to grate, use a food processor if you have one

kinda hard to grate, use a food processor if you have one

 

Meanwhile, I put a quart of water into the tea kettle and boiled it. then, I added the still-boiling water to the grated soap and stirred until it was completely dissolved. It is a little bit slow, but it will happen. The smaller the soap bits, the faster the melt.

stir to dissolve soap bits

stir to dissolve soap bits

Once the soap is fully dissolved, I added a tablespoon of glycerin. This was added specifically to help keep my hands from drying while I was using this soap. I’m not sure it was even really necessary, but I had a good supply, so I used it. You can choose to use it or not. The soap is already very gentle and moisturizing, as all-natural soaps go.

adding glycerin for added moisture

adding glycerin for added moisture

Then, I put the liquid soap in a mason jar. The instructions for the liquid soap I found on youtube called for a 2 day rest on the counter, then a mix with an immersion blender on the second day. I did this, but as my soap had not separated at all, it was obviously unnecessary. I am also thinking the rest period was not too necessary, either. It was exactly the same, the day I made it.

store in tightly lidded jar

store in tightly lidded jar

This morning, I blended it and scented it with essential oil (lavender in my case, but I also toyed with the idea of peppermint for the dish soap), and shazaam! Liquid castile and coconut oil soap, every bit as good as commercial brands (Dr B’s) and soooooo much cheaper.

boom. quart of liquid coconut-castile soap for $1.89

boom. quart of liquid coconut-castile soap for $1.89

I will now be using this soap as the base for my body wash, laundry soap, and all my cleaning purposes. Cheap thrills for a more Awesome America!!! WOOT!

Handcrafted Broccoli Soup

…in under 20 minutes.

This is my absolute favorite “recipe” for soup. Loaded with vitamins and other good stuff, and none of the goodness is lost in the cooking. If you can boil water, and operate a blender, you can make this delicious, nutritious soup.

Ingredients:

  • broccoli crowns, cut into big chunks, nothing fancy
  • grated carrots
  • green onions
  • garlic
  • veg broth, chicken stock, milk or cream (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
broccoli soup mix

broccoli soup mix

place all the veg in a saucepan with about 2 inches of water. Put a tight lid on it, and turn it on high. Keep an eye on the pot, because if you boil it dry, you will hate yourself.

Cook until the broccoli stems are soft-ish, but not overcooked.

Put everything from the saucepan, including the water, into the blender. Begin to pulse, and determine if you need more liquid. I almost always do. Mind the lid of the blender and don’t fill it too full. Hot liquids like to explode from blender tops. Add the stock,milk or cream and continue to pulse until the mixture is smooth and the consistency is as thick or thin as you like it.  Add liquid slowly. You can always add more, but you can’t un-add. Savvy?

soup!

soup!

That’s it. Your soup is ready to season, and eat. Garnish with cheddar cheese if you like. You can also add a handful (of whatever size you like) into the blender while pureeing for Broccoli Cheddar soup.

Boom! Healthy, delicious meals done! I take it for lunch, but with some nice crusty bread, a nice fresh salad, and you have a simple dinner in under half an hour.

Handcrafted Moisturizing Body Wash

In my obsessive quest to replace all my products with handcrafted replacements, both for quality of ingredients and health benefits, I have been very busy. I have used coconut oil to make so many things I have literally lost count of them all. I can’t get enough of this stuff!

Today’s mission was to handcraft a body wash I could truly love. I started with this recipe from diy natural. But, as always, I tweaked. Hey, it didn’t include extra virgin coconut oil! Mine contains this:

body wash raw ingredients

body wash raw ingredients

  • 2/3 cup castile soap (this batch, I used the last of the Dr. Bronner’s lavender. I just made my own liquid castile soap, today, but it won’t be ready until Friday afternoon. Next batch, it will be all mine! *See next blog post for instructions on the world’s cheapest, easiest liquid coco-castile soap)
  • 1/4 cup raw, unfiltered honey
  • 1 tbsp liquid-form (76 degrees+) extra virgin coconut oil
  • 100% pure lavender essential oil (you could also use peppermint, eucalyptus, geranium, ylang ylang, patchouli, tea tree…whatever you like)

Measure out and add all the ingredients in a pyrex measuring cup/pitcher, and stir to mix thoroughly. Then, pour into an empty body wash or liquid soap dispenser, or squeeze bottle of your choice. Label clearly and use immediately!

Boom!  Body Wash.

Boom!
Body Wash.

Wonderfully creamy lather makes skin feel soft and clean, and the coconut oil might make it so moisturizing that you won’t need lotion after your shower.

I am going to use this for my hand soap next to the sink, because with all the handcrafting I do, I wash my hands at least three hundred times a day. It isn’t drying to skin and cleans thoroughly.

Voila! Money-saving replacements for an Awesome America!!!

*Follow-up: I have found the body wash to be a little more drying than I would like, so as a follow-up to the wash, I keep a little tub of pure coconut oil in the shower, and once I am all clean, I pin my hair up in a clip, and smear the oil all over. My skin is never greasy, the towels never get stained, and my skin is nourished and moisturized all day, afterward. I no longer need lotion after my showers.