Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to Harvest, Dry, and Preserve Fresh Basil

I haven't been blogging as much as I'd like to lately!  Two reasons: 1) it's SUMMER and we live on a LAKE! (no brainer), and 2) it's my busiest time of the year for face painting!

But, I thought I'd squeeze in a little sliver of time today to post about...BASIL!  I got a bunch of herbs for Mother's Day, and have been really enjoying growing them in large pots on our deck.  There's something just so wonderful about cooking a meal for your family in the summer, realizing some fresh herbs would be perfect, then stepping out on the deck in your bare feet and picking some right then and there.

Fresh herbs are expensive in the grocery store, but that doesn't mean you have to spend the money.  You can grow them year round in pots, indoors and out!  I haven't tried growing herbs indoors yet, but just might have to try it this winter.

So, I have a nice, full pot of basil, but it's growing like crazy and I am not cooking enough to use it all up.  If you have the same "problem," here are a few tips to harvest and preserve your basil.

Harvest your basil often to keep it growing.  You can simply pluck off the leaves individually as you use them, but there are a few ways to harvest and preserve larger quantities.

Harvest your basil in the morning...they say around 10 am-ish is best...after the morning dew but before the heat of the afternoon.  This is when the leaves' essential oils are at their strongest, and the leaves are the most flavorful.

Cut the stems just above the bottom one or two pairs of leaves.  This will encourage your plant to keep growing more basil for you to enjoy while you preserve what has grown!

Don't let the plant flower.  You won't get as much if it flowers, and flowering can also alter the taste of your basil.  If you see one starting to form, pinch that sucker off.  Here's a photo of a flower starting to form on one of my plants:
If you want to grow new basil from seed for the next season, you can leave the flowers grow to harvest the seeds at the end of your season.

Dunk the plants in some water to wash off any bugs, spider webs, or dirt that may be on them.  Usually there's at least a little dirt that jumps up there on those leaves when the rain falls or when you water your plants.

Shake off the excess water and lay them on a towel to dry off. 

From here you can decide how you'd like to save it:


Tie a few stems together at the base.  Be sure to tie them tightly because the plants will shrink as they dry. 

Hang them upside down somewhere in the house to dry, then store them in airtight containers or bags.  If you can't wait a week or two for them to air dry, you can use a dehydrator as well.  Many herb enthusiasts believe that they'll retain their flavor more if you air dry them versus a dehydrator or warm oven though.

Once they are dry, you can store the whole stem in a bag or container, or snap off each leaf and store them individually, or go as far as to crush the leaves up and store it in little pieces much like you get in the jars at the store.  However, storing them whole and breaking them up as you need them will help preserve the flavor and aroma.

Dried basil makes a wonderful gift, whether given in bunches or in a pretty jar with a decorative lid or label.

Here's a fun little trick I learned online to preserve your fresh basil.

After you've washed it, pick the leaves off and chop it up, just like you might if you were going to put it straight from the plant into your cooking.

Put it in a bowl and mix it up with some olive oil.  (You can also do this with just water instead of oil if you don't use the oil in your cooking)

Freeze little olive oil & basil "cubes" in an ice cube tray.

Once they are frozen you can pop them out and store them in an airtight container or ziploc bag in the freezer.

Just pull them out to toss in your cooking whenever you need it!

Other methods of freezing basil: 
- Just freeze the whole, fresh leaves!
- Make a paste: Puree the leaves with a little oil in your food processor, then freeze flat in a baggie.  Break off pieces of the frozen paste as needed.

Got any of your own tips and tricks for drying and storing fresh herbs?  Do tell!  I'm still a newbie myself and would love to learn more. :-)

Monday, July 18, 2011

"The Robot Project"

A couple weeks ago I was tucking Sammy in for bed and he looked all serious after we finished our bedtime story and prayers.  With a sigh he said, "Mommy, I have a lot to do."  I asked him what he had to do, and he proceeded to list off all of the things he needed to a scarecrow that moves from a windmill like on Curious George to scare birds away from his carrot garden, build a new house with a "high ceiling" out of his Legos, and build a robot.  I laid there in his bed for 45 minutes as we had an in depth brainstorming session about what to put on the robot he had to build, and I finally cut off the conversation with a promise that we'd make a trip to AxMan Surplus the next day and I'd help him build his robot. 

The next morning, the first words to come out of his mouth as he stepped out of his bedroom were, "We're gonna build a robot today!" So, after church we dropped off Daddy and Toby at home and headed to AxMan.

Ax-Man is a strange, wonderful, and magical place for a specific group of strange people like myself.  A land of colors, textures, and bins and bins of unknown objects just screaming for a use.  Even if you don't buy anything, it's entertaining just to read the funny hand made signs that illustrate the various made-up purposes for each item.

I think the only thing more excited than a kid in a candy store is my kid in Ax-Man.  Both the fact that the ideas in his little head keep him up at night, and that he was so deliriously happy in Ax-Man were concrete proof that he is MY child!

 Sammy was on the verge of being uncontrollable in his excitement.  Two feet into the store I had to start pulling him along to see what else there was. "Here's something!" he'd yell, take two steps, "I found something!" We didn't have a lot of time, as we encroached upon lunch and nap time, so it was quite a challenge to get him to keep walking through all of the aisles to fill our basket.
 He had a blast picking out knobs, buttons, gears, springs, you name it, to stick on his robot.  My plan was to make a cardboard "body" to attach whatever he found to, just like I did as a kid.  You can see here he has Thomas face paints on his arms, which I did the day before.  (I can't go do a face painting gig now without him asking to be painted too when I get home!) About 40 minutes later we got to the checkout the guy ringing us up handed him a few Ax-Man temporary tattoos.  "He looks pretty hard core with those Thomas tattoos," he said, "so I thought he might like these!"

In the end we left with a brown paper bag full of $29 worth of random robot parts!

 By then we were way past lunch time, and even getting into nap time. We stopped at Burger King for lunch since it was the only place I could find nearby.  Over burgers we talked about the robot project, and how Mommy and Daddy met each other 16 years ago working at a Burger King.

Back at home while Sammy napped, I found a cardboard box and spray painted it silver.

 It was tough, but we waited until little brother Toby went to bed before we dumped out our bag of choking hazards all over the kitchen table and began our robot assembly. I saw several items that I never knew made it into our shopping basket, but of course Sammy knew right where he wanted them!

 This light was the most expensive piece at $4.95, but definitely a highlight of the robot, to be placed on top of his head like a police car.  Sadly, after just a few minutes of running, the light stopped spinning and it made an awful noise that scared Sammy, so we had to remove it.  If I ever make it back out to Ax-Man, maybe we can exchange it.  :-(

 We had to put the tattoo in his favorite place to put temporary tattoos....on his belly.

 Here is the robot at the end of night one.  We stayed up and worked on it until Mommy was too tired and Sammy had to go to bed, but added more over the next two days.  There is a door in the back where Sammy put a few items inside. He has reflectors and gears for his eyes and nose, knobs that turn, switches that click, spring arms, an on/off switch, and a clear calculator that acts as a window into the inside.

Here he is showing Daddy his cool new robot.  We decided to name him "Yorbo," like the robot on a recent episode of Curious George.  The first night he took him to bed, then asked me to take him away, then he asked for him back again.  (He has sortof a love/fear relationship with his toy robots) But, he now is a beloved addition to his bedtime companions, and is the first "toy" to be put up out of little brother's reach in the morning so he doesn't "wreck him!"

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Our Very Hungry Caterpillar!

Here's a very cool way for you kids to get up close and personal with nature and learn about how caterpillars transform into butterflies!

A couple weeks ago my mom brought over a monarch caterpillar in a jar for Sammy.  Each year she and my dad find them on their property and will put one or two in a jar to watch it transform into a butterfly. Sammy's caterpillar built it's chrysalis before he made it to our house, so my mom emailed photos of his progress...

 Here he is eating a leaf and, of course, pooping it out!  These caterpillars like milkweed plants.  We have a bunch in our back yard but unfortunately couldn't find any of these guys this year.  Maybe next year!  But that's where you want to hunt for them.

 My mom puts a stick in the jar which is usually where they build their chrysalis, however, this guy decided to use the jar lid instead.  Here he is starting to attach himself.

These little things just always amaze me. They're so pretty and green and I love the little gold "details!" It's almost like a little gold zipper across the top.  This is how it looked when she brought it over, and we've been waiting for our butterfly to emerge, which happened today!

Last night it started to turn black...actually, the chrysalis doesn't really turn black, it gets clear, enabling you to see the black of the wings inside.
 Here's what it looked like this morning.  You can definitely see it is a monarch now! 

We left to take Toby to his 18 month checkup, and when we returned we found this...

So, for a half hour we all forgot how starving we were for lunch, and went out on the deck, where we opened the jar and enjoyed the tame-ness that comes with a newly hatched monarch!

 "Wow, this is cool! Almost makes me forget about you holding me down while the doctor tortured me with that enormous needle, Mom!" 

 Climbing on Sammy's hand

Okay, so I went a little nuts with the camera.  But hey, how often do you have the opportunity to take close-up photos of a live butterfly?

 (Of course it was only a matter of time before we had to introduce our butterfly to Puppy!)

 By this point it's wings were starting to dry enough to flutter around the deck.  This part of our deck is fully screened so it was like a little butterfly house for about an hour!

We ate lunch, played with him a little more, and then said our goodbyes when he was ready to fly away!

I'll try to remember to post a link back to this post next summer and give you a heads up that it's time to go caterpillar hunting!

Monday, July 11, 2011

IDMommy Project: Paper Truck Pattern

I just made a new paper toy pattern recently for Sammy...a paper truck!  I have made it available free for download on my design site. Print out the pdf and let your child color in the truck with his or her own custom paint job!  Then, just score, cut, fold and glue until you have a cool new toy!

The free pdf has instructions and photos, but here are some more pics for your reference...

Pieces cut out and ready to fold! Be sure to score each fold line before cutting the pieces'll make everything go so much easier!

Truck body piece folded and glued

This is the roof, windshield, and back window of the cab.

Window/cab piece attached to the main body of the truck

The bed liner, ready to install!

 Bed liner glued into the truck. Now you're done!  Leave the tailgate loose to open and close, OR glue it shut if you want it to stay in place.

Looking to step it up a little? Try making paper "loads" to haul.  Cut out three sides of the doors so they open.  Make a paper dog to ride in the back.  Draw some bugs on the grill.  Be creative and have fun!


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