Category Archives: Gardening

Preserving Cilantro

We grow our own cilantro–partly because it is very easy to grow, partly because it is hard to find fresh herbs in our area, and partly because it is just so delicious!

I usually plant way more cilantro than we could ever use before it bolts when the weather gets warmer. Although cilantro is a great cool-weather plant, it doesn’t last forever. In our area, it bolts as soon as the summer heat starts baking it. The seeds it produces are coriander, a very nice spice…but not a good substitute for the flavor of fresh cilantro.

So, how to preserve that freshness? Freeze it!

Method

Begin by washing and chopping the cilantro stems and leaves. I prefer to use a small food processor, but any type of chopping method should work just fine.

Little hands love playing with the washed cilantro.

Little hands love playing with the washed cilantro.

Once the herbs are chopped to your satisfaction, spoon them into ice cube trays.

cilantro cubes

I prefer to use trays that make the smallest cubes so that I can use smaller amounts of herbs once they are frozen.

If you have any liquid left over from your chopping method, such as the juice that collects at the bottom of the food processor, pour that into the herb cubes until they are full. Use water if there is not enough liquid. The idea is to have enough in each cube to bind the herbs together when frozen.

Once the cubes are packed and filled, freeze them until solid. Dump the cilantro cubes into a Ziploc bag and stash them in the freezer for a day when you don’t have the fresh stuff.

Use in soups, casseroles, salsa, or anything else where you want the great cilantro flavor but the fresh texture isn’t required.

Almost any type of leafy herb can be frozen using this same method.

Rhubarb Cake

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If you think this photo looks a little odd, you might be right. I cut a small hole in the middle to test for doneness and we started cutting slices from there…which should go to show you how yummy this cake is!

This is the first year I’ve had a rhubarb harvest, incidentally, and I discovered something about rhubarb from a local veggie farmer who also has several rhubarb plants. Not all rhubarb plants turn red when they’re ripe. Mine appears to be one of those that stays green even when it’s ready, I guess.

Anyway…on to the recipe, which I adapted from one published by Penzey’s Spices. (Although I disagree with some of the company’s stands on social issues, I find that Penzey’s is one of the best places to get low-cost, high-quality spices.)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. melted butter, cooled
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. plain greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 c. chopped rhubarb
  • For Topping: 1/3 c. sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix sugar, butter, egg, yogurt and vanilla together in a large bowl. Stir in baking soda and flour, mix well. Fold in the rhubarb.

Spread the batter in a greased 9×13 pan.

Combine the topping sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the cake batter. It will probably seem like there is too much topping for the size of the cake, but trust me, it’s right. The sugary topping forms a crust of sorts that is very yummy.

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Bake 30-35 minutes. Serve warm and refrigerate leftovers.

Pitting cherries can be the pits!

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Just look at all those beautiful red pie cherries! But those buckets of cherries are full of pits and the pie filling recipe I wanted to try this year called for 10 pounds of these little jewels. That translated to a lot of pitting, so I thought I’d share our opinions on the various pitting methods.

Method #1: Slice and Dig

It’s possible to slice each cherry in half and dig the pit out with your fingernail. I don’t have any pictures of this method because, well, I don’t recommend it.

This would probably work just fine if you only need a couple of cups of cherries, but it’s quite messy and time consuming if you need much more than that. Not to mention leaving lots of cherry gook under your fingernails.

Method #2: Bobby Pin

This works great if you don’t have a cherry pitter on hand, and it’s still my hubby’s favorite method. Start by holding a cherry between the fingers of one hand with the stem end facing out. Position the loop of the bobby pin at the stem opening.

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Press down with the bobby pin, sweeping the pit out of the cherry as you pull the pin out.

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Ta-da! The pit should come out smoothly and land somewhere nearby.

This method leaves a slightly bigger hole in the cherry than Method #3 but otherwise is very effective. And it takes no time at all to clean the pin when you’re done. With a large number of cherries to pit, though, my hand tends to cramp and my fingers get a little sore from holding the pin.

Method #3: Cherry Pitter

This is my preferred method, since I find it a bit faster, cleaner and easier than the other methods.

A cherry pitter is a simple contraption with a long, specially shaped bit that shoves the pit out of the cherry as it goes through from one side to the other. Place the cherry on the platform and squeeze the handle.

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You should end up with a pit-less cherry and a pit in the catching tray below.

I couldn’t find a cherry pitter at local stores, so if you live in a small town, you might have a bit of trouble tracking one down, too. Fortunately, a friend let me borrow hers. I suspect every pitter is slightly different and may have its own quirks. For example, this one tended to leave the pit in the cherry if I didn’t squeeze it quickly.

I like that this method doesn’t require me to line up the cherry precisely and it isn’t as messy as the other methods. I found this faster after I got into a rhythm with it, too.

Do you have any favorite methods or machines to pit your cherries?

Recycled Cold Frame

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Isn’t it beautiful?! It’s my “new” cold frame where my tomato seeds will (hopefully) thrive in moist, warm, wind-free comfort as they grow into happy little fruit-producers. And where my yet-to-be-grown lettuce plants will keep warm long into the winter months.

The best part about this cold frame? It was free…thanks to my husband’s hard work and creativity! He salvaged garage door sections from a car wash’s door when his company replaced it with a new one. And he salvaged scraps of lumber that come in as packing material on delivery trucks. After a few hours of his hard work, we have a fantastic cold frame–better than anything we could have purchased–and for free!

 

 

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How to Clean a Paintbrush

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My hubby and I spent several hours last weekend painting our house–inside and out. I find that painting is a multi-day process for me since I tend to get bored with it quickly. Or, the weather kicks up and the project has to stop for a bit.

So, cleanup becomes important since I never know when I’ll be able to get back to the project and I don’t really want to throw away nice brushes. But brushes can be a hassle to clean and, if the cleaning isn’t thorough, the little paint gunk left in the brush gets into the next painting project.

Fortunately, my dad was a professional painter for a while and he showed me how to clean a brush properly without using chemicals (unless you’re using oil-based paint).

Step 1: Rinse thoroughly.

The easiest way to get paint out is to rinse it under warm water. Tip the brush upside down and let the water run down into the bristles to get out all the paint stuck in there. When the water basically runs clean, move on to step 2.

 

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Step 2: Use a wire brush.

Take a wire-bristle brush and scrape down the bristles of the paint brush, sort of like combing the paint brush’s “hair” with the bristle brush. This breaks loose all of the little dried bits that get stuck in the paint brush’s bristles. DO NOT scrape from the bottom up. Always start at the metal part of the paint brush and scrape down.

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Step 3: Rinse and repeat.

Rinse the brush again. I like to use warm water because I’m kind of a wuss when it comes to cold. Repeat step 2 as necessary until the brush is nicely cleaned.

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Dehydrating Corn

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That’s dehydrated corn in that picture above. Nope, it’s not the same as field corn or popcorn, which are allowed to dry in the field on the cob then harvested.

This is sweet corn, grown in our back yard this summer, and it’s yummy! Plus, when it’s dried in the dehydrator, it doesn’t have to take up space in my freezer.

Like the marshmallows I told you about recently, corn is super easy to dehydrate. Basically, you just have to pull it out of the freezer, spread it on the drying trays and dehydrate at about 135 degrees for about seven hours or until crispy and brittle.

before dehydration

before dehydration

You can use corn you blanched briefly and cut off the cob, the process described here. Or you can use store-bought frozen corn kernels.

The resulting product is sweet and retains its corny taste but with a texture reminiscent of a slightly crunchy and tough dried apple. I like it as a garnish on salads, but it is also good in soups and stews. Recipes are available for a corn casserole made from dried corn, too, but I haven’t tried any of these yet.

what started as two stuffed sandwich bags of corn ended up as half a bag after dehydration

what started as two stuffed sandwich bags of corn ended up as half a bag after dehydration

 

Freezing Green Beans

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It makes me very nervous to can green beans since they are so susceptible to bacterial infections. Plus, I’m scared of my pressure canner and canning them takes so long. So…time for the freezer again!

Freezing beans is pretty easy. Like carrots, it’s a straightforward process of wash, trim, blanch, dry and freeze.

Step 1: Wash the beans. I trimmed the ends off just before washing, too.

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Step 2: Blanch the beans. Working in batches, dump them in boiling water and let them boil for a minute or two. Then, plunge them into cold water. This process stops the enzymes that age the beans. Without blanching, they get mushy and gross.

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Step 3: Let the beans dry.

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Step 4: Package them. I like to store them in sandwich-size Ziploc baggies, sucking out the air with a straw before sealing them. This helps reduce freezer burn–those nasty little ice crystals don’t have much room to form when there’s no air in the baggie.

I shove a bunch of little baggies inside a big gallon-size freezer bag before stashing them in the freezer. They keep longer this way and aren’t as hard to find as they would be if I froze each bag individually. Who needs to waste time digging around for a baggie of green beans while the rest of dinner is boiling over on the stove?