picking corn and removing silk

How can you tell if corn’s ready to pick?

You peek. Pull the husks back gently and see if the kernels look plump. It won’t hurt the corn if you pull it back a ways, far enough that you aren’t just seeing those little tiny kernels around the top. If they still look small, just smooth the husks back into place. And, before you’ve picked much corn, you’ll get a feel for how the cob feels in your hand when it’s ready.

But keep in mind that people often wait too long, and fresh corn is best when it is young. Plump, yes, but not bulging. It’s better to err on the young side. The corn in the above picture might look good, but it’s actually a few days too old.

The Damsel likes to shuck corn right in the garden, in case there are bugs. Especially the dreaded earwig, which in the Damsel’s opinion could be erased from existence, and the food chain would survive just fine.

Getting the silk off the ears is a pesky problem. If you are careful, you can get nearly all the silk off when you are shucking the corn. Don’t pull off one husk at a time, like you were peeling something. Try to get all the way down to the corn with your fingers, and bring off sections of husk and silk all off at once. Very little silk will remain.

The Damsel has heard various silk-removing methods. There’s the dry paper towel method, in which you rub the cob in a circular motion with a paper towel. The Damsel tried this and thought “meh.” You can rub the cob with your hands under running water, which works about as well as anything. Brushing with a vegetable brush works well too.

You can buy a special corn silk brush but if there was ever a “unitasker,” that is one. A “unitasker” is a tool that does only one thing, and the Damsel doesn’t like them. Granted, a corn silk brush is not as bad as this unitasker:

This behemoth does one thing…make pancakes. And take up your entire kitchen. (As seen on http://www.unclutterer.com)

A soft vegetable brush will probably do just as well. The Damsel likes hers because it even has a peeler on the side, making it more of a “multitasker.”

The Damsel has heard of people meticulously going over their corn with an old toothbrush, getting out every last bit of silk. But for her, this would turn a fun food into a nightmare. She’s learned she has to pick her battles, and there’s a lot more oogie things on the earth than a little corn silk.

Like earwigs.

going to seed

It’s still summer for a little longer, but some things are already going to seed.

Besides the Damsel herself, that is.

It’s been soooo hot, which often means a short life span in the Plant Kingdom. Take for example, this marigold, that usually would be going strong for at least another month:

The blossoms are already drooping and drying. Time to gather seeds.

Marigolds are practically the easiest plant to gather seeds from. When the blossoms die, they become crispy. Pull the dried flower parts gently from the blossom end, and there’s the seeds.

Make sure they are dry. If not, they may not be mature, plus they can mold during storage for next year, and you don’t want that.

Same thing goes for the other plant the Damsel gathered seeds from today–cilantro.

The little round thingies are seeds (did you know the seeds of the cilantro plant are called coriander?) and in this picture you can kinda see some of them are dry, and some are green. You want the dry ones. Leave the green ones be. They’ll get there.

Rub them from the stems with your thumb. When they’re dry they come right off, ready to be stored or planted immediately. Because there can never be too much cilantro in the world.

You can store seeds in little jars, ziplock baggies, or even *cough* plastic poptop drink mix thingies. Keep them dry and cool and it’s a good idea to label and date them.

Got a favorite plant you like to collect seeds from? Speak right up. No need to raise your hand in Old School.

thinning apples

When the Damsel saw this on her apple tree, she was excited. She’s waited a long time for this particular tree to mature.

Then she found out this many apples is actually BAD for her tree. Too many babies make the momma tired, and could even make it so the momma won’t have any babies next year.

The Damsel feels the need to lie down for a while.

This tree needs to be thinned. The apples that are left will be larger, and the tree will be happier.

In the northern temperate zone, July 1 is a good time to do the deed. The Damsel recommends you simply do it when the apples are small yet well formed, so you can choose which ones to leave. If your apples are the size shown in the pictures, “now” is a good time. The tree still has a lot of growth left in it for the year.

One rule of thumb is to space the apples about a fist’s width apart, although some say even that is too close. The apples are easy to pull off. Figure out which apple is the Chosen One from each little cluster, and gently pull the others off so as to not disturb the Chosen One.

Apple Babycide may be easy physically but the Damsel found it an emotional experience. She’s such a crier. But it really was hard for her to pull off all these perfect, hopeful little apples and throw them away.

making hand-rubbed sage

The Damsel has a lot of sage growing in her herb garden. It makes her happy, but she’s been wondering how she’d use it. Her recipes calling for sage all specify “rubbed” sage, not leaves.

Rubbed sage has a unique look. Sort of spongey. Not like dried leaves at all. So, the Damsel worried. How would she make stuffing with a bunch of big leaves? But, after several twinges of nervousness, the Damsel learned it’s quite easy to make your own from fresh sage.

The drying process is just like we did with lavender. Pick a nice bunch. This was about ten stems.

Wash and dry. No bugs allowed.

Secure the ends with a rubber band, and bend a paper clip into an “S” for a hook.

Hang upside down somewhere it won’t be disturbed. The Damsel used her powder room, because it has no windows and is usually dark. Plus the sage looks fancy hanging from the scrollwork of the mirror.

Wait till the leaves are crispy-dry. It took ten days for the Damsel. She hates waiting. She almost died from the waiting. She could have laid them in the sun and they’d have been dry in no time, and color fading doesn’t matter so much with sage. But sometimes she doesn’t act in a completely logical way.

Find a fine mesh strainer and put it over a bowl.

Pick the leaves from your bundle, putting them into the strainer. You won’t need the stems.

Press the crispy leaves through the strainer by rubbing them against the wire mesh. Discard any little sticks.

In the bowl you will find . . . rubbed sage. Spongey and everything. The Damsel was surprised. And excited. And amused, to tell you the truth. She had her doubts this would work. She thought there would be just dry, crumbled pieces of leaf. But it did work, simple as that. And the smell. Oh the heavenly smell. The Damsel went immediately out to her sage plant and picked more, so that in ten more days she will smell that heavenly smell once again.

And the powder room will be fancy again.

taking cuttings from basil plants

The Damsel was making a dish that called for fresh basil, and although she’s loaded with mint, cilantro and sage, that didn’t help her situation. She went to the market and despaired. You know how much they charge for these eeny teeny packages of fresh herbs? $2.99.

She went to the local nursery and bought a basil plant for much less. $1.49. It was pretty spindley and way too big for its little pot, but the Damsel figured she would get three things for her $1.49. #1: the three basil leaves she needed for her recipe; #2: a live basil plant that could grow and give her many more such leaves ;#3: something for the Old School.

Bonus: The plant was tall and funny, and she decided it was crying out to be made into TWO plants.

First, fill two pots with potting soil and soak the soil. Potting soil takes time to get truly moist. Let the bottoms of the pots sit in water for a while so water can flow up as well as down from the top.

Make a cutting right below a node, where leaves attach.

Very gently pull away leaves on this node.

Plant this stem in the prepared pot. Basil roots readily, so the Damsel didn’t bother with root zone powder and so on. Your mileage may vary.

Now for the original plant. It’s way too big for its britches, so it needs a new pot too.

Loosen the poor cramped roots, make a hole a bit bigger than the root ball, and plant away. Keep them very moist. Once they start growing, just pick leaves as you need them. If you see flower buds starting to form, pinch them off. You must cruelly forbid your basil plant to seed, or it will lose its zest for life and die. Motherhood isn’t kind to basil plants.

You already look happier, little basil plants!

Someday, you’ll realize your full potential, when you join your brother Oliveoil and your sisters Parmesan and Pinenut in the blender.

how to dry lavender

If you have lavender in your garden, maybe it’s flowering for you now like it is here in the mountains by the Damsel’s cottage.

Lavender has a strong, fresh scent that’s been used for centuries. Very old-school. It’s used in soap, candles, lotion–pretty much anything scented has a lavender rendition. Some people even eat it.

It’s simple to dry, so you can enjoy it in your garden now, and then dry some for later. Have your cake and eat it too.

Cut a bunch when the buds are just opening for the strongest scent. Wrap the ends with a rubber band. Jute or ribbon would be oh-so-charming, but you must do as the teacher says. A rubber band will hold tight while the stems dry. If you use something else, the shrinking stems will fall out of their ties. You can always tie something pretty on TOP of the rubber band if you must.

But why? You’ll be  hanging this in a dark place where no one will see your rubber band felony. The dark preserves the delicate purple of the lavender. One simple way to hang it is to unfold a paperclip into an “S”, hook it through the rubber band, and then over a pipe thingy in the garage or storage room. Hanging it upside down helps the buds keep their shape.

If it doesn’t matter for your purposes what color or shape the buds are in, you can quickly dry the lavender by laying it out in the sun. Takes no time at all, maybe a day if it’s hot and sunny.

The dark room lavender will need a week or two. When the stems are brittle, you’re done.

Now, many folks use just the buds for their scented things. Like a sachet. An easy way to dislodge the dried buds is to put the bundle into a pillowcase and gently roll on a table or countertop, as if you were rolling a rolling pin. Don’t smash, just softly roll back and forth. Then pull out the stems and pour the buds into a container.

You can then use them to 1. make soap 2. make tea 3. make candles 4. put them in a sachet 5. make a lavender oil infusion 6. pulverize and sprinkle on salad 7. put in your hair if you’re an Irish bride 8. sew into a hot trivet 9. etc.

The Damsel has heard of putting lavender in a sleeping pillow but she’s not doing that.

The stems are perfectly wonderful laid on top of a fire. The Damsel is saving her stems up for such a thing. If you have a lot, you could even tie the dried stems together into a lavender log.

today in the salsa garden

The Damsel has a fun post in the works, but because it needs to ripen overnight, she’ll take you on a little tour of her garden instead.

But get ready because tomorrow…yeah, tomorrow.

It’s been a bit nuts around the cottage, because #4’s doing this:

IMG_3078Whew! Now. Then. The salsa garden has everything the Damsel needs for her homemade salsa, except garlic. She was too tired to grow garlic this year. See above picture.

IMG_3118First, these babies. Roma tomatoes. The Damsel was raised on a tomato farm, so when she sees these plants she gets both a shiver of anticipation of the yum, and a strange desire to run far, far away.

IMG_3119These little darlings will hopefully get a lot bigger by salsa-making time. The Damsel thinned them today–they’re just right to be used as green onions, and she needed some today to make baked chimichangas from http://www.oneshetwoshe.com.

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Three kinds of peppers: green bell, yellow banana, and jalapeno.

IMG_3128and cilantro. Life wouldn’t be worth living without cilantro.

rose petal sachet

The Damsel has a few rose bushes at her cottage. She loves her pink one, and her yellow one, and her minature rose, and her old-fashioned rambling rose.

Of course she loves the old-fashioned one.

But her red one, an Abraham Lincoln, is the only one that really has a nice rose scent. Apparently, when rose growers hybrid the plants to get beautiful colors, it breeds out the scent. So if you’re in the market for a rose bush, keep that in mind. Do you want color or scent? Check the label…sometimes you can have both.

The Damsel cries when she deadheads her red roses, because they smell so, so, so wonderful and she can’t bear to throw the petals in the trash. So she thought back about what Grandma would do with rose petals. One thing she’d do is make sachets.

So what’s a sachet? Sachets are little pillows filled with dried flowers. Lavender is popular along with roses. Say “Sa-shay,” as in, “I’m going to sa-shay out to the rose garden and pick some flowers.” The usual use for them is to stick them in drawers, to make everything smell nice.

Gather some past-their-prime roses, pull the petals from the flower heads, and set them out to dry.

IMG_2990There are ways to hurry this process along, but if you don’t have an immediate pressing need, you could just put them out on the counter in a pretty dish, taking whiffs whenever necessary. Stir them with your fingers a couple of times a day. Feel fancy while stirring rose petals with your fingers.

IMG_3086After a few days (four or so) the roses will be dry and a bit sad looking. But they still smell wonderful.

To make a sachet, you need some sort of loose weave cloth, so the scent can escape. The Damsel first tried cheesecloth, because it’s the loosest weave cloth she has. UGLY WARNING: cheesecloth will work but oh my ugly.

Next she found a hunk of lace fabric in the bottom of the scrap box. It’s open enough for our purposes.

IMG_3094Cut a rectangle from the lace. It doesn’t matter what size, but remember that sachets are usually on the small side, so they don’t crowd your drawer.

IMG_3095Fold in half, trimming the edges if necessary to straighten. Don’t fuss.

IMG_3096Put right sides together, if there is a right and wrong side to the material. With lace fabric, there often isn’t. Sew up two sides. With the fold, you will have one side remaining open.

IMG_3097Turn right side out. Now you have a little bag.

IMG_3100Stuff it with petals. Don’t be shy.

Now all that remains is to sew up the remaining side. You could handstitch this to make it extra nice, or do it this way on the machine:

IMG_3101Hold the bag with the open side at the top, and settle the petals to give you room. Fold a half inch or so of the cut edges to the inside. Pin it if you’d like.

IMG_3102Topstitch across the open end of the bag.

IMG_3103Add a ribbon if you like. Sachets make sweet little gifts. Tie one on top of your next present to a rose-loving friend.

homemade peppermint oil

The Damsel went out to her herb garden and shook her head in dismay. As usual, the peppermint was out of control.

Why can’t the cilantro grow like that? The Damsel can think of many delicious solutions to an out-of-control-cilantro problem. But what do you do with peppermint?

The Damsel has used a leaf or two in lemonade, and she’s even made tea with it. That’s nice. But a leaf or two hardly puts a dent in the mint population currently at the Damsel’s cottage.

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Lo and behold she discovered peppermint oil has a lot of uses. People use it to cure nausea, indigestion, cold symptoms, headaches, muscle and nerve pain,  stomach and especially bowel conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. And that’s just the beginning. Apparently mice and ants hate it, so a person could get rid of the little critters without poison or snapping traps.

It can be expensive. A little 4 oz. bottle costs about $10. So what would Grandma do? Peppermint, meet oil. Oil, meet peppermint.

The Damsel grabbed a few big handfuls, yanked them right out by the roots. A person could cut the mint and let it keep growing, but the whole point of this was to reduce the mint population explosion.

She washed it and stripped leaves from the stems. Another person could have used stems and all, but the Damsel has so much mint she can use just the leaves and feel perfectly good about it.

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Find a handy jar. A pint canning jar will do, or a small salsa jar with a tight lid. Use it to measure vegetable oil into a pan. Heat to 160 degrees. The Damsel discovered that 160 is nothing to a pan of oil. It won’t even act hot yet at that temp.

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The Damsel would like to announce that if you mention the dirty burner felony in the above picture, she will not take it kindly.

Chop the mint a bit. The more cut edges, the more minty goodness will ooze into the oil.

IMG_2924Stuff the cut mint into the jar–the one you measured the oil with. Fill it nice and full. It can be pretty tight, but not cram-packed.

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When the oil is warmed, pour it into the jar, filling it as full as is practical. No need to worry about head space or breathing room. You aren’t going to process it or freeze it or anything.

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Poke it a bit to get air bubbles out but don’t fuss.

IMG_2939Screw on the lid and put it away in a dark place for a month. A MONTH???? The Damsel hates waiting. But some things take time.

If you live local to the Damsel, come on over and get a start of mint for your own garden. Permit her a cruel chuckle as she contemplates the eventual overrun of your garden. Unless, of course, you are smarter than she was and plant it in a pot.

old meets new–scarecrows

In the olden days, people made scarecrows to protect their crops from birds. The Damsel thinks that sounds sort of charming but a whole lot of work.

This is what the Damsel’s Knight in Shining Armor put in their garden to scare away the birds: It’s hard to see, but yes, those are old CD’s a-twistin’ in the wind. This is a row of corn–an all time bird favorite.

IMG_2768The Damsel suspects that olden days birds were smarter and required an actual person-shaped scarecrow. She feels lucky that only dumb birds come to peck up the corn from her garden. They are pretty scared of shiny CD’s.

Silly birds! There’s not even any usable data on those CD’s! Ha ha!

Here’s another configuration the Knight used, between two pumpkin plants, where there wasn’t a long row.

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