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.

banana bread–are you nuts?

The Damsel received a request for a post about making banana bread, and since it came from her cutie patootie newlywed niece, she could not refuse.

Besides, this recipe uses a couple of things Old School classmates should now have on hand.

dun dun dun . . .

Remember the bananas in the freezer? Yeah, they’re still in there, and the Damsel could have used those. But the banana problem at the Damsel’s cottage is ongoing. Sometimes the Damsel’s fruit bowl is nothing but a place bananas go to die.

Miss Mrs. Niece asked for a recipe that didn’t turn out dry. You got it, baby.

Measure 1/3 cup soft (not melted) butter into a mixing bowl. The Damsel loves to measure butter, and wishes everything in her life was this easy.

Add two eggs, and 2/3 cup plain white wicked sugar. Beat this until it’s fluffy. Now, people want to know: wuts with the non-KitchenAid mixer? Don’t all food bloggers have a KitchenAid?

  1. This mixer is the Damsel’s best little helper, since it can make 6+ loaves of bread at a time and not break a sweat
  2. The Damsel doesn’t consider herself a food blogger, especially since those people seem to all have mad photo skilz. Sigh. Someday.

Ahem.

Take yer speckled bananas and squish them into a 1 cup measure, thereby measuring and “mashing” the banana at the same time. Don’t worry if it’s not totally mashed. It’ll all be okay in the end. Scoop this glop out into the mixer bowl.

The Damsel used a little more than 2 bananas to get 1 cup, but your mileage may vary.

Now please go to your fridge and get your homemade buttermilk that you learned to make at the Old School and have kept refreshing after using it. You have it, right? RIGHT???? Don’t make the Damsel give you detention, now.  Put in 3 tablespoons of the gloppy gloriousness.

Okay, now, remember the Damsel said she is the Anti-Sifter? She gives you permission on this recipe to Not Sift. Shhh! Don’t tell the food bloggers. Just turn the mixer on and sprinkle the dry ingredients in so that they don’t clump: 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. soda, 1 tsp. baking powder, and 2 cups flour. Mix well. If you are of the nut persuasion, add 1 cup chopped nuts. The Damsel has heard there are people in the world who don’t like nuts, and she’s trying to be understanding about that, but it’s really hard.

Find yourself a large loaf pan and grease/flour it. Pamming it might work but since this is a dense batter, the Damsel didn’t risk it. Scoop the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for 55-60 minutes at 350, until it passes the toothpick test. (It took 65 minutes for the Damsel)

Maybe it’s the buttermilk–but this bread turned out perfect . . . not dry, not goobery.

Go nuts, try it.

crockpot chicken rice soup

The Damsel looked through some recipes and saw one for chicken rice soup that looked delicious. Then she looked at the directions. You were supposed to cook it in the crockpot for an hour on high, then eight to nine hours on low, then another hour on high.

Ha! ha!

That means the Damsel would have had to start cooking dinner at 6AM! Ha! ha! There are many, many things the Damsel isn’t doing at 6AM and cooking dinner is right at the top of that list.

So the Damsel is adapting this recipe for your eating pleasure and convenience.

Maybe three hours before you want to eat, fire up the crockpot. Crank it to high, baby.

Chop an onion and throw it right in. Right in the bare naked crockpot. It’s okay. Everything will turn out all right.

Chop some celery. About a cup, but this isn’t exact science. The Damsel apologizes about the violent color felony of this photo. In real life it was regular grocery store celery, not atomic glow-in-the-dark celery.

Has the Damsel confessed to you before her love of celery leaves? She loves them dearly, and cuts them right up with the rest. Salt and pepper this, with full acceptance of the fact that you’ll have to taste this later and perhaps add more. Mmmm pepper.

Now miscellaneous herbs. The Damsel put in chopped fresh basil and sage, and some dried thyme. She used about a tablespoon each of basil and sage, and a scant teaspoon of thyme, using the “Palm” brand measuring spoon. Did you know dried herbs are stronger, teaspoon for teaspoon, then fresh? It’s because it’s more concentrated. So you use less if the herb is dried.

Add chopped carrots, as many as you like.  The Damsel reached out her hand to her Knight in Shining Armor, and said, Go thou to the garden, and pull me some carrots, my love. And he did.

Oh yeah! 8 cups of water. Don’t worry about making it exact.

Now take some chicken. Method #1: If it is chicken pieces with bones, just put it right in, just like that. The Damsel would prefer you pulled the skin off first, but she won’t force you. Method #2: If it is boneless chicken, stand over the pot and cut bite size pieces with kitchen shears, right into the pot. The Damsel used two chicken breast halves. Or, er, well, one whole breast.

Put the lid on. Walk away. Come back one hour before you want to eat. If you used chicken with bones,  fish the pieces out, let them cool enough that you don’t burn yourself, pick the meat from the bones, and return the meat to the pot. (Throw away those bones.)

Now add a cup of rice, put the lid back on and find something to do for an hour. Taste the rice and make sure it’s tender.

Add about 2 cups frozen peas, and let them warm through. Taste. How’s that salt and pepper? Then eat that soup.

…yum…

freezing herbs

If you have herbs growing in your garden and want to preserve some for later, yes, it’s very “old school” to dry them as we did in this lesson.

But dried herbs are one thing, and fresh herbs another. Here’s one method of preserving more of that fresh taste: freezing.

This method works with most any herb. The Damsel is using oregano in these pictures.

First harvest your herbs. The Damsel uses kitchen shears, and since most herbs are perennials, you can use this as an opportunity to shape the plant and encourage it to branch the way you want it to.

If only it were so easy to guide and shape the sprog.

Some people say you should do this first thing in the morning for best flavor, but if you don’t get to it until later, don’t fret. There’s not a huge difference that the Damsel can discern.

Wash the bugs off, and then strip the leaves, if that’s appropriate for the type of herb you are using. Oregano has little leaves, but if you are using something with larger leaves, chop them a bit.

Pack the herbs into an ice cube tray. Put in as many leaves in each section as you think you’d use for a single usage, like a pot of soup or spaghetti sauce. To use these, you’ll be simply dropping an ice cube into the pot. It would be hard/silly to split an ice cube. So restrain from putting more leaves in each section than you’d use at one time.

Pour water into the ice cube trays, filling them just as you would for ice cubes. If herbs are sticking out, just poke them down into the water as best you can, but don’t fuss.

Fussing just gives you wrinkles.

Slide these into the freezer and let ’em freeze just like you would for ice cubes.There’s something cool about how they look.

Pop them out into a ziplock freezer bag to store them. When you next make a pot of something, it’s so easy to just take one out and plop it in.

And, if you don’t have an herb garden, you could use this same idea for leftover herbs you buy from the store. How many times have you needed only a little of that bunch of parsley or cilantro, and the rest gets slimey in the drawer of the fridge? Cube ’em.

Thanks to Green and Chewy for the post idea.

Ironing a shirt

How to iron a shirt: buy permanent press, and take it out of the dryer while it’s still hot. There.

But if you have an old school 100% cotton shirt, here’s the way to iron it. The Damsel uses the “Good Enough” method. It’s traditional to use this order:

First heat the iron nice and hot, and use steam or a spray bottle. Spread the shirt out on the ironing board, flattening out the collar. Press the collar from the points inward. The Good Enough method says just look at the other side and see if it looks “Good Enough.”

Iron the cuffs a bit and then the sleeves. The Damsel likes to make hard pressed lines along its edges, because if she’s going to all the trouble to iron a shirt she’d like people to take note. Look at the back side of the sleeve. Have you ironed any creases in? If so, iron them out. If not, maybe it’s Good Enough and you can go on to the other sleeve.

Pull the sleeve onto the end of the ironing board, so that the shoulder is at the end. This should make the yoke of the shirt sort of flat so you can iron that. Then put the other shoulder on the end of the board and repeat, so you can get all of the yoke.

Now iron the back of the shirt. The Damsel tries not to obsess about the bottom hem that often is all crumply. The Good Enough method says that part will be tucked into someone’s pants, so don’t stress.

Now do the front side that has buttonholes.

Last is the front side with buttons. Nose the iron around the buttons, but don’t iron over them, or they might break. All done! Look it over…is it Good Enough?

This is Good Enough for the Damsel, especially since this is the ten-year-old sprog’s shirt. Five seconds after he puts it on it will be wrinkly and dripped with ketchup.

freezing bananas

Y’all know about this, right?

“This” being putting whole bananas in the freezer?

Sometimes the Damsel is enticed by banana displays at the grocery store. They look so perfectly perfect, and the Damsel buys them for her sprog.

Who sometimes eat them. And sometimes the bananas get looking, well, less pristine. And no matter how much better a very ripe banana might taste, her sprog aren’t likely to eat one that looks a little freckled.

Ever hopeful, the Damsel tells herself she’ll make banana bread. Her purchase is not a waste. But the day gets busy, and then another, and the bananas get blacker. The Damsel will console herself by recalling someone said bananas can never be too ripe for banana bread: the riper the better.

The Damsel is here to sadly inform you that there is indeed a point where bananas are too ripe. When they are liquidy and the buzzards fruit flies are circling, you’ll know that time has come.

Once upon a time, the Damsel thought she’d rescue some bananas about to go around the corner by peeling them and putting them in freezer bags. These could then be used for smoothies…or yes, thawed for the banana bread that never seems to happen.

But it doesn’t have to be even that hard. You can just Put Them In The Freezer. In their skins, as is. The skins may darken or even turn totally black, but the flesh inside is fine.

The best part about this is the guilt that is taken away.

canning apricots

It is the Damsel’s wish that you know how to preserve food. It’s one of the basic skills of becoming more self-reliant.

When you put stuff in glass jars and seal it, it’s called “canning” or “bottling” or “putting up.” And the easiest thing to “put up,” in the Damsel’s humble opinion, is apricots. So if you’ve been cringing over there, wanting to know how but were too scared, come along. The Damsel’s here to hold your hand.

Canning does require equipment, and the dollars can add up. You might even feel it doesn’t make financial sense. But nearly everything can be bought second-hand (or borrowed, even) and can be used for years.

Here’s what you need:

  • waterbath canner with rack
  • jar lifter
  • canning jars with rings
  • canning lids
  • Things most people have in their kitchens: a large pan, measuring cups, timer, sugar

Canning supplies are commonly seen at yard sales, and often if you ask around, people will give you things. You see, it takes away their guilt if they think someone will actually use the stuff.

The most expensive part about canning is the fruit. So it really helps if you have one of these:

and it REALLY helps if you have one of these:

exhibit A: Sprog #1 utilizing his tallness

Apricots are the easiest thing to can because there’s not much prep, and they’re pretty hard to mess up.

First, put seven canning jars in the dishwasher, plus seven matching lids and rings, and get them going. (Along with other dishes.) Or, of course you can wash them by hand, but if you use a dishwasher, it’s handy because it keeps them hot and sterile. Take one jar out of the dishwasher at a time as you fill it, closing the door after taking each one out, and you’re good.

But don’t stress. Grandma did fine without, and these jars will get sterilized again later on.

In a large pot, make a sugar syrup. You can make light, medium, or heavy syrup according to your taste. The Damsel has made extra-light syrup before, and although it’s safe, the fruit lost some of its color and texture because sugar is a preservative. So, now the Damsel uses a medium syrup. For medium, add 3 1/4 cups sugar to 5 cups water and heat until the sugar dissolves.

At the same time, fill the water bath canner with water and get ‘er boiling. It takes a while. Most canners have a mark that shows how full it needs to be. The water level needs to be at least a couple of inches over the tops of the jars. But, if you fill the canner really full of water, and then start submerging jars, OH NO water spilling over oh no. Once you find out how full of water the canner needs to be, take note of that level. It will be the same for any waterbath canning project.

Wash the little darlings, in a colander or right in the sink.

Split the apricots in half with your fingers, remove the pit, and place into the jar. It’s traditional to layer them, face down and overlapping. Obviously this is easier with a wide-mouth canning jar. If you have narrow ones, you can fiddle them into position with a fork, or enlist a child. You can just dump them in willy-nilly if you want. Grandma isn’t looking. The Damsel actually tried it both ways, to see if more apricots fit in the jar if they were stacked, and was surprised to find out exactly the same number of apricots fit, either way. So you decide.

Fill the jar to roughly 1/2 inch from the top. Don’t stress, you don’t need to measure.

Pour the syrup over the apricots, once again leaving 1/2 inch headspace. If it looks like there are large air bubbles, release them by sticking a knife carefully down the side of the jar. Wipe the top of the jar with a damp paper towel to remove any syrup that may have dripped.

Grandma used to always boil the lids before putting them on the jars, but the now the thought is that boiling can damage them. So now just wash them in hot water (or dishwasher.) Set on top of the jar and screw on the ring, finger tight. Don’t overtighten.

Place each jar into the waterbath as soon as they are filled. Seven jars make a batch. When you’ve got those done, wait for the water to come to a boil, and start timing 30 minutes. If for some reason the water stops boiling, you have to start the timing over, so that you have 30 minutes of continuous boil.

When the time is up, use the jar lifter to take the jars from the canner and put on a dishtowel on your counter to cool. Over the next couple of hours, you should hear “plink, plink” as the jars form a seal. After they are cool, check the seals by pressing down on the center of the lid. If it pops up and down, it has not sealed. Either put them in the fridge to eat soon, or reprocess by putting on a new lid and doing the 30-minute waterbath again. Don’t cry. It’s really common for one or two jars to not seal. It’s not your fault. It’s the Canning Demon.

Write the year on the lid with a sharpie, if you’d like. Also, it’s normal for the apricots to float to the top of the jar after they are processed.

There’s something so satisfying about seeing these jars sitting on the counter. The Damsel has been known to leave them there for days before taking them down to the cellar.