Archive | October, 2012

¡Visito Costa Rica!

29 Oct

¡Visito Costa Rica!

About three and a half years ago, while in dental hygiene school, I was given the opportunity to actively participate in a dental mission trip to Guyana, South America with a few close classmates and new friends.  During our week long stay, our dental team was able to provide over $200,000 worth of dental services to 500+ patients in the village of Bath, where a beautiful new Christian church was built for the community. Community service was a passion of mine prior to this experience however; this opportunity gave me the spiritual guidance I needed to continue to do what I love doing the most: giving back to my brothers and sisters.

For the second time in my life, I am given the opportunity to once again leave the United States to utilize my medical skills, this time as a dental hygiene professional.  This Sunday, I embark to San Jose’, Costa Rica with a larger medical and dental team to provide health services to those in need.  I will be reunited with a few team members from my 2009 Guyana trip, as well as meeting new team members which I will soon call my friends.  Not only do I have the opportunity to explore another section of the world, I get to learn about a culture different from my own and (try to) speak their Spanish language.

Here’s to a new chapter of my life.

 

Middlest Does It Herself: Herby Goodness!

5 Oct

Photo: Our new herb garden consists of: upright rosemary, thyme, curly parsley, chives, sweet basil, basil, dill, chocolate mint, and cilantro.

This summer was youngest’s and my first season for attempting to have a full-blown herb garden. We decided on three types of basil, parsley, thyme, chocolate mint, chives, rosemary, & dill. The satisfaction of having fresh herbs greatly outweighs the work that goes into it. The potted herbs has yielded moderate productivity overall so far.

In the beginning of summer I was super eager to harvest the herbs the “correct” way. I did a bunch of research on each type of herb regarding watering, temperatures, soil, sunshine, yadda yadda yadda. Our balcony is shaded with approximately 3 solid hours of direct sunlight each day, which is frustrating as most of our plants require full sunlight. This explains why some plants thrive while others do not. I had a difficult time keeping dill cool and moist during the summer months, which caused the dill to turn to coriander by mid-July. The coriander then turned to dead seed by the time August hit. I wasn’t able to recognize the coriander turning into seed in time to save the seeds, which was a goal for me this year. Sigh. Dear coriander seed: Imma gonna get you next year! Thyme thrives from dry, hot environments – so youngest and I have been swimming in thyme this year. The rest of the herbs would go through spurts of productivity to near death experiences throughout the months. The greatest tip I learned from keeping basil bushy and productive all year round is to cut stems, not individual leaves. Same goes for rosemary (which has been the most productive herb of all so far). Anyway, here is my research in word documents on each potted herb, organized by hard and soft herbs. Excellent! Hard Herbs – Rosemary, Thyme, Savory, SageSoft Herbs – Cilantro, Basil, Mint, and Parsley

Bullet Points that rock:

  • Pick sprigs instead of leaves to keep plants bushy and productive.
  • Cilantro needs moist, cooler environments.
  • Thyme thrives in dry, warm environments.
  • Cut chives 3/4 of the way down when harvesting.
  • When harvesting, cut chives and parsley from the outside in.
  • Mint loses most of its flavor when dried. Use fresh.
  • Soft herbs (Cilantro, Basil, Mint, Parsley) are best used in the final steps or after the cooking process [raw].
  • Hard herbs (Rosemary, Thyme, Sage) are best used in longer cooking times.
  • The flowers/buds in herbs are packed with flavor. Use as you would the leaves to flavor foods.
  • Try to harvest before buds appear. If they do appear, harvest/cut the herb.
  • Cilantro turns to coriander. Coriander goes to seed, which can be replanted for the next growing season.
  • Harvest about every 3 weeks to keep plants bushy and productive.

My first harvest of the herbs in July consisted of me freezing them into jars. It was very simple: cut, store in glass jars, and place in freezer. No difficulty there. The only “beef” I have with this is that the herbs tend to clump together, so I deem all frozen herbs to be used in soups, stocks, and stews. Wanting a more diverse use of my herbs, I had to figure out another way to preserve ’em. And then one day I was catching up on “Good Eats”, a show hosted by the great Alton Brown. The man is a genius…a GENIUS, I say. Anyway, the show I caught was all about herbs. What luck! The show explained an easy, fool-proof way to dry herbs by using air filters, bungee cords, and a box fan. “Say whaaaat?!”, exclaimed Middlest. “I cannot wait to try this!!” One trip to Blaine’s Farm & Fleet and I was ready to go. Here’s a video of how to dry herbs the Alton Brown way. http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/drying-herbs/1278.html

Great video, yes?! The first batch of rosemary took almost two weeks of drying to complete…in the middle of August. I was frustrated at first and cursed at Alton for being “wrong”, but then I realized that the humidity determines how quickly these herbs dry. Sorry for my frustration, Mr. Brown. I will never doubt you again, my prince. My batches now only take approximately 2 days. I also take individual leaves off of the stems, which has cut drying time immensely. I don’t bother with drying thyme with a box fan, as the leaves are so small that they get stuck in the fibers of the air filter. Thyme, I believe, dries easily by tying them upside down and placing them in front of a window for about a week.

Ok. So we have frozen herbs and dried herbs. Let’s add one more thing: Herb Infused Olive Oil.

Herbs? Good. Olive Oil? Goooood. Herb infused olive oil? Freaking fantastic. Here’s what I did:

Ingredients.

  • Empty wine bottle
  • Cork
  • Olive oil (I bought a gallon of a non-fancy EVOO for $17)
  • Dried herb of choice

Directions.

  1. Sterilize empty wine bottle and cork with the use of a dishwasher or submerging in boiling water for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Stuff the bottom of the dry bottle with some dried herbs of your choosing. You can mix a variety together or just use one type of herb. I like simplicity and have stuck with one type of herb in each bottle. The herbs must be dried herbs. I read a lot of websites that claim that fresh herbs may cause botulism to occur. This is also why I choose to store them in bottles with corks. If botulism occurs, I’m hoping that the tops will fly off, just like in canning. Is this accurate? I am not sure, but it makes me sleep better at night.
  3. Fill bottle with EVOO. Leave some room for the next step.
  4. 2-3 times a week, invert the bottle, letting all the herbs sink to the top (now bottom) of the bottle. Repeat inverting 6-7 times each day. This will help getting the herbs to infuse into the olive oil. Do this for a month.
  5. One month later, taste the olive oil. You should taste a delicious balance of herbs and olive oil.

I am so proud of my olive oils so far. I have made thyme infused olive oil and rosemary infused olive oil. I have yet to make basil, as I use dried basil for almost all of my dishes. That shit is like gold – so I must be very selective in my use. Fear not, friends…it’s on my list after my next drying session! Anyway, I use  the oils in my salads in replacement for dressing. They’re so good that I do little dances with my fork as I’m eating my salads. Yes, swaying is also involved. I also have added olive oil to my tuna and tomato salads, any pasta, and made some kickass pesto with the rosemary EVOO. The thyme olive oil is superb with crusty french bread. The flavors are so strong that a little goes a long way, which is excellent for the waistline. I only have to use 1/2 of a tablespoon in each salad! Those herbs sure do  pack a flavorful punch.

And there you have it. I am hoping my herbs last throughout the winter months indoors so I have fresh herbs year round. I have learned a ton about herbs this summer and am looking forward to taking my trial-and-errors into the next growing season. Dill, you WILL be productive next year – you temperature sensitive twat.

Happy Herbing, folks. Yes, herbing is a verb in my vocabulary. Enjoy.

.x.x.x.x.
Middlest