Preserving Fresh Basil

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When it comes to being frugal, having a household garden is a great way to save money at the same time that you are improving your standards of freshness. After about five years of having fresh herbs and vegetables right outside, it has become difficult to settle for grocery store produce. But what about those months between October and May? Living in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7A means that there are a number of months in which we cannot reap a harvest. That leads us into preserving the bounty from the summer months to enjoy through the winter months.

I love cooking with fresh herbs. We give a lot of space in our small rooftop garden to growing fresh herbs, teas, and sweeteners. Basil is one of my favorites. We picked a decent harvest throughout the growing season, and in October we still had a lot leftover. After snipping the seed heads, I tied the remaining basil leaves into three big bunches and hung them to dry. Drying the leaves is a little different from drying out the seed heads. In the latter case, I was trying to suck out all the moisture as quickly as possible so as to easily crush the chaff away from the seed. In the case of the basil leaf, I am trying to slowly allow the leaves to naturally dry, without molding or losing the flavorful oils. Drying in a stable temperature with good airflow is necessary, and my kitchen window is great because it is next to an air vent that keeps the air flowing.

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Fast forward to last week. The leaves have dried beautifully and are ready for their second harvest. For this job, I pulled out the trusty mortar and pestle to crush the leaves. I used a sieve to help me keep a consistent flake size so that it wouldn’t get caught in my spice shaker. I would crush, sift, and then repeat the crushing until all that was left in the sieve was a negligible amount.

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In the end, my window-full of fresh basil yielded me about 3 tablespoons of dried and crushed basil spice. I thus labeled, dated, and stored this treasure into an old spice container that I repurposed into a spice container. I compared this with the store-bought container of basil in our cabinet and the difference was staggering: the store-bought lacked flavor and aroma. I added the store-bought to our compost bin and our basil now sits proudly in its place.

It’s easy to stay industrious when it’s warm outside, but a well-planned and industrious summer gives you plenty to keep up with in the colder months.

The Hutch Project and the Satisfaction of Action

As a hipster, I usually only talk about solutions to issues which I have no tangible ability or actual desire to implement.

“World peace would be so easy if everyone just read Three Cups of Tea.”

“This city will only be cool when every street and alleyway has a dedicated bike lane.”

“The problem with Starbucks is that they’ve lost the art of selling coffee.”

These ethereal solutions are themselves an art to produce. They must be obvious enough that a spectator should say “Why didn’t I think of that?” and far enough out of reach that you can continuously tout your solution without any fear that you will ever be called to act on it.

For a long time I had one of these sitting in my dining room: an old china hutch (circa 1930) that needed some very serious reworking. Structurally, the hutch was in decent shape. Aesthetically, it was in need of a lot of work. This was a piece of furniture we picked up with the intention that I would give it the makeover it needed. For five years it stood in our dining room issuing to me a license to sing my swan song about transforming the ugly duckling.

So what happened? My wife threatened to throw it away, and my house husband side kicked in. I too began to resent the wasted space and the sub-par appearance. You see, we don’t have any china to put into the china hutch, the rough nature of its finish made it difficult to dust, and everyone had already heard me talk about my grand plan.

So here’s what I did:

Unfinished hutch

I had two days off from my full-time job, and I wanted to industriously make the most of my time. So in-between loads of laundry, I dragged the hutch out to the garage and started by disassembling it. It was put together mostly with wood screws, so a flat head screwdriver and a soft mallet was all I needed.SandingI sanded down each panel individually, repaired any lifted veneer with wood glue and filler, and put a fresh coat of stain over everything. Polyurethane, sand, repeat.

IMG_2341IMG_2349I cut the middle section down considerably to make it more of a serving table than a hutch. Upon reassembly, I measured out the front opening and used one of the old shelves as a front hatch. This nice little serving table is a favorite hiding spot now for our dog Little Bit, and all of our cloth napkins and place mats live inside the hatch and out of sight.

It couldn’t be considered complete until it was decorated. On the wall, I used the old hutch door as a faux frame for a piece of fair trade Haitian metalwork. Add a plant and a bowl of wooden fruit and cross it off of my to-do list!

In total, the project cost me about $12:

  • Piece of veneer from the Habitat Re-Store: 80¢
  • Small can of stain: $4
  • Leftover polyurethane: free
  • Front panel hinges/magnetic catch: $7
  • 1930s era drawer pull: repurposed off another dilapidated piece…at least I still have another project about which I can ruminate.