10.17.11 Waste Not, Want Not
Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without.Eleanor Roosevelt said that, probably during the Depression or some wartime crunch. But I love its sentiment: the idea that what we have is enough. "Making do" is not really something you see advertised alongside Big Gulps and $35,000 handbags. Last weekend in the Times' opinion section, I saw this piece about a divorced Brooklyn mother of two who fell on hard times and resorted to starting a victory garden and baking her own bread to get by. (A former Bergdorf Goodman shopper and unwilling to give up perfume, she now makes her own from fragrant herbs!) It was very inspiring, and it gave me serious pause when I went to write "mint tea" on the grocery list that's posted on the door of our fridge. Instead, I went out to the garden and harvested huge armfuls of fresh mint. I had cut the unruly plants back a month ago—and frozen and preserved some leaves then—but they had grown in more vigorously than ever. While I was out there, I also snipped lots of other things to dry and use over the coming winter months.
I made a big batch of lovage syrup, which I adore mixed with seltzer and in gin cocktails. I tossed a few of these celery-like leaves into a pot of chicken soup today.
All these beauties were languishing on the vine, not going to properly ripen now that the temperatures are dropping, so I made a wonderfully tart and crisp batch of fried green tomatoes. (Recipe coming tomorrow.)
These brilliant scarlet Thai peppers, each one no bigger than my thumbnail, can be dried and tossed into soups, stews and stir-fries to add quite a kick.
I grew three different kinds of shiso this year and they did extraordinarily well—either they were in a good spot, or they liked all the rain. I've never dried shiso before, and have no idea if it holds its flavor, but I plan to toss some into my hot pots and see what's what.
I like to use dried rosemary in tomato sauces, but I'll also mix a few fresh branches with lemon for a sweetly herbal syrup that is sophisticated and delicious.
To dry fresh herbs, simply spread them out in a single layer on parchment-lined baking sheets and let them air dry; or, you can speed the process by drying them in the oven on the lowest setting. For me, this is 170º, so I usually bring the oven up to temperature then turn it off, leaving the herbs inside as it cools.
You can even use up the dried centers of your echinacea plants in a tonic that helps fight colds and flu. (At worst, it tastes really great...)
I picked all the mint leaves off the stems—time-consuming, yes, but a meditative pastime I actually enjoy.
Some of the mint I froze...
...some I layered with organic sugar in a big jar...
...and the rest I combined with the lemon balm and dried for tea. Mint soothes the digestive tract, and this tea is a great thing to sip after dinner or before going to bed. You're supposed to cover your cup while the mint is brewing to prevent the beneficial oils from evaporating. Wondering what to do with mint sugar? Use it in this recipe for super chocolatey cookies. Or in your next cup of cocoa. Or sprinkled over fresh melon. Or simply stirred into your mint tea. Before you know it, we'll be making our own toothpaste!