Monday, May 11, 2015

DIY Rain Chain

Last weekend we put up gutters on the house and I wanted a creative and beautiful way to get the water from the downspout into the water barrel in my vegetable garden. What better than a rain chain? A rain chain is a decorative chain that directs the water down without too much splashing. Rain chains can be very expensive, but I'm bot inclined to spend much money garden decor... or anything really. So I began scrounging around the house for something that I could turn into a rain chain, and I found the perfect thing! 

Shower curtain hooks! 

I just happened to have two extra sets of shower curtain hooks in the back of a drawer. I think I got them at goodwill for $2 per set. You never know when you will need a set of shower curtain hooks, and it turns out that I needed them for this project!

They are perfect because they are metal, which means they are heavy enough to keep from blowing in the wind, they are made to go in the shower, which means they won't rust when wet, and they are hooks, which means it is really easy to link them together to make a chain.

This was really easy to make- it literally took about 15 minutes. I simply linked the shower curtain hooks together and used some wire to secure each connection so that they don't become disconnected in the wind (we do get hurricanes).  We hung it from the downspout and lined it up with the grate on the rain barrel.

I couldn't happier with the result! Not only is it beautiful and functional, but it also cost less than it would have to buy that ugly plastic down spout. Can't beat that!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Blanching Vegetables

As the summer ramps up and the garden produce starts rolling in, my kitchen becomes a place where I not only cook fresh produce, but freeze and can it as well. Some vegetables never produce enough, but there are always several that produce way more than we could eat fresh, so it's time to fill the freezer!

In order to freeze vegetables in a way that keeps the peak nutritional value and freshness, it is necessary to blanch them first. Blanching is like "flash boiling" vegetables to kill the enzymes that naturally break down vegetables over time.

Here are the basic steps for blanching vegetables:
1. Use the freshest vegetables that you can
2. Wash, peel, slice or dice your vegetables into the size and shape that you will want to use them in later
3. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
4. Add the vegetables to the water and bring back to a boil.
5. Start the time needed according to the chart when the water begins to boil.
6. When the time is up, strain the vegetables and plunge them into a bowl of ice water for the same number       of minutes that they boiled.
7. Strain the vegetables again and lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet to dry.
8. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 12-24 hours to freeze as individual pieces.
9. Put the vegetables in a freezer ziplock bag and label it with the date and contents.
10. Pull out of the freezer and enjoy any day of the year!

Different vegetables should be blanched for different amounts of time, so here is a handy chart to serve as a reminder!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

How to Freeze Fresh Carrots

I just picked the last of my fall carrots. Yes, I know it's May- good ole' mild Louisiana winters! I always plant the majority of my carrots in the fall. Some are ready by early winter, but others sprout late or just take forever to grow, so I let them stay over the winter and am rewarded with early carrots the next year (from January on). There were a few little scragglers left, so I pulled them all up and plan on dicing them up and freezing them for chicken pot pie! So here's how to freeze your own fresh garden carrots...

First wash the carrots well, peel them, and remove the tops. Next cut the carrots into whatever size or shape you are going to use them in. I will dice mine into quarter inch cubes for chicken pot pie, but you can slice them or keep them whole.

Now we will blanch the carrots. Blanching is a fancy word for boiling them in water for a few minutes to kill the enzymes in your vegetables that break down the nutrients over time. If you sliced or chopped your carrots, you will only need to blanch them for two minutes. For whole carrots, blanch for five minutes.

WHen they are finished boiling, strain the carrots and immediately plunge into ice water to stop the cooking as quickly as possible. Let them sit in the ice water bath for the same number of minutes that you blanched them for.

Finally, drain the carrots and lay them out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Put the baking sheet into the freezer for 12-24 hours until the pieces are individually frozen. This will help keep them easy to separate rather than freeze together in one giant clump. 

Put the pieces into a freezer ziplock bag, and you are ready for fresh carrots any time!