Saturday

Making Orange Potpourri

Drying orange peel is a great way to make the most of your citrus, and with the prices we're all paying for a bag of oranges, it pays to get the most we can for the money we're spending.

I've always liked orange peel. I've candied it and just tossed a peel in the wastepaper as I passed to keep it sweet smelling. A few years ago I decided to take a more active role in saving peels, so from stuffing whole chickens with them (for the aromatics) to using them in potpourri, orange peels rule at my house.

They can actually look quite nice in potpourri, either homemade or store bought. You don't even have to work too hard to prep them. Just cut peels into thin strips, give them a bath in a little red food coloring to tint the pith (the light colored back) and dry the strips.

After they're dry, add a few drops of sweet orange oil (essential oil of orange) and place them where you need them. You can also use any other essential oil aroma that strikes your fancy. I've used clove, cinnamon and even vanilla, depending on the other ingredients in the potpourri.

They're natural odor eaters, and sweet orange oil is a mood enhancer too. You can make your home smell fresher, look nicer and make yourself happy doing it. What could be better? The photos below will show you my process. This one is quick and easy:

Instructions for Drying Decorative Orange Peel

Slice orange peels.

Soak them in a half cup of water to which you've added eight to twelve drops of red food coloring (depending on the brand). Leave for five minutes.

Place strips on a dehydrator for three to five hours. You can also just dry the peels in a warm dark place or on a cookie sheet in a warm oven.

If you want decorative strips, wrap them into curls while they're wet and they'll dry that way. For long strips, you can make corkscrews. Keep them in place with a paperclip until they dry completely.

Add two or three drops of essential oil per peel.


Over the winter, we eat a lot of oranges, so I always have baggies of prepped peel strips to work with. It's a fun easy project, and you can make an impromptu potpourri with cinnamon sticks, star anise, orange peel (of course), whole nuts, like almonds and walnuts, and lavender flowers or rose petals.

Thursday

How to Combat Bedbugs

Well, if you don't know about the bedbug explosion - uh, the explosion of bed bugs, you've probably been unconscious for the last year. These small, biting bugs are voracious, very hard to kill and, if you listen to the news reports, almost everywhere. This would include hotels, movie theaters, retail dressing rooms, offices, dorm rooms, airports - you name it.

Eradicated for the most part by the widespread use of DDT, they're making a big 21st century comeback and may hitch a ride to your house if you're not careful.

How to Fight Bedbugs

Here are some helpful suggestions for avoiding an infestation:

When you travel, check your hotel mattress for signs of bugs. You may see specks along the seams of mattresses or even the bugs themselves on the backs of headboards or along bed frames. Ask for a room change if you see anything suspicious, or better yet, change hotels.

If you wake up with an itchy bite, make sure to take precautions when you get home. Keep your luggage in the garage until you've had a chance to inspect and vacuum it thoroughly and wash all of your travel clothing in very hot water.

Your exposure isn't limited to places where you may sleep over. Anywhere people gather could be a potential infestation site if there are areas where hitchhiking bedbugs can hide and feed. This includes upholstered furniture, carpeting and clothing. Make it a habit to shake out your coat before you enter your home, and place your dirty clothing away from your sleeping area and in a segregated spot that isn't carpeted, like a laundry room. Wash your street clothes as soon after wearing them as possible.

If you do inadvertently bring bedbugs home, act fast. Bedbugs dislike strongly smelling herbs and heat. Wash bedding, vacuum everything thoroughly, steam clean your mattress, wash your drapes and put down any of a number of pesticide sprays or powders that deter bedbugs specifically. There are links below to a couple of good homemade herbal preparations, but there are also lots of products on the market. There is no silver bullet, so diligence is your best ally.


You should also keep some kind of protection in your luggage when you travel. A lavender scented sachet will be unappealing to your average bedbug, which may then shun your belongings in favor of something less fragrant. Keeping a sachet in your bedding, like between the sheets and under the pillow, can deter them if you think you may have nocturnal visitors but aren't quite sure, or are in the midst of a cleanup campaign. Washing your bedding with lavender essential oil will help too.

Once you have an infestation in your home, it can be notoriously hard to get rid of. The bugs like staying within a few feet of their feeding area - your bed, but when they hide, they can choose the open space behind electrical outlets, under wallpaper and behind baseboards. You can't starve them out, either. Bedbugs can go without eating for months and months, so just closing the door on an infestation won't work.

As soon as you recognize that you have a problem, start work and think CLEAN. Wash all of your textiles regularly in hot water, and use steam to clean everything else you can. A handheld steamer works great and will help you tackle your mattress and access other hard to reach spots on upholstered furniture. Stay with a treatment regimen through to the end. For more info, background and some treatment options, the links below will help:

They Crawl, They Bite, They Baffle Scientists (The New York Times)
The Bedbug Blues

Natural Bedbug Control (My blog post with homemade bedbug repellent recipes.)
4 Places Bedbugs Hide and How to Avoid Them

Wednesday

Basic Basil Pesto Recipe

I've encouraged you to try a flavorful and wonderfully aromatic pesto, so here is my recipe entry. It's basic but delicious. You can find all the ingredients at your local market with the possible exception of the pine nuts. They're more popular than they used to be, so try the gourmet section or the baking aisle where they keep the other nuts.

Pesto is best fresh, but you can freeze it in a pinch. As an alternative to marinara sauce, it's beyond indulgent and at it's very best when the basil leaves are fresh from your very own garden.

You can whip up a batch in ten minutes or less with your handy dandy food processor.

Basil Pesto Recipe

Ingredients

2 cups fresh, tightly packed basil leaves
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (High quality - not the shaker stuff)
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoon pine nuts (You can also use walnuts)
2 to 4 garlic cloves, finely minced (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Basic Pesto Instructions

The goal is to combine all of the ingredients into a fine paste. To do this without clumps and unprocessed bits, it's best to break the work into batches. Try separating all the ingredients into thirds or quarters. Add a third of the basil leaves, cheese, nuts, garlic, spices and oil and then pulse and blend. Once that's pretty well incorporated, add the second batch and repeat. Add the third batch. You can use a blender or food processor, whatever works for you. Just keep stirring down the sides to get everything well blended. The oil is viscous and will help incorporate everything.

Special notes: For pesto, it's nice to use a quality olive oil that has a distinctive olive flavor. If you use a non-olive flavored olive-oil for general cooking purposes, now's the time to splurge on the good stuff. Look for oil that’s tinged green and has a strong olivey aroma.

This is a slight cheat, but I will sometimes add a tablespoon or two of avocado oil as part of the olive oil requirement. The result seems richer and creamier to me -- just a suggestion. I also like to add a scraping of nutmeg.

Another useful cheat is to add a couple of tablespoons of mashed potato.  It'll make a creamy sauce that will stay green and luscious longer.

Yes, there is a lot of oil, but it's good-for-you oil. If you want to try a classic regional dish that will make the most of your months slaving in the herb patch, this one is it.

Use pesto on pasta or as a spread on crusty bread.