Today we celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities, established by the United Nations General Assembly in order to raise awareness, promote empowerment, and help create opportunities for people with disabilities around the globe. For many years, until retirement, I ran a private school for children with special needs, mostly developmental and severe emotional disabilities. In this post, I am introducing a very special place where I used to take my students, a unique horse ranch that caters to children with disabilities.
I’ve had several people ask, “What’s with fresh herbs? Why not use dry stuff that stays fresh forever?” First of all, those things don’t “stay fresh forever, ” and, unfortunately, they don’t have expiration dates. So I don’t know about you, Beautiful People, but I don’t exactly trust products without expiration dates. Secondly – and here comes the big revelation! – I’ve been here, in the land of disposable cars and dry spices, for over 40 years, and I still haven’t learned to use dry herbs. I know the proportions and everything, but where I come from, in those times, parsley looked and smelled like parsley, and dill like dill, rather than like minuscule wood pilings. You bought it from a village woman at the farm market, and it was organic by definition, because no one but collective farms had chemical fertilizers. Old-fashioned as I am, I enjoy the look and feel of fresh organic herbs.
In one of my previous posts, I promised to tell how to preserve them. So here goes: Step 1. Loosen your bunch of herbs and put it in a big bowl, throw some ice cubes on top, and generously pour salt. There are no exact proportions, but the bigger the bunch, the more ice and salt you need. Don’t worry about sodium; all this salt will wash off later. The rationale of this process is that ice makes bugs, if there are any, float to the top, and salt kills them. It will be very easy to rinse them off without going at each leaf with a magnifying glass, the way a friend of ours does both at work and at home. Granted, that’s what makes him one of the most reputable Mashgihim (Kosher supervisors) in town, and everybody would eat at a place he supervises, but you know what, try to use my method and then check every leaf, and you’ll see – it works!
Make sure the bowl is big enough to fit the entire bunch, including stems. Keep it pretty loose and don’t press it down. Give those bugs a chance to float to the surface. Next, pour cold water into the bowl, making sure it covers everything and no green stuff is sticking out.
You can dunk it gently, to ensure that it’s fully covered by water, but don’t press. Put the bowl on the side until ice fully melts. Don’t put it in a warm place to speed up the process; you want the temperature to keep ice cold as long as possible.
While ice is melting, I know you are curious about me and the zebra. I am very much into preservation of nature in every manifestation of it. I also believe that preserving is ordained during the first days of creation, and wastefulness is practically sinful. In my perception, this principle applies to every flower and every blade of grass. As my grandmother used to admonish us, “It hurts the grass if you touch it roughly.” Kal vaHomer, even more so, it applies to animals, both domesticated and those in the wild. Imagine my excitement when I found out about the Jessy Williams Ranch, right here in Miami.
Before I retired, I used to run a private school for children with special needs that my husband and I had founded some years ago. Nowadays, nobody disputes the therapeutic benefits of communing with animals, petting zoos proliferate, parents are advised to get at least some goldfish, if not a dog or a cat, so I was always looking for a place to take my students where they could love an animal or a bird and be loved by them in return. And here is this amazing place that rescues wild animals and nurses them to health, that also has chicken, cats, and dogs wondering around, being totally sweet and friendly, and – wow! – it offers horse rides to even the littlest kids and it specializes in conducting tours for children with special needs!
Of course I took the kids there! Well, I just happened to be wearing this outfit on that day, and the owner Jessy Roth went like, “You have to take a picture with Mordechai! You have to!” Ok, I am game, but who is Mordechai? Yep, that’s the zebra, and I got to feed him. They also have a pair of lovely horses called Lucy and Dezi, and a baby panther called… Baby. I was not allowed to hold or pet Baby because she wasn’t in the mood. Florida panthers are endangered species, and Baby was rescued as a small kitten.
That’s not one of my students, as I don’t have permission to publish their photos. There is a collection of images of other kids with special needs at the ranch, and you can literally cry browsing through them.
Everybody gets a chance to ride! Out of the wheelchair and into the saddle!
I didn’t want to miss my chance, either.
I am not riding gentle Lucy, but all horses are sweet and friendly, just as the rest of the animals. As to Baby the panther, she became a big star. She is now the official mascot of the Florida Panthers, the hockey team (hockey in Florida? No comment!), and like every star, acts moody at times. She did come out to greet us, though.
She is growing up to be a beauty! I love all animals, but cats are exceptionally beautiful. I can’t get over the two lions killed in Santiago, Chile, zoo, to save a mentally disturbed young man who stripped naked and jumped into the lion pit to commit suicide. Yes, certainly, the poor guy nebech, but what about the poor majestic gorgeous cats?
Ok, back to our herbs. Ice has melted, bugs are dead, and we have to rinse them out under running water. I learned this method from my dear friend Linda who is a cook par excellence and a sushi expert. When she does fundraising sushi events for synagogues and schools, she is authorized to be her own Mashgiah. I trust her supervision much more than the magnifying glass.
Ah, the smell of fresh mint! My husband makes a mean Mojito. What, you don’t know what a Mojito is? Where have you been, in New Jersey? You need to get on that plane and come to South Florida where, to quote our resident famous humorist Dave Barry, you can live as close to the United States as possible without actually being there. I am not giving out drink recipes. For that you need a bartender, and I am not him (he!). Fresh mint is also essential for Nana tea, for a real traditional tabouleh, for steamed spinach with corn, and many other interesting foods and drinks.
So rinse it well, drain, and squeeze excess water trying not to bruise the leaves. Spread a double-layer paper towel and distribute your herb on it in a thin layer. Gently pat dry.
At this point, there is no need to separate thick stems. Turn your paper towel sideways, with herb on it, and start rolling as you would roll sushi.
As you roll, keep gently squeezing excess water. The goal is to get it as dry as possible before refrigerating, but without squashing or bruising the herb. Tuck everything inside if it tries to escape. Get more paper towels if this one breaks. The roll must be tightly wrapped.
First one ready, paper towel is spread for the next bunch. I usually do them three or four at the time, and it really takes minimal time and effort. While ice is melting, you can do everything else. Incidentally, I give the same ice and salt treatment to organic lettuce, kale, and other leafy greens, but instead of rolling and wrapping, I use a salad spinner to dry it.
So that’s it. We have gone from this…
but we are not done yet. Now you refrigerate your wrapped herbs for a day or two, until they are dry to the touch. Take them out and unwrap them.
I apologize for the quality of this photo. A very helpful cat nudged my elbow from under the table. He knows that he is not allowed ON the table, but he still wants to participate. You can see the freshness of cilantro leaves that stayed in the refrigerator for two days. Separate the thick stems but don’t discard them. Chop them up and save them in a Ziploc bag. They lend intense flavor and aroma to your soups, stews, and casseroles, and anyway, wastefulness is a sin. I think so, at least. Dice the leaves as fine or as course as you like them, store each herb in a separate Ziploc bag (“freezerable, as my son used to say) and label them. Make sure to squeeze all air out of the bags! For better organization, store all your herb baggies in one large Ziploc bag and freeze them. Guaranteed freshness for up to two weeks!
Exception: basil. It doesn’t lose taste, but it becomes dark and looks wilted. You can’t use it in Mozzarella Caprese like this! But even basil will hold for a few days. A word of caution: once fresh-frozen, herbs cannot stay out of the freezer for more than a few seconds. They turn watery and mushy. Take them out when you need them, put them into your food, and immediately return the remainder to the freezer.
- Place a loose bunch of fresh herbs in a large bowl
- Put some ice cubes on top
- Generously pour salt (larger bunches of herb require more ice and salt)
- Fill bowl with cold water
- When ice completely melts, rinse well under running water, drain, squeeze excess water
- Spread on double-layered paper towel, pat dry, roll
- Refrigerate tightly wrapped rolls for 1 – 2 days, until herbs are dry to the touch
- Separate stems, dice, place in Ziploc bags, freeze