Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Getting ready for Spring by building a worm bin

I've been struggling with my composting methods since moving into my current residence about 1 1/2 years ago. First, I got a fancy rotatable composter.

I haven't found it to be too effective. Maybe I don't put enough dry matter into it; I don't know.

So then I was just piling stuff on the ground, which unfortunately, likely attracts rats and raccoons, not making my elderly neighbor next door very happy.

So today, with the help of Steve from the Seattle Permaculture Guild , I built a sturdy worm bin that should take care of the majority of my kitchen scraps and is a closed box. It was really pretty easy, or maybe Steve made it seem that way, but I think it's pretty easy with a few tools. Steve is a great guy and has been on the Seattle garden scene for a long time; helping  to start the first worm bins at Seattle Tilth, and he helped start the West Seattle Tool library among other things. Did I mention he builds geodesic domes, and makes fabulous ceramic tile pieces?

On to the worm bin..... we started with an old wood cabinet from Second Use , which sells recycled building materials.

Next we cut it about in half, so we had most of a box already.

We knocked apart the leftover pieces to use to complete the box. 

We put some smaller pieces in the opening to strengthen the corner and to have something more to screw the side piece to.  We found it better to use screws to attach certain pieces where hammering would have knocked it apart. You would have to judge which would be best depending on the materials you have and whether you are using a pre-existing structure or building it from scratch with new wood. I like the idea of re-using something that has been discarded and it's great to get this old solid wood. 

Next we added hinges.

Now I drilled holes in the bottom about 6 inches apart for drainage and air flow. on the front and sides I drilled just one row of holes.

this is a happy me with my new worm bin! I love that the old cabinet is made of solid wood that is sturdy enough to be a garden bench that can be sat on. I have dreams of painting some cool decoration on it; but for now, I'm going to start cutting up newspaper to fill the inside before adding organic matter and worms.

Thank you, Steve!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Grilling with Pine needles

One of my favorite blogs is Hunger and Thirst . Each month, she does the Wild Things round-up, using a wild foraged ingredient and posting as many recipes for that ingredient as she can get. When I can find the ingredient, it's a lot of fun. This month's theme was "smoking". I have been wanting to try smoking on the grill with pine needles for awhile. Why pine needles? My neighbor in back has three huge pine trees and one giant birch, and they drop leaves or seeds or needles or branches all over my back yard, all year round.

To try to cope with this, I've tried to find ways in which the trees are useful to me. The birch tree gives me boletes in the Fall. Good.
With the pine I am learning to make pine needle tea. Thankfully, I like it. I've tried to make oil, but I'm not sure that's working properly; and now I'm using the fallen needles to add flavor on the grill.

First, I lit some wood charcoal, using my can. I love these. It only cost a few dollars, works great, and no more lighter fluid chemicals, it starts up with the junk mail ads I get everyday.

Next, started adding pine needle branches.

The problem here is that I am an EXTREMELY impatient griller, so rather than waiting for coals; I put the needles on while it was still closer to a fire. I do this every dang time I grill.

Ok, here the fire has died down a bit and the needles are not immediately bursting into flames, but smoking more. It would have been better to wait a little more, but that's not how I roll, and so the main dish tasted more smokey than pine-y.

I closed the lid on the grill to hold the smoke in; my grill has one of those chimney thingies. The carrots, I steamed a bit indoors first, so that they would be tender. I added a dill/ butter sauce to them after taking them off the grill. They were the tastiest part of the meal. The mushrooms, I marinated in a traditional sauce of red wine, and balsamic vinegar. The salmon is good as it is, with just a little lemon squeezed over it. Of course, before I put the food on the grill, I wiped the grate with a napkin saturated with olive oil. I know, basic......... but it took me years and lots of stuck to the grill food to learn that. 

The final meal.

I also popped a gluten free berry cobbler in after the main course was cooked, in a small cast iron pan. I don't always measure, so it was about 2 cups berries with 1 cup sugar, topped with @ 1/2 cup ground almonds, 1/4 cup brown rice flour, 2-ish tbsp. potato starch, splash of vanilla, sprinkle of more sugar on top. All measurements are approximate. Now that the coals were really coals, the food picked up more of the pine flavor. It was goooood. 

Have any of you tried grilling with pine needles? I'm curious to find out other people's techniques.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Girly Tea

I had visions at the beginning of the week of foraging for stinging nettles, as several sources have reported they're up; but the weather has been blustery, cool and rainy. Yes, there was that one odd day that was sunny. that was the day after the night I didn't sleep.... figures. So, for the moment, I'm contenting myself with what has become my fave tea lately...... and re-organizing my work room, which I would gladly put off if it was nice out, but which badly needs to be done. sigh......

Girly Tea

all amounts are approximate, I never measure

2 tsp. dried nettle leaf
2 tbsp. dried raspberry leaf
1 tsp. dried borage flowers, they don't have much taste, but they're so pretty and supposedly a mood lifter
2 dried rose hips
1 dried red clover flower

I have a ceramic steeping cup from World Market that I can make 1 cup of tea in. You could also use some sort of infusion ball, but would probably need to crush the ingredients more, or you could pour the boiling water over it in a cup or bowl and then strain to drink.I like my herbal teas for the most part without sweetener, but you could add honey or sugar or stevia if you like sweet tea.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pay it Forward- Support Bloggers Who Provide Free Content

I just read a blog post by Pam at Gingerbreadsnowflake and how she plans to support bloggers who provide free content online; by providing patterns, recipes, how-to's, etc. Once a month even if it's a small amount, buy something from their shop. Support INDY and free content bloggers, so that they can keep providing that content. Being an independent artist myself, I think this is a great idea. Forget the department stores and buy from each other, and we'd all be getting more creative items, plus supporting people who put a lot of effort into getting information out there on how to do so many things ourselves. Thanks for sharing this idea, Pam!

I'm starting this off myself by buying some yarn at the Burien Yarn Stash . They have comfy couches and chairs to drop in and knit anytime without a charge. Bonnie is always helpful when someone is working on a project and willing to offer ideas. They have some free patterns on their website.  Beware, though, it's hard to go in and only buy a bit of yarn!

Let me know if you decide to join in on supporting INDY artists and bloggers who provide fee content by buying something from someone once a month; it could be $5 or $10, but would mean so much to these people. Please share in the comments if you want to join in!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Corn Husk Yarn Dye

Last summer I grew some Indian corn that was the most gorgeous colors of red, purple and yellow. Do you remember the pretty Corn Dolly I made from it? I saved a bunch of the husks and cobs to experiment with hand dyeing some wool, after reading a blog by GingerbreadSnowflakes . I love making things with natural materials, but I hate brown; so it's always a challenge to see what I will get. There are a couple of things I might try differently next year, because I did end up with brown, albeit a reddish brown. First I simmered the wool in Dharma's Professional Textile Detergent which is a non-toxic, less expensive Synthrapol substitute, to clean it. I used dried, then simmered pomegranate peels for my mordant. They were actually TOO acidic, as I was shooting for a pH of 4, so I adjusted back and forth with washing soda, alkaline; and vinegar, acidic to get the pH where I wanted it. It was a good mordant, but the wool picked up some yellow-brown from the pomegranate that might not have gotten the final color where I wanted it. I used the pH strips for dying from Earth Hues , which is here in Seattle. Most places that carry pH strips don't measure the full spectrum of pH. I tried getting strips from a fish store and then Lowe's, but they were geared to specific uses, and didn't go down to pH 4. Earth Hues also ships their products.

The next issue I had was that I've been using a slow cooker to simmer my dyes, and previously I had it sitting outside where I think the cool air kept it from actually boiling, and I'm afraid the heat got too high and may have browned out the color. So, I will have to work on keeping the temperature a little lower and see what happens.

I simmered the corn husks to extract the color; strained, and simmered the wool yarn in it for about an hour and then let it sit cool overnight before rinsing.

This is the color of the yarn after dyeing, it's a little browner than it looks in this photo:

With this project, I didn't want to resort to over-dyeing with food coloring from the supermarket to  make the color nicer, so I looked around at what else I had in the kitchen. I was making a borscht, so I simmered about a cup of the beet peelings in filtered water, and strained. I use filtered water so that I'm not wondering whether the chemicals and contaminants in tap water might be affecting the color. Everything I read online said that beets wouldn't add much coloring as a dye, so I wasn't too optimistic, but tried it anyway, with about 1/4 cup of vinegar. Again, I boiled for about an hour, and then let it sit overnight before rinsing. I'm using super-wash wool, so I don't have a problem with it felting. It added quite a bit more red, as you can see in the photo below. Of course with natural dyes, it remains to be seen with washing, time and light whether the color will fade or brown out, but I was pleased with the finished yarn.

I would love to see the process and results of your experiments with natural dyes! Let me see what's worked for you.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Homemade Raspberry Mustard

I just made the best mustard I ever tasted. It's so good that we're almost through the first jar of it. Yes, I finally made a mustard that my man will eat. It's so easy to make your own mustard, I doubt I'll ever buy store made again.

½ cup yellow mustard seeds
½ cup black mustard seeds- available in Indian and Caribbean specialty stores, or more yellow seeds if you can't find them
2 tbsp. brandy (optional)
1 cup water
2 teaspoons salt
1 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
2/3 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
1/2 cup maple syrup


Soak the mustard seeds with the water and salt for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours. The longer you soak it the spicier it will be.
In a small saucepan, combine the raspberries, maple syrup and spice. Bring to a simmer and cook until the raspberries soften. Cool slightly.
Place the soaked mustard seeds with all of their liquid in the bowl of a food processor and add the cranberry-maple mixture and brandy. Blend until thickened and the seeds are coarsely ground, about 2 minutes.
Transfer the mustard to small, sterilized jars and store in your refrigerator for up to 2 months. The mustard will be quite spicy.

I used frozen berries. I never knew how much I love raspberries until I had access to some bushes. Now they’re my favorite.

 I’m really happy to find some other uses for them than just sugary jam. I imagine other berries would make a good mustard as well.