Thursday, December 10, 2009
So in our recent interview, Terrie asked me if I ever had projects that fail. Answer: YES.
I may have a silly fake sad face in the picture, but these walnuts were a total disaster. I had so many dreams! While staring at my milk crate 3/4 full of these seemingly awesome free walnuts, I thought up all sorts of fun project.
Caramelized spicy nuts, holiday swapping presents, maybe even quick apple-walnut bread using my canned apples which I managed to resurrect after the FAIL post. But it was not to be.
Things were already not looking good after I realized that I had been soaking the walnuts for 72 hours. I had read online that the walnuts would be easier to crack after soaking them for 24 hours in warm water, but my schedule got the best of me, and the walnuts were damp for 72 hours. Uh oh.
After Nick came over with a hammer and pliers, and I grabbed a concrete block from the backyard, we set to work. My kitchen became quite the disaster of shattered shells and nutmeat. I think I almost crushed a fingertip.
The soaked walnuts were definitely damp and smelled kind of like chemicals. If the fact that a dude who spends much of his time recording punk shows in basements and drinking homebrew wouldn't taste the soggy walnut is any indication, that's how gross it smelled. I did taste a tiny bit. For research! It was gross.
So then we tried the walnuts that I hadn't soaked. Equally gross. But in a strange way. We both agreed that the walnuts tasted kind of like crabapples. And chemicals too. Crabapples and Windex. Mmmm.
It occurred to me later that raw nuts are often gross, and they usually are sold after they are boiled and roasted. So who knows. Maybe after roasting these things would have tasted better.
If there was any nut meat in them at all. But check out the photo below: no perfectly formed walnuts in here at all. In these foraged nuts, the shell formed kind of pockets around thin slivers of nutmeat. We tried to dig out some of it with nut picks and got a few measly shards for a ridiculous amount of work. Shards of nutmeat covered in bits of dry shell dust. Mmmmm.
So in answer to your question Terrie, yes! Sometimes projects fail. But I've learned a lot about walnuts and foraging in the process. It was a fun experiment.
And I will never EVER eat a store-bought walnut again without being totally blown away by our modern growing and harvesting methods.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Canning Tip: It's a bad idea to put cool glass jars right into your hot water bath.
My jars weren't even that cold, they were room temperature, but the bottom still shattered on two of my jars of spiced apple slices. Resulting in the bottom mess:
Also, putting whole spices directly into the apples was kind of a bad idea. It's now going to be impossible to eat the apple slices without having to avoid hard bits of star anise, cinnamon stick, cardamom pod, and black peppercorns. And I've realized a bit too late that although star anise is quite pretty to look at, I'm not the biggest fan of the licorice flavor. Sigh.
Any idea for how to use up about six pints and one quart of spiced apple slices? They're in a very light syrup.
Also planning on boiling the extra canning liquid down into a thicker syrup.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Once a month there will be a potluck and a presentation of proposals for various community projects around town. Profits from the dinner will go towards project funding. Details about this month's inaugural event & the planned menu are posted below. Yum.
Saturday, November 28th
7PM @ 2640 St. Paul St.
Radishes, Butter, Sea Salt,Peasant Bread, Honey, Garden Herb Pesto
Garden Carrots and Tops
Roasted Garden Beets
Roasted Fall Mushrooms, Olive Oil, Sea Salt, Thyme
Braised Greens and Beans, Garlic, Ham Hock
Roasted Fall Pears, Honey, Sea Salt
Ryan Harvey presents Odonian Records
Michael Farley presents the Annex Theater Gallery
Potato, Leek, Kale
Local Clams, Cream, Potato, Bacon
The Baltimore Algebra Project
Sweet Potato Pie, Homemade Ice Cream
Space is limited, so please make a reservation: email@example.com
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Oh wow. Baltimore Foodmakers has been having some seriously amazing potlucks! This past Saturday we got to experiment with a cider press built by one of our very own members. Talk about DIY!
Brian is the one who built the press (he's the one turning the press in the photo, and also the fellow who took the lovely black and white photos of the grist mill back in September.)
The bushels of apples were from Baugher's, a local Maryland farm. There were a few organic apples from the property where the potluck was being held, but there weren't enough apples for gallons of cider.
As you can imagine, the cider was incredible. Cold, sweet, and very full of flavor.
More photos and hopefully even a video will be posted tomorrow.
If you're curious to learn more about Baltimore Foodmakers, feel free to join the Google group here.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Most recent article on Elephant is up!
Check it out here. Hope you like the photo, it's my own work.
Even this morning I gave two co-workers two different types of herbal teas, and had some myself as well.
One had bronchitis and was coughing up a storm. I gave her some Earl Grey tea with slices of fresh ginger, which she said smelled divine ("And I can't smell anything right now!")
Another had an upset stomach/digestion issues so I gave her my favorite blend of mountain mint, sweet basil, and fennel seeds.
I drank this tea the other day after having a really irritated stomach from eating too much oily and spicy mango-lime chutney. The menthol in the tea really helped as a relaxant, and the fennel always helps my stomach issues as well.
Although I'm not the type of herb-loving person who believes that plants are a complete cure-all, I do believe that for general daily maladies, herbs are a very refreshing and delicious pick-me-up for improving your all around health.
Plus hydrating yourself with warm tea is always a good idea in the winter months!
Thursday, October 15, 2009
It's getting cold out there. Especially since my ginger, sweet basil, and ancho chilies are more warm-weather plants, I had to bring my little porch garden inside. Good thing my file drawer/garden box is more lightweight than it looks.
Wow, do the pepper plants look huge indoors! I'd guess they're about three feet tall. And the peppers are still growing on them, which is very exciting.
Ssh, don't tell the other plants, but I think the ginger might be my favorite. It's so exciting each time a new sprout pops up from the soil, telling me that the ginger is happily taking root and spreading. Perhaps in late December I'll do a little digging around and make some spicy candied ginger for a mid-winter treat. Yum!
The ginger is a little hard to see because the sweet basil is flowering and hogging the picture in the front. The frond-like plants with lots of side leaves are the ginger. You can see two of the main leaves, and there are several more smaller leaves that have sprouted as well, hidding somewhere behind the basil pots and in the midst of the giant pepper stems.
What are you doing with your garden (indoor or outdoor) over the winter?
Monday, October 12, 2009
I always pick up new and fascinating foodmaking processes at the potlucks. This month was no different: one new member, Aaron, brought his own homebrewed beer and talked about the process of beer making and spontaneous fermentation.
Here is the Wikipedia entry on the topic:
Beers of spontaneous fermentation are ales that use wild yeasts, rather than cultivated ones. All beer was once brewed this way, but by the Middle Ages brewers had learned to crop the yeast from one brew and use it in the next. Only in a few isolated regions were wild yeasts still used. The best-known region where spontaneous fermentation is still used is the Senne Valley in Belgium, where lambic is produced.
Aaron described monastaries where shallow pans of beer are set out in the rafters. The beer then ferments from the wild yeasts that have been living up in the rafters, feeding off the beer over the ages.
Of course, you can't control the taste of the end product as much this way, which explains why this isn't a very popular beer making method. But I find the idea of living cultures very fascinating, and I'm glad there are still people continuing this tradition.
Aaron said that Allagash is supposed to be creating a room for spontaneously fermented beer. To inoculate the space with the appropriate yeast, the room is sprayed down with beer. Can't wait to try it, if they do make this beer!
Our second food adventure was the tasting of Japanese Nuka Bran Pickles. Basically, a paste is made from water and bran powder. Vegetables are then left to sit in the bran paste to ferment. As the bran paste gets used over time, microbes from the vegetables begin living in the paste, making it more and more microbially dense, thus creating a stronger pickle.
Unfortunately, I don't think many people were a big fan of the taste. The bran paste was very strong, and the pickles took on a greyish color. Of course, it was still fun to try such a unique food.
The book Wild Fermentation has a recipe if you'd like to find out more about the bran pickles, or fermentation in general. The Amazon link for the book is here. The recipe in the book calls for the addition of beer or sake to the bran paste, along with ginger and seaweed. I'd probably try the bran pickles again with this recipe.
The rest of the pickles were fairly normal.
We had a delicious kimchi made from young daikon radish which was an absolutely gorgeous mix of colors in pure white, bright red, and dark green. They were a delicious mix of spicy, sour, and just a little pungent without being too strong. I think daikon kimchi is even better than the standard cabbage version of kimchi. (Growing daikon radish is also a really good way to naturally aerate compact garden soil.)
I brought pickled watermelon rind (the recipe can be found here.) By now the rind has been sitting in the gingered sweet and sour brine for several weeks and has picked up the perfect flavor. The light pink watermelon flesh and nearly translucent rind is quite aesthetically pleasing as well. Very palate cleansing, and a great party food.
Can't wait for November, when we'll be making cider with a homemade cider press. Stay tuned for details!
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Apologies, it's been a little quiet lately, but never fear, this faithful DIYer has been keeping busy!
As the weather turns from late summer to autumn, everything is all about the HARVEST. This weekend was spent distilling oil from a bonanza of dried peppermint, canning a delicious relish, buying seeds, gaining a few free compost worms, and taking one last visit to Prettyboy Reservoir.
In the crush of projects this weekend, I finally MacGuyver'ed a connection to link the tube that cools down the condenser tube of the distiller to the sink. There were a few unsuccessful visits to the hardware store, but I could never get the right fit onto the faucet-head. The previous time I used the machine I connected it with some chewing gum, foil, and tape, which worked, but clearly isn't a permanent solution. I needed something elastic, that would give a little. An old bike inner tube!
As I mentioned in the earlier post about rosemary oil, you need a TON of dried herbs to make any oil. The friend who lent me the distiller (on the condition that I learn how to use it and set it up) brought over about a liter of dried peppermint leaves. You can see how much oil we got here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whistlesfarandwee/3878147902/in/photostream/
If you're curious about the mechanics of it all, here's a brief description of what happens during the process:
1. The bottom flask is filled with water and heated.
2. The steam rises up into the second flask, which is filled with your plant matter.
3. The oil-infused steam rises up through the flask and goes into the condenser tube.
4. The condenser tube is hooked up to the sink. A constant stream of cold water keeps the tube cold.
5. When the oil-infused steam hits the condenser, the steam turns to water. The oil separates from the water, and both drop down into the valve.
6. Wait for between 30 minutes or up to 2 hours for all of the oil to be distilled from the plants.
7. Drain out the water from the valve, then drain out the oil (since oil and water separate, they are in separate layers in the valve).
8. Cover the water and the oil containers with cheesecloth. Let the aromas mellow for about a week.
The scented water is called 'hydrosol' and can be used to make homemade natural cleaning or beauty products. I made a nice facial toner with the rosemary hydrosol.
Mix the essential oil with a light carrier oil like jojoba or almond oil. Peppermint is a great stress reliever to rub on the feet or temples. Decadent!
And don't worry, we don't waste water at the BaltimoreDIY project factory. Most of the water that was cycled through the distiller was collected in pots and bottles. I'm using the water to can my relish in a water bath, water my plants, and wash my dishes. No need for the city facilities to purify it twice.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Curious about traditional dishes withcorn fungus? What about foraging for aquatic plants that are edible and can also be used to make soap?
Seriously, can someone please let me know if glasswort grows in the Mid-Atlantic region!
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I've been published! Thanks Arsenal Pulp Press!
Coming home last night from an evening of beers and veggie tacos, I was delighted to find a package from Canada waiting for me. Could it be... the hottest guerrilla crafting book on the market!
Thanks so much to the lovely ladies Leanne and Mandy at Arsenal Pulp Press for putting this book together. The photos look great, the pages are chock full of tips, interviews, links, and great quotes. I promise there are no other craft books like it!
Since the beginning of the handmade renaissance several years ago, there's been a lot of rebellious crafting going down. The popularity of a book named Stitch N' Bitch. Cross-stitching @#$*&^ instead of "Bless this House." Embroidering pin-up girls and martini glasses. Even making your own reusable pads and tongue-in-cheek aprons. And knit graffiti.
You'll have to read YARN BOMBING to find out the myriad reasons why and how people decide they want to start sewing fuzzy sleeves onto bike racks, or cover a tree in lace. If you've ever seen a piece of knit graffiti in person though, the instant draw is pretty obvious.
A knitted cozy on a tree, lampost, or the like is a shock of color in the otherwise common place scenery. It's a fuzzy texture against the brick and metal of the city, a bit of playfulness where you least expect it.
One of the things I love the most is that it's a reminder that it's o.k. to be silly and do weird things. Knit graffiti treats the world as a place to be shaped, to be made into something beautiful, instead of a place in which we are just some spectator.
And, along with all this other radical sewing, canning, and gardening action going on, knit graffiti is a way to subvert the seemingly tame world of home-making skills into something new and fresh again.
I live right across the street from a knit-covered tree and telephone pole, and I've seen the crowds of people stop, smile, take photos, or just plain stroke the wool on an inanimate object. It's a sweet thing to see.
I don't want to give too much away, but there are a lot of great photos and quotes from BaltimoreDIY. My project submission was for interactive, multi-media tags that other guerilla crafters could add to knit graffiti around town. Keychains, felt appliques, buttons, and screenprinted patches are all great ways to leave your mark around the city, creating an ongoing conversation in a small physical space. Sounds complicated, looks cute!
I'll wind up here and leave you with a list of good links.
Lovely Yarns my local yarn store with some great knit graffiti out front: http://lovelyarns.com/
Yarnbombing Mandy and Leanne's site: http://www.yarnbombing.com/
Knitta one of the first and most well known inspirations to the genre: http://www.knittaplease.com/ABOUT.html
Masquerade their cozy of a mooring ring on a dock inspired me to start doing knit graffiti of my own, and I am forever indebted to @heyjakesollins as usual for introducing me to the idea: http://maskerade.blogsome.com/
And the Yarn Bombing Flickr Group
Of course I'm sure there are many, many other sites and taggers that get mentioned in the book. These are just the ones that I have been personally involved with in some way.
I definitely recommend this book for everyone interested in subcultures, street art, crafting, or radical action of any kind.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
It's great to have friends at the National Wildlife Federation. After posting my query, I received a speedy reply, and promptly went to Wikipedia and Botanical.com for scientific, historical and cultural information.
Answer: It turns out this plant is Verbascum thapsus L., or Great Mullein.
Mullein has many different historic uses. The leaves and flowers are smoked or taken as a tea to relieve chest problems and as a relaxing sedative. Like many herbs, the plant contains coumarin (a blood thinner) and is said to have antibacterial properties.
Very mullein-specific uses: The huge flower stalk was often dipped in tallow and used as a torch. The hairy leaves were stuffed into shoes for warmth.
Another interesting mullein fact is that the seeds of the plant contain the chemical rotenone, and were used by Native Americans to stun fish so they could be caught. It has been used as an organic insecticide, but I believe it was recently removed from the list of approved organic pesticides because of safety concerns. More info can be found on this Cornell site.
In any case, I'm planning on collecting some dried flowers, leaves, and seedpods from these plants. I'll most likely make the leaves and flowers into a tea, since there probably isn't enough material to distill an essential oil. I could make a tincture as well, but I've decided to make more teas than tinctures, since the tincture contains a lot of grain alcohol. The flowers can also be used in an herbal smoking mix. In any case, it's fun to collect this stuff now in case I need it around, and once it's dried or preserved in alcohol, the chemical properties will keep for a little while. Yet another jar in my steadily growing herbal collection.
I saw this plant as I was biking to work today down Old Falls Road. For those of you who don't live in Baltimore, Old Falls is a kind of wooded path that runs along the Jones Falls River, although "river" is putting it nicely, as you can imagine that the area is pretty overgrown with weeds, etc.
It does have some really awesome scenery though, like the Baltimore Streetcar Museum complete with streetcars and a little track, plus the decaying Maryland & Pennsylvania station with all kinds of weird parts like old gears, wheels, and entire rotting train cars. Now I'm thinking I should post photos soon..
In any case, anyone have an idea what this thing is? This is the biggest flower stalk I have ever seen. It definitely looks like an interesting plant. I actually rode by it on my bike and turned back around to get a better look. So happy I had my camera with me so I can Twitter my question to my friend at the National Wildlife Federation (hey @wildlife_watch!)
And if any of you horticultural folk want to school me on the proper term for "flower stalk" I'd love to know that too.
Here are a few close-ups:
Just remembered that I do have one photo of train parts from Old Falls Road. This wheel used to be buried under Paca St. and was used to pull the streetcars. One of my most favorite "public statues."
Monday, August 3, 2009
Last Saturday was the annual Baltimore City Gardens potluck. It was amazing! I took a ton of photos of the War Memorial/City Hall garden which you can see below.
This was my first year attending, and I was proud to bring a dish with vegetables exclusively from the Remington garden.
It's a coconut curry with potatoes, eggplant, and green beans. All I added was the coconut milk, red chili paste, fish sauce, some veggie broth, and a little sriracha (rooster sauce) for kick. Delicious!
As I was taking this photo, Remington Garden won 2nd place in the mid-size Baltimore Gardens contest!
Not only was the potluck a great way to celebrate community gardening, I also got to check out the plants in the War Memorial/City Hall plaza. Check out the row of corn next to the steps.
The Master Gardeners are really doing a great job, growing hundreds of pounds of produce from these tiny spaces where ornamental flowers and shrubs used to be. I am impressed!
I added the red cup for scale to show how enormous the leaves are. I could fit my fist inside one of the squash flowers, no problem. No wonder literally hundreds of pounds of produce are being delivered to city food banks from this garden!
Thursday, July 30, 2009
My question has to do with neighbor-community gardener relations. I spent yesterday at the Remington garden, where I go about once every two weeks to lend a hand weeding, watering, and picking vegetables in exchange for whatever produce is ready that day.
While digging up red potatoes and snapping off green beans with one of the main gardeners, one of the neighborhood women came over to see what we were doing. In the interest of connecting with the community, I began explaining to the woman which plants were what, how to harvest the potatoes, etc. I noticed that my friend was being very strange and curt with the woman, which made me curious, since we are all obviously for community interaction and all.
As the neighbor wandered away to look at some plants, my friend told me that she was notorious for taking things from the garden without ever coming by to help.
After the woman took a few yellow peppers right in front of us, I mentioned to her that we usually appreciate it if people help out with weeding and watering tasks before taking things from the garden. My friend has supposedly been telling her this since last year, so I don't know if it made any difference.
So, what do you urban gardeners do about these types of situations?
Do you find that only a certain type of person is interested in working in the garden, or do you have a mix of neighbors helping out?
Have you had an event that opens up the garden to the neighborhood and lets them know how to get involved?
All I've got to say is, keep an eye out for promotional contests on your favorite websites. You never know if you're going to win, and it's a lot of fun to get a package of free stuff waiting for you. Especially if that free stuff is a magazine with directions on how to make an off-the-grid laundry machine, recommends great urban homesteading books and blogs, and has all sorts of crazy inventions for hacker type projects that are way beyond my head.
All I had to do was respond to the discussion post, "Mid-Summer Making: What's Your Project?"
My response was picked at random from the other posted comments:
"Late July is way too hot and humid in Baltimore to cook, so I sliced my patty-pan squash very thin and marinated them in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and black pepper. The sourness of the vinegar is very refreshing, the fresh squash still maintain a bit of crunch, and the veggies are perfect as a side salad or on top of pretty much anything for a wonderful summer meal!"
I brought a jar of the marinated squash to the Foodmaker's Potluck last weekend, and I'm bringing another jar to a potluck tonight. It's a great potluck food because I don't have to worry so much about the food being hot or cold, and it's really easy to just toss into a canning jar instead of wrestling with a big tupperware container. For an on-the-go lady such as myself, a food that I can toss into my bag and easily carry around is a big plus.
Speaking of squash... zucchini bread!
The end of the week means time to pick up my CSA share of the week. Which usually means I'm scrambling to either can my excess food, make dinner for people, or am eating a lot of kale for breakfast. This time, I baked, which is usually not one of my strong suits. But the bread actually turned out quite fluffy and yummy!
I scanned over a lot of different zucchini bread recipes online, then kind of winged it using what I had in the house. A list of tips:
1. 3 cups of whole wheat flour. Most recipes I saw used a white/wheat blend, maybe added some oats, but I found that the wheat texture was fine.
2. Fat? Most recipes I saw called for oil, and I actually often bake with oil. But a friend of mine came into a ridiculous amount of extra margarine (let's just say that filming commercials produces a lot of waste sometimes), so even though I know that stuff is grosser than butter, I used it anyway. I'm curious if that's what made the bread more fluffy than usual. I think oil can make the texture dense? I creamed the butter together with brown sugar as if I were baking cookies.
3. Brown sugar and cardamom. Yum.
4. Share with friends. Preferably while playing Settlers of Catan and drinking a few brews.
Here's to squash, MAKE magazine, and internet contests! Also, thanks to Farm Aid for creating homegrown.org. Your "Eat Your Zip Code" pin is now on my bag.
Monday, July 27, 2009
But, as always, the Baltimore Foodmakers came through. And so did the weather- it was actually quite sunny, and we ended up sitting at a picnic table under the shade of a huge tree. With a deer bounding across the farm, birds flying all around, and little foodmakers climbing the trees, it was a very beautiful day. I even saw a snake, which was very exciting for me! (A black garden snake about three feet long, and you could even see a little lump where I guess it was digesting a bird or mouse or something. cooool.)
Plus conversations are always great, with lots of recipe swapping and discussions of various other making and building activities. Want to know what's the best clothesline to buy? What to do with beets? What a fresh walnut looks like and how to harvest them? (o.k. I guess I brought up that last topic! But they had walnut trees on the property and I just had to show everyone what walnuts look like. And they actually smell quite floral, which is interesting.)
So what do Baltimore Foodmakers bring to potlucks? Well...
- Vegan spanakopita (spinach pie)
- homemade mini baguettes
- tomato and peach salad w/ cilantro, red onion, and lime juice
- pickled cherries flavored with saffron and bay leaf (wow!)
- chicken pate (from the same woman with the cherries)
- hummus and fresh veggies
- patty pan squash marinated in balsamic vinaigrette
- potato and kale salad
Thursday, July 23, 2009
My neighbor is growing grapes right in Baltimore City! She lives about a block away from me, and these lovely things have been growing right up her fence in her tiny rowhouse backyard. I always admire them since I actually don't think I've ever seen fruiting grapevines before. And also they are directly across from my friend Stephanie's backyard where they are growing yellow cherry tomatoes. Mmmm!
Anyway, I parked my car right next to the grapes today and the lady was actually outside. So I stopped by to tell her how beautiful they are and how cool it is that she is growing grapes, and she plucked a whole bunch off to give them to me! She even said I could take leaves off whenever I want if I want to make dolmades or something. She said I could take grapes too but I'm not going to take all of her fruit. I'll probably bring her some Baltimore lavender, so maybe if there is a special occasion I'll grab another bunch.
These things were amazing. Seriously, the more I eat fruit/vegetables directly from the plant, the more I realize how different they taste from something that has been sitting in a refrigerated truck for days. I guess it's kind of like how when you pluck a flower, it's always so much prettier when it's on the plant than when it's been in a vase for a while.
The grapes were a lot smaller than "regular" green grapes- I actually thought they were going to be underripe. But the skin was tart and sweet, the flesh was seedless and exploded with sweetness. Very firm and fruity. I immediately ran around trying to find anyone I knew to share them with, since it's so much more fun sharing the experience with someone. I gave some to my neighbor and even ran into the liquor store on the corner to share them with some of the other neighborhood people I see on a weekly basis (yay Baltimore!). As always it was a pleasure to see them bite into the fruit somewhat suspiciously, and then to see the look of surprise as they realize how delicious the food is!
I also finally decided to harvest the black walnuts that are growing from this gigantic tree right next to my building. It's so weird because the nuts always fall into the parking lot and turn all black and mushy and seem like just some weird pest. No one ever thinks to open up those green fruits to get the nuts inside! Admittedly, it's a ridiculous amount of work to get to the walnuts and finally cure them, but you know me, I love a good project.
My fingers are definitely dyed yellowish-brown now (if anyone is looking for all natural dyes, please contact me!). I also got a ton of weird looks from people walking by. What, they've never seen someone banging open a hard green fruit with a wrench before?!
After about an hour of work I did the "float test" to see which nuts were good or not. The bad ones float, the good ones sink. I've heard mixed things about why this is; I'm not sure if it has to do with the fact that the nut goes bad if it stays inside the fruit for too long after it falls off the tree, or if there are bugs in it. Or if there isn't enough nutmeat?
In any case, 11 nuts floated, 5 nuts sank. Geez, like the essential oil, I am finding out how much work it takes to make certain products! Although I guess opening walnuts with actual machines is much easier than banging on them repeatedly with your brother's wrench..
In any case I plan on continually collecting these suckers whenever I feel like it. I believe they tree will be fruiting for the next month or even into early fall, so maybe in three months I'll have enough for a bag of trail mix!
Wow, never thought I would be collecting so much Hampden-grown produce!
A few weeks back when I started foraging for herbs, I started reading up on the qualities of these plants and their valuable uses as medicinal tinctures, healthful teas, antibacterial cleaners, and delicious scents. The plant's essential oil is at the heart of these uses, but it's very difficult to extract. Plus the machinery is very expensive.
I found a few DIY methods and was considering trying them, but then a friend of mine told me that he had a distiller that had been sitting in a box in his house for a year! We made a deal that if I set up the machine, I could use it too. Yay for friends with similar crazy interests!
After filling the "bio-flask" with about one liter of rosemary leaves, I came up with this scant 1/4 inch of oil:
Definitely makes you realize how valuable essential oil is. Of course, a by-product of the steam distillation process is "hydro-sol" which is the scented water that gets separated from the oil. From the liter of rosemary, I got about 12 ounces of hydrosol. I'm thinking about making it into a rosemary syrup for drinks. Or I could make a nice refreshing spray for my bed linens, or use it for the water in the laundry soap recipe.
Any other creative ideas?
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Are red wiggler worms invasive?
Just like kudzu, garlic mustard, or mile-a-minute can invade and prevent the growth of native plant species, non-native insects and other animals can take over local ecosystems. The questions of whether or not red wiggler worms could take over local ground hadn't really occurred to me until someone asked about it at Artscape.
I do keep the worms in a bin, but worms can get out (and I did dump my smelly compost in the woods that one time). I got worried for a minute, but considering that red wigglers prefer to live in decaying matter instead of soil, I didn't think that they would be able to live for very long in Maryland soil.
This site pretty much confirmed for me that an invasion of red wigglers isn't a concern:
Speaking of invasives, I think it would be so cool to become a "Weed Warrior." Basically you get trained to recognize invasive species, and then whenever you are taking a walk through the park you can help maintain the land. It would be even cooler to bring seed balls loaded with native plant seeds to leave in place after the invasive species have been dug up.
I will leave you with something fun I found when searching the term "Red Wiggler." There is a great farm in Montgomery County that employs folks with developmental disabilities. They have a CSA, a solar powered barn, and are having a tour THIS SATURDAY the 25th. Here's their blog for more details: http://www.redwiggler.org/
Monday, July 20, 2009
1. Making the soap in bulk is cheaper than buying it from the store (and it's less money to companies making tons of chemical products)
2. Less chemicals, dyes, and perfumes
3. You can reuse the same plastic container over and over, instead of buying a new one each month.
Here is a link to a site with great tips, troubleshooting questions, and price breakdown (although she did manage to find cheaper supplies, but it is an older website so perhaps prices have gone up...) http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/laundrysoap.htm
And here is the site where I purchased my laundry soap kit: http://www.soapsgonebuy.com
I was a cheap-ass and bought the less expensive kit with full bars of soap instead of the pre-grated kind. I'd say go ahead and splurge on the pre-grated, because Fels Naptha is a really hard soap, and grating it is really not that fun. Even if you do it while watching t.v.
There is another option too: I have seen Borax and Washing Soda in the laundry aisle at the Giant in Hampden (in the Rotunda). Your grocery store might have it too, or you might be able to get them to order it for you. Then you won't have to pay any shipping and handling fees.
One last tip: I am probably going to switch from Fels Naptha to a more natural castile soap (like Dr. Bronners). I found out after I bought all the soap that Fels Naptha does have a petroleum based solvent in it, according to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fels-Naptha. Castile soap is more expensive, but it will be worth it.
Although Fels Naptha does have another interesting use as poison ivy relief, and doesn't seem to bother this woman with sensitive skin.
Let me know how your experiments turn out!
If all goes well, I may have a table at a farmer's market in the future since lots of people are interested in this product, but not everyone has the time to make it.
Friday, July 17, 2009
And thanks to Marian for putting this show together. Isn't her "Do Something" sign great? Plus it's always exciting seeing your name in print :p
I'm starting to crash from the excitement high, my throat is a bit sore from talking so much, and I've been touching compost, grain alcohol tinctures, and soap all day. But it was totally worth it- there was definitely no other table at Artscape with these kinds of home sustainability projects. (There is apparently a girl baking with a solar oven, so I'm going to have to track her down tomorrow! Too rainy for much baking today anyway...)
I will now interrupt this broadcast with a photo of a garden in a shopping cart from the show's decorations (which will be donated to a community garden on Sunday:
As I expected from the wonderful public extravaganza that Artscape is, a great variety of folks stopped by the table. From expectant moms who wanted to know more about the all-natural cleaning powers of vinegar and baking soda, to apartment dwellers curious to learn more about small-space worm composting, to pros who help send solar ovens to Africa and work in community gardens.
My biggest surprise was that getting people to smell my homemade laundry soap was a real draw! I noticed a lot of folks really wanted to interact with the objects in some way. So I had them smelling the soap, the ginger plant shoots, the dried herbs. Everyone made pleasant "hmmm" sounds after smelling the soap, because it smells exactly like what you want laundry to smell like (hard to describe, but just imagine people making pleasantly surprised sounds :)
Sometimes I felt a little silly, like some kind of anti-chemical paranoid, because of all the natural cleaning stuff, but once I explained that my homemade stuff is also cheaper and uses less plastic containers, I felt more common-sensical, and I think I came across a little more like a smart consumer and less like a green freak. Although everyone was going crazy for
Of course, the container gardening was awesome as a display because it's so easy and also it's not really scary, at least not like composting or making your own cleaning supplies. It was nice to have a variety of projects for people, and fun to see which projects attracted people and why.
I got to answer a range of questions, from "Where's the best farmer's market in Baltimore?" to "Why did my compost get so smelly?" to "What's the best way to clean a greasy frying pan naturally?"
1. I like the main one under the Rt. 83 underpass because it's such a festival atmosphere and it smells good from the barbeque. Although it gets crowded, so go early.
2. Make sure you have enough air holes in your compost container, and make sure to rotate it to let air in. Also, mix in a lot of woody materials like paper or leaves.
3. Get a cast iron skillet. That way, no soap is needed- you can pour in boiling water, or scrub the pan with salt. The oil coating is actually good for the pan.
Anyway, I'm rambling and feel like I've only said about half of what I wanted to say. I'd post more photos but since the "green" section of Artscape is located in the parking garage, the photos turned out kind of poorly. Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny, so maybe they will turn out better. And maybe I'll get some solar-baked cakes to go with a smoothie made from a bike-powered machine!
And, even though it's a crappy photo, I post this to give you a general idea of my set-up (I swear, it looks much better in person!)
See you all tomorrow and Sunday!
Monday, July 13, 2009
Ah yes, mid-July in Baltimore. The main road outside my employment is blocked off for the week, electric cables are being hung for yards, and hundreds of white tents are being set up all around the city. And best of all, a year's worth of new public art sculptures are blooming!
I don't know if anything can beat last year's front porch/back porch interactive sculpture or the skateboard Pants Ramp, but I sure hope something will come close. (Disclaimer note: one of my brothers worked really hard on the Pants Ramp; he's the one *shredding hard* in the top photo).
If "you ain't from aroun' here" or are living in some kind of hole, check out the Artscape website for more details: http://www.artscape.org/index.cfm
And best of all, I'm going to have a table this year! I'll be across from the Charles Theater, along with a bunch of other green-focused groups. The general idea of the table will be: "Urban Sustainability." Mainly I am interested in showing the people of Baltimore how they can make some everyday, tangible steps towards living a more sustainable, healthy life. Even living in the city, we are still connected to the Earth!
Here are a list of the projects I'll be displaying:
Solar Oven My DIY version is made out of one of those reflectors you put in a car window to block the sunlight. Photos shall be posted soon- I have yet to try it out!
Compost Bin More description of my composting adventures can be found here: http://baltimorediy.blogspot.com/2009/05/down-with-worms-up-with-bokashi.html Brief update: I drilled a ton of air holes in my bin, which should help the compost be less smelly and break down better. Almost all of the worms are dead, but I found about 5 little guys in some of my potting soil (they're definitely red wigglers from the compost I added to the pot) so I put them into my bin. We'll see if they regenerate..
Canning Not that I expect everyone to become an instant home-maker or foodie, but I do want people to know that canning is not as hard as it seems! Plus it's a great way to store delicious food from your CSA or Farmer's Market year- round. See: http://baltimorediy.blogspot.com/2009/06/jam-making.html
Tinctures Gathered from herbs foraged right here in Baltimore City! http://baltimorediy.blogspot.com/2009/06/foraging-infusing-best-verbs-ever.html
Plus some basic facts about carrying reusable bags/bottles instead of using plastic, homemade natural cleaning products, and more!
Come stop by my table- I'd love to see you there! (Plus since I'll be single-handedly doing this Friday thru Sunday, please come by and lend a hand if you'd like. I'd love the support. Thanks!)
Friday, July 10, 2009
If you are reading this website, you've probably already heard about Food,Inc., the documentary that exposes the dirty industrial secrets of the food industry. I saw it last night at the Charles Theater, and although I am obviously already one of the converted, I am glad I did.
The film was mainly a broad overview of how power has become concentrated and corrupted in the food industry, set to a montage of animals being mutilated, brightly synthetic packages in the grocery store, and endless fields of genetically modified corn and soy. While it was pretty depressing, it also made me believe more than ever in our power as consumers.
Case in point about how the film could/should have been ended with more positive footage: After the film was over, the woman sitting behind me with her husband and son started crying because "she felt so powerless." These kind of exposé films often make us feel so overwhelmed, we become paralyzed instead of motivated.
So I turned around and started talking to her about the CSA I joined and how happy it makes me. It's so easy to subvert the usual food system. Although it costs a little more than supermarket food, I believe that if there's one thing you should spend money on, it's the food you put inside you.
Why I love my CSA:
1. It costs less than one month of my rent and I get fresh, healthy, organic, vegetables for six months.
2. I notice the seasons a lot more!
3. I remember what "real" food tastes like (a tomato in July is totally different than some fake, watery, pinkish thing-- the "idea of a tomato" it's called in the film-- in November)
3. I appreciate farm workers and the Earth a lot more
4. My food travels less mileage, hence less gas use (War in Iraq, anyone?)
Just by CHANGING HOW WE SPEND OUR MONEY, we can heal any number of issue from the inside-out. From how business is structured (supporting small local economies), to the healthcare system (obesity epidemic, anyone?!), to the environment (like tons of chicken manure flooding the Chesapeake Bay).
Let me tell you, eating delicious local food is soo much better than marching in the streets, signing petitions, or holding teach-ins. And more effective, since $$$$ is the only argument that the powers-that-be listen to anyway.
I could go into a long synopsis here about ammonia in hamburgers made out of hundreds of different cows, genetically modified soy, farmers being sued by Monsanto for saving heirloom crop seeds. But if you're interested in any kind of environmental, social, or political justice at all you've probably already come across the food industry and the way it totally destroys the health of the planet.
So, instead of getting frustrated, become a responsible consumer. The companies are only selling what we're buying.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
As always, all ages are welcome! Please bring a dish to share, along with your own eating and serving utensils.
ReadyMade has a really great article about food projects for picnics. I really want to try this coffee-can ice cream! It looks easy, super fun, and very yummy:
With the Hamilton Street Festival on July 25th and the potluck on the 26th, it's sure to be a fun and busy weekend!
Monday, June 29, 2009
From rain barrel workshops to volunteer clean-ups, Parks & People has got it goin' on! Last Friday 6/26, they hosted an Urban Apiaries workshop in Hamilton.
Although I don't think I quite have the space or commitment right now to pick up bee-keeping as a hobby, it's still wonderful to learn about these amazing creatures. It was fun to see the equipment and the beehive, plus the gentlemen giving the workshop were very friendly and knowledgeable (Sara, please help me out with their names!).
More pictures of the workshop are on my Flickr page here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whistlesfarandwee/sets/72157620559516359/
Cool bee facts:
1. Drone bees feed a larvae royal jelly to make the larvae a queen bee. Several queens are created at the same time in this method. The first queen to emerge from her cell injects her stinger into the unhatched queen cells, thus killing her competition and becoming the reining queen. Whew! I thought high school was harsh ;p
2. 3/8" is called Bee Space. It is a measurement known by carpenters, and is the ultimate width a bee needs to move in a space. If the passageway is too big, the bee will make honeycomb in the area . If the passageway is too small, the bee will seal it up with propalis. 3/8" and the bee will crawl easily within the space.
3. Propalis is another product that bees create, other than collected pollen and honey. It is created as the bees process tree sap and use it in construction of their hive.
There was also a great community garden in the yard, so I got to check out some broom corn (used for making brooms of course), passionfruit vines (the leaves are edible and have a really wonderful kind of spinach-y taste), plus beets, nasturtiums, carrots, and all that other great stuff.
My friend Adam showed me a passionfruit flower (above), and I still can't believe how unreal and beautiful it is! He told me each flower is identical too, right down to the same number of hairs around the center of the flower. Wow! (I am really wishing I had the vocabulary to describe all of the parts of the flower right now). I had no idea that passionfruit would grow in this area either. Apparently last year the fruit never quite matured, but perhaps it will this year! Mmm, can't wait to try it. Perhaps there will be some jam?
The bee box that was displayed at the workshop is now part of that community garden, so I'm excited to head up to Hamilton in the near future to check it out some more. Plus there is a new Farmer's Market up there on Tuesdays, which is yet another reason to take the short 10 minute drive north! (One day I will bike it...)
I'll leave you with a fun bee-keeping activity for anyone with a coffee can and a few hollow bamboo sticks or dowels: Build a bee-box! This project of course will attract more solitary bees than the honeybee hive type, but they are useful pollinators nonetheless.
The picture below is from this Flickr page and shows a simple coffee-can and bamboo method, but typing "build bee box" in Google will of course turn up a number of different methods.
Start the BUZZ!
Friday, June 26, 2009
Berry season is winding to a close and the tomatoes and squash haven't appeared quite yet. Which means that beets, kale, and other hardy all-season greens are the order of the day. Last week's pickup from the CSA included:
- THREE kinds of Swiss Chard (rainbow, red, and green)
- red leaf lettuce
The non-greens were:
- beets (of which I also eat the greens)
- garlic skapes (which are green in color & are more of a flavoring than a veggie)
Perhaps I will turn into the Jolly Green *Fairy*? (those of you who know my 3-D self know I could NEVER be considered a giant by any stretch ;p )
Anyway, I've been trying to cram as much of this stuff into jars as I can, to preserve it for a season when I will actually be in lack of local greens (although it's quite hard to imagine right now!)
The photo above is some pesto that I made with the spinach and arugula. It was kind of bitter to the taste, so I added a bit of lemon juice, sea salt, and even a little sugar. Perhaps the raw elephant garlic added to the bitterness? Maybe I should have cooked it first. In any case, I think the sugar helped. The jar is such a beautiful color!
I also made some awesome looking saurkraut with the head of cabbage last night. Interesting tip: an empty beer bottle makes a really fabulous pestle for pounding the cabbage into the Ball jar! All I did was:
1. Slice the cabbage thin, then pound a layer in the jar.
2. Add a sprinkle of sea salt, then another layer of cabbage. Pound again.
3. You want the liquid to come out of the cabbage.
4. When you reach the top, add a bit of water or brine to cover the cabbage.
5. Everything I read said to weight down the cabbage until it is submerged in the brine. Plastic bag filled with water, or a plate covered with rocks was recommended the most. However, renegade that I am, I pounded down the cabbage with the beer bottle pretty good, so it didn't really float above the water, and I didn't use any weights. I'm just going to rubber-band a towel or something around the top of the jar to let it all ferment. (Oops, just realized I have a lid on the jar now- once that thing starts really fermenting it might explode!)
6. Let jar sit on counter for 4-6 weeks. Yum.
Pickled beets are pretty amazing too (and THEY'RE NOT GREEN! DEAR GOD THANK YOU FOR SOMETHING OF ANOTHER COLOR! heehee ). So sweet and pretty little things- can't wait to get more this week! Perhaps I'll have the "recipe" for those soon, although it's about as simple as the sauerkraut recipe.
I recommend a CSA highly! So much more satisfying than going to the farmer's market and feeling like a rube, since some of that food isn't really seasonal, or has to be slightly higher in $. A great way to get in touch with the seasons and your local land!
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I mainly celebrated the beginning of summer by cleaning out a lot of old failed projects. Sadly, I've realized that I never should have started my mushroom kit on April 22. I did get one amazing mushroom but then it quickly got too hot, and the mushrooms failed to grow.
Also, my worm compost wasn't doing that great. Lack of airholes in my bin = very SMELLY compost. Plus there were way too many flies in there. I tried to rescue it all (pic to the right is me trying to air it out) but in the end I just dumped it all in the woods.
You might have noticed the potato stalks on top of the compost above. My beautiful potatoes that I posted about in May got spider mites a few weeks ago. So I started ripping out the plants to get rid of them. But lo and behold, there was a potato growing on one of the stalks! (top photo) So, I found that I had a mix of failure and success. Perfect blend for the turning of the seasons. Saved the last few worms from the compost too and started them in a new bin, so hopefully they will survive too.
The potato stalks I had already ripped out got thrown into the woods with the rest of the stinky compost and the failed mushroom kit. I'm hoping once the weather cools down in the fall, maybe I'll go back to that spot in the woods to find a few volunteer potatos and mushrooms. Maybe for the Fall Equinox...
Monday, June 22, 2009
Sustainable Energy Strategies
Saturday, June 27
8:30 am - 3:30 pm
Heathcote Community, Freeland, MD
Permaculture offers practical strategies for addressing the problems of peak oil and climate change. Learn about energy conservation, renewable energy systems, and appropriate technology. The workshop includes a hands-on solar siting exercise and a solar cooker demonstration.
Green Building and Community Design
Sunday, June 28
8:30 am - 3:30 pm
Heathcote Community, Freeland, MD
This workshop will cover energy efficient building design, techniques for building with natural materials, and strategies for designing sustainable communities ranging in size from small ecovillages to cities. The workshop includes a tour of Heathcote Community’s new strawbale residence and a cob building demonstration.
Tuition is a sliding scale, $60-$100. Work exchange and financial aid is available. For more information or to register contact Karen Stupski at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-357-9523. For information about Heathcote see www.heathcote.org.
Workshop co-sponsors are School of Living, Heathcote Community, Dancing Green, Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, Herring Run Watershed Association, and Gaia MARC.
Our residential immersive Permaculture Design Course scheduled for July 17-August 2! For a full course description see: http://www.livingmandala.com/Living_Mandala/Heathcote_Permaculture_Design_Course_09.html
Monday, June 15, 2009
Iranians are able to use their own voice to describe their experience, rather than relying on foreign journalism. The result has a certain electric quality that can't be denied. These tweets from @persiankiwi are personal favorites:
people pouring into alleyways. running everywhere. can hear people on rooftops. #Iranelection
we are now several people. we have 4 computers running. 2 men out with camcorders. #Iranelection
No press releases, no advertising, no big companies involved, just pure undiluted DIY information. Even the mainstream media is turning to Twitter as an ultimate news source.
All you have to do is click on the #IranElection hashtag for a stream of diverse commentary. I wanted an example of mainstream news referring to the Internet, and found one in about 5 seconds:
@Wince_Meet Keep tweeting IRAN! They are reading them on CNN. BE HEARD across the WORLD! #IranElection Please re re re tweet! #IranElection
It's all about spreading the word. Sometimes I worry about whether or not people without access to the Internet will be closed out of the rapidly connecting modern world. But then I read an article about Indian farmers using cell phones or read the Iranian tweets where they are still managing to get Internet somehow in the middle of all this chaos. As someone tweeted this morning: "Cultural changes are right in front of our eyes."
Above image posted on: http://twitpic.com/7gtbu
UPDATE: 6/16/09 Report from the Associated Press
I woke up this morning to read more news about the crackdown on the media in Iran. Journalists are being silenced and foreign reporters are leaving the country.
"Authorities restricted journalists, including Iranians working for foreign media from reporting on the streets, and said they could only work from their offices, conducting telephone interviews and monitoring official sources such as state television.
Also Tuesday, foreign reporters in Iran to cover last week's elections began leaving the country. Iranian officials said they will not extend their visas."
Just reinforces my awe of how information is spread today, the viral nature as it spreads from anyone with a cell phone and a satellite. In situations like this, it's so powerful to see the people regain their own voice.
* The Future is Now!
Thursday, June 11, 2009
For example, I always thought that there were just random ornamentals planted at the base of this statue on Mt. Royal. Turns out, someone has planted an entire herb garden there!
It looks very wild and untended, and is just beautiful. It was nice to look around at all the great varieties to get out of my boring basil-sage-mint box.
The plants were already flowering heavily and are really bushy, so I thought it would be fine for me to get some clippings.
Check out the bounty! The oregano and rosemary smell divine, and I think the pale green stuff is some kind of mint, but I'm not positive. There is a little bit of sage, but most of the leaves were gigantic. I'll probably go back to collect a bunch for burning or other shamanic type uses. You'll forgive me, I guess hanging up all sorts of aromatic herbs and mixing them into various brews has got me feeling a little magical!
Tea with the mint was pretty good, and the oregano and rosemary are hanging up in my sunny window to dry.
Can't wait to toss them into a bottle of olive oil and into a bottle of vinegar to infuse. In addition to flavored oils and vinegars, I'm also hoping to make a sugar syrup with some bee balm. And maybe even some rosemary flavored vodka or something!
The herbal infusions will make really great gifts, and are also perfect to trade for other cool items like sourdough starter or canning jars or something.
There were a bunch of other plants that I am relatively unfamiliar with. One of them is yarrow (pictured left). Such an amazing sounding plant! Not that I totally subscribe to herbs as a definite cure-all, but I do believe that they can be used in mild ways as general health aids.
Yarrow has the typical properties of many herbal medicines, and was historically used to help stop bleeding. It also contains salicylic acid, which is a component of aspirin.
Starlings use it to help line their nests; it's supposed to prevent parasites, and can be chopped up and infused into 100 proof alcohol to make a mosquito repellant. It's even an ingredient in many European beers (according to http://www.herbvideos.com/yarrow.htm ).
There were three plants that I wasn't sure about, and I'm excited to find out more. Any identification help would be much appreciated! Here's the link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/whistlesfarandwee/3617368018/in/set-72157619518404225/
Can't wait to start drying and making infusions with these herbs. Please let me know if you are interested in trading for them! Can't believe that it's all totally free & foraged. Oh, the bounty of the city...
UPDATE: Around 3:30, I took a quick break from hours of making photocopies at the office. It's nice to take a little walk in the late afternoon for a pick-me-up. On my way, I snapped off a little piece of the yarrow flowers with a bit of stem mixed in, and chewed it as I walked. Had a very plant-y, flower-y taste, as opposed to the strong aromatics of a mint, oregano, or basil.
Am definitely noticing some slight effects, but they are kind of hard to describe. (As always, I am afraid I am creating some kind of 'placebo effect' in my mind.) However, I do notice that I feel that general "heightened sensation" sense that comes with any drink of alcohol, caffeine, or other intoxicating drug. I got that same feeling of increased blood flow to my cheeks and arms. Perhaps the effect is similar to taking an aspirin? Coffee has been making me feel vaguely out of sorts by the end of the day, but I do notice that I feel much less of an edge right now. There was also some definite movement in my sinuses; I've had a dry cough and some stuffiness, and I actually felt some clearing happening, and no coughing at all. Just thought you all would be interested in a little observational research. I'm curious to hear about your own experiences.