Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Regifting is not a sin, Jesus does it every year.

Now before you chastise me for the title of this post let me explain.

This year, my family and I spent Christmas at my grandma's house in Sacramento.  It was really fun. We played a ton of games, shelled 44 pounds of walnuts (a Christmas tradition,) recycled the classic jokes about being Portuguese, and talked about family members who are gone from this earth but not from our hearts.  We ate till we couldn't see straight and reminisced about what it felt like to feel hunger.  It was awesome. 

Our family is not religious.  My dad was raised Catholic and my sister and I were baptized but that's the extent of my religious upbringing.  Though I'm sure my grandma would love it if we went to church with her, she understands and doesn't bother us about it.  So, like a good Catholic, she went to mass on Christmas morning while the rest of us stayed behind and got breakfast ready.  She came home, and we did our Christmas morning as usual. 

During lunch, someone brought up the concept of regifting.  We discussed whether it was good or bad and decided it can be a great thing if all the circumstances are right.  First, the item being gifted has to be a wanted item.  Shawn once got a package of socks from his grandpa that he had already opened and decided they didn't fit.  It was clearly an afterthought, and therefore was a bad way to regift something.  Second, the gift has to be from someone who either will never know of the regifting, or from someone who didn't put much effort into the gift and will not care if it was regifted.  And lastly, it has to be an item that the recipient has a need for or can appreciate.

An example of the last two requirements is the Christmas gift that my sister's BF gave to his mother.  The company that both he and Shawn work for gives out annual gifts to all its employees.  Last year it was an ice cream maker, this year it was a box of a bunch of random locally made goods.  There were cookies, toffee, and pretzels, as well as a hand-carved ruler and a picture frame.  Do the boys have any need for this stuff?  Not really.  My sis's BF was already planning on getting his mother a gift of Seattle-based goods anyway so this was perfect.  They printed a picture of the two of them and  put it in the picture frame, wrapped the box, and away it went to Alabama where a very excited mother awaited.

See, regifting isn't always evil.  It's good for the pocketbook and if the recipient is happy there is no harm done.  An item that is not useful to one person is given a new life and adopted by someone else, putting some relief to the the ever-growing problem of us all having too much stuff.  I can justify anything in the name of sustainability.  And who says that you have to spend money to give someone something they can appreciate?

Ok, back to the Jesus thing.  So right after this conversation about regifting, my grandma changed the subject by asking us why we have Christmas in the first place.  (They had asked the kids this during mass that day.)  We responded with, "well, it's Jesus' birthday."  Then she asked us why we get gifts for someone else's birthday.  After all us heathens looked at each other blankly for a few seconds she replied "because Jesus is very generous and he wants us to have his gifts."

To which my dad quickly responded with, "he just regifting."

Judging by the amount of laughter this caused, including from my grandma, I'm guessing this will become an annual family joke from here on out.  Hopefully this explains away the title of this post, and if not, explains the kind of sense of humor my family appreciates.

Hopefully, your holiday season was filled with silly jokes and fun times as well.

An accurate portrayal of the chaos that ensues when 8 people try to shell 44 pounds of walnuts.
Awesome chicken quilt made by my Auntie Martha.  Yes, my parents are dorks.  That's why I am too.

Cleaning Clothes with Science!

About a year ago, I read and reviewed a cool book from New Zealand about a lady who went completely chemical-free in her home.  She handmade all cleaning and personal beauty products and eventually made a living off of it.

Since reading the book, I too have slowly starting phasing out chemical products in my home.  I haven't bought toilet bowl cleaner since then, as well as all-purpose surface cleaner and glass cleaner.  All of these things have been replaced by the very cheap and effective team called baking soda and vinegar.  It's been awesome.  Not only are these things super cheap (I buy baking soda by the pound now, just 2 bucks!) but it feels good knowing that these cheaper options are also much less harmful to the earth as well as all the lovely inhabitants of my home.

Yesterday, I took the next step and made my own laundry detergent.  The recipe I used is a combination of the recipe in the aforementioned book as well as other instructions I've read in earth-friendly blogs:

I used Boraxo, not Borax, I hope it works.
1 cup washing soda
1 cup borax
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 bar of soap, finely grated  (this comes to about a cup)

Mix 'em all up and use 1/4-1/2 cup per load in a top loading machine.  (The water needs to be warm or hot to melt the soap.)  More efficient side loading machines only have to use 2-3 tablespoons.

I made a small batch this time to make sure I liked it, and next time I'll make a larger batch.  The soap I used was Dr. Bronner's, made of all fair-trade ingredients, and I got the rose-scented one since that's Shawn's favorite smell.  The borax I had left over from our epic ant-war of 2008, and the baking soda... well duh.  The biggest problem was the Washing Soda.

Before I go into the deets of my quest for this elusive product let me tell you a little bit about it.

Washing soda is Sodium Carbonate, or Na2CO3.  (The science nerd part of my brain is totally excited right now.)  It can naturally be extracted from the ashes of plants, but is synthetically produced though a process called the Solvay Process from salt and limestone.  Washing Soda is used in all different kinds of ways, from making glass to developing film, and browning German pretzels to getting all the tissue off of skulls in taxidermy.  (OMG, so cool!)  The reason it works so well in laundry is because it's a natural water softener, by competing with the calcium and magnesium ions in hard water which prevent laundry detergent from working.  By doing all this, it helps get out grease, alcohol, and oil stains.  (My head just exploded with the awesomeness.)  Washing soda to the rescue!  It's a bird, it's a plane, it's WASHING SODA!

This basically explains why I went through all the trouble of getting this stuff.  I had a feeling it wouldn't be easy to find, since I've never seen or heard of it before I read about it in the book.  A little bit of research online resulted in a lot of old discussions on blogs of people asking where they can get it.

I started my quest at Central Market to no avail.  I didn't see it on the shelves, so I got home and called them just in case, but the lady had never heard of it so I knew they didn't have it.  The people at QFC, Fred Meyer in Shoreline, or Safeway had never heard of it either, (they all responded with: "washing.... soda....?") so I felt a little sad that maybe my laundry detergent dreams were never going to be fulfilled.  Then I read online that someone found it at Fred Meyer in Ballard so I called them and the got the response of "oh yeah, we have it.  It's right next to the borax in the laundry detergent aisle."  YES!

So I drove to Ballard and got it.  And I was happy.

I calculated the price of this detergent to see if it was cost efficient compared to just buying it, and came up with the price of this home-made kind to be about 28 cents per load.  Compare that with a similar earth-friendly detergent that is 35 cents a load, and I think I have a reason to keep doing this!

The results?  It's totally awesome.  The clothes were not only clean but they smelled like.... nothing!  All the usual smells that accompany well-worn clothing was gone.  If you're the type to want your clothes to smell all perfumey, then you might want to add some essential oils to the recipe but I like it when my clothes smell like nothing.  To me, that's clean.  And they seemed softer too, but that may just be something I wanted to notice.  Either way, I'm happy with the results and will make a bigger batch next time. 

Added note:  Even if you don't want to go through the trouble of making detergent, adding washing soda to your regular load with regular detergent will make your detergent work better, thus resulting in you having to use less detergent.  So if you find yourself in Ballard, you should pick some up.  Just saying.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sometimes an egg has twins

So remember the awesomely large egg that Elsa gave us last week?  Totally a double-yolker.  Man, do I know my chickens or what?  Shawn did some research last night about them, and I guess it happens to young pullets who are new to laying eggs and are still figuring out their laying patterns/cycles.  It is likely to stop happening once it's all figured out, but there are some hens who will continue laying them periodically.  Oh, the complications and beauty of being a woman...

Don't mind the broken yolk.
I hope we get more.  They're so fun.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


I think a goose sneaked into our chicken coop yesterday.  See below.

One of these eggs is not like the others...
The look on Shawn's face says it all.

And the best part?  It's an Elsa egg.  All of the past ones from her have been small and dainty.  And then this monster showed up.  It's so big and heavy I laughed out loud when I picked it up, and I can barely get my hand around it.  We're wondering if it's a double-yolker.  I'll let you all know when we crack it open.  Of course, today's egg was back to normal size.  

This makes me happy. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pie Crust Problem Solving

I hate prepping pie crusts.  This is a problem if you bake as much as I do.  I always end up fighting with them and worry about working them too much and making them tough.  I don't like getting pie crusty fingers and the worst is getting it under my nails.  It gives me the heebie jeebies.  They always fall apart on me and the mess that it creates (bowl, rolling pin, bread board, etc.) is just too much.  I usually pass the task off on to my sister since she doesn't seem to hate it as much as I do. 

BUT!  I found a recipe for a no-knead, easy peasy pie crust that creates no mess at all.  What?!  Are you serious?!  Totes people, totes.

Some believers in true pie crusts made from lard/butter/shortening may think this is a travesty.  I have yet to introduce the idea to my grandmother, the pie-making buddha.  But I think it's awesome.  The recipe listed is a little wonky so here is what I did:

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbs milk

Place all ingredients in a 9 inch pie pan.  Mix together to make a dough, then use your fingers to pat it into the bottom and sides of the pan evenly.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, then continue on your way and make your pie as usual, like nothing changed.  That's it.  Super cool.  Did I mention no mess, aka no cleanup?

The reviews for the pie crust say that it was a little salty and better used for savory pies, but I think if you cut back on the salt (which I did in the above recipe anyway,) and added more sugar it should work for desserts too.  Also, the original recipe says to use vegetable oil, but I'm on the team that thinks vegetable oil tastes like satan's pee pee so I rarely use it.  But for desserts it might be a good idea to find an oil with a more mild or dessert friendly flavor.

Why did I make a pie crust in the first place?  Duh.  Quiche.

Just in case you're curious, here are the ingredients for the quiche:

4 eggs
1 cup milk
several handfuls of spinach, torn apart
a quarter of an onion, chopped
1/3 cup of shredded Jarlsberg cheese
1/2 cup of shredded Colby Jack (for sprinkling on top)
2 Field Roast smoked apple sausages (sliced)
garlic salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the non liquidy ingredients together and pour into pie crust.  Mix the liquid ingredients together in a separate bowl with the salt and pepper and pour over the other stuff into the crust.  Top with some cheese and bake in a 375 degree oven for 30-45 minutes.  It might be a good idea to protect the edges of the crust with foil so it doesn't burn.

Will definitely make this again this week.
I don't normally toot my own horn, but damn, that was a good quiche!  And the crust made it even better.  It was a little more fluffy and thicker than a normal pie crust, but it had such good flavor, I didn't care.

(Oh, and using the above recipe in a sweet dessert pie should be just fine.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Nog Dilemma

To cook or not to cook?  I still have this question.  For this first batch of egg nog, I decided to go with the non-cooked kind since I know my eggs are safe.  (I made them extra safe by dunking them in boiling water for 20 seconds each to kill off any possible salmonella on the shells.)

So yeah.  It's the holidays.  Like every year they have totally snuck up on me and I have to remind myself to get festive.  So I stare at our Christmas tree to try to get in the spirit.  We've been drinking a lot of store bought egg nog, (by the way, Twin Brook creamery nog is the BEST,) which has helped but I decided to go one step further and make some of it myself.

Looking up recipes online was confusing.  There are a ton of recipes out there and some are just too much trouble.  Not only are some cooked, but some have beaten eggs whites mixed in (which sounds gross because I don't like drinking things that could be considered "frothy",) and some have so much cream that I have a heart attack thinking about it.  I also don't partake in the consumption of alcoholic beverages, so a bunch of other recipes were out.

So I looked at several recipes just to get an idea and came up with my own.  I decided to make a smaller batch first, and make adjustments if necessary.

4 eggs
4 cups milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar (rounded, so there's a little more)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
a dash or two of cinnamon
a dash of salt

Directions:  Beat the eggs with a hand mixer then slowly add the sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg.  Once mixed well, add milk, one cup at a time.  Chill, and enjoy!

The frothiness dies down pretty quick.
How does it taste?  Awesome.  I'm having hard time not drinking the whole batch.  Oh, and our nutritionist neighbor told us that the cholesterol in eggs is made worse by cooking the yolks.  Since these yolks are raw, you can drink this guilt free!  Even awesomer.  Happy holidays!

(Maybe I could just drink the whole batch and just make more to replace it... then no one would know...)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nutty Cheesy Pesto Rolls

Last week I found a small batch of shiso pesto that I made a month ago, looking sad and lonely in the back of the 'fridge.  I also had a handful of pumpkin seeds on hand that needed to be taken care of.  Add these things to some carbs and cheese and I had a feeling they wouldn't be so lonely anymore: Nutty cheesy pesto rolls to the rescue!

First was the dough:

1 cup warm milk
Half a stick of butter
2 tsp yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
4 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs

Heat the milk until the butter is just melted and add to the premixed yeast, sugar, and salt.  (Make sure the milk is around the happy yeasty temp of 115 degrees.) Let sit for 10 minutes to make sure the yeasts are still active.  Add a cup of flour and mix in.  Drop in the eggs and mix.  Add the flour one cup at a time until the desired consistency is reached.  Let rise in a warm place for about an hour or until the volume has doubled.

Knead the dough for a few minutes.  Let rest of 10 minutes while you get the other stuff ready: plesto (shiso or basil, whatever works,) grated cheese like cheddar, feta, and parmesan, and pumpkin seeds.  Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick.  Spread the pesto evenly across the dough and then sprinkle seeds and cheese evenly on top.  Roll up into a log and slice into 1 1/2 inch lengths using a super sharp knife or flavorless dental floss.

Line on a 13 x 9 inch greased baking pan and bake in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

I actually made a batch and a half of the above dough and made cinnamon rolls too.  Delicious.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Urban Bird Watching

Ever since my year of living in the forest, I've loved birds.  They are so fun to watch, they do amazing things and there's so many of them you can never get bored with them.  And who doesn't like to hear bird songs and calls?

Living in the forest, I was surrounded by birds of many species and often times there were so many calls and sightings that it was hard to keep track of it all.  Living in the city, one has to work a little harder to enjoy birds, but that doesn't mean it can't happen.  I am lucky enough to live in an area where I have a yard and some green space a couple blocks away.  For this reason, I am able to do lots of bird watching from inside my house.

Ever since we put down grass seed, there have been tons of dark-eyed juncos enjoying the fruits of my and Shawn's labor.  Other birds that frequent our backyard include:

* Crows (yes, very common, but have you ever really sat down and watched them?  They're fascinating.)
* American Robins
* Steller's Jays
* Northern Flickers
* House Finches
* Black-capped chickadees
* Red-Breasted Nuthatches
* Spotted towhees
* Anna's Hummingbirds
* Bushtits
* Brown Creepers
* House Sparrows and European Starlings (grrr... invasives.)

There are also the quintessential lines of small holes made by red-breasted sapsuckers on our apple tree so I know at one point those were in our backyard also.  I also regularly see glaucous-winged gulls, rock doves, and this summer even heard and saw some cooper's hawks flying around.  In Hamlin park, (the park about 10 blocks away,) Shawn and I got to see a Barred Owl hunting down a squirrel.  Though also non-native, I really appreciate the Barred Owl.  I've also seen Bald Eagles and Red-tailed hawks perched on the trees at Jackson Park golf course and half a block from my house.

So there you go.  Birds are awesome.  I keep a pair of binoculars on the window sill just in case something cool stops by.  Yes, most of the birds on my list are super common and are not as cool to some.  But does a bird being common make them any less amazing?  So take a look outside, I think you'll be amazed and impressed by who you share your home with.

Me and my bad hair with a barred owl baby.  Only at IslandWood.
P.S.  Here's a low quality video.  I took it from inside the house.  And the creepy voice in the background is just Skipper calling me garbage.

P.P.S.  Seattle has tons of amazing parks that have some resident birds.  Some of them include: Carkeek, Magnusson, Seward, and Lincoln.  You should go.  With binoculars.  And maybe a bird guide.


Friday, November 25, 2011


Keeping "free range" chickens is awesome.  It's really fun watching them scratch around and it feels really good to see them finding food in the most miniscule microscopic items found in the lawn, as well as using the unwanted weeds as forage also.  The downside to all this free food and free weeding/pest control is that the ladies don't know where to stop.  They first eat the weeds and the grubs, then they scratch deeper for smaller bugs, eat the grass, and once those are gone, will keep digging for more.  They have those crazy big feet with crazy big talons and they know how to use them.  Since we got the ladies nearly a year and a half ago, they have slowly but surely destroyed over half our lawn. 

Now I am a strong believer in lawn alternatives for your yard.  Lawn is a really rediculous idea when it comes to the environment.  It's a monoculture that requires lots of herbicides to keep it weed and moss free, tons of water to keep it green in the summer months, and it provides absolutely no benefits to our natural environment.  One of my readings in grad school said that "the American lawn is an ecological disaster."  When I read this, I thought YES!

But I digress.  Logically, I shouldn't really care if my chickens destroy my lawn.  The problem is, it's not my lawn.  It my landlord's lawn, and I doubt she shares my viewpoints of it's presence being en ecological disaster.  Since there is chance that we will be moving out of this house in the next year or so, repairing the backyard needs to start now.

This leads to the title of this post.  No more complete control of the backyard for the ladies.  Clever rigging of random fences has restricted them to a small portion of the backyard that includes their favorite foraging area, the compost pile.  We've also let them have the garden area since that's pretty much finished.

Naked kale to the left.
They took no time in stripping the leftover broccoli and kale plants down to their bones and should start working on the smaller stuff soon.  Their poop should fertilize the soil and hopefully some bad bugs and weeds will get consumed.  They really love scratching around in there, so I don't think these new boundaries are bothering them much.

Once sequestered, Shawn and I had a chance to survey the real damage.  And there's a lot of it.  Any and all areas that had a nice layer of moss are now completely bald, (I really like moss as an alternative to grass.  Less water requirements, and it naturally suppresses weeds.) and the whole area under the fruit tress are pretty much cleared.  Those bitches...

Spot #1 of at least 4 areas to be restored.
Today we started the grass reseeding process.  We waited until all the bushes and trees dropped their leaves, which happened this week thanks to the storm.  We loosened up the top inch or two of soil and sprinkled seed.  Hopefully a sprinkling of soil over the top of the seeds will protect them a bit from the sure onslaught of tiny birds coming to eat the seed in the next couple weeks.

This whole lawn thing had really caused me some stress and sleepless nights.  I know, it's silly, but our landlord is really opinionated about her lawn and likes to see a nice one.  Hopefully this reseeding works and I'll be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Moral of the story: Chickens are tiny bulldozers.  They will destroy all.

P.S.  Sorry for the lack of posts as of recently, I got a mini job that has kept me busy.  But now that I'm getting into the swing of my new schedule, I should be back again.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Heirloom Seed-Saving

This past gardening season, I ordered my seeds from Uprising Seeds in Acme (Bellingham), WA.  I went with them because they sell organic, heirloom varieties, and sell seeds from plants that are accustomed to our cooler, shorter summers.  This also guaranteed that they were not GMO's and that seed saving would be a possibility. 

Saving seeds from GMO or hybrid varieties generally results in weaker offspring.  GMO seeds are created to have the highest yield for the first year but have weak genes.  Heirloom varieties are old breeds that have been bred year after year, for many generations, and are open-pollinated, thus resulting in "true" seeds.  The bottom line is seeds saved from heirloom plants are likely to be successful year after year.

Anyway, saving seeds is generally pretty easy.  You just have to think about how a plant would reproduce in nature.  Think to yourself, what would this plant do if I just went away and left it alone?  The plant will flower and be pollinated by bees, then a fruit will be produced that will either be eaten by something, or fully mature and fall off the plant or dry out.  That's when the seeds are ready.  That's when you should collect them to save for next year.

With beans and plants that produce an actual pod (like broccoli) this is easy.  You just wait for the pod to dry.  These are the broccoli pods I harvested.  I'll just collect a bunch of these and put them in a little paper pouch and store them in a cool, dry place until spring.

(The only concern I have with these seeds is whether they will be "true" or not.  They were next to some other brassica plants that were also flowering so I hope they don't become hybrids.)

Green beans, peas, and broccoli: food potential for next year.
With tomatoes it gets a little more complicated.  Ever looked at a seed inside a tomato?  It's covered in a slimy goo.  This goo protects the seed, but unless it goes through a specific process, will also stay on the seed and suffocate it.  In nature, a tomato will get ripe, then fall off the plant to mold on the ground.  This fermentation is key to getting the seeds ready.  Allowing that to happen outside would result a pain-in-the-ass task of looking for seeds that are likely buried in the soil.  And who wants to pick through a moldy tomato?

Though there is still some picking through mold necessary, this task is made much easier and less disgusting when done inside.

First you pick some really good, healthy tomatoes.  Cut them open and squeeze out the seeds into a small container.  Add a 1/4-1/2 cup of water and cover with something that will allow the container to breathe.  Put the container on a windowsill somewhere, where it won't be disturbed and can be watched, and wait.

Day 1

Day 4

Day 8

I would say that's fermented.
Now that it's gotten nice and moldy, the seeds should be ready.  First you carefully remove the nastyness at the top and chuck it.  (It peels off quite nicely in one piece.) Now gently pour off the liquid on top.  The seeds that are floating are no good so those can go too, it's the seeds that are sunk to the bottom that you want.  Rinse out the seeds by either using a colander or by swishing them around in the container with a couple rounds of fresh water.  I found that they needed to be agitated and kneaded a bit to get their skins off.

Now the seeds need to dry.  This can be done by dumping them out on a paper towel or coffee filter.  They need to be super duper dry before you store them or else they'll mold again.

Once dry, they need to be peeled off the paper towel, (mine stuck pretty good and some seeds have some paper towel bits stuck to them but I think they'll be fine.

I think they're pretty.
So there you go.  This is my first time really saving seeds so we'll see how it goes next spring!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

BAM! Wedding shoes.

I like comfort.  But I also like originality.  So naturally, I wanted both of these elements when it came to my wedding shoes.  Though I rarely wear fancy shoes, I am a firm believer in shoes making a huge difference in one's mood.  So after I bought my dress, my hunt for awesome shoes began.

Here was my shoe shopping criteria:
* They have to be awesome.
* They have to be tall(ish).
* They have to be super comfortable. (I don't want to do the switch into flats for the reception thing.)
* They have to have their own personality.

I also originally thought they would have to be gold, but after looking in several stores, I decided that it was not a requirement.

So I started my shoe hunt.  I thought it would be easy, but it wasn't.  The tall ones were too uncomfortable, and none of them were nearly as awesome as I wanted.  Then I tried on these:

 I found them in the sale rack and they were like heaven on my feet.  They were cute, tall, and incredibly comfortable.  But awesome?  Not really.  Then a lightbulb went off.  I could make them awesome!  So that is what I've done.  A trip to the craft store resulted in some black lace and pretty metal flower things.  A couple Mabel feathers and BAM!  Awesome wedding shoes.

I can confidently say I will be stomping around my wedding with major style.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thursday Harvest

But the purple ones had the best flavor.
I played outside today.  And this is what happened.  ----->

Carrots generally stay good in the ground for a while so not picking them is the best way to store them until you want to use them.  But I picked one earlier this week that was cracked and had some worms in it, so I decided to pick the rest.  They also last a long time in my 'fridge in a bit of water. 

Carrot-pulling is so fun.  You never know how big they're going to be.  The seeds I got were a mixed trio of yellow, orange and purple carrots, but by far, the yellow ones did the best. 

The other thing I harvested were the sunchokes!  Also equally fun.  The plants were 8ft or so tall, so I just grabbed the thick stalks and yanked up.  Most of the tubers came out attached, and the ground was so dry that I didn't even have to wash them off.  I'm so excited to eat them!

Yay for root vegetables!
I only harvested half the batch, since I'm waiting for the plants to die off a little more.  And they'll keep fine in the ground. 

Last, but not least, the ladies were all in sync today with their egg-laying.   When I went out there at 11am this morning, I was greeted with four beautiful eggs.  (Oh, by the way, Elsa started laying last week.)  I can still tell the difference between all of them, and I hope they stay that way.  Unfortunately, when the babies' eggs start getting bigger, I have a feeling I won't be able to tell anymore. 

Abby's is the one on the top right, Frannie's is below that, Pearl's is at the bottom left, and Elsa's is above Pearl's.  I love Elsa's eggs because they're super round with almost a purple hue. 

Also, Elsa has gotten very social lately.  She follows us around wherever we go.  It's really cute.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Phonebook: The Rest of the Story

Apparently the phonebook experiment I conducted a while ago to help with baby chicken integration was done incorrectly.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised since it came to my ears after passing through 5 others.  (My grandma's friends hairdresser-->my grandma's friend-->my grandma-->my dad-->me.)  I'm still unclear on the whole story but let me tell you how I understand it thus far:

When I heard the story, I thought the phonebook was supposed to be on the ground.  Too simple.  According to my grandma's friend's hairdresser, the phone book must be hung in such a way that the pages flutter above the chickens.  I am still unsure of how it can be hung in a way to achieve this result, but I guess I can see how that would work better than if it was on the ground, asking to be walked over.

Regardless of whether the phone book method was executed correctly or not, the end result was what I wanted.  The ladies are incredibly happy and getting happier each day.  They almost look like they are part of one single flock now.  At this point, any improvement in their politics outweighs my expectations for for their relations, so I'm a happy homesteader.

The planter box is a very popular hangout location.

Friday, November 4, 2011


An-pan is a deeelicious treat that is a staple in the Japanese diet.  There is not a single supermarket or bakery in Japan that doesn't sell it and it is loved by all.  An-pan is pretty much bread filled with sweetened red bean paste. (That's the 'an' part, and 'pan' means bread.)  My dad isn't a huge fan of it, because during his first days in Japan he bit into one thinking there would be chocolate or custard inside.  I think he's held a grudge against them since then.

I used this recipe to make them, and I think it was a success.  They looked pretty much like the real thing and tasted pretty good too.  I might add a little more milk or add less flour to keep the pan part moister.  It also took longer to rise than the recipe said, but that could have been an error on my part.  Making sure it properly rises in all the steps is key, people.

You should click HERE for a little surprise.  This is how much an-pan is loved by all in Japan.

You're welcome.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

99.9% hand-recycled notebooks

Remember the paper I showed you how to make a couple weeks ago?  Well, I did something cool with them.  I originally started making them for wedding invitations (which have yet to be made since we're still a little far off and don't know all the deets yet,) but I was curious how versatile they could be.

So I though to myself, I wonder if I could make an entire notebook out of them? 

First I had to come up with a way to make a sturdy front and back cover.  I looked to my trusty always-around-the-house crafting supply of cereal boxes.  (Seriously, cereal boxes are the bomb.  I can't even count how many times I've looked to them to complete crafting projects.)  I carefully cut some out so they would be just an eighth of an inch or less larger than the inside sheets on all sides.  Now I had to cover them with something that looked nice.  The first one I made, I covered with the paper that I made, but that required that I had sheets be larger than the inside sheets, which would have made the notebooks a little small, blah blah blah, cool, but I needed something better.

So I looked around my crafty room and saw it.  My old environmental science textbook that I tried to sell back a hundred times and no one would take.  Bingo.  I ripped out some sheets with nice pictures of nature on them and brushed on a light coating of acrylic paint.  Once dry, I sprayed them with some finishing spray and glued them on the cereal-box-cover sheets. 

For the inside, I cut the papers so that they were even on all sides and sewed the binding together with old de-knitted sweater cotton yarn.  Pretty nice, huh?  Yeah, it was a little painstaking, but I think the result is really cool.  They can be used for general notes, a journal, or even a nature journal (keep it out of the rain, though.)  I think the inside paper would be really good for water coloring, since it absorbs water pretty well.  And just think, they are notebooks that are completely (save the glue) made out of post consumer product.

The insides of the covers were scored so they open and close nicely.

They turned out so nice, I thought, "I wonder if I could sell these?"  What do you think?  I looked on Etsy to see what was available, and there definitely weren't any journals with hand recycled paper on the inside.  But what made me discouraged was that there were so many journals on there already that were being sold for 5 bucks or less.  With all the effort I put into these, there is no way I could sell them for that low.  I was thinking maybe $15?  But then I thought, "I wouldn't buy some silly notebook for 15 bucks, why would someone else?"  

So I need your help, dear readers.  What would YOU pay for one?  I'll even add an incentive: each person who responds to this post with a suggestion, I will enter into a drawing to win one of these.  How's that?  But you have to promise that if you win, you have to tell me what you think after I send it to you, k?  Lets say I'll hold the drawing next Thursday.  That gives y'all a week to respond.  Cool?
Here are some more specs on them to give you a better idea:  The small ones are 4.5x6.5 inches and the larger ones are 5.25x7 inches.  They all have 10 sheets of hand made paper inside of them.  The paper varies based on what batch they came from so they are all unique.  I can't wait to hear what you think!  (And let me know if you want more details about them.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy Egg Day!

Which egg is not like the others?  Notice that the one the bottom row, second from the right is a little smaller?  Well that's because it's Pearl's first egg!  She's been acting provocative around us for the last month or so, so I knew this was coming, but I'm still very proud.  I feel the same way as I did when Abby laid her first egg.  This is what it must feel like to have a child hit a milestone.  Wait, she is my child and this is a milestone!  So, so proud.

It's so perfect.  Small, but perfect
And the best part is, even after she laid her egg, and left the nest box for Frannie to use, she came back to it to sit on it for a little bit.  I think she's slightly confused about her new mommy feelings.  I don't want her to go broody so I took the eggs after that.

They aren't babies anymore!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Garden Minestrone Soup

For a long while, I was scared of soup.  It just intimidated me.  It's so good and there are so many different kinds out there, that I thought it was hard to make... until I started making it.  Now I know that soup is a dish that is very forgiving.  You can put anything into it, as long as you have the same basic base.  (Either a good meat stock or the golden trio of carrots, onion, and celery.)

The cooling weather outside made me want something warm and cozy for dinner.  What better than soup?  Naturally, the first thing I looked for was stuff lying around from my garden that could go into it. The more I looked, the more I found, and pretty soon, over half of what made up the soup came from my backyard soil:

Garden bounty!!!
* Onions
* Carrots
* Kale
* Potatoes
* Oregano
* Green Beans

The rest of the ingredients include: several stalks of celery (the core that no one wants to eat is really good for this purpose), a cube of vegetable bullion, a couple cloves of garlic, salt and pepper, basil, a can of pinto beans, a handful of pasta, and a jar of marinara/tomato sauce. (The box of pasta is a sample that I got from vegfest, it was the perfect amount :))

Start by sauteing the onion in some olive oil in a soup pot until transparent.  Add the garlic, celery and carrots (chopped) and saute for a couple minutes.  Dissolve the bullion cube in 4 cups of boiling water.  Add the water to the pot with the potatoes.  Bring to a light boil and add the rest of the ingredients.  Let it get back to a simmer and add the salt and pepper to taste, and the herbs. 

I've found that the thing with soup is to let it simmer (covered) for a long time.  The longer the flavors are able to mesh together in the pot, the tastier the soup will be.  I think this pot was able to cook together for 4 hours.  Serve with some delicious crusty bread and enjoy!  We enjoyed it in front of our first fire of the season in the wood stove.  Cozy and delicious!

I didn't have time to bake the bread myself, but if I had, that would have been the ultimate.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Go Play Outside!

As the weather takes a decline here in the Pacific Northwest, it's easy to get caught up in the feeling of the crappy, dreary weather and become somewhat cabin fevered.  The days get shorter, temperatures cooler, and the precipitation is set to a constant drizzle.  The two months of beautiful Summer Seattle bliss results in forgetting that rain is just water and that it won't hurt to get some on your head. 

I go through this every year.  But, after a couple weeks in hiding and denial that summer is over, the changing leaves help me appreciate how beautiful fall can be around here and I muster up the energy to go outside.  The fall and winter clothes replace the summer ones and I bundle up a little too much in anticipation for the chill as I step outside.  (But really, it's not that cold yet.)

Summer gardening is awesome.  It's a great reason so soak up the Vitamin D and grow delicious food in the abundant sun that we (usually) get here.  (People don't believe that, for some reason.)  But fall offers some great opportunities to get outside, and who are we to deny these offerings because of a little rain and cooler temperatures?

The first thing everyone should do in the fall when the days start getting short is plant garlic.  I've heard that you plant garlic on the shortest day of the year and harvest it on the longest, but I don't know about the actual validity in that.  Naturally, I don't follow rules so I planted some last week, assuming that as long as it's planted in the fall it'll be happy.  I got a head from the farmer's market, divided up the cloves (ten cloves total) and planted them in unfertilized soil.  I also read that you fertilize them in the early spring.  The act of turning the soil in that small patch, coming in contact with some wriggly worms, and watching the cloves disappear under the magical brown stuff was awesomely therapeutic after being inside in front of my laptop for the last several weeks.

Another outside fall task is the breaking down of the summer garden and saving seeds for next year.  I let some of the peas and green beans get really mature and slowly, but surely, the pods are drying out (in this rain it'll take forever) and I am able to harvest the seeds.  I've been using the greenhouse for this drying process and it's working ok.  The broccoli seed pods are still green but I'm checking those all the time.  Shawn and I wrestled the 8ft sunflower stalks into the yard waste bin yesterday, and replanted a vine maple tree that has been suffocating in a pot for too long in their place.

The last of the tomatoes on the vine are also going into the greenhouse to turn their bashful orange blush into a full outright red.  It's working surprisingly well.  (And you already know what we do with the green ones.)

A fair amount of weeding and reseeding of the lawn happened in Sunday in the nice fall sun and our front yard looks better than it has all summer.  If it was up to me, I would just tear the stupid lawn out and replace it with a bunch of native plants and stuff, but since this is a rental, I have to keep the landlord happy and maintain it. 

So there you go.  Fall is not to be feared.  It should be embraced and each day that it doesn't rain taken advantage of.  We've got a long winter of cold and wet ahead of us, so go play outside while you still can!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Seattle Authors

The last two books I've read were both written by Seattle authors.  Since they were both quite enjoyable and are related to the idea of homesteading and urban living, I'm going to review them both!

Crow Planet
by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

Some of you are aware of my fascination with crows.  They are totally wicked cool.  They're super intelligent, they have really complex relationships with their fellow corvid mates, and they can be really fun to watch.  I've loved them for a while now despite a lot of anti-crow remarks that you hear all the time. (Rats with wings, they're really mean, etc.)  This book is about naturalizing.  Naturalizing is beasically what it sounds like; studying nature in depth.  Naturalizing generally happens in really "natural" surroundings, forests, meadows, beaches, etc.  But this book talks about naturalizing in urban spaces... Seattle to be exact.

Haupt mentions that not a day goes by without at least one encounter with a crow.  Whether there's actually interaction or not, crows are there to be seen every day.  They are a constant reminder of the natural world, though we have begun to count them apart from nature due to their constant presence.  She talks about how the population growth of crows has mirrored the population growth of humans over the centuries and that we are the reason there are so many.  They can adapt to our habitats, whereas many other creatures cannot, ergo, more crows.  The book is a good reminder of our relationship with nature and how responsible we are of the changes we see to our surroundings.  Three out of four eggs for this one. 

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Oh boy did I love this book.  Shawn couldn't even put it down and that's saying a lot because he is a serial book non-finisher.  This is a book about a lady with some serious balls who moved from Seattle to Oakland (the armpit of the west coast) and created an urban farm in an abandoned lot next to her apartment.  The characters in this book are hilarious, from Bobby, the homeless man that lives in cars on their street, to Lana, her art-loving neighbor, to Cornrows Boy who comes by to adopt a rabbit, and Chris, the fancy chef who she meets while dumpster diving in his restaurant, who teaches her how to make salami with her pigs.

She started with a garden and box of bees, moved on to chickens, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, then eventually, pigs.  She's a serious homesteader and serious DIY'er.  She is just like me, except times ten.  I think I enjoyed the book so much because everything she did, I would totally do... if I had the guts.  She likes to make stuff out of junk and dumpster-dived regularly for food for her livestock.  She went through the terrors and eventual pride of butchering her own food (all except the pigs) and the stress of living in Oakland, surrounded by prostitutes, gangs, bums, and several instances of dogs coming in to kill her livestock.  I wish I could be just like her.  I probably won't, but this book inspires me to do more and not be afraid of things.  She is why I want to write a book myself.  Four out of four eggs... it's that good.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Integration Complete!

Though not completely harmonious as of yet, the babies have officially moved in to their permanent quarters.  Frannie is totally fine with it, though Abby still has yet to let them hang out in the run.  But I can confidently say that the babies are moved in and it will all be ok.  Honestly, it feels so good to say that because for a little while there I thought it was going to be hopeless and that we were going to have to eat Abby.  But Abby saved herself by accepting the fact that these new additions are here to stay.

Since I wrote about it last, we went through a couple more stages of integration where I isolated the two groups in separate parts of the run and coop and also allowed them to be together unsupervised for an hour or so at a time.  I was nervous about the unsupervised time together but I shouldn't have been.  Abby did bully them a bit, but the babies are full grown now and the coop is big enough to allow for space for them to get away.

Don't get me wrong.  The two groups are not friends.  Well, Abby at least isn't and will likely never be friendly with Pearl and Elsa.  But Frannie is when Abby isn't looking so it's ok.  Knowing the integration is complete is a huge weight lifted off my shoulders!

And Pearl is going to lay any day now... so excited!

Secret buddies.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Garden Curry Rice

Curry rice is pretty much the equivalent of spaghetti in Japan.  It's quick, all kids will eat it and it's a full meal in one dish.  It's easy to make because you can get all the flavoring in cube form at any slightly diverse grocery store.  (We get them at central market.)  Yes, it is cheating a little bit, but it still requires some cooking and makes cooking dinner at home super easy.  Better than eating out, dontcha think?

We make a batch of it every few months (and eat on it for a couple days since it is physically impossible for my sis and I to make a small batch of the stuff.)  The reason I'm writing about it this time is because our most recent batch included a ton of ingredients from our garden.  Trust me, it made everything taste better.

All from my garden.  Yum!
The label even says it's tasty.
*One box Japanese curry cubes
*Protein (Chicken, Beef, Tofu, etc.)
*Whatever else you want in it... we often use sweet potato, kabocha squash, mushrooms, broccoli, and peas.  (Not all at once though, you have to restrict yourself somewhere.)

Ok, chop up all the stuff into bite size cubes.  Take a large stew pot and add a couple tablespoons of cooking oil (olive or vegetable) and saute the onions for a bit.  If you have beef or chicken this is a good time to cook them as well with the onions.  The tofu can wait till later.

Once the onions are cooked through, add 6-8 cups of water and the vegetables that need thorough cooking (like the carrots and potatoes).  Let the water almost come to a boil and add the curry cubes.  I like to chop the cubes up a bit before adding them to help them dissolve but they can just be tossed in as well.  Stir until the cubes are mixed in and let simmer on low for about 10 minutes.

Add the rest of your ingredients and cook until they're cooked through.  The longer this curry sits the tastier it will be, so if you have the time to start early, do it and let the curry just sit around on low heat for a few hours.  Serve over hot rice and enjoy!  There will most likely be leftovers, which in my opinion tastes better than the first time around. 

Usually there's more stuff but this was the bottom of the pot.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Struggling with Mediocrity...

For several years, I've gone through life with a nagging dream in the back of my mind.  A dream that involves me doing what I love and making a living off of it.  More specifically, creating beautiful things that people would want to purchase to make their own lives a little more beautiful and pleasant.  These beautiful things would be knitted, constructed, sewed, or whatever... by me. 

I'm sure most of you can tell, I like doing things and creating with my hands.  I've always loved hand-making cards for people, knitting soft warm snuggly things, baking yummy desserts, and so on and so forth.  And I think I'm generally pretty good at these things. 

What I struggle with is finding that one thing that I can do so well that it is worth something to other people.  I look around on Etsy and craft shows and such and every one of the artists has their niche.  They are really amazing at their one thing.  It's awe-inspiring to look at what each of these craftswomen who are able to do what they love and get paid for it.  (At least I assume they get paid for it, they charge enough...)  All I can say is, I WANT TO DO THAT!

But how?  I often feel as though I am the jack of all trades who is the master of nothing.  Ask me to knit something and it's done.  Wedding stationery?  Easy peasy.  Block printing?  Love it.  Paint a picture? No problem.  Want to eat something delicous?  Me too.  But what the heck?  I have yet to find the one thing that is different than what someone else is already doing.  

I think it's pretty near impossible.  Bummer.

I'm gonna keep trying anyway. 

I wrote this a couple weeks back when I was feeling particularly down on myself.  Since then I've opened an Etsy account.  (I haven't put anything up on it since the giant-ass rules and regulation page scared me off, but at least I'm one step closer.)

I've also realized that all those people who are able to make a living off of their arts and crafts have probably put in a ton of time and money into starting their business... ie, have taken giant risks.  I'm generally not a risk taker.  I'll have to get over that if I want to make my dream a reality.

I'm also thinking about writing a book.  That's all I'm going to say because I don't want to say anymore and get myself and anyone else excited about something that might not happen.  But it's in my head and I've started the preliminary stages of writing.  I hope it works out. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Makin' Paper

One of the tasks I've taken on for this whole wedding thing is to make my own stationery for the various cards and such that are required to let people know stuff.  You've seen the STD's (no, not those STDs silly, save the dates), but now that those are all sent out, it's time to start thinking about the invites.  Most of those will go out in February or March, but since I have free time now and would like it to be taken away in the near future by a full time job, I'm working on them now.

These will be particularly time-consuming since I'm making the paper for the main part of the invite. 

Paper-making is relatively easy... as long as you have a paper-making kit.  Luckily, I do.

A paper-making kit usually includes a deckle (the wooden frame) some blotter paper, and a screen.  That's pretty much it.  You will also need a towel, a clean sponge, rolling pin, some shredded paper, and a crappy blender.

First, you put a couple handfulls of shredded paper (in our case bank statements, etc.) into the blender.  I added some small pieces of yellow construction paper to add warmer color to the paper, since using just the shredded paper results in a grayish colored paper.  Add some water and blend for about a minute or until there are no more chunks.

It should look about like this.  It'll look gray, but when it dries, it lightens up a lot.

I would also suggest adding a bit of fun like flower petals (these are just the usual colors that can be found in my front yard) or moss or whatever you feel like might look nice in the paper.  This you only have to blend for a few seconds so add it at the end.

Now fill your sink with water so that when the deckle is placed in it, the water reaches about an inch from the top.  (The deckle should be placed so that the side with the attached mesh is on the bottom and the frame placed on top.) Pour some of the pulp mixture into the deckle.  The thickness of the paper will be based on how much you pour in so you'll have to do a couple tests out to figure out the ideal amount.  You then will want to use something thin like a skewer to make sure that the pulp is distributed evenly in the deckle.  (You don't want some areas of the paper thicker than others.)

Holding both side firmly, lift the deckle straight out of the water and let drain for a few seconds.  Lift the top frame off.  Place your extra sheet of mesh on the pulp, and using a sponge, gently soak up some of the water.

Peel the mesh off so the sheet comes with it and place it on a dry towel, paper side up.  This can be tricky, but gravity can help you out a bit.

Place a blotter sheet on top and roll over firmly with a rolling pin.

Peel the blotter and paper off of the mesh.  This should be easy since the paper will stick to the blotter paper.  Place it paper side up.

Put another sheet of blotter paper on top and roll over with a rolling pin once again.

Carefully peel off the paper from the blotter sheet, making sure not to tear or stretch the paper.  At this point the paper is relatively dry so it should come off in one piece pretty easily.

Let air dry for a day or two.  I usually get 5-7 sheets per blender-full of pulp.  You can experiment with all kinds of stuff and different colored paper.  Some of the things I added to these batches were moss, flower petals, leftover tea leaves, and chicken feathers.  All were a success except the feathers.  They just don't cooperate.

Pretty cool that unwanted bank statements can be turned into something beautiful huh?
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