Friday, December 28, 2012

calendula: from garden to salve

well, this post was a long time in the making, let me tell you! I included several varieties of edible flowers in the garden this summer, to give our salads a pretty kick every time we had company - and we had loads and loads of them this year! Between the pansies and the tangete marigolds and the bachelor's buttons and the calendula, we had edible flowers coming out of our ears! And I started wondering - what else could we do with them, besides EAT them? With a little poking around the internet, I realized I could be preserving the calendula plants (which were prodigious in the garden) to make a lovely salve for dried and chapped winter skin . I have many friends who struggle with eczema and just as many friends with new babies whose bottoms need soothing, so it seemed like the perfect project! Thus, this long process began:
I gathered all the calendula blossoms I could for months, drying them on an old window screen (which I'd freshly scrubbed) sitting on some empty flowerpots in my kitchen, where they could slowly dry out of direct sunlight. Soon, the whole screen was pretty much full. As soon as the flowers were fully dried and crisp, I removed the petals and placed them in this glass Weck canning jar. I took off the rubber seal and one of the clips so that no moisture would build up in the jar as I gathered my petals over the summer. There's a piece of parchment tucked under the lid to help absorb any moisture that might develop. I kept this jar in a dark cupboard, taking it out every few weeks to add more dried petals.
Our sunny summer weather lasted through October this year, so I didn't start infusing (olive) oil with the petals until November. At first, I perched the glass jar of oil and petals (approximately 2 parts oil to 1 part petals) in the window, hoping that the weak winter sun would slowly warm the oil each day and help infusion. When I realized that not much was happening, I set the jar down in the dark, in front of a heating vent, which warmed it better. Still, I let my petals infuse for over a month - and then heated the oil on the stove for an hour at the end of all that to really make sure I'd gotten all the good stuff out of the petals that I could.

I strained the petals out of the oil using a piece of cheesecloth set over a metal strainer. Then it was time to add beeswax. I measured my oil:I had between 2.25 and 2.5 cups of oil. I used three of these 1.5 oz pats of beeswax from Big Dipper waxworks, a local beeswax company (so, 4.5 oz total - I was following this recipe that states that you want to use about 4 parts infused oil to 1 part beeswax to make salve). I grated the three pats on a regular cheese grater and then added them into the oil on the stove. If you are interested in making salve and are allergic to beeswax, there are other natural oils that you can use to thicken up your oil: try shea butter or cocoa butter. Here in Seattle, these products can be found at Dandelion Apothecary in Ballard. Many natural food/natural lifestyle supply stores will carry these oils and waxes.
Heat the oil and wax over the lowest possible heat setting or use a double boiler to prevent scorching. Stir frequently, and attend the wax constantly. As soon as the wax has entirely melted into the oil, give the whole lot a good stir or two. Now is the time to add a bit of essential oil to scent if you would like. Mountain Rose Herbs (their recipe linked above) recommends adding 40 drops (per half cup oil - so since I'm doing a quadruple batch here, 80 drops) of lavender essential oil as it will help act as a natural preservative. I didn't have lavender on hand, but I did have bergamot oil, which is also beneficial in a salve like this as it has natural antiseptic and antifungal properties. However, it's quite potent (like lavender oil, I should add), so I only added 40 drops to the whole batch.
Now, I should probably mention that I have a metal pan, a metal bowl, and a glass measuring cup which I've devoted entirely to use with beeswax. If you are thinking about making salve, I highly recommend picking up some tools that you can reserve for just this purpose (or this and candle-making!). I found mine at Goodwill for a couple dollars.
I then poured the hot liquid into a glass measuring cup (with a spout) and used a small funnel to pour it into my tins to set. I actually didn't have nearly enough tins, so tonight I'm going to experiment with either whipping the remaining salve and then transferring it into new tins, or else remelting and repouring it - I have a 16 oz mason jar full absolutely to the brim with leftover salve! (Actually, it's a good thing - so many of my friends want to try this out, and now I'll be able to send a tin to everyone!)
The little glass vial next to the tins is full of infused calendula oil for a friend who is sensitive to waxes and butters, and who is interested to try calendula's healing, calming properties on her own skin. I bought this at Dandelion as well (it has a little rollerball/roll-on applicator top inside) and just poured off some of the oil for her before I measured out the rest for the salve.
So! Almost ready to ship out, and then we'll see if this experiment was truly a success or not - I'll decide whether to embark on this long process again next year based on whether I get demands for more salve in 2013.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

handmade holidays: natural beauty

for a sweet friend who is also a natural beauty (well, aren't we all, really, ladies?): silver earrings made with faceted dyed jade teardrops, garnets, and the teensiest-tiniest smattering of carnelian stones.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

handmade holidays: let the anvil ring

loved this look so much that I made a pair for myself, too! They're hand-hammered satin-finish brass earrings with gold-plate earwires. Though they're large (this pair is about 3" long), they don't weigh a thing. I love how easily they swing in my ears, light as a feather.

Monday, December 24, 2012

handmade holidays: milestones and memories

In January, my maternal grandmother turns 90. Ninety. Isn't that amazing? What an accomplishment. Unbeknownst to her (good thing she's not on the internet - er, that I know of!), a large contingent of us are gathering together on the 29th to surprise her and celebrate together. I'm bringing a couple of fruitcakes that I made and aged this year (my first attempt at following in my grandfather's footsteps), and this pin.

How my grandfather ended up living and gardening in New Mexico while my grandmother stayed in Oregon with us is a long story. Suffice to say, it happened. In the 1990s, my grandmother went down to visit him a number of times, and when she returned, she would always have a new set of beaded earrings or a new beaded necklace or something. I remember how much she loved this set of beaded earrings with garnets (her birthstone) in them. So, to honour her 90th birthday, I decided to make her a new beaded piece with that same Southwest feel. I couldn't find a good garnet cabochon, as I was limited (by time) to searching shops in town instead of hunting on the internet. This turquoise seemed a good substitute. The black seed beads are glass, but all the other beads are semi-precious stone: carnelian (orange), coral (pink and red), garnet (dark red - a bit hard to make out, but they lie inside the ring of pink coral) and amazonite (pale blue). I do hope she likes it; it was really fun to do some sewn beadwork and peyote work again - it's been so long, I'd forgotten how soothing and satisfying this work is to do.

In fact, it inspired another beaded present, that I'll have to show you once I finish getting the backing on! More to come! Happy holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

handmade holidays: lookin' sharp!

I saw a picture of a necklace like this this summer and it blew my mind. What a gorgeous idea! It's made of howlite spears, quartz points, and brass box chain. I love this; made one for a girlfriend and one for me (couldn't resist)!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

handmade holidays: architectural tradition

Cass' annual arch t-shirt is done! I only managed to make one for him this year - but he likes it, so ok! The design is a motif from the sidelight window in the George Blossom House in Chicago (a Frank Lloyd Wright house). I made a paper stencil and affixed it using repositionable spray adhesive (it's meant for photo albums, but it's super for one-time paper stencils - it doesn't leave a residue on the shirt, and afterwards, I just tear the stencil away and heat-set the paint). I applied three good solid coats of paint over three days, just like I did last year (the red print on grey), because I've found that really holds up to repeated washings and wearings.

Cass says it looks like the logo for some kind of superhero organization ... from the 70s. But he's down with that.

Friday, December 21, 2012

handmade holidays 2012: the memory of a star

in one of the tests my friend underwent earlier this year, her full body scan "lit up like a star" at her throat, where she'd developed a malignant tumour on her thyroid. Pretty, but deadly. She had mentioned she'd like something starry to commemorate her survival, but it took me a long time to figure out what to make. I sent a trio of chokers earlier this year, to cover the scar while she gets used to it (I've always thought scars were interesting; they're like writing on the pages of our bodies - they tell a story of survival and endurance), and this is going to her for yuletide, for when she no longer feels she needs to cover it up. Made of faceted onyx and vintage West German glass beads, it features faceted solar quartz stones, a silver donut, and a large dyed agate stone with a fringe of amythests (with starry bead caps) and silvery star charms. A celebration of life, and the memory of that excised fatal star.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

handmade holidays 2012: bullet casing and quartz necklaces

I really like the look of old bullet casings used as bezels or settings for pendants, especially when the pendant is a crystal or a bit of deer horn, natural materials. I like the smooth, industrial lines of the bullet casing and the old brass colour. 
When I came across these etched bullet casings at one of my local bead shops, my mind was really blown; they were so pretty, it was really hard to choose between patterns! They were a bit pricey, but I couldn't resist. I picked out one for a friend and one for myself. Fortunately, I still have a number of quartz points on hand (one of my bead stores sold me one strand, ONCE. It has been impossible to find drilled quartz points otherwise - there must be a real run on them in the craft world these past few years). I fiddled about until I found two that fit the bullet casings and then simply set them with epoxy and let them cure overnight. boom! done! =)
I hung hers from a nice brass chain, since it is a yuletide gift; I didn't have any other delicate chain around, so I strung my own on leather thong with a brass hook to close it.

My husband observed that this is a very "swords into ploughshares" aesthetic. I think I like it even more since he said that. I think I like these etched casings even more than the standard smooth ones.

more projects on the way - a bit late this year, but it's been a really hectic quarter. I'm juggling several projects right now, trading off nights stitching, beading, hammering metal. All my yule presents will be late this year - oh well! It's the love that counts, right?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

harvest 2012: garlic dill pickles

I just realized how many things I haven't posted here. There's another jam, too ... I've got to find the pictures. I know I have them somewhere.

In September, my mother-in-law gave my husband a bag of HUGE cucumbers to give to me. They were a litle overblown, but I figured they'd make lovely pickles. Honestly, I'm not sure what recipe I used anymore. I think I modified it from this one. All I know is there's no dill seed in here. I packed the fresh cucumber slices with 1 dried chile de arbol, one or two whole cloves of garlic (peeled) and a few sprigs of dill. And then I poured vinegar over it. I must have put salt in the vinegar, too, though - right? Ugh, so hard to remember. I wish I did, though - I like to keep track of these things.

I did an initial batch with my first kilner jars, one of which didn't seal. I popped it in the fridge and started snacking on pickle slices after a few weeks. These are REALLY good. Like New-York-deli-good!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

harvest 2012: tomato sauce

unbelievable! Last week, I turned our final tomato harvest (left) into four jars of sauce (right). This has been perhaps the best growing season so far. Such a bountiful year; I feel so grateful to these little plants that kept on truckin' long past the autumn equinox - and to the sun for lingering so late.

More projects in the works ... trying to finish my halloween costume before Wednesday - I think I can make it, but I'm being fussy about things like binding the seams of my dress. I've also begun some holiday preparations that I can't wait to share - more soon!

Friday, September 21, 2012

harvest 2012: tomato jam

This really has been a beautiful, gorgeous, endless summer here in the Pacific NW. While it took us a while to get warmed up, we had a 47-day stretch without a drop of rain which is almost an all-time record here. I feel for the rest of the country, which has been suffering from drought - even with our 47 days, we had such a cold and wet winter (snow days - plural! It's a big deal in Seattle) that we haven't felt the sting. After two cold summers (I remember wearing sweaters in July last year in the middle of the day, sitting out in the sun trying to get warm without turning on the heat indoors), it's been amazing to have something like a regular year. The tomatoes are actually ripening - though the "early girl" and my extra early "st sulpice" didn't start ripening until the first week of September. Now, if the we can just hold on for a few more weeks with some sun, I might see all my tomatoes ripen for the first time - ever? It has to have happened before, only I can't remember that it has.
My first black krim started to blush pink. I picked it and shoved it in the window to finish ripening, in order to let the plant focus on ripening the others. Fingers crossed! It'll be the first purplish tomato I ever managed to ripen in a NW summer. It feels pretty awesome.
Of course, the cherry tomatoes are pumping out fruit like nobody's business. I've been filling a basket with a pound or two at a time: sweet 100, matt's wild cherry, and snow white (which was a new experiment this year and one I'll grow again - it really performs here!). Even the yellow pears are getting going now.
So, with us actually getting a little tired of tomatoes (is such a thing possible?); I thought I'd at least use up the larger tomatoes in a little canning project. Behold, I give you:

my first ever batch of tomato jam! We're back to normal Seattle skies today - grey, misting - so the colour in this photo is a little softer than in real life. This turned a beautiful, rich tomato red. I'm making a second batch now, with my green zebra tomatoes - I didn't want to muddy the colours by mixing the two together. So, perhaps another post later today with a photo of the green!

I used David Leibowitz's recipe on epicurious. Boy is it good! It's thick and sticky, more like a tomato caramel than a jam -  and definitely meant for dessert. While the 2 pounds of tomatoes only made 3 little four-ounce jars of tomato jam, that's okay. It'd be easy to make any time of year using store-bought tomatoes, too. I think I'll devote one jar to a dinner party and pair it with the foie gras we brought back from L'isle St. Louis in Paris, on toasts - the tomato jam has a perfect sweet-piquant flavour and could easily stand in for the traditional gelee atop the foie. I think this would also be amazing paired with strong, sharp cheeses on a cracker: Oregon Smokey Blue, or a fresh chevre, an aged cheddar or maybe even a salty aged gouda. It would definitely stand up to double gloucester or cotswold. I also think it could be warmed and drizzled over a creme fraiche ice cream - not that I could eat it, but I bet it'd make a beautiful and unique dessert.

This has been a real eye-opener for me; I'd never tried tomato jam before. I think it's going to have to enter regular rotation around here, because, wow - what an excitingly bold, yet versatile flavour!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I'm big on candles. I always have a few scented candles about. I love to light them early in the evening and let the daylight die down around their glow. I like to light them before dinner parties even though the house is already filled with the smell of cooking.

But candles can get expensive. Beeswax candles, in particular, can get expensive. So I'd been meaning to pour my own. It's really not difficult. I started saving the glass cups from every little scented votive I'd burned (to clean out the glass base, place it in the freezer for an hour or two; the frozen wax is pretty easy to scrape/pop out of the base). Then I bought some unfiltered beeswax (cheaper than filtered) and wicks (with bases already attached - easy!) at Zenith Supplies here in Seattle. Dandelion Botanical Company (a natural apothecary) in Ballard also sells the stuff - probably a few other shops in town do, too.

To filter beeswax, just heat it over low heat in a metal saucepan on the stove, swirling the pan to keep it from darkening as it all melts down. Strain through pantyhose, and it's ready to go! Yes, the pan you use and whatever you strain the melted wax into should probably be vessels that are devoted to "beeswax usage only." I just went to Goodwill to find a pan, a metal bowl, and a pyrex glass measuring cup (the pour spout means I don't make a mess when trying to pour melted wax) to use. I added a few drops of bergamot essential oil to the melted wax to make a scented candle, but apparently it was not enough oil because these don't smell like anything but beeswax! Next time, I'll be a little more daring.

Affix wicking to a metal base if you haven't bought pre-assembled wicks (like lazy me), then tack metal base to the bottom of the candleholder. Pour wax, holding wick straight (you could wrap it around a pencil set across the top of the glass base. My wicks are all 6" long and needed to be trimmed, but the store was out of 4" wicks when I went to buy supplies and I figure these long wicks mean I can make bigger candles if I want. I made these three votives with about $8 of wax. Considering that the votives that were in these originally (granted, yes, I was paying for special scents) EACH cost more than that, I'm saving quite a bit of money here.

You could also buy a mold and build your own pillar candles - then you'll really enjoy the savings!

It's not going to absolutely end my scented candle purchases, but I do love the honey-scent of beeswax candles, so this is a great way to be able to enjoy candles whenever I want without having to worry quite so much about the cost.

Friday, September 7, 2012

harvest 2012: an illegal border crossing

my friend Natalie brought me a bag of Gravensteins from her family's orchard in Portland last weekend. Since she took the train, she probably didn't see the signs saying "do not transport homegrown fruit" which line our highways - but Cass remembered! He chided me for my lapse of memory and sang the "apple maggot quarantine area" song he learned in elementary school. Yes, Washington state guards its apple crop meticulously.

Well, the damage done, I still had to use up those apples (destroy the evidence!). About a third of them were useless, actually - totally brown through and squishy when I cut into them. I salvaged all the good bits, threw in some wild crabapples and some heritage crabs (Dolgo, I believe) and made my first-ever batch of apple butter. I used the recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation since it was my first time, though I reduced the sugar and played around with the spices. It took me two days to really slow-cook it down to the proper consistency, and I had to put it into little jars to have enough to go around for everyone at the holidays, but it totally worked!

I opened one today to treat myself to a tasty early-autumn breakfast of a toasted English muffin with apple butter. Perfection!

(ps. sorry it's been so quiet around here. I've got some things in the works, but they're taking a lot of time - more good stuff a'brewing to show you soon!)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

harvest 2012: rowan rubies

The Mountain Ash Fairy, by Cicely Mary Barker (from The Flower Fairies of the Autumn, 1926)

I had a collection of Cicely Mary Barker's flower fairy illustrations as a child; this one was always one of my favorites; something about her turban and the art-nouveau drape of her robe - plus that gorgeous warm orange, I think it was, that did it. I liked the word "Rowan" and I liked the thought of sacred trees called "witchenwood." I must have spent every October of my childhood daydreaming about magic - Halloween was always a favorite holiday.

There are quite a few Mountain Ash (Rowan) trees in Seattle. The picture above is from wikipedia. Once you know what to look for, they're quite easy to spot by their brilliant clusters of berries - though the berries are not palatable raw, as they're quite bitter. The raw berries contain parasorbic acid which can cause indigestion and even lead to kidney damage - so it's not a terribly good idea to eat the berries raw.
However, heat treatment (cooking) breaks down the parasorbic acid into sorbic acid (which is used, like citric acid, as a preservative in foods). The berries are very high in vitamin C - much higher than  a lemon, even - and as the tree can grow in the far north, the berries are a traditional wild food gathered in Britain and Scandinavia. I decided to give it a shot and made my first batch of Rowan jelly this year.
The process was just the same as the one I used for my salal jelly and other wild jellies. I gathered berries (easy to do - it took about 5 minutes of picking low-hanging fruit from one tree to fill two big baskets!). Then I removed the berries from the stems (this took a couple hours). I rinsed the berries well and put them in a pot with enough water to cover by at least an inch. I brought them to a boil, then reduced the heat and simmered, pressing occasionally with a potato masher until the berries had broken down. This took about 3 hours for me. You need to cook the berries about 15-20 minutes at a simmer (a shorter period will work if you are boiling them) to break down the parasorbic acid, so obviously I was well within the "safe" zone here.
I ran the berries through my food mill and then squeezed the dregs through 4 layers of cheesecloth to get all the juice out. I returned the filtered juice to the pan and started adding sugar.
Now,  full disclosure: the rowan berry's flavour is bitter! That will not ever go away. So don't sugar it to death. This is not a jam you make to serve on your toast in the morning or spread on a slice of cake. Instead, it has traditionally been used with game meats, to which it supposedly lends a wonderful piquancy (I'll let you know once I've tried it myself).
So, I started sugaring. I added pectin when the jelly had reached a stage where I could enjoy its fruity tang and not be too bothered by the bitterness that set in with the aftertaste. I can't give a recommendation here, except that it was more sugar than I normally use, and I like my jam tart. Don't bother adding lemon to this jelly. You don't need to worry about lowering the ph to safely can it, and it'll only make the jelly tart from start to finish! However, you can cook the berries with a couple of apples or crabapples when you first boil the fruit - that's pretty common. I had an old granny smith on hand that I threw in, just to use it up.
Test the jelly mass on a frozen plate: if a few drops, allowed to sit for 30 seconds on the frozen plate, form a blob that wrinkles up when you poke at it (instead of smearing across the plate), you're ready to can! At Seattle's low altitude, I only needed to process my jars (in a water bath) for 10 minutes.
And this is the result! (only there were a *lot* more of these little jars!) Isn't it beautiful? I think it may be the downright loveliest jelly I've ever made. I'm really looking forward to trying this out. I'm daydreaming about glazing a pork tenderloin with rowan jelly, and serving it with sauteed bitter greens or baby bok choy, with some chopped pickled buddha hand for some lemony brightness!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

harvest 2012: some autumnal browns

the first batch of this year's watermelon rind pickles - I added two serranos and they don't taste a bit spicey. Time to double down! Also, some madrona curls and a glossy black crow feather I found in the woods. 

and secondly today - a project that's been three weeks in the making: licorice bitters! I infused a cup or two of vodka with licorice root and a few elderflowers for 3 weeks. In a second, separate container, I infused a few ounces of vodka with sweet spices (black peppercorns, star anise, whole cloves, etc). In a third container, I infused vodka with the bittering agent - I used wormwood (there are others, of course - gentian comes to mind) because I thought its herbal licorice flavour would meld well. The jars were shaken once daily and kept out of direct sunlight for 3 weeks while they infused. Today I strained through cheesecloth and mixed the spice and licorice together and added just enough of the wormwood-infused vodka to begin to taste a lingering bitter herbal aftertaste. I've saved the remaining wormwood mixture in case Cass thinks the bitters need to be, well, more bitter. But otherwise, we're just about done here!

I found my herbs and flowers at Dandelion Botanical Company in Ballard (one of my favorite shops; it reminds me of my hippie hometown! I get so nostalgic shopping there!) and the cheap vodka we had on hand was given to us by a friend who is in the liquor business. So, all in all, I paid about $5 (plus maybe $15 toward a new bottle of vodka?). This is a really great bargain when you compare it to retail: the only licorice bitters I've seen around town are made by Bob's (and it was Bob's product which inspired me to try making my own), which cost around $30 for just over 3 ounces. I got about 10-12 ounces for $20 (and that's being generous about the cost of the vodka).

Thursday, August 16, 2012

harvest 2012: salal jelly

Behold: this year's batch of salal jelly! What is salal, you may ask? Gaultheria shallon is a shrub native to the pacific region of North America. It has leathery, dark green oval-shaped leaves, little bell-like white and pink flowers (that grow in a line along a spike), and produces dark blue-black berries near summer's end. (They're usually just a little ahead of the blackberry crop.) Here's a link to the USDA's plant profile to help you with identification, if you're curious.

Here in the Seattle area, salal is everywhere. It's in planting strips, in gardens, growing alongside parking lots and playgrounds and in the parks and woods.

Something I've learned about picking salal: wear rubber gloves (not the kind that are covered in powdered latex). Why? Well, for two reasons. For one thing, as the berries ripen, it becomes difficult to pick them neatly from their stems. Often times, the skin slips off, leaving a rather gross and slippery-slimy berry center mashed all over your fingers. (This is also why I make jelly instead of jam: any remaining stems are filtered out, along with many of the seeds!) The second reason? Well, the berries have a kind of sticky coating on them. After a while, this gunk builds up on your fingertips. After our first year picking salal, I had to scrub my fingers with pumice until they were raw to get the tacky residue off.

So - gloves! Not necessary, but recommended!

As far as process goes, I rinse the berries well, then put them in a pot with enough water to cover by 1-2 inches. I bring the berries and water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the berries are completely broken down. It can take an hour or two. I leave the lid off the pan and add more water as necessary - so that when I strain my berries, I don't end up with an excess of water in the mix, which would result in a weak-flavoured jelly. While it's cooking, put a small plate or saucer in the freezer for testing your jam later.

When the berries have broken down run them through a food mill. Save the lees and place those on four layers of cheesecloth layered over a fine metal strainer set over a dish to drain. As you gather up the corners of your cheesecloth and wring the mass of the lees tightly, the pressure will force more juice out of the mass than the food mill can get out alone. However, the cheesecloth will keep all the tiny seeds from ending up in your jelly. Combine the juice/puree that resulted from the cheesecloth squeeze and the food mill: this is the base of your jelly. Measure the juice/puree as your pour it back into your cooking pot.

Bring your fruit juice/puree back to a simmer and simmer awhile if the flavour is thin. It probably won't be. Start adding sugar. As a good rule of thumb, I measure the juice/puree before I return it to the pot, and I use the recommended amout of sugar for that much juice/puree according to the instructions on my jar of low-sugar pectin.But I like my jam tart, so I don't add all of the sugar, and I always reserve one cup that I am going to mix the pectin into before adding to the jam.

So. Start sweetening. If you're like me and you like a tart jam (in other words, you're not going to add the full recommended amount of sugar), add 1/2 cup at a time until the flavour is almost where you want it. Stop before it's attained the sweetness you want, when it seems like it is almost as sweet as you'd like  - and again, remember that this is a wild berry. There is a tannic earthiness that grounds the finish of what might otherwise be described as a blueberry-and-mint flavour. (It's quite good. Our favorite jam from last year, definitely.)  Now is the time to add a bit of fresh lemon juice if you like (I like it with salal, just as I do with huckleberries and blueberries) and taste again. This also reduces the ph of the jelly, making it even safer for home canning.

Measure out your pectin (again, I start with the amount recommended on the box of pectin - about 1 1/2 Tablespoons per 2 cups of juice/puree) and mix the pectin into another 1/2 to 1 cup sugar. Add the pectin/sugar mix to the fruit mixture and stir until dissolved.

Once the pectin is in the mix, it's time to bring the jelly to a boil. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer or a low boil, and pull your saucer or plate out of the freezer. Dribble a couple drops of the hot jelly mix onto the cold plate and wait 30 seconds. Push at the jelly blob with your fingers. If it wipes smooth, keep cooking and try again in a few minutes (and if it's not setting up any better at that point, consider adding more pectin!). If the jelly blob wrinkles over the top, it is ready.

Pour the jelly into sterilized jars and seal according to the manufacturer's instructions for the particular jars you are using. I process mine for 10 minutes, using the boiling water method. More information on the boiling water method and a chart for timing your processing according to altitude can be found here, at the National Center for Food Preservation.

Enjoy! We picked a lot more salal this year, since we did not have enough jars to give to everyone last year. I hope our friends and family are excited to try this wild flavour!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

harvest 2012: rugosa rose hip jelly

Rosa rugosa grows wild throughout Europe and the Americas - though it's not a native plant here, it does quite well. You can find them growing just as happily along a beach as in a field. They form a nice big bush, and have been traditionally used as hedge plants. The photo above is one I snapped in the djurgarden in Stockholm, Sweden - and it's nice because it gives one an idea of what the flowers and leaves of the plants look like, as well as the ripening fruits - just in case you want to go out and find some for yourself!

To make jam or jelly, gather a mass of the hips (bring along some shears and snip them off the plant) between now and October/November. I've read that they're better after a frost, because the cold will convert some of the starches to sugars, making the hips sweeter, but I often find that if you wait until October, the hips are spotted with blight, wrinkly, soft and generally not quite such fine specimens. It's up to you. You do want hips that are unblemished and firm - not wrinkly or soft.

When you get them in, wash the hips and tear off the green blossom-end. Snip any remaining stems close to the fruit.

You can make jam from these, but I prefer to make jelly, and here's why: if you make jam, you have to cut open the hips and remove the ring of seeds inside. Each seed is barbed with a little hair that itches like crazy. You must remove each of these seeds and hairs, because if they are ingested, they will irritate your digestive tract as much as they irritate the skin. So, for me, it's just easier to make jelly. There's more waste with jelly, but fewer hours spent picking through rosehips, trying to be absolutely certain that all hairs are gone.

So! To proceed with jelly, throw the hips in a pan and add enough water to cover by 1inch. Bring the hips to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook down into a thick mash. I find I have to keep adding water, and that this process takes several hours.

Once the hips are cooked down to a mash, they need to be strained for jelly. I made this batch before I had my food mill. Today, I would simply run the mash through the food mill and then strain the remaining lees through cheesecloth, but cheesecloth works. The only problem with using cheesecloth is that eventually, one's hands do tire, and there's always more liquid that could have been squeezed out. To strain through cheesecloth, set up a strainer over a large bowl. Lay 4 pieces of cheesecloth over the strainer, at different angles (so that the grids of threads in the cheesecloth overlap rather than aligning). Pour in the mash. Let stand 1- 2 hours (you can press on the mass with a spoon if you'd like, to help release liquids) to drain. Then, gather up the edges of the cheesecloth so that the mass is trapped in a ball inside. Twist the ends of the cheesecloth to tighten the cloth and add pressure to the mass, and squeeze the mass with your hands. You'll find that a lot more liquid will come out. Keep working the ball until you are tired, then compost it.

Then it's a simple matter of measuring how much fruit juice/puree resulted from the straining, putting the juice/puree back into the pan, and cooking it with sugar, a bit of lemon to taste, and pectin. I use a low-sugar pectin, so that I am not forced to make this jam too sweet, and simply follow the guidelines on the package regarding how much pectin to add to X quantity of fruit juice/puree. The rosehips are very high in vitamin C (in fact, during WWII, British factories produced rosehip syrup which was administered to British children to prevent scurvy and other diseases during the days of food rationing), so only add lemon if you like the taste. I do; I think it brightens it up a bit.

As far as processing goes, this jam is processed like any other: using the boiling water method, process for 10 minutes. For more information about canning and the boiling water method, and how long to process (it varies according to the altitude at which one cans), I recommend visiting the National Center for Home Food Preservation. It has all the official, goverment-approved information.

It's good to remember that this is a wild plant, and does not taste like a domestic plant. It tastes somewhat of apple (apples belong to the rose family) and somewhat of marmelade - Cass thinks it tastes like tomato. It definitely smells like marinara when the hips are cooking down into a mash. It's great with game, or used in thumbprint cookies at wintertime (especially if your thumbprint cookie dough has some ground nuts - almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts - ground into it). I like to pair this with French chestnut paste to fill turnovers during the autumn and winter, too.

Monday, August 6, 2012

harvest 2012: lavender wands!

I had a cute title worked up for this and in the two minutes I spent loading windows and logging in, I've forgotten. We've had a sudden heat spell here in Seattle (I think the rest of you may be more familiar with the name, "summer") and I've not slept well for the last two nights. Those of you who do not know Seattle weather, here's a detail that about sums it up: on Saturday we hit 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Here's the thing: the last time we broke 85, it was mid-September 2011. That's right. It's been almost 11 months since we have had really warm weather. Sunday it was up near 90. Throw in a hearty dose of humidity and many of us just turned into zombies. Plus, we're about as ill-equipped to handle sun as we are snow: Cass and I only own one fan. On Friday night, I'd left the drapes open and we woke to hot morning sun streaming in our windows. Uf, we were so unprepared.

So, today I am a sleep-deprived zombie, but at least the weather is cooler. And don't get me wrong - I know the rest of the nation has it much, much worse. And the garden loves it, and it was nice to go canoeing on Lake Washington on Sunday. Plus, during our heat-induced lethargy on Saturday evening, I sat down and made lavender wands while Cass put on The Rocketeer. Remember that movie? It was kind of cute to watch it again.

These wands are really easy to make - especially the second, third, fourth time through. Last year I included a link to Dharma Trading Co.'s instructions for making these - here they are again. Even though my lavender was already open (heck, some of the flowers were even starting to fade!), I decided to go ahead and make these anyway. I used some silk cord from the bead store and cinched these really tight around the open buds. As I crushed the flowers inside the wand, tons of lavender oil began to saturate the silk cords. They smell amazing.

I also have some lavender stems drying by the back door again; I'll make sachets in a few more weeks. I think both the wands and the sachets make lovely gifts. Oh, that was it! I was going to say "practical perfume" or something like that, for the title - because these are great to tuck into your drawers or hang in your closet as they not only perfume your clothes, they also keep insects (like moths) away from your nice things!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

harvest 2012: blackberry jam

it's a classic; you can't go wrong! I like to make mine a little tart - with a couple tablespoons of lemon juice, not too much sugar, and just a tiny touch of cinnamon to bring out the warmth of their sun-ripened flavour - so that it can just as easily be added to a plain coffeecake batter or roasted over chicken as it can be spread on toast. Come December, it'll be a cheery taste of what was the quintessential flavour of summer throughout my childhood and teen years. Even as I picked these with Cass on a warm Sunday evening (and the season is just getting started, really), a sudden alchemical balance of warmth, moisture and heat caused the air to fill with the smell of ripening blackberries - just here and there, just a moment and then gone ... but it was enough to open the floodgates of memory. I remembered that faint creosote-smell that tangs the early morning air when the day is going to be hot, getting up early so I wouldn't miss the sunrise and the cool freshness of morning, the giant tree that stood in our neighbours' yard across the street and filled my summer evenings (many still light out when I went to bed) with golden rushing and tossing in the wind as it captured the last of the day's light.

Ah, summer. You are the magic fairyland where childhood lives forever.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

harvest 2012: nasturtium capers

we're running about a month early this year, as far as flowers blooming (my peonies are nearly DONE) and crops ready for harvest. I've already put in some golden beets for fall (never had luck growing my own beets - once again, fingers crossed!) and have pulled out the peas. I've been harvesting our first tomatoes and tons of lettuce and I have FAVA BEANS coming on. (Oh man, I had favas for the first time last year and wondered where they'd been all my life. LOVE them.)

This is the first batch of nasturtium capers, and I've got a bowl of nasturtium pods in the fridge getting ready for the next one. I want to wait a few days and pick over the nasturtiums again and get another big jar going.

I seriously love these. They may be "poor man's capers," but I love them way more than the real deal! Find my post from last year, and a link to the recipe, here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

harvest: creamed peas on toast

make that "on baguette," because we didn't bother to toast the bread - we were too busy devouring this delicious concoction, which I made up on the spot to use up peas that had gone rather crazy while we were in Europe. We laughed that my friend who house sat is a total city girl - 5 feet from the deck, an organic garden is exploding with lettuce and yet there's a bag of discounted spring mix in the fridge? Maybe I'm just too lazy to go to the store; either way, we totally enjoyed the peas, which also seem to have gone untouched (though you never can tell this time of year - they start producing such crazy abundance, all at once!).

All I did here was shell peas (I had maybe 1.5 - 2 cups shelled), saute over medium heat in 1-2 Tbl. of butter, with salt and pepper to taste. I added a couple generous Tbl. of chopped marjoram (also from the garden) to give it a bit of depth and complexity, and as the peas started to cook through and soften, I smashed some of them with a fork. Just as the colour was turning from bright green to a slightly more muted/olive tone, I poured in maybe a quarter to a half-cup of half & half. I continued to saute until the liquid was almost entirely cooked off, then scooped the peas and sauce into a bowl, and we spooned it onto baguette slices.

Seriously, this was SO good! If you've still got peas (though I can't imagine anyone has still got peas coming on - suffice to say, the PacNW is still struggling to get up to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoon; I feel for all of you sweltering in 100-degree-heat!), or if you will have another round coming in the autumn, give this a go. Simple and delicious!

Monday, July 23, 2012


a particularly brilliant and special woman in my life is recovering from thyroid cancer. I sent her some pretty things to cover the scar while it heals. I hope she wears that scar like a badge of honour when this is done, though; she's a badass for figuring out that something was off so early on, and for having the grit to go in and get checked.

This woman is a survivor.

Friday, July 20, 2012

inspired: Nallik

I love Nallik's amazonite/quartz necklace (at left); I added it to a pinterest board months ago.Of course, at $169, it's way out of my price range. I recently finished (and mailed to a girlfriend) a simple amythest necklace inspired by Nallik's stone necklace, though I'd still like to go hunt up a pair of crystals, match them to each other, and achieve the colour-blocking effect of Nallik's original.

The top of the necklace is just a brass plate, shaped to fit the amythest crystal and adhered with an epoxy made by gorilla glue. A brass chain (Nallik's is gold-plated) and simple clasp finish off the look. I used a 24" long chain for mine.

Simple, but so pretty! I need to make more of these for my girlfriends. =)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


hello, hello!

it's been a bit quiet around here, I know. After the school year ended, we threw our annual midsommar party (pictures forthcoming when the friend who took them posts me ... it might be a while), and then we packed our things and left for Europe!

I was at a conference in Paris giving a paper on McQueen at the Sorbonne last week, as part of a panel on fashion and exoticism. The rest of the time, my husband and I walked around Paris a lot. We also made it up to Giverny - this is the church near Claude Monet's home where he is buried. Rue Claude Monet is truly beautiful - so many flowers, just leading up to his house. I definitely appreciate hollyhocks in a new way now, and plan to plant an even wilder, more impressionistic garden next year.

We spent this week in Granada, Spain, and return on Friday. I've got some lovely new necklaces to show you that I had almost finished when we left. I hear it's warm in Seattle - nowhere near as warm as southern Spain, but then again, in Seattle, you have humidity. So, between the heat and the jet-lag, I think Saturday will be a perfect day to finish those necklaces and post you some pictures. Maybe even some pictures from our trip?

I've also started a big alabama chanin project: a beaded reverse-appliqued dress. I'm making it out of wool jersey (lined with a softer rayon jersey) for winter. I can post pictures of the progress, but this one's going to take a while to finish. More on that in the months to come.

hope your summer's off to a fantastic start! Things will be picking up here with the usual berrying and etc. once I'm back!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

DIY: akongesque

alright. On the left is Akong London's Regalia Necklace, which is being sold at Anthropologie for $468. I liked it; I was charmed by the whimsy, the bright colours, the innovative use of ribbon, trim, and chain. But $468? Not on my grad student budget. So, for less than a tenth the cost (with materials left over), I made my own (on the right). I also used three layers of brass curb chain, hooked together with brass jump rings, two layers of rhinestone chain (though I swapped in pale amythest and orange, colours I liked better). I was looking at faceted resin/crystals like the pink ones in the original when I stumbled upon these vintage green glass beads and went for them instead. I also went for a much larger brass spacer bead, because I found these gorgeous old ghanan trade beads and decided I'd use them instead. I did find the same black gimp trim (I was sure that would be the stumbling block, but lo and behold, I found it).

I have to say, it was a LOT harder to put together than I'd thought. Layering rhinestones in over brass chains and trying to link them all together is a major pain in the butt. I understand now why it is almost $500; I have a lot of experience with basic wire work and this required patience and a lot of time and fiddling. But still, I love the results.

If you're thinking about making one yourself, let me know if you want some of my leftover black gimp trim. I can send you the 6" or so that you'll need ... because I really don't think I'll be making these for holiday gifts this year. Nope, this is me spoiling myself.

Friday, June 8, 2012

homemade yogurt

homemade goat's milk yogurt (unsweetened) with pomegranate molasses and walnuts: tangy!

A friend-of-a-friend runs this great food preservation blog called Food in Jars and with the release of a new book and my friend's facebook posts, it caught my eye. I've been really excited to try out some of her techniques, including a simple process for culturing your own yogurt! This batched turned out a bit runny, more like Swedish yogurt or kefir; I wonder if it's different using 1% or skim instead of whole-fat milk? Or if goat milk doesn't perform like cow's milk? I'm going to try again, and increase the temp slightly on the warming phase AND in the cooler for the 8 hours of culturing. Still, this was good! I was a little worried I'd make myself sick or something - much like the first time I tried jams I'd canned and put up, as a preteen - but all seems to be well! I think if I can get the formula down, I'll just make my own yogurt from here on out; it's a much cheaper way to get into goat and sheep yogurts, which are easier for me to eat, as they have much less lactose. Plus, you know, it's just plain cool to do.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

harvest 2012: salmonberry jam

can you believe it's that time again already? I can't. I really can't. We had a warmer spring this year (a nice spate of several weeks of warm, actually - which doesn't sound like much for an entire spring, but for Seattle, it's quite good) and the plants got started earlier. Cass and I were up in the mountains with our in-laws on Sunday and we harvested for hours in the woods. I got 11 jars sealed and one jar open, in the fridge (so I can check the consistency - it does seem to be setting up well, a little soft, but okay) and play around with it. I feel like this would be absolutely beautiful glazing a pork roast or something. Or maybe worked into a jam cake? Midsommar is coming, after all, and the salmonberry is the closest U.S. relative to the Scandinavian cloudberry - maybe I'll make a salmonberry cake this year!

Anyway, looks like it's going to be an amazing summer! I just hope the thimbleberries are ripe *before* we go. We've found loads of good picking spots lately, and they are my favorite of all the berries. I would absolutely love to pack up some tiny jars of thimbleberry jam this year!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

a perfect salad for late spring

I know, I know; in so many parts of this country, it is already warmer than it'll be here in August. Ah, well. While there are still pears at the store, this is a great salad to serve for dinner when we haven't quite made it to the "salad days" of summer yet. A bit of feta, some sharp radicchio, toasted walnuts and a bit of grain means that this salad has some body and heft! In fact, I think it's a winter salad, as all of the ingredients are ripe during the coldest months of the year; but it transitions nicely to late May, too - especially if it is a grey and slightly moody day where you are, too =)

How was your holiday weekend? I put a big shell out on our coffee table. That might seem like a strange thing to do over Memorial Day weekend, but it is a shell that my grandfather brought back from the South Pacific, where he was stationed during WWII. I remember asking, years ago when he was still alive, if I could have it. Strange request, perhaps, but I like that I remember my grandfather with a shell.

Other than that, not much happened here over the weekend. I was so tired the whole weekend - what's up with that? I took a few naps (against my own will), fell asleep on Cassidy, slept in late. Got a little garden work done, and we went for a very short walk, but that was about it. I'm actually looking forward to riding my bike to Czech table (a Czech language meetup) today, as I think I am overdue for some real physical activity for a change!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

clothes for little people III: three little pigs

This one is already out and received by an expectant mother. I will confess, that when I saw this adorable Japanese linen with its print of the three little pigs, I was smitten. I snapped it up and made a dress, on the off-chance that my talented, graphic designer friend would, indeed, be having a girl. And she is! We are girls, girls, girls from here to the horizon - I don't know anyone having a boy right now. Which is weird. But then, I'm just happy that I only have to buy one set of patterns, and I can make all the different variations for all the little girls about to come into our lives. Congrats, K+J! I LOVED making this adorable thing for you and cannot wait to continue to shower your little one with special bespoke clothes!

Friday, May 4, 2012

like a medieval tapestry

been listening to a lot of music from michal praetorius (a late-medieval German composer) this week; the weather's turned stormy and cold here, and there's something about the recorder and the lute that really speaks to me on days like that.

So, the net result of a lot of medieval dance music + a lush garden (extra green from all that rain!) = I came home, lit a half dozen candles, and started creating.

I give you: peach tart with almond paste and dandelion jelly glaze. The dandelion jelly was a sweet gift from friends who came to our Swedish midsommar party last year; this is a perfect use! And in case you are wondering, the green and white bits are bartlett pear. =)

I have another little-person dress to show you, and at least one picture from my mother's birthday care package. It's been a busy time lately, with my own writing and grading/editing with my students. Sorry to have been absent - but more posts coming in the next few days as I resurface, once again, from the whirlwind that is academia.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

foraging 2012: maple blossom beignets

that's right! The big leaf maples are in bloom (a month earlier than last year - further proof that this spring is definitely warmer and nicer than last year)! Monday night we visited a couple of pedestrian bridges over a ravine where the big leaf maples grow, so that we could harvest the flowers. The blossoms are at the top of the trees, some 50-80 feet above ground, so this was the only way I could think of to get at the blooms.

We gathered a small basket of them and I called our foodie friend to "come play!" in the kitchen with us. We threw together a pot of sorrel vichyssoise (a creamy potato-based soup, with lemony sorrel from our garden) so we'd have some real dinner, and got to work. Recipes for traditional native American fried squash blossoms abound, but we found that mix a bit too thin. We ended up making a lot more batter than we needed, as we figured out the proportions. If you'd like to try this, here's the mix:

whisk together 1 egg yolk with 1/4 tsp baking soda until smooth. Add 3/4 cup water, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1.5 c. flour and 1/3 c. sugar (or use a bit more maple syrup and a bit more flour).

Heat a few inches of oil in a deep saute pan. Dip maple blossoms into the batter. It's quite thick, so you need to use your hands to kind of pick up the batter and pull some of it over the top of the blossom (the goal is not to break the blossoms off the stems). Once you have it coated, ease it into hot oil, and use tongs to turn it every 30 seconds or so, until golden.

Set on paper towels to drain and sprinkle with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar or drizzle with maple syrup.


Friday, April 6, 2012

still blustery here

though we're starting to see some sunny days, most of them are pretty cold (we barely make it into the 50s by the middle of the afternoon), and sun and showers alternate (case in point: my laundry that was drying outside just got soaked in a sudden shower - whoops! Such is spring!). So, while things are still a little stormy-wintery, and while there is still interesting citrus available at the grocery store, I've canned a couple more jars of cured lemons and (above) made my first-ever batch of marmalade.

I used Martha Stewart's recipe for seville orange marmalade, but threw two whole vanilla beans (I cut a slit down the length of the pods) into the fruit mass while it cooked, to give a sweet mellow counterpoint to the sharp piquancy of these tart oranges. Turned out pretty good - I will definitely be keeping this recipe on hand to make again!

(plus, my advisor likes marmalade. I feel like one of these pretty weck jars is a nice - if small - thank-you for all the feedback and help he gives.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

another go at flower arranging

belatedly, some pics from the post-dinner equinox table: flowers! I was able to order hellebores at my local florist, and supplement those beauties with some spray roses and waxflower from Trader Joe's, and dusty miller from the garden. This was my view down the table, between two rows of candles.

The six green beeswax tapers I snapped up on big dipper's website for a song (factory rejects - some are ever so slightly curved or off-kilter), the candle sticks and vases from goodwill, glass boboches from the hardware store (not that we needed them in the end - no drips! )
The flowers lasted over a week, which was really nice!

I'm still waiting for a friend, who obligingly took pictures of each of our six candlelit courses in order, to post them on facebook before I snag them and recap the dinner here. I think it went down quite well, though - I believe I'm starting to get the hang of a more polished fete! And it was lovely to have a nice big party for a leisurely meal and celebrate the new season together.

more soon - cranking out baby t-shirts...

Saturday, March 31, 2012

clothes for little people II: an outfit for an autumn day, when one is 6 months old

my friend natalie gave me a fat quarter of the most adorable acorn-print fabric once. I recall her saying, "I saw this and wondered what you would do with it." Well, I've clung to it for a long time, because nothing seemed to quite do it justice.

then I realized I had just enough to eke out a diaper cover that could pair with this pretty floral-print that I had purchased to make a little dress out of.

I had originally intended to embroider the front of the dress with acorns to match, but after I sewed on all this chocolate velvet ribbon, I realized ... it's just enough. I stopped before it got busy.

I think this is my favorite so far. I wonder if the mother-to-be will like it? Is it too traditional a design? Is the palette too muted? Well. Fingers crossed.

More to come; I've got some linen cut, and I'm lingering over an online shopping cart filled with single-yard pieces of adorable knits that could make enough tees and rompers to gift all the new mothers on my list right now. It's just the expense of it all that is staying my hand - well, that and (I confess!) I've spent a bit here and there lately, culling ebay for old odille and elevenses pieces from back when anthropologie was still doing girly/vintagey stuff - though it's still just a bit cheaper than buying cheaply-made, mass-produced items, sewing isn't a terribly cheap hobby, even when one does stalk the fabric sales. It's the notions - all that snap tape and all those little buttons! - that really pushes the figures up.

Still. I always wanted to have friends for whom I could sew these little dresses and pants and things (though I have never wanted children of my own). I have a feeling that I'm going to have more opportunities to indulge these whims in the next few years than I ever dreamed of.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

it's not for me. (clothes for little people I)

... as if that needed saying

it seems that everyone in the world right now is expecting a baby girl! Time to get a'sewing! I can't believe all the adorable patterns out there these days; I was even able to order patterns to make up costumes modelled on Cicely Mary Barker's drawings of flower fairies. Do you have any idea how desperately I wanted such a costume as a child? Friends, if you are interested, I bought the larger-sized patterns (to buy myself time). Let me know and let's talk. I have a deep desire to make up the almond blossom fairy's dress in silk and hand-paint the skirt to match Barker's gorgeous watercolour hues. I think the little vest/doublet should be done in pale green velveteen, with voile fringes at the sleeves and waists. Oh yes, I have a strong desire to live vicariously through someone's child. Will it be yours?

Also, I bought a child's cape pattern. Who wants a Red Riding Hood outfit made from quality fabrics that can actually be worn on a cool autumn day - for trips to grandmother's house, perhaps? =)

this is Laura Ashley (!!) pattern M4424 for McCall's. It's quite easy to make up, and it even has adjustable straps (they button to the waistband; there are two buttonholes). Inspired by a vintage diagram of embroidery patterns for hems of garments/pillowcases/etc., I decided to start whipping up baby dresses, and used one of the patterns to trim the waistband of this garment.

I've got a set to show you next, but there are a few finishing touches that need to be put on first. It's going to be quite cute, I think. It even has a theme!

and once again, in case anyone is getting any ideas: no, these are not for me. Sorry. I'm set in my non-maternal ways. I just enjoy the tiny sewing!