Sunday, May 30, 2010

Balsam Poplar

After much figuring things out, we have discovered that a giant tree which was felled near our place is a Balsam Poplar (Apparently some sort of cottonwood, but we haven't seen any of the bits of snow-like white debris on this street.)  The whole wooded area is supposed to be developed into a natural park, which is not at all bad when compared to the leveling of wild areas in order to put in businesses and the like.  However, it was unnecessary, and so I find it appalling.  I have collected several branches from the tree, and also have pictures.  Lots of pictures.

This was taken while standing on the base of the tree.  All that open space you see was not actually open space before.  They let the giant tree fall and knock down many trees behind it.

This was from a little over the half-way point.  You can see the top of the tree. You can also see some of the trees behind it that have knocked into each other.  All along the trunk of this tree were also both knocked over trees and lots of branches, so it was hard to tell what was what.

These are my feet standing on the trunk, so you can get a sense of how large it was.

And my foot against one of the places where the branches was connected.  It is big enough for two of my feet at least.  (I would have stood on it, but the weather was wet and I would most likely have slipped.  I wasn't sure how far the ground was below me, since it was covered with a mass of branches, but I'm pretty sure there was water underneath, and I didn't want to risk running into snakes or rats or whatnot.)

For more size comparison, here are some of the other trees around.  Not sure how tall they are, but these are no more thick than some of the branches on the felled poplar.

And now facing toward the opening of the woods, this was taken about a quarter of the way.  You can see next to it at the very end a regular sized tree.  I'm sad that I didn't get a picture of the actual stump, because now it is totally rotted, thanks to the northwestern rain.

I have more, but I think I'll end it with this last one.  This is what is happening to the right of the tree.  The tree stump is to the left of the path, and was completely out of the way.  There are other trees that are larger than this one in my city that are hard wood.  And these trees come right up to the edge of main roads.  After peeling away bark on some of the branches and inspecting the tree, it seemed in perfect good health.  So, in my humble opinion, this was unnecessary destruction of a relatively old tree.

While I'm glad that all the trees haven't been taken down, I don't believe that rearranging nature for entertainment is a fabulous use of resources.

Natural remedies

There are millions of natural remedies for every problem humanity has, whether real or imagined.  If you are trying to avoid chemicals, then look for these:

Olbas' Pastilles Maximum Strength Cough Drops:  If you have a sore throat, these are phenomenal.  They are made with many kinds of mint and other oils.  They are very strong, in flavor, but they do work.  They also do not dry out the mouth like some cough drops.  I find them useful also for colds.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How to use a needle

I've worked in a few different fabric stores before, and I was amazed at the many customers who came in and didn't know how to make any craft at all.  What is worse, they often didn't know basic sewing techniques.  To me this is a great shame.  Clothes and other fabric items can be easily saved or improved by stitchery.  If you were never blessed with instruction, I hope to help here.

First, you need a needle. Before the 20th century, needles were passed on from mothers to children.  (We hope to offer old fashioned needles at some point in time.  Just need to get the right tool to make them.)  Now you can buy very inexpensive needles that you can feel free to lose all over the place, so please get a pair and keep them. 

Multi-packs have needles for all sorts of different tasks, but just like the forks at a fancy dinner, there is no reason to panick.  If you have a coarse fabric, use a thicker one.  If you have a fine fabric, go thinner.  If your thread is thick, then the fabric doesn't matter because you need a thicker needle.  Thin thread can go into either.

You can thread by looking at the needle or use one of those nifty threaders.  In a cheap sewing pack, this will be a thin embossed piece of metal (Looks like an 18th century lady) with a diamond-shaped sprig of metal on one side.  Simply poke the sprig through the eye of the needle (The hole opposite the pointy end), insert the thread into the sprig, and then pill the threader back through the other side.  Voila.  (Warning: You can break the sprig and/or needle if the thread is too thick.)

Later on, I'll post examples of some basic stitches that are very useful for repairs.  For now, get to know your needles.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Steam and fry

If you are like me, you have never had much love for green vegetables.  Or cooked carrots.  Or any vegetable but cooked broccoli with cheese sauce.  (Mmm...cheese.)

Here is a tip to cook vegetables so they taste good:  First, cook them in a pan with oil and water.  The water will steam them and then the oil will crisp them immediately.  (If you cut fat out of your diet you're going to need to get it from somewhere, and olive oil is still relatively cheap.  I will post later on different types of oils and their benefits.)  If you use frozen vegetables, the water is not exactly required, but may be great if you have fresh and frozen mixed together.

A second tip is to get some amino acids.  I detest green beans and have had a bad relationship with carrots, but I actually crave both of those things now that I've been cooking them with amino acids.  If you don't want to use amino acids (Or soy or tamari), then try balsamic vinegar.  Try all kinds of nifty sauces and stocks.  Sauce is the key to changing your relationship with icky healthy foods.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How to stretch your protein

We eat a mediterenean-style diet here.  We find it is a good way to have a well balance diet and to be vegetarian/pesceterean.*  A simple way to manage a limited diet and not get bored is to divide your days by what protein you will consume.  If you are like me, you are likely to grab the same thing every day until it runs out, and then wish there was more of this one thing.  That can lead to other food sources being spoiled and a lack of nutrients.

The week is split up between the protein and days in which we make meals (the two of us alternate.)  Most of the week we only eat breakfast together, but on the weekends we have dinners together as well, and then we throw together a lunch.

Here is our basic schedule:

Monday - Breakfast: A, Fish
Tuesday - Breakfast: D, Eggs
Wednesday - Breakfast: A, Fish
Thursday - Breakfast: D, Cheese
Friday - Breakfast: A; Dinner: D; Eggs
Saturday - Breakfast: D; Dinner: A; Fish
Sunday - Breakfast: A; Dinner: D; Cheese

We don't always eat the protein the schedule says.  And of course we have left off things like beans and tofu, so we are able to have those whenever we want.  Making food this way has really helped us stave off boredom, explore new recipes and also save a lot of money on food.

*I realize there is a big fight over who can rightly be called vegetarian and that fish-eaters aren't technically vegetarian.  However, the word for people who just eat fish is not very common, and we are also still working on getting off the fish.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wood working

After much thought, it has been decided that I will be making wood products.  We will start with walking sticks and wands, and move on from there.

These will be customizable with wood burning, and later with carving as I learn to actually use the nifty chisels I own.

That is all...

Good sauce

Do you have a sifter?  Or do you think the whole idea of the apparatus is silly?  I don't like sifters.  I think they are too bulky, and my kitchen is small.  So whenever recipes call for sifting, I scoff.  Literally.  I read it and say, "SCOFF!"  Anyway, I find most recipes can get along without it.  But sauces are apparently different.

I have always longed to be able to make good sauces, and last week I figured it out.  The thickener needs to be sifted.  However, one doesn't need a sifter to sift. What one needs is this simple and inexpensive tool:

I don't know the name for it.  Probably 'mesh strainer.'  You can find these things in dollar stores and fine cooking stores.  (I think the one I'm showing may be for tea, but these come in lots of different sizes.)  It doesn't really matter how big the thing is.

To make a sauce, start with water.  I'm not going to tell you how much, because it doesn't matter and you may want to make more or less sauce.  Also, the size of your pan or pot (We don't have many pots, so I usually use pans) may be determining how much sauce you can make.

Once you have your water, scoop some flour into the strainer and hold it over the pan.  Begin shaking it.  Stir the flour in.  It doesn't matter if you shake a lot on there or a little.  Because the strainer has made the particles smaller and separated them, it will all mix easily. 
I recommend using a whisk to mix all this up.

Be careful not to add too much flour, or else you'll end up with something more like a hot cereal.  (But maybe you want to experiment with that.  It could be tasty.)

Once you have that done, add anything you want to melt into it (Like cheese or butter.) and turn the heat on.  Also begin adding spices.  A good mix for cheese sauce is cheddar, mustard powder and salt.  A good desert sauce is sugar/sweetener, vanilla and some kind of fruit.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Huzzah for no more hiatuses (Or is that hiatae?)

Okay, after a quick search on the internet, hiatus is the plural of hiatus.  Win.  I love learning Latin.  We had a hiatus here because of moving to a new computer, which didn't have the proper software for using blogspot.  I'm still not quite sure what the problem was, but it is fixed.  yay.

Now, things have been rather disrupted here.  Being unemployed has really just left me bleh.  Do you have that?  Where you have all the time in the world, but since you don't know what is going to happen, you just can't do anything?  I get like that.

Thankfully, I am with job now.  Which means we can get materials together to really get started on actually making this business work.  We'll definitely be selling ornament balls, but as for what else, I am not sure.  Rice bags, if anyone will buy them.  My sewing needles and safety pins need work  (IE I don't have the proper materials to pound on them to make them hard like they are supposed to be.), so it will be awhile before those can be made.

In the meantime, please come back and read more about ideas for everyday life.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Drying herbs and flower petals

I'm sure you've seen special systems for drying flowers and herbs.  You might wonder, "How did people historically dry herbs or flower petals without weird modern chemicals and gadgets?" 
I can't answer that question for you.  But I can tell you a nifty way to dry some plant life.

Here is what you need:
A mesh screen
A dryer (In our apartment we have a dryer stacked on a washer in a very small space.)
Whatever plant matter you want to dry.

Scatter the herbs or petals evenly on the mesh.  Lay the screen on top of the dryer.  Let it sit there for a few days.  Then check to see if your plant matter is dry.

Very easy, very simple, very non-toxic.  This idea belongs to Angelowe, which she came up with randomly one day.  It has been very helpful and effective.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Miso noodle soup

I've caught a random sore throat today, which of course is what we call 'unhappy-making.'  However, this did give me a chance to test out the bag of miso soup paste that we received awhile back.  (The brand we have is Shiro Miso Paste, which can be found online here.)

If you have never had miso soup, I will first tell you that you are missing out.  And secondly I will tell you that using the paste by itself doesn't make the same sort of miso you'll receive at restaurants.  For that you need a few more ingredients, like a fish broth named dashi stock.  I, however, don't have dashi stock and don't care to go buy any.  So I just mix up the paste with a bit of water, heat it up, and call it good.

Today I decided to try making some miso like chicken noodle soup.  We were out of tofu and fish, so I didn't bother adding any protein.  The results were delicious.  The spaghetti noodles tasted more like those big flat dumpling noodles, and they weren't mushy.  The noodles were boiled in the miso itself, which saved a few dishes from needing a wash.

So, the results healthwise?  - Wonderful.  This is like drinking tea, only with more substance.  The miso has that meaty (umame) taste and the protein to make it very fulfilling to imbibe.  The noodles make it thicker.  If you have become a vegetarian or vegan and miss chicken noodle soup, I highly recommend this stuff.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Safety pin

I have some work to show!  I'm very excited.  While the pin still needs a little bit of work (My hammer is missing), I have it in the basic shape necessary.  Apologies for the low quality of the picture.  A better camera will be ours in the future, hopefully.

It doesn't look like too much here, so I'll show you a traced version I did.

The grey part is in the foreground, while the darker part is in the back.  The little loop on the right side holds the longer grey part in place, and on the left side is a coil that gives it some springy action.  once I have my hammer I can pin this to some cloth to show you how well it does its job.