Cozy satisfaction

hot water bottle cozyWhen I pulled my hot water bottle out this fall, it was obvious that its cozy wasn’t going to last another season. Or rather, it really didn’t make last season, but I was still using it. The gaping hole was the kind of special feature that meant you might shift a bit (maybe just as you were drifting off to sleep) and suddenly be scalded.

The window of opportunity for a mend had passed, so I set out to make a replacement yesterday. The objective was simple enough that there was no pattern or measuring involved. I started by felting an old lambswool sweater from my bin of thrifted supplies and then just cutting the basic shape and sewed the pieces together, making sure it fit the bottle as I went. Just my kind of project.

Since my sweater was a pullover instead of a cardigan, I made an opening at the back for easy installation/removal. A bit of strategic cutting meant that the sweater’s hem gave me a neat finish without any extra effort. I cannibalized a couple snaps from the old cozy to secure the opening and that was it. The felted wool is quite thick, but it was easier than I expected to work with. Of course it doesn’t fray, and my old sewing machine didn’t hesitate even when I jammed three layers through for the overlapping bit.

I’m really quite pleased about it – both with how it turned out and the satisfaction of actually tackling a project that’s so long overdue.

Mmmm… mustard

2014-08-029I don’t think I had ever considered making my own mustard, but then the most recent issue of Taproot magazine arrived and it became a certainty that I would. Somehow, it took me about two months to actually do this, but there was no good reason for that delay and I’ll be making more much sooner.

(Aside: I heard about Taproot when they were launching the very first issue and it sounded like something I would love. I looked into it then, but it just seemed a little too indulgent. I thought, “that would be a great holiday gift” and waited for someone else to bite on my behalf. Then in a fit of impatience this past January, I bought myself a one-year subscription. It is so worth every penny and then some. Every issue is packed with gorgeous art and inspiring stories and patterns and projects and recipes for things that I have actually made. I’m currently considering splurging on a full set of back issues, because I still hate that I missed out on nearly two years of that goodness.)

Right – we’re talking about mustard. I should probably hold this post because there’s no reason it needs to compete with the piles of late-summer produce that are no doubt looming in your kitchen as they are in mine. But on the other hand, it’s really no competition, more like a satisfying antidote. It’s nearly instant gratification compared to most ferments and it takes literally a few minutes to put it together.

I made two versions on my first go – a basic yellow mustard and a spicy horseradish mustard. As much as I love a spicy horseradish mustard, I think the basic recipe has great flavor and versatility, so that’s what I’m sharing here.

Yellow Mustard (adapted slightly from Kirsten Shockey’s recipe in Taproot magazine)

  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 4 Tblsp raw apple cider vinegar
  1. Combine all ingredients except the vinegar in blender and blend until it reaches a paste consistency.
  2. Spoon mustard into glass jar, making sure to press out any air pockets. Cover with lid and leave to ferment at room temperature for 3 days.
  3. Stir in vinegar and move to store in refrigerator. Makes roughly 1 1/2 cups. Note that the half-pint jar on the left in the photo is a half-batch.

That’s it! This will mellow some over time, but it still has a bit of a kick from the brown mustard seeds. If you want something really mild, I would use a higher proportion of yellow mustard seeds. The original recipe also suggests that you could add a bit of honey with the vinegar which I didn’t do.

And now you have the perfect excuse for a round of my all-time favorite breakfast sandwiches: caramelized red onion, egg and sharp cheddar between two pieces of mustard-spread toast. Yum! I’m sure there will be some grilled sausages in our near future as well. What is your favorite vehicle for mustard?

Plans, shmans. Or feet, shmeet.

This weekend did not go according to plan. Which is ironic, perhaps, given how many times I was asked about my plans (given that it was my birthday) and the fact that each time I responded with, “no real plans, just a day to do as I please and take it easy.” In retrospect, I’d clarify that. I’d like a Saturday with a long run, some guilt-free crafting time, and some outside pottering followed by a very productive Sunday catching up on house and garden chores.

Instead, I got two days chock full of sitting with a bonus trip to the radiology department. Still waiting on word whether the anger in my left foot is strictly related to soft tissue damage or whether there is bone involved. I’m tempted to say it doesn’t really matter, although I guess one might heal faster than the other and that surely does matter a whole lot. Because I am really feeling quite over this sitting thing. Already.

At the least, I feel like I should have a good story of how I got into this mess. But I’ve got nothing. I was at physical therapy Friday morning (playing it conservative on the running issues), doing an exercise that involved running/stepping up and down from a wooden box quickly when I missed the landing on one step, hit the edge of the wooden box, and landed back on the ground. It didn’t feel like any trauma at the time, it smarted to a degree I attributed entirely to the intersection of bare skin and the edge of the box. But it’s been pretty much a downhill slide from there.

Since I’m searching for upsides I can report that I did indeed get some crafting hours this weekend. I knit a second sock to complete a pair I cast on as travel knitting back in December. They’re nothing pretty but I do love thick worsted-weight socks, even in the summer, so I’m happy to add a new pair to my drawer. I finally searched out some heavy sock yarn that is 80% wool/20% nylon so hopefully these will be a bit more durable than my current stock, which are lovely to wear but the yarn was never intended for socks and I am forever having to re-darn them.

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I also got a small start on the wool braided rug project. I’m still learning the best way to hold and fold the wool as I braid which is a bit trickier than the lightweight cottons I used on the last rug, but otherwise it’s going well.

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I’m working on the second sleeve of a cardigan that I started last summer and then the knitting works-in-progress will be cleared. Which explains why I felt the irresistible compulsion to rummage through my yarn stash this morning and scatter it all over the floor exploring ideas for what I shall cast on next. The possibilities of a new project never fail to cheer me up, at least for a bit…

Update: It’s just a flesh wound. (No really, x-rays were clear.)

Nootka rose

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A new discovery! Our native wild rose is the Nootka rose. You tend to find them in the unkept edges – growing along a fence or lane or such. I had been admiring the blossoms on the neighbors property recently and then yesterday I spotted a patch in one of the neglected corners of our place.

My first thought was rosehip jelly but we’re a few months out from that so I did some quick internet research on other uses and decided to try harvesting some petals. The picking went better than I expected; I was actually able to nearly fill a quart container in about half an hour or a little longer. Then I dropped it into a waist-high collection of grass, thistles, and brambles. It landed perfectly upside down. Some choice words were uttered, and what you see above is what I was able to salvage. I’d like to report that I really learned my lesson from that experience but I picked another spot this afternoon using the same container and lo, the same thing happened except I got luckier and only a fraction dumped out. Maybe next time?

A couple hours in the dehydrator on the lowest setting (95°) and the petals had shrunk impressively. I decided my first experiment would be to infuse some honey. So that’ll sit and meld for a few weeks and we’ll see how it turns out.

It was so satisfying to go from idea to identification to execution in less than a day. The second batch is drying now. Not sure what those will be – probably just stored as dried petals for a future tea blend or bath product project. I’m also intrigued by rose water but don’t think I’m that ambitious (and I’d need a whole lot more petals).

Homestead wildcrafting, continued

I have continued reading up on the various uses of our local native plants and scouting around our property to see what’s growing where and such since the folk school course a couple weeks ago and the initial burst of herbal making I wrote about. Late spring is a good time for harvesting many things, so I’ve also added a few jars to the shelf of experiments.

During that course, the instructor mentioned that thimbleberry leaf can be used just like red raspberry leaf, which is so popular in herbal teas. We have loads of thimbleberry around, and it’s just putting out lots of young leaves so I harvested a basketful yesterday and filled the dehydrator. When I came back to check on them, I was caught off-guard by how good it smelled so I’m looking forward to trying the tea.

I’ve also harvested two batches of horsetails. With each, I dried most of them and simmered a handful fresh for a hair rinse. Most references I’ve found focus the benefits of a tea preparation, but I’m mostly interested in the hair rinse potential. Dean assures me that it’s a placebo effect, but I think my hair feels smoother, so I’ll keep playing with it.

I started a jar of willow bark tincture yesterday as well. I wasn’t planning on this one but when I was thinning saplings for woodchips, I ended up with a few young willows in the mix and couldn’t resist. So I stripped a few branches and snipped the bark to fill a jar. I still feel a bit hesitant, like there’s a bit more possibility for screwing up with this one. But I’m also intrigued by homemade aspirin, so we’ll give it a try with a bit of extra caution.

I walk by my tinctures in the pantry every day and give the jars a gentle turn/shake. It’s fascinating to me to watch them slowly change character. A couple more weeks and the first batch will be ready for decanting and trial…

Homestead wildcrafting

I’ve been drooling over the course descriptions of our local folk school ever since it started about two years ago. This weekend, I finally took my first course on “spring tonics and northwest wild medicines”. It was fantastic and of course I’m kicking myself now for waiting so long.

We spent the day learning to identify and harvest local plants with medicinal properties and then extracting those properties and creating a few finished products. I came home at the end of the afternoon exhausted but way too excited not to head out with a bucket and pruners immediately. It’s been 24 hours and I have jars of yellow dock, dandelion, oregon grape, and blackberry roots tincturing (is that a verb? if not, it should be) along with a jar of dried nettles and a bowl of nettle pesto in the fridge (ok, half a bowl – it’s really tasty). I also scoped out the best patch of horsetails but didn’t get back to harvest them yet… All from a couple of short walks around the homestead. How gratifying is that?

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Completely unrelated… I’ve been derailed from my running routine for almost two weeks but I finished a full run today so hoping I am back on track. For weeks I was pleasantly surprised that my body seemed to be adjusting to running again and then suddenly it wasn’t. It was mostly some lower calf issues – not tightness, but knots so persistent that it felt like they would just cramp and give way when I tried to run. After a week and a half of arnica and ice and ibuprofen and heat and rest (and more rest), I finally saw a chiropractor and got my hips adjusted. And then figured out I could use a tennis ball to attack the knots. Sweet relief. It’s interesting how my old self-knowledge of my body as a runner is coming back in fits and starts. After more than a week of being completely mystified, a lightbulb went off about my hips and the quick knee-lift test that I used way back when. Bingo – still works!

On time and crafting

Craft work can be seen as preserving time. Hand made items preserve time in the same way that fruit is preserved as jam, not as the unchanged strawberry or plum fresh plucked, but as something cooked and processed to preserve the taste of summer. Hand made items embody both the hours of making (time) and memories and feelings of people (the times) within the construction of the object . . .a true cultural artifact. – from needle & spindle, via Kate Davies Design

My recent rug and blanket projects sparked some reflection on my affinity for all things hand-made, so it felt quite serendipitous to stumble on these words this week. In general, I have to fight a tendency toward a scarcity mindset of time, and especially my own. But I have no interest in reducing the number of hours I spend making things. I would have accepted it as yet one more incongruity in the mind of bethany, but I think the jam analogy provides a better explanation.

On the surface, spending countless hours to knit a sweater or braid a rug or carve a spoon is utterly impractical. But those hours aren’t “spent” carving the spoon, they’re spent scoping the woods on Jolie Way, and soaking up the sunshine on Adam’s front stoop in NE Portland, and pondering the last days of my year of travel… and along the way a bit of wood got infused with my 28-year-old self. So when I pull that utensil out of the drawer, a little bit of that self joins me for a meal.

It seems so plain now, but my intuitive calculus reflected the time invested and the finished object and some measure for sentimentality, but no explicit consideration for the value of preserving my experiences in the raw materials. There’s another layer there when the object is practical and useful so the memories get woven into everyday life, almost a nonlinear experience of time.

I know this isn’t a new idea, but it’s an insight I couldn’t have articulated last week and it helped me understand why I like crafting and appreciate hand-made items as much as I do. As if I needed an excuse to take on more hand-making projects!

Slow home furnishing

braided rugI started this project more than 4 years ago but I did all of the lacing and about the last third of the braiding in the last two weekends. It’s curious to me how things can sit in hibernation for so long and then motivation strikes like lightning and a whirl of progress follows.

For a folk art that seems to have been as common and widespread as rug braiding, I found surprisingly little good information on precisely how to create one. The book that initially inspired me feigned complete instructions but it led me astray in the beginning and then drifted into such vagueness that it was worthless midway. So part of all that “down” time involved puzzling out exactly how old-fashioned braided rugs were actually made.

I think I have it figured out now so I will certainly learn how I am wrong on the next one.

One quick aside: that initial book encouraged me to sew all of my strips together before braiding, creating three very long fabric strips (rolled into balls). I can say with confidence that this is a terrible idea, and if you do so, you will curse those impossibly long and perpetually tangled strips with a vehemence not generally exercised with inanimate objects.

And yes, there will definitely be a next one. When I started this shirt cotton project, it was to practice for the wool rugs I really wanted to make. (Oh, my optimism pains even me sometimes.) And I did acquire a whole bin of wool ready and begging to become a rug in the meantime. The sane thing would be to look forward to starting that project next fall when the days get shorter again; we’ll see if I can wait that long to test my theories of rug braiding brilliance.