30 July 2011

Homemade Veggie Broth - You'll Wonder Why You Ever Bought Broth!

I started making my own broth several years ago. I'd decided to go vegetarian and let me tell you, there is a shortage of good-tasting veggie broths out there. I tried almost every brand available at the store, including the condensed powder/paste types, and none of them pack the flavor punch I'm looking for. Lets face it - chicken broth tastes good! It's salty, oily, yellow... ok, actually I'm really not a fan of chicken broth. But it can add a ton of flavor to rice and veggies, and I'm a (most of the time) vegetarian who loves food with a lot of flavor. I'm also a conservationist who values the "waste-not-want-not" philosophy and I try to minimize waste whenever possible. It occurred to me that all the veggie scraps I was composting could be used for a higher cause... a tasty veggie broth made with real vegetables instead of powder or paste!

Well, I can tell you that I've never gone back. My broth is an always changing flavor medley of whatever vegetables are in season and it serves as the base for soups, gravies, stews, rice pilafs, steamed veggies, pasta sauces, and anything else where you could use water but want some extra flavor.  Here's how it's done:

What You Need:  
  •  1-Gallon glass jar with tight-fitting lid (I got mine as a jar of pickles from the Cash-and-Carry. The pickles, sadly, were not good but the jar has served me well!)
  •  1 or 2 large zip-lock bags
  • Large soup pot
  • Mesh strainer
  • Vegetable scraps
Whenever you prepare vegetables, keep the scraps - all the ends, peels, greens, etc. I especially like to save scraps from onions, celery, carrots, tomatoes (oh yes, these are some of the best!), potatoes, garlic, zucchini, spinach, cabbage, etc. These are the veggies that will give you the best straightforward flavor. Then I love to add bits from seasonal veggies that will add a unique angle - turnips, chard stems, beet ends, green beans, kale, lemon or lime peels, apple cores. These veggies (and fruits) will impart flavors that are a little more distinctive, so you'll want to be careful which ones you mix together and maybe plan what your corresponding recipes will be. You may want lime peels if you're planning on making some thai soups or curries, but wouldn't want them in if you're planning a minestrone or thyme/rosemary/sage white bean soup. You get the idea.

Put these scraps into your ziplock bags and keep them in the freezer. They'll keep for a few months, but I bet you'll accumulate enough for a broth in just a couple of weeks. 

When you're ready to make your broth, make sure that your glass jar is clean. I run it through the dishwasher on hot to be sure that it's as sterile as possible without actually boiling the jar, although you could do that too. If you're going to can this broth and store it outside the fridge, then of course you'll want to follow canning principles, but I keep mine in the fridge. Put all of your frozen veggie scraps in your soup pot. One to two bags full is perfect. Fill the pot with at least one gallon of water. This does not have to be exact as long as the water covers the veggies. Add 1-2 tsp of kosher or fine sea salt (to taste) and whatever spices you'd like. I have a rosemary bush, sage bush and bay tree, so I add those fresh, but dried herbs work too. I also crush several garlic cloves and toss them in with their skins. 

Bring the pot just to a boil, then reduce the heat to keep it at a simmer for at least an hour. Taste, and if it's too weak for your liking, keep simmering until you're happy. Depending on what veggies I have in there I'll sometimes let it go for up to two hours. I'll also add more salt/spices if I feel like it needs it. 

When you're happy with the flavor, turn off the heat and let the pot cool for 15 minutes or so. With a wooden spoon or potato masher, press the veggies down against the bottom of the pot to squeeze out as much flavor as possible. Place the glass jar in the sink with the mesh strainer balanced on top of the opening. If you don't have a mesh strainer you can use your colander, but you may get some unwanted veggie-bits in the broth. Carefully pour the broth through the strainer into the jar until not-quite-full. If there is any liquid left, I always feel slightly guilty about pouring it down the drain, but hey! You've already given your veggie scraps a 2nd life!  You should feel great about that! Discard veggie scraps in the compost.

If you put the lid on your jar while it's hot the pressure from the cooling liquid will seal it on really tight, so I like to leave the jar on the counter for a few hours to overnight with the lid just resting on top. Another reason to let it cool is that putting a jar of hot liquid in your fridge will raise the temperature in there, forcing the cooling element to kick on and increasing your energy use (and bill!) The broth will keep in the fridge for about 3 weeks. Once you get past 2 weeks, be sure to give it a sniff before using it. And if it goes bad before you use it all, no worries. You'll most likely have another bag of frozen veggie bits ready by then to make another batch!

Next time I make a batch I'll take photos and add them to the post. What is your favorite veggie broth-based recipe?


25 July 2011

Adventures in Indigo-Dying

About a week ago I told you all about my recent adventures in tie-dying and promised a new project - dying a bedsheet set with indigo dye. Well, yesterday I spent a good chunk of the day setting up an indigo vat and spiral-dying our sheets. As you can see, they turned out great! The process was a little more tedious than tie-dying, as there are multiple dips and turning overs, but the great part is you don't have to wait 24 hours to see your results! As soon as the fabric is done resting, you just rinse it out in the tub and you can see your handiwork immediately. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me walk you through the steps to creating your very own beautifully blue sheet set.

1. Purchase new or used 100% cotton bedding in your bed size. We have a queen, and I found some lovely 400 count 100% cotton sheets at Goodwill for $6. This didn't include the fitted sheet, so I decided to just dye the flat sheet and two pillowcases. It is important to have bedding that is 100% cotton or other natural fiber (linen, hemp, etc) without any polyester or nylon, because the indigo dye will only bond with natural fibers.

2. Purchase an indigo dying kit. I got the Jacquard Mini Indigo Tie Dye Kit from Joann Fabrics online for $9 including shipping with a 50% off coupon code from my favorite coupon code blogger Mommy $aves Big. Even though it's called "Mini", don't be fooled. It makes a TON of dye and can dye up to 5 pounds of fabric or the equivalent of 15 t-shirts. The kit contains indigo dye crystals, a bag of powdered reducer (allows the indigo to turn blue and bond with fabric), two sizes of rubber bands, wooden blocks and popsicle sticks for creating designs, one pair of gloves and an instruction manual.

3. Gather the following materials:  
  • 5-gallon bucket with lid
  • Stir stick - long enough to reach the bottom of the bucket without submerging your hand
  • 1 large or several medium size pans/tupperware lined with saran wrap
  • Small container for mixing the reducer - I used the cut-off bottom of a 2-liter bottle because the kit cautions against using kitchenware that will touch food later.
  • Large tarp or plastic sheet
  • Paper towels or rags for cleanup

4. Set up your dye vat. Fill the 5-gallon bucket with 4 gallons of warm tap water. Pour the indigo crystals in and gently stir with your stir stick until dissolved. Fill small container with 2 cups of hot tap water and pour in the reducing agent. Stir until dissolved, then pour into dye vat and stir gently in one direction until dissolved. Then gently reverse stirring direction, scraping the stir stick along the side of the bucket and slowly lifting until the stick is out of the liquid. Cover and let the vat rest for one hour.


A note about this step. When I tried to dissolve the chemical reducer in the hot water it didn't completely dissolve and in fact clumped up a bit. It could be that my tap water wasn't hot enough, but in any case, I stirred until it didn't seem to dissolve any more, then poured it into the vat. The clumps dissolved once they were stirred into the vat, so don't worry if you don't get them completely dissolved in the hot water.

5. Prepare your material. Wet the sheets and pillowcases (or whatever material you'll be dying) thoroughly and ring them out so they're wet but not dripping. It's time to create your designs! There are tons of different methods that you find online or just experiment and make it up as you go along. You can crumple the material up in a ball and tie it up with string/rubber-bands to create an all-over starburst-like pattern. You can fold the material in accordion folds and put the wood pieces on the outside to prevent the dye from reaching that part of the cloth, creating blue outlines that repeat at the accordion folds. You can paint designs with wax, then dye the entire cloth. Later, iron the cloth over an old towel, melting the wax into the towel and revealing your design

I wanted a spiral design in the sheet, echoed in the pillowcases. I looked everywhere online and could not find any evidence that a spiral design is even possible with indigo so I was a little worried that it wouldn't work. I went ahead and tried though, and it worked just fine. I used the same twisting technique that I'd used previously for the colorful tie-dye, laying out the wet fabric, grabbing the center point and twisting until the entire piece is in a tight circle (see photos). This is easier done with the pillowcases than the sheet, of course, as the sheet tends to get stuck under your (damp) knees and the tarp can get bound up as you twist. But just take your time and keep working the fabric until you have it how you want it. You have an hour to wait for the dye vat anyhow! I used rubber bands to secure the pillowcases, but they wouldn't stretch far enough to reach across the entire sheet so I found some twine and used that to tie up the sheet. It doesn't matter if you tie it up with 6 equal wedges, like in the spiral tie-dye project, because we're going to dip the whole piece in one color this time. So just tie it in whatever way ends up holding it tight.

One of the pillowcases, spiraled and secured with rubberbands

The sheet, tightly spiraled and tied with twine

6.  Commence dying! Indigo's chemical properties require some care during the dying process so you'll want to move slowly and gently during all steps. The dye needs to adhere to the material prior to being exposed to oxygen, which is when it actually turns blue. The dye vat's color is a yellow-green color, but at the top, where the indigo has been exposed to oxygen, there is a blue foam that crackles and pops. This layer is called the "flower".

When you're ready to dye, put on the gloves and scoop the flower off the top of the vat and set it aside. I used a disposable pie-tin, but any non-food related container would be fine. Now that I think of it, what I should have done was rinse out the bottom of the 2-liter bottle I'd used for the reducer and put the flower in there. Next time!

Bright green color after one dip in the indigo vat

Hold your bound fabric in both hands and squeeze to minimize the air pockets in the fabric. Slowly lower it into the dye and hold it, submerged, for about one minute. The instructions didn't give a lot of specifics about this part, so I just slowly turned it and gently squeezed once in awhile. It was a lovely day yesterday, so I used this time to listen to the birds and enjoy the sun (you know, to basically space out and enjoy not really working for a minute). When the minute is done, squeeze the material under the surface to squeeze out the liquid and slowly pull it up and out. Avoid splashing, as the more oxygen introduced into the liquid means the more foaming on top and the less unoxidized indigo left to dye your fabric.

After two dips and 10 minutes of oxidation

Set the material in your saran-wrapped pan or tupperware and let it rest. At this point it looks neon greenish-yellow, which would have really freaked me out except that the directions were clear that this was to be expected. As the indigo is exposed to oxygen the blue color deepens. Let the piece rest for 10 minutes, then flip it over to expose the other side and wait another 10 minutes. In the meantime you can be dying your other pillowcase and sheet(s). After 20 minutes of resting, the material should look fairly dark blue, possibly with some dark green blotches. If you want your final project to be lightish blue, you can stop here. If you're going for a darker blue, as I was, then you should repeat the dipping and resting process a few more times. I dipped and rested 3x for each piece to achieve a fairly deep blue color. I almost wish I'd done a fourth dip, though, because it was difficult to fit the spiraled sheet in the 5-gallon bucket and swoosh it around, so I don't think the dye penetrated as much as I would have liked. I felt like the spiral was going to fall apart if I moved it around too much. The smaller pillowcases turned out nice and dark, but the sheet would have benefited from another dip or two.

After your final resting/oxidation period, I recommend removing the ties/rubber bands and opening up the fabric for 5 minutes or so. Wherever you see yellow, the fabric is going to oxidize and turn blue, but if you rinse it now then it will turn white. I found that opening up the yellow parts and oxidizing for just a short time allowed a light blue to emerge, giving the piece extra dimension. You can skip this step if you want the colors to be more dark blue vs. white. 

Opening up a pillowcase after the 3rd dip to allow oxidation of the dye on the inner portions
The sheet, opened and oxidizing after the 3rd dip

Next, carry carefully to your tub and rinse out the dye in cool to warm water. The instructions seemed to imply that you should rinse until the water runs clear, but when you're working with a sheet you might be looking at 20 minutes+ of rinsing. At least, I rinsed for about 20 minutes until my back was killing me, then I said "enough!" I threw them in the wash with some mild homemade detergent (mmm, I'll have to post the recipe. It's so simple and unbelievably inexpensive!) and then in the drier. 

I'm so happy with the finished product! The cotton is exquisitely soft and the spiral pattern came out just how I wanted it. Each piece is unique, but with the same echoing spiral. 

The indigo vat will be good for a week or more, so just cover it up and store it until you're done with it. The instructions say to dispose of it down the drain, and I expect that is so that it goes through your city water treatment system. Some websites describe indigo dye as hazardous waste, so I think you won't want to pour it out in a storm drain or into your well-water drainage system.

 Leave a comment telling about your experiences with indigo dying. I'd love to read about what you've made. What is your favorite indigo design? 

22 July 2011

Red Owl Mushroom Farm

If you want to find out more about my other life as the partner to a mushroom farmer, check out redowlmushroomfarm.wordpress.com or the Red Owl Mushroom Farm page on Facebook. Lots of gorgeous pictures of oyster mushrooms and up to date info on which species we'll have at each farmers market and how to get grow-your-own-mushroom kits to grow delicious, healthy and wacky-looking food at home!

17 July 2011

Adventures in tie-dying

When we started selling at the farmers markets about a month ago, we realized that having a backdrop of some sort was going to be a necessity if we wanted to keep up with the Jones's. Everyone's booths were so lovely with their custom signs and coordinated themes. We are on a serious budget, and we love to craft, so obviously we decided to make something ourselves. We'd been eying a tie-dye kit from Michael's for awhile, talking about making t-shirts as gifts or messing around with dying our sheets, and we decided that a bright tie-dyed background would be just the eye-catching thing we needed for our booth. 

We took the plunge and purchased the Jacquard Funky Groovy Tie-Dye Kit for about $10 (with the 20% off Michael's coupon readily found online). There are several other brands, but we chose this one because it comes with a soda ash solution that preps the material to accept dye. This means that your tie-dye will be brighter and won't bleed in the laundry. One important thing to note is that the fabric to be dyed needs to be 100% natural fibers - cotton, hemp, linen, etc. So our next challenge came in finding a large sheet at Goodwill that was 100% natural (and still had its tag so that we'd know). After unfolding and refolding about 20 flat sheets, we finally found one that would work. The directions in the tie-dye kit are detailed and easy to follow. The steps consist of dissolving the soda ash in a bucket of warm water, soaking the material for 20 minutes, rinsing it and laying it out on a large plastic tarp (we used a large blue camping tarp) and commencing to dye. 

We used a combination of methods from this video and this one to create a spiral design. In short, we laid the wet sheet out on the plastic, grabbed the center and twisted it while gracefully (ha!) scampering around to try and avoid kneeling on the part that was being twisted, secured it with yarn that also divided it into 6 wedge-shaped pieces, then applied the die in color-wheel order (blue, green, yellow, orange, red, purple). This was accomplished by applying blue to three of the segments, then yellow to three and red to three, overlapping to create the green, orange and purple and repeating on the other side. We wrapped the bundle in a garbage bag, twiddled our thumbs for 24 hours, then rinsed out in the tub. It was beautiful! We'd done it! 

This being our first attempt, I didn't document it fully and don't have photos of all of the steps for you. But we loved the project so much that never fear, there will be more tie-dying! My next trial is going to be tie-dying our bedsheets with indigo dye, which uses a different technique and only that beautiful dark blue color that you might associate with traditional Indian and Japanese designs. I've already purchased the sheets and am just waiting for the Jacquard Indigo Dye to come in the mail (they didn't have it at Michael's so I ordered it from Joann Fabrics online.

Another fun note: We ended up cutting the sheet down to make a manageable booth backdrop, and I used the scraps to make us tie-dye aprons for the markets. I'm going to make a headband for my niece out of the scraps as well, and stay tuned for a tutorial on headbands soon to come!

Happy tie-dying!

14 July 2011

Pickled Young Cabbage Leaves

My garden has been doing its thing, as you can see here and here, and about a week ago was high time for thinning out the red cabbage. I'm a big fan of thinning! Not only does it make the remaining plants grow faster and healthier by removing competition, but I get to eat baby greens!!! 

Instead of eating these greens, as I've been doing with the chard, beets and mizuna, I wanted to indulge my infatuation with vinegar-pickled veggies. A search on the internet led to my realizing that although many many people pickle cabbage (usually using lacto-fermentation, but that's a whole other post!), no-one seems to be interested in pickling the tender early leaves. Or at least not anyone I could find. So I started doing the next best thing... experimenting!  I used this recipe as a basis for my vinegar mixture and method, then added and changed ratios to compliment the mild sweetness of the young cabbage leaves.

Here is the resulting recipe, which could be changed up endlessly to suit your tastes:

Pickled Young Cabbage
(Makes 1 quart)

4 cups (more or less) young cabbage leaves
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 1/2 Tbs cane sugar
1 Tbs sea salt (finely ground) or kosher salt
15 peppercorns 
3 whole cloves
6 dried red chilis, sliced lengthwise, including seeds

Combine all ingredients except the cabbage leaves in a small saucepan. Heat just until boiling. Meanwhile, rinse cabbage leaves and spin or pat dry. Pack tightly into a 1-quart glass jar.  When mixture boils and both sugar and salt are fully dissolved, take off heat and pour into jar over cabbage leaves. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating. My brine didn't completely cover the greens, so I flipped the jar over a few times over the 24 hour period.

This is a very strong snack, not to be eaten lightly! Munch a few leaves out of the fridge for a satisfying treat, toss some into a salad and use a little of the brine as a dressing, or add to a sandwich to give it some major zing. But don't do what I did and forget to add the water. I ended up with such a strong pickle that even adding the water later hardly toned it down. The leaves were still delicious, but next time I'll be sure to add the water from the start!

11 July 2011

My Garden Grows - Part 2

Since the garden is doing so well, I thought I'd post some new photos of its progress. I'm happy with all of it except that the garlic and onions seem to be having a poor year. I've tried fertilizing and keeping up with watering, but they seem to have stopped growing. I'll wait and see! Otherwise everything looks beautiful and we found our first baby sugar-snap pea yesterday! 

The sugar-snap peas taking advantage of the trellis. I love these sweet curly tendrils!

The red beets and carrots are coming right along. I've been thinning them a little at a time so we can eat the tender greens in salads and stir-fries.

I'm especially happy with these tomatillo plants we got from Stoney Plains Organic Farm at the Wallingford Farmers Market. We've only had them a few weeks and they've shot up to over 2 feet tall with tons of blossoms!

These sweet mizuna blossoms are great in salads!

Marigolds are helping deter nematodes and flying insects while they attract slugs and snails away from the other plants.

I love that our garden is attracting so many pollinators.

And on that beautiful note, adieu!

Cold Blooded Killer

Gardening has changed me. And I don't mean that it has tied me closer with the soil or given me a greater appreciation for the work that goes into producing my food, although those things could be said as well. No, I'm referring to the unfortunate fact that gardening has turned me into a cold blooded killer. It's true. I've taken to stalking the garden just after dusk with a flashlight and a yogurt container, picking slugs and snails off my precious leaves. I'll spare you the details of what happens next, but rest assured that the crows have been eating really well. There have been slugs floating in beer traps, hopefully not agonizingly burned by the salt rings I've put around the basil pots (but if so, they really should know better than to slither into salt!) and painfully insulted when my temper gets the better of my tongue. And in case you didn't already know this, I am the girl who takes spiders out to the yard and ushers flies out the front door to avoid killing them! The love of my vegetables has turned me into a crazy killer. 

My poor basil was being devoured by tiny slugs!

Here are some things I've learned from trial and error as well as talking to some farmers at the farmers market.

  • Marigolds planted around and amongst vegetables will deter some flying pests and nematodes. However, slugs and snails LOVE them. This could be good or bad. The slimy little buggers definitely zone in on the marigolds, so it's possible that they will leave the other vegetables mostly alone. Or this could be drawing them into the veggie beds when they wouldn't have shown up in the first place. Hard to say, but for their other pest-deterring properties I think Marigolds are a good integrated pest management (IPM) technique.   

    Wine-traps, I discovered, do not work for anything except fruit-flies
  • Beer traps are effective slug and snail killers if you do it right. Many sources recommend digging shallow holes around the perimeter of your garden and partially burying a yogurt/sour cream/other plastic container, pouring beer in to a level 2+ inches from the rim, and then cleaning out the dead slugs/snails in the morning. I did this (minus the digging part) and was fairly successful. The first morning yielded 5 or 6 snails, one GIANT slug, several medium sized slugs and a bevy of teensy weensy little baby slugs. They had all passed on to slug heaven (a swimming-pool filled with basil leaves in the sky?) and I disposed of them by putting them out for the crows to eat. The second morning there were a few new ones but nothing like the flush of the first day. The beer was flat so I tossed it and put out fresh. Third morning... nothing. But this did not mean that the problem was solved, as we found out when we brought a flashlight out to the garden after dusk. Tons of baby slugs, all over my marigolds and far too close to my precious basil, beet greens and sugar-snap peas! Which brings me to...
    • Hand-picking: My least favorite but the most effective slug/snail deterrent. After three nights of picking the voracious youngsters off the marigolds they appear to be gone. It's been five more nights and we haven't found a single slug or snail around the garden. Our disposal technique isn't pretty and involves putting them all in a plastic yogurt cream container and crushing with a rock (I told you, cold-blooded!), then leaving them on the side of the street for the crows. They get scooped up right away, preventing the unpleasant smell that results when they are disposed of in the compost.

      • Salt is also highly effective, but at least for me, too inhumane to be used widely. I poured rings of salt around my two potted basil plants to deter slugs and snails, and it has worked very well. I'm hoping that no slugs have actually gone into the salt, which is supposed to be excruciatingly painful to them. But if the end justifies the means, then salt is the way to go, as I haven't had a single bite taken out of the basil since I poured the salt.
        • Copper is supposed to also be a deterrent to slugs and snails, but purchasing copper tape at the garden store is REALLY expensive. For enough to go around my four raised beds, I would need to spend about $50 - way out of my gardening budget. Instead, I purchased $7 worth of copper wire and wrapped it as tightly as I could around the raised beds. Completely worthless, as this didn't prevent entry via branches/leaves that would blow across the beds at night and it was impossible to stretch the copper wire in such a way that there were no gaps. If you want to spend the money for the copper tape this is probably effective, otherwise I wouldn't recommend it.
          • Egg shells and coffee grounds have gotten some attention as a chemical free method for deterring slugs and snails, as the texture is unpleasant to move across, but internet searches have shown inconsistent results. I haven't tried this one personally.
            I was thrilled to see that we'd attracted these pest-eating ladybugs!
            • Dr. Bronner's soap has worked amazingly for aphids! We found a ton of aphids on two of the garden's ornamental shrubs and were worried that they may make it into the garden. All you need is two or three drops of Dr. Bronner's pepppermint 100% castille soap in a spray bottle of water. All of the aphids were killed, and although they returned within a few days, we repeated spraying a few times and there have been no new aphids for about 3 weeks. The plants were unaffected by the soap spray.
                This mint may be helping to keep pests at bay!
              • Planting other pest deterrents such as mint or basil is something we've tried but can't really measure the results. I transplanted some mint along the edges of two of the raised beds and I have two potted basils on the other side. Word on the street is that it can work, and they're both delicious and fragrant! Dill is another that has been recommended and I think I'll try it soon. I love dill! One of the farmers from One Leaf Farm gave me this suggestion and said that this operates the same way as the marigolds, that is, to attract slugs and snails and keep them away from your other plants. 

              When it comes down to it, maybe the best thing to do is just accept that some of your plants are going to get munched, and that sharing is ok as long as you have enough to go around!