06 August 2011

eBook Giveaway - The Key to Taking Pictures Like a Professional Photographer

Another fantastic giveaway through the Grosgrain Fabulous blog - Kathleen really knows how to throw a party! Over 600 people in the hat for this giveaway, but since they're giving away 3 eBooks there's a better-than-usual chance of winning! Check it out and learn how to fool people into thinking you're a pro photographer.

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.

(Click through for instructions!)

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. 

(Click through for more!)

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.

(Click through for the recipe!)

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.   
(Click through for more!)

28 June 2011

Fremont Solstice Celebration 2011!

The Fremont Solstice Parade and Street Fair was absolutely fantastic! My mom was in town, and we caught a bit of the parade (although a large, angry man called anyone and everyone a b*#@h when they tried to climb up on the wall next to him to get a better view of the naked paraders). The only good views we got were of bikers who stood up on their pedals. I'm sure it's illegal for me to post the picture above but I don't think the woman is identifiable because she's pretty far away. Right? 

We did some fantastic shopping with the street venders - Mom got a ton of Christmas/birthday shopping done and I got the most lovely mini-skirt made of recycled Guatemalan "cortes" (skirts), each piece of fabric from a different village. The sale of the skirts benefits the women who sell their used garments, the man and his daughter who sew the refashioned skirts and the local Seattle woman who sells them. Everyone wins including me! 

One of my favorite parts of the day was the collaborative art tent. There were several canvases set up for community painting as well as various supplies for children's art projects. I added the yellow flower in the hair of the lovely painted woman.  So much fun!

We ate some enormously overpriced food, all of which was delicious enough to wipe away our guilt. You can't beat a freshly deep-fried piroshki stuffed with salmon and molten-hot cream cheese,  roasted corn with mayo, lime, chili and salt, falafel and crepes with lemon and powdered sugar! So what if it costs like $30! 

Another awesome display was the "Cartists" and their fabulous art cars! I loved this one of found cigarette butts:

And this one with an Avatar-like figurehead:

My only regret is that I hardly took any photos. These are most of what I took. We were too lazy to push our way through the crowds so I didn't get any good shots of the parade, and I was too busy shopping and licking my fingers to remember to pull out my camera.

26 June 2011

Roasted Figs and Feta

The title says it all: Roasted Figs and Feta. There's really not too much else to say, except to drool a little, try to mop it up off your chin, and squeeze another one into your already overflowing mouth. I got the idea from my friend Nate who casually mentioned that someone at a dinner party had stuffed figs with feta cheese and brought them for an appetizer. Enough said. That is, it was enough for me. I think we probably kept chatting about something or other, but my attention was busy swimming in gooey, sweet and salty dreams and planning my evening's meal. 

This tasty treat is so simple that there is really no recipe needed. I bought about 1/4 lb dried figs from the bulk section of my local grocer and a small container of crumbled feta. I went for the stuff that was on sale because its main purpose was to add saltiness and it didn't seem like the time to splurge. I then sliced each fig lengthwise, stuffed in as much feta as would fit, and roasted them on a baking sheet in a 375F pre-heated oven for about 6 minutes. 

The photo above is from this first batch. They were VERY good. Something was missing though... the sweet was there, the salty was there, but something elusive kept flitting through my mind. A second batch was made a few days later upon my mother's arrival from Chicago. In all the excitement of getting back from the airport, the figs were forgotten in the oven and stayed in there for about 15 minutes. Now I'm not necessarily saying that you want to purposely leave them in that long, but the resulting caramelization of the fig's sugars and the slightly toasted feta was amazing! I'd say that 10-11 minutes would be just perfect.  

08 June 2011

Oh Happy Day Paris Giveaway!

Oh Happy Day is a fantastic blog with tons of creative, innovative ideas and best of all, Jordan is hosting a giveaway for a trip for two for 7 nights in PARIS!!!!!  Check out the giveaway, and take a minute to look at some of Jordan's awesome crafting ideas and creative finds.

13 May 2011

Grosgrain: Planet Gear $50 Giveaway

Grosgrain: Planet Gear $50 Giveaway

Here's another great giveaway at Grosgrain - $50 gift card at Planet Gear! Free outdoor gear = happy!

The Streamer Frock Grosgrain Giveaway

I just want to share this with you all - I can only hope that someday I can create something this amazing! Kathleen's designs are incredible and I think this is my favorite. Actually, this is quite possibly my favorite dress in the world.


02 May 2011

Spring has arrived!

Well folks, this weekend was gorgeous. We're talking sunshine, bike rides, working in the garden, even dragging an extension cord into the garden to work on my computer while basking in the afternoon sun. And then we found a sparrow's nest with three tiny blue speckled eggs nestled in our cedar. I mean, c'mon! Spring in Seattle, what could be better?! And to top it all off, a quart of strawberries found their way into our fridge.

Now some, when faced with strawberries, will sprinkle sugar and pour cream. In fact I did just that last week and enjoyed my evening thoroughly. But this being Sunday night, the night before Monday morning you know, it seemed of paramount importance to do something a little more decadent, a little more gooey, a little more like... a crumble. If you've ever made a crumble then you know that you can take a few ingredients that you almost certainly have in your cupboard and in about 5 minutes of prep work and 40 minutes in the oven, your evening is transformed into a thing of sweet, savory, crumbly goodness. This is one of the easiest desserts you can make, and while it isn't exactly healthy (hooray for butter!) it does have fruit in it and, as I discovered, you can include whole wheat and oatmeal to trick yourself into thinking you're eating health food. Ooh, I just wish I could have recorded the sweet sound of strawberry juices bubbling and the topping crackling when it came out of the oven!

(Click through for more!)

17 April 2011

Smitten Kitchen's French Onion Soup

One of my favorite food bloggers, Smitten Kitchen, recently posted an adaptation of Julia Child's French Onion Soup recipe. I tried it out this weekend and pretty much followed her instructions (except to use a homemade veggie broth instead of beef and to use Romano cheese because that's what I had on hand). I'm sorry I failed to take any pictures of my own, but oh my goodness!  You should head on over to her site immediately and get to work! The soup was rustic but elegant with complex caramel flavors, and the toasted cheese on top was absolutely mindblowing. 

Here she is in all her glory:  French Onion Soup  Enjoy!

11 April 2011

Crusty Bread Heaven

I know the name of this blog is "Grow, Knead, Pickle and Sew", but for my first bread-related blog I just have to tell you about the greatest-ever-no-kneading-necessary recipe!

There must be a thousand recipes for "no-knead" breads floating around on the internet, and I have tried most of them. Along about the millionth try I gave up hope that any of them would truly produce a palatable loaf (except beer bread, but that's a whole other post!) Until now. I came upon the 2007 New York Times adaptation of Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François' recipe for "Simple Crusty Bread" from their book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. They also had a recipe for "No-Knead Bread" by Jim Lahey published about a year earlier. When these two recipe's are combined, oh man! The resultant loaf is perfectly golden and crunchy on the outside, dense but fluffy on the inside. There are lovely air pockets to catch your melting butter but most of the inside is reminiscent of the best Italian loaves. You know the ones. The kind you keep dipping in olive oil until you look up and can't believe the entire loaf is gone. And that's exactly what I did when this loaf came out of the oven. Who knew that simple could really be better?

The key here is that the dough must be left alone to ferment for a good amount of time. The Simple Crusty recipe only has the dough rising for 2-5 hours. There have been critics that say the quicker rising time leaves the bread with a bitter, overly-yeasty flavor. I don't know because I let mine rise much longer both times I've made the recipe. On my first try I stuck with the NYT recipe that calls for only using all-purpose flour. Incredible. For my second try I used 3 cups of bread flour and 3 1/2 cups of all purpose thinking that it couldn't possibly not be better with bread flour. I was wrong. The texture skewed toward sandwich bread instead of luscious Italian, and the crust lost some crunch after cooling. So my recommendation is to stick with all-purpose, as unlikely as that sounds. 

As for storing the dough, it works wonderfully.  I've stored the dough in the fridge for up to a few days and the freezer for about a week, and both baked up perfectly. If storing in the fridge, allow the dough to rest for about an hour before shaping into a ball and letting rise for another 40 minutes. If freezing, I would recommend letting it thaw in a warm spot for a few hours. Once it is completely thawed let it rest for another hour, then shape and rest as above. I found that as it thawed it spread out on the cutting board. Then as it warmed and rested it rose to about double its size. 

The other adaptations to the recipes that I've made are to cut down the salt a bit (so if you like your bread more salty, then increase my amount by 1/2 tsp), to divide the batch of dough in three instead of four loaves, and to bake on parchment paper on an overturned baking pan (because I don't, gasp, have a baking stone). I also used a rising time that varied between 8 - 20 hours. I feel that a rise on the longer side, 12-15 hours, is fine because we're using quite a bit of active dry yeast as opposed to the smaller amount of instant yeast from Lahey's recipe. He also calls for up to 20 hours. 

(Click through for the recipe!)

10 April 2011

Bracelet to Necklace Transformation

Ever have the perfect bracelet for an outfit but what you really need is a necklace? Well friends, I have the solution for you. I have the most beautiful bracelet, made for me by my step-mom. While searching for a necklace the other day I spied this bracelet and a blue ribbon sitting side-by-side. I've been inspired lately by a lot of Kathleen Francis' Grosgrain designs, this one in particular, and knew what I needed to do.

So here's what you do in 4 easy steps. You'll need to use a bracelet that has at least one hoop-type closure (see picture):

1. Tie one end of the ribbon to the end of the bracelet with the non-hoop closure. Leave at least 2 inches of ribbon on that end.

2.  Put bracelet around your neck at desired length. I found it easiest to put the bracelet part in the back and the ribbon in the front, then turning it around after tying.

3. Thread the ribbon through the other end of the bracelet, the one with a hoop-closure.

4. Pull as tight as you wish and tie a one-loop bow with both ends of the ribbon.

I recommend wearing your hair up!

My garden grows! (Well, it will soon)

Yesterday the sun came out! We jumped into our shoes, hopped on our bikes and flew off to buy seeds. Until January of this year we've been regulars of Full Circle Farm and have feasted on delicious farm-grown vegetables. But in the spirit of saving money and producing more of our own food, we decided to put our membership on hold and see if we could survive on what our garden can grow. Then, of course, this unseasonably rainy spring arrived in Seattle! I know, I know, it's Seattle. It rains. But we normally get those sunny days peeking through and providing perfect planting days. It's a little later than hoped, but yesterday was finally one of those days that happily fell on a weekend!

There was a night in January when we were packing for a month-long trip to Mexico and we realized that we had forgotten to plant garlic and it would be too late by the time we got back. It was raining and muddy and I think it was about 2 in the morning. But we put our muck boots on and planted two garlic head's worth of cloves anyhow because, well, we love garlic even more than we love sleep.   

The little garlic plants poked their heads up a few weeks ago and they were interspersed with about 300 onions that came up from our landlords' seed from last year. We thinned the onions way down, moved them to one part of the raised bed along with two stray leeks that also showed up this year, and replanted our precious garlics in two rows. Two garlics into 22 plants! Not too shabby I say!

We also sowed in beets, carrots, yellow squash, sugar snap peas and bush beans, and there is still so much room!

The rain came back just as I was finishing laying the twine (ahem, yarn) along the rows. I'll keep you updated on how our little garden is growing!

Update:  Our landlords read this post and let us know that, oops! Those 300 onions were actually pesky ornamentals that they'd tried to get rid of but keep coming back!  So we pulled them and planted mizuna, something that can't easily be mistaken for any type of onion-family plant, in their spot. Ah the silly mistakes of the novice gardener! At least I didn't mistake water hemlock for parsley, as I hear is pretty common (and unfortunate!)