Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The magic elixir... Acorn Tannin Water!

It's that time of year! Acorns!!  

 My sister has a day care and she has a lot of oak trees. You know, if you tell small people to gather umpteen billion acorns off the ground as some sort of game, they will do it! She ended up with the acorns cleared from her yard, and I ended up with a good crop of acorns this year.

Anyway!  One of the products of processing acorns, is tannin water. In order to use acorns for anything but throwing at each other, or decorations, or checker pieces you must leach the tannins out.  The tannins in acorns is what makes them bitter and inedible to humans in their raw form (you COULD eat them if you HAD to.. but they would be very very very bitter, and probably give you a belly ache).
I could go into a whole big thing here about how I process acorns, but this is going to be more about the tannin water and the benefits from it. 

This water is a tannic acid solution that has a variety of uses. This water is very antiviral and antiseptic and can be used as treatment for many, topical issues. It is great for poison ivy, cuts, rashes, burns, etc.  This is what my family has benefited from the most.  My mother even used it on the cat!  This is the best story. My cat had a hot spot at the base of her tail and she would bite it till the skin was bare and raw. The vets tried everything from topical creams to internal medicines and nothing helped.  I gave my mother some tannin water and suggested she try it, couldn't hurt right?  She did, and not only did it clear up quickly, it never returned!!  When I was on the Trail, I got a decent sunburn.  I gathered up some acorns and boiled them up for the water (let it cool), put that on my sunburn and I was good to go!  
  I have also used it as a detergent for washing clothes (not whites!). It leaves your clothes smelling so fresh! Don't use it on your whites, unless you want to dye them.. in which case it makes a GREAT dye.. but you need to fix it with salt to keep it from fading. 
  Things I have yet to try, but have read: it can be used as a gargle for sore throats, taken as a mild tea for diarrhea and dysentery (good to know when hiking!), it can also be used externally for hemorrhoids. 
  Of course, what tannic acid is best known for is tanning hides (how tannic acid got its name... or was it the other way around? ). I have yet to take advantage of this use, but perhaps some day?


Friday, October 26, 2012

Did I undo the no-poo?

So, after a LOT of consideration, and an overabundance of grey hair and vanity, I decided I needed to color my hair. 
  I thought a lot about this due to the fact that I have been no-poo since July, I took the plunge and colored.
Well, I did this yesterday, and today my hair needs to be washed already. I got very used to not having to wash for DAYS AND DAYS.  But it seems that it's very true about that your scalp will produce more oils to combat the loss of it's natural oils, and my hair is gross and greasy after only one day!  
  I wonder how long it will take to get back to my new normal. It took me a couple weeks at the beginning, so we shall see.....

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Where are the bugs?

Very bad picture of south station from my sitting spot
I'm sitting in the grass on the "Greenway" outside of South Station in Boston. I'm doing what it seems most Americans are afraid of, which is I'm sitting directly on the ground. I'm not on a bench, or in a chair. I don't even have a blanket underneath me.
  I've been sitting here reading for about an hour now and just realized I have not seen one bug.  Not one ant has crawled on me, no spiders or crickets. I've seen a few bees buzzing around the flowers and a lot of birds are in the gardens, but no bugs.
  Now, to most people (especially city folk), I'm sure this is a benefit to their "sitting on the grass communing with nature" experience. To me makes me wonder what I'm sitting on. I had treated myself to a coffee and muffin on my way out of the station and had decided to donate my muffin crumbs to the ecosystem. Well, nothing has shown up to claim them. If I were home in my yard, or out on the Trail, these little gifts would have been swarmed with ants by now. Or a chipmunk would have scurried away with them.
  So, now instead of feeling like I've found a nice patch of nature in among the concrete jungle, I'm wondering what form of bug spray has this grass my bare legs are on been coated with??
I seriously would love to have any of you try this experiment at home and let me know your results. Take some crumbs of some sort and put then on the ground, then time the amount of time it takes before you see some sort of  critter interested in it.

Crumbs that were deposited into the grass an hour ago.. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Making Yucca Cordage

This is yucca the plant that grows in the desert (or ornamentally in other areas), not the potato like root. 

So, how do you get from this:

      To this?: 

With a lot of work actually. But it's very therapeutic as far as I am concerned!

Start with a nice long leaf. This particular type of yucca is called Yucca Filamentosa which of course is also edible.. and the wood is very useful too. 

But for now, lets focus on the usefulness of the fibers. So.. the best part of this project is that you get to take a rock and beat the leaves.  You don't want to beat too hard, or you will actually damage the fibers. Just kinda.. drop the rock.. more than smash with the rock. I found a nice rock that fits well in my hand and the bottom is nice and flat. Then I use a nice piece of wood as a base. Your mission at this point is to just separate the fibers a bit. 

 After you have accomplished a nice broken up leaf (above right), you want to get the "meat" of the leaf off. (Save this stuff as it can be used as a "soap")  For this I have a scraper rock. You don't want a real sharp edge, as that might damage the fibers. You could also use the back of a knife, that's the type of edge you want. You can rinse the fibers to get some of the pulpy parts off too. You will see that your hands might get very green, but when you rinse it just comes right off, no staining. 

 At this point you can easily pull the fibers apart and see that you have stringy fibers available to you. You could make this into a rough cord the way it is if you like, 

or you can work it more to get as much of the pulp off as you can. I (of course) chose to make it into nice fine threads. In order to get it to the fine clean threads on the right, I pretty much took each fiber individually and scraped it with my fingernails.

I realized I don't have any pictures of how I actually made the cordage. I will post that step separately later :) (perhaps I will mix it in with my milkweed fiber tutorial ... I didn't forget you Sarah)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Wait till you see what we did with Off! SCARY!!

And we spray this all over ourselves and our CHILDREN!!

What would you say is just about the toughest thing to clean in the kitchen? Range hood, stove knobs? In the past I have taken a lot of time, elbow grease, and a lot of different things to try to clean these things. I remember leaving stove knobs to soak in a basin for hours. Scrubbing, scraping, etc on the range hood. 

Well, leave it to a single guy doing a thorough cleaning for the first time in a long time to figure out the easiest way to do it.  He was cleaning the range hood and decided he needed a good solvent. He looked under his sink.. and happened to have a can of Off! with 15% DEET.  He remembered that DEET is a solvent.. so he gave it a try.. WOW! is all I can say! (sorry it's sideways, I hadn't realized it)

We ended up cleaning quite a bit with this can of Off! This was all done with just a t-shirt for a rag. No green scrubbies, no steel wool, not even a rough rag. 

The next day I was painting with some stain blocker type paint and hadn't realized that it needed paint thinner to clean it up off my hands. I really wish I had videotaped this one!  I tried scrubbing with dishsoap, HOT water, everything.. sprayed a little Off! on my hands, and it washed right off. I was no longer so concerned about getting paint on the trim!  

Yesterday I we found some permanent marker on the wall. Mark asked me what would work, and I suggested alcohol. In the past I have used alcohol swabs to clean off permanent marker. He took some alcohol and tried it and it didn't touch it. We both then looked at each other and said "Off!"  I sprayed it on.. and wiped it all off, in one wipe!  

We also were able to use it to clean duct tape adhesive that had been on a heating grate for who knows how many years.  I wish I had gotten before and after of the range hood!

This is just 15% DEET.... when I got paint splatters all over my face and arms, Mark said "Well, you just have to scrub that, you don't want to put Off! on your skin."  Then we realized that's what we DO!! 

Check out more of our video fun!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Half a Pie pan

The other day I made a Carrot Pie and an Autumn Olive Berry pie (I will be posting the recipe once I perfect it). And I thought to myself... "Self, I wish I could have just made half of each."  So , I got to thinking about if it doesn't exist already (which I was sure it would) then I needed to invent a half and half pie tin.

Well, of course necessity is the mother of invention (remember Mother Necessity!?), and it has already been invented.

Generally I have a rule, that once we get into October, and DEFINITELY after Halloween, you are NOT allowed to buy yourself things you want. Instead you put them on your Christmas list (yes, I said it.. CHRISTMAS!) in order to give others the chance to get you something you want/need for a gift.  I'm not sure I can wait till Christmas for this!!  My birthday is before Christmas, but not that much before.. hmm.. perhaps it can be a Halloween present :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Woods and Water Therapy Day

Very often I find myself just NEEDING to be out in the woods.  I call this "Woods Therapy".  I'm not sure I have ever encountered anyone who doesn't feel better after they have been out among the trees.  Even when I took my kids out as teenage boys, they started out "kicking and screaming", but on the way out, they always wanted to go back. 

This past weekend, I was able to get a great day of not only Woods Therapy, but Water Therapy also. 

Lucky for me, one of my best friends has a membership to Boating in Boston and I get to be her +1.  They have a number of different locations and on this day we chose to go to Hopkinton. We got there and the wind was CRAZY!!  But we got out and spent a few hours out on the water. 

This was the first time I tried a "sit-on" kayak as opposed to a "sit-in". I wasn't sure how I would like it, but I ended up liking it a lot. I had been prepared that I would get wet, and in a sit-on you DEFINITELY will get wet, where as in a sit in.. maybe not so much...

We got to see some wildlife. This Great Blue Heron allowed us to get within about 15 feet before it lifted off and moved to the other side of the cove. We also got to see a turtle basking in the warm sun of this October day. 

  After we had our fill of kayaking, we headed to Upton State Forest where I showed Dawn one of my favorite trails in the area. Whistling Cave Trail is the epitome of woods therapy all year long (well, except on a bad mosquito day).  This short loop (about 2 miles) brings you through a range of different hiking environments in a short time. To get to the trail you start on a nicely graded woods road. I love fall hiking and getting to crunch through the leaves as you go. 

Once you get to the trail, you have to traverse a fairly steep down in a deciduous forest. You get to practice your balance through a couple of water features. Outside of mosquito season, I would say this is one of my favorite parts. Sitting on a mossy root base with the water playing and trickling around, listening to the music of the water mingling in with the rest of the forest sounds is so serene. 

The trail then brings you through a section of HUGE boulders that are covered with an amazing array of different lichens. This is where you can find the "Whistling Cave". I've been here a lot, and.. yeah, never heard it whistle, but it is definitely my favorite section. 

After this you take a walk in the woods. An old pine forest with little undergrowth opens up around you and brings you to another woods road that is not quite so "finished" as the first. 

Back in August, after enduring the challenges of a rainy 50 mile section of northern Maine, I had said my hiking bug had been squashed. I think this weekend resurrected it.. I just want to be out crunching through the leaves and tucked into my sleeping bag at night!  I think I see the Midstate Trail in my near future! 

Friday, October 5, 2012

I put food in my hair.. and on my face

I realized today, that everything I put in my hair, I also put on my face. And then I thought about it. How many people can say that? Not only would I do that, I would actually put all my hair and skin products on a baby. Perhaps you should consider what you are putting on your body.

As you know, I have not used commercial shampoo in about 3 months. I'm not sure how long it has been since I used commercial products on my face. The other day, I gave myself a deep conditioning treatment with olive oil and honey.

I have done this before, but hadn't done it since I started "no-poo" and wasn't sure how the results would be.

I will say that this is definitely one of those events where "proper planning prevents poor performance" is very apropos.  Since I had to go to work in the evening, I did make sure to give myself PLENTY of time in case for some reason the oil didn't want to wash out with my "no-poo" and I had to deal with that before going out in public. What I didn't plan properly was the first step you should ALWAYS do when doing something like this, which is to comb your hair out as well as possible before hand.  So, please learn from my mistake, and comb your hair out as well as possible before starting this adventure!

I'm not real huge on measuring amounts, but in order to share with you guys, I did.. kinda.  I used up the rest of what was in one of my olive oil jars (about 5 tablespoons) and what was left in my honey jar (about 3 tablespoons). In order to get my honey to be a bit more liquid I had to heat it a smidge. I just put the jar into a pot of warm water, and that worked fine. While I was at it, I did the same with the olive oil, just to warm it up nicely. Then I mixed the two of them as well as I could in a bowl.

I covered my shoulders with an old towel and commenced with the slathering.  Like I said, it would have been much easier if my hair had been combed out nicely...  Personally, I don't feel like my roots need a lot of conditioning, so I went from the ends up towards the roots, but not to my scalp.  This is definitely a sticky, mucky fun enterprise.  You do really need to comb through your hair to make sure it is spread through evenly. At this point for me, that was TONS of FUN because now my messy head was slathered with a sticky messy mess of an entangling elixir. But, I worked it through and finally had my hair all combed through and slathered with the oil and honey mixture.

Now, put on a shower cap, or wrap your head in plastic wrap. The heat from your head with the tightly packed hair will help allow your hair to absorb the yummy goodness.  You don't really want to put a towel on your head, because the towel will absorb the oil.  I left it on for about an hour. You can totally do longer than that, but I think you need to do it for at least that long to have it work for you.

At this point, I take a couple finger scoops of the mix and slather my face and neck with it. The honey still has a bit of crystallization so it made for a nice scrub.

After about an hour (during which my son decided that YES I could walk through town to the Post Office if I just put my hood up) I unwrapped and showered.  First I just rinsed with warm water, then did my "no-poo" thing (which I usually use that on my face as a cleanser also.  After my hair dried, I realized, I had missed an entire section on the back side of my head. That's one thing that is tough with "no-poo" because there is no lather, so you don't REALLY know what you are cleaning. I just redid my hair in the sink putting the "no-poo" directly onto my dry hair until it was all saturated. Rinsed it all out as normal ending with a cold rinse.

The results... OMG! SOFT! SOFT! SHINY! hair.  Loving it!  Oh, and soft, glowing face also!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What to do with 12 pounds of carrots!

I had the opportunity to get 12 pounds of carrots for $7 at a farmstand in western Mass, sooo.. I bought TWELVE pounds of carrots. I came to realize that a guinea pig and one human can not go through 12 pounds of carrots in a timely manner, unless something creative was done. And so, today.... has been designated as Carrot Day!

Yesterday I had roasted up a bunch of carrots to add to the Pork and Cabbage dish, but... they never made it to the pot.  I do love roasted carrots!  I did slice up a bunch and put them into the dehydrator figuring I will make some carrot powder to add to soups etc. but.... they turned into a fun little chip type nom nom to snack on. I did, however then slice a bunch on the diagonal to actually MAKE carrot chips. 

I had thought of making carrot cake, but.. everyone makes carrot cake, and so I decided to make carrot pie!! (or two.. heck, I DO have enough carrots!)

I found a few recipes on line, and as I usually do, then tweeked them all into my own.  I used the same crust recipe as I did for the Apple Pie.

Carrot Pie:

1 (9 inch) unbaked pie shell
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups chopped carrots
2 eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk (I used coconut/almond milk)

  • Preheat the oven to 400° F. Press the pie crust into the bottom and up the sides of a greased 9 inch pie plate. Bake the pie shell for 3 to 5 minutes, just to firm it up, then remove from the oven, and set aside.
  •  Place carrots in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook until tender, it took a while for mine to get to the consistency that I was able to then mash them to oblivion for a puree type consistency.
  • In a medium bowl, mix together the carrot puree, sugar and eggs. Mix in the cinnamon and vanilla. Gradually stir in the milk. Pour the mixture into the partially baked pie shell.
  • Just like with a pumpkin or squash pie, you might want to put a cookie tray or pizza pan underneath in case of overflow!
  • Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce heat to 350° F  Bake for an additional 40 to 45 minutes at the lower temperature, or until firm. 
I decorated my pie with some of the dehydrated carrots :)

I am thinking about roasting some more carrots, and then dehydrating them..  If you have any other ideas for what do to with an inordinate amount of carrots, please, PLEASE let me know!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pork Chops... and Applesauce! .. Well, Smothered Pork Chops and Apple Pie

It all started with a head of cabbage the size of a basketball. 
I'm not exaggerating .. look! (and I got that cabbage for $1!!!)

Anyway, I had that, and a family size pack of pork chops in the fridge. I needed to use both of them and had no idea how. So, I Googled "Cabbage and Pork Chops" and found a decent looking recipe for "Smothered Pork Chops & Cabbage".

This was a fairly large recipe so I had my oldest and his fiance come for dinner. They both put their stamp of approval on it and had seconds!

It worked out great because it was a stove top recipe and I decided that I needed to make an apple pie to also use up my apples.  I was supposed to make an apple pie as a birthday pie a couple weekends ago and it never happened. Since then I have acquired a new bakers bible from that birthday boy. So, I found a recipe for Mom's Apple Pie.

Start with the Basic Pie Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp superfine sugar*, optional 
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 Tbsp cold margarine or shortening fat, cut into small pieces
2-4 Tbsp iced water

  • Into a large bowl, sift the flour, salt, and sugar if using. Cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Don't over-work, as this causes a tough crust. 
  • Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of the water over the flour-crumb mixture and toss lightly with a fork. Gather the parts of pastry that have bound together to one side of the bowl. Add a little more water to any dry crumbs and toss again. 
  • Gather the pastry into a rough ball and turn on to a sheet of plastic wrap. Lightly press the pastry  into a disc shape and flatten slightly. Wrap the pastry tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. 
Then we have "Mom's Apple Pie":
(the way this recipe is written is .. well.. silly. So I will be paraphrasing for sanity's sake.. )

Basic Pie Crust
2 lb pared tart apples (I used mac's and one gala)
½ cup golden raisins (I didn't have any, soooo I didn't use any)
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup superfine sugar*
2 tsp cornstarch
1 egg
1 Tbsp milk (I used almond coconut milk)
1 Tbsp granulated sugar

  • Wash, peel and slice the apples and put into a saucepan with the raisins, cinnamon, and superfine sugar. Bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, then "remove from heat and cool."  (as opposed to.. leaving it ON the heat and cooling??) 
  • (At this point the recipe instructs you to "remove half the pastry from the refrigerator and roll out on a well floured surface with a floured rolling pin to a circle just larger than the pie plate" ... soooo, don't roll it out with a pair of pliers. )
  • How 'bout we go with: roll out half the pastry and place in a greased pie plate.  (oh.. and "cut around the edges with a sharp knife".... as opposed to cutting around the edges with a shoe) 
  • Sprinkle the cornstarch in the base of the pie to absorb any excess juices. 
  • Preheat the oven to 400°. Beat the egg and milk and brush around the edge of the bottom pastry. Fill pie with fruit mixture (the recipe actually NEVER tells you to do this, it just jumps right to putting the top on!) Roll out the rest of the pastry for the top crust and cover the pie. Trim the edges and crimp together using your favorite method. Sometimes I try to get all fancy and make it uppy downy wavy, tonight I just went around with a fork. Brush the top of the pie with the egg mixture. (at this point I decorated the top with little apples and leaves I cut out of the pastry scraps) Make a couple vent slits in the top (with a "sharp knife") and sprinkle the granulated sugar over the top. 
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the pie is golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave it to cool on a rack.

Here is my finished product:

Amazingly I had a house full of offspring, their friends, and my mother... and I STILL have an untouched pie! So.. maybe birthday boy will get to see it whole as a birthday pie after all!

Monday, October 1, 2012

I was bored, I had day lily

(mostly I'm just testing adding a post from my phone)
I was at my sisters house and one of the kids was messing with her day lilys. I decided I would show them how to make cordage.

I took some of the older leaves and made a long piece of cordage and then turned it into this amazingly fashionable bracelet!!

My Autumn Olive Jelly Experience

(I'm having a lot of fun finding great places to edit my pics.. this one was edited at

  I first learned about Autumn Olive at a foraging workshop. It was not yet in season, so we were not able to see the fruit, but the instructor had a sample of fruit leather he had made from it. 

 This is that silvery tree you see along the highway. It's everywhere (because.. well.. it's an invasive species so don't spit the seeds out). That being said, I'm fine with it because it's really an amazing source of a very nutritious berry. 

  Autumn Olive (or Autumnberry) has some psychotic amount of lycopene which is just all around good for you. Great for your heart and it's being looked at as a deterrent for cancer of the lung, stomach, bladder, cervix, skin and especially prostate. The berries also contain high levels of vitamins A and C among other nutritional benefits.

Anyway, I gathered some of these berries a couple weeks ago (they have a nice long season through September and October) and made some fruit leather out of it. Easy-peasy!  Boil up the berries with a little bit of water.. (I didn't have my food mill then sooo) smish the boiled berries through a sieve to separate the seeds from the meats.. then I put it into my dehydrator and viola! Fruit leather!  I hadn't added anything to it, no sugar, no lemon juice .. nada. 

I employed (well, not technically..kinda more guilted) my oldest son into helping me harvest a bunch of berries for my jelly adventure.  When I picked the first time around I brought a bag with me and probably dropped (and ate) as many as I gathered. Since then I have procured a nice wide basket and David absconded with that and made a pretty good haul.
  I was excited because it was going to be a rainy weekend and making jelly would be a fun thing to keep me busy. Of course, I've never made jelly, so.. it was also going to be an adventure. 
  I looked up a few different recipes and of course, they all said "can according to instructions".  I haven't canned anything since I was a kid, so I was hoping for better instruction on this point.  Then on my canning jars box, it said something along the lines of  "boil according to recipe instructions".. not the help I was looking for. 

  So, I took 8 cups of Autumn Olive berries and 1 cup of water, brought it to a rolling boil, then let it simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring often. 

  I then took the boiled berries (mash) and put them through my food mill. I found that fewer berries in the food mill works more efficiently than more. (I love my food mill by the way) The pressed fruit then goes back in the pot. 

  All the recipes just said to use "one packet" of pectin, but none of them designate what size that packet was. I happened to have gotten the 0.4 oz packets of low or no-sugar needed pectin. I did this because as far as I am concerned these berries are sweet enough on their own.  But, all the recipes said to use sugar, so I figured for my first attempt, I would follow the rules, well.. kinda. They all said to use 3.5 cups of sugar, but I went with 3 cups of sugar. 
  At this point I mixed 1/4 cup of sugar with the pectin packet and gradually mixed that into the mash heating back up on the stove. After that was mixed in and at a rolling boil for a couple of minutes (stirring constantly), I put the rest of the sugar in and kept it at a rolling boil for about a minute
Meanwhile, I had boiled my jars and they were still in the warm water.  I pulled them out and filled 5 of them (with all my fancy shmancy canning stuff), put the tops on then put them back into the hot water bath. The directions on one recipe had said to "finger tighten" the tops because the air needs to be able to escape.  Seeing the bubbles of air escape just made me think... "isn't water going in then??"  I read something out of an actual canning book and it said in bold letters "tighten firmly", so I pulled them all out and re-tightened them hoping I hadn't ruined all my hard work.  
  After leaving them in the boiling water for about 5 minutes, I pulled them out and put them on a cooling rack.  In no time at all I heard the first little *pop!*, that sound that means it has successfully sealed itself! *pop!*.. *pop!*......*pop!*..........(I went and stood and watched the last jar with anticipation......)..... ... *pop!*   SUCCESS!! 
   This morning I had my OWN JELLY on my own biscuits! It was just like real jelly!

  I had enough berries left to try another batch and maybe experiment a bit this time.  I figure if it doesn't work out, all I lose is time and a packet of pectin.  I wanted to try a batch with a sugar substitute, maybe stevia or maple syrup. I decided to try using the stevia/sugar cane sugar substitute I have.  It seems that this batch isn't setting up into a nice firm jelly as much as the one with full sugar. 

  All in all, I am happy :)  I made Jelly!!  I think I am going to try drying some berries for tea and see how that goes!