Monday, December 29, 2008

Ice Breakers

Greetings from chilly Minneapolis, where we've had a heat wave lately - up to 30 for a few days now! The 'warmth' caused a lot of melting, but then things freeze again so most of the sidewalks around here have turned to solid ice. It seemed like a perfect time for ice skating!

It was pretty icy just getting the five blocks or so over to the the lake.

Here's the lake! (Just watch out for thin ice areas.)

They have a warming "house" and a pile of skates that people can borrow for free. Jeremy and Ian (Jeremy's brother) both had their own skates. I had to dig through the pile to find a pair that fit.

We're on the ice!

Some places had the most amazing clear ice going down some distance and all these frozen air bubbles coming up - it looked like the starry night sort of.

Here are a couple shots of Ian and I skating - I'm the one that looks like a giant sloth.

But, for my first time ever skating, I never fell down (or fell through the ice)!!

Friday, December 26, 2008


I kept alluding to how busy I was sewing, so here's what I did! These became gifts for family and friends and I had to wait till now to show it all.

For many years I've made it a tradition to make pajama pants for the guys in the family. There have been some wacky patterns (all in flannel): fish, wolves, cats, snowy cabin scenes, camping scenes, so forth. This year I made the Banana Pants for Jeremy's brother, penguin pants for my sister, and "rock n' roll skulls" pants for my brother-in-law Jeremy (and matching ones for their soon-to-be-born daughter!). I didn't make any for my brother this year because all he'll wear is boring plaid!

Made some pillows...

Some hotpads...

and some tea cozies...

I have been quite busy!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

More mushrooms

Well, we finished off the first flush of Shiitakes awhile ago. The block of mushroom stuff is supposed to go dormant for awhile, then you start it up again and are supposed to get more.

So, while that block was being dormant, Jeremy decided to try growing mushrooms a different way. He decided to get some mushroom spawn (or something like that) and inoculate some growing medium himself. (It only sounds like I know what I'm talking about - I really don't.)

The chosen growing medium was straw, which had to be cut up in little pieces...

boiled to sterilize it...

and put in a large enough container to mix all the mushroom spawn into it. We had a little stopper in the tub, but that didn't stop some straw from going down the drain and plugging up the tub!

Then the straw-mushroom spawn combo was packed into bags and sealed...

and put in a warm spot by the heater.

Now we're just waiting for the mushrooms to show themselves!

Monday, December 1, 2008

I'm dreaming of a green Christmas

My family used to tease me saying that I learned to wrap presents from my grandma: using tons of tape! And also a lot of knotted ribbons and bows that are impossible to untie. Opening a gift was like trying to get into Fort Knox. They still let me wrap many of the Christmas presents though because I was really good at wrapping. After I went off to college, I would return home and a family member or two would direct me to different areas of the house to secretly wrap most of their gifts.

Everything changed the Christmas of my Junior year. I worked during Christmas break so I didn’t get home till Christmas Eve day. I brought my gifts home and quickly wrapped them up. I also wrapped several other gifts that my mom hadn’t had time to wrap. Everything was wrapped and ready to go by the time we went to bed that night.

Christmas morning we surrounded the tree and spent a couple hours unwrapping gifts, oohing and ahhing over gifts, and enjoying the morning. After it was over, we gathered up the torn paper, bits of ribbon and bows, stuffed it all in garbage bags and took it down to the dumpster.

And that’s when I saw it: the dumpster overloaded with unwanted boxes, the remains of Christmas celebrations, and wrapping paper, tons of wrapping paper. The dumpster was overflowing with garbage. I looked at the trash I was carrying and realized much of it had been pristine, still on the tube, less than 24 hours ago. I was overwhelmed by the incredible amount of waste. I resolved to change right then and there.

Next year, I thought, I’m going to find a different way to wrap gifts. I settled on using fabric for wrapping. You can purchase some great looking holiday-themed fabric on sale after the holiday season. The first year I didn’t do anything to my scraps of fabric – just wrapped them around gifts and tied the fabric in place with ribbons. My family was very doubtful – and no doubt thought I was a bit crazy. But then my mom caught on and the next year she sewed some of the fabric into bags so it was easier to wrap some items. She also got more fabric and some fancy ribbon from the fabric store. It took a couple years but now most of our gifts are wrapped in fabric.

Clean-up is amazing. We just shake out the fabric, fold it up, and put it back in a box to be used next year. There are still a few paper-wrapped packages because my brother loves ripping and tearing, but I at least haven’t bought a single roll of wrapping paper in almost 10 years.

You too may like ripping and tearing your gifts open, but I encourage you to try some alternative wrapping solutions for at least a few gifts this year. According to Natural Built Home, “If every family wrapped just three gifts this way [that is, not using standard wrapping paper], it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.” They suggest wrapping presents with old maps, the comics section of a newspaper, or children's artwork. Some people use plain brown paper and affix recycled greeting cards to the front or beautiful pictures cut out from magazines.

There are others who go farther and recommend a Buy Nothing Christmas, or buying goats and chickens for others on behalf of your loved ones (Heifer International, World Vision, and others offer many choices).

I've also heard the suggestion to "give experiences" instead of stuff: tickets to a show, time spent together at a special place, massage, etc. You can also give gift certificates for services you can provide: babysitting, fixing bikes, computer help, etc. This is a great way to help create good memories and not piles of packaging and junk.

If you still like the idea of giving actual things to your loved ones, consider making gifts or buying homemade gifts from local artists. Here are a couple lists to get your creative juices flowing:

A Do-it-yourself Christmas
How to Make Your Own Christmas Gifts
Home-Made Gifts
Christmas Gifts You Make Yourself

Don't forget to wrap these in fabric or recycled paper!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Say Cheese!

We've been talking about making cheese for months now. This summer we bought Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll (the queen of cheese-making). Then, with the harvest season well and truly over, Jeremy bought a couple supplies from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. We decided to start simple, with 30-minute mozzarella.

This called for milk, citric acid, and rennet. It also called for lipase powder, but we didn't use that this first time around. Lipase just makes the cheese taste a bit stronger. You can also add salt, but we didn't do that either. We went with the bare minimum to make cheese.

(No, we did not put wine in the cheese!)

Jeremy put the milk in a big pot and stirred in the citric acid:

When the milk got to 90 degrees, he added the rennet and then things started happening!

Jeremy spooned out the cheese curds into a bowl:

After pouring off excess whey, the next step was to microwave the cheese a couple times for short bits, then lightly knead it like bread to distribute the heat:

The instructions said when the cheese "stretches like taffy", it's done:

Looks like taffy to me!

Our two balls of mozzarella, done in just about 30 minutes:

Jeremy did all the work because it involved a lot of handling hot cheese, and I'm a wimp when it comes to hot things.

What's a girl and guy to do with all this cheese? We gave some to the family right away - they thought it was very cool. We made BLTs for dinner (with fresh tomatoes that have been ripening on the vine in our basement and homemade bread) and we added hunks of fresh, warm mozzarella. So I guess they were BLTCs.
A day later we made pizza and sprinkled mozzarella over the top. I think we used the rest in an omelet the next morning.

30-minute mozzarella doesn't keep quite as long as its brother that takes longer to make. We'll be making cheese again soon. Jeremy is excited to make chevre and anything moldy, and I'm excited about cheddar. Boy it would be nice if we had a cow or goat...

Friday, November 21, 2008

More clues...

If you're still trying to guess, here is another clue and the necessary soundtrack (and an updated one for you youngsters)

Thursday, November 20, 2008


This rather scary looking item has been sitting in our dining room for a couple days. Any guesses as to what it might be?

Two hints: it is not my birthday cake and it is not a giant burnt marshmallow.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Root Cellar Creation: Part 7

Jeremy said, “The cellar is mostly done. Let us now bring in crates and boxes of root vegetables. And let us bring in more shelving and also store all of our canned items. And we shall also provide a shelf for the family’s food.” And Aimee said, “It’s about time!” And it was so.

(onion crate under construction)

And Jeremy and Aimee said unto the fruits and vegetables, “Be happy fruits and veggies! Don’t even think about withering or rotting or spoiling or multiplying (potatoes!) - or it’s out to the compost bin for you!”

(southeast corner with family's apples, potatoes, and other goodies)

(northeast corner with our canned goods and apples)

(lots of canned food!)

(bins and boxes with carrots, turnips, potatoes, onions, flour, etc)

(some of our cool old wooden crates)

One or two evenings and mornings passed, and it was the seventh step done. Aimee and Jeremy looked around the cellar with pride and satisfaction and saw that it was good.

The lights were turned off and the door was closed, leaving the cellar pitch black - except the bit of light that filtered down through the damper.

And then, instead of resting, Jeremy said, “Now, let us build a chicken coop!”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Root Cellar Creation: Part 6

Jeremy said, “Before we finish putting up all the plywood, let us construct shelves that hang from the ceiling where we will store vegetables.” And Aimee said, “I like shelves.” And so it was.

And then Jeremy said, “Now let us remove the window from the cellar and replace it with some ducting and a damper so that we can control how much cold air gets in the cellar.” And Aimee said, “That sounds cool.” And so it was.

Many evenings and mornings passed, and it was the sixth step done.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Root Cellar Creation: Part 5

Jeremy said, “Let us go to Scherer Lumber and get 11 sheets of Forestry Council Certified plywood.” And Aimee said, “How on earth are we going to fit that in our compact car?”
Jeremy said, “I will borrow our neighbor’s car, the Dirty Black Dog art car.” And Aimee said, “Whatever you say.”

That interesting trip done and the plywood safely home, Aimee said, “How will you cut these pieces of plywood?” And Jeremy said, “I will borrow a saw.” And so he did borrow a radial saw from a different neighbor.

The plywood was measured and cut and attached to the walls and ceiling. Cut-outs were made around pipes, lights, outlets, and other random things.

Many, many, many evenings and mornings passed, and it was the fifth step done. Aimee and Jeremy looked and saw that they were finally making progress and it was awesome!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Root Cellar Creation: Part 4

Jeremy said, “Let us run over to Natural Built Home and purchase some UltraTouch Natural Cotton Insulation for the walls.” And Aimee said, “Awesome!”

The insulation was purchased and much fun was had in applying it to the walls. (Much less fun was had applying it to the ceiling…)

Many evenings and mornings passed, and it was the fourth step done. Aimee and Jeremy looked, and saw that it was good.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Root Cellar Creation: Part 3

Jeremy said, “Let us put up a moisture barrier in the cellar so that our space will not be humid like the rest of the basement.” And Aimee said, “Aye, aye captain!”

Rolls of plastic were acquired and applied to the walls and ceiling of the space. Plastic was also wrapped around the pipes running through the cellar (though that was mostly for protection just in case there was asbestos in the old pipe-wrapping).

And then Jeremy said, “Lo, there is an outlet over there. Let us move it so it shall be inside the cellar, instead of outside.” And so it was. And an electrician friend was called forth to double check the work so that the cellar (and house) was not burned down.

Many, many evenings and mornings passed, and it was the third step done.