Monthly Archives: December 2011

The wonder of herbs, flowers, and all that other smelly stuff…


The past few weeks I have been recovering from the stress of school, enjoying the holidays, and basically just vegging out. So, now that I have officially neglected all things great and small and had my share of relaxation over these wintry days, I am ready to start being active again.  This Christmas, I was fortunate to receive many amazing and useful gifts. My kitchen is now fully equipped; having received a new knife set, french press, and food processor, and my backpack now full of camping pillows, fire starters, needle and thread, and all that other great stuff. I also am really excited about two great books I got titled, “Making Stuff and Doing Things: A collection of DIY guides to doing just about everything”and “Make Your Place: affordable sustainable nesting skills.” These two books were both published by Microcosm Publishing, which, if you haven’t heard of it, you need to check out! These guys are a great, not-for-profit, collective company that publish some of the raddest books I have ever seen, and have a wide selection of zines as well. They have a lot of that “hippie shit,” but hey, I love that shit! They have a great selection of DIY books that are sure to please. Also, I recently found out that anyone can become a part of their “BFF” program and can buy a sliding scale (like all of the other products) subscription. The subscription is $60 to $180 (depending on what you can afford) for six months of everything they publish. The little blurp says “we typically release 8 books, 2-3 dvds, 4 zines, and 1 tshirt, and a dozen new stickers and patches” for each subscription period. Sounds pretty rad to me.

Now anyways…. these two books have inspired my next few projects. The first of which, from Make Your Place, is simple and complex at the same time. Put simply, I want to begin collecting herbs and plants. But more complexly, I want to begin using these things in place of many typical medicines. For example, one simple thing that I have made is Athlete’s Foot Cream. Its so easy all you need is: 1 c olive oil, a big handful of calendula petals, and 10 drops tea tree oil. Infuse the calendula petals in the oil for about 3 days, then add the tea tree oil and rub on infected area two or three times a day. The book also says that it is helpful for things like dandruff as well (just put in hair, wrap, leave in for the night and wash out in the morning. One of the great things about using these herbs and plants is that most have many different useful and healing properties. For example…

  • tea tree oil: good for treating fungus, but is also an antimicrobial and can be applied to cuts and skin irritation to prevent infections or bacteria from entering wounds. I have also read that it can help treat acne and can be used to eliminate head lice.
  • marshmallow: I am not talking about the corn syrup puff balls, but the root itself. Marshmallow can be used in salves as a painkiller, antiseptic, and soother and helps with eczema and dermatitis. It can also be made into a tea and helps with:  digestive issues such as diarrhea and ulcers, soar throat, and weight loss.
  • calendula: the same flower used in the athlete’s foot remedy is also great to treat burns and can be used in salves to help with eczema and dermatitis. I have also read that it can be used to treat insect bites and hemorrhoids. Calendula can also be used with a compress to help soothe sore muscles and cramps. This is another flower that can also be steeped to make a tea to help with stomach ulcers and UTIs.
  •  comfrey: comfrey is another all around healer, used to help with cuts, sprains, and even breaks. It can also be useful for burns, eczema, and even bruises. There have been some reports recently about the danger of prolonged use (negatively affecting the liver), but these are only speculations and many herbalists still swear by it.

There are also some great herbs for stomach issues (something I am all too familiar with) including: chamomile, slippery elm, red raspberry leaf, ginger. Also, many of these herbs help with PMS and menstrual issues: chamomile, ginger, and raspberry leaf, (and some other herbs) dandelion root, lemon balm, and cramp bark (which eliminates cramps! imagine that).  This information makes me want to have the biggest, smelliest, most useful herb garden so I can have the most diverse and fragrant medicine cabinet. But since I do not yet have that beautiful garden, the Kiva and Sundance both have enormous selections of herbs. I plan, in the near future, to put together some teas, salves, and tinctures. I’ll fill y’all in soon.

One warning about using natural remedies: some herbs can affect birth control! These most common are: St.Johns Wort (used for depression), Vitex (chasteberry), and excess soy.

My second, more playful, project was to make some good ol’fashunned hom’made root beer. In Making Stuff and Doing Things there is a section on Food and Drink that includes everything from: making soy milk and wine, to solar box cooking and seasoning caste iron skillets, to making root beer. The whole process is pretty simple, but there are so many recipes its hard to know where to start. I used sarsaparilla, sassafras, cherry bark, vanilla, and ginger root. Other variations I have seen include wintergreen, hops, juniper berry, dandelion, licorice root, anise, and burdock.  The two most important that can never be left out are the sassafras and the sarsaparilla, otherwise, feel free to use your imagination. Basically root beer making is: first steeping the herbs/barks/flowers in boiling water for about 20 minutes (for one gallon, I used about 1/4 c sarsaprilla, 1/3 c sassafras, 1/4 c cherry bark, 2T ginger root, and 2T vanilla (this is by no means an exact science), then after steeping, remove from heat and add sugar (I used about 1 1/2 c for the one gallon batch), then let cool to 80 degrees, once the root beer has cooled, pitch the yeast (I bought lager yeast, but some recipes I have seen call for bread/baking yeast, so I think either are fine, the taste just varies). Now, I put my root beer  in pint and quart mason jars with a little head room and left them out at room temperature until I could feel the pressure building inside (the top didnt pop any more), then straight into the fridge.  Many recipes advise that the beer does not sit out any longer than 6 to 12 hours because the pressure can cause the bottle to explode. Also, a brewer I spoke with said it may be a better idea to use plastic bottles. I did not use plastic, I just carefully watched mine and made sure to put it in the fridge (the yeast doesnt like the cold) before it got too bubbly. Next time I will bottle it in some 22’s though and hope the I don’t cause any major explosions!

Oh yeah! All this root beer making reminded me of how much I miss brewin’. So, Shane and I picked up a Red Ale kit and started it tonight. We are experimenting this time with doing a shorter primary fermentation. Hoping we get it all figured out so we can start makin up some of our own recipes!

Happy winter!


Apartment Sustainability


UN Report on Planet’s Land Resources

Article on UN Report

Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN

Recently, the UN released a report about the planet’s current food and land “situation” and it’s not a pretty one. I knew it was bad, but I did not know it was this bad: 25% of the planet’s land is highly degraded. Meaning, 1/4 of our Earth cannot be used for much of anything. Twenty-five percent. Degradation only has to do with human-induced issues and does not even include natural disasters or natural hazards (even though things like floods and mudslides could be caused by humans…). This harm is caused by clearcutting, depletion of soil nutrients (through things like intensive conventional farming), urban sprawl, inappropriate irrigation, land pollution, and poor livestock farming (over populating with animals, overgrazing, etc.). It is also estimated, by the UN, that we (meaning as a world society) will need to grow 70% more food than we currently are. So, here’s the riddle, how do you grow 70% more food on 25% less land? Well, here’s my answer, let’s grow 70% of our own food, wherever we can.

As a student, I am conflicted with two things: being poor and being forced to live in an urban setting (not saying these are bad things, just a little more difficult to work with). So, this creates more of an issue with sustainability and urban farming, but Alas! there are solutions!

  1. As I have mentioned time and time again, community gardens and community efforts are very important when trying to achieve this. Almost every major city I have researched has some sort of community garden open to its residents; from Seattle, to LA, to Denver, to Chicago, and even to the industrial wasteland of Detroit, there are urban gardens.
  2. One really cool thing I have stumbled upon lately is the idea of Vertical Gardening. The concept is basically, we can’t move out anymore, so lets move up. This is perfect for small apartments and houses and many of the “green walls” are made for inside or outside. Some of the designs I have seen include: fabric/plastic pockets that drape over fences and hold soil and plants, stacked boxes (some even containing irrigation and drip systems), and one of the coolest I have found is the Mobile Edible Wall Unit (MEWU) by Green Living Technologies. This is a sort of A-frame unit that can be used inside or out and is on wheels so it can be moved (very helpful in small spaces and in spaces where it may need to be moved in or out of light). Other vertical planting ideas I have had for those on a budget is: reinforcing old dressers and using those for planters (make sure the bottom drawer is out the farthest and is the heaviest, the other drawers will need to be gradually pulled in farther and farther),and  using old shoe holders and filling those with soil. This article has a lot of other great resources and ideas for vertical gardening.
  3.  Tea and herb gardens are great additions to a home and are damn near impossible to kill. These are easy and can be grown in pots both inside and outside. I usually leave them outside in the summer and inside near big windows or sliding glass doors in the winter. Some great tea plants to have are: spearmint or peppermint, chamomile, and thyme.
  4. Another great list to have, if you want to grow plants inside or if you have a small partial shade patio (like I do) is: Plants that can grow in shade
  5. Worm bins are another valuable addition. The idea of starting a compost pile was appealing to me, but because of the small patio space I have outside and the close proximity the pile would be to the apartment and door leading out made me reconsider because of the possible smell and attraction of animals. I had a worm bin when I was a kid and they work great. Also, you will get soil a lot more quickly and can use it in your vertical gardening. The easiest way I have found for small spaces is:
  •  take a rubber bin (like a big one you would store Christmas decorations or books) and drill a few tiny holes in it (you dont want them to big so the worms fall through or the dirt does, just enough for some water drainage).
  • Add wheels (this is really great for moving the bin) or risers to get the bin off of the ground.
  • get some sort of tray or bin to catch the water (unless you are leaving your bin outside) so you don’t ruin your vinyl or tile.
  • start the bin off with a layer of newspaper (don’t use the colored stuff or ads) and then a layer of soil. Fill your bin up about a third of the way with a mixture of this. Then moisten the mixture. Make sure to water your bin whenever you notice any drying. Worms need water too!
  • Buy some worms or dig some up to use in your bin.
  • Start adding food scraps and garden chop. The easiest way I found to do this is to add to only one half of the bin at a time. Do this for a while until you get a little bit of build up. This will allow the worms to move over and feed, and on the other side of the bin, you will have finished soil and can use it. Then, move to the other side of the bin and always make sure to leave some soil so you don’t just have a big pile of food and paper for your worms to live in.
  • Maintain your bin by checking the pH (making sure it stays around 6-7)and not adding too much of any one thing. Also, like a compost bin, remember to add some “green chop” and not just food scraps. Good convenient things to use are old newspapers or homework, leaves, etc. Make sure not to add too much orange peel or coffee grounds unless you want your worms to fry. I also found that egg shells are an excellent addition to the bin. (Never add dairy or meat products)
  • Also, remember to keep your bin covered with the rubber bin lid. Worms like the darkness and it will keep unwanted pests out.

This may not create the 70% we need, but its a start for all us urban dwellers and is a step we must take as a community. (Ideas for small scale gardening are always welcome and are much appreciated!)

Winter Break Come Early


So I finished my two finals today, only have one more on Tuesday, and already I can feel this incredible weight lifted off of my chest (literally, it is, you know, easier to breathe!). Before I even got home from my finals, I got off of the bus, walked into my local grocer, and picked up some goodies for some early holiday cookin’. Today is the final day of Fall 2011 Urban Farm, and, as tradition has it, we are having a potluck. Potlucks are my thing baby. My chance to show off new recipes and test them on the general public. So, my two recipes I tested out today are: Homemade Eggnog and Apple Peach Pie.

So the Eggnog, courtesy of Alton Brown, is the real deal. I am talking, thick, creamy, and did I forget to mention, full of booze. Oh yeah! This recipe can be made cold, but I did the heated recipe (better safe than sorry). I tried to alter the recipe so it was as local as possible.I also think that raw milk would work the best. Maybe even raw goat milk. Goatnog anyone?

  • 8 eggs, separated (I used my favorite Blissfully Produced)
  • 4 cups whole milk (Alpenrose)
  • 2 cups heavy cream (Lochmead, I wish I could use a different source, but this was the most local I could find)
  • 1 1/2 cups honey (any local source is good)
  • 2 tsp nutmeg (I used fresh ground and used about one whole nut)
  • Cinnamon to taste
  • 8oz bourbon or rum (I used Bicardi rum)
  • Directions: Heat the milk, cream, honey, and spices until just boiling. While the milk is warming, mix the egg yolks until thick and changes color (will get a bit lighter). Once the milk is boiling, remove it from the heat, and slowly temper the egg yolks. This means take little bits of the hot liquid and add to the egg whisking quickly. This keeps the egg from scrambling while incorporating it into the mixture. Once the egg is tempered, add it to the milk mixture and heat again until mixture reaches 160 degrees. Remove from heat and add booze. Allow mix to cool. While mixture is cooling, whip egg whites until soft peaks form. Add egg whites to the cool nog mixture. At this point I tasted and realized that I need to add some sweetness so I added a little bit of brown sugar, you may also try more honey or maple syrup if you would like.

The Apple Peach Pie is something I kind of just went with in my head based on a simple Apple Pie recipe. You can also add some other yummy things like ginger, plums, or chai.

  • Crust (see previous blog entry about the perfect, easy-to-use crust)
  • 5-6 Granny Smith apples (I really don’t have a preference for any special type of apple other than red delicious. dont use these, they lack flavor and fall apart).
  • 2-3 Peaches (I used 1 jar of peaches that I preserved from the summer and about a half jar of peach jam I made)
  • 2 Tbsp butter, melted (Alpenrose)
  • 1/2-1 c flour (Camas)
  • 1 c brown sugar (I think honey could work, I need to try this soon)
  • Lots o cinnamon (as much as you like, I like all my baking spicy though. You could also add nutmeg, cloves, and ground ginger here)
  • Directions: This is so simple its silly. Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples and peaches. Mix all ingredients together so that the apples and peaches are lightly coated with sugar, flour, and spice. Add filling to crust. Use second crust as a lattice or place over top and make sure to cut slices to allow for steam. I like to take left over scraps and cut with cookie cutters to add a little flare to the pies. Bake for about an hour.

I am also very excited to get my sewing and knitting projects going for the winter. I am making Shane some hunting garb (or maybe just camo patterned pajamas depending on how they turn out) and finally getting to my grocery bag project. I am just taking all the free fabric I can find and making grocery bags for myself and as many people as I can supply them to.

Off to my potluck! Happy Winter Everyone!