Pogona Progress

pogona progress
In my few free minutes over the last two weeks, I have been knitting on my pogona, not without progress.

pogona on the needles
One of the best things about knitting stripes is that I don’t want to stop. I want to see what it’s going to look like after the next stripe. And the next stripe. I’ve stayed up way too late a couple of nights doing this.

cozy stripes
This might be one of the coziest looking things I have ever knit. I give all the credit to the handspun. It makes me wish it wasn’t going to be 100 degrees outside today so I could cuddle up with it.

Weekend Garden Update

We are finally starting to have some summer harvests, though the going is slower than I expected. Part of it might be that we got a bit of a late start, and part of it may be that it’s our first year in clay-y soil. Does anybody know any good cover crops for us to lay down in our beds for the winter? Or would it be best to mulch really heavily with compost and newspaper?

the summer harvest has begun

The tomatoes are ripening. The peppers are growing, even though the bushes they are on remain small. The cucumbers are doing what cucumbers do, but getting them enough water is a problem. They are all balloon shaped because it’s so dry–a problem I have never had before. The eggplants, like the peppers, are small, but producing one or two slender little ichibans at a time.

So far, we have one zucchini. One. I thought we would have six billion, but our zucchinis aren’t producing very many fruits. The little ones keep sprouting up, but they don’t ever seem to take. The blossom is about to fall off our one fruit, so I’m going to cut it tomorrow and hope the rest of the little ones catch up.

My main triumph is that I made salsa with the peppers and tomatoes you see in the bowl above, along with a handful of cilantro–all from the garden. Delicious.

How’s your garden doing?

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Livng

country living book

One of the few pleasure trips my husband and I have made since Felix was born was to Barnes & Noble for Brock’s birthday in May. While it was for his birthday, I came away with a pretty great find. (Don’t worry he found plenty of good stuff too.)

gardening country living book

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Living was in the sale section at Barnes & Noble and was about 80% off. I picked it up and flipped through it while Brock and Felix were perusing books by Richard Feynman and Carl Sagan, and I was hooked right away.

This book is definitely an encyclopedia. It’s a quick reference to a lot of different things. Obviously, the craft section is my favorite. It tells you how to do all of the following fun things.

basketry country living book

candles country living book

soap making country living book

They also have small tutorials on knitting and spinning and beekeeping and gardening. There is a lot of practical advice too. There is a whole chapter on building furniture–which has kind of got me hankering to invest in some power tools.

There’s also this
main objective

and this

smoking fish country living book
(that’s fish in a smoker)

One of the most valuable sections in this book is the section on canning.
canning country living book

Buried in the middle of this encyclopedia is a 120 page book on canning, which pretty much makes the book worth the full cover price alone.

I love this book.

I like to flip through the pages for inspiration, because the photography is phenomenal, and the subject matter in dear to my country-loving heart. It’s one of those books that you’re glad when you have when you don’t have internet access.

Also, now I really want to try my hand at basketry. Anybody with me?

Beginner’s Cold Process Soap Making Kit from Brambleberry.com

brambleberry soap kit

A few weeks ago, I started doing a bunch of research about making soap. What directly sparked my research, as I have noted earlier, was a customer in one of the store I run at my day job, complaining that my handmade soap had lye in it. After I told her that all soap had lye in it, I decided to Google it just to be sure. Sure enough, lye and fat makes soap. This article from humblebeeandme explains it pretty well, and if you ever wondered about soap, it’s a great read.

I’ve had a passive interest in soap for awhile, but hadn’t really pursued it. It was a very passive interest, as in, I would click on pins that claimed to be soap recipes and all it would be was adding essential oils to Dr. Bronner’s soap. I would click away, frustrated, because I wanted to know how to make the Dr. Bronner’s, but not enough to look it up directly.

The first soap making supply website I came across was brambleberry.com, and ordered their beginners cold process soap kit almost immediately. I ordered it before I really understood what was in it or really how to make soap with it once it arrived.

The kit contained four types of oil, lye, fragrance oil, and a box to use as a mold. (I had to supply the gloves, goggles, bowls, measuring cups, thermometers, and stick blender, etc.

Now, I didn’t know all that much about soap making when I ordered the kit, and I was so excited to find a concise set of supplies, that I didn’t realize the kit included palm oil until after I had paid for it–and I didn’t realize what the palm oil was for when it came to soap making. I did know that palm oil is often used in foods instead crisco to avoid trans fats, and I also knew about the toll it is taking on Indonesia. Even though Brambleberry’s palm oil is RSPO certified, I still have reservations about using palm oil. In cooking, palm oil is a fat that can be easily substituted with butter, lard, or tallow, or shortening if you don’t use animal products. As far as my reading has gone in soap, palm oil is one of the only hardening oils that does not come from an animal. I hesitate to to call it vegan, like so many soapers do, because to me, anything that takes that large a toll on it’s local community is not vegan by any stretch of the word. To me, it’s far more preferable to use lard or tallow, because I can buy it from local farmers or butchers, and because a lot of the time, it gets thrown out anyway. Making soap is a great way to start using all of the animal that has already given it’s life. Plus, traditionally, soap was made with animal fats, and I can get behind that.

So anyway, the soap you are about to see was made with palm oil, because I had paid for it, and I felt responsible to use it. I had enough palm oil for two small batches of soap, and have since switched to lard. I am now getting off my soapbox. (Tee hee, see what I did there?)

cranberry fig soap

Overall, I think this is a great kit for someone to get if they want to try out cold process soap making, but aren’t sure they want to make a habit of it. The mold you receive is a cardboard box, which is a good size, and show’s a new soap maker how to be creative, but I don’t think the size matches the recipe given. I think, when someone makes soap for the first time, they want the soap to turn out in nice bars, not in little biscotti pieces (I’ve been calling this batch of soap biscottis, which is just about what size these bars are.) I understand why the mold is what it is, but I wish either the size or the recipe were different.

cutting soap
I got my crinkle cut soap cutter at Michaels. Perhaps I am just a novice, but to me, handmade soap is more fun if it’s crinkle cut.

The kit also came with a cranberry fig fragrance oil. While not an unpleasant scent, I find that I am not all that fond of fragrance oils. I prefer a subtler scent, and am naturally just more drawn to essential oils–but the oil in this kit taught me that, so it’s a valuable lesson. I do think that if I had been a little bit more patient, I would have assembled my own oils, mold, and essential oil before starting, since I knew I wanted to give soap making a good go of it.

Overall, I am very glad I ordered this kit. I have at least one more week for this soap to cure before I can test it out–and a couple more before I can tell you the difference between palm oil soap and lard soap, but stay tuned. There’s much more to come.

Gluten Free Banana Bread Sweetened with Raw Honey

gluten free banana bread with text

Since I went gluten free two years ago, I have been searching for a good banana bread recipe. My husband likes to take bananas to work as a mid-morning snack–but he very rarely eats a whole bunch in one week. I’m not too keen on fresh bananas, but I love banana bread. My mother had a phenomenal recipe, which my dad continued to make after she passed. That particular banana bread is one of those nostalgic pieces of my childhood that represents love and family and happy memories. I know that’s a lot of pressure to put on one recipe, which could be why it took over two years to develop one that tastes the same, but incorporates a few healthier options.

gluten free banana bread slice

My mom’s recipe isn’t up for grabs, but here’s the one I’ve come up with

Gluten Free Banana Bread
Makes Two Loaves

3 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour
2 cups mashed bananas (I throw mine in the blender)
2/3 cup raw honey (full disclosure, I never measure, just pour in what I think is enough, and is probably always less than 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
pinch of salt
4 eggs well-beaten

Mix all ingredients, folding in well-beaten eggs last.
Bake in two parchment-lined loaf pans for 45 minutes at 350.

gluten free banana bread

Do yourself a favor and please,please, please use the parchment. If you just grease the pan, your bread will stick. I grease the parchment, and then I am able to lift the bread straight out of the loaf pan and set it on the cooling rack.

banana bread served with honey and cinnamon

I like to eat my banana bread plain, or with just a little bit of butter. My husband likes it with just a little bit of honey and cinnamon on top, especially when I don’t get quite enough honey in the bread before hand.

Weekend Garden Update

We still haven’t had any real harvests of the summer veggies. The peppers are popping out nicely, and the oldest tomatoes are finally starting to turn orange on their shoulders. The cucumbers are slow to grow, and as they get bigger, are doing this strange curly thing. I’m going to pull some tomorrow to put in our lunchtime salad, just to make sure they still taste OK.

new and almost ripe blackberries

bigger jalapenos

wonky cucumber

finally a ripening tomato

blue flowers

Here’s hoping I’ll be eating a tomato sometime this week!

Kansas Beeswax

I have mentioned a couple of time that I have been looking in to soap-making, though I seem to be doing most of my ruminating about that on twitter. While I am definitely interested in making soap, that’s not all I’m interested in creating. Learning about oils and herbs and essential oils easily leads from just soap to just overall natural body care.

kansas beeswax

One of the first things I wanted to try using was beeswax. It’s supposed to be very moisturizing and nutrient rich. I’m hoping to try it out in some body butter, some lip balm, and some soap.

Finding a good source for local beeswax is important, since beeswax isn’t really all that regulated in the US. While I still intend to ask around at the farmer’s market and with some local beekeepers, I was able to find a source for Kansas beeswax on etsy.

beeswax cubes
This beeswax came from Hutchinson. It’s golden, firm, and smells divine. Seriously, I wish I could give you this smell. If you weren’t careful, you could mistake it for toffee made with honey, because it certainly looks good enough to eat.

beeswax label
That’s why I’m making sure to store the beeswax in the labeled baggies. Aren’t those bees so happy and adorable?

As soon as my other supplies arrive, the creating shall commence.

Zucchini Noodles and Pasta Sauce

zucchini noodles and meat sauce
One of my favorite ways to eat all the fresh veggies from the garden in the summer, is to make a quick pasta sauce. I make a pretty easy tomato sauce with garlic, onion, oregano, basil, salt and pepper with a pinch or two of cayenne. I usually also add about a pound of ground meat. The first eggplant of the year went into this sauce, as well a bit of frozen broccoli and scraps of zucchini leftover from making the noodles.

zucchini noodles

Since I don’t eat wheat, and am not a fan of gluten free pasta, and I am trying to eat healthfully gluten free, but still love pasta sauce, I tend to eat the sauce over vegetable. In the winter, it’s usually cauliflower, but in the summer, when zucchini is plentiful, I love a big old bowl of zucchini noodles.

zucchini and julienne peeler

All it takes is a few medium to large zucchini (I would figure one large one per person–a great way to use up the summer zucchini bounty) and a julienne peeler. I cut up my zucchini, coat the noodles in a bit of coconut oil, add a dash of salt and pepper, and microwave them for a minute or two. Super simple.

crazy daisy pyrex
My favorite microwave safe dish.

Spinning Inspiration

Easter Egg Handspun2
Some of my handspun from last year.

It’s Tour de Fleece time, and again I am not officially participating. I haven’t spun since sometime last winter before I got too big to spin. My wheel is awfully neglected, but knitting on my pogona with handspun yarn has me yearning to spin all of the yarn I knit with. This is completely unrealistic with a newborn around, but a gal can dream.

When I feel the yearning to spin, but can’t quite find the time, I usually wind up browsing handspun available for sale on etsy. The selection is gorgeous–and knowing that I can also create such treasures motivates me to find the time to get my wheel out again. And every now and then, I snap up one of those treasures for myself.

Here’s what I’ve been admiring lately:

spinninginspiration1
This wool and silk blend from blarney yarn

spinninginspiration2
This bulky rainbow yarn from Wool Wench

spinninginspiration3
Pretty much everything from brand new shop Dotori Handmade is absolutely gorgeous.

spinninginspiration4
And these lovely singles from pancake and lulu.

Pogona After One Week

Because it’s been a busy holiday week (hope your’s wasn’t too busy!), I am not as far along on my pogona as I would like.

pogona in progress

This cormo is blowing my mind. It’s gorgeous, and with the alpaca, it is just downright decadent.

pogona in progress 2

I am doing the white in Fibonacci stripes, separated by two-row stripes of gray. I think the color contrast just adds to the texture of the piece.

It might bee 100 degrees out now, but I can’t wait to try this shawl on. Knitting this out of my handspun has convinced me that it’s worth spending more time spinning so I can knit with handspun more often.