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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Solar Dyeing Wool with Kool Aid

solar dyeing wool with kool aid

My house faces south, and I have this big concrete stoop, that at some point, somebody painted red, along with all of the sidewalk in the front yard. Why, I have no idea, but that’s something to explore some other time. Right now, it means that I have a front stoop that gets a lot of light and reflects heat back up pretty darn well. That makes it perfect for solar dyeing. Don’t worry if you don’t have a red, south-facing stoop. Any spot in your yard where you get a good 6-8 hours of sun should do it.

clean gray colombia fleece

I haven’t done a lot of work with this gray Columbian fleece, and as much as I adore the natural gray color of it, I also have plenty that can be dyed. And since I want to drum card most of this fleece at either sell it as batts or roving pulled from a batt, I’ve learned the hard way that it’s a lot easier to dye the locks first. I have been super busy lately, mostly stuck under an infant, and that makes it difficult to pay attention to a dye pot. Passive dyeing seemed the way to go.

solar dyeing with kool aid

I started with six quart ball jars and six different flavors of Kool Aid. Fruit Punch, Strawberry, Orange, Lemonade, Blue Raspberry Lemonade, and Grape. I’m still loving the rainbows.

kool aid and ball jars

I dissolved each pack of Kool Aid in 8 oz of warm water, then diluted with another 8 oz. Then I submerged 1 oz of dry Columbia locks in each jar and set them out in the sun until the water ran clear. (Kool Aid has citric acid in it, so you don’t need to soak the wool in a vinegar solution first.)

kool aid dyeing in ball jars

I left these outside for about a day’s worth of sun, on the solstice no less, so you never know, they might be magical, then brought them in to cool. You can put these in the sun for a couple of days if you need to get them hot enough to absorb all the pigment, but don’t leave them too long, anytime you introduce water, not to mention whatever the heck is in Kool Aid, your wool will mold if you leave it wet too long. Give the locks a good rinse with some wool wash and lay them flat to dry.

kool aid dyed gray columbian wool locks

I love how these came out, bright on the bleached tips and muted on the bulk of the locks. These six ounce are going to make a couple of really nice, nuanced batts.

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Homemade Probiotic Sauerkraut

With all the fun fermenting talk that’s been going on around here, I felt like I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about sauerkraut.

sauerkraut from above

When I was about seven years old, and my dad was between jobs, my family stayed with some relatives for a couple of months who lived on Sauerkraut Lane. I was told, in that teasing way adults have of speaking to young kids, that living on Sauerkraut Lane, I had to like sauerkraut, or at least try it. I, like most seven year-olds, refused to try it and insisted I wouldn’t like it. At some point, they did trick me into trying it. Whatever kind of sauerkraut it was I ate back in 1992, it came from a can, and I gave it two thumbs down. I probably didn’t try sauerkraut again until I was in my twenties, but when I did, it was fresh-not-canned, and it was so different from what I remembered it being.

cabbage in a hot pink bowl

For a long time I bought Bubbies sauerkraut, but at $6 a jar, making my own is so much more economical. The last head of cabbage I bought was 75 cents. Cabbage plus a little bit of sea salt is all you need to make it.

Just shred a head of cabbage, and grind some sea salt over it.

shredded cabbage in a hot pink bowl

Then spend about ten minutes squishing the salt in the cabbage and grinding it with your fists. It’s the best excuse ever to play with your food. Enjoy it. It will eventually become limp and watery, which is what you want.

fresh sauerkraut
Then pack it down into a jar. This one is two quarts. And put a jam jar in the top to tamp the cabbage down below the water that came out when you were grinding the salt into it. You’ll want to keep the cabbage leaves below the water level.

finished sauerkraut
Let it sit in a cool, dry, dark place for about 3 to 10 days, tamping the leaves down below the water line a couple times a day. After three days, start tasting it to see if it’s done. This batch was done after four days. Then put it in the fridge to stop the fermenting process. Then eat it, and be happy.

homemade sauerkraut on beef brats
I had some just the other day over these beef brats from a local ranch, but I will also just eat it from a bowl for a snack or as a side. Do it. Your guts will thank you.

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New Class! Top Down Socks on Double-Pointed Needles

rainbow sox
I finally have a new knitting class! I haven’t taught in over a year, and I am really excited about this one. It’s no secret that I love knitting socks. I almost always have a sock on the needles, and I want to teach you how too.

This class is perfect for a beginning knitter who wants to learn how to knit in the round or an experienced knitter who hasn’t quite learned how to knit socks yet.


We’ll explore the shape of socks, construction, and gauge.


Top-Down Socks on Double-Pointed Needles
$60, Mondays, July 14, 21, 28 August 4, 11, 18 6:30 – 8:30 pm at Potwin Presbyterian Church
Skill Level: Adventurous Beginner
Skills needed: knit, purl

In this class you will learn how to knit a pair of top-down socks using my original sock recipe. Over six weeks, you will learn how to knit using double-pointed needles (dpns), decreasing, short rows, picking up stitches, kitchener stitch, how to calculate gauge for any size foot.

Materials needed:
100g sock yarn (fingering weight)
One set of 4 US size 2 Double-Pointed Needles
Yarn Needle
Measuring Tape
Locking Stitch marker (optional)

To sign up, email me at tinydinostudios@gmail.com or leave a comment on this post.


Today’s the day we cast on Pogona for the PFA Summer KAL. Join us in the PFA Ravelry Group!

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Lacto-Fermented Salsa

Remember last week when I got almost a quart of whey from one batch of yogurt?
Whey from one batch of yogurt

One of my favorite things to do with whey is make lacto-fermented salsa. I love salsa. I eat it on eggs, on salads with a touch of oil instead of dressing, and on tortilla chips, etc. If I am going to be eating it, I might as well be getting some extra probiotics. Also, making lacto-fermented salsa is pretty much the same as making regular salsa, except you add a little bit of whey.

lacto fermented salsa ingredients
What You’ll Need:
-2 or 3 large tomatoes (you’ll see here I used canned, because we don’t have any ripe tomatoes yet)
-1 large clove garlic
-1/2 bell pepper
-2 jalapeno peppers (for medium spice)
-1 medium onion
-a handful of cilantro (this is from our garden at least!)
-a couple squirts of lemon juice
-2 tablespoons whey from making your own Greek yogurt
-salt to taste
-food processor or blender of some type. I used my Kitchen Aid counter top blender, which I swear is just as good as any Vitamix I ever used when I was in the coffee biz.

-Roughly chop all fresh vegetables
-Add to blender or food processor along with whey, lemon juice, and salt.
-Blend to desired consistency
-Pour into glass jars
-Let set in cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight for two days.
-Refrigerate to stop fermentation.

Salsa should taste just like normal, but with a slightly fermented aftertaste to it–which is usually covered up very quickly by spice.

lacto fermented salsa

I put my salsa in jars I save back from when we buy salsa from the grocery store, because I’m tricksy like that. I usually get enough salsa four about three small jars worth, and even though I can usually go through this much within a week or two, yours should be good up to a couple months.

What’s your favorite way to eat salsa?

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A List on a Sunday Morning

1. There’s no Weekend Garden Update this week, because I haven’t really had done much in the garden this week–also, we’re between harvests, but I’m hoping we’ll have a tomato or two. by this time next week.

2. In reading about soap-making this week, I found a recipe for breastmilk soap. Just wanted you to now that that exists.

3. Reading about soap-making all week has brought me down a rabbit hole of other fun body care DIYs.

4. I particularly recommend the Humblebee & Me blog. After reading her blog, you will find yourself with a cart full of essential oils and cocoa butter, and plans to make everything you’ve ever needed ever.

5. I am totally going to try her hair balm, since I’ve been doing the shampoo bar thing for awhile now. (I currently use the nettle rosemary shampoo bar from Nurture Botanicals and I highly recommend it, but I plan on making my own very soon.)

6. In case you have tried my Greek yogurt tutorial and are wondering what to do with all that whey, today I made biscuits and gravy, using the whey in the biscuits instead of buttermilk. It tasted and smelled exactly the same. (And Bob’s Red Mill GF All Purpose Flour works really well for biscuits!)

7. Today I whipped up the easiest ice cream ever to go with the cherry pie I made. It was delicious, so I will share:
-2 cups half n half
-1/3 cup sugar
– 1 teaspoon vanilla
Whisk it all together and throw in the ice cream maker. We have a hand crank one that my soon-to-be 8 year-old can easily use. He churned while I read Harry Potter, and we had ice cream in less time than it took to read a chapter.

8. This upcoming week might be my busiest week of the year–busier even then Christmas. All of my siblings and siblings-in-law will be in town, and on top of the Fourth of July, we have three birthdays, including Athrun’s–and just like what happened at Christmas, I’m opening a new store in a week, so there’s no extra time off work either. I’m not complaining, just wrapping my head around the busy.

9.Don’t forget, Pogona KAL kicks off Tuesday. Do you have your supplies?

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