Saturday, January 31, 2009

Smartweed, Sparrows and a Marsh Hawk

On a recent winter hike at Eagle Marsh we noticed numerous sparrows foraging for seeds amongst the skeletons of last seasons' native grasses. They would occasionally perch on the coppery-colored stems of another plant skeleton scattered here and there amidst the grasses.

Closer inspection revealed a plant with lance-shaped leaves, a stem with swollen areas at leaf nodes (where leaves originate)...

...and thin, papery sheaths at the base of the swollen nodes:

Taken together, those field marks told us that the sparrows' perch of choice was a variety of Knotweed, a.k.a. Smartweed, a.k.a. Buckwheat. We prefer Knotweed because this name recalls the distinctive field mark of "knotty" stem. The taxonomic family name is Polygonaceae. We'll remember this one and look at it again during the growing season when we can observe the flowers and get a positive i.d. to the species level (yeah, we look forward to such things!).

Not much further on our hike we came across another snag of old weeds that was a decent enough perch for a Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier)!!

Apparently, many Eagle Marsh winter residents frequent the remains of last years' sea of vegetation. Food, shelter, cover - probably all of the above and many more reasons we couldn't even guess:

Many hikes end up having a theme and the theme today was something along the lines of "the value of vegetative dormancy to native fauna". Case in point - a flock of tree sparrows taking cover in a dormant oak branch:

A closer look. This little one was using this branch for a perch and the foliage for cover while waiting his/her turn to...

...feed on seeds revealed under a melting patch of snow!

Never a dull moment on a nature hike!

Friday, January 30, 2009

We're Featured on the EtsyVeg Blog!

Hey everyone! We were featured on Thursday on the EtsyVeg blog; a group of vegetarian/vegans that all sell on Etsy. It's quite fun...check us out here!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An Evening of Snow Followed by a Day of Sun Means Cross Country Skiing!

Yesterday our gray skies opened up and made the previous days' snow very inviting for...

...cross country skiing!

Heading south into the Little Wabash River valley:

Looking back towards our house:

Looking down at our skis:)

Rejoicing in the warming sun:


We turn west and enter the frozen wetland at Arrowhead Marsh nature preserve:

We break trail over to the prairie loop but decide to turn back...

...back we go for our afternoon coffee and to plan our next snowy outing!

Jennifer's Latest Soap Concoction

Not to be stopped by our upcoming move, I made another batch of soap! This one is an invigorating blend of peppermint, sweet birch, eucalyptus and lemon essential oils plus dried peppermint leaves.

Bounder readied herself to help with cutting...

Here's a closeup that shows you the cool colors of the peppermint leaves. I am sure they will change as it cures (4 weeks) so it will be interesting to compare.

This makes batch number 8 for me I believe. It smells SOOOO good!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How To Roast Winter Squash or Pumpkin Seeds

Yesterday we shared a quick and easy meal from winter squash and recommended keeping the seeds for roasting. Here is our quick and easy seed roasting method.

Step 1 - Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Gather your seeds, salt and olive oil.

Step 2 - Add about 1/2-1 tsp salt and about 1/2-1 tbsp olive oil to your seeds. (We had about 1 cup of seeds to roast.) These ratios obviously depend on your quantity of seeds so rely on your saltiness preference and the look of the seeds. They should look like they are coated in oil. Mix it all together well.

Step 3 - Spread your seeds in a thin layer on a baking tray or pan.

Step 4 - Bake for about 30 minutes (stirring and re-spreading once or twice during baking to make sure all sides are cooked equally) or until the seeds look dry and crispy. You can try one to make sure you like the texture. If it is too chewy, put it back in the oven for a few minutes.

Step 5 - Once cooled, put your seeds in an airtight container and try not to eat them all in one sitting. They are SOOOOO good! We've tried all sorts of seeds to date: pumpkin, butternut & sweet dumpling and they are all delicious with their own unique flavors.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Yummy Winter Squash Quick Meal

We are steadily working through our produce larder from our garden harvests this summer. We love going to the shelf or our freezer for our food and are LOVING the reduced food bill. It's really quite amazing. Besides coffee/wine/beer, a few dairy products and grains we purchase little at the grocery. If we would switch over to drinking chicory coffee like our friend (the mastermind behind our chicken coop tales), we would even further reduce our food bill.

Last night for dinner I made a quick and simple dish with the last of our sweet dumpling squash. You can use any sort of winter squash for this recipe, but a sweet squash such as sweet dumpling or butternut makes it that much better.

Step 1 - Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Gather your squash.

Step 2 - Cut squash in half width wise. Lay them with their insides face down in a large pan. Fill the pan with water till the water depth measures about 1". (Leave the seeds inside.) Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Step 3 - While your squash is cooking toast some nuts or seeds to eat with the squash later. We used purchased pepitas or pumpkin seeds. Put your nuts or seeds in a thin layer on a tray and toast in your 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes or until slightly browned.

Step 4 - Once your squash can be easily (very easily!) pierced with a knife, remove the squash from the oven and turn them over to cool a bit before you touch them. HOT!

Step 5 - Scoop out the seeds and binding fibers. Put these in a colander in your sink.

Step 6 - Now scoop out the soft baked squash and put the squash in serving bowls. Stir your squash well in the bowl so it is fairly uniform in texture.

Step 7 - Get out your favorite dressing or oil (we LOVE Annie's Goddess Dressing)...

Step 8 - Pour some dressing or oil (or leave it plain - sweet dumpling is that good!) on top of your squash, add some toasted seeds/nuts & enjoy!

Step 9 - After you finish your meal, go back to your seeds waiting in the colander and clean off the squash fibers by running some water and rubbing them with your fingers until they are fairly clean. Put them in a sealed container in the fridge and tune back in to our blog in a day or two to find out what to do with them!

Step 10 - Don't forget to add your squash skins to your compost! We keep a handy dish by our sink and take the compost to the pile outdoors about once a day. Easy once you get used to the process.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Saturday Morning Busy-ness

Another pot of our favorite lentil soup:

And a new smaller barn wood shelf...

Shelves coming soon...

If you see something you love or want something made, let Steve know! He is selling his creations and will take custom orders. (Notice the little circles in the photo above? That is particulate matter and why Steve wears a mask when working on this stuff. Good thing there is a garage door right there to open and ventilate!)

Ok everyone, lots more to do today. Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Bevy of Barnwood Tables

Here's a few recent tables made by Steve of reclaimed lumber and old barnwood - soooo many possibilities:

Based on the original Barnwood Coffeetable but with an added shelf:

Lean and Green:

Extra rustic:

Low and refined:

Inspiration provided by Sanford and Son

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Felt Bowls or Crafting with Friends: Part 2

Ok then, on to Part 2: The How To on our felt bowls.

Some helpful background information such as What is Felting? can be found here.

Step 1: Gather your supplies:

roving, wool yarn for decoration, resist material (such as craft foam), nylon netting, bubble wrap, lots of towels to soak up surplus water, a large work surface such as a table, a table cloth to protect your table (if needed), scissors, plastic bags from the grocery store, old empty dish soap bottles, dish soap, means to heat up water, the book or instructions for your project, and a good block of time (3 hours or so - quicker certainly if you aren't working with beginners or as a beginner.)

Step 2: Take your resist material (craft foam in our case) and cut the shape you need for your project. We cut imperfect circles about 12 inches in diameter or so. I did not get a photo of this step, but you can see the shape through the wool on subsequent photos. Place a towel on your work area. Lay the craft foam on your nylon netting on the towel in preparation for wool application.

Step 3: Pull apart your roving into roughly 2 or 3 inch lengths. The width is precut, but can be pulled apart to your likeness. THIS COLOR WILL BE INSIDE YOUR BOWL. Lay your separated wool on your craft foam starting at the top, overlapping the edge no more than a 1/2 inch or so. This covered about 1/2 of our circle. Make sure these fibers all run the same direction. Now lay more wool fibers on the bottom half of the circle overlapping the top half a 1/2 inch or so and the edge no more than a 1/2 inch still laying in the same direction. Make sure your fiber density is as even as you can make it all the way across your resist. Lay the netting over the top of your covered resist, flip it over and do the same thing on the other side of the circle.

Step 4: Wet your wool with really hot water mix: put some soap (a decent squirt), some cool water and then boiling water in old empty soap bottles for application. Rub your wool gently to get it wet. Smooth the overlapped edge fibers from the opposite side onto the main body. Lay your netting over the top of your covered resist. (It should wrap underneath too.) Rub the wool with light pressure, making sure to keep the netting tight along the edges. Continue to add hot water here and there to help speed along felting. Note: Besides our hands, we crumpled up plastic grocery bags into a pseudo ball and used those to rub with as well.

Step 5: Once one side of your wool is evenly wet and rubbed, turn the whole thing over netting and all, open the netting, and follow Step 4 instructions for this side as well.

Step 6: Add another layer of roving to your wet, rubbed start of your bowl. This time add your roving at a 90 degree angle to your first layer. Follow steps 3-5 again. THIS LAYER IS YOUR INSIDE COLOR AS WELL.

Step 7: Add one more layer of roving to your wet, rubbed bowl. Add this roving at a 90 degree angle to your last layer. Follow steps 3-5. THIS LAYER IS YOUR OUTSIDE COLOR(S)!

After your rubbing and wetting your soon-to-be-bowl will look like this:

Step 8: Add wool yarn accents wherever you desire. The center of your soon-to-be-bowl will be cut out on one side eventually. Keep that in mind as you place your accents. (Hint: I chose a nice contrasting, but complementary yellow to go with my orange and red bowl, but through the felting process my yellow was covered with some orange and red fibers making it less contrasting that I would have liked. Think about that as you choose colors too.)

Step 9: Cover your accented soon-to-be-bowl with the nylon netting, wet and rub gently. Continue this step, working both sides, refreshing your hot soapy water as needed until your yarn accents start to felt to the body of the bowl.

Step 10: Once your yarn is securely attached via felting, cut a whole in one side of your felt. Then carefully remove the resist material (craft foam) from inside the bowl through your hole. It can be done without cutting the foam. Don't tug on your felt too hard, but know it can withstand some gentle tugging to remove the craft foam.

Step 11: Now time for serious rubbing! Refresh your hot water if needed, scrunch up your bowl, rub & squeeze it in your hands making sure to continually adjust the way it is crumpled so you don't get any permanent creases. (Note: we added a wadded up piece of bubble wrap in the middle for the initial hard rubbing so it would not felt on itself)

Unscrunch your bowl and take a look!

Step 12: Add more force to your rubbing, more hot water and a rolling pin! Yes, wrap your bowl in your netting loosely and roll that baby hard with a rolling pin. Back and forth, back and forth.

Continue with steps 11 & 12...

till your bowl feels firm and dense and holds its shape well.

Step 13: Once you are happy with the texture of your bowl, rinse it well in lukewarm water in the sink till the water runs clear and free of soap. Shape your bowl till your liking and let it dry! That's it!

OH yeh - Step 14: Clean up your mess! :)

Remember all - this was my first felting experience and I've related it as best as I can according to my memory. If you have any additions, corrections or questions just let me know!