April 29, 2011

Something New

This photo is the best I could do while being both model and photographer, but I have been making some new aprons, from organic cotton canvas and linen. I bought the fabric without really knowing what I would do with it. I thought probably bags or aprons and then I came up with a different version of the aprons I've been making.

Sometimes I wish I could plot the evolution of my ideas. I am often pleasantly surprised with what I come up with. I find that I can't really push myself to make something new that I haven't done before, it just kind of comes when the time is right. It is best when my ideas and what I can actually make are in alignment, which is what (luckily) happened here.

 
I am really pleased with these new aprons, I love the soft fabric, the colors, and the contrasting kitchen tools appliqued on the pockets. I hope other people like will like them, too. I just finished the first batch, but they will be for sale in the shop next week!

April 27, 2011

Exploring on Two Wheels

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Spring has been slow to arrive, but we had a gorgeous day on Sunday which was perfect for a bike ride. The air was slightly cool but the sun was bright and I warmed up as I was pedaling. In the winter I am much less eager to travel by bicycle but once I go for my first ride of the spring I remember how much I love it. 

We rode west through St Paul across the river into Minneapolis where we had a chance to explore the mid town greenway. I had heard of the greenway but didn't really even know what it was until we got on the trail. I love following a trail when I'm not exactly sure where it will go or what I will encounter. We zipped past some art installations, over a bridge just for people on foot or on a bicycle, and rode to the edge of the lakes which are also ringed with paths for walking and pedaling. I love bicycling because it is fast enough that you can explore easily but slow enough to take in the scenery.

Although I don't think that is necessary to have separate bike path to get where you want to go, it can be pretty fun especially when you can pedal along without worrying about traffic. There were plenty of other cyclists out, though, which made for great people on bicycles watching. We passed by community gardens, a bike shop on the greenway, and lots of different styles and types of bikes.

I guess it was the gift of gorgeous weather but the ride felt a bit magical -- discovering new places not far from where we live, seeing other people out, enjoying the feeling of traveling that way. Did you know that pedaling a bicycle is the most efficient way for a human to travel?

I came across these gorgeous bicycles that are grown and built in San Francisco. Such a cool idea! Sometimes I think about designing some bicycle bags. I would eventually like to try, but there are already some pretty nice ones out there.

What is your favorite way to travel and explore?

April 26, 2011

Bringing Dreams to Life

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Yesterday I spent all day in the sun planting rows and rows of onions, chard and beets. Today I am making homemade mozzarella and sewing aprons. I'll spend a few more days at the farm this week and also a few nights waiting tables. Ray and I are both working a lot these days and I find it hard not to dream about someday when we won't have to work as much, when we'll have more money saved, when we can have more adventures. I think about making a living from Seedling Design, I secretly hope to write a book someday, I dream about when we are settled in somewhere with land of our own and most evenings we'll eat dinner together.

I think it is important to dream, but sometimes you have to open your eyes to everything you have right now. When we become too focused on bringing our dreams to life, we miss the life we have created that already contains so much of our dreams.

Some days, I am trying so hard get to where I want to be, running as fast as I can but getting nowhere. Then I remember that all we have is right here, right now. And when I open my eyes to the things in front of me, I can see that I really am living my dream. Maybe I don't have land of my own where I can plant a garden, but I get to be outside working hard on a farm a few days a week. I have to spend a few evenings a week waiting tables, but I still get to enjoy making food from scratch as often as I can. I'm not making a living from Seedling Design, but I spend time every week making new things and learning about what it takes to build a business by hand.

I know there is a difference between the myriad day dreams that pop up while we are working at something else and the big dreams that we are bound to try our hardest to achieve. It is incredibly important to work toward what you hope for. I don't want to forget my dreams but I don't want to loose sight of what is right in front of me. I'm keeping my eyes open, even while I dream.

April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day!

http://www.etsy.com/listing/72629650/swiss-chard-brown-organic-cotton-canvas


As I said in my newsletter earlier this week, I think it is crucial to make every day Earth Day, but I also think it is important to celebrate occasions when they come along. In the spirit of caring for the earth and making each day vibrantly green, I'm sharing some links that I have found interesting and inspiring and I have a little gift for you at the end of this post, too.

I think handmade and homemade is one of the best ways to support local farmers, connect with your food and reduce waste. I mentioned making homemade butter last week. All it takes is some good quality cream (maybe you have a local farm you can support). It is so easy to make and such a treat!

I recently found Earth911, a site which helps you find where and what you can recycle near where you live. Also, if you are looking to recycle e-waste (old computers, cell phone, etc) it is really important to bring them to a reputable recycler, one that is not going to send e-waste overseas where people break down the computers (often by burning the entire thing) to extract precious metals and copper. E-stewards provides information on certified e-waste recyclers who make sure that the e-waste is recycled in an environmentally, socially, and globally responsible way.

Speaking of recycling, on her blog, Zero Wast Home, Bea talks about how it is most important to refuse first. 

Simple living is another, important way to care for ourselves, our communities, and the earth. I read this a while ago, but can definitely use the reminder.

If you are inspired to plan a garden, there are so many good seed companies to choose from. This shop, run by a Laura Watt in Toronto, sells seeds geared toward the home gardener and she incorporates environmentally friendly practices in all aspects of her business.

I have new market bags in my shop! The latest batch is made from organic cotton canvas. The colors are beautiful and the bags are sturdy. As with everything I made, they are designed to make it easy and fun for you to conserve resources and enjoy being green! In honor of making every day Earth Day I am giving you a coupon for 10% off anything in my shop today. Just use the coupon code earthday when you check out.

April 20, 2011

Guide to Finding the Fresh, Local, and Green

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Spring is slowly awakening here in Minnesota. I started a new job on a farm on Monday, which is why I haven't posted until today. It has been nice to get outside and feel more connected with the earth. We're supposed to get snow tonight, but planting seeds means that spring really is going to come one of these days. I don't know if you are planting seeds of your own, visiting farmer's markets or still waiting for spring, but I wanted to point out some of the options that are available if you are eager to eat more fresh and locally grown. I know I've written on each one with some length, but I wanted to describe them as well as I could. I've added links and resources, too. If you have other ideas for finding farms and markets please share!

CSA - Community Supported Agriculture is a system that many farms use. Farms offer a share (which might feed 1 person or could be enough for a whole family) of produce for the farm season and members pay the full price up front. It is kind of like investing in a farm -- you pay a certain amount at the beginning of the season which gives the farmer capital to order seeds and get started. In exchange, the farmer provides you with a regular supply of vegetables. While most of the focus is one what you get from the farm, the beauty of the CSA system is that you are giving to the farm, too.

Many CSAs simple provide a weekly box of produce, others give members credit so they can pick out what they want. Some CSAs include eggs, milk or meat and still others focus on fiber or fruit. Some farms also do winter shares so you can keep getting locally grown food during the colder months. Although it may seem like a big investment at first, your investment will stretch much farther when you are dealing directly with a farm instead of shopping for produce at a market. Keep in mind that the although most farms provide a wide variety, they are limited as the what they can harvest at different times of year. It is a great way to get in touch with the seasons of a farm and to learn to use a variety of vegetables.

Farmers Markets - Some CSAs allow members to get their produce at the market, but generally a farmer's market is just for retail. Many farmers bring their goods to sell (usually produce, but also baked goods, flowers, meat, dairy products and artisanal specialty foods) and you can pick out whatever you like. The prices are probably higher than at the grocery store, but the quality is better, too. Farmer's markets are also a great way to meet the people who grow the food you eat. When you eat local food like this, you can get to know the growers and ask them questions about how they grow it, what they grow and how to use the products that they sell. Local Harvest is a great website to find markets near you.

Farm Stands - I've lived in some rural areas where farms or sometimes smaller growers have a stand or spot by their house where they place the produce for sale. Sometimes the stand is attended other times it is based on the honor system. You take what you would like and leave money in a can. I love stopping at these little spots along the road, you can find some great very fresh food and it is nice to support the people in your community who care for the land and protect undeveloped open spaces.

Grocery Stores - Since interest in and demand for growing local food many grocery stores and co-ops stock their produce section with locally grown. It's not the same as buying directly from the farmer, but it is always good to take advantage of the locally grown food that is available.

Community Gardens - If you want to grow your own food, there are plenty of options, too. Community Gardens can be found in urban and suburban areas. Different places do it differently. Often it is an area of land sectioned off into plots that you pay a small fee to use for the season. Sometimes the garden is completely communal and members work together to grow all of the food. Community Gardens usually provide guidance and information for new gardeners and there are usually seasoned growers around to make suggestions or give advice. Sometimes the gardens have rules about what you can or cannot grow and how you plot should be maintained and they also have tools and lots of other resources to help you get growing. The American Community Gardening Association can help you find a community garden near where you live. 

Your back yard - Before you start digging up the lawn, make sure to get the soil tested. This will give you information about what you might need to add to the soil and will also warn you if there is lead. Many urban and suburban areas have lead in the soil but that is not an insurmountable obstacle. Your yards is a fabulous place to grow food that is as local as possible. Kitchen Gardeners International is a good place to look for ideas, resources and other back (or front) yard gardeners.

Your front steps, porch, deck or fire escape - I don't have land to plant in myself, but I am planning to grow a few vegetables and some herbs in pots on my back porch. I hope to get this started very soon (once it stops snowing for good!). I'll be sharing my porch garden exploits here, but this book also looks like a great way to get started.

April 15, 2011

This Week

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I started a new batch of napkins. I love the colors of the cotton fabric, there are so many beautiful ones to choose from.

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I printed tags and business cards. I've been working on the design and with my limited abilities in photo shop finally figured out how to make them work.

Picked up a copy of this vegetarian cookbook. I'm really looking forward to trying the recipes which use ingredients that are new to me and also use familiar ingredients in new and different ways.

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Made lots of homemade butter for an article I was working on for Wine and Food Travel.

Started watching the television version (from netflix) of the fun and delightful Number One Ladies Detective Agency series of books.

Dreamed about the little porch garden I hope to start planting next week.

What have you been making, cooking, watching or planning?

April 13, 2011

Friendship and Fritters

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Over the weekend I had a visit from my nearest, and one of my dearest friends. She lives 6 hours away, but made the drive to spend a weekend relaxing, taking walks, cooking good meals, and catching up. The things friends do, right?

We also managed to make at least four recipes that were new to both of us which really helped push me out of my cooking rut. We had a flavorful Asian inspired dinner, a flourless chocolate cake, gluten free muffins and ricotta fritters. It was a welcome change to cook the recipes together and though we have different ways of working, our cooking roles flowed as easily as our conversation. There are the friends that you reconnect with like no time has passed and then there are the friends that you don't see often, but you stay in touch and are part of each others lives over distance and time.

Throughout the weekend we talked often about where we've been and more so where we think we might end up and where we want our lives to go. As a kid, it is so easy to take friendships for granted. Then, when everyone goes off to pursue their own path it seems like we can't do enough to keep our connections with friends as strong as we want them to be. Even though I have lost the simplicity of youthful friendships, as I've gotten older I have realized that there are friends I will never grow apart from. We might not talk for a month, or see each other for eight, but there are certain friendships that I know I will have for life.

On Sunday, I showed Emily how to make ricotta cheese and she asked for suggestions for cooking with ricotta. A perusal of cookbooks led us to a recipe in Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for ricotta and spinach fritters. This recipe seemed just right for an early spring meal when we don't yet have newly harvested local produce but eggs and cheese are available. It makes the right amount for two people, accompanied by a salad, but could serve more. I think this would also make great little appetizers as mini, bite sized fritters.

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Ricotta and Spinach Fritters
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison
These have a great flavor as is. You can also add fresh or dried herbs. We made a batch that included a heaping spoonful of pesto and I also tried some with lemon zest and thyme. I think there are a lot of possibilities for flavor variations that you could try. 

4 cups of spinach leaves
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
Clarified butter or oil for frying

Rinse the spinach leaves, shake out excess water and place in a skillet over medium heat until wilted and tender. Remove from heat, squeeze out any water and chop finely. Combine all ingredients, except the butter or oil, with the chopped spinach.

Place a skillet over medium heat, film with butter or oil. Drop the batter by spoonfuls and fry over medium heat until browned on the bottom. Flip and cook on the second side. Serve warm. Makes eight 2 1/2 inch fritters.

April 11, 2011

Clarified Butter

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Now that I have finished my big spring cleaning, I am glad to report that the weather has caught up with my spring mind set. The sunny days, budding trees and warmer temperatures are reinforcing my need to embrace and incorporate new things into my days but also reminding me that I need to get back into healthy routines. Now that the kitchen is spruced up and my apron is freshly washed, I'm ready to keep up routines as incorporate new ones.

I enjoy my kitchen routines. I make yogurt every week or so, I feed my sourdough starter daily and bake bread weekly, and I frequently make batches of hummus, almond butter and granola. Having staple foods that I make from scratch helps me to feel connected to my home and my food. With both newness and routine in mind, I finally got around to making clarified butter. It could not be simpler to make and is not only useful for cooking but also more healthful to use than many oils.

Clarified butter is ideal for high heat cooking. In a process slightly more time consuming than melting butter, you remove the milk solids which give regular butter a very low smoke point. The smoke point of an oil is the point at which it begins to break down and loses its flavor and nutritional value. Different oils have different smoke points and the oil isn't healthy to cook with at temperature above its smoke point.

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Although you can find oils from all kinds of nuts, seeds and olives with different smoke points, most of them are grown and processed far away. I like using olive oil, almond oil, coconut oil and others for their flavor and different purposes but it is nice to find a cooking oil that doesn't come from an exotic location. Locally produced butter is easily transformed into something you can use for cooking pancakes, sauteeing vegetables, and browning veggie burgers and fritters in a cast iron pan. 

I had read about clarified butter in Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking a while ago, but I just putting off making some of my own. She recommends using it for a lot of the recipes in her book and I tend to use it for whatever I am cooking in my cast iron skillet. Simply melt a pound of butter in a sauce pan. Keep the heat low so it melts slowly. When the block of butter has become a golden liquid, turn off the heat (cooking it longer, until the milk solids begin to brown will make ghee, a version with a deeper, nuttier flavor, often used in Indian cooking). Skim off any foam that has formed on top and discard it. Carefully pour the bright yellow melted butter into a pint sized jar. When you have poured off nearly all of the liquid butter, you will see the cloudy white milk solids in the bottom. Pour out as much of the bright yellow part as you can without getting any of the milk solids. Discard the milk solids.

The clarified butter will be a gorgeous, soft yellow when it solidifies. Store it in at room temperature for up to a month or keep it refrigerated for even longer.

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April 8, 2011

Spring in the Kitchen

Now that I have finally gotten my spring cleaning done, I'm ready to bring some new things into my routine, my living space and, especially my kitchen. I haven't had a lot of time to cook lately and it has been a while since I've tried any new recipes. I am excited to search through cookbooks and make something that I haven't tried before. I plan to have a recipe or two to share with you next week.

Today I am thinking of little ways to bring something fresh and new into my kitchen that doesn't involve grocery shopping. I love spending time there and just getting to cook more will be a welcome change. In honor of spring I'd like to add a few colorful touches.


I need to make a new set of potholders. I like to hang mine on the wall above the stove and the old ones are looking very shabby. I made this set for my dad for his birthday (he just built a new kitchen in his very old farmhouse). My potholder tutorial gives step by step instructions to make your own.


I am clearly a sucker for anything made of fabric and covered in vegetables. I love these seasonal dishtowels by Claudia Pearson.


I also enjoy brightly colored prints on my kitchen walls. How about this one from Heidi Schweigart of red cruiser? This lovely vegetable illustration almost makes it hard to wait for summer when we will actually have such beautiful bounty.


And, don't forget that there's nothing like a new apron to make you want to get your kitchen ready and start cooking this spring.

April 6, 2011

Spring Cleaning Continued

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When it comes to the nitty gritty part of cleaning, removing dust, scrubbing sinks and stoves, I like to keep it simple. My home is part of my every day environment and I don't want harmful chemicals in it any more than I want them in or on me. I use non-toxic, biodegradable, and mostly homemade cleaning products. They are inexpensive, easy to make, and do their job leaving your home cleaner than when you started. Obviously that is the goal when cleaning, but most conventional cleaning products are made with chemicals that are not healthy for your home environment. For more information on which ingredients to avoid, I recommend two websites The Naked Truth Project and the Environmental Working Group.

For most of my cleaning I use vinegar, water and baking soda. I fill a spray bottle about 2/3 full of water and 1/3 full of white vinegar. This solution alone is ideal for cleaning windows and glass. For sinks, the stove top, and the bathtub I sprinkle a bit of baking soda on the surface and then spray it with the vinegar and water mixture. I save my retired dish sponges for scrubbing these other areas of the house.

For spots that are harder to get clean (like stuff that is stuck on the stove top or in the oven) I make a paste of baking soda and water, spread it on the area and let it sit for a few minutes. Then I give it a little vinegar and water spray and start scrubbing.

When a drain is clogged, a treatment of hot vinegar helps. Bring 1-2 cups of white vinegar to a boil, then pour it down the affected drain. Follow this with a quart of boiling water.

I mop our hardwood floors with a bucket of hot water and a few splashes of vinegar. By the way, if you don't like the smell of vinegar, it doesn't linger for more than a few minutes. Don't forget to open windows in your house daily to let in fresh air.

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It might seem like I have a vinegar and baking soda obsession, but they work perfectly to get things clean. Lately I haven't had as much time to devote to tending my home as I would like, so it's best to keep cleaning simple. We buy biodegradable dish soap in bulk at our local co-op. I'd like to try making this laundry detergent but Ray is in charge of laundry and usually buys Seventh Generation before I have a chance to gather up the ingredients to make our own.

If you prefer to purchase cleaning products there are a number of truly green companies that make them. These companies print a list all of the ingredients on the product bottle so you know just what you are using. The websites I mentioned above can help you figure out which ingredients to avoid. Many conventional products don't even reveal what is in them which seems reason enough not to use unnecessary and harsh chemicals.

Do you have any simple cleaning tips or homemade cleaning solutions?

April 4, 2011

Spring Cleaning

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Although April has arrived, we are still in the awkward transition between winter and spring, sometimes called mud season. We've had just a few days full of sunshine that have been warm enough to step outside without a jacket on. While waiting for more weather that will draw me out of the house, I find it is a good time to clean and spruce up inside. The days get longer and lighter and I can no longer ignore dusty corners and disorganized shelves. As I wait for new growth, green grass, and budding leaves I like to bring new life to my living space.

Deep cleaning and organizing might sound like a pain, but it can be really refreshing. Rearranging a room, some furniture, or even just what I put on the walls can change the feeling of the whole space for the better. I love to use what we already have and find creative solutions for eliminating clutter and neatening up. Since we moved we only had one bureau which meant that Ray's clothes were just in a pile on the floor. I freed up two shelves which can hold all of our clothes and moved the bureau to my studio for storing my fabric. It only takes simple changes to make a space more peaceful to live in, like keeping my supplies organized with empty canning jars. They hold a lot and I love the aesthetic.
 
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Spring cleaning is also a good time to get rid of things that you don't need or rarely use. It is all too easy to acquire more than you need and often this means finding more storage space or living with more clutter. I've become pretty relentless about letting go of clothes that I rarely wear and, aside from books, items that I don't really use. I try to remember that this is my living space, not storage space for things. Acquiring and holding on to things you don't need can be stifling and letting go of some of this makes room for more light and air and life.

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While I pack up what I don't need and take it to Good Will, I also pay attention to what I keep in my living space. When I need a change, sometimes all it takes is putting up new inspiration on the walls. I love my clothespin system for hanging photos, art, poems and anything I want to see while I work at my desk or sewing machine. I can hang new photos and take down old ones without any extra holes in the wall and no need for tape. To make this, I simply screwed a few cup hooks into the wall and connected them with string.

These are just a few ideas for spring cleaning in your living space. On Wednesday I'll share some of the simple cleaning products I make to get rid of dust and dirt in my home.

What do you do to freshen up your living space?

April 1, 2011

Links to Enjoy

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Spring is very slow to arrive around here, although we are getting some April showers today. I took this photo a couple of years ago, but I thought it would be good to see some green. I was away for a few days earlier this week, which explains the lack of posts. I am still getting caught up so today I thought I'd share some things I've been enjoying.

It's time for a spring scarf, I have been eyeing these for a while and I think I'll be ordering one soon.

I haven't been spending enough time in the kitchen lately but I've been dreaming a bit of becoming a much better (eventually, I'd like to reach really great) baker. I'm looking forward to making these scones.

I will be making this ice cream next week.

I think the most delightful approach to simple living that I have read.

This is an inspiring story for me and I love her work, too. 

Need to see more green and growing things? This online catalog is really fun to look at.

Well, there's no link to this one, but I must say that I do so appreciate friends. I had a chance to see some friends that I hadn't seen in a while this weekend and it was lovely to reconnect. I'm the type of person who takes a long time to get to know people and feel totally comfortable around them, so it is nice to have some of these people in my life.

Have a lovely weekend! I'll be back to my regular posting next week.