Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Beeswax Leaves

I am a lifelong admirer and collector of fall leaves. Sometimes I still find them tucked in the pages of a book I read years ago, or in the back of my flower press from the previous autumn. I had a friend in college who would dry them and hang them up in a string above doorways, and I did that for a long time until my kids got older and life got busier. I heard about beeswax leaves recently through my friend and fellow blogger, Taryn Kae Wilson of Wooly Moss Roots, and since beeswax and leaves are a couple of things I love, I knew I had to give it a try! I started collecting leaves with a renewed purpose, and my kids teased me about it, but then they started giving me special leaves they found to add to the project.

The same friend who used to make the dried leaf garlands made me this beautiful wooden plant press, and it has gotten a lot of use over the years. It came in very handy for this project, as I layered in the leaves I brought home over the last couple of weeks.

I keep an old saucepan in a box with all my scraps of beeswax, and it's great because you can just heat the pan whenever you want beeswax and just let what's left over cool and stay in there for next time. Another bonus is that it makes the whole house smell delicious.

I read on one website to not let the beeswax get so hot it boils, so I melted the candle scraps down on low heat and turned the burner off. Then I carefully dipped each leaf in until it was submerged half way up the stem.

I let each one drip over the pan for a few seconds.

Then I laid them on a piece of foil to finish cooling. It was such a thin coating of wax, this didn't take long for them to dry.

I hung some in my windows on fishing line to let the light through, I hung some from my kitchen ladder rack, and sprinkled the small ones around my table centerpiece of gourds from the garden. They are very fun to put around the house for fall decorating, especially when the leaves have all fallen off the trees outside and it starts to get drizzly. From now on, I am definitely going to want to cover every beautiful leaf I find in beeswax.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Brewing Ginger Spruce Beer

Homebrewing is one of those DIY endeavors that can be a lot of fun, and can also be tricky to fit in when times get busy. I hadn't brewed a beer at home since my all-grain Pumpkin Spice Ale in the fall of 2013, so we were long overdue. Fortunately, we got motivated by a prolific homebrewing friend living up the river who is keeping his fermenting carboys at our place. You come home enough times to carboys full of homebrew thinking "These could be mine," and you get things in gear pretty quickly. I always wanted to brew a traditional spruce beer, and we finally got around to it. It was one of those things that always seemed too complicated to fit in, and once we did it, I couldn't believe how simple it was!
My inspiration was a traditional Yukon recipe we found on the Brewnosers forum: 

2.35 kg molasses
1.5 oz ginger root
17.5 oz spring spruce tips

Boil in a kettle up to 3 hours. Add 10 oz spruce tips to the primary and top off with water.

What I really liked about this recipe was the simplicity of the three ingredients. Our friend had a bad molasses brewing experience, so we decided to go with raw sugar and add a small amount of molasses for flavor. He was brewing a traditional oatmeal stout, so it was a big brewing day all around in our house.

The recipe we ended up using was:
2 1/2 Lbs ginger root
2 1/2 Lbs frozen spruce tips
8 Lbs raw sugar
1 cup backstrap molasses
1 packet Red Star Pasteur Champagne Yeast

We also added about 1 gallon of H2O to top off the 5 gallon carboy.

This ended up being a lot of ginger and a lot of spruce, and no grains or hops. One of the things I like most about homebrewing is that you can try different things that suit your tastes. Mine happen to be trees and roots. Go figure.

The house smelled amazing while the ingredients were boiling on the stove. The best I can describe it is a holiday forest wonderland. It will be a perfect winter treat.

The Specific gravity reading was 12% after boiling, and 8.5% after adding water to the carboy and pitching the yeast. Not too shabby.

There was a time when people brewed with what they had around them in abundance, whether that be grains, apples, herbs, ginger or spruce. Brewing doesn't have to involve an expensive grain bill or a list of special ingredients from the homebrewers supply shop. This cost under $20 for the ginger and yeast, and could not have been more simple to brew. I love that this beer is made of the trees that grow around us, and will be a true taste of home. Now I'm motivated to finally brew that nettle beer this spring! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thoreau's Autumnal Sun

"I am the autumnal sun,
With autumn gales my race is run;
When will the hazel put forth its flowers,
Or the grape ripen under my bowers?

When will the harvest or the hunter's moon
Turn my midnight into mid-noon?
I am all sere and yellow,
And to my core mellow.

 The mast is dropping within my woods,
The winter is lurking within my moods,

And the rustling of the withered leaf
Is the constant music of my grief..."

~Henry David Thoreau 

Here is a fantastic article by Robert Richardson from the Huffington Post a couple of years back on why Thoreau is our finest writer on Autumn. "Thoreau doesn't just give you one autumn, he gives you the way to see every autumn."  Read on:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Foraging Family Traditions

Traditions are the threads that tie families together down through the generations, and foraging traditions go back centuries. Mushroom gathering, huckleberry picking, fishing, and elk hunting are just a few in my family, and I make an effort to carry them on for my kids. The hunting and fishing part I hope to take up one day when my life is a little less busy, but mushrooms and huckleberries are well ingrained in my kids childhood memories. It's not just about family time together or about teaching children skills to find certain foods and how to prepare them, it's a whole experience that makes up the tradition. 

Corey's parents were out visiting last week from the Midwest, and we finally got an opportunity to get out on our first chanterelle hunt of the year. He grew up hunting morels with his dad, so it was nice to get out in the woods and carry on the tradition. My son has become quite the mushroom hunter after all these years of going out on mushroom expeditions, and he enjoyed showing Corey's dad where to find them and being a part of this outing with the men of the family.

Although the rains came late and the mushrooms aren't abundant this year, we did find a good amount of nice, big ones and have been enjoying cream of chanterelle soup and mushroom pasta! Most of all, we enjoyed carrying on a foraging family tradition. May the thread continue on.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Let the Halloween Tomfoolery Begin!

Halloween is a big deal in our house. It's pretty much a month long celebration that involves pumpkin patch trips, thrift store decor bargain hunting, an evolving display of decorations, scary movies, "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown", a pumpkin party, a ridiculous number of jack-o-lanterns, multiple costume changes, a pioneer cemetery photo shoot, and all sorts of festivities on Halloween night. We start planning out costumes a year ahead, and piece them together with second hand items and sometimes duct tape. We have costume bins in the garage like some people have Christmas light bins. Halloween fun is serious.

This year we turned our little front yard into a cemetery that you have to walk through to reach the door.

I found a few second-hand tombstones and skulls, and gave them a new lease on life (terrible pun intended.)

My up-cycled project masterpiece of the year is Mr. Scary Pumpkinhead Guy. I got an old electric jack-o-lantern that didn't work, unscrewed the panel with the light bulb from the bottom, set it on the prongs of an upside down rusty tomato cage, and draped a ratty grim reaper costumer over it. He's so creepy that I get goosebumps walking by at night.

Our undead garden gnome guards the front door, and in spite of his intimidating appearance, actually seems a rather chipper fellow. The cats aren't really sure what to make of him, but I think he's probably nice.

Between him and this raven skeleton keeping watch from our dining room windowsill, marauding ghouls should be pretty well scared off.

I couldn't help myself and threw a little locavore humor in the mix. This sign hangs in the kitchen above the stove during the month of October, to remind us of the important things.

Speaking of eating local, all of our pie pumpkins and Jack-be-Nimble mini pumpkins from the garden make a cheery addition to the kitchen windowbox.

We got this Japanese Chirimen pumpkin from our CSA farm, and it became a centerpiece on the kitchen island with some wool sweater pumpkins the kids made for me when they were in grade school. They also brought home these "magic beans" from their farm field trip with first grade buddies last week, and my mom sent some felted wool acorns. It doesn't get much cuter than this.

My new favorite decorating idea is taking vintage blow mold trick-or-treat buckets and putting led candles in them for a fun nighttime effect. I think a pathway lined with them would look really cool.

We're counting down the last few days of tomfoolery, and I wish you all as much Halloween fun as we're having over here!

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Mushroom Hunters

They pop up from the forest floor when the autumn rains arrive, golden and glowing through the moss and mist. Chanterelle mushrooms are one of the fun things to forage, and just one more reason fall is my favorite. This time of year, folks are headed out to the woods with their families to go on mushroom hunting expeditions, bringing home bags and baskets full of wild deliciousness. I needle felted this wool wall hanging with wild mushrooms on my mind, and a lot of good memories of  mushroom hunting outings with my kids over the years. It's like a treasure hunt with really good dinner afterwards.

Our fall rains are arriving late this year, so I haven't been out picking yet, but I am eagerly anticipating a mushroom excursion any day now.

You can find the wall hanging here in my Etsy Shop: