Breaking the "Rules"

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Over the course of participating in social media for the past 10 years, I’ve always known that if I want to be “successful” I need to zoom in on one topic. This means making one account for gardening, one for knitting, one for fermenting (maybe a sub-account for kombucha), another for general recipes, and so on.
 

But I will just never do that.
 

For me, it would suck the joy out of posting if I had to narrow my focus and disconnect those topics from one another. So, fine, maybe I’m a bad blogger, instagrammer, YouTuber, etc. It’s a conscious choice I’m making because, when it comes down to it, my primary motivation in doing all of this is to collect memories for me and for my family: snapshots of our adventures together, project notes, favorite recipes to refer to later, small and special moments in our everyday lives...

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I’ve never much cared for how many followers I have. I just want to continue learning and growing at my own pace, and to connect with like-minded folks. I want to take up space in my own way. Rebel against forces, external and internal, that try to convince me I should stay silent and hidden. I want to continually seek out inspiration because feeling inspired is, for me, the opposite of depression, and my tendency toward those lows is something I have to contend with on a daily basis (some days more than others).
 

So, for my own sake, I’ll continue posting about a mish-mash of topics. The things I write about, take photos of and share with the world are simply the things that excite me. If you were to look for a common thread, I suppose you could call it “simple living,” or  “seasonal inspiration,” but I wouldn’t bother trying to categorize things around here because the winds may change, and I never want to box myself in. All I know is that I want to try and encapsulate as much of life’s special moments as I can. It helps me focus on the positives, it helps me get out of bed in the morning, and it helps me feel a little less alone (although, like a proper introvert, I do very much enjoy my alone time).

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Personally, I’m drawn to folks who share more than just one part of themselves online. Maybe our interests don’t always overlap, and maybe we don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything, but I would almost always prefer to know the person behind the project/product/garden/etc. Perhaps I’m alone in this thinking, or at least not in the majority, and that’s perfectly ok.


If you need me, I’ll just be puttering along over here, content in my stubborn ways.

June Recap

lettuce
apple-walnut-blue cheese salad

It’s been a mild summer so far. Only the spinach has bolted, and I didn’t bother growing arugula this year or it would have bolted by now too. I typically have awful luck growing greens, but my lettuces have been doing well in their partially shady location, so we’ve been eating lots of salad. I usually top it with cut up apple, blue cheese, walnuts or roasted flax and a quick, homemade vinaigrette. This is my go-to recipe for salad lately, and it always hits the spot.

2018 garden
2018 garden
2018 garden

We put a lot of effort into our garden design this year. We had a dead tree removed from our backyard in February, which opened space for us to rearrange and add to our existing setup. All in all, we added five new raised beds, a cold frame, a corner for herbs, space for my 25-pound grow bags (for potatoes) and some room for more seating. I planted my little container-bound fig tree last week, and I’m hoping it fares better than the old dead poplar. It already seems more cheerful.

 Kitchen: Before

Kitchen: Before

 Kitchen: After

Kitchen: After

 Kitchen: Before

Kitchen: Before

 Kitchen: After

Kitchen: After

This past week has been unexpectedly busy for us. We decided to sneak in a kitchen makeover while the summer was still young, which is something I’ve been looking forward to since we first moved into this house six years ago. My husband took a few days off work to build a new wood counter, paint the cupboards and put up tile backsplash. It’s amazing how transformative this little kitchen overhaul has been. A once dark and dingy space now feels bright and clean, despite the tiny east-facing window that lets in limited natural light. As someone who is very much affected by my atmosphere, I feel so much more inspired to work in the kitchen now, which is perfect timing as we enter the harvest season. I’ll be spending a good chunk of my time pickling, freezing, cooking, baking, drying, natural dyeing...

bachelor's buttons
marigolds

Lastly, I planted several flower varieties for my dye garden this year, and some are just now starting to bloom. I’ve got bachelor’s buttons, marigolds and dahlias blooming right now, and I’m seriously kicking myself for getting such a late start on the zinnias and cosmos this year. They’ll come up in due time I suppose. I plan on drying/freezing as many of the blooms as I can, and possibly pressing some between book pages to make little flower-pressed cards for customers who buy my naturally dyed yarns as well. I’ve been wanting to try that for ages.

Thoughts on the Shop Launch + The Natural Dye Knit Along

 Want to join the Natural Dye Knit Along? Come visit the thread in my Ravelry group  here  for more information.

Want to join the Natural Dye Knit Along? Come visit the thread in my Ravelry group here for more information.

I meant to cast on for the Natural Dye Knit Along the day it began (April 1st), but I was so absorbed in preparing for the shop launch that I decided I needed to wait. After all, this KAL is running for several months specifically so nobody feels rushed or pressured, so I suppose I should relax and give myself plenty of time too, right?

In any case, the shop went live on Monday at 12pm PDT and it completely exceeded my expectations. I thought I’d get a sale or two, but I had no idea most of my yarn inventory would sell out within 45 minutes. I’m still a bit stunned, to be honest, but in the best possible way. Not only do I get the pleasure of seeing the yarns I’ve dyed in the hands of other knitters, but this also means I get to dye way more yarn! Hurray!

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Side note: if you make something with my yarn and you’re on social media, please feel free to share it with the hashtag #awoodennestfiber! I’m so excited to see how it will be used.

Anyway, I’ll be using the earnings from this update to buy more yarn. I’m hoping to have another shop update early next month (date TBD), and I’ll be dyeing in much larger quantities this time around to bulk up my inventory. Also, many of you have made requests for specific bases (more fingering weight and tweedy sock yarn) and dye techniques (more variegated), so I’ll try to keep that in mind when I order as well.

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As for the #naturaldyekal, I’ve finally begun swatching for a cute little summer top for my daughter. This will be my first time working with a cotton + linen blend, so it’s a bit of an adjustment knowing that the stitches won’t bloom, but I’m enjoying working with it so far. I dyed this yarn with Sappanwood from Maiwa a month or two ago and used soda ash to adjust the pH. It turned the dye bath from an orange-red to a dark purple-pink. I think this may have affected the overall tone, but a great deal of the intensity and depth of the color from the bath washed out of the fiber. I’m left with something similar to a dusty, avocado pink, which I don’t mind in the least, though I wish I'd stuck a skein or two of wool in with the bath to see how the colors would compare.

Cellulose fibers are still a bit of a mystery to me. Not just cellulose yarns, but fabrics as well. I’ve heard a rumor that soy milk actually works better as a mordant for cellulose than alum, but I haven’t done any comparisons. I’ve read Botanical Colour at your Fingertips by Rebecca Desnos, though, and she uses soy milk with great success.

I’m thinking of including a short clip in my next podcast episode about mordants for those of you who are feeling a bit gun-shy with regards to joining the Natural Dye KAL. Of course, you don’t have to dye your own yarn. You’re plenty welcome to use yarn from another natural dyer, but several of you have mentioned that you’d like to try dyeing yourself but are feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps I can help with that.

Modifying with Iron

 left to right: iron modified logwood, lavender and twist-dyed avocado

left to right: iron modified logwood, lavender and twist-dyed avocado

 left: pomegranate on eco merino, right: iron-modified pomegranate on eco merino

left: pomegranate on eco merino, right: iron-modified pomegranate on eco merino

I’ve been playing with iron water over the past couple weeks, dipping skeins I’ve previously dyed using alum or tannin-rich plants as a mordant and comparing the results. Most books describe iron’s effects as a saddening of color, and although I don’t necessarily agree with “sad” as the descriptor, iron does seem to dull the brightness at the very least. In many cases, it completely transforms the color into something intense and rich, yet somehow muted. In short, iron color modifying is right up my alley.

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For my first iron experiments, I dipped four skeins of ultra alpaca that had been dyed with logwood exhaust into the pot and left them there for 20-30 minutes over low heat. I’ve read that you’re not supposed to leave animal fiber in the bath for much longer than that because it degrades the quality of the wool, but it doesn’t seem to take very long for iron to work its magic. This wool transformed from a light purple to a muted, inky blue within a matter of minutes.

 iron modified twist-dyed avocado on superwash 80/10/10

iron modified twist-dyed avocado on superwash 80/10/10

 top: iron modified walnut + yellow onion skin (twist-dyed) | bottom: iron modified avocado + yellow onion skin (twist dyed) - both on superwash 80/10/10 base

top: iron modified walnut + yellow onion skin (twist-dyed) | bottom: iron modified avocado + yellow onion skin (twist dyed) - both on superwash 80/10/10 base

In the same bath, I chucked in a skein of avocado twist-dyed superwash yarn just for fun, and ten minutes later emerged a skein of pure variegated magic. I can’t help but wonder if some of the logwood molecules from the ultra alpaca were somehow absorbed by this fiber in the bath because I reused the water, or if the variation in color would have occurred regardless. Further testing required.

 left: logwood on eco merino | right: iron modified logwood on eco merino

left: logwood on eco merino | right: iron modified logwood on eco merino

The only color the iron didn’t have much influence over was this skein of merino richly dyed with logwood (first run). It changed ever so slightly to a more blueish-purple, but you can only tell when the skeins are held next to one another in natural light. It’s a similar tone change to the ultra alpaca from the first experiment, but with less pronounced effect. I confess, this was a surprise and a bit of a disappointment. I was expecting dark blues, grays and maybe even blacks.

Pomegranate + Avocado Peel

 experiments with avocado peel and pomegranate

experiments with avocado peel and pomegranate

 experiments with avocado peel and pomegranate

experiments with avocado peel and pomegranate

 pomegranate on 100% wool (licorice twist base)

pomegranate on 100% wool (licorice twist base)

Over the holidays I came across a pack of pomegranates while shopping for groceries and immediately felt inspired to work with them in my dye pot. Pomegranates are usually expensive here so I don’t buy them often, but knowing I was using the whole fruit (snacking on the seeds and dyeing with the peels) helped me justify the purchase. And while I hadn't had any previous experience with pomegranates as a source of dye material, I remembered reading about their ability to impart a rich, buttery yellow onto fibers. I also read that they make a great source of tannins, which is especially useful in regards to cellulose fibers, which seem to benefit from a combination of both mordant and tannin preparations. 

 avocado peel on baby alpaca-tussah silk

avocado peel on baby alpaca-tussah silk

 pomegranate + avocado peel on 50/50 merino-silk

pomegranate + avocado peel on 50/50 merino-silk

I also decided it was time to make a second dye bath with avocado peels. This decision was made more out of need for freezer space than anything else, as the peels take up more room than my other kitchen scraps, but I also thought the two colors - the yellow from pomegranates and the pink from avocado peels - would work well together if I decided to experiment with twist-dyeing both colors onto one skein. Turns out, they do!

One thing I’ve noticed about my experiments with avocado peels versus avocado pits is that the colors obtained from the peels tend to be more intensely pink, whereas the pits tend to dye with more undertones of orange/coral. I think both shades are lovely, but it’s nice to know you can get a little variation by separating the parts of the fruit from one another. I experienced something similar when I worked with marigolds last year after separating the flower petals from the rest of the stem/heads (which I'll talk about in a later post). I'd be very interested to know if anyone else has experienced this from separating and isolating different parts of a plant for dyeing as well.

 avocado peel on BFL

avocado peel on BFL

After dyeing with silk-blends in the avocado bath, I decided to add four skeins of non-superwash Blue Faced Leciester to exhaust any remaining color. I wasn’t expecting a lot because the silk (about 300g worth of fiber) had already absorbed so much of the color, and I only used 10 avocados-worth of skins for the whole bath, but the color that resulted on the BFL is that quintessential pink color that I associate with avocados and love so much. I’m really happy with how it turned out and can’t wait to cast on with the yarn.

And because I don’t need all four skeins, I’ve decided to keep two for myself and host a little giveaway in my Ravelry group for the other two. I announced the giveaway in my latest video podcast (episode 5), but I thought I’d mention it here, too, in case anyone would like to join in. I’ll be announcing the winner in my next podcast episode on YouTube, which will (hopefully) come out next weekend, so stay tuned for that!

Early Experiments with Madder

 Left: Sustainable Merino, Right: Superwash Polwarth

Left: Sustainable Merino, Right: Superwash Polwarth

 Swatching for Carl's Cardigan on Eco Merino dyed with Madder 

Swatching for Carl's Cardigan on Eco Merino dyed with Madder 

 Playing with techniques. Left: Twist Dyeing Madder + Black Tea, Right: Dip Dyeing Madder

Playing with techniques. Left: Twist Dyeing Madder + Black Tea, Right: Dip Dyeing Madder

 Carl's Cardigan made from Eco Merino Dyed with Madder

Carl's Cardigan made from Eco Merino Dyed with Madder

I began experimenting with madder last year during the tail end of August, and as it turned out, it was the perfect color to work with as the weather began transitioning from summer to fall. I was very eager to dye with madder at the time because I’d seen such beautiful results from other natural dyers, so I bought a pound of dried madder root from Mountain Rose Herbs, which is a local Oregon company that sells loads of organic herbs, essential oils, teas, and other useful things.

Once the madder arrived in the mail, I went ahead and made up a dye bath in my usual way. I filled an aluminum pot half full of water, chucked in a handful of the plant material without weighing, and turned the heat on the lowest setting. I kept the stove on for several hours each day for the next day or two, turning it off whenever we slept or left the house. Once the bath seemed ready, I went ahead and added my wool and a little powdered alum to the pot because a quick scan of the internet told me that madder is an adjective dye that requires a mordant. I also read that the resulting colors would turn out richer if the plant material was left in the bath rather than strained out.

The colors that came out of that dye pot were incredible. I used a variety of different fibers, from organic merino to superwash polwarth, and I was also able to experiment with different techniques. My one regret is that I only used the same bath twice more rather than continuing to dye from it until the color was completely exhausted. As I’ve continued dyeing and learning about this process, I find myself more and more hesitant to waste color, even if there's just a little left.

 Carl's Cardigan | Eco Merino Wool | Dyed with Madder Root 

Carl's Cardigan | Eco Merino Wool | Dyed with Madder Root 

Happily, I had the foresight to dye a sweater’s quantity of organic merino rather than my usual two skeins, so I was prepared with the perfect yarn when I found the fall cardigan pattern I wanted to knit for my daughter. I can’t tell you how much of a pleasure the whole project was to make, from start to finish. I would 100% dye and knit with this yarn again, and there will be many, many more experiments with madder in my future.

Avocado Pinks

 Left: superwash merino. Right: non-superwash merino. No mordant. Just slow processed in aluminum dye pots.

Left: superwash merino. Right: non-superwash merino. No mordant. Just slow processed in aluminum dye pots.

I can’t get over how beautiful avocado pink is. As someone who almost always prefers neutrals, these surprising shades from avocados stones and skins have been my gateway drug into a whole new world of color. Not only am I discovering newfound appreciation for every tone and shade that emerges from my modest kitchen dye pots, but I’m also finding myself incorporating more color into my clothing and home decor choices now as well.

Who is this person? Where did she come from?

 Avocado Stone + Queen Anne's Lace | Twist-dyed on SW Merino 75/25

Avocado Stone + Queen Anne's Lace | Twist-dyed on SW Merino 75/25

 Avocado Stone + Queen Anne's Lace | Twist-dyed on SW Merino 75/25

Avocado Stone + Queen Anne's Lace | Twist-dyed on SW Merino 75/25

One of the questions people frequently ask me when I share my natural dye experiments on Instagram or YouTube is, “Where do I start?”

And while there is no specific way to begin the process, I highly recommend beginning with kitchen scraps. Especially those that are known to produce colors that last, like onion skins, tannin-rich teas and coffee, pomegranates, avocados… Just start saving your scraps in the freezer until you have enough for a dye bath. In the meantime, pick up a book or two on natural dyeing and read about the basic process. That’s essentially how I got into this myself. Eventually I’d like to grow my own dye garden or wander out in the forest with my foraging baskets for natural dye sources, but the kitchen will always be a useful source worth tapping into.

 Avocado Peel on Non-SW BFL | Third Exhaust | No mordant - Aluminum Dye Pots

Avocado Peel on Non-SW BFL | Third Exhaust | No mordant - Aluminum Dye Pots

Over the next few weeks, I'd like to retroactively record all my natural dye processes and the colors I've achieved here in this space. It's a great way for me to keep track of my results, especially because some of the skeins are no longer in my possession. Perhaps these recordings could also be useful for those of you who are interested in trying natural dyes yourselves.

Hover over the images if you're interested in reading a few quick notes about each skein of yarn. 

The Autumn Quilt

This is the Autumn Quilt, my first-ever attempt at quilting, made during a time when my sewing skills were even more abysmal than they are now. I knew I was coming at this project at a disadvantage, having never taken the time to properly learn how to sew, so I chose not to worry too much about making it perfect. I figured if it held together well enough that I could take it out for picnics, I’d be happy. 

I began the process of cutting and paper piecing the hexagons together back in late 2013 with bits of fabric, old pillowcases and sheets I had been collecting from local thrift shops. When I started this project, I remember thinking it would be finished within a few months. I didn't want to "rush" the process. It's laughable to think about that now, as what ended up happening, and what so often is the case with these things is that it was started and well on its way, and then left untouched for over two years. In my defense, this awful abandonment occurred right after I was hired on for a new job that exhausted most of my creative energy, shorty followed by a pregnancy and a newborn. Enough said. 

Finally, in January 2016, fresh with the resolution in mind to finish all my longstanding works in progress, I decided to prioritize it. By this time, my daughter was nearly two and just discovering the joys of building forts, so I envisioned the quilt as the perfect play companion for her. This really powered me through the elements of quiltmaking that were holding me back, specifically the binding, which, if you look closely, is actually quite terrible, but it doesn't bother me at all.  Perhaps I can go back and replace it someday with  a more polished binding, but I honestly doubt I will.

By now, it's been just over a year since calling my first quilt done, and it's one of our most well-loved couch blankets, despite all its flaws. It's the perfect lap size for both my husband and I, and it keeps my daughter nice and cozy whenever she's cold or wants to snuggle up for a movie. Eventually I'd like to incorporate the craft of quilting into my creative schedule and routine. I have visions of naturally dyed quilts on all our beds, the walls, the couches and chairs... And although my technique will improve as I continue to make them, there's something about a patchwork quilt that's obviously handmade and a little flawed that I find completely irresistible. 

Early Spring Cleaning (A Quick Update)

happy mountain sweater tip
sixpence socks
happy mountain sweater

Hello friends. It has been quiet here in this space for a long time, but it’s time to dust off the cobwebs and settle myself in with a cup of tea and a cozy blanket. It’s still winter here, but you wouldn’t know it with all the beautiful, almost-warm sunshine and spring blooms outside. Seasons arrive when they want to, regardless of the date on the calendar.

In the past several months, natural dyeing has taken over my life in the best possible way. Actually, I shouldn’t say it has taken over. Rather, it has nestled its way in like a long lost friend or a missing puzzle piece, and has brought color into my neutral-loving life in a way I could never have imagined. Suddenly something I initially thought of as supplementary to my other seasonal occupations - my gardening, knitting and kitchen experiments - has become an obsession in its own right. It’s part of our lives now, and it fits right in.

Last year in October, I made a giant, break-out-of-my-introverted-shell decision and started a video podcast on YouTube to share about my growing interest in fiber-related work. It’s something I had been mulling over for a long time, and it required a lot of emotional preparation before, during and after my first couple episodes (I had to occasionally hide from my phone and computer), but I finally feel comfortable and confident in my decision to put myself out there through the podcast, and I’ve never felt more connected to the fiber community than I do now.

So while the blog has been mostly quiet until now, I have been very busy. The cogs in my mind have been steadily turning, especially over the past six months. I have so many ideas and plans to document and share with you here, and now that spring has arrived, my fingers are itching to dig in the dirt, plant seeds, experiment with plant colors + fibers, and knit (always).

So, for the next few months, you can expect posts about many of the things that have already happened but never saw the reflections they deserved interspersed with some of the newer projects I’m working on now. And for those of you who used to follow me on blogspot, I just want to let you know that I’ve made that blog and all its content private, but I will occasionally re-publish some of the projects or recipes from its archives over to this space whenever it seems relevant. If there was a recipe on that site that you miss, just send me an e-mail or fill out the contact form here and I'll respond as soon as I can. 

Lastly, I started a new group on Ravelry! Please join us if you'd like to chat about anything fiber-related, kitchen experiments, natural dye, or even if you just want to come say hi. 

Roasted Tomato Soup

roastedtomatosoup

Hello and good morning! Last month, I posted this image on Instagram with a short rundown of the recipe somewhere in the comments section, and it seems to have piqued everyone's tomato soup-loving interest, so I thought I'd go ahead and formally publish the recipe here for you on the blog. We make this soup several times per year, especially in August and September when we're up to our ears in tomatoes. I highly recommend the best, most flavorful tomatoes you can get your hands on for this recipe because it really lets the flavor shine. Enjoy!

(P.S. This really isn't a food blog, but you wouldn't know by looking at it.)

Roasted Tomato Soup
Serves 2-4
  
3lbs (8-10 medium sized) tomatoes, rinsed and sliced in half
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly sliced
5-6 cloves garlic, left in skins, with rough ends sliced off
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups stock or water
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sprigs of fresh herbs, like thyme or rosemary
Cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange 3lbs tomatoes (or as many will fit), cut side up, on your cookie sheet in a single layer. Between the tomatoes, place your onions, garlic and fresh herbs. Drizzle evenly with the olive oil, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Place on center baking rack for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the edges of your onions have browned and your tomatoes have deflated. You don't want to go too much longer than that or the juices will evaporate and your cloves of garlic will burn.

Remove from oven and let cool for five minutes. Remove the garlic cloves from their skin and place in a bender. Add the rest of the contents of the cookie sheet, juices and all, into the blender, and then add your two cups of stock or water. Puree until smooth and then strain through a fine mesh sieve into a saucepan. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.

To serve, ladle into serving bowls, and garnish with a splash of heavy whipping cream (very optional) and freshly ground black pepper. 


Optional Ideas:
-Add a bell pepper or two, seeded and sliced in half, to the cookie sheet for roasted tomato soup with bell peppers.
-Add herbs like thyme, rosemary, or basil to the simmering pot for additional flavor.

Zucchini Bread

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Our zucchini harvest season is winding down, but we still have a few large specimens awaiting their fate on the kitchen counter. If the zucchini is small and tender, I’ll usually eat it without much ado: lightly sautéed and seasoned with salt and pepper. The larger ones, however, have a tougher skin, larger seeds and not as delicate of flavor, so those are usually reserved for batch after batch of zucchini bread which I’ll freeze and eat, or give away to friends and family throughout the year.
 

My zucchini bread recipe stems from a recipe given to my husband by his family. I’ve experimented and tweaked some things here and there, and have come up with my own well-worn and loved variation. Every kitchen witch has their own method, after all.
 

For me, the chopped dates are essential. The original recipe calls for chopped nuts, which are also delicious, but I reduce the sugar from its original 2 ¼ cup down to 1 ½ (or less), so the dates give it a little added sweetness. The real magic in the dates, however, is in their texture. They almost melt into the bread while it’s baking. 

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INGREDIENTS
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar (I usually only use 1 cup)
3 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped dates
 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two standard-sized loaf pans.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time until fully incorporated. Mix in the vanilla and grated zucchini.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Fold in the chopped dates.

Divide the batter evenly between the two loaf pans and place on the center rack in preheated oven. Bake for 60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Let loaves cool for 20 minutes before removing from loaf pans. Serve immediately or store in aluminum foil. Loaves can be frozen and thawed at room temperature when ready to serve.

 

A Simple, Naturally Sweetened Granola Recipe

This recipe for granola has evolved so much over time. A little less honey, a little more maple syrup. A little more cinnamon and salt. More nut varieties, but less dried fruit. Better yet, no dried fruit at all. A tweak here and there documented over time in the Notes app on my phone. It’s a simple enough recipe that I could make it without referencing my notes, except I’ve changed it so much from where it originally was that I want to make sure I follow my own instructions exactly to make the perfect batch. We take our granola very seriously around here.

Matt eats this stuff every morning with a little yogurt. I tend to eat it two or three times per week. He’s a creature of habit, but I like variety. As a result, I don’t often notice right away when the granola is gone, and he’s too polite to say anything until we’ve gone a week or two with an empty jar.

I’m posting this up, my love, so you can make your own batch next time I fail to notice. I’m also posting this because who knows when my phone will fail and I’ll lose the recipe forever. The more copies that are out there, the better.

And speaking of copying recipes, I’ve decided to go ahead and transfer (and update) all of the well-worn and well-loved recipes from my blogspot address to this space. I reference my old blog for those recipes constantly, so I want to make sure I have them here too.  I imagine many of them have changed in various ways throughout the years, just as this one has.


Granola Recipe

Instructions:

Place in a large bowl:
1 cup chopped nuts (raw)
1 cup chopped seeds
3 cups rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste e
Stir

Heat together in microwave until just melted:
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons coconut oil
Stir and pour over other stuff
Mix together until well combined

Bake:
Heat oven to 350
Spread granola over a cookie sheet with sides in a single layer
Place in preheated oven and cook for ten minutes
Remove and stir
Cook for another ten min, checking
Remove when edges are golden brown
Stir and Let cool
Store in an airtight jar

 

Optional Add-Ins

Roasted flax seed or other roasted seeds
Dried coconut
Dried Fruit

 

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Chocolate Nut Butter

This three-ingredient chocolate-hazelnut spread is an indulgent, yet healthy(ish) staple in our kitchen. We make it all the time, usually with hazelnuts, but sometimes we’ll change it up and use almonds or peanuts instead. No matter which variety of nut you go with, the technique is basically the same, but the flavor is different. We also play around with the chocolate. I usually go for a higher quality dark, but it’s delicious made with milk chocolate too.


Chocolate-Nut Spread Recipe

  • 16 oz raw, unsalted nuts
  • 8 oz chocolate, chopped
  • pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 400F. Place nuts on a cookie sheet in a single layer and roast for 10-15 minutes, checking occasionally, until the nuts turn golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

(Optional Step: place hazelnuts in the center of a large tea towel or flour sack towel. Pick up the sides and secure. Shake vigorously to remove the skins.)

Place nuts in food processor with a pinch of salt. Process until pasty nut butter has formed.

Place chocolate in a double broiler until fully melted. Add to food processor with nut butter and continue to pulse until chocolate nut butter has reached desired consistency.

Jar up and store in the cupboard for up to two weeks. Alternatively, store in the fridge for up to a month or two.

*note: if you purchase roasted, salted nuts, just skip the step where you roast your nuts in the oven.

 

Delicious ways to use this chocolate-hazelnut spread:

  • on toast
  • in a smoothie
  • in crepes with berries or bananas
  • with granola
  • in baked goods, like muffins or quick breads
  • with fruit on crackers
  • stirred in oatmeal
  • on a spoon

Extending the Flock

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So, today we brought home some chicks.

We have a Welsummer, an Easter Egger, a Blue Laced Wyandotte and a Gold Laced Wyandotte, and right now they’re peeping away quietly in our spare bathroom, which is where they’ll stay for the next two weeks or so until we can get a more permanent home set up for them in the basement.

New chicks weren’t anywhere on the agenda when we started the day, but we had some plans fall through with friends, and I was suddenly struck with the notion that we should at least have a conversation about whether we even want to extend the flock, and if we do, when?

So I sat down to chat with Matt about it, and he said, “Well, maybe we should get more this year, but I think I’ll need a good week or two to wrap my mind around it and prepare.”

And I said, “Yep.”

And we kept talking about the pros and cons, and all the equipment we would need (which wasn’t much because we’ve done all of this before), and we decided we probably should go ahead with it this year. After all, we have loads of space set up for chickens and a fortress of a coop, so why not?

So I said, “You want to go get them today?”

And he said, “No, I think I’m still going to need some time to wrap my mind around it.”

And I said, “Uh huh.”

And about a minute later, we were making plans to go to the feed store to pick up some chicks.

That’s about how all our big decisions get made.

A Few Thoughts on the Holidays

Thinking back a bit, I really sank my teeth into the holidays this season. Not in a frenzied, super rushed way, but a kick-up-your-feet-and-relax kind of way. It’s so easy to get stressed out this time of year, but for some reason all I wanted to do was knit things and smell the Christmas tree.

I know my daughter has a lot to do with my relaxed mentality. Not just because she keeps me living in the moment, but because I get to witness her first moments with twinkle lights and wrapping paper. There's something undeniably magical about a child’s reaction to all this Christmas stuff when they experience it for the very first time.

When I was a kid, I thought our Christmas traditions were set in stone. I thought all families celebrated the holidays like we did, and that we would continue those patterns for the rest of our lives. Granted, I didn’t think much about death, but I guess I assumed the younger generations would continue to carry out the family's traditions once the older generations had passed on.

I was wrong, of course. At least as far as my family goes, the holidays look different now than they did when I was a child, and it feels a little displacing. Similar to how it feels when the home you grew up in is demolished and the land is turned into a housing development for 20-something new cookie-cutter homes (true story). To cope, you create your own home base, your own traditions, your own sense of family and magic.

A lot of things are fluid right now, and I’m just going with it as best I can, but I think I’d eventually like to settle down into a solid yearly routine. It’s comforting to have these things to rely on, these people you know you’ll make the time to see, these activities surrounding the holidays that make it fun and special.

I went through a phase where holidays didn’t mean much to me. They were just a day or series of days where people made a meager attempt to be kind to one another and give each other things, and I thought why shouldn’t we be like that with each other all the time? And that’s true in some ways, but I think the frustration I was feeling was compounded by the fact that certain things were expected of us. I felt I was supposed to spend a certain amount of time and money, of which I had neither, and it made me feel like a failure, which made me feel resentful, which made me feel ashamed, which made me feel…

Regarding the money, I’ve learned to adjust my expectations on both myself and others about what's involved in our gift exchange, and it has made a huge difference in my attitude. Regarding time, I think that’s what it’s really all about. You take this time every year to focus on your relationships with others, and to invest something of yourself toward them. That’s the part of it that’s special, and the part I willingly partake in.

Time doesn’t have to come in the form of expensive gifts (though if that’s your jam, go for it). For me, it comes in the form of helping my mom and her partner decorate their home for their Christmas party, knitting a hot water bottle cozy for my friends and family, baking the cookies, making a long drive out to my dad and step-mom’s house, waking up extra early to be with the in-laws for breakfast Christmas morning. Time given is what I wanted to focus on this holiday season, and for every season hereafter.

Hopefully the traditions we want to solidify and revisit each year will naturally follow.

A Slow and Simple Life

This has been a hard post to write. I’ve been wrestling around with how to approach it for the past two weeks because, on one hand, I think it’s important to talk about the reasons why I choose this lifestyle because slow and simple living is the foundation for everything else I write and share here. On the other hand, it’s impossible to discuss my reasons without getting personal, and while I’ve never had a problem opening up about myself in the past, I have, over time, realized the value of discretion. So I’m hoping I can strike a good balance that remains authentic and succinct without compromising my boundaries.

To start, here is some relevant information about me: I suffer from depression and anxiety. I am an HSP and an introvert. I have difficulty with things like making eye contact or articulating thoughts in large groups and new spaces, not because I’m shy, but because I’m trying to cope with and filter through a barrage of invisible stimuli. And although I do a pretty good job with managing my depression and anxiety on a day-to-day basis, I find myself dipping low sometimes. Whenever that happens, I have to drop what I’m doing and prioritize me-time to get myself back to a healthier state of mind.

This list of issues so easily summarized in one single paragraph has taken me 32 years to grasp, and along the path toward understanding has been a lot of confusion, pain, damaged or broken relationships, a shattered sense of self, and days and weeks and months of feeling out of place. It has been a long journey toward self-acceptance, which is why I feel compelled to write about it. Because even though my disabilities have often led to feelings of isolation, I know I’m not the only one who suffers from them. Not by a long shot. And once I began to understand that these things were part of me and weren’t just going to disappear, I was able to finally take measures to heal and explore new ways of living that were and are more in tune with my nature.

So, in 2010 I started a blog (with blogspot) to document my learning process with gardening, cooking and making things by hand, all of which was completely new to me at the time, yet so compelling that it felt like a calling. I didn’t have the words “simple living” in mind back when I started all of this, but the concept of it formed for me over time.

And it’s not original or new. Over the past six years, I’ve connected with a whole community of folks through social media who live simple lives for one reason or another. Some of them struggle with the same issues I do and some of them don’t, but for whatever reason, we are united in our calling, and silly as it may sound, it helps to know that we aren’t alone

Nowadays, living a slow and simple life is much more than just an experiment or a trend. I live this way and keep coming back to it because it keeps me healthy and allows me to thrive. And although I sometimes get swept up in the way life is “supposed” to look, or don’t pay attention to the red flags telling me that it’s time to slow down, I always know that my path toward balance and health is through a focus on the fundamentals. Making my living spaces calm and inspiring, eating good, whole foods that nourish me, spending time outdoors or with good friends, interacting with my daughter, working with my hands and investing time in myself. 

Simple.

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But when you're out in daily life, among the pressures and people who are caught up in the 9-5, Keeping Up with the Joneses culture, it can be very difficult to go against the grain. It can be especially hard to protect yourself from cynicism and negativity without sticking out like a sore thumb and making yourself a target. And it can be hard to take the time for yourself to heal without pissing off your boss or offending the people you care about who don't understand your need for alone time.

In my experience, depression and introvertedness are not very well understood issues, and most people have never even heard of HSPs (highly sensitive people). The resources for those of us who suffer with such things are out there, but they are difficult to find, especially if you're afraid to admit that you are suffering with something that carries so much stigma.

I can only hope that discussing this openly, without shame and despite fear of judgment, will help someone who was in the same position I was in before I got the help I needed. That if you are feeling hopeless, there are options for you. You can be happy, you can thrive, and you can find a way of being that works for you and helps you manage your stress. Slow and simple living is the answer for me. What's the answer for you?

Spiced Chai Concentrate

I’ve been thinking a lot about the kinds of posts I’d like to share with you on my blog now that I’ve started up again. I’ve never been one to stick to a single topic, though I know I’d probably get more “engagement” that way, but I have to think about why I’m sharing what I’m sharing, and my strongest motivations are personal. I post because I want to remember moments in time, favorite recipes, garden projects, house projects, adventures we take as a family… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reference my own blog to pull up an old standby recipe, or to try and figure out which plants did well in the garden in previous years. I mean, when it comes down to it, maybe I just blog because I have a really bad memory, and this helps me keep track of the things I’ve done in my life.

In any case, I know for sure that I want to share all the recipes I turn to again and again, and especially those that are seasonally inspired. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what I like to do with the food we harvest when I’ve got baskets and baskets of it staring me right in the face. It can get pretty overwhelming in those moments, so it helps to have a list of favorite recipes in a centralized location I can turn to.

Some of the recipes I’ll be sharing, like this recipe for spiced chai concentrate, are recipes I’ve already posted on my old blog, but I want to bring them here and perhaps talk about how they have evolved over time or how they’ve been used in our household. 

For instance, this chai concentrate recipe is one I’ve made every year since discovering and posting about it back in 2011. I usually make it in fall when the weather turns cool because the transition between summer's heat and autumn's wind and rain can be abrupt here, so it’s nice to cup your hands around a cozy beverage for warmth. Plus, the warm spices that flavor the tea are very autumnal.

Over the years, I’ve tapered off my use of refined sugars, so I tend to use honey exclusively as my sweetener rather than a combination of honey and brown sugar. If I make this for guests, I still use the brown sugar, though, because I know most people aren’t as accustomed to the strong flavor that the honey gives off when it’s used on its own.

I also play around with different milks. You really need a rich, thick milk to cut the flavor of the concentrated tea to make this beverage really work, so I tend to stick with goat or cows milk, or I’ll use homemade almond milk because I can ensure that it’s nice and creamy. Soy milk would probably work, too, though I’ve never tried it.


INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 stick cinnamon, broken in pieces
  • 1 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 7 whole cardamom pods
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 10 whole cloves
  •  5-10 peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (or a couple strips of orange peel)
  • 10 bags of black tea
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar or honey
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla (optional)

Pour the water and the spices in a saucepan. Bring water to a boil and remove from heat. Add the honey and the brown sugar (optional) and the tea bags. Allow mixture to steep for 15 minutes. Remove tea bags and stir. Taste to check for sweetness and add more honey or brown sugar as needed.

Strain the mixture into a quart sized mason jar, discarding the spices. To serve, mix 1 part concentrate with 1 part milk. Heat for a warm beverage, or pour over ice to enjoy cold.

Place lid on the jar with the concentrate and store in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. 

Gift Knits

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When I first started knitting, after the initial awkward stage of holding two pointy sticks in my hands had passed, I got a bit of a "knitter's high" from the realization that I had this new ability to create. The possibilities were endless, and I wanted very much to share my new skill with everyone I knew, so I drove to the nearest craft store to purchase 10 balls of super bulky acrylic yarn. Everyone recieved a hat from me that Christmas.

Super bulky yarn is kinda magnificent for new knitters because it allows you to complete a small project, like a hat, in a day. It's instant gratification knitting. It really is awesome. If you are a new knitter, I highly recommend making a washcloth or two and then going straight to a super bulky hat, such as this pattern, which I've now knit over 15 times.

Anyway, like many knitters, my tastes have evolved to the point where acrylic yarns rarely hold any interest for me. This can be problematic in regards to gift knitting because while acrylic yarns are super easy to maintain - they can usually be thrown in the washer and dryer, no problem - the natural fibers I prefer to work with these days require different care instructions, and most people don't want to go through the effort to hand wash and lay flat to dry, or they don't know how. Plus, unless you're working with super bulky weight yarn, gift knits tend to be a lot more time consuming, taking weeks rather than days to finish.

That said, I still really enjoy knitting gifts for close friends and family on occasion, but because there are only so many knitting hours in a knitter's life, I have to go about the process a little differently. I have to be reasonably sure the gift recipient actually likes handmade things (because many people don't), and I have to be reasonably sure it'll fit, which means I have to have them try it on before I can gift it. It ruins the surprise, but it's worth it.

That's what I had to do with these socks, which I made for a close friend of mine who is always wearing interesting footwear, and who has shown a healthy appreciation for wool over the years. I ran across this pattern, Father's New Socks by Susan Crawford, and immediately thought of my friend, who just so happened to have a birthday on the way. And I'm really glad I had him try the first sock on before I started the second one because the foot portion was way too big. Unlike store-bought socks, hand knit socks really need to be the right size or they won't fit at all.

The construction for these socks is a little different than any other sock I've knit. First, the colorwork is deceptively easy because it's created with slipped stitches, so there are no floats in the back of the work. However, once you reach the bottom half of the foot, you can no longer work in the round, so you knit the sole first, hold the stitches on a cord, and move on with the instep, picking up stitches on either side of the sole to attach as you go. The instep is pretty finicky and time consuming, but I think it's worth it. I love these socks. They're very warm and squishy, and I hope my friend likes 'em. I know I'll definitely be using this pattern again in the future, and I'd love to use this slipped stitch technique for another type of project again someday too.

For more detailed notes on these socks, check out my Ravelry project page. And thank you so much everyone for the warm welcome back, both here and on my Instagram feed! It's so nice to be blogging again. 

Psst. Hi.

So hey…

I don’t really want to do the thing where I apologize for being gone for nearly a year. Life happens, motherhood happens, employment happens (and then un-happens), and if I had to feel guilty every time life got in the way of blogging, I’d probably give it up. 

Which would be a huge bummer! Because being creative and working on projects and sharing favorite recipes and connecting with like-minded folks are some of the very things that make me feel most balanced as a human being seeking a slower, more simple life. So instead of apologizing (to both myself and you), I’m just going to dive right on in and give you a general overview of what’s been going on and what I’ve been working on lately.

Back in March, I quit my job as the blog editor for a small company in Portland to do the stay-at-home-mom thing. I enjoyed my job, but it took all my creative energy and left me with very little motivation to work on projects at home. Plus, the last thing I wanted to do after sitting at a computer screen all day in the office was to go home and sit at another computer screen.

It took a few months to get into the rhythm of life as a stay-at-home-mom, but over the past few months I've found myself feeling creative and inspired again. And now that we're back to a primarily one-income household, I'm feeling even more motivated to simplify our lifestyle. Which, for me, means spending less money on junk food, junk clothing, junk toys and junk things in general, and more resources on quality items and experiences. 

It also means digging deep and somehow finding a way to reinvigorate my long lost passion for baking, fermenting, preserving, sourdough bread and seasonal cooking. I’m not sure why I lost my love for making good food (actually, I think I do know why, but that’s a whole separate post), but I’m definitely feeling the pull to cook and bake and experiment in the kitchen again.

And because it’s #slowfashionoctober, I’ve been feeling inspired to elevate my wardrobe by spending more thoughtfully on quality pieces, making things by hand, and mending clothes that are damaged or in need of repair rather than throwing them out. And I've been talking about teaching myself to sew for years, but now is the time to follow through with it.

Truthfully, if you've been here before (or to my previous blogspot address, I should say), you know that none of this is new for me. It's just that this time it feels like less of an experiment and more of a way of life that continues to compel me toward it. A way of being that feels more harmonious and healthy. I knew I'd get back to this place in my life eventually, and I'm so glad to be here, sharing my projects, favorite recipes, experiments and experiences with you again.

Fall Knitting and Thanksgiving Traditions

Happy November! We three stayed in for Halloween last night, and watched reruns of The Walking Dead, our favorite spooky show. Life has been super busy lately, so it was nice to stay home, sippin’ tea, listening to the crazy rain and wind outside.

My pillow project is coming along nicely. I’ve made three wool/wool-blend cases so far using yarn from my stash. Mostly just yarn that I purchased back when I first started knitting, like Fishermen’s Wool and Wool Ease, but these are covers that will be used for the pillows on the living room couch, so I know they’ll get a lot of wear and tear as the kid gets older.

What I’d really like to be working on right now is another wool garment or two for Ella. She’s growing out of the little knit dress I made for her while I was pregnant, so it fits more like a tunic these days (which is still really cute, imo). Problem is, and most new moms can attest to this, knitting for a baby when you have a baby (and a part-time job) is almost impossible. I know I’ll have more time for crafting as she gets older, but right now I’m soaking up all the cuddles, and watching her come closer and closer to full mobility. Ack!

Anyway, now that Halloween is over, I’m starting to think about Thanksgiving, which just happens to be my favorite holiday. I love any excuse to gather together with my closest friends and family over delicious food and hot mulled wine.  I know families tend to have slightly different traditions surrounding the holidays, but one that seems to crop up a lot is the tradition of going around the table and saying what you’re thankful for. In the past, I’ve had trouble with this tradition because the things I’m thankful for are typically quite personal to me, but I very much appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the positive things that are happening in life.

Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? If so, what are your Thanksgiving traditions?