Apple Butter

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This is a recipe I’ve carried with me for years. I make it nearly every summer and give it as gifts for Christmas. It’s rich and good, and can be used on breads like jam, in marinades and sauces, in sandwiches with some fried chicken and cheese… lots of delicious possibilities.

The recipe I follow lies somewhere between what is offered by Simply Recipes and Food in Jars. I liked the recipe from Simply Recipes when I don’t feel like peeling the apples. A food mill is often more suited to my situation, and I like the fact that the peels and cores lend pectin and flavor. The Food in Jars recipe is more specific about the canning procedure, and gives options for a chunkier fruit butter if I ever decide to peel and chop my apples instead of milling them. Sometimes I’ll just puree them with an immersion blender, which is what I’ve done this year.

The main thing to keep in mind is to cook the butter down longer than you think you need to. The more caramelized, the better the flavor. And you’ll want to invest in a splatter screen if you don’t have one already. Trust me on this.


Apple Butter
8 lbs apples
2 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
4 cups water
Around 8 cups sugar
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (one large lemon)
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons freshly roasted and ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly roasted and ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly roasted and ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly roasted and ground cardamom


Quarter, stem and skin and seed the apples, cutting off any damaged parts (you don't need to skin them if they will later be processed through a food mill). Place in a 5-quart or larger pan with the cider vinegar and the water. Turn heat on high, stirring occasionally. When the liquid begins to boil, lower the heat to medium and continue to stir the apples every five minutes or so until they are soft and mushy.

Leave chunky or puree with an immersion blender. (If you left the skins on, run the softened apples through a food mill). Measure the remaining applesauce, and return to your pan. Cook on medium heat until the sauce begins to bubble, and then reduce heat to medium-low. Keep the lid off so that the water can evaporate out.

Add 1/2 cup sugar for every cup of apples (8 lbs of apples would generally yield me about 16 cups of sauce after milling, which is why I listed 8 cups of sugar to the recipe list). Add the juice of one large lemon.

Dry roast your spices whole in a small saucepan on medium-high until the aroma hits your nose. Shake the pan so that the spices do not burn and continue to roast for another minute or two. Take the spices off the heat and cool. Once cooled, grind your spices in a coffee grinder and add to the pot. Taste and adjust accordingly. If you don't like cardamom or cloves or allspice, simply omit those spices from the recipe.

Stir the pot every five minutes or so, making sure to scrape the bottom to prevent burning. Cook for ~3 hours until the sauce has reduced to the desired consistency.

If you want to can your jars for long-term storage, read up on the proper canning procedures. Otherwise, funnel your apple butter into sterilized jars and store in the refrigerator.

Zucchini-Basil Soup

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This recipe is simple and good. It’s the recipe you’ll want to use for all those giant zucchinis that are flooding your harvest baskets right about now. Add a handful of basil, onions, a few cloves of garlic and some butter and you’re good to go.

Sometimes I'll garnish my bowl with some cooked leeks or whatever happens to be growing in the garden for a little texture, but I usually eat it as-is, straight out of the pot, accompanied by thick slices of toasted sourdough bread drizzled with olive oil.

I should also mention that I make a double batch and have written the recipe as such because this soup keeps well in the refrigerator. Matt and I like to eat it cold for lunch the next day, especially if it's hot outside. If you want less or have less zucchini, feel free to halve the amounts.

Zucchini-Basil Soup
4 pounds zucchini and/or yellow crookneck squash
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4-6 tablespoons butter (yes, you can use less or sub for olive oil)
5-6 cloves garlic
4 cups water or broth/stock
1 handful of basil leaves, rinsed
Salt to taste

Rinse zucchini and remove ends. Slice lengthwise, and chop into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic cloves, and cook until softened (about 5 minutes). Add the chopped zucchini and/or squash, and a pinch of salt, and cook for another five minutes. Add the water or broth/stock.

Bring up to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until zucchini is tender (about 25 minutes). Remove from heat.

Add the basil leaves. Puree using an immersion blender until completely smooth. Taste and add salt as necessary. Pour into bowls and serve warm with bread or crackers.

Note: Soup tastes amazing hot or cold.

Honey-Sweetened Sourdough Muffins

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Over the past few months, I’ve been getting to know my sourdough starter bit by bit, and I’m doing it in a really “intuitive” way, meaning I mostly eyeball it with my timing and ingredient amounts rather than weighing things out on a scale and being precise with hydration or flour ratios. I’ve kept my starter on the counter, fed it twice per day, and when it’s not used for bread, I try to find something enjoyable to do with the discard. I’m baking bread nearly every day because, as someone who learns by doing, I know it’s the only way I’ll ever improve my skills. As a result, I’ve got bread coming out of my ears. I’m baking more than we can eat and giving most of it away to any family member or friend I can.

With two feeds per day, I’m learning a whole lot about sourdough and the way we enjoy it. Mostly my loaves turn out edible and beautiful in a rustic sort of way, but there are occasional duds. Even with this many feedings, it’s rare that I’ll throw that precious discard down the sink. Mostly it goes into sourdough dutch babies, pancakes or muffins, and I’m always looking for other easy ways to use it because that’s a whole lot of good quality flour down the drain if you can’t find a way to bake and eat it. 

I eventually plan to learn how to make all-things sourdough: pie crust, bagels, pastries, crackers, quickbreads… but for now, while I’m still focused on learning how to make basic bread and feeding my starter this often, I’m just looking for solutions that can be accomplished quickly and easily with a napping baby and a 4-year-old underfoot.

That said, I’d like to share a recipe for sourdough muffins that I’ve been using nonstop this summer for my discard. It uses all-purpose flour and cornmeal for a light, yet robust muffin that won’t get soggy with berry add-ins. Plus, they’re lightly sweetened with a bit of honey. Delicious.

SOURDOUGH MUFFINS
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sourdough discard
¼ cup milk
1 egg
¼ cup melted butter or oil
½ cup honey
2 cups berries, fresh or frozen


Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a muffin tin. Set aside. 

Dry ingredients: In a medium bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, cornmeal, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Set aside.

Wet ingredients: Whisk together the sourdough discard, milk, egg, butter/oil, and honey in a large bowl until well combined. Add the dry ingredients and stir until combined. 

Fold in the fresh berries. 

Fill the wells of a standard sized greased muffin tin with batter until ¾ full. Place in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and then remove muffins from muffin tin and place on a cooling rack until room temp. Store in an airtight container. Muffins will last for a couple days on the counter, a couple weeks in the fridge or a couple months in the freezer.

Enjoy!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Kombucha

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I really like our homemade kombucha. I like everything about it: The giant crocks visibly fermenting in the kitchen, the routine of bottling and refreshing the tea weekly/bi-weekly, drinking a cold one every night and feeling that good bacteria work its magic, and my favorite part of all, experimenting with different flavors for the second ferment. Especially if the flavors are seasonal.

This spring, I just happened to stumble into what I can safely say is my newest favorite flavor for bottling: strawberry-rhubarb.

We just happen to have a rhubarb plant growing in a container in our backyard, and a very small, somewhat neglected patch of strawberries growing in a shady spot near the property line between us and our neighbors. So as I was puttering outside in the backyard with my kids a few weeks ago, getting inspired by all the plants that were popping up in the yard, it clicked to me to try this quintessential spring flavor combination with my kombucha, and it did not disappoint.

I tried it and immediately had to share it with my husband and daughter. And my friends. And they loved it too, and said I should could sell this stuff at the store. But I really can’t, because it’s too good not to guzzle down myself. So here’s the recipe. Go forth and make your own.

Step one: make a rhubarb simple syrup

1 cup chopped rhubarb
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Turn to medium high and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to help dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let sit until it comes to room temperature. Pour into a mason jar (including the bits of rhubarb) and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. It should keep for up to a week.

Step two: make a strawberry-rhubarb puree

All your rhubarb simple syrup
1-2 cups strawberries, fresh or frozen
1-2 cups kombucha

Place all your rhubarb simple syrup in a blender with the strawberries. Add kombucha and blend just until smooth. Add a bit more kombucha if your mixture is too thick.

Step three: bottle

Pour 2-3 oz of the strawberry-rhubarb puree into each brewing bottle. Top off with kombucha until it fills just the bottom 1/3rd of the neck. Pop on your snaplock lids to seal, and keep out of direct sunlight for 3-7 days, making sure to burp your bottles daily.

Enjoy!

In the Garden: Spring 2019 Recap

Hello and welcome! Today's post is a little different than my usual thing. The videos I make and everything else I put out on my blog and social media are first and foremost a creative outlet for me and a way to document parts of our lives, so in the future I'll be expanding the content on my channel. For those who follow along with my knitting video podcast, please know I have no intention of quitting, so you can expect to continue seeing new knitting videos for the foreseeable future, and I’ll have them labeled clearly (and in a playlist) so you know where to find them.

In this video, I share what I’m hoping will serve as a before picture of our garden space and everything that went on in spring. I know we’re already a couple weeks into summer now, but I wanted to get the information on film now while it's still fresh in my mind so I can use it as a reference point for next year's garden. Things are doing well so far, especially considering we have a newborn and weren't nearly as productive as we normally would’ve been, but we are going to just keep building, bit by bit, on what we already have (and make it “extra,” if you will), so hopefully this glimpse into the present state of things will be fun to look back on in the future.

I'll come back soon with another garden update and share everything that's growing. Things are happening fast now that it's summer, so everything already looks a lot different than what you see here. Future garden updates will probably be in more of a vlog style.

Until next time!

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Tools and Equipment:

Grow bags (we use the 25 gallon size for our potatoes, the 10 gallon size for our dahlias and the 2 gallon size for our basil: https://amzn.to/2ROcPxO

This is an affiliate link. I make a small commission if you use these links, and I only share products that I use myself and highly recommend.

The Natural Dye MAL

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Last year I had so much fun hosting the Natural Dye KAL that I’ve decided to do it again. This year, however, I’m changing the name from KAL (knitalong) to MAL (makealong) to be more welcoming to crocheters and weavers, and I’ll be extending the MAL from three months to a whole year, from the first day of summer 2019 to the first day of summer 2020, to enable those who want to dye their own yarn by encompassing a full range of seasons with which to harvest and forage for plant material, no matter which hemisphere you reside.

Interested in joining along? We’d love to have you! Here are the rules:

  • The Natural Dye Makealong will run from June 21st, 2019 to June 21st, 2020

  • Enter with as many finished objects (FO’s) as you’d like. The more FOs you enter, the more likely you are to win.

  • To join, make any knitted or crocheted project using naturally dyed yarns. You can use yarn that you dyed yourself or that you have acquired from another natural dyer.

  • Please take a photo of the yarn before you use it and tell us a little bit about it. If you dyed it yourself, what did you use? If you purchase from another dyer, do they give any information on what they used?

  • Double-dipping with other K/CALs is allowed.

  • WIPs are a-ok.

  • Use the hashtag #naturaldyeMAL for your WIPs and #naturaldyeMALFO for your FO’s on Instagram

  • Prizes will be drawn from the FO thread on Ravelry and the Instagram Hashtag #naturaldyeMALFO

  • Prizes are TBD

If you have any questions, please leave them here under this post or in the Ravelry group chatter thread. And please make sure to sign up to my newsletter below for updates as well. I look forward to seeing your natural dye experiments! Happy making.

Continuous Brew Kombucha

I’ve been making kombucha at home for a long time, but it wasn’t until we switched from the batch method to continuous brew a couple years back that I began to incorporate the practice of brewing, fermenting, bottling, experimenting with flavors, and - of course - drinking it daily into my routine. Kombucha can be a time consuming beverage to keep up with, but it’s so worth it to make at home, and I’m especially reminded of this now as we enter spring with a whole new world of flavor possibilities growing right outside the door.

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Last week, I harvested some lilacs from our lilac tree, rinsed them under cool water, removed the blossoms and sprinkled them with a big scoop of organic cane sugar to make a quick lilac-infused simple syrup. A couple days later, I did the same with a few stalks of rhubarb that were growing in a container near the fence gate.

This week, the kombucha crocks were ready to bottle, so I combined the simple syrups with some ingredients found in the kitchen. I could have used the simple syrups alone to flavor my bottles, but I decided I wanted to pair the rhubarb with strawberries (strawberry-rhubarb is one of my all-time favorite spring flavors) and the lilac syrup with a bit of orange juice concentrate.

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I don’t know how either flavors will turn out. I guess we’ll see once the bottles are ready to crack open in a few days, but it doesn’t really matter if they’re good or bad. It’s all part of the fun.

And since we’re on the subject, I made a video last year talking about some of my kombucha tips and tricks. Check it out below:

They Grow Up So Fast

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It’s true. Children really do grow up in the blink of an eye.

In the morning of March 28th, 2019, we welcomed Meredith Camille to our family. She has been a great joy to all of us, and is gracing us with baby coos and social smiles aplenty. She’ll be six weeks old this Thursday, and I’ve already had to pack away all her newborn sized clothes in exchange for 3-6 month sizes. It seems too soon for that, and in some ways it is. Meri was born almost a full pound heavier and two inches longer than her older sister. They are/were both such similar babies, and yet so entirely different at the same time. I look at my children and can’t help but believe in magic.

If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ll know I’ve been dealing with postpartum anxiety (mostly in the form of insomnia) for the past couple weeks. It’s been a rough phase, but honestly, the pregnancy and birth were rough too. To get through it all, I have kept an unwavering eye on the light at the end of the tunnel. The last thing I want to do is wish this time away. This bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, whirlwind season of our lives has its charms, and I’m doing my best to live in the moment, but I know - I know - things get easier with time.

Last night, in the quiet moments before falling asleep, I had the realization that I had made it past the worst of it: the 24/7 “morning” sickness, the fatigue, the debilitating pelvic pain, the bulk of the c-section recovery, the bitter disappointment of a failed 50-hour trial of labor, and the horrible, itchy rash from a rare diagnosis of postpartum PUPPPs that lasted for 2+ weeks and threatened to undo me completely.

I realized I had spent the bulk of the day alone yesterday with both my girls while my husband was at work, and my body, though still a bit shaky, felt capable again. My mind, though still anxious, was able to slow down and take in the sunshine. And despite the lack of sleep, I felt alert and present.

I realized I had done it. I’d finally reached the point in all of this where I could reconnect with myself again. And once I realized this, I broke down and started crying because holy hell, that was a lot harder than I thought it would be.

But she was worth it.

Setting the Stage for 2019

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We have just a few days left in January and a mere seven weeks to go before we welcome baby #2 into our family. After all we’ve accomplished this month, it feels like we’re right on track with getting everything sorted and ready to meet our newest little one. I did my best to restrain my nesting instincts until after the holidays were over, but once January rolled around, there was no stopping me. I’ve been waddling my way through every room, closet, drawer and cupboard of our house, reorganizing the things we want to keep, donating or throwing away as much as possible, mending or replacing the old and tattered, and shopping for for added storage and organization. When you live in a small house, you have to get creative with your use of space. Especially if clutter makes you feel blocked and claustrophobic like it does us.

In addition to all the preparation for the baby, I find myself freshly inspired by the New Year and my 2019 New Year’s Resolutions, which are primarily to:

  1. Begin the process of curating my personal wardrobe

  2. Eat well

It’s a simple list, really, but there’s so much more to it than meets the eye. If you’re curious about the details, read on.

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For my first goal, curating my personal wardrobe, I plan to finally begin the process of laying down the foundation for the clothes I want to wear for the rest of my life. I’ve been heading towards this goal for years, which is why I initially started knitting in the first place, and why I bought myself a sewing machine back in 2010, but I held myself back from following through with this goal for several reasons:

First, I had no grasp on my own personal style. I felt like I was being pulled toward several different directions, and it wasn’t until the past few years that my mind began to settle and I began to notice recurring trends in my preferences, such as understated patterns, muted colors, rich textures, a balance of masculine and feminine elements, and natural materials. I find I can’t resist pieces that combine structure with comfort, and I’m always drawn to old, well-worn items of clothing that are of high enough quality to bother mending.

So now that I have some ideas in mind, I’ve decided to buckle down and focus all my knitting time on myself. I still plan to knit for my husband and our children, but I’m taking a break from gift knitting this year for those who aren’t in my immediate family. Especially after taking a peek at my Ravelry page and realizing that 2/3rds of my knitting time over the past few years has been spent on gift knits for other people.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy gift knitting very much, but it really is time for me to put this skill into action for myself lest I spent the rest of my 30’s living in yoga pants and hoodies.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In addition to focusing on personal knitting, I’m going to finally teach myself how to sew. I purchased a Brother sewing machine for myself years ago for this purpose, and taught myself how to thread the machine and stitch with it. Heck, I’ve even used it to make party decorations with both paper and fabric scraps, but I’ve never actually taken the plunge to sew my own garments or learn how to decipher sewing patterns.

But this is the year that changes.

For one, it’s impossible to find ready-to-wear clothing I like in stores. The more I hone in on my wardrobe preferences, the more picky I am about finding the right shade of color or the perfect fabric + silhouette. When it comes to aesthetics, I’m very particular. It’s part of my creative process, and it makes decorating my house or designing my garden fun for me. It is also part of the reason it has taken me so long to begin curating my wardrobe. I knew once I started this process, there would be no turning back. Everything would have to be just so.

So learning to sew is non-negotiable. I need to be able to have full control over what I wear. This doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally purchase items from the store, but my standards have now gone from just buying what fits to only buying if it’s absolutely perfect for my wardrobe in every possible way.

So that’s goal number one for 2019. Don’t worry, I’m not being unrealistic. I know I’m having a baby in just seven short weeks and that my time and energy will be limited, and right now, while pregnant, I really am just throwing on anything and everything I possibly can that will fit over this ever-growing baby bump. That said, this is the year I begin this process. I’ve got plenty of time to work on it, and I intend to have fun with it.

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My second goal, eat well, is equally as complex as my wardrobe goals because it, too, has been a decade in the making. It has taken me years to understand what eating well means for me, though I didn’t start really trying to observe my reaction to different foods until 2010, which is coincidentally when I started my first blog focusing on, among other things, gardening and garden-based recipes (I’ve never been able to keep it to one subject).

For me, made-from-scratch whole foods that are natural, GMO-free, pesticide-free and unprocessed are the maintenance plan, but there are times (especially, say, after having a baby) when I need to get specific with my food and rebalance myself with a low-carb diet full of good fats, clean meats (from animals that are hormone-free and fed what they’re meant to eat), and lots and lots of vegetables.

And above all else, my body reacts best when I make my meals myself rather than eating out. It’s the main reason Matt and I have grown a vegetable garden every summer for the past 10 years, so I can eat garden-based food I’ve grown and prepared myself. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a single year since we began gardening that we haven’t gone through stages where we have relied heavily on prepared freezer meals or takeout while letting all the garden food we have so carefully preserved sit on the sidelines. Sometimes we’re able to turn things around and get through our stores before the next garden season, and sometimes a lot of that food ends up going to the chickens.

But this is the year that will change.

I know, I know. But I’m having a baby, I’ll be too exhausted to cook. Except those times of pure exhaustion and stress are exactly when I need to be focusing the most on eating well, so to prepare for the baby, I’ll be making a month’s worth of food in advance and freezing it for quick meals on the days and weeks we’re feeling pinched for time and desperate for something warm and comforting.

I’ll be making bone broths, soups, sauces from our frozen garden tomatoes from last year’s harvest, burritos, lactation cookies, sourdough breads and so much more. And hey, if for some reason we get so desperate that we feel we need to order takeout, then fine. I’m not going to beat myself up about it, but I know I’ll feel so much better (and clear up so much freezer space) if we stick to home cooking. I think we can do it, and I know we’ll be happier and feel better for it if we follow through.

As for foods we are unable to provide for ourselves, such as raw milk, grass-fed beef and free-range, organic chicken, I’ll be sourcing those from local farms that I can trust.

That, to me, is eating well. I know not everyone agrees on what is healthy or ethical, but we all have different needs when it comes to the food that nourishes our bodies. I’ve spent years paying attention to what does and doesn’t work for me, and this is the year I take the time and effort to prioritize food for myself and my family rather than letting the stress of life dictate what we eat.

Right now, we’re only 27 days into 2019, and already I’m feeling more comfortable and focused just having these goals in front of me. My crafting time feels more structured as I watch videos on learning to sew while knitting on a cardigan (currently the Albini) that will someday be finished and part of my forever wardrobe. And now that I no longer see meal preparation as optional, I’m finding ways to make it fit well into the rhythm of my life so it’s sustainable rather than overwhelming.

I have a good feeling about this.

Chewy Ginger-Molasses Cookies

I usually only dip them in white chocolate, but sometimes I’ll decorate them with royal frosting if I’m feeling fancy.

When I first stumbled across the recipe for these delicious chewy ginger cookies, I had no idea they would become my favorite Christmas cookie of all time. At the time, I was working as the blog editor for a stationery and paper goods company in Portland, and I was looking for a recipe idea that would pair well with the holly tags that were eventually featured in this post. I loved the idea of creating white space on a ginger cookie for decorating, but it never occurred to me how well the flavors of rich, earthy ginger and molasses would pair with the creaminess of the white chocolate.

Don’t get me wrong: you can eat these cookies in their plain form. They make for a delicious ginger-molasses cookie experience, but please do try them with the white chocolate if you feel so inclined. I promise, it’s worth the extra effort.

A word about white chocolate chips: I’ve tried several brands, but certainly not all. The brand I keep coming back to in terms of flavor is Ghirardelli. They’re not sponsoring this post or anything - don’t worry. They just have a good, true flavor without any weird aftertastes, and they melt perfectly.

chewy ginger-molasses cookies

Chewy Ginger Cookies
dipped in white chocolate

2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter, softened
½ cup sugar
½ cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
¼ cup molasses
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup sugar in the raw (or regular sugar)
3 cups white chocolate chips
Wax paper or parchment

Instructions
Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg together in a large bowl, making sure the ingredients are well combined. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and add the egg until incorporated. Add the molasses and vanilla extract and beat, scraping down the sides, until everything is mixed together.

Slowly add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Remove bowl from stand mixer, and scrape the sides down with a spatula. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Line your cookie sheet with a silpat mat and preheat oven to 375F. Place ½ cup raw sugar in a bowl and set aside. Remove dough from refrigerator and, using your hands, roll balls that are 1½ to 2 inches in diameter with the dough. Place dough balls in the bowl with the raw sugar until evenly coated. Place balls on cookie sheet, leaving 2 inches space between each ball. Lightly flatten each ball into discs and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until the edges are just turning golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a cookie rack to cool.

Once cookies have cooled completely, melt the white chocolate chips in a heat-safe bowl in the microwave for 1 minute. Remove and stir until creamy and smooth. The chips should be completely melted, but if not, place back in the microwave for another 10 seconds.

Tear off a length of wax paper and place it on your counter. Dip cookies into the melted white chocolate chips, one by one, scraping the excess off the bottom as you remove it from the bowl. Place on wax paper and allow white chocolate to set until completely hardened.

Optional: after the white chocolate has hardened, decorate your cookies using royal icing/frosting

P.S. I always double this recipe. And although I usually always dip them in white chocolate, I only bother to frost them with royal icing if I’m feeling fancy.

Recipe adapted from Cooking Classy.

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

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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!

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.

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)

sixpence socks
happy mountain sweater
happy mountain sweater tip

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.