Kelly’s Shibori Challenge

Hanging shibori fabric.  Image by Katie, courtesy ofWikipedia

Kelly here:

1) I know, I know. What’s with Root Simple and all this Japanese stuff? I don’t know!

2) This is less a post than a plan. I’m going to tell you all my plan so I can’t get lazy, back out, and watch Netflix instead of working.  As I execute this plan, I’ll post some more and so hopefully will share some useful information with you along the way,

The plan is in three parts:

Part the First: I’m going to make natural dyes using common plants like red cabbage and sour grass, following the instructions in The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes: Personalize Your Craft with Organic Colors from Acorns, Blackberries, Coffee, and Other Everyday Ingredients by Sasha Duerr. It’s a gorgeous little book and very inspirational–we’ll see if the instructions work.

Part the Second: I will apply these dyes to fabric using shibori techniques. Shibori is the art of dying fabric using pattern making techniques like folding, binding and stitching the fabric prior to soaking it in the dye bath. It’s super-classy Japanese tie dye. Except common tie dye is to shibori as this post is  to a Shakespeare sonnet.

I just got a book which is supposed to be the classic text on shibori from the library: Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing. It’s an encyclopedia of all the (many, many) shibori techniques–with how-to’s– and lots of photos of mind-blowingly gorgeous old textiles. As a bonus, in the appendix they tell you how to mix up your own indigo dye.

The shibori cloth crafted by ancient Japanese artisans is maybe just a little beyond my skill set.  However, at Honestly… WTF you can see the nice results that crafty people get when they try their hand with some basic shibori techniques.

Part the Third: I will sew this fabric up into cocktail napkins, something along the lines of the napkins in this post on Design Sponge. We need cocktail napkins so I don’t have to keep buying paper napkins when we have groups at our house, and more importantly, to reintroduce myself to the sewing machine. Technically I know how to sew, but I’ve never been very good at it, and now I’m so rusty I’ll be lucky to remember how thread the machine. The napkins will remind me how to sew in a straight line.

Here’s the challenge:  By May 15th (1 month plus a few extra days because I have to travel)  I have to be able to show you some finished shibori-dyed cocktail napkins. And there will be how-to posts along the way. Or posts relating disasters.

If anyone has tips on foraged dyes, shibori or cocktail napkin techniques, please do chime in.

Introducing Nancy Klehm With Tips on Growing Jerusalem Artichokes

Photo by Ann Summa

We’re very proud to welcome to the blog our good friend Nancy Klehm. Nancy is a radical ecologist, designer, urban forager, grower and teacher. Most importantly, unlike Kelly and I here in Los Angeles, she lives in a place subject that odd meteorological condition called “winter”, namely Chicago. We asked her to write posts for us for on gardening in a four-season climate and to add her expertise to Root Simple. Nancy’s website, where you can find listings for her upcoming classes and events is http://spontaneousvegetation.net/.

She keeps a garden in her yard, an empty lot next to her house and on her roof in addition to lots of indoor seedlings. She has 5 chickens (one is rooster) and 7 quail (5 bobwhite and 2 coturnix). She also grows and gathers in her neighborhood and maintains a half acre food forest west of the city. In her first post for Root Simple Nancy introduces her climate and offers some tips on growing Jerusalem artichokes:

Welcome to Zone 5
I live in what is known by the USDA as Cold Hardiness Zone 5. Chicago is 5B and my food forest is in 5A. If you don’t know, the map is based on minimum average temperatures and helps as a guideline for first and last frost dates: http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/ushzmap.html. In the Midwest, where winter is a serious endeavor, a zone 5 growing season’s frost dates are May 15 and Nov 1, meaning that is the bracket for growing more tender annual plants such as basil, tomatoes, melons, etc. We have had a mild winter and a very early Spring this year – almost a month ahead according to any record. As a true farmer said: ‘This is the warmest April on record.’ And it was still March when he said it.

In the past 10 days, dodging rain and wet soil, I have planted out potatoes, asparagus, peas, collards, chard, kale, radishes, carrots, beets, turnips, salsify, and cress. I have many vegetables, fruits, culinary and medicinal herbs sown and growing under lights indoors that have weeks ahead of them under 14 hours of artificial sun. But thankfully, I have already been eating out of my garden which is a loose collection of the cultivated and the forageable: asparagus, stinging nettle, dandelion, chickweed, dock, wild and French sorrel, parsley, pea shoots, garlic mustard, ground ivy, wild onion, horseradish leaves, wild carrot, hawthorn flower and burdock root. The hops are almost four feet high, the fruit trees are in heavy bloom and my pawpaw birthed 14 blossoms for the first time since I planted its seed seven years ago!

The problem with this early spring is that it is likely to freeze between now and may 15. Everyone I know who grows tree fruit commercially is a bit worried about the fast blooms so early in the season. We could lose our fruit if the weather snaps to 30 degrees.

Jerusalem artichokes – PLANT NOW!
I was given a lunch bag full of dirty Jerusalem artichoke roots a handful of years ago and now I have a stand that is at least 500 square feet. It is in the center of my food forest. The stand acts like a giant sponge to absorb the extra water that floods my growing area now that the natural hydrology has been interrupted by a nearby housing developer. The stand provides shade for toads and in wet times, muddy crayfish tunnel into the mud around its tubers. In August, the flowers are 10 feet tall. Every spring, I dig out 30-50 pounds of chokes from my ever expanding bed to keep them from overwhelming my young quince and apple trees, which they would if I didn’t.

Muddy chokes and a few worms.
Chokes are a delicious wild perennial food. Darn easy to grow, but can be a lot of work to dig and wash and are really tough to store well. They either mold or dry out quickly once out of the ground and, even if I keep them nice and muddy, I haven’t had the luck or skill to store then over two weeks. In other words, use them or process them immediately.

Washed chokes and wild carrots drying.
I almost broke my mother’s Kitchen Aid when I tried to make Jerusalem artichoke flour, an answer to my father’s diabetes and new anti-gluten faddists. I sliced them, dried the slices and then tried to use the Cuisine Art to chop them up. Wrong tool, so I went to the mixer. It beat on and on for 10 minutes. I threw a towel over the top of the entire machine to keep the fine clouds of dust down. I got flour as well as some hard bits which I sifted out. It was tasty, but given the work I had to do, I had to think of another approach. And this is coming from someone pretty intrepid athlete with food processing. Making sunchoke flour takes second place for me just after creating my own dried pectin from wild crab apple skins.

Note from Kelly for folks in dry climes: Jerusalem artichokes grow in LA, too. We blogged about them here, where you can see a picture of one growing (they look like small sunflowers on enormous stalks). Our patch didn’t grow for more than one year because we decided we didn’t want to water them.  I believe in a wetter place they can grow without inputs–indeed, they’re hard to stop once they get going!– but in a dry climate they do need some water.

Picture Sundays: Bile Beans

ETA: Kelly says: Bile beans on Easter Sunday? Oh, Erik. I’m adding the following photo to this post. It’s really exciting that a Barred Rock is featured in the photo, plus, it illustrates the ambiguous relationship between rabbits and eggs that marks Easter: a persistent ambiguity that leads little kids to believe bunnies lay eggs, or at least the chocolate ones. Here, the bunny seems to have domesticated the hen as both an egg producer and draft animal. It’s unclear what the rabbit is planning to do with his cache of eggs, but he’s in a hellfire hurry to get somewhere with them.
And now back to our regularly scheduled post:

“This represents a healthy life, throughout its various scenes, just such a life as they enjoy, who use the Smith’s bile beans.”

According to an article in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Medicine, bile beans were,

a very popular proprietary medicine during the twentieth century in the UK. The product consisted of a variety of purgatives, cholagogues and carminatives formulated into a pill and advertised for ‘inner health’. The product was devised in Australia in 1899, survived a damning judgement in a law court in Scotland in 1905, became a brand leader in the 1930s and was on sale until the mid-1980s.

Thanks to Senor W for the photo.

Saturday Linkages: Ginger Grating, Food Poisoning and Williams-Sonoma Chicken Coops

Williams-Sonoma’s “Alexandria” Coop.

Quick Tip: Grate Ginger with a Fork http://www.thekitchn.com/quick-tip-grate-ginger-with-a-fork-168905

How long does food poisoning last?: http://boingboing.net/2012/04/05/how-long-does-food-poisoning-l.html

La Creuset chicken feeders, perhaps? Williams-Sonoma High-End DIY Line

A timeline of American food trends: http://www.foodtimeline.org/fooddecades.html

These, and more linkages, are from the Root Simple twitter feed.

The Secret to Japanese Cooking: Dashi

Bonito flakes, available at any Japanese market.

We conclude our Japanese themed week with the sauce that’s sort of the unified field theory of Japanese cooking: dashi. It’s in everything from noodle dishes to sauces to miso soup and it cooks up in just minutes. Dashi contains two ingredients, kombu (a kind of kelp) and bonito (shaved, fermented fish flakes). It’s the backbone of Japanese cooking, but we think it’s gentle, savory character could adapt well to Western-style cooking if you use it as a substitute for vegetable stock.

Dashi only keeps a few days in the fridge, so the secret to using it regularly is to freeze half of every batch you make.

Next Friday we’ll post a recipe for vegetables simmered in dashi. This is a classic Japanese cooking technique, and we’ve become very fond of it as an alternative to our usual saute/steam/bake repertoire.

Sonoko Sakai, who taught the soba noodle class we described in an earlier post wrote an article on dashi complete with a detailed recipe.

As an aside, I’m really interested in any of you who have foraged your own edible seaweed–if that’s you, please leave a comment.

Introducing the Dehydrated Kimchi Chip

Our focus this week has been all things Japanese, but now we’re taking a detour to Korea…or at least to kimchi:

What would be the fermentation equivalent of finding a new planet in our solar system, cold fusion and a unified field theory all wrapped into one new discovery? That tasty snack breakthrough could very well be the dehydrated kimchi chip. Oghee Choe and Connie Choe-Harikul of Granny Choe’s Kimchi Co.’s just won the Good Food Day LA cabbage cooking contest with their kimchi chip over the weekend. I got to taste one of those kimchi chips and I can say that they deserved the award.

Why make a kimchi chip? In a press release Harikul says, “We always have loads of kimchi at home, on account of the family business, so we started dehydrating our original spicy kimchi to halt fermentation when a batch was about to turn overripe.”

How do you make kimchi chips at home? It’s simple, according to Harikul, “We use an American Harvest Snackmaster dehydrator that was given to us by a fellow Freecycler. Lay the kimchi out on two trays and dry it on high for 12 hours. Easy peasy.”

Harikul and Choe have some suggestions for cooking with kimchi on their website. And they were nice enough to give us a recipe for kimchi that we included in our book Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World.

A Japanese Themed Modular House

We continue our Japanese week at Root Simple with a nice modular house from an Oakland based company called Joinery Structures. From the Joinery Structures website:

RIKYU House is based on a grid layout system. While this system achieves a high level of efficiency and cost effectiveness for each project, it also offers the ability to customize each design to the client’s specific needs and desires.

The RIKYU House features recycled components and elegant details:

You provide the site and foundation and Joinery Structures fabricates and ships the building on a truck. If only more modular buildings looked like this!

Via Lloyd’s Blog.

How to Make Soba Noodles

Last month I took an amazing class with author and chef Sonoko Sakai on how to make soba noodles by hand. She’s a great teacher and I managed to make a halfway decent couple of servings of noodles during the class.

Like many Japanese arts, soba making has a series of very precise steps. The recipe itself is simple (just buckwheat flour and water), though you do have to pay close attention to the temperature and humidity in the room. While it takes a soba master years to master the craft, you can make decent soba at home. My first attempt a week after the class wasn”t perfect, but I have a feeling I’ll get better with a little more practice. And I plan on making a lot of soba this summer.

Made of buckwheat, soba is gluten free, though beginners start with some all purpose flour added in to make it easier to roll out. Sakai has a couple of soba recipes on her website. There’s a basic one here that includes a nice series of photos showing the steps you go through to roll it out and cut it. She also has a beautiful soba recipe using matcha here.

Buckwheat flour for making soba is available in any Japanese market. The authentic Japanese flour we used in class is priced like cocaine and is not sold in the US. The buckwheat flour sold in Japanese markets in the states is grown in the US and will work just fine.

In Japan soba is made with a couple of exotic tools. There’s a long and thin rolling pin with no handles. They have a martial arts vibe:

Image from Worldwide-soba–they sell a soba making kit.

I was able to improvise one of these at home with a dowel from Home Depot.

There’s also a very expensive soba knife used to slice the folded dough:

And a soba cutting guide:

I substituted a small cutting board in my own kitchen. And my commitment to soba is not at the $1,000 level yet so there’s no fancy soba knife in our kitchen. At home I was able to make do with a regular kitchen knife, my improvised rolling pin and my homebrew soba cutting board.

While this is one of those activities best learned in person, yes, there is a series of youtube videos you could use to figure out how to make soba at home:

And, I do urge you to give it a try. The noodles we made in class were may times better than store bought soba. And, once you get the basic moves down, soba is quick to make, healthy and tasty.

If you live here in Los Angeles you can sign up for the Los Angeles Bread Makers Meetup group–we’re going to ask Sonoko to repeat the soba class and do an udon class as well. You can also contact her through her website http://commongrains.com/ to find out if she’s doing a workshop near you.

Japanese Cat Baskets

omg that’s cute

Someone help me, I’m obsessed with Japanese cat baskets (稚座 or neko chigura).  Like all traditional Japanese crafts, they are functional and stunningly beautiful.

Mrs. Root Simple and I want to learn basket weaving just to make one of these things. Woven out of rice stalks, there are, thank you for asking, Youtube videos showing how they are made:

And, yes, you can watch cute videos showing their use–say goodbye to office productivity today!

According to Modern Cat (I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit I read that blog) these things aren’t available in the US, though you can admire this Japanese website that sells them. Guess we will have to make our own.

Note from Kelly:  Say we make one of these…100 hours and 1000 curses later, won’t our kitties promptly adopt their new 稚座 as a scratching post? The Japanese must have figured this out. Back to the  research!