The Art of Memory

We need a term for superfluous smart phone trivia Googling. After all, with the vast archive of factoids on the interwebs who needs to remember anything anymore? But what do we miss by externalizing all of our memories into an electronic form.  What about those bards of the past who could recite thousands of lines of poetry, or the Greek rhetoricians who could speak for hours at a time without notes? Thankfully the basics of the lost art of mem...

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Our New Earth Oven and How We Built It

The almost completed horno–waiting for its final plaster coat in a few weeks. Kurt Gardella and Ben Loescher taught an amazing earth oven workshop at our house this weekend. Keep your eye out for classes these guys offer if you are interested in earth ovens, adobe houses or earth plasters and finishes. Contact information is below. Here I thought I’d briefly describe the process with a few pictures. One of the nice things ab...

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Why You Should Have a Thermometer in Your Refrigerator/Freezer

While I’m tempted to buy lots of kitchen gadgets (a male disease, I think), I know that to do so with a kitchen as small as ours is a foolish and costly pastime. One gadget that I picked up recently, however, has proven very useful: a refrigerator/freezer thermometer. Freezers should be kept at 0ºF (-18ºC). At that temperature most frozen foods will keep for a year. The refrigerator should be below 40ºF (4.5ºC). (Source: Food Safety Advis...

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The Cat Poop Portal: Litter Box Composting, Installment #1

...method we’re going to try. We’re just going to do straight up, classic composting, Humanure Handbook style. The only difference between this style and ordinary composting is that we’ll let this compost rest for two years before we spread it, to be sure the bad beasties die off. And in case they aren’t gone, we won’t spread the finished compost around edible plants. No, this is not orthodox practice. It is not consid...

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Processing and Winnowing Flax

We grew a five foot circle of flax this winter in the center of our yard. When it came time to harvest said flax I pondered creating the world’s smallest piece of linen. Lacking the time for that process, I opted to simply harvest the seeds. I used a block of coconut coir to smash the seed heads against a piece of newspaper. Next came time for winnowing the flax. I used a fan and had to winnow multiple times to get the chaff out. Alas,...

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Failed Experiment: Bermuda Buttercup or Sour Grass (Oxalis pes-caprae) as Dye

...ow to a sort of acid green, depending on which additional mordants you might use. Used straight, it was supposed to yield a very pale yellow. So I thought, why not play with it and see what happens? My only information source for this project was The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr. This, also, was a mistake. I usually use more sources when I start a project, but I felt lazy. I don’t know if this is a flawed book or not–...

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Natural Dyeing with Woad

ent times. Woad was prized by Napoleon and used to dye his army’s uniforms. At one time, the production of woad was the cornerstone of the economy of the south of France. Indigo on the left. Woad on the right. To formulate the dye, the plant was cultivated and the leaves picked in the first year. The leaves are crushed and, originally, left to ferment in a vat for over a year. The pH of the vat was maintained with the urine of the...

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What’s the dirt on soap nuts?

know that, too! I’m wondering where they sit in the general public awareness. Soap nuts are saponin-rich fruits, usually of a tree called Sapindus mukorossi (though all Sapindus make soaping fruits), which can be used for laundry and other cleaning purposes. They’re usually sold only lightly processed: seeded and dried. A handful of these dried fruits, which look somewhat like small dates, are put into a cloth sack and thrown in wit...

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How to Make Amazake

...food stores thanks to the same generation of hippies who brought tofu to the flyover states back in the 1960s. Or you can make it yourself and save some dead presidents. Here’s how: 1. Get your Aspergillus orzae in the form of inoculated rice grains called koji. We found our koji in the refrigeration cabinet of our local Japanese supermarket. Koji can also be found at some health food stores or you can mail order it from G.E.M cultures. We...

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Citified Parched Corn

Dried corn on the left, parched corn with peas and blueberries on right I was thinking about trail food, and wishing for a portable snack which was not based on nuts and chocolate chips (though there’s nothing wrong with that!) or too sugary, like dried fruit or energy bars. Then I recalled parched corn. Parched corn–dried corn which has been roasted–is one of those legendary Native American foods, like pemmican, which you hear...

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