Friday, September 11, 2009

Bits and Pieces

Nothing major to report lately, but lots of minor things in the works.

The weather has turned autumnal. (Isn't autumnal a great word?) That means I'm in the mood to bake again, even though we still have quite a bit of bread in the freezer. I began a sourdough starter earlier this week, since room temperatures are now perfect for sourdough. Not long ago, Hank made me insane with jealousy over his fig "problem." This reminded me that there's a special fig-anise bread in the book Artisan Baking that I desperately want to try, but first I need this starter to be ready to leaven. I also hope to get a very large supply of sourdough English muffins made and stashed away before the real cold sets in. We don't keep our house warm enough for a sourdough starter to be too happy here over the winter. Instead of discarding the majority of the dough with each refresh of the starter-in-progress, I've been cooking it in a skillet and feeding it to the hens. They seem to like it.

Our DIY cold frame, with sprouts of beets, spinach, lettuce, carrots, Tuscan kale and even some all but invisible parsley and scallions. We'll have to thin three out of the four kale sprouts in the top center. This is my first foray into the square foot gardening method.

Seedlings are up in our first ever cold frame. This is encouraging to me at a time of year I typically find discouraging. I love sweater weather; really I do. I just think we ought to have another two or three weeks of proper summer here, especially since the spring was such a bust. We didn't get much of a tomato crop this year, and there are no second chances with the heat-loving plants in the area I live. The cold frame is helping to distract me with visions of fresh vegetables plucked from the clutches of winter. I now have a serious case of cold frame greed. I want more square footage under glass next year. I had expected the soil in our cold frame to settle more than it has by now. We may have only very short scallions and kale.

I have found a sewing mentor. She's even local, and isn't charging me anything, though I'll take her part of the sourdough starter when it's ready. So all of you who have despaired of me ever doing any damn thing about my sewing competence goal for this year may have cause for cautious optimism. I've decided to try replicating Julie's lovely cloth gift wraps, inspired by the Japanese art of furoshiki. I had a bit of a shock when it came to purchasing the fabric. There weren't any cheap $2.99-per-yard, made-in-China bolts at the Mennonite fabric store. These wraps that I had planned to deliver my holiday gifts in are probably going to price out close to what I'd like to be spending on the gifts proper. I'm trying to see the expense as part of a learning process as well as holiday gift making.

In other news, I've been feeding my hens the ripened berries of the eastern black nightshade plant. Who knew that a plant with such a minatory name could produce safe and tasty berries? But beware: the rest of the plant is toxic, and the unripened berries are toxic as well. The ripe ones? They taste an awful lot like tomatoes. But since a handful is all I can collect at one time from the volunteers around the garden, and since my new girls are so finicky about so many other things, I let them have these dark fruits they seem to love so much. Pretty, aren't they?

What's new at your place?


Daniel Carruthers said...

I know it's not very frugal - but I'm hoping my new coldframe from gabriel ash will bring me plenty years of supplies of fresh salads ! I went for the baby cold frame - you can see it on

Gourmet Candles Distributor said...

Love the cold frame and the berries look very rip as I am sure the hens are getting quite a treat!

Tree Hugging Mama said...

Will you reuse the fabric wrapping? If so then consider this one time outlay for years of future use. If not then I make the fabric wrapping part of the gift (i.e. a baby blanket, towel, shirt, etc).

Debbie said...

About 15-18 years ago I decided to make bags from fabric as paper was getting to expensive, and I always got stuck doing all the wrapping. I didn't do drawstrings, I just use elastic bands to wrap around the top and pull the fabric into a puff then tie some ribbon, or faux pearls or even other material I cut into strips. They take even longer to unwrap than paper presents. I reuse them year after year. You can even use plain broad cloth in your Xmas colours. Mine is burgundy, white, cream and pink. On a burgundy I use a white/gold bow or pink. Looks lovely under the tree

Lorna said...

I also prefer to use cloth for wrapping gifts. What a simple and lovely way to make a difference.

On another note, could you please tell me what/how you freeze your bread? I've tried double wrapping mine (in plastic), but it still turns out dry once it's been frozen :(

Shari said...

Your deadly nightshade berries look an lot like my garden huckleberries that I tried growing this year. Do you know if these are the same plant? My landlord that I rent from (and who loans me a patch in his garden) almost ripped them out because he thought they were nightshade. I know the garden huckleberry is in the nightshade family along with tomatoes and potatoes, etc.
Anyway, I haven't harvested any of the berries yet (although they do taste like tomato) because I read the berry needed to turn from shiny black to a more dull black to be considered ripe. Any other info you have would be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know nightshade berries were edible. Do you eat them, too?

Kate said...

Daniel, I think there are times to spend money, especially when the return on investment is a sure thing.

GCD, thanks. The girls do love them!

THM, I had planned to give some of wraps away as part of the gift. It was certainly my hope that they would be re-used for many years to come. But once they're given away, you can never be certain. I will keep at least two that I make and re-use them. So yes, there is some return there.

Debbie, those bags sound lovely. I will be looking for some sturdy ribbon that can be reused for these wraps.

Lorna, I wrap each loaf or half loaf up pretty well in plastic wrap and then put it inside a ziploc bag. The problem with most breads is that they shrink when they freeze, so that the plastic wrap comes loose. Wrapping it as tightly as possible and then bagging helps. But so does the fact that my chest freezer does not cycle. Standard frostless freezers cycle, which contributes to freezer burn on many items.

Shari and Anna, there are several types of nightshade, and some of them are indeed poisonous. I was pretty certain of my identification of this plant, and the guide I have said that the ripe berries are safe to eat. So yes, I did try them. They are eerily reminiscent of tomatoes, but not so good that I felt it was much sacrifice to give them to the hens. Huckleberries are not members of the nightshade family, though I agree that their berries are similar to these volunteers. Eastern black nightshade doesn't seem to get much above 18" while the huckleberry bush will reach 3 feet tall. Beyond that I would suggest you look for a good plant identification guide for your area at the library. And of course, NEVER eat anything you are at all uncertain about.

Allie said...

Try the thrift store for fabric.. I have had good luck there. Good luck with your sewing, I am sure you will enjoy it once you get past the frustrating, learning phase.

Cheryl Anderson (SwineInsanity) said...

Those look like my Sunberries and garden Huckleberries I bought from Seed Savers.... I ate them raw... The small ones were good.. The bigger ones were bitter...

Kate said...

Allie, thanks for the encouragement. Do you mean you find actual bolts of fabric at thrift stores? Or that you find clothing of which you repurpose the fabric?

Cheryl, they do look like the huckleberries I've seen pictures of. But I always got the impression that huckleberries were at least twice this size. Difficult to say though without seeing them in the flesh, as it were.