Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Friand, you're my friend... and actually a tart


 Imagine my best (worst?) Forrest Gump impression: "I ate some."

I had blackberries and a few plums that were about to go bad. Recipe-hunting led me to this blackberry-plum friand. After further research, I'm not sure this technically qualifies as a friand. 

There are friand tins for making these little almond teacakes. If you don't have the real friand molds, a muffin pan is the appropriate substitute. This recipe, however, results in one large product rather than individual servings. The difference is muffin vs. bread. Same ingredients, different baking dish. Friand-inspired, perhaps? Friand-flavored? I'll call it a...

Blackberry-Plum Friand Tart
3 plums, pitted and sliced
1 cup blackberries
3 Tbsp sugar
Juice of half a lime
a shake of cinnamon
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup almond flour
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
2 egg whites
1/3 cup butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a small bowl, stir the plums and blackberries with the sugar, lime juice, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, both flours, and salt. Whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add the egg whites and melted butter to the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.

Pour batter into a greased, 8- or 9-inch pie plate or other baking dish. Top with the fruit and its juices. Bake for 30 minutes, then cover with foil and bake another 10 minutes, until the cake is deep golden and the fruit is bubbling. 

Serves—honestly?—4, max.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Repair, Repurpose, Recycle your clothes

We all know (tell me we all know!) that we can donate our unwanted clothes to thrift stores and charities. We also realize (don't we?) that those stores can only resell our donated clothing if it's in decent condition. The clothes that don't fit us anymore, that aren't really our style anymore, that we never actually liked and never wore that much.

So, what do we do with the clothes that we've worn out beyond repair?

Why waste an entire knee sock when the
only part that's worn out is the heel?
It seems sacrilege to put a wad of textiles into the trash. Especially when many items, while no longer functional as a proper article of clothing, still have large swaths of usable fabric to spare.

Ever bent over and ripped your pants from butt seam to inner thigh? Yeah. That won't be a pretty mending job. No one is going to wear those pants again. But, despite that one nasty tear, I'll bet you the threads are in pristine condition elsewhere, like from the knee down to the hem.

I've often cut out and saved such remnants to use in craft projects, like turning old knee socks into awesome argyle arm warmers. For my first nephew's first Christmas, I made him a dog puppet out of sweat-pants scraps. He was named Scrappy, of course. The puppet, not the nephew. And, I made a fabric "busy book" for both sets of niblings entirely out of scrap material. (I need to post that.)

But there are only so many crafts to be made (and only so many crafty gifts you can give). No matter how many crafty people are out there, Americans are still adding more than 11 million tons of textiles to landfills each year. Another 2.5 million tons gets recycled.

Many of us are lucky enough to have a garbage pickup service that includes single-stream recycling, and we can throw all of our recyclables into one bin that gets picked up at our curb. But it's not really all the recyclables, is it? Paper, plastic, metal, and glass, yes. But what about cloth?

Notable local the late Greg Zanis knew what to do about cloth. Here he is saving cotton from the landfill -- and making money on it. 

When I was kid, my family saved aluminum cans for recycling. There was always a garbage bag next to the garage door, slowly, slowly collecting our crushed soda cans. When we finally had a couple of bags full, we took it to the local metal recycling center, where they would weigh it and pay us a few bucks. And then we'd go buy ice cream.

These days, I'm not that interested in letting recyclables accumulate in my garage until they reach a profitable volume. I just want to be rid of the stuff -- responsibly.

So, we're back to the question. What do we do with the clothes we can't donate?

I have not had an easy time navigating recycling search tools like those available from Earth911 or the Illinois EPA. The results come back with Goodwill stores that will take wearable clothing, not scrap fabric. I think you'll have better luck Googling things like "textile recycling in [state]" to find options in your area. That's how I found these:

Let's not forget the preferable order of waste management: 1. Reduce, 2. Reuse, 3. Recycle

Number 1 is just buying less. You can do it! I believe in you.

Number 2 is making what you have last longer, in its original form or otherwise. (Spending 200 years not really decomposing in a landfill is not the kind of lasting we're after.) For clothing, "reuse" covers donating your gently used duds so someone else can use them. It can also be interpreted a couple of other ways... also starting with R! 

Repair. Small rip? Popped button? Learn how to mend your own clothes, or just pay the few bucks most dry cleaners charge to do it for you.

Repurpose. Get your craft on! Or use old t-shirts as cleaning rags. Or braid strips of old jeans into a tug rope for your dog. Save for next Halloween's zombie costume.

Only after exhausting options 1 and 2 do we fall back on number 3. Recycling; i.e., processing the clothes into textile fibers to be made into something new.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Persimmons, Pears, and Lavender


Unless you've spent significant time in the lower midwest, you may only know persimmons as an Asian fruit that grow in California or occasionally show up at specialty markets, but a variety also grows wild in the U.S. I'll qualify that further and say, in the southern midwest. I can attest to wild persimmons in the greater St. Louis area, but I have never noticed any in northern Illinois. I'm not saying they're not here, but I can't say they are here. 

As a kid, I would find the occasional persimmon tree just galavanting through the woods. (I was galavanting; the tree was rooted in its place.) I remember plucking a bright orange persimmon from a tree in my cousin's backyard and biting into it. Beware biting into the unripe persimmon. The Missouri Department of Conservation's Discover Nature Notes blog warns that the fruit is "notoriously astringent" if eaten unripe. 

That an underrripe persimmon will make you pucker is an understatement. 

It will turn your gums to cotton. 

For a while.

How to tell if a wild persimmon is ripe enough? Squishiness. "Water balloon" is the tactile description I've seen online. If a tomato felt like this, you'd say it was rotting. The persimmon, however, is perfect. 

That said, forget any persimmon recipes you find that call for sliced persimmon (unless you've found fuyu persimmons at a market—those are the variety that can be eaten firm). Your wild midwestern persimmons need to be mushy-ripe, and so you'll use them as mush.

Slice off the top of each persimmon and just rip it open.
Pick out its 5 or so pumpkin-seed-sized seeds.

I made a persimmon-pear tart with lavender yogurt. combining a few different recipes. Let's see if I can remember the adaptation -- and before I do, let me make one adjustment already: I originally spread the sugar-and-spiced persimmon pulp over the top of the pears before baking, which turned out OK, but if I make this again, I will instead cook the persimmon pulp a little bit into a jelly and wait to spread it on after baking. I believe this will leave you with more of the persimmon flavor, plus a lovely glossy finish.

Persimmon-Pear Tart Recipe

Preheat your oven to 350. Butter a 9-inch pie pan or, for fancier presentation, a fluted tart pan with removable bottom.

Prepare the fruit:

2 pears, cored and sliced
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
1 tablespoon sugar, divided
5 persimmons (this is just the number of ripe ones I had ready, you could adapt)
Cinnamon (maybe 1/4 teaspoon)
Ground ginger (maybe 1/8 teaspoon)
Nutmeg (maybe 1/8 teaspoon)

Toss the pear slices with a little lemon juice and sugar. I did this right on the cutting board. Feel free to use a small bowl.

Slice off the tops from the persimmons and open them up. Squeeze or scoop out the pulp into a small bowl, and discard the skin. Remove large seeds from the pulp. Sprinkle on a little lemon juice, a little sugar, and the cinnamon and ginger. Stir to mush and mix.

Make the crust:

1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup sifted flour (or gently spoon and level)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Process almonds and sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Add the butter, egg, and almond extract and blend until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and pulse a few times until just combined into a soft dough.

Assemble the tart:

Press the dough into the bottom of the tart pan. Arranged the pear slices over the dough, and gently press them in (just a little bit!).

Bake the tart about 50 minutes, until pears are tender and dough's center is cooked through. 

Make the persimmon glaze:

This part is untested as of yet, as I originally spread the prepared persimmon pulp over the pears before baking. Instead, I suggest while the tart is baking, you put the persimmon pulp, along with its sugar, spices, and lemon juice, into a small pot, to cook it into a jelly-like glaze. Add a little water if necessary, so it's spreadable.

When the tart comes out of the oven, while still warm, spread the persimmon glaze over the top.

Optional Garnish (a.k.a. enhancement): Lavender Yogurt

First, make lavender syrup:

You'll need equal parts water and sugar (I did 1/4 cup each for a small batch)
A few stems of fresh lavender
Plain or vanilla yogurt (I used about 1 cup)

Mix water and sugar in a pot and boil together until reduced by one third. Remove from heat and add a few stems of fresh lavender. Allow to steep for 40 minutes, then strain (or do your best to pick out all but the smallest bits of lavender).

Blend the syrup, a teaspoon at a time, into the yogurt. Taste. Add more syrup if you like, and mix well. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

Leftover lavender syrup is good on pancakes or fruit, or to sweeten tea or lemonade. It will eventually crystalize, but you can gently heat and add a little more water to re-liquify it. We stored ours in the fridge for a few days before it was used up.


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Thank Heavens for Little Scraps


Last Thursday morning, just about 12 hours before we'd arrive at church to record music for Sunday's YouTube service, the Covid-19 protocol email went out. In it: singers required to wear masks.

I said earlier, this year's most popular improvisation sewing project is likely face masks. And, I said I'd probably make more. So shall it be.

Have you tried singing while wearing an ordinary face mask? Even if you can keep the darn thing from sliding off your nose, your enunciation is quite impeded. Hence, the singer's mask, a style that stays put and allows for robust range of oral movement. 

This project was not so improvisational, as I did indeed print and follow a pattern, but it was impromptu. Thanks to my good stock of leftover fabric and other scraps (elastic, twist-ties) and a few free hours, I made two singers' masks in time for the evening recording schedule. I used brown cloth, so I think we look like we're wearing dog snouts. Was this close to adding a black nose and pink tongue -- I have the pieces of felt! 

I won't go into the step-by-step here, because the video I followed does it better. Many thanks to SopranoJoan's skillful tutorial, here.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Cold-weather clothesline


Every time I pin laundry to the clothesline, I think of my mom. 

While I have memories of the T-posts in my childhood backyard, I more often recall my mom's stories of earlier times. How the more experienced neighbors in Texas surveyed the sky and told newlywed her that she had just enough time for the laundry to dry before the storm on the horizon rolled in. How she'd carry baby me in the basket with the laundry. How I, as a sleepy toddler, would stand beneath the clothesline, clinging to my special naptime blanket. How the cloth diapers would freeze stiff on the line when she hung them out in winter, and she'd know they were dry when they finally started flapping free in the wind.

It's this wintertime laundry story I was thinking of when we hung clothes out yesterday morning. Snow had fallen two mornings in a row here, but the latest forecast was mostly sunny, high in the low 50s. It wasn't cold enough for the damp fabric to freeze, just cold enough in the morning to numb my fingers. 

A hot, sunny, windy day makes for the best line drying, of course. But the anecdotal evidence suggests line-drying is still possible in less-than-perfect conditions. On cool, cloudy days, I've learned to make adjustments, like pinning the shirts' sleeves out a bit so the armpit section gets full air circulation -- this is the part of the shirt that otherwise remains damp longest. If you don't have the heat or the sun, wind is even more important. And, you especially need time.

I got to wondering. At what point in the colder season does it stop being worth it to dry laundry outdoors?

Humidity is a key factor. A dry winter's day with plenty of sunshine and wind -- bundle up and get out there! Maybe I'll experiment by hanging just one towel in January to see how long it takes.

Your own comfort level is another factor. I can stand to brave a merely freezing day to keep from using the gas dryer. Maybe I'll wimp out when the temperature dips into the low 20s. 

Definitely I'll wimp out at sub-zero.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Scrap-Fabric Draft Stopper


The 110-year-old house has a 110-year-old front door, and it's super drafty! Time to get super crafty. Because sometimes weather-stripping just doesn't cut it.

I think it goes without saying, but here I am saying it anyway, that this year's most popular and practical sewing project is the face mask. Yes, I've made a couple, and I might make more. At this moment of dropping temperatures, however, energy efficiency is a priority. Cold air is rushing into the house through this gigantic gap under the front door.

Draft stoppers in their simplest form are tube-shaped beanbags or pillows, or even just a rug kicked up against the door. You can find DIY draft stoppers all over the internet. I browsed and decided to go for the two-sided, under-door type.

Even improvisational sewing
requires some planning.
My door is 36 inches wide, and 2 inches thick. My plan was an 8-inch-around tube for the interior side and a 5-inch-around tube for the exterior side, connected by a 2-inch flat strip under the door. All 36 inches long.

I came up with the tube sizes just making circles with my measuring tape and thinking, "Yes, that looks good."

Basic materials:
Heavy fabric (can stand up to wear and tear)
Fleece interfacing, batting, or similar for inner lining
Unpopped popcorn kernels 
General sewing notions

I pieced together some fabric scraps and planned to have the nice patterned fabric for the interior side of the door and the plain, utilitarian fabric (old khaki pants) for the exterior, so I had extra sewing to do, but this project could be made easier by using a single large rectangle of fabric.

About 18 inches across for the 8-inch tube, 5-inch tube,
2-inch middle strip (x2 because it will be folded),
and seam allowances.

Line the wrong side (what will be the inner side) of the fabric rectangle with fleece interfacing. 

Then, fold. For a single tube with traditionally neat seams, you'd fold in half wrong-side-out, stitch up all but one side, and flip it right-side-out for filling. Just like a very long, skinny beanbag.

For my double-sided version, I kept it right-side-out when I folded it, and I stitched three lines down the long length of the rectangle: 

One to sew the two loose edges together (shown as the middle here), 
one at 4 inches from the fold to sew off the 8-inch tube, 
and one 2.5 inches from the fold to sew off the 5-inch tube. 

The space left between the two tubes was the 2 inches for the flat middle section to slide under the door.

Then, at one end, I just folded an edge seam and stitched it there, visible but not too shabby. After filling the tubes, I sewed up the other end with the same simple fold.

Could you get away without the fleece interfacing? Yes. Just like you could choose to fill your tubes with pillow stuffing instead of popcorn kernels. But, I like the combination of the two. The fleece gives the fabric a little extra cushion and shape, and it helps fill some of the space inside the tube for a more balanced fill. You get the heavy sagginess of a beanbag, which is better for sinking into and filling the gap below the door, without it being so heavy and saggy it's hard to move. 

Carefully fill each tube with the unpopped popcorn kernels.

Now, if you noticed, I said earlier, "My plan was..." 

I tested my dual tubes before stitching up the open end. Slide the 2-inch, flat middle section under the door, with the larger, decorative tube on the interior, and the plain, smaller tube on the exterior side of the door where, when the door is closed, the tube will sit on the threshold between the wooden front door and storm door. In theory, the two-sided draft stopper provides extra draft stoppage and also moves with the door as it opened and closed. Well...

The threshold is considerably higher than the floor—one of the many modifications in the house's history to try to weatherproof that gap under the front door. The dang exterior tube wouldn't slide over it very easily. I could get the door shut, but not without carefully adjusting the draft stopper as I pushed. Not very user-friendly.

Ultimately, I emptied the popcorn from the smaller, exterior tube, leaving it as an extension of the flat section that slides under the door, which still helps fill the gap better than a simple, single-tubed version.



Thursday, October 15, 2020

Weekend Homesteader Ideas, October-December

More than two years later...

This is a continuation of my review of my weekend homesteading ideas and goals inspired by The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess and her and her husband's blog, "The Walden Effect." I hadn't looked at this list (or the website) in five years when I went back to it in, uh, early 2018 to see if I'd accidentally achieved any of these goals. 

Now it's late 2020. So many things have changed, while still so many remain the same, which is how it goes. We've just been doing, without the show-and-tell. We're in our new (but old, 110-year-old) homestead. From the pandemic's stay-at-home guidelines have sprouted a resurgence of homesteading practices, or at least attempts to practice them—I was amused by someone's reference to their dearly departed sourdough starter when asked if they had any pets.

I don't know that our own habits have notably changed, but since it's October, now is the perfect time to finish reviewing that idea list, where we left off at October through December. My original notes are in italics.

Quick hoops - look into. The mini greenhouse we made out of a double papasan frame with just a heavy plastic sheet and some staples is akin to these cold-weather tunnels for growing vegetables, but I have not been that attentive to the garden to make good use of it or to merit an actual hoop setup. I'll file this away under possible future idea that may never happen.

Storing vegetables on the shelf - look into. I just recently was remembering our first plot in the community garden, when we grew nothing but vining plants. That winter, we did store a bunch of butternut squash in our living room bookshelves. However, since then, we haven't grown enough of our own winter vegetables or found such a great deal on them to merit stocking up and storing up for winter in this way. We're still feeling out our capabilities in our new yard, though, so it could be a potential future goal.

Scavenging biomass - horse poo? Well, we did find a friend with a horse, and we hauled a couple of trunkfulls of horse manure from the barn to our community garden plot. Only for two seasons, and then we stopped community gardening. We compost our own kitchen scraps, wood ash, fallen leaves, and vacuum contents (mostly pet fur). In our former home, I suppose you could call our raking and composting of leaves "scavenging," because the land technically belonged to the homeowners' association. We have also relieved our neighbors of their rotting jack-o'-lanterns for compost.

Apprenticeships - meh. We're not in college anymore. I rescind my "meh" here. Learning some skills hands-on would be fun. The idea of apprenticeship is that it's not a class you have to pay for, and it's not a job that pays you. I'm open to something resembling a temporary apprenticeship should an opportunity arise, but obviously, I'm not looking to grow a career from it.

Garden rotation - look into. I get the concept. I have not really had the garden space or commitment to putting the concept into practice. I'll reiterate that we're still exploring what we can (and want to) do with our space now, so I'll keep this on the goal shelf.

Roast a chicken - sure
. Done, done, and done a hundred more times. OK, maybe just dozens of times. And roast a turkey—done that. And used the carcass to make broth. And been teased about using the word "carcass."

Storing drinking water - hm. This is an emergency preparedness habit we have not yet adopted. I imagine us storing some jugs and forgetting about them, and then when the emergency happens, they're all old and gross. It needs to be an active rotation. While I continue to half-heartedly measure my interest level in such an effort, I'll keep in mind we have a water filtration kit among our camping supplies.

Diversify your income - hm. Considering that our moderate homesteading comprises more hobbies and money-saving lifestyle choices and not so much our livelihood, we aren't facing risks like "What if the chickens don't lay enough eggs?" Our uh-oh scenarios would be losing a job or facing a disastrous expense like major health or property issues. While some people are ambitious and enthusiastic about finding additional income streams via their hobbies, I don't quite like turning my hobbies into work. Instead, we'll save, save, save what we can from our day jobs and maybe look at alternative income sources as retirement supplement should we be so lucky to retire with our health and other assets intact.

Plant a fruit tree - hey, check! Yes! We planted those apple seeds, and they grew and grew and grew and produced their own apples. And then we moved. I took scions of our baby (not so baby anymore) trees, ordered dwarf rootstock, and tried grafting this spring. One of the four grafted trees remains, and I think it's dead. Sad. New goal: order some heirloom fruit trees such as a couple of apples for cidering (and eating) and a Queen Anne cherry tree like my grandma's.

Soup - um, sure. Make a delicious soup using in-season produce, check. Cold soups, hot soups, smooth soups, chunky soups. Check, check, check, check.

Essential tools - hm. While we haven't made a list of tools, we have slowly collected plenty over the years. Some new, some even found, many gifted hand-me-downs or bought used. And, with our recent move, we even culled our collection somewhat to the most-used, most-loved, and this-only-does-one-thing-once-a-year-but-it's-important. I'll expand this from lawn and home mainenace to include kitchen gadgets.

Stay warm without electricity - look into, even feasible in our situation? Further reading reveals that this is basically camping in your home. Can you stay warm and prepare food and do other essential activities if you lose power midwinter? The quick answer is, sure, for a short while. It's actually the preservation of the home in such a situation that is more concerning. Freezing pipes and all that. Two subgoals here for us: improving the energy efficiency of our new old house by repairing/restoring the original windows to their historical glory and replacing the storm windows with better ones that actually fit (next year?), and make a draft stopper for the interior front door (now). Some subgoals we've already achieved: Adding insulation to the attic, sealing gaps and cracks, improving the fit and weatherproofing of external doors.

And that's the list.