36) Sustainability Sundays

Well, we had Sourdough Sundays for quite a while, but I'm not baking every single week right now, and there's a limit to the amount of experimentation I'm doing in my regular loaf.  So, inspired by Leigh, I'm introducing 'sustainability Sundays'.  She's been participating in Sharon Astyk's Independence Days challenge, which is all about freeing people from their dependence on the Agribusiness Empires – and, I think, the tyrrany of supermarkets, processed food and other allied evils.  There are seven areas to report on, weekly, and I've wanted to join in – but, perversely, have been dissuaded by the name of the challenge.  So I'm reframing it as my own Sustainability Sundays log, and will try and keep this one up for more than a few weeks.  So, this week I have:

1. Plant Something –

  • soy beans
  • transplant melons, squash and cucumbers
  • Start mushroom kit

2. Harvest something –

  • salad greens
  • beetroots (overwintered)

Preserve something

  • Excess milk made into yoghurt

Waste Not
(reducing wastage in all areas)

  • Made soup from chicken carcasses and stock from pork ribs
  • Saving kitchen water for the garden/indoor plants
  • Composting kitchen waste

5. Want Not (preparing for shortage situations)

  • can't think of anything here!

Build Community Food Systems

  • Blogging about it
  • Sharing homemade yogurt (and how easy it is!) at work

7. Eat the Food ā€“

  • Yoghurt on my breakfast
  • Yoghurt cheesecake (a massive success!)
  • Beet greens in quiche

That's it for now – I want to expound on the topics in more detail, but for now, I just want to get this posted!  Happy Sunday!

35) Lazy blogger accepts award

Yet again, the blog has been falling by the wayside.  If I'm stressed, or struggling to keep up, communications of all sorts are always the first to go.  I have a few blog posts lined up; I'll try and spread them out a bit this time!

But first – see what Leigh awarded me!


Of course, I'm delighted to accept.  It's a lovely bit of sunshine to cheer up a grey day!  Not that we've had so many of those round here, recently; we've been basking in an unseasonable heatwave over the last week, which has had the garden sprouting forth in great abundance (though a fair few plants have decided to bolt.  Oh, well.)

Part of accepting this award is answering a few questions:

1. What would your perfect day consist of?
Oooh.  I think it's a sunny day in late spring, when the sun is warm but the air is still cool, and the earth is coming back to life.  A lazy, tasty breakfast.  Eggs Florentine with smoked salmon on the side, perhaps.  Some form of activity – gardening, walking, swimming in the sea (though that's for the hottest of summer) – in the morning, followed by a delicious lunch with friends – bread, cheese, ham, maybe a glass of wine if I'm feeling indulgent.  Sitting and relaxing in the garden all afternoon – spinning, knitting, weaving, sewing – I don't mind!  Dinner – maybe pasta with pesto? or seafood? – a glass or two of good wine, and then off to bed in fresh, cool linens, not too late.  The overriding theme of the day is no pressure.  Other themes are great food, great company and creative fulfillment.

2. How would you describe yourself if you were an
item of clothing?

A crisp, white linen shirt.  Understated, versatile, just a bit different from plain ol' cotton.  Works well in formal or casual circumstances, and is a true year-round garment. šŸ˜‰

3. What hobbies are you currently
working on?

Spinning the blue silk is currently demanding my time, and I would love to finish J's quilt this weekend, so those are the two main craft-hobbies right now.  The garden is another one, though I also see that as part of housework/my commitment to an environmentally relatively low-impact lifestyle.  Weaving and clothes sewing are currently 'neglected hobbies'.

4. Walking in the woods in wellies
or barefoot on the beach?

Either!  Though my wellies give me blisters, so I'll stick to walking boots, thanks.

Have you ever hugged or sang to a tree?

No, but I quite often stroke the trunks of trees as I pass, or put out a hand to brush the leaves.

6. Growing your own
veggies or nipping to the supermarket.

Grow my own!  I hate going to the supermarket, and I love being more self-reliant.

Have you found anyone exciting in your family tree?

If by 'exciting' you mean 'dramatic' or 'historic', I haven't honestly looked.  I am very proud/fond of my farming heritage, and my paternal aunt recently found a very cool interview with a lady from that side of the family.  I'll have to see if I can upload it somewhere; it's in broad Yorkshire, and you will get a medal if you understand it.

8. Slap up meal in a
posh restaurant or fish ā€˜nā€™ chips from the wrapper?

I'm not a great fan of fish and chips, especially since cod is so badly overfished and haddock isn't much better.  I can get very excited about a really good meal, but it doesn't have to be 'posh' to qualify…

9. Which element do you most resonate with, Earth,
Wind, Fire or Water?

I believe everyone embodies attributes of all four, albeit in different balances.  When I was growing up, I would have said Fire, but now I think I would have to go with an earth/water duality.  I see myself as practical and grounded and nurturing (earth), but also quick moving, versatile and somewhat mercurial (water).  Interestingly, I also identify with otters as a totem; in Medieval times, they were considered special because they seemed equally at home in two realms – Earth and Water.

10. Do you believe in

No, not as such.  I have a sort of eclectic/pagan set of beliefs, and I could say I believe in my interpretation of the Shinto Kami or the Roman genius loci – a sort of spirit or essence of a place or thing.  To me, that doesn't imply a consciousness.  Let's say that I feel that there is a kind of divinity in all places and all things – and so all places and things are deserving of honour and respect.  But that's not quite it, either.

Passing it on!
Oh, dear, this bit is more difficult.  I would love to see answers from:

Of course, there is absolutely no requirement that anyone responds to this.  I always feel guilty about 'putting pressure' on people, which is why I so often tie myself into a funk over passing things like this on.  Having said that – the person most likely to respond?  Kateepie!  Least?  I'm gonna have to go with Jack on this one.  But hey – life is good, eh?

34) Spinning the blue silk

At the start of yesterday evening (no, I am not always a neat, even bobbin-filler):


After about an hour and a half of spinning:


I've already filled one bobbin with the singles for this project; I'm aiming for a two-ply heavy laceweight/light fingering weight.  I'm probably about half way through the second bobbin, so I'd estimate there are 3-4 hours more spinning left.

This is a 125g silk brick I bought at Textiles In Focus.  The colours grabbed me from across the room and simply would not let go!  Now I come to spin it, though, I'm not sure I'm enjoying it all that much.  The producer of these bricks doesn't really expect them to be spun, I think.  His wife makes stunning costumes involving a variety of felting and surface embellishing techniques, and although some sections of this stuff spin beautifully, others are matted and very difficult to draft.  It's quite a workout for the hands and forearms!

I wanted a very smooth, sleek yarn, but I'm having to temper my desires with realisation.  You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and nor can you spin a lumpy prep into a smooth yarn.  I considered carding or combing some of this to smooth it out, but decided that would probably blend the colours more than I want.  I'd rather keep the colours distinct, and have some slubs.  So, I'm trying to let go of my perfectionistic tendencies and let the fibre be what it wishes.  With any luck, it will have a 'charmingly handspun' quality, rather than a 'yucky mess', but I'm finding it difficult to have pride in this project right now.  I want to do better!!

Anwyay, here's what's left of my brick after last nights' efforts:


It's stunning stuff, isn't it?  I just wish it wasn't such hard work!  Oh, it turns my fingers blue when I spin it, too.  šŸ™

It's probably pretty clear that I'm very ambivalent about this fibre.  The problem, if such it be, is that I have another brick in my stash.  I'd been planning to spin it for weaving into a stole, but I don't know if I'm enjoying this enough to actually embark on another project with the stuff.  The slubs I'm getting in the singles would be a problem for warp yarns, so I'd have to be more careful, and progress would be very. very. slow.  Then again, I'm not sure that the stickiness is actually a property of the fibre, or whether it's been caused by this very intense dye job.  The other brick I have is much, much paler; a soft grey with hints of pink/green/purple.  Think mother-of-pearl.  Again, it's gorgeous, but I'm all about fun in my hobbies, and if I'm not going to enjoy spinning it, I might as well destash it.

I suppose all I can do is finish this up, see how it comes out, and sample the grey to see if it's the same texture.  Hmm…

33) The little things

Last Wednesday, I discovered that the anthers of
hawthorn blossoms are pink when the
flowers open, and end up dark brown, and
much smaller. I am guessing that the
pink bit is actually the pollen:



Such a little discovery, but it made me smile for the rest of the day (which was quite an accomplishment, because I was tired and hung over).  It still pleases me now.

32) J’s quilt

I was quite horrified, yesterday, to realise I hadn't ever –ever!– blogged about J's quilt.  OK, it's been on my goal list for the last couple of months, but I've never really talked about it.  In fact, until now, I didn't even have a 'quilts' category on my blog.  Shocking.  (I also realised I didn't have a search tool on my blog.  That's now rectified, thankyou!)

Anyway, J's quilt has a theme, as has the only quilt that I've ever completed.  I love making things *for* people; I don't tend to have a pile of generic gift items.  If I give you a hand made gift, it means that I have made it for *you*, based on your personality, interests and tastes.  Anyway.  Theme.  Tastes.  Can you guess the theme here?


Yup, my other half is totally, completely and utterly addicted to the Evil Black Nectar.  The first time I found Coca-cola quilting fabric on eBay, I was probably slightly horrified.  Then amused.  Then – of course – inspired. 

It was remarkably easy to track down enough different fabrics to build a quilt top, though it is – predictably – rather red-dominated.  I was delighted to find the cyan-based fabric that I've used for the tiny squares; it just lifts the whole thing slightly.  I'm hoping to have just about enough of that stuff left to bind the quilt, but we'll see.

This is a pretty simple, big-piece quilt; as is so often the way, I decided to make it for his birthday (errm, around two years ago!), so I was in a hurry.  I finished the top for his birthday, and gave it to him.  With any luck, I can give him the finished quilt for his next birthday (at the end of this month).  This next photo was taken after almost all of the piecing was complete; it now has a black border about twice the width of the wider black strips all round:


It will be a nice size to top a double bed (it's lying on a double mattress in the above photo), or, since we don't have a double bed, for J to wrap around himself whilst watching telly or waiting for his home office to warm up in the winter.  Yesterday, I pinned the quilt to the (preshrunk) batting and the (prewashed) backing fabric, and now the quilting can begin.  I intend to use knots, this time; I hope it will be a quick and clean-looking way to finish a contemporary, graphic quilt.

Today's Top Tip: when assembling a quilt, it's handy to have a large, clean, hard floor.  Tape the backing fabric to the floor, then pin the batting to the backing.  Then, pin your quilt top to the other two layers.  I can't remember where I read this handy wee tip, but it's so much easier than trying to deal with three shifting, independently moving layers.

31) This one’s for Norma: yoghurt making

Is there any knitter out there who doesn't read Norma's blog?  If there is, there shouldn't be – she can always be relied upon for a great story, a fantastic sense of humour, top-rate photography, and a healthy dose of down-to-earth environmentalism.  So if you don't already read – go check her out! (Also, cute dog pictures).

Anyway, enough of the suck-up blogging.  Yoghurt!  This was my breakfast this morning, and boy was it delicious:


Actually, that was about half my breakfast.  I ate it, then went back for seconds.  That's homemade yoghurt, folks, and as thick, creamy, light and tasty as can be.  And it's all thanks to Norma, and her lavish praises for Custom Probiotics yoghurt starters.

Given that I'm a sucker for pretty much anything that ferments or does other magical, cauldron-y things on the kitchen worktop, I've had numerous flirtations with yoghurt making.  The usual UK approach is to use some supermarket-obtained 'live' yoghurt for a starter, and boy, I've had my share of nasty, pucker-up homemade yoghurt using that method.  The kind where you *know* it must be doing you good, because it sure isn't fun.

Most recently, I bought an Easi-Yo yoghurt maker a couple of years back, which is a very simple incubator system, complete with its own brand of powder-based mixes (just add water!).  The incubator itself is awesome, requiring boiling water to set up, then no further power to run, but I've never been too sure of the powdered mixes.  For a start, they're not much cheaper than the reasonably good, organic yoghurt I can buy in the supermarkets.  Secondly, I bet the food miles are horrendous (Easi-yo is an Aussie company).  Thirdly: can you say processed?  How much energy does it take to sterilise and dehydrate milk, even if nothing weird is added?  (I had a few of the 'mango flavoured drinking yoghurt' packages at one point.  They tasted nice, but …chemical.)  Then there's the packaging – plasticised foil, or foilised plastic, but anyway, about as stubborn as cockroaches and definitely not recyclable.

Oh, yeah – recyclable.  I'm trying my hardest to only buy things that come in recyclable packaging, but it's difficult.  My local council only recycles some kinds of plastic, which, as it happens, includes the kind that milk bottles are made of, but not the kind yoghurt tubs are made of.

So, when Norma started singing the praises of Custom Probiotics, I started thinking seriously about getting hold of some quality culture, and just using the milk we drink every day to make my own.  I have tried, hard, to source some from within the UK, but have failed miserably to find any that I really trust (hmm…).  And, you know, if Norma raves about something – I'm going to trust her.

Boy, I'm glad I did.  I'm so totally smitten.

30) March/April roundup and May goals

May!  Wow.  That means we're 1/3 of the way through the year; I can't believe how fast it is flying by!  This list has been in progress for two months now, so we should expect to see great progress, yes?  Well…

  1. Launch an online shop for Yarnscape.
    No, but I've found a software package and at least started putting it together.

  2. Finish J's quilt. 
    Not even slightly.  He's still bugging me about it, though less as the weather warms up.
  3. **Make significant progress on the maze

    Yes!!  In fact, it's off the loom and wet finished.  Expect a post on this…

  4. Experiment with knitting socks on my knitting machine.
    Nope, though I did buy yarn…
  5. Start a new spinning project
    Yes!  One of the silk bricks I've been collecting. Boy, they go a long way…

  6. Get the veg beds organised and fed/mulched as needed.

  7. Continue cultivating my exercise habit.
    Yes!  In fact, I think I've been overdoing it rather.

Wow, five out of seven!  I think, if I'd checked in a month ago, it would have been 3.5 out of seven, which isn't bad going.  So, what's up for May?

  1. *Launch an online shop for Yarnscape.
  2. *Finish J's quilt.
  3. Cast on another knitting (or crochet?) project – a garment.
  4. *Experiment with knitting socks on my knitting machine.
  5. Finish at least half of the blue silk
  6. Keep up with the planting/weeding schedule; this is a busy time of year in the garden!
  7. Plan and maybe warp my  handspun silk scarf project.
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