homemade lantern in the liquor cabinet, next to a task herbal + liquor infusion

From Foraging to Programming to Dinner Parties to Decorating … a DIY Retrospective

Note: This post was drafted and remained unpublished for a year. I decided to keep the original date even though it wasn’t published until January 17, 2015. I was probably waiting to edit it, so simply decided to skip that in the interest of moving on.

It’s odd timing that I should bury myself in botanical & herbal reference books and foraging & homesteading cookbooks in the dead of winter – or slightly sinister. As I cram myself full of knowledge, I’m not in a season where I can practice … and for me, that’s a risky way to invest my time. That is, I’m a kinesthetic learner who doesn’t retain much if it’s not in my muscle. On the other hand, give me something to do and I’ll nail it after one or only a few repetitions.

So I might be setting myself up for failure.

Luckily, there’s no better lesson than failure.

And I’m hoping that by taking winter to cram, I’ll be able to hit the ground running come Spring. (And with the Shamrock Run around the corner, that’s a double-win.) Since this is a self-directed endeavor, I’ll be using this space to track my lessons and progress – because even better than learning from failure is learning from someone else’s failures, right?

From Foraging to Programming to Cooking

Last October (my last public post), I stumbled on the joy of cooking quince and wanting for a better urbanedibles.org. Shortly after throwing my wish into the wild, a member of the urbanedibles group contacted me, showing interest and connecting me with the open source code. From there I spent a few weekends getting a mobile app together that let me upload pictures of my foraging finds from my phone and have them appear on a map. It was a great experience that I still hope to polish and share within the next few months, but I needed a break from the computer and found myself spending my spare time going on long walks, hikes and binge watching tv series.

Then a few things happened:

  • A holiday sale at the Independent Publishing Resource Center introduced me to the Kinfolk Table cookbook, which I nabbed on sale – as a Christmas gift.
  • I wandered into an art sale (after pulling over on my way home to gawk at some street art) featuring homemade elixirs. The apothocary mixed a fine cocktail, and I bought a few and began playing around with a new realm of cocktails, enjoying the seasonal comfort of medicinal and herbal hints. She mentioned a capstone at PSU and researching it led me to many other schools and programs – none of which were really suited for me. So I decided to craft my own (free) course.
  • I reconnected with an old friend who invited me to a dinner party at his house. I was hooked.
  • I talked my uncle into hosting a dinner party – that I’d plan the menu for & cook. We picked the weekend of the solstice. He then kept bugging me for a shopping list so I had to get going crafting a menu. I picked up Kinfolk Table and crafted a menu that came to receive rave reviews. It didn’t hurt to cook in a kitchen with 2 ovens and 6 burners.
  • I also talked some friends into hosting a solstice dinner (the next night) in honor of their recent move. The hostess, renown in the art world for her sculptures that reimagine furniture, bridging fantasy with function, inspired us with a most exquisite table setting and decor made of nature: cloth, glass, wood, pines… We all contributed dishes and mine came, once again, from the Kinfolk Table. They were a hit and the book became a totem of more dinners to come. I left it with the hostess, suggesting that she bring it to the next dinner so the next host/ess could enjoy it until the next dinner and so on.
  • I got sick over the Christmas holiday. The sickest I’d been in years. This immobilized me and got me reading.
  • I picked a new 30 Day Challenge: keep up with my own velocity. No procrastinating what I can do in 5-15 minutes, from dishes to laundry to mail. My first weekend in, I was loving it! It was like having a free weekend since I had no chores to-do-list taunting me. Or put another way: not finishing what I can’t finish without the “out” of not being able to not start anything.
  • I finally picked up the Good Life Lab, a book I’d picked up after a session at Barcamp in Portland earlier in the year. On the topic of wild harvesting and foraging, the author recommended Native American Food Plants. In the spirit of not spending money and contributing to community, I headed to the library. It was in the cookbook aisle. (They have cookbooks at the library!?! A lightbulb went on.) On my 3rd visit, I picked up DIY Delicious, with super simple, mix-and-match recipes and guidelines for preserving, fermenting, curing, cheese making, pasta making …
The dining room transformed into a living room.

The new living room.

The living room transformed into a dining room fit for 12.

The old living room is now a large dining room.

in the hallway hangs a lettering draft -- next i'll paint it directly onto the wall

Every dining room needs a fireplace.

Week One

This was the week I picked up Good Life Lab and went to the Library. A weekend adventure led me to some second hand stores with a friend where we stocked up on ‘essentials’ like a rope, ladder, oil lamp and wooden basket. Normally, these items would linger in my car or basement with dreams of getting cleaned, repurposed and used. With my recent momentum I spent the next day doing just that, including putting to use the last batch of junk I picked up while visiting some friends in Tacoma.

Inspirations, ideas and items on my radar:

  • An banking ledger app that requires you to enter purchases as you make them. No integrations, no mint.

Week Two

This week I was solely focused on the next weekend’s dinner party and a plan to double the size of my dining room by swapping it out for the living room. It was a long week with work and week night commitments, so I had a strict schedule including a few hours tucked away here and there for menu planning, food procuring and the re-arranging. To my surprise it was all a wild success. And thanks to my partner, we were able to keep up with our velocity and had everything cleaned up before bed.

Hearing that Faye’s foot hurt, I reread The Good Life Lab‘s story about aiding the healing of the author’s broken foot with some herbal wraps or poultices. We made a trip to the Portland Herb Shoppe for comfrey, where I picked up some Usnea so I could practice my identification skills the next time I’m out in the forest.  The wrap of vinegar, comfrey and sage reportedly felt good while it was on (we applied it 3 times), I’m not convinced it will have any long lasting effects. In the course of internet investigation on the topic, I discovered that folks predominantly use poultices for horses & that some report treatments marketed for horse care work on humans.

Despite the perceived successes, I faced some challenges which will end up being my next few projects.

  • Sauerkraut was not ready. While I started it 4 days before the dinner, I had to add some brine to keep the cabbage submerged and I think this added onto the overall fermentation clock. As of tonight, it’s looking good with no mold and an expected odor.
  • In preparing to start kombucha in the hopes of making vinegar (ala The Good Life Lab), I read that one should avoid using a spiced black tea (like Chai) and sugar substitutes. I’ve added both to this next week’s shopping list, so I won’t be starting kombucha until next weekend. And I have a gallon of semi-sweetened chai tea for drinking this week.
  • I picked up some brewer’s yeast in anticipation of starting on some Ginger Beer (ala DIY Delicious). I decided I needed to prioritize writing some of this down- so now need to start this before the yeast goes bad.

Inspirations, ideas and items on my radar:

  • I kept my receipts from last week’s procurement runs as I don’t want dinner party food to enter into my tracking of money spent on various ingredients & food for the home. An easy way to track project expenses without the overhead?

 

Observations

I wonder if I can keep up with my own velocity -and- get up early. No time soon.

My addictive personality works well when it’s well directed.

Spending a little time here and there on chores makes for a dream-like weekend where I feel like I suddenly have a million hours in my day – to make stuff and learn. So much better than the weekend becoming a time to recover from the week and catch up on as many chores as possible.

My 2013 30 Day Challenges all petered out after 3 weeks. If this is anything like the last 3, then this will be my last week. I think I need to be careful to pace myself to avoid that 3 week burnout — as I’d like to make it past 30 days for this one.

Edit: This ended up being my favorite challenge all year and one that I keep coming back to.