Make it from scratch – Zero Waste Wrapping “Paper”

Not only have we been invited to our first ever zero-waste birthday party, but I am hosting the Make it From Scratch Carnival next week, so I just had to come up with a way to make zero waste wrapping paper from scratch.

Now of course, if you want to, you could cut up old sheets, use recyclable paper, or buy some inexpensive fabric to use as zero waste wrapping, but I like to go overboard and wanted to be as zero waste as possible. So my zero waste wrapping “paper” is actually a recipe for dying play silks (yes, I know I’ve blogged about dying play silks and/or wool here, here and here) with all natural dye made from beets, water, and alum.

2 45 inch square undyed play silks
1 small bunch of bull’s blood or other red beets, greens removed
1 2 oz container of alum (you can buy this in bigger containers, which is cheaper, but I just had some grocery-store variety alum on hand from pickle-making last year)
1 large glass bowl
1 non-reactive spoon
1 grater (or food processor)

1. Put beets into a pot and cover completely with water.

2. Bring to a boil and boil 10 minutes or until soft.
3. While beets boil, pour some additional boiling water over the play silks in the glass bowl. This allows any residues to be rinsed away and wet silk takes on a more even color.

4. Grate beets and return them to the boiling water. Boil for an additional 30 minutes.

5. Add 2 ounces of alum to the dye and dissolve.
6. Run dye through a strainer and add strained dye to the glass bowl & play silks. Allow to sit 1 hour.

7. Rinse silks with cold water until water runs clear and hang to dry.

8. Wrap presents in silk and secure with a (reusable!) ribbon or tie silk itself into a bow, depending on the size of your package.
9. Compost the remaining beet pulp & dye, recycle your alum container, and that’s it, you’re zero waste!


Chicken Liver = Crack for Dogs

I received an email from EWG today about their new efforts in the realm of pet health. Their new web site, Pets for the Environment, is a resource for people looking to extend their environmentally-conscious purchases into the realm of supplies for the four-legged members of the family.

Along this line, I have recently gone a bit overboard on the “use the whole animal” maxim. No, I’m not plucking chickens to plump up my pillows, but I did stumble upon a use for the rather alarming parts that fall out of a whole chicken when an unsuspecting mostly vegetarian do-gooder first attempts to rinse the darned thing in the sink: home-made dog treats.

You see, we recently added a German Shorthair Pointer to our family. Durango is, as we like to say, long on legs and short on brains. However, he has proven in obedience class to be a discerning consumer of dog treats and has turned up his nose at even the trainer’s most “unctuous” (her word, not mine!) treat, which was some sort of beef sausage stuff that smelled truly vile. Dogs are easily motivated by things they really, really want (just watch our dog try to get a drink out of the kid’s water table or get a soda can off of a high table), so finding the perfect dog treat has been on my mind. Although he seems to like “Newman’s Own” treats well enough (especially if Lily feeds them to him), he doesn’t LUUUUURVE them, and that is what I am looking for in a dog treat.

Perhaps that is why, when I fished a chicken liver out of the stock I was making with a chicken carcass late last week, I decided to give it to Durango. The pup nearly vibrated with glee before gulping it down and proceeding to whine and beg until I basically gave him the whole darned thing (with a corner cut off for our lovable, but a little overly-“fluffy,” kitty, Mystic).

At last I had found the perfect treat! But what would the other pet owners think if I showed up for class with a treat bag filled with chicken livers. I myself find the things rather beautiful, if slimy, uncooked, and revoltingly pale and smelly once cooked.

So I called upon my buddy Google and realized that the “secret” that chicken liver is really dog speak for crack is not secret in the dog world. The recipes for liver dog treats abound and so I decided to purchase 2 pounds of chicken livers (for a total of $4) and try some out.

Liver Bait #2 – This is the easiest recipe I found with just two ingredients: liver & garlic powder. Simply coat the liver in garlic powder and bake for 10 minutes at 450, slice, and freeze. If you’re doing a whole liver, I’d recommend slicing first or else increasing the baking time.

Liver Dog Treats – I love my dog, but I have two little children, a part-time job, I volunteer a lot, and, oh yeah, I blog. So I don’t have time to be Betty Crocker. This recipe is fast (< 5 minutes to mix)–just put a pound of liver, an egg, 1.5 cups of flour (perhaps more depending on how juicy the liver is!), and 1/4 t of oregano and yeast (or garlic) in the food-processor, mix, and bake in a 9×9 for 30 minutes. I greased and floured the pan and I’m glad I did because these stuck a little bit and would have been worse if I hadn’t!
The dog absolutely loves these treats and the second recipe makes enough to fill about half of a gallon Ziploc with bite-sized treats. Guess I’ll have to leave that other pound of liver in the freezer until later…

Dying Wool with Natural Dyes

My son, Gabriel, started preschool this past year at a local home-based Waldorf preschool. Although I knew little about Waldorf at the time, I was drawn to the gentle teacher at the preschool and had a gut-feeling that she was the right person to be my son’s first official teacher. One of the great things about Waldorf, besides its adherence to principles of play-based and creative learning, is the use of natural materials in toys and crafts.

This fall, I felted some wool at the preschool into a “meteor ball” for Gabriel and started looking into the craft projects I might be able to do with the children with wool and other natural materials. We dyed play silks and Easter Eggs, and even tie-dyed some silk. But then some research into the types of dyes used in food coloring made me wonder whether this was really a substance I wanted in my kitchen or my children’s toys.

I found a Natural Dyes Seed Collection on Seeds of Change and decided to try to grow my own natural dyes this summer. Having a brand-new landscape gives me lots of extra bed space that I can use for this rather experimental project. So far, I have Hopi Red Dye Amaranth (burgundy dye) and marigolds (orange-yellow dye) started in the basement and a packet of Bull’s Blood beets (red dye) to put out this weekend. I also hope to round out my colors with Hopi Black Dye (purple dye) sunflowers, some saffron that I have kicking around from a large bulk purchase (and which I’ve already used successfully on play silks and Easter eggs).

When I found a local source of very inexpensive wool at the Boulder Farmer’s Market ($1 an ounce, and an ounce is a good-sized ball of wool!), I bought quite a bit and upped my research. I needed to know more about this process than what I found on the seed packets. Gabriel’s preschool teacher provided a book on natural dyes and although it focused on using brazilwood, cochineal, indigo and other dye materials not readily available here in Colorado, it did introduce me to the concept of mordants (to this point, I have only used vinegar to fix my colors in the cloth I have dyed) and went over the general process of dying (which is not unlike what I described when I posted about dying play silks with Kool-Aid). Mordants like alum, cream of tartar, and washing soda, help the dyes “bite” into the fabric. Natural dyes tend to be lighter and less intense than man-made dyes, so these mordants help intensify the color and make them more long-lived in the fabric.

Some additional dye plants I found in my reading include:

  • Black Walnut husks (brown dye that doesn’t require a mordant)
  • Yellow onion skins (orange dye)
  • Purple onion skins (green dye)
  • Cherries (red/pink dye)
  • Roses and Lavender, according to Pioneer Thinking, with a little mint and some lemon juice to activate the alkaloids can make both a brilliant pink dye and a very tasty pink lemonade.
  • Rose hips (red/pink)
  • Red cabbage (red/purple)
  • Dandelion flowers (yellow)
  • Hollyhocks (mauves, pinks, and rusts depending on flower color) – And according to, you can make paper from the Hollyhock stems. Sounds like a fun summer project with the kiddos!

This article on dying wool with natural plant dyes has information about how to prepare the dyes that I think would apply to other types of natural dye plants.

I’d also like to look into growing some of the more traditional dye plants like woad (blue) and madder (its roots made the dye used to make the British Army’s coats red!), since I have the time and inclination.

Have any of you tried a natural dye for a craft project? What did you use and how did it turn out?

Make it From Scratch – Yogurt

Although I’m not as yogurt-obsessed as Suzanne over at Live Active Cultures is, I am picky about my probiotic goodies and have been perfecting my low-maintenance (i.e. no fancy yogurt maker or complicated steps) yogurt recipe over the past six months or so. I think I’m ready to go prime-time with it, so here goes:


1/2 gallon 2% or whole milk (you could try this with skim or fat-free, but I haven’t!)
1/4 c plain yogurt (try Greek yogurt sometime for something fun and different!)


Heat milk over medium heat in a large soup pot. Stir occasionally to prevent the milk from scorching. Once the milk reaches a simmer, stir constantly until the volume is reduced by about a third, which takes about 30 minutes. Note that this step is not mandatory, but will give you a thicker, creamier yogurt. If you like your yogurt rather thin, just heat the yogurt to a simmer, simmer for a few minutes, and proceed. Remove milk from heat and transfer to a glass bowl with a lid. Let the milk cool until it’s around 120 degrees.

Yogurt-making is not an exact science, so I usually do this without a thermometer and just wait until I can stick my finger in the milk without yelping. When it reaches that warm, but not too hot stage, add the yogurt starter (which can be a quarter cup of leftover yogurt from the previous week’s batch once you’re making your own yogurt all the time–this stuff improves with age just like sourdough starter!) and put the lid on. Let it sit at room temperature for 8-12 hours or until set and then transfer to the fridge.

Note: If your house is really cool in the winter months, consider wrapping a towel around your glass bowl to keep it warm enough for the cultures to multiply. Likewise, I try to always make yogurt in the evening in the summers so that there is not a lot of direct sun warming the kitchen up too much.

I serve this either with home-made granola or with a spoonful of jam and the kids love it. It’s also great for smoothies, although because it lacks the stabilizers and other junk sometimes added to store-bought yogurt, it liquefies rather quickly in the blender. It will last about a week in the fridge, longer if your milk is really fresh.

But wait, you say, I’ve been paying $5 a tub for organic yogurt these past months or years, surely it can’t be this easy. It is this easy and even if you use organic yogurt for starter and organic milk for your base, this is seriously cheaper and takes less time that it would take you to run to the store to restock! And it doesn’t require disposable packaging, and it isn’t loaded with sugar, strange chemical stabilizers, or artificial flavors. Did I mention that it’s delicious?

View this week’s other fabulous “Make it From Scratch” carnival entries at Creatively Me!

Spring is Here – The Boulder Farmer’s Market is Back!

Some people may have mistakenly believed spring arrived here in Boulder county on the 20th of March, but for our family, it returned at 8am Saturday morning with the Boulder Farmer’s Market. For weeks I had been enviously reading blogs from the Bay area talking about the good eats available at their farmer’s markets, so I was more than ready to pack up my cloth bags and make the trip south to visit the market.

Despite the fact that we’re more than a month from the frost-free date here and still getting snows (snow predicted for tomorrow and most of the week, in fact) we were not disappointed! We came away with the following:

  • Mixed braising greens and a pound of arugula that we intend to make into pesto using a recipe sampled at the market.
  • A pound of fresh local Cranberry beans (a type of kidney bean). Finding a source of local beans was a requirement if we were going to undertake the 100-mile challenge (more about that later!), so we’re very excited to try these.
  • 5 pounds of local, fresh-milled whole wheat flour – another requirement for the 100 mile challenge.
  • Queso de Mano & a “Peak” from Haystack Mountain–oh how we’d missed our favorite two goat cheeses!
  • MouCo camembert
  • A bag of assorted mushrooms.
  • A big loaf of Udi Ciabatta, along with some assorted pastries for our breakfast…
  • Garlic (both edible and seed garlic–I can’t wait to plant it!)
  • Peach jam – Can you believe we finally ran out of jam after two years of eating what I canned in fall of 2006?

We had the cheese, bread, and jam as a cheese plate with some friends at dinner on Saturday night and it was a delicious way to round out the first real day of spring 🙂

Oh, and what’s all this about the 100 mile diet? Well, this is a grass-roots challenge to anyone who is interested in local food: can you source all of your food within 100 miles of your house. While some places with warmer climates might lend themselves to a more local diet, doing the 100 mile challenge in Colorado is going to require some work. So now that I’ve convinced Matt that we should try this (and trust me, it’s taken me months!), we’re going to research local vendors of what we consider staple goods over the next six months and hope to be eating and drinking 100% (or as close to that as possible) by this-coming fall. You can bet I’ll be posting more about our research and adventures here!

An Easter Experiment – Tie-Dye!


Last year, I posted about dying play silks with Kool-Aid. Yesterday, I tried something a little different: I used our leftover Easter Egg dye to tie-dye an extra play silk I had laying around. The result, pictured here, delighted the children and turned out better than I could have expected since I haven’t tie-dyed anything since I was about 10!

So first, the recipe for the Egg Dye…It’s pretty easy–just 1/2 t. of vegetable food coloring (you know, the kind you color icing with!), 1 T white vinegar, and 3/4 c boiling water. The eggs turned out gorgeous if I meastereggs.jpgay say so myself–even the brown ones!

Anyhow, it seemed a shame to waste all that dye after only doing a baker’s dozen eggs, so I raided my craft stash and pulled out a 45″ square of un-dyed silk and soaked it in boiling water while we ate dinner.

After dinner, I poured a mix of the lighter shades (yellow, pink, & peach) over the silk, which I’d wrung out gently, in a microwave safe bowl, covered with cling film, and microwaved for 2 minutes to set the dye. After a quick cold-water rinse, I tied knots in the silk and also wrapped rubber bands around gathers of the silk (the “tie” in tie-dying). Then I poured the darker dies (purple, blue, & green) over the silk, covered it, and microwaved for two more minutes. I was careful not to stir the silk too much in the darker dye so that the lighter color of the first dying wouldn’t be totally covered by the darker ones.

Another quick rinse and half an hour to hang-dry, and the silk is dyed and ready for play time. Gabriel’s really in to Super Heroes and pirates at the moment, so the silks double as cape and pirate bandana!

In other news, after we stayed up a bit late watching the Illusionist (which I highly recommend!) last night, the children decided to wake up at 6am to find their Easter eggs and I’m pretty sure Lily had consumed half a bag of Sun Drops (read “natural” M&Ms) by 6:30. Great start to the morning. Oh, and it snowed and is 20 degrees outside, so we’ve been cooped up all morning.

We’re really hoping it warms up soon so we can get the kids and the pup outside, or we might all go stir crazy. Happy Easter/Solstice/Spring/whatever!!!

Make it from Scratch! Baguettes

This week’s submission for StoptheRide‘s Make it from Scratch Carnival represents a recent triumph on something that’s been bothering me for quite some time. You see, I’ve had a nearly ten year love affair with the Williams-Sonoma Baguette recipe (see the online version here–mine, being older, omits the vital wheat gluten and for some unknown reason takes less than half the time of this recipe!). But the WS recipe calls for white flour and, although I could occasionally bake all-white-flour breads when it was just Matt & I, now that the children–the young, impressionable, Wonder-bread-free children–are eating what I bake, I’ve had to re-evaluate my beloved recipe.

Initial attempts to just go 100% whole wheat were, well, a disaster. The light texture, the chewy crust, and the amazing flavor were all compromised by just substituting one flour for another. I tried various proportions and adding wheat germ as well and none of them passed the Matt test (who, frankly, thinks I’m overly-militant about my whole grains!).

Tonight, I may have succeeded by the ingenious (if I may say so myself) addition of Rye flour to the mix. So here they are, baguettes for the 21st (crunchy) century:

1.5 c white flour (hey, I never said they were white-flour free!!!), plus more for dusting
1.5 c. rye flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp salt
1.5-2 c. warm water
1 egg white and a pinch of salt to glaze

If you have a bread machine, throw all the ingredients in, set it to “dough” and skip the next few steps…Mix the dry ingredients and then add warm water until the dough comes together but is not too wet. Knead for 10-15 minutes or until dough is elastic and smooth. Cover and rise in a warm location for about an hour or until doubled.

Bread machine users, please rejoin us now. Take out the risen dough and press down lightly. Divide dough into two and form each into a baguette by rolling dough briefly, folding it in thirds and then rolling into a rope about the size of your baguette pan (sorry folks, this recipe really does work better with baguette pans!). Place both loaves into the baguette pans and let them rest while your oven preheats to 425.

Make three diagonal slices in the top of each loaf and prepare the egg white. Brush on liberally. Add an oven-proof bowl of water to the oven (this really makes the crust nice and chewy!), add the baguettes, and cook 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve with lots of home made butter and enjoy!

Read the rest of the Make it from Scratch entries from this week and last week.

Make it from Scratch: Pizza Dough

From our house-warming party to family dinners, our pizza dough has consistently gotten rave reviews. So I decided it was time to share the recipe for all to enjoy as part of StopTheRide’s Make it from Scratch carnival! You can see the rest of this week’s entries here:

Pizza Dough (Recipe courtesy of the good folks at River Cafe in London)

Makes 2 large pizzas.

4 t dried yeast
125 ml water (1/2 cup)
150 g rye flour (about 2/3 cup)

250 ml warm water (1 cup)
2 T milk
4 T olive oil
1 T salt
500 g flour (about 3-4 cups)

Mix the ingredients for the sponge and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes to an hour. We’ve tried other flours and rye really does impart the best flavor and texture!

I then throw the sponge in the bread machine with the rest of the dough ingredients and process on the dough setting. If you don’t have a bread machine, you can mix, knead for 10-15 minutes, and leave covered in a warm place to rise for 2 hours. This dough is really good if you keep it in the fridge after rising over night and will get a mellow sourdough flavor to it the longer you let it sit.

We typically make one pizza for the four of us on Friday night, then throw the other half of the dough in the fridge for a quick dinner or lunch later in the week. It will keep up to a week if it’s tightly wrapped so that it won’t pick up fridge smells.

The dough should be fairly wet and will require an ample dusting of flour on the counter and on top of the dough before you roll it out. It’s best rolled thin (1 inch at the thickest, 1/2-1/4 inch is even better!). Some good topping combinations:

  • The Kids’ Choice – tomato sauce, mozarella cheese, black olives
  • Parents Preference – pesto, kalamata olives, herbed goat cheese
  • Veggie Meat Lovers – Boca Italian sausage, Quorn pieces, tomato sauce, black olives, mozarella
  • Three Cheese – Ricotta, mozarella, and provolone with pesto or tomato sauce

Pizza is pretty much sacred in this household, and this is really the best of all the dough recipes I’ve tried. Enjoy!

Make it from Scratch: Make your own compost!

I was hoping to start my own carnival of sorts with “Make Your Own Monday,” but it looks like the folks over at Stop the Ride have beaten me to it with their Make it from Scratch Carnival. So OK, I’ll play and cross-post at BlogHer 🙂

I’m starting with something that I’ve been doing for some time, which I know, strictly speaking, is not playing by the MIFS rules (sorry). But I’ve had a lot of questions recently about compost, about how to fertilize without chemicals, and I’ve seen a lot of comments posted on green blogs that indicate that people are confused and bewildered by trying to compost. So my first installment in the Make it from Scratch carnival is making your own dirt, i.e. composting!

What is compost?

Compost is, literally, fertile dirt. That is to say, not the barren gray top soil you’ll find on a building site or in a conventional farmer’s field. This is the good black stuff that smells sweet and makes nice little crumbly clumps. It contains the perfect balance of nutrients that your plants need to be healthy and that the microorganisms and beneficial insects like earth worms–key components of healthy soil–need to thrive.

You can make your own compost using common kitchen and yard wastes that would otherwise go in the landfill using a process Mother Nature has used to recycle things in the natural world since time began. Want a list of things you can put in the compost bin? Plantea lists 163 of them! Then you can use it in place of expensive mulches and chemical fertilizers. As a mulch, compost helps retain moisture and shade a plant’s roots. As a soil amendment, compost breaks up heavy clay soils, allowing more water and air to penetrate to the root zone of garden plants and, if added in high enough quantities over time to keep the organic matter of the garden soil at 4-5%, can provide sufficient nutrients for even nitrogen-hungry vegetable growth.

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It’s Like Butter, Baby!

OK, it’s not like butter, it is butter and we made it ourselves this morning! Thanks to the easy directions Crunchy Chicken provided on her cooking blog, were able to make butter from heavy whipping cream in about 20 minutes.

Although I bought the cream with the intention of making butter this weekend, I hadn’t planned on making it first thing this morning until we woke up and saw that it was 14 degrees outside. With the chances of us getting an early start on the yard work somewhere between slim and none, I put some Belgian waffle batter in to rise. Then I started thinking: the only thing better than home-made Belgian waffles is home-made Belgian waffles with home-made fresh butter.

So we grabbed an empty Mason jar, poured the cream in, and started shaking. It really is as easy as Crunchy Chicken’s directions say it is and in fact it took us only about 20 minutes of shaking (Matt devised a way of rolling it on the floor once the whey started separated that I’m pretty sure made it go faster!). Anyhow, you can absolutely make this in the mixer or food processor, but we wanted to make it by hand the first time to really see how the cream goes from whipped cream to butter so we’d know what to look for when we made it by machine later.

And the results are magically delicious. We added just a little bit of salt and we both agreed that this is the best butter that we’ve had since living in Europe, where the time from cow to toast is much smaller than it is here in the US.

This has gotten me thinking. One of my declared goals for 2008 is to cut down on processed foods. We’ve already been making yogurt for about the past 6 months, I’ve blogged about my mozzarella adventures, and last week I made granola good enough to permanently dispense with boxed cereal. Butter isn’t really a heavily-processed food, not when you compare it to what’s out there like Twinkies and Moon Pies, but it was so easy to make and so much better than the store-bought stuff, that I think I’m going to have to seriously consider adding it to the list of home-made goodness.

Oh, I’ve even added a category in honor of this new make-your-own kick! Who knows where this will lead?!?