Monday, April 25, 2011

Beet Red

I have been researching natural dyes to use in my soaps. Not an easy task since the lye ingredient necessary to turn the base oils into soap defies most attempts at color change and fragrance retention. But, what about beets? Would the dark, blood red, beetroot juice hold up enough in the chemical process to produce a blush-colored bar of soap?

I picked up some fresh beets (beautiful in their own right), cut them into cubes, boiled them in water, and then used the resulting beet juice in my soap recipe. Even as I poured the soap solution into the mold, I could tell that the color was no where near red, pink or even blush. If anyone is interested in an oddly tan-colored bar of soap that smells like Peony, let me know.

Even though beet juice proved a bust in my soap making test, I did discover that the nutrient-rich, root by-product still offers a wealth of promising health benefits. It has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve stamina, and even fight inflammation. There is evidence to support its effectiveness in increasing the number of cancer-destroying cells in the colon. And, perhaps most encouraging of all, is a recent Wake Forest research study that found that a daily dose of beet juice could promote brain health in older adults, potentially combating the progression of dementia.

I say, drink up!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Great Casting Call

This first weekend in April is an important time in my home-town hamlet of Roscoe, New York (a.k.a Trout Town USA). April 1st marks the official opening day of the fly fishing season and, much to the dismay of the trout and the delight of the town merchants, the weekend that ushers in a flurry of activities and visitors.

If you don't think this is serious business—read on. There is a lottery to determine who will throw the First Cast of the season at Junction Pool. There are local politicians in attendance and a celebrity guest caster (this year there were two: Best Supporting Actor Oscar Nominee for The Kids Are Alright, Mark Ruffalo, and jazz pianist and Grammy winner Laurence Hobgood). There are special activities at the Catskills Fly Fishing Center, from live demonstrations on fly tying to historical collections representing the best in the craft. And, if that isn't enough, there is the two-headed trout dinner at the Rockland House . . . an annual occurence since the 1940s.

Now, before you conjure up images of actual two-headed trout rising from the river or arranged with garnish on a dinner plate, the "two-headed" reference comes from a legend surrounding Junction Pool where the Beaverkill and Willowemoc rivers converge. The fable tells of a trout, the Beamoc, who, upon arriving at Junction Pool, was so torn by whether to swim up the Beaverkill or the Willowemoc that it sprouted two heads. Cut! End scene!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Decoupage Flashback

Anyone tackling a DIY project has to have a certain sense of confidence. You have to approach the project with a "can do" attitude and remain unwavering despite personal shortcomings, failed attempts and unpredictable outcomes.

That's the attitude I adopted when I decided to transform a derelict door cabinet that I found on the streets of New York City. The cabinet was in good shape with only one of the wood pulls damaged. It was designed with drawers on one side and a hanging rod on the other leading me to believe that it was probably intended for a child's nursery. But, the scale of the piece—and the need for concealed storage in my home office—made me see the piece in a brand new light.

I decided to paint the interior the raspberry color of my window trim and cover the outside of the cabinet with architectural blueprints; something that would complement the room's blue and white theme and counter the amazing "St. Antoine B951" foral, damask-patterned wallpaper from Farrow & Ball. I made multiple color copies of a single blueprint (photographing it in sections on 11" X 17" paper), purchased a couple of bottles of Royal Coat Decoupage Finish (1401 Clear) from A.C. Moore, and armed with a single edge razor, metal ruler and plastic wallpaper smoother, headed upstairs to give decoupage a try.

The decoupage process is pretty basic. Apply a light coat of decoupage finish to the backside of the material, lay it in place, let it set, and then re-coat it with more of the same finishing solution. Since I wanted the pattern to have some flow, I approached this project like a puzzle; making certain not to repeat the same patterns too close to one another—or too often, joining wall and dimension rules from page to page, and, essentially, turning the blueprints every which way to get the look and flow that I wanted. That's why you will see room titles—living room, kitchen, dining room, etc.—right side up, upside down and left and right-side facing. I was careful to match rules near door seams, too, to give it a more professional look.

I was very proud of my first attempt. My one faux pas was applying a clear "non yellowing" polyurethane finish to the piece for added protection. The finish has yellowed and, while I have been tempted to try to remove the finish, I am going to live with it!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Signs of Spring

Could spring really be around the corner? Apparently so. Due to a sudden burst of warm weather this week, including temperatures near 70 degrees on Friday, the transition from winter to spring has become visibly apparent. The ice dams that plagued my roof all winter are now a thing of the past. And, the near foot of snow that blanketed the ground just a week ago, has melted away to reveal a scattering of budding crocuses. I'm not retrieving the lawn furniture from the barn or firing up the grill just yet, but it is great to know that spring is finally here...on the calendar and at home in The Catskills.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chicks Galore

Today I visited the local Tractor Supply Co. store. It is something that I seem compelled to do on a somewhat regular basis. Since it is relatively close to ACE Hardware, The Dollar Store, and ShopRite--my other country haunts--it makes the visits that much more convenient and realistic.

With spring just a couple weeks away, the store has already replaced the snow shovels with rakes, hoes, and picks, swapped out the ice melts with seed and fertilizer, and shifted from heavy winter coats and snow boots to more seasonal attire. But, the surprise of my visit this weekend was discovering that "Chick Days are Here." F-I-N-A-L-L-Y!

That's right, from March 4th to May 5th you can pick up a chick or two in the store, or order enough online to fill a coop. Naturally I was drawn to the large galvanized metal stock tanks in the middle of the store where faint chirps signaled the location of Chick Central. And, sure enough, the tanks were filled with hundreds of little chickens, jostling each other for food and warmth. There were a variety of breeds to choose from; each one revealing detailed information on usage, egg production, egg size and color, whether they are best suited for free range or confined habitats, and their overall tolerance to heat and cold. I was amazed to learn that you could buy a chicken for under $2 (particularly given what I pay for a breast in the city).

Although I left the store as chick-free as I entered, I was compelled to go online to learn about the amazing breeds that are available through the Tractor Supply Co. The list is quite extensive. There's even a The Chicken Whisperer. No joke!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Ice Dam Commeth

Try as I might to combat the problem—the problem is real and serious. I'm talking ice dams.

Despite my diligence of using a snow rake to remove most of the accumulation, I am realizing that my house has a couple of strikes against it. First, it doesn't receive direct sunlight until mid morning and, with the short days, not enough to melt the ice significantly. Second, the temperatures have remained cold; below freezing at night and barely above during the day. Third, we continue to get snow. This week, we received about 5 more inches.

I was talking with my friend Nicole who suggested I use Calcium Chloride flakes, something she learned from This Old House. The procedure requires you to fill a knee-high sock with the flakes, tie the end with rope, and position it on the roof perpendicular to the ice ridge. The chemical helps to melt the snow and provide channels for the water to drain off the roof. Looks like I'll be shopping for Calcium Chloride and knee socks this week.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Step up to the Beauty Bar

As you know, I have been experimenting with a variety of soap recipes lately and made my first batch of Oatmeal and Honey soap this weekend. I found out that I could use the water from the cooked oats (known as oat milk) in the recipe as well as include ground uncooked oats into the mix. I also found out that adding honey—even small amounts—to the cold process soap-making process can raise the temperautre in the mold to "volcanic" proportions if not measured and monitored. So, I measured and monitored.

While I am starting to enjoy the process of making soaps, what I really love is capturing the images of the contents and process: the beauty of the uncooked oats and natural honey. . .the oat milk that I collected by straining cooked oats. . .and the resulting color, texture and scent of the traced mixture as I pour it into the mold.

The soap was probably the fastest curing batch that I've made so far. I am sure honey had something do with it, but I am finding that my skill at achieving better trace has resulted in faster curing times overall. I am just waiting for the soap bars (pictured below) to harden to see if the oatmeal and honey will prove to be a true and marketable "beauty bar". I'll let you know.