Saturday, 28 February 2015

The spring has sprung - starting my herb garden

Here in Denmark the spring is slowly beginning. Winters are never very hard here but they tend to be grey and dreary. If you add to this the long winter nights (up to 14 hours!) you can imagine how it sometimes feels that spring will never come.

But now, at the end of February, it has finally come. The sun rises about 6:15, the birds go crazy every morning and the early spring flowers snowdrops, crocus and the yellow aconites are budding in our garden.

And all of this means, that it is slowly time to start working on my big plans for herb garden this season. I spent a lot of dark winter evenings browsing for ideas, inspirations and tips. Today, I put some of them to work.

I begin today with two ideas for seed starting. Both are DIY, ecological and upcyling which I really like - gardening on the cheap for the win!

Instead of expensive planting systems, I used the cardboard insides of toilet paper rolls cut in three parts and empty egg containers. I love the simple idea because these are common household byproducts, that virtually anyone has in their trash bin. So why not using them for something fun.

I actually have a mini glasshouse tray, I used previous years. But a plastic salad or mushroom containers, like the ones you can get in any supermarkets, will do the job equally well.

I planted basil, oregano, rosemary, spearmint and cress. I can't wait to see what happens next!

 And as I was planting the herbs, I thought of something, I didn't think about in a while. My grandparents lived in a flat on the 10th floor of a typical soviet-era block of flats. They never had a house or a garden, but they always planted plenty of flowers on their balcony. This was especially the realm of my grandfather. He had green fingers, if I've ever seen ones. The plants I remember best were his geraniums of all colors, that smelled in a very intriguing way. They crowded every windowsill of the apartment.

I also remember that he collected little yogurt containers to use for his seed sprouting. So, the internet resources for gardeners are not inventing anything new. They are just discovering the old, tried ways. This thought makes me feel good, connected in some way.

Other useful resources about planting seeds can be found here:
- Frugal Gardening Tips
- Hazel and Company: Egg Carton Greenhouses
- Just Joanna: 10 Best DIY Seed Starting Pins
- Treehugger: 7 DIY Seed Pots from Common Household Items for Starting Seeds Indoors 
- Garden Betty: The No-Brainer Guide to Starting Seeds Indoors

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Citrus chia jam

Disclaimer: this post is where my interests in DIY, nutrition and cooking meet, and in which I make my own recipe jam.'ve been warned.

A little while ago, I found this blog post from A Beautiful Mess and I immediately thought: "that, I have to try!" A vegan, simple to make, healthy option to compose exactly the jam to fit my particular tastes in the breakfast foods department - what's not to like? 

Chia seeds are the new (or maybe not sooooo new) black among nutrition nuts. According to countless online articles chia seeds have incredible health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to burning fat without your involvement. In fact, reading the articles, you could come to the conclusion that they are heaven-sent miracle-seeds. 

I am always a bit skeptical when a new super-food is discovered. And, as with many other nutritional miracles, chia seeds benefits have also been researched and found a little less overwhelming then many nutrition portals claim. Especially the weight loss theory seems to be a bit fishy. This website cites a medical study by Appalachian State University in North Carolina, that seems to disprove the miraculous theories. 

Regardless of whether you believe one side or another, everyone seems to agree that chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, fibers, Omega-3 fats, calcium, and magnesium, and have no cholesterol. They are especially recommended for vegans and vegetarians as a great source of proteins.

Even better, chia does not contain gluten but still becomes sticky when combined with water which makes it a great substitute for other grains in baking and cooking.   

It is exactly in this role that chia is used in the jam making. It helps to thicken the boiled fruits.

I am a sucker for strong, sour citrus jams but they are not very easy to get. Most stuff you buy in supermarkets is seriously candy-like and has way too many stabilizers, preservatives and color additives.

So you can understand why I was so excited, when I saw Elsie and Emma's idea for home-made jams. Inspiration came from them but I composed my own jam which I strongly encourage you to do as well. There are so many possibilities out there.

Here is my approximate recipe and the comments about the experiment:

  • 1 large orange  
  • 1 large lemon
  • Peel of the orange and lemon
  • 1,5 tablespoons of sugar (I only had white, but I think Muscovado or Demerera would have been even nicer)
  • seeds of half a vanilla been
  • 2 tablespoons of chia seeds
  • Peel orange and lemon and finely chop about 1/3 of the peels
  • Before you chop the orange and lemon, make sure to remove all of the white remnants of the peel and all of the seeds
  • Lightly caramelize the peels in all of the sugar. Make sure to use low heat, not to burn the sugar
  • Boil the citrus on medium heat, until they release their juices. As they boil, they will become relatively fluid and uniform
  • Add peels and boil for another 5-10 minutes, while continuously stirring
  • Then add chia seeds and stir over low heat until the jam thickens
  • Take off the heat, and let it cool down
Voila! The jam is ready. The jam came out almost perfect but it has a little bitter aftertaste. So if you are not a fan of sour or bitter tastes, you might want less peel and/or more sugar. 

The peel also makes the jam rather chunky, which I like but you might prefer to blend the fruits after boiling so the mixture is more uniform. 

I can also imagine using this jam with some good roast...maybe duck...

There is a wealth of recipes out there for chia seeds containing dishes, especially puddings and breakfast-y stuff (just check Instagram). But I am also thinking of making savory chutneys using the seeds - that could work pretty well.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

New Craft: Sewing

This particular craft adventure started for me because I was looking for sofa pillows for our new house. The ones I picked turned out to be "designer pillows" (is there such a thing?) and they costed 500 DKK (76 USD/50 GBP) each! 

It just didn't feel like an acceptable price for a pillow...

So instead I did some research and invested into this little beauty.

I had absolutely no previous experience with sewing. I didn't even know how to thread the needle on a machine. But surprisingly enough, with a little help from books, internet and my lovely husband (Danes have housework classes in primary school!) I was able to make the first trial project.

I didn't think I could make pillows I would be happy to display in my living room right of the bat.

Instead, I bought some discounted rough cotton fabric and made an envelope for my laptop. It took several tries to get the seams semi-straight but the final result was usable.

Encouraged by the experience, I bought the fabric I wanted and two pillows at the local haberdashery store and set out to do the job.

I picked out a simple envelope pattern from Sewing Machine Basics by Jane Bolsover - a book I can wholeheartedly recommend for beginners. A similar patterns can be found all over the internet. For example here or here.

One cozy evening later, two pillow envelopes were ready. The effect is visible on the photo below. They are not perfect. One is a little too big for the pillow and the other's seam is not perfectly straight if you look closely enough.

But they are proudly displayed on the sofa and another, bigger one in yellow, is in the plans.

Once I am done with the pillows, I am planning on making stuffed toys from my friend's babies. There are so many lovely patterns out there. Just look at this toothy little monster or these bunnies.

I am ashamed to admit I was all squeamish where sewing was concerned. I thought the initial investment was too substantial to risk for a craft I have never tried.

Luckily, I am pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get started. I wish I had started earlier. Come to think of it, a sewing intro class might have taught me the basics and rid me of my "fears". It is a very practical skill, everyone should have.

Nonetheless, I am very happy I have EVENTUALLY started and I am looking forward to making many more projects.