26 August 2007

Making Paper Part One

Some of the schools I’ve attended and several of the companies I've worked for don't recycle their paper. There must be a way to make use of this free resource. Rather than discarding, could I turn trash into profit?

There are many online resources that provide an explanation of how to turn used paper into new paper. I've listed the ones I used at the bottom of this post.

I began my papermaking journey by researching solely on the internet. Some websites merely detailed the process in writing. Others had pictures of the process.

A brief description of the process:
1. Tear up paper and put into a bucket to soak overnight.
2. Grind into pulp using a blender.
3. Pour pulp into a tub with more water.
4. Stir to ensure even distribution of pulp in tub.
5. Take a frame with mesh screening attached and dip into pulp water.
6. Let water drain from pulp and then gently transfer off of screen and onto wet cloth.
7. Add another wet cloth to the top of paper then lay paper-cloth-paper-cloth until you’ve got a good sized pile.
8. Next put the pile in between two boards and press out the water.
9. Allow water to drain overnight.
10. Remove paper from cloth and allow to air dry.
11. Dry paper will likely not have dried smooth, so once dry, further weight can be applied to straighten and smooth.

These were the tools that I would require.
Item Purpose
Mesh screening for capturing the pulp.
A frame for hold the mesh tight.
An extra frame for smooth edged paper.
Old paper 'cause you can't create something from nothing, and all that jazz.
A bucket to soak torn paper in.
A blender for breaking down the soaked paper into pulp.
A tub for suspending the pulp.
Cloth for putting the wet paper onto.
Two boards to press out the water.

I needed two picture frames.

I decided to make them. Simply purchasing them from a thrift shop would certainly have been simpler and have lead more immediately to the end product. However, if I made a picture frame, I'd learn about making frames as well as making paper.

Two projects in one. How could I resist?

How to make a picture frame.
You're going to need a saw. Don't have a saw? Some home improvement stores will cut wood to length for you. Of course if you're planning to make several frames of varying dimensions, or anticipate having a need for a saw in the future, you may be better off purchasing a saw. Possibly a cheap one. . .

So, I bought a cheap saw. The saw came attached to an angle guide. This was very useful as I tend to be unable to cut straight lines.

The directions I read for building a picture frame seemed pretty straightforward. (wikihow) So I didn't write down any of it before going to the hardware store. I managed to get nails, glue, saw with attached angle guide, sandpaper, and the wood. Once I began I realized another trip to the hardware store would be needed, as I'd neglected the stain. I also intended in the second trip to get a different sort of nail (u shaped) as the ones (wall panel) I was using weren't the best for the job. I did manage to get the stain, but forgot about the nails. And so made do with what I had gotten previously.

Frames are a challenge to clamp. Especially if you don't have a clamp. After I made the frames I came across asite selling corner clamps pretty cheaply. However before I found that site, I was looking at band clamps. It seemed like a straightforward concept. And one that I could implement at no cost. Just take a flexible belt and wrap it tightly around the perimeter of the frame. Then wait for the glue to dry. To my surprise it worked well.

The following day, on a whim, I visited the library and thought I'd look up paper making for kicks. I was astonished to find eight books on papermaking. Three of these were awesome enough to take home. One of them pointed out that a much simpler frame can be used. Old picture frames are nice if you happen to have them lying about. However if not, you can just take the wood cut to length without angles, add glue and screw them together on the ends. Apparently this will make a frame that is sufficiently sturdy. I'll try this next time.

Once the picture frames were made I stapled the screening to one of them. I'm just using porch screening. The cheapest the hardware store carried. I used staples from an office stapler.

Paper and Bucket
I've torn up paper from junk mail and placed into bucket with water.

The Blender
My blender recently died. I've been hesitant to purchase a new one. I was considering using a mortar and pestle when a workmate, who was heading back to India, kindly left me her blender. Thanks Vani! Problem solved.

I've cleared out a plastic tub of the right size for the project. It was designed for under the bed storage so it isn't too deep.

Cloth was easily attained from the scraps/remnants section of the local fabric store. I selected a few different types of fabrics, so I'll be able to see what effects they have upon the completed paper.

The two boards for pressing out water will be coming from an old press-board bookshelf I'm no longer using.

Resources Online papermaking resources
Papermaking- Government site
For Kids
Papermaking Supplies
Photo Guide

11 August 2007

You are So Smart.

I am humbled by the intelligence of others.

You are so smart. Your intelligence and potential for learning is limitless.

Stupid People
The few instances of true stupidity or lack of intelligence I have seen in life, have come from closed minds. A friend in high school had a grandmother the same age as my father. This woman looked as though she were 20 years older than my father. Her only activity was watching TV. That's it. TV.

I had a conversation with her. It wasn't memorable. She died about a year after I met her.

I've met a couple older women in much the same situation. Their kids grow up and leave. The husband dies. And then what? Perhaps TV is the easy option. They've been told their entire lives that their purpose is to raise their children and take care of their husband. Perhaps learning new things and enjoying life on their own simply doesn't occur to them.

As a precursor to making friends I like telling people that I make soap. I can always tell what sort of person I'm dealing with by their reaction.

  1. Most will say,'That's silly, you can buy soap in stores.'
  2. Some will say,'That's interesting, thanks for telling me in such detail, all about it.' (These folks will often back a way slowly in an attempt to escape my story telling grasp.)
  3. Some will say,'Neat, can I buy some?'
  4. A select few, will say, 'My god, I had no idea such things were possible. Please show me how!'

Group four will become friends. Group three will usually become my repeat customers. Group two are potential customers but usually only just so I'll leave them alone. Those of group one are essentially lost souls.

Those in group one often think of themselves as 'dumb'. People who think of themselves as 'dumb' make their thoughts reality. They do what any dumb person would do. Stop learning, stop thinking.

Smart People
I've had the opportunity to work with some truly remarkable individuals. They are awesome. They are always questioning always curious. I was surprised to learn that many of them barely have high school degrees.

I feel at times, as though, they with their lack of education have more curiosity and freedom of thought than I with my four year degree. As I was preparing this post Meredith sent me a blog entry from violentacres.com about how college turns you into cog ready for the corporate machine. Just like all your fellow cogs (um, students?).

Education or Stupification
As a young child you knew how to think. You were always puzzling things out. Why/how do birds fly? How fast/far can I run? Will the ball bounce if I drop it? Can gerbils swim?

We are all of us scientist from birth. Our instinct is to find out on our own. Catch the bird! Run till we drop! Drop the ball! Drown the gerbil!

In school we learn of many useful tools for experimentation. Scientific papers, statistical analysis, microscopes, periodic tables, equations, geometry, etcetera, etcetera. We also learn that nearly every question we had, has already been thought of. There are often even formula that describe their function. We are told there is no need to learn on your own. It has all been done. Here are the formula and here are the proofs. Just memorize them and take the test. We are taught direct experimentation and discovery is useless. We were taught to instead rely on 'common knowledge'.

Hope on the Horizon
But which do you remember better? The soft brittle feel of feathers on a birds wings as you attempted to unlock the mysteries of flight or lift equations?

Keep learning. Keep thinking. Keep questioning. Question others, question yourself.

Drop a ball and see if gravity is still working! Go on, run till you drop!

04 August 2007

The Purple Shamrock

Wood-sorrel is in the genus Oxalis. While it does grow in the woods, wood-sorrel also grows in gardens as weeds and tends to find its way to many other cracks and crevices. Many Oxalis have a spring loaded seedpod. When ripe the seedpod will fling its seeds in all directions at the slightest touch.

I was first introduced to this genus by my father. He taught me that biting into the shamrock shaped leaves will yield an acidic almost citric flavor. It is from this flavor that the genus gets it's name. The acidic bite is caused by oxalic acid.

Dad told me, that in the new American frontier, pioneers would use large amounts of Wood-sorrel in their cooking. Unfortunately, too much of the wood-sorrel caused health problems. I've always wondered exactly what happened. I decided to do some research and find out.

The Research Internet only . . .
Oxalic acid binds with calcium. Long-term consumption of large amounts of oxalic acid can cause kidney stones and calcium deficiencies.

Dietary sources of oxalic acid include rhubarb (which is why we don't eat rhubarb leaves), spinach, chocolate, and tea. Source.

Some of the more useful species in this genus are the Oca and Scurvy-grass sorrel. Oca produces an underground tuber that is edible and a staple in some regions of the world. Scurvy-grass sorrel is high in vitamin C, and was used by sailors to fend off scurvy.

In Summation
Care must be shone when using members from the genus Oxalis as food. Especially if you have digestive problems. And as with everything, moderation.

With that in mind:
My Purple Oxalis rocks! It is called a Purple Shamrock by some. This is one of the species with tubers or bulbs. I've seen it go through several 'resting states' only to revive looking just fine. It doesn't mind too much when I forget to water it; it always comes back to life. :)


Wood-sorrel is quite good as tea. I have found the Purple Oxalis to make an excellent tea as well. I always use freshly cut leaves.
Boil a cup of water.
Cut three stems.
Rinse leaves and chop. Then put into mug.
Once water is ready, pour over leaves.
Let seep 30 seconds.
Add honey or green tea to taste.

The purple oxalis adds visual interest and taste to salads.
Start with a bagged salad of mixed baby greens.
Cut and rinse the oxalis leaves.
Separate the three leaflets and scatter over the salad.
Dress with Oil and Vinegar, Salt & Pepper.

A Substitute
When lemons are in short supply, wood-sorrel can make an interesting substitution. This recipe comes from wildfoodplants.com
Oxalis Cooler 1 quart water
1/2 cup Oxalis leaf/stem/flowers/seedpods
1 T agave nectar or honey
dash of salt
Mix all ingredients in a blender. If possible, let sit overnight in refrigerator and enjoy!
The only change I'd make is to filter out any pulp with a muslin cloth.

Pressed Plants
While tri-foliate leaves of wood-sorrel make an attractive pressed plant, my Purple Oxalis is truly vivid.

These pressings can be glued to paper and turned into bookmarks and stationary.

Give it a try!

28 July 2007


Have you eaten any cucumbers lately?

You should give them a try.

Most of my life I have eaten them only as either a salad addition or as single slices with salt. Join with me in broadening the cucumber horizon!

Breakfast (or Snack!)
Cucumber sticks. They're like carrot sticks or celery sticks, but cucumber.

I came up with this mostly out of laziness. I had been reading about making sushi. Sushi often has vegetables cut up as thin match sticks. Remarkably thin. I didn't really want to cut anything so small. (I'm already a bit of a safety hazard. Sharp knives moving quickly sounds like disaster.) Outside of sushi, I couldn't really see a use for match stick cucumber. But they did do another thing I'd never seen done to a cucumber before. They scooped out the innards. Shocking!

How to make Cucumber Sticks:
First of course wash your veggies.

Next slice the cucumber in half lengthwise.

Then take a spoon and scoop out the seeds. You'll be left with two troughs. At this point, because my cutting skills are limited, I like to cut each half into half, widthwise. Now you have four quarters. Well done.

Tilt one quarter on it's side. Skin side down. Cut lengthwise into ¼ inch to ½ inch planks. Continue with the remaining quarters.

Play around with the plank width to determine the size you prefer.

I like to cut these up the night before and wrap them in a damp paper towel sealed in a plastic container.

They make an excellent breakfast during the car ride to work. Leftovers can be added to lunch, or eaten as a snack on the car ride home.

I've tried seasoning the cucumber sticks with a few things, but none of the seasoning really improved upon the original.

Cucumber as Beverage?
I have learned that caffeine, sugar and I don't mix well together. Sadly consuming significant quantities of caffeine-free, sugar-free sodas also has a deleterious effect. While having a delightful effervescence, plain seltzer water can quickly become monotonous.

Water is good. But, apparently not enticing enough to keep me from dehydrating in the hot Florida sun. It seems that when I'm working outside in the Summer's heat I manage to forget about adequate hydration. Even when I bring a full water bottle and carry it around with me.

An idea recommended to be by a co-worker (thanks, Cecilia!) has worked wonders!

Cucumber Water
Adding just a slice or two of fresh cucumber, lends a delightful flavor to a glass of water.

Not only do I end up drinking more at each sip, but as the favor fades in the mouth, I am reminded to take more frequent sips.

At the picnic table you can add several slices to a pitcher of ice water. Very refreshing. I'm particularly fond of cucumber, but you'll get pleasant results with a variety of fruits, herbs and spices.

Condiment(Pickles need not apply)
This is a taste sensation I learned about from my forays into Indian cooking (thanks, Vani!).

Cucumber Yogurt
Follow the directions above for the cucumber sticks, until the part were you have quarters.

Then cut your quarters lengthwise in half. Next dice all segments widthwise until you have lots of diced cucumber.

Mix with plain yogurt.

Serve this cooling condiment with spice Indian dishes or as a sour cream substitute in Mexican dishes.

If your not afraid of the heat, you can add jalapeño or green hot pepper to the mix. Just when you think your going to get some nice cooling yogurt, you bite into a pepper. Heck ya!

I haven't tried it as a dip yet. However, I think this would also make a great chip or celery dip.

Madhur Jaffrey, has a more sophisticated (aka: time consuming) version of this in her amazing book, “World Vegetarian”. Hers involves making a 'yogurt cheese' by draining the yogurt of it's moisture, and includes cucumber, dill, and garlic.

Botanical niftiness.
Cucumbers belong to the Cucurbitaceae Family. This Family also includes squash and melons.

Cucumbers are generally fertilized by bubble bees and honey bees. Inadequate pollination will result in deformed cucumbers. To optimize the number of perfectly formed cucumbers, beehives will be brought into the fields just before the flowers bloom.

For more technical information on cucumbers check out wikipedia.

Related Posts

21 July 2007

Green thumb? Or Black thumb of Death?

Over the years, I have tried many different methods of maintaining plants of my own. I've met with varying degrees of success.

The Early Years.

Growing up, I helped my parents maintain their gardens. But I wanted to try a thing or two on my own. I was becoming interested in herbs, especially 'wild' herbs. I asked for some space in the garden to grow some Achillea (or yarrow, if you prefer). I had a plan. My parents, having seen my plans in action in the past, were cautious. Dad tilled a piece of grass next to the greenhouse. The greenhouse was a good distance from the garden. It was unlikely any crazy thing I did could disturb the precious green beans and squash. Smart parents.

I had already scouted about on the property, and knew exactly were I could dig up some Achillea for transplant. I had never done this before and wanted to be certain of an at least moderately successful outcome, so I transplanted a lot of Achillea. It turns out Achillea transplants rather well. Under cultivation it does extremely well. The small plot grew far more yarrow than I alone could make use of. (You are doubtless wondering what possible use I might have for 'wild' yarrow. Especially as these are most commonly cultivated into a variety of different flower colors, and wild yarrow flowers are quite plan. A topic for another day.) And then I went away to college and my parents were left to deal with the Achillea madness.

For a time my parents hoped the Achillea would just die off without me there to tend them. And then upon realizing that these plants were a hardy sort, they decided on more drastic measures. The greenhouse was demolished. The earth was scraped even with a tractor. The ground was tilled, limed, fertilized and planted with grass. Mom says the Achillea never made reappearance. She says grass covers all. They claim that it was simply time to do away with the greenhouse. As for me, I think it was the yarrow.

College Dorms (of doom) Part I.
My first year in college I lived in a dorm. The dorm room had very little sunlight. I did attempt to grow a miniature rose (given to me by my mom). To provide the rose with light I had to put it up high on a windowsill behind a tall bookshelf. What with all the moving in and starting college, by the time I thought to check it for water, it was one crispy critter. Resuscitation was impossible.

College Dorms (of doom) Part II.
The following year brought another dorm room with a friendlier roommate, Meredith. We had been keeping two pet rats (another topic for another day). We decided to give them away. Suddenly the dorm room was just too quiet. Perhaps a fish tank? Once at the pet store a leopard gecko caught Meredith's eye (this is not however the gecko's story). To go with the gecko we eventually grew crickets and of course grass for the crickets to eat. The grass grew quite well. As did the crickets.

Eventually both were liberated to the wild.

The Apartment.
My final year in college I lived in an apartment. At last! Real windows and a covered porch. Perfect! I could have indoor and outdoor plants. The room overlooked the porch so I could, even with my busy schedule, monitor the plants and make sure they had sufficient water.

It worked pretty well, right up until Meredith and I got a cat. As it turns out, cats (Or perhaps only our cat. My feline experience is not broad enough to generalize.) like to eat green things. It took me a little while to catch on to what was happening. At first I thought my indoor plants must have some sort of strange insect infestation (I was taking entomology classes, and worked in an entomology lab, so insects were on my mind . . .). When the cat started throwing-up the pieces of the plants, the 'ah!' light went on.

I had selected most of my plants from things that were to be discarded from the lab I worked in. Many of them would not survive a North Carolina winter. I had upon selecting them thought I could simply bring them inside for the winter. But now, doing so would be a death sentence as surely as leaving them outside.

I figured out that my dresser was tall enough that, provided I didn't put anything shorter next to it, the cat couldn't jump the distance to the top. So the plants were able to come in for the winter. But on top of the dresser they were well out of my field of vision. So I didn't really get to enjoy them. Also they were pretty far from any real sources of light. Eventually I managed to get a light for them and they made it through the winter, but it was a close thing.

Most of the plants I took care of that year, were pretty useless types of plants. Primarily decorative plants meant for more tropical climates. I wanted to keep practicing at taking care of green things and their main appeal had been that they were free. After college, I ended up giving most of them away. There was one plant though that I have kept. It makes me smile every time I see it. It is a purple Oxalis

The Duplex.

Now I live in a rented duplex in Florida. I have a cat still and my roommate (not Meredith this time, Jesse) has two as well, so indoor plants are again out of the question.

The Mosquitoes here are gigantic. I learned this while planting some hibiscus around the duplex. . The Mosquitoes were so large I could actually feel them landing. I make Mosquitoes salivate.  

I was determined. I managed to get quite a few hibiscus planted before being pumulted on all sides by vast hordes of blood sucking fiends. I was forced to retreat indoors, to a shower to get them all off.

At least the hibiscus got planted though right? Right. A week later they were all eaten by snails.

I managed to save one lone hibiscus. It is doing quite well. I never have to water it. Which is good. Since it is unlikely I would survive the endeavor. The Mosquitoes regularly patrol the neighborhood, waiting for their favorite blood supply to make an appearance.

I attempted to keep potted herbs just outside the sliding back door. The rather strong winds given off by the tropical storms that regularly head this way, knocked over the pots and in the few weeks of distraction that followed, the plants dried out before I thought to check on them.

How could I keep plants inside without having them be savagely ripped apart by my roommates kittens? The kittens are rather energetic and have no problem leaping to the top of the dresser I had used previously for overwintering. I kept thinking that I could some how modify a fish tank into a terrarium. It would need to be tall, so the plants would have room to grow. And rather thin, so it would fit on my window sill. And I wanted to come up with a way to modify it so it would open in the back so I could easily do maintenance on the plants. And of course some sort of cat proof lid. I was pretty sure I could make all of this happen. I thought to my self though, 'But wait Liz. Why reinvent the wheel? What if some other enterprising spirit has already done this and has detailed plans online that could prevent you from wasting money on incorrect materials and useless tools?'

Fifteen minutes of googling later, and I had a much cheaper, less crazy solution. Basically you use some sort of glass jar, filled with different soil layers and then put a lid on it. A little self contained environment that doesn't need to be watered more than once a month. I already had some huge mason jars (thanks mom!), that would work perfectly. I ran out to the garden supply and bought six different herbs and soil. I was also suppose to get activated charcoal and pebbles but in my excitement forgot! So I get home and cast about for a pebble substitute. Aha! Marbles! :) I had time to pot up one of my plants. The next day I went to the pet store for activated charcoal and pebbles. A few hours of labor later and I have six jars of potted herbs. Lovely.

In a few months time I will update on the success of this endeavor and post some pictures.

17 July 2007


Monday morning I watched the Sun come up will I drove into work. A beautiful sunrise. A sunrise made all the better by my breakfast. Raspberries. The Sensual Delight. The Raspberry is a feast for the senses. When ripe, raspberries have a glowing red hew. Their scent is distinctly sweet and floral. Their delicate flesh is followed by the rough crunch of seeds. They have an acidic bite with a lingering sweet taste, as though you had sucked the nectar from a rose. Were these ears able to catch the sound of raspberries growing, the brier taking nourishment from earth and sky, there could be no doubt of its dulcet tune. A Lesson in Mindfulness. I remember, growing up on my parent’s farm in the foothills of North Carolina, picking berries on the hillsides. My parents built their house on a brier patch and the berries emerged every year. To pick fruit from a thorned plant, is a challenge. To be sure, losing a bit of blood to them is a fair trade for the bounty you receive, but how to avoid the thorns? Using gloves wasn’t helpful. Any thick enough to block the thorns would be too thick to keep the fruit from being crushed. You have to become very observant of the position of your hand in relation to the plants. Your movements and the movements of the plants as they turn in the wind. Staying quite in mind and concentrating on the task at hand. The moment my mind wandered I’d get jabbed. The Feast. Many of those berries never made it into the collection basket. Yum! :) Those that did make it back to the house would wind-up in many tasty recipes. When cooking with berries simple recipes seem best.


Head out to the berry patch and start picking. Breakfast is berries! If your not full after picking a basket full try making yogurt-fruit cups. When I have frozen raspberries I like to mash them with a little honey or splenda. Next pour plain yogurt on top. Then just mix everything together. This is usually as complex as I make it, but you could add granola, and a host of other yogurt toppings as well. This is an excellent replacement for the high-fructose corn syrup laden fruit yogurts found in grocery store cooler. Healthier, cheaper, and a good deal more fun. Frozen raspberries become quite bitter so some sort of sweetener is usually needed.


Make a fun twist on the peanut butter and jelly classic. Instead of jelly use fresh raspberries. Use a whole wheat bread, real peanut butter (or almond butter), and mash the raspberries on top. Works well with a variety of berries and fruits.


Salad! For salads I like to get the spring salad bagged mixes. They contain so many different things, every bite is an adventure. Put the salad on plates, add raspberries and cucumber cut into raspberry sized chunks. The raspberry/cucumber combination is very appealing. Add your dressing. Remember simple is better with berries. So a little oil and red wine vinegar. Salt & Pepper. You're done! Raspberry, Cucumber heaven.


Berry Cobbler is an especial favorite. It works quite well with blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and combinations there of.

Berry Cobbler 2 cups Berries 1 cup Flour ½ cup butter pinch salt

Pre-heat over to 350 degrees.

Place berries in 8 inch oven dish

Mix together remaining ingredients (I like to use my hands for this, fun texture!) and crumble over berries.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes.

My mom made variations of this for desert. Thanks mom!

While already vegetarian this recipe is easily adapted to vegan and sugar free.

Snack or All of the above:

This is great for any meal or a snack! Take a banana and divide it along it's seam until you have three equal sections. If you've never done this before just try pushing into the tip, at a curve. The banana should fall into three sections. With the wedges pointed up, put the banana sections on a plate close together forming a plank. Spread on almond or peanut butter. Chop dried raspberries and sprinkle on top. Eat with a fork.

Wow! Vegan, Raw, Sugar-free, Dairy-free, and Delicious!


Raspberries are in the genus Rubus. Making them a close relative of blackberries.

For more technical and botanical information on raspberries check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raspberry.