December 31, 2009

recycling holiday lights

happy happy merry merry

hope everyone had a nice holiday season and is gearing up to greet 2010 tonight !

i just wanted to post a link. a place where you can recycle your broken/old/no longer needed or used holiday lights. i tried to find multiple places, but it's really a small venture. some states like Washington and Minnesota have programs in certain areas, but I couldn't find very many national or statewide things.

holiday LED's has a program where you can mail your lights in. YES you have to mail them - but as their website suggests - gather all the lights you can - yours, your neighbors, your co-workers - it will then seem more worthwhile. Be sure and read their website - they don't want ANYTHING other than the lights.

in return you get a coupon for 15% lights from their site [if you are in the market for new lights]. but hurry the program will close in Feb. 2010.

thanks for your continued readership/participation of sew green. we'll see you next year!

December 24, 2009

Do More Good

Wishing you all a merry & meaningful christmas, and end of December.

As the New Year approaches folks start the resolution process- "next year I will be....". This year I simplified my resolution down to 3 words: Do More Good; focusing outward instead of inward, focusing on doing instead of being while knowing that I will be better for doing better. To me that encompasses all that is charitable, kind, environmental, civil and worldly. It is a simple mantra that I will keep on repeat and let define the choices I make. So here is to 2010, the year of doing more good.


December 16, 2009

holiday cocktail craft

making bitters

last weekend,
grub & i
a cocktail craft party...

Cocktail Craft o’rama

we pooled
our resources
and tapped in
on grub's cocktail knowledge
to make
and special syrups.

you see,
making these things
can be labor intensive
(like pickling & canning)
many hands
make less work.
mostly it involves
a lot of prep work
which is fun
if you are working
all together
and sipping cocktails!

* * * * *

here's what we did...

we had 3 different
bitters available to make
and each person made
a combination of any
two bitters:


in addition,
we also made
2 special syrups
-Allspice liqueur

* * * * *


each person was asked to bring:

- Two oranges-preferably fragrant-smell them before you buy them. If they smell orangey, get’em. Valencia is the preferred kind, but fragrant is the best.

- One grapefruit-preferably fragrant. White is better than red, but any kind will do.

- four resealable jars (jam are great) that hold at least 1 cup but no more than 2 cups of liquid. (2 bitters, 2 special syrups)

- a $$$ donation (donation dependent on # of RSVPs) to help pay for everclear needed to extract the essences for the bitters and overproof rum for liquers.

* * * * *


cut the skin from oranges
and grapefruits


and carefully removed
all the white
from the peel...
we also had people
skinning and chopping ginger
and zesting limes
(for the falernum).


as we worked,
grub made
tiny cocktails
that featured
the bitters
or syrups
that we made.


Cocktails that were made:

-House Manhattan (featuring fig bitters):
see grub's special recipe card

the architects cocktail recipe
(click to enlarge)

-Royal Bermuda club (featuring falernum)

-Lions Tail (featuring allspice liquor)

-The Perforated Derby (featuring grapefruit bitters)


if made
a month before
the holidays,
bitters make great
decant into
a dropper bottle
and give with
your favorite
cocktail recipe.

if short on time,
give a bitters kit:
droppers, labels,
on the last few steps.


. . . . .

here is the recipe
for one of
our bitters:

Fig Bitters

Botanical infusion
2 oz dried figs, Chopped Very Fine
2 whole cloves
½ Teaspoon of Cinnamon Bark
1 Teaspoon Cardamom Seeds (taken out of their pods)
3 seeds Star Annise
3/4 Cup Grain Alcohol (Everclear or Other High-Proof Neutral Spirit)

Bittering elements
1/4 Teaspoon Quassia Chips
1/8 Teaspoon Powdered Cinchona Bark

1 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Evaporated Cane Sugar

To Make
(adapted from Regan’s Bitters No.5)

Day one (at cocktail craft party)
Clean skin of fruit with baking soda and warm water. Scrub off any dirt. Remove skin (minus white pithe). Finely chop skins into 1/4 thick strips. Bake peel until completely dry (about 2 hours at 200F) let cool. Next place “botanical infusion” in jar and push the ingredients down so that they are covered by the alcohol and water. Seal the jar. Shake the jar vigorously once a day for ten days.

Day Ten
Place “Bittering Elements” in jar. Seal the jar. Shake the jar vigorously once a day for 7 days.

Day Seventeen
Strain the alcohol from the dry ingredients through a cheescloth. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth to form a pouch and squeese tightly to extract as much alcohol as possible. Place the dry ingredients in a strong bowl or mortar; reserve the alcohol in a clean mason jar and seal tightly. Muddle the dry ingredients with a pestle or strong spoon until the seeds are broken. Place the dry ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan and cover with 1 cups of water. Bring to a boil over a medium-high heat, cover, turn the heat down, and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool, still covered (about 1 hour).
Return the dry ingredients and water to the original mason jar that contained the alcohol, seal, and leave for seven days, shaking vigorously once a day.

Day Twenty-Four
Strain the water from the dry ingredients through a cheesecloth. Discard the dry ingredients and add the water to the alcohol. Put sugar in a small nonstick saucepan and place over a medium-high heat. Stir constantly until the sugar becomes liquid and turns dark brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool for two minutes. Pour the sugar into the alcohol-and-water mixture. At this point the sugar may solidify, but it will quickly dissolve. Allow the mixture to stand for seven days. Skim off any bits that float to the surface and carefully decant the clear liquid to separate it from any sediment resting on the bottom.

Day Thirty One
Measure the bitters; thee should be about 9 fluid ounces. Add 3 ounces of water, and shake thoroughly. Pour the bitters into a bitters bottle. Store for up to twelve months.

. . . . .

happy holidays!

December 3, 2009

leftover soup


This time of year, the leftovers abound. Around the holidays, I tend to stuff myself silly, but the overabundance is so great that even with overeaters everywhere, lots of food still gets thrown away. My partner and I are trying to get smarter about our budget these days - particularly our food budget - which has meant getting smarter about leftovers, and hopefully a little less waste.

Last week was Thanksgiving, and I decided to take responsibility for the leftovers this year, since I wasn't cooking much. By the time we left on Saturday there was a freezer full of turkey stock and big containers of turkey noodle soup for everyone to take home.

Being a vegetarian, I don't know much about what to do with meat, but I do know that you're not supposed to throw away that big old fatty, meaty turkey carcass after the meal. What a waste! Instead, we made turkey stock.

I had my partner's father pick off all the good-looking meat, and then I stuck the detritus (skin, bones, fatty stuff, neck and jiblets) into a huge big stock pot with a cut-up onion and a few bay leaves, and then filled up the pot with water. I brought the pot to a boil and then simmered the whole thing for the rest of the evening, about 3 hours. Then we pulled out the now-clean bones and all the other solid stuff and tossed it, let the stock cool, skimmed off the fat and then strained out everything else and put the stock into repurposed quart yogurt containers in the freezer. Turkey stock is a good replacement for chicken stock (except richer and tastier, I'm told), and will keep in the freezer for at least six months.

That's how we used about half the stock. The other half we used to make turkey-noodle soup. All we did was par-boil a bag of whole wheat egg noodles, drain them and then put them into the big soup pot with the turkey stock. Since this family likes to eat turkey sandwiches with the leftovers, I left the big slices of breast meat for that purpose, but took all the little funny bits, cut them up smaller, and threw them into the pot. Finally, we dumped in the leftover peas and carrots from the Thanksgiving meal and added some salt and pepper - voila! Turkey-noodle soup.

As I've said, I'm a vegetarian, so the soup was not really on my menu. But I did have a tiny cupful just to try, and now I see why they say that chicken noodle soup cures a cold. I think that soup could have cured much worse - it was about as warm, wholesome and comforting as anything I've ever eaten. Maybe next year I'll have two cupfuls.

There are also lots of opportunities for vegetarian soup from your holiday leftovers. You can make a big pot of veggie stock and then make delicious soup with pureed pumpkin, squash or carrot, or toss in lots of noodles, beans and leftover veggies for a scrumptious vegetable soup with dumplings on top. Just the thing for a simple supper when you've been overdoing it at the holiday parties.

November 27, 2009

Green Friday

Just a quick post of Sew Green links to make the busiest shopping day of the year a little less busy and wasteful.

Gift for Good- Alternative gift giving suggestions

Green Gift Giving for Kids - Great list of ideas

What's in your wallet - Think before you buy

Crafty Bastards- Great handmade shopping links

Conscientious Consumption - Mindful consumerism

Rock PAPER Scissors- Make your own notebooks

The Art of Finding- sourcing materials for handmade collages- which make great gifts

Also, Healthy Child, Healthy World has a list of 192 eco-friendly kids toys on Amazon.

Also here are a few suggestions for non-shopping alternatives for the whole family on this shopping heavy weekend:
  1. Museum [we are open!]
  2. Zoo/ aquarium/ garden [all are nonprofits and need your support]
  3. Volunteer [soup kitchen, animal shelter or visit a senior center]
  4. Tour your city [what would tourists do?]
  5. Beach, mountains, river, or any spot with a great view [pack some leftovers]
  6. If weather permits- get outside and organize a sporting activity [Croquet!]
  7. If weather doesn't permit, board games [or organize a scavenger hunt].
Please leave any other suggestions in the comments!

November 19, 2009


Last year I took a fabulous organic gardening class with John Lyons of The Woven Garden. Each monthly class held a different theme, and out of the four, two really resonated with me - the Gardening with Children session - and the Composting class.

I do love composting. (We have even considered a composting toilet for our cottage.) I love the idea that our waste is being turned into something more. I love the way our chickens go nuts when they are allowed near the pile. I even love the way it smells, clean and dirty at the same time (farm girl in me perhaps), and the way it feels as I shovel and mix it into our raised garden beds. I love how it has become commonplace - and how routine it has become for our kids to dump scrap into the small container under our kitchen sink, then trudge it out to the bin at the end of the day. (Though any advice on how to get a composting program into our public school would be most appreciated! This is one place where it isn't. And should be.) I love that we return our scraps to the earth to feed the food we are growing.


We have always kept a traditional compost bin in our yard for all of our green and brown waste. It was a bin that the City gave for free, in exchange for attending a Composting class, provided by the City's Department of Public Works. (Class schedule can be found here. It looks like you now pay for a bin, but at a very fair price.) Sitting in the farthest corner - near our pool we regularly dumped garden debris and kitchen waste into it. It is extremely dry where we live, and with our dry garden (not a lot of green - and lots of brown waste)we had to make sure it stayed moist. We added water - and D even added, um, urine. (Urine has long been considered a great compost activator.) It works pretty well. In landscaping our yard, we moved the bin closer to the house, and are in the process of reestablishing our pile. I think two bins may be the answer to better productivity. We will see.

The premise of composting is simple: the rotting green matter (lawn trimmings, kitchen scraps, chicken poop, etc.) you might have just thrown in the trash is piled up, together with dry material (dry leaves, newspaper - preferably not the glossy pages, and only if soy based inks have been used, unfinished cardboard, twigs, straw etc). The rotting material(about 1/3 of the mix) produces nitrogen and the dry (2/3), provides carbon. Magically it turns into food and soil for your plants. (Well, not really magically - "the course of decomposition of organic matter is affected by the presence of carbon and nitrogen. The C:N ratio represents the relative proportion of the two elements...Actually, the ratio of available carbon to available nitrogen is the important relationship because there may be some carbon present so resistant to biological attack that its presence is not significant." --from Compost Fundamentals) There are many things you can compost. And many you shouldn't. And of course some overlap of the two. (In the class I took, the final destination of the compost was considered. For example, laundry lint composted may be ok for your flower bed, but the treatments and detergents that may be present in the lint would not be desirable for our organic veggie bed.)

We are taking our home composting to the next level with vermicomposting. D built a worm-bin for my birthday (a gift that keeps on giving!) after I dropped many a hint. I sent him a link to this website, and he built a bin out of the scrap in his woodshop. (Though frankly the website prices are so reasonable if we had had to purchase the wood it might have been cheaper just to order it.) It is a little small. But we are excited by the possibilities. I have a friend who is gathering up some worms for us, and we are ready to get started!


The premise with vermicomposting is the same really - the C:N ratio though is a little less important as the worms do much of the work that would be done by the chemical reaction. In the end, you get a rich material to enhance your soil, as well as the possibility of making vermicompost tea - which some tout as a miracle worker for plant growth and protection against disease.


Favourite books on my shelf with sections on Home Composting include:
Ann Lovejoy's Organic Garden Design School

A Slice of Organic Life by Sheherasade Goldsmith

Garden Anywhere by Alys Fowler

Really if you "google" composting / vermicomposting you will be overwhelmed by available material. There is lots out there to guide you.

A few on-line highlights:
Design Sponge did a wonderful recent post on composting

Groovy Green has straight-forward instructions on building a simple worm bin.

The Gaiam site has lots of information on choosing the composter that is right for you, and how to get started.

I love this idea: Host a community Build a Worm Bin Day!

Say no more. Composting 101

If you are interested in taking a class from John Lyons - and I highly recommend any class he is giving - his schedule can be found here.

Oh, and one last thing; with Thanksgiving around the corner, don't forget to re-read FPea's great post here on composting your holiday party!

Happy Holidays!

November 12, 2009

commitment issues

I’ve been reading a lot of Wendell Berry's books lately, and one of the main themes throughout his essays and fiction (haven’t gotten to the poetry yet, but i’m sure it’s there as well), is that of committing to a place—working to protect and improve that place, the land and one’s community. While I am all for that in theory, I have had a very hard time putting that idea to practice in my own life.

I’ve lived in San Francisco for over ten years now, and at various points I’ve tried to commit myself to this city, but have never really succeeded. Part of this for me has to do with having grown up in two places, Sweden and California, and usually missing where I am not. Another part is my wondering if I’m really a city person. I long for more green and quiet. I also wonder if there is a place where it’s easier to build community. Often SF feels like it’s a city for (mostly hipster) 20–30 year olds and/or the wealthy.

I could go on and on about what makes me think about moving away. But one of the things that is really exciting about and makes me want to be in the Bay Area right now is the food movement. There is so much interest in making connections with surrounding area farmers. (We here are lucky to live in an area that has a lot of biodiverse, eco-conscious, farms.) Restaurants that use all locally produced or gathered food are cropping up left and right. People are raising chickens and bees in their backyards. They’re gleaning fruit and meeting their neighbors in the process. They’re building gardens and joining CSAs. Check out how this wonderful woman collects farmers’ market leftovers and distributes it to local food pantries.

I am trying to figure out what I can do to enter this movement more, to commit more to this place I call home. I do subscribe to a CSA and go to the Alemany Farmers’ market every Saturday with two lovely friends. And I sometimes write about agriculture related books here and there. But I want to do something more. Maybe join Slow Food San Francisco, attend some of the Kitchen Table Talks, go to Garden for the Environment events or volunteer at a local farm. I wouldn’t mind hanging out with some sheep. (Would love that in fact.) It would be fun to start a little group of people who go and visit different Bay Area farms on the weekends.

Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is something I’m considering, though the farm I’ve been thinking about contacting is in Sweden, so there goes the rooting myself here idea.

Starting a backyard garden (for real!) in 2010 will be a growing (oh geez) and rooting (oh geez again) experience.

Or there’s this group, amyitis, that sets up a garden with you.

What are you all doing to involve yourselves in your place more actively?

Some links about new farmers/farming methods
Redefining farming (with video)

A new family farmer (video)

The Greenhorns (trailer)

Wes Jackson is the co-founder of The Land Institute and writes about farming using nature as a model.

{Flowers and leaves all found (mostly on the ground) around this glorious place.}

November 5, 2009


I have been on the hunt for items that have post-consumer recycled product in them. I started to think about how much time we spend recycling paper, glass, plastic, etc. in our homes, but where does it all go really? I mean we all feel better by doing it, but ultimately how are we really helping if we don't actually use our purchasing power to buy things that contain recycled material?

I try and try to buy garbage bags that are either bio-degradable or use post-consumer content. Same with toilet paper and paper towels [although we try to use mostly dish towels I do sometimes just want a paper towel -- and we do get to recycle them in our food bins where I live. More on this in another post]. Luckily Trader Joe's makes this quest a little easier. Their paper products contain post-consumer fiber.

I was reaching for their laundry detergent a few months ago when I spotted preserve's toothbrushes. Oh right. I need a toothbrush - so I picked one up. Nice colors, simple packaging. And then I read the box.

from their website:

Preserve makes everyday products that offer more. We believe performance and style are every bit as important as their impact on the earth. Our toothbrush, tableware and all other Preserve products feel good to use and perform as well as or even better than the old standbys.

We make our products from 100% recycled materials, which saves energy and natural resources. By manufacturing Preserve in the USA, we use less energy to get our products to your door. And all of our products are designed to stay out of landfills when you are finished with them.

Great in theory, right? You mail the toothbrush back to them when you are done and they re-use the plastic again.

So I went to their website and they make SO MUCH more than just toothbrushes.

The colanders [right] are some of my favorites. I also think that I will invest in a razor .

What impressed me the most, though, is that they recycle BRITA FILTERS . Brita Filters have always irked me. I want to use them to clean up my water, but they seem like such a waste of materials. Now I know I can drop them off at my local whole foods and that they will actually get re-used. You can read all about their partnership with stoney field farms yogurt too.

I know we are supposed to consume less -- but there are still times we need to consume. I feel like preserve offers an alternative and is trying to do the right thing.

** all images are from the preserve website.

October 29, 2009

Gift for Good

Holiday shopping. I know, right- but the holidays are less than 2 months away. Less than 2 months. Here is my round-up of socially conscious gifting suggestions:

Donations: I put this first, because the absolute best gift you can give is to your community. Nonprofit organizations have been hit hard by the recession- many states have cut nonprofit services from their budgets and organizations are scrambling to make ends meet. Organizations have also seen their endowments suddenly shrink drastically, and large corporate donations dry up. Domestic Violence shelters are closing all over California and one local museum has recently shut its doors. Many small organizations are one payroll away from closing. We depend so much on these organizations; they are the backbone of American society and losing them is devastating.
What I love about giving donations as gifts, is that you can make it extremely personal to the recipient by donating to a cause which has touched their lives. From breast cancer, to domestic violence, to youth sports, to girl scouts, and so on. Does your recipient love animals? Give to a local shelter. Do they get angry about trash on the beach? Etc. This also goes both ways- find an organization you care about and ask that in lieu of gifts, you want donations. Send your holiday cards out early and specify, or send a mass email. You can avoid the unfortunate trinket and make a real difference. It is also a huge relief for people who might stress over finding the perfect gift, plus they can give one gift donation as a family gift* and feel good about themselves in the process.
Many charities will send out holiday cards announcing the gift to the recipient [less work for you!]- check the website or call for more information. A great place to source out different charities is on Guidestar. Though I would recommend going directly to the organization’s website to donate. Also, most donations are 100% tax deductable for the purchaser.

Memberships*: Museums, zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, public radio, etc. These are donations with benefits. Not only can you donate to the organization, but the recipient can benefit for the entire year. Many membership driven organizations have holiday specials with gift-boxes that come with the membership. Double check that the organization is a 501(c)(3) [licensed nonprofit through the federal government] to ensure that your member fees go back to the organization. You can do this through Guidestar or call directly and ask. Again, most memberships are 75-100% tax deductable.

Gifts with a purpose: Many organizations have great online shops with merchandise that supports the cause. A lot of these stores carry more than just promotional totebags- Unicef has a great store as does the National Organization for Women. Heifer allows you to purchase an animal for a family in need, who will provide long term sustenance, and sustainability. They will also send a card to whom the gift is in honor of. If you are in the UK, Oxfam has a wonderful store. Find a cause you care about, and search their website for the “Shop” button.
I am extremely wary of any shopping sites that donate a percentage of your purchase to a cause of your choice, along with “Shop [insert colour here]” promotions since these often only donate a percentage of a penny on the dollar and have low to zero accountability. These tend to be marketing tools, rather that organizational support- see Think Before You Pink for more information on "pink-washing". You are better off making a direct donation.

Museum Shops**: Not only will you be supporting art in your community, but you can find great gifts by local artists, fair trade goods, collectable books, and eclectic knick knacks. They also have the best card selections. 100% of the proceeds of each sale goes back to the museum. [full disclosure- I run a museum store].

Locally owned businesses**: Small businesses can do 50-75% of their sales during the 4th quarter. If they have slow sales during the holidays, it can be financially disastrous to someone who has dedicated themselves to their store. By shopping at local businesses, you not only support the store, but the community benefits. “For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community…in a national chain store, only $43 stays here” Visit 3/50 Project for more information on why you should support local businesses.

Gifts of service: Can you babysit? Can you make an amazing dinner? Carwash? Massage? Closet organization? Remodeling? House painting? Etc. Do you have time or a skill you can offer? For my baby shower, my best friend’s mom, who is a lactation consultant, gave me a free session. It was something I didn’t know I needed [it’s just breastfeeding- how hard can it be? Yeah right.], and made such a huge difference when it came to nursing my child. My daughter & I got a perfect latch immediately, and she had regained her birth weight less than 5 days after birth. I contribute my ease in nursing almost completely to that consultation. Of any gift, that had the biggest impact.
Print up a coupon or certificate and you might change someone’s life, or at least give them a much needed break.

Buying Handmade: Shop etsy. Or a favourite BigCartel shop. Or Supermarket. And in DaWanda in Europe. In November & early December there are usually a ton of craft shows & trunk shows. If you like a local artist, sign up for their mailing list to see any upcoming events. If you live near a Renegrade Craft Fair, go! And if you are in LA, shop at Unique LA. You directly support the artist who loves doing what they do and you show, with your dollars, how important art and crafts are to you.

DIY: Made with love by you. What can be better? With so much commercialization and cheap production, a hand knitted hat carries that much more meaning. Do what you know, or learn a new skill. has fantastic roundups of online tutorials. Work from your stash, or reuse materials to make your items as green as possible. If you plan to make your gifts, start now [2 months- remember!]. If you run out of steam, gift a card with a sample [piece of yarn, drawing of final project, etc.] and an IOU.

So this holiday season please gift with love and with responsibility to your community, the planet, and your wallet.

Please share other gift ideas or stories in the comments!

*These make great whole family gifts too. Read more ideas on family gifts over at Ohdeedoh.

**When buying from a locally owned or museum shop, you have the luxury of dealing with a knowledgeable sales staff [most likely the owner!] and are able to ask: Who made this item? Where was it made? How was it made? Who profits from the sale? Most sales staff are extremely proud of the items they sell and will gladly answer these questions- allowing you, the consumer, to make a socially conscious purchase. Also, do be afraid to ask for any sort of documentation on your purchase so you can pass that information on to the gift recipient!
All images are stock photos of the museum store.

October 20, 2009

Solar Decathlon


One of the holy grails for a green building is achieving a net-zero existence. A couple of weeks ago I visited the bi-annual exhibit featuring the future of net-zero residences as sponsored by the Department of Energy on the national mall-The Solar Decathlon. The department describes the event as a competition in which 20 teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house.





This is the fourth event since 2002. The 10 finalists set up on the national mall in the form of a village on a main street (of sorts)and education centers at the center of the solar village. The contest lasts a little over a week and the contestants are judged on the following categories:

Market Viability
Lighting Design
Comfort Zone
Hot Water
Home Entertainment
Net Metering


During 9 days of the contest, visitors can line up and meander through each house. The design team of students and professors are on hand to answer any questions. Select team members spend the night at their temporary home on the national mall, so someone is living in the building for the entirety of the contest.


These houses are machines for living. It would require more that your standard afternoon to really understand the complex workings of the systems involved in regulating energy usage. In order to compete, these houses had to be theoretically net-zero. I was most interested in the day-to-day living one could expect to have in a net zero house. How livable was it?.


Bugheart and I had time to tour most of the houses. This event was very well attended and the average wait just to get into a house was 45 minutes!


The most successful houses created an efficient floor plan that tied into the greater landscape. These houses integrated the solar technology into the building form. The floor plans were open with non-specialized rooms. Gone are the days of grand foyers and seasonal dining rooms in the new green home. The future of energy efficient design requires a new approach to the floorplan in which rooms serve many purposes. The multi-use room echoes the floorplans of vernacular houses of early America. Due to energy constraints of the time (fireplaces , coal, & wood), the same rooms were often used for dining, dancing, sleeping. In both the homes designed by Germany and Ontario, the beds were retractable. This reinforced the idea that a bed is not used all day long, so that space should be used as a general living space during the day. Kitchens were small for the most part, so chefs of the future will have to be efficient as well.


Our favorite buildings had integrated the solar gathering technology into the siding so it became part of the building rather than an accessory. The everyday interaction with the system was also integrated into the interiors. Many of the systems were automated and could be controlled by a mere app on your iphone.


My job is to design dream houses. Our clients’ dreams involve a lifestyle they never had- space for all the luxuries of life. They always want one more room- a room for crafts, storage, etc. My visit to the Solar Village made me realize that with current technology we must strive to use less. Less space. Less stuff. The village on the mall represents a change in the way we live and view living- the complete opposite of what I or my clients want.


Space is one of those guilty pleasures. An extra room gets filled with massive amounts of embodied energy- the energy it takes to build and maintain it. It is a professional conundrum. Do I give the client what they want or do I use my skills guide the client to getting what they want in a more responsible way? I envision the next time a client asks for a craft room or a large master bathroom that I should take a serious look at the design plan and ask, Do you really need that? Let’s find a way to work with what you have…


Germany, one of our favorites, was declared the winner.


October 11, 2009

crafty bastards in DC

crafty bastards

welcome to
crafty bastards
the 6th
annual indie craft fair
that took place
in DC
last weekend...

DC has a active
indie craft community
and this is
evident in both
the hoards
of vendors
and visitors
to crafty bastards
each year.

a little tour
of crafters
that caught
my eye
at the show:

crafty bastards: make something awesome

first and foremost,
green craft
i discovered
an amazing
site that brings
green crafters together
cosa verde
here's how they
describe themselves:
is an online marketplace connecting independent artists
with eco-conscious shoppers.

i met
two crafters
who specifically
on eco-friendly crafts:
tlane: functional items for the green-minded person on the go
craftgasm: all items made from recycled paper

. . . . .

but when it
gets down to it
any crafter
that makes
handmade items
is better
than buying
mass-produced items.

megan auman: "modern, graphic" pieces made from metal or felt.
figs & ginger: i love their bird & fawn rings and necklaces
beth pohlman jewelry
amy klainer: bold organic pieces made out of wood or metal.
swearjar design

paper & posters

your secret admiral: i was smitten with her journals and day-planners. beautifully made.
strawberry luna
ryan berkley illustration
dirty pictures
something's hiding in here: if you haven't heard of this design duo, then you must check them out.
see photo of them

crafty bastards: somethingshidinginthe

maryink: a tee shirt design co. out of nashville, tn. some of the coolest designs i have seen. see the one i bought here.
allison rose

home sweet

bunny butt apothecary: i am always looking for animal-friendly deodorant and products that actually work. bunnybutt saves the day!

please do check out
crafty bastards'
the online vendor gallery!
all of these crafters
have online stores-
a great place
to do your shopping
for the holidays.

crafty bastards: hopscotch

October 8, 2009

keeping the harvest


Fall harvest time is just about here! The nip in the morning air, and the new crop of greens, lettuces, sweet potatoes and cruciferous vegetables at the farmer's market and in our garden get me thinking about all the good things I want to cook this fall. I'm also getting a bit wistful already thinking about how much I will miss the fresh veggies this winter, and scheming about how to put some veggies up for those thin months.

Last week we got an inspiring email from the wonderful farmer who runs our CSA, Wild Onion Farms, about easy ways to save some of the harvest for winter. Here's what she said:

"Here's a few tips on how to easily put away some real fall food for later, without any special equipment or a lot of long sweaty hours in the kitchen:
  • I've cured the sweet potatoes and butternut squash for storage already. If you want to stock up on these, the squash will last another 1-2 months, the potatoes will last 'til spring. Store them in a cool, dry, dark place (50-60 degrees is ideal). A chilly basement or garage is good. If you want to extend the butternut squash, go ahead and bake up a huge batch, put it in freezer bags, and stash it away in your freezer.
  • Basil can easily be frozen: chop it up in a food processor and throw in little bags in the freezer, or go ahead and make a big batch of pesto and freeze that in individual portions (omit the cheese, it doesn't freeze well).
  • Peppers, hot or sweet, can be chopped up, tossed in freezer bags, and chucked in the freezer. Nothing more. They won't retain their texture, but it won't matter if you're adding them to winter soups, stews, or sauces.
  • Okra can be stashed away by cutting it up into slices, dip it into boiling water for a minute, drain, pat dry, and pack into freezer bags or containers.
  • Cooking greens of any sort are really easy to freeze as well. Wash, chop, blanch in boiling water for a minute. Drain them, squeeze any excess water out, and pack away into the freezer.
  • You can also cook up large batches of any of your favorite dishes, from garlicky greens to grilled eggplant, and tuck extra portions away in the deep freeze to enjoy months from now.
  • Most root vegetables (beets, carrots, radishes, turnips), once you've removed the tops and placed them in plastic bags in the fridge, will last for months."
- Elizabeth Haarer, Wild Onion Farm (shared with permission)

I've been working on some of these easy harvest-extenders, and thought I'd share some of my favorite recipes, too.

Last week I made up a batch of Vietnamese-style hot chili sauce with the hot peppers in our garden, using this recipe. I had plenty to make a jar for us and share a big jar with my sister. This would make a great gift for someone who likes to cook and loves hot food.

Here's a link to my method for making big batches of savory vegetable stock - it's a great way to use up your veggie odds and ends, and makes a delicious, hearty, nutritious broth for winter recipes.

Elizabeth mentioned garlicky greens in her email, and it got me thinking about this wonderful recipe from my dear friend Anne, who loves to have cooking (and eating) parties with friends. If you're not from the Southern U.S., you might not know how wonderful collards can be -- and even if you are from the south, you might have only had them cooked to death with a hamhock. This is a great way to find a new (and vegetarian) appreciation for a humble green leaf:

Sauteed Collards (or any other hearty green you like)

Ingredients: 1 bunch of collards for 2-3 people
4-6 garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil

Rinse collards and remove the ribs from the middle of the leaves. Then stack the leaves in a pile and roll them up like a cigar. Then thinly slice them.

Peel the garlic and slice each clove in half long-ways unless really large, then slice into thirds.

Heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic and cook until just getting golden, and remove. Do not let them get brown or they will make the oil a bad (burnt) flavor. Now turn up the heat to medium high and add the collards with whatever liquid clings to the leaves. Stir them with a wooden spoon or tongs, being sure to bring up the ones from the bottom so everything gets cooked. I like them crunchy, but you can cook them to your liking. Just before serving, add the garlic back in and stir them up.

I like to serve these with plenty of freshly ground black pepper, and some apple cider vinegar on the side for purists. Have fun cooking up your harvest this fall!

September 23, 2009

(sub)urban chicken keeping. part II

(part I found here.)

modern chooks

So the chickens have been with us for over a year now. We love them. A friend recently compared them to having three poodles - and they weren't really far off. They follow me around the yard, stand by the backdoor begging for a treat, or to be let in, (they aren't - at least not often) and one of them in particular loves to be held. Our pullets have grown into hens, and two are currently experiencing their first molt. (Which involves the loss of feathers and decrease in egg production while all their energy goes into a glossy new coat.) It is wonderful!

So what do you need to know? This is by no means comprehensive, and I strongly encourage further reading of any / all of the resources listed at the end.

Is permission from your city required to have them?
More and more cities are allowing homeowners to keep backyard chickens. In Los Angeles, we are lucky to live in an area zoned for agriculture (not all neighborhoods are) and we are allowed to have a flock, with the only caveat being a "distance requirement". Hens are to live 20 feet from our residence and 35 feet from our neighbors residence (not the property line) and if we had a rooster, that would change to 100 feet from our closest neighbor. (To learn more about local codes, there is a good starting point over at The City Chicken - but do make sure to find out what your city, or neighbourhood, allows before buying your chicks.) **Yesterday Los Angeles passed a new law limiting the number of roosters kept in the City to one, without a permit.**

Don't you need a rooster to get eggs?
No! You only need a rooster if you want chicks.

How long do hens live? and how long do they lay?
My reading tells me that they can lay consistently for up to five years. They live (and will lay sporadically) for eight or more.

What are the costs?
Our chicks were under $3 each to purchase. The coop was more of an investment - but we are lucky that D is a carpenter and could build it in-house. Their feed is an on-going expense (and like everything, more expensive if you go organic). You should also consider veterinary pills, should a chickens become ill, or injured.


How much space do chickens need?
In my research, a rule of thumb seemed to be that each chicken should have at least 10 square feet of yard to run around in, and 4 square feet of hen house. They also need a nesting box (our three share a 4 ft sq box within the hen house), seem to like a place to perch (not too high, and wide enough to comfortably support their feet), and a spot for a dustbath. (I'll add that I don't think the nesting box is necessary - but makes it easy for us to know where to look for eggs. They like a private spot, and have also been known to lay in cardboard boxes left in the yard, as well as on one particularly hot and uncomfortable day, right at my feet.)

How do you keep them safe?
In designing and constructing our coop, raccoons and possums (to which we have lost all our koi) were forefront in our thoughts. D made sure that the run of the coop was made from heavy cage wire (not "chicken wire" which isn't very strong) and that the hen house had secure doors and window. Raccoons are very good with their hands, so we have locks (simple carabiners) on all entries that go on every night. We are fortunate that I work from home, so the hens are usually found wandering the backyard through the day. I am always listening, and they have alerted me to intruders such as neighbourhood cats and ducks (who like our pool)with lots of clucking and wing flapping.
It is also important to protect them from plants that may be poisonous to them, as they like to nibble on most things green. Oh, and chickens can't swim. So if you have a pool or pond, keep this in mind.

Will D share his coop plans?
I'll ask him... He developed his plan from a lot of research on-line, and in the books listed below.

How do you protect them from the heat?
We live in a very hot area of Los Angeles (high of 103 today!) so this has been a major concern. (We have a close friend who tragically lost a hen to heat stroke this summer.) We can easily see the girls discomfort as the temperature rises and they begin to lift their wings and pant to stay cool. We hose down their area (and the one of them that likes to be sprayed) regularly on hot days - as well as keeping a supply of ice packs at the ready to cool the nesting box and under some of our trees where they will lie, and get some relief. It is also very important to have cool water available for them to drink. I have found that while cute, our hens aren't the brightest bulbs in the box and will often not go to drink when they are thirsty, but when I bring them water they are quick to take a sip.

What do they eat?
Our girls eat "laying pellets". It is recommended that a fully grown, laying chicken needs 5 oz of food / day. They forage instinctively (good-bye backyard bugs!) and also love treats from the kitchen (pasta, rice, fuits and veggies are good, but avoid anything salty, sugary, fatty, citrus or meat.) One of ours has even eaten a mouse. Because chickens don't have teeth, they rely on grit to digest their food. If they can't find small stones in their surroundings, grit must be supplied.

Do they eat everything in your garden?
Yes. And no. We are in an ongoing experiment to see what is "chicken friendly" in our yard. (ie. It is safe for the chickens to eat, but they aren't interested in eating it.) It has been hit and miss. They do seem do love crabgrass (good!), but also loooove my succulents (bad!). We had to put a fence around our vegetable garden to ensure the produce ended up on our table. (Though they don't seem to like tomatoes.)

Are they clean?
Like any pet, that depends a lot on your input. The birds themselves are very clean. They love to have a dustbath, and will take up in one of the flowerpots if not provided a spot. (Ok, to be honest, they may take up in a flowerpot anyway. I have lost a lot of plants to this.) They spend a lot of time grooming themselves, and unless you are showing them, do not need to be bathed. They void half of their poop in the night, so their coop does need to be cleaned regularly. (Aside from the daily cleaning we wash it out thorough with a teatree oil soap monthly, and we have dusted with foodgrade diatomaceous earth every six months as part of our pest-control management.) We also keep our food supply locked in a metal garbage bin at night to dissuade any rodents looking for an easy meal. The design of our coop allows us to move it around the yard, so one area does not become inundated with all things chicken. Their food and water receptacles also need to be cleaned regularly.

heads or tails

Ok, but what about the poop?
Yes, chickens poop. And sometimes it seems like a lot. We clean our coop and run every day, and the smell isn't evident. We line our hen house with shredded newspaper (only the non-glossy pages, printed with soy ink) and toss it, poop and all, into our composter. Chicken poop is rich in nitrogen, and makes for lovely compost. We haven't found a marked increase in flies - though I have heard others complain of this.


If you had to do it all over again would you?
Yes. No hesitation. I have been converted. While certainly not for everybody, they have been a wonderful addition to our family. And their eggs are yummy too!

Further reading / resources (again, by no means comprehensive):
Green Frieda (I love their coop - which was featured last winter in the LA Times.)
Homegrown Evolution
One Block Diet (Sunset Magazine's blog)
The City Chicken
Urban Chickens

On the bookshelf:
Keep Chickens!
Keeping Chickens
Keeping Pet Chickens (great for my kids, ages 5 and 8. Lots of simply presented, important information.)
The Fairest Fowl(No info on keeping, but gorgeous photographs and information on various breeds - as well as an essay by Ira Glass.)
The Urban Homestead (you can get an autographed copy via their website:

In the neighborhood:
Los Angeles Urban Chicken Group (I'm excited about this and hope to make it to their next meeting!)

Happy Clucking!

September 20, 2009

for chicken fans

card from dandylion press

last night i went with my housemate to a garden for the environment evening of film shorts about homesteading, led by these folks. (the event included home brewed beer, homemade bread, singalongs and a goat bleating impersonation contest.)

this short film from these homesteaders' website is about a community egg co-op. i would SO go in on one of these if i knew of one around here. maybe we'll have to start one...

and this is an article about how artist hope sandrow ran into a rooster one day and how that meeting changed her life. it's a charming story with great photos.

September 17, 2009

hungry for books?

considering that almost all of my posts here have been about books related to food and sustainable agriculture, you can imagine my excitement when i found omnivore books on food, an sf bookstore owned and run by book collector celia sack. celia sells new and antique/collectible books on cooking, baking, food + agriculture politics and food history. the very small store is packed (beautifully and carefully so) with gorgeous, shiny new cookbooks like these, alongside often smaller, more faded, but somehow even more alluring rare and collectible books like the (golden pig) one at the top of this post. out on the shelves are many victorian-era books with fanciful and strange illustrations of things like sugar spinning (done on tip toe on a chair if i recall correctly, in a full-length gown, strands of sugar hanging almost to the floor like so much rapunzel hair—this illustration can be found in celia's favorite oldie, a book from 1894 called fancy ices).

i was lucky enough to sit down with celia and talk with her about her store. below is a bit about what i learned, and it is also what makes this bookstore a true gem.

celia on left

celia knows her books. inside and out. especially the collectible ones. i mentioned a recipe from a book my housemate had bought at omnivore, and celia knew right away which book i was referring to (this one)! she made numerous such connections throughout the interview (talking with me and with customers). the store is organized by subject, but without signage. i didn't ask, but i am pretty sure the lack of signs is on purpose, and it certainly makes things more interesting. as soon as you ask celia where to find something or how the books are organized, she springs to action. she can determine exactly what you might like (even if you would normally be shy and not prone to divulging all your food and agricultural passions to strangers). if she doesn't have the book you're looking for, she'll offer one (or seven) others that might be just as good, and more likely better, than what you had in mind.

the events! intimate author readings and pie contests, for example. i attended a pie contest there last week. i don't think anyone expected 48 pies!! to show up. the place was brimming with pies. just when there was no more room for pies, another pie would arrive—blackberry, ginger peach, strawberry cream, banana cream, blueberry and on and on. luckily, there were also plenty of pie eaters. see more photos from this fun event here. (i made a lemon cream pie with a walnut, homemade graham cracker crust.) the winning pie was the banana cream.

paula helps organize pie tables

the many connections. the store is connected to sf's food history. around the turn of the century, the store used to be a butcher shop, and the freezer door, meat hanging rack and scale remain intact. it's also connected to sf's (and beyond) food past through the books celia collects. many of the collectible books were printed in sf or california. celia worked at the sf book auction house for years and knows all those antiquarian book fair folks (or antiquarian hair fair folks as a friend of hers calls them—apparently there are a lot of large beards and intricate mustaches at the fairs.)

celia and her partner paula have owned the pet store next door for eleven years, and celia herself is an sf native, so omnivore books has some deep roots. celia also supports the business of an older lady farmer by buying the woman's free range eggs and selling ten dozen or so a week of them at the bookstore. and of course the in-store events lead to community connections as well. day-to-day customers include neighborhood folks, pet owners (wandering over from next door), local chefs, and people specifically seeking out the store for books (old and new) on food (the ultimate connector).

sidenote per celia regarding events: "the people who are into baking are the nicest." she told me that like bluegrass musicians, bakers let everyone have a turn. they happily share their skills and recipes (and treats). they have a the more the merrier attitude. (this tidbit is not that surprising, right? it's not often that someone who bakes cookies for people is a meanie.) so, baking events=always good events to attend.

here are some of the fantastic upcoming events at omnivore books.

if you're interested in reading a transcript of the interview, leave a comment with your email address and i'll send it to you. (it's five pages long!)

thanks so much to generous celia for a delightful interview! and to diana who loaned me her tape recorder.

cross posted on mecozy.