Saturday, December 3, 2011

urban bee corridors

i’m super stoked on bees.
recently  i went to a workshop called “how to grow a pollinator garden” put on by master beekeeper jennifer bach. i learned all kinds of fascinating things about bees. there are 20-50 thousand bees in a hive, almost all of them female (3-10% are male "drones"). did you know that the male bees are born from unfertilized eggs? does that seem possible? they are literally genetic clones of the queen. they hang out in “drone congregations” high up in the atmosphere.  when a queen is ready to mate (only once in her life) she flies way up there and zooms past the drones, and whomever’s fast enough to catch up with her she mates with (12-30 of them) and then she keeps the sperm in her body for the rest of her life, using it as needed to fertilize eggs for the next 5 years. she only mates with drones from other colonies, so essentially it’s the genetic coupling of two different queens’ dna that produces the next generation. fascinating.
i also learned that bees in urban areas can often be healthier than bees in agricultural areas because they aren’t as likely to be exposed to pesticides and vast areas of monoculture crops – which are bad for their health. that’s pretty sad, but it renewed my sense of the importance of growing backyard and patio gardens, to provide a sort of urban bee corridor.
they recommended letting 10% of your plants like basil and lettuce go to seed so the bees can enjoy it too, plus then you can collect seeds for replanting. another good tip was to try to plant a diversity of flowering plants that bloom at different times, so the bees have a consistent source of nectar throughout the year. they also appreciate having a source of water nearby when they are feeding, so if you set up a water dish or feature try putting small stones in it so the bees can access the water without getting wet. i’m definitely inspired to plant more flowering things and hope to lend a hand to our pollinator friends.
i also learned that bees leave pheromones on a flower when they sucked out the nectar, and those pheromones evaporate at the same rate that the plant takes to replenish the nectar - so it's a kind of marking signal that says to other bees "don't bother with this one." awesome.
one more interesting tidbit- when the queen hatches a new queen, the old queen takes half the hive and leaves the house to her new protege - this is when hives "swarm" - the hive lands somewhere, usually a tree - and waits while the scouts go out and find possible new hive locations. when the scouts come back to the hive they report what they've each found, and each bee in the hive communicates with the bees immediately around her, and they come to agreement about which is the best new location by essentially "voting." i'd like to learn more about this process. some people are referring to bee hives as a "super organism" - meaning the hive has an intelligence and ability that is beyond the sum of its parts.
at the workshop they had honey tastings provided by local beekeepers - and the jars were labeled by which month/season they were harvested - i was amazed at how completely different honey from spring, summer, fall, and winter seasons taste - even here in hawaii where seasonal changes are relatively subtle.
i was catching up on overdue presents and other personal projects that had been on hold for the past month while i focused on our eat local campaign. The bees inspired me, and i went home buzzing with enthusiasm that came out in the form of these potholders for my friend -and fellow birthday buddy - cathy.
it’s been a while since i’ve done paper piecing – since the dragonfly quilt- but it came back to me and gave me an excuse to dig into my box of scrap fabrics, which was one of the few things i shipped from oakland to hawai'i when i moved. i whipped these out late one night and am quite pleased with how they turned out. cathy’s an amazing cook (among many other things), and i hope these bees will bring her inspiration as well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

crayon roll-up

i’m pretty pleased with this super quick and easy baby present pattern i found at skip to my lou. i had a friend’s first baby luau to go to last weekend, and since i’d been so busy with work i hadn’t gotten around to a present until the day of, which also happened to be my first day of moving into our new place, so time was short.
thankfully googling “easy baby present sewing” turned up this gem – a crayon kit to go that’s vinyl on the inside so it doesn’t get all market up, and is small enough to wrap up and stick in your purse for instant entertainment on the road.
i didn’t have rickrack, which i think would have made it better, but i’m pretty pleased with how it came out, using some scrap camo print vinyl leftover from our grill cozy.

i also ended the project at exactly the right time – check out my spool of yellow thread at the very end of the project. a good sign!
hau’oli la hanau e kahiwa!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

crockpot yogurt

did you know you can make yogurt at home in a crockpot? i tried it for the first time this week, and was truly amazed - it's super easy, tastes great, and saves money. what's not to love?

my friend Momi sent me this recipe a while ago, and I finally had reason to try it out for the eat local challenge.  i had bought a half gallon of local milk the other day on a whim because it was on sale, but i don't really drink milk, and i've been missing having yogurt in my (100% locally grown) smoothies in the morning, so figured this was the perfect time to try out the yogurt recipe. to be honest, i was highly skeptical that it would actually work. I've always been intimidated by yogurt-making, similar to my fear of proofing yeast when baking bread - it's so much pressure to get the temperature right so those little buggers will grow. anyway, despite my skepticism and nervousness, the process was incredibly simple - you just need to start it at a time when you expect to be home periodically to switch the crockpot off and mix in the yogurt. I made a 1/2 recipe because my crockpot is little and that worked just fine.

the ingredients.

--12 cups (3/4 gallon) of whole milk--pasteurized and homogenized is fine, but do NOT use ultra-pasteurized.

--1 6oz store-bought natural, live/active culture plain yogurt

the directions.

plug in your crockpot and turn to low. add milk. cover and cook on low for 2 1/2 hours.

unplug your crockpot. leave the cover on, and let it sit for 3 hours.

scoop out 2 cups of the milk and put it in a bowl. whisk in live/active culture yogurt. then dump the bowl contents back into the crockpot. stir to combine.

put the lid back on your crockpot. keep it unplugged, and wrap a heavy bath towel all the way around the crock for insulation.

go to bed, or let it sit for 8 hours.

in the morning, the yogurt will have thickened---it's not as thick as store-bought yogurt, but has the consistency of low-fat plain yogurt. (i actually found it to be quite thick - see note below)

chill in a plastic container(s) in the refrigerator. your fresh yogurt will last 7-10 days. save 1/2 cup as a starter to make a new batch.

*for thicker yogurt, line colander with cheesecloth/paper towels and set in big bowl. pour yogurt and cover. place in fridge.

now, fellow thick yogurt-lovers, don't be dissuaded (i was, and i think that's part of why it took me so long to try the recipe). i am not the kind of person who loves just eating yogurt, because i don't think it's rich enough - the one type of yogurt i fell in love with is a brand called Liberte from vermont that's something like 8% milkfat (yum!). now that i can't get that i settle for greek-style yogurt. and yet i LOVE this homemade yogurt - it's creamy and fairly thick and very flavorfull. in fact, i ate an entire 35oz container in the first 24 hours (is that gross?) and none of it has made it into the smoothies yet.

Monday, September 5, 2011

baby hats on a plane

this labor day weekend i'm working on a long-anticipated baby project. yep the baby's already been born, but i don't want to give away the surprise gift, so i will *not* be blogging about that one just yet.
for now let me show you the baby hats i made on the plane ride back from oklahoma last month. these don't have a particular baby in mind, i just figure it's always good to be prepared with baby gifts - plus they're so fast to make = good plane project.
i actually only made 1 1/2 of these hats, since one of them was started during an impromptu crochet lesson involving marty's niece nia, his aunty linda, and... well, guess who knows how to crochet now?
mmhmm, that's right.

Monday, August 29, 2011

composting with bokashi

here's a little video i made about my newest composting system: the bokashi bucket.
bokashi is an anaerobic (lacking oxygen) composting method that essentially pickles your food waste with the help of some special microbes. you can even compost meat and dairy - which I'm stoked about.
i never know how to dispose of old meat scraps, and so i've been saving used ziplocks and sealing them up in there and throwing them out - but that feels so gross. i just know somebody down the line (either picking up my garbage bin or at the dump) is doing to have to deal with the nastiness that is some rotting meat in a plastic bag. eew. so i'm stoked beyond words to have a legitimate way of returning that stuff back into the ecosystem.
the process is pretty simple, you sprinkle the microbe mixture on top of any food scraps you put in the bucket, and then when the bucket is full you dump it into a hole and bury it in the ground for 2-4 weeks, and then it's decomposed! magic. you can even make your own bokashi powder, which i'd like to try when i run out. 
i've been hearing about bokashi and wanting to try it, but i was hung up on making my own bucket system (which of course never happened), and then i saw a deal come up on Kanu Values - full disclosure, this is where i work- but i've really been chomping at the bit to get a bokashi kit, and the deal sold out in about 30 minutes. the kit comes from each one teach one farms, here on o'ahu, and then have some pretty great resources on their website.
let me know what you think of the video - i'm pretty proud of my nascent video editing skills - next time i'll use my phone to film in HD, and probably repaint my fingernails.

btw, i'm over apologizing for not posting in forever, i fell of the "project a week" wagon. hard. and now i'm doing my best to get back on the horse.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

week nine: planting in dresser drawers

ok, so it's not really "week nine." i'm a whole month behind on my weekly blogging project, so i'm playing catch up here with some projects i did a while ago but that never made an appearance on the blog.
when we first moved into our little studio we weren't entirely sure how long we'd be staying in the place. we have a nice little backyard space, and i was itching to grow things, but i didn't want to plant a bunch of stuff only to move out before we could harvest. so we came up with a compromise: planting in recycled dresser drawers. they provide us a sort of grab-and-go garden, able to pick up and take them with us if needed.
the neighborhood we live near, moiliili, always has a reliable supply of unwanted furniture on the roadside, so we drove around and collected old dresser drawers - ones with solid wood or metal bottoms. we turned these old drawers into planter boxes by drilling holes in the bottom - thanks to popsie's tools.
 we bought some potting soil - which i discovered is not, in fact, soil - but a mixture of peat moss, perlite, and composted material that drains better than regular soil and is good for container gardening. that being said, it's expensive to buy soil - potting or otherwise - so on popsie's recommendation i mixed the potting soil with regular soil we dug from our backyard.
we planted all kinds of stuff in the drawers: taro, kale, collards, chili peppers, yerba buena, okra, mustard cabbage, green onions, thyme, tomatoes, basil, sweet potatoes, and some other things that didn't make it like lettuce, cucumbers, and cilantro.
it was a while ago that we made the planter drawers, so things are growing nicely now. we even harvested our first taro this weekend - more on that in a future post. we also decided to stay a while in our little studio, so we've started planting in the ground, too.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

week eight: garden harvest

i'm going to use the excuse of unexpected travel and sickness over the past two weeks to account for slacking on my blog projects. this post is less a project than a collection of bite-sized morsels that emerged from our garden recently.
first, there's the tomatoes. while the tomatoes we originally planted have not fared too well - the only tomatoes that grew to full size were enjoyed by the birds while we were away in oakland last week - we have numerous "volunteer" tomatoes that have sprung up around the garden in places they weren't planted.

i hate you, birds.
i assume this, too, is the work of the birds. these little yellow cherry tomatoes somehow are much healthier than their original counterparts, and have managed to produce several handfuls of wee tomatoes that i've actually been able to harvest before our beaked friends get at them.

also in abundance right now are our perpetually-baby kale and collard greens. i'm not sure why the leaves stay small, maybe i planted them too close together in the container, but they are quite tender and hardly need to be cooked.

they go great raw into smoothies. this one includes frozen berries and some poi - yum! as well as garden greens.
i'm a big fan of sauteed garden greens and eggs in the morning. this is a variation on that. i've always been curious about the "egg-in-a-basket" concept, and this was my first attempt at making it myself.

surrounding the egg in a basket are chopped fresh garden greens - collards and kale - as well as lightly sauteed green pea shoots - the harvest from my project of several weeks ago. i've also planted some of the peas along the fenceline to see if they'll mature enough to give actual pea pods. i'll keep you posted.
other things i'm looking forward to harvesting in the coming months: taro and sweet potatoes!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

week seven: carrot top crisps

oops, i've fallen out of the routine here in the past couple weeks so it's time to play catch up. first on the menu is a new way of preparing carrots - using the greens.
i've always wondered if the tops were left on carrots just as a sort of back-to-the-landish aesthetic, but i overheard the interns at ma'o say in the packing shed one day while we were packing up csa boxes, that some people eat them. i tried it once, and found them a bit bitter, so i served them sauteed with garlic and jalapeno (because that will make anything taste good). 

on a recent trip to the farmers market i met up with the lovely ladies of ma'o - interns cheryse, maisha, and anuhea - and because of the excessive rains of late they mostly had a whole lotta carrots to sell at the stand. i wanted to support, so i ended up coming home with six big bunches of carrots, greens and all, so this was inspiration to have another go at the whole carrot top thing.

cheryse - brilliant salesperson that she is - recommended making a carrot top pesto out of them, and i ran this idea past ed kenney, owner and chef of town restaurant, who i saw on my way out of the ma'o stand. ed wholeheartedly supported the carrot top pesto - saying he serves ma'o carrots with a pesto sauce made of their greens, to the mantra "what grows together goes together."
i have yet to try carrot top pesto, but my friend maile (who also bought six bunches of carrots from ma'o that day) made it to rave reviews from the family.

what i chose to do with my carrot top greens was take the concept of kale chips - one of my favorite not-so-guilty pleasures, and apply it to carrot tops. kale chips are the best (and probably best for you) alternative to potato chips i've ever had - and i love potato chips. crispy is hands-down my favorite texture for food, so anything that manages to be crispy i'm willing to consume. check out my friends' hannah and phoebe's i heart kale blog for my recipe for kale chips.

my first attempt at carrot top chips was a mixture of kale and carrot tops. again, i was concerned about the bitter flavor being overbearing and figured if it was a mixture it might be better. but something about the roasting process takes out the bitterness, so the carrot tops came out as crispy, crunchy, delicate melt-in-your-mouth greens without a hint of bitterness.

this is in b/w because i'm embarrassed about the state of my pan
the kale and carrot tops "crisped" up at different rates, since they are different shapes and sizes, so the next time i made carrot top crisps i let them ride solo. plus when the carrot greens are laid out on the pan and allowed to crispify they turn into a lovely delicate lace - something i imagine could be put to good decorative use at a restaurant - ed are you listening? :)

i used this batch of carrot top crisps to top a 3 layer roasted vegetable platter i was bringing to a potluck. it included beets, carrots, red turnips (who knew those existed?) as well as the greens from those root veggies - with the crispy carrot greens on top. unfortunately, by the time i arrived at the potluck the crisps had lost some of their crispiness, so i recommend eating them right out of the oven, especially if you live somewhere with high humidity like hawai'i.

Monday, February 14, 2011

week six: valentines fortune cookies

marty and i are apart this valentines day, and i wanted to send him with something to open and celebrate our love while he's away. this was a great suggestion by my coworker friend julie: fortune cookies with favorite memories from the past year. she recommended getting nice valentines card stock and a chinese food container from ben franklin (they'll even cut the paper in circles for you there!) but i ended up doing this project late at night while marty was dj-ing, so i had to use magazine pictures (recycled!).
i sort of wanted to make real fortune cookies to house our memories, but it looks like those are really hard to make, and i wrote out 26 fortunes, so i figured that was kind of an exorbitant amount of cookies to eat by yourself, and awkward to share them with someone if they have personal anecdotes hidden inside.
so i went for the paper ones. check out this great tutorial on how to do it.  it took me a bit to get the right size for the magazine pages to be transformed into cookie shapes rather than just crumpling or folding in half.
 i took a page from the book (so to speak) of real fortune cookie-making when my rolled up tape trick wasn't really doing it, and i glued the inner crease and then put the "cookies" in an egg carton to set. egg cartons are so handy! the real fortune cookie recipes i read said that if you were actually able to deftly fold the fortune cookies while still hot enough to not crack and crumble (and perhaps not burn your fingers) you should let them cool in a muffin tin so they keep their shape.
that seemed to work well, and i did make it to ben franklin's the next morning before his flight to pick up a chinese food box (though all they had were shades of pastel). it turns out 26 fortune cookies is too many to fit in a box, even if they are paper and small. so the box was a little overflowing and i hope it made it safely to oakland.
 happy valentines day.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

week five: compost death star!

i have been doing a lot of thinking about compost. it's not that i don't love my worms - i really love my vermicomposting worms. they just can't keep up with all the kitchen scrap waste we produce in our house. they are voracious little eaters, but we've come to find out that if we feed them too much at once it attracts black soldier flies to the worm bin. and while everyone says black soldier flies and worms get along fine and can be friends in that bin, that is not our experience. our experience with black soldier flies led to the untimely demise of our first beloved batch of worms (rest in peace), which you haven't heard about on this blog because it was too traumatic for me to discuss. and i still don't really want to talk about it, so suffice to say we replenished our worm colony and we stopped feeding them so much.
so we have been having a backlog of compost build up in our freezer (we keep a ziplock baggie in the freezer until we can put food scraps in the worm bin), and it became apparent we needed to start another composting system. if i had a little more space and wasn't renting a place where we live quite close to our neighbors, i think i would start a regular old compost pile in the yard. but i'm not sure how long we're going to be renting this spot and i'd hate to leave the landlord a pile of decomposing matter in the backyard if we move out. so i wanted to keep our compost bin contained.
i did a lot of internet research and read some excellent books from the library on different methods of composting, and i got excited about the compost tumbler as a system that was well suited (and fun!) for us. it's a self contained barrel that spins on an axis, thus providing ample aeration that is crucial to expediting the composting process. it keeps pests out, and looks a little more managed than a pile. plus you don't have to dig into it and turn it, which i think is one of those things i would avoid doing.
i wanted to build a compost tumbler myself, and there are great tutorials out there for how to do it, but i realized that it would take me a long while to scrounge up recycled materials to build with and borrow the tools necessary, and our freezer is filling up all the while, so i made the decision to buy one premade. i chose a compost tumbler i wanted, the cheapest model i could find, and went to purchase it online - because there doesn't seem to be anyone (besides costco - and they don't have the model i wanted) who sells compost tumblers here on o'ahu. however, as i found out through numerous online sellers and amazon, shipping to hawai'i would cost me more than the tumbler itself! so i had to scrap that idea.
purely by chance, (and maybe because i was a little bit obsessed) i found the CompoSpin compost tumbler, which is actually a spherical compost bin ball that rotates on a base. they carry it at costco online, but not in the stores here, so i found a seller on amazon that was willing to ship to hawaii for not too much money - this composter ships in pieces that you assemble, unlike the other models - and i bought it. i was super excited to start composting in my new ball (and i was eager to make some room in the freezer) so i anxiously awaited the estimated shipment arrival date, and i waited, and i waited. and finally i contacted the company who told me the only way they could ship to hawaii was by parcel post and it might take up to 6 weeks. which burst my composting bubble, but thankfully, and surprisingly, it arrived this weekend on our doorstep.

Death Star Composter from Willie Maze on Vimeo.

marty and i breathlessly assembled it (a really fun process of snapping pieces together) and brought out our squirreled away bits of food scraps we've been hoarding to fill it up. it turns out to quite resemble the death star. here's the video of that process, watch for the impromptu cameo appearance of our friend, brutus.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

week four: posture wrist rest

now that i have a job where i spend most of my days in front of the computer, i'm noticing the repetitive strain on my body: namely my wrists, neck and shoulders. i remember years ago i had a nice squishy mini-beanbag pillow-type thing that i rested my wrist on while handling the mouse, and that seemed to help. if i can, i'd rather make something myself than buy it, so i got an idea when my new laptop battery came in the mail padded with some squishy foam inserts.
since i already had the sewing machine set up from finishing the 'ulu quilt, i decided to whip up a quick wrist rest.
i took one of the foam inserts, folded it in half, and stitched up a mini pillowcase out of scrap fabric. i stuffed the folded foam into the pillowcase and finished the last edge by hand. it was a quick and dirty process, but i'm pretty pleased with the results. while the texture of the foam is not quite as appealing as whatever those little beads were in the manufactured wrist pillow, it is significantly lighter - it hardly weighs anything - which is a definite advantage considering my shoulder bag weighs nearly a ton with my laptop and all the other junk i carry around in it (another possible factor in my shoulder tension).
i finished the wrist rest off with a reminder to myself, figuring i'm going to be seeing it periodically throughout the day. my friend megan and i have started a practice this year of checking in for 5 minutes once a day to ask each other 5 questions that we want to be held accountable for. one of my questions is "how is your posture?"

i'm hoping this little reminder will help me stick with that commitment.

Monday, January 24, 2011

week three: 'ulu quilt

they say you have a year to give a newly married couple a gift. i've taken that advice a bit liberally and this gift is maybe a year and a half after the actual wedding. but hey, it's handmade! and what a great opportunity to continue celebrating your marriage.

so i read somewhere that the 'ulu (breadfruit) tree symbolizes marital bliss. i have never been able to find that reference again, so the specifics of why that is are lost to me, but i have a lot of respect for the 'ulu; its abundance and versatility made it a great companion for polynesian voyagers to bring on the long canoe journeys across the pacific. if you've never had the opportunity to eat 'ulu it can range from potato-like (and makes great chips, mashed, steamed, baked), to sweet-fruity dessert-like, depending on the variety and ripeness.
anyway, the seed was planted (so to speak) in my mind >2 years ago to make an ulu quilt for my friends jake and nicole's wedding. what better wish could you give someone for their wedding than marital bliss?

i chose the fabrics at fabric mart, a store in our neighborhood with a dizzying array of aloha prints. this is also the store i got my lovely curtain fabric and the camouflage water-repellent fabric i used to sew a cozy for our little bbq grill (these projects apparently happened when i was in blogging hiatus-mode). they've got pretty great prices, and i have to say i respect them for having a website called fmart
i misjudged the amount of fabric i'd need for the wall hanging quilt i was making. well, no. what actually happened is that i was bullied by the filipino aunty in the store into buying less than i knew i needed for the project because it was the end of the roll and she was giving me a deal on it. and i guess because i'm chinese i totally played into that. my thought process went something like "well, it's about 3 inches less than i really want for this quilt, but it's a deal..." so i made do.

the process of cutting out a pattern for hawaiian quilting is really fun - like cutting a fabric snowflake. i decided to do the breadfruits in a lighter green to accent, and made up a hexagonal quilting pattern that i think makes them look real. other than that the process is pretty tedious, pinning and then hand-appliqueing and hand quilting inside and out of your design. this is the second hawaiian quilt square i've done, the first was a lehua blossom for my mom. 

while i'm counting this as one of my 52 projects in 52 weeks, it obviously did not take me a week to make.  it took me quite a while to complete, and i'll dispense with excuses about that and suffice to say i'm excited to send it to them. so if you're a friend who has gotten hitched in the past, um, several years and you haven't gotten a gift from me yet - don't lose hope.