Natural Dyes

chaos sorted, tomatoes roasted

Ah September, I love this month! We've got our garden back in hand and are getting it ready for a cool, rainy winter. We learned a lot about gardens this summer, namely to not alternate rows of chard and kale because the kale shades out and stunts the chard, that a little goes a long way in the seed-scattering department, and that roasted tomatoes are a lifesaver. Having to toss moldering heirloom tomatoes for not having dealt with them quick enough is depressing. Luckily I came across Alana Chernila's roasted tomato recipe in time to save most of them. There was a little more to it, but in essence it came down to this: halve and core the tomatoes (I quartered some of the big ones) and lay them out on a parchment -lined baking sheet. Toss on some peeled garlic cloves, a touch of sea salt and black pepper, some fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil, and slow-roast for 5 hours in a 275° oven. I roasted mine in the evening so just left them in the oven (which I turned off) overnight to cool. Once they have cooled, scoop the tomatoes and liquid into a freezer bag and freeze, or keep in the fridge up to a few days. To make a lovely sauce, dice and sauté a yellow onion, add thawed tomatoes and simmer 30 minutes.

The past few weeks have involved intense sorting. This book came into our lives and has inspired a world of good, but also a lot of work and chaos in the process. For several weeks, it was tense (or I was) and I kept my head down, plowing along in my quest to create order. Needless to say it was not a great time for personal relationships as the thought of someone seeing our house with stuff strewn all over was horrific. I am fairly strongly affected by my external environment, so living in a mess, even a temporary one, caused great unhappiness. At this point I feel the need to point out that the process was dragged out because everyday tasks and obligations kept interfering- we did not spend several weeks locked in our house sorting through piles of belongings. I can happily say that the free-pile on our front lawn is dwindling and our house feels (and looks) so much better.

The next challenge I am facing is also the best: to relax. Due to the topics mentioned above (garden, house, chaos!), and also my job which can be stressful for me as it isn't well suited to my personality, I've been feeling pretty overwhelmed lately. Not to say that there aren't still plenty of tasks to check off on the kitchen chalkboard, there are, but they are in the realm of reasonable. I set up a mini studio for myself and am really looking forward to time spent quietly dabbling with paints. In anticipation of this glorious reprieve, I also brought home a small armful of books from the library. Friends! I'm sorry for being lame this last month, but it's better now, I promise. Let's find a misty forest to walk in, and maybe even some chanterelles, and drink tea and draw and giggle. Please, soon.

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the month that flew

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April was the month that flew by. At some point the shade began to feel deliciously cool, though I remember shivering in the sun when the month began. O we had sun, we had snow, we had rain, sleet and hail, and April she changed her mind often. Green has come to us here now, and it is so welcome.

Somehow, with the long bright evenings, I have been pulled back to the studio. I had forgotten how quick it is to hem a few tea towels.


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This spring has brought lilacs on every corner, and slightly spicy apple blossoms. I've rediscovered nail polish (eco water based), which sounds silly, but turns out to be one of those occasional small pleasures. I'm enjoying windows opened wide to the green maple canopy and iced coffee in the afternoons.

We're having a cool reprieve now (in the days since I began this post), and last night I watched the sky flash with lightening and drifted off to heavy pattering rain.

I have new macro tubes... trying to get some details of my fabric out to the world. Cheers!

A delicious blur of pastries and studio time

Friday morning deserves mentioning simply because it was the last day of my uninterrupted art month. It required strong Oso coffee and a breakfast bun made by the gorgeous Rew (toasted croissant, scrambled egg, alfalfa sprouts, tomato, melted cheddar and Antoinette's Salt Spring dip). I went down to the old brick building that was Ellison's grain mill and is now Ellison's Market, a general store for the health-foodie, gardener, pet owner and tea lover, to get cat kibble and vegetables. Usually I bring home a little food each day but working at home has meant the fridge running low, very low in between town days.

The rest of the day was a blur of silkscreening and sewing.

Oooh, I wish I could write that every day. The rest of the day was a blur of silkscreening and sewing. Yes.

I am happy to report there is a giant vat of walnut dye on my stovetop with a duvet cover transitioning through various shades of coffee over the weekend. With the lid on, it really smells okay.

Somehow during the afternoon I gained the audacity to finally print a few years worth of  "poetry" which will make its way onto a screen and then merge with the leaves and birds on my fabrics.

All in all, it was a successful last day to my art month. I have loved my freedom immensely and will seek out more in the spring. For now I'll squeeze my hemming and printing and various processing into the hidden moments between work and dinner and sleep.

Saturday was something else entirely. It was the birthday of wonderful Cor, and was fittingly devoted to baked goods. Wise girl that she is, she requested that all her guests bring pie. To start off the day on the right foot, I whipped up some raspberry peach chocolate muffins using a blend of prairie grown ancient grains, and coffee of course. Then I traipsed through the drizzly rain to Cor's house and we talked baking over some more coffee and then we made a sour cherry-black cherry pie and an apple cake, drank cherry juice and flipped through recipes. Then the pies and celebrators began to arrive and we feasted. True to style, it was a glorious spread. Particularly of note was Gavin's "Kootenay Lime Pie" which seemed to be a particularly excellent rendition of traditional key lime pie.

I think I've hit on a new technique for parents. You see, I ate nothing but baked goods all day and around seven o'clock was struck with a strong urge to eat salad. Hefty winter greens salad comprised of rainbow chard and lacatino kale, the kale "massaged" as I have been couseled (impatiently, however, so it was more of rough toussle). The intense greenness of the greens were balanced by sliced carrot, chopped roasted almonds and cubed rocky mountain cheddar. I like to make salad in my favorite metal mixing bowl, whisking the dressing in the bottom (olive and flax oils, crushed garlic, apple cider vinegar, nutritional yeast, tamari, maple syrup, grainy mustard, tumeric, marjoram, poultry seasoning and pepper). When it's just me eating the salad, which it generally is around here, Jeremy's reaction to kale being to give it to the mice, I will sometimes (read: yesterday, often) eat it out of the giant silver bowl. I will say in my defense, that it's an excellent bowl, handy for not spilling salad when vigorously tossing it, also handy for washing dishes in, with the added benefit of chiming charmingly when clanged into something.

The hazards of walnuts on a sunny day

I have a walnut tree in front of my house. The tree is often filled with crows cawing and flapping around and flinging walnuts at the street. I love it. Up until now, I've watched passers by gather the nuts. My favorite is the elderly couples who bring shopping bags. They're all welcome to these walnuts. Walnuts are messy. I also have a hazelnut tree, in the backyard, and these nuts are scattered in the grass under the tree in delicately toffee striped shells. Gathering them is like finding easter eggs. Not walnuts. The ground beneath the walnut tree is a mess of slimy black hulls in various stages of clinging to or detaching from the shell, green hulls which are hard and harbour many small maggots, yellow leaves, and a scattering of walnuts which have miraculously freed themselves from the hulls. Now, I enjoy walnuts in the kitchen, and the hulls make a good brown or black dye but I don't particularly like maggots so I had not planned on harvesting these. And then, after seemingly weeks of rain and drizzle, the sun rose bright and full Monday morning on Nelsontown, making everything a thousand times more beautiful. And the walnut tree called to me. How could I spend a day like this in the studio, when it might rain tomorrow? Why not do something studio related, outside? Because I work with large amounts of fabric, it takes a lot of dye stuff for one dyebath. Here were a lot of walnut hulls, mine...

I would like to begin with a small appreciation of gloves. They allow us to imagine that we're not actually touching the things that they touch. For that I am very grateful. So, on this beautiful sunny day, I clambered around beside the road, collecting bits of black slime to fill my dye pot. I also brought a bag for walnuts, also slimy. I scraped off maggots with the stem of a leaf and ditched some of the more infested hulls. Maybe in drier autumns, walnuts are more manageable. At some point maybe two-thirds of the way around the tree, I got to wondering what this foul concoction would smell like when I cooked it up. Right, terrible. Not motivating. Around the same time, a neighbour passed by and mentioned that the nuts are a little bitter. If so, I will be leaving presents outside for the crows all winter.

I will be simmering walnut hulls today, making a nice dark brown dye, and baking chocolate peppermint cookies to mask the smell. The house also smells a bit like roasted almond and prune bread, which is very nice indeed. While it is not raining, nor is it spectacularly sunny, so I think I can comfortably spend the day in the studio, with the sewing machine and hot peppermint tea. I have a lot of tea towels to hem this week, as well as some more printing to do. The peppermint tea is a constant. I may have mentioned my love of coffee, but this tea is what fuels the greater part of my day.

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Recipe adapted from La Patisserie Cookie Press & Decorating Set booklet

3/4 cup butter (room temp.)

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg (room temp.)

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract

1/8 tsp salt

1/4 cup cocoa

1 1/2 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar, beating until light. Add egg, vanilla, peppermint and salt and beat until light and fluffy. Add cocoa on low speed and mix in. Blend in flour. Press in cookie press if you have one (they really are fun and make pretty cookies). If not, form into small balls and flatten them or roll dough into a log and refrigerate it until it is firm, then cut into discs (1/3"-1/2"?). Cookies can be spaced 1" apart. Bake at 375 for about ten minutes or until they are firm to the touch.

Roasted Hazelnut Prune Bread

Adapted from Jeffrey Hamelman's wonderful book "Bread: A baker's book of techniques and recipes". This is my favorite bread book.

This recipe does call for a sourdough culture. If you live in the Kootenays, I would be very happy to share mine. If not, they are fairly straightforward to start or you can ask a local bakery.

Be prepared for this bread to take all day, or begin it the night before. You can do other things while the culture works.

Part One: Stiff Levain Build

6.4 oz (1 1/2 cups) bread flour

3.8 oz (1/2 cup) water

1.3 oz (2 tbsp + 1 tsp) mature culture

Mix and then cover, let sit for 12 hours at room temp. I cheated here and added another 1/2 cup water then let it sit for only about 6 hours, in a slightly warmer location.  A stiff dough ferments slowly.

Part Two: Final Dough

Roast the nuts ahead of time, while you're waiting on the levain.

1 lb, 1.6 oz (4 cups) bread flour

8 oz (1 7/8 cups) whole wheat flour

1 lb, 1.3 oz (2 1/8 cups) water

1.6 oz (3 tbsp) butter, soft

.17 oz (1 1/2 tsp) instant dry yeast (this is different than active dry. Instant has about 3x as many active cells so much less can be used. )

10.2 oz (all less 2 tbsp + 1 tsp) levain ( I used all the levain as my sourdough had already been fed and is rye only. Save this only if you wish to keep a sourdough culture on hand. Put it in the fridge and use it within a few weeks. Let it sit at room temp before you use it. )

4 oz (7/8 cup) hazelnuts, roasted and skinned (I used 1 cup almonds and skinned them slightly but not thoroughly)

4 oz (5/8 cup) prunes, coarsely chopped

Add everything except the nuts and fruit to a bowl and mix. Be prepared to adjust the water so the dough is soft. I added more. The nuts and prunes will take up some of the moisture. Mix with a dough hook if you have one or knead for maybe 10 minutes. When you can gently stretch a corner of the dough and it mostly holds together and gets a little translucent in the middle, stop mixing. That is the windowpane test. Incorperate prunes and nuts and put in a lightly oiled, covered bowl. Let sit for 1 1/2 hours. At the 45 minute mark, turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and flatten, or degas it. Fold the bottom 2/3 of the way up, then one side 2/3 over, then the other side 2/3 over (these will all overlap) then the top 2/3 down, then put back in the bowl for another 45 minutes. Folding gives the dough a great deal more strength and structure. It is a small step that is very worthwhile.

When the bulk fermentation is done, turn the dough out onto a floured surface again and divide in two. Shape the loaves (flattening and rolling and pinching and tucking) and put them in their pans, or if free form, you can put a round loaf upside down inside a floured bowl, leaving room for it to expand. Cover and let sit for an hour.

Bake at 460 degrees for 15 minutes, with steam. A hot pan on the bottom rack of the oven works for this. Carefully pour cold water onto the pan when you put the bread in the oven. Lower temperature to 420 degrees after 15 minutes, carefully removing the pan of water (hopefully most will have evaporated. I usually dump some of what's left onto the oven floor for one last burst of steam) and bake another 25 to 30 minutes, or until loaves sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.