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stud_2All of the leather shown above is undyed. The colors achieved are simply the result of time, general use, and sun exposure.

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I am asked the question, “what is vegetable tanned leather?” pretty often. Sometimes people wonder if it’s even real leather… is it made of vegetables?

Tanning is the process of treating animal skin to produce leather. All leather is tanned in one way or another. It is what converts an animal skin into a functional, usable material. The 2 most common types of tanning you will likely hear of include chrome (or mineral) tanning and vegetable tanning.

“Vegetable tanned” means the process of tanning leather has been achieved with tannins, and other ingredients found in plant matter – most commonly tree bark. Vegetable tanning is an age old traditional method, which is often done by hand, by skilled artisans. It is a lengthy process from start to finish, which can take up to 60 days. By the use of natural tannins, vegetable tanned leather improves rather than degrades with age. It starts out with a firmer temper – feeling stiffer than chrome tanned leather – and then becomes soft and supple, and develops a rich patina on it’s surface. In a sense, vegetable tanned leather is like a living organism, responding to it’s environment.

Chrome tanned leather makes up the majority of the leather you will find on the retail market. Chrome tanning employs the use of chemicals, acids and salts (including chromium sulphate), and the process is quick, taking only one day. It is easily mass produced, and highly toxic to the environment, as well as the people involved in the tanning process. Leather tanned with chemicals doesn’t wear well, and eventually often cracks and becomes brittle.

I have been exploring the world of leather over the last couple years, and when I first got my hands on a side of vegetable tanned cowhide, I could immediately smell and feel the difference. It invites you to handle it. The smell is soft and comforting. The subtle variation in grain and color from piece to piece is exciting and beautiful. One of the more notable features of natural vegetable tanned leather, for the end user, is the change that occurs over time. What begins a pale flesh tone, gradually transforms to a rich chestnut or cognac brown. The end color will vary somewhat, depending on the exact tannins used – from reddish brown to golden brown. This change can be accelerated with the application of oil, and with sun exposure. Just as your skin can get a suntan, so will vegetable tanned leather.

The rucksack above, which belongs to a customer of mine, has been in regular use for about a year. The leather has not been dyed! My wallet shown above would be quite a lot darker if I were to leave it out in the light each day. Since it spends most of it’s time in my bag or my pocket, the change has been more gradual. If you were to inspect my wallet closely you would see where the oils from my hands have darkened the edges, and the subtle gradations from light to dark, depending on each area’s exposure and wear. The way a quality wallet (or pair of shoes, or bag, etc) wears, can say a lot about the user and the life of the item. I love that.

This post just scratches the surface of all there is to know about leather, but it should help gain an understanding of some of the basics.

For anyone interested, here are a couple of further resources.

A wikipedia article on leather:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leather
and an encyclopedia brittanica entry on tanning:
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/582713/tanning

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mushrooming_3_editThis week I had the strongest urge to head into the woods and find some mushrooms. It’s full blown mushroom season in the pacific northwest, and the woods are alive with new life as the rain returns and quenches the thirst of late summer.

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Processed with VSCOcamI was especially keen on finding some chanterelles. They didn’t appear right away, but to my surprise, the first thing I found was a king bolete. King of the forest! Porcini!  Delicious, beautiful bolete! I thought it was pretty lucky, but then happened to find a few throughout our wander.

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hedgehog_1_editThe mushroom above caught my attention, as it looked similar to a chanterelle from a distance, but on closer inspection we found it was actually a hedgehog mushroom. The giveaway is the spiny or toothy looking underside – like the body of a hedgehog.

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big_brown_1_editA deer mushroom? Not sure about this one. If I would have tried harder to identify it, I would have paid closer attention to how the stalk snapped and what was going on in those gills.

mushrooming_1_editSO many kinds of mushrooms in the woods right now. So many I could hardly begin to share them all with you!

conch_0_editI think this might be a Red Belted Conk (the orange-hued one). If so, it has some pretty powerful medicinal properties.

coral_0_editA type of coral or club mushroom. Many of this group are edibile, but can be hard to ID (we didn’t pick any). There is a salmon-colored coral mushroom that looks a lot like this one pictured, that will dye wool a purple color!

hydnellum_peckii_0_editThis crazy looking bleeding mushroom was new to us both, and totally freaked us out. We thought for sure it was deadly poison (or some weird, confectionary delicacy?). This is Hydnellum Peckii, and while it’s not edible, due to it’s bitterness, it’s actually not known to be poisonous. It works symbiotically with conifers, as do many mushrooms, and plays it’s important part in the ecosystem.

toad_1_editA patient, quiet toad who let me get incredibly close for a photo.

mushrooming_2_editDeer ferns galore.

chanterelle_4_editThe chanterelle! Steven spotted this particular patch on a little hill.

chanterelle_3_editWhen harvesting chanterelles, cutting above the stem base will allow more chanterelles to fruit in the same spot later. The beginnings of more chanterelles are contained in the stringy mycelium that connects to the mushroom base. It’s important to understand how to properly harvest mushrooms so we do not cause unnecessary harm to the delicate ecosystems we are disturbing.

Processed with VSCOcamThe chanterelle is, for sure, my favorite mushroom. Their unique, earthy, spiciness and full texture is hard to beat. That color is so beautiful, and their smell is unmistakable.

mushrooming_4_editWhile we ate dinner last night, enjoying the experience of the mushrooms we found, I said how, in many ways, it feels much more exciting to eat food that I have found in the wild than the food I have grown in our garden. It makes me feel alive and a part of things in a way that is deep and enduring. Like an animal. A part of the universe. I feel encouraged to learn to identify more of the edible plants around me. We live in such a lush and amazing place here.

Note: My main resource for mushroom identification is All That the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms, by David Arora. It fits in my back pocket and is packed with PNW mushroom knowledge. As with any kind of wildcrafting of edibles, be sure you can 100% identify that the plant you pick to eat is what you think it is. And be sure to always treat the land, and the plants and animals that you encounter, with the utmost respect and care.

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abundance

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The late summer garden means baskets full of food and crowded kitchen counters. Our dining table makes me claustrophobic lately, covered with bowls of tomatoes and zucchini squash and not always enough time to deal with it as quickly as I should. I won’t even talk about the fridge full of beans and cucumbers. I won’t lie, it’s a little overwhelming sometimes.

This week I hope to do some canning, but in the mean time we’ve been as creative with meals as time allows, and loving the fact that produce never enters our grocery bags.

I wanted to share a few things we’ve been especially enjoying recently.

tomatoes_2Our favorite summer treat is slow roasted tomatoes, which we add to sandwiches, pasta, pizza, and anything else we can think of. Seriously, we talk about roasted tomatoes all year long, in anticipation of the next tomato harvest.  They’re a little bit like bites of ketchup (did you add ketchup to everything when you were a kid, too?) only 6.9 million times better.

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zucchini_crust_0I was turned on to a recipe for zucchini pizza crust recently, and have since made it twice. I doubled the batch the first time, and tripled it the next. It’s a great way to use up a couple large summer squashes, and it makes a delicious, moist-yet-crispy crust. Make extra because leftover pizza is always a great idea.

zucchini_crust_1The recipe seems pretty forgiving, and flour substitutions have worked well for me. I used a combination of brown rice flour and flax meal in place of the almond meal called for.

zucchini_crust_2I’ve also been blending up improv tomato sauces. This one was made with a mix of fresh and roasted tomatoes (mostly orange, hence the color), fresh picked Walla Walla sweet onion, ground sunflower seeds, sea salt, dulse and fresh oregano, thyme and savory. This particular sauce was pretty thick, making it a versatile sauce or spread.

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So in the end, I guess growing a garden all comes down to pizza (just kidding). But really, these have been some of the most satisfying pizza pies I’ve ever made. Almost completely home grown, and so representative of the season right now. And one single place to combine all our favorite things. Don’t forget the pesto!

What are your favorite summer meals?

(And, any favorite ways to preserve green beans?)

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saving garden seed

This is a repost of an article I wrote for Tend this week.

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This is a great time of year to think about saving seeds. A number of garden plants are either starting to bolt and flower, or are already bearing seeds at this time. Rather than pull plants once they’re past their prime, consider leaving some to complete the cycle of growth in your garden.

I have been been focusing almost 100% on growing heirloom varieties, which makes seed saving feel even more rewarding. For example, the melons I’m growing are from seed that dates back to the 1800s. There is quite a history in that plant! I take it as a responsibility and a challenge, and one that I enjoy.

I thought I’d share some of what’s happening in our garden right now, in terms of seed production.

 

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seed_saving_3aSage seed is ready for harvest. See the dark, round seeds inside the dried flower heads?

 

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seed_saving_2We hardly need to save calendula this year, as I harvested an enormous amount last year, but I have been keeping a few seed heads here and there. Calendula seed is ready to harvest when the seeds easily rub away from the flower head.

 

seed_saving_0aI have had this enormous Bull’s Blood beet plant in the garden all spring and summer (I should have taken a photo of the whole plant!). It’s actually been kind of an unsightly nuisance, in the most inconvenient location, but I have been patient. There will be hundreds, maybe thousands of seed pods to harvest soon. Beet seed is also shown above in the first image.

 

seed_saving_7Some of the earliest of the pea vines I planted have a few pods coming close to harvest. With peas and beans, simply leave some pods on the vine until they are completely dried. Then you can remove the inner peas/beans and store.

 

seed_saving_1Coriander (cilantro) seed is coming along. I will use some for cooking, and save some for planting. Cilantro flowers also add a delicate beauty to the garden bed.

 

seed_saving_9Kale, planted last year, is another monstrous tangle that I have been waiting patiently for. The pods are now dry and the seeds fully mature. There is more than enough seed on this plant grow countless gardens full of kale.

 

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Honey bees like when plants are left to go to seed, too. They are completely crazy for the leek flowers shown above, and at most any given time you can go out and find 2-6 honeybees on any given flower head.

Here is a brief post I wrote about seed saving last year as well, if you are interested.

Do you save seed? I’d love to know anything you’d like to share about your own experience.

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stargazing

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On a whim, I suggested we have a picnic dinner in the yard the other night. Only a short time before we set out, did I remember it was that time of year where there is a big meteor shower. We had missed the peak of it, the night before – August 11 – but I knew from experience that there would be a number of nights where stargazing would be pretty exciting. Then I texted my brother and sister and mom to remind them too! August 11 is a day we all remember with a mix of sadness and fondness, as it’s also the day we lost our dad.

We packed a basket with wine and mini mason jars, a blanket and warm sweaters. We talked and sipped wine until darkness settled on us, and then we laid down to soak up the peace of the night and watch the sky come alive. The Milky Way was straight overhead. The Big Dipper sat low on the horizon. We both wished we could ID the constellations better! We had a pretty great show of shooting stars. They seemed so bright and low! The night sky fills me with awe and excitement, and makes my brain itch a little with the vastness, and the sense of the depth of what is out there.

I feel amazingly small in a way that brings an inexplicable peace.

Before we headed in we gave a shot at our night time photography skills. We didn’t manage to catch a shooting star in the frame, and the shutter speed was so long the stars were moving (and a little blurry) by the time it snapped, but I think we did alright considering.

Such an incredible world this is. It’s easier than it might sometimes seem, to shift, and regain perspective.

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so squirrelly

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It’s been quite a time with this little critter. It has broken into our house more than once (once through a tiny hole related to the ducting coming into the house (which has since been sealed) and once right through the front door), chewed the insulation under the hood of the car up, has been burying what appears to be bird seed in every potted plant it can find, and is sneaking into the garage every chance it gets. This is just to name a few of it’s shenanigans!

Steven found some organic cotton and wool stuffing samples we’ve had laying around, and thought that maybe if he put it out for the squirrel to find, it would lay off a little. A crow took one tuft, another disappeared while we weren’t looking, and this one sat in that planter pot for at least a week, untouched. We had an incredible rainbow appear recently, and I hopped on downstairs to grab the camera, and who should I see right outside the glass… What timing!

That wad of stuffing was at least the size of a baseball. I watched in awe as it stuffed and stuffed (with it’s little partner in crime nearby). The material somehow disappeared into the squirrel and finally, with a big bit of fluff hanging out of it’s mouth, as you see, it trotted off. Amazingly enough, we haven’t seen much of it since, so maybe it finally acquired enough for that nest it’s been building! Now we just can’t help but wonder where that nest might be…

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You can find me at tend today, sharing what I’ve learned about deer resistant gardening. And any of you with deer and gardens – I’d love your 2 cents!

I hope your week’s off to a great start. xo

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garden notes

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It’s been a couple weeks now since I started jotting these notes down, and I have planted another round of seeds since, but I wanted to get this posted anyway. Almost all of the seeds mentioned below are now growing strong. The red romaine is slow to germinate (I remember this now from last year), but 2 tiny sprouts have finally appeared this week. It has been a great early spring for seed starting, with abundant sunshine for new plants to bathe in.

March 17: planted a dozen walla walla, dozen parris island (green romaine), dozen red romaine, dozen lacinato kale, 6 bush buttercup. Most all of the earlier sets of starts have germinated and are doing very well.

The last couple days we had what felt like record warmth for this time of year and every living thing seemed pretty excited about it. Yesterday there were a number of firsts – I saw the first honeybee, buzzing in the rosemary flowers; the first black ants, and when evening came I saw the first bat. We also heard the first osprey, and today saw them soaring overhead. It seems like we have more and more birds in our yard each year, which makes an organic gardener so happy! (so long as they are not eating your food, haha). Steven put some cotton balls left from an empty B-vitamins bottle out for the birds, and watched a crow carry it off today. There is a lot of nesting activity going on, and even a bit of squabbling over nesting materials between the crows and the blue jays. This green, lush, new season brings me so much joy.

What’s happening where you are this time of year? And if you have one, how is your garden coming along?

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set fire

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A little dubstep for your weekend.

(And if you enjoyed that, here’s one more).

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simple and beautiful

 

linen

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My next home project is in the queue. Maybe tonight I will carve out some space to work on it… That stack of flax and hemp linen is one of those simple things that makes me physically happy. Just the sight of linen – it’s texture, it’s depth, it’s coarseness and softness, the way the fibers weave amongst each other. It creates a bodily, palpable sensation for me. It’s like you want to eat it, but of course you never would. But how to explain that feeling? Is there anything like that for you? Do I sound like a crazy person? :) When I named my business “infusion” I had in mind the weave of a rustic, raw linen. Romanian Hemp and European linen were the original source of my crazy love for textiles.

So anyway, what will come of that mighty stack will be some very simple, hardworking items. Items that will be seen and used every day, all day. Any guesses?

What would you feel inspired to make with it?

.. this is not the first time I have gushed over linen. In case you missed this a couple years ago, and are interested, here is a beautiful video about European linen.

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repetition

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There is a lot of repetition in my work days. It used to feel arduous to do the same task over and over, but I learned to use repetitive tasks as an opportunity to improve my techniques, sharpen my perception, and increase my efficiency. I always like a challenge, and creating a challenge out of the mundane makes the mundane more fun. I think one of the most valuable things I have gained in building my business, is the changes I have made in my perception, my increased patience and my ability to see an idea through to a completed manifestation.

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