Monday, October 8, 2012

Ocimum Vodka Yum

Basil fresh from Glo's Garden. Thanks, Michael!
I have always been a big fan of basil. Basil is in the Lamiaceae, or mint family, which is well known for its many aromatic members, including rosemary, thyme, and oregano. The smell of basil is so uplifting; simply put, it makes me happy, and the essential oil of basil has a history of use as an aromatic tonic for the nerves---potentially useful for those with depression, anxiety, fatigue, or nervous tension. That's why, when my dear friend, after making his 30th+ tub of pesto, was wondering what he could possibly do to use up the remaining rows of bushy basil, I suggested he make basil vodka (guess I'm on a vodka kick). 

Making herbal extracts with alcohol is one of the easiest things in the world to do, if you are 1) old enough to buy alcohol, 2) have a few jars and 3) have some plant materials you'd like to suck some of the goodness out of.

There was the cutest little snail on the basil.
The process for making basil infused vodka is quite simple.

Wash and towel dry your fresh basil, preferably organic.
Fill a ball jar (or your chosen receptacle) with the basil, lightly and loosely packed.
Pour your vodka of choice to cover all the plant material, mixing a bit to release any trapped air bubbles.
Cap and allow to infuse 24-48 hours.
Strain and store in airtight container.

I used a relatively cheap vodka, that didn't taste great straight, knowing that the wonderful infusion of basil would cut the burn and turn it into a lovely, palatable, affordable beverage--and it did! After 24 hours the vodka smelled and tasted delightful.

We made basil vodka ginger lime spritzers, and they made us feel great! The aromatic smell and taste of the basil, the bit of spice from the ginger syrup (Terra Firma's is a delicious choice) combined with the tart lime (lemon works too) and the faint sparkle of carbonation is truly uplifting--a medicinal treat worthy of repetition! It was therapeutic!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fancy Bits

This Wednesday, while taking a break from my more typical sewing projects (skirts and shirts mainly as of late) I grabbed a bag of scrap fabrics I scored at MECCA--Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts--and started messing around with some of the fabric pieces. It appeared as though someone had abandoned what he or she'd been working on mid-project. There were oval shapes cut from various silks and silky fabrics in awesome contrasting solids and prints pinned together in batches of 5 or 6. I really liked the color combinations of the pinned ovals so I decided to work with them.
The bottom right corner shows one I made with dark green blue and paisley silks.
The pieces were kind of like flower petals so, I experimented arranging them on a piece of fabric to form a shape suggestive of a lotus, one of my favorite flower shapes. Then, I did a basic applique, sewing the ovals in the desired shape onto the square of base fabric. I originally had in mind to make a patch, however, after sewing it didn't lay flat as I would've liked it. So I cut it out and began to see how it not only looked like a lotus flower, it also was very reminiscent of butterfly wings or even feathers. I hand sewed a couple matching vintage buttons, hot glued it to a new but salvaged headband and viola!
Me modeling the 1st Fancy Bits headbands
A unique and fancy bit of head decoration. I am pleased with the results; its retro, sort of flapper-ish, sort of burlesque/carnivalesque and it was entirely made from salvaged and scrap materials. I didn't record the process for the 1st one I made, but below are a few pictures from ones that followed.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fox Grapes

When I was a little girl, I distinctly remember going to the Blue Ridge Mountains with my family to pick fox grapes. The experience is perhaps more vivid and distinct because while we were picking, my brothers and I ran off through the woods and were attacked by stinging ground wasps. I was stung over 20 times, but that was the day we discovered that my brother was allergic to bees, similar to my mom, who was deathly allergic. He ended up in the hospital overnight. And even now, as I laugh at the memory (I ran screaming, down the road, throwing off my clothing along the way--wasps were in my pants, in my hair, everywhere, and my mom had to look on in horror from a distance because she couldn't help us), the taste of those wild grapes is a sweet and fragrant elixir permanently etched into my hypothalamus. So, when Dahlia came home from a walk with a basket full of grapes (I'm not sure what strain) last week, those memories came flooding back---I was filled with nostalgia, the sweet, the sour, the crunch of the seeds, that particular musky grapeness---it was like a little bit of my childhood neatly encapsulated in those powdery clusters of little berry orbs.
Dahlia and I decided to make grape juice. So we washed the grapes and mashed them in a large pot.
After gently simmering for about 10 minutes, we strained the mixture. you can see how the pigments really start to come out of the skins, and the mixture becomes a rich purple red color.
I decided to forgo the cheesecloth because I felt it would remove too much of the good stuff, so the juice is more like a thick cider, but it is creamy and delicious! Noting that there was still a lot of color and grape fragrance to the mash after straining, I decided to make grape mash vodka. I'll let the vodka infuse for several weeks, but it surely does smell delightful!
The grape mash vodka is on the right, the other two are elderberry.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Chicken of the Woods

My youngest daughter, Dahlia went out to collect money for a school fundraiser and came home with over $40, and a large cache of Laetiporus sp, more fondly know as the chicken of the woods mushroom. I have to admit, I was pretty excited; its been dryer than usual for this time of year, and I guess I'm antsy for mushroom season to fully kick in. 
The Laetiporus Dahlia found was ideal, young and tender; the taste was delectable. The chicken of the woods is a great mushroom for people just getting into fungi; it is rather distinct looking with its bright orange/yellow flesh and presence of pores rather than gills. And even though Dahl doesn't like mushrooms, she loves finding them and helped me prep them for cooking.
These mushrooms were prime, so a quick saute in butter was all that was necessary.
I saved 3/4 of them for a creamy potato-laetiporus soup and used the rest in a delectable omelet.
Apparently, the Laetiporus complex has at least 6 recognized North American species. For more information, I recommend Michael Kuo's website: Mushroom Expert.Com. 
Research has also shown that laetiporus extract is effective as an anti-oxidant and strongly inhibits the growth of certain Gram-positive bacteria 
Chicken of the woods can be found on living and dead woods and fruit mainly during the late summer and early fall. They have a savory earthy flavor with a dense meaty texture.

Elderberry Vodka

Fall is slowly winding its way across the valley, acorns are dropping, and the big leaf maple is starting to glow. Autumn is such a wonderful time of harvest and abundance. Wild and cultivated fruits beckon with a myriad of colors and textures, and mushrooms are about to start popping up all over the Pacific Northwest. 

Elderberries--Sambucus cerulea are one of my favorite wild fruits to harvest in the late summer/early fall. They can sometimes be tricky to access, but the beautiful umbels of blushing blue berries are worth the effort. 
Elder has a long history of edible and medicinal uses (both the flowers and the fruits) and is a common winter herbal used to activate the the immune system (immuno-stimulant) and as an anti-viral agent. 

For some ethnobotanical and ecological information on elderberry, check out Plants for a Future, The Living Wild Project, or the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) plant guide.  

If you are interested in learning more about scientific research into the medicinal properties of elderberry, the links below might be good places to start:

Regulation of Inflammatory Gene Expression in PBMCs by Immunostimulatory Botanicals

Sigma Aldrich Plant Profiler 

Because of the lovely berry taste, even young and picky eaters are apt to enjoy it. I usually make elderberry syrup with some of the berries I collect, and use the rest to make a fruit relish, prepared similarly to cranberry relish. This year I made elderberry infused vodka; it looks, smells, and tastes delightful. 

Elderberry vodka lemonade. Divine!