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At times we have to choose between the path that is conventional and the path that is not. In today's world that once worn path that our great grandparents traveled is so overgrown and forgotten that it barely exists. Our goal is to reforge that forgotten path and make it new again.

The Family Eggers

The Family Eggers

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Nettles - edible itchy goodness

As part of our spring foraging series we bring you Urtica dioica, otherwise known as stinging nettle.  Already there is at least one reader who is exclaiming “You mean itch weed?”Indeed we do mean “itch weed”.  Nettle has been used for centuries as a spring potherb, a fiber source and medicinal herb.  Nettle is easy to identify by the leaf shape and the hairs on the stem that are actually very tiny "stingers".  We recommend that you try the new growth or fresh young plants.  After the plant ages a few weeks, the stems become very fibrous and the leaves can become tough.  Though older growth may still be used as a tea, the plant itself become much less palatable.
For this post we will focus on the food source aspect of the plant.  Nettle has a flavor similar to spinach.  It is reportedly high in Vitamins A, C, iron, potassium and calcium.  Nettles can be boiled like spinach for a potherb, ground for a pesto, boiled into a soup, or ground into a herb for additives to cheese.
The trick with nettle is to not get stung by the tiny needles that are located up and down the stem of the plant.  Always pick nettles while wearing thick gloves.  Before eating, the stinging property of the plant has to be removed.  Heat (boiling), saute, drying, or grinding will inactivate the “stingers”.   

Those "stingers" are actually filled with something called formic acid.  Formic acid is the same compound that is found in many insect stings and bites as well.   Fortunately formic acid is easily denatured or made inert by fairly low heating.  Heating also wilts the physical stinger and makes it so it can no longer "sting".  To say this in simple terms, it will no longer sting you if you cook it (even a little).  

We've used and tried nettle in scrambled eggs, teas, and pasta sauces with all great effect.  Give it a try.

Caution:   As with all wild or foraged food, make sure you are 100% sure what you are eating.  When in doubt throw it out.  I am not aware of any poisonous look alike to nettle and it is an easy plant to forage, but always use some caution.  

webMD’s article for possible medicinal uses and interactions.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pumpkin Pancake Mix

To me there is no better way to show someone how amazing they are than with a homemade gift, a piece of one's self.  On top of that, what better gift is there than food?  It's comforting to know someone out in the world wants to provide for your well being - your physical existence.  To share food is after all a basic act of coexistence within social groups.  A gift of food is a gift of life and of love.  That's the message I aspire to convey when giving a gift.  I am giving life and love...and with this pumpkin pancake mix recipe, also the story of how it came to be.

The idea for a dry pumpkin pancake mix came from two directions.  One, our family camps frequently in the warm months.  We like to cook, to eat homemade meals, so because of that we choose to cook during vacations and weekend camping trips.  At least most of the time.  Our kids love pancakes so we tried the "just add water and shake" pancake mix in a jug.  That gave me the idea for a homemade dry pancake mix.  We could make this better.  I was sure it was possible, even when I couldn't find much information on how to do it via internet searches and recipe book thumb-throughs.  Joe and I were already pretty good at making pancakes, so I pieced together a few of our recipes to include dry versions of wet ingredients (eggs and milk) in order to reduce the amount of liquid that would have to be added to the dry mix during preparation.   

The second part of the recipe, the pumpkin part, came while casually shopping in a roadside store that sold local produce and flowers, souveniers, and a few grocery items, including a deli counter, old fashoned candy and spices.  Neat place.  One of the items for sale was a pumpkin muffin mix.  There had to be pumpkin in there.  It was a dry mix, so the pumpkin was dried.  Conveniently, it was autumn and pumpkins were in no short supply.  Back at home and armed with a pressure cooker, food dehydrator and vitamix blender I was able to produce pumpkin powder.  I added it to the recipe and with a few tweaks, pumpkin pancake mix was created.    See how we made pumpkin powder here.

When the winter holidays arrived Joe, Marie, Mack and I decided to share this mix with our friends and relatives.  Once a week the four of us share a "big breakfast", which for us means we have a meal that takes time and effort to create and brings us all to the table to eat, share stories or jokes, talk about things we've done in the week, or introduce new ideas for the kids.  It is time spend living with and loving each other.  To share that experience, that connection with others, we sent a package of pancake mix to dear friends.  

Pumpkin Pancake Mix:
1 cup flour (wheat or buckwheat)
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 Tablespoons pumpkin powder (or 1/2 cup pumpkin puree for wet mix)
2 Tablespoons flax meal 
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 tsp dried egg white (or 1 egg for wet mix)
4 Tablespoon buttermilk powder (or 1/2 - 1 cup milk/buttermilk/whey for wet mix)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Wet Ingredients:
2 cups water (or to desired batter thickness)
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tablespoon oil (optional)

Want to see how I made pumpkin powder?  See the post here http://familyeggers.blogspot.com/2014/04/pumpkin-powder.html


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Homemade paper scrolls of The Gettysburg Address

Since becoming cubmaster of my son's cub scout pack, I have tried to find ways to reward the scouts for stepping up and doing things that perhaps other kids wouldn't do.   Recently we chartered a bus to Washington DC for the cub scouts and their families.  One of the activities I planned out for the scouts was to have scout volunteers read part of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial of course.  Each scout had to willingly accept the role of public speaking albeit I believe a few were pushed by their parents (which is good).  As a reward I made the scrolls you see below. 

I made the paper out of a cotton and linen blend similar to our paper currency, and to a few pieces I added in some cattail fiber.  I used the cotton and linen blend not only because it looks and feels cool, but also because paper was primarily made out of cotton and linen in the U.S. until around the 1880's when the paper industry started using more wood pulp.  This adds a touch of historical accuracy to the Gettysburg Address scroll that I made for the kids.  It also means that this paper should last quite a bit longer than your average newsprint or even office paper.  If these scrolls are taken care of, they should be around long into these kids' adult lives and possibly beyond. 

Finding a place willing to print on homemade paper was another challenge in itself.  My HP printer would not accept a 7.25" x 18" piece of paper, so I was forced to find alternate means.  I first tried Kinkos, to no avail.  I called a local printer....nothing.  Finally I stopped in a different local print shop with my paper, explained the project and what it was for.  The print shop owner hesitated, looked at my paper and agreed.  In the end he even gave me a really great deal.  So now I want to shamelessly promote Spahr-Evans Printers.  They did a great job.  Click on their link.

I hot glued 3/8" and 1/4" wooden dowels to the ends of the paper and used jute twine for the hanging as well as to tie the scroll together for giving to the scouts.  This is a really neat addition.   

Hope you like the project.  I made a couple of extra copies, and if I can force myself to part with them I may post them on Etsy. We'll see, because I have grown quite attached to them. 

Comments are always welcome.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Homemade Paper

This could be a lengthy blog post because there is so much information to pass along.  I could go on about the paper making process, but there are literally dozens of other websites that do a much better job than I ever could explaining how it is done.  Perhaps one day I’ll do a video, but for now I’ll just give my insights about an extremely cool hobby.   I’ll also post links to a few of the resources I used to get started.

I have made paper from a wide variety of resources.  There are two main categories of material used for paper; raw and previously processed.   This is pretty much the same as using either raw material or recycled material.  I’ll list them below:
Recycled material:
Old paper:  This is probably the easiest material to obtain and also the material easiest to work with while making paper since it takes very little additional effort to make old paper into handmade paper.   Most paper is made from wood pulp.  Wood pulp paper has a lot of draw backs such as short fiber length and poor fiber quality.  This in turn leads to a relatively short life span for wood pulp paper.   Look at old newspapers or books and you will see how brittle the pages are.  Paper made from linen or cotton will hold up for hundreds of years, wood pulp paper starts deteriorating after 10 years or so.   
Cotton cloth:  Using cotton rags to make paper is a very interesting way to recycle that old T-shirt that is still sitting in your closet from back in high school, or perhaps those holey denim jeans that you are hanging onto to wear after you lose weight.    
In order to reduce the fabric fiber into paper fiber, the fabric must be separated into individual fiber components. The traditional way to process fabric back to fiber suitable for paper was with a machine called a Hollander beater.  Basically the cloth is pulverized repeatedly until it has the consistency of paper mache. 
Hollander beaters cost upwards of $2,000 on the cheap side, so I had to find another way.  What else pulverizes anything that enters it?   A Vitamix blender!   This is worthy of its own blog post so once I have the post up - click here - to see the process and results.  The bottom line is that it works quite well.

Denim from Mackenson's blue jeans.  Nearly completely pulped on the left.

Linen Cloth:  I used linen rags acquired cheaply at a local thrift store.  The process is the same as for cotton
Silk:  I also found some inexpensive old silk clothing articles at the local thrift store. Once again I use the same process as for any other fabric.

Burlap/Sisal, Jute and Hemp fabric:   I haven’t tried these yet, but the process will be the same as other cloth. 

Raw fiber materials:  Pretty much any plant fiber can be used to make paper.  The trick is to find plants with long enough quality fiber to be able to extract it manually, chemically or mechanically without losing it.  There are hundreds of potential plants to use.  I list the ones I have used.  I’ll write another blog post describing the process, it is somewhat entailed. 
Iris leaves:  For those who grow iris plants you know that every year in the fall the outside leaves turn white or tan and die.  Have you ever noticed how thick and strong the leaves are?  This was the first material I used to make paper, and an excellent source of fiber.  It makes a dark tan to light brown paper if using dead iris leaves.
Cattail leaves:  I’ve heard of people using the cattail fluff as well.  It would be an interesting experiment to try.  This is the highest quality paper I have made.  It is very smooth, very strong and works in an ink-jet printer.
Morning Glory Vines:   This one did not work out as well as I had hoped.  Likely it didn’t work as well because I did not process it enough.  However, it still produced a paper that looked pretty cool and good for wrapping things (like x-mas presents) to give them a natural look.
Dogbane Hemp:   This is very similar to milkweed (see below).  Use the bast fiber (bark) of the dogbane hemp plant.  There are challenges when using bast fiber of broadleaf type plants over the leaf fiber of grasses (like Iris and cattail).  The main difference is that fiber yield is lower, and separating the bast from the stem is time consuming.  There is also considerably more foreign material left over after processing.  The benefits are that the fibers are MUCH stronger than the other fibers mentioned before.
Milkweed:  As far as paper is concerned, it is very similar to dogbane hemp. I used the bast fiber.   Any reason to use milkweed is a good reason. One of my goals is to one day grow at least some milkweed commercially for fiber purposes while helping the monarch butterfly.    As you may know the milkweed also has the silky material that is fluffy.  I have yet to try to turn this material into paper, but the day is coming.  Coincidentally, dogbane hemp also has silky material in it’s seed pods.
Birch Polypore mushroom:  We are mushroom fanatics, and I received a birch polypore mushroom from a co-worker.  I regularly get random mushrooms given to me by co-workers who know I enjoy collecting edible mushrooms.  Unfortunately the Birch Polypore is unpalatable (though technically not poisonous).  Thinking back to my biology 101 days, I got to thinking about fungi.  I found a couple of people who had turned other polypore mushrooms into paper, so gave it a go.  It is possible to turn a birch polypore into paper.  However, the fiber length is fairly short meaning the paper is more delicate than other papers I have made.   Also, the mushroom pulp is very sticky, and this makes the process of couching (see other post) more difficult.
A few other plants I plan on using:  Pineapple (as soon as I collect enough tops),  Hops vine, snow on the mountain (I have some collected), nettle, and  lilly leaves.  I’d also like to try a few other types of mushrooms.   

A list of resources that I used and got me started.
Wiki-How;  Gives the basics

Mother Earth News:  Also fairly basic

Video from epicfantasy:  This guy has a lot of really cool stuff and a neat haircut!

More advanced, but very useful for turning raw material into fiber

A quick google search will lead you to a lot of resources. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The bottle lamp

More recycled / upcycled gear that we are making.   The latest is a lamp to be given to Mother-in Law for a birthday present.  We had already given her a Jameson tumbler for her er uh....medicine a couple of x-masses ago.  This lamp should compliment her collection.    I have wanted to try making bottle lamps for a while after getting the idea from a co-worker (Thanks Tony).    The trick is using a diamond bit designed specifically for glass to drill a hole at the bottom of the bottle.   I purchased a set of diamond bits on Amazon.com, and so far they are working well.   I used the Neiko Heavy Duty 5-Piece Diamond Dust Hole Saw with pretty good initial success.

Process: (Wear protective eyeware;  I wore a face shield).

1.  Fill bottle with water.  This helps prevent any chip-outs when the bit nears coming through to the inside of the bottle.

2.  Drill slow and steady at point on bottom of bottle where cord will enter.  I did this in the kitchen sink with a very small trickle of water flowing onto the cutting point of the glass. 
*  The first bottle I tried I broke because I applied far to much pressure on the bit.  But by letting the drill bit do the work, my next two bottles were successful.

3.  String wire /cord though the drilled hole to the top/neck of the bottle.

4.  Drill hole through bottle lid or cork.  I used regular multipurpose drill bits for this part.    Ultimately the hole diameter was 3/8", but to keep the cork/lid from being destroyed I used a series of progressively larger bits and worked up to the 3/8".  This was large enough for the lamp "pipe" to fit through the lid.

5.  Wiring and tightening the socket to (or through) the lid is fairly self-explanatory and intuitive.  

6.  I filled the hole at the bottom with a dab of silicone to hold the cord in place.  This is probably not necessary and the hole is smooth (no sharp edges), but it adds a little extra professional feel to the lamp.

I made two lamps.  The first lamp was made with a Westinghouse lamp kit purchased from Home Depot.  The second lamp I used the "guts" from a lamp Mackenson has broke some time ago.  Both with equally good results.  

Now to find some decent lampshades, and I think they will look pretty nice.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Upcycled glasses (a use for bud light platinum)

As many of you know we are firm believers in reusing everything possible.  About a year ago I got the idea of turning old bottles into drinking glasses.  It turns out I was not alone in this endeavor.   After watching a few you tube videos and some other google searching, I found several different methods for turning bottles into glasses.  Some methods were more practical than others.  My materials are simple and as follows:

A bottle
Butane micro torch
glass cutter (for scoring the glass)
my kids' cheapo potters wheel ( or another spinny thing - like a lazy susan spice rack)
My dremel for sanding down any sharp edges.

Step 1:  Determine where you want to cut on the bottle.   This will determine how tall your glass will be.  For smaller bottles  (12 oz) I usually aim for the upper most part of the bottle before it narrows for the neck.  For wine bottles I go for a comfortable size / grip.  For liquor bottles I go for style / looks.  How much of the Grey Goose design do I want left after I cut the top.

Step 2:  Mark the glass.  I normally use a sharpie.  While the bottle is spinning, I hold the sharpie in place to draw an even circle around the bottle.

Step 3:  Score the glass along the line you just drew with your glass cutter.  A light scratch will do just fine.  You only need to weaken the glass slightly.

Step 4:  While the glass is spinning, hold your (lit) butane micro-torch along the scored line.  The tip of the blue flame is the hottest and is fairly easy to hold in place.   After a couple of minutes you will hear and see the glass crack along the same plane as you were holding the flame.  It is truly amazing how even the break usually is.

Step 5:  Remove the top and use your dremel to sand of the inside and outside edge of the break.  I've used a stone attachment and a sand paper wheel attachment with fairly equal results.    When done the new surface will looked like frosted or brushed glass.  This is the lip of the new drinking glass, so make sure there are no rough or sharp edges.

Step 5 (alternate):   I have heard (and have seen on youtube) that you can also melt the top of the new surface with a propane torch.  I saw this on a video, but when I tried, I didn't get the same results.  My guess is that my propane torch did not heat the glass enough to smooth the edges.   However,  the result of this method, when successfully done, should produce a nice clean polished edge rather than the frosted look you get with the dremel.  I'm going to experiment with this more in the future.

 My kids love these glasses and try to snag one of these for themselves when they set the table.   Corona bottles as well as the IBC root beer or Sioux City Sarsaparilla bottles all look great when complete.  Bud Light Platinum may taste horrible, but the light blue bottles make a really cool tumbler glass.  My mother in-law has been using a Jameson converted glass for her.......medicine....since last Christmas.

We are opening up some of our glasses for sale on Etsy, and when they are posted I'll attach a link:
In the meantime take a look at some of the pictures of the bottles we have turned into part of our dinner setting.
These will be for sale on Etsy.  Click here for a link to Etsy.
That Grey Goose, Will get you loose.

What was a green wine bottle next to an IBC root beer bottle are now used at the table regularly.

   I want to give a huge shout out to all the folks in the office who have brought me their bottles over the past year.   Thanks to Gary, Michelle, John, and everyone else.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Cub Scout Awards

For those who didn't know, I accepted the position of cubmaster for a local cub scout troop last fall.   I would like to believe that I have made a significant positive contribution.  In reality, I know I have .  It is an extremely busy volunteer position, and one of the things I have attempted to do is give the scouts a little more recognition for their accomplishments.   I recently made these very basic plaques for three of our outstanding scouts.   These three went above and beyond during our annual fundraiser and left the other 40 or so scouts in the dust.  I am proud to say that my son was one of the three (actually he was #1).  Our pack does things a little differently than many packs do.  Instead of popcorn sales our scouts sell pot pies and frozen dinners made by a local outlet.   The scouts were tasked with selling a minimum of 20 pot pies / meals.  The three scouts I made the plaques for sold near or well over 100 pies (Mackenson sold 183).  I believe that recognition is one of the biggest motivators there is for people and especially for these young people.   I'm giving these out at our annual Blue and Gold Banquet later in February.  Needless to say I'm proud of my scouts.