5/29/2011

Sustainable food guide apps

For those of you who have Android-powered smart phones or iPhones, I recommend downloading these apps.  I just downloaded them a few days ago (where was I?) and they are pretty awesome and handy to have when going out grocery shopping or eating out at restaurants.  The apps have a really nice, intuitive design too.

Locavore - helps you figure out what fruits & veggies are in season according to your geographical region


&
Seafood Watch - a guide to help you make sustainable seafood choices! *don't eat bluefin tuna! 

5/28/2011

On homemade herbal healing salve

Since cutting out synthetic lotions from my skin regimen months ago, I've been mainly using salves to moisturize my skin.  Since then my skin is not as dry and has gained its natural ability to rejuvenate itself through its own natural oils.  I have yet to find an all-natural and organic lotion with a scent I like... so until then I will continue to use salves.  Perhaps I will even make my own herbal body lotion once I can get my hands on a super awesome blender.



I chose a comfrey (Symphytum uplandica) based salve because it is multi-purpose in terms of its healing properties. The main healing constituent in comfrey is allantoin which encourages cell regeneration and helps wounds to heal quickly.  The oil from the salve also helps to moisturize skin.  I've been using my homemade salve on cracked lips, dried elbows, minor cuts, bruising, etc.  [More on comfrey's profile herehere.]

There are many ways to make a salve... I know of some that are made of petroleum jelly... (gross) and I knew that that wasn't the way I wanted to make mine.  Instead of petroleum jelly, I used beeswax, a more natural substitute.  Okay, so here's how you make it:



Equipment: I get most herbs and herbal making equipment from Mountain Rose Herbs.
  • Measuring cup 
  • Cheesecloth 
  • Several tins 
  • 1 oz. block of beeswax 
  • 1 cup herbal infused oil 
  • 1 tsp. of your choice of pure essential oil (I used lavender) 
  • strainer (not pictured)


The salve-making process can be summed up into three parts: herbal-infused oil, beeswax, and essential oil (for fragrance).  The herbal infused oil is the main part of the whole process since it takes about 4-6 weeks to infuse.


Here's how to make comfrey-infused oil:

  •  Put 1 part dried or fresh comfrey leaves (Symphytum uplandica) to 1 part organic olive oil in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.
  • Let this concoction sit on a sunny windowsill for 4-6 weeks to let the beneficial constituents in the comfrey infuse with the oil.  Make sure to shake/agitate this mixture every day.  
  • Observe it, open the jar and smell it once in a while to see if it has gone bad or if mold begins to form.  To avoid molding, use a small jar so that all the herbs are covered in oil.  Fortunately, mine turned out just fine even though bits and pieces were above the oil level.
  • After 4-6 weeks, strain the comfrey leaves from the oil, using cheesecloth on top of a strainer on top of a measuring cup.  Make sure to squeeze the cheesecloth to get every bit of oil out.  Set oil aside.
  • Optional: You can then put the oil in a glass jar/bottle with a tight fitting lid/cork and store it in a cool, dark place if you plan on using it later.



The strained oil resulted in ~1 cup.

For the beeswax:
You will need a double boiler.  Or, if you don't have one, you can get creative and do what I did! After the water has come to a boil, put the beeswax in the double boiler/bowl and let it melt into a liquid. Once the entire bar of beeswax has melted, pour in the herbal infused oil.  It will look kinda weird because the melted beeswax will solidify once the cooled oil touches it.

While letting the beeswax melt again, you can prep your tins by setting them all out and having your essential oils and measuring spoon at hand. Also, get another measuring cup ready to pour the liquid into once everything has melted.




Weird, huh?

For the essential oil:
Once the liquid is poured in the measuring cup, mix in 1 tsp. of your choice of essential oil, or a mixture of essential oils (you can get creative here to create your own unique fragrance) with a chopstick or whatever stirring device you have handy.  Then pour the liquid into the tins and let it sit.  The liquid will solidify within minutes. Then you can label the tins with the ingredients and date and voila! 

Note: If you want a softer salve, use less beeswax.


You can read up on herbal infused oils and salves from herbalist, Susan Weed, here.  

Watch a video version:

5/06/2011

On Marcin Jakubowski: Open-sourced farming

"Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing the blueprints for 50 farm machines, allowing anyone to build their own tractor or harvester from scratch. And that's only the first step in a project to write an instruction set for an entire self-sustaining village (starting cost: $10,000)."

Watch the TED video here:
Marcin Jakubowski: Open-sourced blueprints for civilization | Video on TED.com

~ Less economic dependence, more self-sufficiency

5/02/2011

On the meaning of each day

A photo from my childhood at my grandma's homestead.

Last semester, my inspiring and also half-deranged (I write that with humor) environmental professor posed a somewhat philosophical question to the class, "What was the most significant moment in your life?".  He proceeded to allow each and every student, row by row, to state his or her most significant moment in his or her life.  I enjoyed listening to my peers' significant moments: having his/her first child, meeting a significant other, traveling to one's homeland for the first time, etc.  (Mine was when I went WWOOF'ing in Northern California wilderness last summer.)  One student  expressed that he did not have a significant moment in his life, but rather that he saw every moment of every single day of his life as significant.  I absorbed his answer with much cynicism (plus, it sounded kind of condescending at the time).  After every single student had a chance to answer the question, the professor predicated, in his naturally startling and ambitious way of speaking, that we were all wrong.  He asserted that we must live each and every moment of our lives as though it were significant.  Indeed, my professor's philosophical assertion of how one must view life is in no way original, but the deeper message attached to it struck a chord with me that day as I had, until that day of class, lived each day in a stupor waiting for a "specific" moment when well, I don't know... a specific moment when I would be having fun... I was waiting for the weekend... I was waiting for summer... I was waiting for a significant moment in the future (finding my earthmate, moving to NorCal, farming, etc.) I guess that kid with the profound answer was right.

Well, ever since that regular 'ole day of class, I live each day meaningfully now (not that I didn't before, but that now I have a deeper appreciation for the every day).  I think of that class period that I mentioned above often (mostly random moments).

Photo by Trace Ramsey

We as human beings live each day validating our lives by searching for meaning or purpose.  One way to go about it is to appreciate the great mystery of existence.  To savor it, to realize that every moment (even trivial, boring moments) are significant.  (And, for me as of late, especially moments in class when I think life is so dull.)  One should not live each day waiting for a "significant moment."  There is no need to wait because a significant moment is every day, every hour, minute, second.... Because it is great to be alive.

So there you have it.  Be still.  Every day is so fine.

Here is my favorite quote to end this post:


The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.
-Helen Keller


*Edit - My other significant moment would be when I found my once unknown kin, Gene.  (Shout out to Gene if you ever read this!)