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Archive for March, 2011

I’ve tried several times to make homemade yogurt. The internet makes it look and sound really easy. Heat past 180 degrees F (to pasturize), let it cool to just the right temperature for the cultures to grow (110-115 degrees F), add cultures, leave unattended for about 8 hours in some sort of container that will hold the heat in, enjoy your perfect yogurt. Internet, you’re a crafty, deceptive ________________ (fill in your own favorite angry name-calling term). That is not what happens when I follow this process.

I’d love to share with you all how to make your own yogurt, but I’ve only managed to have it come out right once. So far, I’ve accidentally made ricotta cheese, something similar to cottage cheese, sour milk, some sort of milk slime that had the consistency of raw eggs, and once, just once, decent yogurt. But only after I went through the heating and adding cultures process twice. I’ve done EXACTLY the same thing multiple times, getting something different each time. I’ve tried the “easy” crock pot yogurt process as well as the stovetop process, and the only result I’ve managed to achieve consistently is that I end up with something that is not yogurt and often tastes bad.

I officially give up.

I figure it’s a lot less wasteful just to buy the darn yogurt than to keep experimenting and pouring all this stuff out when it’s nasty. Though that ricotta stuff did make some really good lasagna.

Good luck to those of you who wish to master the mysteriousness that is yogurt making. Have fun with that. And my highest compliments to anyone who can actually make yogurt.

Maybe I’ll revisit this one later, but for now, I’m way too frustrated to keep wasting good milk.

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Yesterday, I visited the Institute of Contemporary Art. I go there a lot, but hadn’t been recently. I primarily went to see the Mark Bradford exhibit, and while I enjoyed his work very much, I was surprised to enjoy the other exhibit on display perhaps a little more.

Gabriel Kuri’s exhibit there caught me off guard the moment I walked in. Using everyday materials, Kuri explores our hyper-consumerist habits, our relationship with disposable items, our interactions with money, and our consumer culture in general.

DigBoston summed up the exhibit a little better than I can:

After visiting Gabriel Kuri’s exhibition Nobody needs to know the price of your Saab at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, you’ll think differently about the next time you pick up a newspaper or receive a receipt in a store.

Through the use of disposable materials such as plastic bags, magazines, parking stubs, price tags and aluminum cans to create collage and sculpture, Kuri challenges contemporary consumer culture and how we interact with money on a daily basis.

“When Kuri looks at a newspaper, he is looking at its physical material but also the words, the way we use it in the world, what it means to us and the way it conveys information,” says ICA Associate Curator Randi Hopkins.

A quick look around the exhibit shows pages of magazines covered in price tags, hand-woven tapestries replicating receipts, a metal spindle extending from ceiling to floor with a year’s worth of his receipts arranged by date and a conveyor belt in motion … as an empty energy drink can is stuck at one end.

“It’s that interesting juxtaposition for him of what the materials are on a sculptural basis and what our relationship with it is, especially with words in a linguistic way but also just in our common usage of vocabulary,” says Hopkins. “[The exhibit is] a place where your physical experience and intellectual experience of the world come together.”

What first grabbed me upon walking in was the plastic shopping bags filled with air and suspended from the ceiling as clouds. But upon entering one of the following rooms, I froze, transfixed by Column. Column is a collection of an entire year’s worth of receipts, arranged chronologically, spaced according to their timing, and mounted on a large spindle that rises from the floor to the ceiling. There are actually two spindles: one for receipts, and the other for all the numbers saved from whenever it’s necessary to take a number, from places like the RMV or the deli counter. The spindles were held in place by a slab of cement at each end.

What really struck me was that the first thing I saw about it: the way the two wire columns were intertwined, a double helix, just like DNA. It made me uncomfortable to consider Kuri’s accusation that at our core, when pared down to our most basic programming, we are all just consumers. We are beings who need certain things to survive, and our culture has built a system of profits around those needs so that a few may benefit at the expense of the rest of us. Are we no more than consumerist zombies who need to buy things to survive? I don’t like to think of it that way, but it’s kinda true, especially in my experience with American consumer culture. Can I change my DNA? Do I have to have everything about my being tied to money and my financial situation in this way? Can we change this? Is this system truly cemented in place at both ends? Don’t we deserve better than having everything about us come down to money and consumerism?

This whole exhibit was haunting to me, particularly because it spoke specifically to the environmentally-minded green movement out there that I feel a strong connection with. That’s one of the reasons why I’m so interested in making as many of my own household products as I can. I know I still need to buy the supplies from somewhere, but it makes me feel like I’m making a difference. Like maybe deep down, my own DNA isn’t made up of my receipts.

I usually don’t like to advertise stuff on here (and I have neither been asked nor paid to), but if you live anywhere near the Boston area, I highly encourage you to walk through and see it for yourself.

Thoughts?

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Making Paper

There are sites all over the place about making paper. They make it look quick and easy. It isn’t really. Well, it’s easy, but time-consuming and tedious. And it takes a lot of preparations and special materials. But it is a lot of hands-on fun, and the homemade paper comes out pretty cool. Here’s some details on what I did.

Making paper isn’t really something you sit down and decide to do in an afternoon. You’ll have to prep some stuff beforehand.

  • First, dig out an old wooden picture frame, take out the glass, and replace it with screening. Use thumb tacks or nails to attach the screen. I went to the dollar store and bought an 8 1/2 x 11 document frame and some screening from the local hardware store. This will be your “paper mold,” and will give you a sheet of paper the size of your frame. In papermaking lingo, it’s called a deckle. Here’s how mine came out. My frame broke in a few places from the nails, so I used lots of duct tape to reinforce it. As a side note, I bought an enormous roll of screening, just for a 9 x 12 piece (it was really cheap though). If you want some, call me. Seriously. I don’t really know what to do with a 9-foot roll of screen.
  • Gather an old phone book or other source of paper, and tear the paper into small pieces (about 1″ square). Put all these scraps in a big bowl.
  • Find a large tub that your picture frame will fit in. I used a plastic underbed box.
  • Make sure you have a handful of rags on hand that measure larger than your sheets of paper will be.
  • You also might want to have some liquid starch on hand. This one is optional, but it helps the ink not spread out into the paper and become hard to read when the paper is dry.

Once you’ve prepared all your materials, take your bowl of paper scraps and add water to it. Mash it up with your hands until it’s thoroughly soaked and soft.

Then, get out your blender and fill it about half full with wet paper scraps and the other half with water. Blend it until it’s smooth.

After you have a batch of paper pulp ready, pour it into your large tub. Add about 3-4 batches, and then about as much water as paper pulp, maybe a little more. Add some liquid starch, if desired. Now you’re ready to actually start the papermaking process.

I set the lid to my box next to the bin itself to serve as a means of catching all the water I squeezed out of each paper sheet. Here is my workspace. Yay for sunlight streaming in!

Take your deckle, dunk it into the bin, and pull it out with a layer of paper pulp over the screen. Cover the wet pulp with a sheet of plastic so you can press out as much water as you can. The plastic helps keep the pulp from sticking to your hands. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, my chocolate chips wrapper worked just fine, though it will go a tad bit faster if you have a piece of plastic that is big enough, so you don’t have to keep moving it around to be able to press all the water out.

Peel the plastic back and there is your paper! But you’re not done yet…

Lay a rag on the box lid to absorb extra water, and set your deckle on it. Don’t flip it over yet, you want to squeeze out as much water as possible first.

Wring out the bottom rag and replace it. Now you’re ready to lay your deckle face down to get the paper out. I started by tapping on one end and then gently angling the deckle up so the paper peeled off.

You now have a piece of very wet paper on a very wet rag. But you’re still not done…

Put your deckle face up on top of the paper, then lay another rag on top of the paper and press down, trying to absorb even more water. The screen of the deckle keeps the paper from peeling off with the top rag. Wring out the top rag as much as needed. Lots of water will come out…

Now you’re finally ready to let your paper dry. Remove the top rag and the deckle, so you’re back to the wet paper on the wet rag. Pick up the rag, plaster it on a window and peel the rag off the back, leaving the paper stuck to the window. The paper will dry faster if you use a window that gets full sun or mostly full sun. Leave it for about a day and peel off your dry paper tomorrow. And let the neighbors across the driveway wonder what’s going on in your kitchen…

Continue the process until all your windows are full!

If you’re going to make a bunch of paper, you’ll notice the paper gradually getting thinner because you’re straining out the pulp and leaving the water in the bin. You’ll need to add extra batches of paper pulp from the blender after about 12 sheets or so. My 3 batches made all the paper in the windows: 15 sheets. The last few were super thin though.

Oh and a bin of paper slurry will keep at least for a few weeks in your kitchen if you’re not ready to dump it out yet and want to come back to making more later. But it will be annoying and in the way. And it might make your kitchen smell funny, kind of like wet phonebook.

When you’re all finished DO NOT pour the remaining paper slurry down the drain. It WILL harden in your pipes….which doesn’t really sound like fun to fix, so I poured it in my compost bin. It watered it down a little, but that’s fine. It’ll drain out eventually. And phone books are printed with soy ink, so I don’t have to worry about extra unwanted chemicals going into my compost.

I ironed my paper on a really low setting to smooth out some wrinkles and bubbles from the windows, and to flatten it out a bit. It was a little curled from peeling it off the windows. Make sure the setting is really low, or it will singe the edges of your paper (oops).

Then, when you get all your paper made, you can use it to make your own handmade journal 🙂

EDIT: Oh, and one more thing, I learned an interesting lesson about recycling throughout this process. It took about 1/8 of a big book of the yellowpages to make about 25 sheets of paper total. That’s a concrete lesson illustrating why paper recycling is ok, but using less paper is better. It’s nowhere near a 1:1 ratio. A whole lot of old paper recycles into a little bit of new paper. It was fun, but the better option is to opt out of the yellowpages in the first place.

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Calicut, Kerala

Image via Wikipedia

This one hardly counts as a recipe, as it only has one ingredient. But I’m gonna put it up here anyway, because it really works. While I have plans to spruce it up and give it more of a lotion-type texture, I’ve needed something in the mean time to moisturize my terribly dry, cracked hands and face this winter.

If you’ve made my toothpaste or deodorant recipes, you already have this on hand. Simply rub some coconut oil into your skin. It seems a little, well, oily at first (it is oil after all), but it will rub in if you give it some time. And it smells absolutely divine.

Again, it’s not the best texture, nor the easiest to scrape some out of the jar to rub in, but it does work. And it gives me something to use while I experiment with how to get a better texture. If I ever get something better worked out, rest assured I’ll post it here, but for now, try out just plain coconut oil.

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