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Garbage Can Challenge – April Update

Ayla Dunn Bieber gets frank about her challenges and encourages us all to rally in the name of Earth Day…

Well….Spring was not as ‘in the air’ as I had excitedly pronounced in last month’s Dirt, was it? I hope you all stayed warm and are as excited as I am to finally be seeing some real signs of spring. One of my favorite signs is the faint red hue on the trees tops (and the pink on the cherry trees) as the buds plump up, hinting at what is to come!

I’d been stressing about writing this month because, truth be told, I didn’t do my homework: there were no home made tortilla chips created in the Dunn Bieber household this month. Daniel said, “Well, just tell everyone that you didn’t do it. People love hearing when other people fail.” I laughed, but in truth, I agree. I think as important as sharing our successes is, sharing our challenges (better word than ‘failures’!) is of equal value.

My mantra to get over this hump: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Don’t give up. I’ve been experiencing that the first time you try a new sustainable choice is usually the hardest. Once you get the kinks out and don’t need to rely so heavily on reading directions, getting set up, and potentially buying materials/ingredients you might need, things really do move along and can get folded into your current routine. If you do get beyond the start-up and make a permanent change, that is awesome. Contrarily, some choices might not be right for you at the time that you try them out, and its okay to let them fall by the wayside to be picked up another time. I guess the chip making was on the slightly more complex end of the spectrum (for me) and didn’t quite make the cut…yet. I do hope to try the idea out again though and see if I can bring it into my routine.

Is there a sustainability-related action you’ve been thinking about trying that hasn’t made it past the idea phase? Commiserate with me in the comments section below 🙂

In other news, an important day for sustainability is coming up!

I’ve been thinking about Earth Day and so grateful for the intentionality this day brings. It both  increases awareness and gathers people to take action. I encourage you to do a quick google search for Earth Day activities in your area and if there isn’t something that catches your eye, come up with something your family can do to mark the day! To spark some ideas, here is a great resource from The National Geographic Kids called: Tips for Protecting the Earth.

This is the last month of the Garbage Can Challenge for the year (final post coming in next month’s Dirt). Let’s all do our extra best to REDUCE, reuse and recycle this month!

Ayla

Nature’s Palette

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, paints an extraordinary picture of the changing colors in nature’s palette and includes fascinating notes on using plant dyes, including a DIY how-to…

After what felt like an almost never-ending winter, it is a great joy to finally enter the season of budding colors. Snowdrops, violets, and skunk cabbage might be the first signs of spring, but they never quite convince me that the winter is gone for good. It is when the leaves on the trees emerge that I feel assured: there is no way back to winter-land. The change of scenery is usually sudden. With it, nature bursts into color. We leave behind the lifeless shades of grey and brown and celebrate the   soft colors of spring. Shades of fresh green, with occasional dots of color, dominate the landscape. Comforting and calming colors of early spring slowly mature and change. Plants soak up the sunshine and richer colors come to life. The color palette of nature reaches near perfection on a wild flower meadow in June or on a field of wild lupine in July.

As the year progresses, the colors of nature become even more full and rich. The warm shades of the fall landscape bring another visual highlight of the year. The reds, golden yellows, oranges, and rusty browns radiate back the energy of the sun as if to charge us with energy before the world around us fades again into the greyish-brown realm of early winter.

Nature has everything we need, including color. In fact, there were no synthetic dyes until the mid 19th century.  Still, the world of humans had not been colorless. Until then, dyes and pigments came exclusively from nature. Think of old masters: Michelangelo, Botticelli, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Bosch…. They painted with the colors of nature. The fibers of traditional oriental rugs and renaissance tapestries were all dyed with natural materials. So were the luxurious dresses of emperors and empresses of the past. Fabrics of rich colors symbolized status, and their cost was high. Lower classes dressed in browns and grays, shades that were the easiest and cheapest to create.

Dyeing is not unlike cooking. It involves applying heat to extract, in this case, not flavor but color. A large pot is utilized to make a dye bath. The plant material gets simmered in water in order to extract pigments. Then fabric or fiber is immersed in the (warm or cold) colored liquid to absorb the dye. Some dye material might be hiding in your kitchen. Tea, coffee, turmeric, or onion skin all contain pigments that get easily absorbed by natural fiber or fabric. Henna used for tattooing and dyeing hair also creates beautiful rusty reds on fabric.

The process is fun and satisfying. We can start by collecting plant material suitable for dyeing (marigold, goldenrod, black walnut etc.), then we cook the colored brew. If our goal is to create a solid color fabric, we just need to put the textile into the dye bath. Otherwise, we apply our artistic imagination and prepare the fabric by folding it to create pattern. I like to get inspired by the techniques of ancient Japanese Shibori.

When working with plant dyes, we get the satisfaction of knowing that the colors come from renewable resources rather than petroleum.  Natural material such as silk, wool and cotton absorb the dyes well. Although the use of mordants (solutions that act as binding agents) usually results in richer colors, for safety and environmental reasons, I prefer not to use them.

Feel free to experiment. Nature is forgiving. Even unexpected results have their beauty. Sometimes we end up with a color or pattern that is much more beautiful than anything we could have planned. Mother Earth provides everything we need.


Dyeing Cotton Fabric with Annatto

Annatto seeds come from Central and South America. Traditionally, they were used as body paint. Annatto is widely used today as a food coloring.  The orange color of the supermarket cheddar comes from these seeds!

Annatto dye bath produces yellow, golden yellow, orange-yellow, or orange hues, depending on the amount of seeds used, and the weave and thickness of the fabric. Silk and wool can also be successfully dyed with annatto seeds.

  • 1 cup annatto seeds
  • medium piece of cotton fabric or 2-4 cotton bandanas
  • pot and stirring spoon (used exclusively for dyeing)
  • iron for ironing the fabric, rubber bands, string, thread and needle (you may only need one of these, depending on the folding technique you choose)
  • plastic gloves to protect your hands

Choose white or off-white fabric/bandanas for your project. Unbleached fabric will produce deeper color.

Gently simmer the annatto seeds in about a gallon of water for one hour. In the meantime, fold the fabric using one of the Shibori techniques. This is a link to one of many videos showing how to use the Shibori folding techniques. In this video synthetic dyes are used, so please disregard their dyeing instructions.

Gently rinse the folded fabric in lukewarm water, making sure that it is wet throughout. This will assure even absorption of the dye liquid.

Turn off the heat under the pot. The dye liquid can be strained, but leaving seeds in the dye bath during the whole dyeing process will produce richer color.  Put the fabric into the dye bath and let it steep for at least 4 hours or overnight. Take the fabric out of the pot. Rinse under running water and squeeze out excess water. Unfold the fabric and be ready to be surprised! Put out your fabric to dry. Before further use, hand-wash the dyed fabric.

Ed’s Corner

Originally published on March, 20 2018

Well…it’s here! Happy First Official Day of Spring! Here’s a poem by Harriet Prescott Spofford that I always enjoy rustling out of my collection around this time of year. She writes:

“Under the snow drifts
the blossoms are sleeping
Dreaming their dreams of sunshine and June.
Down in the hush of their quiet they’re keeping
trills from the throstle’s wild summer-sung tune.”

Isn’t it perfect for this time of year? I like to think of myself as one of those blossoms. I often find myself daydreaming of sunshine and June and, of course, the start of camp, as the clocks change and daylight hours stretch longer and longer, but that spring-time warmth is still elusive. I keep the summer-song of the thrushes (did you know that ‘throstle’ is an old-fashioned word for a song thrush) close to my heart and as summer gets closer, I look for the early signs that it is near.

On top of dreaming about summer, our year-round crew has been busy preparing for it; excitedly working to bring our 33rd Nature Place summer to you. This week, we’re down at the American Camp Association’s Tri-State Camp Conference in Atlantic City–the largest gathering of camp professionals in the world!–where we’ll take workshops, expand our horizons, and spend time with other camp folks dedicated to spreading the joy of the camp experience.

If our excitement for summer was enough to melt the snow drifts and awaken the sleeping blossoms, Spring would have sprung long ago.

Wild Edibles Foraging – Free Public Program

Sunday, April 29th from 12 -1 PM
307 Hungry Hollow Rd. Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977

Join us for a vernal adventure into our environs to discover what’s growing wild and edible in our area. We’ll learn plant names, properties, tastes, uses in cooking, and get an overall feel for a number of plants. Early spring should yield a plethora of tender flora. Join us for a fun, investigative feast from the earth.

The program will be followed by an optional Open House afterward from 1 – 4 pm. Please email us at camp@thenatureplace.com to make an Open House appointment.

Equinox

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden, reminds us what plants to look out for as the season changes…

Spring is upon us, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. During the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen many signs of my plant friends coming back to life, not to mention all the spring bulbs that are sprouting and flowering in our front yard.

I’ve already paid several visits to the woods to photograph the Skunk Cabbage flowers, and noticed the young Watercress plants coming up in the marshland pools. I’ve seen patches of Snowdrops, with their elegant drooping blossoms and young Stinging Nettle leaves unfurling. It won’t be long before the Spring beauties will begin to appear, followed by the Trout Lilies. This is a very exciting time of year for those of us who love nature.

 The Spring Equinox is filled with promise. It represents a new awakening, and although it may snow like heck the next day, we are warmed by the sure knowledge that the days will gradually get longer and warmer, bringing life and color into our world.  Shakespeare did not pen, “Now is the ‘Spring’ of our discontent.” And with good reason–how can we be discontented when surrounded by such beauty?

After years of working with plants and using herbs, I am in no doubt about the many powers they possess–to the point that merely being in their presence can be potently healing. Their energies are undeniable, which is why I don’t need to actually consume a plant to absorb its medicinal magic.

I can understand why there are so many indigenous ceremonies attached to the equinox, which show thanks for having survived the winter and appreciation for all of nature’s gifts. As a wild foods diarist. I am thankful that after those long, seemingly barren winter months, I’ll now have lots to write about as spring bursts into life.

In Like a Lion

Chuck Stead, our beloved camp storyteller, continues his story from last month, about mysterious snake-related business…

Staring out at the roaring rumble of a mixed snow/rain storm from the paint shop window, uncle Mal said, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb!”.

Jeff Masters said to him, “That aint always true.”

Mal looked at us kids, winked and said, “But a dry March means a wet May, fill barns and bays with corn and hay!”

Jeff laughed and said, “Malcolm, you ought to be a poet weatherman!”

Ricky, Cindy, and I were all sitting on a heap of canvas drop sheets with Mike, the shop dog. We were waiting for our soaked gloves to dry out. Mal had pinned them up over the shop heating vent. We had walked over to the shop, through the village, in a wet snow storm and now it was a snow/rain storm dropping wet white weather all over our world.

Jeff poured himself a little more coffee from the shop pot, returned to his stool and said, “I’m telling you, that scientist, or whatever he is, was up just below the Torne ledge late last night, taking temperatures of the rocks there along the bottom of the cliff.

Mal said, “Well wait now, how do you know he was doing this late at night?”

Jeff explained, “I went in to bait some coon traps along the Torne Brook after dark and I saw him hiking up, to the bottom of the cliffs. Then this morning, at sun rise, I was down at the Red Apple for coffee and there he was, sitting there eating eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. He had the same wooden box I seen him carrying up there the night before. So, I go over to his table and I say to him, ‘You been traipsing around the foot of Torne Mountain last night, I seen you.’ And he says to me that he was there to check the midnight temperature of the underside of the rocks where he figures snakes is hibernating. So, I ask him why, and he says it’s because he wants to know about the temperatures under the rocks as the spring comes in!”

Mal shook his head and said, “Sounds like a scientist. They are a strange tribe. Don’t work with much reason or sensibility.”

Jeff said, “So, I asked him if he was watching for the snakes to come out. And he tells me that he is doing just that, but that he hopes I won’t bother with them, as he is studying them.”

Mal laughed, “Well, why would you bother with them?”

Jeff said, “Up in Warren County they will pay you five dollars for a dead rattler snake. That’s as much as you get for a coon skin. I know fellows who will kill them down here and take them up there for the reward.”

Mal asked him, “Would you do that?”

“No, snaking is not what I do. I’m part Indian and we made our peace with the snake people.”

Ricky said, “Snake people? Who are they?”

Jeff told us, “All the animals got a people sense about them, just as we got an animal sense about us. So, my people, using their animal sense, talked with the snake people who used their animal sense to understand that we didn’t have no argument with them.”

Mal said, “Was that before or after Goldilocks ate up all the bears’ porridge?”

Ricky said, “No, Uncle Mal, she just ate up the baby bear’s porridge, is all.”

Jeff said, “Either way this fellow with the scientific tool kit was up there in the night taking temperatures of under the rocks!”

Mal said, “I don’t like it. First come the scientists and pretty soon the tourists are coming in. Once the tourists show up its all over!”

I said, “What’s all over, Uncle Mal?”

He looked at us kids and said, “Our way of life! There will be souvenir stands, parking lots, trailer camps, kiddy rides, before you know it they will be building a replica Village of Hillburn right next to the real one, anything for a buck!”

Ricky said, “What’s the replica Hillburn going to be like?”

“Well it will be like what Hillburn was like in the old times. If they build it right I might move into it myself!”

Jeff said, “Mal, they might pay you to live there like folks lived in the olden times!”

Outside the storm howled and blew hard against the shop window. We all stared out at the harsh weather and Mal said, “Maybe, I’ll skip living in the old-time village. Winters were pretty hard to take back then.”

Jeff said, “Oh Mal, you’ve just gotten soft in our old age. Winters are no different now than they were then.”

“Maybe not, but I’ve grown accustomed to centralized heat and hot water. No sir, I wouldn’t want to do with-out my civilization!”

Jeff stared out at the storm and said, “Yeah, well your civilization also means snake scientists creeping all over the mountain.”

Mal said, “And nothing good could come of that.”

Garbage Can Challenge – March Update

Ayla Dunn Bieber sparks some spring-time momentum in the realm of sustainability and calls us all to join in the fun…

Happy Vernal Equinox, everyone!! Spring is [sort of?] in the air and I am beginning to feel it. I don’t know about you, but spring is always an exciting time of year for me. I often feel invigorated and inspired to try new things. This includes a Garbage Can Challenge project I wanted to share. Before writing to you next I plan on trying, and hopefully perfecting, making my own tortilla chips. I have noticed lately this is an item I buy way more often than I’d like to and – you guessed it – the bag is not recyclable (in your average recycling program, at least; there are some programs out there that do recycle these bags). Regardless, as we’ve been talking about: if you can make something from scratch with ingredients that are packaged sustainably (i.e. bought in bulk), rather than buy the product in packaging (even if that packaging can be recycled), the former is the more sustainable choice!

From what I have read, to make tortilla chips you need to start by making homemade tortillas. Once you’ve got the tortillas, making the chips is quite simple. Most recipes I found started with store bought tortillas packaged in plastic, which for me defeats the purpose.

Here is a basic tortilla recipe I am going to try. The one change I’m planning to make is to wrap the dough in beeswax paper rather than plastic wrap while it rests. Hoping this will work!

Then, here is the tortilla chip recipe I am going to try. Planning on using avocado oil (a good high heat oil) to fry with.

Have any of you ventured into chip making? I’d love to hear your successes and/or challenges!

Another way to *spring* into sustainability is to connect with others and create some momentum together. Keep America Beautiful, an organization started in 1953 to bring awareness to waste and recycling, launched their annual clean up season today–the first day of spring. Its called the Great American Clean Up:

“The Great American Cleanup, which marks its 20th year in 2018, engages more than 5 million volunteers and participants, on average, every year to create a positive and lasting impact. At Keep America Beautiful, we work to inspire people to take action every day to improve and beautify their community environment through programs like the Great American Cleanup.”

“The Great American Cleanup social media theme – #cleanYOURblock – is a call-to-action to engage more volunteers and participants in public space cleanup, beautification and recycling events conducted by Keep America Beautiful affiliates nationwide. Once an individual becomes a Great American Cleanup volunteer with their local Keep America Beautiful affiliate or partner, our goal is that they will be inspired to take that experience home to organize a similar, smaller-scale event in their own neighborhood … even on their own block.”

Cleanups are taking place across the country in the coming weeks! Here in Rockland, Keep Rockland Beautiful is hosting many cleanups within the county.

You can find contact information for your closest affiliate here and, most of the time, anyone who wants to participate can just show up to a cleanup–or start your own in your neighborhood. It’s spring! Let’s get out together and make some movement!

One last thing I wanted to share was an article I read a few months back by one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett. Published in the NYTimes, it’s called My Year of No Shopping. This is certainly another way at it! Just stop consuming altogether. Easier said than done, but boy did I find this article intriguing. Maybe next year? Anyone in?

By the way, Daniel, Odelia and I are holding pretty steady with our garbage goal this month (with possibly a bit of room for improvement). Chip bags–you’ve got to go!

Happy SPRINGing into action everyone!

Until next time,

Ayla

Emergency Sandwiches

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, ponders our recent storm and finds the bright side of a darkened home…

We were already getting ready for the spring when a late season snowstorm struck. First, there was light snow for hours with little accumulation. Then, suddenly, the snow started coming down fast. In just a couple of hours, our backyard turned into a winter wonderland. It was a beautiful sight. The trees frosted with freshly fallen snow looked majestic. Then there was more snow, and still more. Under the weight of the heavy, wet snow, the branches bowed and came closed to the earth; then, some gave up and met the ground. Large branches, one after another, were coming down. Then a large tree fell. The old mulberry tree was suddenly gone and, with it, the prospect of an early summer day mulberry feast. We will miss that tree, and so will the birds and deer passing through our backyard.

Like many others, we lost power. We were in the dark for two days and two nights. Considering all that can go wrong in extreme weather, we were just fine. No one was hurt, there was no damage to the house. We were a little uncomfortable, but safe. A room temperature of 50 F is not desirable, but again it is not a tragedy either.

The first night without electricity was even fun. The children were running around with flashlights preparing extra blankets for the night. They built a hideout under the table and moved in, flashlights and all. The house suddenly seemed to them much more interested and exiting. It felt like a campground. No screens, or devices, not even books. The goodnight story was told, not read.  My son promptly suggested that we should have a night without electricity every week. Well–a night without lights and devices, but with the heating and the refrigerator running.

The second night without power was harder. The novelty of the situation had worn off, and the house no longer felt cozy. It was cold. We fantasized about our old house and its wood burning stove that had, in similar situations, provided not only comforting heat, but also light entering the room through its glass door. It had even provided a surface for cooking. And now here we were with no heat, no lights, no internet service, no power to operate appliances and gadgets.

Do we rely on electricity too much? ‘Yes’, is certainly the answer. We can, for sure, implement measures that would lessen our dependence on electrical power. However, to what extent these measures would be possible and practical varies household to household. To eliminate the need for electricity entirely does not seem like a realistic solution at all. We can certainly be better prepared for the next short-term power outage like the one we just had, but there is little we can do as individuals in case of a long-term power outage, which would very likely cause significant distress to the fabric of our society.

While having these scary thoughts, and feeling helpless, I found some comfort in the idea of making a chicken soup to warm us. Luckily, the stove in our kitchen is a gas one, so the burners were working. I just needed a match to light them.

While I was putting up the big pot of chicken soup to simmer for our evening meal, the kids opted for grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. We sliced the bread, prepared the cheese and took out the panini press. Everything was ready to go. Oops! Not the panini press. It needs electricity. It was time to improvise. That day, we made grilled cheese sandwiches in a cast iron skillet on the stove-top. Although emergency-situation meals are often a far cry from their regular selves, these sandwiches actually tasted much better then their panini press relatives. Snowstorm or not, we will surely make them again.

As it often happens, there are tiny crumbs of something good lurking even in unpleasant or difficult situations.

 

Stove-top Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

For 4 sandwiches:

8 slices of bread
1 cup grated cheese (you may need more or less depending on the size of your bread slices)
2-3 tablespoons finely minced onions or green onions
1 clove minced garlic (optional)
some cream cheese or mayo
2-3 tablespoons olive oil for the skillet

Use good-quality stale bread. Soft fresh bread will absorb too much of the oil, resulting in greasy sandwiches. This is a perfect recipe to use up bread that is no longer fresh.

For the cheese: cheddar, jack, Swiss, fontina, or muenster can be used (or a combination of these/whatever cheese your fridge has to offer).

Mix the grated cheese with minced onions and garlic, if using. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese or mayo on all the bread slices. Spread grated cheese mixture on four of the slices. Use the other four slices to cover the sandwiches.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet.  Place the sandwiches in the skillet. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip, add more olive oil if needed. Cook until golden.

For a full meal, serve the sandwiches with a salad and an egg sunny-side-up.

Sheep and Wool Festival, and Camp tours, too!

Sheep and Wool Festival!

When: Sunday, May 28th from 10 am to 4 pm.

Where: 285 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge NY 10977

The Fiber Craft Studio hosts their 7th annual, family-friendly Sheep and Wool Festival! Visitors can engage in hands-on carding, spinning, weaving, felting, knitting and plant dyeing. Featuring fuzzy, approachable sheep, goats, and bunnies; craft vendors and artisans selling natural fiber items; a silent auction; puppet shows; and delicious food! Plant-dyed yarns, fibers, craft kits and clothing patterns produced by the Studio will be sold at the Festival.

Admission is free. A small fee will be charged for the activities. All proceeds from the Festival will benefit the Fiber Craft Studio.

Camp Tours, too!

If you are considering camp for this summer, but have not made it to one of our Open Houses, join us for one of two camp tours at 10:00 am or 12:00 pm on Sunday the 28th. Tours will leave from the Sheep and Wool Festival and will answer all of your burning questions about camp!

We will also be hosting our final Open House of the season on Saturday, June 3rd at 1:00 pm. If you would like to join us, please RSVP to camp@thenatureplace.com. We will meet at the Lower School Building of the Green Meadow Waldorf School–307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut Ridge NY. Hope to see you there!

The Case for Wild Foods

Wild food forager Paul Tappenden reminds us that there is such a thing as free (not to mention healthy) lunch, and it’s growing all around us.

 
Anybody who has spent any amount of time researching and reading about today’s food industry, will quickly conclude that the vast majority of “foods” on the market, particularly those marketed to babies and children, are bad for us.

Trying to be a responsible parent in today’s toxic environment, is one of the most challenging undertakings we face. For this reason, it is important to introduce our children to the concept of growing our own food. Just being in a garden and getting their hands in the soil can be of huge benefit to young minds. The connection to the natural world is vital to complete development.

Foraging in the garden

Most non-organic foods, even fresh vegetables, are likely to contain either toxic additives or residues that build up in the body. These ultimately contribute to chronic ailments, making it even more essential that we feed our children organically grown foods.

Of course, eating healthy can be pretty costly, but there are ways to reduce costs. For me, the answer has been wild foods. If you are a regular reader of The Dirt, you will have read about many of the seasonal edibles that I gather to help supplement my regular diet.

Our gardens and local natural areas are filled with free, nutritious and tasty ingredients, there for the gathering. All we need to do is learn to recognize them and learn to use them. Even if we pick the occasional leaf and eat it, it can help to supply us with nutrients that may be lacking in our diet.

Plantago major (common plantain)

So, take the time to get to know some of the wild foods that surround us (even in our city parks) and share the knowledge with your children. Or, better still, if they attend the Nature Place Day Camp, they can teach you.

A feast provided by nature