Monday, May 9, 2011

Recycled Candles Take Two

So I worked at a wilderness therapy program for troubled teens for some years in my life. This is what got me into things like sustainability, herbs, organics, and primitive skills. I loved being self-sustaining in the back country - living out of a backpack, making fire by rubbing sticks together, finding plants to eat in the wild. When I returned to 'civilization' I started growing veggies, making rainwater catchments, and doing a lot of things like I have been blogging about.

When I was working in the field one Christmas, we taught our kids to make candles out of bacon grease using old tuna cans and twisted juniper bark. The candles we made were small and messy, but the kids LOVED them. So when I was cleaning my kitchen this weekend and was looking at the jar of bacon grease sitting on the counter, I remembered this project and decided to embark on a little experiment.

I have a bunch of wicks left over from the recycled candle project I did a couple weeks ago, and I pulled one out and cut it to the right length to stick up out of the grease. I had to use tweezers to get it that far down into the jar. You are looking at a pint mason jar with about 1.5" of grease in it.

I was worried about what might happen when the flame burned down the wick - would the whole thing catch fire and I'd end up with a really awful mess from a bacon bomb? However, the candle burned well, and the worst thing was a slight bacon smell. Since I have no issue with the smell of bacon in my home I figure all is good in the world.

Plus it's really pretty

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sustainable Sunday: Rogue Hopyard

Well last week I talked about wine, so I decided to go with beer on this fine Mother's day. A lil while back I hit up the Rogue Hopyard with friends for beer, food, and a look at hops in action.

The trip was enjoyable - well off the beaten track in the Willamette Valley (Independence to be exact). We drove in past rows of hop fields with patriotic and maverick names (they boast 42 varieties on site), to the hophouse which sits right next to the Rogue Hop 'n Bed bed and breakfast house. We missed the tour (2pm on Sundays), but were able to stand in the tasting room and enjoy a wide variety of beers and good conversation with the staff.

What I like about Rogue is they do not go for what Michael Pollan dubs "supermarket pastoral" in their advertising or labeling. They grow hops locally, and are committed to things like sustainable farming, but they don't use this as a gimmick to get people to like them. In fact, their website copy is even a bit tongue in cheek about it, stating that they use 'free range' coastal water along with their other ingredients. Though I am the first to shout about sustainability from the rooftops, there is something to be said about not taking things to seriously.

The beers were excellent, including one that had hints of juniper, making me long for the Utah desert sunshine (it was sunny that day though!). With locations up and down the I5 corridor in Oregon and even into California - I say check out the Rogue Nation!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Beeswax Wood Finish

So a while back we got a dining room set that is a beautiful oak table and two chairs. It has certainly seen better days, and so I have decided that I am going to spend some time refinishing it. The coffee table extravaganza certainly helped in learning about natural dyes and linseed oil, but I was not convinced that was the route I wanted to go. So...I decided I would refinish another small end table in the house and try out a beeswax finish on it to see how I liked that.

I took the old finish off of the table with an electric sander. You can see here the contrast between the color of the old finish and the color of the wood. I was pretty excited to be able to redo this baby in lighter tones. I also love natural finishes because they do not create a barrier between you and the wood. The wood still breathes and feels like wood when you finish it with natural products.

I went back into "The Natural Paint Book" by Julia Lawless and Lynn Edwards for a recipe. I chose the simplest wax finish, which is just beeswax and a solvent. I went all over the place trying to get citrus solvent, but it is not easy to come by. So I went with turpentine because it is easy to find in small quantities.

I cut the beeswax into chunks using a hammer and screwdriver and put the bits into a glass jar. I made up the same makeshift double boiler I made when I recycled candle wax. I will say that melted beeswax smells divine!!! Sadly, when you mix it with turpentine it does not.

The recipe called for a 2:1 turpentine to wax ratio. I used 8oz turpentine and 4oz wax. The end result was a chunky paste that was smelly and yellow. The turpentine had been in the garage and was cold, and when I poured it into the hot wax there was an instant cooling that caused some chunks. If you wanted to avoid that I would make sure the turpentine is at least at room temperature. I would not heat it though because it is volatile and VERY FLAMMABLE. Please also note the open door in my kitchen that provided ventilation for the project.

I used a rag to apply the waxy paste to the table. I treated the application much like I used to when my dad had me wax the car. I smeared wax on thickly and let it set until it was hard and dry, then buffed it off. The finish brought out the beautiful color of the wood as you can see in these pics.

Because of the turpentine, I left the table in the garage overnight so that it could air out a bit. I then buffed the table one more time with a clean cloth so that it was not sticky. The end result is absolutely beautiful, and the table feels like natural wood as well. If you wanted to, you could do this kind of finish over a stain, OR add pigment to the wax.

As you can see, this table is a small end table, and it took about 6oz of the paste to cover it completely. Know that natural finishes soak into the wood as opposed to varnishes and shellacs that sit on top of it. This means that it takes a bit more volume to coat the wood properly.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sustainable Sunday: South Stage Cellars

When visiting House Alive! a few months ago, we dropped in on a local landmark that houses the South State Cellars' wine tasting room. What we ended up with was a chance to support winemakers who practice sustainability, make good wine, and support local business!

Built in 1865, the then private residence of Patrick Ryan has been host to more local businesses than any other building in town. Currently it is the home of South Stage Cellars, a vineyard-based tasting room and wine garden. We sat in the old-world style tasting room and talked with the others there while sampling a series of award-winning wines, and eventually walked away with a bottle of their 2009 Early Muscat, sold on the promise from the woman in the tasting room that it served both as a delightful dessert wine as well as an aromatic white. It felt like a big claim to me and so was intrigued. I was impressed with the quaint, cozy feel of the tasting room along with the rows of medals and awards that lined the wall behind the bar. The 2008 incarnation of the Early Muscat won Best of Show at the 2009 World of Wine Festival.

We were also excited to see how committed South Stage is to supporting the local economy and community. The grapes come from owners Don and Traute Moore’s vineyard, Quail Run, a local 300 acre operation that utilizes no insecticides and utilizes cover crops as a means to enrich the soils. We noted that there were several events aimed at locals providing discounts and entertainment. Our friend Coenraad had been there just the night before performing at a local’s night.

Some weeks later we decided to give our southern belle a try. A pale straw color, I expected something touted as a potential dessert wine to be more syrupy, but it seemed more like an aromatic in the glass. The nose consisted of honey and a tropical fruitiness that we were initially unable to identify along with hints of clove. I found the taste to be powerfully sweet on the tongue with a slight sparkling texture and a lightly bitter finish, almost like grapefruit. Jason noted that he found a “zing” at the top of his palette that was just as much texture as it was flavor. After exploring this further we decided that this was the tropical fruit we’d gotten on the nose – guava. The whole experience was threaded with the light spiciness of clove that carried through from start to finish.

We decided that the claim that this wine could be either a dessert wine or enjoyed by the glass with food stood up to the test. The Early Muscat provided more than enough complexity and crispness to drink chilled with a citrusy piece of fish or a mild Thai curry. However, its bold sweetness and bitterness would make it an excellent complement to dark chocolate or summer fruits. I definitely enjoyed this versatile wine and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys sweet wine with a kick.