29 April 2013

Sew What: Tablecloth

I finally finished my latest sewing project: a tablecloth. It was more work than it should have been because the fabric wasn't wide enough, so I had to piece it together in a somewhat awkward way. I guess that's what I get for ordering fabric online instead of braving the fabric store. Better skills at measurement conversion might help too. But I've realized I really enjoy sewing (crafting in general, actually), and overall I'm happy with how it turned out and how it looks. I particularly love the print. Yay for fun projects and pretty results :)

Next project: bunting!

19 April 2013

Review: Kitchen Gardening for Beginners

As a lone blogger I get the fun of deciding all the content on my blogs. The downside of not having to share is that I also get to do all the work by myself, which ends up limiting what I post. This means (among other things) that I can't review as many books as I'd like (a painful fact for a lifelong bookworm). That's why I love it whenever publisher DK sends me books to review. Their books are invariably good. They're enjoyable to read and look at, and they're full of useful information--definitely worth my limited time--and yours.

So, what's the latest worthy book? You can't turn around these days without hearing about eating locally, or its corollary--growing your own food. Whether you have acres or a small urban yard, you can grow food. The idea is the more you can feed yourself, the better for your tastebuds, your health, and the environment. Not bad for a small investment in seeds and time. But if you're new to growing a harvest, where do you start? If you're like me the first step to anything always involves consulting a book. That's where Kitchen Gardening for Beginners comes in.

This book takes you step by step through the process of starting a kitchen garden (which is simply a garden in which you grow edible plants for your household). The written instructions are accompanied by plenty of helpful photos, as well. And unlike some how-to books that are bogged down with theory and endless description (which is fine if you're into that sort of thing), this book delivers the relevant information in a succinct and interesting way. Kitchen Gardening for Beginners is actually fun to read--not something you can say of every gardening book. It gets you excited about gardening and helps you get into it right away.

The book also offers some great advice if you're dealing with less-than-ideal conditions. I've lost count of the number of gardening books I've read (particularly the ones on growing food) that assume you have (or need) massive amounts of sheltered space with full sun and an irrigation system in order to grow anything worthwhile. Kitchen Gardening for Beginners will help you figure out what you've got and help you work with it. Suddenly I'm looking at my north-facing yard in a whole new way.

The book will also help you design your garden--all of it, including areas for socializing and raising critters. There are plenty of projects too, including building paths, raised beds, cold frames, benches, and a herb parterre. In fact, the more I read through this book, the more I find to inspire me (I've noticed that a lot with DK books).

Once your garden is set up and ready to go, the book offers tons of info on what you can grow and how to do it--not just the typical beans and tomatoes, but also flowers, herbs, fruits, and unusual veggies. And once you've harvested your bounty, there's info on storing and using it (no recipes, though).

The book ends with a troubleshooting guide, including handy galleries of pests, diseases (might I just say, ew), and weeds. There's also info on pruning and propagation--necessary knowledge for anyone with a garden.

My only quibble with Kitchen Gardening for Beginners? The teeny tiny print in some of the sidebars--often in a light font against a non-white background. Come on, guys--are you trying to strain your readers' vision? I have 20/20 and I still feel like I need to break out the reading glasses to properly see some of this stuff.

Kitchen Gardening for Beginners is a fantastic resource. Whether you already have a garden and are looking to expand your knowledge, or are new to growing your own food, this book should be on your shelf. I'm already making plans for putting in some raised beds and trying new varieties of edibles.

If you hurry over to DK, you can catch the end of their Earth Day event (on until the 25th) and take advantage of discount prices...

Kitchen Gardening for Beginners by Simon Akeroyd. From DK.

14 April 2013

Review: Home Herbal

I love herbs. I grow them, cook with them, heal with them, study them--I've even written about them for magazines. I've also watched them become mainstream, which is great except that as the popularity of herbs grows, so does the misinformation about them. I've seen posts online claiming that marshmallows soothe sore throats (clearly someone got confused between candy marshmallows, which are merely tasty, and marsh mallow aka Althaea officinalis, which has multiple medicinal benefits, including soothing sore throats). I've also seen more than one recommendation to apply straight essential oils to skin (essential oils always need to be diluted, with the possible exception of Lavender oil). I've even had a herb newbie claim that small doses of cyanide must be good for you because apple seeds contain cyanide and anything natural has to be good. The mind boggles.

Instead of trusting random information from the internet (come on now, do you really need to be told that hobby blogs and wikipedia aren't authoritative sources?), anyone who plans to make herbs a part of their life needs at least one (preferably many more) good reference books on the subject. I'm happy to say that Home Herbal is just that.

I was excited to read DK's Home Herbal even before it was offered to me for review. For a start, the book--written by several herbalists employed at Neal's Yard Remedies in the UK--is both accurate and useful. That alone makes it worth having in your collection, but there's more.

The first section of the book is devoted to individual herbs. Each entry is impressively detailed. I particularly like that there's info on where to get each herb: grow, forage, or harvest. This is also where you find out basics on what the herbs can be used for, how to prepare them, what they look like (the pictures are excellent), and any precautions you need to take. I can see myself consulting this book repeatedly.

The next section of the books covers specific uses of herbs. Say you want to know which herbs are good for healthy skin or for first aid--under each category you'll find the relevant herbs, as well as recipes using those herbs and what page they're on. Very handy, both for those who know nothing about which herb does what, or for those looking to find new herbs to try (or for those in a hurry who don't want to waste time browsing, although this book is ideal for that).

Next come the recipes--and there are a lot of recipes. Not only for foods and smoothies, but also teas, cordials, syrups, flavoured honeys (I'm definitely going to have to try Sweet Violet & Ginger Honey when the violets are up here), purees and tinctures. For external use there are recipes for lotions, scrubs, body oils, splashes, powders (including a talc-free baby powder), soaps, toners, balms, hair treatments--the list goes on.

The book ends with more-detailed info on growing and wildcrafting herbs, as well as some other basic info. In the end Home Herbal is a fantastic resource for those who are new to herbs, as well as those of us who know the difference between cat mint and spearmint. I'm experiencing a major resurgence in enthusiasm for my garden and in part it's due to books like this. I'm already well into seed-starting, including a number of new herbs to add to the ones I'm already growing. Come harvest time, I plan on keeping Home Herbal and its many recipes and information handy. And honestly, I can't wait.

If you hurry over to DK now, they're having sales in honour of Earth Day (on until 25 April)...

Home Herbal by Susan Curtis, Louise Green, Penelope Ody & Dragana Vilinac. Published by DK.

09 April 2013

Spring Blooms

The crocuses are up in the front. I love spring bulbs. I only wish they lasted longer, and with rains (and snow) forecast for the week ahead I need to enjoy them while I can. And, of course, things are best enjoyed when they're shared :)

Photos by Whimsy Bower

02 April 2013

We've Got a Runner

I just finished my latest sewing project: a table runner. I'm pretty happy with the results...

At each end I interspersed a strip of solid red fabric between pieces of the striped fabric.

I learned how to make tassels! (Thank you, Martha.) I used Starbella super bulky yarn I found at Michaels and some matching DMC embroidery thread.

I'm thinking of making some matching napkins or place mats with the leftover fabric.

Photos by Whimsy Bower