Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Food Foraging - Oyster Mushrooms

I've been completely preoccupied by having my house painted, both by hired contractors and by myself. I got so obsessed with it that I've decided not to work on the house at all this week (the contractors finally finished their part) and to try from here on out to limit myself to three hours of house labor per day. Hopefully all this will make it possible for me to get back to blogging more regularly.
Anyway, I was up in New Hampshire this past weekend, helping to organize a big family yard sale. At the yard sale, I ran into a woman I've known for years but who I recently learned is interested in mushroom hunting. We chatted and she told me that Oyster Mushrooms can be found on dead or dying maple trees. As I was driving home yesterday, about 1/2 an hour from my family home, I drove by two large decaying maples with Oyster mushrooms running up it in straight lines, from 2 to 20 feet off the ground. I promptly turned around, parked in front of the house with the maples and knocked on the door. Before I could even finish asking if I could take the mushrooms, the woman at the door said "help yourself". (This gave me even more confidence that these mushrooms were Oysters, because it was clear that I wasn't the first person who had asked to take the mushrooms.) I didn't take all of them (being without a ladder, for one thing), but I did end up with several pounds of beautiful mushrooms. When I got home, I gave some to my neighbors who have taken me mushroom hunting before. I sauteed some up with butter and onions and ate them with some local potatoes - they were absolutely delicious! Then, overwhelmed with how many I had and perplexed by how best to preserve them, I called my friend Frank who has a food dehydrator. I took him a big bag of the mushrooms and got the dehydrator in exchange. Here is what the mushrooms look like: And here is the small cooler I filled: I sliced them up and filled the trays of the dehydrator: they really shrink up when they dry out: I ended up with more than two quart jars of lovely dried mushrooms: We are entering into serious mushroom season around here, where we've had rain and cool weather. I'm really looking forward to harvesting more of what the earth offers up. I love the efficiency of feeding myself with nothing more than the labor it takes to harvest the mushrooms and apples I can find. Hopefully I'll also find the time to pick some wild grapes and make jelly!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Yesterday's Big Haul: Free Squash

I went to a big lunch at the small liberal arts college where I taught until recently. The theme of the lunch, served outside under tents, was local food brought in by local farmers. Every ingredient, other than the salt, was locally procured. The farmers brought in tons, and I do mean tons, of various squash that were used to decorate the grounds and, I suppose, illustrate the bounty of our local farms. People were allowed to take squash home, and here is what I carried back to my car: While we were eating, my friend Katheryn commented on the tendency to eat to excess at buffets, and wondered why we do this. We all agreed on the general explanation that we are disposed to eat, and keep on eating, whenever we find ourselves in situations of bounty, as a disposition, perhaps even genetic, left over from our hunter-gatherer past, when such a dispositon would be crucial to survival. Eat when there is lots of food available, and you are more likely to survive the periods when there isn't enough. If that explanation is right, and does explain our tendency to gorge ourselves when surrounded by piles of free, ready-to-eat food, then I think that it may also extend to my disposition to take as much free stuff as I can fit into my hatch back when I'm surrounded by free, good stuff! After I got all this squash home, I regretted that I hadn't gone back for more.... I wish I had more of the butternuts, and the carnevales, which you see in front, especially since squash stores well. Now I've got a nice store of squash in a basket in my basement, covered with one of these towels.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Free Foraged Food - Part 2 - Green Beans

Fall is the time to put food up for the winter, and I'm doing my part. My neighbors, Sam and Marcia, are good scavengers, and yesterday they brought me these green beans, gleaned from some farm up in Poland, NY, which had been a bit mangled by the harvesting machine: I washed them off, cut off the damaged parts of the bigger beans, blanched and froze them. Here's what I ended up with: I'm glad for the beans, and glad to have kept them from going to waste.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Terracycle - Reusing Plastic Bottles

My friend Frank recently told me about this company: Terracycle. These guys are making plant food by feeding organic waste to worms and then packaging these gardening products in old soda bottles, which would otherwise enter the waste stream. Pretty clever. Of course what we really need to do is to produce far fewer of these plastic bottles in the first place - reusing just isn't enough of an answer to our waste problems. I also would like to know how much fossil fuels these guys are using to make their products. But in any case, there is some clever thinking going on here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Creative Use for Plastic Bags

I took some pictures for this blog while travelling in England and Scandanavia this summer, but did very little blogging from there, so I have a little catching up to do. I saw this clever reuse of plastic shopping bags (what the Brits call "carrier bags") one evening while killing a little time before I went to see a play at the Old Red Lion pub, near the Angel tube station. (Pub theater is great. This place was a nice pub downstairs, with a tiny, tiny theater upstairs. You buy your ticket, get a pint, and when the bell rings to let you know to go upstairs, you bring your pint along. I didn't love the play, but I did enjoy the overall theater experience.) So, an empty storefront window had been artfully filled with crumpled plastic bags, affording privacy to whatever was going on behind the window, I suppose. Of course it's too bad that there are so many plastic bags in the world to begin with, but I liked this clever repurposing of them. There are some movements afoot to ban plastic bags, such as this one in San Francisco. Here is another story about the international movement to get rid of them. I'm all for such bans. Here is another site to get you acquainted with the issue.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Old Blanket = New Curtain

Well, it's coming up on two years since I bought my house, and I'm finally getting around to putting up curtains. (Mr. Happy says that being at my house is like hanging out in a fish bowl...) The first project (first because it was easiest) was to put up a curtain on the one smallish window in my guest room, site-of-my-future-sewing-room. I was rummaging through my not unimpressive fabric collection when I came across a pile of nice old Indian-style woven blankets (all acquired for a mere $5 at an auction a few years ago). And one was just the right size for the window. It doesn't look great when it is down (meaning providing privacy), but I like how it looks swagged, which is how it will be the vast majority of the time. I couldn't get a good shot of the whole window, but here are some pictures that give a good idea of how this little project worked out. It couldn't have been easier: I folded it across the top and put in a seam to create a pocket for the tension curtain rod, then put a simple brass hook to one side for swagging.
Just this morning I finished a set of simple sheers for my bedroom, which I'm very happy with. (But I made them with fabric bought (the-shame-of-it) in a retail store, so I won't include them here.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What Do Towels and Scissors Have In Common?

You just can't have too many! I found these four perfectly good towels in the Spring whilst scavenging outside the dorms of my local college after the students had absconded. They leave piles upon piles of good stuff outside the dorms. And I extracted this towel from a snow bank last winter: All these have been added to my pile of what I call "dog towels", i.e., towels too good to throw out but not quite up to my standards of what I'm willing to dry off with. With this many towels, I should think about getting more dogs... maybe big ones who like to swim...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Last Week's Treasures from the Trash

I got a few good things out of a neighbor's trash last Tuesday. Here's what I came home with: a bunch of nice, new fake flowers. (Fake flowers are very much not my thing, but my next door neighbor likes them, so I picked them up for her. I do, however, feel a little conflict over this, since the detritus of various fake flowers end up migrating into my back gardens. Oh well - she does lots of nice things for me, so it will be nice to do something she will appreciate.) I also got a bunch of file folders, which I don't need, but oak tag paper is so handy to have around for making tags, etc. I also got a brandy new box of push pins, a nice old pair of scissors (can you have too many scissors? I don't think so), a little plastic tray, a box of pearl costume earrings that I will add to my yard sale, and a small spatula. Not bad for a few moments picking. And, on the same day at another house I got another one of these. So that brings the count of perfectly good, white, plastic, kitchen trash cans to four!

Friday, September 7, 2007

More Art on Reused Paper

I've twice before posted about art on old paper: on newspaper here, and on old book pages here. Well, here is some more, by Susan at Artstream, which I found on her blog, Art Esprit. One of these days (like when I'm once again in possession of an income other than unemployment insurance) I'll have to get one of these pieces.

Would you throw this mug away?

I found this very nice, handmade mug in the trash of the old woman who lives across the street from me. It was still wrapped up in what I took to be its original wrapping paper. Maybe someone gave it to her as a gift. Mugs are a standard issue, generic gift. Which made me wonder why she, or some member of her family, didn't just regift it. What a waste to throw it away!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Do you have 188 bowling balls that you don't know what to do with?

My father and I took a trip to Vermont's 'Northeast Kingdom' last week. We had a great time driving around the beautiful countryside. We drove by this one day, and I just had to turn around to get a few pictures. What a great idea! And it really looks terrific. It was on Rte 58 in northern Vermont, a few miles east of Lowell. I checked, and it is bowling balls all the way through. I did the math, and there are 188 bowling balls here. Wow!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Finding things along the road, too!

I was up in Nottingham, NH last week, visiting my father and other such things. I went out into the woods one day and pulled a few things out of an old dump in the woods, but I left them in a pile by a tree, intending to pick them up with my car later, and then never did get around to getting them. I'm pretty confident that the pile will still be there the next time I go up, when I'll retrieve it and post about that stuff. But, on my way home, walking along the road, I found this dog comb. It is just what I needed. When I came home from England this summer, my dog was in the middle of a major shedding, and I was too cheap to go out and buy a new dog comb, so I used a nice, old wooden comb that I wasn't using anyway. But now I have a real dog comb, so hopefully less of Lu's hair will end up on my couch! We'll see about that, but meanwhile, this little find really does reinforce my view that most things you need are in fact just lying around waiting to be picked up...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A great table straight from the trash

I just got this table out of the trash, just a few doors down from my house. It has a wooden top and the metal base folds up very easily. I will repaint the top, with an oil-based enamel, and make one very small repair to the hardware on the bottom, then I'll have a brandy new, great little table. It will make a perfect addition to my porch, which I am in the middle of painting, and which I'm looking forward to decorating when I'm done. It is just the right size for playing scrabble, which should convince a certain someone (we'll call him Mr. Happy, 'cause he's a pretty upbeat guy) that dragging things out of the trash isn't quite so awful after all...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Free Foraged Food - Part 1

I can't believe how long it has been since I last posted! I went to England and Scandanavia for about 6 weeks, where I posted a little, but not much. And since I've been back I've concentrated on getting into a good writing routine, as well as painting my house, getting reacquainted with my dog, and pursuing an unexpected personal project. All this is by way of saying that I've been gone longer than I expected to be, but now I am back, and looking forward to getting back into the bloggy swing of things!

I'm going to a locavore (meaning one who eats local food) potluck tonight, where I'm giving a talk on waste (the topic of the book I'm writing). We are asked to bring a dish with at least one ingredient which is from the local area. I used this as an excuse to forage some lovely apples from a footpath in the Utica Marsh. I had noticed the apples while walking there with a friend recently. So I went back today with a basket and filled it up. I didn't think to bring my camera along, or I would have pictures of the tree. But the tree was loaded, and a man helped me by throwing sticks up into the tree to bring down the apples. Here is what I ended up with: Given how I got the apples out of the tree, they were a bit beat up, which was okay, since I had to cut them up anyway for the pie. I'm going to go back soon with an apple picking basket on a long pole and really stock up for pies and apple sauce. But in the meantime, here is the pretty pie I made with my foraged apples:

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More Art Using Recycled Materials - Anti-Consumerist!

In my last post I wrote about a great painting I saw recently that used newspaper. In the comments there I got a reference to more art using newspaper. Here this artist's site. I really like the juxtaposition of consumerism with the reality of suffering and war. Check it out for yourself and tell me what you think.

More Art Using Recycled Materials

A while back, I posted about some art that really caught my eye at Artesprit. As I said, I liked it not just because it was lovely, but because it reused old materials, namely pages from old books. Well, while in Cheltenham recently, I spotted this piece in a gallery, which had done something similar, only this time with the front page from a newpaper.At first you might not quite notice the front page lying behind the painting, but then you see it in the corners especially: This piece is by Akash Bhatt, and was on display at Martin's Gallery in Cheltenham Spa, in the Cotswold region of England.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Freegan: An Alternative Consumerism

My friend Heather just forwarded me this article from The New York Times. Very interesting. Thanks, Heather!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Resisting Temptation to Drag Things from Dumpsters

I recently spent an altogether lovely weekend in Cheltenham Spa, up in the Cotswolds. It was a 'hen party' weekend for my friend the Lynneguist, who is getting married in a couple of weeks. It was a great town, and we spent a lot of time walking around. If I had been at home, I certainly would have retrieved the nice glass door in this skip (the British word for a dumpster): But oh well, hopefully someone else took it home and put it to good use. I see these skips all over the place, much smaller than ours at home.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Relections on Why I Do What I Do (at least what I report on doing here)...

So, being away from my usual life, haunts, and activities makes it a little more difficult to post in my usual way. That is, for the next several weeks I don't expect to drag much stuff out of the trash (I doubt that my hostess would appreciate it!). If I can remember to lug my big old camera along, I will take some pictures of relatively relevant things. But meanwhile, I thought I'd reflect on and write about the general content of this blog in a more abstract, general way. (Trained, and for many years employed, as a professional philosopher who, by definition thinks abstractly, this blog has been a welcome change of pace -- into the particular, the specific.) So, the question is, why do I take things from the trash, a practice that others find distasteful, even embarrassing? One reason is that because stuff in the trash is, well, FREE. I'm frugal, some would say cheap. (Here in the U.K. they say "tight". A British friend of mine likes to say "Tight as a gnat's chuff." Don't ask what a chuff is. But visit this great blog by my friend the Lynneguist to learn about all sorts of British/American linguistic quirks.) Why would I buy something that I can freely take from someone's pile of trash instead? Being raised by New Englanders I was early on taught to value my pennies, and this lesson certainly stuck. So, one reason to take stuff from the trash is simply to save money. I like stuff, especially old, used stuff, and trash day is one easy way to get it. Another reason though, is that waste really, really bothers me. The amount of waste in our society is staggering, and the waste we can observe is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. So, when I see some perfectly usable something out with the garbage, my inclination is to take it home and, well, use it. (Or, if I can't use it, find someone who can.) Every used thing that someone else has discarded (either in the trash or by giving it to a thrift store) that I take home is one less thing in a landfill.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

I'm away from the Blog!

Just on the off chance that anyone is actually paying attention, I thought I'd pop in to say that I'll mostly be out for the next several weeks. I'm in London, and I don't expect to do much blogging while I'm here. (Though you never know...)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Never Buy Potting Soil Again

This is the new thing I've recently started taking out of the trash: abandoned planters with soil still in them. The big square one has pretty nice potting soil in it, which I'm going to hold on to for the next time I need to repot a plant, or something like that. The other two are going to end up in my compost pile. I've thrown some other abandoned soil in it already. All of which brings me around to pointing out that my compost piles (there are in fact two), are in serious need of expansion...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

My sister Martha makes all sorts of great assemblage art pieces out of various kinds of found objects, scrounged materials, and recycled stuff. Her art is a little hard to describe, but Joseph Cornell's boxes come to mind as a comparison. Here is a little piece she made that I have and love. I think the scene in the background and on the back is The Flume, or at least I like to think so. She has a studio in her basement full of great materials for her art, lots of stuff that I covet.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Recycling Old Shirts into Baby Clothes

My friend Tina just sent me these pics of clothes she made from recycled clothes for her new baby Tycho (I just saw him last night, and he is cute, cute, cute!). Here's what she wrote: "I'd like to make some stuffed toys for Tycho out of old clothes. I've been making him pants out of old shirts--I've sent along a picture of the latest pair and the onesie I raw-edge appliqued a matching patch onto. Despite my poor seamstressing skills, I persevere because I know soon he'll just want to wear jeans and spiderman t-shirts." Tycho's Dad calls them his 'clown clothes'. I think these are great, and her seamstressing skills are much better than she thinks! She suggests this post from another blog for advice on how to make kid's pants from your own pattern.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Fallen Fruit - Saving Good Food

I just finished The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan (Penguin Press 2006). This book is a must-read for anyone interested in food, sustainability, the environment, and so on. I learned a lot about how food is wasted, and how to be a less wasteful eater. Anyway, towards the end of the book, he mentioned the legal principle of 'usufruct' in the context foraging food either from public places or where fruit was going to waste. I like this idea - that if others are allowing something perishable to go to waste, then you may have the right to take it and use it yourself - very interesting. In that context, he gave a footnote to this site: fallenfruit.org. The website is devoted to the idea of foraging fruit in the city (of LA, but they would like to expand their mission across the U.S.). I am very taken with the politics of this idea (I like any idea that keeps private property in its proper place), and the fallen fruit website is very much worth looking at, including the manifesto and maps. There are some apple trees on the edge of a public recreation center a five minutes walk from my house, which I noticed last Fall, and which did have edible apples growing on them. And then, walking my dog, I've discovered an old empty house lot that I think has apple trees. This Fall I am definitely going to go back, pick a bunch, and put up apple sauce. So now what I need to find in the trash is a good old fashioned apple picker! What fruit do you have growing near you that you can collect?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

More Trash to Buy (and cheaper this time)

My friend the Lynneguist just sent me this link to a post on Boing Boing. Here is some more trash you can buy - a smaller and cheaper version of this trash-qua-art that I posted about some time ago. Thanks Lynne!

Great New Found Object Straight from the Trash

I was walking the dog on a trash night, when I spotted this great old column in front of someone's house. (My dog knows it's trash night, because we go out over and over again - he loves trash night almost as much as I do.) At first I thought it was a log, but as soon as I poked it with my foot, I discovered that it was an old column. It was carved from single piece of wood (so, it was a log, once upon a time). It is about 4 feet high, slightly tapered, with a decorative carving along the top. It has some very old white paint on it, and inside you can see the screw-like carving marks. I wonder how old it is? In any case, I think it's just great, and once I get my porch painted later this summer, it will make a great found object decoration. At the end of summer, I'll move it inside.

Why Do People Throw This Stuff Away?

I have to admit: I don't get it. Why would someone throw away something as basically useful and necessary as a kitchen trash can? I found each of these in the trash within just a few houses of where I live, over the course of just a few months. Each time, I assumed that it was broken or cracked, but I went to check it out anyway, because I'm always on the lookout for trash cans in which to pile up my 'green waste' (yard clippings, tree limbs, leaves, etc., that the city turns into compost). But each of these trash cans is fine. I just kept piling them up in my garage, and yesterday I gave them a pretty perfunctory cleaning, and so here they are: 3 perfectly good trash cans. Each one is made by Sterlite, which says something about just how ubiquitous their plastic products are. So, what do you think? Why do people just throw stuff like this away?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Recycled Monsters - Great Idea, Great Gift

I just read this post on Whip-up, about Cotton Monsters, great, one-of-a-kind stuffed monsters made from recycled clothes and linens. Go to the Whip-up post and you find links to her blog and to her site. These would make great, sustainable gifts for children. (Kids get all the good stuff!) I wonder where she gets all her materials - thrift stores, I hope?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Little Revolving Gallery

A few months back I posted about how I reclaimed a dirty old box that I found in my basement. It was just right for displaying a few of the smaller pieces from my collection of green handled kitchen utensils. But I also had in mind that I could rotate various things through it: use it as a little revolving gallery of things I collect. So the other day I took out the utensils, threw (well, lightly tossed, really) them back in with the rest of that collection, and then put into the box a new collection that I just started when I was in Brighton, England recently: old b&w photos of people with their dogs. Dogs can make people very happy (mine makes me happy), so I love these photos because they capture a happy moment in the lives of people I'll never know. I'd like to someday have enough of this collection to fill up a small wall with them. You have to look carefully to find the dog here: because the dog blends in so well with the uniforms!. And in this photo I can imagine that the dogs are tired because they've just returned home from a good walk.