Monthly Archives: November 2013

#TBT Throwback Thanksgiving

November 28, 2013

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^^Prior to heading home to NC for the holiday a couple of years ago, D, Kristin, and I stumbled upon this gem in a lucky parking lot in Chicago. #dumpsterlove #givethanksamerica

If you find yourself separated from family by vast expanses of land and sea this year, take a few minutes to celebrate Throwback Thanksgiving, i.e. an awesome Thanksgiving from years past most likely with close family and delicious treats, before heading out for your alternative friends-giving 2013, or wherever this holiday takes you this year! Happy turkey day, all!

Memories from Thanksgiving past…

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The aromas of yummy Bon Appétit recipes filled the kitchen while holiday music cranked on. Sipping wine and sampling away, hours later, thanks was ready to be given, and dinner was served. Cranberry relish with grapefruit and mint. Mixed berry cobbler. Roasted acorn squashes stuffed with mixed roasted veggies. Giant turkey with herbs and gravy. Other goodies like homemade stuffing and mashed potatoes. Yum!!

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^^Kristin. Two plates, please.

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As it always does, Thanksgiving dinner ended far quicker than the slicing, dicing, simmering, and roasting lasted. With bellies full and teetering on over-full, the secret spot for tucking away dessert appeared, and the mixed berry cobbler made it’s entrance. It didn’t disappoint, so kudos Katie for making a dessert that still stands out years later! Maybe we can find the recipe at home over the Christmas holiday and recreate this nomlicious dessert?!

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The weather was so nice in North Carolina that year that we were able to take a family boat ride to a nearby island where horses roam free.

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I’m still giving thanks for that beautiful day! Now if only I could get some of that sunshine-filled nature in Chicago this year…

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Happy #TBT. Now go make some new memories and give thanks, wherever you may be!

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In Dublin, a house of keepsakes and heirlooms

November 27, 2013

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This past spring we visited Diarmuid’s family in Ireland, and stopped in Dublin to see the family home where his mother grew up.

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^^Lovely (and delicious!) baked goods, courtesy of his very kind aunt.

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^^D, as he tries out the piano that his great-great grandfather (I believe) purchased in the late 1800s.

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^^D’s sister Marie as a kid. I heart this photo of her SO MUCH it’s beyond words.

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^^A home just wouldn’t be complete without some furry friends.

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^^Until we meet again!

How to grow Oyster mushrooms at home: Part 1

November 26, 2013

oyster_mushroomsAs a kid, growing food was not in my DNA. Mom and Dad are from Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the extent of their yards as children were within the realm of small 3 foot x 8 foot plots of marigolds and bushes, surrounded by sidewalk and more sidewalk.

Needless to say we weren’t that typical suburban family that has the perfect yard and a plethora of home-grown edibles. If you consider moldy bread at the back of the pantry on the order of growing something, then that’s a different story. When I first became involved with community gardening and permaculture while studying at N.C. State University, my curiosity went wild. The gratification that comes from eating my own from-seed-veggies is incredible.

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Last year I attended a mushroom workshop by Growing Power at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s urban farm in Raleigh, North Carolina. This crash course in mushroom growing inspired last year’s Christmas gift to my little brother, Michael. I figured, given our natural talent at growing fungi on pantry items, we could be a powerhouse at growing edible mycelium (and no, I don’t mean the psychedelic kind, as many friends have assumed). Another perk to this gift idea is that unwrapping a 5-pound bag of Grey Dove Oyster spawn breaks up the monotony of giving video games and camping gear. The expression that ensues is pretty priceless, too.

At the end of February, Mike and I set out in the front yard of our mom’s house to grow our mycelium. Mushrooms are unique in that they can grow in a number of different ways. We set out to do “mushroom chandeliers”. It’s incredibly easy, cost-effective and grows quietly and plentifully in living-room settings. It’s also a fantastic bonding experience.

mushroom-mania-supplies^^Save above image and print for easy shopping.

Mushrooms can grow in any organic material – straw, cardboard, wood chips or even human hair (still getting used to that idea). The material mushrooms are grown in is referred to as the substrate. Mike and I decided on a bale of straw as our substrate since it was the easiest for us to acquire. The smaller the substrate, the easier it is for the mycelium (or, as Paul Stamets describes it, the fungal network of threadlike cells) to break it down, digest it and turn it into the edible oyster mushroom we all know and love. We took a weed-whacker to the straw bale to chop it up into pieces. Don’t forget your protective eye gear! You can also add coconut coir at a 1:4 ratio to add a material that’s easily broken down. We didn’t have any though, so we just stuck with the straw.

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^^Mike using the weed whacker to chop the straw bale into smaller pieces. Don’t forget your protective eye gear and breathing mask!

Next you need to kill any bacteria or fungi that might be already growing on the substrate. We soaked the straw in a hydrated lime powder for 24 hours. To do this, we first stuffed the substrate into burlap sacks and tied them with twine to close them as best we could. Then, we filled up two big plastic storage bins and added hydrated lime and filled it ¾ of the way full with water. 3 to 4 pounds of hydrated lime is the recommended amount for approximately 53 gallons of water. Make sure to wear gloves and cover your skin since concentrated lime solution can be caustic.

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^^Drying out our freshly sterilized straw on a tarp in Mom’s front yard. Bacteria be gone!

Twenty-four hours later, we were ready to start our chandeliers! We drained the bags (be careful where you dump out the water as it’s very concentrated so it acts as a natural herbicide and could damage your plants) and spread the soaked straw over a tarp to dry for an hour. You want to shoot for a moistened substrate, but not too wet. The best way to tell if it’s dry enough, but not too dry, is to check it after an hour. If you can take a handful and squeeze out just one drop, it’s perfect.

Now it’s time to take the bag of spawn and start mixing it into the substrate. Make sure the gloves you are using are clean. It’s very important to not introduce any cross-contamination throughout the whole process to decrease the chances of other unwanted fungi and bacteria growing in your substrate. If you decide to grow two different strains of spawn in separate chandeliers, you also want to be weary of minimizing cross-contamination by using clean gloves for each strain.

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^^Mike mixing in the Grey Dove oyster spawn into the sterilized straw substrate. Be free little spawns.

Once all of the spawn is mixed in with the substrate, it’s time to start shoving the hardy mixture into the feed bags. Pack them tightly and after they are about halfway to three-fourths of the way full, roll the top of the bag down and duct tape it tightly. Try to get most of the air out of the bag to decrease moisture loss. Mike chose to sit on the bags, effectively smushing all the air out.

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^^The only “wire cutters” we could find were hedge clippers, which we later found out isn’t good for the hedge clippers. Not recommended, but works ; )

Next take the fencing material and cut the height eight cells high, or enough to give you room to hang it from somewhere or stack it, if necessary. The width should be cut at 24 units, but if you’re using feed bags that vary in size then you’ll want to wrap the fencing around the bags and cut after 1 unit overlaps. Cut the wire so there is a metal piece that sticks out (essentially what would be the bottom of the square). This is very important to do since you’ll use this to fold around the overlapped edge to create a cage around the feed bags. Wrap the cut out fencing around the filled feed bags and bend the wire ends that stick out around the other edge’s square, creating a circular cage. Cut the bottom squares in the caging so that you can bend those in as well, creating a catch for the bottom of the bag (so the bag doesn’t slip out when you hang your chandelier).

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^^Mike with the almost-finished product! We still need to cut the caging some more.

This last step will make more sense once the mushrooms are growing. Cut the caging so that instead of long rectangular shapes, you get large squares. Depending on the size of the fencing you’re using, this may look different from what we’ve done. You’re aiming to create a big enough opening in the wiring for a fist-sized mushroom clump to grow comfortably. After you’ve cut the caging, put the mushroom chandelier somewhere warm inside (I keep two stacked in a laundry basket in my breakfast nook and one under a table in my foyer) or, if the climate allows, find a nice shady spot (with at least 75% shade) outside.

Now it’s time to let your chandeliers sit for 2 weeks while the spawn turns into mycelium and starts digesting the substrate – essentially setting the stage for what will turn into amazing home-grown gourmet mushroom fruiting.

Check the blog soon, and we will update you on the rest of the growing process.

That’s all for now, folks!