Friday, August 26, 2011

Emergency Lighting: Making an Olive Oil Lamp

While you can't rightly say that hurricanes are predictable, these days we usually get some warning that one is approaching.  For people in hurricane prone areas this is the signal to start prepping, and because this is a common occurrence, they probably make a habit of staying stocked up on certain non-perishables or property-protecting "stuff" like plywood and extra duct tape.

That's not me.  I live in CT for Pete's sake - how often do we get really threatening hurricanes up here?  And this one has the temerity to make itself known at the end of the month, when I have no money left.  Hence my need to figure out what I can do with what I have.

We're more likely to be dealing with extended power outage than any of the other myriad disaster-related issues- even if we do get flooding there won't be much we can do about it besides making sure there's nothing important on the cellar floor, and that the sump-pump is plugged in. 

We're currently set with everyone's meds, and we have a cell phone and a portable DVD player (critical for getting Scarlett to go to sleep).  Our stove is gas, and our water isn't dependent on electricity either, so our biggest problem will be light.  We have a couple of candles and a cheap flashlight, but nothing that would provide continuous light for days (worst case scenario).  Fortunately that's one thing I can jury-rig with what I have on-hand!

Enter the Makeshift Olive Oil Lamp.  These are really useful in emergencies because not only do they use a fuel you're likely to have on-hand, but because olive oil is not as flammable as classic lamp oil, if the lamp gets knocked over the oil will extinguish the flame rather than starting a fire.  This quality especially is important in a house with jumping children and cats!  If you're not someone who regularly illuminates with fire, I think it's an important safety margin.

I'd seen these lamps online (Lehman's carries a line of them), and had a good idea of what I needed: a heat-resistant glass container, some fairly stiff wire, 100% cotton string for the wick, and olive oil.  For my experimental model I used a small custard cup.  If we need more, I'll use canning jars- they are heat resistant and I have plenty of them.  With an olive oil lamp you want to have the top of the wick close to the surface of the oil, which shouldn't be more than 3/4" or so deep, even in a much larger jar.
I took some brass wire I had on hand and a pair of round-nosed pliers, cut off maybe 6-8 inches of wire, and made a little corkscrew about .5" long in one end to hold the wick.
 I then bent the rest of the wire at a right-angle to the corkscrew and curved it into a large, loose spiral.  This wick holder will sit at the bottom of the "lamp."  If I'd used a jar, I would've used a longer piece of wire and made a "handle" by bending it in another right angle to the loose spiral, so that both the corkscrew and the "handle" point straight up when the loose spiral is sitting flat.  This will allow you to lift the wick holder out of the jar so you can light it.

The last piece was the wick.  I had some 100% cotton rug warp left from a weaving project, but I knew it would be too thin as it was.  I took a length about 16" long and twisted it with one hand until it started to kink up.  I then carefully folded this in half (a helper might reduce frustration by keeping the string taut while you do this), then repeated this process once more.
My string was now 1/4 as long, and 4x thicker - perfect!  If you don't happen to have cotton rug warp on hand, you could substitute cotton kitchen string, unwaxed candle wicking, or a length of cotton shoelace (if you're not sure what your shoelaces are made of, do a burn test first).  In fact, any of these would have been preferable, and I would have used one of them if I'd had any - these items are all thicker, and the twisting & folding might not have been necessary.

I threaded the wick through the corkscrew, leaving about 1/8 inch exposed at the top, and the tail loose.
This whole assembly is set in the bottom of your container.  Add olive oil to about the first coil at the top of the wick holder, and you're good to go!

So here's my finished oil lamp!  The flame from this wick is about what you'd get from a candle, and if I fill the oil to the first coil on the corkscrew, it will burn for several hours before it needs to be refilled.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

And some more handspun yarn!

I've been spinning up my color tests at the farmer's market.  I can usually get about two 2oz rovings spun and plied in one 4-hr farmer's market.  I finally got around to taking pictures of the finished yarn.  Some I'm happy with, some need to be tweaked a bit.

This was my first shot at purple which turned out to be more of a blue-violet.  Still very nice, so I'll probably use this colorway again.

This is my second shot at purple, which is more what I was going for the first time.  This is another that I'm happy with.

 I also finally took photos of the finished yarn from the green roving I posted here.  It still reminds me of Brobee!

This last I'm still not happy with.  It's supposed to be orange, but the dark orange ended up being too brown.  There's too much contrast in the finished yarn for what I want. 

Aside from this last, I'm gotten most of my primary & secondary monochromes about where I want them - now I need to work on some multicolor rovings.  What I really need is a few undisturbed hours with a lot of light, eyedroppers, paintbrushes, my jars of dye, and some sheets of paper! I guess I won't be working on those until September when Scarlett goes back to school.  Oh well - at least it'll be cooler by then!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fermented pickles, one jar at a time.

My constant efforts to learn from prior years' mistakes is finally starting to pay off, if only in a small way.  This year I planted my cucumbers early enough that they did not succumb to Powdery Mildew before I'd gotten more than five or six of them!  Last year I tried them as a succession crop after my peas.  I had enough deformed cukes to turn into a few pints of relish, but that was about it :(  The year before that I'd gotten them in early enough that the individual plants produced well, but since it was my first year with the garden, I'd gone small (only four plants), and didn't have enough for preserving.

This year I'm still not quite where I want to be (I don't think), but it's definitely an improvement!  I've got maybe 28 plants, and at the moment I'm averaging 2-4 pickle-sized cucumbers a day.  This is still well off of the several pounds that most recipes call for, but since I've been getting this yield for about two weeks now, it's still an improvement!  I may not be able to put up pickles to last us the year, but I'll certainly be able to provide us with enough for the summer.   

I know I could've gone with classic refrigerator pickles, but I've been wanting to try fermented pickles, and since they also lend themselves well to very small batches, I went with those.  I adapted Sally Fallon's recipe from Nourishing Traditions.  As far as I can tell, the main difference between her technique and the classic fermented pickle technique is that she adds a few tablespoons of whey to the saltwater brine as a kick-starter, and to ensure that the right kind of bacteria gets a foothold before anything nasty has a chance to set in.
  • As many cucumbers as will fit in a quart mason jar (sliced, spears, or whole)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2T yellow mustard seed
  • 1 head of dill seeds or rough equivalent
  • 2c water + 2t salt 
  • 4T whey
Pack everything into the jar.  If you think it will stay in layers then go ahead and add ingredients in layers - I find everything settles to the bottom anyway, so I don't bother.  Add whey, then salt water, leaving about 1 inch of room at the top of the bottle.  Cap tightly, and leave at room temperature for two to three days, or until you like the flavor.  Loosen the cap once or twice a day to "burp" the jar, or you may end up with a mess of broken glass!  When it's where you want it, put it in the fridge.

So far I've had really good luck!  Mine have been ready to go into the fridge in about two days, because it's been so hot.  It really is important to let the excess gas out periodically, because even if your jars don't explode, you end up with carbonated pickles - and that's just weird.  Also, expect the brine to start getting cloudy after the first day.  With vinegar pickles cloudy brine is a sign of spoilage, but with fermented pickles it's normal.  It's interesting to watch the progression!  The first day they're still bright cucumber green.  The second day the color starts to change.  By the time they're done they're pickle-colored!  The jar on the left has just been started - the jar on the right is about to go into the fridge.  I'm happy eating the spears right out of the jar, but my son only likes them on sandwiches.  Give them a shot and let me know how they turn out!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Not how I wanted to spend my day!

 This is not what my kitchen normally looks like - really, it's not!

 This is not what my living room normally looks like either.

 I mean, I'm the first to admit that housekeeping is not generally my highest priority....

 but I'm not usually this bad!

Here's the culprit.  I'd told our maintenance department that the door seal on my fridge was torn, could they please come repair it.  They decided to replace the fridge instead.  Right then!  On zero notice we suddenly had to hustle most of the furniture in the kitchen into the living room so that they could get the new fridge in.  The kitchen is one of the places we put things that Scarlett isn't allowed to have, so the density of "stuff" in there is pretty high.

On the plus side, the new fridge seems to be slightly larger than the old one!  This is good.  The old one was so short that you couldn't fit a two-liter bottle on the tallest shelf.  I may have enough room to try that "Keep a Week's Worth of Bread Dough in the Fridge" thing!
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