Have a Deep and Meaningless Conversation

Last week, I was using some reclaimed lumber to build a desk. Already this post is pretty hipster, but just wait.

I ripped my last piece of lumber through the table saw to square the edges. I used a belt sander to take down the rough patina of the lumber. I started cutting out a drawer face with my jigsaw. In doing these things, I would notice a stray and random carpenter ant appear on my work surface or on the floor of my workspace. This didn’t strike me as odd right away since I was in the old garage building.

When I completed cutting out the drawer face I found that I was cutting exactly through the center gallery of a carpenter ant nest. I found about a dozen hungry, confused, and shaken carpenter ants ambling about. While this clearly was not an active nest, it must have been six months ago in the porch from which I took this old lumber. Since removing it, these few remaining ants had been huddling in their homes…doing what?

Ants

I started to ponder this and other questions in the classic hipster conversation method: too abstract to have practical application, just intelligent enough to make it sound like I know what I’m talking about. For the ants that were left behind when I removed the old lumber, was this some sort of ant apocalypse (“antocalypse” maybe)? Was this the promised and long-prophesied day that the old nest would be made new? I’m sure that’s what it must have seemed like. A terrible End of Days, a period of tribulation and unrest, followed by a glorious and pure new order being put into place for the 1000 year reign…just as it was foretold in the book of Revelantion. What about the ants that were taken away from the porch inside this old beam? Did they consider themselves to be the Dorothy in a new version of the 1939 classic The Wizant of Oz? On which set of feet do they wear the ruby slippers? Am I the wicked witch or the great and powerful Oz? One thing’s for sure, she can’t wait to get back to Ant Em. What would make a good Toto parallel? Probably a termite named Terter.

More AntsAnd just like that, I’ve had a deep and meaningless conversation. You can, too. Here’s how:

  1. Pick any topic. In this scenario, I chose “ants in wood.”
  2. Choose any other topic that you know a little about. In this scenario, I chose two: “end times” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
  3. Parallel the two topics.
  4. Use random facts about either topic. In this scenario, I chose to use the phrases “the old would be made new” and “1000 year reign” in regard to the end times, both taken from the book of Revelation in the Bible. I also used the date 1939 and the names of minor characters from The Wizard of Oz.
  5. For extra points, add puns.

Congratulations, you’ve just had your first deep and meaningless conversation!

Everyone Should Make their own Candles

It has been a little while since I’ve had the opportunity to show off my unique homemaking and homesteading skills. I took a week off from my full-time job in order to take care of a number of little projects and get started on one big project. All this to say, my industrious side took over for a week+, and sitting in front of the iMac was a little too sedentary for the time being. Don’t worry, here I am back in the usual routine so that I can flaunt my pearls of hipster wisdom with the world.

So today we’re making candles. Well, more accurately, last week. The title of this post claims that everyone should make their own candles. While this is true, it is not as mandatory for everyone as it is for hipsters. And here’s a few reasons why:

  • Hipsters can smell bad. Whether it’s the fixed-gear bike riding, the hemp shampoo, or the lack of deodorant is not important. The bottom line is that hipsters smell bad. Candles can cover up those unseemly body odors.
  • Hipsters like cats. You can photoshop ironic mustaches and captions on them, and they warm your lap in the winter when you are too cheap to pay for heat. A cat’s poop smells very bad. Candles can cover up this disturbing yet natural part of pet ownership.
  • Hipsters like to talk about the weird things they do. Making candles qualifies.

When I first set out to do this, I did a little bit of research (aka google search) and I found this article. This made candle making seem complex as it dealt with different kinds of waxes and temperatures and etc. I promptly disregarded most of this and decided to do it my own way.Spent Candles

I collected all the spent candles that we had accumulated over the years and broke down the leftover wax into chunks. These I threw into a coffee tin that was heating up inside a pot of water on the stove. As the wax began to melt, I used a cooking thermometer to keep a gauge on how hot the wax was getting. This turned out to not really matter, but it averaged about 180 degrees the whole time.

 Cooling candles

Once all the wax was completely melted, I tied some string (I call it kitchen twine, though I’m not sure exactly what it’s actually called. I also use this to tie and dry all my herbs, etc) to a couple of cheap chopsticks and centered them over the candle jars that I had cleaned out. I spooned the wax slowly so as to not move the wick from the center of the candle.

Burning candle
After that, I was just a matter of letting the wax cool and cutting the string. In a matter of a couple of hours of active work I was able to repurpose a bunch of old candles into perfectly good new candles. Not only was I surprised at  how easy this was, but it made the whole house smell pretty wonderful as I was doing it. With this first success, I’ve begun collecting spent candles from friends and neighbors. This not only gives me a steady supply of wax for candle making, but also a steady supply of hipster credibility. I’ll let you decide which is more important.

 

How to Fold your Skinny Jeans

I have a particular way I fold my skinny jeans.

Okay…to be honest, I don’t wear skinny jeans. I also don’t wear V-Necks. Even so, I think my Credentials as a Hipster remain intact. I would even dare to say that this obligatory uniform of the contemporary nonconformist is not as obligatory as you would think.

There are exceptions to every rule. In the case of the skinny jeans, a hipster’s leg wear only need be skinny enough to be able to see the silhouette of an iPhone in the pocket of his/her choice. In the case of v-necks, they are only necessary if you have enough curious chest hair to peak out the V. I meet both exceptions: having the iPhone clearly visible and a lack of any chest hair (curious or otherwise).

But back to folding laundry. I’ve toyed with different ways to fold my jeans over the years, but have recently struck gold in terms of folding methods. What makes a folding method good? I have three basic criteria:

  1. Keeps clothes from wrinkling/unfriendly creasing in storage.
  2. Highlights the innate features of the material.
  3. Makes the garment easy to store.

So here’s my method:

IMG_2489I start by folding them lengthwise with the seams together, similar to the way I would hang a pair of slacks. Then I tuck in the zipper and the butt so that I get a mostly straight line up and down.

IMG_2490 Fold that in half.

IMG_2491 Fold that in half again. All done.

This nice square shape fits nicely into my closet, prevents any wrinkles from storage, and even gives a faux crease look along the front of my pants. My little piece of original denim origami isn’t really a big deal, but it helps me keep my hipster/house husband sides together and happy.

Seed-Starting Terrarium

It’s that time of the year again: when March hits, I immediately begin pining for the Spring planting season. We still have a few months before we can actually plant anything in the open, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get a head start now. With all the seeds I’ve been saving from last year, I have plenty stocked up to allow me to get ahead of the frost.

A few years ago, I started my garden early with a store-bought seed starting kit. It was basically a black plastic basin with a clear plastic domed lid. I set it in front of a window and it worked really well. It gave the seeds everything they need to get started: a temperature controlled environment, light, and constant moisture. It also cost $40, and when I brought it out from storage the following year the clear plastic lid had broken in half and had to be sent to the recycle bin.

This year I decided to make my own. I was planning to build a complex frame system into which I could set panes from an old window to replicate that clear plastic dome. As I looked around our old attic for a junk window, I found this old transom. I decided to switch gears and save myself some time.

Transom Window

What is really awesome about this old transom is the way the paint peeled off the glass. At some point the whole window was painted, and over the decades the paint peeled itself off most of the way, leaving these “fingerprints” behind. I have never seen anything like it, and was tempted to just hang it on the wall as-is. But instead, I moved ahead with the project. Sorry Art; Utility wins today.

Terrarium base

I have a lot of tongue-and-groove porch boards left over from a project last year. It’s yellow pine, which has a good tolerance for moisture, so I decided to use that to build the frame for the glass top. The trusty table saw came out and zipped off the groove and half the tongue on each board, leaving a flat surface on one end and a nice frame on the other. I mitered these together so that the transom would fit snugly inside the frame without gaps. I screwed the frame onto one of the hutch shelves that was left over from the hutch project.

Ready for seeds

Everything fit together nicely. I may end up building some more frames for additional glass panes around the sides to give it a dome shape once the young plants get too tall, but that can wait for another day.

Finished Terrarium

I was limited on space inside my new terrarium, so I started with the plants that need the most time: tomatoes and peppers. I also planted a bunch of lettuce since that’s a plant we can continually harvest as it grows.

In total, this project cost me zero dollars and about two hours from start (looking for an old window in the attic) to finish (seeds planted and dirt cleaned up). Take that Winter: two cubic feet of Spring just started inside my dining room. May the germination begin!

Preserving Fresh Basil

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When it comes to being frugal, having a household garden is a great way to save money at the same time that you are improving your standards of freshness. After about five years of having fresh herbs and vegetables right outside, it has become difficult to settle for grocery store produce. But what about those months between October and May? Living in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7A means that there are a number of months in which we cannot reap a harvest. That leads us into preserving the bounty from the summer months to enjoy through the winter months.

I love cooking with fresh herbs. We give a lot of space in our small rooftop garden to growing fresh herbs, teas, and sweeteners. Basil is one of my favorites. We picked a decent harvest throughout the growing season, and in October we still had a lot leftover. After snipping the seed heads, I tied the remaining basil leaves into three big bunches and hung them to dry. Drying the leaves is a little different from drying out the seed heads. In the latter case, I was trying to suck out all the moisture as quickly as possible so as to easily crush the chaff away from the seed. In the case of the basil leaf, I am trying to slowly allow the leaves to naturally dry, without molding or losing the flavorful oils. Drying in a stable temperature with good airflow is necessary, and my kitchen window is great because it is next to an air vent that keeps the air flowing.

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Fast forward to last week. The leaves have dried beautifully and are ready for their second harvest. For this job, I pulled out the trusty mortar and pestle to crush the leaves. I used a sieve to help me keep a consistent flake size so that it wouldn’t get caught in my spice shaker. I would crush, sift, and then repeat the crushing until all that was left in the sieve was a negligible amount.

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In the end, my window-full of fresh basil yielded me about 3 tablespoons of dried and crushed basil spice. I thus labeled, dated, and stored this treasure into an old spice container that I repurposed into a spice container. I compared this with the store-bought container of basil in our cabinet and the difference was staggering: the store-bought lacked flavor and aroma. I added the store-bought to our compost bin and our basil now sits proudly in its place.

It’s easy to stay industrious when it’s warm outside, but a well-planned and industrious summer gives you plenty to keep up with in the colder months.

Harvesting Stevia Leaf

Rooftop Garden Herbs

This past summer, we grew a great bunch of stuff on top of our roof. You know, like hipsters. We planted some stuff from seed, and picked up the rest from local gardening stores and farmers markets. One thing that I was surprised to find at our local market was a stand selling stevia plants. Stevia being a natural sweetener and a sugar substitute, I asked the vendor how she uses the plant to sweeten things. She said that she used it in full leaf form to sweeten her teas. Being the adventurous type of hipster, we bought one plant and decided to see what we could do with it.

Over the summer, our peppermint (from which we planned to make teas) did not fare well and we did not reap a harvest. The stevia plant, on the other hand, did very well. We ended up with a large plant, but never used it to sweeten the tea that we were never able to make. So feeling guilty and having nothing to brag about, I decided to dry the stevia leaves and preserve them for a later time.

That time was this week. Making tea from a tea bag seemed so normal, and the dried out stevia leaves hanging in our kitchen window caught my eye. I crushed a small amount of stevia leaf, put it in the tea strainer, and steeped. To my surprise, this tea was so sweet, I almost couldn’t drink it!

I decided to harvest the rest of the stevia and put it away for storage. I stripped the stems of the remaining leaves and crushed them in my mortar and pestle, repurposed a spice container into a spice container, and put the pulverized stevia away for another time. I had a good amount of dried leaves, but after crushing I was left with about one tablespoon of stevia powder.

I’m not sure yet how I’ll use it, but I was thinking of trying to make some sugar free banana bread or something. Being the adventurous sort of hipster, I’m sure I’ll find a way to use it.

Dried Stevia

Stevia Strainer

Dried Stevia Leaves

Shaker of Stevia

Saving Basil Seeds

Are you curious if one of your odd activities can be considered hipster? Run it through this simple “yes or no” test by answering the question, “Was this activity a common/necessary part of life 100 years ago, but incredibly uncommon/unnecessary today?” If you answered yes to this question, then chances are you’re doing something a hipster would do. By that test, the practice of seed saving can be considered as hipster as “using a victrola” or “shaving with a straight razor” or “not showering.”

Seed saving is a great way to make you look like you know what you’re talking about, develop high-yielding plants that are better acclimated for your specific climate, and takes months longer and incredibly more effort than buying a packet of seeds for 89 cents at the grocery store. This is something I do to help exercise my frugality at the same time that I keep in touch with my industrious side. It’s something that takes little time during the harvest season of gardening, and gives you something to do in the off-season of winter. Different vegetable seeds go through different processes to harvest, but the other night I harvested a bunch of basil seeds and took some pictures of the way I did it. I always get confused as to whether or not Instagram is cool anymore for hipsters to use, so I’ll show them to you here instead.

Bag BasilAt the end of the growing season, I clipped all these seed heads from our basil crop and threw them into paper bags to allow them to dry out. The seed head on basil is the tall shoot above the edible leaves, and it flowers. Once the flowers begin to die,  clip that seed head off and save it for winter.

The paper bag is a magical place that will allow this harvest to dry out without getting moldy. Store this paper bag in a dry place for a few months.

Hanging BasilAn alternative to the paper bag method of drying is to hang your seed heads in a very visible window.  This method is much less efficient than the paper bag, but often preferred by the hipster that wants to show people that he/she is doing something that confuses ordinary people.

Separate the seeds from the chaff

Once they are thoroughly dry (I harvested in October so they have been in the paper bag for a few months), crush the seed heads between your fingers in a well-contained area. I simply reached into the bag and kept everything nice and tidy that way. Then I pour the crushings into a pie tin and separated out the seeds with a slight rocking motion that allowed the heavier seeds to fall to one side while leaving the chaff at the top. In this picture you can see the basil seeds as the larger black bits in the tin.

Seed packets!

After you get your seeds pretty well separated, put them away until it’s time to start your garden (don’t spend all winter trying to separate the seeds 100% from the chaff of the seed heads. It won’t hurt anything if it’s all in there together). For storing the saved seeds, I either make smaller envelopes by cutting and taping regular-sized envelopes envelopes, or I’ll repurpose an empty spice jar. In this case I opted for the little envelopes, and I always try to date my seeds as a good habit.

There you have it. Seed saving is probably one of the more useful things that hipsters can do, and as a house husband, it helps our little clan to have fresh herbs and vegetables during the growing season. Be daring; be hipster; be resourceful: save those seeds.