I brought home a tall stack of new-to-me soup bowls from the thrift store and proceeded to peel off the first price sticker which ripped and shredded, leaving a half-on half-off sticky mess. What was the best way to get persistent goo off my new ceramics?
I filled the sink with warm soapy water and washed off most of the sticker paper. There was still a big round gooey area left after the bowls were rinsed and air dried. Rubbing the goo with a towel just seared it more. I tried isopropyl alcohol but the goo remained.
“What about a little WD-40?” a little voice in my head suggested. I’ve used the stinky lubricant as a solvent for grease and other persistent residues . . . no way was I spraying that toxic stuff on my dishes. Maybe an edible oil might work just as well. I put a drop of vegetable oil on the gooey area and rubbed it in with my finger, slowly the goo lifted off the ceramic and then wiped off easily with a paper towel. Vegetable oil is an excellent, non-toxic solvent for any tape residue left on solid surfaces. I bet in a pinch I could rub a greasy French fry on my dishes but for now, I’ll just use a drop of canola.
I am keenly aware that one person’s weed is another person’s treasure. This is the case with one of my favorite uninvited garden guests, mullein. Verbascum thapsus is a class 3 noxious weed and a nuisance for farmers. In the children’s garden, it is a much appreciate biennial plant. Nicknamed the toilet paper plant, mullein’s fuzzy silver leaves are caressed and petted by children then used in all manner of imaginative ways to carpet bug and fairy houses or garden shrines. I like mullein for this and many other reasons.
Mullein is a biennial which means it grows one year and flowers the next. Leaves are large – 12” to 18” ovals covered with soft fuzz that also contain sharp bristle hairs. Contrary to its nickname, I would not recommend wiping your butt with this leaf, no siree. For emergency toilet paper, I would pick leaves that are cool and soothing like dock or malva but that’s another story. Mullein is a medicinal plant used to heal earaches and lung ailments. Dried leaves are used in teas and smoked. Flowers are infused in oil and used for ear infections.
In its second year of life, a single, impressive flower stalk emerges from the large rosette of silver fuzz. Rising to over 7 feet tall, it is covered with yellow flowers that attract umpteen pollinators. Flowers wither and are replaced by seed pods that contain thousands of tiny seeds. One flower stalk can produce more than a half million seeds, this is why it is such a nuisance for farmers. Many mullein plants will produce additional flower heads along the central stalk. Dried mullein flower stalks can be dipped in tallow or wax and used for torches.
Last year, a monster mullein grew and flowered and dried in my front garden. It was 8 feet tall with two dozen side stalks. This was the ideal specimen for making torches. I didn’t want to spread seeds everywhere so I put down a tarp and carefully cut the flower stalk then shook out the seeds on the tarp. I let the stalk dry completely then harvested the side shoots. The flower heads were about 10 inches long and the rest of the stalk “handle” was 12 inches or longer.
Since I didn’t have a ready supply of tallow, I picked up some old candles and a deep, round metal pan at Goodwill. Wax melts at 104 degrees F so I didn’t need a lot of heat to melt the candles. I dipped the flower heads then let the wax harden. I added wax until they had doubled in size. I let the torches cool completely then I lit one. I held the flame until some wax melted and the mullein caught fire. I buried the stalk “handle” in the ground and watch the flames grow. The torch made 8”-10” flames and burned for about a half hour – so cool. Flame on!
I was cleaning up some fallen evergreen limbs and got sap on my hands, coat and furniture. How do you remove pine pitch from skin, cloth and leather? Should I put ice on it or paint thinner or do I need to call a cleaning service? Ugh, there must be a way to get sap off without using toxic solvents. Where was Heloise when I needed her?
As it turns out, the secret to removing sap from just about every surface is isopropyl or rubbing alcohol. Who knew? Apparently, this common household item kills germs and is a solvent for pine pitch. Apply to skin and sap comes right off. In a pinch, hand sanitizer with an alcohol base will remove pitch from skin. For clothes or cloth furniture, lightly soak the area with isopropyl alcohol then wipe off with a rag. Reapply if needed. For glass, leather or painted surfaces, wipe with a rag soaked in isopropyl alcohol. Make sure to rinse off residue with water to prevent damaging paint or leather. Cheap, easy and safe. Thank you, isopropyl alcohol.
A few years ago, while on a tourist day in downtown Seattle, Joan and I tasted our first cappuccinos. It was a day of firsts. We also rode the big wheel on the waterfront and ate Persian food at the Market for the first time. After a lovely visit to SAM we wandered across the street to Café Ladro for an afternoon pick-me-up. Since it was a vacation day, we thought we’d try something new and ordered cappuccinos. The bearded barista hooked us up and we were instant converts. The cappuccinos were the highlight of our day. Delicious, sophisticated and satisfying, we would never order lattes again!
A couple weeks later we thought we’d treat ourselves again and this is when we realized that making a cappuccino is an art. Just because it is on the menu doesn’t mean they will make it as perfectly as the Café Ladro guy. We had some disappointing cups. There must be a way to make a cappuccino at home without all the fancy equipment. What did Italians do before the advent of the espresso machine?
Flashback to Jessica Onetti telling a story about making espresso at the Bullock’s permaculture homestead on Orcas. She used one of those cute little Italian stovetop espresso makers that had been abandoned in the back of the cupboard because nobody knew how to make it work. We found a classic Bialetti moka express at the thrift store for about five bucks. It was easy to find operating instructions on the web, and soon we had shots of espresso but none of the delicious foam. We tried all manner of whisking and frothing but our experiments were disappointing. Then an unnamed YouTube genius showed us the secret to making thick, rich cappuccino foam using a coffee press. A quick dash to the thrift store and six bucks later we were ready to make a low-tech cappuccino. The results were delicious and so easy!
Here’s how to make two or three cups of cappuccino.
Warm 1 ¼ cups of milk in a sauce pan on medium heat to 150 degrees F.
Preheat coffee press with hot water, empty out water before adding milk.
Meanwhile, unscrew the moka express and take out the steel funnel. Fill the lower chamber with cold water up to the valve. Put in funnel and fill with finely ground coffee, don’t tamp down. Wipe any coffee grounds off funnel edge and screw on top carafe.
Put moka express on small burner set to high. Listen for the gurgling to crescendo. When the top carafe is full, remove from heat.
When espresso is done, pour hot milk into preheated coffee press. Pump the plunger up and down a dozen or more times to create rich, thick foam.
Pour 3 ounces of espresso into bowl-shaped coffee cups and spoon foam on top.