Sunday, September 8, 2013

Elderberry Pie

A couple of weeks ago (late August), I was driving towards Corbett from Troutdale (AKA: the boonies) and did a double take as I spotted something in the corner of my eye. I then yelled "WHAT! That's Elder!" and then did an epic u-turn back to confirm that the massive, deciduous bush was, indeed, blue Elder, which is native to the Pacific Northwest. Of COURSE I then picked the powdery-blue berries that resemble little Earths.

Blue Elderberries (Sambucus cerulea).

The Sambucus species native to Oregon is S. cerulea (blue Elder) and S. racemosa (red Elder). You can eat a few blue Elderberries fresh off the bush, but consuming more than a handful can cause stomach upset in some people due to the small amount of hydrocynanic acid content. Cooking the berries thoroughly destroys the toxins. Red Elderberries (S. racemosa), however, have a higher amount of these toxins, and therefore should be regarded as toxic. Sambucus cerulea, much like its well known herbal cousin Sambucus nigra (European black Elder), has powerful medicinal properties. Blue Elder was an important source of food and medicine for Northwest Native Americans; infusions were used to aid a variety of ailments, including but not limited to fever and gastrointestinal issues. 

Blue Elderberry competes with the Huckleberry as my favorite berry. In other words, blue Elderberry cooked in baked goods is a total foodgasm. The flavor of blue Elderberries in a pie has a slight "bite" to it. The only downside in using Elderberries is removing the berries from the stems, which is a real pain in the ass. No, really: Plan to destem for at least a couple of hours. Also, you want to be really careful when destemming, as the stems and leaves are toxic.

I made a pie with the blue Elderberries, and it was epic. It was so epic that I refused to leave the house before eating a piece for breakfast/brunch/lunch (or if you're a pig like me, all three). Now as for a recipe to share, this is the thing... when I cook, I don't often use recipes -- it's usually something like, "Eh, that should be enough there, a dash of this here, throw in some of this stuff" -- but below is basically the recipe... as much as I can remember, anyway.

Blue Elderberry Pie

About 3 1/2 cups blue Elderberries
A tiny bit of water, about 1/4 cup (if berries are frozen, don't add water)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup of sugar, add more to taste
3 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch
Dash of cinnamon
A little honey, about a tablespoon

For the gluten-free crust:

2 cups of flour, Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-free flour OR 1 cup of Bob's Red Mill Sorghum flour, 1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill White Rice Flour and 1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill Tapioca Flour
Dash of salt
About 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2/3 cup of vegetable oil
1/3 cup of milk

Mise en place ingredients. Mix flour with salt and xantham gum in a bowl, add the vegetable oil and milk and blend well. Divide the mixture in half and roll out the dough on a sheet of wax paper. Place the dough in a 8" pie pan.

Cook the elderberries in a saucepan until soft. If fresh, add the water. Add the berries to a blender and blend for about ten seconds. Return the mixture to the saucepan, add the sugar, honey, lemon juice, cinnamon, and then the cornstarch and bring to a boil. Remove from surface to allow the mixture to cool and thicken.

Add the mixture to the pie crust, top with the other half of the dough (a lattice crust is recommended, but any sort of pie topping will do). Pinch sides, cut slices in center of pie, and brush the crust with milk to aid browning. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 to 50 minutes, or until pie crust is golden brown. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

This basically evaporated.

This post was written for educational purposes only. When foraging for wild berries, please be 100 percent positive of identification. Remember that red Elderberry (S. racemosa) is toxic and should not be eaten. For more information, please see:

Sambucus cerulea at BLUE ELDERBERRY at USDA Plants Database

Wild Berries of the West by Betty B. Derig and Mararet C. Fuller - has excellent Elderberry recipes!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mica and Cold Process Soap

I'm pretty strict when it comes to making soap. I only make soap the traditional, Tyler Durden way (cold process, although I'm open to hot process, as well). Since I first began making soap, I've only used natural ingredients: this means plant-based colorants and essential oils in scenting. I'm still all about the natural (um, hello, hippie blog and all), but I've relaxed a little and expanded my horizons to using mica colorants (micas are derived from natural Earth minerals, and I use mica cosmetics, so really, why the heck not). Now, the thing is, micas are known to work especially well  in transparent "melt and pour" soap, but... "melt and pour" soapmaking kinda defeats the purpose of why I make soap. I have nothing against "melt and pour" soaps, which are lovely and kudos to those who enjoy it. But... Tyler Durden is basically my hero, and honestly, do ya think Tyler Durden would make foofy "melt and pour" soaps? Considering that an enlightening moment in the film Fight Club involves NaOH, I wouldn't think so.

"What is this?"
"This... is a chemical burn."

Anyway, where was my point in this? Oh: Since Cold Process soap is opaque, not all micas will work, but some will. One idea: if you're interested in stamping your soap with an image, you can dip a stamp in a little mica and press onto soft, freshly unmolded soap - I've tried this myself and the effects are pretty nice. Another idea is to layer and sprinkle cold process soap with a little mica. Also, as an alternative to Titanium Dioxide, I personally like to use pearlescent mica in lightening my soap. Now, you may be wondering where to get great micas to work with in your soapmaking. I order my mica colorants from Oregon Trail Soapers Supply. They carry awesome mica colorants, among other much-needed soap-making supplies.

Pearlizer mica from Oregon Trail Soapers Supply. 
You can add this to cold process soap to lighten it. 
Even with opaque cold process soap,
the sparkle will reflect in the light.

I recently made a batch of beer soap, made with Guinness and scented with an essential oil blend of Frankincense, Myrrh, Clove, with touches of Vetiver and Vanilla. I lightened some of the soap with the pearlizer mica, and swirled it up. It's a very smoky, spicy scent... perfect for guys and gals alike, and soon to be available via my shop.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Zelda-inspired cosmetics

When Zelda Dungeon shared a post about the Legend collection -- gorgeous eyeshadows inspired by The Legend of Zelda -- my reaction?

(Also, I smashed some pots and sliced some grass, all in complete, gleeful ecstasy.)

Shiro Cosmetics's Legend collection is a gorgeous array of sparkles and shimmery goodness, that'll make you feel like the Princess of Hyrule (okay, so that was corny. Excuuuuuse me, Princess). Wanting to order it ALL AND NAO but couldn't for the time being (i.e., Imma broke arse), I had to meanwhile settle for my top four picks, below.

Swatches, left to right: Princess, Master Sword, Temple of Time, and Din's Fire 
(I think the names of Din's Fire and Princess were confused, but whatever.)

I love peachy shades, so I'm crazy about the warm sparkly hue of "Princess," which is also lip-safe (and available in lip gloss, but I add it to my lipstick, too). I am also crazy about "Master Sword," as it goes with everything. Shiro cosmetics also offers their Fullmetal collection, which is Fullmetal Alchemist-inspired (!!!) as well as There and Back Again: A Hobbit Collection. Especially cool - all are vegan and cruelty-free!

'Definite thumps up from me -- I am officially hooked, and can't get enough!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Saskatoon Raspberry Jam

I love nature. And I'm also that weirdo foraging berries in a park. People look at me and are like, da heck? Hey, stop staring, it saves me coin!

While I'm a native of Portland, Oregon, and while I (think I) know Portland like the back of my hand, I'm always discovering something new in the Portland Metro area. Sunrise Park, located in Troutdale, Oregon (close to the Sandy River as well as the Columbia River Gorge), is a neat little gem that I discovered only a few years ago. The view of Wy'East -- Mt. Hood's original Native name -- is stunning, and I've seen diverse wildlife at the park, including a Great Horned Owl, as well as Cedar Waxwings.

In a recent visit to Sunrise Park, something caught my eye that I had not noticed before: Saskatoons! (Amelanchier alnifolia). Saskatoons, based upon the Cree word for the plant, are known by other names such as Serviceberry and Juneberry, but it took me a while to identify them as I've never foraged for them before. As I tasted them for the first time, they reminded me of Salal with a slight almond taste, although they're much juicier. The juice stained my lips and left my fingers purple. (Unsurprisingly, the fruits are known to have been used as a dye historically by Native American Tribes, which I may try out sometime myself when dying some yarn... because that would be like, awesome, and stuff).

File:Amelanchier alnifolia 2802.JPG
 Saskatoons/Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia). Photo from Wikipedia.

Saskatoons are fruits that are not exactly berries, but pomes, and were an important food staple for Northwest Tribes. They were eaten in a variety of ways, and often enjoyed fresh, dried, and mixed with pemmican. During the Lewis and Clark expedition, Meriwether Lewis documented the plant in the Dalles, Oregon. The fruits have medicinal properties and were historically used as such, aiding a variety of ailments.

As for my own adventures, I picked some of the fruits -- being sure to leave plenty out of each picking for Nature -- and went home, not sure of what to do with them. I didn't have enough for a pie, and I've been baking a ton of muffins lately, so something different was in order. After googling some ideas and finding this recipe, I decided to make a mixed jam with Raspberries from my garden. And it was basically the best decision, ever. Saskatoons are delicious!

Oh, yes.

For more information, please see:

Wild Berries of the West written by Betty B. Derig and Margaret C. Fuller

Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West by Gregory L. Tilford

American Indian Health and Diet Project

This post was written for educational purposes only. The information in this post is not intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any disease. Please see disclaimer: Not all berries are edible, and many are poisonous, so do not consume any berry/plant without being 100 percent positive of identification.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Gluten-Free Huckleberry muffins

Huckleberries, you say?

Okay, so it's a bit early to get excited for them as they ripen in late Summer, but Huckleberries, combined with baking, is a marriage made in Heaven. Few things smell better in life than Huckleberry  pie anything baking in the oven. I swear, it's like the ultimate power, to bake with those delicious berries.

Anyway, I used the last of the frozen Huckleberries I had left and turned them into the best muffins I've ever had (surely a stoner would agree, tossing their bag of Doritos out the window and hang onto the muffin tray for dear life). I used this recipe with a little modification, replacing regular flour with Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour, added a teaspoon of Xanthan Gum, and then a tablespoon of Maple Syrup (for no reason other than that I lurve Maple Syrup).

For the topping mixture, I used half white sugar, and half brown sugar. I think the recipe would be great with other berries, too, and since Salmonberries are currently ripe, I just might make Salmonberry muffins next!

(On the note of foraging for wild berries, there's a lovely nursery rhyme that children of the Warm Springs and Umatilla Tribes sing: "One for the bear, One for the Coyote, One for the Bird, One for Me." Take one berry out of a few, to leave for Nature.)

Gluten-Free Huckleberry Muffins. 
Time to omnom.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Phantasy Star Review/Swag

I'm always on the lookout for video game swag, especially if it's Zelda or Phantasy Star-oriented. As with the Zelda series, and as mentioned in a previous post, I'm pretty obsessed with the classic Phantasy Star RPG series (which basically ruled my childhood). The original series began in 1988 with Phantasy Star I -- my favorite video game of all time -- and concluding in 1995 with Phantasy Star IV. For an excellent review of the complete series you could check out Happy Console Gamer's synopsis, but otherwise the DL is as follows:

Phantasy Star (1988): It all began with this one. Somewhere deep in the Andromeda galaxy, is the Algol star system (as some nerdy trivia, Algol -- the "Demon Star" -- really exists as seen in the constellation Perseus, but Algol is actually closer as it's about 90 Light Years away). In the game, the Algol Star System consists of three planets: Palma, a world of green, Motavia, a world of sand, and Dezoris, a world of ice (and there's Rykros, but we don't get there until PSIV). Anyway. Alis Landale resides in Camineet, on the planet Palma. The economy is in ruins, the people are under martial law, and the star system's ruler, Lassic, has proved to be a tyrant. Under Lassic's rule, towns and cities are falling apart, the people are suffering, and dangerous monsters roam the three worlds. Alis's brother Nero tries to do something and investigate, but he ends up being murdered by Lassic's robotcops, and dies in Alis's arms. Alis therefore vows to avenge her brother's death and overthrow the corrupt goverment. She enlists the aid of Myau, a Musk Cat; Odin, a reputed warrior of great strength, and Lutz/Noah, a wizard. This sci-fi game has 3D dungeons, nice battle backgrounds, and is an incredible experience to play. I worked on it for years, first starting the game when I was a child in the late 1980's. (Also, since it's worth mentioning: Alis Landale is a fantastic female protagonist; she's definitely one of the best, if not the best!)

Phantasy Star II (1990): A continuation of Phantasy Star I, set 1,000 years later. Rolf, a government agent on the planet Mota (Motavia), and his companion Nei, set out to investigate the issues affecting the planet's system computer, "Mother Brain." This game was created by the same team at SEGA who also created the first Phantasy Star, and as with the first, it has great characters and a strong storyline. However, the game is different  in regards to combat and dungeon design (a downer, in my opinion). This game didn't have that same magic for me, though, as the first did... it's actually my least favorite, and it's arguably the most difficult game in the series.

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (1991): Created by an entirely different team at SEGA -- which is evident as the game is a bit of a departure -- and it's considered to be the "black sheep" of the classic series! Indeed, this game is different from the others, and this is its main negative aspect (well, that, and Rhys's metal jock strap). Furthermore, in my opinion, it isn't as exciting as the others and some "phans" even consider it to be boring! That said, though, the character development is excellent and the game's overall plot is really interesting. I like the game for what it is: a space soap-opera with mustaches and harems. It's not really Phantasy Star, though.

Phantasy Star IV (1995):  We're back to the Algol solar system 1,000 years later from PSII (specifically on the planet Motavia) with the adventures of Chaz Ashley and his mentor Alys Brangwin. Along the way, they encounter new and old friends alike in the ultimate quest in battling evil. This game is critically acclaimed, and it is, in one word, incredible. (No joke, read the game's reviews.) For the "phans" who were ticked about PSIII, alllllllllll was forgiven with this game! It compliments the original well -- and then some -- with its excellent dialogue, combo attacks, character design, and battle backgrounds. This game remains my second favorite game of all time, after the original.

Since the beginning of the Phantasy Star series, other games have been released, such as Phantasy Star Online and Phantasy Star Universe. As for myself, I've been slowly building a collection of classic Phantasy Star swag. Original Phantasy Star swag is hard to come by as they're rare (and unsuprisingly, also very expensive). My collection isn't nearly as awesome as others, but eh, I'm sharing it anyway:

Mega Drive games. 'Still have yet to purchase the first.
I have the Master System/Genesis games, as well. These game covers have great 
artwork and came with cool maps.

Phantasy Star Compedium. It is out of print and is therefore quite
expensive, but worth every penny. If only Dark Horse Comics could release this for North America with the Japanese translated, as done with Hyrule Historia!

Other Phantasy Star books (and Japanese treats).
All are in Japanese. These books have beautiful illustrations and all are in excellent condition. I got an extra copy of the PSIII "Diet" character book.

I've been able to score most of these items though eBay (I befriended a sweet Japanese lady through eBay who worked with me in finding some of these rare items), and I just purchased the PSIV North American Official Players Guide on Amazon. Amazon Japan is another site where you can find a lot of these rare books. I'm still building on this collection; I really want to get my hands on the  S.P.E.C. issues (Sega Players Enjoy Club). From what I know, it's very, very, very hard to find them. I'd like to get the other adventure and hint books, too.

If you love games like Final Fantasy and even The Legend of Zelda, give the classic Phantasy Star series a try. You won't be disappointed!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Quilting For Beginners

You know you're a science nerd when you make a science blanket. YAAAAS dinosaurs!

Wanting to take on a new task, I made a science-themed quilt. This is a relatively simple quilt to make and isn't anything fancy; the pattern I used is known as a "Trip Around the World" quilt. This type of quilt is quite easy to create, so it's perfect for beginners.

To create this quilt, 6 different cotton fabrics are needed. Out of these six fabrics, two are used for the borders (specifically, 1 1/2 yards for one block color and border #1; 1 5/8 yard for one block color and border #2, and lastly, 4 different 5/8 yard pieces are needed). I used twin-sized cotton batting and quilter's flannel (3 and 3/4 yard) for the backing fabric (quilter's flannel is excellent as it washes well, shrinks very little; not to mention it's so soft and warm). For the thread I used a vintage poly-cotton blend and Dual Duty thread. Some old-school quilters only use 100 percent cotton thread, but a poly-cotton blend is strong, machine-friendly, and lasts well.

When it came to choosing fabrics, I wanted the five fabric choices to vary and represent different science fields. I found the astronomy and paleontology prints at a local fabric store, but the brain, molecule chain, and moss cell fabric was purchased from Spoonflower.com. Spoonflower has unique, whimsical fabrics designed and sold by its users. The specialty fabric choices are immense; it's truly a fabric geek's dream come true. (Pssst, check out the awesome Legend of Zelda choices!)

I plan to take on pixel quilting, but I'm making a "Log Cabin" quilt next... although that one won't be as eccentric, alas.

My science-themed "Trip Around the World" quilt.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Rose: Medicinal Beauty

The Decoction of Red Roses made with Wine and used, is very good for the Headach, and pains in the Eyes, Ears, Throat, and Gums, as also for the Fundament, the lower Bowels, and the Matrix, being bathed, or put into them. The same Decoction with the Roses remaining in it is profitably applyed to the Region of the Heart to eas the Inflamation therin; as also St. Anthonies fire, and other Diseases of the Stomach. Being dried and beaten to Pouder, and taken in steeled Wine or Water, it helpeth to stay Womens Courses. 

--Nicholas Culpeper, 1616-1654.

The ancients of many different cultures spent thousands of years discovering and harnessing the knowledge of herbs. As stated by naturalist and herbalist Gregory L. Tilford, author of Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, "Roughly 40 percent of all drugs in modern use are derived by plants. . . more than 70 percent of botanically derived drugs were discovered from folkloric accounts." Herbs maintain, they heal, they treat, they cure... and they can be downright dangerous and deadly if mishandled. These plants demand great respect.

Besides its uses in medicine, herbs also lend its attributes in beauty products. The rose, the floral symbol of love and romance, is an herb whose medicinal properties have been documented throughout history. Greek poets praised the beautiful flower for its medicinal qualities, and Pliny listed over thirty ailments that were treated with roses. Today, it's common to see rosewater at heath food stores, and rosewater -- the delightfully fragrant byproduct from the distillation of roses -- makes a fantastic, gentle toner for the skin. While you can buy certainly buy rosewater, you also can make your own. If you ask me, it's a far better alternative to the preservative-laden toners sold at "luxury" department stores (not to mention waaaaaay cheaper). When making rosewater, also be sure that the roses haven't been sprayed with pesticides or are chemically treated. Rosa damascena  is the traditional rose to use to make rosewater, but you can also use the lovely Apothecary's Rose (Rosa gallica).

All-natural, cold-processed rose soap made with goat milk, wine, and then handmilled with rosewater, and sprinkled with organic Rosa damascena petals. It is colored a soft pink from using Madder root. 'Will be available soon for purchase in limited quantity in the future.

The recipes to make rosewater vary but an easy one is found in herbalist Rosemary Gladstar's book, Herbs for Natural Beauty. You can find her rosewater recipe online here.

For more information, please see:

Rose information at botanical.com

Herbs for Natural Beauty by Rosemary Gladstar

Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West by Gregory L. Tilford