Sunday, October 19, 2014

Joining the Leaf People on Craggy Pinnacle; Acquiring a Poison Ring

J and I ventured out along the Blue Ridge Parkway this afternoon along with hundreds of tourists seeking autumn colors.  The trail up to the top of Craggy Pinnacle reminded me of visiting the Uffizi in Florence-- forced march, not enough time to linger and enjoy any of the paintings/trees.  inally we found a side trail and a little outcrop off of it.  It was below the pinnacle itself so we missed the crowds up there and had a quiet spot to sit for a couple of hours and talk and take pictures and draw.

On the left is a view looking down on the valley and at the mountain range in the distance.  On the right is the pinnacle as seen from below.  The foreground, which I did not draw, was a grassy high meadow and relatively flat.  The elevation was a little above 6000 feet, a 400 ft climb from the parking lot.
I met J to go hiking downtown at the Jewish festival where he had been able to find poison rings, something I had found when I was at the festival a couple of years ago.  I have regretted not buying one when I was there before;  so while I sat in the car in an illegal parking place, J ran back to the festival with some cash and bought one for each of us.  His has a tiny drawer under the bezel (top part with a small onyx stone) that pulls out.  Very nice.  Mine has a hinged bezel with a Celtic knot design.  I've never gotten over my fascination with decoder rings from the 50s, and an old silver ring with a secret compartment is right up my alley.  A good place to carry pin numbers among other things.  I checked out a history of poison rings and learned that date back very far, to the Middle Ages and earlier, and were used to carry poison, obviously, but also holy relics, locks of hair, secret messages, perfume, and even tiny portraits.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Packaging =, <, or > Food

 Maya and I were exploring the aisles of the new Whole Foods, one of our favorite places to go looking for interesting package design and new foods to try.  In the produce section we found a strange, deep red, spiny/hairy fruit labeled "Rambutan from Indonesia."  It looked so improbable and so unapproachable that we bought one to see if it tasted as strange as it looked.  It looked like a sea creature on the outside, and on the inside was a single gelatinous round ball that looked even more sea creaturely.  It had been easy to peel open.  The pale translucent ball of jelly-like stuff quivered a little.  I poked it with a finger and then tasted my finger.  Not bad!  I scooped it out and took a bite-- really nice!  I popped the whole thing into my mouth and discovered a hard nut-like seed in the middle surrounded by lots of soft sweetness.  Definitely better to eat than to look at.  Package < food.
Then this afternoon I was in a different market looking for some trail snacks.  I really liked the plain tan waxed paper wrapping of the Energy Gem.  I had never tried one of these, but its homemade-looking label attracted me also.  It seemed to say "All our attention is on making a great food thing, not on luring you in with slick packaging.  We just wrapped this up in a piece of old-fashioned sandwich paper and slapped on this unpretentious label."  I unwrapped it when I got home and took a little taste.  Pretty dense and serious.  Definitely not as enjoyable as a dark chocolate almond and sea salt Kind bar, but very earnest and healthy-seeming with all those sprouted seeds and a big squashed cranberry on top.  As dense as a hockey puck, it will take a few miles of hiking to work my way through this thing.  Package= food I think.
Well the Energy Gem might be dense and homely, but it tastes okay-- in contrast to this poor thing.  Last week Maya and I caved and bought not one but two new-to-us energy bar things because we loved the sheep drawing on the package.  The bar was called something like "Lamb Snack" and it tastes like what I imagine bird suet would taste like-- greasy and seedy and gamey as well as unpleasantly minty.  The white streak that runs vertically is congealed fat.  The thing smells like a dog treat.  So  Maya and I carefully peeled away the great packaging and washed it for future use.  The bar itself we offered to Jesse, a square quarter- inch- sized piece.  Being a cat with very catholic tastes, Jesse gobbled it down but didn't ask for any more.  Definitely packaging > food in this case.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Little Blue Farm Stand

 F and I were walking in her neighborhood after work today and we came across this tiny blue stand by the side of the road.  We opened up the front doors and found a handful of pretty green beans  and a can for money along with prices for tomatillas and a few other items.  There was no price for beans, but I put a couple of dollars in the can and took about half the beans.  F said the stand belongs to a neighbor's child and it's an honor system operation.  Very sweet!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Shrinking Mountain

Driving with a friend to Burnsville in the mountains north of here this morning I watched a tall mountain in the distance apparently shrink rapidly before my eyes.  The mountain was ahead of us and slightly to the left, framed by some distant trees.  As we climbed in elevation, the mountain seemed to shrink relative to the framing trees.  It moved very quickly, like a flip book.  It reminded me of how the moon rises and falls and rises again when you watch it from a car while driving in mountains.  Nothing is what it seems to be, right?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


P told me early this morning in response to reading my blogpost from yesterday that when he was around 12 years old he went to the drugstore with his friend and they bought a bottle of tannic acid to use for boosting their feeble suntans.  I couldn't believe it!  I had never heard of such a thing, and I thought I knew all possible ways that kids in the 60s improved their pasty white skin.  So I got carried away with thinking about and researching tannins today.  All the objects on this page contain tannins:  a corn chip, a hazel nut, an autumn oak leaf, and blueberries.  There are so many more.  Tannins are everywhere and used for more things than you would ever imagine. We all know they're used to preserve and waterproof leather.  But just what is it about them that makes them good for preserving leather AND curing cold sores and making ink and curing rashes and hemorrhoids and also having antibiotic properties?

I can't begin to tell it all here, so go to Cornell University's tannin page .  Here you'll find more than you ever wanted to know about tannins, and you'll have a new appreciation for how much smarter nature is than we are.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Walnut Ink and Recipe

This was the easiest and best walnut ink batch I've ever made.  If you're interested in making your own, read the directions written on each of these three pages.  If you have any questions, ask them, and I'll do my best to answer.  As you can see, this is not only not rocket science, but it's also not even elementary school science either!  No measuring, infinite variations, lots of options.  You can stop in the middle of simmering, turn everything off, and start again when you have more time.  Actually, you can stop anywhere you want for a pause, and the pause can last hours or even days.  If things start to get a little stinky, just throw in a little acetic acid (vinegar) or rubbing or denatured alcohol.  If the extraction of tannin seems to be taking too long, dump in about a half cup of baking soda to speed things up.

One time when I made walnut ink with a class we forgot it on the stove and the water all evaporated.  When I found it just in time to avert a fire, the pot was full of burnt walnut hull remains.  I didn't have time to start over so I simply added water to the carbonized stuff and simmered it for a little while.  The resulting ink was lovely, blacker than usual, silky and smooth.  (But I would NOT advise going off and leaving your pot on a stove without setting a timer in the room where you can hear it.)
This is a yummy batch.  A fine mesh filter is necessary because there are lots of small particles that need to come out.[]
]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]   (Jesse's comment) I use a plastic coffee filter that is flat on the bottom.  I bought mine in the grocery store.  You can see it in drawing 3335.  If you can't find this kind of filter, you could also strain the ink through two layers of old pantyhose stretched over the mouth of a jar. 

I also researched tannin.  As I suspected, tannin  in plants functions as a protection from predators as well as an aid to decomposition (without which a seed could not get out of the protective hull and have a chance of sprouting).   I've made oak gall ink with galls gathered from gall oak trees in parts of Italy and southern France.  The tannin in the galls must protect the wasp eggs within the gall and then help the gall decompose so the little insects can escape.  Tannin is acidic;  hence the bitter taste if you accidentally get a piece of walnut shell in your mouth.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dense on the Ground

You might recognize these drawings from a few weeks ago-- water pickeral seed pods from Beaver Lake swampy place.  I redrew them today in preparation for a trip to the copy center tomorrow where I will enlarge them slightly for use in a woodcut I'm working on.  I expect the real pods have by now disintegrated and sunk to the bottom of the marsh where they'll hunker down in the ooze for the winter.
Meanwhile acorns are so thick on the ground in the woods near our house that walking on them is like walking on a spilled bucket of marbles.  I scooped up a single handful this afternoon while we were walking and dumped them on my drawing table to draw them.  I used the last of some walnut ink that I made a few years ago to start this drawing.  My bottle of ink is quite stinky now but still works well.  However, the walnuts are as dense this year as the acorns are.  So I just went out and gathered a bucketful (from an area of our garden around 6 feet square) and put them in water to soak.  Tomorrow I'll boil these black gunky hulls down to ink.

On the right side of the page is a piece of staghorn sumac with a slightly magnified seed.  Nit a very exciting post, I know, but tomorrow I'll document ink making and post a recipe!