Cattail Bonanza!

How do I love thee, cattails? Let me count the ways.

I didn’t actually love thee, not at first.

I was just writing this story, see, and in it there’s a young Native woman living all by herself near a stream. And she has a guest come to visit, and I know she’s eating game, but I wondered what she could serve him for a vegetable. Had a vague memory that maybe you could eat cattails. Put down “cattail roots” with an asterixis that let me know I needed to look it up later.

And when I did … boy howdy! My young lady had just hit the jackpot!

According to this article, cattails can provide nearly everything that a human being might need.

First of all, yes, you can eat them.

In spring and summer the young shoots can be picked, stripped of the outer leaves and eaten cooked or as a raw vegetable. The green immature flower stalks can be boiled and eaten like corn on the cob. Later in the summer months, pollen from the brown mature flowering stalks provide a nutritious flour supplement for cakes and flat breads. During fall and winter when there is no longer any foliage the roots may be boiled down for a starchy broth rich in carbohydrates. Cattail is very low in Saturated Fat. It is a good source of Iron and Phosphorus, and a great source of Fiber, Vitamin K, B6, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese.

“Cattail,” by Henry Holly in the The Northwest Forager, ibid

Secondly, first aid. “Ash from the burned leaves [is an] antiseptic,” and the roots and sap have also been used in first aid. Now, my character did not need any first aid, at least not at that point in the story.

Thirdly, shelter. The leaves can be woven to make such things as hats, rain cloaks, baskets, mats, and for rain runoff on a roof. (This is similar to how coconut-palm fronds are used in Southeast Asia.) And – get this! – the “seed fluff” can be used for pillows, bedding, insulation inside moccasins, wound dressing, and even … diapers. Wow! My girl’s little shelter just turned into a palace with a water-shedding roof and a comfortable bed made of a cattail mat over cattail fluff. Bonanza!

Of course, having learned all this stuff, I had to try it. As you know, I’m a Luddite, although most of the time just a pretend one.

We have plenty of cattails here in Idaho. Here is some proof, with cattails growing along an irrigation canal and the mountains in the background:

According to this article, the cattail roots can absorb pollutants in the water. Also, digging up the roots, drying and roasting them, and pounding them into flour sounded like a lot of work for someone who’s only a Luddite part-time. Actually, even digging up the shoots sounds like it would involve getting my feet wet. All in all, the simplest project for a beginning cattail forager sounds like it would be using the seed fluff. Even I can find the seed heads. Here they are:

I cut a few off with my garden clippers, and soon had a small basket full.

That ought to be enough for at least one diaper, right?

Then it was time to pull apart the seed heads. This is easy, though messy.

Luckily, the seed fluff didn’t cause any itchy symptoms. (I guess it wouldn’t be so useful if it did.) In the end, those dozen or so seed heads gave me a pile of fluff that looked like this:

It was very fluffy and I worried that it would compact so much that it wouldn’t really be useful for bedding. But, as it turns out, it does not compact infinitely (just more than polyester stuffing from the craft store). Here’s a sample “diaper” that I made by sewing a little fluff into cheesecloth:

The sewing part only took me about 20 minutes. It would have taken less if I had ironed the cheesecloth first. I still had enough fluff left that I decided to make a small pillow. Out came the scrap cotton, and when the pillow was done, I stuffed it.

The seed fluff really tends to fly up in the air and then stick to stuff (that’s what it’s designed to do, after all). The pillow, once stuffed and pinned shut, ended up looking like this:

I used a lot of tape to get all the cattail lint off it.

And here is the finished product. Not super high, but a definite pillow. We’ll see how long the fluff lasts or whether it compacts a lot over time. Luckily, there is more where that came from!

This has been “researching books and pretending to be a forager” with Jen.

Hippie Project of the Week

The succulent has gotten too big for its tiny pot.

But the 80-cent terra cotta pot is too plain. We want to make it look dressier.

It’s going to look like this. Directions: turn it upside down on newspaper. Squirt acrylic paint on it in alternating stripes of white and black. Now take a stiff brush and smear the white and black paint together. Careful, don’t blend too much or you’ll end up with an even grey. Let dry overnight.

Here is Ms. Succulent in the new pot after transplanting. Since we do not have an oven to fire the paint in (and we probably used the wrong kind of paint for that anyway), the paint will bubble a little bit around the bottom whenever you water the succulent. But that is OK because we are only watering twice a month. The paint job might not last forever, but it will last a couple of years.

Searching for Color Inspiration

casting on the yarn

This is going to be kind of a rambling post. It’s going to start with knitting.

Yes, I knit stuff sometimes.

I wouldn’t say I’m part of the “knitting community,” at least not the online one, because I don’t think they’d have me. Yet, I knit.

Recently, I knit my very first pair of socks.

the finished product

They are not quite as comfortable as store-bought socks, since the yarn I used doesn’t have any elastic in it, but they are perfectly serviceable, nice and warm. And, most importantly, they are in colors that I don’t mind showing off in my Minnetonka moccasins.

and again …

I’m not a huge fan of the fancy, picot-style top edge, but that’s how the pattern that I used was written, and I decided to follow it exactly before I branched out. I also learned to use the “kitchener stitch” to close the toe of this pair of socks.

Anyone who knits (or does any of a number of other handicrafts) will tell you that they are always looking for inspiration for new color schemes. Sure, it’s fun to stroll through the fabric store and take your inspiration from the yarns that are there, but I’ve found that the most fun colors to knit aren’t always the colors that you will end up wanting to wear. (Example: pink shades are really fun to knit, but I don’t gravitate towards fluffy pink items of clothing. Whenever I wear one, my kids tell me that I remind them of Dolores Umbridge. Not a good look.) (Another example: black knits are the coolest, very sophisticated, and you can often gift them to people who don’t want to look like they’re wearing a knitted item. However, pure black yarn is harder to work with because it’s harder to see what you’re doing, and it doesn’t show the stitch pattern as well when you’re finished, which might be a disadvantage or possibly an advantage if the piece didn’t go real well.)

All that to say, I have found my latest inspiration in the colors that seem to be signature of the Shoshone/Bannock Tribes.

The Shoshone/Bannock reservation (Fort Hall Reservation) is located in my neck of the woods. In fact, I drive through the rez whenever I go to town to get groceries. Fort Hall was a stop on the Oregon Trail, and there is a replica of it in Pocatello. Shoshone-Bannock type beadwork comes in all different color schemes (such as floral on a white or light blue background), but one very commonly seen type uses the primary colors. The blue is a light blue, the red is very vibrant, and the yellow can be used with white. It’s a little hard to find links to examples of this beadwork, but try looking here.

Now, if I was going to use primary colors in a design, I would probably make at least two of them very dark. Light blue would not be my first instinct, and it certainly wouldn’t occur to me to turn all three colors up to 11. But this color combination looks fantastic in Fort Hall. The beadwork looks especially good against shiny brown or black hair. Also, it is what you might call organic. If you click here, you will see that the three vivid colors are echoed in every Idaho sunset. Grounding them with a little black just adds to the sunsety impression.

Color inspiration. No, I am not just going to steal these colors willy-nilly. I am not going to dress head to toe in them or something like that. But I don’t think it will cause offense if I incorporate them in one or two knitted items. The Shoshone-Bannock folks I’ve rubbed shoulders with (figuratively, of course; Covid!) seem pretty friendly and chill. And they have the coolest cloth masks!

P.S. Naya Nuki was Shoshone. Click here for my review of her biography.

A Very Exclusive Collection

The items in this picture come from around the world and from different aesthetic traditions, so it’s surprising that they look so good together. At least, I think they look good. You be the judge.

The prints on the quilt squares come from clothing items actually worn by my husband and me when we lived in Indonesia. Some of them are batik; others are more modern tropical prints. In Indonesia, formal dress for couples goes as follows. The man wears black slacks, a black pillbox type hat called a peci (peh-chee), and a shirt made of a batik print. (Batik can come in many different patterns and color schemes.) The woman wears a long, narrow skirt made of the same batik as her husband’s shirt, and this is topped with a lacy, fitted, tunic-length blouse called a kebaya. The kebaya can be black, white, or in a color that coordinates with the batik.

In a tropical country, you don’t wear your clothes seasonally. You wear them year-round, until they wear out. After several years in Indonesia, I had all these worn-out shirts and pants in unique prints that now had sentimental value. Now we come to the second aesthetic stream: #grandmacore. We happened to be living in a place where there was a sewing room, with a small army of volunteer grandmas who were happy to take on sewing projects to help stressed-out young families who had just landed from overseas or were planning to return there. I brought the batiks to the grandmas and asked whether they could make several small quilts, suitable to hanging on the wall, with them. They did a great job!

Our formula so far goes,

Batik + Grandma

The rest of the stuff on the table is more boring. It was all bought in the U.S.A., and what could be more American than Red Hots in a Mason jar? But put on the batik quilt, it suddenly looks planned.

The orange-and-white ramekin, though boringly bought in an American department store, brings another aesthetic stream into this murky pool. It’s from the collection sold by Pioneer Woman, who lives on a ranch in Texas and has monetized her lifestyle with cookbooks, children’s books, and now kitchenware. Most of the kitchenware is colorful and detailed, and would tend to dominate any table it was put on. This ramekin, though a little busy, appeals because the flowers on it look like folk art. And who knew that American-style folk art would play so well with batik? Or maybe it could, because if you look at folk art from around the world, there is a certain similarity.

Batik + Grandma + “Pioneer” + Folk Art = A table I love, and I hope you haven’t hated seeing

I Rejected Cottagecore Before You Even Heard of It

In case you’re not picking up that this is self-deprecating humor, this is my version of that popular meme where a bespectacled hipster claims that he or she (or ze) was into some obscure thing long before it became a trend.

I’m not really this big of a jerk in real life. Quite.

But I am half-serious.

Eustacia made a lovely post recently, and it was there that I (for the first time actually) heard the term #cottagecore. Here is a BBC article about it. Since the article is by a major news organization, we can assume that it is late to the trend and gets a few things wrong. Still, this will be my source.

Basically (per the article) “cottagecore” is a visual aesthetic that became popular during the pandemic. It involves pictures of cottages, mushrooms, billowy dresses, rustic picnics, maybe gingham, maybe a gnome here or a fairy there. “It is the equal and opposite reaction to the contamination, helplessness and incoherence of our contemporary mise en scène,” says someone in the article. In other words, it’s sort of the exact opposite of a gritty urban fantasy.

As a lifestyle, cottagecore seems to involve things like gardening, sewing, crafting. Practicing self-sufficiency.

Correction: pretending to practice self-sufficiency.

I love the aesthetic. I do. I also love the idea of living self-sufficient. But it’s not really possible to do that in any thorough way, and if you do, you will be working so hard, and suffering so many privations, that your life will not look like a billowy, gingham-clad escapist fantasy. Hence, I can’t help feeling that anyone who takes this cottagecore thing as more than an interior decorating theme — anyone who tries to pretend it is somehow their lifestyle — is actually a poser. Let’s not fool ourselves, friends. I like mushrooms and sparkles as much as the next person, but they are not going to save us in the apocalypse.

I said as much here. Technically, this post was published before the pandemic started, so before cottagecore became a really big thing on Instagram. However, the article notes that cottagecore (as well as “faeriecore,” “farmcore,” and “grandmacore”) have been around since 2018. So I can’t really pull the hipster I-was-into-it-before-you-were move. Not to mention the Amish. And, you know, real subsistence farmers. They beat me to it a long time ago.

Neanderthal Woman and the No Electricity, Redux

This is Neanderthal Woman, a.k.a. me.

This is the tree

that came down this June

in the yard of N.W., a.k.a. me.

This is the tree

that came down this week

in the yard of N.W., a.k.a. me.

This is the weather

in our favorite State:

90, then freezing, then 90 again.

This is the sunflower

that grew in my yard,

now killed by the weather

in our favorite State.

This is a small

price that we pay

to live near the mountains

in our favorite State.