“I’m looking over a four-leaved clover” ~ Mort Dixon
Continuing my Spring foraging theme I’m sharing my favorite easy-to-find foraging treat, wood sorrel. There are many varieties of wood sorrel and they’re fun snacks to eat. I’ve dubbed the refreshing and delicious snack “sour patch candy” because the flavor is that of tart citrus zest. The warm weather has brought this bounty to the neighborhood and nearby Watsessing Park. It’s rich in vitamin C and the leaves, stems and flowers are edible.
Wood sorrel is often misidentified as clover, these are not the same plant. Wood sorrel has heart-shaped trifoliate compound leaves popularly associated with St. Patrick’s Day, shamrocks and leprechauns. Clover, the true shamrock, generally has oval-shaped trifoliate leaves often marked with a chevron. Generally speaking clover is edible as well but not nearly as delicious.
When you’re out and about and you stumble on some wood sorrel you should snatch up a few leaves and give it a try. Word to the wise, avoid heavily trafficked dog walking zones, or wash off your stash before digging in.
“And I can taste that honeysuckle and it’s still so sweet” ~ Little Big Town
Rounding out my wife Amy’s duplet of Spring unfailing foraging finds is aromatic honeysuckle. The other treat, mentioned previously, is teaberry. Last Friday my wife kindly allowed me to sleep in while she and Fleur went for their morning walk. Their adventure led the two through Watsessing Park.
When I rolled out of bed, after they returned home, I checked my phone and found Amy sent me this photo of honeysuckle. I was jealous because I’ve been waiting for these treats to bloom. I have to admit honeysuckle is not on my radar because it’s usually something Amy so quickly identifies and mentions. This year, due to my growing interest in foraging and this blog, I’ve been keeping an eye open for the snack.
In previous years I can recall Amy presenting me a delicately extracted stamen of the honeysuckle flower allowing me to taste the sweet nectar. When I had the opportunity to visit Watsessing park I gently tugged a stamen and it split in half. Impatient, I just snipped a whole blossom and chewed on it. The bloom tasted like a flower with an appetizing dusting of powdered sugar. Success!
A word of warning for new foragers, myself included, many varieties of honeysuckle have poisonous berries and leaves. Lonicera japonica, the variety of honeysuckle which grows in my neighborhood, is not a toxic variety. Please investigate the safety of your specimens before making a meal sized portion of honeysuckle from your neck of the woods.
A few weekends ago Amy, Fleur and I hiked Parker Cabin Mountain at Harriman State Park. Shortly after parking the car and getting on the trail Amy stopped in her tracks, as she always does, at the sight of tiny trailside teaberry leaves. It’s fun to pluck a few leaves to chew and taste the wonderful one-of-a-kind flavor.
Suddenly she, and in turn I, burst into an excited frenzy as we found ourselves surrounded by the little red berries! Fleur stood impatient and confused as we scurried through the brush plucking a snack size quantity of the tasty gems. It’s invigorating to start a day hiking with an appetizer provided by Mother Nature.
Tiny yellow flowers caught my eye as I sipped filtered stream water on the various peaks we climbed. I didn’t know what type of flowers these were but I spotted too many to pass them by any longer. I sampled a flower; it tasted like a flower.
Back home, after some research, I learned what I ate was the flower of a Common Cinquefoil, commonly known as Five Fingers. A little internet browsing revealed the Common Cinquefoil plant and root is a medicinal / edible plant with astringent properties. There was little mention of eating the flower, but next time I’ll give the leaves and maybe the roots a taste too!
Spring is here and with Spring comes green and pretty flowers for all to enjoy. Personally I couldn’t wait for it to unfold. All winter I’ve had the urge to get my forage on. Now that it’s here it’s time to finally dig in! Many dandelion flowers have made their way to my belly while out walking about the neighborhood. I’ll admit, some were sweeter than others.
Basswood trees are one of the first trees that come to life when as the weather improves. Every walk with Fleur included examining local basswood trees to see if they were ripe for the picking. All of the recent rain brought with it nature’s magic! The basswood trees went into overdrive, many from bud to leaf overnight.
Luckily there are plenty of buds to be found. The leaf buds have a soft texture and taste slightly sweet with a mild cucumber flavor, though my palette is not expertly trained. The mature leaves are okay to eat as well but the green bitterness tends to increase with size and age. I have my eye out for more varieties of tasty morsels but they’ll come a little later in the season. Bon appetit!
The Newark Maker-Faire is less than two weeks away and I’ve been hard at work finishing up my exhibit Home-made Toys for Girls and Boys. This past weekend I continued assembling toys for display at the show. One such toy is a spiral top described by A. Neely Hall in his book about home-made toys. I created this short video describing how to draw a spiral and build the top. Get your craft supplies ready and I’ll see you at the Newark Museum Saturday April 30.
The Toy Shocking Machine, in all honesty, is a primary reason I chose to construct projects from the 1915 book Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys for the upcoming 2016 Newark Maker Faire. The innocent nostalgia transports to simpler times when children were encouraged to challenge themselves and explore their world without restraint. Maintaining youthful spirit I imagined owning a device to shock myself, friends, family and strangers for entertainment. I’m old enough to remember similar devices making a splash at amusement parks and science class.
With giddy anticipation I started constructing the heart of the device, the induction-coil. The coil consists of two windings of different gauge wire around an iron bolt. A rapidly interrupted flow of electricity is applied to the central primary coil to create an oscillating magnetic field which, in turn, creates high voltage across the outer secondary coil. The high voltage discharges between the two ends of the secondary coil in the hands of a volunteer.
In hindsight it’s easy for me to parrot the above information and sound as though I know what I’m talking about. I enjoy tinkering with hobby electronics however my understanding is often limited. When I attached the coil to a battery I was baffled as to why it wasn’t shocking me. Confused, I texted electronics genius friend Charlie England. He responded “…you have to apply voltage and remove it very quickly…” I hastily constructed an interrupter as described in the book. Turning the crank created an entertainingly loud racket and a few sparks, but nothing shocking from the secondary coil.
Charlie suggested testing the electromagnetic properties of the coil. I grabbed a small washer, verified it was steel with a real magnet and applied power to the coil. Nothing, the washer fell to the table without hesitation. The only thing that made sense was to apply more power (amps). Working in increasing intervals I finished with two 6-volt lantern batteries in series attached to the coil. No electromagnet but plenty of heat – which is undesirable. Defeated, I informed Charlie I was going to make another coil. He responded with four words, “Send me the coil.” Yessir, the coil was packed and on its way the following morning.
After receiving the delivery Charlie went to work testing my induction coil. The coil only created a 90 volt spike using a 10 volt power source. Charlie determined the secondary coil needed triple the amount of wire layers to generate a palpable shock. Charlie also designed and created an interrupter circuit employing a proximity switch. It was left to my imagination on how to integrate this interrupter circuit into the device. Because the proximity switch detects ferritic material I created a wheel with thumbtacks placed at fixed intervals around the perimeter. When a thumbtack passes under the proximity switch the switch turns on, when the thumbtack passes the switch turns off.
I added several more layers of wire to the coil, attached it to the new hi-tech interrupter and with a little fussing around, success! A tangible shock was felt when the interrupter was engaged. Knowing the coil was working correctly I built the third and final interrupter for the circuit integrating wooden gears to increase the switching frequency. Everything works like a charm. I will continue tinkering with this device leading up to the Maker Faire to ensure an entertaining and dependable experience.
Also known as a button-on-a-string, the buzz-saw whirligig is a noise-making device which utilizes an object centered on a loop of cord. The buzzer described in Home-made Toys for Girls and Boys spins a cardboard saw blade to generate its hypnotizing whirring sound. Using both hands the enjoyer must hold each end of the loop and rotate the saw blade to wind the loop. The blade is whirred by adding and releasing tension on the loop which unwinds and, because of the angular momentum of the blade, winds the loop again in the opposite direction.
Making a buzzer is a fun, fast and instantly rewarding project. Cut cardboard, glue a “spool-end” on the center of each side, drill two holes for the cord in the spool-ends, thread the cord through the holes and tie the ends together to create a loop. To my amazement my first buzzer worked splendidly; however Fleur our poodle isn’t as amused by the osculating pitch emanating from the new mysterious gizmo.
I decided build a bunch of buzzers as swag for the Newark Maker Faire. Friends saved cardboard from recycling and donated it to the cause. The cord for the buzzers was retrieved from a pile of bakery string saved from years of bakery boxes. Small bits of recycled broom handle are substituted for spool-ends because I don’t have many spools in inventory. The title artwork of my exhibit was printed on the cardboard using a carved linoleum block. To print each buzzer ink was applied to the carved linoleum block using a brayer, the buzzer cardboard was placed over the inked block and pressure was applied to transfer the ink from the block to the cardboard. When the ink dried I cut each buzzer out with a pair of scissors.
Please stop by my exhibit at the Newark Maker Faire, Saturday April 30 to pick up your free buzzer while supplies last!
“If at first you don’t succeed, that’s normal” Colbert – Live Free Or Die
The Toy Jumping Jack is yet another project I’m building for my Home-Made Toys exhibit for the 2016 Newark Maker Faire. The arms and legs of this toy are pivoted on brads placed through the front and back of the torso. According to the instructions a heavy linen thread is tied at the pivot of each extremity, the opposite ends of the thread are tied to a ring below the torso. Pull the ring downward and “Jack jumps comically” says Mr. Hall, author of the instructions. Why isn’t life that simple?
For me, this project started right as rain. I collected a handful of thin pieces of poplar I saved from various projects and transferred the pattern for the torso, arms and legs. The pivot holes were drilled and the bandsaw was used to cut each part out. The tops of the arms and legs were painted and a strand of thick string was tied to each extremity. Four brads hold the front and back of the torso together and act as pivots for the extremities.
Drum roll please? I pulled the strings down and the arms and legs rotated skyward. Upon slackening the tension, only the legs returned down. The thick string jammed in the narrow shoulder clearance inside the torso. The thin wooden arms didn’t have weight necessary to enable gravity to do its job.
The first attempt to resolve the problem was to replace the thick thread with nylon coated stainless steel thread. The new thread was better but the arms were remained too light to function properly. All the original parts were discarded and I found thicker wood to cut new heavier parts. Initially these parts worked well with the steel thread but an unsightly tangle was created when I tried to neatly tie the four lines together.
More attempts to maximize the predictable animation of the jumping jack followed . The original thread performed best after fiddling around with how it attached to the limb and the location of the knot. Sometimes the task requires a touch more patience and attention than the originally put forth.
Jack’s head was carved from a scrap of basswood; the instructions suggest a wooden spool. This is mostly due to my abundant inventory of basswood scraps and the limited quantity of spools. The completed Jack was installed on the eight-blade windmill I constructed in an earlier post. Jack is so happy to be alive his limbs flail in the blowing wind like the excited customers in 1980’s Toyota commercials.
The Toy Motor-boat is the first project I completed for my exhibit at the Newark Maker Faire. I wanted to test the boat before I posted and I was slow finding an appropriate time and location to do so. The delay was, in part, because I wasn’t sure it would float let alone propel itself on water. I needed to find a private location with easy accessibility to the water.
To build the motor-boat I cut a pine 2 x 4 into the shape of a boat (steps 1 and 2). Using the table saw I trimmed long thin strips from the 2 x 4 and glued them to the sides and back of the boat (step 3). After I painted the inside of the boat (step 4) I realized the stern of the boat was supposed to be angled forward, not straight up and down. I cut off the stern at the appropriate angle and replaced the wood. Step 5 shows the top of the bow being planed from a piece of the 2 x 4. The top of the bow was glued and clamped to the body of the boat in Step 6. When the glue was dry I sanded everything and completed the exterior painting.
This boat is propelled by rubber bands stretched underneath the boat which are attached to a “tin” propeller. I was certain when the propeller was wound and placed in water the propeller would release all the rubber band energy in one quick burst, much like it does holding it in the air, creating a splash behind a stationary boat. That is if the 2 x 4 boat didn’t capsize before then.
Testing day arrived. Alone, I drove to Branch Brook Park and parked near the Prudential Concert Grove. I grabbed the camera and my motor-boat and sat at the water between Karl Ritter’s lions and anxiously wound the propeller. In my right hand I held the fueled up boat, the camera in my left. Chimes sounded from the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart as I prepared to be soaked while releasing the boat. At first I thought something was wrong, there was no revving sound or splashing. Then the boat slowly moved away, the propeller turning at a moderate rate.
The propeller rotated almost a minute pushing the boat about fifteen feet against the wind and current. It may have gone further if I paid more attention to releasing slack on the return line. What a surprising outcome! To be sure it really happened I tried a few more times, just as successful as the first. It was time to get ready for work so the testing wrapped up quickly. Otherwise the better part of the day would have been spent sitting by the water playing with the home-made toy.
“In these days when everybody is talking about doing his thing, here’s the story of a boy that not only talks about it, but does it.”
~My Side of the Mountain movie trailer
I’m learning, as I continue to build A. Neely Hall toys for the Newark Maker Faire, I grossly underestimate the time required to produce each project. Some blame can be placed on keeping true to the 1915 materials and instructions. For instance, the instructions describe the arms and legs as whittled sticks, so the extremities are whittled wood instead of pre-made wooden dowels. The body was cut from a discarded broom-handle found in a storm drain while walking Fleur. The head, hat and shoulders are made from wooden spools; the hands and feet are carved from basswood.
Tacks are inserted at each joint to attach the limbs with heavy linen thread. Tying tiny knots closely together onto mini metal tacks proved more challenging than anticipated. Smaller and more plentiful hands would accomplish the task more quickly. Even the not-so-professional paint job required a surprising amount of patience and time. Does the finished project reflect the work behind its folksy finish?
Tapping the “stage” reproduces a perfect Michael Flatley so, heck yeah the payoff is worth the effort. I can entertain myself for a long spell while simultaneously irritating everyone within earshot of the tapping and clacking. Win. Win.