Milk with wineberry syrup.

My father beams as I point across the table at my parents. "I blame them for teaching me to be thrifty." I glance up at waitress, not attempting eye contact. I shovel the uneaten portion of a Raritan Burger Deluxe into a leftovers container brought from my kitchen.

"Oh, ok, do you need containers then?" the waitress quickly asks my parents. "No, I've got them covered, too." I dig around in my bag, dusting off tiny bits of wood chips from the container before passing it across the table. Bits of plant material inhabit every pocket, bag and quiet corner of my home.

In case I haven't mentioned it before - I began taking leftovers containers to restaurants about one or two years ago. Restaurant staff often find it perplexing and odd, and I often make jokes about myself or say stupid things like, "I'd need to repack the food for work, anyway. I'd throw the styrofoam away." or "Save a tree!' or "Who needs more plastic bags?"

I bring containers to the pizzeria, the diner, the Mexican restaurant, and the pricey place with the local, free range beef. The only eatery that consistently finds it exciting is Tiger Noodles in Princeton. I thank them for their humor and enthusiasm - it makes the end of my meal much more relaxed. It also relieves everyone's urge to stick a wad of unsolicited PETA and WWF mail in my mouth when I start explaining about dead turtles with plastic in their digestive tract and islands of plastic in the ocean.

So what is a more creative application of this hereditary thriftiness?

Natural dyeing.

Black beans, Japanese barberry, black walnut husks. Undyed sample in the background.

Here are my discoveries so far. First, crocheting with hand dyed wool is going much faster than with fisherman's white wool. Second, I have used no mordants or other chemical fixatives, except salt, and I am excited by the results. Third, controlling the heat from the woodstove is difficult - the skeins can be simmering, boiling, or sitting in hot water. Fourth, I just began this process, so I few goals but color.

Salted water from one cup black beans (food waste, otherwise to be composted, or consumed at the risk of digestive gas!) simmered for 2 hours, let cool in dye bath overnight: tan with a lavender cast.

One pound Japanese barberry (invasive plant of the forest) lower stems and roots, simmered and boiled for some time overnight (we woke up to the woodstove roaring with white oak heat and the dye bath in a rolling boil - not recommended for dyeing), let cool in dye bath: pea green.

About 2 pounds decaying black walnut husks, simmered, husks soaked several days longer. Wool kept in warm bath overnight: medium golden brown.

How to make Japanese barberry military fatigues green:
1.) Decide now is the time to yank Japanese barberry from frozen ground. Feel left side deltoid become re-aggravated. Put small tear in new gloves. Request spouse to assist. Get splinters.

2.) Put barberry in bucket under rain gutter to rinse soil.

3.) Select and trim lower stems and roots for the most berberine and dye potential. Scrub roots.

Roots (right) have a stronger yellow color than upper stems (left).

4.) Invite Medusa over to assist. Weigh plant material for records.

5.) Cook plant material. Answer spouse's inquiry open entering home, "What is that smell?"

6.) Strain. Add skein to dye bath. Simmer as you please.

7.)Let cool in dye bath.

8.)Hang to dry.

Black walnut dyed wool and little bits of wood.