homemade toothpaste

Even for people who are really concerned about questionable ingredients found in soaps, cosmetic and household cleaners, making your own toothpaste is an unusual pursuit. Yet as recipes go, toothpaste takes a few easy minutes, avoiding toxins, sweeteners, dyes, packaging, shipping, and last-minute shopping trips. The pleasure of knowing how to meet our own basic daily requirements is something of a liberation. Over the years I’ve grown fond of making toothpaste exactly how we like it. The ingredients are inexpensive, store indefinitely, and go a long way.

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The ingredients

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1 cup Calcium carbonate – otherwise known as chalk or limestone flour. Most toothpastes use this as a base, and it makes sense to me to scrub my teeth with calcium. It makes a fine polish.

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1 TB Sodium bicarbonate – baking soda. I use this as a cleansing and polishing agent, but I don’t love the flavour and lately have been leaving it out and the paste is still effective, tastes better, and is smoother and gentler. Still, it’s an option.

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¼ tsp Sea salt – just a pinch. Salt draws out infection, and helps to heal the gums. I prefer sea salt for its broad mineral content.

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2 TB Birch sugar – otherwise known as xylitol. A sweetener with dental benefits, so they say.

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4 TB Coconut oil – unrefined. I use virgin coconut oil in toothpaste as a base, mostly for its anti-fungal properties. It melts at body temperature.

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Stevia – 2-20 drops, to taste. My children like sweet toothpaste, and this herbal sweetener is one we use frequently, as it doesn’t have much effect on blood sugar.

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Lastly, a flavour, to taste. We like peppermint oil – we use 1.5 teaspoons of an edible, organic extract. There are lots of possibilities for what flavour to use, orange, fennel, and I like that I can keep it mild for the children.

The method

Mix well together calcium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate if using, and sea salt. If finely ground, also mix in xylitol; if coarse crystals, dissolve in ¼ cup of hot water. Melt coconut oil if it is cool and solid, and mix it in. Begin to add water/xylitol water while mixing with a wooden spoon, using just enough to make a soft paste. Lastly, add a little of the peppermint oil and a few drops of stevia, until the flavour is to your liking.

Of course, I’m not a dentist or a doctor, so I leave you to make your own decisions for your teeth.

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We store our homemade toothpaste in a little pot, ready to use. You can even use the leftover paste from the bowl to polish your silverware, white crockery, and enamel, but that’s a story for another day.

linen dish cloth

When the countertops and cutting boards, the faucets and the sink are all wiped down with a good clean cloth, I’m quite content. Linen fibre is strongest when wet, so it makes an ideal dish cloth. I adore the texture and gloss of wet-spun linen, at once hardy plant fibre and fine silk, artless pastoral and opulence combined.

These cloths are a great little project to pick up and stitch when there are quieter moments in the day. All you need is some linen yarn and a crochet hook in your pocket, and the simple pattern, below.

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The qualities of linen

Like rustic clothing, the difference between store-bought and handmade is often its strength. They’re certainly not cheaper than the imported cotton dishcloths we can easily buy, but then they last so long, and please me so much. In using natural linen we sidestep destructive farming practices, pesticides and toxic dyes. There are even folks experimenting with local flax production, and you can grow it easily yourself! To demonstrate the wonderful process of transforming flax to gold, there’s a an old bit of Canadiana on the subject, too.

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Linen care

To care for these linen cloths, we just throw them in the wash as usual, cold or hot, with a drop of tea tree oil to kill any germs. I imagine it doesn’t get musty or stain as easily, but I might just take extra care to hang it to dry, because it’s handmade and beautiful. We hang them or lay them on a flat, waterproof surface like our countertops, and sometimes block them. Block them?

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Blocking is what you do to shape any knit, woven, crocheted piece, and is simply arranging it back into shape and allowing it to dry that way. You can get fancy with special pins and boards, if you were blocking pieces of a sweater before sewing it, so that it would fit perfectly together. But for the linen dish cloths, you’re just laying them flat while they’re wet or damp, and patting, pulling, shaping back to a square, then leaving them to dry. Shaping is ten-second task. No harm in skipping this part, either. It does please me to see them back in their fine shape.

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Theme and variation

Crocheting linen fibre makes these pieces a little bit rustic, a little bit ornate, and thoroughly handmade. I love to use these cloths to experiment with variation in crochet patterns.

Linen dish cloth pattern

I like to use a heavier linen yarn like Euroflax, and a 4.5mm hook – aim to have the hook larger than what’s called for, to get that open weave.

Chain 27 stitches, and work into them half-double-crochet, double crochet, or triple crochet, repeating until you have a square.

I like to stitch the rows in hdc, and then finish with a restrained ruffled edge: chain 6, slipstitch to attach at every 5th stitch, and repeat to the row’s end. Then work back with 6 or 7 double crochets around that loop you’ve made, just enough that the ruffle lies flat, working a slip stitch into the previous slipstitches. Tie it off very firmly. Rinse the piece and block it!

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Linen cloths make a nice accompaniment to a trusty stiff brush, and a stack of linen tea towels. Elegant tools make the work far easier, far more agreeable, I think. They encourage mindfulness in presence in everyday labours. We love these useful, perennial favourites.

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yo-yo

Like so many traditional toys, the yo-yo has been popular across cultures for the last 2500 years. It’s had a great history, with a tremendous burgeoning in popularity in the 1920’s and 1960’s, and still it persists. Like jacks and jump-rope, the yo-yo is not as easy as it looks. My own skills are quite sorry in this regard. Fortunately my smallest child has agreed to show us how it’s done.

So, I think the idea is that the moment it touches down, you lift a little bit to encourage it to wind back up. I’ll keep practicing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do the sleeper, or walk the dog.

traditional wooden yo-yo

quilted mats

Do you remember some patchwork quilted placemats I was making? I used the projects to experiment with patchwork and stitching various quilted patterns. Four of them were just right to fit round our table.

patchwork quilted placemat © elisa rathje 2012

I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. I quilted a diamond shape, a simple angle, overlapping circles, and squares. The patchwork on these quilted mats is quite vivid, often I prefer to turn them linen-side up. I made my own linen bias tape to finish them, amazing how that brings it all together.

patchwork quilted placemat © elisa rathje 2012

Oh, I do miss that bright little room in the old English cottage.

toothbrushes

After a long search I’ve settled on a good toothbrush. We’ve tried wooden ones with natural bristles; awkwardly shaped. We’ve tried plastic toothbrushes with removable heads and natural bristles; the bristles fell out. We’ve tried another removable-top version with plastic bristles; still so much plastic. Then I came across another possibility.

bamboo toothbrush © elisa rathje 2012

These are bamboo handled toothbrushes, quite beautiful I think. They’re shaped well, and don’t seem to turn grey in the water as wood does. Even the bristles are a biodegradable nylon, so they are compostable. A fair companion to our homemade toothpaste. They age well too, and so they’ll be retired in a few months to the cleaning trug, to live out life in service, in the company of the feather duster, the cotton mop, the sodium bicarbonate and the vinegar. Have a look around for bamboo toothbrushes, see what you think.

rustic tart

Making shortcrust pastry has to be amongst the easiest and the best skills to have in the kitchen. For providing the perfect backdrop to an endless variation in fillings, from savoury, like the leek and dorset blue tart I made at River Cottage, to a sweet seasonal fruit tart, shortcrust pastry is perfect. The glorious days of blueberries are imminent, so let’s make a rustic tart, the one I baked for the folks at Heart Home, when they came out to visit the old cottage.

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I like to make a large recipe, and bake two. Start with 500 grams of flour (I used a mix of white and whole spelt), 250 grams of cold unsalted butter, a couple of egg yolks, a pinch of salt, and 100 ml of cold milk, though we may not use it all. For the filling, cook five or six cups of blueberries until their liquid reduces a bit, then remove from heat and toss with 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of light flour. Squeeze half a lemon in, too.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Cut the butter into the flour til it’s in tiny pieces, and then start rubbing the butter into the flour. (I like to wash my hands in cold water, as you don’t want to melt the butter in!) You’re looking for the moment when the flour turns yellow, and resembles breadcrumbs.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Yellow? Excellent. Mix in the two egg yolks.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Add some milk in splashes, just until the dough comes together and no more. Knead it for a minute. You could break the dough in half and form two balls. I wrap mine in parchment, then toss it in a bag to chill in the fridge for a half hour. Heat your oven to 375F/180C. On a very lightly floured surface, roll the dough out thinly, and lift it onto a flat, parchment lined tray.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Dollop the blueberry filling into the middle, fold the pastry in, and sprinkle with some coarse sugar if you’ve got some around. Bake it for close to an hour! And serve, cooled, with some whipped cream. It looks
incredibly gorgeous when it’s baked
, especially if you’ve got a professional photographer and a pair of magazine editors to document the event.