shoemaking

There still exists, in a little street near Paddington station, a shoemaker. He is a charming fellow, Patrick Tuohy, in that old fashioned way you’d be lucky to encounter now. He owned the shop for half a century, and still works there now and then. Handmade shoes are rare things, and as much as I’d have liked to try my hand at making them, it was an unforgettable pleasure to listen to Patrick tell me a little bit about how they were made.

handmade shoe © elisa rathje 2011

He’d made the shoes he was wearing a dozen years ago. I’m not sure I still own anything I wore a dozen years ago! Perhaps I will, a dozen years from now.

handmade shoe © elisa rathje 2011

In his own words, then.

Thank you ever so much, Patrick, you are a gem. If ever I have a worthy pair of shoes, I’ll bring them to you.

handmade shoe © elisa rathje 2011

jelly mould

The jelly seems singularly English to me. I didn’t eat them for years, being a vegetarian, but having turned to eating animal foods from organic, sustainable sources, and in becoming interested in using the whole creature, gelatin is something we’re eating now. I was so pleased to find organic gelatin powder, so we’ve been making our own jellies.

jelly mould

When I was at Liberty for the lovely book launch for Decorate I came upon a beautiful glass jelly mould in a traditional shape, and fell hopelessly in love. We saw a few at the antiques fair but their material was questionable, so we kept looking. Found! I am rather fond of a bubbly elderflower presse as a jelly. I’d like to try floating edible flowers in a jelly, perhaps made right in a champagne flute (with champagne!) as we saw on the achingly inspiring Treats from the Edwardian Country House. I will be so happy when we can use our own fruit to make jellies, I’ve planted out the strawberries today, though we may miss them entirely this year. Perhaps they’ll establish a beautiful patch for next. Have a lovely weekend! I’ll be twittering and pottering in my studio tomorrow, though the garden is beckoning with increasing urgency.

market basket

A basket is an elegant, traditional solution for frequent, local grocery shopping. Only in recent history has it been somewhat overlooked in favour of the plastic bag and the superstore, and thankfully, cloth bags, shopping trolleys, and the chic basket are experiencing a revival. If you’re lucky enough to live where you can buy food from little markets and farm shops, like we are here in the village, the shopping basket is essential. I’m tremendously pleased to have found a beautiful Moroccan basket, so popular in France, at a fair in London this past weekend.

handled-basket.jpg

The one I’ve chosen has both long and short leather handles, is sturdily built, and can hold quite an astonishing amount. Look for a strong weave, firmly attached handles, and fair trade. If it gets misshapen, simply spray lightly with water, reshape, and air dry immediately.

crockery-finds.jpg

Naturally I tested the basket at the fair. One is obliged, of course. It held my handbag, a few crockery finds: long wished for pitcher, sugar bowl, and platter, from various vintage stalls. A nightdress made from a Victorian pattern, from the wonderful British traditionals shop Twice. A handmade wooden spatula from British & European woods by Croglin. I almost lost my head for many more things at the market, and could have fit them all in easily. Perhaps not the vintage sideboard. (Speaking of finds, being our first spring in our cottage, we keep discovering flowers! The bouquet pictured was plucked from an unexpected drift, hidden away behind the garden shed.) Traveling home to Sussex was a breeze, the market basket sits so effortlessly on my shoulder. I’m very impressed. We’re off to fill it with food from the farm, time to make some cream cheese and yogurt and begin to prepare for exciting visits from dear old friends and family. I’m wishing for beautiful April days to take the basket on picnics and adventures.

mixing bowl

Of late I have been compelled to admit that a good mixing bowl is essential for making cakes. I’ve tried mixing in bowls that bounce and slide, that hold only half of the ingredients, that leave me to spill batter between a pot and a pie plate. Disaster. Yet I am determined to learn to bake an excellent cake.

beater.jpg

When my copy of Cakes, the newest River Cottage Handbook arrived, my sweetheart went to look for the remedy. Like my traditional scales, the Mason Cash mixing bowl is a classic. It is grounded by its solid weight, so my two small bakers can beat a rhythm round it with wooden spoons without knocking it to the floor. The depth of it contains clouds of flour and effortlessly fits a couple of cakes worth of batter. Textured designs along its outer surface act as grips when mixing or washing it. Looking timelessly elegant is pretty great too. The bowl will function beautifully for culturing a sourdough sponge, cream cheese and yogurt. And most especially for cakes. I’m a proud owner.

mason.jpg

For thrashing egg whites into airy peaks for a flourless chocolate torte using my trusty whisk, it’s ideal. Torte-recipe forthcoming, one to persuade you that every cake should contain at least two bars of chocolate. Happy Springtime!

kindling

Or, my tried & true axe. I’ve only tried two axes, mind, and both of them were today. However my sweetheart and I have been building daily fires in our wood stoves for the last four months, and certainly a decent axe is a great thing to have on hand if you’re doing that. Except that I was afraid to use one, lest I remove a limb. Today I was elated to receive a lesson on the subject of chopping wood into kindling.

axe.jpg

My friend sharpened the axe with a stone for us. Perhaps a lesson for another day, though I looked on in fascination.

chopping-block.jpg

He brought us a good chopping block, showed me how to hold my small axe near the end of the handle in one hand, and let the blade fall, giving it a bit of speed, to hit the block. Then he put a piece of wood there, and said to do the same thing again, as if the piece of wood weren’t there. Crack! I split the wood, just like that. Completely thrilling and exuberant work. I must say I’m becoming rather fond of very productive-destructive projects, kneading dough, chopping vegetables, pounding sauerkraut, needle felting, pruning vines, digging in the earth. If it weren’t dark I’d go back out to the log pile and split some more.

kindling-framed.jpg

Of course kindling is brilliant, though we’ve made due with twigs gathered from the land and a surprising amount of cardboard leftover from moving. Those work perfectly well in one of our stoves, but the other is a bit stubborn and needs coddling and persuasion, and sometimes outright begging, to produce any sort of fire. This is just the kind of persuasion it needs. I won’t be buying anyone else’s wet bag of kindling ever again, and I may have to resist turning most of our log pile into little sticks. Chop wood. A very fine skill, even if you reserve it for camping on a summer’s evening.

potato ricer

Our final River Cottage tried & true is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall himself, with his trusty potato ricer. Hugh tells me his ricer is a sturdy antique and functions beautifully to make gloriously perfect mashed potatoes.

ricer.jpg

You too, are duly warned of the dangers of food processing potatoes until they are the consistency of wet cement. (Followed in my experience by crying over one’s food processor when it later expires and is doomed to eternity in a landfill.) I myself use a fork, with lots of butter, but if I begin to throw dinner parties at the volumes Hugh is famous for, I shall invest in a good old fashioned potato ricer. Thanks Hugh!

hugh-and-elisa.jpg

I think I may have thereupon received the best and most delicious recipe for mashed potatoes ever, but I was suffering somewhat from an unfortunate attack of starstruckedness and have forgotten. Never mind, he’s written a book.