stoneware candlesticks

Learning to throw all kinds of things on the pottery wheel is a joyful thing! One of my greatest delights was to learn to make useful, beautiful, ornate candlesticks. These form the first part of my new collection for appleturnover, a series of handmade tried & trues.

stoneware candlesticks

Over the last couple of years I’ve found my rhythm, making them. I center a base of clay on the wheel, and pull it up very narrowly. The trick is to keep a finger tucked in the spinning top of the candlestick, once delicate fingers have formed that shape, to steady it as the undulating forms below it are pinched. I love the concentration required, meditative and therapeutic.

stoneware candlesticks

I’m inspired by ornate, baroque forms, and a pale and muted, aged european sensibility. I’m playing with variations in shape with these, and different sizes, like chess pieces, the queen, the pawn. I’m particularly fond of the elegant way that beeswax drips off their curves.

stoneware candlesticks

These are stoneware candlesticks, fired hot, with a smooth, matte glaze that I’ve been told looks a bit edible, like a glaze of icing on pastry. Combined with the intoxicating scent of my children’s hand-dipped beeswax candles, we should be a bit ravenous for honey and cake all through the winter. Not a bad state to be in, really.

stoneware candlesticks

I’m throwing them in the local studio along the winding road through the forest surrounding our cottage. My children still want me to make an old fashioned candleholder with a curved handle to carry around. Perhaps they imagine themselves walking around with an open flame, wearing Dickensian nightshirts?

stoneware candlesticks

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p>Have a look at the new collection of stoneware candlesticks and other tried & trues in the shop.

sun salutation

How extraordinary, to move through a sun salutation while facing the sun across the lake.

sun salutation ©2014 elisa rathje

This year, amongst many dreams that I’m turning into goals, I’d like to devote a few minutes each morning to even the briefest sun salutation, even a moment of yoga. It is easy for me to decide to take this tiny movement and let bigger ideas about a yoga practice, or even of getting exercise, happen as they will. I’ve begun and I feel transformed already. Limber and grounded.

pannetone

One chilly winter’s day in England, not so long ago, the great baker Aidan Chapman taught a few River Cottage students how to make pannetone. This winter fruit bread dates back to the Romans, and Milan is its birthplace. Aidan was kind enough to let us share his recipe, and so I pass it on to you, on the first day of winter.

pannetone recipe © elisa rathje 2013

We’re going to need:

  • 300g flour
  • 5g yeast
  • 10g sea salt
  • 100g sponge/starter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2tb yogurt
  • dried fruit
  • citrus zest
  • 2 drops pannetone essence
  • a splash of brandy or rum
  • butter for drizzling
  • a pannetone paper case or lined cake tin

pannetone recipe © elisa rathje 2013

Mix the ingredients with water to form a loose batter. Pour into a pannetone case or a lined cake tin, cover with a clean cloth and leave overnight, ideally up to eighteen hours. Snip the surface with scissors before baking 45 minutes in an oven preheated to 160C/320F. Melt the butter with rum or brandy, pierce the cooled loaf and drizzle it over. Dredge with icing sugar and serve, warmed, with ice cream.

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p>This recipe first appeared in a winter edition of appleturnover’s newsletter – get it here. You might like to read about making winter bread at River Cottage, too.

vintage glass

Vintage glass is one of my weaknesses, a predilection I share with the great Amanda Jane Jones. I’m betting you’re a Kinfolk fan, so you know her fabulous graphic design work; and you likely already follow her on her sweet blog, so she needs no introduction. Instead, let me introduce Amanda’s tried & and true, a collection of vintage glassware.

vintageglass2.s.jpg

My love for vintage glass began at a very young age. My momma would keep all my drawing pencils in an old jar that belonged to her granny. I’ve kept the tradition, and whenever I see one, I generally have to buy it. They are used all over our home — holding toothbrushes, scrabble pieces, pencils and pens, hair pins (you name it, it’s probably in a jar!). In addition, my husband and I travel quite a bit and like to collect bits of nature from the places we visit. For instance we have one jar filled with white coral from the white sand beaches of the Philippines. Another holds jagged rocks we collected at the base of the Matterhorn in Switzerland. The jars, in a sense, hold little memories mixed with pieces of our everyday life and that’s why I love them so.

amanda jones' vintage glass

Such beauties. Thanks Amanda!

beekeeping lessons

Lessons, lectures on beekeeping are just what I’ve been longing for, since admiring natural beekeeping in Sussex last spring and observing my dear friend’s hive in Vancouver last autumn. Lucky us, to hear of a talk on keeping bees, from our local beekeeper, at our local ecology center! Our tall girl accompanied me, and is equally enthralled and eager to host a hive. I’ve just got to tell you everything.

beekeeping

We had a look at the ubiquitous Langstroth hive, a beehive built with removable frames and ‘bee-space’ between each frame. The worker bees have ‘drawn out’ honeycomb on this frame, and capped off the cells with more wax. This frame was extraordinarily heavy, it was so laden with honey. The scent is entirely intoxicating.

I was amazed to hear that a honeybee queen begins life no differently from a worker bee (80-90% of the hive, and female) or a drone (male), but is placed in a larger cell and fed royal jelly, a high-protein superfood that enables her to develop ovaries. She goes out to find where the local drones are hanging out, mates with them, and is ready to lay 1500 eggs a day for the rest of her life. Her life should be about 5 years, but our ecologically stressed state has shortened most queen’s lives to about 2.

I’m not sure how I’ve lived so long without knowing the lifecycle of a bee. The babies are born, tucked into cells and fed jelly by nurse bees, and cocoon there for just over a week. They emerge, clean their cells for the next generation, and begin to work as nurse bees. They’ve not yet developed stingers or enzymes for creating all the amazing beeproducts they’ll make later. They might get promoted to be an attendant to the queen, to feed her, care for her complete toilette; or become a fanner bee, whose wings fan the nectar til it is less than 18% moisture, and ready to be capped off and stored as honey. As the bees develop they might become a water carrier or a guard bee at the entrance to the hive. From there the bees take little practice flights, have you seen them doing this? Circling back to the hive til they are ready to begin foraging, which they might do for two weeks of their little two-month lives.

bee nursery & honeycomb

You can see a bit of the nursery, which would surround the queen, and the cells where the young are capped off. Around it the bees store pollen, fermenting with an enzyme they mix with it – their high protein food, preserved in honey; around bee pollen they store more honey. In a wild hive, this is formed in that familiar winnie-the-pooh egg shape; in the framed hive a similar structure can be encouraged. The hive is built with a cover and a roof, with ventilation, and the frames can be built with a ‘comb’ already on it, or the bees can form their own from scratch. This takes a lot of work, particularly if a hive is started from scratch rather than from a nucleas colony. The honey may even provide some of the insulation needed for winter, and I was pleased to hear our master beekeeper’s opinion that in the first year, no honey ought to be removed from the hive, to help the bees overwinter in their best possible health and nutrition; and in future years, to take outer frames cautiously. The idea of giving bees sugar water seems counterintuitive on so many levels, particularly given the crisis bees currently face.

natural honeycomb and propolis

The propolis, those reddish markings on the frame, is an amazing bee substance, anti-bacterial, medicinal, another superfood. Bees use propolis to seal off any gaps, and will even surround and mummify an intruder with it, to protect themselves from disease. This frame of honeycomb is naturally built – and you can see that a couple of nectar flows are present, probably a darker plant like blackberry, and a lighter plant might have produced the lighter honey. Honeycombs shaped like this always put me in mind of Aganetha Dyck’s amazing sculptural, environmental work with bees.

beekeeping5s.jpg

Liane told us fascinating things about bee communication. The openings in this natural comb are communication holes, built by the bees to allow them to move between frames. Bees dance to create vibrations that echo through the hive, and describe a source of nectar. If a couple of flows appear, the bees will send out scouts to check each source nectar, and listen to scout’s descriptions when they return – then ‘vote’ on which nectar source to pursue! In this way you’ll get dandelion honey, blackberry honey… the bees agree upon where to forage! What’s more, the flight path determines much of what the bees will choose – if there are great flowers behind the hive, the bees might ignore it. They’re more likely to pursue flowers in a u-shape in front of the hive. Liane spoke about positioning the hive so that the flight path isn’t careening right into a busy area; placing the hive to receive strong morning sun to warm the hive; raising the hive to keep creatures from easily getting at the bees – there are good reasons that we think of hives in trees!

extracted honeycomb

Can you see the way a knife sliced the caps off, to extract the honey? I only dream of this. I’m delighted with how much we’ve learned – there’s much more to tell you, but I will save it for our next adventure in beekeeping. We’d like to visit Liane and her hives, and it would be very sweet to daydream over her wonderful supplies over at Homesteader’s Emporium. We’ll be watching for more workshops, too. Look out for your own local beekeeping lessons, club, mentors, suppliers and workshops. Post them in the comments if you like! I shall go daydream about beehives now.