saddle stitch binding

The printed guides to good old fashioned patchwork quilting are the trusty companions to appleturnover’s old school movies. They’re great to refer to as you work on your project, especially if you haven’t always got the movie in front of you. I adore bookbinding and it is a pleasure to make these little booklets to go in every quilting kit. Let me show you saddle stitch binding.

printed guides © elisa rathje 2012

The booklets are printed with petite black & white stills, accompanied by detailed text to consult as you need to. I like to work from both the moving image and the still when I’m learning a new skill, do you?

quiltguide1s.jpg

I laid the images and text out, and had them printed at an excellent, environmentally sound old printshop in Vancouver, where I could get fully recycled, certified papers. Binding them was a little trickier, as I don’t have a long-reach saddle stitch stapler, though I hunted for one. In the end I discovered Paul Tseng’s brilliantly simple solution and followed it as closely as I could.

After folding the signatures (using my imaginary bone folder – wish, wish!), I clipped the pages in place and gently pressed a stapler into the spine of the booklet just enough to mark two spots. Now, find a sturdy, sharp needle. An awl would be better still. (Wish, wish.)

printed quilting guides © elisa rathje 2012

Gently puncture the pages through;

printed quilting guides © elisa rathje 2012

Til you’ve got clean holes to work with.

printed quilting guides © elisa rathje 2012

Saddle-stitchis standard for booklets, requiring no more than a few staples into the centerfold. Paul’s simple solution is to insert the staple by hand, and press it shut. Of course! So smart.

printed quilting guides © elisa rathje 2012

I pressed the booklets a little, and they were complete. There’s the pocket guide to Quilting Squares, a traditional “nine-patch” patchwork quilt, and Quilting Triangles, a traditional “broken dishes” patchwork quilt.

printed quilting guides © elisa rathje 2012

mozzarella

For a while now I’ve been perfecting the art of making mozzarella. It’s a fabulous party trick, that stretchy stuff, so I often make it with friends visiting the cottage. My dear Catherine, an artist and a fine brewer (with whom I have exciting brewery plans…) made mozzarella with me this weekend and we took some pictures of the happy event. Here’s an illustrated guide, based on a brilliant recipe I’ve had great success with.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Gather the ingredients: 8 pints of fresh whole milk (we use demeter-approved organic raw whole milk from our beloved local farm), a bit of rennet, citric acid, and sea salt.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Gather the tools, sterilised, and keep them close to hand; make sure your sink is clean and has a good stopper. A sieve or a colander, a slotted spoon, a 2 gallon pot, measuring cups and spoons, a wooden spoon, a large heatproof bowl or pot, a long sharp knife and a cooking thermometer. Also, rubber gloves if you’re a sensitive creature and for children who want to pull the mozzarella. Ready?

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Measure a quarter teaspoon rennet (or a quarter tablet) into a quarter cup cool water, stir it well and set it aside.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Measure 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid into half a cup cool water, and stir til dissolved.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Place the large pot into the sink, and tip the citric acid solution into the pot.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Pour in all the milk and immediately stir;

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Stir it very well. Now the milk is acidified and we’re on our way.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Stand the thermometer in the milk, and fill the sink, around the pot (no! not in it!) with hot water, just from the tap should do. Keep watching the thermometer, it need only go to 90 F/32 C, which isn’t very hot at all. Much like making cream cheese. I generally fill the sink about two thirds of the way up the pot. Reached the right temperature?

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Now pour in the rennet solution, and stir up and down for 30 seconds. Excellent.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Let the mixture stand for about five minutes. While you’re waiting, get a full kettle of water to the boil, we’re going to need it soon.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Press the top with a flat hand. You should feel soft curds, and along the edges the chartreuse whey should show. If in doubt, give it a couple more minutes. (This didn’t happen for us the first time, as the milk we were using was over-pasteurised, no luck.)

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Where’s your knife? Cut the curds right to the bottom, into squares of about 1 inch.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Leave it to rest another two or three minutes. Meanwhile, take your water off the boil and let it sit for a bit.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Lay a sieve or colander (I begin with the sieve, as my colander just doesn’t let much whey out) over a large bowl, next to the pot of curds and whey. Take the slotted spoon and begin to gently lift the curds into the colander to drain. Exciting? I shift curds to the colander, now over the pot, when the sieve gets too full, and tip all the whey around it. The colander will be sitting in whey to keeps the curds warm.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

A few pinches of sea salt go in, and get worked through the curds. The more your work them, the dryer the final mozzarella will become.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Pour most of the kettle-ful of water into a heatproof bowl or pot (I use that same bowl that caught the whey) and adjust the temperature to about 175 F/79.5C. Reserve some water in case you need it.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Use the slotted spoon to lift the curds into the hot water, working in two or three parts if you like.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Move the curds around to help them melt into a ball.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Now! Lift it with the slotted spoon (put on your gloves if you need to!) and begin to pull and fold the mozzarella! If the cheese breaks as you pull it, melt it up again in the bowl, adding hot water as needed. I love this part.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Oh! The mozzarella stretched so far, my arms weren’t long enough! It always makes me laugh. Pull it, fold it, immerse it, pull it, til a sheen like good taffy appears.

homemade mozzarella © elisa rathje 2012

Then fold it up, done! I keep our mozzarella submerged it in salted whey, chilling in the fridge, until I need it for lasagna or pizza. Soon we’ll eat it sliced with basil and tomato on fresh bread. Heaven! Do let me know if you make your own.

compost

Usually I wouldn’t invite friends into the corner of the garden where the compost bins live. It’s hidden away beneath the silver birches, behind the greenhouse, and well, it’s a compost. However, seeing as no kitchen garden would be complete without a good compost, here we are.

compost © elisa rathje 2012

In my tiny Vancouver flat I once kept a worm compost, just a bin on the deck. In the deepest corner of our little London garden, we built our own compost using three wooden pallets, filling the gaps in the boards with twigs from pruning the ash trees overhead. A cover of heavy soil bags helped to heat it up a bit and encourage things to break down. In the rolling country garden in Sussex I was a little more worried about creatures getting into the compost, so I’ve used a pair of bins. I needn’t have worried, as there aren’t many creatures to match the bears and raccoons that regularly assault the composts I grew up with in coastal Canada.

With a system of bins in place, one to rest and decompose, while the other is being filled, the trick is simply to get a good mix of ingredients:

Anything that was once living will compost, but some items are best avoided. Meat, dairy and cooked food can attract vermin and should not be home-composted. For best results, use a mixture of types of ingredient. The right balance is something learnt by experience, but a rough guide is to use equal amounts by volume of greens and browns… Some things, like grass mowings and soft young weeds, rot quickly. They work as ‘activators’, getting the composting started, but on their own will decay to a smelly mess. Older and tougher plant material is slower to rot but gives body to the finished compost – and usually makes up the bulk of a compost heap. Woody items decay very slowly; they are best chopped or shredded first, where appropriate.

I rather like Garden Organic’s video for clarity about how to do this. I aspire to one day keep chickens, not only for eggs but to make a powerful contribution to good compost, though the deer leave enough fertiliser to please anyone! The first time I dug out my own finished compost, full of worms, rich and dark and completely free, I was elated. It’s deeply gratifying to recycle the kitchen peelings and see all the prunings from the garden go back into the earth, ready to feed the garden again.

neti pot

Ah, the first cold of autumn has got me. I’m prepared this time, with a neti pot that my sweetheart gave me in the winter, when I’d been fighting a vicious illness. Isn’t it sweet? Yes, even for its purpose, to pour saline solution through one’s nostrils.

neti pot="© elisa rathje 2011

Friends and family have sworn by using a neti pot for years. Oh dear, nasal irrigation? In the end yoga won me over, as this very old practice comes out of ayurvedic medicine and its one purpose is to keep breathing clear, so important for yoga. So there you are. It’s a good idea to boil tap water and allow it to cool to body temperature. I fill the pot with about eight ounces, or a cup, and in it, dissolve one eighth to one quarter of a teaspoon of sea salt. Lean over a sink, chin tucked, and turn the head somewhat, ear towards the sky, and very gently tip the spout to pour the solution into your nose. Yes, I know. The idea is to have the solution move through the nasal passages and out the other nostril in a steady trickle, rather than out through your mouth. A potful is plenty, I think. I’m adding this to my list of traditional cold remedies.

– Oh, I used the neti pot last night and my breathing was amazingly clear through to the morning, I’m very pleased.

wild sourdough culture

Naming your sourdough culture like a pet may a seem a little odd, but I’m hoping that it means we won’t forget to feed it. (I’ve set a reminder on the calendar just in case we neglect it anyway.) The children measured a cup of flour (we used whole spelt but will use rye in future, it works better) and a cup of warm water, into the jar, and stirred it. Take your time stirring in, as lots of air is a very good idea; the wild cultures are in the air around you. Tomorrow, and the next day, and possibly a dozen after that, we’ll feed the culture: we’ll toss out half (better yet, use it in baking, or pancakes!) and add half a cup of flour and the same or a little less in water.

wild sourdough culture

If brown liquid appears it isn’t such a good sign, but you can pour a little off or stir it in if it is dry, and plan to feed the culture more often for a bit. (A professional baker later told me you can feed it twice a day!) You want a scent like a fine beer brewing, rather than something going off, if you see what I mean.

When the culture starts to bubble, and is doubling in size, it is beginning to be ready, but could ideally use a couple of weeks of daily feeding. The best ritual is when you are removing half of it to bake with, and feeding the other half a little when you do, but for the home baker sometimes that isn’t possible. Better to culture and use a sourdough starter imperfectly than not at all, I say. After a couple of weeks, we’ll feed it every day if we are using it often; if not, it goes into the fridge to be fed once a week, and brought out and fed daily to get it back up to an energetic bubble again. Soon we can use it to start our first traditional slow sourdough. If we are really devoted, we can use this culture for our whole lives. The children named the wild sourdough culture Flower.

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p>Read more about sourdough culture over here, as I get more experienced with it!