cakestand

We put the homemade cakestand to work at a double-birthday, bearing one of a pair angel cakes to a crowd of finger-puppet-making children. I threw the cakestand on the wheel in England last spring. With pleasure.

handmade cakestand

First I threw a large plate onto a wooden bat, which is stuck to the wheel with clay. The plate is wired off but left on the bat to dry to leather-hard. I cut and played with the edges to scallop them, I love it! Then I centered the plate upside-down on the wheel. I scored a circle, and made a coil of new clay to fit, then threw the pedestal up off the plate with that clay. If you use too much water the plate will turn to mush, so it is a tricky business.

hand-thrown cakestand

I ought to have let the piece dry upside down as well; it fell somewhat, but is still charming.

scalloped cakestand

The children and I made spelt angel cakes, using my grandmother’s trusty sifter to get it as light as possible. I couldn’t find any icing sugar that was certain to be pure, so we decided to use whipped cream, sweetened with stevia to ice it. I coloured some of the cream pink with a bit of juice from raspberries. This is my first rather squishy experiment with a cake-decorating tool. Rosettes, how nice!

homemade cake & cakestand

My grandmother’s old cake stand carried one cake, and mine the other. I’m quite pleased with how the stands act like a plinth to a sculpture, adding a bit of ceremony to match such a treat as a birthday cake. Served with homemade raspberry lemonade in my grandmother’s extraordinarily fancy collection of china, it was a proper tea-party!

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p>(Update:Now you can special order a cakestand from appleturnover’s lakeside studio – just write me a note!)

kefir

Living near the beautiful old English biodynamic dairy farm, I grew very fond of drinking kefir. Like yogurt, kefir is a cultured milk, fermented using kefir grains. Like kombucha the culture is a symbiosis of yeasts and bacteria, and an ancient drink. It is a probiotic, and thoroughly excellent for digestion.

kefir

To my delight I received milk kefir grains from a dear friend in Canada this summer. My tall girl thinks they look like a cup of rice pudding. They were resting in water when I received them waiting for me to get started. I set some whole goat’s milk out to come to room temperature, so as not to shock the grains. Then I set the strained kefir grains in a clean glass jar, poured the milk over, and covered it. Some people say to cover kefir with cloth, like a fermenting vinegar, others use a glass lid.

kefir-5s.jpg

After a few months of messing about with timing and proportions, I’m happy with my kefir process. I like to leave the kefir fermenting on the counter in a warm spot away from light, until I can see the whey separating, as it acquires a sparkling tingle like buttermilk or mild ginger beer. My children aren’t so fond of the stuff, so I just make about a pint at a time. So far my grains seem happy with that, but I’ll give some away when they outgrow those proportions – the grains will multiply, like kombucha mushrooms and sourdough cultures. I set a steel strainer (best to avoid other metals!) over another clean jar, stir my kefir, and strain it through.

kefir-6s.jpg

The grains remain, ready to place in a jar for the next batch of milk. I use three glass canning jars in rotation – one to set the milk in to come to room temperature, waiting for the grains to be added; one to hold the fermenting kefir; and one to catch the finished kefir. I put the finished kefir in the fridge to drink later, often first thing in the morning. It is the sort of habit the steadies me, and at the same time, works best if I’m being consistent with this and other rituals and routines in my life. One feeds the other, just as caring for my kefir means that it cares for my health. Quite nice.

honeycomb dress

Pardon my absence these last, long weeks of summer. I’ve been finding my way along an unexpected path, and I very much needed to settle in. The story of how I’ve returned to live in Canada is a bit curious; full of serendipitous accidents, sudden changes, strange realisations. Despite falling in love with beautiful England, we were pushed along by chance and circumstance, and find ourselves beginning life in Canada again. It feels right to be settling on the Pacific Coast, though we are keenly missing my sweetheart, who is traveling the world yet and living with us whenever he can. Such a strange life! Best laid plans and such. We are very blessed to be with family, and can catch our breath and watch what dreams are unfolding. Now I’ve unpacked the boatful of belongings that led the way back, and nestled us into our space for now. I hope to study traditional skills that my adventuring life never left time for – I will share them with you. Though I’ve been reeling from the changes, I have made a few things. The first piece I’ve been wanting to show you is a frock that I designed and constructed on my grandmother’s 1950’s singer, to wear to my dear cousin’s summer wedding.

gathering-dress

Like the honeycomb smocked pillow I once made, I gathered the fabric into pleats;

smocking-dress

Then handstitched in a pattern to smock the gathers.

shirring-dress

After some gymnastics in sorting out the tension, I sewed the shirring elastic in rows along the remaining width of the fabric. Have a look at the shirred linen cushion I made as a study for this kind of piece.

honeycomb dress © elisa rathje 2012

Done! I threaded elastic into a gusset along the top edge to help it lie flat. Then I simply stitched the seam and hemmed the piece.

honeycomb dress © elisa rathje 2012

At the wedding, near an island vineyard. I’m so pleased with the sculptural qualities of the glossy cotton. The honeycomb dress is a lovely, simple thing to wear on a beautiful summer evening. What do you think?

baking powder

Being a bit sensitive to some ingredients has drawn me further into the pursuit of making things myself, from scratch. The curious world of store-bought may have been a brief history so far, but I’m regularly amazed to discover how rarely I know the source and process of foods, and only know the products. Many products I thought were complex can be simply made, often more economically, and of a better quality. Baking powder is a curiousity like this.

homemade baking powder © elisa rathje 2012

Baking powder, a rising agent, is extraordinarily easy to make. If you’d like to make a jarful to store til you’re next baking biscuits and cakes, you’ll need three ingredients:

1 part sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to 2 parts cream of tartar to 1 part starch.

I use potato starch as a substitute for corn starch. Shake them very well. That last ingredient extends the life of the mixed powders, so if you just want to assemble what you need fresh, leave that part out. I’m not sure why adding aluminium to baking powder was a good idea, precisely, but if you’re determined to buy the stuff, there are aluminium-free versions. It’s unlikely I’ll make my own baking soda and cream of tartar from scratch, but you never know.

netting

We’re moving out of the cottage for the summer, leaving in just a couple of weeks. It is hard to leave, especially just as the garden is becoming so beautiful. I’ve got some plants growing which should give us autumn and winter crops. A few have been feeding us this spring, amongst them, the snap peas. Those peas needed a place to climb, so I made them one.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

Like many objects I use, I was thrilled to discover how to make netting myself. I made this one last year, and brought it with me from London. Useful stuff, netting. I need to make a few nets to keep the rabbits and deer out of the vegetables while we’re away, just simple little ones strung over low supports, is my plan, so that the kale and the purple sprouting broccoli can grow without being browsed to death. I usually use nets for climbing plants like squash, beans, cucumbers, peas. Sweet peas were very pretty on this net last year.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

As you might expect, making netting is very simple, though slow at first, like knitting. Get out some snips and string. I used jute twine. Tie a length of string to a couple of supportive things, as wide as you’d like your net, either just where you’ll use it, or somewhere you have space to work.

© elisa rathje 2011

Cut several lengths of string triple the length you’d like the net, and fold once. I experiment with how wide apart I’d like the holes of the net. To keep out little rabbits I’ll have to go quite small.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

You’re going to slip the loop of the fold you’ve made over that string you’ve tied up, then pull the double strings through the loop, to make a loose knot. Slide the knotted string over a little if you need to rearrange. Continue tying on more doubled lengths of string until you have as many as you want, hanging in a row.

netting © elisa rathje 2011

Here’s the part I love. The first string, and the last, will form the outside border of the net. Everything else will form full diamonds, in the following way. Take a piece of string from one pair, and another from the pair beside it, and tie them together, adjusting the size of the gap you’d like to maintain across the net. Try to keep the length of each side the same. Move along the row, tying them together. Go back to the beginning, and tie along the row again so that you form a diamond shape (excepting the first and the last, which will form a half-diamond.) That’s it! Keep going. More. You’ll be done soon. Stop for a cup of tea, good idea!

Happy netting!