drying nettles

The moment to forage for stinging nettles is early spring, while the tops are young and fresh. Heavy gloves and great respect for the plants are required. A friend on a nearby farm harvested some nettles to help me as I was convalescing after an illness, and later on we gathered a huge batch together. Infusions full of minerals are just the thing to give me strength. The old-timers would take bitters at this time of year, and wild stinging nettles grow just at the moment when we really need some good greens.

sun-dried-nettles

To preserve the nettles, I shake them out onto a cookie tray (to keep from getting stung), put my oven on its lowest temperature with the fan on, and pull them out when crispy-dry. Once dried or cooked the sting is removed, happily. Or, if you catch a good sunny day, you can lay them out on a clean sheet and turn them now and then til they are crisp.

Fully dry in a glass jar they will keep for a lot longer than any of them ever last at our house, certainly past the brief autumn harvest and through to the following spring. You can make fresh nettle soup and nettle tinctures too. Foraging and preserving nettles for high-mineral wild infusions and medicinal tisanes is a very old practice. I’m ever so fond of it.

dried-nettles

linen dishcloth

When the countertops and cutting boards, the faucets and the sink are all wiped down with a good clean cloth, I’m quite content. Keeping a stack of sturdy, beautiful cloths around for that purpose makes me feel a little more calm. I once hand-stitched a linen cloth and four years later it is still in excellent condition. Linen is stronger when wet, so it is ideal for the task. 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 beautiful. Now I make them for the tried & true series in the shop. Useful, perennial favourites.

linen-cloth-natural

Like rustic clothing, the difference between store-bought and handmade is often its strength. They’re certainly not cheaper than the imported cotton dishcloths I can easily buy, but then they last so long, and please me so much.

linen-cloth-natural

To care for these linen cloths, I just throw them in the wash as usual, cold or medium, with a drop of tea tree oil to kill any germs. You can throw them in a medium dryer too, though it’s best to take them out while still damp, lay them on a flat, waterproof surface like the top of the dryer, and block them. Block them?

linen-cloth-pewter

Blocking is what you do to shape any knit, woven, crocheted piece, and is simple 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.

linen-cloth-natural

Like the candlesticks, each one is unique, each one a variation in pattern. A little bit simple, a little bit ornate, and thoroughly handmade. I adore the texture and gloss of wet-spun linen, at once hardy plant fibre and fine silk, artless pastoral and opulence combined.

One bright day soon I’ll have the fine folks from Flax-to-Linen round to the lake to demonstrate the wonderful process of transforming flax to gold. Stay tuned. There’s a wonderful old bit of Canadiana on the subject, too.

linen-cloth-natural

The linen cloths make a nice accompaniment to the natural sponge, my trusty stiff brush, and a stack of colourful tea towels. Elegant tools make the work far easier, far more agreeable, I think.

linen-cloths-stacked

If you’re in Vancouver, pick out your favourite handmade linen cloths on Main Street at the fabulous shop, Nineteen Ten. They have appleturnover’s handthrown candlesticks too!

coffee mill

Using my grandmother’s coffee mill is one of those beautiful, deeply satisfying physical experiences that grounds me in a long history. You love useful, well-made, elegant objects with their own stories too, I think. Being thoroughly doused in high technology on a daily level, I’m searching for more of the slower, sweeter, and often more material experiences of an earlier time. Integrating digital and analogue – emphasising really old experiences that engage my hands, my body, my senses, makes my life feel richer, more connected.

parker coffee mill.jpg

Daily use of an object that my beloved grandmother used, adds a dimension of meaning to my time that more of our belongings ought to possess. Her mill is all wood and metal, and requires nothing but an embrace and a firm turn of a handle. Can you imagine buying a machine to grind your coffee, made like this, now? There is a philosophy in its construction that feels very different from this age.

mills

The sound of coffee beans in the mechanism is intensely tangible. Without deafening electric motors, the crunching, crushing, toasted crackling sound is profound. It gets into my brain like a fine melody. Add the heady scent of the beans, and the act of preparing coffee becomes a ritual of exquisite anticipation.

milled coffee

Speed isn’t required, in this ritual. If anything, grinding a handful of beans is over too quickly. Everyone would have a go at milling, and opening the drawer to find a grind that is astonishingly perfect. Since 1923, this little mill has been turning, and having outlived my dear grandmother, I wonder if it will outlive all of us, too.

coffee mills

(You can still find these mills, and you can even get hold of vintage ads for the things, if you admire the typography and illustration, as I do.)

I made a short movie of the old coffee mill, and my sweetheart set it to music. I find it so sweet, I hope you like it too. My heart swells (and my coffee habit redoubles) when I hear him grinding beans to share a pot with me, and come in to see him hugging that mill as my grandfather might have, milling for my grandmother.

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p>(A fact. My father has another mill their family used for coffee. This one milled grains, instead, for an old fashioned, long-cooking porridge, kept warm in the feather coverlet. I remember eating it as a child, served to all the little cousins in the mornings with her homemade wild-picked blackberry jam and a splash of milk, in shallow, wide bowls. I wish I had the recipe.)

little miller

Now, if you’ve been following closely for a while, you might recall an antique grinder I acquired at a village shop near the cottage we once lived in. I have great affection for the mill, and for cooking with my family in that old kitchen, so I made a little something with some images I came across the other day.

Simple pleasures.

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p>(If you’re fond of short appleturnover movies like the little miller, you might like to nose around the old schoolhouse. Along the lefthand side of the page, you’ll find it.)

spice mill

As I was exploring theme and variation, the way I like to, this time on the subject of panna cotta (elderflower panna cotta, vanilla panna cotta, chocolate panna cotta…) I came across a great old kitchen tool belonging to my grandmother. Her old spice mill! A simple, practically unbreakable and good old fashioned solution to fresh spices. Many people wouldn’t accept anything less than grinding their own fresh coffee; I’m quite sure my grandmother felt the same about grinding spices.

old fashioned spice mill

The scent of cardamom that would’ve dominated this piece, through all my grandmother’s Finnish baking, is renewed by my experiment in coconut cardamom panna cotta. On an early spring cleanse, we couldn’t take any dairy, so I substituted with coconut milk. Did you see the original recipe?

grinding cardamom

This piece adjusts for a course or rough grind, like any good pepper mill worth its, well, salt. Not much to it, yet it will still be grinding long after I’m gone, no doubt. I’m inclined to purchase future spices to store whole, as they’ll keep their freshness far longer. Grinding spices is quite satisfying.

coconut cardamom panna cotta

Gorgeous. Who needs cake? If you’d prefer this treat in chocolate form, you can still catch the recipe in appleturnover’s spring letter.