built-in cabinet

Perhaps you’ve been following my adventures in refitting a battered old buffet & hutch as a built-in cabinet. It is best to push off visions of failed DIY at these moments. People have, for the most part, always done it themselves, with as much skill as they could conjure. So, with the support of elders on the telephone, neighbours with tool-sheds, and the wisdom of the internet, I set off.


Having altered the top edge of the hutch, and the table-top of the buffet to fit the nook, I was quite baffled by glued-on, nailed down molding.


A friend helped lower the buffet onto its back. It rested there while I worked out where the nails were, and researched til I found a gem of information. A gem! Store this in your vault of useful facts:

Vinegar dissolves wood glue.

Much vinegary spraying, gentle if somewhat hopeless prying, spraying, prying and waiting ensued. No movement.


In the morning I took a saw to the front edge of the molding, cutting up close to the nails I’d mapped out. I had visions of hacksaws (to cut through nails) but I took one more crack at prying with a crow bar. Pretty please, oh wood glue vinaigrette.


Ta-ra! Success! The ever-so-pleasing shriek of nails extricated from wood.

clipping nails

These nails pulled out easily with pliers, but clipping them off is fine too. Oh, jump around for joy! Then, with friendly assistance, lift that very custom-fit hutch onto its modified buffet companion, and all slide into place;

fitted cabinet

A built in shopkeeper’s cabinet.

Pride. Joy. And there are further adventures in milk paint to come…


After a long search I’ve settled on a good toothbrush. We’ve tried wooden ones with natural bristles; awkwardly shaped. We’ve tried plastic toothbrushes with removable heads and natural bristles; the bristles fell out. We’ve tried another removable-top version with plastic bristles; still so much plastic. Then I came across another possibility.

bamboo toothbrush © elisa rathje 2012

These are bamboo handled toothbrushes, quite beautiful I think. They’re shaped well, and don’t seem to turn grey in the water as wood does. Even the bristles are a biodegradable nylon, so they are compostable. A fair companion to our homemade toothpaste. They age well too, and so they’ll be retired in a few months to the cleaning trug, to live out life in service, in the company of the feather duster, the cotton mop, the sodium bicarbonate and the vinegar. Have a look around for bamboo toothbrushes, see what you think.

cider vinegar

A bottle of leftover apple cider travelled with us from a flat in London we’d stayed in at the end of summer, to our cottage in the countryside. I brought it home to subject it to a science experiment. After several unsuccessful experiments using leftover wine and even the elderberry seeds left from summer’s cordial-making, I’m ever so pleased to have pulled off my own homemade vinegar.

apple cider vinegar © elisa rathje 2012

Apple cider fermenting on the mother from an older bottle of unpasteurised vinegar, exposed to wild yeasts in the air, protected by a cheesecloth.

apple cider vinegar © elisa rathje 2012

I cleaned the jar well and poured the cider over the mother, gave it a spoonful of sugar to begin with (probably an unnecessary step) and stirred it now and then, where it rested on the kitchen counter, otherwise covered by the cheesecloth. I waited throughout autumn, a bit nervously, and tasted it in the first days of winter. Glorious – just a beautiful flavour. I’ll decant the cider vinegar into a bottle, and use it in the kitchen, I love it in salad dressings particularly. Or you know, as a hair tonic. My mistake, previously, was not to have used a wide-mouthed crock or jar, the process needs air! I’m inspired to try making red wine vinegar and fruit vinegars next, using the mother from this batch to give it a good start. Do you make vinegar?

huckleberry shrub

Red currants and red huckleberries were bountiful this summer, the former in my mother’s garden and the latter in the forest. Inspired, as is frequently the case for me, by the wonderful Marisa of Food in Jars, I decided to try my hand at a preserving an old fashioned colonial shrub.

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

Huckleberries and currants;

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

Snowed under with sugar (we made one using birch sugar, for my family in Canada to keep);

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

Thoroughly muddled and left in the fridge for a couple of days to develop into the cold-pressed syrup that Marisa describes. Top up with vinegar according to the recipe, I used apple cider vinegar.

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

You needn’t take this next step unless absolutely necessary: seal and pack the jar very well in a suitcase, and take it to England.

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

I do however highly recommend tucking the huckleberry shrub into a picnic basket along with some sparkling water;

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

And enjoying a glass of it in the park. Hyde Park was glorious on a late summer weekend, just right for skipping rope with my little family and listening to the grasshoppers.

shrub © elisa rathje 2011

fruit fly trap

Fruit that I anticipate all year has begun to come into season, and resides in the fruit bowl. Usually it is rapidly eaten, but sometimes we are plagued by fruit flies. One year the flies were particularly, er, fruitful, and we had them clear through November! Somehow they took up residence on our bathroom mirror. This initiated some research and testing, and the resulting fruit fly trap.


Begin with a jar. We like glass so we can watch the proceedings.


Curl a piece of paper over on itself to form a cone with an opening at the point roughly wide enough for a fruit fly and one or two of its closest friends to slip through. Set the cone into the jar point down, shuffling the shape until the point reaches about half way down and the edge meets the glass. Tape the edge of the curled paper shut to keep the cone in place. Close any gaps to prevent any marauding fruit flies from escaping along the edge.


Slice the paper across at a couple of centimetres above the edge of the jar.


Cut tabs around the top edge to allow folding.


Ready? Toss in something your fruit flies have been enjoying. Mine are particularly fond of overripe fruit, wine, a touch of vinegar added to help things along if you like. I had a few leftover blueberries on hand, and a splash of red wine.


Fold down and tape shut the top edge of the cone to the glass. Set the jar in fruit fly territory.


Observe. The flies find their way in, yet cannot find their way out. No, it isn’t friendly. They die. They don’t live particularly long anyway, you’re just giving them a sweet place to live out their lives. I catch and release spiders, wood bugs, mice, I can accept living with ladybirds and lacewings. Fruit flies, not so much.

Don’t forget to toss the contents before the science project gets out of control! In fact, if you add some vinegar, you’d really just be making blueberry vinegar, which might have been quite nice without the flies in it.