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How to do Spoon Making, sort of

spoonMy dad is a “do-things” guy.

dad in his garden

At 90, he roasts and grinds his coffee, makes bialys, bagels, bread and pies, fixes everybody’s computers, tends his stunning 1+ acre native plant garden in Richmond, Va. …..

dad's garden in May

And he has a shop (that he built) where he crafts furniture, cutting boards and kitchen utensils. 

dad's shopSo as part of my quest to learn to do things, spoon-making/carving in particular … my sister, Janet and I enlisted his help while visiting a couple weeks ago. Mind you, I am not new to make-do spoon crafting. It’s something I take a notion to do every twenty years or so, as you can see in this photo. 

4 decades of spoons

Spoon left, circa 1976, center late 90s, and spoon right 2018

And quite honestly, I have NO idea what I’m doing. For now. In the immediate future I plan to get me a good hatchet and commence to learn the art of Swedish green-wood carving. In the meantime, here’s how I made this spoon. Believe me, if I can do it, so can you! All you need is a friend with a jigsaw and maybe some rasps to help you get started.  First, you will need to draw a picture of the spoon you want on a piece of non-toxic native wood. We are using cherry for our spoons.  

janet drawing her spoon

 If you are right handed, you will want to flip the curved spoon over and have the curve point toward the right. I figured that out after I unintentionally made a left-handed spoon. 

janet an dad spoon l

Dad cuts out Janet’s spoon

 Then, you give this drawing to your dad/friend with a band saw or smaller jigsaw to cut out. 

dad using the jigsaw

Now, you drill a hole in the handle end because you will want to hang your lovely rustic spoon.

cut hole in spoon handle

And then you will collect a few rasps … a round one (for the hanging hole), a medium one and a finer one with a rounded back.

spoon blank with rasps

Then you will sit in the sun out in the yard and start rasping the square edges off your spoon. Or in the case of Janet, who will do something different because her husband  Roger (the do-things with tools guy who is teaching my daughter, Annie to blacksmith) says “there is a WAY easier way to finish off your spoon!” Evidently, as you will see I do not know what that is. Anyway, rasping is fun and you can quickly round out your spoon and handle starting with the rough rasp and finishing with the finer one. 

rasp the spoonIf you were smart, you would have ignored my instructions and clamped the piece of wood with your spoon drawing with a vice and gouged out the bowl innards before cutting out the spoon shape. Because once your spoon is cut, it is not really clampable.  So now you have to figure out some other way to scoop out the bowl. Which is ridiculously difficult and dangerous with dry hardwoods like cherry combined with ignorance (mine not yours of course). Before, when I made my other two spoons, I found someone with a dremel tool to carve out the bowl, but this time, I experimented with sharp knives. Here is my arsenal:

spoonmaking tools s

The spoon hook on the left would work great with green wood but not with dry (with my lack of skills anyway) so I gouged wee divits with the little tiny spoon hook in the middle and then used the larger spoon hook to carve out the ridges.  I used the carving knife to round out and fine-tune the handle hole. The kevlar gloves are a good idea when learning to carve. Once everything is smooth and shaped, the sanding begins. I found this nifty little flexible yellow sanding gizmo at Lowes and started with 80 grit, then moving on to whatever I could scrounge around here that included 150, 220 and finally 400 grit. I like my spoons super smooth. Now, dip the spoon in water to raise the grain and when dry, sand again. Rub some oil (don’t tell anybody but I used roasted walnut oil) on your spoon and you are good to go!

me and dad spoon s

I did it! But as much as I appreciate my new spoon, the best part of this “how to do things” adventure has been spending time with my dad, hearing his stories, laughing with him, watching him cut out my spoon with a big scary tool that he still commands. Learning to do things is so much more fun when your mentor is someone you love. Thanks Dad … it’s you I’ll think of when ‘er this spoon stirs our soup! 


PS: Safety note: Before using carving tools, please take an introductory woodcarving class or have a wood carver instruct you in proper carving techniques! …I’ve done this in the past and plan to learn so much more. And while you’re at it, inform yourself about which wood species are food safe and which to leave be. Cherry, maple, apple, birch are spoonable. As are other woods. I’ll do some more research and report back to you about other recommended species.

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How To Do Things with Blacksmithing

Welcome to more of How To Do Things ThursdaysToday’s guest post is by our coal-dusted, blacksmithing daughterAnnie

handmade on stove

Homemade treasures on my 1930’s Royal Queen wood cookstove

There’s nothing that makes me feel more at home than being immersed in the handmade. Knowing that one of my cooking students made that wooden spoon I’m stirring supper with, that a neighbor wove that throw rug I’m standing on. That my mother hand-stitched that quilt on our bed, and that my uncle forged those hooks hanging in my kitchen. My morning coffee is ground in an old-timey crank grinder that my grandfather built, and the person who made the mug is a family friend.

Making something for someone is a love language. People put something of themselves into their craft, their heart, their vision, their time. Likewise, buying handcrafted wares from artists also spreads the love, as it shows that we still value the time of skills and trades passed down through the generations, that we are willing to pay more for this than something with a ‘Made in China’ sticker on it. Continue Reading →

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How to do Things with Apple Cider Syrup

cider syrup how to do things artWelcome to How to do Things Thursdays!

If you were to walk into my kitchen in early November, what you would see is apples. The gnarly red ones that fall from the overgrown antique trees in our lives as well as about 80 pounds of magnificent GoldRush apples that I order annually from my apple-loving friend, Andrew. They are in the dehydrator being dried, simmering on the stovetop as apple butter, and in a slow oven en route to becoming sliceable apple walnut membrillo. And, yes always the apple pies.  Continue Reading →

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How to do Things Thursdays

how to do things farmhouse blacksburgI don’t know about you, but it’s been on my mind to learn how to do more things for about …. oh…. maybe decades. At least since I lived here in this tumbledown farm in 1976. Well, actually, I did learn plenty of  things back then, but as you can see, home maintenance was evidently not one of them (you can read more here). Anyway, here I am, some 40 odd years later still wishing I was more “handy.” Turns out, lots of others I know are in the same boat, so if I’m also talkin’ to you, then come along with me on a How To Do Things adventure! Continue Reading →

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Speakin’ of Russia …


Political vitriolic nattering and scandals aside, I’ve been pondering Russia. Specifically what goes on in and comes out of some extraordinary or even perhaps ordinary Russian kitchens and bakeshops. Pies. Stunning pies and tartelettes. Continue Reading →

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On Matters of the Heart


love stuff

I'll be yours valentine poem s


Valentines Day is nearly upon us and I can’t help but sing this enchanting holiday’s praises. I get that it can be a tough day for those who are lonely and have experienced loss, but it’s also the one time of the year when we somewhat restrained Americans are encouraged to openly express our fondness for one another. And truly, the simpler the bestowing of appreciation and affection the more meaningful to the recipient … so in that spirit, I’m dashing off a few handwritten and typed notes to unsuspecting acquaintances and loved ones. Including you. 

In case you’re in the business of finding romantic love, this is your lucky day. Forget OkCupid and Match, I’ve been accumulating some timeless courtship advice over the years from last century’s experts in matters of the heart. You need look no further than 20th century agricultural journals for good news such as this from a 1926 Rural New-Yorker magazine:

pie supper couple


“Who says Rural New-Yorker is not a good advertising medium? The woman who made those cherry pies described on page 827 received an offer of marriage sight unseen. She will continue to make pies at the same old stand.”

(Note to guys: women like men who bake pies too!) Continue Reading →

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I got up early ….

blue ridge sunrise

Although the Blue Ridge Parkway national parkland adjoins our backyard in Asheville, we need to drive 20 minutes to catch a view like this. (As long as you get up at 5:30 am, that is.) Continue Reading →

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It’s Picnic Time!!!

picnic time typewriter I know for certain that it’s Picnic Time because we have 5,000 reminders of that fact in our warehouse. And also because, as you can see,  it’s always been Picnic Time with my family, who might whop me over the head for posting this picture. Continue Reading →

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I made you another birthday (orange cake pie) pi, Albert Einstein!

birthday orange cake pi

Saturday 3.14.15 at 9:26  is the BIG pi day and Albert Einstein’s 136th birthday. Two years ago, I wrote an authoritative post on how Albert Einstein came up with his Theory of Relativity and various equations that actually totally escape my understanding, which I am yet again re-posting, as now it’s tradition. Speaking of things that defy comprehension, do you ever wonder how it is that you can create children that have analytical and all sorts of other capacities well beyond your own? Wayne and I ponder this frequently. As it turns out, my ability for doing math ended in 4th grade, and Wayne claims his ended in 3rd. So how did it come about that we managed to raise three scientist kids who DO understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity? Who use squiggles that aren’t even numbers anymore to figure out that stuff? 

Well, Einstein’s not the only one who can make up theories … I have made up a couple, myself on this topic … Continue Reading →

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Chocolate Orange Chili Picnic Popcorn

picnic  time xo

It’s picnic time. Even though it’s 9º outside give or take. Which makes it really hard to write a book about picnic time, which I am doing because it’s not only picnic time, it’s also coming up on deadline time. All last spring, summer and fall my friends and family and I picnicked our little hearts out in forest, park, roadside, porch, cabin-side, microbrewery, campfire and mushroom log. I have enough picnic fodder for a 950 page book which I must cram into 72 teensie pages because that’s how big this book gets to be. So here I sit … 

vintage office

 Up in the attic, thinking about roasting black raspberry marshmallows over a perky campfire. Not being good at sitting, I figured if I just had the right chair, I’d be happy to sit and write and layout. Got that 1960s chair. Then if I only could find a matching vintage typewriter (and learn to repair and maintain said vintage typewriter), well, THEN I would be able to sit and write. 

Done …..

underwood 315

 Now, wouldn’t it be handy to have just the right handwriting font in addition to the vintage typewriter type for the little book, and don’t you know you can make a font out of your very own handwriting. Which is well beyond fun.

handwriting font

 But what I want to know now is how is it that you other writers get down to business? Maybe if I just did the writing instead of every bit of the layout, art and writing but the cover, it would be less distracting …. but still. Do you get up early, walk five miles, do yoga, milk the cow, eat your homemade granola and then have 3 chapters written by 9am? How long do you sit at a stretch? Do you drink endless cups of dried orange chai tea or do you sit with a thermos of coffee by your side? How often do you check your email and the likes? It’s always fascinating to hear about how the deed gets done by people who appear to be so darned focused. 

chocolate orange popcorn recipe

Speaking of straying off task, how about a fun Valentine’s day chocolate bar leftover recipe distraction? This winter, dehydrated oranges have been visiting pretty much everything we eat and drink. 

oranges dehydrator

 They’re in jars …. to be plunked into tea and water and wine … 

Orange Crisps in jar

 They’re in powders … that find their way into chili and now chocolate orange chili popcorn which would be just dandy for an anytime picnic. 

orange powder collection

Mandarin, blood orange, finely powdered Cara Cara, Clementine

Here they are standing in for crackers on a cheese plate with a little homemade fromage blanc that’s been laced with orange booze soaked cranberries and dried orange shards. 

orange crisps and homemade fromage blanc

And don’t they look so pretty in a jar with their mulling spice buddies? Dried fresh ginger slices, Ceylon cinnamon sticks, allspice, cloves, peppercorn and maybe a star anise. To be joined with cider, red wine or tea.

mulling mix

dried orange mulling mix

 packaged mulling spices

We’ll get to the popcorn in a minute, but let’s chat about which oranges to dry first. You do need to choose thin-skinned varieties and organic is best, but hard to find. Here in the WNC mountains, we don’t have as many varieties to choose from as you would, say, in California or the southern citrus states. So far the clear dried orange winner is Clementine followed by Mandarin, then blood orange, and then Cara Cara. All these varieties will do well as “crackers” without being bitter, and as powders which you can combine with spice blends. As far as mulling spices and tea, any variety will do. Slice them thinly, place them on dehydrator trays and dry at 120º until crispy, about 8 hours or so. (You can also try your oven, turning it on and off to maintain the temp.) Now you can store the dried orange slices in a jar for all your orangey purposes.

cara cara orange slices

And then, if you want orange powder, you’ll give it a whirl in your blender and it will look kind of coarse because the oranges still contain oils and a bit of moisture. Which is fine … or you can dry further and then process again. I don’t recommend making super fine powder … there’s something not right about it. What the heck, just go ahead and experiment and get back to me. 

coarsely ground orange

And now my new favorite thing to eat while I do or don’t get down to writing business …. Chocolate orange popcorn and Mole Popcorn blends. The mole blend works well in chili as well as an all-round sprinkle. 

popcorn and spices

 The mixture of grated chocolate, cocoa powder, orange powder (or orange zest) and zippy chili pepper powder can be made by the pint jar and stored for 6 months or so at room temperature. Add a good pinch of cinnamon to the mix for a mole type of seasoning. You can salt your mixture, but I like the flexibility of cooking with it. In addition to chili, the mix has fun with iron pot barbeque pork, chicken tamales and as a corn on the cob sprinkle. 

chocolate orange popcorn bowl

Package the popcorn in waxed paper bags, glassine bags (available at craft stores), or clear plastic gift bags. Paper bags are lovely, but the grease stains, not so much. Staple a dried orange and some seasonal greenery or flowers onto to the bag, and it’s PICNIC TIME!

popcorn picnic

 popcorn recipe


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