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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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A Snow Picnic + Brown Butter Cracklin’ Cornbread Crouton Topped Celery Soup

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There’s about a one billionth of a percent chance that Asheville will see another snow event like last week’s anytime soon, but it is February, after all, and anything’s possible in these mountains. Just in case, I want you to be ready for a low-fuss wintery picnic with your adventurous friends next time you get a snow.

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Last week, we were happily home-bound due to 10 inches of snow and a very long unplowed driveway …

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The snow-topped picnic table was just hollering “PARTY TIME!!!”, so party we did on a sort of a moment’s notice. I found the makins for 2%-milk-of-celery soup, which is a good soup, by the way, for  a thermos picnic because it pours so evenly.

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Goofy St. Nik holiday breads

1 st nik and the guysIt’s beatnik Santa bread time. What started out two years ago as a wholesome gathering of friends just celebrating the German tradition of making St. Nicholas Day breads, has turned into an annual holiday doughboy mutiny.

Creating

While we appreciate the European custom of making Santa-shaped sweet breads that are gifted to children to pay tribute to the good deeds of Bishop Nicholas some 700 years ago, somehow the dough just takes on a life of its own. And the breads end up looking like mermaids, chickens, crazed angels and goofy children … no disrespect intended! They’re supposed to look sort of like this:

5 St nik

The real st nik

 But, you see, there are raisins and nuts and seeds that are meant to be used for buttons and such.

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A lantern-lit life

cabin porch

Evidently, there are a LOT of folks out there who dream of living a simple, self-sufficient life in a rustic log cabin perched on the side of an Appalachian mountain. Water from the springhouse, a lantern-lit vintage farmhouse, food foraged, farmed, & fished. For some, it’s a longing, and for others it’s a matter of being prepared for an impending cataclysm. While my cookbooks reflect a time in America’s past when we all knew how grow our food, cook it with live fire and make our own soap; my readers aren’t who recently alerted me to this rather desperate yearning that so many have for this self-dependant lifestyle. It was the 223,000 viewers that read my rocket stove post (thanks to several popular homestead/survival groups) in one day a couple of weeks ago that gave me the heads-up.

rocket stove 12

Letters continue to pour in from Africa, India, Egypt, Poland, England, Iran, Mexico and countries I’ve never even heard of with stories of cooking on similar make-do stoves and lives lived in mountain cabins & huts in far-flung lands. This has been so much fun, I can’t help but ponder the whole homestead/survival phenomena and recollect about how I wandered down this mountain road myself, so long ago.

Road to cabin

When I was 21, and still in college in Blacksburg, VA, I moved into this pre-civil war era farmhouse with my then-boyfriend. It was 1976, the back-to-the-land movement was in full swing.

farmhouse blacksburg

Springhouse down the hill, outhouse out back, an ancient wood fired cookstove in the kitchen and one other wood stove to heat (or not heat) the rest of this big old house. No rent, just get up 5am to feed the cows before class in exchange for living here. One morning it was -9 outside and a bucket of water stood frozen next to the woodstove going full-tilt in the living room. But I was in love and didn’t notice. Ok I did notice that I was not ready for the love part, but I was ready to semi-homestead on my own. So, in 1978, I found this 300 acre farm in Pilot, VA, owned by a Va Tech professor (again, the cow-feeding rent-exchange) where I could do some serious growing up. 23 years old and very much alone.

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Wood-fired roasted tomatoes for the winter larder + roasted tomato and fresh corn chowder

 1 Home Comfort Wood Cookstove

I hope you can grow tomatoes … apparently I cannot. Anymore.

tomato blight

The blight of every shape and fungal form has come knocking on our moldy door this summer due to record rainfall in Asheville. Serious record rainfall. We are not the air conditioning type, but, sadly, we have become the dehumidifier type. I can’t even talk about it right now. Anyway, I’m super grateful to be able to buy a big box of organic Roma tomatoes from a local farmer who’s smarter than I. So we’re gonna roast them for the winter cupboard or freezer. First, let’s gather our ingredients.

3 Your ingredients

You’ll need paste tomatoes, fresh herbs, garlic, coarse salt, and olive oil. And a sheet pan and parchment paper, if you have it. Lay whatever fresh herbs you have on hand in as big a layer as possible on the sheet pan. Basil stems and creepy looking leathery late summer leaves are perfect as long as they are green and not brown. Basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc. are all happy bedfellows with tomatoes and garlic.

4 Bed of fresh herbs

Cut your tomatoes in half and place them on the herbs, skin side down. Pack them in because they will shrink when you bake them.

Continue Reading →

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Make a hobo tin-can portable rocket stove + class

rocket stove 12

If adorably quirky perky BBC gardener Alys Fowler can scavenge veggies to throw in her various garden allotment  campfire contraptions, well then, so can I. My bigger garden is a bit of a walk from the house and sometimes I get a hankering to make a cup of tea or herby stew before I’m done with the day’s tasks. Any excuse for a little live-fire feasting. 

So I’ve had it on my mind to create a little portable outdoor garden kitchen get-up lately and then, lo and behold, I run smack dab into Ethel Lynn’s 1917 memoir,  The Adventures of a Woman Hobo. You wouldn’t believe her story. It turns out Ethel is a young physician with a thriving practice in San Francisco when the 1906 earthquake strikes. Her office is destroyed but she and her feller, Dan, wed and travel to Chicago to get funding for his big invention. Well. Another unfortunate strike ensues: the panic of 1907. Stocks plummet, run on banks, nobody funding inventions and they end up living in a “hovel” just about starving. As if things aren’t bad enough, in 1908, Ethel finds out she’s in the incipient (early) stage of tuberculosis and is advised to move back to California post haste. Not to be defeated, (after all, how many female physicians were there in her day), she trades her only remaining prized possession, an opera cloak, for a green tandem bicycle. With a hell of alot more “nerve and grit” than her whiney husband, Dan, she declares they’re riding the bike From Chicago to California. Which they do, with their portable “cooking stove outfit”.  Thanks to google books (link above), we can find out how the story ends while we sip on a bit of thin hobo stew that we’re going to make on our home-made tin can rocket stove. Grab your green tandem bike and let’s go!

rocket stove 1

This little stove is amazing!! Unlike your boy or girl scout version, you can boil water with a few small sticks, and the stove weighs almost nothing. The super efficient “rocket stove” was designed in the ’80s by a mechanical engineer for the alternative energy education outreach program, Aprovecho. This rocket stove link is a delight. You can buy an inexpensive version for $35 if you dare, and even better is their free pdf booklet on how to make this stove and things like a bread oven from a 55 gallon drum. Plus there’s a nifty video for making a bigger version of this stove. There are detailed instructions on how to build your own hobo tin-can rocket stove in my new book, Picnic Time, which sells for only $5.95 on Amazon or on our Native Ground website

You’ll need a few things. A gallon can with both top and bottom, a pineapple juice can, two bean-sized cans, tin snips, a hammer and something like a giant nail. And some ashes. And work gloves and maybe even something to protect your eyes. And pliers.

rocket stove 2

Stick something against the side of the can so it doesn’t get squished when you hammer the nail into the side to start a hole for your tin snips. This is make-do stove making. You’re going to stick one of the bean cans into a hole you’re going to make through both cans, so you need to draw a bean can outline for cutting on each can.

rocket stove 3

Now, you’ll need to start in the middle hole you banged with your hammer and then cut to the edges of the hole, at which point things fell apart for me. So Wayne stepped in because he writes and sings about old-time ramblers and such and that must count for something … and I’m not an expert hobo chick yet.

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So over it ….

Done. The flu, the chicken soup, the 500 rolls of tissue, all of it. New year, new toothbrush, clean sheets, kale and daily walks up the mountain behind our house.

Just in case Mr. Flu comes banging at your door, I have some advice. These cute vintage hankies don’t cut it.

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