January 25, 2013

Becky's First Quilt

Becky started this quilt when her good friend Sandra was pregnant with her second child, intending to give the quilt to the new baby. That little girl is now three years old, and the quilt is complete!

This was the first quilt made in our household, so there was a learning curve to traverse. It is also challenging to find time to push forward projects like this with three little kids in the house, especially if you have to figure things out as you are working as opposed to just cranking thought something you know how to do already.

January 20, 2013

Cornbread from home ground cornmeal

We have enjoyed delicious chili cooked by Becky a few times in the last month, for which I have prepared cornbread. I've made a number of recipes, and its clear that people's tastes vary widely for this food. I like my cornbread to be hearty, but not overly dense, a little sweet but not that sweet, and with a strong corn flavor.

I've had good results using a 2/3 corn 1/3 whole wheat flour ratio for the grains, with 1/2 the corn being regular cornmeal and 1/2 being coarse ground polenta from Wild Hive Farm. But I had read online (I think it was on thefreshloaf.com) that freshly ground corn is much more flavorful, and I wanted to experience this.

The kids and I dredged up my C.S. Bell Company #2 grist mill and freshened it up, as detailed in this post, then ground ourselves some corn. The corn itself was purchased in a 2.2kg sack from Wild Hive.

Vintage C.S. Bell Company #2 Hand Grist Mill

I've recently been thinking about a home grist mill solution. Becky's mistaken purchase of whole einkorn made me think of it first, and baking cornbread made me think of it again. I read online (and everything you read on the internet is true right?) that freshly ground corn has a much stronger flavor than the dessicated and lifeless cornmeal purchased from the grocery store. Long ago I had bought the book Flour Power, by Marleeta Basey , which deals with the benefits and mechanics of home grain milling. The highly rated mills were expensive though, and so it fell away from my thoughts and the book went on the shelf.

Years ago I bought a C.S. Bell Company #2 grinder, originally with the plan of using it to mill nixtamalized corn for tamales. This mill is representative of state of the art cast iron technology for small farmstead use circa a century ago. The burrs are cast iron and not at all precision or particularly sharp, and the fixturing and adjustment system is very basic. The C.S. Bell Company has been around since 1858, and in fact still makes a new #2 grist mill which looks nearly identical to the antique one I have.

The mill was a complete fail on grinding wet corn, but it was great for another application I had at the time which was lightly milling roasted malt for all grain brewing. It churned its way through roughly 50kg of malt for quite a few batches of beer, then went to the basement and fell into disuse when my first daughter arrived and I couldn't find the time for beer brewing.

I recalled the C.S. Bell #2 in the basement though and thought I would give it a try on corn for cornbread. I've been enjoying cornbread with a range of particle sizes in the corn meal, by using half coarse ground and half medium ground corn. My experience of the #2 was that is was not effective at making flour suitable for baking what we think of as normal bread, but it was great at producing output with a wide distribution of particle sizes. So I ordered a 2.2kg sack of corn from Wild Hive Farm in upstate NY, dragged the grinder up from the basement, and the girls and I set to work waking it from its slumber and getting into shape to work once more.

January 17, 2013

Vintage Boston Ranger 55 Pencil Sharpener

Who will sharpen the sharpener? The answer in this case is me!

We are heavy pencil users at my house, and the kids have a big bin of colored and regular pencils which are in daily use. Regular pencils for drawing and workbooks, colored pencils for drawing and coloring. Until recently we have been using the little single blade style handheld sharpeners. These, however, seem to dully quickly and henceforth do a disappointing job of pointing your pencil. Of course you can just get a new one every month or so, but that seems sub-optimal. 

I recalled from my youth the simplicity and effectiveness of a handcranked desk or wall mounted pencil sharpener, and started cruising ebay. There are some cool vintage pencil sharpeners out there, but I was a bit concerned about an antique being too dull to actually be very functional. Eventually I decided to give a Boston Ranger 55 a try. The vintage ones are not as cheap as I had expected they would be! It arrived looking good and feeling solid, but performing poorly. What to do?

January 5, 2013

Wrap up for 2012, Outlook for 2013

2012 was an excellent year. Everyone in our house was healthy and happy for the most part, and our lives progressed in a satisfactory direction. 

As far as goals and accomplishments go it can also be counted as a success. At the beginning of the year, I posted some 2012 new year's resolutions to this blog. Here is how we performed on these points, plus some additional items of note, and finally thoughts on the year ahead.

January 3, 2013

Enterprise #10 antique meat grinder

Something like a month ago I was making my usual sprouted einkorn sandwich bread, when my KitchenAid popped a tooth in the attachment gearbox whilst grinding up the sprouted grain. I resolved to get a better food grinder, and thought the amount of power input required and frequency of use at our house would make a human powered machine attractive. Turns out there are plenty of rusty old hand cranked meat grinders on ebay for pretty cheap! I rejuvenated this one and put it to use.

January 1, 2013

Christmas Cookies

My sister Annesly, Becky, and the kids went to my aunt Susan's house the week before last to make christmas cookies. I had to work unfortunately! Looks like they had a nice time though.