December 11, 2012

Halloween 2012

Just getting around to catching up with this post now. We had a pleasant halloween this year, with jack-o-lanterns, mostly home made costumes, and trick-or-treating.

Millie wanted to be a ghost, so I spent a few hours putting together a ghost costume from her, which I sewed up on the W&W No.9 from an old damask duvet cover that was in the scrap pile. This was a very loose fitting outfit by design, so I just marked out a shape on the fabric directly. I made a quick sleeve pattern after measuring the armscye perimeter on the sewn up main section. Time was short and it was only a costume, so I didn't finish all the seams or adjust the fit.

The hood ended up being a little tight, but wearable. The eyeholes are cut out with embroidery scissors and overcast by hand. Millie was pretty happy with it, though predictably there were some issues with keeping the eyeholes aligned to the eyes.

Violet conceived of her costume while wearing a paper bag on her head some weeks before halloween: "Recycling Girl". I helped her make a sort of dress from a box and packing tape, plus a little paper bag helmet.

The Sunday before halloween, we walked down to Somerville Ave. for a festival put on by the city. But it was raining and deserted.

Becky's friend Kelly loaned Child 1 an adorable lion costume.


The girls had fun scooping out the pumpkins and carving faces, and we all enjoyed eating the roasted seeds.

Roasted Pumpkin or Squash Seeds:
  • Try to minimize pulp on the seeds, and put them in an oversize bowl
  • Fill bowl with water and massage seeds to clean them off
  • Separate seeds from pulpy bits, transfer to another bowl
  • Repeat washing cycle
  • Take skimmed seeds out of second wash bowl and make a monolayer or sparsely coated layer on an oiled cookie sheet or cake pan
  • Season with salt, garlic powder, and paprika
  • Roast at 175C (350F) for 10 minutes, scrape and turn with a spatula, then return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes until the seeds are clearly roasty brown. If they start to get too dark or black, take them out early

 On halloween night, we joined our neighbors the Zuccas to trick or treat the neighborhood.

December 6, 2012

Girl's dress shirt for Violet's Revels show

Violet has been participating in a homeschoolers singing group called Revels, which she has really enjoyed. Last Tuesday they gave a short recital which was wonderful to watch. She needed a white shirt to wear for the show, and didn't have one. So I whipped one up on Sunday and Monday. Violet was very excited about it: "Dad, look it has cuffs and a collar! So fancy!".

Violet and Millie's Birthday Party

This year for Violet and Millie's birthdays, which are only separated by a month, we had a combined party. They share many of the same friends, and it's a lot of work to host! Given the date of mid-October, and coming the weekend after we went apple picking, we settled upon an apple themed party. We made apple theme cakes, two apple pinatas, served apple cider (sweet and hot, or hard and cold), and had some apple based games for the kids to play. The above is a box Becky painted for the 'Toss the Apple' game.

November 29, 2012

Man Doll for Buster

I've made some Purl Girls from Mimi Kirchner's wonderful pattern, but I wanted to develop a man doll to gift to little boys, such as my 1.5yr old son Combustion. I adapted the Purl Girl pattern, which unsurprisingly leads to a doll which is much like Mimi's style but less skillfully executed.

I think this guy turned out pretty cute though, and I'll be making some changes to the pattern and hopefully making a few more for my nephews.

November 28, 2012

Apple themed birthday cakes

For Violet and Millie's birthday party, we baked two cakes with apple decorations on top. Both were two tier, 8 layers total with filling between layers, frosted with swiss meringue buttercream and decorated with colored fondant cutouts.

November 21, 2012

First decent French Bread

Some years ago, I wanted to start baking bread. So I got myself a copy of Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhardt, and began trying to bake some french bread. I did not meet with great success.

Having baked quite a bit of bread and having more skill and experience now, I thought I would give it another try. Two weeks ago I did so, and the bread was great!

November 19, 2012

Mini Harvest - Fall 2012

About a month ago we dug up the potatoes and beets we planted this year, and cut down the basil plants. More recently, we turned over our garden bed and planted some garlic.

October 31, 2012

8th Annual Cidering

The weekend before last, I took the two girls to Maine for the 8th instalment of our fall cider making get together with Ben Polito and a cast of other characters. We had a nice time, despite rain on Saturday. 1000+kg of apples were processed into 750L of cider using our custom built bicycle powered cider machines. Ben's blog has the definitive writeup of the weekend.

October 26, 2012

Apple Pie and Pie Preparation Strategy

I am a particular lover of pie, and apple pie is my personal favorite. Apple season in New England is a wonderful thing, and I like to take full advantage of it by prepping a stack of pie fillings with fresh in season fruit, then freezing the filling for later use.

October 25, 2012

Home cured pancetta

Since Becky took our family's diet away from Vegan and straight to Paleo, I became interested in possibly trying out some home meat curing. I read Charcuterie, by Ruhlman and Polcyn, and hit some of the great web resources for meat curing like Jason Molinari's Cured Meats blog. My first effort was turning a big piece of pork belly into pancetta. It turned out nicely!

October 24, 2012

Apple Sauce - 2012

Here is the ingredients list of what I like to put in my apple sauce:  APPLES. That is it. It is my feeling that with the right variety of apple, sourced fresh and in season from a local orchard, apple sauce needs nothing else to be optimally delicious. The other year I happened to taste some commercial apple sauce someone had brought to work, purchased at Whole Foods. It tasted like insipid mush one might find in a paper factory compared to quality homemade sauce.

My favorite apple to use for sauce is a good old MacIntosh. This apple has a number of aspects to recommend it for use in this application.
  • It has a respectable endowment of sweet, tart, and apple flavor
  • It is probably the #1 by volume variety grown around here, so supply is a bit stronger than demand and consequently it is fairly cheap
  •  Macs are in season in September, which is earlier than most of my favorite apples. This means I either need to go picking twice, or buy them from the farmer's market. But in a way that is ok, since it gives me time to make sauce before the most intense part of the fall schedule commences (cider making, halloween, birthday parties for the girls, etc.)
  •  The worst thing about Macs is probably that they have a rather mushy texture, especially after a few days from picking, and thinnish skins. This is however a benefit for sauce making since the Macs cook down quickly and beautifully and run through the food mill easily
This year, I ordered one bushel (~19kg) of Macs from Nicewicz Farm and picked them up from the Union Square farmer's market. I also picked about a liter of cherry sized crabapples off an ornamental tree along the bike path on the way home from work one day.

These have quite a bit of bitterness from tannins and tartness from high acid. Of course they are not really suitable for eating fresh, but I thought they would add to the flavor of the sauce. I can imagine the sauce is slightly more interesting, but its probably my imagination since at ~3% by volume its hard to see them having more than a symbolic impact.

Last year I did three bushels, which made about 50 liters of sauce, and actually we just finished the last jar the weekend I bought the apples for the new sauce. But we have not been eating as much apple sauce lately, and I was feeling rather busy so I went small this year.

First, Violet and Millie helped me give the apples a quick wash in water.

Child 1 helped out by eating some apples.

Next we cut them up and loaded them into pots. A cup or so of water was added to each pot to help initiate heat transfer, and they were cooked down for 1-2 hours.

I borrowed a fantastic hand cranked food mill called a Squeezo from Jim Serdy, a colleague at work, for the third year in a row. It has a hopper feeding a tapered extrusion screw, which jams the food into a conical screen. Whatever food can exit the pores of the screen does so, and the leftovers plop out the end.

The process using the mill is to cook down the apples complete with skins, seeds, and stems, then run the sauce through the mill to separate the waste material. Previously I had peeled and cored all the apples, then cooked them down into the final sauce. The mill process is faster and easier by far.

The girls enjoyed cranking the mill and feeding the hopper with a big ladle from the pots full of cooked down apples.

After separation with the mill, we cooked the sauce on the stove some more to prepare it for canning. This year I readied my canning jars in the dishwasher rather than boiling them in the canning kettle. I think this saved some time but it wasn't a huge difference. I mostly did the canning myself since there wasn't much the kids could help with. The apples in the background are about to get turned into pie filling...

We are now enjoying this year's sauce!

October 10, 2012

Apple Picking - Fall 2012

Last Sunday we spent a lovely fall afternoon at Red Apple Farm, in Philipston, MA. We had a tasty BBQ lunch, chose pumpkins for halloween, picked about 100kg of apples, and generally enjoyed the New England countryside during its best season.

Red Apple Farm is our go to place for the yearly family apple picking outing. They are about 80 minutes drive from our house, so they are generally less crowded than places closer to the city. This year had a number of late frosts, which wiped out the apple crop in some locations, so I've heard several people say they tried to go picking and found their chosen orchard was out of apples. Fortunately this was not the case at RAF.

Red Apple has a pretty good selection of apples. Not much in the way of specialty cider varieties, but they have a decent number of Roxbury and Golden Russets.

Russets are some of my personal favorites as they are great to eat out of hand, keep reasonably, make an excellent pie, and are some of the few types of apple which make a good single variety hard cider. The Russets also look a bit mangy due to their rough brown skin, so they are not as popular with the pick-your-own crowd and as a consequence are often very thick on the trees. I rather like the russetted skin; it kind of grips your skin when you are handling the apples, and it provides and interesting texture in your mouth.

We picked 10 overful bags altogether, each about 10kg of fruit. We got about one bag of Mutsu, one Rhode Island Greening, one Yellow Delicious, a few odd Arkansas Black, and the rest Golden Russet. The back of our xB was pretty much packed solid with apples. Here they are unloaded into the basement to await being made into pie filling and cider and for fresh eating.

I try to eat 4 or 5 apples a day for a couple weeks after our picking expeditions.

RAF also has hay rides, goats you can feed, rabbits, a toddler play area, pony rides, cider donuts, etc., in other words the full fall farm festival.

After we had secured our pumpkins and apples, we took a walk around some of their fields.

 We found some small trees which appeared to be chestnuts, not sure what kind though.

The girls also had a ton of fun playing on a log pile for quite a long time, and were only extracted by the onset of an afternoon thunderstorm.

So it was a great year for the apple picking trip. Both Child 1 and Millie were stung by yellowjackets, but even this couldn't put a lasting damper on the trip.

October 8, 2012

Purl Girls

I made a Purl Girl for Analeise, my friend Carrie Whitter's daughter. I did most of the work in short intervals during a recent visit we made to California to see some of my family, and was motivated to finish the doll by the firm deadline of seeing Carrie and Analiese on a jaunt to my childhood home of Tehachapi.

For quite a while I've admired the work of the artist that designed the doll. Her name is Mimi Kirchner, and she lives in the next town over
from us, Arlington. Her blog is at:
She periodically offers doll making workshops; I would love to someday attend one!

A while back she donated a pattern and instructions for this doll as part of a collaboration with Purl SoHo in NYC. She is called Purl Girl, and you can find the instructions and pattern here, and a Flickr stream with people's completed dolls here.

The first one, which I made for Violet, took a lot of time since I had to read the instructions carefully and figure out how to do things. I am also not that skilled at hand work, but I do want to get better and these dolls make excellent if not particularly demanding practice.

The second one, which was for Millie, went much faster. And the one I did for Analiese went faster still (partially because I wasn't being as meticulous with the stitching and used only one thread color for assembly, in order to finish morequickly). This last one probably took 8-10 hours total, done in chunks between 15 minutes and a few hours.

I was very pleased with how the two I did for my daughters came out! A big thank you to Mimi Kirchner, and to Purl SoHo!

I wish I could whip out awesomely cute doll designs, but for now I'm glad to have the opportunity to make Mimi's dolls occasionally as presents. I do hope to sew a boy doll for Child 1, though the design I've started is shamelessly reminiscent of Mimi's style. She makes some really nice man dolls, including some tatoo'd old fashioned carnival guys who are brilliant.

If you want to start making a Purl Girl, make sure to use the highest quality wool felt. I used lower quality felt on some parts of my daughters' dolls and these parts totally fell apart over two years of play.

The high quality felt parts are in much better shape. I got the better felt from here:
The felt sold on the Purl Soho site also looks good, I might order
some from there next time.

September 24, 2012

First two razors finished and in Use

My first two razors were heat treated by Mike Blue in short order and returned to me with a stately heat induced blue/black finish. I've completed the finish work on them, and have been shaving with them for about 6 weeks full time.

September 17, 2012

Sprouted Einkorn Bread

Becky has lately been excited about paleo and Atkins type diets, both of which involve low or no grain eating. I have not been able to motivate myself to get on board though, so I have continued baking essentially all the bread we eat. However I only bake bread about once or twice a month now since the household doesn't eat much of it; its main use is for me to eat sprout sandwiches for breakfast at work.

Becky read about ancient wheat, and how it has lower gluten content than modern wheat. Concerned about my health, she bought a sack of einkorn from a Massachusetts grower for me to try out. Somehow she bought whole grains though, instead of flour, so I am working on how to use it.

August 1, 2012


I have always loved to eat pies, and in my opinion there is really nothing that can best a well done home made pie. It seems a simple food, and indeed is possessed of a far more rustic appearance and flavor than a fancy cake, but an excellent pie demands a significant amount of time, loving effort, and basic skill to execute. Cake presents a refined product of sugar, dairy, kitchen chemistry, aesthetic whimsy, and strict adherence to a prescribed process. Pie on the other hand is a celebration of fruit, complemented and enhanced by its raiment of basic pastry, and involves relatively more art in the technique of preparation.

In this post I'll provide a snapshot of my current state of the art on fruit pie making, as of late July 2012. These two pies were made to bring to a summer party for my office, graciously hosted by the Sachs family at their beach cottage in Westport, MA. They turned out nicely, and were well received by the guests.