Wednesday, March 30, 2011

DIY tins

DIY tins
Little tins are so useful! You can put your dried citrus peel in them, or tea, or many things! And there are lots of ways to come by them without spending a lot of money. Here are a few ideas:

Make your own:
"Make" a tin
Reuse empty packages, like this baking powder tin. All you have to do is glue some cute paper to the outside of the tin. (Hint: Lots of packages have very shiny or coated paper on them and glue won't stick well to it. So use a medium to light sandpaper and rough the surface up a bit first. Then use a very thin layer of white glue, spread it out with your finger or a clean paint brush and stick the paper down!)

Reuse a tin
Clean up a tin
Tea and other products sometimes come in really nice tins. Reuse them! Unfortunately, they often have yucky, ugly glue even after you tear the label off. With a little elbow grease, you can usually get if off though. Rubbing alcohol or fingernail polish remover can help. (Be careful though, it sometimes takes paint or color off too, like the red on this tin's lid.) Heat tools too can help. I used mine on the side of this tin to melt away those big globs of glue.

Buy empty ones
Tin from Specialty Bottle
It's possible to find nice tins at very good prices, like this one I bought from Specialty Bottle for $1.08. This is a great solution if you need a lot, say for gifts.

No matter where they come from, put a cute label on them and you've got great, personalized storage!

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Wondermill Junior Deluxe Hand Grain Mill

Wren and her new grain mill
I've been wanting a grain mill for a while and this week my husband Jay bought me one: the Wondermill Junior Deluxe Hand Grain Mill. I love it! I've already set it up and, quite literally, given it a whirl.

Some specifics: It's very sturdy, with all metal working parts. It's got a heavy duty clamp to attach it temporarily to a table, or you can screw it down permanently. It comes with stone wheels, or burrs as they're called, for grinding grains, as well as stainless steel burrs, for grinding oilier things, like nuts. (Make you own peanut butter!)

After the easy set up, you pour grain in the hopper and set the tension for a course or fine grind. And you're off!

You're off, yes indeed. Some would say off your rocker. I mean I'll be honest, it's work. I had to take off my sweater after a minute. I had to switch arms several times. Just think about the size of windmill or a watermill. That's the kind of force people have harnessed throughout history to grind grain. And home grain mills do come in electric varieties. Why would Jay buy me this one?

He knows me, that's why.

See, even though it's work grinding the flour, for me, there's something pleasant and rewarding about it too. There's the feeling that you're earning the Faux-Reos that you're going to bake with that whole wheat. But there's also the feeling that you're earning a greater understanding of food and of what goes in your body.

Here's an example: I tried grinding both hard winter wheat and spelt. Before this, all I knew about spelt is that it's a variety more tolerable to those with wheat allergies. But now I've felt it. (So much softer than the winter wheat!) I've smelled it. It's like someone who up till now had only read that a flower is the reproductive part of a plant. And then they stroke a petal and inhale the perfume. Ahhh.... OK.... Now I know what spelt is.

And speaking of perfume, freshly ground flour has a smell. Flour? A smell? Yea. It's amazing. It's fresh. It's nutty. It smells like something you definitely want to eat!

Having said all this, there will be adjustments. The waffles I made this morning with the hand-ground wheat were so soft they were impossible to get on the plate in one piece. (I think I now need to reduce the butter in the recipe.) But they were delicious. There was that nuttiness again.

Yes, that nuttiness again. I know in this day and age when most people barely bother to slice up frozen cookie dough, it's insane to hand grind your own flour. Oh well. It may be loony but it sure tastes good.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spring Reminders

The bird

There was a bird in the basement this morning.

It was a sparrow. It didn't seem hurt or sick; it was just a normal little sparrow. When I approached, it flitted from the floor to the sink to the top of a shelf.

"Why are you here, little bird? It's beautiful weather outside. Spring's coming!" I opened the door to garden and went back upstairs, closing the basement door behind me. When I went back down an hour later, it was gone.

I wondered how long it had been down there. How hungry was it? Or thirsty?

That made me think of my ceramic birdbath, which I store under the porch over the winter. I dragged it out, washed it and filled it with water.

As I turned around, there was another bird. Not the little sparrow, but a robin. It was in the bed where the garlic is just starting to peek up and it was eyeing me, curiously.

I wondered what it was thinking. "Why are you here, little lady? You've got a nice basement in there. And laundry's piling up!"

No, probably not. But I should throw a load in anyway.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My new, old house

My house
The envelope was addressed to "Occupant." It was from California. I know no one in California.

I was in a bad mood. I'd dealt with annoying, stupid things at work all day. And now this.

I opened it suspiciously but as the contents slipped out, my mood changed completely. There was a picture of my house. Well, it was my house, but not quite. There was no front door. No stoop. No neighbors. Not even a road. It was my house, when it was still being built, back in the 1940s.

There was a letter too. It was from the man who'd lived here as a boy. He'd been going through old photos and thought maybe whoever lived here would be interested.

Interested? Uh, just a little! Over the next weeks and months, I emailed the man repeatedly, begging for more photos, asking questions about the house. I love old houses in general and mine in particular. I think they have stories, secrets, souls. And here was my chance to discover a few.

That was several years ago. I recently got those photos out and looked at them. I love them beyond words. My house is so familiar to me. It's so much a part of me. And seeing this makes me feel that I'm seeing a part of my own history—a part of me that I was vaguely aware of but had no way of exploring. I feel that I'm really there. It's decades before I was born of course, but I'm there, in the beginning. And at the same time, I'm here now. Thanks to this incredibly generous stranger, the story of my house is so much clearer now. It had a happy beginning. And it has a happy present. And, if I have anything to say about it, it will have a happy future.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cookbook review

Wren with cake

These cold rainy days we've been having are perfect for baking and one of my favorite cookbooks is King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking book. It's packed with tons of delicious recipes, like this Lemon Poppyseed Bread I just made. Other favorites include: Banana Crunch Cake, Parmesan-Pine Nut Biscuits, Cornmeal-Maple Biscuits, Lemon Barley Scones, Whole Wheat Pretzels, Chocolate Graham Crackers, Cranberry-Apricot Chocolate Chews, and Molasses-Rye Snaps. And I haven't even started on the sections about pastry, or yeast breads. There's a huge chapter on sour dough too.

The tone of the writing is friendly and ingredients are listed both by volume and by weight to help you get even better results. There's lots of information about flour and ingredients but never does it feel like an advertisement for King Arthur's products. I also appreciate what a wide range of grains are included and how they talk about substituting whole grains into other recipes you love.

Each recipe gives nutritional information and while there aren't many pictures, there are lots of drawings and side bars with information on techniques. The layout and typeface are clean and easy to read, with almost all of the recipes contained on one page spread. Overall, it's just a nice, well-thought out cookbook with delicious and easy recipes. What more could you ask for?

Glazed and ready to eat!
Mmmm. All glazed and ready to eat!