Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Best Bread Yet

Today I baked my best loaves of natural yeast bread yet!  The yeast (sour dough start) got pretty neglected while I was on vacation, and seems to be all the better for it.  Go figure!  The dough rose wonderfully and is sweet and delicious to eat.

Meanwhile, I've really been fighting with that old white wheat I got from a friend.  One bucket had bugs in it.  An experienced (elderly) woman from church had taught me that you should blow on a bucket of wheat to check for weevils.  I've done that to every bucket I opened, and when I did it on this one, the flaky shed carcasses of bugs blew away.

I was hesitant to throw out a whole 5 gallon bucket of wheat, so I experimented with pouring the wheat back and forth between two plastic bowls while blowing a fan on it.  The shed skins and a couple of dead bugs were blown out or stuck to the bowls, and the resulting wheat seemed clean.  I ground it and used it to make waffles.  Then I started worrying about it.  I had heard that sailors used to eat weevils all the time and you could eat them, but what if I was wrong?  What if there was toxic residue in the wheat?

I did a lot of research on weevils, and got pretty grossed out.  No, they're not toxic, but they do lay their eggs inside the kernels of wheat, so it might look clean and be full of weevil larvae.  You can tell by putting the wheat in water, I read.  If the kernels float, they have larvae in them.  I tried it.

The wheat all sank.  "Pfew!" I thought.  But then it started to bug me that the information on weevils didn't match my bugs at all.  I did a bunch more research.  I think I actually had carpet beetles.  I couldn't find out anything on whether or not they are poisonous, but it didn't really matter.  My grossed-out-edness had surpassed my frugality.  The wheat was thrown away!

I inteded to keep using the non-infested wheat to bake quick breads, pancakes and waffles, but now I have an additional problem.  My Golden Grain wheat grinder keeps gumming up when I try to grind it.  I had to clean the grinding stones 3 times by grinding first popcorn and then rice on a very course setting.  (I switched to rice because it is cheaper!)  I think the old wheat is moist, after being in a cracked bucket in Virginia for so long.  I'm pondering putting it in the dehydrator before grinding, or grinding it half and half with good wheat.  If anyone out there has a suggestion, I could use it!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cub Scout Scripture Bag

I've been so excited to show off the scripture bag I sewed for my son.  He absolutely loves being a cub scout, and when he wore out the knees of a pair of (expensive) cub scout pants, I had a hard time throwing them away.  Those cargo pockets are just so cool...


So when he got his own set of scriptures for his baptism, inspiration struck.  There was just enough space before the blown out knees to cut side panels for the case.  I curved the corners a bit when I cut.

I loved the wolf logo on the coin pocket, so I picked it off the pants and hand sewed it onto the plainer pocket.

I searched for the right zippers and didn't find what I wanted.  I had settled for using two zippers (because I couldn't buy a double-pull zipper that opened in the middle).  When I started cutting, I looked at the pants and realized that the perfect zippers were already there on the zip off legs!

I used strips from the bottom of the legs to make the parts that attached to the zippers.  I couldn't get long enough pieces from the pants, so there are random joins.  Then I cut out a rectangle for the bottom of the bag.  Before sewing, I interfaced all the pieces to stabilize the weaker points.  Then I took my friend's advice and decided to line the whole thing, adding pockets on the inside.

The first step in sewing was to sew the zippers to the strips and lining, then turn it right-side out and top-stitch.  After doing each side of the zipper, I zipped it all together and stay stitched the ends of the zipper and cut off the excess.

Next I enclosed the ends of this long strip by sewing them between rectangles of pant material and lining (forming the bottom of the bag).  I had to fold it up a bunch to do the second edge, but it came out very nice.  I top stitched those seams as well.

Before sewing the sides to this "circle", I basted the lining to the side pieces. Then I basted on handles of webbing.  I then pinned like crazy to make sure the zipper circle fit the sides and sewed it all together.  I could have finished the inside seams with bias tape or something similar, but instead I chose to do two lines of top stitching through the seam allowances, and then cut the seam allowances very close to the stitching.  It's not perfect, but it will hold just fine.

Personally, I love how it turned out.  I figure you could do this with any cargo pants if you don't have an old pair of cub scout pants laying around!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Natural Yeast and trying to Make Great Bread

A couple of years ago (or longer) my sister and I shared with each other our mutual desire to be able to make really good bread.  I had just checked out "Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day" from my local library.

Since then I've made quite a bit of bread off and on, some of it good, but little of it great.  My tried and true simple basic whole-wheat bread recipe suddenly didn't work with the same proportions of water to flour.  Then my loaves would crack on the sides.  Sometimes the loaves were too dense.

Then I moved to Virginia, which changed my humidity dramatically and my altitude by almost 5000 ft.  Everything in baking changed again.

I finally decided I need to get more educated if I wanted to bake more consistently.  I stumbled across the book "The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast", and was almost instantly won over by the health benefits of baking with a natural yeast (or sour dough) start.  Of course this started my baking journey all over again before I'd even mastered it with active dry yeast.  From this book, I also learned about "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book", full of even more information on whole grain baking.

Meanwhile, I saw my sister at Thanksgiving, and she baked the most delicious loaf of artisan bread.  Really wonderful stuff.  Way to go Sis!

A couple of months ago, I got some wheat from a friend who was moving out of state.  About 15 buckets of white wheat.  I started using the wheat to make flour, and my new natural yeast to make bread at about the same time.  I've made at least 5 batches of bread that really flopped.  At the same time, I was reading much more about bread making, and had a bunch more possibilities to consider that could make my bread not rise well.  What the natural yeast start not healthy? Was the dough too dry?  Did I use chlorinated water? Did I over-knead the dough in my mixer?

It took me forever to realize the obvious; my "new" wheat was old, and although it was supposed to be hard white wheat, and should have had plenty of gluten to make good bread, it didn't.  It made delicious muffins and pancakes and waffles, but very poor bread.

I finally got out some of my "old" red wheat, and Yippee!  I finally made some bread that rose!

It still has lots of recognizable problems (it's over-baked, cracked on the side, and a little bit of white-cap.  But it was delicious!

After all this, I'm hoping to talk one of my kids into doing a science fair project on the gluten content of different flours.  One guy on the internet even makes a balloon out of gluten!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Career Day

This week I presented at career day at my daughter's school.

I'd heard about Abby who decided to submit her name for career day at her daughter's school last year.   She blogged about it, and said what a great experience it was.  When I heard the story, I said to my husband, "I want to do that!"  But when the form for career day came home, I chickened out and put it in my husband's pile.

But he remembered!  He made a photocopy and submitted a form for both of us, listing my career as "Homemaker".  I've been excited and terrified ever since, even though the school was awesome and welcoming to me.  I somehow felt like I was bucking the system, which always makes me uncomfortable.

But the day came, and I had a GREAT time!  The kids were fun and supportive, and I never ran out of things to say.  I was talking to 3-6th graders, so after introducing myself, I gave a tiny history of the women at home and in the workplace, and told them I feel lucky about the amount of choice I have in what I could do.  We talked a lot about how many roles a homemaker fills, and how I've had to keep learning to know how to do everything I need to, even though I already had my engineering degree.  I told them the most important thing I learned in school is How To Learn.

I had the kids list skills they thought a mother needed on the board.  (One girls shot her hand up and said, "Distracting the kids so that you can get something done!"  I laughed all day about that one.)  Then I put up a poster of all the roles my kids had helped me think of that I do.  Here's the list:

House Cleaner
Alarm Clock
Party Planner
Pet Groomer
Personal Shopper
Fashion Consultant
Tax Preparer
Motivational Speaker
Personal Assistant
Story Teller
Auto Mechanic
Scout Leader
Music Teacher
Political Activist
Computer Tech

Then we talked about organizing your time to fit it all in, and I did the time management demo where you fill a jar with big medium and little tasks (I used a 1 qt jar, ping pong balls, marbles, and wheat).  To get them all to fit, you have to put the big ones in first.  I talked to them about how in real life the big tasks weren't just the ones that take the longest, but might be the ones that are just more important, like being there to listen to a child that's had a traumatic day.  

We also talked about how a lot of what I do is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge.  As soon as you're finished, you have to start over.  But the tedious parts are what we endure to have the good stuff.

I ended by telling them that I think the family is the most important unit to keeping a stable society and country, and that I get to help by doing my best with my family.  I ended by saying, "I love my job."

Friday, March 20, 2015

Stress Relief and Happiness

Here's one more article that shows how knitting and doing other fiber arts reduces stress. I like this quote:

 "Textile handcraft making was associated with the greatest mood repair, increases in positive, decreases in negative mood," she tells KNAU. "People who were given the task to make something actually had less of an inflammatory response in the face of a ‘stressor’."

 I think there is something about "creating" that brings joy. There is not only satisfaction, but a deeper happiness that comes with making something that wasn't there before.

 I once read Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series, and that was a theme in the books that I appreciated.   Whenever they wanted to drive away the enemy, the simplest act of creation would work.