Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Grain of Truth

I wake up to cool, cloudy and wet. And very stiff hands. It takes a few minutes of finger wiggling to get them to move as I need them to. Fall is definitely here with it's incumbent low pressure systems. As I let the dogs out into their pen, I notice it has rained during the night, or perhaps just a short while ago as the trees are still dripping - a lot. Right now the sun breaks through, and there is patchy blue sky. That's promising.

Bichon's are funny dogs, or perhaps I should say they are odd. Make that O.D.D. They are descended from a Mediterranean dog called the Barbet, or Water Spaniel. Now, the name "Water Spaniel" connotes something that would like water, yes? No. At least, not these guys. The least little bit of water on the grass causes them to walk on tip toe and try not to touch where it is wet. And rain, oh forget it. First in line at the door sticks a paw out, feels a raindrop, and that's it. They all turn right around and decide amongst themselves that today's the day to use the indoor potty room. Yes I said indoor potty room. Don't ask. But today at least, because the grass in their yard is still quite short, they mosey out.

After my cappuccino is drunk and my eyes are open and both focusing, we make our way to the garden yard. The grass is longer here, so only 2 of the 5 who came with me make it to the garden boat. Our tarps have done their job and the tomatoes are warm and dry. I decide to roll up the beach mats & shower curtain as far as I can so that the sun can warm them more.

Despite the rain and cooler temperatures, we are in no hurry to return indoors. I hear a Northern Flicker call from down on the creek and the Canada Geese fly over, heading for the feeding grounds of the sanctuary across the canal. Soon the Muttering Murder of Crows mutters past, heading for who knows what mischief. A brilliant sapphire blue Stellars Jay squawks at us from the Holly trees and I can hear the sounds of the Towhees scratching for bugs under the leaves in the bushes on the driveway. When we first moved here, the Towhees used to startle me if I was outdoors with their scratching; it sounds just like the footsteps of someone walking on leaves.

Time to go indoors and do something with the day. I want to bake something, maybe more tiny pies. Of course I want to make some bread too. And I want to try grinding some grain into flour. I have read all the instructions for that, several times and will have the booklet right to hand when I do. There. That is what I will do, I will grind some grain and make some bread with the flour. I have a plan. What could possibly go wrong?...

...and for once, not much did. I decide on grinding some Spelt flour, as it is one of my favorites. I have mentioned it before, commenting on it being an ancient grain and a precursor to our modern wheat. It is sweet tasting and easier for my system to tolerate than regular whole wheat.

I cannot work in a messy kitchen so before I begin, I always ensure it is tidy. Today is no exception.
I gather my tools and the grain. Following the instruction booklet closely, I assemble the grain mill - it is always stored disassembled - tighten the bolts that hold the grind worm drive in place to finger tight and attach it to the front of my Kitchenaid Stand Mixer. The goes smoothly. I put my jar funnel into the hopper, to facilitate pouring in the grain, and screw the accompanying jar to the bottom of the hopper, to collect the milled flour. So far, so good.

The booklet says to turn adjustment knob clockwise until tight, then turn knob back one click. Check. If grind is too fine, turn adjustment knob counterclockwise until desired grind is achieved. Click, click, counterclockwise, check. Think I have it where I would want it. Booklet also says to operate on speed 6. Speed 6, check. And I begin...

...of course it makes a racket, that is to be expected. The flour begins sifting down into the jar. My first home ground flour. Cool! I am watching it carefully, good thing, because I notice one side of the front plate begins to vibrate. I re-tighten the bolts again. And again in a few minutes. As it begins to vibrate loose, the grind gets more coarse, resulting in a "cracked" grain instead of a flour. The vibration of the machine is loosening the bolts ever few minutes and I can't tighten them any tighter by hand, so end up just holding them as secure as I can.

I want to photograph this so hobble out to the living room for my camera and hobble back. And just that quickly the bolts have loosened again and I have 1/2 inch of coarse cracked spelt in the jar. I make a scrunchy face and turn off the machine. Hmmmmm.

Out to the pantry I go with the jar, retrieve a fine strainer, and sift out the flour from the coarsely cracked grain. With jar reattached to the machine, I can start again and rapidly shoot my photo's. That done, I use both hands to hold the front plate in place. It does take a while, but the result is 1 & 1/2 cups of freshly ground flour. Now I HAVE to make a small loaf of bread.

Most of my bread books have recipes too large for what I want to make, so I choose one at random and cut it in half - the recipe, not the book. I also choose to use my smaller bread machine to mix it up in. You remember that machine? The one with the incomprehensible instruction book? Yeah, that one.

The dough looks lovely once it is mixed up and rising. Can't wait to bake it. I turn and survey the kitchen. Why is it that I can start out in a clean kitchen and end up, shortly thereafter in a disaster zone? Sighing, I begin to set it to rights while the dough keeps rising.

An hour later the dough is finished its first rise. I choose to divide it in half and make two small loaves rather than one larger one and soon have it in pans. Looks rather dwarfed by the pans, maybe I should have picked smaller ones. Oh well, we'll see when it is time to bake. Will probably end up with two short, squat loaves, but it will give us a taste of home ground flour anyway.

Now it's in the oven and the sweet scent of spelt smells delightful. I can't wait for it to be baked and cooled. Soon we are sampling it, slathered in butter. Oh Yum!

It was a lot of work, but worth the effort. Richard and I discuss ways to keep the front plate of the grain mill from vibrating loose. He will fix that. Can't wait to try milling some rye flour now. And oat flour from the oat groats I bought. I forgot to look for barley yesterday, will put that on my list and must remember to buy caraway seed to put in my rye bread. I'm getting tired just thinking of all I want to do.

Tomorrow I have to start on the apples, there are six buckets of them sitting up on a shelf in the dog room where it is cool. Will use my new apple parer/peeler/corer and make short, if messy, work of them. Then I have to make some tiny pies to take to the women who work at the library. I promised them some tiny apple pies and tiny cheesecakes. I can't go back to the library until I get them made.

And I have books in. Hmmmmm...

...maybe I better make the pies first, then do the grain milling and apple peeling.

Sounds like a plan.

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