Homemade Marshmallows

Beating Marshmallows in the stand mixer

Beating Marshmallows in the stand mixer

Marshmallows likely strike most folks today as some complex food that must contain several dozen compounds with long and complex names able to be made only in complex factories.  The reality is exactly the opposite – marshmallows are simple and easy to produce at home.  Moreover, you can make some great flavoured marshmallows – such as these peppermint ones that are the perfect accompaniment for hot chocolate.

Click on post title for full recipe details.


Vacuum Food Bottle Showdown – Stanley vs. Thermos

Vacuum Bottle Tops and Lids

Vacuum Bottle Tops and Lids

I feel like you should be reading this and thinking monster truck announcer voice for this epic showdown between the two leading brands in vacuum bottle technology battling it out to see which is the champion of the lunch box!  The reality is slightly less epic.

My guess is that for many folks the value of a vacuum food bottle has diminished as microwaves have become pervasive in many workpalce kitchens.  But that isn’t the case for all workplaces, nor is it true for many kids – including mine.

For them especially this is relevant because food restrictions due to allergies can really cut down on what you can put in a kid’s lunch box – no nuts or nut butters is pretty standard, but last year there was even a prohibition against bringing fish to school because someone had an allergy or at least one that was close enough that the administration didn’t want to trouble themselves with deciding what was in or out.

In anycase, a vacuum bottle allows you to pack a warm lunch that can not only diversify the regular fare, but at least in my home is a very economical means of packing lunch.  We’re talking here things like leftover butter chicken, Thai curries, and hearty soups with a chunk of homemade bread or a wholesome whole wheat biscuit.

Vacuum Bottle Heat Loss Chart

Vacuum Bottle Heat Loss Chart

All those things do best nice and warm, and I’ve found that cheap vacuum bottle just don’t cut it given I reheat lunches shortly after 6am.  So this fall  when shopping for a few quality vacuum bottles I found those made by – Stanley and Thermos brands came with a variety of competing claims on how long they would keep contents warm or cold.  With them priced reasonably closely I decided to pick up a few and trial them to see which ended up being better.

Well, the end result is that all claims aside they all perform equally well and seem to loose heat at comparable rates – the biggest determining factor being the starting volume of the contents you load rather than which brand or model you choose as can be seen in the chart.

So knowing that which ones win out.  Well, for adults I like the 17oz Stanley – it’s a nice size and had the much better designed top.  Thermos tops should really be redesigned to give better grip.  As the contents cool there can be a pretty substantial vacuum pulled which fights against easy opening of the top.  But all things considered for the kids the 16oz Thermos brand ones win – particularly based on size to volume.  They are a nice meal size for kids and they are only 2/3rds the size of the Stanley which makes a difference in a jammed backpack.   The folding spoon originally struck me as gimicky, and likely to get lost in short order – but somewhat surprisingly we’re about five month into their frequent use by the kids – at least once a week – and those spoons are still around.

Slightly more worrying is the silicon gasket.  I worry every time I wash them that the gasket will go missing – but so far so good.  I will probably end up contacting Stanley and Thermos and asking to order a few replacement gaskets to have in the spare parts drawer.  Apart from that I can see both of these living up to their claims of a lifetime of use, and both have already paid their cost back in lunch savings (roughly $25 to $30).

These definitely trump the cheap thermoses that will end up disappointing and being chucked time and again.  Buy something that will deliver and keep you happy.


Corn Grain Mill Review

Cheap Corn Mills - great for nixtamatal

Cheap Corn Mills – great for nixtamatal

These mills are cheap (like $25) and readily available, but are they any good?  Definitely, and you probably should pick one up.  But, like so many things you need to understand what they are good for.

Now, what they are great for is making nixtamatal – that is grain corn processed with alkali for making things like tortillas.  It’s an easy grind material which is the perfect fit for this machine – and fresh nixtamatal is awesome!

It’s also OK cracking grain for animal feed or malted barley for brewing beer.  Now, what it isn’t perfect in that latter role – a roller mill would be better – but hey for $25 it’s a pretty affordable malt crusher.

So what doesn’t it do well?  Now, that’s grind grains for flour.  That is why I first picked up this mill a couple of decades ago – and the poor results and high cost of mills capable of producing fine flour prompted me to start on the path that resulted in the Homestead Grain Mill that is simple to build for yourself at low cost and produces great flour.

Replace the cotter pin holding the rotating burr in place with a bolt (in this case a #8)

Replace the cotter pin holding the rotating burr in place with a bolt (in this case a #8)

Dissembled Corn Mill

Dissembled Corn Mill

But that mill isn’t designed to make nixtamatal – which is why this cheap cast iron mill still sees loads of use in my home.  Fresh tortillas made from homemade nixtamatal are awesome – and this cheap mill and a good tortilla press make turning them out easy as well as cheap.  Bags of feed corn are running $10 for 50 pounds!

Now there is something that is lacking on these mills – all of those I have seen hold the front rotating burr in place with a cotter pin – which bends and allows the burr to slip back and freewheel.  This can be easily overcome by replacing the cotter pin with a bolt.

Apart from that weak part these mills are all pretty well and solidly made.  Sure, they look like they have loads of adjustment range – but I’ve got a number of slightly different variations and they all have loose tolerances, which is perfectly ok for grinding nixtamatal.

With prices starting at $25 you can order one on amazon and pick up a sack of feed corn and the fixin’s for a great night of Mexican food for less than the cost of the same meal out – and you’ll not only end the night with several meals worth of grain corn left but also with a mill that will last you a lifetime of enjoyable quality meals.


Chewy Oatmeal-Barley Raisin Cookies

Fresh Oatmeal Barley Raisin cookies packed for a day of skiing

Fresh Oatmeal Barley Raisin cookies packed for a day of skiing

You know those cookies from the store, the “fresh like” ones that are soft and chewy and oh so good.  I have a soft spot for the Oatmeal-Raisin ones.   These ones trump those.  They taste better, feature all whole grains, and can be whipped together in under ten minutes.  They go together quickly, if you are doing it by hand try to grab a Danish Whisk – you won’t go back to a wooden soon after you’ve tried it – or they can be made with even less effort with a stand mixer if you have one.

I think cookies have an undeserved reputation in some folks mind that they are a hassle.  I think a big part of that can be resolved by using silicon baking sheets.  They pretty much guarantee that you won’t suffer from the burnt bottom syndrome and they are reusable for many years – my oldest ones have been around for about ten years and are just about at the point that they need to be retired.

This recipe uses whole barley flour milled in the Homestead Grain Mill but you could just as easily substitute whole wheat, rye, triticale or spelt flour.




DIY Tire Rack – An Easy Welding Project

There is no doubt that having season appropriate tires for most vehicles offers a significant boost in safety in areas where the seasons change.  But, where do you stash the four tires that are for your alternate season?

Wall mounted tire racks offer an easy low intrusion solution, and have become easy to purchase – but when I built this one a decade and a half ago they were much more expensive.  While price has dropped and availability has increased building your own continues to be a good opportunity to use your welding skills and will produce a much more solid rack at a fraction of the price of the light duty ones that are now so common.  This project is another good one to use steel you might have lying around or scrap that you can pick up at low cost.

View of the tire rack loaded

View of the tire rack loaded

Overall view of the Unloaded Tire Rack

Overall view of the Unloaded Tire Rack  

Frame construction for the Tire Rack 2" steel pipes separated by a piece of 2" angle iron

Frame construction for the Tire Rack 2″ steel pipes separated by a piece of 2″ angle iron

The frame is built of 2 2" steel pipes welded to a piece of 2" angle iron

The frame is built of 2 2″ steel pipes welded to a piece of 2″ angle iron

A piece of chain welded to the frame and connected to the length of chain with a piece of screw chain link

A piece of chain welded to the frame and connected to the length of chain with a quick link


On the wall top the chain is connected to the eyebolt through the top 2×6 with a quick link


Holes are drilled though the pipe for screws to pass through to secure the frame into the lower support. The rear piece is a 2×6 and the lower piece is a 2×4 creating an L shaped shelf. A short segment of 2″ angle iron is welded to the rear pipe to create a flatter bearing surface.

On the wall top the chain is connected to the  eyebolt through the top 2x6 with a quick link

On the wall top the chain is connected to the eyebolt through the top 2×6 with a quick link

Additional length is used for a shelf to hold ammo cans with specialty auto repair tools

Additional length is used for a shelf to hold ammo cans with specialty auto repair tools


Table Lamp from Auto Spring – An Easy Welding project

Table lamp made from a coil spring and a disk brake

Table lamp made from a coil spring and a disk brake

When you start to develop skills you’ll increasingly see new opportunities opened up to employ them – often in ways that you may not have even guessed at when you first set off down that path.  That’s true of gaining metal working skills – originally I wanted to be able to build and repair machinery and tools… but with time I’ve ended up producing quite a few pieces of furniture.  Now some of those have been ones I could have purchased if I’d wanted to run up my credit card bill, others aren’t particularly special in terms of design but rather of fit – in terms of dimensions, sometimes the right size is just not available in store.

But others, well those are a bit more unique – flights of creative fancy, and I think this table lamp made from an auto coil spring and a disk brake is a good example of that.  Total cost – about $2 for some 1/4″ threaded gas pipe from HomeDepot.  If you needed to buy it the bulb base, lampshade hoop and cord would have been about $10 more – but in this case I just walked the pup a bit further on the night before garbage day and snagged an ugly light from a neighbours trash that provided the right elements for free.

Lower portion of the lamp - showing the welds between the disk and the spring

Lower portion of the lamp – showing the welds between the disk and the spring

The lamp itself is simple enough.  The body is the front coil spring from a ford windstar – one failed on my old van and this was the one that was still intact when I replaced the two of them.  To give a broader but low profile base I took a disk brake and used the angle grinder to cut the hub projection from the braking surface.  Since the spring didn’t quite meet up with the disk I slipped some scrap steel in between to bridge the gap then welded the three (spring, filler material, disk) together at a few points.

At the top of the coil I welded a piece of 1″ by 1/4″ thick steel (just a scrap piece I had on hand) across the coil, drilled and tapped it for the 1/4″ NPT pipe segment which the lamp base screwed into on the other end a coat of black spraypaint and the lamp was done.

Upper segment of the lamp - showing how the light base is mounted

Upper segment of the lamp – showing how the light base is mounted

Now if you don’t have the tools – primarily the angle grinder and a welder don’t be scared off.  They are both low cost and wire feed welders make OK welding incredibly easy to do.

Now even if you’d have to head out to the scrap yard for inspiration it wouldn’t have cost you more than about $30, but what would one of these sell for in some artistic store? But more importantly, how much satisfaction are you going to gain from exercising your intrinsic creativity – and equally once that door opens how many more opportunities are you going to see to grow and exercise an expanding skill set.

So when you look at metal working skills consider what tickles your fancy – for me I entered because I wanted to build and repair machinery but ended up also doing a lot of creative work.  For you it may well be reverse – either way you’ll end up seeing possibilities grow as you gain capability.


L.L. Bean Boots Review

L.L Bean boots p the ultimate bush boot

L.L Bean boots the ultimate bush boot

I’m a fan of these L.L. Bean boots, and while I inherited my first pair from my grandfather my sensibility trumps my sentimentality.  For example, I’ve got a lovely “Woods” canvas duck and game coat, heavy durable canvas, wool lining, button up lower rubber lined segment that dates from the same era as these boots – its a lovely coat, but it has been totally eclipsed by modern materials which are lighter, warmer, more weatherproof and better able to adapt to changing conditions. These boots by contrast – still rock, and are in my opinion the best boots for hunting and hiking off the beaten track on soft soils (as opposed to rocky surfaces)  let me count the reasons why…

  1. Right match of flexibility and support
    • Rubber and leather – it’s a great combination that is probably the closest you can get to the flexibility of a leather moccasin with better wear and water proof capabilities.  The leather uppers hit the right spot for flexibility when hiking and hill climbing while also offering ankle support and nearly as importantly protecting your lower legs from getting stuck poked and pinched as you scramble through the bush.
  2. Comfortable
    • I’m not saying it’s not nice to pull these off at the end of a long day, but if I had to live in one set of boots – these would be them.  They are very comfortable.
  3. Light weight
    • Now the reason that Wood’s coat often stays in the closet is because of weight. While weight isn’t going to be as much of a factor if you are staying close to a vehicle, if you are heading off into the bush what weight you carry better be well thought out.  I’d rather toss in extra batteries for a headlamp, some candy, a second compass and another box of ammo – all useful weight rather than useless weight in a boot, these are just what you need and nothing more without being so lightweight you give up all the advantages of a boot over a shoe.
  4. Bean boots do fine on hilly terrain

    Bean boots do fine on hilly terrain

    Waterproof way way up

    • I often end up walking around swamps, wet spots, old logging trails, and peat bogs, lots of wet spots.  The extra height of the leather uppers available with these boots is something I love.  Quite often I might not lace them all the way up – unless the scrambling is going to get tough – but the height of the leather lets you choose the easier path which might be wetter.   Get the highest leathers you can manage – you don’t want to be regretting not getting the extra two inches when walking through a beaver marsh or when wondering how deep the muck goes in that old skidder track.  The same goes for snow – these make great winter boots.  Get some dubbin and apply it a few times a year.
  5. Reasonable grip
    • Note I say reasonable not aggressive.  The tread looks on first glace to be one that shouldn’t be very sound, but in practice it gets the job done from walking through muck, on leaf and needle litter on steep slopes, on snow and ice.  My guess is that the flexibility of the sole sees much greater proportion of contact which compensates for the less aggressive grip compared to harder thicker soled footwear.
  6. Bean boots are great for making your way around beaver ponds and marshes.

    Bean boots are great for making your way around beaver ponds and marshes.

    No liners

    • There are lots of gimmicks out there to dry boot liners, from stands over hot air registers to heated blowers specifically to help drying out the liner.  I hate those felt or other materials, they wear and they are a pain to dry and they also limit the boot to one environment – usually winter.  My Bean boots are sized to allow me to wear some nice wool blend socks – not cheap socks – but rather the kind of socks that your feet are happy the live in.  I vary the weight depending upon the weather – in summer the socks are lighter, in winter heavier.  If you should happen to get wet… well the drying procedure is remove boots, drain, switch socks and maybe the insoles.  Oh yeah, in the light weight section I should probably have mentioned that part of the compensating weight I prefer to carry are a couple of extra socks.  That’s it, that simple – and able to be done anywhere.
  7. Durable
    • This current pair is about twelve years old and has seen a lot of use in all seasons and is just as nice if not nicer than the day I unboxed them.  They replaced a set my grandfather who was a forester passed onto me.  Those lasted me a good piece of time, and undoubtedly served him for decades before, when they failed it was the sole of the rubber lower that wore out.  That’s pretty good value.

So where wouldn’t I use these?  Well if you are moving over a lot of sharp rock I’d want a tougher sole.  If you are trail running, go with a trail shoe.  But otherwise L.L. Bean came up with an awesome and timeless design for a great bush (and winter) boot.  Treat your feet right and get a pair.


Vintage Hobart Stand Mixer Refinished

Refinished Vintage Hobart C210 Stand Mixer

Refinished Vintage Hobart C210 Stand Mixer

So I just completed the refinishing process for my Hobart C210 stand mixer and it looks great.  I started by disassembling the unit as much as I could – carefully labling the fasteners in ziploc sandwich bags so that I’d be able to find them and identify where they needed to go easily when it came time to do the reassembly.  Then I used  the wire wheel on the angle grinder to strip the original paint and rust back to bare metal.

With a clean surface to work from I applied about a dozen thin coats of gloss black rust paint (Just the hardware store brand) from spray cans.  While I have lots of gloss black rust paint AND the air powered sprayer to apply it the amount of work – and the frequency at which the thin coats needed to be applied meant that it would have been way more work (and probably money) to fool around with a system that fits much better with large application requirements rather than this tiny job.

I guess I should also note that I masked the maker tags, the oilers and the motor vents and the sliding surfaces before starting to paint.  I applied several thin coats of paint at most twice per day until I had built up a nice solid paint layer – then after allowing the paint a few more days to harden I moved the components around so that I could paint the segments that were still needing painting.

Vintage Hobart Stand Mixer refinished - side view.

Vintage Hobart Stand Mixer refinished – side view.

It’s tempting to rush the job – either by putting on the paint too thickly (which risks the paint dripping) or by not allow the paint time to harden before moving a piece – which risks having the soft paint job marred.  Either option is a false economy – take the time needed to do things right.

When the basecoat had dried I applied several very think coats of clear coat again from a spray can.  The clear coat really increases the luster of the underlying gloss black paint making the mixer really stand out.

Then I stripped the masking off and reassembled the mixer.  It looks great, and while I am a bit sad that I don’t have the original grey paint with pinstriping the black is much more to my taste – and this isn’t some antique that is there to just look good – I expect it to perform!  To that end it’s first task was to whip up some egg whites for meringue.  It did a great job.

Hobart C210  whisking egg whites

Hobart C210 whisking egg whites

As I whipped up the whites I was reminded of the first microwave our family got.  It was purchased at one of those liquidation events in a local sportsplex events – you know the ones that are in town for one weekend only and sell motorcycle helmets, leather jackets, underwear and home appliances not only in the same venue and display them with no apparent logic.  It was my father that purchased the microwave for my mother (along with a camera and a leather jacket for himself).  My mother scoffed at the purchase – what would she do with a microwave that she wasn’t already doing with her stove?  Her opinion was that it was both a silly and luxurious purchase.  That quickly changed with use – and as a family we went through the convert stage where loads of things had to be made in the microwave – even when it had become clear that the oven or stove top really did yield a superior product.  That ebbed with time – she is no longer trying to bake or make eggs in the microwave – but it has become a key appliance in her home as in nearly all other modern homes.  The microwave lasted nearly 30 years – periodically getting the micro switches on the door latches replaced when they would fail.  It was finally dismissed not so much due to an inability to perform and more because the decor had changed and a huge brown microwave no longer fitted where a smaller sleeker white unit available for less than a hundred dollars would.  Given that longevity and utility I’d say my parents made a pretty good investment that day, come to think of it my father is still wearing that leather jacket – though the camera is completely obsolete (and not even old enough to be a classic).

I have a feeling that this stand mixer is going to end up fulfilling the role that first microwave took in my mother’s kitchen.  While I’ve been content using a hand held mixer and danish whisk because that was what I had (and the danish whisk is such a great advancement over the wooden spoon I had previously employed) just beating the egg whites was a great introduction to how much I am going to enjoy this mixer.


Sourdough Whole Wheat Waffles

Sourdough Whole Wheat Waffles - so incredibly light and good.

Sourdough Whole Wheat Waffles – so incredibly light and good.

These waffles are incredibly light and oh so tasty, even when compared to other homemade waffles they are by far the best!    You’ll love the full flavor that the whole wheat brings, and the acid in the not only adds a very mild tang to complement your sweet toppings but also provides the acidity to really foam the baking soda.

These are exceptionally simple to make – you just need to spend five minutes the night before making your sourdough levain.  Really from a time standpoint it doesn’t require any more prep time – just a bit of forethought on your part.

Give them a go and I am sure that “Sourdough waffles in the morning” idea will be floating around your head before you turn in on a regular basis prompting the making of the levain the night before and the sweet dreams realized the next morning.

Click on the post title for the full recipe.


Baking with Deer Tallow

A number of solid fats can be used for baking including lard, butter and shortening as well as tallow.  The first three can all be handled in a fairly consistent manner – chill and then cut into the flour mix.

Pieces of tallow sliced off large block

Pieces of tallow sliced off large block

Tallow though doesn’t respond well to this treatment – it’s simply too hard to effectively break up in this way.

The good news is that by altering your handling strategy from the more conventional fats you can easily produce great baking with tallow.

As with the softer fats you’ll want to chill the tallow first.  Then instead of cutting it in the flour mix use a knife to shave the chunk of tallow into smaller pieces and then add these to the flour mix.  It’s that simple to make use of tallow rendered from either beef or deer in your home baking, and the results are excellent.