High-Wheeling Snow Shoveling

We ordered a Wovel — a snow shovel with a 35 inch wheel for leverage — just before the predicted east coast Snowmaggedon of yesterday.  It came in a huge box from Amazon, but the package inside wasn’t nearly as intimidating:

See how easy it is to use?  The wench on the box is wearing a white jacket!  No way is she expecting to interact with slush!  Or even exert herself!

The Wovel is supposed to be much easier on backs than standard shovels, and also proof against coronaries in the inert who find themselves over-extended once winter hits.  Allium has two damaged disks in his back, so this seemed worth a try.  We’re not so worried about coronaries, but that may come.

I knew from relentless Internet research that the wheel would come in two pieces, which is why the box was so (relatively) small:

When I lifted the first parts out, the heaviest metal bits flew out of the box  onto the hardwood floor.  The protective plastic packaging saved the floor, but that reminded me of the first rule of assembly:  Flatten the packing box and cover the work area with it.

Why was I assembling this in the house?  I”m glad you asked.  The tire, which must be attached to the wheel by the purchaser, needs to be warm and pliable for installation.  As it turned out, the main rooms in our house, at 65 degrees, were too cold,  so I had to take the wheel and tire upstairs and leave them in our much warmer office (68 degrees) before I could finish with it.  (Wovel says 72 degrees and up, but 68 proved sufficient.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Here’s everything that came in the box:

A few people on the innernets whined a lot about assembly, but this didn’t seem to be an extraordinary number of parts to me, and, although the instructions are IKEA-style, they were extremely clear.   And,unlike IKEA’s, included some helpful text, too.

All the bolts are squared at the head, so they are stationery when the nuts are tightened, which made putting this together really simple for one person.  Tools used:

The socket extension is highly advised for the bolts around the hub.  Assembly involves putting the two halves of the wheel together, wrapping the tire around the wheel, assembling the handle, and then placing the wheel onto a hub, secured by a cotter pin.

It’s all very straightforward.  The wheel assembly comes closest to being problematic, but even it was easy.  Attaching the tire requires a bit of stretching (it’s why you want the rubber to be warm) and the rubber must be simultaneously pushed along the wheel and snapped into place.  The tire must be locked firmly into channels on the wheel.  This required some experimentation and some coordination, but I was still able to do it solo.

The Wovel is biiiig.  Here it is in our kitchen:

Our model is W0208, which has a folding frame.  This was an accident; it’s what Amazon had available.  A few years ago — maybe even last year — getting an Wovel involved ordering it from Canada, which looked like something of a nightmare. Which is why we waited until now to get it.  Given the size of this baby, though, going for the folding model would probably be smart if you want to maximize your storage options.  Folding the handle just requires pulling a cotter pin.

For off-season storage, though, it might just make more sense to pull the cotter pin in the axle.  Then you’d have a long, flat handle and the (likewise flat) wheel, both of which would hang easily, and well out of the way, on a garage wall.

Allium tested it an hour ago, and gives it a rave report  (“It’s great!”).  He says there’s no stress on the back at all, and made for the fastest driveway clearing ever.  It’s a hit!  I can’t help noting, too, that it’s a marvel of economical design, and that over-sized wheel?  Too cool!

There’s an accessory edge for the blade to provide more durability; we bought that, too.  It’s easily tapped into place.  I couldn’t get to my rubber mallet, so I used a small hammer padded with multiple layers of terry cloth.  Worked perfectly.

Wovel has a set of videos online illustrating assembly and use; I was glad I’d watched them last night.  As a result, there were no surprises today. A CD comes with the kit; Allium watched it today while I did the assembly.

Using the Wovel is different from using a standard shovel:  Basically you jerk the snow off the blade, keeping the Wovel upright and tossing the snow off and ahead of the Wovel.  You pivot rather than leaning in order to put the snow where you want.  So you jerk, but don’t tilt, and you pivot, but don’t lean.

We practiced in the kitchen.  A few passes, and it felt very natural.

Disclaimer:  No one has paid, or provided any consideration, for this post.


5 Minute Baguette

Another variation on the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a day boule.  It was delicious, but not so beautiful, even though it started promisingly:

The pan is a perforated one, with room for three baguettes.  I baked it on stones, just to make sure it was resting on a really hot surface.

After baking, a transformation, but not necessarily for the better:

The crust and flavor were heavenly, but it will take some practice to learn to form the loaf well enough to predict the end result.

For some reason, these elongated shapes are difficult to do, unlike the boule, which seems to shape almost effortlessly.

How sad; we’ll just have to keep baking and baking until perfection is achieved (along with its corollary, carb bliss!).


Bento 23 – California Roll



Whole Grain Maple Oatmeal Bread in 5 Minutes

We aren’t big fans of whole grain breads, but we know that’s what we should be eating.  Now that we love Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I’m experimenting with the sequel, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which uses whole grains and generally healthier ingredients.  Today I baked our first loaf, from dough I threw together yesterday.

The Maple Oatmeal bread is made from white whole wheat flour, rolled (“old-fashioned”) oats, vital wheat gluten, wheat germ, buttermilk and maple syrup (along with yeast, a small amount of oil, salt and cinnamon).  (I trebled the cinnamon, because I don’t really see the point of using only a teaspoon of cinnamon in anything.) The dough is very different from the master recipe in AB5, but making and handling are almost identical.

Here’s the dough after 24 hours in the fridge:

One difference is that the whole grains rest longer before baking; in this case, for an hour and forty minutes.  Here’s how it looked in the pan at first:

Here’s the dough after rising:

That’s an old, battered pan that Allium was kind enough to grab for me when I realized at the last minute that the pan I’d prepared was too big.

So far, so good.  However, it seems that the back-up pan may have been the wrong choice itself, since the bread slopped over the edge a little bit.  It’s not pretty!

The underside looked much nicer:

Despite the over-crispy, sloppy top, the texture was very good, and the flavor pleasant.  We didn’t think it was a fabulous bread, but it is very, very good with a bit of jam, and would make a tasty PB&J when that’s called for.  Surprisingly, the maple syrup flavor didn’t come through well, and we both thought it might be better with honey instead.

I’ll have to practice pulling the dough out of the storage box a bit; unlike the AB5 master recipe, this one was not as forgiving of my inept turning (it’s what you do — preferably not ineptly — as you form the loaf).  In the very center, folds were clearly delineated, and there was a small hole where the dough had failed to meet.  A little more practice should eliminate this glitch.

There’s another loaf to make (the recipe makes two 2-pound loaves), so I’ll get a chance to play with it a little more.


Forgotten: 5 Minute Bread Tool

Somehow I failed to include my favorite Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day tool in the post I wrote yesterday.  It’s this spoon:

Authors Hertzberg and François recommend that you use a a half-tablespoon for speed measuring.  This one has a tablespoon on one end which inverts, forming a half  tablespoon measure on the other side.  The other side does the same for teaspoons.  It’s my secret to shaving 30 seconds off that five minutes.

OK, maybe not, but it certainly is convenient, and since it’s dedicated, I always know where it is, and that it hasn’t previously been sullied for some non-essential activity, like making dinner.

It’s a Trudeau 4-in-1 Reversible Measuring Spoon.  Reviews on Amazon suggest that putting it in the dishwasher is not a good idea.


Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes

Every good thing you’ve heard about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day is true:  It’s an amazing book, and it really is possible to make chewy, crusty, real bread quickly and easily.  Five minutes?  Yes, really, five minutes of actual labor, excluding resting and cooking, which, after all, don’t require you to do anything.  Here’s my second loaf (in our zeal to consume it, we forgot to immortalize the first loaf):

Here’s what the dough looks like in the fridge (divided into two 4 quart containers to fit on our top shelf):

Edit:  Whoops, Allium points out that this is actually panetone dough, not the master recipe.  Same idea.

The instructions in the book are very clear, but there’s also a huge amount of additional information on the blog, especially in the comments, where every question possible seems to have been posed.  The authors are great about responding to questions; there are a few errors in the book, and those are corrected on the blog, too.

I can’t add much to the wealth of information already available there, but here are the tools I use when making the bread:

From the upper left:

  • an elliptically shaped measuring cup — I like this shape best for tossing the water into the broiler pan beneath the bread
  • an oven thermometer — this one (a Taylor) was awful, in the sense that there was no way at all to get it to hook or to stand on our oven racks, so I wouldn’t recommend it; however it did check the temperature accurately
  • an instant-read thermometer — when this reads 205 degrees (your final reading may be different), we know the bread is done perfectly
  • a mixer — when our huge KitchenAid’s base plate stopped locking the bowls in place, I thought making bread dough was out of the question, since I have trouble with rotary motions.  Incredibly, this hand mixer can blend an entire Artisan master recipe without a problem.  Don’t get the KitchenAid 5 speed (cheap now, but universally panned) or the 7 speed; it’s the 9 speed that’s got the power (the one above is the KitchenAid Architect 9 speed)
  • the dough hooks — for the hand mixer.  Look tiny and feeble, don’t they?  Looks can be deceiving.
  • a peel — for tossing the bread into the oven.  Most people use a wooden one, but I prefer metal, and this one is the best we’ve tried, even though you’ll pay extra because a chef’s name is on it.  (It’s Mario Batali.) We hang ours on the wall, but it has a knob on the back, and can be folded in half to store in a much smaller space.  There’s a huge (and silly) discussion on the Amazon review of the book about peels, with people claiming that you must have a wooden peel to place the bread, and a metal one to retrieve it.  One metal one will do fine for both.  Trust me.

The dough is stored in non-airtight containers.  I use this type:

They’re available online, but also in the food service sections of “wholesale” big box stores.  If you use the round ones, you can mix the dough right in the storage container, but they take up a lot more room in the fridge.  I use this six quart size for the whole master recipe, and it works fine, but we also have two four quart size containers.  I’ve even used similar small 2.5 quart containers, dividing the dough appropriately.   Splitting the dough into smaller containers works fine, too, and may be easier to manage in a really small fridge, or on a shallow shelf like our upper one. These containers aren’t air-tight even if closed; that’s important if you don’t want an explosion.

Instead of a single, heavy pizza stone, we use six unglazed tiles:

They’re much easier to move in and out of the oven and to store.

Not shown:  our broiler pan, which goes on the bottom oven rack.  When you want a perfect, crunchy crust, you toss a cup of water onto the pan just after you slide the bread into the oven.

Of course, you’ll need a wire rack to cool the bread, a cutting board and a bread knife.  Stick around when you take the master recipe out of the oven; you’ll be amazed to hear it crack and crackle as the crust settles.  Be patient, and wait for the crackling to finish before you cut the loaf; if you don’t, you won’t get that spectacular crust.

Note:  It’s possible to bake the dough the same day you make it, but you may find the flavor disappointing. A mere 24 hours makes a big difference, so don’t assume that you’ve had the full experience if you don’t wait!

In addition to a huge number of batches of the master recipe, I made panetone over the holidays.  Panetone  is an Italian holiday bread studded with candied fruit.  There’s a traditional (and expensive) panetone pan, but I followed the suggestions of some of the Artisan blog commenters, and made mine in recycled coffee cans, lined with parchment paper:

The tricky part was finding cans.  It turns out that most supermarket coffee is now sold in plastic canisters, but I did find quite large containers, and these smallish ones, which gave my bread a more-or-less panetone shape.  (Well, less rather than more, but, hey, they worked fine!)  Here’s what the dough looked like:

The panetone dough should fill the baking container about two-thirds full.  Calculating the cooking time was tricky; the large containers I used first took almost fifty percent longer than the recommended time in Artisan; these smaller ones took only about 20 minutes longer than the time suggested for the large loaf in the book.  They turned out well, with a texture equal to the best commercial panetone we’ve tasted, and a lovely flavor.

Store the loaves cut side down on a bread board, or, as in our case, cut side down in one of the unused storage boxes,withthe lid offset so that air circulates around the bread.  (Cat-proofing, if you must know.)  There is a significant down side to making this heavenly bread:  Carb overload.  Try SparkPeople for redemption.  They’ll teach you how to have your Artisan bread and your health, too.

Speaking of which, we just bought a copy of authors Hertzberg’s and François’ latest book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  How could we resist?



Eating the “European” crêpe at Profi’s at Reading Terminal made me think of the crêpes I made back in the days when I cooked, ate whatever I pleased, and gave nary a thought to consuming massive quantities of rich, flavorful butter.

I had — well, I still have, it’s just unused now — a marvelous crêpe pan, and, more importantly, a proper crêpe batter bowl to use with it.  The bowl is curved so that its internal angle perfectly matches the curve on the crêpe pan.  A flick of the wrist is all it takes to pick up the requisite amount of batter:  Three minutes later, a perfect crêpe slides gently off the pan, ready to be filled with whatever.

“Whatever”, in my culinary heyday, was usually mushrooms sautéed with finely chopped onion and white wine, smothered in a buttery cream sauce.  On occasion, I was not above folding the crêpes into quarters and simply dipping them into melted butter as an alternative to dinner.  I was a tiny person with fierce metabolism; this activity did not seem particularly hazardous at the time.

Where’s the lovely  melted butter for dipping?  (Oh, the arteries!)
Image source:  Our Recipe Club
(Robyn’s crêpe recipe uses oil, not butter).

It was unclear exactly what made my Profi’s crêpe “European”.  The Profi crêpe itself was light, flavorful, and far larger than the little 7- or 8-inch versions I made at home.  The cashier had been vague about exactly what I could expect to find in my “European”, but the finely minced vegetables seemed to include everything she mentioned:  mushrooms, onions, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, olives and possibly broccoli.  And cheese, lovely cheese:  In this case, feta, which you may or may not consider European..

The Profi’s crêpe in no way resembled my crêpes of yore.  Nor did it resemble anything I’d consider French. The filling came closer to what I’m used to seeing in “wraps”, but was more refined (those tiny, tiny minced pieces!  the olive oil, the feta!).  A wrap leaves me cold; the Profi’s crêpe was satisfying, light and delicious.  Not gourmet, mind you, but tasty and so much better than I expected.

Reflecting on how differently we’ve come to eat over the years made me think about Regina Schrambling’s recent mediation on Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Schrambling discourses on what she calls the “inconvenient truth” belied by the major fuss over the movie Julie and Julia.

1965 on left; 1979 on right.  Note author shift.
The blue jacket is a dust cover;
the cover underneath is nearly identical to the 1965 edition.

No contemporary human, Schrambling argues, will ever willingly choose to cook from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  It’s not just that truth that’s inconvenient, she says, but the cooking itself — recipes that go on for pages and pages.  She doesn’t claim that the results may be anything but wonderful; just that Child’s carefully recorded techniques are no longer viable in what is now a very different world.  “You will never cook from [Mastering the Art]” she asserts gloomily.

Yeah, well, maybe not. It really is a different world; most people, like me, who inherited the original version of Mastering (and who may have actually been fed from it as children), probably have never used the book as a cookbook.  And most of the newly-created Child fans probably won’t either, just as Schrambling claims.

We don’t have time to cook now, and we’ve been told ceaselessly that we really can’t afford to eat as Child once ate.  If we’re going to eat in the French manner now, we must attend to portion control, and as French portions are so minuscule compared to US ones, it hardly seems worth the effort to plow hours and hours of work into food preparation.

Cooking wasn’t Child’s only avocation.
Image (and more) from CBC News.

So I wondered a bit, as I ate my Profi’s crêpe, why I wasn’t a bit sadder about this lost world, in which butter and cream sauces were featured so prominently and so satisfactorily. But I couldn’t drum up any dismay at all; my  lunch was perfectly suited to the needs of the moment, and, maybe, of the era.

Tastes change, culture changes, science changes and we move on as we must, accommodating as we see fit or need to.  They were lovely, those homemade buttery crêpes, but now my breads (of any sort) are few and far between, and my vegetables mostly unadorned.  Accommodation:  Life requires it.  Fortunately, good flavor comes in many guises, not all of them buttery.


Bento 22 – Sushi Scramble

It’s been so long since I’ve posted bento, I have lost track of what I’ve eaten.  Here’s my best guess:

Image of a Bento with Mixed Sushi

Upper left: Wasabi, pickled ginger

Upper right: Grape tomatoes with shiso sprinkles

Lower left: Vegetarian sushi with avocado and cucumber, wrapped in nori

Lower right: Strawberries sprinkled with dark cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar


CSI in a Nutshell

In‭ ‬1878,‭ ‬Frances Glessner Lee was born into a wealthy family whose patriarch,‭ ‬like so many other Papas of the day,‭ ‬felt it unwise to fully educate his intelligent daughter.‭ ‬Following an unsatisfactory marriage,‭ ‬Lee remained financially dependent on her father until his death,‭ ‬at which point she was free,‭ ‬economically and emotionally,‭ ‬ to use her mind as she pleased.

‎ ‏At‭ ‬36,‭ ‬prior to her father’s death,‭ ‬she had made a scale model of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,‭ ‬meticulously researching the details of the instruments and characteristics of the ninety musicians.‭ ‬Lee used the standard dollhouse scale of one inch to one foot:‭ ‬her recreated orchestra sat in stands that measured four by eight feet.

As it turned out,‭ ‬Lee’s imagination was not the sort to be‭ ‬satisfied by the genteel art of dollhouse collection and decoration.‭ ‬Nor,‭ ‬as it turned out,‭ ‬was building a scale model of an orchestra sufficient to the task.‭ ‬Unleashed from parental opprobrium and finally left to her own devices,‭ ‬Lee began to create miniature crime scenes,‭ ‬also in dollhouse scale,‭ ‬for the training and edification of police engaged in the new art of criminal detection.‭ ‬A previously fledgling interest in‭ “‬legal medicine‭” ‬blossomed once her father’s disapproving eye was laid to rest.

Eighteen of these criminal creations are featured in the book‭ ‬The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death‭‬,‭ ‬photographed‭ (‬for the most part‭) ‬by Corinne May Botz,‭ ‬who also provides text and commentary,‭ ‬along with descriptions of the lengths Lee went to in her attempts to make her crime scenes as realistic as possible.

The conceit was simple:‭ ‬Provide the physical manifestation of a crime scene drawn from composites of actual crimes, along with statements from witnesses, to use in training student detectives to question and evaluate forensic evidence.‭ ‬For modern readers,‭ ‬Botz annotates the rooms,‭ ‬indicating areas where something‭ ‬–‭ ‬carefully placed slippers,‭ ‬tractor marks,‭ ‬a guard rail misaligned‭ ‬–‭ ‬gives mute testimony to events not witnessed.

The rooms,‭ ‬down to the unfortunate victims,‭ ‬are utterly marvelous.‭ ‬Lee had both the financial wherewithal and the imagination to buy every‭ ‬kind of artifact required for the verisimilitude she demanded.‭ ‬Lee knit stockings and hairnets herself,‭ ‬using pins to get the tiny gauges required.‭ ‬Tins of food and common household artifacts abound.‭ ‬Blood splatters are lovingly arranged‭; ‬fake water flows in a crystal stream onto the face of one hapless victim,‭ ‬whose feet are clad in‭ (‬literally‭) ‬hand-made,‭ ‬charming,‭ ‬pink slippers.‭ ‬These rooms are from a dollhouse of the damned,‭ ‬but‭ ‬a strangely compelling one,‭ ‬obviously created with no care, trouble,‭ ‬or expense spared.

Botz revels in this discordance.‭ ‬She writes,‭ ‬contrasting Lee’s model-making with traditional doll craft:

‭ ‬Lee‭’s models are more potentially subversive.‭ ‬They introduce threat and danger into the roles young girls emulate while at play and present the architecture of the home as a deadly terrain where prosaic objects have a secret life as murder weapons.‭ ‬The monstrous acts seem all the more horrible when they are contained in the dollhouse,‭ ‬a domain associated with childhood and innocence.

Botz‭’s ‬take on Lee’s life and work is unapologetically feminist and cheerfully candid in its treatment of Lee.‭ ‬The Nutshell Studies is an eclectic treasure for readers with a legion of interests:‭ ‬crime buffs‭; ‬criminal historians‭; ‬armchair detectives‭; ‬feminists who cherish the unsung tales of‭ ‬accomplished feminine forebears‭; ‬obsessive crafters‭; ‬dollhouse aficionados who have wondered,‭ ‬however slightly,‭ ‬if the traditional representations might be a bit lacking‭; ‬everyone who is curious about what may lie behind a neighbor’s anonymous door‭; ‬and those whose imagination is stimulated by‭ ‬a dark view of domesticity.

In‭ ‬1931-32,‭ ‬Lee created a professorial chair for the study of legal medicine at Harvard University and later funded the Magrath library of Legal Medicine at the school.‭ ‬Shortly thereafter,‭ ‬Lee gave‭ ‬a quarter million dollar endowment for the study of Legal Medicine at Harvard.‭ ‬The department trained medical examiners,‭ ‬held conferences and seminars,‭ ‬and used Lee’s Nutshell Studies as training tools.‭ ‬In‭ ‬1967,‭ ‬after Harvard closed the Department of Legal Medicine,‭ ‬the Nutshell models were permanently loaned to the Medical Examiner’s office in Baltimore,‭ ‬Maryland.‭ ‬They can be viewed by appointment‭, or you can ‭ ‬buy the book or both, as you wish.

If your particular perversion runs to‭ ‬a cross between CSI,‭ ‬Fifth Avenue,‭ ‬and fashion dolls,‭ ‬see the December‭ ‬2008‭ ‬issue of Haute Doll ‬(who knew‭?),‭ ‬which features‭ “‬Crimes of Fashion From the Police Files of the Sybarites‭”‬.‭ ‬Is is fashion‭? ‬Is it humor‭? ‬Is it sick‭? ‬You be the judge‭ ‬–‭ ‬but it is a curious,‭ ‬po-mo‭ (‬and,‭ ‬undoubtedly,‭ ‬completely unaware‭) ‬take on the sincere,‭ ‬obsessively loving work of Frances Glessner Lee.‭


Bento 21 – Dumplings

Mini-Dim Sum

Image of a Bento with Steamed Dumplings and an Agar Leaf

Top Tier: Grape tomatoes with furikake; green grapes with a coffee agar maple leaf

Bottom Tier: Steamed vegetable dumplings; napa cabbage slaw with carrot and rice vinegar