So i finally did it.
I have this sense that the world is changing. I know i’m not the only one, but the world is changing, and some things we have become dependent on wont be as readily available as they used to be. A few years ago i told myself i was going to start learning how to do things by hand to assure myself that if things got tough i would still be okay. I already knew how to knit, and i can manage sewing by hand and using a machine. (Well, i can make pieces of fabric stick together in a specific form.. just don’t look on the inside to see how i did it.) I can bind books by hand, and i am usually pretty good with modifying things to serve the purpose that i need. I love acquiring new skills. Im that person that gets so excited about learning a new skill that i go out and buy anything and everything i could possibly use possibly even before learning the basic building blocks required to do anything.
I took a woodworking class 2 years ago to learn the basic blocks on how to construct things. I found the class very rewarding but slow. By the end of the course i had built a tool box. It is a lovely tool box, but i wanted to build a dresser full of tiny drawers to store my craft things in. I was excited about the idea of building things, but it wasn’t possible for me to buy all of the machines that we used in class. And i can’t saw through a 2×4 with a hand saw to save my life. So i gave up on wood working. This was the first time id ever given up on a new crafty skill ( unless you count crocheting, which i don’t ). I decided that i had made a leap too far from my skill set, so i went back tot he drawing board.. or rather, i went back to the kitchen.
Already an enthusiastic baker of cupcakes and cookies i decided to try a go at bread. I borrowed bread book from the library, bought some flour, and had a go. The first batch of bread was edible. It was tasty. But it was also dense. Most of the books i had found required a mixer with a dough hook, and i only had my hands. It frustrated me a little as i knew for a fact that bread was made before there were machines to mix dough. But with no hand kneading instructions ( or experience) i had no way of knowing what was good enough. I made more bread, with different books and the next loaf was wonderful. It was exactly how i thought bread should be. It was perfect in every way. It was also made with the whitest cheapest flour money could by. It was delicious with butter and jam, but nutritionally blank. I started buying more and more whole grain flour, and the bread tasted even better. I started to search for locally grown and milled organic flours and was overwhelmed by the prices. There was just no way i could justify paying that much even though i knew it would be better in every sense of the word. Better for us, better for the environment, and better for the farmers who grew the grains.
I had heard that you could buy whole grains and mill them yourself at home. I did some research on grain farms in washington, and also some on grain mills. There are a ton out there. I fell in love with the Country Living Grain Mill
. I began to dream of my (future) country kitchen complete with the hand cranked mill with the hopper overflowing with organic local grains… with the smells of home baked bread filling the air, freshly baked pies on the windowsill cooling, and chickens running around the yard just outside the window. But the mill was $350. So i continued to make bread, and cookies, and cupcakes with cheap inferior flour grown and milled in some far off place. They were still so tasty, but i kind of felt guilty.
In september i started down the slippery slope. I bought 4 baby chicks. I worked through their stinky poopness by reminding myself of the wonderful lush eggs they would give us one day. We moved into a rental house in november, and suddenly slightly depressed and flush with cash left over from our failed attempts at purchasing a house i decided the chickens would get a lovely new coop, and i would be buying a really expensive grain mill. I ordered some grains from Blue Bird Grain Farm
The mill arrived in the mail, and i quickly opened the box and oohed and ahhed at my new toy. The mill arrived before the grain, but i had some farro in the kitchen so i grabbed some of that and had ben hold the mill tightly to a table so i could grind some. It was not attached firmly in any way but i was still surprised at how .. easy isnt the right word. It wasnt easy, but i had expected it to be harder. It took a few more days to get it mounted.
I spent a lot of time playing with the grinder once we did mount it and, made the first loaf of bread the next day. It did not turn out as yummy as i thought it would. There are a few things that went wrong and a few things that could be the cause. The dough took forever to rise. I think my yeast might be too old. The dough did not get to that window pane test i read so much about. This could be because i am using whole grain flour, or it could be because i didn’t knead the dough enough. The bread is dense. This could be because i did not let the dough rise enough ( see yeast problem) or it could be because the flour is not fine enough. We got new yeast. and yesterday we set out to grind the finest flour the grain can mill. It took us an hour to grind 434 grams ( aprox 3 cups and something) of very fine flour. That time includes rest time, weighing time, swearing time, and laughing at each other. Total actual work time was probably like 30 mins. We mounted the mill onto a work island, but we cant attach the work island to the floor or the wall, so its not as stable as it needs to be. This means the table moves around and we have to split energies to grinding and holding the table in place. Its hard work. Its a lot harder than my country life dream vision told me it would be. But unlike the wood working fiasco i am determined to make this work. I am currently making bread with the brand new yeast, and the finely ground flour from last night. It has been pre fermented per the recipe and it better be the best tasting bread i have ever had or i just might cry.
I believe that it will work out, but i also know that i cant keep up the arm power required to finely grind whole grain flour for a “perfect” loaf of bread. Our next project will be trying to figure out how to hook the grain mill up to a bike. I admit that i have flabby weak baby arms, but i have calfs and thighs of steel!