Author: Pao Alfonso

Pen Review: Parker Duofold Geometric

Yesterday I picked up my Christmas pen, my one and only pen splurge for the year, actually. I got it at a really good price from a good friend, so I thought I’d give myself this treat to celebrate making it to the end of 2020. This is a Parker Duofold Geometric circa 1939-1940. It was marketed as an affordable pen aimed at the entry level market. Its arrival was a bit of a surprise because the dominating pen at the time was the Vacumatic, my favorite kind of vintage Parker pens. The Duofold Geometric (also called Duofold Toothbrush, for obvious reasons) had an interesting pattern, but is obviously quite different in design from the vacumatics. These came in gold and nickel trim back then. The one I have has a nickel trim, which clashes a bit with the gold nib. No biggie, though.

The clip is tapered and simply has “PARKER” engraved on it. The cap band is devoid of any design.

Quite a departure from the art deco design influence on Vacumatics. Below is a photo of the Parker pens that I currently have inked. The clip design is very different, and is missing the iconic arrow which was already adapted to Parker pens of that time.

The material used is still celluloid, though. The filling mechanism is the same as the traditional Duofold, which is a button filler. Here is a size comparison with a Parker Duofold Junior from1928. The Toothbrush is just slightly longer than the Duofold Junior, but the Junior is heavier, feels more solid, and has a bigger girth.

The Junior feels like it has almost the same thickness as a Sailor Progear Mini. The Toothbrush, on the other hand, feels much lighter in the hand. You can see how it’s considered as part of a budget line during that time, it feels less sturdy than its weightier predecessor.

The weight, size and girth of this pen is much closer to that of the Vacumatic Debutantes.

It has a certain charm, though, which I think accounts for the fact that it’s still popular with collectors despite being obviously made with cheaper materials compared with the Vacs.

Here’s a size comparison with my two Vacumatic Debutantes.

The way that they feel in the hand feels very much the same. I find the size awfully cute. These are adorable, pocket-sized versions of bigger vacs and duofolds and I’m pretty much in love with them.

Below is a photo of what would appear to be an amber-colored window to look at the ink level, and it has a rod visible from the translucent portion of the barrel. It’s an interesting design quirk because it’s pretty much useless. Looks like it was made to look as if the filling system is the same as the more popular Vacumatic, but the pen uses a button filler with an ink sac, so this design is not really useful.

Here’s a close up of the “toothbrush” geometric design and the inscription on the barrel:

 

The nib design of the Toothbrush is also quite simple, without the iconic arrow themes of even the original Duofolds. This nib is unmarked, but it writes like a stubby, European medium nib. I inked it with Parker Quink black.

I really love how this pen writes. It wrote perfectly after I inked it. The nib is hard with just a very slight bounce, but it is super smooth. It has a very slight feedback but  it glides easily on paper. It almost feels like writing with pencil, even the sound it makes. Like the older Duofold, the nib has a slight bend to it, almost like a claw. It makes this really pleasant scratching sound on paper. It lays down a wet, consistent line of ink and it’s a complete pleasure to write with. Here’s a quick writing sample below.

The condition of the pen is amazing despite the fact that it’s now 80-81 years old. I think my friend did a good job taking care of this pen, and I hope to do the same now that it’s in my collection. What a testament this is to great craftsmanship. Here’s a hat tip to an era when things were made to last instead of disposed of, and things are fixed when they’re broken instead of replaced. It’s been 6 years since I last bought a disposable pen, and using vintage pens like this one reminds me of one of the reasons why I started this hobby in the first place–to reduce plastic waste. It’s pretty awesome that this pen was made on the same year my grandmother was born, and it’s still writing the way that it should. World War II hasn’t even ended at that time, and the world was quite different from today. This pen survived that and has seen the world change in many different ways. That, for me, is super cool.

Happy Kitchen

Today’s food journal entry. I have completed a few pages on this food journal. I wish I thought of this earlier, it’s pretty awesome to have a compilation of entries that are just about one topic. I’m looking forward to finishing this journal and making a flip-through. In this entry, I wrote down my pasta sauce and meatballs recipe. I don’t measure my ingredients, I just cook the amount that I need and take my cue from how it smells and tastes throughout the cooking process. I made it this weekend and I added a lot of herbs from our garden. Far from making it taste too herb-y or vegetal it had layers of complex and complementing flavors. We used dried penne for it, though, because I wanted to bake it with cheese sauce. I must say that I really missed freshly made pasta and wished that I made some instead.

I count myself blessed to have a quiet and loving home during this pandemic. We’ve been hibernating, rarely going out. We’re enjoying the peace and quiet of our home. I understand how others can have a drastically different experience during this time. The least we can do is to reach out and check on our family and friends. It’s been a long year.

Sugar

My food journal entry from a few days ago. I recently learned to bake a basic banana bread. My husband loved it a lot so I baked it a few times these past few weeks. I realized that it uses so much sugar though, so I told my husband I wouldn’t be baking too often anymore. Maybe just once in a while, as a treat. We usually go through a bag of sugar in several months. The last 2-kilo bag that we bought was from waaaay back in March. We don’t use sugar a lot at home. It shocked me how quickly we used up the sugar when I started baking, and I realized that sugar is one of those things that you can consume so much of when it comes in the form of yummy baked goods. Out of sight, out of mind. When you bake stuff yourself, though, it becomes harder to ignore.

Open Crumb, Hooray!

This journal entry was written last week. It’s about the first time that I was able to achieve a sufficiently open crumb in my country style sourdough bread.

I was so excited when I sliced into it and found this. While I was reading Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked”, I was so fascinated about the chapter on fermentation. These little pockets of air contain a smell that the mouth translates for the brain into flavor. Retronasal olfaction is our ability to smell food that’s already in the mouth.

For this bake, I changed a few things. I increased the hydration of the dough to 76.6%, lengthened the autolyse to a little over 3 hours, and did my stretch and folds according to how the dough looks like instead of following a rigid s&f schedule. I also sprayed water into the dutch oven before popping it in.

It tasted marvelous. I can see what Michael Pollan meant when he wrote about how an open crumb is more flavorful. I really enjoyed this bake.

I bought a small oval banneton so that I can try a batard shape next time. I’m super busy this week so I’m going to schedule my next bake next week, during my Thanksgiving break. Can’t wait!

The Occasional Sweet Treat

Today’s journal entry is a recipe for shortbread cookies. The Husband doesn’t eat store-bought shortbread cookies but he seems to like mine just fine. I made this batch using better butter and organic, unbleached all-purpose flour. It tasted much better than my first batch.

I only learned to cook when I got married, but I have to admit that I only really enjoyed cooking fairly recently. Probably because we really needed to stay home and cook our own meals because of the pandemic.

I am not really interested in learning how to bake because I’m not too much of a pastry person. I like the occasional treat while drinking coffee but it’s not too important to me. Since my husband was diagnosed with diabetes, we removed sugary drinks, processed foods, and desserts from our home, except to satisfy cravings once in a while.

The short bread cookies aren’t healthy treats, by any means, but it’s okay to indulge once in a while, especially if you make the treats yourself.

I am looking forward to this weekend. The past few weeks have been so busy at work that I hardly had time to read during the weekdays. This is alright, I’m glad there is a lot of work to do, especially these days.

I have big plans this week! I plan to catch up on my reading, snuggle in bed with the cat, maybe bake bread because we just ran out, and sleep, sleep, sleep.

Hoping for a peaceful end to the US election, and an orderly transition of leadership. Happy weekend, everyone!

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

A food journal entry from a couple of days ago. I just started reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I’m a huge Michael Pollan fan, and I find his approach to food very thoughtful and accessible.

I wish he would make a companion video to this, like his book Cooked, which has a companion documentary on Netflix. The reason I really love Pollan’s books is that they all inspire me to make more conscious decisions about what to cook and eat. I also learned how to bake our own bread because of it, that was pretty awesome. Any book that compels you to take action is worth the time you take reading it.

One can’t deny that unsustainable ways of producing food has led to a lot of environmental as well as health problems. We’re all connected. The more conscious we are about what we buy and eat (and where we buy our food), the better it is for the planet and for us. It’s like we’re all connected with silky threads that are easy to ignore because it may sound inconvenient to care, but at the same time, the impact of industrial farming and eating so much processed food is becoming hard to ignore. Little decisions like where to source your coffee, or the rice you buy every month, or the vegetables and meat you order every week–they make an impact. Especially on your health.

The pandemic has made apps like Session Groceries quite useful for people who are staying home and getting their groceries delivered. I’m sure there are a lot of other similar apps but this one has been the most reliable for me. It makes “farm to table” a reality in the absence of a farmer’s market. These days, more people are discovering the joy of brewing your own coffee at home, and a large part of what makes a good cup has to do with getting great beans. There are a lot of small businesses that have direct connections with coffee farmers and are more than happy to help you get to know your beans better.

I’m almost done with the first part of the book, which is about the Industrial source of food. Can’t wait to get to the next part, which is Pastoral.

Pasta Day

This is a food journal entry I wrote some weeks back. I had tweaked my ever-reliable meat sauce and meatballs recipe to incorporate garlic confit and it was pretty awesome. The Husband bought me a pasta machine, seeing that I have this newfound interest in making things by hand recently. Today I made a nice pasta lunch, which took some time to put together but was really well worth the effort.

              

I realized through Michael Pollan’s books that the only way to eat healthy is to cook what you eat as much as possible (because I still like to eat out and support local food businesses). Majority of what we eat at home should be cooked at home, though, because it’s the best way to know what’s going in your food. This decision is a journey, and I realized by the dearth of usable ingredients at home that I had initially, that this decision can completely transform a home’s kitchen if taken seriously. Today’s pasta lunch took a lot of effort, but I make it because it’s my husband’s favorite. This time, though, I included more handmade components. The night before, I had already prepared the meatballs and sauce, and before I even had anything simmering in a pot, I had baked our bread so that it will have cooled down sufficiently the next day. Before I went to bed, the meatballs were ready, the sauce was simmering on very low fire to gently coax out all the flavors of the herbs and tomatoes in it while I slept. The bread is cooling on a rack, and the pasta dough is in the fridge. I had laid out the pasta machine and the drying rack so that it will be ready for use the next day when I wake up.

I was so glad to see that the bread has a more open crumb today, despite the fact that I accidentally degassed it the night before because part of the banneton wasn’t sufficiently floured and the dough had stuck to it during cold fermentation. I snipped some chives from the garden and mixed it with butter to toast the bread with. Topped that with some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano while hot. The Husband cooked the pasta I rolled out and finished it with the sauce.

It was a delightful lunch, and I must say that the bread was really good. I’m not too good at baking country-style bread yet and my little creations still have so much room for improvement, but even at this point you can taste right away the difference between mass-produced bread and one you bake from home. The depth of flavor and the textures are simply not the same.

I didn’t learn how to cook until I got married, the day after my father died. Previous to that, I was completely dependent on his cooking and takeout food. When he died, I learned to cook more out of expediency than a real interest in it, but that was the time when I understood my father’s love language. He was a man of very few words, but he showed his love for us by lovingly preparing every meal. At that point, my relationship with food and cooking was never the same. Michael Pollan’s books just reminded me how wonderful the connection of food to not just our culture but our personal story can be. For me, it’s not just a nice pasta meal, it’s an expression of love, and a great way to remind myself that if I really want to learn something, I can learn it. Love is a great motivator, after all.

The Path to Better Bread

Today’s journal entry is about the process of learning about baking country-style bread and how understanding each step is better than following a recipe closely.

The more I understand about the process, the more I could edit it and get better results. You can’t really follow every recipe down to the scheduling because different kinds of flour will have different characteristics. There are so many variables involved aside from that; like the temperature, and the strength of your sourdough starter among others. The best recipes I’ve tried are those that encourage you to get your cues from the smell, appearance, and texture of the starter and your dough. There’s so much more to learn and I’m enjoying the baby steps that I’m taking.

I think that more than eating the bread that I make, I enjoy the learning part of it more. I consider myself a lifelong learner, which is what I enjoy most about reading. If anything piques my interest enough, I would probably attempt to learn it by myself. Michael Pollan’s books have been very influential for me because he has a way of translating his  intellectual curiosity into a set of organized ideas which he tests on his own and shares with others in a very accessible language. I was encouraged by the fact that he was also the kind of person who struggles with following a recipe, but understanding the process every step of the way helped so much more than any recipe could.

While the pandemic is raging outside, I guess it brings me comfort that I can focus my energy and attention on something useful and beautiful.

Bread #3 Takeaways

Yesterday’s food journal entry was about bread #3. I was so encouraged by the improvements I saw in bread #2 that I prepped my autolyse right away to make another one. I met someone online who is generous enough to guide me through the whole process from making a starter to baking, and he told me that I should be prepared to make mistakes but more importantly, I should learn from the mistakes. I definitely learned a lot from the first two attempts, and made some adjustments to get a better outcome. I especially made some progress with the shaping, so the bread looks aesthetically better than the first two. It really did turn out like a taut butt cheek after the cold fermentation. Then sprung up into a beautiful boule after baking.

This time I really waited before cutting into the bread. I think I waited about 4 hours before I sliced it. The bread tasted awesome. Surprisingly, if I cut it a bit thinner than the usual size of store-bought loaves, the flavor becomes more pronounced. The crumb was open, though there are parts that are not as open as others. The skin reminded me of pork cracklings. You can see the little air bubbles on it. It made the crust crunchy but not too thick that it’s hard to chew. The crumb is chewy but not sticky. The texture is very different from store-bought bread, and again I’m reminded that in my mind, I’ve fallen into the habit of comparing homemade bread against a commercial product. I’m used to bread that’s perfectly symmetrical, cloyingly sweet, and becomes hard and stale quickly. Sourdough bread actually stays soft whether it’s in the fridge or not. It’s not sweet, and I don’t experience hyper acidity after eating it.

I toasted a couple of slices this morning and ate them with pumpkin soup. It’s so delicious and filling. It’s true that the bigger the holes, the more complex the flavor of the bread. How awesome is that? They should just be filled with air but no, they’re filled with wonderful flavors.

My online friend who guided me through this journey is now teaching me how to strengthen my starter. How fascinating that, much like our little herb garden, the sourdough starter will provide you with delicious things as long as you take care of it.

I’m grateful that there are people online who are generous with their time and knowledge. From the people who answer questions about baking bread to those who post tutorials and recipes, there are a lot of people who love to share what they know. As awful as social media has been these past years, this is the part that I enjoy most. Social media makes sharing knowledge with other people a lot easier than before.

I’m getting ready to read that new book I bought (Omnivore’s Dilemma) by Michael Pollan. I can say that his writing changed my attitude about food in a more conscious, mindful way. His books Cooked, and In Defense of Food are the reason why I decided to learn how to bake my own bread. I’m ready to curl up in bed and read the weekend away.

My First Sourdough Baby

Today, I baked my first sourdough bread. There will be other sourdough babies in the future, but this one will always be special because it’s my first. The crust may be butt-ugly, but the crumb was alright. The flavor is there. Overall, it wasn’t bad at all.

I have an idea of the things that I can improve on next time. I need to really plan out my baking schedule, I need to be more gentle but confident in handling the dough, I need to be more decisive with the lame, and I have some ideas of things to change about how I cook it in the oven. Most of all, I need to loosen up and enjoy the process. I’ve always been intimidated with baking, and I considered bread-making to be way out of my reach. I need to relax and not be so afraid to make mistakes. I need to enjoy the learning process and just take whatever I can from the experience. The whole process is simple enough but takes a lot of time. It doesn’t take all of your time, though. Mostly, after all the stretching and pulling, it’s a lot of waiting. The fermentation process actually does all the heavy lifting for me.

I wasn’t sure about using whole wheat flour at first because I’ve had whole wheat bread before and I don’t really like it. Then again, I realized that I only ate store-bought whole wheat anything. I knew why it was the healthier option, and to eat healthier is the main reason why I wanted to learn how to make bread in the first place.

I made a rookie mistake and cut into the bread way too soon, making the texture a bit gummier than it should be. I made a mental note to really wait next time. Even if the bread is not perfect at all, the flavor was good. It was complex and the more you chew on it, the more the flavor develops in your mouth. I tasted a bit of sour notes, some salt, some of the yeast-y flavor that reminded me of beer, and wheat. Surprisingly, whole wheat did not taste  bad at all. It tasted nothing like store-bought wheat bread.

I made some veggie omelette us at home, and toasted the bread in butter. I had mine with coffee. My husband finished most of the loaf off, happily tearing away at it and mopping up some balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

There was a time when bread was considered bread only if it was made with three ingredients: flour, water, salt. The industrialization of farming and, by extension, food manufacturing meant that all the good stuff was removed from wheat to make it more white. Then vitamins and minerals are added back chemically. Bread isn’t really bread anymore, in the same way that many of the food we eat today are so over-processed, they aren’t really food anymore.

Today I baked my own bread, and it was fun. I look forward to doing it more regularly and learning more things along the way.