Author: Pao Alfonso

Food and Mourning

My first food entry for this year. If 2020 was difficult, the entrance of 2021 for our family is even more challenging. We opened the year faced with challenges we’ve never had to face before. When your heart is grieving, you tend to try and seek out places that made you feel safe and happy. A lot of those involve happy food memories. It can’t make things better, but it can help you get into that headspace where you can gather your thoughts in peace and quiet while enjoying an uncomplicated bowl of pasta.

Mmmmm. Warm Rolls.

Yet another late post. This year I saw that there’s a stand mixer on sale at S&R so I bought one. Of course one of the first things I tried making is dinner rolls.

I followed a simple recipe for it, not using sourdough first because I wanted to eat it right away lol. I will make the next batches with sourdough, for sure. These turned out pretty well, although it could be a bit more fluffy inside. Maybe I didn’t proof the dough enough.

The smell that fills the house while baking bread is just amazing. Even the memory of it has a way of making me feel peaceful and happy inside. Like the smell of marinara sauce simmering, the smell of bread is just bound with happy thoughts of home.

I’m happy to be able to make dinner rolls now. I can’t believe that I only started learning to bake bread last year, because that’s on my birthday wishlist of things to learn. I’ve always been a little intimidated with the thought of learning to bake bread, but I realized that I had a lot of time on my hand, might as well knock a few things off my wishlist.

Next item in my to-learn list is sandwich bread. 🙂

My First Plate of Gnocchi

Late post. This is a journal entry I made late last year about making (and eating) my first plate of gnocchi.

I’ve never actually tried gnocchi before, but I’ve always been curious about it because it seemed so easy to do. So I thought I’d make some, since I had some potatoes and 00 flour at home, and since our sage had a growth spurt and was just branching out all over the place. I figured it was the best time to try something new.

It really was quite easy to make, I enjoyed it a lot. I wish I had a better surface to make the ridges on the gnocchi more pronounced but I just rolled the little nuggets of dough against a fork to make shallow ridges.

I browned the gnocchi in butter, took them out to cook the butter and sage some more, and then tossed the gnocchi back into the sauce to finish it. The sage crisped in browned butter sauce is incredibly delicious. I would recommend frying more of it and putting it on the side.

My husband enjoyed this a lot. I’ll be cooking it again soon. I think I want to try making this with white, creamy sauce next time. Or even my homemade marinara.

Outdoor Dining

Late post, this was from late last year. My husband and I went out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants. We picked an odd day and off-peak time, so there were hardly any people. On normal days (as in pre-COVID19), not a lot of people would be at the mall during weekdays after lunch time. These days, there are even fewer people. The place didn’t have air conditioning on, and we were seated beside the window. There were barely any other diners there aside from us, and everybody was staying away from other people. Even when walking through the mall, people were mindful of social distancing, and hardly had to be told to avoid others. Everyone wore face masks and face shields. Thankfully, nobody makes a fuss about that here. The feeling of eating a well-cooked piece of fish in a restaurant again was awesome. Not having to hurry because there weren’t crowds to be stressed about is even better.

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.