Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review: Unbroken

This book was suggested to me by someone who read my prior book review on "In the Shadow of His Wings". Since I didn't have anything else lined up to read, I started in on the book.

Before getting the book, I read some other reviews and story summaries, so I had an idea of what the book was going to be about. A story of an Olympian, pulled into WWII as a bombardier, and then captured by the Japanese. A story of strength and resilience, of one of the members of the greatest generation of America.

Louie Zamperini is the hero of this true story, and I would have to say he has an equally impressive supporting cast. The men who traveled with Louie through his trials and tribulations during the war are also heroes themselves, all with their own stories of strength and perseverance that only get touched upon in this book as they interweave with Louie's story.

Here is a brief overview of Louie's story. He was a trouble making adolescent in California, who found an outlet in running. He went on to go to the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, and had the skills to potentially break records for the mile. However, due to WWII, the 1940 Olympics were cancelled, and Louie would end up becoming the bombardier in a B-24 stationed in Hawaii and other Pacific islands. His plane went down at sea, and he and two others survived for 47 days on a small raft. One of the men died while they were still lost at sea. They survived only to be captured by the Japanese, and put into prison camps that made surviving in a life raft seem like a cakewalk. In these prison camps, Louie and the other prisoners experienced tortures and starvation, especially at the hands of the prison guard nicknamed the "Bird." Liberation came with the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and the initial joy of freedom, followed by the haunting memories and struggle to return to a normal life. Louie was 'liberated' again when attending a Billy Graham revival.

For me, this book was a glimpse into the happenings of WWII in the Pacific. When I think of WWII, I think of Pearl Harbor, and then immediately shift my thinking to Europe and driving back the German army. Of 'D-day', and concentration camps. I watched re-runs of "Hogan's Heroes" on TV, and other European-front based war movies. "Broken" provided a view of WWII that I rarely if ever think about. Especially some of the background on the Japanese advances and goals. This now seems somewhat ironic to me, as my grandfather was stationed in the Pacific during the war, and my mom has a picture of him in front of the "Enola Gay" B-29 bomber that carried the "little boy" to Hiroshima. But that is about all I know, as I don't remember discussions about WWII happening much when I was growing up.

I've taken three business trips to Japan, all in the Osaka/Kobe area, and have thoroughly enjoyed every single trip. The atmosphere I experienced there absolutely did not resonate with the sentiments that are talked about for nearly the entire book in regards to Japanese attitudes, at least of the leadership of the time. Near the end of the book, there was a discussion on the quick repair of US/Japan relations shortly after the war that cleared up some of my confusion. But I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised, as I don't generally think negatively about the relationship the US has with Germany given the similar history during the same time period. In my opinion, there were atrocities committed on all sides, but I have to believe that most people are not war mongering and want peaceful coexistence. Or maybe I'm just very optimistic and naive.

I've heard that there is a movie being filmed about Louie's story, and that Angelina Jolie is directing it (she directs???). The preview seems to at least show many of the highlights of the story that are in the book, and could be quite the show to see.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Rolling Out the Dough

Much of this past weekends activities revolved around food. So much for this blog being about woodworking...

And speaking of food blogs, my friend Jake is working on his own food blog, which you can find at I'm really looking forward to seeing what he's going to cook up this Summer with his new smoker/grill!

So Sunday morning, I made a large batch of waffles. This is another recipe that I use our ground wheat for, and the resulting waffles have a absolutely delicious "earthy" flavor. Since I have yet to modify this recipe and make my own version, I am willing to share this one! (Alton Brown Basic Waffle Recipe)

Sunday evening, I went forward with my plan to make homemade pasta. When going into this, I actually was pretty excited, as it always seems that freshly made pasta is the best thing since sliced bread when watching cooking shows. So with enthusiasm brimming, I set forth, again following the sage advice of Mr. Brown.

With six kids to feed, I made two batches of dough. For the first batch, I tried to use the method of mixing the egg/water mixture with the flour as I'd seen on those TV cooking shows. Where you create a 'volcano' shape with the flour, pour in the egg/water mix, and combine the two with your fingers. Well, let's just say I have a bit of practice to do on that method. My volcano erupted onto the counter, beginning my first round of frustration. I was able to take all the flour and soak up the liquids that were spreading, and created a very homely looking ball of dough-like substance. I put the ball of whatever into a plastic bag and into the fridge.

For the second batch, I decided to follow the advice my wife had given me on the first batch, by putting the ingredients in a large bowl. After my volcanic eruption, I decided to not be so stubborn in trying to mimic the professional chefs on TV. The results were much cleaner! And I think I got the dough ball to form in a much more correct way, as my fingers wound up the egg/water and flour mixture into a yellow dough. However, I did not incorporate anywhere near enough flour, which became an issue later. This dough ball also went into a plastic bag and into the refrigerator.

Later in the afternoon, I began prepping for supper. The rest of the menu included a garlic tomato sauce for the pasta, asparagus and elk steak. The steak was marinated in a balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce mixture for a couple of hours. The asparagus was snapped in preparation for being sauteed in butter. The garlic was peeled, and the onions sweated. Next, I needed to make some noodles.

Okay, so already being a bit frustrated with my dough making performance, I was hoping to make up for that with the dough rolling. We have a pasta maker, so I figured this would go pretty smoothly. Well, to make a long story a little longer, you run it through pasta rollers. Sorry, had to do it. Anyway, I started with the first batch of dough. You know, the dough like substance. Well, after sitting in the chill box for a while, the dough actually looked pretty good. And it rolled out through the pasta machine decently as well! Sweet! But I will say this. This is not a task for those in a hurry. It is a tedious, time consuming, messy task. And the noodle cutting portion of the pasta roller did not function as well as expected, making the task of creating strands of pasta dough take even longer.

After enlisting the help of my lovely wife, so we would be able to eat sometime this week, I started rolling out the second batch of dough, while she cooked the first, and kept an eye on all the other items. As we were doing this, Kristen noted that we should have thought through the menu a bit more, as the there was absolutely no room on our stove due to three sauce pans and a large pot of water all competing for space. But now on to the issues with the second batch of pasta dough.

Remember how I said I didn't incorporate nearly enough flour into the dough? Well, yeah, that was a problem. The dough may have looked prettier to begin with, but it was an absolutely sticky ball of goo later when I was trying to roll it out. So, lots of flour was brought into play, creating a huge mess, and getting me even more frustrated. Eventually, all the dough was flattened, sliced, and boiled. Ugh!

It was so good I had to eat some before taking a picture!
So how did it all taste? Well, the pasta was very good. Much more tender than your standard dry pasta in a box. I was really loving my garlic tomato sauce, but most of the kids complained about it being to 'spicy' from the garlic. I only used two whole cloves. I mean gee wiz, how else do we keep the vampires away. The steak had a great flavor to it, but for some reason was a little tough. The asparagus was very good, and with it being available is another sign that Spring is here!

I'll definitely be trying the pasta again some day. The dough making process is much more finicky than I expected, so it will take some time to figure out the texture I need to look for. But it will come to me at some point, and I may have to look into making whole wheat pasta as well.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Review: Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen

This is a book I purchased back in 2011 when Alton Brown made his way to Cedar Rapids during his "Inside Out with Alton Brown" tour. So, it is actually a signed copy. Kind of cool!

When I had him sign it, I told him how the boys and I had been watching his show "Good Eats" quite a bit. At one point, one of the boys gave Kristen a hard time as she was cooking, and said "That's not how Mr. Brown does it!" He chuckled a bit, and said I better straighten those boys out.

I already had his three books from the "Good Eats" TV show, so I had to buy something that he could sign, and I chose this one. I figured it would be good to have a book going over all the ins and outs of various cooking tools. And by golly, what man does not like having more tools!

So you might be asking, why are you reviewing this book now? Well, I started on the book waiting in line to have Alton autograph it. But then never got much further. I just finished the rest of the book today.

Me and Alton Brown, 2011
The book itself is the distillation of all the tips, tricks, philosophies, myths and favortism towards the equipment Alton uses, basically as seen on the show "Good Eats". It doesn't have the same whimsical feel as when he visits "W" on the show, and is more just about the facts. Honestly, there is so much good information, I will probably have to refer back to it often.

I haven't gotten around to going through the kitchen to purge un-needed items as he suggests in the book (for example, eliminate all uni-taskers such as a garlic press), but is it tempting. But if I really tried to follow his guidelines, I think Kristen would ban me from the kitchen. I guess I'll just keep finding ways to store more stuff via reorganizations and clever hacks.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spring Cleaning 2014 Indoor Projects

With the warmer weather starting to finally thaw our frosty demeanor, the inevitable spring cleaning projects have begun. Since the ground still has some snow cover, hence there is still a frost line, the current projects are all indoors. Later on this spring, I should have some information on outdoor projects that will be happening. And let me tell you, there is a long list.

The first project that was tackled was prompted by yet another microwave dying on us. It is always fun to turn on the microwave and have blue light from electrical arcing light up the kitchen and hear noises normally associated from scenes in Frankenstein Monster movies. Hmmm... does that make me Dr. Frankenstein, or Igor? Moving on.

Our kitchen has a little desk as part of the design, and we originally had the microwave set there. With this new setup, as shown in the picture, we moved the microwave over, to the adjacent counter. This required Kristen cleaning up the pile of paperwork, toys, books, and other miscellaneous junk stored there. I think we ended up only keeping 1/100th of the stuff that was stored there. Okay, maybe 1/10th.

My addition to the desk was to make the shelves. I took some more of that cheap melamine particle board I picked up from the Menards discount rack, and created what you see here. I still need to put some iron-on edge banding, but so far, we are absolutely loving how this is working out. The kids school iPads are now off the breakfast bar when charging, and I have a place to put my keys/wallet/phone when I get home that is out of the way.

Another project was to remove the upright piano we had in our living room area, as we have hardly used it since we acquired it. It was a free piano that we received a few years ago, but essentially failed to use. My guess is that to have it tuned up and put back into a state of true usefulness was going to cost way more than it was worth. And so, it was dismantled, piece by piece.

Most of the teardown was actually pretty easy, which really surprised me. For a short while, I thought this was going to be one of my easier projects. Well, once I hit the soundboard, my theory fell apart. In the picture, I am working on removing some components so I can get to the screws that hold the cast iron plate that holds the strings. At this point I had already cut the piano strings out. Tristen, looking oh so manly, was tearing apart the bench.

After removing the metal, I started into tearing apart the sound board. This took a considerable amount of energy, as it was fairly well constructed. When I started thinking about this project, I was thinking I could reclaim much of the wood. However, it appears that it was made from veneered pine for the most part, so pretty much useless. The only pieces I think I may be able to salvage are the six posts that strengthened the sound board on the back. They look to be solid hardwood, and my be useful in building my next set of bunkbeds.

Once we finish our demolition, we cleaned up, moved the sofa back 6 inches, put in a storage shelf, repositioned the TV and TV stand, and moved a bookshelf. The final result was a much more open and organized living space. Hopefully the picture helps for those who have been to our house.

So those have been the major indoor Spring clean up tasks so far this year.

Monday, March 10, 2014

It's Pizza Night!

In a previous post, I talked about the Wheat Cleaner 1.0. A device to help clean wheat more efficiently so we can enjoy foods made from wheat kernels. Not berries. Berries are tart fruits that grow on trees and bushes. Just wanted to make that clear. I wonder if I have to consult a food anthropologist to figure out how this berry nonsense started. Hopefully it isn't the same kind of story that caused tomatoes to be classified as a vegetable instead of a fruit by the government. But I digress. So this post is on one of the main foods we make with our wheat: homemade pizza.

The dough recipe I started with was based on using all-purpose flour, water, oil, sugar, salt, and yeast. While the proportions worked well for those ingredients, they did not work quite as well with the whole wheat flour. So, I've had to experiment some. The main variants were the proportion of whole wheat to all-purpose flour, and the amount of water to use in the dough. As well as the rise time.

Last week I think I finally got the balance correct. The resulting dough was stretchy and easily made into a pizza crust by hand. In the past, I would have to work the dough over pretty hard to get it to stretch out, usually resigning myself to use a rolling pin. Oh the horror! While the resulting crust always had an excellent taste, it had been hard to work with. This is no longer the case!

As you can see in the picture, my el'cheapo pizza peel is in pretty sad shape. It is cracking, peeling, and is a tad too thick in my mind. So, on my list of woodworking projects is a new pizza peel. Whenever I get around to making it, I'll be sure to post it here. Just thought I'd throw this paragraph in to tie this post to woodworking! I guess all things considered, the $15 pizza peel and pizza stone combo have served me pretty well.

So what kind of pizza do we make to feed our house full of boys? Rather than try to please them all, or rather force them to be happy with one or two types of pizza, we've gone down the personal pizza route. I end up breaking the pizza dough up into individual sized pizzas, which allows each of us create our own pizza flavor. We usually try to have two sauce choices, homemade red, and a white alfredo sauce. Then, depending on what we have around the house, we may have chicken, roasted garlic, elk/venison steak and/or burger, homemade venison sausage, mushrooms, peppers, onions (raw and caramelized), fresh basil, tomatoes, black olives, sauerkraut, pineapple, bacon, pepperoni, and my sisters suggestion, chopped pickles. Oh, and yes, also anchovies on occasion. Each pizza night there is a subset of that wide variety of toppings. I am probably forgetting a few, but you get the idea. Sky's the limit!

On to the big question at hand, at least in my mind. To share my recipe or not! Do you want to make your own whole wheat pizza? Do you want the recipe? Well, I think you'll just have to come over and join us for pizza night if you want it!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Winter Memories

photo credit: Yukon White Light via photopin cc
With Winter supposedly coming to an end, I thought I would expound upon the comments/statuses/posts I made during the waning weeks of this long cold Winter. And add a few other stories that came up with conversation I had with others during this time as well.

What really started the whole thing off was sharing a story of having a car spin out in front of me one morning. School had been delayed, and I was surprised by this, as there was only a couple inches of light snow on the ground. But once I started driving to work, it made more sense. The main streets were very slippery, as the driver who spun out discovered. I was able to then brag about my new F-150 handling the snow with ease!

When discussing this story with others, I recounted that during my youth (geez, I sound old) we would walk to our neighbors house to get on the bus. On stormy mornings, we would listen to the police band radio scanner, as the school bus communications could be heard as well. What we were listening for was word that at least two buses were in the ditch. Why two? Well, there was a spare bus in the fleet, and if only one went in the ditch, the routes could still be completed with the spare bus!

With the schools being closed for cold weather, I recalled having to walk 'blind' to our neighbors house. The 'blindness' was caused by my eyes watering from the cold wind, and then immediately freezing my eyelashes together. I'd stumble into the neighbors house and pull of the ice that had formed so I could open my eyes again.

After getting some great feedback on my thoughts on Winter thus far, I made a comment about how beautiful the new fallen snow was. And I admit, I really enjoy the pristine look of new snow and everything covered by it. However, this where the cabin fever for some people started to show up. My happy notes on Winter were not enjoyed by some. And so, as more snow was falling, I snapped a short video and had this to say:

Now, who doesn't think this is a really pretty picture! Big fluffy flakes falling in a winter wonderland. You need to embrace the season. Complaining about how tough this winter is is only going to make it seem longer.
So that didn't go over too well. Guess I need to work on my compassionate side.

The weather then turned really cold. Like -20F cold. So instead of commenting on the beauty of snow, I starting mentioning the things I thought were neat about really cold days. The first is sundogs. The picture at the beginning of the post is supposed to give you an idea of what they look like. Rainbows around the sun is the best way to describe them. Whenever I look outside, if the day is sunny, clear, and a sundog is visible, I know it is bitter cold out. I also think the sound snow makes when you step on it when it is really cold is interesting. It is a very distinct crunch, that you don't get at different temperatures. Yet another aspect of the cold I've always liked, is the cleansing feeling of taking a deep breath of icy air. I find the burn to be quite refreshing and invigorating. And a final nicety of cold weather and snow is the sparkling, to the point of almost being blinding. The glint of the snow crystals in the bright sun is just as enchanting as any diamond in my opinion.

A great big smile when sledding!
The kids have been wanting to go sledding quite a bit this year, which has also been a fun throwback to my younger days. And by sledding, I mean tobogganing. Not snowmobiling. Using gravity to propel yourself down a snow covered hill. I once was in a conversation about sledding, where I was thinking tobogganing, and the other person was thinking snowmobiling. Yeah, awkward.

I guess in full disclosure I should also talk about the terms 'snocat' and 'snocatting' that we would use as kids. I believe these terms stemmed from growing up 20 or so miles from the Artic Cat snowmobile factory. When referring to the snowmobile we had, we would routinely call it 'the snocat', and the act of operating the 'snocat' was 'snocatting'. This was really ironic, as we owned a Polaris snowmobile, a 1969 Charger I believe.

Digging tunnels in the snow was always an activity we attempted as kids, but seldom ever succeeded at. We had plenty of large drifts to use, as the Northwest wind was always blowing the snow into these great big piles around buildings and machinery around the farm. That snow was always so hard due to the wind packing it that we tire very quickly and gave up. This year my kids have been doing the same thing, but trying to dig into the piles the city snowplow has left along the street. They have been doing surprisingly in that hard packed snow!

So as I am writing this, there are many more memories coming back to me. Looks like I'll have to take some notes and write up another Winter memories post another day. Till next time, stay warm and take heart in the joys that Winter can provide!

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Lent Police Force

So, Ash Wednesday is this week, and I'm kind wondering what people are doing to prepare for Lent. Last night we sat down with the kids and we each shared what we are planning to do for Lent. Part of this exercise was to have the kids think about what would be a good 'sacrifice' for each of them, given the spread in ages and maturity. And the other part was to allow us to hold each other accountable as a family. To make sure we keep on doing what we said we'd do. Hopefully the kids will also see this accountability as a way to help each other on the journey, and not just be the "Lent Police Force".

We took it another step and added a 'penance' if we have a misstep. Not everyone added this to their Lenten activities, but I think everyone saw the value of doing something extra to refocus and get back on track. Most of the 'penances' were extra prayers.

So, the big question that I am sure is burning in everyone's head. What did I pledge to do? Well, the first was to give up playing all games on my tablet. First and foremost, Candy Crush Saga. The kids just about fell over in disbelief at this one. Yes I play the game, but I'm not one to go at it for hours on end. I really haven't traversed that far into the levels, compared to other people I know. But it seems to be the "go to" thing to do to waste time or procrastinate. My intent is to then use this newly available time to do something more constructive. Like read, or get some of my to do list completed, or wrestle with the kids, or show some lovin' to my wife! But, I decided to use this extra time (at least during Lent) to share at least one positive comment on social media per day. Yep, more snow loving like status updates coming down the pipe!

Oh, and the penance side of the coin? Well, I will say a rosary every time I play a game on the tablet. And I threw in the caveat that if one of the kids 'tricks' me into playing, they get to share in my penance! And so, ever since listing out our Lenten activities, the kids have been on me like stink on poop whenever I pick up my tablet. "DAD! No Games!" is the common phrase I hear, and I am guilty until I prove my innocence. It seems the Lenten Police Force is on high alert already!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Wheat Cleaner 1.0

The Wheat Cleaner 1.0

Introducing, the Wheat Cleaner 1.0!

As some may know, we like to grind our own wheat in the Perreault household. Before grinding (or in the case of our flour making machine, impacting), the wheat kernels must be cleaned. Before going on, I know many people call them wheat berries, but for some reason, I just can't latch on to that nomenclature. Moving on...

Cleaning really just consists of separating the chaff and dried grasshoppers and beetles that are remaining in the wheat I get from my parents' farm in Minnesota. Now if that last statement grossed you out, get over it. Do you really want to know what is allowed to go into your store-bought processed food? Well, do you? Didn't think so. Besides, I told you the Wheat Cleaner 1.0 is used to remove it, so no harm done. Right? Although I'm sure the bugs would be a good source of protein!

My previous cleaning method was pretty much medieval. I would pour buckets of wheat back and forth in the breeze (or use my own hot air) to remove the undesired particulate. This worked well enough for small batches of wheat. But lately, we've been using much larger quantities (we have a lot of growing boys you know!), and a more time efficient method of cleaning was required.

So, hopping on the internet, I searched for solutions. Most grain cleaning solutions were geared towards industrial usage, and not necessarily what I was looking for. They were expensive and bulky, and not suited for my home use task. Then I started finding contraptions that were being used to sort seeds. Both for agricultural purposes, and for bird feeding purposes. I ended up building a unit based on the plans at The following is an image of the open source plans they provided.

The unit uses a shop-vac to create an updraft, thereby allowing the heavier wheat kernels to pass through a vertical separation chamber, and the lighter weed seeds and chaff to be sucked out. The vertical separation chamber has a series of flow disrupters, which I'll refer to as 'plinkos'. There is a draft control on the front that allows the amount of updraft to be varied for fine tuning the separation. The current design works well if I control the inflow of raw material. If too much wheat enters the vertical chamber, the suction increases due to the decrease in the chamber cross-sectional area, and most of the wheat gets pulled into the waste collection area. So, one of my improvements is to create some sort of intake flow control.

The completed unit is about 24 inches tall, by 17 inches wide. The depth is about 3 inches. The side walls are made from pieces of melamine covered particle board. I used one 48"x11"x3/4" piece of the this material for the entire unit, which cost me $2.29 at Menard's. For the top and bottom, I used 1/4 inch hardboard, which I picked out of a dumpster at a construction site. And the clear plastic covering the separation chamber was laying around my house. So, so far, the total material cost has been $2.29 plus the cost for some screws.