Sunday, May 24, 2020

Refinishing Wooden Chopping Boards

My collection of olivewood chopping boards have been showing enough scars to detract from the beauty of the wood. I've been fond of olive wood chopping boards ever since I laid my fresh young eyes on them during my college stay in central Italy.  I did not have the money to buy any back then but have more then compensated.

decade of salami service
Board #2 out of 10 needing rehab

Having one too many boards, I used a random orbital sander because gotta save them hands for gaming!  Fortuitously for me, this sander was unceremoniously discarded by AI researchers trying to automate sanding with a robotic arm after the project was abandoned.  They used just wooden test boards but they really should have tested chopping boards which could have made some spousal cooks happy.

I had about 10 boards to power through and the knife grooves run deep so manual sanding would have been a day long affair. I could have gone to my husband's machine shop and use the belt sander but I wanted to learn how to do this entirely by myself at home.  I used 120 grit and finished off with 80 grit mainly because theys were the only sandpaper left behind by the researchers and they worked well enough.

120 grit, then 80
There is a conundrum on how far you sand down. You can be a perfectionist and erase the deepest cut but the board will get another deeper cut right away after the first week of use. The thickness of the board is a consumable.  I chose moderate refacing over perfection as these boards are about 10 to 20 years old and hopefully they can go another two decades.

Batch sanding in a cardboard box
I ruined my neighbor's quiet Sunday afternoon but for no more than an hour.  Still I stopped at 6 boards. I washed them in soapy water, and was waiting for them to dry. I normally apply mineral oil but I decided to notch things up and make a home made mineral oil beeswax mix which I explain in another post.  Covid times forcing me to learn a few new tricks.
I'm doing a 3 day application to seal these good enough for Covid times.

Making a Low Mess Beeswax Mineral Oil Wood Polish

TLDR- Double boil beeswax(15%)/mineral oil in  a glass jar and mix with wood chopsticks for minimal cleanup.  Put jar directly on a scale to measure.

Normally I've been using straight up mineral oil to condition my wooden chopping boards but I've been curious about the addition of beeswax that supposedly creates a better seal. It's not clear to me if it's better to use pure mineral oil for the initial application for better absorption, then add this paste as a final step so I will have to experiment with my many boards.

I've tried various edible oils in the past (walnut/olive oil which was actually recommended by the original olive wood board manufacturer Arte Legno) to avoid such petrochemical by-products, but they have all gone rancid. I'm too much of a cheapass to buy fractionated coconut oil. So I've given up and reverted back to medical mineral oil.

Making this paste is not too complicated, you just double boil beeswax and mineral oil together to create a smooth paste.  I had some vintage beeswax a friend bought decades ago for doing encaustic. The beeswax had a whitish surface called bloom which is considered harmless. A cautious sniff confirms it's definitely not mold.
Not worth making shavings...
Taking off a small amount of wax probably was the messiest part. I could have heated up my knife but I didn't.  I initially tried to flake things off so it would melt faster but it's totally unnecessary and small chunks are just fine.  Doing this on parchment paper allows you to fold the paper and dump the contents into the mixing jar.

Chunks good enough...
I saw a lot of youtube videos, some melt the beeswax first, others the mineral oil, some mix together.  The concept seems simple enough as all you're trying to do is an even mix without burning, but none of them showed the cleanup process and how to take care of mixing bowls and such.  So I decided I would just melt the ingredients in the final glass jar directly in a boiling pot so I wouldn't have to clean up any intermediate bowls. I just put the glass jar on a scale, added the beeswax, then poured in as much mineral oil to fill up the 85%.  If you mix in the jar, also you know exactly how much you are getting and won't waste anything. Also use a large enough jar to fit your hand, otherwise you can use a disposable spoon.

I just used an old pot I don't care about ruining to boil the water but the entire process was mess free enough that I didn't have to worry.
Just mix before double boiling.
Also use disposable chopsticks to stir so there's very little to clean. I unnecessarily mixed constantly. I probably could have just put it on low heat for about a few minutes and done some final mixing.

You can let it cool or apply it wet and warm.

Nitrile gloves not reactive with mineral oil
I used a nitrile glove to apply the paste as I wanted to write this blog post without oily smudges on my keyboard.  I looked up that nitrile is non-reactive with mineral oil but it's important to make sure your glove is truly 100% quality nitrile and test.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Covid Grocery Shopping Keeps Morphing

Again grocery shopping again shifts. I dare not use my phone in the store so I wasn't able to take any pictures.  I am still unable to go to my regular grocery Berkeley Bowl due to ungodly lines that snake around so I am relegated to the El Cerrito Trader Joe's. With enforced limits of 2 on most items, the shelves were more amply stocked at 11am. With the possible threat of fomite transmission- touching virus germ on packages, I need different protocol for bringing in groceries.

Grocery 64 hour quarantine

I took out the non fridge items to the workshop for a 3 day rest.  The latest reports indicate 24 hour survival for cardboard, 48 hours on metal and plastic so I'm giving it 3 days as extra precaution.  Refrigerated items I have placed in giant trash bags inside to segregate new items from old.  I wash my hands.
  • I wear winter gloves, and just throw them in the wash.
  • I leave my used latex glove in the car,  
I wear x-tra large shirt belonging to my husband so the longer sleeves sometimes comes in handy. I wonder if surface transmission really is possible because it would spread much more aggressively like Ebola if it were the case?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Grocery shopping today and a week ago...

The new normal keeps shifting.  First there were lines.  You can tell "social distancing" was still not a thing in the Bay Area last week as we crammed in for Trader Joe's even before the stay-at-home order. And less than a tenth of the people were wearing face masks.

And now, the lines snake around as we are given these helpful 6 feet guidelines.  Almost everybody now has their faces covered except some fearless young-uns.  I tried to go to Berkeley Bowl but the lines were so crazy long with people standing in the rain that I lost heart and went back to Trader Joe's.  Since TJ's store footprint is smaller with a limited inventory, shoppers move this line pretty fast.  TJ now imposed a limit of 1 paper, 2 meat, 2 bean, 2 rice.


There were 6 feet guidelines inside the store as well for standing in the checkout line although it was hard not to swarm certain shelves. But it's still very orderly, no fighting over the last few items.  And since only a small number of people are allowed in the store, the TJ lines in El Cerrito at least are relatively short.

Last week at the beginning of the stay-at-home order,  the shelves had gone bare for beans.  Gluten free options and quinoa however was in abundant supply. 
Donde est Beans?
Nobody want's quinoa
I could only fill half the order my neighbor had given me so I had to substitute her beans for quinoa. Quinoa with the higher protein content may be a decent nutritional option but is not a comfort food. I didn't get any quinoa since I still had pounds of canahua(aka kaniwa) at home- a better option than quinoa without quinoa's bothersome saponins. But since we stopped eating grains, I've held onto this giant bag of canahua for 5 years which I kept as starvation food.  We don't eat too many beans but I picked up the allowed 2 can limit in case someone might want them.

Every home has to make decisions about how much provisions to store for the month to come given available funds and storage space.  South Koreans noticeably did not hoard food as delivery service and the food system was working fine. As the main quartermaster of our household and as part of earthquake preparedness, I normally keep a 4 week supply. I've stretched this out to be 6 weeks.   Since shopping is now such a hassle and potential location of infection, I'm compelled to make each trip worth my while which naturally leads to overbuying.  We are both in excellent health but there is a non-zero chance one of us can get sick; I'm mindful trying to ease the burden on each other by at least having the pantry stocked.

But having adequate nutritional fare vs food you want to eat is an entirely different matter.  Many are joking about a covid-5 or covid-10 from being at home and eating more treats and snacks that is good for us.  I find myself buying all manner of grain based snacks and dried fruit I would not buy during regular times.

After the hassle of standing in line, it's as if one has to treat oneself somehow.  I treated myself to a giant bag of dried peaches.  As I munch on a few slices now with a winter frost nilgiri,  I long for the early stone fruits of late spring.  The thought of the first apricots and peaches gives me a small flash of hope before it fizzles out reading the New York Times.

As we have stopped altogether eating out, variety is a challenge. I had bought 3 bags of shishito peppers last trip which pared excellently with grilled lamb chops. More expensive meats like steak and lambchops (over $14) were in ample supply but given the 2 (fresh) meat limit for this trip and 1 of which I had used up for my neighbor who wanted ground beef, I went for bratwurst which I will serve tonight with roasted cauliflower and sweet potato fries.  Predictably, pork and sausages provide more mental comfort than lamb in our household.

Our pantry was overstocked from the last 2 trips that I only had to re-up the week's supply on most things.  I started taking the grocery haul pictures mostly to show C so he knows what's available.  The fridge and pantry is bursting full and with stable goods tucked away in obscure corners of the kitchen, it's hard to see the inventory. I started keeping a trello board of inventory to gauge supply levels.
Trip #3, just a week supply except for extra jars of cornichons.
I get the bulk of my produce and groceries from Berkeley Bowl and staples from Trader Joe's so it's been a dietary adjustment to be forced to rely only on Trader Joe's.  Anybody who's been through a true shortage like the Korean War or the world wars would see the above photo as a gluttonous abundance for a household of 2.   I noticed prices have gone up noticeably compared to the trip last week. 

My first grocery trip after our European vacation was a disorganized jet-lagged dash to Trader Joe's as our fridge had been completely emptied out.  This was the one of the rare rare times my cart was not organized by category for easy packing.  I threw items in the cart in urgency as the line outside was long and I didn't want to hog up more time than necessary.  I've never bought so many unnecessary snacks in my whole life but carbs definitely ease the anxieties during these times.
Trip #1, jetlagged from Europe, uncharacteristically grabbing munchies

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