Sunday, February 19, 2012
City water additives killed my starter. So, I decided to throw together some ingredients and make a pan bread. Despite being overmixed and underproofed it was pretty delicious for my first rye. It was paired with some badass pork and goose liverwursts. Too bad I didn't record a formula for it...something like an 80% rye with a 75% hydration.
Monday, January 23, 2012
And so it begins, on a rainy Monday afternoon. I took down the KitchenAid from atop the fridge and mixed together whole rye flour and water at 125% hydration. A pasty dough was formed and the resultant temperature was a perfect 78°F. Now the young levain sits bulking on the kitchen counter, awaiting its first feeding tomorrow. I can't wait to see how it ferments.
In case you're wondering, this fella's formula is straight out of Jeffrey Hamelman's great book, Bread. In case you're wondering, it's a good book.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Yesterday the temperature here in Providence was 50° so I decided it was finally time to harvest the last of the parsnips from our garden. Armed with my ancient spade, I dug in to the sun softened soil only to find frost an inch down. Shit. Undetered, I grabbed my massive stockpot and put water on the stove to boil. Half an hour later I was back outside, dumping scalding hot water on the frozen earth. Then, down on my knees, digging commenced. Again. Steam billowed, mud flew as the ivory tubers revealed themselves. Despite the meager harvest, I couldn't have been more satisfied with the results: two pounds of sweet parsnips.
That night I cracked Fanny Farmer's Baking Book, which Kelsey had just acquired for me through questionable means from her employer. Inside, amongst the many foreign sounding pies (like "Shoofly", "Vinegar", and "Chess") was a recipe for Parsnip Pie. Well, talk about meant to be. And how easy it was to make! A session with a food processor was all it took to mix the filling and now, as the pie cools, the most incredible fragrance has filled my apartment. And the taste of home-grown-harvested-yesterday parsnip custard in a (pretty decent) flaky crust? Oh Lordy!
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
After a strong cup of coffee, sawhorses are the carpenter's best friend. They provide a stable and functional work surface and are an essential part of any building task. When I was doing construction work for my meals, if we needed sawhorses we would build them out of whatever was lying around the jobsite...essentially for free. A good carpenter can make a functional yet ugly pair in fifteen minutes. So, it was usually not I who build them. Those tasked with their assembly were fortunate to be able to customize them to his or her own working style. Therefore, they were usually too short for me. Ugh. Here's instructions to build MY perfect pair, coupled with a wordy manifesto on sawhorse construction.
Store bought sawhorses build of plastic or metal are great products, but I find them lacking for a few reasons:
- Cost. Free vs. $20-$30..duh.
- Uniform height. If adjustment exists at all it is a pain, especially on the metal guys. On the plastic guys it sacrifices durability too.
- Durability. 1/8" of plastic vs. 1-1/2" of wood? Hmm.
- Stability. Plastic flexes. Metal legs fold.
There's one manufactured product that I will stand by, sawhorse brackets. These are big metal hinges that you nail or screw your legs and crossbar onto. With a little additional bracing on the legs, these guys can be convenient and effective.
Folding is the best trait that store bought sawhorse possess. It's not something that you can do with most site build horses. But, if your work is going to be done in one place, why bother with folding horses? Build new ones wherever you go OR make them nice enough for some carpentry bragging rights.
So, these sawhorses are designed for height, durability, and ease. They have a table height of 36". They are constructed of 2x stock and have plenty of redundancy. They don't fold, but they are nice enough to become an outdoor table when not in use. 15• is the magic angle. The cut list:
- 2 - 2x4 @ 36" for crossbar bottom.
- 2 - 2x6 @ 36" for crossbar top.
- 8 - 2x4 @ 36" with 15• ends for legs.
- 4 - 6" x 36" strips of plywood for leg braces (1/2" to 3/4" is fine).
- 4 - 6" x 12" strips of plywood for end braces, off cuts from the leg bracing.
After making the cuts, layout your fastener locations. This will make the rest a breeze. Build the crossbar by screwing through the bottom center of the 2x4 into the 2x6. Then fasten the first leg with one screw. I did this by placing the crossbar on the ground and holding the leg in place on top with my foot.
With one screw in, you can square up the leg with the crossbar before sinking the other three screws. Repeat the process. After the legs are on, the trapezoidal plywood end bracing should be placed against the nearly finished assembly. You can then scribe the cut lines to ensure clean edges. Finally, screw on the leg braces. I assembled these with 2" and 3" screws...because that's what I had lying around. A clamp or two comes in handy too, but isn't required.
Two last pieces of information/justifications. First, the 2x6 crossbar is tall and skinny. You might have looked at other sawhorse designs and seen that many speak of the virtues of a wide, flat crossbar. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I can't express how angry it makes me to see eHow hacks suggesting a bullshit idea like a wide crossbar. A tall crossbar allows for saws to (inevitably) cut into the sawhorse while ripping plywood without fear of cutting it in half. If it was wide there'd be a greater chance of catching your saw in the crossbar, having it buck, and losing limbs. Furthermore, a skinny crossbar will provide one point of contact between the horse and your work surface. This lowers the possibility of wobble. With a wide crossbar you have to work like hell to make sure your sawhorses are on a level surface to prevent a wobbly table, nearly impossible when working outdoors. Second, (and yes, I'm using the same paragraph) let's talk about redundancy. You do not need two crossbars. You do not need end braces or leg braces. These pieces of wood are designed for redundancy. A lot of stress is exerted on the fasteners in any sawhorse. The bracing removes stress from the fasteners. Other designs have some lovely joinery that serves the same purpose, preventing busted screws. The additional crossbar provides another surface to screw into. Four screws in each leg prevent rotational tendency of the legs better than two. Screws won't shear and the sawhorse will stay rigid year after year. As an added bonus, the second crossbar allows you to easily replace a chewed up 2x6 without having to disassemble the horses completely.
I bet you didn't think that so much thought could go into such a simple tool of the carpenter. That's exactly why I consider sawhorses a rite of passage for anyone building stuff for themselves. It forces you to think mindfully. You will know you've hit on the perfect sawhorse when it happens. You will appreciate the time and planning that you put into their design. You will have gained an education in the nature of your materials and the forces which you apply to them. You will be able to make sure your friends see them serving as a sideboard in your dining room. "Oh, those? They're nothing. Just something I threw together to BUILD THIS HOUSE, BITCH."
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Pectin is a substance found in fruits (and plants in general) that helps bind cells together. It's abundance varies based on the type of fruit as well as the fruit's ripeness. Think of an apple, naturally high in pectin. Unripe, it is pretty tough in both skin and flesh. Part of that strength is a lot of pectin holding the cells together. The ripening process starts to break that pectin down, enhancing the flavor and softening the fruit. The skin remains crisp, and has a greater amount if pectin than the flesh.
That's what it does for a plant. For us, pectin's importance is in cooking. It's a gelling agent that uses its binding properties to thicken jams and jellies. In an even more concentrated form, it has been the primary component of many candies like gummy bears, gum drops and fruit jellies.
So why make pectin? First, I've never really been keen on the powdered stuff found in the grocery stores. However harmless, using the product of an industrial process to make homemade food just seems a little contrary to the idea of 'homemade'. Second, I have loved pectin-based candy my entire life and it is becoming harder and harder to find as products like corn syrup take over the role of other gelling agents. I figure I'll have to learn to make my own if I want to eat a pectin jellybean in fifty years.
The funny thing is that it's exceptionally easy to extract pectin from fruit at home. The hardest part about the process wasn't the ingredients but rather straining the dickens out of the mess to obtain the purest pectin.
Two of the best sources for pectin are apples peels and citrus piths. Fortunately we were making apple galettes at work so I had access to an abundance of apples peels (10#). The only other ingredient I needed was water. Simple! Let's equip ourselves:
- Stock pot
- Cheese cloth
- Mixing bowl
- Flexible tubing (optional for siphoning)
- Rubbing alcohol (91% or greater)
Basically we are going to make a stock, which will concentrate the flavors and other stuff in the apple peels. We don't want 'other stuff' to include the pesticides or wax or whatever else might be on the surface of the skins, so rinse those peels two or three times. Then, throw them into your stock pot and fill it up with water.
Bring it to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. We're breaking down the skins as well reducing the volume of water. For my ten pounds of peels, it took about 4 hours to reduce the volume by half which produced a stock with a sufficient amount of pectin.
How did I know that I had reduced it enough so that the pectin stock would be a suitable jelling agent? Rubbing alcohol. Take a spoonful of cooled pectin stock and throw it into a glass with a little bit of rubbing alcohol and stir. If it forms a stiff mass then it is suitable. If it sort of drips off the spoon then it's a little weak. If it doesn't come together, then it needs a lot more time. Crack open a beer and stop being impatient.
As I said the hardest part is the straining. Let's do it in three stages. First we'll strain through the colander into a mixing bowl for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally. This setup isn't exactly NSF tested.
Next we'll strain through the cheese cloth. (A clean t-shirt or pillowcase will do the trick too) It's best to let this strain overnight. What you'll be left with is a thick, viscous, cloudy, (and if you used red apples) rose-colored liquid.
Finally, if you're going to make candy, you probably want to get a clearer pectin. Cover the pectin and refrigerate . The remaining bits of apple will sink to the bottom overnight. You'll then be able to siphon off the unnaturally beautiful pectin. From my ten pounds of peels, I got 2 1/2 quarts of candy ready goodness.
Don't throw out the apple gunk. There's still a lot of pectin in there that will be perfect for gelling jams composed of fruits low in pectin. Using plastic containers I froze it into convenient 4oz. and 8oz. portions. Smart. So, you know what comes next, right? I'll venture into the deliciously mysterious and poorly documented world of candy making.
Friday, July 8, 2011
I have a guy. This guy that can get me some decent stuff of consistent quality and strength. Best of all, he's always got a fresh supply. Getting my hands on wood pallets has never been so easy. Now, the projects I'm building around the house are designed with pallet proportions in mind. And why not? Pallets have the best attribute a home tinkerer looks for in a raw material: free.
So after dismal soil test results forced us here at Peach Fuzz Farm to redesign our garden plan to incorporate raised beds, pallets were the logical choice for construction. With a few tools and about five bucks in screws and nails, I developed a quick deconstruction procedure to make garden walls. Let's go.
The tools. Plus a nail gun. And a clamp.
The pallet. I used twelve of them, chosen because they were all 36" wide and built the same.
Trimming off the unnecessary boards with a saws-all. So much easier than pulling nails. These boards became the infill panels.
The midsections weren't of any use. Goodbye.
First stage with the saws-all complete.
Time for the circular saw, to trim the sides...
And cut into two sections. The long side on each will be the stake.
It's dangerous cutting stakes. Set up a jig.
Two sections from one pallet. Done.
Lining up staked side to free side for the 4lb sledge hammer.
String line to make it straight.
Don't get lazy. Predrill, then screw.
Lovely, variable height for that rustic appeal the ladies love.
Infill panels created from the unnecessary boards. Nailed on.
Ready for some lead-free loam and compost!
The gardens at full tilt. Raised beds performing beautifully. Other free stuff includes steel pipe trellis for beans, baby crib tomato stakes strung together with stripped romex cable. Ghetto fab.
So, do I have you hooked on pallets yet? Do you need to find your guy? My guy is a tile and countertop store. Masonry and stone outfits are also a good bet. Grocery stores are alright too, but they're not as likely to give them away in any quantity. Pretty soon you'll find yourself sneaking around behind warehouses, driving slowly past fenced construction sites, and suspiciously eying piles of wood on your neighbor's curb. You're welcome.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
A couple months ago, we got some baby chicks. Quickly, our gals, Pot Pie, Harriet, Duckie, and Clementine became too big for their rubbermaid quarters inside and it was time to move them into a space all their own. May I present our coop. It is like many other raised shed style coops that you'll find at great sites like BackYardChickens.com with one big distinction: It is modular.
A modular coop offered two advantages: the size and quality of a permanent coop and the easy relocation of a temporary coop. We're crossing our fingers that we'll be at our apartment for a while, but with our young, transient lifestyle here in Providence, we can't be sure! With a modular coop, our chickens can enjoy a sturdy and spacious coop, where ever we are.
First comes the foundation, a simple 2x4 frame with chicken wire nailed to the underside (an effective barrier against digging predators.)
Next are the two ends, a 2x3 frame (with shear strength provided by the chicken wire), and the raised interior of the coop supported by 2x4s.
Two infill panels make up the sides, with an opening for a generous 6'-6" door (I am tall).
Last is the roof panel, also a 2x3 frame supporting 1x2 purlins that in turn will carry the load of the corrugated asphalt roof (a great quality product that I'm pretty excited about)
So, six pieces in all, breaking down to parts no bigger than 4' x 8'. All can be loaded inside and on top of our Subaru Legacy in a single trip.
Move pictures will follow showing the "finer" details. In the meantime. Here are the fine hens.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Guest blogger today, my Dad, Joe Sheehan! As you'll see, he's pretty into making maple syrup. He'd been consumed with it ever since he began last year. He loves talking about 'sugarin' and people love to listen to him, so I thought I'd let him ham it up here on BNB. Oh, and I was fortunate enough to join him for a day in the field and took some pictures of the gathering. Take it away, Pops!
Daniel has asked me to share my experience with sugarin’, the name given to the process of changing the sap from sugar maple trees into delicious maple syrup (we hope). It is a fairly straight forward procedure:
- During February we install spouts/spiles in and buckets on designated sugar maple trees
- As soon as the sap starts to run into the buckets we collect the sap on very regular intervals. The amount of sap collected will vary depending on the weather, the tree, location of the buckets and other variables.
- We bring the sap to the location where it will be evaporated/boiled down to syrup. If the sap has a 2% sugar content, it will take approximately forty three gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
For enjoyable participation in sugarin’ it’s helpful to love the outdoors, physical work and pleasant surprises (the amount of sap in the bucket). A farmer friend shared with me that passion for the experience, patience and flexibility are also very important. Full disclosure: I rank high on everything but patience and flexibility. I am, however, a 75 year old work-in-progress so I think there is still hope for me. Daniel’s hiking advice to me holds true for sugarin’, “Small steps will get you there, Dad.”
I bring to sugarin’ a great love of the outdoors. In the 60’s I was introduced me to the majesty of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. On their tops I would stand with outstretched arms and say with unintended arrogance, “I am making articulate the inarticulate praise of nature.” For a long time now I have come to realize that nature does not need a spokesperson. Its awesome beauty, sometimes a terrible beauty, speaks for itself.
Hard work is part and parcel of sugarin’s DNA. We pour the sap from the galvanized pails into five gallon buckets that we then carry to our car trunks and backseats. One five gallon pail of sap weighs forty lbs. Carrying two full pails (eighty lbs.) at a time can have a positive impact on one’s body. For a few weeks each year I can claim that I am Charles Atlas. I’m sure it is all tied into some kind of macho pride. What the hell. I can live with a little bit of that.
Surprises are woven into every sap gathering experience. You never know how much sap will be in each bucket. Three pails on the same tree can give very different yields, i.e., an inch of sap, one gallon, or overflowing the brim. When I share this information with my wife Margot she says, “Joe, it sounds as though you are describing the excitement of a child at Christmas opening presents; not knowing what is inside.”
Two great mentors have guided me through the joys and a few disappointments of my two sugarin’ years. In 2010 Joe Schaefer, a friend of fifty five years, welcomed my inexperienced help in his Connecticut shoreline sugarin’ project. A number of years ago with characteristic entrepreneurial spirit Joe began sugarin’. His maple trees were scattered in both rural and urban settings. Very generously his shared his extensive knowledge with me. Most importantly he shared his contagious and passionate love for sugarin’.
In 2011 another great mentor came into my life, Loren Moody, a thirty year veteran of sugarin’ with 1400 taps this year. Loren is a professional who markets his syrup throughout CT. A wiry man with a ready twinkle in his eyes he shared with me the lore of the field, gathered and treasured from so many years experience. I will always remember his words the first time I met him. “The best thing about sugarin’, Joe, is that it’s fun.”
For me, the great truth sugarin’ has taught is that you cannot rush nature. It has its own pace. We cannot impose our timetable on it. As a planner I am too often over-invested in control. Sugarin’ is totally dependent on nature’s cold nights and warm days. We cannot make that happen. It took me well into this second year of sugaring to ever so slowly accept this fact. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” If you do, greater joy comes with it. ‘Go with the flow’ are words made for sugarin’.
Thanks Dad! Just wanted to note that it was a great experience gathering on that windy winter day. There is something magical when you witness sap dripping out from the taps and a full bucket beneath. Then considering that the sap is basically the blood of the tree, the contents of that bucket becomes precious. Each splash spilled (which I did considerably) was heartbreaking. And hard work indeed! I was so exhausted by the end of the day. Napped hard on my parent's sofa. I'm still amazed that Dad did this every day straight for 3+ weeks...Oof!