Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Spring Garden

I was finally able to finish putting up the wood and filling the garden. Now, our bask deck has sort of an oasis. The basil is already going crazy. The photos don't really look as nice as the real thing.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Bringing the deck to code

I had a week off this week. As always, I hoped to do more than I was able to do, but one major project that I saw to completion was the building of a rat wall under our current deck. The former owner built our deck not to code, and I had to correct the mistake. First, I had to get a permit. Oddly, they issued me one despite the fact that I am not the homeowner. Ha. I dug the trench over the course of two days. The required dimensions were 2' x 4" for the perimeter of the deck. Naturally, digging a four inch trench that deep on a retrofit is ridiculous, so the average width ended up being between six and eight inches. Most of the work was done with a post holer, which wasn't the most fun thing I've ever done.

I had the concrete delivered after the code inspector approved the project. The delivery guy (Concrete Express, Warren, MI) was nice enough to stay an entire hour while I filled the trench one 250 pound wheelbarrow load at a time. Not that he helped, but he didn't rush off. In the end, I put in a cubic yard and a half of concrete into the trench, and I need to finish it off with maybe a 60 lbs. bag. If a rat gets into that deck, he deserves it.

Now that the concrete is in, I can start on the next step outside: cedar raised bed for my vegetables.

Garden first steps

I had a bit of spring fever in March and started 48 basil (Mammoth, Genovese, and Lemon) plants indoors in the middle of the month. Such is the result of idle time in Lowes on a rainy day.

Today, 6 weeks later, the plants have been transplanted into bigger, biodegradable pots from their starters, but they are still smaller than I expected. Lesley and I also started, a bit later, tomatoes, catnip, bush basil, sunflowers, poppies, cucumbers, gourds, and myriad of other plants from seed.

I am designing a raised bed for everything that should be up in the next week or two. Our last frost date is the 15th of May, and I expect to be ready by then to transplant everything into the ground.

Lessons learned to be implemented next year:
-Start earlier. All the books and advice recommend putting seeds to start six weeks in advance. My plants are big enough right now, but I would prefer to put up bigger plants next year. Right now, most of my plants are just starting to get their first true leaves and some still only have cotyledons. My current plan is to start about the first of the year in the basement with grow lights. By the time May rolls around, I'll have much larger plants ready for the garden. I'll be making pesto while my neighbors are enjoying the last of their tulips.

-Start garden perennials with my annuals or even earlier. If I can start early enough, I can have decently sized perennials to add to the flower gardens, saving me a ton of money in the long run, even if I have to be more patient in the short-term.

-Basil is prone to damping off. I had to throw out all of the Lemon/Lime basil mix because of this. I need to water slightly less and ventilate much more.

-I need to practice dividing and collecting seeds in the fall. We'll see how this goes.

Renewed Interest

I got bored with my blog. Also, changes at work and at home have changed my attention to the projects I enjoy. Recently, however, I have renewed my interest in continuing these posts for myself, for the interest of my brother, and for a reference for me later if I choose to repeat my projects and experiments.

This year, my girlfriend bought a house, and my projects are mostly related to her house. Since my last blog, I have remodeled the bathroom, painted the two main rooms in the downstairs, and brought several elements of the house up to current code. Additionally, she and I have done a great deal of canning and gardening.

I am going to attempt to retroactively post on some of the topics, particularly the garden, in order to improve my method next year.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I remember when my Christmas presents were toys

This year for Christmas, my brother and I decided to buy each other whole pork legs. These legs, with a bit of patience, a little cajoling, and a ton of salt would undergo a metamorphosis more beautiful than caterpillar to butterfly: the change from pork leg to prosciutto.
The process is surprisingly simple. First, the legs are deboned, sewn back up, and put into a salt vat for about a month. After that month, the leg, now significantly lighter due to water loss, is covered in pepper and pork fat and hung to air dry for between six and nine months. While the process itself is easy, the steps themselves must be done very carefully to protect your meat investment. Yes, your meat investment.

First, the pork needs to be of the best quality. Second, the process of butchering needs to be done carefully to avoid contamination. As the pictures show, my brother and I were extremely careful. (Ha) The salt curing needs to be properly timed, and, though we have yet to meet this stage, I'm guessing what the meat comes in contact with while air drying will make a big difference. Certainly, differences in temperature and humidity can play an enormous role in the quality of the final product.

The following are pictures from the butchering process to the beginning of the salt cure.
1. The pork legs upon arrival from Old Town Butchers in Xenia. 2. As you can see, we bought out a whole supply of salt from the store. I think we bought about 35 pounds. 3. Sewing back up the final product. 4. Weighted and in the salt cure.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The first step in metallurgy

It's been more than a few weeks since my last post, but work and school have taken the place of any hobbies I had in the summer. Three weeks ago, however, a friend who is a materials engineer for a very generous company offered to teach me basic metallurgy in exchange for helping him finish a few projects. 

First, I was shown the principles of using a MIG welder on 1/4" steel. I had a high quality welder's mask, but I was surprised by how difficult it was to look directly at the metal pool I was using to weld. With practice, however, I could see that the biggest challenges are knowing your metal, following your weld, and mastering the dexterity of the hundreds of tiny circular motions needed for a good, smooth weld. The principles are not difficult, but the production is certainly not easy. 

Second, I was shown how to use an acetylene blow torch. Basically, I connected two pieces of metal then blew them apart. Again, keeping consistent motion proved difficult, but the idea of heating the metal to a threshold that would blow 1/4" steel off itself in liquid form is pretty fun. The fundamentals of blowtorching are significantly easier - and much more fun. 

After a few days of practice, I am now helping Steve, my friend, produce an oven that will be used in metal molding. His boss has two furnaces that can even melt stainless steel, so our project is to create the molds, build the furnace, and pour knife grade stainless steel into crampon points and other ice climbing gear - making our own Grivel-style piolets seems attractive. In addition, the furnace will take a lot of welding and other metalworking skills, so it will be excellent practice. 

We also started making the molds out of ceramic powder and vermiculite (an additive to make the mold easier to break). Word to the wise - if you do this at home, be careful to make the mixture in the correct volumes. Hand mixing is the easiest, especially at this magnitude of production, but the mixture heats as it sets. Warning signs on the ceramic powder attest to this danger. The great danger, however, ended up being timing. To keep the mixture from setting, constanst (hand) mixing is critical. Unfortunately, the mixture will set on your skin, and getting it off is similar to waxing your forearms. It's better to be avoided. Also, as a suggestion to anyone seeking to replicate this procedure, a viscous fluid is the best. Even with the increased water, the colloid will set quickly, and the result is better with a viscous fluid. Also, it's easier to wash off your hands. 

Certainly, much more to learn. Look for updates. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pasta: Trial 1

To be fair, I have to admit that I've made pasta several times in the past; however, I have never felt completely prepared and all previous attempts have been artful rather than scientific. So, in an attempt to discover the best homemade pasta, I began Trial 1 of my pasta tests. The key will be care with ingredients, monitoring of recipe differences, and many, many taste tests.

I've decided to do at least 2 and possible 3 trials depending on the quality of recipes I can find. This first test is between two reasonable pasta recipes from two cookbooks - the Italian classic Silver Spoon (get it) and a book given to me at Christmas one year.

At this point, semolina flour is easily sourced from nearly any grocery store. Unfortunately, the preferred grind of white flour used in some recipes (such as Silver Spoon) is Italian 00 or doppio zero flour. For this, my brother brought me a few pounds from NYC. I prefer to source closer to home, and especially not from NYC, due to a desire to find local foods and also a desire not to ever admit that NYC is, in any way, culturally or culinarily superior to the Midwest.

Recipe 1, Silver Spoon:
1 and 3/4 cups doppio zero flour
2 eggs, lighly beaten
pinch salt

Recipe 2, :
2 3/4 cups doppio zero flour
1 1/4 cups semolina flour
10 egg yolks, 3 whole eggs

Results: Both versions proved perfectly good, but there were differences. The Silver Spoon's version proved much smoother, but with a little less flavor. The second version had a lot more texture and flavor and made a much more durable dried noodle, but was not quite on par. Between the two, I think I preferred the Silver Spoon version, but for the sake of added texture and durability, I think adding some semolina is a good idea. Also, I think that the Silver Spoon version might make a better thin noodle.

So, for next time: Silver Spoon recipe with a cup of semolina added. But what about the eggs??