Archive for the ‘How To’ category

Kick Spindle

January 2, 2012

Later this month I’m teaching a two week introduction to spinning course. Here is one of the spinning tools I’ve built recently, a kick spindle.

As a starting point for my design I read this post by Layne Brosius, a.k.a. AFrayedKnotter. My kick spindle is pretty similar to hers. There are two major differences. The first is that I used a 1″ thick piece of poplar with feet, as you can see in the pictures. The weight of the flywheel (a furniture bun foot from Lowe’s) seems to give the device sufficient inertia both to spin for a while and to not slide across the floor during use.  I’ve only used the kick spindle on carpeting and outdoor cement, but I think if I put some rubber feet on the bottom it would stay in place on wood or tile, too.

The second significant change I made is in the bearing design. Most kick spindles I’ve seen use roller bearings, like you’d find in a roller skate. That would make the spindle turn longer between kicks, but nice bearings are expensive (especially if I’m looking to build ten of these in a class), and I don’t really mind kicking in a rhythm, since I’m used to treadling on a wheel anyway. Instead of a $4 skate bearing, I came up with something that costs a dime, namely an actual dime:

I drilled into the base at a 45° angle with a ¾” spade bit then super glued a dime onto the floor of the angled hole. I put a divot in the dime with a 1/16″ metal bit.

In the divot rests the sharpened metal point of the spindle. To point the spindle end, I nailed a small finishing nail into the center of the 1/2″ dowel that I used for the spindle (I used 1/2″ dowel because I have a 1/2″ in drill bit but not a 3/8″ one. If I had the 3/8″ bit, I’d probably go with the 3/8″ dowel).  Next I sharpened the end of the spindle by cutting away excess wood with a knife. This leaves the small nail head sticking out the end like a pencil lead. I sharpened the head with a file:

The photo doesn’t really do justice to the sharpness of the tip. (but yes, that is a dvd of Flash Dance behind my hand. I’m a spinning maniac, maniac, and I’m spinning like I’ve never done before…) The spindle will go through twelve to twenty rotations per kick:

I spun a few ounces of wool from rolags in a hotel room while watching Elf over thanksgiving weekend.  The kick spindle works pretty well.It fits in car much more easily than a spinning wheel–with a convertible car seat in the back of my Corolla, there’s no way my Saxony wheel would fit anywhere in the car anymore. It’s fairly lightweight, but heavy enough to stay in place. It isn’t as portable as a drop spindle, but the winding on procedure is a bit more efficient. Also I’m still not very good at long draws on a drop spindle, but it’s easy to spin short or long draw on the kick spindle. The kick spindle can  accommodate a very large cop of yarn, So I can spin more yarn before winding balls for plying. Winding directly off the kick spindle is also very easy.  Total cost for the whole thing was about $12. If you wanted something a bit more aesthetic, you could use a plaque with a routed edge for the base and stain the whole thing.

Twice Baked Guaco-potatoes

July 20, 2010

Last week I had bought a sack of potatoes to make twice baked potatoes. When I got home, I realized I had an avocado as well. I thought, hey, guacopotatoes would be delicious and nutritious. So I made some. I liked them; Beth liked them too, but she preferred the non-guac ones.

Ingredients:

  • 3 baking potatoes
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 tsp minced roasted garlic
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup Monterrey Jack cheese
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • salt & pepper to taste

Procedure: Bake the potatoes. Allow to cool long enough to handle safely. Halve the potatoes. Scoop out the insides with a melon-baller or spoon. Mix the potato innards with the sour cream, cheeses,  avocado, roasted garlic, and salt & pepper.  Mash together with a potato masher or large fork. If you like, you can reserve some of the cheese for topping. Spoon the mixture back into the potatoes and put them under the broiler for a few minutes until you get some nice brown spots tops. I really liked the roasted garlic with the avocado in these.

Arancini di riso

May 10, 2010

A couple days ago I came home and surveyed the fridge and pantry. There was not a whole lot there, as it was almost time to go grocery shopping, but I didn’t feel like cooking one of our lazy day frozen pizzas. However, I realized I had everything I needed to make risotto alla milanese. I love it when I can cook something with a fancy sounding name using stuff that’s left around; it’s just saffron risotto. Mario Batali’s recipe is a pretty good one, and this is not a bad recipe to start with if you’ve never made risotto before. To get the most color and flavor out of your saffron, crush the threads before using, and soak them in hot water for 20-30 minutes before adding to the recipe. The uncrushed threads look nice in the finished dish, but I think they are a waste of the spice. Before I started crushing the threads and pre-soaking, I was always disappointed with the overall color and flavor of my saffron cooking.

Today, we had some risotto left. So I made arancini di riso. (I admit this was part of my original plan all along). The name means “little oranges of rice,” and that is kind of what they look like. These are breaded, fried balls of risotto, stuffed with gooey, melty mozzarella. I didn’t feel like getting out all the stuff to deep fry, so I made baked arancini, and they were almost as good as the fried ones.

The method: take two cups chilled, leftover risotto. Mix in two beaten eggs. Roll the mixture into ping pong ball sized balls, and press a 1/2 inch cube of mozarella into the center of each one, sealing up the risotto around the cheese.  Roll each ball in some seasoned bread crumbs, then place on a cookie sheet in the fridge to chill and firm up while the oven preheats to 425ºF. Lightly drizzle with olive oil, and bake for 25 minutes. Serve with marinara sauce for dipping.

Homemade Pita

February 2, 2010

If you’ve never eaten soft, warm pita straight from the oven, frankly I feel bad for you. So, this post will chronicle the results of some experiments I’ve done in home pita baking.

Like many breads, freshly baked pita is so delicious and so different from the room temperature, dry feeling, store bought, plastic-bagged version. On top of the delicious end-product, I enjoy watching the pitas magically puff up while they bake. Have you ever wondered how that pocket gets into the pita?

Well, when they come out of the oven, pitas can be almost spherical, and are filled with a pocket of air. The loaves collapse as they cool, leaving the stuffable pocket in the finished loaf. You can see the puffage in my low-tech time-lapse movie:

These events actually spanned a period of five minutes.

If you want to make pitas from scratch, I highly recommend reading this post by Farmgirl from 2005. Her recipe makes delicious pita, and I’ve achieved a successful puff rate of  at least 70-80% with her recipe. I don’t think I can improve on her recipe at all, without doing Cooks-Illustrated-style experiments involving 50-100 batches.

But a few weeks ago, I got to thinking, “Hmmm, you know, pizza dough is made from almost identical ingredients in almost identical proportions to that pita dough. I wonder if I could make pita from pre-made store-bought pizza dough?” If this worked, it would mean that I could bake fresh pita after work, and still eat at a reasonable hour.

Rising and kneading time account for most of the delay when making any yeast bread. Generally freshly baked bread proves to be totally worth the wait. But sometimes, I don’t have the foresight to know what I want for dinner tomorrow. I think to myself at lunch time that I’d like pita and falafel for dinner. Such was the case one day last week. So I executed my pita-from-pizza-dough experiment. The result: a total success!

I began with some refrigerated, Hannaford-brand whole wheat pizza dough (Hannaford is our regional grocery chain):

I opened the package, divided the dough into 8 parts, covered them with a damp tea towel, and allowed them to warm up to room temperature:Preheat your oven to 500°F. With well floured hands and a well floured board and rolling pin, roll each ball into a 3/16″ (5mm) thick circle. Perfect circles are not important. Uniform and appropriate thickness are important.

Thick, corrugated cardboard or some higher quality hardware store paint stirrers have about the right thickness to make good depth gauges. Just place the sticks on the edges of your board and roll the rolling pin on top of them. When the pita is as thick as the stirring sticks, it will be uniformly the proper thickness. Now that I’m thinking about it, I bet a National Geographic magazine might make a good depth gauge, too. Here are the rolled out proto-pitæ:

Place the dough disks on a piece of aluminum foil. If you have a pizza peel, it will be handy for getting the pitas into the oven. If not, no big deal. The pitas go into the oven sitting on only the foil. No cookie sheets. No baking stones. Just the foil on the oven rack. The bottoms of the pitas harden too quickly on a stone or baking sheet, inhibiting the puffage. Bake the discs, two to four at a time, for 5-7 minutes. You want the insides to be fully baked, but the outsides to still be soft with just a little golden brown coloring.

After the pitas come out, place them into a paper grocery bag, and roll the bag shut, or wrap them in foil. This will keep the loaves soft as they cool.

As you can see, everything worked fine out with the whole wheat dough. However, I repeated the experiment with white-flour pizza dough from Trader Joe’s. Not surprisingly, the white-flour loaves puffed up much higher. Also, I found the first batch of pitas to be a little small. So, I’d recommend dividing the package of dough into only six parts (for a 20 oz package of dough).

Vol-au-vent how-to

January 24, 2010

Some of my favorite things to bake are pastries that look really intricate and difficult when they are finished, but that don’t actually take much work. These Vol-au-vent are a good example, but I cheated a bit: I used pre-made, packaged pâte feuilletée. So these are kind of like making chocolate chip cookies from a tube, but they look fancy, don’t they? (more…)

Homemade Primanti Sandwiches

January 18, 2010

I really enjoy cooking foreign, exotic cuisine for dinner—Indian, Thai, Chinese, French,…Pittsburghese? Yes. Several foods common to the area around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where I grew up and went to college) are foreign in New Hampshire. Pittsburgh cuisine might even be more foreign than the other foods I enjoy cooking because making them at home is the only way to get them here (whereas I can walk to one Indian, two Thai, and three Chinese restaurants; one of the Chinese restaurants is actually good, too!).

So, I thought I’d share some notes on a few of these, in case you, dear reader, have enjoyed Pittsburghese cuisine in the past but now find yourself far from the steel city, or if you are just curious and want to try making them yourself. I’ll start with the most iconic food: the Primanti Bros. Sandwich:

As you can see, two thick slices of fluffy Italian bread embrace fresh-cut french fries, melty provolone cheese, tomatoes,  and sweet-and-sour coleslaw. What else occupies the space between the bread varies. Could be steak, corned beef, ham, tuna, blackened chicken, fried fish, fried egg, more cheese. The list goes on, but the essentials are the fries, the slaw, and the bread. Joe Primanti created these massive beasts at his sandwich cart in Pittsburgh’s strip district in the 1930’s. There are now five Primanti Bros. locations in the city and 8 in the suburbs around the city. It’s taken me a bit of experimentation, but I now have a recipe that does a pretty good job to recreate the original.

If you can’t make it to the Pittsburgh area, I  highly recommend making these yourself. They are so good, they could make you make this face:

Not many recipes get an endorsement like that! Sadly, I don’t think many readers who haven’t already tasted one of these will want to try making them. But if you would, read on… (more…)

Adventures in Cheesemaking: Paneer Butter Masala!

January 4, 2010

IMG_0157

I was looking over my past posts and thinking it’s been a while since I’ve posted any cooking or recipe entries.  The total lack of any Indian cooking posts actually surprised me because I love cooking Indian food. (Sometimes I think I cook Indian meals enough days in a row to wear out Beth’s taste for them). So, Indian food post, your time has come.

One of my favorite dishes to cook is paneer butter masala. This dish consists of (more…)

2nd Anniversary Spinning Adventure!

December 7, 2009

(Click to view larger) Our route from Dover, NH, USA to West Jeddore, NS, Canada (and back). For scenic reasons, we took the southern route on the way there, and the northern route on the way back.

Last week, for our second anniversary, Beth and I took a trip to Nova Scotia to take a textile spinning workshop. During the trip we stayed in two very nice Canadian B&B’s. We packed up after thanksgiving dinner and hit the road for St. Stephen, New Brunswick just over the US/Canada border to stay at the Blair House Heritage Inn.

Beth researches activities for Saturday in New Brunswick

The breakfast of pancakes and fruit was delicious. David, our host, made excellent tea. David hails originally from England, and worked as a hunting and fishing guide before taking over the bed and breakfast a few years ago. I really liked our room’s hand-shaped light fixtures:

From St. Stephen, we traveled to St. John, the capital of New Brunswick, which is on the coast. Apparently they really like their Saint names in the Canadian maritime provinces. The downtown area of St. John is populated by these stocky wooden sculptures of pedestrians:

can you spot Beth?

The wooden people even walk around in the mall!

After escaping the wooden Canadians we checked out the New Brunswick Museum for a few hours. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the museum, but my favorite parts were the exhibits on ship building (New Brunswick was a major ship building center during the age of sail), and the Hall of Great Whales, where there were complete skeletons of several kinds of whale, and a 90% scale model of a North Atlantic Right Whale (like those we saw live in August).

From St. John we continued on to Musquodoboit Harbor  on the southern coast of Nova Scotia, where we were taking the weekend-long spinning workshop. There was going to be one other student, but she canceled due to swine flu. So, Beth and I had the entire workshop to ourselves!

I should explain how we ended up going to Nova Scotia for a spinning workshop. Having practiced drop spindle spinning for a few weeks, we decided we’d like to learn to spin with a wheel. We found the Spinner’s Loft online, and thought a weekend spinning workshop vacation in Nova Scotia would be a fun way to celebrate our anniversary. So we called up Leslie, the proprietor of the Spinner’s Loft, and found as luck would have it that she was available for the weekend of American Thanksgiving.

There were many wheels in the spinner's loft.

Leslie has been spinning for about 30 years, and has spun an amazing variety of fibers: wool, silk, flax (linen), horse hair, musk ox, dog hair, cat hair, organic cotton from tampons, and lion’s mane to name a few! Don’t worry, the lion was not sheared. The lion’s mane hairs were gathered from tree branches where they’d become stuck when the lion rubbed against the tree.

We began on the first day by learning about washing, picking and carding of fleece. I passed some Cotswold fleece through the triple picker, which was definitely the device most closely resembling a medieval torture implement. A triple picker consists of a cradle shaped bed of nails, and a nail studded pendulum that swings just above the bed. You feed the locks of wool in one end while swinging the pendulum-of-death, and an airy cloud of wool magically comes out the other end.

Cotswold fleece and the triple picker (right). Cotswold are cool looking dredlock rasta sheep (see photo).

We took the cloud over to the drum carder and learned to use it. This is basically a pair of giant round hairbrushes with a crank to drive them around. The drum carder produces a moderately tenuous bat of fiber, which can either be torn into strips along the “grain” to make roving or it can be rolled perpendicular to the grain to make little logs called rolags.

Next we did some drop spindle spinning “in the grease.” This means spinning wool that still has a fair amount of  lanolin in it. In our case, there was also some vegetable matter and maybe an occasional trace of sheep poo in it, too. The spindling was much easier with Leslie’s spindles than our tiny-whorled homemade ones. (The whorl is the disc shaped part of the spindle). After the drop spindling warm-up, we moved on to learning to use the wheel. I think this post is long enough, so I’ll save the wheel stuff for another post.

First Spinning!

December 1, 2009

I might have a few more posts in my Cameroon journal series, but I think I’m going to be shifting gears for a week or so to posts about making stuff. To begin with: making yarn!

A couple of weeks ago Beth and I just each got an ounce or two of hand painted roving at the farmer’s market in Portsmouth, NH. Roving is wool that has been cleaned and smoothed and  is ready to be spun into yarn. If it has been hand painted, it looks like this:

One Ounce of Hand Painted Roving

One Ounce of Hand Painted Roving

One way to make yarn is using a spinning wheel, like you see in fairy tale illustrations. But a far older method is to use a device called a drop spindle. This is just a stick with a ball or disk on it, and a hook at one end.  We built our own drop spindles out of dowelrods, 2” wooden toy cartwheels, and 1/2” brass cup hooks. (Mine also involves some surgical tape because my dowel split a bit when I was screwing in the cup hook).

Home made drop spindle

Recent archaeological evidence has suggested that humans may have been spinning using simple tools like these as long as 30,000 years ago! To use this device, you basically tie on a teased-out bit of roving, spin the spindle like a top, and let the twist come into a little bit of the roving at a time, as you tease out more and more fiber. Periodically you have to stop and wind the newly formed yarn onto your stick, because—earning it’s name—the drop spindle reaches the floor when you’ve created about two meters of yarn.

The Spinner, William Adolphe Bouguereau, oil on canvas, 1873

Beth caught on to the technique a bit faster than I did, so at the end of our first spinning evening. She had some nice, fairly uniform, possibly-thin-enough yarn on her spindle:

spindle in action: Beth demonstrates her technique

I, however, had become the proud creator several yards of coiled purple muppet dredlock:

"yarn"

My muppet dreadlock...er..."yarn."

But we took the spindles with us to the laundromat the following week, and I finally got the hang of it. While we were doing laundry, I  produced some purplish single-ply yarn comparable to Beth’sfirst blue/green stuff, which she had already plied and set.

“Plying?” you may ask. Well, most yarn is actually made up of several strands that have been twisted together. The strands we made above are called “singles,” and they are held together by their twist. If the individual wool fibers weren’t twisted they’d just slide past each other and the yarn would fall apart when you pulled on it.

So this twist is very useful, but if you’ve ever twisted up a yo-yo string, or kite string or rubber band, you know that highly twisted things like to kink up and coil around themselves. Because of this, a single ply yarn, or “single,” is sort of hard to work with. The yarn may kink when you’re trying to knit it or weave it. This problem of kinking can be solved by taking two singles that twist to the right, and twisting them around each other to the left. The result is yarn that is strong, but doesn’t kink:

Plied yarn still on the spindle

Finally, I unwound this plied yarn off the spindle and coiled it around a chair back to make a skein. This is only about 15 meters of yarn, but I’m pretty happy with it for my first attempt, (i.e. first attempt after the muppet dreadlock incident).

the finished skein

Homemade English Muffins

November 12, 2009

I enjoy English muffins from the store (after they’ve been split, toasted and buttered), but homemade English muffins are in a whole different ballpark. Straight off the griddle, they taste delicious with or without butter, but if you know me,you know I’ll always go with the butter if it’s an option.

EnglishMuffins

English muffins on the griddle

These are one of those foods that for some reason we tend to think cannot be made at home. (Pita is another one). However, they can be made at home; they are very easy to make, and they taste much better than the storebought ones, (which do taste fine; don’t get me wrong). They don’t even require an oven, just a griddle. The first time Beth and I made these (and the second and third times as well) was in Cameroon with a propane burner and a non-stick pan. The recipe (from the “Chop Fayner”):

The Ingredients:

  • 1 c.  hot water
  • 1/2 c. scalded milk
  • 2t sugar
  • 1t salt
  • cornmeal for dusting
  • 1T yeast
  • 4 c. flour
  • 3T softened butter or margarine

The Method:

Combine the warm water, milk, sugar, and yeast. Wait 10 minutes to see that the yeast froths up. Beat in 2 c of the flour & wait 1 hour. Add softened butter, salt, and the rest of the flour. Let rise until doubled. Roll to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into 3″ circles on a surface generously covered in cornmeal. (We used the lid of an Ovaltine™ jar to cut them out).  Let rise until doubled in height. Grill on a lightly oiled, hot frying pan until puffed and lightly browned. Flip and brown the other side. Split with a fork and enjoy!

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