Thursday, January 31, 2013

Le Tour

Right after I got it, tires flat and not yet ridable.
Haven't blogged in a while, not really much since I was in a near fatal van on bicycle accident. It wasn't so awesome but both I and my favorite green bicycle survived(after a little rebuilding on both counts). I've got a backlog of fun things and projects to write up and I'm carving out time to do so.

I'm not often one for kitsch but this is a pretty awesome ad. 
One fun project has been the unearthing and repair, not so much restoration, of a 1974 Schwinn Le Tour road bike. I picked it up at a garage sale for next to nothing and put in a lot of elbow grease along with some bike grease and hours to end up with a great looking bike that is fun to ride and more suitable for longer rides than my Globe, more on that as well. My original plan was to use it for randonneuring but it's become more of a special occasion and weekend bike for me so my quest for a randonneur worthy bike continues. 

After it's first(and my first since the accident) bridge crossing.
It was pretty grubby when I got it after sitting in a garage in Russian Hill since 1976. The tires had practically melted over the years but other than that and some rust here and there it was/is about as stock and complete an example of this iconic ride as you'll ever see. I've replaced the seat and swapped out the wheels from another vintage bike but it's essentially as purchased back in the 70's. Thanks to this handy site for Schwinn fans I was able to pinpoint exactly what I had found. 

So far it's made a few rides across the Golden Gate Bridge up to Muir woods and around Marin as well as making appearances in San Francisco from time to time. I had planned to really change out a lot of things and update the bike but the more I ride it the more I like it just the way it is and I may do a randonneur race on it yet. Definitely one of those bikes that just sort of grows on you. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fingerless mittens

I tried a couple different styles, including knitting on double pointed needles but settled on a simple method using straight needles where you knit them flat and then stitch them up. It's easy, knits up fast and makes for pretty good fingerless mittens.

You can use Number 8 or 9 needles. Cast on 28-30 stitches of worsted weight yarn and knit two or three inches of ribbing. I like the look of only using knit stitches but alternating knits and purls would work just as well. When you have six inches or so of the body knit another inch or two of ribbing and bind off.

To stitch them up, fit the glove to your hand, starting at the finger end works best for me. Use a tapestry needle or the big ones yo find in knit shops and do a simple whip stitch down to where you'd like the thumb to be. I weave the yarn through the knitting to get it around the thumb opening and then, again fitting it to your hand, start stitching again and go down to the wrist. Simple as that. You can vary the stitches, make them fair isle, whatever you'd like.

Mine are working well for the mild, but still often cold, weather we have here in the San Francisco area. As with most knit gloves and mittens they wear quickly on a bicycle. I'm planning to stitch leather palms on a pair soon and see how that helps with the bicycle wear and tear.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cracker Barrel Banjo

A year or so ago I was visiting family and went to Cracker Barrel. I'd been looking for a small banjo, something I wouldn't cry over if anything happened to it dragging it around camping or to social gatherings. I'd not expected to find it in the gift shop while we were at brunch but low and behold there it was. A "junior banjo guitar" aka a short neck five sting banjo. It may also have been modeled on a banjeaurine an instrument I haven't seen too many of. It was about $40 on sale and definitely a toy. Out of the box it was almost playable, with steal stings and a plastic head. Worth noting is that it takes a "no collar" head, something that isn't super common but not terribly hard to find online if you know what to call it. The head that comes with it is too soft and as it stretches, while you are playing it, the banjo goes out of tune in a hurry. Mind you with a new bridge and head it plays ok. Really, I like my Washburn and will almost always grab that first but people have been cobbling together banjos out of everything from gas and oil cans to gourds and cigar boxes since the instruments emerged. No, it doesn't sound "great" and no it isn't nice but there is a certain charm in playing through the challenges. I out a calf skin head on mine and used a nicer bridge and it's almost decent.

What it is mostly is affordable but it's not a good beginner banjo. I use mine to practice rolls and just play around when I'm by myself with no one to annoy. Even at that, I'm a hare's breath away from putting a metal or birch top on it due to it's inability to be properly adjusted. It's a toss up really, either I modify this thing a bit more or hang it on the wall and look at it while I build a gas can banjo or some other fun thing that is vaguely more playable. There are also lots of nice banjo's and banjo ukulele's out there for a couple hundred bucks. This is far from the only low end of the market option.

Bottom line though, it's a fun thing to have around and as long as it isn't your only banjo, you might as well grab one next time you are having hash brown casserole at Cracker Barrel. I did look on the website but there were very few instruments and no banjo but my parents say they are still selling them in the gift shop at the one near them in northern Indiana.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Simple Sauerkraut

The web is awash with recipes for sauerkraut and really, it's pretty darn simple no matter how you approach it. You just need to remember to use enough salt and make sure the water line in you crock, glass jar or plastic container comes above the level of the cabbage. This ensures the lactofermentation process happens with little or no mold blooms. I do use more salt than most recipes call for, maybe two tablespoons per head of cabbage, but I also don't shred my cabbage in preference of a more coarse kraut with a little more tooth. It takes longer than usual both due to higher levels of salt and thicker pieces of cabbage taking longer to ferment. Sometimes when the weather is cool it can take a month as opposed to as little as four days for less salt and more finely shredded cabbage. Anyway, I've been happy with my results and my kraut is popular on the table. Another style and method to add to your kitchen.
Coarse chopped

1 head of red cabbage
2-3 tablespoons salt (I use basic kosher salt)
water to fill your container

Non-rusting container large enough to hold a head of chopped cabbage
A clean smooth rock to hold the cabbage under the water line
     You could use a glass or a saucer, anything handy. I boil any stones I use.

Just layer the salt and cabbage until you fill the container or run out of cabbage. Try to pack it down and gently tap the jar on the counter to get as much air out as possible when you add water. Top it off with water so it covers the cabbage. I use a stone, drinking glass or saucer to hold the cabbage under the surface of the water, again this is important to keep the cabbage away from air and in the brine. That's it. Now set it some place warm(ish) 45 to 65 degrees seems to work well for me. Any colder and it won't ferment, warmer and it tends to rot. Though, using more than typical salt I don't seem to have that issue too often. Give it between a week and a month tasting as it goes. When you like how it tastes remove the stone or whatever is holding down the cabbage turned sauerkraut and refrigerate or eat within a day or two. I have managed to keep it in the refrigerator for about a month but it usually gets eaten before it has a chance to go bad.

You can add dill, mustard seed, caraway, fennel or anything else you might want. I just like it simple. It's very adaptive and can be used in everything from soup and stew to the expected brats and hot dogs. I've even topped mashed root vegetables with it!

If you are interested in more fermentation projects you might check out the Wild Fermentation site. My recipe is saltier and a much smaller batch than the one offered on the site but there are lots of ways to go about this and lots of fun things to try fermenting.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Evolution Beanie

I've been knitting for about a year and half and I'm a year in to my career as a fashion designer. That has given me both new skills and a chance to hone my craft toward a couple of iconic items I want and use quite a bit. In this case it's a slightly modernized version of the voyageur caps of my childhood. The most recent evolution of both my knitting and development of that voyageur update came together about six months ago when on a whim I went to a Wes Anderson double feature and decided to knit a red hat while watching Life Aquatic. I got both my update and a Jacque Cousteau worthy red hat.

"Then this guy was all, Not the face!"
This red one was the first really great hat I knit and now with half a dozen more under my belt I think I'm getting it down. It takes a lot longer than my earlier hats because I'm now using only worsted weight wool, meaning around 5200 stitches per hat, but that just seems to be the sweet spot.

A single skein of worsted weight wool usually makes one hat. Cast on 96 stitches using 16" number 8 circular needles. Knit about 9" for the body, then 2" of ribbing before binding off. Then simply gather and stitch the top closed. Nothing to it. A great hat even first time knitters can make.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Nasturtium pesto

I posted ages ago about foraging nasturtiums and mentioned how a recipe or two might be helpful. One of the best uses of nasturtium I've found is making pesto. It's a little different from the familiar basil stuff, spicier finish but welcome anywhere other types are used and it can be substituted in any recipe that calls for pesto.

You will need:

A blender

2 cups (packed) nasturtium leaves
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or toasted sunflower seeds
4 large cloves of garlic or a 1/2 cup (packed) of fresh garlic greens
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated Italian hard cheese, Parmesan or Romano work 

Gather enough nasturtium to fill a paper grocery bag most of the way. That'll really only give you about two cups of packed leaves. I don't use the stems and I avoid the larger leaves in favor of more tender and mild tasting small ones. Be sure to wash them well and remove most of the stems. You can throw in some flowers if you like the color or use them for garnish. (The flowers are also slightly less spicy and can soften the flavor if you like.) Once the leaves are washed and dried add them to a blender with the oil, garlic, nuts/seeds and cheese. Blend until the consistency is even and the ingredients are well blended.

It's that simple, tastes great and will keep for a couple weeks or so in the fridge. I made this batch to go with gnocchi, miner's lettuce and roast quail. Looking forward to more.

Pickled herring

It's always interesting working with Chef Iso at Forage SF and my most recent kitchen adventure was no different. Iso netted about 60lbs of herring and a few of us pitched in to help and learn how to pickle fish.
It was a messy job but we got about 300 servings into the jars. This sort of thing is a different kind of experience compared to my work as a personal chef where I rarely get a chance to feed more than a dozen people. Given the level of hand crafting, it's also different than when I've run bar and restaurant kitchens, so it's something I look forward to. Also helps if you like the people you work with and Iso is one of the best.

Cleaning was relatively easy. We basically removed the heads, gutted them, took off the smaller flippers and then scaled them with spoons and our fingers. The scales on herring come off pretty easy. They sat overnight in brine and then were packed into jars with vinegar, sugar, onion, mustard seed, bay leaves, lemon and onions. Most recipes agree that the fish pickle and are edible after just 24 hours but I'd give them a couple weeks. There are numerous recipes online. It's an old preservation method with countless variations.
Before cleaning.
The pickling solution.

Ready for pickling solution and lids.