Friday, September 30, 2011

Flooding: Update 7

Basement Progress

Our progress in the basement was delayed when we started working on costumes for Dragon*Con, such as what we did with the fiberglass.

In the main area of the basement, we have trimmed all of the drywall at approximately chair-rail height (33"). On Saturday, we finally got the chance to pick up drywall, thanks to Scott's dad. We cut each 8' sheet into thirds (32") and installed it below the remaining existing drywall. We will cover the gaps with chair-rail and baseboard molding. We decided to use greenboard, which is water and mold resistant (and paperless wasn't available in the retail store) just in case something happens again, if it isn't there long, we might be able to just scrub it down. Worst case, we remove the chair rail, rip it out, and replace it easily easily.

Basement Progress

We installed one long wall of drywall on Saturday, which I have taped and mudded since.

Gonzo and Kermit Stormtroopers at Detroit Fanfare

Sunday, we took a break and went to Detroit Fanfare and got some crazy deals on comics. I then headed to the Detroit Zymology Guild to can tomatoes (and drink Bloody Marys made from the fresh tomato juice). After that I got to have dinner with Gerite, fabulous blogger of New Blog for Better Sewing fame, at Toasted Oak.

More work to do this weekend.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: Fancy Free

Fancy Free

This week's cocktail was The Fancy Free. I found it thanks to tooling around on Kindred Cocktails looking for drinks that involve orange bitters. I found Kindred Cocktails thanks to a new comment on my Colony Cocktail post, from back when we didn't know the difference between Marachino cherries and real Marachino liqueur. We still have to retry the Colony Cocktail, but we've had to throw out the grapefruit juice we had, and I'm trying to use things we have first. The Fancy Free was a great candidate for a new drink we could make without buying anything.

Fancy Free

2 oz Bourbon
1/2 oz Maraschino Liqueur
1 ds Angostura bitters
1 ds Orange bitters

Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass

The verdict: Both Scott and our guest who tried it liked it so much that they thought they would order it out at a bar. I call that success. The Marachino took center stage for me, but it still combined really nicely with the other elements.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Experiments in Fiberglass


Another project I want to share with you is a new costume piece we made for Scott for Dragon*Con. The costume is of a character from Marvel Comics Thunderbolts, named Techno. As you can see, this costume has some large, heavy, awkward pieces. This year, we remade them so that they would be lighter, more resilient, and less painful.

The new shoulder pieces were built by making a mold of the old one and using fiberglass to create a strong new skin that doesn't require reinforcement -- just foam. Plus, the new pieces have lights installed.

Fiberglass for Fixer suit

Unfortunately, we started the fiberglass before we really knew how to do it, so that created a lot more work for us. You can see this from the random strands of fiberglass sticking out in the photo above. Not knowing how to apply the fiberglass meant that we had to apply more coats, cut off sharp parts, fill in holes on the outside, and a lot of sanding.

The first thing to know before you start is that there are two different ways you can buy the fiberglass reinforcement.

Fiberglass batt

The batts shown above are full of fibers that are scattered in random directions, and are not adhered together. You can pull the fiberglass batt apart, not unlike a batt of roving for spinning wool. Bits of the batt sticking to our gloves were the cause of the all of the spindly sharp bit in the picture above.

Fiberglass cloth

The cloth shown above is much cleaner and in many ways easier to work with, but it flexes in a different way from the batt, and the shapes must be pre-cut.

These number of sharp spots lessened as we realized that it was easier to work with once we smothered it in resin. Still, we couldn't get things right until we finally did what we should have done in the first place -- called for advice. I knew that my mom had made fiberglass sculptures in college, so we asked her for tips. Everything she said made so much sense, and then it was confirmed when we talked to her neighbor, who has used fiberglass to make bathtubs, etc. Here's what we learned:

You have to remember that the fiberglass is just an armature and the really important material is the resin, so you need to focus on the resin. You want to pour the resin into the mold so that it's thick, like spreading honey. The resin coat you apply should be thicker than your fiberglass. You will then set the fiberglass onto the coat of resin and it will sink down into the resin and be swallowed up by it. We had coated the mold with only a small bit of resin before adding the fiberglass, which ultimately led to voids between the mold and the fiberglass that we laid on top. Plus, the fiberglass became totally unmanageable, sticking to our gloves, etc., because it wasn't fully soaked in the resin.

You want to work in small areas and move from one to the next, rather than trying to get an entire coat done in one shot. The size of these areas should be about 6"x6" and that should decrease if there is a tight radius. You don't want the resin to dry entirely, but you can let it set up a little. It will work and there won't be a seam as long as the part you're working on is touching a part that's not dry yet. This is like the way that painters have traditionally made frescoes. Doing this would have allowed us to turn the piece to get into areas that are completely opposite each other without having the resin run and pool.

Kale Chips

Kale Chips

We missed last week's Cocktail Wednesday because of Scott's heavy workload. I wanted to share something else with you instead that I made last week and took to Scott's brother's housewarming party. From the bounty of our garden, I harvested kale and made chips, using a recipe from Oui Chef Network. They are lovely, thin, crispy veggies-ful chips. I had read that they were like potato chips, and therefor, at first, I found the flavor too strong, but once I started eating them the second time, I really started enjoying them. I got lots of compliments and several requests for the recipe. Even several picky anti-veggie guys liked them!

Kale Chips:

1 large bunch kale
a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt to taste

Preheat your oven to 300ºF, and evenly distribute the racks inside.
Wash and dry the kale, first in a salad spinner, then by laying it between layers of fresh kitchen towels or paper towels so you get it as dry as possible.
Remove its tough center rib and cut the remaining part of each leaf into manageable pieces. Toss them into a large mixing bowl with a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil and a generous sprinkling of kosher salt. (At that point it will look like the photo above.)
Bake on sheet pans in a single layer, and bake in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes until crispy. If you don't have enough pans or racks, you'll need to cook them in batches, but 15-20 minutes is fast!

Cocktail Wednesdays: The Gory Kraken

The Gory Kraken

Yesterday, I harvested a lot of strawberries, and I wanted to use them in the evening's drink. I didn't want to go for a strawberry daiquiri. The other requirements, just based on what Scott was in the mood for included: no lemon juice and no vermouth. We were also looking at rum or gin drinks.

I thought about trying a Strawberry Mojito, but Scott wasn't so sure about combining mint and strawberry. Plus, I don't think he wanted to mess with the mojito, since it's one of his favorite drinks.

I took some inspiration from The Strawberry Haze and The Champagne and Strawberry Cocktail that I found on Made Man, but I didn't want to crack a champagne bottle. Instead, we decided to go for spiced rum and strawberries. The result of the unstrained strawberry pulp floating in the spiced rum certainly looks like an appropriately Pirate-ish drink to be associated with the Kraken, and the rum is a strong component but it's also fruity.

The Gory Kraken

1/2 tsp sugar
4 strawberries
2oz spiced rum
1 Tbsp simple syrup
1 dash white balsamic vinegar

Muddle the strawberries in the sugar. Add rum, simple syrup and balsamic vinegar. Shake over ice and pour into a rocks glass.

The verdict: I tasted this throughout the process of creating the drink, so I was pretty pleased with the result. Scott thought it was good, too. I think it's a nice balance of the the strawberry and the flavor of the rum, with a little twist from the balsamic to keep it from being too sweet. I started with half the simple syrup, and I wasn't sure I wanted to double it. I could have used a scant tablespoon that would be a tiny bit less sweet. The splash of balsamic also needs to be tiny, and that can be hard not to over do. It should just temper the sweetness, and give a tang, not be enough to be identifiable. The amount should be similar to a couple of dashes of bitters.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Homemade Ricotta

Ricotta Making - with cat

In things I have been planning to blog about, I made ricotta from scratch at the end of last month. I had a gallon of raw whole milk from some friends who bought a share at a small local dairy for the summer. They went to Burning Man, and I got their last gallon of milk. I had to use it quickly, before it went bad, and before we left for Labor Day weekend in Atlanta. I decided to make some cheese.

I had made cheese before, using a kit my mother bought from New England Cheese Making Supply Company. We made mozzarella, then we made ricotta from the whey. I found that I couldn't make mozzarella on the spot, though, because I had no rennet, so I decided to make an extra-rich ricotta. I was excited about using the raw cheese, because it was organic, and the organic milk I can normally get at the grocery store is ultra-pasteurized, which denatures the proteins, and makes it unsuitable for cheese making. I had a recipe from Smitten Kitchen that was even richer, since it includes heavy cream, but I didn't quite want to go that route since it seemed even farther from the traditional ricotta, and since this milk was extra-rich. This recipe was also for much smaller quantities of milk. I decided to do some more research and combine that recipe with others, especially after adding up the amount of lemon juice I would be using. I also used a recipe from's Italian food section, a step-by-step tutorial from Wikihow, and information from The Food Lab. I found The Food Lab's comparisons to be especially helpful. I also have a recipe somewhere from a friend of Italian descent, but I couldn't find it at the time.

Ricotta Making

The first step to making ricotta is to heat the milk to the point at which it starts to simmer, 180ºF. My first recipe said a higher temperature, but according to the testers at The Food Kitchen, any temperature in the 165-185ºF rage works without noticeable difference. Also, note that although I was using raw milk, I raised it above 161ºF, which is the temperature at which milk is pasteurized, so I had no worries, even if I hadn't felt as confident in the milk's origin.

Once the milk is hot enough, it is removed from the heat and the acid is added. I chose to use distilled white vinegar because The Food Kitchen said it "gave the cleanest flavor, with soft, tender curds", and it was the most consistant. Once I had stirred that in, I added the salt. The curds began forming immediately.

Ricotta Making

After letting it sit and form curds for a little while, I dumped it into a colander lined with several layers of cheesecloth (Since I didn't have butter muslin) and let it strain into the bowl below. This wasn't the best way of doing it, because the draining took forever.

As you can see in the above picture, the whey was still pretty rich. In fact, it was richer than the whey I used the first time I made ricotta, after making mozzarella, so I decided to use it again, until it got thin. In the later batches, I added less vinegar.

The second time, I spooned the curds out of the whey, which was much more effective and drained much more quickly.

Here's the final product complete with dramatic lighting:

Ricotta Making

And here it is where you can see how intriguing Hoser finds it:

Ricotta Making - with cat

Either that, or he was just being a little furry diva:

Ricotta Making - with cat


1 gallon milk
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt (more if you want a saltier taste)

Heat the milk between 165ºF and 185ºF, or the point at which it starts to simmer.
Remove from heat.
Gently stir in vinegar.
Add salt.
Allow to sit and curds to form.
Ladle curds into a colander lined with cheese cloth, over a bowl to catch excess liquid.
Allow to drain for at least 15 minutes, until it reaches desired consistency.

Continue to process your whey until it runs clear, addling less acid in each subsequent batch, and just mix the curds together.

I used the ricotta in lasagna. I also ate some fresh. It was fabulous. In retrospect, I should have made something that would have shown it off a little better, like ravioli, but it was still good. Honestly, it was pretty easy, too.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cocktail Wednesdays: James Joyce

James Joyce Cocktail

Last night's drink was the James Joyce. The cocktail is, as you might imagine, an Irish whiskey based cocktail. Personally, thinking of the Irish author James Joyce makes me think of Finnegan's Wake. I've never read the book, but I do know the Irish street ballad that inspired it. In the ballad, when whiskey spills over Tim Finnegan's apparently dead corpse, he wakes up. The word whiskey comes from the Gaelic words for water of life, which James Joyce apparently found fascinating in the context of this ballad.

Of course, the cocktail isn't just a glass of whiskey. It's a sour, which appears at it's base in the Whiskey Sour, which is whiskey, citrus (lemon or lime) and sweetener. More specifically, the James Joyce is a New Orleans Sour, which means that the sweetener is an orange liqueur rather than something non-alcoholic, such as simple syrup or runny honey. We've already tried one, the Sidecar, and you're likely familiar with another, the Margarita.

James Joyce Cocktail

The James Joyce:

1.5 oz Irish Whiskey
0.75 oz Sweet Vermouth
0.75 oz Orange Liqueur
0.50 oz Lime Juice

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Shake with ice and strain into a coupe

The verdict: We both liked this a lot. The vermouth presence was very low, and it took a back seat to the other flavors, but I do think it adds some depth of flavor. Since Scott's favorite two spirits are Irish Whiskey and Grand Marnier, this was a good combination for him. Also, the lime seems to be less acidic and more palatable for him. That makes this drink another good step in figuring out what will be more likely to work for us.