Monday, October 20, 2014

Yeah, I'm a Cheesy Guy: Where there's a Will there's a Whey

Do I love cheese?  Oh god yes.  I've actually engaged in earnest debates about just how much of one's net worth one might reasonably have tied up in cheese.  Now, I was a lot younger at the time, and my net worth was only in the double digits, but still...

Another great memory:  my wife Michele once went to Spain for work and asked what kind of souvenir I wanted.  I said "cheese," and she came home with an entire wheel of Manchego.  Just thinking back on it makes me want to renew my vows.

A few years later I saw Celia Bell make cheese at home and I was enchanted. Celia's a real inspiration in the Salt Lake grow-your-own-food scene, and  the fact that she had just milked a goat beforehand  to get the milk really sealed the deal.  JEALOUS!

It wasn't long before I had gotten a couple of inexpensive DIY cheese-making kits.  One came from my mother-in-law: nice job, Jan!  The other I purchased in Salt Lake City at the Urban Farm and Feed Store

I decided to try out on of the kits, and it was super easy to use.  It also made a delicious cheese.  Fresh mozzarella with basil, in  this case.

The kit contained everything we needed,
including good directions (whew!)
The only thing we needed was a gallon
 of whole milk.

Abigail and I got after it and it found that it was an ideal project for kids to attempt with their grown-ups: there's a few different things to add, and lots of mindless stirring.

Fresh basil?  Yes please.  It was sort of an
off-the-cuff experiment, but I was actually
surprised by huge difference that it made.  I have since made it without fresh herbs and wasn't
as enthused: I'll always jazz it up from now on.

The moment when the liquid-y milk mixture separates into curds and whey is kind of neat.
All of a sudden, you have something that almost resembles cheese.

After pouring off most of the liquid, we put the
solids into a basket lined with cheesecloth so that it could continue to drain.

The cheesecloth is invaluable in helping to form the fresh mozzarella in to a ball, and to make it easier to squeeze out the remaining moisture.

One gallon of milk made a couple of good-sized
hunks of fresh mozzarella- I didn't weigh them, but it seemed like a great value to me.  And because the kits were so reasonably priced $12-20- and because they contain enough ingredients to make numerous batches, they do make good financial sense.  Not that I was too worried about it, since cheese appropriations make up such a large part of my financial portfolio, anyway.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Waltworks Custom Bicycles- sweet frames handmade in Utah

Salt Lake has a pretty great biking culture- we’ve got sweet trails for mountain biking, lots of bike lanes for commuting, and pretty robust cyclocross and road racing scenes.  It is no surprise, then, that we’ve also got some nifty bike-related businesses.  Most of us have a favorite local bike shop, for example, and the Bike Collective offers a ton of great programs that are worth checking out.  And, since I have a deep affinity for all things handmade, I am especially psyched about Walt Wehner’s framebuilding shop.  He’s  been at it for about a decade, and he's got a big following, especially among hard-core mountain bikers.  The funny thing is that not many locals know about him at all.  If you dig bikes, keep reading, and you'll see why he's one of SLC's best kept secrets- and why he probably won't stay that way for long. 

Prior to moving to Salt Lake City two years ago- his wife Sarah took a job doing research at the U, which is coincidentally how I ended up out here, myself- Walt lived in Boulder, Colorado.  His first bike was a 29er, which he crafted back in 2003 or 2004, because he saw great potential in the style.  This was before 29” wheels had exploded into their current level of popularity.  The timing was fortuitous, because only two major companies offered frames for 29ers, and Boulder’s enthusiastic mountain biking community starting asking Walt to build frames.  While he's quick to point out that his early efforts weren't as well-crafted as his later bikes, I bet they were still pretty good- Walt's obviously a pretty modest guy who I'm guessing is his own worst critic.  Over the years, his clients have pushed the limits, and he’s built road bikes with disc brakes, framesets and forks for wheels with through-axles, and more. 

One of Walt’s major areas of expertise is in designing a bike to fit well and handle the way its future rider envisions.   He's got a whole bagful of tricks that he can apply to a bike's geometry, and this helps him to focus first and foremost on performance.  He works with a powder-coating company in Salt Lake City that can provide all kinds of colors and finishes, but he doesn't generally go in for heavily adorned bikes at the expense of poor fit or function.  He told me a story about some of his customers from the endurance-racing side of the mountain biking community: when asked about their choice of color, they flat-out told Walt that they didn't care.  I think that's a pretty apt summary of how well Walt is able to deliver on his promise of performance and handling.   

Walt’s focus on bike fit means that the process of designing a frame calls for a lot of back-and-forth with his clients.  They describe their goals and riding style, and they work together to develop a plan for how to make it happen.  To this end, Walt spends a lot of time on the phone with his clients, and he also maintains a really interesting blog at where he posts work-in-progress shots of his frames so that his clients can see how things are shaping up.  

 Walt has built between 500-600 bikes, which blew me away.  He said it comes down to about 50 per year for his clients, and then as many as 10 more for himself and his family members.  A recent project that I’ve seen him riding around the neighborhood on is a cargo bike with a large cargo platform on the front.  He designed it to be versatile, and it can comfortably fit people from 5’6” to 6’5” without requiring custom geometry.  It sells for $3000-$3500, and I have the feeling that it could get pretty popular.  But then, all of his bikes do- he’s never advertised, and all of his work comes from repeat clients and referrals.  And anybody who knows business can tell you that means he must be doing something right.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Making Sawdust- a quick look at my current projects

Right now, I'm finishing up a custom kitchen for David & Leah, who have undertaken a very ambitious restoration of a great old Victorian house in Salt Lake's Capitol Hill neighborhood.  Or maybe it's the Marmalade District; I've never been clear on where one starts and the other stops.  Either way, its a great 'hood, and it is under 10 minutes away, so that's a real plus.

In addition to the kitchen cabinets, I made the countertops, using reclaimed oak barn boards, the funky blue hutch, and I'm building a large built-in banquette for seating.  I'm also building some cabinets upstairs.  I'll post more later when I have more pics- when the dust settles, I'll get out my good camera instead of just using my phone for some work-in-progress shots.

In addition to the kitchen cabinets, I made the countertops, using reclaimed oak barn boards, the funky blue hutch, and I'm building a large built-in banquette for seating.  I'm also building some cabinets upstairs.  I'll post more later when I have more pics- when the dust settles, I'll get out my good camera instead of just using my phone for some work-in-progress shots.

Anyway, just thought I'd share what's currently keeping me covered in sawdust!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Tree Branch Wooden Spoons

Got any tree branches lying around your yard?  Sure you do.  If not, its probably just a matter of time.  There's all sorts of stuff you can do with them, depending on your inclination, but one of my favorite projects is using them to make wooden spoons.  I've been pretty obsessed with spoon-making for the past couple of years, so I'm use this post to point out the tricks of the trade.  Using very basic tools that most folks have access to, you can probably make your first spoon in a hour or less.

This year, I decided to institute a new holiday tradition: starting in 2014, I plan to make a wooden spoon (or several) from the trunk of our Christmas tree each January.  I’m all kinds of excited about this, but, of course, you can just use whatever you have on hand, up to and including actual milled boards.  In this case I used a handsaw to cut the trunk into few 12” segments.

 Each spoon will be coaxed out of a blank that roughly resembles a board.  How you make this blank depends on the tools you have on hand.  A bandsaw is ideal, but an axe and chainsaw work too.  

Once you have a blank roughed out, draw the outline of your spoon.  I always draw an oval where I’ll be removing material for the bowl of the spoon, too.
      To cut out the spoon, use a jig saw, bandsaw, or hand-held coping saw with an aggressive blade. 


 I like spoons that look good in profile, too.  I usually go for something curvy and fun.

With the excess cut away from beneath the spoon, it is really starting to shape up.

To hollow out the bowl as quickly and easily as possible I use a large Forstner bit to remove a lot of the material.
To shape the interior of the bowl, I use a nifty little saw that mounts in any drill or Dremel tool.  With a little practice, you’ll quickly get a feel for how to use it.  I suggest starting out slowly if you haven’t used one before.
Because I’m pretty experienced, I can rough out a bowl in just a few minutes.  Even if it takes you twice as long, that’s still pretty fast!
From here on out, the work consists of smoothing things out.  To smooth the interior of the spoon bowl, use sand paper, or follow my lead and use a sanding drum in a drill.  Just make sure to let the sandpaper sleeve hang over the edge of the drum so that it mashes down and creates a rounded edge.
 A belt sander helps if you have one.

And so does a palm sander.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Stock your bar with homemade bitters

In case you're not familiar, bitters are a common cocktail ingredient with an intriguing history and an even more compelling present. Originally developed as medicinal tonics, bitters are now sought after for the flavors- both subtle and bold- that they bring to all manner of delicious drinks.  Some baked goods even call for bitters as a flavoring agent.  The basic formula consists of a variety of herbs, spices, fruits, and more that are steeped in a base liquor. And there is really no limit to what you can mix up: I made four different types of bitters in less than an hour, and I'm pretty confident that I'll find a use for each one. It might take some experimentation, but hey, that's half the fun.

In terms of the process, you can use Everclear as a base, and vodka is fine, too. Just find something that is both strong (high proof) and neutral, and pour it into a mason jar. At this point, you can get creative or you can stick to a recipe. I like to improvise, so I basically just combine things that sound like they'd go well together. If needed, I can always make adjustments later.
Some ingredients may need to be ground or cut up- remember, the finer they are, the more flavor they can release. Once the ingredients have been added, just put on the lid, and shake the jars daily to help mix things up. After a week, you can strain off the solids and bottle the bitters.  You can dilute the bitters with straight alcohol at this point if you'd like, or leave them as is.  If you have a bottle with a dropper, that adds a lot of convenience, since bitters are used sparingly most of the time.

Here are the four varieties that I made up this time around. The quantities of ingredients that I added were determined pretty indiscriminately, so I'm not presenting them as recipes; they're more to provide inspiration:

Rosemary and sage
Dried blueberry
Thai chili and mango
Coconut, crystallized ginger, and cumin

At first the vodka was totally clear, but it changed within a day.

In terms of actual recipes, here's one from

2 cups grain alcohol
8 oz dried orange peel, minced
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp caraway or anise water
3/4 cup granulated sugar

The process is that same as the one I outlined above.

Whether you decide to wing it or dig around online for more precise recipes, you'll have fun making homemade bitters. And they make a fantastic gift- in less than an hour, you can have the equivalent of 12 bottles to give away or keep. You'll also save money- I spent less than $20 on a quantity of ingredients that made over $90 worth of bitters if I paid retail.of bitters began as medicinal tonics, although this application has pretty much fallen by the wayside. Nowadays, it is all about the flavor.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Throwing in the Towel- the Hand Towel, that is

This may be the world's shortest blog post, but why use a thousand words when six or seven will do the trick? Anyway, I was surfing around Etsy (again) and I came across some of the greatest hand-towels ever. I'm going to go ahead and fess up to having a real thing for cute, quirky hand towels, despite the fact that I don't actually own all that many. This year, I think I'll treat myself to a couple. I've been a good boy, Santa, right? Right? Uh, Santa? Are you there, Santa, its me, Christopher? Anyway, if you like hand-printed stuff, check this out. They're SO...STINKING...CUTE. Just click on the image for more info.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Keeping it Local for the Holidays

Here's the reality check: I've got a five-year old daughter, so unless somebody around here starts crafting plastic My Little Ponies, complete with the little heart stamps on the ass, I'm definitely gonna have to buy a certain amount of plastic crap from China in the next couple of weeks.  And I accept that.  I accept it in the way that I accept that my car runs on gasoline and not good vibes and pixie dust.  However, having been self-employed for the better part of 20 years now, I know first-hand what a huge impact it makes when people make a conscious decision to redirect even a portion of their spending toward the talented folks in their own community.  I'm grateful to those who have supported me and my work over the years, and that prompts me to get all circle of life-y and do what I can to support and promote some of the people in our town who make awesome stuff.  In the end, that is the real function of this blog: to celebrate the handmade & homegrown, and because I want to live in a place with those kind of values, writing is one of the ways that I live those values.

To create a nice, orderly list, I used Etsy.  I used to have mixed feelings about Etsy, but its growing on me, especially the feature that allows you to search by area.  Convenient?  Yeah.  Wherever you live, you can buy local without getting out of your pj's.  As it is currently 7 degrees out in Salt Lake, this works for me.

Anyway, here's a quick run-down of some of the artists & artisans that I've got my eye on around here.  Just click on the image for more info.