A Great French Style Salad Dressing

I bought a bottle of Walnut Oil to use as a food safe wood finish. The wonderful smell got to me, and I had to splurge and make some salad dressing with it. It will be difficult to use any other dressing, after tasting this.

Recipe

3 tablespoons Walnut Oil

1 tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard

Honey to taste

Salt and Pepper

Fresh Herbs–Basil, Parsley, and/or Oregano

Simply whisk all of these together, taste it, try not to salivate, and you’re done. This is plenty for two salads.

If you spill some Walnut oil on your cutting board, no worries–it’s the finest food safe finish around, and it will just make your kitchen small better. It is a bit pricey, and imagine this moocher’s reaction when he found the same amount of oil for $1 cheaper at–audible gasp–Whole Foods.

Live Edge Cheese Board, Laguiole Acier Inox Cheese Knives, and the Story of the Mammoth Cheese

Bonjour

Combining my two favorite pastimes, woodworking and eating, was fun. It gave me two excuses–make more kitchenware, and buy more kitchen-alia.

The walnut cheese board is free edge, or live edge, depending on which terminology you prefer. George Nakashima, a master of this form, preferred free edge. Speaking of that, here it is.

Free or Live?

I left on the inner bark just to emphasize the point. I even have a borer hole–probably the last one that bug ever made, because the wood is toxic to our bug friends. The finish is walnut oil, naturally. I also made the best salad dressing I have ever had out of it. Apologies to all of the unfinished pieces of wood I have lying around.

Cut the Cheese

This Laguiole cheese set was bought from Fleabay for the price of a six pack. Some rubbing compound on the stainless, some sandpaper and walnut oil on the handles, and they look better than the ones that come out of the factory. From the grainy picture on the interwebs I thought they were walnut handles–after finishing them, I think they are rosewood instead.

Now it’s time to go to Nerdlandia and talk about the Mammoth Cheese that Mr.Jefferson was given as a tribute for his support of religious freedom. How big was it? A little over 15 x 4 feet big, and weighed 1230 pounds. Too big for my knives.

The Baptists of Cheshire, MA, had had enough of the Federalists and their lackey Congregationalist ministers down grading their religion, and saying that Jefferson would burn every bible in New England, and turn all their women into prostitutes (that last gem came from the President of Yale). Therefore, they made the Mammoth Cheese, and engraved it with the phrase “REBELLION TO TYRANTS IS OBEDIENCE TO GOD.” Then they hauled it down to Washington.

Jefferson threw a big reception for the big cheese, and made the church accept a payment of $200. Church elder John Leland, the mastermind of this clever scheme, thanked Jefferson for the “singular blessings that have been derived from the numerous services you have rendered to mankind in general.” Then they all had some cheese.

Later that same day, perhaps inspired by the cheese, Jefferson wrote one of the most famous Presidential documents in history, reassuring the Baptists of Danbury, MA, that the new constitution insured their religious freedom, and that the Jefferson administration would protect them. Here’s the key paragraph:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

Letters of Thomas Jefferson

The wall of separation phrase was eventually adapted as case law precedent by the Supreme Court. Two years after the big cheese hit town, the US Navy produced a Mammoth Loaf of Bread, to go with the Mammoth Cheese. In typical fashion, Jefferson sent the loaf to the Senate, “along with with a large amount of roast beef, cider, and whiskey,” according to the National Constitution Center. The cheese lasted longer than the bread did. My guess is, knowing the habits of Senators, that the whiskey went first.

In honor of Mr, Jefferson, and his insistence that there be a Bill of Rights attached to the constitution, I will have a cheese plate, and a cheeseburger, on the Fourth of July. I think he had something to do with that holiday as well.

Outdoor Kitchen, Old School–Part Three, Recycled Fire Pit

The words Fire Pit and Outdoor Kitchen have become such a cliche when put together that CNN had one of their homepage top ten lists, just on Fire Pits, last week. Strangely, they left off my heavy steel pit in favor of a bunch that were made from sheet metal. It could be that because you have to be related to the guy who makes these in order to get one–I am.

My best estimate is that this was made from the end of a 150 gallon propane tank, as they are usually 30″ in diameter, as this is. The handles and rim are made of rebar, and the legs and cooking crane are heavy steel bar and pipe. The crane works like a crane found in Colonial kitchens, so this is made to cook.

How tough is this thingie? A dead and quite large oak tree blew over in a storm, and made a direct hit on this pit. The impact was so hard that the tree mashed the pit into the ground to the top of the legs. After I cut the tree off, the only damage was that it bent the crane slightly, which had no impact on the performance of the pit.

Further evidence that it was designed to be a fire pit and a cooking machine:

Great Grate

The rebar grate can be used to stack logs on, or sit a pot on, or taken out so the things can be cleaned or used only as a fire pit. Likewise, the crane has a swivel hinge which means it can be moved completely out of the way. or even taken off altogether.

I did drill four holes in the bottom for drainage and to add a little air circulation. I will drill more eventually, but drilling through this steel just about destroys a drill bit. At least the thing isn’t full of water and mosquito larvae. This state was originally nicknamed “The Yellow State” because of the prevalence of malaria. A case of that will definitely ruin your meal.

Favorite Woodworking Planes, Part 8 5/16–German Planes

Wood or metal? The debate about what to make planes out of has been around for over a couple of centuries. Like the Romans, my response is–both. I admit, however, that my favorites are these German wooden planes.

The first and the last are the best, so I will start at the bottom and work my way north. The block plane is an ECE plane, which has a fantastically good adjustment mechanism. The Lignum Vitae sole is not too shabby, either.

To the left and up may look like a smoothing plane, but it is actually a scrub plane. As I use mostly split or rough sawn wood, this plane is a necessity. I have used it more than all the rest combined. Ulmia brand.

The well used, well loved plane next to it is an Ulmia smoothing plane. It is the same length as the scrub plane, but is considerably wider. The order of use would be scrub-joiner-smoother.

The next to last row has specialty planes. The first is a very fine Ulmia rabbet plane. It doesn’t have a depth gauge, but the quality of the joints it cuts more than makes up for that. It also has an adjustable throat for finer work. Purchased at an antiques store for $10.

The match planes are ECE, and the grooving plane works fine. Something is wrong with the bevel angle on the tonguing plane, as it jams easily. I would fix that, but I have three other planes that will cut a tongue and groove joint.

The last plane on the top is the daddy of the bunch. That jointer is 24″ of solid beech, and built like an entire Panzer division. It will flatten anything, without also flattening you with its weight. Not something you want to meet in a dark alley.

I had ancestors in two different states in southern Germany. They should be thanked for bringing this kind of craftsmanship across the pond.

First New Tomatoes of the Season

We were hoping to have fresh tomatoes by Memorial Day, but tomatoes live on a schedule of their own. However, we now have three good sized tomatoes–that cutting board is 12″ by 12″. The variety is Champion, one I have never grown before.

Champion is a slicing tomato meant for sandwiches, but we eat tomato slices with just salt on them, as a dinner side dish. A sandwich without the bread, if you will.

One tomato trial found this to be the second highest yielding variety on the market, producing up to eight pounds of maters per plant. With as much rain as we have had, my hopes are raised. Essentially, 4.5″ in six days. Naturally, more is on the way for tomorrow.

As Mark Twain said, “Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.” How true.

Favorite Woodworking Planes, Part 7 1/2–Reed Fillister Plane

I have been thinking about buying a Moving Fillister Plane for years., and had decided on buying a fancy new German one. Christopher Schwartz once wrote that old ones can by quite difficult to tune and could be difficult to get to work properly. This one was in good condition, and cost 20% of a new one. It was worth the risk.

The plane was cutting perfectly after about five minutes of sharpening. I’ve spent far more time than that getting new planes to work properly. And after I did a little research, I found that I had purchased a piece of American woodworking history.

The Reed Plane Company of Utica, New York was founded by four brothers from Wales, who came to the US in 1801. A fifth brother was a builder who constructed most of the warehouses along the Erie Canal. All this info comes from the EARLY AMERICAN INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION.

Depending on the source, the brothers began making planes in their kitchen in 1820 or 1826. They are believed to be the first commercial plane makers in New York, and one of the first in the US. Note: Apple, Google, and Microsoft were either started, or worked out of, garages. At least Amazon was started in a rented house.

The Reed brothers eventually built a twenty square foot workshop, which contained a big one horsepower grindstone for sharpening plane blades. The horsepower was supplied by one horse.

They eventually built a much larger shop, staffed by the brothers, and various journeymen and apprentices. Apprentices at this time often had to pay to learn such a skilled trade, which amounted to a tuition of a sort–the early version of a technical college.

Back to this plane. The business edge is boxed, which means it is reinforced with Boxwood. There is a slight chip in the Boxwood right at the throat, but that has had no effect on its cutting ability. As the company ceased production in 1894, this plane is solidly nineteenth century. This is only a guess, but I say it’s 130 to 160 years old.

Now for a little outrageous behavior. How do you clean a plane that old? My go to cleaner, which many hate, is WD-40. It cleans the wood, and provides it with temporary water resistance. WD in the name means water displacement, and this is formula number 40.

Some necessary tools to use a plane like this.

The cross peen hammer is an all around useful carpenter’s hammer, and just the right size for adjusting the depth of the cut. The screwdriver is beefy enough to deal with the giant screws that hold the fence in location. It could also be used as a defensive weapon, if things come to that. They never do.

Outdoor Kitchen, Part Two–Magnolias and Moonlight

An outdoor kitchen dedicated to the natural world and natural materials needs a specimen plant. My philosophy of the whole enterprise is go big or go home. That’s why I chose Big Leaf Magnolia for the role, the Latin name being Magnolia macrophylla.

With leaves up to 36 inches long, and flowers up to 14 inches wide, this is about as impressive a deciduous tree as there is. It will occasionally get as tall as 70 feet. The range is from DC to Texas, though there is a subspecies found in NE Mexico. The densest population of these trees is in Alabama and Mississippi.

This angle gives a better idea of the magnitude of the leaves. This is still a young tree that has not bloomed yet, and when it will is a known unknown. I can never resist a reference to Rummy Rumsfeld.

Refurb of Cherry JK Adams Cutting Board

Chop Away

Melanie had a very bad case of cutting board envy, as I tend to hog up our huge Adams maple cutting board. Thus I was dispatched to find her a board of her own. The one we wanted from Thailand turned out to be from the “not available” category. Thus I was instructed to look on fleabay.

This Adams end grain cherry cutting board was available for less the twenty dollars. It did have a small crack on one side, but I have plenty of heavy duty clamps. It also needed to be refinished, as it appeared that it had never been oiled even once.

Some glue and a big Jorgensen bar clamp solved the crack problem, and the hairline crack that remained was filled up with sander dust, which is an old repair person’s trick. Now a positive word about sanders.

I rarely use sanders, but having fallen ill with the dreaded Gearhead Syndrome, I bought three anyway. The two random orbit sanders are a small Ryobi one, and a massive Bosch one. The beast of a belt sander I have is a now legendary Swiss made Bosch one. After two decades of work, it still runs perfectly.

This was a perfect job for the little Ryobi. I started with fine discs, then finished with a 320 grit disc. A few coats of food grade Danish oil, which is polymerized linseed oil, and it’s ready for decades of cutting .

Bellflower, Leatherflower–Two Native Vines

Relocated Texan

A hort cliche is that there are “much neglected” plants, to which I say–good. The native clematis species fit this category perfectly. More than a few are not even available commercially.

This red guy, Clematis texensis, is one pricey unit, if you can even find one available. I swapped for this plant with a nursery owner in Texas, and now have a whole jar of seeds. It’s hardy and a beauty. In return, I sent her–

A Garden City Native

Clematis reticulata isn’t particularly rare, but is rarely sold. We have a few hundred of them, all growing wild. In fact the phenotype, or original sample that the species was described from, came from where we live in Garden City. We have so many I have even stopped collecting seed for these.

In short, if these plants can grow in the sandpile we live on, they will grow in most places. The hardest part is just finding them.

Outdoor Kitchen, Old School, Part One–A Brick Oven, and a Curtain of Green

Ms. Eudora Welty came up with the Curtain Line

No stainless steel grills here, just bricks, camp stoves, and the end of an old propane tank, made into a fire pit. Welcome to old school, part one.

Our primary fuel is wood, mostly dead fall from our 5.5 acres of forest. The brick oven can take a couple of logs at once. It makes one mean pizza, or two. I need to get back into baking big loaves of sourdough bread.

Twenty two years and a few more days later, I am ready to do the trim work on this multi ton beast. Here’s the side view.

Egg Tempera Paint

That’s homemade paint, that came out very well. The siding was made a few miles from here. I have to buy some wood for the trim. Now for the back, which will be the center, or workplace, for the rustic kitchen.

Hobo Kitchen

Four more fuels available here, which I will get into later. The camp stoves burn alcohol, kerosene, and white gas. The blackish paint is flour paint. The wood grill on the right is my riff on a Tuscan style outdoor grill. The whole thing is as rustic as can be. I might even finish it one day.

A Curtain of Green is a great book by Ms. Welty, and the title of an equally great short story. It’s what happens here in this part of the South in the spring–the forest becomes so thick that a person cannot see through it. A great metaphor is forever.