Quality Depends on Good Communication

Well, I had to hire a contractor to do a job that was a bit too big for me, even when I am well. When that was done, he asked if there was anything else he could do. The exterior basement door was sticking because of some settling and the hinge screws getting loose in the wood after 125 years. I showed him the door and figured he would understand what was needed. Clearly, fill the holes with structural filler and adjust the shims. After all, he was a professional.

Oops.

I had to take a call from work and do a quick fix for them. Less than an hour later, I returned to find he’d smashed off (not unscrewed) the antique cast iron steam-age hinges and put some modern, thinner, plated, light weight hinges in the original mortises! He was about to shave off some of the wrong side of the door when I intercepted him. He left for lunch.

Aarghh! Had he checked with me, I would have explained that the hinges themselves were not the problem. And clearly he has no idea what the market is for genuine steam-age hardware in usable condition to restorers, collectors, and steam punk folks. So rather than just cry about split milk, I thought I’d fume about it here, and share a snapshot of the piece that I was able to pull out of the trash.

The Object at Hand is therefore the remains of this hinge from 1890.

Circumventing Darwin

I picked up a free flashlight from a cheap tool import shop. This handy, hand held Object at Hand is a flashlight, with a  warning label. 😀

To prevent serious Injury:

  1. Wear ANSI-approved safety goggles during use.
  2. People with pacemakers should consult their physican(s) before use. Electromagnetic fields in close
    proximity to heart pacemaker could cause pacemaker interference or pacemaker failure.
  3. Position batteries in Proper polarity and do not install batteries of different types, charge levels, or capacities together
  4. The brass components of this product contain lead a Chemical known to the State of California
    to cause cancer and and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Let’s set aside that I went to Harbor Freight; I do know the quality of their tools. I’ve been mail ordering from them since they only had an outlet in California, over a decade before the Web.

But here we have a hand held flashlight that uses significantly less power than the old EverReady flashlights that we got for free with a two-pack of “D” batteries back when I was a kid. I’m old enough to have gotten the ribbed metal flashlights, before the orange plastic. Those rusted away when a battery leaked.

But the point is not about the flashlight, but about the silly warning label. Sure, I’ve seen the toaster oven warning not to use it in the tub. But these warnings are even more absurd:

Let’s begin with, safety goggles to use a flashlight? Really? This is not a laser pointer, nor does it have the capability to explode. The alkaline batteries that one would find in here cannot be made to explode unless you throw them in a pretty hot fire. Maybe the flexible plastic hook that swings out from the back could do eye damage during roughhousing?

Pacemakers? Granted, they probably use a switching power supply to boost the voltage for the LED matrix. That is, this device probably does produce a barely detectable electromagnetic field. Probably orders of magnitude less powerful than a cell phone. But technically it does produce some radio noise, and by law that means it must need a warning. I suppose.

Then there are several warnings about how to use batteries that I would have thought most kids old enough to read would already know. But what they don’t tell you is, What Kind of Batteries does it need?

And finally, because of California, a warning about the minute trace of lead one finds in brass. Brass is the group of copper alloys with 55-75% copper with most of the rest being zinc. As with any metal outside of the semi-conductor industry, it will have small traces of other elements, including lead. The (WAG) gram of brass in this flashlight would have up to about 0.004 grams of lead. (Here’s an actual analysis of some unspecified brass alloy). But that trace of lead is in there because the extreme chemical processes used to purify the copper and zinc were unable to get the lead out. What are the odds that anything you could do would extract any measurable amount of it?

IMHO, this warning label is somewhere between specious and laughable. Yet apparently required by law in California. Good luck to those members of our species who may need it.

Next stop, purple

You know how when you need something at a store, and then you think of other things to get? Well, my trusty charcoal chimney (as seen in my post Old Tube, New Life a few years ago) had finally rusted to pieces. I’d fixed it a few times over the years, but now the tray was shot, and charcoal could fall right through the sides. But this is not the object at hand.
So I went to smile.amazon.com, and found a stainless steel one that should last for decades for less than twice the price of the rustable one. And while I was there, I needed some low discharge NiMh batteries for our home phones, and a solar light for the garden.
And, well, another pocket camera. I’ve been complaining about my latest one for quite a while. I figured that it was time to stop whining and bite the bullet and buy a replacement.
I’ve been using Canon PowerShot Elph cameras since 2008, collecting a series of them as I burned little dark areas on their sensors by shooting too close to the sun, cracked displays, dinged cases, and chipped lenses. I keep the old ones around because some older models have niceties that they removed from newer cameras.
Like the SD1100IS has built in time-lapse video.
The Elph 110 has 240fps video (used in this video) and 30fps burst mode (good for getting shots of dancers).

They all are pretty much of a size, so I buy them in different colors so I know which one I am grabbing at a glance. I have silver, pink, gold, and black ones.

The time has come for purple. And today’s object at hand (a Canon Elph 360 HS) came in the mail today, and matched the shirt I had on.

Vegan, Gluten Free Ginger Cookies

chickpeasIn our previous episode, our hero was left holding a can of beans. What, our parsimonious person wonders, will I do with these chickpeas? In my previous post I used aquafaba, the juice from canned garbanzo beans, in a manner learned from All Things Considered. I was wondering what to do with the beans themselves, when it occurred to me: Gluten Free Gingerbread! We have a holiday family gathering to which I usually bring cookies. But several members on my wife’s side of the family have medically diagnosed Celiac issues; they must stay gluten free. And then there is that one thin Vegan that seems to be in every family nowadays. I aim to please.

So I did some Googling, and found hints of what I wanted to do, but not one recipe for ginger cookies using canned chickpeas. So I decided to invent one by mixing a few found recipes with the knowledge I gained from my mother and Harold McGee. Plus some experience with a food processor.

But American “Gingerbread” is actually more like the base layer of German “Pfefferkuchen” in that the flavors of cloves, molasses, nutmeg, and cinnamon mostly hide the ginger note. I like the taste of ginger; I like to feel the burn.

So here is my apparently weird, but rated successful even by non-vegan, non-gluten-free friends, recipe:

  • img_3368One can Garbanzos, drained, rinsed, set in a colander.
  • 1/2 c rolled oats (you can use quick oats, or gluten free oat flour)
  • 1 Tbsp ginger powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder (or 1 tsp baking soda plus 1 tsp cider vinegar)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional, I think it boosts the flavor)
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 c minced candied ginger
  1. Put the oats and powders in a food processor with a sharp blade. Mill till powdered and mixed. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350ºF
  2. Dump in garbanzos, sugar, oil. Mill till dough. You will need to scrape it down a few times. If using vinegar, add it about halfway through this step.
  3. Fold in the ginger candy. I used a separate bowl for this to avoid chopping it any finer.
  4. Spoon and press, or roll and cut. I used a fork to press and raise crispy ridges on this first try. Next time the plan is to roll it to 1/4″ and cut holiday shapes.
  5. Bake at  350ºF for 30 min for crispy cookies. Try 20 minutes if you want soft centers. INRS

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Vegan Meringue “Wasps Nest” Cookies

chickpeasI was listening to All Things Considered and I overheard a chef discussing vegan cooking. One question piqued my interest: “What do you use for eggs?”

“Aquafaba,” is the answer, “Chickpea juice from canned garbanzo beans is a direct substitute for egg whites.”

My adult nephew is currently vegan, and one family holiday favorite was a meringue cookie that I’ve made since childhood. Here’s the story behind those (indented so you can jump to the recipe if you are so inclined).

In my family, we celebrated the four Sundays before Christmas as Advents. This meant family gathered for some special light meal (latkes, or fondue, smorgasbord, etc) followed by special goodies: Imported German cookies (“Pfefferkuchen”), home made special seasonal treats, etc. My German mother used traditional recipes from an old cookbook. Not only in German (and thus requiring a gram scale) but printed in German Gothic script.

Many of these rich recipes used an excess of egg yolks. My mother, having been raised in an economy significantly worse than the U.S. Great Depression, hated to waste anything. So she found a recipe for meringue cookies to use up the egg whites. They were slightly chocolate and filled with almonds, and named Wespeneste (Wasp’s Nests) for their resemblance to the spiky, papery, chunk-filled objects.

So these not-at-all holiday-esque cookies became a holiday tradition.

So here is the Vegan (and gluten-free) variation on this recipe:

  • 1 Can Aquafaba: Juice from 1 can of chick peas (approx. 2/3 to 3/4 cup)
  • 1c sugar (cane, beet, coconut, whatever)
  • 1/3 c cocoa (more or less)
  • 3/4 c toasted almond slivers (or chopped roasted almonds)
  1. img_3360Whip the aquafaba to soft peaks, preheat oven to 350ºF
  2. Slowly add sugar while whipping
  3. Sift in cocoa while mixing slower (slower to prevent clouds of cocoa covering the counter and causing coughs)
  4. Continue whipping to firmer peaks.
  5. Fold in almonds
  6. img_3366Spoon onto silicone pad, aluminum foil, or parchment on a cookie sheet. Anything oven safe and peelable.
  7. Place in oven, multiple racks any location.
  8. Turn oven down to 225 (note: Assumes gas oven; electric may be fine to turn off, INRS)
  9. Leave in for an hour (less for chewy centers, more for what my little brother calls “‘Splosion cookies.”) These are meringues; the oven is not so much to bake as to dehydrate.

The firmer the peaks when whipping, the more the cookies will hold their shape. Also, this temperature combination sets the outer shape and then lets the interior settle, leaving a hollow area. It makes them more fun that solid meringues.

img_3367

But here I am with a can of beans. Now what? The answer came to me:
Vegan, Gluten Free Ginger Cookies

What’s a Chick Pea?

chickpeasThis and the following two posts are about a legume. First, a minor reminiscence. Then a couple of unexpected cookie recipes. Basically three posts in which The Object at Hand amounts to just a can of beans.

Back in 1970 my parents took us kids to visit our grandmothers for the first time. We were living in familial isolation in the middle of the U.S. and my two grandmothers were in northern Europe and the Middle East. This story originated at the southern branch of the family.

One food that was new to my mother and us kids was “tahina hatzelem” (my best guess at spelling a foreign phrase I hadn’t heard since childhood.) It was decades later that I learned that in the U.S. this sesame and eggplant paste is known by its Arabic name: “Baba ganoush.”

But back in 1970: We had returned home and my mother wanted to make it. She had no trouble finding the eggplant and sesame paste. But it took her weeks of trolling all the grocery stores to find chick peas. She would search the aisles, and then ask someone. No one seemed to have ever heard of chick peas. Until she went to one smaller market, and a stock boy with an Spanish accent (near as my German accented mother could tell) overheard her ask the manager. After the manager said they didn’t have them, the stock boy suggested that she ask for “Garbanzo Beans.” The manager lit up, and told her where to find them. My mother was both amused and appalled at the absurd name; she felt that foods should have polite and respectable names.

But every summer from then until I moved out (and probably after that) my mother would make a batch of this yummy dip, liberally topped with paprika. This is my earliest association with the Garbanzo.

Recipe 1: Vegan Meringue Wasps Nests

Recipe 2: Vegan, Gluten Free Ginger Cookies

Chemicals are Missing

I happened to look at a tube of sunscreen slash bug repellent sitting on a windowsill in my home, and the absurdity of its claims have promoted it to today’s Object at Hand.

ChemicalFree1

The front proclaims, “Chemical Free!” This baffles me. If the constituents of the contents are found on the periodic table, it has chemicals in it. Outside of brief existences in high energy locations, like the Large Hadron Collider impact zone, everything on Earth is chemicals. Even the dissociated plasma in arc lamps is chemical in nature.

But maybe they consider “chemicals” to be things with known chemistry, as opposed to the generally unknown complex chemistry of plant products. But there on the back is a typical list of somewhat unpronounceable, organic and inorganic, mostly synthesized, molecules. Chemicals.

I am sure we paid for this stuff, so they were not free. I am sure that the tube and everything inside is made of chemicals, so “free” could not mean “absent.”

It also says it is the #1 Natural Choice. As opposed to, a super-natural one? Anything found in the known universe is a part of nature, “natural”. We’ve even discovered natural nuclear reactors, and any chemical that can be synthesized in a lab can be found somewhere in nature. Turns out, space is full of wacky, complex organic molecules. So, on what scale do they order how “natural” a product is?

To complete the absurdity, it has a banner: “Quantum.” That word means, the smallest divisible unit. Generally, something so small that it requires great sophistication to detect the thing or the difference. Is this referring to the smallest tube they sell?

And after all that, the package doesn’t even clearly state what it does, for how long, or how it is supposed to work. A trite triumph of marketing form over functional content.