Archive for the 'Memories' Category

Sugar Bowl Past

For my parent’s 25th Wedding Anniversary (their “silver”) I decided to make them a solid sterling sugar bowl. I’d been taking silversmithing classes for a few years, and thought I was ready by my penultimate college semester. The process started with a few days sketching (often during Systems Science or archaeology class). Then I borrowed a car and went out to a precious metals foundry and bought the biggest piece of silver I’d ever acquired. It was a full square foot of 20 gage sheet metal in sterling. Plus a foot of quarter inch square bar. Silver was still slowly recovering from the Hunt Brothers, so it cost nearly a month’s rent. This was a big bite for me.

To begin the weeks of part time (art studio hours) smithing, I had to anneal and then face my big, flat, still-returnable sheet of metal. I held it in one hand on a stake, the five pound hammer raised up to my shoulder. I hesitated for the decisive moment.

Then I did smite it: “Bam!” No longer returnable. Oh well, onward…

Silver sugar bowl and spoon on copper standThis went on into fall finals, while I was taking a 21 hour course load to finish an engineering degree at a fairly high end university. The whole process was actual smithing: Pure hammer work, both cold forging and shell forming. Not a cast to be poured.  I turned in the finished object as my final project in silversmithing class.

My parent’s anniversary is between the winter solstice and the end of the calendar year (to make it harder for hackers to guess at security questions). I also made a batch of cookies, with a chocolate “25” embedded in a pale orange roll, so each sliced cookie had the number. It was my first attempt at such an embedded pattern two-tone cookie, so the shapes and sizes were a bit variable. But readable and tasty.

Anyway, the morning of their anniversary, I walked the snowy mile from my apartment to their house (convenient in-town college) carrying the cookies and artwork in my ratty backpack. They were not expecting me, nor my presents. After greetings and salutations, I pulled out the cookies and presented them on a silver-Mylar platter, and let them get past the initial “clever boy” sounds that always seemed so much to me like when a kindergarten presents a finger painting.

Then I pulled out the sugar bowl. Sure it’s weird. They didn’t know what to say. I think they appreciated the gesture. I suspect my father appreciated the form, and my mother the execution.

But as my own 25th wedding anniversary is imminent, this seemed an appropriate Object at Hand to share. I pulled it from the depths of a cabinet (where I stashed it after my last parent died almost a decade ago), dusted it, polished it up, and snapped some pictures on the kitchen counter using just natural light.

Several images of it below. The base is copper that I rolled into slightly tapering tubes from flat sheet metal. The black coating is copper sulfide (via liver of sulfur) then varnished. The pads are little bits of ebony wood. The spoon is hammered from a 1/4″ square bar of sterling, a process that I find soothing. I did not try to hide the reflected clutter, camera, or my face.

Click on a picture to see it larger.

Silver sugar bowl and spoon on copper stand

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A Chip Off the Old Stack

I recently dropped the memory card for my camera, and it split apart into 4 pieces. Two of them form the shell, the part most people are aware of. The tiny slider that allows a device to write to the card vanished; I scavenged one from an inferior card to replace it when I fixed this card, but that is not the point.

My Object at Hand today is that little circuit card, the actual memory for my fancy camera. I bought it a couple of years ago, making sure it was rated U3 (fast enough to record 4K video or a continuous stream of 20Mp jpgs at the rate of 60 per second). But this was not my point, either.

When I saw that little circuit board, the wrapper for the tinier chip of silicon inside, I had a personal memory flash of how many floppy disks it represented. Back before flash memory, some early digital cameras stored to a floppy disk.

My little 32GB card holds the same amount of data as a stack of about 88,000 5-1/4″ double sided, double density diskettes. These ruled through the early 1980’s, when the floppies actually seemed floppy.

If you aren’t old enough to remember those, you could picture it as a stack of about 22,700 3-1/2″ rigid “floppies” that took over in the later 1980’s. I managed to barely miss the era of 8″ floppies (some of which held almost as much data as the later 3-1/2″ floppies). Those were mainly used on pre-desktop computers.

After that, came optical media. This SD card could be copied onto only 44 CDR’s; those cost about $20 each when I first was using them in the early 90’s. Then came the DVD-R, of which only 7 would be needed.

And this is no longer considered a big SD card. As of today, one can buy a 2TB (2,000GB) card at most electronics outlets. My main computer hard disk is only 1TB (although I am thinking of upgrading).

So this was just a “back in my day, dadgummit” post.

Well Read Journey

Today’s Object At Hand is a book, Henry Reed’s Journey. I’ve probably read this book more often than any other (starting as a child). There is irony behind that: I was usually car sick as a child, thus hated actual travel. So, why would I so regularly read a book about an epic trans-American car trip?

Well, I first read this book in entirety when I was ten, and had discovered recreational reading and a nearby public library. Before that summer, reading was just something I did for information, or for school requirements.

The first time I read this book (selected pretty much at random), I recognized one chapter in it from when I had to read aloud in a group in third grade. Back then, kids were divided up into small groups based on reading skill, from brown, red, green, etc. up through silver and (my group) gold. The teacher used an anthology text, chapters from various sources. In this case, we third graders were reading stories (like this) meant for 12 year olds. But once we were reading at Junior High level, the reading circles ended. Fine with me; my mouth could never keep up with my reading speed. I was probably an unintelligible orator.

Anyway, there is a whole series of these Henry Reed books, and this is the second in the series. Once I discovered them at age 10, I re-read them each summer until I was old enough to feel foolish going up to the children’s section of the library.

So in the new millennium, well into my second marriage, and with many cross country road trips under my belt, I had a yen to read this book again. I got this copy on eBay and have resumed my childhood habit of reading it once each summer.

I still enjoy it. But now more for the nostalgia for the road trip world of the 1960’s than for the potential adventure it had evoked when I was young.

In for a Penny: A Father’s Day Memory

One of my early memories involves wheat pennies and Father’s Day. In 1965 my mother wanted to surprise my father with a hammock, for him to better enjoy his summer weekend afternoon naps. His birthday is in mid winter, so Father’s Day seemed the appropriate occasion. To this end, she had been saving the change from all household purchases for months. Back then, most retail transactions were in cash.

I remember her sorting the coins into rolls in the morning, and then taking my brother and me along to the department store (probably Sears at Crestwood Plaza) after lunch. My brother (13 months old) was in the stroller and not yet toddling. I remember her telling me (an undersized and solemn four year old) that this trip was a secret. We walked in to the garden department, where I absorbed the view of the patio tables and benches and colorful umbrellas from my point of view just below table height.

We waited by the display model of the canvas hammock, on its beige steel tube stand, with green longways stripes and white fringe hanging from the wood supported ends right at eye level. A salesman finally appeared, talked to my mother carefully (she had a pretty thick accent), and then fetched a big box with a picture of the same hammock on it. My mother carefully  counted out rolls of quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies on to the glass counter by the register to pay for it.

Now a bit of back story: My mother had been coin-collecting wheat pennies for years, since the change to memorial backs in 1959. Carefully segregating them from the modern memorial back pennies. Unfortunately, she had not specifically labeled the “special” penny rolls kept in her desk drawer.

So it was some time after the Father’s Day-of-the-hammock that she discovered that her squirreled away special wheat-back penny rolls were gone, and that she had probably spent them on the hammock. It was a personal crisis for her, a loss that I could feel, and still sharply remember.

So today’s Object at Hand is the (no longer common) wheat penny. Every time I receive one, this memory flashes through my mind. And I also carefully stash them away, separate from the other copper pennies (as opposed to the zinc filled ones from 1982 through  the present).

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

In the Thick of it

Embossed Card

How many of you remember those old, carbon-paper credit card receipt machines? Revel in the solid “Ka-chunk chunk” sound as the cashier strained to run the slider back and forth, and the waste can full of booklets of carbon paper pulled from the right side of the sandwich of receipts. As a kid I was allowed to take some of those carbons home from stores, to play with fingerprints, and to use for stenciling. Back then, folks didn’t worry so much about identity theft.

But have you even seen one of those machines in the last decade?

Today’s Object at Hand is a new debit card, complete not only with a magnetic strip (tech from the 1970’s) but also a somewhat secure chip (based on the late 1990’s tech now considered obsolete in Europe). And, what is this? It still has the 1950’s legacy support of embossed information! Why, you may well ask, do I make a point of this?

I like a thin wallet. The embossing increases the thickness of each card by 50%, and the friction to drag it out of a wallet pocket by noticeably more than that. It wears out the pocket or adjacent cards faster, as well as frustrating the user when too many get packed in there. And it serves no (expletive) purpose. Well, little potential purpose.

Had I a flat card, and needed to purchase from some Luddite (who also does not take cash, or checks, and has neither the free stripe reader or the cheap chip reader available to anyone with a smart phone), they would be forced to hand write my name and card number on their multi-part receipt form. I’d happily do it for them.

Fortunately, I could walk in to my bank and get a flat version of the card this morning. All the same information at 66% of the thickness. Happy ending 🙂


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