Category Archives: creative

Pickle Project: Seed to Sandwich

As the summer draws to a close, I thought I’d report on a very successful project I’ve been working on this summer. I call it Pickle Project: Seed to Sandwich. The idea was to make my own pickles, and I thought it would be fun to combine the cooking / pickling elements with some basic gardening. I’m a basic gardener.
The project began with a gift I received for Christmas a couple years ago, the EarthBox gardening system. I can’t recommend this enough to the novice gardner. It’s a planting box with a false bottom. The false bottom allows you to fill up a chamber of water under the soil and keep the soil moist without fear of overwatering. It’s simple, but it worked really well.
Pickle Project: Sprouts on day 7
I got some cucumber seeds from Burpee and planted them indoors in a seed starter. This picture was taken on day 7 of the project. The seeds had sprouted and were looking healthy.
Pickle Project: Planting in Earth Box on day 7
I set up the EarthBox on the same day, and planted the cucumber plants.
Pickle Project: Bigger leaves developing on day 29
Day 29: Most of the plants survived and started growing big leaves.
Pickle Project: Thriving vines on day 62
I took the above picture on day 62. All I had been doing up until this point was keeping the EarthBox full of water. As you can see, the vines were really thriving at this point.
Pickle Project: Tiny cucumbers on day 70
By day 70, there were flowers and tiny little cucumbers forming.
Pickle Project: Full size cucumbers on day 91
The first cucumbers were ready around day 91, so this was the day of the first harvest. The pickles were a bit bulbous and sometimes more on the yellow side rather than green. I had better shapes and colors as the project went on, but not always the shape of perfect pickles. Looking around the grocery store, I developed a theory that commercial cucumbers are selected for cutting based on their shapes. So bulbous cucumbers become slices, large cucumbers become spears, and perfect cucumbers are picked whole.
Pickle Project: Harvest
Here’s a picture of the first few cucumbers. This was enough to fill a pickle jar, or in my case, a plastic take-out container.
Pickle Project: Pickling
There are tons of pickling recipes online, with varying degrees of complexity. I chose a really simple “refrigerator” recipe that is basically just vinegar, water, garlic, spices, and a week or two in the fridge. I was at the grocery store finding all kinds of spices when I discovered “pickling spice”. It’s a mix of everything you need. The only drawback was the proportions weren’t quite right, or the allspice was sitting on the top, because there was a little too much allspice.
Pickle Project: Sandwich
My pickles turned out great. They’re crisp, fresh, tangy, and a bit spicy. They go perfectly with a crusty grilled cheese sandwich. The above photo was taken on day 106, and I’m still harvesting and making more batches of pickles.

King Arthur Baking Class

I’ve had an interest in baking for a long time, and have tried for a while to master the art and craft of baking bread. I think of bread as the backbone of the western diet. What is amazing about it, is that it’s frequently made from just a few ingredients, yet has infinitely variable outcomes depending on how those few ingredients are processed. Making a loaf of french bread allows the baker to interact with the ingredients in a much more developed way than, for example, grilling some chicken. In short, baking is all about the process.
My wife and I are celebrating our first anniversary this weekend, and we decided to head up to Vermont to take a half-day baguette class at King Arthur Flour. These classes sell out quickly, so this is something we’ve been planning for a long time. The class was almost exactly what I expected, rows of butcher-block workstations with an instructor in the front. We were the youngest people by about twenty years, with the exception of a mother and son baking team; I guess taking baking classes is not something the hip kids are doing these days, but rather, something that hippie grand parents do. Regardless, there is no substitute of learning the process and technique of bread making than actual live instruction. I would never have figured out the the wet dough kneading technique without seeing it and then trying it with critique. Our baguettes turned out perfectly.

American Craft Brew Fest

I had a great time at the American Craft Brew Fest today. The fest took place in the World Trade Center Boston, which is the same location of the Massachusetts bar exam. The carpet was the same bright blue color, but by all other measures, the beer fest was better than the bar exam.
American Craft Brew Fest Boston 2008
Garrett Oliver wearing hop shirtThe fest had a great selection of beers, and the crowd seemed focused on certain craft brew leaders (or perhaps the bar tenders at certain booths were just slow to serve). Among the greats: Lagunitas, Dogfish Head (probably the most popular), Brooklyn Brewery, and Stone. Check out my blurry picture of Sam Calagione serving up Dogfish Head and Garrett Oliver serving up Brooklyn (note the cowboy shirt with hop vines and flowers).
There were a lot of quality lesser known beers too. Interestingly, Michelob had a large booth. Someone told me one of their beers was really good, but it looked like most were avoiding it.
The highlight of the fest for me was a presentation by Garrett Oliver, who is clearly an advocate for drinking better beer. Garrett had one point that I found particularly inspiring (paraphrased): Some of your best experiences in life with be sharing a meal with family and with friends; shouldn’t you be eating real food and the drink equivalent? His basic argument is that mainstream american beer is like wonderbread. It’s meant to synthesize the real thing, but it’s not made of real ingredients using a real process. (Maybe the word “honest” would convey this point better. Hopefully, you get the idea.)
Sam Calagione

Secret Apartment in a Mall

I’m really fascinated by this story of an artist who set up an apartment in some sort of utility area in a shopping mall parking garage: “Starting in 2003 I committed to the idea of creating a luxury apartment in the mall. Over the course of the years to come I systematically coordinated the movement of the core elements that start to define a home.”

Champagne Chair Contest

Every year, DWR has a contest to design a tiny chair using only the cork, wire, and foil of a champagne bottle. I really like this idea – I even have a poster of the first year’s entries. There aren’t a lot of creative store-sponsored contests these days, and this one has simple rules, simple supplies, and great looking results.
This year, DWR is letting the public vote for the best designs. It’s unfortunate that you can’t vote without signing up for their mailing list. My least favorite entries are the ones that try to mimic real-life chairs, using standard or famous designs. Unfourtunately, that’s what we have to vote on this week, but I’m looking forward to the winners in the following weeks.