Sunday, December 29, 2019

N-Scale Train Thermography (7-14 micron infrared bolometry)

After Christmas the track is laid out and power applied. Viola! Then the questions begin: is it running too hot? Why won't it levitate? Can I leave it plugged in but off?

In the old days, experience would guide my answers.

Today, we can collect quantitative data. I have a thermographic camera that plugs into my phone which allows real time quantitative thermal imaging.

The train engine is the colored blob left of my son. The wall transformer is in the image center. Both are about 12 degrees above background.

Neither is as warm as a person...

The trains can run!

Above is a closeup of the N-Scale engine after about an hour of intermittent use - it has hot spots, nothing hotter than is safe however.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Chicken One-sided Noodle Soup for Boxing Day

Mobius Noodles!

Our family has a tradition of making Chicken Noodle Soup from scratch, starting with raw chicken and making our own broth and noodles. The basic recipe is very simple:

Noodles (see below)
1 Carrot
1 Roasting Chicken
3 Stalks Celery
1 Medium Yellow Onion
Canola or Walnut Oil
Chicken Noodle Soup Spices (Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute will do in a pinch)
Black Pepper


Separate the chicken meat from the bones, skin, and other less edible portions. Put them into a large pot and cover with a few inches of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for at least an hour, generally we let it run overnight.

Turn off heat and allow to cool to handling temperature. Do nothing else just yet to this pot, instead start making the noodles.


In a large steel mixing bowl mix 3 cups of all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and two tablespoons of Walnut Oil (or oil of your preference). Carefully crack three eggs into a container and confirm there are no shell fragments in the eggs. Pour the eggs into the flour-salt-oil mix and begin stirring with a strong spatula. Eventually you will have a mixture of crumbly bits with too much flour. At this point start adding water about a tablespoon or less at a time - resume stirring until all the fine bits are collected but a proper dough has not yet formed. Now stop adding water! Collect all the crumbly bits and mash them into a dough ball. If the ball does not hold together, consider adding a small amount of water and trying again. Start to knead and fold the dough ball, flattening it then folding it in half on itself, then flattening it again. Do at least 20 cycles, the more the better. The dough should not be sticky at all.

Let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Flatten it into a sheet about an inch thick. Cut the dough into thin ribbons, about 1/8" thick. These can be rolled thinner with a rolling pin or a pasta machine. In a pinch, we've used washed wine bottles as rolling pins. If the dough sticks to things, dust the dough thoroughly with flour before rolling. Shake as much of the flour as is easily possible to remove from the dough before putting it into the soup, or pre-boil them in water, strain out, and put the cooked noodles into the soup.

Once flattened and rolled to the desired thickness, the noodles can be cut into whatever shapes you desire. My son made a bunch of "Christmas Noodles", mostly versions of various Bird's Nest Cup Fungi, and I took a few entire strips and did half a twist then joined the ends to construct a Mobius Strip - hence the noodle with only one side.

These need cooked in boiling water for about five minutes, though we tend to drop them directly into the soup once it has begun to boil, at least if we didn't need to flour the noodles to prevent sticking.


In a Second large pot (large enough for the entire batch of soup) add enough oil to just cover the bottom thinly. Dice the onion finely, and place the onion into the pot. At high heat, carmelize the onion. Remove from heat. 

Place a strainer over the large pot containing the onion and pour the broth through the strainer until the pot is sufficiently full for the soup. If in doubt, add more broth. Return the onion-broth pot to the stove and heat to a boil. This is the soup pot.

Chop the chicken meat into 1/8" (3mm) thick slices and add to the soup. Add the noodles in small groups, being careful to separate them from each other before adding to the soup, once the soup has begun to boil.

Cut the carrot into thin slices and dice. Repeat with Celery. Add to the boiling soup. Season to taste. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Cthulhu Fruit! Happy Yule!

Ever want to grow food to apease an Eldritch Horror? Now you can feed the Old Ones in your life.

Actually, meet Amorphophallus konjac, a tuber that grows in tropical rainforests and is cultivated. As food, it is known as Konjac.

They are dormant in the Winter and must be kept dry until growth resumes in Spring.

This one is just about a pound. They get up to ten pounds, at which point they flower.... which is a 5 foot tall black calla-lily sort of thing. It is fly pollinated, so probably not florist material...

To celebrate  the longest night of the year,  we thought of Konjac (we also are repotting ours...).

Happy Yule!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Flaming Clock of Downtown Los Angeles

We were in Downtown Los Angeles recently when a sculpture at the intersection of Figueroa and Wilshire suddenly and unexpectedly burst into flames! Thirty seconds later, it was out. Turns out this is a normal if erratic event, the sculpture is named "Prime Matter" by the late Eric Orr. When it feels inclined, the sculpture bursts into flame for about 30 seconds at the top of each hour. Standing at the base of it and looking up gets odd looks from passers-by, at least right until it catches fire... which happens a bit more than 60 seconds into this video we captured.

If you happen to be in Downtown and near the corner of Figueroa and Wilshire, it can be worth a short side trip. Our family enjoys it!

Friday, November 29, 2019

Mojave Desert Snow!

The Antelope Valley is high Mojave Desert. Since it is a desert, it can be easy to have the cold weather and the precipitation happen on different days. This year they happened the same day, Thanksgiving!

Ever been to the California Poppy Preserve in spring when the wildflowers are going full tilt? This is what the Poppy Preserve looked like yesterday afternoon, under about four inches of fresh snow!

And of course, when it snows, play with snow!

Drive carefully and enjoy the rare (at least for low-altitude parts of California) White Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Last Apple of the Season and Fall Bounty

Last season we had Apples into January, yet this year the crop is smaller and ripened earlier. This Braeburn is our last home-grown apple of this season, and it was as perfect - it was tart and sweet and crisp.

At the same time we picked the last two Yellow Newton Pippin apples. They were as sweet as the one in January, crisp and juicy without being hard - a delightful finale to a short but wonderful harvest.

As the apples pass into memory, other crops begin. The Medlars are ripening and their harvest will begin in a week or so. The acorns are in full swing, and the Madrone berries are well started. Even our frost-smitten garden patch still produced a few very late sunflower seeds!

This is a drought (PG&E cut power several times during very hot, dry weather - so much for the irrigation) blighted and late seeded (early August) "Mammoth" sunflower (they are normally over a foot in diameter), yet it managed to produce its thin shelled and very tasty seeds all the same.

The Oaks are in full swing of acorn production as well. We have excellent crops of Tanoak, Canyon Oak, and Blue Oak, though acorns are not as large as last year on average. Valley Oak is producing, but we are late and the critters seem to like those acorns best...

These are Blue Oak acorns, one of our favorites for culinary use. A cool Fall afternoon is a great time to hunt these gems among the leaves, and it resharpens the hunter-gatherer mind and eye in preparation for the coming Mushroom season! It is also a lot of fun. Sometimes you stumble across genuine surprises, such as Phacelia minor in full bloom in the middle of November! (This species normally flowers in February and March through June).


Monday, November 4, 2019

The Saffron Harvest Begins!

The orange tip of the stigma - the female part of the flower - is just pushing out of the tip of the opening bud of this Saffron flower. To harvest the spice, you pick the flowers and take them apart, drying just the orange-golden stigmas like tiny threads.

We have a few patches of these we planted over the past 20 years. They are autumn flowering members of the genus Crocus, with flowers pushing through the dry ground before even the leaves emerge. This type of flowering, with the flower arising before the leaves, is called hysteranthous flowering.

Saffron is native to the Middle East and parts of Greece, though it was planted widely around the Mediterranean. Even in the United Kingdom the Romans grew it, leaving place names like Saffron Walden behind.

Saffron needs a hot, dry summer and a cool, wet fall through spring. It pulls itself deeper into the ground each year, so needs protection from gophers and squirrels and other rodents that dig.

Over the years, I've grown enough Saffron to make a few rice dishes with my own saffron. It takes a lot of land to grow an ounce of the dry herb!

Our son has planted his bed of saffron now, with high hopes and last year harvested his own first saffron!