A while back, I asked a few people if they had any experience with composting. Some did, but mostly I got ‘No, but if you do – I need pictures and updates!’ So, here’s the update:

I did a good bit of research, and knew right away that I wouldn’t have any success without the use of a ‘tumbling’, dedicated composter. There are several options in this regard – some homebrew ones made from blue barrels, whether suspended in a frame or sitting on rollers – those looked unappealing simply because of the effort required to install a ‘hatch’ in them. Looking at commercially available units, I figured out very quickly that they’re not cheap. However, this is definitely an area where you get what you pay for. Or in my case rather, you get what someone else would pay full retail for, for much less…

A little craigslisting, and I seemingly found a ‘fell off the back of a truck’ store in Atlanta. I actually believe it to be a ‘shipping issue and returns liquidation warehouse’. I’m guessing that if you have to return something to Amazon, it probably goes straight to a place like this. They had a Lifetime 65-Gallon composter, which normally goes for ~$130, for $60. I ran over and snatched it up:

Lifetime 65-Gallon Composter

Lifetime 65-Gallon Composter

First step was a parts inventory:

Composter Parts Laid Out

Composter Parts Laid Out

At which point, I quickly realized why this package had been returned: Two of the pieces that make up the legs were wrong. Luckily, without the lower pieces, the unit is still operable. At most, I need to cut a piece of lumber to stabilize the distance between the legs.

Composter Legs Mismatch

Composter Legs Mismatch

I should mention some of my motivation in wanting to compost: When I brew, I end up with around 10 lbs of spent grain that I need to dispose of. There are several options when disposing of it, but none better than composting, in my opinion. This is a picture of my ‘mash tun’ (converted igloo cooler), which is what you put grains and hot water into for a given amount of time so that the enzymes in the grain convert starches to sugar, and then the ‘wort’ (unfermented beer) is drained off (and then gets boiled with hops and additive spices, cooled, and then has yeast added to it. Once the yeast is done, it’s beer.) The used grain has to go somewhere after this whole process…

Mash Tun Next to Composter

Mash Tun Next to Composter

Another benefit is being able to do something constructive with the waste from my woodworking shop. I’m fairly particular about what from the shop I put in it. I can’t use the ‘dust’ from my dust collection system, as it contains dust from cutting plywood. The glue that is used in plywood is particularly nasty stuff, and from what I hear the chemicals won’t do your soil any favors. The same thing goes for pressure treated wood.

[pressure treated wood:] A lot of people don’t realize that pressure treated wood is wood that has literally been put into a pressure chamber with special chemicals so that the chemicals are forced into the wood. The stuff is rarely ‘dry’ when working with it, and should NOT be used on indoor projects as the chemicals continue to ‘seep’ out of it. I just note this because a lot of the lumber in the big box stores that is popular with beginning woodworkers or weekend warriors (2x4s, etc) is pressure treated. Avoid it for anything indoors. (with the exception of the bottom plates of walls built on slabs ;) ) – There IS plenty of NON pressure treated stuff one aisle over though, so just be aware of the difference.

With all that being said, what I mostly put in from the shop is my planer shavings:

Planer shavings in composter

Planer shavings in composter

It’s also worth noting that the whole endeavor of composting is to create very nutrient rich soil (or soil additive) that can go back into the garden (or planting containers in my case). And when you consider the cost of fertilizer and soil, the whole thing is quite worth it, as the most common thing to put in to the composter is kitchen scraps.

In the last several months that we’ve been putting ‘compostable’ kitchen scraps aside [not in the garbage], we have reduced our ‘take the trash out’ interval by at least half – mostly because of the lack of any odor build-up. I also feel MUCH less wasteful, knowing that, ‘if the half of an onion that I kept in the fridge turns’, it can just go into the composter and turn into tomatoes or peppers next year.

This is a meal or so’s prep scrap, as well as a couple coffee grounds worth, etc. We just accumulate the stuff in a dirty bowl or some such container, and then the composter is literally just out the back door of the kitchen:

Kitchen Scraps

Kitchen Scraps

For those who don’t drink coffee, you can typically get grounds from local coffee shops for free; it’s a worthwhile thing to go pick up every once in a while.

I also threw a bag of mulched leaves in while I was clearing the yard in the fall. That was quite the ‘mass’ when it first went in, but has subsequently ‘fallen’ a good bit. Being a newbie at this, I’m hoping I’m keeping my green to brown ratio correct (nitrogen rich vs carbon rich items).

Kitchen scraps on leaves

Kitchen scraps on leaves

Other things that I would note:

- Regardless of this composter being a commercially designed one, it is still pretty hard to turn over, but it’s not unbearable. I can’t imagine maintaining a compost pile with a pitchfork though!

- Regarding the lifetime 65-gallon (and this is probably just because I haven’t stabilized the distance between the [incomplete] legs), the rotation locking pin is still in the way when ‘out’, so I have to push the whole unit to the side to get it to not interfere with turning the composter. Again, I need to fix the legs, and this will probably go away.

- I’m also trying to maintain the right ‘moisture level’ of the compost – not too damp, not too dry.

- The Lifetime 65 seems to keep water in its ‘walls’ (They are open cell plastic extruded panels). This caused some confusion for me, as I initially thought the sound of the water sloshing in them was coming from the compost itself, which made me think it was far too wet.

- I’m not sure if I need to add any other ‘things’ such as worms, etc. – Clearly I have some research to do, but the compost itself is breaking down. I did throw in a little bit of soil that was left over from my last planting. I figured if there were enzymes, bugs, or other such things that should be in soil, that would make a good starter. I guess it’s like good yeast, right? – keep some from the last batch to put forward…

Anyways… can’t wait to use the finished compost in the spring!



I’ve been delving into woodworking over the past year or so, acquiring more and more tools & taking on larger and larger projects… There was the Kegerator, Charlie’s Toadstools & Table, Kathy’s Desk, etc.. Kathy had then commissioned me to build a kitchen table.

We spent a while tossing back and forth design ideas, and she had a pretty clear vision of what she wanted. Something farmhouse, but legs and structure that wasn’t too rustic… A few examples that really impressed her were here. In particular, she liked the way that the ‘leaves’ (or extensions) were made for these tables. That played to the need for a smaller apartment sized table, with the ability to add spaces when needed & when a larger dining room was available.

I got to work in google sketchup and came up with these preliminary sketches:

The red portion indicates the removable leaf system.

Kathy also had already ordered the legs that she really liked, from Osborne Wood Products. She drop shipped them straight to my house, in fact!

So, on with the show!

I started by laminating a series of 8 1×2′s to form 4 square arms for the extensions.

Then I put the table top together – a series of 1×8 pine boards, joined with pocket screws (Most of this project is joined using pocket screws, which allowed the quick build.)

The process was also very speedy with everything pre cut…

I also added an extension to my poor work bench making the cutting table of my chop saw level with the existing work bench… it made things SO much easier, especially when I could just screw down stop blocks for repeat cuts.

Once I had the apron, and joists in place, it was time to focus on the legs – which I so desperately didn’t want to screw up! I sanded one corner down just enough to get a bevel to screw into, and then screwed a hangar bolt (lag screw thread on one side, machine thread on the other) into the leg (hint: if you put 2 nuts screwed against each other, you can actually drive the screw in).

Once the bolt was installed, I could put it into the corner brace and tighten it up with a nut and lock washer.

Once all the legs were installed, the core of the table was finished!

Then I threw together the extensions, and viola! (note: the only tools actively used in the building of this table were the square and pencil)

All together, I’m happy with the build… definitely needs a good sanding, and finished, but I think I’ll leave that to Kathy’s capable hands ;)



Can Can

Stack o' jars

Stack o' jars

After a few weeks of ‘yes we can can’ attitude and know-how, we’ve come up with quite the haul:

  • Lots of pickles (Lots)
  • Peaches: Slices in syrup & jam
  • Strawberry jam
  • Pickled carrots
  • Pickled okra
  • A few jars of potatoes
  • Chicken stock
And we actually used our first item this evening – a jar of chicken stock. I used it in Alton Brown’s Ants in Trees.
If your interested in canning your own food for the sake of cost savings, preparedness, and reducing food waste, check out UGA’s site: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/


Passive Network Tap

Warning: The following article is short, uninformative and depends entirely upon: A) you being a geek and caring about network taps, & B) reading the other two articles linked herein.

I’m basically just documenting my network tap build:

I started off building the tap in this instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-a-Passive-Network-Tap
For my purposes, this tap is just wrong… it basically just splices a couple network connections together (and interrupts network traffic when anything is plugged into the tap port). Perhaps linux or some other scenario can function with it, but I don’t carry around a linux laptop for the fun of it. (And I don’t know many windows sysadmins that do.)

There’s a great article here that details a proper four-port tap.

Short of going and purchasing a 4-port faceplate, I pulled all the connections on my middle tap port except the rx pair (pins 3 & 6) and it worked properly. To get both a tx and rx port in the same form factor as in the instructable, I decided I’d add a tail to the box. That also takes away the need for an additional patch cable. Here’s a picture of it hooked up:

Passive Tap Connected

Passive Tap Connected

(in pic above: pc is plugged into top port, tail then connects to router (wireless bridge) – laptop is connected to bottom tap port)

And here’s a picture of the inside of the tap:

Passive Tap Internal

Passive Tap Internal

Basically, blue and brown go straight to the top port from the tail, and orange and green stop along the way across pins 3 & 6 of either tap port. There’s also a zip-tie there so the tail can’t be pulled so hard that it un-punches anything.

Combine this set up with wireshark, and you can tap traffic whenever you need. To tap both rx & tx traffic, you’ll need two ethernet ports. Monitoring one at a time is good enough for me.



Can’t wait for this to come to fruition:

Vinegar Crock

Vinegar Crock



Jam Session

For those not familiar with Super H Mart, think of it as a Harry’s Farmers market for Asians. There’s every kind of noodle, soy sauce, fish, and odd vegetable there. It’s actually where I bought my largest aluminum brew kettle (It’s actually a tamale pot). We happened into Super H Mart the other day, as there was one next to the Brand Smart we decided to trek to (for the first an last time…) Right inside the door was a fantastic deal: strawberries for a dollar a pound:

Strawberries - $1/lb @ Super H Mart

Strawberries - $1/lb @ Super H Mart

We figured we’d snag a few and make some jelly (the picture is only about half of what we bought, and we SHOULD have bought a bunch more). Sister Anne suggested that we should try a lower sugar recipe than the classic Ball recipe. I dare say that even the recipe that we used seemed high on Sugar. Well, we’ll find out about that once we open the first one. The fun here was in the making!

Andy prepping Strawberries

Andy prepping Strawberries

We diced the Strawberries into small pieces…

Strawberries pre-boil

Strawberries pre-boil

For a total of 6 quarts pre-boil volume. Combined that with sugar, and brought to a boil…

Strawberry Jam Boiling

Strawberry Jam Boiling

Be careful when making jelly, this stuff likes to foam! I’m glad I did it in my water bath canner! (We used this pot to make it in, and used the pressure canner as a water bath canner.)

*A few words of advice at this point: Use a food processor on your strawberries first, we found that ours didn’t cook down and break up as much as we expected (a la tomatoes) (I think this also effected our measurement of the pre-boil volume of strawberries – we got lower yield than expected. | Because we took some out and blended it, we were goofing around with the heat to maintain a boil: keep it low. we scorched a small spot on the pot. Nothing to adversely effect the batch, but just putting it out there…

This was the first time I had bothered to boil my lids, so when it came time to extract them from the sauce pot they were in, I couldn’t find the lid lifter that I may or may not have purchased three years ago when I thought I was going to can something.

If you find yourself in this pickle, I’m pretty sure you’ll have a glue gun, refrigerator magnet, and wooden spoon on hand:

Makeshift Lid-lifter

Makeshift Lid-lifter

Just be careful not to have it in hot water for too long – it is on there with hot glue after all! – it worked fine until I had to start going for the lids near the bottom. It would probably last an entire canning session if you ran it under cold water once or twice. You could of course, do this with another food safe glue and keep the magnet on the end of one of your spoons. (Who needs another unitasker in the kitchen anyways, right?)

And the final result:

Canned Strawberry Jam

Canned Strawberry Jam

8.5 pints of strawberry jam! We calculated that we probably managed this for around $2 a pint (plus jar costs). Keep in mind, Smuckers goes for $3.50+ at Kroger, so we’re pretty proud of ourselves.

We’ll have to test a jar out before we make gifts of it to friends and family… But I fully expect to be able to trade a jar or two for some Marinara, or other great staple.



So, Andy and I were out hitting discount and thrift stores. By chance, we went out of our way (made two trips) just to go to a Good Will. We’re also on a canning kick (see previous post regarding chicken stock) – we have a marinara planned for our next canned item.

So, logically one of the things I look for at these type stores is home canning jars. No go at this Good Will though.. I keep perusing and come across an old pressure cooker, a ‘National No.7′ according to the label riveted to it. I quickly did some research on my phone, but that didn’t set me completely at ease. I then dialed up my sister who was near a computer and did even more research and listed some prices of the parts I could visibly identify in need of replacement.

So, I shelled out the 15 bucks they were asking and brought it home. Once cleaned up, it’s a pretty respectable unit (I literally separated it down to every part… handles off, etc):

Inside of the pressure canner

Pressure canner

So, now I just need to make it to the county extension office to get the gauge checked… I’m going to wait to order the weights until I do this, as I’ll need to add a new gauge to the order if it fails too drastically.

Once everything’s a go go, I’ll be able to can a full batch of stock or anything else that requires pressure canning. So happy to not have to pay full price for this guy!

Name suggestions?



Chicken Broth

So, I’ve made chicken broth from a carcas before… I’ll barbecue up a whole chicken every so often and it’s the only logical thing to do with the remains.

The only problem is keeping it and making it keep. Previously I’ve tossed the whole lot into a tupperware container and put it in the fridge… a few weeks tops like that. More if you’re brave.

Today I figured I’d ask for some help from siblings and embark up on a long off-put journey down ‘canning lane’. I’ve made pickles in jars before, but they don’t count… they turned out awful. Besides, you can make pickles with a cold process anyways. Tonight I wanted to make something shelf stable.

So, after a consult with a sibling, I decided that my Fagor Pressure Cooker would suffice as a pressure canner for my needs (if anything, it’s going to go above and beyond the required temps/pressures for canning broth – which won’t effect it the same way nuking green beans would..)

Canning Process Underway

Above you can see the pot of broth on the back left (This was the pot strained into… the stock pot was larger). Front right is the Fagor pressure cooker… which fits 4 pint jars.

And then there is the end result:

Canned Broth

You can see that some jars boiled over… a lot. I have one that is literally half empty. Another consult with another sibling indicated that the cause of this was headspace. I was under the impression that it was some arbitrary ‘leave an inch’… but apparently it’s much more important than that. Lesson learned.

Overall, I’m terribly happy that I’ve preserved something and made it shelf stable. Not to mention split up this batch into usable amounts. Wonder what I’ll put in jars next weekend…

BTW: This article was of very good reference on the subject: http://www.simplycanning.com/homemade-chicken-broth.html



Ok, so this is the first post to this blog in an incredibly long time… No promises, but I’m regaining some interest in adding content, so… we’ll see.

So I’ve never posted about making beef jerky, but I have made it several times with Alton Brown’s Method using a box fan and air filters. Unfortunately, air filters can get quite expensive, so I began to consider other methods to achieve the same thing. Also, with our garden coming to fruit, there are several things that we’ll be wanting to dry. (herbs, etc.)

I decided that wooden frames stretched with a screen of some sort would work quite well. Then there was the stackability factor, etc…

So I came up with these frames:

Which have a beveled top and bottom:

And were then covered on the bottom with fiberglass screen door material:

Then I built this frame to hold the fan and stabilize the first tray on top of it:

(It comes apart for easy storage):

Assembled, it’s fairly impressive:

I had not put any screen on the 4th frame, and I’m kind of glad I didn’t, as it will keep whatever’s drying off the fan box by about 3 inches. I will also probably make a ‘lid’ out of 1×1′s and stretch mesh over. Axel might be inclined to see what’s going on inside, and we can’t have that!

Right now, I’ve got 1.5 lbs of flank steak in marinade waiting to become beef jerky…. Can’t wait to try this thing out!




Alton Brown put together a terra cotta smoker on his show once, and I was dying to replicate it ever since watching it. Andy thought it best we not do it while at the apartment (even though, I would now say it wouldn’t have attracted any attention).

Once we got into the new house, I wanted to get it put together fairly quickly. My parts list (up to now… some mods to come) is as follows:

  • A few bits of 2×4 to support the whole unit
  • 17″ Terra Cotta Flower Pot – Home Depot
  • 17″ Azalea Pot – Pike’s Nursery
  • 1 brick, broken in half – Home Depot
  • 1 small electrical resistance heating coil – Ace Hardware
  • Lamp cord – Ace Hardware
  • Weber replacement charcoal grate – Home Depot
  • Thermometer – Ace Hardware
  • Tin pie pan – Kroger
  • Wood chips – Kroger
  • Outdoor single gang enclosure
  • 1 solid 1 gang metal cover plate
  • 1/2″ Halex Twin Screw Clamp Connector – Home Depot
  • Universal Infinite switch & knob – Fox Appliance Parts of Atlanta
  • 3 ft of 1/8″ metal rod – Home Depot

Assembly is pretty simple and straightforward with the only technical part being the connection of the infinite switch (L is for incoming power, H goes to the element, and P would be for an indicator light, ignore it unless you’re getting creative.)

Here’s some pictures:

The Smoker - controller to right, wood chips to left

Temperature Guage and grate hooks

I found that wrestling a boston butt out of the depth of the smoker was quite difficult, so I bought a length of metal rod (coat hangers would work, we just don’t own any metal ones) & bent it to the shape you see here – two ‘handles’ to lift the grate out with.

Heating Element

A lot of people buy a modular hot plate and take it apart for the heating element – I for one couldn’t even find this style of single burner hot plate anywhere – they were all the new flat, single round plate sytle. I also just thought it would be easier to just buy what I needed – Ace sells replacement heating coils.

I crimped the end of the lamp cord to the end of the element – I need to replace this cable with heat tolerant cable – the insulation has shrunk back dramatically, and after a few more uses I think the insulation will have been compromised enough to cause a short. I’ll just replace it back to the control unit.

Also, a few pieces of 2×4 hold the lower pot off the ground, allowing the cord to run out from under the unit.

Control Knob

This is exactly what is on your kitchen stove, just inside an outdoor electrical enclosure – it’s called an infinite switch, and I got one at a local appliance parts store. The guy at the counter was a total dick and didn’t want to help me because I didn’t have a part number – the unit I got was a ‘universal’ that ran me about $25. I jimmied it into the enclosure by mounting it on a solid faceplate. (One more reason you need a step bit.)

Pie tin of chips

The combustibles I’ve been using are water-soaked Mesquite chips. Kroger sells them as grill additives, but they’re the only thing I’m using here. I’m ready for a new wood type though – Mesquite is a VERY distinct flavor when it comes to smoking. I’m looking forward to smoking with apple wood. (also, I’m curious what the difference between small chips and large chips is like on a long smoking session.)

Smoker Gasket

One page I was reading detailed how a guy had used a replacement gasket from a Big Green Egg (got mine at an Ace – the gasket, not the egg) to seal the two pots better. I did the same here, and it works like a charm – it’s adheared to the lower pot, so I can just lift off the upper pot and set it on the ground without it getting dirty.

Boston Butt 2

Boston Butt 1

First up to bat was Alton’s Boston Butt recipe. It turned out really well, but you have to be expecting smoked pork here. I initially benchmarked it against a crock pot slow cooked Boston Butt, but that’s just not fair – it’s excellent on a whole different scale. It pulled with little effort, and we’ve made everything from pulled pork sandwiches to pulled pork omelets (yeah).

Salmon in salt

Next up was Salmon, but first it spent about 14 hours in a salt/sugar pack; again, Alton’s recipe here, which gets mixed reviews – I believe this to be the case because people end up using table salt where he calls for kosher salt. Yes, it’s all salt, but a cup of kosher salt isn’t as much as a cup of table salt (imagine a barrel of bowling balls [kosher] vs a barrel of sand [table]).

Smoked Salmon

The salmon turned out really well, and did not take long to smoke at all. I probably could have had the temperature control down even more than I did – once the smoker preheats, it takes very little to keep it at temperature.

Flaked Smoked Salmon

I was immediately inspired to flake a good bit of the salmon (one fillet), and make a ‘salmon salad sandwich’ – fantastic.

Overall, I am very pleased with the smoker. I have a turkey brining right now to test out tomorrow on it – a trial run before thanksgiving, where I plan to serve one smoked and one fried turkey.

Other things that I would note would be:

  • The temperature gauge in the top dome tends to be inaccurate – temperatures more towards the middle/bottom are in actuality higher – I plan on mounting a digital thermo at this level.
  • The lamp cord I used is insufficient, and I should have known better. I will likely replace the run into the smoker with heat resistant cable, and the run between the plug and infinite switch with a heavier gauge cable.
  • There are a few hacks around the internet of temperature controllers/notifiers (including one guy that gets a text message when his internal meat temperature hits a preset) for me, the important part was just that I have simple, functional control instead of just on and off… it works.

Anyone have any other suggestions as to what to smoke?