Sunday, January 14, 2018

Magic Wash

Google "Magic Wash Miniatures," and you open up a can of worms.  What is magic wash?  How do you make it?  What proportions of paint and diluent do you use?  I've tried all types of concoctions with different ingredients.

I even bought food grade propylene glycol - retards drying.  Also not pictured above are the flow aids, and professional drying retardants recommended as ingredients by various people.

Some people swear by magic wash for priming.  You prime in white, magic wash on some black and it highlights all of the details, and puts the crevices into shadow.  Using relatively transparent acrylics it can really enhance the effect of shadows and highlights.

With my aging eyes, I need something like this.  White primer is too bright to see details, and any missed spots practically shout "WHITE" at you in the final miniature.  Black priming is so dark, again making it difficult to see detail, and requiring several layers of acrylics to cover.  It is such a chore.  I even tried black priming with white drybrushing for years.  It is very costly in brushes, and still too time consuming.

I've sprayed with white primer followed with a spray on varnish to improve flow of pigment into the cracks.  I tried changing up the amount of water I used in the mix to avoid the "ring effect."

Finally, I reduced it to just the "Quick Shine" mixed with just enough "Surface Primer."

Good enough.  Time to start painting.

A Cheesy Revolution

I tried making cheese once.  Here is the original article.  I had a book.

This is not the most intuitive book.  The author describes acid as the catalyst in curd formation, which is an understandable mistake.

I thought I would use organic milk, because my family has been trying to buy organic food in order to support a better food standard in the United States.  Turns out they ultra-pasteurize organic milk making it unsuitable for cheese making.  I was stubborn, and ended up with something that was cheese-like.

I used to regularly make sourdough bread and pizza.  You can read about how this started here.  I used to obsess about trying to keep my starter from dying, and finding the perfect hydration for the ultimate pizza dough.  Then one day, over a year ago, I let go.  I put some of the starter in the back top shelf of my refrigerator and left it alone, unattended.  Several times I have thought about throwing it out.  Today I did throw it out.

My wife was cleaning out the fridge and found my old liquid rennet.  She put it where I could see it and I threw it out, then went to work.  At work I kept thinking about cheese making.  I came home and went over some Youtube videos.  I remembered there was a pretty simple cheese using just acid and heat to create the curds.  I found some videos demonstrating how easy that process was. I looked at my lemon tree outside.

So I went to the grocery store and bought two gallons of milk, not organic, not ultra-pasteurized.  I went home, started heating a gallon of milk, and collected some lemons from the tree.  I found my butter muslin from the previous effort and set it up in a colander.  I pulled out my tomme and follower (cheese mold).  The process went pretty smoothly.  I got curds, put them in the colander to drain, transferred to the press, and...

Queso fresco con Limon.  This type of cheese is very crumbly and doesn't melt.  I believe the heat may drive off all of the meltable components of cheese (fats, heat sensitive proteins).  It was great with a couple of fried eggs and Tabasco sauce.

So Milk (not ultra-pasteurized), plus acid (lemon), plus catalyst (heat).   For the second attempt: Milk, plus acid (produced by bacterial culture), plus catalyst (RENNET).

So my simple schema, what I believe, and have evidence for, is the foundation of all cheese:
1. Milk
2. Acid - either as a chemical (think vinegar or citric acid), or bacterial fermentation (my preference).
3. Catalyst - heat, and/or Rennet

The original Rennet comes from a cow's stomach and therefore likes an acidic environment.   Raw milk has bacteria that given the time will turn the milk sour with acid. One of the videos on Youtube stressed the importance of this in their cheese making.  The first cheese was probably just some milk being stored in a calf stomach container.

I started thinking about how to optimize the cheese making conditions. My semester in Biochemistry Lab, and the lab on enzyme optimization was put to use.  It turns out pH is also critical in other aspects of cheese making - like mozzarella, where the curds need to be stretchable.

I had bought some vegetarian Rennet tablets.  My daughter is vegetarian, and I want her to be able to try my cheese.  I still had some of the thermophilic culture in the freezer.  My microbiological background told me that a frozen, lyophilized bacterial culture was still going to be useful, even if a year old.

Batch number 2 with thermophilic culture (still working great btw) and Vegetarian Rennet came out well.  Enzymatics and fermentation coming together to make wonder food.  I still don't have a cheese press with precise pounds of pressure, but hey, neither did the earliest cheese makers.  I'm thinking about cave man cheese now.  Here are some photos of process to aging:

In the brine

The one on the right is the thermophilic culture.  The one on the left was done using a mesophilic culture in an effort to make Mozzarella.  Mozzarella taught me humility, and the importance of pH in stretching curds.

So what about that sourdough?  I took a spoonful of the old culture and mixed it with 100 grams of organic flour and dechlorinated water.  It started right up.  So I threw the rest of the "old" culture out.

I tried making mozzarella (see above), but the curds didn't stretch.  Still I pressed the curds into a shape and then made pizza dough.  I'm out of practice.  I shouldn't have tried the 70% hydration, or put whey in the mix.  But I have a lot of whey from the flurry of cheese making, and it is really good for you in terms of protein.  It is great as an additive for all types of cooking.  I've used it in Ramen, Risotto, and gravies.  Still, I wasn't used to it in the pizza dough, and it goofed up the processing.  I pressed on.  Pizza Neapolitan:

You can see how my pseudo-mozzarella didn't melt all that great, and it wasn't stretchy at all.
I had a lot of sourdough starter, so I made pancakes:

Those bubbles are completely from wild yeast action, no baking soda or powders.
I put the rest of the starter into the fridge, top shelf.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The End of 2017

It is the last day of 2017.  No new PRs for this year,  but affirmation of my running in the low 8s with my new record at Monterey.  Training for a new Half in San Jose.  Left foot is still bothering me.  Ran 12 miles today at a 9:04 pace.  Goal pace was a 9:06 so that's good.

Made some bresaola.  A nice addition to soups, salads and omelets.

Opened up a 2007 Meritage.  It was super awesome!

Something new for wargaming.  My wargaming roots are in hex and counter boardgames.  I have few from my old 80s collection.  I picked up a new one last year and brought it out for some solo play.  Mark Herman's Empire of the Sun.

On the miniatures front:
I got the last of the Egyptians on their new bases.

These Union infantry will give me enough for the battle of Fort Donelson

And these were just finished.

Got some new ideas for my company level World War 2 rules from "Rommel" by Mustafa and a board game called Operation Dauntless.

So I'm hoping to accomplish the following for 2018:

1. Break the 1 hour 45 minute mark in a half-marathon.
2. Do a Mortain, or near Mortain scenario for the World War 2 collection.
3. Fight Fort Donelson with the Civil War stuff.
4. Rebase my Punic War figures to the new standard.
5. Put on a War of Spanish Succession battle.

Have a great new year!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

My Funny Little Stride

I don't run pretty.  I don't have a neat little stride that makes me look good, or like I'm running effortlessly and fast.  For whatever reason, I relate with Emil Zapotek.

Except I don't run particularly fast.  I'm also not an Olympian.  He did have an unorthodox running style though.

I am so close to breaking the 1 hour 45 minute barrier for a half marathon, so close...

On November 12th I tried to break that barrier in Monterey, probably not the best idea.  Monterey has hills.  I don't think of it as a particularly fast route.

My training for the run suggested I wasn't going to do much better than in Santa Cruz.

Nevertheless, I was confident that I could beat my previous Monterey run time of an hour and 59 minutes.

The pre-race dinner wasn't particularly fabulous.  It was bit of a disappointment.  The service was terrible, the food pretty good.  My wife loved her scallops.  I thought the barrel wine was cool.  We had the chardonnay.  I don't recommend the C+ restaurant in Monterey.  Perhaps its name was an indication of its quality.

I love staying at the Hotel Pacific in Monterey.  They accommodate the runners with a very early breakfast (4:30am is when it starts).

I followed my plan of running with out my Garmin.  It makes it less stressful, and is one less thing I need to worry about on race morning.

Pre-race breakfast wasn't bad.  A cup of coffee and a bagel with cream cheese.  I'm not used to breakfast and wondered if the bagel was a mistake.  Maybe I should have gone with half a bagel.

The walk/trot down to the start was nice.  I did a warm-up and some active stretching with butt kicks and knee highs.

I got to corral B only to find out they were letting the "Elites" go first and putting my start time 10 minutes after what I thought it was.  It was a bit chilly, and I was worried my warm-up wouldn't last.

Got into the Corral and inched my way forward with delusions of keeping up with the 1:45 sign held by the pacers.  Silly me.

I stuck with my plan of running hard enough to breath hard, but not so hard that I felt like I couldn't hold it for 13 miles, or hard enough that I would have nothing left at the finish line.  I lost the 1:45 sign around mile 3.

However, amazingly, the miles seemed to melt away.  My first stop was for water and then every other stop was a Gatorade.  I skipped the last stop.

I passed people, people passed me, the usual stick.  On the hills, my mantra was "don't kill yourself on these."  I even had enough in me to smile for a couple of the photos.

Not smiling:

I really love the people of Monterey.  They have bands, they high five you, they call you out by name (Go Eldon!), and in general so supportive.

I came into the last mile with a little in the gas tank, not much, but something.  So when I saw the finish line I kicked in whatever I had left, reminded myself of my two days off after this, and told myself I wasn't going to die, even thought I felt like it was imminent.  I saw the clock at 1 hour and 47 minutes.

Final chip time (which is what I am paying for): 1 hour 46 minutes and 26 seconds.  In 36th for my age and gender class out of 350 finishers for same said age category.  So I crushed my previous Monterey time, missed a new PR by 21 seconds, beat my Santa Cruz time, and finished close to the top 10% in my age group.  I'm actually fairly pleased with the results.  Next time, next time, next time...

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Am I ready?

It is less then 3 weeks until the Monterey Half Marathon.  Am I ready?

My left foot feels good.  I can still feel some soreness on the left edge, but nothing like it was before.

I've been careful with my paces and not pushing myself too hard.  I've tried to remain faithful to the training plan.  I am doing 8 hill sprints on Friday, but otherwise I resist going past the pace I'm supposed to maintain for my quality runs.  I have felt strong on my hill sprints and no suggestions of my back going out on me like last time.

After my first 14 mile long run, I wasn't able to hold my pace for the 3 mile strength runs.  But I crushed my pace for the following tempo run. 

Here is my second 14 mile run.  Only one more to go, and so far I've managed to hold pace on these.

This week's series of 3 x 2 mile strength runs went very well indeed.

The 7 mile tempo run on Thursday also went well.

I've actually had to make myself not go too fast.  I don't want to peak too early?  The water break in the middle slowed me down to an 8:27, but the 8:25 on the next mile shamed me, and so my last mile was an 8:10.  I'm really trying to keep it at 8:20.

So maybe I'm ready.  Again, unlikely to be any PRs in Monterey, just not a fast enough course for me with those hills.  Perhaps I can beat the Santa Cruz time.

Test Drive of Sword & Spear

Over the last couple of years I've been accumulating rule sets for miniature battles during the ancient period.  "To the Strongest" was the most recent acquisition.  This time I pulled out "Sword & Spear," by Mark Lewis.

The Egyptians and Hittites are almost completely rebased - finally!  So I used the free to download army lists and put together two armies at about 200 points.  The Egyptians had one more unit because Hittite heavies are expensive!  Here are the lists:

Unit Cost  Number Total AV Tot.AV Army Point Total
Egyptian Chariots 28 2 56 4 8 206
Close Fighters 15 4 60 3 12  
Archers 15 3 45 3 9  
Pharaoh 45 1 45 0 0  
Camp 0 1 0 3 3  
      0   32  
Hittite Heavy Ch 40 2 80 4 8 206
Syrian Chariots 24 1 24 4 4  
Hittite Spear 15 2 30 3 6  
Javelinmen 9 1 9 2 2  
Slingers 9 1 9 2 2  
Levy Foot 9 1 9 3 3  
Emperor Wattilis 45 1 45   0  
Camp 0 1 0 3 3  

Allocating activation dice.

The initial first turn sees Egyptian bow, and Hittite chariots advance.

Wattilis charges!

Charging Heavy chariots are brutal.  Well, I got really lucky in the roll and wiped out the spearmen.  I probably should have allocated the activation die to the spear.  Still learning...
The second Hittite impact chariot would follow and annihilate the Egyptian Chariot above.

End of second turn.

Not sure if I had enough to turn the Hittite chariots, missed the "Undrilled" bit.  But Ramses still managed to get on their flanks.

And the Hittite emperor found himself in deep trouble...

Fortunately he survives.

After the early initial charge of the Hittites, I really thought the Egyptians were going to lose.  You can see the Hittite chariot in contact with the Egyptian camp, which only had a single hit remaining.  In one of the pictures above you can see the other Egyptian chariot unit in melee with Syrian chariots.  That was a close battle too, but one that the Egyptians won.  With the loss of a group of slingers and Wattilis's chariot unit, the Hittites had to do an army wide discipline test.  Wattilis's move to his remaining chariot unit put the rest of his army out of command.  A unit of spearmen with 2 hits from some Egyptian bow failed their discipline test and routed, sending the remaining Hittite skirmisher routing.  Game over for the Hittites.

I almost put this game away after the initial Hittite charge.  The long list of conditions for when a unit didn't get impetus was also a bit daunting.  I'm glad I kept at it because it was a real nail biter and I had a great time once I got into the flow of the turn.  I still have lots to learn and look forward to the next game.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Perfect Cure

The cured ham finally reached the 66% of its original weight mark.  I probably should have pulled it at 70%, but I forgot.  Still, it looks fantastic, and tastes even better!

Roasted some oats for an chocolate-coffee-oatmeal stout.

Then roasted some organic cacao nibs.

Roasted enough to make a cup of hot chocolate, but I needed to do some grinding for that.

The hot chocolate was awesome, but going to get a blade grinder for future attempts.  Had to filter a lot of this out after steeping and heating.

Made a terrine for dinner.

Transferred a red ale that became a ...


Magic Wash

Google "Magic Wash Miniatures," and you open up a can of worms.  What is magic wash?  How do you make it?  What proportions of pai...