Saturday, January 29, 2011

52 Projects: Dimmer Switch

Not that long ago we finished a complete remodel of our house. Our general contractor was a great guy and I'd recommend him to anyone. Efficient, value driven, and a real craftsman. The only issue was he was sometimes overly pragmatic in the name of saving money. More specifically we wanted a dimmer switch in our closet and he wouldn't do it.

Let me explain why we wanted this. I work weird hours. I often wake up in the middle of the night to catch a plane or sometimes I work until wee hours of the morning. Our closet is directly off our bedroom. When I turn on the light I almost always wake up my wife. Not to mention me being blinded by two 120 watt bulbs in the closet (we wanted the high wattage because the closet has no natural light). So when we remodeled we asked the contractor to put in a dimmer switch in the closet. That said I really didn't explain why and so - being the frugal guy he is - he just put in a standard switch. As the closet and our bedroom were the last things being remodeled and I'd gotten used to him by then I decided it just wasn't worth the hassle to explain everything. Those of you that have remodeled know how tired you get of dealing with details (not my strong suit to begin with). Besides putting in a dimmer is easy right?

Here's where I started:

The next step was a quick run to home depot for purchase of the dimmer switch.

All the parts are there! Yahoo! The instructions contain sage advice. I definitely want to avoid death at all costs. Off to the basement to turn off the power:

Out with the old.

And in with the...wait a minute - the old wasn't grounded! I'm no electrician but I know this is "bad". No biggie lets just tap into the ground wire. So lets just check the instructions just to make sure we install this correctly. Hey wait...

The instructions say hook the first black dimmer lead to any wire removed from the old switch. Then hook the second black dimmer lead to the other wire. But there's only one black lead on the new switch. What???? I suspect this is why many people hire electricians - to figure out crappy directions. I'm gonna guess that I simply use the RED lead in place of the "second black dimmer lead".

I put it together using provided wire nuts:

Time for a test. Head back down stairs and throw the switch:

TA DA! It works.

Just a bit of finishing and cleaning up:

Tools/parts used:

That's it for now. 48 more to go.

Monday, January 17, 2011

52 Projects: Asiago Bread

Don't Panic! I'm not turing this into a cooking blog. I am a foodie and enjoy cooking but there are so many good cooking/foodie blogs out there I and my skills are so limited I just can't see contributing anything meaningful to the space.
That said every once in a while you stumble on/create a recipe so phenomenal you've just got to share it.
Last week I was having a craving for home made bread. I pulled out and dusted off the old bread machine. I tried 3 different recipes: the manufacturers, one from Julia Child's "Baking with Julia" cookbook, and one from the internet. All were less than stellar. They were soft and mushy and tasted of wet flour. Just not very good.
I asked around and one of my staff pointed me to this no-knead recipe from the NY times. Apparently among foodies this is the "go to" home made bread and was quite a meme for a while. I've got to get out more, I'd never heard of this.
This made significantly better bread than the bread machine (which is back collecting dust in the closet) but still not quite what I wanted. Further the loaf ended up being a bit small for my family. So my project was to figure out how to make this loaf bigger and better.
When cooking I find there are universally three ingredients that make any recipe better: Cheese, bacon, and beer. Now as much as I like bacon I've never heard of "bacon bread" (but I reserve the right to try that another day). But beer and cheese seemed like a strong combination. I thought if I replaced some or all of the liquid from NY times recipe with beer and threw in some cheese I might have a winner.
So some lessons from about 10 iterations.
Beer: Don't use only beer in the recipe. It doesn't work. The bread barely rose and it ended up tough and beery. My second iteration on the recipe used about 1/4 beer and 3/4 water (filtered - I didn't try tap water). It worked perfectly and gave the bread a tangier taste than water alone.
Cheese: Mild cheese becomes tasteless. Soft cheese separates leaving oily spots in the bread (so much for pepper jack bread). I finally settled on asiago though I suspect a good hard aged cheddar would work. Costco has both a hard asiago and an aged cheddar. Next loaf will be a cheddar beer bread.
I also varied the process a bit from the NY times recipe. I found if I mixed the cheese in when I made the dough it kept the bread from rising. So I made the recipe according to the article (with the exception of 1/4 beer in the liquid mix and changing the quantities - see below) but before the second rise (step 3 in the recipe) I put in about a cup of grated asiago and kneaded it into the dough. I flattened the dough, sprinkled it with some cheese, folded it over, and repeated the process until all the cheese was gone. This probably took 8 to 10 folds - I think this light kneading may actually have helped the recipe. I kept an extra 1/4 cup of cheese that I sprinkled on the top just before baking.
So here are the quantities and pic's from my process
18 ounces of flour (about 3 and 2/3 cups - though I weigh it on a scale)
1/2 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast (I did not use instant yeast)
2 teaspoons salt
8 ounces filtered water
4 ounces beer (I used a mild beer here - I want to try it with a stout and cheddar)
1 1/4 cup asiago cheese
I also read from cooks illustrated that using a bit (like a tablespoon) of vinegar will improve the taste but I haven't tried it yet.
The first step was basically measuring out and mixing the first five ingredients together. I mixed the dry ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl and then put in the liquid. The only issue I found was I only used about a third of the bottle of beer - if only I could think of something to do with the rest...

I then covered the bowl containing the dough with plastic wrap and let it sit overnight (I let it sit 12 hours).
I removed the dough from the bowl and flattened it out. I then sprinkled a handful of the asiago, folded the dough, and repeated the process until I'd used 1 cup of the asiago.

I put the dough on parchment paper (made it easier to put in the pot at the end) and let it rise for a few hours.

I preheated the over to 450 (as the recipe calls for) and stuck my #24 le creuset "round french oven" in. This is about a 4.5 quart enameled dutch oven. In about 30 minutes I (carefully) pulled out the hot french oven and put my dough in it. Note just put the parchment paper and dough in together - it's just easier (a trick I picked up from cooks illustrated magazine).
I slashed the top of the dough, sprinkled it with the remaining cheese, put the hot lid on, and popped it back in the oven. Following the instructions from the NY times I left it in the oven with the lid on for 30 minutes, I think because I made a bigger loaf, that I'll try 35 to 40 minutes next time. After the 30 minutes I took the lid off and let it go another 30 minutes (again I might increase this next time) until it was brown and sounded hollow when thumped.

I pulled it out and let it cool. We're waiting on dinner right now to cut and eat it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

52 Projects: Blog

So that's the goal. 52 Projects in 2011. One a week. Use the blog as incentive to get off my butt and get some of those little projects finished.

The first project was to actually put up the blog so I could write about the other projects. It turned out to be a pretty simple project overall. Researching how to do this (took a few hours) was the hardest part. I used to be fairly technically inclined so I do have some advantages (I know what DNS - explained below - is, am familiar with html, and am fluent with a computer) but my deep technical skills are bit stale. Who know's maybe some other of my 51 projects will involve getting my technical chops back.

So putting up the blog involved:

Getting my domain name (

I wanted to use my own name as the domain. was taken years ago by someone who thought they could get rich registering surnames and charging folks to use subdomains (so I could be and get mail at . I guess I'm a control freak and wanted to own my domain.

To register a domain name I googled around and found There were a few complaints on the net but overall this provider was rated positively. It was also cheap ($10 a year) and came with some pretty cool free services. Turns out many places charge extra for Domain Name Management, mail forwarding etc but not namecheap. It's web interface was fairly easy to use and they have good online help.

Choosing and setting up the blog service

I'm not a blogging expert nor do I want to be one. My company hosts it's own Wordpress blog and though I could of done that (and hosted it on my company's server) I really wanted something simple. I could of gone to but I'm a heavy google user ( is their blog product). Yes I know it [sucks|lacks features|isn't secure|blah blah blah] but:

  • It's simple to use
  • Was easy to set up
  • Has good search tools (surprise right? google...)
  • Allowed me to use my own domain (, and
  • Was known to me - when my wife and I travel I keep a travel blog for family and friends and use blogger (aka blogspot).

Further it really did all I needed: had the blog, allowed labeling of blog posts, filters blog spam, allows pictures, and someday if I get really ambitious (it's not on the projects list yet) it allows me to customize the look by manipulating HTML. I like simplicity. Creating a blog was just a question of pushing the create blog link and filling out a few simple questions (blog name, URL/address, and verifying I'm a human):

Fiddling with Domain Name Services (DNS) to get my own domain name

This ended up being the hardest part of setting up the blog. I had a blog at blogspot ( but I wanted folks to be able to access my blog (and web pages) with my chosen domain name ( To do this you use a clever little thing that makes the whole internet possible called domain name services (DNS). Basically it allows you to route folks looking for a specific site ( to the computer that hosts that site. In other words, when you type in it sends you to this blog.

After much research there were two steps to getting this done. First, I needed to point my domain ( to the blogspot blogs. To do this I used namecheap's domain management facilities.

From my homepage on Namecheap I clicked on "view" under my domain and then clicked on my domain ( From here I click on "All Host Records" under the "Host Management" category.

Now came about the only hard part. Per above I am familiar with DNS but namecheap decided to make it "easy" for lay users to redirect domains to where they want. Unfortunately they use terms and symbols that are not standard in DNS management terms so I had some learning to do. Rather than go into the detail I'll give you the end product: put the @ host name to (in my case and the www host name to See the picture below. Make sure and click on save changes.

Second thing was to get google/blogger/blogspot to recognize that when someone came looking for they were to be sent to my blog. In blogger you click on settings, publishing, and click "Custom Domain". From there click on "Switch to advanced settings", fill in your domain name (, and prove you are human (it's really called a captcha).

Remember to wait up to 24 hours for all this to propagate throughout the internet. Then you should be able to go to a browser, type in your domain (, and there you are with your own piece of real estate on the net.

Note: You can make this a lot simpler if your only intent is to blog. Just go to, register, set up your blog per above, and then just purchase your domain through google/blogger/blogspot (it's still just $10 a year) and they'll hand all the DNS stuff for you.

Writing my first entry

Well your reading that so...I guess project 1 is complete!

Just a quick note: I'm using the blogo tool to write and post this entry. It's a decent tool for blogging on a mac. You could just use the web interface the site provides has but I like having a better editor and the ability to drag and drop pictures while I'm editing.

Well that's it for this project...51 more to go.