Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wood Friends

One of the best things about making spoons is that gathering the wood is half the fun.  Going on wood gathering adventures if you will.  You will meet many people who are really interested in what you do.  Many people will show up at your house with logs or old boards they found in their Great Grandfather's barn.  Maybe some old Walnut planks that have been drying for 60 years or a log from a favorite tree in their yard.  I have met many great people over the years and made many friends.

One such person is Tommy Turner from Wylie, Texas.  I met Tommy at "Logger Days" in South Fork, Colorado several years ago.  I was selling spoons and he was selling turned pieces and leather work and straw hats.  He asked me if I could make him a spatula out of Mesquite for flipping the sourdough pancakes he likes to cook.  I made him one and then another and then he ordered some for his friends who like to cook.

Tommy is a really interesting character.  He's one of those guys you feel comfortable with right off the bat, like you've known him for years.  He is a true westerner.  He and his friends get together and cook and go to Chuck Wagon cook offs .  He also has a strong back because he brings me huge pieces of Osage Orange wood and Mesquite when he comes out a couple of times a year.  I don't know how he gets them into his truck but he does.  He sells some of the spoons I make from the wood in Texas and Oklahoma at shows along with his beautiful leather work.

Here is a picture Tommy sent me from a Chuck Wagon competition a few years ago.  He's the one on the left.  The fellow on the right holding the large ladle and spoon is his friend Chris.  He's an award winning Chuck Wagon cook.  He not only cooks great food but puts a lot of time and hard work into his camp setup, researching and making his own gear in order to have an authentic camp for the judging.  Attendees buy a bowl and then they go from camp to camp sampling the fare and step back in time to days long gone when everything was hand made from the tables and chairs to the wooden barrels and buckets to the spoons and pots.

The Mesquite that Tommy brings me comes from Chris's ranch and it is a pure joy to work with.  It is freshly cut green wood without all the insect damage of trees that have been down for a few years.  The color is dark reddish brown with bright yellow sapwood.

Tommy asked me to make a large ladle and spoon out of some of the Mesquite as a present for Chris and presented them to him at the cook off where they used them to serve 15 gallons of stew.  That is still the largest ladle I have ever made.  It could hold a bowl full of stew and was 24 inches long.

I never know what he will show up with but it is always great.  Sometimes Persimmon or Apricot.  Always lots of that fine Mesquite.

Here they are cutting some corn bread in a dutch oven with an Osage Orange spatula.  Looking at this picture,  I can imagine coming back to camp after a 12 hour day driving cattle, and being served a meal of brisket and baked beans and corn bread cooked out over an open fire.  I remember as a kid camping in the Blue Ridge mountains.  My dad loved to cook and he would go all out at every meal.  I remember how good the food was after a day spent chasing my sister and climbing trees. Pork and beans and potatoes and biscuits with blueberry cobbler for desert, cooked in the dutch oven in the coals of the fire.  It just doesn't get any better than that.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hanging out

We were hiking along Maroon creek in the White river national forest near Aspen, Colorado  a few weeks ago and we came upon these trout hanging out in a shallow pool.  The 12-14 inch Rainbows were very cooperative and let me get a picture with the 300 mm lens.  The water in this stream is crystal clear with maroon colored rocks in the stream bed, hence the name.  They were just hanging out waiting for a late season Blue Wing Olive Mayfly or midge to drift by for a meal.  I can sit and stare into mountain pools like this for hours.  It's fun to catch a grasshopper in the tall grass and throw it into a pool to see who's hiding under a shady undercut bank.  It usually disappears in a splashing rise in short order.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Flour Tortillas

I think of flour tortillas as the biscuits of the Southwest and they are easier to make than biscuits.  There is nothing better than a fresh, warm and chewy tortilla to go with eggs and bacon or with soup.  The trouble is in putting any on the table because your family will magically appear with honey jar in hand as soon as they see you rolling out the first one.  You will need a tortilla warmer or a container with a lid lined with a towel.  Resting the tortillas in the warmer lets them steam and soften and keeps them warm for a surprisingly long time and is an important part of the cooking process.  I use a cloth one sewn like a giant pita bread that can also be put in the microwave to re-warm the tortillas.  I usually use butter for the shortening but you can also use Olive oil or Grape Seed oil if you like. 

4 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
1 ¼ cup warm water

Cut your shortening into the flour.  I do this with my kitchenaid and the wire wisk.  Or the food processor works great.  Flour should look like coarse sand.  Add in the other ingredients and mix until blended.  The dough will be rather sticky and soft.  Form a ball about 1 ½” wide and roll it in flour.  Pat it out to a disc and put it down on a cutting board with a nice layer of flour on top.  The secret to a nice round tortilla is this:  Roll out into an oval.  Lift and turn 90 degrees and then roll into a circle.  Add flour if they stick to the pin.  Repeat until your tortilla is about 1/16” thick.  Have your pan heated to med-hi.  Just a dry pan.  Lay the tortilla in the pan and let it cook for 30-45 sec.  You will see bubbles start to form in about 15 sec.  Check the bottom.  You should have some nice browned areas.  Flip and cook until the bubbles are brown.  Transfer to your tortilla warmer.  Beat back the honey jar holding family members with your spatula. Continue making as many as you want and stacking them in the warmer.  This recipe makes about 20 tortillas and any unused dough can be kept in the refrigerator for a couple of days.  Lastly sit back and bask in the compliments.

Cook the first side for 30-45 sec.  Bubbles will form after about 15 sec.

After the first side has some nice brown spots flip and cook the bubbled side for 30-45 seconds more and then transfer directly to your warmer.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Acorn Squash Custard

I grew some Acorn Squash this Summer because my wife likes them.  Never  been much for Squash myself.  I had a bumper crop and I have been experimenting a little with them.  The first one I cut in half and baked at 375 degrees for an hour and then put butter and brown sugar and baked them for another 15 minutes.  That was o.k.  The second one I cut in half and baked for an hour.  I scooped out the cooked meat and saved the rinds.  Then I lightly beat the cooked squash in the mixer with some butter and 1/2 cup of brown sugar.  I can't tell you how much butter I used because the food police are probably monitoring this blog.  Let's just say it was a lot.  I put this back in the squash "bowls" and baked it for 30 minutes at 350 with some marshmallows on to.  This was really good.  

This recipe is for my third trial which was really, really good.  I baked the two halves of a large Squash for 1 hour at 375 and scooped out the cooked meat.  I put this in the mixer and added 3 cups of milk, 3 eggs, 1 cup of sugar and the spices for Pumpkin pie.  I mixed this all together and put it in a sauce pan and heated it until it was just about to boil.  I poured it back in the scooped out rinds and baked this for an hour at 350.  

It looked just like Pumpkin pie and tasted very similar.  The kids and my wife loved it.  I will definitely make this again but next time I will only add 2/3 cup of Sugar.  

I don't consider myself a gourmet cook by any stretch of the imagination so if any of you have any suggestions I would love to hear them. 


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Soft box light from a plastic container.

Here is the soft box light I made from a large plastic container,  Some utility lights from the feed store, a hot glue gun and vellum.  I cut holes a half inch smaller than the reflectors on my lights and got glued them to the top.  Then I lined the bottom with some white vellum paper to spread the light.  I can get 1/15 sec. at f22 at iso 800 on my canon eos.  I suspended it over a large drafting table.  If I want softer light I lean white poster board up on the sides and the front.  It works great but I want to make a bigger one.  I think I spent less than $40 on it in total.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Riving Green Wood

Riving, or splitting, is an excellent way to process large pieces of wood into blanks or billets for spoons.  With enough wedges you can turn a 5 ft diameter log into a passel of future spoons in no time.  One good advantage to riven wood as opposed to sawn is the grain will be continuous along the whole length of the spoon, adding great strength.   It is not hard to do but you need to know a little bit about the properties of a log.

To start with you'll need a log of suitable spoon wood.  The fruit woods are all good and split easily when green. Maple, Sycamore, Dogwood, Walnut, Mesquite, Osage Orange, White Oak, and Perssimon are all good choices.  If you live in the East then Tulip Tree is an excellent choice Also.  The wood is the color of split pea soup but it turns a nice shade of brown upon exposure to air and light.  Older trees often have lots black and purple streaks in the heartwood that add a lot of interest to the spoon.

So you've found a suitable tree.  Wait for a moonless night and be sure your neighbor doesn't have a dog.  Be careful climbing over the fence.  Just kidding.  You won't need to do any clandestine logging.  There are plenty of sources of wood even in the city.  I'll tell you where to look in a later post.

Woods to avoid.  Pine, to me is not a wood for spoons.  Ditto with Red Oak.  It has all those large open pores. Stay away from Hickory and Pecan as well.  They tend to warp when they get wet.  Beech also is unstable and cracks in use.  Red Gum is terrible as well.

The very best in my experience are Cherry, Sugar Maple, Mesquite and Apple.  By all means experiment with your local woods.  There is an invasive species up in Minnesota That I have heard good things about called European Buckthorn.  Apparently it is really taking over in some areas and is crowding out the native trees.  The wood is an attractive yellow or orange with red heartwood.  I have seen some beautiful spoons maee out of it.  Now on to how to rive.

You'll want a piece 18 to 24 inches in length without too many knots or branches.  The ends of your blanks are going to split or check on the ends so you are going to lose about 2 inches on each end.  Coating the ends   helps a lot but they will still crack a little.

I'll be using a green piece of Mesquite for this example.  Its best to start your first split right on the pith center of the log.  This is the first rings in the center of the log.  It may not always be centered, especially in limbs.  If there are any big cracks started already use the biggest one to start.  In the above picture I have marked out the way I want to proceed.  The pith is off center so I will get a thicker piece on the right if I orient my first split as it is marked.  This can be a ladle or a bent handled spatula.  Mesquite usually has a lot of cracks or heart checks radiating out from the pith for up to a third of the diameter.  I have drawn a circle to outline the cracked area which will be waste. With most other woods this area will only extend a half inch or so from the pith and should be avoided like the plague.  If incorporated into your spoon it will crack.  

Start your split with a hatchet head.  Its easier if the handle is attached but all of mine need to be replaced at the moment.  You may need additional wedges to finish the split.

If there are no major knots or crotches your piece will split right down the pitch, however many logs will have a twist to them.  This one split pretty good.

Here I am splitting the smaller half again.  Its best to divide your piece in half as much as possible with each half being the same size. The split will run straight.

Here I am splitting off the inner part of the tree containing the pith and the heart checks.

The piece on the left will be my spoon blank and the waste piece will go into the fireplace or be used for barbecuing.  Now I'm ready for the shaving horse.  See my earlier post on this most wonderful of Human inventions.

Smooth off the split edges with a sharp draw knife.  Then shave off the bark.

And here is my blank all ready.  They won't all be this straight.  Usually they will be all manner of curvy but that is a good thing.  I like to work with the natural shape of the billet.  Let each individual piece give you ideas.  You can either put it up to dry or start carving on it right away.  I'll go over carving spoons from green wood in the next post.  There are a few tricks of the trade for dealing with green wood.  If you're going to let your wood dry first then you'll want to coat the ends.  There are all kinds of special coatings out there to prevent the ends of the wood from checking but the best thing I have found is Shellac.  Get a can of Zinser's 3 lb. cut Shellac at the hardware store and dip the ends.  Shellac dries hard, is an excellent moisture barrier and is environmentally friendly.  Plus it won't gum up your tools when you go to carve your spoon.  Out here in Colorado this piece would be dry enough to carve on in about 6 weeks.  It might take longer in humid areas.  I prefer working the wood dry

  I don't want to be a nanny but make sure you wear safety goggles when doing this.  I have had shards of metal fly off the wedge or the hammer and hit me in the face doing this and as I always tell my kids its a long way to get stitches and eyes don't grow back.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spoon making: From firewood to finished spoon

I thought it would be interesting to folks if I posted a series of pictures showing different stages of making a spoon.  I will be doing posts about each step in the process and how to do them with both power tools and hand tools in case any of you would like to try your hand.  But for now this will give you an idea of the process.

Here I have rough hollowed the bowl of the spoon in a rough billet of air dried Mesquite.  You can also use green wood but you will have to wait till your spoon dries to do the final shaping and sanding.  By cutting in from outside of the tree you will get a nice pattern of concentric rings.  In woods with different colored sap wood like this Mesquite you will get the light rim around the bowl and a dark oval of heart wood in the bottom of the bowl.  This is my favorite way to work.  There are many ways to start a spoon.  You can draw the shape of the entire spoon, cut it out and then hollow the bowl.  But I like to start with the bowl first .  Because of the shape of my billet this will be a left handed spoon.

After drawing some rough lines to indicate the plan view of the spoon I have removed the waste with my 18 inch bandsaw.  This step can also be done with a hand saw, drawknife or a hatchet.  The shape will be further refined in later steps.

In the above two pictures I have removed most of the waste with the bandsaw and the draw knife.  You just keep removing wood in small cuts, sneaking up on the shape.  This is all done by eye.  Now I am ready to do the final shaping with a spoke shave and a patternmaker"s rasp.

In the last two pictures I have deepened and refined the hollow of the bowl and done the final shaping of the spoon with the patternmaker's rasp.  Some fine adjustments to the shape will be made during sanding.  This spoon will now be sanded to 320 grit and the grain will be raised between sanding to prepare the spoon for use in the kitchen.  Then it will be steeped in a bath of hot beeswax and mineral oil.

That's it.  Your first one will take you a day or two to finish.  After some practice you will be able to do one in a couple hours.  That is the beauty of spoon making.  Grab any old piece of wood and with a a few simple tools you can make something nice in no time at all.  And this is the most laid back kind of wood working.  Notice I did not mention a tape measure at all.  Your eyes and your fingers are all the measuring devices you will need.  In the next instalment I'll tell you how to choose your wood.

The spoon all finished.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Excellent Green Chili


  Colorado is Green Chili country.  Each September Chili sellers come up from Hatch, New Mexico with truckloads of Chilies.  You can buy a bushel for about $15.oo and they roast them for you right there in a special roaster.  I am a Green Chili aficionado, but I could never make it as good as what I got in restaurants.  It was always too thin and lacked flavor.  I finally found the secret which is using cream of chicken soup instead of chicken broth.  This recipe is quick and easy to make using canned chilies and it tastes as good as any I have had.  The Pork Tenderloin has a nice grain to it and it melts in your mouth.  You can roast your own Chilies but it’s a bit more work.   This recipe is very mild with just a hint of heat.  You won’t need to make a rue to thicken this recipe.  The cream of chicken soup and the chili puree act as thickeners.

2 lbs. Pork Tenderloin roast cut into 1 inch pieces.
1 27 oz. can whole Green Chilies.  These are the long Anaheim chilies, not                    Jalapenos.
1 28 oz. can of Cream of Chicken soup.
1 medium white Onion, chopped medium fine.
¼ Teaspoon ground Cumin
½ Tablespoon Oregano.
4 cloves of Garlic, roasted.
Black Pepper to taste.
For hot chili add 1 or 2 Jalapeno or Serrano chilies, roasted.

Brown the Pork pieces in some oil.  While they are browning put your Garlic and Jalapeno or Serrano chilies into a dry skillet over medium heat and roast them turning often until they are blackened in places and soft,  about 10-15 min.  Your chilies should be blackened and blistered.  After the meat is browned remove it, add more oil and sauté the Onions.  While they are cooking open the canned chillies, pour out the liquid and rinse them in cold water.  Save out 5 or six and put the rest in a blender and add in the Garlic.  Cut your roasted Jalapeños, if you’re using them, in half longwise and scrape out the seed pods and the light colored ribs unless you like your chili really hot.  Add them in the blender as well as your Oregano and Cumin and enough water to purée. Cut the remaining chilies into small pieces.  Add the Cream of Chicken soup and 1 can of water to the Onions.  Add the purée and the cut up chilies and the Pork.  Add fresh ground pepper to taste.  I usually do all this in a Dutch oven, bring it all to a boil and then put it into a 275 degree oven for about 2-3 hrs.  Or you can bring it to a boil and put it in a crock pot for several hours.  Or simmer it for a couple hours on low on the stove, stirring often.  The longer it cooks the more tender the pork will be.  I like to serve with shredded Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese sprinkled on the top and a little sour cream and some fresh chives from my herb garden.

For a great Smokey flavor soak a dried Chipotle Chili in hot water for 30 min. and add to the blender when you purée.

Add in 2 cups cooked Posole or hominy.  Here in Colorado it comes frozen and needs to be boiled for 3 hours before adding to the Chili.  I have tried the canned kind and it is not as good.  Too mushy,

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Spoon making 101 - Work holding devices.

If you want to try your hand at spoon carving then the first thing you will need is a way to hold your work while you carve away.  The shaving horse is without a doubt the best tool for the job.  Shaving horses have existed in one form or another for hundreds of years.  There is a seat, a platform and a dumbhead that holds the work down on the platform.  The dumbhead is attached to a foot peddle and pushing down on the peddle brings the dumbhead down to press the piece you are working against the platform.  Simple and efficient.  It is designed for working somewhat long pieces of wood with the draw knife or spoke shave.  In days past most things were made by splitting or riving green wood into sections or billets and then worked down with the draw knife.  Axe handles, wooden hay forks, rakes, basket handles and especially post and rung chair parts.  My shaving horse is sort of special.  Its a combination of a standard horse and a bodger's horse.  Bodgers where people in England who lived out in the woods and made chair parts to sell to Windsor chair makers in towns.  They cut down beech trees, rived them into billets, shaved the billets down and then turned them on spring pole lathes that they built right in the forest.

My shaving horse came from Country Workshops in western North Carolina. A  school for traditional woodworking,  they teach traditional Swedish bowl and spoon carving as well as all manner of chair making.  They have a fantastic tool store where you can get really fine hand tools, many of them handmade by master Swedish smiths.  The horse, which they call a Shaving Mule,  has an adjustable table that helps when working different sized pieces.  A small block of Maple which pivots is mounted between arms connected to the peddle which pivot on a bolt run through the beam of the horse.  If you need to turn the piece just let up pressure on the peddle, turn to the desired position and reapply pressure.  I use mine for shaving the rough billets to rasping and final sanding.  There is a piece of leather glued to one side of the pivot block that helps protect the work piece.  It is an elegantly simple and highly enjoyable thing to use.  The  best $250.00 ever spent and it is an absolute people magnet at shows and demonstrations.  Next time I'll tell you about another device to hold your work as well as the tools you will need.  Here is the link for the Country Workshops store:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Asparagus time

Went picking wild Asparagus this evening along the ditch that brings water from the Rio Grande River to our property for irrigation.  We live in the San Luis valley of Southern Colorado, at an altitude of 7,200 ft. and spring does not really arrive  until late may or even early June.  This is the time we pick the wild asparagus when the water starts flowing down the ditches and things green up.  We took our three Sable Saanen  goats along.  Their names are Hurcules, Rocky and Juniper.  The kids always have to run ahead to pick the tender spears, some thick as your thumb,  before the goats see them.  We could leave them home but there is something so peaceful about walking with goats.  On the way back we stopped under a big Cottonwood tree to let them munch on the tender shoots of new trees coming up in the ditch bank.  A gentle breeze was blowing out of the west and it smelled of cool water and new leaves and fresh turned earth from the field next to the ditch and new sprouting Wheat.  I just closed my eyes and took in a deep breath through my nose.  I feel so blessed to live out in the country and to be able to pick wild Asparagus in the spring.  What a wonderful world we live in.

My favorite way to cook this Springtime treat is to saute it in butter with a little Garlic salt and some ground Pepper.

Didn't know I had a blog.

The other day I saw I had a referral to my Etsy site from this blog.  I didn't even know I had a blog.  It didn't take me long to figure out that my 14 year old daughter had created it.  Shiny.  So I'll be posting some of my favorite recipes as well as some tips and techniques I have learned about spoon carving in the last 10 years in case any of you would like to try your hand at this wonderful and stress relieving activity.

Friday, March 11, 2011

please take the time to visit this sight and to favorite my facebook page.

I volunter at the Sargent Elementry for lunch duty, so another teacher, mrs. Brisky was talking to me about how her niece sells ducktape wallets on So she suggested that i sell my spoons on there as well. At first I didn't think it would be a great idea but in the same day i signed up anyway. Here is the link please take some time to check it out.
and It is my goal to reach at least 100 fans on facebook. Just search kitchencarvins to visit my page.

a new way to use your saute tool!

i was recently thinking about my saute tool and what i can do with it. So the idea popped into my head that anyone with a saute tool could use the sharp edge of their saute tool to create the perfect crack on an egg. it works! and allows more control.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

stirring/tasting spoons

These spoons so uniquely carved with a thoughtful tasting spoon on the end all started when i was forever reaching for a small spoon to taste with. When the thought hit me to carve one into the end of a handle my problems and many other peoples problems were solved.


Welcome to my blog where i wish to share and sell my spoons. I have been making my spoons for some time now. Over the years i have developed many spoons including my now famous stirring/tasting spoon, spatulas, pancake spoons, stirring spoons, coffee scoops, tadpoles (another type of coffee scoop), saute tool, and my one of a kind spoons.