Jon Singer (jonsinger) wrote,
Jon Singer

Lamb, Methi, Spices; also March (okay, April) of the Fakeleles, Part IV

Before I begin, I would like to issue a cautionary statement:

Words from the VoE: It is inadvisable for the unwary innocent to eat “Masala Chakri” murukku while driving.

(I now have a Twitter account [@_jonsinger_], and I very nearly used that as my first tweet, but I think I will do something a bit more significant or important instead.)

[[Note, added later: Well, maybe not; I have a lousy bilingual punful notion, and I may tweet that.]]

The deal with these particular murukku is that the masala seems to consist entirely of hot chillis. Murukku invariably release a bit of dust when you bite them or chew them, and at least one particle of that dust will find its way into your windpipe, where the chilli content will cause you to cough a bit. It doesn’t take much of that to drive a quantity of the dust up the back of your nose, and mere moments later your vision will tend to be, shall we say, clouded. (I presume that it is fairly obvious that “VoE” = “Voice of Experience”. Ahem. Yes. Well.)

...To return to the issue[s] at hand:

Various Indian markets carry this pleasant item:

(The folks at Deep also produce at least one other chopped green veg in little frozen cubes; it seems to be spinach amaranth or tindaljo, and it also has other names. The cubes are really handy.)

I had some frozen ground lamb, and decided to cook it for dinner last night. [personal profile] lisajulie suggested the methi cubes and some spices, which seemed like a fine notion; I ended up using caraway, fennel seed, cumin seed, grains of paradise, dried ginger, and some really nice Syrian 7-spice mixture that I believe I got at Mediterranean Bakery, 352 S Pickett St, Alexandria, VA 22304. If you don’t have ready access to Syrian 7-spice mix, you could probably just bump up the quantities to suit your taste and add a modest amount of cinnamon and perhaps bits of allspice and cloves and turmeric. That, however, is a guess; please don’t hold me to it. Besides, you’ll notice that I didn’t specify my original amounts; for about 1 lb of lamb and one bag of methi cubes, I probably used about a tsp of each of the seeds (give or take a bit), and probably more fennel and caraway than G of P or cumin); also maybe half a tsp of ground ginger. Again, though, I don’t measure, so you can and should take it with a grain or two of salt. Speaking of which, I forgot to add any salt when I was cooking, and you may want to correct that omission if you try it. I salted it afterward. [Note: I powdered the seeds in a coffee grinder. The G of P seem to be tougher than the others, so you may want to start with those and get them mostly ground before you add the rest. There is also the eternal question: Dry roast the spices, or toss them straight into the oil/ghee? I put them in the oil, but the bottom line is that it’s your choice.]

I got the lamb and spices mostly cooked, then added the methi and continued stirring until it was well mixed in. I am pleased to note that the result, which was seriously edible, was equally pleasant this morning when I put some of the leftovers —

— into a sada dosa. (Please forgive the horrendo white-balance; I took this photo with my phone, under fluorescent lights. The dish is far more appealing to the eye than you would guess from this, and it is pleasing to the nose as well.)


On an entirely different front...

At Boskone, a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of helping the Estimable and Excellent [profile] beamjockey [who seems to be only on LJ, not on DW] with a ukulele that he’d been lent because he didn’t have one with him. The saddle from its bridge had gone off to wherever ukulele saddles go; I told him that I generally use popsicle sticks to ameliorate that kind of issue, and we set off in search of one. That didn’t take long: the people at Kids’ Programming were happy to provide a couple from their stash of hundreds (or possibly thousands; it was a capacious bag). We cut one down to a reasonable width and added a folded bit of cardboard to wedge it into the bridge, because the channel was a bit too wide to hold it snugly in place. [Thanks to the other person who was involved, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, for this idea.] After that all the instrument needed was strings, and Bill had a set with him for this express purpose. Q. E. D.

Almost needless to say, this incident remained fairly fresh in my mind. I found myself noticing small guitars at thrift stores, with the vague purpose of having a really portable instrument. I finally pounced yesterday, and the result is Fakelele #4. Here’s an overview:

The overall length is just about 30", which makes this the smallest one I’ve redone to date. If I can find a carry-bag or case of appropriate size, it should be quite portable.

This is (sigh) definitely something of a beater —

— but it wasn’t nearly as badly damaged as #3 (which I wrote up a while back), and I only paid 10 bucks for it, which seems only mildly extravagant. (I haven’t bothered to check, but I think these things go for at least $25 new.) The intonation seemed more or less okay as far as I could tell from the three more-or-less-playable strings that were on it, and although I forgot to peer down the edge of the neck, it turns out to be at least straight enough for folk music.

I decided to position the strings at 1, 2&2/3, 4&1/3, and 6; that gives me the widest possible separation between them, which is important because I have moderately large fingers. I should probably note that I much prefer the bridge structure of Fakelele #3, which is much easier to modify; when the bridge is firmly attached to the front panel of the instrument several inches away from the edge, and you need to create holes in it that are perhaps 1 mm diameter, approximately parallel to the face of the instrument, and only a few millimeters up from the deck, you obviously can’t use any ordinary drill. On #3 I used a long awl that appears to have been made from a piece of piano wire, dismounting it from its handle and chucking it into the Dremel®. That worked quite well. I’m away from home now, though, and didn’t have access to all of my tools when I acquired this instrument, but I was able to drill the two new holes in the bridge with a piece that I cut from a thin wire coathanger. As before, this is accomplished by friction rather than cutting, and it released a certain amount of woodsmoke; I kept switching back and forth from one hole to the other to minimize the issue and avoid any actual flames. It took perhaps 10 minutes to do both of them.

In this connection I must issue another caution from the VoE: because pieces of coathanger wire are not very straight, and because they are not as stiff as piano wire, you need to keep the “drill” under tight control whenever it is rotating. You also need to be careful not to bump it or otherwise bend it accidentally. I happened to let go at an unfortunate moment, and when the wire pretzeled it banged into the front of the instrument, damaging the finish even further:

[I will also suggest that you avoid attempting to control the wire with your bare hands; thin gloves with a thin coating of some sort of oil or grease would appear to be A Good Idea. I’m pretty careful, and I did it barehanded, but there were moments when I noticed a finger or two beginning to get warm.]

The nut at the top of the fingerboard had come loose, which was quite convenient because I had to create two new slots in it. This, no surprise, is another thing the Dremel does nicely. After I cut the slots with an abrasive wheel I centered the nut and glued it back into place with CA. Notice that although this instrument is probably little more than a toy, it actually has a top fret. Good sign.

The action was low, so I used a long toothpick to raise the saddle height:

The intonation was still a bit off, so a day or two later I revised the saddle:

The two high strings are fluorocarbon; the others are wrapped nylon. They are sized for a baritone uke, and I have tuned them accordingly. The instrument sounds moderately okay as far as I can tell. All things considered, this is not too bad for an evening’s constructive amusement and about 16 bucks, including the strings.

Addendum, 19 April:

Yesterday I succumbed to temptation and made another change to the intonation:

Last night I visited Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and took the fakelele along. I handed it to Patrick, who played a few riffs on it and commented that he has played guitars with worse intonation. Patrick is a ripping good player and has a really good ear, and I am extremely pleased with his reaction. (Mind you, he was kind enough not to say anything about the tone; the thing is, after all, not exactly the high-priced spread. OTOH, I don’t think I’ll have to be ashamed if I show up with it at a music circle at a Science Fiction convention. OTTH, I really do seem to have much more of my guts in making and fixing things than in actually using them, and besides, I don’t know how to play stringed instruments. I can barely strum little chord riffs on it, and it will be a while before I can play any actual songs.)
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