Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cinchona vs. Quassia Tonic Syrup

The cinchona bark I ordered came in the mail, so I decided to have a taste test between the cinchona and the quassia tonic syrups.

I made two tonic syrups using the standard Morgenthaler recipe with a few adjustments to my taste.  I used 1/4 the amount of quassia (1 1/2 teaspoons) than chincona (2 Tablespoons), otherwise, all the other ingredients were identical:

2 1/4 Cup water
zest of one lime
zest of one lemon
one lemongrass stalk (almost 1/4 cup)
2 Tablespoons citric acid
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries (about 10 berries)
1/8 teaspoon salt

Boil for 20 minutes, then strain.  This coffee filter/french press combo worked  well:

I also let them sit overnight in the fridge to let the particulates settle.  Then I carefully decanted the top 8 ounces and dumped the last bit (less than one ounce).

I brought the 1 cup of tea to a boil and added 3/4 Cup agave syrup. When it was cooled, I had about 12 ounces of syrup.

Taste Test:  

The cinchona wins on the most important factor:  It tastes better.  It has more character.  The quassia is so bitter that I can only use a small amount; any other flavors the bark might have is too dilute to taste.

But quassia does make a perfectly tasty tonic and is an adequate substitute for cinchona.  It has a few other factors in it's favor:

 - It's easier to obtain.
 - It's cheaper.  It's half the cost per pound, plus it's available in smaller quantities, plus you use only 1/4 as much per batch.  I could only find cinchona by the pound for @ $36.  I could buy 4 oz. of quassia for @ $4.  I can make the same number of batches for 1/9th the cost.
 - It's color is more like standard tonic.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Kittens in the Sun

Gort just waking up from a nap on the sunny windowsill. 

Klaatu bathing in the sun in the kitchen. 

Henri being all kinds of naughty.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Asha's Sawtooth Star Quilt: Part 3 - Piecing the Sawtooth Star Blocks

These are my Calculations:

The seam allowance calcs are the same as in the previous post:

    a+ = a*SQRT(2) + a
    a = .25 inch

Patch B is exactly the same dimensions as in the Double Snowball block:  half triangles made from a square of 2 7/8 inches.  Cut 4 squares (8 triangles) per block.

Patch D is a 4 1/2 inch square - 1 per block.

Patch E is a 5 3/16 inch square cut into 4 quarter triangles - 1 square (4 triangles) per block.  These need to be quarter triangles instead of half triangles because the grain edge will be the outside of the block.  It also keeps any printed pattern oriented correctly.

Patch F - These are the 2 1/2 inch squares in the corners that I forgot to label in my calcs;  cut 4 of these per block.

TIP:  Trim the Corners

I find that it makes it easier to align my triangular pieces if I trim the corners off:

For Patch B, Trim the corners perpendicular to the legs of the triangle at 2 1/2 inches.  This makes it easier to align  with Patch F.

For Patch E, trim the corners perpendicular to the hypotenuse such that the hypotenuse is 4 1/2 inches with the point of the right triangle lined up at the 2 1/4 inch midpoint.  Then trim the point of the right triangle parallel to the hypotenuse at 2 1/2 inches:

Another general benefit from trimming the corners off triangles is that since they are trimmed on grain, it's more easy to distinguish visually half triangles from quarter triangles:

Since there is inevitably some slop with cutting, the trimmed corners really help spot and compensate for these variances:

Assembly Order:

The first step is to assemble the Flying Geese units.  Flying Geese is the name given to the frequently occurring set of patches where the hypotenuses of two half triangles are attached to the legs of a larger quarter triangle (note:  this is a bias-to-bias seam) to create a rectangle.

There are a couple tricks and shortcuts for making Flying Geese units (described very well at The Quilter's Cache), none of which I was aware when I made this quilt.  So I just chain pieced them one at a time like any other patch.

I like to chain piece 2 blocks at at time so that I can leave one on the sewing machine while I press and assemble the next set.

 After the flying geese blocks are assembled, the next step is to attach them into the three strips of the block:

I like to press all my seams open initially, even when I intend to press them one direction or another later.  I think this helps prevent the problem of folded seams (this may be superstition on my part).

Before the next step of sewing the strips together, it is really helpful to press the seams in opposite directions where the corners are going to meet.  The general rule is to press into the darker fabric to minimize see-through.

This helps line up the intersection and hold it in place without pins.  (my pinning skills are so bad that I find that patches I've pinned have less likelihood of lining up correctly than the random chance of unpinned patches).

TIP: The Four-Patch Trick

I learned this handy trick when I was assembling the four-patch units in middle of the snail's trail blocks of my first quilt.

When you have four patches coming together at a point. push the topmost seam in opposite directions. Break the stitch or two that's holding them together with your seam-ripper.

Then press the seams in down in all four directions.  This trick noticeably flattens the bump caused by the excess fabric.

Note that in this example, I pressed in a counter clockwise direction.  To press in the other direction would have required removing more stitches (from the two other seams).  This is not plan A, but I've done it, and it doesn't seem to negatively affect the integrity of the seams, especially if I'm quilting through that point later.

Also, if see-through is a bigger consideration than block flatness, you might decide to press into the darker fabric, even if it means not doing the four-patch trick.

Another thing to consider with pressing this block is whether you plan on quilting along the seams (stitch in the ditch).  If so, leaving any seams pressed open would be inadvisable.

< Part 2

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Quassia Tonic Syrup Recipe

When I searched the internet for tonic syrup recipes, this one by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, a bartender at Clyde Common in Portland seemed to be the most essential one as several of the other recipes referenced it.

The key ingredient, cinchona bark (quinine), turned out to be the most difficult to obtain. My local source, Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene, does not have it, but they did have quassia. Quassia is a bittering ingredient used in other liquors including a substitute for hops in beer.

I ordered cinchona bark from another source, but until it arrives, I thought I'd experiment with the quassia.

First, I made a tea by boiling 2 Tablespoons of quassia bark in 2 cups of water for 20 minutes, then filtering. This is the concentration of cinchona bark that the Morgenthaler recipe calls for.

Taste test: Yowza! that's bitter! I don't know how it would compare to the same concentration of cinchona, but I'm not going to be able to drink a tonic this bitter. Diluting the tea 50% made it more palatable; I will use half this amount in the tonic recipe.

Now to make the tonic.

Since I'm substituting the key ingredient, I figure I better follow the rest of the recipe to the letter (beside scaling down the quantities by half) so there are no other factors confusing the process.

1 T - Quassia Bark
2 T - Citric Acid
1/2 C - Chopped Lemongrass (two stalks)
1/2 tsp - Allspice berries
zests of 1 lime, l lemon, and 1 orange
1/8 tsp - salt

3/4 C - Agave Syrup (for each cup of filtered tea)

Boil the ingredients (except for the agave syrup) for 20 minutes.

Filter until clear. This process is cumbersome. I'll be looking for more efficient methods to do this.

Taste test: This is very potent. The flavor balance seem right (maybe the sourness from the citric acid is too pronounced). I hope that diluting with sugar (and soda water and gin) will mellow it out enough. I worry that reducing the recipe by half was a mistake; maybe this can't be figured linearly. If I lose a cup of water from the boiling and filtering process either way (4 cups becomes 3, 2 cups becomes 1) then I end up with half the ingredients in a third of the water - it's too concentrated. Maybe I should dilute the tea with a half cup of water. Maybe I'm over-thinking this.

After the boiling and filtering, I ended up with a exactly 1 cup of tea. I bring that to a boil and add 3/4 Cup of Agave Syrup.

After it's cooled. It's time for the big test: The Gin and Tonic.

In a rocks glass with ice, add:
2 T Gin
2 T Tonic syrup
Fill with soda water.

Taste test: This is Awesome! It turns out I didn't need to be concerned about it being too bitter, too sour, or too potent. It does emphasize the tonic over the gin, but I'm okay with that. Or you could just tweak the portions of gin and syrup to fix that.

It is a tad citrus-y. I normally add a splash of lime juice to my G-n-Ts, but I'd rather remove a splash from this one. Perhaps I could reduce the amount of zests and/or lemongrass.

The flavor balances are spot on initially, but the bitter wants to stick around after the rest of the flavors have left the party. It's not entirely unwelcome, but I'm curious if this is a difference between the quassia and cinchona.

This doesn't taste like store-bought tonic, but the reviews of the recipe prepared me to expect that. The real test is to see how this compares to the cinchona tonic.

I look forward to finding out.

UPDATE:  I found out.