Blasting Back into Baking with Soul Bread

With the return of The Sun, I’m finally coming out of the worst bout of Seasonal Effective Disorder I’ve ever experienced and rejoined the Land of the Living. I put on pants before noon today!

The thing I miIMG_20180302_184928.jpgss most when I’m eating strictly low-carb is bread. The great news is that the number of wheat-alternative and low-carb bread recipes is increasing rapidly due to the power of crowdsourcing. I decided to try out this Soul Bread recipe to see if I could reclaim my favorite floppy breakfast and lunch substrate.

I’m using my Cuisinart CM100 combo oven, which is potentially a problem since it doesn’t have a non-convection bake setting. There’s no way to turn off the convection fan, which tends to lead to overbrowning of the exterior and undercooking of the center. It has a combo convection bake and microwave setting that’s supposed to fix this, but I haven’t had a chance to really test drive it yet.

The result, however, was good. I followed the directions without change, and while the center was just slightly underdone, the rest firmed up well. I hit the loaf with the microwave for about four more minutes to fix that problem.

The crumb of the bread is pretty close to the real thing, but slightly eggier and more rubbery. It holds together better than most gluten-free bread I’ve had. The first batch I made using whey protein flavored with vanilla and stevia because I couldn’t find an unflavored one. The result has *just* enough of a desserty flavor that it was a little off-putting with eggs.


However, it toasted nicely and hungrily absorbed butter almost as well as my favorite breakfast bread, sourdough. If I could get rid of the sweeter flavors, I think we might have a winner.

For the second batch, I scored some unflavored whey protein and a bread machine for $15 from Goodwill. They routinely have 3-5 bread machines these days, so I had a selection. I chose a Regal Kitchen Pro Breadmaker K6743.

IMG_20180310_073512.jpgI deliberately undermixed the ingredients before putting it into the machine, because it has its own mixing paddle and I wanted to see how well it worked. I used the only quickbread setting since the Soul Bread is chemically leavened. The result was lumpy and somewhat overcooked. Next time I’ll do more pre-mixing despite the extra mess.

I also managed to dig a big hole in the bottom of the loaf by accidentally rotating the mixer fin inside it before removing it.

Since this recipe goes straight from mixing to bake with no rising delay, I may pull out the mixing paddle before the bake next time. Since it was overcooked, I’ll likely reduce the bake time, which I’ll probably have to do manually.


You can see how much I destroyed the bottom of the pieces with the mixing paddle here:


Going forward I’m going to try to make versions of my baking recipes both for combo ovens and bread machines. I think bread machine recipes are probably more generally useful, but the combo ovens are really fantastic for people living in tiny spaces where countertop space is at a premium.

Overall this is a great place to start for a low-carb bread! It works well for sandwiches and really shines toasted and smeared with butter for yolk-sopping during breakfast. To get something closer to sourdough I’ll try swapping some egg for whey protein so it will be a bit less eggy and rubbery, and adding a little more leavening to get a more open, airy crumb. I may also experiment with yeast for leavening with small amounts of honey or something else to feed it, without adding too many carbs to the recipe.

Happy baking, and please let me know how it goes if you try it out!

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Standing Up

I just finished this fabulous standing workstation in the yurt!



After finding a monitor mount at Treasure City Thrift, I was ready to try setting up my workspace for standing.

I’ve been a slug all winter, and anything I can do to improve my health and exercise is worth doing. I have terrible posture habits when sitting, so getting my ass out of the seat was critical.

In the process, I also moved my combo oven under the countertop, which increased my usable counter space by at least 30%! I’m a little concerned about whether it has enough clearance when used as a toaster or convection oven, but I think it will be ok. Only testing will tell for sure.


The new location is right next to the door, so I can look outside when it’s open now. I’ll also be able to look through the new porthole window I’m making in the new door, one of my next projects!

I got an Egrodriven Topo anti-fatigue mat on Ebay for about $85 delivered. It should be here Wednesday.

In the process, I waterproofed the OSB I’m using for the countertop. So far I haven’t waterproofed most of the raw wood in the yurt, and I’ve definitely caught certain portions getting a little musty from the humidity. Now that this section is done, I can move all the crap from the other two sections and waterproof them as well. Along with the air filter, it should really improve the air quality when the yurt has to be buttoned up for long periods of time.

I’m excited to think about all the creativity that will be unleashed in this space!

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I Survived the Fast-Mimicking Diet

I just got done eating nothing but avocados and veggie powder for five days. Why? For better long and short term health. It’s been clear for a while that one of the main reasons for what are called Western Diseases is that people don’t starve enough any more. We evolved to go through short and longer term periods when sufficient food wasn’t available, and having food 24/7 all year round violates that pattern. I’ve been looking for a safer longer-term fast for years, and the Fast Mimicking Diet is the first I’ve found that has solid scientific support. For a more in depth look into the science behind why the diet is so helpful, check out this great Found My Fitness interview.

I decided to try this version of the diet from The Quantified Body. The guy who created it is super focused on biometric tracking and scientific rigor, so I’m choosing him to trust the translation of the commercial product into what’s basically 2-3 avocados and some veggie micro nutrient powder per day for five days.

I’ve done a few other fasts in the past, including the wildly unscientific and probably fairly harmful Master Cleanse, so I had some idea of what it felt like to go long periods of time without a lot of food. I’ve also done the Slow Carb and full ketogenic diets for months at a time. The only other thing I consumed was one cup of bulletproof coffee per morning. The Quantified Body guy has two cups of black coffee. Since I had only two smaller avocados on the first three days, I don’t think the extra fat in the bulletproof coffee is going to throw anything off too far.

I felt pretty hungry and somewhat weak on day 1, but the hunger mostly went away after that. I got little spurts on day 2, but by day 3 the hunger reaction was almost completely gone. I definitely felt weaker than usual, and restricted myself to activities that didn’t require a lot of concentration or exertion. I like avocados, and enjoyed eating them for the first three days. The veggie powder I got was largely wheatgrass based and had that nasty sweet grassy flavor, and was much harder to get down in a cup of water. In the future I will use a different powder. On the evening of day 4 I started feeling a bit nauseous and heart-burny. I had trouble eating my food, but I stayed on protocol and ate it. I felt the same way on day five, along with some increasing spaceyness. I ate both avocados, but decided to skip the last dose of veggie powder.

The hunger reflex is actually much more changeable than many people realize, and on longer fasts it almost completely shuts down. When I was actually eating the avocado, it would kick up fiercely and briefly, but there wasn’t any “getting hungry” part that crept up like usual. Besides not being hungry, I mainly just felt weak and slow. I cut myself a lot of slack and rested frequently. I was still able to learn some metalwork to repair my van.

Afterward the heartburn stayed with me for a day or two. I ran out of my good coffee and butter on day 2, so my bulletproof coffee was made with much more acidic coffee and only coconut oil afterward. However, I think the biggest contributor to the heartburn was the nasty wheatgrassy powder I was consuming. I probably didn’t need as much as I took (4 tbsp per day) and the flavor was pretty nauseating.

As it’s gained in popularity, a lot more recipes that are conformant for the diet have come out. I choose this version because it was very simple. Next time I will show a little more creativity in my cooking for some variety. I think more electrolyte supplementation can help with the weakness that comes from the huge amount of water loss going into ketosis. I would also like to figure out which bio-markers I can check before and after so I can see some N=1 details of what’s going on with my body. In particular, I’d like to look for the things that *don’t* change as much doing just a ketogenic diet and eating within a 10-12 hour feeing window, because I’m often getting those benefit already elsewhere. More research is required.

I intend to do this about 3-4 times per year.

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Aventures in Hot Metal – Part 3: Success!

I got the van pipe fixed and back on today!

Here’s the damaged newer pipe still on the van. You can see clearly where the sooty diesel exhaust is leaking along a crack between the pipe and the flange.


With what I thought was one repaired pipe ready, I was finally willing to take the other damaged pipe off. This is a Big Job, and I didn’t want to have an undriveable van for days. It was *much* easier to take off with my boroscope camera, as I could point it at the hard-to-see-and-reach bolts behind the engine right at the firewall.


It’s still a massive pain in the ass, but I got it done and the pipe was out.

Then I had to decide, do I fix the newer pipe, or install the one I had fixed with super shoddy workmanship? It turned out the stainless steel collar I made on the backup pipe was only really held on by flux, not bronze or steel. I peeled it off and decide to try repairing the big hole with bronze, simply dabbing on new metal until it was covered. In the process, I managed to cut the whole pipe in half.



So, fix the new pipe. 🙂

Unfortunately, the *new* pipe was much more badly damaged than I thought it would be. It was barely hanging together by a thread! That crack you see below goes *all* the way around the pipe. That little bit in the middle is the only part that’s still together!


The Good News was that this is exactly the kind of fix that the SSF-6 is really good for, and I still had most of a $30 stick of that left. All the problems in hurting the old pipe came because the oxyacetylene torch can easily melt steel, especially thin steel pipe. Instead, I used my propane plumbing torch, which is much cooler. It would be very hard to accidentally cut steel, but it’s still hot enough for the 1150 o F SSF-6.

I basically made a new collar starting up higher on the pipe than the rip, and dribble the SSF-6 down the side to make a new join. It worked beautifully, there was no risk of blowing up the pipe, and everything looked clean and sealed when I was done.


I pressure tested it to 24 PSI with my blocking plates and saw no leaks. There was also no light visible looking into the tube in sunlight, which is how I found several of the leaks in the previous repair.

I re-installed the pipe over the course of several hours, another huge job. I fired up the van and tried feeling for leaks with my hands and couldn’t find any. Success!

There are two problems. One is that I may have further stripped the damaged hole on the lower pipe connection to the EGR cooler. I had blamed myself for stripping it, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it was originally stripped. I think the pipes are breaking like they are because that side isn’t held on as tightly as the other, so as it expands and contracts, it twists the end of the pipe right along where the breaks have happened in both pipes. This would explain the repeated failure, and it will probably happen again until I fix that hole. Doing that would require pulling the pipe *off* again, however, and I’m 100% unwilling to do it now. Next time it fails, I will, but I have a whole other hair-brained solution to this problem that will make the EGR cooler obsolete, and it involves the pipe I destroyed earlier. More on that later!

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Adventures in Hot Metal – Part 2

After all my hard work, it was time to pressure test the exhaust pipe!

I found some thick Playmobile toys that I though would work to plug the ends. I cut them out and drilled the appropriate holes. I then screwed in the air connection fixture for my shop compressor.


I fired up the compressor and tried it!


The plastic blocking plates and the vinyl shower pan liner weren’t even close to strong enough for a complete seal to 30 PSI, but even at slightly over 20 PSI, I could tell air was coming through the repair! Drat!

So after all my hard work, the part leaks. 😦 Ironically, I think I fixed the original leak pretty well, but the huge hole I blew in the pipe wasn’t sealed by the coil of stainless wire and very expensive SSF-6 silver solder.

The are two main problems with this otherwise brilliant idea. First it’s *very* hard to heat the thicker pipe (still pretty thin) without totally destroying the thin wire on top. Maybe someone better than me could pull it off, but I actually melted through the wire several times. Everything has to be evenly hot for the SSF-6 to do its capillary flow action to the right place. Second, the SSF-6 is $30 a rod, so while with proper heating it might be theoretically possible to seal the entire coil, it would super expensive.

So, back to the drawing board. This time using a carbonizing flame instead of a neutral flame (not as hot, better for brazing), I painstakingly re-melted the silver and pulled off the stainless wire in little bits. I then used a wire brush to brush off the silver while it was still liquid. My friend Tyler warned me that I might be compromising the stainless pipe’s corrosion resistance by using a mild steel brush, but 1) the parts of the pipe I’m re-working a shitload of times are already probably altered anyway and 2) I was only heating to the melting point of the SSF-6, which is 1150 o F, and not the melting point of the stainless.

After I got done with that, I sanded down the surface a bit with sanding cloth, especially to get the big hole level with the rest of the surface:

Sanding off the Bad Stuff                                     Not Perfect, But Better!

Next I cut a piece from a stainless hose clamp that was long enough to go all the way around the pipe with a little to spare. This collar will cover the big hole I blew into the pipe and was cut from a much longer clamp so there were no holes. I then used vice grips, pliers, and another hose clamp to gently form the collar into a perfect fit for the pipe. My intention was to try using the SSF-6 the same way that silver solder is used for joining copper pipes in plumbing. Note how I only covered half the collar with the hose clamp. I brazed the opposite end of the collar *first*, then I was going to move the clamp to the other side and do it again.


I fired up the torch, and was successfully able to get the SSF-6 to slurp into the gap! I let it cool down a bit, then took off the hose clamp. At first it seemed like the clamp had been successfully joined to the pipe, but a little bit of wiggling and it popped off. Shit!


The gap was too big, and I’m also guessing that there wasn’t enough flux inside the join. I should probably have brushed it with flux before putting the collar all the way on. You can see the shiny part where the silver did exactly what I wanted it to do, but it would have taken a *lot* more of the SSF-6 to get this right, so I decided to save what was left for fixing the pipe that’s still in the van. It has only a hairline crack right at the flange, and that’s perfect for the SSF-6’s capillary action.

Getting My Bronze On

It was time to learn how to work with bronze. I had originally though it wasn’t high temp enough for this application, but bronze’s melting point is actually much higher than the SSF-6. It doesn’t capillary quite as nicely, but it *can* be used to actually add material if done correctly instead of only flowing into tiny gaps. I had already picked up some flux coated bronze rods from Home Depot the day before, so I was ready. I had tried them the day before using my little propane plumbing torch, but it wouldn’t melt the rod even directly in the hot tip of the flame. It would have to be oxyacetylene again.

I put the collar and hose back in place over the hole and started again, this time with the bronze. It took some finagling, but I could already tell I was getting better with the intricate hand dance. I angled the work piece so that the bronze would tend to flow downward slightly into the join. I moved it when necessary to keep the working edge pointing upward. Here it is after the first go round. In this picture you can also see the original rip that started this whole process. I was fixed by the silver, but got un-fixed when I pulled the wire coil off.


This time it sealed a lot better! I took the hose clamp off, and it was still stuck on there!


I moved the clamp to the side I just brazed, and repeated the process for the other side. I also did a little dab-dab to seal one tiny hole I had made for the wire, the original tab tear, and the gap where the flange meets the pipe. I found that it was *much* harder to do this than to just get the bronze to flow. It would have helped more if I had oriented the workpiece so that it was perfectly horizontal to discourage the bronze droplets from running off.

Once everything cooled off, I did another pressure test, this time with soapy water. Success! No bubbles were visible on the repaired side!


This is all very crappy workmanship, I am a rank beginner, and I am desperately hoping that I don’t have to use this pipe in my van. However, I do *not* want to take the newer pipe, which *also* has a hairline leak where the flange meets the pipe, out of the van until I have a viable replacement. My plan is to remove the newer pipe, fix it now that I’m more competent and because it’s far less damaged and an easier repair, then put that same pipe in the same day.

Wish me luck!

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Adventures in Hot Metal – Part 1

I did my first metal torch work yesterday, with mostly successful results. I used Muggy Weld SSF-6 High Temperature Silver Solder to close a hole in a damaged exhaust pipe using Lee’s oxyacetylene torch.

I have an exhaust pipe on the van that was leaking when I bought it. I got a $175 replacement from Mercedes, and now, less than two years later, it’s leaking in the same fucking place again. The pipe is solid stainless steel, and is only warrantied for 12 months, but my dealer said he’s still willing to send it in for a repair.

Luckily I kept the old pipe. Hoarding for the win!

There was a triangular tab that had been ripped open, and the flange seam was also coming apart, as you can see here:


Welding the stainless steel correctly would require a high-end TIG setup with the ability to backfill the inside of the pipe with argon, which we don’t have out here. I also have no welding experience, an it would require a skilled welder to pull off. However, Muggy Weld makes this high temperature silver solder that will work on stainless steel and melts at 1150 o F. It’s very expensive at around $30 per stick, but if it solves my problem, it’s worth it.

Lee got me checked out on his oxyacetylene setup. We welded some mild steel together to get a feel for the tools. Welding is very intense and alchemical, and I liked it right away!


Practice weld on mild steel

First I cleaned off the work area with a wire brush to get it as clean as possible. It’s important to remove as many impurities as possible to get a clean bond.


First I had to drill some very small holes to secure the wire ends:


Easier to see the hole with something white behind.

I then wrapped the target area with the wire as tightly as possible to make a good adhesion surface. If I can get the entire thing bonded, it should be *much* stronger than the original pipe:


I then pulled it tight from inside the pipe:


I originally tried a rosebud tip, which is for heating larger areas, but it was so big I found it very hard to control. I went back to the welding tip, which is much narrower. With brazing, one wants to heat the work surface enough that the solder will melt without the flame being present. In this case that was very hard, because there were three radically different thicknesses of metal. The flange is pretty thick, the pipe is pretty thin, and the wire is *very* thin.

I overheated the metal because I didn’t have good enough lighting and couldn’t see the solder melting correctly. What I did see were beads of solder forming and falling off, a sure sign that the piece isn’t hot enough. However, the solder *was* flowing into the gaps, I just didn’t see it. While trying to heat the metal enough to get the solder to flow, I ended up blowing a much bigger hole than the one I was trying to repair into the pipe!


A friend with a bit more experience came by about that time and helped get me back on track. Luckily the repair method I used for the first hole also works for the second, and I had a better feel for the setup now. I added a bunch more coil, then brazed all that as well.

The final result is ugly as fuck, but test it with my mouth, it feels sealed. I’d like to pressure test it with my compressor before installing it, though. I went back afterward, using what I had learned, and re-heated the thicker puddles of solder to get them to flow back into the piece.


One of the two brackets that hold the middle of the pipe was also broken, so I made a new one out of a stainless steel hose clamp. These are important to reduce load on the ends of the pipe, which gets very hot when operating.



Overall I’m happy with how it went, largely because I knew how incompetent I was and that I would make mistakes. Assuming it still fits on the van and actually works, it’s successful.

Next is pressure testing!

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Finding the Hot Spot

I was getting super uneven cooking in my square cast iron pan on my induction cooktop. I had another I found at Goodwill for $10, and was inspired by this post to do some hotspot testing using almond flour.

The point of this testing was to find the hotspots, so I didn’t make an effort to be super scientific. For instance, I didn’t wait for the cast iron pan to to fully cool down before trying it with the second burner. It was still noticeably warm. I tried to get the temps as close as possible to begin with, but my last test, with the Gourmia cooktop and my big stainless skillet, required me to amp up the heat to see the pattern.

Here’s the original black Tramontia 81500/100 cooker with my cast iron pan set to 245 o F on the left, and same pan on my Gourmia GIC 100 at 250 o F:



I did the same with the big stainless pan I use for most of my cooking these days:



In both cases, the hotspot was smaller and more concentrated on the black Tramontia, which isn’t surprising since the diameter of it’s inner ring is a little bit bigger.

Gonna try using the Gourmia for a few weeks and and report back!

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