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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Flour

Kitchen as laboratory: vintage shot of women inspecting baked goods

Kitchen confidential: three women inspect cupcakes.

For a single ingredient, wheat flour has an amazing number of iterations. It can be gruel or wedding cake, Wonder bread or baguette, croissant or hot dog bun. Flour seems simple, but it can give the occasional baker some anxiety — what exactly separates a good pie crust from a bad pie crust when it’s just flour, fat and water? Why is this cookie recipe calling for bread flour, and should I care that I don’t have it?

Read on for a primer. A little de-mystifying means better sweets for you.

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Titanium

Titanium deposits in sand in South Africa.

Like needles in a haystack. Titanium deposits in sand in Eastern Cape, South Africa. (Photo by Niel Overey)

Conceived beneath the skies of the ancient world, the Titans were the incestual god-lineage of Zeus: gigantic creatures who bore names like Oceanus, Themis, Hyperion. The metals then known to man were those purest of elements, and it was some two millenia before titanium would be discovered and used.

With an unmatched strength-to-weight ratio, low thermal conductivity and a tendency to be impervious to corrosion, titanium is indeed a metal of mythical proportions, even to the point of being mythically difficult to work with.

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Felt

Felt yurt with felt door, dated 1910.

A felt yurt in Central Aisa, circa 1910.

Felt is said to be the oldest man-made material: its story goes back 8,000 years. It’s used in everything from carpets to garments to chalkboard erasers. Felt is basically the matted fibers of sheep, so it has all the virtues of wool — warm, waterproof, resilient, durable — but denser, more compact and much more versatile. It is extremely adaptable and can be made with little more than a pair of hands for tools.

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