Thursday, June 30, 2011

Better stock up on peanut butter, too ...

Via Tam, a warning to stock up now on incandescent bulbs.

I'm not going to run around yelling about the Iron Curtain falling across America; that would be hyperbolic, plus I've been at work all day and I'm tired. But it used to be that said curtain divided "freedom" from "suck", and now it's more like a line between "suck" and "more suck".

Unfortunately, as long as 65% of the population can go about their lives with a minimum of interruption, this isn't likely to change. I've pointed out before that the average person is more worried about paying for the kid's braces and getting to work on time than he is about political matters. Until he has to choose between paying the orthodontist and putting gas in the car, he's not likely to spend his precious little energy and free time worrying about what seem to be abstract concepts. Doubly unfortunately, when that choice comes, there will likely be a handy government subsidy just waiting for him, to help put gas in his car. And if he's like 2/3rds of humanity, he'll take it, because a) it's easy and b) free money. Sad, but true; pride of purpose and independence are on their way out, especially in the younger generations. [Get off my lawn! - ed.] That, coupled with the ascendancy of ignorance (spend a couple hours on Failbook if you don't believe me -- hell, five minutes should do it) make for a combination that will truly bring the suck.

Now I've made myself sad. ZOMGZ KITTEHS!

Monday, June 27, 2011

I Am Not A Fast Cook: Genuine French Bread II: This Time It's Personal

So last week's recipe involved setting aside a piece of the dough and storing it to use as a starter in the next batch. I promised I would report back with results, and I have to say: ROUSING SUCCESS.

To make the starter, I cut a double-handful of dough (after the first rising) and put it water in an airtight container (big enough to have room for expansion at the top) and stuck it in the back of the fridge for a week. To use it, I followed the same procedure as last week, except that:

-- I used 1/3 less water and yeast, for 2 cups and 2.5 teaspoons, respectively;

-- The starter went into the flour at the same time as the yeast/water mix.

Aside from that, everything went as before. This batch, I made one baguette and one large loaf, and they were AMAZING. The texture and flavor were both affected by the use of the starter; the crust was thicker, the crumb was finer, softer and spongier, and the flavor had a delightful nutty tang to it that resembled sourdough. It was probably the best bread I've ever made, from any recipe. I put aside another starter for next week, so I can continue this delicious cycle.

No, I didn't do all this just for that one pun. (Although now that it's out there, I kinda wish I had.) Enjoy!

Thought dead, the long unheard-from returns.

Hey hey, chapter fourteen is finally up. Only two more to go, so at this rate, I should be done by ... this time next year.

I keed, I keed.

Kind of.

Anyway, enjoy!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ah, memories.

The central intersection on my college campus had a scramble light — every two or three cycles, all lights would go red and you could cross through on the diagonal. There was a loud chirp to signal the scramble, and it was always patently obvious what was going on. I remember one father/daughter pair carefully crossing one side during a scramble, then waiting to cross the other side and GLARING at everyone in the center. WHY WEREN’T THEY FOLLOWING THE TRAFFIC RULES? WHY WEREN’T THEY WAITING THEIR TURN AND CROSSING IN THE CROSSWALKS LIKE THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO? HOW DARE THOSE HEDONISTIC STUDENTS CUT THROUGH THE CENTER! The father seemed especially miffed, with a definite "At least some of us still know how to follow the rules!" tinge to his body language.

Just throwin' that out there. It still makes me LOL.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Victor Davis Hanson can be depressing as hell

but you already knew that.

You should still read the whole thing.

I Am Not A Fast Cook: Genuine French Bread

This recipe is taken step-by-step from Jacque Pepin's "Complete Technique", an invaluable illustrated reference for cooking French cuisine. A word of warning: This is a HUGE batch of bread. I made three baguettes, one free-form loaf and one round country loaf, plus a starter in a jar for next week. Which I will have to use next week, or it'll go bad. Which means another batch. Not that I'm necessarily complaining, but man that's a lot of bread.

Begin by mixing 3.5 cups of water at 80F and 1 tablespoon and 3/4 t. (three packets' worth) of yeast in a large bowl. Set aside, stirring at the two- and five-minute marks. When the water starts to foam, add six cups flour (scooped, not sifted) and work for five minutes. The book says to use a stand mixer; I used the dough hook attachments on my hand mixer. BE VERY CAREFUL; if you're not, you'll blow out the motor on the mixer, your elbow, or both. After five minutes, add 1 tablespoon kosher salt and two more cups of flour and mix for another two minutes.

Turn out onto a floured surface and work in one more cup of flour (more or less; just keep adding flour when the dough gets too sticky to handle). Kneading will take about 15 minutes to reach proper consistency, satiny, resilient and just slightly sticky. Move the dough to a floured LARGE (emphasis on LARGE) bowl, cover with plastic or with a towel, and place in a warm (80F) place for two hours. (A quick note: I used the biggest bowl I had, and it still overflowed. If you think the bowl you have is big enough, get the next size up. I mean it.) After two hours, move the dough back to the floured board and work for about two minutes to take care of any large air bubbles.

Use a dough cutter or large knife to section the dough; I cut off about an eighth for the stored starter and about a third of the remainder for the country loaf. The remainder of that, I cut into four long pieces. Shape the dough (use lint-free towels as dividers to help the baguettes keep their shape) and let rise for one hour (one-and-a-half hours for larger shapes).

Preheat the oven to 425F and place a pan of water on the bottom rack to create steam. If you have baking tiles, place them in the oven now. Carefully turn the risen loafs bottom-up, sprinkle with flour and slash the tops with a long, thin knife. If you're using tiles, carefully slide the loaves directly into the oven. If you're using sheet pans, sprinkle them well with cornmeal or farina and position the loaves so they won't bake together. As soon as the loaves are in the oven, toss in a quarter-cup of cold water for a burst of steam and bake for 30 minutes. When done, the bread will be lightly browned and sound hollow when tapped with the handle of a knife. For larger loaves, follow the steps above, but bake for 40 to 60 minutes. Let cool at least 30 minutes before slicing, and enjoy!

Next week's recipe will describe the steps for using the starter, and will detail the outcome. Whee fun! Enjoy!

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Ahem. Lemme 'splain.

See, we already knew that Martin Freeman, the guy who plays John Watson in Stephen Moffat's Sherlock, is playing Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming film adaptation of "The Hobbit". But what I just found out (actually I first heard it on Friday but I found more confirmation today) is that Benedict Cumberbatch, guy who plays Sherlock Holmes in the aforementioned series, is providing the voice of the dragon, Smaug.

*deep breath* Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Storytime: Curiosities

It's another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig! Woooo! This week's theme was a freaky photo of some random doll heads. [This site is not responsible for any nightmares or other disturbances triggered by said photograph -- ed.] As always, no apologies for quality or campiness. Enjoy!

Curiosities

Asphodel was pushing one hundred, but his sharp, dark eyes saw everything in his cramped little shop. “You have new hired boy, yes?” he asked Harvey, his false teeth clicking around his accented English. “Someone to help you on boat? Is good news, my friend.”

Harvey looked over his shoulder Tucker, hiding behind the end of a row of shelves, and shrugged. “I s’pose,” he grunted, and rubbed his thick, arthritic fist on the wooden countertop. “So far he just works for whatever I can feed him.”

“Ah, so he is good employee, then.” Asphodel smiled knowingly, and slowly leaned to one side for a better look at the lanky teen. “Or maybe not so good. He is like squirrel after winter, all skin and bones.”

Friday, June 03, 2011

It's currently 7:36 p.m.

and I'm still at work, waiting for a PDF to load in a particularly cranky system so I can fill out a couple forms and move on to the next one in the queue. I have some 15 more to go in the current batch.

Last count, the main queue had more than 240. That's down from the 330-some it had this time yesterday, which is why I was in the office until 8 p.m. yesterday.

I should point out that a) These are forms the previous department didn't get to in time; b) I have had precisely zero training for this, aside from "Copy box A into box 1"; c) 90% of the forms are either handwritten or dot-matrixed into illegibility. I won't lie; I'm guessing on a lot of things. I seem to be the only one who's really working to make a dent in the queue, too.

And I'll be back here tomorrow -- that's Saturday -- at 7 a.m. to go at it again. And I honestly would not care -- I am more than happy to work hard and give it my all -- except that management is breathing down our necks while we clean up someone else's mess and it is just so

damn

frustrating.

Pulpy fantasy Storytime: Warnings

So apparently Chuck Wendig does flash fiction challenges every Friday or something like that. I am very excited to have just now discovered this. The theme was "The Unexpected Guest"; length: 1,000 words; genre: Any. My contribution is below. Enjoy!

Warnings

Something woke Allin in the night, a sound she couldn’t identify, or even remember. The fire was burned down to coals, but she pushed her blankets aside and sat up, wrapping her arms around her knees and her skirts around her feet, shivering. Even in summer, deep in the Agweth where the trees blocked any wind, midnight chilled something at the center of her that she couldn’t quite explain. It must have been the dream again, she told herself, and touched the necklace she wore beneath her shift. She should tell Fional.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Doom and gloom and you know what, it's time for lunch.

We

are

so

boned.

Be sure to read that last one to the end; it's a doozy.

Personally, I choose to remain calm and take whatever comes my way. I liked Bobbi's take on things, and I liked the post she linked to, because they summed up what I've thought for a few months now: You can't stop the flood by shouting at it, so you might as well climb a tree, get a good grip and get comfortable, because it's going to be a while before the waters go down. I'll be honest: My religious views have a lot to do with that decision. I firmly believe in that lillies-of-the-field, birds-of-the-air bit, and I embrace Paul's advice to be content no matter what the circumstances. Doesn't mean I always succeed, or that I'm never anxious -- good Lord, no. But it's the state I work toward. I'm also stocking up on canned tuna fish and eggs, and the stuff for to bake things with. Past that, well, I take things two weeks at a time anyway. As long as I'm fed and clothed and the kitty has kibble, I'm doing all right. I just pray that those I care about can find the same peace.

Wise words

Yesterday my uncle Grumpy Bear sent me an e-mail with a link to this photo essay featuring unions and full-on Communists marching hand-in-hand on May Day, happy as clams to be with each other. Having spent time in divided Germany, Mr. Bear had this to say:

The difference between socialism and Communism is the "S" is second to the "C", and Communism eventually starts to enforce its mission with bullets. And as I remember, the only defense is to send bullets back and hope you have a lot more than they do.
He later pointed out that products like Mountain Dew and McDonald's wouldn't exist under a Communist government, which is something I'm more than happy to take his word on.