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Ugh. I slept not well, feel not 100% well, and it’s Tuesday, the most demanding of my work days. But! I have decided!* Today will be a not bad day. Probably.

How do I know that this is true? Because already one thing has gone right. No spiders in my straws.

As you may remember, I usually have a smoothie for breakfast, the kind with chia and hemp seeds and other ingredients that require big straws. You may also know that I have a soft spot for the planet and the critters who live here (even creepies like spiders), so I don’t use plastic straws. A thoughtful friend gave me some cool metal bendy straws for my birthday (thanks, L.:)** which are terrific for things like lemonade and iced tea, but for smoothies, I like glass.

That’s them on the right. Sturdy borosilicate glass straws*** with rounded ends, thick enough for thick liquids but clear enough to see if anything has crawled inside during the night. Like a spider.****

It’s only happened once, but coming this close to sucking up a house spider first thing in the morning? Not something one forgets.

So, how do I know that today is going to be a not terrible day? No spiders for breakfast. I count that as a win.*****

Hope you have a not terrible day too, but if you don’t, remember that it happens to the best of us!

“But I am very poorly today & very stupid & I hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.” 

― Charles Darwin

I think of this quote a lot on bad days. Just keep going. You’ll get through it.

* * *

* I find this sort of declaration works better if exclamation points are involved.

** This photo shows other cool gifts as well, like the fun person-shaped tea infuser and spice rack. I try not to be too saccharine, because sometimes life just really is hard no matter how much positive thinking one applies, but starting off the day feeling both grateful and fortunate helps.

*** My straws came from a company called GlassDharma but they’ve retired now. They passed on their lifetime guarantee to another company called DrinkingStraws. I haven’t tried them yet but their straws look fun.

**** For a while we were getting spiders in all kinds of weird places, like the blender and yes, straws. My guess is that it the light refraction in those places looks something like water to them, but that’s just a guess.

***** The spiders are off doing what they do. I don’t kill them.

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One Bern

Mondays and Tuesdays are my busiest work days, so I asked Bernie to stop by and keep you all company.

Yes, #Berniesmittens is a thing right now and why not, I think we could all use some fun. (I believe I’ll call it a Bern, or one unit of unself-conscious fun.) Want to make your own fun with Bernie? The image is here.

If you want your very own version of the mittens, I have semi-sad news. The teacher who made those mittens can’t keep up with the thousands of requests that came her way after the inauguration. Interested in making your own? Check out this guide from The Guardian:

How to make Bernie Sanders’ inauguration mittens

Or do what most of us are doing when we can, and stay inside:)

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I’m baking today. Remember that recipe I posted a couple of days ago? Yeah, that’s the one. Mr. Man is fresh out of sandwich bread and I like to bake, so it’s a win-win.

Bread is at once astonishingly simple (flour + water and optional leavening and heat, the end) and complex. Once you get past the basics, head onto the web and search for “baking bread,” you’ll find a million (no wait, 1.61 billion! seriously?) hits, plus an entire genre of cookbooks plus whole cultures (hello, France!) that revolve around this particular culinary marvel.

* * *

I like bread. I like baking. I don’t love lots of nitpicky details.* That’s why I spend a non-zero amount of time trying to simplify my favorite recipes. I’m usually asking “What can I strip from this process and still have the result turn out well?” 

But. Our house is cold at night plus my flour spends most of its time in the freezer, and cold dough is sluggish dough. So today I’m going to highlight a little thing called “desired dough temperature.” (Yes, the acronym is unfortunate, but it’s still a useful concept.)

“…there’s a crucial facet of baking that can help us bakers increase consistency that isn’t always immediately apparent: the importance of dough temperature in baking.”

— The Importance of Dough Temperature in Baking | The Perfect Loaf**

The article linked above gets into the nitty gritty of what and why, if you’re up for a deep dive. Here’s a similar review from King Arthur, who I love***: 

Desired dough temperature | King Arthur Baking

* * *

Geesh, so many footnotes today. Where was I? Right, how to produce consistent bread through temperature control. Ahem. 

Short version: balance ingredient and room temperatures so your dough is ~78F. The easiest way to do that is to tweak the temperature of your liquid to compensate for cold flour, say, or a cold room.

There’s a formula, which I dutifully wrote down, then thought, “Self, you know the internet worked this out already. There’s got to be a handy dough calculator just waiting for you!” And lo, there was. I’m sure there are lots of them, but this is the one I’ve been using:

Common Bread Baking Calculators | The Perfect Loaf

This is what my calculator looked like for this morning’s dough:

I used my mixer to knead the dough today and had to guess on the friction factor, but I came quite close to my target****:

And look, it’s time to shape the dough for its second rise. Happy baking!

* * *

* I was never the kid who memorized every single dinosaur genus and species, or knew every baseball stat, or could rattle off the weather in my hometown in 1861. I suspect that particular period in a child’s life has to do with some confluence of brain expansion outpacing life expansion, but that’s just me guessing. Hmm… This is where I have a moment of deep introspection and realize, wait a minute, I was that kid. Not dinosaurs or sports, but Star Wars. And Lord of the Rings. On the other hand, I was never the sort of completist who had to love all things Star Wars (sorry Episodes I, II & III, you definitely do not complete me), so no judgements here.

** Aside: That Brød & Taylor proofer in this blog’s first picture? I want that. It’s pricey and a mostly single-use appliance and I don’t know that it’s quite big enough to hold all of our yogurt containers and as I’ve been telling myself for the past three years, I do not need it. And still it calls to me:)

*** Both as a mythical modern legend and a company. I liked T. H. White’s The Once and Future King and Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave as a kid. Although I try to ignore that business with Guinevere and Lancelot and Mordred and… ok, maybe I just like Merlin and Excalibur and the Round Table. Where (let’s bring it home) they would have enjoyed bread!

**** I probably should have stuck the probe in all the way (have I learned nothing from aliens?) but the dough ball was so nice I didn’t want to puncture it.

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Post-inauguration, the news is flooded with articles on the likelihood (or not) of unity in America, and even some on the failure of America as an ideal, as a dream. No matter what, some say, it will never be what it was again.

That may be true. But what if it can be better?

The Japanese have an art, Kintsugi. The art of broken things, of finding beauty in imperfection.

Rather than being thrown away, damaged pottery is rebuilt, pieced together with lacquer and gold binding the seams.* The results celebrate the history of the piece, not only what it once was but the damage it experienced and the conviction that it can be rebuilt into something beautiful. That it is worth saving.

“Some four or five centuries ago in Japan, a lavish technique emerged for repairing broken ceramics. Artisans began using lacquer and gold pigment to put shattered vessels back together. This tradition, known as kintsugi, meaning “golden seams” (or kintsukuroi, “golden repair”), is still going strong.”

― Kintsugi, The Japanese Art of Mending Broken Ceramics with Gold

“The restored ceramic becomes a symbol of fragility, strength, and beauty. Many see Kintsugi as a powerful metaphor for life, where nothing is ever truly broken.”

* * *

What has kept humanity going through lifetimes of broken dreams? Hope, faith, and the deeply-held conviction that progress is possible, that something strong can be built on what’s good about the past. I hold that hope now, for us.

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

― Howard Zinn

* * *

* Commitment and cash, essentially; there are probably worse ways to describe what we need right now to rebuild.

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Good Morning!

Photo by Will Mu on Pexels.com

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

— The United States Constitution 

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I used to be a terrible procrastinator. Now I’d say I’m about average. Work deadlines? No problem. The birthday card I need to send out? Yeah, that’s definitely going to be late (sorry!). And don’t get me started on my writing for the past year. It was much easier to put it off to doomscroll pandemic and political news. Not better, by any means, but easier.

I had to put that to a stop. But what to do instead? How to stop putting things off and get more done?

The good news is that useful research has been done on how to get past procrastination. Here’s an article with a handy rundown:
‘Why Do I Spend Weeks Avoiding Tasks That Will Take Me 10 Minutes to Do?’

This is an excellent question.

There’s something about the task itself—and the way you feel about it—tripping you up.

As I’ve mentioned, I like the “procrastinate productively” strategy. It can still be hard to get everything done, especially when “everything” includes projects with no external accountability (like writing, if you aren’t a pro). But I find there’s always something little I can do, at the very least. Also? Be kind.

Don’t expect you’re going to get rid of the tendency to procrastinate in the 10 minutes it took to read these tips, and try not to be so hard on yourself. 

For writers who find themselves stuck, I like this book:

On Writer’s Block by Victoria Nelson

“As a rule, young children don’t complain of wanting to fingerpaint but finding themselves mysteriously unable to do so.” 

She’s got a point. So have fun and get things done:)

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Everyone likes a catchy tune. You do, I do, and drunken sailors do too. I don’t TikTok but apparently I do sea shanty.

I ran across an article on how sea shanties are trending right now (I found it while looking for perkier Viking songs than those in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, personally, but this trend is wide and deep). 

The tunes are earworms extraordinaire but what really caught my attention was the life of the songs. Sea shanties are old, but (thank you, internet!) it took hardly any time at all for people to morph the original into something new and collaborative. Where it started:

Where we are (no doubt this is still in progress!):

Cool, right?* And good luck getting that out of your head;)

For more on the history of this song and others like it, check out this piece from The Guardian, The true story behind the viral TikTok sea shanty hit, including this insightful bit on why a centuries-old singing tradition is striking a chord now:

“My guess is that the Covid lockdowns have put millions of young [people] into a similar situation that young whalers were in 200 years ago: confined for the foreseeable future, often far from home, running out of necessities, always in risk of sudden death, and spending long hours with no communal activities to cheer them up.”

Should you wish to dive deeper (ha!), here’s a collection of other sea shanties:

* * *

* And how about a shoutout to the unacknowledged hero of this song, the whale! 😉

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Sammich Bread

I post recipes for your entertainment and edification, but also so that when I lose my scribbled-on bits of paper I’m not left digging through piles of scrap-paper notes while muttering “I just saw it here somewhere!” For example, today’s recipe is my current favorite sourdough bread recipe. Here’s what it looks like when it’s at home:

Mr. Man liked my initial attempts at sourdough (I’ll have to post that recipe later) but wanted a soft, sandwich-friendly loaf that had good flavor and stored well but wasn’t as tangy as a classic sourdough loaf. This recipe works perfectly.

The recipe is a hybrid, with both starter and instant yeast. If you don’t have yeast, it’s possible to make it work with levain only, using a little more starter and longer rise times (check out comments at the recipe link below; search for “yeast” to see what other bakers have done).

The original is from King Arthur, an employee-owned company established in 1790, and known for its flour but also its recipes, videos, and helpful staff. We can’t get their flour up here, and so have to make do with alternatives. I use unbleached organic all-purpose flour because that’s what I’ve got, and I’ve tweaked the recipe to work without dry milk, which I never have.

I’ve used this recipe to make two standard loaves or (same bake time) one 9 x 13 pan of pull-apart rolls, great for sliders or with soup, chili, etc. Hasn’t failed me yet!

* * *

Sourdough Sandwich Bread

modified from Sourdough Sandwich Bread | King Arthur Baking

Ingredients

Levain*

• 1 C + 1 Tbs (128g) flour

• 1/2 C + 1 Tbs (128g) water (60° to 70°F)

• 3 Tbs (44g) ripe (fed) sourdough starter

* The flavor won’t be as developed, but if you forget, this can be done the morning of.

Dough

• 5 1/4 C (631g) flour

• 1/4 C (50g) sugar • 2 1/2 tsp (15g) salt

• 2 tsp (5.6g) instant yeast

• 4 Tbs (57g) butter, room temperature

• 1 5/8 C (382g) milk (70° to 80°F, I microwave for 35 seconds)

• all of the ripe levain

Instructions

• Make the levain (~8pm): Mix the levain ingredients together and place in a covered container with room for the levain to grow. It will almost double in size, and will take about 12 hours to ripen at room temperature (70°F). This is a good time to take the butter out of the fridge.

• Make the dough (~8am): Mix and then knead together all of the dough ingredients, including the levain, to make a smooth, supple, and not overly sticky dough. Your mileage may vary, but kneading takes me 10-12 minutes by machine or hand.

• Place the kneaded dough in a lightly-buttered bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 1 to 2 hours, until doubled in size.

• Divide the dough in half, and shape each into 8″ logs. Place the logs in two buttered bread pans. Cover the pans and let the loaves rise until they’ve crowned about 1″ over the rim of the pan, about 1 to 2 hours. Don’t score.

• Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.

• Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. (Internal target temperature is 195-200F.) For me, this is 35 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven and turn them out onto a rack. Let cool completely before slicing.

* * *

nom!

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Space & Sound

Dear Fellow Science / Sci-Fi / Creative / Authorial / Curious Types,

Yesterday’s Vivaldi link got me thinking about music and sound. Have you ever wondered what you’d sound like on other planets? I know I have, and apparently Popular Science has too. Here’s your answer:

What your voice would sound like on other planets and moons

Barry White’s got nothing on a Martian’s croon.

Here’s a more detailed take on the question from Harvard:

You Asked: If you were able to talk on another planet, how would you sound?

In space, no one would hear you scream.
But make a quick detour down to the surface of Venus, and all bets are off. 

And this piece is more involved, but includes links to more work and audio clips with examples like this one from Discovery:

The sounds of voices and waterfalls on other planets | Engineering | University of Southampton

Sure, there’s that whole no breathable atmosphere issue but! I like the way this helps me think about science in an up-close-and-personal kind of way.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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Stocking Up

Today is mushroom day. Not “a” mushroom day, the kind that’s dark and dank and often rooted in excrement, but a day for preparation.

Literally. Today we picked up 11 pounds of mushrooms from the good folks at Carleton Mushroom and I’m going to spend the next hour or so getting them cooked and into my freezer.

That’s six pounds of shiitakes and five pounds of cafe mushrooms. I’ll need to rinse, trim, cut and roast them, then let them cool before putting them in the freezer.

(Ok, I know what you’re thinking: That’s going to take longer than an hour. Like, way longer. You’re probably right:)

It’s worth it. Once they’re cooked, you can use them in many ways, and the shiitake taste like bacon.

Serious Eats has an article about this that’s helpful, but it’s a straightforward process. Here’s my stripped-down version:*

  • slice mushrooms, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper
  • bake at 400F for ~45 minutes (30 to 60 minutes, really, depending on the mushroom; the shiitake dry out faster, so keep an eye on them, but also they are delicious when mostly crispy)
  • for stock: while the caps are roasting, chop and sauté any leftover stems with oil, salt and pepper, then add a couple of bay leaves and a whack-load of water and simmer on low until reduced by ~half or you get sick of waiting.

This is a shot from the last time I did this, with oyster and shiitake mushrooms.

In the end, we’ll have bags of frozen mushrooms ready for use plus stock from the stems.** (Stock is more more work to simmer down, then strain and freeze, but I hate wasting all those stems plus the result was worth it last time so I’ll do it again.)

Maybe I’ll finish in time to get down into the workshop (what? I like wishful thinking), but even if I don’t I’ll consider the afternoon well spent. And the next time future me is looking for a flavor boost for dinner or a quick addition to soup, pasta, rice, dumplings, or pizza, I’ll be glad I did.

* * *

* I’m not commercial kitchen level by any means, where cooks make an art of mise en place, but I do like being at least a little prepared. I’m more about shortcuts that take the pressure off and not opening a vegetable drawer to see nasty puddles of slime where mushrooms used to be. Because ew.

** The freezer tends to have bags of things like cubes of frozen spinach, tabouli, leftover lentils and rice, plus frozen citrus juice, chopped scallions, and whatever else I can think of to make life easier when the day’s been long and dinner seems like an insurmountable challenge. When I can make time for this, I’m happy I did. Whatever works for you? Do that.

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