Archive | April 2015

Excellent News!

Yeah, I know I promised a new recipe, but something much more crucial has come up: BlogPad Pro has been fixed!

Some history: a couple of weeks ago, Apple released an update (8.3) to its iOS. For me, this had the immediate effect of breaking BlogPad Pro which, if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know is one of my favorite blog editors (and indeed, my absolute favorite for blogging on my iPad).

When I contacted the publisher’s tech support via email, they not only responded with an explanation of what went wrong—it was Apple’s fault—but also gave me the fix for the problem. All of this in about 15 minutes from the time I sent my email.

I followed their instructions and resolved the problem. Total time from discovering the problem to having it resolved to my complete satisfaction? 30 minutes. I have never had a software problem fixed so quickly, and I’ve been in this game since 1980.

Only now, two weeks after the problem was reported to them, has Apple finally posted the fixed version of BlogPad Pro on the Apple Store. And in those two weeks, the publisher has suffered damage to their business from which they may never recover.

And so I’m asking everyone for a favor: if you use BlogPad Pro and like it, please to to the Apple Store and leave a review. Even if you’ve reviewed it before (as I have), it is important that you do it again to offset the negative reviews it’s gotten thanks to Apple’s (1) initial screw-up and (2) delay in fixing it.

Thank you so very, very much.

Proofing Yeast? Why, and How Do I Do It?

The old saying that “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” In this case, “proof” means “test.” It’s used the same way as “proving grounds” is used to describe a missile test site.

And in just the same way, “proving” yeast means to test it. The practice started before the modern technology of reliable refrigeration came into existence. Yeast would often go bad, and rather than mix up a big batch of dough only to discover your yeast was dead—resulting in a loss of ingredients—bakers developed a quick and easy way to proof (test) the yeast before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.

I always proof my yeast, but not just to see if it’s alive. I find that by doing so, it mixes more readily with the rest of the ingredients, and causes the dough to rise faster.

So how do you actually proof the yeast? Well, it’s actually an old, arcane formula that takes years and years to master, but I will initiate you into The Secrets:

  1. Take the amount of yeast called for by the recipe
  2. Measure out the amount of liquid called for by the recipe
  3. Heat the liquid to between 75 and 80 degrees F (24–26 degrees C), or barely lukewarm
  4. Add the yeast to the liquid, along with maybe a teaspoon of sugar (to give the yeast something to munch on.
  5. Wait about 10 minutes

That’s all there is to it, really. So what’s the big deal?

Well, the water dissolves the dry coating around the yeast, releasing the active yeast inside. The active yeast will go to work on the sugar and a bubbly foam will form on the surface (from the carbon dioxide being released). This foam is proof that the yeast is active, and once you see it, you can add the yeast to your bread dough.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a loaf to bake. It’s a new recipe, and if it works, I’ll post it here either tomorrow or Thursday.

Sourdough Magic (and setting the record straight)

I like sourdough. After all, I lived in Alaska for almost 20 years, and in the San Francisco Bay Area for another 5 or so, so I was probably predestined to like it. Hell, once you’ve spent a year in Alaska, you’ve even earned the title “Sourdough,” to distinguish you from the Cheechakos.

And like so many others, I even bought into the myth that the only place you could get genuine San Francisco sourdough bread was in San Francisco—or at least close to the Bay Area. That had to do with the fact that the wild yeast strains native to the area aren’t found anywhere else.

But today I found out that’s just not true:

Here’s what SERIOUS EATS has to say about it:

What gives San Francisco sourdough its particularly sour flavor? Some argue that it’s the makeup of the wild yeast strains native to the area, but if that were the case, you wouldn’t be able to make sour breads in other localities without introducing some of that extra-sour San Francisco yeast first. This is clearly not the case, and indeed, once the particular strain of lactobacillus bacteria responsible for San Francisco bread’s sour flavor was identified, it’s been discovered all over the world. L. sanfranciscensis is what French and Italian country-style loaves owe their sourness to, it turns out.

So what does make San Francisco sourdough bread so special? From my own knowledge of history, as well as a reading of what experts have to say on the subject, it’s experience. Sourdough arrived in the Bay Area in 1849, along with the Gold Rush. And when you’ve been baking for over 165 years, you’ve had plenty of time to perfect your technique—as well as the magic formula for the perfect sourdough bread.

As near as I can tell, the magic formula has to do with how much starter dough you mix with your bread dough. In some San Francisco loaves, the percentage is as high as 50%.

So What Does This Mean?

In practical terms, it means that if you happen to visit San Francisco and buy one of the ubiquitous packages of genuine San Francisco Sourdough Starter, you don’t have to worry about it becoming “corrupted” or devolving into a Rochester sourdough starter. (I picked Rochester because that’s where I live.) So no matter how many times I move, my genuine San Francisco Sourdough Starter will remain just that.

Or, in my case, since I’m going to make a batch of starter from scratch this week (and it will take the whole week), no matter where I take it, it will always be a Rochester Sourdough Starter. That’s assuming I cheat and use commercial yeast to start it. If I do it the traditional way by letting the natural air-borne yeast do it, it will probably be the above-mentioned L. sanfranciscensis, so in that sense, I could probably legitimately call it genuine San Francisco Sourdough Starter!

Anyway, all of this is by background and introduction to today’s topic which (surprise!) is sourdough starter and how to make it.

Here’s my tried and trusted recipe for an easy sourdough starter, which has been handed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of years in great secrecy I found on the web a couple of years ago.

How To Make A Sourdough Starter

Love sourdough breads? Wondering how to make your own sourdough starter? It’s easy. While the internet is full of sourdough starter recipes that call for odd ingredients like pineapple juice, orange juice, potato flakes or sugar water, to make a truly good sourdough starter you need just three things: flour, water and time.

Ingredients

flour
established sourdough starter (optional)
1 tablespoon baking yeast (optional)
filtered water

Instructions

Starting the sourdough:

Whisk 1/4 cup flour with sourdough starter or yeast (if using) and 3 tablespoons filtered water in a small bowl. Pour this into a jar, and let it sit for twelve hours. Twelve hours later, whisk in 1/2 cup flour with 1/3 cup filtered water and continue adding 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup water every 12* hours for one week until your starter is brisk and bubbling. As you feed your starter, take care to whisk in the flour and water thoroughly into the established starter—aerating the starter will help to yield the best and most reliable results.

(*Note: this isn’t absolutely critical. Even if you only manage to do it once every 24 hours, it will still work.)

To accommodate for expansion of the sourdough when it’s fed, make sure that your jar is only half full after each feeding. If you’ve made too much sourdough starter for the capacity of your jar, pour some off and use it in sourdough biscuits, sourdough pancakes or sourdough crackers.

Maintaining the sourdough:

After a week, your sourdough should be sturdy enough to withstand storage. If you bake infrequently (that is: if you bake less than once a week), you can store your sourdough in the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature and feed it well about twelve hours before you plan to bake. If you bake more frequently–every day or a few times a week–you can store your sourdough at room temperature and feed it with 1/2 cup flour and 1/3 cup filtered water once a day.

Special considerations:

If a brown liquid appears floating on top of your sourdough starter, simply pour it off. Sourdough bakers call this liquid “hooch,” and it is harmless; however, it often signifies that you’ve fed your starter too much water in relation to flour or have let your starter go too long between feedings. Sourdough starters are relatively resilient, and bounce back quickly once you resume proper care of them.

Notes

Aeration of the starter is essential to ensure that the bacteria are well-distributed throughout the starter and can, thus, begin to ferment the new flour and water mixture added to the starter at each feeding.  Proper aeration of the sourdough also helps to ensure that the production of hooch – a thin liquid that sometimes rises to the top of sourdough starter – is minimized.

As an aside, “hooch” is highly alcoholic. In fact, the infamous “pruno” made by convicts in prisons is a variation of this by-product, produced by fermenting raisins and other fruits, along with sugar and water. Personally, I use the fact that a half inch or so of hooch has accumulated on the top of my starter as a sign that it needs to be stirred down again.

Fed Sourdough Starter

Most sourdough recipes will call for 1 cup or so of “fed” sourdough starter. Here’s how to turn your refrigerated starter into “fed” starter.

  1. Up to 12 hours before beginning a recipe, stir the starter and discard 1 cup. Or give 1 cup to a friend, or use 1 cup to make waffles. However you do it, you want to get rid of 1 cup of starter.
  2. Feed the remaining starter with 1/2 cup lukewarm water and 1 cup flour.
  3. Let it sit at room temperature, covered, for 4 to 12 hours, till bubbly. It’s now “fed” and ready to use in a recipe.
  4. Once you’ve removed however much starter your recipe calls for (usually 1 cup), feed the remainder with 1/2 cup lukewarm water and 1 cup flour. Let this remaining starter sit, covered, at room temperature for 2 to 4 hours, until bubbly.
  5. Stir down, return to its container, and refrigerate.

Notes

If your starter isn’t refrigerated, there’s no need to do this. Just use the starter as it is.

For more about “hooch,” see this article on Wikipedia.

Volunteers of America, Volunteers of America!

No, I’m not talking about the organization of the same name. I’m thinking of the Jefferson Airplane (yes, I’m THAT old) song of the same name. Now, because of various activities I participated in back in the ’60s, I’m not certain of the date, but that was the song they opened with at their concert in Municipal Auditorium, San Antonio,TX. Yeah, yeah yeah… As Mitch Hedberg famously said, “I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.”

Except I don’t anymore. In fact, I haven’t smoked since the year Gerry Garcia died. Too many anxiety attacks, plus my entire recreation budget goes to my phone, Internet, and Netflix. What drugs I DO take are, sadly, no fun. Blood pressure, diabetes, depression…the whole gamut of crap that comes from age and not taking care of myself.

Anyway, to quote Arlo Guthrie, that’s not what I come to talk about.

I came to talk about volunteering. It’s a natural post for today, because Tuesday I started my volunteer service at GAGV, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of the Genesee Valley here in Rochester. Since I’m retired and have a lot of time on my hands, I decided I wanted to get involved with the community. I’ve got office skills, and they were looking for office volunteers. A perfect match, right? Besides, by getting involved in the office, I get the latest information on what’s going on, resources, services, etc. In fact, this morning I was even able to correct a couple of outdated resources!

So yeah, I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

And I’m going to reconnect with the trans* community as well. There’s a weekly social meeting every Thursday, and I’ll be going to those. Well, except for tonight: a prior engagement conflicts. But definitely the annual planning meeting this Saturday, and then the Thursday nights when I can.

Who knows? I’ll be making new contacts and maybe that will lead to other opportunities for service.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

“The fact that you’re reading this sentence means that you are richer and more educated than 99.5% of people in human history. It means you have almost immediate access to over half of all of the information and data ever created by the human race. It means you have the ability to educate yourself on subjects people previously spent their entire lifetimes to learn.” http://markmanson.net/shut-up-and-be-grateful

And despite all of this—or maybe because of it—we’re unhappy. We have an amazing standard of living in the United States. Don’t believe me? Then I suggest you watch the opening minutes of The Lion In Winter, Anthony Harvey’s excellent drama about Henry II of England. Specifically, the scene where Henry (masterfully portrayed by Peter O’Toole) gets out of bed, crosses to the washstand, and plunges his hands through the ice that overnight has formed over the top of the washbowl.

Right. When was the last time you had to do anything like that? But you were camping, right? But Henry was in his bedroom in his castle! Just be happy you’re living in 2015 and not 1183 like Henry. Especially be happy that unlike Henry, you’re probably not going to die at the age of 52 from a bleeding ulcer.

Or consider a later Henry. Henry III was an unhappy man because none of his 6 wives produced a satisfactory heir. Today we know that it was his own fault; but in the 16th century, science hadn’t evolved to the point where the role of the sperm-donor was recognized. And regardless, his wives did present him with three heirs, all of whom at one time or another occupied the throne (the most notable of whom was Elizabeth I).

And yet both of these men were kings of a very powerful nation. You’d think that would be enough to make them happy. Rich, powerful, handsome. What else is there? Oh, right: Henry III even started his own church and made himself its head! Indeed, my own grandparents were adherents of that very same church.

But what, exactly, is happiness? At this writing, I’m finding it easier to understand unhappiness than happiness: it’s the 4th day of April, some two weeks after the first day of spring, and I just looked out my window to discover it is snowing. And yesterday the temperature was 68°F/20C°!

So yeah, right now, I am NOT a happy camper! But what would it take to make me happy?

And as Shakespeare said, “Aye, there’s the rub!” As wisdom as well as age creeps up on me, I’ve come to realize a painful truth: there is nothing that can make me happy. But there’s another realization that goes hand in hand with that: there are lots of things that let me be happy. And to my way of thinking, that’s the same thing.

When I write, I’m happy. When I read your (rare) comments on one of my posts, I’m happy that what I had to say touched you. And since it’s snowing, I’m happy that there are two layers of window between the snow and me!

I’m happy that I can brew a fresh cup of coffee whenever I like. I’m especially happy that writing and good coffee or tea seem to go hand in hand; at least I can’t imagine one without the other.

The Battle of New Orleans, which every American schoolchild of a certain age learned was the decisive battle of the War of 1812, was actually fought after the treaty that ended the war was signed. The main reason was that no one knew the war was over. It took upwards of 3 months for new from Europe to reach across the Atlantic. Today, all I have to do is click on an icon in my blogging program and less than 3 seconds later, this post is available to anyone in the world with an internet connection.

And yes, I’m happy about that, too!

So it isn’t so much that things make me happy as it is that I let myself be happy.