Friday, June 27, 2014

The new mid term plan.


I am starting to pull a new plan out of the wreckage of the last one.  The short version.  Cut the cost of living through a roommate, or shared accommodation. Continue the temp work.  Use the lowered cost of living to buy some writing days here and there. With a co-dweller cat care is improved. The kitty will have the chance for extra room and engagement. Also important with a roommate(s) cat care can be outsourced.  With the cat secure, money more available I can commence research on part two.

Part two.  Can I be happier in a different town. A few years back I was on the island, it was lovely.  I don't know if I want to live there, but I want to check out a handful of places and take their pulse.  I tire of living in places that don't feel enough like home and want to remedy that.  And gods damn it I am going to finish that first novel's first draft and then I am going to rewrite it with all the cool things I have thought about.

Vinets from the floor. Part one


Tomorrow is a novel writing day, so I have to burn off my blog posts now to free the brain cycles.

Part one Confessions of a mathtard.

I have never been good at arithmetic.  For reasons unclear to me I have staggered into adulthood needed a pen and paper for number crunching that many can fire off from the top of their heads.  Where this stems from is an open question, perhaps I could pin it on a unfound learning disability.  Or perhaps the time in grades 4 and 5 where I was in a special education group was when the rest of the class was learning those maths.  I also assume this time I spent out of the regular classroom is where the proper use of whom was explored, along with the correct uses of affect vs effect.  Lacking a time machine I can't say what it is I was not learning.

Certainly the time spent learning eye tracking must have taken some time away from regular studies, but at least I can read and don't have to bob my head like a pigeon to track an object, any more.  Thanks Father.   So somewhere along the way the rote learning and repeat grilling did not happen enough times to secure the knowledge and methods.  This is not to say I can not math, but that it fails me at the wrong times.

The scenario is repeated in many contexts.  A conversation goes quantitative. My attention wanders, the numbers are not registering with my brain as I await the conclusion.  Out of the blue the person who has been doing the computations asks me whats this number by this operator and the other number.  By the time I have secured the value of the first number and the identity of the operator I am receiving a look.  The look of why haven't I mathed yet. The moment that look hits me you will not get any math out of me.  I will be anxious about making mistakes, knowing full well that I often do.  My abacus goes limp under pressure.

For me math is a discrete thing. my brain does not like storing small things.  If caught of guard on a tired a day you will be lucky to get me to store the number without flipping the digits, to compute against a quality I can scarcely recall is near instant failure.  Math is also discrete in that if I have not been anticipating the doing of it, it will not engage.

On the subject of failing to retain small information packets.  Anyone who has ever spelled a word at me knows if I fail to start transcribing it before the second letter is announced I will not make it to the end without error.  If I am lucky the word will be learned as a series of keystrokes and I will not have to think about that.

Now back to the maths.  Enter the warehouse floor.  Much of my time is spent picking orders.  It is a task that suits me well, it is labour that rents my body and only a small part of my mind.  Sometimes I have time to think about what  The Object in my science fiction novel is.  Or how its existence drives the politics of the two main human political bodies.  Other times I have to zoom in on the finer details of the work, I am now much more comfortable remembering a 6 digit product number.  There is a zen to this.  Thanks to the isolation, stuff being shipped in dozens, and merchandise not always being in stock, I am mathing more.  Will this save me from being flummoxed by a request for a surprise computation, no.  But may be yes, I may just be learning.  I do know the narrow focus and the demands for retaining information make this job sit better in my mind than most work I have done.  It feels like I am rebuilding my attention span.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lets bake Bread, the Leavening


For those of you baking along at home you should be here by now.
Peel off the cling film and with lightly floured knuckles punch the excess gases out of it.

Now we turn on the oven to 450F not C.  If your oven goes to 450c  you might want to take up metal work.

As the oven warms, prepare the loaf.  For this batch I am going to make two rustic loaves.  To make sure they come out even I weigh the dough on a scale.  It does not have be exact but being within a few tens of grams ensures consistency.  This dough came in at near 1100 grams, which will produce two medium sized loaves at 550 gram.  I have baked the whole round as one piece, but the I find it tricky to get the inside cooked without getting a dwarf bread like outer shell.

After you weigh out the dough, it is time to shape the bread.  I like to fold it in on itself a few times. Form the dough into a cylinder about 20 cm long. Run your thumb along the surface creating a deep groove, fold the bread in on itself.  Fold the ends in the same way repeat a few times.  This helps to remove any remaining excess gas.  If the dough is not to dry the suture will seal seamlessly.
One of two loaves, No I do not
bake them on this.

I like to roll it across a lightly floured counter a few times, it helps obliterate the seams.  If the ends start to get thicker then the middle, work inward from the ends rolling it under your hands.  For this I pinched the ends to give them a bit of a point. Honestly at this point you can experiment with the shape of the loaf.  But bear in mind that it affects baking time.

A lot of a peel
Once you have your bread shaped, cover it up and place it back in a warm spot while you wait for the oven to heat through.  I have yet to make this bread in a bread pan but I suspect it would have good results once you got the baking times sorted. I will be baking this on a pizza stone in the oven, something of a peasant loaf.  If you lack a baking stone, shame on you, place some cornmeal on a baking sheet and place the loaves on this to rise. I will be loading the oven with the aid of a wooden peel so the bread rise on a separate plates because the dough would stick to the peel which is the last thing you want.

Now that your oven is hot it is time for the blacker magic.
Steam.  To get both the maximum rise and a softer crust I load a pyrex pie plate with hot water on the the shelf below the bread.
Cut deep the stuff wants to expand

The baking instructions are as follows.
Place steam source in oven.
Load bread.  Bake for 15 min at 450.
Remove, with great caution the steamer.
Turn oven down to 400 bake for 25 or so minutes.  If you have doubt take the temperature of the bread.  The successful loaves were moist and cooked at internal temp of 200F. Seriously probing bread is worth it.

In retrospect this batch could have handled a little more flour, it was very soft at time of deployment.  For style I dusted the loaf before slashing it.  You want to cut it deeply, it is a very moist bread with lots of gas, it want to balloon.

Depending on the quirks of your oven, it would likely be a good idea to rotated the bread part way through the bake.  I know my oven runs hotter in the back, and sides of the breads that face each other brown less than the outward sides.
And after 15 min under steam at 450, and 23 min at 400 you have bread.  The internal temp reads 200, I don't know how well calibrated that probe. You can't hear it in the picture but the bread was crackling.

See that was easy.  Now I have to go for a walk, my house is hot now.

Lets Make Bread: Day two the rebreading

Greetings friends and hobbitess.

Sponge, after a good ferment.
Today we are going to finish baking bread.  For those of you baking along at home you may notice that I skipped over yesterday, I had too much going on and had no interest in firing up the oven late in the evening.  So I let the dough rest in the fridge.

If you have completed part one you should have a wet foamy mess that lives up to the name sponge.  We are now going to tricky part, turning this thing into a dough.

 To get there we will need, a large mixing bowl, rubber spatula or wooden spoon, 2ish cups of flour, a teaspoon of salt, elbow grease, and black magic.

To start, in a large mixing bowl mix together 1 and 1/2 cups flour with about a teaspoon salt. Pour the sponge into this.  As you mix the sponge with the flour be sure to cut up the bigger clumps so the flour mixes with all of the sponge not just lining the outside.  I forget what the pink thing is called but it is basically a knife made out of silicon rubber and is perfect for this job.

Add a little flour as you go, you are trying to work for a runny batter to a shaggy dough.  Near the point where the dough has absorbed about 2 cups stirring in the bowl will become impractical and kneading will be needed.
Slightly kneaded

Kneading, the black magic part.
Sprinkle a generous handful of flour on your work surface,  extract the dough from the bowl, scrape as much of the dough out of the bowl as you can.

The basic motion of kneading is a push, turn, fold.  With the heel of your hand push the dough away from you stretching it. Turn it a 90 degrees, fold the dough back in on itself and repeat, for the next 8 to 10 minutes.   Because this dough starts of very wet, don't be scared to add more flour.  You want the final dough to be smooth and elastic. and slightly tacky to the touch.  Like mostly dry varnish.

Read to rise. 
 It is hard to explain exactly when to stop kneading.  The best advice I have is stop a little time after you start feeling the dough resist your efforts.  As you work it the dough will be come springy and it will push back more as you try to stretch it you really want this.  How long it will take you to reach that point.

At this point you want to be careful about not adding extra flour or over working it too much.  You want the final dough to be moist enough to heal when you shape it into the final loaf shapes.  Otherwise it will split wide open and that just don't look great.

Now that you have a smooth, ball of dough, its time to proof it.  I keep a large ceramic salad bowl in the cupboard above the fridge for this.  The thick clay retains the warmth giving the yeast a stable home.  

Just line the dough with a tablespoon of vegetable or olive oil, cover the with cling film and put it in a warm spot.  For me that is the spot above the fridge. Avoid places with drafts. Now go watch a movie or read a book.  It should take about hour to rise.

If you really want to make use of this time, run down to your local kitchen shop and get a peel and a pizza stone, you'll thank me later.

Come back for part three.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Lets Bake Bread; Day one.

Greetings friends and fellow hobbits.
Over the next two days we are going to make bread.
A handful of my friends and family have sampled this recipe and found it taste , as have I.  This recipe is the product of close to two months of tinkering. A side effect of evening shift, I got bored before work.  I could have googled a recipe using the things I had, but I wanted to create something from  principles, and get it right through trial and error.

Errors there were.  The first batch was grossly under baked, but hinted at the potential, the second batch had too much whole wheat , it was also under baked.  The third batch was way too salty, the fourth or was it the fifth batch had no salt. The bugs got worked out, notes were made, variables isolated and consistency improved. So now after several successful runs I want to share.

This bread uses the sponge method.  In this method the bread starts as a near 50/50 flour water mix with yeast.  This soggy batter is left overnight to ferment, building flavours that are otherwise under developed.  Don't worry that the stuff in the jug looks nothing like bread dough, we'll fix that tomorrow.

Sponge Recipe.
2 Cups all purpose flour.

2 cups flour, 1/4 oats
1/4 oatmeal or mixed cereals.
I use a Rogers brand Porridge oats. This has oats, wheat bran, and flax seed.  I hated the stuff as a cereal but as a shortcut to multi grain bread it is perfect. I have tried using a little more but I found too much starts to mess with texture of the final product.

Warm Yeasty water
Not as good as beer.
7 ish gram yeast
7 grams yeast or one packet.  I am blessed with access to fresh baker's yeast, but Dry or active yeast would do just as well.  Fresh yeast is reputed to provide a better flavour but with the time you are giving the bread it will all balance out.  If your yeast has instructions consider following them.

2 Cups warm water, body temperature-ish.  You want to wake up the yeast and get it off to a good start.

Mix well
In a large nonmetallic vessel mix the dry ingredients together.  I have found a 4 litre plastic jug very handy, it gives the yeast lots of room to rise and I can pour it out easy for the next step.
You will want a large container for this as the stuff is quite vigorous and will try to make a break for freedom.  3 litre would be the safe minimum to contain.

In a separate container stir the yeast into the warm water.  Let it sit for a few, until it gets a little frothy.  When you are confident that the yeast has awoken add it to the flour.  Mix the whole lot up real good, be sure to use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula as yeast is not fond of metals. Yeast's fondness for the music genres of Metal is unknown to me.  Cover securely and place in a dark cool cupboard.

Put away and walk away. 
A note on long ferments.  Normally I let my breads rise in a overly warm cupboard above the fridge, not this one.  The sponge will ferment for 8 to 10 hours depending on when you get around to making the bread, high temperatures are not needed to keep the yeast alive. The readings I have done suggest cooler temperatures and longer time frames will produce better flavors.

I have tried both fermenting overnight at room temperature, and in the fridge, both batches produced good loaves.

My advice is, if your house is warm, or you just don't like the idea of it sitting out all night put it in the fridge.  But leave it out for a few hours to give the yeast strong start.  If you do refrigerate it be sure to let it warm up to room temperature before working it into the final dough.  Half an hour a least before working it.

Tomorrow we rise again, and then once more for good measure, before getting hot and steamy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I'm doing better.


May was a hard month.  I took a gig that became some of the hardest work I have done.  It was an evening shift doing janitorial. The hours 4pm to 11, go go go the whole time.  I lost half a pant size doing that.  The pay was a pittance.  Had I been feeling any more established with the temp agency I suspect I would have turned it down.

It should be no surprise that those hours were punishing on my body.  There was no way for me to get sleep at the correct hours of the night, to make the 6.5 to 7 hours I need to function I had to sleep till nearly 9am.  A state of affairs that left me groggy, and feeling that the day was wasted even before its started.  The start time at 4 pm had two problems.  No amount of spare time in the day preceding work felt free, the clock was always being watched. So I never took to doing any thing productive.  Writing was seldom a viable option.  Between the feeling of being poorly rested and the watching the clock I failed to be productive, excuses.

The second trouble with starting work at 4pm was, well that is when I start getting seriously hungry for my evening meal.  The first half of the shift was spent in a state of being punchy.  With the work being so physical it was difficult to eat enough, I nearly resigned myself to being hungry all the time.

So May was spent with my feet hurting, my temper short and my stomach underfilled, pushing water up hill to try to make the rent.  But rent I did make.  So the impending doom of the months end was met with relief when the rent cheque cleared.  I made it I squeaked by, but I earned the rent the hard way.  With that real victory my brain started to open up.

The skeleton of a plan I have for this phase of life is, get by.  Get by and write.  Only after proving getting by is possible can I set aside the over sized patch of brain that worried and let in the creative.

I have been blessed these last two weeks, my work is normal hours, at better rate, the job neither punishes my body or my brain. To know June will go better than May and to find the brain power to reenter the sprawling worlds of my novel feels great.   The scary thing has to be faced, that to write at the richness the worlds deserve requires me to go a little extra crazy.  To write the novel with the feels I need requires me to visit memories and moods that leave me on edge.  But right now I have the room in my mind to start playing with it again.