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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Soup to art

It's Wednesday already, heigh-ho. A short between-holidays week where the days are all playing charades, with their costumes blown about them on strong winds and lots of driving rain. There is no guessing which day is which, at least not by the normal clues we usually use. This Wednesday is still truly mid-week for me (with Monday being a holiday and me taking Friday off as well), but it is also role-playing both Tuesday's and Thursday's normal position in the work-week.

The campus is quiet. Not many souls working some or all of this week. Even email is strangely quiet. This makes it a perfect week to get a few projects caught up and to do some long-overdue organizing for the quarter/year to come.

The algorithmic DJ in my iPod was serving up a nicely blended selection of tunes on the drive in this morning. The Augustana tune reminded me, however, that a tune can be good even when the lyrics are not, particularly. Some lyrics are poetry, others only vocal filler. In this song (Sweet and Low), Augustana presents us with a nicely crafted and executed bit of rock anthem but then leaves us with lyrics like:

Hold me down, sweet and low, little girl
Hold me down, sweet and low, and I will carry you home
Hold me down, sweet and low, little girl
Hold me down, and I'll carry you home

The rain is gonna fall, the sun is gonna shine,
The wind is gonna blow, the water's gonna rise
She said, when that day comes, look into my eyes
No one's giving up quite yet,
We've got too much to lose

Want a contrast point? Compare the above lyrics to these from the Bruce Cockburn tune Don't Feel Your Touch:

The last light of day crept away like a drunkard after gin
A hint of chanted prayer now whispers from the fresh night wind
To this shattered heart and soul held together by habit and skin
And this half-gnawed bone of apprehension
Buried in my brain
As I don't feel your touch, again

As Jane Wagner says in the brilliant The Search For Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe:  "Trudy, the play was soup...the"  In this case, the first lyric was soup, the second: art.

The longing for a lover's touch, as in the Cockburn lyric, and the wind and rain of this past weather-strewn night are themes combined in a beautiful poem by Robert Creeley, titled, simply, The Rain:
All night the sound had
come back again,
and again falls
this quiet, persistent rain.
What am I to myself
that must be remembered,
insisted upon
so often? Is it
that never the ease,
even the hardness,
of rain falling
will have for me
something other than this,
something not so insistent—
am I to be locked in this
final uneasiness.
Love, if you love me,
lie next to me.
Be for me, like rain,
the getting out
of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
lust of intentional indifference.
Be wet
with a decent happiness.
So, what have we learned here? The weather: soup. The poetry: art.  If you must be out and about in this wet weather, may you at least be wet with a decent happiness.
The full playlist:
 - Rocco Deluca: Colorful
 - Augustana: Sweet and Low
 - Queen Latifah: I Know Where I've Been
 - Winterpills: Benediction
 - Billy Bragg & Wilco: Secrets of the Sea

Posted via Hermes.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Kevin's Holiday Bread - recipe included

With the approach of the holiday season, many folks like to have a special bread, cake, or other bread-based treat on hand for a quick and easy, yet special, breakfast before/after present unwrapping, religious services, or for when visiting friends/family stumble down from guest rooms first thing in the morning.  This is my favorite creation because it's easy to make in quantity, can be made in advance (and lasts well for several days), and is super easy to serve individually to each family member/guest as they want it. A loaf of this bread is just as good frozen and thawed for use later, too.

This is a hearty meal-in-a-slice bread, only lightly sweet and fruity, and is at its perfection when toasted and generously buttered.

While this bread recipe calls for water I often use brewed Yerba Mate in place of half of the water. I encourage even folks who are not fond of Yerba Mate to give it a try in bread. It adds a depth of flavor to bread that is hard to define but which is quickly missed once tasted. It also adds a nice caffeine pick-me-up to the morning toast.

My favorite mate to brew for baking is Guayaki's Traditional blend.  It brews up strong flavored and smooth, perfect for a recipe like this.

Happy holidays from my household to yours!

Kevin's Holiday Bread

Recipe By : Kevin McKay
Prep Time: 2 hrs 15 mins | Cook Time: 40 mins | Makes: 2 loaves | Difficulty: Easy

Pour into bottom of mixer bowl w/ dough hook attached:
2 Teaspoons Salt
2 Tablespoons Cinnamon

Dissolve together, let sit 5 minutes to proof the yeast, then add to mixer bowl:
2 Cups Water, warm (not hot)
4 Tablespoons Honey (or raw sugar)
1 1/2 Tablespoons Active Dry Yeast

Add dry ingredients in this order, w/motor running on medium-low:
1/3 Cup Zoom (see notes)
1/3 Cup 10-Grain Hot Cereal (or similar, see notes)
2 Tbsp Chia Seeds
1 Cup Dried Cranberries
2 Cups chopped nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.)
3 Rounded Tbsp Vital Gluten Flour (optional)
5 1/3 Cups (+/-) Whole Wheat Flour (substitute up to 3 cups of unbleached white flour if you want a lighter loaf)

--- Preparation & Baking---
  • Add additional flour or water (very little at a time) to achieve a barely-tacky dough that forms a cohesive ball around the dough hook. 
  • Continue to knead with dough hook on low speed (check mixer instructions for bread kneading setting) for 10 minutes (I start a 10-minute timer as I begin to feed the dry ingredients into the mixer). 
  • Cover with towel, still in mixer, and let rise for 60 minutes. Dough should have doubled in size. 
  • Turn dough out on work surface and punch dough down by hand. 
  • Split dough in half, shape into loaves, and transfer to two greased loaf pans.
  • Let rise for 60 minutes in a warm location. 
  • Place the loaves in the oven and then turn it up to 350° and set a timer for 35 minutes baking time (interior loaf temperature should be 200° when done, if checked by thermometer). 
  • Transfer to racks to cool.

This recipe is designed* for a Kitchenaid Professional 600 series or Cuisinart SM-55/SM-70 (or similar capacity). The larger motor in this model will handle a two-loaf whole grain dough. For smaller models of mixers, including the Artisan or Classic series Kitchenaids, I strongly recommend halving this recipe and doing one loaf at a time to avoid burning out the motor.

This recipe makes two standard-size bread loaves. I use Lodge Cast Iron bread pans (10-1/4-Inch by 6-1/8-Inch by 2-7/8-Inch).

Gluten Flour is a helpful addition for a good whole grain loaf of bread. It's not cheap (as flour goes) but without it you get a dense low-rising loaf. You can buy it at stores, often in bulk bins, or bagged at any grocery store that has (for example) Bob's Red Mill line of flours and grains.

Trader Joe's makes an Orange Flavored Dried Cranberries and a Dried Pitted Tart Montmorency Cherries, which I often use for this recipe.

Zoom is a Krusteaz brand of wheat flake hot cereal I use to give added whole-grain texture to my bread. Anything similar can be substituted. A couple of biscuits (crushed) of Shredded Wheat makes a great alternative as do quick-cooking oats.

Bob's Red Mill 10 Grain hot cereal is the one I use to give added whole-grain texture to my bread. Anything similar can be substituted.

Despite what some sources say, making bread isn't rocket science. I scoop my cups of flour (I don't weigh) and I don't worry about precision. It's easy to add a little more flour or little more liquid if I think the dough looks a little dry or wet. The bottom line is that you should end up with a dough that is firm enough to work with (shaping into a loaf) but moist enough to be just barely tacky to the touch. Anything even close to that is likely going to work just fine.

*For a bread machine: cut this recipe in half and add the ingredients to the pan in the order specified by your bread machine guide (usually wet, then dry). No further adjustments to the recipe should be needed.

*To do entirely by hand: Add ingredients in the same order and mix by hand, then knead by hand on a floured board for the full seven to ten minutes. Just substitute elbow grease everywhere you see the word mixer. ;-)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ok, you're way too busy anyway, Kevin

Friday may be dark and wet this morning, but he's still everybody's favorite.  Any other day of the week coming in this drab and damp would be scolded for dripping all over our floors, but not Friday.  We'll gladly invite him in, wet and all. "Just toss your wet togs over there, here's a nice warm mug of coffee (or mate) for you.  Come on in, stay and tell us stories of the day."

The weather has also warmed, just enough to no longer be really cold.  Not that we know intense cold here in the mild climes of the Pacific Northwest, but we do know cold.  Any time temperatures hover around the freezing mark, it's cold. Some recent mornings I was put in mind of A. A. Milnes's poem Furry Bear, which begins:

If I were a bear,
   And a big bear too,
I shouldn’t much care
   If it froze or snew;
I shouldn’t much mind
   If it snowed or friz—
I’d be all fur-lined
   With a coat like his!

We suffice with layers of clothing that can be donned or shed as the office HVAC system swings from too warm to too cold across its many-seasoned daily schedule, with special waterproof layers for stepping out between buildings on campus.

Speaking of campus, this is the last weekday before the campus closes up for the week of Christmas. This one-week rolling up of the sidewalks and rolling down of the shutters is becoming an annual tradition, a way to scavenge energy and operational savings to apply to the endlessly-on-rolling budget cuts. So next week will be a week off.

I had big plans for work-related things I would get caught up on with a whole week off (no meetings, no new issues to address!) but it has been a tough several months and I think I need a week unplugged to try and catch up/replenish some internal reserve.

I asked Siri (the voice-command system on my iPhone) to schedule a meeting for a particular time yesterday and she responded by pointing out this would conflict with five other meetings and asking if I really wanted her to go ahead and schedule it. When I said no she responded with:

Point taken. Next week will (mostly) be unplugged from campus-related stuff.

Today's commute music was complex. More complex than I would have called up for a Friday morning, but the iPod's shuffle algorithm had a different opinion about that, I guess.

The complete playlist:
  • Ablaye Cissko & Volker Goetze: Faro
  • Explosions In The Sky: Last Known Surroundings
  • Michael Torke Bank: Overnight Mail: Standard

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Facebook Finito.

I'm pulling out of Facebook.  If not completely, than at least all but.  This has nothing to do with the many friends, family, and colleagues I have linked virtual arms with there (good and worthy souls, one and all).  It has everything to do with Facebook itself and, to a lessor extent, with what I will call the Facebook effect.

I'll be direct: as a service, Facebook sucks. They have misused user data, repeatedly lied about their privacy policies and practices, changed their privacy settings so frequently that nobody could ever hope to keep up with them (including flipping default settings back and forth regularly), and finally been placed under audit for the next twenty years because of it. That should be bad enough for me or anyone else. 

I mean, I'm the first to admit that in our country there is no such thing as user privacy and I know full well that our personal data isn't owned by us by rather by any corporation that can collect it.  That is the state of privacy laws (or the lack thereof) here in the US. Facebook is merely one more such owner of our personal data. However, their track record is decidedly worse than most. They simply cannot be trusted to even correctly inform their users what they are or are not doing with user data. For me, that is finally unacceptable. They can keep (will keep, let's face it) such data as they already have from me, but no more will be coming their way.

Their user interface is also a complete mess. There is crap all over the place, most of it nothing I want or even care about. Does anybody really understand which posts show up in the news stream anymore, or how that algorithm works? If you do, that's just this week's algorithm, so don't get used to it.

SPAM, viruses, "games," and targeted ads (which seldom seem in any way -that I can fathom- related to me or my account activity) clutter every spare inch of the visual landscape. Blech. Whose account got hijacked this week? Don't follow any of their links!

The mobile apps written by Facebook for Facebook are even worse. Half the time links don't take you to the comments or photos associated with them, posts don't reliably work, notifications [I must have fat-fingered that word because my iPad just auto-corrected it to "orifice tons", which is rather prescient of it in this context] are flaky and inconsistent, and the whole app is likely to crash at any time. Also, there are lots of features that it doesn't support on mobile platforms. Some 3rd party mobile apps for Facebook are arguably better, but they seem to have regular trouble with shifting APIs and each one of them gets a different news stream view somehow, none of them complete.

Finally, there is the Facebook effect. The compulsion to over-share and to over-check. The growing sense of dependence on external validation, posting for the comments. Deny it if you dare, for it is a large part of why folks keep sharing away. I know users with many hundreds of "friends" who will never leave this sheltered circle of instant and constant validation. This is an effect.

I have played with this social network for roughly as many years as it has been around, and have found I am no more immune to this effect than the next person. I have seen it change the nature of what I post over time, and have decided that isn't me. It doesn't feel healthy. It feels like narcissism, in fact. [Merrium-Webster uses as an example under their definition of narcissism: "in his narcissism, he just assumed that everyone else wanted to hear the tiny details of his day."] So I am pulling out of the FB posting game for this reason, too.

That itch can also be scratched over at Google+ (if it ever achieves a critical mass of users), and without all the SPAM and visual distractions. More control over postings, better photo album tools and options, and a delightfully clean view of the content you came to see. Of course, Google also sells your user data in the aggregate to corporate marketing arms, but at least such privacy options as they provide don't switch around every few weeks.  I'll keep a toe in that pond to see if it matures and grows.  And in Twitter, too, which remains the best of the social network/information tools, so far.  You can follow me there (@kevmckonline), if you care to.

My Facebook association, though, will now languish.  I will check occasionally, but otherwise, in the words of the very quotable Douglas Adams, "So long, and thanks for all the fish."