Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thoughts on Prehistoric Mammals

After my German class this morning, I sat and enjoyed a cup of tea on the porch with Servia. We discussed some science news that she had been reading. One of the articles she read was about a gigantic rabbit species found on an island near Spain. The rabbits are almost unrecognizable as such from the depiction in National Geographic. From there, we branched out more generally into a discussion to prehistoric island species and specifically the pigmy mammoth. Apparently, there were two entirely different types of pigmy mammoth. One was the mammoths of the channel islands, which were much like small elephants. There were also small woolly mammoths that remained in islands near the arctic. While I was reading up on this clarification, I found that there is a depiction of a mammoth from Egypt and some thought that it might be one of the Siberian mammoths or possibly even a mammoth similar to thoseof the channel islands that were found on Mediterranean islands.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Language in Translation

One of the great things about having taken Greek and Latin is that they are languages that teach one to look for the verb in a sentence and worry more about case than word order. This provides a significant advantage learning German, which I will need not only to pass my translation exam for graduate school but also to read probably significant amounts of Plato scholarship.

My reading in German is progressing fairly rapidly-- although we have to learn about 200 vocabulary words per week which is proving to be an insane task. I am certainly glad that I took this class. However, I wonder if my approach to translating will hinder my efforts in learning to speak German someday.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Wine Snob: SuGaSy

A few years ago, through Garagiste, my family discovered an adorable Washington winery called Wines of Substance.The website is incredibly adorable I suggest you check it out. The winery bases its design on the periodic table of elements. Each wine is assigned a two-letter moniker, e.g. Cf for Cabernet Franc. I remember we had a lovely Pino Gris from there a few years ago-- light and mildly fruit without being sweet. We also liked one of their red wiens, but I cannot remember which one.

Garagiste's wine of 2010, the 2008 SuGaSy from Wines of Substance, was chosen on the basis of it being a revenue-raising wine for various charities. We tried the wine last night when my dad's friend came over for dinner. The wine was a reserve Syrah and was great. It was a dark purple wine with a rather sour smell at first, but after an hour of decanting the smell relaxed into a mix of garam masala and earth.The wine was bright and warm, but it was the warmth sun rays through tree leaves and light enough to be paired with a light summer pasta dish. The tannins were delicately balanced. The flavors were mildly nutty with garlic and just a pinch of white pepper. Yum.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

I Finally Got It Right This Time (well..mostly)

 My ciabatta was great! Very light and flavorful. As you cans see, the wholes are a little bit regular meaning that it was probably slight overproofed during the bulk fermentation, but it was wonderful all the same. And it was my own recipe! I put the recipe down as I meant to make it rather than as it was actually made (as I over-proofed it a bit.

Sourdough Starter Elaboration
75g of whole wheat sourdough starter (100% hydration)
162g whole wheat flour
163g water (about 75 degrees F)

245g Bread flour
175g water (about 75 degrees F)
10g Salt (2t)
400g Poolish (all of it)
14g Olive Oil

Mix together the ingredients for the sourdough starter elaboration until they are completely incorporated. Let sit for 4-8 hours for it to almost double. If you don't want to use it immediately, put it in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Use the starter immediately or remove it from the refrigerator and use it immediately or after it warms up. If you use it directly out of the refrigerator, use slightly warmer water. Mix the starter with the water, then mix in the flour and the salt. Mix until the dough is course and sticky. Let the dough rest for five minutes in order to fully hydrate the flour.

Drizzle the olive oil over the dough. Kneed by hand for 2 minutes. Let sit for 5 min.

The dough is stretched-and-folded 4 times over a 40 minute period (as per Reinhart's instructions).

  Place in a lightly-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator overnight.

After this initial rise, place the dough in the refrigerator overnight.

On the next day, remove the dough from the refrigerator about 4.5-5 hours (perhaps a little longer) before baking (if you let it rise at about 75 degrees). At about 1.5 hours in, go through the shaping process.

To shape, turn the dough out onto a floured surface. shape the dough into a rectangle a loose and cut into two pieces with a bench knife or a large, sharp kitchen knife. Gently, without degassing, stretch the dough a little and then fold it in thirds, placing it on a floured surface, seam side down. Dust the top with flour and place under a bowl or under plastic wrap. Let proof for an hour under plastic wrap. Turn seam-side up and stretch into loaves and pat the sides gently to make them rectangular. If you want, you can place them on lightly floured parchment paper, or proof them on the floured surface (if you plan to put the loaves directly onto a peel and then into the oven). Let proof for another two hours. Heat the stone about 30 minutes before you begin to bake. You can load directly from a peel or use a peel or a baking sheet to load one on the parchment paper. Bake at 450 degrees F (or 425 convection) for 15 minutes under steam and then turn the bread around in the oven for 15 minutes to finish. 

The bread was fantastic. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ciabatta - Yet Another Formula

It's been a busy couple of days. I've been doing some emergency tutoring for a student with an impending exam as well as reading Greek and getting used to studying for my German class.

As a break, I have decided to try out my half whole wheat recipe for ciabatta as my last off-the-cuff ciabatta recipe turned out so well. We shall see how it works.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bagels: A Fun, but Questionable Enterprise

So I decided to go wild and make some bagels. I now realize while some authors caution people about bagels: they're really hard. A bunch of the mistakes I made were from attempts to alter the recipe. However, most of the problem was that I was simply not prepared for the difficulty of the boiling process. I tried to make a modified version of Wild Yeast's Potato Peppercorn Bagels and a modified version of the whole grain bagels from Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads.
Soudough Potato Peppercorn

Spiked Sourdough Whole Wheat
You can see that the bagels were not exactly perfect. I accidentally did not let the Potato bagels rise enough before they went in the refrigerator, and consequently there were very small and dense. I changed the whole wheat bagels so that they used sourdough starter spiked with 3/4 teaspoon of baker's yeast. I left them out for slightly too long and they overproofed. They became really wide and did not rise very much. However, they still taste fairly decent. I need to add more honey next time.

Maybe I'll try again some time in the next few weeks.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Wine Snob: Cabernet Sauvignon Double Feature

Two great wines, one post.

On Servia's birthday, we went out to dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants. It's a lovely little Italian place and we brought a bottle of wine given to us by my mom's brother on his last visit. It was a 1998 Christopher Creek Cabernet Sauvignon from Dry Creek Valley (Bradford Mount). The wine was a dark ruby color and it was a medium bodied wine that was musty and spicy. I happened to read the label after I had written my account of the wine. It said: "rich, fruity, intense, full-bodied, ruby wine." It's interesting how a wine changes over the years. It balanced wonderfully with the food. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture.

On the night before Father's Day, on which we were also celebrating the birthday of a long-time friend of the family, we had another lovely wine. It was one of the Mystery Wines from Garagiste, meaning that it was repackaged under the name Renegade Wine Sellers. It was a 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Columbia Valley, Washington.
Having a coding problem righting the bottle.

Unlike the 2007 Columbia Valley Red Wine packaged under Renegade's label which was merely mediocre, this was a fabulous wine. This fabulous Cabernet was aubergine and smelled acetone or the interior of an old trunk (the drinkers were divided in the assessment). It was a full bodied wine with notes of truffles, dark chocolate, with a bit of rich soil and a dash of nutmeg or cloves. As an important note, we let this wine decant for about two-three hours, or maybe a little more before drinking it because every review said it needed substantial decanting. I am glad we took that advice. I would highly recommend both the wine and the decanting of it.

A picture of the bottle is forthcoming.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reading vs. Speaking

 Jannach's German for Reading Knowledge
I am taking a German class for graduate students this summer (starting Monday) in order to prepare me for graduate school. Any graduate program in classics will require translation exams in (usually two) modern languages. Much classical scholarship appears in Greek and French. I need this not only to pass the exam but to also look like a serious candidate for a department. On Stanford's website they say: "Modern languages are needed, too--as part of your professional development, you will have to pass a German translation exam plus one in French, Italian or modern Greek, and there is very little time in graduate school to learn these languages from scratch" (Classics department website).

I had five years of what I might call "tourist French" over the course of middle school and high school. It was basically useless. I can mostly understand basic French when it is spoken to me at a moderate pace and read very very basic short pieces (with a dictionary), but I can neither write nor speak with any skill whatsoever (other than asking for directions to the nearest bakery or similar). I have spent a little bit of time over the past week attempting to revive my French. It is going to be a hard slog, but it appears that learning Latin has made French a little easier.

My class this summer will take me through the process of learning how to read and translate German, with little to no emphasis on speaking. In general, I'm pretty excited. Even the practice sentences in the textbook are more interesting than any modern language textbook I have ever seen (mostly basic assertions of fact about famous physicists and philosophers). But I do have that nagging feeling: what if I actually need or want to talk to someone in German at some point? Have I chosen the wrong path?

The rational answer is probably not. I can always learn to speak (at least to people in my own field) once I build a technical vocabulary and I will far prefer reading scholarly texts than anything else I might read in a basic introduction. Plus, it's what I need for graduate school. I think I made the right choice.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Gore, Fire, and Random Updates: A Collection of Thoughts

For politicians in the United States, Friday is affectionately known as "take out the trash day." The reason for this is that media outlets have some number X column inches to fill and if you give them one story on Friday (as less people read the headlines over the weekend) they will fill it with that, but if you give them five stories, each story is only X/5 column inches. So, in general, politicians dump their negative stories in the Friday trash.

In that tradition, I thought I would jumble a bunch of stories together for today's post. This is just because I have a couple of things on which to follow-up as well as some general thoughts and I have been rather busy in the last few days as there is now a deadline for transition in my life: I am going back to school in the Fall. I now am trying to prioritize what i need to do before beginning school.

Gore: By "gore" I mean the noun version of "gory" rather than the former vice-president. Last night I spent a while typing up a preliminary version of my reading list for my graduate school applications. Many of the grad schools require that applicants send a list of all of the texts that they have read in the original classical languages. As I was hunting down syllibi and typing up my list, I realized that I have little memory of any of the texts that I read for my Latin Civil War class. I was stressed and tired during my final semester in college and poured myself into my thesis more than anything else. I also had terrible insomnia because of all the stress and my memory became very poor. I almost think it's insincere to write down the whole number of pages I read in this class. My original solution was to reread it. But then I remembered: I also really did not enjoy the reading. The class itself was ok. The teacher was great and I remember loving her military diagrams. However, we read Caesar and Lucan's account of the civil war in Rome. Caesar's account is a complete bore and the battle plans are often hard to follow (hence the military diagrams). Lucan's account is interesting for about the first 200 lines until he starts talking about the civil war. At that point it becomes so melodramatic and gory that it's just completely joyless to read. For context, Lucan the nephew of Seneca the Stoic philosopher, and a writer in Nero's court. Lucan was one of Nero's contemporary and rumor has it that Nero sentenced Lucan to death because Lucan was a better writer than the emperor. To be fair, Lucan was probably involved in an attempt to depose Nero. Furthermore, Lucan's Latin is tough: he writes Silver Epic and the commentaries are almost completely useless except for intertextual references. This is partially because no one likes Lucan: his content is overblown and his hexameter is boring. I may reread excerpts or read them in English so I don't babble like an idiot when asked about them.
Civil Wars (Loeb Classical Library) Lucan: De Bello Civili I (Bcp Latin Texts) (Bk. 1) Lucan: De bello civili Book II (Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics)
Fire: There was an interesting article about Mercury today in the New York Times.

Random Updates: If you have been following my blog, you probably remember that last semester I took a Calculus class at a local community college for fun. I enjoyed most of the class, but I found some of the relearning more difficult than I had expected. Worse, when I showed up for the final, half of it was completely foreign and I left feeling dejected, as I had spent a long time studying. To my great surprise, I actually did well on the final and got fairly good grade in the class. Woohoo! I am even considering taking the next calculus class when I get the chance.
Calculus: The Classic Edition

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Graduate School

Cerinthus reminded me recently that I have to start getting my graduate school applications together and take my GRE. It's going to be a long slog: I have to do a lot of research into which departments have professors with whom I am eager to work, have strengths in my areas of interest, and provide funding, as well as trying to figure out how to rank schools by my choice and by the likely hood of acceptance.

It's going to be a really long process. Some of the schools want a 15-20 page writing sample while others allow it to be up to 30 and each seem to have slightly different requirements. Some universities give strict guidelines about statements of purpose or lists of ancient texts read by the applicant, while others provide vague parameters or use odd terminology. Luckily Propertius II and Herodotus II both journeyed quite successfully through this process and will be of some help, although I will greatly miss meeting over skype to translate with both of them (they will be very busy in their Greek prose survey class as well as everything else).

A professor at the wonderful school which will welcome both of my dear friends in the fall demanded a bare minimum vocabulary of 1500 words from Campbell's Classical Greek Prose: A Basic Vocabulary. I have a lot of work to do. Although I recognize quite a few works, I am having trouble with my 50 flash-card section of Greek, Classical Vocabulary Cards: Academic Study Card Set. Oy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Time to Move On

Today, my bread was beautiful. Both of my loaves sang like angels (well...I exaggerate...the crust crackled sweetly) and it tasted wonderful. So I have decided I need to move on. My Tartine bread is great and it is time to learn my next bread craft. Here are some pictures. More tomorrow (I have a lot of Homer to read).

My whole wheat turned out well, but the crumb was not perfect. I also still have not learned how to properly roll a brad in rolled oats or seeds. Someday soon, I hope. It was really yummy, though.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Busy Days

It's been a busy day. I made some bread which is proofing overnight in the refrigerator. I read some Homer and realize once again how much work I have to do. I have also been addicted to listening to iTunes U classes from Berkeley and various other places.

Earlier today, Servia sent me a clip from the Tony Awards. I didn't watch it since I'm not much of a fan of musical theater post the 1960s (I am a big Fred Astaire fan). This, however, was pretty funny. Especially Brooke Shields, who apparently has some minor stage fright (or so she claimed when she spoke at a graduation at my high school a few years after my own-- but that is a story for another time).

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Real and Fictional Bookstores

When I read trashy fiction, I tend to read books about books. The Thursday Next novels, The Club Dumas, Shadow of the Wind (which was fabulous and not at all trashy), etc. I am a total bibliophile: I love books, libraries, bookstores, and most places that worship the written word. I read much more slowly now-- as I primarily read nonfiction, and read more articles than books, but I love books in the same way that I did as a child.

In all of the books-on-books, there seems to be some vision of a perfect bookstore or library. Often the bookstores are in exotic stone buildings or have underground tunnels with musty shelves and rare volumes. In my lifetime, I have yet to encounter such a place. Powells (Portland) and Elliot Bay (Seattle) are fabulous to be sure, but they lack the grandeur of my dream bookstore or library. As it turns out, some of these bookstores still exist, or did until recently. Servia sent me a wonderful piece on an old man who ran a bookstore devoted too early editions of Jules Verne. I am not a fan of the author, although I read plenty of Verne in my time, but the bookstore sounds marvelous enough to be out of one of my trashy novels. It must have truly been a magical place, and I wish that I had been able to visit Paris in time to see it while it lasted.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Primordial Musings

Yesterday, I read an incredible article on jellyfish in the New York Times. I realized that they were a primitive life form, but I had no idea that they were three times older than the first dinosaurs and had survived five mass extinctions. The article is quite fabulous and I highly suggest it to anyone interested at all in marine biology.

Infinite Summer: This is my fourth (?) day of Infinite Jest, and I still have little good to say about it. I feel slightly less in the dark than before because some of the characters have been given names instead of obscure nicknames which makes them significantly more identifiable. My greatest compliment for it is that it is is more articulate and sophisticated in verbal style than the stories to which I have been comparing it (Oy, The Dogfish Series), but, on the other hand, "The Dogfish who Swallowed the Universe" was written by a twelve-year-old.

Speaking of primordial, I reread "The Dogfish who Swallowed the Universe" today, after my Infinite Jest allotment. I realized that I glamorized the story significantly because I spent so many hours of my formative youth arguing over it [1] with it's author (who, for convenience, I will refer to as Sockhead [2]). I was even inspired to write a similar work of my own around the same age that was a historical and religious parody instead of a social commentary. However, there is still a life and a humor in it that is not only precocious, but still holds up to this day.

"So it was that a cluster of naive lunatics met in a pub" (DSU. 1) and the story is off describing each of the characters. I wanted to quote one of the funniest sections, but most of them require references from earlier in the work to make sense or included a set up that was simply more than I wanted to type out. One vignette-like struck me as amusing. It lacks the subtlety and humor of other scenes (in fact it isn't particularly funny) and the writing lacks a degree of verbal artistry built up in the sequels "Hell Heck" and "Trousers," but in a stand-alone moment it provided a snapshot of the staccato absurdest style that reminds me of Infinite Jest.
"We decided to walk to a place we had sighted on the way to the inn, two or three blocks away. It was a Liberian fast-good pub called Ye Olde Liberian Fast-Food Pub. All of the rooms had themes. Our table was in the "fluffy fire-hose room." Our waiter looked like a cross between a stereotypical caffeine-addict and a stereotypical boy scout. He introduced himself as John and promptly died. I guess Abilio Manuel Guerra Junqueiro was correct. The manager said our waiter was under some stress because there had been a lot of complaints directed toward him. When I asked why, he said that John was more than a waiter; he was also a curator. He curated the rooms. He was criticized for putting stratified rocks in the ocean room. He thought that all stratified rocks came from the ocean. I guess he trusted Abraham Gottlob Werner's theories too much." (DSU 6).
Maybe my problem is that as much as I appreciate parts of Infinite Jest, I find it rather joyless and have not laughed or even cracked a smile at those things which I believe are supposed to be funny. While silly and unrefined, I found myself smiling and laughing at "The Dogfish who Swallowed the Universe." I am certainly a proponent of dark humor, but joyless humor seems like an oxymoron.

  1. The story at once a bizarre fantasy, an exercise in humor, and a social parody of our social group. Any understanding of social dynamics I possess came from discussing, nitpicking, and expanding the social commentary from this book. My interests in social dynamics became so focused that in "Hell Heck" (the second story) my character was described thus: "Gruiforms had sort of become a "watcher." She merely watched (and watched and watched)" (HH 2). Obviously, my opinions are skewed.
  2. At the time when this story was written, the author of the story constantly wore an eccentric gray beanie (for lack of a better term) which, when not being worn, looked a bit like a sock. This vague resemblance caused the author to refer to himself as "Sockhead" when some pseudonym was required.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Books and Science

Back when I was in high school, I read Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. Although, as with all of Dan Brown's plots, it focuses on the conspiracies withing Christian hierarchy and doctrine, the specific plot centered around a container of antimatter. This, however, has not been an achievable feat. Only recently have scientists been able to keep antimatter particles around for 1000 seconds (specifically antihydrogen). Servia sent me an article about it.

Update on Infinite Summer: Maybe I have poor taste, but I am still not a fan of Infinite Jest after reading another 2%. Although the language is erudite and interesting and the images are eccentric, much of what gestures toward humor relies upon a type of gross imagery that gets rather boring and repetitive. When I heard about the book, I was expecting something like an absurdest-humor non-fantasy version of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell with a plethora of footnotes and backstory. I'm going to stick with it for the moment.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Infinite Summer

Infinite Jest 
Twitter recently alerted me to a project called Infinite Summer, which is a blog project that guides individuals through David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest during the summer. I think that the idea is that Infinite Jest is a "hard" novel, by virtue of it's length and plethora of endnotes, and that people need guidance. I need guidance, rather, because I often find it difficult to stick with fiction because I often find non-fiction much more interesting. At least four of my friends have recommended Infinite Jest to me, so I thought I should try it. I have read just over the 1% required to start (I am using the % because I do not have page numbers in the kindle edition) and I am following the Index of Guiding Posts. I am going to try to stick with it.

Initial Thoughts: I am not a huge fan thus far. To me, the book reminds me of a combination between Kurt Vonnegut, Dave Berry, and mild nausea. To be fair, the last one may change tomorrow-- I happened to spend a large portion of today moderately nauseated. Actually, the closest thing to Infinite Jest that I have read was a series of three short stories my best friend from elementary wrote called Oy, the Dogfish Series, which was impossibly clever. I know this is going to sound like it's stretching credulity but I have a feeling that this friend may have read a portion of Infinite Jest because of the similarities in the style. This is the same person who, in fifth grade, goaded me into following his path reading Animal Farm, 1984, Lord of the Flies, Lord of the Rings, and various other novels usually over the head of kids that age (many of which I did not understand until years later). What may seem even more absurd is that I actually like "The Dogfish that Swallowed the Universe" and it's sequels significantly better thus far because voice of the narrator was more charming even with the same verbal gestures that I have observed thus far in Infinite Jest. This may be part of why I was not an English major.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Spiked Sourdough Ciabatta

My second grade teacher, who was a great influence in my life well past second grade, is moving away to be closer to her kids. I have not seen her in some years, but Servia has kept in touch with her. I wanted to go see her and bring a loaf of bread as a gift so we could all have a parting snack. I wanted to make a sourdough, but something that was not overly sour (as I do not know her tastes very well) and I wanted to make sure it was fresh. I didn't have the full three days to make Tartine Bread, so I decided to make Norwich Sourdough. Unfortunately I left my "elaborating" sourdough starter out on the counter all day until Servia reminded me about it at about 11pm. At that point, it was going to take to long to make the sourdough. Instead, I doctored the Sourdough Pizza Dough recipe to make it into ciabatta. Here was my process:

Sourdough Starter
  • 100g mature sourdough starter
  • 65g bread flour
  • 65 water
Final Dough
  • 500g bread flour
  • 15g whole wheat flour
  • 400g warm water (95 degrees F)
  • 14g salt (2 tsp)
  • 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
Day 1:
  • Make the sourdough starter. Let it sit for 4-12 hours.
  • Mix together the sourdough starter with the water, salt, and yeast.
  • Then mix in the flour until you have a smooth-ish mass. Let sit for 5 minutes.
  • Drizzle the olive oil over the dough and kneed the oil into the dough for about 2 minutes.
  • In the bowl or on a lightly oiled surface, use the Peter Reinhart stretch-and-fold technique: do 2 stretch and folds, wait ten minutes and repeat, wait ten minutes and repeat, and wait ten minutes and repeat.
  • Cover the dough with plastic wrap (or similar) and place it in the refrigerator overnight.
Day 2:
  • Take the dough out and place it at room temperature (70-75 degrees) for 2 hours (about 4.5 hours before baking)
  • After the two hours, turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Gently make the dough into a rectangle and fold it in half.
  • Cut that in half and separate the two pieces of dough.
  • Fold each of the two pieces and fold the dough in thirds like a letter. Turn the dough seem side down onto a piece of floured parchment paper.
  • Let the dough rise for 2.5 hours. If the dough pieces seem to small to you, after one hour gently stretch the dough into slightly larger rectangles.
  • 30 minutes before baking, heat the oven and your steaming mechanism of choice to 500 degrees.
  • When ready to bake, slide the dough, parchment and all, into the oven and bake under steam for 15 minutes. 
  • Turn the dough around and bake for another 10-12 minutes, or until the bread is 210 degrees F. It should feel hard on top and be extremely light weight.
I spiked the dough with bakers yeast in order to prevent it from becoming too sour. If you want more sour ciabatta, leave out the bakers yeast and maybe tack on another half hour to the final rise (that is a guess).

My pictures were not particularly artful, but both the crumb and the flavor of the bread was wonderful. An easy, lovely, new ciabatta.