Archive for December 2010
I’ve never been a fan of new year’s resolutions. Most of the time, you end up not following through, feeling bad about it, and then hiding all the related posts on your blog because you couldn’t keep it up.
Oh wait, is that just something I do?
Instead of doing a new year’s resolution that will start on January 1st, I’ve decided to preempt the whole shebang and just start a project today. Today is Thursday 30 Dec 2010 and it’s nothing special. There’s really no reason to decide to start a project today out of all the days, but it’s the day that I’m going to start this one. So what’s the project?
I’d like to do a “My Everyday” project where I try to post a photo and a write a little blurb. I might not post the weekend’s entries until the following Monday, and if I take a holiday somewhere, it probably won’t be posted until after I return, so it won’t truly be “everyday” but you get what I mean, right?
So here is today’s photo:
This morning I purchased the monthly train pass for January 2011. My workplace provides me with commuter checks (a pre-tax deduction from my paycheck) and in order to redeem them, I have to stop at a Walgreens (American drug store). Also, I should mention that I use the Clipper Card, a plastic card that has an RFID chip, to buy my monthly pass. I begrudgingly switched over from the paper ticket to this new-fangled technology when they closed all the ticket offices where I redeemed my commuter checks, thus reducing my options to the Clipper Card alone. Surprisingly, I haven’t had any trouble (yet) with the Card (knock on wood!). The red case is the card holder I use for my pass, the greenish square underneath is my Poketo wallet from the Netherlands, the commuter checks are on the right hand side, and on the left are my windproof, but not entirely waterproof gloves that have little to no insulation and are quite cold.
It’s been a mighty eventful year, and we’ve been crafting lots and lots of upcoming plans and our lives could change drastically soon in multiple ways. I’m super excited about it all of course, and not dreading the whole idea of change at all. I thrive on change! Well, I kinda thrive on change. I like having my little daily schedule, but in the grand scheme of things, I do love embarking on new adventures in general.
Anyway, 2010 was pretty interesting. Lots has changed, lots has stayed the same. Still live with the same guy and the same cat, but now in a slightly different location, made a major purchase, did a spot of travelling, rotated the friend circles a bit, and slowly but surely advanced at my job. Yes, overall a good year. I mean, I am not really the type to look back and think about how shitty the year was in the first place, so saying it was a good year is just what I say.
As for 2011, who knows what it holds? Every so often a girlfriend and I will check our horoscopes (how girly of us). I just checked my 2011 horoscope and am utterly amused that part of it says that:
Friends you’ve known for years will suddenly start doing weird things. You’ll also change quite a bit. Be prepared.
Oh man, that sounds AWESOME! I can’t wait for friends to start doing weird things! That really does sound pretty exciting. I don’t exactly know what "weird" means though. Having friends that sometimes do weird stuff probably means that I think the weird stuff is nothing out of the ordinary. Besides, who am I to say if something is weird or not? It might be unusual or out of character, but it might not be weird. Weird is relative, I think.
I probably act weird a lot of the time, too.
As for changing quite a bit, I’m very happy to hear that too. Change is good. It’s "winter" right now in northern California, and while it’s never really quite winter for me without gobs of snow, it’s as wintery as it gets around here. The houses here are still decorated with twinkly holiday lights that will surely come down in a few days, and the air is brisk and chilly. The trees are either bare or are still clutching onto their remaining bright orange/brown leaves, and I can see my breath in the mornings, carefully crossing the lightly frosted railroad tracks.
I probably won’t write again until after the new year, so I’ll leave you with a nice little photo from my morning commute. I love the golden morning sun this time of year.
"Morning sunlight in Palo Alto"
It has been a go-go-go holiday season for me and I feel like I need a good old-fashioned rest, possibly on a beach with a cocktail that comes with a little pink umbrella stabbed into a piece of fresh pineapple. Ah, that’d be nice. Actually, I hate sitting on the beach drinking stupid fruity drinks. I’d rather be sitting at a French cafe with a double espresso, a camera, the local newspaper, and all the time in the world. Then after I’m done with my coffee, I’ll wander over to the Carrefour and peruse the aisles for a bit and then head over to the cobblestoned city center to people watch. Ok now that would really be nice.
Where o where has my holiday gone? Too many parties, too much family, too much time spent in the car travelling everywhere. Not enough bike riding or grocery shopping or doing things I find stupidly fun like playing video games and petting the cat.
So let’s talk about something nice instead…
I got myself a nice new camera, the Canon S95. Yes, it is digital, yes it’s small, yes it’s not the best camera in the world. But you know what? It’s damned tiny and I’ve been taking it everywhere without a second thought. So far I’ve been loving the photos I’ve taken with it.
(Yes, typical idiot photos I know.)
The whole reason why I got a new camera is because my beloved old one finally broke and the other has been eating batteries like mad lately so it seemed like it was time to get a new replacement. Plus, the retail therapy did me good. Yep.
Expect to see a lot more random photos that have almost nothing to do with "good photography" and almost everything to do with "journaling" or "vanity." I’m sure at some point, I’ll look back on my life in my early 30s and wonder why I was so freakin’ vain and ridiculous. And I think I’ll also chuckle at my ridiculous early 30s self and tell myself that life sure was different back then.
So you know that bread I was talking about yesterday? I baked it up and look how it turned out:
(Click through for full baking notes on Flickr.) I’m pretty happy with it. I tried several new things with this loaf:
- Ratio method for determining quantities
- Slow-rise method for the first rise
- Internal temperature based bake times
- Steam pan in the bottom of the oven for a crispier crust
When I usually make bread, I find a recipe, follow it, and then bake it for the specified time and do the "thump" method of determining done-ness. This time, I got much more scientific, with the hope that I can more easily achieve consistency.
I have a scientific mind, after all, so of course it appeals to me to reduce variables and distill baking bread down to a basic science. Understanding cause and effect means I can predict the outcome of the "experiment." Also, it will allow me to change the recipe as I see fit, specifically scaling quantities up and down and adjusting the crispiness of the crust. I’m still working on it all, but it’s been quite a learning experience trying to make my baking more consistent and formulaic.
This all sounds terribly dry, I know, so on to possibly more exciting things, like photography.
I have a few more photos to share from my little east bay field trip last weekend. The weather has been quite wet lately, so I took some photos of ponds.
With my strange sense of humour, I found the juxtaposition of these photos rather amusing. I might be flying solo on this.
After the giggle-fit, I also felt the need to document the inside of the loo, which was huge and mostly empty. Only one or two other people walked in while I was in there, so I had to wait for them to leave before I took the photo.
It’s always a little unsettling when you see someone taking a reflected shot in the loo, so I try to avoid getting caught. If I saw someone else taking photos in the loo, I’d probably stay there and try to get into their photo. I’m annoying like that. I’d be interested to find myself in someone’s loo photo at some point.
Oh, I was also wearing these tights and those shoes that day:
Bright colours make me so happy. Do you remember when the trend for women was to wear the candy-coloured high heels? I loved that I would look down and see skittle-colours all over women’s shoes. That was so great. I suppose the brightly coloured tights trend is on the way out right now, which means that I stick out more than usual, especially in wintertime when everyone seems to be wearing quite dour earth tones and lots of black and navy (but not often together). I’ve never really followed trends, so I’ll just keep wearing whatever it is that I like and that looks good on me. Here’s to lots more crazy tights and above-the-knee skirts!
For a while, I was baking our almost-twice-weekly loaf of bread myself using whatever recipe struck me from my bread baking book. All was well and good in the world, but then one day I just got lazy and decided that baking our own bread wasn’t worth the trouble and time involved. I believe this happened after a few loaves turned out less than optimal (probably because I rushed the rise and they ended up quite dense or undercooked).
Apparently, I get discouraged quite easily.
However, even though I give up quickly, I also have a short memory and throw myself right back into it. A couple weeks ago, I decided to give homemade bread a go again and promptly made 2 batches of ciabatta dough, resulting in 8 glorious loaves of the most wonderful sandwich bread. Ciabatta is very much my favourite sandwich dough since it has plenty of holes for grabbing fillings, tends to be just about the right size for a sandwich (squarish, depending on how you shape the loaf before baking), and has a nice soft crust and crumb that don’t cut open the inside of your mouth when you bit into it.
(Seriously, when did making sandwich with ridiculously hard and crusty bread become fashionable? I know it’s great for dipping into soups or eating with butter and sandwiches, but I really hate trying to bite around a giant sharp piece of bread that’s sure to make my mouth taste of blood.)
So this time around, with the bread baking, I’m trying to learn about the science behind it. There is something called a "baker’s ratio" that gives you an easy way to remember how much flour and water to combine to make your bread. You should note that I’m talking about measuring by weight here, not by volume. I think you can use the baker’s ratio to measure by volume, but using weight would be much more accurate.
Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio is supposed to be quite a good book for figuring these ratios out, and yes, you can apply it to more than just bread baking. (I don’t have a copy of this book; I’ve just read about it on the internet.)
Having a somewhat scientific mind, I like the idea of distilling cooking and baking down to numbers and ratios. For example, the recommended bread dough ratio is 5 parts flour to 3 parts water. That’s a basic ratio that you would use to create a dough that you can knead and won’t be too wet or too dry. We’re not talking about the high-hydration doughs that are used in the no-knead type recipes. We’re talking about basic bread dough. For me, remember 5:3 is so much easier than trying to remember 450g of flour to 270g water and plus it makes it easier to scale the recipe as I please. This is important because sometimes I’d like to be anal retentive and make a loaf that is exactly a half kilo in weight, and I could do that by mixing 312g flour to 188g water. How cool is that?
Oh, is this only cool to math nerds?
Anyway, I’ve been meaning to get my hands on a copy of his book (probably either used or from the library) so that I can look through it and see what other recipes are interesting. I really just need a good hour at the bookstore and I can probably learn whatever I need from it.
One other thing I’m experimenting with right now is doing a cool rise instead of a room temperature rise. The basic idea behind baking bread is this:
1) Mix ingredients (~1 min)
2) Knead dough (5 – 15 min)
3) Let it rise to about double in size (1 – 1.5 hr)
4) Knead it again and shape the dough (5 min)
5) Proof the bread (a second rise) (0.5 – 1 hr)
6) Bake, let cool completely, and then eat
So as you can see, steps 3 and 5 are the typically the longest times that you just spend waiting for the dough to grow. What’s happening in these steps is that the yeast multiplies and grows, creating carbon dioxide that makes bread puffy and not flat. You know matzoh? That stuff has no yeast in it, so it’s really dense and flat. You can eat a few crackers of it and you’re full before you know it. Man, I love matzoh.
When bread bakers do a cool-rise, it’s to help the bread develop more of a yeasty flavour since it slows down the yeast production. I’m not a food chemist, so I can’t tell you exactly the mechanisms happening, but maybe you don’t really care either. All you have to know is, the longer you let yeast develop, the more likely it is to have a stronger flavour.
I decided to let my batch of dough do the first rise in the refrigerator overnight. I’ll experiment with another loaf next time and do the second rise in the fridge instead. I was going to originally do a second cool-rise, but I didn’t budget my time well and ended up putting the dough into the fridge after sitting out for the first rise for only 20 minutes or so. I hope this turns out well, because I like the idea of inserting an overnight or 24hr cool-rise when I bake bread as it makes the whole 3-4 hours process feel more manageable if you split it up into two days.
You just have to plan ahead a little bit and you’re golden.
I know that planning ahead isn’t everyone’s strong suit, but I guess it’s something I’ll have to do if I want to be a grown-up with a full-time job, plenty of time-eating hobbies, and the desire to bake my own bread.
The end of the year is rolling in and it seems that just about everyone I know is super busy, myself included. I don’t usually talk about work here, but I just have to say that I have a project that needs to be completed by the end of the year, so I’ve been bending over backwards to coordinate between myself and 5 of the manufacturing areas. Wait, do you guys know what I do? I’m a materials engineer, but that might mean nothing to you, so the gist of it is that I work on qualifying replacement materials and parts for stuff that has been discontinued, work on developing new materials for use in current applications, and work on specifications with vendors and customers to make sure we’re buying what we want to buy and installing things the right way. That’s really my job in a nutshell.
But anyway, things have gotten busy, to say the least, especially since I need to complete one of my tasks by the end of the year and it requires me to coordinate time with several manufacturing areas. I was going to take off some time between Christmas and New Year, but it’s looking more like I won’t be taking any time off until January. Normally, I’d be pretty peeved at this, but I have been enjoying everything at work so much that I don’t even care! I’ll get to be at work when it won’t be super-busy and I will probably be able to get a lot more done too, so that makes me pretty happy.
Let’s see, what else have I been up to lately? The cycling club at work gave me the "Most Enthusiastic" award, which consists of a super awesome plaque that is now hanging in my office. More than one person nominated me for this, so this is pretty damned hilarious.
I got back from Chicago last week and have been slowly posting up the photos from that too-short trip. I really need to go back there for vacation soon and probably when it’s warmer so we can walk around without wondering if our fingers are frostbitten.
The convention centre was simply cavernous! The space was huge and since it was December in a Chicago suburb, the centre was quite empty.
The clouds out in Chicago made for some spectacular skies, much in the way that some of the recent morning clouds here have made for some gorgeous sunrises. I watch the sunrise every morning on the train and some days it’s simply fantastic how many different shades of purple andorange the sky turns.
Oh, and I ate quite well in Chicago that lovely Sunday with A. We started off with some pilipino breakfast, complete with red-coloured meat, over easy eggs, and garlic fried rice at Uncle Mike’s Place. It really hit the spot as I was starving after sitting on the plane.
A few hours later, we followed it up with chardogs from Wiener Circle. JC had ordered me to eat a Chicago-Style, so I had to do it! Luckily, A was keen and said we should hit up Wiener Circle for a good old-fashioned Chi-dog with the works (of course).
Early this weekend, I spent some time going out with friends since Fran was still abroad on a business trip. I went to Bazaar Bizarre on Saturday and then visited the Pixar exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California on Sunday. I also managed to rush and finish a hat that I’ve been knitting for a girlfriend who is moving to Chicago next month. She’s a good old California girl, so I figured she’d need a nice warm wool hat and made her a poufy Japanese-hobo hat in dark grey so it’ll go with everything and she’ll wear it all the time. The hat design has nothing to do with the Japanese, hobos, or Japanese hobos, but it’s what I call this style of slouchy hat. Before it was really popular in the states, I used to see it a lot in my Japanese fashion magazines in like the bohemian style, but somehow I started to think of it as a Japanese-hobo hat instead of a Japanese-Bohemian hat, which is just too hard to type/say all the time. Japanese-hobo just rolls off the tongue. I hope she wears it all the time and it helps to keep her head and ears warm!
Oh, and on a sad note, we have two small digital cameras and one of them completely died and the other has become a battery-eater, telling me the brand-new fresh batteries are already dead, when they just can’t be! What a pain in the butt. My camera with brand-new batteries actually died on Sunday when I was out with Darren traipsing around east bay, so I’m pretty annoyed with it right now. When I pointed out the camera failures to Fran (who finally got back from the latest business trip on Sunday), he countered with the fact that the cameras are actually pretty old (the completely broken one is at least 5 years old and the battery-eater is already 3 or 4 years old), so we got a good run out of both of them. Really, I just need to stop expecting things to be reliable, especially consumer electronics. It’s a wonder that my dSLR still works at all, seeing that it’s about 7 years old.
I’ve been bummed about the teeny cameras being broken, but that’s not a good reason as to why I haven’t downloaded any of the weekend’s photos. Just trust that it’s going go take a little while for me to get all the photos up. I’m constantly backlogged, it seems. At least I’m less backlogged than when I was shooting film. I have a few rolls to develop and scan, and in the meantime, I might start shopping for a new point and shoot camera to replace the others.
I’ll leave you with two photos that I took at the Bazaar Bizarre on Saturday.
Cupcakes. I know. I’m not a huge fan of the cupcake trend (no I did not eat or buy any of these cupcakes), but goddammit, cupcakes are just so cute that I fear they’ll never go away. Macarons are the new cupcakes, and I’m all over that.