Friday, September 26, 2008

Sky Bird

A view from Rt 6 in Nevada,
from my last trip:

Frosting the Cake, Ten Year Old Style

No boring pastel colors here.
Let's mix that frosting up Bright Blue!

And because it's a marbled cake,
we need to have marbled frosting, yes?
So the base is yellow:

And blue will be the accent color:

How's THAT for a cake??

(In all honesty, it tastes just fine...
once you get past the appearance)

A Ten Year Old's Idea of Cake

My original plans for this weekend were to go camping,
but I felt icky, so I stayed home.
My nephew came over,
and we baked a cake.

He had been wanting to make a marbled cake.
So he mixed it together in my Kitchen Aid
(with some supervision from me.)
He did think the batter was yummy:

Got to be some more in there...

Now to marble that chocolate batter into the vanilla:

Ready for the oven:

Mono Lake

On my way out of Yosemite I stopped by Mono Lake.
I had seen photographs, but the reality was amazing.
Tufa spires spring up from salty waters:

Rabbit brush was blooming through the spires as well:

There were plenty of seabirds, too,
including this obliging gull:

Stopping there meant that I didn't get home until 2 am,
but it was worth it!!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

High Country Yosemite

View of Tuolomne meadows
(pronounced, near as I can tell,
TWAL um nee)
east toward Lembert Dome:

Cold water!
I waded right in,
thanks to my nice amphibious Chacos.

A closer look at Lembert Dome:

I just had time for a mite of Yosemite,
but I'd really like to go back!

Mystery Tree B

For this tree, I could not get a needle closeup.
(The needles were WAY too high up.)
But this silhouette view determines that there are no 'packages.'
So, either a fir or a spruce, right?

The distinctive bark again is the real giveaway:

Here's a look at more of these trees,
growing everywhere in the eastern Sierra Nevadas:

Identified it yet?
Of course,

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mystery Tree A

The needles are a first step at identification.
I always remember the mnemonic I was taught as a child:
'Firs are flat and flexible,
Spruces are sharp and square,
Pines come in packages.'
Well, this 'package' consists of twinned needles:

And the cones are small- less than 2 inches,
with little pointy bits in the sections
(the tree book had a more technical way of putting it,
but it amounted to basically that):

And the bark was definitely distinctive.
Scaly, almost smooth.

Have you guessed what it is yet?
You are right:
It is a mature LODGE POLE PINE.

Tree Identification

You are in the eastern Sierra Nevadas.
The elevation is approximately 8,000 feet.
Can you identify these two tree types
by their distinctive trunks?

With the aid of my handy-dandy tree identification book,
I figured it out!
(See next post.)

Morning Spiderweb

You may need to enlarge this,
but if you look closely,
you can see the delicate spiderweb in the thick folds of this tree bark.

Blooming Rabbit Brush

Nevada was filled with blooming rabbit brush,
especially the area around Great Basin NP.

The smell is amazing, too.
The dry desert's version of fall color...

Devils Postpile

I took a trip to Devils Postpile in California over the weekend.
The Postpile itself is a formation of columnar basalt,
exposed from glacier action:

Only a section of the basalt is visible to view,
a long curving wall,
with broken columns forming a talus slope at the base of it:

Some of the columns were broken off by earthquake and erosion:

On the far side, another section of the columns is visible:

Monday, September 15, 2008

New Featherbed

So my sourdough bread baking efforts have met with failure...
I'll give it another go later this week.

Meanwhile, I went to IKEA and bought a new featherbed!
Here it is, in its cream-colored cover:

The closeup shows the decorative ties and little embroidered stars.
(I know, it still has creases from being in the package, but it's very cozy!)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sourdough part 3: baking preparations

After letting my sourdough starter sit for another 15 hours or so,
here is what it looks like:

Mixing it reveals streaks of differing colors
(subtle but still visible in the photo):

I nerved up to taste it,
and it doesn't taste as bad as I thought
(or as bad as it smells,
because frankly I don't think it smells that great),
but it tastes, well, like mild sourdough taste.

According to my sources, I *think* it is now mature enough to begin
to prepare for baking some bread.
I want to try a 100% rye bread recipe.
I've never baked all-rye before and it isn't like wheat.
(That I've learned partly from reading and partly from experience.)
Substituting rye for wheat, straight, equals a brick-
dense, tough, untasty.
So I need specifically rye-based recipes.
I've got one I want to try,
more or less based on Andrew Whitley's British book "Bread Matters."
I *hope* I've got the conversions right this time.

First I'm going to mix up what the recipe book calls a 'production starter',
a starter specifically for the bread recipe.
(The rest goes in the fridge, where I will pull it out and feed it to maintain it,
from time to time.)
I've mixed 1/4 cup of starter with 1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons rye flour,
and 1 cup water, slightly warmed.
It looks very sloppy,
not like regular bread dough:

This measures 2 cups almost exactly.
Now I've put it back in its warm spot to double,
which should take somewhere from 12-24 hours.
I will just have to keep watching it.
(The timing is not optimal because I do have to teach tomorrow
and I can't be home all day to pop in as often as I'd like).
Also, I am using a glass container,
for four reasons.
1) A number of my sources have recommended glass
2) It has a plastic lid so if the pressure builds up and the lid pops off,
there won't be any glass exploding.
3) It was bigger than my plastic containers,
4) it had levels already marked off on the container.
So it should be easy to tell when 2 cups has risen to 4 cups.

Because the container is glass (and heavy)
I could not put it directly on the screen atop Mortimer's cage.
So I rigged up a cooling sheet as a support,
my nice Pampered Chef one with legs,
that would put the weight on the cage frame, which is much sturdier.
Let's hope all goes well with this stage...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sourdough phase 2

Ok, so after letting my starter sit for about 38 hours on top of Mortimer's cage,
here is what I have:

Nice bubbles, clearly active.
Sour, slightly wierd smell.
It's like nothing I'm really used to.
Recipes say if I taste it it should be 'mildly tangy' but to be honest,
I can't bring myself to taste it.
It does not smell musty or bitter, though, which I've read are the things to be wary of.
Now I'm going to add some more flour and water.
This time I'm using 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup water,
equal parts.

Stirring it in, I see how it foams up, is kind of soupy
(a good sign, according to my reading)
and even 'stretchy' like early proto-dough.

All of these are good signs, so it's back to the top of Mortimer's cage,
and in another 12 hours or so I will check it again.
It's nice when the project goes well according to just about all descriptions.
There are a lot of directions out there, and how's a novice to decide,
say between plastic and glass containers,
when one source warns that glass can explode with the pressure buildup,
and another says that glass is better for the culture?
So far it seems to be working well, though.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sourdough and Snakes

I have been experimenting with trying to raise a rye sourdough starter for bread.
My first attempt went very awry, after what looked to be an initial success,
because I was using a British recipe and I badly misjudged the amount of water that needed to be put in.
So it didn't work.
After a bit of web research and recalculation, I am trying again,
chronicling the stages as I go.
Very first stage,
1/4 cup organic rye flour,
and 1/2 cup water at 104 degrees F (40 C).


Some of the sources I consulted said it should look like pancake batter,
which is just about right.
The current bubbles are from stirring only,
but it should bubble as it ferments later on.
Now I just need to put it in a container and a warm place.

As for a warm place, I have the Perfect Spot.
The sources I have consulted all say that about 80 F (30 C) is perfect.
Not any hotter,
but not any cooler than 75.
Well, my house is currently about 75 so I could try the counter,
but when I took the temperature of the top of Mortimer's cage,
with the ambient heat lamp next door,
it was just under 80 F.
So the sourdough culture will share space with my snake for a bit.

May it flourish!
I will post on additional successes (or failures).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Dali dolly

Earlier this week Mom and I went to an art exhibition.
In the museum store afterward, we found some artist dolls.
One was of Salvador Dali.
(At first I thought it was Count Dracula,
but the telltale upcurved mustache is definitely Dali).
Mom bought it when I wasn't looking,
and gave it to me for a present.
We showed it to Dad when we visited him at the hospital later that day:

It's pretty amusing.
I think I will keep it in my office.
(Dad, by the way, as you can see, is in good spirits,
even if he has to stay in the hospital for several more days).