Amazing, bread is the new fad

It’s amazing to see that people staying home has created a fad for baking bread. Who could have imagined that yeast would be in short supply, perhaps one reason searches for information on creating sourdough starter is sky high. And to imagine, just recently hostility to bread, either the anti-gluten crowd or the don’t eat anything white crowd dominated the thinking about bread – now there is a shortage of flour.

I actually don’t quite get it. Making bread is not that time consuming so why now? Just because people are stuck at home unless you’re doing some complex shaping or other complexity in making bread it’s actually rather quick. People had plenty of time to make bread before being stuck at home.

I’ve been inactive about new posts on this blog, of recent, but meanwhile my hits, almost entirely on my blog posts, have really peaked. I guess some of my posts are high enough in search results people are stumbling on them, so I hope my posts have helped.

I don’t see a pattern and I’ve never directly said much about Jim Lahey’s method, but that is really quick. When I do it, it takes me under five minutes to make the dough (having a couple of special tools helps and a digital scale, plus lots of practice helps). Then shaping the dough is another five minutes (again a teflon scraper and a good board help a lot). A bit of preheating the oven, with my baker to get it hot, and then three minutes to put the bread in. Admittedly while the work is not much it is about a 1.5 hour elapsed time but that can easily be overlapped with some binge TV watching.

Even the other techniques are still fast. And I wonder how many people are just using machines which is even quicker.

So having time to do it is only part of the explanation. And homemade bread which necessarily doesn’t have preservatives only lasts two days so if you’re a bread fan and don’t want to buy pre-made bread, yep, a few hours a week.

I hope people enjoy this experience and then expand into many mores ways to bake. I can’t find any statistics but I wonder how sales of the better bread making books are going.

If any new bakers did get anything useful from this blog and are now looking here for tips, please do some comments about why now and if you’re enjoying it.

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Animales en el menú

I’m going to cross-post from my blogs a bit as I don’t feel like just copying the post itself and presenting it as new. In my Spanish menu and Camino blog I, sometimes, have some interesting material so I’ll just reference it here.

Thanks for reading.

Yo traduzco comida

Just in case you ever dine at some restaurant in a Spanish speaking country where some more unusual animals might appear on the menu I thought I’d give you a list.

I like making lists and this was a fairly easy one as there were numerous sources with only a few contradictions. Of course a constant challenge with picking up Spanish words from the Net is some of these might be regional. And while I like crunching through lists (and now I think this one here is the largest one you’ll find) it’s a lot more work (than I want to do now) to research these palabras and see if they’re really 100% accurate, at least according to authoritative sources.

Note: While I list the sources (first column) in this table, just to show how frequently a word appears in various lists, I don’t actually provide the sources, so this…

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Pictures just make some of us feel alone

There was a time before pictures were digital. I should know. Before there were ANY digital cameras I was lucky enough to have a job that allowed me to have access to a system costing over 100K$ (about 1M$ in today’s money) that could actually do real color photos. And very few people had any clue about digital photos. And no one today could care less, selfies galore, more megapixels, more stupid lenses on the latest phone. So now images are ordinary and totally unremarkable and thus totally meaningless.

But, were they ever meaningful?

So here’s my picture. Any clue what it is? Pretty unexciting, not visually interesting. However, probably most of the digital photos uploaded today are no better, maybe not even as good. But who could care about such a mundane photo, not even marveling at the technology that makes it possible to see this.

This spot, totally undistinguishable, is actually in a less visited USA National Park, that is Theodore Roosevelt NP in North Dakota, Cottonwood Campground to be more specific. While not heavily visited probably 50-100 people have stayed in this campsite every year, so literally thousands since I took this picture of my campsite. In the whole campground, maybe 10,000 people have stopped by but I doubt any of them will see this.

And so what, what is this photo. An unremarkable campsite, unremarkable tent (from Bass), a second Gozebo (to sit outside and keep out the bugs, stomped down by the nearby bison that invaded my spot) and some miscellaneous camping gear on the totally ordinary picnic table. Not an image worth a second glance (or even a first glance).

But it meant something to me. I can still remember this spot, how I felt physically, how I felt emotionally, how I happened to end up in this spot, of all places just in the USA I might have gone.

But it’s a blah photo, nothing of interest, one of millions today just as visually unexciting or having any interesting story.

So is this life? Is this day, which meant something to me, and to absolutely no one else, even vaguely, remotely relevant, even to me, much less to any other person on this planet?

Of course not, nor is any photo, that I am not looking at the millions of other photos, that mean something to their creators. It’s all just a big nothing.

So now, with the horrible destruction of the USA by our current dictator, which is affecting millions in horrible ways, but not yet at my doorstep, how could anything mean anything. Soon this beautiful place will be lost to global climate change or the nearby fracking (just outside the National Park) and some zillionaire will have a few more bucks. They’ll hold some event with thousands of people looking at their photos and they’ll be just as irrelevant. In the end they’re dust just like me, their obscene piles of money from raping this planet won’t save them for the end. Too bad, they have to go to some $5000/night resort in Switzerland when such a beautiful spot like this still exists.

But no one cares (or at least not many). Fan, money, glory and power are what rules human existence. So an uninteresting photo like this is really only uninteresting due to your values (and if you have your own photo like this, then to mine). When we only care about the glamorous and flashy things, and expensive and exclusive things, then we really forget what is important.

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This is how I feel now – COLD!

I haven’t posted any photos for a while and meanwhile am sitting around in my workout clothes literally shivering. So it made me think of this:


We encountered this spot while geodashing in midwinter over in Iowa. Actually just two days ago we were also geodashing and went through a bit of Iowa, but mostly avoided this kind of road because it was fairly warm and thus all the snow and ice were melting and the roads were rapidly becoming difficult. Having once made the mistake of going out for a quick geodash, yes in Iowa again, we got completely stuck and ended up spending the night in Shenandoah. Come to think of it that was a primary year too. Surprisingly we saw zero evidence of political activity which is a surprising contrast to previous years.

So writing about this was fine but not enough exercise to warm up any at all.

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A year with Duolingo learning Spanish

via A year with Duolingo learning Spanish

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Some chance photos

Sometimes, while geodashing we stumble on something unexpected like these photos:


No, not a explosion or war, just a tornado. We live close to the center of tornado alley and so get used to hearing about some tornado nearby but it’s rare we actually see anything. We were geodashing and passed through the town of Wayne Nebraska, just a week or so after there had been a tornado. At first we didn’t remember we had heard about it on the weather reports but driving into the town we saw a swath of damage.

Much of it occurred out near the small airport. In addition to the smashed planes like many airports it was an industrial zone of fragile frame and metal buildings, several of which were really smashed to pieces (don’t have shoots of those). The area where the tornado passed through was a bit north of the main part of town so there was relatively little damage to houses, but one motel along the main road was demolished.

When you did see damage like this (or even the worse stuff on news) it reminds one of how fierce nature can be. The tornado doesn’t care what it destroys.

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More food in China

Since I did some of the cliche food pictures in previous post I’ll continue with a few more from that same trip.

One of the surprising things, to me, was the attention paid for presentation in the nicer restaurants in China. Sometimes it’s just something simple, like the photo above, but these items just add a very nice touch to a pleasant meal.

And another surprising thing was the glorious breakfast shown below.

This is the breakfast on the mezzanine, up a grand staircase from the beautiful lobby of the Grand Hyatt in Beijing.  This was hardly just a breakfast but instead a grand brunch buffet. There are massive self-service tables behind me (as I’m taking the picture) which would feed an army but then the two chefs are supplying the freshly prepared hot food. I had the best fried eggs I’ve ever had in any restaurant, expertly prepared. Once back home I read up on optimal cooking technique and tried to imitate what the chef had some easily and casually done. Having the eggs at room temperature certainly helped but I still couldn’t duplicate the perfectly cooked white part.

Of course he’ll prepare any kind of egg dish you want. Many of those bowls you see are for the added ingredients so you can select exactly what you want and as much as you want. For guests that don’t want an American style breakfast the bowls on the right contained many different types of fresh noodles (in cute little bundles) which would be cooked in broth with other added ingredients. Many of the ingredients I couldn’t even identify. The eating area itself was very pleasant and service was crisp and attentive with excellent coffee and juices.

Now this hotel is one of the more luxury hotels in Beijing that caters primarily to the international visitors. Despite the luxury, the hotel itself and the food, the prices were remarkably low for this level of luxury (not low by many standards, but just relative to the level of luxury). I ate breakfast here multiple times and never even managed to sample all they had to offer. I was very lucky this was a business trip and all this got piled on expense account as it would be a bit pricey for a visit.

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Something entirely different

I know that some social media sites are clogged with pictures of food, usually mundane “what I had for lunch today” shots, so this will be my contribution to that “art form”. But relax I only have a few of these and I think these are a bit more exotic.

Note: This is one of my rare multi-photo post so even if you find the narrative uninteresting scroll down for a few more photos.

I’ll start with this one.

You might think this comes from somewhat in Napa Valley or LA. Well, the restaurant was more “modern” and “trendy” than any I’ve seen anywhere in the US and just happens to be in Beijing. It’s just around the corner from the Grand Hyatt which itself just a few blocks from the Forbidden City. But the “cool” factor on this place was through the roof. It might not exist any more since I can’t find it (to get the name I forgot) but it was wow-squared. Incredible presentation, especially for the prix fixee dinner my colleagues enjoyed.

Going to China, on business, was remarkable to me. My sister had visited not long after the early thawing of relations with the US and I was prepared for a fairly primitive 3rd world kind of experience. Instead, at least where we were in Beijing I was in the most modern city I’d ever seen, a kinda Houston (in its heyday) with Asian flare. It seemed like everything had been built yesterday.

But it was food that was even more remarkable. Our colleagues there weren’t serving as guides, but they took us around to their favorite places (my company picked up the tab so our local co-workers were happy to be an our expense account.) Even the local eateries were fantastic. An interesting wrinkle was that prices were negotiated between the restaurant and a company, so our local guys just showed their badges to pay.

The local company my US company owned and was contracting to had offices in both Beijing and Xi’an, so this was a wonderful opportunity to throw in a little tourism plus some adventures in food. So here’s another bizarre item from a really great restaurant in Xi’an.

This creation was designed to look like the seed pod from a lotus blossom and in fact had the “nuts” from a lotus pod. Like a number of items it was a bit more pleasing to look at than eat. But it was a long way from the really icky chicken feet in duck intestine that our hosts (colleagues) decided would be fun to gross us out (you didn’t see them eating it either).

And here’s another mystery.

I have no clue what this is and it’s another item that looked better than it tasted. We often asked our local colleagues what some of these things are and after much discussion we’d get “weed that grows along the road” since there was no English name. At least with the professional (software) people we were with we discovered that the Chinese eat very well, lots of diversity in the food, often quite tasty, usually quite pretty, and rarely like anything you can find in the US.

There was essentially, without it being a deliberate trend, a strong farm-to-table movement. Due to jet lag I was up just before dawn one day and walking around and everywhere there were guys with motorbikes stacked unbelievably high and precariously with crates of mysterious vegetables, making deliveries to the restaurants. It turns out these guys come in from the countryside on buses (equipped to transport their motorbikes) and make daily deliveries.

We also learned another interesting tidbit. Naturally one of our first lunches including Peking Duck (still labeled that way despite the more correct name of Beijing). In fact, many restaurants have large sculptured (and cute) ducks near their door. Anyway the server (a sous chef) must have specific training to serve this item. So the first customer gets served the best parts. Since the food has only been handled by the server it can then be served as a second (cheaper) serving to another customer. And when that part is done it was used a third time to make soup from the carcass, nothing going to waste.

And as a final comment I was discussing cooking with the most senior member of our local team. He’d actually gotten a PhD from Stanford in Physics and worked years in the US and was now managing a software company after returning “home” after some of the liberalizations. Anyway he was an accomplished cook and I fashion myself as a decent cook so we were comparing notes. Almost immediately he objected to my use of the term “Chinese food”. He explained China is far too large with far too many culinary styles to be lumped under a single term. His simple statement was “you wouldn’t call French or Italian food European, would you?” Point taken. He wasn’t objecting that I’d made some insensitive cultural faux pas, but just that I was drastically under-estimating the complexity and sophistication of food in China. Point taken! And much good food enjoyed.

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Why are people more friendly in campgrounds?

This is an old post but I continue to think about this. While I have no more recent experience it is still something I don’t understand.


I meant to write this post a few weeks ago while on my camping trip, but better late than never.

I’ve noticed when traveling to western U.S. vacation spots but also while camping or hiking trails that there seems to be a different behavior than normal life that people, at the very least, speak to strangers, even if just to say hello. However, rarely did this surface friendliness lead to much conversation. But when I began to travel solo I discovered that longer and pleasant conversations with strangers was common. It means that while traveling alone I rarely feel “alone” and that is an unexpected consequence.

So I wondered why this is. So here’s some of my ideas.

  1. herd effect: Everybody does it so quickly all people accept this is the standard behavior. At home it’s different, contact with strangers is rare, but under these circumstances most people seem to…

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Spring snow in the mountains

Continuing with some pretty outdoor scenes here is an unexpected scene.

This is a shot of the turnaround loop in the North Tongue campground in the Bighorn Mountains in early summer. Over night it got cold enough to produce a light snow on the ground. Earlier in the morning the ground was almost entirely covered with wet sloppy snow but as the sun came out it quickly began to melt.

This was not my first visit to this campground but the campground was my first visit to the Bighorns. I literally had no idea where to go so I just piled camping stuff in the car and did the long boring drive, about 1000 miles, to Sheridan Wyoming. There I expected to get information at the US Forest Service office but found it was closed for remodeling. Not sure what to do and very much needing a good forest service map and information I had noticed there was a bike store on the main street in Sheridan.

I went in there and discovered it was a general outdoor outfitter with camping stuff and more importantly a good forest service map. But even better the proprietor was friendly and happy to provide lots of information, especially recommendations about campgrounds. I choose one of his recommendations and headed into the mountains. I’d never been here before so it was great fun to drive the very steep road up to the top. The Bighorns are not really a range of separate mountains so much as a high plateau with then some peaks so everywhere was the “mountain”.

I’d passed the Tongue River driving up through Dayton and Ranchester and then discovered it had a North and South Fork that join in the mountains and then flow east, eventually into the Missouri. The North Tongue campground is quite small, L-shaped, with just a few sites (like 12, IIRC) on the upper (southern) leg that ends in this turnaround so the RVs can get back out of the campground. On my first trip the campground was almost empty and so I had my choice of spots.

On the drive in there had been a lot of moose down in the North Fork of the Tongue which is about 1/2 mile from the campground loop (which is just off Burgess Junction). In the campground loop there was lush spring growth, tons of wildflowers and a bunch of deer munching away on the new growth. It is hard to imagine a more pastoral and tranquil scene. Even when the crowds descended a week later (for 4th of July weekend) the campsites are large and far apart so it’s a great place to camp, especially when you only have a tent instead of RV.

So just lucking out to discover this spot a couple of years later I came back (when I made this photo). By then the campground had been privatized and completely fenced, thus disrupting my almost wilderness experience (I’d parked my car on the campsite pad but carried my tent back in the woods a ways, now behind the fence). So on this trip the campsites were not so good and I ended up putting my tent in the parking pad. After a couple of days this snow came.

All of this reduced the fun of this campsite so I explored and eventually found a better one, Tie Flume and site #22, on the South Fork of the Tongue. Actually I’m glad the adverse changed to my favorite campground forced me to find another since Tie Flume was better, at least those few sites along the river.

The Bighorns are mostly neglected by most tourists on their way to Yellowstone or Tetons and thus more used by locals or people looking for a more isolated nature experience. Having that good forest service map and an AWD vehicle allows lots of exploration. Much of the Bighorns is grasslands, rather than dense forest, so there is good hiking everywhere. It’s a great spot and much better than the other overcrowded spots in Wyoming.

And there are a ton of good scenes for photography. I mostly only took “snaps” while there on previous trips and now with a better camera and more interest I’d love to go back and really focus on some more serious shooting.

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