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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Yo, mama: we’re proud of you!

I know an extremely talented author who lately has been picking up a lot of steam — as well as accolades. In fact, I happen to be her son.

20111214-101703.jpgMy mom, Marjorie, who retired as a psychotherapist several years ago to pursue her dream of becoming an author, now writes full-time. She’s constantly jotting down ideas, developing plot lines, meeting with other local authors, and sending manuscripts to publishers.

Recently, the publisher of the Short Story America Anthology, which contains two of Marjorie’s short stories, nominated her for the 2012 Pushcart Prize. According to mom, the Pushcart is the “Oscars” of the writing world. We’ll find out the winners soon, but it’s a huge honor just to be nominated. Congratulations, mom!

“The Pushcart Prize – Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976 – is the most honored literary project in America. Hundreds of presses and thousands of writers of short stories, poetry and essays have been represented in the pages of our annual collections.” – pushcartprize.com

If you want to learn more about this fantastic up-and-coming author and see a captivating performance of one of her works, watch the following video.

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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Family, Thoughts

 

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Three tips for baking the perfect loaf of bread

There is nothing like the smell of freshly baking bread. It fills the air with four hours of warmth and coziness that few things in this world can match. But while getting the aroma to waft through the house is easy, making a decent loaf can be a challenge. I’ve created more than my share of hockey pucks and mushroom cloud loaves, so here are my tips for getting the highest-quality results from your flour-filled fun.

Tip #1: Choose the right machine. Baking purists will say you should knead the dough by hand and bake the loaf in your oven. But with today’s technology, you can achieve more consistent results and more precise control using a good bread machine. But not just any old machine will do.

My first bread machine was given to me as a wedding present almost 14 years ago. While it served its purpose, the results were always hit or miss, and I wanted something that I could rely on to produce consistent high-quality bread. So I recently purchased the Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme 2-Pound-Loaf Breadmaker from Amazon.com. At around $250, you might say that it’s overkill. But trust me, the results speak for themselves.

Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme 2-Pound-Loaf Breadmaker

The dual-blade Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme makes rectangular-shaped 2-pound loaves.

Two things make this machine awesome. First, it makes rectangular, horizontal loaves, rather than the vertical rocket ships that most machines produce. This result is even baking and a nicely shaped loaf that more closely resembles what you would buy in the store. Second, it pre-heats all the ingredients to the exact right temperature before beginning the process. This is critical, as you’ll see in the next tip.

Tip #2: Use the right ingredients in the right way. With only four basic ingredients (flour, water, yeast, and salt), you’d think this would be pretty easy to get right, but bread is a surprisingly tricky thing to make.

The key ingredient is yeast, a living organism related to fungi that eats and breathes just like us. It’s this breathing (actually, the process of fermentation) that gives off carbon dioxide gas, which is in turn trapped by the gluten in the flour, causing bread to rise.

But it’s also the most finicky of all ingredients. Heat the yeast too high or too low and it won’t rise. You’ll end up with a dense, heavy dough ball. The ideal temperature is usually between 75-85 degrees F. In addition, you must add the ingredients in the proper order. Since water causes the yeast to activate the fermentation process, if the water and yeast come into contact too soon, you’ll get a bad loaf. Generally, you place the water (and any other wet ingredients) into the pan first. Then you cover the water with the flour, and finally add the yeast on top of the flour, being careful not to get the yeast wet.

The proportions of the ingredients to one another are also extremely important. Be sure to follow the baking directions from your recipe precisely. Even a tablespoon of water or flour can make a huge difference. Beginners can use an off-the-shelf bread mix with nearly flawless results. As you get more experienced, you’ll want to start experimenting with different flours such as wheat or rye, and tasty add-ins, like fruit or nuts. Note that non-white flours will not rise as much as their traditional counterparts, and most sweet add-ins will also weigh down the loaf. Experiment with different ingredients, realizing that your result may not look perfect but might still be delicious.

Tip #3: Let the loaf cool. This last one may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to ruin a good loaf by attacking it too soon. Once the bread machine is done with its thing, gently shake the loaf out of the pan onto a cooling rack. Use a soft plastic spatula to help get sticky sides off the pan. Once the bread has rested for 15-30 minutes, use a long serrated bread knife to cut the loaf into 1/2-inch slices. If you try cutting it when it’s still hot, you’ll crush and disfigure the bread.

Bread making and golf have a lot in common. You can miss the fairway all day, but it only takes one good chip-in to make you keep playing the game. So whatever results you get, be sure to take notes. Just like your golf swing, once you get that perfect loaf, you’ll want to be able to reproduce it every time.

I’m sure there are many other ways to achieve good bread baking results – what are some of your tips? Let me know!

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Family, Random, Thoughts, Uncategorized

 

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Not phoning in my resolution this time

A new study is out that confirms a rising trend: This will just take a seven…salmon…(damn you, autocorrect)… This will just take a second —

Texting and driving don’t mix.

Despite widespread awareness of the dangers that distracted driving can cause, and despite horrific viral video campaigns that will make you wish for a real-life “undo” button, drivers continue to text behind the wheel.

The new research, conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, shows that the number of people who thumb messages or email from the driver’s seat has risen 50% over the past year.

So why the disconnect between the absolute sheer danger and the real-life behavior?  You might think, as with most tragic events, people erroneously think it can’t happen to them.  But that’s not quite it.  What’s happening, the researchers believe, is that people just seem to think they’re better drivers than everyone else, and they can handle the additional distraction — but the other guy can’t.

“Everyone thinks he or she is an above average driver — it’s all the nuts out there who need educating,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

But I’m willing to bet Mitt Romney $10,000 that there’s also some deeper psychological phenomenon at stake, and I hope that will be the next research study the government undertakes.  My hypothesis is that there is some sort of addictive rush that comes from sending and receiving messages. Something chemical in the brain that creates an urge too great to put off, despite intellectually knowing the dangers.  That could explain why so many people support laws banning texting while driving (now illegal in 35 states), yet so many continue to do it.

Some of the other findings from the government study:

  • 90% said that when they are passengers they feel very unsafe if the driver is texting or emailing.
  • In 2010 there were an estimated 3,092 deaths in crashes affected by a wide range of driver distractions.
  • Big majorities of drivers surveyed support bans on hand-held cellphone use and texting while driving — 71 percent and 94 percent, respectively, yet 20% of all drivers and 50% of drivers 21 to 24 years old regularly text or email while driving.

If these numbers aren’t enough to jolt you into changing your behavior, perhaps the video below will. (Fair warning: it’s very difficult to watch.)

And that’s why one of my 2012 New Year’s resolutions is to put the kibosh on cell phone distractions in my car. That means, no texting, no browsing, no Words with Friends.

It can, and it will, wait.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Family, Thoughts, Travel, Work

 

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Having a bad day?

Just look at these faces!

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2011 in Family

 

Coffee extremists unite!

As a self-admitted coffee addict, I thought I had hit the gold mine when I discovered the Keurig single-cup machine. Not only would I now be able to get my Kona fix whenever I wanted, I wouldn’t have to dirty up a bunch of pieces and parts of the traditional drip coffee maker.

But low-and-behold, the Keurig has been one-upped.

Scanomat has come out with the Top Brewer, an elegant, minimalist, extremist, in-counter coffee tap made of stainless steel and directly hard-piped to the water source.

To make matters more compelling, the whole system is controlled via an iPhone app, so that gadget geeks (yes, that’s me also) don’t even have to look up from their Words with Friends game to get their latte on.

Is there a downside? Yes, when the caffeine wears off.

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2011 in Random, Thoughts

 

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