I suffer from this generalized arrogance that causes me to believe that intellect and confidence is a reasonable substitute for experience and expertise. Most notably has this recently become apparent in my attempts to construct a bookcase. I purchased a circular saw last week thinking, How hard can it be? Well, I won’t keep anyone in suspense. It’s a lot harder Than I would have thought. Bah. That’s what I have to say. Bah.
Monthly Archives: January 2007
Things that are harder than you’d think: making a straight and perfectly square crosscut with a circular saw
For the majority of my life I have been philosophically opposed to wearing a watch. Any lifestyle choice that forced me to manage my time with such precision that I should need a clock strapped to my person seemed ill suited to my temperament. It may have started with the love-hate relationship I had with my first timepiece, a classic mickey mouse watch. I must have been four or five years old at the time. It was a Christmas present under the tree in a box too small to be an action figure and my mother probably told me not to shake it. When I opened it, I remember being amused by his spinning arms, and utterly confused as to why I should need a watch. I wasn’t in a position to be on time or late for anything in particular, and there was a gigantic clock on the wall in the kitchen. At the time, I was also concerned with little baby/big boy transition, and a Mickey Mouse watch seemed a sure sign of baby-ness to me, though a watch was certainly big-boyish, so there was a degree of confusion surrounding the item. I wore it, because I got the definite sense that my parents were both really into it. At some point the strap broke and if fell of my wrist and the watch broke and that was the end of it, and I think I was just kind of relieved.
A couple of years later my uncle gave my a digital watch, which was quite revolutionary at the time (1982), but again, knowing the time didn’t really interest me so much, and I think it ended up at the bottom of my Lego box, with every other cracker jack prize of my youth.
In middle school I got a hand me down swatch from my step-sister, which was just about the height of accessorization, and there was the summer that I first learned what about watch-tans. Through high school and college, a handful of watches floated into my life and eventually settled to the bottom of a little leather man-jewelry box that had belonged to my grandfather. But still, I wasn’t buying into the whole time-sensitive lifestyle.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I decided to buck up and join the adults of this world who make it their responsibility to know how late they are. My transition watch: the Swiss Army Officer’s watch, a hulking piece of stainless steel man-metal, that despite it’s size (a husky 150 grams) sits comfortably on my wrist. It is the masculine model of my wife’s very practical watch, though in reality I copped the style from the friend who married us. It’s classic, it’s functional, but it doesn’t have a stop watch, I do tend to take it off a lot because of it’s weight.
So, the new apple of my watchful eye [sardonic caesura for the pun to sink in] is the St Moritz Titan II, a titanium paramour of function and style. It’s got a stopwatch, an alarm, is fairly light, and damn sexy looking. It is a watch that screams, “I can do anything, without spilling my drink.”
There are things that I think are important in life, things I value, and things I care about. These are special, unique, priceless, and indeed unpurchasable things. And there there are the toys. One of the problems that I have had in the age of online shopping is that the natural barriers to impulse buying–having to get up and go to the store–are almost completely removed. So, when something tickles the fancy, it is just a hop skip and a click away. And if, with properly vetted online research it becomes increasing clear that yes, it really is the perfect thing and there is no conscionable reason to delay getting it, even till dawn, then click there it is (I’m paraphrasing Tag Team here).
So, as a means of exercising my consumer demons, or more likely as an exercise in frustration, I am going to attempt to codify my wants in writing. The hope here is threefold: first, that by compiling a written record of my material desires I will be better able to gain perspective, and perhaps a handle, on my insatiable cravings for toys, secondly, that the production and existence of a written record will serve to undercut the immediacy of my urges, and thirdly that a generous and anonymous benefactor may attempt, on their death bed, to assuage their guilty conscience by purchasing the happiness of others (ah, Dickensian dreams). Mostly the first two though.
Watching the pregame coverage for the Chicago Bears vs. New Orleans Saints game this morning there was a human interest story about the city of New Orleans and their love of their football team. As part of their fan interviews there was a brief shot of a nun saying “I love our Saints.” How has this not caught on. Why aren’t their droves of fans showing up dressed in make-shift habits and frocks? Imagine the cut away shot of a fan section packed with priests and nuns? Irreverant, maybe, but the fans itching to get their faces on television aren’t the most reverant bunch.
Side note: Chris Daughtry singing the national anthem had the worst facial hair configuration in my modern memory. It was unnatural, deliberate and grotesque. And his soul patch looked like the triangular icon you might click on to reveal his pop-up menu of hideous pop-star outfits. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and presume his eyes were watering from the brisk wind.
UPDATE: Having made this bread many many times now, there are a few things I have noticed. The original published recipe creates a dough that’s just a little too wet and salty for my liking. Instead, I measure by weight and use the following ratio:
Dylan’s Bread ratio:
15 oz bread flour
12 oz warm water
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp of active dry yeast
Try and have your dutch oven in the middle of your oven. If the oven rack is too low, the bottom will be a bit warmer than the 450 and will blacken a bit. I’ve done this a couple of times be accident and thought that we would have to cut off the bottom crust. Not so. It was still pretty darn good, though it didn’t look as pretty.
Lastly, I’ve tried sprucing this up a bit with flax meal, or whole wheat flour or whatnot. The problem is that this bread is so good in it’s basic form, that variations tend to diminish it. In general, for other flours, substitute between about 3 and 5 oz of flour for another type of grain meal and it should work out O.K.
Apparently the internet is all abuzz about this bread recipe, published in the New York Times food section. My father, constantly in search of food-based knowledge to impress me with, brought the recipe to my attention, and then tried to execute it while I was recently visiting him in New York. The results were not what he expected, but I’ll get to that later.
Firstly, as stated in the name of the recipe, there is no-kneading involved in the making of this bread. I know what you’re thinking. “Whaaaaaaa????” Yeah, me too. For those who have never made bread before, or have made it only once and gave up because it was a pain in the ass, this seems like a very attractive notion. For those who have made bread a fair bit, this seems a bit strange. How can impart the crumb with the appropriate texture, how can the bread achieve the structure it needs, without a bit of elbow grease, or at least the dough hook on a kitchenaid? The answer is has to do with the science of gluten and how crossbridges are formed and broken, and I will go into it more at a later date because it’s actually pretty interesting. For now though, I’ll just say this, the key is to make a fairly wet dough with very little yeast and then let it rest and rise for a very long time.
The second important thing to know about this recipe, is that it uses a dutch oven. Baker’s ovens are much better at trapping moisture than home ovens. Steam in the oven is part of what makes bread crusty. Also, contact heat from baking stones, or a really heavy pan can do the trick. The dutch oven, particularly if it’s enameled cast iron, can do both. The Dutch oven is preheated and therefore serves the same purpose the baking stone. The lid of the dutch oven traps the moisture that leaves the loaf as steam surrounding it, and gives the bread an incredible crust.
So, with that in mind, the recipe is as follows.
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 cups flour
1 5/8 cups warm water
Throw everything in a large bowl and stir it together to mix. It will form a wet dough. Mix it enough to make it more or less evenly textured, but don’t worry about it to much. It should look something like this:
Cover it and let it it rest for 18-24 hours. Yes, overnight. It will get little bubbles in it, and when you check it, may look a little fallen. Something like this:
Then, take it out of the bowl and put it on a lightly floured surface. Flour your hands and form it into a round loaf and rest between two floured sheets of wax paper (sprinkling some bran flakes on the loaf and helps prevet it from sticking to the paper). Let the round rest for about an hour and a half, then preheat the oven to 450 degree for about half an hour, with a dutch oven inside. Take the dutch over out, flip the dough into it, cover and put it back in the oven. After half an hour, take the top off to let the crust brown. After another 15 minutes, take the loaf out of the oven and let it cool for about 30 minutes before cutting.
It’s really good.
Though I am, of course, supposed to be working now, diligently preparing manuscripts for publication and relearning so much medicine that I have spent the better part of a decade forgetting, the reality of the situation is different. The reality of the situation is that my time is split pretty evenly between trying to watch everything my Tivo records and reorganizing my digital music collection. Weirdly enough, I am failing in both of these ventures. Why? Discipline.
My days are without structure right now and I have been so far unsuccessful at imposing any. In fairness to my batting average here, it would be overstating the case to say that I have made any effort to do so. It would be more precise to say that I have been unsuccessful at motivating towards formulating a plan for structure.
And then, like a stroke of lighning, the solution hit me. It’s hard to adequately convey the sense of sarcasm I am hoping to imply here. The Abs Diet. One form of discipline is as good as the next. If I can force myself to adhere to an arbitrary diet, perhaps I can impell myself to follow a work routine. Perhaps I can even motivate myself to write more (I’ve been a piss-poor scribner lately). So, there it is: The Abs Diet, my 6 week recipe for rock hard, washboard abs and daily work success.
Plan of action, Part 1: Read the book. I purchased the book a couple of years ago, when it first came out, at Bed Bath and Beyond. I know, I know, who buys books at Bed Bath and Beyond. Well, I was feeling fat, and there it was, and in a moment of weakness I bought it, with it’s ugly orange book jacket that says “look at me, I’m one of those shmucks who thinks they can change their life with a self help book.” The problem is, like all of weight-loss, exercise-plan books, this one feels the need to waste the first half of the book with explanations about why it is the best plan, and the only one that will work, and here’s a testamonial for Johnny Porkenbeans about how he lost 75 pounds of belly fat (results not typical) and it’s totally changed his life. As a discerning reader, it’s really hard to wade through all that crap, and yet, as an obsessive compulsive pedant, I can’t stand the thought that I miss miss some crucial detail if I skip past those chapters. So, I fought with the first half of the book. And lost.
But now… now is different. Because now I have a plan.