New Photography Toys

So, our favorite camera store was having a sale the other day, and we picked up a new lens. It’s a ProOptic 500mm f/6.3 Manual Focus, T-Mount Mirror Lens, which … is essentially a telescope that mounts onto your camera. Because it’s a reflector lens, it’s actually fairly short, and not weighty at all, so the camera is fine mounted to a tripod (rather than having to mount the lens to the tripod). We’re still waiting on a Bower SLY2X 2x T-Mount Telephoto Extender for T-Mount Lenses (it was on back-order). With that 2x extender, we’ll have a 1,000mm lens!

Skyway Drive 281

What does this mean for our photography? Well, first off, it means well be using the tripod a whole lot more frequently, as it’s nearly impossible to shoot a non-stabilized 500mm lens, never mind trying that with a 1,000mm lens. Second, it means we’ll be able to get a lot more detail out of our pictures of hummingbirds or the moon or anything else we can think of which would be better much closer in.

It’s quirky, and has a very narrow depth-of-field, but it’s also quite nice to sit here in bed with the camera set up next to the bed, focused upon the hummingbird feeder.

Skyway Drive 286

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

-D

Posted in Photography | 2 Comments

Fudgy Brownies

OK, folks, this is a recipe you’ll want to take note of, and use frequently. This first batch I made, I followed the recipe. Next time I think I’m going to go with an alternative sweetener (Swerve / erythritol) so that this can be lower-carb as well as gluten-free. I did add in about 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/8 tsp each of allspice and cloves. Maybe next time I’ll add in some cayenne pepper as well, just to take these to that next level of awesome-gooey-awesomeness. Really, people: I don’t like chocolate and I like these.

T. tells me I need to talk more about the baking, and about the chocolate (Guittard Akoma Extra Semisweet chocolate chips). Ordinary chocolate chips or chunks contain about half as much cocoa solids (16% to the Guittard’s 33%). The Guittard also has a much better temper, meaning the chips melt more slowly when baking (or when you pop one into your mouth – to test, of course). This is one case when the dish is all about the chocolate, and it pays to get the good stuff.

As always, there are others baking this same thing this month. You can find them over at Avid Bakers Challenge. The recipe can be found at Scientifically Sweet, or below.

Fudge Brownies 2

Fudgy No-Butter Brownies (gluten-free)
Makes 16 brownies

  • 2 cups (300 g) icing/confectioner’s sugar
  • 2/3 cup (56 g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 200 g (about 2 cups) ground almonds/almond meal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 5 oz (about 2/3 cup) best quality dark chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate, plus extra for topping
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch pan with parchment paper, letting it hang over the edges of pan.
  2. Sift icing sugar and cocoa into a large mixing bowl. Add almond meal and salt and stir to combine. Add whole eggs, egg white, water and vanilla extract and stir until smooth. The batter will be thick. Stir through bittersweet chocolate.
  3. Scrape batter into your prepared pan, smooth the top and scatter extra chocolate over top. Bake until a shiny crust forms and a skewer inserted into the center comes out with a few moist sticky bits, about 25-30 minutes.
  4. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool slightly. For neat slices, let cool completely before slicing.

One thing the recipe doesn’t point out is that this batter won’t smooth out on its own – if it goes into the oven with irregularities on top, that’s how it will come out of the oven. So, I’d say to use an oiled spatula or maybe some oiled non-stick wrap to smooth things out before baking.

-D

Posted in Baking, Recipe | 1 Comment

Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)

Low-carb Biscotti 1

Okay, maybe not ANYTHING, but…

SOME baking can readily be reframed as either vegan or low-carb/gluten free. Not both, usually, but we do what we can, and anything wheat can do, almond can do… with a little help from its good friends Egg and Xantham gum.

February’s Avid Baker’s Challenge was a lovely orange-zested biscotti, and it was obvious that the crisp cookie would lend itself well to almond flour with no real fuss – no doubt tons of people have already tried it. Using the basic recipe that we used for ABC, we did a little tweaking and came up with something new:

Almond Flour Biscotti

3 Tbsp Butter, softened
2/3 cup granular sweetener
2 tsp Vanilla extract
2 large Eggs
2 cups Blanched Almond Flour
1 Tbsp Coconut Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 finely chopped almonds
1 Tbsp. orange zest
Low-carb Biscotti 3Preheat your oven to 350°F/180°C/ gas mark 4. Lightly grease an 18” x 13” baking sheet (or line with parchment).

Cream together butter and sweetener. Add vanilla and beat in the eggs. Next add flours, baking soda and salt, and stir in the nuts and orange zest. The original ABC recipe called for chopped dates; an optional add-in 1/3 c. chopped dried cranberries. This will be the STICKIEST biscotti dough you’ve ever encountered so wet your hands before forming it into the first bake loaf, mounded slightly higher in the center. Do make sure you mound it somewhat (more than you see in the picture there), because it will spread a bit – possibly more than you expect – and you want it to have that traditional biscotti appearance. Following Hanaâ’s lead, we scored the top of our loaves and baked for 30 minutes.

It’s advisable to cool the pan entirely after the first bake – at least twenty minutes – and lower your oven temp to 300°F/150³C/ gas mark 2. NB: Almond flour baked goods are really fragile unless cooled, so a word to the wise! Once cooled, THEN remove the cookie loaf from the pan, slice it, and lay your slices down for the second bake. Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on how golden-brown you’d like them. After another long cooling period, you can dip or drizzle them with chocolate, which matches really well with that bitter orange zest, or enjoy them as is, with a cuppa. They’re also good with only ONE bake, if left out, as almond flour cookies will continue to crisp if left to cool in open air.

The biscotti pictured below never made it *cough* to that second bake… ah, well.

Low-carb Biscotti 5

Hat tip to Pille, who reminded us we hadn’t yet posted the recipe on these!

Posted in Baking, California, Food | 1 Comment

Swirled Rye

Skyway Drive 276

It is officially Spring next week, but weirdly high temps last weekend – and the inevitable long run of allergies – have had us already convinced that winter’s thrown up its hands and given up for weeks now. Once the time changed, and we recovered from that (and ask, along with a cranky nation, “HOW IS TIME CHANGE STILL A THING????”) we begin to notice the inevitable return of energy and interest in the outside world. The asparagus are fronding happily, the strawberries are blooming – in March, no less – and while the blueberry bush is sullenly not producing leaves or any sign it has noticed that it’s supposed to be alive, the wildflowers which escaped the confines of their boxes last autumn are creeping all over. Oh, and the roses are all red leaves and ambitiously fat buds.

The drought rolls on, unfortunately, though we’re still holding out for late Spring rains. The State is relegating us to two days of lawn-watering per week, and while we would happily let the lawn die or rip it out, we’re still renters, so… The plants in our tiny garden plot will have WaterSorb added to their soil as always, and we’re limiting ourselves to just a few things, and looking to see where we can reuse gray water to irrigate. Meanwhile, the chores which were safely put off over the winter – dealing with the streaky windows and wind-driven leaves in the garage – could be put off no more, and last Sunday was a day of chores, chore, and then, more chores. Fortunately, some of the chores were relaxing, like the usual every-other-Sunday baking to replenish the bread supply, but the baker, being Himself, must always Keep Things Interesting, and so he decided to make marbled rye bread.

Spiral Rye 2

Spiral Rye 3

BiRye, as certain people have coined it to annoy the baker, is something we usually see in fancy hotel restaurants, and we’ve always wondered at its …point. There’s not really much difference between the flavors, so apparently it’s just a two-colored thing because Pretty? We used King Arthur Pumpernickel, made from coarsely-ground whole rye berries and “regular” dark rye flour, which is a finer grade. Neither flours have much in terms of gluten, so the usual failsafes were put into place; a long, slow rise, specifically controlled liquid, and a little help. We used the King Arthur Rye Improver, which includes acetic and lactic acids, diastatic malt, vital wheat gluten and potato flour. Additionally, the traditional caraway seeds were added to the light side. While most of the time people turn up their noses at the strong flavorings in rye (and we didn’t really appreciate the added souring, as we prefer plain pumpernickel), we were making a real attempt to have a very different pairing of flavors melded into one bread. On the dark side, the traditional cocoa was used to darken and enrich the flour.

We used a narrow, tall pan – a refugee from the defunct Wonder Bread factory in Oakland, given new life in a non-commercial kitchen (thrifting and garage sales, man. Gotta love ‘em.). Pans that are taller, narrower at base and deeper are great for low-gluten or gluten-free yeasted loaves, as the sides help to support the heaviness of the sticky dough and encourage a actual bread shape. We raised the bread in a warm oven for an hour and baked at around 350°F for 45 minutes and — wow. We could hardly wait to slice it. The patterns on the bread vary from slice to slice, and it is really, really pretty.

Spiral Rye 6 Spiral Rye 8

…better still, it’s delicious.

D. made three loaves – one full pumpernickel, one light rye, one marbled. Next time, he will just do one loaf in the big pan, and call it done, which will give the slices more height and heft. T. was pretty taken with the whole cocoa thing because …chocolate, okay? With a deep strawberry jam, the plain cocoa-pumpernickel would be amazing pain de chocolate toast. The light caraway-flecked side lends itself to pickles and mustard and mild, creamy cheeses. You mightn’t think that the two would come together, but… somehow, they do, to produce a balanced and tasty toast, and a really sandwich-worthy bread. It is not just decent – it is surprisingly good.

This is, of course, nothing like the fancy-looking but ultimately bland-tasting store-bought marble-swirl loaves (which use caramel color, rather than cocoa, and way more wheat flour than we do). Our recipe goes something like this:

  1. Combine 4 cups cool, filtered water, 4 cups whole wheat flour, and 1 tsp yeast.
  2. Let the mixture sit, covered, on the counter, for 24 hours (stir it a couple of times).
  3. Mix this with an additional 2 tsp yeast, 1 Tbsp salt, and enough pumpernickel flour to make a very sticky dough.
  4. Shape into loaves and let rise until more than doubled in size.
  5. Bake in a 350°F oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the temperature as taken with a probe thermometer exceeds 190°F.
  6. Let the bread cool, covered with a tea towel, until it’s completely cool.
  7. Slice and refrigerate.

Now, obviously, D. divided the dough and added cocoa and molasses to one half and dough improver and caraway seeds to the other half. Feel free to do so, or go your own way with it. We think you’d enjoy the swirled loaf, though, if only because it’s wonderful to be able to say that you made it yourself!

-D & T

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March Avid Baker’s Challenge

Lemoniest Little Lemon Loaf 2

For this month’s Avid Baker’s Challenge, we’re doing a Lemoniest Little Lemon Loaf recipe. This recipe was quite easy to follow, and came together very easily. I would say that I think the writer went a wee bit overboard with cautious instructions, and that things could probably have been treated a bit more roughly than it sounds, as the batter is very thick and seems quite forgiving.

For ours, because the recipe was for a “little” cake, I tripled the recipe (which left me with leftover egg whites, which got turned into wee almond cookies, but that’s a recipe for another day). I probably should have quadrupled the recipe, given that I put it into a 16″ x 16″ pan … but, it turned out nicely, and there should be enough for some of the ravening horde of my coworkers to get some.

I also deviated from the recipe by increasing the amount of lemon zest (because lemon zest, you know?), and icing the thoroughly cooled cake with a lemon juice / powdered sugar glaze. You’ll thank me for suggesting it, as there’s nothing worse than a lemon-ish cake, n’est-ce pas? Besides, the cake itself seems a bit dry, so perhaps I overbaked – not sure.

We’ll have to wait ’til tomorrow for photos of the cut cake, as I want to allow the glaze to set overnight.

Lemoniest Little Lemon Loaf 3

EDITED TO ADD: It seems that the edges were the driest; the pieces of glazed cake in the middle turned out to be quite moist, so the texture may have had something to do with the way our oven bakes (unevenly). Everyone at work was very enthusiastic, and the whole cake vanished well before half-past eleven (mid-week, people must not eat breakfast before work!).

Also the question of the dryness of our cornmeal came up – when we lived in Scotland, kiln-dried flour vs. warm air dried flour meant that we needed to add more moisture to basic wheat bread. Our cornmeal wasn’t organic or polenta-related – it was a box of plain yellow cornmeal, finely ground and stored in a box above the stove… heat rising may have dried it further. It’s almost impossible to account for everything which could have caused a texture variation – the baker can only do the best that they can!

There are likely other, more successful takes on this cake. Do swing by and check out the other participants in this month’s Avid Baker’s Challenge.

-D

Posted in Baking | 6 Comments

February Avid Baker’s Challenge

A few years back (OK, more like, way back in 2008) D. had been participating in this thing called the Daring Bakers. They’d put out a recipe each month, and everybody would make that recipe, share how it went, etc. Well, the PhD intruded, plus we really couldn’t find anybody who was willing to eat so many baked goods, and we let things lapse.

Fast forward 7 years and D. has decided to start baking again, but not with the Daring Bakers (who have grown into an immense horde of folk, none of whom we know any longer). Nope – there’s a wee group called the Avid Baker’s Challenge who seem like a good bunch, so D. will be baking along with them.

This month’s baking was to bake orange, date, and almond biscotti. This recipe is super easy, came together with no trouble whatsoever, and was quite tasty even before the second bake (hey – there were ends, which … wouldn’t have baked right). I think I’d want to add some cardamon next time, just to give things a bit more spice. I also think I’d bake at a lower temperature, as the bottoms of the biscotti came out a tiny bit dark. All in all, though, I’m certain that my coworkers will enjoy these.

Biscotti 3

Do visit Avid Baker’s Challenge to see the other participants’ biscotti.

-D

Posted in Baking | 5 Comments

Projecting Sunlight…

T. doesn’t get angry that often anymore. D. maintains that this is because she is too busy wearing out the thesaurus with Annoyed, Aggravated, Bellicose, Belligerent, Caustic, Churlish, Exasperated, Frustrated, Indignant, Outraged, Perturbed…, to actually use such a pedestrian word. But, every once in awhile, anger sneaks up on her and the lava erupts. Usually into incoherent sobbing, much to her disgust, (and the open-mouthed astonishment of those around her). The latest thing that made her ragingly gut-punched, breath-stealingly, word-sobbingly infuriated was a story she heard on The Moth Radio Hour, about a woman who was denied help from her insurance company when her comatose son needed care. Stephanie Peirolo was evaded, lied to, set up, and abandoned by a for-profit system which decided her son was a loss, and wrote him off. As T tried to explain the story to D, she was vibrating, hands were shaking. She burst out, “HOW COULD THEY DO THAT TO HER?”

Things make us angriest in life when there’s no one to hit.

Fortunately(?), along with crying when she’s mad instead setting someone on fire as they might so richly deserve, T also tends to write poetry – once a month, with six other slightly insane people. This month’s offering has razor teeth and shiny claws and it exhales righteous FLAME. Or, it thinks about it, really, really hard, and scowls a lot, anyway.

After the hideous incidents in the story, Stephanie Peirolo went on to make sure that, should someone else need it, there was help for anyone whose criminal-behaving insurance company was violating their rights and keeping them from care. Because she didn’t let the world incinerate her, but held up a torch against the night, that insurance company – and the executives at her old job – can’t get away with their disgusting business practices. It’s not enough — oh, it’s hardly enough — but it’s a start.


project sunlight


How far that little candle lofts its light –
And darkness-dealers cringe against its beam.
Its spark of hope ignites against the night.

“Walk in the light,” shine, noonday-justice bright;
Numinous blaze, come banish spiteful schemes.
How far that little candle lofts its light –

Candescent day this nightmare dream rewrites –
Defies the dark, its thousand points agleam;
Ignites our hope, to burn away the night.

So shines the good, in setting wrong to right,
Against unending gloom and bleak extremes:
So far, that little candle lofts its light.

Illuminating — putting shades to flight
Erasing shadows for a hopeful scene
A flame of hope, which luminates the night.

Deep calls to deep, as zenith calls to height,
In times of doubt, in Stygian extremes,
How far that little candle lofts its light —
A blaze of hope held up against the night.

torch-e1296579151390


If you’ve enjoyed this little snippet of What T. Does With Her Weird Friends In Her Spare Time, you might also enjoy the poetry efforts of the other people in the group – some actual published poets: Tricia Stohr-Hunt’s villanelle and cool story about a chateau; author Sara Lewis Holmes taking a page from the birel-ing playbook of Ogden Nash; Laura Purdie Salas’ brilliant science in rock stories; Andromeda Jazmon rhapsodizing about seeds, growth, and — peppers; East coaster Kelly Ramsdell Fineman writing an UNTITLED villanelle reminding us dark winter is gathering light, and Liz Garton Scanlon writing cleverly about King Tut — and beards, in varying meanings of the word.

Thanks to They Might Be Giants, there’s even a SONG about villanelles. Because, poetry.

Happy rainy afternoon,

d&t

Posted in Arts & Crafts, California, Life, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Surgical Success

Well, D. just went in and had the tubes removed a day earlier than planned, because one of them had come loose from its suture and was trying to either fall out or crawl back into his head. He’s quite happy to have them out – and to be able to smell and taste again! He’s very much looking forward to sleeping not propped up at a 45° angle!

He did take a picture or two of the nose with tubes in it … but we’ll have to wait ’til later to put those up – when all the swelling has gone all the way down, and we have a good compare / contrast for them.

-D & T

Posted in Miscellany | 1 Comment

Small Pleasures

Skyway Drive 270Skyway Drive 272

A few weeks before D’s nose surgery, T got him this wee quadcopter. Its batteries last about 15 minutes, after which it needs to recharge for about 1/2 an hour. It is providing D with much enjoyment as he waits until Thursday for the splints to come out of his nose … after which he’ll be able to 1) smell, 2) taste, and 3) breathe better than ever.

The swelling of D’s face is mostly gone; we’ll see whether there are any changes visible to his nose when he gets the splints out, but we don’t think there will be.

-D & T

Posted in California, Miscellany | 2 Comments

January 31, In Retrospect

Watercress 1
Onion Caper Bread 6

January 31, 2008, we’d been in Scotland for about 5 months. We were getting a veggie box, which routinely came with odd things in it, such as watercress. We’d never really had any prior to this experience – maybe it was in a sandwich or a salad or something, but we’d never just had it. Cress is dead easy to grow, but you’ve got to be careful to keep the stuff it grows in just wet enough, but not oversaturated… it can smell, oddly, a great deal like wet dog if done wrong. (Bet you wonder how we know that, huh? Hydroponic gardening is kind of an exact science sometimes…)

We were still trying to keep our sourdough bread going, in 2008, with a crock of starter, so our baking was frequent and we’d end up with some interesting creations in an attempt to make use of the sourdough. Onion Caper bread: quite tasty!

Glass Painting 2

A year later, January 31 2009, was a day for T. to paint some glass. These are still with us, somewhere. Many of the painted glass jars ended up being given away in the form of gifts, as we tended to recycle jam jars for bath salts, cookie dough (layered attractively, just add eggs, oil and milk), cocoa mix, and the odd (sometimes VERY odd) experiments in jam making. (Rhubarb does not lend itself easily to much that isn’t strawberry. Unfortunately.) Sometimes we miss doing as many “home living” experiments. One of the nice thing about Scotland was uninterrupted stretches of time when no one wanted us or cared what we were doing (an entire city, largely, happily indifferent to us) and so we could get up to some interesting exploits, like…

Apron for Laura

Fast forward to 2012 and we’re making aprons for our friend Laura. Somehow or other, a group of us in Chorus bonded over being vegetarians, and got aprons or pins or shirts out of our mutual (to many of our Scottish friends) goofiness. This butternut squash is performing – a lovely alto like our friend Laura – and Veggie Girl is her name in lights on the stage. Don’t even know how we got to discussing, “What vegetable describes your personality?” but T is still bewildered that Margaret believes herself to be Bok Choy… Meanwhile, that same day we took this picture, we went out to Chorus rehearsal – but popped out for a cuppa tea in Merchant City and took what’s turned out to be one of our favorite pictures of a cold night in the Shopping District – the movement and busyness and vitality of Merchant City, captured for all time.

Glasgow Merchant City D 36 HDR

This January 31, we’re spending the day recovering from D’s nose surgery. You don’t want photographs…

-D & T

Posted in In Retrospect | 2 Comments