Monday, February 23, 2009

the hunchbread of notre dame

Several of my friends have been on this homemade bread making kick for a couple weeks, in response to this book, which makes it seem very easy.

Apparently it's very easy for everyone but me. My friends keep producing show quality bread loaves. They're posting pictures of loaves that look like the fake ones food stylists use in photo pictorals of pastoral, rustic meals in the villas of Tuscany. When I page through the Dean and Deluca catalog and see sixty dollar "Toast and Jam" gift baskets that come with a loaf of bread, a jar of jelly, and require next day shipping, it might as well be my friends' bread in the baskets.

I, on the other hand, managed to produce a loaf that looks like it stabs other bread loaves on subway platforms, just to watch them die.

Let's figure out exactly how this happened.

First I got the book. Then I got the flour, salt, and yeast. All that was left was to get a six quart container that could be lidded but not airtight, for keeping bread dough. Sara said she got hers at "Bed, Bath, and Beyond" and posted a picture, so I went to the same store to get one of my own. Unfortunately the containers were not measured in quarts, but instead in cups. I know there are four quarts in a gallon, and I know that there are two cups in a pint, but the number of pints in a quart (which would give me the number of cups in a quart) was kind of hazy. Could be two. Could be four. Given the apparently arbitrary nature of the American system of weights and measures, it could be six or eight or ten, and of course none of the staff at the store could help me.

This is how I ended up with a 44 cup container when I needed a 24 cup container. The size of the container had no real affect on the freakish loaf that I produced, but the part where I can't mentally convert measurements will be important later.

Anyway, I measured out the flour:

measuring the flour

Since you have to dump it all in at once, I figured I should measure it in advance. Even though I was carefully scooping and knife-leveling the top of my cup, somehow flour still ended up everywhere. I have no explanation for this other than demon magics, and feel that we should burn Goody Bird-feeding-neighbor-upstairs-who-keeps-throwing-bread-down-onto-my-porch-from-her-balcony at the stake at once for bedevilment of my flour cannister. My certainty in this has absolutely nothing to do with my continuous irritation toward her.

My friend Huge suggested sifting the salt in with the flour, and this seemed like a wise plan. The only problem was that the recipe requires one and a half tablespoons of kosher salt, and my measuring spoons only come in table, tea, half tea, and quarter tea. There is no half tablespoon in my set. Remembering the measuring disaster from the container shopping, I consulted the table of measurements in the back of my 1949 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook:


There are three teaspoons in a tablespoon. My inner monologue exploded.

"Three? THREE? How the hell does that make sense? Everything else works in a multiple of two. Two cups in a pint, two pints in a quart, four quarts in a gallon, but all of a sudden we get down to teaspoon level and it's THREE? Who the hell thought up this stupid system of measuring? How am I supposed to figure out how many teaspoons are in a half tablespoon? What is that? A sixth? Two thirds? I DON'T HAVE A SPOON FOR THAT."

I decided that the wisest course would be to just eyeball when the tablespoon looked half full, and measured out the salt. Pioneer women made bread with just a pinch and a gut feeling, right? I have a gut. I have feelings. This would be fine.

I mixed the yeast into the hot water:

yeast water

I mixed the flour and salt into the yeast water:


I covered, but did not seal, my dough and let it rise until it doubled:


Everything seemed to be going fine, and I was ready to tear off a piece and shape my loaf. I looked at the book, I watched the youtube video, and I was certain I could handle this. I laid out my parchment paper, lightly floured the top of the dough, and reached in.

Bread dough is sticky like you would not believe. My solution was to flour my hands, too, so that it would stop sticking to them, with predictable results:


Flour everywhere. It was like the flour factory exploded on my counters, but I finally got the loaf shaped. After preheating the oven, I attempted to slash it for baking, but somehow did not use enough flour. Hard to believe, I know, but the knife stuck to the bread and my slashes were sloppy and imprecise. This means, of course, that my bread did not turn out very pretty:

not good

My bread is a failure. It's ugly and malformed. It should be hidden away somewhere, so that other bread won't have nightmares. Even worse, it's dense, not light and airy:


Guess why?

Too much salt.

Stupid tablespoons.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Roller Derby

Last week I was downtown to see "Friday the 13th", starring Jared Padalecki's pecs, which spend the movie threatening to explode out of his five-sizes-too-small t-shirt, and noticed a number of colorful signs for the Hard Knox Roller Girls' Mardi Brawl season opener. You can see the corner of one above the triceratops:


They advertised two bouts for only fifteen dollars, and I thought, "Hmmm... I've never been to derby, but my understanding is that girls on wheels beat the hell out of each other for a couple hours. That sounds like it might be fun." Fortunately, in this case my inner voices were correct, and derby was awesome.

I invited ten friends. Predictably, only one actually followed through on coming, although a second would have come except that she wasn't directly included on the original email I send that said to forward to anyone else who might want to go, and she was happier to stay at home alone and whine instead about getting the forwarded copy, which I'm certain was terribly fun for her. Everybody has one of those sorts of friends, I'm sure.

(Everybody probably also has a passive aggressive friend like me who poke poke pokes at problems like that, but we're going to pretend I'm perfect and move on.)

We got there right at five when the doors opened, which was good because we got early-bird pricing and also because we got a front row seat. You're also allowed to sit on the floor right around the rim of the track, in the Suicide Seating, but I'm not that brave. We didn't realize there was a home section and an away section, and accidentally sat in the away section, but we will definitely be on the home side next time.

Before the first bout, there was a helpful segment with player demonstrations, to help you understand the game. There are three positions on the team, the jammer, the blockers, and the pivots. The jammer is the girl with the star helmet cover, and there is one for each team. The Hard Knox jammer is seen here:

play against the quad staters

That's the pivot next to her with the stripe down the middle of her helmet.

Each team has one jammer. When the jam, which is two minutes long, starts the jammers have to get through the pack, and then loop around quickly to lap the pack. The jammer that gets through the pack first is the lead jammer, but the other jammer can overtake her. Once the jammer laps the pack, she is awarded points for each member of the opposing team that she passes. The blockers try to stop her from passing, and the pivots help her get around them. The pivot and the jammer can also swap helmet covers and roles during the jam, so positions can change very quickly.

All of that sounds very straightforward and almost kind of boring when the announcer drones on and the players demonstrate at low speed, but the actual play is kind of like watching hockey. It's very high speed and there is a lot of slamming and checking, but instead of getting smashed into the glass the players going flying off into the suicide seating. This makes it even more fun, because you can watch the annoying girl in front of you who won't stop texting on her damn Blackberry and keeps flipping her hair in the way and think, "God, I hope someone clocks her."

Overall, it's a fun time. The crowd is high energy, people bring their kids, you can tell the players are having a lot of fun even though falling down on concrete, like this:

girls down!

probably hurts a lot, and they all have cute nicknames, too, even the refs:

Forrest Ump

If you have derby nearby, you should go. It's fun, and they have nachos.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I'm not sure what that is

I am not a great artist. I have very basic drawing ability, no talent for painting, and a pretty poor track record with sculpture. Even my photography, to be honest, is usually not terribly good. Given that, though, I feel totally comfortable in saying that I have no idea what kind of animal this is or is supposed to be:

tiger legs

It's like an animal drawn by someone who has never seen an actual animal.

"Tiger? Well, it has legs. And a tail. And it's sort of orangey, with black stripes."

"Like this?"

"Uh.... no."

I saw this mural behind Panera. It's a very long, but badly aged, mural along an alleyway:

dirty mural

It seems to depict an ocean, then a jungle, both possibly in a Disney movie, based on the animals present:

disney-esque bear

The bear is clearly in water, surrounded by frogs. Further down we come to a pelican:


I suppose it could also be a swimming crane, but I'm sticking with pelican. Just after that, though, is when the animals and scenery start getting weird. The sea slopes downward (against the laws of physics) to become the land, and some sort of animal lives in both zones:


Obviously that's a... walrus? Sea lion? Earless, tailless horse whose front limbs have been replaced with croquet mallets? The questions continue as we move on from the gray animal to the one I started with, the tangle of limbs. Anteater? Giraffe? Whatever he is, he's not alone:

strange panda

He has that... panda?... to keep him company, and if they ever get bored they have the panda's arms to play hockey with.

The whole thing gets even weirder when you move away from the panda and back into the land of Disney:

tigger and rabbit

They must have had a pattern or stencil for this and for the bear, so what happened in between? Acid trip? Maybe some sort of environmental accident? Either way, they should take a cue from the neighboring wall and keep things simple:

political commentary

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Thanks, Hooters!

Sound advice from Hooters:

sound advice from hooters

Finally, someone in Knoxville has the courage to speak out about our werewolf problem. Everyone else keeps pretending werewolves don't exist, or maybe that they're more of a Kentucky problem or Mississippi issue, but Hooters has the courage to take a brave stand and speak out, to warn the good people of Knoxville about the lycanthropic danger in their midst.

Thank God for you, brave Hooters waitresses.