Christmas, day 1 minus 2

So tomorrow being 24 December, which is when we open presents here (stockings on 25 12) we all went in to quarantine 10 days ago so the kids could safely come over for the holidays and I was the lucky one who got to drive to their place and pick them up and drill 2 holes into Gamma’s concrete wall so she could hang a thing on her wall and drive them out to our place, on the way back telling them about my speeding ticket, “right about here where the speed limit changes from 130 (kmh) to 100 and I am always a little late slowing down; there’s no radar box around here so I assume they were right up on the overpass there, where that police car is now with the radar gun sticking out the window…” (checks speedometer, which unsurprisingly reads 120 in the 100 zone) “oh, man…” and then more stories about all the other new radar box traps we have been blundering into lately to the point where we are going to apply for a subscription; meanwhile my wife Alpha has apparently drawn the short straw and has to stay home and deal with making corn bread stuffing for the turkey we postponed from our canceled Thanksgiving (alas, the farmer said, he gained no weight between Thanksgiving, when he got his reprieve, and now — would you, I thought, seeing your friends slaughtered and knowing it was only a matter of time?) and dealing with the water filter man who was coming to sterilize our water filter after all the you-know-what backed up into the room where it is, and maybe touched it, and maybe contaminated all our drinking water pipes or whatever, as well as the rotorooter men who were coming over to investigate what caused the backup. When I got home with the girls the water filter man was practically already gone (he was fully gone when we got back from getting our covid tests (negative) at the doctor), and the rotorooter men were far, far jollier than you would expect rotorooter men to be. Friendly, happy young men.
Apparently someone had been flushing damp wipe cloths? I am translating but that’s what they’re called here? Feuchttücher? Which we don’t flush and rarely use and when we do use them (usually to wipe up cat pee) we certainly don’t flush them, we put them in the garbage and if we did flush them we’d flush them singly, single solitary cloths one by one so they could travel through the pipes easily rather than clumping and stopping everything else to the point that you get the Christmas fireworks we did. Waterworks. Whatever.
Oh and another thing, said the happy rotorooter men, you have a burst pipe too.
The boss rotorooter man is going to come over and see if it needs to be fixed, or if it’s only a minor burst. Apparently there are burst sewer pipes that are a real big deal, and others you can live with.
Is it nice to have the kids over? Just as nice as we expected, and we had high expectations. Presents are wrapped, I’ll make some mashed potatoes for tomorrow later today, and mix up some baking powder biscuits (taking into account the fact that Austrian baking powder is weaker than American baking powder, so you need more if you’re using an American recipe, and I’m using a Betty Crocker recipe) to be baked tomorrow, and getting some sourdough and pre-dough started to sit overnight so I can… watch it rise too long and lose heart and start to sag while the turkey monopolizes the oven, then the biscuits… maybe I should think about this a little… maybe I’ll postpone the sourdough a day…
Happy holidays, anyway, to those who celebrate holidays.

How nice

Wake up.
It’s later than you think.
You have home office.
Wife has let you sleep.
How nice!
Check whether phone has charged over night or just sat there on the end of its charger cable like a horse led to water but not drinking.
100%
How nice!
You have to bake bread. When will you do that?
Think about when.
Start thinking about the nature of time.
Other job sends you 14 texts to correct.
Correct for a while.
Take a shower.
Make schnitzel.
Eat lunch.
Go to in-laws to arrange pills for the coming week.
Set up bird feeder while you’re there.
Then fetch two more bird feeders from the attic and set them up.
No not there on that bush, they should be on the other bush.
No the first bush after all. Are they too high?
Should they be lower?
Maybe that’s okay.
Go home and work some more while wife gets fall grave decorations for the grave.
Start bread.
Wife comes home and wants pumpkin pie.
Isn’t bread enough?
Bread isn’t enough.
Look up various pumpkin pie recipes to confirm your theory that you lack ingredients while wife is picking pumpkin in back yard.
Wife refutes theory.
Bake pie.
Bread is photogenic, post picture to Instagram.
Pie crust shrinks a little, wrong flour maybe. No Instagram for you.
Write blog post.
Go to bed. Soon. Soonish. As soon as the purring cat gets off your face.

Lockdown Bingo

My card is nearly full. Omitting all the relationship items for privacy reasons (and all the awesome things other people did, they can list them in their own blogs), I learned to knit and finished three scarves. I trimmed my own moustache. I established a workout routine and stick to it, mostly. I walk a great deal – in fact, of all commuters to Vienna who use the walking app I use, I walk the furthest (or the second-furthest, someone named Inga is tough competition. The app ranks you overall and by district, and includes a “district” for out-of-town commuters). My first attempt at rye bread was perfect. How perfect was it? When I talk about my excellent scones, everyone says, “you really must bake rye bread again. The crust was perfect.”

    (The secret to very excellent scones is to grate frozen butter into the flour mixture and cut it in, rather than just cutting in cold butter. I don’t know why, but these turned out with a nice crisp surface. I think the secret to the rye bread crust is to bake it hot the first 20 minutes, 250C, then reduce that to 200 for the last 40 minutes, or whatever. As always, don’t take my word for it, consult a cookbook.)

I cooked a lot in general. I cooked General Tso’s Chicken for my birthday. I made rhubarb jam, and lemon marmalade, and two different kinds of elder flower jelly.
I learned that inactivity makes you depressed, but it’s a depression preferable to that caused by working and commuting.
I planted the raised beds (not, however, to my lasting dismay and even more to her lasting dismay, in the layout planned by my wife). I pulled a lot of weeds and mowed the lawn a lot. About all I have left on my list is something creative I had originally planned to spend all my extra time doing – like photography or writing – and a pull up, for which I currently lack the upper body strength and the pull up bar. I could go to a playground or the local park and try to work my way up to a pull up there on the lower children’s bars, but I imagine I would make nannies uneasy and I don’t want to be the one people are talking about when they tell their therapists twenty years from now, “I don’t know if it’s a real memory or somehow implanted but I remember a man with a bushy white beard and white hair up in a scraggly bun, wearing a business suit (the man, not the hair) hanging at a 45-degree angle beneath the children’s pull up bar in the park. That bun haunts my dreams yet.”

Fluffier sourdough

A recent visitor to this site (from Redmond, WA) got here via a bing.com search for “fluffier sourdough.”

LOL.

Until I find out otherwise, I will imagine the following:

“Goddamn it, Melinda.”

“Wut, Bill?”

“My sourdough’s not fluffy again.”

“At least the crust ain’t hard as a rock this time, Bill.”

“Grr. Also it ain’t baked all the way through.”

“Again. Well, why don’t you Bing it, darling? Look up fluffier sourdough or something.”

“I’ll do just that, dear.”

Something like that.

After all these years, I still look at my stats. Such a masochist.

The Holy Grail

I took a bunch of blurry pictures in Paris and still intend to write a post about our visit, but I’m too lazy today, plus I have to clean the oven while my wife and Gamma are in Carinthia hiking with visiting friends and relatives.

Also vacuum the house. So maybe later.

BUT I have to tell you that I have attained my latest Holy Grail, baking a high-rising fluffy loaf of sourdough bread without adding any yeast. Here is what i did differently than previous times:

  • Kneaded the dough longer. This is said to something something gluten and so on, enabling more rising action.
  • Instead of using 5 cups of all-purpose flour, I used 4 cups plus one of Lancelot flour, from the King Arthur Flour company, that my cousin Lisa gave me.
  • I also added a tablespoon of gluten powder to the mix when making the dough.
  • I let the dough rise until doubled, as always, about 4 hours, then divided it into two loaves, as always. But then I let the loaves, which I put into forms, rise pretty long, about 5-6 hours, but not so long that they would dry out (i.e not overnight, as I did last time).
  • Then I asked my wife to bake them, as I was away from the house and couldn’t get back in time.

Here is what my wife did differently while baking, which I think also had a lot to do with getting a soft-crusted loaf rather than loaves with a crust that makes your gums bleed:

  • She sprinkled the loaves liberally with water (which I usually did).
  • She put a dish of water into the oven while baking (which I never did).
  • She turned the heat down from 220 C to 200 C because the bread seemed to be browning too fast.
  • She let the loaves get good and cool before covering them, then covered them with a Tupperware cake cover rather than popping them into a plastic bag like I always did.

The result was 2 loaves of tangy sourdough bread with the consistency of, very nearly, Wonderbread. Just a little easier to slice, not quite as soft.  I just had a slice with ham, and two more slices with half an avocado each. Tasty stuff. I’d post photos, but I’m lazy, also one of our cameras is currently in Carinthia, the other is in Indonesia.

Now I need a new Holy Grail. Learn the Star Spangled Banner on the electric musical saw, perhaps.

How to make fluffy, high-rising loaves of sourdough bread

  1. Your uncle dies and you make a quick trip to the United States for his funeral.
  2. While there, your sister gives you sourdough starter your cousin gave her to give you.
  3. The starter is basically an empty plastic bottle with a little scum stuck to the walls.
  4. Which you refrigerate, and worry you were too late in refrigerating it and it will already be dead, or it will die on the trip home because you can’t refrigerate it nor take it in your hand luggage and in your checked luggage the extremes of temperature will do it in or something, or you will forget it.
  5. Everyone laughs at you because you’re so jetlagged.
  6. And you are more susceptible to jetlag than most people. All someone has to say is “airplane” and you get tired and disoriented.
  7. OTOH you are happy you let the lady at the car rental place talk you into the upgrade. In fact, you practically talked her into talking you into it. The midsize SUV is so much more fun to drive around in a state of extreme fatigue than the ultracompact thing you reserved.
  8. By now your shoulders and upper back are burning from tension and your lower back is painfully close to throwing in the towel from sitting in airplanes and cars and sleeping on unfamiliar beds, and your tailbone hurts from all the sitting.
  9. So on the flight home, the long leg from Washington, D.C. (where, upon your arrival, a woman in uniform pulled you out of a long line and gave you to a man in uniform with the words, “Got one for you,” and he swabbed your hand and stuck the swab into a machine where nothing happened and you are secretly happy because normally it’s your brother who gets searched and interrogated and it’s nice to fit into a profile too, or even share one with him, and the man asks you, “How long have you been out of the country?” and you say, “26 years, just back for a few days for a funeral,” and he says, “my condolences” and lets you go because the swab didn’t set off alarms or anything, and, WTF a swab?) to Vienna, with your sore tailbone and 10 hours of stupid movies ahead of you, on tiny screens that are burning out and only show the colors brown, white and black, which is okay due to the jelly-like nature of your brain, although it ameliorates nothing, you find yourself moved to a (marginally) better seat so a family can sit together, and you find yourself sitting beside a pretty, young, dark-haired, pale woman, early 20s if that, and her baby, which was apparently drawn by Edward Gorey and cries a lot, like the sixty other babies on the plane.
  10. The woman is apologetic and you smile and try to reassure her, saying that your kid cried all the way between Tokyo and Vienna once, in first class, but the woman’s English is not so good, or maybe your pain and confusion makes you creepy, or you smile too much at her baby (at least you didn’t offer it a peanut, which briefly crossed your mind, Here baby, like a peanut? Would that shut you up, huh? How bout one of these pretzels, as they don’t actually serve peanuts on board aircraft anymore, due I guess to the allergy thing and people giving them to crying babies too much) or she is just polite or wants to sit with relatives, and she moves during the flight, trading places with her 15 year old girl cousin.
  11. The 15 year old girl cousin has a friendly, tough-guy persona and informs you that all the crying babies are Albanian, going home to Pristina for summer vacation, from Dallas where her father remains because he couldn’t come along because he has to run the restaurant and she’s going to Pristina for 5 weeks because her grandmother’s paralyzed and maybe her father will go next year and she’ll run the restaurant while he’s gone.
  12. The Albanians are all from Dallas, which is for her not such a great place to live because there are only two things to do namely 1) go to school and 2) go straight to the restaurant to work after school.
  13. Meanwhile, your sourdough starter is cooling its heels in your suitcase somewhere in the plane’s cargo section.
  14. The woman beside you talks and talks and you say you’re sorry about her grandmother and you think, although you don’t understand the thought, entirely:
  15. Take care of this girl, America, because she is your soul.
  16. Mainly because she is working and not consuming or otherwise out of control. Because she thinks of herself but also of others and glows with intelligence.
  17. Remember, America, back when you worked?
  18. Remember those days? When Walt Whitman wrote his poems going on and on about the working man and grass and so on?
  19. Before you went out of control?
  20. This girl still embodies that. It’s not dead. She carries it with her. You just have to feed it.
  21. So watch out for her.
  22. At home, pop the sourdough starter into the fridge and google instructions.
  23. Kingarthurflour.com is good.
  24. Follow the directions inexactly. Here is a fact about bread making: if it were such an exact science, wheat-based societies would have died out thousands of years ago.
  25. Result: two flat loaves no one in the family wants to eat because the crust would stop a .22 and the bread is extra, extra tangy.
  26. Sour dough bread baking is a slow process which you can’t hurry. There is something exhilarating about this. Those bacteria there can’t be rushed. It takes the time that it takes.
  27. We need more of this sort of thing.
  28. Follow instructions more exactly next time (and reduce refrigeration time because that turns out- refrigeration – to be connected to tang, and maybe your family will be more likely to eat the bread if it’s not so tangy) and get less-tangy, higher loaves. A little higher, anyway. People you communicate with during this process tell you they have never gotten high sourdough loaves without adding a little extra yeast, which you consider cheating.
  29. Letting them rise longer must be the key, you think.
  30. You resolve to follow instructions to the letter next time, to try to get nice, high loaves. And also to use just white flour, not whole-wheat.
  31. Apparently bread making is an art not a science, but at the same time pretty forgiving and not rocket-science type art see #24.
  32. Unfortunately, on your third try (you let the starter rest during the week and bake on weekends) you get off to a late start and in order to bake before you go to bed on Sunday you have to rush things along a little.
  33. So the loaves are still flat.
  34. This coming weekend you’re going to Paris for a week so you’ll skip it and try again when you get back. You plan to start on Thursday evening, not Saturday morning, so the loaves will have time to rise and rise and rise. Maybe that will help.

How to make excellent bagels in the current economic crisis thing

  1. Buy cookbook with excellent bagel recipe
  2. Buy all the stuff in the recipe
  3. Following directions, make bagels
  4. That’s all there is to it!!!

It sounds simple, and it is, but this has honestly changed my life more than anything else, ever. I feel whatever now, you know, whatever. Since moving to Austria, I had suffered from the impossibility of buying bagels here in the countryside where I live. There are some places in Vienna where a person can get bagels, but I gave up on finding them out here in the middle of nowhere decades ago. Plus, I think, some have gone out of business again.

Decades.

Because, bagels, you know, always struck me as something an old Jewish lady had to teach you how to make.

Anyway, I’ve baked them several times now. Some with sesame seeds, and some with poppyseeds, and they are excellent.

The baking process is a lot like meditating, only there is boiling water, and you have bagels at the end.