What I learned this week, June 18, 2017

David Mitchell on How to Write: “Neglect Everything Else”

When I asked David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, to discuss a favorite passage for this series, I was initially surprised by his choice: a plain-stated, rustic poem by James Wright. “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” bears no overt similarity to Mitchell’s maximalist, genre-busting epics. But, he explained, the poem’s pure sensory engagement inspires him to strive to be more present, attentive, and alert—an ongoing struggle with implications for his work habits, his craft, and the art of writing about the future.


The short history of global living conditions and why it matters that we know it

A recent survey asked “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?”. In Sweden 10% thought things are getting better, in the US they were only 6%, and in Germany only 4%. Very few people think that the world is getting better.

What is the evidence that we need to consider when answering this question? The question is about how the world has changed and so we must take a historical perspective. And the question is about the world as a whole and the answer must therefore consider everybody. The answer must consider the history of global living conditions – a history of everyone.

This is truly the best of all possible worlds in the best of all possible times. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.


Two of Texas’ Best Vietnamese Sandwich Shops Share a Garland Parking Lot

Two of the best tennis players to pick up rackets are sisters who learned the game together on a public court in Compton. For decades, America’s confused letter-writers got help from two advice columnists, Dear Abby and Ann Landers, who were, in fact, identical twin sisters named Pauline Esther Friedman and Esther Pauline Friedman. And 85 percent of Hollywood blockbusters from the past seven years star at least one blond Australian named Hemsworth.

The Dallas culinary scene has its own version of the Williams sisters, and our outstanding coincidence involves Vietnamese bakeries. Two of the best banh mi shops in the region — arguably two of the best banh mi shops in the United States — make their homes in Garland, where they stare each other down across a shared parking lot. Just one suburban stretch of asphalt apart, Quoc Bao Bakery and Saigon Deli compete for the title of best banh mi in metro Dallas.

For banh mi – I go to Lee’s Sandwiches near my house (it’s also, technically, in Garland) or the Nammi Food Truck. These two are very close, however, maybe two miles… perfect bicycling distance. Sounds like a plan.

Banh Mi from the Nammi Food Truck. Giant sandwich with rooster sauce and cucumber sauce.


Welcome to the Korean Ramen Noodles Antitrust Litigation Website

This is the official website In re Korean Noodles Antitrust Litigation, Case No. 3:13-CV-4115-WHO-DMR (N.D. Cal.). This is a class action lawsuit involving the price of Korean Noodles purchased directly or indirectly from the Defendants Nong Shim Co., Ltd., Nongshim America, Inc., Ottogi Co., Ltd., and Ottogi America, Inc. (“Defendants”) that is pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit alleges that Defendants engaged in illegal price fixing with respect to the sale of Korean Noodles and that as a result, any person or entity that purchased Korean Noodles directly or indirectly from any Defendant, during the Direct Purchaser Class Period or Indirect Purchaser Class Period paid a higher price than they would have otherwise paid in a competitive market. Defendants deny Plaintiffs’ allegations and the Court has not ruled on the merits of the claims or defenses.

Ok, let me get this straight…. A class-action lawsuit claiming some companies illegally conspired to fix the prices of RAMEN NOODLES???? I have no idea if I have ever consumed Korean Ramen noodles (I doubt it, though). How much money would I get if I did? Maybe a nickel?


How to Read James Joyce’s Ulysses (and Why You Should Avoid “How-to” Guides Like This One)

Ulysses deserves its reputation as one the best books in the English language. It generously overflows with insight into the human experience, and it’s very, very funny. And, most importantly, anyone can read it.

I have actually wanted to read Ulysses.

Maybe I should write a guide on how to read Gravity’s Rainbow. I have read it, really… I have. It only took me twenty five years to get through.


The Nine Best Coffee Shops in the Dallas Suburbs

also (some overlap)

Five New DFW Coffee Shops to Check Out Next Time You Need a Caffeine Fix

Es café macerado en ron, posee todas las propiedades organolépticas del ron, pero tiene grado de alcohol


Mass-Produced or Artisan Bread? Results May Surprise

“The really shocking result was that on everything that we looked at, we didn’t find any difference between the effects of the two breads,” a co-author says, per the Guardian.

I was into home-made bread for awhile – basing a lot of what I did on the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The bread was delicious and the house always smelled wonderful… but I realized that I was pretty much eating a loaf of bread every day. I bought a fifty pound bag of bread flour and ate the whole damn thing in a little over a month (I kept it in a freezer).

That was not good – I had to give the whole thing up.

Chipotle Sourdough

Finished loaf of Chipotle Sourdough Bread. A little too much Chipotle, it made the dough a bit wet and it came out very spicy. Still Delicious. There are kids over and it was gone in five minutes.

Baking Bread

When someone asked Nick, my son, what his father did, he said, “Well, he bakes bread.”

At least I’m good for something.

Except lately, I’ve been so busy; working weekends, coming home late and exhausted – I haven’t been able to keep my dough going. We’ve been eating bread from the store. What’s left of my fifty pound bag of Costco flour is now buried deep in the chest freezer under tubs of ice cream and boxes of Healthy Choice frozen dinners. The plastic shoe containers that I use to make dough in are washed and stacked in the garage. My copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day lies dusty and unread on a counter somewhere.

My margarine tub of sourdough starter has been fermenting away in the fridge for so long I’m afraid to look at it.

I miss it.

Maybe a life is constant struggle between loss and renewal. There are so many poles with spinning plates on them, important things get away from you. Unimportant too. You have to pick up the pieces and dab a little super glue. You have to get back up on the horse.

So tonight I dragged my exhausted ass up off of the couch and measured out some water, flour, and yeast into my plastic container and set it aside to rise. Candy said, “I was going to ask you to make a pizza this weekend.” I can use the dough for that, for sure, and get a couple loaves out of it too

Pizza Crust

When the weather is so awful hot, I like to cook pizza on a stone on our grill outside. Here's the crust on a pizza peel and the stone, warming up.

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The stuff ready to go - sauce, sundried tomatoes, herbs, cheese.

The pizza and stone, grilling away.

Yeah, I think I'll have to make one of these bad boys this weeked.

Maybe I can gin up enough courage to look in on that sourdough starter.


An interesting TED lecture on bread. Actually, I found it browsing lectures with the subject tag of “Chemistry.” It’s a more sophisticated approach than my “throw a bunch of flour, water, and yeast into the oven and see what comes out,” – but maybe I can learn something.

Chipotle Sourdough Bread

I’ve been experimenting with the recipes and, more importantly, the techniques from the books/web site Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The basic idea is to make up a week-long supply of dough, let it rise, and keep the pre-risen dough in the refrigerator. When you want some bread you break off a chunk of dough and bake it. I bought a big, heavy, baking stone for the oven (or the grill outside in the Texas Summer Heat) and can use the same dough for artisan loaves, pan loaves, pizza, pitas, shaped loaves… whatever.

I have been straying from this technique in making sourdough bread.

It started back in January or so. I filled a little crock with a mixture of whole wheat flour, water, a little yeast, a little sugar, and let it sit until it foamed up… and about four days later it was nice and ripe. That was my sourdough starter. Now that same starter has been through maybe twenty cycles or so, every batch I make I save about a quarter of the dough and reuse it in the next, not adding any fresh prepared yeast.

What makes sourdough so… sourdoughy is a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria that forms over time. After six months my starter is getting to be good. There are a few little difficulties that I’m starting to learn to deal with.

First of all, the acid produced by the bacteria (what makes it taste sour) tends to break down the protein in the flour and makes the dough runny and keeps it from rising as much as it should. So instead of pre-rising it and then throwing a pile onto the stone (where it usually runs out and makes a pancake) I put the fresh dough into a loaf pan and let it rise there. It rises slowly, much slower than a batch of dough with commercial super-dooper (and pretty much flavorless) yeast, so I let it rise while I’m at work.

Ingredients

The ingredients for the Chiplotle Sourdough Bread set out. Flour, water, sourdogh starter (in plastic margarine container) and chopped chipotle peppers in adobo.

This is the routine: put the ingredients together before I go to bed at night – mix it up in the morning, setting aside one quarter of the dough to act as starter for the next batch – let it rise all day – bake it in the evening.

Ingredients:

Four cups of flour (all-purpose, bread flour, whole wheat – whatever, in whatever mixture I feel like)  with a pinch of salt and a tiny bit of sugar (I find this helps make the rising process more reliable).

A little less than two cups water

—-Sourdough Starter – dough left over from the previous batch. Let it sit for at least a day or so, any longer than two days, put it in the fridge.

Extras – in this case, about half a can of Chipotles in Adobo Sauce, chopped (be careful with these beasties, they are hot)

Mix the dough, don’t worry about kneading it or anything like that. Don’t forget to save some starter for next time, then stir in the extras if you want. Dump that in a loaf pan, cover it with something if you think about it, and let it sit out on the counter.

Dough

The dough mixed up and in the loaf pan. The adobo gives it a yellow color. A quarter of the dough goes into the margarine container as starter for the next batch.

Now, off to work. The little yeasties will multiply and the dough will rise while I’m there.

If you get bored waiting, here’s a video to watch:

Back home again. These twelve hour days are killer. Too tired to do much. Luckily, the stuff has risen like I wanted it to. Pop it in the oven, 450 or so, about forty minutes. I put a pan of water in the oven to help make a nice crust.

Risen Dough

The dough rises while I'm at work.

Fresh sourdoughy goodness.

Meanwhile the starter is getting nice and ripe, ready for the next batch. I wonder how long I can keep this going. I’ve heard of sourdough starters that keep making over and over for decades.

Chipotle Sourdough

Finished loaf of Chipotle Sourdough Bread. A little too much Chipotle, it made the dough a bit wet and it came out very spicy. Still Delicious. There are kids over and it was gone in five minutes.