Archive for December, 2009
I got a great cookbook for Christmas from my wife’s aunt Nancy. It’s published by the cookware store Sur la Table. The name is The Art & Soul of Baking, and the author is Cindy Mushet. This is a beautifully printed book that’s fascinating to read. I learned an enormous amount by reading the first 71 pages, which tell the reader that All Purpose Flour is better thought of as No Purpose Flour, as it’s a compromise blend not best suited for anything. When I went to Safeway in search of actual bread flour, I discovered they only stock one brand in one size, but have numerous brands and sizes of ‘no purpose flour.’
The pictures are nearly works of art. The photographer experimented with shallow depth of field in many of the shots, which I’ve not seen done in a cookbook so well. Some of the shots even have blurred motion in them, such as when showing how to use a rolling pin.
I wanted a bread machine for Christmas, but I didn’t get one. I did get a bread machine specific cook book from my mother, but I’ve not had a chance to use it yet. I don’t know what machine to get, as I’ve read some of the machines can hop off the counter by themselves. If anyone has any good suggestions, please let me know.
For my first loaf, I made the first recipe in the book, for plain white bread. This was no Wonder bread however. I discovered it takes a lot of time to make bread, and I had to refrigerate the dough overnight since it got too late to bake the bread. The dough rose further in the cool refrigerator, but when I took off the plastic wrap, it sank an inch within 30 seconds. It never regained its height, so the loaf was shorter than the loaf pan, when it was supposed to be higher.
Here’s a video I shot of my first loaf of bread. I sliced it while it was hot so the video would look especially appealing.
My brother and his family come to San Francisco every other Christmas to spend the holidays at my parent’s house, which is not far from my house. My brother and his wife have two great kids, a girl and a boy. This year the kids got a cool Lego set unlike any I’ve seen first hand. I know these sets have been around for years now, but I’ve never seen a set in use before.
Today’s Lego are inspiring kids to be inventors like never before. The set Andrew’s kids got has proximity sensors and inclination sensors, and motors that are powered from the USB socket on a PC or Mac computer. The sensors and motors are read and controlled by software that runs on the attached computer. The software let users program the Lego so that it actually does something.
In this video, Andrew helps his kids make use of the software, using a propeller plane I helped put together. I didn’t need to help though as the directions were very clear, and contained zero words… just drawings. It was all really quite impressive. I would have loved to have a set like this as a kid. In fact, I’d love to have a set like this now. Santa, are you reading my blog?
Along with my wife Monika and my brother and his family, I went to the beach today at Redeo Cove in Mt. Tamalpais State Park just North of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge. It was windy and chilly… so windy there is not much audio worth hearing on the video, as the wind was just whipping past the microphone of my camera.
The surf was pretty active, and we all kept our distance from the water. But the real fun on the beach was the makeshift all natural teeter-totter we discovered. Since teeter-totters have mostly been removed from playgrounds, I haven’t been on one in a very long time. These all organic models we rode today were even better than commercial models because even multiple adults could ride simultaneously.
Rochelle, who my brother and his wife have known since they were all undergraduate students in Washington, also joined us with her husband Henry and their inquisitive and well behaved young son.
Before we went to the beach, we toured the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, a short drive from the beach. This center has a hands on kids area where children can learn about marine mammals. The center is partly solar powered, and the installed panels provided shade to the recovering patients. The center is essentially a hospital for sick or injured sea mammals.
My wife Monika and I went to my parents’ house at 8:30 this morning to open presents. My brother and his family flew in from their home in Colorado, which they do every other year. My grandmother Elsie Battaglia lives in Portland, Oregon and is 98 years old, so she no longer visits at the holidays. However, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, she participated in the present opening via video conference using iChat on my brother’s MacBook computer. We set the laptop up on the coffee table by the Christmas tree, and she was able to ‘be there.’
This sounds like it might be awkward or impersonal, but it wasn’t at all. The kids seemed to really like showing off each new gift they received by holding it up close to the camera. Grandma’s live-in helper Claudia would describe the goings on on screen to Grandma, who has lost much of her sight in recent years to macular degeneration. Both Claudia and Grandma really seemed to enjoy the experience. Grandma bought a 24″ iMac about a year ago specifically for video conferencing with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so this wasn’t the first time she’s done conferencing. But it was the first time she joined in opening presents Christmas morning around the tree.
I set up my video camera on a tripod and let it record a segment. I think it turned out great because you can see Grandma on the laptop and you can see everyone interacting with her almost as if she were sitting on the couch in person. I heartily recommend you try this at home with your loved ones that can’t travel for important events. It was really a special day today.
This Christmas my wife Monika and I sent out Christmas cards with an enclosed picture. This picture turned out to be one of the nicest pictures we have of the two of us together. Monika bought me my first set of pajamas with feet since I was a child. She got a set for herself as well. These pajamas keep us warm on cold San Francisco winter nights. Monika had an 11 x 14″ print of this shot made, framed it and we gave it to her grandfather Imre, Sr. for Christmas. This picture was taken in my house in front of our Christmas tree. Monika’s smile is just beautiful.