No Knead Ciabatta Bread

This recipe is basically Chef John’s recipe. You can find the recipe and video on his blog here.

What is No Knead bread? Normally you knead dough in order to stretch gluten into strands. The strands form a structure that rises when filled with carbon dioxide exuded from yeast. The yeast are living organisms that eat sugars in the flour and release a liquid that forms gas. The gas alone won’t make the dough rise without gluten strands created by kneading.

But kneading is a well-known pain the butt, and requires time and effort to do properly. However, in the presence of high hydration (for example: wet dough) the strands will form on their own given enough time. As a result, the initial rise for No Knead dough takes 18 hours vs. about 2 hours for kneaded dough.

Given that people have plenty of time these days, 18 hours is no big deal. If you put up the dough at 5pm you can start working on your bread at 11am the next morning and have it out of the oven by 1pm.

Another benefit of No Knead dough’s long initial rise is flavor. Eighteen hours is enough time for dough to begin fermentation, which gives the bread a slightly sour-dough taste. So, so much better than basic white or Italian bread. More like a french baguette flavor.

The recipe produces a bread with a delicious crunchy crust, firm tasty crumb with nice big holes. As good or better than bread from a fine restaurant and virtually the opposite of the bread-ish processed stuff from the supermarket.

Recipe

Plan ahead. The final bread will be out of the oven 21 hours after you start. This makes a large loaf. Enough to make sandwiches for 4-6 people.

Ingredients:

  1. 4 cups of bread flour or all purpose flour. See below for instructions on measuring out the flour.
  2. Only if using all purpose flour: 1/2 teaspoon of vital wheat gluten (you can find it in the baking aisle or organic food aisle of the supermarket). Do not use gluten with bread flour.
  3. 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
  4. 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast.
  5. 2 cups of warm water

Before measuring either mix up your flour with a fork or shake it though a sifter so the flour is not densely packed. Scoop the flour gently with your measuring cup. Overfill the cup while scooping and push off the excess with the back end of a butter knife.

Directions:

Measure out the flour into a large bowl. Add the gluten and yeast to one side of the bowl. Add the salt to the other side of the bowl. Add the water all at once and mix with a stiff spoon until all the flour is incorporated in the dough. Mixing should take 30 seconds to one minute. The dough should be shaggy and sticky but not goopy.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm place for 18 hours. At the end of 18 hours the dough will have risen. There will be visible gluten strands and bubbles, and the dough will smell fermented.

Scrape down the dough inside the bowl with a stiff spoon or spatula. Slide the spoon under the dough and bring the bottom of the dough over the top. Turn the bowl 1/4 turn and do the same thing three more times.

Prepare a baking sheet by covering it in a thin coating of olive oil and then sprinkle flour over it, making sure the olive oil is covered in a thin layer of flour.

Spill the dough from the bowl into the middle of the pan. Wet your hands and shape the dough into a ciabatta shape (rough rectangle, about 2 thirds the length of the pan.) Lightly sprinkle flour over the top and pat the dough gently so that it’s no longer sticky. Cover with a kitchen towel and let sit in a warm area of the kitchen for 2 hours.

Begin preheating the oven to 425 degrees a half-hour before the 2 hours are up. When the 2 hours are up, remove the towel and place the baking sheet and dough in the middle of your pre-heated oven.

The dough will be ready between 35 and 60 minutes depending on your oven. If you have an instant read thermometer you want the bread to be about 210 – 215 degrees. You can check for done-ness by tapping the bread. It’s done when the bread sounds hollow.

Allow the bread to fully cool before you cut into it. If the crumb is still damp, you’ll need to bake it longer next time. It will still be good – just put it in the toaster to re-warm and dry out.

In my oven I need an hour to cook it through.

Despite the 21 hour total process the amount of actual work is minimal. A couple of minutes to mix the ingredients, a couple of minutes to prepare it for a second rise and then a quick shove into the oven. Your actual effort is 5-6 minutes. And the result is amazing.

 

 

Ring doorbell security compromises

I’ve owned a Ring doorbell for 3 years. When I bought it Ring only sold one main product (the doorbell) and several accessories (doorbell chime, brackets, video retention, etc.). Today they have a line of doorbells, security lights, in home security devices, accessories and software services. In addition the ownership changed from the founder plus venture capitalists to a subsidiary of Amazon.

From early on the Company was criticized for poor security. The initial batch of doorbells had a firmware security flaw that was fixed via an update during the set up process. Since then there have been a number of egregious security flaws related to employees viewing customer’s security cam videos without permission, the devices granting access to unauthorized users, release of camera locations to police without permission, hackers gaining access to nanny cams and frightening children or spewing racist abuse, and most recently data for 3,000 customers was stolen.

Ring denies their devices are insecure. With respect to the recent data breach they claim they have not been hacked, but the data had to come from them so their denials are not credible. It’s hard to have confidence that a Company is serious about fixing these problems if they refuse to acknowledge their mistakes.

Within the last week Ring’s app directed me to set up 2-factor verification and change my password. I don’t know if that means I was one of the 3,000 compromised customers.

In the past I’ve posted that I would not buy another Ring device. My reason was solely related to how poorly the doorbell works. But these security failures are even more troublesome. They sell SECURITY. How can they not take the security of their customers more seriously?

Just a few words regarding in-home security devices. When you buy wifi security devices they are only as secure as the company that runs them. They all run off servers connected to the devices over the internet. If those servers are compromised so is your home.

I think the risk of a criminal hacking into a server to burglarize a home is low. But hacking into a server to access nanny-cams is another story. This has already happened, and will continue to happen whether you have a Ring device or a nanny-cam from some other company.

I would advise against getting an in-home camera at all. If you feel you must have a nanny-cam it makes more sense to get a home server and a security camera that connects only to your server. There is still a risk – if someone cracks into your server they can access your camera. Plus a home server/security cam setup is substantially more complex. But the risk is much lower with your own server.

Restaurant tips

I almost always tip 20% of the alcohol and food bill, before tax. Sometimes the restaurant adds hints on the check for 15, 20, 25%, but they always calculate based on the total check, including tax.

Tips seem to be an incentive for good service and an understanding that the wait service’s salary is partially paid by the patron.

There’s a bunch of things that confuse me about tipping:

  1. Why would I tip the tax? Or is that a shorthand way of tipping more than 20% of the bill? If the latter I would rather choose the % I want to tip.
  2. Is the tip only for table service? There are often tip jars at counter service fast food places. They didn’t serve me, but they prepared the food to order. Are tips a component of their salary too? I never tip at counter service places.
  3. What if you are served by the owner? Their incentives and salary is completely different from hired wait staff. Do they expect a tip? I almost never tip ownership.
  4. Why is the tip based on the cost of the meal? Five patrons at a diner will generate the same work for wait staff as a four-star restaurant. Why are patrons expected to pay 4x the tip in a fancy restaurant because the food costs more? The price and quality of the food has nothing to do with the wait staff. It makes more sense to tip based on the number of plates served, not the check amount.
  5. If my tip is part of the credit card charge does the restaurant deduct the card fee from the $ they give the wait staff?
  6. What if service is ok but the meal was terrible because the food was poor or the kitchen was slow? Should that effect the tip? I usually tip 20% anyway if I think the issue was out of the wait staff’s control.

In the UK they think tips are insulting. I guess they are paid a reasonable salary and don’t need or want tips. That’s a better system. It shouldn’t be left up to the patron to determine what someone’s job is worth. Just add 15% or so to the price of each order. No one needs to do math after consuming alcohol, and wait staff won’t be stiffed by cheapskates and jerks.

The same theory applies to cash-only restaurants. I hate them. If the restaurant can’t afford the credit card fee they should just add 3% to the price of the food on the menu. At worst accept credit cards and offer a discount for cash payment. These days there shouldn’t be a need for patrons to be inconvenienced by a restaurant’s desire to skim from the register or inability to get a credit card machine.

Blood Pressure – Plant Based Diet

The doctor told me I had high blood pressure, which was supposedly the reason I had a recent vision issue.

I re-started eating a whole-food plant-based diet again, after failing to stay on it the last two times I tried. I’ve been compliant except for one restaurant meal of minestrone soup and salad (both with some fat, the soup probably had beef broth).

This time I am starting out eating a starch-based McDougall plan diet, with a lot of starchy foods (rice, beans, potatoes, lentils), a lot of salad, some fruit and cooked leafy green vegetables. The first time I truly went plant-based I used the Fuhrman plan, which was primarily leafy green vegetables and salad.

I lost weight (water weight and then fat) very quickly under Fuhrman’s plan and then switched to more of a starch-based diet after most of the weight was off. I like greens, but I prefer a higher starch diet.

It’s not surprising that my weight is coming down more slowly under McDougall’s plan. Greens are lower in calories than starch. I lost some weight but not an extraordinary amount in the week+ so far. My blood pressure is starting to come down already. I haven’t taken any medication, and likely will not take any going forward. If McDougall’s predictions are correct I might be at normal blood pressure in a week or so.

It’s really amazing how quickly my body responded to plant-based eating vs. the extravagant meat-eating I normally do. I expect to lose weight since I am consuming fewer calories, but it’s astounding that my cardio vascular system improved so rapidly. My friend has been on blood pressure medication for 10 years to keep him at normal levels. I won’t need medication at all (supposedly).

I ate plant-based for 2.5 years between 2013 and 2015, and gave it up despite great health, normal BMI and feeling terrific. Stupid, I know.

The big issue has always been how hard it is to fit in while eating this way. That hasn’t changed. I am eating different food than my family; I can’t share the family dinner. There’s really almost nothing to eat a restaurant; I used to order something ridiculous like two salads and two baked potatoes, or just eating whatever crappy salad they serve. There are no fast food plant-based food joints; Vegan restaurants all use oil, so I can find about the same amount compliant food at a vegan place as a steakhouse. Every time I want to eat something at home I have to make it (other than fruit); I can’t reach for a pre-made box or a bag of anything.

None of that has changed and I am likely to feel annoyed and isolated by this diet once I regain my normal weight, just like the last time.

The difference now is that my normal SAD diet has given me significant health issues. I suppose I could do what everyone else does – go to the doctor all the time. But I think I would hate that more than the hassle of plant-based eating. I AM NOT living a life on pills and stents and constant doctor visits.

At the moment I do not crave the old food, but it’s been less than 2 weeks. We’ll see what happens. I feel a whole lot better already.

Children’s Picture Book recommendations

Our kids are grown, but when they were young I loved sitting down in the evening and reading to them. We started when they were too young to talk, with books they could safely put in their mouths. As they became toddlers we starting reading board books, then picture books. The kids loved it, and so did I.

One of our friends has beautiful grandkids, the youngest just turned one and the oldest is four. We’ve been buying them some of our favorite books from 20+ years ago. Just thought I’d make a list in case anyone else is interested (in no order).

  1. Animalia; The Eleventh Hour; Jabberwocky by Graeme Base
  2. The Mitten; The Owl and the Pussycat by Jan Brett
  3. Make Way For Ducklings; Blueberries For Sal by Robert McClosky
  4. Pigs Aplenty, Pigs Galore by David McPhail
  5. Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear by Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth
  6. The Escape Of Marvin The Ape by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Beuhner
  7. Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman
  8. The Giraffe And The Pelly And Me, Roald Dahl (only a few pictures, but a great book to read if you like doing funny voices)
  9. Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear by Nancy White Carlstrom
  10. The Rainbow Goblins by Ul De Rico (not actually that nice a story but I think kids can handle it, and the artwork is amazing)
  11. More Spaghetti, I Say! by Rita Golden Gelman and Mort Gerberg
  12. Morris Goes To School by B. Wiseman
  13. Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!; The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins by Dr. Seuss (these are overlooked Seuss classics)

John Wick Chapter 3 / Aladdin Reviews

I am not a movie critic the following is just one man’s opinion. There are spoilers below.

Wick:

I saw the first two Wick movies and enjoyed them, although I liked the first one best. It’s a perfect role for Keanu Reeves – he’s relentlessly pursued and/or is relentlessly pursuing someone else, so he’s not called on to act.

In the first two movies he tried to get out of the hit man business, but something or someone kept pulling him back. The movies reside in an alternate universe where our real world overlays the tentacles of a world-wide crime syndicate that lurks everywhere and operates by its own rules.

What made the first two movies work for me was not Reeve’s leaden performances, it was the heartbreaking situations the writers forced him into, the creativity of the alternate Wick-world, vivid acting by the supporting cast, the urgency of the plot and the quick pacing of the director and editor.

In the third installment almost all of the above is present. Reeves does a lot of fighting but doesn’t act much, the pacing is just as rapid. But … there is no bad guy. How can you have a good vs. evil movie without a bad guy?

The movie is a chase scene stretched out to two hours. It’s repetitive (how many attacks on people’s groins can one movie hold? Does any movie need more than one scene where the hero is burned with a poker?), it’s pointless (He suffers, he asks a big-wig for forgiveness, he rebels anyway. Why not just rebel to begin with?), and not one of the fight scenes is against anyone important.

Not only are all his opponents no-name henchmen, but most of them have their faces obscured by scarves, helmets or armor. They are literally faceless. It’s like watching two-hours of a power ranger fighting putties (If you had a kid born in the 90’s you’ll get that reference).

The fight scenes are very well done but get boring after awhile since he’s not fighting anyone important.

The movie has overwhelmingly good reviews, so don’t just take my word for it. But I would rather have watched John Wick 3 on TV.

Aladdin:

Aladdin got mixed reviews by the professional critics. Some thought it still had charm despite significant flaws. Some thought it didn’t.

I thought the two actors who played Jasmine and Aladdin were excellent. They were attractive, they acted well enough, had good singing voices and looked like they performed their own stunts (I’m not sure if they did in reality, but I never suspected a stunt person was subbing for them.)

The problem for me was the actors who played the genie and Jafar. It’s impossible to avoid comparison with two brilliant performances by Robin Williams and Jonathan Freeman and unfortunately Will Smith and Marwan Kenzari fall short, in my opinion.

I think Will Smith is an enormously charismatic, funny and talented actor and singer. But this is just a bad pairing of actor and role. There are a number of issues (some not his fault, the CGI applied to him pales in comparison to animation) but the primary one is his speech. He sounds too modern and too casual. In other words, he sounds like himself rather than the character.

Kenzari fails both because he’s not the Jafar that Freeman is and because he wouldn’t have been sufficiently menacing, crafty and loonie enough for the role even if there never was a Freeman performance. The role is wrong for him.

This isn’t really a criticism but it’s emblematic of the type of choices made by Disney in this film: they were handed a gift by Gilbert Gottfried. He turned a minor role into one of the many highlights of the animated movie. Disney tossed that gift in the trash. The Iago character exists in the new movie but his performance, sense of humor and IQ have been dialed down by about 90%. A waste.

I don’t like Disney’s entire concept: making a live action version of a hit animation movie just because they can. No aspect of this new Aladdin improves on the original so what was the point, other than milking more money out of an existing asset.

Aladdin is doing very well at the box office so like my review of John Wick 3, don’t take my word for it.

 

Artificial Intelligence vs. the work force

1. Amazon distribution workers can be fired by a computer:

https://www.theverge.com/2019/4/25/18516004/amazon-warehouse-fulfillment-centers-productivity-firing-terminations

“Amazon’s system tracks the rates of each individual associate’s productivity,” according to the letter, “and automatically generates any warnings or terminations regarding quality or productivity without input from supervisors.” (Amazon says supervisors are able to override the process.)

In other words, Amazon has assigned HR to artificial intelligence with respect to performance warnings and terminations.

2. Home Depot has gone entirely self-checkout at the store in my neighborhood.

A couple of lanes are manned by people but they are labeled “Pro”, which I assume means they are for contractors. For everyone else you walk up to a big new screen and use a scanning gun or table scanner just like someone who used to get paid for checking you out. I’m now an unpaid Home Depot worker.