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Wednesday 2018.2.21

Some Politics

There has been some perplexing discussion in the news recently. Should the president pardon those indicted by the Mueller investigation? Like many issues, this is a double-edged sword and demonstrates the typical short-sighted actions of some politicians.

With no threat of conviction and imprisonment, defendants such as Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and others who will likely be indicted soon, would be under no pressure to cooperate with the Mueller probe. This would effectively silence them, protecting the president from possibly damaging information being released about his connection with the Russians and about his finances.

However, it would anger voters who would see it as yet anther example of obstruction of justice by a president who thinks he is above the law. They would likely express their outrage when voting in November, handing the Democrats a big victory and majority in congress. Those Democrats would almost assuredly impeach him.

The president has been warned several times that the wrong decision could quickly end his political career. What is the right decision? Unfortunately for him, there is no right decision when it comes to issuing pardons. It's too late. The right decision would have been not to run for the office of president in the first place, or not to have any dealings with Russian oligarchs and their attempts to launder money using the USA real estate industry.

Meanwhile, the New York Times nailed the president on one of his major fears: that Americans might realize he was not legitimately elected because of Russian interference with the election in 2016. I've mentioned it before. The Russians couldn't alter the machines that report the votes, but they could — and very likely did — use propaganda to influence the voters to favor Trump.

Another Good Bike Ride

I was called upon this morning (actually scheduled two weeks ago) to drive a friend to a clinic down in the city where he had to undergo a couple examinations. There was nothing wrong; these were his periodic tests. However, the exams needed to be done while he was out under general anaesthesia. Therefore, he needed a designated driver.

With the Thule bike carrier it was easy to bring my bike down to the city with us. Rather than sitting in a waiting roof for 2½ hours trying to distract myself with old magazines, I hopped on my bike and rode around town.

It was a fun ride. I started with a long (several city blocks) ride up a hill to appreciate the ease with which the motor assists the peddling. Then I turned right and followed a nice city street with a wide bike path, going all the way down to the ocean. There is a wharf down there. That wasn't the best choice. The wooden planks, although strong enough support cars, were very rough and worn. It was almost like biking on cobble stones.

At the end of the wharf I stopped to appreciate the view of the ocean and the city. The water was blissfully calm and there was only a light breeze. It was a pleasant rest.

Then I turned around, biked the wooden cobbles again and continued onto State Street, the center road up through the city. By then I was starting to work up an appetite; so I stopped at an IHOP (International House of Pancakes) and purchased a breakfast to go. They were testing a new item — breakfast sliders with egg, bacon, sausage, and cheese. The bun was odd because it was two pancakes. I don't normally eat in the morning. Coffee is good enough for me. So I saved the food for when I arrived home later.

I really do believe I made the right choice of Pedego bicycle and Thule bike carrier. My bike travels safely and securely. I don't worry about it, even at freeway speeds.

Another New Year's Resolution Update

How am I doing with my resolution? So far this month I bought milk and eggs, for a total of $35.75, not counting the IHOP food.

Sunday 2018.2.18

Books

There seems to be an endless stream of books to read. I've been looking forward to the books about Trump's presidency. Now that they are being published, it's impossible to keep up.

After reading Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff, I read Devil's Bargain (Joshua Green), It's Even Worse Than it Looks (David Cay Johnston), and Trumpology (David Frum). Not all books are good. I enjoyed Wolff's book, but the others were not easy to read. The line of thought seemed scattered; maybe the books were written too quickly. They also weren't as informative as Fire and Fury. Wolff had unprecedented access to the West Wing of the White House.

Now I'm reading How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. I've only just begun reading it; so I can't give an impression yet.

The Indictment

In the meantime, I downloaded and read the indictment handed down by special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing 13 Russians of conspiring to alter the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Trump's favor. It wasn't an easy read, full of legalize and Russian names, but it was worth reading. If anything, it helped me to realize the importance of getting the news from reliable sources. All news reporting is biased, but reading multiple sources helps to filter out that bias.

Some have tried to persuade others to believe the Russians did not affect the outcome of the election. They didn't corrupt the machines that recorded the votes, but they definitely influenced the voters. And some have asked: If they wanted Trump to win, why did they promote Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders? Easy. To dilute the vote for Hillary Clinton, assuring a win for Trump.

I vlogged about my impression. You can link to my vlog here:

Or CLICK HERE.

Like many, I await the final outcome of Robert Mueller's investigation — and how long will we need to wait for it? There was an interesting report on the news recently. When independent counsel Ken Starr was investigating Bill Clinton for lying to congress about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, there was a law on the books that allowed him to release the findings publicly. That law has since expired.

Mueller can, supposedly, only release his findings to the U.S. Department of Justice, the deputy attorney general of which is Rod Rosenstein. What would he do with the findings? I can't help but think of the final scene in the Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Would the findings be buried in obscurity somewhere? Would they be leaked "under condition of anonymity" (another Deep Throat)? If the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in 2019, would they revive the law to make the findings public?

And what would be found in those findings? Some suggest they will reveal evidence of potential money laundering for the Russians through Trump's real estate holdings. Would he be tried in court? Could he be convicted? Or would he follow the same pattern as Richard Nixon — resign, let Michael Pence be sworn in as president, who would then pardon Trump of all charges?

The suspicions are not without some merit. Trump will verbally attack anyone he chooses to dislike or distrust, but he has never said anything negative about Vladimir Putin. It also helps to explain some of the panic Trump seems to feel about the Mueller investigation. What does Putin know that Trump would want to keep secret? Quoting Eric Swalwell of the House of Representatives: "What do they (Russians) have on him that would prevent him from acting in America's best interest?"

Better Late Than Never

Oops. I forgot to change my computers' filters on the first of this month. They've gone six weeks with the same filters. Yesterday I noticed a red light inside one of the computers. That means the CPU (central processing unit — the "brain") is running hot. This morning I changed all the filters. It also gives me a good reminder to open a side panel and inspect inside for dust. There are a few specks, but after more than three years of daily use these computers are still clean inside.

About two years ago I did a Kitchen Vlog video showing how I equipped my computers with dust filters. You can watch it on YouTube by clicking this graphic:

Or CLICK HERE.

Wednesday 2018.2.14

What's In a Name?

Is it ricotta or cottage cheese? A discussion arose because someone asked me if I make my own ricotta cheese. I tried to explain that ricotta is made from the whey that is left over when making cheese like mozzarella or cheddar. That is "sweet whey" because rennin (or rennet) is used to coagulate cow's milk for the curds used to make the cheese. And that's another issue. She makes her cottage cheese using vinegar. Therefore, that whey is called "acid whey", but she calls it sweet whey. Whatever.

There is still protein in whey and with enough of it (cheese making is a big industry that produces plenty of whey as a by-product) it can be coagulated for more curds, typically small in size, which gives ricotta its characteristic texture and flavor. Taste good ricotta and you'll detect a slight sweet flavor, from the sweet whey.

Cottage cheese is made by curdling milk with acid, usually distilled vinegar. If not rinsed, it will have a slightly tart flavor. Many cooks rinse the curds, which leaves the cheese with a bland flavor. For the creamy cottage cheese sold in stores, milk or cream is added to the curds, along with salt. I've made creamy cottage cheese and I really like it with corn chips.

Cottage cheese gets its name from being made in cottages from the milk left over after making butter. The name can be reliably traced back to 1831. The curds can be drained to make pot cheese. Drain them even longer to make a firm farmer's cheese.

The name ricotta (literally "twice cooked') can be traced back to early Roman times. It is said to come from Sicily. Sweet whey is heated again, causing the albumin to coagulate and float to the surface, from which it is skimmed and drained as ricotta cheese. This one distinction destroys any claim to calling cottage cheese ricotta. Cottage cheese is not cooked, even once, let alone twice.

Are the two interchangeable? It depends on what you are making. Many cooks substitute cottage cheese for ricotta when making lasagna or ravioli (and thus many cooks call their homemade cottage cheese ricotta). It works, unless you want the flavor of ricotta, which, as stated above, is slightly sweet and richer than cottage cheese. The two are not interchangeable in all recipes. For example, Roma Cheesecake should never be made with cottage cheese. That would be blasphemy! That would be like watering down tomato paste and calling it Marinara.

If you're on a diet to lose weight, you'll want cottage cheese. It is lower in fat, and therefore calories, than ricotta. It is also available in low-fat and no-fat varieties.

Be selective when buying ricotta. Taste the different products sold in stores. Locally, the two common brands sold here are Frigo and Precious. Frigo is awful. It is so bland and flavorless, I sometimes suspect it is really rinsed small curd cottage cheese. Precious has an excellent flavor. Another issue is water. Some greedy manufacturers add a little water (or drain it less) to stretch the product for greater profit. Although I really like Precious brand, I do find that for some recipes I need to drain it between several layers of paper towels to remove excess moisture.

So which is it? Ricotta or cottage cheese? You'll never catch me using the two names interchangeably, but I don't try to win any arguments with cooks who call their homemade cottage cheese ricotta. Some people, including me, are stubborn about always being right. They can call me wrong, but they'd better do their research and come up with the proof.

Another Storm that Almost Wasn't

Rain was predicted, maybe, for the first half of this week. The initial numbers looked promising. A 40% probability of rain. Then the "rain" changed to "showers" and the numbers began dropping. As of this morning, of the 14 stations that officially report rainfall for the region, only five reported measurable rain, and most of the numbers were less than a tenth of an inch. During last night some rain must have fallen because the ground was wet when I woke up, but the local station reported no measurable rain.

We've had some rain this season, but it wasn't always the rain we wanted. The most famous storm was the one that caused the major debris flow in Montecito, east of Santa Barbara. That was a perfect storm of conditions in combination: A long drought that killed much of the mountain vegetation that holds the ground in place during rain, a fire that stripped the land of its remaining vegetation, a ground baked by the fire and therefore reduced to a loose powder, and a torrent of rain that was the worst recorded for more than 100 years.

The best of the storms was a gentle rain that watered the region all day. It was good for landscaping and for washing roads and sidewalks. We need another one of those — actually, a few more. We've had only 28% of our "normal-to-date" rainfall this season. There are worries that we're entering another multi-year drought. Unlike Northern California, we never recovered from the last one. The local reservoir is currently at 39% capacity.

The Olympics

I've been watching the Winter Olympics. Fortunately, the events are being broadcast on two different channels, both by NBC here in the USA. I switch between the two to find something worth watching. I won't go so far as to declare curling not a sport, but it is hardly the jump-out-of-your-seat kind of exciting spectacle as a good football game. Did you watch the Super Bowl? Now that was an exciting sporting event.

Sunday 2018.2.11

Whey Bread

As planned, I made the whey bread late last week. For those who might not read my blog regularly: I make yogurt in my Instant Pot and drain the whey out of it for Greek style yogurt. I've been saving the whey rather than discarding it.

Quoting from one of my food encyclopedias:

Whey is "the watery liquid that separates from the solids (curds) in cheesemaking. Whey is used in processed foods such as crackers. Primarily, however, whey is more often used as livestock feed than it is in the human diet."

Look up whey on Wikipedia and you'll learn a lot about the byproduct. In my case, mine is acidic whey, from making yogurt. I therefore expected it to add a sour note to the flavor of the bread, like sourdough bread. I'm not fond of sourdough, but with a jar of whey in the refrigerator and plenty of flour in storage (I recently purchased a 25-pound sack at Costco), what could possibly go wrong? And even if the bread ended up in the trash, the cost of flour allows me to bake bread for less than 25¢ per loaf.

The dough had an interesting appearance. It looked a little shiny, like it was oily. I added no fat. I started with the simplest of all bread formulas — flour, yeast, salt and water — except that I substituted liquid whey for the water.

How did the bread turn out? Here are two photos.

It is among the ugliest loaves I ever made, maybe the ugliest on the outside. The inside crumb looked good. It was tender but chewy. The flavor wasn't as tart as sourdough. A fan of the web site who saw these photographs early said they look homemade, not homely. I don't agree. They are homely. If these loaves were on a rack in the bakery section of a store, I wouldn't buy them.

It did help me to understand why I don't see Whey Bread in any of my baking books. And it helps me not to feel any guilt in the future when I pour the whey from my homemade yogurt down the sink drain. This bread recipe won't become a video.

Is it edible? Toasted, with enough butter, it works well for a fried egg sandwich. I'll use up what I have, but I won't make this bread again.

Free Stuff

I have mixed feelings about copyright violations. Sometimes it seems like a person has no alternative but to turn toward questionable sources for needed media or software. I am still using an old version of Adobe Creative Suite (CS). When I was working, I used CS in my job. Because I occasionally did some work from home, I was allowed to take home the office's copy of CS to make copies for home use. Although I'm retired, I still use the software. Newer versions are available, but Adobe now requires a $50 monthly fee to use the Suite. I don't sell advertising space on my web site; so $600 per year is too expensive. The older version works well enough.

Recently I gave to a friend my Compleat Tex Avery (yes, "Compleat" is the correct spelling) boxed set of cartoons on laserdiscs. Go onto Amazon and look for the title. They're not available. However, on Usenet newsgroups I found all the cartoons on DVD. To download or not to download? I downloaded. They're not exactly free. I pay $15 per month for access and my cable bill with high speed internet is nearly $200 per month. And when Usenet is the sole source, it is fairly easy to rationalize a download.

However, there are limits. I do not download software. That is the easiest way to infect a computer with viruses. Where I worked, there was a "bring your child to work day." While a child was in an office s/he downloaded a game to play. The network was infected with a destructive worm, shutting down the division. It took the entire four-day Thanksgiving weekend to clean the network and enable office computers again. It isn't worth the risk, even with good virus protection software.

I've been hit with viruses. They're nasty. And that is the reason this one computer, the one on which I edit my videos and update my web site files, is perpetually offline. I connect twice a year to update my Windows 10 operating system (purchased, not downloaded). And I'm very careful when going onto the Internet or checking my email. "Free" isn't always free.

Wednesday 2018.2.7

Yogurt Revisited

I decided I didn't like the method for making yogurt, as published in the "Authorized" Instant Pot Miracle book. It says to set the incubation time to 8 hours. That is not enough time. I found 12 hours to be the minimum necessary for a proper yogurt to develop. At 8 hours, even 10 hours, I had mostly warm milk.

Maybe the problem was temperature. The milk in the pot rarely reaches 100°F (38°C), usually hovering around 95°F (35°C). And, adding to the problem, using an entire half gallon of milk was a lot of liquid to keep warm. However, I found a better way.

Instead, I make a quart of yogurt at a time. And I use pot-in-pot (PNP) preparation. PNP is popular when making small amounts of food in a pressure cooker. Water, about 1 cup, is poured in the bottom of the pressure cooker, then a wire trivet is place inside. The food is placed in a stainless steel bowl, which is rested on the trivet. The cooker is sealed normally and cook time remains the same. I use PNP when cooking beans or brown rice.

After sterilizing the pot per instructions and heating the milk to 185°F (85°C), I let it cool to the recommended 110°F (43°C). And then I depart from the instructions in the book.

I put a lot more water, 8 cups (about 2 liters) in the Instant Pot. The cultured milk goes into a stainless bowl, which rests on a trivet and almost floats in the water. I start off with hot water from the tap (110°F/43°C) to reduce heat up time. By cultivating the yogurt in the water bath, it is heated from the sides as well as the bottom. In terms of the science of physics, water transfers heat much more efficiently than air. The liquid incubates at around 105°F (41°C). So far, the results have been excellent every time.

Then, as usual, after cooling the yogurt in the refrigerator for several hours — at least 6 hours is recommended — I strain it for several more hours — usually overnight — to make Greek style yogurt. I end up with thick, creamy yogurt that I enjoy best with vanilla and honey.

And so, dissatisfied with the earlier procedure, and therefore also the video, the plan was to delete my yogurt video from YouTube and replace it with a newer one. On Monday I started the yogurt, in front of the video camera, and finished it yesterday. I'll probably do the replacement on Sunday rather than my usual new video upload, with an explanation for the change. You can view the video now by going to the recipe page and clicking the View the Video green button.

Or CLICK HERE.

English Muffins

This past week I received two requests for a recipe and video for making English Muffins. It's not as easy as making bread dough and frying it. I have a recipe in my Professional Baking textbook (by Wayne Gisslen). It's an odd procedure. The dough is kneaded in the machine for a long time, 20 to 25 minutes. Because of the heat this might generate in the dough, ice water is used. Rising time is long, 2 to 3 hours, in a cool place. The recipe is written for a commercial kitchen or bakery.

Intrigued, I'll probably try this recipe late this week, or maybe next week.

Whey Bread?

If I remember correctly, waybread AKA lembas, is a special food made by the elves in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It sustained the Fellowship of the Ring for a while in their travels.

When making yogurt, there is a step in which the yogurt is strained, letting the whey drip out. I make Greek style yogurt, which requires draining for many hours, like at least 8, or overnight. I've been saving the whey. It is supposedly high in protein and it doesn't have much of a flavor. So I am wondering what bread would be like if I used whey rather than water. We shall see…

Sunday 2018.2.4

Instant Pot Pleasure

I've been cooking since I was a teenager. Admittedly, most of my homemade meals back then weren't anything to serve for Sunday dinner — Pasta Roni, Kraft macaroni and cheese, ramen, frozen pizza, you get the idea.

Thankfully, there was room to grow and I made the best of it. I'm not a chef. I didn't attend culinary school. But I know my way around a kitchen. As one fan of the web site and my YouTube cooking channel said: With a few basic kitchen skills you can come with plenty of good meals. All you need is some good ingredients.

The Instant Pot is turning out to be a favorite way of cooking because I don't need to concern myself with it. I have a good quality pressure cooker — a Kuhn Rikon — but it requires monitoring. Not that I need to stand by it all the time, but I need to check the pressure indicator often to make certain the flame beneath the pot is not too hot nor too cool. With the Instant Pot, I set it up and walk away. It takes care of everything. Could anything be easier?

And so this week I made Beef and Bean Chili. In keeping with my New Year's resolution, it was a way to use up some of the beef chuck I have in the freezer. A couple months ago I bought several steaks and a roast when they were on sale nearly half off at the local Smart & Final store. I was also able to use up some homemade chicken stock to make cheater beef stock — add a little beef bouillon to the stock and voila!

The process of making the chili was videoed. It won't be the best recipe I ever wrote, but it really does well demonstrating the ease of cooking with the Instant Pot. Although, at this writing, the video is unlisted on YouTube, you can watch it now by clicking the green "View the Video" button on the recipe page. The video will go public in the next few weeks.

The Damaged Thule Bike Carrier

UPS finally showed up at 9:30 Wednesday evening to pick up the box for return to Amazon. It's such a large box, he saved my stop for the last one of the day because he needed the room on his truck. So, now it's on its way back. Who knows where it might visit during its journey home? I ultimately decided that this bike carrier had been sold to someone who learned they could not use it, packaged it up as best they could with lots of tape (having torn the box when opening it), and returned it. The seller decided it was still good enough to sell and I was the next recipient. I hope they open the box and inspect the parts. The steel pieces I saw were bent.

It gets better…

Thursday afternoon the UPS truck stopped outside my home. I went outside and the driver, a different one, said he had a box for me. It looked awfully beat up and I could refuse it if I wanted to. I told him the story of that box. Hopefully, it's on its way back to Amazon so that I can get my refund. One person commented wittily: "Did Dennis order a bike carrier or a boomerang?"

New Year's Resolution Update

As planned, I vlogged about the progress with my resolution after one month. You can access the vlog here:

Or CLICK HERE.

I did well. I bought a few groceries, mostly milk, and items I needed to make use of other foods stored in the freezer, such as chicken and vegetables needed to use my frozen chicken stock to make Chicken Soup.

Trump's Dump

On Friday Trump declassified the controversial document, in full, without redactions, and turned it over to congress to release to the public. One question in the news on Friday was "Why?" What was his motive?

The news said he is feeling even more pressure from the Mueller investigation as it closes in on him. He knows he is guilty of more than one crime. One of the potential charges — assisting the Russians with money laundering — could send him to prison. And so he is buying time, creating controversies and diversions to take some of the attention away from himself. He is hoping he will appeal to enough of his base to save his presidency and to prevent a Democratic takeover of both chambers of congress in 2019 (which could lead to his impeachment). His problem: The number of his Republican supporters is dwindling.

Some are saying it's too late for Trump. Mueller's investigation is too advanced. Too many officials are involved. Even if Trump were to fire Rod Rosenstein and a new acting attorney general were to fire Robert Mueller, too many people within the FBI could release the findings of the investigation, even if through a Deep Throat informant, to the media.

Trump is desperate. His actions reveal his pathetic desperation. And his desperation might be affecting the stock market. Friday's plunge was said to be caused by a really good unemployment report, which could mean more money for American's to spend, which could lead to inflation, which could lead to a hike in the lending rate. This coming week will be important for understanding any trends that might be occurring in the market. Was Friday only a blip? Or is the anticipated correction finally upon us, ushering in a bear market for a while?

My First Group Ride

Yesterday I participated in my first Pedego Owners Group ride. There were six of us, five of whom are retirees. The one young person was the owner of the local Pedego dealership.

It was a leisurely ride, 2 hours, with several (maybe too many) stops along the way. The leader is the director of the local Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy group. He wanted us to see a few things the coalition accomplished for safer cycling in the city.

Total mileage on my trip odometer was 11.1 miles (17.8km). It was good exercise and it felt good to barely struggle to peddle the bike up a long hill. The electric motor did most of the work, but I was tired afterward — a reminder to get myself in better shape. It will take a few days to fully recover.