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Wednesday 2021.1.20

Brain-Dead

Sometimes I amuse myself. I was totally at sea on Monday, perplexed with the complicated ordeal of calculating a percentage. For the life of me, I really couldn't figure it out. I even tried calling a friend who was a math tutor in college. He was unavailable. I finally went to a web site that will calculate the percentage for you. Thankfully, the site also shows the simple formula.

x
— x 100 = %
y

Why was this important? I was trying to determine the percentage of hydration for a pita bread recipe that failed. Using the formula above, x would be the grams of water and y the grams of flour.

I found the recipe on a web site. I tried making the pita pockets on Monday. The dough wouldn't puff. I ended up with delicious flat bread, but not pocket bread. I know the pocket is made when water in the dough steams, puffing up the pita. So, maybe there wasn't enough water in the dough?

I watched 10 pita bread videos on YouTube, writing down the numbers for the flour and water amounts. I then calculated the hydration for each recipe. Calculating an average (I know how to do that, thankfully) of the 10 formulas, I ended up with an average hydration of 63.5%.

Turning back to the original recipe that uses 4 cups flour (567g) and 1¼ cups water (296g), the hydration is 52%. That's too low. By adjusting the volume of water from 1¼ cups to 1½ cups (355g), the hydration changes to 62.6%. Voila! Hold back 1 or 2 tablespoons of the flour for dusting the work surface.

Maybe a little more explanation is necessary? Most bread recipes don't tell you how they measured the flour. Did they sift the flour into the cup, scraping off any excess? That's about 4½ ounces (128g). Spoon flour into a cup? 5 ounces (142g). Plunge a measuring cup into a bag of flour and scoop out one cup? 5½ ounces (156g). There really is a lot of variance. I learned that from a Julia Child French Chef video.

If a recipe doesn't explain the flour, the rule of thumb is to assume one cup of flour is 5 ounces. However, baking is like chemistry and precise formulas work best. When baking, your kitchen becomes a laboratory. To be safe, it's a good idea to calculate a bread recipe's hydration percentage before wasting any ingredients. I didn't do that. My bad.

There are subtle differences in flour. Summer wheat flour is supposedly softer than winter wheat flour. In the Southern USA states there is a unique flour that makes the best fluffy biscuits. So a good starting point is to aim for about 63% hydration and adjust a little from there.

And Speaking of Brain-Dead

Donald Trump is gone! He's out of the White House. A new president replaced him. Oh how I looked forward to this day!

Merry Christmas!

In last month's blog I mentioned not buying myself a Christmas present. There wasn't anything I wanted. I was on the phone with a friend yesterday and he mentioned a Kitchenaid pasta extruder. I've been wanting an extruder, but I never thought to look for one as an attachment for my stand mixer.

I went on line while we were both on the phone and I ordered it. It's a belated Christmas present. With six different disks, it should be fun to use in a video. There is a rigatoni disk. Chicken Riggies? I want to use the bucatini disk to make short tubes, or tubetti, for Pasta Fagioli. This could be loads of fun. There is nothing like a new toy to get me interested in making more cooking videos. The extruder, AKA pasta press, is supposed to arrive tomorrow.

Tomatoes

I ate another tomato yesterday. I have two left ripening on the vine. Store-bought tomatoes are nothing compared to the flavor of vine-ripened fruit.

I'm still planning to go forward with my indeterminate tomato plant experiment. I have most of what I need. I'll buy the cage soon.

Onions

I looked at the onion plants yesterday. One or two might be ready to harvest soon. The bulb won't be as large as those in the grocery store, but it should be fun to cook something with a home-grown onion. (The garlic continues to look good too.) During these winter months with limited sunshine, I don't expect much from my trees and herbs. In March they'll begin to thrive again.

And Speaking of Gardening

I really suspected we might not see a drop of rain in January. There are forecasts of "slight chance of showers" or "chance of rain" this week. However, CNN is reporting a shift in the jet stream that could bring "two years of rain" into the American Southwest during the next series of three to four storms starting this weekend.

Sunday 2021.1.17

Some Bragging

I moved to Southern California in 1975 to attend a university here. I grew up in Connecticut. One of my fantasies was to move away from New England's cold winters and bask in the warmth of SoCal. I never looked back.

On Thursday the temperature rose to an unseasonably warm peak of 78°F (26°C). Where I live, my outdoor thermometer reported the day a few degrees higher, the low 80s. I checked the temperature where I grew up in Connecticut; it was in the low 40s.

The days are remaining warm through today with cooling this week.

COVID-19 Economic Impact Payment Card

In 2019 I did not receive a tax refund that was automatically deposited into my checking account. I paid taxes. Therefore, this year I received my stimulus payment on a VISA pre-paid cash card. It's valid until April 2024. That's good enough because I'll need to go to Costco eventually. I checked; Costco supposedly accepts those cards at the register.

I may be able to visit Costco sooner than planned because I saw in the news an article that said the qualifying age for the COVID-19 vaccine was being lowered from 75 to 65. I'll be 70 years old in July. Currently, the estimate here in Santa Barbara County for people in my age group is early February to Mid-March. I registered with the County Public Health Dept to be notified when and where I can get my vaccination when available.

Got Tomato Paste?

Sometimes we're limited to availability. I needed tomato paste to make marinara and pizza sauce. The last time I ordered it from Amazon I was able to get a six-pack of 6-ounce cans. They weren't available this time. So I ordered a 24-pack of 12-ounce cans. Do a little arithmetic. That's 18 pounds of tomato paste! Thankfully the "best if used by" date is May 2023. (A six-pack of canned whole San Marzano tomatoes, 28 ounces each, is still available on Amazon.)

Tomato Paste

Each can has double the amount of tomato paste I'm used to seeing in a 6-ounce can.

I did some research and learned that tomatoes are cooked, strained, cooked again and then strained again to make tomato paste. Tomato puree is cooked once and has more water in it. Both are made of cooked tomatoes. Can paste be substituted for puree? Yes. 1/3 cup paste and 2/3 cup water, mixed, is the same as 1 cup puree. And it's already cooked. I didn't know that. I only need to season it — a little salt, garlic powder, onion powder, maybe a little dry basil and parsley. I look forward to experimenting with this stuff.

That explains something I read a few years ago. Supposedly some chefs in pizzerias use only tomato paste as the sauce on their pizzas. Why not? It's already cooked.

And that's one thing I appreciate about having my YouTube channel and this foodie web site — it forces me to do research and I learn so much. I don't know all there is to know about cooking. I sometimes feel like I know very little. But I'm learning.

My First Experiment

I can report my first experiment with the tomato paste. Using the formula above, to make puree use one can of paste and two cans of water. How much water will one of those 12 oz. cans hold? 11/3 cups, or 315ml. Place 22/3 cups water in a bowl with the can of paste, and use an immersion blender to mix it all up until smooth, or mix in a blender. Voila! 4 cups tomato puree.

I added a little garlic, onion powder, dried basil, dried oregano and, of course, some salt. I sauteed some cubed raw chicken in a skillet and boiled some macaroni. When the chicken was cooked I added the puree and turned off the heat. No cooking. Then I added the cooked pasta. How did it taste? Like macaroni with chicken and pasta sauce. It was good enough to enjoy and, more importantly, it was easy. "Easy" is good in this stressful time.

More "Easy"

This week I did a little research on the PalouseBrand.com web site. They grow and ship products like green split peas, some of which I ordered from Amazon. I saw a recipe for Pita Bread. You've seen them. They're flat breads that can be cut open on one side to make a pocket to be filled. My plan this week is to make the Pita Bread and then stir-fry some thinly sliced lamb with mixed vegetables. Season it and fill the Pita Pockets. And no shopping necessary; the ingredients are already on hand. If all goes well, it will be next Sunday's featured recipe and video.

Not So Easy

As I reported on Wednesday, Computer-2 was down. The CPU (central processing unit — the brain chip) cooler failed. Unable to keep the processor at a safe temperature, the computer wouldn't work. I tried a few things, hoping to solve the problem, but my efforts failed. So I ordered a new cooler.

Similar to the former cooler, a Corsair H100, this newer version has a few perks I like. I downloaded and installed the iCUE software. This gives me some control over the cooler. Rather than swirling colored lights (which don't tell me anything), I chose temperature coloring. When the CPU is at a safe operating temperature the LEDs glow green. When things start to get too hot, the color changes from green to yellow and then red. I like that better.

The installation took a few hours. I did a video, to be uploaded when edited to My Kitchen Vlog. The most important detail of the whole experience is that the computer is now working normally again. I'm witing this blog on the repaired computer.

Shirts

Two done, eight to go.

Wednesday 2021.1.13

Seven Days Remaining

Only seven more days of Trump. Soon the nightmare will be over. I anticipate more COVID‑19 super spreader events as parties erupt all over the USA to celebrate his departure from the White House. Although I won't attend any parties, I'll probably plan some sort of celebration for myself here in my home. Maybe an extra-special Pizza and I'll open a bottle of Syrah I've been holding for a special occasion.

I thought about doing a Kitchen Vlog video with the theme: "Our four-year experiment with authoritarianism and dictatorship." The post might be popular for a week or two, but interest would soon wane; so I probably won't do that video.

Today the House of Representatives is voting to impeach the president again. If that passes, and it's expected to, Trump will be the first president in USA history to be impeached twice. Meanwhile, companies, banks, and the State of New York, are cutting ties and ending contracts with the Trump Organization.

And Speaking of Pizza

I continue to adjust my recipe for Pizza Sauce. The recipe on this web site if for making the sauce in a Sun Oven. I've been using my Instant Pot. I made a batch — enough for 11 pizzas — on Sunday. The next time I make it I'll do a video. It certainly would be a lot more popular than the Sun Oven version. As I usually do, I used my impulse heat sealer and poly tubing to freeze those portions of sauce. When frozen, I put them in a ziplock bag to keep them together and organized in my freezer. I also have Italian sausages, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese portioned and frozen. The goal is to stay out of the grocery stores and especially Costco.

And Speaking of Staying Out of the Stores

This past weekend the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department posted this headline on their COVID-19 portal: "Today, 1/10/21, marks the highest total case count, 779 new cases, reported since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic." In the county there are more than 2,000 people "still infectious." Those are the ones the country knows about. How many people are walking around, undetected because they are asymptomatic, infecting others? That 779 might be a good estimate, and therefore reason to stay out of stores like Costco.

Three years ago I gave myself the New Year's Resolution to use up all the foods in my freezer before I purchased any more. I even put a little sign on my freezer door that said, "Eat Me!" It was visible in some of my cooking videos and Kitchen Vlogs. No one commented on it. It's time to make that resolution again. There is one difference this time: I am ordering some groceries from Amazon.

Amazon, however, can be a problem. I'm limited to what is available. The last time I ordered Cento brand tomato paste I purchased a small case of 6 cans, 6 ounces each, which are currently unavailable. My latest order was for a pack of 24 cans, 12 ounces each. The best-if-used-by date is typically two years; so that many cans might be okay. By the time I use them all I'll be vaccinated, as will almost everyone else, and it will be safe to go shopping again.

As for the canned Cento Marzano tomatoes, those are still available in six-packs.

Computer-2 Down

I've written about this problem before. I'm still trying to resolve it. The overheating warning light comes on inside to alert me to the CPU getting too hot. The computer usually shuts down automatically.

The CPU cooler is a liquid cooling unit. It used to be in Computer-1. I switched them several months ago to determine if the cooler was the problem. However, when I used fresh thermal paste, the problem went away. Ergo: It must have been the paste degrading over time. Now the cooler is acting up again, regardless of new paste. Maybe the pump in the cooler is failing? So I spent $130 for a new cooler. I have enough funds in my web site's financial support account on PayPal; so it wasn't a painful amount to pay. That computer is the one I use for my web site and videos.

Meanwhile, I'm writing this blog on Computer-1 — yet another reason to build computers in pairs. I don't like using this computer for my web site because the computer is always connected to the internet. I worry that a virus might corrupt my files, even though I keep good backups and I have good virus protection software. Computer-2 is almost never connected to the internet. My files are safe there.

As for the cooler, it arrived yesterday. That's one reason I order from Newegg. They're located in Los Angeles and if they have the product in stock I usually get it the following day. I'm waiting for a new tube of thermal paste to arrive. I might as well do the installation with new paste too. And I'm considering doing a Kitchen Vlog of the repair/installation.

And, Finally

Yesterday morning I had my six-month appointment to have my teeth serviced. It was such a successful checkup, I went for a celebratory bike ride afterward. I didn't go far, but it felt good to be out of my home in the fresh air riding my bike for a while.

Quick Addendum

After I posted this blog, there was an announcement Governon Gavin Newsom in California changed the vaccine eligibility to everyone who is 65 years old or older. Now the question is: Where and how do I request an appointment? I'm working on it.

Sunday 2021.1.10

Attempted Coup

After publishing my blog on Wednesday morning all hell broke loose in Washington. I was pleased with the win by Senator Ossoff, the second winner of the runoff in Georgia. Then, as I watched the news, the protest against the certification of Biden and Harris's wins turned into an ugly insurrection. I watched it all.

I know there are many who will still argue the election was rigged, despite all the failed attempts to prove it was so. Repeatedly, lawyers working for Trump could offer no evidence of voter fraud in any of the states where the results were challenged. Hand counts and other audits showed no irregularities. Even Republican-appointed judges said this was one of the safest and most honest elections in recent history. But, of course, that won't be accepted by those who only get their news, or conspiracy theories, from Fox, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart, or other extreme right sources. And so they attacked our democracy. One woman was videoed saying they stormed the Capital because this was "a revolution." Another woman died, as did one of the police officers trying to protect the Congress members present in the Capital building.

Where was our president? He was in Washington, but he said almost nothing. He did record a video asking the terrorists to go home, along with declaring yet again the election results were phony and unfairly rigged against him. NBC reported, "Facebook and Twitter locked Trump's accounts after posting video praising rioters." Later, he recorded a second video that was more appropriate of a leader.

One topic that interested me was how the foreign press would describe the incident. The Guardian in London published the headline, "Call it what it was: a coup attempt." I was satisfied with that because that is how I viewed it, an attempted coup, a violent insurrection, instigated by Donald Trump, to overturn a free and fair election in order to remain in power. How far would Trump go to be like Vladimir Putin or other dictators? We saw how far on Wednesday.

So where do we go from here? Joe Biden will be inaugurated as President ten days from today. He and Kamala Harris will take their oaths of office and assume their places in the White House. Where will Trump be? There was a news story saying he scheduled his personal Trump jet to fly him to Scotland to play golf on one of his courses, but Scotland officials said he would be denied entry into the country because of the coronavirus. The latest news says he and Melania will fly to Mar-a-Lago the day before the Biden inauguration.

Now there is another impeachment effort. There is only one article of impechment, "incitement of insurrection." If it passes the House it would make Trump the first president in USA history to be impeached twice. It wouldn't be passed by the Senate. Trump's term of office would expire first.

If there was any silver lining in the day, it was my pleasure that I am retired. Rather than being at work, I was home to watch the news all day.

Shirts

One down, nine to go. And, as such, I haven't been doing any cooking videos. I've been devoting my attention to shirts instead. One reason is that I don't want to shop for ingredients (although I went to Target to buy the sheets for the shirt fabrics). Another reason is why I bought the sheets: I wanted something constructive to occupy my time during this stay-at-home pandemic period. I don't know when I'll do another cooking video. Maybe I'll do some tailoring videos for my Kitchen Vlog channel. Then again, maybe not. Who'd watch them?

Wednesday 2021.1.6

More About Shirts

I've been thinking a lot about the shirts I tailored from a cotton bed sheet I bought at Target.

There was a time when I could buy decent men's shirts at Costco. I bought them for work. I retired nearly ten years ago, and so have most of those shirts. Lately, it seems like all shirts are "slim fit," even if the label says "regular fit." I'm not slim. There are a few of those shirts at the back of my closet, hoping to see the light of day if and when I lose enough weight.

The beauty of tailoring my own shirts is that they fit perfectly. I like a baggy shirt. Some men in places like France and Italy laugh at America's love of baggy clothing. Give me a shirt with plenty of room inside and I'm a happy man.

I've also been thinking of the cost. I mentioned it in Sunday's blog. There is a fabric store down in the city that sells 100% cotton poplin for $14.95 per yard. I usually buy 2¾ yards for a shirt. Add the cost of thread and tax, it comes to nearly $50 per shirt.

A queen size bed sheet at Target is $13.99. With tax it's about $15. It's enough for two shirts. The cost per yard of the fabric is about $2.75. And it gives me something to do during this stay-at-home period (even though it requires a trip to Target). Plus, I end up with shirts that fit the way I like.

Of course, the colors are very limited, but I'm not tailoring shirts to wear in my cooking videos and vlogs. For those, I want color. These shirt are "day wear," something to put on when I go out (which is almost never during this pandemic). The other challenge is matching thread, but I already have most of what I need. As for buttons, I haven't bought those in many years. I reuse the buttons from old shirts.

So I went back to Target and bought five more sheets in different colors for $71.55. I didn't even use any gasoline because I rode my bicycle. My goal is to tailor one shirt per week, which would take me up to the Ides of March. (Maybe by then I'll qualify for a vaccine.) Where can you find custom made dress shirts for only $7.16 each?

The Georgia Runoff

As of this morning, Warnoff was declared the victor and Ossoff has a 17,000 vote lead with 98% of the votes counted. It seems certain the Democrats will have control of the Senate. For those in other countries who might not be familiar, the Senate will be evenly split with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. (Technically, 48 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with the Democrats.) When there is a tie vote, Vice President Kamala Harris, who is a Democrat, holds the tie-breaking vote.

Sunday 2021.1.3

Happy New Year!

Hopefully you had a safe and happy holiday. As we all know, there is reason to be concerned. Holiday gatherings are expected to expose more people to the coronavirus. We were warned about surges upon surges. Here in California the stay-at-home order has been extended by the governor. It applies to all areas with less than 15% ICU capacity. Our local hospital currently has 26.7% ICU capacity, but we are under the stay-at-home order because the region doesn't satisfy the 15% capacity.

I'm tempted to think I can go out more, but too much confidence can be bad; so I'm staying indoors.

Another tradition victimized by the pandemic: Every New Year's Eve for several decades I have been listening to the annual New Year's Eve Bash, broadcast by KUSC, the radio station of the University of Southern California. The show features classic comedy routines, mostly from old-time radio. This year there was no Bash. The host explained: All the comic recordings are in the studio and because of the pandemic he hasn't been in the studio since March.

My Computers

Thank goodness I know my own computers. I've said it often enough to be a bore: I build my own computers.

Last month I blogged about Computer-2 misbehaving. I thought it might be the C: drive. It worked fine for a few days, then the problem appeared again. This time, when I removed the side panel, I noticed the CPU (central processing unit — the brain chip) cooler light was red. It's supposed to be white. The computer was automatically shutting down because it was overheating.

I knew what to do because I encountered the same problem on Computer-1 in August. I removed the thermal paste between the CPU and cooler and replaced it with fresh paste. So far the cooler light has remained white.

Cancel That Regret

On the 13th of last month I expressed a regret that I didn't drive to Ventura to purchase some fabrics to tailor shirts. It would have been something to do during this stay-at-home order. This past week I needed to buy a bed sheet at Target and it occurred to me: Why not use the fabric from a bed sheet? A 100% cotton queen size flat sheet costs only $14 and that's enough material for two shirts (and who doesn't like having a spare?). That's about a quarter of the cost of fabric for one shirt if bought in a fabric store, not including the gasoline for driving an SUV on a 100-mile round trip.

I cut the first shirt on Wednesday afternoon and started the assembly on Thursday. I took my time. There was no need to rush. And there were college football games on TV. On a good day I can cut and assemble a shirt in one day. I made by first bed sheet shirt in three days. One down, one to go. And then I can think about buying another sheet, but a different color.