What I hope remains

Sunday, May 10th 2020 at 9:29 pm
by Jonah

We stop shaking hands.  (This was always a huge disease spreader for things like the common cold.)

We work from home more.

We go on fewer business trips.

We treat medical professionals, grocery store workers, delivery drivers, and truckers like heroes.

We make more home cooked meals.

We garden more.

We do things that are inconvenient for ourselves to try to protect the most vulnerable among us.

We reach out to our friends and loved ones more, even if we can’t do it in person.

There are more science stories on social media.

Dogs get to go on more walks.

Parents are more involved in their children’s education. 

There are fewer people in movie theaters and more people reading books.

There are fewer people watching sports and more people playing board games together.

“Stay safe” replaces “Have a good one”.

No paywalls for important news.

The feeling that we’re all in this together.

Delivery cocktails.

Potato Leek Soup

Tuesday, April 21st 2020 at 8:16 pm
by Berck

More with the recipes…

Use a lot more leeks than you can usually convince Jonah to buy. 8-12 leeks is a good start. I prefer to use only the white and white-green parts. If you move on to green-white it’s okay, but don’t use the green parts. They just tastes like grass. Slice the leeks thinly, and wash them. Wash them another several times. Wash them again, unless you like gritty soup.

Sautee them in butter and olive oil. I tend to measure butter in units of sticks. One stick is fine for this. You want some oil so the butter won’t burn/brown. I cook them on high heat for 10-15 minutes.

Peel and chop the desired amount of potatoes. Don’t over-potato your leeks. One large potato per leek, maybe? I prefer for the potatoes to be large bite-sized, which should still leave some big chunks after it disintegrates. I cook the potatoes with the leeks in the butter for awhile.

I like to add sliced garlic. It’s not necessary, but everything’s better with garlic. Toss it in when you’re basically done with the leeks and potatoes and cook until the garlic starts browning.

With the heat on high, add some vermouth, cheap white wine, or the alcohol of your choice. Let it bubble for a bit then add enough chicken stock until the potatoes are just covered in liquid.

Cook at a low simmer for an hour, with the lid covered. Longer is even better. When you’re about half an hour away from being ready to serve it, remove the cover, turn up the heat and reduce the liquid.

You want to boil down the liquid and you want the potatoes to mostly fall apart. I like it when there are still chunks of potatoes, but it’s also acceptable to run the whole thing through a ricer at this point if you want your soup to be smoooooth.

It’s important that you have a pretty thick thing going on, because then you need to add a bunch of milk and cream (or half and half). Add some milk/cream, stir, taste, correct for salt, repeat. Keep going until you get it where you want it. Boil briefly, reduce heat to low. Add freshly ground pepper. I usually add some pepper in the beginning and more just before I serve it. Potatoes are one of those things that really need more pepper than most people are willing to use.

Serve with crumbled bacon, plenty of high-quality cheese and sliced green onions.


Tuesday, April 21st 2020 at 7:58 pm
by Berck

I’ve gotten several requests lately for my bread “recipe”. I don’t use a recipe for bread, and I don’t even really measure. In general, in order to make good food, it much better to learn techniques that get you toward an end goal than to follow a recipe. Baking a cake involves careful measurement, but bread does not.

I learned everything I know about bread from reading Peter Reinhart’s books and experimenting. I started with his recipes, but I’ve adapted them to my kitchen, temperament, ingredients and perferences. If you want a recipe, buy one of his books. Artisan Breads Everyday is probably a good place to start these days. That said, I’ll let you know what I do.

I’ll cover both sourdough and bread from commercial yeast. Other than the yeast source, I don’t do things much differently. I aim for a chewy, rustic, hearth-style artisan bread. I judge success by a loaf with a crumb that has nice large, irregular holes. I want the crust to be brown, ideally with some caramelized sugars on top that got there via enzymatic production.

I start with yeast and water. For commercial-yeast, I use SAF Red Instant. Any yeast will do, but if you use “active dry” yeast, you need to activate it with lukewarm water (100 degrees F). If you use instant yeast, this is not necessary, and I usually use cold, filtered watered from my fridge. I use one “packet” of yeast, though I buy it buy the pound and have a 2-1/4tsp measuring cup that is the same as a “packet”. I do measure the yeast.

I use roughly 2.5 cups of water. If I’m making sourdough, instead of yeast, I add roughly 8oz by weight of starter. I keep my starter as a 50/50 by-weight mix of water and flour which makes it easy to mix and easy to feed.

I use a mixer with dough hook. You don’t have to, but I’m lazy, and much of my techniques are optimized for laziness. Even if you’re planning on kneading by hand, it’s nice to bring everything together in a mixer. The nice thing about a mixer is that you can deal with very wet dough which, in general, produces a better result than dough that’s comfortable to work by hand.

I add 1 tablespoon salt. (I do measure the salt. For commercial yeast, I taste and correct the dough, but I’m not a fan of consuming raw sourdough, so I try to get it right.) Then I’ll add flour slowly, running the mixer incrementally until it looks like I have a dough that’s clearing the sides, but still sticking to the bottom of the mixer. I turn off the mixer and wait awhile. 5 minutes to half an hour. I try to mix at medium-high speed for 5 minutes, let it rest 5 minutes and repeat until it seems like it’s done. I aim to leave the dough too wet to comfortably hand-knead. Note that it’s much easier to add flour than water, so I try very hard to never wind up with a dough that’s too dry.

After mixing, I take it out, put it in a zip-lock bag. If I’m planning on baking the next day, or it’s always if it’s sourdough, I leave it on the counter for a few hours. When it’s roughly doubled, I let the air out, seal it up and stick in the fridge. Overnight is fine, 24 hours is better, 4 days is starting to push it. The longer you let it go, the more flavor you get. If you’re making sourdough and are seeking a more “sour” flavor, go for 3 days in the fridge. More than 4 days and the dough starts to break down.

I take it out in the morning and put it back on the counter for 4 hours or so, at which point it’s warmed up and happy again. Because the dough is way too wet to handle, I dump it onto a well-floured counter. I carefully shape it into a loaf and place it on some parchment paper. I try not manipulate it more than necessary, and use shaping techniques that result in a stretched outer surface. I cover it and let it proof until it’s ready.

Ideally that should happen it about 4 hours. I preheat my oven to 550 with a baking stone in the lower third of the oven. Don’t use convection settings unless you want a moon rock. I score the top of the bread with a razer blade for better oven spring. You want to make sure the stone is very nice and hot. When Jonah yells at me the oven’s been hot forever, I put the bread in and pour about a cup of near-boiling water on the bottom of the oven for steam. (You should probably use a pan, but I’m lazy and I have a gas oven, so I just pour on the bottom.) Close it up, reduce the temperature to 425 and bake for 15-20 minutes or so until it’s golden brown. You can thump it and it’ll sound hollow, but after you dial in your process you can tell by crust color. Let cool for at least half an hour. Ideally you should let it cool overnight, but it’s hard to resist warm bread.

In order to keep the crust crusty, I either cut it so I can balance the cut side face-down on the cutting board, or cover the open portion with aluminum foil. Don’t wrap the whole thing in plastic or you’ll ruin the crust.

Things that are important: Use good flour. If you want rustic bread, it’s hard to get good results with all-purpose flour. It doesn’t have enough gluten and will be too fluffy. Good bread should not be fluffy, nor should it be too dense. Americans have a thing for bland, flavorless, fluffy, white bread. If that’s what you’re after, the supermarket will sell you a loaf for $1.50 baked that day, and you can save yourself the trouble.

I’ve settled on King Arthur bread flour until recently because quarantine bakers have made it completely unobtainable for me. I’ve ordered a 50-lb bag of high-gluten ADM flour, and I’m excited to see how that works out. It has substantially more protein than King Arthur, and it may be that extra kick I’ve been looking for. Or it might make rocks…

It’s harder to make dough too wet than too dry. The wetter the better in the long run. It requires less kneading. If it’s too wet, you can’t get it to hold its shape. In my experience, it should be unpleasant to handle–it’s going to want to stick to everything if you’ve gotten it right.

You can bake bread the same day you mix the ingredients, but it won’t be anywhere near as good, and you probably need to work it a lot more for decent texture. I consider overnight to be an absolute minimum fermentation time for this sort of bread. Long, cold, slow fermentation makes for great flavor. Additionally, you get good enzymatic breakdown of the flour which makes it easy to shape, and gets you that beautiful irregular cell structure.

I do sometimes use bread pans if I want squarish loaves for sandwiches. I find them to be a lot of bother, and I’m generally okay with oval sandwiches. Even when using a pan, I still bake on a stone. If you’re shopping for a stone, you want the biggest, thickest one you can find. Thin pizza stones don’t absorb/transfer enough heat.

Baking without parchment paper is a lot harder–corn meal works, but it’s still almost impossible to move dough as wet as I like from wherever you’re proofing into the oven without parchment paper–it’s just too sticky.

Dear Ian

Wednesday, April 1st 2020 at 11:59 pm
by Jonah

Dear Ian,

Happy 16th birthday! I bought you a present, but I got an e-mail today from Amazon saying that they had tried to deliver your package to your PO box but that they couldn’t because there was no one there to sign for it.  I kind of think they’re not being quite truthful with me, but who knows these days.  At least I tried. I should be able to get it to you eventually. 

Uncle Berck and I are both working from home, which we can both do as long as we have our computers and the Internet. There are only two people working in my normal work office, and I offered to come in so that one of them can work from home but I was told they didn’t want that because I have a sore throat.  My throat has been slightly sore for the last two and a half weeks.  I’ve been happy to keep working.  I’m one of the best people at what I do in the state of Colorado, which I’m pretty proud of.

To see if he has a fever, Uncle Berck has been checking his temperature regularly with the kind of thermometer that you rub against your forehead.  He’ll do it about five times in a row, and each time it says a different temperature.  Then he comes over to me and interrupts whatever I’m doing and rubs it on my forehead. Each time he looks at he display and says, “Hmmm.”  I’m not sure this thermometer works all that well.  But we feel fine for the most part.

One of our favorite restaurants just closed. King’s Chef Diner served massive portions of delicious, greasy food topped with spicy green chili. They were always packed on weekends.  After all the restaurants were ordered closed, they tried to stay open for take-out only, but they announced last week they were closing.  I hope they aren’t closed for good.  I worry they are closed for good.

Three days ago a country singer named Joe Diffie died of the virus.  He had a song in the 1990’s that I liked called “Third Rock from the Sun”.  He was 62.  Today a member of a band I really like called Fountains of Wayne died of the virus.  He was 52.  That’s just six years older than I am, and a lot younger than Nana and Pop. A lot of people have died of the virus, but for some reason this particular one made me really sad.

Uncle Berck decided we should hole up in our house the day after your mom and dad decided to. I did the day after that.  It turns out that was a wise decision. 

I know this situation won’t last forever, and I hope this is the only year you don’t get to have a real birthday party.  I’ve been trying to keep positive.  I know from history that most of us will make it through this OK and we’ll collectively celebrate our victory one day.  But history also seems to indicate this crisis won’t be over anytime soon.  

Well, after writing this, I guess I won’t send it to you.  Birthdays are supposed to be happy occasions, and I can’t seem to write about anything today except how said I am. Maybe I’ll go read some articles people have been publishing about how it’s OK to grieve in these times. 

Again, have a happy birthday, and I’ll see what I can figure out what’s going on with Amazon.  Maybe they’re too busy delivering hand sanitizer, which I guess is OK with me.


Aunt Joanna


Monday, March 30th 2020 at 9:20 pm
by Jonah

Today is the start of work week three of our self-isolation. Sometimes I feel sorry for people who live alone. And then there are days where I feel like living alone might be nice.

We might live in the best place in the world for self-isolation. We have a beautiful view. We have more books than we will probably ever read. We have a barrel with 55 gallons of beer (well, the beer evaporates, so it’s less than that).

I’m used to being home and not going anywhere. I homeschooled. So sitting at my desk doing work while another person sits at their desk doing their work isn’t unusual for me. When I was a kid, my little brother, who wasn’t doing school work, would taunt me from the banister up the stairs. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I’d run upstairs and tickle him to try to get him to stop.

These days Berck works at his desk. I either work upstairs at the dining room table or down at my desk, depending on which place is warmer. If the sun is shining, I like to be upstairs. Today it was snowing, so I came downstairs and sat at my desk closer to the fire.

On a normal work day, if we left for work, the cat excitedly greets whoever gets up first. When that person leaves for work, the cat then goes to the corner of our bed and pouts. He lies there with his appendages tucked under him, stares straight ahead, and won’t react to anything. It’s heartbreaking. When we come home in the evening, he runs to the window and shouts at us through the glass. In the summer, we can hear him meowing loudly. In the winter, all we can see is his little jaw flapping. Then he runs to the door and jumps into my arms or onto Berck’s shoulders and rubs his face furiously against us.

It’s enough to make you guilty for leaving the little guy all day. But you know what he does on the weekends? Around midmorning he starts his nap. Then he gets up grumpily around 6ish. So it’s hard to feel bad for leaving him all day when all he’s going to do is sleep anyway.

But we haven’t been anywhere for the last two weeks, except to go to the store for a grocery pickup and to get the mail (Berck begged to go with me both times so he could drive somewhere… anywhere). And most of the time the cat naps. But today was an especially short nap.

His nose is cold.

Today Professor von Neuamann wanted to walk on keyboards. And he wanted to climb on shoulders. And just like my little brother used to do, he climbed halfway up the stairs and taunted me from the banister.

Some cats like laps. Ours likes laptops.
Mostly, he likes shoulders.
Working hard

At some point, I needed to make a phone call to one of my clients, so I went into the guest bedroom and closed the door. About halfway through the phone call, I could hear the cat yowling from outside the door. Our cat resents closed doors.

Once I finished the phone call, I hung up and opened the door. The cat was not right outside the door waiting to be let in, like I expected him to be. He had used his litter box, which is currently located in the second bathroom, then jumped onto the bathroom counter, switched on the fan, and was perched on the counter screaming. He screamed until I finished scooping out his fresh poop. It was pretty stinky, so it was nice of him to have turned on the fan.

Professor von Neumann knows how to turn on the fan in the downstairs bathroom because he does it to try to annoy us. When he was a “teenager”, I decided to teach him not to wake us up at five in the morning, since every morning he would start caterwauling at 5:00 a.m. on the dot. He apparently thought that was when we should wake up. So for a very long time, every morning he would start singing the song of his people, I would get up, grab him by the scruff of his neck, take him downstairs, and lock him in the downstairs bathroom. This is in no way cruel in any way, but it was quite effective because he hated it so much. He would express his displeasure by banging on the shower doors and screaming as loudly as he could. But because he was downstairs and our bedroom is upstairs, we could barely hear him. He eventually taught himself to turn the light on and then how to turn the fan on. He would scream and turn the fan on and off and on and off, and I would turn over, so my good ear was against the pillow and my deaf ear was exposed, and go right back to sleep. Berck, with his two functioning ears, isn’t as lucky.

The Professor has learned not to wake us up in the morning anymore (at least not by caterwauling). But he has apparently kept his fan-turning-on skills sharp. I still don’t know why he turned the fan on today, other than to express his displeasure at me locking him out of the guest bedroom. I guess I should take him with me next time I need to make a phone call.

Today, after he was being as annoying as he could be, I tried to distract him with a shoelace for a while, whipping it back and forth with one hand while typing with the other. When he got too annoying, I did this.

This slowed him down, though he did start trucking around like a tank.

He was happy to swat at the shoelace through the slots in the upturned laundry basket for a while. But then he gave out a couple of mournful yowls that indicated he was sad that he was trapped. Because he might be smart enough to turn the bathroom fan on and off, but he can’t figure out get out from under a laundry basket.

Maybe I should just give him more practice.

Tuckered out from a hard day of work