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October 25, 1998

Sourdough Weekend

Sourdough is weird and wacky stuff. It takes a lot of time, patience and a good idea of what you really want from it before it can give it to you. I've been reading all over the place about it on the Web for breaks from work and breaks from other things.

Work wound down Friday enough for me to take a deep breath, relax a bit and start planing for something beyond the release. This meant that I set everything up to go to Orycon 20. Hotel, set of the con registrations, and I still need to get Fezzik a place to stay while we're away. It might be more fun to get an in-house sitter for him, that might sit the house as well as take him for walks and actually be with him for part of the weekend. We'll see.

All that reading meant that I wanted to try things with sourdough. Things that I'd never really tried before, and that especially included the easiest of recipes, the sourdough pancake. They say that even sourdough that isn't doing very well can do pancakes well. There is also all kinds of leeway as to how one makes 'em. With baking soda or without, with extra rising time after mixing everything together, or not, rising times vary from one hour to another eight to twelve. It's kinda bemusing what can be done.

General principles seem to dictate that the longer I rise it, the more sour it gets, but there's a limit as too much waste material will slowly make the yeast less active. Since there is milk and eggs in the batter when it's completely put together, anything longer than an eight hour rise after the batter is put together is likely unsafe, even if the batter gets thoroughly cooked. Even more general principle seems to be that with most sourdough, the bit of starter that's from the fridge gets mixed with water and flour of an appropriate amount, then the whole mass grows for a while until it's as grown as it's going to get. Put as much starter back as was taken out. Then use the rest for the batter, bread, or whatever. Pretty simple.

So Friday night, I just mixed up batter, set it in the fridge to 'rise', as the fridge slows things down. But I'm more familiar with commercial yeasts than sourdough yeasts, and the sourdough just stopped, went dormant, and in the morning, I had to let it warm up and rise for an hour before it was bubbly enough to use as batter. The pancakes turned out okay, but not real sour, and a bit spongy.

The second batch I mixed up as time folded around me with the losing of Daylight Savings Time. Yeah, I was up at 2am, which turned into 1am as I stirred the risen sponge into eggs, powdered milk, a bit of oil, a spoonful of honey and a pinch of salt. I put it back into the warm oven and let it rise while I slept. At a bit before nine, I made the most unique pancakes I've ever tasted. They were a bit whole wheat, sour from the sourdough, and with a texture entirely unlike baking soda pancakes. They had more body to them, and more texture, a pleasing bite to them. With the real maple syrup, the tastes were an intense combination that was anything but bland, everyday, pancakes. I'm not at all sure I can go back to mixes.

Another intensity of cooking experience happened Sunday night. I'd seen, in the Pepin tapes, a way to essentially butterfly a chicken for BBQ'ing, spreading it out evenly so that it would cook thoroughly when placed over flame. So I did two chickens that way (Costco sells two-packs for cheap), marinated 'em in rum, herbs and spices, and then had John grill them on the new grill for a while before putting BBQ sauce on 'em. They turned out absolutely excellent, succulent in the meat and crisp of skin, tangy with the sauce.

The days... the days themselves didn't have all that much to them. Saturday was grey and cool and supposed to just pour rain. It didn't quite pour, but I stayed inside, drank a lot of tea, listened to Rent and wrote and read and wrote some more. I read Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire, a most excellent book. One that Carl, Gretchen and Bryant recommended to me, and one that I enjoyed quite a lot. I especially loved the one quote from the doctor who said, "The human brain is a gland, not a computer." What I loved most about it is that as the protagonist went through the story, the small things, blood sugar levels, outside happenings, and hormonal stresses all mattered. They influenced what the character did and what she said and what she felt. It was so cool.

Especially since I've been gaining new consciousness about how food, sex, and my own cycles mess with my actions, capabilities, and feelings. It was a good thing to think over and experience in the setting and the context of the story. I'll recommend it to anyone interested in what longevity beyond human ken does to humans. The characters caught my interest and there were believable hooks into the attitudes of really, really old people.

Meander meander. I just read Saturday, John made dinner, we watched some TV, went to sleep. Sunday was a potluck after church for folks that were leaving. The potluck was good, saw folks at church that haven't gone for months and months. Heard from someone that Lee was just going to resign rather than go through all the formal proceedings. I'm not sure if that's good or not. In fact, I'm fairly sure that it's bad, as it's likely going to leave a lot of things unsaid and uncovered and well, basically left in the dark, there'll be bad feelings that aren't expressed and drained from the whole experience. But it's typical of how she's done things from day one, and she doesn't seem to really want to know anything, figure out what went wrong, what she might do right, what we might do better.

The potluck was good, seeing people was good, saying good byes was sad.

Spent some time Sunday meandering about and shopping at Costco. Random stuff from that place. Kept a tight rein on getting things, as there was something in me that's just wanting to BUY things, cool things, anything I really want. But managed to put about half the things I snagged back on the shelf. That was weird.


All in all a pretty restful weekend, though we did periodic checks on our bug tracking system and on the progress of a build that needed to get done for Monday. So work wasn't entirely out of our minds.

We also stopped at the brewing store, and John looked at a number of beer recipes while I poked around at a sourdough book that I'd seen there before. Sadly, the book now only had things I'd already learned from the Web, and the recipes it had were simply variations on the basic types I've already learned. So, I decided not to buy it, and to get root beer makings just one more time, to see how that actually might work out.

One problem over the weekend was that I was grinding my teeth a lot, likely from all the stress of the previous week or two, and my right capped molar started to get really sore as was the jaw of my mouth. I'm not at all sure what I'm going to do about it. As it's just hurting badly... not enough for an emergancy call or anything but enough that I'm worrying about it mildly.

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