My sister has recently developed a sensitivity to gluten. She has never been a big on baking or other “complex” recipes, but has become a bit frustrated with the gluten-free options available in stores, both in quality and price. Although I am no master baker, I told her that I would do a little exploring and see if I could find a relatively simple bread recipe for her. I already tried a pizza crust recipe at her house and we were both quite satisfied with the result… I used a bean-based flour and we didn’t notice any off flavor, but the sauce and toppings on the pizza were strongly flavored so that may have been overpowering any unpleasant flavor from the bean flour.

To hopefully broaden her options, I decided to try a rice-based flour recipe for bread. Rice flours are said to have a more neutral flavor, but they can lead to “gritty” textures… When I went to my local grocery store, they had brown rice flour readily available at a reasonable price so I thought I’d give it a try. To make things more adventurous, I decided to try a longer rise time to let more of the yeast flavor develop.

This will be Gluten-Free Bread #01 (GFB#01). Unless I accidentally make the perfect loaf on the first attempt, I will most likely have many more, but I’m optimistically using “GFB#01” in the anticipation that I won’t need to get higher than “GFB#99” before I get a good result.

Dry flour mix:

1 cup brown rice flour

1 cup tapioca starch

2 teaspoons xanthan gum

1/2 cup ground flaxseed meal

Combined brown rice flour, tapioca starch and xanthan gum and sifted twice to combine. Blended flaxseed meal in well after sifting. (Flaxseed meal was a little too coarse to make it through my sifter.)

Starter:

1 cup flour mix

1 cup 110ºF (43ºC) water

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dry yeast

Mixed dry ingredients well, then added water. Mixed well. This starter is more wet than I’d expect a wheat-based starter to be, but that’s what I would expect from a gluten-free mixture. The sugar and salt amounts are estimates, I measured those by eye in my palm. The starter was allowed to, well, start at room temperature for about an hour before moving to the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, the starter was quite spongy. The remaining flour mix and the rest of the yeast packet (~1 teaspoon) was stirred in resulting in a very dry mix. A few additional tablespoons of water were worked in to loosen the dough. The dough mass was still quite dense. It was separated into 2 small oiled loaf pans and left to rise.

After ~2 hours, the loaves had not risen noticeably. The dough seems very dense, and I think these will make some hideous bricks of “bread”. The oven was pre-heated to 420ºF, loaves put in and the temperature dropped to 390ºF. After ~15 minutes, the loaves had set but not risen much. The loaves were baked for ~45 minutes until a wooden pick came out clean. The loaves were moved to a rack to cool.

Evaluation:

For the most part, this was a failure, but an informative first attempt.

Texture – The bread is very dense and has the consistency of a quickbread rather than a proper yeast bread. The crumb is quite moist; this could be a result of the flaxseed meal. I have found that flaxseed meal retains moisture in wheat breads as well so this is not a surprising result. The crust that was in contact with the pan is quite nice with a little bit of color and a nice crunch. The top crust has a crunch but is very pale in color.

Flavor – The bread has a relatively neutral flavor. I can clearly taste the flax, and there is a slight lingering aftertaste that’s not exactly unpleasant but I would prefer a cleaner finish.

Revisions in the next iteration:

Since the flavor wasn’t bad, I’ll focus on texture. Although this bread was too moist, I think the key might be making the dough/batter more moist. After the starter developed overnight, it had a rather light body; if this is baked directly, the dough will set with much more air incorporated which should yield a lighter loaf. The water-to-flour ratio can be shifted a little more in the direction of flour for the “starter”, but not much. I think it’s time to bake again..Image

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Everyone needs a good non-stick pan, but what kind? Cast iron can develop a nice season and be a good non-stick surface, but establishing and maintaining that seasoned cast iron can take a little work. Classic teflon is great, but is prone to scratching, can be destroyed by overheating, and the perfluorinated monomers/oligomers that can leech out might pose some health concerns. I have a “new” non-stick pan that claims to be perfluorooctanoic acid free, and it is a wonderful non-stick surface. On a whim, I picked up a 10″ “Orgreenic” ceramic-coated non-stick pan and I’m thrilled with its performance. I usually try out a new pan by making an omelette because eggs and cheese are both prone to sticking. I’ve made dozens of omelettes in my “Orgreenic” and it’s been an absolute champ. When I see the claims made in infomercials, I am naturally skeptical, but this pan lives up to the hype. The only place anything sticks is on the heads of the rivets holding the handle onto the pan, an unfortunately uncoated part of the pan interior.

If you’re looking for a pan that performs well, is relatively inexpensive, and is easy to use and maintain, you could do much worse than an “Orgreenic”. Yes, this sounds like a shameless infomercial for this “As Seen On TV” products, but in my experience, it just plain works.

I’m not a big fan of gifts. I don’t especially like giving them, and I REALLY don’t like receiving them. If I want something, I get it for myself. If it’s not something I’d buy for myself, then I don’t need it. There are a few gift-giving people in my circle, and when I’ve brought up this “I don’t like gifts” thing, a number of people have pointed out that it would be rude to not accept a gift from someone who likes giving gifts. If it’s someone who doesn’t know me well, I might go along with that, but what if it’s someone who knows I don’t like getting gifts but buys them for me anyhow? If it would be rude of me to refuse a gift (with a polite “no thank you”), is it not equally rude of the gift giver who knows I don’t like getting gifts to insist upon getting gifts for me?

It can also depend upon the nature of the gift. I enjoy unique chocolate, and there are a few people who will at times pick up an uncommon chocolate bar for me while travelling. These personal gifts of very limited monetary value are relatively easy for me to accept; they’re consumable, inexpensive, and represent a genuine personal connection between giver and recipient. That’s a nice and appropriate gift. Anything that I wouldn’t buy for myself that’s given as a gift, especially if I wouldn’t buy it for myself because it’s too expensive, makes me extremely uncomfortable. There’s no specific value on “too expensive”… sometimes a $5 item is too expensive, sometimes a $10 item is cheap, it all depends upon the item.

I’m talking in circles a little bit here. I’m really just trying to work my way through a situation that presented itself earlier today. Someone gave me a gift certificate. That’s like handing me money. If getting a gift makes me uncomfortable, getting money makes my skin crawl. I didn’t say anything when this gift certificate was dropped on my desk, but I think tomorrow I will return the gift certificate to the giver. That will probably be viewed as an insult, but I’ve told this habitual gift-giver a number of times that I do not like to receive gifts. The giver continues to give. That makes the givers actions rude and perhaps even a little aggressively rude. Tomorrow will be an interesting day.

I am once again watching Star Trek in my “DVDs to have on while I’m doing other things” rotation. I’m currently in season 4 of Star Trek: The Next Generation and I’ve come across two of my favorite episodes back to back: “Drumhead” and “Half a Life”.

“Drumhead” is similar in these to perhaps my favorite ST:TNG episode, “Measure of a Man” in that both involve courtroom proceedings and address some aspect of fundamental human rights. OK, I guess that would have to be “sentient being rights” because this is Star Trek, afterall, and although the themes are “human” rights, they’re not being applied to humans. In “Drumhead”, a conspiracy theory/ spy hunt gets a little out of control and it is up to Captain Picard to pull the proceedings back from the brink of disaster. “Measure of a Man” also sees Captain Picard playing the role of defense attorney, in this case in the trial to determine whether or not Data is “alive”. “Measure of a Man” gets me a little choked up every single time I see it.

“Half a Life” is a favorite because of the intensely powerful performances of the guest stars. Majel Barrett is back as the effusive caricature that is Lwaxana Troi, which always brings a special feeling to the episode, but David Ogden Stiers give an absolutely heart-rending performance as the alien Timicin. The plot is reminescent of “Logan’s Run”, with the inhabitants of planet Kaelon II performing “the resolution” when they reach age 60. “The Resolution” is a celebratory suicide. David Ogden Stiers brings such palpable emotion to the screen in his performance, with an immense gravity that plays off the Lwaxana Troi character masterfully. Mr. Ogden Stiers’ portrayal of Charles Emerson Winchester in MASH was always an interesting balance of serious and comic, as was that whole series, but many of his more recent roles have exploited his quiet, serious demeanor. He gives a similarly excellent performance as Reverend Purdy in “The Dead Zone” TV series (another Michael Piller production…). “Half a Life” also features a small role for Michelle Forbes who returns later as Ensign Ro Laren.

I haven’t gone into detail on these episodes because I want you to enjoy them yourself. If you’re not a “Star Trek type”, these 3 episodes would be worth watching. Personally, I find every episode of Star Trek worth watching, but if you’re not as committed to the ST Universe as I am, “Measure of a Man” and “Drumhead” are excellent episodes to explore the moral undercurrent that runs through all of Star Trek (as well as seeing some top notch performances by Patrick Stewart). “Half a Life” showcases some spectacular performances by some guest stars in a very well written and structured episode.

I’ve been having a hard time finding inspiration to post for a few months now. There have been a few things in my personal and professional life that have occupied my time more than usual and I’ve had to examine my priorities… As I evaluated those priorities, Everything Under the Copper Sun has slipped consistently down the list. I’ve been in a funk. And I’m not talking about the good funk that George Clinton brings to the house.

Some of the blame can be attributed to the weather; it has been a long winter in the Red River Valley, and it just keep holding on. One of these days it’ll get above freezing. Really. One of these days.

I’m not going to make some grand resolution like “I’m going to post at least once a week forever!” because those resolutions seem destined to fail, but I’ve come to realize that I truly miss the creative outlet of posting updates to EUtCS. I enjoy it. It’s satisfying. As I evaluate my “To Do” list, I really need to be a little more selfish and prioritize things that are just for me, whether that’s writing a blog post or washing dishes at home or just going for a mid-day walk. I expect the next 2 months to be massively hectic… after that, I’ll have to try and schedule my time and efforts a little more deliberately. Sometimes, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. Or the few.

Hmm, references to Parliament Funkadelic and Star Trek… I need to update my cultural database… Maybe a little Justin Bieber and reality television? 😉

 

I’ve had a little experience with Windows 8 now, and I think I can say with some confidence that the experience has been positive. It’s an OS and interface that I will get used to using, although it’s definitely a bigger jump that some of the other “new” Windows interactions that have happened, especially in the recent past. A few specifics…

1. Begs to be touched – I have used W8 on 2 different laptops, neither of which has been a touchscreen. The W8 Metro interface is just SCREAMING to be touched. It just looks so much like a tablet… And that may be where I’m having some challenges here. I have been using a tablet much more in past 6 months so I’m comfortable mashing my big grubby finger into the screen to make things happen. I sometimes find myself trying to poke or swipe at my W7 laptop screen when my brain gets stuck in “tablet mode”, so this is not purely a “feature” of W8-Metro, but the tile layout is definitely touch-intuitive.

2. Loss of control – This is certainly another “learning curve” thing, but I really feel like I have very little control in W8. Call it “Start Menu Withdrawal”. It seems like things either work perfectly, or I’m left staring at the screen with no idea how to fix them. When I set one of these computers up for my Mom, I could definitely see the advantages of the simple interface; once I get everything set up correctly, she’ll be able to use it without too much tech-anxiety.

3. The Windows Store – My experience so far with the Windows Store has been a little less than awesome. I was one of the MANY people who ran into the perpetually-pending-updates problem. {Do a search for “Windows 8 App Update pending stuck” to see the internet joy…} I’m not going to be too hard on them quite yet, I was trying to update a bunch of apps {those things we used to call “programs” or “software”} on Christmas Eve, so I would imagine there was significant traffic coming in to their servers, but it looks like this has been a recurring problem for a few MONTHS for many users. I’m going to try and update a few more apps later this morning to see if I managed to fix all the problems, otherwise I may have to take a little trip to the Geek Squad people for some help. {And their first question will be “Did you try turning it off and back on again?” No, dipshit, that idea never occurred to me…}

4. Random navigation – It seems like there have been a LOT of times that the program I’m working on seems to just close all by itself and dump me out to either the Desktop or Metro or some other {seemingly} random program. I know that this is due to me getting used to a new touchpad and some of the touch-screen activated features that I’m accidentally activating by touching the edges of my touch-pad, but it’s definitely caused a little “salty” language to pass my lips.

As I said, overall I’m pretty satisfied with W8 so far. It looks good, it {usually} works well, and it just might encourage me to request a massive, touch-screen monitor for my next computer at work. Make that a DOUBLE massive touch-screen set-up… I’ll be so much more productive that way…

 

 

A month or so ago, I was browsing at bestbuy.com. I do that fairly often, or at least I used to. I was looking at cell phones and had to add one to my cart in order to see the price. I didn’t buy the phone that day, and I don’t remember if I removed it from my cart or not. The next time I checked bestbuy.com, there was 1 item in my cart, but when I clicked on my cart, there were no items visible. Huh, that didn’t seem right… I was thinking about buying a new CD, so I added a $15 CD to my cart. At checkout, the total cost of my order was $215. The only item visible in my order was a $15 CD. And bestbuy.com was going to charge me $215 for this $15 CD. Something’s not right here…

I’ve had to contact bestbuy.com’s Customer Service before, and although it’s very clearly run through an overseas call center, I’ve had positive experience with them before, so I contacted Customer Service to have them clear my cart. The people I talked to in Customer Service were thoroughly unprepared to help me. The only thing they seemed to be able to do is help me place an order. I didn’t want to place an order, I wanted them to fix my cart so I could place orders without talking to Customer Service and without paying $215 for a $15 item. I managed to convince the Customer Service person that I needed to talk to someone in Technical Support, but the Technical Support person was no more helpful than the Customer Service person. After explaining my problem for the 3rd or 4th time, the “Technical Support” person wanted to transfer me back to Sales. Not helpful.

Talking to Customer Service didn’t seem to help, so I took a couple screen shots to make it easier to explain the malfunction and emailed them to Customer Service. After almost a month, I hadn’t received any response. I thought maybe the Customer Service email account couldn’t accept emails with attached image files, so I sent a text-only email asking if anyone was looking into my problem. After a couple days I got a response.

“Thank you for contacting Bestbuy.

I understand you are having diffuculty using the shopping cart on http://www.bestbuy.com

Simply go to your cart and you will find a link or a button nearby saying to remove items from your cart. Please click that button. That should delete all the items inside your cart.

We appreciate you informing Bestbuy of your concern. We wish you success in all your future transactions on Bestbuy.”

Clearly, this is the stock response they send to anyone who’s a little slow at online shopping. The assumption here is that I’m too stupid to click the “remove” link. I realize that many people who contact bestbuy.com Customer Service are not very computer/internet savvy, so I understand that this type of response is probably appropriate in many cases. I’m not a computer genius, but I’m also not a cyber-knuckle-dragger. I think I have done everything I can from the customer side of the bestbuy.com website to fix my cart and it didn’t work. I need Technical Support. It’d be nice if bestbuy.com was willing to provide that technical support, but they haven’t been helpful yet. The problem can be pretty easily summarized with a single picture:

How can I have "1 Item" in my cart and "no items" in my cart at the same time?

How can I have “1 Item” in my cart and “no items” in my cart at the same time?

Will this problem be fixed? Only time will tell. At one point when I was talking to Customer Service/Technical Support on the phone I jokingly said “So the only way to fix this problem is to cancel my account and never shop at bestbuy.com again?” I was expecting to inject just enough humor and shock into the conversation to get some help, but the person I was talking to said “Well, yeah, I guess that would work.” Wow. I actually had someone in Customer Service at a major online retainer tell me that I should cancel my account and shop somewhere else. That’s great. As a 40-45 year old male with disposable income and a minor obsession with electronics, I would have thought that bestbuy.com would be bending over backwards to keep my business… I guess amazon.com and walmart.com are going to be my go-to spots for online shopping if bestbuy.com can’t help me. Either that or I should stop spending money on electronics… but I don’t see that happening.