Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I Was Walking through wikiHow One Day...

I love wikis. Sharing information in such a free fashion makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I crawl through Wikipedia on a regular basis, jumping from link to link, never sure where the links will take me. On other days I venture into the depths of wikiHow, learning tidbits here and there.

On one particular day my adventure in wikiHow began with a link to this page on how to build an igloo. There's not enough hot chocolate in the world to make spending that much time in the snow sound anything other than extremely cold! I do wonder though how the top stays in. The instructions state that the top brick should be larger than the top hole, but then trimmed down to fit. I think you'd have to be careful not to trim it too much. It might fall in! (Disclaimer: all I know about building igloos I learned from that wikiHow page :) )

From there I clicked on a link to the page "How to Entertain Yourself With Fluffy Snow and a Trampoline". The idea is to make a big pile out of snow, then run and jump into it with the help of a mini trampoline. What they don't mention is how to get someone else to shovel the snow into the big pile! ;)

Moving on to "How to Make Your Own Laser Light Show", I learned about the wonders of vibrating lasers. I actually think this page is a little disappointing. The idea is to suspend a mirror over a speaker, by gluing it to a piece of latex and rubber-banding the latex to the speaker. Then the laser is pointed at the mirror, and the mirror reflects the laser onto the wall. The vibrations of the speaker cause the mirror to move, and the reflection to dance. Cute, but I was really hoping for something a little more impressive than that. The authors of this wiki aught to put a video up of the dancing laser, so we get a better idea of how this works.

The "Related wikiHows" section of the laser page also let me down. I was hoping for "How to Use a Laser to Toast a Marshmallow", and instead I got all sorts of links about animation and craft shows. Not to be deterred, I decided to search for laser and marshmallow and see what happens. No luck. Apparently sufficient instructions do not exist for toasting marshmallows with lasers. (Yet! Wouldn't that be an awesome Long Live Geeks post. I wonder how powerful of a laser that would take?!? :) )

So it appears my wiki visit has ended this time with just three pages, a rather short visit for me. Sometimes my meanderings cover 10 or more. If you have a favorite wiki share it with us. It could be a wonderful jumping off point for another journey.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bread Dough Experiments Continue

I'm afraid your resident geek has a cold. So, I have not taken the time to do what I really want to do with the bread dough I've got in the house for the Great Bread Experiment, Part 2, which is to make homemade pizza. I have however tried a couple of other things.

One morning last week I threw a flat piece of dough in a heated frying pan, which had been lightly buttered. The dough puffed up nicely, and I got a pretty decent piece of griddle bread. I will say though that I miss the crust that forms on a properly baked piece of bread. It was great in a pinch, but I wouldn't plan to eat my bread that way.

I have wanted to try this sourdough waffle recipe, but I haven't actually taken the time to make the sponge. I got to wondering if I could use the bread dough as a sponge. So, I mixed a handful of dough with enough milk to make it into a batter consistency. I then added about a tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder. I did not plan on letting the batter sit, so I thought it might need the extra leavening of the baking powder. I cooked them up as pancakes, and they turned out pretty good! The consistency was great. A little chewier than the average pancake, but I enjoyed that part. The flavor wasn't perfect. I think I'll try it next time with an egg, and less milk.

The really cool thing about having dough in the house is that I can do all sorts of spontaneous things with it :) At some point in the future, I'm going to give one of the richer doughs from Artisan Bread in Five a try. Those doughs have egg in them, so they don't keep as long (5 days instead of 2 weeks). It looks like they would make fantastic sweet treats and cinnamon rolls though!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ten Favorite Shows to Watch on DVD

I love watching television shows which have been released on DVD. I find that the format suits me so much better. No commercials. I can watch one episode or 10. I can stop anytime, and come back. Sure my Tivo lets me do a lot of that, but DVDs are still my prefered format. Some of these I've blogged about before. Some of these I will probably blog about in the future. In no particular order, here are 10 of my favorite shows to watch on DVD :)

Dilbert - One of the funniest cartoon sitcoms on TV. Or not on TV anymore, as it only lasted two seasons. Still though, there are 30 episodes on the DVD collection, all of which I think are great. If you love the comic strip, give the show a try :)

Columbo - Peter Falk was amazing as the detective with the "rumpled raincoat and rumpled face", as one of his nemeses put it. His unassuming stature leads the criminals to believe they are getting away with murder, literally. Yet appearances can be deceiving, and Columbo puts the pieces together every time. The appearance of the show is dated, but the logic behind it stands the test of time.

Stargate Atlantis - This was the show that sparked my adventures at Best Buy. Characters and story lines are interesting and fun. They do a great job with story arcs, carrying them over multiple shows. I particularly get a kick out of the Earth technology which makes its way to Atlantis. It places the show in the current time frame, rather than many years into the future. That closeness makes it more exciting for me. I have not seen many of the SG-1 episodes, and I am looking forward to watching those as well.

Family Guy - The comedy pleases the kid in me, and the references to Star Wars and other pop culture icons pleases the geek in me. Highly culturally insensitive humor. It's funny if you let it be funny. It'll offend anyone who is easily offended.

Star Trek - This is the first sci-fi series I ever watched. I've seen many of the episodes so many times I have the lines memorized. The is one of my favorite shows to watch when I'm feeling nostalgic.

Futurama - I wasn't positive I was going to like this show when I picked up the first season, but it didn't take long to grow on me. From museums full of heads to aliens that poop rocket fuel, if it's funny and ridiculous, it's probably in Futurama. The show only lasted four seasons, but luckily everything I loved about the show has survived in the new movie format.

Mission: Impossible - I am still addicted to this show! I tore through the first five seasons, and I anxiously await the last two on DVD!

The Muppet Show - My memories of The Muppet Show revolve around the crazy muppets and a lot of singing. Seeing it again, I'm able to appreciate the show in a whole new way. The culture references which fled right over me at 5 are hitting the target now. And of course there's still the crazy muppets :)

The Prisoner - Patrick McGoohan was once a secret agent, but is now a prisoner in the Village. As he tries to escape he encounters a variety of bizarre situations. I watched half of this series when a network was running a marathon on TV. It wasn't until three or four years later that I got to see it in its entirety. I'm glad I did, the end is worth waiting for.

Jeeves & Wooster - Dramatizations of many of P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves stories. If you've only seen Hugh Laurie as House, you won't recognize him as Bertie. He does a great job seeing Bertie through all sorts of escapades. And watching these always makes me wish I had a Jeeves of my own :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Quick Rise Secrets for Bread Dough

Typically the longest step in bread baking is the rising time. You could of course avoid rising by making flatbread. Or if you want a more traditional loaf, but only have time for a short rise, try this quick rise trick.

The master bread recipe from states that a rise should take 40 minutes for a one pound loaf. posted In their errata site however, the authors amend the rise time to account for slower rises. It turns out large loafs and cooler kitchens cause the loaf to rise slowly. The first of those two attributes is easy to fix: make several small loaves instead of one big one. The second is more challenging. I certainly don't want to turn the thermostat up to 75 just to warm the kitchen up to rise a loaf of bread! As I made many small loaves for my great bread experiment, I experimented with quick rise techniques. Here's the one that worked the best for me.

Quick Rise Secret
Before you take the dough out of the freezer, turn the oven on to 250. Shape the loaf, and put it into the oven. Turn the oven off once the door is closed. Let the loaf rise in the oven for 15-20 minutes. The warm temperature of the oven will excite the yeast and speed up the rise. After 20 minutes, take the loaf out of the oven and preheat your oven to the appropriate baking temperature. The loaf will finish rising on the kitchen counter, and should be ready by the time the oven is preheated.

Here are two sets of dough, shaped into loaves. The one on the left was risen for 15 minutes on the counter, the one on the right, for 15 minutes in the oven. Notice how puffier the oven risen dough is!

Big thanks to geek husband who formatted the pictures for me! :)

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Great Bread Experiment, Part 2

12 days ago I mixed up a batch of bread dough for the Great Bread Experiment. Today I am baking the last loaf in the batch. I had thought I might go for 14 days, but the bread was so good the dough did not last! :)

Part 1 Recap
My first couple of loaves turned out okay, but not spectacular. The flavor was pretty good, but had not yet truly developed. The consistency was that of a fine-grained loaf, not the uneven large air pockets of an artisan bread. At day five, the bread really started to show its character. The taste was still mild, but definitely more developed than the initial loaves. The consistency was heavenly. I was getting nice round loaves, with plenty of vertical rise.

Around day 10 the dough really started to thin out. As it sat in the refrigerator, the yeast started to generate alcohol. That alcohol thins the dough. The loaves are still coming out with an awesome flavor, but they have a little too much horizontal spread for my taste. I liked the tall loaves of day five better. Here's a picture of a day 12 loaf. There are no cuts in the top of this loaf. The dough was too soft to hold any!:

Part 1 Conclusions
I really enjoyed making small, fresh loaves of bread whenever I wanted them. Several evenings I made fresh bread for dinner. One morning I even made a small loaf for breakfast before work. All the fresh bread feels quite decadent! Artisan bread in particular is a wonderful bread to have fresh. It does not keep well due to the lack of oil in the recipe. By baking small loaves whenever I wanted them, I never had a lack of fresh bread, nor any stale bread hanging around.

The things I would like to change are the flavor and the consistency early in the process. I would like dough that is delicious on day one as well as day 10. I am also going to add a tiny bit more flour in the beginning. I was conservative when measuring my flour the first time, as too much flour is usually a more difficult problem that too little. I think the thinness of the dough at the end of the cycle is evidence that I need to start with a dough which is a little thicker.

Great Bread Experiment, Round 2
In Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day the authors recommend storing subsequent batches of bread in the same container. It gives the bread a jump start on developing a tangy flavor. I can't do that this time, as I used my favorite mixing bowl to store the dough these past couple of weeks. I need my mixing bowl back! What I can do is add the last handful of the current batch of dough to the next batch. This should have the same affect is storing the new dough in the same container as the last batch.

The second issue is with consistency. Bread consistency comes from gluten, the amount of gluten in the bread and how well developed it is. In most bread recipes the gluten is developed by kneading. In this recipe it develops over time in the refrigerator. It seems to me that the answer to getting the gluten to develop faster is to add some kneading. I have a bread machine which will do all the hard work of kneading for me, so it will be easy enough for me to try out. I will mix the next batch in the pan of the bread machine, then transfer it to its storage container to rise and for eventual storage.

I will post another update at the end of round 2!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lunch Works: Odds and Ends

I got my bento gear! My first lunch with the new extra cute bento boxes featured stir fried noodles with beef and vegetables, sticky rice, and mango. Besides being delicious, this lunch has a great example of using up some odds and ends in my kitchen.

Lunches are a great place to pull together odds and ends left over after other cooking endeavors. In this case I used a handful of shredded cabbage and some left over steak to make a stir fry. I added some rice noodles, which I often have on hand. I seasoned my stir fry with soy sauce, but you can use whatever kind of seasonings you prefer. If you don't have rice noodles, this works just as well with rice (fried rice!), or even regular pasta. Assembling the stir fry is easy. Cook the noodles or rice first. While that is draining, stir fry the meat and vegetables. When the meat and veg are cooked, add in the noodles or rice. Toss a few times to spread around the seasoning, and you're done.

Odds and ends work great in all sorts of quick meals. They are often the perfect addition to omelets and frittatas. If you're in the mood for soup, throw a handful of vegetables and in a pan, add water+soup stock (I really like this one.), and optionally meat, noodles, or both. Boil until the veg and other ingredients are cooked, and you have a quick soup that's much better than anything out of a can. Or try sauteing some meat and veggies and toss with cooked pasta and olive oil for a quick pasta dish.

Fruit and snacks are also great odds and ends candidates. Nothing could be easier than throwing in a couple of left over strawberries or a few mango chunks. If you have a couple of different left over fruits, then how about fruit salad? The last cookie in the package or half a left over brownie also often find their way into my lunches. These are all things that I might not think of saving if I didn't consider them to be lunch candidates. If I'm sitting down for a snack at home, I'm probably not going to be satisfied with a few bites of fruit or a single cookie. They do however make wonderful little treats to add to my bentos! :)

As I've worked on the lunch series, and continued to make my own lunches, I realize how much creativity and flexibility it takes to keep my lunches quick, delicious, and interesting each day. Sometimes I use one of my favorite recipes, which I've probably got stocked in the freezer. Sometimes I use leftovers, from my own cooking or anywhere we've gotten takeout recently. And sometimes I do a little quick cooking, such as these shrimp recipes and the suggestions in this blog. I certainly do not have every lunch secret, but I am beginning to feel confident about preparing delicious food on a daily basis :)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

I ran across yet another article on spending a few days ago. Most of these articles discuss how spending is down, which is bad for the economy. This one stood out to me because it tells of the conflict in both sides of the spending story. As an individual, I want to earn more money than I spend and save a good chunk of the extra. Our national economy however would prefer that we all spend liberally. Spending causes more companies to need more goods. More goods require more people to manufacture them, ship them, and sell them. Of course one person spending money freely will not cause that much change. (Unless the person is Bill Gates!) The culture of spending however, creates jobs. That's why the new cultural shift towards saving is seen as a negative thing when looking at the nation's economy. What's good for the goose is not always good for the gander.

As I write this, the latest incarnation of the stimulus bill has just cleared the House, and will shortly be voted on by the Senate. The goal of this bill is to kick start the American economy, to offer people some relief from the tough economic times and create new jobs. The government of course plans to do this by spending more money, billions more. I find it a mystery how our government, which is already in debt trillions of dollars, plans to fund all of these stimulus efforts.

I am certainly not saying that the stimulus bill is a bad idea. I honestly don't know if it's a good idea or not. I can claim quite a bit of knowledge of personal finance, but very little about finance on a national level. It does seem apparent that the government needs to do something, and if this is the best they got, they might as well go for it.

On a personal level, I would love to see a government that led by example. As a person I need to have a balanced budget: at least as much money coming in, as is going out. That has almost never been the case for the United States. (Our debt was fully paid on January 8, 1835. It did not stay that way long.) It's hard for me to feel comforted about any financial decisions the government makes, when I know how reliant they are on debt. As a person I could not do that and prosper. Do we have any hope of really prospering as a nation under the same conditions? I don't know, but my instincts lean towards the negative answer. What I do know is that the government is certainly not setting an example that I want to follow.

Of course geeks are destined to rule the world sooner or later. I would just as soon that we not inherit this mess, but if we do, we're one group I'm sure can fix it! :)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Blog Review: Balance Board Blog

I like blogs. As well as writing in this one, I read a number of them regularly. One of those is the Balance Board Blog. As you might guess, this blog focuses on games and accessories for the Wii Balance Board. I think the balance board is the coolest thing to come to gaming since the Wii itself, and I'm always excited to read the latest balance board news.

The title says it all.
The bulk of the Balance Board Blog's articles revolve around new games which are coming out for the Balance Board. They will give all sorts of information, from initial rumors, to links, to longer articles, to screenshots and trailers of upcoming games. They also cover an assortment of balance board accessories. Every so often they will update us about Wii Fit's availability, and remind everyone about launch dates for popular balance board games. My favorite article on the blog is this one which summarizes all of the balance board compatible games. This companion page for balance board accessories is worth checking out as well.

Read or not?
The Balance Board Blog's articles tend to be short and to the point. They focus more on what is out there, not a lot on editorializing the information. Their reposting of links and trailers makes the blog a good central point for information. They post regularly, and appear to keep information up to date.

I definitely read this blog for information, not for opinions. What I would love to see is well thought out and well written reviews of at least some of the games and accessories they feature in the blog. Currently they write very little of personal experience with any of them. News is certainly important, but often it's the reviews that help me the most when making decisions about buying games. If they became a trustworthy review source, they would really stand out in my mind.

As it stands now, I'll keep reading the Balance Board Blog, but I'll also keep going to Metacritic and other sites for more information! :)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Geeky Valentine's Day Fun

What happens when a couple of geekhearts get together for the most romantic day of the year? Romantic geekiness ensues! Here are some ideas for geeky Valentine's day fun :)

Share a soldering iron with your sweetheart and assemble this LED heart kit. You can share your love through a lovely arrangement of flashing LEDs. When you're done, you will have an everlasting testament of your relationship. Or at least it will last as long as the 9V battery holds out :)

If writing is more your style, these 3D Valentine's Day cards are the perfect way to express your sentiments. These cards have 3D hearts on the cover, which will positively fly off the page with the assistance of the included 3D glasses. The inside is blank, leaving plenty of space for your romantic musings.

If you would rather have matching geek-wear, spend some time at Zazzle creating the perfect geeky t-shirts. If you are caffeine loving geeks, Zazzle also does coffee mugs.

If you and your geekheart like to cook togeather, pick up a set of these heart shaped silicon baking cups and spend some time surfing through RecipeSource together for the perfect Valentine's cupcake recipe.

When I was a young geek, mix tapes were all the rage. Now mix CDs are far more common. Downloadable music makes this easier than ever. Spend some time with your sweetheart in iTunes, or your favorite online music source, and pick your favorite songs together. For an extra special treat, add a couple of music videos to the mix.

As for my Valentine's Day plans, my husband and I will be spending the evening participating in one of the geekiest sports, bowling! We're bowling in our first ever tournament, a Scotch doubles event. I can't wait! :)

Whatever you choose, I hope you and your geekheart have a wonderful Valentine's Day :)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Great Bread Experiment

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. I was immediately intrigued. I've been baking my own sandwich bread for years, first with the help of a mixer and later with a bread machine. Artisan bread is something I've not had as much success with. Many of the recipes I tried required a significant time commitment. I had some success, but much inconsistency. I know something about myself - to get consistent with a recipe it has to be easy enough so that I can make it often. Enter Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

The premise of this method of bread baking is that bread dough can be kept in the refrigerator and baked as needed. The master recipe is simple. It mixes up quickly, and no kneading is required. The dough gets a two hours rise and can be used immediately or refrigerated for up to two weeks. During the two weeks, anytime you want bread cut off a piece and shape it into a round loaf. Let the loaf rest for 40 minutes or more, and bake at 450 until done. The book recommends using a baking stone to get the best crust, but I'm going to make do with a cookie sheet for now.

The flavor of the bread is said to develop as it sits in the refrigerator. Initially the bread will have a very mild flavor. It will develop into a sourdough taste over time. I'm curious how the bread develops, so I've decided to embark on The Great Bread Experiment. The first loaf of bread I baked tonight, with fresh dough. That is, after the two hour rise, I cut off a good handful of dough, shaped and baked it. The results are in this picture.

The first loaf is pretty tasty, and the inside texture turned out lovely. I wasn't thrilled with the floury top, which came from sprinkling the flour on top before slashing the loaf. I'll try the alternate slash method next time (wet the knife with water to keep it from sticking to the dough).

I will continue my experiment over two weeks. Every 2-3 days I will bake another small loaf of bread. I will compare tastes and textures and report back in two weeks. If you don't want to wait for two weeks to hear the results, follow me on Twitter. I'll update it every time I bake a loaf of bread :)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Meet kwiry!

About a week ago I discovered kwiry, a neat little texting service. kwiry uses coded text messages to do a variety of useful tasks. The service is free, however as with all texting services, standard text message rates apply.

Some of kwiry's Features
Tivo - The reason I signed up for kwiry in the first place. Text "tivo lie to me", to kwiry (59479), and kwiry will instruct your Tivo to record Lie To Me. This does require a tiny bit of setup. I had to tell kwiry about my Tivo, and choose if I wanted the recording to default to one time or season pass.

Facebook and Twitter - kwiry can update your status on both apps with the text: "status blogging on Long Live Geeks". Setting up the Facebook app was easy, I did it in a couple of clicks. It seems to me the Twitter feature is a tad redundant, but it would save you a text if you wanted to update both Facebook and Twitter at the same time.

Netflix - kwiry can add movies to your Netflix queue. The text is "netflix kung fu panda". This also requires a short setup.

tasks - anything texted with the word "task" in front of it becomes a kwiry task. These may optionally have time and date information. kwiry tasks sync with most calendar applications. If I didn't have my calendar at my fingertips on my G1, I would totally take advantage of this.

reminders - the flagship kwiry service. Any text which does not begin with one of the kwiry shortcuts (keywords) defaults to being a reminder. Reminders may be retrieved at the kwiry site. They'll also turn up in your inbox, if so desired. Typically when I need to remember something I text my husband and ask him to remind me. I bet he'd like it better if I use kwiry reminders instead! :)

Use or not?
It seems to me that the best way to describe kwiry is: your mileage may vary. I've found myself out and about a number of times wishing I had programmed my Tivo, so for that shortcut alone I signed up. I probably will not get much use out of the tasks though, and it remains to be seen if kwiry eclipses my husband when it comes to reminders.

kwiry's site is a little tricky to navigate. In particular, the information about their shortcuts is in FAQ form, where the FAQs appear to have been updated multiple times. I would prefer one up to date set of instructions for each shortcut. I found the shortcuts themselves to be quick and easy to setup.

If you're a texter I would say give kwiry a try. If you love it, keep it. If not, no harm done :)