Carl Tashian

June 2004

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29 Jun 02004

OK, so I didn’t have time to make them different sizes…..

27 Jun 02004

I unlocked the door of her house,
a million miles from here.

She isn’t here with us right now
we’re in Cambodia
or China or Vietnam,
I’m not sure which.

That is, all I usually see is
the inside of huts,
bedrooms,
a public bathroom.

he only takes me out occasionally.
he stares at me with a longing;
I know I remind him of her.

He let himself into her house
when they lived in Boston together.
He’d pour a glass of gin,
maybe wait for her to come home
from JFK,
or SFO or LAX,
I’m not sure which.

It’s just a fleeting thought,
them he shoves me back into his pocket.

23 Jun 02004

Progress on the bread front. I finally got the flour/water ratio right on ciabatta: it’s gotta be wet. Wet doughs make loaves that are springy and not dry on the inside. You can see it in the way the crumb looks as you pull the bread apart: big air pockets and a great elasticity. The final bread only tears after a stretch. Mmmmm….

A tiny amount of water makes the difference. I started with the normal flour/water ratio I use, threw it in the mixer, and then added only a couple ounces of water while it was kneading. Usually the dough sticks to a spot at the very bottom of the mixer bowl when it’s done, but by the time my extra water was incorporated, it was sticking to the whole bottom of the bowl. More water would have made a pourable slurry, which you can’t really shape, so you have to stop while you still have dough and not batter. But that line between dough and batter is where the best bread happens.

I will never buy canned pasta sauce again.

Instead, I’ll make a simple sauce, which takes about as long as it takes to boil water and cook pasta. This is 102938 times tastier than canned sauce:

heat some (2 T) olive oil, a couple cloves of garlic, some (1/4 tsp) crushed red pepper flakes, and a little (1/2 tsp) anchovy paste
cook for a minute on medium. don’t kill it.
add 28oz of good canned diced tomatoes
and some red wine if you have it
cook for 10 minutes to thicken
add
8-10 basil leaves, chopped
a dozen kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
some (2 T) capers
a pinch of cayenne
ground pepper

cook 3 more minutes.
add some pasta cooking water if you feel like it.

The gist of this is from the Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook. The motivation is to cook simpler and more often. All of the ingredients are things you should always have at hand anyway, because none of them are fresh (except the basil.. which you might as well grow in your kitchen).. so why not stock up?

21 Jun 02004

You can make enriched breads with liquidy things like milk, eggs, oil, and melted butter, but what about cranberry juice or grenadine?

Here are some bread variations I’d like to try:

rosewater challa
fig/prune panettone
French caper loaf
strawberry jam pain à l’ancienne
hot chili sauce kaiser rolls!
wasabi ezuki wheat bread
roasted garlic and wild mushroom ciabatta
Emergen-C breakfast baguette
or: red wine baguette
cinnamon grape walnut bread
fanny farmer spanish pickle focaccia
vodka marijuana ciabatta
saffron bagel
granola anadama bread
mexican chili chocolate multigrain
or just coffee chocolate bread

One complication is that the salt content needs to stay around 2 to 3%, because it kills yeast. Might need to reduce the amount of salt when making the chili sauce bread, for example.

Another complication is that gluten might not develop as well when you use brewed coffee, for example, instead of pure water. Furthermore, the yeast might not like coffee, in which case you can forget about your rise. Yeast are pursnickety.

And the third problem: Every ingredient needs to withstand temperatures > 205°F without spontaneously combusting.

in 1902, in the midst of the womens suffrage movement, the American flag had 45 stars:

us-1896.gif
(source: Flags of the World)

But the suffragists created their own US flag with only four stars, representing the four states that, at that time, allowed women to vote. I found a Herstory site that hosts a picture of this flag:

suffpc2.gif

This flag flew at the podium of the First International Womens Suffrage Conference in 1902, where Clara Barton gave a little talk.

The suffrage flag was my inspiration for a 2004 re-appropriation of the American flag which, since 9/11, seems to have been co-opted by conservatives to represent pro-war nationalism, “family values”, etc. I’m taking it back. The flag below has only the 6th star, for Massachusetts (the 6th state), the only state which allows gay marriages. I’ll republish this flag with more stars when more states follow suit.

Download PDF version

Get a t-shirt of it

19 Jun 02004

I found this visualization of google news today. It’s great that you can go back in time, apply dynamic filters (by country, by topic), see many dimensions in the data (aging, relative coverage, actual headlines, news category), and it’s in real-time.

This reminds me of Map Of The Market, which is a real-time (well, 15-minute delated, of course) visualization of US stock market activity. Rectangle size shows market cap. and colors show % changes in stock price:

Market Map Color Key

(See also: Mappa.Mundi Magazine’s good article on The Map of the Market)

Both the News Map and Map of the Market are examples of Treemaps, a recently-concieved (as in 1990) data visualization techinque, originally designed for a map of files and directories on a hard disk (the question: what files are taking up the most space? or: how fragmented is my hard disk? both questions are becoming moot). I think Treemaps will become much nicer as computer display resolutions increase, but they’ve already proven useful in stories about data.

There’s also the less dense (but cooler looking) circular treemap, with an iconized proof-of-concept showing directory usages in a file browser…

Of course, I see no reason to avoid Treemaps of more “subjective” data:

treemap-sf.jpg

Does this not tell a story just as well? Of course, there are fewer dimensions to the data: the photograph shows an event, the size shows how much I like the photograph (which guides the story), the location gives a chronology to the story, and a rollover text box on each photo (which I didn’t do) might show the location, date, time. Clicking on the photo could reveal a larger version.

It’s an interesting editorial device that takes the democracy of size out of the typical web photo gallery. A future enhancement to any digital photo management software would make low-rated photos smaller and high-rated photos larger (the trouble, of course, is how do this while keeping them packed tightly enough on the screen). Meanwhile, I’m going to make all of my future photo galleries like this collage, with clickable images of course. I like the idea of selecting AND emphasizing what I present. I think it’s an important editorial device that can only strengthen the story. That is, it’s another way I can screw with your mind and how it thinks my vacation was.

treemap-bna.jpg

Did I say Treemaps were invented in 1990? Maybe they were really invented in the data visualization of 19th-century French Salon paintings, which were arranged on the wall at the famous annual exhibition just as my photos are arranged above. Maybe it all goes back to Art in the end, after all..?

16 Jun 02004

Buy a dying dive bar in a yuppified nightlife area (an area with more than a couple clubs or loud bars nearby) and convert it into an art gallery. An art gallery that stays open until 2 a.m., serves wine and mixed drinks, and whose exhibitions change -weekly-. Good music is played (“at a reasonable volume from 9 to 11”), a friendly (mostly social) environment is fostered. The art is edgy and modern created by starving artists who aren’t necessarily local, it’s priced reasonably (though the artist should have an opportunity to make a fair bit from a show— by keeping costs low and selling more than one of each piece, for example). Purchased art can be held for you to pick up the next afternoon.

This art gallery would invite people who seek a bit of repose during an evening of wild partying and debauchery. The weekly change would keep people coming back each weekend to see what’s new.

Isn’t this idea so 2002?

15 Jun 02004

Today I looked around for someone who can cut a transparent colored acrylic sheet to my specifications, for a photography project, and I quickly realized that this is not in the realm of your typical art store. Phone calls to four local art stores resulted in quick “no”s. Looking around on the Internet, I finally found a place that didn’t act like I was crazy. They’ll do all the work. They’ll even cut rounded corners or zigzags if I want them. Their prices are good.

“What part of town are you in?” asked the guy in the manufacturing department. “Boston,” I replied. “Oh.” .. turns out they’re in San Diego. Maybe a local place would be better.

More yellow pages hunting revealed a few local plastic fabricators. It’s strange calling up a fabricator because your call is always an interruption. Usually it sounds like someone turned off an industrial scroll saw to answer the phone. They’re not interested in chatting it up about plastics. So far a couple of them have said no. The search continues…

I am still baffled by the magic of bread. With only flour, water, yeast, and salt, how is it possible to create so many varieties, textures, and flavors?

I’ve started trying out different variations on these four ingredients, starting with the most subtle: the salt and water. I switched from Morton table salt to fine-ground Mediterranian sea salt recently, and from Brita-filtered Boston tap water to French bottled spring water. Having just baked my first loaf of bread with both of these new ingredients, I can’t say that I noticed any flavor difference. I’m not surprised, since I have a hard time telling the difference between these salts and waters alone in a taste test. One day I might try a side-by-side bread comparison, when I have time for a big bake-off, but for now I think I’ll stop buying $1.50 bottles of water and just go with the free stuff until I can convince myself that I’m capable of discerning such loaf subtleties.

The yeast is another ingredient worth playing around with. I have tried both active-dry yeast and instant yeast in the past (no difference, but different quantities are used), but the final frontier is wild yeast. Wild yeast is just out thre, floating in the air, looking for a place to grow. If you give it a nice room temperature bowl of flour and water to develop in, it’ll flourish with no work at all on your part. This is the origin of sourdough.

So I started my first sourdough starter last week. A 100% sourdough loaf does not use any instant yeast at all, it’s just flour, water, salt, and the bacteria living in your kitchen. Some of this bacteria contributes to the flavor and some of it causes the dough to rise.

To make the starter, I started with a ball of dough using dark rye flour and enough water to hydrate it all and hold it together and I let it sit on the counter overnight. The next day I added some bread flour and water, mixed it for a minute, and put it back. A few hours later, it already had a 50% rise with lots of nice little air pockets. It smelled horrible, though, so it had to go on for a couple more days to brighten up. Each day I discarded half of what I had and replaced it with fresh flour and water. After 4 days of this, I had a wild-yeast starter that would double in bulk over 6 hours and smelled like sourdough bread. I mixed this with more flour and water, let it sit for a while, and threw it in the fridge. This is the completed sourdough starter.

Now that the starter is active in my fridge, the real challenge begins. I have to use some of it and feed it fresh flour and water at least every 3 days. So I’m sucked into either baking a loaf every 3 days, giving some starter away to a friend every 3 days, or throwing some starter out every 3 days. If I’m to keep this up for longer than a week, I think I’m going to need the help of my roommate, Whitney.

Luckily the process of making sourdough bread can be split across 3 days, so it’s not one long time-consuming day of work. It’s maybe 10 minutes of work each day, spread out across 3-5 hours, with a little extra work on the 3rd day for baking. On the first day, you mix some of the sourdough starter with fresh flour and water and let it sit on the counter for 4 hours. Then you throw it in the fridge overnight. On the second day, you bring it back out, let it warm up for an hour, chop it up, mix it with more fresh flour and water, shape it, and put it back into the fridge overnight. On the third day, you bring it out, let it sit in a proofing basket for 4-5 hours, and bake it for 30 minutes.

I figure if I write out a schedule for Whitney and I to follow, whomever is around can do a little bit of the work each day. Dough is pretty flexible, so if we miss a day it’s not the end of the world, we just might get a more sour loaf (because the dough has been fermenting for longer). And if we’re both out of town and no one can feed the starter, it can left in the fridge for a couple months and still be recovered without much trouble at all.

Baking bread is the kind of process that can easily be pipelined, where three or sourdough loaves are in various states of completion and are pushed forward by one step each day. Modern bakeries must love this, because they can create a mini-factory to churn out loaves of bread. But at some of the better bakeries in France, and surely some in this country, the bakers are responsible for their loaves from start to finish. Everyone in the kitchen is an expert at all parts of the process. So one day a baker may have 50 loaves in the starter stage, the second day she’d ferment them, and the third day she’d shape, proof, and bake. But for Whitney and I this kind of pipelining would mean baking a loaf every day, and I don’t think we could eat that much bread…

10 Jun 02004

Last weekend Karl and I went to New York for Heather’s graduation. We arrived by Chinatown bus at 1pm and stumbled to lunch in Little Italy. Scavenger hunters were taking photos of themselves with camera phones at an adjacent restaurant while we waited for our lasagne. The great thing about scavenger hunts is that they allow for unlimited routes, and the best route will determine the winner when all else is equal. So I guess my RFID street race would play out like a scavenger hunt…

After lunch we spent a couple hours wandering our way through Washington Square, Union Square, and up to Penn Station, stopping only at places that really caught the imagination and weren’t selling things that cost a fortune.

The first stop was the Leica Gallery, where we saw the work of Platon a youngish portrait photographer. But these pieces were mostly from the Middle East, and mostly not traditional portraits. Some things I loved seeing in his photos:

- light reflecting off of diverse surfaces.. an array of pots and pans hanging on the wall of a kitchen, with the sunlight coming through a door at the other end of the room, making them sparkle.
- smoky rooms, people smoking, interesting glass, and late afternoon light shining through thin fabric
- patches of bright color in a muted scene
- going slightly off angle
- traditional 35mm film: seeing the film grain was so nice
- black & white photos: I think he uses HP5. not that it matters.

It all sounds so dry when I lay it out here. I guess it takes more than this to make a brilliant photo, and these photos were brilliant.

After the gallery, we visited Other Music, which Pam had told me about. I loved their categorization system:

In
Out
Electronica
La Decadanse
Krautrock
Groove
Psychedelia
Then

and I was happy not to be faced with another enormous store like Amoeba Music in SF. But Other suffers from a serious problem: I can’t listen to the music before I buy. Is this a form of exclusivity (“If you don’t know the story behind this obscure Japanese punk band, you aren’t cool enough to hear/own it” or “You won’t find this online so you’d better buy it here, now”), is it a sort of alt-neo-luddite movement, are the administrative costs too high for listening stations, or is the theory that you’ll buy because the cover looks cool (and the music is crap, which I doubt)? Whatever the reason, I’m surprised and disappointed, because by not providing any samples, they appear to be selling only the outside (the packaging) of music from subcultures that so badly want you to focus on the music itself! (Other Music’s web site does have some realaudio samples. So the protocol is: listen online, then go buy in person if you want the whole disc.)

I purchased an Arthur Russell disco cello CD from the 70s that was pretty avant-garde and disappointing, especially after reading the NY Times’ raves.

On to New Jersey and to Heather’s place near Little Silver, about an hour from the city. On the train I’m reading Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language (p. 30: “The suburb is an obsolete and contradictory form of human settlement”). In Heather’s car we pass New Jersey strip malls and tiny houses on tiny plots. The graduation was at an Italian restaurant with a 50s-style plastic American Italian decor. Picture an open bar, drunk relatives, extremely loud carpeting, extremely loud wedding reception music with a DJ who sings along, cloyingly sweet graduation cake, rough accents, big hair, and big tattoos. There were some fantastic photos to be had by the photographer with the right sense of humor.

I hated to imagine the expense of this gathering. I realized pretty quickly that the party was not for Heather, it was for her parents and all their friends. Karl and I must have looked funny out on the dance floor, rocking out to the Postal Service while all the macho guys and their girlfriends sat and stared at their appetizers (only willing to rise when a slow Sinatra tune came on— K & I’s cue to sit).

Reading on the train back to the city in the morning after a long and v. restful sleep in a tiny attic bed at Heather’s (rain on the windows). Finished The Man Who Ate Everything just as our train hit someone. It was definitely time to go back to Boston.