Carl Tashian

November 2006

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30 Nov 02006

26 Nov 02006

A few weeks ago I saw a Mark Bittman article about a loaf of bread that requires no kneading, is baked in a pot instead of a stone, and has a superior “rustic” crust.

Low humidity has always plagued home “hearth” baking on a bread stone. Commercial ovens have a steam-injection mechanism that keeps the conditions right for a nice, thick crust and a lot of “oven spring”—the extra rise that happens at the beginning of baking. I struggled with humidity in my oven before, and I thought I’d hit the peak of what was possible in a home oven. But I’d never really loved the crust of my breads.

Obviously, I was not thinking beyond the baking stone. Baking in a covered pot is a clever home technique when coupled with a very high-moisture dough, as it helps establish a humid environment for the critical first few minutes of baking (the cover is removed at the end, for browning).

Until today, when I finally got a chance to make the Bittman bread. Here’s the loaf that just came out of our oven:

This loaf is amazing. The crust is serious, like an Italian loaf from High Rise, and the crumb is perfectly creamy:

But the simplicity of this recipe is what makes it a gem. I have made a lot of bread over the past couple years, and today I felt like I was cheating, because this loaf took less than 10 minutes of work, spread out across 24 hours. Not only is kneading eliminated, but so is the separate pre-ferment (this bread is 100% poolish—fine with me!), the scoring, and the precarious transfer of loaf to stone. This is truly one of the quickest recipes I can think of.

Anyway, here is the Times recipe for this bread, and here is my slightly rephrased version of it, for when the Times recipe is no longer freely available:

Mix

  • 3 cups (430 grams) high-quality bread flour
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (more would be OK too)

in a large bowl. Add

  • 1 5/8 cups water (345 grams)

and stir until hydrated.

Cover and wait 12-18 hours, the longer the better, until you see little bubbles along the top of the mixture.

Turn it out onto a floured counter. Sprinkle flour on top, enough to pull the dough out and fold it over itself, envelope-style. Cover and rest it for 15 minutes.

Coat a cloth towel with flour. Shape the dough into a ball with a seam, and place it seam side down on the towel. Sprinkle flour and/or oats on top. Cover with another towel and let it rise for 2-3 hours, until more than doubled in volume. Half an hour before the rise is finished, preheat oven to 450°F, with only the bottom rack in place, and put a medium to large covered pot inside as the oven heats up.

When the dough is ready, dump it into the hot pot, seam side up, cover, shake to evenly distribute the dough if needed, and bake 30 minutes. The seam acts as a score, so it eliminates the step where you might score the dough before baking it.

Take the lid off, bake another 15-30 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a rack for an hour or so at least (it’s still cooking…).

I think there’s a lot of potential variations. I’m really curious to see what my mom does with it; she has perfected whole-wheat bread and could probably make an excellent whole-wheat version of this.

22 Nov 02006

Here’s an excellent quote from Jacques Ellul’s essay Propaganda, as quoted in John Gatto’s book, The Underground History of American Education:

Critical judgement disappears altogether, for in no way can there ever be collective critical judgement… The individual can no longer judge for himself because he inescapably relates his thoughts to the entire complex of values and prejudices established by propaganda. With regard to political situations, he is given ready-made value judgments invested with the power of truth by… the word of experts.

The individual has no chance to exercise his judgement either on principal questions or on their implication; this leads to the atrophy of a faculty not comfortably exercised under [the best of] conditions… Once personal judgment and critical faculties have disappeared or have atrophied, they will not simply reappear when propaganda is suppressed…years of intellectual and spiritual education would be needed to restore such facilities. The propagandee, if deprived of one propaganda, will immediately adopt another, this will spare him the agony of finding himself vis a vis some event without a ready-made opinion.

I think those “critical faculties” are also the root of creativity. I know we always talk about creativity in an artistic sense, but can someone explain the difference between artistic creativity and critical thinking? Which requires the other? Or are they the same thing?

20 Nov 02006

Hot Chocolate

Now that it’s getting cold outside, it’s time to start making hot chocolate again. Not that you really need a recipe for this—almost anything you can make with chocolate will taste good.

Anyway, this makes a small but potent cup of hot chooclate—double or quadruple it as needed.

  • 1/2 cup milk, whole if possible—plus a splash of water
  • 1 ounce 70-75% dark chocolate
  • 1/2 tsp high quality (eg. Valrhona) cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt
  • touch of vanilla extract, if desired
  1. Bring the milk/water mixture to a boil over medium heat in a small pot.
  2. Whisk in the chocolate and cocoa powder, lowering the heat.
  3. Turn the heat all the way down and keep whisking for a few minutes if you want more froth—note that 2% milk won’t give you as much froth.

I don’t add sugar, but if you like your hot chocolate sweeter, well, you know what to do.

17 Nov 02006

Here’s a short video of Karl dancing in an empty white big box store that was converted into a temporary art space last week.


16 Nov 02006

Here’s a recreation of something Karl and I ate at Montreal’s Jean-Talon farmer’s market. It is so simple, takes less than 10 minutes and is v. tasty.

olive oil
touch of anchovy paste
pinch of dried red chili pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp or more mustard seeds
1 small onion, diced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
big squeeze of lemon juice
liberal salt & pepper

Fry the garlic, anchovy paste, mustard seeds, and red pepper in some oil in a small pan over medium low heat, just for a minute. Add the onion and cook until translucent, a couple more minutes. Add the chickpeas and salt and pepper, and fry for another 5 minutes or so, until everything is nice and hot and the flavors have blended a bit. Off heat, add the lemon juice.

Enjoy.

CRW_8627.jpg

7 Nov 02006

Last week I saw a very good lecture by Ray Kurzweil at Harvard, the subtitle of which was “In the 21st century, intelligence will underlie everything of value.” But the real meat of the talk was around two things: one, the exponential pace of technogical progress, where progress is advancement in the form of new technology and exponentially decreasing costs and size. Kurzweil has spent many years building models of future technology, and he was able to predict things like the growth of the Internet, back in the early 1980s. Expoential growth has a way of creeping up on you. When the size of the network goes from 128 nodes to 256 in a given year, no one notices. But when it goes from 64 million to 128 million in a year, that’s a big deal. His current prediction is that medicine is on a path where, in about 30 years, we will be increasing the average lifespan of humans by more than 1 year each year. In other words, in 30 years we will all live forever, or at least we will not die because of medical problems. Kurzweil does a good job of showing past data about technological growth that make his current predicitons seem within the realm of possibility.

Of course, on hearing something like “in 30 years we will all live forever,” a shiver runs down my spine as I think about the ugly battle for resources on a planet full of people who are living forever. It’s quite possible that we’re approaching a tipping point, where we either reverse the effects of technology on our planet and move forward into a virtuous cycle of prosperity and renewal, or we lose too much ground or develop something that destroys us for good. This will be a major milestone in human history, and it’s hard to say when it will happen. I think miniature versions of this ultimate deathmatch have been happening throughout human history, and I believe we won’t know exactly when we’ve passed the tipping point.

Which brings me to the second component of the talk. Technology is a tool which can be used for “good” or “evil.” Many technologies go through “arms race” phases as they grow—computer viruses are a great example. Virus technology and virus detection technology have always been neck-and-neck. Phishing and anti-phishing, encryption and cracking, missiles and anti-missiles—these battles are costly to fight and often result in a lot of collateral damage. But they are a maor driving force for technology. Damn, we say, someome figured out how to make a virus that dynamically reorganizes itself—now what? Technology takes a step forward.

But while these arms races literally shove technology forward, I think they are a very damaging way of doing it. One might say that the cold war was an arms race with a positive outcome, because we did not destroy ourselves. But on the other hand, what about all the military ditritus that was developed, manufactured, and deployed on both sides between 1947 and 1985? Who’s holding those guns now? They are still on this planet, somewhere, probably being pointed at someone by another. They have dissipated across the world and are still being used to exploit and oppress, to maim and kill. So, does that mean the whole of the cold war had a net negative outcome? I believe so, and this is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. I think most arms races kick off a destruction pattern that haunts us into the long term.

So as technologists, we have to learn to be accountable to what we’re putting into the world. A better version of the cold war might have been fought on paper and with diplomacy. “Oh, it looks like we won’t have the resources to win this. So lets just settle it now.” Seems unlikely though, doesn’t it?

But do you see how it all boils down to a social and economic problem, not just a technological problem? With no conflict, there is no need for destructive technology. It’s not just renewable resources that will save us. It’s global diplomacy, education, and a global consciousness. But technology is a huge factor, and my biggest hope is that more future resources will be devoted to technology that sustains rather than destroys. We need to leverage the exponential growth toward a future that works.

And the trouble is, by no means does capitalism guarantee this. The planet is not going to wait around until we decide that the economic atmosphere is right for sustainability. It’s not going to wait around until we choose to quit our oil addiction. Mother Nature has so often appeased us in the past, so we assume she will in the future. “Oh, sure,” she’ll say, “I’ll just hang on a minute while you figure out how to keep my icebergs from melting.”

Kurzweil is unfazed by the urgency of climate change. He criticizes Al Gore for assuming linear technological growth in “An Inconvenient Truth.” Thirty years from now, Kurzweil said, we’ll have reversed all the effects of climate change and eliminated fossil fuel use. Such is the stunning impact of exponential technological growth; you can’t even imagine what will be possible. I sure hope he’s right.

POSTSCRIPT: A quote from an aging Thomas Edison, asked about his predictions for the future: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait ‘til oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

POSTSCRIPT 2: Robin just pointed me to Bill McKibbon’s recent review of books on climate change.