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Possibly the most photogenic bread I've ever baked

To the right: Possibly the most photogenic bread I’ve ever baked on Flickr.

This is the bread I make when I need plain white bread for everyday sandwich or toast purposes. It has a lovely crumb and is a substantial bread, not an airy-fairy "pan loaf" of the type too damn common in British and Irish supermarkets. (Which is not to mean that it’s one of those loaves you make that refuses to rise and which you therefore desperately characterize as “substantial” so people will think you meant it to come out that way.)

The basic recipe came from the website of Bäckerei Sieber in Au, a town in Canton St. Gallen in Switzerland. The recipe itself is for Tessinerbrot or “bread from Ticino”; down in that southern canton the Roman breadmaking techniques have persisted unusually tenaciously. Since Roman bread had a deserved reputation for being very high-end indeed -- a reputation which Spanish-bred bakers brought to it -- this is a good thing.

The peculiarity about this recipe (from the home baker’s point of view, anyway) is that the recipe manages its ingredients by mass rather than volume. This is how professional bakers do things, though, at least in Switzerland: it seems to get around the problem of how much moisture your local flour is in a mood to absorb today. One caveat: this dough tends toward the wet and sticky end of the bread dough spectrum, so it’s really easier made in a mixer with a dough hook.  Also, I sometimes bake this using the bake-it-in-a-preheated-pot technique which derives from the famous Lahey no-knead bread recipe. Pot baking produces a good high rise with little work, and with a really nice crust. (Though sometimes the old-fashioned loaf pan technique produces very superior results, as above. The Bread Fairy was really sitting on my shoulder that day.)

This recipe makes one big loaf. I’ve baked this in anything from a Romertopf to a single US-style loaf pan to a 3-liter lidded casserole of enamelled cast iron. This recipe branches several times: think of it as a Choose-Your-Own-Bread story.

The ingredients:

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The staging room is two flights up from where something like three hundred people are crammed wall to wall into the downstairs space of the Liberty Bounds pub on Trinity Square at the City’s edge, drinking strange liquids with names like Old Speckled Hen and Waggle Dance and Theakston’s Old Peculier out of pint glasses, while pausing occasionally to roar in annoyance or cheer in wild approval at something happening on the big-screen TVs. The third-floor upstairs room, however, contains nothing but a scatter of hardwood tables and chairs, and its mostly bare walls are ornamented with nothing more interesting than a selection of framed eighteenth-century cartoon prints and various posters advertising guest beers, upcoming karaoke nights, curry days and eighties revival-band dates, and other locations in the UK’s big Wetherspoon pub chain.

In the middle of the room, some of the the tables and chairs have been pushed out of the way to make an empty area about twenty feet wide. In that space stand three people unusually dressed for the early twenty-first century: two men in their very early forties, and a tall young man of sixteen or so. In the middle of the room with them, a rectangular slice of air about three feet wide and seven feet high has been talked into solidity and coaxed into the perfect reflectivity of a mirror.

The youngest of the group in the middle of the room is standing in front of the wizardly mirror and muttering under his breath, more or less constantly, as he fiddles with his clothes. At last he says loudly enough to be heard, “You think they had a higher than usual percentage of wizards in the late eighteen hundreds?”

A pause. “Haven’t seen any numbers on that recently,” says Carl under his breath as he buttons up his dark close-fitting vest over a full-sleeved white shirt with high collar and strangely-knotted dark tie. “Can’t think why the stats would be above the planetary half-millennial median, though. Why?”

“Because it has to have taken wizardry to deal with all… these… fastenings!”

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Just a quick (LJ-side) management note

Due to ructions at the DD.com website and various home / software issues, the LJ end of things has been slipping a little, especially in regards to the site truly being a mirror of "Out of Ambit." This has been pretty sporadic of late.

So I've been doing some software updating, and that will be changing. I finally have BlogJet set up correctly to make sure that new posts are copied over here from OOA in a timely manner. (I think. This may take a few days to settle down.) So some older postings from OOA will be appearing here as well over the next few weeks, insofar as they're germane or I think people might be interested in them. Otherwise, new OOA postings should appear here on the same day.  ... I'm looking at whether having tweets mirror here as well, or whether that'll be too annoying. Opinions are welcome.

Also, for those who were wondering: no, I haven't abandoned the 30-Day OTP project: that starts again, almost immediately. (Like later today.)

More shortly.

Seed cake: a recipe

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"[Bilbo] had a horrible thought that the cakes might run short, and then he -- as the host: he knew his duty and stuck to it, however painful -- he might have to go without. "'Come along in, and have some tea!' he managed to say after taking a deep breath. "'A little beer would suit me better, if it is all the same to you, my good sir,' said Balin with the white beard. 'But I don't mind some cake -- seed-cake, if you have any.' "'Lots!' Bilbo found himself answering, to his surprise; and he found himself scuttling off , too, to the cellar to fill a pint beer-mug, and then to a pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel." And there you have it. Clue-finder and web-cutter, friend of bears and guest of eagles, Ringwinner, Luckwearer, Barrel-rider: Bilbo Baggins bakes, too. Here is the all-round Hero in potentia, waiting for the Call... but with one eye on the oven timer. (And the appetite obviously heroic, as well. Only a hobbit would consider two whole seedcakes "a morsel".) ...It's been hanging about in British children's literature for a while now, the seed cake. The appearance in The Hobbit is hardly the first one: seed cake turns up as comfort food often enough, sometimes in strange disguises (the reference in Winnie the Pooh to "crustimoney proseedcake" is one of these). I woke up this morning (completely irrationally) with the yen for it and went to check what recipes were to be found. There are quite a few out there in the Webby part of the world at the moment: apparently the cake is having a mini-renaissance due to people rereading The Hobbit in the wake of the film, or in prep for it. Now, we've had a recipe for something similar over at European Cuisines for a while now, but it's more along toward the Irish-influenced "tea bread" end of the spectrum due to the chopped candied fruit in it. So I checked the classic recipe from Beeton, had a look at Delia and Nigel Slater, and then wandered about a little bit more (discovering along the line that we're out of baking parchment [makes a note on the kitchen chalkboard]) and assessed a few others.Read more...Collapse )
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I was making bread the other day and suddenly found a finger in it.

...Cognitively speaking. (Not a real finger, don't panic....) But writers' brains are such strange places sometimes. Here's today's example.

My short-term memory is a constant joke around here. You can (as happened this morning) tell me that the weather station's batteries are kaput and can't be charged in the normal battery recharger, meaning they have to be put into one of the more technologically challenged ones... and I will still, two hours later, look at the weather station and remark, "Oh look, its batteries have finally gone south" -- to the sound of ironic laughter from Himself Upstairs. (And I'll then recall the whole previous conversation perfectly well, but will have mislaid it between times.) Some of this is Not Paying Attention, but other aspects of it are just Sixtyish Brain Fail.

However. Ask me for a quote from a book I read forty years ago, and no problem, there it is. As you shall hear...

So I'm working with this recipe from Raymond Blanc for the first time, because the other evening I went to sleep with the TV running (I sometimes do) and it was showing an episode of Blanc's "Kitchen Secrets" series from last year, the one about bread. Now, bread is a passion with me. (A master post about this will turn up in a day or three so I don't keep losing some of the links I keep looking for.) Bad bread is everywhere -- I can't think of another place where Sturgeon's Law applies so rigorously; in bread's case it's because of the pestilent ubiquity of something called the Chorleywood Bread Process. (More about this in another post, but originally this process was devised as a way to make decent bread in large quantities from the soft wheats that are all that will grow in the British Isles. It uses yeast as a flavoring rather than as a way to develop the bread naturally: gluten is developed in this process by violent physical agitation and the addition of ever-increasing types and amounts of additives. Ick.)
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A Wizard Abroad New Millennium Edition cover

Teenage wizards Nita Callahan and Kit Rodriguez have been working the New York suburbs for nearly thirty years now, through nine novels' worth of adventures. As the dawn of their fourth decade in print draws near, the long-planned updating of the Young Wizards series continues with the Ebooks Direct release of the fourth novel in the series: A Wizard Abroad.

Abroad, like So You Want to Be a Wizard (book 1 of the Young Wizards series), Deep Wizardry (book 2), and High Wizardry (book 3), now appears in a New Millennium Edition that's been extensively edited and updated for the present century.

You can find out more about the update project as a whole here. All nine books will be updated by the end of 1Q of 2013, and all brought into alignment with the new (2008-2011-based) timeline.

If you've already picked up copies of the first two New Millennium Editions, you can grab A Wizard Abroad here. Alternately, if you haven't yet acquired any of the new editions, we're offering a four-volume "box set" of the first New Millennium Editions at a slightly lower price than buying all four separately.
New Millennium Edition Four-book set

(For those interested: book 5 of the series, The Wizard's Dilemma, is now in edit and will be available around mid-February of 2013.)

A little about the story:


There's magic across the Atlantic...

NitaCallahan's mom and dad are beginning to get the idea that she and her fellow wizard Kit are "spending a little too much time together". So -- explaining that they want to give their daughter a little vacation from wizardry -- they pack Nita off for a month-long stay with her eccentric aunt at her farm in Ireland. But this turns out to have been a bad move on Nita's parents' part, since Ireland is even more steeped in magical doings than the United States.

Nita, initially certain that she's going to be bored out of her mind, soon finds that the serene beauty of the Irish landscape is deceptive. The ghosts of men and beasts and other beings -- including what seem to be heroes, ancient gods, and even the Powers that Be -- confront her at every turn. And her attention to strictly wizardly business during this crisis is somewhat distracted by the dark and edgy Ronan Nolan, a local teen wizard with uncomfortable secrets... and an agenda that might possibly include Nita.

 
Along with a group of Irish wizards both young and old, Nita and Kit (who joins her in Ireland) are drafted into an increasingly desperate battle with the Lone Power in yet another of Its many forms. The fight is a personal one, as always -- but this time there's more at stake than usual, as the ancient Enemy of life attempts to submerge the everyday Ireland in an older, more dangerous one: a place where human beings are fairy tales, and the legends and monsters of Celtic myth are a deadly reality....

Reviewers say:



"Duane seamlessly interweaves encounters with creatures from legend with glimpses of modern Irish life and teen culture... So clever and well reasoned that readers will have no trouble suspending disbelief." (School Library Journal)




"An engaging fantastical tale... Definitely worth reading." (Book Trust)




"Suitable for a wide range of readers. The colourful descriptions and imaginative characters create an exciting read... found it difficult to put the book down." (Platform)





To sign up for our shop's mailing list and be informed of new releases in the New Millennnium series (and other offerings), click here.

ETA: Offer extended for one more day because the damn conjunctivitis GOT THE OTHER DAMN EYE. More details at the original Tumblr posting here. Also (over there) a link to a horrid, horrid pic of the first eye. Peter, I am so going to get you for this.

Preamble: I HATE THIS SO MUCH.

I hate being sick generally. (It's all true about [even former] nurses being terrible patients. Even more terrible than doctors, probably.) I've had a cold for the last few days (it's Peter's: I mutated it a bit -- what else would I do with a disease but tinker with it). I've been drinking tea and feeling my lymph nodes and sulking and doing all the things one does at such a time, when they feel their medical knowledge should by rights protect them from the smaller indignities of life.

Around eight last night I started feeling like I had something in my left eye. That there's-an-eyelash-stuck-in-there feeling: you know the one. I had just had some ramen with wasabi in it and I kind of laughed and thought "Right, maybe I got some wasabi up there." Funny.

By about midnight it was becoming plain that wasabi was not the issue. The upper eyelid was swelling.

4 AM I woke up and asked Peter (in his office working, he's the Owl in the Owl Springs Partnership) if he'd wander downstairs and make me a hot pack with a washcloth and a Zip-Loc bag. I was thinking maybe I had an inflamed tear duct or something. Got some relief from the pack, turned over and tried to sleep a bit.

8 AM ... went to take care of things and look in the mirror...

This was definitely nothing to do with wasabi. NOT AT ALL. (sigh)

(Normally the understanding is "Pictures or it didn't happen." Forgive me for not posting something here that would, as Hawkeye once said, "put you right off your french fried lobster." Peter took one look at me and said (torn between awe and pity, since when I look awful I look really awful), "I don't think I want to go to the pub with you tonight. The neighbors might think I punched you.") ...So what have we got? Sudden-onset eye irritation, swollen upper or lower lid (both in this case, we do nothing by halves around here), incredibly bloodshot sclera, at the same time as a cold? Snap diagnoses: Viral conjunctivitis. OH JOY.

(BTW: What you can't see here is me stopping every five minutes to put a cold pack on my eye, or wipe the constant tearing out of the bad one so I can see to type. I HATE THIS I HATE THIS I HATE THIS SO MUCH.)

So. Measures taken: In-house hygeine alert, as this this is incredibly contagious. I become a pariah in my own home. All towels, facecloths, and other impedimenta in contact with me become untouchable. Mild saline solution prepared to cleanse eye. Aspirin taken. Cold packs prepared. Sticky note on monitor says (in large letters easily visible to nearsighted woman without glasses) DO NOT TOUCH YOUR OTHER EYE STUPID, NO NO NO. (ETA: Resistance was Futile.) Husband warned to treat me like a walking case of Ebola (because, though he is a mirror of all virtues and a wonderful person, he is also, if at all possible, even worse as a patient than I am.) (But oh God, no cuddling, no, argh, no anything really until I cease to be infectious. This sucks unusually hard. DAMN YOU ADENOVIRUSES!)

And: to cheer me up, because I could really use it: I hereby declare a sale at the Ebooks Direct store. 50% off everything, today only. Use the discount code BUMEYE. Go on in and get yourself a 3-book set of the Young Wizards New Millennium editions or the full original-YW-series 9-book set or a copy of CSI Alfheim or some fairy tales or something. Do.

If you saw this pitiable rant on Twitter, please do RT it if you can see your way clear. (OUCH, inadvertent optical pun, sorry.) If you saw it on Tumblr, reblog it if you like, it'll be much appreciated. (OW OW OW this damn eye cold pack again). Knock yourselves out. I'm going to sit here with this squishy plastic dishtowel-wrapped thing against my face making me functionally useless, and practice cursing in Rihannsu or something.

...End of strop. Thank you for your continued support.  :)

(Dammit, what's the point in being sick in such a way that you can't even lie in bed and watch Sherlock DVDs successfully? Gaaaaah. ...And this cold pack's not even cold any more. What, did somebody leave entropy running again? Feck.)

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Previously, somewhere in the main city of the Khe’tek continent on Rirhath B, just outside the Crossings:

“It’s not like it’s a bad look…”

“Mmmm… I don’t know. It’s—”

“Unsettling.”

“No, not like that. It’s just that—”

“Just what?”

“I could kind of get used to it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“I mean, really really?”

“Well—”

“Take a leak first and then tell me that.”

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The woman in the black jeans walks down a country road, in conversation with people only she can hear. Since she’s not using a mobile phone, anywhere else this would be seen as a dubious sign. Fortunately no one’s around to see except the people she’s talking to.

“There are only two kinds of people,” Nita says.

“Mmm?” Kit says. His mouth is full at the moment.

“Those who bite the ends off their ice cream cones when the ice cream starts melting,” Nita says, “and those who don’t.”

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