Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

I can understand why Iraqis, especially their political leaders, are excited about U.S. forces leaving Iraqi cities(for the most part)... but they're still in the country, so it doesn't feel quite so momentous to me.

In related news, 73% of Americans favor the move, despite the fact that a majority think violence will increase... yet another example that only cable news shows listen to Dick Cheney.

When surfing the internet starts to feel like a job...

So I took a personal day from work and unplugged myself from the internet to just relax and read because I had started to get into a bit of a funk... it wasn't entirely effective in getting me out of my funk since I think for me personally, getting things accomplished often makes me feel better in that mindset... but regardless, after the morning, I didn't check any blogs or whatever until right before I went to bed, and I had 146 unread posts in Google Reader... in a day! Not even a full one! I only follow... let's see... 16 RSS feeds... with 6 of them being food blogs or comics that update no more than a few times a week. Andrew Sullivan needs to be stopped is all I'm saying - dude shouldn't be posting 40 times a day or whatever it was.

I've only been using Google Reader for a week, but I'm not sure I like the pressure! Yeah, you can just mark them all as read, or just scroll through them quickly but still.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Halftime. Hope they can keep it up.

UPDATE: They didn't. Good effort?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Blood Bowl is out!?

Well I guess I know what I'm doing this weekend. I've never played the board game, but I played and liked the blatant video game rip-off (Chaos League) Cyanide originally made before getting sued into... making an officially licensed version. An unusual outcome that, but (I hope) better for all of us that way.

via Tycho

Omelet or Omelette?

One of the most exciting discoveries for me this farmer's market season has been that one of the booths stocks farm fresh eggs. Thus, I've been eating a lot of omelets for dinner... and I think this may be my prettiest yet. My folding still sucks (doin' the tri-fold), but for the most part the errors are hidden underneath so as far as you know it's perfect.

Oh... it's Gruyère and sautéed creminis for the filling... and up in the corner that's some rainbow chard.

Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human Fat

I finished Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human earlier this week, and as I mentioned previously, was planning on writing up a full review. I may still do it, but as I was thinking about how to structure the post, one particular aspect of the book kept jumping out at me as something I wanted to write about. Before I get to that, I will say that it's quite an interesting book that is really well written... it's also pretty short with little over 200 pages of text (lots of footnotes though). Read it, and your mastery of a provacative and controversial theory of human evolution will amaze your friends at dinner parties!

Now then, the basic theory presented is detailed better elsewhere, but in short, the idea is that our ancestors started cooking a lot earlier than is commonly believed. Wrangham asserts that, indeed, it was cooking itself that propelled habilines to Homo erectus to Homo sapiens. He cites massive changes in the digestive system along that evolutionary path and speculates that the reduced digestion cost was used to create bigger brains, which could only be accomplished through cooked food. And now we get to the really interesting part... the part that intersects people like Michael Pollan and the slow food movement.

The obvious question is: what difference does cooking make? Doesn't a raw carrot have the same amount of calories as a cooked carrot? Well yes it does (give or take). But calories are only part of the story, as our digestive system extracts much more energy from cooked food. This isn't true just of humans, but even our own pets whose food comes cooked from PETCO and who often look a lot rounder than seen in nature. Everything from flies to rats to pythons have been shown to gain much more weight on a diet of cooked food. We're different from those animals in that we've been so adapted to this extra energy gained from eating cooked food, that people in the Raw Food movement invariably loose a ton of weight, women stop menstruating, and they all feel really hungry all the time because our bodies just can't extract enough energy out of uncooked food.

It doesn't stop at just at cooking though... processing in general... makes food easier to digest and allows more calories to be used by our bodies. If you take the same amount of calories of cooked food in two batches, but grind one up and leave the other whole, you'll get more energy from the ground up batch. This was most ably demonstrated by the study Wrangham cited by Oka et al, where rats were given pellets that were either hard or soft(requiring more or less chewing). Even though both groups of rats consumed the same amount of calories, the rats on the soft diet gained more weight... seemingly from the fact that they generated less body heat, and thus had expended less energy, digesting their food. He presented other examples, but I'll leave it to you to read the book if you're interested in seeing more support for the argument... I imagine most people who would stumble across this post probably already agree that there is something about our modern Western diet, and it's heavily processed nature, that is making us fat. Before Wrangham's hypothesis, I had found most of explanations of why this might be to be fairly unsatisfactory. Yeah, I'm sure there's something to the idea that these refined sugars are almost like a drug that we can't stop longing for, and how we just don't notice how much we've eaten of them.... but it mainly amounts to saying there is just something "wrong" about these foods, even if we don't know exactly what it is. Well what if it's this: processing allows you to extract more calories from your food. Calories aren't calories when you don't take into account how digestible the food in question is.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we're very close to getting a real measurement of how much we extract from any particular food... nor even a model to estimate it. I don't imagine Hostess is going to be clamoring for a revision of food labels that would make them look even worse for you than they already do. In the end, I guess we're still left with "eat food, not too much, mostly plants" and the like... but, I at least, find this rationale for why infinitely more satisfying.

photo by flicker user patries71 used under a Creative Commons license

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Maybe I spoke a little soon about intensity being "good for me psychologically"

That was brutal. I set out to do 3 half mile reps at high speed and only got the first one in before wheezing through parts of the others. Not a pleasing effort. Nothing to do but just get back at it tomorrow, I guess.

Exercise: Intensity vs. Duration

A New York times health blog post, via Outside the Beltway, hypes the benefits of short high intensity exercise:
In one of the group’s recent studies, Gibala and his colleagues had a group of college students, who were healthy but not athletes, ride a stationary bike at a sustainable pace for between 90 and 120 minutes. Another set of students grunted through a series of short, strenuous intervals: 20 to 30 seconds of cycling at the highest intensity the riders could stand. After resting for four minutes, the students pedaled hard again for another 20 to 30 seconds, repeating the cycle four to six times (depending on how much each person could stand), “for a total of two to three minutes of very intense exercise per training session,” Gibala says.

Each of the two groups exercised three times a week. After two weeks, both groups showed almost identical increases in their endurance (as measured in a stationary bicycle time trial), even though the one group had exercised for six to nine minutes per week, and the other about five hours.
The Journal of Physiology article in question is located here... if you'd rather see the scientific source instead of a journalist's write-up. Also of interest is another study by the same group where the intervention lasted 6 weeks instead of 2.

These studies are very interesting in their role in "paradigm shifting" the way athletes train, but, unfortunately, they're not quite as definitive in how to get people healthy through exercise. The study times are too short to observe cardiovascular adaptations and focus mainly on muscular changes that you might observe if the subjects did leg presses instead of 'sprint' interval training. In addition, Wingate tests are really really hard(or so I've heard - never done one)... and as you can see in the video, pretty much require people screaming at you to complete, even when you are very fit. Thus while I can conceive of doing this kind of training in young healthy people, it seems to me you'd really have to dial it down to get reasonable compliance... and not have to worry about people keeling over dead. Thus, from my perspective, I'd really like to see something like a 6 month study with a, still intense, but more reasonable 'sprint' workload. That said, it's very strong evidence for people, like me, who think intensity is far more important to getting fit than duration.

On a personal note, it has convinced me to work more on increasing speed as a goal in my runs. I moved to intervals (run half a mile, walk a minute) shortly after I started running again, but I was more focused on getting my number of repetitions up than I was about speed. Now I intend to focus explicitly on my pace, and trying to shave time off of it. I think that will be better for me both physically and physiologically... assuming I make progress... as I continue to try and get myself into some semblance of shape.

photo by flickr user icopythat used under a Creative Commons license

FES Rowing on Channel 7

I'm not anywhere in this video, but my boss, Dave Estrada, and Glen(in a non-speaking role) are... it seems like a fairly serviceable explanation of the program.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Whoa... U.S. 2, Spain 0

Didn't see that coming. I left work early and had a late lunch with Anna at a place I could watch the first half out the corner of my eye... saw the first goal, and was shocked enough by that... but I really didn't see how the Americans were going to be able to hold off the Spaniards for 45 minutes, and didn't bother to watch the second half. Whoops! Beating the #1 team in the world... who hadn't lost for 35 straight games... has got to be one of the biggest victories for U.S. soccer ever. Such a crazy turnaround from how crappy they were playing in the first round.

So now onto the Confederations Cup final where they'll play either Brazil or host South Africa.

Cheap Lobster

An interesting article in The Atlantic interpreting a report of a crash in lobster prices up in Maine. First the wire story:
Prices for lobster plunged last year to levels not seen in 20 years, leading Turner and a growing number of other lobstermen to sell from the backs of pickup trucks, from garages, and even on Craigslist. By going directly to consumers, lobstermen say they can make roughly $1 more per pound than what they get from lobster dealers.
So what is it? Not enough stock brokers and hedge fund managers going out for fancy dinners? Overfishing? Aparently not according to Trevor Corson at the Atlantic:
Way before our current recession began, lobstermen were doing such a good job conserving their resource that beginning in the 1990s, they were already catching more lobsters than the market could sustain. There's never been enough demand for all those live lobsters. They've always had to go somewhere else.

Remember how I said stocks of codfish in Canada had collapsed 20 years ago? Those cod used to be packaged and frozen by Canadian processing plants. After the cod collapse, the same Canadian plants started packaging and freezing the extra lobsters being caught in New England. They took up the slack.

By an unfortunate twist of fate, those plants had their financing tied up in the Icelandic banking system, and when it collapsed last fall, the capacity of the processing plants did, too. Ever since then, the market has been flooded with excess live lobster. Lobsters that used to get turned into frozen claws and tails for mid-level chains like Red Lobster are now filling the fresh lobster tanks to overflowing. Thus the crash in price. The fact that luxury dining has declined doesn't help, but it's not the cause. The problem is simply that New England's lobsters have finally come home to roost.
His advice is to make a bigger deal of the job they've done in conservation, and embrace more fully the principles of sustainability... as environmentally conscious eaters are a pretty stable market. That eating lobster... a food I've always associated with decadence(my visits to Maine are changing that view)... is, in fact, environmentally conscious, it pretty surprising.

So order the lobster! Both cheap and good(or not bad at least) for the planet.

As an aside, in trying to find out if I could check lobster prices online to see how cheap they were in Cambridge, I did find that there is a fish market(called The Fishmonger natch) within walking distance that I never knew about. Next to Formmagio Kitchen apparently... I'll have to check it out.

photo by flickr user SisterMaryEris used under a Creative Commons license

Government on Sale?

via Andrew Sullivan yet again

During a book review, Jon Rauch makes an interesting statement about what he considers one of conservatives' myths:
One [myth] is that tax cuts make government smaller. This idea has had the great political merit of uniting supply-siders who never saw a tax cut they didn’t like, libertarians who want to shrink the government, and fiscal traditionalists who oppose deficits. But the past several decades have disproved it. When tax cuts increase deficits (that is, when they are not balanced by spending cuts), they reduce government’s apparent cost. They put government on sale, so to speak. When something goes on sale, people want more of it, and government is no exception. Instead of reducing the supply of government, unbalanced tax-cutting has increased the demand for it.
And, as he argues a few paragraphs later, since nobody really ever wants to cut any programs when presented with trade-offs, and no conservative politician has ever shrunk government... you'll never cut spending significantly. I certainly buy the idea that tax cuts aren't effective in reducing the size of government... but I don't know how true it is that people want more government when you make it seem cheaper. We're a low tax country, but we obviously don't have universal health care nor the range of social safety nets and services other countries enjoy. As a percentage of GDP, it seems you could even argue that federal expenses have gone down a bit since Reagan. It doesn't seem like tax cuts or tax hikes have really done much at all to the size of expenditure, but certainly by the logic above if you don't reduce outlays, a tax cut is the same as a spending increase... and so perhaps it's pyschologically like getting the same government services for less... the more you spend, the more you save! However, it seems unlikely to me that Bush's tax cuts and spending habits are what led to the push for universal healthcare. Though it is true that now a large majority of Americans are willing to pay higher taxes for universal healthcare... something I don't imagine was true in the 90's... and it is certainly at least partially thanks to Bush being a terrible President that Obama is in charge now... so maybe there is more to it than I'm giving credit for.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Writing in Science

via Andrew Sullivan

An interesting critique by Rachel Toor in The Chronicle of Higher Education of how terrible writing in the sciences can be:
Whenever I ask Godfrey to explain his medical and scientific work to me — something I do frequently — I am captivated. He has the ability to get at the most interesting issues, to draw out the implications of what he's studying, and to explain them in ways that are fascinating. He knows how to tell a story in conversation. He knows which details will enhance suspense, which will come as a surprise.

But when it comes to putting it on the page, those skills desert him. He writes in simple, declarative, passive sentences. He endlessly repeats words and phrases. His language is complicated not only by terms of medical and scientific art, but by using unnecessary Latinate words when plain old Anglo-Saxon ones would do a better job. He has no idea how commas and paragraph breaks can be your friends, doesn't understand that adverbs are the refuge of the weak and lazy, and that semicolons, like loaded guns, should only be handled by those trained to use them.

In general, none of that has hurt Godfrey in his extensive publishing career. Having read a fair number of articles and grant proposals by his colleagues and peers, I would say he's no worse than most scientists and physicians, and better than many. Thankfully there are saintlike journal editors who follow in his wake to clean up the linguistic messes.

I think it should be clear from my posting on this blog that I'm not much more than a pedestrian writer, but what might be surprising is that relative to my field, where nearly everything you do of importance is a written communication... I'm actually fairly good. I've worked in a research laboratory for over ten years now, and seen my share of postdocs and fellows come through, and as Rachel Toor notes, quality writing is a rarity. I would bet my boss would freely admit that a large part of his success in operating solely on "soft money" (i.e. money from grants from places like the NIH) is his ability to write well. Indeed, a statement by my Senior Project Professor (now Dean of BU's School of Engineering) that "you could do the best study in the world, but if you can't communicate the results it's worthless" has been etched into my brain since he uttered it. However, besides his class, the only writing I was required to do was in that Freshman composition class that every Freshman in the universe takes. Now, I took some literature classes as electives because I like writing, but it suffices to say that those choices were viewed as "eccentric", at best, by my fellow engineers.

One wonders how much of this is self perpetuating... people who don't like English class gravitate towards the sciences, and once they get into college try to stay as far away from those classes as possible. Your answer to an electric circuit theory problem is either right or wrong, and you don't tend to get points taken off for style. To someone with that mindset, the grading of an English professor can seem utterly arbitrary and thus poor results completely unfair. It had never occured to me, but perhaps classes specifically in grammar and syntax is a way around this? I don't think I did much with such things past elementary school, and I don't imagine that's unusual... and it's obviously something that could be taught more like formulas and math and presumably be of great benefit to science types.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Oh come on now

It seems like all anybody in the Northeast does these days is complain about how it's been raining essentially forever... but seriously. I was joking this morning about how I hoped it stopped raining by the 4th... but now I'm actually sort of worried. Of course, I think the tail ends of ten day forecasts are determined by dart throwing so maybe it won't be so bad.

Light Blogging

I'm going to be in the lab troubleshooting a protocol, and thus denied the internets... so don't let anything exciting happen while I'm gone. Here's hoping for a peaceful day in Iran for less selfish reasons... and WTF is up with our soccer team? I thought they were done... apparently not. They are going to get destroyed by Spain on Wednesday though.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The "Lethal Carelessness" of Neocons

An apt epithet pulled from Joe Klein's take down of Krauthammer's and Wolfowitz's dual neocon nonsense on the WaPo Op-Ed pages today. As Jon Chait notes, they don't even engage the argument for the President's measured stance. These are ostensibly intelligent people, and after the last 8 years, you can only assume they just don't care about the dangerous games they play with other peoples' lives.

Pickled Sugar Snap Peas

Recipe over at Smitten Kitchen... I've got a big bag of sugar snap peas from the Farmer's Market, so I aim to try pickling some of 'em this weekend.

Mmmmm... Focaccia

So there it is... and I've gotta say: it's pretty amazing. Well worth the effort. It's super rich, with all that oil, but Reinhart was right when he said the bread would absorb it all... the only part that was oily, and only slightly so, was the bottom. I was surprised at how light and fluffy the interior was... almost delicate... and it ended up thicker than I expected... the pieces pictured are maybe 1.5-2 inches thick. Anna and I were in the middle of a [WoW Nerd Alert] Zul'Farrak run with a surprisingly awesome pickup group when it was supposed to go in the oven... and who is going to abandon a chance to get a Carrot on a Stick, for some bread? Not me... I gots my priorities. [End WoW Nerd] So I think it rose a little more than Reinhart asked for. It ended up being 4 hours out on the counter from the fridge instead of 3, and had risen to more like 1.25 to 1.5 inches in height instead of 1. I'm quite happy with the texture and consistency of the finished product, and it didn't fall in the oven or anything... so I suppose it all worked out for the best. I was also quite happy with the herb oil... especially the cayenne pepper and paprika... the little bit of spiciness was a nicer touch than I would have imagined.

The steps for this final day are pretty straightforward. You need to get it out of the fridge so it can warm up and finish proofing. Take another 1/4 cup or so of your herb oil and dimple in as much as you want... as the man says, the dough will absorb it as it cooks... you should be able to push the dough into the corners now. Then cover it back up in plastic and leave it on the counter for 3 hours, or until it's risen to 1 inch in height. Thirty minutes before you plan to cook it, move a rack o the middle, and preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Put the focaccia in, lower the temp to 450, and cook for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and cook for another 5-10 minutes, taking it out when it's golden and the temp at the center is 200 degrees. Transfer it immediately from the pan to a cooling rack, and wait 20 minutes (longest 20 minutes ever) to cut and serve.

Day 1 of chimpanzee focaccia making is here. More photos are here.

Khamenei Speaks

This doesn't sound good:
In his first public response to days of mass protests, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sternly warned opposition supporters on Friday to stay off the streets and raised the prospect of violence if the defiant, vast demonstrations continued.

Opposition leaders, he said, will be “responsible for bloodshed and chaos” if they do not call stop further rallies.
As someone with no skin in the game, I've been hesitant to venture much in the way of opinions regarding Iran... but I certainly hope this isn't what it seems to be: the official announcement of a brutal crackdown against the reformists. Ugh... I wish there was something to be done other than changing color schemes.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Peter Reinhart's Focaccia - Day 1

So a little bit of procrastination on my somewhat ambitious plans for focaccia making... I did make my herb oil on Tuesday, but I didn't realize how much work you had to do on the first evening of the non-poolish version of Reinhart's focaccia. It's not intense work by any means... mostly waiting around... but since I was already cooking up some pasta sauce, I decided to delay the first part of focaccia making until last night.

Regarding the herb oil: I wish I could give exact proportions, but... I don't have any... and being that I haven't tasted the focaccia yet, I don't even know if my choices were good ones... however I can tell you that the ratio called for in the recipe was 1/2 cup fresh herbs to 1 cup oil. I just trimmed as much as I could from our herb garden without (hopefully) crippling our plants... basil, sage, thyme, rosemary, and oregano were all thrown in there (roughly in descending order of proportion). I also threw in 3 cloves of garlic, pressed, 1/2 a tablespoon coarse sea salt, 1/2 tablespoon ground pepper, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon paprika.

I don't have Bread Baker's Apprentice handy for the exact formula, but I do remember the weights... you mix 22.5 oz of bread flour with 0.5 oz of instant yeast and 0.5 oz of salt. Then you add in 6 tablespoons of olive oil and 16 oz of room temperature water. Next up is the kneading, which you do by rotating the bowl and using your hand "like a dough hook" (not having a stand mixer, I don't know exactly what that means, but I just make a claw and squish the dough around as best I can). You'll want a bowl of water nearby so that you can dip your hand in it when the dough gets uber sticky (see above). You do this for 3-5 minutes, switching the direction of how you are rotating the bowl a few times.

Next you turn it out on a floured workspace with either a wet hand or wet dough scraper (we just got one and it kicks ass). Dust the top with lots of flour, shape it into a rectangle, and then let it rest for five minutes. After that you're in the "fold it like a letter" stage... where you take the ends of your rectangle and stretch them to double length and fold them back over themselves in a tri-fold, so you are back in rectangle form (see above). Spray it with some oil, dust with some flour, and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it rest for 30 minutes before repeating the folding/spray/dust/cover step. After another 30 minute rest you do it again... except let it proof on the counter top for a full hour.

After that hour of proofing, it'll be pretty ginourmous, but not necessarily doubled in size. Get out your half sheet pan (i.e. cookie sheet) and a piece of parchment paper to fit. Take about a 1/3 cup of olive oil and oil down the parchment paper and pan. Then you use your dough scraper (or hand) to help gather up the dough and transfer it to the pan... trying to keep the shape intact and avoid degassing. Next spoon out 1/4 of your herb oil and you should have something like what's pictured above.

In the final step of the evening's work, you use your fingertips (and fingertips only) to dimple the dough. You're trying to push it out towards the edges, work in the oil and herbs, and simultaneously degas little sections while leaving others nice and poofy. You want the overall thickness to be pretty uniform, but you don't have to worry if you can't get the dough into the corners. The dough still has some relaxing and proofing to do, so it will fill those corners right in.

Cover it in plastic and stick it in the fridge overnight, or up to three days.

One thing to consider for the next day(or whenever you plan to bake it), is that it needs to sit on the counter for 3 hours before you stick it in the oven... Anna will be home to take it out in the late afternoon so we're not eating it at 9 pm... but that's something to consider for making it on a weeknight.

Day 2 of chimpanzee focaccia making is here. More photos are here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Is that the best you've got?

Arnold Kling and Megan McArdle outsource their economic analysis to Reason commenters in the always enjoyable "out of context quoting game"... trying to gotcha Krugman from a 2002 article:
The basic point is that the recession of 2001 wasn't a typical postwar slump, brought on when an inflation-fighting Fed raises interest rates and easily ended by a snapback in housing and consumer spending when the Fed brings rates back down again. This was a prewar-style recession, a morning after brought on by irrational exuberance. To fight this recession the Fed needs more than a snapback; it needs soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. And to do that, as Paul McCulley of Pimco put it, Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.
Reading this paragraph, it almost sounds like Paul Krugman is begging Greenspan to inflate a housing bubble so the economy will recover... and this is exactly what Kling et al want you to think... either that or they were too lazy to read the 800 word article they linked to and quoted from. But it only takes a cursory glance to realize that he wasn't proposing any policy or making judgments on the positives/negatives of any particular course of action... he was just providing economic analysis. He said that the Fed and Bush Administration had a lot of incentive for a strong recovery... the former because of their role in the NASDAQ bubble and the latter to justify their massive tax cut package... and that this was likely to be achieved through inflating of a housing bubble to replace the stock market one.

Isn't this exactly what happened?

I guess you can fault him for not arguing strongly against the inflation of another bubble... he seems fairly neutral to it... but it seems to me that it goes without saying that bubbles are bad, since by definition they burst.

Regardless, with all the stuff Krugman's written about the economy and various bubbles, is that really the best you can do? Accurate prediction and economic analysis? He really must piss those libertarian economic types off for them to try so hard... better luck next time, guys!

UPDATE: Kling clarifies the meaning of his post, which mitigates the appearance of mindless Krugman bashing... though I don't completely agree with his interpretation; it's a perfectly reasonable viewpoint. No word from McArdle.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cassoulet longing

I was just perusing a post on The Atlantic's Food Channel about the difficulties of picking out items at your Farmer's Market... problems I most certainly have, as I almost always choose items that are completely unrelated (in my mind at least) and end up in disparate dishes that require "regular" market trips to round out enough other ingredients for finished products. It would be nice to walk by the stalls, have a culinary epiphany, and come home with everything I need for something HAWESOME. I'm not there yet, unfortuntately, and Mr. Henry's post provides no real guidance on how to rectify that... while ultimately just bragging about a recent market experience(I would too, of course)... he did link to a recipe for a real hard core cassoulet recipe.

It calls for roughly 55 hours of soaking, resting, and cooking... about $40 in beans... and I think I'm in love.

It's not really the season for French comfort food, but I admit to the temptation.

This Week in Chimpanzee Bread Baking: Peter Reinhart's Focaccia

As I'm still fascinated with Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice, especially since the Pain à l'Ancienne attempt went so well, I'm going to, once again, bake a recipe from the aforementioned book. I've been doing my bread baking on weekends up until now, but since Anna is going down to Jersey to spend time with her Pops on Fathers' Day like a good daughter, and I enjoyed making the Pain à l'Ancienne with her quite a lot, I decided to try and make this during the week. The recipe involves some "delayed fermentation"(i.e. time overnight in the refrigerator), similar to the Pain à l'Ancienne, and the actual baking time is short... so despite any proofing on the counter, with a little planning, hopefully we can avoid eating focaccia at midnight. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I'm just going to do the basic recipe with an herb oil... so not a pizza-esque focaccia or anything. One of the great things about this recipe is that it requires no special tools... no baking stone, no stand mixer or food processor... just a half sheet pan and some strong hands. A quick Google hasn't turned up the version of this recipe I'm going to do, but VeganYumYum has it using a poolish. The recipe is illustrated with lots of great pictures, so I recommend checking it out.

After a quick trip to the grocery store to grab some cheap olive oil (you don't need EVOO for this since it's going to be cooked), I'll make the herb oil and dough tonight so that we can bake it tomorrow. I haven't completely decided on the composition of the herb oil, but our new window herb garden is thriving, and we need to trim it back... so I've got some fresh basil, oregano, and rosemary in mind... maybe some sage and thyme, but I don't want it to be too busy. Some fresh pressed garlic, sea salt, red pepper flakes, and maybe some paprika sound good as well. All of that goes into some warmed olive oil to steep for a few hours. My mouth is watering already.

focaccia photo by flickr user tiny banquet committee used under a Creative Commons license

Monday, June 15, 2009

We are the Champions

Forgive the self-aggrandizing, but this was the longest and toughest hike I've done in recent memory, and it was also probably the most breathtaking I've done in Acadia... which is saying something. I've got a much more detailed description at Everytail, which I won't bother to repost here. You can skip to the photo set at Flickr, but at the moment there aren't any descriptions... though hopefully that will change shortly.

Cadillac and Dorr via Canon Brook Trail

Widget powered by EveryTrail: GPS Trail Maps

What the...

I left for Maine before the Iranian election "results" were in, and didn't bother to check the news while up there... but...  uhm wow.
On Sunday, word spread that more than 100 prominent opposition members had been detained; riots erupted in Tehran and other cities; and the triumphant incumbent hinted that his top challenger risks punishment for questioning the result.

At the same time, two of the three opposition candidates and a clerical group issued fresh statements requesting an annulment of Friday’s ballot, which gave a lopsided victory to Mr. Ahmadinejad, a conservative who has become a polarizing figure at home and abroad. It was unclear how much further Mr. Ahmadinejad’s adversaries were willing or able to go in challenging the result. But supporters of the opposition candidates skirmished with baton-wielding riot police officers on the edges of a government-organized victory rally in Tehran. There were also reports of riots in other Iranian cities, and the protests were echoed by Iranians demonstrating against the election results in Washington and in several European capitals.
Well, I guess I'll have to catch up on Juan Cole's site as time permits today.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Tobacco was completely unregulated?

Emphasis on was, as the Senate passed a bill yesterday put them under the eye of the FDA. That sort of blows my mind... man, that tobacco lobby is no joke. Though I suppose, in reality, it hasn't really been that long since tobacco companies admitted that nicotine was even addictive. So, progress eh? The level of regulation they were under wasn't something I ever thought about, especially when I was a smoker... but here's the line: "Cigarettes remained less regulated than cosmetics or pet food." Even if you're a libertarian who thinks people should be able to poison themselves however they like(and I lean towards that belief as well), you've got to at least admit that's kind of messed up. I mean, just because they're cancer sticks, doesn't mean they should be held to some sort of standards in manufacture and content. Here's the take home message of the bill:
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, as it is called, stops short of empowering the F.D.A. to outlaw smoking or ban nicotine — strictures that even most antismoking advocates acknowledged were not politically feasible and might drive people addicted to nicotine into a criminal black market.

But the law would give the F.D.A. power to set standards that could reduce nicotine content and regulate chemicals in cigarette smoke. The law also bans most tobacco flavorings, which are considered a lure to first-time smokers. Menthol was deferred to later studies. Health advocates predict that F.D.A. standards could eventually reduce some of the 60 carcinogens and 4,000 toxins in cigarette smoke, or make it taste so bad it deters users.

The law would also tighten restrictions on the marketing and advertising of tobacco products. Colorful ads and store displays will be replaced by black-and-white-only text. Beginning next year, all outdoor advertising of tobacco within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds would be illegal. Here's the take home message of the bill:

And cigarette makers will be required to stop using terms like “light” and “low tar” by next year and to place large, graphic health warnings on their packages by 2012.

I'm against an all-out ban, so I'm pleased nobody is pushing that way anymore, and none of these changes strike me as terribly onerous to the tobacco industry's business model... trying to keep cigarettes out of the hands of children is a clear public good to strive for, even if I'm not entirely certain it will be so effective. After all, I started smoking after I graduated college... not as an impressionable teen(though it was to impress a girl)... and ended up with a ten year pack a day habit. As long as these regulations don't cause an unintended consequence of a surprise increase in smoking rate... because they've somehow made smoking "cooler" or something... it's hard to see how anyone could argue "Oh noes! My rights are being trampled!" because Phillip Morris can't advertise on playgrounds.  Of course, that's not going to stop the crazies who want to outlaw the FDA from complaining, but who cares about them?

One thing to keep an eye on on the "rights" front:
The Association of National Advertisers says the act’s “unprecedentedly broad advertising restrictions” violate First Amendment protections for commercial speech. Legal experts say a court challenge on that ground is virtually certain.
Should be interesting to see how that plays out.

image by flickr user peagreengirl used under a Creative Commons license

Thursday, June 11, 2009

WoW: Don't buy that flying mount for your Pally alt just yet...

via Ta-Nehisi

Word from Zarhym on teh Forums is that there is going to be a HUGE decrease in the level requirements and cost of mounts in the next content patch.

Apprentice Riding (Skill 75)
  • 60% land mount speed 
  • Requires level 20 
  • Cost: 4 gold 
  • Mount cost: 1 gold 
  • Mail will be sent to players at level 20 guiding them to the riding trainer

Journeyman Riding (Skill 150)
  • 100% land mount speed 
  • Requires level 40 
  • Cost: 50 gold 
  • Mount cost: 10 gold 
  • Mail will be sent to players at level 40 guiding them back to the riding trainer

Expert Riding (Skill 225)
  • 150% flying mount speed; 60% land mount speed 
  • Requires level 60 
  • Cost: 600 gold (faction discounts now apply) 
  • Mount Cost: 50 gold 
  • Can now be learned in Honor Hold (Alliance) or Thrallmar (Horde)

Artisan Riding (Skill 300)
  • 280% flying mount speed; 100% land mount speed 
  • Requires level 70 
  • Cost: 5,000 gold (faction discounts now apply) 
  • Mount Cost: 100 gold

Good news for the stables of my stable of alts! They continue to increase the speed of leveling 1-70... obviously trying to get people more quickly into Northrend... I guess maybe they were getting a little embarrassed for me, since my highest level character is level 51, heh. I probably I should take the hint, but for whatever reason I like leveling up characters like they are in their own little crafting guild. It's slow, but I like being able to craft gear for everybody. I'm weird like that.

One question I have though, is with everybody getting mounts at level 20, what's the point of travel forms for Druids and Shamans anymore? Are they going to get buffed in some way?

ADDENDUM: Also, I guess they're going to eliminate the quest chains for the epic Warlock and Paladin mounts and make them trainable at 40, similar to what they did with the normal quest mounts when they reduced mount level requirements for Burning Crusade?

ADDENDUM II: Zarhym updates
Travel Form: Requires level 16
Flight Form: Requires level 60 (150% flight speed)
Swift Flight Form: Requires level 70

Aspect of the Cheetah: Requires level 16

Ghost Wolf: Requires level 16

Warhorse: Requires level 20
Charger: Requires level 40

Felsteed: Requires level 20
Dreadsteed: Requires level 40

So you get your movement buff 4 levels before mounts... druid flight form to match flying mounts... and expected changes to Warlock/Paladin mounts. Those are 4 pretty quick levels for the early stuff, so I don't imagine anyone is going to really notice. Still, getting cheetah form 10 levels after your mount would've been silly, so this is better than nothing. They clearly don't want to really do much to the Old World other than allow you to get through it faster.

Cardiovascular Lab in the news?

They're's a a television crew coming to interview my boss and film Dave Estrada doing some FES Rowing today... don't know how often these things they film don't get shown, or when it would appear otherwise... but I'll post any video or details when I get them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It's a bargain at twice the price!

I don't have an iPhone, Palm, Treo, or laptop with a 3G card or whatever... so I've never even paused to price wireless data plans before, but this story via Kevin Drum caused my eyes to pop out of my head for reasons different than I think the author intended:
The bill showed $182.96 in monthly access charges, $5.17 in taxes and fees . . . and $9,805.75 in wireless Internet activity.

According to the bill, Elliot used his cellphone to upload, download or otherwise access more than 44,000 megabytes worth of data in a single month.
The point of the story is actually how this mistaken charge(of 10,000 dollars!), because of some weird "third time is the charm" policy of Bank of America, actually went through after repeated attempts from Verizon... despite complaints from the customer and the fact that he had less than 1K in the bank. That's pretty terrible... yet another tale of corporate incompetence, which was only corrected when they found out they'd be in the paper. You just have to shake your head... but what I still can't get over is the $10K for about 44 Gigabytes of bandwidth price tag.

I'll grant you... that's a ton of bandwidth to use in a month... your normal user isn't going to come anywhere near that number... but it still works out to about $230 a gigabyte. It only took a few minutes searching to see that this indeed was Verizon's pricing scheme for wireless internet access... $0.25 for every megabyte(i.e. $256 per GB) over a set threshold. They appear to have cut that back with the introduction of their netbooks to $0.10 (with a 50 MB threshold) and $0.05(with a 5 GB threshold) overcharges for $40 and $60 a month respectively... not to be all cynical, but don't you get the feeling that the reduction is just to make the charges less obtrusive on your monthly bill?

To get some perspective on what a gigabyte in bandwidth means as far as internet usage, looking at Hulu's faq... their standard streams range from 480 Kbps to 700 Kbps for normal definition shows... so that works out to about a GB of bandwidth in about 24-36 minutes of TV watching. I don't imagine a lot of people are streaming video on their iPhones (are they?) but it seems like a natural use of those sleek little netbooks. I also thought people were singing the praises of those 3G wireless cards? It just doesn't seem you could be doing a whole lot before you'd be paying through the nose.

Like I said, I've never even thought much about wireless internet access... it's not something I felt the need to get... and seeing stuff like this makes me feel even less inclined towards exploring it. No blogging from the beach for me, I guess.

Pirates 1 Ninjas 0

via Hilzoy, the Daily News reports:
Sweden's Pirate Party - a group that wants to bring down copyright laws and make all Web content free - managed to gain 7.1% of the vote in European-wide elections. The win means that the party will hold one of the 785 seats in European Parliament.

The Pirate Party also lobbies for drastic change in internet privacy regulation and complete abandonment of the patent system.
I'm not an open source guy, nor particularly concerned with intellectual property reform... but even I have to cheer for the Pirate Party. Ahhh, Sweden.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Scientests Agree: Green Line Stinks

The New Scientist:
Passengers on the Boston light rail, an electric commuter train, were found to emit as much or marginally more than those on mid-size and large aircraft. This is in part because 82 per cent of electricity in Massachusetts is generated by burning fossil fuels.
Green line passengers emit more than a medium size airplane? That sounds smelly! Good thing I moved to the much more luxurious Commuter Rail, where everything smells like the breath of an angel*.

But as Ryan Avent and Matthew Yglesias point out, stinky light rail is still much more green than a car... which is the only practical competitor for moving around Boston, since AFAIK there are no Commuter Paradrops from those medium and large sized planes. Though that sounds like a pretty cool initiative that I'd be happy to support.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Anonymity and the Internet

If you don't follow the political blogs obsessively, you're probably unaware of this weekend's brouhaha regarding the NRO's Ed Whelan's "outing" of Obsidian Wings blogger publius's superblogger secret identity. Bloggers from all political persuasions seem to be roundly condemning the action as basically a dick move that provided no benefit to anybody... not even Ed Whelan, since it looks like the childish action of a man without an argument to support his case. The incident itself seems pretty clear cut... but I gather this sort of controversy tends to happen every few years and everybody chimes in with the same sorts of thoughts... but I've never said anything on the issue, so I figure I'll throw in my own 2 cents even if it's been hashed and rehashed a thousand times.

When I first started calling up my friend's computer with my 2400 baud modem to post on his BBS, I used a pseudonym... not because I craved the ability to post my thoughts anonymously... of the dozen or so regular posters I knew probably half in real life... but just because that's what you did. It continued as I joined gaming communities that frequently require user names for multiplayer and for forums. It was big surprise to me when I started to meet people online that posted using their real name... mainly because it was so uncommon, not because I thought they were taking some terrible risk by having their name associated with whatever they were saying. There is certainly a non-zero chance that if I'm applying for a job in the future that a quick Google will turn up this blog (though if you look for Jason Hamner you get a body builder... you have to throw in the "W" to get me), and that if said employer disagreed with my political views I might not get the job. Similarly, some of my relatives are much much more conservative than I am... and if they read this blog it could lead to some arguments, and possibly minor familial strife, in my future. For someone tenure tracked, or in a job where being seen as having any opinion whatsoever can cost you business, I can certainly see where some level of anonymity is a prerequisite for blogging/posting.

There is of course a big difference between true anonymity and using a pseudonym... it doesn't take more than 5 seconds looking at a site that allows unmoderated anonymous comments to see what a disaster that is. While I think there does tend to be a little less civility and a bit more snark from people who adopt a pseudonym as opposed to posting under their real name... it has certainly been the case with me at any rate... it seems to me that there is still a fairly high cost for behaving badly in either situation. For me personally, posting under my real name gives me pause before I hit publish that I might not otherwise have... and it helps moderate some of my passions for politics in ways that I think are generally positive. With someone like publius or Anonymous Liberal, on the other hand, it seems likely that they wouldn't have blogged at all if they were forced to do so under their real name... which doesn't seem like much of a trade.

UPDATE:  It looks like Whelan apologized after some reflection, which is a good thing...  but  I'll leave the commentary to Anonymous Liberal.

Even Senators sound like idiots on Twitter

Chuck Grassley's Twitter Feed:
My carbon footprint is abt 25per cent of Al Gore. I'm greener than Al Gore. Is that enuf?
about 4 hours ago from txt

Pres Obama while u sightseeing in Paris u said 'time to delivr on healthcare' When you are a "hammer" u think evrything is NAIL I'm no NAIL
4:41 AM Jun 7th from txt

Pres Obama you got nerve while u sightseeing in Paris to tell us"time to deliver" on health care. We still on skedul/even workinWKEND.
4:34 AM Jun 7th from txt

I know I'm going all "grumpy old man" here, but come on... "skedul"... "enuf"!? You'd think some 14 year old hacked his account, but no denials have been forthcoming.

I've got nothing

There's really nothing I feel moved to post about at that moment. I did make some Texas style chili last night, but I didn't even taste it because I finished it so late... though it theoretically tastes better the next day anyway, so that's not much of a problem. Anyway... that's about as much commentary as I can muster.

Friday, June 5, 2009

WoW: Mai kitteh form can has hardo!?

via kotaku

Blizzard sez:
There will be five different designs for each of these forms for the Horde and Alliance. Night elves can choose to change their cat and bear look at any time by visiting the barber shop and changing their character's hair color, while tauren will be able to change which look they use by switching skin tones in the barber shop -- a new feature for tauren in the next major content patch.

It would be somewhat cooler if you could change the look of your cat/bear forms independently, but still it's a nice touch.

Animal Research

I just noticed this series by Daniel Engber, when I saw the most recent part regarding monkey vivisection on Slate's "front page". I haven't read all the parts of the series, but it appears to be somewhat of a retrospective on animal rights in relationship to animal research. Often not a pretty thing, even just twenty years ago... though I probably can't give an impartial critique since, as I've mentioned, even the most humane animal research is not something I'd really ever want to participate in.

It's a tough issue... it's impossible to overstate how much valuable scientific information... information that saves human lives... has come from animal experiments. And yet, I can't say I'm entirely comfortable with doing such things to primates, no matter how valuable the information is.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hey Rhode Island: WTF!?

New Hampshire did the marriage equality thing yesterday. You got beat by New Hampshire... that's gotta smart.

Unified Chimpanzee Tea Party Theory: Chimps + Cooking = Bloggers

I just saw this on Bittman's blog, and it reminded me that, though the story of this book has been making the rounds in the blogosphere in recent weeks, I still hadn't gotten around to commenting on it. The book in question is called Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human and there's a chapter excerpt here and the book review with a summary of the theory here.
Put simply, Mr. Wrangham writes that eating cooked food — whether meat or plants or both —made digestion easier, and thus our guts could grow smaller. The energy that we formerly spent on digestion (and digestion requires far more energy than you might imagine) was freed up, enabling our brains, which also consume enormous amounts of energy, to grow larger. The warmth provided by fire enabled us to shed our body hair, so we could run farther and hunt more without overheating. Because we stopped eating on the spot as we foraged and instead gathered around a fire, we had to learn to socialize, and our temperaments grew calmer.
I was intrigued by Wrangham's theory back when I first read his short essay in Tree of Origin... so I'm pretty interested to read the book length version. It's certainly an attractive hypothesis that seems to answer a lot of questions about the origin of our species in a nice little package.

As someone who is fascinated by both primates and cooking, it was pretty clear I have to read this book. The alleged brutal take down of the Raw Food movement is just a bonus. So expect a review in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

In Defense of Old Bay

Ben Adler has an "Angry Rant" over at IFA regarding the ubiquity of Old Bay Seasoning in Chesapeake Bay cuisine... and I can't see much purpose to it other than to provoke the ire of native Marylanders... to which it has succeeded admirably; at least in my particular case... but I will respond to as if it were a serious culinary question borne of innocent ignorance and not just a graceless troll from a vile New Yorker.
One thing that the “Mid-Atlantic” region does have to offer is famous crabs from the Maryland Bay, and I’ve had some good crab cakes in D.C., so I thought this would surely be a good experience.
It's called the Chesapeake Bay thankyouverymuch.
I was wrong. The crabs were smothered in a salty seasoning that got all over my hands.
ohnoes!! It got all over your hands!!!! Uhm... that's the point. You've noticed that these critters have a shell, no? So it's pretty much physically impossible to flavor the meat inside. By coating the shell with seasonings, you actually accomplish that in an indirect manner as the Old Bay moves from shell to fingers to meat as you eat.
When cooking fresh shellfish, everyone knows that less is more. Lobster comes completely unadorned, as do crabs in most places. You get some butter, some lemon, and that’s it. If you are having stone crabs served cold, then maybe you’ll get a sauce to dip it in, sort of like shrimp cocktail, but at least the dipping is optional.
Now, I've never had stone crabs out in San Fransisco Florida[I guess it's Dungeness in Frisco - never had either], and I can't compare the experiences... so maybe dipping is a good option too... but I would argue that seasoning the shell is much much subtler. I can certainly say that in the case of Maryland steamed shrimp, whose shells are similarly coated in Old Bay, that the seasoning is much less overpowering to the flavors of the shrimp meat than traditional cocktail sauce. You really end up with the equivalent of a slight dusting as opposed to a coating of sauce, since most of the seasoning goes with the shell as you remove it.

In addition, anyone who has ever eaten crabs... instead of crying like a little baby because their manicure got dirty... knows that you could probably starve to death eating crabs because it takes so much time and energy to divest them of their meager portion of meat, and that most people stop eating crabs... not because they're full... but because they're tired. If you had to stop and dip those tiny slivers of meat in butter or some kind of sauce? Forget it. People would be keeling over at cook outs left and right. Not worth it... Old Bay keeps you efficient and conscious long enough to get some real sustenance from the burgers and hot dogs.

So, in conclusion...  go back to your bagels and leave the seafood to regions that actually know something about it farkin' Yankee fan!!! Ahem.

photo by flickr user Phil Romans used under a Creative Commons license

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bacon Butter

Regina Schrambling has an article in Slate on lard... yes, that lard...  and the above title is her attempt at rebranding said lard so it can begin its righteous resurgence as the primary form of animal fat in the American diet. I gotta say... "bacon butter" works for me, as does rendered pork fat. I'm a big fan of duck fat, after all, and will probably now call that "duck butter" because the concept is stuck in my head.

Of course, while she makes some really good points about its virtues, having a vegetarian significant other probably means it won't be particularly welcome in our pantry. Though I suppose I'd only really get into trouble if I started using lard to make ostensibly vegetarian dishes/desserts and then went "Ah, ah, ah! Made with bacon butter!" when she went to eat them. That actually sounds sort of fun... but I'm somewhat fearful I'll be subjected to physical violence just for joking about thinking about making lard based desserts... so it's probably best to avoid the temptation, and simply make some bacon if I need rendered pork fat for a dish.

Window Herb Garden, Year 2

Last year's inaugural Window Herb Garden went fairly well. Despite never ever having cared for a plant in my life, I managed to not kill all of my charges. I would say I probably only murdered the thyme, and that was an accident. So, based on the fact that I have a stellar 4-1 record with plant life (and possibly because Anna will be around more this summer, so I'm not the sole caregiver), we decided to be a little more ambitious with the plant selection.

If you know as little about plants as I do, click on the photo, as it'll take you to the flickr photo page where I labeled everything... but that's a lot of little basil plants, sage, mint, oregano, rosemary, and the dreaded thyme... though this time a creeping variety, that will hopefully be a little hardier. We forgot to get parsley, but that'll be rectified by next week.

I'm more confident that they'll survive than I was on the first effort, but honestly, our kitchen window doesn't get a whole lot of sunlight... so expecting them to "thrive" is probably too optimistic. Though one thing I didn't notice until I looked at the picture from last year is that the plants we bought from the Farmer's Market were a lot bigger than the ones we just picked up from Pemberton Farms. Is that good or bad? I'm not really sure, but it will at least allow us to try to cut back the basil so that it grows out instead of up. Maybe our plants will learn from a young age to survive on a meager diet of sunlight instead of being suddenly starved in adulthood? Or maybe they're all delicate and vulnerable and will all die in a week. Time will tell!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Blue Hills - Skyline Loop

We had a productive weekend! Baking bread and getting up at 8 am on a Sunday to go hiking... not too shabby. I don't really have anything more to say about the hike than I put in the description on Everytrail, so I'm just going to shamelessly repost it here:

Our first hike of the Spring was a local one. We're trying to try more of the parks around Boston so we can get more hiking in than when we are up in Maine. Neither of us had ever been to Blue Hills, even though it's only 30 minutes from where we live in Cambridge (though on the dreaded 93 South, which I think is the most frightening and frustrating stretch of highway I've ever been on).

The trail was fairly steep in parts, but they were balanced with some significant flat sections so you can catch your breath and still enjoy the scenery. It's also fairly short, so while not appropriate for Grandma and her bad hip, I think a wide range of fitness levels could enjoy it. Despite the trail's name, you're mainly under cover except when you reach Eliot Tower, which has some fantastic views of the surrounding area, including the city of Boston.

We arrived at about 9:30am on a beautiful Sunday (also "Mountain Biking Day") and saw around a dozen other sets of hikers... so I gather it's a pretty popular place. We look forward to coming back and trying some of the other trails... or perhaps just a longer section of Skyline.

I should also link to the website, trail map (PDF), and suggested hikes (PDF).

In two weeks I'll do my first hike of the year in Maine. Hopefully the weather is nice and the black flies all dead.

Pain a l'Ancienne

So the weekend bread baking went smashingly for once... you can see the photo set here... not much in the way of catastrophes... and some really fabulous bread at the end. I ended up just doing the full recipe for 6 baguettes, even thought that's clearly too much bread for 2 people...  in part to get the practice of baking and shaping them, but mainly because our scale only does fractions and thus halving/thirding formulas can be difficult. We ate what we wanted and froze the rest for making sandwiches.

As I mentioned in the planning post, a full write up of this recipe is easily found online, so I won't bother to transcribe it here... just give my thoughts and what I learned.

Hand kneading is fun! We don't have a stand mixer, and it seemed to me that 6 cups of flour was a little much for our food processor's motor, so I didn't have much of a choice, but I'm still glad I did it. Figuring I couldn't over knead it I did ten minutes(hard work!) of the "use your hand like a dough hook while the very wet dough stays in the bowl that you turn" technique. I thought it worked pretty well and it was, as I said, pretty fun. I did have to keep dipping my hand in water every minute or so to keep the dough manageable, but that also seemed to also keep the glop on my hands to a minimum.

Anna did all the shaping, but it appeared straightforward as the directions were fairly clear. There are two things I should comment on, however. First, don't use as much cornmeal as you see pictured above. It was entirely too much, and you just end up with a thick coating of cornmeal on the bottom of your bread that you have to brush off (and it won't all come off). Next time I probably won't use any, or just a small amount... after all you put it on parchment paper, so why do you even need cornmeal? Second, the directions tell you to cover the second batch while you are cooking the first... but they don't tell you that until the near the end of the recipe for some reason, so it's easy to forget (I did). They will continue to proof, especially next to a 500 degree oven, so it's a good idea to try and remember.

As far as baking... we had a mini disaster trying to slide the parchment off the sheet pan onto the baking stone, as one just fell right onto the stone. We did manage to salvage it, but it was pretty sad looking afterwards. My advice is to get someone to help you. Pull out the rack with the baking stone and then have them lift the paper as you hold the pan down close to the stone. That worked for us anyway.

The "double steam" baking approach seemed effective.  I don't know the chemistry off the top of my head, but the basic idea is that commercial ovens make awesome bread because they can inject steam at the push of a button during the initial stages of baking to aid in formation of a crisp crust. To try and emulate that, Reinhart has you put in a heavy pan on a rack in the oven that you then pour simmering water into right after you put in the bread. I put the broiler pan at the top of the oven instead of under the baking stone, simply because I thought it would be easier to pour water into it without losing as much heat from the oven. Keeping the water simmering is kind of a pain, but a tea kettle would be perfect in this regard... unfortunately I didn't think of it, and Anna suggested it too late to make a difference. But if you have a tea kettle, then, uhm, use it. The second steaming technique is using a squirt bottle to spray warm water on the oven walls in thirty second intervals a few times. As we have no light bulbs or glass in our oven, it wasn't particularly hazardous and oddly satisfying.

I also discovered that our oven cooks very unevenly... at least with the baking stone in. Even rotating the parchment paper 9 minutes into baking (a pretty awkward endeavor) didn't stop the baguettes at the front from finishing first. I'm guessing that since I push the stone all the way to the back of the oven, that blocks a lot of the hot air from the bottom, forcing it to the front. I should probably center it more, or try to rotate the bread more than once during cooking.

All in all, it was definitely my best bread baking effort to date. The bread was fantastic and the experience of making it was quite a bit of fun... probably not least because Anna participated this time. So I highly recommend both the recipe and baking it with a loved one. Good luck!