26 August 2010

How to Make a Self-Watering Potted Plant

I'm not that much of a draftsman (or scanner user), but you get the idea.

That thing on the far right is supposed to say "capillary action" and if that's the wrong phrase, please don't tell me because the closest I get to science these days is an Excel spreadsheet and I don't really care if I'm wrong.

25 August 2010


Blogging from phone ... Now I just need picasa to throw pictures directly from my phone onto here. I'm all caught up to the year 2008!

practice, practice, practice

working on trying to think of myself as a creative person again ...

20 August 2010

Cyanide occurs naturally too

On the Perils of Being a Hippie

Alas, "natural"

Tom's of Maine deodorant

caused chemical burns

10 August 2010

In Which I Combine Three Major Talents

A Not-At-All Exhaustive List of Things I am Good At:
1. Analyzing the crap out of things
2. Baking yeast bread
3. Writing

Now I will try not to bore the socks off you while I do all three things at once. Feel free to judge me in the comments section.

Since I am STILL looking for work (I can't even get arrested in this town right now), I'm obviously broke. Broke enough that I started to wonder if it was worth the effort of making my own bread. I know my bread is better, but is it cheaper? (Let's pretend my time is worth nothing in this scenario, which is what a lot of employers seem to think right now anyway, so in a way it's true.)

A loaf at Market Basket costs $1.99. What about the raw materials for my bread? They have to make a profit, so I'll guess that it costs them a dollar or less to produce each loaf of bread, but they also have access to economies of scale - so I'll stick with the $1.99.

Maybe I'm the only one, but I feel like if I'm going to the trouble of making homemade bread, it should be cheaper than commercially produced versions - as well as taste better and be free of suspect shelf-stabilizing chemicals. Think of homemade tomato sauce - a tin of tomatoes, a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil, salt, pepper, and onion and garlic - those are all inexpensive ingredients and I can make enough pasta sauce for dinner for two about a buck. (Add the pasta and you're talking about two dollars to feed two people for dinner - cheaper, tastes better and it's healthier.)

So I crunched the numbers. It turns out that those economies of scale make a crucial difference. My homemade bread cost $2.11 to make, while I can buy a loaf of bread for $1.99. Ounce per ounce, the homemade bread is 20% more expensive. (That link is to a Google doc version of my spreadsheet.)

But is supermarket bread really a better deal? I was still hoping that somehow homemade bread would turn out to be cheaper, so I looked at cost per calorie efficiency (thinking back to chemistry class and my lightbulb moment when I realized that a calorie was a way to measure energy ... and we eat to keep going ... so calories is probably a more effective unit of measurement here).

Calorie per calorie, homemade bread is 15% cheaper than supermarket bread. This is a good thing to know when you are trying to figure out, as all poor people do, what food will give you the most calories for the least money. Plus, with homemade bread I get to feel all superior about using high-quality ingredients like honey and molasses instead of the dreaded HFCS.

Recipe notes: I omitted the salt from the recipe because I used salted butter in the recipe. I find Beard is sometimes heavy-handed with the salt and the sweet in writing his recipes (probably why they taste so damn good.) I also subbed rice milk for dairy (we just don't keep fresh milk around any more).

Cracked Wheat Bread, from James Beard's Beard on Bread

* 1/2 cup cracked wheat -- fine
* 1 1/2 cups boiling water
* 1 package active dry yeast
* 1/3 cup warm water -- 100-110 deg.
* 1/4 cup butter -- softened
* 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
* 2 tablespoons molasses
* 2 tablespoons honey
* 1 cup milk
* 1 cup whole-wheat flour
* 4 cups all-purpose flour

Cook the cracked wheat in the boiling water about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking until all the water is absorbed. Dissolve the yeast in the 1/3 cup lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl and let proof. Stir the butter, salt, molasses, honey, and milk into the cooked cracked wheat. Cool to lukewarm, then add to the yeast mixture. With a large spoon or with one hand, start stirring in the flours, 1 cup at a time.

When the dough is stiff enough to work, turn out on a floured board and knead a good 10 to 12 minutes, working in a little of the remaining flour as necessary. When smooth and elastic, shape into a ball and put in a buttered bowl, turning to coat with butter. Cover, place in a warm, draft-free spot, and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down and shape into two loaves.

Put in well-buttered 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans, cover, and let rise again until doubled in bulk, or until the dough reaches the tops of the pans.
Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven 30 to 35 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on top and bottom. Cool on racks. Makes 2 loaves.

That's right, bitches. Quarter cup of butter. I said my bread was better.