Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Eight-strand Braided (Plaited) Bread, Inspired by The Great British Baking Show

After watching an episode of the Great British Baking Show in which the bakers faced a technical challenge that involved an eight-strand braided bread, I was inspired to try to figure out how to do an eight-strand braid. After watching the Masterclass version, I don't think my solution is the same as Paul's. Actually, I like mine better. Here are the photos.

An eight strand braided bread
The finished loaf
Eight strand braided bread before rising.
Before rising. Note that I left gaps between strands.

You may have noticed that I made a mistake in the braid at one point. I didn't notice till it was halfway through rising. I'm still pleased with it. I used a pizza dough and spritzed it with oil rather than use Paul's recipe and brush it with egg. Next time, I'll try a sweet dough with an egg wash.

For those of you who have tried signing up for email notifications via the email notification gadget on the right side of the page, above the pears and below the green banner, I hope it worked.

Till the New Year. (Unless I have other photos I want to share.)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Drinking Tea During NaNoWriMo

It's November, a time for pumpkin-flavored everything, Thanksgiving, and National Novel Writing Month. I think the originator of NaNoWriMo was probably not hosting Thanksgiving, as he seems to have thought that having the holiday would actually help people achieve word count.

However, I can't blame my poor word count on the holiday. The fact is, I'm writing a mystery (again) and my plot has run into constant problems (again). It is possible that I was never meant to write mysteries, only to read them. I haven't actually given up yet, though. I'm at 27,000 words with six days left. It isn't actually impossible that I reach 50,000--just really, really (really!) unlikely. It probably requires a sudden blast of inspiration and the discovery that the woman who has gone missing is not actually being held captive by her no-good brother but has actually engineered some kind of elaborate plan to run off with the lonely rich man's most valuable possessions.

Nope. Sorry. Doesn't work. She's not a con artist at heart. Sigh. I'll have to keep searching.

I do drink a lot of tea, as I have mentioned before. This is even more true when I am trying to write. So, instead of more complaints about my meandering mystery, I'm going to share an interesting tea experience.

Some weeks ago, my area had a water emergency. A watermain (?) right near the water treatment facility developed a serious leak and we received a succession of messages: "Please conserve water," "Please restrict water use to drinking and personal hygiene," "Water levels have dropped too low for safety--please boil all drinking water and continue to restrict water use."

Fortunately, I still had jugs of water left from preparations for hurricanes, so I didn't have to rush to the store. It did remind me how precious water is, and how convenient it is to have running potable water. But on to the tea story.

Making tea during the water emergency, I kept thinking the tea looked darker than usual. Had I steeped it longer by accident? Unlikely, since I usually set a timer. When the water came back on, I did a comparison: tap water tea versus the jug I was using. Sure enough, the tea did look different. After adding milk, it still looked different, with one being grayer and one redder. I couldn't actually detect a difference in flavor, but some days my sense of taste is less sensitive than others, so I'm still not convinced that it was just a difference in color.

I read the label on the jug. It was a supermarket brand, filtered and ozonated. Ozonated?? Was that the difference?

Well, there's only so much time I have for experimentation, so I didn't then go on to test different varieties of water for tea making. I did look it up, and maybe someday I will do an actual taste test of different waters. (I sometimes use a Brita--how does that compare? What about those waters with added minerals?) I did think it was interesting, though, and I preferred the appearance of the tap-water tea over the ozonated one.

Now to the real announcement, which is that I'm not going to try to write any more blog entries until the New Year. There's just too much other writing that I want to do, and all the usual holiday stuff. So...

Till next post in 2019. Happy Holidays.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Diva’s Challenge #373 and Diversifying One’s Hobbies

This week, the Diva challenged everyone to draw a tangle using their non-dominant hand. This was, admittedly, a bit frustrating. It’s so much easier to control a pen with my usual hand. The results are a lot better, too.

A Zentangle Diva's Challenge #373 done with non-dominant hand
The Diva's Challenge #373

On the other hand, it reminded me of something that’s been on my mind off and on for several years. We don’t know what the future holds for us. More specifically, we don’t know what capacities we may lose as time goes by. 

What if I lost the use of my right (dominant) hand? I would have to use the other hand to draw. It’s good to know that I can manage some sort of drawing with my left, if I have to. But it would be very distressing, nonetheless, as so many of my hobbies involve work with my hands.

Most of my hobbies also involve my eyes. So I ask myself, if I couldn’t see very well, what would I do for entertainment? I like music, but it isn’t a big part of my life. I could still listen to books, thankfully, though I find listening to books slow and rather frustrating since I can’t flip back easily to check earlier details. (This is especially awkward for mysteries.) I could still go for walks and I could still enjoy gardening to some degree, since I’ve always been interested as much in the scents of plants as in their appearance.

Other people have different hobbies that require different capacities. For people who love to go hiking or rafting, being unable to use their arms or legs well would take away a source of joy. Other people would hate to lose music. And for people who love to cook, losing their sense of taste would also mean losing a favorite activity—how can you enjoy cooking a new recipe if you can’t taste it?

My point is that I would be wise to cultivate some hobbies that don’t use exactly the same capacities that most of my other hobbies do. Maybe I should cultivate more large-motor activities, in case my fine-motor skills deteriorate some day. Maybe I should take more of an interest in music, or in conversation, in case my eyes give me trouble.

There is also the possibility that some day my cognitive skills will deteriorate (may that day be FAR away.) I will still have time to fill. Perhaps, in that case, familiar, simple tasks would be soothing. 

What might these be? Knitting an endless scarf in garter stitch? Doing simple jigsaw puzzles? Peeling potatoes, maybe, as I remember Grandpere doing when he was no longer capable of cooking on his own? It seemed to me that he felt better when he was contributing in some way. Perhaps I should find out what activities people can generally manage in this situation and cultivate some of them. You can’t peel potatoes automatically if you haven’t peeled a whole lot of potatoes beforehand with attention.

Someone whose name I can’t remember came up with a chart that categorized activities as high- or low-energy, and high or low in sociability. His point (I think it was a he) was that people should cultivate some activities that fall into each of these four groups. Sometimes people’s energy levels will be low, in which case reading (low sociability) and doing jigsaw puzzles with other people (high sociability) might be good options. Or their energy levels might be fine, but there aren’t a lot of people to do things with, so they need some activities they can do by themselves, like going for a walk. 

The recommendation was aimed at older people, but when you think about it, it’s a good idea at any age. I’m suggesting here that it just doesn’t go far enough.

Till next post.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

NaNoWriMo 2018 and a Celebration of Spiral Notebooks

Once again, I am planning to participate in NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month. I will attempt to write a 50,000 word novel—beginning, middle, and end—starting on November 1st  and finishing by the end of day on November 30th. Obviously, even if I finish, it’s going to be a pretty lousy novel. But that’s what first drafts are for.

I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo for years now. Some years, I finish in time. Some years, I finish the novel but not until February. Some years, I get hopelessly stuck in plot problems and never finish.

I really like the excitement of starting a new project, and a new project requires a new notebook. While I do type the novel (much easier to keep track of wordcount that way), I also write notes, timelines, and sometimes bits of text in a spiral notebook that I’ve picked out for that year’s project.

Spiral notebook with photo of blue-eyed dog partially hidden under leaves
NaNoWriMo 2018--"Heavy Rain Likely"

Fortunately, spiral notebooks are abundantly available with all sorts of decorative covers, suitable for distinguishing this year’s project from last year’s. I’m somewhat limited in that I prefer wide-ruled notebooks. I find it more comfortable to write at length if I don’t have to write small. This means that I buy notebooks intended for elementary school kids that have lower-quality paper, as opposed to the nicer notebooks with the smooth, smooth paper that holds up to fountain pen. It also means I end up with a lot of kitten notebooks, and once in a while a Disney princess. I don’t mind “cute”. But fortunately, there are other designs out there too, and every year I’m eager to see what the current crop of school notebooks has in store for me.

Assorted spiral notebooks with covers showing kittens, flowers, or abstract designs
Assortment of other notebooks, not all from NaNoWriMo

This year I’m planning to write a mystery starring the same sleuth I used in last year’s NaNoWriMo. Usually I write middle-grade or young adult fantasy, occasionally science-fiction, but last year I decided to try a mystery. I love to read them, but had never had any success writing one.

I’m not entirely sure I can call last year’s draft a “success” either, but I did finish. (In NaNoWriMo-speak, I “won” NaNoWriMo. That just means I achieved wordcount by the 30th.) I liked the story well enough that I even started revising it, though I ran into problems and have temporarily shelved it. I also really liked my sleuth.

So this year Tabitha Key will face a missing person case, while being threatened by a hurricane. (Yes, I was thinking about this year’s story as we waited to see whether Florence was actually going to come anywhere near us. And then Michael. We were fortunate—waiting was about as far as my experience went.)

I don’t know whether I’m going to “win” NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve been distracted and I don’t feel quite as ready to write this mystery as I have with some previous stories. I’m hoping that as the final week approaches, I will suddenly feel more inspired. I do have some notes, at least.

Naturally, these notes are in my new spiral notebook. I chose this year’s notebook not just because it shows a cute dog, but also because the dog is partially hidden under leaves and the story is about someone who is missing—hidden, in fact. The picture on the notebook didn’t have to go with the story—I could have just picked something because it was appealing, but I like the fact that it does relate to it.

Ten more days to go. I’m starting to feel a little excited about this. Maybe I should throw in a tea leaf reading? A misbehaving donkey? I wonder if a box of chocolates would help—either as part of the plot, or possibly on my desk. I’ve got my StoryCubes® if I need a nudge.

The blue-eyed dog is waiting.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Diva’s Challenge #371 and Hurricane Michael

Diva’s Challenge #371 is to use Onion Drops. I hadn't tried Onion Drops before and tried it out several times before eventually making this tile.

The background is Crazy N'Zeppel, and I used black colored pencil and a white gel pen in addition to black pen.

Onion Drops makes me think of waves of Rapunzel-like hair.

We didn't have electricity for about 22 hours (thank you, Michael!), and it reminded me that I need to appreciate little things like hot water for tea--as well as being able to cook food. And being able to store perishables. And hot showers and many other things I tend to take for granted. But especially the hot tea.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Calligraphy Rediscovered--blackletter, italic, uncial, copperplate, and fun!

Earlier this month, I rather boldly sent a form to the State Fair indicating that I would be entering one item in the “Zentangle(R) Inspired Art (ZIA)” category and one item in the “Cards—Holiday and special occasion” category. It was bold because I had only partially worked out a ZIA entry (a little paper box with ZIA decoration) and had no plan for the card at all.

The entries being due by Oct 6, I finished the box and have been frantically trying to produce a suitable card. In the process, I have rediscovered how much I enjoy dip pen calligraphy—and in fact, dip pens in general.

Box made from cardstock and decorated with ZIA
The box is about a 2-inch cube.

I learned calligraphy from a book. I think I was around twelve at the time. The book in question was probably the Speedball handbook, since I’ve had a copy for as long as I can remember, though I suspect I took out quite a few books from the library as well. (Do you remember the days when the library was the main source of interesting information, before the internet came to be? No?)

There’s just something lovely about the combination of good words and good shapes. I love to watch the sentence form under my pen, sometimes with added flourishes and decorations. There are so many alphabets to choose from, too, each with its own flavor. (“Atmosphere”? “Ambience”? “Associations,” perhaps, is the better word.)

There are blackletter styles that have a formal, medieval look to them. There are less formal yet still dressy Italic styles. Uncials have that Celtic look, and various Copperplate-style scripts bring to mind (to me, at least) old-fashioned correspondence as well as a certain style of diploma or a tea party invitation.

Samples of calligraphy in copperplate, blackletter, and uncial.
My blackletter needs work.

When I was in high school (and beyond), I enjoyed writing out my favorite quotations from books and songs, to stick up on my wall. (Probably with that blue putty-like stuff. Don’t leave that stuff on your wall for long, or the white putty-like stuff, either.) I think I should do some more of those and put them on the pantry door, which has been bare of quotations for too long. The current idea is to come up with quotes from the Dresden Files, but since I haven’t read them for a while, I’m going to have to pick them up again or get someone else to point them out.

First line of Desiderata in calligraphy.
Not Dresden Files, but also pleasing.

Meanwhile, I have a general plan for the card and some test versions that make use of the scrolls I was messing around with earlier in the year. Even if my entry is a bit rushed, it’s been worth it to be reminded of how much I like doing this. Maybe I’ll even make a basic card that I can send out for birthdays. (I’m already several months behind on those.)

Till next post.

Sheets of paper showing work on calligraphy birthday card.
Working on the elements, short on drawings.