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Archive for September, 2009

Spare Change

At this point in time, I feel like quarters are running my life. Between feeding the meters in New Brunswick twice a week and taking clothes to the laundromat, quarters have pretty much become my primary concern in life. I have to plan way in advance for Thursdays, when I feed the meter on the Douglass campus for 5 hours. Five dollars’ worth of quarters is a pretty hefty amount, so in the days leading up to Thursday, I constantly have to scrounge around for change. Sometimes I have to dip into Michael’s change jar. On Tuesdays, I feed dollar bills into the vending machines at school—a very risky practice—just to get more change. This week, I went to the bank and got $10 worth of quarters. That should buy me a couple of days worth of parking, but something about being the girl who carries around a roll of quarters kind of irks me.

I’m in New Brunswick twice a week, and originally I would only need to park at a meter on Thursdays, when I work at the Douglass library. On Tuesdays, when I’m in class from 12-6pm, I had been parking in nearby Buccleuch Park. However, I received a ticket last week, which brought that scheme to an abrupt end. Feeling resistant to another day of feeding meters, I drove to New Brunswick yesterday, determined to find a spot—somewhere, anywhere—that I wouldn’t have to pay for. I found one, alright…in nearby Franklin Township, exactly one mile from the location of my class (I clocked it on the drive back). It was about a 20 minute walk; definitely not the most convenient situation…but at least I got to stick it to the man.

I’m sick of meters and I’m sick of quarters. I need to finish school and buy a washing machine.

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BBA Challenge: Bagels

This past weekend, I moved on to the third formula in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: bagels! I was pretty excited about this one, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I read lots of blogs in preparation for the project, and was confident that I would come out on top. For the most part, I did. And I took more pictures this time!

The first thing I had to do was make the sponge, which consisted of flour, water, and yeast. I mixed it up and then let it sit out while Michael and I went to the farmer’s market for the second week in a row. This is how it looked a few hours later.
sponge

Once the sponge was ready, I added more flour, salt, and yeast and mixed it up. I have to give myself some props here because I mixed the dough by hand (as I do with all my doughs, since I have no electric mixer), and this dough was particularly tough! Oh yes, I also don’t have a big mixing bowl, so I use a pot.
dough

Once I finished kneading the dough, I formed it into medium-sized balls. The book said 4 oz. but I don’t have a scale (obviously), so I just eyeballed it. The dough had to rest for about 20 minutes, and then I started poking holes and shaping the bagels. When I started, I actually had kind of a tough time and got a little frustrated. I was having trouble keeping the bagel evenly shaped when I was forming the hole. And, whenever I thought I had made a decent sized hole, the dough would shrink back up, making the hole too small. Midway through, I started getting the hang of it, and even started using a new technique that is not mentioned in the book. I poked my middle and index finger through the hole and twirled the bagel around my fingers like it was a hula hoop. When the hole got bigger, I put my other two fingers through and continued until the bagel was decently sized. Here is the finished product. I ended up with a baker’s dozen.
bagels - unbaked

The bagels had to sit for another 20 minutes, and then I had to attempt the “float test.” Basically, I had to drop a bagel into room temperature water, and it was supposed to float within 10 seconds. Moment of truth. And it floated! That was it for Saturday. The bagels went in the fridge overnight.
float test

The next morning, I got up bright and early to start boiling and baking. I was able to boil three bagels at a time for 1 minute on each side.
boiling

After they were done boiling, I sprinkled on some toppings (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, minced onion, and minced garlic. The one huge problem I had in baking these was that I only have one small baking sheet. In retrospect, I definitely should have bought another one before making the bagels, because I was only able to bake four at a time. So, the whole process took a lot longer than it would have if I had more equipment. About an hour or so later, they were all done. The one other issue I had when baking was that I baked them by the book—500 degrees for 10 minutes. But, when the 10 minutes were up, they weren’t very brown. I debated leaving them in longer, but I was afraid they would dry out or something. I even left a batch in for nearly 15 minutes and there was still very little browning going on. But, in the end, they still came out pretty nicely.
finished

finished

onion

cut

The bagels were chewy and delicious and were akin to the kind you get from Manhattan Bagel. The only other problem I had was that when I went to put them in a bag for storage in the freezer, most of the sesame and poppy seeds fell right off. Oh well. All in all, it was a successful mission, but definitely a lot of work. I’ll have to wait until I get more baking sheets (and maybe a bigger oven) before I make another batch, though. Next on the list: brioche. It may be a while before I have time for this loaf, but we’ll see!

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Mr. Fixit

Why don’t repair men of all types work evening hours? I always dread the days that things break around the house, because it’s always a huge hassle to make time for someone to come and fix them. This time around, it’s the fridge, which has been dripping since the day we moved in. After numerous phone calls with the landlord, I was able to get in touch with the repair people today. I asked if someone could come on Monday or Wednesday after 3pm, even if I had to schedule it for a month from now (those are the only times I can be at the house during business hours). Of course, she told me that she couldn’t schedule appointments in advance. Great. “Well, my boyfriend and I both work every day,” I told her. If I was working full time, I would have much less of a problem taking a day off to sit around and wait for them. But, since I work part-time and only make an hourly wage, there was no way I was going to give up a big chunk of my already measley pay. “Do you work close by? Could you come home if we called you right before he got there?” she asked. I told her, “Uh, no, I can’t just leave work in the middle of the day.” What kind of world do these people think we live in, where people can just get up and walk out of work whenever they need to?

I hate the fact that I’m supposed to reconfigure my entire day for these people. How can they expect me, or anyone, to just put their lives on hold until the fridge guy decides to show up, anytime between 10 and 3? I’d like to know what THEY do when something in their house breaks. What if Barry the electrician’s toilet goes kaput? Is HE going to take a day off of work to wait for the plumber? Or would he say, “Hey guy, I have a job here, I can’t be sitting around my house waiting for you to come fix my toilet.” Anyway, all was not lost in my exchange with the fridge woman. She was kind enough to schedule someone to come on Saturday. Success!…? Well, being tethered to the house on Saturday will at least give me an opportunity to work on my bagel dough.

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I was lucky enough to have free time on Saturday, so I set out to bake the next bread from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. This time around, I made Artos, a Greek celebration bread. The recipe (or “formula,” as it is called in the book) called for a “barm” which, as I understand it, is typically used in baking sourdough breads. It takes a lot longer to make, so I decided to just use a “poolish,” which is a more basic starter (and, according to the book, it could be substituted for the barm). The poolish was made simply of bread flour, water, and yeast. So, I made the poolish on Friday night and kept it in the fridge until Saturday morning.

It had to sit out for about an hour before I made the rest of the dough, so in that time Michael and I decided to take a walk down to the local farmer’s market on Walnut Street. We had been talking about going since we moved to Montclair, but this was the first time we actually went. So, we strolled around and bought tomatoes, corn, olives, and pickled green tomatoes. On the way back we stopped into a bakery and picked up some breakfast items (an apple turnover for him, a blueberry scone for me).

When we got back, I started on the dough. I mixed together the flour, lots of spices, eggs, milk, honey, oil, and the poolish. Even after adding all of the flour, the dough still turned out to be pretty moist. I wound up adding a lot more to it during the kneading process, which lasted for about 10 minutes. After the dough was good to go, I let it rise for about 90 minutes. When the time was up, I got a little nervous because it definitely didn’t double in size like it should have. But, I pressed on.

artos dough
After the first rise, I took the dough out of the bowl and formed it into a “boule,” or ball. I covered it in plastic wrap and let it sit for another 90 minutes. This is the bread before it went into the oven.

artos-finished
This is the finished product. After it came out of the oven, I brushed on a glaze made of water, sugar, honey, and lemon extract, and then sprinkled some sesame seeds on top. It actually turned into quite a huge loaf, so I guess I didn’t have to worry about the lack of rising.

artos bread
I was really excited to give it a try, so I cut into it a little over an hour later. I probably should have waited a tad longer because it was still slightly warm on the inside, but whatever. It smelled too good to not eat. It is slightly sweet and the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ground cloves) give it a nice depth of flavor. I was also pleasantly surprised with the glaze. Stupidly, I brushed it on the loaf before tasting it—and when I did taste it, I wasn’t sure if I loved it. But, it totally worked when I got a bite of the crust and bread together. The glaze is lemony with a touch of sweetness from the honey, and compliments the spices in the bread very nicely. This bread was definitely a huge success!

Side note: I had a lot of the poolish left over because I only needed to use 1 cup of it in the dough (it made more than twice that). I was going to throw it away because I had no use for it in the immediate future, and then Michael suggested that we fry it in the cast iron skillet. I had my doubts about this plan but, well, they came out delicious. We just sprinkled some salt on them and had them with dinner.

Next on the list are bagels. I’m excited.

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Lunch Break

Today has been a funny day. When I got in to work at 10am this morning, I saw that, for some strange reason, I was scheduled to take a 2-hour lunch break instead of the normal one hour. There was really no reason for it, but both of my bosses are out today, so I figured I’d just go along with the schedule, even though that would mean I’d miss out on the $14 I’d normally get for the extra hour. Although I was initially perturbed, I began to see the bright side of things and decided that, during my mega lunch, I would walk home and play a little Rock Band.

As I walked home under the blue suburban skies, I suddenly noticed a dollar on the sidewalk. I went to grab it, and then noticed another dollar. Then I saw two others, fluttering in the wind. As my eyes continued to dart around, I came upon a wad of fives. I proceeded to excitedly scamper around and collect all of the bills. I felt like Charlie Bucket when he grabbed the golden ticket out of the gutter. The grand total came to $19—more than what I would have made if I had worked that extra hour.

Elated, I walked the rest of the way to the house, basking in the glory of being $19 richer. Then, when I got to the front door, I realized that I had left my keys in my jacket, which was sitting in the library. Blast! My plans of relaxing and playing video games for the next hour and 40 minutes were ruined. So, I sat in the backyard and moped for a couple of minutes, and then decided to walk back to the library. On my way back, I stopped into all of the antique stores that I always pass but never go into. Most were full of junk. Then I went into a really high-end store, O Soleil. It’s kind of a miscellaneous shoppe, with home decor stuff, kids toys, and clothes. All of the tags and product packaging was in French, so you know it’s expensive. When I saw a cute little shirt for $120, I knew I was in the wrong place. My $19 wasn’t going to get me anywhere. But, it will get me over a month of Netflix, or fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market, or more bread-baking supplies, or some gas for my car.

So anyway, it’s been a nice little afternoon. Check back on Monday—there is a slight chance I may be able to bake a new loaf of bread this weekend!

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My favorite students.

I’m not going to lie—the people in the LIS (Library & Information Science) program at Rutgers are sort of hit and miss. Now, I’m not sure exactly who reads this blog, but I will say that if you’re a library student and I’ve spoken at least one word to you, you do not fall into this category. It’s the people that I don’t talk to who…leave something to be desired. For example, there are The Talkers. The Talkers are the three or four people in every class who, no matter what we’re learning about, always have something to say on the matter. I have a love/hate relationship with this crowd. I love them because they completely take the pressure off of me and ensure that I will most likely not have to speak for the entirety of the three-hour class. But, they also annoy me because they’re all a bunch of go-getters. They’re the types who quietly nod while the professor is talking, to indicate that they’re totally on the same page, more so than the rest of the dopes in the class. They’re also the types who will bring up new talking points or ask complicated questions after the professor has just finished lecturing 20 minutes early and asked, “Does anyone have any questions before we wrap up?” Ugh.

There’s always been one other perfect example, at least in my mind, of the kinds of people that I go to school with. Last semester, I was sitting in the student lounge in between classes. There was a girl sitting opposite me, about 10 feet away, and she was eating something with a butter knife. Whatever it was, she was holding it in her hand and it was obstructed from my view. I watched her eat for about 10 minutes, trying desperately to figure out what the hell it was. What kind of food would she be able to eat with a butter knife? Butter?! Anything requiring a spoon was out of the question, and she obviously didn’t have to spear anything with a fork. What was it?! FINALLY, after what felt like a year, she got up to leave and I saw the remains before she dropped it into the trash. It was…an avocado.

Who brings an avocado as a snack? There are so many other produce items that serve as portable, perfect snacks that I won’t even waste my time listing them. But no, this girl left her house thinking, “Better not forget my avocado!” And it wasn’t like she cut it up and kept it in a tupperware container—it was a whole avocado. It pretty much blew my mind. The surprises never end with these librarians.

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I am happy to report that I have completed the first recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice! This one was called Anadama bread, and it came out pretty well. I didn’t take a ton of photos throughout the whole process (namely because it’s too hard to wield a camera and knead dough at the same time), but I did take a few.The first thing I had to do was make the soaker, which was just a mix of corn meal and water. I made that on Friday night, amidst a dinner of pizza and beer and the excitement of playing The Beatles Rock Band, which Michael had surprised me with. The game is awesome, by the way, but we’ll stick to the topic of bread for now. So, I made the soaker and let that sit at room temperature overnight. My good friend Emily J was good enough to poke her head out of the Berkshires of Massachusetts for just enough time to hang out in Montclair with us and witness the beginnings of the process. Ask her about it—she’ll tell you how riveting it was.

Anyway, I got up at 8:30am on Saturday and proceeded to mix the flour, yeast, and soaker. That had to sit for about 90 minutes, until it became bubbly, at which point I added the rest of the flour, molasses, butter, salt, etc. I did run into one problem which came as the result of the move to Montclair. I guess it’s natural for a few things to disappear during a move, but it was particularly inconvenient to find that all of our dry measuring cups seem to have vanished. So, I had to use a liquid measuring cup instead. Subsequently, my flour measurements may have been a little off, but I think I made up for it in the kneading process. After about 10 minutes of kneading on the kitchen table, the dough sat in an oiled bowl for another 90 minutes.

rising This is the dough after the rising process. I probably could have used a bigger bowl, but I don’t have one! It’s okay—it made the rise all the more dramatic.

bread pans This was after I put the dough in the bread pans for another rise. I got nervous for a second because the 9×5-inch pans seemed a little too big. But, I don’t have smaller ones yet, so I had to press on.

loaves Luckily, they rose very nicely. Then, it was time to put them in the oven—350 degrees for about 40 minutes.

finished This was the finished product. One came out a little lopsided, but on the whole they were pretty successful. The crust could have been a little crustier, but I was afraid of burning or over-baking. It has a nice texture with a hint of molasses flavor, and it made the apartment smell great!

Next on the list is a Greek celebration bread, and after that are bagels, which I’m pretty excited about. Hopefully I’ll find the time to make another loaf soon!

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