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2021 July 21

Crab-apple sourdough

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:17
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I’ve been baking with sourdough since the rye bread rolls, 14 months ago.  But I’ve always felt like I’m cheating, since I started with commercial bread yeast and bacteria from yogurt and vinegar. Last Saturday (2021 July 17), I noticed while mowing the lawn that the crab apples were ripe and covered with wild yeast, so I thought that this would be a good time to start a new starter without any deliberate addition of commercial yeast or bacteria.

I chopped up

about 20 unwashed, ripe crab apples,

discarding the cores and seeds, but making sure to include the skins. I blended them in the blender, adding about

¼ cup warm water

so that the blender could process them.  The food processor would probably have been a better choice as it may not have needed as much water—not that it matters.  I then pushed as much of the pulp as I could through a fine strainer, ending up with about ½ cup of pinkish apple juice and water.  I added

½ cup warm water (to make up a cup)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 cup bread flour

in a medium bowl and stirred to get rid of lumps. I left the bowl out on the counter, uncovered for a few days.  After one day (on Sunday), it looked there were a few small bubbles, and the pink color from the skin was all sitting on the top.  I stirred it down and left it uncovered.  On Monday there were more bubbles, and it looked like there might be some live yeast, and by Monday evening it began to look like a sponge.  I stirred in

2 cups bread flour
2 cups warm water

and let it rise overnight.  On Tuesday morning, it looked like a good sponge, so I stirred it down and removed one cup of mixture for new sourdough starter.

For the remaining, I mixed in

4 cups bread flour
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons safflower oil
1 Tablespoon of salt

with a bread hook.  I had not expected to need quite so much bread flour, so I was adding half a cup at time and kneading with the hook until it was all incorporated.  The dough was still a little sticky when I took it out of the mixer and kneaded in another

¼ cup bread flour

by hand.  I put it in a greased bowl, covered it with a cloth, and let rise for about 20 hours.  I then shaped the dough into two baguettes and left it to rise another 10 hours sitting on baking parchment. I preheated the oven to 400°F (probably only 350°F, as my oven thermostat seems to be off) and put a pan of boiling water on the shelf below the baking tiles.

I mixed

2 teaspoons cornstarch
4 teaspoons cold water

and brushed the tops of the loaves with the mixture.  I slashed the loaves and put them in the oven.  I rebrushed the loaves every 5 minutes for the first 15 minutes of baking time, then removed pan of water from the oven. At 25 minutes, I removed the baking parchment, leaving the loaves directly on the baking tiles.  Starting at 35 minutes, I checked the bread every 5 minutes to see if the bottom crust sounded hollow when tapped. The total baking time was about 45 minutes.


The bread came out looking good—perhaps the best-looking baguettes I’ve baked so far.

The recipe is entirely bread flour and a rather flavorless oil, so that I can get the taste of wild sourdough.  The crust was nicely crunchy, though I probably should put less cornstarch in the water that I basted the loaves with.  The crumb was good, but fairly dense—not the very open crumb that my wife prefers for a baguette.  The flavor was good: slightly sour, but without any off-flavors.  I think that this was very successful for a wild-yeast sourdough—it is a little slower rising, but seems to produce as good or better results than the sourdough that I made from commercial yeast.

3D-printed “quantum dot”

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:40
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Earlier this year, I saw an article at that included a very pretty picture of the scanning-tunnelling micrograph of the trapped electron.  I asked the author (Jairo Velasco Jr) for a copy of the data, so that I could 3D print it.  It took me a few attempts to get the scale and clipping right, but I was unable to get a good print using my Monoprice Delta Mini printer.


Here are two not-very-successful prints using silk-gold PLA filament. There was a lot of stringing and the peaks were too fragile and snapped off.

I finally got around to asking BELS to print one for me on their resin printer.  I had two choices of resin (clear or black), so I picked the opaque one.  The results are much better:


Top view of the black resin-printed electron density.


Somewhat more side view. I’ve played with the darkness here, to make the shape and layering more visible.

Unfortunately, they printed the part with supports, which rather spoiled the back, so I’ll probably order another one without supports.


The back gives the scale: 32,000× in the horizontal direction and 2,000,000× in the vertical dimension. The ripples and dots are from the support structure, which was really not needed.


This is what the support structure looked like after I cut it away from the medallion.

The prints on the resin printer cost me an $11 setup fee, plus $3.64 for resin per print.  I think the tank is big enough to print 6 or 7 at a time, which would reduce the cost from $14.64 to about $5 each.  I’ll want to print a couple as gifts for the physicists who gave me the data. Each medallion is about 4.6 cm in diameter.

2021 July 17

Secret Walks: Cowell Ranch Loop

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 15:11
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Yesterday, my wife and I took our fourth walk based on Secret Walks & Staircases in Santa Cruz, by Debbie Bulger and Richard Stover. We decided to do one that passes only half a block from our house, the Bay Street-Cowell Ranch Loop, and to do it in reverse order from the order in the book, as my wife did not like the idea of walking down the hill on Laurent, preferring to take that steep sidewalk uphill and walk down Bay.  Following the instructions backwards is not easy, so we mainly used the map. I had my camera with me, but I forgot to recharge the battery ahead of time, and so it ran out about ⅓ of the way through the route.


The pond in Westlake Park has a few tule reeds and a lot of algae. There were not many birds (just a couple of coots and a few swallows). I was amused to see that I am now old enough to fish in the pond (only children and those over 65 are allowed to fish), though I have no desire to do any fishing.


This weird-looking tree is one of two similar ones at the north end of the pond. We think it is a dawn redwood, but we’re not certain.


The cypresses on the front lawn of the Cardiff House (now used as the UCSC Women’s Center) are old and impressive. I like the burl on this one.


This cypress is almost obscene.


The cooperage is really falling apart, but there does not seem to be any funding to replace the rotted wood. I guess that UCSC is hoping for a donor to step up (as one did for the hay barn, which was in even worse shape).

The loop only goes up past the powder house to just below the hay barn on campus, coming down past the blacksmith shop, the cooperage, the cook house, and the barn that has been converted to a theater.  It then winds its way through “condoland”, down the center of Bay, past Trescony Park, and down Bay to California, coming back up Laurel.

Although most of the route was very familiar territory for us, including both my wife’s daily commute and part of mine, there were a couple of pedestrian shortcuts in condoland that we were not familiar with. (Sorry, my battery ran out before I got there, so no photos—the book has photos of both the walkways.)  The loop in the book is 4.9 miles, but with the suggested detour we took to the steps up to the old reservoir and the short distance between our house and the loop on King, we ended up walking about 5.2 miles.

2021 July 16

Sourdough beer bread

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:17
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My sourdough starter in the refrigerator burst out of the 1-pint plastic container, so I needed to bake bread again.  I decided to make up my own recipe, because I didn’t feel like following one from a cookbook. I mixed together

2 cups sourdough starter,
1 cup whole-wheat flour,
1 cup warm beer (Trader Joe’s Drive Through Red),
1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar

and left it overnight covered with a damp kitchen towel.  In the morning, I removed 1 cup of the sponge to save as sourdough starter and added to the rest

½ cup rye flour,
1 cup bread flour,
1 cup whole-wheat flour,
1 Tablespoon salt,
2 Tablespoons dark brown sugar,
2 Tablespoons olive oil,
¼ cup warm water,

and kneaded them with the dough hook (I had to add the water at the end, because the dough was too dry).  I then kneaded the dough by hand on the counter, adding

about 2 Tablespoons whole-wheat flour to prevent sticking.

I added a little olive oil (a tablespoon?) to the bowl and coated the ball of dough with it.  I left the dough to rise about 3 hours, then transferred it to a loaf pan greased with cocoanut oil, where I let it rise again for about 4 hours.

I slashed the top of the loaf lengthwise, brushed the top with milk, and baked in an oven preheated to 350°F (set to 400°F on our oven). I brushed the top with milk again after 20 minutes.  At 35 minutes, the center of the loaf was up to 150°F, so I turned the bread out of the pan onto the baking tiles, and brushed the sides of the loaf with milk.  I baked the bread for another 15 minutes (for 50 minutes overall), bringing the center temperature to 190°F.  The crust came out a little too dark—I probably should have turned the oven temperature down for the last 15 minutes.


The loaf looks good except for the too-dark glaze.

The crust was nicely crunchy, and the crumb was a good color, but a little denser than I prefer. The flavor was good, but dominated by the sourdough and the rye flour. It might be better to try a more conventional beer bread without the rye and with more bread flour than whole-wheat flour.

2021 July 9

Low-cost clothesline

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 18:42
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For the past several years, I’ve been planning to put a clothesline up in my yard, to reduce the use of the natural-gas clothes dryer.  We used to have a clothesline behind the garage, but it went away when the blackberries grew up to higher than head height.  I considered replacing it, now that the blackberry vines have all been removed (well, cut down to the ground—it isn’t really possible to remove the roots that under the concrete). But it was never very convenient to have the clothesline behind the garage, so we did not use it as much as we might have.

I had also considered various ways to repurpose the old swing set that was in our backyard—all the swings had failed and been removed years ago, but digging up the frame and hauling it to the dump was too much effort, so it has been sitting there uselessly for years.  I had thought about adding a retractable multiple clothesline and a new post to attach the other end to, but I never came up with a design that seemed worth the effort.

Finally, this summer, I decided to do a really low-cost, low-effort clothesline, to see if we would use it enough.  I spent $6.75 (plus shipping) for 75′ of 550-lb test paracord, and wrapped the cord around the swing set at different levels.  This makes enough clothesline for one large load or two small loads of laundry,  which dries in the summer in about 3–4 hours.


One load of laundry used about 2/3 of the available line.

Most clothes come out fine on the line, but towels come out quite stiff and rough. Tumbling them for 20 minutes in the dryer (without heat or on the lowest setting) softens them, though they are still much rougher than towels dried entirely in the dryer.

I was a bit worried that the wrapping would make mowing the lawn around the swing set even more difficult, but as long as there are no clothes on the line, the line does not make much difference to the difficulty of mowing around the swing set.

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