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Five loaves make - [Aug. 19th, 2014|10:07 pm]
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- not one LJ post, but two rolled into one.

For one thing, there are the last three loaves of my own baking. Of which the first was a particularly brick-like rye loaf. Lightness is not what I look for in a rye loaf, and the flavour was good, but oh, it was solid! Maybe this was my fault: my timing was off, and I may have fudged the process (leaving it to rise for just as long, but missing out one of the knocking back stages). Not certain, but I may have.

The next time I baked, I added some left-over basmati rice (I don't deliberately boil too much rice, but when I check my scales they seem accurate enough, and since I like the effect of mixing an ounce or so of cooked rice into the bread, I'm pretty relaxed about it). The resulting dough was on the wet side, though I thought I had held back on the water to balance the moistness of the rice, and a bit sticky, but a little oil made it easy enough to handle, and the outcome was a - by my standards - spectacularly light loaf.

It was at this point that I came across desperance and mrissa talking about rye dough: nasty sticky stuff, they said, hard work but yes, pretty much rises. This was a challenge, so my next loaf was another rye loaf (actually one part spelt / one rye / one white flour, plus the white flour of the sourdough starter: this may be less rye than last time round). From the start, it was rising cheerfully, and it was hideous to handle (desperance says that his favourite joke is "What's brown and sticky?" but "sourdough rye" is not the canonical answer). It swallowed as much oil as I was prepared to give it, and then a little more, so in the end I missed out a knocking back stage this time too, because I couln't bear the prospect of having to scrape it out of the bowl again, so I put it straight into the tin. And then left it to rise for longer than I meant to, because I had to be out of the kitchen at a crucial point. It doesn't seem to have suffered at all, and is light and crusty and delicious.

Next time I will follow mrissa's method: let the dough rest ten minutes after the flour goes in, then knead for forever and a year. And we'll see what happens.

Last night sunspiral and roozle came to dinner, and there were another two loaves in that meal, though both of those were bought. The pesto loaf which accompanied the tomato salad was at least artisan work, provided by the Bread Lady from the market. The oaten sliced loaf which I had bought in M & S because it was reduced and I thought it would freeze and be handy for sandwiches was - on second thoughts - ideal for making summer pudding, the dessert that I only decided on when we reached the greengrocer.

What stands out about the evening wasn't the food, though, but the talk. We hadn't met sunspiral or roozle before, though we'd heard a lot about them from weegoddess. on reflection, perhaps we shouldn't have started our acquaintance by trying to drown them, but it seemed like a good idea at the time: durham_rambler Roger met them at their hotel and walked them here by the scenic route, but unfortunately the heavens opened, and they arrived drenched and dripping, and were extremely forebearing about it. The forecast had been for occasional showers, but this was torrential, and it went on and on... We talked about WorldCon and panel moderation and malt whisky and comics and family and...

And look forward to talking more on the other side of the Atlantic.
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Northbound on El Camino [Aug. 16th, 2014|10:02 pm]
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Cayucos was the most southerly point of our trip; after our day in Paso Robles, it was time to head north again, back to Sunnyvale. Back up route 101, which doesn't sound very romantic, but turns out to be El Camino Real, the Royal Road along which the Spanish missionaries settled California, building a chain of missions from San Diego in the south to Sonoma in the north (according to Wikipedia: who also provide this rather pleasing map). I'm a sucker for historic routes, roads with names, so this made me happy.

We had less than 200 miles to go, so there was time to make a stop en route and look around: we'd barely set out before we came to San Miguel, with its mission of San Miguel Arcangel. Where else? We must have approached from the wrong side, because we parked by a high wall, with no obvious entry point, and at first thought we would see no more than the wall, the surrounding spiky plants, all dominated by a bell tower - which turned out not to be as historic as all that, built in memory of a former superior of the mission killed in the second world war... Still, we said, might as well complete the circuit, and had almost closed the loop when we came to the gate:



It's one of those magical gateways: passing through it changes your whole perspective on the world: inside is a garden with a fountain, and waterlilies in bloom, a museum, a church, and we took our time admiring them all. I loved the details of life at the mission, and I loved, too, the many-coloured paintwork of the church. The interior frescoes are original, and it seemed impossible that the delicate work could have survived from when the church was first built in - when was it? - ah, yes, 1821. Not so impossible, then. I continually stub my toe on how comparatively recent California's historic buildings are, even the earliest of them - and this one had a simplicity which could have been much older.

A cluster of restaurants line the road beyond the mission, and we walked up and down it, scrutinising each in turn, before settling for The Country Diner: tiny, brightly coloured, friendly. Having established that we were English, the owner told us all about some previous English customers (as far as I can recall, a school trip from one of the public schools).

Back on the highway, and an easy, if not very interesting drive through the agricultural flatlands. Further north the terrain became more hilly, and we made a couple of brief stops. The first was a rather splendid rest area, with an information board explaining about the local ecology: purple needlegrass, it said, is the Official California State Grass, and the saber-tooth cat (smilodon californicus) is the Official State Fossil. The second was just an excuse to look at the scenery, and to boggle at the pine cones fallen by the road side - one was larger than a pineapple.

And back to our hotel in Sunnyvale, still on the Camino - and here's how I know:

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And now for something completely different [Aug. 13th, 2014|10:03 pm]
Before I was so delightfully diverted, I was meaning to post about the Monty Python reunion which we saw via a "live" link at the Gala Theatre. I use inverted commas because, although there was nothing in the publicity to indicate this, what we saw must have been a recording. The Gala had the show on twice, and the first one, showing in the cinema, was on July 20th, the actual last night of the reunion show's run - by the time we were buying tickets it was sold out. We went instead to the later show in the theatre, which was effectively a film of the show. I don't suppose we lost much by this: I've posted before about being immune to the charm of the live link, and not feeling any sense of occasion that I wouldn't have got from watching an ordinary film. Still, I thought it was naughty.

Then again, we probably got a better deal than people who really did see the show live at the O2: we saw the Pythons close up and direct, whereas in the Arena you'd have seen tiny distant figures, their actions relayed on screens - when, that is, you weren't just watching extracts from the original shows displayed on the big central screen. So for much of the time we were looking directly at something that the theatre audience were watching on screens - and at times the camera pulled back so that we could watch them watching it on screen. Very meta.

I hadn't expected the inclusion of film from the original shows: I suppose it allowed them to bring in material they couldn't reproduce live - stuff not only written but also performed by Graham Chapman, and some very messy slapstick (not mutually exclusive categories) plus Terry Gilliam's animations. At the opposite extreme, nor had I expected the opening out into the big musical numbers, and I thought these worked rather well. You couldn't expect John Cleese to go through the physical contortions he achieved as a younger man in the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch, so it was ingenious to convert it into a dance routine, a clever elaboration on an original that you could take as read. The inclusion of guest stars, though, was a step too far into showbiz glitz. You might get away with having non-canonical performers simply taking rôles in existing sketches, but the heavy signalling of 'look, guest star!' was pretty lame (nothing against Eddie Izzard, except that I thought he deserved better). Good to see Carol Cleveland's standing in the team acknowledged, though.

And the best of the sketches stand up well. The parrot sketch is still a joy: Michael Palin's stubborn denial of the obvious drives John Cleese's exasperated rationalism into wilder and wilder flights of language, in a brilliant demonstration of the how far the English language will go to avoid talking directly about death: "This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet Dt Chapman! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the perch 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!!"

It's a fine note to go out on.
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Playing croquet in the year 2000 [Aug. 13th, 2014|10:32 am]
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The UBC Library Digitization Centre has a Flickr account: not just silly vintage postcards, but Spanish chant manuscripts ("Creator: Catholic Church") and maps of Japan...
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Picking up the threads [Aug. 11th, 2014|10:34 pm]
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We were last in the States in the spring of 2012, for the wedding of desperance and klwilliams. The diary of that trip is one of the many loose ends in this journal, so now would be a good time to revisit it, and see how much remains to be written. Let us pause to be thankful for tags, which make this comparatively easy. Now, if I can rearrange those entries from the order in which they were written to the order in which they happened:

Travelling hopefully:
Setting off * flying to Chicago * On the California Zephyr I * On the California Zephyr II - and arriving.

In Sunnyvale
At home * A trip to Gilroy * A day in San Francisco

The Big Day
Computers and the stag party * Wedding breakfast * The Wedding

Exploring
Stinson Beach * Meeting Athenais * Santa Cruz * Santa Cruz again * Monterey (the Aquarium, mostly * San Simeon * Hearst Castle * Paso Robles

Home again
Rules * In transit at LAX * - and home!


Oh, that's almost possible! The drive back from Paso Robles, another day in San Francisco - and one more day out - yes, if I don't try to sort all the photos, I might make it. Have a celebratory photo:

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We interrupt our scheduled programme - [Aug. 10th, 2014|10:11 pm]
- to bring you a newsflash:

durham_rambler and I have booked our flights to the States next month! The long-planned holiday really is happening. I'm as surprised about this as you are - in fact more, because there is nothing inherently unlikely about it, but as dates crumbled and prices rose we became more and more incapable of reaching a decision. In the end we walked into the Flight Centre shop, and threw ourselves on the mercy of the nice man, who compared all the variables and came up with something that looks entirely satisfactory.

So we fly in to Boston on Monday 8th September, spend a week in the Boston area and then fly on to San Francisco on Monday 15th for two weeks in California.

We're looking forward to being tourists, and we're looking forward to seeing friends: beyond that we haven't planned yet.

We have four weeks to think about it. They are going to be four busy weeks, what with finishing things that have to be finished before we go away, and fitting that around things we have already arranged to do - fun things, all of them. We'll survive!
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More pretty pictures (closing some tabs) [Aug. 7th, 2014|10:02 pm]
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  • Premysl Fojtu Photography posts photos from Orkney on FaceBook.


  • 'Enterprise Magazine': the car hire company encourages you to drive to places worth seeing with View Finders: here's somewhere to visit in San Francisco.


  • The Guardian had a supplement about Georgia: one of those paid-for sections which try to look like editorial, but are really advertising. I regard them with deep suspicion, and throw them away unread. This one had an ad on the back page for the Georgian national tourist office. We spent a few days in Georgia thirty years ago, and I have good memories of it, but so much has happened since then, it hadn't occurred to me it was somewhere you could still visit. Perhaps it isn't, I wouldn't take the word of an advertorial supplement for it. Still, pretty pictures. And more on Pinterest.


  • What we dug up on our summer holiday: a gold hair ornament from the copper age (I hadn't met the term 'copper age' before)


  • Megapenguin fossils!
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They shall grow not old [Aug. 6th, 2014|10:31 pm]
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lamentables went to a WWI commemoration and it seems to have been all right, to have expressed something worth expressing:



Minimum Monument is the work of Brazilian artist Néle Azevedo, and this iteration was commissioned by the Birmingham Hippodrome. So alongside my ambivalence about commemorating the outbreak of the war - and with the news each day as sanguine as it is, to claim that we are remembering the War that was going to end all wars - you can set an entirely different class of ambivalence about art which is apparently related to a particular place and time, but which is actually the thing that a particular artist does. Nonetheless, it feels appropriate, all those fragile little beings melting away...

Another fine photo, by someone else and one that catches the dissolution of the figures.
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Capturing the Castle [Jul. 31st, 2014|10:28 pm]
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A couple of weekends ago we went to a food fair in the grounds of Raby Castle: there were fewer stalls than I had expected, but they were good ones, and the gardens were in spectacular bloom, so it all balanced out. I brought home a handful of leaflets, which it's time to clear off my desk:

  • I bought some Seville mustard (mustard made with the juice of Seville oranges) from Cumberland Honey Mustard (and tried their mostarda, which I've come across in Italian recipes but never tasted, so I can't say whether mostarda is less interesting than I hoped, or just this version).


  • There was cheese from Winter Tarn organic farm (isn't that a great name!), and I bought the two they make themselves, both cows' milk, a nicely nutty Cheddar-style cheese and a very buttery blue.


  • We had a lengthy and interesting conversation with someone who wasn't selling food at all, but promoting, if I have this right, the Friends of Stewart Park in Middlesbrough are involved with a project organised by Kew Gardens to encourage the planting and appreciation of wild flowers. It's taken a fair bit of poking around thhe web to find this ("Look us up on FaceBook!" they say; "Hah!" say I. "Find us on Twitter!" they say; but I can't...) but scroll down to the end of this blog post to find what we were told about the project, and the leaflet we picked up about a walk in the park (which also includes the birthplace of Captain Cook, and a museum dedicated to him). The odd thing is that they are claiming to be shortlisted as finalists for the Grow Wild project, and Grow Wild seem to have other ideas. The park looks worth a visit, regardless...

Never mind, have a picture of the castle and gardens:

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The Pompeii of the North [Jul. 30th, 2014|10:27 pm]
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Two years ago, we visited Binchester Roman Fort , and admired the commandant's bathhouse with its underfloor heating, and the exhibition of finds from the site. I read the descriptions of the fort, and the claim that it was the largest between York and Edinburgh, and looked across the green field (with the suggestive bumps) and thought I'd take their word for it.

There'd probably have been more to see if we'd been there a week earlier, because to judge from the excavation blog, we must have arrived just after the short archaeological season had finished for the year. The 2014 season has just ended, and last Saturday was an open day, with an opportunity to look round before tarpauline covers the excavations for another season. They've been working at two trenches, one at the edge of the fort itself, and the fraction of the fort uncovered does make it possible to get some idea of the scale of place (scroll down this article for an illustration of the location. Everyone's favourite, of course, is the latrine block:



the handy sponge-on-a-stick provided by the archaeologists so that no-one would be in any doubt what they were looking at.

The second trench is event more impressive. It has opened up part of the vicus, the civilian settlement outside the fort, including the bathhouse - yes, another. The one we'd seen before - the one that was discovered in 1815 when a horse and cart almost fell into the hole that had opened up and revealed it - was for the use of the commandant and his guests; this one was for the garrison (and perhaps the townspeople too):



When it fell into disuse it was filled up with rubbish, which helped the walls to remain standing to a considerable height, and with some of their plaster surface intact - hence the press stories about the 'Pompeii of the North': and the archaeologist who thought of that one is pretty pleased with himself!

There was small display of treasures, including the sandstone stone head thought to be of a local god; though not the rather pretty ring (the design incised on the stone is being interpreted as an anchor and fishes, and therefore a Christian symbol, but I try not to let that spoil it for me).

There is funding for another digging season next year, but after that, no-one knows what will happen...
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