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No-knead bread

2014-02-02 18.14.26

Usually when I’m trying to fit life around baking, I end up putting my sourdough dough in the fridge to retard the rise. That’s the beauty of sourdough: it’s somewhat flexible in the making and baking, so that you can effectively put it on pause. I wanted to bake a loaf of bread today and in the usual run of things, I’d have probably made the dough last night, put it in the fridge overnight before taking it out this morning to come up to temperature and rise properly while I went to Heathrow to collect P after her trip to Seattle. There’s an element of risk there, however, in that the rise would be happening while I wasn’t around to keep an eye on it and I didn’t really know for how long I’d be out of the house. The safer alternative would have been to let the sourdough rise last night and then put the risen dough in the fridge, bringing it out for baking this afternoon after getting home but I had a mini-discussion about high-hydration sourdoughs with someone on Twitter last night (yeah, that’s what sourdough geeks do) and reminded myself about the famous recipe for no-knead bread that appeared in the New York Times a few years ago.

You should click the link and read the recipe for yourself but in essence you mix a stupidly wet dough that you have absolutely no chance of shaping, leave it for 18-24 hours, then give it a couple of folds, another rise then bung the scarily wet and wobbly dough into what the Americans call a Dutch oven but I just refer to as my Creuset cast iron pot with the metal handles (because the pot’s designed to go in the oven oven proof) and bake. So I did the initial mix last night at around 8pm, meaning I was perfectly safe to leave it to do its thing without any intervention required from me until late this afternoon.

If you’re still stuck with the idea that you have to knead bread intensively for 10 minutes, doing virtually nothing to your dough – I don’t think I spent more than 5 minutes with it, and even then 3 of those minutes were in measuring the ingredients – requires a massive leap of faith. As someone familiar with the ‘time + stretch and fold’ method of bread-making, it wasn’t such a stretch (and fold) of the imagination but it’s still a thing of wonder that this hardly touched shaggy dough (see photo below) can turn into a boule with an amazing crunchy crust and a moist, chewy crumb.

Next time I’m going to replace the commercial yeast in the recipe with a drop of sourdough to see how that works out.

2014-02-02 19.21.59 2014-02-02 14.48.41

Play your house prices right

Play Your House Prices Right – by UsVsTh3m:

We’ll show you some British homes. All you have to do is work out: is the price higher or lower?

There’s a mini-game in the Top Trumps game A got for Christmas which involves a version of Play Your Cards Right, giving me an opportunity to crack out my rubbish Brucie impersonation. Anyway, this is a nice house price version albeit it reminds me that during my house hunting I’m finding it literally unbelievable what some people have put as the asking price for their houses.

Single man’s dinner

 

2014-01-31 19.46.57

P’s been away for a full week now so I think I’ve done pretty well to have got until now before cooking a really lazy – and old-school – dinner for myself: sausage, egg, chips and beans. In my defence, your honour, the sausages were grilled, the chips are oven chips, the egg free range and the beans – well, there’s no need to be defensive about it because they have to be Heinz. (Dearie me, I think I’ve fallen for the marketing.)

Also in my defence, for lunch I had the leftover chicken breasts from the Sunday with some glass noodles and a load of sprouting broccoli poached in a home-made clarified stock. (The Heston method for clarifying stock works a treat, if you’ve got the time.)

Oh, the irony…

I’m approaching the end of my stupid (and it is stupid) resolution to blog every day for a year and I’m starting to think about what I’ve learned from the experiment.

It needs more thought than my self-inflicted sleep-deprived brain can handle right now, but the stats are clearly showing one thing: if I want to chase hits to the blog (which I don’t) all I need to do is write about dodgy SEO shenanigans. By far the most popular post on this blog is the one I wrote about how to block a certain site that claims to be helping site sites with SEO from showing up as a referrer. How ironic.

Update:

Had to laugh at what Google autocomplete suggests when typing in Semalt…

Screenshot 2014-01-30 22.19.54

It’s not my fault, I don’t care, I don’t regret a single thing…

I made my seventh appearance on The Chain today, with Kaiser Chiefs – You Can Have It All. I hadn’t realised until I looked it up but my previous appearance on The Chain had been in January 2013, so I think I was well overdue an appearance.

Seeing as I picked Kaiser Chiefs mainly because they’re A’s favourite band I thought I’d get my bit up on iPlayer for her. She wasn’t impressed. Well, she was pleased about Kaiser Chiefs being played but my description as ‘Chain legend’ was met with a rather derisive tone of ‘you’re not a legend’ followed by ‘it doesn’t count being called a legend by those people because they’re not famous’. After I pointed out Radcliffe and Maconie were venerable broadcasters who even appear on tv occasionally, A just said, ‘Well, my friends haven’t heard of you so you’re not famous.’ Kids, eh?

A daddy weekend

P flew to the US on Friday afternoon, leaving me to experience life as a single parent for 9 days.

I say that but of course I’m being flippant and I’m in no way trying to suggest that being in temporary sole charge of a very well behaved child is comparable to a real single parent’s life with the possible emotional complications that having separated or divorced parents may bring.

That disclaimer was a bit clunky, wasn’t it? But you know how the internet is – say something in jest and all it takes is one person to see it the wrong way and start up a twitchfork mob against you. Another disclaimer: yes, I have myself retweeted stuff in outrage against someone saying something stupid but I usually reserve it for when politicians or people who should know better (that ‘or’ is very deliberate) say something out of line.

Anyway, back to the weekend. I was going to cheat and send A off to the in-laws on Saturday to stay over for the weekend while I went off to play football and socialise but plans changed, leaving me with the terrifying prospect of keeping A entertained all weekend. As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad. A went for her riding lesson and we went to view a couple of properties (neither of which were up to scratch, as blogged yesterday). We then went to the football club as A had sounded surprisingly enthusiastic at the prospect of going to watch amateur Saturday league football. As it turns out she decided she was happier sitting in the car with her iPad while I stood in the freezing cold cheering Reigate Priory on. (I should point out that the car was parked a few yards from where I was standing at the side of the pitch.) Back home after the game, we ordered a pizza delivery and ate that while watching The Voice.

Today I played a blinder, if I do say so myself, by taking A swimming. We stayed at the pool for an hour and a half, guaranteeing that she would sleep soundly tonight. I’m tempting fate, I suppose, but as I type, A is absolutely zonked and I don’t expect her to stir until normal wake-up time. I managed to serve up a Sunday roast for tea, to make up for the laziness yesterday, so I’m feeling pretty pleased with how the weekend’s gone. The coming week should be easy by comparison, since A is at school.

Kissing frogs

So, as I suspected, the stress involved with trying to sell our house quickly enough to buy the house we fell in love with was all for naught, as someone beat us to the punch. After a day of wallowing and ‘woe is me’, I picked myself off the floor enough to start the search for another house to give me the same goosebumps, lining up a couple of viewings for today. I know it’s early days but I’m having trouble shaking off the feeling that all we’re doing now is kissing frogs when we know the prince has already been and gone. It’s also rather weird going from a state of desperately hoping that anyone who sees our house is the one who falls in love with it and enables us to buy our own dream home to half-hoping that we don’t get an offer right away because we haven’t found anywhere we want to move to.

If a time traveller saw a smartphone

The New Yorker has one of the more thoughtful pieces I’ve seen about whether technology is making us more or less intelligent, coming up with insights via the medium of a thought experiment, If a Time Traveller Saw a Smartphone:

A well-educated time traveller from 1914 enters a room divided in half by a curtain. A scientist tells him that his task is to ascertain the intelligence of whoever is on the other side of the curtain by asking whatever questions he pleases.

Coincidentally, I’m in the middle of reading a book consisting of 100 thought experiments: The Pig that Wants to be Eaten by Julian Baggini. I’m a third of the way through and, to be brutally honest, I’m not enjoying it. Part of that is down to me reading the book at bedtime, which probably isn’t the ideal time to be engaging in these kind of exercises. Most of it, however, is down to me finding it shallow compared to some of the philosophical studying I did at university. I imagine it’s like someone who studied psychology reading a pop psychology book. There’s nothing inherently wrong with ‘pop’ books but they’re aimed at people who are interested in a subject without necessarily having studied it. So I suppose the reason I’m not enjoying The Pig the Wants to be Eaten is because I’m just not the right audience for the book.

Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

Might as well make it a hat trick of music posts with this one from Damon Albarn, also released this week (whatever that really means now in this digital age). Everyday Robots is from Damon’s first solo album. Given all the stuff he’s done, it’s surprising that he’s got this far without doing an official solo album, but I’m looking forward to it.

Elbow – Fly Boy Blue / Lunette

Having linked to a recommendation by Guy Garvey yesterday, it’s only fair to link to Elbow’s teaser from their new album.

Laura Groves – Inky Sea

Heard this on Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour two weeks ago, and again on Sunday just gone, and just had to share.

Blue Monday, bad science and nonsense PR

Blue Monday, bad science and nonsense PR | Michael Marshall | Science | theguardian.com.

Excellent blog post by Michael Marshall on The Guardian science blog on pseudo-scientific nonsense created by PR companies and dutifully/lazily reported on by newspapers. As a sceptic – in the sense that I don’t necessarily take things at face value, rather than just being a curmudgeon who doesn’t believe anything anyone says – it’s very easy for me to see through the PR fluff and see rubbish like the notion of the most depressing day of the year for what it is. What I hadn’t really appreciated, because I was too lazy to think it through, was the pernicious effect of what you might think is at worst harmless nonsense:

[F]or many people, the only interaction they have with science is via the pages of the newspapers, and every academic who puts their name to a cheap PR story cashes in a little of their credibility, and a little of the legitimacy of their profession in the eyes of the general public.

When serious science is under attack from the kind of idiot who thinks bad weather is caused by a god angered by the legalisation of gay marriage, we really don’t need the fluffy science taking up column inches and making people think scientific research is a money-making sham.

How to block semalt.com referrer traffic using .htaccess

The short version

Block semalt.com from your site by adding these lines to your .htaccess file

# block visitors referred from semalt.com
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} semalt\.com [NC]
RewriteRule .* - [F]

The long version

This is going to a massively geeky post compared to my usual rubbish but I hope at least a few people will find it useful.

A few days ago, I was checking the site stats on thechain.co.uk and noticed that a domain – semalt.com – kept popping up with a url that contained ‘competitors_review.php’. I took a look at the link (I’m deliberately not posting that up the link since I think that’s what these traffic spammers want) and there’s very little information: just a sign-up form. I did a bit of digging around and judging by what I’ve seen on other blogs and on Twitter, the general consensus is that semalt.com are best avoided and there’s a whole load of suspicion about why they’re trying to harvest information about people by getting them to sign up to whatever service it is they’re offering with their Facebook accounts. It’s kind of clever – playing on people’s curiosity and making it look like a ‘competitor’ site is gleaning information from your site – but it stinks. If anyone from semalt.com wants to put the counter argument, I’m all ears.

Update 21 Jan 2014: found a couple of other blogs with a bit more info about Semalt.com. See WTF is Semalt.com? and What is the website www.semalt.com about?

Anyway, onto the practical bit. I’ve now blocked semalt.com from appearing in my site stats by adding these lines of code at the end of my .htaccess file. Disclaimers: the .htaccess directives below are based on information in Media Temple’s knowledge base article: How to block a specific IP address from accessing your website. This works for my particular WordPress blog and its .htaccess file. I put them at the very end of my own particular .htaccess file. YMMV, and I provide no warranty as to what this might do to your own site. If you don’t know what your .htaccess file is or how to change it, I’d suggest you find some other way to block Semalt.com.

# block visitors referred from semalt.com
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} semalt\.com [NC]
RewriteRule .* - [F]