Saturday, December 30, 2006

Airport security wait times

Jill pointed out that the TSA has a website ( that lists the average (and maximum) security checkpoint wait times for major US airports. The wait times are broken down by airport, day of the week, and hour of the day, so it's actually fairly useful for planning airport travel.

They've also got all the data downloadable as a (very large) XML file.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Men think about sex every 12,300 seconds?

My SO found this somewhat old [more than two months old? That's ancient in blog-land] post over at Language Log on the frequency of sexual thoughts by men and women. The post analyzes the (lack of) scientific evidence behind the (oft repeated) claim made by Louann Brizendine in The Female Brain that
85 percent of twenty- to thirty-year-old males think about sex every fifty-two seconds and women think about it once a day -- or up to three or four times on their most fertile days.
Go read Mark's post for a wonderful scientific takedown of bogus psychological claims. And when you're done with that post, go look at the rest of his posts on Brizendine's book.

One more thing to think about when you swallow seawater at the beach

The ocean is home to a tremendous diversity of organisms. Many animal phyla are found exclusively in marine environments (e.g., Ctenophora, Echinodermata), and even those phyla that contain species that can live elsewhere are often more diverse in the oceans (e.g., Cnidaria, Mollusca, Porifera, Annelida). But, of course, animals aren't alone in the ocean: protists abound (diatoms, dinoflagellates, red algae, green algae, brown algae, etc.), and there are more bacteria than you can shake a stick at: at least one species of bacteria can be found at concentrations of up to 200,000 cells per milliliter of seawater (data for Prochlorococcus; Freeman 2005). Introducing all of this to my classes is always fun, and it usually makes at least a few students squeamish as they think back to all that seawater they've accidentally swallowed.

Now I have something new to add to my list of marine diversity highlights: viruses. Angly et al. (2006) took dozens of samples of seawater from four different ocean regions (see their figure 1) and analyzed them for viral genetic material (double- and single-stranded DNA)1. Their results are astounding:
Taken together, these data indicate that the global marine viral richness could be as high as a few hundred thousand species, with a regional richness sometimes almost as high, likely because of migration processes.
In other words, there are probably more than 100,000 different species (genotypes) of viruses in the ocean right now. That's more than double the number of known species of chordates (the phylum humans are in), and is approaching the number of extant plant species2.

The researchers found 129,000 different genotypes of viruses present in just one of the regions they sampled (coastal British Columbia; see their table 3). While other regions had less diversity (containing hundreds to thousands of genotypes), Angly et al. (2006) found that, overall, there was a lot of overlap in the species present in each area. Even though the dominant species in each region were different, the same viruses were generally present in all four regions (see their figure 4). It sounds like there's some interesting population ecology waiting to be uncovered here.

While Angly et al.'s (2006) diversity data is stunning, their methodology limited them to identifying viruses that use DNA as their genetic material. While many viruses do use DNA as their genetic material, a number of viruses use RNA as their genetic material, and thus Angly et al. are necessarily underestimating the actual number of viral species present in the marine environment.

Angly FE, B Felts, M Breitbart, P Salamon, RA Edwards, C Carlson, AM Chan, M Haynes, S Kelley, H Liu, JM Mahaffy, JE Mueller, J Nulton, R Olson, R Parsons, S Rayhawk, CA Suttle, and F Rohwer. 2006. The Marine Viromes of Four Oceanic Regions. PLoS Biology 4:11 e368. Full-text article; synopsis.

Freeman, S. 2005. Biological Science, 2nd edition. Prentice Hall: NJ. pp. 583.

1 Finding more than 100,000 species of viruses by sequencing DNA isolated from viruses in seawater was no small task; Angly et al. ended up generating 1,768,297 different DNA sequences, which they then had to compare both to known sequences in databases and to each other. Yikes.
2 See the data at the end of this post.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas 2006 menu

To continue my tradition of posting our holiday menus, here's what we had to eat this Christmas.

On Christmas eve we had our traditional dinner of cold cuts and cheese with good bread. This year we had two kinds of salami, ham, two kinds of liverwurst, and many cheeses (Basque shepherd's cheese, Havarti, chevre, and pepperjack).

On Christmas day we had a brunch of two kinds of fondue: raclette and English coastal cheddar. Christmas dinner was our usual spread:
We also made crab dip, but won't be eating it until tomorrow.

Our house smells so good right now.

1 We skipped Alton's brining step (since our turkey came pre-injected with saline solution); to make the apple-cinnamon gravy we used the leftover water from heating the turkey filling (onion, garlic, carrots, apple, and cinnamon) to make stock from the neck and giblets, and then used that stock to make our gravy.

Radagast's SO's creamed snow peas with onions and garlic

My SO and I were pleasantly surprised to walk into our yard today and find a crop of snow peas hanging on the vine. We decided to add them to our Christmas dinner, but unfortunately the only snow pea recipes we could find were stir-fries (with some combination of ginger, soy sauce, garlic, and sesame oil), salads, or pasta dishes. We didn't like any of those choices, so my SO (ever the amazing improvisational cook) decided to whip them up in a cream sauce with garlic and onions. The savoriness of the creamy onions and garlic was the perfect compliment to the sweet, crunchy peas; the dish was delicious, and thus it's this week's end-of-the-holiday recipe blogging post.

1/2 pound snow peas, washed, trimmed, and halved
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 large onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt (or more, to taste)

1. Melt the butter in a wok over medium-high heat.
2. Add the onion and fry, stirring constantly, until it starts to brown around the edges, ~5 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and continue frying, stirring constantly, until both the garlic and onion are browned on the surface, ~3 minutes.
4. Add the snow peas and cook, stirring frequently, until they're almost cooked to your desired crispness (taste them periodically to check). If the pan is dry and the onions or garlic seem as though they're going to burn, add the 1/4 cup water (this should mostly simmer off before the cream is added).
5. Add the cream and salt, and continue cooking until the sauce thickens and begins to coat the peas, ~2 minutes.
6. Taste to check the salt level, and serve.


Our pea plants produced only 1/2 pound of snow peas for us to use, which made enough to serve 2-3 for Christmas dinner, and probably would have barely served 2 for a normal dinner. This recipe should scale easily to create larger amounts.

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Ruby Christmas tree

For those of you who program in Ruby, Ruby Inside has posted this cute Christmas code snippet (as a part of their 2006 Ruby advent calendar):
print "#{def r(x);rand(x);end; C = "\033["}2J#{C}0;0f#{C}32m"; w=r(20).to_i+13
h=w-r(10).to_i; h.times { |line| puts " " * ((w / 2) - (line / 2)) +
(1..line+1).collect { r(rand(12)) == 0 ? "#{C+'5m' if % 2 == 0}#{C}#{r(7) +
31}m*#{C}0m#{C}32m":'='}.join}; print "#{C}33m"; 3.times{ puts (("x" * (w / 6)
).center(w)) }; puts "#{C}0m\n", "Merry Christmas From Ruby Inside!"
Run that in a terminal a few times to enjoy.

Oh, and if you don't already have Ruby installed, this code snippet is most certainly not worth installing Ruby to run.

New e-mail address

I now have a sparkling new e-mail address: Please use that for all bloggy communication from now on1.

Strangely, it appears that I haven't been getting e-mail at my old account (the one at Comcast) for at least the past week. Thus, if you've sent e-mail to that address recently, please resend it to the new address.

1 If you're an offline friend or family member of Radagast and SO, this change doesn't affect you at all -- keep using the same non-Rhosgobel e-mail addresses that you've been using all along.

Happy holidays!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah1, Cheerful Cephalopodmas1, Super Solstice1, or whatever floats your boat. Enjoy!

1 A bit late ... sorry.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Denver Airport

BoingBoing linked to a before-and-after picture of the Denver Airport. Brr!

Compiled by mo.murrey; original post-blizzard image by ashleyniblock here (cc licensed).

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Libyan justice is blind to science

A Libyan court has upheld the death sentences of the Tripoli six. This has gotten a ton of press around the blogosphere, so I won't say much more here other than to point you towards Pharyngula, Respectful Insolence, Effect Measure, and a Nature article (PDF) that demonstrates that the nurses and doctor are innocent.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Never fear ...

I wanted to briefly explain my recent silence. In addition to getting sick (lovely way to start a break) and doing the usual frantic pre-Christmas shopping, my SO and I are spending much of our time working on a "project". Given our past track record on "projects," I'd rather wait for it be complete (or have failed horribly) before posting about it. Look for more news (hopefully) next week!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

War on Terror: The Boardgame

An independent group of game developers has just released a new German-style board game called War On Terror. It looks like an absolutely hilarious (and horribly cynical) "simulation" of the modern war on terror, complete with oil dominating world politics, countries funding terrorism illicitly, random accusations of who's the axis of evil today, and an evil balaclava. Go read their short summary of how to play the game for more, and then go look at their Empire Cards and Terrorist Cards. For even more information (including reviews and pictures), check out the Board Game Geek War on Terror page.

I normally don't like wargame-style board games, but I think I might just make an exception for this one. Now if only I didn't have to pay for shipping from England ...

(via BoingBoing)

Friday, December 15, 2006

It is over!

The semester that started on an extremely bad note, and continued on to even more bad notes, is now finally over. Granted, the end of the semester did have some positive elements to it, but this wasn't quite the semester I'd hoped it would be. In any case, my grades are now all turned in, the letters of recommendation are all written, and I'm done for the year. Yippee!

I don't want my negativity about this semester to make it sound as though I'm frustrated with my job overall. While the events surrounding our field program have been disheartening, I'm excited about the coming semesters, at least partially because I'm finally going to be able to start working on my long-planned online course in the spring, and should be able to actually teach it in the fall. In fact, I'm going to get started on it over break (as well as restarting our remodeling).

But all that is for another day. Right now it's time to go have some fun.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

2006 Weblog awards

It's finals week around these parts, so yours truly will be rather distracted for a few days (in fact, I only finished writing tomorrow's final about an hour ago). Sorry ...

However, to amuse yourself, go check out Pharyngula's and Bad Astronomy's tussle over who should win the best science blog award. Many apologies to Bad Astronomy, but I must side with my invertebrate-defending colleague, especially when he creates banners that feature such cute critters as this:

To facilitate your amusement, here are all of Pharyngula's posts so far:
And here are all of Bad Astronomy's posts:
Oh, and don't forget that Orac has been nominated for an award as well. Orac, however, doesn't have a cool banner ... just a link to the voting page.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sweet saffron pilaf (Zarda)

We've previously posted Patiala pilaf and Banaras-style pilaf recipes; this pilaf is just as easy to make as those two, but is slightly sweet, and thus adds a different note to the dishes it's served with (it's also tasty just eaten by itself). Since this pilaf is made with saffron, the rice has a nice yellow hue when complete. We just made this dish tonight to go along with our Moghul braised chicken, and thus it's this week's second end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

And, as I've said in our prior two pilaf recipes, if all you've ever eaten are American-style pilafs ("I cooked my rice with chicken stock; now it's a pilaf"), you're in for a pleasantly flavorful surprise.

2 cups basmati rice
4 cups water, plus more to rinse the rice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon saffron, mixed into 2 tablespoons of water (see step 4)
10 whole cloves
8 green cardamom pods
1 3" cinnamon stick
1/2 cup raisins (we use jumbo golden raisins)
1 1/4 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar

1. Rinse the basmati rice repeatedly with water in a large bowl until the water draining off is mostly clear.
2. Drain as much of the rinsing water from the rice as you can, and then add 4 cups of fresh water. Let soak for 30 minutes.
3. Drain the rice, reserving the soaking water (it will be used to cook the rice later).
4. Put the saffron into a small bowl or cup, and crush it with your fingers or the back of a spoon1. Add 2 tablespoons of water, and stir to mix, again crushing the threads with the back of a spoon as you do so.
5. Heat the oil in a nonstick pot over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add all the whole spices (cloves, cardamom pods, and the cinnamon stick) and cook, stirring constantly, until they start to brown (~1-2 minutes)
6. Add the rice, and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice turns translucent (~5 minutes; Sahni states the rice should begin to brown, but it never does for us).
7. Add the reserved soaking water, saffron water, raisins, salt, and sugar; stir to mix. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes. At the end of this time the water should be mostly absorbed.
8. Turn the heat to the lowest setting possible, raise the pot above the burner (we set it on a wire roasting rack placed over the burner), and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes.
9. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes.
10. Fluff the rice with a fork, and serve.


You can leave the whole spices in the dish when you serve it, but should probably avoid eating them. This recipe is from Sahni (1980); we've reduced the amount of saffron added by about half, due to its expense.

Sahni, Julie. 1980. Classic Indian Cooking. William Morrow & Co, NY. pp. 369-370.

1 Sahni (1980) reports that you should grind the saffron into a powder before adding the water; we've never been able to do this (our saffron just sticks to the side of the bowl and stays whole).

Moghul braised chicken (Mughalai korma)

This Indian dish features tender bits of chicken slathered in a rich creamy, yogurt-based sauce that's filled with onions, garlic, ginger, and a wide array of spices (cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, coriander, and cayenne pepper). This is packed with flavor, and is delicious when paired with an Indian pilaf (e.g., Patiala pilaf, Banaras-style pilaf, or sweet saffron pilaf). This is reasonably similar to yogurt braised chicken; Moghul braised chicken is probably a bit more spiced, but if you like one, I guarantee that you'll like the other. Since we just cooked this tonight (along with some sweet saffron pilaf), it's this week's first end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

1 cup vegetable oil
6 cups finely chopped onions
2 tablespoons minced (or pressed) garlic
3 tablespoons minced ginger
24 whole green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
48 whole cloves
8 bay leaves
4 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (increase if desired)
2 cups whole-milk yogurt
2 1/2 pounds chicken (we used boneless, skinless thighs), chopped into ~1/4" x 2" strips
1 cup boiling water
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream

0a. Plan to have a pilaf (or plain steamed rice) ready by the time this dish is complete.
0b. As this dish requires near-constant stirring once it begins cooking, it can be helpful to measure (and otherwise prepare) most of the ingredients first. Specifically, chop the onions, ginger, and garlic; put the cardamom pods, cloves, and bay leaves into a small cup; put the coriander and cayenne pepper into another cup; measure the yogurt into a container that is easy to pour from; cut the chicken and get it ready; and get a pot of water ready to bring to a boil on the stove.
1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed nonstick pot over high or medium-high heat (use the lower heat if you're concerned items might burn). Once the oil is hot, add the onions and fry for 5 minutes, stirring nearly constantly.
2. Add the ginger and garlic to the onions, and continue cooking, stirring nearly constantly, until the onions just begin to brown (about another 5 minutes).
3. Add the cardamom pods, cloves, and bay leaves, and continue cooking, stirring nearly constantly, until the onions are golden brown (~5 minutes more).
4. Add the ground coriander and cayenne, and cook, stirring constantly, for 15 seconds.
5. Add ~1/4 cup of the yogurt to the pot, and cook, stirring constantly, until most of the water in the yogurt has evaporated. Continue adding the yogurt ~1/4 cup at a time until you've added all of it (this should take 5-10 minutes).
6. Add the chopped chicken to the pot, and cook, stirring nearly constantly, until the chicken has turned opaque, ~5 minutes.
7. Stir in the boiling water and salt. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked, ~25 minutes.
8. Stir in the cream and remove from the heat.
9. Let the dish rest, covered, for at least an hour.
10. Bring back to a simmer (or close to it) before serving.


Don't let the length of time (and amount of stirring) it takes to cook this recipe dissuade you from cooking it; this dish will make your house smell absolutely delicious as it cooks, and the end result is well worth the effort. We've doubled this recipe from the original source (Sahni 1980), primarily because most of the work involved in making this dish is the constant stirring required during cooking; by doubling it we get twice the tasty food with far less than twice the effort. Leftovers store and reheat excellently; the dish is even tastier the second time around.

This recipe is based on one by Sahni (1980); we've reduced the oil from the original recipe.

Sahni, Julie. 1980. Classic Indian Cooking. William Morrow & Co, NY. pp. 206-208.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

New York Times special section on Pearl Harbor

The New York Times has a special section on Pearl Harbor today, wherein they are republishing a six-part series on how the Pacific Fleet was rebuilt after the attack in 1941. The series was written in December of 1942, but never published due to wartime censorship; the articles are now available as PDFs (via the link above).

In the same spirit, Orac has a good post about remembering the survivors of Pearl Harbor, complete with links to more historical information.

There can always be plagiarism

This semester has not been one of my better semesters, and thus I'm ecstatic that there is only one week left. However, up until today there was one event (or, rather, lack of an event) that was making me very happy: I hadn't found a single case of plagiarism. I was, in fact, getting excited that I might break my streak of finding a case of plagiarism every semester that I've taught.

But today, while grading some lab reports, I found my first case of plagiarism. The lab reports were written in the style of a journal article (the usual abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, and literature cited sections), and were based on a multi-week experiment that the students had designed and conducted themselves. The students had come up with their own questions, designed their own protocols, collected their own data, and done all the data analysis (including statistical analyses) themselves. This has to be one of the least plagiarism-prone assignments possible, as the paper consists of the students discussing, presenting, and analyzing their unique data.

But, this student managed to find a way to plagiarize. Specifically, a portion of the introduction had been copied verbatim from a published journal article, and a large fraction of the discussion was taken from another journal article's discussion (with the treatment names and organism names changed to match the student's experiment)1. While I identified the portion of the introduction that was plagiarized while reading the paper, I didn't catch the plagiarism in the discussion until I'd scanned it with (a competitor of

So, let this be an example that students can, and will, plagiarize just about any assignment, even if that assignment is intended to be based solely on their own work2.

Constant vigilance!

1 For those who remember my variability in plagiarism post, I'd say this student's plagiarism falls into category 2D.
2 And if you think that students aren't plagiarizing in your class, go take a peek at the data I cite at the beginning of this post.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Fastest pen in the west!

Today I just achieved what I once thought was impossible: I graded a full set of lab reports, checked them all for plagiarism, and got them back to the students, all in less than 48 hours. The students were shocked.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Guitar Hero II rocks!

This weekend I got a chance to play Guitar Hero II at a friend's house. Guitar Hero II is a game for the Playstation II that allows users to play the guitar portion(s) of rock songs with the aid of a guitar-shaped controller. The game is, I'm sure, nothing like playing an actual guitar, as the controller lacks strings entirely (it has five buttons on the neck, a strumming button, and a whammy bar). I was skeptical of the game at first (I was not at all certain I could even hold the guitar properly, much less actually hit the buttons at the right time), but after I "played" my first song, I was hooked.

The game is much like DDR in that the screen consists primarily of a continuously scrolling sequence of buttons you must push at the proper time. Hitting buttons at the right time results in cool-sounding rock music emanating from the speakers. Hitting buttons at the wrong time results in screeching, out-of-tune guitar noises, which is absolutely hilarious in the middle of a long solo.

We played exclusively in cooperative mode, wherein two players play different portions (lead and rhythm or lead and bass) of the same song. One excellent feature is that the different players can choose different difficulty levels; while I barely managed to keep up on "easy" (hitting ~90% of the notes in my last few songs), my co-player was often strumming away furiously on "hard." It was amazingly fun, and the inner rockstar in me wanted to keep playing and playing all day long (but my wrist disagreed, especially after playing the entirety of Free Bird).

Regular readers have probably figured out by now that I'm not a console gamer1 (the most recent console we own is PSI), but this game could convince me to buy a whole new console and two guitar controllers just so I can play it more2. It really is that much fun.

In summary, if you've always wanted to play the guitar, but have been too lazy to actually learn how to do it, then this game is for you.

1 I prefer PC games (Civ IV!) and, more recently, German-style board games.
2 And I probably would have already bought it if it came loaded with Pink Floyd or Roger Waters songs.

Stracciatella (Italian egg and cheese soup)

Now that it's winter (the highs are down to the 60's or 70's!), my SO and I have started craving soups. While we're often happy to make soups that take hours to simmer, we sometimes just want a soup on the spur of the moment; that's where soups like this come in. This soup tastes exactly like what it's made of: chicken stock, eggs, garlic, and cheese; it's delicious. Since this was so good, and so quick to make (less than 10 minutes, including grinding breadcrumbs and grating cheese), it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

3 cups chicken stock
1 large egg
1 small clove garlic, finely minced or pressed with a garlic press
2 tablespoons finely grated pecorino romano cheese (or parmesan)
1/2 teaspoon dry parsley (or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley)
1 tablespoon dry breadcrumbs
ground nutmeg, to taste

1. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a smallish pot.
2. Meanwhile, mix the egg, garlic, cheese, parsley, and breadcrumbs together in a small bowl or cup.
3. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the stock while stirring quickly.
4. Continue simmering for ~1 minute, or until the egg is set.
5. Ladle into bowls, and sprinkle with a bit of nutmeg, if desired.


This recipe makes enough for about 2 bowls of soup; scale the recipe accordingly. Use good quality chicken stock, as this soup relies on the stock for much of its flavor. The original recipe calls for fresh parsley; we used dried parsley because our parsley plant died recently.

Radagast despises nutmeg, and thus didn't add any to his soup; it was just fine without it. Radagast's SO, however, enjoyed it with the nutmeg.

This recipe is based on one from Rombauer et al. (1997).

Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Jeffrey Hamelman: god of bakers

OK, I don't believe in gods. But if I did, Jeffrey Hamelman would be one. Why? For the simple reason that his book (Hamelman 2004) taught me how to make this:


That is a loaf of homemade ciabatta, a type of bread I've been wanting to make for many years now. I've tried making artisan-style bread before, but it just never turned out. Then a friend loaned me Hamelman's book, and everything changed.

Hamelman's book is a reference tome full of information and recipes related to baking bread. While it's aimed at the professional baker (all the recipes have instructors for making dozens of loaves, and Hamelman is the bakery director of King Arthur Flour), he includes sufficient notes (and scaled-down recipes) for the home baker.

The first three chapters are actually completely devoid of recipes. The first chapter (nearly 30 pages) provides detailed instructions for performing every step of making bread, including discussions of the chemistry and biology that's going on during each step of the process. For instance, this is the first book I've seen that discusses what happens chemically as the bread is baking in the oven. Immediately after the bread is put into the oven, the yeast continue fermenting until they die (at ~140F), and the CO2 that's been stored as bicarbonate in the aqueous portion of the bread is also released into the air spaces inside the bread. Both of these processes result in gas production, which means that the bread can rise a lot in the first few minutes after it is put into the oven. However, if the bread forms a crust quickly, it won't be able to rise. Steaming the oven just after the bread has been put in helps prevent the crust from forming, and thus helps allow the bread to rise fully. Steaming also helps keep the crust cool and moist so that amylases in the flour can produce sugars, which will later caramelize and contribute to the flavor and color of the crust.

While Hamelman gets most of his science right (at least as far as I can tell), I'm obligated to point out at least one blunder: he calls yeast a plant. In fact, he says that fungi are a family of plants. While that may have been true in the 1970's, fungi are now their very own kingdom, and they're quite different from plants. In fact, fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. But Hamelman helped me make a great loaf of bread, and he gets most of his chemistry spot on, so I can forgive a mistake or two.

The second chapter (another 30 pages) discusses all the various ingredients used in bread, and the third chapter (another 30 pages) goes over all the hand techniques used in baking bread. Each technique is illustrated by pen-and-ink drawings that excellently illustrate every step; thanks to this chapter I finally know how to make an oval loaf. While all this introductory material may seem like a lot to read, it's essential, and I'm certain that without this detailed introduction to the science of bread making I couldn't have made the loaf you see pictured above.

The recipes themselves (there are more than 100 of them) are clearly written and easy to follow. The ingredients are listed in a table at the front of the recipe that includes proportions for making either dozens of loaves or only two or three. The instructions are some of the clearest I've seen in a cookbook, though they do assume that you've read the first three chapters. The recipes include everything from baguettes and ciabatta to Irish soda bread, pretzels, and bagels.

So, in short, if you want to make good, artisan-style bread, but haven't been able to, this book may be the very thing you need.

The loaf pictured above is based on Hamelman's ciabatta recipe (page 107-108); it involved a 16 hour poolish fermentation, followed by nearly 4 and a half hours of rising. This was the very first loaf I made from Hamelman's book.


Hamelman, Jeffrey. 2004. Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes. Wiley, NJ. 415 pages.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Dead Sea scrolls

While flipping around the TV channels today I stopped briefly on one of our local religious stations. The person preaching was rambling on about the glory of god and how the bible was the word of god (or something like that); to help make his point that the bible was the word of god, he introduced the Dead Sea scrolls. He said that they were 3,000 years old and that scholars had found that they were identical to the modern day bible. In fact, he said, "Every dot over every 'i', every cross of the 't', every comma, and every period is in the exact same place as in the bible in your hand" (quote paraphrased).

There are a few problems with this preacher's statements. The easiest mistake to point out is that he got the date wrong (the scrolls are about 2,000 years old, not 3,000). However, the Dead Sea scrolls are written mostly in Biblical Hebrew (some are in Aramaic). The writing of the Dead Sea scrolls has no vowels. The writing of the Dead Sea scrolls also lacks commas and periods.