Random Happenings

Random notes and pics about events in the life of a not-your-typical Computer Science grad student. (Yes I am a nerd, but I don't live and breathe the SciFi channel, well maybe Stargate SG-1...)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Favorite quote from lecture

Today I attended weekly computer science graduate seminar where different professors (from both A&M and abroad) stand up and talk to a crowd of nerdy graduate students about their work. Today's lecture was from the famous Dr. Bjarne Stroustrup, the inventor of C++ and a professor here in the department. Above is a picture of my notes from the lecture. (Mom, I was paying attention --- the doodling was when we were waiting for the IT guys to setup the projector right, I promise.)

I've heard various forms of the lecture before, so I didn't write much down. I did, however, write down my favorite quote --- Dr. Stroustrup usually throws out a few good ones in an hour talk. It is his response to why not handling macros is a limitation in his work. (Macros are little, ugly, sneaky bits of code that do nothing but puff up the programmer's ego and introduce hair-pulling bugs.) "Because people really love macros. They love macros the way addicts love their drugs." He got a pretty good laugh from the audience for that one.

100 mile journey begins with a single step

A 100 mile journey begins with a single step ... and it helps to bring a dog along with you for company.

This morning, Audrey (my dog) and I completed our very first Nike+ challenge: 100 miles in 100 days! We started in December to motivate us to exercise through the yummy holiday season. I didn't think we would finish it so quickly! Audrey, my faithful running companion, has been with me through wind, rain, and cold every mile along the way. It is definitely easier running with her than running alone, for which I am grateful.

Here is a snapshot of proof that we completed the challenge. We actually came in 6th, not bad for novice Nike+ runners. What's next? I wanted a more long-term goal, so I signed up to run 500 miles in 2007. It sounds like a lot, but I think we have a real shot. And, they don't call it a challenge for nothing! So Audrey, rest up, we've got some pavement to cover.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Lead for bread anyone?

It may look beautiful and rustic, but don't be fooled. Don't be tempted. This lovely little loaf is as heavy as a ton of bricks! It made a resounding thud as I heaved it into the trash can, but I'll get to that in a bit.

This weekend, after a stellar biscuit campaign, I decided to embark on a new journey into the land of yeast. I mistakenly thought that I had finally found the inner baker inside. Armed with my baking guide, I attempted to make some whole wheat sourdough bread.

Everything seemed to be going really well. I had even cultivated my own wild yeast out of thin air in a nice, bubbly sourdough starter. After several days, the starter looked ready with plenty of yeast to make the bread light and airy.

I commenced baking. I first carefully measured out all the ingredients, even to the gram, on my kitchen digital scale. Nerdy yes, but I wasn't taking any chances. I mixed up the dough. It looked unusually wet, not at all like what the recipe described or what I had seen on TV. "Hmmm, that's strange..." I thought. I let the batter rest and hoped for the best.

I returned in half an hour and peered nervously under the kitchen towel where the dough was resting. How would it look? Would it still be too wet? Much to my dismay, it was still a big mass of goo. Well, I wasn't sure what to do at that point, so I just pressed forward. I began kneading the dough/batter in my stand mixer with the dough hook attachment.

After about 15 minutes of stirring, I was getting nowhere. Nathan suggested that I try adding a bit more flour. I added another cup worth. No change. Then another cup. The batter was just beginning to thicken up. Then another cup. I kept adding and kneading until it resembled a dough. I'm not sure exactly how much flour I ended up adding --- I gave up counting after a while. Suffice it to say that it was much much more than the recipe called for. (I should have taken the hint there that it was not recoverable.) Incidentally, the stand mixer started getting really hot, overwhelmed with the dough, so I had to knead most of it by hand. My arms sure got a workout!

I reasoned that I should at least see if it would rise. If it did, then maybe things were okay. It actually doubled in volume in about an hour and a half. "Okay, that's progress." I then proceeded to shape the dough, let it rise again, slash the top, and bake. There was no turning back now!

After 40 minutes in the toasty oven, the house started smelling of warm, fresh bread. It smelled really good. I pulled it out of the oven. The crust looked great! I patiently waited for it to cool before cutting into it. "This actually might work out!" I thought.

Nathan and I both sampled a piece of the bread at the same time. He kind of looked at me, not sure what to say, reading my reaction. I confessed, "Wow, that's pretty terrible. It's really really dense." He let out a sigh of relief that I felt the same as him. "Yeah, not exactly the best." "Well, I could make bread crumbs out of it..." I offered. "Yeah..." Nathan replied.

Later that evening, I walked by the kitchen. The loaf of bread was still sitting there on the cooling rack where we left it staring at me. I put it out of it's misery (and mine) and threw it away in the trash. It may be a little wasteful, but I at least spared us from the torture of having to eat it later reinvented as stale, dry bread crumbs. Oh well. I haven't given up, though. I plan to try again next weekend, but with a different recipe!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Biscuit hat trick

Last night I successfully completed a biscuit hat trick. For Christmas, I got Alton Brown's ultimate baking guide: I'm Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking. (Alton Brown is the host of one of my favorite cooking shows, Good Eats.) I'm not the greatest baker (I like to blame it on an oven that's as old as I am ... but I know that's just an excuse), so I was really excited to get this cookbook/baking manual for Christmas.

It has a separate section on each baking method: the Muffin Method, the Biscuit Method, Creaming, the Straight Dough Method, etc. I decided last week to try out the biscuit method first; it seemed harmless enough. I have a tendency to be a yeast killer, and biscuits (thankfully for the yeast) don't have any!

My first attempt was a plain old biscuits, a real Southern standby. It was pretty sticky business, I got flour everywhere (including on my dog who was diligently keeping the floor clean of any stray biscuit batter drops), but I had a lot of fun. The biscuits came out pretty good, although they were slightly on the small side. Okay, honestly, I used the wrong size biscuit cutter and they turned out to be just larger than quarters. But they tasted good (especially toasted with a dollop of strawberry preserves on top), which is what matters.

Embolded by the success, I decided to try another biscuit method recipe: wheat crackers. Wheat crackers?!? Last time I checked, they were not a whole lot like fluffy biscuits, but the baking manual assured me that they indeed were. Think biscuits without all the leavening power. Okay, I'll give it a shot. To my surprise, they actually turned out alright. I put the first batch in the oven a little too long (didn't hear the timer go off) but they were still pretty good. I don't think Wheat Thins has anything to worry about for awhile, but they were fun to make and eat. (In fact, most of them are already gone.)

Last night I completed the biscuit hat trick with a blackberry grunt --- kind of like a cobbler to you Southern raised folk. Wow, it was really really tasty. Tart and not too sweet. Definitely the favorite of the three.

So maybe there is a little baker inside of me somewhere after all... Only time will tell.