A blog experiment by Brad Mills.


Marked down bread

Once in awhile, something will catch my eye at a store, and while it looks intriguing, the price just isn't there for me. But I'll remember where and when I saw the item, as well as its price, and check back occasionally to see if there's been any change. On Tuesday night, one of the things I've been eyeballing hit an attractive price point. So after months of looking at it, poking it, and passing it by... I finally bought it: A loaf of Tuscan bread from the Kroger deli.

Tuscan bread How could I not? It was marked down to half price ($1.49) because it was expiring. I figured if we ate most of it over the next few days before it spoiled, we'll have gotten our money's worth. As of tonight it's half gone, there are no signs of spoilage, and let me tell you right now — it's a damn fine loaf of bread.

I hate buying bread. My eye drifts to the list of ingredients half a mile long, chemicals, coloring agents, and so forth... and I always think of how bread is an ancient food, and thus, likely to taste better without all that crap added to it. And it does. I've found I can make a one-pound loaf of bread for less than 60 cents, so not only can I make bread at home which tastes better, it costs less than what you'll get at the store. I make it in a bread machine because I'm lazy — and yes, the cost I have listed includes the electricity too. Here's the recipe I usually use, which I've done so many times I have it memorized.

  • 2 teaspoons of yeast
  • 1½ cups of white flour (unbleached)
  • ½ cup of whole wheat floar
  • 1 teaspoon wheat gluten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon wheat germ
  • ¾ cup water

Just throw everything into your bread machine (the order depends on your machine, so check your manual), set it for a light crust, and rock and roll. Your house will smell wonderful for hours afterwards, and you'll have a nice loaf of basic bread with no artificial junk in it.

Sometimes I'll get creative and tweak the ingredients a bit. Most sugars are interchangeable, as are most fats. So, for instance, you could substitute maple syrup for the sugar or olive oil for the butter and still have something pretty edible, though you may have to experiment to get the correct amounts, and the flavor may be a little different. The flours can be mixed in different proportions as long as it comes to about two cups, though wheat flour makes for a stiffer bread and a harder knead, so make sure your machine can handle it. Salt regulates how much the yeast rises — using less of it will make a fluffier bread, and more sugar will usually make the yeast more active as well.

Fresh yeast is probably the most important ingredient. Without it your loaf will resemble a paperweight. I buy mine in a jar and keep it in the refrigerator for months at a time with no problems. Fresh flour is important as well — I keep it in the fridge too. And generally speaking, I use the simplest ingredients I can find... unsalted butter, for example. Unbleached white flour. Whole wheat flour. Even the water is purified.

This Tuscan loaf has a nice crisscross pattern on top sprinkled with a liberal quantity of flour, and the ingredients list is short and fairly chemical-free, which is good. Tuscan bread usually contains no salt; this loaf has a small amount but it doesn't seem to have impacted the flavor. It's got the slightest tang to it, barely perceptible, a crust which is somehow crispy and chewy at the same time, and a basic essence hinting at tiny cottages in medieval European forests.

Not too bad for a buck and a half at Kroger.

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Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

You know, I really thought it was going to be different this time. I really thought you were going to do the right thing. I really thought that finally, there would be some trust here.

I don't get it. I just think things would have worked a lot better if there had been some honesty. I can understand everyone else being kept out of the loop, and in fact, being told there was an entirely different loop, or perhaps even better, not even being told there was a loop. But us? Come on. We're an integral part of it. What the hell are we going to do — tell the whole world? Like anyone else gives a damn anyway. I think we've got a little more sense than that.

But we figured it out anyway, just like before, so I'm not sure what was accomplished by the whole smoke and mirrors act. Did you really think we wouldn't? Wasn't it completely obvious anyway, this great open secret?

I already have an idea how this is going to finish. No one wins, no one loses. As is so often the case, it's going to come down to money, and how much it takes to sweep it all under the rug and make it disappear forever. Then this ongoing circus can finally fold up its tents and move on to the next town, and everyone's lives can go back to normal.

Except mine. For I know the truth, I know you can't be trusted, and I know to watch my back.

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Pragmatic politics

I've recently popped up on 304blogs (thanks, Oncee) and have been perusing some of the area bloggers' offerings. I'll not name names here, but here's a small smattering of what I've seen recently:

  • A good bit of Michael Jackson, which is to be expected — a rising tide lifts all boats, after all.
  • Some "here's what's going on in my life" stuff.
  • Lots of politics — local, national, and international.

I enjoy reading political posts. Actually, I enjoy reading all sorts of stuff. But I think what I like most about political posts is the discussion which inevitably follows. Most of the time it takes the form of either preaching to the converted or trying to convert the infidels.

My political views are not of the "us versus them" variety. I believe that's a waste of time for the most part — it is exceedingly difficult to persuade someone to the other side of the fence, as all true change comes from within. I also believe the current body politic spends much of its time fostering an "us versus them" mentality among the governed in an effort to keep the governed occupied. It's a lot easier to move forward with an agenda when no one is paying attention.

Creating a dichotomy is an easy way to achieve this, as humanity is hard-wired to resonate with an "us versus them" environment. We are, after all, animals — very clever and relatively intelligent animals, but animals nonetheless — and as such, parts of our brains older than humanity will respond to threats to the pack. It's a natural survival instinct. And they don't even have to be true threats — perceived ones will suffice. So, manufacture threats, communicate them on a mass scale (even easier in this modern digital era), and let the infighting commence. Simple.

Meanwhile, I have to wonder what's going on behind the scenes. Politics is, of course, the fine art of saying just enough. All politicians who have any sizable influence are loaded with money, and people who are loaded with money do whatever they can to maintain that status. It's probably a safe assumption that's a part of it. And yes, I realize the irony of this being an "us versus them" mentality on an entirely different level, but hey.

Overall, I think we're better off acting on a local level to bring about change instead of debating amongst ourselves about what this one said or that one did and what they really meant. Especially when, in reality, we'll probably never know the whole truth. I challenge you to find me one politician who got into a position of power through honesty, forthrightness, and valor instead of deception, ambiguity, and dishonor — not to mention stepping on others while climbing the political ladder.

I'll admit to leaning left of center as it's currently defined. I once took a test which defined me as a libertarian. The left movement and libertarianism have only been around for 160 years, though (both originating in France, interestingly enough). Greed and power have been around far longer, so it could be argued that on a large scale, they are more successful political strategies. That means that, on a large scale, ordinary pragmatists like me really don't have a chance.

So, acting locally is probably the best I can do politically. Fortunately that lines up pretty well with what I already believe. Here's to success.

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When we own the news

With two days to go, it has been a week of notable deaths — four historic American icons have met their demise.

Ed McMahon First, Ed McMahon, faithful sidekick of Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show for thirty years, passed away on Tuesday. Ed hosted the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes, and Star Search when I was growing up, and was the easily-recognized face behind the American Family Publishers sweepstakes which promised, "You may already be a winner!"

Farrah Fawcett Second, Farrah Fawcett, one of Charlie's Angels, probably best known for either the best-selling poster shown here or the hairstyle she wore in it, passed away this morning after a film career which spanned three decades. She posed nude in Playboy at the age of fifty, and I don't care who you are — you've really got to admire a woman who is still proud enough of (or at least not ashamed of) her body at that age to do that.

Michael Jackson Third, the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, has died of an apparent cardiac arrest. Michael had a lengthy musical career which started when he was eleven years old as a member of the Jackson 5. He launched his solo career at the ripe old age of 13 the year I was born. And despite the ridicule, speculation, and controversy he created and tolerated in latter years of his life, he was truly loved by millions and always seemed to generate a media frenzy.

Which allows me to clumsily segue into the fourth notable death this week.

Before Michael Jackson's death was officially confirmed, the social networks were atwitter (pardon the pun) with rumors which quickly spread across the globe. Those in the know were able to get the news out through the Internet, bypassing the anchor desks and stodgy sound bites, and into the minds of the consuming public. Meanwhile, corporate media was following protocol and saying "we are unable to confirm at this time" and avoiding speculation. The news spread regardless, and by the time the facts had been sanitized, checked, double-checked, and triple-checked, the world had already put the pieces together itself and discovered the truth.

When news travels faster than can be reported through official sources, those sources are no longer official, and their relevance is called into question.

So today, hours before the death of the man who brought us the moonwalk and Thriller, the ivory towers collapsed and corporate media passed away. Sure, it will continue to exist — it is a money-making venture, after all — but beyond that, it no longer matters.

Remember where you were when you learned Michael Jackson died, but more importantly, remember where you heard the news first.

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Five arty things

Paledaddy has this up at his blog... sounds like a neat idea, so let's see how it flies here.

I am entering into the following contract with the first five people who comment on this post and then commit to do the same on their blog. Just read below and if you feel up to the task copy the following into your blog and leave me a comment.

  1. I make no guarantees that you will like what I make. Whatcha get is whatcha get.
  2. What I create will be just for you, with love.
  3. It'll be done this year (2009).
  4. I will not give you any clue what it's going to be. It will be something made in the real world and not something cyber. It may be weird or beautiful. Or it may be monstrous and annoying.
  5. I reserve the right to do something strange.
  6. In return, all you need to do is post this text on your blog and make five things for the first five to respond to your blog post.
  7. Send me your mailing address — after I contact you.

So there it is. Any takers? Make sure to submit your email address with your comment (which won't be displayed here) so I can contact you.

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A Pampered Chef evening

This entry has been purged.

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