Saturday, January 21, 2012


I made bread today.  I used a rye bread recipe I got from a colleague who introduced me to his homemade rye bread made from sourdough starter.  The ingredients are a mixture of white and wheat flour, rye flour, caraway seeds and some salt.  Pretty simple, actually.  I think the caraway seeds are the most important ingredient, as they give the bread its distinctive flavor.

This bread came out better and more "airy" than any of my previous attempts. In the past, working with sourdough, I used less "starter" and did not ever try to "knead" the bread much.  So my breads tended to be dense the point where they were chewy and tough to eat.

This time, however, following my colleague's instructions, I got better results.  As you can see, there is still room for improvement.  The bread "blew out" on the left side.

I think there was too much moisture in the dough.  Though I baked the bread for 45 minutes - 15 min. longer than the recommended time in the recipe - the bread is still soft and kind of "mushy" on the bottom, while being crisp on top.  Mike says that when the bread "blows out" like it did here, it means I probably should have kneaded it more.

So next time, I have to knead the dough more prior to baking.  I watched a you tube video on how to knead bread.  Of course, I do this AFTER failure at baking.  That's typical of me.  Whatever "kneading" I did was not the recommended length.  The video says to knead for 8 minutes.  I would not have thought to do it that long.  I also did not do the "press test" as shown in the video.  Next time...

Oh, yes: how I like to eat sourdough rye bread.  My current favorite snack with this bread is to slice it, toast it for a little bit, then add mayonnaise (NOT Mirace Whip) and, on top, my home made sauerkraut and olive oil.  It's a yummy feast.  Goes great with a little white wine.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Biking in Oakland

Yesterday after work I biked 6 miles from my office near downtown to Darin's house on Davenport Ave. in East Oakland / Laurel for a meeting of some of the City Slicker Farms board of directors.  I decided to bike because I needed the workout to get my muscles ready for this weekend's bike tour through the lower Sierras east of Merced.  I will report on the experience and the condition of Oakland's "bikeways."

Riding up Grand Ave. along Lake Merritt was a safe experience.  I passed a lot of cars in the rush-hour traffic.  Occasionally I had to weave around parked vehicles or cars blocking the bike lane, and once I almost ran into a pedestrian who was not looking and just about stepped into my path (illegally, I had a green light) at the crosswalk near the Veteran's Center.  But generally, it was clear sailing and I got onto MacArthur Blvd. to climb over the hill above Lakeshore Ave..  This is one of my least favorite climbs in Oakland, though it is on a bike lane, thankfully.  The hill is deceptively long and, when there is traffic, you are sucking exhaust fumes most of the way. (the freeway runs parallel, so the air is never particularly good.)  For a scary report on breathing in fumes from cars, read this.  I dispute the finding of the author that biking in cities is bad for you.  

In any case, from the end of that segment I switched (via Park Ave.) to Excelsior, continuing East on the route I normally take on Saturdays to the Altenheim where I teach German class in the morning.  Excelsior leads back onto MacArthur, in the Dimond District.  This segment (near Fruitvale Ave.) tends to be congested and, again, there is a bike lane, which adds safety.  However, invariably motorists in this part of town will "occupy" the bike lane because they don't realize it gets used much (though I did pass two other bicyclists on this stretch - a good omen.)  This happened yesterday, as well, though I was able to avoid collisions with motorists.  A friend of mine was hit by a car on this stretch last year, (I was right behind her, we were traveling at slow speed.)  So I was alert and careful.  The pavement became noticeably more choppy on this section.  MacArthur east of Fruitvale appears to mainly be laid in concrete, which results in fewer potholes but more "ridge bumps" where the concrete sections have shifted over time.

Google bike directions then sent me left / north on 35th up a little ways to California, where I wove eastward via side streets Bayo, Vale and Tompkins.  This section has the worst pavement of the entire route.  I suspect that our new mayor may be trying to get some of these streets in the 4th district paved soon (worst was California St. and Bayo).  Riding after dark, even with a light on the front of the bike, the major danger to a bicyclist here is crashing and damaging the bike (and body) in one of the many potholes, which are sadly, becoming ever more common in the city.  However, I will give credit to Mayor Quan: under her mayorship, I have seen more streets in need of replacement being repaved than in the last 5 years combined - especially in the Temescal district.

After some huffing and puffing, I arrived, sweaty and hot, at my destination.  My host was gracious to fetch me a glass of water so I could cool off while listening to our teleconference call for the next 30 minutes!

Overall, Oakland has made progress in recent years striping more bike lanes, which makes biking safer by putting us in harm's way less frequently (even though there is no physical separation between cars and bikes here, as exists in European cities I have biked.)  This has been accomplished despite an incredibly challenging fiscal environment in the city.  Just google City of Oakland and you can read about the sad state of our City's budget.  I give a lot of credit for this to the two Oakland "Bicycle and Pedestrian Program" managers, Jason Patton and Jennifer Stanley.  They are examples of how our much-maligned City employees can be worth multiple times their salary, when they are doing their work for the public good.  However, it is impossible to overlook the fact that, even in some instances where streets are getting new bike lanes (including most recently Webster St. downtown, near my office), the pavement is still in pretty bad shape.  I have had conversations with Jason and Jennifer about this.  Their approach they told me they use is to try to schedule bike lane stripings for after pavement improvements, but because of funding shorfalls, pavement improvements sometimes are not scheduled for decades on a particular street, so they will in those cases stripe it anyways.

So there you have it.  Biking in Oakland is still an adventure, but with our wonderful weather and improving conditions, becoming more and more commonplace.