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“It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a guru.” - Various

Lionel's Epic Whole Wheat Loaf

Posted by Dirtysouthafrican, 2010-02-12 08:47:47 [1 comment]

My friend James got me into the whole-wheat bread craze a few years back, though I wasn't terribly impressed with the results. I was adding milk, honey, gluten and all sorts of things to my bread without an understanding of what was going on. After rediscovering a forgotten 10-kg bag of flour in our pantry ("if a thing is worth doing", they say), I decided to put it to use, and stumbled across the "no-knead bread" in Mark Bittman's book (credited to Sullivan Street Bakery) and with the help of some added gluten I was able to turn this white bread recipe into a palatable whole-wheat-only creation. I knew there was hope. At Kelley's request I started reading Peter Reinhart's "Whole Grain Breads", and made my way through the first two chapters which dealt with the science behind dough. When it became time to try one of the recipes, I found myself with a paradox of choice, and decided to wing it instead.

results my vary :)
results my vary :)

The unifying theme behind these recipes is to let the enzymes present in the dough do their job and essentially digest the dough for us ("mmm...", I hear you say), allowing the gluten proteins to give strength and elasticity to the dough, eliminating the need for extensive kneading, and availing the sugars to be consumed by the you and your yeast. We also want to let the yeast grow slowly to develop more complex flavours (ok, this part is voodoo to me), but the yeast's activity tends to interfere with the gluten. The solution is to keep the two separate.

Ingredients like dairy, oil, nuts, or honey could certainly find their place in this bread, but I present a minimalist version here. Note: this recipe is currently in beta testing


Pro-tip: I have a pitcher full of tap water sitting around which I use for baking. As long as it's been sitting for some time, most of the chlorine will have come out of solution, making it suitable for baking/serving to guests and pretending it's alpine.

Start this recipe the day before. We'll do the yeast-less part first, to avoid cross-contamination.


This will contain the bulk of our flour and allow the enzymes to go to work.

3 cups ww flour

2 tsp salt

1⅛ cups water

Extra virgin olive oil for coating (optional)

¼ cup brown sugar (entirely optional)

2 tbsp black strap molasses (entirely optional)

In a medium sized mixing bowl, mix dry, then add wet, and stir with a spoon. Adding water if necessary, work the dough with your hands until you end up with a tacky ball that is just sticky enough to be a nuisance.


Drizzle and rub a some (extra virgin) olive oil over it and place it in the bowl, covering the bowl with lid or plastic wrap.


This will hold some (but not all) of our yeast.

1 cup ww flour

½ tsp active dry yeast

½ cup water

Repeat the same procedure as with the soaker, keeping in mind that the biga will me much wetter.


Set the bowls aside for about 12-18 hours (very flexible - 24 hours if you're feeling lucky) at around 23 C or 73 F. You might need to experiment if your house is significantly warmer/cooler. The biga will have turned into a bubbly goo, and the soaker might have darkened. Move the oven rack to a middle position, and turn on the oven lamp (I only have experience with electric ovens) for some warmth.

Mixing and bulk ferment

At this stage, you will need:

¼ cup of flour

2 tsps of active dry yeast

We now need to combine the two doughs. Mix the yeast together with ¼ cup of flour and keep extra flour handy for dusting. In a large bowl, make layers of small bits of soaker and biga, sprinkled with the yeast and flour. (Another method calls for dropping bits of soaker and biga into the flour which will prevent them from sticking, and then kneading them together. I have not tried this. Whatever the means, the goal is to homogenize the mixture and add more yeast.). Knead the lot together and dust with remaining flour if necessary, until the dough no longer sticks to anything but itself. Continue kneading, folding about 10 to 15 times, which improves the uniformity of the final loaf. The dough should be fairly pliable and kneading should not be too effortful.

Place the dough in the large bowl in the oven, covered with a wet tea towel, and allow to rise for about 30-45 minutes (it should slightly more than double), or longer.

Shaping and proofing

Remove bowl from oven. In the summer, pre-heat the oven to 450 F, since the dough will rise rather quickly. Punch dough down to de-gas. Using a circular motion as shown in the video below, shape the dough into an ball (called a boule), creating surface tension on the top that will help the loaf rise properly.

Then elongate the boule, still paying attention to surface tension, so that it becomes roughly the length of the loaf pan (I will try to make a video of this in the future). While the recipe itself is very forgiving, surface tension is the key to a good rise.

Place dough in a non-stick loaf pan or greased loaf pan (I sometimes sprinkle flour over the oil to prevent sticking). Place pan somewhere warm and undisturbed to rise. In the summer, I just put it on the countertop or the microwave. In the winter, I let it rise in the oven with the oven lamp on. Also, since it's generally drier in the winter, I coat the loaf with some oil before letting it rise. After about 30-45 minutes your dough should have risen significantly. Take care not to over-proof. It should indent and recover slowly but not collapse when poked. Here is a guideline:

not ready for the oven
not ready for the oven

ready for the oven
ready for the oven


If you are rising in the oven, remove the loaf and pre-heat the oven to 450F. I have found timing to be the trickiest part. In the summer, that means getting my oven to 450 F by before the dough has proofed. If the dough starts to creep out of the pan, it's time for the oven, ready or not! In the winter this isn't as much of an issue.


Gently place pan in the oven and turn down to 350 F. Bake for about 50-60 minutes or until golden. The high initial heat will help your loaf rise as CO2 and steam bubbles expand. (The lower temperature will allow the loaf to cook completely on the inside without burning the crust, since an undercooked loaf has a tendency to shrink and collapse.) Remove from oven and turn bread out onto a cooling rack. Allow to sit for half an hour or more to cool, otherwise moisture will escape as steam. Enjoy!


Since the bread has almost nothing in the way of preservatives in it, it won't keep as long as store-bought bread. I wrap it in a specially-assigned tea-towel or put it in a plastic bag and keep it on the counter, where it lasts for about 3 days (in theory). Adding 2 tbsp of olive-oil during the mixing stage will allow the bread to keep longer. Half a tablet of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), around 200 IU, ground up and added to the soaker mix will protect gluten from degradation and aid in preservation without altering taste, but I don't generally do this when my flour is fresh. Commercial flour already has ascorbic acid added but this too degrades with time. None of these additions are required for a successful loaf.

If you have problems with blow-out (you'll know it when you see it), you can gently slice into the dough along the long edges of the rim of the pan prior to baking.

Feel free to email me with questions! logo Digg logo reddit logo google logo Yahoo logo technorati logo

The boy speaks!

Posted by Dirtysouthafrican, 2009-07-10 21:49:41 [0 comments]

This started today... logo Digg logo reddit logo google logo Yahoo logo technorati logo

Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 II APO EX DG MACRO Mini Review

Posted by Dirtysouthafrican, 2009-07-09 10:56:12 [1 comment]
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8

I purchased the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens to compliment my everyday Tamron 17-70 f/2.8. I'm generally very happy with the lens as it has a very speedy auto-focus motor (HSM is marketing-speak for "hypersonic motor", the equivalent to Nikon's "silent wave" or AF-S). This is a very sexy lens, sporting Sigma's signature black "zen finish". My friend James likens looking down the barrel to staring into the eye of a buffalo.

Kelley always looks dashing when she wakes up
Kelley always looks dashing when she wakes up

It also comes with a reassuring padded carrying case. I am however a bit disappointed with its wide-open performance. Specifically, there is a noticeable loss of contrast below f/4. Since I can't afford the optically superior Nikon 80-200 AF-S or 70-200 VR lenses, and the older Nikon 80-200 AF-D lens is driven mechanically by the camera body (glacial, as I understand), I find myself up the proverbial creek. For comparison, here are two shots, one taken at f/8.0 and one at f/2.8, resized to 50%, and cropped for convenience. The original image is 4288x2848 and rather boring.

Comparison between f/8 and f/2.8
Comparison between f/8 and f/2.8

Besides depth-of-field control, reasons to use the lens at around f/2.8 obviously include moving subjects under low-light conditions, as well as low-light conditions where a tripod isn't being used. While respectably light-weight compared to serious telephoto lenses, using this lens without some sort of support is a joke - one that I must nevertheless endure. At 200mm, every movement of my body is amplified to the point that I feel like a piece of Jell-o going through withdrawal. Stopping down to a smaller aperture gives a clearer image, but necessitates a longer exposure, at which point shaking becomes an issue. This is not a deficiency of the lens in any way, of course, but I do have a lot of respect for vibration reduction or image stabilization mechanisms. This lens retails for about $1200 CDN (although I paid $900 CDN for it across the border), whereas Nikon's 70-200 VR lens costs almost a grand more. For now, respect will be the closest I'll be getting to VR. On the other hand, I have found some measure of success supporting the lens with my left-hand holding the tripod collar set to the 9 o'clock position, and since the D90's high-ISO performance exceeds that of the D300, I have some room within which to cheat. And then there's Photoshop:

Comparison between f/8 and f/2.8, after sharpening
Comparison between f/8 and f/2.8, after sharpening

A little sharpening goes a long way. There are some pixelation artefacts which might be ameliorated by working in RAW, and hijinks of this sort will be more noticeable in less organic circumstances, but it works, especially considering that the crop represents 5% of the original image area. In conclusion, this lens has some limitations that would be deal-breakers to people who earn their living through photography, but performs admirably otherwise. logo Digg logo reddit logo google logo Yahoo logo technorati logo

Getting up

Posted by Dirtysouthafrican, 2009-07-05 17:47:26 [0 comments]

Here's a shameless post just for the grandparents. Nikolas has figured out how to pull himself into standing position, albeit not very consistently, and with some good old-fashioned coaching. The video is a bit dark since I have to figure out how to expose properly in the D90's video mode. That, and I keep forgetting how to encode Ogg Theora. logo Digg logo reddit logo google logo Yahoo logo technorati logo

Nikolas playing with glass dish.

Posted by Dirtysouthafrican, 2009-06-22 09:42:49 [0 comments]

And an opportunity to test the new video tag.

Also, time with mum: logo Digg logo reddit logo google logo Yahoo logo technorati logo

Beef run

Posted by Dirtysouthafrican, 2009-06-20 10:47:58 [0 comments]

Kelley and I took our semiannual trip to North Vancouver to pick up some grass-fed organic beef from Ethical Kitchen, which is both a restaurant serving mostly local, organic food and a warehouse that supplies grass-fed meats from the family farm, Pasture-to-Plate. The restaurant was pretty much in the gestatory stage during my last visit, and now serves up a relaxed atmosphere along with old fashioned home cooking. Nikolas was poked and prodded by the owner's six-month-old daughter, Tessa, who seemed much more socially outgoing than he, but this cute encounter came to an end when he decided to see if her wavy locks were attached, and made her cry. If only we didn't live in the middle of nowhere (UBC), we would probably visit more often. I just hope I can figure out how to roast all the brisket I bought. logo Digg logo reddit logo google logo Yahoo logo technorati logo

Sugar equivalents

Posted by Dirtysouthafrican, 2009-05-04 12:15:54 [0 comments] gives a visual reminder of just exactly how much sugar makes up much of what people call food these days. While the iconic Coca-Cola (pictured below) lives up to it's reputation, it's sugar content is dwarfed by the Slurpee-variety drinks, if you consider that, regardless of serving size, a lot of these drinks are meant to be consumed in a single sitting. If you don't believe me, visit your local 7-11 during recess and watch it get swarmed by the "target demographic". The site also documents breakfast foods, condiments and the more humble fruits and vegetables. The sweetened yogurt was a real eye-opener for me (out of 170 calories, 108 are from sugar), and I think I will cut back on the amount of raisins I add to my oat bran.

The iconic Coca-Cola
The iconic Coca-Cola

Previously: What does 200 calories cost?, What 200 calories look like logo Digg logo reddit logo google logo Yahoo logo technorati logo

Electronic paper

Posted by Dirtysouthafrican, 2008-09-24 10:39:13 [0 comments]

I read a lot of text electronically. One of my main criteria in choosing a desktop display has always been easy reading of text, weight and screen size be damned. But the human body was only designed to sit in a chair for so long, so inevitably comes the time to kill some trees. I've been watching "electronic paper" closely for some time now, and I have fallen in love with the promise of truly epic battery life. Up to now, however, the resolution of these devices has been rather low -- enough to read a novel by, but not, say, your average scientific paper or any body of text that hasn't been specifically formatted for these screens. Enter  the iRex dr1000:

dr1000s tablet model
dr1000s tablet model

A display resolution of 1024x1280 pixels at 158 ppi makes this device well capable of displaying most of the documents I read on a day-to-day basis. (Your average LCD runs between 72 and 96 ppi) The dr1000s version comes with a Wacom-like stylus that can be used for taking notes. Most e-readers have their battery life quoted in number of pages (usually between 5,000 and 10,000), since the display retains its image without power. The dr1000 series boasts a 24h battery life, which, ostensibly, refers to the amount of time the device can remain interactive. This still puts anything but the most shrewd notebook to shame. Finally, synching the dr1000sw model with your desktop or notebook takes place via a WiFi or Bluetooth connection, a lovely touch.

The new kid on the block, the dr1000s goes for $749 US, with the stylus-free model soon to follow at $649. Based on the hardware specs, there's nothing particularly magical about the device, excluding the tablet, so I suspect competition and volume to drive the price down to the "dirty cheap" level we all like. logo Digg logo reddit logo google logo Yahoo logo technorati logo

Triathlon update

Posted by Dirtysouthafrican, 2008-07-12 12:07:44 [0 comments]

Well, I almost did it. After doing some open water tests and a 1000m stretch in the pool, I was ready* for the triathlon this Sunday. I planned to do one final big bike+run combo on Wednesday before the big day, which was cut short by what can only be described as my own foolishness. Not being used to "working" hardware, I hit the front break on my new aluminum bike, which, combined with my elevated center of gravity, should properly be called the "somersault button". I hit the asphalt head first, followed by my elbow. The helmet did its job, and when I came to a standstill, a crowd of astonished onlookers brought my various bits and pieces to me. Thinking that I was in better shape than I was, I opted to walk home, where I asked a frightened Kelley to help me remove my shirt and clean my road rash before getting checked out at the hospital. Bending over sent my back into a painful spasm and my normally enviable blood pressure into the pits. Kelley managed to get an ambulance at our front door within 5 minutes while I was sweating like a faucet, all the while watching my vision fade away. After a short list of questions I was on my way to VGH, as the campus hospital was not equipped for trauma. I never knew 10th avenue had so many potholes. A battery of seven X-rays showed that my spine was ok, but that I had a fractured elbow. Unfortunately a band-aid wasn't an option.

After a two-and-a-half day stay in the orthopaedic ward with my loving Kelley by my side, and several nurses who deserve just as much praise, I had finally climbed to number one on the O.R.'s to-do list, and my elbow became the permanent new home to two stainless steel pins and some wire. The operation (my first) was done under an arm block, which meant that I got to stay awake for all the drilling and hammering, and especially the smart-ass remarks of my Irish anesthesiologist, who resembles Robin Williams in more way than one (the good ways, I should say). This was roughly at 10am, and 4 Tylenols, 2 Tylenol #3s, and a strangely welcome lunch of "mac and cheese product" later, Kelley and I took the express bus home around 3 o'clock.

While sensation returned within minutes of the operation, I only felt the full brunt of my elbow's revenge around 11pm. Two more #3s (which I was arrogant enough to take two hours apart) and two ibuprofens did little to numb the pain, which can be described as the worst tooth-ache of your life — if your tooth were the size of your arm. I already had almost 3 grams of acetaminophen in my system, and god knows what else, so I thought I'd give my virgin liver a break. The pain subsided and I managed to get a decent amount of sleep. As we had recently moved in, our mattress is still on the floor, and neither Kelley nor I am in any condition to assemble our bed frame. Hopefully my back will shape up by the time our box spring arrives.

* Roughly half of the comments I got from nurses were about my "athletic" heart rate of 45bpm, which I'm proud of. The other half were about the accident, which I'm not so proud of.

This might all sound very dramatic, but if I hadn't been wearing my helmet, I would instead be looking forward to learning how to walk... or talk. logo Digg logo reddit logo google logo Yahoo logo technorati logo


Posted by Dirtysouthafrican, 2008-06-06 09:42:02 [0 comments]

Last Monday a good friend of mine somehow managed to talk me into taking part in an upcoming sprint triathlon. The only competitive swimming and running I've ever done was back in elementary school, so my goal is only to finish without drowning. I've been jogging for some time now, so the 5 km run doesn't worry me nearly as much as the 500m swim in frigid water. Oh, and the 22 km bike route that is "scenic yet challenging". logo Digg logo reddit logo google logo Yahoo logo technorati logo

In the sky of my head...

Posted by Dirtysouthafrican, 2008-06-06 09:30:29 [0 comments]

I dreamt that I was harvesting maternity carrots to use as fortification against a charging T-Rex. I consider this a welcome reprieve from all the bathroom stalls that don't seem to lock. Of course, these are only the dreams that I remember. Sigh. logo Digg logo reddit logo google logo Yahoo logo technorati logo

Human in the making

Posted by Dirtysouthafrican, 2008-05-23 13:27:18 [1 comment]

In case you haven't heard, Kelley and I are expecting a bouncing bundle of joy. I present to you, Mr. Brits jr.

A Brits in the making (click for more)
A Brits in the making (click for more) logo Digg logo reddit logo google logo Yahoo logo technorati logo
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