Monday, December 30, 2013

Breadmaker and bread making

Our daughter gave us a bread maker for Xmas.  Actually, we stopped exchanging Xmas gifts almost a decade ago, so technically she did not.  What happened was that while she was visiting over Xmas I casually mentioned that I was thinking about buying one and the next day she told me that she needed to buy sneakers.  I told her where the mall is and a few hours later she came back without sneakers but with a bread maker.

Yes,  I know that she lied to me.  I let it pass and set up the machine.

The first loaf I tried should have come out very badly.  I used too much flour (didn't know to weigh rather than measure) and set the machine to the wrong program - one for a "sweet bread" rather than the whole what I was making.  In spite of that, the result was decent - a bit malformed, but decent tasting.

When I tried again a few days later, I thought the machine was broken because it did not start kneading immediately.   Needing bread (no pun intended) and being too stubborn to go to the store, I used this "no knead" recipe: .

I screwed that up because I didn't have a dough hook.  After gumming up the regular beaters, I mixed that by hand and expected disaster, but it actually turned out quite nicely.

Investigating my apparently broken bread machine, I found that I had made a mistake:  wheat recipes delay the kneading for some time - I simply hadn't been patient enough ("How unlike you!", my wife commented, snarkily but accurately.   I therefore tried again,  but in my excitement I screwed up the flour in the other direction: the recipe called for almost 20 ounces (4 and 2/3 cups) and I somehow used only a little more than 15 because I'm an idiot (there is no other reasonable reason).

Nevertheless, the bread once again turned out decently; a little more airy, but good tasting.  Apparently it's not that easy to really screw up bread!

My wife doesn't like whole wheat - she thinks it's bitter.  The "no knead" recipe mentions adding orange juice for that problem - I'll try that next time and also want to try mixing in some oat flour.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Quick and simple almond butter cookies

My wife gets invited to a neighborhood "cookie swap" every year.  She doesn't like to bake, so usually she buys cookies to bring.  This year I asked if she'd let me bake some instead.

I looked up some recipes on line, got the general idea of what might work, and came up with a simple and (for cookies) reasonably healthy recipe and ran it by her for approval.

Honestly, she was a a bit hesitant, but I made up a trial batch and although she would prefer even less sugar, I pointed out that most recipes and certainly all store bought cookies would contain far more sugar than I used - probably twice as much!

Comforted slightly by that, she agreed to let me make a full batch.

I used a full jar of organic chunky almond butter to get about 24 cookies.   There's not much to this: the hardest part is stirring the glop together and cleaning the bowl after, and although the stirring does require some strength, the cleanup is just hot water, soap and a paper towel.

1 jar chunky almond butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup egg beaters

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir well with a good sized spoon.

Bake teaspoon sized dollops (these spread!) on parchment paper at 350 degrees, middle rack, 15-17 minutes.  They come out soft, but harden up as they cool.   Quick and simple.  I had to do two batches of 12 each on my 17 x 11 inch cookie pan.

You could probably get away with even less sugar, although this is half (or less!) of the recipes I typically found on-line.   I think they are sweet enough as I made them.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bitcoin fever

Believe whatever you want to believe but know this:  

The meek will NOT inherit the earth.  Some people will make money with Bitcoins, but most will become poorer.  This is the underlying reality of wealth. 

Until all Bitcoins are mined, the maximum value Bitcoins can reach is dampened by the computing cost needed to mine them.  Speculation drives prices upward, but the cost of electricity to run your computer stays (relatively) constant.   When your cost to generate a Bitcoin is less than its value, the price stops rising.   That should be obvious to anyone who stops to think about it at all.

Right now, even for an off the shelf, consumer level computer like the iMac I am sitting at right now, a $5,000 price is break even.   That is, it costs approximately $5,000 to mine a Bitcoin with my home computer.  

Obviously more powerful equipment (and not particularly expensive equipment) drives that price even lower.    I haven't researched the capabilities and power draws of dedicated Bitcoin mining hardware, but it is a slam dunk that they are far more efficient than my iMac, so stupid speculation may have already driven the price past its maximum reasonable point.  If that's true, the crash won't be long in coming.

But what about when all the Bitcoins are mined, the proponents shout?  Nothing to stop Bitcoins from climbing to any height then, right?  Sure -and nothing to stop diamonds, gold, Apple stock and Ngwee's or the Pound  from doing the same.  Bitcoin is just like gold, diamonds, Dutch tulip bulbs, the U.S. Dollar itself and Bernie Madoff's mutual fund.    It can have value and it can lose value.  It can be stolen, manipulated and perverted.  That's reality.

Bitcoin has advantages and disadvantages - like everything else.   Some people are going to get rich with Bitcoins - but that's only a small number and millions upon millions of others will become poorer for their efforts.  

If you were lucky or prescient enough to buy or mine Bitcoins before the hype, you've made some profit. If I were you (I'm not - I thought about buying Bitcoins years ago but never did), I'd take that profit and invest it in stocks. Unlike Bitcoins, gold, diamonds and Dutch Tulips, stocks have real intrinsic value - at least while the company is still in business!

See Let’s Cut Through the Bitcoin Hype: A Hacker-Entrepreneur’s Take also.

Update:  I found Bitcoin's Mining Hardware page and can now make some better estimates of Bitcoin's maximum price.  Based on the power consumption vs. Mhash/s figures given there, there is hardware that is 100 times faster than my iMac at a power cost of 4 times or so.    That means that the price of a Bitcoin should be around $200 at most  ($5,000 / 100 * 4).     Other hardware listed there has even more impressive factors.

You can take the figures there and plug them into a calculator.   I took the figures for the most powerful and expensive machine there : a $14,500 rig capable of 7,500,000 Mhash/s at a power cost of 2,250 Watts.   Even assuming 10 cents per KWH (which few of us can get),  that rig would pay for itself in 90 days AT A BITCOIN PRICE OF JUST $35.00!

If I let the calculator extend this for 8 years, scaling for expected difficulty over time, that falls to about $7.00.  

If you think that Bitcoin can trade at $1,000 when anyone with $15,000 to spare can generate them for $35.00 or less, you are an idiot.

I'm NOT against electronic currency.  Every form of money has its own advantages and disadvantages and perhaps we can eventually come up with something closer to ideal.  What I'm talking about here is ridiculous speculation.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cocoa and coffee yogurt chocolate muffins

These are very good with a cake like texture because of the yogurt.   Start to finish, about an hour.

1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup cocoa (I used Equal Exchange, which is a bit pricey)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 heaping teaspoon baking soda  (the little extra is to combat the yogurt's  acidity)
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar
2 squares unsweetened chocolate chopped coarse
(these are just to add some chocolate chunks to the muffins)

Mix above thoroughly.

Liquid ingredients: 

1/3 cup grape seed oil or unsweetened apple sauce

1  four ounce cup non-fat coffee yogurt (NO MILK! -doesn't need it!)
1/8 cup egg substitute
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix this up and add to dry ingredients, spoon mix.


350 degree oven, lower rack.

Spoon into a lightly oiled muffin pan and bake for 20 minutes.  Makes 12.