“00” Flour Pizza

by A.J. Coltrane

Another “00” flour pizza.

300 grams flour. ~62% hydration. 2% salt. A glug of olive oil. A splash of hard cider. Eight minutes in the mixer. Two days in the refrigerator.

Prior to baking:

150423 pizza

Toppings: A whole bunch of lightly sauteed mushrooms, some lightly sauteed sweet onion, and roasted red pepper on a thickened bolognese.

The “00” flour was super stretchy again. There was no way it was going from the baking peel to the baking stone. I decided to make it less interesting and form the pizza on a baking sheet. The baking sheet went onto a pizza stone in a preheated 500F oven.

The pizza baked for 9 minutes, then parmesan was added and the pizza was allowed to bake another 5-6 minutes.

150423 cooked pizza

The small amount of less-melted parmesan was added after the pizza came out of the oven.

The crust was actually darker than it looks in the picture. I’d brushed the crust with olive oil before baking, and it improved the color and taste.

Despite the large amount of toppings the pizza came out crisp, and with a good snap the crust. I think it helped that the toppings were precooked — they didn’t dump a bunch of water onto the pizza.

Overall it was very tasty, and very filling without making me feel bloated. Two thumbs up.

Start Yer Engines

by A.J. Coltrane

Today was “prep the Earthboxes for summer planting” day. Translated, that means:  “Remove anything leftover, mix in dolomite, saturate the soil, and cover with plastic.

It actually wound up being a little easier this year, since I’d already removed the fertilizer strips from all but one box. The carrots, radishes, cilantro, and parsley got harvested:

150419 Harvest

Sort of a hodge-podge of stuff. The red “roots” on the top right are “Dragon” radishes that never got very big in diameter.

We left the three winter boxes with leeks, scallions, and garlic. We’ll harvest those at the last minute — the tomatoes aren’t going to go into the boxes for a few weeks yet.

Time to make a list from the Seattle Tilth plant sale list!


By request, the process to set up an Earthbox. (She disabled embedding, hence the link.)

Note that she said that there aren’t measurements for the dolomite and fertilizer. That’s wrong. The measurements are 1 pound of dolomite and either 2 cups of inorganic fertilizer or 3 cups of organic fertilizer.

That, and we saturate the bejeezus out of the box before covering.


Slugs 1, Coltrane 0

by A.J. Coltrane

Little did I know…

In mid-December the winter vegetables were about as big as they were going to get. On March 11 I decided to start harvesting. The March 11 link shows the one harvest of mache before it bolted. The pak choi bolted too. I was surprised that they bolted that fast. I figured we had about a month to enjoy fresh greens. Nope. Just a touch of warmth and *BOOM*! So much for thinking that waiting would allow them more time to grow.

“Oh, Mr. Troll, you don’t want to eat me. I am just a middle-sized billy goat. Wait for my brother, who is much bigger than I am. Then, you would have more to eat.”

The spinach hasn’t bolted yet, though the forecast calls for 70 degrees this weekend. I’m guessing that the spinach, beets, carrots, and parsley need to be harvested before then.  There are also a few dozen little green onions, and some tiny leeks — those should be ok for a while.

The slugs had a wonderful winter. I tried Sluggo but it didn’t seem to do much. The whiskey barrels in particular were ravaged by the slugs. The mache and pak choi were mostly ignored, but the spinach wasn’t so lucky.

So, the Winter #1 Summary:

1.  Everything was planted too late. It needs to happen in mid-August at the latest.

2.  Putting the boxes underneath the back deck facing to the NorthEast means that they won’t get enough sun. Under the deck is a cold microclimate too. Lose-lose.

3.  Near the front door gets marginal sun, but it’s still much better than under the back deck. Containers near the front door are much more easily accessible.

4.  I’m not sure how much the row covers helped. I do know that they made me less inclined to track progress and harvest things. Right now I’m thinking I’m stuck with them, short of getting a full greenhouse.

Basically, Winter #1 was a complete washout. On the bright side, I tried so many different things and screwed it up so many different ways — it’s got to get better and easier going forward.

Winter gardening is certainly its own “thing”.


2015 Bracket Of Peril — The Results

by A.J. Coltrane

The Results!

Because I may have messed up in my admin Group duties, this year we have an official winner, and an unofficial winner.

The official winner is JD, with 1160 points, good for the 90.4th percentile.

The unofficial winner is Annie S., who had an entry that didn’t get entered into the Bracket Of Peril — the root cause of which was likely A.J. Coltrane induced. Her offending bracket was good for 1210 points, with Duke winning the championship.

Thanks to everyone for playing! Maybe I’ll win one of these years if the teams I pick don’t spontaneously implode.

Disclaimer: Castle Anthrax not included. There is just too much peril.

Disclaimer: Castle Anthrax not included. There is just too much peril.



I told you to make something other than a Kentucky bracket! We had plenty of those!


Peter Reinhart’s Double Celebration Challah

by A.J. Coltrane

150406 challah2

From the Bread Baker’s Apprentice — Peter Reinhart’s Double Celebration Challah. The “Double Celebration” indicates a double-decker of braided dough — a smaller braid sits on a larger braid. I increased the recipe by 1.5x because we were feeding a crowd:

Ingredient Measure Baker’s %
Bread Flour 27 oz 100
Sugar 3 TBP 5.5
Salt 1.5 tsp 1.4
Instant Yeast 2 tsp 0.85
Vegetable Oil 3 TBP 5.5
Eggs, beaten 3 large 18
Egg Yolks 3 7
Egg Whites, whisked until frothy 3 7
Water (approx) 10.5-12 oz 45

and Sesame Seeds for garnish.

1.  Stir together flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. In a separate (mixing) bowl combine oil, eggs, yolks, and 10.5 oz water. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet and mix on low speed until the ingredients gather and form a ball. Add the remaining water, if needed.

2.  Mix on medium low speed for 6 minutes, adding more flour if needed to make a dough that is not sticky.

3.  Lightly oil a large bowl. Form the dough into a ball, coat with oil, and let rest one hour, covered.

4.  Remove the dough from the bowl and knead 2 minutes to degas. Return the dough to the bowl and let rest 1 hour.

5.  2/3rds of the dough becomes the big braid, and 1/3rd becomes the small braid. Each of those portions are divided into 3rds again, and rolled out into ropes which are smaller at the ends and larger in the center. The ropes are then braided, tucking the ends underneath. Watch this for help on how to braid. Transfer the big braided portion to a parchment lined baking sheet, top with the smaller braided portion.

6.  Brush the loaf with egg wash, spray with oil, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 60-75 minutes until the the dough has grown to 1.5x its original size.

150406 challah1

7.  Preheat the oven to 325F. Brush the loaf again with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake on the center rack for 20 minutes, then turn and bake another 20-45 minutes. The bread is done when golden brown and an instant thermometer reads 190F. (The pictured loaf took 25 minutes after turning.)

8.  Transfer to a cooling rack and wait at least an hour to eat.


The picture at the top of this post is the pretty side. Here’s the other side. The oven spring was so violent that it tore the braids:

150406 challah3

I’ve never seen anything spring like that. I was really surprised at the “time to turn” point — the bread had basically exploded.

The only complication that I ran into was self-induced:  I combined the flour with the minimum (7 oz) quantity of water and let it hang out in the refrigerator for three days before continuing with the recipe. In theory this would allow more flavor to develop. In reality it wasn’t enough water, and the flour became a brick. After a lot of work with a wooden spoon and the KitchenAid I was able to rehydrate the dough with the eggs and the rest of the water. For much of the process I thought the end product might have clumps of under-hydrated dough.

As far as taste — the recipe calls for oil out of respect for Passover. I think next time I’ll use butter. The finished product also needed a little more salt. I’m guessing the issues that I had with hydration resulted in the addition of too much flour, which threw the salt balance out of whack.

All in all though, it wasn’t a bad first attempt, and there’s plenty of room for it to get better.

Vegas, Day 4.

by A.J. Coltrane

Vegas, Day 4. Sunday. The last day of sports gambling before we fly out on Monday.

By Sunday morning I should be done placing bets. What that means is that I don’t have to focus on the games as intently, since I’ve already invested what I’m going to invest. It’s a good day to wander around so long as there’s a television nearby — we’ve been glued to seats most of the last three days.

-After breakfast on Sunday we walked a short distance to a “new to us” bar/casino. (Well, newly remodeled, and we haven’t historically hung out there.) The bar featured about 40 feet of big-screen TVs, end to end to end. That seemed like a good place to start the day, so we took five seats in prime real estate, inserted a not insignificant amount of cash into the video poker machines, and ordered adult beverages.

To backtrack a little bit:  The casinos have “Player Cards”. When you’re playing a game you put your card into the machine. The casinos track what you play, how fast you play, how much you wager — basically they’re figuring out how fast you’re bleeding so that they can determine whether they want to keep you around as a customer. They’re also determining if you’re worth freebies, and what the form of those freebies should take.

What we hadn’t done was to insert our Player Cards. We didn’t have Cards for that casino and we weren’t going to sweat it.

I started with a high risk/reward game and won $110 on my 3rd spin. I was pretty pleased with that. My plan was then to switch over to a more “normal” game, and if played at all conservatively I could drink for free for the rest of the afternoon..

Within a few minutes a small, polite woman appeared behind us, asking if we wanted Players Cards. Now, normally we’d have to go stand in line for our Players Cards, but we’d triggered something that got us “special attention”. It could of been how and what we were playing, or how much cash we’d dumped into the machines to start with, or it could have been the fact that all we had left at that point in the trip was larger bills, and we’d been passing them back and forth like Monopoly money and the cameras had picked that up. (That’s one of the beauties of Vegas — it always feels like Monopoly money eventually.)

So we got our Players Cards and continued with what we were doing. Maybe an hour went by, then this happened for the traveling companion on my right:


That’s 1,000 bananas. He was dealt that hand. The odds against that are 1 in 650,000.

Then three hours later, I was dealt this:


That’s another 1,000 bananas. At the same odds. The two adjacent machines spit out a whole bunch of bananas in (relatively) rapid succession.

We’ve been going to Vegas for around 20 years and playing a ton of video poker, and neither of us had ever hit the big payout. When finally each won it was within three hours of each other. Wild.

At that point, everything else was gravy. We’d basically paid for the trip.


On the Sunday basketball gambling I went 6-2 (again), bringing my total for the trip to 25-22. That’s a winning percentage of 53.2%. Break even is at 52.4%. I beat the break even by not quite 1%. Squeak!

Basically it broke out to:

0-6 (Thursday morning)

7-2 (Thursday afternoon/evening)

6-10 (Friday)

12-4 (Saturday and Sunday)

I’m ok with that. Thursday was a historically good day for the sports books and a bad day for bettors. Taking out the disastrous 0-6 start I won 61%, which is pretty good. I’d like to think I learned a few things again, and that I’ll do better next year. And we had fun long weekend on the cheap!

Of course, it’s not Vegas without an Elvis sighting:

No really! It's Elvis! I saw him with my own eyes!

No really! It’s Elvis! I saw him with my own eyes!

Vegas, Day 3.

by A.J. Coltrane

Day 3 was Saturday. For the afternoon, a member of our group decided to rent a cabana upstairs by the pool. No kids allowed anywhere near us. We had our own TV in the cabana and an iced bucket of beers. The party drifted in and out, with some of us taking advantage of the water on an 80-degree day.

Realistically, renting a cabana was loosely as expensive as gambling and tipping for comped drinks.

I went 6-2, bringing my total for the trip to 19-20. By and large things went as expected. Villanova lost to NC State, which surprised me. I also took Kentucky to cover -16.5 against Cincinnati, but they only won by 13. (In their previous game Kentucky had crushed West Virginia, winning 78 to 39. To think they’d have a similar result with Cincinnati seemed reasonable.)

It was good to finally come out way ahead.

One day to go…

Marvel Puzzle Quest — Where The Iso Is Going

by A.J. Coltrane

Character Rankings, based on community voting, from this excellent D3 forum post. There’s a cool heat map of the voting results near the top of the thread, and an excellent discussion on all of the characters. I’m going to focus on Tiers 1-3 or 4 going forward, at least until I get Iso-positive again:

Tier 1
1. 4* Wolverine (X-Force)
2. 4* Thor
3. 3* Thor
4. 4* Nick Fury

Tier 2
5. 3* Daken
6. 3* Black Panther
7. 3* Captain America
8. 3* The Hood
9. 3* Magneto (classic)
10. 3* Blade
11. 3* Wolverine (Patch)

Tier 3
12. 3* Deadpool
13. 3* Hulk
14. 4* Devil Dinosaur
15. 3* Captain Marvel
16. 3* Human Torch
17. 3* Sentry
18. 3* Punisher

Tier 4
19. 3* Falcon
20. 3* Mystique
21. 3* Black Widow (grey suit)
22. 3* Rocket and Groot
23. 3* Loki
24. 3* Colossus
25. 3* Psylocke
26. 3* Daredevil

Tier 5
27. 3* Gamora
28. 3* Doctor Doom
29. 2* Black Widow (original)
30. 3* Iron Man (Model 40)
31. 3* Spider-Man
32. 3* Storm (Mohawk)

Tier 6
33. 2* Ares
34. 3* She-Hulk
35. 3* Ragnarok
36. 4* Invisible Woman
37. 3* Doctor Octopus
38. 2* Storm (classic)

Everything Else
39. 2* Thor
40. 3* Beast
41. 2* Daken
42. 2* Magneto (Marvel Now)
43. 2* Wolverine (Astonishing)
44. 2* Hawkeye (modern)
45. 2* Human Torch
46. 2* Captain Marvel
47. 2* Captain America
48. 1* Juggernaut
49. 2* Bullseye
50. 2* Moonstone
51. 1* Black Widow (Modern)
52. 1* Storm (modern)
53. 1* Iron Man (Model 35)
54. 2* Bag Man
55. 1* Hawkeye (classic)
56. 1* Venom
57. 1* Yelena Belova

If you need roster space and only have room for one 1* character, I’d recommend Juggernaut. Everybody hates pulse damage by the opponent.

Vegas, Day 2.

by A.J. Coltrane

Day 2 was Friday. On Friday I went 6-10, bringing my total for the trip to 13-18.

The Thursday losses were a bunch of weird early morning upsets. Friday felt like a decent enough day, with good wins mixed in with assorted narrow losses — a rebound here, a missed shot there, and many of the games could have gone either way… Probably 8 of the 10 losses were in doubt until the end.

It felt like I was getting close, and that order was being restored. I went 6-10, but that’s about as poorly as it could have gone, and it could have just as easily have been 8-8 or 10-6. Of course, that’s the same rationalization that the degenerates use…

As a bonus, Friday was easily the best food day of the trip:  We had a very nice Mexican lunch, and an excellent dinosaur-old-school steak-house dinner — the losing went down more easily with a perfectly cooked lamb shoulder and a nice Pinot Grigio.

That, and I didn’t have to sit through getting my head beat in all morning again, so that was nice.

Vegas, Day 1.

by A.J. Coltrane

Day 1 was Thursday..

…One sportsbook said Thursday was its biggest single-day win in memory.

“Epic day, absolutely,” Jay Rood, vice president of MGM race and sports, said of Thursday. “Tough day for the players coupled with the fact the books did well Wednesday, too.”

“Yesterday was amazing,” Dave Pemberton, director of specialty games for Caesars Entertainment, added Friday night.

Including the First Four games Tuesday and Wednesday, underdogs covered the spread in the first 10 games of the tournament. Favorites went 4-12 against the spread Thursday. No. 14 seed Georgia State and UAB pulled off upsets as double-digit underdogs, damaging brackets and destroying money-line parlays everywhere.

“We didn’t sweep the board [Thursday] but we were pretty close,” Jason Simbal of CG Technology’s sportsbook said.

I opened Thursday with zero wins against six losses. It got bad enough that I had to go to the ATM to continue.

Baylor by 9? Nope. Defeated. Iowa State as a 14-point favorite? Out of the tournament. Notre Dame didn’t cover, even though they had the #3 offense in the country going in. On and on it went.

Like most of the squares, I’d picked a bunch of favorites. Looking at my sheet prior to the first game it was obvious that it could potential trouble, but then even the picks I was extremely comfortable with failed.

About five hours into the massacre I got my first win — Arizona covered at the half. Fortunately I went 7-2 starting at that point to finish the day at 7-8. The three Over/Under bets and two halftime bets probably helped. I also won UCLA (+4 vs SMU) and Utah (-6.5 vs Stephen F. Austin). From the sound of it, I got off easy.


This is the one day that I skipped a game altogether. Kentucky was favored by 34 and I didn’t want to go anywhere near that one. (Kentucky wound up winning by 26.)