I've successfully made a sourdough starter this week but have been putting off actually making a loaf of sourdough because of the time involved. Baking sourdough bread requires a lot of kneading and resting and activity, and it's just too much for a weeknight or pretty much any time ever, really. I won't go into the whole thing, as the internet is full of sourdough explanations. But basically to make the starter and keep it going you have to keep feeding it flour and water, and eventually you have to pour off some of the old to make room for the new.
As a result, there are a ton of recipes out there meant to take advantage of the discarded mixture so you're not just dumping perfectly good batter in the sink every day. Yesterday I made sourdough blueberry pancakes and they were frigging fantastic, so I thought I could try making a vegan sourdough chocolate cake from a recipe in the Sandor Katz fermentation book.
The recipe came together quickly, and the batter was pleasingly bubbly, just how you'd imagine a sourdough batter should be. It tasted delicious when I licked the spoon: chocolatey, not too sweet, a little tangy. I put the cake in the oven and began to make the frosting, and there things began to go off the rails.
The chocolate chips we had turned out to have milk solids in them, which meant that the frosting was terrible in all the ways the vegan version of things can sometimes be--oily, flat, weirdly clumpy--but without any of the advantages of being vegan; namely, that vegans could actually eat it. There are some vegans and non-dairy-eaters and people with lactose intolerance at my work, which was the intended destination for this cake, and now none of them could partake. Well, that was crappy, but there were still plenty of people who could, so I pressed on.
I let the cake cool before I frosted it. It turned right out of the pans, which I took as a good sign. It was clear the horrible frosting wasn't going to spread, so I sort of ground it into the top and sides as best I could--it was a layer cake and especially tricky to cover, even if I hadn't been using frosting that resembled tarry sand--and then I tried a piece. The slice sort of flopped over onto the plate and disintegrated, but the first bite was pretty good.
With the second bite I discovered the huge clumps of unincorporated sourdough starter. The recipe had stressed that the batter should be stirred as little as possible, so I had given it a few swirls with the whisk and figured the lumps would dissolve the way they do with pancakes. They did not. The cake was studded with them; they were gummy and globular.
It wasn't very good, but I wasn't ready to let go just yet. Maybe a second opinion would clarify things.
Eric came home from work a few minutes later. "Don't get too excited," I said, but his nose was twitching and his eyebrows were raised at the prospect of a delicious dessert. Then he tried the cake and his face fell.
"I was thinking I could still take it to work," I said. "I'd explain that it was a baking failure. I mean, it's not a great cake, but it's still cake."
"You could trick them," he said. "Tell them it's really good and act like you're so proud of it and then sneak away while everyone eats it and discovers the truth."
I barked with hurt laughter. "I can't take it to work, can I?"
"No," he said gently. "You can't."
"I have to throw it out, don't I?"
"I'm sorry," he said.
As I was writing this, he brought me a Thin Mint. It was very good.
The Superhappy mosaic is finished!
I think this is the best thing I've ever made. Tomorrow I will take some high-quality photos of the thing for my personal records and send it off to the person who commissioned it.
If you want to read about the rest of the process, please follow me past the jump.
See? I told you the mouths would go faster. One week. Boom!
I have to tweak a few things and then it's fill-in-all-the-faces time. Then grouting. Then confronting the cavernous void that is at the center of every adult life.
Or maybe I'll start another project; I haven't decided yet.
Hey, I am working on a pretty involved project this summer!
The design might look familiar to some of you.
I used transfer paper to get the design onto the board.
Then I outlined the faces with little black tiles.
Then I started to fill in the eyes. This took me over a month; I had to cut each tile by hand to fit.
The tile-cutting technique used to approximate a curve is called keystoning, and I got a lot of practice in it.
Sometimes it went well for a good stretch, and sometimes it got ridiculously fiddly. If I had to do it over again I would've drawn the faces larger; I'm having to fudge some stuff to make the current design work as it is.
Yay! I finally finished filling in the eyes on Sunday. I felt triumphant--for about half an hour. There's still a lot to do here.
Having to take frequent breaks to keep my back limber and peel globs of gross dried glue off my fingers is not speeding up this process at all, either.
Sometimes I wish I'd started doing mosaics years ago, but I seriously doubt I had the patience for it until recently. I sort of can't believe I have the patience now. Getting older is cool in a lot of ways.
I was delighted to realize the mouths are going to go relatively quickly. It took about 20 minutes to fill all this in before work today.
I'd like to be finished with this in a month, but I can't tell if that's realistic or not. Probably not, but I am going to tile like hell and see. Onward!
(And no, I never finished the fox. Maybe by Christmas.)
According to our resident green thumb guy, Bryan, the office redbuds were finally big enough to be transplanted into bigger pots a couple of weeks ago. The only thing was, though lush and luxuriant, they were also pitiably weak and floppy from spending their whole lives indoors, protected from wind and temperature spikes and enjoying thrice-weekly watering.
There they are to the right, sharing the window and the beautiful Dumpster view with another coworker's large-scale jade propagation experiment.
To compare: I planted these from seed from the same tree the same week as the giants up above, but they've been outside on the back patio this whole time. They've endured frost, heat, neglect, and not-terribly-regular watering. As a result, they are tiny but tough--the stems are rigid and the leaves are like leather.
Bryan gave me some metro shelves and recommended I take the floppy indoor guys home to my patio for a few weeks so they'd harden off a bit before transplanting. They do indeed seem to have a little more backbone than before.
(I have better pictures of the shelf setup, but I really wanted to show off the 1.75 inches of rain we got yesterday afternoon. The temperature dropped from 100 to 75 in about 20 minutes after the sky opened up. It was great.)
Bryan had become so dedicated to the cause he even came over to the house yesterday to transplant the seedlings into gallon pots so they'll have more soil and therefore moisture to grow in. In exchange we let him hang out with Üter.
Eric and I also cooked him Tandoori chicken and homemade naan on my new gas grill, which I am sure you will read all about in due time; I am deeply in love with it.
So now we just water, and wait. As soon as it cools off this fall it'll be time to put them in the ground.
In the meantime, I just put some Texas mountain laurel seeds in some pots in the front office, and I notice the redbud seeds from this spring are also about ready to pick and plant. Maybe I'll just keep doing this every year until my entire yard is choked with redbuds and becomes a vast cloud of pink for two weeks every March.
It's summer again, and time to go swimming! Deep Eddy is a good pool to restart this series with, so let's dive (hawhawhawsnort) right in!
The pool: Deep Eddy is big, cool, and fed by unchlorinated well water.
The water is a little chilly but not as cold as Barton Springs; personally I find the water temperature delightful.
I like this pool because there's something for everyone: a zero-depth entry portion for people with babies and toddlers, a large expanse of three-foot water to float and play in, dedicated lap lanes, a deep end for those who need a little extra space beneath their feet, and acres of grass shaded by oaks and pecans for those who just want to stretch out, read, and doze.
Public art: Deep Eddy boasts the finest public art of any pool in Austin in the form of an exceptionally cool mosaic mural that was installed a few years ago. It should probably get its own post, but hey, we're already here.
It was completed before I started doing mosaics, which is too bad because I would have loved to work on it.
The mosaic uses water and river imagery to carry along the story of the pool, the land it sits on, and the river that feeds it.
Schoolchildren participated in the project by creating tiles to be incorporated in the design.
"Winners never quit, and quiters never, but those who never win and never quit are stupid." I need to work that into my personal philosophy somewhere.
Lap lanes: They have a lot of lap lanes at Deep Eddy, but while I'm a fan of pool etiquette in general I have to say I'm intimidated by the lap culture at this particular pool. Nine seems like a lot of rules, and you can just tell someone's going to make it a point to let you know if you inadvertently break one. I stick to the shallow end here.
The vibe: Lap-lane anxiety aside, I like the scene. A couple visits ago I walked past a guy sunning himself on the low wall on the back of the pool. "This is so great," he said to no one in particular.
"It's awesome," I agreed, and he sat up, grinning, and said, "Fucking awesome!"
Also there is plenty of good people watching and gangs of awkward teenagers and hordes of adults like me and my friends in addition to the usual families and anyway, it's just fun to go there.
Amenities: The WPA-era bathhouse there in the background was renovated recently. I can't speak to the men's side, but the women's open-air changing and shower area is now clean, modern, spacious, and pleasantly shaded.
I guess there are some rules for non-lap swimmers here too, but they're easy enough to follow.
And oh! I forgot to mention that Jim-Jim's Water Ice runs a stand here during peak times, and their flavors are really good.
Deep Eddy is an Austin classic for a reason; you should totally go as often as possible.
Details: 401 Deep Eddy Drive. Adults $3, teens $2, kids and seniors $1; really old people and babies, free. Open for general swim March-October; I think the lap lanes are open longer but I've never really been clear on that.
Creative process: Flaky people who work full time and like to drink and take themselves too seriously sometimes edition
I was really into the idea of doing a big, beautiful cactus mosaic, but the design wasn't coming together and then I decided I wanted to do an ocotillo instead, but then that was looking like it was really going to suck too. So I scrapped the whole thing.
Then I just lost all momentum. I spent my evenings drinking wine and sulking in front of the internet for a couple of weeks before deciding that maybe I needed to shift gears for a while.
Really, cut it out!
I also realized I needed to stop beating myself up for not doing something fun and creative every damn spare minute of the day. That's just stupid, as well as extremely counterproductive. (Plus Jesus, take a step back, I'm not not saving lives here. Everything will still go along just as it does if I don't glue some crap to a board or whatever.)
Luckily, just as I had decided I was not necessarily creatively broken forever, I ran across some projects left over from last year when I had plenty of ideas and no time; now that I had some time and no ideas I was free to finish them up.
One turned out super crappy so I won't post it here, and another is a surprise for someone so ditto, but I can show you this lino cut I abandoned last spring but started again last week.
I need to clean it up a bit and I want to give it a caption, but it's largely finished now.
Once I started making progress on that, I felt much better. I drew a bunch of dumb little doodles and cut them out, just for fun.
This Saturday my friend Phyllis came over. The two of us drew a bunch of little doodles together and cut them out and used them to make a collage.
It rained all day, so that's where the weather theme came from. Eric sat at the table with us and worked on his own project and we played records and listened to the rain and shot the shit and made a goofy little art piece together. When we were finished we celebrated with a few margaritas. It was a great afternoon.
Finally, yesterday I got this little dude from the housewares clearance aisle in Marshall's. I plan to tile her up and put her in the backyard. Should be a fast-ish project.
So now art is fun again. The cactus/ocotillo/failure board will join the growing pile in the corner of my office of unfinished and unstarted projects. Some I'll pick up again and finish; some I will keep stumbling over until I decide to move them to the trash can out front. I'm learning that if something just isn't working that it really is okay to quit, at least for a while. There's only so much time and energy, you know?
I finished another project last night, although I'm not really sure what you'd use it for. A pretty tray to, uh, hold things? Like keys, and...treasures?
Yes, treasures. I will definitely put my treasures in there. Hell, I don't know. I'm happy with how it turned out, though.
These tiles were a pain in the ass to cut because they kept splintering, but they're really pretty so at least that aspect made them somewhat enjoyable to work with.
I like the look of the vertical patterns, and I've gotten a lot faster and more adept at laying them down. But it's time to challenge myself a little more and give the vertical tile thing a break for a while. (Unless you want something with vertical tiles on it--I absolutely take commissions!)
While I was deciding what to do and how to do it, I wandered over to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission building, the front of which bears six beautiful mosaic seals, in search of a little prickly pear tiling inspiration.
Look at this craziness! So beautiful, right? If you look closely, you can see the artist even included the damn needles!
I'm going for a different style (and ok, I'm also nowhere near that level), but it was cool and informative to see how something like this can be done. I'll post pictures of my progress, so check back from time to time, all right?
I know! It's so exciting!
We now have a total of six redbud plants growing in the front office.
Since the last update, several more seeds sprouted, grew a little, and then failed to thrive, but these dudes seem pretty stable. I have several growing in little pots at home, too--those probably sprouted later because they are outside and subject to the whims of our winterless weather.
Anyway, another couple inches and then it's time to put them in bigger pots. I'll probably keep them on my back porch at home until they're ready to plant next winter. There's a nice blend of shade and sun back there, and I won't forget to water them if they're in a spot I walk past several times a day.
The end about redbuds. For now.