My Recipe for Irish Soda Bread

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These have different amounts of baking soda. The correct amount turned out to be a little less than the one in the middle and a little more than the one on the right.

These have different amounts of baking soda. The correct amount turned out to be a little less than the one in the middle and a little more than the one on the right.

Two days ago, on the morning of Saint Patrick’s Day, I decided that I should celebrate the holiday by making some Irish soda bread for lunch. I’m not a big fan of following recipes, because recipes stifle my creativity, but it’s not easy to make bread without a recipe. Too little or too much of an ingredient can completely mess up the texture. So I decided to compromise with myself and make up my own recipe. I made multi mini-loaves that were slightly different in order to determine the correct proportion of ingredients. The result is that I now have my own recipe for a particularly quick and simple Irish soda bread. I made small, single-serving-size loaves, which isn’t the way Irish soda bread is normally made, but for my purposes, it was convenient. This recipe makes three mini-loaves. I just want to state for the record that I am not an experienced baker and am not claiming that my recipe is the epitome of Irish soda breads, but I thought it turned out decently, considering that I was just making it up as I went along. In the future, I may experiment a little more and come up with an improved version of this recipe, but here is what I have for now.

IMG_0505Preparation time: About half an hour, counting the 15 minutes in the oven

Servings: About 3

Nutrition facts: I have no idea, except that bread is a starch. Also, if I counted correctly, and if that process of baking the bread doesn’t make a difference, each serving has between 150 and 200 calories. Then again, I’m pretty sure that my milk was skim milk, so that kept the caloric count on the low side.

Ingredients:

1 egg

1 ½ cups of flour

Approximately 1 cup of buttermilk or sour milk

Approximately 1 tablespoon sugar (a little extra won’t hurt!)

1 teaspoon baking soda

Caraway seeds

Optional: salt

Optional: fruit, preferably raisins. I used cranberries because that’s what I had.

IMG_0506Instructions:

Mix the egg with a couple tablespoons of the milk. Add the flour and stir. Add milk and stir until the texture is thick and doughy. It will be elastic like yeast dough, but less smooth. Add some sugar and the baking soda, plus a sprinkling of caraway seeds and a very small sprinkling of salt if you want. Stir thoroughly, then fold in the fruit. Divide the dough into thirds and plop them onto a greased baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for about fifteen minutes. The surface should be browned and crunchy.

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Happy Pi Day!

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piePi Day comes every year, but this Pi Day is a special Pi Day. Not only is the date 3-14, but it’s 3-14-15. This is a once in a lifetime experience, I tell you. Aside from that announcement, I have little to say myself on the subject, so I will now present a list of important things that the internet has to say about pi (and pie).

One million digits of pi! If this information isn’t relevant and useful in your everyday life, you’re living wrong.

The website linked above actually has more cool stuff, too. 

Here are a bunch of fun pi facts in poster format.It features a timeline showing how much pi was known at various historical periods.

If you want a little more about the history of Pi, here’s a webpage you’ll like.

This New Yorker article by Steven Strogatz is a little lacking in the spirit of Pi Day, but it’s worth a read anyway.

Scientific American has a good article, too.

Apparently there’s a book called The Joy of Pi and that book has a website. The page I’ve linked has a list of other recommended pi books.

Search for the numbers representing your birthdate within pi. Why? Well, why not?

Hopefully, you’re celebrating pi day by making (or at least eating) pie. This article has a few recipes at the end. I didn’t try them out myself, but they look interesting and unique.

The food network website has some simple tips for how to make your pie crust turn out nicely. Some of these may be things that you already know, but if some of them are new to you, now is the day to try them out!

More recipes and tips.

I’ve already shared some pi history, so here’s some pie history, too.

This website offers a more detailed history of pie. Also, check out some of the recipes linked on the sidebar.

The American Pie Council’s website also discusses the history of pie, along with more recipes and other information for which you may or may not have a use.

To finish up with something a little less intellectual, here’s a tumblr page devoted to pictures of pies.

My Opinion of Season Eight

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Now that I have seen season 8 in its entirety, I am ready to offer my thoughts and opinions to the internet. To be honest, I was multitasking while watching most of those episodes, and probably missed quite a few significant details. Maybe that’s why I still haven’t decided exactly what I think about this season.

Peter Capaldi“But wait,” some of you may be saying, “what TV show are you talking about? You only said a season number, not a title.” My first response would be to remind you that questions are still sentences and therefore should not be ended with prepositions, and my second response would be to inform you that of course we are talking about Doctor Who. What else?

I initially loved Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. Yeah, he’s a lot older than the ninth, tenth, or eleventh Doctors, and it’s not as if many current Doctor Who fans actually remember what it was like when William Hartnell played the Doctor. But for me, having an older actor play the Doctor wasn’t a problem. In fact, I kind of liked the idea of taking some of the romantic undertones away. As much as I liked David Tennant, the tenth Doctor did a lot of staring moodily into space while thinking about Rose. Such things never happened in the days of Tom Baker. Even before season 8 began, I predicted that a non-Doctor character would be introduced to be a love interest for Clara, and I was okay with that and glad to see that I was right. And then, when that first episode came out and I actually got to see Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, I found him reminiscent of Tom Baker, which is a definite plus.

But the thing is, the twelfth Doctor is mean. He bickers with Clara (and Mr. Pink, and Robin Hood, and pretty much everyone else) and shows a lack of regard for human life that you would never see from the fourth Doctor, the ninth Doctor, the tenth Doctor, or the eleventh Doctor. I have to admit that I’m not particularly familiar with the other Doctors, but if they were less compassionate towards the human race, then I’m not particularly fond of them. So for me, the twelfth Doctor’s mean streak is a weakness that cancels out, and sometimes even outweighs, the humor and personality of the character. I like the eyebrows, though. You’ve gotta like the eyebrows.Peter Capaldi eyebrows

My favorite costume of the season: Clara's Robin Hood dress.

My favorite costume of the season: Clara’s Robin Hood dress.

Episode One, Deep Breath, was one of my favorites of the season. Robot of Sherwood would have been great if it had consisted of just a little less arguing. The Doctor’s feud with Robin Hood was hilarious at first, but got old fast. Time Heist, Mummy on the Orient Express, and In the Forest of the Night were my other favorites. I really liked the ideas behind some of the others, like Listen and Flatline. And the two-part season finale was pretty good, too, especially considering that the season finales are rarely among my favorite episodes. If I had to choose one favorite episode from the season, I guess I’d probably go with Mummy on the Orient Express, because it has a really great monster, which is a trait shared by all of the awesomest Doctor Who episodes.Mummy on the Orient Express

All in all, I definitely did enjoy season eight, even if I had some misgivings about the personality of the new Doctor, and even if it wasn’t one of my favorite seasons. I still say that my favorite two seasons are three and seven.

What Color is the Dress?

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tumblr_nkcjuq8Tdr1tnacy1o1_500Personally, I don’t understand why some people are so annoyed by the “What Color is this Dress?” optical illusion that has been dominating the internet  for the past few days. All right, so it’s not worth ending friendships, but it’s actually a lot more interesting than, for instance, a provocative picture of Kim Kardashian, or some of the other images that have briefly taken over the entirety of pop culture.

In the extremely unlikely event that anyone reading this hasn’t yet encountered the “What Color is this Dress?” story, here’s what happened. It started at a wedding, when the mother of the bride wore a black and dark blue dress. (Sorry, team white and gold.) She posted a picture on facebook, which Tumblr user swiked shared on Tumblr this past Wednesday, frantically asking what colors people saw, since she and her friends disagreed.  Some said blue and black, some said white and gold.  Tumblr went crazy, as tumblr has a tendency to do, and the story spread to Twitter, garnering attention as celebrities weighed in on the debate. That’s when Buzzfeed got ahold of the story. The story showed up there at 6:14 PM, and the story  was quickly the most popular thing on the internet. It was by far the biggest Buzzfeed article, #thedress was the top twitter hashtag, people shared the picture on facebook, and basically every news website in existence latched onto the story… all by midnight that same day. It was about 9:00 PM, just as I was leaving work, that a couple of my coworkers alerted me to the phenomenon by asking me what color I saw. (White and gold, for the record.)

And in case anyone hasn’t heard the explanation for why different people see different colors, it basically goes like this. Everyone sees the same image. Everyone notices—even if only subconsciously—that the color quality of the picture is imperfect, due to shadows. Some of our brains latch onto that slight color distortion and just assume that it’s a bigger deal than it is. “Interesting,” our brains say, “The lighter parts look dark blue. What color are shadows? Dark blue. So, if we mentally edit the shadow out of the picture, what’s left? White. That’s it; white dress. What about the dark parts? Well, they look black. But shadows make every darkish color look black. But you see that part that looks a little yellow-tinged at the top? It must be gold! We have decoded the shadows!” Our brains then go on to pat themselves on the back, metaphorically speaking, and proudly announce to us that the dress is white and gold. And we believe them. We don’t even realize that our eyes initially saw something else. Meanwhile, other people, presumably including some of you who are reading this, have brains that take a different approach. “Interesting,” their brains say. “The lighter parts look dark blue. They must be dark blue. And the darker parts look black. They must be black.” Some people see something in between the two examples, such as light blue and gold. When I asked my grandmother this morning, she saw white and a dark color, but she didn’t see gold until I told that that’s what a lot of people see. A few people, including me and my sister, are capable of seeing it either way. (Although I have to make a deliberate effort to see it as black and blue; my visual cortex still tells me I’m supposed to see white and gold.)

Of course, that’s the super non-technical version. If you want a more detailed explanation, a quick Google search will give you several. Or just take my recommendation and read the one from Wired. What I’m interested in is what causes that difference. Does it have anything to do with the shape or health of the eyeball or optic nerve? Could it possibly have anything to do with personality? For instance, I’m more than a bit of a perfectionist and overachiever, so could that have anything to do with why my brain doesn’t want to take the easy route and take the black and blue at face value? I don’t think that personality works that way; it doesn’t make sense for it to have any control over sensory perception, but what if it does?

I think this is all very interesting. If I had to choose between seeing the internet go crazy over a thought-provoking optical illusion or seeing it go crazy over celebrity gossip, I’d choose the former any day.