Sunday, February 22, 2015

Time for Stories!

I think I said it in a previous post that everyone likes to here a a good story, especially one that makes the listener think really hard about what's going on. I didn't say it then, but I'll say it now that even if you pride yourself as a toughie personality that's too old or too mature for a story, you are lying through your teeth, but you may be thinking of something else when I say story.
     I alluded to the fact that no matter who you are or where you're from, you make up stories on a regular basis, you may even be good at it. There is an art to making up stories that apply to real life situations. This is known more commonly as lying. Your creative mind uses an ancient art to get out of or get someone out of trouble on a regular basis. I could go into the reason why we do this, but I frankly do not have time right now. The other side is whenever you harbor hatred (I mean like you seriously want this person dead) in your heart towards someone it is almost a given that you make up some type of storyline in which the end involves them going somewhere else, and usually not such a pleasant place. Let us not concern ourselves with these types of self-storytellers. Instead, we will use my sister as a prime example of a positive, upbeat and fun self-storyteller.
     My sister claims that she won't right down the stories she tells to herself, but there will most likely come a time (as was with me) that she cannot help herself and write down her great idea so she can in turn read it to herself and enjoy it that way. It's much easier to read a story than to make one up as you go along, there is a lot less thinking required and you don't have to worry about the dreaded and rightly named "Brick Wall" and for writers like me "Writer's Block." Anyway, we all do enjoy a story.
     Now that was a rather long intro, I know...

     Wait a minute, Ed, that was just the intro?

     Yes, it was. In my old boy scout troop I went camping on a beautiful lake called Namakan in the boundary waters in Minnesota. The owner of the property where we camped (for it was a private, family owned property that he was generous enough to share with us boys) would before a sort of ceremony always 'warm the boys up' before our scoutmaster would begin. Of course he was talking about warming our minds up for the discussions that would follow. He did this by telling a short story story that usually rhymed and would make us laugh or say 'Ooh' at the end. I say all this to explain why write three paragraphs before I begin the body of the post.
     To tell you the truth, the body of this post is rather short. I only want to invite my faithful readers, though you be few and far between, to read a truly Amazing Story.
     Yes, I have a much coveted membership as one of the Writerly Friends that try to publish regularly a segment of the epic An Amazing Story as it is called right now, and is likely to remain being called for the rest of its production. To tell you truthfully, it's much more popular than this blog is right now, but that may change. Everything is nailed down in Jello, as they say in Minnesota. If you like Sci-Fi, Dystopia, time traveling, or otherworldly fantasy, then you might like An Amazing Story.

Read it right now, right here.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Chinese Cooking Endeavors...

I, like most people, enjoy a good meal, however, getting one without paying more than ten bucks a head is unlikely in this day and age, unless you cook it yourself. Sooooooo...

I cook it myself. What to cook, what to cook.

My mom has a boatload of cookbooks on the shelf in my intellectual productivity room, otherwise known as the office, where I am now, in fact; but it is where I am usually most intellectually productive. I rarely look at them, falling usually on the old standby Betty Crocker cookbook that we keep at all times in the kitchen. It has everything. Except bagels. And egg rolls. And lemon chicken. Bagels aren't Chinese, but all the same, the Betty Crocker cookbook doesn't have them.

However, to remedy this, General Mills recruited Leann Chin to hand over her recipes to contribute to a cookbook of authentic Chinese and Cantonese cooking. Seeing this on the shelf one day I wondered if I could make Chinese food without going to a Chinese restaurant. The short answer that I know now is yes. I can make Chinese food at home. Woohoo. What now? Telling you about it is what.

I made lemon chicken and as my family will attest, it was truly delicious and I will do it again. How much does it cost? I can buy lemon chicken for two at the King's Wok or the 88 Wok just up the road for around 7.95. Is it cost effective to make it yourself at home? Well really, it's about the same, maybe just a skosh cheaper to do it at home, but what's the fun of that? Don't you want to get your hands dirty? Maybe get a few hot oil burns while your at it, then you really appreciate it (I didn't get any hot oil burns). I've gotten to the point where I really appreciate the food just as much either way, it just matters if it tastes good.

Anyway, I did make lemon chicken, and it was very good. I suppose it could actually be counted as sweet and sour chicken really. The sauce tasted more like it than lemon. If you want a recipe like the one I made for pretzels yesterday, I will do that eventually, but it might be a few months. If you want it sooner then just ask and I'll get it up sooner. I didn't make the egg rolls this time, those were over a year ago by now I think, but I'll do them again sometime. Probably when I do lemon chicken again. They are very good as well, as long as they don't soak up too much oil!

I just realized that I really don't know why I'm writing this. Oh yes, it's because I feel like showing off my handiwork in the kitchen. How do I show off with just words, though? I don't. Here are some pictures. The top one is the lemon chicken and the bottom one is a partially successful attempt at Challa that I meant to post yesterday but forgot.





 And the Challa:


Now don't get me wrong, I'm not going to just post recipes and foodies. There should be lots more, diverse things I'll talk about, that I want the world to know and read. So just bear with me in this time of cooking. 

Today We're having friends come and my mom and sister want to do the cooking. As a result I have been banned from the kitchen, but I may in the end be recruited to do the mashed potatoes, and no, you probably won't be seeing any of the dinner on this blog.

So now I'll stop boring you with my endless chatter and go get some work done. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Pretzels and Stuff

So I was thinking about what makes me me. There are many things I think, but several stick out more than others. If you know of me in person, then you're likely to first think about my disease. I have leukemia. Sad, isn't it. Why must I be defined by something I hate about myself? The short answer is that I don't. It is sad that whenever we meet someone that mom hasn't seen in a while all they can think to talk about is my condition. Why? Well, I have a rant brewing, but we'll save that for another time. Today it's: what makes Ed himself?

What does this have to do with pretzels? Well, really, it has everything to do with pretzels. And baking. And cooking in general. I haven't said this before, but this blog is really for only a few people I know but lots of others that want to know more about the infamous Edmond Manchester.

Why does he spell his name with an o instead of a u? Where does he live? In short, Who is he?

I will try to slowly answer these questions. With each post you will learn more about the Infamous Edmond Manchester. I know I'm really not 'Infamous', but it just seems to go with the phrase. It would be boring to just say the Edmond Manchester, or just Edmond Manchester...

Moving on. Pretzels. Why do they define me? Well, they don't really. I just like making them, and those who know me well know this about me. What more people know about me is that less specifically I enjoy baking in general. Except cakes. I don't do cakes. I prefer to stick to the fun yeast breads. There is something about seeing the dough, risen to double, then punching it down. What could possibly be more fun? (Hint of sarcasm, but I still do enjoy it.)

Originally, I was famed throughout my body of family and friends for making plain old white bread, the claims being that it was far more delicious than ordinary store bought bread. I will say that mine is of a heartier breed than the nearly unbelievable softness of Wonder Bread and such. I have yet to figure out the secret to the soft puffiness of it, but then again, it may be that what people like about my bread is that it does have that homestyle touch or heartiness (I mean, whatever, right?)

Anyway, This is not just going to be a post going on and on about why I like baking. We want to accomplish something don't we? (referring to myself and you, the reader.) In the last post I gave my perfect three points about writing. That was productive enough, right? Well today we're going to actually bake pretzels, at least, you're going to learn how to bake them, and I'm going to tell you.

Pretzels, in case you didn't know, are delicious; despite this though, it wasn't until recently that I started making them. This basic recipe is from the food network website, but I did make a few alterations that I think really help it. So here goes. Delicious soft pretzels in about two hours.

Here's what you'll need:

     A healthy amount of morale;
     2 hours of your life, minus the raising time;

Ingredients:
     2 cups of milk. It doesn't matter what %age of fat it has. I use 2%;
     2 tablespoons of yeast. I use active dry yeast;
     3/8 of a cup of brown sugar, preferably light, not dark;
     4 1/2 cups of flour, plus more for kneading. I really don't think it matters what kind of flour you use;
     2 teaspoons of salt;
     1 stick of butter;

     3 cups of water, slightly warmer than warm;
     1/3 of a cup of baking soda;

     A few drops of oil. It really doesn't matter what kind of oil you use. I do not, however, recommend using motor oil. It can noticeably affect the flavor of the pretzels.

Equipment:
     1 oven;
     1 stove or microwave. If you have a microwave, it will make your job a lot easier;
     1 large wooden or bamboo cutting/carving board. If you're especially adventurous you can just use your counter, provided that you have meticulously cleaned it first.
     2 bowls: one for mixing and one for raising. If you are multi-talented then you can wash the mixing bowl while the dough is resting on the counter or bread board. Please make note that the dough will rise to about double its original size, so choose your rising bowl accordingly;
     1 digital kitchen scale. (this is optional, but really handy.)

First of all, you need to have your stove or microwave handy. Warm the milk in a 1 quart or larger pot if you are using the stove, if you are a microwaver then measure the milk into a large mug and microwave it for 50 seconds, stir it and microwave it twenty seconds more. Milk should feel about the same temperature as a warm bath.
     Next, pour the milk into your mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top allowing it to soften a few minutes. Alas, the yeast is not the only thing that needs softening.
     Put the stick of butter in the mug you used for the milk and nuke it until it's almost melted, then stir it until the rest is taken care of. Now back to the yeast milk.
      After a few minutes stir it vigorously in order to dissolve it. It's okay if there are a few lumps. Those will go away when mixing in everything else.
     Next you need to stir in the brown sugar, then the melted butter, then 2 cups of the flour. Stir until it makes a smooth batter. Then you'll add the salt and the rest of the flour. Just gently stir it until the rest of the flour is incorporated to make a rather sticky dough. The next part is a little tricky, but it's not that bad. Don't worry.
     Now spread some flour generously on your counter top or our carving board. Enough so that there is absolutely no chance of the dough sticking to it when you dump it on over it, which is what you'll do now that the board is floured. Kneading to some is a pain and so they opt for electric mixers with dough hooks. I use that method when baking loaves of bread but haven't tried it with pretzels yet. If you want to, try it yourself and leave a comment below on how it worked out for you. Anyway, to knead, first you push the dough down onto the work surface then fold it towards you and turn it one quarter turn then repeat. Do this until the dough is nice and elastic, kneading more flour into it as needed. Most say that it should take about five minutes. I agree with them.
     After that, oil the bottom of your raising bowl and place the dough in it and cover it with a towel. let it sit for a half hour and check on it. by this time it should have risen considerably, but if you don't think it's risen enough, you can let it rise for another few minutes, but I do not recommend letting it rise for more than an hour.
     Right before it's done rising, mix the baking soda and the water in a bowl that is at least one quart until it's dissolved then turn on the oven and preheat it to 450° fahrenheit.
     Now this is where the kitchen scale is really, really handy. I'm only going to include instructions for those who do have one, but if you don't, read along and you can probably come up with a way around it.
     Remove the dough and weigh the bowl then set it as the tare. Now weigh the dough in grams and divide the resulting weight by twelve. This quotient is the weight that each dough 'slug' should weigh and it should be between 90 and 100 grams. Try to be as exact as possible, measuring to the gram if you can. Once you have the twelve dough slugs you can roll them into a thirty inch rope of dough then form them into the pretzel shape. Take the two ends of the rope and cross them to make a loop, then make one twist and bring the ends down on the loop and press gently, but don't let go just yet. Pick up the entire pretzel and dip it into the soda-ed water then place it on a greased cookie sheet. Repeat until the cookie sheet is full of pretzels and bake them in the 450° oven for twenty minutes.
     Do this for the rest of the dough, that is, rolling it, shaping it, dipping it, and baking it until there is none left.

Congratulations! If you did everything right you now have twelve delicious looking golden brown pretzels!

Now give yourself a gold star and get an organic gluten free treat sweetened with agave nectar;-)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Books and Stuff

Some people like to read. Some don't. I do (sometimes). [something goes here but I don't know what] (sometimes). However, I don't think there is anyone in the world who doesn't like hearing a story.

Some people like to watch movies. Some don't. I do (sometimes). ditto third sentence in the above paragraph. And the fourth.

We're here today to talk about books. When we read a story, we of course imagine the characters in each situation they're placed in and what they do; how they react. The next step of course is putting ourselves in the same situation, especially if it's something difficult or scary. (At least it is for me. Maybe it's a survival mechanism of some kind.)

There are so many stories out there, so many plots, characters, settings, morals. If there were say just twenty-seven plots ever and only a hundred and thirteen characters to choose from ever and only seventy-three settings to choose from ever, then there are trillions of different stories that could be written if that were the case. (You probably thought I was going to tell you the exact number of different story combinations that could be made, but I'm not going to. You can do it yourself.) It is not the case. There are far more plots than just twenty-seven, an infinite number of different characters, and an infinite number of settings. This makes for an infinite number of stories that could be written.

Duh. We already knew that, Ed.

So the question is, why isn't everybody making up more stories? Limited resources is not a valid excuse, based on what I said earlier. The answer? I have no idea. But I do know some very creative people and what they've come up with. Authors and Writers get to play on a very large playground and they love it. most of the time they come from backgrounds that aren't really serious about writing, but some try to get paid to do it. Imagine getting paid to play on a play ground. Of course, if we continue this analogy, if you're paid to play, you have to play. There's no monkeying around on the teeter totter too long, but if you're not, then you may never get to play on the teeter totter. Instead, you have to play on something that doesn't require much concentration. No, don't say 'I'm okay with the swings!' here. This is the end of the analogy.

This brings me to my first point: The moment you ask yourself  'maybe I could be a published writer.' This is practically the end of your writing career. You have to say 'I am going to be a published writer.' Of course, if you say maybe, then you are probably not cut out for that lifestyle. I know that I am certainly not cut out for that life style. I love writing, but I could never do it professionally. Maybe I could be a published writer, but it will have to wait. There are more important things to me right now. (did see what I did there?)

Though it's empty right now, you can check out my other blog here for a hint as to what is more important to me right now in case you were wondering.

There may be a day when I write stories and publish them, but they will be public domain and no publishing company will be allowed to make money off of them. How can this be? Really, I'm already doing just that right here. What I write is public domain as far as I am concerned, but I can't speak for my writerly friends, but I think they're pretty lenient themselves.

My second point is that writing, whether you do it as an amateur or a professional, is fun.

I don't know anyone that has written a book that didn't enjoy doing it. In fact, off the top of my head I don't know of anyone who wrote an actual novel that didn't enjoy writing it. They may have sweated over a few parts of it if they were trying to meet a deadline, but overall they probably enjoyed it.

I have shelved several ideas after losing interest, which I feel a little bad about, but I don't count these as failures, but rather unfinished projects that I will go back when I have the time and interest. If writing is simply a pastime, then I think it is perfectly normal to have a graveyard of old ideas, but keep in mind that you can always go back and rob the graves, even if you're only after the valuables. That can be fun too: combining old ideas with new ones to come up with truly remarkable spellbinders. The bottom line is that writing is fun. It just is. There is no other way to put it.

My third point is: if you are not a writer, you are missing out.

I haven't read many books where the story stops for me at the end of the last page. After finishing the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz, I couldn't leave it alone. It was such a good idea. A teen spy. I was just a little younger than the main character when I read it; I enjoyed thinking about the other possibilities for Alex's life. What if another Intelligence agency blackmailed him again into working for them? Alex was not a Joanna Mason, without anyone in the world he cared about. If you are not sure of what I'm talking about, that's okay. I barely know myself what I'm talking about.

Anyway, I haven't met many many people who haven't in some way tried to alter the story after the story is over to make it fun for them. Both my sister's do it. My mom has done it. My brothers....I don't know about my brothers. Oh, I bet my brothers have done it too. The point is, people that read books have an imagination. That imagination is imagining what the author describes as you are reading the book. and it doesn't want to stop imagining after the author tells it to stop. Most authors and writers (myself included) would be thrilled if their story inspired you, the reader, enough to make you want to add on to it; to write fan fiction about it, even.

Where am I going with this? Well, I am going to be as bold as to say that if you have ever done any of the above, you are already a writer in spirit. What you are missing out on then is the actual writing part. I don't care if it is just fan fiction. That's fine. It's like training wheels. Eventually you won't need them anymore, and you'll write your own stories independent from anyone else's. The point I'm trying to make here is: If you have an idea, no matter how dumb it is, write it down! You will have a ton of fun. Think of Twilight. Many would would agree that it is rather dull story that offers little or no merit, and yet it was wildly popular when it came out. I'll admit that the story I'm working on right now by myself is not in any way unique. It's been done before, and my version, right now, would sound dumb to anyone but me and a few close, understanding writing buddies. (My writing buddies and myself are not dumb; we have simply attained a higher understanding of the way each others minds work.)

Well there you have it. I have covered my perfect three points about writing. This was not a shout out, or anything. Just a friendly post about what I think writing books is all about. I hope you enjoyed my first post on this blog which has been in existence for months with nothing on it. Sorry about that, people who thought the URL was being wasted.