Archive for August, 2012

What Stace had to say on Friday, August 3rd, 2012
The Best Garlic Breadsticks Ever

I promise.

So, there’s a certain “Italian” chain restaurant in the US. I bet you know the one. I actually tended bar at one for a time, even, and although it wasn’t a great place to work for it wasn’t as bad as some. Opinions on their food are somewhat divided, but I admit I have a special fondness for it, for a number of reasons, and I’m not ashamed, either.

But. One thing I haven’t seen anyone disagree on is the deliciousness of their garlic breadsticks. Because seriously, those are some awesome breadsticks.

The other night I was making pasta. Just a very quick pasta, with some homemade bolognese I made and froze a few weeks ago. And I had a craving for some garlic bread to go with it. Lovely, soft, buttery garlic bread. (Some of you may know that I recently figured out–finally!–how to make yeast work, with the result that I’ve been a bread-making fool for the last two months. Sandwich breads, focaccia, dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls…yum yum yum. Anyway.)

I Googled the recipe for this particular restaurant’s breadsticks. And found a couple that looked likely. To my surprise, none of them used actual bread flour; they used regular AP flour. They were pretty basic, bread-wise: flour, yeast, water, salt, melted butter, and a little sugar. And the comments left on those recipes were pretty good.

But I started thinking. Hmm. They don’t use bread flour, and they’re supposed to be Italian, and I *bet* the restaurant uses something a bit spiffier than just plain old AP flour. Well, Italian 00 flour works great in focaccia bread, and in pastas. And 00 flour makes breads softer; something to do with protein levels and fineness of the milling, I don’t know all the science exactly, but I do know that 00 flour can generally be used in a lot of recipes where AP flour is, only it’s a bit softer. Since soft is exactly what these breadsticks are supposed to be, and since I had 00 flour (of course; I currently have about eight different types of flour in my pantry), I figured, why not?

Next I looked at the liquid. All just water, really? I’ve done some breads with all water, some with water & milk, and some with sour cream. The dairy ones are softer. So again, I thought, okay, let’s replace some of the water with milk. And while we’re at it, let’s add a little honey, because not long ago I made some dinner rolls with honey and milk and the hubs pronounced them “So good, you could actually sell these.” They really were good.

I don’t knead for long. Dan Lepard, in his SHORT & SWEET, makes a good case for a brief knead, and I’ve had great results with his method (oh look! That link goes to the HarperCollins UK site! Look what else is there–CHASING MAGIC, which was released yesterday!). So I basically knead just long enough to bring the dough together, then give it another short knead ten minutes or so later, and then another before I shape the dough. Normally I do two other ten-minute-interval short kneads, but again, I was going for very soft here.

So. This is the dough I made. I bought a kitchen scale a few months back, an inexpensive little digital one, so these are measured in grams. Also, I use ml for the liquids, because that’s the easiest way for me to get the temperature right, as you’ll see.

500g Italian 00 flour
10g fine salt (I used regular Morton’s iodized salt, but you could use sea salt or whatever)

whisk those together in a large bowl.

In a measuring cup mix:

1 Tbsp honey
100 ml boiling water
200 ml cold whole milk (not 2% or skim, I used whole, which I usually have to bake with)
(This will give you liquid that’s the perfect temperature for yeast; 100 ml boiling to 200 ml cold. It really works. You don’t even have to take its temperature. 300ml is about 1 cup, so you could do 1/3 cup boiling to 2/3 cold. But my measuring cup has both so it’s just as easy to use ml. You could of course mix it all and microwave it to the right temp., but I don’t have a microwave. I do have an electric kettle.)

Add to that:

2 Tbsp sugar
5g dried yeast.

You can use dried active or quick rise or whatever kind, it doesn’t matter. You don’t *have* to bloom the yeast if you’re using any kind but regular dried, but I tend to anyway just to make sure it’s alive. Give it a stir and let it sit for a couple of minutes while you melt:

2 Tbsp butter.

Let the butter cool for a minute or two, until you can stick your finger in it without it burning, and add it to the liquid/yeast mixture.

Dump the liquids and yeast into the flour/salt, mix it until it forms a dough, and knead it for a minute or two until it comes together and is fairly smooth. Then put it back into the bowl–some recipes say to oil it, and you can do that, but I don’t always bother; I’ve never had a problem with the dough sticking to the bowl, frankly–cover it with plastic, and let it sit somewhere to rise.

Two things about the rise: One, all the fat in this dough means it will rise slowly. It’s because the fat does something to impede the yeast a bit. So while a less-fatty dough may double in size in an hour, this one will take maybe 1 1/2 or even 2 hours.

Two, here’s what I do to make a nice warm place for the yeast to rise. You can try a few things, actually. If your oven is on you can set the bowl on top of it, but this could get too warm. Some people recommend turning the oven on its lowest setting for ten minutes, then turning it off, opening the door a bit, and setting the bowl inside.

Here’s what I usually do, and I do the same after the dough is shaped. I set the bowl on top of the toaster and flip down the levers to turn the heating elements on. I let it sit about ten-fifteen seconds then turn the toaster off. This sends a bit of warmth rising to the bowl, but not too much, and the warmth lingers. And, as I check the bottom of the bowl during the rise, if the bowl feels too cool I can repeat it quickly and easily. No messing about with oven dials and worrying it’s too hot or heating too slow or moving oven racks about or how-far-should-I-leave-the-door-open. I just flip the toaster on for a few seconds. Easy-peasy.

I rise my dough in a really cheap see-through plastic bowl. I’ve used my nice melamine bowls, but I like these better because they’re see-through, which not only makes it easier to watch the dough rising, but also because I am always convinced I’ve done something wrong and the dough won’t rise, and with the clear bowl I can lift it up and look at the bottom. See, as the yeast starts to work little bubbles form in the bottom, little pockmarks. They start at the edges and move inward. So I can make sure the yeast is working before I actually really notice the dough rising, by looking for the pockmarks in the bottom.

Anyway. It took about 2 hours, I think, for the dough to double in size. I kneaded it a bit, shaped it into hot-dog-bun-like rolls–mine were a little too big, I only made six of them. I think next time I’ll go for ten equal pieces. Anyway. Shape them into the rolls, set them on a piece of parchment on a baking sheet, and then back onto the toaster for another forty-five minutes or so until they’ve doubled in size again.

When you set the shaped bread onto the toaster, turn the oven on to 400F.

Stick the risen rolls into the oven and set the timer for seven minutes. Now in a small saucepan over the lowest possible heat, melt about 1/2 cup of unsalted butter with 2 tsp of garlic powder. The recipe I had called for 2 tsp of salt, also, but it turned out a bit too salty, I think, so next time I’ll cut the salt to 1 1/2 tsp. Anyway, mix the garlic powder and salt into the butter and stir and stir. Don’t let it boil or color.

And yes, you can probably use real garlic. I can hear some of you gasping at the garlic powder. But honestly, I’d be worried about real garlic coloring or cooking in the butter. I’d be worried that the flavor isn’t intense enough or is too intense, or rather, that you’d have to use so much garlic to make the flavor right that it would feel like you spend half an hour mincing garlic. But you could, sure. I use real garlic for my other garlic butters and breads. But I was happy enough with this one.

When the timer goes off pull the bread from the oven and baste well with the butter. Give it a nice coat. Then stick it back in the oven for a further seven minutes (rotate it as you put it back).

The bread should be done after that (unlike other breads, because of the melted butter and the extra softness, the sticks won’t sound hollow if you tap the bottom). Take it out and baste with the rest of the butter. Baste it well and baste it thick. I didn’t use all the butter but I used most of it, probably about 4/5 of it. It’s gorgeous, with the shiny wet butter and little bits of garlic powder.

Look at that garlic butter

Eat while still warm, if you can even wait for it to cool down enough to be called “warm.” I swear this bread is SO SOFT. SO delicious. So squishy and buttery-garlic-y and lovely. I was one happy little breadmaker. I barely even wanted my pasta bolognese. I just wanted garlic breadsticks.

What Stace had to say on Thursday, August 2nd, 2012
Your Questions II!

(Before we start Auntie would like to point out that today is the UK/Aus/IRE release of CHASING MAGIC! So, you know, please go buy it.)

This next question is extra-special, because of the level of respect shown by the readersheep in question. Good for you, little sheep! You *might* even qualify as Not Totally Stupid!

Auntie, you’re obviously a wealth of knowledge, and I know, as a moronic reader, I am completely unworthy of your time , but I wanted to thank you. I found your recent post to be a wonderful eye opener – it’s great to finally known exactly what my role as reader actually is! I am extremely grateful for you making it clear, and can’t thank you enough!

However, I have a question, and I can’t quite work out what your thoughts would be. What do you think about authors paying for positive reviews? If the job of readers is “solely to love and promote your book”, then why on earth would you pay such lowly creatures to do what should come naturally? Yet, on the other hand, would it be wise to do so – a pittance of what you will eventually be earning once the world knows you are the World’s Most Talented Author – when everyone will automatically love your book once reading this one positive review, due to the hivemind?

That’s about offering to pay for a positive review, but what about those readers who require – actually have the nerve to ask for – a fee in return for a positive review? Are these particular morons not thinking them superior to the mighty Author? Or are they providing a service, where payment, despite their zero importance, seems fair? I think it would be absolutely fascinating to know hear your opinions on such things – not only would it be great advice for authors, whether to steer clear or to take advantage of, but also to us reviewer readers, so we know how best to help our authors.

Thank you so much for taking time out from advising our godlike authors to read an email from such a lowly reader – if you managed to get this far. I would be beyond humbled to know you gave me the time of day!

Well, I did manage to get that far, but only because of how well you seem to have learned your place. Auntie has no time for readersheep who insist they matter in any way, so it’s nice to see one like you who has learned the error of her me-me-me little ways.

So let’s start at the beginning, which I know is important because try as you might you little sheep are incapable of understanding anything not perfectly linear.

First, you’re right. Authors shouldn’t have to pay for any sort of review, because duh, the free book is payment enough. Even THAT is a slippery slope, in Auntie’s opinion, because it’s frankly giving the readersheep WAY too much power, and swelling their silly little heads to mammoth proportions, to behave as if they deserve anything in return for their obligatory praise. In writing it all should work the other way around: everything for The Author, and nothing for The Reader.

However, because some traitorous authors have actually gotten into the habit of behaving as if the readersheep matter–and I don’t capitalize “Author” there because they are unworthy of it–and especially because of the, well, sheep-like nature of the readersheep which means they move blindly from one book to the next baa-baa-baa-ing as they follow their little sheep pals and buy up anything one of those pals says is any good (and I realize the incongruity of saying “pals,” as if readersheep are capable of feeling things like friendship, when in fact only hatred burns in their dark, envious little hearts)…well. I suppose sometimes we Authors must bite the bullet.

And I admit, giving them free stuff does make it easier later to inform them of their obligations. Much like Don Corleone dealing in favors, so must we be. And our retribution must be as swift, if they make the mistake of thinking they’re entitled to their own opinions.

It is rather confusing, and you being a readersheep I don’t blame you for not immediately knowing how to handle it all. After all, you are not very smart, are you? Poor little dear. What it boils down to, really, is this:

*Readersheep owe Authors positive reviews
*Whatever an Author must do to get positive reviews is justified
*Readersheep have no right to charge for positive reviews, BUT
*If Authors want to pay them for them, that’s fine, because anything Authors do is fine
*At least charging for reviews makes clear that the readersheep are not, as they claim, simply people who love books, but crazed egotists who are desperately trying to exert some sort of control over the behavior and careers of Authors
*Better that we have some paid readersheep out there to sway opinion
*Readersheep are always dumb

Auntie SpecialSnowflake, can you help me write better 5 star reviews? I want to make sure all the amazing and talented authors out there become rich and famous.

As well you should.

Auntie can indeed help, of course, and good for you for recognizing your responsibility! Here are a handy list of phrases you can use:

*The best book I’ve ever read
*Made me cry from its sheer beauty
*I felt like I was inside the story watching it all happen
*Better than {insert bestseller’s name here}
*You wont[sic] be disappointed
*Deserves a Pulitzer Prize
*I’ve never read anything so amazing
*Made me laugh, made me cry, made me cheer! {the exclamation point is very important}
*The most original story I’ve ever read
*Deserves to be a bestseller
*Deserves to be made into a movie

Any combination of those will work very well. And don’t forget, you can also check the five-star Amazon reviews for a number of self-published books to get a whole lot more of them–many of those reviews will even be written by the actual Author, so you know they’re good!

Auntie may still have a question or two in the queue, but tomorrow we may see something different here. It depends.

What Stace had to say on Wednesday, August 1st, 2012
Your Questions Answered!

(Note: This is Part One. To include all the questions would run a bit longer than I’d like, so Auntie graciously permitted me to do two separate posts. The next one will be up tomorrow.)

Auntie Specialsnowflake here! So many of you silly little readersheep sent in questions, and good for you! It is so gratifying to see how many of you acknowledge your lowly status, and that you need to modify your behavior in order to make this world a better place. Auntie is proud of you–well, as proud as she can be, considering that you still have not achieved anything of any importance (i.e. you have not written a book).

So let’s get to it!

Dear Auntie Specialsnowflake,

Readersheep want a cool, and attractive author. How can I make myself seem more cool and attractive?

Fat and over 40. 😉

Well, Fat, of course they do! Readersheep are incapable of seeing beyond the surface of anything, which is why they’re such sad failures and why they do things like give bad reviews to books that have lots of errors, just as if writing ability matters or something (we Professional Authors know it does not). As I said before, the obvious and best answer is to steal the photo of a Canadian model from a photographer’s Flickr account. This works especially well if you repeatedly talk about how your manager wants you to get more professional photos like that done but you’re just so down-to-earth you’re not necessarily into that, and you can also mention how hard it is to find people who like you for YOU and not just because of your golden hair and “blue eyes to die for.”

However, if you cannot find a photographer whose copyright you’re ready to trounce upon in the name of entitlement (which, how silly! Of course you’re entitled!) or a model whose image you are happy to use and whose career you are happy to potentially damage, there are other things you can try.

*Along that “picture” vein, find one of yourself taken, say, fifteen years ago. Make sure that it looks like it was taken during the heyday of Glamour Shots (i.e. shiny satin wrapped around your shoulders, hair piled eight inches off your scalp, heavy makeup, lots of fake pearls; science has yet to discover any look more flattering, or one that so loudly screams “Professional Author,” as what I’ve just described) or that you are otherwise wearing clothes or a hairstyle which are seriously dated. That photo of you with big poufy bangs and a perm wearing a Rick Springfield t-shirt will do nicely.

You can also skip the “old” picture and go for one which is “artistic.” Like, say, one where so much Vaseline was smeared on the lens that you resemble nothing so much as a sort of flesh-toned amoeba, or maybe one taken from fifty or sixty feet away, or perhaps a silhouette or an image taken basically in the dark.

Don’t forget, too, that nobody says you have to post a picture of your whole face. Take a close-up of the back of your head, or your hand. Not only will this be flattering, it has an ironic “hipster” feel that will be much appreciated by the younger readersheep, who will never see through any of these ruses.

*Use hip lingo. In my last post I mentioned how valuable “LOL” is, especially when discussing things which no sane human would ever think are actually worth even a smile, much less a full-on laugh. Use “LOL” a lot. This sort of “cool code-word” will immediately clue in the kiddies that you are young and fresh!

*Talk about popular culture. Apparently there’s some young singer called “Justin Beaver” or something. Post some pictures of him. The readersheep will immediately see that you are clued into what the kids are doing these days.

*Post a lot about very personal things. Let it all hang out! Talking about your sex life is guaranteed to excite the readersheep–they have the mentality of raincoat-wearing old men in pornographic theaters, you see, a voyeuristic delight in hearing or reading about anything having to do with sex–and make them come back for more. Auntie can picture them now, drooling as you explain your latest orgasms to them. Don’t forget to totally objectify any man you may happen to write about, as in, “I ran out to the convenience store to get a drink, and the guy behind the counter was totally hot and flirted with me so much I was tempted to peel off my jeans right there and let him see what he so obviously wanted!” The readersheep will be titillated beyond belief at this, especially since everyone knows they themselves can never manage to find anyone willing to have sex with them.

*Prove that you are tough, just like they are. We all know young people today are basically animals with no brains or impulse control. Prove that you are one of them by, of course, following the advice Auntie’s already given, but also by doing things like visiting forums hosted by TV networks for their reality shows and picking fights and calling names. There are no end to the places on the internet where you can demonstrate your amazing linguistic abilities and lack of self-censoring.

*Misspellings and poor grammar. As I mentioned, this will let the readersheep know that you are one of them, casual and unpretentious. Everyone knows that only fuddy-duddies and The Olds care about such things. YOU are an artiste! Young and hip and happening, just like Rimbaud!

*Don’t forget the importance of lying. This is the internet. Nobody has to know how old you really are!

*Make sure you rant whenever you can about how awful the readersheep who don’t like your book are and how much you need the support of the readersheep who do. This will get them on your side and make them want to run around the internet attacking those who give your book bad reviews, which will in turn make it appear that you are young, popular, and cool, with legions of fans (we Professional Authors always refer to the readersheep who like us as “Fans,” btw). Win!

Dear Auntie,

The Readersheep are overrunning my sock puppet reviews on my book. They tell me my book is bad. How can it be bad when it’s over 1000 pages?!

Epically yours,

A Stenographer of the Heart

Oh, dear, Stenographer. It can’t be, of course. Your book is the best and most amazing and touching novel ever put on paper. The problem is–as deep down you know–those stupid jealous readersheep. They hate that you managed to write such an intricate and involved tale, and that you have the dedication to put such a huge number of words on the page, especially since we all know that the only other Authors who have ever managed to write that many words are people like Tolkein and Dickens and Clavell, and obviously your book puts you in their ranks.

The only way to combat such stupidity from such uneducated, snivelling, hate-filled readersheep is, of course, to report them and their reviews to whatever site they’re posting on, including web hosts. Get all of your sockpuppets to report, too. In addition, use all of their names in your next book for characters of whose lifestyles you do not approve, or who have diseases or are otherwise imperfect. That’ll show em!