15 Dec

The Year in Sugar and Gluten

Time for the ritualistic year-end baking review!

I’ve been doing keto on and off this year, so the volume of new and exciting baked goods is less than it could have been. (For the record, nothing “substituted” for baked goods traditionally prepared with wheat flour and cane sugar is in any way an adequate substitute. If you’re really desperate, you might be able to find a half-assed brownie, but it’s less depressing, ultimately, to either accept bread and dessert are off limits or have an occasional dietary indiscretion and eat something that actually tastes good.)

I already mentioned the croissants here and English muffins here, both from The Model Bakery Cookbook. After making croissants, I am fearless in the kitchen. People were stunned when I made bagels. Dude, I have made CROISSANTS. Bagels are child’s play.

The povitica (swirly bread with, in this case, apple filling) was delicious but more cakey in texture than I think it should have been. (Not that I’ve had it from another source, but when I’ve seen it on TV, it looks like a glutinous, stretchy bread dough, which this recipe didn’t produce.) Next time, I’ll try it with the doughnut dough I use for cinnamon rolls and see if I can get closer to what I imagine.

I got a picture of only one beignet (that trusty doughnut dough again) because people will repeatedly burn their fingers snatching up dough fresh from the fryer. I’m not wasting any more time making round doughnuts with holes in the middle, which get squished and misshapen with handling (say, for instance, getting them into the oil). Squares are much lower maintenance, and people think they’re super exotic because they’re French. Anything that’s better received when it’s easier is a win-win.

I keep meaning to make the cheese coffee cake with doughnut dough, too. (I should just use that dough for everything. It’s amazing.) I suppose then it would be more of a danish? Whatever you want to call it, tender, chewy dough stuffed with sweet cream cheese and covered with sweet, buttery crumble can’t be bad. The coffee cake is pretty boss as it is, but coffee cake tends to be on the dry side, and how is that not a design flaw begging for improvement?

Although rye flour technically makes it rye bread, the taste is all caraway. I bought a coffee grinder solely for caraway seeds so I can get my fix. (The smell never goes away, so don’t try grinding coffee or cinnamon after it unless you’re going for a… unique flavor experience.) While I’m used to dense commercial rye bread, my homemade loaves are soft and fluffy, so it doesn’t seem “right” to me, but man, is it tasty with salami and cheap yellow mustard, or lightly toasted and heavily buttered.

The jasmine green tea ice cream was the biggest failure (other than the no-wheat-no-sugar-cane desserts, which were universally crappy and don’t bear mentioning). I love jasmine green tea and can imagine how it should taste in ice cream, but that particular recipe was overwhelmingly strong and abused the tea with too-hot liquid that gave it a sour note. (I had reservations on both counts before I followed the directions, but I have this dumb habit of saying, “No, no, I’m sure this person knows what they’re doing. I should just follow their recipe.” One day, I will learn to trust my own experience, knowledge, and instincts.) If I make it again, I’ll use half the tea leaves and let the boiled cream cool to the correct green tea temperature before steeping.

I bought The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes when it was on sale earlier this month. That’s right, THREE HUNDRED BREADS. I can make a different bread six days a week for almost an entire year if it pleases me (and it would, but consuming that much bread on a daily basis would be problematic). The Cinnamon Raisin Bagels and Orange Swirl Bread (which deserves to be made six times a week for a year all by itself because OH. MY. GOD—it will be reshaped into rolls and smothered with cream cheese icing soon in order to evolve into its final form) came from there. I’m reading it like it’s a novel because bread is my love language.

I don’t want to dwell on anything else that happened in 2017 (put a stake in its heart, chop off its head, set it on fire, and salt the ashes), but the baking retrospective makes me feel good for a few minutes. Even the disappointments are learning experiences, and failures are never of sufficient magnitude to be discouraging. Life would be magical if every experience was so forgiving.

Until then, THERE WILL BE BREAD.

03 Dec

My New Baby

Ordinarily, I would bore social media with this, but… ha!

While I was losing hair over that fustercluck yesterday (which is ongoing, I see by the absence of the Facebook feed in my widgets…), I received a timely gift from myself.

A pasta roller! Blue to match my stand mixer! (I use “match” loosely. My KitchenAid is in storage because I’m displaced, so I can’t compare. If they clash, I’ll separate them when I get my own kitchen.)

To soothe my nerves, I meditated on pasta late into the night. Since my previous attempt at pasta (I tried rolling it with a rolling pin, which I don’t recommend — you think it’s thin enough, but you’re wrong) was plain, I stepped up my game with spinach this time.

Improvised recipe: 100 g all-purpose flour, 100 g “premium pasta blend” (“golden semolina and extra fancy durum” — don’t I feel posh), 100 g of fresh spinach (wilt it in a pan with a tablespoon of water, cool, and wring as dry as possible), and 2 eggs. Whiz the drained spinach and eggs in a blender or food processor. Mix the liquid into the flour. (I did it by hand, but you can probably do it in a food processor.) I had to add a few drops of water to bring everything together because I took wringing out my spinach VERY SERIOUSLY. Knead it until smooth and nonsticky (as the pasta roller manual says, “Good pasta dough never sticks!”). Divide it in two, wrap, and rest at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. Roll, cut, cook, and use as desired.

These little noodles (“tagliolini,” according to the blade manufacturer) are straight up ramen. Thin and tangly and springy. This was half the dough (100 g of flour and 1 egg, for those keeping track) and made what I consider four main-dish servings after adding some mushrooms, frozen spinach, cream, parm, and chicken. Every other recipe I looked at was like “500 g of flour, 5 eggs, serves 6” (five times the noodles in that picture serves six?!), so I’m mentally calculating what other people consider a serving and getting peeved that I’m chubby. Maybe I’ll try the Trough of Pasta Diet for the New Year.

The fettucine is… well, fettucine. I bagged that up and put it in the freezer because even the tiny batch of dough I made resulted in an enormous amount of pasta. As in, I was STARTLED to find the second lump of dough still on the counter after I rolled out the ramen.

While I was doing my pasta meditation, I was thinking about how inconsistent my level of fussiness is. Someone gave me a teapot — not a kettle that you heat the water in, but a pot you pour already-hot water into and let the tea steep, and then pour the finished tea into a cup. It’s adorable, but I will never use it because that whole middle step seems like such a huge waste of time and effort when I can just steep tea right my cup. But I have no problem winging a pasta recipe, making dough, spending an hour cranking it out, and making a huge mess of the kitchen that I then have to clean while dried and even “fresh” pastas are readily available at the store, mess-free, simply dump in the pot and go. I was trying to pin down my tolerance, and every example of I WILL DO ALL OF THE FUSS seemed to be dough-related.

The only logical conclusion is that I am the secret shame of the Pillsbury Doughboy.

02 Dec

Antisocial Media

Howdy, y’all! Happy December!

Because I haven’t been having enough fun with social media for the past couple of months, Facebook nuked my personal account with absolutely no explanation, and there appears to be no way to recover it. That’s right, all the civilization-undermining crap they allow to go on, and the account I use for nothing but running my dinky little author page gets permabanned with no warning, no explanation, and no recourse. The author page is still up, but there is NO WAY I CAN MANAGE IT without the admin account.

So I’m going to try this ONE MORE TIME. My NEW author page is RenBentonAuthor. I hope previous followers can find me there. I hope Facebook doesn’t decide to lock me out of another account for no reason. (But not as much as I hope I can find somebody to cut off the $1000/month of ads I can’t monitor or control because I can’t log into a nonexistent account! Really genius system they have there…)

*deep cleansing breaths*

I am terribly sorry about the mess and inconvenience.

Off to spend all day updating websites and book files instead of working on this overdue book…

UPDATE: SPOKE TOO SOON! New one went down the second I got the book files updated. @$#?%&! They at least gave me a verification method this time, but I have 0.00000000000001% confidence in their ability to follow through. Next time you witness or experience something shitty on Facebook, remember how I got shut down for the sin of… following too many tea companies? Who the hell knows.

DECEMBER 4 UPDATE: I still have received zero communication from Facebook. Fun fact: If you can’t log in to an account, there is NO WAY for you to communicate with them. (I tried to fill out a form to appeal a disabled account so I could terminate my ads, and I got an error message that I couldn’t proceed because the account hadn’t been disabled!) They want your naked pictures and scans of your ID, but otherwise, they really, really, DO NOT under any circumstances want to hear from you. Fortunately, I woke up to zero traffic from my ads, so some machine apparently finally “realized” continuing to bill me for a service I can’t control is going to get awkward the second I file a dispute with Visa (which was on today’s to-do list) and cut off the ads tied to the disabled-but-somehow-not account, which was all I really cared about. I’m thrilled to be done with it. (Oh, horf. Days later, I am stunned at my naivete. Solving problems is not their style.)

LESSON LEARNED: Do not put any part of your business in the hands of dudebros notorious for behavior that makes your skin crawl. A handful of sales isn’t worth the effort of navigating the capricious and impenetrable bullshit that will inevitably occur because THAT IS THEIR ENTIRE BRAND.

20 Nov

Great Googley Moogley!

Previously on Distribution of Our Lives, the aggregator I’d been using to get into Google Play announced it was closing its doors and left me in the cold to die.

I trudged door to door, pleading at each, “Please, kind sir, won’t you allow me to warm myself by your Google-accessing hearth?”

Many doors closed in my face with a curt, “There is no Google access here, girl.”

Others opened as wide as lascivious leers, accompanied by unseemly terms.

“Payment in bitcoin? I am not that kind of girl, sir!”

Bitter weeks passed, and the ember of hope faded to cold ash. As I abandoned my dreams, I heard the thunder of approaching hooves and resolved myself to ending my despair via trampling. I closed my eyes, held my final breath, and waited for oblivion to fold me in its numbing embrace.

The hoofbeats slowed to a stop beside me. A labored snort heated my frozen cheek.

I opened my eyes and looked up, up, up at the mighty white steed beside me, atop which sat—could it be?—Prince Google himself! His lips were stern, but his eyes were kind as he extended his hand. “I will take you in, child. You will never know cold again, and I vow to pay you for your labors in currency recognized by your utility company.”

I gladly accepted his hand, the warmth of which melted the ice from my fingers and my heart. He lifted me onto the saddle before him, wrapped his multicolored cloak about me, and carried me with haste to his wondrous castle filled with books, music, moving pictures, and strange applications, where we lived happily ever after.

(Can you believe some displaced beggars just got their invitations by email? Pfffft.)

In other words, Google Play is now included in my distribution lineup for maximum availability, and links sitewide have been updated accordingly!

Amazon (AU | CA)  |   Apple  |   Barnes & Noble  |   Google Play  |   Kobo  |   Smashwords

07 Nov

Growing Wide (And Not Just in the Hips)

Well, November is off to a screaming start. *twitch* After much agonizing, formatting, uploading, metadataing, waiting, giving up on certain entities because of the waiting, resorting to other means, and linking (so much linking), I am finally pleased to announce the successful embiggening of my sales platform to most sellers. My books are now available at Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords in addition to Amazon, will be trickling down to too many tiny sellers for me to keep track of (so… much… linking…), and can be acquired by ebook-friendly libraries if you tell them, “Psst. Hey. I want to read this.”

In the unlikely event someone of your acquaintance has said, “Ooh, I’d love to read her books, but I don’t buy from Amazon,” feel free to pass along this important and wonderful news at your discretion.

Unfortunately, the distributor I was using just for Google Play access announced it is closing its doors, and other options for entry to GP are limited, so that’s off the table for now. Sorry, Google fans. (I got in direct with Google as of November 18! Books are uploaded! Will have another linking binge when they go live!)

To conclude the linking frenzy, here are my author pages at a manageable number of sellers (alphabetical order, indicative of neither favoritism nor benefit to me):

Amazon  (AU  •  CA) *  |  Apple  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Google Play  |  Kobo  |  Smashwords

* Thanks to an anonymous Aussie who clicked a link and got sent into nothingness, I was reminded the link to my official author page on Amazon won’t work in Australia and Canada (because they don’t have official author pages), so I’ve added special links for y’all. Book-specific links sitewide will route everybody to the appropriate store, but the general Amazon author page is valid only for the US, UK, France, Germany, and India storefronts. Sorry for the inconvenience. I sincerely hope things will be smoother going forward.