A lot of long battles and an enemy (the Vord) that's honestly getting a little boring; the inexhaustible horde gets old after a while. The ending wasn't particularly conclusive or satisfying, and while there was a bit of the intrigue and clever planning that makes Tavi so likeable, there was also an extra serving of sex and bondage (by the evil people of course) that left a sour taste in my mouth.
Still entertaining, but I'm definitely ready for the series to be over.
Read March 8-19, 2017.
4.5 stars - good depth and some emotional impact, but not particularly gripping.
A slow start, but the authenticity and depth - a blending of literary fiction and fantasy - made this a really solid book. I especially liked some of the insight into human nature from the perspective of the non-human characters. The last 50% - and especially the last 25% - was fast paced and hard to put down, and the ending was poignant if not exactly earth shattering.
"A man might desire something for a moment, while a larger part of him rejects it. You’ll need to learn to judge people by their actions, not their thoughts.”
"Tell her she was right. There were consequences to my actions, and I never saw them."
"And Schaalman has a free will of his own.”
“I’m not so certain of that last one,” the Jinni said. “I saw his lives, and they all followed the same pattern. As though he could not break free of his own disposition.”
The Golem’s mouth twisted. “You believe he couldn’t choose not to do evil?”
“We all have our natures,” said the Jinni quietly.
In my last post (the first foray into the fabled world of pancake science), I discovered that skipping the butter in a pancake recipe tends to do almost nothing to the final pancake. But what about skipping the egg?
The "Basic Pancake" Recipe
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup milk*
Stir**. Cook***. Consume****.
* 2% (for now).
**For about a minute, until the big lumps are gone but ultimate smoothness has not yet been reached (for now).
*** Get a pan hot, spray it with some no-stick spray, pour a circle of batter, wait about 3 minutes for bubbles, flip, wait another 2-3 minutes, and remove from the pan (for now).
**** With great eagerness.
Take out the egg and see what happens.
Used an infrared thermometer to make sure pan temperature was steady at around 425F, then cooked both pancakes at the same time.
In the first try, the pancake with the egg had a lot more lift.
Same with the second try.
And the third try (although much less noticeable).
Looking at all three pancakes from each batch shows that the egg batch had a larger crumb and slightly more lift (much less pronounced once you remove them from the pan).
Visual inspection: The pancakes with egg had more lift, but were less uniform (both in thickness and browning). The pancakes without egg had a more classic "from a restaurant" look. However, when I gave a piece of each one to my wife without telling her which was which, she held up the with-egg piece and said "this one is more beautiful".
Taste Tests: I gave a piece of each pancake to my wife and 3-year-old son to taste, without telling them which was which.
My son unequivocally pronounced the non-egg pancake better (and proceeded to eat the rest of it).
My wife tasted one, then the other, then one, then the other, scrunched up her face, and said "I like this one [the no-egg sample]... the texture is more bready. This one [the with-egg sample] tasted almost more - I hate to use the word "eggy", because it probably doesn't have eggs in it*, but it has a different texture." Later, after tasting more, she said that the no-egg pancakes tasted sweeter, and grilled me about how much sugar I put in each one (the same in both).
When I tasted the two, I had a hard time making up my mind. There was a definite difference... the no-egg pancake was smoother and more uniform, and maybe a little sweeter. If you like thin, delicate pancakes, you'll probably prefer the no-egg method. If you like a hearty, fully-bodied pancake with a little more of a savory / substantial / "eggy" taste to it, then you'll probably like pancakes with egg.
*Alas, she has been scarred and jaded by the many taste-tests I have subjected her to; she is no longer able to trust her instincts. In this case, to her delight, she was right.
Egg makes pancakes bigger, heartier, and... well, eggier.
Whether you like that or not is up to you. As for me and my house... we will probably be following the no-egg pancake path henceforth.
This is the fateful first step in a quest for the perfect pancake. Over the next weeks/months/years*, I will empirically vet or debunk every ingredient, cooking method, and old wives' tale** possible. At the end of that time, you will have all the information you need to create the perfect pancake for any situation, whether it be cooking an elegant breakfast for the mountain-retreat board meeting of a Fortune 500 company*** or slinging flap-jacks at hungry loggers from a rain-besieged campfire****.
How will we reach this colossal goal? One step at a time. And the first step is to start taking things out of the "basic pancake recipe" and seeing what happens.
* In order of decreasing desirability and increasing likelihood
** Or old husbands' tale, if you prefer. Or even young husbands' tale. OK, young domestic partners' tale.
*** These tiny, delicate pastries, if sentient, would most likely sneer at being so crassly referred to as "pancakes"
**** Well, maybe. Some situations require more fortitude than technique.
The "Basic Pancake" Recipe
(optimized for ease of remembrance)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 cup milk*
Stir**. Cook***. Consume****.
* Let's stick with 2% for now. Later on we'll try buttermilk, skim milk, water, and whatever else seems appropriate (in controlled experiments of course).
**This seems (and should be) self explanatory, but there is apparently some controversy on the precise amount of stirring and the benefits therewith. Upcoming experiments will fathom these mysteries, but for now, let us say that stirring means stirring for about a minute, until the big lumps are gone but ultimate smoothness has not yet been reached.
*** Again, to set a standard, let's stick with the traditional method for now: get a pan hot, spray it with some no-stick spray, pour a circle of batter, wait about 3 minutes for bubbles, flip, wait another 2-3 minutes, and remove from the pan.
**** About three 5-inch pancakes.
What happens if you don't use butter?
Why It Matters
If butter doesn't make pancakes better, why add it? If it does, why not double it?
Take out the butter and see what happens*.
*Or, to be more precise, make two batches of pancakes, identical in every way save the existence or non-existence of butter. Perform visual inspections and blind taste tests to determine what (if any) differences exist between said pancakes. Draw conclusions accordingly.
Batches identical, except batch 1 has no butter.
Both batches stirred the same amount
Adjusted burners until consistent, steady temperature reached across griddle.
Flipped at the same time.
Results: top view.
Results: side view.
Results: side view detail.
Visual inspection: Very little discernible difference. The pancakes with butter were slightly darker (not just for these two examples, but for the rest of the batch as well). The rise was almost exactly the same, and the crumb was very similar. If you look closely, you can see that there are larger, less consistent bubbles in the batch with butter. This was a texture that you could taste.
Blind Taste Tests: My wife and I took turns closing our eyes and letting the other person feed us bites of pancake*. We then attempted to tell, through taste alone, which was better. After many "let me try the other one again"s and "hmm, it's really hard to tell"s, we both came to the same conclusion: there was almost no difference, but if we had to choose, there was one of them that seemed to have slightly better / fuller texture and maybe a little better flavor. This turned out to be the one without butter, for both of us, twice each.
*A much less romantic experience than it sounds, I assure you.
Butter doesn't do anything for pancakes*. It's useless. If anything, it makes them slightly worse. Feel free to skip it.
*OK, we've only proven that 1 tablespoon of butter doesn't do anything for pancakes. 1 cup of butter would definitely do something. Would it be something good? I doubt it, but maybe I'll have to try it someday. On the list of "things likely to improve my pancakes", though, it has just moved towards the bottom. It's still above "adding sawdust" and "eating raw", but it's far below "cooking at a different temperature" or "changing the amount of egg" or "stirring more / less". Those experiments will come first.
This post is an addition to my popular instructable Hash Browns: The Holy Grail of Breakfast. The instructable shows the best technique I know for making hashbrowns on the fly. But if you want to prepare a day ahead of time, you can make your hash browns a smidge better (thanks for the tip, dropkick!).
The trick is pretty simple. The night before you're ready to make your hash browns,
BOIL THE POTATOES WHOLE
Next, you need to cool the potatoes down.
REFRIGERATE THE POTATOES
Once your potatoes are nice and cold (a couple hours in the fridge), you can make hash browns at your leisure. When you're ready, just grate them as you normally would:
GRATE THE POTATOES
This is the point where rinsing the potato shreds would be super important, if you hadn't pre-boiled them (see my instructable for more detail). As it turns out, boiling the potatoes seems to accomplish the same thing as rinsing them does, so if you've boiled, there's no need to rinse. But don't take my word for it: compare the rinsed and un-rinsed versions of the next several steps.
The next step is to cook the hash browns as you normally would. Put oil, bacon grease, butter, or something else that sounds tasty in a pan. Get it hot before adding your potato (you can check this by adding a few shreds... they should sizzle). Then dump your potato shreds into patties and cook on medium for a few minutes each side. (For more cooking tips, see my instructable).
COOK THE HASH BROWNS
That's it! I really think pre-boiling is the way to go if you're the plan-ahead type: the pre-boiled potato shreds seemed to cook a bit faster and more evenly, and it's easier to get that diner-style, crispy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside patty that every good American loves.
Many biscuit recipes caution against over-working the dough. I've read recipes that insist you only stir 15x after adding the milk and others that say you should knead only 5-10x. The idea is that too much kneading will make the biscuits tough, hard, and nasty.
Usually I mix just until the ingredients are combined, then knead 5 times. But to see if this is really necessary, I made three batches:
I could definitely tell after 15 kneads or so that the dough was changing. It got harder to fold, stiffer, more "bready". By the time I got to 45 kneads, they dough was fighting me as hard as any bread dough. The gluten was going crazy in there. I was sure that I had "ruined" that particular batch of biscuits.
Turns out I was wrong.
At this point, I thought I had settled the matter: over-working the dough is not something you need to fret your head about.
But then, as a few people reminded me, it is possible that even five kneads is too much. What if all three of these batches were "ruined" in comparison with the glorious fluffiness I could have had if I handled the dough even less?
To make sure this wasn't the case, I performed one more experiment. This time I made only two batches of dough:
To shape the "no knead" dough, I stirred the ingredients with a fork until they were barely combined, dumped the dough on the table, shaped it carefully with my hands, and folded it one time to give it at least a semblance of cohesiveness.
I then baked both batches (along with some canned Pillsbury biscuits my wife had left over in the fridge) together at 425 F for about 20 minutes.
What was the final result?
Well, both the "no knead" biscuits and the 5x kneaded biscuits tasted really good. If you just took a bite of one, it would be hard to tell the difference. No one at breakfast (and there were 7 of us) said they preferred one over the other.
But there were some differences in the shape of the biscuits.
So what's the conclusion?
In my mind, these experiments pretty much debunk the overworking paranoia you see from a lot of biscuit makers. Kneading your biscuit dough a few times will not stop your biscuits from rising... in fact, they tend to rise higher the more you knead them (although if you knead them much more than 15x, they will get less crumbly and very slightly more spongy).
So go forth and knead, 5x, 10x, 15x... anywhere in that range will give results that are almost indistinguishable. Even if you can't help but knead the dough until it begs for mercy, don't expect your biscuits to be ruined... just expect them to be a bit more homogenous, spongy, and Pillsbury-ish.
All biscuit masters agree: if you're going to use butter, use real butter, not that fake crap (margarine).
But margarine is usually several times cheaper than butter, has lower cholesterol, and generally has much fewer calories. Could it really be all that bad for making biscuits?
To find out, I made two batches of biscuits that were identical except for the type of fat used.
I cooked both batches on the same cookie sheet at 425 F, so baking conditions were identical. I had six taste-testers, and I did not tell them which biscuits were which until they'd given their opinions.
It was difficult to tell any difference in appearance between the biscuits. Both turned out pretty nicely: fluffy, flaky, and crispy on the thin outer crust.
What did the taste testers say?
5 of 6 taste-testers preferred the margarine biscuits
This surprised me. I asked how sure everybody was of the difference? Three of the five that chose margarine biscuits were only 20% sure of their choice. One was 80% sure, and the last (a smart alec) was 64% sure.
What reasons did the un-witting margarine lovers give? Better texture and taste.
What about the dissenter, who liked the butter biscuits better? She was also only 20% sure, and said that the butter biscuits (which she did not know were butter biscuits) were moister.
Conclusion: If you're a purist and just can't stomach the "fake crap", then by all means use butter. But if you want to save a few bucks and a few calories, margarine is a great alternative that may even make the biscuits taste better.
Some biscuit recipes call for butter. Others demand shortening. Still others swear by cream cheese. Some even claim a mix: I read one article that claimed that shortening led to better flakiness and butter led to better taste, so an even mix of both would lead to the ultimate biscuit.
We've already seen what the amount of fat does to a biscuit, but what does the type of fat do?
To find out, I made three batches of biscuits that were identical except for the type of fat used. I was cooking for a crowd, so I cooked each batch separately, one after the other, and asked my guests to let me know which batch tasted the best. I did not tell my guests what the difference in the batches was until everyone had told me their opinion.
Judging by appearance, I could not tell the shortening biscuits apart from the butter biscuits, but the cream cheese biscuits were a little cakier and less flaky looking.
Either butter or shortening is fine; there's no clear advantage of one over the other (except that butter is easier to incorporate into the dough by hand, especially if you grate it like cheese). Cream cheese is a decent (but inferior) alternative if you're worried about fat content (cream cheese has about half as many calories from fat as butter or shortening). Cream cheese might be an especially good option if you're making biscuits and gravy (where the biscuit is more of a vessel for the gravy anyway).