Despite the title, these pixels are anything but lazy. This is a site of my own photos, my own art, my own written text and more. There are no memes. This is not a portal to someone else’s brain. It is an outlet for my own creative soul. I plan to post words and pictures about things that interest me and all the projects I'm exploring in multiple formats: long, short, deep, and shallow. Share and enjoy.

Jar 3, Take 3

Posted
1 year ago

The problems with Jar 3 were philosophical more than anything else.

It was, in retrospect, that I’d been too lazy. Less than three days ago I wrote about restarting the third of my three closed jar ecosystems after attempt one took a nosedive over the winter and had become little more than a jar of sludge on my windowsill.

Less than a week into the journey, however, I found myself staring disappointedly at the result. Too lazy.

A gorgeous sealed jar (a hard commodity to come by these pandemic days in a time of limited shopping and online orders) ready for what could potentially be a lifetime of interesting growth and change and enigmatic development, and I’d hastily tossed some crap in from the flowerbeds without rhyme or reason ... just because.

In fact, the truth of my self-doubt is more complex. I’ve been watching a YouTube channel in my few spare moments, binge-watching videos where the creator and host builds elaborate sealed and closed ecosystems and then publishes the results as what often amounts to a twenty or thirty minute tutorial... of the highlights.

Here I had spent barely five minutes refreshing the whole of Jar 3 ... in real time. And the differences were obvious.

It’s not as if I’m trying to become a YouTube celebrity or compete with the living art that he had created, but I knew I could do better.

By Saturday afternoon the week of rain had cleared into a spectacular sunny day, and with a few seeds of a plan in my mind I set off for a walk with a couple plastic bags, a pocket knife and my iPhone, walking towards the nearby wilderness fringing my neighbourhood as it backs onto the river valley.

Spring turned out to be an ideal time to restart this project.

The walk into the woods revealed a generous collection of fresh growth, bolstered by the recent days of rain. The earth was a little damp and as I plucked through the trees and stepped over the ground covering, I had my choice of small plants, mosses, lichens, and even small saplings from which to pick, pluck and place into my bag.

And I filmed the whole thing, of course.

Between the perfect afternoon lighting and the quiet adventure of such an oddly contemplative subject, I nabbed nearly twenty minutes of footage of myself gathering and then rebuilding Jar 3... which I did in the backyard about an hour after my stumble through the woods.

I emptied attempt 2 into the garden, gave the jar a good rinse out, wiped it down with some paper towels, and then proceeded to build up my soil foundation with a simple but planned approach.

The plants and mosses were added.

Some rainwater from the barrel provided a chlorine-free hydration of the space.

And I collected a small variety of critters from under rocks and deadfall in my flowerbeds to add as a clean-up crew, before sealing the jar and editing my final video:

https://youtu.be/nxt3mfExjME

Only time will tell how the third attempt pans out. Certainly a carefully plotted approach to bringing together a diverse ecological representation from the local biome will give it a much better chance than either take 1 (which is long dead) or take 2 (which probably would have lived but been far too utilitarian.)

And that is, of course, the point right? To attempt to make something beautiful using a living, growing, changing canvas where the only piece one can control is the setup. This was a new setup. All I can offer is that you check back someday to see the masterpiece.

Lazy Pixels Creamery, Cookies & Cream

Posted
1 year ago

A few months ago when we borrowed the exact same model of ice cream maker attachment as that which arrived on our doorstep earlier this week, the first flavour of ice cream we attempted was Cookies & Cream. It was an amazing success, not for any reason less significant than that the Kid and her friend took it upon themselves to make the pre-mix and actually followed the directions.

I've adapted that recipe for our second attempt, because the version I used in round one was a lot richer... in the money sense, and I wanted to not only trim down the cost a little bit but make it a bit more realistic for supply gathering during the Great Grocery Shortage of the 2020 Pandemic.

On a Friday lunch break we kicked off our first batch in the new mixer.

Recipe: Cookies & Cream Ice Cream

2 cups, heavy cream
1 cup, milk
2/3 cup, granulated sugar
1/4 tsp, coarse salt
6 egg yolks
1 tbsp, vanilla extract
8 Oreo Cookies, crumbled

In a saucepan we combined and warmed the cream, milk, sugar, and salt over medium heat until the sugar was dissolved. The Kid insisted on whisking this blend with one hand while attempting to hold our candy thermometer just-so-deep in the mixture with the other. The goal was to hit 170F on the final mix, but not too hot to curdle the eggs when we added those next.

A small bit of an event as we separated the eggs, then the yolks were whisked, and ultimately tempered with about a third of the hot milk mix. Again this was all accomplished by some furiously mixing on that whisk by the Kid combined with some genuine elbow grease and the obligatory frantic shouting of directions when I took over then dared to pause (for barely a moment!) to switch hands.

The eggs and milk (plus the vanilla) were heated to a smidgen over that 170F mark, and then we killed the heat and strained the whole batch through a fine steel mesh sieve and into a plastic pitcher (because it has a lid and fits nicely into the fridge.) Back to work and back to waiting.

Four hours into the chill we set up the new ice cream attachment for the stand mixer, frozen (for 36 hours) ahead of time, and poured the ice cream base into the bowl, setting it to stir mode. With a few minutes left on the thirty minute conversion, we added the cookie crumble and let it combine before scooping into a freezer container and hiding away to harden up.

Choice of service: waffle cone, obviously.

Rainy Days

Posted
1 year ago

Late May, locked in our houses, and it has been raining with a heavy, steady persistence for two days.

The saskatoon bush outside my front door was trying to bloom and the soft, fresh growth was drooping with the weight of the raindrops that had accumulated on its leaves and blossoms.

In the cloudy-skied backdrop this made for a delicately beautiful scene, but the challenge of trying to portray the wetness as a sketch is a nuance I still need to practice.

There is something about rain that makes me want to sit in a cafe and create. To draw. To write. To fill in blank pages with simple ideas.

Almost twenty years ago I finished my second university degree and took a job in Vancouver on the west coast of Canada. I left land-locked Alberta for a few years to work and kick off my career, and the first year I was there I was basically alone and left to fill my days with work and my evenings with creative pursuits.

Vancouver is a rainy city, and in the late autumn and even through the winter months, the air is usually thick with a dense, soaking rain, and I would find a reprieve from my tiny studio apartment by hunkering down in a small indie cafe a few blocks down the street where I would sit and drink tea and write.

It was not so much productive as it was formative, and the memories it set into my head still linger as a kind of long-lost idealized state of my twenties, on my own in the city, living a quasi-bohemian lifestyle in fits and starts between the trim and proper working hours.

The rainy days always in the background.

Jar 3, Take 2

Posted
1 year ago

Closed jar ecosystems tug at the heartstrings of my biologist background.

Nearly four years ago I took the family for a moderate walk through the neighbourhood and out into some of the natural spaces that connect us to the city’s river valley. The local government has done a remarkable job of ensuring the ribbon of natural, boreal forested green stretches largely undeveloped through the city’s core leaving an accessible but mostly natural recreation space for all to use. We take advantage of that space frequently as our home is a short walk from multiple access points.

The natural space varies in size and complexity, but generally it is represented by a swath of roughly 100m of deciduous growth, mostly birch but interspersed with a variety of evergreen and smaller shrubs and bushes like dogwood, wild rose and saskatoon. Tucked in among the lowest levels of this is a hardy ecosystem of smaller plants, lichen and mosses.

A small grocery bag in hand, I plucked a clump of soil containing a variety of bits from a random spot in this sprawling acreage and brought it home where I sealed it in a jar with some garden soil and moisture.

It’s been growing into a convoluted ecological mass, separated from the rest of Earth’s biome (except for the obvious input of sunlight & energy) for nearly four years.

This is what some would call a closed jar ecosystem.

Not a great one. It was a lucky crap-shoot that happened to roll a perfect-enough number, and it has grown filling the jar with eager life. Four years on I would not dare to open the sealed jar both because I fear interrupting whatever delicate balance I stumbled upon and due to the fact it probably smells unimaginably dank inside.

Look at this success, about a year ago I bought two more large jars: one for me and one for the Kid.

I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend and fellow parent about something we dubbed "parenting fomo" or the fear of missing out (as aggravated by other parent's social media posts) on some perceived experiential learning experience for your kids ...because life is busy and sometimes just getting a hot meal to their mouths is a goram accomplishment!

This was one of those moments. Feeling like she could use some parent-grade, look-dad's-a-scientist, educational enrichment I bought her a jar so she could stuff dirt and some backyard weeds into it and see what happened. Learning!

Ten bucks... and ten minutes of home schooling. Achievement unlocked, right?

Life went on and jars 2 (the Kid's) and 3 (the dad's) sat in the windowsill for the better part of a year, wintering in the shortened daylight hours overlooking a snowy backyard. And as spring arrived, jar 2 was a dewy bed of moss punctuated by some small leafy plants poking from the ground, while jar 3 was a wet layer of black mud with a smudge of snot-green algae-like goop rimming the display.

On the weekend, then, I did the unthinkable and took jar 3 to the backyard and opened it back to rejoin the Earth's ecosphere. It hissed with a positive pressure release and I let it sit in the yard for an hour or so to air out.

The mistake I made, I realized, was my attempt to build less of an ecosphere and more of a controlled terrarium. Where jars 1 and 2 had been populated with random bits of the outside world, gobs of soil and life from the river valley ecosystem or chunks of moss growing in dark corners of our backyard, jar 3 was sterile potting soil and a very controlled set of cultivated plants. Each of those things was a small piece of some ecosystem, but likely not the same one, nor together enough to comprise a whole one.

I gutted jar 3, and restarted with a small handful of pieces, each a little less planned than my original attempt: just stuff from the dark corners of the yard where life was finding a way despite my attempts to groom it into submission. Take 2. Updates to follow, hopefully for at least four or more years.

Recipe: Everyday Sourdough (2020)

Posted
1 year ago

Starter

The key to sourdough is natural yeast. This is not something one buys at a store. Natural yeast is cultivated over weeks, then years, by capturing, developing, growing and tending a starter -- a levain -- a mother dough.

There are many articles online about ways to do this. At it's most simplest, this involves little more than some flour and water in a container, exposed to air, nurtured through a patient fermentation cycle. Daily care and work turns into a goopy bowl of flour, water, and living organisms in balance that smells yeasty, beery, and wonderful.

A starter needs to be fed routinely, woken to make a new batch of bread, and cared for with approximately the same diligence as a needy houseplant. In the fridge, starters need feeding every week or so. On the counter, at least once, if not twice, per day. But one of the easiest ways to start a starter, is to borrow a chunk of someone else's and start feeding.

Making Bread

Hour 0 (4pm)

In a bowl, I combine by weight (because it's more accurate):

300g or roughly half of my starter 
500g flour, mixture to your liking (approx 4 cups) I like 25% multigrain + 75% white
12g salt (approx 1 tablespoon)
360g of warm (not hot) water (approx 1.5 cups)

By combine, I blend this into a loose, rough ball and cover on the counter to hydrate.  

Hour 0.5 thru 1.5 (430 - 530pm) 

Not so much kneeding, but pulling and folding and stretching the dough every 15-30 minutes. By the end of this process it will form something of a cohesive ball as the gluten relaxes. The trick is to give the new dough enough time to hydrate, form a singular ball of dough, but not get on a runaway fermentation before you can get it into the fridge.

...in other words, cover and put it in the fridge. Go watch some TV. Sleep. Go to work. Run an ultramarathon. Your call.

Hour 14 (8am)

You can fridge ferment longer, multiple days if necessary -- in fact get it in there overnight and pull it out when it's convenient -- but let's call this a 24 hour bread and work from there. I usually overnight in the fridge, and in the morning pull the bowl out to warm up on the counter at room temperature for a couple hours before working again. The longer you fridge-ferment, the more "sourdough" your bread will taste... but more than three days is probably pushing it.

Hour 16 (10am)

Flour the counter-top and then by kneeding gently, form the ball into either (a) one large ball for a dome loaf or (b) two equal oblong balls for two loaf pan-sized loafs. For a full sized dome loaf I flour the ball and then rest in a proofing basket, covered. For two loafs, I put parchment into two cast iron loaf pans and place one oblong ball in each, covered.

Proofing is subjective. This process can take 6 - 10 hours in my house depending on humidity, season, and room temperature. I give myself lots of lead time, and have sometimes found myself baking bread at 11pm because the proofing took so long. The dough will have at least doubled in size and will leave a small indent when poked gently with a finger (the poke test). But let's be optimistic: 

Hour 24 (4 pm)

If I've attempted a big, dome loaf (great for parties and dipping breads), my large cast iron dutch oven with a lid goes into the oven for a pre-heat. When my 475F oven (without convection) is hot, the dutch oven comes out, I roll the dough out of the basket, do a little quick slash with a sharp knife across the top, re-lid, and back in the oven for 30 minutes. At thirty minutes, the lid comes off and another 12-15 minutes is usually enough to brown and finish the loaf. 

If I've tackled a double loaf (better for sandwiches and morning toast), both loaf pans with risen dough go directly, as is, uncovered, into the pre-heated 475F oven (without convection) for thirty minutes. No additional browning time required.

For both, watch carefully for the last 5 minutes of baking. It's a narrow window between deliciously brown and just plain old burnt like toast. 

Cool on the counter for about an hour. Voila: Bread.