Wednesday, October 26, 2011

About Chocolate Cake

So this isn't the cake recipe that I shared in my video but it's the only shot I had of a chocolate cake.  It's actually a photo of a delightful birthday cake my partner-in-crime made me a few summers back.  Gotta love a man that bakes you a cake, especially one containing beets!  Beets?! Yes, those red root vegetables that appear in the pages of old fairy tales.  My cake was delicious and ever so subtle reddish hue was the only hint that it contained a vegetable. 

At any rate, back to the My Favorite Chocolate Cake...

There were some questions about the inclusion of vinegar and as explained in the video it's purpose is to react with the baking soda.  Vinegar is and an acid and when mixed with an alkaline or base, in this case baking soda, it causes a chemical reaction that creates carbon dioxide gas.  The carbon dioxide bubbles continue to fizz and expand during baking and creating all of those crumby pockets inside the cake.  Look carefully the next time you eat a piece of bread or cake; you'll see what I'm talking about.  The goal is well-risen poofy cake, so we add the vinegar at the end to conserve as much of the CO2 as possible.

Also a note about baking soda vs. baking powder.  This are NOT interchangeable.   In a recipe that contains only baking soda there's usually an acid (vinegar, lemon juice, yogurt) to react with it to create a leavening reaction.  Baking powder on the other hand, is a combination of baking soda and an acid that just just water to activate.  Sometimes recipes call for both leaveners, which I've read is to counteract baking powder's sometime have a bitter, metallic flavor.   The alkaline baking soda is used to neutralize the remaining acid found in the baking powder.  Whew!  Now that we've gotten through the technicalities of chemical leaveners, let's talk chocolate cake.

My Favorite Chocolate Cake 
adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook
If you're looking for a no frills chocolate cake, this is your recipe.  It sweet enough to be a cake but not so rich that you regret your indulgence.  It's just right.

1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
1/3 C. cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 C. sugar
1/2 C. oil
1 C. cold water or coffee
2 t. vanilla extract
2 T. vinegar
1 - 1 1/2 C. chocolate chips (non-dairy if making a vegan cake)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (180 C).  Sift together the dry ingredients.  Separately mix the wet ingredients except for the vinegar  Add liquid ingredient to the dry mix well.  Add chocolate chips and vinegar, stir quickly leaving some swirls of bubbling; don't over mix.   Pour batter into a greased 9" cake pan or into a muffin tin.  Bake for 25-30 minutes for a cake pan, 18-20 minutes for muffins, or until a wooden skewer comes out clean.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

More on How to Make a Mini Pond

Because there were so many questions about my pond set-up, I put this together with the hopes that it answers some of your questions. 

Remember not to overcrowd your pond.  Your fish need room to grow and overcrowding makes for an unbalanced system and adds stress to your fish.  I'll eventually have to look into making another pond soon as my fish get larger.  Also be careful not to shock your fish when introducing them to their new home.  Float the bag containing the fish in the pond water for 10-15 minutes, then open the bag and add a little of the pond water and reseal with air and continue to float for another 10-15 minutes before pouring them in.
Common name: Pearlscale Goldfish
Cost: purchased 3, for ¥500 at local farmer's market
Common name: Killifish, medaka メダカ
Cost: purchased 8, for ¥500 at local farmer's market

Beside being purdy water plants are important for 1.) keeping your water clean 2.) sheltering your fish from critters and the sun 3.) providing a source of food. 
Common name: Parrot feather Myrophyllum aquaticum
Cost: free - collected & introduced from a nearby canal
I uprooted a couple of small healthy looking stalks and used a piece of wire to attach them to a rock.

Common name: Water Hyacinth Eichhornia
Cost: ¥100 from home & garden center
I recommend just buying one of these; they're like zucchini in the sense that they're prolific.

I opted to collect rocks for two reasons: 1.) an established bacterial colony which help to breakdown pollutants 2.) they're free.  Also look for water snails that can help clean eat excess algae.  You want to make sure your rocks are clean.  Using any old gravel probably isn't a good idea.  Clean, aquarium rocks are cheap and sold in all kinds of colors and sizes.
Cost: free - collected from a nearby stream

Tap water is treated with chlorine to make it safe to drink, but it can kill your fish.  Treat tap water with a chemical decholorinator — found at any pet shop, or in my case the 100 yen shop — before introducing your fish, just follow the instructions on the bottle.  I do a partial water change every couple of weeks, meaning I siphon out about 1/3 of the water and replace it with fresh treated water.

I opted for this set-up because it was what I had on hand but it's not ideal.  In a perfect world you would want a container with more surface area to allow for more oxygen transfer, but because my pond is relatively small I just went with it.  You can also oxygenate the water using an air stone and a small pump.

I feed my fish once a day a small amount of fish food.  Be careful not to overfeed.  One last thing, remember that this is a closed system so every couple of weeks you'll have to do a partial water change.  This means, siphoning out 1/3 of the water and replacing it with clean treated water.   Also the plants will take up water and water will evaporate so replenish it as the water level drops.

Whew!  I hope I got everything.  Honestly, this may sound more complicated that it actually is.  Once you get everything going, it does a great job taking care of itself.  Make it;  you won't regret it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

neighborhood temple

Just around the corner from our apartment we have a lovely temple called Zigenji.  A few weeks ago, I woke up freakishly early and took these photos just as the sun was beginning to rise.

I'll do a video of it soon. It certainly deserves it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

a good thing

I'm a firm believer of reminders of good things past.  This video is a case in point.

Monday, October 3, 2011

the rice paddy now

Will you take a look at that.  It's a little hard to believe that a couple of months ago this drying patch supported an entire ecosystem of ribbiting critters.   Along with his family of helpers, our gentleman farmer harvested his rice, bundling the stalks to be dried before being threshed and milled.
Our farmer friend also plants flowers from seed along the bike trail, rotating them with the changing seasons. The marigolds are just about to bloom.