Does Water Matter That Much? The Story of Importing Water 1200 Miles From Philadelphia to Make Bread

Once upon a time, in the woods, up on top of a hill, there was a farm house.

It was a beautiful neighborhood, a wonderful home.  There was a large kitchen hung off the back of the house, 20 feet by 25.  It had a fire place that was a welcome addition in the winter.  Bright windows and skylights and plenty of room.  It was an amazing place to cook.

This was my house for only thirteen years, in Philadelphia.

I was fortunate.  I got the idea that I could try my hand at baking bread when the bread machines came out back in the 1990s.  They were easy and I got great results.  I quickly moved to use the bread machine as a mixer and proofer for bread dough.  The results were much better since the oven would caramelize the crusts in a traditional way.  I ended up having “artisan” quality loaves of bread for about $.50.

Yep, 50 cents a loaf.

That translated into a Seven Cent Roll.  Crispy crunchy crusts.  Italian Bread.  Sweet Breads.  Amazing Pizza Cracker Crusts that had flavor and cracked when you bit down.

 

Inside the crusts, I would have soft as a cloud and chewy bread.  It was easy in Philadelphia to make bread in that kitchen.  Everything “just worked”.  The chemistry of the water was not pleasant to drink.  Philadelphia’s water from the tap is described as “Schuylkill Punch”.  It had a strange color, taste, and smell.   Philadelphians would laugh about it and say “Yeah, it’s da wudder here” and change the subject.

But it made great bread.

2006 happened.  We moved from Philly to South Florida.   When I turned on the tap here, the water wasn’t better.  It was different.  It looks vaguely brown and has an unpleasant taste.  Fort Lauderdale is processing it and since this is a “semi-tropical” area just about 10 miles below the Freeze Line in Boca Raton, there’s a high amount of Chlorine to kill off the nasties that live in the pipes.

You don’t want nasties in the pipes.

But it made bad bread.

You have to expect that.  All that chlorine would kill off your yeasts or simply retard their growth.  After all, Yeast is a Living Thing.

We went through “steps”.  I have tried various water to make bread here.  I am using the same recipe as I always have, “Pat’s Pizza Dough” recipe.  The flour is the same, although I do switch in various kinds of flour from time to time.

I get an adequate result when I use tap water.  The crusts are very thin and soft.  Better than what I would get in the supermarket, it just wasn’t what I was used to.

I was playing around with water for a while.  Take it from the filter on the refrigerator, warm it to 105F or 40C.  Use the same recipe.  Better.  The crust would be a little thicker, a little crisper, but not quite that Artisan quality.  Bottled water had similar results.

One day I was driving through downtown Fort Lauderdale and we passed by one of those bagel places that promises to make their products from what can only be described as reconstituted New York Water.   The only explanation that I have is that they’re adding salts and minerals to local water to get the balance of water that is approximately what comes from the tap in Brooklyn.

My Aunt’s Mother in Law had an apartment in Brooklyn.  I remember as a small child turning on the water tap and getting something that looked like milk out of the tap from all of the suspended gasses that were precipitating out.  I don’t know that Brooklyn Water was what I wanted.

So the conversation went like this:

“Yeah but you’re going to Philadelphia in July.  Can you bring me back some water?  A quart would be fine, a gallon would be amazing!”

We decided that we would go to a sporting goods store and get the first jug we could find that would be suitable that was more than a gallon.  More than that and I felt it would go funny from storage.  Less than that and I would be frustrated.

We ended up with a seven gallon blue plastic cube.  It got trucked to Glen Mills, PA in the back of my friend’s SUV where he filled it with about three gallons of water.  Right from the tap.

Coming home, I got a text that read:  “Slosh, Slosh, Slosh”.  As he drove down US 1 to the Maryland Line, the motion of the car was making the water splash around in the cube.  I was glad it was semi-rigid and larger than we needed.

When he got here to Florida, I got chapter and verse about how it was in the car making a racket in the back sloshing around for 400 or so miles until he got onto the Auto Train, then from Sanford, FL to here.

But we had PA Water!  Now to make bread rolls and pizza.

Just as they went into the oven, the power cut out and I ended up finishing everything off in the Barbecue Grill.

Strangely enough, it didn’t harm the rolls.  They were some of the best I have ever had since we moved.  The crust was crispy like a cracker, and the rolls had flavor.

 

Clearly there was something to this!

So while we laughed at Philly Wudder tasting like Schuylkill Punch, it made good bread.

I still am not certain what it was all about.

It is possible that it is that the water is better for baking.

It is possible that all the sloshing helped to de-gas the water of all the Chlorine and Fluorine in it.

It is possible that since it has been out of the tap for a couple weeks at the time of baking it was at its peak.

I just don’t know.

What I do know is that the crust was crispy, the “crumb” inside was soft but full of pockets of “air” that you would expect from a high quality bread.

There is now one question left to answer.  Was it the water from Philly, or can I recreate the results using local water that was either filtered or distilled, and left to “de-gas” on the counter.

All I know is I finally have a loaf of bread that I made in Florida that tastes like I remember it in Philly.

Yes, there is something to all of this.  The actual taste of the bread has changed subtly. The crumb is definitely better and the crust is wonderful.

All of this from a big blue cube that is taking up space in my kitchen.

So in six months when a return trip happens… yep, you guessed it.  Someone will have a big blue cube riding North to Glen Mills.

 

Here’s hoping that the water doesn’t freeze overnight!

Who’s Vacation Is It Anyway?

When I lived in Philadelphia people would ask: “When’s the last time you went to see the Liberty Bell?”.

Normally when I heard someone respond they’d say “Oh back when I was a kid” or “A couple years back”.

I did go to see it from time to time.  I have a great picture somewhere, probably lost to the ages, of someone walking behind it so that it looked like The Bell was walking somewhere.

I guess you had to be there.

But that’s the thing.  The Locals don’t do these sorts of things. 

Oh sure, I was at The Rocky Steps, the Art Museum Steps in Philly, many times.  It was a great place to cool down when I had a race or was just out training.  It’s also a great place to rub shoulders and meet up with friends, or friends to be.  But to go TO the Rocky Steps to do that run up them?  Nah.  The Art Museum in Philadelphia is a totally different thing, a world class museum of Art that if you’re there, you should go see it.  I did… Back when I was in High School.

Get the picture? 

Now that I’ve been here 9 years, I’m starting to grow roots.  Some of them are quite deep, the others may just be a bit grey, but they’re sinking in.  I’m beginning to make those comments about my adopted home city of Wilton Manors and Fort Lauderdale area in general.

“The Beach?  Floridians don’t go there except in their car to look at it.  It’s pretty but it’s just full of tourists!”

“South Beach is a nice place to go for a meal but it’s such a hassle to get there.  You can drive through it though and look like you’re in an episode of Miami Vice or Grand Theft Auto!”.

“The Keys?  You have to do it at least once, that drive to Key West, but be careful.  It could last anywhere between 4 to 12 hours to get to Key West.  I heard once there was a fender bender in the island just above Key West and the traffic didn’t clear for two whole days!”

You know, those comments “Locals” say when they have been there a while.

So add to it the general “Nice” factor and you know what I am going through this week.

“Whaddya wanna do?”
“I dunno, what do YOU want to do?”

Then suggestions are made, the nay sayers are heard, and eventually something happens to the day.

Nice to have a day to “kill” anyway, right?  You’re in paradise, the sun is bright, the weather is warm, the Everglades are burning because the wet season paused.

Oh that last one happens around this time of year.  You see things dry up and burn out there on the river of grass.

But yeah, you’ll see it.  We can go for a drive there.  Hit Federal Highway and maybe drive down to the Keys if it’s not backed up. 

Apparently We’ve Got a Substantial El Nino in 2015 Going On

Going through my morning routine, I stumbled across a BBC Article that said that we’ve got a Substantial El Nino event happening right now.  It was originally announced in March that it was a weak El Nino but apparently it’s been upgraded.

The Australians have been watching since their normally dry climate there gets drier.  The assumption there being that you’ll want to watch for more brush fires.

Since I’m not a weatherman, or a meteorologist, I decided to dig in and see what I could find.  That led me onto a long search on the subject of what does that mean to me here in South Florida.

Wetter than normal, fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic than normal in the summer.

If that is the case, that means we won’t have any water worries for a while here because Lake O will refill (isn’t it high already?) and the aquifers will recharge.

The pages that I came across were all about general trend and so forth and a discussion of how it all comes to pass.  Something shuts down the tradewinds that normally push water across the Pacific towards Australia and Indonesia.  The resulting wave allows the water to relax and flow back towards Ecuador and Peru.  Since that water is from a hot part of the world, the Australian water will warm up Ecuador and Peru when it gets there causing droughts and less productive fisheries.

The maps are general, and usually show “trends” with blobs all over the place to indicate the broad probabilities.  This NOAA map is typical, and shows the Summer.

That is what this video shows.  A nice concise description from Climate Central of the mechanics of the El Nino effect.

There are world wide consequences, mostly focused in the middle and central latitudes in a big thick band.  Above roughly latitude 40N (Philadelphia, PA) the effects lessen.

However, if you’re a ski fanatic, book your trips to the Western Resorts since the weather is expected to be, generally, wetter than normal.  They need that there, but the Southwest, West, and South will be wetter, just like here.

Wetter winters can mean more snow and some more blizzards than usual.

Perhaps too much because we’ll be hearing about flooding where there were droughts earlier.

That Wet And Cool implies either ice storms or blizzards in the Interior South of the US.

Again, that probability thing.  Since the weather is such a complex system, the idea that one El Nino will be just like the rest.  Looking back at the last 60 years, and categorizing the events by strength, the stronger events had a significant amount of variance between them.

The rain patterns are not set in stone and there aren’t “Rules” but trends. 

The best thing to do is to say Weather Will Happen, and Be Prepared since you can’t change it.

But for me, the takeaway is fewer hurricanes in Florida.  I’ve been wondering about that.  I still have Hurricane Food from last year to be eaten!

Bounty Of Rollerblades – Tuning Up The Inline Skates After 50 Miles

Everyone has a sport.

This one is mine.

It is no longer fashionable, but I truly don’t care.

I’m not doing it for those people who think fashion is the end all of existence, I never do anything for that.

I’m doing it for me.

I was that guy.  I skated 21,000 miles.  I would do 100 miles in a week.  My peak week was one week that I took off from work and skated 204 miles in seven days total.  I was at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia so much on those skates that the park workers asked me if I was training for something.

Nope.  I really do enjoy skating.  In fact, I skated so much that I had to actually limit myself to 100 miles a week normally because I could over-train.  Near the end of the season, October into November, before the time change I would slow my skating down.  I had to distance limit myself to get the metabolism back down to something approaching normal.  Eating a training diet in the winter was never a good thing.

Even now when my fitness level is not at that same peak as it was.  Meh.  Don’t care.  I’ve got my box of parts and tools and know how to use them.

In season, I used to slack.  I would tune the skates up every other week.  That’s 200 miles.  They really needed it weekly but it takes an hour just to tear them down, wipe off the dirt from the bearings, reassemble everything with loctite and call it good.

That was what I did over the weekend.  One of my Weekend Projects.  I’ve been skating these days just enough to go out and enjoy it.  Headphones on playing music to keep me moving, I’d hit the park where the Goodyear blimp lands and do a circuit plus a mile.

Only 5.5 miles?  Yep.  I’m not skating to prove anything.  Just to enjoy a visit with an old friend.

I was all set to do a complete teardown – that was the 200 mile service.  Pull all the bearings from the wheel, the speed kit from the axles, and fully disassemble the bearings.  That meant I’d be de-greasing, drying, re-greasing, and reassembling each of the 16 bearings, then the wheels, and finally inspecting the boots.

Did all of that with a smile on my face.

I will let you in on a secret though.  Duct tape.  I duct taped the inside of the boots.

No, seriously.  It’s like when you wear shoes out.  That spot in the back of the heel where the fabric wears out first. It starts as a small hole or tear.  Put a small square of duct tape over that and you’ll be fine.  Just don’t tell anyone.

Why do I do that?   My racing skates cost $600 per set.  Even this pair of “run of the mill” boots were over $250 back in the day, although I got my competition discount from the shop I went to.

I used to get some bearings tossed at me by the same shop, long since closed in the collapse of the sport.  You just can’t run out to a sporting goods store these days and pick up a serviceable pair of high end touring skates any more.  For that matter I don’t think they’re even being made available.

Philadelphia was a bit of a hotbed for distance and speed skating.  I was into distance.  I’m way too tall and muscular to truly be fast.  So I’d do 30 miles at 12 MPH average.  4 minute miles.  I could do that forever if the winds were at my side.  Even faster if it were at my back.  Then it would be scary-fast.

I’d do the run from Philadelphia to Valley Forge if the Fairmount Park loop was clogged with some sort of “Walk” which was just a disruption more than anything else.  It also helped that I managed to get out there some days before 6AM, park at Falls Bridge, Skate to the Art Museum for a warmup before anyone else was out there.  Then do 4 mile sprints from the Rocky Steps to Falls Bridge and back until I got tired, bored, or the Walk was starting.

Easier to go to the Valley Forge loop, Schuylkill River Trail.  If I needed more distance, it was about 15 miles from Philadelphia parking through Valley Forge, and to the head of the Perkiomen Trail at Oaks, PA.  There’s a bridge over the Perkiomen Creek that I used to sit, drink my water, eat my power bars, and chat with the other skaters.  One of my favorite spots in the world to sit and chill out.

Pretty country out there, West of Norristown.  Actually, even though it ran through some industrial areas, it was generally quite pretty as long as you weren’t in Norristown, PA.  That was a pretty ugly town itself.

But the skating was fun.  Bring a quart or two of ice water, 600 calories of snacks to keep from hitting The Wall, and tank up at the water fountains at Valley Forge Park.  Plenty of Regulars, and Friends.

Yes, up to 600 calories.  Peak season, I needed 3000 a day on my enforced no-training day, and up to 6000 a day just to get my 30 miles plus weightlifting in.

That scene is long gone.

Pompano Beach Air Park has its own Regulars.  A bunch of leftover Canadian Snowbirds, primarily from Quebec.  A very few on skates, most on bikes.  Some locals getting out there to enjoy the trail.

It’s black ice.  Smooth asphalt.  4.5 mile loop.  You can see the little planes landing at the civil aviation airport.  Sometimes the Goodyear Blimp is out, and if it is landing I swear it comes in at a sharp angle up to 45 degrees.  Never expected to see that when I got there.

It’s not my favorite trail, but it works.  And trust me, after 21,000 miles, I’ve seen many of them.

The servicing worked.  I have a lot of wheels I picked up after skate shops closed up at a dollar or less a piece, some others from skates people threw out that were used once or twice, and I even bought a pair for “backup” at the thrift shop.  The box is a full “Paper box” that would work for shipping reams of paper.  Along with the probably more than 200 bearings in the bucket, all the assorted axles and screws, bolts and speed kits, I’m set.  Good for a couple thousand miles without ever visiting a skate shop.

All of this for a non-fashionable sport that I truly love.

Sunny With A Chance of Heavy Snowbirds According to Siri

Weekend days, when they’re quiet, have a rhythm to them.

May as well get things baked for the week, cleaned, vacuumed, and so forth.

But if I am sitting down, doing my own thing, I eventually get holes bored through me by twin brown eyes.   That would be my bored dog.

Fine.  But it’s too cold to go outside.  After all it’s not even gotten into the 60s.

Winter in South Florida.  We know who you snowbirds are.  You’re wearing shorts.  It’s 66 degrees.   It gives us an excuse to break out the leather jackets for two or three weeks, then the air conditioning comes back on.

After breakfast is done and the dishes are put away, if we’re going to be home, we put on the heater.  Enough to give it a hot-foot back to normal.

The house will hold the heat for a while until the sun gets high enough to go back outside and see what the dog is doing behind the shed.

Just don’t step in it, he’s usually going through the wormhole to his other family.

Standing in the sun, I get curious.  As long as I’m warming my bones, I’m fine.  Just like any other iguana I suppose, I’ll thaw in full sun, freeze in the shade.

I pull the phone out of my pocket, get out of the glare by moving the sun behind a handy well placed palm tree.  “Weather” I bark at the slab of electronics.  Better not drop it in the pool.

“The weather is sunny and 66 degrees!”.

Well isn’t that nice.  The weather here is the same temperature as the pool.  The pool water is warmer than the water out of the cold tap in the bathroom of my old house on top of the hill in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill.  How do I know?  The cold water tap was never really over 60 there unless it was summer. 

Ok, I’m curious…

“Weather Philadelphia”  Barked again at the slab.

“The weather in Philadelphia will not be very nice” 

Judgemental cow.   Some people actually enjoy that stuff.

“It will be down to 3 degrees and heavy snow”.

Oh Really?  I use a different app to tune in the All Commercials All The Time News Station in Philly.  They even got worse at KYW.  The Commercials are advertising the commercials which pass for news content these days.  At one point it was three commercials deep.

No wonder why people can’t listen to an all news station for very long.  It’s all commercial garbage and very little actual content.  I don’t need to know what your news desk is sponsored by, raise your rates, and cut the commercial load.

Closed the app.  Why bother.  One quick surf will get me the info I needed.

Yep, Sunny with a chance of Heavy Snowbirds.

Why do I call it that?   Give it about 3 days to a week.  When it snows in the Northeast, Philly but also places like Boston, Hartford, Baltimore and others, people are locked in at home.  The day before they hit the supermarkets and bought Milk, Eggs, and Bread.

I did it myself.  Breakfast was French Toast made from the Milk, Eggs, and Bread we all binge bought the day before.  Got to use that crap up!

Next meal after that was lunch.  Drag the grill out and make burgers.  It didn’t matter that it was snowing, you could show your contempt at that Mother, Nature, by making up a burger in the side yard and freezing the extra.

Freezing being the key redundant word. 

A little cheese on mine, please, and no the rolls don’t need to be toasted since I made them earlier.  Yes, homemade rolls for the burger because it would warm up the kitchen and the rest of the house.  Tomorrow is the cookies if we’re still snowed in.

Dinner was leftover burgers or pancakes.  The griddle was large enough to do both.

But the snow would melt, the roads would be cleared, and you could get in the car and drive to the fabled area below the I-4 line where it doesn’t snow, and below Clint Moore Road in Boca Raton where the USDA says it will never freeze.

10 miles more and you are in my town looking for parking. 

Have some French Toast.  You must be hungry.  We’ll have burgers later.  There are fresh rolls in the freezer.

Stay warm.  It’s only 66 out there!

Prepare to Make French Toast, The Barometer Is Falling, A Blizzard Is Coming

Even this far away from the Impending Doom of the Blizzard, the barometer is falling.

Not that I set it with any regularity, but it seemed a bit ironic when I walked into the hallway this morning.

Of course I was going in to tweak the heat.  It’s Florida, and I was cold.  It’s all relative.

All weekend, watching people on social media has been a weird flashback to my days in Philadelphia.

My sister sitting on the line between expected to get a foot of snow, at least it was on Sunday when I wrote this, my friends in Rhode Island planning on moving into an Igloo if the roof collapses under upwards of three feet of snow.

It all had a feel of when I was sitting in my bright sunny kitchen, on top of Chestnut Hill, in Philadelphia.  I had my laptop tuned into a news feed from one of the TV stations in New Orleans, watching the coverage of Katrina as it happened.  Cross that with the blizzards that I lived through in the years I was up there.

There is a joke about Blizzard preparation in the Northeast.  You go to the store, buy Milk, Eggs, and Bread.  The Blizzard comes through, everyone knows what to do since you live in the Northeast.  Once you’re done, you go back into the house and the person in charge of the house makes up some French Toast.

Dip your bread into egg and milk wash, fry it in butter on a skillet, and smother in Maple Syrup.

If you’re really getting smacked around, take the maple syrup outside and pour it into some clean fresh snow for a treat that the Native Americans taught us.  Ice Cream.

On a day like that, after you’ve got your carbo-load on and you have shoveled your driveway, the walkway, and probably part of the neighbor’s walk, go find your kid’s soap bubbles.

Take the kids out, or the kids at heart, and go into the yard with common every day soap bubbles and blow bubbles.

Why?  They’ll shatter when they hit the ground.  If it’s close to freezing, they’ll shrivel up like a raisin.

All weird storm memories aside, Stay home, take it slow, shovel in small steps.  Watch the roof too, they’re pitched for just this reason – to let the snow fall off.

About the only nice thing about this sort of thing was you would get to chat with the neighbors.  We would go outside, shovel the driveway into the front yard, the sidewalk into the front yard, and repeat as needed.

As far as I was concerned, the key was to start early and shovel every two hours.  Great exercise but it would also thin the herd.  Every so often you’d hear about some poor soul have a heart attack doing just that, clearing the walks.

Slow and easy and check back in later to let us know you’re alright.

The Winter Griller Gets Confused

I had a long standing tradition.

If I did it here in Florida, this far South, it would require a scene worthy of a disaster movie, so it’s something best done up North.

I would wait.  Bide my time.  Eventually it would happen.

I knew it was coming, I can’t remember a year that it didn’t.

Snow.

When it came I was ready.  I had to go out back and grill.

Back then it was a flying saucer shaped Weber grill, a chimney to start the charcoal without that nasty starting fluid, matches and newspaper.

Come on, nobody really likes the taste of that starter fluid stuff on their steaks!

The charcoal starter was a nice, safe way to work through any lingering pyrotechnic/pyromaniac frustration you had leftover from when you were a wee brat.  Just crumble newspaper, set a steel cylinder on top of it, fill with charcoal and light the paper.  It would burn, catch the charcoal, and in about 10 minutes you could cook.

That was the plan.  Any breeze coming up the driveway and you had to get more paper since it would fan the flame and burn it all up too quickly.

I’d do that every time the first snow happened.  I would usually do it on any notable snowstorm during winter.   In and out the back door with steaks prepared to my liking along with burgers for the nay sayers and some corn to grill.

I was That Guy.  In the side yard.  Laughing at the weather.

All that went through my head as I pulled Lisa’s Pepper Steak from the freezer.  Lisa passed back in summer, and when Bill moved off he dropped off two steaks at the house.  One was an amazing Delmonico steak that was tender like butter.

This second one was labeled “Pepper Steak” and “Product of Australia”.  I promised to cook it upside down to make sure it wasn’t confused.

A full pound of upside-down Frozen Pepper Steak was in my hands.

Slapping this freezer-aged steak on the counter, I went about my business dreaming of snowy afternoons and grilling food for friends, all the while looking at my swimming pool and the palm trees of the backyard.

When the time came, I laid out some plastic wrap to pound the steak with a big metal mallet.   Opening the package I realized I was confused.  The meat had been sliced down to thin ribbons.   Pepper steak?  This was sliced for someone to prepare a savory Asian Inspired delicacy, not for some confused Jersey Boy to pound to a pulp and grill in the backyard by the pool.

Cue the laughing.

Cue my grumbling as I went Australian in the kitchen.  Upside down under the oven.  That’s where we have the Wok.  Actually, much to our chagrin, I have two.  You can never have too many Woks.

Never mind that, I enjoy Asian Inspired Cuisine (TM) and make it well.  Actually I make it well For Me.  You make it well For You.  It’s like a burger.  The best burger in the world is one you make to your own specifications – for me it is Meat, Heat, and Eat.

I’ll (TM) that one later.

I dutifully put it all on the heat, added a tablespoon or five of olive oil and another tablespoon of Anise Seeds.  When that all started to bubble and pop, I tossed in Lisa’s Steak.  Add in some Hoisin Sauce for flavoring, about an ounce or two, to give it a sweet and savory sauce.

The house smelled like a restaurant, so I was on my way.

When the steak was cooked through, which took about 4 minutes, I dumped a two pound bag of pre-cut Asian Inspired Vegetables.

Hey, that’s what they called it on the bag.  “Asian Inspired”.

Politically Correct Water Chestnuts, Chopped Broccoli, and Red Bell Pepper chunks that I actually didn’t pick out to nibble on as it cooked.

Still frozen, I had to wait for the wok to warm up again.

The noises and smells of the feast drew my faithful sidekick, Rack the SuperDog (TM). 

“Dad, can I have a taste too?” his brown eyes said as he caught me nibbling a choice chunk of Pepper Steak now cooked perfectly.

I flicked a piece to the side and handed it to him.

Doggy heaven.

Human Heaven too.  I forgot how much I enjoyed home made Politically Correctly Named Asian Inspired Pepper Steak.

Like a good old friend, even if it wasn’t made in the backyard swatting Mosquitoes away.