Monday, October 2, 2017

Recipe: French bread

For some time, I've been baking bread at home to add to our meals, but after our trip to France in April and all the delicious baguettes we had, I became quite let-down by the quality of my bread. I recently found a recipe that I've started making that is significantly better than what I had done:


  • 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1.75 tsp salt
  • 18 oz (500 g) flour (about 4 cups)


  • Mix dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 12-14 hours or until doubled
  • Shape loaves by rolling onto lightly floured surface. Put on baking sheet and let rise, covered with floured plastic, for 1-1.5 hours or until almost doubled
  • Cut angled slices in the top of the dough, tucking sharp corners in
  • Preheat oven to 550°F with a pan of water on the bottom rack of oven to keep humid
  • Bake about 15 minutes or until well-browned, spraying with water before baking and at 5-minute intervals
  • Let cool before eating

A few useful notes:

The water need not be lukewarm. I use cool water straight from the faucet. Mix everything together at once. The initial prep takes five minutes, tops.

I started off with a 12-hour rise time and another hour after forming the loaves, though I've also had success with about three and one, and I will probably continue to experiment to see how quickly I can make this recipe happen.

The dough should be quite sticky at basically every stage. Lightly flour the counter when forming loaves, the pan when you move them over, and your hands whenever necessary, but don't use too much.

Because you spray, bake for five minutes, and repeat (especially if you're doing a double batch like I do), there's a lot of time sitting around babysitting the loaves:

But it's worth it. After baking, let the loaves cool completely and enjoy:

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Financial anatomy of a European vacation

This last week, Andrea and I returned from our first trip abroad after a very long time without any significant vacation. Aside from camping trips and weekend getaways with friends, our last vacation was before Jacob was born.

We decided on a trip to France, including Paris, Versailles, Marseille, and Normandy. Never before or during the vacation did we discuss any sort of holding back on our spending. Since this is the first vacation in a decade, we did what we wanted and we paid what we paid.

That said, I still kept decent documentation on our expenses because I'm a data geek, and I wanted to get an idea of what we can expect next time around. I started collecting receipts from coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores (we did a fair amount of eating by way local groceries, which surely saved us a ton of money), museums, and so on. After returning home, I crunched the numbers in a Google Doc, cross-referencing with our credit union and my credit card.

In summary, our expenses were as follows:

conversion fee€29.19
Grand Total€6,430.12

Some notes:
  • For simplicity, I converted everything into euros since most expenses were in that currency to begin with.
  • Dollar values, when applicable, are converted at a rate of 1.09 dollars per euro. This rate was roughly the same across transactions that I linked up between point-of-sale and what posted to our bank account. (Bing indicates the exchange rate was a little lower at the beginning of our trip and climbed the whole time.)
  • All those conversions incurred some type of fee, which at a glance seemed to be about 1% of the dollar equivalent of the transaction for both ATM withdrawals and point-of-sale.
  • "Coffee" covers when we went out for coffee, beer, wine, smallish snacks, etc. - not quite a meal but also not something from a grocery store.

Untracked Expenses

Due to my poor record-keeping during the trip, I wasn't able to keep perfect sense of expenses. The majority of our transactions were in cash, and when I lost or failed to get a receipt, that money dropped into this abyss. Fortunately, I still knew exactly how much cash we got from the ATM throughout the trip (€1000), so it's all accounted for.

(Side note: European cash is awesome. My pocketful of coins was frequently around €10, more than enough for two drinks and two snacks. Also, no dealing with tipping or with taxes, which are baked into the final price.)


My parents were awesome and flew out to Seattle to watch our kids, house, and dog for the duration of our trip. We paid for their airfare and their expenses during their stay, which was a steal for us - even a reasonably short trip to Minnesota for us requires we board Shasta for $500-1000. In all, paying for gas, groceries, their airfare, and incidentals incurred a reasonably small bump in the overall cost.

To be fair, Mom and Dad waived some of the expenses under the excuse that they got to spoil their grandkids at their own expense. Win-win-win.


A friend advised us to take Le Bus Direct from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Paris. This cost us €34. Had we done our research, we would have discovered the awesome metro system that would have (likely) cost us about €3.50 and maybe even been faster. Lesson learned.

The majority (71%) of our expenses in the transportation category, though, come from renting a car, buying expensive gas (something like $6/gallon) and paying tolls on the autoroute.

Lesson: take the train.


During our time in Versailles, some newfound friends advised us against going to Marseille on account of it being spring break in France. All the students and families were heading down to the coast, making the high-speed train tickets expensive (almost $250 for the two of us) and aggravating the already terrible Marseillais traffic. So we decided at the last minute to head to Lille instead. This gave us the opportunity to also make a quick side trip to Bruges, Belgium.

However, because of this last-minute change, we had to forfeit the Airbnb that we had reserved. This cost us a couple hundred dollars, but was probably worth it.

Quick Take-Aways

After it all, it appears that our two week vacation to France cost us a hair over $7000, which, given a few minor hiccups, was pretty reasonable. Next time:
  • Better planning on lodging will avoid The Marseille Problem of throwing money away.
  • Travel, insofar as it can be done without a car, should be.
  • Looking at currency exchange trends and executing at the right time can save a little bit, but probably not enough to make it worth it.
  • Grocery stores will still save a ton of money versus eating out.
  • Tours, while not an insignificant cost, should still be done to a great extent.
  • At-cost baby-, house-, and dog-sitting will beat all other methods of saving by a huge margin.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Deux mots français, and laser etching knives

Aujourd'hui, j'ai appris qu'en français, les mots seconde et deuxième ont une petite différence : deuxième s'implique qu'il y a troisième. On ne dit pas deuxième guerre mondiale parce que il n'y a pas un troisème guerre mondiale (pas encore, de toute façon...), mais seconde guerre mondiale.

De la même façon, mon plus cadet fils est aussi mon second fils parce que je n'en ai plus.

In unrelated news, the Universal laser at The Garage is back up, so I etched the boys' names into their knives from Christmas.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

On se tutoie ?

Un jour, il y a plusieurs de mois, j'ai parlé avec un français en ligne, et j'ai voulu connaitre comment les francophones changer de vouvoyer à tutoyer. Parce que, en l'anglais, nous n'avons pas cette problème. Il m'a expliqué au moyen de les films.

En les rom-coms, l'homme rencontre la femme. Ils se vouvoient. Mais, bien sûr, à la fin, sûrement, ils se tutoieront ? Donc, quelque part dans le film, ils changent à utiliser tutoyer. Alors, il y a toujours une scène où un personnage principal « accidentellement » tutoye l'autre personnage, et il (ou elle) s'excuse pour l'impolitesse. Puis, elle (ou il) réponde, « Non, c'est bien. Tu peux me tutoye. » Voilà, la scène où on sait les personages sont amis au moins et pas simples connaissances.

J'ai pensé c'est très interessante, mais j'ai vu seulement environ cinq films, et je n'ai pas le vu encore. Hier soir, j'ai vu enfin une scène comme ça, dans la série Dix Pour Cent, sur Netflix comme Call My Agent!, quand deux personnages commencent être proches:

Voici comment je peux continuer à être excité de mon formation français - les petites découvertes de l'utilisation de la langue.