Saturday, December 29, 2012


Recipe by Daniel Leader

This is probably the easiest of the craft breads in Daniel Leader's "Local Breads". Just flour, water, salt, yeast and a little patience are all you need to produce a really wonderful couple of loaves or batch of rolls. Don't be scared off by the amount of water in the dough. The little bit of additional effort needed to work with this level of hydration is well worth it. Besides, making these rolls is much easier than forming baguettes.


For The Biga
  • 65 grams Tepid Water
  • 2 grams Instant Yeast
  • 100 grams Bread flour
For The Dough
  • 167 grams  Biga
  • 425 grams Tepid Water
  • 10 grams Instant Yeast
  • 500 grams Bread Flour
  • 10 grams Sea or Kosher Salt
Cooking Directions

    The Biga
    The Biga 12 Hours Later

  1. The evening before you plan to bake prepare the biga. Combine the water, yeast and flour in a small bowl and knead briefly until its is fairly smooth. Form the biga into a ball.
  2. Lightly oil the bowl, pop in the biga, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature for an hour. Then place it in the refrigerator overnight (12 to 17 hours).
  3. Remove the biga from the refrigerator and scrape it into a mixing bowl. Add the water and stir it to break up the biga.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and mix by hand until the dough begins to come together.
  5. Using the dough hook mix the dough in medium high (8 on a KitchenAid) for about 15 minutes. You'll have to occasionally stop the mixer and scrape the very wet dough off the hook and sides of the bowl.
  6. After 15 minutes, turn the mixer up to it's highest speed for another 2 or 3 minutes.
  7. Use the windowpane test and if necessary mix on high a few more minutes.
  8. Transfer the dough to a straight sided container and note how high it will need to rise to triple in volume.
  9. Cover the container with plastic wrap and allow the dough to ferment.
  10. WARNING - This dough is very wet and contains a large amount of yeast - keep an eye on the dough as it can very easily overflow the bowl.
  11. When the dough has tripled in volume scrape it out onto a very well floured work surface.
  12. Preheat your oven to 475 degrees.

  13. Be gentle - you don't want to lose the bubbles.

  14. With heavily floured hands gently push the dough into a 10x12 inch rectangle.
  15. Dust the dough with flour and using a pizza cutter slice it into rectangles about 2x3 inches.
  16. Immediately transfer the dough rectangles to 2 parchment paper covered baking sheets, placing them 2 inches apart.
  17. Let the dough rise about a half an hour. The rectangles will be puffed and and you will be able to see bubbles forming under the skin.
  18. Bake in a 475 degree oven for 20 minutes or until the rolls are light golden brown.

  19. Ready to eat!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Retirement Planning Italy - International Driving Permit

A few months back I posted a bit about our plans for a trip to visit Guardia Sanframondi, a smallish (about 5000 people) hill town in Campania. There's no easy way to get to Guardia. The nearest town that has train service is Telese Terme - not a bad choice (and the owner of the B&B where we'll be staying does seem willing to come and get her clients) but we wanted to have a little freedom to travel the country side and maybe even drop by some of our favorite spots in and around Napoli. So we'll be renting a car and that means driving. In Italy.

So, in the event you to decide to embark on such a perilous endeavor ...

The International Driving Permit

This was pretty much the easiest part of preparing for our visit to Guardia Sanframondi. All I did was fill out and print the online form, find my local AAA office (conveniently located adjacent to one of the better Indian restaurants in Philly) and head down with my driver's license.

The fee for the permit is $15.00. You need two passport type photos which you can probably get at the AAA office. They were $11.99 at the office I used.  Total cost including tax was $27.71. You can apply by mail as well but delivery can take 4-6 weeks according to the AAA website.

The IDP is not a driver's license.  It's a permit that in conjunction with your current state license (and passport) allows you to drive in counties that are signatories to the United Nations Convention on International Road Traffic of 19 September 1949.

One Quick Car Rental Note

As I browsed the various rental cars on offer through sites like Orbitz and Expedia, I learned the first important EU rental car lesson:

Know how to drive a manual transmission car

Except for the largest and most expensive vehicles, they're all manuals. If no one in your travel party can handle a stick, you're going to literally "pay the price".

Monday, December 24, 2012

NGD - Gibson 50th Anniversary SG

As a long time fan of The Who, I've occasionally thought I ought to get myself a Gibson SG just because Pete played 'em during what are arguably the band's most creatively productive years (mid-1968 - 1972). The model he played, an early 60's SG Special with P-90 pickups, has been difficult to find, particularly the iconic cherry finish model made famous at Woodstock. (Not to mention the cost of such a "vintage" instrument.) Even scoring a P-90 equipped SG has been difficult at times, as Gibson tends to focus on the more popular humbucker equipped models. That's all changed in the last couple years.

Late last year, however, Gibson issue a 50th Anniversary Pete Townshend SG in Arctic (Polaris) White at a fairly reasonable (for Gibson) price. Of course, some Who fans complained about the color (Pete played the white models only on a relatively short tour supporting Quadrophenia). I thought it rather attractive and started to watch the usual websites for deals. Most dealers had it for sale at about $1299 - not bad, but that was a little expensive given I already own three other electrics and don't have a band to "justify" buying another instrument.

About a month ago, some dealers started offering the Townshend SG at $999. I was sorely tempted. Then last week, Musician's Friend, the mailorder arm of Guitar Center, put the darn thing on sale for $899. Beth said OK, and three days later the big brown truck delivered.

Do not leave on porch...
So... it showed up about 3:00 in guitar size box with Gibson printed on the side, so it's a pretty good thing I happened to be home sick.  Inside, supported by bubble wrap, a black "thermometer" case, complete with "WHO" stencil:

and inside that:

Everything's fine, but of course the poor baby has spent the last 9 hours or more in the back of a UPS truck so she's a touch cold. So just a quick tune up to check that the electronics are OK. Fit and finish look excellent - no scrapes, globs of glue, or misplaced binding. The finish is fairly thin nitro, so a little of the mahogany grain is visible up close.

Three hours later...

OK, let's see what we've got here. First thought - order straplocks. Yes, SGs do exhibit neck dive. This one's no exception. Second thought: P-90's are hot. Volume wise, they're quite close to the pickups in my Santana III. Let's see... not as light as I'd imagined based on reviews and yep, you don't have to be Townshend to bend the neck.

Now let's try to sound like 1969. Set my little Blues Jr. (stock speaker, BillM mods) to "Who" tone (Bass 6, Mid 5 (Townshend's custom HiWatt amps didn't have a "mid" control), Treble 8, "clean"), a touch of reverb, and plug straight in. Yeah, that's it. P-90 is the live Who sound from the good old days. Which of course everybody knows, but it's still pretty cool to hear it coming out of your amp for the first time.

More thoughts: Intonation is pretty darn good for a fixed (though compensated) bridge. Gibson's specs say the nut is PLEK'd but it is tight - a few touches with a sharpened pencil cleared up a couple of tuning pings. I'm toying with the idea of an adjustable bridge - they cost less than $40 from StewMac, but I'll keep her stock for a few months before I make up my mind.

The all mahogany construction is very resonant. Back in the day, there was an idea that very heavy electric guitar bodies (e.g. solid maple or the massive Alembic style "hippie sandwich" construction) coupled with brass bridges and nuts would result in a guitar with a very clear tone and tremendous sustain. (And yes, I was a believer too.) It's pretty obvious that very few people actually sat down and compared instruments side-by-side.

This SG is noticeably more resonant than my PRS Santana III (a guitar built in the Les Paul style with a 2 piece maple top and mahogany body and neck). That's likely due to the fact that the SG is a couple pounds lighter and the PRS tremolo partially decouples the strings from the guitar body. I can feel a plucked open A string vibrating for 11-12 seconds on the SG as opposed to about 8-9 seconds on the Santana.

Conclusions: This is the best price/performance instrument Gibson makes outside of the studio line. Every guitar playing Who fan needs one of these.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Retirement Planning Italy - The Codice Fiscale

The Codice Fiscale

There are quite a few steps to buying property in Italy (not to mention establishing residence). But no matter what your goal, the first thing you're going to need is a magic number called codice fiscale. As the name implies, it's an Italian financial identifier and you need it for pretty much any transaction beyond normal tourist activities.

Naturally, there's a form to fill out and of course, it's in Italian. Everything is in Italian of course but it's pretty obvious what goes where. Three that aren't immediately obvious are stato, indirizzo and no. civco. Stato (if you live in the USA) is "Stati Uniti d'America", indirizzo is your street and no. civco. is your street number. So if you live at 123 Main Street indirizza = "Main Street" and no. civco. = "123". And remember, in Italy (and just about everywhere else) dates are in the form DD/MM/YYYY.

To get the form you need, find your state (or county for places that overlap like New Jersey) in the list of Italian Consulates below. Click the "English" button at the upper left, then click "Forms" and finally on the forms page click "Codice Fiscale application". The form (usually a PDF or Word document) will download and you're all set.

You may be able to visit your consulate, passport and proof of residence in the consulate's jurisdiction (i.e your driver's license) in hand and fill out the form there. But read your consulate's instructions carefully. The Philadelphia office asks that you apply for the codice fiscale by fax or mail, not in person.

The Philadelphia consulate returned my paper Certificato Di Attribuzzione Del Codice Fiscale about two and a half weeks after I mailed in the form and documentation. The Certificato is a simple printed form with the codice fiscale and it's bar code equivalent at the top, my full name, date of birth and the consulate's stamp and the signature of an official at the bottom. 

I've read elsewhere it can take as long as 3 months to get the official plastic card. Technically you don't need the card, but I've seen a few online comments indicating the paper version was not accepted. Conclusion... apply early so you'll have the card if you need it.

Italian Consulates:

Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee
Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, West Virginia, New Jersey (only the following counties: Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Ocean and Salem
Arizona, California (The following counties: Imperial Valley, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Ventura), New Mexico, Nevada
Alabama, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Florida, Georgia, Island of Saba, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius, South Carolina, Turks and Caicos, U.S. Virgin Islands
The following counties in New Jersey: Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union, Warren
New York and Connecticut and the British Territories of Bermuda Islands and the following cunties in New Jersey: Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union, Warren
Alaska, California (except the following counties: Imperial Valley, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo and Ventura, which fall within the jurisdiction of the Consulate General in Los Angeles), Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Hawai'i. Also, the following American territories of: Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Samoa, Wake Island, Midways Islands, Johnston Atoll

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Vegas Baby! Bargains

Las Vegas has long been known for bargains, particularly food related bargains. Although most buffets are no longer in that class, we did make use of three good food deals and and a nice spa offering this trip.

The myVegas Facebook Game

MGM Resorts has been running a promotion on Facebook called myVegas. It involves simulated slot machines and other games (currently only blackjack). Ordinarily that wouldn't be very interesting but this game offers actual physical prizes. There's even a support group called MyVegas Friends where the more obsessive users post links to free chips and discuss the best ways to take advantage of the opportunity.

I discovered the game rather late, less than a week before our trip, but I managed to scrounge enough "loyalty points" for $20 worth of food at Jean Philippe Patisserie in Aria. (The prize description says "Signature Pastry" but it's really a $10 comp good for anything at Jean Philippe.)

So Thanksgiving morning we wandered down to Aria and cashed in.

Two large coffees, a cherry tart, a chocolate muffin and a cinnamon bun. The total would have been $19.95 without the game.

Estiatorio Milos

One of the great "hidden values" in Las Vegas is the $20.12 prix fixe lunch at Estiatorio Milos. The menu is pretty straight forward with a few items like lobster and octopus carrying supplements. But given the quality of the standard items, there's no reason to pay extra.

Yummy Grilled Bread
It seems that every restaurant on the planet has some sort of bread service these days. Milos keeps it simple but adds a slightly unusual twist by lightly grilling the crusty slices. Olive oil of course accompanies the bread. Go ahead and eat some but be sure to save enough to soak up the juices from your later courses.

First courses: Tomato Salad and Scallop Skewer w/ cous cous.
Tomato Salad
Darn near perfect. If I was a nit-picker I'd suggest the cous cous might possibly had not been made with the steam and fluff method - it was essentially identical with the quick cook technique I use on a weekly basis...

Main courses: Shrimp Saganaki and Lavraki:

Shrimp Saganaki
The mains were just about perfect. The only flaw was in service - the perfectly cooked broccoli was too firm to be cut using the fish knife supplied with the Lavraki. I had to borrow Beth's table knife to divide it into bite sized pieces.

Dessert: Walnut Cake

Very good, if slightly dry. If I had to suggest a change it would be to to warm the Walnut Cake and allow the ice cream to melt a bit.

Walnut Cake
We arrived just before their noon opening time and were seated immediately. However, the dining room filled up very quickly so you probably want to make reservations, particularly if you're dining on a weekend.


Restaurant.Com's M.O. is pretty simple. You pay $10 for a $25 credit at the restaurant of your choice. There are (currently) 104 choices near the Las Vegas "strip". That's not a bad deal, but around the end of the month the powers that be publish (on Twitter and by email) discount codes that reduce that $10 to as little as $2. We're dedicated users of the service and since the certificates never expire and can be easily exchanged, we keep a few in our account for trips.

This time we had lunch at Tacos and Tequila in Luxor. The food is reliably tasty (though of questionable authenticity) and the pricing makes it pretty easy to hit the $35 minimum purchase the $25 Restaurant.Com certificate requires. They also have a particularly delicious margarita made with Los Danzantes Reposado Mezcal. It's the only tequila based drink I indulge in these days.


Spa services in Las Vegas are expensive - often twice what you'd pay at a local spa, so we're always on the lookout for some kind of a deal when we're planning a vacation. This year Groupon came through at the right time with $59 for a 50 minute massage (normally $130) at the Golden Nugget on Fremont. There's not really much to say about this (and you wouldn't want to see pictures - trust me).


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