August 6th, 2009

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Sotomayor Confirmed

All hail Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor! Judge Sotomayor is the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court. I look forward to seeing her apply a sense of practicality and diversity, two things uncommon at such rarefied heights.

Sotomayor Confirmed To Supreme Court
WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor Thursday as the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court. The vote was 68-31 for Sotomayor, President Barack Obama's first high court nominee. She becomes the 111th justice and just the third woman to serve.
Kneading, Cheap Cookin

Bread Pudding and Sauce

Tonight's supper was Bambi Stew and biscuits, with Bread Pudding and Sauce for dessert. I am quite pleased by how this recipe turned out.


Bread Pudding and Sauce


Ingredients:
2 stale hard rolls (about 3 1/2 cups torn bread)
2 1/3 cups half-and-half
5 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup light brown sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup half-and-half
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon flour
1/2 tablespoon tapioca powder
pinch of salt

Directions:

Tear the hard rolls into bite-sized chunks and put them in a medium bowl. If they are not fully stale, do this several hours in advance and let the pieces sit in the bowl (covered by a dry cloth) to air-dry further.

Pour 2 1/3 cups half-and-half into a medium pot. Heat on medium heat until a skin forms on the surface.

Cut 5 tablespoons of butter into chunks. Microwave for 30-60 seconds to soften. Add butter to hot half-and-half. Stir gently until butter is fully melted. Move pot off heat and allow to cool until lukewarm.

Meanwhile, put 1/3 cup light brown sugar, 3 eggs, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract into a mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat them together on medium speed for one minute. Slowly add half-and-half mixture, continuing to beat the batter. Set aside briefly.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Spray a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish with cooking spray. Distribute the torn bread in an even layer in the casserole dish. Pour the batter over the bread. Use a spatula to scrape out the mixing bowl and gently press down the bread pieces so they soak up the batter thoroughly. Allow to set for about 10 minutes.

Bake at 350ºF for 45-50 minutes. Bread pudding should set and the top should turn golden brown when done. Remove bread pudding from oven and set the casserole dish on a cooling rack.

In a medium pot, combine 1/3 cup half-and-half, 1/3 cup water, 2 tablespoons butter, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 tablespoon flour, 1/2 tablespoon tapioca powder, and a pinch of salt. Heat to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 3-4 minutes, still stirring, until sauce thickens. It should develop a sticky consistency and make strings when the spoon is lifted from the pot. Pour sauce evenly over the surface of the bread pudding, and serve.


Notes:

For this bread pudding I used some leftover hard rolls with sesame seeds on top. This kind of roll is about fist sized with a rather dry texture. Two of them work well for this recipe and they soak up the batter very nicely.

Half-and-half makes a rich bread pudding that is not overly sweet.

Tapioca powder is a wonderful thickener that makes glossy, cohesive, slightly sweet sauces or gels. You can find little bags of it in international food stores or sometimes in the Asian aisle at a grocery store. Another option is to pulverize pearl tapioca to a fine powder. If you don’t have tapioca powder, however, you can just use 1 tablespoon flour.

This bread pudding comes out with a delicate custard texture, almost like flan, rather than the doughy texture of some bread puddings. It is rich and delicious, and also extremely filling. A little bit goes a long way, so dish out small servings at first and let people go back for more if they want to (or can).

Since this recipe was made entirely from leftover hard rolls and basic kitchen supplies, it probably included about $1-2 worth of ingredients.

Banana-Caramel Version: Put half the bread pieces into a 2-quart casserole dish.  Slice one or two bananas (which should be going brown and soft) and arrange the slices evenly over the bread.  Sprinkle a handful of caramel bits over the bananas.  Add the rest of the bread pieces.  Sprinkle with another handful of caramel bits.  Follow remainder of standard instructions.

Pear-Ginger Version: Put half the bread pieces into a 2-quart casserole dish.  Pour about a cup of stewed ginger pears (preferably frozen-and-thawed) evenly over the bread. Add the rest of the bread pieces.  When making the batter, use 1 1/2 teaspoons Saigon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon allspice.  Pour on batter and bake per standard instructions.  When making the topping, add 1 tablespoon grated ginger root (fresh or frozen).
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Puzzles with Multiple Solutions

Schools have a bad habit of teaching that there can be only one "right answer." This is only sometimes true. In the real world, many problems have more than one possible solution; people can hold different stances in a debate and all have valid points; and so forth.

Some puzzles also have multiple solutions. This is often considered a flaw, but in context of stretching one's mind, it is an asset: Can you find all of the solutions? Are they similar or different? Are some of them more effective, efficient, or aesthetic than the others? This teaches us to look beyond the obvious and to consider all possibilities. Here are some resources for exploring puzzles with multiple solutions:

Multiple puzzle solutions in Sudoku
Sudoko generator (single or multiple solutions)
Adding multiple solutions to puzzles (regarding Her Interactive Games)
The Return of Dr. Sloth -- Puzzle Solutions
Blast Miner game
Puzzles (lists several games that offer puzzles with multiple solutions)
Crazy Machines 2

Of course, another way to expand your problem-solving skills is to take up roleplaying. There are roleplaying games with fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, mundane, and many other genre flavors. You and your friends play characters with certain skills and equipment, with some kind of goal(s), and a game master throws challenges, obstacles, and enemies in your way. Solve them any way you like. You will learn to think of all sorts of weird and sometimes desperate solutions to dire circumstances (often bereft of some or all of your gear). Some good roleplaying games include:

World Tree (high fantasy with anthropomorphic characters whose world is, yes, a giant tree; see also Sythyry's Vacation)
d20 Modern (adaptable to mundane, espionage, mystery, or other real-world-esque genres)
Many of the Atomic Sock Monkey games, particularly:
* Dead Inside (fantasy noir, about rebuilding your lost or destroyed soul)
* Truth & Justice (superheroes, with several styles matching various periods in comic-book history)
* Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies (high to low fantasy, any subgenre of swashbuckling such as pirates, court intrigue, etc.)

What are some of your favorite puzzles, games, or other activities that involve multiple solutions?