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National Cherry Blossom Festival, Biking, and Boating by Duane Stillions

by Duane Stillions

I have lived in the greater D.C. area for the past several years and each spring I look forward to the National Cherry Blossom Festival. In 2011, the event takes place from March 26 to April 10. The festival features a number of gatherings and ways to get involved. Among them, the Blossoms by Bike tours take participants near renowned sights, such as the Jefferson Memorial and Hains Point. Bike and Roll puts on the tours, charging $42 for the more lengthy Blossoms by Bike River Ride or $35 per adult and $25 per child for the regular tour. The excursions begin in downtown D.C.’s Old Post Office, Union Station, and downtown Alexandria, Virginia. Departures occur throughout the day, depending upon the location. National Park Service rangers will also be leading bike tours for free. Riders start at the Jefferson Memorial parking lot between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. NPS expects participants to bring their own bikes, helmets, and water or sports beverage.

Visitors can also observe the cherry blossoms by paddle boat. From March 15 to April 9, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day, boating enthusiasts can rent paddle boats from the station at 1501 Maine Avenue, SW. Prices depend on the size of the craft that one rents: $12 per hour for a 2-person boat or $19 per hour for a vehicle that holds 4. Participants can book rentals online ahead of time and arrive to the station using the Smithsonian stop on the Blue and Orange Metro Lines.

by Duane Stillions

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Different Types of Wheat Flour for Baking by Duane Stillions

by Duane Stillions

Unless you have an allergy to it, you will likely use flours made from wheat when baking. The consistency and processing of such flour varies depending upon the intended use. Four common types of wheat flour are bread, cake, all-purpose, and pastry.

Bread Flour

This flour is 12 to 14 percent protein, a high amount that works well in conjunction with yeast, which helps dough to rise. The wheat used to make this type of flour tends to be hard and includes strong gluten, a kind of protein. To improve the texture of products baked with bread flour, manufacturers generally do not bleach the material, and they add ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

Cake Flour

This type of flour serves bakers well for sweet recipes because it can retain the rise even with an abundant amount of sugar. Cake flour is 8 to 10 percent protein, the smallest quantity among wheat flours. While one can substitute all-purpose flour for this ingredient, using true cake flour offers the advantage of a baked good that sets quickly and allows the fat (butter, margarine, shortening, etc.) to distribute more evenly in a batter.

All-purpose Flour

The most versatile wheat flour, this option may be utilized in a variety of recipes, including muffins, biscuits, cakes, breads, cookies, pies, and more. Stocking all-purpose flour at home saves an amateur baker from having to maintain a collection of specialized flours. This ingredient may also be used in gravies, or for other dishes that require a thickening agent.

Pastry Flour

Generally not available in a regular supermarket, this flour is 9 to 10 percent protein and works best in quick breads, brownies, cookies, and other sweet baked goods. Some home bakers create their own pastry flour by mixing all-purpose flour with cake flour in a ratio of two to one. This ingredient may be purchased online in whole wheat or white varieties.

Duane Stillions’ Ten Tips for Bakers

Baking is one of my favorite activities. I enjoy time spent in the kitchen, and the smells that arise as I wait for something warm and tasty to come out of the oven. Baking ties us to our history. As generations pass down recipes, a little bit of family history filters down with them. Some feel that baking is becoming a lost art; however, there are many of us who continue to enjoy the simple pursuit of a Saturday afternoon spent in a warm kitchen, making something delicious. Here are my tips for bakers:

 

1.         Measure ingredients exactly. Baking is both an art and a science, and precise measurements assure the success of your endeavor.

 

2.         When rising bread and yeast form dough, you can use your oven as a proof box. Turn the oven to 200-degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes, and then turn it off for 10 minutes before proofing. Place your dough in a bowl covered with a warm, damp towel, and allow it to rise in the warmed oven.

 

3.         You cannot use butter, margarine, and shortening interchangeably in baking. Each contains different fat and water contents. Use the ingredient for which the recipe calls.

 

4.         If brown sugar is too hard to measure, put it in the microwave for 10-second increments until it softens.

 

5.         Line baking pans with parchment, instead of grease, for easy clean-up.

 

6.         Make sure you measure liquid ingredients using a liquid measure, and dry ingredients using a dry measure. Liquid measures and dry measures are slightly different in volume.

 

7.         Always check the temperature of a liquid before adding it to yeast. The ideal temperature is between 110- and 115-degrees Fahrenheit. Higher temperatures will kill the yeast, and lower temperatures will not activate it. Yeast also requires sugar or starch to rise, and just the right amount of salt to prevent it from rising too much. Too much salt will kill yeast.

 

8.         Pastry dough benefits from as little handling as possible. The more you handle pastry dough, the more you will toughen the gluten in the flour. For flaky dough, stir and handle it as little as possible. Conversely, yeast dough benefits from more handling, which is why you knead it. Kneading tightens gluten fibers, creating better bread.

 

9.         Always add wet to dry, and not vice versa.

 

10.       Select the shortest recommended baking time, and begin checking your baked goods at that point. You can always add more time, but you cannot unburn a would-be tasty treat.

Phi Beta Kappa

by Dr. Duane Stillions

More than 225 years ago, five students at the College of William and Mary founded the first Greek-letter college society, Phi Beta Kappa. In the heart of the American Revolution, these students formed Phi Beta Kappa as a college society that reveled in the pursuit of intellectual discourse and broadminded education. The motto they chose for Phi Beta Kappa is “Love of learning is the guide of life.”

The Greek letters on the Phi Beta Kappa badge are the initials for the society’s motto. Among the other hallmarks of the American Greek letter society which were first coined by Phi Beta Kappa were its elaborate initiation, special handshake, seal, Latin and Greek mottoes, bylaws, and oath of secrecy. The oath of secrecy adopted by Phi Beta Kappa is meant to allow the organization’s members to discuss any topic they choose without fear of reprisal.

Although the College of William and Mary closed briefly in 1781 during a siege in the area by General Charles Cornwallis, Phi Beta Kappa was kept alive by the group’s one member who did not live in Virginia. This member, Elisha Parmele, opened chapters at Yale University in 1780 and Harvard University in 1781. These two chapters flourished and its members granted Phi Beta Kappa charters to likeminded students at other schools.

The Phi Beta Kappa oath of secrecy was dropped as a requirement for membership in 1831. At that time, Phi Beta Kappa was attracting attention from opponents of Freemasonry who equated the oath taken by that organization with the one taken by Phi Beta Kappa. By 1883, there were 25 chapters overseen by the National Council of the United Chapters of Phi Beta Kappa. The first African-American inducted into Phi Beta Kappa was selected at Yale University in 1874 and the first woman in the organization was a student at the University of Vermont in 1875. There are currently 280 chapters of Phi Beta Kappa at colleges in the United States.

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November 17, 2010 Leave a comment
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