When I was fresh out of university I moved away to the big city and found myself living far away and feeling nostalgia for home baking. I bought myself a few cook books, including a giant book of cookie recipes.Continue reading “Honey Oat Grizzly Cookies”
On day one hundred and seventy of my temporary working from home I attended a meeting where I was told to think about how I was going to transition to a permanent working from home scenario. That’s corporate-speak for things just got real, so maybe buy a comfortable chair and clean up your home office because you’re going to be there for a while.
We started making pandemic sourdough on the same afternoon I came home from the office. I’d stopped at the grocery store and there was literally no flour to buy and the shelves were half-bare. It was a reaction to the reality that we had enough supplies to bake a few dozen loaves of bread if… y’know… nothing else was available.
Things have settled.
We wear a mask to the store, limit our visits to once per week, and the shelves are nearly fully stocked if with some weird items sometimes being limited or quietly missing. Groceries are 99% normal even if the experience of getting them is not.
But I still like my sourdough, and we’ve bought barely enough store bread to fill a reusable shopping bag in the nearly six months of pandemic-mode living. When last night I pulled loaves 83 and 84 from the oven it was just another evening baking exercise, so routine now that I was fitting it in between other things.
The Kid has requested softer crusts, so I bake at a lower, longer temperature.
The proofs are a little more casual, and my rises need some work and better timing.
The loaf pans could use some TLC, but have become a permanent fixture on the counter because they’re rarely cool long enough to both putting into a cupboard.
And bread, and bread, and more bread.
Eighty four loaves of pandemic sourdough, and where I once thought a hundred seemed far fetched, it now seems inevitable — and not even the final milestone on the “Achievement Unlocked!” badge for covid-themed cooking.
…I really should have been more serious about making jam.
Taking a moment away from clicking furiously on the giant cookie image on my screen, I can type the statistics numbers into my calculator and determine that twenty-three hundred and some number of days that the game considers me to have been playing this particular round is roughly… six and a half years.
Another calculation and I can easily see that to reach the next milestone in the game means I need to accumulate a “score” roughly equal to ten times the score I’ve accumulated in the entire six and a half years that I’ve already been playing. No problem.
I watch the window for a few more seconds, then relegate the browser game to my second monitor with the corner peeking out from behind some other more important documents.
Cookie Clicker will run forever. And ever. Even if I close the browser, turn off the computer, pack it in a box and open it up next year to blow off the dust: opening the game URL will load my save and calculate that some impossible number of cookies have been created in my absence. On and on. Forever.
This is what’s called an “idle game”. Cookie Clicker is as much about planning and automating the accumulation of cookies — the score, currency, and namesake of the game — as the player waits minutes, hours, days, weeks… years. Idle. Playing if often not even remembering that the game is still active. Counting. Accumulating.
Accumulated cookies can be spent on upgrades, multipliers, enhancements, game states, and more. They are the ultimate McGuffin. I can attest to this as having accumulated over 107 nonillion virtual biscuits — roughly 107,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 — over my six and a half years of playing, my web browser has yet to deposit so much as one into my mouth.
Yet I click.
But mostly just let the game run idly in the background as I do other things: work, play, read, write, sleep.
If I imply some sort of obsession here, don’t read it that way.
I’ve been replaying — or more accurately, reloading and continuing playing the same round of — Cookie Clicker for the last few days because as with many past visits to this modest not-an-obsession, I accidentally stumbled across a bookmark or started typing a similar URL into my browser or was otherwise reminded of this mindless, mouse-destroying pastime for long enough to revisit the game. Temporary obsession may be a fair assessment, but over a year had passed since I last loaded the familiar chocolate chip-laden disc into my screen and in that span I had all but forgotten about clicking cookies for fun and distraction.
The premise of the game is simple and addictive.
As you open a new window, a cookie floats on a bare dashboard. Clicking the cookie with your mouse cursor will produce a single cookie. One. You click it again. And about ten more times. Your ten cookies will buy an automated cursor that will hover over the cookie and click on the floating cookie once every ten seconds or so. Forever. You click more, obviously, then buy another cursor. Repeat.
The more you click, the more you buy, the more you automate, the more you accumulate. Soon you have enough cookies to buy a grandma who will bake one cookie per second… then enough to buy a cookie farm, then…
The game never really ends.
The more you buy, the more automated cookie production you add, the stranger things get, and always the more value your clicks create (I’m currently producing 46 septillion cookies with every click of my mouse and automatically 343 septillion cookies per second). Spectacular. Weird.
Cookie Clicker is not infinitely complex, obviously. Online there are those who have “finished” it — and it seems like that could be a strategic endeavour lasting decades at the frequency which I play — but for a game that can run quietly in the background and ignored for long stretches of time, returning to it for a few minutes at a time over the course of a day or a week, on a lunch break or while waiting for a call to start, it has a depth that is just enough to be worth appreciating. Re-appreciating.
So it goes that four and half months into this pandemic … quarantine … lockdown … work-from-home experiment … I’ve baked my six-dozenth loaf of sourdough bread.
I think at one point I joked about reaching one hundred before this was all over. That joke might be on me. Be careful what you wish for, some say.
Seventy-two loafs of pandemic sourdough into the effort, however, it’s still possible to claim to have learned a little bit more, grown a little more, stretched the mind along with the dough. I even bought a lame to score my loaves. It’s getting serious.
(Not that I ever claimed expertise … merely routine and repetition.)
But as a matter of fact, since my last sourdough update I’ve become a little obsessed with the notion of bakeries. The prospect of economic collapse, unlikely but non-zero-probability of job loss, and the ever-present inspiration granted by the voyeurism of obsessive YouTube-watching means I have put more than passing thought into a what-if question of quitting it all and opening a quiet neighbourhood bread factory. Brad becomes baker.
Such notions were leavened from watching internet videos of passionate small-city bakers extolling the simple complexities of waking up each day with the sole purpose of baking bread. Obsession. Mission. Enlightened existence.
I’m not ready, but if I need to step away from the digital services career path I’m on, maybe an apprenticeship in a local bakery would scratch some kind of mid-life itch. I’d need a good bakery name though. Bread. Name. Business plan.
If nothing else, watching all that ‘tube had the benefit of providing one simple bit of advice: a trick to get me past my lumpy dough. The generic flour I was using lately was especially bad for it, but often I’m plagued by the early mix of water and flour resulting in pea-sized lumps of clumping flour that need to be kneaded smooth. The less-than-obvious but-it-works trick is reversing the order of operations for mixing the ingredients. Really. Rather than adding water to flour … bah-da-boom … adding flour to water. No lumps. I can’t explain it, but five batches of five have proven this viable as a fix. (I’ll update after more data is available.) Who knew?
Well … a real baker that’s who.
For now, however, I’ll merely pursue my at-home bakeshop, small scale operation, where seventy-two loaves of pandemic-style sourdough sandwhich bread is still an impressive feat.