“Why do you have to change baking recipes at high altitudes?”

Hi all, it’s back to school time here at Caterpickles Central, which means my annual summer hiatus from blogging about the random questions that pop up in our lives is over.

But before I get into today’s question, I’d like to mention that while I may be an indifferent blogger over the summer months, I am an excellent Back to School Mother. I know this because:

a) I don’t post back to school pictures on my Facebook account, Twitter feed, or blog.

b) I do bake batches of End of the First Week of Middle School brownies.

See?

My newly minted middle schooler will be so excited to see these! (Photo: Shala Howell)

I used a brownie mix, of course, because I also have a house to clean, a summer’s worth of laundry to do, bills to pay, and a book to write. Which brings us to today’s question.

I normally skip over high altitude baking instructions because they have never been relevant to my life, but today, for whatever reason, they caught my eye.

My brownie mix said to add extra flour and water in high altitude locations and I couldn’t help but wonder why.

Why do you have to change your baking recipes at higher altitudes? 

I don’t know how much time you spend at the King Arthur Flour website, but now that I bake my own bread 15% of the time, I visit their website pretty frequently to trouble-shoot various baking calamities. So of course, I trundled over there immediately to see what their baking experts had to say about this issue.

True to form, the King Arthur website has several charts talking about how to adjust the oven temperature, liquid, sugar, and flour to compensate for the effects of baking at high altitudes. They advise changing one ingredient at a time to see what works, and to keep in mind that what works for your neighbor up (or down) the mountain may not work for you. But while the King Arthur website provides lots of glorious detail on how to compensate for the effects of baking at a high altitude, they don’t spend much time explaining why all that compensating is necessary. They mention once that the lower air pressure is to blame, and leave it at that.

Clearly, I needed to look elsewhere if I wanted to glimpse the science behind this particular cooking anomaly.

Fortunately, The Accidental Scientists at the San Francisco Exploratorium have a lovely and detailed article on just this issue. The lower air pressure at high altitudes affects baked goods in two ways:

  1. They rise more easily
  2. They lose moisture much more quickly

Let’s look at each of these one at a time.

Why do baked goods rise more easily at higher altitudes? 

I’m going to assume that you, like me, are used to dumping baking soda, baking powder, and yeast into your batters and doughs without thinking too much about why you’re doing it. Briefly, chemical leavening agents like baking soda and baking powder help baked goods rise by creating carbon dioxide pockets when mixed in the batter and heated. Baker’s yeast, on the other hand, interacts with the sugar in your dough to create pockets of carbon dioxide (and apparently other things that flavor the bread).

These chemical reactions happen much more quickly in a low air pressure environment. Lower air pressure means less force from the surrounding atmosphere to counteract. As a result, the gas bubbles created by the leavening agents grow faster and larger. If you’re lucky, the worst outcome will be a cake or a bread that is more coarsely textured than you’d like. But if you have my luck in the kitchen, what will really happen is that the gas pockets created by these chemical reactions will expand so quickly and so forcefully that the air pockets burst and your cake collapses.

Now for the second question.

Why do baked goods lose water more quickly at higher altitudes?

It turns out that water only boils at 212°F at sea level. Everywhere else, the boiling point of water is affected by a number of factors, including air pressure. Water boils (or evaporates) when its internal vapor pressure equals the pressure exerted on it by the atmosphere. At sea level, achieving this equilibrium takes 212°F worth of heat. Higher altitudes walk hand in hand with lower air pressure. And the lower the air pressure, the lower the temperature at which water will boil.

What does this mean for baking? Basically, the water vapor (or steam) which helps your baked goods rise will be generated more quickly (and dissipate faster). Your bread, cookies, cakes, and brownies will be drier and the sugar in them more concentrated. Your lovely baked goods will stick to your pans. Your cakes won’t set, or if they do, they will be astoundingly dry.

So, will adding extra flour and some extra water to my brownie mix fix it? 

Maybe. Maybe not.

The effects of baking at high altitude vary depending on how far up or down the mountain you are. That extra dose of flour and water might do enough in some places, but if you’re serious about your brownie texture, you may need to do some extra experimentation. The real answer may be to reduce your oven temperature or shorten the cooking time. Or maybe you need to cut out some of the sugar or add an egg white.

I wish I could provide you with an easy answer, but the best I can do is point you to the nine tips on The Accidental Scientist’s blog and the lovely detailed charts on the King Arthur website.

Good luck.

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50 States of Public Art: The What a Hoot! Public Art Project in Coxsackie, New York

Public art is everywhere, and this is the season for getting out and viewing it. Which is why I’ve started using Wednesdays on Caterpickles to highlight public art projects happening now in various parts of the country. 

Obviously, The Eleven-Year-Old and I can’t visit all these places in person ourselves, so we’d love to know if you have. Send us your photos or leave us a comment telling us what you saw and what you thought about it. Or if you’d like us to hunt down some public art near you, just leave a note in the comments and we’ll happily see what we can find. 

With that, let’s take a quick trip to upstate New York. 

The What a Hoot! Public Art Project in Coxsackie, New York

Freedom by Ellen De Lucia was the prototype owl for the 2017 What a Hoot! exhibition. (Photo via What a Hoot! public art project website.)

Art Credit: Freedom by Ellen De Lucia, 2017

Photo Source: Hoot of the Owl website

Associated Public Art Project:

The second annual What a Hoot! public art exhibition is underway in Coxsackie, New York. This year’s exhibition includes 52 owls painted by 43 local artists.

Sponsored by Village of Coxsackie and organized by the Hoot of the Owl Committee, the owls featured in the What a Hoot! public art project will be auctioned off on October 13, 2018 to raise money for local charities.

While wandering through town, you may notice that one of the owls is actually a cat and another looks more like a bear. That’s because Coxsackie has swapped two of its artful creatures with nearby Cairo and Catskill to encourage local residents to visit other parts of upstate New York’s Greene County this summer. So if you want to see all of the owls this summer, you’ll need to plan on trips to Cairo and Catskill as well.

Want to see the owls in person?

The owls, cat, and bear are scattered throughout the town of Coxsackie. The organizers have published a map to the owls on their website.

While you’re in the area, don’t miss…

  • The Cairo Bears Community Art Project (map), sponsored by the Cairo Development Foundation. The bears will be auctioned off on September 29, with proceeds going to the participating artists as well as future town revitalization projects.
  • The 12th annual Cat’N around Catskill Public Art Project (map), sponsored by the Heart of the Catskills Association (HOCA). HOCA plans to direct the funds from the September 22 sale of its cats to the participating artists, local non-profits, and the Barry Hopkins Art Scholarship Fund.

Happy public art hunting!

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50 States of Public Art: Public Art in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Public art is everywhere, and this is the season for getting out and viewing it. Which is why I’ve started using Wednesdays on Caterpickles to highlight public art projects happening now in various parts of the country. 

Obviously, The Eleven-Year-Old and I can’t visit all these places in person, so we’d love to know if you have. Send us your photos or leave us a comment telling us what you saw and what you thought about it. Or if you’d like us to hunt down some public art near you, just leave a note in the comments and we’ll happily see what we can find. 

With that, let’s take a quick (virtual) trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas. 

The Public Art of Fayetteville, Arkansas

Jeffi O'Kane's 2014 storm drain mural "Let's Keep It Clean" shows two fancy fish splashing about on the sidewalk under the words "Let's Keep It Clean." Under the drain are the words "Drains to Creek".

Storm drain mural by Jeffi O’Kane. Photo by Stephen Ironside.

Title: Let’s Keep It Clean, 2014

Artist: Jeffi O’Kane

Location: Spring Street and Church Ave

Photo Source: Stephen Ironside, via the Fayetteville Interactive Public Art Map

Associated Public Art Project:

Created in 2007, the Fayetteville Arts Council has spent the past 11 years spearheading a number of arts projects to both enrich Fayetteville’s public spaces and increase community engagement. Last summer’s Green Candy Art Auction, which the Arts Council developed in cooperation with Just Kids, prompted a community-wide conversation about waste and sustainability issues. Similarly, Upstream Art, Fayetteville’s storm drain mural project sponsored by the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, both beautifies Fayetteville’s public spaces and raises awareness about the importance of conserving the town’s water resources.

Of course, like many other towns across the U.S., Fayetteville also uses public art to brighten its buildings, public parks, bike racks, and utility boxes.

Want to see it yourself?

Fayetteville makes it really easy for local residents and visitors to find its public art. They’ve created a wonderful interactive map to the various art works around town.

Next time you’re in Fayetteville, take a few minutes and look around. I bet you’ll spot something surprising. When you do, we’d love to hear about it here on Caterpickles or Twitter (@shalahowell).

Happy public art hunting!

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50 States of Public Art: Public Art in Tempe, Arizona

Public art is everywhere, and this is the season for getting out and viewing it. Which is why I’ve started using Wednesdays on Caterpickles to highlight public art projects happening now in various parts of the country. 

Obviously, The Eleven-Year-Old and I can’t visit all these places in person, so we’d love to know if you have. Send us your photos or leave us a comment telling us what you saw and what you thought about it. Or if you’d like us to hunt down some public art near you, just leave a note in the comments and we’ll happily see what we can find. 

With that, let’s take a quick (virtual) trip to Tempe, Arizona. 

The Public Art of Tempe, Arizona

Photo: Matt Winquist via City of Tempe, Arizona

Title: Day Dreaming at Tempe Town Lake, 2012

Artist: Linda Parker

Location: Southwest corner of 7th Street and Mill Avenue, Tempe, Arizona

Photo Source: Matt Winquist, via the City of Tempe, Arizona’s public art website

Associated Public Art Project:

Like Anchorage, Alaska, the City of Tempe, Arizona sets aside part of its annual budget to fund public art. One percent of the City’s total annual capital improvements budget lands in the Municipal Art Fund, which the City uses to advance art in all of its forms. Not surprisingly, there is a ton of public art in Tempe, just waiting for you to find it.

The City has used those funds to transform its bus stops, utility boxes, parks, paths, bridges, and streets, as well as its public buildings and community art centerThey’ve even dropped small bits of art on the city’s library cards.

Want to see it yourself?

The City of Tempe makes it really easy for local residents and visitors to find its public art. They’ve catalogued it extensively online, and created a wonderful interactive map to the various art works around town.

Next time you’re in Tempe, take a few minutes and look around. I bet you’ll spot something surprising. When you do, we’d love to hear about it here on Caterpickles or Twitter (@shalahowell).

Happy public art hunting!

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50 States of Public Art: The Municipality of Anchorage’s 1% for Art Program in Anchorage, Alaska

Public art is everywhere, and this is the season for getting out and viewing it. Which is why I’ve started using Wednesdays on Caterpickles to highlight public art projects happening now in various parts of the country. 

Obviously, The Eleven-Year-Old and I can’t visit all these places in person ourselves, so we’d love to know if you have. Send us your photos or leave us a comment telling us what you saw and what you thought about it. Or if you’d like us to hunt down some public art near you, just leave a note in the comments and we’ll happily see what we can find. 

With that, let’s take a quick trip to Alaska. 

The Municipality of Anchorage’s 1% for Art Program in Anchorage, Alaska

Photo: Chris Arend Photography

 

Artist: Rachelle Dowdy, 2006

Location: Anchorage Museum entrance, off to the right

Photo Source: Chris Arend Photography, via the Anchorage Museum website

Associated Public Art Project:

Rachelle Dowdy’s collection of four concrete animal sculptures was funded through the Municipality of Anchorage’s 1% for Art program. Established in 1978, the 1% for Art program sets aside 1% of the construction budget for public buildings for commissioned works of art.

The program, which is based on a state law passed in 1975, has brought many wonderful pieces of public art to the Anchorage area. Today, there are more than 400 pieces of public art scattered around the city. One of them, “Snow Words” by Cecil Balmond, was named one of 2013’s 50 best public art projects created in the United States.

You can find more public art near Anchorage’s schools, in its parks, and in front of its municipal buildings. The Municipality of Anchorage maintains a Facebook page for its 1% for Art Program to alert the community about free public art tours, new installations, and calls for new art.

Want to see it for yourself?

You can find Rachelle Dowdy’s animal sculptures installed outside The Anchorage Museum at 625 C Street in Anchorage, Alaska 99501. Visitor hours and directions are available on the museum’s website.

Cecil Balmond’s “Snow Words” is installed in the lobby of the Alaska State Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory at 4805 Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Avenue in Anchorage, Alaska 99507.

The next time you’re in Anchorage, take a few minutes and look around. I bet you’ll spot something surprising. When you do, we’d love to hear about it here on Caterpickles or Twitter (@shalahowell).

Happy public art hunting!

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What’s The Eleven-Year-Old reading this week?

Granted by John David Anderson

What the book’s about: Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a fairy-in-training in the magical land of Haven. Her job, should she be deemed worthy of it, will be to grant humans the secret wishes they whisper to stars, birthday candles, and pennies thrown into fountains.

Being a Granter is one of Haven’s most important jobs. Granters generate the magic that makes everything fairies do possible, and that keeps Haven itself safe and tucked away from prying human eyes.

Of course there’s a catch. Worldwide magic is at an all-time low, which makes it really tricky for a young fairy-in-training to figure out how to grant wishes. Ophelia’s going to need more than just a bit of fairy dust to get this job done.

Why The Eleven-Year-Old Likes It: “It’s an interesting engaging read about fairies. What could possibly go wrong?”

Fairytales From Around the World by Andrew Lang

What the book’s about: Andrew Lang’s collection features 100 fairy tales from 50 countries around the world, with illustrations by H.J. Ford.

Why The Eleven-Year-Old Likes It: “The fairytales range from cool, not very scary, but intriguing to frighteningly good writing that gives you chills.”

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50 States of Public Art: The SPACES Sculpture Trail in Huntsville & Madison, Alabama

As you know, I’ve been doing Wordless Wednesdays for a few years now. Posting a photograph of something or other but not saying much about it has been a nice way to mark the middle of the week. But I’m bored with that format now, and want to use Wednesdays for something more useful.

You may have heard I’ve got a book or two out on viewing public art with your kids. Public art is everywhere, and this is the season for getting out and viewing it. While I was out hunting for public art in Mesquite, Texas with The Eleven-Year-Old earlier this month, it occurred to me that it would be nice to use Wednesdays on Caterpickles to highlight public art projects happening right now in various parts of the country. With luck, I’ll highlight one in a town near you. 

Obviously, The Eleven-Year-Old and I can’t visit all these places in person, so we’d love to know if you have. Send us your photos or leave us a comment telling us what you saw and what you thought about it. Or if you’d like us to hunt down some public art near you, just leave a note in the comments and we’ll happily see what we can find. 

With that, let’s take a quick trip to Alabama. 

SPACES Sculpture Trail in Huntsville & Madison, Alabama

(Photo Source: SPACES iOS App by ARTS Huntsville)

Title: At Home With Higher Thoughts

Artist: Charlie Brouwer

Location: Southside Square, Huntsville, Alabama 35801

Photo Source: SPACES HSV iOS App

Associated Public Art Project:

At Home With Higher Thoughts is part of the SPACES Sculpture Trail in Huntsville and Madison, Alabama.

Begun in 2010 by Arts Huntsville, Alabama A&M University, Huntsville Museum of Art, Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment Center, and UAH, SPACES is a large-scale public art installation that has grown to include 39 works from 22 artists living in 12 U.S. states as well as Toronto, Canada.

The sculptures are installed across Huntsville and Madison, and will remain in place through at least January 2019. Many, if not all, of the artworks in the SPACES Sculpture Trail, are for sale.

Want to see it yourself?

There’s an app for that. ARTS Huntsville has developed a free iOS and Android app filled with information about the works on exhibit and the artists who made them. You can learn more about the app here.

Already seen SPACES but want to explore other public art in Huntsville? 

The Purple Cup is hosting a free Secret Art Walk event this Friday, July 13, from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. The walk kicks off from Green Bus Brewing at Eustis Ave SE 206 in downtown Huntsville. You find more information about the event via Facebook.

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Wordless Wednesday: The Endangered Species Mural at Juana Briones Elementary School

One of the things I love about the public schools here in California is that the buildings are often covered with murals painted by the students.

The following pictures are of portions of the Endangered Species Mural at Juana Briones Elementary School. The mural was painted by the school’s fifth grade class of 1994. (Check the last picture for the list of artists.)

Tiger from Juana Briones Endangered Species Mural. (Painted by one or more fifth graders.)

This koala is shocked that I have a 6th grader in the house. (Painted by one or more fifth graders.)

Panther. (Painted by one or more fifth graders.)

Monk seal & list of mural artists. (Painted by one or more fifth graders.)

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What’s The Eleven-Year-Old reading this week?

The Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem

What the book is about:

I was more than a little surprised to see The Eleven-Year-Old pick up this book this summer. Lem’s Star Diaries seems like a rich read for adults, much less eleven-year-olds. And yet, there she sits, by turns giggling and absorbed, in a book I didn’t read until well into college.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Written as the memoirs of star-pilot Ijon Tichy, The Star Diaries is a collection of space adventures that range in length from vignettes to novellas, and in tone from playful, satiric, and philosophical.

I don’t know how many of the references The Eleven-Year-Old actually understands, but there’s no doubt that something about this book is working for her. The humor in the “Seventh Voyage” is particularly approachable. In it, Tichy gets caught in a time loop which causes multiple versions of himself to start crowding his ship. It’s full of giggle-inducing and mildly mind-blowing sentences like:

“That Friday me by now was the Saturday me and perhaps was suddenly knocking about somewhere in the vicinity of Sunday, while this Friday me inside the spacesuit had only recently been the Thursday me, into which same Thursday me I myself had been transformed at midnight.”

The book’s format lends it to being enjoyed in small, bite-sized doses. As far as I can tell, that’s exactly what The Eleven-Year-Old is doing. Which is fortunate, because seeing her read it has made me want to reread it myself.

Why The Eleven-Year-Old Likes It: “It’s a really weird, yet seriously deep look at humans and their flaws.”

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Wordless Wednesday: Sailboat off Treasure Island

(Photo: Shala Howell)

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