Updates: Learning to make bran muffins

I recently took up making bran muffins for my mom and occasionally for myself, and have been trying out two recipes: One from the internet from allrecipes.com, and my mom’s recipe, which I transcribed and reworked to my current recipe format.

Initially, Mom decided that she preferred the allrecipes.com recipe over hers.

However, she asked me to slightly modify her recipe, by making it less sweet and increasing, we decided commensurately, the bran to replace the reduced sugar as well as increase the “branniness” of the muffins.

The resulting “new” recipe is available alongside my mom’s original recipe and the allrecipes.com recipe in my archive of personal recipes.

And … she says that she now prefers the “M” recipe (ie. “M” for molasses, or I think “M” for modified).

(While you’re checking out my collection of recipes, check out my recipe for three ingredient drop biscuits, basically the greek-yoghurt-and-complete-cake-flour recipe for “easy biscuits that you can make quickly any day of the week that is guaranteed to please” that has been going around the internet and various media outlets in North America over the past couple of years, with grated cheese added to it.)

Learning to make bran muffins

Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned two more recipes — or three, given that one is represented by two recipes of the same thing — to add to my repertoire of cooking skills.

My mom loves bran muffins, and has a bit of a penchant for crisped rice and marshmallow treats. I’ve known these things for years, but over the past few weeks an imp pushed me over the edge to learn how to make them for her.

I like both, but previously never really had a personal grand desire to learn how to make either, even despite my love of a family friend’s ambrosia-worthy banana bran muffins, which I used to occasionally ask her to make for me in my younger years.

The first thing I did was look on the internet for recipes on how to make both, a trivial task. Here are the recipes I found for bran muffins (here’s my archive) and for crisped rice treats (here’s my archive, and here’s my recipe based on it). (Interestingly, the Canadian website for Rice Krispies lists a slightly higher ratio of marshmallows than the recipe on the US website, and also calls for vanilla extract!)

The crispy rice treats were almost as trivially easy to make as it was to find a recipe for them. I bought the ingredients, and within a couple of days made two batches, being able to serve one batch to a willing and hungry group. I found that indeed the melting marshmallows can burn easily in the pan if you’re not paying attention.

Mom got her supply a few days later, and happily began munching on them.

For the bran muffins, I looked around the kitchen, and to my great pleasure, I happened to have all the ingredients called for in the recipe I’d found on the internet (here’s my archive).

I proceeded to make the muffins, and was surprised at how easy it was to make picture perfect muffins. Despite considering myself a competent home cook, I expected it to be a bit more of a challenge. Instead, the recipe was easy to follow; given the attribution, while I am sure that it was “somebody’s recipe”, it came across as having no doubt been fastidiously reviewed, tested, tweaked, and re-written by the website’s editorial staff.

They turned out great, and of course I tasted them in advance. The real test was when I presented them to my mom. She liked them a lot, and ended up eating all of the bran muffins using the internet recipe, two at a time.

She did, however, ask me to make some bran muffins with molasses, and told me where to find her old recipes.

The old molasses I had had begun to solidify with age, but could be liquefied in a microwave oven; however, it re-solidified and created hard little balls once mixed with the cooler oil and sugar. An electric beater could not break them up; I baked the muffins, and they had globs of molasses at their bottoms.

The other night, I again made bran muffins, this time one batch of each recipe. In the picture below, my mom’s recipe is on the left, and the internet recipe is on the right. Yes, by the time I’d taken the picture, I had already eaten one from the batch on the left. It was yummy!

When I used the same container of molasses, I reheated it in a microwave oven several times, including after mixing it with the oil and sugar, but before adding the eggs. It worked, and I managed to keep the molasses sufficiently liquid when I mixed in the eggs, and then the rest of the ingredients.

After the above photo was taken, I did a taste test of the internet bran muffins (here’s my archive). Comparing the two, each is distinct from the other — molasses comes through very clearly in my mom’s recipe — but beyond that, they are also very similar.

The two recipes are in fact very close: One has molasses, the other doesn’t, one has two eggs instead of one, but a bit less oil. This resulted in samples from each recipe tasting very much like bran muffins and somewhat similarly, although the molasses in my mom’s recipe added a new flavour profile, while the extra egg added a certain firmer cake like texture. The rest of the ingredients and proportions between the two recipes are virtually identical.

Now I’m waiting to bring the two batches to my mom to have another side by side taste test. 🙂

20191030 Update: I brought the two kinds to my mom, and she confirmed what she’d whispered weeks before: The Internet Recipe wins the challenge!

Portable stoves spotted during a cruise ship cooking demonstration

I originally posted on cooking relatively large amounts – relative to routine home cooking, anyway – of soup for my church using portable countertop stoves I had purchased over time following having made some soup for the coffee / social hour. The intended central theme of the post, besides initially to discuss making soup for a group, was my collection of portable countertop stoves, and using them in non-traditional locations.

I was recently on a cruise; during which I attended some of the cooking demonstrations that were offered. The various subjects included cooking with chilies, and two sessions on Mediterranean cooking styles and dishes. Although these specific subjects were not interests of mine, a general interest character to the cooking demonstrations, that they were sometimes an activity to do with my aunt, and that the demonstrations were generally pleasant activities in which to participate at those moments, were attractions.

Various recipes prepared included a rice and chili sauce dish; lamb meatballs and couscous; and pasta with a garlic and olive oil sauce.

During the first of the cooking demonstrations, I became fascinated by two of the central cooking appliances: Two portable countertop induction stoves, incidentally of the exact same brand and model of which I own; this latter detail piqued my curiosity. I also realized later on while in the buffet lines and watching the cooks prepare meals in front of guests that there were a number of portable countertop induction stoves in use; in this particular case, usually to prepare fried eggs and omelettes, both to order. Some were of the same consumer grade make and model I had, and some were of a different brand, and I suspect of a commercial grade instead of a consumer grade.

Two portable induction countertop stoves (in black, one with a pot on it) used during a cruise ship cooking demonstration

The chef leading the demonstration was unsurprisingly confident and competent (although no doubt following a script, flawlessly and naturally), and she used the two countertop portable stoves as though she were using any other more traditional stove; I found her ease in using these appliances fascinating.

I imagine that induction cooktops were chosen for convenience, more precise cooking control, and perhaps electrical efficiency. No doubt ventilation and fire issues were also considered, (ie. in comparison to the use of gaseous or liquid fuel stoves) despite the presence of a fume hood, and no doubt the presence of a fire suppression system. Perhaps the promoters even considered the use of consumer grade portable countertop induction stoves as easier and overall less expensive to replace in the case of failure, since depending on the ports of call, they could easily send someone to the local department store with a credit card in order to purchase replacement units. But I digress.

Unfortunately, we did not get to taste the food cooked in front of us due to an apparent policy to not serve the food prepared during the demonstrations. To a degree, this may also have made it easier for the various demonstrations to be developed since they could be designed around relatively small amounts of overall food to be prepared, such as one or two servings, which would also make it time efficient (and incidentally somewhat more cost effective at least on the level of ingredients required).

While this case partly goes against the charm I see in portable countertop stoves – the ability to cook anywhere, any time, with portable portable countertop stoves instead of traditional stoves– I found it fascinating that this instance shows how portable countertop stoves can be used for everyday cooking – well that’s what they’re designed for! – and more generally as replacements for a traditional stovetop.

I admit it: I’m also excited to just see one of the things I bought actually being used by someone besides myself, and by someone in the know to boot. 🙂

Followup to the original post, which is mostly a rehashing of the original post:

My original vision for the post, which was somewhat blurry when I began writing, was in broad, vague, terms swirling about in my head. It surrounded the notion of “the joy of cooking” and doing so in a mobile fashion with the portable countertop stoves, anywhere, anytime, as long as you had a space and electricity. A part of my enthusiasm came from having once seen a home kitchen without a traditional stove and oven, but rather a 1500 watt portable countertop stove with two burners like one I have, and a toaster oven (which is in my mind an ubiquitously common kitchen appliance to begin with anyway). I certainly wanted to discuss the joy of cooking with these appliances.

The post ended up having two main points:

A) Expressing in general terms that you can cook with portable countertop stoves, though in a limited way, using the example of, and concentrating on, the relatively large amounts of soup I make at my church. I mentioned that cooking a full course banquet using one or two portable countertop stoves for a large crowd is not practical, even perhaps not for a small intimate group, depending on the menu, and that such was beyond the scope of the post. However, almost surprisingly, large amounts of “one thing” (such as soups, stews, and the like) can be prepared, again depending on the item. However, I should have intimated that limited amounts of other items, or perhaps other more complex items, could still be prepared with portable countertop stoves in non-standard cooking locations, usually given enough lead time to prepare, cook, and assemble the food. See, for instance, the cruise ship example above.

B) And, that cooking in the non-standard areas with the number of portable countertop stoves I have, using the collective maximum capacity of my portable stoves is not possible, because it is far above the electrical capacity of the church hall in which I prepare the soup. I have been learning the practical limits of how much soup I can prepare at once, as well as beginning to be worried about issues such as electrical fires (especially due to aging electrical wires) and ventilation, be it due to deliciously distracting soup smells wafting through the building, or due to having to evacuate combustion gases from other types of portable stoves, were I to be using them.

How A Walking Tour I Couldn’t Take Helped Me Learn How to Get More Out Of Travel

In 1988 when I was 18 years old and fairly naïve, I went on a school trip to London and Paris, graciously financed by my parents. Leading up to this trip, I had done little to no pre-planning, figuring, without any concrete evidence to support it, that « The school chaperone knew London and Paris, and would no doubt be an excellent tour guide. »

These were famous last words.

The school chaperone’s familiarity with London and Paris was probably at best that of a seasoned traveller who had passed through these two cities a few times, and who had done a bit of pre-planning for this trip; in reality, in my no doubt clouded view, she came across to me as hardly the enthusiastic, tireless tour guide with a boundless, intimate knowledge of the locales I somehow expected her to have been. This of course is not her fault; one can hardly ever live up to being as good as the expectations hoisted upon them.

Don’t get me wrong; the trip was great, and the school chaperone was effective at chaperoning a small group of 17 to 19 year olds, and dare I say even moderately effective at being a tour guide. In fact, I’m probably being ungrateful, and she was no doubt a fairly good tour guide.

I did nonetheless have a rather enjoyable tour, having visited various museums and attractions in London such as The London Dungeon (a favourite for me), the Tower of London, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, and the War Cabinet Rooms. Speaker’s Corner one Sunday morning was a highlight of the trip.

I also found it curious though memorable one day when a number of us in the group decided to visit a London pub at roughly 3:30pm, only to find the doors locked; the publican did eventually open the doors for us. This was in the day when English pubs still closed for a time in the afternoon, due to a law from the First World War meant to curb excessive drinking by munitions production workers.

In Paris, we visited the Champs Élysées, l’Arc de Triomphe, and, if I recall correctly, Le Rond Point du Champs Élysées.

I remember a person in our group being rather almost obsessed with the crêpes street vendors were selling; as I recall, he favoured the Nutella spread. I myself indulged in bringing to life a French stereotype, that of walking down a Parisian street eating a baguette. On one of Paris’ bridges over the Seine River, I haggled with a street artist for a charcoal drawing of myself, shown here. I remember being fascinated by the abundance of chestnuts littering the ground and streets in some neighbourhoods.

The charcoal drawing of myself drawn by a street artist in Paris on a bridge over the Seine River in 1988

A critical point in the trip came on the day before we returned home, when we were crossing the English Channel from France back to London to stay the night before going to the airport the following day, and ultimately returning home back to Canada. There was a dock strike, as I recall on the Dover side, which delayed us by a good six or eight hours while waiting in Calais for limited space on the minimal ferry service which was operating. We were lucky when we finally arrived in Dover; the bus driver for the charter to take us to London had patiently waited through the delay for us, aware that our absence at the appointed hour was no doubt directly as a result of the dock strike.

Upon arrival at the hostel (which was different from the first hostel at which we had stayed earlier when in London) at roughly 18:00 or thereabouts, I noted a promotional tourist pamphlet at the reception desk for a « Jack the Ripper Walking Tour » which began at about 19:30. The timing was such that I figured I could quickly place my bag in the room and then travel over to the meeting point for the walking tour. However, I quietly and somewhat reluctantly, though probably wisely, realized that in a group setting on the night before returning home, this would be logistically less than perfectly easy to arrange for several in the group. Perhaps – probably – it was something that the chaperone would frown upon, having already had choice words about some innocent but clearly gullible behaviour of mine several days earlier at an attraction, at which I also managed to get separated from the group for about an hour.

I went home disappointed that had I known in advance about this walking tour, I probably would have keenly tried to insert it into the group schedule when we would have had the time to do it, or on an evening when a small willing party from the group could have gone. I did not resent the dock strike for having deprived me of the opportunity, even though all things being equal, had the dock strike not occurred and we’d made it back across to London several hours earlier as had been originally scheduled, there would have been a good chance that participation could have been arranged, or at least realistically considered. Certainly, had I done some pre-planning, the disappointment of missing out on this activity may have been somewhat less.

I went home regretting not being able to go on the walking tour, squarely placing the blame on myself for having assumed that « The school chaperone knew London and Paris, and would no doubt be an excellent tour guide. »

About two years later, my parents went to London on a trip of their own; I was envious, wanting to correct my prior travel errors. The next year when they repeated their trip, I even listened for the first time to the walking tour cassette tapes I’d received three years earlier on my trip, and I became really envious of my parents, and I wanted to return to London.

Almost four years after the London and Paris trip, my parents brought my older brother and I to New York City over the Christmas holidays, and, as you can imagine, I planned out some attractions I would have liked to visit. My brother and I went to a winemaking shop I’d sought out (since I had recently taken up the hobby), taking the famed New York Subway; we visited the ConEdison Museum; and we patronized an electronics store to purchase a CD player for a home stereo I had. Passing by Rockefeller Plaza, we even decided on the spur of the moment to take a tour of the New York NBC studios, where we visited the studio for Saturday Night Live, as well as the studio for Late Night with David Letterman. This latter studio was surprisingly small, which on TV benefited from special camera lenses which made the studio appear larger. While hardly all trip defining or even noteworthy attractions, my brother later confided in me that he was glad that I’d planned out a few attractions to visit since he hadn’t done any such planning; I related to him having been disappointed in myself over not having done any research for the above-mentioned London and Paris trip and had as a result done some planning for this trip.

In the intervening years, I went on a couple more smaller trips, each time researching in advance to various degrees the various sites and attractions that I could visit.

One fateful day at the beginning of August, 2003, a bit over fifteen years after the school trip to London and Paris, my mother, now recently widowed, made an offhanded remark, perhaps just idly speaking aloud a passing thought without really being too serious. « I think I’d like to go to London in October. »

Without losing a beat, I replied « May I join you? »

And so began the trip of a lifetime for me.

I began planning my trip, while my mother planned hers. Plane tickets were purchased, and a bachelor apartment rented by the week was reserved, which we shared during the trip. I hit the internet, at a time when it was just beginning to grow and be useful as a means to plan such a holiday. I searched for festivals, museums, shows, recommendations, landmarks, tourist attractions, and the like. After I had spent several weeks researching a wide variety of museums and attractions, I felt satisfied with my research. At this point, a hunch lurked in my head, which fortunately didn’t backfire the way it had in 1988: I knew that while I had found a good variety of things to do and see, I also knew that I had found roughly only enough for about half the trip; however, I decided that I would leave the other half to chance findings once in London, something that fortunately worked well for me during the trip.

My trip brought me to several museums and local attractions, such as:

  • The changing of The Guard at Buckingham Palace, but I was disappointed because it was ultimately either cancelled or severely curtailed due to the rain;
  • The London Science Museum;
  • The Charles Dickens museum, located in one of the homes occupied by the writer;
  • “The Mouse Trap” at St. Martin’s Theatre;
Me at the London Dungeon in 2003
  • The London Dungeon, whose layout and exhibits had been changed enough from those in 1988, and which in 2003, had a greater emphasis on Jack the Ripper, as well as an indoor slow roller coaster type ride to bring visitors through a portion of the various exhibits;
  • The Medieval Banquet, which was good fun albeit slightly contrived and overly florid, with actors and animators costumed in what I would describe as 1940’s to 1960’s historical and period Hollywood movie attire (think Robin Hood movies prior to Kevin Costner in 1991.)
  • The Museum of London, which seemed to grow larger and larger through every door and passage I went, and in which I found a fully constructed house. I was fascinated by the presence of this house in general, but particularly because there was a toilet room separate from the main bathroom, a characteristic I found curious and very interesting, especially since I had only ever seen it before or since in my grandparents’ house;
  • Covent Gardens, which I visited a few times, including one spectacular Saturday with the clearest blue skies and beautiful mild weather one could ask for;
  • Pollock Toy Museum, which was spread over two neighbouring Victorian-era houses, each of which were similarly high, but one having one more floor than the other as a result of shorter ceilings;
  • The Imperial War Museum;
  • The HMS Belfast, a World War II era ship-turned-into-a-museum;
  • The Victoria and Albert Museum at which I recall having seen a good amount of iron works which were saved from being melted down for their iron value during World War II;
  • The Clink Museum, located in London’s oldest prison;
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral;
  • Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, which was rebuilt on a site 400 metres away from the site where the original had burned down, and the “new” buildings on that site were listed historical buildings which could not be demolished for when the current Globe Theatre project was being built.

Unplanned visits included:

  • The London Eye, which I did not actually ride in;
  • Southwark Cathedral;
  • The Swiss Bells in Leicester Square, visited twice;
  • The Sherlock Holmes Museum, yes, at 221B Baker Street (resulting from having taken a Sherlock Holmes themed walking tour);
  • Three walking tours.

This is not an exhaustive list; there are several more museums and tourist attractions that I visited.

Having been an avid geocacher at the time, I also researched in advance a small handful of geocaches to find if and when an empty afternoon were to present itself; this proved useful, since at the time, Zone 1 in London on Sundays appeared to virtually shut down, and there were few activities, attractions, and the like open for tourists, or just about anyone else. (But I do recall having found a walking tour, and having gone to Speaker’s corner, on the Sunday morning.)

This activity led me to finding geocaches at The London Stone; Postman’s Park beside the London City Presbyterian Church, across from the Museum of London; and St. John’s Garden, a short walk over from Farringdon Tube Station. As I recall, all three were fairly easily walk-able each from the others within the afternoon, and that I indeed had planned out the route in advance as a function of being able to walk from one to the next to the next.

Another highlight of the trip was the ubiquitous presence of pubs in Zone 1. I generally avoided well known restaurants – in fact, I don’t recall having gone to a chain restaurant, or at least one I recognized as being part of a chain, at all during the trip. Certainly, besides the ubiquitous presence of Starbucks and a few Krispy Kreme Donuts franchises (the latter of which I was obsessed with at the time, but which I did not consume while on the trip), I don’t even recall having seen any other well known chains, including McDonald’s. Eating at pubs was a pleasant way to eat for me: In Zone 1, it seemed to me that when I wanted to have a meal, all I had to do was stop where I was, and if there wasn’t a pub more or less in front of me, all I had to do was walk a block or two either to the left or the right, and I was bound to find a pub that served food. It was a wonderful dining experience for me! Interestingly, it did not occur to me until writing this post that, assuming that at some point I tried to enter a pub mid-afternoon, that I never dealt with a mid-afternoon pub closing hours.

In between, my vacation and my mother’s coincided on a daily basis. It was not unusual for her to show me the occasional attraction, and of course often enough we dined together, as well as of course having shared an apartment during the trip.

And, having done my research in advance, I had found information on the “Jack the Ripper Walking Tour”, in which I participated early on during my trip.

During my research prior to leaving on the trip, I found the website for “London Walks”, and it announced that a well known expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, would be leading the walk one evening while I was to be in London.

Leading up to my trip and on the advice of a friend, I bought a book on the subject of one of the various theories as to the identity of Jack the Ripper. I read much of the book in the time leading up to the trip, and indeed in the time leading up to when I took the walking tour once already in London.

I made a point of showing up at the appointed time and place on the evening that the walk was advertised to be lead by the well known expert. The walk was entertaining, visiting several of the key places surrounding the stories, evidence, and legends and lore of the Jack the Ripper story. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and listening to the stories. One of the more amusingly memorable parts of the walk was when the group was brought through an area known as a gathering spot for skateboarders, and we had been warned in advance by the tour guide “Whenever I bring a group through here, I never know what to expect.” Indeed, we were not disappointed: One of the skateboarders saw our group, took his shirt off, and called out to us “I’m Jack the Stripper!”, much to our collective bemusement, giggles, and guffaws.

I asked the tour guide what he thought about the particular theory presented in the book I’d read. He politely dismissed it as just another author unfamiliar with Ripperology trying to capitalize on the subject. He went on to state that in his opinion, it consisted of connecting circumstantial evidence together insufficiently well, and that it lacked sufficiently substantial proof to connect the person in question above all others, given the available (and sometimes lack of) evidence in the case. As I see it, ultimately, the Jack the Ripper case is at its core indeed so fraught with insufficient and conflicting evidence, and in the meantime so much legend, lore and a certain romantic notion surrounding the mystery have been created around it, that it will continue for a long time to be ripe for many to capitalize on the subject – in an indirect sense, myself included here. But I digress.

The defining raîson d’être for my trip having been fulfilled, I continued with my trip as described above, thoroughly enjoying the various attractions I visited, and was enthralled by the vacation. Here are my pictures from the trip.

For many seasoned travellers, the above seems to be an easily compiled list of obvious and easy to implement options that so many tourists visit in London. Yet, in a lot of ways, it was the kind of trip that I’d wished my first trip fifteen years earlier in 1988 had been, and which I thoroughly enjoyed in 2003.

There was a key difference, however: I became personally invested in planning out the trip, and planned it out accordingly, in advance. I of course enjoyed myself due to the inherent value of the various sights and attractions; however, it was also due to how well it was being executed and the extensive planning I’d done.

As a result, in 2003, I managed to go full circle and participate in the walking tour that I would have loved to go on but missed out on in 1988, because of my lack of planning and engagement, not because of a dock strike, and certainly not for any rational basis to be disappointed in the school chaperone as a tour guide.

Katadyn Pocket filter capacity: The verdict is in

I purchased a Katadyn Pocket filter in 2012 for a variety of reasons, the principal amongst which was to have drinking water at my cottage during the off season (winter) when the water system is turned off to protect it from freezing. Issues such as not wanting to depend on neighbours and even just whether or not the neighbours were there, the relative convenience of having as much water as I was willing to filter when I wanted regardless of the hour, and not having to transport very large quantities of water from the city, circled through my head.

Like so many other people, I repeated in my blog the 50,000 litre nominal capacity of the filter cartridge as a deciding factor in the purchase of this particular filter. Despite having accepted the value as a ballpark figure to mean “you’ll get lots and lots and lots of water, a few orders of magnitude more than other filters”, I also recognized the ballpark nature of the figure, and that actual capacity would vary (possibly considerably) according to real world conditions such as varying water quality and just how vigorously one might clean the filter cartridge. Unfortunately, I have been disappointed with just how variable this figure has actually proven to be in my case.

In 2016, I began wondering about the real life capacity of the filter cartridge, given a noticeable change in pumping experience filtering water from my artesian well instead of melted snow from my front yard at the cottage. The obvious visual wear of the filter gave me a reference point, and, having kept notes, I revealed that since purchase and up to that point, I’d only filtered roughly 1,500 litres. I had estimated that I might attain a very rough total capacity of 3,000 litres.

In 2017, I had passed a benchmark: The plastic gauge that had come with the unit had passed over the filter, at about 1,650 litres, and by the time I’d written the post, I’d reached 1,750 litres. This represented 3.5% of the nominal 50,000 litre capacity. I mused over the lack of any reported real life capacities that I could find on the internet, going through some hypothetical arithmetic I was able to develop from one source.

I knew that I wouldn’t get anywhere near the oft-touted 50,000 litres. In anticipation of needing a replacement filter cartridge, I went to a store selling them, hesitantly because the replacement part has a fairly expensive price. I purchased a replacement, and was pleasantly surprised to get a 73.2% discount on the price at the counter (for reasons unknown). I surmised that a part of the discount was since the unit was in a box that had obviously been opened and resealed, although why it was so significant still eludes me. The only thing in my favour were the local consumer protection regulations requiring that in the case of a difference between the advertised price and the price at the counter, the consumer gets either up to a $10 discount from the advertised price if lower than the value at the register, or the value of the register price if lower than the correct price.

Since January, 2017, when the gauge passed over the filter unit, I have been bringing somewhat more water up to the cottage, up to five gallons at a time instead of just a single gallon, in order to somewhat extend the life of the filter cartridge. I have been continuing to use the original filter unit, wanting to take full advantage of its lifespan.

During my most recent weekend to the cottage in April, 2019, I began filtering water as usual. The filter had been cleaned and bleached prior to use. However, the filter quickly clogged, and suddenly, the plunger went down quickly; the unit’s internal pressure had been sufficient to collapse that which remained of the filter.  

The collapsed filter, note that the element has been worn and significantly ablated

It should be noted that the filter failure was due to the fact that over time and hundreds of filter cleanings, it had been physically worn away, and therefore the failure was due to it being thin (about 1mm to 2mm thick) and not because I’m inventing a frivolous claim of manufacturing defect.

I also have a definitive capacity of the cartridge I received with the original  purchase, under the various conditions of water quality I filter and maintenance: approximately 2197.5 litres (let’s round that up to 2,200 litres), or 4.4% of the stated 50,000 litre capacity. It was used up over seven off seasons at the cottage, providing a significant amount of the drinking quality water needed for cooking, cleaning, and drinking.

It seems that I didn’t get anywhere near the nominal capacity. Sigh.

Now it’s time to see how much capacity I get out of the second filter.

Cooking soup with single burner portable stoves for a crowd

As I recall, I began cooking big batches of soup (eight quarts and more) for my church’s after-service social time / coffee hour in early 2013.

On a lark, I had decided one winter Saturday afternoon that it would be a good idea to make soup the following morning during the church service and serve it during the after-service social time / coffee hour. I sought out a recipe on the internet for “big batch vegetable soup”, which sent me to a recipe on the Martha Stewart website for four quarts. The recipe suggested that it was very flexible, so I chose the ingredients I liked, ignored those I didn’t, and doubled the numbers to make eight quarts, the size of a large stainless steel pot I had. The next morning, I bought the requisite ingredients on my way to church, and upon arrival, I just started making the soup in the church kitchen during the service. During coffee hour, it was a modest hit; all of the soup was served, with none left over.

Since then, my soup recipe, having evolved somewhat from Martha Stewart’s, has become a small yet (I hope an) integral part of what has become a larger occasionally recurring food event.

This is in no small part due to a comment I received from a fellow parishioner that Sunday morning in early 2013. By the time she managed to come to my service table, the soup had cooled too much for her liking; this prompted me to invest in an inexpensive portable counter top single burner electric stove. At the least, the theory went, I could cook the soup in the church kitchen, and then upon bringing it out to the hall for serving, I could keep it hot. Since then, however, I have shifted to cooking the soup in the hall where it has been served, avoiding in the process the danger of walking through a hall with a large pot of boiling soup at a time when it starts filling with people.

I have since invested in the following:

  • a double burner counter top portable stove;
  • two more inexpensive single burner electric counter top stoves;
  • a somewhat more expensive, single burner induction counter top stove;
  • two 50 foot, 12 gauge extension cords, one of which normally does not get used;
  • and, already having had an eight quart stainless steel stock pot, I bought:
    • an eight quart stainless steel pot I found at a steal of a price at a second hand shop;
    • a slightly used 16 quart stainless steel stock pot at a steal of a price at a second hand shop;
    • a new 20 quart stainless steel pot for a steal of a price at a grocery store.

In a number of ways, portable counter top stoves are central, however indirectly, to the success of the soup I make, despite the relatively large volumes of soup I now occasionally make.

Over time, I have learned how to make large quantities of crowd-pleasing soup while also discovering some of the limits of counter top stoves, as well the upper limits of the environment in which I am using them.

My single burner, traditional coil stoves are rated at 1000 watts each (8.33A @ 120V). My double burner coil stove is rated for a total of 1500 watts (12.5A @ 120V). My single burner induction stove is rated at 1800 watts (15A @ 120V).

In my experience, it is possible to make the following capacities of my vegetable soup (your results may vary according to your soup recipe):

  • 1000 watt single burners:

I find that these units may be used for making eight quarts of soup in a two hour period, and 16 quarts if you have at least three hours to make it. (As a second burner, it also allows for the frying up of vegetables that are later added to the soup pot, although depending on your site conditions, you may not be able to operate both burners simultaneously at maximum capacity.)

  • 1500 watt, double burners:

I am able to make two eight quart pots of soup in a two hour to two and a half hour period.

  • 1800 watt, single burner induction stove:

Particularly ideal for making eight quarts of soup in less than two hours, and it will handily make 16 quarts of soup in a couple of hours. It will also bring 20 quarts of soup to a boil in just over two hours.

Planning, preparation, and logistics of “mobile cooking” for a crowd

This post is not on how to cook a full, multi-course meal or buffet for a large crowd; rather, it is about just a relatively small part of it. As described later and despite describing the portable stoves as being central to the cooking of the soup which is one of the two subjects of this post, attempting to cook a full, multi-course meal or buffet for a large crowd with consumer grade portable cookware, and in environments not set up for such cookery, is impractical at best; to do so would require planning and menu design far beyond the perview of this post.

Setting up and preparation:

Often when traveling to cook for a crowd, one is doing so in an environment that is unfamiliar, and depending on the circumstances (such as the type of hall in which I make soup for a crowd), is not set up for doing so.

From a cooking perspective, this means that I normally do more than simply collect the soup ingredients and throw them into a pot, hoping that tasty soup will come out a couple of hours later. Often, this means now that while cooking the soup takes place in the church hall, I prepare the ingredients in advance at home, typically the day before. Fresh vegetables are cleaned, chopped, and placed in containers for transport. Usually, they are mixed together, and even the olive oil is added and mixed in. Frozen vegetables are taken out of the freezer the day before in order to defrost them at least somewhat, so as to reduce the amount of time required to defrost them during cooking. I also transport all the fresh food in a cooler.

Equipment-wise, I bring most of what I need for the cooking part. (Fortunately, my church has tables, tablecloths, chairs, dishes, a commercial dishwasher, and the like.) Of course I bring the portable stoves and my pots, however I also bring my own cast iron fry pans and cooking utensils, such as spatula, ladle, and can opener. I even bring my own towels for cleaning up my area, which of course I launder myself.

Real life challenges to using portable stoves in areas not designed for cooking

I once agreed to making the soup for my church for the Fall Fair Luncheon, at which the soup would be the main dish. This was in contrast to my normally serving it informally in a mug as I usually do during Sunday coffee hour — sometimes on its own, sometimes as part of a modest luncheon — after the church service. This meant that I attempted to make a total of 44 quarts of my soup simultaneously in the same church hall. I came upon a reality of what I can only presume is a common condition of many halls not expressly designed (or recently upgraded) for high electrical demands, such as cooking for the very crowds they were designed to welcome. “That’s why there’s a kitchen, silly!”

I ended up learning definitively that the hall in which I was cooking the soup had only one electrical circuit, with what I was told (and which I later confirmed) was a 20 amp fuse. A quick addition in my head indicated that at its peak when I was trying to bring all 44 quarts of soup to a boil simultaneously, I was trying to consume between 29.6 to 31.7 amps on what proved to be a single 120V / 20A circuit!

(Note: I live in Canada, where the mains voltage is 120 volts, and unless specifically designed otherwise, circuits and circuit breakers — and in the still common situations where fuses are still used — are generally designed and set for 15 amp loads. I can only assume that the 20 amp fuse in place upon which I normally rely is there legitimately.)

It also led to what I consider to be an unfortunate conclusion, in the context of my desire to publicly (as opposed to hidden away in the kitchen) make my soup for a large crowd: The electrical outlets in many halls, designed and built decades ago, are often served by a single electrical circuit. Hall and home builders simply never envisioned nor intended for cooking, which often requires a large amount of electricity, to occur outside of a kitchen; at most, they may have assumed that someone might plug in the equivalent of a plate warmer, possibly two, to keep a casserole or two warm.

This led to my realizing that making my soup for the church had its limits. With some patience, I could still make my soup in relatively “small” quantities — usually up to 16 quarts at a time, and perhaps if I reduced the heat a bit at certain times, perhaps fry up the vegetables at the same time. However, the fuses blowing a few times confirmed that large quantities of soup — and more generally, large scale cooking — could not be cooked simultaneously in an area not set up for the loads required for cooking. This means that despite the fact that a “large hall” may have many outlets, unless the hall was designed or since upgraded for heavy electrical loads, there is a good chance that the many outlets are in fact all on a single electrical circuit.

Although I purchased all of my portable stoves for cooking in non-traditional areas, as I’ve learned, their value for cooking in certain circumstances is limited to actual cooking of relatively small amounts of food — as in, depending on which stoves are chosen for use, that which may be cooked on one or two portable stoves at a time — and only keeping warm to hot larger quantities of food that have already been heated up, only then using more of my portable stoves at once.

Which leads me to the following conclusion: Portable cookware are very useful tools for the traveling cook, but one must not have have illusions of “feeding the multitude” based solely on these tools.

Captain Obvious Update Comment: Putting aside (possibly sardonic) suggestions of “use the kitchen, silly”, it has occurred to me that some may say “well use a portable gas stove to avoid the problem with electrical limits”. To me, the obvious issue becomes one of ventilation being required to avoid the buildup of combustion gases, particularly carbon monoxide. Some may well bring a fan to prop in a nearby open window in order to assure extraction; this would require such a window can be conveniently located. Yes, I have an opinion on that subject, too, to the order of old windows that were never designed to be opened, or which have been long since painted shut. 🙂

Document Formatting When Joining Texts From Various Sources

I have mounted, on a volunteer basis and in a lay capacity, the annual reports for a community group to which I belong since about 2008.

Up to that point, the group’s annual reports were individual committee reports delivered to the secretary, individually printed out as and when received, and then stapled together with handwritten pages numbers when it had to be distributed, with an added cover page, and an extra page listing the reports and their page numbers. This did have the charm of not requiring a herculean effort and time requirement in both mounting the report, and on “printing day”, to print literally a thousand pages or more, depending on the number of pages to the report and the number of copies to be drawn. Admittedly, it does not take into account possible collating, as per how one might print out the reports (ie. pages with colour drawings and photos vs black and white, etc.).

The year I took on mounting the annual report, I believed that the annual reports should have been in an electronic format such as PDF so that it could be placed on the group’s website. But that was barely the beginning of why I took on the job.

To fulfill the technical goal of making a PDF for download from the website was not too difficult. Two easy options would have been to either scan the report once produced the “old fashioned way” and produce a PDF from all the images, or, at least for those received in electronic format, create individual PDF documents plus scan for those received on paper, then use a PDF joiner to string the PDF files together into a single document. In fact, at the time, I gathered as many previous annual reports as I could and scanned them, making them available on the website.

However, going forward, I did not consider either option to be satisfactory.

The aesthetic appearance of the annual report irked me. It wasn’t the old school printing on paper — to this day, I still print lots of paper copies for distribution. Rather, I saw an opportunity to put to the test some angst stemming from a bit over a decade earlier when the community group’s recipe book to which I’d contributed led to my having had a few ideas on improvements to the text’s basic formatting and overall layout. (The actual recipes, variety, organization, editing, and recipe testing that I learned went on behind the scenes, and the like, were beyond the scope of my interest, although one common error, separate from my angst, was a mild nuisance.) I of course wisely kept my opinions to myself, both at the time of the recipe book in the mid 1990’s, as well as at the time of initially volunteering to mount the annual report.

As can be surmised from the above, each report came from almost as many different people as there were reports, depending on how many committee reports given individuals would take on. Each person would typically type their report on their computer and email it to the office, or perhaps print it out at home and drop it off at the group’s office personally. They used whichever word processor they had: Sometimes simple text editors, or MS Write, or MS Word, presumably ranging through Word 98, Word 2003, and Word 2006. Presumably some people had Macs with whichever word processor they might have had. I believe that the secretary, who was sometimes typing up the reports which were submitted handwritten, was using a version of Wordperfect. Finally, I was submitting my reports at that point using OpenOffice.org. Presumably, there may have been other text editors or word processors used. Each instance presented a random opportunity for default settings to be different, as well as for the user to change the settings to those that suited their own personal taste.

As a result, each report predictably had formatting unique to each author, sometimes unique to each individual report, if two or more reports were submitted by the same person.

The various differences in formatting in the reports received included the following, without being an exhaustive list:

– varying text fonts and font sizes, and occasionally, more than one of either or both in a given report;
– varying line spacing;
– varying paragraph indentation, including lack thereof;
– line jumps or lack thereof between paragraphs;
– varying page margin widths;
– varying text alignment, typically either left justified, or left and right justified;
– the occasional use of italics over the whole document, beyond that which would normally be used;
– the inclusion or lack of section titles, sometimes (or not) rendered bold and/or italicised and/or underlined and/or capitalized;
– tables listing figures in formats unique to each table and report, or simple lists with varying bullet styles;
– varying spelling conventions, ie. American vs. British vs. Canadian spellings (ie. neighbor vs. neighbour, or center vs. centre);
– varying naming conventions: Sometimes full names, sometimes initialized first names with full last names, sometimes full first names with initialized last names, or sometimes very informally with only first names;
– varying honourific format conventions: sometimes honourifics, titles, and/or ranks would not be used, with persons simply named, and sometimes referred to with variations of their title such as Reverend, Rev., The Reverend, The Rev., etc.
– varying naming conventions for committee names, multi-word names, places, and the like, which were sometimes fully spelled out, and sometimes initialized, abbreviated, and / or contracted;
– etc.

As such, as alluded to in a previous post, minor changes and differences in formatting between the individual reports created subtle (or, depending on the changes, more obvious) visual changes in how each report appeared compared to each other, when joined and printed on paper or read on a computer screen. Multiple permutations and combinations of the above formatting issues often led to creating wildly varying end results which go beyond the subtle, creating a patchwork of formatting over the multiple reports joined together into a single document. This may be jarring to the eye of some readers, particularly when it is not a subtle, unified, overarching design choice, but rather the result of a decided lack of unified design choice.

This link shows a hypothetical example of how such a report could look (you’ll need a PDF reader) — with various individual reports each having unique blends of formatting as compared to each other. Note that I intentionally use the “Lorem Ipsum” text so as to highlight the formatting.

The obligatory let’s tie it all together part at the end:

When I collect the individual reports and create one document, I cut and paste all the electronic reports (and rarely, type up handwritten reports) into a single document, imposing a uniform text formatting throughout in the form of a standard font, font size, line spacing, (lack of) paragraph indentation, page margins, and standardized and / or uniform versions of the other items above. Pages are automatically numbered, and standard page headers and footers are automatically added throughout, with date codes to distinguish between earlier and later versions. Basic spelling and typing conventions are applied and made uniform. Note that I don’t dictate or edit writing style, so one report might have section headers, while another may not, nor do I edit for turns of phrase and the like.

This link shows the above hypothetical report changed (you’ll need a PDF reader) to show the same reports with some basic text formatting across the whole document made uniform, while allowing each author’s text flow (and implicitly, were each text to be unique, writing style as well) to remain relatively untouched.

Have I addressed my angst from the mid 1990’s? Yes.

Is the document formatting on the annual reports I produce every year a work in progress, with subtle improvements, changes, and the like every year? Of course.

A text formatting riddle

I’d like to propose my version of a little visual puzzle I saw years ago. In the following table, the same text is repeated in each cell. In eight of the cells, an element of formatting has been changed from the appearance of the text using a basic set of formatting, while the ninth contains, in this case, the default settings on my wordprocessor on my system. The riddle is to find which cell has not been modified as compared to the other eight. (View a slightly larger version of the table here.)

A hint of sorts: What the basic formatting settings are, or which word processor I used on which system or OS, all represent red herrings to solving which is “the original”, or “vanilla”, version.

a text formatting puzzle

Scroll down for the solution.
Scroll down to see the solution
The solution is B2, the cell / square in the centre of the table.

All the other cells have one thing changed from the B2’s qualities.

A1) The font was changed (from a Serif font to a Sans Serif font);
A2) The font size was changed to a slightly larger point size;
A3) The cell’s background colour was changed to a light grey;
B1) The text was italicized;
B2) Standard, unchanged text using my word processor’s standard settings;
B3) The text colour was lightened from a standard black to a grey;
C1) The text was capitalized;
C2) The text was made bold;
C3) The text’s line spacing was increased.

Besides at the core being what I perceive to be a fun riddle, it demonstrates how subtle differences can be made to standard document formatting in a variety of ways. It also alludes to the challenges presented by receiving documents from multiple sources for integration into a single document, such as a community group’s newsletter, or a community group’s annual report, presenting content and / or reports from its various members, leaders, subgroups, committees, and the like. In a forthcoming post, I will further discuss basic issues of varying formatting, and the need for standard formatting in a text document from the perspective of a layman editor of a community group’s annual report.

This past weekend, I made more pickled eggs. A lot of them.

This past weekend, I made over 19 dozen pickled eggs, produced over three consecutive “double batches” of my recipe, all in one day; this was a single-day record for me. According to my recipe for pickled eggs, a batch is about two and a half to three dozen eggs, depending on the size of mason jars used (the volumes and number of eggs in each jar play around with the pickling solution per egg required.)

In July 2018, I described my then-recent experiences over several sessions making large numbers of eggs in anticipation of a flea market at which I then sold my pickled eggs.

For this weekend’s production, I had started a week prior with an impulse purchase of seven dozen eggs to take advantage of a sale; the roughly six dozen for a double batch of pickled eggs, and roughly a dozen leftover for general use in the kitchen. A couple of days later, I bought another seven dozen eggs. Finally, on pickling day this weekend, I bought yet another six dozen eggs. I had begun with a vague notion of making some pickled eggs for a good customer (eight jars of 14!), and “some more” for my personal reserve, of which I actually already had a reasonable supply. Once I had bought the third round of eggs, I had it in my mind to also make jars of six for an upcoming church fall fair to which I give pickled eggs to sell, as well as to have jars of six on hand for gifts, and to bring to parties. The expression “unbridled enthusiasm” comes to mind. 🙂

On the point of being a bit too enthusiastic, I decided that while I am pleased with the overall production, given the personal reserve I already had had on hand, the production of the equivalent of one of the double batches — the last round of six dozen eggs purchased — should have been foregone. I am likely to be asked again relatively soon to make more pickled eggs for my good customer, during which I would be able to make more pickled eggs for my personal reserve; in any case, I would at least keep the torn eggs from such a production for my personal reserve.

Time commitment reduced!

My experience last spring preparing for the flea market made me think about the time commitment involved in boiling the eggs, and since then, I have experimented with increasing the number of eggs I boil at once from 18 to 36. I was successful, a key point having lay in having actively mixing the boiled eggs in the ice water at the end to ensure proper quick cooling of the increased number of boiled eggs. This time reduction made a huge difference this weekend! (Yes, my recipe has been adjusted accordingly.)

Peeling method

I have also figured out my peeling method, which (usually) helps reduce tearing, while of course helping to peel the shells: Peel eggs by tapping the bulbous end on a hard surface. and continuing while rotating the egg, then up-ending the egg and continuing to tap. (Yes, my recipe has been adjusted accordingly.)

Torn eggs

Earlier this year, I had came to the conclusion that for large batches of eggs, a tear rate of roughly one egg per dozen is acceptable, since I just put the torn eggs aside in a separate bowl, then bottle them together, which I keep for my own personal reserve.

This weekend, I had a good experience with my tear rate: There were only 11 eggs over the 19 dozen eggs with tears — in fact, only about six had tears, while a further five were merely deformed from shells which cracked during boiling.

Final count

The final count from this weekend is as follows:

– 8 jars of 14 eggs each for my regular customer
– 8 jars of 6 eggs each for the church fair, gifts, and use at parties
– 1 jar of 22 eggs for my personal reserve
– 2 jars of 13 eggs each for my personal reserve
– 1 jar of 9 eggs for my personal reserve
– 2 jars 6 torn eggs each for my personal reserve

And finally, here is a photo of what 22 jars of varying sizes with 229 eggs looks like:

This is what 22 jars, totalling 229 pickled eggs. looks like

Hotel WiFi Passwords — 2018 edition (aka what a snore fest)

Yet again, I am in a hotel using their wifi. Again, after being asked during check-in if I wanted wifi access, I was curious about how their wifi password would stand up to any kind of security test as they handed me a slip of paper with the information.

Sigh, it is a terribly obvious password that would only barely pass a “security by obscurity” test by virtue that by and large, people don’t have wifi guessing software with standard dictionaries ranging from a normal library dictionary to a hacker dictionary that anyone’s 11 year old could probably compile, certainly with the help of their friends. In fact, while there are no doubt dozens, no hundreds, no thousands of “obvious” word combinations that would meet the following criteria, it in fact is obvious that it is intended to be very easily remembered by an overwhelming majority of people, be they a typical everyday-anyone-off-the-street, tech savvy, forgetful, children, or “even your mom” (I am trying to delicately refer to my mother, who is both not tech savvy in the least, and very experienced in life, if you take my meaning.)

Back in 2015, I was on the subject again, having been impressed at least that the wifi password given to me appeared to be auto-generated at check-in, and obviously not susceptible to simple dictionary attacks.

I started this rant on hotel passwords in 2009 during a series of business trips in which I was at a lot of hotels, and was frustrated for the innkeepers that their wifi would have been so easy to steal for the cost of a night at the hotel and a series of repeaters in the bushes.

Since then, however, I came to realize that my concerns were a bit overrated. Firstly, the potential of signal theft in that fashion was only really was useful for neighbours of the hotels. Secondly, the technical aspects of providing multiple repeaters and power cords down the street (or as the case may be, through the woods) make the cost, both financial and in terms of maintenance, somewhat impractical beyond a few hundred feet.

This is based on some personal experience of the legitimate variety: Since about 2011, my neighbour at the cottage has had internet provided through, I believe, line-of-sight microwave service; it includes VOIP service to provide telephone service, which apparently is prioritized within the router setup. He kindly gave me the wifi password. After about a year, I installed a wifi repeater so that it could be useful within the house, since there was only about one location within the house within a usable radius of the neighbour’s router (a solid two to three hundred feet away); fortunately, I could plug in the repeater at that location. I have since also been giving him some money annually in appreciation.

What have I found?

The repeater is useful. It itself provides constant signal, although it has been susceptible to things like weather, tree foliage, and the like. And, unfortunately, the general service seems to be susceptible to the same, plus things like mountains, and probably the dozens of customers just on my lake and neighbouring lakes. (Yes, people keep on complaining, and no doubt the suppliers’ techies just shift “prioritizing” their services to each successive round of complaining customers, at the expense of the rest of their customers.)

But to wit, the quality of service, at least on the repeater we have, is only barely useful for things like YouTube and the like under the best of conditions; the speed drop from beside the router to our repeater is such that we were able to demonstrate to our neighbour that even if we were consuming such services, we could not be the source of the fluctuating service affecting his internet service (see above.) In any case, by and large we respect a request from him that we not use it to stream video and download large files, since his usage is also metered.

My brother has been wanting to improve our end of the signal for years by setting the repeater near the edge of the property, closer to our neighbour, with things like “waterproof boxes”, electrical extensions, and Ethernet cable through the woods a bit, and then hanging in the air above the clothesline. I have been responding bah humbug, it seems far too susceptible to the elements. As a former geocacher, the notion of a “waterproof” container left out in the woods is no simple feat, and even were it to remain locked, it — and the power cable, and the Ethernet cable too — likely would become susceptible to the elements in short order, and not worth the maintenance effort. It seems to be a challenge beyond most commoners such as myself and even I suspect my brother, more along the lines of the phone company or electric utility face on a daily basis. Remember how annoying it is when the power goes out or the telephones (landlines or cell network) don’t work? Why do they have local teams on the ready 24 hours a day to deal with this? Such outages are regular due to trees falling, water infiltration, and the like.

Is it really worth going to all this trouble in order to have a series of repeaters going down the street for free wifi? I doubt it would be useful to any real degree except to demonstrate proof of concept to your friends for bragging rights.

So … does it really matter how easy it would be to hack a hotel’s free wifi?

Obviously, to the hotel and any costs incurred, of course. The reduction in service and inconvenience that in principle such a signal theft may cause to the hotel and its guests? Of course. And, any illegal activities in which such illicit users may be engaging (kiddie porn, spam, financial fraud, etc.), of course it matters.

But, is anyone beyond the immediate neighbours going to bother with the series of repeaters and power lines through the bushes and/or down the street, possibly spanning several blocks and neighbourhoods?

I have to say “Poppycock!”

PS The “snore fest in the title” was not meant as a pun, but realizing that it unintentionally is — well, I like dumb jokes and puns, especially the dumb ones. 🙂 So, keeping it is intentional.