2020 for Halloween was slightly different, and a lot of the same, for me.
Given “the new normal” brought about contactless and distanced interactions, I had to rethink what I usually do for Halloween.
Normally, I set up a marquee on my front lawn, perhaps dress up a bit in (usually) a very simplistic Elvis costume, and give away candies to the ghosties and ghoulies in the usual way, while (badly) belting out a few Elvis tunes, and throwing in a few bellows of “Happy Halloween!”
Over the years, I added a coffee urn to serve coffee to parents, cookies, juice boxes, and bags of chips, all on a side table, in addition to the candies I would hand out.
This year, there was some uncertainty as to whether Halloween would be allowed at all, but ultimately, where I live, the provincial authorities decided that Halloween was an important holiday for the children to participate in. Halloween activities for adults remained cancelled. This was great for me, since I prefer the street festival vibe of serving the ghosties and ghoulies over costume parties for adults.
However, this also meant that for me, there could be no serving of coffee, cookies, extra snacks, or juice boxes. Of course, contactless and distanced interactions were to be observed, such as placing a table at the end of your driveway, with the candies in individual bags for people to serve themselves. I found this last suggestion to be decidedly unsatisfactory.
I thought about a tube delivery system, the topic of which was being discussed on the radio, while televised newscasts showed people demonstrating compressed air powered delivery systems. I chose something far more simple: A two inch tube, about ten feet long, and set up on an angle off of a step ladder.
Operation was very low tech: I would be behind the ladder at the high end, while the ghosties and ghoulies would crouch down and place their bag or bucket at the bottom end of the tube, also on the other side of a cordoned off area. I would push three individually wrapped candies per child down the tube, one candy at a time, with a bit of flourish, calling out “One! Two! THREE!!!!!
And, if the candy didn’t make it down all the way, I would tip the ladder a bit to make sure that the candies would come out the other end.
The delivery system seemed popular, and adults thought it was cool enough. A lot, although not all, of the ghosties and ghoulies understood right away what to do, while others needed prompting from either the adults with them, or from me.
Inflatable Lawn Ornaments
I have also been taking a liking to the inflatable lawn ornaments that over the past few years have come out especially around Halloween, as well as around Christmas. While arguably a bit of a luxury item, I am cheap, so whenever I buy a new addition, I only buy the least expensive smallest units, sometimes on sale a day or two AFTER Halloween; I also don’t buy the (somewhat wildly) more expensive units which are licensed designs of movie or TV characters. (I am also somewhat concerned that at some point sufficiently far into the future when I still want to use them, that the premium paid will be lost on an icon whose heyday and easy recognition are long past.)
I purchased the ghost (on the right) a few years ago, and this year I added the green vampire monster, and the pumpkin head skeleton.
Given that I wasn’t sure how many children would come, or even whether there would be any at all, I had a decent turnout. My better years have brought out almost 90 children. How many ghosties and ghoulies did I give out candies to this year? At three candies per child most of the time, and 200 candies purchased, with only nine pieces left over at the end, I estimate that I served about 60 children.
Now that Halloween 2020 has come and gone … it’s time for Christmas!
Now that Christmas is on its way, today I felt that it was time to set up my Christmas-themed inflatables. In fact, while it’s only now the beginning of the fourth week of November and Christmas is still a month away, I’m actually a bit tardy — off the top of my head, I can think of at least five other houses on my block who have already set up Christmas lights and inflatables!
I say “relatively easy” since a good number (though hardly all) of my recipes are geared toward making large batches in advance meant to be frozen, and the making of which I treat as all afternoon affairs, often with a large bottle of very premium beer. The above cooking jobs, however, are individually of the smaller amounts variety, each being able to be made easily and quickly.
Today, I put my cooking plans into a bit of overdrive, and, by mid afternoon, my main cooking plans for the day were complete, with a few extras beyond the list to boot. The whole list was somewhat more ambitious than the lemon squares which I’d made at the beginning of the week during a spare afternoon I’d had.
I started all this process somewhere around 09:30 in the morning.
Breakfast was first, consisting of my breakfast sandwiches, which are essentially a grilled cheese sandwich with a fried egg and, in my sandwich, sliced breakfast sausages, while in my mom’s, bacon.
At the same time, I started by setting the bread machine to replenish my supply of bread slices in the freezer for sandwiches and the like. Three hours later, the bread came out of the machine, and was later sliced and frozen.
One of the things I now normally keep in the freezer is a cooked mixture of ground beef and chopped onions, cooked in advance and frozen in ice cube trays. The cubes are used for putting into the likes of tomato sauces for spaghetti and other recipes calling for cooked ground beef, or instead of chopped bacon in my pizza recipe. Cooked, two pounds of ground beef with onions will fill two ice cube trays:
Next, I cooked a single 375g package of bacon (“mild sugar cured bacon”, each slice cut in half lengthwise), for the freezer, for my mom (I prefer cooked breakfast sausages for myself):
My next cooking job was oatmeal raisin squares, which I learned from one of Jamie Oliver’s TV shows. They’re nice enough, but I make them for my mom.
While the oatmeal raisin squares were baking, I peeled a few pounds of potatoes for roast potatoes for tomorrow’s Sunday Lunch.
After that, I made blondies for myself. They’re supposed to be similar to brownies, but I add baking powder, giving them more of a cake consistency and height; they are of a tan or caramel colour, and with chocolate chips in it; I cut them into small bite-sized squares.
Before beginning to makepickled eggs, I had never cared much for pickles of just about any sort all my life, although over time I have come to realize that I wasn’t as averse to pickled items as much as I thought, demonstrated by having begun making pickled eggs and continuing to love them for many years now.
My mom, on the other hand, has enjoyed several kinds of pickles as long as I remember. While I was growing up, every summer into the fall, she would be part of a group of ladies at our church who would be making various jams, jellies, and pickled vegetables to sell later each autumn at the church’s fund-raising bazaar. This in fact was an indirect inspiration for me, a couple of decades later, to make my pickled eggs to contribute to the same church bazaar table. To this day, every year my mom makes an English-style chutney containing rhubarb (which she grows in her garden), raisins, and onions, using the recipe the church group assigned to her to make in the early 1980’s.
Over the years, one of the things that I have been keeping my eyes out for at roadside farmers’ stands on my way up to the cottage are artisanal jars of pickles from the local farmers to keep my mom supplied with pickles, usually of the bread and butter pickles, and pickled beets, varieties. For several years, one stand in particular sold bread and butter pickles that my mom really liked; however, the stand has since closed. I won’t be trying to find out whether the lady who made them distributes them elsewhere; conversations over the years indicated that she found that making at least her bread and butter pickles was becoming too much trouble for the price she was able to charge.
A growing nagging feeling that I should at least experiment making bread and butter pickles for my mom has been developing over the past couple of years.
This year, after having found a different road side stand distributing various pickled vegetables from a local cabane à sucre (maple sugar shack) (here’s my archive), I bought some jars of the bread and butter pickles for my mom. She tried them, and found them to be representative of the style but not as good as those from the closed farmer’s stand, and further, that the jars appeared not as fully packed as the other jars.
This proved to be one of two imps pushing me over the edge to experiment, the other imp being having found a three litre basket of pickling cucumbers at my local grocery store shortly thereafter, which I decided to purchase.
Already having a supply of onions, sugar, and vinegar, I proceeded to wash then slice the cucumbers in my food processor using the slicing tool. The recipe was based on cups of sliced cucumbers, so given the number of cups of sliced cucumbers I actually produced from what I’d purchased in the three litre basket (14 cups, as compared to the base recipe’s 20 cups), I adjusted the amounts of each of the rest of the ingredients accordingly.
I deviated from the original recipe in the following ways:
– The original recipe called for thinly slicing the onions, while I coarsely chopped the onions;
– In addition to the pickling spice blend in the bag, the original recipe called for mustard seeds, turmeric, and celery seeds, which I did not have, and which I simply omitted;
– The original recipe called for packing sterilized jars with the cucumber slices, onions, and pickling solution immediately once bringing the mix to a rolling boil, and then boiling the sealed mason jars in a water bath for 10 minutes, while I instead boiled the cucumbers and pickling solution for ten minutes, then packed them in sterilized mason jars, and finally proceeded directly to cooling the jars, over concerns that, not having used the water bath method before, I would suffer jar breakage.
Tasting a leftover pickle that didn’t get bottled, I could tell that it tasted roughly like what I knew bread and butter pickles should taste like.
The whole process, including cleaning up, took about two and a half hours, and produced five jars of about 450mL each. I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively easy it was.
My mom was thrilled to learn that I’d conducted my experiment, and anxiously awaited my next visit so that she could try the results.
In the meantime, I had a nagging guilt about not following the instructions and not treating the filled jars in a water bath. The following week, when I happened to be back at the grocery store, I happened upon another display with more pickling cucumbers, and yet another imp convinced me to buy a three-litre basket of cucumbers.
This time, I decided to follow the recipe a bit more closely, given that I already had what I considered to be an otherwise successful batch of pickles in sealed jars already in storage: While I decided to continue omitting the turmeric, mustard seeds, and celery seeds, I sliced the onions thinly and into coins; I brought the cucumber slices, sliced onions, and pickling solution to a boil; then I immediately packed the sterilized mason jars with the mix; and then boiled the sealed jars in a water bath for ten minutes. I did not have any jar breakage. The second basket I’d purchased seemed to have more cucumbers than the first basket (16 cups of sliced cucumbers), and I produced seven 500mL mason jars, as well as one 250mL mason jar.
In the meantime, my mom had made some pickles using some instructions she’d received from a friend, involving the use of pickling solution saved from a number of previously consumed jars of pickles, and some English cucumbers she’d purchased.
The following week, I visited my mom, bearing a jar from each batch, and we set up a taste-test. Fortunately, I am not outright averse to bread and butter pickles; they just aren’t something for which I’ve acquired a taste – yet. 🙂
We had four jars of pickles to compare, which we rated as follows by preference (1 – liked the most, 4 – liked the least):
1: My batch #2 – perfect, and crunchy (refrigerated)
2: My batch #1 – almost as good as “my batch #2”, but not crunchy, at least not enough, and otherwise very good (not refrigerated)
3: Current roadside stand pickles – okay, but not as good (refrigerated)
4: My mom’s recycled pickling solution experiment with English cucumber (refrigerated) – fourth place, and okay but decidedly unremarkable.
We came up with a suspicion afterwards: Since “my batch #1” wasn’t refrigerated while the others were, we wondered if that could have made a difference in the crunchiness.
I received a phone call a couple of days later about “my batch #1”: After refrigeration, they were declared a complete success, since they developed a certain crunch in the fridge.
So my experiments seem to have been successful, at least until and unless I find some spoilage in the jars of “my batch #1” after a few months, if they last that long, and of course which I am not expecting to occur anyway.
For several years, I have had an on and off exposure to what within the family we have been calling “crunch” after my brother started patronizing a local candy shop not far from his home. The favourite treat he bought from the store was chocolate buttercrunch. My mother and I loved it, and of course my brother did as well..
Said “crunch” was difficult to resist; it got to the point that my brother would simply place orders with his “candy lady” to purchase the “crunch” in bulk, amounting no doubt to several pounds at a time. The boxes in which he received the “crunch” were generic cardboard packing boxes about the size of a couple of large textbooks. Curiously, sometimes his orders took a week or two to fill, “because it will be a week or two before I make it again.”
Over time, I quietly shared my suspicion with my brother that his “candy lady” may have simply been ordering the candy from a well known Canadian brand of high end chocolates, since at a mall location of said brand of chocolates, they were selling the same kind of candy in squares which visually appeared to be identical to those from my brother’s “candy lady”, and they certainly seemed to taste the same. I also recall seeing a clerk replenishing the supply in the display case from a generic cardboard box, which seemed to be very similar to the boxes that my brother had been getting from his “candy lady”. No matter, both were entirely scrumptious.
But alas, several years ago, my brother’s “candy lady” closed her shop and moved away, and I rarely patronize the mall locations of the well known Canadian brand of high end chocolates in order to maintain a supply of the candy.
In June, 2020, I began making the “crunch” at home, rather successfully, for the most part – although it is now, albeit but a few weeks later, beyond my recollection as to why I specifically chose to attempt to make it. To my surprise, it is remarkably easy, albeit still requiring plenty of patience, and at least some basic skill – even when it largely goes according to plan.
I first found a recipe(here’s my archive) and which is the basis for my recipe, although I have modified some of the key steps, such as:
a) although I use butter as the principal fat source as called for in the recipe, I use margarine to grease the heavy pot, simply because I have a lot of margarine on hand given that a number of otherbakingrecipes in my collection of recipes call for margarine (or can use either margarine or butter interchangeably, and we’re generally a margarine family. 🙂 )
b) I use maple syrup instead of corn syrup, since I live in a maple-syrup producing area, and it is commonly available; and,
c) I do not add nuts (a common ingredient in most “crunch” recipes), on the advice of my brother who (after relating a family story offering context) suggested that I “make what *I* like”, since I have not been fond of nuts, certainly in whole form, since I was a very young child.
(see later on for other modifications I brought to the recipe.)
The first time I made the candy, I was surprised at how long it took for the buttercrunch part to rise to the 300F point, reminding me of a school chemistry experiment in which (as I recall) alcohol and water solutions would boil first at the lower boiling temperature of the alcohol, before rising to the boiling point of water.
Once brought to the correct temperature, I poured the (at this point liquid) buttercrunch in my baking pan, which temporarily warped due to temperature differences. This led to parts of the buttercrunch which were thicker than others, to the point of some parts being “too thick”.
Chocolate was melted in two parts, a portion for each side, with cooling in between each attempt. However, I had difficulty in setting the second layer of chocolate, which easily became detached from the buttercrunch once cooled, and especially when I broke the large flats into pieces.
A separate problem with the chocolate was that I found that the milk chocolate bars I was using were on the one hand ideal for melting and pouring evenly (once melted) over the buttercrunch, yet on the other hand seemed to melt a bit too easily for my liking in the final product.
My brother and my mother both tried the “crunch” I’d made, and immediately took a great liking to it. My brother, whom I believe was being mildly gracious beyond otherwise liking what I’d made, asked about how hard it must have been to make the candy as good as the commercial offerings to which we were accustomed.
The time it took to cook the buttercrunch part had taught me to answer that it was principally a matter of patience while cooking the buttecrunch part as it took its time to rise to the correct temperature of 300F, and that beyond that, the success appeared to be largely due to a simple and successful recipe that I had consulted.
My next attempt experimented with separate parts of the recipe:
a) spreading the amount of “crunch” called for in the recipe over two baking pans instead of one, in order to make it less thick; and,
b) only attempting to coat one side of the candy with chocolate, instead of both;
c) using semi-sweet chocolate chips as the chocolate source, principally because its price was more consistently at the lowest price point of bulk chocolate at my local grocery store.
The first two items were largely a matter of technique, while the choice of chocolate to use was initially a matter of cost. This incidentally addressed my concerns with the melting point of the chocolate, since its melting point also appeared to be a little higher than a number of the milk chocolate bars I was buying, as evidenced by the semi-sweet chocolate chips appearing to take longer to melt in my hands while handling.
Reviews from my brother and my mother indicated that using the semi-sweet chocolate chips was as good as the first batch, but that there was a slight preference for the milk chocolate coating, and that I had largely succeeded at making the candy less thick.
Given the success of the experiment with semi-sweet chocolate chips and the feedback I’d received, I decided to make a 50/50 blend of the semi-sweet chocolate chips and milk chocolate (be they buttons, chocolate bars, or otherwise), hoping to bridge the slight preference for milk chocolate with the apparent slightly higher resistance to melting in one’s hand of the semi-sweet chocolate chips.
This incidentally also lead to an opportunity during my upcoming summer holidays at the cottage to use up various collections of milk chocolate buttons which had been accumulating over a couple of years at the cottage – which is unheated over the winter when I am not there, hence presumably slowing any effect of time on its quality.
During my summer holidays at the cottage, I made three batches of the recipe, with uneven results.
The first batch turned out acceptably, however, I noticed that the butter began to separate from the buttercrunch near the end of the cooking phase when I had reached 300F, and, that it seemed to take longer to reach the temperature than at home in the city. I also found that it was harder to manage the cooking of the buttercrunch part, due to the heat from the stove rising against my hand holding the thermometer and the pot, making it very hot and dangerous. The stove at the cottage uses traditional electrical coil elements instead of the radiant heat elements to which I’m accustomed at home in the city; the heavy pot I was using at the cottage was a large heavy aluminum pot with a different handle configuration as compared to the somewhat smaller stainless steel pot I used in the city.
Nonetheless, the results of the first batch were sufficiently satisfactory that I was confident to give samples to a couple of neighbours.
The second batch proved more difficult, and underlined two problems I encountered during the first cottage batch, viz. that it seemed to take longer for the buttercrunch to rise to the desired temperature, and the butter seeming to separate. I assumed that this was possibly because the pot at the cottage had a larger surface area, affecting the heating of the buttercrunch part, due to greater heat losses to the ambient air being somewhat higher than in the pot I used at home. I also remembered at this point that I knew that the main burner on that stove heated unevenly.
During this same second batch, the chocolate mixture melted with a bit of difficulty due to the microwave oven being a model of half the capacity power wise to the unit I use at home in the city, affecting how it melted the chocolate and at what rate. A hot spot formed in the mix that burned, but which ultimately mixed in well to the rest of the chocolate without apparent ill effect.
The result from this second batch was what I consider a failure, since the buttercrunch part did not turn crunchy, but rather retained a firm fudge like consistency. As a candy, it was fine and very tasty; however, as buttercrunch, it was a failure.
A few days later, I decided to repeat my experiment, using a smaller pot, hoping that the relatively smaller surface area of the pot would address the heating issue. Unfortunately, the firm fudge-like consistency was repeated, and I again failed to get the crunchy part I was hoping for. I also had some difficulty in with uneven melting of the chocolate, which only affected the spreading of the chocolate, leaving a particularly bumpy surface in the finished product.
My last experiment at the cottage was to have involved the use of a portable countertop induction stove with the pot I use in the city (having asked that these objects be brought to the cottage by my mother who came to the cottage at the end of my holidays.) Unfortunately, the pot was not of the variety of stainless steel that works with induction stoves, stopping the experiment in its tracks.
I did not attempt to make any more “cruch”at the cottage, having a fair amount of the “failed” results on hand, and being confident that I could not, at least in the short term, resolve the issues at hand.
Back at home in the city after my holidays, I decided to make the “crunch” again with the equipment with which I’m familiar at home, albeit with a bit of trepidation, given my failures at the cottage.
It was, both unsurprisingly and as well as surprisingly, a complete success: The buttercrunch reached proper temperature, butter did not seem to be separating from the buttercrunch part, and I got the desired end product. My mother immediately asked for some samples, and gobbled up the results with great pleasure.
In the process, it seems that my suspicion that the difficulty with the batches made at the cottage laying with the uneven heating of the stove’s main element had been confirmed.
I have also begun to wonder, given that I have had such relative great success from the beginning – barring the difficulties at the cottage – that my brother’s “candy lady” may indeed have learned how to make her own chocolate buttercrunch, and she may indeed have learned to cut consistently-sized squares, which appeared to be similar to those of the well known Canadian brand of high end chocolates. Presumably, packing boxes are readily available similar sizes, and coincidentally, each purchased similar sizes. And, presumably, when she said that she was planning to make the “crunch” only after a certain delay, she was indeed doing so because she had other production priorities at hand when my brother was placing orders of relatively large quantities of her product.
Either way, I seem to have learned how to largely replicate the taste and texture, and dare I say the essence, of the “crunch”, to the pleasure of the family’s various sweet teeth.
Update 20200831: I used my portable countertop induction stove and a cast iron pot I own to make the buttercrunch part, and a double boiler to melt the chocolate. No surprise, it worked. So now all I have to do is try making the crunch at the cottage.
Update 20200911: I again brought the countertop induction stove, as well as the cast iron pot, to the cottage in order to replicate the experiment. I also used the double boiler method to melt the chocolate. My brother proclaimed the results as my “best batch yet”. When my brother and I left, our mom greedily kept most of the batch after giving my brother one of four bags of the candy, rationalizing that she was to be at the cottage for a few more weeks, while my brother might benefit from a hypothetical “next batch” that I might make. I kept quiet over my disappointment that to me, the “crunch” part seemed to be somewhere between the desired, crunchy result and the somewhat soft, granular fudge that I had made during my summer vacation. This leads to a new conclusion that had previously been going through my mind, that ambient humidity affects candy making, too. (Here’s my archive) Obviously, home in the city is a bit more climate controlled with central air conditioning, while at the cottage, the humidity is whatever it is, including when it’s stiflingly hot and/or humid.
I have a thing about glasses, cups, and containers for drinks of the water and non-alcoholic varieties, specifically for drinking iced tea (Nestea for those who are wondering), of which I drink really large amounts daily, and which itself is a personal trademark.
My obsession with drink containers is to the point that it would also be a bit of a personal trademark in and of itself except that, barring given containers that have been and/or are particularly noticeable or distinctive in their colouring scheme or design, most people would not notice my obsession because most of the containers I use — publicly, anyway — are actually rather mundane containers and cups.
That being said, I’ll start with what I use at home to drink my iced tea:
At home, my favourite drinking glasses are old glass candle holders of the variety that some restaurants have been known to have on their tables. I started using the glass candle holders back in the early 1990’s when I found one still with the wax in it; I took it home, reclaimed the wax for a hobby of mine that uses wax, and cleaned up the container. I have since found, cleaned, used, and unfortunately, broken well over a dozen of these containers over the years.
I also have a tall glass container that may have once served as a flower vase, which was found in a garbage bin.
When I go out, whether or not the drink container I use is distinctive enough to be a personal trademark depends on which container I bring with me. Below are three of my more distinctive containers:
The large “X-Treme Gulp” mug – the largest of them in the centre – holds about a litre and a half, and garners attention and incredulous comments to the order of it being “one really big coffee mug”. This was a surprise Christmas gift from my aunt in 2005; I had mentioned my interest in (at least somewhat) unusual drinking containers, and I probably joked about wanting a clownishly large container. That Christmas, a package arrived in the mail, with the mug in it. It is indeed clownishly large, and at the point of being unwieldy to use and drink from.
The yellow mug on the right holds about a litre, and garners similar attention. In 1995, I was driving around for work, and a yellow “something” caught my attention in a snow-filled ditch; I stopped and went to find it, and it was the thermal travel mug pictured above (but without a lid). Obviously, I grabbed it and took it home.
The smallest of them holds about a half litre, and its claim to fame is its wide bulbous base. In 1996, I was part of an organizing group for a party weekend with a wide group of friends, and we’d ordered a bunch of those travel mugs with custom artwork put on it memorializing the event — this one being the tenth edition of the event. We ordered enough for everybody to get one, so as to discourage people from leaving empty bottles of beer, liquor, and soft drinks laying around, which not only of course would have been a nuisance to clean up at the end of the weekend, but which also would have become a safety hazard when many of about a hundred, twenty-somethings became somewhat to very inebriated.
A particular characteristic many of the cups, mugs, and bottles which I have collected over the years is that they have been found on the street, or were found in recycling bins or the garbage.
Most of these containers and mugs shown above have at various times been a favourite container of the moment, and have seen a lot of use over the years. In fact, the opaque container with the red top (second row, first on the left), which I found in the bushes while I was geocaching in 2002 or 2003, came with me on a trip to London, while the small greenish Nalgene container with the black lid (first row, second from right), was found in a lost and found pile in 2017, and went with me on a couple of cruises.
Of course, all containers I find on the street or elsewhere are properly washed in a dishwasher before I ever use them; it’s the same logic as “don’t you wash your dirty dishes before using them again?”
Unfortunately, a number of the bottles and cups I find in the street, including the stainless steel units, that were used for coffee, have a lingering coffee odour to them, and even after an initial cleaning, will impart a coffee taste when filled with a new drink. This is a mild issue for me since I do not drink coffee, nor do I particularly care for it. However, the taste disappears after a few uses and cycles in the dishwasher. Soaking in a mild bleach solution can help in extreme cases.
One virtually new travel coffee cup I found on the street in a snowbank in 2018 was branded with the logo of a well known goodwill organization; I imagine that the organization’s local major location being barely a block away made the chances of finding the mug there coincidental approaching zero. A family member guilted me into not using it, and tried to prevail upon me to return it to the organization. I ultimately gave the travel mug to my aunt when she visited, so that she may have a thermal coffee mug for when she were to go about her visits with friends.
Another travel mug I found in 2016 is a favourite given how well its lid seals (photo above, first row, third from the right); however, it has two little holes in its base, which allow water to enter in between the mug’s interior and exterior when I clean it in the dishwasher, upside-down. Mildly annoyingly — and a perverse reason why I like it all the more — it leaks a lot of water after I take it out of the dishwasher. However, its story lies in the corporate logo and company name which were silk-screened on it side; I was not familiar with the company name, and thought nothing of it, much as I would not think anything of most other common corporate logos on a mug. For months after finding the mug, I innocently used it everywhere, such as at work and other areas my life would bring me. One day, a work colleague saw my mug’s logo; he asked me if I knew what it meant, and suggested – in a suspiciously insistent way – that I should look it up. My immediate reaction was one of horror that it might be connected to a website of a particular type of explicit material (which could lead to unwanted consequences with my employer); I checked on my personal phone’s internet connection — of course not my work computer with the work internet — and found out that the logo was indeed generally connected with explicit websites. I quickly scraped the silk-screened logo off of the stainless steel exterior of the mug, and of course I continue to use the mug to this day.
Nalgene Water Bottles
Prior to learning about Nalgene containers for the consumer market in the early 1990s, and that they don’t absorb and retain flavours, then impart them in later contents, I only knew of Nalgene through school lab equipment such as squeeze bottles for lab-grade water and other reagents and solvents such as acetone and hexane.
Generally, I use Nalgene bottles for carrying water around, and I’ll drink my iced tea from another container or mug.
My first Nalgene bottle was one I found at a campsite in Vermont in 1994, left behind by previous users of the site. Unfortunately, after several years of service, I inadvertently left it – filled with water – in my car overnight in the middle of a particularly bitterly cold part of winter. The ice expansion caused the plastic in the bottle to split open, and I put it in the recycling bin.
Another early experience with Nalgene bottles was during a sales call with my employer in 1995, who showed a potential client two water samples — one murky, one clear — in clear Nalgene sample bottles in order to demonstrate his filtration device to recondition the process water or glycol in building heating and cooling loops. The sales demonstration was very effective on me, and I asked if I might be able to secure a bottle or two. I used the bottles he gave me for several years; however, the plastic was soft and over time became deformed by the heat in my dishwasher.
Over the years, I have found a Nalgene bottle in a recycling bin (second from the right, 500mL, blue cap), another in a lost and found bin (last on the right, green container, black cap), and others at used goods stores. My most recent acquisitions are two 1.5 litre bottles (first and second on the left), received as a recent Christmas gift (2019).
Stylish Insulated Stainless Steel Bottles
There are the relatively new fangled stylish insulated bottles that seem to have taken the water bottle market by storm. Although stainless steel insulated bottles and thermoses have been around for ages, S’Well and similar bottles seem to have started a style revolution in water containers over the past few years, with a lot of copycat competitors, ranging from low end look-alikes to high-end rivals.
I have three new such bottles which I have never used: One received from my employers in 2017, of course with corporate branding (third from the left), and which was the first time I’d seen the style; another received as a Christmas gift in 2018 (first on the left), which was a copycat; and one received as a promotional item during a themed cruise in 2018 (second from the left).
The only such bottles I actually use are the three I found on the street: A cheap discount store, single layer / uninsulated knockoff bottle in 2019 (third from the right); a salmon pinkish orange bottle of the S’Well brand in 2019 (second from the right), and a third, which I call “Le Chic” (because of the branding on it) in 2020 (last bottle on the right). All three show varying degrees of definite signs of wear and tear, and at least two leak very slightly, one a bit more than the other. The “Le Chic” bottle is a very recent addition, and it has the coffee taste issue mentioned earlier; it will probably enter into my regular usage rotation.
Glass Drinking Jars
I have known about glass drinking jars for a long time, although I only first had one in 2006, when I bought two at the tuck shop at a campsite I was spending a long weekend at; they were relatively expensive, but I purchased them anyway.
Since then, I have found a few at Walmart (the fruit design on the left in the picture above) at a far more reasonable price. Of the other two, one was found on the streets when it caught my eye one morning, while the other was given to me by the recipient of some of my pickled eggs who was returning empty mason jars.
Save for the fact that they are glass and hence susceptible to breakage, these jars are great travel drink containers: In fact, I brought one with me as my main drinking container during a month long business trip out of province in 2009. It served me well, and it amused me when I used it on an airplane. Once I’d finished drinking the water the flight attendant poured into it, I put a lid on the drinking jar. When the airplane landed, I opened it, and was amused by the popping sound caused by the relative vacuum created due to slightly lower cabin pressure.
However, as to the breakage factor, they can be difficult to use on a daily basis in a backpack, since I have accidentally broken a couple of them over the years by simply putting down my backpack on a hard floor in a less than ginger fashion, unfortunately breaking the jar in the bag.
What’s Next on the Horizon?
Of course, I haven’t told the stories to all of the containers I’ve seen come and sometimes go, let alone some that never were. But that is, in a sense, part of the story: There have been so many over the years — including old plastic containers never meant to be used as drinking containers, but rather should have been placed directly in the recycling bin once the original contents were consumed, or finding really good quality travel mugs on the street with excellent seals, that allow me to vigorously shake it to dissolve the iced tea powder I added to the water in it. Oh, and the sort of pear-shaped clear 500mL bottles that a certain type of inexpensive, convenience-store table wine came in … I have fond memories of using those for several years throughout the 1990s.
And while over time I’ve had — and continue to have — favourite containers in the lot, the choice of which container(s) is(are) today’s or this week’s favourite can be ephemeral over time, especially as the overall collection grows with new additions, and contracts due to losses and breakage.
Also, while I actually (somewhat) zealously protect my containers, including very much those found for free, this has also led me have a certain zen when one goes missing, especially if it was one of the “found for free” containers. Just as I found the container because somebody else lost it before me, sometimes I lose containers, leave them behind locked doors to rooms to which I no longer have access, or they get confiscated at a public event such as at a stadium that doesn’t allow participants to bring in items like mugs and bags, both for safety reasons (projectiles), as well as to protect revenue streams from the concession stands.
But this is one of the fun things about what I dare call a hobby: The collection evolves and renews itself, and while I may “mourn” the loss of one of my containers, all I have to do is wait to find another “new to me” container or mug in my various travels, and I’ll end up with a new favourite container.
Over the past at least twelve years, I have been salvaging computers I have found on the streets on garbage day, or found in other locations where my various personal travels have taken me, for use to reformat into usable computers. The various finds have served as main desktop computers, secondary computers, home servers, computation nodes for the World Community Grid, gifts to my brotheror the occasional friend, and the like. It has variously allowed me to indulge in a bit of tinkering, trying out a new linux distro or version of BSD, build a home server, or just pass the time while engaging in a hobby.
In the process, I’ve watched the lower bar of what is acceptable “junk that isn’t junk, at least not yet” move upwards from about P4-533 MHz 32 bit processors to dual core 2.66 GHz 64 bit processors (although single core 64 bit P4 at 3.4 GHz to 3.8 GHz range is good if you don’t want to depend on a GUI, or if you have a lot of RAM and an SSD), 512 MB of RAM to 2GB of RAM, and 20GB hard drives to 80GB hard drives. Now it seems that the next big thing will be in moving from mechanical drives to SSD drives, which I expect — when SSD drives become common in the old computers I find being thrown out — will make a revolutionary change upwards in speed in low end hardware, the way I learned the same in 2017 when I swapped out the mechanical drive in my laptop and replaced it with an SSD. (To be fair, when I bought the computer new in 2015, the hard drive was curiously a 5400 RPM model, presumably either to make it less expensive, less power hungry vis-à-vis battery life, or both.)
As an aside: My favourite brands of castoffs have been, in order, IBM / Lenovo ThinkCentres, then Dells. After that, I’ve had an excellent experience with a single used HP desktop that has been doing computations for World Community Grid running at 100% capacity, since late summer 2016. I’ve dealt with other types of computers, but the ThinkCentres and the Dells have been the ones I’ve had the most success with, or at least the most personal experience. (Since initially writing this post, I have been developing a suspicion that based on the longevity of the HP cast-off I have, HP actually might be superior to the IBM / Lenovo when it comes to cast-offs; however, since it’s the only HP cast off that I can remember ever having, it’s hard to form a proper opinion.)
But to wit: Over the past two weeks, I have tried to revive three used computers that were cast-offs.
Two of them were IBM / Lenovo ThinkCentres, which I think were new in 2006 / 2007, 2.66MHz 64 bit dual cores, 80GB hard drives, and 2 GB memory. The third computer was a Dell case with only the motherboard (proving to have been — see below — a 64 bit dual CPU running at something like 2.66MHz) but no memory, no hard drive, no wires, no DVD player, and not even a power supply!
The two ThinkCentres were from a pile of old computers marked for disposal at a location where I happened to be in mid-2017, and I was granted permission to pick and choose what I wanted from the pile. I gave them to my brother, who at the time evaluated them and determined that neither worked, one just beeping four times and then hanging. After that, they just sat around in his apartment for whenever they might come in handy for spare parts. He had since determined that one actually worked, but he hadn’t done anything with it.
The third computer was found on the street near home a couple of months ago, and was covered with about an inch of snow by the time I’d recovered it. I brought it home, and let it sit around for several weeks just to make sure that it dried out properly. Based on the “Built for Windows XP” and “Vista Ready” stickers, I’d guess that it was new in about 2005 or 2006.
Having forgotten about the ThinkCentre computers I’d given to my brother in 2017, I casually asked him if he had the requisite spare parts to make the snow-covered computer work, since we normally share our piles of spare parts retrieved from old computers that die. To my surprise, he sent me the functional ThinkCentre. My knee-jerk reaction was “I don’t need a new-to-me computer; just the parts required to see if I can get the snow-covered computer to work.” Perversely, I didn’t actually want the results of my planned efforts to produce a functional computer; I just wanted the amusement of a small project, and more generally to see whether the Dell found on the street would work.
In parallel, my home server on which I hosted my backups and my website, another computer of the used several times over variety, worked perfectly except for mysteriously turning off on its own a couple of times recently, perhaps once a week. My brother and I decided that what was probably happening was the result of one or more thermal event(s) which shut down the computer, no doubt due to a combination of dust accumulation, the CPU fan ports in the case not having enough clearance from the computer next to it to allow for proper aspiration of ambient cooling air, and possibly high heat generation from occasional loads due to search engine bots crawling my website. Despite cleaning out the dust, removing the computer’s side panel from which the CPU fan drew air, and shifting both computers a bit in order to allow for adequate ventilation, the computer turned itself off again after about a week.
My brother and I made a swift decision to replace my server with a new installation on a “new” computer — the good ThinkCentre I initially didn’t want — because even though the existing machine was otherwise performing spectacularly well given the overall small load, we tacitly agreed that the shutdowns were a problem with a production server, though we hadn’t actually said the words. This incidentally dealt with another curious behaviour exhibited by the existing server which appeared to otherwise be completely benign, and hence perhaps beyond the scope of why we changed the physical computer.
The operational ThinkCentre was plugged in, formatted with Fedora 31, and my brother helped me install the requisite services and transfer settings to the new server in order to replicate my website. Newer practices in installation were implemented, and newer choices of packages were made. For instance, the “old” machine is still being kept active for a bit as a backup as well as to maintain some VPN services — provided by openVPN — for the purposes of setting up the new server and installing WireGuard for VPN on the new server, and generally allow for a smooth transition period. Other things that we had to remember as well as learn, perhaps for another time, were to install No-IP as a service, and that drive mounts should be unmounted and re-mounted through rc.local.
One of the unexpected bonuses to the upgrade is that it appears to be serving web pages and my blog a wee bit faster, for reasons unknown.
In the meantime, on the next project, I got the non-functional ThinkCentre for its spare parts. The first idea I had was that maybe this second ThinkCentre might still be good, and we looked at a YouTube video that suggested cleaning out the seats for the memory sticks with a can of clean compressed air. I was suspicious of this but let it go for a while, and I proceeded to harvest parts from the computer after deciding that the machine wouldn’t work regardless.
A power supply, cables, a hard drive, and memory sticks were placed in the Dell found on the street. It powered up, and after changing some settings in the BIOS, I was able to boot up a Fedora 31 LiveUSB. Using the settings option from the Gnome desktop, I was able to determine that there was a 64 bit dualcore CPU running at about 2.66GHz, that the 2GBs of memory I’d inserted worked, and that the 80GB hard drive was recognized. I looked around on the hard drive a bit with a file manager (Nautilus) and determined that the place from which I’d retrieved the ThinkCentre appeared to have done at least a basic reformatting of the drive with NTFS. I didn’t try to use or install any forensic tools to further determine whether the drive had been properly cleaned, or had merely received a quick reformat.
Suppertime came around, and the machine was left idle to wait for my instructions for about an hour or so. When I returned to the computer, I saw an interesting screen:
(If you can’t see the picture above, it’s an error screen, vaguely akin to a Windows Blue Screen of Death.) After a few reboots, all with the same “Oh no!” error screen, my brother suggested that the machine may have been thrown out for good reason, intimating that it was good luck that I’d even managed to boot it up in the first place and look around a little bit. I, on the other hand, was relieved: I’d had my evening’s entertainment, I’d gotten what I wanted in the form of working on the machine to determine whether or not the machine could be used, and I’d learned that it indeed couldn’t be used. Parts were stripped back out of the Dell, and the box was relegated to the part of the garage where I store toxic waste and old electronics for the times I have enough collected to make it worthwhile to go to an authorized disposal centre.
At this point, something was still bugging me about the second ThinkCentre. I hadn’t yet placed my finger on it, but I was suspicious of the “use compressed air to get rid of the dust in the memory bays” solution. So I placed the salvaged parts back into the ThinkCentre — having fun with which wires go where in order to make it work again — and got the four beeps again. I looked up what four beeps at start up means (here’s my archive of the table, which I had to recreate since a direct printing of the webpage only printed one of the tables,) and found that at least on a Lenovo ThinkCentre, it means “Clock error, timer on the system board does not work.” While I assumed that changing the BIOS battery may well fix the problem, I decided not to investigate any further.
I salvaged the parts again and placed them in my parts pile, ready for the next time I find a junker on the street or from elsewhere. The second ThinkCentre’s case was also placed beside the Dell, awaiting my next trip to an authorized disposal centre.
This means that out of the last three computers, I have one functioning computer replacing an existing computer (that I hope will continue with an industrious afterlife doing something else), one computer scavenged for spare parts and the case relegated to the disposal centre pile, and the Dell computer which was found on the street also relegated to the disposal centre pile.
Or, to paraphrase Meat Loaf, “One out of three ain’t bad …”
I recently tried a recipe I watched Jamie Oliver make on “Jamie’s Quick and Easy Food”. It presented a minor challenge, because all the measures were in metric units, a different system than that to which I am accustomed to using while cooking.
However, in Canada, we also deal with at least two traditional systems of measurements, in addition to the metric system:
Imperial Measurements (English Units) originating from the British Isles, because of historical ties from colonial times; and,
The United States Customary Units, which are derived from the British Imperial Measurements, and which are really important in Canada because the United States is Canada’s largest trading partner.
This means that in Canada, we regularly albeit informally deal with what could be described as a complex hybrid of (at least) three measurement systems. Although the Imperial System (English Units) has been slowly fading for decades, it has also kept a strong hold on things, such as through old measuring cups and other implements used in home kitchens, often inherited from parents and grandparents. The US Customary Units also have a very strong influence on Canada, especially since the units usually have identical names as their counterparts in Imperial units, as well as very similar though distinct measures.
In my personal experience, listing all ingredients in all home recipes in metric is uncommon in Canada, despite metrication back in the 1970s. In my personal experience, we still list ingredients in quarts, cups, ounces (both liquid and weight), teaspoons, tablespoons, and the like. This of course is complicated by some things like “new” pots being in litres, as well as things like jars, both of the mason and commercial product varieties, which are in millilitres and litres (while my pickled eggs recipe is based on Imperial units, for instance.) In any case, when food weights come into play, I usually I know how to estimate them, such as “about a pound of chicken or ground beef” (follow the weight on the package to help estimating), or a given number of pounds of potatoes, coming out of a bag that is known to contain 10 pounds of potatoes.
As mentioned above, many measuring cups and other kitchen implements are still in Imperial or American measurements, although some newer measuring cups (of which I do not possess save the one mentioned below) and other kitchen implements are also marked in Metric units, in addition to either Imperial or American units.
So, back to baking the squares: This is the second time I have followed one of Jamie’s recipes. The first time, several years ago, I guesstimated conversions. I was fortunate a few weeks later to find a glass measuring cup with multiple scales printed on its sides, each for different ingredients, such as flour, sugar, starch, rice, and the like, and showing graduations in grams for the given ingredient. In retrospect, I perhaps should have been searching for a kitchen scale instead. In any event, I largely forgot about the measuring cup after having used it once or twice.
When I was preparing to make Buddy’s Flapjack Biscuits, I had a minor problem. Since I had forgotten about the measuring cup with scales in grams, and I don’t have a kitchen scale, I couldn’t simply weigh out the ingredients. I had to convert the measures of Jamie’s list of five ingredients, composed of 100g of each ingredient. No doubt making each exactly 100g was an intentional novelty added to the original recipe, as well as, of course, being an easy way to remember how much of each ingredient to use.
In the process, I was reminded of a confusing reality of which I’ve been aware all my life: I navigate the above-mentioned three measurement systems, often without thought, almost on a daily basis. To wit, I found a website that converted 100g of flour to close to 2/3 cup in Imperial units, and close to 3/4 cup in American units. I didn’t immediately know which to choose.
I did remember at this point that I had the glass measuring cup with the various scales. I determined that 100g of flour was equal to about 2/3 cup in one of the kitchen measuring cups I have. I guessed that at least with said measuring cup, I would also need to measure to 2/3 cup each for oats and raisins. I was able to determine that golden syrup, through a recipe found on the internet, is almost completely composed of sugar, and in fact has very little water in it. Again using the glass measuring cup with multiple scales, I measured out 100g of plain sugar, and found that it is about 1/4 cup in my regular measuring cup; I chose to use brown sugar in the recipe I developed, and added one and a half tablespoons of water in order to simulate the effect of the liquid nature of golden syrup. An online conversion revealed that 100g of margarine was also about 1/2 cup.
But I am now finding it dissonant that I can’t be certain what the real capacities of each of my multiple measuring cups are, nor for which system (Imperial or American) each were designed. I would only ultimately know by securing a kitchen scale (for dry goods), or securing a graduated cylinder (for liquids), to systematically measure each and every measuring cup I have. Perversely, graduated cylinders to which I would have access are graduated in millilitres, a metric measurement.
And what about the squares? “Buddy’s Flapjack Biscuits” are nice enough, although I think that there are too many oats. On the other hand, my mom likes them a lot. The “Blondies“, as their name may well suggest, are scrumptiously like a chocolate chip cookie version of brownies. Hence both have earned a place in my collection of recipes.
Cette page est principalement une place à exposer le lien pour ma présentation de ce soir au Linux Meetup Montréal au sujet d’utiliser le SSH et le SSHfs pour l’accès aux fichiers sur des autres systèmes depuis votre ordinateur linux (Fedora avec Gnome, dans mon cas).
I started making pizza at home in about November, 2019. I figured it was time to learn how to make pizza, being somewhat of a pizza fiend.
I started off with the base biscuit recipe slightly modified from my friend’s cheese biscuit recipe, excluding the sugar and cheese, which I also use for “Barbecups” and “Chickencups“. I eventually, for this recipe, also slightly increased the milk content.
Here are some photos from the process, starting from moulding the pizza dough in two #8 (10-1/2 inch) cast iron skillets.
The pizza recipe went through a few minor iterations, mostly to adjust for note-taking, experience with pan size, and the usual corrections for typos, completeness, full instructions, etc.
As a side note, when I first made the pizza, I had also recently acquired two cast iron pans to add to my collection, received from a friend who was breaking up her house; they needed to be run through my oven’s self-cleaning cycle in order to make them usable again (yes, they were rather full of baked on crud and rust spots.) The smaller of the two proved too small for the amount of dough in this recipe, but it has been used for other things. 🙂 I now have two #8 pans at home, and two more #8 pans at the cottage, for making pizza.
However, she asked me to slightly modifyher 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.
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.)