Monday, January 29, 2024

My new look

Dave looking shaggy, but at least shavedThings were getting shaggy, so I asked the lovely Manon to give me a trim on Saturday.

Dave trimmed up with the lovely Manon vaccuuming his backShe suggested changing things up from my usual all-over #4 or #6 and instead did the sides with a #2 and left the top alone.

Yes, we've been watching two episodes a night of Peaky Blinders for a couple of weeks and Manon wanted to try giving me a Tommy Shelby.

Arthur and Tommy Shelby

I'm very happy with it, except I feel an inexplicable compulsion to take over someone's bookmaking operation.

[I was thinking this was the first time I've had a TV-inspired haircut, but then I remembered that in 2009, I got an all-over buzz so I could be Mike Holmes for Hallowe'en.]

Friday, December 22, 2023

Sambal Oelek update - I cracked

A big jug of Sambal Oelek with a $34.99 price tag (next to a coffee cup that says "No more Mr. Nice Guy")

If you're a serious Sambal Oelek (fresh chili paste) user like me, you already know that the Huy Fong suspension is over and their Sriracha and Sambal Oelek sauces have been back on store shelves at least since early October.

However, the prices are not great. When I saw a 3.8 litre jug of Sambal Oelek at $34.99, which is almost double the price it used to be, I thought I'd be clever and wait a few weeks for this initial shortage pricing to come down.

But now here it is almost 2024 and the price is still $34.99. This hurts my stingy heart, but it's still a lower price than what I'd spend on hot peppers to make my own, never mind the time it would take and that it's very cold outside and I can't grind chili inside because someone else in the house has an aversion to tear gas.

So today I bought a jug. It's not like I'd get it from anyone as a Christmas present. We're only doing stocking stuffers and this wouldn't fit even in my oversize sock.

The question now is, will I be frugal with the Sambal Oelek and make it last until March? Or will it be gone by late January.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Set your TV recorder: Les Cowboys Fringants

Karl Tremblay in 2020 with l'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
Les Cowboys Fringants en concert avec l'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal

In 2020, les Cowboys Fringant recorded a performance with l'Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. I was lucky enough to record it on my old PVR, and watched it many times.

The concert is one of the most moving, goose-bump raising performances I've ever seen even though my ability to understand spoken or sung French is very limited.

It will air on CIVM (Channel 69 on Rogers-Ottawa) this week at the following times: 

  • Tuesday, November 28 - 8pm
  • Friday, December 1 - 9pm
  • Saturday, December 2 - 9pm

You should set your recorder. 

The concert will likely also play on the Télé-Québec app.

In Memory of Karl Tremblay

The tragic reason that this concert is being re-aired this week is that Karl Tremblay, the band's lead singer, died from cancer on November 15.

CTV reported:

Tremblay's death has triggered what Quebec Premier Francois Legault described Thursday as an "immense wave of love and sadness" across the province.

The CBC reported that Legault also said that Tremblay is entitled to a national funeral.

Although many Anglo-Canadians weren't familiar with Karl Tremblay and Les Cowboys Fringant, their music is well known and well loved in Québec and all of French Canada.

A teaser for the concert:

The hit that anchored their concert movie L'Amérique pleure:

Saturday, November 04, 2023

How I squeeze a bit more out of Spelling Bee

The Nov 3, 2023 Spelling Bee pattern. "BELIKE" was "Not in word list"

Many of us Wordle players have started playing some of the New York Times other games, like Connections, the Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee.

The dreaded "Solid" screen

A frustration with Spelling Bee is that once you hit SOLID, it kicks you out and only lets you continue if you have a paid subscription.*

The Spelling Bee Grid for Nov 4, 2023

I have found a way to wring a bit more out of the game by getting to NICE, which is one rank higher than SOLID. Here is how I do it:

  1. Click "Hints" to open the "Spelling Bee Forum"
  2. Scroll down to the line that indicates how many POINTS there are (144 today)
  3. Determine the number of points for a "Solid" by taking 15% of the number of POINTS (15% of 144 = 22)
  4. Guess words, being careful to not go over the number of SOLID points by concentrating on shorter words - 4 letter words = 1 point each, longer words = 1 point per letter - particularly avoiding pangrams because they are worth at least 14 points
  5. When close to SOLID, try for the pangram by consulting the Spelling Bee Grid in the Hints.because it shows how many words there are of each length for each starting letter and the pangram has to be at least 7 letters long (Spoiler alert for today - there is a 10-letter word that starts with "B" and there are 12 words that start "BO")
  6. Play a pangram and nothing else, if the pangram is worth at least 10% of the total score, you can make it to NICE and you'll see something like this:
Many people don't think much of "Nice", but apparently it's better than "Solid"


* I'll probably never pay to play games, but Google gave a bunch of us free 3-month subscriptions because we were so good about giving ratings and answering questions in Google Maps. I took advantage of this, but have to admit that getting to Genius on Spelling Bee 90 days in a row meant that a lot of chores did not get done around here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Our Hallowe'en

We have no jack-o-lantern this year, but the sea monsters are back on the window, so we may get a few trick-or-treaters tonight. If there are any leftover mini-chocolate bars, I will just have to buckle down and deal with them.

Sea monster silhouettes on the window with a really scary thing behind them

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Manon's Stick Library

Manon had a brain wave this spring to further redirect the many dogs that come by from messing with her garden. [You might recall a previous effort from 2021] In addition to having a water bowl, she decided to add a stick library.

I was very happy to help her with a sign.

The first version was done with felt tip pens on yellow paper with a plastic cover. It did the job, but within a few weeks, the sunlight had faded it.

Manon decided she needed a better sign. She found a blank wooden oval at Dollarama and asked me to do the lettering with acrylic paint.

Manon giving chalking the sidewalk to inform the users of the library services
The Stick Librarian chalking directions featuring Stick Library Sign Mark I

How we made Stick Library Sign Mark II

Although I have a steady hand with felt tips and pencil crayons, I'm pretty useless with a paint brush. So I made stencils. 

Here's what I did:

  1. Scanned the oval and uploaded the image so I could have the exact shape and size in GIMP (free image manipulation software)
  2. Gave the wooden oval three coats of bright yellow acrylic paint - letting it dry between each coat
  3. Used GIMP to mark out the text with a nice sans-serif font, including the curved bits (had to Google to find out how to curve a line of text with GIMP, but it wasn't too hard).
  4. Printed it on a sheet of paper 
  5. Taped a clear plastic sheet over the paper. 
  6. Making sure to do it in stencil fashion, used an exacto knife to carve out the letters in the plastic.
  7. Taped the plastic stencil sheet over the sign
  8. Painted the letters with black and purple acrylic paint. 
  9. Removed the stencil
  10. Filled in the empty bits of the letters and covered over where the paint spilled outside the stencil lines (mostly)
  11. Glued on the butterfly, flower and heart pieces that Manon had painted
  12. Graciously invited Manon to paint the rim with the colour of her choice, which happened to be silver
  13. Sprayed it with three coatings of a UV-protective coating
  14. Attached the wooden oval to a piece of wood I spray painted yellow a long time ago and attached a rare earth magnet from a discarded hard drive to the wood so the sign would stay attached to the metal bucket (I've had both the wood and the magnet at least 15 years - illustrating why one should never throw anything away that might be useful some day)
A month later, the new sign is still looking very bright.

Impact of the No-Late-Fee Policy?

one of those hard drive magnets screwed to the sign stand
Keep those old computer parts!

While I'm a big fan of libraries encouraging access by not having late fees, I'm afraid that Manon's adoption of the no-late-fee policy means that sticks are seldom returned and the collection is getting depleted. If you have extra sticks hanging around, you'd be welcome to drop them here.

Or we'll just wait until the next derecho

Another impact

It might be my imagination, but I've noticed that when we're out on the patio in the evening, people walking by with their dogs seem to be smiling at us more than they used to.

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Addressing the Sambal Oelek crisis

An empty 3.5 litre sambal oelek jug - is anything sadder?
A heartbreaking sight

The Sriracha - Sambal Oelek crisis continues.

Apparently, Huy Fong is still not getting the hot peppers it needs to make the sauces many of us rely on.

InsideHook reports that many suppliers are getting a "fermented, acidified mash" from the Louisiana Pepper Supply. I would guess this is why we see the many knock-off sriracha brands available at Loblaws, Dollarama and everywhere else.

For me, I'm fine with knock-off sriracha because regular old Huy Fong Sriracha is a fine mild sauce but it's no big deal to me. I can taste that other sauces aren't the same, but they don't bother me. I suspect that David Chan, the boss of Huy Fong doesn't like using someone else's fermented mash and it is entirely likely that a fermented mash isn't appropriate for sambal oelek.

Dave snipping the chilis out on the well-ventilated patio
I hope the shortage ends before winter

Because even if the fermented, acidified mash is okay for sambal oelek, it doesn't seem like anyone is selling any kind of sambal oelek.

I need sambal oelek for my daily existence. And two weeks ago, I finished my last jug.

So... I did my research and learned that sambal oelek is a chili paste condiment from Indonesia and Malaysia made of red chilies, salt and vinegar. I watched four or five videos of people making their own sambal oelek and decided I could do it too.

On a trip out to the burbs, I found myself at Bombay Spices Ottawa and they had little green Thai chilis for sale. I filled a bag and bought them. The cashier felt he should warn me about these chilis. I gave him a patronizing smile.

Back at home, I left them in a container next to the window for about a week so they could ripen.

Then I followed these steps:

  1. Rinsed the chilies
  2. Took everything outside (it was strongly suggested that this would promote domestic harmony because apparently some people experience unpleasant effects from hot peppers being chopped and ground in not fully ventilated areas)
  3. Cut the chilies into a mason jar
  4. Added a spoonful of MSG (most people add salt, but if you're supposed to be low sodium, MSG will apparently enhance the flavour more with less sodium)
  5. Added a glug or two of rice vinegar (I'm sure regular vinegar would be fine, but my rice vinegar is getting old)
  6. Added a bit of tap water
  7. Attached the mason jar to the blender blade (Did you know that mason jars perfectly fit on Osterizer blenders? It's one of those design choices that give me hope for the world)
  8. Ran the blender on "grate" for a few seconds and then "grind" for about 30 seconds 
  9. Voila! I had my own sambal oelek
Mason jar with sambal oelek ingredients on an Osterizer blender base
See! The mason jar fits!

I should note that in a couple of the videos I watched, the cooks sautéed their chilis. But others didn't and I'm lazy, so I did not sauté. Others added onion or garlic. Again, I'm lazy, and besides, why dilute the flavour? So I kept it simple.

I am happy to report that the Thai chilis were in fact hotter than the standard cayennes used in Huy Fong Sambal Oelek. The Thai chilis gave a very pleasant bite to my breakfasts and lunches. According to thrillist, they range from 50,000 to 250,000 Scovilles. Lower than, but overlapping, the 80,000 to 400,000 range of Scotch bonnets. Cayennes max out at the low end of the Thai chili range.

Sadly, my first jar of sambal oelek is all but finished. Next time, I will buy a much larger quantity of raw peppers.