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Summer Food 1: Iced Tea

This summer I have been working on perfecting a recipe for iced tea.  It seems like it would be a pretty simple task, but there were a few things that need to be experimented with to balance the various flavours.  First, obviously is the tea.  How much?  Then the sweetener.  Sugar?  Honey?  How much?  Also this recipe is to make a cold tea, so steeping the tea in cold, not hot water.

Well, what I have learned in the first 5 or 6 attempts is the following: tea bags are inconsistent.  So the strength will vary quite a bit.  However my current mix is 4 tea bags to make around 2 litres of iced tea.  To help manage the variation in strength, I steep the four tea bags in 4 cups ( 1 litre ) of water in the fridge for 12 or more hours, once it has finished steeping I can add water to dilute to the appropriate strength.  There have been a few other issues with steeping tea bags this way.  Some tea bags float, even after soaking for hours.  This can keep them from steeping to full strength.  I have been trying to find a good way to weigh down the bags.

To sweeten I dissolve 1/4 cup of sugar in 1 cup of water and add that to the tea.  The easiest way to disolve the sugar is to mix the sugar and the water and then microwave for a minute.  This will make the sugar dissolve easily.  You can also do this with honey, although I prefer the cleaner taste of sugar.

As for teas, I've tried a couple types, a black and a couple of jasmine.  I'm mostly trying to use various teas that we had lying around, instead of buying teas specifically for making iced tea.

What I would like to do is start using loose leaf tea instead of tea bags.  That way I can measure the tea by weight, and hopefully get a more consistent strength.

So in summary:

  1. 4 tea bags steep overnight in 4 cups of water (in the fridge).  Try to make sure the bag sink.
  2. dissolve 1/4 cup of sugar in 1 cup of water and then add to the 4 cups of tea
  3. mix well and taste.  Add additional water as necessary.
  4. serve over ice.

I really want to start on some more interesting mixtures, but I need to nail down a consistent base recipe first.


Thinkpad X220 and Ubuntu 11.04

I just got a new Thinkpad X220.  It is a nice piece of hardware.  I installed ubuntu 11.04 and am playing around with various setting to optimize its performance.

First, install gpointing-device-settings.  This will allow you to tame the touchpad.  Second, install laptop-mode-tools.  This enables all sorts of battery saving tricks when you are on battery power.  With the stock 6 cell battery, I am getting battery life estimate of 8-10 hours, although I have not verified this by leaving the laptop running.  Although I should also say that most of the time, I am programming, which may actually be a fairly low power operation.  I do have wifi enabled and firefox open as well.

So far I really like it.  The keyboard is great.  The layout is vi friendly and most of the buttons feel like they are where they should be.

I am getting used to the touchpad, it does feel like I am getting better with it, (and using gpointing-device-settings definitely helps).  However I would not say the touchpad is great.  Due to the thinkpads having the trackpoint, the physical buttons are above the touchpad, which is not what I was used.

The X220 seems to work fairly well out of the box with Ubuntu 11.04, I did not have any showstopping driver issues.  That said there are currently a few shortcomings with the linux support for the HD 3000 graphics, those may not be resolved until 11.10, so that kind of sucks, but accelerated 3D is not a big reason for me getting this laptop.  Compiz runs fine, so that's really all I need.

Anyway, I am very happy with this little laptop.  The design is simple, but most things seem to be just right.


New Plants, Old Plants

I just did a little planting.  I dug up a bunch of Lily of the Valley.  It will be back.  My hope is that by aggressively digging it up, eventually it will stop coming back.  However I have my doubts.  Lily of the Valley may be pretty but it is almost impossible to get rid of once it has taken hold.

I plants a line of Wild Geraniums along the fence in front of the house.  Behind that a line of Wild Columbine, and behind that some Barren Strawberry.  Hopefully, in a few years the Geraniums and Columbines will have filled out to be small bushes, (like the 3 year olds that I have in other places) and the Barren Strawberry will have spread out as a ground cover.

In the back I planted some more Broad Leafed Waterleaf, I like the way the look and they filled in really nicely in just one year.  I also picked up a few Maidenhair ferns for the fern area, to go with the sensitive and (what I think are) Cinnamon ferns.

All the bushes from last year are starting to show new growth now.  The Spicebush did its flowering, and the red elderberry has its flowers opening now too.  The others are getting the leaves, although the Maple Leaved Viburnum is growing new shoots from near the ground, not much from last years branches.  Although all the shrubs were planted last year, so they are still getting started.  It looks like most of the stuff that I planted last year survived.  Although there are still a few plants that I don't expect to be up yet.

Of the older plants, many are coming back with a vengeance this year.  Our May Apples are at least 45 cm tall, most of them are two leaves and thus should flower.  The Bloodroots are starting to form nice clumps, and the Wild Ginger are also spreading nicely.  The front yard Canada Anemones are coming up strong and probably cover about 50% of the 2m x 2m areas they are planted in.  The Wild Strawberry has covered 100% of that area, although it seems happy to live between the other plants.  There are also Heart Leaved Asters growing in there and they are certainly spreading out.  As all these plants are sharing a contained area, I am interested to see how they will eventually stabilize.  There are a couple other plants thrown in the mix too, although nothing that is spreading as aggressively as those first three.


Garden Status: End of April

At the end of April, the garden is starting to bloom.  It has been a cold spring, so many flowers seem to be coming up later than usual.  The backyard Bloodroots are up, flowered and starting to go to seed.  Virginia Blue Bells are up, and starting to flower.  The little Trout Lily leaves are poking their heads up, along with our Trilliums.  The Wild Ginger is starting to open and the various False Solomon Seals are starting to sprout as well.  A few others of note, I am seeing some Twin Leaves, Wild Gernanium, Canada Anenome coming up as well. 

The shrubs generally appear to be getting started.  The Spicebush looks like it is getting ready to flower, the Pagoda dogwoods are opening, the Ninebark and Mapleleaved Viburnum both appear to be getting ready to start, although not too much activity yet.  The Red Elderberry is getting going with small leaves, and buds, but the Black Elderberry hasn't done much yet.

Our trees are starting to bud, but no real leaves to speak of yet.

Check the gallery for photos!


My New Home Theater Device

Here is a picture of my brand new home theater device:

I guess that does not look all that fancy.  What about from the back:

That probably gives away the joke to most of you.  How about a peek inside:

I put a new Home Theater PC inside an old VCR case!  Heh, I think that's kinda funny.  It is an MSI E350, whcih is a dual core AMD Fusion CPU which has an integrated graphics processor that is actually reasonably powerful (powerful enough for this application).  It is running Ubuntu 10.10 with XBMC as the media software.  Due to some software issues it is not using the graphics accelerator for video playback, but I hope to fix that soon.

XBMC is pretty nice, although I am still looking for a skin that I like.  There are some strange usability issues when trying to control it via a remote control.  (There is an IR reciever hiding behing the VCR's face plate).  On the upside, I really like its ability to fetch content off the internet.  In particular getting various videos from places like TWiT and Revision3.

This HTPC also has a 2 TB hard drive, so I have dumped all of my music on it.  I am also thinking of ripping our heavily watched dvds (Arrested Development, Burn Notice) on there too.  That way we can watch them without messing around with disks, as well, we can copy them onto ipod/ipad/other devices without having to resort to physical media.

Anyway, I am still playing with everything, but so far I am enjoying it.