Monthly Archives: December 2013

Richly Blessed

“It’s wedding week! Wedding week! Wedding week! Wedding week! Oh, also Christmas. Oh dad, it’s wedding week! I can’t believe it! It’s finally here! Wedding week!” – Jacob, age 7, Sunday

“Oh dad, this is the best Christmas EVER!” – Jacob, Wednesday

“Dad, is the wedding TODAY?” – Oliver, age 4, every morning this week

This has certainly been a Christmas like no other. I have never known something to upstage Christmas for Jacob, but apparently a wedding can!

Laura and I got to celebrate our first Christmas together this year — together, of course, with the boys. We enjoyed a wonderful day in the middle of a busy week, filled with play, family togetherness, warmth, and happiness. At one point, while I was helping the boys with their new model train components, Laura was enjoying playing Christmas tunes on the piano. Every time she’d reach the end, Jacob paused, and said, “That was awesome!”, beating me to it.

That’s a few days before Christmas — Jacob and Oliver demanding snow ice cream, and of course who am I to refuse?

Cousins opening presents

After his school Christmas program, Jacob has enjoyed singing. Here he is after the Christmas Eve program, where he excitedly ran up into the choir loft, picked up a hymnal, and pretended to sing.

And, of course, opening of presents at home.

Sometimes I think about how I didn’t know life could get this good. Soon Laura and I will be married, and it will be even better. Truly we have been richly blessed.

Delicious Holiday Recipes

I’ve come up with some new favorites this season. The boys and Laura were around for all three, and I am happy to report there were many kitchen smiles over these!

From-Scratch Hot Chocolate

There’s something about hot chocolate made from scratch, with chocolate melted into milk, instead of a powder stirred in. It takes quite a bit more time, and probably has more calories, but it is quite delicious.

The key to a delicious result where milk is concerned is to take things slow and keep stirring. You don’t want the chocolate to scorch at the bottom of the pan. Heating up the milk before the chocolate should help things mix in more easily as well.

  • Begin with 3 cups milk and 1 cup heavy whipping cream. Heat slowly over moderate to low heat, stirring periodically. Once you see bubbles start to form around the edges, it is plenty hot (or even a bit more hot than it needs to be).
  • Add one cup of semisweet chocolate chips, 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.
  • Stir constantly until all the chocolate is melted and well mixed. There will still be some small bits of chocolate within, but if it is all done slowly like this, the chocolate should be pretty well melted.

The basis for this recipe was here, and it called for 2 cups milk and 2 cups half-and-half. I trust my heavy whipping cream was fine! There are also some other variations on that site.

This nearly made my little cast iron kettle overflow, so next time I made a 3/4 recipe.

Hot Spiced Cider

We put up a Christmas tree yesterday, so I thought hot spiced cider would be perfect for the occasion. I went searching for recipes, and many of them called for cloves (which have to be sifted out later or put in a spice bag). I wasn’t going to have time to delay two boys from setting up a Christmas tree long enough for that, so I found this basic recipe to work well. However, I, as usual, made some modifications ;-)

  • Warm 4 cups apple cider (not juice, as the recipe suggests) in a pot.
  • Add 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Add 1/4 tsp nutmeg or allspice (I used allspice because I was mysteriously out of nutmeg, but will probably use nutmeg next time)
  • Add 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • Stir constantly until sufficiently dissolved. Pour immediately before drinking, as the contents will tend to separate.

Mmmmm…. yum….

Turkey or Chicken Noodle Soup

The annual “what to do with all that leftover turkey” quest strikes again. I like chicken noodle soup, so why not a turkey noodle soup done the same way?

Here’s what I used, roughly, in my large 6-quart cast iron cooking pot (aka “Dutch oven”):

  • 9 cups chicken/turkey broth. Your own if you have it, or the canned variety works. Or make your own with boullion if you have it.
  • 2 chopped yellow onions. (I added half a chopped red onion as well because I had it sitting around. Nobody complained, but 2.5 onions was a little much.)
  • 4 tsp fresh basil or 1 tsp dried basil
  • 4 tsp fresh oregano or 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp beef bouillon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 20 oz frozen mixed vegetables (I’d probably add more than that next year; this wasn’t quite enough)
  • Plenty of wide egg noodles. The recipe I used called for 1 cup, which was laughably inadequate. I just dumped until it looked right, and then the package was almost empty so I dumped the rest in too.
  • 4 cups cooked turkey or chicken, cubed (a kitchen scissors makes quick work of that)
  • Two 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes (do not drain)

Start with the broth, onion, basil, oregano, pepper, and bay leaf. Heat up the mixture and add the vegetables. Bring it to boiling, then add the uncooked noodles. Return to boiling, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 8 minutes. Add the turkey or chicken and diced tomatoes, and simmer until hot enough to serve.

The nice thing about soups is that they freeze well and make great winter leftovers. This recipe makes quite a lot of soup; you may wish to halve it.

This recipe was adapted from one in a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.

Results with btrfs and zfs

The recent news that openSUSE considers btrfs safe for users prompted me to consider using it. And indeed I did. I was already familiar with zfs, so considered this a good opportunity to experiment with btrfs.

btrfs makes an intriguing filesystem for all sorts of workloads. The benefits of btrfs and zfs are well-documented elsewhere. There are a number of features btrfs has that zfs lacks. For instance:

  • The ability to shrink a device that’s a member of a filesystem/pool
  • The ability to remove a device from a filesystem/pool entirely, assuming enough free space exists elsewhere for its data to be moved over.
  • Asynchronous deduplication that imposes neither a synchronous performance hit nor a heavy RAM burden
  • Copy-on-write copies down to the individual file level with cp --reflink
  • Live conversion of data between different profiles (single, dup, RAID0, RAID1, etc)
  • Live conversion between on-the-fly compression methods, including none at all
  • Numerous SSD optimizations, including alignment and both synchronous and asynchronous TRIM options
  • Proper integration with the VM subsystem
  • Proper support across the many Linux architectures, including 32-bit ones (zfs is currently only flagged stable on amd64)
  • Does not require excessive amounts of RAM

The feature set of ZFS that btrfs lacks is well-documented elsewhere, but there are a few odd btrfs missteps:

  • There is no way to see how much space subvolume/filesystem is using without turning on quotas. Even then, it is cumbersome and not reported with df like it should be.
  • When a maxmium size for a subvolume is set via a quota, it is not reported via df; applications have no idea when they are about to hit the maximum size of a filesystem.

btrfs would be fine if it worked reliably. I should say at the outset that I have never lost any data due to it, but it has caused enough kernel panics that I’ve lost count. I several times had a file that produced a panic when I tried to delete it, several times when it took more than 12 hours to unmount a btrfs filesystem, behaviors where hardlink-heavy workloads take days longer to complete than on zfs or ext4, and that’s just the ones I wrote about. I tried to use btrfs balance to change the metadata allocation on the filesystem, and never did get it to complete; it seemed to go into an endless I/O pattern after the first 1GB of metadata and never got past that. I didn’t bother trying the live migration of data from one disk to another on this filesystem.

I wanted btrfs to work. I really, really did. But I just can’t see it working. I tried it on my laptop, but had to turn of CoW on my virtual machine’s disk because of the rm bug. I tried it on my backup devices, but it was unusable there due to being so slow. (Also, the hardlink behavior is broken by default and requires btrfstune -r. Yipe.)

At this point, I don’t think it is really all that worth bothering with. I think the SuSE decision is misguided and ill-informed. btrfs will be an awesome filesystem. I am quite sure it will, and will in time probably displace zfs as the most advanced filesystem out there. But that time is not yet here.

In the meantime, I’m going to build a Debian Live Rescue CD with zfsonlinux on it. Because I don’t ever set up a system I can’t repair.