Vegan Gravy for the Holidays

Over the past week or so, leading up to Thanksgiving here in Canada this coming weekend, we’ve been watching and absorbing all sorts of vegan holiday recipes from the likes of The Happy Pear and Avant-Garde Vegan (with a few non-vegan ideas from Food Wishes and Alex French Guy Cooking), and melded things together into this strong-flavoured, herbal vegan gravy fit to liven up those mashed potatoes and root vegetables.

We like it fairly rustic and don’t bother straining or blending it once cooked, but if you prefer a smoother, more velvety traditional gravy, feel free to do so once the garlic + onions have softened to your liking at the end of the simmering phase.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 medium-large onion, finely diced
  • 2-6 cloves of garlic, to taste, finely minced
  • Small handful of fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • Small handful of fresh thyme leaves (no stems)
  • 1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped (no stems)
  • 1 dried bay laurel leaf
  • 1/4 tsp. Cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. Smoked paprika
  • Pinch to 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt (1/2 tsp. fine salt), to taste
  • 1-2 tsp. Vegetable broth powder
  • 2-5 tbsp. Nutritional yeast, to taste
  • 2-4 tbsp. Vegan butter or vegetable oil of choice
  • 2-4 tbsp. Tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. Maple syrup or sugar
  • ~1-2 cups water as needed
  • Cornstarch slurry or vegan milk to thicken as desired

Method:

  1. In a wide-bottomed saucepan, sautee the onion in vegan butter/oil with the kosher salt until translucent.
  2. Add the minced garlic and sautee for about a minute or until soft, but not browned
  3. Add the fresh herbs + dried spices except nutritional yeast, along with the bay leaf, continue cooking for a minute or two to warm
  4. Add the liquid flavourings – soy sauce, Worcestershire, Balsamic and Maple syrup
  5. Add the vegetable broth powder + water first, then nutritional yeast
  6. Simmer for at least 15 minutes, 30 preferable, to extract the flavour from the bay leaf and continue softening the onions and garlic until extremely tender
  7. Discard bay leaf, and add cornstarch slurry or vegan milk if using, and reduce / thicken to desired consistency
  8. Check for salt + pepper and adjust if necessary
  9. (optional) Strain and/or blend to adjust texture to your liking

The #DeleteFacebook Trend – Implications and Alternatives

Should I #DeleteFacebook?  What does it mean?
In tech news, and indeed now in the general news, there’s a lot of talk of some very shady business practices that companies have been up to for quite some time.  Many of us understand that by signing up for various online services, particularly ‘free’ offerings from corporations with centralized, ad-supported models, that we’re giving up some of our privacy in exchange.  Indeed, the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc. have quite the ad tracking network, designed to create a profile or model around your account, so they can see what sites you’re visiting, what things you’re buying online, and then tailor the ads they show you around that profile.  In almost all cases, they grant access to this data or sell it to various interested 3rd parties who do the same sorts of things.

This is kind of an Internet-wide version of the various loyalty programs you get from grocery stores or whatnot, except instead of points to redeem, you get ‘free’ services like your Gmail, or Facebook profile, YouTube account, etc.

Of course, the reason this is all blowing up in the news at the moment is because instead of merely showing you ads for widgets you might like, or diet pills, it’s apparent that this sort of data was actively used for political purposes, in many cases skirting legality in various jurisdictions (and that’s being generous).  Profile data was and probably still is being used to create and display targeted political ads to try to swing elections.  This is the line we’ve had to cross for people to get up in arms about this sort of data collection.

Many people have been blissfully unaware just how much data has been collected – particularly if you installed the matching smartphone applications for each service (call and SMS logs, browser activity, etc.), but ironically enough – companies like Google and Facebook are pretty open with what they’re taking from you.  You can actually download a copy of all of your Facebook data and skim through it… though you may not like what you find if you’re a heavy user.  If you’re signed in to Google’s services, you can double check your own ad profile and settings, and opt out of a number of things (hint: probably all of them).

You can also do a lot to protect yourself by running a full-spectrum ad blocker in your browsers (like, say, uBlock Origin for Chrome or for Firefox), and if you have the patience, a script blocker & whitelist tool like uMatrix for Firefox, and indeed, I’d strongly recommend everyone be running an ad blocker these days, just because of the sheer number of times ad networks have been abused to distribute malware, but that’s not the be all and end all – especially if you’re still posting pictures and other information directly to these corporate sites and services.

It gets worse when you start looking at ‘the cloud’ – we’ve already known about various three-letter-agencies from multiple countries around the world doing their best to hoover up as much data as they can, to sift through later and try to make decisions on.  One of the better arguments for keeping data relatively secure is to ensure that it’s not physically stored on US soil.  Unfortunately, recent legal actions give the US carte blanche to request data from any American company’s datacentres, even if those datacentres are located elsewhere.  Timing is suspect with the recent enforcement start date yesterday of the new EU General Data Protection Regulations.  Now, even if you have your instances in, say, the Canadian zone of a big American cloud provider, the fact that the company providing the service is American is enough for them to warrantlessly attempt to acquire your data.

So, what can we do?
Those of us who have more than a bit of grey in our beards can probably remember a time before these centralized, corporate services.  Maybe we’ve dabbled in using some of them, particularly at work, where some companies still run their own e-mail servers, their own IRC or Jabber/XMPP servers.

“But IRC isn’t like Facebook at all!  And then I’m just trusting someone’s IRC server instead of some company, with all the same potential problems!”

The good news is that there’s been a lot of active development in various decentralized, federated projects with the intent of taking back control of the internet – where services and their development can be crowdfunded (through the likes of Liberapay and others – check out Snowdrop’s comparison of various crowdfunding services), and the resulting specifications and code are open and free for all to implement and use.  In a nutshell, this means you can run your own server and instance, just for you and maybe your friends, and still be able to see and interact with the greater community – just like how your e-mail address is two parts, a ‘user’ @ ‘a server’, and that doesn’t prevent you from e-mailing anyone you like, even if their address is at some other server, most of these federated, decentralized services use a similar notation: you’re a ‘user’ @ ‘a specific server instance’, and you can freely interact with everyone across the network, regardless of where their account physically lives.  That’s it.

Of course, you can always choose to sign up on someone else’s instance and server if they allow account creation – just like how you sign up for an online forum, you’re generally granting the administrators of that server implicit access to what you’re uploading and posting.  However, there’s no built-in tracking, ads, or anything of that sort – the only things people have access to are what you choose to post and upload.

That’s all well and good – so what are my options?

  • If you’re used to Facebook and Tumblr, you might want to take a look at diaspora*
  • If you’re used to Twitter, you probably want to try tooting with Mastodon (and find your Twitter friends with their helpful bridge tool) – bonus: adorable introduction video
  • If you’re used to Slack, Discord, and Telegram, Matrix and its reference client, Riot are in active development and definitely something to watch.  Group audio calls and videoconferencing via WebRTC are already implemented, there’s a Community/group feature, but as of writing they have yet to implement Discord-style persistent voice channels (though it’s on a wishlist) or Telegram-style stickers (though as of this issue, it sounds like it’s Coming Soon(tm).)

Studio Gear

Pulsar: Lost Colony Review Dump

The following is a lightly edited chat dump of my thoughts on ~7 hours of playing Pulsar: Lost Colony the night before:

I did a lot of Engineering and Sciencing at first, jumping into fill whatever the last open role was in most people’s games. Then saw someone start up a game with only 1/5. Had tweaked my HOTAS setup, so jumped in as Pilot. That run went for like 4 hours.

Continue reading “Pulsar: Lost Colony Review Dump”

Living Room Rearrangement

Since moving into my new house out in Mission, I’ve been struggling to figure out what to do with the living room that I hardly use… so here’s one attempt at getting everything in the ‘right’ place.  Only downside?  Things without wireless controllers have cords that are too short… :p  Might bring the couch forward for those.

Why is everything on a funny angle?  Because that’s the patio door, and the left side is what slides open so you can get out onto the deck.

The end, or the beginning?

FirstLethalHaloMail

Almost two years.  Well, one year, 11 months, and 2 days.  It’s crazy how time flies when you’re not thinking about it.  It’s also crazy what we managed to accomplish in that timeframe, even if many of us are still looking to keep going further.

Shows, videos, recordings of shows, recordings in a studio, barcodes, ISRCs, finally signing up with SOCAN… signing autographs, signing CDs, a small roadtrip and tour – it’s all given me a taste of what can be done, and a hunger for more.

LastLethalHaloProjector

It’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to involve thinking long and hard about how my life is currently structured, and how it has to change if I’m going to give music the time and energy it deserves.

Energy is something I’ve been struggling a lot with over the past two years, and though many people take certain shortcuts to try and force that last little bit of juice out of themselves, that’s a surefire path on the way to incredible burnout.  If I’m going to be setting myself up to handle cross-country touring, I need to start with my body and mind – struggling to carry my own gear, night after night, is not how I want to remember a tour – there’s a reason a lot of musicians end up with decent muscle: amplifiers are heavy!

Time, however, is the hardest to get back.  As a child, even a teenager here, you spend your summer holidays playing games, generally being bored, and not caring too much about the world.  How I wish I had that time back to make something of myself – with a dayjob and massive commute now, I’m lucky I get a few weeks to pick off, if projects permit.  That’s basically a bit of studio time, and maybe a very small tour a year.  That’s no time to write, or practice, or do all the paperwork and planning that has to happen to make this work in any sort of reasonable timeframe.

I love the scenery and I love the mild weather here in Vancouver, but I hate the traffic, and the cost of living.  As it stands right now, I’m working full time and yet still back living in my parents’ basement (after having run myself up to my credit limit trying to live on my own, and subsequently paying it all off after moving back) – I keep crunching the numbers over and over, and I quite literally can not afford to move out anywhere in Metro Van; even the far reaches of the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island are borderline, at best.  There’s something soul-sucking about struggling to get home before 7PM every night, only to want to crawl straight into bed the moment you get through the door, night after night, week after week.

So I have a lot of thinking and planning to do there, with where I’m going to have to relocate to give this the time of day it deserves.  Splitting the cost of a small apartment between bandmates just to rent out a frigid room in a jamspace over 45 minutes away isn’t tenable long-term, not to do this right.  I’m looking at my options and saving up for a move at least part way across the country to get a solid foundation started, but there’s only so much I can do while waiting for paycheque after paycheque to roll in, mostly doing my damndest to keep my costs down over the next year or two (or three) it will take.

I have to look at the opportunities I have in front of me, at least – I’ve had multiple people contact me, trying to get me to join their or their friends’ projects, and so far I’ve turned them all down.  Granted, part of me is being selfish and wanting to restart my own project, so I can exercise some level of creative control, but the big reason is actually something simple:

I’m bored of death metal.  I wasn’t completely sold on it when I joined Lethal Halo, but the musicianship kept me in, particularly as we kept our new material decidedly on the ‘melodic’ side, but death growls and screams do nothing for me.  They never did, unfortunately; I gave it my best shot, I think we put on some pretty brutal shows, but even our peers and contemporaries don’t particularly interest me.  I don’t want to feel bad for being bored when the other bands we play shows with get on stage.  I don’t want to be picking apart their recordings for what I perceive as shortcuts and inadequacies when they’re really just staying true to the style – I have to face the fact that it’s not their fault, but I’m just not enamoured with the style.

So where do I go next?  I’m not sure.  I’m going to start by stripping everything back to basics, playing around on my shiny new 7-string acoustic, and see what comes out of me at the most basic level.  If it deserves other layers, then it can get them, but only if warranted.  No starting with ‘well it needs three guitars and two solos and a bridge’.

Maybe it’ll have three- no, four solos.  That’s it. :)