Hippie Bowls

Hippie Bowls are roasted vegetables over a grain, topped with a lemon-hummus sauce.  It’s become a once-a-week dinner because it’s sooooo easy to make and I love the tastes involve.

Hippie Bowls:
2 heads-worth of broccoli florets
1 head-worth of cauliflower florets
2T olive oil
Two pinches of grey salt
Parsley to garnish
1C quinoa

Sauce: 
1 1/2C chickpeas (fresh or 1 can)
2T tahini
2T extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
Juice of large lemon
Grey salt, to taste

Roast the veggies: coat florets with oil, garlic and salt. Place mixture on a rimmed cookie sheet or roasting pan. Cook 35-45 minutes at 400F, stirring about halfway in.

All your vegetables are roasting to us

Quinoa: Toss 1C quinoa and 1 1/2C water into the Zojirushi* (or Instapot) and let it work its magic.

Add all of the sauce ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add water, 1T at a time, to get the consistency as you like.

In individual bowls, place veggies on a 1/2C of cooked quinoa, add sauce. Top with parsley and pepper.

The final product, assembled

 

*The Zojirushi is an amazing rice (and other grains) cooker, and was our go-to-gadget before acquiring the Instapot.  We still rely on it heavily for making rice and quinoa, because it always turns out perfect.  (And hey, an appliance that starts off its cycle playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star must be happy, right?)  It also manages to keep the rice warm for an hour afterward.

Lemon ricotta pancakes

The original recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated, and is a pretty tasty diversion from the standard buttermilk pancake.  To offset the weight of the ricotta, you fold in extra, whipped whites.

Lemon ricotta pancakes

Lemon ricotta pancakes (original source Cook’s Illustrated)

1 C all-purpose flour
3/4 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
1 1/2 C whole-milk ricotta
3 large eggs, separated
3 egg whites (to offset the weight of the ricotta)
1/2 C milk
1 1/2t lemon zest
6t lemon juice
3/4 t vanilla extract
3T melted butter
3/8 C sugar

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center.
Add ricotta, egg yolks, milk, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla.
Stir in melted butter
Whisk the (four) egg whites on medium low until foamy. Increase speed. When there are billowy mounds, gradually add the sugar and continue whipping until glossy, soft peaks form. Transfer 1/3 into the batter and whisk. With a spatula, fold in the rest.
Cook pancakes!

Aash-e-Reshteh

Janet and I took the Persian Cuisine demo cooking class at the local hippie grocery store last week.  I reproduced two of the recipes: Khoresh-e kadu Halvai-o Alu ba Morgh (Braised butternut squash and chicken stew with prunes and walnuts) and Aash-e-Reshteh (beans, fresh greens and noodle soup).

Aash-e-reshteh (beans, fresh greens & noodle soup)

Aash-e-reshteh (beans, fresh greens & noodle soup)

Serves 4-6, preparation time: 30 minutes, cooking time: 50 minutes

2T olive oil
2 large onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1t salt
1/2t pepper
1t turmeric
1t cumin seeds
1t ground coriander
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 can white beans, rinsed
1C lentils
6C no/low-salt beef or vegetable broth
2C water
2C fresh parsley, finely chopped
1C fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1C scallions, finely chopped
1C fresh dill, finely chopped
6C fresh spinach, finely chopped
8 ounces linguini (break into thirds)
sour cream to dollop on top

In a large pot, saute the onion, garlic and olive over medium heat for ~5 minutes. Add the salt and spices, stir 1 minute. Add beans, borth, water and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook 30 minutes on medium-low heat.

Add chopped fresh herbs, spinach and noodles. Gently mix and cook an additional 15 minutes or until the noodles are cooked

Serve with a dollop of sour cream.

 

Koresh-e Kadu Halvai-o Alu ba Morg (Braised butternut squash and chicken stew with prunes and walnuts)   Serves 4.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

3T ghee (I used coconut oil)
1C walnuts
1 medium butternut squash, cut into 2″ cubes.
1 onion, sliced
4 chicken pieces bone-in and skin-on (I used two large chicken breasts)
1t cinnamon
1/2t turmeric
1/4t cloves
1t salt
1/2t pepper
2C unsalted chicken broth
2T sugar
juice of one lime (and lime zest, because zest is too good to throw away)
1C pitted prunes (mine were pre-chopped; would do this with halves next time)
pinch of ground saffron dissolved in 2T hot water

In a dutch oven over medium heat, saute the walnuts in 1T ghee for 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.
In same pot, add an additional tablespoon of ghee and sautee the butternut squash for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
In the same pot again, add 1T ghee and lightly sautee the onion and chicken pieces for ~5 minutes. Add the cinnamon, turmeric, cloves, salt and pepper. Saute for a minute. Pour in chicken broth. Cover and cook on low heat for 30 minutes.

Once the chicken is tender, add usgar, lime juice (and zest), prunes and the sauteed butternut squash. Cover and cook over low heat for an additional 30 minutes.

(At this point, I pulled out the chicken breasts to remove the skin & bones; I chopped it into chunks).

Pour in saffron water, stir and transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle walnuts on top.

Khoresh-e Kadu Halvai-o Alu ba Morgh
(Braised butternut squash & chicken stew with prunes and Walnuts)
Work in progress

Setting up FT8

First, download and install the latest distribution from the WSJT-X project page. The documentation is well-written and useful.  The second release candidate features decoding improvements (a priori decoding) that increases the ability to work with weaker signals.  It seems to work awesomely.

Second, verify your system clock is set accurately. Seriously. The FT8 cycles are 15 seconds, of which 12.6 seconds are transmit, 0.5 – 1 seconds of decode & lookup, and the rest left up to you to make a response. On Mac, this is done via command-line:
sudo ntpdate -u time.apple.com
On Windows, use Dimension 4

Edit the preferences. In the General tab:

FT8 – General Settings

1. Enter your call sign.
2. Enter your Maidenhead grid.
3. This is optional, but if you choose your IARU region, it’ll help set up your frequency list later.
4. I like the program off by default as a reminder to set my system time.
5. There is some automation in place such that when it sends the “73” (“Best regards”), it’ll stop transmitting until you reenable it again.

The Radio tab is going to vary depending on what you own.
For my Elecraft KX3:

FT8 – Radio

1. USB device for the control cable.
2. I prefer having the computer control it rather than using tones (like my HT does).
3. This tells the radio to use data mode, which disables compression, the RX/TX EQ, and uses a low error-rate ALC.

From the KX3 manual

My Mac lacks a microphone, so I use an external USB dongle for both in and out.  Generally, you want to use as little volume as necessary to avoid overloading the card.

FT8 audio

Generally, I run with ALC (Automatic Level Control) — the ALC gain on the radio -showing 4-5 bars.  Some radios will require this off. Sound out from the radio (and into the sound card) is kept at a minimum.  See below.

The reporting tab has two items of interest:

FT8 – Reporting

1. When you detect a station, upload it to this (free) spotting service

PSK Reporter – used to help identify good/bad propagation

This is very useful because it lets you see that your station is being received.  The light purple arc is an estimate of where I’m being well-received.

2. There are supplementary utilities that can listen to the connection and automatically log for you. For example, I have JT-Bridge act as a layer to do lookups then instruct MacLoggerDX to upload them to QRZ.com. (Yes, this is overly complex.)

Finally, the first time you use wsjtx, or if you update, you’ll need to load in frequencies. Right-click on the main window and select Reset. I skim through these to remove bands my radio doesn’t support (e.g., 2200m, microwave frequencies):

FT8 – Frequencies

Right click and save these just in case you want to start over.

Okay, now that that’s set up, in the main window, there are three areas of interest:

FT8 – Main

Select the “Monitor” button to start listening.  The waterfall should start showing activity if there are users on.  Once a full 15-seconds has elapsed, you should start seeing those signals being decoded.

On the bottom, left is a meter showing input levels.  You want it to be in the green, ideally around 25-30db.  If it’s too quiet, the bar will be red meaning you’re not getting enough signal.  If it’s too loud, the bar will turn yellow indicating oversaturation.

The other two tick boxes are assistive automation.  Auto Seq will progress through the calling sequence on each cycle.  It’s necessary on FT8 because of the rapid cycle times (and my lack of cat-like reflexes).  The Call 1st is used when you’re calling CQ – it will automatically select the first response (either by time or, in the event of a tie, the sub-frequency you’re monitoring followed by the order of sub-frequency).

The standard messages, on the bottom, right, are automatically generated when you respond to someone (by double-clicking on their CQ) or someone responds to you.

So now, here’s how a sequence works.  The top quarter and bottom half of the graphic below are WSJT-X.  Sandwiched in the middle is a third-party listener, JT-Bridge, that does lookups of people and lets me know if they’re in a geographic area of interest.

First, I have the Monitor button (in green) selected, so it’s listening.  On the waterfall graph, outlined by the red rectangle are 15-second bursts of transmissions from NA4M calling CQ.  To response, I double-click on the CQ at 02:05:45.  (With JT-Bridge, I can also click on the one with the little number “3” next to it).

That action does the following things:

a) Pre-loads a set of standard messages (shown below) for the exchange.
b) Enables transmit (the Enable Tx button, currently off, because I’m doing this post-exchange)
c) Populates the Rx Frequency side with what’s happening on my receive frequency.

You’ll see in step (2), I respond, but he doesn’t acknowledge.  He repeats his CQ 30 seconds later.  I respond in step (3).  When he acknowledges me with my signal strength in step (4), the line turns purple to let me know that someone’s talking with me.  At that point, I return back to him with R-09 signal strength.  At step (5) he acknowledges receipt, and then exchange regards.

Buckle up, this goes faster than you’d think…

A month of QSOs

I’ve finished a month of QSOs and thought it’d be fun to look at the results.

Early (5pm) in the evening, I can hear activity along the east coast, Mexico, and Cuba(!), but I am unable to get through.  Not surprisingly, most of my contacts have been between 7pm and 10pm (02 – 05 UTC), when the sun’s dropping and signal propagation is improved.

Contacts by band and time of day.

Most of my contacts have been on 40m (7.074MHz), but I’ve been branching out because that band has become insanely busy, especially in recent weeks as more people have been playing with the FT8 digital mode.   In the map below, red dots are 40m, green dots are 30m, yellow dots are 20m, Pink = 17m and Blue = 80/160m.

North American contacts by band.

There’s a longer, very good description of band behavior, but I’d summarize my one month of summer QSO experience so far as:

  • 40m – locally (within a few hundred miles) early morning and late afternoons, longer at night, when I’ve reached New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii.  Unfortunately, it can be insanely busy, with people inadvertently transmitting over one another (… insane considering this is a 50Hz-wide signal).
  • 30m – medium-range during the day, long at night.  People on this band seem to be pretty chill.
  • 20m – this is the most interesting band for distance contacts.  Although I have picked up stations in Samoa and Fiji, they couldn’t hear me over the other folks.
  • 17m – when it was working well, I was able to talk with the east coast in the early evenings.
  • 80m – Pretty noisy and, so far, only usable at night.  When there’s been a strong signal nearby, I’ll see echoes.  (For example, someone transmitting on 1000Hz will also show up on 920/1080Hz and 840/1160Hz, albeit at a weaker strength.)  Because it’s 80Hz off, I assume I’m seeing multi-path.
  • 15m, 12m, 10m: Dead to me.  I haven’t been able to receive anything on these yet.
  • 160m – Not feasible with my current setup due to the antenna length and power required.

This is all subject to the propagation gods (sunspots, flux index, seasons), of course, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it changes as we get into winter. I will hopefully worked out a weather-alternative for sitting out on the deck.

The other aspect of HF vs VHF is folks are much more likely to log their connections because they use them in a variety of contesty-ways and challenges.  Because it would be easy to cheat, there are three common services used to record electronic records.

Logbook of The Web — this is owned/administered by ARRL, the equivalent to the AOPA of radio, and its focus is on award veracity.  Setting it up is a three-part verification process that feels absurd.  You sign up.  If you’re a US license holder, you’ll receive a postcard 3-5 business days later with a one-time password.  Type that in, then wait three more business days to receive an electronic certificate.

No Frodo?  This is the worst Lord of the Rings movie, ever!

You can manually “sign” logs with their custom tool  — it feels like code signing a program:On the back-end, if they receive an equivalent log from the other player, the log is considered validated.  As of today, it doesn’t support FT8 because the ADIF committee hasn’t validated it as an official protocol, which is because it’s still in release candidate 1 (with two imminent — thank goodness I can build from source!).  For logging purposes, most folks currently map it to DATA, hoping that when they approve it, they’ll simply re-upload.

eQSL – this service does validations, but also provides electronic QSL cards (eQSL – get it?) that you can print out for your collection.  Thus, its primary value is to save you from printing & mailing cards all over the planet.

eQSL: Welcome to 1998!

It’s free, but for a small donation, you can customize your “cards.”  For example, here is one from someone I had a contact with last month:

KD6C to WT8P on 40M using JT65 from my KX3! (Say that three times fast!)

A third option is QRZ.com.  While LoTW and eQSL feel like they’re from the 1990s, QRZ.com is more 2007-ish.  Its logbook is closer to feeling like a database:

QRZ.com database view

I should also mention qrzcq.com, which is a qrz.com knock-off.  While it initially felt more grounded (early 2012-ish), its database is outdated.

It’s really unfortunate these sites don’t have better interoperability.  QRZ can post to and read from LoTW, but through a process where you paste your password into a web dialog.  (Am I the only one who sees a potential issue here?)  Data exchange can lose of precision.  One site uses start time, another uses end time.  For a few QSOs that lasted longer, they show up as separate contacts.  In the zeal to prevent gaming, they give up deduplication.   And some have really terrible deduplication (*cough* QRZCQ) I had to delete and re-upload my log.

So I also maintain my own database…  I have ordered a bunch of cards to send out via postal mail (kind of like PostCrossing!).

Fun with FT8

Setting up WSPR (Weak Signal Propagation Reporting) was done in preparation for playing with the two-way digital communication modes. The set I was initially aiming for is JT9/JT65, named after Joe Taylor, for very short messages that can be received far away, in noisy conditions.

What makes this work are:

  • Short messages.
  • Long transmission cycles.  For most voice communication, you’re rarely talking more than 15 seconds.  These modes run a full minute.
  • Lower power.  Radios aren’t intended to be on all the time.  (Same concept for my minivan: it could go 100mph, but running it all the time is probably not a good idea for multiple reasons.)  High power * sustained time = more heating.
  • Accurate clock.   Starting right on the minute makes it easier to decode and be decoded.  Most modern computers make use of a time servers, though as I learned, this may be antithetical to power-savings.  Apple, for example, lets the clock drift a few seconds here and there.  For most purposes, that’s okay, but in these digital modes, it’s waaaaaay too much.  I’ve found that I need to update the official time when I power on, and then again about once every hour or two.  For example, this morning, the clock was 1.62 seconds off.  The horror!
  • Accurate frequency.   My radio has a special temperature compensation procedure whereby you pipe in a known, super-accurate frequency and measure how much the radio drifts as the temperature changes.  Once that’s done, the radio will compensate.  I have not done this yet.

There’s a newer digital mode called FT8 (Frankie-Taylor) that trades some of the sensitivity for much shorter cycle time of 15 seconds. Since it is still in beta preview, I figured folks would have much higher patience for a complete n00b learning to use his radio at the same time.

What is the Matrix?

Typically, I’ll listen to an area on the spectrum until someone requests a contact (or I can make requests myself if there are gaps).  The photo above is the spectrum on the 40M band (7.094MHz) last night. Each column represents an 50Hz slice of someone talking.   Brighter/redder patterns are a stronger signals.

Horizontal lines are slices of 15 seconds.  The gap between 02:56:45 and 02:57:15 was my transmitting in response to a request from Anthony, in Indiana. (I’ve never been able to get through to him, though.)

A successful sequence may look like this:

Sample of a short contact

Translated, it works out to mean:

Translation
CQ WA0RVK EM36 This is Philip from south of Springfield Missouri.
Is anyone there?
WA0RVK WT8P CN87 Philip, I’m Jim and I’m east of Bellevue Washington
WT8P WA0RVK -16 Jim, this is Philip, you’re signal to noise ratio is -16*
WA0RVK WT8P R-02 Philip, this is Jim, your signal to noise ratio is -02.
WT8P WA0RVK RRR Jim, this is Philip, acknowledged.
WA0RVK WT8P 73 Have a great day, Philip.  — Jim
WT8P WA0VRK 73 You too, Jim.  — Philip

And that’s it.  The elapsed time was about a minute and a half (compared to six minutes with JT9/65).   *My signal to noise ratio, -16dbm, is pretty faint, on par with a wifi network, but it’s not bad for 2600 kilometers away.  When we were having our exchange, our clocks were off by about 0.4 to 0.9 seconds, which happened to work out this time.

Remember what I said about the clocks? In this exchange, our clocks differed between 0.4 and 0.9 seconds. The transmit cycle is 15 seconds, which is 12.6 seconds of actual transmitting, about a second to decode the pattern into a 13-character message (72 bits!), do an internet lookup of the person, display the results; and 1.4 seconds for me to respond.

Initiating these contacts is very much manual and, as much as this activity could be, a small adrenaline rush of “Did I click in time? Will I be able to reach this person with my tiny radio? Will they respond?”

If the clocks are off 0.9 seconds, then there would normally be scant time to respond. Moreover, doing this six times a row is hard. The WSJTX software includes some automation to send standardized messages once we’ve established communication. Thus, starting at the end of the third message, when he responds back to me with a signal report, the computer will handle the remaining messages. If I don’t receive an acknowledgement — someone’s already beat me to it, he’s given up, or he’s trying again — my computer will repeat.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve exchanged contacts with several states, Canada, Brazil and Venezuela (who happened to also be my first contact!).

Only thing missing: a brewski or coffeeski.