Going big

I switched to the “plus” sized iPhones as soon as they were available. They can be somewhat unwieldy at times, and occasionally struggle to fit comfortably into pockets. With last year’s iPhone X, with a larger screen in a smaller shell, I thought I had found a happy middle ground. There is always an appetite for more screen, however, and after fumbling with a family member’s plus size phone to see if I could still handle it, I took the plunge and ordered an iPhone Xs Max.

I stuck with silver. The gold is novel, but not to my personal taste. The black would hide the size better, but I love the chrome rim on the silver.

The series 4 watch is a no-brainer. Despite having smaller wrists, I made the upgrade from 38 to 42 mm a couple years ago, and the larger screen was a revelation. My eyes aren’t getting any younger, so 44 mm it is. Silver aluminum this year instead of black. The stainless looks better, but is weightier and doesn’t  seem to fit as well with my preferred band, the sport loop. Gold aluminum veers a little too close to the pink spectrum for my tastes.

I might splurge on a blue band this year – both the indigo and Cape Cod versions look appealing.

My AirPods are dead

Not the AirPods themselves, but rather the charging case. After a final trip through the washer and dryer, the case will no longer charge, this rendering the AirPods useless. I’ve realized how much I mess the convenience of being able to pop the AirPods in on a whim, without needing to fumble with a cable or even take my phone out of my pocket.

The sound quality even seems better than the standard headphones. I suspect this is due to the absence of a cable, allowing the earbuds to sit more securely in place. I haven’t replace them yet, knowing that Apple is due to release a new AirPower compatible charging case shortly, but it the wait is tiring, which speaks to how great a product this is.

Mighty mite

Usually, my family escapes to warmer climates during the February school vacation week, but this year was different. We embraced the winter by heading to Utah’s Park City for a bit of skiing and relaxation.

We all enjoy a good breakfast. While Park City wasn’t fantastic for breakfast options, we were able to scrounge together a collection of coffee shops and brunch stops to suffice. Toast and eggs are often my go-to options. Toast is often accompanied by butter, or perhaps a nice jam (homemade if you are lucky). Several spots in Park City offered an unusual option: Vegemite. Like many in the US, my familiarity with Vegemite does not extend far beyond the Men at Work song “Down Under” from the 1980s, with the memorable line “he just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.”

Vegemite is a flavored yeast extract that originates in Australia. The black, tarry spread is commonly spread on toast, and I’m sure has many other applications. I decided to take the plunge. Some freshly toasted sourdough arrived accompanied by some strawberry preserves on the left and a ramakin of the thick black paste on the right.

It is said that Vegemite is an acquired taste, but I quickly saw the appeal of the earthy, salty, and slightly bitter condiment. The taste is not easily described, but is most similar to a pungent aged cheese. It pairs naturally with toast. The truth is I am not a total stranger to this type of flavor: my grandmother was a dedicated follower of Marmite, Vegemite’s British cousin.

The events that followed on my return home were predictable to anyone who knows me well. My shelf is now stocked with two jars of Vegemite (in my defense, Amazon Prime only offered a two-pack) and a jar of Marmite. Taste tests to follow.

Crusty alkaline bagels

While I prefer alkali-boiled bagels, I have this lingering feeling that their crust is a bit softer than the ones I boil in neutral water. In an attempt to (excuse the term) neutralize this effect, I cooked my latest batch of baking soda boiled bagels for 30 minutes instead of the usual 25. The crust was thicker and tougher, and the bagels required some jaw muscle effort to tackle the enhanced chew. I liked them quite a bit, but perhaps an intermediate cooking time is more appropriate.

pH Balanced Bagels

Bagels must be boiled in lye! No, baking soda is fine! Use honey water instead! While it is widely accepted that bagels should be boiled before being baked, regional variations have produced a range of dogmas regarding the optimal poaching solution. My favorite recipe from Serious Eats’s Stella Parks recommends only a malt-sweetened water bath, while many others use some form of arlkalinization (baking soda, or for the hardcore, lye).

Many recipes never really explain what the purpose of the alkaline solution is, but the claims include improved texture (e.g., chewiness) and browning. I’ve tried my basic recipe with both baking soda and lye, and had a sense that it also improved the flavor, but perhaps at the cost of some crispness in the crust. As far as I can tell, no one written about bagels boiled in an acidic solution.

I decided to finally do some formal testing. I prepped 8 bagels from a single batch of dough.

I prepared two pots of water with the same concentration of malt syrup (1% by weight). I added lye for a 0.5% solution (5 g per liter) to one pot and brought both to a boil. Interestingly, the alkaline solution ended up much darker.

I boiled two bagels in the malted plain water, then added 2% by volume of plain white vinegar to acidify it before boiling three more bagels. I then boiled the final three bagels in the alkaline solution. Each bagel was boiled for about 30 seconds per side. After boiling, the water and acid bagels looked pretty much indistinguishable, while the alkaline bagels were clearly darker.

The bagels went into a 425 °F oven for 25 minutes, with a rotation after 15 minutes to ensure even cooking. When they came out, the water and acid bagels again looked quite similar. I wondered if the acid bagels slightly paler, but any difference was subtle at best. The difference from the alkaline bagels, however, was markedly enhanced by baking: they were considerably darker.

I decided to sample half an acid bagel and half an alkaline bagel. When sliced, the alkaline bagel appears a bit denser, and looks smaller. I suspect the alkaline water gelatinized the proteins more quickly, and limited the rise in the oven.

The acid bagel may have been slightly crisper, but the difference was not great. I did like the more complex flavor of the alkaline bagel better. To me, it tasted more “bagely”, and less like just bread. They did indeed seem chewier.

Overall, I was surprised that the acidification little to know effect, while the difference in the alkaline bagels (compared with neutral water) was marked. It may be that I used too little vinegar to really make a difference. Regardless, I’m not sure it’s worth pursuing further since the alkaline bagels were my favorite. In addition to color and flavor, I also have the impression that alkaline-boiled bagels bind toppings better than neutral water bagels, but that’s an experiment for another day.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

Skillet lasagna is a weeknight favorite in my household, but one skillet’s worth typically involves half a typical 1 pound container of ricotta. What do do with the other half? Lemon ricotta cookies are an easy solution. I based this version off a recipe from the New York Times. The dough keeps for a week in the fridge, so you don’t need to make all the cookies at once.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

  • Servings: 24
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Light and airy lemon cookies

Credit: New York Times



  • 112 g (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 212 g sugar
  • 225 g ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 lemon zest
  • 10 mL vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 240 g all purpose flour
  • 5 g baking soda
  • 2 g salt


  • 225 g confectioners’ sugar
  • 15 mL lemon juice
  • 5 mL vanilla extract
  • milk


  1. Let the butter sit out until soft, or zap briefly in the microwave.
  2. Add the butter and sugar to a mixing bowl, and mix with a stand or handheld mixer until fluffy (a couple minutes)
  3. Add in the ricotta, lemon zest, and vanilla and mix until well combined.
  4. Add in the egg and mix until fully incorporated.
  5. Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and add to the wet ingredients.
  6. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap (or transfer to an air-tight container) and refrigerate for 2 hours to 1 week.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 °F when ready to bake.
  8. Scoop out about 2 tablespoons worth of cookie dough per cookie, round into a ball with your hands, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I can fit about 8 per sheet.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes, then transfer cookies to a cooling rack.
  10. When cookies are cool, mix confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla extract for icing, and add enough milk to make a spreadable glaze. The original recipe calls for 7 g of butter, but I usually skip it or add a bit of cream in place of the milk.
  11. Spread some glaze on each cookie and allow to set for at least 20 minutes. Decorate with some colored sugar or sprinkles if you like.

Serious Bagels

Homemade bagels can require some effort, but offer substantial payback for picky eaters. I have hopped from recipe to recipe over the years, each better than the previous. My current favorite comes from Serious Eats. I have tweaked this version several times with slightly different results, but all varieties are excellent. This version modifies the Serious Eats version with 100 g 100% hydration sourdough starter, but you can easily replace this with a flour and water (50 g each). I also use honey in place of sugar and malt and high gluten flour in place of bread flour. Lastly, I changed some of the preparation steps to streamline the process. 

Serious Bagels

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Moderate
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Slightly sweet chewy bagels with a crisp crust

Credit: Serious Eats



  • 170 g  water
  • 100 g high gluten flour


  • 300 g high gluten flour
  • 9 g salt
  • 4 g instant dry yeast
  • 50 g cold water
  • 100 g sourdough starter (100% hydration)

For the water:

  • 50 g honey
  • 5 L water


  1. Mix the flour and water for the yukone in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 20 seconds. Stir then repeat for 10-20 second bursts until the mixture reaches the consistency of mashed potatoes. Set aside, covered with plastic wrap to cool. 
  2. Add the flour, salt, and yeast into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. 
  3. Add the cold water, honey, and starter to the yukone and stir to combine. When close to room temperature or cooler, add mixture to food processor. and pulse to combine. 
  4. Add the cold water, honey, and starter to the yukone and stir to combine. When close to room temperature or cooler, add mixture to food processor. 
  5. Turn on food processor and run for about 90 seconds. 
  6. Take out dough and divide into 8 balls. Roll each on the countertop with a cupped and until smooth and free of creases. If needed, moisten hands slightly. Place smooth balls under plastic wrap for about 15 minutes. 
  7. Poke a hole in the middle of each ball and gently stretch to a 3-4 inch bagel while rotating, ensuring an even thickness. 
  8. Place shaped bagels on a parchment or silicone lined sheet pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-36 hours. Alternatively, leave at room temperature for 30 minutes and then refrigerate overnight. 
  9. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425° F and fill a large pot with 3-5 L of water. Set it to boil and add the honey when boiling. 
  10. Gently lower 4 of the bagels top-side down in the boiling water. Flip after 30 seconds. Boil for an additional 30 seconds, then move to a rack. Add toppings if desired. Transfer back to parchment after spraying it with spray oil or dusting with cornmeal. Repeat with remaining 4 bagels. 
  11. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate tray 180°, then bake another 10-15 minutes until deep golden brown. 
  12. Transfer bagels to cooling rack and allow to cool at least 15 minutes before slicing. 

Variations: use malt syrup or sugar in place of honey (reduce by 25% if using granulated sugar or powdered non-diastatic malt rather than syrup). Can also use 25 g lye or baking soda in place of or in addition to honey in water.