Black pepper chicken curry, or how to lose three years’ work in two clicks

Food & drink, Food politics
How to back up your blog, or black pepper chicken curry from Christine Manfield’s Tasting India

I had a spare half hour last Wednesday lunchtime, so I decided to idly fiddle around with the layout of this site, tweaking the width of the sidebar to make it fit an ad unit more neatly.

All very easy stuff, all done from within the WordPress console through a couple of settings adjustments to the theme.

What could possibly go wrong?

Black pepper chicken is easy.

It’s quick to make and delicately spiced. There seems to be a lot of fire in the hole if you take the ingredient list at face value, but the finished dish is much more mellow than the individual parts would suggest.

The first sign of trouble was when the theme started to go a little wonky…font sizes all over the place, columns out of whack, everything generally messed up.

Caching issue, you’d think, but flushing the various on-blog caches and blasting out Cloudflare came to naught.

Something very wrong.


Work beckoned, so I quickly ditched my normal theme and switched to one of the WordPress standard themes, and everything snapped into form.  Fairly rudimentary and dull form, but it was all there.

The site lived, wounded, but alive.


Start by dissecting a chicken into serving pieces.

I like to leave chicken on the bone, because the bones add a depth of flavour that chicken meat alone doesn’t.

Cut the legs away, then remove the crown, split it in half through the breastbone and cut each breast into five or six pieces, straight through the bone. Separate the leg from the thigh and cut through each piece with a pair of sturdy scissors.

That meat cleaver you’ve been meaning to buy from the Chinese supermarket for years?

That’d be useful.

It’s a funny feeling trying to work on serious things when, at the back of your mind, you’re panicking about the fate of three and a half years worth of writing, photography and general hard graft.  It’s unsettling and disturbing, and it made me realise just how much time and effort had gone into building this blog up, something I only really realised as I watched it slip over the edge of the abyss.

Things got worse. Much worse.

It was obviously the theme that was causing the problem, so I deactivated it, deleted it, then took a sledgehammer to it and completely knackered the whole site.

It twitched occasionally, like an expiring fish on the deck of a boat, but it was clearly self-destructing, imploding from within.

I resigned myself to just giving up, sacking the whole lot and went to bed, leaving a page displaying a ‘could not connect to database error’ like a virtual grave stone.

So, you’ve got some chicken.

Now for the spices.

Gently toast three teaspoons each of fennel, cumin and coriander seeds, along with four small dried chillis and a teaspoon of black peppercorns in a small frying pan until they start to turn golden, then grind to a fine powder in a coffee grinder or pestle and mortar.

The curry needs a base…heat some oil in a large pan and add four cardamom pods and a small stick of cinnamon.

Stir for a few seconds and add a couple of finely chopped onions.  Fry gently for about five minutes, until the onions just start to colour, then add a tablespoon of finely grated ginger and five cloves of garlic, crushed to a paste.  Stir for a minute or two and add a chopped tomato, about half of the spice mixture and two teaspoons of salt, letting it gently cook until the tomato starts to dissolve into the onions and the spices become fragrant.

I didn’t sleep much that night.

I was surprised at how worried I’d become over this little catastrophe.

If I thought rationally, I knew I had a couple of backups kicking around, and that I had it in me to either a) recover the lot from scratch, b) tap up one of the database people at work to have a look, or c) pay somebody to do recover it for me, but still it kept me awake.

I resolved to have a go at recovering, but with no confidence that it’d actually work.

The next evening, I sat down and instant messaged my hosting company, giving them the instruction to nuke the site.

Delete it all and take me back to shiny new customer status.

After a number of ‘are you sure?’ interactions, followed by a ‘no, are you REALLY sure?’, I was back to square one.

WordPress installed, theme installed. Everything working.

Now for the database.

The heart of any blog is its database, its central repository of all the words and posts.  I’d had a look at some of the XML I’d managed to back up, and it looked ropy to say the least, so I went with a mySQL dump I’d made the previous evening.

Importing the data itself was straightforward, but I’d previously changed the database table prefix for security reasons, so it all had to be exported again, manually edited back to the default again and re-imported.

And it worked.

There are few moments in life where people experience real relief, but I had one such moment.

I had low expectations of this recovery working, but it did.

It was tricky, and there were many small niggles, but here we are – old posts, photos, permalinks all safely housed in a brand new WordPress installation.

Nirvana, at last.

With the backbone of the curry in place, add the chicken pieces and stir and fry for about five minutes until the chicken starts to colour.

Add a scant cup of water, bring to the boil and cover with a lid, letting the chicken cook for twenty minutes.

This taught me a few things about backups.

Backups are more important than anything else associated with any blog.

They’re utterly vital, but they need to be reliably automated.

Imagine my lack of surprise on discovering that the freebie backup plugin that was supposed to automatically email an archive copy of my database to me every day had stopped working two months ago… I was only saved by the fact that I could still grab a backup of the database from the mangled wreckage of my old site before the hosting company obliterated it.

That was LUCKY, and luck has no place in a proper backup routine.

This is not how a writer should carry on his affairs, and now I’m a myRepono customer, with regular backups taken automatically and squirreled away somewhere in the cloud for a few pence a month.

I can’t trust myself to take backups, so I need something to just do it for me, quickly, simply and transparently.

After twenty minutes, take the lid off the pan and turn the heat up, to boil away some of the liquid, concentrating the sauce.

Check the seasoning, and add more salt if necessary.

Serve with plain boiled rice.

This recipe is from Tasting Indiaby Christine Manfield.

The thought of losing three and a half years worth of work is too much for me to stomach again.

It all seems funny now, but hindsight is wonderful, and I’ve even worked out what the initial problem was, and how I could have fixed it in a couple of clicks, but instead, I went for a hair-raising ride down a technical helter-skelter and came through it with some practical experience of disaster recovery good enough to put on my CV.

Do you have a proper backup?

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