Friday, December 05, 2014

Using Technology Instead of Being Used by Technology

I have written in the past about my Surface RT.  I have been using it for quite a while and simply love it.  It's so easy to use - I find I reach for it before almost any other device.  I read and respond to most of my personal emails using it, I read the news every day using the Bing news feeder, I play games on it, watch Netflix, order pizza on it.  When we need to find something - we use the Surface to Google it.  Yes, it doesn't have the full-blown Windows OS - it uses the RT version of Windows 8.1.  But the RT version is elegant in it's simplicity.  I rarely find myself going If Only.  It does everything I need it to.  Well, almost everything.

I have only been able to find two things it can't do that I wish it could do - both software related.  Because it doesn't run the full version of the Windows OS I have to use the Windows Store as the single source for any application I might want.  There are two applications I would love to be able to run on my Surface - Adobe Elements (a photo organizing and editing tool that I use all the time on my laptop), and Minecraft (a game that Walter and I love to play).  For Adobe Elements there are work-arounds ... I just need to play with some of them to decide what might work the best.  For Minecraft, there is Discovery and Block World - unfortunately, neither of them compares to Minecraft.  The only other issue I've had is that I can't use our current printer with the Surface - it's a few years old and the Surface RT doesn't have the driver for it and the Windows Store doesn't have anything Canon driver's on it.  So I either have to use my laptop or break down and buy a new printer that the Surface can communicate with.  I haven't gone there yet.

When I first got the Surface RT I bought the touch keyboard - an accessory that was used for both keyboarding and as a cover to the screen.  The touch is OK in a pinch, but for long sessions of typing it is a bit of a pain - you have to remember to press, not push, the keys.  I recently bought the Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard - a small Bluetooth keyboard that comes with it's own cover, making it extremely portable.  As an added bonus it has a little switch that allows it to pair not only with Windows devices but also Android and iPad/iPhone devices.  The keyboard is small, but it's far easier to type on it for long periods than the touch keyboard.  Along with the keyboard I also got the Microsoft Wedge Touch mouse.  Also a Bluetooth device, it's small and yes, wedge shaped.  Despite it's diminutive size it actually feels quite comfortable in your hand.  The two are a great travelling pair.  I'm sure I will be taking them to meetings and when we go on vacations.  Why didn't I get the Microsoft Type cover and the ARC Touch mouse that they always show paired with the Surface tablets?  Because the Type cover costs $129.99 and the ARC Touch mouse costs $59.99.  That's over $200 with taxes.  My little set cost me just half that.  And I can use them with my ASUS Memo Pad HD 173 Android tablet (it's a 7" tablet that I use to play Minecraft on!) which is a total bonus in my books.

If I were on a tight budget and wondering how best to get setup up with some kind of device that I could write on, be creative on, and connect to the world with ... I think this combination I've put together would be it.  The long battery life, the build quality, the size.  It's not buggy - I'm not worried when I press the power button ... I know it will work.  It's simple to use - Walter and Manuel don't have any difficulty using it.  It's portable and with the long battery life I can go all day without it dying on me.

Would I love to have the Surface Pro 3 and all it's cool accessories?  Of course, but I don't need to spend that kind of money to enjoy what I've got here.

I typed this whole blog post using the Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard and Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse.  No hassles encountered.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Saving on Black Friday

I'm not an American and I don't live in the US.  I'm a Canadian living in Canada.  Like most Canadians I live very close to the border that runs between Canada and the US.  Because of that proximity, the US tends to be a big influencer.  Take Black Friday.  We don't technically have a Black Friday in Canada.  Our Thanksgiving occurs way back in early October.  But we hear and see all about it, and over the last few years it has started to become incorporated in businesses north of the border.

The draw of big savings is hard to avoid.  Everywhere you see and hear about savings, savings, savings.

I was able to snag the biggest savings of all.  I stayed away.  I stayed away from the stores, both physically and via the internet.  By not shopping I didn't spend any money which gave me a big 100% savings.

Did you also save big?  Good for you!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween 2014

Yes, Halloween is over now.  We've gathered up all the decorations ...

... and the last of the bats have been caught ...

... and everything has been boxed up for another year.

But everyone has been asking for a look at Walter's costume.  He wanted to be a guinea pig this year.  We bought the fake fur from the fabric store.  Felt and fingerless gloves from the dollar store, and some scissor and sewing action from Mommy made it happen.

The fingerless gloves were the paws.

You can see how effective they were at making Walter act the part of a guinea pig.

The guinea pig face was two pieces of felt cut into a mask shape, sewed together with thick cotton thread, and some fur fabric remnants as ears.

Walter loved his costume even though I thought I could have done a better job.

Another costume stored away.

Do you ever re-use your costumes?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Family Retreat on Vancouver Island

We spent the Victoria Day long weekend away at a family retreat with a huge group of families from Walter's Out of School Care group (in Canada Victoria Day falls on the last Monday before May 25th - this year that was May 19th).  There must have been over 300 parents and kids relaxing, challenging themselves and each other, and eating.  Occasionally, they let us sleep!

Be warned, this is photo-heavy ... but oh so beautiful ...

Camp Qwanoes, near Crofton, on Vancouver Island.

There were various accommodations to choose from.

Cabins ...

Treehouses (unfortunately, not open at this time of year) ... 

and dorm rooms ...

The advantage of the dorm rooms was that they were heated, had indoor plumbing (including showers), and relatively comfortable sleeping ... they were made up of multiple bunk beds, but heah, this is a camp that tends to see a huge number of teenagers each year and bunk beds hold a lot of people.  We chose a dorm room.

For me, it was about the beauty of the surrounding area.  Despite my height-induced vertigo these stairs led to a beautiful expanse of ocean.

The view beyond the stairs ...

With the tide out it was a great place for wandering and gazing off ...

From Manuel's perspective it was all about the climbing challenges.  He managed three quite different, but way-up-in-the-sky ones.

First up, the Elevator challenge, so called because of that rectangle floating way up in the sky (an old elevator shaft metal frame).

Manuel climbed up it so fast ...

I barely had time ...

to frame my pictures.   And then?  He had reached the top!  Apparently, he broke their record :)

After coming off of that he decided to try a simpler wall climb.

After climbing the easy and medium walls on this, the difficult wall defeated him because the stones were so far apart that he wasn't tall enough to do it.  I think, with practice, he would learn how to overcome that kind of obstacle.

He took the rest of the day off (!), but was back at it again the following day with the Sky Scrapper challenge.  Because of my height issues another parent partnered up with Manuel (you had to be in pairs to ensure you clamped on and off properly).

Not sure which of these pictures shows just how high up they went.  There were three levels.  Originally, they were going to start on level three and work their way down, but Manuel's partner realized how daunting it was once they got to the second level, so they worked their way around that one.

Crazy!  Manuel said it was really hard work and doing just that one level was good enough.

We were exhausted, and coming home to a softer bed was heaven.

Walter wants to go again next year ... I guess we have a year to re-energize.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dehydrating Apples

A friend of the family has an apple farm in the Okanagan.  We always purchase a few boxes from them, and they generously let us pick several more boxes for free.  Last fall we ended up with 12 boxes of apples.  I don't know if you can appreciate how many apples that is.  We are just now on our last box.  We've given a lot away, eaten an apple a day every day all winter long, made pies, applesauce, apple crisps, lately we've thrown out way too many bad apples (so sad), and recently I pulled out my dehydrator to see what I could do to save some of those apples.

You can, of course, make fruit leather with a dehydrator.  I didn't.  I was too lazy, which is likely why it's taken me this long to get the dehydrator out.  I could make excuses - there was lawn furniture in the way all winter long.  But really?  It just seemed such a bother.  In any case, I finally got out my handy-dandy Nesco dehydrator.

I bought it a few years back when I had big plans to dehydrate everything we were getting from the family farm (which was so much produce a lot was going bad before we could use it).  Dehydrating is a great concept.  Simply slice your fruit or vegetables into similar sizes/thicknesses.  Place in your dehydrator and let the machine slowly dry the food.  The problem is, of course, how long it takes.  You have to realize - I'm used to waiting a bit when making bread.  It's not like I don't have some patience.  But dehydrating?  Man, it takes forever.  I did have a great piece of equipment for peeling, coring, and slicing my apples (10 seconds per apple!).  Another Lee Valley item, the apple peeler (catchy name, eh?).

The nine apples that I could fit in the dehydrator were ready in a couple of minutes.  Laying the apple slices out on the six trays of the dehydrator was another few minutes.  Plugging it in.  No problem.  Then, waiting.  A whole day later (from 6 PM Saturday night to 6 PM Sunday night).  24 hours is what it took.

They look pretty, in a dehydrated kind of way.

But ... that's a lot of time listening to the hum of a dehydrator for two jars of dried apples that likely could be eaten in a single afternoon of snacking.

Would I dehydrate apples again?  Yes, but likely not a boxful since that would take a full week of running the dehydrator to get it done.  Perhaps 2-3 days tops is all I could likely stand.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Popcorn Without a Microwave

If you are of a certain age you will likely remember making popcorn on the stove top.  Some oil in the pot, add the kernels, put the lid on, and start shaking vigorously so those kernels wouldn't burn.  If you were smart, you would start the butter melting before beginning this process so that it would be ready to pour over your popped kernels.

Nowadays, most people just grab a box of microwave popcorn while doing their grocery shopping.  Those microwave popcorn bags are so easy - a couple of minutes in the microwave and you have a piping hot bag of popcorn, all self-contained.  Eat and toss the bag.  Nothing to wash up except, perhaps, your fingers.  And, as long as you don't eat too many bags a day, likely fairly safe.  Not great for the environment, but oh so tempting.

Except, we don't have a microwave.  Yes, you read right.  We don't have a microwave.  When we bought our house it didn't come with one.  Although we had one in the townhouse, it wasn't used too much ... except for making popcorn.  Once we read about popcorn lung, we really didn't want to use it for that either.  So, new house, no microwave.  No problem.  After reading how little difference there was between heating water on a stove or in a microwave (we're talking 0.087 kWh for a microwave compared to 0.095 kWh on a stove top), it wasn't about money savings.  Time is certainly a savings from the microwave perspective, but if you plan things right there really isn't much difference there either.

Does this mean we no longer eat popcorn?  Of course we do!  In fact, a couple of Christmas seasons back Santa gave the family the best present ever - he got us the Lee Valley Whirley-Pop popcorn popper.  With this popper we can have popcorn in approximately 3 1/2 minutes.

1 tablespoon oil, and 1/4 cup popcorn kernels into the Whirley-Pop.  On the stovetop, medium-high, turning that little handle ever so slowly.  The sizzle of steam, and a few seconds later the kernels begin to pop.  At that point, we just turn the stove off and we're done.  It's that simple.  I'd show you how much we get, but it gets eaten so quickly it's hard to even capture some of the finished product (those orange bits are grated cheese!).

We make popcorn at least once a week.  Friday night is popcorn dinner night :) ... by Friday I just don't have it in me to be creative in the kitchen.  I want a break, but I don't want to order in.  Popcorn is a fairly nutritious food source, if made right.  High fiber, high protein.  The grated cheese adds more protein and dairy.  We often have this with a fruit smoothie to balance everything out.  The perfect lazy end to the week.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Learning the Art of Bread Making

I have been making bread for many years now.  Sometimes with success, sometimes ... well, the results haven't always made me happy.  With the recent purchase of my Bosch Universal Plus Mixer (four months and counting!) I have not had a failure.  Is it the machine or have I been slowly learning the art - and science - of bread making?

Bread, at it's essence, is the simple marriage of wet (water, milk) with the dry (flour, salt, sugar).  The leavening agent (yeast) along with some lubricant (oil, butter) brings the happy union together.  The heat of the oven finishes things off.  The result?  Heaven.  Yet, making bread scares most of us.  I know it did me for many years.  Bread can be temperamental.  It needs to be worked to bring out the glutens in such a manner that the yeast will properly marry to it.  Only then will you get the proper rise required for a delicious loaf of bread.  Kneading, so required for that success, is something learned over time.

I have to give credit to my pizza making recipe for teaching me how to knead.  The recipe created a small enough amount of dough that I was able to learn how to knead.  I learned the right look and feel of the dough.  The soft touch that meant the dough was ready to be rested.

Having learned how to knead, the Bosch has given me the ability to vastly increase the amount of dough I can make at one time.  A recipe that makes 2-3 loaves of bread can easily be doubled.  The machine takes care of the arduous task of kneading.  I simply look on.  I do clean up, but am always drawn back to the Bosch.  I stare at the mixing dough, seeing it pull away from the sides of the bowl, being kneaded by the dough hook.  I occasionally stop the machine and touch the dough.  Too sticky?  I gently add a bit more flour and let the kneading continue.  After 10 or so minutes I stop my Bosch and do a final touch of the dough.  Soft, pliable, but not sticky?  Perfect.  I pull it out, giving it just a bit more kneading by hand.  Then into an oiled bowl, turning the dough over to make sure it's coated.  Covered with a tea towel, I place it in the oven for 40-70 minutes of proofing.

The proofing is when the dough rests and grows.  it should double.  There is nothing more magical then seeing your dough doubled.  Success.  You kneaded the dough perfectly.  Once doubled, you take it out ... and pound the dough, shrinking it back to somewhere halfway between it's doubled size and it's original size.  At this point there are so many things you can do with it.  Pizza shells, buns, breads, cinnamon rolls, twists.

With a doubled recipe I usually do three loaves of bread and use the remaining dough for treats.  I've made cinnamon rolls, hot dog buns, rolls, and pizza.  Bread sticks are always fun for a change.

I want to share with you one of the recipes I have been using recently.  It's the culmination of 3-4 recipes from various sources, tweaked until the resulting dough works for me.  You might want to tweak it a bit yourself, so that it becomes yours.

One special note - please use yeast from a jar.  Those individual packages?  I've NEVER made great bread with those.


Water, warm - 1 cup
Active Dry Yeast - 4 1/2 teaspoons
Sugar - 2 teaspoons

Water, warm - 4 cups
Salt - 3 to 4 teaspoons
Sugar - 1/2 to 2/3 cup
Oil - 1/4 cup
Flour, whole wheat or rye - 2 cups
Vital Wheat Gluten - 1 tablespoon
Flour, unbleached all-purpose - 12 cups

This recipe is for a double batch.  If you and your mixer can't handle this amount feel free to cut everything in half.  No worries.  Note also, my instructions will be for the Bosch.

First, place the first 1 cup of warm water and 2 teaspoons of sugar into the mixer bowl.  Swirl with your fingers to blend together.  Add the yeast and swirl again, so that the yeast is wet.  Cover and let rest for approximately five minutes.  While this is happening, measure out the remainder of your ingredients.

Once the yeast mixture has become frothy, you can continue.  In a separate bowl mix the remaining 4 cups of warm water, salt, sugar, and oil.  Mix and add to the mixer bowl.  Pulse to combine.  Next add the whole wheat or rye flour and the vital wheat gluten.  If you are using only white flour you probably won't need the vital wheat gluten.  It's useful when using flours that need more protein, providing an improvement in the texture and elasticity of the dough. Pulse to combine.  Add approximately 4 cups of the regular flour and start the mixer on 1.  Watch as the dough hook stirs the ingredients.  Slowly add more flour.  The mixture will start to thicken and the kneading begins.  Continue adding flour, slowly, until the dough leaves the sides of the mixer bowl clean.  Now let the mixer knead for another 5-10 minutes.  Check the dough occasionally to see if it's too sticky.  If it is, add just a little more flour (perhaps 1/4 cup at a time).  You don't want to add too much flour - then you'll have a dry, unmanageable lump of dough.  A little sticky is better than too dry.

Determining when enough kneading has occurred takes some practice.  The dough shouldn't be sticky.  It should feel as soft as a babies bum.  Take the bowl off the machine.  Pull out the shaft from underneath and remove the dough hook.  Pull the dough out of the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. 

Knead just a few times to make sure the dough is at the right consistency.  If it isn't, you'll have to do a bit more kneading by hand.  Place the dough into an oiled bowl that will provide enough room for doubling of the dough.  Make sure the dough is rolled around in the oil so that all the surfaces are oiled.  An un-oiled dough will dry and crack and this cracked surface is impossible to remove or re-incorporate into the dough. 

Cover the bowl with a tea towel and place in a draft-free place.  (Dough doesn't like to get cold ... cold slows the doubling time.)  I like to place my dough in my oven.  This keeps it warm, and safe.  Set the timer for 40 minutes.  At the 40 minute mark check the dough.  If it's doubled, great.  If not estimate how much longer.  Sometimes it can take a total of 60-70 minutes.  For dough with more whole wheat/rye it can take longer. In the winter dough takes longer to rise then during the summer months.  Wet weather, dry weather ... all types of weather will effect your dough.

Once the dough has doubled take it out of the bowl.  Place it on your counter and pound it down.  you aren't beating the life out of the dough, more like pressing the excess air out of it.  It shouldn't shrink down to it's original size, but somewhere between.  Now, you can cut it into pieces for various baking items.  This amount of dough will make 4-6 loaves of bread.  I only have two loaf pans so I always make two loafs of bread, I use a square cake pan for a square loaf, and perhaps the rest of the dough becomes rolls or breadsticks placed on a cookie sheet ... or I might roll it out for a couple of large-sized pizzas.  For the bread pans and cookie sheets a light oil will prevent the bread from sticking.  I place these filled pans on top of my stove and cover everything with tea towels.  While the dough rests and rises again I heat the oven to 350F.  Usually 25-30 of rising is all that is necessary.  For the pizza dough, no rising is necessary - once you've rolled it out you can put your sauce, toppings, and cheese and bake at 425F for approximately 20 minutes.  For the rest of the breads, 25-40 minutes of baking at the aforementioned 350F will do.

I hope you try your hand at bread making.  Once learned, a whole new world of baking is possible.  You'll be released from ever needing to buy store-bought, plastic-wrapped bread from the grocery store.  You'll know what your bread contains.  You'll actually be able to pronounce every ingredient.  You'll be able to create something wonderful that you can share with friends and family.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Taking a Break from Baking

It's been one of those weekends where the weather tends to keep you shut up inside.  Useful for getting laundry and housework done.  Certainly gives you time for baking ... but even the lovely smell of baking bread wasn't enough to keep us inside for ever.  Halfway through the afternoon the rain let up and we all decided we needed some fresh air, if only for a short time.  So, we headed over to a nearby beach for a very windy walk along the shoreline.

Sometimes, even a short break is worth it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

My Microsoft Surface RT

You may wonder why I recently purchased a Microsoft Surface RT.  I have an HP Pavilion g7 laptop as my main home computer for writing this blog, paying bills, doing work from home, and surfing the net.  It's what I use to edit my photos, and to email friends, family, and colleagues.  It's been my go-to device for a couple of years now.  It does it's job well and I have been, in general, quite happy with it.

It really all started with Manuel getting a new laptop to replace the old Toshiba laptop we'd had since 2006.  The one that accidentally got beer on it's keyboard within the first week of ownership (which would have been OK except that Manuel and his friend Rick decided to use some special product that Rick used at work to help dry electronic parts ... except it literally melted the keyboard, making the down arrow obsolete from that point on - a bone of contention for me throughout the years we used the Toshiba).  Manuel's new laptop was a fairly low-cost piece that came loaded with Windows 8.  It's one great feature was a touchscreen monitor that everyone liked.  But in the early days I was uncomfortable with the whole modern Metro User Interface (UI).  From my Windows 7 experience it just felt all wrong.  As the resident IT person for our house it was me that had to learn how to deal with it.  I managed, but I didn't use it much in the beginning.  But as time went on and I had more time with it I began to understand that Metro UI.  I began to realize it was just brilliant.  I could touch the screen for some actions and still use my mouse or touchpad for other actions.  They co-mingled perfectly.  There even came a point when I would be at my HP and accidentally touch the screen when I should have been using my mouse.  I became frustrated that I only had a mouse and touchpad.  I was ... jealous.  The modern Metro UI that frustrated me so much in the beginning I now loved and longed for.  It was simple and elegant.  I loved that you could build the desktop to reflect your needs and design style.  I wanted it for myself, but I had a perfectly working laptop.  Sigh.

Now into Fall 2013 Manuel's old cell phone was barely working.  That's when I started toying with the Windows phones.  After much deliberation I bought myself a pre-paid cell phone - the Nokia 520, a basic entry level Windows phone - so that I could test it out to see if it would work for Manuel.  I liked it enough to encourage Manuel to buy one.  He did and we became of family of Windows cell phone owners.

Those two cell phones were the beginning of my true infatuation with the Windows 8 eco-system of cell phones, tablets, and PCs.  I started using my cell phone all the time - reading my emails, keeping our calendars up-to-date (I loved the family room concept that allowed Manuel and I to share not only conversations and photos, but to keep a synchronized calendar between us).  It was the place I went to when I wanted to read the news (Huffington Post, Flipboards, Bing News, etc.).  It came out at meetings at work, was in hand during weekly grocery shopping with the Simply Shopping app I had downloaded for free.  I liked the Windows Store - it wasn't as over-crowded as the Google Play Store.  I was able to find everything that I needed to make the phone useful, and fun.  And, of course, those Nokia off-line maps.  Wonderful.

I was so into the Nokia 520 that I started to fantasize about using it to maintain my blog.  I tried ... but with only 4" of screen and no solid keyboard I came to the conclusion that it really wasn't a real option.  Close - I could just manage to create a brief text based entry, but not sustainable.

At the same time, my old trusty Archos 43 tablet wasn't doing well.  I'd had it since 2008.  It had served me well.  But it's aging 2.3 Android OS was clearly showing it's age, and Walter had banged the screen in his eagerness a few too many times.

I was thinking about something to replace the Archos 43.  I toyed with getting an Apple iPad, but just didn't want to fork out that kind of money knowing that Walter would be using it.  I considered just getting a cheap Android tablet that he and I could share.  I so wished that Nokia had a tablet since I really liked the Nokia 520 cell phone.  Although there were rumours while I was researching my options there wasn't anything available in the Canadian market at the time.  That's when I started thinking about the Microsoft Surface.  I had initially read such bad things about it.  It seemed everyone thought the RT OS was just a bad concept, and the initial cost for the Surface made it as expensive as an Apple.  But, by the end of January 2014 the prices were dropping on the Surface, and I was starting to find some people who like the RT.  I also found out there were two styles of Surface - the RT/2 and the Pro/Pro 2.  Because I was thinking about sharing it with Walter I liked the idea of the RT - a closed OS that didn't allow users to simply download and install anything they wanted.  It meant I wouldn't have to worry so much about Walter did.  And, just like with the Nokia 520, I wanted to see what I could do with the lowest level model - the Microsoft Surface RT.  I was able to purchase the 64G version at an educational discount for under $300.  I knew I wanted to get a keyboard with it - I wasn't sure whether to go with the touch or the type.  Again, I figured I would go low-end (touch) to see if I could make it work.  The touch and type keyboards act as a cover for the screen which makes them wonderful double-duty devices.

There were posts complaining about the quality of the Surface RT screen (something much improved on the Surface 2) - I haven't had a problem with it.  The screen resolution is just fine.  Others complained that it could be sluggish in rendering websites - again, I find it just fine (and I work with some fairly high-end computers at work, so I know what fast should look like).  I love the built-in kickstand which makes it a wonderful stand-in for a laptop.

The keyboard that I was worried about is an interesting experience.  You don't slam the keys with the pads of your fingers - you press them.  The keyboards come in multiple colours - Walter asked me to choose white.  I like that it can be easily pulled away (it's held in place with strong magnets) when you just want to hold the tablet - so versatile.

Not only am I fine with typing on the touch keyboard, I actually enjoy it, and find that my carpal tunnel pain is less of a problem with it.

The Surface RT/2 comes pre-installed with Office.  With the update to Windows 8.1 it even gets Outlook.  So, I'm able to keep up with my work, as well as maintain content for my blog.  I use the included OneNote to maintain notes and ideas.  Since I keep many of my OneNote notebooks in the Microsoft OneDrive (nee SkyDrive) I have up-to-date content that's accessible at work, on my cell phone, on my laptop, and on the Surface - WOW!

When I'm done working, I can also enjoy Netflix or any number of games ... many free for download from the Microsoft Store.  I can easily connect my Surface to our TV HDMI connectors, and with an Xbox PC controller we can have large-screen play time.  I love that I can monitor Walter's access time with the Family Safety feature - it even sends me weekly reports to let me know how he spent his time.

If we were replacing our old Toshiba laptop today I would totally by-pass the laptops for Manuel and get him a Surface.  It's just so practical for so many of life's everyday needs.  When my HP laptop goes I will likely replace it with a Surface Pro (you do need the Pro level if you want to load software beyond the scope of the Windows Store).  The Pro would allow me to install Photoshop Elements and Lightroom - two software packages I use quite a bit.  Yes, I could definitely see us becoming a three-Surface family in the future.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Kruppa Joe - Our New Coffee Machine

I'm sitting here writing this while sipping my wonderful cup of hot coffee made with our new coffee machine.  Yes, after months of researching everything to do with making a cuppa Joe and going into countless stores to check out the display models we finally, unexpectedly, found the perfect coffee machine for our needs - The KRUPS KM611D Automatic Drip Coffee Machine.

We had gone to Costco's to buy one of those huge packs of toilet paper and, of course, like everyone else we wandered the aisles looking at things we didn't really need.  Down one of the aisles we saw a couple of coffee machines, including the KRUPS.  We lifted the lid, pulled out the carafe.  12 cups capacity - check.  Strong brew - check.  Finally, we checked the price $57.  Hmmm ... nothing too fancy, but at that price it wouldn't hurt our bank account either.  And really, having to keep things closed with a piece of string was getting old.

BAM!  Done.  And we couldn't be happier.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Why I Blog

I've been wanting to write a post since … forever.  I can't believe how much time has passed since my last one.  There's just so much I need and want to do in my life.   There's a fulltime job, a child to raise, a husband to connect with, a home to keep somewhat clean, meals to cook, baking I want to try out, DIY and crafty projects begging for attention, and a garden to tend.  And, of course, time for friends and family.  I don't know how people can juggle it all, consistently, on-going.  And it pains me because I enjoy creating this blog.  Developing new ideas, building the content.  Yes, it's work, but it's different from my day job in such a fundamental way.  There's no set agenda - I create it, I decide everything.

All this fretting got me thinking about why I enjoy blogging because it does add stress and work to an already full existence.  I realized there are at least three compelling reasons why I feel committed to this blog - income, frugality, and creativity.


Manuel and I have good paying jobs with wonderful benefits, and a strong pension plan to draw from when we retire.  We don't need more money (although extra money is always welcome in paying down the mortgage) … we do just fine on what comes in.  But there are no guarantees in life that tomorrow will be the same as today.  We could lose our jobs, there could be some natural disaster (we do live on the West Coast of Canada and an earthquake is a real possibility), one of our vehicles could need major repairs.  You just never know.  Developing and growing new skills is just a smart idea.  It gives you more flexibility in adjusting to changes that can come your way.

The blog allows me to think beyond my day job.  It grants me the opportunity to stretch my skills, to learn new concepts, and to try different ideas out without worrying about failure.  Some of the skills I've learned definitely have the potential to bring in income.  That's a total win for me.


It might sound strange to follow income with frugality, but they do go hand in hand.

There are two ways of growing income - being paid more, or doing with less.  Instead of working harder and harder we can choose to alter our life expectations so that we don't need as much money.  By learning to develop frugal skills I'm also working on that idea of you never know what tomorrow might bring.  If we lose one or both of our incomes having learned some frugal skills will definitely come in handy.  I also love the challenge of seeing how I can save money without feeling cheap.  And, there is the added benefit of having a gentler footprint on the Earth since many frugal ideas include recycling, reusing, and reducing.  Another win in my books.


I love being creative.  I was the kid with the huge Lego set who could build and re-build for hours.  I'm the one who loved drawing and painting.  The one who saved her money so that I could buy a 4-track machine to record music that I wrote and sang.

Having a grown-up job, with a family that I'm responsible to has meant me dropping many of the creative outlets I had when I was a young adult.  The blog gives me the freedom to delve back into that creative stream.  I love that - being able to photograph, to write, to design.  Coming up with ideas to try out at home, and then showing how I did it.  Wonderful.  That's one of the biggest wins for me.

There are other, lesser reasons for wanting to write a blog, but these three are definitely the most compelling for me.  With that in mind, I've got my creative energy revving and am planning future posts about … our new coffee machine (yes, we finally committed to one!), my decision to buy a Microsoft Surface RT (I wrote this blog post on it), and a baking challenge.

Do you have multiple sources of income or have you learned some frugal methods to help reduce your need for more income?  How do you bring creativity into your life?

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Hario - The Fancy Pants Coffee Grinder

I used frugality as a label for this post which some of you might think is funny or just simply wrong, considering the title of this post.  But hear me out.

We have had a few coffee grinders over the years.  Our current setup includes a Proctor Silex coffee grinder.  it's OK.  Manuel likes it, but I find it a bit irritating because you can't get a uniform grind - it's all by look and feel.  Manuel often over grinds and I definitely under-grind.  This over/under scenario can leave us with coffee results that are lacklustre ... so sad because we really love our coffee.

While I was researching for our new Windows Phones (and Nokia's in particular) I happened open Andrew Kim's Minimally Minimal blog.  You might disagree with his views on certain products, but this 22 year old visual designer from Microsoft can truly open your eyes to the concept of design and esthetics ... to form and function.  I love how he writes about objects that we use and, sometimes, lust for.  So, after reading his post on the Nokia 1020 I continued to read through his blog.  Which is how I happened to read about the Hario Skerton ceramic coffee mill.  At the time we weren't even thinking about getting a new coffee grinder, but after reading Andrew's post I got curious ... and then forgot about it.

Just before Christmas we were in Crate and Barrel in Oakridge and I happened to see the Hario.

At $50 CAD it wasn't cheap, but it was beautiful and well made.  Andrew's post had already convinced me that it would be a wonderful grinder to own, and because it's manual and doesn't require electricity to use I figured it was both frugal and practical.  I could even take it when we went camping since it wouldn't require power.

It's taken me a bit of time to get the perfect grind.  Since you have to remove the knob at the base of the handle, remove the handle, and a little metal footer beneath the handle before you can manually adjust the coarseness/fineness of your grind it does take time to arrive at the perfect grind.  I finally reached that yesterday.  Wonderful.

Now, I'm thinking we need a new coffee machine.  Why, you ask?  You see that string?  That's holding the basket from flinging open.  The clips been broken for eons.  We have to shake the lid of the thermo pot to make sure it's moving - if we don't we often get freshly brewed coffee all over the place (and none in the pot) ... which is why the coffee machine is placed inside a tray.  Yes, it's decorative, but it's real function is to contain that overflowing coffee.  That tray saves us at least 1-2 a month.

I've been contemplating the Technivorm, a made in the Netherlands coffee machine that is supposed to make the perfect cup of home brewed coffee.  I've hesitated because it's about $400 CAD.  Is it really worth that much?  Despite the string on our machine, it still makes a good pot of coffee ... when we get the grind right.  We've been looking around for several months now and can't decide.  Go cheap and get average coffee or take a chance on an expensive machine?

What do you use to grind coffee?  How far are you willing to go to make the perfect cuppa?

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Bosch Sugar Cookies

I have a ton of cookbooks, but I'm finding I use the internet more these days when selecting a recipe to use.  I tend to use my cookbooks to figure out meal plans, flipping through the pages to get inspiration.

This recipe comes from the place I bought my Bosch Universal Plus stand mixer, Healthy Kitchens.  It's great to get some actual Bosch-centric recipes because the machine is capable of making large batches of almost anything and having a recipe ready to use that volume makes it a no brainer.

I loved making these cookies.  It took me about five-seven minutes in total to mix them, separate them into batches, roll them, and put them in the freezer.  Not bad, eh? 


  • Butter, room temperature - 2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups)
  • Sugar - 2 1/4 cups
  • Eggs, room temperature - 4 large
  • Sour Cream - 1/2 cup (I used yogurt)
  • Vanilla Extract - 1 tablespoon
  • Flour - 8 cups  (I used 1 cup whole wheat flour, and the remainder unbleached all-purpose)
  • Baking Powder - 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • Salt - 1 teaspoon
Put the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine.  Set aside.

If you have them, use the cookie paddles as they can definitely handle the firmer dough more easily.  If you don't have them start with the batter whisks and switch to the dough hook once you start adding the dry ingredients.

Cream the butter and sugar for 2 minutes, scraping at the 1 minute mark.  Add the eggs, one at a time.  Scrape after mixing in the second egg.  Add in the vanilla extract.  Next, put in half the flour mixture.  Mix.  Add in the sour cream.  Mix.  Add in the last of the flour.  Do one final mix.

Remove the bowl and turn & pull the cookie paddles to remove them.  I divided the dough into four, rolling them into long logs, and wrapped them in wax paper.  I put the logs on a cookie sheet and placed them in the freezer. 

The other morning I grabbed a roll while making our lunches and baked a batch before heading out to work (375F for 12 minutes).  Being able to have freshly baked, homemade bakery items is a total win for us.  Knowing what the ingredients are is great, and going this route saves us so much money.

I'd say I could easily get 8 dozen mid-sized cookies from this recipe.  You could easily make changes to the recipe to create different flavours - lemon zest instead of vanilla extract, some chopped nuts or chocolate chips.  Candied fruit for a Christmas cookie.

My Bosch Universal Plus

I've had my Bosch Universal Plus stand mixer for just over a month and thought it would be a good time to give you a review of it.

First, I have to say I'm really happy with my choice.  When I first got it I wondered if I should have gone for the smaller one, but the Universal Plus has been perfect.  It has a permanent spot on the kitchen counter next to our coffee maker, ready to go.

I do keep the extra attachments in two cardboard boxes that I happened to have around.  One of the boxes holds the food processor blades and other attachments necessary for food processing.  The other wider and shorter box holds the whips, paddles, and scrapers.  These boxes plus the blender attachment sit on top of the fridge, in easy reach.

When I was doing my research I read some reviews where people complained about clean up after using it, but I've found it as easy as any prior setup I've used.  Since it uses a drive shaft in the centre you do need to pull that out before washing it, but that's simply tilting it slightly to get to the underneath portion - turning the shaft and pulling it out.  Here you see the underside with the drive shaft removed.

Then a quick rinse with warm water and soap and it's done.  Nothing really sticks ... I haven't struggled at all to clean it.

I dry it off with a tea towel, and even roll up the towel so that I can put it into the underside drive shaft spot and turn a bit one way and a bit the other way to pick up any moisture that's managed to get inside.  After that I just place it on a tea towel to completely dry.  It is important to allow it to completely dry before putting it back together.  Since the motor is at the bottom and the drive shaft connects to it you don't want moisture getting into the motor via that connection.  A dry bowl ensures that doesn't happen.  The one failing I find is that Bosch didn't supply a little cap to put over the connection to prevent anything from getting in there when the bowl isn't in place.  I have come up with my own solution - I use a tiny china bowl and invert it over the spot.  It fits perfectly, protecting the opening nicely.  You can see it in the picture below with the drive shaft laying on it's side in front.

So, aside from not being supplied with a proper cap to cover the drive shaft connection point I'd have to say this stand mixer is perfect.  It is extremely easy to mix anything ... and so quick.  You're done in at least half the time.

I'd give it a 9 out of 10.