Category Archives: Gadgets


DSC00222 (1600x1200)St Francis broke ground on a new building the other day.  The dog in the floppy hat is named Zeus and has a nice story.  He had a slight limp on the day he was rescued from a kill shelter but that limp soon turned into a severe problem where he couldn’t even walk.  About all he could do is wag his tail but that was enough for the staff at St Francis.  He was fostered by a physiotherapist and got the whole rehab treatment including sessions in a pool.  He made steady progress and a year later he gets around pretty well.  They aren’t sure what the malady was but they assume it was distemper.DSC00226 (1600x1200)We keep parsley in a couple of containers on the patio – one for garnishing and one for the swallowtail caterpillars that just love the stuff.  I saw a caterpillar acting strange the other day but didn’t think much of it until I noticed that he had changed into a chrysalis.DSC_4705 (1600x1060)The little silk band is all that holds him to the stalk.  I knew very little about the life cycle other than caterpillar>[magic happens]>butterfly!  Here is a very short time lapse Youtube video of the process.  If I’m lucky I’ll get some photos when the butterfly emerges.DSC00184 (1600x1200)Moar kittehs!  DSC_8669 (1600x1060)The batch of sauerkraut I mentioned starting last month is finished.  It worked great with beef sausages and fried potatoes for  dinner yesterday.  The mason lid fermentation airlock gizmo worked well:DSC_4627 (1600x1060)We’ve been streaming Scandal through Netflix and we like the show so far.  Here Mrs J shares a little ice cream with Bitsy:DSC_4721 (Copy)This post needs more sammiches!DSC_8667 (1600x1060)Pulled pork with slaw and a nice bbq sauce.  On the side is what the Kroger deli calls baked potato salad.  Good stuff!DSC_8654 (1600x1060)Filet of fish with slaw and tartar sauce.  The sauce is doubly dill, it has dill pickle relish and dill weed in with the mayo, and lemon juice, horseradish, onions, and chopped parsley.  Hushpuppies and baked beans round out the meal.  Beenie Weenies!

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Fried Pies – Gadget Post

DSC_8646 (1600x1060)We saw one of these pocket pie crimping gadgets on one of those cooking shows and had to have one.  This one makes a pie about 5″ or 51/2″DSC_8642 (1600x1060)The crimper is good for all kinds of pies, empanadas and pierogis and suchlike.  They are made in several sizes so the smaller ones should be great for Asian style dumplings.  Of course our first go had to be Mrs J’s Famous Fried Pies.  These are mixed berry filled – blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

I went for the powdered sugar to make the glaze and found none in the cupboard.  I guess we used it all on cake frostings.  No problem!  I put some regular sugar into our spice mill and spun it for a minute to make a small batch – plenty for what we needed.


DSC_8485 (1600x1060)I’m calling these dogs The Full Monty – Chicago style.  Sides are a bacon sour cream potato salad and a slaw with a sweet creamy dressing.DSC_4622 (1600x1060)I’ve been keeping an eye on these cherry tomatoes, wanting to maximize the yield on the bunch.  The older fruits were starting to split, and one fell off being a tad too ripe.  I gathered them in just after this photo.  Mrs J used them in a salad:DSC_8479 (1600x1060)The sweet corn is in at the store and it’s very good.  I baked the potatoes in the oven after coating them with olive oil.  They took about 30 minutes at 400, turned once.  Still haven’t fired the gas grill – the steaks cooked on my cast iron griddle/grill that spans two burners on the stove top.  My range has a purpose built grill module that doesn’t work any better and is a pain to deal with. IMG_5081 (1600x1200)Here’s a kitteh!  The staff named her Abby and Mrs J says she’s a sweetie.  She came in last week.DSC_4627 (1600x1060)Someone mentioned making small batches of sauerkraut in Mason jars with lids adapted for  fermentation airlocks.  I had one of the airlocks on hand from making apple cider so I cobbled a thing together with a rubber grommet set into a hole bored into a wide mouth lid.  I managed to cram a whole head’s worth of shredded cabbage into a half gallon jar.  I mixed the cabbage with 2 tablespoons of pickling salt, a few juniper berries, and a teaspoon of caraway seeds.  It should take about a month to finish.DSC_8470 (1600x1060)Summer is sammich season and nothing says sammich like cheeseburger.  It’s just an all around favorite.  The bacon doesn’t hurt it a bit.  I think 90% of the time my burgers get pickles, onion, and mustard but I’m not above dragging the sammy through ketchup that may have fallen off of the fries.IMG_5096 (1600x1200)This is Mow Mow, an 8 year old calico that was surrendered a few weeks ago along with Cooper, a long haired dachshund.  Mow Mow and Cooper, both, have been adopted.

Gadget Post: Carson the Robot Butler

Okay, he’s not really a butler, he’s a vacuum, but I find him very helpful. He was my Christmas gift this year and he’s been working almost daily since January.


I’ve waited to write this gadget post because I wasn’t sure how to approach it. On one hand, I find him invaluable for keeping the floors clean from all the animal hair and debris. On the other hand, I know that a robotic vacuum isn’t for everyone because of the maintenance involved. If you’re of the age to have had a PC in the mid-1990′s, you may remember that, while they were great tools, we spent a great deal of time debugging and running system checks.

Carson is kind of like that. While he can be programmed to run anytime, I learned early not to let him run when I was not home. There are just too many ways for him to get into trouble. Some days he can run trouble free, other days he’s like a toddler, always finding things to get  into and jam his little gears.

One day he sucked up a cat toy mouse that completely blocked his intake. He continued to run, but sucked up nothing for the rest of the hour. Another day, I made sure the bedroom floors were clear of anything that would cause him trouble (electrical wires, cat toys, stray clothes) and assumed I could jump in the shower while he vacuumed the room. That day he drove himself up on the wood trim and got stuck.

Other maintenance issues include clearing hair from his wheels – mostly my hair, which is shoulder length and wraps around the wheels or the brush. And his batteries  had to be replaced under warranty because they stopped charging. The replacements were clearly heavier duty and I haven’t had an issue since.

I should mention, my mom has the same model and she says Mrs.Hughes has not given her any of the issues I have experienced.

So now I’ve told you his shortcomings, let me tell you why I find him invaluable.

Carson in action:

It takes me five minutes to walk through the house to make sure there are no hazards, then I set him loose. While he vacuums my floors I can be cleaning the kitchen, dusting around the house, or even better, sitting at my desk working. If something goes wrong, I am around to remedy it. If I don’t realize he’s stopped running, he’ll beep at me until I rescue him. Most days he cleans with nary a peep.

When he’s done, he returns himself to his station to recharge.

Carson and Base

And he cleans very well. My brother has a Dyson and re-vacuumed after Carson finished a room and the Dyson picked up nothing. Because of the size and shape, Carson isn’t great with edges, but I catch those once a week or so with my big vacuum.

The best part though, is that I can vacuum every day with little effort and keep the pet hair and debris to a minimum. So I think all in all, I’d give him four stars out of five.



Porch Panorama

DSC_4610_stitch (1600x1060)I have no idea how this will display on the blog.  Just downloaded a panorama stitching app from Microsoft and this is my first try.  I mounted a camera on a tripod on the front patio and panned right to left through 180 degrees.  The lens was an 18mm-200mm zoom set at 18mm for 4 different snaps with plenty of overlap.  Click on the photo for bigger.  [Edited to add:]  Looks pretty good.  I’ll upload a full res image to see how that looks:DSC_4610_stitchWow!  Not something you want to click to from a cell phone!  Awesome!

Gadget Post – Panini Press

DSC_4609 (1600x1060)The Griddler, by Cuisinart.  It’s more than just a press but that’s all I’ve used it for so far.  It will accommodate fairly thick sammiches but you have to place them just right to get the best results – good contact over the length of the item you are grilling.DSC_4607 (1600x1060)It opens up like so, the surfaces will flip for either a flat griddle or a ridged grill.DSC_4608 (1600x1060)I’m a bit confused by the selector knobs on the unit.  As far as I can tell both top and bottom plates heat no matter whether the central selector is turned to the griddle or to the panini setting. The panini knob is indexed from warm to sear, the left, or griddle, knob is marked from 200 to 425.  I have no idea why there are separate knobs.DSC_4606 (1600x1060)The Griddler has a plastic tray to catch drippings when you are cooking something juicy but so far all I’ve needed to do is wipe the surfaces with a wet rag.  The grill plates are not very heavy so it cools down pretty fast.DSC_8369 (1600x1060)We had these for lunch today – sandwiches in the style of Cubanos but with prosciutto for the ham, and marinated olives on the side instead of pickles inside.DSC_8358 (1600x1060)Reubens are good but I need to learn how to get the insides hot before the bread turns to crackers.  I may be too impatient to allow them to come to temperature in the press set low enough to accomplish that, but a quick zap in the microwave might hurry the cheese melt.

Gadget Post – Meat Slicer

DSC_4586 (1600x1060)We bought one of the whole boneless hams that were on sale post Easter and that had me wishing my little Rival antique electric meat slicer wasn’t so feeble.  I had last used it trying to slice the prosciutto I bought a while back but it fled, whimpering in terror, after the first few slices.  Fortunately a pal brought his commercial grade slicer by and we zipped right through the prosciutto.DSC_4565 (1600x1060)That old Globe machine is too heavy to move around much, we did the slicing on the tailgate of his truck.  We went with the Chef’s Choice 667 Model, it is not in the same league as the Global but it will do. (My pal uses it to slice his own homemade bacon.)DSC_4587 (1600x1060)

So far we’ve used it to slice a ham and a corned beef brisket and it seems competent enough for those things.


DSC_8031 (1600x1060)A friend brought by a stick of his deer sausage the other day.  He’s big into smoked and cured meats, going so far as to build a smokehouse in his backyard.  He makes his own bacon, butchers his own beef, and is a general handyman.  On top of farming and working a full time job at the local electric generating plant.DSC_8017 (1600x1060)This is the last of that over cooked chicken that was left too long in the smoker.  It was smokey enough that the flavor came through even with the generous addition of Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce.DSC_4540 (1600x1060)I’m a little slow getting this new coffee brewing stuff up, TaMara’s new coffee machine reminded me I needed to say something.  We replaced our old coffee grinder with a better one.  This one has a more consistent grind, and the grind timer is good enough to use its settings instead of a separate measuring spoon.  The Bunn pourover brewer will be familiar to anyone who has ever ordered coffee in a greasy spoon.DSC_4545 (1600x1060)Bitsy is doing some thinking, outside of the box.  Sorry, LOLIMG_4623 (1600x1060)A couple of shelter kittehs, a momma and her boy.  She came into the shelter with four kittens, this is the last to be adopted.  You, too, can has a Ginger kitteh!

Gadget Post: Hamilton Beach BrewStation Coffeemaker


Brewmaster 1a

Last week my coffeemaker died, mid-brew. That is a code red emergency in my house. I stumbled across this carafe-less coffeemaker, on sale, in a pretty cherry red and decided the price was right. I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but I must say it has exceeded my expectations and I’m very pleased with the Hamilton Beach BrewStation.

It claims to keep your coffee piping hot without burning it or turning it bitter for 4 hours. And that was my first test. I usually brew 4-cups at intervals during the day when I’m working at home, because I’m a slow coffee drinker. I often poured out the last cup because at the 90 minute to 2 hour mark the taste was off.  After running vinegar through the machine, I brewed up 6 cups of coffee. It made a really decent first cup of coffee. I set the warmer to 4 hours and went about my day, grabbing a cup now and then along the way. At the four hour mark, the cup I poured tasted as good and fresh as the first cup.

And if you’re worried about BPA in the warming station, as I was, Hamilton Beach has several PDF’s on their website detailing how none of their products contain BPA, including this coffeemaker.

Brewmaster Innards 1
It’s easy to use. You can either fill the warming station with water and then pour it into the coffeemaker, or since I use filtered water, I just pour the water directly into the coffeemaker. You put the warmer in, top it off with the basket, add filter and coffee and press the buttons. You can choose between bold, 1-4 cups or regular brewing styles, I’ve experimented and really like the bold setting. You can set the warmer to 0-4 hours. It is programmable, so morning coffee is ready and waiting when I wake up.

Everything is easy to read. The water level marks are large and stair-stepped up, so it’s easy to fill, the warmer clearly shows how much coffee is left and setting the clock and programming the autobrew is intuitive. If you get to the 4-hour mark and you still want to keep the coffee hot, you hold the start button for 3-seconds and it resets the warmer.

Easy Pour

And pouring the coffee is easy and quick. You hold the cup up to the bar and fill. It easily fills mugs and travel mugs, though it’s too short for my thermos, but I made do by pouring it into a mug first.

I give this high marks, for $35, it does what I need. And it’s a pretty red to boot.



Crio Bru: An Alternative to Coffee or Tea

Crio Bru

I’m not sure when I saw someone mention Crio Bru as an alternative to coffee, it may have been a recipe post at Balloon-Juice, but I thought it sounded interesting, so I went in search of some to try. It wasn’t easy to find.

I looked around locally at all the natural food groceries and one of my clients is actually a coffee shop, so I asked there, no one had heard of it, much less stocked it. Finally, I turned to Amazon and ordered it and a stainless steel, double-walled french press.  All the reviews recommended using a french press, though you can also brew it. I tried both methods and definitely had more flavor with the french press version.

Crio Bru is roasted and ground cocoa beans that you brew like coffee. It has very little caffeine, a rich, dark chocolate flavor and 10 calories. I tried it black, with cream and with a touch of sugar. Black was by far my favorite, with a rich creamy texture and dark chocolate flavor. The cream seemed to dilute it too much and the sugar seemed unnecessary.  It makes for a nice evening warm beverage when I don’t want to drink caffeine before bed.

To make it, you use 2 tbsp of the chocolate per 6 oz of water  (I use two heaping tbsps and 8 oz).  Place the chocolate in the french press, add very hot water (I usually boil it and then it cools to about the right temperature as I measure it), stir well (I use a chopstick), cover and let steep for 4 minutes. Then press the plunger down SLOWLY and serve.

If you want to brew it, you need to have a coffee maker that has a bold setting, otherwise it’s very weak.

I highly recommend it for chocolate lovers who want an alternative to hot chocolate or coffee.  Yum.



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