Monday, December 28, 2009

Apple (but not that kind)

I hope everyone had a lovely Holiday, welcome back to blog-town!

I couldn't write about this before Christmas, because it involves a gift for That Guy. He needed the new operating system version for his computer, so I had to go to the Apple store.

Back before I was a Mac Owner, I felt awkward going to the Apple store, because I was hiding a dark secret: I was a PC. Now, I still feel awkward, but for different reasons. Whenever there, you are surrounded by employees who know more about computers than you could ever need to, and technology so advanced you are afraid to touch it lest you get your grimy, unwashed fingers all over the shiny surfaces.

There are easily more employees (color-coded by department) than customers in the store at all times, and since there aren't enough customers to occupy them all, they tend to huddle in groups of two or three, probably talking about geek things like iPhone apps and Steve Jobs.

The required software was easy enough to find, so I also browsed iPod cases. What a huge selection! And every single case I looked at was $24.99. Sounds steep, but I was pleased to see that Apple uses the same price-point strategy as the Dollar store.

I made my way over to the central table to find out if there is some sort of checkout line. The guy there asked "Cash or charge?" I said charge, and he proceeded to ring me up right where we were standing. Right there, with his iPhone. He even swiped my card on it. Holy cow, it was crazy. I must be getting used to going there because the strangeness of this didn't even hit me till days later. I worry that there is a guy at the Apple store with my credit card number on a cell phone, and the computer savvy to use it stealthily. Maybe I should stop calling them geeks.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Cookies

Well, we had Christmas in mind when a friend invited me over to make cookies, but that was two weeks ago, so the cookies are long gone. In memoriam, here are:

Maple Walnut Spice
I got this recipe from Cooking Light, but quickly realized there is nothing "light" about them. I think the only reason they can say that is the recipe makes 30 cookies, which means they would have to be very small, and then are still 98 calories. However, I wolfed them down pretty well. Light schmight.


and





Chocolate Oatmeal Stovetop
Maria made these, but did it before I got there, so I'm not sure what went into them. I think a very pure form of crack was involved. They were so rich and fudgey, it was like eating a brownie (with oatmeal in it). They are "stovetop" because you heat them on the stove and drop onto wax paper to cool; that's it! Nifty.


This is my last post until after Christmas, so have a good one everybody, and see you soon!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Punkin' Candy

I made these pumpkins out of marzipan for my sister-in-law Erin. They are actually chocolate filled: you make small chocolate truffles, and form the tinted marzipan around it. The leaves and stems are also marzipan. Yummy and cute!


Everyone here at i do things (so, me) would like to wish everyone out there in Internetland a Happy Christmas and Merry New Year! And Happy every other holiday which you may or may not celebrate!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cookies

I am distraught. I have been waiting to get my Grandmother's chocolate chip cookie recipe. Finally, I was there over the weekend. I geared up to get a great recipe and was excited to come home and make them!

We browsed her recipes, and I wrote down a few I wanted. Then:

"All I need is your cookie recipe now."

::confused look:: "My chocolate chip cookies?"

Mom: "That's just the recipe from the Nestle bag."

::crickets::

Wow. What a downer.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Indubitably Awesome

Here is another cereal commercial I just think is hilarious: Crispy Critters. I remember this cereal being good, actually. I do not remember the whole "indubitably" thing. It also makes me think of "Arrested Development," when Maeby worked on the movie "Love, Indubitably."

Monday, December 07, 2009

Today I Noticed...

The petals on these mums have cute little fluted ends:

Thursday, December 03, 2009

An Investigative Investigation of Things

(Previous Investigations: Part One, Part Two)

Cereal: Part Three
Do Crispix Stay Crispy in Milk? A Timed Experiment
You don't hear much about Crispix cereal anymore. After a big push in the 80s and 90s, they have all but disappeared from the airwaves. I guess they aren't considered a "kids" cereal, but they aren't really an "old people" cereal either. The best old commercial I could find was "Flip for the Crisp of Crispix," which has possibly the worst cereal-themed song I have ever heard:



What I really wanted was the commercial that insisted the cereal stays crispy in milk, as it was the inspiration for this investigation. Crispix is the unusually-shaped cereal that has "corn on one side, rice on the other," and a hollow center. I always liked popping them against the roof of my mouth as I ate. Anyone else do that? Anyone at all? Hm.
Figure 1. Crispix
Anyway, because I never let cereal sit long enough to get soggy, I had to use a timer with a bowl of Crispix for this investigation. I set myself up in a photographable manner, poured the bowl, and started timing, taking a bite to test about every minute. Here are the highlights:

Figure 2. Forty-five seconds. Good start. Nice crunch.






Figure 3. Two minutes. A little bit of softness is setting in, but I wouldn't call it mushy at all.






Figure 4. Four minutes. Definitly softening, but has a firmness when you bite down.






Figure 5. By the 8 minute mark, the cereal still had quite a bite to it, like aldente pasta. I wouldn't call it "crispy" though. But, who ever lets cereal sit for that long anyway?





To find out the answer, below is Figure 6, a graph showing how long five survey respondents take to eat a bowl of cereal:
As you can see, all respondents took much less than 8 minutes to eat a bowl, with one person taking only 60 seconds because "I hate soggy cereal." So really, the whole issue of soggy cereal might not be an issue after all. But for the purposes of this investigation, I call it a success, and proof that Crispix stays crispy in milk, at least for the time that it takes to eat it.

Figure 7. Top and side view.
FACT: Crispix are hexagonal, but only in one dimension.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Nudge

After reading The Guinea Pig Diaries, I read a book that helped inspire an essay from it: Nudge. In The Guinea Pig Diaries, there is a chapter on thinking rationally. Since it's hard to explain, please enjoy this description directly from A.J. Jacobs' website:
The Rationality Project:
I tried to retrain my brain to be something more than an ad hoc collection of half-assed solutions that have built up over millions of years of evolution. I attempted to eliminate every irrational bias using the insights of behavioral economics. And in doing so, I permanently changed the way I make every decision, from the simplest (what toothpaste to buy) to the biggest (how to raise the kids).
Basically, it comes down to making decisions based on absolute logic, without letting your pesky brain get in the way. Quick example: saying that a certain surgical procedure results in "1 out of 10 patients dying" sounds worse than "9 out of 10 patients survive," even though they mean exactly the same thing.

Nudge is a book which explores behavioral economics, and how to basically "nudge" people into making the right decisions by changing how options are presented to them. It's very psychological. The first half of the book demonstrates the theories, but the second half got kind of boring. They described long case studies, such as one about companies' 401k programs: many employees are apathetic about joining such programs, but by making it easier for them to join and have the plan grow with them ("nudging"), more people would participate.

I wanted to mention it because it was very interesting overall, and really makes you think about how you actually think. I give it 3 1/2 things.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

New Roads

Theres construction everywhere. Here in New Jersey, it is due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which can be loosely translated as "Let's do lots of construction right now that we were planning to get around to eventually anyway." This also means painting white lines everywhere, such as six lane highways that were just repaved LAST WINTER. This does NOT include painting white lines on roads where the lines are so worn out they are barely visible. Everywhere you go, there are traffic cones and workmen slowing you down. It's really kind of a pain. And it's only going to get worse: Less than a block from me is a highway overpass, which they will be "rehabilitating." The initial demolition will have "a considerable amount of noise associated..." That's just great. But at least they sent us a letter, warning us so that we can "make alternate plans for those weekends."


I guess it IS good that people are getting put to work though. Even if it's not me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Has a Pomegranate

I made juice!

Now what? I'm not sure I like the crunchy seeds; that surprised me, I was prepared to enjoy the pomegranate unconditionally. Most recipes I've found use the seeds whole; baked goods have them mixed in, and pies and parfaits have them sprinkled on top. I actually tried some in a parfait of Crispix cereal (DO Crispix stay crispy in milk? Stay tuned to find out!) and Greek yogurt. The yogurt was honey-flavored, so mixed with the pomegranate it wasn't the best combination. The little bursts of flavor from the seeds popping was fun though.

Eventually I decided to just juice the whole thing. I did this by putting the seeds in a blender a couple handfuls at a time, then straining them into a cup. To get every last bit of flavor out, I put the strained mess back in the blender with some water and repeated the process. This actually worked pretty well. The juice is strong so adding water really helps it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cake Pops

I finally made Bakerella's infamous Cake Pops. Hers are always amazingly adorable; I could not even get mine into "smooth coating" territory. Plus, I think I used too much frosting.

Bakerella's

The idea here is you take some cake, crumble it, and mix it with some frosting. This makes the cake pliable so you can make it into a ball and dip it in chocolate. Presto! Cake Pops. As you can see from Bakerella's site, there's a multitude of applications for these. I will try them again someday, and hopefully they will work out a little better!

Mine

I'm keeping this short, as I am sick as a dog.* I was feeling fine for a while yesterday, then it hit me hard with the congestion and coughing and whatnot. And I had to go to a job interview. Fabulous.** You don't want to hear me talk, it sounds terrible.

*I hate that phrase. What does it even mean anyway? What dog? How sick is this dog? Is it time for me to be put down, since that's what they do with sick dogs? I also hate when people say "Cold as hell." That doesn't even remotely make sense.

**Turns out it was a part-time job. Bump dat.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Books I've Enjoyed

I have been using my library card to its fullest potential lately, and thought I would share a few of the books I've read. Usually I'll browse and find ones that look interesting; other times I will find a subject I want to learn more about, sometimes that comes from reading, which leads to more reading. Of course there have been the obligatory fiction novels as well. I will use my patent-pending system of Number of Things to rate each book.

Confessions of a She-Fan, Jane Heller.
Loved it. This is the story of Jane's search to find what it means to be a true Yankees fan. She followed the team around the country for half the season to do so. I think guys would enjoy this as well, but I've heard they don't always.

Note: Helps to know something about baseball, but it is not neccessary.
Note Note: It also helps to know something about the Yankees.

I give it: 5 things


Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa, R.A. Scotti.
This one grabbed me because it is based on a true story which I had never heard: in 1911, someone had the audacity to steal the most beloved painting in France. She went missing for almost two years before she was recovered. Now, the story is all but forgotten. This book is written almost like a novel, and gives the history of all the main characters (including da Vinci). It starts slow, but finishes well. Fun fact: Pablo Picasso was considered a main suspect!
I give it: 4 things



Sleep: the Mysteries, the Problems, and the Solutions, Carlos H. Schenck, M.D.
This book was really interesting from the first page till the end. It went over all the various issues that can come from sleep, like sleepwalking, night terrors, narcolepsy, etc. They illustrated the concepts with interesting case studies. I think I finished this book in a few days, it was a quick read.

I give it: 4 1/2 things




The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment, A.J. Jacobs.
This is a humorous collection of essays by A.J. Jacobs, who contributes to Esquire magazine. He tried things like outsourcing his personal life to assistants in India, and practicing Radical Honesty and saying exactly what is on his mind all the time. I am also going to read his previous books, wherein he follows the teachings of the Bible for an entire year and reads the entire Encyclopedia Britannica (not at the same time).

I give it: 5 things



More Information Than You Require, John Hodgman.
This sequel to The Areas of My Expertise brings us more "World Knowledge" from the Daily Show's Resident Expert. It contains such useful information as 750 Molemen names, which US Presidents had hooks for hands, and a new "Today in the Past" feature. A few chapters did move a little slowly, but Hodgman's (mis)information always entertains.

I give it: 4 things





Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Evidence

Something has been brought to my attention by a detail-conscious reader that even I didn't notice when reasearching for the Rice Krispies post. Mainly, this:


They are not "Jumbo Rice Krispies," they are "Jumbo Multi-grain Krispies." Somehow this is worse for me; now instead of admitting it's a completely different cereal, they are hiding under the trendy guise of "multi-grain." Multi-grain is usually BS when it comes to cereal, but that is a different post.

This makes a big difference. In all my investigating of the physical properties of the cereal, I overlooked the basic marketing of the name on the box. I did what most humans would: breezed over the smaller word, and inferred "krispies" to mean "rice krispies." That really tells you something about how far implanted into our brains the original Krispies are.

As for my own misconception, I blame the commercial, where I was first introduced to the product: a woman is giving her little girl the Jumbo Krispies, and the girl is amazed at how big they are! Thereby implying "whoa these are huge Rice Krispies!"

To sum up: I am angry at Kellogg's. But I still love their delicious breakfast foods.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's Veteran's Day

Time to....



Thanks Cayk Recks!

Monday, November 09, 2009

An Investigative Investigation of Things

Cereal: Part Two
Faux Pops


There is a recent trend in cereals which coincides with American's general liking of all things gigantic: make things bigger. Ok, those Little Mini Wheats are an exception. But go with me here.

I give you Jumbo Rice Krispies (Figure 1). Compared to regular Rice Krispies, yes, they are jumbo. About three times the size, I'd say. But are they Krispies? A quick visual inspection shows the relative shape to an original. But you will notice: each Jumbo is about uniform in size and texture, not bearing any of the puffy, bubbly qualities of the original. Hmmm.


Figure 1. Jumbo Krispies.

What do you suppose makes up a Rice Krispie? From the ingredient list:
Rice, sugar, salt, malt flavoring, high fructose corn syrup, ---Whaaa?? That was unexpected. The rest is vitamins, I think.

Now the Jumbo Krispies:
Rice, flour, sugar, whole wheat flour, yellow corn meal, oat fiber, polydextrose, salt, honey, palm oil, natural and artificial flavor, etc...

My baking experience tells me that these must be baked with flour and cornmeal, and are NOT just rice made all poofy and crackley.

Figure 2: Jumbo Krispies Treats
Finally, the taste test. Of course, one cannot ignore the classic snap, crackle, pop sound either. It is not there! I was hoping for a three times as large snap as well as size. When eating, you will see that the texture is not that of original Rice Krispies. It is lighter, smoother. And the taste? Well, they are good, to be sure. But with a corn flavor and touch of sweetness not unlike Cap'n Crunch (without that roof of the mouth pain). I guess the final experiment is to try using them in a classic recipe: Rice Krispies Treats. They turned out sweeter than regular treats, even without the extra chocolate and caramel on top (Figure 2).

FACT: Jumbo Krispies are not actually giant mutant rice genetically engineered by Kellogg's.


Chocolate Peanutbutter Corn Pops
Oh how I wished this to be what it looked like. Corn Pops with a sweet chocolate coating? Sign me up! We brought this cereal home and opened it within a day or two. Basically, they are round balls of chocolate peanut butter. Tasty on their own, but not exactly Corn Pops as we know them. See below.

Figure 3
Figure 3: an original Pop; notice the awkward shapes and glossy yellow sweetened coating. Each Pop has its own unique shape, like snowflakes. Pouring them out is like creating a blizzard of flavor in your bowl, and the puffy texture is reminiscent of childhood, not having changed in 87 years or so.

See the large size of the Chocolate Pops, which is a plus. However these are missing the signature puffiness we've grown to love from Pops, as well as the abnormal shapes. If you didn't know better, without a size comparison, this could be Cocoa Puffs, just substituted because we already finished the box of Pops when I needed to take this picture. You'd never know (they're not).


In conclusion, I would suggest to cereal companies forego the need to reinvent the classics. If you have a new cereal, just market it as a new cereal! Piggybacking something new onto something that is already successful might save a few dollars, but in the end it just leaves us breakfast lovers disappointed.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Goodbye, Farm

Ploch's Farm is closed for the winter. They actually closed a couple weeks before Halloween, which was kind of early for them. I think it was a bad year for produce. Even what I got from there was just ok, not great. Disappointing season for all, I suppose.

This little video was my project for the entire summer. I took a sunset picture every couple days, just ending last week, from the front steps of our building. These 31 frames are the best pics from those days, overlaid in Photoshop. I loved seeing how the difference in the location of the sun changed how the leaves on the trees looked; and the signs on the fence ("Oh! New signs! I better take a pic tonight!"), and the sunflowers. This was a nice project, I might do something similiar in the future.

*

*Sorry about the poor quality...I can't figure out how to make it better through blogger.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Alpha Follow-up

Last night I had a very big bowl of Alpha Bits (finishing them), and found one each of these letters, which I did not have initially:

T
E
M
H

Astute readers will notice you can spell METH now. Not sure what my Alpha Bits are trying to tell me.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Kids Say the Darnedest Things

6-yr-old Alyssa's Quotes of the Day:

"I won't work at a gas station!"

"Knock knock."
"Who's there?"
"Banana."
"Banana who?"
"Banana......that can talk.......and has 25 eyeballs! See, you just make it up!"

"I'm a pig like my uncle."

"Can we go to Starbucks? I always get a small caramel frappacino from there."

"I guess a lot of people saw me on the news."
(random reference to a local news segment about a kid's playroom she was on months ago.)

"I can spell two bad words: ....S-A-I-T ...A-S-S"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

An Investigative Investigation of Things

Cereal, Part One:
Alpha Bits, Less Than They Appear?


I remember when there were two kinds of Alpha Bits: regular and marshmallow. The marshmallow was amazing, but it is no longer available. My local Acme is the only store I've noticed the regular one in, so when it went on sale one week, naturally I couldn't resist.

Then one night, when it was finally time to open the new box (the Apple Jacks were finished), TG did so, and poured a bowl, exclaiming "What the hell is this?" The "this" in question:




Figure 1: amorphous blob.

A mutant blob of hardened frosting and bits, which was probably stuck in the corner of the coating machine tray for days before it got knocked loose into our box (I've seen "Unwrapped", I know how these machines work!). I'll admit it...I licked it to verify it was hardened frosted goodness. And yes, it was delicious. I almost threw it out, then realized it would be a great blog story. You're welcome, Internet.

Little did I know that it would also lead to other observations as we ate:
TG: "I don't remember them being so stale-tasting."
Me: "I do."
TG: "Are you writing down things about Alpha Bits?"
Me: "Yup."

Figure 2. Bowl as shown on box.
I do not remember the individual bits being so imperfect, but maybe I am putting a shiny glow on my memory and it was always like this. My bowl does not look as good as the one on the box either (Figure 2), which leads me to wonder how many boxes they sorted through to get a bowl that nice. In reality, the bits are only vaguely alphabet-shaped; Q, O, and D all look similar, and the number of broken bits leads me to think there were a lot of L's. I decided to further investigate the situation by counting the number of each letter in an average bowl of cereal. It promised to be a time-consuming process; good thing I am unemployed.

Figure 3. One bowl laid out.
The results: there seems to be an inordinate number of A's, B's, and Ds, as well as P's Q's and R's (Figure 3). You will also notice in the photo there are many letters of the alphabet completely missing. Indeed, I could not even spell "i do things" with one bowl of cereal. This was disconcerting, because any number of children learning to read could be learning with no E's and a bunch of misshapen D's. And about those D's: wouldn't they all be extruded from the same machine? Why are the variations in size so extreme? Upon closer inspection of the bowl pictured, I see there is an S, but actually, no other letters that I did not find in my bowl (what I labled V could be U, and N could be Z). So maybe there IS some truth behind the bits, and they are just working with an alphabet that is quite different than the one I learned at Cedar Grove Elementary.
FACT: Alpha Bits do not contain the whole alphabet.

Unfortunately, the Internet was no help in understanding the process of creating Alpha Bits. This investigation led to many more questions than answers, and I feel unfulfilled. I'm sorry I brought it up.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Cereals

I've written about cereals before, so this is nothing new. I've had a loving relationship with cereal for some time now, something which I think occurs in a lot of people, starting as children. Should I feel guilty for bringing That Guy over to the dark side, as he eats cereal regularly at night now too? My love of cereals of all kinds, as well as my dubious decision to buy eight boxes at one time (for reasons I am still trying to figure out), often leads me to want to share this love with the world.


This particular series of posts began innocently enough: I had gotten a box of Alpha Bits, which I hadn't eaten in years, and wanted to write about them. Upon closer inspection, questions came up (these questions will be covered in the first post). A search of the Internet and Amazon yielded no good information or books that could answer these questions.

My eyes were opened to the simple physical characteristics that make a cereal, be they good or bad, and what we remember about them. The frosty coating, crunchy texture, and odd shapes all come into account while eating, as well as memories, commercials, and characters associated. It all sounds very scholarly. I decided that cereal needs to be investigated, and that I am the perfect person for the job. The first study will be later this week. These will be a series of completely unscientific investigations of cereal conducted in the hopes of finding groundbreaking information and landing a lucrative six-figure book deal.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Grandmother and the Pyrex


I snagged these Pyrex bowls from my mother's house before she cleaned everything out of the basement. They were my grandmother's, and since she is now living with my mom, they were deemed unneeded. I found out later, my brother also had his eye on them, but I got to them first. Sorry, Russ. I made it up to him by buying him a new set. Not the same, I know.

Grandmother had these bowls in her little postwar-era row house in Baltimore. She never had a dishwasher, so they are in great shape. I vaguely remember them at the house, but it's one of those things where you remember just enough to make it special. Once, I broke the small blue one by dropping it in the sink. I cried. TG saved the day by finding it on eBay in a set with the matching red one. I got a sink mat after that.


I was incredibly lucky/stoked to find another set at a flea market the other day, but this one is orange with an adorable flower pattern. Three nesting bowls, and they are in terrific condition, all for just five bucks! And we have nowhere to put them!

These bowls were photographed on location in 1972. Actually, while my grandmother DID have very similiar linoleum and appliances, this is my actual kitchen. Commence pity in 3...2...1...