Thursday, May 28, 2015

Coconut Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've tried and tried to make wholesome butter based chocolate chip cookies.  They always turn out flat.  Yes, yes, I've tried to cut back on this or that, and the only way I can make chocolate chip cookies worth a hill of beans is to use butter flavor Crisco.  Nothing against butter flavor Crisco, but *blech*.  It's mystery fat.  I've been told good things about coconut oil, and I keep it handy for cooking in my house.  Turns out you can sub coconut oil (the solid kind) for the fat in chocolate chip cookies, and it comes out perfect!  Like magic!  And I can make chocolate chip cookies anytime that I've managed to successfully hide the chocolate chips away from J's uncanny knack to forage out any bit of chocolate in the house.

You have to melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan, and I ended up chilling the dough for a bit before baking the actual cookies, but it turned out great!

1/2 cup coconut oil.  (I used organic from Crisco)
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Put your two sugars into a single bowl.  Melt your coconut oil in a small saucepan until liquid.  Mix your coconut oil with your sugars.  Add your vanilla and egg and mix well.  Add your flour, salt and baking soda on top, and mix that into your sugar mix.  Add your fixings (choc chips, walnuts) at the end and mix well.

Chill for at least 15 minutes.

I usually roll them into little balls with wet hands because 1) wet hands means the dough won't stick, 2) rolled balls usually bake cleaner than scooped teaspoon balls and 3) my hands are easier to clean than any kind of scoop or spoon.  Don't be deceived by my brilliantly clean cookie sheets.   They are new.  My old ones looked nasty and have been retired.  If you are like me, and have nasty cookie sheets, throw down some parchment or foil and proceed.

Bake at 375 for 10-13 minutes, and cool on your rack before devouring.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Long Overdue

We'd been talking about Puerto Rico for a long long time.  It was an "easy" Caribbean get away.  No need to renew passports, change money.  Okay, there was this language barrier, but some people speak English right?

I hurt my foot in May of last year, and finally got around to seeing someone about it this fall, when I was unexpectedly given a walking boot and bad news about a long rehab time.  But we'd already bought our tickets!

I wore the thing religiously for weeks, even after the worse news that it was more than a hairline fracture but a torn tendon.   And as the date of our departure approached...I started walking around the house without it.  I was going to see how it went.   Would their be pain?   Would I be popping pills everyday?

The good news was that my time at home had shown me that without it, I was okay.  Gone was the troublesome pain that had brought me to the podiatrist.   Numbness sometime, but it was okay.

Note the blue tinged cobblestones of Old San Juan
I left the boot at home.   J promised to slow down his normal long legged trot and I started out with what I thought was my most comfortable shoes.

The first day there was brutal.   We were looking for a place to watch the Packers game, and I messed up the timezones so I thought the game was on four hours before it actually was, and I was freaked out.  We were accosted by a well-meaning but drunk expatriate who really wanted to give us directions to the bus.  And it was hot.  Really hot.  My water bottle spilled out into my purse.  That meant I had transferred some of the money floating around to my pocket, and when I pulled out my iPod to photograph a gecko, it flew over the edge of the cliff.  Goodbye $10.

But we had sherbet and found a bar showing the game.  At the right time.   By halftime, my leg was really weird.  It had numbness and pain all of the way down it and I asked if we could watch the second half from our room.  So we did.

Things got better after resting the leg.   I still had numbness around my knee, but the heel pain seemed to have abated.   We walked very little the next day, but I managed to get a pretty bad blister from the sandals that I chose.   We had a lot of fun at Bacardi Distillery (yummy pina coladas), and had a great meal, so I can't really say it went too bad though. Totally worth a blister.

 J got me bandaids and we headed out on day three determined to not mess up anything else.

And wouldn't you know it, I lost my footing while swimming and my knee got pretty badly scraped by the sand of the bottom of the ocean.   And that was on my good leg!  (Luckily, I already had band-aids and ointment.)  But again, bright side...great pizza and appetizer at a place near our Hotel called Nonnas!  Saw a beautiful rainbow at the beach!

Things could only get better, right?  We set out to pick up our rental car the next day, and get out of San Juan.

J drove, and handled the GPS.  First off...the GPS was goofy.  I put in Fajardo, which is where the ferry port was for our trip to Vieques.  It dropped us off in the middle of some strange neighborhood.  I managed to find a larger road by browsing the other maps and we happened upon a sign that pointed the way to the ferry.

the "old" Vieques ferry
I'd read about the ferry.  It was complicated.  You buy your tickets in one place and queue up in another.  You might not make the ferry you want and have to take the next one.  They seemed to discriminate against gringos.  Everything.  I was sure we'd be sitting in that hot and sweaty terminal for hours.  But it wasn't that bad.  And we got onto the ferry as planned.    The trip was 75 minutes.  I threw up about 60 minutes in.  Choppy waves did me in.  J stood the entire time and attributed that to his lack of seasickness, being able to constantly see the horizon.

And then, my phones wouldn't work.  Yes, phones.  I had both my and J's phone in my purse when the water bottle leaked on the first day.   One was stuck in an infinite bootup loop, and the other just wouldn't start.  So, post-ferry, post-vomit, post-GPS almost getting us lost, we had to walk about a mile uphill to our hotel instead of calling for a ride. And it was hot.

We made it there, and immediately just collapsed on the super big bed.  My leg wasn't too bad. We got a replacement cell phone (an unlocked international phone that had a somewhat murky provenance) and made plans for that night.  The whole reason for this trip to Vieques was the bioluminscent bay, Mosquito Bay. We made reservations for that night; we'd finally do something without causing injury or sickness.

The cat begging for potato chips at the Packer bar
And it was awesome.  There were 40 people in our group and I just loved it.  When you put your kayak paddle in, the water glowed around it.  As you rowed, fish would swim in front of the boat and you could see their luminscent outlines.  You could put your hand in and move it around and watch your fingers glisten.  You could sprinkle drops of water on your legs and watch them twinkle.  I got bit up by skeeters something horrible, but I didn't really care.  It was just so great.  I wish I could have taken pictures, but no flash would have captured it, and it was at 10pm at night.  Oh, and it was my birthday, so doubly awesome.

Vieques is beautiful.  There are wild horses all over the island; well...not exactly wild.  Pretty tame, but all over the place.  (Which means, watch your step!)  There are dogs and cats and roosters and geckos just strolling wherever they please.  It used to be a bombing range for the Navy, and half the island is pretty much off limits due to
unexploded ordinance.  But that also means it wasn't developed like other tourist areas and has vast stretches of nothing but trees and ocean.  So many beaches, and beautiful views.  Need a ride somewhere?  Hop on a van driven by an old man and pay him what you think he should be paid.

The next day, I wanted to rent bikes and go for a ride.  That didn't go quite as planned either; my bike had a flat and later a broken spoke.  We rode back slowly, both bonking in the heat.  We stopped at the tiny Vieques airport and met the Packer backer owner of their bar.  And the words most persistent cat begger, before returning to our hotel room and resting.

But the trip wasn't over; J was coming down with something and just wanted to get to the next place.  It involved another ferry ride, and then a drive up treacherous back roads to a mountainside B&B.   I didn't puke on the ferry ride this time, but the GPS still wasn't being helpful when it came to how to get to the place.  Luckily, I had the webpage saved on my iPod and managed to follow some of their instructions up a 3 mile long narrow winding and muddy dirt road to the most isolated and perfect B&B that I've ever seen.  El Hotelito.

El Hotelito is a flower farm and bills itself as the "Rainforest Experience".  It has 7 dogs wandering around, a cigarette smoking guru who attributes his health to "water, water, water" and 6 miles of beautiful trails.  We went to El Yunque National Rain Forest a day later and it just didn't compare to the beauty of this place.  J said to me, "We should have been doing this place all along."  I couldn't disagree.


 




That night, J suffered with a fever and a head cold, and I just read my book near open windows with the seabreeze upon me.  It was peaceful and really what I think I needed from a vacation.  Next time, we'll just find a place like this and relax; no more of this running from place to place.  Just the ticket.

Next time, no more big cities.  We'll know better.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

It shouldn't be this hard

This is a bit of a rant, so read at your own peril.

So….end user wants to buy a surface pro and after getting requisite approvals, I go online to buy it.

I end up on the Microsoft.com website and they have some sort of deal where you get a free sleeve for it.

However, there’s no way to send through a tax-exempt purchase.  So I call the help phone number that is on the screen.

And it turns out that because I called and I’m part of the University, I get 10% off.  
(So, if you were considering buying something like this, you might want to consider that into your purchasing decisions.)

And they sent me a code in an email from <verifyme@microsoft.com> to make sure they had the correct email and that I was part of the UW.  And that all worked.  

We did the actual purchase over the phone like in the old days, and I have to email a PDF of my tax exempt stuff to an email that they set up for this purpose, so I can get a refund of the $117 they are charing me in tax. 

(Amazon and NewEgg manage to not charge me tax and remember not to charge me tax when I buy stuff.  Yeah, I’m looking at you, Microsoft.)

Anyway, the guy who did all this for me said he was going to send a follow up email with the receipt so I can, you know, give the receipt to the powers that be to prove I did this according to regulations.   I didn’t receive the email.  Now, I got the verification email I mentioned before from <verifyme@microsoft.com>, but no receipt email.

So….I called today.  And I asked to have the email resent.  And again they verified my address with verifyme@microsoft.com, and again they said they sent the email receipt.  Na da.

I should point out that my two customer service reps were very nice and did everything by the book.  This isn't their fault. 

So...I have some access to our systems that others don't.  I checked my spam filter and I checked the email server logs.   I have nothing except the verification emails.  I posted something to the local technical persons lists asking if anyone else experienced this. 

And then... I got the "how did we do?" email.  Which is NOT a receipt.  And it had a link to a survey where I could rank my experience.  

So I did.

I filled out the survey, and even copied my notes above to detail the problems.

And then I tried to hit submit and got this:  (7 second movie)

https://uwmadison.box.com/s/l2yo5ub1huaqwz91ytb6

Wow.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Grapes Expectations


We have been planting grapevines for sometime, and this year, the are exceeding the trellises.


So the logical thing is to try to create a place for them to go.  I added the twine between them to allow the vines a little room, and they have gone with it.

Maybe we'll end up with a grape vine arbor yet.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Don't you care about the environment?

I have this grocery store semi-near to my work.   I often go there on my lunch break for their rocking salad bar, and to pick up a few things.

And as I was crossing the street (in the middle of a block, and climbing over a snowbank), I noticed someone standing on the corner outside the store.  She was wearing a heavy jacket and then a green reflective vest over that.   And I thought...."is she directing traffic?  what's up with the green vest?".

She caught me looking at her.  She waved me over.

"Hi, I noticed you climbing over that snowbank."

"Yeah, well, it wasn't difficult."

"I'm with Greenpeace and I'd like to ask you, do you care about the environment?"

What am I supposed to say about that?   Of course, I care about the environment.  

She went on and on, and I do agree with a lot of the very good work that they do.   They work with vendors to improve their sustainability and they protect areas of the Indonesia rain forest that are largely unprotected.   I remembered a documentary about the decline of Indoneisan orangatangs due to overlogging and it just made me sad.

"And so, why don't we just fill out the paperwork to make you a member?"

She flipped over her notebook and I scanned the paperwork.  I didn't want to pay a monthly fee.   I didn't want to give anyone my credit card number.  Especially since it was the same day the huge Target credit card breech was announced.

"Don't you have a form or brochure or something I could take instead?"

"It will take 60 seconds.   We can call the call center and then you give them your credit card and it goes really quick, I promise."

"Do you have a website?  I'd really feel more comfortable with a website and I don't have a lot of time."

I'm not going to dig out my credit card in the middle of a street corner and use a stranger's cell phone to talk to someone at a phone number that I haven't dialed myself and fill out a committment to give money to anyone, especially a monthly payment.

What the hell was Greenpeace thinking?   We've moved beyond this sort of thing.   Even if it is legit, it's dumb from a security standpoint.  If you are freaked out that Target might have spilled your credit card numbers to a hacker, think about all of the ways that hackers can get your credit card numbers in other ways, including things like this.

I made my "I'm out of time" excuse until she left me alone, hurried into the store, was completely discombobulated, bought a bunch of stuff without bothering to grab a basket, lost my gloves, checked out, tried to find my gloves, thinking I might have not brought them, and then retraced my steps and found them.   When I snuck out, she was accosting another person.

Greenpeace, really.    It's Madison.   We like you.  Get with the program and give us some security and we'll give you money.    You just can't do the hard sell.  Not anymore.



Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Influx


Each year, about this time, are state football championships.   And if you are out walking around, you'll notice crowds of high school kids walking around the big city.

I did it, when my high school came down to "State" for basketball.  I made sure to dress "cool" because I wanted to fit in.   I didn't realize how futile that is.

And what I'm sure they don't realize is how easily spotted they are.  Sure, they put on their best jeans and sweats, but they just don't blend in.

Because....
  • the UW students walking around are by and large alone.  There are probably a couple people talking and walking, but class change means "I need to get somewhere."
  • the UW students walking around either have a cell phone to their ear or a pair of ear buds in.   
  • the UW students wear a backpack, or carry a bag, or are laden with something.
  • the UW students don't care what they look like.  They've got on whatever they've rolled out of bed in.   
  • the UW students are wearing clothing for the elements.  By this time in the semester, it's getting cold, and that means you can't just wear anything you wish.  It's 2nd midterm time, so they are tired, cranky and just want to get to Thanksgiving without flunking their calculus exam.   Comfort is king.  That means mittens, hats and appropriate jackets.   
  • the UW students aren't hanging out by Camp Randall.   
  • the UW students don't wear high school sweats and letter jackets.   
  • there's a lot of glazed looking drivers trying to find parking. Oh, that could be anyone, really, but they are extra confused.  If it says no parking, but then it says 2 hour parking, but then it has a number on it, can I park there?  Yes, say the city folk, but no, you probably shouldn't.
Don't get me wrong; I welcome our visitors to our fair city and hope their team does well.   It's just that you've been spotted.   We know you aren't from around here.   We will smile extra wide at you and give you directions gleefully.   Enjoy your stay.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Inoculate!

When you find yourself with a dead tree, don't break out the saws quite yet!

You can inoculate it with mushroom spores instead!  Now, don't look at me like that.  It is dead simple, and all you really need is a freshly dead tree.  We happened to have a dead spruce that did not recover after the drought last year, and it totally died this year.  It so happens that there is a type of mushroom that loves spruce, called Chicken of the Woods.

Hen of the Woods
 When J and I first visited a friend's cabin up north, and we found a beautiful hen of the woods but were scared to eat it.  But when you inoculate the dead wood around your home, you know what you are getting.  

Of course, the "domesticated" version of this is a bit odd....it is orange.

So if successful, we might be having some orange mushrooms on our pizza!


First you need your gear.

And you will need your dead wood.

It needs to be recently dead, with no other mushrooms on it.

Yup, that is dead.

Then you drill some holes.  Dead wood is sometimes a little punky, so it takes patience.

The plug spawn are just dowels covered in white goo.  That
white goo is mushroom gold, I tell ya.

Pound 'em in.

Gaze upon your handiwork.


Instant Mushroom!  (Well, in about 9-12 months or so.)

Hopefully, it will be more successful than my beets!