Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Ginger-Turmeric Tilapia

Ah, Valentine's Day. It's a day for exchanging Hallmark cards with your special someone and wolfing down a special dinner. I thought it would be a romantic gesture for me to handle Valentine's Day dinner, so, while the kids got a heart-shaped pizza, I looked to Hello Fresh for a meal idea that I could make without worrying about whether or not it would actually be good. And nothing says "romance" quite like Ginger-Turmeric Tilapia with Buttery Coconut Rice & Green Beans, right? Don't answer that.

Of course, I was taken in by the description: "Want to take your taste buds on a trip to the tropics? We’ve got just the thing. This dish has warm and sunny flavors guaranteed to brighten up dinnertime. First, flaky tilapia is rubbed with golden-hued turmeric. After crisping up in the pan, it’s served alongside fluffy brown-sugar-simmered rice tossed with toasted coconut flakes and lime zest. There’s also a side of steamed green beans for a bright crunch. For a dynamic finish, the fish is drizzled with a ginger, shallot, and cilantro-flecked pan sauce. Now all you need is someone to bring you a piña colada!"

Well, instead of piña coladas, we went with Moscow Mules. But, who wouldn't want to take their taste buds on a trip to the tropics, especially in this cold, miserable weather? My work, studies and parenting duties demand that I stay close to home in-season, but, darn it, my taste buds were packed and ready!

In all seriousness, I think I kinda messed this one up. The tilapia fell apart and I botched the reduction. Plus, massaging turmeric into the tilapia left me with yellow fingers for the entire weekend. But how did it taste? Meh. It was okay, not spectacular. My girlfriend was a real trooper and choked down most of her tilapia like a good sport. Now, whether this lackluster dinner was the result of a design flaw or a launch failure is up for debate. Either way, this isn't something I'd have any desire to try to re-create on my own.


Monday, February 17, 2020

Insurance Scammer Says My Name Again

Another car insurance scammer called recently trying to get me to switch my insurance company to some fly-by-night scammer insurance carrier. When asked who my current insurance company was, I said "Zoo Station" insurance. The scammer then asked me if I had any DUIs. I said that I had had six and that I was due for another. "Due for a DUI" I said jokingly. When asked my name, I replied with the usual "Heywood Jablowme" and asked the insurance scammer to say it back to me. It took a few attempts, but when he finally did, I told him that he wasn't my type.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Crispy Monterey Jack Chicken

By Tuesday, it already seemed like it had been a long week. I've moved to a new, private office at work, had a ton of papers to grade, started work on a faculty lecture, had to medicate the dog's ears and started planning our Spring Break vacation. All things considered, dinner wasn't high on my list of things to think about. Good thing there's Hello Fresh.

This weeks box included Crispy Monterey Jack Chicken. It's also known as Monterey Jack Un-Fried Chicken, because you bake it in the oven rather than fry it in a pan. The description, which includes the promise of a quick prep and cleanup, sounded like it was exactly what I was looking for: "Crispy chicken is always a recipe for success. Add melty Monterey Jack and Ranch seasoning to the mix and you’ve got yourself a winning dinner. Once baked, the cheesy panko crust turns golden brown while the meat stays juicy and tender. The crunchy cutlets are served with sriracha-spiked mayo and sides of buttery green beans and crispy potato wedges. If this all sounds complicated—it’s not! 35 minutes is all you need for this delicious dish to land on your table."

I did most of the prep work right when I got home from work. I then put everything in the fridge for a few hours while I did some work from my home office. When dinner time approached, I kicked on the oven, put everything in and cleaned up while everything cooked. The end result garnered mixed reviews.



While the chicken was very tasty, I was personally a bit disappointed with the size of the portion. It's a pretty measly breast cut. In contrast to that, I felt that there were way too many green beans. Maybe this is an indication that we need more vegetables in our lives, but, I ended up saving about a quarter of these for lunch the next day. The potato wedges were okay, but not spectacular. I'm told that I needed to put more oil on them in order to crisp them up.

This is a meal that I would likely make on my own, though I would probably go with mashed potatoes or even a Little Potato Company product for the side next time.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Honeywell Z-Wave Light Switch

I've learned a number of things in my home automation journey:

  1. If the Roomba is missing, it's probably under the couch
  2. No matter how perfectly you schedule the thermostat, someone will adjust it manually on a whim. 
  3. Twisted pair switches are too big of a pain in the rear.  
Three of the four Geeni TAP Smart Wi-Fi Light Switches that I have installed in the bedrooms have been slowly falling out of their housings over the last year. This has been largely due to heavy use and the fact that the large wire couplers (one for load, one for line, and one for neutral) used to bind all the wires together took up so much space in the housing that I couldn't screw the switch in entirely. So, I decided to replace the wi-fi switches with Z-wave switches because they're less bulky thatn wi-fi switches. And, since Z-wave switches don't directly connect to a wi-fi router, I would also be able to cut down on the traffic on my home automation wi-fi channel. I've already got a Phillips Hue Z-wave hub, so I looked for switches compatible with it. If there are any, they are difficult to find. So, I broke down and bought a SmartThings Hub and purchased some Honeywell Z-Wave light switches.

There's a lot to love about the Honeywell Z-Wave light switch, not the least of which is the fact that it has receptacles for your existing wiring rather than requiring you to twist pairs together. But, even better than that, the Honeywell Z-Wave light switch can automatically detect your load and line wires, so you don't have to worry about screwing those two wires into the right port (just so long as you don't put either in the "neutral" port). They're also two-way compatible out-of-the-box, so that's a plus, especially since I have some more two-way switches that I'd like to add to my home automation plan.

I had each of these switches installed in less than five minutes, and it only took another minute to get my SmartThings hub to recognize them. There was plenty of space to fit the switches into their respective switch boxes and I was actually able to screw them in, which was a nice chance of pace. No more worrying about switches falling out of the wall.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Chicken & Cranberry Currant Pan Sauce

Nothing says "Date Night" better than cooking a meal together, so the girlfriend and I endeavored to make a Hello Fresh meal together. Out of the three that had been shipped to us, we decided to go with the Chicken & Cranberry Currant Pan Sauce with Scallion Couscous & Zucchini. The description provided by Hello Fresh seemed enticing: "You know those special sauces that make just about anything taste delicious? Meet your new favorite: cranberry-currant pan sauce. Currant jam brings a sweet, earthy taste while dried cranberries turn up the texture and tanginess. Spooned over juicy seared chicken breast, alongside a heap of scallion-flecked couscous and tender, roasted zucchini, this dish is sure to satisfy. Talk about a square meal bursting with winter flavor." At only 650 calories, it seemed like it would be a tasty, yet somewhat healthy meal to eat before hitting the couch to watch Napoleon Dynamite.

The zucchini was decent but forgettable, the tang of the cranberry-currant sauce was interesting but not overwhelming and the couscous was a great pairing with the chicken. It's a meal I would likely try to make on my own outside of Hello Fresh, though I would try to do something else with the zucchini.



Monday, February 3, 2020

Jeppson's Malort

During our Starbuck's Reserve Roastery adventure a few weeks back, we tried the Roastery Boilermaker which features malort, a Chicago staple alcohol that is so bad, few in their right mind would drink it straight. The Roastery Boilermaker mixes the malort with a lot of other things that mask malort's oddly pungent flavor, yet, my girlfriend was very insistent on trying malort straight. Though technically a bask, malort is very much like a wormwood flavored schnapps. Some aficionados swear on it as a remedy for stomach cramps and digestive issues.

I'm not unfamiliar with the stuff. My grandfather used to choke down a shot of malort after a rough day. He said it was akin to getting a slap back to reality. My mother and my grandmother always warned us that malort wasn't something we would ever want to try if we valued our taste buds. Yet, my siblings and I all kicked back a shot of the stuff at my grandmother's funeral back in the late 90s and I recall it tasting so bad that I wanted to follow her into the grave afterwards.

This weekend, I acquiesced to my girlfriend's whim and decided to pick up a bottle of malort from my favorite South Side liquor store. When I brought it up to the clerk, she asked me if I had intended to play a trick on somebody with it. When I informed her that it was for intentional drinking, she laughed and wished me luck.

Let me tell you in no uncertain terms: This stuff tastes terrible. It's distilled sadness. It goes down with the flavor of pencil shavings fermented in gasoline, which is bad enough. But, it's the aftertaste that gets you. It's like pencil shavings fermented in gasoline that have been set on fire. My girlfriend instantly regretted trying the stuff and likened it to drinking liquefied tree bark. I've still got almost an entire bottle left and have been trying to think of concoctions that might mask most of the malort flavor. Perhaps some kind of Moscow Mule knockoff involving grapefruit and a few shots of Old Style. One might call it a "Chicago Cow".

Malort has gotten quite a reputation with hipsters in the area and has become somewhat popular at a number of area bars. So, Malort is seeing a bit of a resurgence. All they need now is a cool advertising campaign with a catchy slogan to appeal to the masses. Perhaps something like "Had A Rough Day? It Could Be Worse: Jeppson's Malort".

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Clovis Needs Health Insurance

Clovis got a call from a health insurance scammer and was really pleased to hear from because he's in dire need of health insurance. Clovis was asked if he needed a policy for himself only and misunderstood, thinking that he was being asked if he needed a plan for his cell phone. Once that was cleared up, Clovis was asked how old he was, and he replied that he's 68 years old. The rep hung up after that. Must be some kind of ageism going on here.

Monday, January 27, 2020

SoxFest 2020

There Are DOZENS Of Us!
With all the great acquisitions that the White Sox have made in the pre-season, I decided that it would be pretty fun to attend this year's SoxFest in order to get hyped up for the upcoming season. It's basically just a big White Sox convention that features opportunities to interact with current and former players.

I want to give credit to the organizers of SoxFest for running a pretty tight operation despite SoxFest being such a large event. My daughter and I got to McCormick Place at 8:30 and the doors opened promptly at 9:00 with the line for entry moving very quickly. Once we got in to the event hall, there weren't any large crowd bottlenecks to speak of. That being said, the lines to get wristbands for "popular" player experiences like photo ops with Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu were very large and there was no way you could have gotten a space unless you had arrived very early or you had paid a VIP space. Still, spaces for experiences with former players like Harold Baines and Bo Jackson were reasonable. I was thrilled to have gotten a photo op with former White Sox player and Hall of Famer Tim Raines. It was extra cool because I happen to have a bobblehead of him celebrating his 2017 induction into the Baseball Hall Of Fame.

I appreciated the opportunity to peruse the White Sox Garage Sale which featured leftover past promotions as well as past game items for sale. I picked up a team gnome for the back yard for only $5 and my daughter got a super-cute White Sox bucket hat for a mere $10. Of course, there were also the typical ballpark food vendors like Begger's Pizza and Buona selling their wares at ballpark prices. Two dollars for a can of soda? I wonder if that is a standard McCormick place price. I'd have been much less inclined to pay if if the food court and/or the Starbuck's had been open. But, that's a minor concern and is a pretty typical experience whenever you're a captive audience like that.

So, all told, we had a pretty great time at SoxFest 2020. Next year, though, we're doing a VIP package.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Clovis Needs A Lower Interest Rate

Clovis needs a lower interest rate on his credit card, so he was pretty happy when a credit card scammer called him to offer him a lower interest rate on his credit card. The rep kept asking Clovis on which card he needed a lower rate, and Clovis kept saying that he needed a lower rate on all of them. When the rep asked for Clovis' credit card number, Clovis said his Visa was the first card, his Mastercard was the second card, etc etc. When asked to read the number off of his Visa card, Clovis read the 1-800 number off of it. The rep eventually got tired and hung up.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Spicy Honey-Lime Chicken Tostadas

I don't know that I had ever eaten a toastada before, much less made one. My preference for Mexican fare tends towards offerings that include soft-tortillas. A toastada is just a tortilla that has been fried or toasted, so I figured that trying to make some wouldn't be an daunting task. Thus enters the Spicy Honey-Lime Chicken Tostadas with Jasmine Rice from Blue Apron. The description that Blue Apron provides seemed enticing enough: "This zesty Mexican meal pairs crispy, oven-toasted tortillas with tender glazed chicken and carrots, which get irresistibly spicy-sweet flavor from a combo of honey, fresh lime juice, and fiery chipotle paste—tempered by dollops of cooling sour cream. We’re serving it all with a side of fluffy rice brightened with lime zest."

Preparation was much easier than I had expected. I even managed to chop the garlic without taking off a piece of my finger. One of the toastadas did, unfortunately, bubble a bit too much which made for an awkward eating experience.

Here's how it turned out (click on each image to see it in more detail):



Everyone really enjoyed this one, though it was debated whether or not one should eat a toastada with one's hands. Though, I can understand the desire to break the meal up with a fork and eat it by the forkful. I say: Why stand on ceremony during a family meal? We all decided to eat them with our hands. And they were a huge hit, though I probably should have backed off on the garlic a bit. This is a meal that I would love to attempt to make completely on my own, or, at least, I would buy it again from Blue Apron the next time it comes around.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Tasting The 2019 Samuel Adams Utopias

I have been very excited to try the 2019 Samuel Adams Utopias that I received as a Christmas Gift. In fact, I was so excited, I even went through the trouble of recording an entire video to document my experience. However, in the week that it took me to edit the video, I had second thoughts about the method I had chosen to express my feelings about tasting the 2019 Samuel Adams Utopias. I had watched a number of beer tasting videos in order to prepare for making my own, and I find that watching someone throw back a beer doesn't interest me. On some level, it also kind of disgusts me. Certainly, nobody wants to watch me do that. And it seems to me that since the viewer can't smell the beer and taste it along with me, it's far better to express my thoughts via the written word.

This Sure Doesn't Look Like Beer...
I experienced a small amount of dread just before I twisted open the bottle of Utopias. I had been chasing this unicorn for at least 10 years. What if I didn't like it? What if the very smell of it made me want to boke? I put those concerns aside as I steeled up my nerves and popped the bottle cap that sits under the decorative cap. There was no "fwoosh" sound as I opened the Utopias, which one should expect since Utopias is not carbonated. Immediately, my nose was greeted with the pleasant aroma of toffee, molasses and wood. It smelled very much like a cognac with a pronounced alcohol aroma.

Samuel Adams Utopias is meant to be enjoyed one ounce at a time, hence the rather small size of the official Utopias glass. I'm reminded of a story involving my father. As a worker for the federal government, he was on furlough during the Clinton shutdown of 1996 and I was on Christmas break from college. He and his work buddies decided to commiserate at their favorite restaurant and I was invited along. While there, the group ordered a round of cognac which I slammed down as quick as possible. Everyone was horrified. As a college kid, my thinking was that I was being given a shot of alcohol in a fancy glass. My father, however, informed me that "good alcohol is meant to be sipped, not gulped down". And that's true of Samuel Adams Utopias. Even though it's technically a beer, you're supposed to sip it like a fine liquor.

And sip it, I did. I sat by the fireplace and sipped the Utopias and just focused on enjoying this Holy Grail of beers. And it tastes a lot like a cognac with a little hint of beer flavor. It's a decadent taste that's a little fruity with hints of cherry and vanilla. There's really nothing that I can compare it to because it's so unique. I definitely like it, but I also see it as something that I'll only break out for special occasions. I've told my daughter that, if I ever die, she'll have to either bury me with the bottle or cremate me and store me inside it. It's that good.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Fig & Goat Cheese Beyond Burger

I spent a decent part of my Holiday break watching documentaries on plant-based diets. I recognize that there's likely an inherent bias in such documentaries, but I figured that cutting back on meat at least little bit isn't a bad idea. The girlfriend and I decided to try to challenge ourselves to eat one completely plant-based meal a week. To that end, my first contribution came from Blue Apron with their Fig and Goat Cheese Beyond Burger with Roasted Cauliflower & Spicy Lemon Dressing.

Beyond Meat is one of those plant-based meat alternative companies similar to Impossible Foods that are attempting to mainstream plant-based foods by trying to mimic the taste and texture of meat. Beyond Meat uses pea protein and no soy whereas Impossible Foods uses potato protean and does use soy. The nuts and bolts don't matter that much to me at this time. I just want to know how it tastes.

The BlueApron description sounds enticing enough: To give the plant-based Beyond Burger™ incredibly savory-sweet flavor, you’ll pair it with an easy sauce of sautéed shallot mixed with fig spread and dijon mustard sauce, then layer it all on soft buns alongside tangy goat cheese for creamy contrast. We’re serving it with a delicious side of roasted cauliflower tossed in a bright dressing of fresh lemon juice, sweet currants, and spicy crushed red pepper.

We briefly considered not telling the kids that they were eating plant based burgers. A Folgers Coffee type scenario played in my head where I thought "We've secretly replaced the ground beef that these children usually eat with plant-based protein. Let's see how they react....". We ultimately decided that deception on that level is not cool, so we were fully open with what we would be serving. The kids weren't looking forward to it nearly as much as the adults were. The adults saw it as an adventure. The kids saw it as a punishment.

Meal prep was easy enough. I had never cored a cauliflower before, but that's not much of a task. I did, however, start to waiver when I opened up the packaging for the Beyond Meat patties. They smell like a laundry basket. But, the patties cooked up nice enough and I could hardly tell that I wasn't cooking an actual burger.

Here's how it turned out (click on each image to see it in more detail):



As for the taste, my own personal thought is that the burger tasted fine for the most part, but just before swallowing, I noticed a taste that I could only describe as "earthy". It's not bad, or bothersome, it's just noticeable enough for me to be very aware that I'm eating a plant-based burger. I suspect that if I had been more liberal with the fig-mustard sauce and the goat cheese, the taste would have been less noticeable. If I had to eat this sort of burger for the rest of my life, I wouldn't be inclined to run out into traffic. The cauliflower tasted really good in the dressing and that was the real star of the meal for me. It was the perfect mix of sweet, acidic and peppery. It made me not hate cauliflower for once.

The kids had a lot less of a negative reaction than we expected. My teenage daughter said that she liked it just fine, but she couldn't get past the fact that it was plant-based and was not inclined to take more than a few bites. The younger kids wanted nothing to do with it at first, but ultimately tried a few bites before requesting "real" bugers. The cauliflower was a hit all around, though. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Clovis' Wife Is A Big Spender

Clovis was very happy to hear from yet another credit card scammer, because Clovis owes a ton of money on his credit cards. You see, Clovis' wife had run up over $50,000 of credit card debt on his cards and he needed to get a lower interest rate in order to make those payments. How lucky it was that the scammer called Clovis with just such an offer! Clovis could barely contain his excitement and notified his wife, telling her to "pass the yams". When Clovis tried to commiserate on the subject of his spendthrift wife with the credit card scam agent, the agent kept ignoring him. Clovis asked the agent several times if he was married, to no avail.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Skyrim: Killing A Cave Bear With Unrelenting Force

It's New Year's Day and I've got the day off. I spend a good part of the day playing Skyrim on my Xbox One. Now, normally, I wouldn't gush online over such an old game, but, despite Skyrim being around 8 years old, I'm still amazed at how well it has held up over time. While playing today, I got attacked by a cave bear on a hill. I used Unrelenting Force on him hoping to briefly stun him and then go in for an attack. As it turns out, my Unrelenting Force shout made the cave bear roll down the hill so much that it killed him. The kill didn't register until the cave bear stopped rolling down the hill, so I didn't immediately realize that it had died. Check out the video for yourself:

Monday, December 30, 2019

iRobot Braava Jet 240

My iRobot Roomba has been a real workhorse over the last several years and it shows no real signs of slowing down. It sits patiently in my living room and is ready to give the carpet a good cleaning at a moment's notice. It's not really suited to kitchen mopping duty, though. So, I thought it would be a great idea to enlist the help of a robot mop to help clean up the kitchen and dining area. After looking very long at the iRobot Braava Jet m6, I went with the smaller, less expensive iRobot Braava Jet 240.

Whereas the Roomba vacuums sit on a charger until you activate it, the Braava Jet 240 is more suited to be put away in a cabinet until you're ready to get it out to mop. It doesn't sit on a charger, rather, it comes with a rechargeable battery and a plugin charger. Once you're ready to have it mop, you select a mopping pad, either dry, wet/dry or wet and you set the little guy on his way. You can also pour some iRobot brand cleaning solution mixed with water into Braava Jet's tank for a little extra cleaning power. Personally, I use Bona, a water-based solution and I'm happy with the results. You can also purchase washable re-usable pads, but, for now, I'm content to use the disposable ones that came with the Braava Jet 240 as they seem to do the job just fine.

My kitchen and dining area is shaped like a T and is about 250 square feet. There are four entry points, three of which can be closed off by simply shutting the door. There's an open entry way from the kitchen into my living room, which I usually use an iRobot virtual wall to keep my Roomba from crossing over. The Braava Jet 240 doesn't respond to virtual walls, though. Rather, it has a "virtual wall mode" where you can start the Braava Jet 240 in a certain position and then tell it not to mop anywhere behind where you started it. Which brings me to my next point: unlike the typical Roomba, the Braava Jet doesn't navigate by randomly bumping into things. Instead, it navigates the room in a methodical manner and actually maps out the room.

But how well does it clean? Well, it's not a vacuum, so, if you have a decent sized mess, you're actually going to have to either sweep your kitchen or run a Roomba through it because the dry mopping pad will only do as well as a Swiffer Sweeper would. The damp mopping works pretty well and seems to take care of all but the most stubborn food stains. For best results, I run the Braava Jet 240 in dry mode and then in wet mode and it seems to do a good enough job.