Tuesday, September 25, 2012

No solicitors...please.

Two times in less than one hour.

Is this the number of times that...
A. Mitt Romney can put his foot in his mouth on an average day?
B. I daydream about our upcoming trip to Thailand and Hong Kong?
C. Jehovah's Witnesses knocked on the door Saturday morning around 9am?

If you picked C, you win a prize (although A and B are pretty darn close too). Remind me next time I see you =)

As a kid, I was always peddling something; whether it was wrapping paper for Christmas, hoagies (submarine sandwiches) for soccer or Bubba's nutrolls for marching band.  But I at least knew nearly all of our neighbors, and they, in turn, knew me. However, I feel that door-to-door salesman and other solicitors are so much more frequent in San Diego.  And they're not local kids or teenagers, but adults. Maybe it's the beautiful weather (beats the heck out of selling vacuums door-to-door in Bozeman, Montana), but it's become almost part of our weekend routine to deal with people selling something or other.

And I'm always torn in how to respond to these solicitors. Should I just be blunt and let them know they're not going to make a sale and to save their time for other houses that might? Or should I at least give them the courtesy of listening to their speil before turning them away?  Or should I give them feedback on their sales-pitch?  One lady came to our door and gave the most monotonous, unenthusiastic pitch about her clean-all spray; to the point that I wasn't sure when she actually finished. It was a bit awkward when I asked if she was done.

Maybe that's why I more often actually entertain conversation with the proselytizers, they actually believe in their product! Not that I agree with them on most things, but at least it encourages discussion.  I even feel bad when I recycle the teachings they give me...for a little.

Ah well...guess we need those blinds more than I thought!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Window Treatments

I've been trying to put this off because it's going to be expensive, but we've finally realized we need window coverings.  While most of the windows have some shade so it's not always direct sunlight, a few do, and I worry that the floors will be faded in no time with the year round sun we get here in San Diego.

We've looked at three places so far, although we have yet to get our in-home estimate.  I think the prices will be a bit of a reality check for our tastes, especially as no one is willing to give you real prices before they are in your house.  Mandy and I have always had tastes that don't quite fall in line with our wallet.  The three we've looked into...
I'm very much into the honeycomb shades but the feature most important to me is the cordless or LiteRise system. So much safer as well as being cleaner without a cord always hanging around.   As for the sliding glass doors, I think we'll be heading to Ikea to take care of them.  Talking with the guy from Affordable Window Coverings, it seems those could end up being very pricey if we went with the vertical shades or silhouette series. Either way, we need to get going on this.  We've been in the house now THREE months and the temporary shades are starting to look a little worse for wear (although it would only cost $10 for a new set!)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Not the one in Kill Bill...

I'm always amazed that despite our society becoming more and more technology dependent, internet and phone service seem to cost more than ever.  Smartphone bills are almost all near or over $100 a month, cable is the same and internet keeps getting pricier! We're saving over $100 each month by getting rid of our cable service and downgrading our internet bandwidth, which is another thing that bugs me.  We were on a 12Mbps service and cut it down to the basic 6Mbps and yet, there has been no discernible change.  I can still stream netflix in HD to the TV, skype works the same as ever, and i'm still managing to kick butt on Call of Duty online (don't tell Mandy!).  I wonder if there are programs out there that actually test the limits of your broadband connection so you know you're getting your money worth.... hmmm...

Anyways, I digress.  After cutting the cable, I started looking into alternative services for Mandy's mom's telephone line.  For a basic land line, she's paying nearly $60 a month for nothing but an occasional call to Hong Kong.  So I have been looking into VOIP programs and Costco is promoting one called Ooma. I had thought about Skype, but Mandy's mom does not use computers so that was pretty much not an option.
The biggest difference I found between other VOIPS and Ooma is that Ooma is a one time equipment fee of $129.99 with no additional monthly charges (except for state-regulated taxes).  I was rather skeptical so checked them out online, and if there FAQ sheet is true, her phone service with Ooma will soon cost only $4.00 per month.
There is a number transfer fee of $40 dollars, a one time charge, but all domestic local and long-distance calls are free.  Mandy worried about rates to Hong Kong which is what her mother primarily uses this line for, but it's only $0.029 per minute!  Makes me think of those old Sprint(?) adds where the taxi driver counted out change in dimes, "one minute, two minute, three minute" except I guess it's "three minute, six minute, nine minute".
So I'm going to set it up tonight at her house in LA and we shall see.  And if the many reviews online are to be believed, it should be pretty effortless.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bicycle search

I was wearing my Pedal Pittsburgh T-shirt (yes, from 2001!!) this Tuesday while attending a lab supply vendor show when one of the sales reps asked me how long the ride was and if I still biked. Can't believe it has been 11 years since we did the Pedal Pittsburgh, and I haven't gotten back into riding since then (unless you count the one summer I rode across St. Louis every day for work back in 2002). And I still don't have a bike!

Mandy and I have been talking about getting bikes forever, but other things kept pushing it back (bikes are rather pricey these days). So I decided to start the bicycle hunt now so that when we decide to actually take the plunge and get them, I'll be totally ready.

I've been looking mostly at the Hybrid/Commuter/Urban/whatever-you-want-to-call-it style of bike.  Figure we're not looking to do any road-racing, but want it to be comfortable enough to do a 20-30 mile ride if we really want to.  My bike back in college was a mountain bike and although I loved it, any ride longer longer than 10 miles left my back sore and my butt hurting. I was actually considering one of those recumbant bicycles, but good lord, they're in the $1500 and up range and I think we're more in the $400-600 range (which doesn't go nearly as far as it used to).

Consumer reports has been pretty much useless as they review like 20 bikes...total. That's like reviewing one car from each manufacturer for Car & Driver. Retahded.

The main models I've been looking at recently are the

Giant '12 Escape City
Electra Townie 21D
Jamis Commuter 3
or maybe the Trek Allant (very European looking)

The main features that I would like...
- no fixed gear bikes (lots of hills in San Diego and hell if i'm going to do them all in one gear)
- disc brakes (although cantilever would be ok)
- ?trigger gear shift (hated the last one, but maybe things have improved)
- fenders already on or fender ready
- potential rear rack for carrying stuff
- relaxed fork angle for a nice ride (no more mountain bike stiffness)

I think I need to start going to the actual stores and just get on the bike and take a test ride.
http://trekbicyclesuperstore.com/  San Diego, 4240 Kearny Mesa Road
http://www.bicyclewarehouse.com/   Kearny Mesa Location, 5710 Kearny Villa Road, Suite D
http://www.rei.com/stores/san-diego.html  San Diego REI Store, 5556 Copley Dr, San Diego, CA 92111

Guess I've got my next few weekends planned out!

East Meets West

So many types...so delicious looking!
Last week the medical student in our research lab brought in mochi balls to celebrate her last week with us this summer before heading back to school.  The mochi were all in nice little cupcake papers, however, so I asked where she had bought them.

"No, I made them last night."

"Whaa?! You can make mochi at home?"

"Yeah, they're super easy, you can do it in the microwave. Just rice flour, sugar and water, then add bean paste."


So within an hour of leaving work, I found myself in Zion Market perusing the aisles in search of glutinous rice flour and red bean paste.  After wandering for a while, I relented and asked this sweet little elderly Korean lady with a Zion apron on and she happily led me down an aisle. I just didn't have the heart to tell her that fermented soybean paste was not what I was looking for.  Thankfully I managed to find them a few rows down tucked on the next to bottom shelf.

There were quite a few recipes online, but decided to just go with the first one that returned after google searching "mochi with red bean paste" at Bakingdom.  Here is their original recipe:

1 1/2 cups glutinous rice flour
¼ cup sugar
2/3 cups water
2 drops red or green food coloring
1/2 cup cornstarch
one package sweetened red bean paste
  1. Combine the glutinous rice flour, sugar, water, and food coloring in a medium size microwave safe bowl. Using a rubber spatula, stir the mixture well until no lumps remain. Scrape away any excess liquid mochi mixture that may have been sloshed high on the sides of the bowl while stirring.
  2. Lightly cover bowl with plastic wrap and microwave for 2 minutes. Remove from the microwave and stir well. Dough will very thick! Stir as best you can with a sturdy spatula. Re-cover and return to microwave; heat for 1 minute.
  3. When dough begins to inflate while cooking, and then deflates with the microwave door is opened – it’s ready! If dough doesn't inflate during the previous one minute of cooking time, microwave for 1 additional minute.
  4. Remove the bowl from the microwave. Sprinkle a cutting board with half the cornstarch; scrape the hot dough onto the cornstarch and then pat the surface with cornstarch-coated hands. Stretch dough gently and use your hands to flatten it. Cut into 10-12 pieces. Place 1-2 tsp. of filling on a mochi piece and gently pinch the edges together to seal.
However, I think the ratios of rice flour to water really depend on the brand of rice flour you get.  My first attempt yielded such a thick "dough" that I could barely flatten it on the board to put any bean paste in.  On my second round, I took the advice of my much wiser wife and forgot about the amounts in the recipe and just mixed until it felt right, like a thick pancake batter (it ended up being closer to 1:1 water to rice flour with perhaps a touch more flour).

Even after changing the ratio so the dough was pliable after heating, mochi is still a hot mess.  Corn starch is a must and half the kitchen counter was coated before I was done. And I still couldn't get the beautiful round buns that they have in their pictures.  My experiments, although tasty, ended up looking more like....umm....red bean empanadas =)

But they still look kinda good? right? guys?


Monday, September 3, 2012

Palm Springs and Palm Trees

So on Friday I received my most recent Amazon purchase, Palm Springs Style Gardening by Maureen Gilmer and liked it just as much as when I got it out of the library. It is wonderfully arranged, starting with an introduction to desert/southwestern gardening and how it differs from other climate zones.  Particularly, it addresses choosing plants that will survive the heat  and how to help them do it. Although San Diego is quite a bit more temperate than the high-desert, I do like that she focuses on drainage and soil conditions.  Putting a cactus or succulent into poorly draining potting soil is just asking for trouble.

She then moves on into the various classes of plants in each chapter, with one on Palm Trees, Succulents, the Cacti, Euphorbia, Grasses, etc.  Enough to get a good idea of what direction to go, but not overwhelming.  I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Palms and the distinctions between the Mexican and Californian Fan Palms and the pinnate leafed varieties.  I think we really lucked out in that the two specimens in our front yard are California Palms (although that does mean they may grow up to 60 feet tall!!) 

However, reading the book also made me realize that I really did need to do some trimming of our trees, as they have several quite heavy looking fruit-bearing branches and according to some, pruning of these branches will help devote more resources towards nice healthy fronds and deep root growth. So I got our recently purchased bypass loppers and the ladder and went up.  The one towards the front wasn't too bad, it's only 15 feet or so up, but the larger one, wow, I had the ladder nearly the whole way extended.

Of course, I forgot to take before pictures, but here's what the two palms looked like after.  And the yard waste that I now need to go get a new garbage can for! (for yard waste recycling they don't provide the containers and up till now we had been throwing the small amount of weeds we picked into the trash...*cringe*)