Monday, February 19, 2007

Fresh summery fruit cocktail

What could be more welcome at the height of a New England winter than a fresh fruit cocktail of summery fruits?

My fruit cocktail recipe couldn't be easier: it's made of equal parts pineapple, strawberry, and seedless watermelon. Cut the fruit into small slices or chunks so that you and your family or guests can get a little bit of each fruit in each bite. I mix the fruit cocktail up and place it into the hollowed out pineapple (see my remarks on the pineapple slicer). If I'm taking it to a party, I put the excess fruit cocktail in a sealed bag in my fridge, put the top back on the pineapple, spear it with toothpicks to hold the top on, wrap it in plastic wrap, and I'm off to the party with it. If I'm serving it at home, I place the hollowed pineapple bottom (filled with fruit) at one end of a china platter shaped like a banana leaf, lay the (rinsed) top of the pineapple next to it, and pour the excess fruit around that. I then stick a number of toothpicks in the fruit for my guests to useas utensils to nab pieces of fruit.

It's a dramatic dish, delicious, and always a hit.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Spin dryer

I just bought a spin dryer (the larger one on the bottom) from "The Laundry Alternative". I'm very happy with it.

What's a spin dryer? Well, you take your clean, wet clothes from the washing machine and put them in the spin dryer, and it spins them up to 3200 RPM (less for the smaller model). This causes the water in your clothes to escape to the outsides of the spinning drum, where it pours through and exits the machine. In other words, it centrifuges your clothes dry. Spin dryers are more popular in other countries, but in the US they're mainly only used at gyms, to quickly dry swimsuits.

How do you use it? It couldn't be easier. You place your clean wet clothes from the washer into the spin dryer, making sure to distribute them evenly so it won't be unbalanced. You then close the lid and turn it on. (The one I bought is turned on by sliding a large latch over the lid so it can't be opened while on.) Water starts to come out of a spout on the device 20 or 30 seconds later, and you let it run until the steady stream of water levels off to occasional droplets, about 3 or 4 minutes total.

How well does it work? Well, it's not intended to be your only drying device, so it should be evaluated as what it is: a supplement. 100% cotton garments come out about half dried, and need to either be machine dried or air dried further. My 50% cotton, 50% polyester T-shirts come out about 90% dry, and simply placing them on a clothes hanger and hanging them up to air out resulted in them being dry to the touch in about 5 to 10 minutes. (I'd let them air longer before putting them away to ensure that excess moisture won't cause problems in the closet, but if I needed something to wear in a hurry, that'd do the job.) A similarly 50/50 button-down shirt got similar results. A 100% nylon shirt I placed in the machine came out dry to the touch - I would have been willing to put it on at once.

So why should you bother, when you have a perfectly good dryer already? Firstly, it saves energy. Because your clothes come out of it much dryer than they came out of the washer, they spend much less time in your gas or electric dryer, so you use less energy running it. Secondly, it saves time: When things dry faster, you get them out of the dryer sooner. And third, if you have some fully synthetic clothes, you might not need to do any further drying after running them through the spin dryer. And finally, if you have a pool, it really is ideal for quickly drying swimsuits after swimming - particularly if you have guests, so they can have their suits dry in minutes instead of having to carry them home wet in a plastic bag.

Spin dryers are a great idea for saving energy and time, and the one I bought is, so far, just wonderful. It has a nice big drum (it can take about half a load from my washer), it's fairly quiet (It's by no means silent but I could easily talk over it without shouting and it's hard to hear from the next room), and it's very easy to use.

I am not compensated in any way to endorse this product, I am a satisfied customer.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Pineapple slicer

One of my favorite kitchen widgets is my pineapple slicer. It's very easy to use. You chop the top off of the pineapple, and then the slicer is simply pressed into the pineapple and turned. It corkscrews its way down into the pineapple (although it's easier than an actual corkscrew) and slices as it goes along. When you near the bottom of the pineapple, simply pull, and it removes the sliced pineapple as it slides out of the body of the fruit. Then detatch the handle and slide the spiral-cut pineapple off of the slicer. One quick chop with a knife and you have cut pineapple rings ready to be eaten.

But the magic isn't over: you've also got a hollowed out pineapple (with a core in the middle, easily removed with a knife). I fill it with freshly made fruit cocktail, put the top back on, stick in a few toothpicks to hold it together, and bring it to parties. It's always a hit.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Diet drink mix - new options

Powdered sugar-free drink mixes come in a limited set of flavors, and frankly if you don't want lemonade, pink lemonade, or iced tea, you're often out of luck.

Kool-Aid brand drink mixes come in a variety of flavors, but are usually mixed with sugar.

The solution? Splenda brand artificial sweetener is now available in little envelopes, about the same size and shape as the envelopes of unsweetened Kool-Aid mix. The Splenda envelopes are labeled for use with Kool-Aid, and contain an amount of Splenda equivalent to the amount of sugar required for the drink mix.

In other words, you can buy a very cheap envelope of Kool-Aid, and a very cheap envelope of Splenda, add water, and you've got a pitcher of sugar-free beverage in your choice of a variety more flavors than you might otherwise have available as diet drinks.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007


I've been using Vonage for about a year now and I've been delighted. Here's why:

1) Unlimited calling is relaxing. It's nice to never have to think "I've spent enough on this call" or "ooh, I'm using too many of my cell minutes" when I use my vonage phone. I talk to my friends and family and anyone else I feel like for as long as I want and it doesn't cost me a dime extra. I can even hand my Vonage phone to friends and coworkers and encourage them to talk as long as they like.

2) I bought the UTStarcom F1000 WiFi phone from Vonage. It's a handy little cell-phone shaped device that works with almost any wireless network that is open or for which you have the password. Now, think about this for a minute: I have my wireless network at home, so it works there. There's a wireless network in my office, so it works there. And of course all my friends have wireless networks, so it works at their houses too. So where doesn't it work? Well, I can't just walk around on the street and make calls, although in a pinch if I turn it on sometimes it will find an open network and I can make a call. Also, if I'm having a meal in a restaurant somewhere, they often don't have WiFi, and most stores don't either.

3) That means I only need a cell phone when I'm out somewhere. My cellular usage dropped from about 1500 minutes a month (my work tends to use a lot of phone time) down to about 300, so I was able to switch to a cheaper plan on my cell phone. The savings pay for the unlimited Vonage plan.

4) Sad to say, I had a prank caller bothering me for a while last year, and was forced to call the police. The detective told me that Vonage was the best phone company they ever dealt with, and Vonage made it very easy for me.

5) Vonage emails my voice mails to me. I can't tell you how much I like that. I hate calling into a voice mail system (although I can if I need to), so getting my voice mails as nice convenient emails is just great for me.

Okay, so what's the downside? Well, to be honest, the phone's interface is kinda like a late 90's cell phone; it's kinda ugly and doesn't synchronize with my computer. So, the price I pay for all the conveniences above is that I have to enter the phone numbers manually into its dialing directory. I'll live. Most of my calls are incoming anyway. Oh, and the phone itself is a little ugly looking, but who cares? I don't see it when it's in my pocket or at my ear, and I bought it as a phone, not a fashion statement.

And no, Vonage doesn't pay me anything to endorse their service, I'm just happy with it.


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