Category Archives: Fun

A New Tesla in My Driveway

Tesla PowerWall

We took delivery of a new Tesla yesterday, and here’s proof of it sitting in the driveway.  You might notice that it is a litte small, missing some tires, a steering wheel and doors, that’s because it is a Tesla Powerwall.  This is probably as close as I’ll come to owning a Tesla car in the near future.

The Tesla Powerwall is a large battery pack that will work with our previously installed solar photovoltaic system that we installed on the house last year.  The power from the panels will be stored in the Tesla Powerwall during the day, and then we can use it in the house at night.

Right now, given the current cost of electricity this is about a 10 year ROI (Return on Investment), but I’m guessing that electricity will keep getting more expensive, helping to make this cost effective more quickly.

We are working with Duncan Renewables again as they did our photovoltaic panel installation last year.  Installation is happening right now, so more information after installation.  I’m happy to answer any questions if this is something you are considering as well.

My Favorite Baklava Recipe

Since people ask for my baklava recipe I thought I would post it here to make it easier to share. Remember I’ll need to have a sample to confirm that you have made it correctly. Several pieces actually would be nice.

This version uses honey rather than a sugar syrup, so differs from many of the other baklava recipes that I’ve tried.  Both are good, but I just tend to like this version.

Tools:

8″ x 12″ baking pan
Pastry brush (or I guess you could use a good paint brush (without paint))

Ingredients (most amounts are approximate):

2 lb (2 boxes) Filo dough (in the freezer or dairy section of your supermarket)
1/2 lb butter (226 g)
3 cups chopped walnuts
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup honey (somewhere between 1 and 2 cups should be fine)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C)
  2. Defrost the filo dough according to directions. If you don’t do this and are working with frozen filo dough, you will not be happy.
  3. Melt the butter in a bowl in the microwave. Melt additional butter as required.
  4. Brush the bottom of the pan with the butter.
  5. Lay down a single sheet of filo dough on the bottom of the pan and brush the top with melted butter.
  6. Continue laying down more filo sheets (buttering the tops every layer) until you have about 6-8 layers. Don’t worry if the filo breaks into pieces smaller than full sheets. Just patch a layer together from small sheets.
  7. Combine the chopped nuts, cinnamon, cloves, sugar, and nutmeg in a bowl. Spread about 1/4 of the mixture over the filo dough. Make sure you have spread the mixture evenly (don’t forget the edges and corners)
  8. Lay down another 4-6 sheets of filo (buttering each layer).
  9. Lay down 1/4 of the chopped nuts mixture.
  10. Lay down another 4-6 sheets of filo (buttering each layer).
    Lay down 1/4 of the chopped nuts mixture.
  11. Lay down another 4-6 sheets of filo (buttering each layer).
    Lay down remaining 1/4 of the chopped nuts mixture.
  12. Lay down remaining filo sheets (do the math ahead of time if it makes you happy, you need about 5 layers, with the top and bottom layer thicker than the in between layers). Butter between sheets.
  13. Butter the top of the filo with remaining butter.
  14. Cut the filo (before baking) into whatever shapes you want (typically diamond or triangle shapes). Make sure you cut all the way through to the bottom.
  15. Bake for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour at 350F (180C).
  16. Immediately after removing baklava from oven pour honey over the top while hot. Make sure to cover baklava completely with honey.
  17. Let cool and serve.

Black-headed Seagull – My Google Voicemail Stalker

I was one of the early adopters of Google Voice where you could have an additional telephone number for free that could be rerouted to another phone or go straight to voice mail.

Starting on May 16, 2011 at 9:15 PM I received the first strange voice mail from this phone number: +49223482433

“Black-headed seagull. Black-headed seagull”

Then on June 3, 2011 I received the next voice mail at 7:35 PM:

“22nd of May 1972, London. Police control West End one way street. 9th to the 23rd, Saturday. Police control West End one way street in London, 22nd of May 1972, 9th to the 23rd.”

That was it, no other information. I’m taking the best guess at the transcriptions here, so please let me know if you have any suggested corrections.

The next voice mail I received was on August 10, 2012 (over a year later) at 2:58 AM again from the same phone number:

“May 1972 in London. Spain could have been involved. Spain could have been involved. Tenerife. May 1972 in London Centre Room Club West End. Centre Room Club West End. May 1972. Spain could be involved. Tenerife.”

Next voice mail didn’t arrive until January 18, 2014 at 1:52 PM again from the same phone number:

“I refer to my previous message. Oui sans unique.”

The next voice mail was on May 5, 2014 at 2:43 AM:

“621 631 and 641”

And the last time I received a voice mail was on September 4, 2014 at 6:31 PM:

“Tutankhamun exhibition 1972 in London and San Francisco. Tutankhamun exhibition. CPU Africanos the African pupil. German criminal story set here. Also Baron Sootso”

So, who is this lady? A search indicates that it might be a Helga Keuler from Pulheim, Germany, but I don’t know this person.

Why is she calling me?

What is she talking about? Most of the stories don’t seem to exist.

Got a theory? Any more clues? I’m interested to hear your theories.

Pork Scratchings

Pork ScratchingsWhile the United States celebrates Thanksgiving today (I do miss my brother’s Buffalo Fried Turkey) I picked up a couple bags of Pork Scratchings from the Saint Nicholas Fayre going on in York.  What are pork scratchings?  They are the UK equivalent of pork rinds in the US.  But while most of the pork rind products I’ve had in the US have been the equivalent of pork flavored puffs, the pork rinds from this particular vendor are MUCH better.

First, they are sold in paper bags.  The scratchings quickly soak through the bag turning it slightly translucent.   All fatty products should be sold this way, as putting them into plastic or mylar defeats the purpose.  Next a bite.  Hard and crunchy on the outside (some of the big ones can be almost teeth damaging), but rich and fatty on the inside.  The salty flavor isn’t over powering and almost has a slight season salt taste as well, just makes this pork scratching perfection.

Thankfully, for my health at least, the vendor is only in York on special market days, but it is the new tradition to pick up a bag (or three) when they are in town.

So while we aren’t celebrating Thanksgiving today in the UK I’m trying to keep up the tradition of over indulgence.   Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

From Rag & Bone to Boney M

As I’m continuing my British education (and hopefully yours too) after my previous posting about Rag & Bone Men, I only just found out about the musical group Boney M., a huge disco hit from the 1970’s and onwards, but apparently not a big hit in the United States.  Go ahead and click play below on the Rasputin song and read on…..

I originally heard a song from them while listening to BBC York during my workday.  When my wife came home that evening I asked if she had ever heard of Boney M. and couldn’t believe I had never heard of them.  Even my mother-in-law knew the name and remembered the band and music.

I spent most of the day listening to the various Boney M offerings on YouTube, so catch up on your 1970’s Euro disco music and get educated.

The Rag & Bone Men

Horse Drawn Rag & Bone Man
Rather than the typical van that drove by we had a horse drawn Rag & Bone Man that came by

Since moving to York in the United Kingdom (since I used to live in the New York area I like to call this York the “original flavored York”) there have been several days when a large van would drive slowly by with a man shouting out the window.  From what I could make out he could have been yelling any of the following phrases:

“Fresh Corn!”
“Fresh Manure!” (the van had horse stickers on it and people do like to garden here)

When I asked our neighbour what he was yelling, he didn’t know either.

But yesterday there were several different versions of these guys drove by that I could actually understand what they were saying.  The phrase actually was:

“Rag and Bone!”

Turns out that these are Rag-and-Bone men, the scrap collectors of the UK, that drive by to pick up old unwanted items that they can sell for scrap.  Typically they are more interested in metal as it has a higher resale value, but will pretty much take anything.

You’ve Got to be Nuts to Eat a Cashew Nut Shell

Last November we joined our next door neighbors on a lovely trip to Brazil.  We saw lots of interesting places, met lots of interesting people, ate lots of interesting foods.  One food in particular fascinated me, the cashew.  For most Americans the cashew is just a nut (like a walnut or almond) and we don’t think too much about where they come from or what they look like.  My grandparents used to always have a bowl of shelled nuts and a nutcracker that you had to use to break the shells, so I had a pretty good idea of what a walnut and almond looked like in their natural habitat.  Not so with cashews.  In Brazil cashews are primarily a fruit (usually consumed as a juice) and only sold as an afterthought to tourists on the beach as the roasted nut that we know in the States.

The fruits themselves are very unusual, so it was great to see them in the local market and understand how they grow.  First the nut part appears on the tree (see the cashew nut shaped object on each fruit below), then the fruit grows after it.  Very different than your regular apple, pear, or peach.

Fresh Cashews at the Market
Fresh Cashews at the Market

Our host family usually had cashew juice for breakfast every day which I enjoyed.  The flavor is a little difficult to describe, but think of combining a lime and orange and a mango together and you are getting close.  They even brought a cashew home from the market so I could try the fruit directly.  We brought it back to our apartment and it sat in the refrigerator for several days.

On the day before we were to leave Brazil, I decided to try and eat the fruit.  It tasted pretty much like the juice, with a slightly mushy pulp.  The juice of the cashew squeezes out of the pulp so you are just left with a flavorless glob of pulp that you spit out.  Not too bad.  Now I had this nice little cashew nut shaped shell in my hand, I wondered if there might be a nut inside.  There is only one way to find out.  First I tried using a knife from the kitchen, but as I worked at the leathery slippery skin I was worried that the knife would slip and I might cut myself.  So why not just bite it open?  Okay.

I stuck the nut in the corner of my mouth to get a good grip on it and bit down.  Hmmmm, that tastes very odd.  Wow that tastes really bad!  A bitter taste spreads through the side of my mouth.  My teeth and inside of my cheek become sticky.  The corner of my lips start burning.  I ran to get some water to try and stop the burning and it didn’t work.  Next stop, the Internet!

Thanks to Wikipedia I found out:

The seed is surrounded by a double shell containing an allergenic phenolic resin, anacardic acid, a potent skin irritant chemically related to the more well known allergenic oil urushiol which is also a toxin found in the related poison ivy. Some people are allergic to cashew nuts, but cashews are a less frequent allergen than nuts or peanuts.

GREAT!  So basically I’ve just been chewing on the equivalent of poison ivy or poison oak.   Time to break out the big guns and start treating this like a poison ivy infection.  First I brushed my teeth with toothpaste.  Sort of helped.  Next I literally washed my mouth out with soap.  Bar soap didn’t work so well, dishwashing soap was better.  More water and more spitting later seemed to resolve most of the pain.

Then back to the Internet to find out what you are supposed to do if this happens.  Interestingly, they don’t say very much about this.  Do I go to the hospital?  Am I going to have a major allergic reaction on our flight back from Brazil?  We called up our host family and they just laughed and said you aren’t supposed to do that, and started to tell all their friends about what the silly American did with the cashew fruit.

That night the corner of my mouth just stung, but it was bearable, the flight back to the U.S. was okay, but things went downhill from there.  First my belly started itching, then my butt, then my arms, legs and under my neck.  I never really broke out in the usual poison ivy type sores, but everything was itchy.  Seven days after the incident I woke up and couldn’t see out of my right eye.  Nothing itchy, but just all completely puffed up.  This went on for a few more days before things started getting back to normal and most of the itchiness was gone in about a month.

Day 7 After Biting Cashew Nut Shell
Day 7 After Biting Cashew Nut Shell

So it turns out the one reason you never see raw cashew nuts (in or out of the shell) anywhere is that the nuts are surrounded by a nice little poison.  The pickers of cashew fruit are often affected by this oil, but that’s usually about it.  All cashew nuts that are sold are actually roasted to deactivate the toxin in the shells which is why you never see true “raw” cashew nuts for sale.

So next time you are eating unusual fruits that you know the fruit is edible and the nut is edible, stop for a second and check the Internet to see if some other part of the fruit might be poisonous.  You have been warned.

Free Art From Costco

My three year old son loves to take the receipt from Costco to the “receipt checker” as you leave the store.  Usually the nice person there will check the receipt and draw a little smiley face on the back of the receipt.  Recently my son has been asking for particular art requests and the Costco employee usually tries to comply.  Some of the results have been very humorous and I thought should be shared at a domain name like CostcoArt.com (domain doesn’t exist….yet), but someone else has already been collecting Costco receipt art on their blog here.  I’ll be posting our pictures there, but will also include ours on this blog as well.

2010-07-01 - Costco Art - Mouse - Everett, MA $9.92
2010-07-01 - Mouse - Everett, MA $9.92

Personally I think this one looks more like a bug than a mouse, but he tried to make big Mickey Mouse style round ears.

2010-07-27 - Costco Art - Rhinoceros - Everett, MA $337.32
2010-07-27 - Rhinoceros - Everett, MA $337.32

This rhino is only missing a couple legs, but it has a nice friendly look about it.

UPDATE: 4/27/2011

We’ve had a couple new additions to add as well.  We normally get these pretty generic smiley faces from the checkers who feel they can’t draw.  Sometimes they are pretty interesting.

2011-03-31 - Smiley Face - Everett, MA $268.96
2011-03-31 – Smiley Face – Everett, MA $268.96

And the mouse is an always popular option, but in this case it is sort of a cross between a mouse and a lion:

2011-04-21 - Mouse - Everett, MA $192.62
2011-04-21 - Mouse - Everett, MA $192.62

Expand Your Vocabulary: Mantrip

While on the phone today with a client (they are involved with coal mining in Kentucky) she mentioned they almost got run over by a mantrip today.  Since a mantrip sounded like something that it isn’t, I asked for more information and they were nice enough to take a couple of photos.

From Wikipedia:

A mantrip is a shuttle for transporting miners down into an underground mine at the start of their shift, and out again at the end. Mantrips usually take the form of a train, running on rails and operating like a cable car, but mantrips may also be self-powered, for example by a diesel engine. Other types of mantrips do not require a track and take the form of a pickup truck running on rubber tires.

Because many mines have low ceilings, mantrips tend to have a reduced height.

So, basically it is like a low riding golf cart where you can really lean back to avoid hitting your head on the ceiling of the mine.

Here’s the stealthy electric version that almost ran them over:

Electric Mantrip
Look at the lean back on that seat!

And the larger diesel powered mantrip that is used at the beginning and end of the shifts:

Diesel Mantrip
Larger mantrip used in the mines

So while you are having your next “man trip” to the local hardware store, you can now add the word mantrip to your vocabulary and impress your friends.

p is a shuttle for transporting miners down into an underground mine at the start of their shift, and out again at the end. Mantrips usually take the form of a train, running on rails and operating like a cable car, but mantrips may also be self-powered, for example by a diesel engine. Other types of mantrips do not require a track and take the form of a pickup truck running on rubber tires.

Because many mines have low ceilings, mantrips tend to have a reduced height.