31 October 2016

Winter Is (Not) Coming

I could have told you, prior to the release of any scientific data bolstering the point, that this past Winter was one of our warmest on record (in modernity). And pray tell, how would I know this other than the fact that I barely needed a coat all season?

Well, first there was my unceasing allergies — it was so mild naughty things kept blooming right on through the Winter. "Winter? We don't need no stinking Winter," said the Flora.

And second, the backyard chickens kept by two different neighbors never ceased laying eggs. You heard me right. This is significant.

Normally, most chickens "in the wild" — as in, those not in an artificial daylight environment commercial operation — will cease laying eggs with the coming of Winter as the days grow shorter and it stays cold and dark for longer periods. However, the seasonal changes were so slight this time around that these chickens never received the necessary cues to wind their biological clocks down. They just kept on ticking all year! Poor chickens!

We know humans have issues galore when our circadian rhythms are knocked askew, so what happens when we reach the point where the chickens don't come home to roost?

It's this week's "Sign of the Apocalypse".

NOTICE: This post is a reblog from (the now defunct) castlemodern.tumblr.com. It was originally published 24-Mar-2016. Post may have been edited or updated from its original text.
Author's Note: The above post is the reason I moved CM to a platform with full commenting features. I admit the post is a bit tongue-in-cheek --- I had recently read Sports Illustrated's Sign of the Apocalypse blurb, after all --- but really... the post garnered several "notes": one is someone pointing out there are chicken breeds which lay eggs year round so it wasn't due to climate change and another is someone reposting it to his tumblr with the addition of this little tidbit: "Chickens' egg-laying cycles respond to light cues, not temperature cues, as far as I know. People who want their..." 

I wanted to respond but had no desire to keep reblogging the post merely to make a comment. In my opinion, there wasn't an easy way to start a back-and-forth discussion on tumblr. I needed to rethink things and eventually decided to move my website to a different platform so that I would be able to engage readers, discuss, and even argue points in-line.

My comment is this: 
Climate Change is an important topic to me; however, even though global warming has been observed to interfere with the normal lifecycles (and breeding cycles) of various bird populations, I honestly didn't believe that one or two cases of our neighborhood's chickens laying eggs year-round meant the world would implode tomorrow. The post is mostly an interesting observation that all the neighborhood chickens, though different breeds, were oddly in sync and not be having normally. (One neighbor has kept chickens for over 20 years and has never before recalled her chickens not stopping laying eggs in Winter.) More data would need to be collected to determine causation, obviously. 
My second point is a direct response to the comment above regarding light cues vs temperature cues being the key to chickens' egg-laying cycles. Have we forgotten as much basic science as this? Light and (heat) temperature are often nearly interchangeable. Light has an inherent temperature gradient. Light cues include temperature cues by default. (Oversimplification, yes, but apparently it's needed.) 
If you think chickens do not respond to temperature changes or that said response can affect their ability to lay eggs.... urgh! Be very afraid, World, for we are actually doomed.

30 October 2016

Iced Coffee @Keurig

Although my Keurig 2.0 K450 is lousy at making hot coffee (see this post for details), turns out lukewarm coffee makes a perfect base for iced coffee drinks. We're in the middle of a mini heat-wave here — already experiencing the equivalent of early Summer temps prior to Spring's arrival — and iced coffee is just what the doctor ordered.

Thus, my Keurig (not so) Hot has turned into a spiffy Keurig Iced machine!

NOTICE: This post is a reblog from (the now defunct) castlemodern.tumblr.com. It was originally published 14-Mar-2016. Post may have been edited or updated from its original text.

29 October 2016

So Soda Me Sodastream

I did warn you that I love beverages. All kinds of beverages. I like alcoholic beverages, I like EANABs (that's Stanfordese for Equally Attractive Non-Alcoholic Beverages, by the way). I LOVE soda. I could drink it all day.

But, of course, I realize that only drinking soda would be so bad. So I try to mix things up. And while I don't deny myself anything that I desire (foodwise) I do try to make healthier choices, on the main. I still drink Coke, Cherry Coke, Cherry 7UP and Cheerwine, but not every single day. Everything in moderation, as they say. No, I haven't given up drinking soda, however, nowadays I often make my own.

DIY Soda: Customizing ingredients means that even soda can be relatively healthy. For most creations, I start with seltzer water that I make with my Sodastream. (I own two machines. One for the kitchen. One for the bar-room. Both won as a prize in (separate) contests.) And then I'll add all sorts of stuff. Fresh fruit, juices, spices, etc.

I collect homemade soda recipes (and recipe books) and enjoy experimenting. I will also sometimes make use of the soda syrups and water enhancers one can purchase from the store. I often create new flavors by mixing whatever's on hand. It's great fun.

I really do love my Sodastream machines! Not only are they easy to operate — a good marriage of form & function — but they're green tech, requiring no electricity. I also "recycle" the CO2 tanks by exchanging empties for discounted price full ones.* (I'm big on building a sustainable estate and minimizing my carbon footprint so green tech is a win.)

*Several stores offer a discount for exchanging the CO2 tank vs simply purchasing a new full one. One can also purchase adapters which allow for cheaper cost refills.

Plus, another benefit of DIY soda is that I get to determine the level of carbonation (up to a saturation point) AND give my thumbs a workout. And I am a fizz fiend. Look at all those tiny bubbles… (And yes, that is a Don Ho reference.)

Having a Sodastream machine also encourages me to drink more water. I find plain water boring, but flavored fizzy water is great. Then there's the fact that fresh seltzer water can make awesome mixed drinks. Why do you think I have a second machine especially for the bar?

A Sodastream machine is definitely well worth the modest investment, if you like beverages as much as I do. Getting two machines for free? Well, that was a bit like winning the lotto, but only a scratch-off.

NOTICE: This post is a reblog from (the now defunct) castlemodern.tumblr.com. It was originally published 27-Feb-2016. Post may have been edited or updated from its original text.

28 October 2016

Keurig 2.0 K450 < Hot

As a coffee-lover, gadget geek and slave to convenience, I'd been keeping tabs on Keurig since its brewers first debuted, but had initially shied away from purchasing one because I didn't like the flagrant waste the K-Cups generated. However, once reusable filters were developed for the machines, which would allow me to compost my coffee grounds and not generate tons of trash that couldn't be easily recycled, I became more excited and started to seriously consider getting a Keurig.

Mind you, I still thought the ~$200 price point was a bit steep for such a gadget — considering I can use a single-cup pour-over filter for cents on the dollar — but I figured I'd find a good deal and eventually score a discounted one. Around Black Friday of last year, I got a Keurig 2.0 K450 single-serve + carafe coffee brewing machine using a gift card I earned writing some online knowledge-base guides. (I'm all about thrift and economy.)

I enjoy coffee. I'm big on beverages in general. And the thought of being able to quickly brew a cup of coffee with the "touch of a button" made me long for frosty mornings and the simple beauty of holding a hot mug in my hands while watching the steam rise over the rim.

So to the Keurig: it's quasi-modular (the H2O reservoir snaps easily onto its side) and black so it fits well with my plethora of other small kitchen appliances. It's a snap to operate. Simply touch the [ON] button, wait for the machine to pre-heat the water, lift the arm and insert a pod in the chamber, place a cup under the spout, select a brew size and/or type, and press the brew button — all of which takes roughly two minutes. It's so simple that my technology-inept siblings can operate it with ease.

I could customize everything quickly. Choose to brew a (4, 6, 8 or 10 oz) cup or a 3-4 cup carafe, choose to make it strong, or use various prefab K-cups to try a variety of coffee, tea and other beverages (or soups/broths). In spite of the DRM, I could brew what I wanted, how I wanted it. (The DRM is so ridiculously easy to defeat, if need be, I won't bother detailing how-to do it.) I thought I was in love.

Then I tried to drink a cup … and was disappointed. The coffee was lukewarm.

Yes, for all its convenience factor, for all its tech promise, the Keurig 2.0 K450 failed at the most basic tenant of coffee-making: producing a piping hot cup of coffee.

Despite being a gadget geek, I thought perhaps I was at fault. (I wanted it to be my error.) Did I miss a temperature setting? Had I not touched an unseen "hot" setting onscreen? I'd been snookered by the promise of one-touch brew heaven. I took to the internet. I did a little research and tried all the suggestions for "making a perfect cup in a Keurig". I warmed the mug, etc., etc.. but all the suggestions still resulted in lukewarm coffee.

Keurig literature states that this model does not have a temp change setting but that it is supposed to brew coffee to 190 degrees, presumably determined to be the perfect cup temperature by its coffee gurus, but my brewer doesn't produce anything near this. I measured it time and time again, and the best temperature I could get it to produce is 158 degrees, quite a bit off the 190 degree standard.

Was it a fluke? A defect? Back to the internet, this time to read reviews and complaints. I found consistent reports of people saying their machine did not heat the water well enough to make hot coffee. (There was even one fellow who stated this as the reason why he returned his purchase.) And while no-one quoted the actual brew temperatures their machines were producing, it seemed a common enough issue.

I considered returning the machine, but didn't. (It was basically a freebie anyway; the deal I scored when I bought it was that good.) Besides, one of my tech inept sisters loves it, even though she needs to microwave the cup of coffee to achieve a piping hot serving. She likes coffee but was too lazy to use a traditional brewer. Plopping a K-Cup into the chamber and pushing brew is about the most she can do. I think she considers walking to the microwave afterward some form of exercise. So I kept the machine for her benefit. She's excited by it. The dweeb.

But I am a gadget geek and I say, "Keurig, you can do better." This should be easy to correct.
My Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5). The machine would be nearly perfect if it actually produced hot coffee. It doesn't and that's a pretty important thing for a coffee maker.

NOTICE: This post is a reblog from (the now defunct) castlemodern.tumblr.com. It was originally published 17-Feb-2016. Post may have been edited or updated from its original text.

27 October 2016

Draftmark… If Only They’d Let Me Drink and Be Merry!

As I've mentioned previously, I'm majorly into beverages. Call me a drinks master; I said drinks-master, not Drunken Master. (Sorry, Jackie Chan.) And while I'm not a daily beer drinker, I enjoy the thought of a nice cold draft and do drink beer upon occasion. Additionally, I happen to have a lot of mates who absolutely love beer. Do you like beer?

As a result, I love the idea of having a tap system in my home bar. I mean, it is a bar. And though one day I plan to install a full multi-tap system (DIY project anyone?), there's a product currently on the market which easily allows me to add a "counter-top" tap or two.

Some background: I was lucky enough to do a home product trial of the Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) Draftmark Home Tap System [draftmark.com] when it launched in limited markets several years ago, and I thought is was a solid product. Powered by a rechargeable battery "pump", the portable unit [MSRP $49.99] sits in one's fridge and keeps a 1 gallon (128 oz) beer refill [MSRP varies by brand but prices range from approximately $11.99-$19.99], called a Brewer's Barrel, fresh for roughly a month.

Draftmark launched with 5 brands of beer available as refills. Bass seems to have exited the lineup since then according to what's currently listed on product website, but one can get refills from Budweiser, Shock Top Belgian White, Goose Island India Pale Ale, Goose Island Honker's Ale, Michelob AmberBock and Michelob ULTRA. The varieties one is able to get vary by market. But there have been a few hints from recent social media postings that AB InBev is planning to add more brews to the available refills in the coming months. One can hope.

The Draftmark system also came with a starter set of neat little magnetic brand medallions that attach to the handle to denote the brew currently on tap —including a plain Draftmark logo one to use if no corresponding brand medallion is at hand — and promised more medallions would become available as more brands were added to the refill lineup. (In a nice gesture, Draftmark gave away Shock Top Pumpkin Wheat medallions via a Facebook promotion one Autumn to commemorate the seasonal beer's availability "on tap".)

The portable Draftmark unit could be easily taken on picnics, boats etc. with the purchase of accessories like the Draftmark Gel Wrap, a cold pack (sleeve) which keeps beer chilled for ~4 hours in lieu of the unit sitting in a fridge — perfect for a tailgate. There was also a rebate promotion on the system when it launched at retail which made a reasonably priced small kitchen appliance a great deal (for anyone who likes beer or frequently entertains beer drinkers). It was (and still is) a very promising product, well designed and simple to operate. And who doesn't love the idea of fresh draft beer on tap?

Unfortunately, however, AB InBev couldn't seem to decide if it wanted to support the product. The roll out wasn't exactly smooth. Finding the tap system and more to the point, its beer refills, could be extremely difficult. What good is an empty tap system? As a result, after my initial product test I'd relegated it to a shelf in my gadget closet, the place where things sit until they can be useful, waiting for the day when I could add it to my home bar, in pride of place.

Draftmark is still seemingly confined to limited markets, but is finally expanding, albeit slowly: Target was recently added as a vendor toward the end of last year — around the holidays an Ibotta app rebate was available on the Draftmark system when purchased at Target. Walmart carries the refills as well, at least according to a search on walmart.com, I haven't spotted any in-store. Total Wine & More is also a vendor and some local package stores may order the refills upon request if they don't normally stock them.

With this spate of renewed activity surrounding the product, I brought that baby out of exile, (re)set it up and decided to give the brand a shout out.

Aside: Through a bit of a fluke, I ended up with two Draftmark systems from the original product test, and while I do drink beer, I don't drink it often enough to justify owning two systems in my, at times, overly practical mind, so I happily gave the extra one to a beer loving neighbor. If I expand my home bar later on – a definite possibility once I'm in roomier environs – I can acquire another system/s as needed since availability is expanding. I can also borrow my neighbor's system, and have offered to do the the same for him, of course, if he wants to say, throw a party and have more than one variety on tap. We're cool like that in my 'hood.

All I need right now is more beer… and the corresponding medallions for the handle. Get to it, AB InBev! Your audience is tired of waiting. Time for a marketing push. I'll volunteer to be a brand ambassador. I've been told I could sell sand in a desert.

NOTE: This post is part of my Kick-A-Kitchen series. I am a foodie, a gourmet, a bon vivant, if you will. I love to cook, to eat and to entertain good company (the whole eat, drink and be merry thing). As such, my kitchen and its neighboring bar-room are two of the most important places in my Castle Modern and outfitting these areas is a serious business. What rooms are particularly important to you?
DISCLAIMER: I am of legal drinking age (and then some). I am not an employee of Anheuser-Busch InBev and was not compensated to make the above post. However, several years ago, I received (two) Draftmark Home Tap Systems as part of a product test in exchange for my honest opinion. I gave mixed feedback at the time — loved the product concept and design, hated the extremely limited refill availability — and hoped the system would eventually be better supported by its maker. All opinions expressed above are my own.

UPDATE 27-Oct-2016: It would seem AB InBev has given up, as there have been no further announcements and the product's social media pages are all but dead. Sad, as it's a great product. I love mine. This is a missed opportunity.

NOTICE: This post is a reblog from (the now defunct) castlemodern.tumblr.com. It was originally published 26-Feb-2016. Post may have been edited or updated from its original text. 

26 October 2016

Do the Moscow Mule

Moscow Mule Mug
TWINE by True Fabrications
Over several months, I've encountered a number of articles that discuss how the Moscow Mule is enjoying a surge in popularity and how many of the folks who order this drink in various bars and restaurants are in turn "walking out" of said establishments still clutching the copper mugs in which the beverage is typically served. 
Of course, I started lusting after a copper mug of my very own — give me the precious — but I wasn’t about to swipe one from my neighborhood bar. Well, on Friday the postman delivered this sweet pair of hand-hammered copper mugs that I’d ordered. Can you say reward? I felt like dancing. The mugs came with a Moscow Mule recipe card included in the box. These things are really beautiful. 
These burnished copper mugs will look amazing hanging over my bar. And I’d be happy to mix up a Moscow Mule or two for any guests, provided the mug stays put. Not that I don't trust my houseguests, of course.

NOTICE: This post is a reblog from (the now defunct) castlemodern.tumblr.com. It was originally published 28-Feb-2016. Post may be edited or updated from its original text. 
[CM started on Tumblr, but moved to this more robust platform. Old posts are being ported to the new site, one by one.]

20 October 2016

My Grand Design: Thematic Rooms

One of my goals in designing and/or renovating my abode is the creation of thematic rooms. For instance, the estate library could be dedicated to Prospero --- he of Books fame --- or a child's room could be dedicated to Winnie the Pooh or perhaps Peter Rabbit --- not that I actually have any children, mind you, only nieces, nephews and god-children. 

(By the way, I do hope "they" aren't going to muck up my beloved Beatrix Potter with this upcoming big-time Hollywood movie.)

Creating a thematic room/s allows one to commemorate an event or milestone; pay homage to important people, places or issues; and/or give in to the nostalgia of past eras (among other things). So, I keep a little list that is updated constantly with themes and ideas that are important to me, as a starting point for the interior design of my home.

I say all this apropos of.... I simply must have a "The Little Prince" room somewhere in my home. This is not negotiable. Not only am I fairly fanatical about aviation (including space flight) and all manner of flying machines, but the story itself has been dear to my heart since my early childhood.

As a wee tot, I found a rather battered old copy in a thrift store, it was in French, of course, though I did not know it at the time. I was simply fascinated by its whimsical illustrations. My mother, who always encouraged me to read everything, purchased the book for me. Luckily it was not expensive, being somewhat of an oddity (a foreign language book in a small Southern town's generic thrift store). And eventually, as I became more and more curious as to what the words meant, I would use it as a lexicon to begin learning the French language. Self-taught, of course. 

Oh, I butchered the language, no doubt. I was only about 4 or 5 years old at most, but it was a grand adventure, a magical journey that would inform upon my budding love of language, of engineering and of exploring new things and other places. It is an understatement to say the tale of The Little Prince occupies a special place in my heart.

Thank you, dear Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Je vous remercie.

(And no, I haven't yet seen the updated, animated version of The Little Prince [Netflix 2016], because I am wary of being greatly disappointed by it. I have, however, heard good things about it and I've read a few "the making of" type articles regarding it. I will see it at some point, once I've sufficiently shored up my childhood memories....)

09 October 2016

Fire Prevention Week

Fire Prevention Week, October 9 to 15

Follow the National Fire Protection Association's recommendations and install (at least one) smoke alarm on every level of your home, in every bedroom, and outside all sleeping areas.

Use Fire Prevention Week as a scheduled time to 1) Test all smoke alarms in your home, 2) Replace any batteries as needed, and 3) Check the Date of Manufacture on the back of any smoke detectors installed in your home.

NOTE: A smoke detector should be replaced 10 years from its Date of Manufacture.