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Monday, October 29, 2007

Amazon Fresh, reviewed

Amazon Fresh is Amazon's new grocery service and it's blowing me away. (Disclosure: I did work for the Zon for a while, but on nothing like this.) It's Seattle-based (for now), and right now you need a code to use it (I have a few, so if you live in Seattle/Bellevue/Kirkland and would like to try it, leave a comment and I'll happily pass them on.)

Amazon Fresh offers three options:
  • Home delivery at a time you choose (free for orders of $50 and over - not yet available to most addresses)
  • Pre-dawn delivery (free for orders of $25 and over) - you order by midnight and it's on your doorstep by 6:30. This is the option I like the sound of best.
  • Grocery pickup: They have a pickup location in Kirkland (Central Way), and on Main Street in Bellevue.

I've used the pickup system three times now. Here's how it works.

  • You sign into Amazon Fresh with your Amazon account.
  • Do your shopping. A couple of features I like: They will save all the items you've ever ordered in a list. This makes it a lot easier to buy those items you order most. They also let you save an item to your list, without buying it. This is great for reminding me about that rack of lamb I don't need this week, but which would be great for dinners with friends.
  • You pick a time. I've ordered up to 10PM and been able to pick up the next day. It looks like you can probably do it up to midnight - which means you can plan tomorrow's dinner and pick it up on the way home from work.
  • Drive to their pickup location and park outside.

  • Amazon Fresh sign that greets customers

  • A really friendly Amazon worker comes to your car, gets your name, brings out your groceries, and puts them in your car. It takes three minutes, end to end.
Negatives? On an item-by-item basis it seems on a par with Safeway or possibly a little more expensive, but as I've said before, your overall costs generally go down when you're not faced with in-store impulse buys. I've been tracking these costs for a while and am pretty convinced by the evidence (once you stick to a list). They have a great selection of organic meat and produce, and a huge brand selection: pretty much everything you'd want. There were a few things it didn't stock: : Science Diet cat food, black mustard seeds (I don't anticipate a huge demand for these on my part, I just needed them that day), Method cleaning products, and - most importantly - beer and wine. I can understand how they'd have issues with delivering beer and wine, but I'd be happy to show my ID at pickup.

But in general - wow.

I love browsing speciality food stores at leisure. I'll spend an afternoon drifting happily through a market. But even the allure of the latest update on Brad&Ange can't make up for the drag of standing in line at the grocery store at 8 PM on a Tuesday night. I figure that between driving and shopping it'll save me at the very least about three hours a week. Once they start delivering to our Zip code (98102! Come on, Amazon!) we'll be saving even more time. And get this: for pickup, there is no minimum. You can schedule a free pickup for a pint of milk. For an apple. Probably for a grape.

Our verdict, here at Domestigeek wing of L'Amourita: Go for it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

View of Fremont, ship canal from Google's Seattle office

I'm working in Google's Fremont office today, and this is the view from the window.

In a little bit, I'll ride my bike home along that path.

This is a close to perfect Seattle day.

(Photo from mshobe)

Worst. Cookbook. Ever.

Cooking with Pooh

Buy now!

In ur hugeass backyard chewin ur foodz

Our co-op building doesn't allow dogs (my imaginary dogs Darwin and Turing sneak past, though). But this makes me want to upgrade to a real, live, awesome dog: awesome dog

As Paddysat says:

Xerxes is so motherfucking awesome that he could deliver four roundhouse kicks to the head of Chuck Norris - in effect killing Chuck Norris - and then bury the bones of dead Chuck Norris in that huge ass backyard before anyone was the wiser.

Via Boing Boing

And the Flickr comment thread rewards close attention.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bossa Nova - Açai Juice, yummy and antioxidant-rich

I've noticed açai popping up in a few places, including vitamin water. Bossa Nova Açai Juice just appeared in the coolers at work (though it's available in plenty other places too). Not only are they delicious, but apparently "Bossa Nova is more than a nod to the nutritional power of the berry, it's the living embodiment of all its natural goodness."

Which all makes me feel like the beauty editor from Absolutely Fabulous. "I haven't a clue what it means but it's forcing me to believe it." Go for the mango - it's really good, and I like the fact that the portion is relatively small.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Zap sponges in your microwave to kill bugs

kitchen sponge

The kitchen sponge can be a nasty little petri dish, and wiping counters can just spread the bugs around. Zapping sponges and plastic scrubbing pads in the microwave can kill bacteria, such as E. coli, that can cause illness. Two minutes on full power is all you need. Easy.

Update You might want to be sure the sponge is wet before putting it in the microwave. Because otherwise, your kitchen? On fire.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Brussels sprouts are sprouting up everywhere this week

Every Christmas without fail: at the dinner table, my dad will survey the dish of brussels sprouts and sigh dramatically. "Well!" he'll declare contentedly, "someone made a balls of the cabbage."

I love a corny joke.

This week brussels sprouts are everywhere, and rightly so - cooked well they can be nuttily delicious. (Much like myself.) Katie F., and AT: The Kitchen both blogged them recently, and they've even turned up at the cafeteria at work. But check out this amazing picture from Seattlest: did you even know that brussels sprouts looked like this? I didn't.

fresh brussels sprouts from ballard farmer's market

I'm especially seduced by the Ssam Bar brussels sprout recipe from Gourmet, which the Amateur Gourmet featured this week. Roasted till tender, their description made my mouth water and I'll be making them as soon as I manage to find Japanese five-spice powder.

ssam bar brussels sprouts

Built-in gun rack for your bed

The Backup: a built-in gun rack for your bed
What every modern home needs: a built-in gun rack for your bed.


Via Boing Boing Gadgets

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Get the best deals by picking the best day to buy

car salesman
Everything Finance has a great post about the cheapest days of the week to shop for just about anything, from clothes to books to gas. My favorite tip:

Hotel Rooms
When to Buy: Sunday.
Why: There are two kinds of hotel managers, and the kind that won't give you a discount on your room rate has Sundays off, says Greenberg. Call the hotel directly, and ask to speak with the manager on duty or the director of sales. These employees are open to negotiation, he says. They'd rather have a booked room at a discounted rate than an empty room. (The rest of the week, your call would get you a so-called revenue manager, who monitors profits — and is rarely willing to lower rates.)

Via Lifehacker

Friday, October 12, 2007

Create a laminated recipe cheat sheet for your favorite dishes

recipe cheatsheet reduces kitchen cookbook clutter

So often you don't need really to look up a recipe: you just want a quick reminder of ingredients. Angry Chicken features a great tip: Reduce cookbook clutter in your kitchen by printing summaries of your most frequently used recipes on a single sheet.

via Get Rich Slowly

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Elektra espresso makers: Impossibly beautiful kitchen appliances

Elektra retro espresso makers

Coffee is one of those things I just don't feel strongly about; the flavor doesn't do it for me, and if I need a buzz, I'll go for my beloved Diet Coke instead.

Even so, I don't think I've ever seen anything as beautiful as these Elektra espresso makers. They look like something imagined by Jules Verne or HG Wells. To hell with coffee; I want these as sculpture. (Via BoingBoing Gadgets.)

Rick Bayless's Chicken a la veracruzana

Tonight's dinner came from Rick Bayliss's Mexican Everyday. It's incredibly simple and very delicious, and I've just added it to our shortlist of fallback recipes for feeding a bunch of people.

The original recipe calls for chicken thigh and leg quarters, but they didn't have these in the store, so I used 8 boned skinless chicken thighs instead. I didn't test it, but I'd probably advise against using chicken breasts; I think the thighs will hold up better to the long cooking time.

Chicken a la veracruzana
Serves 6
  • 4 medium (about 1 pound) red-skin boiling or Yukon Gold potatoes, each cut into 6 wedges (I used Yukon Gold. They cooked up meltingly tender, but completely held their shape.)
  • 6 chicken leg-and-thigh quarters, skin pulled off, or 8 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (hello, Muir Glen organic fire-roasted toms, yum yum)
  • 4-6 canned pickled jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, and cut into strips
    3 garlic cloves, chopped or pressed
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 teaspooon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup coarsely chopped green olives (manzanillas are traditional)
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped flat-leafed parsley

Spread the spuds over the bottom of a slow cooker. Top with the chicken. In a medium bowl, mix tomatoes, jalapenos, garlic, W sauce, thyme, cloves, cinnamon and 2 teaspoons salt. It will smell divine in an almost Moroccan way. Pour evenly over the chicken. Cook on high for 6 hours (our cooker has only one setting, and I let it go for 8 hours. Even less would work fine; the chicken was almost beyond tender).

Plate chicken and potatoes, leaving the sauce behind. Reduce a bit if necessary (ours was a little more watery than I'd like). Stir in the olives and parsley; add more salt if necessary. Next time I think I'd serve it all on a platter to hand around at the table, but it worked fine on separate plates too.

We ate brown basmati rice and fresh cornbread with this. I'd add a green salad next time, and do without the rice. Crazy easy and so good, this is definitely being added to the rotation.

Man, this is "funny stuff"

It's completely tangential to the blog, but I wanted to post the "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks anyway: I'm at work, this blog covers one of my very favorite subject, and it's so facemeltingly funny that I have tears rolling down my cheeks "tears" rolling down my "cheeks".

Bedside table with built-in powerstrip for charging phones, iPods, etc.

bedside table with built-in charging station from Pottery Barn Teen

Apartment Therapy blogs this great little bedside table from PB Teen. I'm not so keen on the style, but I am completely in love with the built-in power strip.

Adding a powerstrip to an existing table would be a simple enough project, and it would make a killer landing strip for a hall or entry.

Monday, October 8, 2007

We've all been there: 75-year-old woman smashes up Comcast office

Mona Shaw, 75, who took a hammer to her local Comcast office. Is there a jury in the land that would convict her?

"What the hell, I'm 75," said Bristow resident Mona Shaw about heading into the Comcast office in Manassas with a hammer and using it on a telephone and computer keyboard, after trying for days to have her phone service connected.

Via Consumerist.

Stay organized: Keep frequently used ingredients together

IKEA caddy for organizing olive oil and garlic
Most everyday meals in our house seem to start with a scattering of garlic over olive oil in my beloved cast iron skillet.

I'm loving this little IKEA caddy, which lets me keep olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes (also very popular) together so they are always on hand.

IKEA also makes this cute, simple little organizer that lets you store sippin' oil, salt, and pepper together, and take them easily to the table or wherever you want.

Saves time, saves effort, two thumbs up.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Using routines to reduce housework

(picture from the fabulous Exploding Dog)
When I was younger I used to think that routine was another synonym for boredom. Now I think of routine as the scaffolding you hang your life on, the structure that allows you to get on with other things. Before we got into some regular routines, it seemed like every other weekend was given over to emergency cleaning because the apartment was out of control. But these days the place always looks okay and it only takes ten minutes to get the it looking great (granted, we only have one bedroom, but still ...)

Now we have a couple of routines that we do morning and night. The starting point for this was Flylady. I can't recommend the Flylady system enough: the folksy style and the horrible website design (it's not very usable) used to get on my nerves, but there is some real meat to the methods she uses. The key is not to take on too much. You don't challenge yourself to go from slattern to Martha in a week; instead, you pick one habit and stick to it until you go on autopilot. Then you pick another habit and work on establishing that. Then another. Three months in, you've got a system that works on autopilot.

The result? We do far less work around the house than before, and we have no crisis cleaning episodes. The house is always acceptably clean and organized (it's nowhere near perfect, but you know? We're happy with "good enough"), and it's a much more relaxing place to be. I never do housework at the weekends. That alone is worth it.

Evening routine

  • Deal with mail the minute you come in. This is vital, because paper will take over your life. Catalogs go in recycling straight away. If it's a catalog I've never seen before, I put it on the desk so I can add it to our Greendimes account and get it stopped. Anything that needs attention goes in one of our intrays (we have one each). Credit card offers etc. go straight in the shredder, hidden in the hallway closet.
  • Clean up after dinner, properly. Load the dishwasher, clean the sink and countertops, swiffer the floor (actually, I use the Omop from Method) (This is where my brain explodes: MACNAMARA RIONA I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU BLOGGED A MOP.) If it needs it, use the wet Swiffer or equivalent (and I'd recommend doing this around the sink and stove in any case.)
  • Clear off the hallway table and any other hot spots.
  • Run dishwasher
  • Put out a clean dishtowel for tomorrow.
  • Hang up all clothes, or put in the laundry bin.
  • Pick out your clothes for tomorrow.
  • Check your calendar for tomorrow. For example, on Sunday nights I need to pull our laundry together and write a check to the University Laundry Center. On Tuesday nights I need to carry down the Pioneer Organics delivery boxes. Whatever.
  • Have a glass of wine in your jammies and watch Jon Stewart on Tivo.
  • Free time. How best to occupy this is left as an exercise to the reader.
Morning routine
  • Get up, pick up water glasses, and bring to the kitchen.
  • Empty the dishwasher.
  • Make the bed.
  • Take the trash and one bag of recycling to the top of the stairs, ready to take down on the way to the car.
  • After showering, clean the bathroom. Flylady calls this the Swish & Swipe, and it takes no more than a minute: Wipe down the mirrors. Spray the sink and wipe. Swipe the toilet with the toilet brush; spray the outside of the toilet and both sides of the lid and seat; wipe with paper towel, throw towel in trash.

The result?

  • First of all, nothing gets a chance to get really dirty or messy. This makes a huge change to your life.
  • Secondly, it is so much nicer to come home to a kitchen with an empty dishwasher, empty trash, clean towels ready and waiting. Getting ready to make dinner is a pleasure now that I never have to face a dirty dishwasher or overflowing trash. I really think this is one of the reasons we've been able to cut down on eating out (another unexpected bonus: we're both losing weight because of fewer restaurant portions).
  • Finally, it's all about developing habits. Habits make things effortless. The evening routine looks long, but really it isn't. Runners will know this: remember when you were just starting to run, and getting out the door was really hard? Then, about two months in, it clicked: this is just something you do. You've got your daily run on autopilot. That's what you're looking for here.

Routine can be liberating: embrace it. Putting some essentials on autopilot frees you up to do the stuff you like. I spend far more time now sitting reading at the kitchen table than I used to. And that's a good thing, eh?

    Saturday, October 6, 2007

    Your call is very important to us, my arse: Go straight to a human customer service rep at 500 companies

    screaming at the phone

    I will do almost anything to avoid talking to a customer service rep on the phone. But now Merlin Mann over at 43 folders posted today about GetHuman. This is the site I've been looking for: it lists the customer services for 500 large companies, and tells you the keys you need to push to get straight through to a person.

    The site also presents some tips on getting through to a live human (for sites not listed here):

    1. Interrupt. Press 0 (or 0# or #0 or 0* or *0) repeatedly, sometimes quickly. Unfortunately the same keystroke does not always work for each company. Many IVRs will connect to a human after a few "invalid entries", although some IVRs will hangup. :-(
    2. Talk. Say "get human" (or "agent" or "representative") or raise your voice, or just mumble. :) The IVR might connect you to a human after one of these key or unknown phrases.
    3. Just hold, pretending you have only an old rotary phone.
    4. Connect to account collections or sales or account cancellation; they always seem to answer quickly. First ask them for their name and rep number (so they know you are writing it down, and thus so they are more likely to help you.) Then ask them to transfer you to the department you need. Sometimes they will put you ahead of the queue, although sometimes they will send you to the end (and thus in those cases this tip is useless).
    5. Toll call. For credit cards, if the expected wait time is too long, hangup and try to call back on their non-toll-free number, as they often have shorter queues.
    6. Selecting the option for Spanish will sometimes get you a bilingual human more quickly than if you just waited for an English-only operator.

    Thursday, October 4, 2007

    Rachael Ray's garbage bowl

    rachael ray garbage bowl
    I love the idea of keeping a garbage bowl by the chopping board, and I do it all the time. Hm, but I'm not sure I need an specific Rachael Ray garbage bowl.

    Paper clutter 2: Cut down on junk mail with GreenDimes

    greendimes stops junk mail and catalogs
    Catalogs aren't just junk mail. I find that, just like lifestyle magazines, they seem to have no other purpose than making me unsatisfied with what I already have. Stopping catalogs and junk mail not only reduces clutter and paper waste; it makes you happier with your life.

    promises to cut junk mail (catalogs and the like) by 90%. I've been using them for several months now and I've definitely seen a reduction in the amount of crap that comes through the letterbox. Here's how it works: For $15/year, they'll contact the catalog companies you specify, and get you taken off their mailing lists. You can add several different people in your household (not, unfortunately, the elusive "Resident" who gets a lot of mail round our place). Two things to be aware of:

    • Be sure only to select catalogs you already receive. Selecting one you already get may actually add you to the mailing list.
    • Mailings are often planned and labels printed months in advance, so it may take several months for certain catalogs to stop coming. I'm looking at you, Anthropologie.
    • It costs fifteen bucks a year, which you could probably save by calling the catalog companies individually. But how much time would that take?

    Save your sanity while saving trees: As I type, GreenDimes claims it's stopped 1,978,621.10 pounds of junk mail, saving 290,898.93 trees and 5,540,158 gallons of water. And probably about 30 trips down to the recycling bin for me.

    I think a GreenDimes membership would make a great gift.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2007

    Buy in bulk online - avoid the madness of warehouse stores

    Over at Unclutterer, there's a piece about how buying food in bulk results in clutter and huge containers of food and supplies you don't need and will never use.

    I've fallen victim to this myself. We're the people who bought Two-Buck Chuck by the (many) casefuls and kept it until we couldn't bear even the smell of an opened bottle. We've had sacks of bargain-priced rice propping up a pantry door and gathering dust. And I have never found that Costco saves me money, at least on food and household stuff (wine yes, memory foam mattresses, definitely). A strange type of hysteria overtakes me and I dash around the store as if a spaceship had plucked me from one of the less attractive suburbs of Pyongyang and dumped me in the middle of a lifetime's supply of convenience foods.

    Visiting a physical store will always cost you more in the long run, I do believe. Those impulse purchases do add up. Have you ever gone to Target to pick up, say, an ironing board? Have you ever left with just that ironing board?

    Here's what I find DOES save me money (and reduces clutter): Amazon Grocery - but only for the stuff you really need and will always use. Paper towels, garbage bags, toilet paper, soap, shampoo. Rooibus tea, of course. They'll send it to you by the case and, if you have Amazon Prime, no extra shipping costs.

    The item cost may be slightly more than it is at a warehouse store, but the total cost (because you don't pick up the giant jar of mayonnaise and the huge sacks of rice) is less.

    Between Amazon Grocery for staples, and Amazon Fresh (once it's launched) for groceries, with Pioneer Organics for produce, I'm looking forward to the time when I never have to set foot in a store at all.