Tuesday, August 26, 2014

This weekend's fresh eats

This weekend I enjoyed some good food at the hands of my family. As we reduce the amount of junky food in our house, the kids have started to make the things we no longer buy or make for them. They make pancakes and muffins and cookies and sometimes, they even clean up after themselves.

Recently, my daughter has gotten into an ice cream making kick. Her go to flavor has been vanilla ice cream. She has also started exploring coffee and is trying to figure out what she likes, which borders on the super-sweet caramel lattes. Her tastes are still developing. I had a few servings of cold brew coffee in the fridge, which I surrendered to her and she made coffee ice cream!

 It was good ice cream too, coming from a former ice cream man and coffee lover.  I did make sure that I got a few scoops because usually the ice cream she makes is consumed shortly after it is made. Though the kids all make good food, they don't defer any enjoyment.

Heather's green thumb has provided some good things, too.  The tomatoes are finally ripening and I made a delicious tomato salad, with the bright flavors of the cherry tomatoes and the basil that she grew on our counters. With some coarse sea salt and a splash or two of olive oil, it makes for a quick, fresh salad. I used Oregon Olive Mill's Arbequina for its peppery taste.

What did you eat this weekend, that you still relish two days into the week?

Thanks again to Oregon Olive Mill for the olive oil samples and to Heather and Chase for making good food and ingredients available to me!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Acaia Pearl - Art and Science of Making Coffee

To the true aficionado, making coffee is both an art and a science.  Different beans have different taste profiles, based upon their origin, elevation, drying and processing methods and how they were roasted. Different brew methods will bring out different characteristics of the same beans based upon the extraction time, the flow rate and water temperature. Those are the artful components of enjoying coffee. The science is in making it repeatable, once you've found the bean, roast and method that you love (or find appropriate for the moment you are in).

The Acaia Pearl Coffee Scale helps make it repeatable. The scale is Bluetooth enabled giving you full control and all the display on a smart phone application, for both Android and iPhone. The high precision scale is combined with a stopwatch time to ensure you get just the right extraction time, measuring your water and beans to .1 grams.  Combined, it also reports the flow rate, so you can have a consistent extraction during a pour over.  It is also beautifully minimalist, fitting in at any cafe or your own home coffee making station.  Your smartphone does need to support Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) which is available on iPhone 4 and 5 and recent Android devices running Kit Kat.
Minimalist device, minimalist packaging

The team behind the Acaia Pearl are all coffee lovers and sought to connect design and and technology in their coffee.  In fact, I would love to be on their team, because their Instagram feed shows them always trying out new coffees.  The project was successfully funded on Kickstarter and earlier this year, they started shipping product.
Getting my pour over technique right.

I first saw the scale when I was at the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) symposium. As you entered the conference, there was a display case of new and innovative products and I knew I had to find out more about this scale. Their booth was unfortunately in a hard to find back corner, but I persevered until I found them.

The SCAA event is neat in that all facets of specialty coffee are represented. Growers have booths along side industrial roaster manufacturers. Innovative packaging solutions are next to artisan cafes. SCAA brings together the art and science of specialty coffee. New products like the Pearl are introduced and renown baristas compete and wow with their creations.

After talking with Rex, their president and founder, they sent me a scale to review and geek out with. While its a really cool gadget, I had to figure out exactly how I liked my coffee. I had my method down pat for the Aeropress (inverted method, 1 minute extraction a la Stumptown), but it was years since I had made a pour over or French Press.

The scale is quite simple to use, you measure your beans, enter your bean to water ratio and it will calculate how much water you need.  Then, you reset your scale with your pour over cone or what ever your brew method is, start the timer and with a 3,2,1 countdown, start pouring.  You're provided feedback on your flow rates and a way to rate, record and share your brew.
Not very consistent with my pour, but I'm getting better.
If you don't know what you like, you're given starting points for French Press and Pour Over that you can customize and save and you can even create a custom recipe and set your own time check points.

It's a pretty cool scale and deservedly, it won the  Best New Product of SCAA 2014 and the People's Choice Winner of Coffee Accessories. Check out their website for more details or to pick one up for $129.00

Disclaimer: I was given one of these scales to review on my blog and share my opinion of it. I was not otherwise compensated and now my coffee is far more consistent and I get to geek out in the mornings!

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Get a good night's sleep with Evernote

Evernote, the note taking, help you remember everything app, can help you get a good night's sleep. I'm not talking about cuddling with a green elephant, though I did  have a stuffed elephant when I was a kid. Last night, I had the worst sleep in a long time, and I've got data to prove it.  It was hot, one of the dogs woke me up to let it outside and most importantly, I had all kinds of ideas bouncing through my head.

Over the last few weeks, I've been working on some coding projects and have made some significant progress. I've been learning OOP, MVC and the Laravel framework, writing APIs and using github [note: this post isn't that geeky, so don't worry about the alphabet soup, just know that I was satisfying my intellectual curiosity]. I also started working on a web application for my wife and last night, I got the core functionality working. But it was about 10 PM when I got it to that state.

As I lay in bed, tossing because I was hot, getting tangled in the sheet that was sometimes keeping me too warm, thoughts of what I would do next with the application kept me awake. I would write this function, move some process from the controller to the model... Once I did that, I'd be set up to learn about job queues, something I know nothing about. Then I realized that I needed to add a few fields for some better status tracking.

As you can see, my UP24 decided, rightly so, that I was no longer sleeping!  Finally, there was a enough of a break in my coding thoughts that made me realize, I need to get this out of my head!

It was a big DUH moment. Getting stuff out of your head is the big concept behind Getting Things Done, which drives my productivity. Allowing those thoughts to just flow by and not chase them helps you be in the moment, a mindful concept. And my particular moment was supposed to be about sleeping, not the code I was going to write tomorrow, if I could remember it all.

My smartphone was charging on my bedside stand, face down, so the indicator lights wouldn't disturb me. I rolled over, untangling my legs from the twisted sheet and opened up Evernote. And started taking notes. And let me tell you, they're good notes. They're detailed ideas, even using some of the correct PHP syntax! I might have even sequenced them in the right order, too!

What was even cooler than that, was as soon as I had written them all down, my mind was blank and I started to doze off. Only to be woken by the dog barking again. I'm not sure Evernote can help with that though.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Watching TV - its almost all sports now

I've recently realized something about me. I've undergone a large change.  Growing up, we would never watch sports on TV. We didn't really watch that much TV. Over the years, my TV watching has changed, I've stopped watching TV shows and this year, I have only watched sports on TV!

We were an early adopter of TiVo and I would leverage that technology to watch the TV shows I wanted to watch. I was pretty selective; it was shows like Alias, Nikita, and New Girl.  Another interesting thing, there are some common elements in those shows.

A few years ago, I got a Kindle and reading replaced watching TV, almost entirely. You can find me on Goodreads.

As my youngest kid started playing football, we started watching some football games on TV. It didn't hurt that the Seattle Seahawks kept getting better and better each season, either.

Then, we got into CrossFit and watched the CrossFit games on TV.

We've had awesome Super Bowl appetizers and I'm still not sure which the kids like more - the eating or the football.

The World Cup just finished up and I watched every US game and the quarter, semi and finals.

This year's CrossFit games are only 3 days away and going to be streamed on ESPN3. And with my Chromecast, I'll be watching them.

I still don't watch very much on the television screen, but my TV watching is now entirely sports.  Quite a change, from watching M*A*S*H (probably reruns) on a small black and white TV to televised sports in High Definition.

What is your can't miss show on TV? Do you even still watch broadcast television or is it all streaming?

Another small note: I realized that enablling Google+ comments on my blog required a Google account to make any comment, so I've disabled that feature.  Everyone should be able to comment on my blog posts now, so get commenting!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Working out with AT&T, David Barton Gym and Jawbone UP24

Disclaimer: In trade for a pool of sweat, I received a Jawbone UP24 for review and one for a giveaway. Other than that, I was not compensated for this post and I'm sharing my opinions of the UP24 band.

At the beginning of June, AT&T invited a few bloggers to work out at the David Barton Gym in Bellevue and try out the Jawbone UP24 activity tracking band.  I was in... I like working out and I'm a big data nerd. Being able to easily collect information on my sleep and activity seems pretty cool.  And after almost a month of using it, I'm pretty impressed.

After a quick check-in at David Barton Gym in Bellevue, Noelle took us through a work out. A little warm up and BOOM, she hit us: squats, lunges, planks and more. It was an intense work out and I sweated for this band. She even had us do one legged burpees, which for the record, I never quite got. If you need your butt kicked, Noelle can do it for you.

The UP24 is a wearable, bluetooth enabled activity tracker. Using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), it automatically syncs with your phone without noticable impact on battery life.  Between the UP24 and the Jawbone MINI Jambox, I've started to leave bluetooth turned on on my phone all the time. It tracks your activity, in steps as well as your sleep, measuring light and deep sleep.  With subtle vibrating reminders, it will let you know if you've been inactive or even wake you up at the optimal time in your sleep patterns.

The band is discreet and, as a guy, I don't mind they way it looks on my wrist.  The band itself is very simple, with only a single button for changing modes and a small indicator light to let you know what mode it is in. The band gets about a week of battery life and charging is handled by small plug, hidden under a cover, that plugs into a USB adapter. All the magic happens on the app on your phone.

And a lot of magic there is. First of all, you get a visualization of how you are tracking to your goals for sleep and steps for the day. But you also get motivational messages and activity updates from others on your "team," kind of like people you follow on Twitter. You can track your meals through the app, though I find the interface a little cumbersome.

But the magic doesn't end there.  There are a whole slew of connected apps that can provide information to your UP24 and with IFTTT.com you can connect even more.  When I weigh myself on our Fitbit Aria scale, my UP Feed is automatically updated with my weight. When I check in my CrossFit box, it posts to my UP Feed. I don't closely track my meals, but MyFitnessPal can connect with UP24 both ways, so you can see how your activity levels impact your net calories for the day.

Having all this information is great. The best features I've found so far are sleep tracking and the inactivity reminder. I do CrossFit every morning and eat clean, so I'm not concerned about the number of steps I take in a day. I really like being reminded to get up off my butt during the day, even if just to take a call standing up. Tracking my sleep patterns helps me commit to a consistent 10PM sleep time, something that Tim Howard does too.

Recall from earlier in this post that Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) was required. Its a fairly new technology and not all phones have the hardware or software to support it. BLE is available on the iPhone 4 and 5 and on some Android phones that are running KitKat. Luckily for me, AT&T and LG released the upgrade to KitKat for my phone around the time I got the band and I got it all up and running before the Seattle Rock N Roll marathon.  I ran the half-marathon and used the stopwatch function to track my run.

You see it calculated a distance of 17.17 miles, but a half marathon is only 13.1. I think that there is a little inaccuracy stemming from being on the wrist to track steps and it does have trouble tracking my CrossFit work outs. Just the other day, the inactivity alert vibrated as I was lifting my last set of power cleans, at my personal best weight.  But its still useful in comparing activity levels from day to day and as I sit at my computer coding and blogging, the inactivity alert is a nice reminder to get up and do something.

Just this week I started using the Smart Alarms, which wake you up close (but not later than) to the time you want, but do it when you have been in a lighter sleep state for some amount of time.  The idea behind this is that you wake up when you are ready to wake up, resulting in less grogginess and being more refreshed.  I'm still deciding if I want to maximize every minute of sleep or trade off some sleep minutes and get up at a better time. I'm having a little trouble coming to grip with getting up earlier might be better for me - I already get up at 5:22 AM on weekdays and I "sleep in" until 6AM on the weekends.

All in all, its a pretty neat device. It seamlessly tracks my activity and sleep with little fuss. As a data nerd, I like what I get from it and even though I'm still figuring it out, it is driving better fitness decisions from me. In fact, I learned yesterday that even a short walk, 13 minutes long, is worth just over 1,000 steps which is 10% of the daily recommended goal.

Would you like to win a Jawbone UP24, large size only? Register on the Rafflecopter form below and let me know in the comments what activity your fitness goals are and how the UP24 would help you achieve them.  I'll randomly select a winner on July 17th at 9AM Pacific time. If you don't win or are impatient, you can get one for $149 from AT&T, online or in your local store. AT&T has more than just mobile phones! If you've already got an UP and want to add me to your team, just look for Beau Raines.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, June 28, 2014

See's Candies in Woodinville

Woodinville now has a See's Candies! While wine tasting, you can now pop in and get one of the always free samples of their delicious candies. I was invited a media pre-opening event Thursday night, with candy samples, candy box packing races and more candy samples.

The evening started with sampling. Yes, anything we wanted from the display case. And not just the usual one free sample. This was the kind of sampling that required pacing. I had 4 samples within 10 minutes of walking in the door and that was more candy that I've eaten in a month.  It was also over the number of candies that Leanne from Rave and Review decided was the limit for her kids - good thing those kids aren't reading my blog.

See's Candies gives away 1 million pounds in free samples. After a brief break, I was back at the candies, trying things I'd never tried before and making sure that they get to that 1 million pounds this year.  I didn't get to try all of their one hundred different varieties because I was actually candied out. It was a great treat, but with all my clean eating, that was an incredible amount of sugar for me.

Look at that nicely filled candy box.
After a brief information session about the company, we were paired up for candy box filling races. We had to work for the chocolates they were going to give us to take home!  The local management team taught us how to snap out a single paper cup with one hand, while the other, tissue wielding hand would grab the chocolate and place it in the candy box.

I was hoping that it would be a "one for me, one for the box" situation, but we were too closely supervised. But with candy being so seasonal, they need workers at Christmas time and their employees can eat all they want (or can handle). I packed a box of Scotch Mallows, which unfortunately do not have any scotch in them (there is an idea, Mary See and its free)

My favorite candy from See's is the Dark Chocolate Bordeau, which happens to be the number one seller. What is your favorite candy?

See's Candies in Woodinville [store website] is located at 14013 Woodinville Duvall Rd, Woodinville, WA and opened to the public Friday, June 27th. At the time of writing, the shop hours are Mon-Thurs 10am - 6pm, Fri-Sat 10am - 7pm and Sun 12pm - 5pm.

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this post, but I was plied with chocolates. I liked See's Candies before coming to visit and could name all my favorites when I walked in the door. This is my honest opinion plus a few facts I learned about the company along the way.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Northwest Region Grilling Gurus Semi-Finals

Saturday, Macy's in Alderwood Mall hosted the Culinary Council's Grilling Guru's semi-finals. Three west coast home cooks brought their grilling best and were judged by local chef Tom Douglas.  I had front row seats to watch the grilling, taste the dishes and even get samples cooked by Tom Douglas himself!

The Culinary Council is comprised of some of the nations culinary masters. Tom Douglas represents Seattle and the Northwest, with the aim of teaching Macy's customers to cook and shop like master chefs. I like this way of thinking and I try to embody that in all of my cooking endeavors.

The Northwest Region was represented by three grilling gurus, Jack Scalfani from California, Margee Berry from Washington and Edwina Gadsby from Idaho. Jack hosts a popular YouTube channel, Cooking With Jack. His rib recipe and techniques were passed down from his Mom.  Margee has been competing in food cook offs for over thirty years and her shrimp taco recipe was her own invention. Edwina has gone head to head with Margee several times over the years and taste tests her recipes on her husband and the bad ones end up on the dog's plate. Good recipe or not, they're both lucky guys.  The winning recipe is posted at the end...

The competitors had 1 hour to grill their dishes for Tom Douglas and with a '3, 2, 1 Go!' they were off. The grills were hot, the sun was hot, but none of the cooks showed any nervousness. To keep the audience entertained while the grilling was going on, KOMO 4's Seth Wayne hosted giveaways of The Dahila Bakery Cookbook and Q&A's with Tom Douglas.

While watching the competitors cooking, Tom and his crew whetted our appetites with some of his grilling. A big gulf shrimp with a kalamata olive and some beautiful planked salmon kept the audience at bay when the wind shifted just a bit and we could smell the deliciousness from the grills.

Tom didn't fail to entertain either. In his usual funny fashion, he joked about how far north he was from his South Lake Union restaurant domain saying, "I'm so far North, I might as well be in Canada!"  In addition to his funny commentary, he shared some valuable and interesting cooking tips.
  1. Too much oil when grilling can lead to soot. Grill marks are good, but soot is not.
  2. Grilled avocado is a hot thing in restaurants these days.
I've made milk shakes from avocados, but I'd never thought of grilling them. The soft texture doesn't seem like it would take to grilling well. It even got a rise from my Twitter followers.

It's worth giving it a try, especially since many of the avocados we buy need some additional time to ripen.

The competitors all finished before the allotted time and plated their food for Tom.  It seemed like the Jack's ribs were going to win, but the perfectly cooked salmon for the noodle salad was the ultimate winner. I'll agree, grilling salmon is a little bit on the challenging side, getting it to that just cooked all the way through, still slightly translucent in the center, Edwina nailed it.

There were five other semi-final events like this taking place across the United States. As the Northwest's winner, Edwina is on her way to New York City, to compete in the Culinary Council's Sizzle Showdown on June 28th. She'll be judged by Chefs Johnny Iuzzuni and Todd English, competing for a $10,000 Grand Prize.  Wish her luck!

The Winning Recipe
Grilled Sweet Chili Salmon Noodle Salad
Recipe compliments of Edwina G of Hayden, Idaho

Disclaimer: I am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere has provided me with compensation for this post about Macy’s Culinary Council. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own.