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How not to make peanut butter in a Vitamix

14 Jan

Longtime readers will know I have longed for a Vitamix blender since I became obsessed with smoothies at least 10 years ago. Who can forget the famous blender blowout of 2013?

blender explosion

I almost pulled the Vitamix trigger back then, but just couldn’t justify the expense. Instead I found a cheaper high-powered blender, which served me well… until it broke. And then I found another high-powered blender, this one claiming to be on par with Vitamix for 25% of the price. I even wrote a glowing review it here on the blog.  But lately I could tell it was starting to struggle to blend my smoothies, especially when I used melon or other large chunks of fruit. So when Stephen asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told him I didn’t need any more shoes, purses or clothes.

I needed a Vitamix.

I ordered a certified reconditioned model on Boxing Day, so I got a great deal on it. I read reviews that said certified reconditioned models are often unopened returns, so they’re basically brand new. Plus if anything were to go wrong, it comes with a 5-year warranty.

I felt like a kid on Christmas morning when it was delivered, and made a delicious smoothie that day. I could immediately tell there was something about Vitamix that sets it apart from other high-speed blenders, especially my old Electriq iQMix. I could add ice to my smoothies again without worry! I even used it to make soup. But there was one thing I was particularly excited to try: making peanut butter.

I have a borderline obsession with nut butter. For a while I was buying it in individual portions because I couldn’t be trusted not to eat an entire container in two days. I’m trying to work on eating it in moderation, though, for my health, but also because good, pure nut butter is expensive! And according to the internet, homemade tastes even better.

I bought a kilo of raw peanuts in Chinatown and toasted them myself. I obsessively read recipes and blogs about how to make nut butter in your Vitamix. The top tips were to toast your nuts, which releases their oils, thus making them turn into peanut butter instead of peanut flour, and to allow them to cool fully before blending, as blending will heat them up as well and you don’t want to melt your Vitamix container. (Yes, apparently that can happen!)

I went into my peanut butter-making experience knowing all this… but I was also impatient. I decided to start the process less than an hour before I was scheduled to Facetime with my mom. I let the nuts cool on the tray, then put them in the refrigerator for a few minutes. They weren’t by any means hot anymore, but they weren’t chilled, which was another tip I had read — use chilled, toasted nuts. I was running out of time, though, so I decided the nuts were cool enough. I put the nuts into my blender, slowly increased the speed, then flipped the switch to high. The Vitamix started making noises as the blogs warned me it would, and I used the tamper stick to constantly push the nuts down the sides and into the blades. One blog said the whole process would take 1 minute, so when I didn’t have smooth peanut butter after a minute, I worried something was wrong. I stopped the blender and checked on the peanuts. They were more the consistency of cookie dough, not smooth peanut butter. They were also certainly hot, but my container didn’t feel like it was melting, so I went back to blending. And blending. And blending. Something felt wrong. The almighty Vitamix should not be struggling like it was, I thought. I opened the container once again and noticed some black specks in my peanut “dough,” almost like chocolate chips. But I definitely didn’t add any chocolate chips. Then I pulled out the tamper and was about to lick the end of it, when I saw this:

melted vitamix tamper.png

“Oh no!” I thought. I had done it. I had melted my tamper stick by not using chilled nuts. I poured my peanut dough into a bowl and starting picking out the chunks of plastic.

peanut butter plastic chunks.png

I texted my Vitamix-loving friend to show her what I had done. She told me to email Vitamix customer service since there’s no way that should happen.

I left the kitchen in a state of chaos, lamented to my mom about my peanut butter catastrophe, then spent the night sifting out pieces of plastic because there was no way I was just going to throw out an entire batch of what could be — might be! Should be! — perfectly good peanut butter.

Then I sat down to email Vitamix. But as I was writing about how there was no way the damage to the tamper could have been caused by the blade because the tamper can’t touch the blade when the lid is on, a thought occurred to me: I did briefly run the blender with the lid off. And I used the tamper. I thought the hole in the lid was somehow restricting the movement of my tamper.

That’s when I had a proverbial face palm moment. My peanut butter disaster wasn’t Vitamix’s fault. It was mine.

Looking back at the photos, it’s obvious the damage was caused by a blade and not by heat. I guess I just didn’t want to admit it at the time.

damaged vitamix tamper.png

As embarrassed and frustrated with myself as I was, the good news was that my Vitamix wasn’t broken. And because my old blender was a Vitamix wannabe, its tamper is a perfect fit. I put my peanut dough in the fridge overnight and gave homemade peanut butter another go the next day.

And it worked!

vitamix peanut butter

peanut butter vitamiix

I made delicious, homemade peanut butter, completely smooth save for the odd black plastic speck. Now that I know what to do (and what NOT to do!), I can’t wait to experiment with other nut combinations!

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My latest addiction

4 Sep

I have a problem. I am addicted to mobile live trivia games and it’s kinda sorta ruining my life.

It started innocently enough. My brother’s girlfriend introduced us to HQ Trivia. We were sitting around the kitchen table at my parents’ house a few months ago when her phone pinged at 2:58pm.

“Hey, it’s almost 3pm, we can play HQ Trivia!” she exclaimed.

We gathered around her phone as Scott Rogowsky asked us 12 multiple choice questions. The live aspect of it was appealing — playing against people all around the world in the moment. But the prospect of winning real live money was even more appealing. However many winners there are split the prize pot, which is usually $5,000 or £1,000, and on Sunday nights is $25,000 or £8,000.

After my brother and his girlfriend went home, both my parents and I downloaded the HQ app onto our phones. Because I have a UK phone number, I could only play the UK game. The US game (which apparently everyone in the world can play except for those in the UK) airs at 3pm and 9pm EST on weekdays and only 9pm on weekends, while the UK game has the same schedule only in BST. Which means when I was in the US I was playing 4 HQ games a day — the UK 3pm game at 10am EST, helping my mom with the US 3pm game on her phone, playing the UK 9pm game at 4pm EST, then at 9pm EST my parents and I would stop whatever we were doing to play HQ.

It was fun at first. It brought us together and gave us a chance to show off our random knowledge. On the Sunday night big prize games, UK players can play the US version, presuming they can stay awake until 2am, but it worked out well for me when I was in Kentucky. Each game each day brought a new thrill — maybe this time would be our Slumdog Millionaire moment, when each question relates to our own life experiences and expertise and we win big!

That’s part of why it started to become a problem. If any show could be my winning show, missing a show became difficult. I had to revolve my life around being on my phone at 10am, 3pm, 4pm, and 9pm. One night we thought about going to see a movie in the evening, but decided against it because we wouldn’t be able to play the special NBA Finals $400,000 prize game.

I thought things would be different once I got back to the UK and could only play twice a day. But then I discovered HQ isn’t the only mobile live trivia game. So I started playing Q Live at 1pm, HQ at 3pm, Q Live again at 8pm, Cash Show at 8:30pm, and HQ at 9pm. I had to plan my run or errands so they would fit between 1:15pm when Q Live ended and 3pm when HQ started.

“Maybe we’ll stop playing once we win,” my mom said a few weeks into our HQ obsession.

But then she and my dad both won on the same night — a whole 17 cents each. Because that’s the thing — if the questions are easy enough for you to win, they’re easy enough for a lot of people to win. The thrill of winning was sweet, but fleeting — we wanted to win a bigger prize.

I won my first UK game on August 1st. I was especially proud because the UK show is harder for me as an American — a lot of the questions are about UK history, football or TV shows I’m not familiar with. I won £2.65, which is $3.47. I was elated. But I didn’t stop playing.

HQ had a special 3-show night to celebrate its 1-year birthday on Sunday, August 26th. The first show started at 8pm EST, which was 1am BST, around my bedtime. But I stayed up to play. I got out on the 8th question, but my dad ended up winning — 40 cents! Then Scott said the next show would be at 8:30pm, 1:30am for me, but it was only 15 minutes away, so I decided to play. And I won! $7.22!

hq trivia win

There were questions about Chinese culture and ancient Greek language — it was my Slumdog Millionaire moment! I should have gone to bed after winning, but there was another show in 15 minutes, and with my adrenaline pumping there was no way I’d be able to go to sleep before 2am anyway. So I played and lost.

Since my big win I’ve been trying to ween myself off. But they recently added a new feature that rewards you with an extra life (an ability to rejoin the game if you get 1 question wrong) if you play 5 days in a row. Way to reel people in, HQ. Besides, if I don’t play, I can’t win, and who’s to say the next game won’t be my biggest win yet?

Send help. And extra lives.

Love at first ink dip

4 Apr

Remember how I said I’d like to focus on lettering and calligraphy in 2018?

I have been. Perhaps even a little too much.

I started with basic brush lettering. I didn’t really know what I was doing and my work was pretty sloppy, but I made an Instagram account and started posting photos of my work. I was inspired by all the great stuff posted by other hand lettering artists and calligraphers, and tried to copy some of their styles.

Then this idea popped into my head: I should take a class. As an anti-social introvert, this was a big deal. I always wanted to learn pointed pen calligraphy, so I signed up for a class at Quill London, a little modern calligraphy shop near Angel. I was nervous —  more about the social aspect of the class than the calligraphy — but the instructor and fellow students were all welcoming and lovely. And the minute I dipped my nib into the ink for the first time, I fell in love. Pointed pen was what was missing from my life. I was able to achieve those distinct thin and thick lines I had been trying for with brush pens. The class consisted of a little instruction, but mostly it was just dedicated practice time. The instructor walked around and corrected our form and answered our questions. Honestly, I should have taken advantage of her more, but I was entranced. I wrote out the alphabet repeatedly, then tried a few words. By the end of the three hours my hand was cramping and sore, but I was riding an inexplicable high.

It’s hard to explain the thrill I get from what is essentially fancified handwriting. There’s something calming about the repetitive movements and the sound of the nib scratching on paper. And of course there’s the Instagram likes. I try not to do it just for that, but when the likes and follows start to flow in from Internet strangers, it’s hard not to get caught up in it. For now it’s just a hobby, and I’ve told myself I’ll keep doing it as long as it brings me joy. The minute I feel like I “have to” create and post something instead of I “get to” or “want to,” then I know it’s time to stop.

reneedezvous

Adult snow day

12 Feb

At 8 this morning our doorbell didn’t ring. Chris, one of our builders, is never late. I’m convinced he comes 10 minutes early and smokes outside so he can be upstairs at exactly 8 am. One time he even rang at 7:59 am. But not this morning. At 8:13am our contractor called. He hurt his back, Andy the other builder has a prior commitment, so none of the guys were going to come in today.

And just like that I have an adult snow day.

And just like a childhood snow day, it would have been nice to know the night prior so I could sleep in, but I still have a whole free day ahead of me.

It could be just like old times! I can run in the afternoon daylight instead of at dusk! I can work from my bed instead of from the home office desk! I could see a play, or maybe go shopping, and not have to be back at 4 pm when the builders leave. I could even go back to sleep!

But what did I do? I made myself a cup of tea, as I have been every morning since the builders started a month ago, and took it into the home office. Because I’m a creature of habit, and as much as I don’t like to admit it, I’m a lot more productive at this desk than I am in bed.

The guys have been making progress and our living room is looking more and more majestic. On Friday I asked them how much longer they thought everything would take.

Their response?

Two weeks.

money pit yelling

I’m getting old and may be losing my mind

30 Oct

pug sleepingI completely forgot about the time change yesterday. I don’t mean I woke up, saw the time on my phone and clock were different and got confused, I mean I woke up, went about my day as normal, and it was only when we were at lunch with friends and one of them mentioned the time change that I found out about it.

“You mean I lost an hour of sleep without even knowing it?” I exclaimed.

“No. You got an extra hour of sleep without knowing it,” our friend clarified.

When I lamented my misstep to my mom over text, she said I’m either getting old or lead a relaxing life with no time restrictions. It’s probably a bit of both. Though it’s because my phone and Fitbit automatically adjusted that I didn’t realize the change, and was not an hour early to lunch. Back in the day there were always a handful of people who showed up an hour late or early to church or other events on the Sunday after the time change. Now, thanks to technology, we can completely forget about the time change and not be all that affected.

I am getting old, though. The other day I had a “senior moment” in Tesco. I brought my shopping trolley because I was planning on buying some heavy items. I wheeled it around the store in one hand, and wheeled a shopping basket in the other. When it was time to checkout, I got in the queue and figured I should remove my tote bag from my trolley to make it easier to pack. Then panic struck. Where was my trolley? It was gone. I was only wheeling my shopping basket. Had I even brought it with me? Yes, I remembered wheeling it into the store. But where did it go? I jumped out of the queue and ran through every aisle. Luckily even the bigger Tesco Metros are still tiny compared to an American supermarket, and I only had to gaze down 4 aisles before I saw my trolley abandoned by the bananas. I had absolutely no recollection of leaving it there. Aren’t I too young for “sometimers” moments? The only thing I can think is that muscle memory kicked in — since I wheeled the trolley all the way to the store, my body was used to wheeling something behind me in one hand, so when I wheeled my shopping basket around, that felt like the trolley. It does feel unnatural to wheel things in each hand, which is what I have to do with a trolley and basket.

If getting older means experiencing more and more of these moments, I am not looking forward to it!

London salon struggles

29 Aug

I went to a new hair salon for my highlights the other day. In the U.S. I’ve had the same stylist for almost 10 years (and before that I went to her colleague for almost 10 years!), but in London I can’t seem to find one I like. I thought I found one, but her salon is in a sketchy neighborhood (the police came in during my appointment once to talk about the break-in the previous night), and she was a bit flaky with last-minute cancellations and double bookings. So I found another salon near our new flat. The trainee did a great job for a good price, but on my second visit I mistakenly booked just parting highlights, which I understood would be just the roots on top that show. But apparently parting just means only the front of your head, so I had awkward dark roots in the back and was too embarrassed to say anything because I got exactly what I asked for and paid for. So my solution was just to never show my face there again.

So it was back to Treatwell (a Groupon-like site just for beauty services). The other day I found a salon with decent reviews offering 50% off a full head of highlights for new customers (making it even cheaper than I pay in Kentucky!). The place seemed nice and my stylist was friendly without being chatty. I sat and read magazines while he did my foils. And then I sat. And sat. My Kentucky stylist and about half the salons I’ve been to in London put me under the dryer while the bleach works its magic. It seems to be a point of contention among stylists, and this guy was not about it — I don’t think his salon even had a dryer you sit under. He made a big deal about how bad it was for your hair, though I’m not sure I’ve noticed a difference. He seemed to know his stuff, though, so I trusted him. And sat some more. For some reason, my natural dark brown hair takes forever to turn blonde without the help of heat. I had flashbacks of a previous salon trip in which I sat for an hour with the foils on, only to walk out with slightly orange hair. I lamented this to the stylist after he checked on me for the sixth time.

“Don’t worry, I am not letting you walk out of here with orange hair!” he said.

“But am I ever going to walk out of here?” I wanted to reply, because I had been there close to 3 hours and was starting to forget what life outside of that salon chair was like.

He finally removed the foils and applied a toner, which is a purple solution that is supposed to tone down any brassiness (which is probably what the other stylist should have done to remove the orangey look.) I asked him how long to leave a toning shampoo on, because I use one once a week and can’t really tell if it’s making a difference and was wondering if it was because I wasn’t leaving it on long enough — the label warns that it can turn your hair purple. He said 5 minutes, which is definitely longer than I’m used to, and he worked the toner into my hair and let it sit. Then we walked over to the styling chair, and he decided the minute he turned the blow dryer on was the perfect time to ask me my thoughts on Trump. Is that the equivalent of a dentist trying to make conversation with his hands in your mouth? Obamacare is hard to explain on its own — I’ll admit I don’t fully understand it, but it’s nearly impossible to discuss over the roaring sound of a dryer.

He noticed my roots were still a little brassy looking, so he decided to wash it with the toner again, leaving it on even longer this time. Then it was back to blow drying and Trump talk while I wondered if I’d ever be able to eat the emergency protein bar I had packed in my bag — I had not planned on spending my entire afternoon at this place!

He complimented how good the highlights had turned out, and it seemed like they really had — they were not orange or only covering half my head, which is more than I can say from past experiences. I thanked him, took his card, and walked home, tucking into the protein bar like I had never eaten before.

Since I always seem to let my dark roots grow out way longer than I should, it’s always a bit of a shock when my hair is back to completely blonde. It takes a few glances in the mirror to get used to. That night I was washing my hands in the bathroom with the better light when my hair caught my eye. It didn’t look different because it was blonder. It looked different because it was purpler.

Yes, the toner turned my hair purple. A very faint purple, like a lilac or silver that is actually all the rage now, but definitely purple.

I rocked it for a day, then washed my hair with the clarifying shampoo I got in my Birchbox, which I read on Google would help. The purple is much less noticeable now, if at all.

My next highlights will definitely be done in the U.S. though, under the dryer and all, then maybe enough time will have passed and I can show my face at that other salon again, because I’m definitely not going back to a place that makes me sit for 3 1/2 hours to turn my hair purple.

mizore shirayuki purple hair

A look back on 2016

1 Jan

pug-new-year

 

 

Ah, 2016. Celebrities die every year, but the year that took away David Bowie, Prince and George Michael seemed particularly cruel. Then there was that little Brexit debacle and American election. But on a personal level, 2016 wasn’t all that bad. Dare I say it was actually quite good.

 

Here’s a little reflection of what went down over the past year:

-Stephen and I celebrated 10 years together
-I went to the Cadbury Creme Egg cafe
-I completed the Great Walk of London, which involved walking 16.35 miles around London solely for the Fitbit steps
-I got to be maid of hono[u]r in my best friend’s wedding in Milwaukee
-I spent Fourth of July in Chicago with good friends
-All the cousins on my dad’s side of the family were reunited for the first time in 9 years
-I started playing Pokemon Go, let it take over my life, completed my Pokedex and for some reason still continue to play
-I did gymnastics for the first time in 16 years with my other best friend and survived with only minor aches and injuries
-I traveled to China with Stephen — twice
-I complete my first half marathon
-I went to my first Cincinnati Bengals game, which happened to be in London
-I got to meet Meat Loaf, my musical idol since high school
-We bought a flat
-I saw 9 West End shows, somehow tying my record from 2015, 2014 and 2013 (maybe my 2017 resolution should be to see 10 shows!)
-I traveled to Denmark, Sweden and the Czech Republic with my parents and got to visit the house my great great grandfather built in Sweden in 1903 (link missing because I still need to make a blog post about this!)
-I spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in London for the first time. We watched the NYE fireworks from the roof of our building and it was beyond spectacular (the most spectacular part being we got to avoid the massive crowds)
-I got to eat at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in Versailles for my 30th birthday. We had an amazing little last minute getaway, until we almost got stuck in Paris because all flights to London were grounded. Thank god for the Eurostar train!

Here’s to 2017! I haven’t made any resolutions, but I hope it is filled with good travel, theatre, food, running, friends and family.