Month: January 2017

Broccoli Tots

I’ve seen a lot of recipes for broccoli tots, but really haven’t been impressed with the end result. I created two of my own recipes that we like a lot more – although neither approach is potato-free. The first ‘recipe’ is to take your favorite latke (potato pancake) recipe and add 8 ounces of shredded broccoli. I make a lot of ‘stuff’ (soups, stir fries) that uses the broccoli crowns, but I’ve never cared for slices of the stem in dishes. Shreds of broccoli stems, however, work wonderfully in cheddar broccoli soup and broccoli tots. Grate the left-over stems and steam them for a few minutes, allow to cool, then use or freeze. I squeeze them out before using – otherwise you get a lot of water.

The second recipe:

1 lb potatoes
8 oz shredded broccoli
3 oz shredded cheddar cheese
1 t salt
1 t pepper
1/4 t cayanne pepper
1 T corn starch
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Shred half of the potatoes and set aside. Chop the remaining potatoes into small chunks and cook in boiling water (~10 minutes). Mash the potato chunks.

Sauté the shredded potatoes in oil (butter, olive oil, peanut oil) until they are crispy and golden.

Combine all of the ingredients except for the shredded potatoes. Mix well. Carefully stir in the sautéed shredded potatoes.

Line a half-sheet with a silicon baking mat. Scoop small amounts (1-2 teaspoons) of the mixture into your hand and roll into a ball. Place the balls onto the baking sheet and flatten a little bit.

Bake for ten minutes at 400 degrees. Turn tots over and continue baking for ten more minutes.

Amazon Prime Household and Security (or lack thereof)

There are a lot of odd security lapses in Amazon’s implementation of Prime Household. Anything that uses Alexa creates shared cards that are visible in the Alexa app. There’s some implicit trust between family members, but even married people may not want to share EVERYTHING. “Echo, add this present for my wife to the list” shows up as a card in your wife’s Alexa app.

We share an Amazon Prime Household with Scott’s dad. We both have Alexa-enabled devices (FireTVs and Dots). Our Dots interact with our home automation system through a Phillips bridge emulator. Scott’s dad has some smart devices, but his FireTV could not find any smart devices when it would search. It would, however, turn the ‘outside lights’ on and off. Except the lights didn’t turn on or off in his house.

Our outside lights started turning on and off one night. We have a lot of home automation, but nothing in the logs indicated why this was occurring. I’m not sure if Scott called him or he called Scott, but we were lucky not to spend a day trying to track down some crazy issue. Evidently your Alexa can switch between profiles on the Amazon Prime Household just by saying “switch accounts”. You can ask it “which account is this?”.

The thing I find odd — our HA Bridge is not publicly addressable. Evidently any device on your account can have another device on your account initiate communication. Otherwise there’s no way a device that is connected to our profile but NOT on our network would be able to communicate with the HA Bridge.

Winter Gear

My gloves say they have 40 gram Thinsulate; but every time I would work outside, my fingers would be FREEZING. Oddly, my husband’s gloves – which also say they have 40 gram Thinsulate – keep my hands nice and warm.

Evidently women’s gloves (at least the cute leather ones) do not have insulated fingers. Which is obvious when you consider the distinct lack of bulk in the fingers. I picked up a pair of ski gloves from REI – these are fully insulated.

I also got insulated overalls and work jacket on clearance. What an incredible difference. Anya and I shoveled a couple inches of snow, cleaned off the car, and played outside for a while — temperatures in the mid 20’s — and I was warm.


I know everyone has a gut reaction to the efficacy of the immigration ban – be it ‘total rubbish’ or ‘great job securing our borders’ – but a few organisations have bothered analysing the historic actions that would have been eliminated by the travel ban.

The Cato Institute, libertarian leaning but certainly not a left-wing think tank, finds no benefit to national security. The nations included in the ban account for seventeen convictions for attempted terrorist attacks – and exactly zero deaths. Now “attempting” a terrorist attack could be anything from planning to trying to actually execute an attack. Bad, but ZERO people died. A few of the banned countries (Libya and Syria) did not account for a SINGLE attempted attack. They provide a illuminating breakdown of what appears to be selectively picked data published by Senator Jeff Sessions — Trump’s pick for Attorney General. 6.9% of the list (over 500 accounts) were foreigners planning attacks on US soil. Even if I assume Senator Sessions hasn’t selected data to make a couple of countries look particularly bad, the travel ban fails to prevent 93.1% of PLANNED attacks.

A common argument is that stopping one attempt is worth it (questionable considering the disruption caused by the travel ban – doctors are unable to enter the country to take up residency at hospitals, scientists are unable to enter the country to take research positions at universities, but value cannot be ascribed to a life so arguing is a bit of a bad job). What cannot be determined, though, is how much anger does this move engender? How many people BEGIN providing material aid to terrorist organisations because of this ban? How many people are going to end up dead because of this action?

I’ve said before – it would be one thing to decree the entire immigration process insecure and shut down ALL immigration (travel tourism too. bad for, say, people who own hotels) for a period of time while a new process is deployed. Selectively banning countries based on history of terrorist activity — which this certainly IS NOT — only causes different people to undertake terrorist activities. It’s a little like the aeroport security scanners – they’re looking for everything previous terrorists have tried. Makes people feel better (even as they complain about the inconvenience) that the government is “doing something” to keep them safe. I guess this falls into the same category, but we aren’t even selecting countries to ban on historic data. We’re selecting them on some guy’s perception of risk. Or some guy’s investment portfolio. Or some guy who threw darts at a map of the Middle East.

The ISIL Plan

One facet of the campaign that I found fascinating was Trump’s touted secret plan to defeat ISIL. Now, I’ve encountered a lot of situations in politics and business where there really is no good answer, and when pressed repeatedly to come up with *something* … well, if I had figured out the answer to world peace, I’d have already rung up the UN Sec Gen. Solved malnutrition and starvation, I’d have published it on slash-dot. Hell, even if I had solved the P v/s NP problem … I would have TOLD SOMEBODY.

Had I been sitting around my bling’ed out parlor lulled into a zen-like state by the sunlight dancing on the gold, well, everything when the thing that’s been missing all along in our fight against terrorism popped into my mind … what kind of asshole keeps it super-secret hidden and offers to reveal the solution if you’ll vote for him. So, yeah, either a liar or an asshole. (Also, not mutually exclusive).

Well, enough electors voted for him and where’s this super awesome solution? Did Trump think Putin’s praise meant Russia would pressure Syria to get the whole terrorism thing sorted? Implying Trump thinks Syria could do something to stop ISIL if only they tried … which is almost more frightening than many of the other points of ignorance the man has shown in the last few years. Did Trump think there was actually a good plan on the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s desk but Obama refused to implement this plan — so Trump’s plan was to say “OK, General, do it”?

Doesn’t bother me that the dude doesn’t have a plan (lets be honest, I assumed he didn’t have a plan as soon as he started spouting off about it), but why doesn’t anyone call him on yet another broken campaign promise?

Blindly Following Instructions

I purchased a table runner kit after the holidays. I’ve never done paper piecing, but I like the Mariner’s Compass patterns. It’s a technique I wanted to learn; and I wanted a clean, modern table runner for our dining room. I didn’t see a whole lot of modern-looking quilted table runners.

I’ve watched a couple of online videos showing the paper piecing process, and thought I was ready to give it a try. Traced the A variant of the block four times, cut all of the fabric pieces, and got ready to sew. I was halfway done the first block when I realized that the instructions have a point made of a blue piece and a yellow piece. Not a darker and lighter blue or a darker and lighter yellow. Checked the B variant of the block – same thing.

Well, that’s not right! I can see the intended result and it’s clearly got points that have a shadow effect created by using a darker and lighter shade of the same color. And if you combine two of the block units, you’ll have nothing but yellow/blue points.

I ended up re-writing the fabric to be used – and realized that there isn’t actually a B variant of the block anywhere in the thing. It is 8 identical blocks. A dark blue, light yellow/dark yellow, then a light blue. That light blue connects to the dark blue on the next block.

One of the challenges of working on something new … I don’t know enough about what I’m doing to question the instructions. Until it becomes obvious (and I have to cut new pieces to re-do an entire block!)

Homemade Lip Balm

I’ve been making homemade soap for almost four years now, but haven’t ventured into the other personal products that can be made at home. Anya’s lips have been getting chapped this winter, and she picks at them … so they get rather ripped up. I had a tube of lip balm that I let her use. She’s four years old, and misused lip balm in all the ways one could imagine to misuse lip balm; and I took it from her. She proceeded to crawl up on the counter when I wasn’t looking and take it back. So when I found her writing on the cabinetry with the lip balm, I took it and hid it from her. Unfortunately, the next time we needed to use it … I have no idea where I hid it. We spent about half an hour looking, and still no lip balm. Good hiding spot, but her lips were getting really raw. So I decided to research lip balm recipes.

Now we have lip balm that doesn’t contain any funky ingredients. I’ve got quite a few oils for making soap, so the project didn’t require a lot of new ‘stuff’ either. Bonus!

Lip Balm Recipe:

25 grams of yellow beeswax
20 grams of shea butter
20 grams of cocoa butter
40 grams of coconut oil

All of these were put into a metal bowl. I put a couple of inches of water in a small saucepan and set the metal bowl into the saucepan. Turned the burner to ‘4’ and heated it for a LONG time until all of the wax melted. Next time, I’ll grate the wax 🙂 The big chunks took a while to melt down. The grated slivers melted before the cocoa butter.

Once everything has melted, add any essential oils you may want (I used about half a teaspoon of peppermint oil, but the peppermint is really subtle). Then pour into containers — if you are using tubes, make sure they are twisted all the way down first! Let them sit for twenty minutes or so to cool. Voila, lip balm!

Real and Alternative Facts

Alternative Fact: Mexico will pay for Trump’s crazy wall through a 20% tariff on goods imported from Mexico to the USAs

Real Fact: Umm, that’s Americans who will be paying … anything they buy from Mexico will cost 20% more. Or they’ll purchase goods imported from some other country to avoid paying the import duty and still end up paying for the wall (plus interest on the wall) because that’s how floated debt works in the real world.

Overlaying Fabrics

I played around with overlaying fabrics – I used an organza with a silver snowflake design over a deep blue satin. The resulting color is a much lighter icy blue (pretty much what I was going for).

I had a lot of trouble handling the fabric – I cut the circles and basted the two pieces together at the waist and hem. I then used the lower baste-line to fold and hem the skirt. That worked well. For some reason, though, I could NOT get the waistband to attach. I ended up catching the skirt in the serger and slicing the fabric. There’s a fairly large (3/4″ wide by 3″ long) gash that I had to patch up right along the band. Not something you notice when Anya is wearing it, I didn’t have enough fabric to cut new circles, and it would look worse if I spliced in an entire wedge of the skirt.

The organza material is a little plastic-y, and difficult to work with. My original idea was to do a rolled hem on the bottom of both materials. Couldn’t get a nice rolled hem on a straight piece of sample fabric … so that was out. Once the organza was combined with the satin, it was pretty easy to work with. It doesn’t drape like cotton, though (hence my problem with the serger).

The end result, however, looks really awesome. And Anya loves having a glittery silver snowflake skirt.

Voting Fraud Or The Potential Thereof

There’s been a lot of reporting and chatter about voter fraud. I assumed this was intentional fraud until I started seeing reports that some of Trump’s advisers, cabinet nominees, and even a daughter were guilty of one of the particular missteps against which Trump rails.

I have lived in several states. I have also been registered to vote in each of them. I verified my registration on three different states, and wanted to remove my registration from the states in which I don’t actually live. Spent two hours searching two different Board of Election sites and there’s no published process for rescinding a registration. Checked the federal Election Assistance Commission — they do not even say you need to rescind your previous registration. It’s a “good idea”, but it also says “your new election office uses this information [your former address] to notify your former election office that you no longer reside in that jurisdiction”. Evidently there’s a fairly high failure rate on this process.

This is not voter fraud – it was a failure on my part to properly research the process and then follow up to confirm my non-registered status in other states. There’s a big difference between casting ballots using the same identity in multiple states, voting under multiple identities, etc and unknowingly being registered to vote in more than one state.

Making people aware of the problem – especially if local Boards of Election update their web sites with instructions on removing invalid registrations – is certainly a worthwhile endeavor. I work in IT; I like clean data. Cleaning up the state registries may make analysing data to identify actual fraud easier (i.e. the fact that I show up on three states is more indicative of fraud since it is common knowledge that individuals should be rescinding old registrations). But how much money is going to be wasted hunting for phantom election fraud?