Sunday, April 29, 2012

Does This Make Me a Terrible Person?

First of all... apologies for not posting in a while. I've got a bunch of things half written, but I can't seem to make anything gel. But at the moment, I just need to bitch, and I need some advice.
You see... when I first bought this house, there was a nice little old lady who lived across the alley. We'd chat over the fence now and then, but mostly I'd say our relationship was "cordial". A few years ago she moved out and a couple about my age moved in. They both work at the performing arts complex downtown, and we sort of have similar interests. At first I was pretty excited. I thought it would be fun to have some friends in the neighborhood. Boy, was I wrong!

I won't drag you through every sordid detail, but suffice it to say that theirs is not a happy relationship. In a nutshell, he has a drug and alcohol problem, and she's a harping, nagging pain in the ass who is always, I mean ALWAYS in the middle of one crisis or another.

And to make matters worse, she wants to be my best friend. But what she really wants is to bitch about him, and about men in general. Of course, she always wants to do this over "drinks." And I'm sure that I haven't handled it as well as I could have, because I've agreed to get together with her/them a few times. But we're talking like once a summer, it's not like we're close friends or anything.

Anyhow, recently the situation has escalated. There have been a few "domestic disputes" where the cops have been called, and she's currently evicted him and there has been talk of restraining orders (although I believe she's actually the one who hit him...)

So with all that as the backdrop, she's now decided that she wants to come over and "chat" all the time. Now - chatting over the fence... and "getting together" now and then are one thing, but suddenly she keeps showing up at my patio door unannounced.

I dunno... perhaps I'm just anti-social or misanthropic, but somehow, the fact that she feels like it's OK to just traipse through my backyard uninvited... and to bring her dog with her (who likes to dig up my garden BTW)... really isn't OK with me. It's all just making me feel like my personal space is being invaded.

And she also has a habit of showing up when I'm on the phone with CatMan. I suppose I can't expect people to understand this, but when you live under a different roof from the one you love, telephone time is pretty much sacrosanct.

So today, she showed up AGAIN while I was on the phone with CatMan and I couldn't just not answer the door, because she was looking in the patio door and I was right there (it's a small house.) So I told her that I couldn't talk right now and explained that I talk to my boyfriend every day at that time and sent her away.

And now I feel terrible. I suppose that instead of writing this, I should go over and talk to her, but I really, REALLY just DON'T. WANT. TO.

I mean, I'm sure she needs to talk and everything, and I don't want to be unsympathetic, but I really don't want to get in the middle of whatever craziness is going on between the two of them. I mean, I know he's an alcoholic and everything, but if I had to live with someone like her, I'm sure it would drive me to drink too!

Is this bad? I mean, people are supposed to want to have friends and hang out with their neighbors... but I actually really like having my life be MINE.

I mean, there are reasons that I live alone, and I suppose this is one of them. I just want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it - without having to worry about being "on call" for whoever wants something from me. Does that make me selfish?

OK... I'll stop whining now. But I'd really appreciate any thoughts that y'all might have. Am I being a heartless scum sucker? Has anybody else out there ever dealt with a similar situation? help....

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Posh Bosch - Thoughts on my new Dishwasher

UPDATE... I've switched dishwasher detergents, and now I DO think this machine is a miracle worker! or maybe it's the detergent that works the miracles. Anyhow... take this all with a grain of salt and if you want to read about my detergent discovery, click here.

Now that I've had my new Bosch Ascenta dishwasher for nearly a month, I figured I'd do a little review and tell y'all what I think.

The short story is that... well, it's a dishwasher, not a miracle worker, but it is by far the best dishwasher that I have ever owned. Now, to put that statement in context, I have never owned a nice dishwasher before. I've always had the cheap variety with no disposer, you know, the kind that doesn't get your dishes clean and sounds like a cement mixer - so bear that in mind here.
First of all... there are several machines in the Ascenta line, and I opted for the cheapest. I believe the model number is SHE3AR52UC, in case you're curious. I didn't think that paying extra money for a few extra cycles made any sense, nor do I care whether the controls are exposed or not.

I got it at Best Buy and as luck would have it, it was on sale and they were having a free delivery and installation special, so the entire thing ended up costing me about $550 - that includes taxes, delivery and installation. Not a bad deal.

I chose this model because Consumer Reports just LOVED the Bosch, and in particular they loved the Ascenta.

So here are my thoughts...

First of all, the thing is gorgeous... I mean the stainless steel interior is really pretty. I realize this falls near the top of the ridiculous scale in terms of rating appliances, but still... it makes me smile every time I open it up.

One of the real selling points of Bosch dishwashers is that they are quiet, and this is definitely true. Now, this model is rated at 50 dBA, so it's not like you can't hear it or anything... but it's quieter than the furnace, and the noisiest part of the cycle is a little glugging sound when it drains. My house is very small with an open design, so this is a very nice feature. I think that some of the more expensive Bosch lines are even quieter.

Many of the reviews that I read complained that the Bosch had a smaller capacity than other dishwashers, and for the life of me, I really can't figure out what they're talking about. I'm sure some of this varies depending on the racks, but I seriously have a hard time filling the sucker up before I run out of dishes.

The racks are designed more for actual dishes rather than large bowls, pots & pans etc... but I haven't yet found anything that I couldn't make fit. And the little silverware cages have these nifty slots in them to keep the spoons from getting nested, which is totally WONDERFUL!

The other really nice feature is that it has a separate spray arm for the top shelf, so you can actually put pots, pans and bowls face down in the bottom shelf without blocking all of the water to the top shelf. This is a REALLY nice feature.

So... on to the important stuff... how does it clean? OK, so all new dishwashers claim that you don't have to pre-rinse dishes. Even the Kenmore that died made this claim, and I basically found it to be hogwash. But, being an open minded person I figured I'd give it a shot.

And much to my surprise, it actually does live up to this claim... with a few caveats.

First of all, it doesn't get the baked on stuff. I guess that's not terribly surprising. To be fair, I never would have dreamed of even putting this sort of thing into my old dishwasher in the first place, so I don't really have anything to compare it to.

But lasagna pans and other baked on stuff do require a bit of either pre or post scrubbing in order to clean off the baked on bits. But really it's more like a post cycle wipe than an actual scrubbing. Since I've entered "cheese probation" this has been less of an issue...

The other issue isn't so much with getting the dishes clean per se, it's with stuff getting re-deposited on the dishes. The first few times I ran the sucker I ended up with cat food and detergent residue stuck all over at least half of the dishes.

I've been running it on the automatic cycle, which "senses" how dirty the water is and determines how many rinses are necessary. So it could be that if I chose one of the other cycles (either normal or heavy) the problem might have been solved, but I never got that far. I'm also not using a rinse aid - which I will discuss later.

But I found that the residue problem was solved by simply doing a better job of scraping the dishes (like using a spatula rather than a spoon).

Now... to clarify, I don't actually have to scrape my dishes at all... but I am a card carrying member of the clean plate club... at OCD membership level, so I never leave anything meaningful on the plate.

CatMan, on the other hand... I have to scrape his dishes, as well as serving/storage containers. And with the cat food... well, I've found that it's easiest to just give those dishes a quick pre-rinse since I have to rinse the cans anyhow before putting them in the recycling. But scraping with a spatula worked there too.

This is how I generally leave my plates...
The other thing that helped was to simply use less detergent.  I've gotten the best results by using only a scant tablespoon per load - and I use the cheap stuff... no fancy enzymes or packets for me!

Now... on to the rinse aids. The manual says that you should always use Jet Dry or a similar rinse aid, and to be honest, this sort of rubs me the wrong way. I just don't like the idea of having to purchase yet another product, nor do I relish the idea of having god-knows-what-chemicals in the final rinse water.

So, I did some research, and here's what I discovered about rinse aids. They have basically three main components/purposes. First of all they generally have citric acid or some other acidic ingredient designed to keep hard water deposits from forming on the glasses. Do I care? no.

Secondly, they have alcohol, which is designed to help the dishes dry faster and more effectively. Eh... sort of nice, but really not worth worrying about in my opinion.

And finally, they contain a surfactant, which is essentially some sort of soap or other chemical designed to break the surface tension and make the water (as well as any food or detergent residue) sheet off of the dishes rather than getting re-deposited on them. This is probably the main reason that they recommend using a rinse aid, and why so many people report sub-par results without it.

Still, I'm not wild about the idea of ingesting said "surfactant" plus, I realize I'm splitting environmental hairs here, but I think that the impact of a tiny bit of pre-rinsing has got to be less than the impact of manufacturing and distributing the rinse aid... not to mention the waste water issue.

And speaking of environmental issues... the Bosch scores rather remarkably on that front. It only uses 2.7 gallons of water per load and the Energy Star label says that if you do 4 loads per week you'll only burn 279 kWh per year with an electric water heater, and even less if you have a gas water heater.

Those figures have done wonders for my environmental guilt, and have allowed me to use the thing to clean stuff like mixing bowls, serving dishes and pots that I normally would have done by hand. Maybe this is just rationalization, but I think ultimately it uses less energy to toss them in the dishwasher than to clean them by hand it it sure makes life a LOT easier!

And speaking of making life easier... I've never actually used the drying feature on a dishwasher before. This was partly to conserve energy, but I also had a few nasty melted plastic incidents which scared me off. But the Bosch turns this all on its head.

It doesn't actually have a heating element... the water is heated as it enters the machine sort of like an on-demand water heater. The stainless steel interior actually functions as a condensing plate in the drying process. When the washing and rinsing is complete the water condenses on the stainless steel walls where it trickles down and is ultimately pumped from the machine.

So the drying cycle uses no extra energy, and I've gotta say it's sort of life changing to be able to open the machine and put the dishes away immediately, rather than having to wait several hours for them to dry. It has all but done away with the piles of dishes in the sink because if I put the dishes away as soon as they're done, then the dirty ones can go straight into the dishwasher instead of ending up all over the kitchen.

The only other issue that I'll touch on here is the sanitize feature. I'm generally not overly concerned with issues like sanitizing things... I figure we're surrounded by germs and bacteria 24/7 anyhow, and the "clean world" fantasy is pretty much delusional.

But, recently Smoky developed a bit of feline acne, and everything I read says that this is generally caused by lingering bacteria on food and water dishes. Using the sanitize feature has totally cleared up his acne, so it's completely worth it! Plus, since I've started eating meat again, I do worry a bit more about bacteria on food prep items.

In some of the reviews that I read people had problems getting the water hot enough. Bosch's recommendation was to run the hot water in your kitchen sink until it got really hot before starting the machine. Ummm... pardon my saying this, but this would seem to negate any environmental benefit that the thing might convey!

I generally clean the cast iron and other hand washables right before running the machine so that sort of serves the same purpose, but I've run it several times without warming up the water first... and let me tell you, it takes FOREVER for the kitchen water to get hot in this house... and the dishes were still all hot and steamy at the end of the cycle.

So, all in all I am very happy with my new dishwasher. I just hope it lasts a good long time!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Please, Please, No More Cheese!

I have been a cheese lover all of my life. I always sort of considered it to be its own little food group, and not a day went by without me downing a hefty chunk of the wonderful stuff.

But lately - and I really can't believe I'm saying this - I'm just not that in to cheese.

It started a few months back when I decided for many reasons to start eating some meat again after 20 years of being a vegetarian.

The meat thing has had a few bumps here and there... I've sort of felt like I was learning to cook all over again. But it's also had a very unexpected side effect. I'm no longer craving cheese.

It used to be that I felt the need to smother just about everything I ate in a hefty layer of some variety of cheese. It was partially for the flavor, and partially because my body just seemed to crave it. But after I started eating a bit of meat again (and really, it's only been about 3 servings of chicken per week) I suddenly just don't have the desire for cheese.

I even let a big package of pepper jack go bad in the fridge because I simply forgot it was there!

Who is this?!? And what have you done with Cat?!?

Most recently I've been suffering from tummy problems. I've always had a bit of lactose intolerance, but that never stopped me from eating cheese before. But lately, I've been literally doubled over in pain on a regular basis, and after a night of cheesy lasagna followed by movies and buttered popcorn last week, I felt seriously ill.

So, I'm trying a little experiment... no more cheese!

OK... I haven't gone completely cold turkey... I did sprinkle a tiny bit of Parmesan on my soup the other day, but other than that it's been about 10 days without cheese, and to tell the truth I feel fabulous!

So I'm wondering... has anybody else out there ever experienced anything like this? I mean, I'm really eating very little meat, although I have been using the bones to make soup stock, which is just beyond wonderful.

I'm trying to figure out if this is a physical thing or if I'm just having some sort of psychosomatic reaction to eating meat again. And why I would suddenly become so much more sensitive to cheese is beyond me.

Anyhoo... tell me... do you eat cheese? How about meat? Have you ever noticed a connection between your consumption of one and cravings for the other? Just wondering...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Gift From My Uncle Sam

So when the mail arrived today there was a letter from the IRS.

Surprisingly enough, I didn't panic. I mean really... if you're gonna audit someone, wouldn't it make sense to choose a person who actually makes money?

I filed a few weeks ago and used the e-file system... a first for me, so I was pretty sure this was a letter telling me that I was a complete and total idiot and that I had fucked up my return and would need to go sit in a corner and re-do it.

Turns out I was kinda right... but in a good way. Apparently, I actually qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit, and since I failed to claim it, they were writing to tell me that all I had to do was fill out a little form and they would be sending me a check for the amount due to me.

Wow. I thought the Earned Income Credit was only for people with kids, but apparently if they consider your income to be pitiful enough, even the child free can qualify. Who knew? Well, obviously they did, but you know what I mean.

Yanno... this is actually the second time that the IRS has written to tell me that I didn't take a credit that I was qualified for and that they were sending me money.

It sort of leaves me feeling a tad bit funny. I mean, seriously? I don't really consider myself to be a person in need of government assistance. I pretty much feel like I'm living in the lap of luxury so it sort of boggles my mind that the IRS considers me to be poor enough to need help.

I actually thought about refusing the credit, but CatMan set me straight pretty darned quickly. "Are you F#@&IN' KIDDING me?!? You think Mitt Romney would turn down an opportunity to pay less taxes? Fill that form out right now!"

Still, I can't help but feel a little bit guilty, even though it's not very much money. I mean I am "broke by choice". Plus, it sort of shatters the whole picture of IRS as horrible boogeyman. If only some of those "aspirationals" could have this experience perhaps they'd start to realize which side of the economic divide they actually inhabit!

At any rate, if anybody out there is planning on doing last minute taxes, you might want to take a quick peek at the income levels and see if you too might qualify for the Earned Income Credit.

Happy Taxes Y'all!