Monday, November 18, 2013

The Perfect 3-Minute Egg In Only 8.5 Minutes!

I've lived on the west side of Denver pretty much all of my life, and I don't really think of myself as living "at altitude." I mean, Denver is known as "The Mile High City" because we're a mile above sea level (well, 5462 ft. at my house according to Google Earth).

It comes in handy for psyching out opposing football teams, but other than that, it's not something I give much thought to.

That is, until it comes to cooking. You know, for years I just thought that people who wrote cookbooks were either crazy or overly optimistic in terms of the suggested cooking times. "Bake for 20-25 minutes" Ha! If it says that, I generally check it at 40 minutes and often it takes an hour to cook fully.

It didn't really occur to me that this might have something to do with the altitude. I mean, if your're baking at 350 degrees, it ought to work the same way, right? The oven isn't any cooler than it would be at sea level, but for some reason it doesn't work that way.

For the non-scientifically inclined out there - there's less air pressure at higher altitudes, so water (and everything else) boils at a lower temperature - which wreaks havoc on cooking instructions that were written for people living at sea level.

I guess baking is a complicated process and the boiling point of water must figure into the equation somehow.

So, last week the big health headline in the news was the new FDA guidelines about acrylamides. In case you don't subscribe to "news for the paranoid" acrylamides are a chemical substance that is formed when high starch foods are cooked at high temperatures. The browner and crispier it gets, the more acrylamides it contains.

Anyhow, acrylamides have been shown to be carcinogenic so the FDA is now recommending that people try to reduce their exposure.

Mostly they occur in processed foods like french fries and other high carbohydrate snack foods that are fried or cooked at high temperatures, but they also show up in coffee & nuts (formed when the beans/nuts are roasted) and any carbohydrate rich food that is baked, broiled or fried.

So it got me to thinking that I do have a tendency to fry things more than is probably healthy. I don't mean deep fat frying or anything... just stovetop cooking, but still... In fact, one of my favorite breakfasts is fried eggs with home fried potatoes.

So I started thinking that perhaps I should try boiling the potatoes instead. And even though eggs are not a food that forms acrylamides, it's still probably healthier to boil them than it is to fry them.

Thus began my quest to see if I could create a soft boiled egg. When I lived in Norway people ate soft boiled eggs all the time... they even had these cute little egg cups and you'd just peel the top of the egg and then scoop it out with a spoon... yum!

Anyhow, the standard rule that it says in cookbooks is that a soft boiled egg should take 3 minutes. Figuring this would never work here in Denver, I started at 6.

For the sake of consistency, I took the eggs directly from the fridge and dropped them into the boiling water (with a little pin hole poked on each end to keep it from splitting.)

At six minutes the eggs were decidedly runny. The yokes were completely liquid and the whites were solid on the outside but runny closer to the middle.

I kept upping the time and finally this morning I believe I hit upon the magic number! Here's my 8.5 minute egg! Woo Hoo!

So I'm curious... how long does it take things to cook where you live?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Right Tool means Money in the Bank

Meet my laundry room floor drain.

For the first few years that I owned my home, this thing was the bane of my existence.

Every 6 months or so the drain would back up leaving about 6 inches of water all over the laundry room floor.

The first few times it happened I tried pouring drain cleaner down it... but to no avail. So I tried to use one of those plumbing snakes, but the thing just kinked and got stuck about 6 feet in, and did nothing to solve the problem.

Finally in desperation I called the Roto-Rooter folks who came out and snaked the drain to the tune of about $250. Oy!

But the thing is... it just kept happening over, and over, and over again. The plumbers tried ever more sophisticated (and expensive) procedures, but without fail the thing would clog and back up once or twice a year.

After several years of this they told me that there was likely a problem with the main line and the only real solution would be to dig a trench through the backyard, remove the pipe and replace the line. I could just see the contents of my bank account floating down that drain!

To make matters worse, about 30 years after my house was built a detached garage was added in the back.

Given the relative locations of the drain, garage and alley it was very likely that the main sewer line ran directly under the garage, making it much more difficult and expensive to replace than it otherwise would have been.

At that point I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I was just gonna have to call a plumber a few times a year to come snake the thing out. But then an idea occurred to me.

All those plumbers really had that I didn't was a big fancy power auger... maybe I could buy one.

On one hand it seemed like a ridiculous thing for a non-plumber to own, but given the fact that I'd already spent WAY over a thousand dollars on the stupid drain, it started to sound like it might be down right cost effective!

So I hopped on the interwebs to see if I could price power augers, and somewhere in my search I stumbled upon something called a sewer rod.

Turns out that I'm not the only person on the planet who's ever had the problem of a clogged floor drain - go figure - and there actually does exist a tool designed for just this problem!

Basically a sewer rod is a long sturdy but flexible metal tape with a spear pointed roller ball on the end designed specifically for clearing sewer pipes.

It's much sturdier than your typical snake or auger and the ball on the end is designed to punch through big clogs. And get this, the thing cost less than $50!

So I hopped in the car, ran over to my local home improvement store, plunked down my $37.50 for a 50 foot sewer rod and voila! In about 10 minutes I had the drain running smoother than it had at any time since I'd owned the house! I felt like a genuine plumbing whiz!

It's not like the problem is completely solved... it still clogs every 6 months or so. But over the years I've learned to recognize the tell tale glugging sound that it starts to make when the thing is starting to clog.

So whenever I hear it, like I did today, I just run down to the laundry room, whip out my handy dandy sewer rod and fix it before it has a chance to back up and become a problem.

I ran into a guy who was a plumber at a party once and told him about my troublesome pipe. He said it's very likely that over the years the earth has settled so that the line no longer runs directly downhill as it originally did. So there's most likely just a "high spot" in the line where debris tends to collect, and the sewer rod clears the debris so the drain can flow smoothly again.

I have to say, that $37.50 was probably one of the best investments I've ever made. It has literally saved me thousands of dollars and untold headaches.

So tell me, what's the most money-saving DIY tool that you own?

Howdy y'all, I had a little mishap with the sewer rod today, and decided to post about it so that if anybody else out there on the interwebs ends up in a similar situation you'll have some clue how to get out of it.

The last time I used the sewer rod (they're also called sewer tape), I noticed that the ball thing on the end was loose and wobbly. Fearing that it might come off and get stuck in the pipe, I decided to replace it with a new one.

So, I got a new one and snaked out the drain. Now... this particular pipe has a pretty sharp corner about 5 feet in, and to get the tape around the corner you have to position the rod so the tape is vertical, because it only bends side to side, not up & down, if you get what I mean. So I got it past the corner no problem and it cleared the clog, but then I couldn't get the damned thing out! It kept getting hopelessly stuck at that corner.

Seriously, I pulled and pulled, shoved it back and forth, twisted the thing as much as was possible, cried, cursed... after about 5 hours I was at my wits end. I really thought I was gonna have to call somebody to either push the thing through to the sewer in the alley or take a jack-hammer to the concrete floor. I think the problem is that there's a lip on the pipe right at the corner and the thing was just getting stuck there - like this:

Finally, with some advice from CatMan, the interwebs and a good friend who has infinitely more patience than I do we came upon a solution. We cut about an 8 foot hunk from an old garden hose and threaded it over the tape. Then we cut a 2-3 inch slit in the end of the hose and gooped it up really good with Vaseline. Then, positioning the hose so that the slit was on the opposite side of the tape from where it was stuck, we slid the hose down the tape until the slit end butted up against the ball thing. We had to push the snake & hose about a foot past the corner to do this part. Then using a vice grip we were able to hold the hose in place and pull the snake so the ball end of the snake went up into the slit end of the hose thus putting a sheath around the corner where the ball meets the snake - where the thing was getting caught. At that point it slid out easily.

In hindsight, and with some further inspection of the old sewer rod, I figured out that the head on the old one wasn't just wobbly, half of it was actually missing! I remembered that the very first time I used it I had real trouble getting it out past that same corner - but was finally able to yank the thing out. I now think that I must have yanked off half of the ball on the old one the very first time I used it, and since I wasn't all that familiar with how it was supposed to look at that point, I just didn't realize it. OY! One can hope that in the 15 years or so since that happened the remnant part has made its way down the pipe to the sewer in the alley!

I'm not quite sure what I'm gonna do moving forward. I'm certainly NOT gonna use the new sewer rod on this particular drain again, and I also don't think it's a good idea to risk leaving any more parts in the pipe. I may try just removing the entire ball apparatus from the old rod and see how that works.

In any case. I just thought I'd post this update so if anybody else out there ever finds themselves stuck in a similar situation, you'll have something to try before doing anything really drastic!


OK... so just wanted to post that I replaced the sewer rod again, this time with a different brand. The original one was made by Cobra and had a ball end that looked like this:

I replaced it with one made by Ridgid that looks like this:

It's a little hard to tell from this picture, but the Ridgid sewer rod had two different ends to choose from.

I used the spear end and it had absolutely no problem with that corner and cleared the clog perfectly. The ball end could also be used, although you'd have to unwind the thing completely to get at it. But the ball is about half the size of the one on the end of the Cobra product.

Soooo... I guess the point here is that if you have a choice, I'd highly recommend going with a Ridgid over a Cobra!

Happy drain clearing y'all!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Greed vs. Grace... A Small Experiment

OK, so I know you were all waiting on pins and needles to hear what I decided to do for Halloween.

In the end I decided on a grand compromise... well, OK, I was at Costco and there was a giant box of York Peppermint patties which I LOVE, and I caved.

In my defense, I thought they would be foil wrapped like they used to be...

So, I got them home and opened the box to taste one... you know, just to make sure they weren't stale or anything (wink, wind, nudge, nudge) and discovered to my dismay that they now come wrapped in plastic like everything else. Sigh.

But anyhow, I decided that I'd put the peppermint patties, the two small bags of chocolate kisses and peanut butter cups that I'd bought the other day along with some leftover party favor type toys that I had from previous years all in a big box on the front porch with a "help yourself" sign and see what happened.

I figured that way I wouldn't traumatize the cats, but I wouldn't be being a Halloween Scrooge either.

CatMan thought this was hilarious. He assured me that the first kid would simply dump the entire box of stuff into their pillow case and that would be it.

Undaunted, I maintained faith that the children would approach the situation with grace and politely take just a few pieces each. Or I at least figured that their parents would encourage a moderate amount of restraint.

Sooooo... at around 9pm I decided things had probably wound down so I opened the door to peek...

You guessed it, the vultures had picked the thing clean!

And we're not talking about a trivial amount of candy here. All told there were probably about 250 pieces of candy and an equal number of things like glow in the dark teeth, plastic spider rings, Halloween bubbles etc.

I was blown away! I mean, I had even included about half a dozen things for babies like rubber ducks and pacifiers and every. single. thing. was taken! Even the pencils! Seriously?


I suppose I shouldn't draw any sweeping conclusions from this little experiment. I mean it could have been just one kid who spoiled it for all the rest - I'll never know. I guess that's the thing about greed - it just takes one or two people to ruin things for everybody else.

But on some level it just makes me sad. I dunno... what do you think? Are kids just like this when candy is involved? Is greed just a part of the human condition? Is this just a manifestation of our crazy materialistic society? I'd love to hear your take...