Friday, April 17, 2015

How to Make Coffee Using a French Press



How to use a French pressI received the product mentioned in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are 100 percent my own. 

I’m a coffee snob. I rarely drink it because I’d rather drink no coffee than bad coffee.  If the coffee is not of high quality, I easily pass because I don’t drink it for the caffeine fix. I drink it for the taste.
I attribute my snobbiness to drinking Costa Rican coffee most of my life. To me, some American brands of pre-ground coffee serve as a better soil amendment than something that pleases my taste buds.

I  Used to Be Bad at Making Coffee

Before learning how to make coffee in a coffee maker properly, I was terrible at it. I mastered pour-over coffee, which some say has the best taste, but the more convenient method was unknown to me. 

Once, at a hotel, my parents asked me to brew the coffee provided in the amenity basket. I placed the prepared grounds that were enclosed in the filter in the coffee pot, poured the water into the coffee maker and turned it on. I treated the prepared filter like a tea bag instead of placing it in the coffee maker’s basket. In addition to this, I never really knew the coffee-to-water ratio. 

I have a better handle on things and have mastered my coffee maker. The next step in my cafĂ© endeavor was learning how to use a French press. I always wanted one and knew about the features to seek, but had no idea how to use it. Kitchen Supreme helped me out and sent me its French Press for Coffee & Tea Maker. I’m happy to report that my first cup of coffee from the French press was excellent.

How to Use a French Press

  1. Fill the French press with water and pour the water into a teakettle or hot pot.
  2. Bring the water to a boil.
  3. Grind the coffee beans until they’re medium coarse. You’ll need 1 tablespoon of coffee for every cup of water. The Kitchen Supreme press holds 4 cups of water, so I used 4 tablespoons of coffee. (Tip: If your coffee tastes bitter or too acidic, the grounds were too fine. If the coffee tastes weak, the grounds were too coarse.)
  4. Remove the teapot from the heating element or turn off the hot pot when the water comes to a boil. Let the water rest for about 30 minutes.
  5. Warm the French press by filling it with hot water from the tap. Then pour out the hot water. (I like to set it aside and let it cool so I can use it for my plants.) (Note: Neglecting this step could result in the French press shattering when you pour in the boiled water. As glass heats, it expands. Pouring boiling water into a cold French press could cause the glass to expand too quickly.)
  6. Place the coffee grounds into the French press.
  7. Add enough of the boiling water to the French Press to cover the coffee grounds.
  8. Let the coffee grounds “bloom” for 1 minute. Then use a long spoon to stir the grounds. If you like, you can cover the press to keep the water warm.
  9. Add the remaining amount of boiled water and stir the coffee grounds once more. Cover the French press to keep the water hot.
  10. Let the coffee grounds steep for 3 ½ minutes to 4 minutes, depending on the strength that you like.
  11. Slowly push down on the French press’ plunger to push the coffee grounds to the bottom of the container. (Tip: If depressing the plunger seemed too easy, the grounds may be too coarse. If it seems too hard, the grounds may be too fine.)
  12. Pour the coffee into cups or into a tea- or coffee pot. Don’t let the coffee sit in the French press because it will taste bad.
 

About the Kitchen Supreme French Press

French press
Kitchen Supreme’s French press works for brewing coffee and tea. It comes with a long tablespoon, which doubles as a stirring stick, and a special stirring spoon that rests on the side of your cup. The glass on the press is made of borosilicate, which resists thermal shocks better than other types of glass. I like that the press comes with three additional screens. 

All in all, I’m happy with the French press, especially because it comes with the accessories that you need. I appreciate the instructions that came with the press since I had never used one, but found them confusing, particularly when it came to the blooming and steeping times when making coffee. Clearer instructions would make this a five-star product.   


What are your coffee brewing tips?


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Not Planning for Your Death is Selfish



Funeral flowers
Image source: Wikipedia
I received the product mentioned in exchange for an honest review on my blog. The opinions expressed are 100 percent my own. 

Death is a scary subject for many people, especially when it comes to thinking about your own passing. After writing about the subject of grief and preparing for your own death for several years, I’ve come to the opinion that not planning for it is selfish. 

Yes, thinking about your own death may be difficult. It’s not like a vacation to which you look forward. However, keep in mind that planning for your own death is not about you. It’s about helping your family emotionally and financially. After seeing other families squabble about what to do with the remains of a loved one, how to celebrate a loved one’s life and how to divide the assets, it’s seems as if this type of pre-planning should be a no-brainer. 

This type of pre-planning does not just apply to older people. Every adult (those 18 and older) should consider their end-of-life wishes and make them known. This is particularly true if you’re married or have children.

Reasons to Plan for Your Own Death and Funeral

  • Your wishes are clear: When you pre-plan, your family knows exactly what to do in medical situations when you can’t make a decision for yourself. Your family also knows how to handle your remains and how you want them to celebrate your life.
  • Help your family avoid debt: When you pre-plan your funeral and make your own arrangements, your family doesn’t have to worry about paying for these services, which can cost thousands of dollars. According to Funerals.org, cremation services cost up to $1,200. I recommend choosing a reputable funeral provider that has an established history and is part of a network or chain of services providers. Pre-plan your arrangements with the director, including details about viewings, how to prepare your body and so on. When you work with a funeral home and pay for your services in advance, your family will not owe the difference if the cost of the services increases over the decades.

    The reason that I recommend using a funeral home that’s part of a chain or network is so your family can access the same services at a different funeral service provider if you move or if the original funeral home goes out of business.

    Leave your loved ones with nice memories, not a financial hardship.
  • Choose your own casket or urn: The demand for caskets and urns will never go away, as humans are not immortal. These items will only increase in price over the years. Keep in mind that you can purchase these vessels from distributors other than funeral homes, which can help save money.
  • Alleviate stress and fighting: In my opinion, one of the dumbest things to fight about is who gets a loved one’s material possessions. The sad truth is that many families do. By officially stating who gets your material possessions, you avoid such silly squabbles. It’s better for your loved ones to be mad at you (you’ll be dead, so it doesn’t matter) than each other.

The First Steps in Planning for the End of Your Life

The first essential planning steps are creating a:
  • Last will and testament
  • Living will with health care directives
  • Power of attorney
  • Documenting your funeral wishes
  • Preparing your final messages
Doing all of this may seem overwhelming. Without help, it is. When U.S. Legal Wills gave me the chance to try and review its online tools, I immediately accepted the opportunity.  

U.S. Legal Wills is an online service with a yearly membership that helps you create legal documents in a simple, secure manner for a fraction of the price of hiring a lawyer to do it for you. You can create each of the documents that I listed using a step-by-step tool. The process is easier than I imagined, and I completed some of the forms in an evening. U.S. Legal Wills allows you to update your documents as often as you like during the term of your membership without any extra charges. 

If holographic wills, or handwritten wills, are legal in your state, all you simply have to do is print the documents, sign them (have witnesses sign them, too) and keep them in a safe place. Otherwise, print the documents and have a notary public and witnesses sign them. Check with your state to learn if you need a lawyer to handle any aspects of your last will and testament, living will and power of attorney. 

U.S. Legal Wills is a helpful site with an affordable membership rate. The only problem that I’ve experienced is a technical difficulty that occurred today. I could not see the services that I have access to on the home screen of my account, but I can access them using the “Services tab.” I notified Customer Support about the issue.

Update: After contacting U.S. Legal Wills via email about the technical issue I experienced, they responded within a couple of hours and resolved the problem. 

How ever you plan for your future, do it today.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Moscow Mule Recipe


I received the product mentioned in exchange for an honest review on my blog. The opinions expressed are 100 percent my own. 

Image: Wikipedia
Moscow Mules have made a comeback. Also known as a Vodka Buck, bartenders traditionally serve the drink in a copper mug. The story behind the drink is that a Russian immigrant brought over limited edition copper mugs from the Motherland in the 1940s and sold them to the Cock 'n' Bull company, as they wanted something special to make their ginger beer stand out from the competition.


John G. Martin of G.F. Hueblein Brothers and Jack Morgan, president of Cock 'n' Bull, created the Moscow Mule recipe, which put Smirnoff vodka on the map.

How to Make a Moscow Mule

Ingredients
  • Juice from half a lime
  • 3 ice cubes
  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 4 to 6 ounces ginger beer
Preparation
  1. Squeeze the lime into a copper mug.
  2. Drop the squeezed lime into to mug. 
  3. Add a few large ice cubes to the mug. 
  4. Pour in the vodka and ginger beer.
  5. Serve with a stirring rod. 


    Do You Really Need a Copper Mug for a Moscow Mule?

    moscow mule
    My Kitchen Concepts
    The answer depends on the quality of drink and experience that you want to create. In addition to looking cool, copper mugs insulate the drink, keeping it colder for a longer period. Some say that copper enhances the drink's flavor as it enhances the taste of the vodka and lime, and increase the number of bubbles in the ginger beer.

    I recently had the chance to review two copper mugs. A rounder copper mug from My Kitchen Concepts and a straight-walled copper mug from PureCopper Brand.


    Moscow mule copper mug
    PureCopper Brand

    I found that both of the mugs work well, come with additional recipes and hold 16 ounces. Other than their looks, there is one big difference between the two --  the mug from PureCopper is 100 percent copper. The straight-walled look gives it a modern feel. The mug from InspiredBasics.com has a copper plate construction with a polished steel lining, as well as a brass handle. Its rounder look gives it a more vintage feel.

    If you want a mug that's 100 percent copper (and less expensive), go with the one from PureCopper Brand. If you care about looks and don't mind spending a few extra dollars, try the mug from My Kitchen Concepts.




    Wednesday, April 8, 2015

    My First Ever Video Review


    I received the product mentioned in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are 100 percent my own. 

    I'm kind of camera shy when it comes to video cameras. Why? Because the quality of the camera on my laptop isn't that great. But, I made a promise to do a video review for WalPri, as it sent me a cable organizer to try. Here it is:




    You can buy the WalPri Cable Organizer on Amazon.com.

    Monday, April 6, 2015

    2-Minute Gluten-Free Sponge Cake Recipe

    I received the items mentioned in exchange for an honest review on my blog. The opinions expressed are 100 percent my own. 

    I hate it when blogs have a recipe, but you have to scroll through the writer's life story before finding it. Without further ado, here is the recipe promised in the title:

    Gluten-Free Microwave Cake

    Ingredients
    • 3 tablespoons almond flour
    • 3 tablespoons sugar, or a sweetener of your choice
    • 1 egg
    • 1 small pinch of salt
    Preparation
    1. Mix all the ingredients together in a microwave-safe mug. I like to use a butter knife to stir them together. 
    2. Place the mug in the microwave.
    3. Microwave for 1 minute and 45 seconds or 2 minutes.
    4. Let the cake cool down for a minute or so before eating. 


     Tips
    • The cake will rise in the mug as you microwave it. This is normal. Don't freak out. 
    • I find that if you use the fine, whitish almond flour, you only need to microwave the batter for 1 minute and 45 seconds. Almond flour/meal requires two minutes.
    • Make flavored cakes by adding different ingredients. For example, if you want chocolate cake, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder. For a pumpkin cake, add a couple tablespoons of canned pumpkin. Sometimes I just drop a tiny handful of berries in the mug. 

    The Almond Flour that I Use

    Currently, I'm using almond flour that Morning Pep was kind enough to send. Right now, the flour is only available through Amazon.com. Morning Pep's almond flour is similar to the flour or meal found at supermarkets. To be honest, I prefer finer almond flour because of the texture, but Morning Pep's works well for all the recipes that I have that call for almond flour. I recently learned that almond flour is low in carbs, so that's a bonus. 

    I like the bag sizes that Morning Pep offers. When you buy almond flour at the supermarket, you run out after making a couple of recipes. I opened the smaller bag of Morning Pep's almond flour a couple months ago and have yet to run low.

    Baking Accessories 

    Speaking of gluten-free baking, The Simple Baker sent me a set of silicone baking cups, which you can buy on Amazon.com. The set comes in a rainbow of colors.


    So pretty
    I used the cups to make gluten-free blueberry muffins. The cups were simple to fill and made cleaning the muffin tin a non-issue. I did not use any cooking sprays or oil in the cups.

    As you can see in the picture below. The muffin popped right out of the silicone liner with only a tiny bit stuck to the bottom. With paper cupcake and muffin liners, a bunch of the cake always sticks to the paper. With the silicone cups, there's no food waste, which I like.

    The baking cups are also simple to clean -- just use dish soap, water and a sponge. There weren't any baked-on bits to scrub, so I cleaned each one in seconds. 

    Yum
    What gluten-free baking tips do you have?

    Saturday, April 4, 2015

    My Battle with Fungus Gnats


    I received the product mentioned in exchange for an honest review on my blog. The opinions expressed are 100 percent my own.

    A local greenhouse let have some of its soil for a peace lily that I wanted to place in a planter. I thought, “Sweet, free dirt.” It was one of the biggest gardening mistakes that I’ve ever made because the dirt was infested with fungus gnats (but I didn’t know it). Soon, the gnats went on to live in other planters in my home.

    At first, I thought I had a fruit fly problem. After trying all the tricks to get rid of fruit flies, nothing worked. After doing some research, I finally figured out what the buggers were. I’ve tried almost everything to get rid of them and nothing really seems to work. I’ve tried:
    • Using hydrogen peroxide in the soil
    • Letting the soil dry out
    • Placing sand and pebbles over the top of the potting soil
    • Using diatomaceous earth… a lot of it
    • Insecticide sprays
    • Incense (supposedly, the smoke kills them)
    When Brillante offered the chance to try its Ultrasonic Pest Repeller, I did not hesitate to sign-up. The repeller is a device that you plug into a wall. It uses electromagnetic technology to vary the electromagnetic frequency of the wiring in the electrical outlet to deter pests. It comes with four functions:
    • Ultrasonic sound: Emits a high-pitched sound that annoys pests
    • Electromagnetic field alteration: To deter insects that are sensitive to electromagnetic variations
    • Negative O3: Negative ozone to reduce odors and bacteria
    • Negative ions: Reduces particles and odors that attract pests
    According to the company, humans aren’t supposed to be about to hear the ultrasonic sound emitted. Well, I can hear it. At the same time, I can hear the high-pitched ringtones that adults aren’t supposed to be able to hear. The sound is like an annoying high-pitched buzzing. I like that I can turn off that function. When I do, I hear a different high-pitched sound from the repeller, but I don’t know which function is responsible for it.

    So far, the repeller works okay. When I first plugged it in, I noticed in the first week that the fungus gnat population in my office decreased (which is where I’m using the device), but increased in my living room (where I do not have a device). After about four weeks, I still see maybe one or two gnats fly every day. Brillante states in the instructions that it takes up to six weeks for the device to be fully effective. While the gnats aren’t completely gone, I have noticed a difference.

    Now, I want to try nematodes to get rid of the gnats in their larvae stage.  



    Friday, April 3, 2015

    Caring for Your Skin and Hair in the Spring



    I received the following products in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. The opinions expressed are 100 percent my own.

    Spring is here! Blossom-filled trees are one of my favorite sights, along with all the new spring flowers popping up in yards around the neighborhood. Just because the spring weather brings more rain and humidity, depending on where you live, it doesn’t mean that you can neglect your hair and skin. You have to keep them hydrated, protected and happy.

    Spring Hair Care

    Naturally curly hair like mine craves moisture. Since curly hair tends to be a bit dry, it’s good to use products that do not contain sulfates and parabens. When Arvazallia offered the chance to try its Advanced Hair Repair line, I was on board. The company sent me a bottle of its shampoo, conditioner and hair mask. My hair has never been happier. 

    I could instantly feel the different in my hair after the first use. The shampoo doesn’t dry out my hair and makes it feel clean. The conditioner is rich and helps lock in moisture. I use the hair mask about once a week; it helps my hair feel soft. I like that the products smell similar. The only issue that I had with the line is with some of the grammar on the bottles.

    Spring Skincare

    Wash Your Face

    One of my new favorite beauty gadgets is the konjac sponge, which I wrote a post about a few months ago. pureSOL recently sent me its konjac sponge to try. It works as well as the other sponge that I tried. I like that it comes with a suction cup, so it’s easy to hang it in your shower or on a mirror to dry. pureSOL is also committed to the environment, so the sponge and the box in which it comes is compostable. 

    The only gripe I have about the sponge is its size. It’s smaller than other konjac sponges that I’ve seen on the market. Keep in mind, though, that the sponge expands when it’s wet.

    Shrink Pores

    I’m a big fan of derma rollers and wrote a tutorial post about them a few months ago. Petunia skincare was kind enough to send me another roller in its line of products. This time, I tired the derma roller with 1.5-millimeter needles. It’s similar to the roller that I tried in the past, but the needles are a tiny bit thicker. 

    First, I like the roller’s coppery bronze color and purple roller wheel. When I used the roller after washing my face, its needles felt more “stabby” than the one with smaller needles. This could be because I haven’t used a derma roller in a couple of months. I did, however, find that my skin did not bleed as much. Within a couple of days, the skin in the treated areas began to peel, which I expected.

    Breakout Prevention

    After washing my face, I’ve been using Aveya Daily Facial Cleansing Pads. The pads are similar to the Oxy ones that I used as a teenager, but, in my opinion, are better because they’re gentler. My eyes don’t sting from the chemical fumes. The pads have 2 percent salicylic acid, which helps treat and prevent acne and breakouts. I use them as an astringent or toner after washing my face. After the second use, my skin looked healthy and clear.  

    The thing that confuses me with this product is its packaging. Its Amazon page states that it’s a acne-prevention product. The bottle in which the pads come in state that it’s a product that prepares your skin for a face peel.

    Moisturize Your Skin

    After washing your skin and using a toner, you must moisturize it—even if it feels okay or you have naturally oily skin. Moisturizing your skin helps prevent breakouts and can help control the amount of oil that it produces. 

    Body Merry’s Retinol Surge Moisturizer is a product that contains 2.5 percent retinol in it. It also has hyaluronic acid, green tea, vitamin E and other skin-friendly ingredients. Depending on the weather, I found that the moisturizer leaves the skin around my eyes still feeling a bit dry. However, this is true with many moisturizers for me. I like the convenience of having the retinol in the cream, so I don’t have to use a separate serum. 

    After a recent trip to the doctor, I learned that I need to take more vitamin D3. To help me increase my intake, I’m trying out Vita Sciences Maxabsorb Vitamin D3 Cream. The cream is a moisturizer
    that delivers 1,000 international units (IU) of the vitamin in a full press of the pump. I use it on my face, but you can also use it on your arms, legs or torso.

    Both of the creams come in airless dispensers and absorbed into my skin rapidly. Before using the vitamin D3 cream, I recommend talking to your doctor to make sure you need the supplement and verify that its delivery method is right for you. 

    What tips and tricks do you recommend for spring?