French Press – disposing of grounds


Disposing of grounds without pouring them down the sink is usually a chore, since the grounds, when dry, stick inside the French Press. You need to spoon them out and then use a rubber spatula to get the rest.

The method I use requires some equipment, but it’s cleaner and works well.

  1. Get a filter cone. The bigger the cone the quicker the draining process will be. I use a Melitta #6 cone.
  2. Get paper cone filters. I bought a package of 12 boxes from Amazon for $25. Each box has 40 filters, so the cost per filter was $.05. #4 cones and filters are easier to find than #6, and the #4 filters cost as little as $.02 each. *
  3. Place the filter in the cone, and put them in the sink. Gently sprinkle water on the French Press’ metal plunger-filter to knock loose grounds into the paper filter.
  4. Pour a little water into the French Press’ beaker and swirl around, then pour the contents into the filter. You might need to do this a few times to get all the grounds.
  5. When the paper filter is fully drained, throw it out or put it in your compost bin.

The process takes about 2-3 minutes, without a mess.

* A filter cone and filter papers work well for draining Cold Brew coffee as well.


It’s freaking cold out


7F degrees. “Real Feel” is -18F degrees. At noon! That’s me in the middle.

Usually the cold weather makes me crazy by early February. But the weather’s been so bad lately that I am done already. It feels like I just can’t get warm enough, even indoors. I am wearing 3 layers of clothes in my own house!

Our house doesn’t have a fireplace. I so regret that. I’d be inches in front of it right now if we had one.


Taking Pictures – part 3. Vivian Maier


This picture was taken by Vivian Maier. I can’t get over it.

There’s so much to say about it, but I just wanted to imagine how she made this picture.

  1. She was out taking pictures at the “golden hour”, when the sun is low on the horizon, creating interesting texture and casting shadows. Although the sun was low enough to create long shadows, she framed the shot without the sun in the frame (other than the reflection).
  2. It’s winter. The people are wearing warm clothes and there’s no leaves on the trees. It’s cold out, but there isn’t any snow on the ground and it’s warm enough to go roller skating outside.
  3. Since there’s a large puddle, it must have rained just before the sun came out. The puddle isn’t the result of snow melt because the pavement is wet as well and there is no un-melted snow anywhere.
  4. The puddle is in a park, which appears to be situated adjacent to a body of water. It looks like the stone wall on the right protects people from a steep slope, and since there is misty white past the trees on the right, with no buildings or land, there’s probably water there.
  5. A shot of just the puddle with a reflection of the sun and the branches would have made a nice picture. But it looks like she wanted people in the picture. So she waited there, perfectly situated until someone walked by, so their reflection appeared in the puddle.
  6. Imagine the mastery of the camera needed to snap a picture at just the right moment when the man’s shoulder bit into the sun’s reflection. Maybe she was lucky, but she got the sun flare perfect. It’s gorgeous.
  7. I bet she pre-focused on the puddle and waited until someone walked by, then pressed the shutter. The act of pressing the shutter requires your brain to command your finger, your finger presses the button, and the camera’s mechanism exposes the film. Maybe by taking thousands of pictures, measuring all of that was automatic for her. Or else she consciously planned the shot by pressing the shutter the moment before his shoulder bit into the sun, knowing the actual image a split second later would create the sun flare she wanted.
  8. The little girl turning back to look at her was a bonus. She probably would have taken the picture anyway.

Look at the angle of the shot, with the wall extending out to infinity. Look at how reflections of the father and the little girl fit perfectly in the puddle, unobscured by the reflection of the branches. Look at how the sun lights up the slats on the park benches and the cobblestones on the ground.

She took so many wonderful pictures, but this is my favorite.


Instant Pot – Don’t stress about the buttons

The Instant Pot has a lot of buttons. When I got my IP years ago I read advice to ignore most of them. That advice has served me well.

However, I keep seeing articles and posts from people who are intimidated or confused by all the buttons. It’s OK. Pretend they aren’t there. Here’s what I use:

  1. Manual. After I press Manual I press the + or – buttons to adjust the cook time from the 30 minute default. I get the cook time online, or use the Official IP cook times, or use trial and error to find the right time for my recipe. After awhile I’ve gotten the gist of it: white rice is about 7 minutes, vegetables are about 10 minutes, dry beans (re-hydrated in water overnight) are about 20 minutes, 4lb of beef or pork is about 75 minutes, etc.
  2. Saute. When I want to saute or get something hot, I use this button. I usually press Adjust immediately afterward to shift the heat to High.
  3. Keep Warm/Off. When the cook time is done the device defaults to Keep Warm. If I don’t want that, I click the button to turn it Off.

That’s it. We use the IP several times a week. We cook rice, potatoes, beans, lentils, vegetable broth, chicken soup, ribs, carnitas, pot roast, whole turkey breast, tomato sauce, risotto, jambalaya, arroz con pollo, pulled pork. All of it with just the Manual button and the correct cook time.

Your food may not be perfect the first time. Don’t stress. Learn from experience. One of the great things about the IP is consistency. Once you have a cook time you like, the recipe will be perfect from then on.

One more thing:  the pressure settings. My IP only has one pressure setting, but if I had High and Low settings I would only use High.

Taking Pictures – part 2


I spent an evening in NYC with my family. We went to dinner in Little Italy and saw the tree at Rockefeller Center. There are lots of pix of the RC tree online, but here is one of the decorations around the ice skating rink. The crowds on Fifth Ave are literally scary (you can get caught up in a throng and not be able to move), so we avoided it and enjoyed the view from 50th street, where I took this picture. Much more civilized.

Just wanted to share a few more things I’ve learned about photography.

It’s hard to take sharp pictures in low light without a flash. Flash photography looks unnatural in low light, but without the flash the camera compensates by adjusting other settings that affect sharpness:

  1. If you raise the ISO to increase the sensor’s light sensitivity, you add grain/noise.
  2. If you open the aperture more light gets in but you shorten the depth of field and make more of your image blurry
  3. If you slow the shutter more light gets in, but that extra time allows camera-shake or image-movement to reduce sharpness.

My camera has an “anti-blur” setting that snaps several high-ISO pictures at the same time, then stacks them to get rid of noise, and is supposed to result in cleaner, sharper images. I think it worked, but the images were still on the soft side. Maybe I will carry a small table-tripod for restaurant pix.

The camera’s auto white balance setting doesn’t work that great, or perhaps doesn’t work great in low light. The restaurant had very cozy lighting, and the room was lit by soft-white lights, some Christmas lights and the light of a fire in a brick pizza oven. The auto white balance didn’t compensate enough, and nearly all the pictures are too orangey.

It’s simple to fix white balance afterward with just about any image editing software, but I took about 100 pictures in the restaurant, and correcting them all is a pain. Next time I will manually adjust the white balance before I shoot.

I take a lot of duplicate pictures because I have the camera’s drive mode set to take 11 pictures per second. That’s overkill unless you are taking action shots. I will probably knock it down to 3 per second.


Philips Hue – Setting the color temperature

The Philips Hue app does not let you set color temperature by Kelvin number. You set it by sliding a marker to different color positions, but not by the Kelvin number.

The reason it’s helpful to set the precise Kelvin number is the Philips Ambiance bulbs vary brightness by temperature. For my BR30 White Ambiance bulbs, the brightest temperature is 4,000 Kelvin (680 lumens, which is supposedly equivalent to an 85 watt incandescent bulb). 4,000 Kelvin is cool-white.

Philips doesn’t give a chart of lumens at every temperature, but they indicate that you can get 600 lumens at 3,000 Kelvin, which is supposedly equivalent to a 75 watt incandescent bulb. 3,000 Kelvin is warm-white.

There is a third party app called Hue Pro, which lets you choose a desired Kelvin number via a slider. The app costs $2 in the Google Play store. Once the temperature is set, it can be saved as a preset “scene” in the regular Hue app. The Hue Pro app does a number of other things, but none are as interesting to me as setting the Kelvin number.

Philips bulbs are not bright, but at least I’ve set them as bright as they can be.

Bad Starbucks / Good Coffee

cold brew

I bought a bag of Kenya coffee at Starbucks. We asked them to grind for french press (aka coarse). When we got home we found they used some setting in between drip and espresso (the opposite of coarse).

Not sure what is up with Starbucks. We always ask for french press grind but never get the same grind size twice. This isn’t the first time they were nowhere near french press. I suppose I should grind it myself, but we are full-up on kitchen gadgets, so an electric grinder is out of the question, and I dread doing manual grind. I might have to resort to that in future.

Rather than return it to Starbucks, I tried to make cold brew out of it. Normally cold brew calls for coarse ground coffee, but we gave it a try and it came out OK. I used the same proportions as always (2.5oz of coffee, 2.5lbs of water), but let it steep for 18 hours instead of 24.

It was fine. Nice and syrupy. Not quite as good as with coarse grind, but drinkable. I heated the coffee in the microwave for 2 minutes and it’s very good. Much better than the hot coffee they serve at Starbucks.