Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My love of Fire

Let me tell you a story. I've wanted a Kindle for a while. This desire grew more intense over the past 6 months or so. I had decided that, if possible, I was going to finally get one for my birthday this year. Then, the day after my 20th wedding anniversary, Jeff Bezos delivered an announcement and I knew exactly what I wanted: not just a Kindle, but a Kindle Fire!

This sounded like a device that was tailor-made for me. As I said, I wanted a Kindle but held out for many years in the hope of one day having a color screen. I wanted an iPad since I already had an iPhone; I knew many of the tasks I used the phone for could benefit from a bigger screen. The iPad was definitely on my wish list but considering our lack of funds, it remained elusive. This new "Kindle Plus" device seemed like it would, if nothing else, be a good tablet-ish choice for me while I continued to dream of one day becoming an iPad owner. I figured if I got enough money for my birthday, I'd preorder a Kindle Fire. And that's what I did. :)

Background on me: I like technology & gadgets but have had a pretty limited budget over the past few years. (The rumors are true. Turns out kids ARE a "time suck" and a "money suck".) We are a 1 income, 1 car family. Our iPhones are not the latest models, and they were refurbished models whe we bought them, as well. I'm not complaining here; I'm just saying I can be satisfied with less than the "latest & greatest", and I suspect there are others like me. :) For what it promised to deliver to me (bigger screen than my iPhone, popular apps, Netflix, etc.), the $199 price tag was right. I also felt fairly confident that having an Amazon/Kindle pedigree would give it a good chance to succeed. From the start, we were hearing that it was selling well. I believed two things would contribute to the success of this tablet-hybrid. One, having that Amazon name & ecosystem. Two, it had an attention-grabbing $199 price tag. Yes, there are better tablets with more features. Great specs are nice, but it isn't always the whole story as to why something will sell. For an example of this, look at the latest generation of gaming consoles. The Wii certainly did not have the superior specs compared to the Xbox 360 or PS3. But it had the cheaper price tag, the gimmick/novelty of the Wii Remote, and the pedigree of Nintendo and their licensed characters like Mario & Zelda. It was family-friendly with a price that families could afford. And it sold like crazy, driving hard-core gamers crazy since it obviously was an "inferior system"!

So...November 15th arrives. Reviews break out on the web right around the release, and they are mixed. Some are glowing; some are downright ugly. But a lot of what I read in the negative reviews were based on comparing the Kindle Fire to the iPad. And the question should be asked: is it fair to compare the two? My answer is no...and yes. (I'll answer the "yes" part more in a bit.) My own Kindle Fire arrived on November 16th. Some of the criticism is fair. The carousel is a bit flaky in terms of where it lands. There is no hardware volume control, which would really be nice to have. But some of the criticism gets colored by people who are iPad users. And as I said, if you're comparing a product that is not as feature-rich to a more expensive tablet, it will naturally pale in comparison.

Let's go over some of the advantages that were given to the iPad in reviews I read. First, people said the iPad's app store was much larger. This one is silly. You're comparing a two year old product's store to one that was just released. When the iPad was first out, the app store for iPhones was much larger than the iPad store, you might remember. I'm quite happy with the Amazon App Store for the Fire. It has a good selection of popular apps, and some Android app makers are even releasing Kindle Fire optimized apps. There's quite a bit there considering the Fire's been out for less than a month.

Another advantage of the iPad? The larger screen. Why, yes, the iPad screen is larger! If you're going from an iPad down to the Kindle Fire, then the K Fire will seems smaller (because it is) and will perhaps seem inadequate. But...what if you're like me and moving from a phone to the larger 7 inch screen? I used to watch Netflix and read Kindle books on my little phone screen. I don't spend my time thinking my Kindle Fire screen is too small compared to an iPad. Sorry! And even though it's smaller than an iPad, this also can end up being an advantage depending on your situation. Some say the smaller size makes it more portable than the larger tablets. Not having carried around an iPad, I can't fully comment on this. But I will say that I find the Fire to be easy for me to carry around the house, and holding it for a while is not fatiguing for me.

And I'm sorry, but one of the dumbest negative critiques I heard about the Fire was its design. My understanding is that it looks like a Blackberry Playbook. Ok, so it's not all that exciting. But one thing I noticed is that when I saw all the Kindle models side by side on Amazon's front page, this particular design seems to fit nicely in the Kindle family. I read a review that mentioned an important point: the design may not be sleek and impressive, but it also doesn't distract from the most-viewed part of the device, the screen. I think if you're spending any amount of time complaining that the Fire is too "plain Jane"- looking instead of using the screen and playing with the tablet itself, then "you're doing it wrong". ;)

Why, then, does the Fire get compared to the iPad so much if it's not exactly a comparable product? (You'll notice Amazon was clever enough to brand it a Kindle, as opposed to calling it an Amazon Tablet.) Why did we hear extremes from reviewers calling the Fire something as important as an "iPad killer", while other critics felt the Fire was a piece of garbage that no one should bother to buy? Simple: because, in a way, it IS fair to compare the two items. Like myself, this could be the first foray into the tablet world for a lot of people. Even though the Fire is not a complete tablet (which is why the "Kindle Plus" or tablet-hybrid title suits it better), it does an awful lot of the same things that many folks would be doing with a tablet/iPad. And the other things the Fire can't do? Many people can live without them, considering the price is less than half the price for the Fire as opposed to the cheapest iPad.

Everyone has different needs. If your budget allows it, you'll be very happy with an iPad, I'm sure. But there IS a market for the Kindle Fire. Just like I mentioned in my earlier example, there ended up being a group of people who bought a Wii, and a group of people who bought an Xbox 360. To say that the Fire, compared to the iPad, isn't worth thinking about simply because the iPad is better, is to discount the needs of the person who might be looking at the Fire in the first place. I believe that the market can handle more than 1 popular tablet product. I believe the iPad will still be the standard, #1 tablet for quite some time. But #2 hit the ground running, didn't it? ;)

Oh...and, one more thing. ;)

Remember that "iPad killer" comment that circulated? I, too, laughed at that one. But, guess what? I just realized the other day that I don't have iPad envy anymore. The idea of owning an iPad has kinda dropped off my radar. I heard the other day that Apple isn't worried about the Fire as competition, and that they even think the Fire could prove to be a "gateway drug" into the the land of the "real" tablet, the iPad. And yet, what if Amazon does come up with the larger tablet that they are expected to release next year? And what if it has more features than the Fire and has a cheaper price tag than the iPad? There are a whole bunch of people who are now getting thrown into the Amazon ecosystem and they might not exactly feel like buying their apps again in iTunes. Hmmm...the future is an interesting thing, isn't it?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

First popsicles, now ice cream? Yes, because it's PEANUT BUTTER & CHOCOLATE!!!

Making popsicles in the Zoku reminded me of my old Donvier Ice Cream maker. We bought it back in the 90s, and design-wise, it's similar to the Zoku. You've got a metal canister filled with coolant that goes in the freezer, and once the coolant is frozen you put the ice cream wannabe liquid in the canister & crank the dasher occasionally. 20 minutes or so later and you get soft serve. Freeze it to get full-blown ice cream. Sweet!

My favorite flavor of ice cream, since my youth, has been peanut butter & chocolate. No, not peanut butter ice cream with chocolate bits. That's just so wrong, Ben & Jerry! You want it like old school Baskin Robbins, where I enjoyed many pb & c cones as a child. Chocolate ice cream with peanut butter chunks...that's good eatin'! So now at 41 years old I decide it's time to make some pb & c ice cream at home, since I've got this Donvier machine waiting to be used again. I planned to make Cook's Illustrated chocolate ice cream & then add peanut butter, so I searched for "peanut butter chocolate ice cream" to get ingredients for the peanut butter "ribbon". And the first recipe that came up was from Joy the Baker's site, . Looking at the recipe, I said, heck, I'm just going to try this one! I found the use of cornstarch in the base instead of eggs particularly intriguing, especially since I'm not very fond of eggs. (Cookies & cakes & meatloaves are fine for eggs. Raw or partially cooked eggs are yucky, IMO. And I only eat scrambled eggs once or twice a year. They are just not my favorite thing.)

I did a few things differently from her recipe. I used darker chocolate (a Dutch cocoa blend for the cocoa, and a 60% semisweet/bittersweet chocolate chip) in order to get a richer chocolate flavor. I also added some agave syrup (probably no more than 1/4 cup) to the natural peanut butter to sweeten the pb, since I think they usually sweeten the peanut butter in the commercial recipes. You can find Joy's original Double Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream here: . And yes, you should go there. :)

The other difference for me, aside from the different chocolate and the sweetened pb, is that I didn't have whole milk on hand. So I used 1 1/2 cups of 2% milk plus 1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream for the 2 cups of whole milk, and used 1/4 cup 2% and 1/4% heavy whipping cream for the 1/2 cup of whole milk that gets mixed with the cornstarch. Hey, don't judge; it worked out ok. :)

And tastewise? Well, I'm blogging about it, aren't I? :D Really, really good ice cream. The texture is akin to a super-premium ice cream like Ben & Jerry's , although part of the texture will depend on your ice cream maker. (The more air that gets whipped into the ice cream, the "icier" and less dense your final product will be, I believe.) I like to think this ice cream is what frozen Nutella would be like, if Nutella was made with peanuts instead of hazelnuts. Maybe it comes off more like a frozen custard or frozen pudding, but I don't care. I just want to eat it! Chances are if you're a pb & c freak like me, you'll want it,too.

My new "6 sticks" rule

Made strawberry/pineapple/coconut Zoku popsicles yesterday. But before I could make them, I needed to make a run over to Williams Sonoma for more sticks. I've come to the conclusion that if you ever want to make more than 1 flavor of popsicles with the Zoku, you better have a good supply of sticks! The 6 that come with the machine just don't cut it for more than a single batch, and it doesn't look like those things are going to multiply on their own. I'd say plan to have at LEAST 6 sticks per batch of popsicles, and more than that is even better. I ended up needing 10 for the s/p/c popsicles yesterday, which was all I had on hand since I still had 2 plain strawberry in the freezer. Of course, you can always keep your popsicle base in the fridge until you get some of your current popsicles eaten. ;)

So, word of warning, when you're buying your Zoku, pick up extra sticks. $12 for a box of 6. You're welcome. :)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer? What happened to spring?

LOL, I just checked & saw that I last posted here at the end of January! Talk about neglect!

We're in full summer mode here. 100 degree temps. Dips in the kiddie pool. Staying in the air conditioned house a lot. And now popsicles. I bought some Caribbean popsicles from Aldi that I love. My favorite fruit flavors are involved: strawberry, pineapple, and coconut. (Also mango & passionfruit.) Those three flavors were in my favorite smoothie from Frullati: the Affinity. I don't even think they make the Affinity anymore although I think you can get a similar smoothie there. Anyways, these popsicles are close and now when I taste them, they will make me think of summer.

And speaking of popsicles...last weekend we broke down & bought a Zoku Quick Pop maker. My friend Sara had bought one recently & raved about it, so I was curious. (Visit Sara's blog at .) And since I could easily see myself spending hundreds of dollars on Caribbean popsicles for myself (not to mention strawberry ones for my son), I thought, hey, I really need to start making them at home instead of buying them. So...$50 later & about 24 hours later, we made our first batch of strawberry popsicles. Still being a novice to the Zoku, we did have the popsicles stick on us, but once we got them out of the machine, they were delicious! Just like a really sweet, cold strawberry. I used a recipe from which you can find here: . I'm guessing the water in the recipe may have made the pops stick too much, so I need to tweak it 'til I get it right. Tastewise, as I said, they were awesome!

I also hunted down a mocha popsicle recipe I'm going to try, as well as the pineapple & coconut recipe from Zoku's blog ( ). So I'll be busy freezing this summer instead of baking, I think. Although...I did want to make some inspired-by-strawberry-lemonade cookies soon. We'll see if I'm desperate enough to run the oven during a 100 degree day! :)

'til next time!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Trying to update

In case you're following my other blog, you've noticed that I've started updating the Seebee's Freebies again, including a new Dream Trip addition yesterday. I really like the Toy Room mini kit; the cloud paper was especially nice for the background paper of my Toy Story Midway Mania layouts from our Disney 2010 trip. :) Yes, scrapping the album tends to lead to creating new papers & elements, which leads to new Seebee's Freebies items. And I'm not even halfway through the album, so I expect a few more things to go on that blog. Stay tuned.

Also, the holidays caught me doing a LOT of baking! (Most of it went to teachers & family as gifts, since baking staples were cheap at Aldi & we didn't have a lot of money this year.) Thanks to the America's Test Kitchen group, I'm getting more comfortable with pie crust, so I made several pies for the holidays. And, of course, their cookie recipes are favorites here, too. Being a diabetic, it's not really a great idea to have tons of cookies in the house, so I end up giving the bulk of the food away to my husband's coworkers or my kid's teachers. I'm finding that I really enjoy the process of cooking almost as much as the eating. Of course, the cleanup continues to be a pain. :D

Just to give you something to look at, I posted the picture of the coconut cream pie I made for one of the teachers. I've NEVER made one before, since I'm not a big fan of the texture of coconut. But the little bit I sampled of the filling tasted good, and I was told it was delicious. Another successful recipe from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook!

I want to get some more work done in my album this week, but I've also made a commitment to make several dozen cookies for someone. So, that'll cut into my computer time. If you want to get in a cookie mood, I'll tell you that the ones I'm making this week are: oatmeal (no raisins), peanut butter chocolate chip (my favorite), Wookkie Cookies from the Star Wars cookbook (double chocolate chip with cinnamon; really tasty & my son's favorite!), and triple chocolate cookies (ultra rich & yummy).

Speaking of baking, I have plans to make either M & M sugar cookies for Valentine's Day, or Red Velvet cupcakes. Or both. Again, teachers will be receiving the bulk of my work. I'm sure they hate me. Well, at least their scales probably do. ;)

All this food talk...can you tell it's lunchtime here? LOL!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Taking a breath

Ah, late with the updates again! If you've followed me on Facebook, you would have found out that I retired from selling my designs at the end of July. I had no problems with Digitals; I merely became "burnt out". No desire, no inspiration, no time. And while I still have some scrapping to do, I can tell you that I haven't opened Photoshop nearly as much this year as in the past few years, and I haven't regretted it. :) I still am a scrapper but I'm taking a much needed break.

My time lately has been spent reading & cooking, with a splash of cleaning thrown in there. While our house is still a mess, it's on the right track to getting it back to a clean-ish state. ;) My daughter starts school in a few days, and I'm sure having my Little Destruct-o out of the way for several hours in the day will help. (I love her, but our house has never been the same since she became mobile. Seriously.)

Hey! I can tie these two topics together by mentioning that I did open Photoshop to do a little scrapping, in relation to her starting school! She picked out this cute ladybug "purse-style" lunch bag for school. (Like a lot of stuff around here, it's from Target.) So I was trying to find a good thermos/drinking cup to go with it. It's more challenging than you might think because my daughter is autistic and she still hasn't figured out how to use a straw. I needed something that was not going to leak, but would allow her to tip & drink like a regular cup. I ended up deciding on the insulated coffee cup with removable insert by Aladdin. I believe it's this model. And I used my A Bug World kit to throw together an insert that works with the lunch bag. I'll see if I can get around to taking a pic for you.

Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

This week's update

Still working on the new kit. The working title is Sherbet Forest. There's a mild floral theme & the colors are pastels that remind me of sherbet. Now you know! :)

On a different note, a few weeks ago I was blessed to be led to the Mars Hill Church podcast sermons, originally through the Stitcher app but now I subscribe through iTunes. God has been rich with His Spirit in Pastor Mark, and it's been so refreshing to hear these sermons. Highly recommend checking these out. Search for Mars Hill on iTunes or check for videos on YouTube.

Bye 'til we meet in blogland again!

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