A Homeownerman Home-Honesty Review: Shark Professional Steam Mop

Share Button

A Homeownerman Home-Honesty Review: Shark Professional Steam Mop

    When I saw an infomercial for this product, I was sure immediately it would be a homerun. Watching the people in dingy clothing on the commercial kick over full buckets of wildlife-destroying chemicals with long faces and sweat on their brow, push around a dirty string mop on a floor so muddy that you could grow herbs in it, and finally throwing their traditional mop and bucket in the trash can, I could relate with all, well maybe some, no really none of it. But those same people were better dressed, fully made up, and had huge smiles on their faces when they bought the Shark Professional Steam Mop. I wanted my life to be as happy as theirs at those few moments a year when I was mopping floors. So I pulled out the Homeownerman line of credit, dialed the 800 number (it was actually an 866 number, but let’s not flash back to simpler times when 800 numbers were 800 numbers), and even sprung for the extra head cover, a $19.95 value for only shipping costs of $19.95.

    First, let me describe how I used to mop the floors so that you will have a frame of reference for how much better my life has become. I used to don the dingy Homeownerman spandex suit, the old one that fits really tight and accentuates my beer belly because of its lack of chevron stripes. Then I would commence sweeping the floor with one of those old straw brooms, the type that the wicked witch of the west used as her Uber vehicle, until most of the dog hair, Wifegirl hair, and crumbs that I brushed off my supersuit were in a small pile, shooing away Underdog from it. Usually there are one or two previously unseen spiders crawling out of the pile. I sweep them up too. Next I would take a mundane, ordinary plastic bucket and fill it with hot water and a little bit of ammonia. (Normally at this point I would bore you with my knowledge of general chemistry and mention that ammonia comes from the ancient temple of Ammon, where the elite would park their camels while they went to worship their gods. And they had a lot of gods, so it would take a long time to worship them all. In the meantime their camels, who were crossing their legs trying to keep their urine in, would finally unleash, allowing it to flow. It had a distinct odor which comes from the nitrogen-based waste. But I won’t bore you with that here.) I then would repeatedly dunk the sponge-mop in the ammonia water, clean small segments of the floor, re-dunk the mop to wring out all of the dirt, and repeat. It would take me about 10 minutes, the floor would sparkle, and the house would smell pretty good (they put perfumes in the ammonia these days so that it doesn’t smell like camel piss.) Do you see how inefficient this method was and why I had a long face and a dingy supersuit on?

    But now, with the Shark Professional Steam Mop the process is much simpler. I change into my size-appropriate supersuit with the chevron stripes. Everyone looks at me and asks “Did you lose weight?” or “Did you get new glasses?” I pull the newly washed, dazzling white, cloth microfiber pad on the steamer head. I should mention the cloth head needs to be washed with nasty, wildlife-killing detergents, thereby negating the first reason for using the Shark in the first place. I locate a convenient source of distilled water. There is usually an empty gallon near the Aero Herb Garden (see future product review), so I go to the back-up source at the grocery store. Once I return, I fill up the reservoir on the steamer through the ridiculously small opening. Fortunately Shark has provided an unlikely tall and narrow pitcher with which to fill the reservoir. I plug in the unit, which immediately dims the lights on my side of the neighborhood, and this is even before the unit is turned on. Once powered up, the Shark begins to make a quiet, mechanical noise like a 1970s clock, and almost immediately steam starts to flow from the head. I begin gliding the Shark lightly over the floor, allowing the steam to kill any bacteria to sanitize the floor while the microfibers scrub stubborn, baked on stains. This is the theory anyway. In reality, the dirt is rearranged on the floor, redepositing it in the hardest places to reach. I then frantically twist and turn the pivoting head, trying to recollect the dirt with the microfibers. After ten minutes in the first section of the floor, I give up trying to get up the dirt and figure I’ll just sanitize the floor with the steam so that I’ll have a very sanitary, organized layer of dirt on the floor. By this point the unit has run out of water, and so I must go through the filling procedure again.

Three hours later, I have a nice, hazy finish on my tile, a filthy pad which needs to be washed, and an electric bill that looks to the NSA like I have been burning sodium lights in my house to grow pot.

So, I am giving the Shark Professional Stem Mop three bent nails (out of a possible four.) I should mention that the more bent nails, the worse the product. I am not gleeful like the people on the infomercial, and come to think of it I have never seen any professional cleaners using one of these. So, call Homeownerman old school, but I’ll keep my mop and ammonia, thank you.

HomeOwnerMan’s Advice to New Homeowners

Share Button

I posted this about four years ago after talking to a guy at work who had just bought his first house. The advice is still good.

10. When it comes to leaves, the amount on money you spend on equipment is inversely proportional to the amount of time you’ll have to spend managing them.


9. Always turn off the circuit when doing electrical work.


8. If there’s a question, buy one of each at Lowes. You can always return the wrong ones.

7. Home Depot never has exactly what you want, but they have something that will do.

6. Prime with Kilz. Buy good paint. You’ll be happy you did.


5. Overestimate the horsepower you’ll need.


4. If you have more than ¼ of an acre, buy the gas one (of anything.)

3. Screwdrivers are migratory. And I’ve tried flooding the market with them; it doesn’t work.

2. Put a floor in your attic. Today.


1. Always…no…Never start an elective plumbing job in the evening.


We Discovered More than Alaska’s Inner Passage On Board the Wilderness Adventurer

Share Button

This was my (losing) entry into the Un-Cruise Adventures essay contest.  We had already packed for Costa Rica in anticipation of our win. It looks like we were premature, but we still intend to get there some time.

We Discovered More than Alaska’s Inner Passage On Board the Wilderness Adventurer

In 2011 my family took a trip to Alaska with Un-Cruise Adventures to commemorate my wife’s 50th birthday. In anticipation of this trip there were many things that we expected to discover, having perused the Un-Cruise website, and we were not disappointed. But it was the things we did not expect to discover that remain the most rewarding memories, the ones that have stayed with us for the five years that have passed since our Alaskan cruise.

 062816_1812_WeDiscovere1.png 062816_1812_WeDiscovere2.png 062816_1812_WeDiscovere3.png

We expected to discover the untamed beauty of Alaska’s inner passage.  Although none of us had ever been to Alaska, we had heard wonderful things. We brought with us grandiose expectations of what we would see, but remarkably we had completely underestimated Alaska, even in our wildest dreams. We were surrounded with wildlife from bald eagles, to seals and sea lions, and finally to bears and whales. We saw calving glaciers, majestic mountain peaks, and spectacular birds. We learned about nature from the onboard naturalist. We expanded our vocabulary to include words like “nunatak” and “petroglyph” and saw these things up close.

  062816_1812_WeDiscovere4.png 062816_1812_WeDiscovere5.png
What we did not expect to discover was the beauty of mankind. We are from the northeastern United States, where people often have a tough exterior and can seem unfriendly. But stepping on board the Wilderness Adventurer for the first time the crew welcomed us as though we were family. We were personally escorted to our cabin by Monica, who we soon found out was also the ship’s bartender and occasionally provided musical entertainment. From that moment until we disembarked, the crew was always there to make sure we were comfortable, make sure we had enough to eat, and make sure we were mentally and physically challenged to be our best. We enjoyed the crew as much as the natural wonders. We took yoga with Shannon, and went on hikes with Ben and Will. Each brought with him or her a whole life of experiences which were as worthy of discovery as that which Alaska offered. They engaged our 13-year-old son, instilling in him confidence to hike, kayak, photograph, and explore. They taught us plenty and made us laugh.

 062816_1812_WeDiscovere7.png 062816_1812_WeDiscovere6.png

We also did not expect to discover the kindness of the other passengers. Over the course of the week, we became family with the other adventurers onboard. We explored with them, paddle-boarded with them, ate with them, and had cocktails with them. We watched the Aurora Borealis with them, and even did the polar plunge with them. At the end, we exchanged email addresses, sent photos, and became friends on FaceBook. We’ve even met with one couple, who live near us, to socialize.

062816_1812_WeDiscovere8.png 062816_1812_WeDiscovere9.png

But the most important thing we discovered on the journey was ourselves. We found out there is more to life than the daily grind. We came closer together as a family. We found out the world is bigger than ourselves, and that the trivialities of daily life are not as important as spending time with the ones we love. We found out that a difficult hike or a long day of paddling a kayak enhances our appreciation for what we have been given and how lucky we are. It taught us to live every moment.

062816_1812_WeDiscovere10.png

It was those things about ourselves that we discovered that became the fondest memories of our trip with Un-Cruise Adventures. It was in discovering the beauty of mankind that we were able to discover ourselves. And it was in being receptive to the beauty of nature that we were able to see the splendor of humans. We look forward to the next adventure, so that we can again discover something new about ourselves.

062816_1812_WeDiscovere11.png

Roll out the barrel, and we’ll have a barrel of fun!

Share Button

Many years ago [a couple of olympiads ago actually] the HomeOwnerFamily visited the FriendInRaleighFamily for a weekend.  FriendInRaleighMan is always a few steps cooler than HomeOwnerMan and just a few years ahead on technologies.  For example, he was the first person HomeOwnerMan knew who had given up cable TV for streaming content.  He described to his wide-eyed superhero friend how he had used an old computer and the internet to watch streamed content like NetFlix. While everyone else was going to their mailbox to retrieve damaged DVDs that would refuse to play just at the climax of the movie, FriendInRaleighMan didn’t even have to go to his mailbox! It was the coolest thing WifeGirl and HomeOwnerMan had ever seen, but it was still a year or two too cool for them.  But they all sat down and watched the olympics on broadcast TV.

Later in the visit, though, there was discussion of a futuristic gizmo that HomeOwnerMan thought might be in reach for him.  The invention was so far out there that HomeOwnerMan was sure that it was brought to earth by some advanced time-traveling civilization. The invention was called a “rain barrel” and it ingeniously captured rain runoff from the roofs of houses. This water could later be used to irrigate plants, wash cars, or even to flush toilets in the event of a water emergency. HomeOwnerMan was struck with awe and had to investigate further.

20150430_184111

It was all HomeOwnerMan could talk about that year.  He looked up plans for how to build and deploy them.  He priced out the materials needed to make them.  He spoke to everyone who would listen about the virtues of them. (At the time, he wasn’t sure what the virtues were, but he knew it must be virtuous.)  One neighbor, we’ll call her PolesReversedLady, was listening to HomeOwnerMan and declared, “You know those things are illegal.  You aren’t allowed to take the rain water.  It belongs to the township, not to you.  And besides, it is really bad for the environment.  It will kill all the fish and dry up the aquifer…”  She went on and on.  Even though PolesReversedLady was wrong on every account and HomeOwnerMan was pretty sure it was all bunk, it was enough to stem his enthusiasm for almost 8 years.

HomeOwnerMan continued to research rain barrels but never with quite the zeal that he once had.But then just a few weeks ago when WifeGirl was reading SocialMediaBook and found a site that was offering a seminar on “how to make your own rain barrel”. She passed the link along to HomeOwnerMan for the New Jersey Water Supply Authority (NJWSA, http://www.raritanbasin.org/rain_barrel.html) and happy days were here again for HomeOwnerMan.  To begin with, it was vindication for him.  The rain barrel program was listed under the watershed protection program.  They keep runoff from carrying pollution to the streams, allowing the water to filter naturally through the soil before returning to the water supply.  They help prevent stream erosion by lowering the volume of water entering the stream during storm events.  The water can be used rather than pure drinking water for watering plants and washing cars.  They use no energy, and are so beneficial that many municipalities offer a credit for installing them.

Secondly, the program is very inexpensive.  For just $35 you are given all of the materials to build one, and you could build more than one if you wanted.  There is some installation expenses, but they are minimal and might be done with materials HomeOwnerMan has around the house.

C: the three women who run the program (Sarah, Alex, and Kathy) were superhero nice.  HomeOwnerMan was reminded of a flight attendant he once met on a particularly long flight where the passengers had become angry and restless.  The flight attendant offered a perky “Turkey Sandwich!?” to 310 passengers with poise and grace and never lost her smile.  The NJWSA women were just as perky and nice.

turkey sandwich

and IV: It took less than a half an hour to put the rain barrel together, and I’m guessing about a half and hour to install it as well.

So what are you waiting for?  Find out when the next seminar is in your area.  Build and install your own.  Save the planet.  Be a HomeOwnerMan (or HomeOwnerWoman) yourself.  You may not have the tights and the caricature (courtesy www.EmilyArts.com), but you will be a reasonable facsimile.  (FriendInRaleighMan had a facsimile machine, or Fax machine, before HomeOwnerMan, too.  He was just way cool!)

Pretzel Rolls – Good for What Ails Ya

Share Button

The HomeOwner Family took a Caribbean cruise a few years ago that left from New York.  The reasoning was that we would save the airfare and start relaxing right away.  What we hadn’t planned on was an Atlantic hurricane which we managed to skirt around, but the seas were pretty rough.  It was so rough, in fact, that the crew of the ship had been thoughtful enough to put little water-proofed bags on every flat surface of the ship and most of the passengers were availing themselves of them.  HomeOwnerMan was o.k. having hardened his innards on the decks of the CasBar I and the CasBar II for many years.  WifeGirl and SonBoy, however, were looking pretty green around the gills and couldn’t eat.  We had chosen “FreeStyle Cruising” because it was our intent to eat our way from 1 aft to 10 forward, but mother nature had different plans.

DSCN2346DSCN2347

Anyway, the weather started to break and WifeGirl and SonBoy had not had anything to eat in about 24 hours. On the buffet we came across pretzel rolls.  They were pleasing to the eye, and seemed like something that might go down easily.  They were right; these things were fabulous.  We had to make them when we got home.

We started looking for recipes and testing them from that day on.  Here’s the best one we’ve found, with credits at the bottom and my notes.

I will say this requires a fair amount of time and effort.  If you are new to baking bread, don’t start with these.  But if you’ve kneaded a loaf or two in your day, give them a try.

20150405_153926

Pretzel Rolls

Ingredients
1 tablespoon instant yeast
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 cups warm milk (about 100-110 degrees F)
1 1/2 cups warm water (about 100-110 degrees F)
2 teaspoons salt
6 1/2 – 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 quarts water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup baking soda
Coarse salt for sprinkling
Directions
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or you can do this by hand in a large bowl), stir together the yeast, oil, milk and water. Add the salt and two cups of the flour. Add the rest of the flour gradually until a soft dough is formed and knead for 3-4 minutes. You may not need to use all the flour depending on many different factors (see the note) – add the flour until a soft dough is formed that clears the sides of the bowl. It is similar in texture to bagel dough and should be slightly more stiff and less sticky than, say, roll dough, but definitely still soft and not over-floured.

2. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover it with greased plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size (1-2 hours).
3. Portion the dough into 16 pieces and roll each piece of dough into a lovely little round ball.
4. Lay out the rolls on lightly greased parchment or a lightly floured counter. Make sure the dough balls won’t stick! Let them rest for 15-20 minutes.

5. While the dough rests, bring the water, sugar and baking soda to a boil in a large 5-6 quart saucepan.

6. Working with one piece of dough at a time, carefully take it off the parchment or counter, flip it over in your hand and pinch the bottom to form a little pucker and help the dough form a nice, taut ball. Take care not to deflate the dough; you should pinch just the very edge of the dough.
7. Place 3-4 dough balls in the boiling water and boil for 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side (the longer you boil, the chewier the baked pretzel roll will be).

8. With a spatula, remove the dough from the boiling water and let the excess water drip off into the pan. Place the boiled dough balls onto lined baking sheets (lined with lightly greased parchment or a silpat liner).
9. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Water Bath and Extras:

10. Using a very sharp knife or razor, slice 2-3 cuts into the top of each unbaked roll about 1/4-inch deep or so. It’s important to use a very sharp blade so that it cuts the dough without deflating it. It’s ok if the dough looks wrinkly and kind of funny. It will work itself out during baking. Lightly sprinkle each dough ball with coarse salt.
11. Bake for 20-22 minutes until the rolls are deep golden brown. These rolls definitely taste best the same day they are made; however, lightly warmed in the microwave for a few seconds will do wonders for pretzel rolls 1-2 days old.

http://www.melskitchencafe.com/2013/10/amazing-soft-pretzel-rolls.html

I use the following for a smaller batch:

1 tablespoon yeast
2 teaspoons canola oil
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2-4 cups flour
wheat and white 1:3.

I do an egg wash (one egg and 2 tablespoons water, beaten well and brushed on liberally) after blanching to improve the appearance and crust.

The Electric Octopus

Share Button

It was newlywed bliss in the Mr. & Mrs. HomeOwnerMan household.  They were living in a starter cave that HomeOwnerMan had purchased during his single years.  It was humble but it was where HomeOwnerMan called home for many years, and now he welcomed WifeGirl into it hoping that she would give it the loving touches that only a female super-hero was good at.

There was a finished attic in the place which made the cave a bit larger and had been the residence of HomeOwnerMan’s college roommate, EconoBoy, who made his living in the World Trade Center.  The HomeCave was attractive because of its proximity to public transportation into the Big City, so EconoBoy rented the attic for a time until he met and later married Leeblu-Woman. They moved out to the suburbs, and shortly thereafter along came WifeGirl, who at the time went under the name GirlfriendGirl. HomeOwnerMan thought this was a somewhat redundant name, but fell in love just the same.  But I digress.

WifeGirl made the large walk-in closet in the attic the home of her extensive wardrobe of spandex Lycra suits that all had “W” emblazoned across the chest.  She was a working super-hero, with corporate looking supersuits and a collection of tiny shoes that would have made Imelda Marcos proud.  One morning the light in the walk-in closet, which was a 65-year-old pull-string type, gave up the ghost and WifeGirl was unable to tell her taupe supersuit from her mauve supersuit in the low light.  So she asked HomeOwnerMan to replace the light.  He knew instinctively that the mystique of his identity hung in the balance of his ability to do a quick, clean, and high-quality repair on this, the first of many home repair jobs to come.

closet light

Sizing up the job, HomeOwnerMan wanted to knock her socks off, so he decided he would not only replace the light but also add a light switch outside the door of the closet for added convenience.  He furthermore noticed that the wires were the original ones from 1926 when the house was built, so he thought he would replace them, too. So off to Home Depot he went. Lowes was not yet in business and Grossmans had just gone out of business; Square D was around but was lame.

He chose a nice sealed light fixture because the ceiling was low in the attic, and a clean-looking toggle switch, box, a wall plate, and plastic coated Romex wire.  He also bought a ceiling box because there was not one where the old fixture was.  HomeOwnerMan’s brother-in-law, Mayor McWeinerMinder, who at one time worked for the Electric Company (not the children’s show on public television but the actual power company), had given HomeOwnerMan personal lessons on wiring, so he knew that safety was always the right choice.

Turning the power off at the electrical box, HomeOwnerMan faced the reality that the one breaker was responsible for all the power on the second and third floors of the HomeCave.  So working in the ambience of flashlights, HomeOwnerMan taped the new wire to the old wires in hopes of easily fishing the new wires to the power source and to the wall switch. He started to pull on the one end.  To his delight the wires moved about a foot, but then abruptly stopped.  So he went to the other end, figuring there was just a snag, and pulled the wires back the other way.  Again they moved a foot and then stopped.  So he summoned the able help of WifeGirl.

WifeGirl was instructed to stand at the one end of the wire and, when given the HomeSignal, pull the wires towards her.  HomeOwnerMan would use a stethoscope, which was entirely useless in his short-but-dazzling medical career but was invaluable for things like working on his car and finding out what was crawling inside the walls, to listen to where the wires were moving.  So WifeGirl pulled, and HomeOwnerMan discovered that there were wires moving twenty feet away on the other side of the attic.  “This is bad,” he thought to himself.  The noise was coming from a recessed light. So HomeOwnerMan got started removing the fixture to investigate further.

electrical wire octopus

As he removed it all manner of dead wasps, leaves, sticks, straw, hay, Jimmy Hoffa, etc. fell out of the hole in the ceiling.  After making sure that no active wildlife had taken refuge in this hole, he began inspecting it using the most effective means available for a small hole – a make-up mirror and a flashlight.   To his surprise and enjoyment, there was an OCTOPUS of wires a scant one foot from the hole, which was easily pulled toward him for inspection. Needless to say the wires from the other two areas that he was previously working pulled toward HomeOwnerMan one foot, both being connected into this octopus.

At this point I should describe the octopus.  There were not less than ten sets of wires coming into it.  There was wiring from 3 distinct time periods: Romex from the contemporary era, mesh covered wires from the Neolithic period, and knob-n-tube wiring from the Paleolithic era.  The wires went to every outlet, light, fan, and switch in the room. In short, it was the power plant of the third floor, but it had all the makings of an incendiary device built by middle-east terrorists.  There was no such thing as a wire nut, junction box, or ground wire in the whole mess.  Instead, the whole entity was held together by carbon-datable electrical tape.

Here was the problem:  HomeOwnerMan needed to identify the wire which was carrying the power to the entire organism and isolate it from short-circuiting.   Otherwise, he would be unable to turn that circuit on at all rendering the whole second and third floors devoid of the new Edison electric lighting and throw the whole place back to pre-industrialization days.   After deciding that that would truly be a hassle, HomeOwnerMan began cutting all of the wires off the octopus one-by-one, labelling their probable function,  and taping them up with electrical tape.

With his superior intellect, HomeOwnerMan finally reasoned that the knob-n-tube wires were likely the power source since they were the oldest and the previous owners were undoubtedly too lazy to bother running new cable to the electrical box.  But, of course, reasoning was not enough; as a true scientist, he needed to test his hypothesis.  For this he again needed the help of his lovely assistant WifeGirl.  His instructions to her were simple.  “WifeGirl, run down to the basement and flip the breaker.  If it pops back, come back up here, and bring the ‘swear jar’ with you.  If it doesn’t pop back, RUN up here with the fire extinguisher.”

WifeGirl ran down to the breaker box as instructed flipped the [correct, amazingly enough] breaker, and raced back up the stairs with the fire extinguisher, just as she was instructed.  Fortunately, there was no fire, smoke, or smoldering wires.  AND, when tested with HomeOwnerMan’s trusty multi-meter from his tool belt, his hypothesis held up – the oldest wires were the power source!

Over the next two months HomeOwnerMan and WifeGirl set about rewiring the attic, making it safe and restoring it to present day technology.  It was a good thing that WifeGirl and HomeOwnerMan found this problem as to avert an inferno but that was not what they had expected to get into at the start of the project.

HomeOwnerMan – making the ordinary extra-ordinary.

 

Tree Limbs and WifeGirl from Heaven

Share Button

When we last visited HomeOwnerMan, he was flat on his back repairing a lawn tractor.  Today, as we look into the sky, we find HomeOwnerMan high atop a poplar tree, preparing to carry out some necessary and overdue pruning to the oversize sedentary creature.

As he looks out over the Metropolawn skyline from his perch, his eyes come across Wife Girl tangling adeptly with a pressure washer and a moderately soiled deck railing.  His gaze lingers just a beat too long on Wife Girl however, triggering her arachnid sense as she feels the eyes on her.  She turns nonchalantly and smiles at Homeowner Man, who suddenly feels self-conscious that he is wearing tights and a cape.  He’s always longed to be more than a Superhero associate to Wife Girl, but knows that the life of a Superhero is a solitary one.  Besides, she always seemed more attracted to Brown Lantern, the Delivery Guy.  Still, he wonders for a moment what she looks like under her Spandex Lycra suit, but resists the temptation to invade her privacy by using his X-ray vision to find out.

DSCN2301

Using the chainsaw devise he borrowed from Neighbor Man, HomeOwnerMan makes the necessary cuts to fell the lifeless branch, dropping it two stories onto a picnic table.  Scampering down, HomeOwnerMan saws the branch into 12” pieces only to find that “divide and conquer” are not always the best way to defeat a foe.  For each of the segments fought back by becoming like lead weights which needed to be carted and stacked at the edge of Metropolawn.  In blazing heat, HomeOwnerMan painstakingly carries out the task, until at last there are only brush and twigs remaining.

A new day dawns as HomeOwnerMan gathers the twigs and brush, processing it into small wood chips using the chipping device with which Jeeves had outfitted him.  Jeeves, always the prankster, made the device just a little difficult to start such that HomeOwnerMan is nearly tired out by the time he fires up the device.  Undisturbed by this minor inconvenience, HomeOwnerMan carries out the bone-jarring task of chipping the waste.  Again, the sun did its worst to desiccate HomeOwnerMan, but drawing on sheer determination he gradually amassed a one cubic yard pile of wood chips.  He doesn’t rest, though, until the chips are safely in their mulch pile.

HomeOwnerMan – making the ordinary Extra-ordinary.

[Originally posted on FaceBook 05/30/2011]

Broken Belts and Bamboo

Share Button

When we last left Homeowner Man, our hero was dangling precariously from an extension ladder in a rain storm.  This week, Homeowner Man finds himself flat on his back underneath a John Deere LT155 lawn tractor.  Having had an untimely run in with a wayward tree stump, Homeowner Man came up on the short end of the fight, breaking the mower timing belt in the process.

JD timing Belt

Upon inspection of the damage, Homeowner Man noticed a fraying drive belt and bravely decided to proactively conquer this problem while addressing the matter at hand.  Undaunted by the closure of the nearest John Deere parts store in the wake of a sagging economy, Homeowner Man plays the waiting game by ordering the parts online, unwilling to pay expedited shipping.

John-Deere-Drive-Belt-m151649-large

The grass was unfazed by the inability to be maintained and continued to grow in a manner resembling its larger cousin, bamboo.  Doing a quick calculation in his head, Homeowner Man realized the beauty of the neighborhood lay in the balance between the news brought to him by the UPS tracking site and the unrelenting biomass.  He reached out to his associate, Neighbor Man, to borrow his lawn mowing device.  This kept the grass at bay, and Homeowner Man affected a small repair on Neighbor Man’s machine to alleviate the vapor lock situation.

bamboo

The parts finally in hand, Homeowner Man began taking the necessary steps to repair his lawn mowing device.  Piece after piece was removed, some requiring superhuman strength to unbolt and others requiring the agility and contortion skills of Yoga Man (who strangely has never been seen in the same place as Homeowner Man) until hours later all obstructions were removed and the drive belt was accessible.  Requiring his super-human intellect, Homeowner Man managed to re-assemble all of the pieces and not have any left over.  He required the assistance of Wife Girl (who some have suspected is more than just a superhero sidekick for Homeowner Man) to re-attach large springs.

After installing the mower deck timing belt, which was responsible for the whole adventure in the first place, Homeowner man re-attached the deck and turned the key.  With a roar of a Kohler engine and a whirr of blades, Homeowner Man made the yard safe for man and beast alike.

Thank you, Homeowner Man, for restoring truth, Justice, and straight grass lines!

[Originally posted May 3, 2011 on FaceBook.]

Pierogies – The Fuel That Makes the Superhero Go

Share Button

WifeGirl and HomeOwnerMan work very well in the kitchen together.  WifeGirl is usually the Master Chef, while HomeOwnerMan is comfortable in his role as Sous-Chef.  There are a few notable exceptions to this rule, however.

Pierogies have been in my family for as far back as we can remember.  My mother learned from my grandmother, and I learned from both of them.  So, when it comes to pierogies, I am generally in the driver’s seat here.  Which suits WifeGirl just fine; she has enough running things the rest of the time.

20150111_152716 - Copy

The great thing about pierogies is that they are something that does not follow the rule “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”  In fact, there are so many jobs involved that it makes for a very social time to make a large batch.  Over the years I have made them with many friends, and we started to have PierogiFest every year because of the social aspect of it. Throw in some prosecco and you’ve created a whole new tradition.  In fact, we have learned that we prefer to hold some sort of event when we have people over rather than to just entertain for the sake of entertaining.  It has been received well.  We did a scotch tasting a couple of years ago, for example.  This was popular with scotch lovers and novices alike because it gives everyone a sense of purpose and belonging.

Anyway, here are the pierogies as my family makes them, and including a few things I’ve learned over the years.

Pierogi Recipe

Notes from 2017 Pierogifest: We used the pasta roller on a setting of 3, but 4 probably would have been better, because a lot broke. Remember to not overfill them. 5 cups of flour = 25 oz if using a scale. I found you can start the recipe with 30 oz flour per batch of dough. If you add the liquid ingredients together and mix them well, you can put the full 30 oz of flour in at once and the dough hook will do a great job of getting it mixed and pliable, with only small amounts of added flour needed.

From “The Frugal Gourmet on our Immigrant Ancestors” and my Grandmother Anna Semanko Dzwonczyk

(This is really light and tasty dough which uses sour cream as the liquid element.  I make mine in a mixer one batch at a time.  Each batch makes about 7 dozen pierogi.)

2 cups sour cream

5 cups all—purpose flour

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients and knead into soft, pliable dough, adding flour until it is no longer sticky. Cut in half, and let rest, covered, for about 10 minutes. Roll out each half into a thin circle. Using a drinking glass cut the dough into circles and fill them with the desired filling. Place less than a tablespoon of filling in the center of each circle and fold over. Wet the edges with a little water, and press into a half moon. Seal with a fork. Cook for 20 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain. They can be pan—fried in butter at this point, if you wish, for a really tasty finish.

CAM00453_edit0

***A couple of suggestions and hints from watching Anna Dzwonczyk do this:

  • She cut her dough into 3” squares and folded them over into smaller triangles. (I prefer the circle/half-moon technique myself).
  • Roll the dough out pretty thin, like 1/8 or 3/16”, in other words, as thin as possible without “filling herniation”, and liberally flour the dough as you roll it out.
  • Rather than pan-frying the pierogies, cover the boiled pierogies in melted butter and browned onions.
  • If you are freezing them for future use, don’t make one big hockey puck like Paul Sleph and I did one time.  Here’s what you do: Sprinkle cookie sheets with a liberal amount of corn meal.  Lay out the pierogies in rows across the pan (or columns down the pan if you think they’ll taste better.) Freeze them until they are set, and then bag them in labeled plastic bags.
  • I use a pasta roller and ravioli forms to make the pierogies.  This makes the pierogies more uniform so that they all cook at the same rate.  If you are doing it this way, start at the thickest setting, adding flour with every pass and getting down to a thin setting (3 on my machine).  Place the dough over the ravioli form, fill them, wet the seams, and lay the 2nd piece of dough over it.  Seal them by passing a rolling pin over them.  Poke a single toothpick hole in each one to allow trapped air to escape when cooking.  This keeps them from bursting.

Anna’s favorite Potato and cheese filling:

3/4 lb. sharp orange cheddar cheese, grated

3 potatoes, peeled, boiled, and mashed

While the potatoes are still hot, add the cheese and mix together well. Cool in the refrigerator until room temperature or below. Fill pierogies.  This will fill about 7 dozen pierogies.

Anna’s prune filling:

(I know this sounds gross, but I guarantee you’ll like it.)

1 box pitted prunes

1 tablespoon sugar

Stew the prunes until soft in a saucepan in just enough water to cover them. Drain. Add about 1 tablespoon of sugar, and mash the prunes until they become a thick paste. Use as filling.  This will fill about 3 dozen.

IMG_20150110_205710 - Copy

Barbara Gatta (of Brooklyn)’s apricot filling:

(my personal favorite, and Florence’s too)

1 pkg of dried apricots

~1/4 cup sugar

Stew the apricots, in just enough water to cover them, until soft. Add the sugar (more or less to taste) until the mixture is sweet. Mash. Use as filling.  This will fill about 3 dozen.

Florence Dzwonczyk’ and Paul Sleph’s Sauerkraut Filling

1 14 oz. can of Sauerkraut

¾ bottle beer.

Empty the sauerkraut into a sauce pan and add the beer.  Finish the beer.  Heat the sauerkraut for 10 minutes on medium heat.  Allow to cool, and then drain thoroughly through a colander. Use as filling.  This will fill about 3 dozen.

Joann Strnad’s Suggestion – Pumpkin Filling

1 3lb. pumpkin, roasted, seeded, pureed, and drained (will amount to about 2 cups. You can also use canned pumpkin if you want – the color will be a lot bolder. Substitute squash, or even yams or sweet potatoes, if you like.)

1/2 cup chopped cooked bacon

2 whole heads of garlic, roasted until soft and dark golden

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Salt, to taste

I used a food processor, but you don’t have to. I prefer a uniform texture in my pierogies, and this is the easiest way. You can just mash everything together if you like – that’ll work perfectly well too.

Combine pumpkin, bacon, garlic, cheese, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix well, then taste. Adjust your seasonings if need be. This would be the time to add salt if you feel like it.

Before there was HomeOwnerMan, there was Pretzel King

Share Button

A long, long time ago in a kingdom far, far away there was a family with six children.  The youngest of these was a little boy who was so starved for attention that he would go to great lengths to be noticed by his family.  He tried comedy acts which brought brief attention but required long hours of dreaming them up, planning them, finding the appropriate time to perform them, and making them look spontaneous.  (I should mention that the little boy is older now but still devotes a fair amount of time to this.)

Observing his youngest sister on a few occasions, who was equally starved for attention and was further saddled with middle child syndrome, he noticed that she started making a coffee cake recipe which, although it took some time, brought with it praise an accolades from the other family members.  They started heaping praise on her and spontaneously giving her attention by requesting that she make the coffee cake when they were hungry for something homemade.

So the little boy got an idea.  He found a soft pretzel recipe and tried it on his family.  The recipe took some time and a great deal of effort and the pretzels were somewhat dense, but the family loved them.  They started giving him attention.  He started making the pretzels more often.  All was good.

But soon the boy realized it was a lot of work, and so he wouldn’t make the pretzels when the family asked.  But they were clever.  They started saying things like, “we’d make them, but they don’t come out as good as yours.”  That worked for a while, and even stirred the boy into improving his own recipe.  He looked up other recipes.  He experimented with the recipe.  He got advice from his grandmother, who was an expert at all sorts of breads and foods.  The pretzels gradually became lighter and of better quality.

But again, he began to resist the effort of making them.  Until one day when a sister, much older and more clever than he, came up with a new strategy.  She began calling him “Pretzel King”, and began saying things like “Pretzel King makes the ~best~ pretzels” and spinning yarns about “the Pretzel Kingdom” and his “Pretzel subjects.”  He so loved these stories that he went back to the kitchen to again make pretzels, passing the time and work with visions of his kingdom.  The stories became more fanciful; the pretzels reached a pinnacle.  The little boy had truly become “The Pretzel King.”

For many years the Pretzel King guarded his recipe, keeping it close and modifying it only slightly.  In the advent of bread machines the most laborious part, kneading the dough,  became much simpler.  Later, he even added the use of commercial style mixers to the process.  But now, for all to make, is the Pretzel King’s secret recipe.

Enjoy them.  Make them for your family.  Have your own fantasy kingdom.

soft_pretzel

Soft Pretzel Recipe

Dough Ingredients:

1 ¼ cup water (warm)

2 tablespoon Margarine

1 tablespoon Sugar

1 teaspoon Salt

4 cups flour (or 2 cups whole wheat and 2 cups white)

1 tablespoon yeast

 

Preparation ingredients:

¼ cup baking soda

1 egg

¼ cup Kosher Salt

 

In a bread machine add dough ingredients in order, or if kneading by hand, put the water, melted margarine, yeast and sugar in the bottom of a large glass bowl and mix until dissolved.  Allow yeast to activate for 5 minutes.  Add flour gradually, mixing well until it becomes too thick to mix.  Then knead in the rest of the flour and add more until the dough is no longer sticky.  Work the dough hard for 3 – 4 minutes until smooth, then set aside in a bowl in a warm area to rise for 30 min to an hour.

Pre-heat oven to 375° F.  Divide the dough into 12 equal parts.  Roll each dough ball into a 18” x ¾” rope, and twist into traditional shapes or braid into tiny loaves or wreaths.

Boil 4 cups of water and add ¼ cup baking soda.  Blanch the pretzels in the solution until they float to the surface, and remove them with a slotted spoon.  Place them on cookie racks to drip dry.  Move them to cookie sheets.  Prepare an egg wash by beating the egg with 2 tablespoons of water.  Brush liberally on each pretzel.  Sprinkle kosher salt on them to liking.  Bake for 20-30 minutes until they are golden brown.  Cool on cookie racks or eat while still warm.