The Luki Huber Cooking Bag … Is the Forever Ziploc Bag

Ziploc sandwich bags are such a great invention for keeping food fresh. We’ve been packing sandwiches, salads, cookies and everything else in them for nearly half a century, and it’s getting tough to remember a modern world without them. I like them so much that I feel guilty throwing them away after one use. They are made from petroleum to begin with, and use even more energy as they are manufactured and shipped. Ultimately, they end up in landfills by the ton. It seems so wasteful, yet even to me, they are too cheap and flimsy to seriously consider washing out. Besides, it would take time, and life is just too short to spend any of it washing disposable Ziploc bags. “They” should make quality, reusable Ziploc bags. Shouldn’t they?

Turns out that “they” do. “They” is the Spanish company Lekue who have teamed up with the Swiss designer Luki Huber to produce the perfect sustainable food container based on the Ziploc bag concept. It’s made of thick silicone, and it stands up on the counter by itself as you fill it up with … pretty much anything. Once filled with anything, you can do anything with it: boil, freeze, microwave and then wash it in the dishwasher and start all over again. You can use it for any stage of food consumption. You can store food in it, cook in it and most importantly to me, carry it back and forth to work. Imagine being able to reuse the same Ziploc bag every day, perfectly clean and sanitary. Pack anything in it from sandwiches to soup to salad.

Eventually, it will pay for itself, but not right away. It costs about $20, comes in 4 colors and is officially one of the products that are so well-designed you can buy them at the Museum of Modern Art store. You can also buy it at Amazon. It makes a great gift for a lover of kitchen stuff or someone you know that takes their lunch to work.

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Xylitol Gum … What Would 4 Out of 5 Dentists Say Now?

Stay away from eating too much fat, it will make you fat. No, stay away from eating too many carbs, they will make you fat. Drinking some alcohol is good for you. No, drinking any alcohol is bad for you. One thing is certain: the recommendations for healthy living are going to change. However, chewing gum = bad for your teeth has held pretty steady since I was in grade school. If it has sugar in it, it will cause cavities. Sugarless gum was at least OK: 4 out of 5 dentists recommend it, and it’s the only kind my mom lets me chew.

Hershey’s Ice Breakers Ice Cubes


Now it’s the 21st century, and you can buy gum containing xylitol, although it’s a little hard to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Xylitol is a natural sugar, originally made from the bark of birch trees, that has actually been shown in clinical studies in Finland from 30 or so years ago to significantly reduce cavities. It does all good things, like reduce the bad bacteria (mutans streptococci – yuk!) in your mouth, stop the growth of small cavities and actually remineralize your teeth. There are also studies that show it reduces ear infections. You’re supposed to chew it 4 times a day for the optimum effect. It tastes good, too – naturally sweet, with no bitter aftertaste (I’m looking at you, stevia).

A few minor cons need to be mentioned. First, it’s supposed to be pretty toxic to dogs, so be careful not to drop any on the floor. Second, you need to search for it. In my local big box drugstore, the only xylitol gum I could find was the Hershey’s Ice Breakers Ice Cube gum, although of course it’s easy to order online. Stuff your children’s stockings with something that’s actually good for them – I guarantee they won’t notice.

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Add Bluetooth to a Dock and Connect Almost Anything … Without Wires

Your old iPod dock was the greatest thing ever – stand up the iPod and get music that sounds quite fine and you can listen to anywhere. But then you got your new iPhone, and your iPad and then your new iPhone 5 with Lightning (never mind the Android phone) and you stopped using it. Well, get a 30-pin Bluetooth connector for $40 or so (maybe less) and the dock will work with anything and everything. Wirelessly. From 30 feet away.

My own experience was instructive. I found out about them, ordered one and plugged it right into the Bose Sounddock. Very disappointing – it was DOA, or so I thought. I plugged it into the 30-pin charging wire as a check, and it came right to life. How was that possible? I learned nothing from my Google searches, so I sadly emailed the vendor, Amazing Stuff, and asked to return it.

OK, they said, but do you have a 1st generation Sounddock, by any chance?

Why, yes, yes we do! (Daisy has always been an early adopter.)

OK then, go ahead and send it back to us, ’cause it won’t work with those old ones that supply Firewire power … unless maybe you want to use a Scosche adapter.

A Scosche adapter? What the heck was that? It’s the Scosche passPORT – costs about $10 or $15, about 1″ square and it solves that particular problem perfectly. It’s a 30-pin Firewire to USB adapter, and if that’s what you need, just get one.

After having it not work at all, it was nothing short of amazing how well it worked after that. Just one button and red and blue LEDs on top. Once it’s paired with a device (enter “0000”), it’s paired forever and you never have to touch it again. Said device can be anything with Bluetooth: laptop, iPhone, iPad or Android phone – all worked perfectly. If you want to stop using one and start using another, just disconnect it and connect the next one. It’s easier than plugging in headphones. Could be the perfect stocking stuffer for ANYONE who has a speaker with a 30-pin connector on top.

There are several brands available on Amazon, and I think they are all fairly similar.


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Frank Muller’s Voice Lives On In Audiobooks

I can honestly say my life has been enriched by listening to the late Frank Muller’s voice on audiobooks he has narrated. If you have never heard him, you really should try giving him a listen. Some of my favorites that he recorded are Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge and maybe best of all for this time of year, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

They’re not just for the car. I like to take audiobooks on beach vacations so that I can “read” without even having to sit up, and I always pick books based on Muller’s narration, not by the author. I’ve been doing this since the olden days of audiocassettes. I even bought some (instead of renting) when my local public library was selling them.

You may still be able to get the CD versions from the library; they’re a little hard to find but they are all still available for download on Audible. Tragically, there will never be any more – Frank Muller passed away in 2008 from complications from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident.

He was Stephen King’s favorite narrator. A good way to get started would be to listen to any or all of the four short novels from King’s brilliant Different Seasons – all but one of them were later made into successful movies: Apt Pupil, The Breathing Method, The Body (Stand By Me) and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (The Shawshank Redemption).

What made him so good? That’s the hard question. It was his actor’s skill at creating the characters, his sense of drama and the pure sound of his voice telling the story. Stephen King, who can describe anything, had this to say: “(When Frank reads) the blind will see, the lame will walk, and the deaf will hear.” Somehow, I know exactly what he meant, but you have to hear it for yourself. Check out some of the samples on the Audible Web site, or better yet, immerse yourself in one of his audiobooks for a few hours. Even now, I occasionally try to imagine the sound of his voice as I read dramatic dialogue in books.

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Museum Memberships Make You Feel Like You Own the Place

It’s safe to say that you will never be able to afford a garden like Pierre du Pont established at Longwood, or an art collection like the one amassed by Dr. Albert Barnes. That’s mostly because these days, nobody really can. Even Mr. duPont and Dr. Barnes had to ultimately let Longwood Gardens and the Barnes Foundation go to non-profit public foundations. To this day, though, they’re both fabulous places to visit, especially around the holidays. The Christmas decorations at Longwood, for example, make it so popular during the holidays that visitors have to sign up for timed tickets – you have to first reserve a time to arrive, before you can pay $25 per person for admission.

Longwood Conservatory

That is, the non-members do. Members are special. Very special. When you’re a member, they make you feel like you’re one of Mr. du Pont’s close personal friends. The first thing is, you don’t need no stinking timed ticket; you go when YOU feel like it, even on Peak Days. Then, as soon as you get there, starting with the employees directing traffic into the parking lot, a casual wave of your Guest Pass gets you a smile and fast, direct access to everything. When you get inside the Visitors Center, you don’t have to wait in line with the masses to buy a ticket, you just show your Guest Pass again and get ushered right inside. And you can give out some of the candy yourself; you get two free guest tickets to give away, but sadly not during the Christmas Peak Days (although the place is a garden, after all; it’s maybe even more fabulous during the spring, summer and fall).

It’s pretty much the same deal at most museums, zoos and Old Time Rich Peoples’ Houses. The  foundations love people they can count on to pay them a fixed amount of money every year so they can figure how to do their budgets without a lot of stress. Best of all, remember that museum memberships are tax-deductible, and if you get one now, you’ll still have the paperwork handy in a few months when you need it to do your taxes.

So maybe you can give museum memberships as holiday gifts – or use the that 10% discount Christmas shopping in the museum shop (MOMA, anyone?).

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2012 – Thanksgiving “Luxury” Revisited

Here it is, one year after the original “Luxurious” Thanksgiving post, so we have the opportunity to revisit the list of things about Thanksgiving that we here at AL especially love. It’s a holiday devoted to thinking about what you’re thankful for, so here goes:

1. You Could Host Thanksgiving Dinner for 20 – Yes, that can absolutely be a good thing. We figured out how to fry turkeys safely and now we don’t have to drive anywhere in the holiday traffic. The menu is fairly standard: turkey, stuffing, potatoes (mashed and sweet), cranberry sauce, pie, etc., etc. Dinner for 20 is basically dinner for 2, only times 10.

2. It’s a Little Vacation –  Always at least one day off, and since it’s always on a Thursday, your boss might feel generous and give you Friday, too.

3. It’s Not Christmas Yet – … so there’s no pressure for last minute shopping. Just need to show up for Thanksgiving dinner.

4. All Kinds of Football – If you’re like us, you might not be lucky enough to live in Houston or Atlanta and have good NFL teams. Your local pro football team might be … struggling, as they say. If that’s the case, cheer yourself up by watching some college football this weekend or maybe some of the pro teams that might actually make the playoffs.

5. You Have a Month Left To Get Ready for Christmas – You still have plenty  of time to think about what people would like to get, and even more time to actually go shopping.

6. Holiday Shopping Begins Even Earlier This Year – If you didn’t want to wait until midnight after Thanksgiving dinner to catch the early holiday super-discounts, this year you are in luck.  Some stores are beginning their sales at 9 p.m. Thursday, which not only could give you an opportunity to get out and back to sleep at a relatively reasonable hour, but also could give you an excuse to remove yourself from your holiday guests — you may have had enough of them by then, anyway. Longer hours spread out the crowds, too. Theoretically.

7. High School Marching Bands Perform – Really, how many chances do you get to see that, complete with baton-twirlers?

8. The Leftovers Are Yummy – One of our local lunch restaurants — an upscale fast-food place, let’s call it — serves hot roast turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing year-round.  Thanksgiving is your chance to overdose on it and to enjoy the food coma it produces (see “Little Vacation,” above).  Since we’re having Thanksgiving this year, we’ll control all the leftovers.  Lucky us . . . 

9. You’re Expected to Get Together with Family and Friends – and just enjoy their company.  Judging from the line at the wine shoppe and the number of bottles being purchased, lots of you are expecting a fairly large crowd.  This is good, just what the holiday is all about. Everyone at least tries to be on their best behavior.

10. You Don’t Need to Second-Guess Your Holiday Greeting – “Happy Thanksgiving!”  That’s it.  No need to think about it, make it non-denominational or secular.  It already is. Thanksgiving is the “All-American holiday,” for all Americans. 

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Fry Your Thanksgiving Turkey Indoors Or Out

The idea of frying Thanksgiving turkeys is gratifying on so many levels: holiday revelry, fried food and the dramatic possibility of fire or explosion, just for starters. Like fireworks, only legal everywhere and you can eat them. Really, if frying something as small and simple as a sliver of potato works so well, why not think really big and fry a gigantic piece of poultry? Will frying scale up without some scary complication?

Is it something you should try? Is it difficult? Dangerous? Expensive? What does it involve? Well, there are two basic ways to go about it – over a propane tank and burner in the backyard or with a dedicated electric turkey fryer in the kitchen. Both methods seem to involve having a fire extinguisher close by, but that’s always a good idea.

Our choice was easy, since we don’t have a backyard, but getting an electric fryer and using it outside on the deck seemed like a good compromise. The one everybody buys is the Butterball – available for about $100 from Amazon or Home Depot. After that the instructions seemed simple enough:  get the right size turkey — we got the XL fryer, costs more but large enough for a 20 lb. bird — brine it for most of a day (or get a pre-brined one, see photo above, for a few dollars extra), inject it with marinade, and then drop it into A LOT (about 3 gallons) of sizzling oil for 3 minutes or so per pound, plus five minutes.

How does it compare to the traditional oven roasting method? Well, I never tried the old way (ask Daisy), but here are the pros and cons we came up  with:


  • Cooks much faster — Instead of spending three or four hours in the oven, a deep-fried turkey cooks in about an hour or less.
  • Moist turkey — Probably because it isn’t in the oven for several hours, a deep-fried turkey is much more moist and succulent than a roast turkey.  Of course, that succulence may also be the result of the injected marinades recommended by most fried turkey recipes.
  • Frees up the oven — Turkey is probably not the only part of your Thanksgiving meal that ordinarily is cooked in the oven.  Deep frying your bird frees up your oven for sweet potatoes, hot dinner rolls, and pie.  Yum!
  • It’s fried!  What could be bad about that?


  • Need to get a frier — You probably don’t have one sitting around.  Once you get one, though, your annual turkey preparation will be much simpler.
  • Need to store a frier 364 days a year — unless you want to fry chicken, shrimp, doughnuts or Milky Way bars all year ’round.
  • Need lots of oil — Really, have you ever picked up a 3-gallon jug of oil?  The good news is that the oil will be reusable.
  • Oil gets VERY hot — see need for fire extinguisher, above

Given everyone’s dread of a dry turkey and the amount of time one devotes to cooking it, a turkey fryer seems like a good investment.  If you like it, you will be ready to fry your Christmas turkey in it, too.

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Fatwood Firestarters Make Fires Easy to Light

It’s cold out, and now it’s time to put the fireplace back into service – move the Boston fern out of the way, or take the candles out – but maybe you forgot what a hassle they can be to get going. You put the logs in, and you know you’re supposed to have kindling: small twigs and then larger twigs that progressively catch until there is a small fire that the logs themselves can catch fire from. Or, as I used to, you can try crumpling up inky balls of newspaper, shoving them under the logs and see if that works. It probably won’t, so you crumple up more inky balls and try again, creating an inky, ashy mess.

Especially in the city, kindling can be hard to come by and the newspaper method is way too messy and unreliable. If you want to make it easy on yourself, pick up a box of Fatwood Firestarters and give them a try. They are made from the resinous stumps of pine trees, and they light easily, then burn hot for a long time. Stack the logs in the fireplace, then slide two or three Fatwood Firestarters under the front and light them. They work every time, and they smell great, giving the whole house that cozy pine fireplace aroma. That’s what it is, too: no added chemicals or fragrances.

They’re sustainable; the company gets them from existing stumps and has pledged to plant three trees for every one they consume. Starting a fire in the fireplace with Fatwood Firestarters is almost as easy as lighting the candles on the table.

Get a small box to try, and if you like them (which you will), get a bigger bundle and use it all winter. They make great presents for people with fireplaces (and/or people who camp), and the company makes some nice gift buckets and arrangements.

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IPad With Keyboard … Is It Still a Tablet?

I know, I know – a tablet is a portable computer without a keyboard. If you wanted a laptop, say the skeptics, why didn’t you just buy a laptop? Well, because I didn’t want another laptop. I wanted an iPad to take with me to listen to music, play games, watch videos, read magazines and maybe check my emails and Facebook page. But I’m a blogger, and I need to write things for YOU to take with you and read …

After living happily for over a year with my tablet and its swiping, pinch-to-zoom features, I began to realize that the hunching of my neck as I tapped, pointed, swiped, and tried to type, was literally giving me a headache. I had to come up with a solution that didn’t require the purchase of another expensive laptop (no matter how much I could have used an excuse to buy one).

Logitech IPad Keyboard

Tablet keyboards are pretty easy to find.  They connect wirelessly, by Bluetooth, and some come in tablet cases to be paired with your tablet much like an actual laptop, some roll up into a cylindrical case for maximum portability, some are full-sized, and some are only the width of your tablet in landscape orientation. Apple makes its own for the iPad. The Logitech Tablet Keyboard, though it is nearly full-sized and therefore won’t fit into an iPad-sized case with your iPad, is the best I’ve found and among the least expensive.  First, it works reliably.  Once you’ve paired it with your iPad (and/or iPhone — it works with those, too), leave the iPad Bluetooth on and every time you turn on the keyboard it will connect automatically.  Powered by four included AAA batteries, the keyboard has an on/off switch so you can turn it off when you’re not using it. Its function keys enable you to control music or video media and to perform the basic typing commands found on a typical Apple keyboard. Its case folds easily to create an easel stand for your iPad that you can place anywhere within 30 feet of the keyboard while still maintaining a connection (how’s your eyesight?). After you’ve connected it, just type. The Logitech keyboard feels exactly like a traditional keyboard — the keys feel firm under your fingers, and their spacing is nearly identical to that of a traditional laptop keyboard, the ultimate man/machine interface.

Once you’ve begun to use the real keyboard, you’ll wonder who ever thought it was a good idea to put a fake keyboard on a tablet screen in the first place. You might even be inspired to use it instead of the touchscreen — for example, by turning on the “VoiceOver” function on your iPad to allow your keyboard to scroll through and manipulate device apps. Try it at least once, just to see what you think. On the other hand, you might hate that feature and simply be pleased that you can finally type traditionally on a computer that has a touchscreen, converting your tablet from a device made primarily for the consumption of content to one that enables the creation of content — which is really what we all want to do with them, anyway. Not only that, it makes a perfect gift – because some people just won’t buy one for themselves …

Available from Amazon for about $50.

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Fresh Apple Cider, Hot Cider, Mulled Cider … Yum!

Apple cider is the price we pay, such as it is, for the mountains of perfect apples in the produce section. The apples that may not be so good to look at can be pressed into the extremely fresh apple cider that you see for sale everywhere in the fall. Apple cider, that is, as opposed to the filtered apple juice that some people (especially children) drink all year round.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is the old saying that reminds us of the health benefits of eating apples, and it is true of apples in any form, including clear apple juice. Cloudy fresh apple cider, however, has been shown to be especially high in strong antioxidants like resveratrol (as in red wine) and polyphenols.

So go ahead, take a drink and let the cider capture those free radicals.

Remember, though, it’s starting to get cold outside and cider is kept in the refrigerator. You may not relish the thought of taking it out and pouring a frosty glass on a chilly, damp fall night. In that case, there’s hot mulled cider — apple cider simmered with spices like cinnamon (fairly obvious), ginger, allspice, cloves and nutmeg. You can find pre-packaged mulling spices in nearly every grocery or specialty gourmet store, or you can make your own from any combination of these spices, and you can add lemon and/or orange peel for extra kick.  You don’t need a recipe and you don’t need to measure each spice; you need about a tablespoon of spices combined per eight ounces of cider, and if you add them until the cider smells good to you, your drink will taste as good as it smelled, or better, once it has reached the perfect temperature. As a bonus, the smell of spiced cider will scent your whole kitchen like a fresh-baked pie.

Finally, for an extra-special seasonal beverage, add a shot of rum or brandy to your cider, spiced or not. Or start with hard cider to begin with — maybe a post for a later day.

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