Low-Carb Candy! Chocolate & PB Cups

It’s hard to deal with a chocolate jones when you eat low-carb. But through one of the bulletin boards I read, I discovered something called “coconut bark”, which sounded just about right.

You basically take coconut oil and flavor it, then put it in the freezer. Coconut oil is a quirky little oil — it’s liquid at 77° Farenheit, and solid at 76° or below. It’s also almost entirely saturated fat, so it’s quite possibly the healthiest fat to use. Sometimes I don’t get enough fat in my day, and this stuff can help bump my numbers up not only with fat, but with a really good fat. I got the Louana brand coconut oil from Wal*Mart to experiment with.

Chunks of delicious chocolate!

Chunks of delicious chocolate!

First up is the plain “chocolate bark”. There are only four ingredients:

4 Tbsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 packets Splenda (or 2 Tbsp no-calorie sweetner)

Nuke the oil for 10 seconds or so, until it’s fluid, then whisk or stir the rest of the ingredients in. It’ll take a while for everything to combine. Pour it onto a container (a plate, a pie pan) lined with waxed paper. Put it in the freezer. Within 10 minutes, you should be able to pull it cleanly off the paper and snap it apart into chunks. They have a good chocolatey flavor, and the oil makes them melt in your mouth. The only issue is, they have to stay in the fridge or freezer. I was always a chocolate-in-the-freezer person anyway, so this works for me.

If you make 12 pieces, each piece has approximately:

45 calories
5g fat
(4g saturated fat)
0.5g carb
0 protein

Low-carb peanut butter cups!

Low-carb peanut butter cups!

So then I figured, why can’t I make low-carb peanut butter cups? And so I did. I got a plastic peanut butter cup mold from my local craft store, whipped up a batch of the chocolatey oil above, and then made some peanut butter filling. That recipe:

2 Tbsp peanut butter (I use Simply Jif)
1/2 Tbsp butter
1 packet Splenda (or 2 tsp no-calorie sweetener)

Microwave for 10-15 seconds until the butters are soft, then mix together thoroughly. Put the goo into a plastic sandwich bag, crammed down into one of the corners. Cut the corner off, and you have yourself a piping bag.

Fill the cup molds 1/3 of the way up with the chocolate mixture. Put in the freezer for 5 minutes. Then pipe a pile of the peanut butter mixture into the centers, making sure to leave a little space around the edges of the peanut butter so it can be totally surrounded with chocolate. Freeze for 5 minutes. Then top off the whole shebang with more chocolate mixture, so the peanut butter is totally covered. Freeze again, and you’re done!

I had extra chocolate mix and peanut butter mix, so I poured the chocolate onto a plate covered with waxed paper, then piped the peanut butter all over it. I froze it, and it made another hard, snap-able bark. And honestly, the bark was MUCH easier to make (1 step vs. 3) than the cups. But the cups are so classic.

This batch made 11 cups and another 5 good-sized chunks of bark. At 16 servings, the per-serving nutrition facts are:

50 calories
5g fat
(3.5 g saturated fat)
0.75g carb
(.25g dietary fiber)
.75g protein

We broke up the bark and unmolded the cups (they popped right out) and put them in a container in the freezer. They won’t last the week, that’s for sure. And they’re a great way to satisfy a craving for chocolate.

Friday Round-Up

It’s Friday, which is technically my Monday. We had a busy weekend. We looked at apartments, since our current lease is up in a couple of months, and they want us to either give 60 days’ notice or sign up for another year. The only place we liked was a brand new complex called The District. Spacious 1-bedrooms, with the very-rare option of wood or stained-concrete floors (as a cat owner, I hate-hate-hate carpet). Sadly, the prices were only tolerable because of a special deal — 3 months free on a 14-month lease. After that lease, the price would jump up almost $300 per month. No thanks.

We also put up our fake holiday tree. Pictures to come in a future post. So far, the cats have been slightly interested, but not overly so. We worried they’d want to climb up inside it, or chew it up, which is why we got the super-cheap starter tree. So far, so good. A couple of other items are coming up this week: some experimental food, as well as a new project I’m getting ready to start.

From the camera phone this week, I have the following items:

All hail the Jebus.

All hail the Jebus.

I was driving behind this bus for a while on my way into work. What with the script they used, at first look I thought it said “JE BUS” on the back. Which made the Homer Simpson within me laugh.

Web sites and closers and tarot, oh my!

Web sites and closers and tarot, oh my!

Here in Orlando, you can count on seeing these throwaway signs on the side of every road. I always pass this popular spot on my way in to work, and I had to wonder: what kind of Web site are they offering for $299? Since you can get a domain for five bucks, and hosting for another two bucks per month, I have to hope there’s all sorts of databases and shopping carts and fancy crap involved. I’ve also sent this picture over to Lowercase L for the “ClOSERS ONlY” sign.

Mission STS-129, Shuttle Atlantis

Mission STS-129, Shuttle Atlantis

Last but not least, we had a shuttle launch last week. It’s still surreal to see these things in real life, instead of on TV. I was on a break when it launched, so I was able to head up from the tunnel and watch. It’s also cool to have everyone in the park stop and watch and applaud.

Internet Radio Experiment, Part 5: finetune

It’s getting harder and harder to find new internet music services. Sure, there are some like Live365 and Shoutcast and Accuradio that are pre-programmed stations, but I’m after stations where I can hear exactly what I want to hear.

Tastefully presented in basic black.

Tastefully presented in basic black.

The latest system I’ve tried is finetune (they seem to not want the name capitalized, so I’ll follow suit). They seem to be completely free, with no alternate paid option to get ad-free or feature-rich service.

As with so many players, you start with a single artist and go from there. In order to take a break from the Depeche Mode and Cure that usually follows Duran Duran, I’ve gone a different direction and started with Poe. Clicking on her, I’m given a list of similar artists: Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, Fiona Apple, Dido, Sheryl Crow. All right, a fair place to start.

Finetune (sorry, finetune — couldn’t help capitalizing at the start of the sentence) appears to be solely a music discovery player. You can listen to other people’s playlists, but after searching their FAQ and then doing a Google search, it looks like they disabled the ability to build new playlists earlier this year. Most of the search engine results are postings from 2006 and 2007, when this player was apparently more feature-rich and user-friendly. Which sucks the big banana. So you can mark artists and albums as “favorites”, but you can’t pile them into your own list.

Speaking of marking things as favorites, finetune is lacking a very, VERY important feature for me: the ability to mark songs/albums/artists as NOT favorites. They have no red X, no frowny-face, no thumbs-down for me to click on. There’s a fast-forward button, but after you FF past five songs, you get a little pop up that reads, “You’re gonna have to listen to some of them…” and you’re stuck. Even if you call up a different artist and start listening to their station, you’re still blocked from any further fast-forward action. It looks like you have to wait 5 minutes, then you get the ability to fast-forward one more time, before you’re blocked again.

They have one feature I haven’t really seen anywhere else, which is user tags. You can tag artists or albums with whatever words you like, be it genres or feelings or emoticons. So instead of the player service classifying Poe as, say, “alternative rock, pop” … you get a list like this: “Alternative Rock, Grunge, alt rock, Hoobastank, I <3 Poe, Kassad, Malaysia, melayu, Melodic, mintyjulep, offspring, women who rock, zwan33's Rather soft". So clearly, people are using the tags as a work-around to the now-missing playlist feature. Which blows. Overall, finetune is near the bottom of the list. It's not even ON the list for playlist-based, play-on-demand services. And Pandora is still the top dog for discovery players.

PhotoDump

I just pulled a bunch of pictures off my cell phone. Here’s what I’ve taken snappies of this week:

She dreamed a dream in time gone by.

She dreamed a dream in time gone by.

On this week’s Dancing with the Stars results show, Susan Boyle sang “I Dreamed a Dream”. What was especially strange was this shot, where her giant head loomed over the two dancers. It reminded me distinctly of one of Scott’s favorite YouTube videos, Telly Savalas doing a spoken-word rendition of Bread’s “If”. Scott loves that video so much, he did a comic strip mocking it. The whole thing has become terribly meta.

Crayon is bad. Smeared crayon is worse.

Crayon is bad. Smeared crayon is worse.

Next up is this example of fabulous “parenting” spotted at a local restaurant. This little girl drew all over the glass window with crayons. At no point did either adult tell her to stop. The servers didn’t tell her to stop either, but that’s not surprising; they probably have a policy about letting this kind of thing happen and cleaning it up later, so the customers don’t get irate at having their parenting skillz called into question. At this point of the meal, the little girl took a napkin soaked in water and smeared the crayon wax all over the window, making an even bigger mess.

Vinegar. Vingar. Vingr. Vinnygur?

Vinegar. Vingar. Vingr. Vinnygur?

Last but not least, this is a menu that was shoved under our door by the good people at “NY Style Pizzeria”. As you can see, they can’t decide how a vinaigrette is spelled, but they’re covering all of their bases. None of which is the correct base. By the way, did you know that a vinaigrette doesn’t need to contain vinegar? Any acid (like a citrus juice) will do. Dear NY Style Pizzeria: just call it “house Italian”. But be sure to capitalize “Italian”.

Impending Festive Atmosphere

For the first time in years, we’re preparing to have a holiday tree. Not a Christmas tree per se, since we’re freaky pagan beatnik people — although since the Christmas tree is totally pagan in origin, it’s all a big religious mishmash anyway.

We haven’t had a tree for years — back in Seattle, an actual cut tree was the thing to do. While they always smelled fabulous, the mess of needles left behind was just too much. Fortunately, we now live in Florida, where apparently everyone who’s anyone has an artificial tree.

It won't look this good, I'm sure.

It won't look this good.

We hit a few locations, but ended up with this super-cheap tree from Wal*Mart. We didn’t want to spend too much on the tree right off the bat, because we have no idea how the cats are going to respond. They may ignore it. They may play gently with it. Or they may shred the everloving hell out of it. Best to start cheap. We also got a bunch of “unbreakable” (read: plastic) ornaments, so at least I don’t have to worry about any shattered glass around the cats.

Our color scheme will be silver and blue. No, we’re not Jewish (despite the last name of Meyer) — we just liked the colors together. I made a half-assed effort to get Scott to agree to a white fake tree with black ornaments, but then we decided that we might regret that collection of decorations in future years. Although it’d go beautifully with our zebra-print couch cover.

Vintage-style finial.

Vintage-style finial.

The toughest decoration to find so far has been a tree topper. It seems that every single store has only two options: star or angel. Whatever happened to finials? I remember my folks had a really cool multi-colored finial for the top of our tree when I was a kid. I can find them on Amazon (see right) in any color of the rainbow (and one rainbow-colored one), but I’ve yet to see one at a brick & mortar store. Target, Wal*Mart, Lowe’s, even the ginormous Old Time Pottery home decor store — all just stars and angels.

I’m also planning on some experimental baking this holiday season. We don’t do the carbs, so the list of cookies, cakes and pies is short (but not as short as you might think). I’m planning on pumpkin-spice cheesecake with a nut crust, as well as flourless peanut butter cookies (perhaps with coconut included). I’m also poking around the internets trying to find a way to get the flavors and texture of gingerbread cookies without the flour and/or molasses. But that’s a toughie.

Tuesday Trivia

I get a lot of crap and spam in my email. But on Tuesday mornings, I also get a delightful bunch of trivia. Did you know that Ken Jennings, of Jeopardy! fame, has a weekly trivia contest? If not, you may want to check it out. Just hop over to Ken-Jennings.com and sign up (look for the red box on the left-hand menu bar). Not only is it good trivia, but I find him witty and charming.

I only discovered his blog (which is also witty and charming) after he posted a link to Scott’s famous “wang cake” post. Man, that story gets around.

Rainy Days and Mondays

Well, it’s not technically rainy here yet. We’ll see if we get any fallout from Tropical Storm Ida. (She just got downgraded from Hurricane, yay!) It’s certainly been a windy day, which is lovely.

Scott and I are enjoying a rare Monday off, since we both had a day off we had to use before the end of the year. We headed out to IKEA, then to find some decorations for our first-ever Florida holiday tree. And just like Floridians, we got a fake tree that we can use for years to come. Hopefully the cats won’t shred it to pieces. As for IKEA, they had many an awesome thing. I especially liked these hand puppets:

A ... dolphin? And a ... frog?

A ... dolphin? And a ... frog?

I think the one on the left is a dolphin. Even though it has a mouth full of shockingly oversized, pinking-shear-sharp teeth. At least it has a blowhole on top. As for the other thing, we both figured it was a frog. Although it’s a frog with a bad case of Bram Stoker’s Dracula hair.

We did weights & measures today, as it’s almost one year exactly since we started on a diet filled with saturated fat and cholesterol, with no wheat and very little grains. I didn’t quite make 30 pounds lost, but I did pretty well for the year. From 165 pounds to 136.2; waist from 30″ to 25″; hips, ribcage, thighs, all down 4″-5″ each.

But saturated fat is deadly, you say. Your heart will explode! Well, not with BP at 100/60, total cholesterol at 154, and a non-fasting blood glucose (2 hours after eating) of 90. All numbers are improved since dropping grains, especially wheat, which are the real culprits in heart disease. But don’t take my word for it; listen to Dr. Michael Eades, Dr. William Davis, or check out some of the research archives at The Weston A. Price Foundation for starters. Your eyes may be opened.

Ticket Purchase: HUGE SUCCESS

My excitement levels are rising every day, for something that’s not happening for over two months. Forget Thanksgiving, the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Boxing Day, or even New Year’s Eve. What I’m looking forward to is January 14th, when Jonathan Coulton plays his first concert in Orlando.

You Seattleites have it so good. JoCo plays there practically every couple of months. It’s about time you shared the love!

This concert will also most likely be our first big trip to downtown Orlando. We’ve driven past downtown a couple of times, and I’ve visited places on the outskirts once or twice, but we’ve never really been down, down, downtown. We were actually hoping he’d play our House of Blues, but he’s opted to play some joint called The Social.

It wasn’t until I combed through my blog archives that I realized, I knew of JoCo four long years ago; I posted a link to his cover of Baby Got Back.

I’ve had “Flickr” stuck in my head for days. So here’s the video:

Internet Radio Experiment, Part 4: Grooveshark (& Rhapsody)

First off, I’m going to send Rhapsody to the garbage pile immediately. They only allow 25 song plays per month; if you want more, you have to pay $12.99 per month.

This week, I’ve been testing the Grooveshark service. As with most internet music sites, there’s a paid version that goes for $3/month or $30/year. But I’m just using the free version, because I’m a cheapskate.

Clean and neat. Queue and player along the bottom.

Clean and neat. Queue and player along the bottom.

As far as making playlists and listening to specific songs anytime I want to, Grooveshark is the new winner. It’s almost more like a huge collective hard drive of music, with contributions from users, than it is a regular service. You can play any song instantly. You can play it over and over again, without limits. You can build and save playlists with any number of songs, and play them whenever you like. It’s far and away the best service I’ve found for playing what you want, when you want.

The selection of music is surprisingly large, I suppose because it’s contributed by users all over the world. Not only do they have every Duran Duran song I’d ever want to listen to (including the very hard to find “To the Shore,” which was dropped from their first album on re-issue to be replaced with “Is There Something I Should Know”). I’ve been able to find almost every rare thing I can think of, including the soundtrack to the 80s cartoon movie Animalympics and the original soundtrack to the videogame Psychonauts. If there are songs you own that aren’t on there, you can upload them to your account (and by doing so, share them with the world).

The interface can be a little sluggish at times, as it’s a big Flash program. But for the most part, search is snappy and there’s very little, if any, delay between songs. The player runs along the bottom of the screen, and you don’t have to navigate away from the player to browse or search. There’s one skyscraper ad banner on the right side, which isn’t too distracting. They even have a variety of themes to make the player pretty (although the coolest themes are reserved for the $3/month “VIP” members).

So it does playlists, but how about new music discovery? It’s available, but it’s not the best. Formerly called “Autoplay” and now called “Radio”, Grooveshark lets you put a song (or two, or three, or more) in your queue, then will feed similar songs. But it’s a bit too predictable — a couple of Duran Duran songs (my usual baseline) got me some Depeche Mode, some Cure, and Billy Idol. I think if I’m in the mood for discovery, I’ll head back over to Pandora, where they use the very cool music genome project to make more interesting and unexpected offers of new music.

If you wanted to pay, what does your $3/month or $30/year get you? More themes, more server space for your uploaded music, and a higher number of “favorite”-marked songs. You also get no ads, first shot at trying out any new updates, more screen size adjustability, and it appears there’s a desktop player (but it’s hard to find out information without ponying up the dough).

So there it is: Grooveshark is the new top dog for playlists and immediate specific-song playback. And it’s even earned a spot in my favorite bookmarks bar up at the top of IE. And I feel like I’m supporting a local business, since they’re based here in sunny Florida.