Not Martha

links: christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! I’m going to take the next week off and I’ll be back after the new year. I hope your holidays are warm and full of cheer and all that stuff.

How To Build An Indestructible Gingerbread House : The Salt : NPR.

Bon Appétempt: Video Attempt: How to Make a Bread Wreath. I love that something goes wrong about 3/4ths of the way through. Exactly like at my place but with far more composure and a whole lot less giving up and ordering pizza.

Orangette: From now on, a good recipe for spiced nuts. It’s not too late to make them for the holidays!

Perfect Party Wine: Sparkling Wine Under $20 | Serious Eats: Drinks.

Hot Ginger Toddy – Not Without Salt. I’ve been trying a few toddy recipes this year and this one is my favorite, I took it to a party and it was a big hit.

· comments [0] · 12-24-2013 · categories:christmas · links ·

links: christmas

defective yeti — The 2013 Good Gift Games Guide.

Savory treats for a holiday cookie plate | Ask MetaFilter “The answer to this is almost always cheese straws.”

Eleven x Seven: Core77’s Ultimate Gift Guide for Designers.

12 Most Surreal Light Installations at Lyon’s Festival of Lights – My Modern Metropolis.

What is your favorite 2013 gift guide? What are the most interesting gift guides from blogs and niche publications? | Ask MetaFilter.

Orangette: Their good work. An excellent set of gift suggestions.

A Present You Need a Crowbar to Open? Behold, Man Crates! | Brit + Co. Ha ha ha, that’s awesome.

The Portland 75 | Serious Eats. It uses Clear Creek Distillery Douglas Fir Eau de Vie, which I have always wanted an excuse to buy.

· comments [2] · 12-17-2013 · categories:christmas · links ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 30

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

This is the last post in the series of Kinder Surprise egg.

This one was fun, it’s a little lock and key

When you turn the key in addition to opening the lock it releases a little panel on the back of the lock. The panel was too small to hold a coin so I figured it must be meant for secret notes.

Here are some stats on all of the Kinder Surprise eggs I opened. There were 34 total (one was a repeat, and three others were cars that I included in a single post and a few more were too poorly photographed to give their own post). I did not include the non-Kinder brand surprise eggs that I opened.

11 Girl themed toys total
4 Girl themed toys that were something to wear
11 Girl themed toys needing assembly
5 Girl themed toys with a brand tie-in
0 Girl themed toys that were educational

7 Boy themed toys total
7 Boy themed toys that were cars
7 Boy themed toys needing assembly
1 Boy themed toys with a brand tie-in
0 Boy themed toys that were educational

16 Non-gendered toys total
9 Non-gendered toys needing assembly
6 Non-gendered toys with a brand tie-in
5 Non-gendered toys that were educational

From the whole group:
8 Figurines total
5 Figurines with a brand tie-in
1 Repeat toy

All of the toys meant for boys were cars. The toys meant for girls required assembly and were the most likely to be clever or particularly charming. The toys that had an educational component only came from non gendered eggs. Overall I was impressed with the quality of the toys, I have to admit I was fearing that more of them would be brand tie-in figurines (collect them all!). I had a huge amount of fun doing this series!

· comments [12] · 12-16-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Illusion Christmas Tree

Our Christmas tree this year is an illusion. Well, sort of. It’s created from twinkle lights reflected in a large mirror. The tree is meant to be mostly viewed at night when it is lit up. After all it’s the time of year when by the time we’re home it’s always dark and, let’s face it, we could use some cheer.

When we bought our house it came with a large mirror that we placed at one side of our dining room where it reflects the view all the way down a hall to our back door. It’s in the corner that would make the most sense to set a Christmas tree so I decided to use the mirror instead of obstructing it. I was also still thinking about floating Christmas trees; my previous ornament tree was fun but I missed the twinkly lights. So a floating, lighted, reflected light tree it was. It’s got the added benefit of taking up very little space so we didn’t have to move a pair of chairs out of the way.

Here is another view showing how the tiers of the tree appear to float (if you look really hard you can see me holding the camera):

To assemble the tree I used dowel rods and some metal wreath forms which I took apart. After it’s all together the frame that is assembled is surprisingly sturdy and lightweight but it likely won’t hold a traditional strand of Christmas lights, I went with those micro LED lights on the delicate copper wires. I secretly was looking for an excuse to buy those mini lights because they are awfully charming.


  • two strands of 20-foot long micro LED lights on thin wire
  • three 1/4 inch dowel rods in the 48 inch length (found at hardware stores)
  • six tiny screw eyes, brass if you can find them
  • gold twist ties
  • 6″ box wreath form, I found these at Jo-ann
  • 12″ box wreath form
  • 18″ box wreath form
  • 24″ box wreath form
  • heavy duty wire cutter
  • needle nose pliers
  • regular pliers (your wire cutter tool might do double duty as this)
  • black duct tape
  • black electrical tape
  • safety glasses (non-negotiable)
  • work gloves
  • paper or markable surface large enough to cover a work surface or area on the floor that is at least 48″ x 24″
  • gold paint and brush (optional)
  • thin gold tinsel (optional but nice to have)
  • required: a mirror that is at least 48″ tall and 24″ wide

Note on the lights: The micro LED lights shown here were bought at Restoration Hardware and you can also find them over at Amazon in both warm and cool variations.
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· comments [7] · 12-12-2013 · categories:christmas ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 29

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

This egg was purchased at, to the best of my memory, a small grocery store on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. It was one of those spots that was so small that our very presence felt like a Huge Awkward American Tourist Trying Not To Be Conspicuous intrusion even as the two people working there were chirpily directing us, the only other souls in the place, to the nearest spot to sit and have something hot to drink without making us feel like the Huge Awkward American Tourists (etc.) that we were.

There was a whole lot in this capsule. The contents reminded me of snap bracelets that came with instructions.

The instructions had us folding over the top and bottom lengths of the plastic, tucking those into the bits provided and whacking the puck. It was surprisingly effective and amusing.

The toy inside was a sort of analog pong for two players. Except without the slow start to the real action.

I was completely amazed by how much Kinder managed to pack into my capsule until I encountered Matt’s entire toy airplane that he purchased and assembled at the Toronto airport. Later I got to hold this in my hand and it easily had a 6 inch wingspan and was so freaking impressive that I’m outright ashamed I didn’t press Scott into Vine duty. The airplane had a far more complicated fold an assemble construction than our flick game but it was clearly from the same set of Kinder toy makers. And to those toy makers I’ve got to do a sort of electronic tip of the hat, both examples were amazing.

· comments [0] · 12-12-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 28

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

This one also came from a Kinder Santa.

This one has bits to assemble.

It’s a penguin ornament with a snowflake base.

He looks so happy. Those earmuffs look like headphones, maybe he’s blocking out the endless Christmas music and listening to Macklemore instead.

The snowflake doubles as a spinning top which was weighted really well and will go for a long time. I’ve found that Kinder Surprise tops spin really nicely.

· comments [7] · 12-11-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 27

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

This one is from my second Kinder Santa, it’s got legs.

Another ornament, this one a gift wielding Kinder Surprise itself.

· comments [4] · 12-10-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 26

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

This will be my last week of Kinder Surprise eggs, five more and we’re done. The next three Kinder Surprise were interesting, we had stopped at services on the highway on our drive to Dingle and I spotted a display of large chocolate Kinder Santas. Santas! I couldn’t have been a happier person.

The photos of the Santas were taken in a dim room at an inn, so I apologize for the image quality. The Santas were about six inches tall and two inches thick, obviously hollow molded chocoate and had a Kinder Surprise capsule that rattled a bit when you shook them. The egg the Santa is holding is about the same size as a regular Kinder Surprise.

The foil was stronger than that on a normal Kinder Surprise and the chocolate was thicker and shinier. I think it tasted a lot better as well.

I was hoping that there might be something larger hiding inside but it was a normal capsule.

A moose reindeer.

It came with a string, it’s an ornament!

I have no idea why but the reindeer is holding a goldfish in a bowl. The goldfish is wearing a scarf and has a present for you. Interesting.

· comments [12] · 12-9-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 25

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

This is a collection of the cars that I got in the eggs that I opened. With the previous three that makes a lot of cars. Well, seven. Most of them had way to propel them, but sadly none of those worked all that well. Most of them did require a bit of assembly, which continued to be fun.

· comments [0] · 12-6-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

links: travel

Take A Twilight Tour Of The Tower | Londonist. These tours take place after the crowds are gone and are led by beefeater guides, I really wish we would have been in London late enough to take one of these.

The Kelpies, A Pair of Massive Stainless Steel Horse Head Sculptures in Scotland. We passed these will driving towards Edinburgh during twilight and since we weren’t expecting them it was a bit trippy. They are hugenormous.

“Scalper” ticket source for Stirling Castle Christmas events? | Ask MetaFilter. The advice here would apply to any UK events that you inevitably find out about too late.

Using a prepaid Koodo iPhone SIM in Canada (as a traveling American) | A Whole Lotta Nothing.

· comments [3] · 12-5-2013 · categories:links · travel ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 24

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.


It’s a cute little doggy that is sleeping in a basket. It didn’t sit in the basket all that well, actually. The paper included with the egg indicated there were a whole set of sleepy pets in baskets that you could collect. I don’t get it. Anybody recognize this character?

· comments [3] · 12-4-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

links: food

chalkboard birthday cake | a subtle revelry. I wish I’d thought of this.

One-Pot Wonders: Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Kale | Serious Eats. The kale negates all the ways this could possibly be bad for you. For real.

What’s the secret to a very fluffy omelette? – eggs | Ask MetaFilter. Really great tips in the answers here.

Diamonds for Dessert: Homemade Celebration Oreos. These are pretty darn cute.

Fresh Ginger Syrup | David Lebovitz. “Although the customers loved it, the reason I later found out why I was going through so much ginger syrup every week was that the staff liked it even more.”

Seattle News and Events | Five Apples to Try This Fall. Five varieties to try and a few suggestions for u-pick places. My friends take an annual trip to Jones Creek.

Help me find the kind of recipe that sticks in your memory for decades. | Ask MetaFilter. Lots of these look good, despite many of them counting as trashy. No mention of a glug of soy sauce over a block of cream cheese as the perfect holiday craker spread yet.

glitter pissing: doctor whoodles for you to scarf down. Dr. Who scarf colored noodles! Genius.

Must-Order Soup Dumplings and Wine Chicken at Long’s Noodle House in Vancouver | Serious Eats. For our next trip up to Canada.

· comments [3] · 12-3-2013 · categories:food · links ·

Kinder Surprise Egg A Day, Day 23

While I was in the UK I got my Kinder Surprise fix by opening an egg a day.

This egg was opened in a room in B&B in Dingle after dinner but before musicians set up to play in the pubs at night. The room was very comfortable but dimly lit, so please excuse the low light photos. And you know how it goes, everything in the room was beige making it seem like even the light was beige. So, I did my best.

It’s a My Little Pony toy, with a plastic ring that has glitter in it.

The ring also fits around the saddle on the pony. Which, I sort of love despite the fact that I want to roll my eyes at overly girl focused toys. I wonder what the other ones in this group are like. (We will never know, I didn’t get any more pony themed toys.)

· comments [5] · 12-2-2013 · categories:kindereggaday ·

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you are full of great food and very happy.

· comments [0] · 11-28-2013 · categories:uncategorized ·

Chip and PIN or Chip and Signature credit cards for travel

We recently spent a month in the UK and Ireland and one of the things we did in advance was get travel credit cards with smart chips, which you’ll mostly hear referred to as chip and PIN cards. Credit cards with smart chip technology are normal in most countries other than the US. Why just us? The reason I’ve read most often as to why we don’t have them here is that it’s far more expensive for credit card companies to manufacture them so until smart chips are required the banks are going to keep with our swipe cards.

One of the things that isn’t necessarily clear when you set out to find a chip and PIN card is that at the current point in time there are very few true chip and PIN cards available in the US, instead most cards offered with smart chips are actually chip and signature cards. The tricky bit? Lots of banks (including my own, urgh) go ahead and call them chip and PIN cards or talk about the smart chip benefits in the description, never quite letting you know that there isn’t actually a PIN involved. It’s very confusing. Dig deep into some travel forums and you’ll find that you can get a true chip and PIN card from Andrews FCU or the State Department FCU, but only after you join the credit union.

So, chip and signature cards. They have a smart chip but no PI number attached to it, which means you still have to sign a little slip of paper when you use them. There is a good list of currently available chip and signature cards here at The Points Guy and other over at Nerd Wallet.

I previously spent two weeks in England and had no trouble using my chipless credit and debit cards. But, there were situations where having a card with a chip would have made things a lot more convenient — for example I struggled with getting a ticket at an Underground stop because the machine just didn’t want to recognize the first card I tried to use. Frustrating because the station was busy and there was a group waiting for me to get my stuff together and frankly having a card refused is never a good feeling. I spent some time reading traveler forums and the only spot where people said that their chip and signature card was refused were automatic pay stations on toll roads or train stations in small remote towns (and always, of course, in the middle of the night when the stations were unattended). Scott and I spent a month in the UK and Ireland in some far away spots and didn’t have any trouble with the chip and signature cards, unless you consider the mild annoyance of some waiters needing to go fetch the machine that prints out a receipt to sign. We took to saying “this will ask for a signature” as we handed over the card.

So, do you need a chip and signature card if you are going on a trip outside the US? Probably not unless you’re going to be gone for a long time and even then it will just make things a little easier. Deciding on one is a matter or what convenience it can offer, transaction fees and how getting another card might affect your credit score. If all the things I just wrote make your head hurt don’t worry, the cards you have already will be just fine. Have a great trip.

We chose chip and signature cards that had 0% foreign transaction fees and either had no annual fee or had perks that we would definitely use and would balance out an annual fee. If you check your current cards you will likely find a 3% foreign transaction fee, which might add up if you use your card a lot or plan to do some serious shopping.

update: Jen mentioned this in the comments and it reminded me, other features that are great to have in travel credit cards are rental car coverage, trip insurance, lost baggage coverage and the like. These seem like pretty obvious benefits but enough of the cards I looked at didn’t have one or the other that it’s worth combing through the fine print to be certain. A note, credit cards generally will not cover rental car coverage in Ireland. A few other countries too, but Ireland seems to be the surprise. Before you rent a car there check with your card, read up about CDW and super CDW and ask a lot of questions. Good luck.

Do you have a favorite travel rewards card? I gave some serious thought to one of those that lets you into all sorts of airline lounges but the impressive annual fee was way too much for me and my three flights a year.

· comments [16] · 11-27-2013 · categories:travel ·