Monday, 26 December 2016

Retirement property thinking

I don't know why but I always enjoy looking at property and questioning where I would want to live if I was unfettered by employment requirements (ie need a job -- more on this later)) and family/friends commitment.

Somehow I've stumbled on a thought that won't let go.  Whilst previously I have thought about moving to a lower cost city or area in the future including Hobart, Tasmania or overseas such as Montreal, Canada I had an epiphany about a location where the weather is good, it has definite lifestyle benefits and is still in Australia.

One of the big issues with Tasmania is that it has been off the mainland AND that I wouldn't have access to Chinese groceries and food easily.  And then there was the weather.  Whilst we like the cooler weather I think it may get to be too much.  Especially as we age and have arthritis problems.  In reality also do we want to be maintaining a property and yard as much?  Probably not.

So where am I thinking?  The Gold Coast.  Yep.  Not earth shattering a thought but for me it was amazing to even consider.  We have an Investment Property (IP) there which is performing terribly we have been trying to exit it when the market picks up so we don't make such a huge loss. I was just examining the area of the property (Southport) when I read the words "Chinatown".  Chinatown?  In the Gold Coast?  Apparently it's just around the corner from where we have the investment property.  Along with that other services which caught my eye were:

  • light rail 
  • shopping
  • walk to cafes
AND there are amazing views.  

The other benefit is that it's a LOT cheaper real estate wise.  An amazing 3 bedroom apartment can cost less than $700k.

Here's an example of a property Under Offer so the price for a 3 bedroom apartment is apparent:
3 bedroom property under $500k.
If you want to see the property details here is a link to the sales page on realestate.com.au.

But the problem with that are the strata fees.  Which are horribly horrendous.  As evidenced by our investment property.

BUT... renting there would be amazing.  We could rent a lovely 2 or 3 bedroom apartment with a view for less than $600 pw.  Yep!  For $700 we can even get one fully furnished.  And these are apartments with all the features you want.  Pool, gym, lift, car parking, shops within walking distance etc.  And someone else pays for the strata and maintenance.  

I can think of very few downsides.  Lack of culture is what I've heard.  But I don't 'experience' the culture here in Sydney either.  The climate was a bit of a worry as we really don't like the heat.  But the good news is that although the overall average temperature is warmer it doesn't suffer the extremes of heat that Sydney (and Melbourne!) does.  The highest high day isn't as high as Sydney.  And the low is definitely nothing compared to most places in the world.

Here's some research I did and compared the two climates:


As you can see the daily and monthly records are higher in Sydney with tops of 45 degrees in Sydney!! and only a top of 38.5 in the Gold Coast. 

The main thing is lack of friends and family there.  And an apartment is a huge departure from what we are use to.  I do love pottering in my yard but I don't think  I couldn't give it up.  I definitely need to enjoy our home and yard for a few more years but the Gold Coast is now number 1 on my 'retirement location' radar.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Montreal trip and food

Our trip to Montreal has been great.
We're already on a cruise ship to Quebec City and down to Boston.

In the meantime here are some of the photo highlights
Dunn's Famous Smoked meat window

Dunn's Famous - Cake and dessert window

Dunn's Famous Diner (not the one downtown)

Half of what is left of Will's Smoked Meat sandwich (actually it was  Club Roll)

I ordered the Smoked Meat Club sandwich-- yum!!  But I asked for a side of something 'else' other than fries and ended up with rice.  Which I didn't eat.  Lesson learned - just order the club sandwich with no sides.  The coleslaw and pickle weren't my thing although I ate most of the coleslaw.

Carrot cake.  I wanted the carrot cheesecake but there was no way we'd fit it in.  This shared 4 ways was fine... after I took half my sandwich home in a doggy bag!

The 3 day metro pass was $18 and a bargain allowing us to catch the bus and metro.  I used Google Maps and Transit App to get around town.

Metro train.  Just a quick video.

OK I had a fascination with the Biosphere.  It's an Environmental Museum.  But it's the shape in the skyline I loved!

Biosphere closer

Biosphere from the inside.

We went and did a lap (walking lap) of the Grand Prix circuit.

Pretty foliage on the walk...

Pretty trees!

Casino!  Which didn't have the shortcut we wanted.  But was somewhat resembling a UFO.

View from my mother's place.  

We visited Old Montreal.  Lovely spot even despite the construction works.

Just some of the funny t-shirts.

Commune Street?

Horse drawn carriages

Row houses behind an ornamental garden

Such amazing buildings


Turret!

Spotted this gate whilst walking around and went in and saw... 

An amazing courtyard which use to be a stable.

Love this courtyard


Outside the museum someone was playing the piano!

View of the port

View of Old Montreal

View from the fast food place where Will got some Poutine.  And I had Dairy Queen for lunch (Not recommended!)

All we are missing is a photo of the Bagel we had for breakfast :)

How to get your AT&T GoPhone at SFO airport

So can you get a SIM card at SFO to use in both Canada and USA?  

I thought I'd share as after lots of searching I wasn't able to get a good answer.

The answer is yes you can get a Prepaid SIM card kit in the international airport.

Just after security there are two vending machines, one for BestBuy and the other AT&T. The AT&T one has GoPhone kits and recharge Top ups. We got two starter kits for $10.98 each after taxes. The kits cater for nano, micro and standard size SIM card requirements.

We used the * and # type codes and the refill numbers we had organised previously.

Had we not already has the recharge amounts the vending machine would have been good to use.
The instructions are in the Getting Started guide otherwise just use:

Use the phone dialler and dial
*888* + Refill card PIN number + # (example: *888*1234567899874#)
Press Send.

To use the vending machines was just a matter of swiping a credit card so no need to get a US credit card.

Here's the robotic arm in the vending machine in action


Whilst we did this at SFO I'm sure I've seen these machines at LAX as well but it could have been just the Best Buys machine.  I know the last trip I did which was last minute I just bought an overseas pack from Telstra (an Australia carrier) as I was only in one city (LA) and wasn't planning to travel far.  This time with us travelling to the US and Canada it made sense to get one SIM card which would cover both countries.

Why AT&T GoPhone

I did my research back in Sydney before hand and worked out for a $60 amount we would have 30 days, 6 GB of data to use as well as unlimited calls and text messages within US, Canada and Mexico.  The only trick is that you have to activate it in the US (and use it in the US).  So I texted a message or two when at SFO - mainly to advise others my number.  So that worked well.
The other networks don't seem to offer the ability to use the SIM card from both the US and Canada.  This way I get data and calls pretty much more than I'd need.  And with both myself and my husband having our own SIMs that would work well.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Low Sugar Almond croissants



Recently I've been really seeking out Almond Croissants.  It started with an almond croissant at Sonoma Cafe in Alexandria.  They had one in the glass cabinet and it was calling my name.  I don't think I have had one prior to that for years.  It was ah-mahzing!  Flakey, a bit gooey and with lots of almond flake goodness.

Since then I've sought it out and had a mix of good and bad ones.  But then I had a thought to make it myself.  And so the internet uncovered a number of great looking recipes but I landed on one called Almond Croissants Recipe (French Bakery Style).  It was on Natasha's Kitchen's website (link to the actual recipe here http://natashaskitchen.com/2013/11/01/almond-croissants-french-bakery-style/).  It's not a site I had frequented.  I don't tend to follow food bloggers but do recognise when I've been to a site after a few times.

Whenever I follow a recipe I never follow it to a tee.  I tend to modify it and cook very much what I consider "asian" style.  In that I'm a bit loose with measuring things.  With this recipe I modified it by substituting the sugar.  In fact the only 'added' sugar I had to this recipe was the icing sugar I used to dust the croissants with.  I don't think it would have been detrimental to leave it out altogether.

I have since managed to make a few batches of almond croissants with very little sugar involved.
Don't these look amazing?



I have a fear of sugar having helped out at I Quit Sugar and watching a number of YouTube videos about the evils of sugar.  It's unfortunate that the other part of me says that I shouldn't deprive myself and end up having another snack or bit of chocolate!

In any case I do try and reduce sugar where I can from cooking and baking.  And my taste buds tend to like to be more bland than the mainstream.  I tend to like things less salty and less sweet.  So these were fantastic for me but I suspect were a bit on the bland side for most other people.  If you are making these of course you can adjust the amount of sweetness to add in.

To get the croissants I used the following substitutes:

For the syrup
Instead of rum I used Macadamia Royal Liqueur.  Just because that's what I had.  (Note this is quite sweet)
Instead of sugar in the syrup and having to heat it I just used a half a dropper of Vanilla Creme Stevia.  

For the almond paste, I just replaced the granulated sugar they wanted with Xylitol (I have at home Xyla) which is a sugar substitute that bakes like sugar and is safe for diabetics.


Pretty much the rest of it I followed the instructions for (don't worry I'll pop the whole recipe with my substitutes and my method below.  The first batch was only 3 croissants so I easily did 1/2 the recipe and popped it in the Turbo oven for 18 minutes.  The next batch was still easy and I prepared them overnight and baked them first thing in the morning (made the house smell amazing!).  Details on exactly my method below.



1 batch can make 12 medium to large croissants.  I bought 4 packs of croissants from Woolworths at $2.50 per pack.  But I also went to Costco and saw their pack of 12 (huge!) croissants for (I think!) $9 which would have worked or the large packs of croissants from Woolworths.  It doesn't matter and it can even be a day or two old.  It works.

You can also keep the paste for later so you can even make them 2 at a time or 1 at a time if you aren't sharing!

Ingredients:

12 croissants (ready made and baked)
1/2 cup almond flakes
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Syrup

1/2 dropper full of liquid stevia (I used Wisdom Natural, SweetLeaf Liquid Stevia, SweetDrops Sweetener, Vanilla Creme)
Splash (10 - 30mL) of sweet liqueur -- I had Macadamia Royale.  The original recipe called for rum. (optional)
Up to 1 cup of water

Almond Paste
1 cup of Almond Meal
1/2 cup of Xylitol (I used Xyla)
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
Pinch salt
2 large eggs

Method:

Step 1. Make the paste

  1. In a large bowl I just used a hand mixer), mix together the Xylitol and Almond Meal and salt
  2. Cut the butter into smaller chunks or slices and add to the mix.  Mix well with hand mixer or in a stand mixer.  You want to get rid of all the butter clumps so it's all blended together.  Don't worry if you have small clumps as it will melt later anyway and we have one more mixing step.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time.  So add one egg, mix and then add the other egg and mix.  
  4. Mix so it's a creamy paste.

Step 2. Cut open croissant as if you were making a sandwich out of them.
Step 3. Make the syrup

  1. In a dish or container (which will fit a croissant) mix together the stevia, liqueur and water
Step 4. Line a cookie sheet with baking paper
Step 5. Construct
  1. Dip each half of croissant into the syrup.  Cover both sides of each half.  Don't soak them, just dip, turn over and dip.  Do the same for the other half.
  2. Spread the almond paste into the inside of each half.  Sandwich it (ie put it together as if it were a whole croissant again).
  3. Spread some more paste onto the top of the croissant
  4. Sprinkle the almond flakes on top.  The paste helps it stick.  I like lots of almond flakes so tend to go a bit heavy handed.  YMMV.
That's it.  Other than baking.  So I left mine overnight after construction but there is no drama to pop them in the oven at this point.

Step 6. Bake
  1. Bake croissants for 20 - 25 minutes in a fan forced oven at 170 degrees Celcius (I don't even preheat the oven fully.  I turn it on for a few minutes, prep the shelves and put in the baking trays).  For those of you who do preheat, preheat to 180 degrees in non fan forced or 170 fan forced and then pop them in for 15-18 minutes or so.
  2. Check to see if the almonds are slightly toasted and browned on top
  3. Take them out of the oven and cool on a rack
  4. Sprinkle icing sugar on top (mine was crumbly and I was lazy so I just sprinkled it on top and broke up the icing sugar by rubbing it between my finger and thumb when sprinkling.  Professionals would tell you to sift)
  5. Take a photo before digging in!
I found they were crispier when left to cool rather than eating them warm.  

That's it.  I thought I'd share as it's easy to look at a recipe and wonder if you can prep them the night before (yes you can!) if you can keep the paste (yes you can!) if you can just do the syrup without heating it (yes you can since I used a liquid and didn't need to dissolve sugar) and if replacing the sugar works!!


Monday, 15 August 2016

Lenovo Yoga 900

Yep after 3 days of ownership, I had to return the HP Pavilion X360 to JB Hifi.  After praising the machine, somehow the speaker or audio hardware failed.  It would disappear from being available and I even got dreaded BSODs with the error message of APC Index Mismatch.  The BSODs are a lot prettier these days but just as unwelcome.

Note the HP Support help I received was superb.  I had remote help from someone at the other end and they jumped in and helped to try and diagnose.  But in the end after doing a full factory reset the speakers were only sometimes activated and had awful crackly noises.  This morning it went all back into the original packaging and at lunch time I took it to JB Hifi (after doing a full reset and taking a few of my files off the machine).

In store I compared the HP Spectre X360 and the Lenovo Yoga 900.  They were exactly the same price at $1613.  But side by side with a bit of music made the Yoga the choice.  Although as I was ringing up the difference I realised one of the reasons I didn't choose the Yoga 710 last time was the lack of a full HDMI port and 1 less USB port.  Let's hope I don't regret that decision later.  I've already hit the reviews and seeing that there are some issues with the build quality on some Lenovos.  I'm hoping this machine lasts the distance as configuring a Windows 10 machine and installing apps etc is a not that much fun.  Even if it's a lot quicker these days than it use to be.

So the features of the Lenovo are
    Intel Core i5-6200U Processor ( 2.30GHz 1866MHz 3MB)
    13.3" QHD+ (3200x1800), wide view angle IPS, multi-touch
    256GB SSD
    8GB PC3-12800 DDR3L
    Bluetooth v4.0
    Intel Wireless-AC 8260
    720p HD Webcam
    2 x USB 3.0
    1 x USB 3.0 with video out
    DC-in with USB 2.0 function
    Combo audio/microphone jack
    4-in-1 card reader (MMC, SD, SDHC, SDXC)
    4 Cell Li-Polymer Battery
    Windows 10 Home 64
(uh oh, I just hit the down arrow a few times when I wanted to hit the up arrow.)

The packaging is so much more exciting the HP.  Lovely retail box shrinkwrapped with a pop up feature:



I'll update the post if I find that I have to take this one back too!
(Not jinxing myself just yet)

The machine is looking fairly nice although I'm not a fan of the 'watch' hinge:


And just so you can see that the newer machines can do an UGLIER than normal BSOD, here's what the HP Pavilion was showing earlier today:

Sunday, 14 August 2016

HP Pavilion X360 13-U026TU Purchased

UPDATE: Laptop was returned to the shop today (3 days after purchase) due to faulty hardware - something wrong with the speakers/audio drivers.  I ended up upgrading to a different machine and brand.


It was time for a new laptop.  My Sony Vaio was losing keys and the Wifi was stuffed.  I also wanted something less flimsy although generally it worked well.

The things I wanted to improve on this time was:

  • Not having keys that will fall off so easily
  • A laptop that wasn't that flimsy (ie could use it as a 'lap' top rather than a portable notebook when typing
  • A hinge that would let me increase the angle more...
  • A less noisy fan

That's about it.  Everything else was working pretty well really.

So I looked at a couple at JB Hifi.  My price range was 'up to $2000' and I was planning to salary sacrifice it.  After looking at the Lenovo Yoga 710 14" and the HP Pavilion X360 13.3" I ended up with the HP.





It wasn't just the price.  Actually based on specs they were pretty much on par.  But I wanted things like a standard HDMI port and an extra USB port was important.  But it was just little things that tipped things over.  When testing it in store the Lenovo didn't let me ALT + F4 which normally closes the screen. A simple thing.  I didn't want to have to deal with the quirks.  And then there was the price.  The price was about $200 different.

TLDR?  I like it.

The specs of the HP Pavilion X360 (around August 2016) are as follows

  • Intel® Core™ i5- 6200U Processor (2.3GHz, 3MB L3 Cache)
  • 8GB DDR4L-2133 SDRAM
  • 13.3-inch diagonal HD WLED-backlit Display (1366x768) Touchscreen
  • 128GB SSD M.2 SATA
  • Intel® HD Graphics
  • 1x1 802.11 ac WLAN + Bluetooth 4.2
  • Windows 10 HomeHP Pavilion x360 13-u026tu

I would have liked more storage space as I was getting close to 128GB on the Vaio but I think I just have to be more careful esp given most of my storage needs are met by our cloud backup drive at home or just on cloud storage.

Highlights

  • Installation.  Maybe for once I'm on the adoption curve and this is a currently released machine but I basically was up and running within 10 minutes of unboxing.
  • Nicer speakers - it's branded with Bang and Olufson and doesn't sound tinny although in tablet or entertainment mode it's facing the table so not sure why they didn't think of it!
  • Silver on the outside, black on the inside.  I like standard looking laptops.  Nothing too bling for me please.
  • Windows Sync.  I've never had this before but it's almost like Microsoft knows a bit about me and set it up in advance (I just don't expect Windows to be like my phone!)


Could improve

  • Key travel - it's a bit spongy, but I am hoping I'll get use to it
  • Had to adjust a Chrome setting (Hardware acceleration) so a cursor would appear in Chrome.
  • Storage - but it's my choice to be cheap!
  • Lack of backlit keyboard.  Not a major issue, but surprising as I'm just use to having it!

Overall I'd recommend it.  At this price it's pretty decent.


Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Cake in 60 seconds (review of Cake in a Cup)

Curious if the Cake in a Cup from White Wings is all it's cracked up to be?  A while back I bought a pack of the Salted Caramel and Chocolate Chip version of the cake mix whilst it was on an introductory special from a local Woolworths.  Each box has 4 satchels.



I thought I'd pop up a few photos and my review of the process and taste in case you want to know a bit before you go and buy your own.

This is my 3rd satchel.  I've made it pretty much to spec/

Step 1: Empty pack into mug.  Use a decent size mug but it doesn't need to be huge.  Just bigger than a teacup.

Step 2: Add 40mL of milk.  (Two tablespoons).  And stir.

Step 3: pop it into the microwave

Step 4: Put in microwave for 1 minute.  I put in a little bit more thinking I could use the convection part of the oven (grill in this case) to give it a bit more of an oven feel).  But found that I had to buzz it for another 30 seconds to make it work because I did that.  So just stick to the instructions and do 60 seconds :)

Step 5: Inspect (the usual stick a spoon in it to see if it's cake like) and buzz for longer if needed

Step 6: Sorry I had to rebuzz (30 seconds)

Step 7: it worked so it's eating time.

So for the taste it's good.  And it's moist enough.  It's a bit on the sweet side for me but then most things are!  But not overly so.  It just has a non baked and plasticiness about it. But I think that's the microwave part (hence my trial of using the grill above!).  I have made this before by popping it in the oven and even added a crumble top and it was amazing!  So it definitely can taste great.


It does in a pinch if you are craving something in the office that's quick and you can whip up.  A cold wintery office day it would be perfect!

P.S. Here's a pic of the back of the box in case you want to see some details about it.