Saturday, May 23, 2009

Can You Freeze Guacamole?

There was some discussion on the Albuquerque City-Data forum recently as to whether one can successfully freeze guacamole.

avocado After repeated experiments, my opinion is no, you can’t freeze guacamole – but you can freeze mashed avocado pulp, then gussy it up into guacamole at serving time.

Is frozen pulp as good as fresh? No, of course not. Is it better than nothing? Yes!

avocadotree I used to do this all the time in Belize, where avocados ripen all at once in August & September. For two delirious months we’d be up to our elbows in buttery, ripe avocados … then we’d have to do without for the rest of the year. Wah!

So I would gather up all the ripe avocados I couldn’t eat then and there without exploding, and in a single marathon session I’d peel, pit and mash them with lashings of freshly squeezed lime juice, about a teaspoonful per avocado (count the pits). Here in the States, lemon juice works too.

DianaKennedy (Despite what Diana Kennedy, the maven of Mexican cooking, says about this, I like the flavor of lime juice in my guacamole.)

Without adding anything more to the pulp, not even salt, I’d measure it into vacuum seal freezer bags, one to two cups per bag, and freeze it.

I strongly recommend the “suck ‘n seal” packaging method for this project. But whatever freezer bag you use, you want to remove as much air as possible. Oxidation is avocado’s enemy, turning exposed pulp an unattractive brown. The citric acid in the lime or lemon juice also helps preserve the color.

Depending on your freezer temperature and the bags you use, avocado pulp will keep nicely anywhere from two to six months in the freezer.

When it’s time to make the guacamole, first thaw the sealed bag of pulp overnight in the fridge. If you’re in a hurry, you can submerge your freezer bag in a bowl of warm water; but I don’t recommend defrosting it in the microwave. (I tried that once, and it got ugly.)

Once thawed, you’ll notice your avocado pulp may be a bit watery. Just punch a little hole in the freezer bag and drain off any excess liquid.

Then de-bag the pulp and mix in whatever fresh fixings you like – chopped tomatoes and Serrano chiles, minced onion, cilantro, etc. Salt to taste, maybe add a pinch of sugar, and serve.

Voila! Guacamole on demand.

Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Have you seen my “Second Story”?

Vintage Knitting & Fiber Arts Patterns

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Better Internet in the Country? Cellular Broadband!

I’ve just gotten off the phone with Dish Network, cancelling their Wild Blue satellite Internet service to my mountain home. Woohoo! I’m finally & officially freed from satellite Internet and now reconnected via Verizon cellular broadband.

The problem for residents of rural America like me, as I noted in my previous post I'm Offline because Dish Network Hates Kittens, is that until very recently, our Internet service choices were limited to two: dial-up (ugh, shudder) or satellite. No cable, no DSL, nada.

Until now, satellite service has worked out just fine for me, certainly an improvement on dial-up. It’s just Wild Blue’s service policies that drove me to cancel them.

Back story: when I accidentally exceeded Wild Blue’s (unpublished) upload limit with my Kitten Cam streaming video project, violating their vaguely-worded “Fair Access Policy”, their response was to cut my Internet access down to a virtual trickle. No warning, no communication, just ZAP – unusable Internet for an indefinite period of time, for which they would still charge me $80 per month.

In my first 10 days of strangled usage, my overage factor was only reduced from 6% to 5%. At that rate, I calculated it would be 50 more days until Wild Blue restored my service. And Wild Blue refused to budge, or even to let me buy my way out of the penalty.

So there I was, becalmed in the horse latitudes of the Internet disenfranchised, when I received David Pogue’s email feature on the MiFi portable wireless hotspot.

(David Pogue writes the superb Circuits column for the New York Times; out here in the Wild West you can subscribe via email and/or follow him on Twitter.)

And it suddenly dawned on me that there is a third option for rural or remote users like me: cellular broadband Internet service.

All I needed was some new and relatively inexpensive hardware, and I could switch from Wild Blue satellite to Verizon cellular broadband service … which is now cheaper and faster than satellite.

I hadn’t seriously considered cellular broadband Internet before, because last I’d looked it was expensive, with unattractive service terms, and all I could find on the market to receive cellular signal were the one-user-at-a-time cellular modems.

In other words, I could plug the cellular modem into my computer, work for a while, then unplug it and hand it over to my husband when it was his turn to get online.

Clearly, that would never work.

But if you combine that cellular modem with a wireless router to serve two or more users … and find a better-priced service … aha, a real solution!

MiFi2200 So, Verizon introduced the MiFi 2200 last week, as you may already have heard, along with a truly improved service contract.

The MiFi is no bigger than a stack of three credit cards and combines a cellular modem, router and antenna in one device. Power it on, and within seconds you connect to your Verizon cellular broadband signal, and create a cozy, completely portable wireless hotspot big enough for you and four friends/devices to use.

But while the MiFi certainly is crazy-sexy-cool, and I wanted it badly, it wasn’t the right device for me.

I got a lot of help in this process from an online vendor, I can’t say enough good things about their (free) pre-sales tech support, and their product choices and pricing.

“You’re exactly the kind of customer who shouldn’t buy a MiFi,” 3G’s guru Alex told me. “Think of the MiFi as a city device. You live in the country.”

Even though Verizon’s 3G network is the best & largest in the world, I still live in a “less than optimal” service area. Up here in the mountains, I need a cell signal booster antenna, and you can’t attach a booster antenna to a MiFi.

Worse, in addition to my wireless laptop and iPod Touch, I have two older desktop computers that aren’t wireless … and finally, portability wasn’t really my primary concern; a permanently functional home office was.

So instead of the MiFi, I purchased:

mbr1000 A Cradlepoint MBR-1000 mobile broadband router which gives me an 802.11 ‘N’ wireless home network plus 4 Ethernet ports to direct-connect my older PCs;



A thumb-sized Verizon USB 760 cellular broadband modem and a booster antenna

and then I signed up for Verizon cellular Internet service, just as you’d do for the MiFi.

One perk of this arrangement is that I’m not tied to Verizon once my two-year service contract is up. The CradlePoint allows me switch out the modem and the service if Verizon should ever irritate me as badly as Wild Blue has. The MiFi, by contrast, only works with Verizon service, period.

I’d also asked Alex if I could buy the MiFi to connect to the CradlePoint router instead of the 760 modem … then, when I traveled, I could just unhook the MiFi and slip it in my pocket … but, he says, no, not yet. (If you’re intrigued by this idea, the 3GStore is talking with CradlePoint technicians about offering exactly this solution, possibly in the next few weeks.)

And if you are able to wait that long, Sprint will introduce its own similarly-priced version of the MiFi – which will include GPS capability – next month.

Meanwhile, although I think calling the CradlePoint router “mobile” is a bit of a stretch, I can still travel with just the little 760 modem. I could unclip it from the CradlePoint router and jack it into my laptop while on the road.

Of course, without the router it’s back to the one-at-a-time-user situation, rather than a hotspot for multiple users/devices. And I can’t connect the modem to my iPod Touch.

But, what the heck, you can’t always have it all out here in the sticks.


The bottom line:

  • The MiFi currently costs either $60 (from the 3GStore) or $100 (from Verizon). All the hardware I bought instead of the MiFi cost me about $225, from which I can deduct $75 in mail-in rebates, for a total of $150.
  • The Verizon cellular service is $60 per month, which is 25% less than I was paying Wild Blue every month. And it is noticeably faster than my former satellite service.
  • And what about overages? My Verizon contract caps at 5 GB per month – roughly the equivalent of 35,000 web pages – but yes, I am concerned that I might run over. If I do, it’s 5 cents per 1 Mb, which translates to $6 per extra GB.  Can I live with 5 GB per month? I don’t know yet, but at least it’s clearly spelled out; and, instead of being hopelessly hog-tied by an overage, I can buy my way out of it.

I never thought I’d say this, but, thank you, Verizon … and nuts to you, Wild Blue!

Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Have you seen my “Second Story”?

Vintage Knitting & Fiber Arts Patterns

Saturday, May 9, 2009

I'm Offline because Dish Network Hates Kittens

I'm writing this at my local public library. Thanks to the generosity of the City of Albuquerque and Mayor Martin Chavez, our libraries offer free wireless Internet access.

So I'm at the library because I do not have Internet access at home, despite the premium $80 I pay every month to Dish Network/Wild Blue.

Dish Network, through their minion, I mean subcontractor, Wild Blue, has disconnected me because I exceeded their (secret) upload limit by 6 percent.

I wasted the last couple of days troubleshooting my computers and routers, assuming that my connection problem was local in origin. 

Finally, I gave up & called Wild Blue this morning. They explained that due to my "contract violation" - never mind that their contract does not specify what this magical upload limit is - they would withhold my Internet service for an indefinite length of time.

"I really don't know how long it will be before we restore your service," the service rep told me. "It all depends. At least a week, maybe longer."

Presumably, it was my Kitten Cam streaming video project that caused me to exceed Wild Blue's unpublished upload limit.

I didn't have any warning. Wild Blue did not give me any notice that I was approaching or exceeding their secret limit. They said this was because they didn't know my email address ... which, of course, they provided me when we set up the account.

And there's no way to look at your bandwidth usage to determine if you are nearing Wild Blue's arbitrary, unpublished upload limit. Wild Blue does not offer a web interface to see any of your account details; Dish Network only shows the monthly charge as a lump sum, after the fact.

Speaking of charges, I hope being disconnected is my only punishment. I didn't think to ask if there would also be a financial penalty? Sigh.

Anyway, so until Wild Blue arbitrarily decides to restore my Internet service, I'll be almost entirely offline. I should be able to download email messages as long as they're simple text, but that's about it: none with HTML or attachments.

I won't be able to upload anything at all. That means, no new listings for my two Etsy stores, or my eBay store, or my Amazon store. No updates to my website or my blog unless I trek back here (24 mi R/T) to the library.

I can't access Twitter or Facebook, so no updates there, either.

This is cold, man, really cold.

Of course I'll start investigating other Internet service providers immediately. But I already know that options for our rural area are limited - and expensive. Those of you who live in urban areas probably take high speed Internet access for granted, but let me tell you, those of us out here in the country are well & truly disenfranchised.

But I shouldn't complain, as there are areas within the state of New Mexico that don't even have telephone service. When Qwest was granted the telephone monopoly by the State, they contractually agreed to provide service to our rural areas. Years later, when the State finally noticed Qwest hadn't lived up to its obligations in exchange for its extremely lucrative monopoly, Qwest decided they'd rather pay the non-performance penalties than actually provide the service. 

So as I said, I feel lucky by comparison.

Anyway, while I'm researching other Internet access options, my Kitten Cam project is obviously dead in the water. Although we did record some video that's still available for viewing on the Ustream site.

I'd love to know how other streaming video providers do it ... I mean, there are loads of puppy cams and kitten cams out there running 24x7, presumably on residential (non-commercial) ISPs. How do they do it? 

Are companies other than Wild Blue more generous with bandwidth? Or do they simply offer better, cheaper services to urban areas? 

And if that's so, how do they get away with that? At what point do we acknowledge that Internet access is a utility?

Just wondering ... and I'd appreciate any info or suggestions anyone can give me on this. Via text-only email, of course.

kNotes for kNitters 
Sandia Park, NM

Monday, May 4, 2009

New Zealand Knitwear Designer to visit our knitting group!

How amazing is this?

lynadell_1 Lynette Harvey, New Zealand knitwear designer and creator of LynAdell Creative Knitwear designs will address a special meeting of our Sandia Stitch ‘n Time needlework group at the East Mountain Library in Tijeras, on Wednesday, May 6, starting at 2:00 PM.

Ms. Harvey’s subject will be “Knit to Fit: Shaping Knitted Garments”.

lynadell_2 “The topic of shaping hand knit garments is dear to my heart,” Harvey told me, “what with all of our different shapes, and the ‘one size fits all’ attitude of manufacturers!”

Harvey’s design career has included periods as a head designer for a New Zealand magazine, writing and designing garments for publication, as lead designer for top fashion houses, and 14 years designing for her own successful retail outlet.

lynadell_3 After winning a major award for a hand-crafted garment in the 1980s, she decided to focus solely on hand knitted designs.

Her unique knitted designs highlight her devotion to the total design of a garment, from selecting the wool, hand-making buttons, subtle shaping and bias curves to complement the figure.

lynadell_4 Our special presentation is open to the public, free of charge. All interested knitters are invited to attend, and refreshments will be served!

~ * ~

Our Sandia Stitch ‘n Time needlework group – not just for knitters, but also crochet-ers and cross-stitchers and needleworkers of all sorts - meets on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month at the East Mountain Library, from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.

Upcoming meetings are scheduled for May 9 and May 23. You can always find our latest schedule info on my website,, under the heading “kNitting kNews”.

Map of East Mountain Library location in Tijeras, NM:

Map picture

For more information about other programs at the East Mountain Library (1 Old Tijeras Rd, Tijeras, NM 87059) in Tijeras, including hours and directions, call (505) 281-8508 or 311; TTY users call Relay NM or 711; or visit the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library website at

Hope to see you there,

Designer, kNotes for kNitters
Have you seen my “Second Story”?

Vintage Knitting & Fiber Arts Patterns