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Introduction

Why blog?

Why blog? I thought it would be a good way to share my interests… from food (bite) to Virtual Reality and other things tech (byte).  Odd combination but hey, it’s what I enjoy.

I love to cook…. I discovered this kinda late in life. I don’t love the dishes that come with it so I find myself making large meals that will last a couple of days as lunch and dinner leftovers.  I love to bake, so much so that I’ve made baking a side hustle.  I’d ultimately like to share some favorite recipes, some tools, and some hacks I’ve learned along the way.

Then, the techy in me LOVES virtual reality.  I can’t tell you what I’ve spent on this hobby but I will tell you its the best money spent on entertainment.  Even my significant other commented it to be the best video game ever.  Not that VR is all fun and games, there’s educational value to it, too.  But let’s be real, I like to be entertained and there’s no greater entertainment that scaring the pants off your friends.  I’m surprised they are still friends!

At any rate, welcome to my musings of things food and VR and other things that might strike my interest.  I hope it turns out to be a fun hobby for me and something good for you.

Lone Echo – VR

I finally purchased Lone Echo on the Oculus Rift because it was on sale.  Some of the best. money. spent.  Seriously.  This game was MADE for VR.

Now, I do not have 360 roomscale on the Oculus set up.  I have two sensors and they are spaced apart but almost in a straight line in front of you.  The game is totally playable without 360 roomscale.  The secret is the right thumb stick (maybe the game told you this and I wasn’t paying attention, so let me help you out).  The thumb stick will change your perspective so you don’t spin yourself into a tizzy.  If I spun to far round, my hands started wigging out and it’s pretty uncomfortable in the game.

SO this game.  There is a single and multiplayer mode.  I played single.  I have no comment about multiplayer yet.  You are an android robot AI thing named Jack, on a space station outside Saturn.  You have a human partner. You perform tasks, meet objectives, and explore various places on and off the space station.  There were even some areas I felt stress (LOL) because I was that into it.

The graphics are good, the dialog is good and interactive, and you get to explore in zero gravity.  You move like you would if you were in space…. grab things and push-off (or use a jet pack).  There is no teleporting, or moving a joystick to move your character.  WARNING – you *might* feel a little motion sick.  I am a little sensitive and I experienced a little motion sickness but the game was so much fun I almost forgot about it.  The second time I played, I took a Dramamine…. pre-emptive strike that time.

You have to complete objects and solve your way through the story.  There are tutorials along the way in the beginning that show you how to use your tools / touch controller (like a booster pack, cutter, scanner, and a few other things).  With the Oculus controllers, your hands act and “feel” like real hands since you can make a full fist and use only your pointer finger.  You need to master this skill for this game.  You use your finger for a lot of things.  Once you learn the controls though, its pretty intuitive.

Side note props that must be given:  I accidentally paid attention to my hands while doing different things in the game.  The fingers actually work and move around whatever object you are interacting act in the game, even though your physical fingers are likely in a vice grip on the touch controller.  FANTASTIC ATTENTION TO DETAIL.

I finished the game in 7 hours… split into 2 sessions.  I honestly didn’t realize I was in for so long during either session (4 hours the first time, 3 hours the second).  I did get stuck once, but not for very long.  You’ll have to use your head but it really isn’t very hard.  Pay attention to your surroundings and listen to the dialog and use your objective “hints” to work your way through.

This game is well worth the money (on sale or not in my opinion).  As of this writing, the game rated almost 5 starts with 1,991 ratings.  Can we all be wrong?  Well, the ones that gave it anything less than a 4 star ARE wrong.  If you have a Rift and you’re looking for good content and for some reason don’t have Lone Echo yet, you are missing out.  This is a must have.  Just break down and buy it.  Right. Now.

 

Unicorn Cake

unicorn cake

I recently created this unicorn cake for a good friend and it is probably my favorite cake because, well, unicorn!  It also had a dozen  unicorn cupcakes to go along and while I wasn’t thrilled about making 24 little ears and 12 little unicorn horns, it was well worth the effort.  The whole project was super cute.

The top cake (unicorn head) was vanilla.  It is made up of 3 8inch round, 2inch thick layers of cake separated with buttercream frosting.  The bottom was chocolate which ended up being 3 9inch round, 2inch thick layers of cake, also separated with frosting.  I chose to use vanilla buttercream frosting for both tiers because the sprinkles needed a white backdrop.

I used 9.5 ounces of sprinkles to cover this cake.  I think about half ended up on the counter top and floor… just kidding…. or maybe not really….   I used a cookie sheet to catch strays and while it caught a lot, sooooo many more ended up elsewhere.  Since my buttercream frosting crusts, the sprinkles wouldn’t stick well so I ended up putting a thin layer of fresh frosting on, in sections so it wouldn’t dry before I got to it.  You could also use piping gel but frosting is easier, cheaper, and more forgiving.

To get the multi-colored frosting effect, plastic wrap is your friend.  I used four colors: yellow, green, pink, and blue.  I put each color in a piping bag.  Then I took a piece of plastic wrap (about width of a piping bag) and piped a fat line of one color.  Next to that, I chose a second color so they were touching, side by side.  On top of those I piped a line of the remaining colors (it should be a 2×2 format).  I realize pictures might be helpful here, but I didn’t take any at the time 😦 and I promise I’ll update with pictures.  Once you have the colors, roll up the plastic wrap, snip off one end, and insert that end into a prepared piping bag with tip.  When you pipe, you’ll have multiple colors.  Easy peasy.

I worked on each tier separately until it was time to pipe the hair and place the ribbon.  The unicorn horn was yellow fondant wrapped around a skewer (with a lot of length left over to sit in the cake) painted with gold dust.  The little mini unicorn horns were the same, though wrapped around a dry spaghetti noodle with enough length to stick into the cupcake for stability.

I used 8 fat straws in the bottom tier to act as support for the top tier.  Plop some frosting between the layers to act as glue and it ends up pretty stable.  I like my cakes to be very well chilled when working on them so I refrigerated at any time it’s not being actively worked on.  Once I had it all together, I set it in the fridge until delivery.  I was worried because it had to travel around 55 miles.  Needless to say, we froze in the car with the AC on full blast to keep it cool since there was no fondant used to force the cake to hold together.  Fun times.

If you’re attempting this cake, or something similar, and have questions, reach out and I’ll see what I can do to help.  I’m a self-taught decorator and by no means a cake boss but we all start somewhere.

 

 

Jalapeno Mac & Cheese

Thanksgiving was great.  I was not in charge of the turkey which always makes me happy.  I was in charge of some side dishes though, including the mac and cheese.  Super simple recipe.

I made 2 lbs of noodles (elbow, shells, whatever you want).  Start off by cooking those noodles per the instructions on the box and drain.  Add about 4 TBSP of butter just to keep things from sticking too much to the pot.  Let it melt and return the noodles.   Then I added 2 5oz containers of pepper Boursin cheese and 2ish cups of cream to help the melting process.  I added about 2 cups of shredded mild cheedar and 1 cup of marble cheddar.  Be generous with the cheese – it is mac and CHEESE!  Add 1 4oz can of diced jalapeno. Mix it all together.  Taste it at this point, if there isnt enough heat, add more jalapeno — you can add heat but you can’t take it away if you use too much out of the gate.

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You can stop there and serve once its all melted and blended together.  Since I was making multiple dishes for Thanksgiving, I buttered a large casserole dish and put the mac and cheese in it, topped with more shredded cheese and dotted with about 2 TBSP of diced butter.  That way about an hour before dinner, I could put all my dishes in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour to reheat and be hot for dinner.  If you do this, watch your cheese – after about 30 minutes I covered with foil so the top wouldn’t burn.

It’s simple and delicious and great as leftovers.

Soundboxing VR

I haven’t taken advantage of all my free time as I could have and so I’ve fallen behind on keeping up with VR games and experiences.  BUT, I will comment on one of my favorite games in VR to date.  Soundboxing.

I play this game on the HTC Vive and it is available on Steam for only $7.99.  Totally and completely worth it.  As the site and Steam description outline, this game is VR music video kickboxing game where players create the beats  (there really isn’t any kicking involved yet, maybe sometime in the future when Vive trackers pick up traction).  The game is made up of user-generated content and there are a lot of options available.  The music and videos are on YouTube; you can browse by genre, look at playlists, and browse the most popular challenges being played.  Not only can you play a user’s challenge and try to get the #1 spot on the leaderboard, you can create your own challenge and see if anyone (even yourself) can get the highest score.

Your left controller is a yellow boxing glove, and the right controller is red.  I suggest you strap the controllers on your wrist.  When the challenge starts, you basically hit the yellow beats (bubbles) with the yellow glove, and the same for the red.  A fun component to the game are the “dancing” robots (you can disable this if you want to be a solo act).

Scores are a combination of accurately hitting the beats and not missing any, AND the strength by which you hit them (there is a left and right meter for strength).  When you heat a beat at at least full strength, you get an explosion.  This can be distracting, especially when you have beats flying at you through the explosions faster than your hand-eye coordination can process.  And don’t try to watch the music video in the background – you will miss a beat or two or many.

Some routines are more difficult than others.  I tend to like the ones that have a lot of movement (may as well get my cardio in while I’m playing).  You can definitely tell the difference between players that have rhythm and can dance, and those who do not.  I am not a dancer.  My routines are not very creative….so I don’t make them often.  You might find a few though.

You will break a sweat playing this game.  I’m not fond of sweating at all, but even that doesn’t stop me from playing this game.  It is my absolute favorite with 43.7 hours on record thus far.  I will replay a challenge over and over again until I get 100% accuracy.  Then I try for the #1 spot on the board.  I am not #1 on many.  The game gives you updates when someone beats your position on the leaderboard…. If you’re competitive, go back and challenge your challenger for the higher rank.  Bonus: the website keeps track of your challenges and scores so you can see them anytime outside of VR.

Beware, you could easily spend hours playing, and wake up sore the next day.  I keep saying I’m going to add weights to my wrists to make it more difficult, but to be honest, the weight of the controllers (which isn’t really much) is good enough.  As a side note, there is an article about a man who lost 50lbs playing this game using additional weights.  What a fun way to exercise.

Ultimately, this is a must have.  It is fun to challenge your friends online if they have the Vive, or in person as a sort of party game.  Just make sure to have some paper towels and alcohol swabs ready to clean the headset before passing it on to a new player.

 

 

VR Intro

At some point, I’ll have posts about games that I’ve played (preferably), or had other people play.  I’m a chicken and don’t watch horror movies so I really can’t bring myself to play the horror games in VR.  And there are MANY.  In fact, I probably buy them all for sheer entertainment purposes when we have friends over.  Anyway….

Before I get to the games and what not, I wanted to let you all know which VR systems I currently have.  I feel there are many more purchases to come with the every changing VR/AR scene.  I must pace myself.

First, I have the HTC Vive which I purchased around June of 2016.  BEST MONEY EVER SPENT.  This includes the computer system I needed to run it.  Towards the beginning of summer this year, I picked up the Oculus Rift when it went on sale.   Both sites have a utility to test your computer systems if you are thinking about jumping into VR.

My preference is the Vive.  First, its room scale capability makes this system far more immersive than the Rift.  The Rift is good too, and I partly picked it up for some Rift exclusive games that looked good.  I’m probably more biased towards the Vive because it was my first purchase.  The reason I purchased the Vive is for the game Paranormal Activity: The Lost Soul.  Thanks to this video, which shows gameplay with the Vive, I was dying to get my hands on it.  I waited on this release for a very long time.  I stalked the PAVR Facebook and Twitter accounts to find out when the release date would be.  The game was that scary in pre-alpha, just think how much better it is in production.  And if you’re wondering, I lasted less than 5 minutes  (including the tutorial) in this game.  Since this game has been out a while, and on multiple platforms, I’m sure you can YouTube a great many gameplay videos and laugh your little heart out.

There are ample sites that review the pros and cons of each, so I won’t rehash that information here.  But I do prefer the Vive for its room scale capability.  I think I will use the Rift more for games that are standing / sit down only ALTHOUGH, it is coming along with roomscale if you get multiple sensors (I only have 2 so far and don’t really want to buy any more).

I’ve downloaded a “Halloween special” that I’m hoping to talk some friends into doing.  If I’m successful, I’ll share the antics with you all.  I’ve pretty much scared all my friends so it might be hard to get volunteers at this stage.  Maybe I’ll try it for myself….. just kidding.

 

Paleo Mississippi Mud Roast

I’ve been a slacker in updating the blog with this recipe…. sorry folks!  This is a very very forgiving recipe so you can’t really mess it up.

Ingredients

  • 5.5 lbs round roast (or any roast type meat)
  • 6 TBSP ranch seasoning (see below)
  • 1 cup beef bone broth or beef stock
  • 1 TBSP coconut aminos
  • 1/2 jar pepperoncini and its juice
  • 3 TBSP ghee

RANCH SEASONING (Mix all the ingredients in an airtight container.  You’ll end up with about a cup which is more than you need for this, so save it for next time.)

  • 1/2 cup dried parsley
  • 2 TBSP dried dill
  • 3 TBSP garlic powder
  • 3 TBSP onion powder
  • 3 TBSP onion flakes
  • 3 TBSP dried celery
  • 4 tsp drive chives

Instructions

  1. Place the roast in the crock pot with the beef broth.
  2. Drizzle coconut aminos over everything.
  3. Place the ghee on top of the roast.
  4. Place the pepperoncinis on and around the roast.  Pour the juice over everything.
    • You can place as little or as much of these as you want.  I think it really adds to the flavor of the recipe so use at least a handful of pepperonicinis and you can omit the juice if you’re hesistant.
  5. Sprinkle the ranch seasoning over the roast.
  6. Cover and set to cook on high for about 6 hours.
  7. Shred the meat and mix.  You can set to low until ready to eat.

NOTE:  Usually I make a side of roasted veggies (potatoes, brussel sprouts, and carrots with italian and/or rosemary seasoning) to eat with this.  Mark likes rice so we’ll sometimes have the meat over rice – its pretty tasty!  You can increase the amount of broth without altering the taste of the recipe if you want something with a little more gravy.

Zuppa Toscana

Easy copycat recipe for my favorite potato soup from Olive Garden

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground mild Italian sausage*
  • 1 – 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 5 TBSP bacon pieces (optional)
  • 1 large white onion, diced (yellow will work as well)
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 8 – 10 cups water
  • 10 – 12 bouillon cubes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 – 4 large russet potatoes, sliced
  • bunch of kale, roughly chopped

*If you substitute for ground turkey or chicken, you’ll do the following:

  • 1 lb ground Italian seasoned turkey or chicken
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 tsp dried fennel seeds (crushed in a mortar)

Instructions

  1. Saute the Italian sausage and crushed red pepper in a large pot until cooked through.
    • If you are substituting for turkey/chicken, add the garlic powder, additional red pepper flakes, and fennel seeds.
  2. Remove the meat, drain the fat, and set aside in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the soup.
  3. In the same pot, saute the bacon pieces (if using), onions, and garlic until onions are soft.
  4. Add the water to the pot with the bacon, onions, and garlic.  Add the bouillon cubes, stirring often to dissolve the cubes and bring the mixture to a boil.
  5. Add the potatoes and cook until soft.  This will take about 20-30 minutes depending on the thickness of the slices.
  6. Add the heavy cream and allow the soup to return to a boil.  Stir in the sausage and let simmer for a few minutes.
  7. Add the kale just before serving.  You can be as generous or stingy as you’d like.

Notes

This is a very forgiving recipe.  I tend to like my soup a little more chunky so I increase the meat and potatoes.  You will need to eyeball it and add more water with bouillon cubes as needed if you get carried away.  On the flip side, if you think you have too much liquid, keep adding potatoes until you’re satisfied.