The Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista group gasket or steam ring seal: the $2 DIY fix

Full disclosure: Amazon reviews rejected an abbreviated version of this post, even though I never once mentioned cock rings in my Amazon review, so here I present a very chatty and robust discourse because… I can. You can click away, speed read, or skim the upper paragraphs if my witty repartee gets on your nerves and wastes your time. ūüôā I know what it’s like to desperately need a cup of espresso right f’ing now. I get it. Read on for the super-cheap and easy fix for the Cafe Barista’s failed group gasket or steam ring seal, apparently all too common, that Mr. Coffee arbitrarily refuses to sell replacements silicone seals for (which is total bull$h1t, imo).

We bought a Mr. Coffee Cafe Barista in 2015. In general, given its price-point and features and overall low maintenance, it has been a reliable source of quality espresso for 3+ years.

cafe barista

The Frother
(skip this paragraph if you’re anxious for the silicone seal fix)

It’s only real problem, aside from, eventually, the steam ring, which is an easy fix that I’ll get to in a moment, has been the frother. We quit using the automatic milk frother after about a year because it was such a hassle to clean the container. To be honest, my husband would have gladly continued using it, but I was tired of cleaning the fat scum and occasional sour milk and he definitely wasn’t maintaining it for himself, so I hid the damned thing. I had undiagnosed advanced cancer and wasn’t feeling too great. By the time I dug the milk container back out, after chemo and radiation, it wouldn’t froth milk anymore. Maybe it’s just an o ring that needs replacing. I don’t know because life is short and I still don’t have the time or energy to clean out that nasty milk container. I have concluded that a simple, old-school steam wand is the way to go and these automatic frothers aren’t worth the troubles they present. There are too many potential points of failure.

We knew we had a problem when…
(skip this paragraph if you’re anxious for the silicone seal fix)

We knew the quality of our espresso was flagging a bit and it sounded a little weird when it was brewing (like its owners), but didn’t undertake an investigation until the morning the golden liquid that keeps our semi-ancient hearts beating failed to be deposited in our cups. When hot water burbled out the side amid a flurry of grounds, we identified the point of failure as the head group gasket or¬† steam ring seal. See how it is completely missing on the top there?

steam ring seal

 

This silicone ring is not connected and is simply sitting around the metal sieve or infuser. You can use a bamboo skewer or a small screwdriver to slide in between the two parts and lift the silicone ring out.

upside down cafe barista

And we were like: oh, yeah, no problem, silicone o-ring. They probably sell that as a cheap replacement part on the Mr. Coffee site. Seems logical, no? NO! Thing that is obviously going to fail sooner or later, nah. Buy a whole new machine, yeah! It was a Saturday and we live 30 miles from the nearest tiny town, so we weren’t even sure we could find an open hardware store, much less some sort of espresso machine emporium, like I know some elite fancy-pants have access to 7 days a week. We then spent several hours online attempting to locate a viable replacement. Not to be had. Eventually, I could not face the rest of the day or–horrors!–the prospect of the next morning without espresso. I think it’s pretty obvious by now, but it’s not like I can just trit-trot down to a an espresso shack or bar or salon or lair or whatever you privileged folk call these sort of places. It is a 30 mile and 45 minute drive to my nearest espresso dispensitorium. And I’m cheap anyway.¬† Desperation setting in, and the clock running out (the welcome mats at local-ish stores roll in quite early), I leapt into my Prius, trusty freckled male side-kick of 26 glorious years riding shot-gun, turned on my radar detector, and floored it into town.

The Fix
(read this paragraph if you’re anxious for the silicone seal fix)

The helpful hardware people at Crescent City Ace Hardware (a man, but Ace seems to be trying out the gender-neutral pronouns, which I applaud) found us several rubber washers that were close and, eventually, a rubber “waste shoe washer” interior diameter 1&3/4″ and outer diameter 2&7/8″ that was very close to the original ring we had dragged along with us. We grabbed a few washers in other sizes too, but didn’t need them.

waste shoe washer

Yes, it is a rubber washer. I’m in California. If they thought this would be intended for use near food it would have a Prop 65 warning on it. But it’s supposed to be for a bathtub, which hardly anybody eats these days. My entire Wal-Mart store has a Prop 65 warning slapped on the front of its building, so does the new Delonghi Magnifica fully automatic espresso machine I bought. It sort of takes the meaning out when you over-use that sort of warning. Or, shoot, maybe everything is cancer causing. Doesn’t matter, I’ve already had chemo and external pointed and full torso as well as high dose internal radiation. The rest of you, I suppose you should make an effort to be properly horrified by the Prop 65 stickers.

Regardless, my husband claims the first shot he drank after installing our new waste washer shoe tasted like “an innertube.” I’ve seen the man sit next to fresh cat crap and claim he couldn’t smell a thing, so I am not impressed. He claims that subsequent shots were fine. Whatever. I say this only adds to the robust flavor of the espresso. But for you fancy-pants out there, you might want to run your $2 rubber washer through the dishwasher to… probably to release more lead in accordance with the Prop 65 warnings that every damn thing has lead in it, or on the off-chance that it reduces the innertube-iness of your espresso. Or not. Maybe you like the taste of rubber. And that’s for you to know and me to not know or contemplate at all. Ever.

the parts

This is how it looked after we removed the original silicone o ring (sitting atop the inverted machine here) and replaced it with a waste shoe washer and enjoyed a few espresso shots because we thought we were going to f’ing die by then if we didn’t get some caffeine pumping through our veins. People do not take caffeine addiction seriously enough. It is no gosh’durned joke, people! The washer slides in place and the lip in the machine where the portafilter connects pretty much holds it in place.

And here’s what it looked like after a few days of use:

steam ring

And another view:

fixed

My husband informs me he has purchased a “caffelat” silicone group gasket from Amazon for $8.50. It will be here in a few days and I will, maybe, update this post when and if it arrives and works. Or doesn’t. He asserts at this time that had the first shot with the rubber washer not tasted like an innertube he probably wouldn’t have ordered this gasket because subsequent shots were “fine.” Oh, if only the probably-a-silicone-cock-ring I found stuffed in the bottom of a drawer had worked I wouldn’t have had to drive into town and eventually order a $500 fully automatic espresso machine. Wah wah. If only…

So there you have it, the most self-indulgent and at times disgusting narrative you are likely to come across on the internet concerning a $2 waste shoe washer to make espresso flow forth from a Cafe Barista machine once again and into your life.

Would it be better if Mr. Coffee / Jardin / Sunbeam had replacement gaskets? You bet! But you do not have to throw your Cafe Barista away just because they don’t.

 

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Light lemon sorbet

Light lemon sorbet

  • Servings: 6 servings
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1¬†cup¬†sugar
  • 5/6 to 1 cup fresh lemon juice (or Sicilia brand squeeze)
  • 2 & 1/2 to 4¬†cups¬†water
  • tiny pinch or sprinkle of salt

Preparation:

  1. Combine 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water in microwaveable pyrex or other borosilicate container or 4 cup + measuring cup.
  2. Microwave sugar and water for 3 to 5 minutes, until all sugar is dissolved into a clear syrup.
  3. Add 5/6 to 1 cup of lemon juice and a tiny pinch of salt to syrup and stir until combined.
  4. Add 1 cup of water and stir. Taste. Continue adding water 1/2 to 1 cup at a time until sorbet has the level of sweetness and tartness you prefer. I like mine at about 3 cups water total. Add more lemon or sugar if you add too much water.
  5. Place sorbet mix in a freezer-safe plastic container, cover, and place in freezer.
  6. Stir sorbet mixture after an hour or so.
  7. Once fully frozen, serve and enjoy!

Lazy Susan’s Baked Mac and Cheese

Lazy Susan's Mac & Cheese

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups elbow macaroni
  • 3 cups (32 oz) shredded extra sharp or sharp cheddar cheese
  • 24 oz (2 cans) evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan and Romano cheese blend
  • optionally add 1/4 c. pepper jack cheese
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. pepper
  • 2¬†tsp. mustard powder
  • 2 tsp. paprika

For boiling macaroni:

  • 1 Tblsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. salt

Preparation:

  • Bring 6 to 8 cups water to a boil with 1 tsp salt and 1 Tblsp vegetable oil. Add 3¬†cups elbow macaroni. Stir until water is boiling again and macaroni is freely moving in water, so macaroni doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Set timer only when water boils. Cook macaroni about 9¬†minutes. Thoroughly drain water off of macaroni.
  • Set your oven to bake at 350′.¬†
  • Using¬†the pan you intend to bake your mac & cheese in, combine all cheeses and all spices and mix thoroughly.
  • Pour in evaporated¬†milk and stir until well combined with cheese and spices.
  • Fold¬†in your boiled macaroni, making sure to cover each elbow with sauce and to evenly distribute cheese.
  • Place mac and cheese uncovered in 350′ oven for 10 minutes.
  • Remove pan from oven and thoroughly fold and stir cheese sauce in and around macaroni elbows.
  • Optionally sprinkle with about 1/4 cup shredded cheddar and a sprinkling of black pepper.
  • Return to oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Remove from oven, serve, and enjoy a low hassle, homemade, baked mac and cheese product.

After 30 years of melting the cheese sauce separately and occasionally dealing with separated or burned cheese I decided there had to be a better way. And this is it.

Tangy Mac and Cheese, creamy or baked

IMG_20150108_182007_116

Tangy Mac and Cheese, creamy or baked

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 4 cups elbow macaroni
  • 4 cups (32 oz) extra sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 24 ounces (2 12 oz cans) evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan and Romano cheese blend
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 tsp. mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. paprika

plus, for boiling macaroni

  • 1 Tblsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. salt

 

Bring 6 to 8 cups water to a boil, with 1 tsp. salt and 1 Tblsp. vegetable oil. Add 4 cups elbow macaroni. Stir until water is boiling again and macaroni is freely moving in water, so macaroni doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Cook macaroni about 7 or 8 minutes, until al dente. Thoroughly drain water off of macaroni.

 

For creamy mac and cheese, leave macaroni in the pot it was boiled in.

 

For baked mac and cheese, transfer drained macaroni into an oven-safe baking dish.

 

While macaroni is cooking, prepare sauce.

 

Combine Cheddar cheese, Parmesan and Romano cheeses, evaporated milk, salt, pepper, mustard, and paprika in a large microwave-safe bowl.

 

Heat cheese sauce for 3 minutes on high, then remove from microwave and stir thoroughly. Repeat these steps until all cheese is melted and blended completely with the other ingredients.

 

For creamy mac and cheese, pour cheese sauce over cooked and drained elbow macaroni and serve.

 

For baked mac and cheese, pour cheese sauce over elbow macaroni and stir to thoroughly coat the macaroni. Lightly dust the top with¬†more shredded Cheddar cheese and a a little¬†black pepper. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350′. Optionally, place under broiler for a few minutes to brown up cheese topping. Serve after cooling for a few minutes.

 

Enjoy!

How to stop the Blue Bunting 28 oz glass hummingbird feeder from leaking like a sieve

Feeder with base cover offThe birds really love this feeder. “Love,” though, is a gross understatement. They become violent, vicious, winged beasts fighting to access this feeder and fly right past other styles of feeders to get to it. But they tend to leak. Below is the solution to losing all your solution.

Some people have suggested latex gaskets or washers to stop the leaking on the 28 oz glass Blue Bunting hummingbird feeder from Walmart (see listing here), but I found those fixes unnecessary.

Update 2017: Paul suggests the following in a comment, and this may be the fool-proof, total fix:

“A 50 cent hardware store plumbing department 1 x 3/4 x 1/8 #15 o-ring placed on the neck of the bottle did the trick for me. No more leaks out of the snap together joint and you can tilt it pretty far before fluid comes out of a flower.”

In 2016 I switched all of my feeders over to a wide-mouth bottle that is easier to clean and has a circular perching ring around the entire bottle that seats more hummers. We sometimes see¬†22 to 25¬†Anna’s hummers sitting shoulder-to-shoulder taking turns on the nectar ports. It is the “First Nature 3055 32 oz feeder,” which is available at Amazon for about $10.10 each or a 2 pack for $18.36 at this time. You can search for it or here’s a link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003R2SKIC.

Now back to our original blog post:

I did some basic investigation with the base off and the feeder hanging over my kitchen sink, while a strong breeze whistled through the open window, as you can see in the image at left.

The primary problem seems to be that the threads on the bottle are large and are prone to misthreading, but without seeming misthreaded. This is much more likely if the feeder bottle, base, or nectar are hot or even just warm.

The second issue is that the red hanger included with the feeder may cause it to hang at an angle. Even a slight misalignment, making the feeder unlevel, will cause the feeder to overfill and eventually leak. Blowing winds may also cause the feeder to become unlevel, overfill, and leak.

1. Be extremely careful when screwing the bottle onto the base. It is very easy to misthread this feeder without noticing it and without the feeder appearing to be misthreaded. When misthreaded the vacuum seal is broken and the base overflows.  If you see continuing bubbles after turning the feeder right side up and the base fills and leaking begins then take the feeder down, invert it again, and rethread it. When properly threaded you will only see bubbles inside the bottle when first turned upright, until the base fills, and then when the birds drink enough nectar that the base refills. Never use warm or hot nectar and never fill it until the feeder is completely cool! See #2, below.

2. Only ever use cold nectar when you fill the feeder and only ever fill the feeder when all parts of the feeder are cool. If you’ve just cleaned the feeder with hot water then run some cold water on it before filling. The threads on the feeder are large and easily misthreaded anyway. If the feeder is still warm from cleaning or the nectar is warm (or worse, hot) deformation of the plastic base and misthreading become even more likely. Always fill a cold feeder with cold nectar.

I use two items to clean my feeders.¬†For the inside I use a metal stick with sponge strips attached, like the “Perky Pet 23T Bird Feeder Foam Cleaning Mop,” which has apparently and inexplicably been discontinued by the manufacturer. Boo!¬†Be sure to crimp the metal tighter around the sponge bits). For the flowers, the nectar outlets, the base, and the exterior I use a typical two-part baby bottle and nipple brush combo, with a¬†large scrubber on one end and a detachable small brush on the other end. I also remove and discard the little cage-like yellow insect guards because they¬†get a buildup of dirt and nectar and really don’t keep insects out anyway.

3. Use only a metal “S” hook (not included with feeder) to suspend the feeder, so the feeder hangs level. If the feeder is not level the nectar can overflow on one side of the base. Do not use the red coated wire included inside the bottle to hang it up. The red wire can cause the feeder to hang at an angle, overfill, and leak nectar.

4. Hang the feeder where it will not be buffeted by wind. When wind blows on the feeder it can cause the feeder to become un-level, allowing the base opening on one side to be exposed, break the vacuum, overfill and cause leakage.

SAMSUNG

As you can see in the image at left, nectar normally only fills the base to a depth of about a 1/4 inch high. Unfortunately, if the feeder hangs at an angle or strong winds buffet the feeder about then the base opening is exposed, the vacuum seal gets broken, the base overfills, and it eventually, usually slowly, overflows. Conversely, if the bottle and base are misthreaded then the vacuum seal is broken and the base overfills and then nectar is constantly released into the base, usually causing fairly rapid loss of fluid.

*** The feeder may also become vacuum locked, so that no fluid descends into the base unit and the sweet little birdies cannot access their life-sustaining beverage. Sometimes this happens because the bottle is overly full, or because of internal construction misalignment, or atmospheric pressure is not cooperating with you, or because dirt from the hummer’s beaks has combined with the sticky nectar and blocked one or more ports. I never had this problem with my older Blue Bunting feeders.¬†I bought two new feeders this year as spares (some of the flowers were cracking on my old units) and between a couple of mishaps I wound up using these. I don’t know whether it was something new they did to the build, or whether we’re just getting more pressure changes. If you can see grimy build-up on the ports then give them a good scrubbing. If the feeder is locked up due to atmospheric pressure or build, tilt it to one side until nectar spills out one of the ports. You may have to do this more than once to fix the problem.