Tuesday, January 20, 2009

home improvement update

Well, the electrician comes tomorrow at 8:00am. He's roughing in all the new kitchen wiring. Jared and I finally framed out the party wall so he could come in. Once he's done, the next step will be to get the drywall up on the two walls (party wall and dining room wall). Spackling and priming follow. I can't decide if it will be easier to paint before bringing in all the cabinetry, but I think it will be. Seems to me that painting without obstacles is the easiest thing to do.

It's a nice feeling to be making some progress, finally, on the kitchen. I'm frustrated at how long it's taken me to get to this point. I just want to be finished it. An image is beginning to form in my head as Becca and I come closer to choosing counters and appliances. I'm going to starting thinking about the menu for the first meal soon.

In other project news, the office is primed and ready to be painted. I haven't felt like doing the ceiling the last couple of days, but it needs to get done so I've got a place to work when I'm telecommuting. And it'll be nice to have that room finished for Becca's computer and crafting materials.

I spent all evening cleaning up the basement, making room for the electrician to get to the places I think he'll need to get to. More bags of trash, more vacuuming, more dust...there's just so much crap. I want to make a wine rack under the basement stairs. It's a decent space for that and it's certainly cooler down there in the summer than anywhere else in the house. I also figure I'll move the slot cars down there.

Sigh. So many plans for the house.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

the year of...

I want to follow through on things more. There are lots of things that I want to do that I don't for one reason or another and this is the year that I want to start following through on some of my wants, a few of my needs, and some things that I probably don't even know about yet.

1. Finish the kitchen
Duh. And this needs to be in the next couple of months. I'm sick of not having one.
2. Confidently drive a manual transmission
Preferably, the cute little red and white car that someone I know drives.
3. Make a (huge) dent in my debt
This one is going to take time and won't be completed in 2009, hence the dent qualification.
4. Mystery Thing
You're just going to have to wait on this one. But trust me, you'll know when it happens.
5. Stay committed to Daily Snap
This goes right in line with following through on things. I suspect there will be more than a few photos taken late at night as the clock ticks closer to midnight.
6. Do something nice for my father
Because he deserves it.
7. Read more
I like to read but I don't read enough, as far as I am concerned. I often get sucked into TV or the internet or Scrabble or something. There is the goal to read Infinite Jest in 2009. We'll see about that, but if I finish it in 2009, I think it would qualify as "reading more."

That's what I've got right now.

I'll finish this later...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

i want to be on top

Get your mind out of the gutter.

It seems that everyone these days has the blog roll where the most recently updated blog is on the top of the list. Not me. My list is alphabetical because it keeps Becca's blog on the top of the list, which is where I want it. Sappy, sweet, whatever. I admit it, I want her blog first on the list.

Anyway...I want to be on the top of everyone else's list. It's kind of how when I'm driving if I'm the only car on the road or all the cars are behind me, I'm more likely to drive the speed limit. My problem is when there are other cars ahead of me. I want to be in the front. Part of this is because I want to be first. Another part would be that I simply don't trust other drivers. Either way, I want to be on point. Same thing here. I want to be the first blog listed in your roll. So there. Now I should be.

The issue here is that in order to stay on top, I'm going to need to post a little more often. I could probably try to do it more than once a quarter. That might be a good start.

Since I'm updating my blog and my roll, I decided to look over the blogs in my roll a little closer and figure out what it is about them that I enjoy. Why I follow them, if you will.

Becca Elizabeth: Well, honestly, this is Becca's blog. I love her and I care about what she's writing about. Plus, her writing is optimistic and funny and intelligent and I enjoy reading it.

c neu photo: Christa's blog. Christa and I are best buds online. We actually have a goal to connect electronically every possible way we can...flickr, facebook, linkedin, etc. We know each other through Becca and it took forever for us to actually meet in person. For a long time in the beginning, I was checking out her flickr page. I would get to it through Becca's page because I wanted to meet Christa before adding her as a flickr friend. I'm weird like that. But Christa went and added me as her friend, so I returned the favor. And so it began. I also really, really like the photo of the bowl with the eggs that she uses for her header. Her photography is incredible.

Euro Trashed / Marley's on the Move: Heather's blog. Heather straight up makes me laugh. Wickedly funny and straightforward. And she goes cool places occasionally, so I get to travel vicariously through her writing. Which reminds me - Heather, go someplace interesting so I can read about it. Thanks!

Philadelphia Restaurants... From A to Z: This is Scott's blog. It's new. The plan is to visit a restaurant for each letter of the alphabet in 2009. I like food. Scott is a phenomenal writer. It's a good pairing...like lamb and petite sirah.

same object: A group blog to which I was invited by Christa. A subject matter is selected and everyone is supposed to take a photograph of said subject matter and then post it by the deadline that is provided. Participation is somewhat sporadic, but it's fun and some of the photos are amazing.

Strobist: An awesome photography blog that focuses on how to use off camera flash. I'm fascinated by it. The posts are well written and interesting. I learn from it and hopefully apply what I learn to my photography.

The DJstina Blog: Dan and Christina's blog, with links to additional blogs they have. Just because. Although, I think I am going to steal their Haiku blog idea. Because I like haiku.

Two-Oh-Oh.....crap: Danielle's blog. She commented on a photo of mine on flickr and I checked her flickr page out. I loved the self portraits in bathroom mirrors and kept checking back. Never met her, but I know she's got a fantastic sense of humor and she's married to Joe. She also has cute kittens.

Winheld's World: Josh's blog. This blog tells the story of his life with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. I've known Josh since middle school and had fallen out of contact with him for years when he found me on facebook. Since then, I've followed his life through his blog. He is an inspiration to all.

There you have it.
I'm on top.
For now.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

albuquerque, new mexico, usa

My first vacation in very nearly a year took me to Albuquerque, NM, primarily for Balloon Fiesta, but also to visit with Becca's friend Janelle and her boyfriend Jordan. They graciously opened up their home to us for five days and saved us the hassle and expense of finding a hotel in Albuquerque during Balloon Fiesta.

Before our flight, Becca and I agreed to use only sign language with each other on the plane. Becca is trying to learn it and I have been negligent with my practice. I want to be able to talk with Heather in her own language. I love her; she makes my best friend the happiest he’s ever been, and I feel awful that I can’t communicate with her as well as I should. I’ve known her for years and my (lame) excuse was that I didn’t see them very often when they lived in California and Colorado, but they’ve been back here for 2 years and I still can’t understand her as well as I should. I struggle to have basic conversation and it’s embarrassing to me. Becca and I knew that it would be difficult, but we want to get better. Practice is the only way that happens. We did pretty well, but instead of using only sign language, we soon found ourselves talking while signing. We ended up studying more than actually conversing. I think the only way I’m going to get better is to 1: spend more time with Heather one-on-one, and 2: take a sign class. But, I digress.


We landed Wednesday in Albuquerque at 9pm MT after 10 hours of travel time, 2 stops and 2 planes. At our layover in Chicago (Mid-Way…wah-waaaaah), we grabbed some Potbelly to eat on the plane. Janelle and Jordan picked us up at Albuquerque Sunport (it’s not an airport…it’s a sunport) and we headed back to their place. Becca and Janelle caught up and the four of us shared wine and cheese and some awesome spicy Thai flavored Kettle Chips while we talked. The night ended at 1:00am MT, which for those of you who aren’t well versed in time zones, is 3:00am ET. Tired!

puffed bagwine and catching up

Thursday, we decided to skip Balloon Fiesta and slept in. Or at least I did, waking up around 11:00am or so. It was a lazy day. I read on the balcony, Becca and Janelle made delicious pancakes with an outstanding blackberry syrup. Janelle – I need the recipe. Blackberry is my favorite. Breakfast was delicious and filling. Janelle had a test, so we headed over to UNM around 2:00. She headed off to class and we headed over to Frontier for some good New Mexican food. Green chile, all the way baby! After having our fill of burritos and enchiladas, we wandered around campus a bit before settling in by a pond and reading while we waited for Janelle to finish her test. We met up again and headed over to Old Town to find some Flaming Two Arrows hot sauce for Jared and hominy for posole. We headed back home and the girls went to Jordan’s yoga class while I relaxed on the sofa and watched the Phils beat the Dodgers in game 1 of the NLCS. The three of them got home and Brad Lidge recorded the final out, with perfect timing, and we rushed out to get sushi before the restaurant closed.

Friday, we headed up to Bandelier National Park for a hike and to explore the ruins. I had been to Bandelier in the summer after 7th grade and I really wanted to get back and experience it as an adult, with the hope that I would have a greater appreciation for it. Even as a precocious 12 year old I was in awe of it, but I wanted to see it with eyes 18 years older. It was incredible. It is fascinating to consider how people lived in the rock face as recently as 500 years ago. We took the main loop up to Alcove House, the remnants of what was home to approximately 35 people. It’s 140 feet above the canyon floor and you climb 4 wooden ladders to get to it. Once up in the Alcove House, there is a Kiva you can climb into and an area you can sit and relax while you take in the view 12 stories above the canyon floor. I took my one and only Bronica photo up here. Can’t wait to see how it turns out; fingers are crossed.


After Bandelier, we stopped home for a hot minute before heading over to a local winery, Casa Rondeña, for a wine tasting. We bought a bottle of the 2005 Founder’s Reserve. My senses were working and I caught strong cherry flavors. After tasting all of the wines they had on hand, we all bought a glass of wine to enjoy on the back patio as the sun set. I had the 2005 Meritage Red, Becca and Janelle had the 2007 Serenade and Jordan had the delicious 2004 Animante port. The back patio resembled a Mexican villa and as it turned out, there was no reason to rush to the Balloon Fiesta’s Evening Glow. After the wine, we headed over to the Balloon Fiesta, but were diverted away from the parking lot because the Glow was cancelled due to high wind. Instead we went to El Pinto, quite possibly the most massive restaurant I have ever been in and enjoyed a fantastic New Mexican meal and margaritas. I had my first sopapilla of the trip and it was great. On the way home, we were passing a casino and suddenly I was inside losing money. Jordan made out the best, winning $30 at the blackjack table. Once home, we played a couple games of Cranium while starting and finishing a bottle of wine and each of us a bottle of beer. We headed off to bed around 11:30pm with the plan to roll out of the house at 5:00am to get to the Balloon Fiesta Mass Ascension.

We did indeed manage to wake up and get ourselves to the Balloon Fiesta, the girls chipper and awake, while Jordan and I grumbled and moaned. We were hanging out, eating mini sticky buns in a cone and drinking hot chocolate when we found out that they cancelled the Mass Ascension, again due to high winds. Frustrated and disappointed, we headed back to the house and napped for a few hours, before waking up to Becca’s parents calling at 9:45am and letting us know that they’d be there to pick us up in 15 minutes. Her parents were on a separate vacation and were coming to Albuquerque for dinner with friends and we decided to take the Turquoise trail up to Santa Fe for the day. Becca’s father was a park ranger for the Sandia district while they lived in Albuquerque, so on the way we stopped at the ranger station and went up to Sandia Crest. In spite of the stormy weather, we made it to the top took in the view of dense fog and then drove back down. Becca’s father was responsible for many of the improvements to the Sandia district and on the way down we stopped at different points he explained some of the work they had done while he was the district manager. It was a great way to learn about the mountain.

becca's dad at sandiasandia crestsandia mountains 2

At the base, we stopped at the Tinkertown museum and explored Ross Ward’s hand carved creations. The museum is a testament to hard work and living a full and honest life. Sadly, Ross Ward passed away in November of 2002 due to complications related to Alzheimer’s. His legacy lives on at Tinkertown.

One of our goals for the day was to eat at Tecolote Café in Santa Fe. It had been featured on the Food Network’s Diners Drive-Ins and Dives and I wanted to check it out. Unfortunately, we had taken too long getting to Santa Fe and we arrived half an hour after they closed. As we drove around looking for a place to eat we were hit by a sudden downpour and hail storm. Seeking shelter under a gas station canopy, we decided on Harry’s Roadhouse while we waited out the hail. At Harry’s we learned of the Chocolate Maven, which apparently is the best bakery in all of Santa Fe, which was perfect since we were looking for dessert to bring to that night’s dinner. Again, unfortunately, we arrived a few minutes too late at 4:15pm. It closed at 4:00pm. Frustrated, but laughing at the hilarity of everything being closed, we picked up dessert at a supermarket and headed back to Albuquerque for dinner with Becca’s parents and their friends. They call it the Round Robin and for the past 25 years, they’ve been getting together for dinner once a month.

After dinner, we headed home and lamented that our vacation was coming to an end. But, there was still one more Mass Ascension at the Balloon Fiesta to go to. This time, however, we decided to wait until they confirmed the balloons would go up. Around 7:00am, they confirmed that they would not fly. The lower, ground level winds were calm enough, but the higher level winds were borderline too strong and blowing towards downtown, which presented (very) limited landing spots for the balloons. Amazingly, all of the Balloon Fiesta events we tried to go to were cancelled due to the weather and we were leaving Albuquerque with seeing a single balloon up close. (We did see one lone balloon from a distance on Thursday.) There’s always next year, although I suggested we combine the Balloon Fiesta with the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. We’ll see.

All in all, while we were disappointed that we didn’t get to experience Balloon Fiesta, the vacation was great. It was wonderful getting to meet Janelle and Jordan and I can’t wait until the next time we can see them. I also headed to work Monday morning with the thought that I hadn’t taken long enough off and wondering when my next vacation would be.

The entire Albuquerque trip in pictures: On Flickr

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

restaurant week: table 31

I'm not going to lie, nor mince words here. I was genuinely excited to try out Table 31, the latest offering from Georges Perrier and Chris Scarduzio, especially after reading Craig LaBan's three bell review in the Philadelphia Inquirer. And yes, I know that you should not take a food critic's review at face value. But the timing of review could not have been any better for Table 31. And yes, I understand that Restaurant Week is a chance for people to try out restaurants that they might not otherwise visit. And that's exactly why Restaurant Week is important for restaurants; in particular, new restaurants that have been open for less than 4 months and is brought to you by the most famous chef in Philadelphia. They are a new restaurant and their goal should be to impress their potential clientele enough that guests are willing to come back and buy that $105 porterhouse or that $68 tomahawk.

Essentially, this dining experience can be summed up in one word:

I am aware that a restaurant may not be inclined to show off their best work during Restaurant Week. But they should at least put some effort into it. When you go to a restaurant ranked up there with the best steakhouses in the city, the steak you order should be cooked to order. But that's getting ahead of things, because before you even get the menu, you should be seated at a table for your party and not sharing a space with another group of people in the Private Dining Room (or PDR as the hostess said, trying to make it more impressive). I know that during Restaurant Week, you are cramming as many people into the place as possible. But don't force people to share a space if you aren't a family- or hibachi-style restaurant.

Second, as a steakhouse, you should be able to cook a slab of meat as ordered, most definitely when it costs extra on top of the fixed Restaurant Week menu. And certainly if you get it wrong the first time, you should get it right the second time, even if you do bring out a sad excuse for a NY strip steak and fail to provide a knife to cut into the steak to check it. And if by some chance you manage to get that sad excuse for a NY strip wrong again, you most definitely should not bring back the same sad excuse for a NY strip back out after cooking it a little bit longer while still managing to leave it undercooked.

Third, you also should be able to bring out wine listed on the menu as the suggested entree wine with the entree and not after the entree and certainly not after asking for it three times, while eating said entree slowly with the hope of being able to enjoy the wine with said entree.

Fourth, as a sad attempt to make things right, you should positively not bring out a drink at the end of the meal that tastes like Robitussin with cocoa on top of it.

And not to completely pan Table 31: the desserts were outstanding. The PBJ was delicious and tasted exactly like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The Ultimate Chocolate Cake was delightful; rich but light and smooth.

There is no excuse for a top steakhouse, Restaurant Week or not, to prove an inability to cook a steak to order - first obviously overcooked without cutting into it and second drastically undercooked. No fine restaurant should have such service as not to bring serve wine ordered with the entree after the entree was finished. Just about the only thing that was handled properly was the check, which the manager kindly amended down approximately two-thirds of the total. What Table 31 failed to do was, in any way, make us return during regular dining. Which means they completely missed the point of Restaurant Week.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

summer 'do

may 24: summer 'do
Memorial Day Weekend brings the shaving of the head. I love summer!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

cheeseburgers in paradise

Here's a crazy idea...go to three different burger joints and compare their cheeseburgers in a taste test. That is just what Duane and I did over 2 and 1/2 hours. We hit up three places in Delaware County to do a taste comparison. I had a biased opinion heading into it because I had been to all three places before. Duane had never been to any of them, so he was going into the taste test without any preconceptions.

We decided to visit Zac's in Media, Charlie's in Folsom, and Five Guys in Clifton Heights, in that order.

zac's outside
We walked into Zac's with great anticipation, for several reasons. First, it was our first destination. Second, Duane was ridiculously excited for this, evidenced by the research he had done online about reviewing hamburgers, his notebook with tasting criteria and the huge smile on his face. I also was excited, but was able to contain said excitement a little better. No matter, because it turns out that other people were nearly as excited as we were to be doing this. Once they brought our burgers to us, a few people noticed that we were taking pictures of the food, writing notes and generally discussing what was in front of us. One person asked if we were food photographers. Another guy heard us mention that we were doing a burger comparison and looked as though he was ready to ditch his (young) children and join us. Duane made the astute observation that he didn't really have much of anything constructive to say, but it seemed he really wanted to stand near us as we were discussing the food.

Once the burgers came out, we got down to business. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with ketchup, tomatoes and pickles. Duane ordered a bacon cheeseburger with everything and then added mayo and lettuce for good measure. He likes his toppings. In fact, he was scoring each place on their toppings selection. I chose not to do that. The burger fit the toasted bun well. Zac's burgers are relatively not greasy. They're clean and simple to eat and go down way too easily. The beef is fresh and not frozen and they cook it up for you when you order. My burger and bun stayed together very well, but Duane and his overloaded burger had a little trouble. I suppose you can't complain when you've got 8 or so toppings crammed between a soft, toasted bun.
zac's burgerzac's cross section
duane digging in at zac'smore burgers...silliness
In our excitement, we decided to pick up some extra burgers since Zac's offers 10 burgers for $12 on Saturdays. Later on, we realized the folly of our ways and couldn't quite figure out why we thought this would be a good idea. Anyway, with extra burgers in hand, we headed onto our next stop, Charlie's.

charlie's outside
Charlie's in Folsom is a pretty simple place. They offer burgers and hot dogs. That's it. No fries. They don't have bacon. They've got a counter that looks at the flattop and a counter that looks out the windows. They tell you to stay in line after you order because it's easier for them to figure out who gets what.

The first thing Duane notices when we walk in is the plate full of thickly cut Velveeta cheese that is waiting to get placed on the burgers. It pretty much looks like what I imagine our arteries are going to look like after our third stop. But it gives the burger a little something extra. I ordered a cheeseburger with ketchup and pickles. Duane got one with everything, which was onions, ketchup, mustard and pickles. Like I said...it's a simple place.
charlie's burgercharlie's cross section
The meat is already cooked and waiting for an order. The buns are pre-toasted. Everything gets heated up on the flattop when you order. These burgers are remarkably greasy. I suspect this is because of the Velveeta. You can feel the grease congealing on your hand as you eat it. Again, visions of clogged arteries dance through my head. Because there isn't much to the burger, it stays together nicely while you eat it. Overall, the burger isn't bad, but it's lagging behind Zac's from the start.

We finished up at Charlie's and moved onto Five Guys, our final destination.

Five Guys
five guys outside
Five Guys has a bit of advantage over the little guys. They've spread from their original locations in the Washington, D.C. area and they know what they're doing. That isn't to say that Zac's and Charlie's don't, but Five Guys is a bigger operation and their offering shows it. It's a different thing they've got going on. Their burgers are a bit more refined, though not necessarily better.

Once again, in striving for consistency for an easier comparison, I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with ketchup, tomato and pickles. Duane ordered a bacon cheeseburger "all the way" which is most of the toppings they offer, including mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, ketchup, lettuce, and mustard. He threw in jalapeños for kicks. I forgot that a regular Five Guys burger is a double. The single patty burgers are called "little." The quality of the meat at Five Guys is definitely the best of the three places, but just barely ahead of Zac's. The burgers are pretty much right in the middle of Zac's (less) and Charlie's (more) in terms of grease. They wrap their burgers in aluminum foil, which squishes the sesame seed bun quite a bit. It also keeps the moisture in, which makes them a little soggy, especially when they sit a while, like when you do take out and drive home before eating them. Once again, my burger held up to the stresses of being eaten and stayed relatively intact during consumption. Duane's burger, on the other hand, had quite a bit of trouble. For some reason, his meat was crumbling and with so many toppings he had trouble keeping the burgers from sliding around. He decided in the end that the mushrooms were the culprit.
five guys burgerfive guys cross section
duane realizes what he has in his handsduane digging in at five guys
As we slowly finished the last few bites of our Five Guys burgers, the day was settling in our stomachs. We finished up tallying the scores from all three places as we sat in Five Guys, letting our food digest a bit before got back in the car and drove home.

The final score
Duane scored the toppings in his reviews and I chose not to. In order to make an easier comparison, Duane's scores are totaled both without the toppings and with the toppings (in parentheses).

Reviewer/ RestaurantBun to Burger RatioMeat QualityBunCheeseSauceToppingsOther ToppingsStructural IntegrityGreaseOverall GoodnessTotal (with Toppings in parentheses)

Duane776557747738 (62)

Duane666754663532 (54)
Five Guys

Duane998679924840 (71)

Duane says it was a toss up between Five Guys and Zac's for him. His observation was that it is difficult to compare these two burgers because they are so different. He would return to either place depending on what type of burger he wanted. For me, it was Zac's all the way.

We had a great time doing this and we're already planning our next food comparison. Will it be cheesesteaks? Or pizza? Or hoagies? Stay tuned for more.

Five Guys
Complete set of my photos