Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Does your Samsung SGH-A707 SYNC keep restarting itself?

Tara and I consolidated our cell phones onto my AT&T account last year. We both got Samsung SYNCs, identical blue ones, for free. Lately, they will spontaneously reboot AT THE SAME TIME multiple times a day. What the hell is going on? I know they can get OTA firmware upgrades, but this is more than that. They've rebooted three times each in the past few hours alone. Is is AT&T's way of getting us to switch to an iPhone?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A photo tour of Arizona Apple Stores (or "What to do when you have too much free time.")

Well, for no particular reason, I decided to visit all five of the Arizona Apple Stores this weekend. Since the Tucson store was the farthest, and we drove there anyway this weekend, I started there:
It's located in the La Encantada shopping mall. It's a pretty mall, like a cross between Biltmore and Kierland. Walking around in the 100+ degree heat and high humidity, we both wondered why they don't enclose more malls in AZ.

Next, we hit the two southern Valley Apple Stores. First was the one in the Chandler Fashion Center:
It's located in the basement of the mall, so the "hot" new 3G iPhone only gets EDGE reception, thus they can't demo the new higher speed data rate. Brilliant.

Barely ten miles east in San Tan Marketplace is the Gilbert store:
Why they need two stores so close is a mystery. It's a brand new mall and the Gilbert area really needed the new retail options. It's a sprawling complex, similar to the new one near us at Happy Valley and the 17.

We hit the first Apple Store in the Valley next in the Biltmore:
The Biltmore mall puzzles us. Unless they've changed, nearly every store closes at 4pm on Saturday and Sunday. We went there the week before Christmas a couple years ago at 4:15pm and like 4 stores were open. The Apple store was open to 6pm I think.

Lastly, we stopped by the newest Valley store in Glendale today. It opened yesterday:
This is another store in a mall basement with no 3G signal. Granted this only affects one product in their range, but still.

All the stores are running together for me at this point. I'm not really sure what possessed me to go to all of them. Just weird, I guess. Hopefully within a few months I'll be able to visit one and pick up a nice new iPhone. Or a new iPod, to replace my long-gone Nano. We'll see.

Tucson Day Trip

For no real reason, we decided to drive to Tucson yesterday. I kinda wanted to take my car on a long highway trip to see how it does for highway mileage. So a little after noon, we gassed up the Passat and headed south. My Passat drives better than my old Audis on the highway. It has that European "gee, we're just dawdling along" feel at fairly high speeds. If felt like I was going slow but as I went to go by the car in front of me, I look down and we're doing, well, let's just say a tad above the speed limit. My Audis always felt like they were going fast. The Passat is just serene. It's similar to the feel my parents' Peugeots from the 80s had. Unlike most Peugeot traits, that's a good thing.

The trip down was uneventful. We got there a bit before 2pm and made a pit stop at the Wal-Mart at Cortaro Rd/I10 for batteries for my camera and nature breaks. We used to take Cortaro Rd to the Omni Tucson when we did weekend trips to Tucson for a few years. Really nice resort with great customer service. We were upgraded to better rooms on two of of our three stays due to fairly minor problems. Hopefully we can visit again this year or next.

After Wally World, we headed east on Ina to La Endantada shopping mall. I felt like visiting the Apple Store. We looked longingly at the iPod Touches and 3G iPhone (they were sold out, btw). We were both hungry, so I hijacked a MacBook Air and perused Chowhound for a place to eat. We settled on the Wildcat House at 1801 N Stone. One person said it had good burgers and was cheap. I checked its website and the menu looked good, so we headed down.

Wildcat House is a huge bar that I'm guessing caters to UofA crowd. It was described as "cavernous" in the thread I saw and that's very apt. We ordered a 1/2 lb burger for me and a tri-tip sandwich for Tara, each with fries, at the window for $14. You order your drinks from the long bar in the back. We got two huge glasses of Coke for $2/each and waited for our name to be called. We took a seat at one of the massive wooden picnic tables on the large tiled dance floor and passed the time watching the Red Sox take it deep from the Yankees. It was painful.

After what seemed like a somewhat long wait, our order was up. I dressed my burger at the topping station and Tara scrounged a couple plastic ramekins for ketchup and Thousand Island dressing (she like TI on her fries). My burger was really good. Nicely charred but cooked to my medium-well order. The fries was beefsteakish, thick cut and nicely crispy on the outside, soft, but cooked, on the inside. Way better than a fast-food burger combo. Tara really liked her tri-tip sandwich. The only downside was they had a huge breeze blowing that cooled us nicely, but also chilled our meals faster than normal. Not a huge deal. We really enjoyed the food and for only $18, it was a definite bargain.

We hit a Marshalls on the way out. I'd found some shirts that I liked at the ones around Phoenix and wanted to see if the Tucson store had any. They didn't, so we headed back to the highway. I wanted to grab a drink from our cooler in the trunk, so I happened to stop in the parking lot of a donut shop. We'd passed it on the way in and thought it was closed, but it was actually open. I hadn't planned on going inside, but the smells were too tempting. Tara and I went in. She didn't want anything except a Coke. I got a couple glazed donuts, a glazed twist, and a maple long john. At which point Tara decided she wanted a plain croissant. The lady behind the counter got all that and then took the bag to the far end of the counter and put something else in it. She came back and told us she'd put some glazed donut holes in. I tried one and it was like glazed crack. Perfectly cooked, great texture, and the perfect amount of glaze. She gave us ten and they were gone before we hit the city limits. The place is called the Donut Wheel, and it's on Ina just east of the I10, next to a Circle K. The other items were nearly equally good. It's a definite to-go place on our next visit.

On our way back we stopped at the new shopping mall in Casa Grande. The Marshalls there had several shirts my size on clearance, so I snagged a polo and two tshirts. After that, we made our way back to the Valley. All in all, it was a fun little trip with the added bonus of finding some pretty good food.

Payson Bacon Update

The bacon we got at Charlie's in Payson last week was divided evenly into two distinctly different sizes. Last weekend we cooked the seven larger slices and they were good, but overly salty. This morning I cooked up the remaining seven slices that were smaller, maybe 1/2 the size of the first batch. I took a bite and gave Tara the remaing half of the piece I sampled. We both agreed this time it was fantastic. It was perfectly salted and I managed to cook it to a nice crispness. It had a great meaty bacon flavor unspoiled by excess salt. This seemed to come from another batch. This bacon is a solid third, possibly second on a good day, on our list. Vonhanson's still is top, but this gives The Pork Shop bacon a good run for it's money. We need to hit TPS when they reopen in September.

I guess it will come down to consistency. VH's bacon varies in sweetness, but is always great. We've had TPS bacon once, and it was very, very good. Others also love VH and TPS bacon, so consistency seems pretty good. Since we just have the one experience with Charlie's bacon, and no other annecdotal evidence, it's hard to say which might be their "typical" bacon. At $4.50/lb, if you are in the area, it's certainly not that bad a gamble. Not worth a special trip at this point, but if the batch we had today is typical, it's pretty close to being worthy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

New Beginnings

Tara finally got her job offer today from the company she's been interviewing with for nearly a month. We're both very excited. She finally gets to go back to work and we can both breathe a little easier about our finances. It'll be a few weeks before she gets her first check, but at least the light is at the end of the tunnel. She's got much better benefits, too. Three weeks paid vacation, the company pays 90% of her health insurance, and they don't take 10% off the top of her paycheck like her old company. They also just moved to a brand new office two weeks ago. Another bonus is they are within spitting distance of Ice Tango, which is one of Tara's new vices. :)

Today is also our 4th anniversary together. We had dinner at the then-new, now-closed original location of Blue Wasabi, followed by watching Fahrenheit 9/11. Nothing like sushi and Bush-bashing on a first date. :)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bacon Tasting

I cooked the bacon from Charlie's this morning using my normal oven bake procedure. It was pretty good, but overly salty. Even Tara, who has a much higher salt tolerance then I do, found it too salty. It's a very thick-cut bacon, so trying to get it to my preferred crispiness would have rendered it into burnt sticks. I was able to get a good balance, though. We each had a slice and a half. We used the rest in bacon and egg sandwiches. The saltiness wasn't as noticeable in that application.

It's possible the saltiness was just an errant batch. If we're ever up in Payson again, we'll probably grab some more just to see. As it stands now, Vonhansons still wins. Saltiness aside, we'd rank Charlies about fourth, behind VH, The Pork Shop, and Midwestern Meats. Given it's $4.49/lb price, without the saltiness it would be a great deal. It's head and shoulders above most pre-packaged bacon that costs more as it is.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saturday Road Trip

Last night around 12:30am, my sweet, still-unemployed-but-the-end-might-be-in-sight, slightly insomniac girlfriend, who hadn't left the house in a day or so, asked if we could drive somewhere. Like Litchfield Park. Flagstaff. Tuscon. San Francisco. Right then. With me half-asleep. Luckily I was still aware enough to decline.

Today after I got back from seeing "The Dark Knight" (absolutely brilliant by the way), she said she needed to go somewhere. Initially I thought about going to a place with a huge chicken out front that our friend Seth had mentioned in Apache Junction, but we didn't know the name. I texted him, but didn't get a response in the short time we had. On our way to AJ, I vaguely remembered that there might be construction this weekend on the 60. Actually, it was the 202, but we didn't find out until we got back. Since we were coming up to the Shea exit on the 101, we decided to head towards Fountain Hills.

When we hit the east end of Shea, we took AZ87 north. I decided to go to Payson for no particular reason except I hadn't been there before. Except for a metal wheelbarrow flying over the 6' tall cement median and landing about 300' in front of us in the fast lane, it was an uneventful trip up.

While driving up the main drag in Payson, we noticed a shop in a small strip mall with a sign advertising "Old Fashioned Sausage & Fresh Meats". Since we were in need of a pit stop first, we stopped into a convenient fast food restaurant. When we came out, it was at least 10 degrees cooler and blowing a gale. We could see dark clouds off to the east that appeared to be coming our way.

We got back on 87 and drove north through Payson to see what was there. We saw a couple little shops that looked interesting and we stopped in after pulling a u-turn at the north end of town.

The shops turned out to be nothing special. The typical touristy, over-priced stuff. Disappointed, we headed to the meat market, Charlie's Old Fashioned Sausage & Fresh Meats, we saw on the way in.

We entered the small store to the strong smell of smoking meat. They were smoking fresh jerky as well as getting ready to close down for the weekend. It was 5pm, and they aren't open Sunday or Monday. A large glass-doored freezer held dozens of varieties of homemade sausages. Their item sheet boasts 35 varieties of homemade sausages.

Their meat cooler was bare as they were in the process of moving the meats into the larger fridge in the back. They did still have slab double-smoked bacon out front. For only $4.49, we had to grab a pound to try. It looked really good, extra-thick cut and meaty. The owner told us he gets it smoked, peels off the layer of fat, and hickory smokes it again himself in the store. He warned us not to try to cook until crispy as that will render out a lot of the good flavor.

He also gave us the sheet of available meats and bundles he has available. It's very extensive. We told him we're from Phoenix and he said if we call ahead, he can have it ready to pickup with a few days advanced notice. We thanked him and left with our booty.

At this point, we are scared that we might really like the bacon. We are going to have it for breakfast tomorrow. We currently drive 80 miles round trip for our beloved Vonhanson's bacon. A 184 mile round trip would be a bit much, even for us. We'd need to rent a uHaul truck and by a MASSIVE quantity to make it worthwhile.

After a few more random stops and exploration, we headed back to the Valley. I'll post an update tomorrow on how the bacon turns out.

Charlie's is located at 405 S. Beeline Hwy Ste. A, Payson, AZ 85541 (928) 474-2085

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies - Some now, some later

I love chocolate chip cookie dough. I also make some really good cooked cookies as well. Over the years, I've pretty much perfected my method. I use a slightly modified Tollhouse recipe. The only problem is we usually can't eat four dozen cookies at time. Now that I work from home and Tara is unemployed, we have no place to get rid of the extras before they become hockey pucks.

I'd tried freezing leftover batter once before, with not very good results. I did some Google-ing, and saw that a lot of people freeze the dough after spooning it into cookie-sized portions. That way, they can just take out the number they want, cook them up, and always have fresh cookies on hand. I tried this and it worked really well. My problem was that dishing out by hand, while nice and rustic, didn't lend itself packing in plastic containers.

I'm a huge Good Eats fan. I love the off-beat, scientific approach Alton uses. Most of his recipes I've tried have been good. He uses an ice cream scoop to portion his cookies. I hit up the local restaurant supply stores a few weeks ago and got myself a #40 scoop. It looked to be the right size for my usual cookie portions. It turned out to be perfect.

I now get uniform cookies and they are very easy to pack into our various Rubbermaid/Glad/Tupperware containers. I just line the container with parchment paper or wax paper and then seal them up. I generally make a dozen and a half right after I mix up the batter.

To use the frozen nuggets, I take out the number I want to bake and set them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. This weekend we were way over in Mesa and stopped into the tiny outlet mall off of Power and the 60. There's a Kitchen Collection shop in there and they had a two-pack of silicone mats for $5. I tried one last night and it worked really well. Once on the sheet, I let them sit out for anywhere from 15-45 min so they can thaw a bit. Some people put them directly into the oven frozen, but I tried that to not good results. Others use their toaster oven, but again, I had bad results. I stick to the regular oven with perfect results.

The ones I made last night tasted just as good as the ones I made from the same batch several weeks ago. I like my cookies either raw (it's a sickness, I know) or fresh out of the oven while the chocolate is still somewhat molten. Now, I can have them either way just about any time I want. :)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Fourth weekend activities

We had a good long weekend. Thursday we caught an early show of Wall-E. I really liked it. Not quite as good as The Incredibles, but animation is amazing and the story is very desolate for a long time. I'm sure I'll be seeing it again sometime soon. After the movie, we hit Osha Thai. They were open (but were closing for the rest of the weekend) and we had a great meal, as always. I love their panang, even if it was a tad spicier this time than normal. The important thing is it had FLAVOR as well as a bit of heat.

Friday we did a late-ish lunch at Stacy's Smokehouse. The last time we tried to go, two days after the good review on the Republic, they were closed. Turns out Stacy had a trip to Vegas already planned and didn't want to be open without him so soon after the article. Tara got a beef sandwich and I got a pork sandwich, both with mild sauce. The sauce was sweet and vaguely Sloppy Joe-tasting. The meat was amazing as usual. We tried the deep-fried corn on the cob, onion rings, and fried pickles. The rings were the winner. The pickles were good, but very salty to me. The deep-fried corn on the cob didn't have much flavor. It was battered in a cornmeal batter that Tara like separately, but not with the corn. Still, if you stick to the meats, you can't go wrong at Stacy's.

We tried Ice Tango after Stacy's at Frank Lloyd Wright and the 101. We both got their tangy tart yogurt with different mixins. It's really good and tastes like real yogurt. It was a bit too tart for me to finish all of it, but still outstanding. Tara loved hers with granola and fresh strawberries. Definitely will go back for more.

Friday night we decided to catch some fireworks. We eventually decided to watch the Tempe Town Lake show from Tempe Marketplace. It was close enough to see the fireworks and hear them after a bit of a delay, but no drunks or cover charge. A ton of folks were doing the same thing. Tara got to play with a little eight year old girl who was watching them next to us with her older sister. We could see five different shows from where we were. Tempe, Mesa, possibly Indian Steele Park, and two to the northwest in N Scottsdale or so. It was fun.

Saturday we stopped into Wicked Bakery on Cave Creek Rd south of Greenway to check them out. Man, they've got some good stuff there. We left with a whoopie pie, a slice of deep-dish Dutch apple pie, a double-stack brownie, and a piece of carrot cake. All were really good. The whoopie pie wasn't quite like the ones I used to have growing up in Maine, but pretty close. The apple pie was very yummy. It would be better heated, but I didn't have the patience. Tara loved the carrot cake, but eventually it was too sweet for her to finish, so I did. :) She had her brownie today and it was very chocolatey. We'll definitely be back.

Saturday evening we decided to take a road trip to Joe's Farm Grill in Gilbert. Thankfully it wasn't mobbed like the last time we attempted to eat there. Tara had a burger with gruyere and sweet potato fries. I had a double hot dog basket with regular fries. My dogs were great and the fries were very crispy and good. Tara's burger had great flavor in the small bite I had. Her sweet potato fries were very crispy, but she thought they lacked a good sweet potato flavor. I could taste the flavor, but it was very subdued.

Sunday we lazed around the house. We made homemade buttermilk pancakes for a late breakfast. We found an awesome recipe a while back. Very fluffy and nice flavor. I really need to get a new electric griddle. Our current one looks like it should be in a greasy spoon somewhere. Still does the job for now, though.