Sunday, December 6, 2009

Twisted Logic

I found this recipe a while back and I don't think I posted it. I THINK I posted pictures of the pretzels on Facebook after I made them, but it's been nearly a year and a half. SOMEONE has been asking me to make her some for a while now. Why she had a craving just as I'm putting a turkey into the oven late on a Sunday is beyond me...

Anyway, this is a recipe for some nice, sweet soft pretzels, courtesy of someone's blog that I can't remember.

Soft Pretzels

1 1/2 pkgs dry yeast
1 1/2 cup warm water
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup bread flour
3 cups ap flour

1. Sprinkle 1/1/2 pkgs of dry yeast onto 1 1/2 cup of warm water and stir to dissolve

2. Add 2 Tbs brown sugar and 1 tsp salt and stir to dissolve

3. Add in 1 cup of bread flour and 3 cups of all-purpose flour

4. Knead until smooth and elastic. Place in lightly oiled bowl and let rise for at least 1/2 hour in a warm place

5. While dough is rising, mix 2 c. of warm water with 2 Tbs of baking soda. Stir until completely dissolved

6. Pinch off a bit of dough and roll to about 12-14 inches long

7. Dip the bretzels into the baking soda/water mixture and shape into pretzels. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with course salt. Bake at 450 deg. for about 10-12 minutes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Series Madness

Since tomorrow is officially the "Christmas Season", I thought I'd put my dubious expertise in TV addiction to good use. If you or someone you know likes great TV, I figured I'd recommend some of my favorites that have officially ended so you can purchase the whole damn thing if you want.

Band of Brothers: HBO's awesome 10-part miniseries following Easy Company from D-Day through the end of WWII. Absolutely amazing and addictive. It's also now available on Blu-Ray.

The Wire: For five seasons, HBO's Baltimore-centric series was top of my weekly watching. From the first season that was a cops vs. drug dealers through the last season that focused on the dying newspaper industry, the writing was the best on TV. I think I've done a previous blog on it last year. One of it's great qualities is that major characters in later seasons were present in prior seasons in bit or nearly cameo parts. Second viewings lead to many "Oh look, there's X. Cool." And many of the characters themselves are positively iconic. Omar Little is one of my favorites.

Farscape: Tragically canceled after only four seasons (despite having been renewed for five after season 3), John Crichton's exploits across the galaxy were science fiction at it's finest. Deep mythology, tragically flawed characters, and some of the freakiest Muppets you've seen combined with great writing and humor. It was just recently released in a complete series collection. I want it. Badly.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Yes, it's goofy and cheesy, but it thoroughly kicks the ass of all the recent vampire-related drivel. Season 6 kinda blew despite the brilliant musical episode "Once More, With Feeling". It's one of my few favorite series that actually reached a planned conclusion, so you get a feeling of closure.

Angel: A darker spin0ff of Buffy, it got better as it went along. It's last season was it's best and it's series finale absolutely kicked ass.

Lonesome Dove: I missed this when if first aired back in the late '80s, but when I finally saw it, I loved it. Recently remastered, it still holds up.

Fawlty Towers: The best British comedy series I've ever seen. John Cleese's post-Python hilarity. The Rat episode is a classic and always cracks my mother and myself up.

Black Adder: My second favorite British comedy series. I used to watch these all the time during college on whatever Comedy Central was back in those days. Rowan Atkinson is truly great in all four seasons. The first series isn't my favorite, but it's still quite funny. The subsequent series are much better. Available recently in a complete series set.

The Shield: F/X's rogue cop series was spellbinding from first episode to last. Vic Mackey and his Strike Team of crooked cops in a crime-ridden L.A. district was nigh on Greek tragedy over the course of seven seasons. Once the Armenian money train plot kicks in, all else is tainted by it. The guest roles by Glenn Close, Forest Whitaker, and especially Anthony Anderson made a great drama even more riveting.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In Maine

I'm on a not-quite-a-vacation trip to Maine this week. I flew up for a Halloween party at a friend's place near Portland and I'm staying the week at my parents' house before flying back on Saturday. Since they FINALLY got high-speed Internet earlier this year, I can work from their house. The weather (except for the rain storm when I flew in) was gorgeous on Sunday and Monday. Sunny, cloudless skies and temps near 60. It's overcast today and 36 deg at this moment.

Unfortunately Tara had to stay back in Phoenix. She has her college courses, work, and is dealing with pneumonia or worse. Hopefully her doctor will be able to give her some antibiotics that work today. She was taking a Z-pak but they didn't help at all.

I played some disc golf in Sabattus yesterday. Given that I was using all disc that I literally found along courses in Dallas over 5 years ago and hadn't played in heavily forested areas in 2 years, I did pretty good. I only played 9 holes since I was running late and had to be home for our 6pm dinner reservations at Solo Bistro in Bath.

Solo Bistro was excellent. I'd read about it a couple years ago but hadn't been back to try it. In the meantime, my sister started working there and has raved about it. I was going to go with her and her husband, but child care proved elusive, so I went with Mom and Dad. We had a great time. Everything we ordered was outstanding.

Beet and cabbage soup

Organic greens salad with balsamic vinegarette

Tomato and cheese tart

Grilled crevaille, ocotupus, and shrimp with carrots and sweet potato/yukon gold potato puree

Grilled flat iron steak with homemade steak sauce, steak fries, and salad

Corn-crusted halibut, cabbage slaw, carrots, and the same potato puree

Warm Maine apple dumpling

Molten mocha cake with candied pecans and caramel

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Rustic Cafe - North Phoenix

Tara didn't finish her bacon.

That should be a clue about how much we enjoyed our first visit to Rustic Cafe, a new restaurant just north of the 101 on Cave Creek Road. A friend let us know about a 90% off sale at Restaurant.Com and I noticed that Rustic Cafe was on there, so I grabbed one so we could give them a try.

Mistake. Big mistake.

It's actually a cute little spot, with around 20 tables or so. Service was very friendly and helpful. The menu is quite extensive. In addition to typical breakfast and lunch items, they also have Lebanese, Italian, and Mexican sections on the menu.

Since we had to order at least $20 to get $10 off, we ordered quite a bit. Tara got biscuits and gravy and a double order of bacon. I ordered corned beef hash, sausage, and a cinnamon roll for us to split. We each got a Coke. Shortly after ordering, our waitress came back and said someone had ordered five cinnamon rolls earlier and they were out. We ended up getting a chocolate muffin instead.

The chocolate muffin seemed pre-fab, like they'd run across the street to the nearby Costco's pastry section. It was exceedingly generic.

Tara's biscuits and gravy was a large serving that looked like it had waited a few minutes before it was brought out. The gravy had already cooled enough to have a skin over it. It had large chunks of sausage in the gravy which Tara liked. The gravy lacked any real flavor, however. Even after liberal seasoning with salt and pepper, it was still very bland. Her double side of bacon was a generous amount, but again, it was flavorless. She didn't finish it and this is a person who plots to steal any leftover bacon she sees restaurants, regardless of whose table it is on.

My "hash" wasn't. I've had corned beef hash all over the country. Generally it's actual hash: corned beef and vegetables that have been run through a meat grinder or chopped up finely and mixed together. Rustic Cafe's "hash" was slices of thin, fatty, and rubbery corned beef, slices of pepper, and slices of onion on top of horrendous home fried potatoes. I even asked the waitress to verify that this was the corned beef hash that I'd ordered. She said it was. It was awful. The potatoes ranged from over-cooked potato chip-like slices to pieces I couldn't get my fork through but still tasted slightly raw. There was no consistency. The corned beef was chewy to the point if being inedible. I eventually just gave up. The two eggs I'd asked for over-medium were just not good. And nothing had any flavor. I'd smelled a t0-go order of the hash as it went by me and it smelled great. The dish I got? It completely lacked any seasoning. The toasted english muffin on the side wasn't bad. The sausage? It had the uniform size and unnaturally smooth edges like it came directly out of a Jimmy Dean package. It also has no flavor and a slightly odd texture.

So yeah, we were thoroughly unimpressed with the food. Which is a shame, as we love Mom and Pop local joints, especially ones this close to home. Tara said that the sandwiches we saw other diners eating all looked really good, and said maybe she'd try those sometime.

That is, until both our stomachs started to feel queasy within 10 minutes of us leaving the restaurant. Mine was unsettled for the rest of the afternoon and Tara's is still not quite kosher. She said she felt like she was going to throw up all afternoon. I wasn't that bad, but I definitely was under the weather.

We still have another $10 gift coupon, due to a snafu when I was ordering them. Luckily it was only $.40.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Expanding the Collection

I've since added to my Goodwill collection after this past weekend. I had some pretty good luck for the most part. I found a battery for my laptop that gives me more disconnected time than either of my current batteries. I got an Dish network DVR-equipped receiver that I scavenged the 160GB hard drive out of. I did get a very recent DirecTV DVR, but unfortunately it's 320GB drive was DOA, so I returned it. I also grabbed another AS-IS original Xbox for cheap. It's DVD drive didn't work, but swapped it out with the drive from my flaky Xbox and it works great. Very quiet as well. Since I was still within the 14-day return period for the second Xbox I got (after the flaky one died), I returned that for a nice store credit for future visits.

The major bummer of the weekend was when I bought was was supposed to be a wireless network card for a PC, but inside the box was just a crappy modem. That was returned as well. I was very unhappy about that pig-in-a-poke.

As Tara says, I probably have a Goodwill addiction. I'm not sure I can really argue. It's like a Valley-wide treasure hunt. :)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Goodwill Collection

I have sort of become a Goodwill addict. Tara I think just humors me on the 1/2 off weekends that the Phoenix stores have. I figured I'd try to go from memory (failing though it be as I approach my fourth decade in a few months) and compile a greatest hits of what we've found there.

Summer of 2000 Indigo iMac (works great)
Memory chips for said iMac
(2) Original Xboxes (I got the second one on Thursday after my other one crapped out. I couldn't leave my Halo game in the middle.)
PS2 video console
Older, but unused, barebones mini-tower with a 2.0 GHz Celeron and 128MB RAM
(2) roller computer bags
HP 6840 Wireless printer
HP 2500 Color Laserjet printer (status unknown, but it was only $5. need a yellow toner cartridge)
4-cup KitchenAid coffee maker
KitchenAid Coffee Grinder
Brother Intellifax 770 fax machine
PS2 controller
Xbox controller
New-in-box waffle iron
Tons of beading supplies for Tara
Lots of clothes (shorts, shirts, jeans, skirts, blouses)
External FireWire drive case
External USB/FireWire DVD burner
Large black Epicurean composite wood cutting board
Hand mixer
Purse for Tara (her old purse actually broke just outside a Goodwill as we were entering)
60 GB laptop hard drive ($5. Awesome deal. I just wish the other two I got with it hadn't been DOA)
Delonghi hot water pot
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty
Several loaf pans, both non-stick metal and glass

I'm sure I'm missing some stuff. None if it is really cutting edge, but most is quite useful. For instance, the external DVD burner can be used with my ThinkPad to burn DVD images. The standard optical drive only burns CDs. Previously, I had to use one of my desktops (the last of which died months ago due to a bad BIOS upgrade) or Tara's laptop. Now that I found the old/new barebones, I once again have a desktop. I've upgraded the processor to a slightly newer Celeron D CPU (courtesy of Bookman's, my second favorite used computer parts source) and installed more memory (some also from Bookman's. Turns out I had compatible memory but didn't know it.) I just now was able to install Mac OS X 10.5.2 on it, so I've got a working Hackintosh as well. That leaves the status of the iMac in limbo, as the Hackintosh is MUCH faster. It's not as pretty, though. :)

The kitchen stuff has been very helpful. The cutting board is great. The coffee maker doesn't give the coffee a strange taste like our other one . Tara drinks coffee, so I took her word on it. The Delonghi hot pot is awesome. Boils water in 2 minutes. It looked nearly new when I got it. The coffee grinder is perfect for grinding spices.

I've had a few misses, as well. The two SATA laptop drives were toast, which sucked. They were a huge steal at $10. Some clothes didn't fit right. Luckily Goodwill has a great return policy. You get your refund on a Goodwill gift card (at least that's how it is done for the Central AZ Goodwill stores) that is good at any of the Central AZ stores.

I've also seen some deals that I had to pass on for one reason or another. I saw a great little Dell laser printer, but since we already had four printers in the house, not much need for it. I saw three TiVos this weekend that would have fed my TiVo addiction nicely, but I've got nowhere to put them. And I'd be single again if I'd bought them.

Hell, I was already on THIN ice for the Xbox on Thursday...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Highly-recommended Sci-Fi: Torchwood: Children of Earth

I'm a huge fan of science fiction and growing up in rural coastal Maine in the 70s/80s, it was scarce on TV. The various New England PBS stations did air Doctor Who, and I got hooked on it's cheezy effects and charms.

Fast-forward to 2005 and the BBC re-launches Doctor Who with vastly improved, but still somewhat hokey, effects and some stellar writing and acting. After his great guest shot starting in "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances", Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) was given his own more adult spin-off, Torchwood (an anagram of Doctor Who). With far less happy endings and much more moral ambiguity, it had a distinctly different vibe and tone than the generally more fun-loving Doctor Who.

After two seasons, Torchwood was moved to BBC1 ( I guess the more prestigious BBC channel) and given a short, five episode third season. It was aired as a "Five Night Event!" miniseries last week here in the States. And it was amazing. If you are new to Doctor Who and Torchwood, I'd recommend watching at least the DW eps involving Capt. Jack and Torchwood itself prior to watching. Otherwise, given the dense mythology of essentially TWO series, you'll be lost. Once you are up to speed and dive in, you'll be hooked. It's better than the previous two Torchwood series and even most Doctor Who episodes. It grabs you and just doesn't let up. And unlike me, you can watch it all at once on the just-released DVD sets:

You'll be better off not reading any reviews or recaps of Children of Earth. It's best to see it unspoiled. Suffice it to say, it's probably something that could never have been made for American TV. And that's a very good thing.

Here is the minimum you need to watch for Capt. Jack background. Series 2 of Doctor Who features tons of Torchwood bits, including how it's founded, it's FAR future, and other background that is more or less covered in early Torchwood episodes. I'd recommend watching all the Doctor Who just because it's excellent, although it does have some dud episodes like all shows do.

Doctor Who Series 1 (w/Christopher Ecclestone): "The Empty Child" through "The Parting of the Ways"
Torchwood Season 1
Doctor Who Series 3 (w/David Tennant): "Utopia"/"The Sound of Drums"/"Last of the Time Lords"
Torchwood Season 2
Doctor Who Series 4 (w/David Tennant): "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End"

Monday, July 27, 2009

"We can't sell computers anymore"

That is a quote from a worker at a Goodwill we went to this past weekend. It seemed like it was for anti-identity theft purposes. I thought it funny because I bought the iMac a couple months ago and it still had the original owner's fully-functional hard drive with data and I see hard drives all the time at the various GW stores we frequent.

It was even more ironic because at the next store we went to after that one, there was what looked like a brand-new computer tower case. Upon further inspection, I saw that it had a motherboard inside as well. I couldn't figure out how to open the case easily, so I couldn't look inside. This was also the first GW store that had no computer monitors at all, so I couldn't plug it in and see what happened visually. Luckily, I'm a stubborn cuss. I plugged the case in over at the electronics testing bench and heard a successful boot beep. No glaring sounds indicating missing or no memory or anything. Since it was marked at only $17.99, I snagged it. Hell, the case and power supply alone were worth more than that.

Once I got home and plugged it into my monitor and booted it, it came up as a Celeron 2.0GHz with 128MB RAM. Not exactly a powerhouse box, but it did indeed work. I figured out how to pop open the case and it looked pristine. I'm guessing it's about 5 years old judging by the motherboard and BIOS on it. As far I can tell, it's never been used. There's no dust inside, all the metal covers for the drive bays were still in place, and the power supply's cables were still wire-tied together. It just needed drives (which I have in abundance) and more memory. A trip to Bookman's in Mesa later and I had 1GB of RAM for $20. Of course later that night I was grabbing one of my old video cards to install and found that I already had memory that would have worked. D'Oh! So I installed as much memory as I could and started installing operating systems. So far, it runs Windows 7 RC1 and Ubuntu 9.04 "Jaunty Jackelope" fine. It's got a small wind turbine of a case cooling fan that is quite loud, but otherwise it's a great little box.

They might not sell computers (whatever, dude) but I've had some pretty good luck there. Granted none of it's cutting edge, but it's fine to mess around with for fun.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Project iMac

My first computer was a brand new Apple Mac SE with a whopping 20MB hard drive for my birthday my senior year of high school. At the time, that hard drive seemed HUGE. Not so much today.

Through most of my college years, I had the trusty SE with it's 9" B&W monitor and massive Imagewriter II printer. I eventually got an accelerator card for it and maxed out it's RAM at 1MB. During one of my "extra" senior years at WPI, I upgraded to a Centris 610 with a huge 13" Sony Trinitron monitor. Many a game of Hellcats over the Pacific with my Gravis mousestick were played.

Soon after graduation, I got a job at a small local computer store in Maine and learned the art of building an IBM-compatible PC. At some point I sold the Centris went fully to the Dark Side as PC user. Since '94 or '95, I haven't had a Mac.

A few weeks ago, I was poking around a Goodwill in Gilbert, AZ, and came across an Indigo iMac. I grabbed a power cord from a nearby rack and plugged it in in the testing area. I booted immediately and everything seemed to work fine. I'd been looking for a project to amuse myself during my spare time, and for $25, I couldn't pass up the little guy.

I found a Mac-compatible keyboard at another Goodwill near home and with one of my old USB mice, I had myself a fully-functioning, Summer of 2000 iMac G3 350Mhz in all it's glory. Mac OS 9.0.4 on it's 7GB hard drive with 192MB of RAM. I researched the latest compatible OS the little G3 could support and it turned out to be OS X 10.3.9. I was able to round up the install discs and after installing a larger hard drive I had hanging around, I got it installed no problem. I found a faster system board on eBay located in Queen Creek, and after verifying it was a compatible board, I bought it. The part number said it was a 450MHz board, but it turned out to be a newer 500Mhz board. The board also added FireWire and had double the onboard video memory. I swapped it out and it runs 10.3.9 pretty well.

I'm still trying to track down some compatible memory to max it out at 1GB of RAM, but it's turning out to be quite an ordeal. The first place I tried to order from "lost" my order, but I later found it wouldn't have worked in any case. A couple days ago, I got a call from my credit card company and the card that I tried to use had a ton of suspicious charges. Go figure. Luckily they rejected most of them and have filed fraud claims on the remaining ones.

The second company I tried to order from (the memory was explicitly listed as Mac-compatible) never charged my card or shipped memory. I tried calling and emailing, but they cancelled the order with no explanation. Great company, huh?

I found some that seemed to fit the bill, but when it arrived, the iMac didn't recognize it. I found a stack of memory chips at a nearby Goodwill yesterday, and was able to marinally increase my memory. I've loaded OS X 10.4 on it, but it runs pretty slow, as it is using all the available physical memory. I'm going to keep looking once I get paid again.

I did get a kick today when I was looking around a nearby pawn shop and found a much older Tangerine iMac marked at $100. Mine is way faster and I haven't spent nearly that much.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hatteras - The Food

We didn't eat out much in Hatteras. Mostly because there really wasn't much need to and there aren't a whole lot of places. We had a house full of really good cooks and a ton of groceries. It worked out well. We did venture out a few times though. Here is what I can remember.

Teach's Lair. It was literally across from where we stayed. We ate lunch there a couple times. It's right on the water and is part of a marina. It's the first place we ate in Hatteras, as we met my aunt and uncle there after we hooked up with my parents. We were killing time until we could get the keys into the house. They also had the favorite item of the week. Their snow crab legs were absolutely amazing. At some point in the week, most of us had a plate of them for the meager price of $9.95. It was a steal. Their other food was really good as well. I loved my dirty shrimp and their homemade potato chips were great.

Pop's Raw Bar. This was a definite sleeper. My parents had been told it was really good, but when you first went in, you were greeted with a fairly seedy looking bar with a strong tobacco smoke smell. My brother later told me it's one of the rougher bars later at night. We went for lunch, though, so it was fine. I had some amazing crab cakes that totally belied the rest of the place. Perfectly fried, moist, and incredibly delicious. They also have killer hush puppies. I got a few as part of a lunch combo, but asked for a separate order because they were so good. Mom loved their raw oysters, but I took her word rather than trying them. I'm not a fan. Everyone else like their meals as well.

Dirty Dick's at the Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry Landing. Meh. DD's is a chain along the Outer Banks. The food was ok, but nothing special. I ordered snow crab there as well, but they were pitifully small compared to Teach's Lair and more expensive. We went with my sister, her husband, and our brother for a night out without the kids. My brother and brother-in-law each had a smoked steak that was the nightly special and loved it.

The Jolly Roger in Ocracroke harbor. This was recommended to us by our aunt and uncle who ate here the day before we visited Ocracoke. It was about 30 degress colder with high winds, so it wasn't quite as enjoyable on their semi-enclosed deck. The food, however, was top-knotch. A wide-ranging menu and nothing we had was a miss. Tara had a great sandwich who's makeup I forget, but it had several layers of tastes. Spectacular. Just go on a warm day or dress appropriately.

A lot of places weren't open for the season during our visit. Overall, Teach's Lair and The Jolly Roger were our favorites. I did love the hush puppies at Pop's, but they have a limited menu compared to the others. The harbor-side dining reminded me a bit of Maine, but it definitely has a tropical vibe.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Printer Ressurection

Having had pretty good luck on our Goodwill run a last month, Tara and I decided check out the various stores on the last 50% Saturday. We had a couple things we were looking for. Tara wanted to find a used fax machine instead of being reliant on the local Kinko's. I kinda wanted to look for a waffle iron. Yeah, I dream big.

In one of our first stores, we found a really nice Brother i770 fax machine for $6.50, after the discount. She spent $3 alone just faxing a page or two, so this seemed like a good deal.

We hit several other locations nearby and found a pair of jeans and a book I liked. Most of the waffle irons were either beat up or of questionable electrical standards.

At the Dunlap/7th Street location, we noticed that they seemed to have a ton of late-model HP printers. In looking them over, I noticed one that seemed to be Wi-Fi-enabled, a Deskjet 6840. I did a search of the model on my trusty BlackBerry, and it was indeed a wi-fi printer. There was no power supply, but for $7.50, it was too good for geeky me to pass up.

We ended up going from Happy Valley in N. Phoenix to checking out a few stores we hadn't been to before in Scottsdale and Mesa/Tempe. Tara found a desk she loved for $10, but we had no way to transport it, so she had to pass. Our final tally was the fax, printer, Lonesome Dove novel, two pair of shorts for me and a pair or two of jeans for her.

After we got home, I was able to go online and found a used power supply for $19 including shipping. It arrived on Thursday or Friday. I plugged it in and it came to life immediately. One hurdle down. Now we just had to get some ink cartridges for it. This past Saturday we went around to the various electrionics and office supply stores looking for refilled ink. New cartridges run from $25-$34 and since we weren't sure if the printer worked, I didn't want to spend that much only to find there was a problem. Even the few refills we found were over $20.

On a whim, we stopped into Big Lots and found a refilled color cartridge for only $8. We snagged that and proceeded to look at other Big Lots to see if they have the black one. No luck. We started our search too late to go to the local Cartridge World. They were closed by the time we got there. (They turned out to be nearly as expensive as the big stores) We went to K-Mart and they had a few refills, but no black. I installed the color cartridge when we got home, but all that came out was red ink. So now I didn't know if it was the printer or the cheap cartridge. The next morning I tried again, and it did all three colors for one test sheet, and then only red and yellow. So the printer seemed to work, but the ink seemed bad.

Sunday we tried some stores further away and had no luck either. On a random suggestion from Tara, we stopped into a Walgreens near where we were in Mesa. They actually had cartridges for the best prices so far: $12 for black and $15 for color. I grabbed a black one and we headed home.

I went to install the new cartridge and it didn't fit. Upon close inspection, it was a color cartridge that was in the box of a black one. Since the other color wasn't working right, I put the new one in and got all three colors. It worked great.

Monday I picked up a black cartridge at Walgreens (I checked before I bought it to make sure) and it worked too. After some trial and error, I was able to get the printer to be recognized on our wireless home network and now we can print from anywhere in the house. And for about half the price of a new printer. Not too bad in the current economy.

Oh, and the fax machine worked great from the moment we plugged it in.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thai Basil - Phoenix location

We are huge fans of Thai Basil in Tempe. Tara loves their Pra-Ram and they make some great Tom Kha Kai. Service on all our visits has been spotty at best. They are also typically very crowded, as well.

Tonight, we decided to try their outpost at Central and Earll, just north of the Thomas/Central intersection. It's somewhat hard to see and find, but it's there. The location is smaller than the original but has the same decorating theme. Upon entering, a waiter immediately greeted us and showed us to a table. Shortly after that, a waitress brought us glasses of ice water and took our drink order. The menu is the same as the other location (we checked prior to visiting) so Tara got her usual chicken Pra-Ram and I got chicken Panang. We both opted for mild spice levels. We an order of chicken satay for an appetizer.

The satay surprised us. In addition to the four grilled, curried kabobs of chicken, peanut sauce, and the usual cucumber salad, there was a small greens salad with what tasted like sesame peanut dressing. Everything on the platter was excellent and we made short work of it.

My Panang came out next. The bowl had bits of chicken, brocolli, carrots, green beans, green and red peppers, zuchini, and crushed peanuts all in a nice peanut curry sauce. A bowl of jasmine rice came with it. The heat level was on the low side of mild, which suits me fine, and I loved the dish. The sweetness of the coconut milk went great with the mild curry heat. Once I finished the veggies and chicken, I poured the remaining sauce over the bowl of rice. Good curry sauce with rice is like dessert for me. No complaints at all.

Tara's Pra-Ram had a pile of chicken and brocolli covered with a peanut sauce. She also got a bowl of jasmine rice on the side. She loved hers as well. I tried a bite and it was very good, but I enjoyed the extra kick the curry gave the peanut flavor in my curry better.

Service was excellent as well. Water was refilled in before I the glass got below 3/4 full. The waitress checked to make sure everything was going well. Our visits to the Tempe location always require us to flag down a waitperson for refills.

There were only a few other tables when we were there around 8pm. Similarly timed visits to the Tempe location usually find them nearly full. It was nice not being elbow to elbow with other tables.

All-in-all, we really enjoyed our visit to this location and will come here instead of the Tempe location from now on. Service is better, parking is much easier, and the food is as good or better. Plus it's a closer than the other location as well.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hatteras - Deep sea fishing

(Click on any of the photos for a larger view)

The one activity we had planned for Hatteras was a day of deep sea fishing off the Outer Banks. I'd never been and was really looking forward to it. My Uncle Bud is a fishing fanatic, and has his own 25-foot or so boat back home in Maine. He always goes deep-sea fishing on his Hatteras visits. For the past decade or so, he's gone on the Sea Creature. He's good friends with the captain/owner.

The Sea Creature is a 58-foot boat, the largest charter that leaves out of Hatteras Harbor Marina. Trust me: you want a large boat when you go 30 miles off-shore, especially in rough seas. My brother, uncle, dad, brother-in-law, and myself were the only ones who went fishing. The prior two days had been incredibly windy and rough off-shore and no boats with any brains went out. It was forecast to be better but still rough, so those of us who hadn't been out in deep water took no chances. We had ample supplies of Dramamine. And we were very happy about it.

We got to the marina a little after 6:15am. 3:15am for someone who was still on Arizona time. It was a gorgeous morning, though. No clouds, the rain was gone, and the wind had died down significantly. We loaded our gear onto the boat, threw our lunch in the fridge, and by 6:30 we were under way.

Hatteras is on the west side of Hatteras Island, facing Pamlico Sound. The Outer Banks shelter the Sound and it's generally fairly smooth water. After leaving the harbor, it was a nice smooth ride. As an added bonus, we got to watch a spectacular sunrise.

The smooth water didn't last, though. To get out to the "blue water", as it's called, where the Gulf Stream is, you need to go through the Cut between Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island to the south. This is a very rough patch of water due to all the tidal flows and can be tricky to navigate. There are tons of barely-covered sand bars all over the place to add to the fun. Luckily Creature knows his way and while rough, it wasn't anything too dramatic. The sea was pretty choppy once we cleared the cut, with 5-10 seas and the occasional larger one.

At this point, let me briefly digress. While getting ready that morning, old age crept up on me and decided to play a practical joke. While brushing my teeth, I bent over and managed to pull a muscle in my back, 20 minutes prior to cast-off. The timing was impeccable. Undaunted (or just stupid), I downed some Ibuprofen and went anyway.

So back to the boat. The trip out to the fishing grounds took about 90 minutes. Sea Creature is a very fast fishing boat. We caught and passed many boats that left before us. We were catching some pretty good height going over waves, and quite frequently we'd crash into the next wave with a very painful jolt. I was seriously regretting my decision at this point. Add in the copious sea spray the wind was swirling around the boat and my lack of rain gear, and it was a truly miserable time.

Why didn't I go inside the large cabin, you ask? Well, if you want to ensure you get seasick, that is apparently the best thing to do. Sitting outside in the fresh air with something to focus on far away is your best bet. And did I mention that the Dramamine makes you wicked drowsy? I was nodding off from time to time and after we got back, I found out that my brother and B-i-L were as well. The night before there'd been large amounts of Cabo Wabo and Don Julio shots and apparently my brother was fighting more than just sea sickness.

This is a little video I shot with my camera. It will give you a little taste of what the sea was like, but this was taken after it had calmed down a little. I'd planned on taking more pictures, but between my pulled muscle and the rocking of the boat, I wasn't too mobile. Running into the cabin to get my camera took some effort and keeping it with me would have probably ruined it.

At around 8am, we arrived to the fishing grounds and they got all the various poles and lines rigged. We had probably 8-10 fishing lines of various sizes trolling behind us on the outriggers. It's kind of hard to tell from these pictures, but the ocean is an incredible blue color out there. I can see why they call it "blue water". You just don't see it close to shore. I grew up in Maine less than a mile from the Atlantic and hadn't witnessed it like that before.

Fishing is all about patience. And boredom. It seemed like forever before we got any bites. In reality, it was about 90 minutes.

Around 9:30, one of the reels started to whiz frantically. Shane, the mate, told someone to get into a chair. My brother took a seat and Shane gave him the rod. Immediately after, a second rod started to play out and my uncle took that rod. After several minutes of reeling, the fish were close enough to the boat for Shane to use the gaff hook to try to land them in. My brother got a nice looking Yellowfin tuna, our first trophy. As fate would have it, my uncle, the most experienced fisherman among us, had his get away just as he got it to the stern of the boat for Shane to gaff. Still, we got a nice tuna, so I was quite happy. I LOVE tuna in all it's forms.

After another wait, two more rods hooked something. I sat in the starboard chair and Shane handed me a rod. B-i-L sat in the port chair and took the other rod.

As I frantically reeled, pulled, lowered, repeat, I was surprised at how much line there was to reel in. Plus the whole time Creature was yelling instructions/directives to each of us from the flying bridge. (I never saw him the whole trip once we cast off. He stayed up there the whole time) It didn't help that I'm a lefty and the handle was on the right side. Eventually, though, I was able to get the fish to the boat and Shane gaffed over another Yellowfin. He tossed it into the fish locker on the stern and then jumped over to help B-i-L land his own Yellowfin. With that, I decided I was done fishing. I got the experience of hauling in a tuna and didn't want to risk hurting my back any worse than it already was.

We weren't alone out there. If you look closely between the two large rods, on the horizon you can see a large container ship. It eventually got fairly close, but I didn't get a shot. It was huge. I guess one of the main shipping lanes was just a few miles from where we were. We saw several large container ships. First part of the day, though, we didn't see any other fishing boats.

Over the course of the day, we caught six dolphins (fish, not mammals). My brother, uncle, and B-i-L rotated rod duty. I really wish I'd been able to get a picture of a dolphin on the hook running beside the boat. They are a cool bluish color underwater.

Near the end of the day, Shane started packing up the gear. We weren't quite done, though. As a surprise, Creature took us over the wreck of the E.M. Clark for some jigging. Unlike the tuna and dolphin, a fish called an Amberjack hangs out at the wreck and are incredibly easy to catch. After literally two jigs of the rod, Shane hooked one. Instead of the chair, you wear a belt that you put the rod in to bring them up. While catching is easy, they are renowned for the huge fight they put up once you start to reel them in. The short, stubby rods used for the AJs bent over double to the point you thought they'd snap. Eventually, we caught five, but released three back.

Once we let the last AJ go, Shane stowed the gear and Creature headed for home. I'd been fighting nodding off all day, so once we got back into smooth waters of the Sound, I went into the cabin and lay down on the bench/couch. Next thing I know, B-i-L was shaking me awake. The boat was docked and they were getting ready to unload the fish. I was told that Dad tried to wake me up first, but I was completely zonked.

Here's the final catch of the day. From left to right, three Yellowfin tuna, six Dolphin, and two Amberjack. Total weight was about 200 lbs and we got 80 lbs of fillets. One boat had over 500 lbs, but our fish were higher quality. My uncle was disappointed we didn't catch a Wahoo, as he and my aunt say they taste better than any of the other fish in the area.

We cooked up some of each fish for dinner. The tuna was very good. The dolphin as well. Surprisingly for all of us, the Amberjack was amazing. None of us, even my avid fisherman uncle, had ever tried it. Lightly seared in some oil, it was great. All of us regretted letting the three that we'd caught go after dinner. My brother has never been a huge fish fan and this was the first time he'd tried fresh tuna. He absolutely loved it, likening it to the best steak he'd ever had. Our bad luck is that Tara and I are in Phoenix, and all the fish are in my uncle's freezer in Maine.

Overall, I'm glad I got to experience deep sea sport fishing. Would I do it again? I'm not sure. Without the pulled muscle, I'm sure it would have been much more enjoyable. Finding out how good Amberjack is was worth it. And catching my own tuna? That was pretty cool. I just wish some of it was it our freezer. :)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hatteras Vacation, Part One

We got back a week or so ago from Hatteras, NC. My aunt and uncle have vacationed in Hatteras for nearly 42 years now and my parents have gone a few times with them. This year they rented a huge house and fourteen of us went for part of all of the week. Tara and myself, my parents, my brother, my sister and her family, my aunt and uncle, and their daughter and her boyfriend. Not quite The Waltons, but close.

We haven't been home since Christmas 2007 and this was the first time we have seen any of my immediate family since then. We hadn't met my newest nephew, Jacob, yet, and that was Tara's primary objective. Once she got her hands on him, she was reluctant to let him go. He's just too damn cute.

We flew into Norfolk, VA, on Friday, as it cut $150/ticket off our airfare. We couldn't get into the rental house until Sunday, so we stayed at the Hyatt Place in Chesepeake, VA, until Sunday morning. It was a great place. Each room has a 42" plasma with inputs for computer monitor, external DVD, you name it. The rooms were huge. I'd found a great deal on it, and my sister's brood had a room booked for Saturday night.

Everyone else drove down from Maine. My parents and aunt/uncle drove straight to Hatteras. My sister and her family had planned stops, as you can only drive so far with energetic 8 yo and 6 yo boys and a 14 month toddler. They visited a dinosaur museum near Hartford Friday and we met them at the Virginia Zoo on Saturday afternoon. They had been watching the zoo's various webcams for months and the boys could barely be contained. This was the boys first trip outside of Maine and New Hampshire and it was fun to see them take in things they'd never seen live, like lions, elephants, and fennec foxes. It reminded me of my family's first visit to a zoo when I was about their age. We went to the National Zoo in Washington, DC. After that as your first zoological experience, other places can't quite compare. The boys had a blast and took tons of pictures.

After the zoo, we headed to a restaurant near our hotel for an early dinner. After dinner they all got dressed to use the hotel pool, only to have it be closed just as they got there. Someone got sick in the pool and we decided to skip it, despite it being "cleaned" and reopened a few hours later.

I had some on-call work to do late Sat night/early Sunday morning. Between that, the 3 hour time difference, and incredibly uncomfortable sheets, neither Tara or I got much sleep. Around 6am or so, we decided to just get ready and head down to Hatteras. We grabbed breakfast at the free buffet in the hotel and headed out. For the record, my sister slept fine on the sheets, so we may just be overly picky.

It was a nice relaxing drive. There was very little traffic and the lush green scenery was a nice change from the dessert landscapes in Phoenix. We stopped at a few road-side vegetable stands and generally played tourist. Before we knew it, we hit the long bridge between the mainland and the outer banks. A few more hours, and we'd be down to Hatteras and vacation could officially start.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Goodwill Day 2

So of course the other ice cream maker ended up being at the one Goodwill store I swore it wasn't at. Literally the last one I checked and the only reason I checked was to prove to myself it WASN'T there. That show myself who's boss.

Well, we all know the answer to that is Tara, right?

At least I found the damn thing.

Goodwill Day

For today's activities, Tara and I decided to checkout the various Goodwill stores in the area since it was their 50% Sale Saturday. We've been going to them lately looking for some clothes for our upcoming trip to Hatteras, NC. Since Tara got laid-off a couple weeks ago, Goodwill has been a good option.

Last night I'd visited one store and found a couple nice coffee grinders (for grinding whole spices, as I don't actually drink coffee) and a small deep fryer (for doughnut research). I took note so I could visit today.

After another great lunch of dim sum at China Chan near MetroCenter Mall, we headed to the GW at 35th Ave/Northern. It was the southern-most GW on our original itinerary. We didn't find anything of interest, but did see a worker escort out some loser who had tried to shoplift something. From Goodwill. On 50% off day. They didn't call the cops, but warned him not to come back.

Next, we headed to the GW at 19th Ave/Thunderbird, the location of the appliances I had my eye on. Since it was early afternoon, they were long gone. There was a somewhat worse-for-wear lower-end model that I passed on. I did, however, get lucky when one of the workers came into the shorts section and hung up a nice pair of jean shorts exactly my size right in front of me. They barely settled on the rack before I grabbed them. I was happy now.

We hit the 35th Ave/Greenway and 19th Ave/Bell store but didn't find anything. At the 7th St/Union Hills, I bought some jeans and a pair of cargo shorts. From there, we hit Happy Valley but didn't find anything. At 40th St/Thunderbird I found a pyrex loaf pan, perfect for my current bread baking kick. 35th St/Greenway was another goose egg.

The Cactus/Cave Creek Rd store provided one of the deals of the day. While I was looking at jeans and shorts, Tara went into the electronics area. She came over to me bearing a new-looking KitchenAid coffee grinder. At only $4.50 after discount, I was very happy. It was better than the other two I'd seen, so I was quite psyched. I know, it's the little things.

As this was the last of the stores we knew off-hand, I looked at the map of locations I'd printed last night. There was a location at 7th St/Dunlap, just down Cave Creek Rd from where we were, so we headed down the mountain. That store proved to be a treasure trove for us. Two new-looking non-stick loaf pans, a pop-over pan that I saw and Tara had to have, and a Cuisinart ice cream maker. All for only $9.

As we waited to pay, I remembered I'd seen an identical ice cream maker that was missing the paddle at one of the other stores. It would be great for the spare freezer bowl. The problem was, I couldn't remember WHICH store. By this time it was nearly 8pm. We back-tracked to the four most recent stores but it wasn't any of them. It was now 8:50, so we decided to call it a night.

Grand total for it all: $25.
New retail cost of just the grinder and ice cream maker: $80.

That's math that I like.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Gram's Hot Cross Buns recipe

Growing up, the coming of Easter heralded the arrival of Gram's hot cross buns. She'd start making them in the weeks before Easter and drop a batch off at the house. These are my all-time favorite rolls. I loved the sweetness of the bread and especially the glaze that is drizzled over them. She usually added raisins, but would make at least one batch without as some of us didn't like them. Usually we'd just pick out the raisins after the plain buns vanished.

Once when I was young I helped Gram make them, but it was so long ago I only have vague memories. My Aunt who lives in Tucson mentioned that she'd made some this year, so I asked her for the recipe. This was the first thing I made after the dough hook arrived. They are pretty easy to make and they tasted almost exactly like I remember. Hot out of the oven with butter, they were amazing. They reheat very well in the microwave. I cut them in half and spread butter on top and bottom. Reassemble and nuke for 10-15 seconds. The bun gets warm and the butter melts. Not quite as good as fresh, but still quite yummy.

When I made them, I weighed the dough on my kitchen scales and divided them into balls of approximately equal size. I spread my rolls out so they weren't touching on the sheet pan, but you can put them right next to each other if you wish. I got just under two dozen rolls out of this recipe.

Hot Cross Buns

1 package yeast (I used Active Dry)
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar

Scald milk, let cool to lukewarm (~115 or so) and then dissolve yeast and sugar in milk.


1 1/2 cups flour to make spongy mixture: beat until smooth, cover let rise about 1 hour.

Cream together and add to mixture:

1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1 egg


2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Raisins (optional)

Knead and let rise until double. Shape into balls, place on greased cookie sheet, and let rise again until double. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Frost while warm:

1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tablespoons warm water

Traditionally the rolls are frosted in perpendicular lines so that each bun has a cross on it. I prefer more frosting so I tend to cover them liberally. The frosting is somewhat trial and error to get the right consistency for this. If you want a lot of frosting, double the amount. My Aunt uses milk in the frosting instead of water, but I haven’t tried it that way yet.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Weekend Baking - Basic Bread

Ever since I got the new KitchenAid, I've wanted to make bread. My old KA struggled with the pretzel dough I made a few months ago, so I was afraid to push it with heavier bread doughs. Since the new KA was a demo model, it only came with the whisk attachment. I ordered the paddle shortly after I got the mixer, but only recently did I get the dough hook.

For my first attempt at bread, read through the various lessons at The Fresh Loaf, a web site for amateur bakers and artisan bread enthusiasts I'd stumbled across a while back. Their first lesson includes a basic recipe. They use this as the starting point and later lessons explain how various added ingredients affect your bread. My last foray into bread making involved a bread machine, so I didn't mind starting from square one.

I stuck with the recipe except for increasing the oven to 400 degrees instead of 375. I'd read through the other lessons and one method for crustier loaf is to increase the temp. The loaf came our pretty good. It was very dense and crusty. Not the greatest loaf ever, but good for a starter loaf. As you can see from the picture, it didn't look half bad either. Tara and I made fairly short work of the loaf.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Maxim Restaurant - Phoenix

In what has become somewhat of a tradition, with Tara out of town on a quick trip home to Minnesota, I decided to get some Vietnamese food for lunch on Saturday. Usually this means Davang or Avina's, but I decided to branch out once again, despite my Scorcese-dialogued lunch the last time. I'd seen Maxim Restaurant mentioned on Chowhound and there was a very positive review in the Republic last week, so I decided to give it a try.

Maxim is located just north of the Osborne/19th Ave intersection in a tiny and somewhat rundown strip mall. They are literally just down the road from Town Talk II BBQ. They were moderately busy for a late Saturday lunch and the friendly staff waved me to an open table and dropped off a menu.

The menu is a mix of Chinese and Vietnamese dishes, with the majority on the Vietnamese side of things. All the staples were there, except for banh mi. I spent so much time looking over the menu a waitress came over and asked if I needed any help with the menu. Very unusual for most Vietnamese places I've been to. I explained that I was just having a hard time narrowing things down. I finally decided on fried shrimp and pork egg rolls, fresh shrimp spring rolls, pho tai soup and a Pepsi.

The spring rolls came out a few minutes later and at first I though they were pre-made. After taking a bite and tasting the still-warm noodles, I realized it was just the thick rice paper that had given me that impression. They were very good and the peanut sauce they came with was as well. I made short work of them.

Next the plate of sprouts, herbs, and lemon wedge to dress my pho was dropped off. Shortly after that my egg rolls came. They were fried to a beautiful golden brown and very hot. I let them cool down for a bit before I tried them. They were excellent. Marginally larger than usual, they were dense and seemed to have some extra ingredients. Dipped into the nuac mam, they were perfect. I've loved the Vietnamese version of fried egg rolls ever since I first tried them back in my later college years. I love that they are mostly meat with a few veggies sparsely mixed in. I think there were some sort of mushroom in these as well. I would have been content with about a dozen of these for my whole lunch.

The bowl of pho followed a few minutes after I scarfed down the last remnants of the egg rolls. It came in a large ceramic bowl instead of the usual generic plastic ones. The thinly sliced pieces of rare beef were mostly cooked, so I separated them and pushed them into the soup to finish cooking. The broth was very rich and I was enjoying it on it's own. Another one of the owners came over and explained that there hot sauce and hoisin sauce on the table were to season the soup to taste. Again, this has never happened before. I thanked him and proceeded to douse my pho liberally with the hoisin. It was funny how my actions were being misread as ignorance as opposed to just taking my time or enjoying things on their own first. I figure most white boys who go there must be really clueless. I added some lemon (although I missed the ususal lime) and some herbs and mixed it all well. The pho was very good and I enjoyed it as much as the other items. Once I'd eaten as much of it as I could, I went to the counter to pay.

And then the weirdness happened.

As I was paying, one of the guys sitting at the table closest to the counter, which consisted of owners/waitstaff from what I could deduce, got up and came over to the counter.

"You have a very nice face," he said. I blinked several times and said, "Um, thanks?"
"No, it's got a very nice shape." he continued. Again, I was a bit nonplussed.
"Very friendly. you look very familar. We were all talking about how much it reminds us of him," he said, pointing to a nearby image of Buddha.
I smiled. "And I've got his body as well, so it's a two-for-one," I said. They all laughed.

Buddha. Really. Usually the diety I'm associated with is from a much hotter climate, so this was a nice change.

Although I did get my clothes ready to head back to the gym tomorrow. I'm taking that as a sign from, well, SOMEONE, that it's time to hit the cardio again.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Shish Kebab House has FINALLY opened their new location!

(Pardon the picture quality. Low-light and the camera on my BlackBerry don't mix well.)

I decided to drive by Shish's new location today and they had the Grand Opening sign up and the Open sign lit. I went in and ordered a small hummus to go for Tara, as she was enjoying a rest day at home. I talked to the owner and he said they've been open four or five weeks now. The menu is the same as it was at their old location and from what I can tell prices are the same as well.

The new interior looks really nice. It's definitely different than the old location. Only the table and chairs are the same. I was there at about 5pm and there were three or four groups and more arrived while I waited. The hummus tasted the same as it used to, so that's a good sign. We'll probably go back in a few weeks for full meal.

One thing I did notice is there appear to be some waitstaff issues. They are obviously still training and the owner had some semi-harsh words to one of the waitresses while I was waiting. Service has been a recurring issue there for us, but we tend to overlook that because we like the food so much.

The new address is 5158 W. Olive Ave, Glendale, AZ 623-937-8757

Saturday, February 21, 2009

You serve customers with that mouth?

I like to swear. Despite my parents raising me to be a good boy, I can have quite the potty mouth. My grandfather was the real-life inspiration for the Old Man in "A Christmas Story". Well, not actually, but he certainly could have been the dialogue coach on the NC-17 version. If you'd ever heard him, you'd understand. As creative as I can be, I'm still in awe of some of his Richard Pryor/Eddie Murphy/Dennis Leary levels of cursing. We'd have to leave the area because we didn't want to start laughing in front of him.

Anyways, I know there are times to be polite and watch myself. There's a reason I ALWAYS stay on mute during conference calls. Once bitten and all that.

So today I decided to try a different place for Vietnamese food. Tara was off enjoying a girls' day out with some friends, so I was on my own. Traditionally, that means Vietnamese cuisine, her least favorite of my favorites. I decided to try Tudo Vietnamese Restaurant on the SW corner of Northern and 19th Ave.

There were only a couple of other parties when I arrived and I was told I could sit anywhere. The youngish girl who was hostess/waitress/front room person brought me a menu and took my drink order. It's a typical seen better days type of Vietnamese place. Half the space is tables, the other half has a large stage for either bands or karoke.

I ordered fried egg rolls and bun (a bowl of noodles, veggies, and meat) with grilled pork. A little later, my egg rolls came out. Very darkly fried, like the oil was too hot or dirty. They tasted good, though, and reminded me a bit of the ones I had at a Vietnamese friend's house once, only not quite as good. My bun came and had pieces of egg rolls as well as pork, so I thought they gave me the wrong thing. However, when filling up my water, the waitress said they added them since they knew I must like them. A nice touch, as I can eat egg rolls like that all day. The bun was good as well, but nothing special. Avina's and Davang have nothing to fear.

As I was nearly finished, the waitress answered a phone. She spoke in Vietnamese for a while and would shift to English too. She hung up. The phone rang again, picked it up, and she started nearly shouting "What the F&*K is his problem" into the phone, over and over. Eventually a "motherf***er" was thrown in for good measure. Mind you, she's standing behind the counter and CLEARLY audible throughout the restaurant. I was the only customer at that point, so the others missed Little Miss Gangsta Mouth's performance. An older gentleman wandered into the seating area from the kitchen with a bowl of noodles and sat down to eat, blissfully ignoring the girl's tirade.

I can't imagine what would have happened if a group with kids had been in there. And I can't really recommend anyone with children go there. The food was ok, but that kind of extended blue streak isn't fit for a family restaurant. I won't be returning. Avina's always has good service and very friendly staff. Davang, well, it's typical competent but surly Vietnamese service, but at least they don't do this type of outburst.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bye Bye Bill's

My brother, who has only called me once EVER and that was a drunk dial a few weeks ago, called me around 7:30 last night. That's 9:30 in Maine, so I was somewhat worried. It didn't start off well. He said he had some really bad news. My stomach clenched, as all of my family is in our small town there. He asked a couple times if I was ready. I said yes.

"Bill's has closed."

While not quite as bad as a family member passing away, Bill's Sandwich Shop (or Bill's Pizza) in Yarmouth, ME, has been an icon for our family for over 30 years. My first memory of it was during a Sunday drive decades ago. I'm not sure if I was even 10 yet. We saw a small sandwich shop along the road and stopped in. All I remember is one of us ordered a crabmeat rolls and instead of the roll being in a hotdog bun, it was on a full-sized italian roll. Pure crabmeat, mayo, salt and pepper, lay atop some lettuce on the roll. And it was beyond over-stuffed. We are all in awe. It was like unwrapping a bar of gold. Trumpets sounded, a heavenly light shone, and all of us were awestruck. Picture Ralphie getting his air rifle for Christmas. From that day, Bill's was a frequent stop whenever we went drove by on the highway. We'd go out of our way to stop in if we were even remotely near Freeport. Dad would drive to Portland for something and he bring home a couple crabmeat rolls so we could share. No place we ever found had anything to compare with Bill's.

But their crabmeat roll wasn't all they had. My brother doesn't eat seafood and he'd always get a Zappa. Cappicola, cheese, and spicy hot mustard. Bill's was one of those shops that has dozens of custom subs with wacky names. I don't know of any place like it in Phoenix or most places I've lived. During college, I'd ALWAYS grab a sandwich on my way by, be it coming or going. When college friends came up for the weekend with me, we'd stop in. To this day, some of them still ask about Bill's. My answer had always been the same: "They are still there and the crabmeat rolls are as good as ever."

Sadly, I now need a new answer.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Busy start of the year

We are in the process of moving to a new house, so this has been a busy month. Our landlords are letting their current home go into foreclosure and are moving back into this one since it's cheaper. Looking at new rentals, the whole application process, selling blood and gold fillings to come up with the earnest payment, security deposit, first month's rent, and packing has taken most of our time. The bright side is we have found a new place, it's only about a mile directly south as the vulture flies, and we move in next Monday. We have to come up with our own washer and dryer, but we're hoping my tax refund will be here by then so we can get one at a used appliance store not too far from here. One of our friends offered us a great deal on a floor model electric dryer he bought for his new home before he realized he needs a gas model, but even with the smoking deal he'd give us, it's still about double what we want to spend on the whole pair. We figure since it's a rental house, we just need some reliable used ones.

The new place is a few hundred square feet smaller, but we have a great room now that we only use for storage, so it's not a huge loss. The house is 4 or 5 years newer, so it should be more efficient and cheaper to heat/cool. The kitchen has a larger island and more cabinet room, but we lose our walk-in pantry. It's on a cul-de-sac and separated from busy Bell Road by a new condo development. The back yard is huge and has what looks like a sand volleyball court. We actually haven't seen the whole yard in daylight (it was full dark when we looked at the house) so that should be interesting. We really like our current place, but the new one is still nice.

At least we won't have to deal with the damn pig grunting and oinking across our current cul-de-sac. Just make it bacon already.