Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse

@Brian – I’m up to a streak of two now. W00t!

The Week

Beale Street Most weeks when I travel it’s either to somewhere I’ve been about a million times (Tampa), or some little podunk town in the middle of nowhere (Altus, OK). This week was a change – somewhere new and somewhere cool – Memphis, TN. I must confess Memphis is a place that held a little interest for me, but yet somewhere I don’t think I’d have sought out to go visit. Having been here, I can say I’m still not sure I’d go out of my way to come back, but I very much dug what I was able to see of the town.

IMG_0345 Memphis is of course famous for their barbecue, and I can attest there are BBQ joints a plenty here. I managed to stop by two, Rendezvous (which I’ll review below) and Corky’s. My trip to Corky’s was interesting mostly because of the fact that Matt Cain walked in than anything else (the food was good, but not up to the standard of Rendezvous, or even Famous Dave’s for that matter.

IMG_3463 Memphis is also famous for their blues, in particular on a part of Beale Street in downtown. This was the one thing I wish I was able to enjoy more of, but as I’ve said (and blogged) many times before, I just have a hard time going out and roaming around a town on my own. I forced myself to go to BB King’s to listen for a while, and I’m glad I did. Playing that night was Preston Shannon (and the Preston Shannon Band), and he put on a great, high energy show, even with the small crowd of a cold Tuesday night.

The highlight of the week was being able to see Ronda and Mark, friends from college who I’ve been able to keep up with thanks to the magic of Facebook. We went out to a churrascaria in downtown called Texas de Brazil (a chain). Food was good, conversation and friends were much better, though. The one part that did take a little adjusting to was listening to Ronda, who’s from Minnesota but has developed a full southern accent. She still has the same infectious laugh that she had in college, though. I had a fantastic time, even if it was my second dinner.

Yeah, that’s right – second dinner. One downside to having a smart phone of any variety is you start to depend on it, almost to the same degree you do your brain. If my iPhone doesn’t know it, then I don’t know it.[1] Any appointment that I need to remember, including outings with friends, I put into Outlook, which of course syncs with my iPhone. This time, though, I figured I’d just remember the fact that we had changed from Wednesday night to Thursday night. Big mistake. I went out to dinner at a nice little Italian place, went back to my room, changed into PJ’s and settled in for a relaxing night of reading my book. When I checked my email I got one from Ronda saying, “Sorry, we’re running late. We’re stuck in traffic.” Huh. Ok… So a quick change and I ran out the door to meat up with them for dinner. I think I’m still full from that night.

The Exercise

I don’t think eating BBQ counts as exercise, but if it did…

The Restaurant

IMG_3455 One trick I’ve learned is to ask my students where a good place to eat is; they usually steer me in the right direction. I of course asked where I should go get BBQ and without hesitation the consensus was Rendezvous. I knew I had to find good BBQ while I was out here, and while I won't be stringing a banner up and executing a carrier landing, I can safely say, "Mission Accomplished".

IMG_0342 The restaurant is two levels, with the downstairs seeming to be the more fun area. I settled in at the bar and was greeted by a friendly bartender who hooked me up with a Yuengling. I asked her if I should go for the ribs & shoulder or ribs & brisket and was told to go with the latter. She did not steer me wrong.

The brisket was out of this world juicy, tender and flavorful. As is normal, it was served on Texas toast (something I've never quite understood as I never eat the bread, but I'm just a Yankee so what do I know?) The ribs are "dry ribs", meaning they're not slathered in sauce before being sent out. They were incredibly tender (near melt in your mouth) with a nice crust of seasoning on top. The sauce (I went for the hot stuff) wasn't quite as hot as I was expecting, but it still brought a lot of flavor to the party. The slaw and beans that it was served with were both very good, but I didn't have much room for it with all the delicious BBQ in front of me.

Every now and then I'll find something that will ruin that particular item or cuisine for the rest of my life. This may have just ruined BBQ for me. Well, probably not - but pretty darn close.

The Travel Note

Drivers in different areas of the nation are, well, different. In Memphis it seems two basic concepts eludes everyone: claiming a left turn and merging at a yield sign.

Not once did I see someone (other than myself) roll out into an intersection while waiting to take a left. As Gallagher once told us, “Three cars go through on a yellow”. The only way that happens is if you go out and claim that left turn.

The other basic concept that was foreign to Memphians was using the lane that’s about to end to maintain speed and merge into traffic. The freeway entrance/exit by my hotel featured a line of cars stopped at the top of the exit ramp waiting for an opening, rather than maintaining speed and merging in.

The Five

With the holidays coming up, there’s a 99% chance this will be my last Friday Five of the year. I just don’t see me sitting down on Christmas day or New Year’s day to peck out a Friday Five. Maybe I’m wrong, but if you were going to make book on me not posting a Friday Five, I wouldn’t bet against me.

Upon looking back at my previous Fives this time of year, it seems I’ve developed a Christmas theme. If you know me at all, you know I’m all for tradition, so….

  1. Travelling full time makes it harder for me to realize when Christmas time is approaching. Because advertisers and start hawking their Christmas wares around October I wind up treating that much the same way I treat anyone on a city street – I just ignore it. With that said, though, I feel very fortunate to be able to be home for Christmas.
  2. My favorite Christmas movie by far is the original Miracle on 34th Street. If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to do so – in the original black & white[2].
  3. If you have any chance, watch the Christmas episode of The West Wing titled In Excelsis Deo. You won’t be disappointed. Bring Kleenex.
  4. Every year I keep talking about doing a Christmas movie marathon. Still hasn’t happened yet.
  5. Let’s be clear. There is no “war on Christmas”.

And with that, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. And thank you very much for reading my blog; one of my favorite four word phrases to hear are, “I read your blog”. Thanks.

[1] Well, my iPhone and Wikipedia.
[2] In deference to a particular reader who has a motherly themed blog, before television and movies were available in color they were available in shades of gray known, affectionately known as black & white.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Garlic Meatball Po’Boys

I made these up for a Super Bowl party years ago and they were a huge hit. I’ve done them up a few times since, and recently decided to do them up again, with pictures the whole way through. The process is very simple.

IMG_3433 Throw all the ingredients in a bowl. You may need a good butcher to find ground veal, though. (The beer is just for me, although you will need one for the recipe).

IMG_3435Make sure to chop everything up rather fine – mine wasn’t quite fine enough, but it worked out OK for the finished product. Inside of each is a small garlic clove (or a half of a big one).

IMG_3436Quick dredge in flower (hang on to the leftover to make the roux later).

IMG_3437Brown them well. (One beer for the recipe, one for me.)


Browned the meatballs, made the roux (just keep stirring, just keep stirring, just keep stirring, stirring, stirring), and in go the onions.


Add the beer and water and simmer until it thickens.


After it thickens and you add the parsley it looks a bit like this.


The finished product. We do them up in normal rolls rather than a full French loaf. We also skip the mayo, just adding on a good spicy mustard. Insider tip – rip out a lot of the bread leaving just a little left (and the outer crust, of course), which will make eating them a lot easier. Serve with either the Abita Amber or, my preference, Turbo Dog.

Very easy to do up – probably about 20 minutes of prep work, and then the rest is simmering, stirring, and drinking beer. And boy do they make great leftovers.[1]

The recipe:

[1] So much so that Karin asked me to double the recipe for next time just for the leftovers.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse

None needed! W00t!

The Week

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I get to go to all the exciting places. This week, it was Alexandria, LA. I’ll give you a moment to figure out where in the world it is.

On the plus side, if you’re a regular reader of my blog you know I lived in Louisiana in a past life.[1] While I would have preferred a larger town, being in Louisiana for an entire week eating Cajun/Creole food was a dream come true. I may have gained about 10 pounds this week, and each ounce of it was delicious.

Being that I was actually in Louisiana, I was also able to sample some of the “local delicacies”, in particular boudin and cracklins. Boudin is essentially sausage made from dirty rice – very tasty. Cracklins are pieces of pig skin fried – yeah, not so much; I’m glad I tried it, but never again.

The Exercise

So I was in Louisiana….

The Restaurant

Oh gosh – which one to pick. I think I have to go with Robbie G’s. I wish I would have taken a picture of the place, but I think I can paint you a good mental image: Picture a small little restaurant along the side of a freeway in Louisiana. It’s got a good 10 or so neon beer signs in the windows, making you think it might be a bar. The sign above it is an old Pepsi sign that’s been used for another restaurant but repurposed for use here – but the investment in updating it involved a thin coat of white paint and the word’s “Robbie G’s” spray painted on it. The outside paint job looks as though it should have been redone about 7 years ago. The restroom is around back, separate from the building. Inside it’s all cheap wooden tables and chairs, with peanut shells scattered everywhere. The place feels slightly dirty, almost to the point where you think twice about actually eating the food, while knowing the food is probably going to be awesome. The wait staff is all very friendly, and calls you “honey”. That’s Robbie G’s.

It’s also exactly what I wanted to find when I found out I was going to small tow Louisiana. My only regret was that I had BBQ for lunch and was still rather full from that experience. I went for the grilled snapper, which came out very well seasoned and grilled to perfection. It was served with coleslaw (very tasty), boiled potatoes (those are hard to screw up) and corn.

If you find yourself in Alexandria, LA….

The Travel Note

Only in small airports… There was an earlier flight available out of Alexandria. The flight departed at 5:05, and I got to the airport at 4:30. Just the fact that I was able to get on the flight was a minor miracle; in a larger airport they would have laughed me out of the place. The cherry on the sundae was when the printer failed, so the agent wasn’t able to print out my boarding pass. Because she didn’t have time to fix it, she went out to the gate, printed it from there, and met me at security and gave me my boarding pass there.

The Five

Let’s see if I can do five random things about Jersey

  1. The origin of my nickname is a rather boring story. When I first got to college (arriving from Jersey) I fell into a group of friends where there was another Chris. Since he was left-handed, and we were so creative, he became Lefty and I was Jersey.
  2. The story of how I met Karin is just as boring. Somewhere in the mess of 10,000 people you meet when you first get to college was Karin.
  3. Having said that, I knew I was going to marry her shortly after we met. We were at a party once and I looked across the room and something just clicked inside of me, “That’s the woman you’re going to marry.” About two years later…
  4. Contiguous 48 states I have yet to make it to: Wyoming, West Virginia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee and maybe Maine. I may have been to the last one as a kid but I can’t remember.
  5. I use my phone as an alarm, and I have to put it on the other side of the room just to make sure I’ll actually wake up when it goes off. On more than one occasion I’ve turned off my alarm without realizing it.

[1] I don’t actually believe in past lives.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse

I was working on Saturday and just didn’t get a chance the last two days.

The Week

I found myself in Tampa …. again. At some point I do start to wonder if it would just be easier to just get an apartment in certain cities. But on the upside I do have the city pretty well down, knowing where to go and where not to. On the flip side I find that I tend to get less adventurous when I’ve been to a city numerous times, as if I feel a need to visit the places I really enjoy, as if I’ll never be back again.

My luck at visiting people when I’m out there continues to be pretty terrible. As per usual I did get a chance to see Michael (although we didn’t make it over to the International Beer Garten). The surprise was the chance occurrence that Bill, who also travels full time for work, happened to be home. I’m always grateful for whatever opportunity I have to catch up with friends.

The biggest issue I had this week was insomnia which lasted a solid 3 days (Mon-Weds). I think a big part of it might be the previous week when I was in Vegas and then home (but still staying up until all hours of the night). The routine when I was battling insomnia was I’d fall asleep at about 10 and then wake up at 11:30p – and I mean wide awake, as if my body was saying, “Hey – there’s supposed to be a hand of Pai Gow in front of me.” Fortunately by about Thursday I was finally exhausted enough that I slept through the entire night.

The Exercise

All jokes aside, I think the biggest problem for me is knowing what it takes to lose the weight I had lost before, which is ironically turning out to be my biggest hurdle. I’ve been pretty well down that path before and remember how hard it can be at times. I also see Jumbo and Sheri and what they’ve been able to do, and the amount of willpower they’ve shown, and question if I have that type of determination.

Of course on the flip side I also remember how great I felt after a good workout, and how spectacular it was when people would say, “Hey, you’ve lost weight.” What I did find funny was they’d always say my face looked thinner, which makes me wonder how fat my face really is.

The Restaurant

Dinner with Bill brought us to Capital Grille, which is an upper range steakhouse chain. The place generally does a good job of exuding class, including a well apportioned bar with hardwood all over. The food, though, wasn’t quite as good as the surroundings. Their lobster bisque was very tasty, and their au gratin potatoes were also very nice, but the steak was good but not great. I’m glad that I can now say that I’ve been to one, but I don’t see myself walking back into one in the near future.

The Travel Note

I always find it interesting the different laws regarding alcohol sales that some places have, and often wonder about the logic behind them. For instance, when I was in Altus, OK I stopped by a liquor store to pick up a six pack for the room. I was a bit confused by the fact that there were no fridges in the place. Upon asking the clerk I was informed that because they sold beer stronger than 3.2% alcohol they weren’t allowed to sell cold beer. And while you can buy 3.2% beer at a normal convenience store or market they have to put it in a bag, but the liquor store doesn’t.

Seriously – who makes these laws?

The Five

With Christmas season approaching, I guess I should list off the top 5 things I want for Christmas.[1]

  1. A second tattoo. I’m currently working on this one, but if someone wants to fund it.
  2. Best Buy gift cards. Trust me, I’ll find something to spend it on there.
  3. A good bottle of whisky. In particular I’d love another bottle of the Laphroaig 10 cask strength.
  4. A smoker. Although I have to say I’m a tad torn on this one. Abram might be right in that it’s something I’d use about 5 times and then forget about.
  5. A wine cellar. Since plunking down the cash to get “free” shipping from we’ve found ourselves with a good amount of wine in the house. It’d be nice to store that somewhere other than the Harry Potter closet.

[1] This only includes things that are actually attainable. Sure it’d be nice to get a Lotus Elise but I don’t think anyone’s going to be buying me that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why BCS Has an Extra Letter

Once again college football season has flown by, and once again I feel like I’ve barely had a chance to watch any games. That feeling is of course despite spending nearly every available Saturday planted on my couch in front of my TV watching college football. But as the regular season winds down we start approaching the most unfulfilling time of year – Bowl Season.

Mind you, I’m not talking about games like the Humanitarian Bowl, which should feature Bowling Green vs Idaho. I love the smaller bowl games featuring teams consisting of players who know they’ll likely never make it to the NFL and thus leave it all on the field. It makes for great football.

No, the most unfulfilling part of the bowl season is the big bowl games, or more specifically the big bowl games we don’t get. Surely there will be a couple of great big bowl games, but the one that matters, the BCS Championship Game, will be contested by two teams selected by a couple of polls and a few computer algorithms.

Most any college football fan knows that the system of selecting a national champion is ludicrous. I can’t think of another college level (or even high school level) sport that operates in this fashion, selecting its top two teams based on a beauty pageant. But yet there are still far to many that defend this system, including some people that I otherwise respect.

When these BCS defenders make their arguments, they spread at least one, if not all, of the following three lies:

Lie Number 1: The BCS ensures that every game in the regular season matters.

This is probably the biggest lie of them all. This season is likely to be the biggest proof of how false this lie is. Barring something catastrophic, there will be 5 undefeated Division 1A[1] teams at the end of the regular season. When a one loss team gets snubbed from the championship game, the argument is simply, “Well, just win them all.” Five teams will have done exactly that – won them all.

Chances are, the two teams that will play in the championship game (Texas and the winner of the Florida/Alabama game) are the best two in the nation. But there’s really no way to judge that for sure without actually settling this on the field. And frankly I think TCU is probably the best team in the nation.

Although when confronted with the fact that a team can run the table and still be rejected, the defenders of the BCS move on to the corollary to the above lie, that the mid-majors (Boise St. and TCU this season) need to play a tougher schedule. That argument is also rife with misunderstandings.

First, mid-majors have a difficult time at best scheduling a top tier school. The top tier schools have nothing to gain by playing the likes of Boise St; just ask Oregon who went to Boise St. only to lose. A major school playing a mid-major is expected to win, so gains next to nothing if they do, and will drop precipitously in the rankings if they lose.

Second, there is one other undefeated team, Cincinnati, who is a member of a BCS conference. They’re not a member of one of the mid-major conferences looking to crash the party; they’re a member of one of the conferences chosen as worthy enough to be a part of the BCS. Yet despite this they’re going to be on the outside looking in.

Since the inception of the BCS, many teams have gone out in the regular season, won every game, and been denied any chance to play for the national title. How does “every game matter” if we’re going to turn away teams who win every game?

Lie number 2: Having a playoff system will cheapen the bowl system

This is the most laughable lie of the three. People making this argument seem to believe that if suddenly there’s a playoff system that we’ll realize that the GMAC Bowl doesn’t mean anything.

News flash: The bowls don’t mean anything! They’re exhibition games. They’re a reward for the team for having a winning season, a chance to play one last game, a chance for the school to potentially make a little money, and an excuse for students and alumni to (generally) leave for warmer climes for a few days.

Having a playoff system isn’t suddenly going to change this fact, or make people realize the fact that any other bowl besides the BCS Championship Game doesn’t mean a thing.

If you’re so concerned about preserving the bowls, then seed the 8 teams[2] across games in the top 7 bowls. Rotate it so every 7 years the bowl gets the national title game. Problem solved.

Lie number 3: The players need to study for finals

This is the most uneducated lie of the three. Division 1AA, Division 2, and Division 3, all of which feature little to no sports scholarships, all have playoff systems. These are the real student athletes, ones that attend their schools strictly to attend school. Yet they manage to find the time to study for and take finals. I think the kids that attend Division 1A schools can manage as well.

Truth: The reason the system exists is because of money

The BCS bowl games are big money makers. One of the rules about the BCS system is that the conferences that send teams to the bowl games share the money they make by attending the game. There are only 6 conferences that are official BCS Conferences, and thus are the only ones guaranteed to send at least one team each (if not more) to the 5 BCS bowl games. As a result, this is a guaranteed money maker for the conference every year. Outside conferences are allowed to send teams to the BCS bowl games only in certain scenarios; basically only if they are in the top 12, and even then there’s only one guaranteed slot.

The time has come for the NCAA to stand up and do what’s right for college football, and what’s right for all schools. It’s time to end the system that tells certain teams right from the beginning of the season, “Sorry, you don’t have a chance to win it all.” It’s time for a real playoff; a real championship.

[1] Sorry, I’m not bringing myself to call it the FBS.
[2] In my plan, all we need is the top 8 teams. 16 is nice, but a bit of overkill.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Friday Five

The Excuse

Well, I had intended to post on 20Nov, but had just returned home from PDC and didn’t even crack open my laptop. Then of course last week was a week off, and I’m generally terrible at posting when I’m at home.

The Weeks

As I mentioned above I spent last week at PDC in Los Angeles, CA. In case I haven’t mentioned this to you before, I hate Los Angeles. Loathe. I hate it…so much… I-it-it-flame-flames..on the side of my face…breathing…breathle-heaving breaths…heaving….

Alas, not every conference can be in Gold Coast, Australia. What is nice, though, is being able to see new technologies, old friends, and, since I was in LA, The Standard. But beyond that, it was yet another conference; a good conference, but still another conference.

That was just the beginning to a couple of busy weeks. Friday when I got home involved running around town and getting things ready for our somethingth-annual PreThanksgiving dinner, which was on Saturday[1]. If you’re new to the blog, PreThanksgiving dinner is a chance to celebrate the holiday season (and in particular Thanksgiving) with local friends and family before everyone goes running off to spend it with their real family. The event takes quite a bit of work, most of it done by Karin, who does all the shopping, and Abram, who’s the kitchen bitch. I just show up to get the glory. This year we had a record 15 people attend. If I do say so myself, I believe this was the best year food wise.

As I’m sure this is the way the Pilgrims and Indians would have celebrated Thanksgiving if they could have, Abram and I went to Vegas for a guys “weekend” on Monday-Wednesday. I can confirm that a good time was had by all, but my lawyer has advised me to say nothing else.

Thanksgiving day was a very traditional dinner – steaks, with a salad and twice backed potatoes. Friday saw a dinner over at Jumbo’s as his family was in town. It also happened to be the birthday of yours truly – yes, I’m now 37.

At this point I’m probably supposed to wax poetic about my approaching 40, but as of this moment the only thing that upsets me about turning 40 is the fact that my 30’s have been so fun. I’ve loved being 30, and I’m interested to see what 40 will bring in 3 short years.[2]

The Exercise

Conference week and vacation. Yeah, like that was going to happen.

The Restaurant

My friend Susan, a fellow MCT, and I are both foodies and we wanted to find a great restaurant to visit in Los Angeles. We settled upon Providence, which is in Mid Wilshire (for whatever that means). We decided to go with the tasting menu, which is a nine course meal complete with wine pairings. The entire experience was fantastic from start to finish.

We started off with an aperitif that was the essence of three different drinks, including a mojito and a gin and tonic; two of them were essentially solidified jello balls with a liquid center that just exploded in your mouth. From there the menu meandered around to different items, including sea urchin in a soft boiled egg, veal, and salmon (which I loved even though I generally can’t stand cooked salmon). In fact, come to think of it, I can’t think of anything outside of the cheese course that I didn’t like.

The wine selection was fantastic. Each wine was introduced before the associated course. My favorite description from the sommelier was the use of the word “funk” to describe the flavor one of the grapes used for the sparkling wine added to it. Gotta love a sommelier that’s willing to use the word “funk” to describe a wine.

If you’re in the area, and you’re willing to drop a good amount of coin for a fantastic dinner, you have to check this place out.

The Travel Note

For the last year and a half I’ve had a Samsonite roller bag that’s served me very well. Unfortunately, it’s served me too well; both handles on the zippers have broken off. This leaves me in the market for a roller bag that can be used as a carryon. If you have a recommendation, I’d love to hear it.

The Five

I’m in a great restaurant kind of mood, so here’s my five favorite restaurants broken down by type[3]:

  1. Favorite high-end restaurant: Providence. See above.
  2. Favorite non-standard restaurant: Elemental, Seattle, WA. You’re doing the tasting menu – you essentially have no choice. The place is tiny – it’s like you’re in someone’s dining room. But you’ll have a fantastic meal.
  3. Favorite neighborhood restaurant: Parkhouse Eatery, San Diego, CA. One of my favorite brunches in town, and a relatively affordable and delicious dinner. And in this case you are in fact in someone’s house; granted a converted house, but a house nonetheless.
  4. Favorite seafood restaurant: Oyster Catcher, Tampa, FL. I think I may have mentioned this place just a couple of times, but I do love this place.
  5. Favorite place to gorge on enough meat to be stalked by PETA: Churrascaria Plataforma, Manhattan, NY. If you’ve never done a Brazilian steakhouse, the basic concept is this: start with a huge buffet. Then when you’ve had your fill of that, flip that little red disk next to you to green and prepare to be bombarded with guys with skewers of all types of meat. Back to red to slow down and digest, then lather, rinse repeat. Of the few that I’ve been to, Churrascaria Plataforma is by far the best.

[1] I will get the couple of pictures I took up later.
[2] I reserve the right to change my mind in the future.
[3] Completely arbitrary types