Log in

30 September 2016 @ 02:23 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: The only death that crossed my radar this time out was that of Shimon Peres. He served a couple of terms as Prime Minister of Israel, as well as holding several other prominent political jobs there, notably Foreign Minister. I’d say his most significant accomplishment was the peace treaty with Jordan. But he also deserves a lot of credit for Israel being as much of a technologically advanced nation as it is. He also wrote poetry, but I am loathe to list that as an accomplishment for any politician after having heard praise for Stalin’s poetry at his house museum in Georgia.

Baseball: The Red Sox clinched the American League East. Yay! I am also reasonably pleased that the Nationals won the National League East. As for the wild card slots, I’d kind of like to see Detroit pull things out and beat out Toronto, just because the Tigers have some appealing history.

Quarterly Movies: Well, make that "movie," singular. The only movie I saw over the past few months was Seven Psychopaths. I chose it because it was written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Like pretty much all of McDonagh’s work, it is weird and violent, but funny. At any rate, it held my attention.

The Quarterly Goal Update: I didn’t make much of an attempt over the past few months, largely because I’ve been so swamped at work. My email inbox at work is ridiculous – back up over 6000 items. The only other thing I’ve made any actual progress on is dealing with papers, having handled about 2/3 of what had migrated to the bedroom floor.

Speaking of Paperwork: I went to pay my county property tax bill for my car on-line. And I discovered that they had changed my address to some address in a town I’d never heard of that isn’t even in the same county. I called and got it changed back, but the point is that they should notify people when there is an address change so they can verify that they did it. (Apparently, someone did it by phone and the clerk typed in the wrong property number.) The whole thing was bizarre and the security implications are scary.

New Years Rosh Hashanah is Monday and Tuesday, so let me pass along my wishes for a happy, healthy 5777. I will also pass along wishes for a happy fiscal year 2017 for all of my friends who have some sort of U.S. government affiliations.

Two, two, two new years in one.
30 September 2016 @ 12:08 pm
Three new snacks, including one of the brand new superfood items.

Snack #1 – Veggie Caesar (new): This is a mixture of sour cream & onion half-popped corn kernels, cheddar bruschetta, and edamame beans. It’s 120 calories. It’s tasty and crunchy, which is about what one wants from a savory snack. The half-popped corn kernels are particularly good. Graze has definitely mastered the whole sour cream and onion flavor thing. The bruschetta are a bit on the large side relative to the other ingredients, but that isn’t a big deal. Overall, I was pleased with this snack and upgraded it from "try" to "like."

Snack #2 – Lightly Salted Popping Corn (repeat): This is a 130 calorie bag of microwave popcorn, which makes a good serving size. It took about a minute and a half to pop in my microwave. There’s not really much to say about it beyond that. It's not too bad as far as sodium, goes, by the way. It’s 200 mg, which is the same as a comparable amount of Newman’s Own (the best commercial microwave popcorn I’ve found) and a lot less than most of the other brands out there.

Snack #3 – Soy Roasted Seeds (repeat): This is a mixture of roasted sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds with soy sauce. It’s 200 calories and 90 mg of sodium. Its real nutritional virtues are Vitamin E and protein. I’ll characterize this as innocuous. There’s nothing wrong with it and it’s a perfectly fine thing to snack on, but it’s neither unusual nor exciting.

Snack #4 - Sweet Rhubarb Jam (repeat): This mix of rhubarb slices, dried apple pieces, and dried cranberries has 100 calories, almost all due to the 20 grams of sugars. It’s really quite tasty and one of the best sweet snacks they offer. Before I started doing Graze, I had never eaten rhubarb, so I count it as a real discovery. I also hadn’t really eaten dried cranberries, so it’s quite a revelation how much I like them.

Snack #5 – Malaysian Laksa (repeat): This is one of the better Graze broths, but at 140 calories the most caloric of those (though still not at all bad). It has a strong coconut flavor, with notable mushroom undertones. It comes with a side snack of chili and lime cashes and coconut flakes. There’s a bit too much coconut in that, but it does provide some nice crunch to go with the broth.

Snack #6 – Natural Energy Nuts (new): This is a 230 calories mix of nuts – raw almonds, blanched almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts. There’s not a lot to say about that, as these are just plain nuts, not even salted. That’s fine with me, though not to everyone’s taste, of course. It’s not very exciting, but it is filling and high in protein.

Snack #7 – Chia Coconut Cookie with Turmeric & Ginger Tea (new): This is one of Graze’s new superfoods snacks, so I was particularly excited to try it. The packet has two cookies and a teabag, with a calorie count of 120 and only 5 grams of sugar. The tea has turmeric, ginger, licorice, and rose petals and is fragrant, but fairly mild. I’d prefer somewhat more ginger, but that’s pretty much a general statement from me about life. As for the cookies, they taste very buttery, though there is obvious coconut flavor. They were good both on their own and dunked into the tea. Overall, I was impressed and I’m looking forward to trying more of Graze’s superfoods offerings.

Snack #8 – Peanut Butter & Jelly (repeat): This consists of salted peanuts, raspberry strings, and vanilla fudge. It’s 220 calories. It works best if you eat all of the components together. The raspberry strings are particularly good, assuming that one likes fruit leather type things.
26 September 2016 @ 02:58 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Bobby Breen was a child star of the late 1930’s and was one of the people depicted on the album cover of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Erwin Hahn was a physicist who was best known for his work on nuclear magnetic resonance. Jose Fernandez played baseball for the Miami Marlins, as well as having an inspirational personal story of his defection from Cuba. Arnold Palmer played golf and bears some responsibility for the particularly sickening non-alcoholic drink combining sweet iced tea and lemondade. Buckwheat Zydeco was a major figure in the Louisiana music scene. If you can listen to his music without dancing, you may be a zombie.

Non-celebrity Death Watch:Dunn Miller was a puzzle person. Her NPL nom was Loquacious. There’s an interesting obituary of her by Jon Carroll. I particularly recommend the last few paragraphs.

Naomi Feingold was one of my mother’s best friends. I thought they had been in school together, but her obituary says she was 4 years younger than Mom. She and her husband were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary by going on a safari in South Africa. Since she apparently died in Johannesburg, I hope they were on their way home and she got to see at least some of the grandeur of that beautiful country before her death.

Baseball: First, the Washington Nationals have clinched the National League East.

The Red Sox are 5 and a half games up on Toronto and their magic number is 2. They have been way hot lately, winning 11 straight games. I went to Thursday night’s game in Baltimore, which was very exciting. Orioles starter Chris Tillmnan only lasted 1 2/3 innings, giving up three runs. The O’s did tie it in the third, with a three-run homer by Trey Mancini, who just came up from the minors. But the Sox got a run in the fifth and Hanley Ramirez hit a homer in the 7th, so all was well.

By the way, I took the Marc train and stayed over. Because I was planning things last minute and there was some convention going on, the only nearby hotel I could get was the Holiday Inn Express at the Stadiums, which is marginally within walking distance. They do have a local shuttle, but it runs only hourly.

On the plus side, it is next to the Horseshoe Casino. I was hyper after the game, so not ready to go to sleep and that provided a way to kill an hour or so. I played a slot machine with a Big Bang Theory theme and won a little over a hundred bucks.

Used Bookstore Run: I did a used bookstore run this weekend. McKay’s took 27 of the 33 books I had brought in. I did use trade credit to come home with 14 new ones, including a Patrick Berry variety puzzle book. I was going to try bringing the rest to Reston Used Books, but there was some international festival going on by there and the normal parking was closed off. It was hardly worth it with so few, anyway. So I will hold on to those until a future run.
22 September 2016 @ 10:03 am
First, I had dinner recently with a cousin (one of the descendants of my great-grandfather’s brother). It was thoroughly delightful to meet her and talk about our family history. And about life in general.

Secondly, I’ve solved the SLANSKY mystery, via a google search, which turned up a Maryland court case. Sima SLANSKY was one of Mary LEHRMAN’s daughters, which explains why she was buried next to Mary. I hadn’t known about her, because she was mistakenly identified as Seymore in the 1920 census. What I found via google was the record of a bigamy case in Maryland. Jack SLANSKY married Sima LEHRMAN on 31 August 1940 in New York City and then married Juliet WARMACK in Hyattsville Maryland on 26 April 1946. He had actually gotten a divorce (against Sima’s will) in Reno, but the Maryland court said he had not legitimately established domicile in Nevada. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail. By the way, I also found further proof of who Sima was in the probate record for the will of Morris LEHRMAN, where Mary listed her two daughers, Sima and Athalia. It’s so nice to have a mystery solved, though there are always more. For example, why was Athalia also known as Timmy LEE? I also have reason to believe that Mary remarried after Morris died. So there is still more work to do on that branch.

Third, I combed through the 1910 census records for 24-26 Attorney Street, in hopes of finding the uncle that Chaim SCHWARTZBARD was going to. But there was not a single person with the first name Kalman and nobody with a last name that looked like LEWIDRA or ZEWIDRA or any SENIDRA or anything along those lines. But on Enoch Ber’s immigration record, he showed Chaim’s address as “c/o Jagoda” and there is a Meyer YAGODA at that address. That’s one of the jigsaw pieces that could be a bit of sky or a bit of ocean or could belong to a completely different puzzle.

Not news, but I really need to get all this much more organized.
19 September 2016 @ 03:01 pm
Yeah, nothing for days, then two posts in the same day. So it goes.

Celebrity Death Watch: Richard Whittington-Egan wrote true crime stories, including a couple of books about Jack the Ripper. Don Buchla was a major designer of electronic musical instruments. Antonio Mascarenhas Monteiro was the president of Cape Verde for about a decade. W. P. Kinsella was a Canadian writer, whose most significant work was the novel Shoeless Joe, which was adopted into the movie, Field of Dreams. Charmian Carr was best known for playing Leisl in the movie version of The Sound of Music, but you may also remember that she played Ella in the Sondheim TV musical Evening Primrose. Edward Albee was a playwright. It was seeing a production of The Zoo Story in high school that made me realize I could enjoy seeing plays which I had found unreadable. He was, apparently, not afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Baseball: The Red Sox swept the Source of All Evil in the Universe! Yay! Now they’ve got 4 games against the Orioles, which will be a big deal since they are currently 3 games up on the O’s in the AL East. I am thinking I might go to either Wednesday or Thursday night’s game, especially if I can stay over in Baltimore to make the commute issue less annoying.

Starbucks Protest: When I was walking from the metro to go to The Grapevine, I noticed a woman picketing the Starbucks across the street. She was carrying a large sign, with the word "Obey" on it. And the "O" was filled in with the Starbucks logo. Anybody have any idea what that was about?

The Grapevine: This storytelling series at Busboys & Poets in Takoma started up again on Wednesday night. This month’s featured tellers were Heather Forest from New York and Chelise Fox, who is, apparently, local, despite my not having heard her before. There were also the usual open mike tellers, one of whom (Dominique) was a first timer and quite good. Chelise had a fine and complex tale about a contest between wit and luck for the success of a man. Heather’s stories were mostly ones I had heard her tell before, e.g. "The Squire’s Bride." Her most powerful piece was a personal one at the end of the program, about the deaths of her mother and father-in-law. Her telling, enhanced with music, is good, but I do bristle whenever I hear someone use the word "shero." I understand why one might not want to use "heroine," but, surely, there is some better word that doesn’t rely on a completely mistaken etymology?

Better Said Than Done: Finally, regarding my own storytelling, I was part of Saturday night’s Better Said Than Done benefit at the Walker Nature Center in Reston. My story was pretty marginally related to the theme, which was Wild Life, though I did have Barbie attacked by a (stuffed) tiger. Overall, my story went reasonably well, though the ending could have been tighter. Given how all over the map the material was on Monday, I think I did a reasonable job pulling it together. I should also mention that, for me, the highlight of the evening was Catherine’s story about the woes of being on a condo board that was trying to solve a problem with goose poop in their lake.

Travel Re-Planning: I was going to go to Laos in January, but decided that I want to take a longer trip than I could get away with then. Fortunately, Alaska Air makes it reasonably easy to cancel award tickets. You get your miles back pretty much right away, though it can take a bit longer to get your credit card company to refund your taxes.

I do, however, still want to avoid being here doing inauguration week. And I know that, what with Martin Luther King’s birthday being that Monday (which we don’t get as a holiday, but our government counterparts do), it will be a slow week at the office, making it an uncontroversial time to get away. I’ve got plenty of ideas for places to go, some of them odder than others. It will probably come down to where I can get a good fare to, as that can actually be a decent time for paid tickets.
19 September 2016 @ 08:53 am
There is storytelling stuff to write about and genealogy stuff to write about and life in general to write about, but, first, let's talk about snacks! This Graze box was another one of mostly repeats, but one has to expect that.

Snack #1 – Caramel Apple (repeat): At 80 calories (and 26 grams of sugar) this is a not too damaging sweet snack. The caramel sauce is really extraordinary, with flavor beyond just sweetness. I do prefer fresh apples to dried apple slices, but I also understand that isn’t realistic for a mail order snack subscription. At any rate, I do think this is a good offering. Dare I admit to licking the remaining sauce out of the container after dipping the apple slices?

Snack #2 – Chinese Shiitake (repeat): This soup is really more of a meal than a snack, even though it is only 90 calories. It has a mild broth, with shiitake mushroom slides, corn, and rice noodles. You put the noodles and vegetables in a cup, along with the paste for the broth, and add hot water. I think this is one of the better soup offerings from Graze, not least because it is both filling and not too salty. It’s the sort of thing that’s nice to have on hand for times when I had a breakfast meeting and am not super hungry at lunchtime, but know I will want something to get me through the afternoon.

Snack #3 – Herby Bread Basket (repeat): This 90 calorie snack has mini basil breadsticks, oregano rice crackers, and garlic crostini. The herbal flavors (both basil and oregano) are strong. I think the oregano rice crackers are the best part of this, while the garlic crostini are pretty ordinary. Overall, it’s a good savory snack, with lots of crunch and flavor.

Snack #4 - Cocoa & Vanilla Protein Flapjack (repeat): If you’ve read any of these snack reviews before, you know about Graze flapjacks, which are soft, rolled oat granola bars. This one has subtle cocoa flavor, which is always a good thing. There are 250 calories, which is not so great, but that does include 9 grams of protein, from a mixture of sunflower seeds, flaxseed, and soy. So, overall, I think the nutritional profile is no worse than any other granola bar. And it more filling than many other things of this ilk. I admit I like some of the other flapjack flavors better, but this is still good.

Snack #5 – Creamy Ranch Kern Pops (new): These are partially popped corn kernels, with a sour cream and onion seasoning. They’re 150 calories according to the container, but the web site says they’re 140. That discrepancy isn’t going to kill me. Anyway, the texture of these is more like corn nuts than like popcorn, which is fine with me. I liked the seasoning, too, which was subtle but did have a definite sour cream tang. Overall, I was surprised by how much I liked this snack and was glad for the portion control, because it’s the sort of thing I could see myself mindlessly snacking on cup after cup of.

Snack #6 – Garden of England (repeat): This fruit snack has 80 calories and consists of soft apple pieces, mini strawberries, and black currants. This is my favorite (so far) of Graze’s dried fruit snacks, largely because of those tiny little strawberries. I also like the balance, with the tartness of the black currants offsetting the sweetness of the apple and strawberries. Delicious.

Snack #7 – Vietnamese Pho (repeat): This is not really very pho-like, but it is a decent afternoon pick-me-up if you ignore that, particularly since it is only 60 calories. It’s a little on the spicy side, which is okay with me. I found that the star anise dominated the flavor profile, but it could just be that it’s a flavor I am particularly sensitive to. There are sesame seeds, which are pretty much overwhelmed by the broth flavor, along with shiitake mushrooms, which give a bit of meatiness, but are a bit too chewy. The rice noodles are in smaller pieces than I’d prefer, since part of the pleasure of Asian noodles is that it’s socially acceptable to slurp them. Overall, this is okay, as long as you don’t think of it as actual pho. (If you do want actual pho, by the way, and you are in Crystal City, there is a good Vietnamese food truck that comes on Thursday.)

Snack #8 – Cinnamon Pretzel (new): The name of this is slightly misleading, as it consists of poppyseed pretzels and caramelized honey and cinnamon almonds. So the pretzels themselves don’t have cinnamon. It’s 140 calories. The pretzels are fine, as pretzels go, but it’s the cinnamon and honey almonds that are the real star of this. I like glazed nuts, in general, and when there is cinnamon in the glaze, it’s all the better.

Overall, I’ve continued to be pleased with the variety of snacks I get from Graze. They’ve added a bunch of new snacks recently, with a focus on superfoods (stuff like chia and acai and green tea), so I am looking forward to trying some of those.
13 September 2016 @ 03:45 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: This was a bad time for transgender performers, with the deaths of both The Lady Chablis and Alexis Arquette. Other notable deaths are of children’s book author Anna Dewdney, electronics retailer and embezzler "Crazy Eddue" Antar, and ska musician, Prince Buster, who has now gone "One Step Beyond."

Embassy of Costa Rica: My alumni association had a dinner and talk at the embassy of Costa Rica on Thursday night. I was tired and grumpy, so not very enthusiastic about it. It did, however, turn out to be a nice evening. The ambassador, who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, talked about how he went from science to politics, as well as discussing the direction Costa Rica is taking, both in terms of economics and environment. I had no idea, for example, that their biggest export is medical devices. While the drink selection was unimpressive (and not specific to Costa Rica), the food was very good, especially a tasty cold salmon dish. I left feeling livelier than I had on the way there.

On Republican Turf: I went to a (work-related) breakfast at the Capitol Hill Club on Friday morning. This is, essentially, the national Republican frat house. What I found interesting is a sign of how times have changed. I am beyond the age of need for such things, but the ladies’ room offered free tampons and pads. I cannot imagine that would have been the case just a few years ago.

High School Reunion: My 40th high school reunion was Saturday night. It turned out to be cheaper (and, of course, infinitely lower in stress) to fly up to JFK. I’ve just started flying Jet Blue this year and, so far, I’ve been really impressed with their service. Their boarding process is mildly annoying, but their seats are reasonably sized and they serve okay snacks on short flights. I rented a car from Payless, which shares space with Avis. They were fairly inefficient, but it wasn’t too long a wait before I was able to drive off in a Kia Soul, which would not have been my first choice of a vehicle. On the plus side, I’ve now ruled out yet another potential replacement for my beloved Saturn.

I briefly checked out the Resorts World Casino in Queens, but they didn’t have anything much that I wanted to play. Then I drove out to Long Island. I was staying at the Homewood Suites in Carle Place and, when I arrived, I went to hang up my dress for the evening. Except, oops, I had, um, forgotten to pack it! I distinctly remember taking it out of the closet and draping it over the back of the sofa, ready to pack. Apparently, I must have gotten distracted along the way. (This is why I make checklists to pack for actual vacations.) I had planned on an afternoon nap, but had to make an emergency shopping trip instead. Fortunately, there is a Dress Barn just a couple of blocks from the hotel. I picked out 4 dresses to try on. The first one would have been acceptable. The second one just didn’t work at all. When I tried on the third one – bingo! It was exactly what I wanted, with an interesting neckline and a lovely lace inset in the back. I didn’t even bother to try on the fourth dress. The price was reasonable and nobody would have known about the fiasco had I not told the story. I just think it’s funny that I can remember part of the lyrics to our class song, but can’t manage to remember something like this.

As for the reunion itself, it was lovely. There were, alas, several people I’d have loved to see who weren’t there, but it was great to see those who were. I do admit to sometimes finding myself wondering if I ever knew certain people, but our class was over 400 people and one tended to know only those who shared the same classes and activities. I’d say that, for the most part, people seem happy and successful, though we are at an age where a lot of people are coping with aging or dying parents. Kids grown up, going to college, getting married. A lot of people have found themselves with the resources to do things they always wanted to do but didn’t think they’d be able to – myself included.

Later in the evening, they put on music for dancing. The only problem with that is that the music was very loud – too loud for carrying on a conversation without shouting. We are, after all, middle-aged. Though surprisingly few people look it. I think all the balding men and the wrinkled women just decided to stay home.

Baseball: Because I don’t have enough stress in my life, the Red Sox are being exciting. They’re in first, but there are various birds (Blue Jays and Orioles) within swooping distance.
06 September 2016 @ 01:16 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Joyce Carol Thomas wrote over 30 children’s books. Aboud Jumbe was the President of Zanzibar from 1872-1984. S. R. Nathan was the President of Singapore from 1999-2011. Choo-Choo Coleman played for the Mets in the 1960’s. Oddly enough, actor Marvin Kaplan, who also died recently, voiced a character named Choo-Choo in the Top Cat cartoons. This might not be a good time to ride on trains, lest there be other choo-choo demises.

Jack Riley played Elliot Carlin, the neurotic patient on The Bob Newhart Show. Irving Fields played piano and wrote such lounge music as "Managua, Nicaragua," as well as recording Jewish comedy songs. Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis was a Shoah survivor who went on to found Hineni, a major center for bringing people back to their Jewish heritage. John McLaughlin hosted a political talk show. Joe Sutter was the chief designer of the Boeing 747. Doris McLemore was the last fluent speaker of the Wichita language. Fred Hellerman had been the last surviving original member of The Weavers.

Bigger news, of course, is the death of Gene Wilder. Most of the news stories highlighted his performance as Willy Wonka, but I think his best work was for Mel Brooks, in The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein. He had a distinctive comic style, which I sometimes found a bit too manic for my tastes, but was often genuinely funny. I am, by the way, rather peeved about people saying that now he is reunited with Gilda Radner. He had been married twice before her and, more significantly, remarried after her death. Karen Boyer was with him for the last 20-something years, including caring for him after he was stricken with Alzheimer’s. It is pretty offensive to ignore that.

In the world of politics, Islam Karimov was the "president" (really dictator) of Uzbekistan. I have a particular fascination with Central Asia, with Samarkand and Bukhara high on the list of places I want to visit, so it will be interesting to see what happens there now that he is dead.

Finally, Phyllis Schlafly was a conservative activist. One is not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I will make an exception in her case to point out her hypocrisy in opposing women’s rights while working as lawyer herself. The thing I think is most memorable about her is her fictional debate with Joanie Caucus in the Doonesbury comic strip. I consider that a reason not to wear salmon. (Aside from, of course, the fact that I look terrible in salmon.) Anyway, she was pretty much opposed to everything I believe in, so I wish her politics vanished with her. But I have little hope of that.

A Political Mini-Rant: I am mildly annoyed to see t-shirts and such that advertise the Democratic candidate as Hillary, vs. Clinton (or, preferably, using her full name). It seems to me disrespectful to call a woman by her first name, while a male candidate is referred to by his surname. I do realize that part of the advertising is to distinguish her from Bill, but that sort of distinction wasn’t really used in the case of the younger Bush.

Cirque du Soleil – Kurios: I went to see the current Cirque du Soleil show at Tyson’s Corner with a couple of friends on Friday night. Kurios has a definite steampunk aesthetic in its design of sets and costumes, with the usual exquisite attention to details that Cirque is known for. That makes it more than just the incredible acrobatics, though the circus skills are decidedly impressive. For example, the guy who balances on a board stacked on balls and cylinders, including a bit on a moving swing, was very impressive. And the trampoline group was breathtaking. More surprisingly, the contortionists were showy without being creepy. The only act I didn’t particularly care for was a mime act in which a woman from the audience was pulled on stage to sit on a sofa while the mime acted out various animals. All in all it was an excellent show. I did wish I had realized how close the tent was to the metro station, as I could have saved myself $25 in parking.

Jelly’s Last Jam: Saturday I saw Jelly’s Last Jam at Signature Theatre. It was rather different from what I was expecting. I assumed it would be more or less a jukebox musical, highlighting Jelly Roll Morton’s songs. While it did have several of his songs, the show was much darker, focused on his own ambiguity about race, with his claims to have been a Creole and not an African-American, leading to his racist behavior towards people who should have been his friends and supporters. That gave the show a lot more depth and I thought it was well worth seeing. I also want to note the performance of Mark Meadows in the title role. He is known as a jazz musician and, while he had not acted previously, I thought he was convincingly expressive. I was also impressed by Felicia Boswell as Anita. I was less impressed with my seat, which was in the nightclub section on the floor, making it awkward to see some of the action.

My Birthday: I made it to 58. I didn’t really do anything to celebrate my birthday. Well, I did go to knitting group, avoid housework for the day (after being fairly productive at home on Saturday), and eat chocolate lava cake for dessert.
06 September 2016 @ 09:56 am
I have other things to write about, but I don't really want to fall behind on these. So the rest will wait until a bit later, possibly even later today.

I'm now at the point where I am getting mostly repeats. So I am noting for each snack whether it is a repeat or a new one.

Snack #1 – Twist of Black Pepper Popping Corn (repeat): Microwave popcorn is a good filling snack. In this case, I had a meeting that was going to delay dinner, so wanted something fairly substantial. This is a small bag as popcorn goes, making it 130 calories. And, assuming one likes pepper, it is tastier than plain popcorn.

Snack #2 – Peachy Orchard (repeat): The previous time I got this was before I discovered the trick of making sure I ate bites of the various components of snacks with dried fruit together, rather than separately. That makes a big difference, as the chewiness of the dried pear is offset more by the tartness of the rhubarb and the sweet intensity of the peach fruit drops. The biggest downside of this is that, while this is just 110 calories, it is high in sugar at 20 grams. That’s okay once in a while but not frequently.

Snack #3 – The Cheese Board (new): This consists of cheese-flavored cashews, cheddar cheese bruschetta, and baked herb bites. It has 120 calories. The cheese flavoring on the cashews is mild, but the bruschetta do have a stronger flavor. The herb crackers were my favorite part of this, but there were only a few of them. Overall, I thought this was just average as savory snacks go, but then I am not a big cheese eater.

Snack #4 – Thai Tom Yum (repeat) Despite being only 50 calories, this soup is surprisingly filling and made a reasonable lunch substitute on a day when I knew lunch would be delayed. The dominant flavors are tamarind and citrus (lime leaves, lime juice, lemongrass). It’s slightly spicy but not unbearably hot. Rice noodles and zucchini slices give this a bit of substance, which is helpful, since I think just broth would be unsatisfying.

Snack #5 – Chocolate Cherry Protein Granola Topper (repeat): Sprinkled on yogurt (in this case, tangy plain yogurt from the Mennonite farmers at our local farmer’s market), this provides lots of crunch and an interesting flavor. It’s 150 calories. I’d prefer there to be more cherries, since the cocoa granola dominates the flavor. (There are also chopped hazelnuts and soy protein crisps.) Of the protein granola toppers I’ve gotten so far, this is my favorite.

Snack #6 – Pumpkin Spice Flapjack (repeat): Ah, Graze flapjacks, how I love thee. This is probably my least favorite of the ones I’ve tried, which still makes it better than 95% of the soft granola bars out there. It’s 230 calories, but it is filling and tasty, with dates and golden syrup, along with the sweet spices.

Snack #7 – Strawberry Chocolate Cheesecake (new): This is a deconstructed snack which contains cranberries, miniature cocoa cookies, strawberry fruit drops, and miniature vanilla marshmallows. It’s allegedly 120 calories, which is impressive for this sort of thing. I can’t say it really tastes much like cheesecake, but it is pretty tasty. The strawberry drops are particularly delicious.

Snack #8 – New York Everything Bagel (repeat): Graze describes these as poppy seed onion sesame sticks. I describe them as delicious. This is one of my favorite savory snacks of all time. It really does taste like an everything bagel, though, of course, the texture is crunchy and not chewy. It’s well worth the 150 calories. I appreciate the portion control because I could easily see myself mindlessly munching on an entire large bag of these.
02 September 2016 @ 04:08 pm
Last weekend, I went to Pittsburgh (aka YinzBurgh, after the local form of the second person plural) for the weekend to go to (part of) LoserFest, a gathering of Losers, i.e. Style Invitational devotees and hanges-on. I’m too busy at work right now to have taken time off, so I flew up in time to make it to Friday night dinner and subsequent events.

That Friday night dinner was at Vue 412, which we got to by riding the Duquesne Incline. I am not exactly sure what makes this an incline (i.e. an inclined-plane cable car railroad, versus a funicular. At any rate, it provided a good view, as well as being a somewhat obligatory tourist experience.

As for the restaurant, the view and the food were both excellent. The service was a bit iffier, with the waiter having to double check with me on my drink order since he couldn’t read his own handwriting. They were kind enough to agree to separate checks, but it took them a long time to sort them out. I am sure this is less of an issue with smaller groups on quieter nights.

We returned to the hotel and spent some time playing Cards Against Humanity before calling it a night. I understand why my normal games group won’t play this. But the Losers are a rowdy and shameless bunch, so it worked.

The first activity of the morning was glass blowing at Gallery G Glass. Gary Guydosh and his wife, Erica, led each of us through making an object of our choice. I went for a paperweight, largely on the grounds that it would be the easiest thing to pack for the trip home. The actual process was fairly straightforward, mostly involving turning a glob of hot glass on the end of a rod and manipulating it with a few tools. I think everyone had fun and was pleased with their results. I know I was.

We went back to the hotel where I tried to nap a bit before we headed out to lunch at Tessaro’s in Bloomfield, an old Italian neighborhood. The food was pretty good and the service was both friendly and reasonably efficient. They have murals on the wall which depict people who work there and members of the owner’s family, which made for a fun atmosphere.

Next stop was the Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning. This is a landmark at the University of Pittsburgh and is certainly one of the most unusual university buildings I’ve seen. The Nationality Rooms represent various communities with significant populations living in Pittsburgh and are paid for and designed by those ethnic communities. We took a guided tour, which let us see several (but nowhere near all) of them. As I have said before, I am a big fan of docent tours and this was another good example. Wandering around on my own, I would not have even realized that most of the rooms are used as working classrooms. There are also rooms you can’t enter unless you are on a guided tour. For example, the Early American room has a hidden staircase to an upstairs room, used for hiding suspected witches. Some of the other rooms we visited were the Ukrainian, Turkish, Israel Heritage, African Heritage, Indian, and Austrian.

Then we went on a duck boat tour. Because of the heat and sun, I chose to sit on the inside part, which may have been a mistake since the roof covering limited the views. (Yes, this was a canvasback duck. I will spare you more fowl puns, though our guide did not.) Anyway, the whole thing was about what I expected – some famous buildings and statues, followed by a short cruise in the Allegheny River. A few people got to drive the duck boat, including the LoserFest Pope (i.e. organizer), Kyle. Overall, I thought this was not a great tour, but one has to do certain touristy things.

We went back to the hotel for a little while, mostly to freshen up and change clothes. The Saturday evening activities started with Second City’s comedy show, Free Speech: While Supplies Last. There were some funny bits, e.g. a black man being told he couldn’t drink from a certain fountain. When he objected, "what is this? The 1960’s" the answer was, "no, this is Flint, Michigan." Another notable bit had to do with the fact that tampons are taxed in most states while, say, Viagra is not. But, overall, I wished the show was more focused and I thought several of the sketches were somewhat longer than they needed to be.

From there, we walked over to Ten Penny for dinner. We had a private room and, fortunately, it had a door that closed, as the main restaurant was extremely loud. I had the last hoppy IPA I’ve experienced in my life. Worse was the pecan crusted mahi, which was overcooked and dry, though the peach amaretto butter that topped it was interesting. The wheatberry salad that came with it was okay, but nothing special. The service was just okay, too, but it is probably just my tetchiness about waiters auctioning off the dishes that was behind that opinion.

We walked back to the hotel, where we played Cards Against Humanity again. I had some rather good luck with what cards I got, so ended up scoring lots of awesome points.

The only official Sunday activity was brunch. Well, really more of a breakfast, since it was 9:30. Kyle distributed our glass from the previous day. Here is mine:

There was a generous buffet, meaning that I pretty much didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day. (I did eat some yogurt when I got home). There was also plenty of entertaining conversation.

All, in all, it was a good weekend excursion and I would certainly consider going to another LoserFest, assuming it worked with my schedule.