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Friday, October 8, 2010

Retro Auto Museum: Russian Style


From the man who brought you the video on the Russian Museum Of Video Games comes this rather interesting viddy.

This is a tour of the Retro Auto Museum in Russia. Some of the cars are really interesting...they weren't all rip-offs of American or UK cars.Some were pretty unique and highly original.

If you have a few moments, take a look. If you have any interest in vintage autos, you'll like this viddy:

The coolest parts:  the limos.  And...making your own car.  Yeah.  Make your own car.

Of course, the baking pan steering wheel is pretty cool, too.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My new Bodum French Press coffee maker


I'm not a French Press neophyte.

I owned a French Press many, many years ago. But I then purchased a nice (and rather expensive) Cuisinart coffee maker. I figured "Heck, it's a good name, it works great. I'll love it much more than my dinky French Press."

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I used that coffee maker for about 6 months then gave up on it. It worked fine, but the coffee never tasted the same.

So last week, I converted back. I got a new French Press.

I just made my first cup about 10 minutes ago.  It's about 90% gone and I'm ready to make my second.

From the moment before I even took my first sip and just got a whiff of that cup of coffee, I thought: "God, this is how coffee should be."

So you can keep your expensive coffee brewers with their fancy timers and gold filters and promises of brewing a pot in 3 minutes (YIKES!).  I've got my press back, and I love it.

The one I got, though, is considerably smaller than my first (a sensible purchase, since I am really the only coffee drinker in the house) and at 12 ounces it's perfect for a decent-sized cup of coffee.  But I had no idea how much grounds to use.

So I, of course, went to that bottomless source of all information, help and guidance:  YouTube.

Not the Food Network, not Cooking.com, not even the venerable wikipedia.  Yeah, YouTube.

Just search "french press coffee" and you will be amazed...no, astounded...no...positively shocked and awed by how many people did videos on using the simple French Press.

But...that's the trick.  It's not really that simple.  The mechanism itself is a model of simplicity.  Everything else, though, has its requirements and guidelines:
  • The water temp should be between 195 and 200 degrees.  Water boils that 212, so a rolling boil is way too hot.  A serious simmer, probably not hot enough.
  • You want to use 1/4 cup of coffee for about every 10 ounces of water.
  • The coffee must be allowed to brew for 2-4 minutes.  Any less, you get coffee-flavored water; any more and you might as well chew on the wet grounds.
  • Once brewed, your cup of coffee is good for about 20 minutes.
  • The coffee must be "coarse ground", otherwise they'll clog the plunger's filter.  If you go to a coffee house, don't ask for "coarse ground", tell them it's for a French Press and they'll understand. Pre-ground coffee is asking for trouble and disappointment.
The best viddy I found for using the French Press was from Alton Brown:

The best part is that he cut through the conversion stuff (I don't do "grams"..."3 ounces", "1/4 cup", "3 pinches"...that I can understand).  He also explained how not to push the plunger down...very important.

So, what coffee did I use on my latest French Press maiden voyage?

Yum...just yum...

I was so excited about getting this thing, the first (and only) coffee I could think of was Mocha Java, and I remembered that Caribou had a pretty nice one.  So I got a pound, and it was...well...blissful.  Tasty, nice chocolately undertones, full-bodied, rich, high-octane flavor.

OK, enough typing.  Time to make another cup.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dinner: Fat Heads in North Olmsted, Ohio


After having a wonderful 7am to 5pm shift at work, I figured I needed a bit of a break. So, after running a few errands we decided on some dinner. Actually, we decided on some beer, but food would have been a welcome addition.

Hence...we wound up at Fat Heads.

Fat Heads in Cleveland sits in an old storefront in North Olmsted, Ohio. It used to be Danny Boys, an absolutely fantastic farm market until the local mega-grocery stores killed such local businesses. The building was turned into a micro-brewery/restaurant a couple of years ago and it's become quite a success story on the west side.

If you go to Fat Heads, you have to realize a few things:
  • They're a micro-brewery, so expect some great (or at least interesting) hand-crafted beers
  • They sell other beers, but don't expect to see Bud Light being offered
  • If you plan on eating, be prepared to eat a lot or take a doggie bag home
  • Expect to like the food which is pretty darn good.

Smoked chicken wings

If you ever get there, you should must absolutely have to try to smoked chicken wings. They are whole wings (not segmented) that have been smoked and coated with a seasoned dry rub. You can then get them in sauces from sweet to mild to fire-creating. I've had them about 6 times there, and every time they've been great:  moist, meaty, complex in flavor, and just plain finger-licking good.

(BTW, the beer next to the wings is their blueberry beer (look closely:  you can see the berries in the beer)...one of their "always available" brews).

We also had the French Onion soup (big thumbs up on this one, too) and the special soup of the day:  corn, chicken and sausage chowder (again...yummy).

My meal was the bbq pulled pork sandwich (something I seem always inclined to get, regardless of what other offerings the menu may have).

Sandwich big...sandwich good!
The sandwich (like most of their sandwiches) was big...as in "BIG".  The fresh potato chips it came with were...well...addictive.

I had a smoked porter with my dinner.  It was smoky (in both smell and taste), deep and delicious.  But I doubt I could drink more than 1 pint of it; it was good, but almost (I repeat: almost) overwhelming.  I probably should have started with a lighter beer first.

So if you ever get a chance to be in the Cleveland area, give it a shot.  Ah, I should also mention that they have another Fat Heads in Pittsburgh as well.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Anti Dennis Kucinich Yard Sign


While on my semi-regular bike ride this morning, I came across this rather interesting sign on someone's front lawn.

It doesn't take a poli-sci major to figure out the person who put up this sign is not a big Kucinich fan.  But for those who don't know much about Dennis Kucinich, you can read up on him here and I'll let you decide how accurate this sign is.

Now, I'm going on record as stating that I am ecstatic that this sign is up...primarily because of what it represents:  free speech.  And if you can't espouse your political views on your front lawn, then this country is getting into serious trouble.

But anyway....here's a viddy of the sign (narrated by yours truly):

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Today's battle: Julie Andrews vs. John Coltrane




OK, the title actually does make sense.

But this isn't some weird Celebrity Death Match, although I think I can assume from the look on Julie's face that she's thinking she's gonna get a serious whooping.

But...it's more a musical contest.

Julie Andrews (as I pray you all already know) was in "The Sound Of Music" and sang "My Favorite Things".

But...I'm guessing there are a few people who don't know that John Coltrane covered the song, too!

If you don't know who Coltrane is...I'm sorry...but...but...I can't even begin to cover the man's music. If the names Miles or Monk don't mean much to you, start here for a quick lesson.

I'm really posting these to see the incredible contrast these two versions have with each other.  Having said that, I can listen to either one all day.

Which do you prefer?  I hope you at least like one of them!

And after listening to the Coltrane cover, all I can think of is how absolutely horrible, un-listenable and formulaic most of today's popular music is (unless you want part of your brain to die, DON'T click on the last link).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chuao Chocolate Bar: Firecracker


While I was debating on the bike I was going to buy I spent some time walking around Wally World and wound up in the food aisle.  Of course, the best way to celebrate getting a new bike and starting on your new-found path to fitness is to buy yourself some chocolate.  And that's when I stumbled upon Chuao.

Walmart had 3 different chocolate bars and the packaging looked impressive:  a matte blue foil wrapper with silhouette cocoa pods.  It said "try this chocolate" to me...so I did.  But which one?

I settled on the oddest one I could find:  Firecracker.

As you can tell by the name, it's got something do to with pepper.  And so it does.  "Dark chocolate bar with chipotle, salt and popping candy".

Yeah...chocolate, salt and pepper and Pop Rocks (though not the official Pop Rocks).  Sounded way too gimmicky...which of course meant that I had to try it.

First off, the bar is not scored in the traditional way; it's instead molded on the front with the same cocoa bean silhouettes as on the package, so breaking off "a square" ain't gonna happen, but you can a decent "square"

So, I broke off a piece.  Already, I'm impressed.  Cheaper chocolate sometimes bends, but this stuff breaks quickly and cleanly.  Try remembering how your last Hershey bar bent in your hand and you'll probably get what I mean.

I popped the piece into my mouth.  Again, impressive.  Clean, smooth melt in your mouth chocolate (although there was a slight waxy feeling for literally the first 1/2 second, just before it started to melt).  Not gritty...good (to use the proper term) "mouth feel".

The taste?  I'm not a big fan of dark chocolate, but this stuff could get me hooked.  Deep, very satisfying.

It doesn't take long for the pepper to kick in.  Give it about 3 seconds before you start to feel a decent burn.  It never reaches fire-extinguisher/clear-your-sinuses level, just enough to enhance the chocolate as well as give you the added taste of the peppers.

The salt?  Never tasted it.  It's like they forgot about it when they made the bar I got.  I wanted to taste the salt, but the flavor just never got there as much as I wanted (or it was overwhelmed, but I doubt it).

The pop rocks?  Just fun...nothing seriously being added here.  If anything it perhaps enhanced the flavor of the pepper and chocolate from the CO2 aerating the chocolate in my mouth.

Th feeling afterward?  No grit, no waxy build-up.  Just a clean, tasty light cocoa feel in my mouth.  A very slight pepper feel remained as well.

In all, this stuff is good.  So I don't get why Walmart is selling it.  But I have seen some more quality foodstuffs appear on their shelves, so maybe this is a decent sign.

Chuao makes different bars and you can see all they offer on their website.  The coffee and anise one may be my next one to try.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Life before cable? Was there such a thing?


Long before cable, and I mean LONG before cable, there was something called...."ON TV".

I grew up in Chicago and when a company called "ON TV" showed up, man, it was big news.

Imagine:  new movies, specials, concerts and more brought directly to your TV with nothing but a piece of coax and a box on your TV set.

So it was cable...but not cable.  You could either watch ON TV or your regular stations (you just had to flip a switch and change the station on your TV).  And as far as I remember, you got ONE station on ON TV.  So imagine buying cable today and all you had were your local stations and TBS...not so funny, is it?

But it was cable, since it pioneered coax in your home, and of course the big bucks it cost to get it installed plus the monthly fee.

I also remember the absolute nightmare if you also wanted to hook up a video game console to your TV.  You'd get a migraine trying to keep track of all the jacks and wiring just so you could play Asteroids on your Zenith.

I remember it impressing just about everyone in my family, and it was impressive.  We got to see all sorts of movies and special events that "the common folk" didn't get to see.

Here's a video of an ON TV commercial to see a Rolling Stones pre-taped concert (OK, on this point, I guess ON TV is like cable nowadays, commercials and all):

...and another for the "adults only" stuff....

The weird part about this is that the "Adults only" stuff they show has an "R" rating, but it seems a bit more X-like (at least the last few frames are...WOWSERS!!!) than I would have thought.

I don't remember how much it cost, but I am pretty sure it was maybe $20 a month, which in today's dollars would be about $51.  And, remember, that was for ONE station.  Today, you spend a bit more than that for hundreds of channels, high-speed internet and maybe even web-based phone service.

The sad part is, there's still nothing on TV to watch.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rock Bands With TWO lead singers


At work (yes, I do actually do something other than blog all day!!) we usually play on our speaker system "Rock Show", which is mostly classic rock. I don't think it's because it's the most popular; I think it's because it's the least offensive (most people would rather hear "Concrete Beats", which is all rap, which is just to difficult for a lot of people to listen to all day).

But...oh, yeah...the point of this post.

I was talking to someone about the songs and I we talked about the lead singers. That got me thinking...

"I wonder how many bands had two lead singers?"

Hence...this post.

Following is my first pass at those bands that had two or more lead singers. Before we get to the list, some simple rules:
  1. The band had to have the two lead singers in the group at the same time (so, sorry, Doobie Brothers...Michael McDonald came after Tom Johnston).
  2. The two singers don't have to have equal billing, but they should both be considered "lead singers" (hence, the Rolling Stones are not on this list)
  3. Obscure bands that typically don't get regular airplay (so, sorry Fugazi...I love you guys, but you can't be on this list; but I'll come up with one for you I swear).
  4. hmm....I think that's it for the rules.

So here are the bands I can think of so far. They are in no particular order other than the order in which they come to mind:
  • The Beatles
  • The Band
  • The Moody Blues
  • Jefferson Airplane
  • America
  • Bread
  • The Who
  • Traveling Wilburys
  • Chicago
  • Traffic
  • B52's
  • CSN
  • CSN&Y
  • XTC (my personal fav)
  • Pink Floyd
  • The Cars
  • Grateful Dead (only because I have no rule that I have to like the group)
  • Tears For Fears
  • Styx
  • Journey (yes, there was a singer before/with Steve Perry, if only for a little while)
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Eagles (trifecta here!!)
  • Fleetwod Mac (another trifecta)
  • The Clash
  • Supertramp
  • Three Dog Night (added 9/26) 
  • Alice In Chains (added 10/18)

Some bands that didn't make the cut (and why):
  • Genesis:  Gabriel/Collins, so two lead singers, right?  But Collins (I think) only did a song or two while Gabriel was really the lead singer.  Collins came to the front after Gabriel's departure (and subsequently ruined Genesis...but again, fodder for another post).
  • Toto:  Isolation perhaps had two lead singers, but there's plenty of fog surrounding who sang what.  Besides, it was one album during a transition period...oh, and it's my list and I say they don't count.
  • The Rolling Stones:  Sorry, but Mr. Richards can not (nor ever) be considered a "lead singer".  Sorry.
  • New Order:  For anyone who cares, "Movement" (brilliant and under-appreciated IMHO) featured just about the entire band singing "lead", but they eventually settled on one member.

I'm sure I missed a few.

I'm sure some I missed I've never heard of.

I'm sure the list indicates the generation(s) of music I listened to.

I'm sure you'll submit your additions.

I hope you do.  A "definitive list" would be wonderful, no?

P.S.  Maybe some day I'll actually list the names of the lead singers.

Friday, September 17, 2010

OLD old school video games: Russian style


Yet another odd thing I stumbled upon recently.

This is a tour of a museum of video games in Russia.  Seems they too had an audience that was hankering to drop a few quarters to play the latest video games.

Some of the games may seem familiar...check out this video.  The games are just plain cool, no matter what language you speak:

Funny...even the Russian versions of these games bring back memories.

Tea? Yeah...tea.


The weather is starting to get a bit nippy.  It's maybe low 60's outside right now but it feels quite a bit chillier.  And we're expecting a low of about 49 degrees tonight.

So maybe that's why I've been drinking like a gajillion (or is that gazillion?) cups of hot tea today?

First of all, you need to understand that as an American, I don't "do tea"...I drink it like a frat boy drinks cheap beer.

For example, here's my "tea cup":

Dainty, ain't it?

It's a vintage mug from Frankoma Pottery.  I have a lot of their pieces and I came across this piece for like $3 many, many moons ago.  And I've been using it ever since.

As you can see, it holds approximately 87 gallons (or 89,950 liters if my math is correct).  So a full cup should go a long way.

But...no...it doesn't.

I've been drinking a lot of tea today.  But at least I have some interesting teas.

(please note:  I am not a tea purist, and I don't have a lot of exposure to different unique teas.  If you want to recommend some for me to try, I'd be honored).

I started the day with the Rainforest Acai Berry (which was a disappointment; it was OK, but it's rooibos tea, which I personally don't like...but of course I didn't read the fine print stating this when I bought it, and I don't want it to go to waste).

I'm now on the chocolate jasmine.  So far it's the ONLY tea I think is enhanced by the addition of milk.  Man, this stuff's good.

Perhaps next week when I have some time, I'll try to hunt down some others to try.

William Shatner for Commodore Computer


Ages before the laptop, desktop or smartphone you're using even existed...there was Commodore.

Check out this ancient (by computer standards, anyway) commercial featuring William Shatner (post-Klingon pre-Priceline era) hawking the Commodore VIC-20:

Oh, and if you miss your old Amiga or C64, don't worry...Commodore's coming back!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fashion crisis: shoes



So...am I too old for the shoes on the left?  Too young for the ones on the right?

I recently bought a pair of Adidas similar to these (canvas, rubber toe cap, no "CAMPUS" on the side, but very similar otherwise).  I like them, I wear them, they are actually comfortable, and they happen to look great with jeans or beat-up khakis (which are the only kind of khakis I own...primarily because I don't want to buy new pants).

But am I too old for them?

I personally hate seeing people my age ("my age" is late 40's) wearing clothes that they obviously had a teen-age skateboarder pick out for them and I laugh, thinking "why are they wearing that?!?".  (And of course don't forget the mid-40's pizza delivery guy we always get who wears hoodies, tight black (but still sagging) shorts and sockless high-tops...but that's another post in itself.)

But now I'm thinking I'm approaching that age where I can't wear what I used to.

But what can I wear?  I own cargo shorts; are they OK?  Half my life is spent in t-shirts and shorts; does that meet with public approval?  Ironically this is why I miss Eddie Bauer stores: they seemed to specialize in clothes for the 30-50 crowd (which may also be the reason why they aren't around anymore...nobody likes knowingly being targeted by marketers).

When do I stop wearing what I like and start wearing what I should?

When do I place my first order for power-walking shoes?  Or shoes with Velcro closures? 

Furthering my self-humiliation: The Ugly Dance


All I keep asking myself is:  why did I do this?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sometimes you just have to be able to laugh at yourself


So, it seems that Oprah Winfrey is ending her 248-year run as top dog of Chicago television.

And to celebrate this event, there's the official "Oprah-fy Yourself" website

Yes, all you need is a pic of yourself, the ability to click a few buttons and move a mouse and you, too, can be host of your own talkshow (or, at least, have a promo pic for it).

Here's mine (please, try to keep the laughter down while I'm in the room):

Yeah, I don't know what happened to the left side of my face.  And I look HORRIBLE in those earrings.

I think Paul Scheer's pic, though, came out wonderfully:

So, hey, give it a shot.  At least it's something different than turning yourself into a Simpsons character!

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