18 December 2012

Best of 2012 Mix

Here it is! My best of 2012 mix. It includes Auzzies doing revival Indian, Goth-pop Canadians, a French-Chilean MC, a Seattle DJ who mixes tasty Brazilian tunes and a Scandanavian Stevie Nicks. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

This year I've tried to embed each tune in the post so you can preview it without having to leave the site. That said, if you're reading this in an email you may need to click through to themadhapa.com for the embedded tracks to work.

Also, if you like the music posted here, please consider purchasing it using one of the links provided. You'll support the artist, and (full disclosure) I'll get a shiny nickel!

Best New Band* of 2012

Bombay Royale - a Melbourne band "dedicated to honoring and reviving the funky, bizarre and mysterious music of vintage Indian cinema."  Fans of the movie Ghost World will recognize their cover of Jaan Pehechan Ho.

* new to me

My favorite Bombay Royale track is Dum Maroo Dum. There should be a link to listen to it above, but if not you can preview / buy at Amazon.com. There's a lot to love about Bombay Royale - listen to song samples.

Another new band I like is Deep Sea Diver, and not just because of the name! These guys are former Beck bandmates and their catchy tune You Go Running was an upbeat motivator during my long bike rides this past summer.

Download - Buy

Time to Dance by Shoes was another much-loved track for long, hot days on the bike. As it turns out, the official video for this tune features Jake Gyllenhaal as a serial killer. If you click on the video below, please be advised the actual song doesn't start until about 2 min in.

Could Niki and The Dove be any more Scandinavian? I effing love it. My favorite track, The Gentle Roar, is not representative of the entire album which is StevieNicksesque.

Download - Buy

2012 Artist of the Year - Ana Tijoux

If I had to pick a favorite artist this year, it would be a tough decision... but I'd have to go with Ana Tijoux. Her album La Bala will make you want to dance, drink, fight, and sing-along even if you don't speak Spanish. It's a bold and passionate album - her second, no less.

It was tough to choose one song off this album, but I went with Shock. It's immediately catchy and the sing-song mocking tone totally gets the message of the song across. If you dig this track, check out the rest of La Bala.

Maga Bo - No Balanço da Canoa is the aforementioned Brazilian track mixed by a Seattle DJ. Give it a listen, but be aware of your surroundings - you won't be able to stop your booty from shakin.
Download - Buy

The Xx put out a new album this year, but what did it for me in the gloomy electronic realm this year was Gold and Youth's track Time To Kill.
Listen - Buy

Best Cover Tune of 2012

I really liked The Chromatics' cover of Into the Black (aka Neil Young's Hey, Hey My, My) but it's part of their as-yet-unreleased album.  Give it a listen here.

So it came down to the Fleetwood Mac tribute album
and Jimmy Fallon's Blow Your Pants Off where, among other things, Fallon does a cover of the PBS 80's kids show Reading Rainbow theme in the style of The Doors. The Fleetwood Mac album has this adorable cover of Gypsy (sung by a guy) with this little synth piano intro that reminds me of a Japanese tea house. Soooo I couldn't decide and picked two favorite cover songs this year.

The Bamboos Medicine Man (Buy)
I'm going to steal the BBC's term and describe The Bamboos as a Musical Conglomerate. You can preview their album here - which includes a really satisfying variety of songs. I really liked "Where Does the Time Go?" Your mom will too...

Thrift Shop - Macklemore
This isn't Macklemore's first appearance on a year-end top list. Back in 2009 he put out a track about the Seattle hip hop scene that literally made me weep. It wasn't because of a strong connection to Seattle per se, it was a longing for that local scene and the way things were.Anyway, Thrift Shop is a celebration, a fucking anthem for those of us who spent high school and college digging in "the bins." Much love to Mary Miller at Rats Off for cluing me into this video back in August so it could be my end of summer jam.

Seriously, watch this effing video. If you like it, buy the tune here.

I love Stars new album, but I can appreciate that their sweet, depressing songs aren't for everyone. That said, give a listen to Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Get It. I can't get enough of this song. It's my Call Me Maybe.

Buy it.

It's not a best of mix from me without a song that will rattle your car doors with its bass. Trust's Bulbform is that song. I believe the official genre for this band is Witch House. How f*cking rad is that?

Buy it

Best Coast - The Only Place (Buy)
Adorable song, adorable video with mild acts of vandalism.

Birmingham by Shovels and Rope is the oddball in this mix. I just like the story it tells. By the way, she says "Nickajack" in the first line. It's a disputed area of land in Tennessee.


Gossip - Melody Emergency (Buy)
This song just grooves. Beth Ditto belts it out like usual but I like that the song isn't distinctly retro nor dance nor blues. It just....grooves.

In other news: did you know Beth Ditto wrote an autobiography?

Icona Pop - I Love It

This is some unabashed ridiculous pop right here. Just try to resist. Just try. This song is total nonsense (see lyrics below) that I suspect is poking fun at something but I'm not sure. It's Swedish sythpop, just go with it.

I got this feeling on the summer day when you were gone. I crashed my car into the bridge. I watched, I let it burn. I threw your sh*t into a bag and pushed it down the stairs. I crashed my car into the bridge. 

I don't care... I love it! I don't care.
Preview / Buy

Metric - Breathe Underwater
This is the last song, but please don't skip it. It's a great last song. Just imagine skinny, blonde Emily Haines on stage at some outdoor festival. The sun is going down. She's been prowling the stage all afternoon and is taking a moment to catch her breath and belt out theses sweet verses.

Listen - Buy

29 November 2012

Manly Beach, Sydney - A Perfect Day

Today's post was inspired by my friend Maggie's post: A Perfect Day, Krakow.

The day began with a "long black" coffee and muesli with yogurt at Jet, a cafe in the QVB (Queen Victoria Building). The cafe is located just behind the statue of Queen Victoria where sometimes there are skinny teenagers performing Beatles tunes.

After breakfast we ambled down York street and picked up a bus to Spit Bridge and the start of the scenic walkway to Manly Beach.

Walking from Spit Bridge to Manly Beach

In case anyone has come across this post by googling for info on this scenic walk, a few pieces of advice:

  • Start from Spit Bridge, don't start from Manly. You'll want to finish your 3-4 hour walk where there a numerous beer / food / gelato options. There isn't much around Spit Bridge.
  • From Sydney CBD, take bus 178 or 179 from either the QVB or Wynyard station. Tell the driver you'd like to get off at Spit Bridge. It takes about 30 min from town to reach the bridge. Then it's 3-4 hours walking depending on if you stop to take photos, have a picnic, swim, etc.
  • Wear hiking footwear! Sneakers/trainers are fine, flip-flops are not. Most of the trail is not paved.
  • Water, sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat are a must. I spent the summer cycling for 5-6 hours at a time and have a pretty good base tan. I wore a hat and sunscreen but sweated some of my sunscreen off and got a mild sunburn.

Walking along the trail you can't help but imagine what it must have been like for the first explorers in Australia.* The trail is clear and paved in some places, but you're surrounded by dense brush and unfamiliar animal sounds. It isn't until you hear a ferry horn or come close to a road that you're reminded - oh yeah, I'm in a city of 4.5 million people.

* Incidentally, if you've ever wanted to know more about the history of Australia told in a humorous way, I enjoyed In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson. 

Below is an example of one of the more amazing views from the trail. Email subscribers may need to click through to view the images in this post.

I believe this is Dobroyd Head. So, if I were to tilt the camera back a little, you'd see Manly Wharf and the long expanse of cute houses, gelato places, etc. across the water. Behind me, however, were bushes, tall grass and gum trees. It was like being in the woods; I even saw an Australian Brush Turkey (see below). I didn't take this photo...

The Brush Turkeys were back in a little clearing. Their red heads were all I could see at first, then I noticed one had (what looked like) a yellow Hawaiian lei. Their tails look like a shorter version of American turkeys, but they're smaller overall, more like a vulture.

After three hours we popped out at Forty Baskets Beach. I was ready for a gelato and a nap - which is exactly what I got! Here I am with my two scoops of gelato and magazine of celebrity asses. About fifteen minutes after this photo was taken I was asleep on the grass.

That's a terrible hat, is it not? I needed one for sun protection and this boxing kangaroo number was only $8AUS. It also doubles as a beacon, that bright yellow color can be seen from space.

After the nap, we took the ferry back to Sydney Harbor. The MyMulti1 pass covers all buses, ferries, and the subway within central Sydney. It's about $25US per day, but the 7-Day pass for $50 makes more sense.

The ferry from Manly drops you right in Circular Quay. It passes the  Botanical Gardens and the famous Opera House. The afternoon sun lit it up nicely, wouldn't you say?

We had a beer in a pub at The Rocks, then headed to a cheap Japanese Noodle place on George St. (in the Skyview Building behind 85 Degrees Bakery). It's called Mappen and I haven't seen anything like it in the US.

Dinner at Mappen is a steal - $31AUS total for two people including drinks. You choose hot or cold noodles and then add whatever toppings you want - kitsune, tempura, etc. The topping choices are mostly deep-fried, but hey I walked for three and a half hours, I earned a slab of fried sweet potato and a fried manju. 

After that it was back to the room for a shower (I smelled like fried sweat) and a relaxing end to the day.

18 November 2012

Ugly Christmas Sweater Competition

I'm not a joiner when it comes to company activities. I shun the salsa contest (I don't cook), take vacation during Bring Your Child to Work Day, and schedule dentist appointments to coincide with the all employee meeting. My company is great, don't get me wrong, many employees enjoy the time and effort spent to put on these functions, but they're not really my bag.

So when the email went out inviting participation in an Ugly Holiday Sweater competition I deleted it out of instinct, but then I got to thinking. This could be something...

I love awesomely bad taste. I love the movie Mommy Dearest, I love the Chicken and Waffle Cone, and I love William Shatner singing cover songs. Finding just a sweater that's totally wrong in all the right ways really appealed to me. Also, it gave me a reason to play around with Pinterest.

A Brief History of the Ugly Holiday Sweater

What began as a homemade gift from your favorite aging relative became an industry unto itself -peaking in the 1980's (blame Cosby). After going into remission for the better part of the 90s (when ugly sweatshirts had their time in the sun), Ugly Sweater Parties became a "thing" starting in the early 2000's (The Atlantic.com, 2010). By the end of the decade, an Ugly Christmas Sweater sold on eBay for nearly $300.

In 2011, a how to book called Ugly Christmas Sweater Party was released, and the concept jumped the shark. Now, at last, it's come to Orange County.

Next let's discuss the various species within the modern Ugly Holiday Sweater genus. 

The Traditional
I actually kind of like this sweater. If I wanted to impersonate a Scandinavian person I'd get one of these.

Think of four objects that remind you of the holiday season.
Start knitting.

The parallel design is most commonly found in cardigan-style sweaters. The example pictured below also includes fringe, an element disturbingly common in Ugly Holiday Sweaters. 

Obnoxious Pattern
If you look at this pattern long enough, a 3-D Dinosaur will appear.

Zee Goggles, Zey Do Nothing!

Wall Street wasn't the only industry to OD on technology in the 1990's. 

Winter Scenes
Why stick to one color for your sweater when you can use all of them?

Applique and Objets d'Art
I think the candy cane neckline on the green one (below) kinda works. As for the second sweater, it just makes me want to breathe into a paper bag.

While the sweaters shown above are arguably hideous, I would not consider any of them competition-grade. For the big day, I need a sweater that combines bad taste and sincere effort into a marriage where the whole is greater than the sum of its applique parts. 

It's important that the sweater isn't trying too hard, or worse, that it's been modified to deliberately create a gag (see below).

Nor is it fair to get a purpose-made ugly sweater, in my opinion. The humping reindeer sweater is funny, but it seems like cheating.

Because the ugly sweater competition will happen after this post goes live, I will not reveal the sweater I ultimately chose. Please stay tuned...

I'll leave you with some thoughts on the genius of hideous from the guy who designed the Cosby sweater.

08 October 2012

Live Longer - Read a Book

It's hard to express enthusiasm for a book about nutrition without sounding like a wack. We can all rattle off half a dozen diets with results that faded as quickly as an ombre dye job.
Take Sensa, for example. Apparently you sprinkle this stuff on your food and lose thirty pounds. You don't have to join a gym and you can eat whatever you want. Um, I think they called that FenFen in the 80's but it's more commonly known as speed.

I realize I risk my own credibility by saying positive things about a book / DVD focused on nutrition. See? That already sounded bad - a book/DVD. This isn't a system or a program, I swear. The book is written by a Cornell University scientist and the DVD is a documentary about him and his findings, so it has a lot of the same info - in a convenient, time-saving format. 

No operators are standing by, there are no testimonials by everyday people of varying ages and ethnicities. The book doesn't even have any pictures for godsakes, and the DVD isn't sold in stores. Oh wait, yes it is! But you can also get it on Netflix... 

All that said, on to the real point of this blog post...

On the recommendation of a cycling pro, I read The China Study. It investigates the relationship between diet and disease in a very scientific way (as opposed to anecdotal). If the findings weren't so interesting, you might say the writing is a little dry. Nevertheless, I can't stop thinking about this book!

It also addressed some big questions that are always in the back of my mind.
  • Will I get diabetes like my grandfather and uncle?
  • Will I get breast cancer like my grandmothers?
  • What can I do to prevent these horrible diseases?
It's breast cancer awareness month and everywhere you look there are stats like 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed in her lifetime. Both cancer and diabetes are terrible diseases and you know what? These diseases occur at much much higher rates in "Westernized" countries.

Before you start thinking ahead like "is this going to be a vegetarian rant?" No. In fact, the author / scientist was raised on a dairy farm. He didn't set out to vilify the American diet; the book recaps scientific research only, it isn't trying to sell something. In fact, the author stumbled across the crux of this book on accident. I won't ruin the story. I just wanted to make sure you knew that The China Study doesn't advocate eating tofu and rice all the time. It does, however, draw multiple correlations between diet and disease.

 Let food be thy medicine -Hypocrates (Greek father of medicine)

I'm a vegetarian - but not in a good way

For most of my late teens and 20's I lived on pizza and Hot Pockets (the cheese pizza Hot Pockets were my favorite). For breakfast I might eat a frozen Mac and Cheese dinner. Over the years I started integrating vegetables - tomato and basil slices on slabs of mozzarella, for example. All the while I've been calling myself a vegetarian - but really I was a starch and cheese i tarian.

Newsflash, this does not make for good health - but neither does what's on the food pyramid. The USDA food pyramid recommends about 30-40% of your diet should come from meat and dairy. In fact, the lowest rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes are found in areas where animal protein intake was 10% or less of the diet.

 But isn't protein critical to a healthy body? The reason we're supposed to eat protein is to support our muscles, right? You drink milk and you grow up big and strong, right? Well, it's very possible to get too much of a good thing.

Okay, you may be thinking, what if it's just something genetic about Chinese people? Maybe they have less of a predisposition towards cancer. Here's another example:

When the Nazis invaded Norway, they confiscated all the cattle. As a result, Norwegian consumption of meat and dairy plummeted - along with the incidence of heart disease. When the Nazis were defeated, meat eating increased and heart disease rates eventually returned to their pre-war levels.

Here's one more...the book sites a study of Japanese-American men living in Washington state. These men have the same genes as men in Japan, but significantly higher rates of diabetes - even while maintaining a healthy weight. Hmmmm, that sounds like my family.

Is meat evil? That's not where I am going with this. I love cheese.  Meat and dairy can be eaten in moderation, but not in the proportions we've been told.

If you've ever wondered about whether you'll get cancer or have a heart attack, The China Study is worth a read! Oh yeah, and this whole idea saves us money in the long run.

If our nation ate healthier, we could reduce the incidence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes before they even begin. That means fewer $100,000 coronary bypass surgeries, and perhaps some of the 46 million Americans taking blood pressure medication could have better health and forgo the expensive meds.

In a nutshell, The China Study gives empirical evidence that the answer to our nation's health problems isn't another pill - the answer is spinach.  Not a reader? A lot of the same information is presented in the documentary Forks Over Knives.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you live near me I would be happy to loan you my book - after my Mom is done reading it.

02 September 2012

My Summer of Cycling

First of all, I would like to apologize to my butt.

My backside has faithfully served without complaint for years, and of late, I have not been kind to it. Friday I did a seven hour ride on a new bike saddle and my ass still hurts. By mile 65, my cheeks hurt so much I was ready to confess something... unfortunately I was the one doing the torture.

Why bike for seven hours?

This coming Saturday (September 8th) will be my first century ride, 100 miles. The ride starts at the Irvine Amtrak station and ends at the San Diego Amtrak station, thus its name: The Amtrak Century. If I'm lucky, I'll finish in seven to eight hours. I can't take longer than nine hours or I'll miss the train back to Irvine.

It all started when I read about a Chamorro (Guam food) restaurant in San Diego. The field guy I work (Michael) with said "we should ride our bikes to San Diego."

I said, "sure... from Carlsbad."

He said, "No! From here!" (South Orange County).

We still haven't eaten at that restaurant, but Michael is on his second triathlon and I've ridden my bike to San Diego about half a dozen times.* Back in April I wrote about my preliminary venture into long distance cycling with an (expletive-laden) blow-by-blow of my first solo ride to SD.

* From San Juan Capistrano - which is "only" 71 miles.

While reminiscing with a friend in Portland I recalled my first 10-speed - a Huffy Capri. Jenna Newcome was the first girl at my school to have one and oh how I wanted one just like it. That bike must have weighed twice what my current bike does but it never slowed me down. With that bike I was goin' places!

During my training (a few months back) I hit a wall. Cycling had stopped being fun. I was out there every weekend riding because of an obligation, not for the love of it. I am not a goal-oriented person. As my friend Kim was kind enough to put it "you're a journey-er."

All this event-oriented training wasn't bad in and of itself, it was just hard to justify when (quite frankly) the event only served as a deadline. On that day, Saturday September 8th, I would ride 100 miles. Furthermore, I didn't want to set myself up for failure. What if I fell down? What if I got a cold? Couldn't I just do 100 miles whenever I got around to it?

I've never excelled in sports, perhaps because of my "meh" attitude toward athletic achivement. The only medals I ever received were from our middle school Science Olympics. Lena Jones, if you're reading this, you know we were the Kerri / Misty of our day.

A short visit to Portland in August gave me the inspiration I needed. I rented a road bike from Waterfront Bikes because I needed to get 100 miles in that weekend (for training). Yes, here it was my vacation and I have to log time in the saddle.

I cruised from Vancouver over the bridge into St. John's, down to the farms on Sauvie's Island, back over the St John's Bridge, past University of Portland and home again. It was a perfect summer day and the views of the river and Mt. Hood were stellar. Later I had a nice cold beer in the park and gorged on some wood fired pizza. Ah ha, I thought... AH-fucking-HA!

Long distance cycling can be a journey after all.

Since then, Tom and I have explored Ventura-Santa Barbara, San Francisco-Sausilito-Tibueron and Napa-Calistoga. The views from a bike are wonderful. You can soak in the scenery much better than in a car and when you're done - CHOW DOWN and DRINK BEER! Pairing cycling with travel and eating... now we're on to something. In Napa (St. Helena) we stopped by Velo Vino which is a winery founded by the Clif Bar family. We met a guy who'd done a ride through Europe on his bike and he had some great stories.

Stay tuned for my future adventures on two wheels. Oh, and, if you've ever done a century please feel free to leave any comments / tips below!

Good news, Butt! I'm going back to my old saddle. Please forgive me.

22 July 2012

Oh, Bonaire!

I'm doing this post a little different than other trip recaps. I decided to throw in some useless trivia, the question answers are at the bottom. Hope you find it amusing.

About Bonaire
Bonaire is part of the Caribbean ABC Islands (ABC = Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao) and located about 50 miles north of the Venezuelan coast. These islands are also known as the Netherlands Antillies, but Bonaire is the only island still affiliated with The Netherlands.  

1. What currency is used in Bonaire?
A. The Euro
B. The US Dollar
C. The Antillean Guilder

Bonaire is about 24 miles long by 3-7 miles wide. Altogether it's 112 square miles - slightly smaller than the city of Portland, OR.  The coastline has been protected since 1979 and it really shows - the reefs are the healthiest I've seen in the Caribbean. Tourism is the main industry with salt being a close second. Yes, salt.  Before scuba diving, there wasn't much on Bonaire besides salt company employees, cactus, goats and donkeys.

2. What is the salt from Bonaire primarily used for?
A. Water softeners
B. Ice-y US roads
C. Table salt

Unlike other dive spots I've been to recently: it's okay to drink the water in Bonaire. The convenience of this cannot be understated. After a long day, it's so nice to simply brush your teeth in the sink (as opposed to striking out in pajamas to round up a bottle of water).

3. What song did I hear enough times to start hating, maybe like a little bit, then fully hate again?
A. Call me Maybe - Carly Rae Jepsen
B. Where Have You Been - Rihanna
C. Wouldn't it be Nice - The Beach Boys

We made about ten boat dives and also several shore dives. I didn't see a single shark, but I did see an above-average number of trunkfish (a favorite - because they're so funny looking), some free-swimming eels (during the day no less) and several drum fish (both adult and juvenile). 

For better or worse a lot of the reefs look the same - all very healthy with abundant fish and coral life. So that's a good thing. We did a few dives for variety: the salt pier, wreck of the Hilma Hooker and also a staghorn coral nursery off Buddy Dive's house reef (part of a worldwide Coral Restoration program). You can see highlights from these dives in my video below.

Now I would like to make a plug for my new favorite sunscreen: Badger 30+ Sunscreen Stick. Between scuba diving and cycling for hours in the California sun, I need ballsy sunscreen. I also want something that won't make me breakout, or be so full of chemicals that I avoid skin cancer and die of liver failure instead. You can read about my quest to find a decent sunscreen on the PADI blog.

The Badger stick, if you can believe it, was still on my face after a 60 min dive. I couldn't believe it. This is a great product, not to mention easy to travel with because it's a stick and not a liquid and can go in a carry-on. Below is a picture of me after putting on my morning war paint. It actually rubs in clear.

So, besides being my first visit to Bonaire, this trip had another first - my rookie attempt at underwater video. I received a GoPro Hero2 for Christmas and this was my first chance to try it out underwater. I'd like to give a shout out to Pacific Wilderness for helping me out with some housing equipment just before I left. The video is embedded below, it's about 6min 45 sec. Email subscribers may need to click through to view it.

If you like the tunes used in the video, please consider supporting the artists buy purchasing their music.  Here are the songs in order:

Into the Wild - GOSSIP
Reef - SABZI
Unbroken, Unshaven - THE BUDOS BAND
Breathing Underwater - METRIC

Want to waste more time watching videos?
View my other trip videos on Vimeo
(Alaska, Palau, Solomon Islands, Amsterdam/Berlin)

Answers to the questions earlier in the post:
1) B - the US Dollar, 2) A - water softeners, 3) all of those effing songs!

09 May 2012

Piñata Cookies and Lessons Learned the Hard Way

It all began with a post on BoingBoing. What started as an afternoon pondering Google's search algorithm ended at 10:45 Thursday night when I threw a pound of multicolored dough in the trash.

But let's start at the beginning.

First there was this picture:
photo from sheknows.com

and then this picture!
photo from sheknows.com

Madre de dios! I must make these cookies. I am no baker but dammit there's a video showing a child making them. It's so eeeeeasy as those TV cooking wenches always say.  So I devised a plan:

Step One: buy donkey cookie cutter

Step Three: enjoy piñata cookies.

To be fair, I was warned by both my actual mother and my equivalent Orange County mother: "Love you dearly, but this recipe is not for you." They're right, of course. The only time I belong in the kitchen is if I'm doing the dishes. Maybe I've been reading The Evolving Epicurian too much, but as The Great One said, "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

So I came home Thursday night determined to bake the shit out of some piñata cookies. I had all the ingredients: my burro cookie cutter, food coloring, and I even obtained mini reeses pieces from the frozen yogurt joint up the street. Yeah, the recipe calls for mini M and Ms but I like to improvise (oooooo - foreshadowing...). It was 6pm.

Speaking of improvisation...
piñata cookie dough divided into colors
This is food, not play-doh. Really!
The recipe calls for vegetable oil, but I decide to use meyer lemon olive oil instead. I've used this in lieu of vegetable oil in cornbread and the lemon flavor is delish. There's a TV Foodie word "delish," see, I can talk the talk.

I review the recipe. The dough is supposed to chill for four hours in the freezer. What? I don't want to stay up until ten or eleven at night making these damn things! I Google "what's the purpose of freezing cookie dough" and set to work.

Things start off pretty well. I mix everything together, divide the dough and start coloring it. I use a super-intense food coloring recommended by my cousin Paula who knows from crafting, cooking, etc.

I'm supposed to be making layers of pastel-colored dough (pink, purple, turquoise, etc). Instead I make red, yellow, blue and puce. I thought red + blue = purple, but no. It makes barfy brown-purple (see below).

using food coloring to make purple, actually puce
red + blue make... Puce?

Undeterred, I start layering the dough in a container. My goal is to make a layered loaf: black on the bottom for the hoofs and then alternating horizontal colors for the body. Later I'll slice off vertical, rainbow-y layers and use my special cookie cutter to donkey-fy each one.

burro cookie cutter and mini reeses wait in the wings
Remember how I started this project at 6pm? Okay, by the time I get the dough dyed and layered, it's eight o' clock.  My hands are stained five different colors and I'm thinking about cheating on that four hours in the freezer deal.

Check out my multi-colored thumbnail in the picture below. That ain't nail polish. Although, come to think of it, I did mix White Out with food coloring once as a kid. My mom said I wasn't old enough to buy nail polish. She got the last laugh though, the White Out chipped away and I was left with jaundicy-looking yellow and green nails until they grew out.

By ten o' clock I'm done with this four hour wait business. The dough feels pretty cold. The prudent thing to do, I reason, is to slice off some dough, cookie it up and see how the little burro bastards taste.

piñata cookie dough loaf
Do you see a face in this dough? I kinda do.

I slice off some layers, slap 'em on the cookie sheet and pray to the cookie gods for benevolence. As it turns out: freezing the dough prevents it from spreading too much during cooking. Mine spread like the dickens, but this is good because the donkey cookie cutter I bought turned out to be about 30% larger than the one the example recipe used. This is giving me the bigger slices I need.

piñata cookie slices
piñata cookies cut into burro shapes
About four dough slices fit on a cookie sheet in case you can't tell how big those cookies are in the image above. Also, it takes three burros to make one piñata, so a lot of dough is wasted.

How does the piñata part work? Mira, think of a sandwich cookie like an Oreo. There's a front, back, and a middle. In the piñata cookies, the middle has a cut out where you stash the candy.

Now I've run into my first real problem. Cookies have a nice side and bottom side, right? There's the top part, and the grubby underside. To make a burro sandwich cookie that looks nice on both sides requires a donkey going the other way. My cookie cutter has a handle - which makes it impossible to flip over and create the opposite donkey side. Oye ve.

I ponder ripping the metal handle off my cookie cutter (and make a half-hearted attempt). Then I consider using the kitchen scissors to pry / rip it off, but decide this isn't worth the danger. At this point it's nearly 10pm and nothing good happens after 10pm.*

* I used to say that about 2am, but I'm an old domesticated person now. For godsakes I'm COOKING.

The cookies do taste good, so that's encouraging. I decide to cook up the rest of them and see what happens. In the end I have about five pieces that turn out okay. The rest are too unstable and fall apart.

Besides not freezing the dough long enough, the olive oil I've used makes the cookies too soft. They never get crisp enough to stand up on their own (even days later).

At 10:20 pm, while the last slices are the oven, I decided to whip up another batch of dough. This time, o' this time I shall follow the directions! I'll use regular vegetable oil and leave the dough in the freezer overnight (which the recipe recommends).

Another pound of butter, another five cups of flour. Eggs, cream of tarter (whatever that is), and then... I realize:


At 10:45pm it was over. I throw the new batch of dough in the trash and go to bed.

Want more?
Read my about my previous cooking adventure (December 2007) The Night of the Lewd Gingerbread Bears.

29 April 2012

Is Trader Joe's Cheaper or More Expensive Than a Supermarket?

Comparing Trader Joe's Prices to Supermarket Prices

I've long been a Trader Joe's devotee and do most of my shopping there. I regularly get two bags of food for less than $50. At Ralph's, $50 buys less than a basketful.

Still, I run into people who think Trader Joe's is expensive. Why does it have this reputation? This is the place where you can get a case of wine for $24.99!

Sooooo, I decided to do a little research on the items I purchase most often and compare prices. I used my regular list and also threw in a few staples like milk and eggs (items I don't buy, but I figure most people do).

Altogether I looked at 20 items. Whenever possible I tried to compare products of the same size, if there was a difference I listed the grocery store first / then Trader Joe's.

I also deferred to the generic store brand (cheapest option) if offered. For example: the peanut butter is Ralph's Value brand - not Skippy or Jif. I also went with the cheapest (regular) supermarket price. If I found a sale item, it's noted.

Here are the results:
To buy all 20 items at a supermarket would cost $70.10.
To buy all 20 items at Trader Joe's would cost $49.80.

The 20 item count includes two different sizes of olive oil, so, if you take out the 500ml size it's:

Supermarket: $65.41
Trader Joe's $46.31

The complete results are below - email subscribers may need to click through to view the google doc. Out of 20 items, Trader Joe's was cheaper for all but three things: peanut butter, apples and single-serving greek yogurt cups.

If you don't think the list was comprehensive enough, I'd be willing to research some additional products that show up regularly on your grocery list. Please leave a comment below. You can also read this checkbook.org post comparing Trader Joe's prices to supermarkets in Chicago area. This writer did a more comprehensive survey including items I didn't (such as meat).


22 April 2012

Cyling from Orange County to San Diego

When I was fifteen or so I rode my bike every weekend from Mom's house, over the 205 bridge, down Airport Way, over I-5's green bridge, and down Hwy 14 home. One day I even had the gumption to ride from Mom's house to downtown Portland.

Powered by nothing more than oatmeal and a Melissa Etheridge mix tape, I pedaled my Trek 720 in sun, wind and rain (sometimes all at the same time). Then I turned 16, got the '95 Mirage and it was all over. See ya, bike!

Not my exact bike, but close enough.
The Trek 720 actually made it here to Orange County. About 18 months ago I started riding it again - just to San Clemente and back (about 20 miles) every weekend. I was proud of little black bike. It had fenders, a gel seat and a loud (but friendly) bell. It also weighed about 25 pounds.

I think Tom must have been really desperate for a riding buddy because he got me this hellaciously awesome carbon fiber ride (only 15 lbs). It even has small-person-sized handle bars which had to be special ordered. I added a bell because, well, more on that later. I was forbidden to add fenders or a kickstand. I guess I can live without both of those since doing a road ride in the OC on a rainy day, well, that could be a ride you never come back from. All it takes is one distracted bimbo going 50mph to swerve into the bike lane and The End.

So anyway, now that I have this bitchin' bike, I've been able to ride a lot farther. Today I did my first ride to San Diego solo.  I've ridden there before, but this was my first time alone. Usually I draft Tom, but today I could just let my mind wander... for five hours. Thus this blog post.

Mental Progression / Digression When Cycling Long Distances

Usually when the ride starts out, I feel kinda meh for the first 5-10 miles. I think about the hours of riding ahead and think, normal people drive to San Diego. Then I imagine how delicious a grilled cheese sandwich and a beer will taste at the end of the ride. Hell, I can have two grilled cheese sandwiches and two beers!*

* The only downside to the two beers is that I after taking the train back I have to bike another three miles back to the house.

At any rate, about 10 miles (30-40 minutes) into the ride, I am in the groove. At 15-20 miles I take a stretch break and eat the first of many snacks. Deep down I think I've taken up long-distance cycling because I get to eat constantly. Every hour I get half a granola bar, or some peanut butter pretzel bites, or my favorite: snack waffles. Oh how I love them.

The waffles I try save for a special occasion. Often, at the beginning of the ride, I pledge to eat my waffle at 50 miles as a reward. Sometimes I need extra encouragement though and I say to myself, you've been good - you can eat half the waffle at 30 miles and have the rest at 50. Then I eat the other half of the waffle at 31 miles.

My good friend Molly pointed out: I could just sit on the couch and eat waffles. While this is true, I must resolve to only eat them on the bike at least 30 miles from home.

So back to the ride. Next I go through San Onofre which some of you may know as a popular surf spot. For others it's the nuclear power plant off I-5 that looks like boobs.

From there I go through Camp Pendleton Marine Base towards Oceanside. This 20 mile section is possibly the best part of the ride. There's either a dedicated bike path,  a long string of parking lots and camping spaces, or a street with very little traffic. This is usually when you get to say hello to other cyclists out there on the road. Usually it's just a head nod or good morning, but some people chat for a minute or two.

I felt kind of super today when I told folks I was riding to San Diego, no one else was going that far. I did, however, get passed a lot. I didn't mind though because I had a long haul ahead. When those riders were home washing their spandex, I was still on the road.

Oceanside is what I consider the halfway point. It's actually a little more than halfway, but the hard part is ahead: the dreaded Torrey Pines hill. We'll get to that in a moment.

First there are a series of quaint beach towns between Oceanside and San Diego. Scenic PCH (aka Hwy 101) is the route through them with oceanviews and a shitload of cars and pedestrians. There's a dedicate bike path which is nice, but to the right is all the parking. So you have to constantly be aware of traffic on your left and yahoos on the right who suddenly open their car doors or back out without looking. There are also random surfers (very respectful) and families (totally oblivious - making me wonder if it's possible to wear out a bike bell).

Each beach town has a downhill to the ocean followed by a medium-small uphill climb into the next town. The hills aren't bad once you know how many to expect and pace yourself, but the first time I wondered when is this going to end? After riding through Carlsbad, Cardiff, and Leucadia, I thought the last town (Solana Beach) was next, but then we saw the sign for Encinitas. Which prompted me to yell alound "F*ck You, Encinitas!"

Apparently the 45 mile mark is when I get punchy. This is when other riders pass me and I start to care. I don't try to catch them, but I think: that person is a coward, I bet he only started from Oceanside. I keep these things to myself, try to stay positive, focus on the smoothie I get to eat in Solana Beach.

After my smoothie break, I tackle the worst part of the ride: Torrey Pines. Did I say worst? I meant: most-challenging. This is where a 15lb bike is your best friend. This is also when I think:

I am mentally ill. 

This is what a car is for.

I mutter these things under my breath. Today I said aloud, "F*ck you Torrey Pines. I will prove my hatred for you by riding to the top of you!" I'm sure the ten-thousand-year-old quasi-mountain shuddered in fear.

The photo below is of Torrey Pines I borrowed from someone else's blog. Pretty, but also evil.

I stole this photo from Mike Nakata's blog.
I don't know who you are, but thanks.
I also borrowed this graphic from Mike.
Torrey Pines hill is about a mile and a half. It's not super-steep, but it's long. It takes me at least two songs to ride up. Inevitably my iPod shuffle comes up with a tune I put on there as a joke - such as Cher's techno-hit Believe. When I put Believe on my riding mix I thought: ha ha, this will be hilarious. It was not, in fact, hilarious. Sometimes I hate Megan from the past.

Okay, so, once I'm up and over Torrey Pines I've ridden about 58 miles. There's another 12 or so miles to go, smooth sailing right? WRONG. Though the hill is over, the worst roads are ahead just past La Jolla. There's nothing like having your bones rattled on a bumpy road after being in the saddle for over four hours. You know what though? These challenges are what makes that beer and grilled cheese taste so good.

There's a good stretch through Mission Bay that isn't bad. There are also a couple miles just before downtown where airplanes come in really low just before landing at San Diego's airport. That's pretty cool. Just after that you see the skyline and whoo-baby that's a great feeling.

Anyway, there you have it. I don't know how interesting this will be to folks reading it back home. Hopefully you had a laugh or at least understand what goes on in the mind of a long-distance cyclist. At least this one.

If you have any good workout songs, please email me or leave a comment below. The ride itself takes just over four and a half hours of pedaling, but the complete travel time (waiting at stop lights, stopping to stretch) takes five and a half. I could use some fresh tunes!

By the way, the distances I ride are comparatively mundane when you talk about real distance cycling. I feel like I could do a century (100 miles in one day) but there are everyday people who do 150 miles in a weekend. At the extreme end is the Race Across America. These guys (and gals) make it from San Diego to Atlantic City in 8-10 days. There's a move about them called Bicycle Dreams.