Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thank You Mark Bittman

And before I forget...  thank you Mark Bittman.  The rosemary herb chicken recipe (page 360) worked fantastically with the Double Check Ranch free-range, organic whole chicken and front-yard organic, hand picked rosemary.  Ahhh, the scent of rosemary on your fingers, and drying basil in the house (over-night lows were predicted to be in the 40s, and basil doesn't do well below 5C, so my son and I picked and de-stemmed a bushel-full yesterday). 

That's still one thing blogs and twitter and the internets cannot do - convey scents.  Butter and rosemary, fresh picked basil, lavender in the back yard, wet mesquite and creosote after a desert storm, a blooming gardenia, a lemon tree when it is in full bloom...  Probably, if there was a way to convey smells electronically, the guys from Jackass would figure out how to send fart and sewer smells first - so look for that bow wave in the coming years.

Thanksgiving Cooking Cleanup

There were alot of dishes.  It's good to have a well equipped kitchen.

Outside of Thanksgiving, I think it would take Dr Desert Flower and I about 2 months to generate this many dirty cooking pans.

Gila Woodpecker's Daily Dusk Visit

Every sunset, a Gila (pronounced HE-la) Woodpecker comes to visit my back yard hummingbird feeder.  Most of the cacti are lacking fruit this time of year, and I think the large bird wants a quick high sugar sip before heading off to sleep for the night.  The distinctive Gila Woodpecker "laugh" is not unlike Woody Woodpecker's, in a vague sense, and it's funny to watch a thumb sized male Anna's Hummingbird angrily try to dissuade the nearly I-Pad sized Woodpecker from hanging inverted upon and pecking away at the metallic flowers of the hummingbird feeder, to "slosh out" a few sweet drops of nectar.  The attached photo was the closest I could get before the skittish woodpecker flew away from the clumsy ape with a near-infrared lighted camera standing at the patio door, excited to see this large bird.

Yeah...  he's looking directly at me as the camera's distance finder is targeting him on full zoom, well aware of his surroundings, about 1/2 a second before he launched himself out and over the pool, and over the neighbor's house beyond.

Retrospective Thanks '10

As I sit with my family, watching a Jim Carrey movie on DVR, while digesting
- organic, free range, farmer's market whole chicken slow roasted with butter & with hand-picked rosemary from our front yard rosemary bush this morning
- hormone & anti-biotic free spiral cut ham from Trader Joe's
- sweet potatoes that I peeled this morning
- green bean casserole
- French champagne (blog posting later)
- a Tassimo brewed espresso with Van Gogh caramel vodka (Total Wine had a buy-one get one free double box set)
...I've been thinking about how much I have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. 
  • Our son is here, recovering from his car / bike accident, able to speak and walk and "back to normal".
  • Our home, though massively underwater, is a safe, warm, nice place to live - and defend-able from the coming zombie apocalypse (as long as they don't bring large rocks to smash the windows, or there's not more than 30 or 40 of them).
  • My pre-diabetic condition is gone now that I've banished grains and nearly all carbs from my daily intake, and I've never been healthier in my whole life (and that includes high school and college years)
  • My wife - who puts up with me, bless her - is happily employed and appreciated in her job as a scientist.
  • I'm still gainfully employed, and able to work from home, with a team of talented young engineers.in India and the Eastern US ...and I've just been given a new 'special assignment' by my general manager on an interesting aspect of the business.
  • I've still got the nicest and smartest friends from High School - many of who used to be in Science club (GRAMs) or Band or both with me
  • My best friend for the last 30 years became a dad this year in Atlanta and I've never seen him happier.
  • My old friends from HS were there for me this year when my son nearly killed himself on his bike in October.  I cannot thank you all enough for being there when I needed you.
  • I did not have to bury my cat this year when she got a severe infection, had surgery, and has now fully recovered.
  • I got to swim 2 weeks earlier in April and through the beginning of October with my fully functional homemade solar pool heater.
  • I was able to do yoga poolside, in shorts this afternoon (while the chicken was roasting) with dragon flies and humming birds flying sorties around me.
  • I'm still able to donate blood ever 8 weeks, and have no plans on discontinuing the practice.
  • Arizona's state Science and Engineering Fair is coming up in April 2011 and I'm organizing the Engineering Judging effort, and I got the Director of the State Board of Technical Registration to include a note about judges volunteering in the up-coming January newsletter that gets mailed to thousands of registered engineers statewide.
  • We were able to ADD our son to my wife's company provided health care insurance coverage for 2011 - because she works at a health care company (my employer's health insurance wouldn't allow it since he doesn't live with us), and because the DEMOCRATS passed health insurance reform which the Republi-tards now want to repeal?!?!
  • We've got a fridge full of left over ham, green beans, sweet potatoes, normal whipped potatoes (that I peeled as well, but did not partake of) and other fixins that'll last through the end of the month.
Life is pretty good. It's not awesome, but it's not merde either, and compared to where I was 4, or 8, or 16 years ago... it's quite an improvement.

Be well my friends.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Siouxsie x Alison = Florence

Take the intensity of Siouxsie Sioux's voice, and multiply it by the powerful heart grabbing chords that Alison Moyet's singing produces, and you've got Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine.  Very impressive performance on SNL last Saturday night (link here)









I just wish Lauren Michaels would stop letting Kristine Wiig's horribly redundant and annoying characters ruin his show. She's not funny - Gilly, Judy Grimes, Sue, Aunt Linda (barely likable, occasionally), Target Lady, Garth & Kat... all un-funny. Her Suze Orman & Pelosi are pretty good, and the "2 assholes" (in jump suits, chewing gum) was funny, but with Jason Sudeikis gone, we never see that anymore. Anytime Gilly, Grimes, Linda, or Garth/Kat come on, the DVR fast forward is used repeatedly.

But Florence Welch's voice... what a breath of fresh air!  Too bad SNL couldn't get the drum track to synchronize with the actual stick movements The Machine's drummer Chris Hayden was trying to make it look like he was playing. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Through Truth's Urethra

The Daily Show was remarkably hilarious, poignant, spot-on last Thursday night (I love my DVR), link here. (and if that link is broken, try this one here).  
"I didn't ask to be the truth.
Yet, I'm wearing the truth's suit
wearing the truth's glasses
peeing through truth's urethra."

In the tale of how Only Rupert Murdoch is standing between George Soros and the Amerika we can

"George Soros, the most dangerous kind of leftist... who has a better communist fighting record than the Reagan administration."

"You won't need your wife or husband anymore," he warns. "Because you'll be married to the truth."

Nice UK summary here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What do you see?

Are these moving when you look at them?  Or are they static images?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Drinking & Yoga, Still Go Together

Research confirms that drinking gives you the same benefits as yoga.  My Godfather sends me some hilarious emails... and after Da Bears beat the Dolphins last night on Thursday Night Football - which my son and I watched with a case of beer and 3 dozen hot wings here at home -  I can strongly relate to Savasana this morning.  I've mentioned previously (link here) how alcohol and yoga go well together.   This further illustrates different aspects.


शवासन Savasana (AKA relaxation pose)
Position of total relaxation.    

[]

Balasana (AKA childs pose)
Position that brings the sensation of peace and calm.  

[]

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (AKA Bridge pose)
This position calms the brain and heals tired legs.

[]

Marjayasana (AKA Cat pose)
Position stimulates the midriff area and the spinal column.  

[]
हलसन Halasana (AKA plow pose)
Excellent for back pain and insomnia.  

[]
Advadanta Sirsasana (AKA dolphin Pose)
Excellent for the shoulder area, thorax, legs, and arms.  

[]
शलभासन Salambhasana (AKA locust Pose)
Great exercise to stimulate the lumbar area, legs, and arms.

[]

Ananda Balasana
(AKA "happy baby pose")
This position is great for massaging the hip area.
[]

Malasana
(AKA "frog squats")
This position, for ankles and back muscles.  
[]

Butte-eful

Yeah, the Earth is only 6000 years old.  Right.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Shake Weight & Crème Fraiche

South Park's Crème Fraiche Episode last night was hilarious!!!  If you have not seen it, the link is here.
"by chiming and releasing a cool down spray"
Some awesome quotes from Shake Weight:
  • You are doing excellent
  • Great work
  • Now switch arms
  • Well, good job
  • You are amazing
  • You are very attractive and interesting
  • Keep going, harder, faster
  • This is a work out reminder, time for a reminder
  • That's it, work it, harder, faster
  • You are independent and strong
  • Switch arms
  • You are so motivated and charming
  • It is time to take your pulse, insert your finger. Put your finger in there a little more,
  • You are so lovely and elegant.  You can do anything you set your mind to.
  • You are a go getter.  You are strong and confident.  Tell me again about the women who you do not like.
  • You are so witty and alarming insightful.  How about a quick work out.
  • Just a quickie.  You can do it.
  • That's it.  Good.  Keep it up.  Feel the burn.  You are amazing. 
  • You are so strong and beautiful
  • You are very interesting
  • You have many interesting things to say
  • You have not worked out in seven hours
  • Your work out is finished. Here is some cab fare. Now going to sleep mode.

Do you have a quote of your own from Shake Weight that you like the best?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Arizona's Poor, Now Worth Less Than $50K Per Person

So let's say you're a hard working Arizona plumber, a Joe-six -pack, salt of the earth, nice family man. You and your wife are raising your little kids together... and then your heart starts to give out.  You might've had rheumatic fever as a kid, and damaged it... and you can't work anymore because, well, your heart is failing - you get winded and tired and you're not supposed to exert yourself with that cardiomyopathy progressing in your chest.  But that's ok... state Medicaid health care coverage can provide you with the "bootstraps" to get you on the list for a heart transplant.  You're 36.  Your kids are young. You're trained in skilled labor, you have your whole life ahead of you, right?

Not if you're in Arizona. See, in Arizona, our Libertarian leaning, Radical Republican primary populated (polluted) legislature, is REALLY against helping anyone with any boot straps.  Everyone needs to get their own boot straps, and if they don't or can't, then they can die.  And that's just fine with Arizona legislators.  We're running a deficit gosh darn it!   Though that didn't seem to matter when Bush was in office, or when Republicans were ear marking everything with pet projects, it CERTAINLY matters when some lazy bum wants a hand out and won't pull himself up by his own boot straps.

As Ted Robbin's enlightening story stated this morning on NPR (link here):
"aid it is unable to pay for Shepherd's transplant. In fact, facing a $1.5 billion budget deficit, Arizona has cut out all state-funded lung transplants, some bone-marrow transplants and some heart transplants — including transplants for the condition Shepherd has. "To basically renege on what you promised was [going to] be a chance at life is a very, very bitter indictment of the ethics of the Legislature," says Arthur Caplan, head of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. Caplan calls the reversal "awful" behavior because Arizona is going back on a covenant it made with its patients, and because these are patients for whom time is critical — patients who spent months, some years, thinking they were covered.
"They then stop trying to raise money, stop trying to see what Uncle Fred might be willing to give them," Caplan says. "They don't have the bake sale. They don't make the appeal in church.""


So the State of Arizona said they'd help the nice plumber get back on his feet and help him find a new heart transplant... and then...  whoosh..  pulled it out from under him.  Too bad, go find your own boot straps!

So you'd think with a $1.5 BILLION deficit that the 98 transplant patients who have been told they are no longer going to get the transplants they need to stay alive, are going to save the state HUGE amounts of money, right?   Let 98 people die so that the state can get out of the red maybe?  Wrong.  Letting 98 people die saves $4.5 million.  So how much is a poor person worth to the state of Arizona?  A little less than  $50,000 - and then, like Grayson of Florida said last year (before his dumb constituents voted him out of office this year) "die quickly".

Koppel's Unique Retrospective

Both Ted Koppel and David Brinkley presided over a unique period in broadcast new journalism, in the 80s and 90s.  While I usually never stayed up for "Nightline", I often enjoyed a cup of coffee or tea while watching (prior to DVR) David Brinkley on Sunday mornings on "This Week".  Both of them were pillars of integrity and respectability at their networks.  Both were screwed by corporate bean-counting MBAs who were trying to make news profitable.  Brinkley died in 2003.  Koppel continues to generate solid reporting.  How he's not turned into a sardonic curmudgeon, I do not know.

Maybe it's because I grew in my awareness of world events during the 80s and 90s, pre-high-speed internet access (dial up was unacceptably lethargic, and rarely used chez moi, during the Clinton Administration).  Maybe it's because I have a longer attention span than a drosophila, and I pay no attention to "Reality Based" contrived drama / Idiocrasy shows, "Competition" shows, or pop culture fluff that networks now try to pass off as "news".  But I really did enjoy Koppel's recent Washington Post Op Ed (links here and here).

"Much of the American public used to gather before the electronic hearth every evening, separate but together, while Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith offered relatively unbiased accounts of information that their respective news organizations believed the public needed to know. The ritual permitted, and perhaps encouraged, shared perceptions and even the possibility of compromise among those who disagreed."

go forward 20 years, and...

"Broadcast news has been outflanked and will soon be overtaken by scores of other media options. The need for clear, objective reporting in a world of rising religious fundamentalism, economic interdependence and global ecological problems is probably greater than it has ever been. But we are no longer a national audience receiving news from a handful of trusted gatekeepers; we're now a million or more clusters of consumers, harvesting information from like-minded providers."

Granted, the tag line was misleading "Ted Koppel: Olbermann, O'Reilly and the death of real news" ...but it did get me to read it.  "Death of real news" sounds boring to most readers...  but a conflict between Papa Bear and indignant, histrionic Olbermann... maybe that's worth reading!

It's not about Olbermann & O'Reilly.  They are just mouth pieces of their media organizations, standard bearers of customized, pablum providing, far leaning perspective confirming, biased data stream providers.  Not "news" providers.  No, they are opinion reinforcers.  Very profitable mouth pieces.  If you want news, go to PBS, NPR, or the BBC.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Colbert Thought He Had a Set...

Sir Dr. Stephen T. Colbert D.F.A. thinks he has a set of balls... but in contrast to the Tuberous bushcricket.... Colbert's micro-cajones don't match up.  Full story here:  (link)  Tip of the hat to my son for this hilarious story.

I wonder if there are entymological urologists?

And what if this cricket get's restless leg syndrome?  =P

Friday, November 12, 2010

Stephen Stryjewski's Cochon

On our automobile trek last month across the southern US to bring our injured son to our home for convalescence, we stopped in New Orleans.  It had been 4 years since Dr Desert Flower and I had been there, and our son had never visited the city.  We were able to get a relatively inexpensive room at the Hampton Inn downtown near the convention center, but the best part of the hotel location was that it was within walking distance of Cochon.


Cochon (French for "pig") is the creation of chef and owner (and fellow Pole) Stephen Stryjewski.  If you think his last name is pronounced, the street address upon which Cochon is located is "930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans LA" (504-588-2123, reservations are strongly recommended).  When were last visited this delicious restaurant, co-owner and Chef Donald Link had Just Opened Cochon, 6 months post Katrina.  We ate there on a  week night, and there were perhaps 20 customers total in the whole place.  The delicious fragrance of bacon permeated the venue, and actually drew us in as we walked past the place on the street.  The 2006 meal was delicious, and we knew if we'd ever return to New Orleans, we'd need to eat at Cochon again.

Last month was our 2nd chance, and Cochon did not disappoint.  Dr Desert Flower made reservations via cell phone as we drove through Southern Mississippi on I-10, and it's a good thing we did.  The October 2010 visit had 20 people waiting to get in, with every table inside and on the side walk outside packed with happy diners. A very cajun menu, and a respectable wine list, we heartily enjoyed our meal - check out the recipes on their web page (link here)!  Ad not only was Cochon flourishing, but Stryjewski and Link had expanded to Cochon Butcher behind the restaurant, where they served both FOOD and sWINE.  Link also runs Herbsaint and Calcasieu, which both sound delicious, though we've not personally tried them yet.

If you are visiting New Orleans, and you want to enjoy local, delicious, cajun cuisine, with excellent personal service in downtown New Orleans near the convention center in the Warehouse district, make reservations for a meal at Cochon.  You won't be disappointed.

Apricosmo Infusion

There's all sorts of flavored vodkas.... but in the US you'll be hard pressed to find an apricot flavored vodka.  Yes, there's apricot liqueurs, and all the added sugar they contain, and there's many a citron vodka flavor, most of them orangey or lemony... not apricot-ish.  And as Dr Desert Flower has taken a liking to Fez's Apricosmos, we've begun to infuse our own here chez nous.  It's remarkably simple to do, it just takes patience.

First, start with a quality vodka that you normally like.  We get the giant Kirkland (Costco) 1.75 bottle that is as good or better than Kettle One or Grey Goose (in blind taste tests).  Then, cut up several handfuls of dried apricots.  Yes, organic ones without sulfites would be better, but I had only Turkish with sulfites available.  You can quarter them, but what I do is slice them diagonally, for maximum cross section exposure, in thirds for the smaller apricots and in diagonal quarters for the larger ones. 
Then, put the apricots in the bottom of a sun ice tea jar, and add about one third of the bottle of vodka.   Let it sit, for at least a week, preferably 2 weeks.  Some online recommendations state "2 months" but I think that is excessive.  The last batch we made was about 3 weeks and it was awesome.  After 2 to 3 weeks, pour the vodka out of the ice tea container and into a used Citron vodka bottle.  Viola, you have your own supply of apricot flavored vodka now, naturally.  Toss the residual bits of apricots that have infused into the garbage.

Why toss them?  Well, all the deliciousness of the apricots goes into the vodka, and all the bitter nastiness goes into the sliced apricots.  How do I know?  I ate several of the blanched, infused, fruit remnants, hoping that each one would get better.  By the time I got to the 4th one, it was truly disgusting, and the rest were banished to the trash.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hob Nob Glob

Eating at a Ruby Tuesdays last Tuesday night, I was just grateful it wasn't an Applebees, whose fare I find inedible.  The limited wine list had a Rodney Strong Cabernet, and I really wanted to try it, by one of my senior colleagues wanted a Pinot Noir, and the only Pinot they had was a Hob Nob Pinot Noir, 2009.  This sells for $8 to $12 a bottle retail, and is worth about 1/2 that compared to what I could find at a Trader Joes or Total Wine, but ok...  I settled for ordering a bottle of the Hob Nob for $19.  "Drinkable" was the best way to describe it.  Nothing to write home about.  Nothing to advertise about it.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either.

I've had house table wines in Brasseries adjacent French train stations that were better, for 3 euros a cafe.  I can't really recommend it, but if you are stuck with a limited wine list at a popular American Chain restaurant, you too can settle for a Hob Nob if you have to.  I'm not being a snob, but I know what I like in a (supposedly) inexpensive wine, and Hob Nob barely avoids disappointing the drinker.  At least it didn't try to brag about having 'cherry cola & black pepper' notes, when it was more like watered down Chinon that was striving to cause a head-ache later, as it was laden with heavy sulfites.

Philly Wine Flight Failure

I had to fly through Philadelphia yesterday, on my way back from a business trip to central Pennsylvania.  US Air still doesn't know how to run a pleasant, fast & efficient air line like Southwest does, and while I was annoyed by my 2nd delayed flight of the day, I noticed a "Vino Volo" bar at the next gate in "Terminal B" where I was waiting.  I thought I'd give it a try.

The bartender had laid out 5"x8" two-page menus at each chair, and was talking to her sole customer as I approached.   I took a long look at the 2 pages and was not impressed with the selections.  For a specialty wine bar, that highlights "Flights", I had higher expectations.  The magazine of opened bottles showed about a 1/3 screw tops, 1/3 fake corks, and the remainder corks that showed very young (no migration through the cork) wines bottled by negotiants / distributors.  I should have turned around and left, but I still had an hour to blow before my late aircraft was going to arrive, and I was still curious.  A minute or so later, the bar keep asked me - with a rather impatient tone in her voice - what I wanted to have?

I saw a flight at the bottom of the list that started off with a Martinolles Pinot Noir from the Languedoc region (2009) and it sounded nice...  paired with another Pinot, the flight was $8, while the individual glasses were $11 and $12 each - pricey...  but I thought maybe it would be worth it.  So I says to the barkeep, my eyes still on the menu...  "That Martinolles Pinot Noir Languedoc...   it sounds...." and before I could finish my sentence, she had aggressively poured a normal serving sized glass of the Languedoc, plopped it on a coaster, and pushed it in front of me.  Feeling a little put off...  I retorted "I was going to have the flight, but you've obviously chosen for me already...".  This late-20s / early 30s aggressively impatient bartender gives me a look of disgust that read "you middle aged white guys in suits are all the same".  Whatever.  I added "...I'll drink this one." 

Then I noticed the customized paper coaster she'd plopped the wine glass down upon.  It had the name of the wine, a little tasting grid graphic, and the title "Cherry Cola and Black Pepper".  I did a double take.  I tasted neither cherry anything, nor black pepper...  and if the wine actually had these qualities, WHO in their right mind would brag about this, and use it as an advertising / marketing ploy?  Black pepper in a pinot noir?  No thanks.  Maybe in a Fitou, maybe, if it was trying to be an aggressive wine or it was trying to cover-up some lower/lesser/poor quality.  And "Cherry Cola"?  Ew. In a wine?  Nasty.  No thank you, not a chance, whatsoever.

While I was sipping my wine another patron approached, parked his roll on luggage at one of the two near tables, and asked the bar keep for a menu.   "Each table has one" she snorted back him, implying "(what, are you blind??)" - no, maybe he just thought a wine bar might actually have more than 10 or 12 selections of mediocre wines on a small 2 page listing.  Silly patron.  After he ordered, he asked if he could get a glass of water as well; "I only have bottled" was the bar keep's retort. 

So, to sum up "Vino Volo":
- conveniently located
- surly, indignant, aggressive service who apparently did not enjoy her job
- inflated prices for the quality served (the bill came to over $12 on a $11 listed wine, so the tip I left was tiny)
- misguided marketing
- copies of "Wine Speculator" (aka "Wine Spectator", but the subscription I used to have years ago provided me with more laughs than it did insights) PROUDLY on display behind the bar.

I will be back to the Philadelphia airport on business (because I have to, not really because I want to - though they did have free WiFi which was nice throughout most of the airport) but I will not be back to "Vino Volo" again.  Complete failure.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Look What You've Done Now Ame!

Our friend Ame guilted me into finding a local farmer's market after the great success she and our friend Zim have found in Chicago with local farmer's markets, and my delusion that Trader Joe's eggs were somehow mysteriously better for me than other mass produced beakless high volume egg-mill industrialized eggs.  2 weeks ago I remarked here (link) how happy I as to find farmers who were humanely raising hens to provide reasonably priced organic eggs.  Well this morning, I roused the whole family at 9am to drive down to the farmer's market in Central Phoenix, and what a cornucopia of remarkable fresh food did we find!
Truly wonderful grass fed beef brisket by double check ranch (www.DoubleCheckRanch.com)
Deliciously creamy feta from Crow's Dairy (www.crowsdairy.com)
Savory no gluten low carb (no salt or sugar added) lasagna from Raimondo's (www.raimondosofphoenix.com)
Grady's BBQ sauce (mild, hot, and Super Hot; http://www.gradysbbqsauce.com )
"DD's Desert Delights" Almond Espresso Brittle (Avondale AZ) [also Vegan and gluten free]
Line caught (not net caught) canned salmon from Oregon
Organic eggs, peppers, mozzarella cheese, spinach, lettuce, celery, apples, sweet potatoes, normal potatoes, tomatoes (and they were giving out free samples of cherry tomatoes 'try one!')
...so many nice farmers and ranchers.  No shortage of courteous shoppers with their Trader Joe's and Fresh & Easy canvas re-usable bags.  Well behaved children who listened to their parents without threats of violence.  No NASCAR, Lady Gaga, WWE/WWF, NRA, or anti-Obama T-shirts or paraphernalia to be seen.  No one open carrying any visible firearms (though it is legal throughout AZ to do without a permit).  I over-heard when a grocery shopper waiting in line ahead of me to pay for our organic goods told his friend "yeah, I'm giving the key note address on Globalization at the ASU conference tomorrow".  It was a wonderful, sustainable, friendly shopping experience for the whole family. 

And it's all Ame's fault!  =)  (thanks Ame!)

Au Dégoûtant Pain

I like to be prepared.  I'm a planner - it comforts my mind to be proactive, and have some semblance idea of what options are available ahead of time.   I don't have to lock in every detail, but knowing a little about what lies ahead around the next turn helps me to make more informed, more enjoyable choices.

So as I am planning ahead for an upcoming business trip where I'll be traveling through the Philadelphia airport, going from the large planed Terminal B to the small express planed Terminal F with a (theoretical) 3 hour evening layover, I wanted to see what possible delicious food might be available in said airport.  "Au Bon Pain" has several locations throughout the PHL airport - other than the "Pain" (bread) part, that sounded yummy.  I've eaten at A.B.Ps in years past elsewhere, when I didn't used to care about the quality of food I was eating quite so much.  They even have a convenient website (link here) that provides menu ingredients (link here).  How very savvy of them to provide such detailed info... until you read the actual ingredients... ugh!  A "simple" Garden Salad:

INGREDIENTS: Salad Blend (Romaine Lettuce, Field Greens), Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Carrots, Croutons [Contains any or all of the following: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Vegetable Oil (Canola and Olive Oil), May contain 2 percent or less of: Garlic, Dehydrated Potatoes (Potatoes, Mono- and Di-glycerides, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Citric Acid added as a preservative),Yeast, Salt, Dough Conditioners (Soy Flour, Ethoxylated Mono-and Di-glycerides, Calcium Sulfate, Silica, DATEM, Enzymes, Potassium Iodate, Ammonium Chloride, Ascorbic Acid, L-Cysteine, Azodicarbonamide, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate), Buttermilk Powder, Parsley, Sugar, Whole Wheat Flour, Bread Base (Rye Sour, Wheat Sour, Wheat Flour, Fumaric Acid, Lactic Acid, Acetic Acid), Natural Oil Blend (Palm Fruit, Soybean, Canola Seed and Olive Oils), Wheat Gluten, Deactivated Yeast, Rosemary, Malt Blend (Malted Barley, Wheat Flour, Dextrose), Molasses, Stabilizers (Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum), Soy Lecithin].

Wh.. wh.. wh.. why????? Why can't they just have a list of actual ingredients consisting of "Salad Blend (Romaine Lettuce, Field Greens), Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Carrots".  Maybe, just maybe, all that disgusting cr*p listed after "Carrots" is in the croutons, which I'd pick out of the salad anyway, but then what dressing (if any) does an Au Bon Pain salad have on it?   Ew!  EW!  EWWWW!!  The "GRILLED CHICKEN CAESAR ASIAGO" sounded delicious, until those ingredients were revealed:

INGREDIENTS: Romaine Lettuce, Chicken (Boneless Chicken Breast Meat, Water, Isolated Soy Protein, Salt), Asiago Cheese [Pasteurized Part Skim Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes, Powdered Cellulose (to prevent caking), Natamycin (to protect flavor)], Croutons [Contains any or all of the following: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Vegetable Oil (Canola and Olive Oil), May contain 2 percent or less of: Garlic, Dehydrated Potatoes (Potatoes, Mono- and Di-glycerides, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Citric Acid added as a preservative), Yeast, Salt, Dough Conditioners (Soy Flour, Ethoxylated Mono-and Di-glycerides, Calcium Sulfate, Silica, DATEM, Enzymes, Potassium Iodate, Ammonium Chloride, Ascorbic Acid, L-Cysteine, Azodicarbonamide, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate), Buttermilk Powder, Parsley, Sugar, Whole Wheat Flour, Bread Base (Rye Sour, Wheat Sour, Wheat Flour, Fumaric Acid, Lactic Acid, Acetic Acid), Natural Oil Blend (Palm Fruit, Soybean, Canola Seed and Olive Oils), Wheat Gluten, Deactivated Yeast, Rosemary, Malt Blend (Malted Barley, Wheat Flour, Dextrose), Molasses, Stabilizers (Xanthan Gum, Guar Gum), Soy Lecithin].

Why soy protein?  And what's wrong with a little caking?   I'd bet with a 3 sigma confidence level that the "boneless chicken breast meat" was raised in a light-less, fecal-filled, forced air-flow, 10,000 or more de-beaked hens, nasty chicken "coop", who were raised a diet of antibiotics, chicken sh*t, growth hormone, and ground up chicken parts.  A far cry from the organic poultry I try to source here at home.  And for croutons, I used to make croutons when I was in High School at my job at Wicker Park.  It was simple.  You take old bread, and let it get slightly stale, then chop it up into cubes, and let it get more stale.  Add natural seasonings (not all the synthetic garbage listed above).  Viola, croutons, sans all the chemistry.  And the croutons we made kept, for weeks and weeks, in the walk in fridge.  They're croutons after all, they're already stale!

Looks like I'll be eating the nuts and dried fruits that I'll have in my carry-on while in the Philly airport.  Unless someone can recommend a good cheese steak in the PHL airport beyond security?

Friday, November 5, 2010

The 'Best' Rush Songs

I heard there was a spirited debate / discussion among several scientists and their colleagues in Arizona recently, fueled by ethanol and bar food, about "What's the best Rush song, ever?"  To me, that's like trying to say "Which Van Gogh painting is the best?" or "Which sunset was the most spectacular?" or Whether "Adenine is superior to Cytosine and if Guanine is better than Thymine?"  Each song and album is unique, and while there are different aspects that a particular song may have that can be seen as superior to others, the context must be considered as a whole.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinions.  That preface being said, since I have my own blog, here are some of my favorites, and "why":

Cygnus X1  
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHIgmXGMC5E
1:50 mark
3:05 mark
8:18 mark
As a student of music, a drummer all my life, and as one who appreciates beauty in its various forms, the song "Cygnus X1" is remarkable in its complexity, intensity, difficulty, length, tightness of three-performers-as-one, and amazing drumming.  It's the first song that comes to my mind, when asked "which one do you think is the 'best'?"

Natural Science
This remarkable saga comes in a close 2nd to the above noted Cygnus, and perhaps, because of the obscurity and un-approachability of Cygnus, many Rush fans will name Natural Science as 'the best' - and it DOES some truly beautiful things throughout its musical journey.  Then again, for PhD scientists, this song might be a little bit 'dumbed down' in the same way that reading an article in the Parade Section of the Sunday paper about a genetic disorder does not make one a geneticist.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7W0Nm8iHwk
1:56 mark beginning... steady foundation
2:22 time sig changes beautifully
3:18 - 3:53 and then the smooth transition fill
4:18s cascading 16th note riff, that leaves an indelible mark on any developing drummer's mind (as it did on mine, more than 30 years ago)
Through the 5 to 7 minute marks, it's basic laying down tracks, foundations.
The 7:35 mark see's a prelude of cymbal work that is akin to the end of the live version of Red Barchetta
The 3 second long riff cascade that starts at 8:18 and ends Neil's odyssey is an excellent finishing touch.


La Villa Strangiato
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbSWzK4nKQA
In the genre of instrumentals... this is a benchmark that not many others can meet. I've played this with my son on dual drum sets and waxed poetically about it before... nuff said.  

Spirit of the Radio
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYfh0kycptI&feature=related
I cannot resist playing along with this song, inexorably, whenever I hear it.  The sound that Neil produces from the drum kit, is amazing, moving, and the song is damn enjoyable to play.

Freewill
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnxkfLe4G74&feature=related
Radio friendly, multiple time signature changes (4/4, 5/4, 7/8, 6/8) with excellent cymbal work (3:02 phenomenal hi hat), riffs and fills (4:12!), flows beautifully. If I'm having a bad day and I hear this on the car radio, it always brings a smile to my face - and drumming to the steering wheel.

The Trees
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhFsQxl2M8o&feature=related
is just 'plain old fun', and a wonderful Canadian jab at their neighbor to the south, with hatchet, axe, and saw!  Best use of wood blocks, in a rock song ever.  Nicely done in 12/8 - the live versions I've heard have been better than the studio version in my opinion.

Red Barchetta
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAvQSkK8Z8U&feature=related
Is a sweet little song, with a short story plot.  While it's very good, and difficult to play (as I studied it ad naseum in my parents' basement in NW IN), I cannot say it's my favorite.  Perhaps if you own and drive an expensive 2 seat roadster you can embrace it more and call it your 'all time favorite' but for me, it's a few minutes of adrenalin.

Closer to the Heart
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEgXe-gQxX4&feature=related
As I wrote a High School Marching Band Cadence to this song (for 5 snares, 3 quad toms, 3 bass drums, 2 cymbals, and 2 mallets... though the time signature transitions made it difficult to march steadily to) it has always been one of my very favorites.  My old friend Ryan, whom I've known for more than 30 years, said it best 'Closer to the Heart' is the song that you play for a girl who doesn't know anything about Rush, to say 'look, this Rush' " - when he told me that on the phone last month, I bust out laughing!  He's right!

Working Man
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fslJPoocZo4&feature=related
As the son of a Graphic Arts Union member who retired after 40 years of working in various binderies, and grand son of an hourly steel mill working grandfather (Dzia Dzia) and floor scrubber grandmother (Busia), and no stranger to manual labor myself, this song's always warmed the cockles of my heart.  The John Rutsey version is lackluster, uninspiring and verging on lame, but the live versions with Neil are fun indeed. 

The professor on the drum kit - the standard by which any drum set player worth his salt, aspires to reach someday.  (And yes, this is YYZ from Exit Stage Left, Pre-electronic drums, pre-jazz diversions, pre-rotating drum set stage... the way drums were meant to be played when I was growing up)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbqaXZzLdGU



And if one had to pick a live album, hands down, it would be Exit Stage Left.  A studio album... much harder choice...  Permanent Waves, A Farewell to Kings, 2112, Moving Pictures, Hemispheres... each stands out in the Pantheon. 

Stash Organic White Tea

It's good for you, tastes great, and costs less than a quarter a cup.  Stash Organic White Tea - it's delicious.  I buy mine at Sprouts, but you might be lucky enough to have a Target carry this in your local store.  The Targets in Arizona carry Stash brand teas, but I've not seen ANY organics there yet.

the organic varieties are little more expensive (between 40% and 2X more) but tea is still very cheap in the US.  And think about it, you're drinking the essence of residual plants that give off flavor by having warm water poured on them, and steeping over time.  How many pesticides & fertilizers do you REALLY want to be drawing out of those plant parts and then loading up in your liver, kidneys, fat tissues, and appendix, introduced to your digestional tract by the simple act of drinking tea?  Granted, even non-organic teas are better for you than phosphoric acid and industrialized synthetic sweeteners that are fundamental building blocks of carbonated beverages and the obesity, insulin resistance, osteoporosis, hyperactivity and acid reflux they cause, but when you're looking at pennies a cup, rather than a dollar or more a cup, I think it's worth the small incremental extra investment to get the organic tea.

Dragon Fly Study - In My Backyard



I've always liked biplanes.  Wilbur & Orville's first prototype flow in windy Kitty Hawk NC was a Biplane, and I used to play with small metallic toy biplanes as a little kid.  So it was with great delight this year, that I observed a significant increase in the number and variety of dragon flies in the back yard.   Very early in the Spring we saw damsel flies, with their distinctive mono-plane architecture and small fuselages.

Some of them were thirstily drinking from the succulent aloe veras and ocotillos.  Others were flying dive-bombing (drinking) sorties over the pool.  Still others were refueling (copulating) in remarkable con-joined flights, elegantly, effortlessly as couples zoomed over head at 15 to 20mph horizontal velocities, abdomens locked together, coitus in-flight.  Along with the black throated, Lucifer's, Costa's & Anna's  hummingbirds, honey bees, paper wasps, striped lizards, vireos, mocking birds, bee & fly catchers, and the occasional tarantula hawk, the backyard is a cornucopia of life from dawn to dusk.

At night, the massive crickets come out, and the wolf spiders that hunt them as well.  I've surgically eradicated the black widows after one of their brethren bit me and sent me to the hospital for a leg ultrasound - I'm not going to risk my health again.  I've not seen the scorpions that also prey upon the giant crickets, but being quite urban and many blocks from the nearest open field, I doubt I'll see any / many. 








Chlorine & Cast Iron Don't Mix

Last Spring, we had a severe wind storm that blew our pool deck umbrella into the swimming pool. The base is cast iron, and weighs about 50 lbs, so it was impressive that the wind could move a closed umbrella about 3 meters and plunge it into the pool.  The next morning, I discovered the submerged umbrella and stand, and fished it out.  Many months later, with my water-proof Olympus Stylus Tough, I took a close up photo underwater of the permanent iron oxide stain that resulted from the hours of chlorine exposure to the painted cast iron base.

I tried scrubbing it off (albeit underwater) with no effect. I'll just have to chalk it up to permanently etched oxidation.  And from now on, I keep a deck reclining chair between the pool and the umbrella and it's heavy stand, as an added buffer of safety margin.

Man Up, Boehner

Vanity Fair made a nice video compilation of the next speaker of the house crying like a little girl.  Link here.  Now, I have nothing against demonstrating some emotion every now and then, it shows your human - but if you're a Republican, aren't you supposed to "Man Up"?  Where's Boner's emotional boot straps?  I didn't know oopa-loopas could cry so much.  Maybe he was drunk, again.  Who knows?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Another AMC Show Perhaps Worth Watching?

Dr Desert Flower and I watched AMC's Breaking Bad, Season 1 on I-tunes download, and it was pretty good, but took a turn for the ridiculous and we lost all empathy for the main character near the end of the season.  Didn't download season 2.  DDF watches Mad Men devotedly, and her mother has attested to the accuracy and efficacy of the ward robes, attitudes, morals, common practices depicted in the series.  As I'm no fan of advertising, I've not embraced the series. 

But zombies?  I love zombie movies, and I feel I am pretty prepared for the eventual zombie invasion that were just one viral mutation away from.  So when our son suggested we record The Walking Dead I agreed wholeheartedly.  Today we watched the first episode, DVR'ed last weekend.  It was pretty good.  There was all the obligatory character development and the struggle of the human soul in extreme adversity.  My son asked me "Dad, could you shoot mom in the head if she had become a zombie?"  To which I instantly responded "Yes, if she was absolutely, without a doubt, a zombie, I'd shoot her in the head to put her out of her misery."  You can imagine my annoyance at one of the secondary characters who struggled with shooting his former-wife-now-staggering-and-gaunt-zombie via sniper rifle.  She's just gonna try and eat you!  Put her down!

Later in the episode, I made a note to self: "get a gas siphon". Really stinks to run out of gas in the middle of a zombie apocalypse without a siphon!  And trying to siphon by mouth tastes terrible and can lead to mouth cancer - no thanks.  There's zombies to take out!

The zombies are gruesome and realistic.  The character development of the non zombies is thorough, and I guess, heart warming, in some ways...  but I really love the zombie attack scenes, and wide angle panning and detail.  Done superbly.  When such nice people in such a pretty place run into such terribly hideous things.  I think we'll be watching more of these DVR'ed episodes.

Note: on the movie poster.. I have driven into Atlanta on all 6 interstate approaches... and several US Highway approaches... and none of them have a 5 lane, no guard rail, railway side that I can recall (and it doesn't meet NHTSA requirements).  But it is eerily depicted.

Revenge of the HFCS Driven Hunger

As our son is staying with us recuperating from his head injury, Dr Desert Flower went out and bought some Yoplait yogurt last weekend.  I had some minor hunger pangs this morning around 930am (after starting my work day with hot tea at 4am) so I found the last yogurt in the fridge and ate a banana.  Not the typical handful of almonds, or (2) Baby Bel cheeses, or 3 scrambled organic, locally laid, humane eggs I sometimes have for a late breakfast / brunch, but I figured 'what the heck, why not?' - I'd not had an industrialized name brand yogurt in many months, perhaps all year.  What harm could one yogurt with a little high fructose corn syrup do?  And I thought (delusionally) that maybe the accompanying fiber and pectin bound fructose in the banana might somehow "buffer" the HFCS laden Yoplait. 

No way.  By 1130am (just a mere 120 minutes later) I was RAVENOUS.  My work day / work stress / physical activity level was no different than any other day (discount that variable).  I'd not loaded up on carbs the night before (discount that variable too).  My son woke up, and asked if I had eaten breakfast yet / was I hungry?  I responded to him, in a mode that was common when I was ingesting mainly carbs years ago "I must eat, before I kill!".  He remarked that he'd not seem me with that crazed hunger look in a long time.  My post-diabetic pancreas and reptilian brain stem got all that concentrated HFCS and went right back to their old mode of "EAT! EAT NOW! You're SOOOO HUNGRY!  EAT!"
I fried him up 2 eggs over easy, and scrambled the last 3 for me, accompanied by ample amounts of bacon.  Hunger all gone.  Eggs all gone too, but the Farmer's market is Saturday morning, and I'll be picking up 2 more dozen eggs there.  No more HFCS intake again for me for a long time.  I prefer to not have my daily activities driven by "When are we gonna eat next!?!?!?".  Lesson learned.

It is not surprising to me at all that diabetes and obesity are at epidemic levels in the US.

Oh.... and I took an internal company health quiz today, provided by our insurance carrier United, that says a 6 ft tall man is supposed to be 140 to 184 lbs, and at 200 lbs I am over weight!  LOL!  Yeah, there's no where on the survey to put in body fat percentage, a 48 inch chest size, or thigh diameter on a leg where I can see all 4 of my quadriceps outlined individually. It's great that the US health care system is incorrectly focused.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Joe's One Page Red Wine Reference

I wrote this up in 2005 originally.  It still holds true today:
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Joe’s “One Page” Red Wine reference
Everyone has their own preferences.  Here, I’ve tried to compile the wines that in my experience, are delicious, and often under-appreciated, under-rated, and under-valued.   I hope, that in creating this list, it promotes better understanding of these lesser known, wonderful red wines.

France  (where every saint is delicious; and note that ’99, ’00, and ‘01 wines are generally more expensive)

BordeauxBordeaux uses the well know cabernet sauvignon & merlot, as well as cabernet franc, malbec & petit verdot.  They are good alone, or with a meal.  Usually, they have stronger aspects to them than most other wines, and are best paired with more flavorful foods, but they certainly can be enjoyed without any food, and marveled at the complexities therein.  Château PÉTRUS, one of the most famous, starts at $500.  There are many Bordeaux wines that cost 1/50th as much and that are delicious. 
Left BankMédoc, St-Estèphe($), Pauillac ($$), St-Julien ($), Listrac, Moulis, Margaux ($$), Haut-Médoc, Pessac-Léognan, Graves.  These wines are bold, with usually powerful tannins, depth, intense character, amazing to a wine connoisseur, but will usually cost more than $25 for an average one, and well over $200 for a good one (Château Margaux).  If you see one that is priced less than $20, buy it before the shopkeeper realizes his tremendous labeling mistake.

Entre-Deux-Mers: (between 2 seas), middle BordeauxExcellent wines here include Côtes de Bordeaux, Cadillac, Ste-Croix-du-Mont, and Bordeaux Supérieur.  Bergerac and Buzet are just east of this region, and excellent as well.  All of these are very high quality wines.  I’ll take a $10 Bordeaux Supérieur any day over a typical $8 merlot or cabernet.

Right Bank:  These are (admittedly) my favorite Bordeaux wines.  They include Côte de Bourg, Fronsac, Canon-Fronsac, Pomerol ($$$), Lalande-de-Pomerol, St-Emilion ($), Côtes de Castillon, Côte de Francs, and Bordeaux Supérieur.  Many wine snobs shun right bank wines as inferior with the exception of Pomerol and St-Emilion.  I think those snobs are fools, but thank them for not driving up the price of many delicious wines from this region.  Every bottle of wine I’ve enjoyed from this part of Bordeaux has been superb (and since 2005, I’ve had close to a hundred different bottles from the regions surrounding Pomerol).  The Côtes de Castillon, Canon, Supérieur bottles I’ve enjoyed have been less than $12 each, and I think are better than an over-priced $40 bottle of Sonoma or Napa any day.  Trader Joes carries many of these as well as a “Caves de Joseph” for $8 a bottle that is delicious!

Burgundy (central & eastern) aka Bourgogne, Beaune, – Burgundy uses alot of pinot noir.  People from Burgundy insist their wine is the best in the world, and they price much of it that way too.  A few of the less expensive ones are listed here: Chateau Tour d l’Ange Macon, Superior 03, Latour Pinot Noir, Ropiteau Hautes Cotes de Beaune 03. If you love Pinot Noir, you’ll enjoy Burgundy. The P.N. grape is harder to grow, more fragile, susceptible to hot and cold and more temperamental, so yields are often lower.

Beaujolais – this is actually as far south as you can go in the Burgundy region, before getting into the Rhone valle wines.  The Beaujolais are ranked: ok- Beaujolais, better – Beaujolais Villages, and best – Beaujolais Crus.  All of them are delicious.  Light, somewhat fruity, a good sipping wine, or aperitif, or table wine, or dessert wine.  Best served with lighter dishes that have milder tastes (turkey, roast chicken, etc).  The “Crus” are:  Chiroubles, Brouilly, Côte be Brouilly, Regnie, Chenas, Julienas, St. Amour, Fleurie, Morgon, and Moulin-a-Vent.   It’s hard to find a “bad Beaujolais”.  However, “Beaujolais Nouveaux”, comes out every November (3rd week) and is VERY young wine (aged only 7 to 9 weeks), very sweet, not one of my favorites – more like a fortified grape juice than anything else.

Loire valle (western & central) – the main red appellations in the Loire valle are Saumur, Chinon, Saumur-Champigny, Sancerre Rouge, and Touraine.  All of these are very good wines, most are quite mild, without a “bite”, low acidity, lower levels of tannins.  I have frequently introduced Chinon wines to newcomers who might be curious about French red wines but who have had bad experiences with red wines in the past. (my thanks to my good friend François G for this practice)

Rhone valleNorth Rhone($): Côte Rotie, Cornas, St. Joseph, Hermitage, and Crozes Hermitage are all nearly 100% Syrah grapes.  They are good, but hard to find under $15.  Southern Rhone:  Chateauneuf du Pape($$$), Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Côtes du Rhone, Côtes de Ventoux, Lirac, Nimes are a mix of marsanne, roussanne and viognier, as well as 23 other varietals of grapes, the further south you go.  Other than Ch de Pape, most of these wines are not expensive and are excellent values.  In general, Rhone wines have alot of tannins and go well with roasted or grilled pork, lamb, steak, blackened and smoky flavors, etc. 

Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon (south southwest) – these are some of the least appreciated and most undervalued wines in France.  Whites, rosés, and reds... there is a wide variety.  They are very good light wines (generally) that have broad flavors and depth of character.  Cousins to Provence include Corbieres, Côte de Roussillon, Fitou, Minervois, and Cahors.    One exception to the “light” description is Fitou, which is one The Strongest, most powerfully tannic wines I’ve ever tasted.  Fitou goes well with spicy, strong flavored foods.  Do not drink Fitou by itself. (Fitou is violet, compared to Chinon’s indigo)
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Italy  (avoid the flashy labels, mega producers [Ecco, Bolla, Bella Sera, Placido, Gabbiano] & there’s a wealth of delicious variety under $10)

Northern ItalyPiedmontBarolo ($$), Barbaresco ($), and Gattinara ($) are very good, but too expensive in general.  Barbera, Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo are good wines with higher acidity that go well with heartier foods.   “Total Wine” carries a nice variety of these under $10.  VenetoAmarone ($$) &  Valpolicella are well known full bodied wines from this region – I am allergic to both.  Bardolino is a lighter Veneto wine, and better as far as I am concerned.  Tuscany:  Brunello ($$), Montalcino, Nobile, Morellino, Umbria and Montepulciano are very good, however I have found several Montepulcianos to be somewhat “mineral” with long finishes.  Chianti, Chianti Classico, & Sangiovese wines neighbor Tuscany, and it’s pretty hard to find a bad Chianti.  (Chianti is 70-95% Sangiovese, Umbria is 60% Montepulciano & 40% Sangiovese)  As with all wines, I try to stay away from the large mega bottlers and go with the smaller producers who bottle thousands, not 100s of thousands.

Southern Italy, Sicily & SardiniaApulia (Puglia = heel in Italian) Tiamo Rosso is delicious at $10.  Aglianico, Salice Salentino and Primativo grapes dominate the southern region of Italy; Cannonau in Sardinia and Nero d’Avola in Sicily.  I’ve had many bottles (< $10) and all have been wonderful.   These regions have not yet been discovered by the mass marketers – enjoy them now at reasonable prices while you can. Trader Joes and Total Wine both carry many of these underappreciated and under publicized delicious wines.
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Spain  (Not timid wines)

Spanish wines have 3 ascending classifications for quality and price:  Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva.   The most commonly used grapes are garnacha & tempranillo – both have rather strong flavors, and a bite to them, that can over-power mild dishes.    Popular regions are Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Penedes, but also delicious are Priorat, Tarragona, Cataluña, Toro, Navarra, and La Mancha.  These range in price from $50 to $4, and the Navarras, Riojas, Tarragona and Riberas at Crianza and Reserva quality levels that I’ve tried have all been very good.
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Argentina & Chile

Malbec – Malbec wines have somewhat of a “bite” to them.  Complimenting spicy foods, game, bbq, hamburgers, etc.  Not a ‘mild’ variety, usually.  Chile makes some wonderful cabernets, merlots, and carmeneres.  OK for table wines.  It’s usually easy to find good South American wines under $12.  Avoid the < $5 wines that are mass produced, and hit-or-miss quality (true everywhere, not just South.America).

Calm Juxtaposition

I saw this the other day, and could not stop laughing.  =)

Business Trip Fare

Whenever I travel to South Carolina or Georgia on business, I try my best to eat healthy foods, not fast food garbage and franken-foods.  I snapped this photo of my Hampton Inn hotel's work desk in Greenville last September, and misplaced the file until today. 
Wines by Total Wine:
Fontanyl Cotes de Provence ($9)
Chateau de Corntemps Bordeaux ($8)
Chateau Landure Minervois ($8)

Figs from Whole Paycheck (aka Whole Foods)
Tiny bag of Made in Nature organic Calimyrna Figs (for about the same price as the 2 lbs bag at COSTCO)
Tiny bag of Made in Nature organic Black Mission Figs (also exorbitantly priced)

Panera Bread Greek Salad, with Chicken (about $10)

I also stocked up on the Spanish Marcona almonds while there, since COSTCO Greenville had them while Avondale AZ COSTCO no longer does.  

I brought my own Trader Joe's chocolate and a cork screw in my checked luggage.  The wine and figs lasted more than a week, the almonds and chocolate 2 weeks, and I ate very little for lunch, with a sizable dinner, and typically no breakfast.  I find I have more energy, feel better, and spend less, eating smaller portions of good quality that taste great, than dosing up on HFCS and ubiquitous fast food.  It also helps when going out to lunch with colleagues with whom you're having a working lunch meeting, because when eating just a side salad, you're left with a great deal more time to discuss the business issues at hand, and update colleagues on various issues (yeah, I can be sorta loquacious at lunch sometimes).