Monday, February 25, 2013

Make mine Samoas, with a Thin Mint chaser

SamoasANDThinMints Original photo(cc) by: Brian LeGate

I was shocked a few nights ago when a little urchin actually came to my front door! Looking through the peep hole I couldn't see who was there so asked "what do you want?" A tiny little voice said, "Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?"

Alas, but I had no money to do so, but certainly would have since she was doing it old school, pulling a little red wagon behind her with her supplies on board, momma only along to stand guard for would be cookie thieves, and nothing more.

I've gotten used to hearing a chorus of high pitched voices every time I get near the front door of the Albany Safeway, especially on weekends, mid-February and mid-March.

Though their voices may be high enough to break glass, to the mere mortal, such as I, they are more like the melodic sounds of the Sirens of Greek Mythology, drawing us to their cookie tables with names like Somoas®, Tagalongs®, Do-Si-Dos® or Thin Mints® (among others), only to hook us into a life long craving!!

* * *

A few weeks ago, not realizing it was that time of year, I deleted the Girl Scout Cookie Finder Android app off my cell phone.

A couple days later, I saw a television news piece announcing sales were starting up again. Needless to say, it has been reinstalled! Apple fan boys take heart, the Girl Scouts are equal opportunity and have an iPhone app as well.

These handy apps let a person find the nearest cookie stand, and what hours they will operate.

Additionally, if you don't have a smart phone, you can always go to their website finder and search by your zip code.

I was surprised to see they are going to have stands set up in front of several Peet's Coffee locations. It's one thing for a retail store to allow this, but a coffee shop that's probably undercutting sales of their own pastries and cookies? THAT'S AWESOME!! (Did they allow that last year? I honestly don't remember seeing that).

I did find it odd that they were set up in front of the Downtown Berkeley BART station. Not only is the area rather unsanitary, it's loaded with pan-handlers and homeless who typically beg for money handouts. I can only imagine the constant harassment the poor little girls are being exposed to as they're trying to sell their cookies.

* * *

When I was in Boy Scouts, we had annual fund raisers where we sold things such as candy bars or Christmas wreaths. While these may have been long standing programs, they were nowhere nearly as iconic as the Girl Scout Cookie drive.

I really applaud the Girl Scouts who go out and do their sales, especially any that go door-to-door. They're learning marketing and communication skills, not to mention the basics of math, usually without a calculator; something seemingly lacking in the video game age population.

I always thought it was depressing when parents would come around work selling cookies for their children.

At one place I was at, if one person found out you bought cookies from another co-worker's "daughter," you had to naturally buy them from "her" daughter too. (Needless to say, neither daughter ever set foot in the building!).

While you can use the web to find out all sorts of information on this year's cookie varieties, the Girl Scouts haven't bowed to technological pressure and set up an online cookie sale outlet.

To do so would rub a tremendous amount of luster off the program as I think it's the smiling little faces that make them different, and not just another box of cookies.

* * *

This year, I've seen some posts complaining about the fact that none of the cookie varieties are Gluten-free, and how they need to be made healthier.

If any of you have purposely went shopping for gluten-free ingredients you know how much more costly they can get. They'd never be able to maintain the pricing if they had to factor an ingredient increase from the baker.

Beside, if you're going to wolf down a whole box of Thin Mints® in one sitting, I don't care how healthy there are. That's never a good idea.

Should you decide you just aren't into the whole cookie scene you can still give money to a good cause by donating through the Cookie Share Program. The purchased products will be distributed to non-profit organizations in your area so others, who might not be able to afford them, can enjoy these tantalizing treats.

It may sound silly, but I can only imagine the warm feelings of home our overseas soldiers get when they receive some Girls Scout cookies.

* * *

Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-Si-Dos and Thin Mints are registered trademarks of Girl Scouts of the United States of America.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Positive Ponderings on Sweet Pickle Relish

Last month I posted a simple question on my Facebook profile. Did my Facebook friends prefer Sweet Relish or Dill Relish? Nothing scientific, and they were free to respond any way they wished, being they had to write the answer out.

There was no particular reason behind the question of than that I was out of relish earlier that day, and the store I went to only had Dill Relish on sale, for whatever reason.

I purposely didn't post my preference so as not to sway people's responses. After a couple of days, a half dozen of my friends had stopped by to answer.

Ignoring the one "Depends on the situation," I was surprised to see that all, but one, favored Dill Relish.

Based on that un-scientific poll I must be in the minority when it comes to relish, as my relish of choice is Sweet Pickle Relish. (And to give a free plug, my jar of choice is Mt. Olive No Sugar Added Sweet Relish).

There's something about that cloyingly sweet pickle goodness that adds just the right touch to a burger or coupled with plain yellow mustard takes a liverwurst and sourdough sandwich to a whole new level!

* * *

Looking back, I'm thinking my love of sweet pickles goes back to my childhood. Every Christmas Eve the family would get together to see what Santa brought that night, and prior to the annual paper ripping we'd have a big spread of all sorts of good things to eat.

Sitting amongst the salami, cheeses and dips, was usually a small bowl filled with those mini sweet gherkins that come in the four inch tall jars. If you planned ahead of time, and chilled them in the fridge, they'd seem extra firm and crunchy when compared to the soft insides of even the freshest dill pickle.

Strangely most of the family bypassed the pickle bowl, which was fine with me, as I eagerly grabbed four at a time with each visit to the table.

A week later, we'd do it again; this time to ring in the New Year, which was one of the few chances for the little ones (my sister and I) to stay up past Midnight!! Helping us pass the time before the clock struck Midnight was Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. (This was before I knew it was all tape delayed for us on the Left Coast).

Later on my mother took up canning. One of the things she tried her hand at was pickles. They were dill pickles, including some with hot peppers and garlic to give them a kick! Probably long last their prime, but I have a couple cans lurking around for sentimental sake. Nothing like freshly canned pickles. (Though I couldn't convince her to make sweet pickles!)

When I was in junior high (Go Albany Cobras!!) we had a teacher who's favorite saying was, "Relax, and have a pickle!" Most of the kids thought this was either odd, or funny. Not sure why as it made perfectly good sense to me.

* * *

I leave you with my Go To recipe for Tartar Sauce.

Last year I found I was making a conscious effort to eat more fish, especially on Fridays (I'm not Catholic, but I used that practice as an excuse).

It was usually Van de Kamp's Beer Battered Fillets, so it came with breading, which meant it naturally needed Tartar Sauce to complete the dinner. After buying jar after jar of premade sauces, I decided I could do better…AND cheaper!

(makes a little over half cup)
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Sweet Pickle Relish
1 Green Onion (minced)
1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
1 tsp. dried Dill Weed
Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Thoroughly mix all ingredients and cover with plastic wrap.
Allow to chill in the refrigerator for a couple hours for the flavors to blend. Ideally overnight.

The type of citrus juice really isn't important. I've actually made it with Lime Juice or Meyer Lemon Juice, fresh from my backyard tree. Both of these options aren't nearly as sour as the traditional lemon. (Not sure I'd try Orange Juice though).

After a little tweaking I'm pretty happy with what I came up with. Should you decide to make it yourself, I hope you do too.

* * *

Sharing a love for pickle relish today on Valentine's Day instead of something romantic like chocolates or fine red wine? I ask "Why not?" After all, some people (myself included) it's just another day.

Monday, February 11, 2013

movie review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

* * *


I can still remember the chills that went up my spine the first time I saw a trailer for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the depressed feeling as I watched LoTR: The Return of the King credits ending, realizing the trilogy was over.

Overall, it had been everything I'd expected it would be, and it got me thinking it would be awesome if Peter Jackson produced The Hobbit. It only made sense. Who could possibly make a film that could stand up with Jackson's LoTR trilogy?

* * *

For those few unfamiliar with the Middle Earth saga, it was created by noted British author J.R.R. Tolkien, between 1937-49, and is one of the premier book series ever written. Many famous fantasy authors have acknowledged they developed their love for writing from reading Tolkien's books.

Jackson had a tough act to follow when creating his prequel. He had to stay true to the original material. However, he also had to factor in changes he'd made in the LoTR movies. No small task, and controversial to Tolkien purists.

First there was to be only one film, then it split into two films. This brought delays, which eventually cost TH: An Unexpected Journey its original director, Guillermo del Toro (Mimic, Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy). I wonder how different the trilogy might have looked had he been at the helm instead of Jackson.

After del Toro's departure, Jackson returned to the familiar feel of the director's chair. Shortly thereafter, and because of the rich depth of the material, he announced there would now be three movies.

As with LoTR: The Fellowship of the Ring, Jackson takes several minutes to ease us into the new trilogy with some back story. It's a Homeric-like epic of the righteous Dwarf King's fall from grace; and a band of travelers, led by the king's somber grandson, who go on a quest to set right things right and reclaim the kingdom.

I like the way Jackson began by tying the two trilogies together at the very beginning with an extended cameo appearance by familiar characters Old Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood). This won't be the last we see of either character as they will make appearances in TH: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and TH: There and Back Again (2014).

Also returning are Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Andy Serkis (Gollum), Cate Blanchett (Galadrial) and Christopher Lee (Saruman).

Serkis' portrayal of 100% digitized Gollum is amazing, just as it was in the first trilogy.

Cast as Young Bilbo is Martin Freeman. While not completely resembling Holm, he looks close enough, and his acting is very complimentary to what Holm accomplished in the LoTR trilogy.

The visual quality of the film was crisp, with plenty of vivid colors and saturated colors.

I wasn't expecting the incredible improvements in digital effects, which have appeared over the past decade. There was absolutely no comparison in Gollum filmed 10 years ago vs. Gollum filmed recently. It was as if I was looking at a regular actor, especially skin and muscle textures.

The battle of the Giants really got the heart pumping, and had me fearful for some of the characters, wondering if they were about to meet their demise shortly after meeting them.

Not everything was perfect, and I did have some issues.

I attended an IMAX 3D screening. The physical screen is huge, compared to normal, and is actually curved. It's best to try and sit as close to the center as possible, especially if it's in 3D. The farther off-center, the more uncomfortable the viewing experience.

Very fast action occasionally seemed a little blurry. Not enough to be a huge distraction.

There were some scenes where it seemed 3D was used just for the sake of using it. On the positive side, small things like pipe smoke and waterfalls, were amazingly life-like.

IMAX movies have wonderfully rich sound. However, it's usually played at ridiculously high levels to bathe the viewer in an auditory extravaganza. While I didn't leave the theater with ringing ears, they were tired, from being bombarded with nearly three hours of sound. Battle scenes, including the background music, were particularly loud.

The first part of the film had an uneven pace. It started out loaded with action in the back story, then slowed down while the main characters all assembled. After a brief pick-me-up as the characters conversed, we then return to a slower pace again.

As if to compensate, second part is virtually nothing but action. A couple of times I was hoping for a break, just to catch my breath.

Being that the band of adventurers were primarily dwarves, you could expect some really elaborate costumes and makeup, and that didn't disappoint. However,  every time I saw Bofur (James Nesbitt) he reminded me of bass player Derek Smalls from This is Spinal Tap. No matter how many times he was on the screen that kept popping back into my head.

Digital makeup for the Great Goblin (Barry Humphries) had a remarkable resemblance to Boss Nass, from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  His jowls and double chin shook like Jell-o, akin to the scene where Nass shivers in fear when talking about going through the planet core.

One of the biggest things that bugged me was the height of the elves. Gandalf is a very tall wizard, who dwarfs the hobbits and dwarves. That's still the case in TH: An Unexpected Journey. However, the elves seem to have had a growth spurt, seeing eye-to-eye (if not taller) with Gandalf.

All-in-all, TH: An Unexpected Journey is a good foundation for this trilogy, and I look forward to seeing the others.

RATED: 6.75 out of 10 STARS

* * *

If you want to catch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in theaters, better do it very soon as the DVD release is set for March 19th.

A listing of fully show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Prost…It's San Francisco Beer Week 2013!!


Did you wake up today wondering when your first beer was going to be today? A whole bunch of  people probably did, but not because of any problem they have. It's because today is the start of the annual San Francisco Beer Week.

For those in tune with the craft beer scene this comes as no surprise as they've been eagerly awaiting the week long festival's return since last February (It's actually nine days, but who is counting?). For those that haven't heard of it, or have just in passing, it's a celebration of commercial breweries in the greater San Francisco Bay Area whose capacity isn't large enough to fill a pool the size of Lake Tahoe!!

But take heart. You don't have to be in San Francisco itself to enjoy the festivities, as brewers from Santa Cruz to Healdsburg, San Francisco to Pittsburg (and beyond!) will be having special festivities during this week. The official web page has a full schedule posted, along with an iPhone app for download (Sadly there is no Android app for 2013).

San Francisco Beer Week officially started only a few years ago (2009? Their website actually doesn't say) and has quickly grown to national fame, being mentioned in non-brew media outlets, such as the Huffington Post.

Generally speaking, most brewers are pouring beers of thick and syrupy goodness, like barleywine, imperials, porters, and unique tasting sours. Beers that take a long time to brew and then lovingly aged for quite some time. Sometime even aged in oak and/or whisky barrels to give it that rich mellow flavor that you just don't find in a beer that's bottled as soon as it's finished fermenting.

However, it's not just about the beer. Many places have special beer dinners that promote what foods to pair with which type of beer. On the other end of the spectrum are things as simple as beer and and chocolate, or beer and cheese, pairings.

Beer Week starts off with tonight's kick-off festival. Seventy-Eight brewers will be pouring their finest at the special celebration, which also includes food and music. Unfortunately tickets are now sold out, according to their webpage.

Some of the East Bay highlights include will be Triple Rock's last Keyser Soze release and Sour Sunday, as well as the Bay Area's first ever Wine-Barrel-aged Beer Tastival, hosted by Oakland's Beer Revolution. By aging in used wine barrels, the beer gains a unique rounded flavor that isn't present in straight beer.

If you still haven't made plan's for Valentine's Day, you might consider taking your significant other to The Trappist, where Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the founder of Denmark's world famous Mikkeller Brewing Co, will be in town for a very rare appearance. Seating is extremely limited so they have asked that you RSVP, if possible.

Please remember these are beers to savor and enjoy, and not to slam to get drunk on. If you do the latter, you'll endanger yourself, others, and the next morning will remember why you should remember the former!! (most of these special beers will be pushing to 10% alc. level, and some are even up above 14%, which is what you'd find in a heavy Cabernet or Zinfandel).

Locally, El Cerrito's Elevation 66 Brewing Co. will be having a beer pairing dinner, where the culinary staff have created dishes to pair with their line of craft brews.

Albany's newest entry to the East Bay beer scene, the Albany Taproom and Grazzy Burgers, had been planning to open in time for SF Beer Week. However, final inspection approval did not happen until recently. When they open in early March, they will have over 20 rotating taps of craft brew, along with a huge selection of bottled beers in their To Go section.

* * *

Picking up when Beer Week ends, and worth mentioning even by itself, is the annual Toronado Pub Barleywine Festival (Feb. 16-18), in the Haight/Ashbury area of San Francisco. This is now the 20th rendition of the event.

On any day, the Toronado is an epic experience with dozens and dozens of taps, and a beer cellar of bottled beers to choose from. They were probably the best Belgian-style beer bar outside of Brussels for the longest of time. On a normal day it's crowded and noisy. However, during the Barleywine and Belgian beer festivals that's taken to a whole different level.

They have so many offerings, and the noise is so deafening, that you literally have to yell at the bar tender the beer's number, as opposed to the name. Trust me, it works better than trying to say some unpronounceable Dutch or Belgian name. They probably rotate through over 100 different barleywines over the festival, so you'll be guaranteed of having something you've never had before.

Be forewarned parking is lousy at best, especially after normal weekday work hours, and all weekend long. Better than driving, consider taking Muni to get there and don't worry about parking, or if you should've had that last glass of Angel's Share.

* * *

Links to look over when planning your Beer Week itinerary:
San Francisco Beer Week (official site)
San Francisco Taxi Tips
511.ORG Go Green transit page
San Francisco Muni
Bay Area Rapid Transit
AC Transit
Golden Gate Transit trip planner
Valley Transit Authority (San Jose area)
SamTrans (Peninsula)
County Connection  (central and eastern Contra Costa County)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Great Game, As for the Commercials??

You'd have to be stuck somewhere in the Back Woods not to know that last Sunday was the Super Bowl; the end of the National Football League's season, and the beginning of a wasteland for those that watch nothing but football.

Most people are probably watching it for the game. But, there are plenty who watch for the commercials, using the play clock to make trips to the kitchen.

In last year's Super Bowl blog I wrote that the game was one of the most boring I'd ever watched. However, I had really enjoyed many of the commercials. This year's rendition was reverse.

Of course, it probably helped a lot that the San Francisco 49ers were involved for the first time in 18 years. I'm normally a Raiders' fan. However, I'm perfectly happy to cheer on the 49ers if they're the only Bay Area team involved.

Unfortunately, the commercials were not up to par. In fact, they were pretty disappointing when considered collectively. Considering they cost $3.8 Million per 30 second spot, you'd have expected to have your socks knocked off with amazing creativity.

I was also surprised at the amount of promos for CBS programming and the NFLEVOLUTION.COM. I have to wonder if these were fill-ins used because some spots went unsold due to to the outrageous price tag.

* * *

Here are some of my dislikes and likes from this year's crop:


GO DADDY "PERFECT MATCH" – In the past, Go Daddy has run a campaign of showing us commercials that teased sexy subjects, and then said to go to the Go Daddy website to see the unrated versions.

Now I wish they'd kept it up. This year's commercial featured Israeli super model Bar Rafaeli kissing a pudgy wild haired computer nerd, named Walter, and how Go Daddy is the perfect match (presumably symbolized by this couple).

Perhaps kissing was too mild a description. They were full blown making out, including slurpy sounds that reminded me of the Carl's Junior $6 hamburger ads where people got all sorts of sloppy stuff on their faces. I'm sure that the FCC and CBS had plenty of hate calls over this one.

CALVIN KLEIN "FOR WOMEN ONLY" – This ad had no business being on during the Super Bowl, when it's a given that plenty of young children will be watching. I'm no prude, but this was way over the top. A female friend suggested it was finely time the NFL recognized they had women watching. While I understand the sentiment, I just think it was no more appropriate, for that time of day, than if there'd been women wreathing around in bikini briefs and underwire bras.

SUBWAY "CONGRATS JARED" – First off congrats to Jared Fogle for keeping the weight off for 15 years. I've been involved in a constant battle with the waistline so can really appreciate this amazing feat. With that said, it got monotonous hearing "Congrats Jared" over and over and over again.

To add insult to injury, this commercial, along with the Bud Light "Lucky Chair" commercial ran in two back-to-back commercial breaks. Not sure if the power outage had something to with it.

DODGE "FARMER" – I'm probably going to get flak for this one. This one was voted the best commercial by several polls. It's easy to understand. That wonderful haunting voice of Paul Harvey singing the praises of the American Farmer.

Why didn't I like it? First off, it was way too long. Secondly, it wasn't readily obvious what was actually being sold till the very very end, when we got a brief glimpse of a RAM Truck; almost an after thought. Had they had some work trucks out in the fields, or inside the barns, it would have probably made my Likes list.

* * *


OREOS "WHISPER FIGHT" – Lord I hope most of that was done in only one take because they pretty much destroyed the set! It reminded me of one of those Rube Goldberg machines where you trigger one item, which starts a chain reaction of other odd chain reactions until some simple task is completed. I will say the idea borrowed liberally from the Miller Lite Great Taste, Less Filling campaign of the 1970s and 1980s.

TIDE "MIRACLE STAIN" – A well done parody on all the incidents of people seeing Jesus in their toast, spaghetti, screen doors, etc. Then at the end his empire comes crashing down as his wife, a Ravens' fan, obliterates the lucky stain by using Tide!

BUDWEISER "BROTHERHOOD" – It wouldn't be a Super Bowl with a visit from the Clydesdales. Here baby horsey leaves the nest to join the team. His trainer sees him in a parade, but is sad because the horse doesn't recognize him. All is not lost though. He hears a horse apparently getting away and helps capture it. He then realizes the horse is his long lost friend coming to say, "Hi" with a big nuzzle. Sweet ending!

WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT – A very worthwhile program (taking care of our Vets), and I hope they got lots of donations from people. Thankfully, CBS donated the airtime as a Public Service Announcement. If they hadn't this would have probably been a financial disaster.

DORITOS – Doritos decided to hold a contest where the people voted for their favorite out of eight finalist videos. Brilliant idea. Most of them were pretty funny, and the two chosen were amongst the best. I would have loved to have seen the Noah commercial. But, they purchased only two spots.

KIA SORENTO "SPACE BABIES" – This was probably my favorite. Sure, it didn't really sell the car. But, it had me laughing from beginning to end. The punch line at the end when they interrupt the kid telling his friend where babies really come from was awesome.

Kia has been criticized that their ads really didn't tell us about their cars. Unfair because pretty much all the car commercials told nothing about the actual products.

* * *

If you missed any of the spots, or you just want to relive them, there's a wonderful collection of commercials from days gone by, including this year's spots, at