Viewing posts by pat

On the Nanaimo Bar Trail

Posted by: pat 4 years, 2 months ago

I've long been a big fan of the Nanaimo bars sold at our neighborhood Ken's Market. What a delightful confection. Kim and I contemplated making them once, but as Boromir might say:

It involves a double boiler and takes more than a day what with the need for stuff to chill and all.

Fortunately we are taking a layday in Nanaimo for provisioning, which affords us the opportunity to take a journey on the Nanaimo Bar Trail (no I did not just make that up, check the link to the Nanaimo Tourism office site for all of the details and a map) in search of the platonic ideal, the ur-bar.

The first bar comes from Javawocky and seems to be a great example of the traditional preparation. Much thicker than the bars from Ken's, but I was expecting that. The coconut us discernible, the custard layer creamy and thick, and it looks like it has walnuts. The official recipe calls for almonds, but I think I might prefer the walnuts. Overall, a great bar and no complaints!  On another note, I found the drip coffee from Javawocky insipid and weak.

This was supposed to be a long post wherein I described in detail the virtues and shortcomings of a dozen or so different Nanaimo bars....but it was too darn hot!  The thought of pounding the hot pavement and scarfing down sugary confections became more and more nauseating as the temperature climbed.  

I will say that the Nanaimo bar gelato at the gelato shop on the esplanade is delightful though.  Elizabeth and I both enjoyed it very much. 

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Canada Customs 2013

Posted by: pat 4 years, 2 months ago

This will be a quick note on our customs experience this year. We cleared at Bedwell Harbor, the scene of my serious tongue lashing two years ago for having wayyyy more alcohol on board than I declared, and more than I even knew I had thanks to my crew of 4 other 40-somethings each of whom had brought wine, liquor, and beer on board. That experience was my "scared straight" turning point. Now I meticulously inventory and declare everything.

This year was different. it had to be the most streamlined checkin ever. Maybe they figure they have us on file now, or maybe crossing with your family sets off fewer warning flags than five 40-somethings.

I was asked for my vessel registration number, after which they indicated they had the whole family already on record and didn't even ask for passport numbers, dates of birth, or anything.

On the subject of alcohol, they did not ask about the quantity, which was a first. The question was simply "is it staying on board the boat?"

Apples and potatoes are still verboten, which was expected.

On a tangential note, after transiting Cattle Pass we had the pleasure of a little on the water interrogation courtesy of the young men at US Homeland Security. As I was preparing flapjacks in the galley and Elizabeth was keep a less-than-sharp lookout, a DHS patrol boat snuck up on us and alerted us to their presence with a quick "bloop" of their siren. there are many things on the boat that can set off alarms and we don't get to hear them often, so sounds like this usually freak us out. After determining the source of the alarm was our tax dollars at work, we went through a rapid fire Q&A session before being released to go about our business. Thanks for keeping us safe. Right.

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On Nautical Sewing

Posted by: pat 4 years, 2 months ago

I've been doing a few sewing projects over the last month. I love to make things, whether they are made of 1's and 0's, wood, motors and PCBs, or...fabric and thread. Sewing is a skill that has a high utility value. There are all sorts of custom thingies you can build to suit a very specific and unique need. Don Casey's "Good Old Boat" book has been a great source of basic information and inspiration on all of the great sewing projects that will make life on a boat more pleasant. Plus it is interesting to think about the whole wearable electronics arena with conductive thread and stuff like the Adafruit Lilypad. But that is a topic for Halloween prep and not cruising prep...

Most of this summer's sewing projects are in support of the boat's new second/backup anchor. I purchased a Fortress FX-23 anchor on eBay. Fortress anchors are great as backup anchors because they are light and they disassemble to simplify storage. My first project was to make a storage bag for the Fortress. Fortress sells one, but it costs a bundle, almost as much as the used anchor, and after all it is just a bag. So I made one. It has custom fit inner pockets for each piece of the anchor, as well as a little tool pouch for a 1/2" wrench to aid assembly.

Next came a custom bag for the rode, 200 feet of line and 30 feet of chain. I read on...I think it was the Starzingers' web site...about their approach for storing a long stern-tie line: put it in a long skinny bag. Because the bag is skinny, the line doesn't tend to kink up or get snarled when spooling in or out. So I made two long skinny bags from some cool synthetic mesh material I picked up at Seattle Fabrics: one for the stern tie and one for the backup rode. Line will dry out in the bag, and it is tough stuff.

Kim is unconvinced the bag approach is the right way to go. We have a short stern tie line, maybe 150 feet, on an extension cord reel. It is still kind of a hassle to deal with reeling it in in such a way that the line doesn't bunch up on one side or the other. Given that we are going to Desolation Sound this summer where stern ties are de riguer, I invested in a longer line. I just bought a whole 600' spool. Way overkill, but hey it is cheaper by the spool. For starters we will try managing it on the spool with a boat hook as a spindle across the cockpit seats. I have a hunch that is going to work about twice and then we will go for the bag.

The one thing I can't seem to get nailed is a simple drawstring closure. I can sew it up fine, or at least I think it is fine, but the darn drawstring always binds up and doesn't really slide through its sleeve smoothly to culminate in a nice tight closure like I envisioned (and like every commercial drawstring works). Maybe I need to pin down the "bitter end" of the drawstring within the sleeve rather than leeving it as a continuous loop? I have no idea, but whatever I am doing is unsatisfactory.

Of course these are all "small boat" compromises. The real solution is to jump up to an Amphitrite, amiright? Big boats have their second anchors ready to go on the sprit, and they also have a stern anchor ready to launch from a stern rail mount, and they have fancy dedicated permanently mounted reels for stern tie lines too. But that is a cliff I am not going to jump off of. It is easy to admire these skookum bulletproof gear setups on bigger boats, just as it is easy to overlook everything else that goes with a bigger boat. Not gonna do it.

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PNB Nutcracker 2012

Posted by: pat 4 years, 10 months ago

I took Cathy to see Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker last night. I know some families go to this every year, but for us it is more of a once-and-done event due to the cost if nothing else. I would rather mix things up and go see A Christmas Carol or some other holiday themed performance that go to the Nutcracker every year. I took Elizabeth when she was about Cathy's age, after which we had our fateful and nauseating dinner at the Space Needle, an experience not to be repeated! So this is a review of sorts, but I am not qualified to weigh in on the subtle changes made each year, and I am not the Nutcracker expert I know some of our friends are.

We sat in the orchestra section, which is not cheap, and I consider it a special event and not an annual tradition. I enjoy the music, and it is always fun to see the dancers of all ages performing. It is really hard to go wrong with the PNB Nutcracker. The set designed by Maurice Sendak is a treat and local treasure.

The music was great. I love the music of the Nutcracker.  It is so ubiquitous at the holidays and remains enjoyable from year to year.  We took a peek at the orchestra pit before the performance, something I highly recommend if you are taking a child who hasn't seen a ballet or theatrical performance with live music before.

The performance was...OK I guess. It was definitely not the best Nutcracker I've seen. The music was good, the audience was well behaved, the set and set mechanics were wonderful as always.  There were several flubs which given the nature of the Nutcracker and how many children are in it are all par for the course. The peacock fell down. The Chinese tiger fell down. A little boy lost his ballet slipper and valiantly tried to continue dancing, hopping on one foot while trying to get the slipper back on the other before finally giving up and finishing the scene without it. Individually these are all forgivable but the cumulative effect is...well it is still forgivable but was definitely distracting.

My big beef (you knew it was coming!) is with the treatment of the Drosselmeyer character.

Drosselmeyer is the defining character of the Nutcracker. In my opinion he is probably the only character who really has a personality and room for directorial interpretation. The rest of the players are all very two-dimensional. Boys will be boys and play with guns and swords. Girls will be girls and play with dolls. Drosselmeyer however, with his offputting eyepatch and magical powers to bring toys to life, is the character who puts the whole story into motion.

IMDB has an interesting article on the character and some history of how the character is portrayed in different productions.  It even references the opening season of PNB's Nutcracker where he was dark and ominous, the way he should be!  While I remain very grateful that I have never seen what IMDB calls a "dirty old man" Drosselmeye (eww, yuck, that is just plain wrong and horrifying), I have always understood him to be a slightly frightening character.  Why else does he have that eyepatch?!  He should be forbidding and powerful, but still kindly.  He has supernatural powers, but he also gives delightful gifts and brings things to life with his magic.

I was quite disappointed that PNB chose to portray Drosselmeyer as a bumbling and dottering Mr. Magoo-like fool who was often a bit stooped over and surprised at what was happening around him.  He gets pulled this way and that by the party-goers and does not seem wholly in control of his own faculties.  This is a guy you chuckle about after the party, not one that makes small children simultaneously apprehensive and delighted.

What is even more odd is the way they played Drosselmeyer with the boys, goading them on to tease and taunt Clara with the rat king doll.  So not only is he a bumbling fool, but he is a spiteful one too who purposely sets the boys on the path of mischief-making multiple times.  He comes off as both mean and foolish.  This is a character to be scorned and dismissed.

All of this reminds me of the controversy that erupted among die-hard Tolkien fans over departures from canon in Peter Jackson's films, particularly the scene where Gandalf bumps his head in Bilbo's hobbit hole.  Critics state (correctly) that this never happened in the book, and that it makes Gandalf look like a bit of a fool.  Others say it humanized the character.  Maybe that is what PNB was thinking with Drosselmeyer:  make him more humorous and approachable.  Well...Gandalf isn't human, he is a wizard, and is one of the most powerful characters in Middle Earth.  "Approachable" isn't supposed to be one of the top adjectives to describe him, and I argue it isn't doing Drosselmeyer or the production any favors to humanize his character either.

And another thing:  the nutcracker gift to Clara wasn't even a proper nutcracker!  It was a stuffed doll.  Whatever.  You lost me with this PNB.  Too cutesy.

Well that's it.  That's my ballet review.  I will leave you now so I can go off and ponder what is happening that has brought my life to the point where I am reviewing ballet.

Addendum:  I had the chance to chat with my friend Jennifer about the performance.  Jennifer danced in the first season PNB did the Nutcracker with the Sendak sets, and has attended more than 30 PNB Nutcracker performances, including the performance earlier the same day as the one Cathy and I saw.  She informed me that the dancer playing Drosselmeyer in the performance we saw is a known ham who typically overplays any opportunity to insert comedic elements into his performance, so we had the worst of this flavor of Drosselmeyer.  She was also shocked! to hear that the peacock fell...something she has never witnessed.

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Alberona's Chicken Parm

Posted by: pat 4 years, 10 months ago

Time for another sampling of cheap Italian takeout!

This week's sample comes from Alberona's Pizza and Pasta. I've driven by this place on Leary a million times but had yet to try them. Something about the building location and appearance was a bit off-putting, but a review of the menu puts it squarely in the target zone for my ongoing Chicken Parm research project. And I had a coupon!

I bought an Entertainment coupon book from the boy who lives a couple houses down. He was selling it as a fundraiser for the Ballard High School Academy of Finance. I remember these coupon books being more expensive, but I think this one was only $30 or maybe $35. So far I've used the Cupcake Royale coupon, the Luisa's Mexican coupon, and two Bartell Drug coupons. I think the Alberona's coupon is putting me over the top on recouping my investment, so now it is all gravy baby!

I mention the coupon because it was a little bit of an issue. It was a dark and stormy night and I didn't even feel like driving the mile to get to one of these pseudo-Italian joints for takeout. In the Entertainment coupon book there are coupons for Razzi's (an old stand-by), Olympia in Wallingford, and Alberona's. Alberona's was the only one that did not specify "dine in only", so it was the winner. In fact it clearly says "VALID ANYTIME" with no exclusions whatsoever: buy one entree, get one free, value up to $12.00. I ordered online: one pizza for the girls, Puttanesca for Kim and a Chicken Parm por moi. About 5 minutes later the phone rang. It was Alberona's asking about the coupon, with an assertion that it says Dine In Only. I replied that no it did not say that, and Alberona's said Ok they will honor it. This made me a bit grumpy. They should know what their coupons say.  Alberona's if you are reading this, know that the lack of a "dine in only" restriction on the coupon was definitely the tipping point for getting our business.  Otherwise I would have ordered from Razzi's.  Given that we had a good experience, we will be back to pay full price!  

Another nitpicky thing is the handling of side dishes. Apparently at Alberona's garlic bread is a side dish. On our entrees we had to choose a side dish: bread or salad. WTF? I award a point to the old standby Razzi's for including garlic bread in every entree plus either soup or salad.

Delivery was late. I ordered at 5:20 and delivery was predicted for 6:12 and actually happened around 6:20. Not so bad I guess. I have the guy who delivered my coupon and he did a quick $12.00 deduction from the bill and swiped it on his Stripe iPhone thingy, which seemed pretty flaky. It took about 5 minutes.

Anyways, the food.

The food was pretty good!

The pizza was lame, but that is par for the course from this type of restaurant. Don't patronize them for the pizza when there are so many better choices. The pizza is strictly an appeasement for the children.

The side salads had very fresh and crispy romaine with no outer leaves evident.

Kim enjoyed her "puttanesca" -- note this is the Greeky-puttanesca you get at these places.  Usually tortellini, usually includes artichoke hearts, and strangely it seemed to have some pesto involved.  Maybe it was all a mistake, but I sampled some of it and it was tasty.

Chicken Parm was also good.  Presentation doesn't count for much.  As you can see it is pasta, sauce, some breaded/cheesed up chicken, in a foil container and broiled.  But it was pretty good!  The chicken was very nice.  very light breading, with a decent cheese presence.  The pasta was a plain spaghetti.  I like it when there is an option for whole wheat pasta, but otherwise this was a good preparation of the dish, and the portion was enough to save 1/3 of it for lunch the next day.

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