We've Moved!

The Accidental Blogist has become The Long Cut and moved here.

Come on over!

Moving On Up

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A couple of weeks ago I complained about being stuck using the free Blogger service for my blog. Submitting posts is often slow, changing sidebar items is tedious, and photo uploading is unnecessarily complicated. The gold standard for blogging now seems to be TypePad. TypePad, unfortunately, is a pay service. In my post I lamented that paying for blogging was not something I could justify right now.

Shortly after that post a very kind Accidental Blogist reader contacted me. It seems that TypePad was offering a Buy One / Get One Free deal to renewing members. This wonderful person offered me their free one-year account. Giving it about, oh, a second of thought, I accepted. I am now the owner of a TypePad Plus account, which comes with three weblogs. The Accidental Blogist, Ipso Photo (my photoblog) and I Have a Headache (the missus’ blog) will all be making the big move.

I cannot express the incredible amount of gratitude I have for the wonderful benefactor who is making all of this possible. As most blog authors (or at least the ones that don’t get 10,000 daily hits) will tell you, some days you wonder, “why bother?” That’s why getting feedback and comments can make a bloggers day. Somebody is out there reading your stuff. I see this gift of TypePad as one person’s belief that my writings and photos have some value. I now feel that it is my job, at least for the next year, to continue to try to improve my writing and my photography, if only to justify this gift I have been given.

New Address, New Name

I’m going to use my move to TypePad as an opportunity to change the Accidental Blogist name. While I originally stumbled onto Blogger (and blogging) by accident, I think I’ve kind of outgrown the word accidental. It gives the impression of a bumbling novice. And the word blogist (which isn’t really a word) might be better than “blogger,” but it still was starting to grate on me. So my new blog will be The Long Cut, as in not the short cut, as in taking your time and looking around. The Long Cut is a song off of Uncle Tupelo’s last album, Anodyne and my seven-year-old says it describes the routes I take while driving. I also think it describes my writing. As the song says, If you wanna take the long cut, We'll get there eventually.

So please follow me over to TypePad and bookmark the new site. Ipso Photo will remain on Blogger a little longer until I get it to look how I want it to look, but The Long Cut is ready to go. It’s not perfect, but as I learn more of the TypePad way of doing things I hope to continue improving the site.

See you there!


Never at a Loss for Words

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Last weekend the whole family packed into the minivan and took a trip to Barnes & Noble in an attempt to stave off cabin fever. While there we picked up Scrabble. It has been so long since I’ve played Scrabble. Since the last time my vocabulary must have improved greatly, because I was on fire last night. I knew it was going to be a good night when I started off the game with sundry. Sundry, people. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word in my life, and yet my brain looked at the jumbled letters on my rack and came up with sundry. Granted, it wasn’t a rack-clearer, but still. Sundry! I went on to lay down plenty more five and six letter words. Later on, in desperation time (I carried three i’s for most of the game) I came out with vim. Vim!

It amazes me that my brain has been storing words that I never use. Just how big of a change this is cannot be understated. I finished off grade school with nine straight trimesters (three year's worth) of F’s in Spelling. That’s F F F F F F F F F. The only reason I got accepted into Holy Cross High School was that they combined my Spelling grades (F’s) and my Grammar grades (A’s & B’s) for an “English” grade of C. In my Freshmen year of high school, where Vocab was taught one quarter and English the next then Vocab then English, here’s what my report card looked like: F B F B. So you could say that Vocab was never really a strong point for me.

I think my spelling ability is even picking up, which is weird because I've been assuming that using Spellchecker as a crutch has made it worse. Some of this might come from my seven-year-old constantly asking me how you spell things. He's like a walking pop quiz.

So bring on Ms. Anne Marie Byrnes and her Vocab tests. I’m ready.

[I’ve left out the fact that I whooped the missus’ butt in the above Scrabble match since she was in an drug-induced pre-bedtime trance for the game and wasn’t really in the mood to play, especially against someone who was getting a little too excited about the word vim. And if I've spelled anything wrong in this post, please be gentle.]


No Tell, No Sell

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Monica Yant Kinney has a piece in today's Philadelphia Inquirer about former New Jersey governor (and former Dubya environmental beard) Christie Whitman's new "tell-all" book, It's My Party, Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America.

It's been a few years since Christie got the boot from Bush for not exactly following the administration line on the environment (who knew they had one!) as the EPA Chair. That's a big no-no in the Bush cabinet, especially when your job is to be an important impotent figurehead for the dismantling of decades of environmental progress.

So Whitman must still be mad, right? Juicy book, right? She's had a couple of years to let stew her anger at the Republican Party and their "social fundamentalist" (her words). And what has she been doing since being evicted from Washington? According to Kinney,
She cochaired Bush's reelection campaign in New Jersey, knowing her man could never win her state. She bopped around the country stumping for Bush.
In November, just before the election, Whitman gave Bush another Scottish terrier puppy.


That might explain why, according to Kinney, the book reads less like a tell-all and more "like a pitch to get elected again."

It might also explain why the book was ranked at #6526 this morning on Amazon.


The Evening, It's What It Was Late In

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After spending half my Martin Luther King, Jr. day off in a seemingly never-ending trip to BJ's and the other half waiting to get my truck towed (which, I think, is how the good Reverend would have wanted his birthday commemorated), I realized that I was at risk of not posting anything today. I'm too tired to think of anything original (or anything inspiring for MLK Day) so I'll give you some of my favorites from a recent McSweeneys list:
Popular Songs Renamed Along the Lines of the Cattlemen's Beef Board Ad Campaign "Beef, It's What's for Dinner."

Me, It's What's for Leaning On

Back, It's What Baby Got

The House, It's What's Burning Down

Alles, It's What California's Über

The Street, It's What's for Dancing In

The Dust, It's What Another One Bites

U, It's What I Would Die 4

London, It's What's Calling

Brooklyn, It's What There's No Sleep Till

The Volume, It's What's Pumped Up
Sorry, that's all I've got today. Please find a blog that actually put some thought into a post for today, like this one or this one.


Nellie Whoa-ed

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What is this, high school?
Sen. Ben Nelson finally has succeeded in getting President Bush to stop calling him by the nickname "Nellie." Bush had been referring to the Nebraska Democrat as "Nellie" since 2001. Nelson disliked the nickname and had asked the president to stop using it. The president likes to give people nicknames. He has called Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, "Pootie-Poot," while aide Karen Hughes gets "High Prophet." But Bush heeded Nelson's request to scrap his moniker, and at the recent White House Christmas party, the president referred to Nelson as "Benny."
The "Presidential Wedgies," however, will continue.

I hope that acting like a pompous quarterback and doling-out stupid nicknames to other world leaders becomes part of Dubya's ignominious legacy.


Pithy Playoff Prognostications 2

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Last Week: 2-2 (Overall: 2-2)






Photo Friday - 01.14.05

Each week Photo Friday posts a photo assignment. Your mission is the creative interpretation of the week's theme. When you're done, post the picture you took to your website and submit your link to Photo Friday.

Photo Friday is about challenging our participants to be original and creative within the constraints of the week's theme. It's not a competition. Anyone with a camera and a place on the internet to post pictures can participate.

This week's challenge: Signs

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click image to enlarge

Strange Neighbors.

17th & Walnut, Philadelphia, PA.


Keyboard Confessional

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high performance

After going months without copying someone else's idea, I'm going for two in one week. This is a little different since Amanda at MouseWords hoped her Confessions post would start a meme (which, for you non-blogging normal people out there, is an idea that you take from another blog and put your own - from the French for I can't think of a single thing to write today). I learned of it from eRobin over at the award-winning Fact-esque.

The whole idea of answering these questions is to "de-snob." Now take a look at the words under my title banner. Go ahead, I'll wait. There's no way I'm going to de-snob, it's my bread and butter. But I will answer these questions to prove that, while I remain better than you, I'm not a total jerk.

CD I have in my car that I roll up the windows to listen to

While I don't have a CD player in the truck, there is one in the Kia minivan. If you're not embarrassed being seen driving around in a Kia minivan, then you aren't going to be embarrassed by listening to any kind of music. Never mind that, as the missus will tell you, it's a miracle any time the window-up button on the Kia actually works. Right now the power locks keep trying to trick us into locking our keys in the van. No lie, the van hates us more than we hate it - and that's a lot.

Anyway, I have a very low tolerance for bad music but I will say that I'll leave 10cc's "I'm Not in Love" on (and sing along to it - loudly) if WXPN plays it.

Book I read flat so no one could see the title

Some of the books I read last year had some real touchy-feely titles, even thought their content wasn't. I admit I tried to hide the cover of Anna Quindlen's Blessings while on the train.

Crappiest song ever sung at karaoke

I've only ever sung one song on karaoke, on the system that we got our seven-year-old for Christmas. Of the three crappy songs that came with the system I chose Say My Name by Destiny's Child. As a joke. Honest.

Bad movie I watch repeatedly

Robby Benson's One On One. It plays on CMT every once in a while. And if it were on TV more I probably wouldn't turn off Benson's Ice Castles either. This is what happens when you grow up with five older sisters controling the remote.

Article of clothing I love though I know it's wrong

Without a doubt my running tights. The two-year-old even laughs at me for wearing them. Coming in a close second would be my High Performance Underware. That's right, High Performance.

What I order at the bar when no one is listening

Manhattan. If people are around I'll just get a 7 & 7 so I don't look so pretentious. If I'm ordering beer, it will always be something pretentious.

Fast food item I adore

I don't even know if Roy Rogers still makes them (since the only surviving RR in South Jersey is at a turnpike rest stop), but they used to make Strawberry Shortcakes with a warm biscuit at the bottom. Mmmm-mmm. And I miss their Double-R Bar burgers, too.

A TV show that is a good example of the downfall of civilization that I love anyway

Around the Horn on ESPN. Four sportswriters yelling and insulting each other. Makes Crossfire look civil, I can't stand anyone on it, and yet I can't stop watching.

eRobin added two of her own questions to the list:

Advice I Give My Kids Even Though It Makes Baby Jesus Cry

Both boys have been raised knowing this: We don't hate anyone... except the Yankees. (It used to be "...except the Yankees and the French," but then all the war-mongers started hating the French and since they were one of the few countries who dared question Dubya I'm pretty cool with them now.)

Good Cause I Just Can't Support

I used to boycott oil companies that screwed people over, but that's getting harder and harder to do. First it was Shell, for profiting off of apartheid and civil wars, than it was Exxon for telling us they were done cleaning up the Valdez mess long before the cleanup was anywhere near done. But now Shell's got some weird partnership going with Texaco (which is now merged with Chevron) stations and Exxon merged with Mobil. I guess I could just go to the Hess, but I'm sure if they haven't already done something evil they will soon. And, frankly, the world's fascination with their toy trucks scares me. For the time being I go to Texaco, since I can't figure out exactly what their agreement with Shell Oil is. Plus the guys at my station are pretty cool.


Shephen, Ehh

You've given Stephen A. Smith the title of "General Sports Commentator" at the Philadelphia Inquirer even though he knows little but basketball and you've used him as the basketball go-to guy on SportsCenter, where he starts most of his answers with "I don't know, but..."

What else could you do to pump Stephen A.'s ego? I know, give him his very own "opinion/personality" television show on ESPN2 (the network responsible for me unnecessarily having to know who Jim Rome is). Oh, and make sure you make it "much like the Bill O'Reilly Show".


State of Mind

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Saturday night the missus and I watched Garden State, the first DVD in my quest to watch 52 interesting films this year. Garden State was directed and written by Zach Braff, who also stars in it. Pretty impressive for the young star of Scrubs, a show that I would watch if I remembered to watch something other than sports and the Food Network.

Braff plays Andrew “Large” Largeman, a b-list Hollywood actor who has spent most of his life medically sedated by his psychiatrist father. The death of his mother brings him back home, sans-meds, to the Garden State (my home state, though the movie takes place in North - not my South - Jersey). While home he quickly meets up with some of the unmotivated friends he left behind in Jersey, least ambitious of them being the gravedigger Mark, played by Peter Sarsgaard. While looking for non-paternal psychiatric help Large meets up with Natalie Portman, another patient who quickly becomes a romantic interest to a guy who’s been too sedated to be interested in anything. Braff rides around with Portman and Sarsgaard in his sidecar motorcycle, trying to figure out what it’s all about.

I’m a big fan of Mike NicholsThe Graduate, and the first half of Garden State has a very Graduate-like feel to it. Early on Braff’s Large is seen from above, lying in his bed, seemingly oblivious to his father’s voice on the answering machine. This made me think on the scene in the Graduate with Dustin Hoffman floating in his parent’s pool while his father tries to talk sense into young Benjamin.

The second half of Garden State gives up its Graduate-like oddball-ness for (somewhat) touchy-feely conversations and a romantic happy (somewhat) resolution. That’s not to say that it doesn’t give up all of its peculiar ways. The writing was still a breath of fresh air and included some great acting from Braff, Portman and Sarsgaard. The film moved quickly and had plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, many dealing with a childhood friend who’s set for life because of his one invention: Silent Velcro. It’s definitely a great debut of both writing and directing from Braff. Everybody knows that young actors in Hollywood “really want to direct” but this guy has shown he has what it takes on his first try.

Two other things: the Garden State soundtrack is really, really good, and Zack Braff has a pretty interesting Garden State blog.

Next up for me is Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, a movie I should have seen a long time ago but somehow never did.


Yankee Rebellion

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(Maybe) You heard it here first:

Randy Johnson won't get the Yankees to the World Series (it will be the BoSox again) and Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran won't even win the Mets the NL East division (looks to me like the Braves are once again the team to beat). I'm still not convinced that the Mets will finish ahead of the Phillies. The Pedro signing looks about as good as the deal the Phillies got when they signed Kevin Millwood and Beltran, who was on fire the second half of 2004, still only hit .267 last year. For that he gets a seven-year $119 million contract.

Meanwhile it looks like the Big Unit (pictured above) is having some trouble adjusting to the Big Apple.

[If my predictions (which may change as more players switch teams) prove incorrect, this post will mysteriously disappear from my archives.]


Chow Line

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another chinatown shot

It's been a while since I stole borrowed another blogger's idea, but Karen over at Verbatim had an interesting post last week about a BBC poll that asked the top 50 foods everyone should try a bite of in their lifetime. Karen listed them and color-coded them based on whether or not she had tried them.

This is my kind of post so I'm going to give my take on these 50 items. I tweaked her color-coding to also show what things I really, really like and what I can't try because of my nerdish shellfish allergy.

If you really like food talk (among other things) I would definitely recommend Verbatim. Karen's Dinner and a Movie post is a typical entry from her; a movie review that comes with the recipe for her movietime dinner.

bold green text: tried, really, really like
plain black text: tried, liked
bold black text: tried, wouldn't miss if I never had again
plain red text: never tried, might try
bold red text: never tried, never will
bold blue text: never tried, allergic

1. Fresh fish
2. Lobster (tried only once, followed by whole-body rash)
3. Steak
4. Thai food
5. Chinese food
6. Ice cream
7. Pizza
8. Crab
9. Curry
10. Prawns (same as shrimp, right?)
11. Moreton Bay Bugs (Australian lobster-like crustacean)
12. Clam chowder
13. Barbecues
14. Pancakes
15. Pasta
16. Mussels
17. Cheesecake
18. Lamb
19. Cream tea
20. Alligator
21. Oysters
22. Kangaroo
23. Chocolate
24. Sandwiches
25. Greek food
26. Burgers
27. Mexican food
28. Squid
29. American diner breakfast
30. Salmon
31. Venison
32. Guinea pig
33. Shark
34. Sushi
35. Paella (a saffron-flavored dish)
36. Barramundi (Australian fish)
37. Reindeer
38. Kebab
39. Scallops
40. Australian meat pie (similar to Cornish pasty?)
41. Mango
42. Durian fruit (stenchiest fruit imaginable)
43. Octopus
44. Ribs
45. Roast beef
46. Tapas
47. Jerk chicken/pork
48. Haggis
49. Caviar
50. Cornish pasty (meat chunks, onion, potato and herbs wrapped up in a baked crust)

I can't really say that I hated anything on the list that I've tried. I'm impressed with how much of the list I have tried (amost half, which isn't bad when you rule out shellfish). I spent too much of my life being picky, so I'm still catching up. As for my favorites from the list, I would put them in this order:

Pancakes (which I would have at an American diner)
Barbeque (which would be ribs - wet)
Mexican food (probably a couple enchiladas)
Ice Cream

My list of what people should eat in their lifetime would include:

Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies
Wasabi Soy Nuts
Bananas (on the verge of over-ripeness)
Banana Bread
Blueberry Pie
Chili (hot or sweet)
PB & J
Rice Pudding (w\ raisins and nutmeg)

Nothing too scary.


Use Your Delusion

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I really should contact Yahoo News about this story. They have it under Political News, when it really should be under Oddball News:

Newt Gingrich Open to Presidential Run

And the Right said John Kerry was full of himself?!?


Pithy Playoff Prognostications

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collingswood light, not boathouse row light

The Philadelphia Inquirer gave its Architecture Critic, the almost-always cranky (and usually justifiably so) Inga Saffron, a primo spot on the front page today (below the fold, but still) – and she blew it.

It seems that the Fairmount Park Commission has turned off the lights that adorn Boathouse Row. They hope by pulling the plug they will inspire locals to match Peco’s contribution and donate $150,000 so the current incandescent lights can be replaced by a state-of-the-art LED system. The Park Commission says that the incandescent bulbs blow out too often and drains $8000 a year in electricity, compared to $1000 for the new system. And hey, they can color the new lights any of 16 million gaudy colors like pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month or green for the Eagles or a vomit-esque brown for the Wing Bowl.

What bugs me about the Saffron piece is that she really has no opinion on the new lights. She repeats a lot of what is stated in an article by Thomas Fitzgerald (which could have easily been the front page piece), tells us that the project could come in over the projected $300K (you think?), gets assurances from the higher ups that the LED lights will look as “warm” as the current lights, tells us that she doesn’t want Boathouse Row lit up “like a Christmas display,” and then admits that “colored architectural lights have a long history” (without giving any examples).

The conclusion of her piece is: we need to discuss this. It would seem to me that a. it’s a little too late for that, and b. critics make their money telling us their opinion, not asking for ours. I don’t recall her (or any Inky critic) ever asking for public input to help make up his or her mind. That’s what she went to college for and it’s what the Inky pays her to do. I might not always like her opinion, but I want to hear it. And if you have a critic who doesn’t really have an opinion, it makes for a poor front-page article.

As for me, I’m not so attached to the old lights to not give the new ones a try. There’s so much architectural and historical destruction going on in Philly that I really don’t have a problem with someone trying to better a landmark rather than just tearing it down. To tell you the truth, when I’m passing Boathouse Row going down the Schuylkill Expressway at night what catches my eye aren’t the lights that work but the one’s that are out. I wish they could do all this without the stupid special-event colored lights (leave that to the skyscrapers), but if that’s what it takes to get the public into it, fine.

I don’t like the way that they just switched off the lights with little or no warning. It looks like they’re trying to hold the city hostage (and they’re asking for money when a lot of people are sending it to the Indian Ocean area) but it’s probably the most affective way. I would almost guarantee that it would go over budget, just like most of these projects do. They need to do what the organizers of the Ben Franklin lighting project did – get the lights up and worry about creditors later. They also run the risk of looking like fools if they have to can the project and turn the old lights back on, but I don’t see that happening. I think this project is perfect for showy corporate sponsorship and I assume a lot of the citizens who belong to the private rowing clubs down there have some Benjamins to spare.

There you have it, my opinion. Front-page stuff.

Photo Friday - 01.07.05

Each week Photo Friday posts a photo assignment. Your mission is the creative interpretation of the week's theme. When you're done, post the picture you took to your website and submit your link to Photo Friday.

Photo Friday is about challenging our participants to be original and creative within the constraints of the week's theme. It's not a competition. Anyone with a camera and a place on the internet to post pictures can participate.

This week's challenge: Silhouette

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click image to enlarge

Philadelphia is the city of murals. This one is smaller but it fits this week's challenge.

Silhouette Mural.

Chinatown, Philadelphia, PA.


Futures Market

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from the reading terminal market

The Food section of today’s Philadelphia Inquirer lists their predictions for the top 20 food trends of 2005. And I know you’re just dying to see what I think of them.
1. Chocolate, the gourmet health food. It's about time something that tastes so good is actually good for you. Dark chocolate, which is at least 70 percent cocoa, is a source of polyphenols, the antioxidants in red wine and green tea that help keep plaque from forming in arteries. It also contains flavonoids, which make blood platelets less sticky and are thought to lower blood pressure and LDL, or bad cholesterol. Look for artisanal and varietal chocolates touted for their subtle taste distinctions (as are single-estate wines and coffees) and for candies laced with offbeat flavors such as green tea, black pepper and beer. And yes, there is also chocolate-flavored beer.
Liz Applegate, Runner’s World magazine’s resident nutritionist has been saying “chocolate is good for you” for a long time. But it’s only good for you in moderation, and I have never ever in my life eaten chocolate in moderation. Plus these “healthy” chocolates are being sold to an American audience (like me) who think that if something is healthy (like low-fat ice cream), you can eat twice as much.

As for chocolate-flavored beer, no thanks. I’ll stick with the subtle chocolate taste of my stouts.
2. Fast food with style. Fast-food chains are lightening their menus, proving that fast needn't mean overprocessed, oversalted, and full of fat and empty calories. Decor is being upgraded, too. A McDonald's opening in Chicago this year will offer wireless Internet access and a hangout atmosphere. The resurgence of neighborhood restaurants with character, regional foods, and casual fare that is fresh, well-executed, and familiar enough not to be threatening also continues.
Please don’t tell me that fast-food joints are lightening their menus when 2004 saw McDonalds introduce the deadly McGriddles and places like Hardee’s start selling half-pound burgers with 73 grams of fat.

I have noticed a rise in neighborhood restaurants around me, but most are still not family friendly. It is nice to have more options on date-night.
3. Affordable luxuries. Starbucks is often credited with starting the "small indulgence" trend. Other small food splurges are vintage wines, premium vinegar, a catered meal, or the Kobe beef and foie gras found these days on more restaurant menus.
A catered meal would be nice, but if I were paying for it I’d rather get out of the house. You can keep the rest of that “luxury” stuff. If I’m going to spurge, I’ll take premium olive oil over vinegar and a good high-priced ale over vintage wine.
4. Ethnic regions. Upscale Spanish and Mexican dishes lead the current ethnic taste trek. But foods of distinct regions are getting more attention, too. We've feasted on the foods of Provence, Hunan and Sicily. Next up? Recipes unique to Galicia, Barcelona and Oaxaca.
I’ve got a BA in Geography and I still had to look up where Galicia (Spain) and Oaxaca (Mexico) were. Since I’ve been on my Mexican/Cuban kick for a while now, I’m willing to try some other Chicano/Latino/Hispanic flavors.
5. Small plates. From Spanish tapas to Chinese dim sum and Greek meze, small portions are becoming a big deal. With their presence on menus increasing, small plates also feed into the quick-dining trend. The lounge at Tangerine in Old City has introduced an all-meze menu and, at Brasserie Perrier, executive chef-partner Chris Scarduzio says he is concentrating more on flavor and less on portion size because customers are eating less. "Small plates are great for young professionals on the move who don't have time to sit at a table for two hours," Scarduzio says. Along with mini meals come cupcakes and other mini cakes, the hot option for wedding receptions as well as for everyday snacking.
This is great. I just hope that these restaurants give smaller prices to these smaller plates. Otherwise it’s just Nouveau Cuisine all over again.
6. Carb comeback. "Good" carbs, including fruits and vegetables, are back in the good graces of dieters. Carbs are the body's most efficient fuel. The good ones break down slowly for steady energy. Sugar carbs quickly turn to glucose, with the excess stored as fat.
As a runner I never left carbs. I hope that 2005 is the year that the whole carb-diet thing finally dies. Just watch what you eat folks, you’ll lose weight. The low-carb thing has bastardized so many foods, just like what happened when low-fat labels ruined everything.
7. Whole grains. These nutrient-rich carbs were surely missed by many low-carb dieters deprived of their morning Cheerios. Now they're back and will take center stage when the U.S. Department of Agriculture lists them as a key element in a healthful diet in its revised Food Guide Pyramid, to be released this month. Look for more whole grains in processed foods, from cereals to prepared meals. Average adult consumption is just one serving a day, well under the government's recommendation of three a day.
I’m very good about eating my whole grains, but if they start putting it in my kids’ cereal that would be great. Just don’t put Splenda or any of that other crap in there with it, like General Mills has been doing with their low-sugar cereals. I don’t want that stuff in my kids system.
8. Convenience. When Gourmet magazine touts dishes to make ahead on Sunday for a week's worth of heat-and-eat meals, you know times have changed. Everyone wants more convenience in the kitchen. The NPD Group, a market research firm, reports that half of American cooks are putting dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less, often by eliminating side dishes and even desserts, which are now served after only 14 percent of at-home suppers.
We’re real guilty of not serving side dishes, but we make up for it with dessert. The Inquirer could make it easier on working parents by making the recipes in their “Rush Hour Gourmet” column a little simpler and more kid-friendly.
9. Organics. Sales have risen more than 20 percent annually for a dozen years, reaching an estimated $15 billion in 2004, with more than $32 billion projected by 2009. The fastest-growing segments are meats and poultry (sales jumped 78 percent in 2003) and snack foods (up 30 percent). There's even organically farmed fish. If you blinked, you may have missed organics also slipping into the mainstream of packaged goods, canned foods, meal kits, and baking mixes.
I try to buy organic, but they’re killing me with the prices. Thank God for Trader Joe's. Affordable organic food, go figure. Now if they would just open one a little closer to me.
10. Functional foods. Food has become the new wonder drug as researchers unlock the secrets of phytochemicals, omega-3 fats, and other substances that promise to help forestall ailments ranging from aggression and attention-deficit disorder to macular degeneration, Alzheimer's disease and stroke. Penny Kris-Etherton, a nutrition professor at Pennsylvania State University, cites nuts and salmon as nutritional powerhouses, along with fruits and vegetables. Also, look for cultured beverages - yogurtlike drinks infused with "friendly bacteria" - marketed for digestive health.
I’d rather see people eat “functional foods” then just take a vitamin supplement, but I have a feeling this could go overboard. If you want the benefits of yogurt, than just eat a yogurt for Christ’s sake.
11. Of the moment. Wild blueberries (available as juice or whole berries, canned and frozen), fresh figs, beets (in salads), yams, Honeycrisp apples (a new cross between a Macoun and a Honeygold), and microgreens are hot. Among meats, duck and bison have new cachet. And sweep up the sawdust: Steak houses are suddenly chic with the 20-something set.
I love trying new apples, so I’ve gotta find this new Honeycrisp. Blueberries, figs, yams – mmm... bring them on. I like bison but the missus won’t let it in the house. Duck’s fine when I eat out, but I’m not going to learn how to prepare it anytime soon.
12. Cooking with kids. Children's cooking classes are burgeoning, as are cookbooks for the younger set from cooks as prominent as Rick Bayless, who wrote Rick & Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $29.95) with his teenage daughter, and Rachael Ray (Cooking Rocks! 30 Minute Meals for Kids, published by Lake Isle Press, $16.95).
Where have they been? I love when the seven-year-old bakes with me. Now the two-year-old has started wanting in.
13. Dining etiquette 101. There was little early training at the table for many young professionals who now find themselves dining out nervously with clients (and bosses). Hence, the raft of "practice banquets" and classes offering much-needed instruction in polite public dining rituals. Classes are held at fine restaurants, on college campuses (including Philadelphia University), at career seminars, in cooking schools, and online. One elementary-dining class for children at Eleven Madison Park, Danny Meyer's deco-detailed restaurant in New York's Flatiron District, sold out within hours and filled the waiting list for a second session.
I don’t care what fork you use for your salad, just keep your elbows off the table and don’t chew with your mouth open, okay?
14. Bottled water. Sales rose 20 percent in 2004, making this the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. beverage market. In addition to funky flavors, new-age waters are "enhanced" with vitamins, minerals and/or electrolytes and are being pitched to a market beyond health club addicts and joggers.
I know people that pay for bottled water look like saps for being over-charged, but if people are choosing it over soda I say go for it. I’d rather overpay for water than overpay for sugar water. And Inquirer, bottled water was a new food trend for maybe 1995, not 2005.
15. Trans-American wines. Think past France and California. Wine consumption is on the upswing, and local wineries are blossoming in all 50 states. (Yes, there is wine produced in Alaska.) Look to microwineries - sometimes clustered, like Chaddsford and others in Chester County - as a source of varietal wines, filling a niche market much like that of microbrewed beers.
I’ll stick with my microbrews.
16. No-cal sugar. Little yellow packets of Splenda have joined, and increasingly are replacing, the pink Sweet'N Low and blue Equal packets on restaurant tables. The natural-tasting sucralose also is being used in almost every food category - cereals to sodas, pickles to beef jerky.
Like I said in item 7, keep this crap away from my kids and me. Sugar is only 16 calories a teaspoon, folks.
17. Specialty salts are going mainstream, thanks to celebrity chefs talking up the taste profiles of sea salts from around the world. More food companies are adding less sodium to processed foods and many consumers are cooking from scratch (or semi-scratch), giving at-home diners more chances to sample the unique flavors of gourmet salts.
I’m still trying to work up the nerve to buy kosher salt (it comes in a mighty big box). I might be the only Alton Brown fan who doesn’t own a box.
18. Technique. Look for more variety in the way foods are prepared. Grilling's popularity is booming, thanks to the growing obsession for must-have outdoor "trophy" kitchens among the upper-income set. Brined meats and poultry are timesavers coming to supermarkets. And other cooking methods are surfacing, not just in restaurants and home kitchens but also for prepared foods. "'Fire-roasted' and 'charcoal-grilled' are already on the labels of canned goods and frozen vegetables," Philadelphia cookbook author Andrew Schloss says. "Look for frozen dinners identified as 'braised' and canned fruits labeled 'poached.'"
I’ve been curious to try brining (it’s supposed to lock in the juices), but if someone wants to do it for me that’s even better.
19. Flavors in favor. Lemongrass has gone mainstream. Now sumac (a fruity-astringent spice) and yuzu (a sour citrus fruit) are showing up.Expect more exotic and highly flavored foods, from olive oils (Meyer lemon and blood orange are popular) to adult-friendly snacks (wasabi-ginger pecans). Pique timid taste buds with a dash of chile powder in your hot cocoa.
We don’t buy many exotic seasonings, but I’m willing to try anything that livens things up a bit. And I love my wasabi soy beans and peanuts, so bring on those wasabi-ginger pecans.
20. Food entitlement. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. More and more, consumers expect their dietary needs and special requests to be met, whether motivated by allergies, a special diet, or personal preference. Most restaurants and grocery stores try to meet any reasonable demand. At the South Street BYOB Next, chef Terry Owens gets a couple of special orders a week, most often allergy-related. And a diner's recent request to substitute chicken for the scallops in one dish was not unusual, nor was it a problem.
As someone who suffers from a shellfish allergy this would seem like great news. But I also have to watch out that my meal isn’t being prepared near the seafood and I don’t know how to check that.

Dang, that was a long post.


Urge for Going

Take a look at my Daily Photo

click to enlarge

In addition to posting a daily photo at my photoblog, you might have noticed that I am posting more of my photos on my Accidental Blogist posts (like this one, with a photo from Old City Philadelphia). The program that I use to upload and host my pictures is Hello!, which, like Blogger, is owned by Google and is a free service. And just like Blogger, it's not great but boy is the price right.

So last week, with a camera full of shots from the City Hall/Rittenhouse Square area (Dragonballyee's domain), Hello! decides it doesn't want to upload my pictures. I spend hours trying to figure out if I can fix it before giving up and emailing the Hello! support staff.

After receiving no response from the Hello! people, I start thinking about Plan B, which would be to actually pay to blog. I talked to the missus about switching over to TypePad if Hello! doesn't start working. She's very cool about it, but I'm still a little skittish about spending money on this right now. I'm afraid that after signing on for a year I'll suddenly come down with blog fatigue. Or I'll get a job I actually enjoy and my priorities will change. Plus, after being told that our basic cable bill will top fifty bucks starting next month (Note to Comcast: There best be a brick with my name engraved on it at your new skyscraper), I'm not too crazy about having another monthly bill.

By yesterday morning Hello! still isn't working and I start doing a lot of research on TypePad and start getting excited and telling the missus all the things we'll be able to do. I go on the computer when I get home from work and there it is: a response from Hello! support. Some of their servers had problems, I should try again now. I try and it's the same thing. All right! I'm going to TypePad World! Just to be sure, I reboot and try again. Damn. Worked. But you knew that already, 'cause I'm still here.

I still plan on switching us over to TypePad one day, but I'd like to make sure I stick with this for about a year before writing that check. Unless I somehow become the Accidentally Rich Blogist before then.


Running Back

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i love my sauconys

Every year since 2000 I have used the outstanding running log devised by fellow running geek David Hays. It’s available free for download at his website. Not only has this digital log provided me with the instant gratification of seeing my running miles pile up, it has allowed me to calculate any statistic I can think of (even some that I don’t have any use for). I think the calculations that I do understand provide a good yardstick for how my running year went last year and what my goals for the next year should be.

In 2003 I made running 1000 miles my goal. The closest I had previously come to that mark was 826 miles in 2000, when I spent much of the year training for the Philadelphia Marathon. On December 30, 2003 a three-mile run gave me 1001 miles for the year. On December 31, 2003 I realized that I had mentally burned myself out.

For 2004 I made the somewhat humbler distance goal of 800 miles. My intention was to do shorter runs at a faster pace in the hopes of bettering my 5K times. It didn’t quite work out that way - first from the burnout, then from nagging injuries. So mid-spring I switched plans and decided to concentrate on October’s Long Beach Island 18 miler. In 2002 and 2003 I had trouble finishing this race, walking quite a bit at the end. I decided for 2004 to try to train with fewer miles, hoping to have the fresh legs needed to finish the race running. This plan had the added benefit of giving me more time at home with the family. Thus, I dubbed it the Considerate Training Program™.

Unfortunately, the Considerate Training Program™ didn’t get me through the LBI 18 without some walking, but I did have my best race and fastest finish of my three LBI runs. Due to an unshakable autumn cold I finished the year with 719 miles – 81 miles short of my goal. I’m pretty happy with that. I’m more upset with the weight I’ve put on. I think that keeping my weight in check would help improve my race times just as much as miles run.

For 2005 I am once again setting 800 miles as my distance goal. I want to use the spring and summer to work on speed for shorter races, than switch gears and work up endurance for the LBI 18. That means sticking with the Considerate Training Program™ again, which should make the missus happy. It also means that watching what I eat will play a big part in my training this year. That won’t please the missus since it means tracking calories and fat grams in a notebook, and I tend to get a little anal around numbers. You may have noticed that. And if you haven’t noticed that, here are my numbers from 2004, with 2003’s numbers in parentheses:
Total miles run: 719.5 (1001.1)
Number of runs: 137 (172)
Number of races: 12 (12)
Median of runs: 5.25 miles (5.29)
Mode of runs: 5.46 (5.09)
Mean of runs: 5.25 (5.82)
Standard Deviation of runs: 2.0 (2.35)
Average miles per day: 1.97 (2.74)
Average miles per week: 13.76 (19.2)
Average miles per month: 59.96 (83.42)
Total time spent running: 4 days, 4 hours, 28 minutes, 21 seconds (5d, 19h, 29m, 7s)


That's Odd...

Today's date is 01/03/05. The next time three odd numbers will appear in a row like that will be 03/05/07, 793 days from now.

I promise not to get this geeked-up about a date again until 02/04/06 (only 397 days to go!).

The Final Countdown

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does mark mullen ever age?

WXPN, the AAA Format radio station here in Philadelphia, finished their countdown of the 50 Greatest Albums of 2004 (as voted by you the listeners!) by playing the top 10 CDs in their entirety on New Years Day. Since I had posted about my ballot, I thought I'd revisit the topic.

First, here is my top 10 (and how they did on the countdown):
1. Van Lear Rose - Loretta Lynn.
WXPN rank: 7

2. A Ghost is Born - Wilco.
WXPN rank: 5

3. Good News for People Who Love Bad News - Modest Mouse.
WXPN rank: 12

4. Around the Sun - R.E.M.
WXPN rank: 21

5. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb - U2.
WXPN rank: 1

6. The Ride - Los Lobos.
WXPN rank: 24

7. The Revolution Starts Now - Steve Earle.
WXPN rank: 32

8. Drag It Up - Old 97's.
WXPN rank: 15

9. Lonely Runs Both Ways - Alison Krauss and Union Station.
WXPN rank: 33

10. Silence Is Easy - Starsailor.
WXPN rank: Did not make it!

Now here is 'XPN's top ten:

1. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb - U2. I can't complain about this one getting the top spot, especially after finally hearing the whole thing. I do disagree with the critics that call this album the band's best. I don't know which of their great albums is their best, but this ain't it.

2. Twentysomething - Jamie Cullum. A little surprised this came in so high. I think there is always a shocker like this near the top of the 'XPN list because the album was plenty of listeners ninth or tenth-best pick, so it made a lot of ballots. I think Cullum is almost as good as Harry Connick Jr. was good at his age (Connick put out an album called 20 from when he was twentysomething - I' ll take that over this). The 'XPN website compares Cullum to Steely Dan. Ummm, no.

3. The Battle For Everything - Five For Fighting. For the love of God, will someone please please please explain the popularity of this band among the (usually) intelligent 'XPN audience. Syrupy sweet songs sung in a sustained screech. (That poor alliteration was better than anything Five for Fighting frontman John Ondrasik has ever written.)

4. Feels Like Home - Norah Jones. Jones making it this high is not surprising, but neither was her album this year. Should have been called Feels Like Come Away with Me.

5. A Ghost is Born - Wilco. Happy to see this CD make it so high. Not what you would call an accessible album. I loved the fact that 'XPN was forced to play the joke song "Less Than You Think," with its eighteen minutes of feedback, on Saturday.

6. The Clarence Greenwood Recordings - Citizen Cope. I thought about putting this on my top ten, but to be honest by year's end I was pretty sick of hearing even his best songs. I'll still take G. Love's early stuff over this. Funny thing is that every time 'XPN plays Citizen Cope my seven-year-old thinks it's Eminem (is my son the only kid in his class not allowed to listen to Eminem?).

7. Van Lear Rose - Loretta Lynn. Should have been higher. What album is going to be talked about more in ten years, this or Five for Fighting's?

8. Hymns Of The 49th Parallel - kd lang. An alright album. It's pretty hard for a CD of covers to be so good that it's one of the years best (Shawn Colvin's 1994 album Cover Girl is the exception - by far her best work). I still long for cowgirl k.d. - circa 1989's Absolute Torch and Twang.

9. Shangri-La - Mark Knopfler. I'm so glad I got to listen to most of this Saturday. If I had heard more from this album it might have made my list. Knopfler's writing lately has been matching his best Dire Straits stuff (Love Over Gold, Making Movies).

10. Hopes And Fears - Keane. Another CD that suffered from limited play on 'XPN. It took a lot of faith from the listeners since "Somewhere Only We Know" was the only song from this album that made it onto 'XPN.

I'm a little surprised that Starsailor's Silence Is Easy and Air's Talkie Walkie (my eleventh pick) didn't make the top 50 at all, but I'm floored that Elliot Smith's posthumous From a Basement on the Hill didn't either. It topped a lot of year-end lists and got a lot of airplay. It's really not that bad an album - I burned it from a friend and while I'm not a big Smith fan, I'd say it's probably his best stuff. And, as you might have guessed, it's a hell of a lot better than Five For Fighting.


Fantastic Planet of Football - Week 16

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fantasy players wear teeny tiny helmets

Week 15:
The Lucky Bastards 86, Three And Out 48

After finishing the regular fantasy season a respectable 8-6, Three and Out, my Fantasy Football team, lost both fantasy playoff games to finish last. I'm tired of talking about them and chances are you never wanted to read about them anyway, so I'll just reprint the last post I left on our fantasy league message board:
If anyone is counting (and I am), Three and Out has been involved in 5 postseason games over the last two years and hasn't won a single one of them.

I hate this stupid fantasy football. It's for losers.

When do we sign up for next year?


Reeling in the Years

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not my picture

Three resolutions and one goal for 2005:

Resolution #1: Try to stay around my fighting weight of 160. Every year I attempt this and every year I creep back to 172 (or worse). At almost 5' 10", 172 gives me a Body Weight Index (BWI) of 24.7, which is just a little too close to the overweight mark of 25. I also do better at my races when I'm not dragging an extra 12 pounds around.

Resolution #2: Try to have a little more patience with my boys. It's easy to be patient with a baby, but as my two-year-old does more rebelling, I'm doing more yelling. Everything asked of the seven-year-old is met with a foot stomp and a whine - which is what seven-year-olds do - and yelling isn't going to change that.

Resolution #3: This is a selfish resolution, but I've got to get at least an hour of photo-taking time a week. It was easier when it was warm out and the camera was my new toy. But now that it's cold and I've taken a picture of everything within a ten-block radius of my urban workplace, I've going to have to be more resolute to getting out there and being more creative in finding new ideas. This includes realizing that the suburbs must have something interesting to shoot. I'm also considering taking an adult-education class in digital photography. Hopefully that will help me with this resolution.

THE 2005 GOAL: 52 New (to me) DVDs in 2005.

To take full advantage of our new Blockbuster DVD-by-mail service, my goal will be to watch 52 of the type of movies that I mean to see but never get around to seeing. No doubt this will include a lot of Paul Newman stuff (I considered making my goal watching 52 Newman movies but that might have been too much of a good thing) but other stuff, both old and new, as well. There's no excuse for never seeing films like Citizen Kane and North by Northwest. At the same time, there are too many newer movies like The Station Agent or Maria Full of Grace that get critical acclaim but I never get around to renting. Last year's goal of reading 52 novels wasn't as hard to complete as I thought it would be (I finished in October), but it did leave me burned out. I have a feeling that this year's goal may be the opposite. I'm pretty sure I'll still want to watch movies at the end of this but I think it's going to be hard to find time for a movie a week this year. Unlike my books I can't watch movies on the train. And a lot of these films are ones that the missus isn't interested in seeing, so I'll have to find time to watch them alone. I plan to use my new DVD drive at work and split movies over two lunchtimes. I've already done this last month, and while I get some funny looks my bosses don't seem to have a problem with it.

That's it. Wish me luck!

Here are the movies I've watched so far (clicking on the link will bring up my post about the film):

01.08.05: Garden State