Saturday, April 30, 2011

My First Mow

I’m in a sound sleep this morning and suddenly loud chanting awakens me.  “Mow the lawn!”  They scream.  Oh, Oh; the lawn vigilantes are calling for my head.  Well, I had planned to mow it today so rather than risk being drawn and quartered by this unruly mob, I crawl out of bed, fortify myself with four cups of coffee, and go out to the garage.  I do a quick tune up on my mower and pull the start cord.  Vroom.  Let’s do it! 

I attached the clip bag to the mower because I didn’t want any grass clippings to mar this lush, green carpet.  One and a half rows later the bag fills up.  This is not a good sign.  Also, the mower is stalling every couple of seconds, literally choking on the grass.  This is not a good sign either.  I detach the bag and convince myself that mulching the lawn will be beneficial to its health.  I raised the mower deck to its highest setting.  Pull the cord and continue.  I am mowing half rows now because the grass is so high.  I fondly recall wasting a vacation day spreading fertilizer on my lawn.  So, that combined with torrential rain equals grass that is eight and a half inches tall.   Interesting.  My iPod is playing a nice mix, the sun is out, and I’m exercising.  Cross training if you will. 

Suddenly  a van pulls up at the top of the street.  A group of well-dressed African-Americans emerge and begin to fan out into the neighborhood.  Oh, Oh, this can only mean one thing.  The Jehovah Witnesses are back in town.  Well, this could be a welcome diversion.  Maybe we can discuss why G-d created weeds and grubs. Sadly all they wanted to do was to give me a free copy of the Watch Tower. I politely decline and go back to the business of mowing.  As an aside, I have to respect a religion that relies on the soft, rather than the hard sell.  Jews, however, don’t even have a sales division.  If you want to join us and suffer, well, welcome aboard.  L’Chaim!(Hebrew toast which means To Life!). 

I’m finishing the lawn and marveling at how wonderful it looks.  I’m also marveling at all of the things that I found.  The lost Kong ball for my dog, the pegs for the horseshoe scorekeeper, and the horseshoe pits as well. I think I also spotted D. B. Cooper, but can’t be certain.  I am proud that I singlehandedly raised the property values of my street.  I put the mower away, open the Yellow Pages and look up landscapers.  This is going to be a long season. 


Thursday, April 28, 2011

My First Tweet

I recently opened up a Twitter account because, well, it’s the 21st century. I don’t know a hash mark from a hash pipe, but it is amazing as to the shear enormity of people out there tweeting.

One very curious thing about Twitter is that I currently have five followers and I haven’t even tweeted once.  Imagine, five people are sitting on the edge of their chairs waiting for some profound thought from me.  And I have to write it in 140 characters or less mind you.  Whoa!  The pressure.  I mean, if I mess this up, five people are going to question their judgment, their being, and their very existence.  I am overcome by the utter enormity of the task at hand. I am competing with extremely profound thinkers.  Here are some examples of what I am up against.

Spencer Pratt- “Be like water.”  Wow!  How reflective!  Those three words seem to me to be a celebration of the abundance in postmodern society. 

Kanye West- “Context is everything... something good taken out of context can become bad.” Another deep thinker.  Something good becomes something bad surely reflects the duality of moral opposites. 

Rhianna- “BAp BAp BAp!!! Cuz don't get on too dibby pun hay gal.”   I couldn’t have said it better myself.  I am simply stunned by her insight and eloquence. 

I feel so incredibly inadequate when I compare my more mundane thoughts.  Things like, “What up dog?” or “Hello world,” seem so, pedestrian.  I need something that will make my followers proud that they are following me. 

I’m nervous and a little scared. If I post, will they love me tomorrow?  Will they tweet back? What if I tweet too soon?  Should I have a drink or two to relax me?  Okay, steady now, here it is...  “Busy is better than bored.”

That was fantastic!  I hope it was good for them too! I’m just going to light up a cigarette and bask in the afterglow. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

PIgs in a Blanket

Easter may fall on April 24th this year, but lets not forget that it is also National Pigs in a Blanket Day. Tomorrow is Dog in a Cashmere Sweater Day, and Tuesday is National Cat in a Thong Day. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Five de Mayo

There is a Mexican restaurant that I visited in Cheecktowaga, NY called the 5 de Mayo.  Cinco de Mayo to literate people right?  They pronounce it the Five de Mayo. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

My Lawn Epiphany

Green grass, the mowing kind, has always eluded me.  I wasted valuable vacation hours earlier this week by laying down fertilizer and Grubex.  I don’t see any difference so far.  I’m an instant gratification kind of guy. 

This morning I tackled the brown spots.  I bought three bags of seed, fertilizer and compost mix that claims to guarantee me a most beautiful lawn.  Unfortunately, the folks at this company do not know how to calculate coverage per square foot.  One bag is supposed to cover 500 square feet.  I managed 50.  Already I’m annoyed because this stuff is not cheap.  At thirty-three dollars a bag, I probably could have re-sodded the lawn and had money left over for a riding mower, with dual cup holders.

I’m complaining to my wife that I don’t have much confidence in this stuff when she says, “Maybe if you were more positive, the grass would grow.”  Whoa, Mr. Glass is Half Empty, so that is the secret to a green lawn.  Think positive thoughts.  My lawn has actually turned against me for having a pessimistic attitude. 

The manufacturer tells me that I will have to wait seven to twenty-one days for my lush green lawn to begin to makes it appearance.  I also have to keep it moist.  That will entail more than positive thoughts. I will actually have to drag out the hoses and move them around the lawn everyday.  That involves work. 

I’m beginning to think that maybe a brown lawn is really not that bad.  After all, earth tones are soothing.  When I’m outside on the patio, I’m not staring at the lawn for three hours straight, I’m reading, listening to music, barbequing.  My dog pees on it, so why put so much effort into re-decorating his bathroom. I’ve got it!  Instead of wasting valuable resources like water, and laying down harmful chemicals all in the name of vanity, I will take an environmentally safe approach.  I will leave the damn thing alone.  Brown is the new green!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Hookah.  Just the word is evocative.  Wizened Arabs smoking in a small café on a quiet street in the bazaar.  Fierce Turkish warriors plotting military strategy as they smoke in the court of the Pasha.  The steady bubbling sounds as men draw heavily on the pipe.  The sweet smoke spiraling upward toward heaven. “Who are you?” Puffs the Caterpillar, who regally sits on a mushroom, in Alice in Wonderland. 

“Hmmmm.” I thought as my son slowly tried to talk me into trying it.  “It’s nothing like you imagine,” He explained.  Being an ex-smoker, I loathe tobacco.  I think of the many times I tried to quit.  Acupuncture, hypnosis, cold turkey, patches, gum.  The list is endless.  Finally after many unsuccessful times, I finally did it.  Eleven years free of that vile disgusting habit, I’m not interested in anything that will tempt me back into tobacco’s wicked clutches.  

“But this is different,” he says. With great reluctance, I agree to look into it. So I go on-line to check out this phenomenon.  Well, hookah bars and lounges are springing up all over the place.  It is very popular with the younger crowd, as witnessed by my son’s fascination with it, as well as those who have traditionally used them, such as Arabs, Indians and Turks.  The tobacco is flavored and smoked through a long water pipe.  A piece of charcoal is put on top of the tobacco to keep it burning.

Healthy, it ain’t.  Although the jury is still out about the effects of smoking a hookah, it’s still tobacco you are smoking and tobacco is not known for being good for you. The water is supposed to filter out all of tobacco’s evil components but I suspect it’s just a marketing ploy.

 With all of that in mind I found a hookah lounge, 1001 Arabian Nights, in West Hartford.  I dragooned a friend of mine, telling him we are going on a road trip.  We arrive and he looks at me as if I’m crazy.  We walk in and are greeted by George the owner.  I explain that we are here for the first time.  Hookah virgins so to speak.  He gives us a menu with the different tobaccos and flavors.  Vanilla, cappuccino, mint, watermelon, etc.  He tells us we can mix and match.  We settle on peach-mango. George explains that you gently draw the smoke in and not hold it in like a bong.  What’s a bong? Anyway, we walk into a dimly lit room that smelled incredibly aromatic. Middle Eastern music is playing in the background. There are comfortable couches, pillows, and tables are scattered around.  A few couples are smoking, chatting, and taking pictures of themselves, no doubt to be uploaded to Facebook. Finally the moment arrives.  George places the hookah on the table, gives us a few disposable plastic mouthpieces and smiles.   We are on our own.  I take the hose and draw in a mouthful of smoke.  Whoa!  That was delicious. It was peachy and mango-y.  I take a few more puffs and then reluctantly give it to my friend. He draws it in and then smiles.  This is absolutely amazing.  No rush to the head, no coughing, no dizziness, no queasy feeling.  Back and forth we pass the hose, chatting about music, sports, politics and life.  Time leisurely passes; people come and go, George adds more charcoal to the hookah to keep it burning.  After an hour and a half we decide to throw in the hose. 

All in all it was pretty cool.  My chest wasn’t heavy, I didn’t get a buzz, my clothes smelled of peach-mango, but a quick wash and dry cured that.  I have since gone back one more time with another friend and had an equally enjoyable time.  Honey-vanilla was rather tasty as well.  I don’t plan on having this go into my rotation of cool things to do, but once in while, it’s a pretty fun thing to do.  Two hoses up!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

One Love Cafe

My son has been raving about One Love Café, a Jamaican restaurant in Worchester, MA.  Now rave and Worchester are not usually found in the same sentence, so I decided to drive up there and check it out.  Worchester, pronounced Woo-ster (apparently the rche part of it is all for show), is a sort of down on its heels city.  But, Clark University and Robert Goddard, rocket pioneer, both call it home.  I’m on my way. 

It’s a pleasant ride on a dismal day, up the Mass Pike.    People, if you don’t have Sirius Radio consider it.  Tunes, galore!  Anyway, I get there early and settle in.  It is a very comfortable place.  The aroma hits you immediately. Allspice, cinnamon, heat, clove, sweet, the list goes on. This is looking good!  Soft yellow stucco walls, comfortable chairs, even a few old trunks to sit on. 

The owner/chef is busy in the kitchen listening to books on tape.  Smart woman.  When she finishes the chapter, she switches on some light rap.  The waiter brings out a pitcher of water with a slice of watermelon floating in it—very cool touch.  Blue glass-wear too; another cool touch. 

My son arrives and we order.  They have stuff for everyone. Meat, fish, poultry and vegan dishes are all available. Hot, and not hot, so don’t be shy or put off.  We ordered fried plantains, Bammy, a Jamaican flatbread made from cassava and coconut milk, and a beef patty. 

The plantains are soft, with caramelized edges. Very tasty. The Bammy, cooked on the griddle, is crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.  Perfect. The sauce is sweet and tangy.  The beef patty was pretty standard, but the heat was subtle, sneaking up on you instead of hitting you in the face.  I like that.  I think a lot of people are turned off by heat because most of the time it is prepared wrong.  I don’t enjoy my meal if I need a bucket of water and a couple of Maalox tablets standing by.  I think the heat should compliment the dish, not dominate it. 

We wanted a hot and a sweet dish so we ordered the Jerked Pork and Coconut Chicken.   My son and I are enjoying each other’s company, telling stories and catching up.   Dinner is served.  The Jerk Pork tasted as if it had been cooking for days.  The meat was incredibly tender. Phenomenal sauce with tons of flavor!  Very complex, not killer hot, but you know you are getting the real deal. These are recipes handed down for generations.   Every families jerk recipe is a treasure.  Rice and beans are cooked to perfection.  She is not shy about the portion size.  Very generous.  The Coconut Chicken is sweet, but leaning more towards savory.    The chicken is tender and the coconut sauce is excellent.  The two dishes balanced out quite well.  We are stuffed, but both of us like sweets so we ordered a bread pudding and coffee. The pudding was warm, dense, cinnamon-y, and topped with rum sauce.  WOW!  I’m done. 

Great little gem of a place.  Owner is very friendly, the food is phenomenal, and the price, spot on.  All of that, with tip, was $48.  A day with my son...priceless. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

PF Changs

I’m  Jewish and a foodie (Joodie?), therefore I love Chinese food. I mean, where else can I eat on Christmas? So I finally got around to going to P.F. Chang’s in the Westfarms Mall in Farmington CT.  Thanks to my wonderful niece and nephew who gave me gift certificate for my birthday, which was only five months ago.  Josh and Jen, thank you again for your generous gift.  Now back to the food.  We walked in around 5:30 and were lucky enough to get seated immediately.  They were having a dim-sum happy hour.  The place was fairly crowded.  Nice looking décor, reds, rich browns, and oriental symbols made for a very relaxing and cozy atmosphere. We decided to go with the prix-fixe meal.  For $39.95 you get a soup, appetizer, entrée and dessert.   I’m thinking, maybe add some noodles because for 40 bucks, how much food can there be?  I’m glad Sal talked me out of it because the prix-fixe meals are full portions, and a lot of food to boot!  Now, if you are on a diet or watching your sodium intake, run as fast as you can.  This stuff is NOT health food.  But if you want some great tasting food read on.  

Daniel, the waiter, introduced himself and then asked if anyone had any food allergies.  This was a first. Score one for PF.  He was exceptionally friendly and attentive.  I’m dithering away trying to decide on beer or water, like it’s my first time at the rodeo, and he recommends a Kirin Ichibahn.  Good choice, nice, light, with a little citrus, just the ticket to balance out the meal.  This Japanese beer is brewed in California and distributed by Anhauser-Busch the former American beer company now owned by the Belgians. Follow me?  Sallyanne liked the glass it was served in, a nice tall Pilsner.  Which was from Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic... 

On to the food.  I had hot and sour soup and Sal had egg drop. Mine was very complex, thick broth, nice chunks of tofu and a goodly amount of pork.  Uh oh, Jewish?  Don’t tell. It was sour but not as hot as I like, so I added a dab of hot sauce.  Perfect.  Sal loved her egg drop soup.  To the appetizer.  We went with their signature chicken lettuce wraps.   Crunchy, meaty, hot, cold, sweet and savory.  Did I miss anything?  Oh right, a hint of orange.  I could have stopped here and had a couple more Japanese/American/Belgian beers but more food was to follow.  This stuff is very good. 

For the entrees we went with the Mongolian beef and Crispy honey chicken. We also had the brown rice.  Maybe it would counteract the ton of salt and saturated fats we were about to consume.  Maybe we were just BS’ing ourselves. The Mongolian beef is thin strips (I’m thinking either flank or skirt steak) quick fried and served with scallions in a very savory, tangy sauce of ginger, garlic, brown sugar and soy sauce. Amazing flavor in this dish.  Crispy honey chicken is, well, crispy and honey flavored all white meat chicken. Pretty self explanatory.   Served with crunchy rice noodles all over healthy brown rice.   Sal and I are enjoying this meal immensely.  I’m complimenting the waiter, the manager, anyone who will listen.  For a chain restaurant to have this kind of food, it is absolutely fantastic.   

Dessert.  After an epic meal like this, the last thing you want is a big honking piece of cake to eat.  I mean, I’ll eat it, but hate myself after.  Guess what?  My buddy PF has dessert shots.  That’s right, little shot glasses with little spoons filled with chocolate cake, mousse, cheesecake and so on.  Just enough dessert without the self-loathing. 

Done!  I get that it is Americanized, Chinese style food.  I’ve had authentic Chinese, but sadly enough I don’t live near Chinatown.  The neighborhood Chinese restaurants by me are just so-so. I’d go back in a heartbeat, providing my heart is still beating after all of the saturated fat and sodium.  But I don’t go out to eat for the health aspects.  It’s flavor I’m after.  Check this place out.  Now I’m on my way to the other PF in my life. Planet Fitness.  Got to work off the 1780 calories I just packed away and I’m not even counting the Kirin!


Steamed Cheeseburgers

Steamed cheeseburgers are uniquely Connecticut. Louie’s Lunch in New Haven is credited with inventing the hamburger. That same Yankee ingenuity has, for over fifty years, been cranking out a steamed variety.  I’m talking about Ted’s Restaurant.  I’m not new to the steamed hamburger scene, but I just found out that a Ted’s opened up in Cromwell, not five minutes from my house.  Well, a new burger joint in my neck of the woods is always welcome, so Friday night my wife and I decided to check it out. It was busy when we got there thanks to the Hartford Courant review a day before.  We decided to sit at the counter instead of waiting for a table.  Good move as it gave me an unobstructed view as to the machinations of the steamed cheeseburger. 

One thing that struck me was the limited menu.  Steamed hamburger, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, BLT’s and cheese sandwiches. Home fries, not French fries. Like Five Guys, do one thing and do it right.  There are lots of toppings for the burgers along with the usual condiments.  I got lettuce, tomato and sautéed onions. Sal got the sautéed onions, pickles and ketchup.  The kitchen and prep area are right in front so you see the burgers being prepped, cooked and assembled.  We gave our order to the waiter, sat back, and watched the show. 

The cook takes square patties and puts them into a small metal tray.  Away they go into the steamer.  It’s a purpose built box sitting on top of the stove.  The cheese goes into a similar pan and then into a separate cheese steamer.  This is looking real good.  Sal and I while away the time chatting about our day and getting drinks.  The usual assortment of soft drinks awaits.  By the way, no Coke, Pepsi. 

The home fries are cooked on a flat top.   They dump a pile of diced, par boiled potatoes onto the grill, squirt a nice big drizzle of butter, and top it off with a big dash of paprika.  You can get them plain or with cheese.  We opted for plain. 

Finally our order was ready.  The counter guy took the hamburger out of the tray, dumped off most of the fat and put the burger on a fresh Kaiser roll.  He added a dash of the fat from the tray for a little flavor.  Next he took out the steamed cheese and dumped it on the burger.  I need to be restrained because I can’t wait to bite into this.  He adds the toppings and serves it up.  Wow!  This is a fine looking burger!  I bite into trying to get a mouthful of burger, cheese, toppings and roll.  Success.  The burger is very juicy with a good meaty flavor.  The huge glob of steamed cheese is the star here as it makes  the taste and texture pop.  The fries are done right too.  Not mushy, but with a nice bite.  The paprika adds a nice smoky depth to the taste.  Having it cooked in butter doesn’t hurt either. 

Two burgers, two fries and two drinks for $15.  Not too bad.  I still prefer Five Guys because I like my burgers with a crust and I think their blend of meat is a little tastier.  Would I go back?  In a heartbeat...  provided it is still beating after downing all that cheeseburger and fries. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy Passover

Off to celebrate Passover with a few good friends.  I have to question my ancestors for coming up with a holiday centered around a cracker.  I mean celebrating eight days of constipation?  OiVai!

Gym Etiquette

There seems to be certain etiquette in picking a treadmill at Planet Fitness.  As much as I would love to run next to the hot twenty something, unless there is no other treadmill available I have to have at least one separating us.  Now why is that? 


Spring has finally come and I’m not happy. I was very content to have my lawn covered by piles of pure white snow.  Why? Because the five feet of snow and ice covered my perpetually brown lawn.  I really hate yard work.  I come from a long line of yard work haters.  My father hated it so much he made me do all of it.  “Rake the leaves,” he ordered.  “Why? The majority are still on the trees,” I replied.  “Rake ‘em anyway!”  So I raked them into a pile and the next day the wind blew the pile all over the place and more fell from the trees.  This went on for weeks.  I’m obviously a slow learner.  The only good that came from that was back then you could burn the leaves.  If there is one smell that will stick with me for the rest of my life is the sweet fragrance of burning leaves on a cool autumn night. 

“Mow the lawn!” he barked.  This was torture because by parents were, well how to put this delicately, really f@#$ing cheap.  They had a manual push mower with rotary cutting blades that I affectionately called the Widow Maker.  This came complete with dull blades and no blade guard.  In the hands of a ten year old it could be considered a weapon of mass destruction.  After years of this hazard, he finally relented and got a power mower.  Nice!  Now mowing the lawn was tolerable.  I figured out that if you had the motor running, pushed down on the handles so they rested on the ground, after a few seconds huge plumes of smoke would begin to come out of the mower.  All summer long I played with my new lawnmower/smoker; until the engine seized.  Apparently it had something to do with the oil or something. The mechanics in the little repair shop were scratching their heads on how this happened.  I just looked in wonderment and smiled sweetly.  

I still have a push mower today.  However this one is self-propelled.  It seems that, at least on my street, I am a dinosaur.  Everyone else has a riding mower.  On Saturday morning you would think it was the starting line for the Indianapolis 500.  The revving and gear changes make for a symphony of small engine bliss.  Haughty me disdains the riding mower and treats the hour and half of walking behind this infernal machine as part of my aerobic exercise routine. Yeah right!  How shall I put this delicately—I’m really f@#$ing cheap!  I mow it once a week, maybe.  One guy on my street, mows his literally three times a week.  I don’t get it.  He’s like a serial lawn mower. 

I don’t have a green thumb.  I’m lucky to have thumbs at all after growing up with the Widow Maker.  I was the last person on my street to landscape the front of my house.  I had a few bushes or weeds, I’m not quite sure, which gave the house a rundown, sort of shabby chic, haunted house look.  After the neighborhood petition was nailed to my door, I decided to get some trees and such.  An art teacher friend of mine designed an absolutely gorgeous layout.  We planted, mulched, fertilized and prayed.  Lo and behold, it looked fantastic.  Wanting to take a picture of my new landscape masterpiece, I framed the shot, stepped on a rake, the rake flew up and instead of smashing my face, broke my pricey digital camera. I would have preferred a broken face.  At least that would have been covered by insurance. Duh!

I thought that planting bulbs would brighten up the back yard.  I went to Home Depot, bought a whole bunch of tulips and started to organize them in a very colorful pattern. I couldn’t wait for spring.  Spring comes, nothing! I was cursing my luck and decided to dig these puppies up to check why my backyard didn’t look like the blaze of color represented on the box.  Apparently, you have to plant them roots down, not up.  Double Duh!

I’m toying with the idea of hiring a landscaper this year.  Perhaps he can tell me what this purple stuff is that is slowly replacing my grass.   Or cut back the poison ivy that is strangling my zebra grass. Or, I don’t know, maybe just get some green spray paint and dye my whole lawn.  When is summer coming?