Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Blast from the past

I had told my kids about these, but I thought they were extinct. Removed by people who put "safety" above all other things. Recently, I saw what I believe to be one of the last of these in the wild: The Playground Merry Go Round.

My old elementary school is across the street from my mother's condo. Every now and then when look longingly at the corner where the merry go round used to be. It's a little, plastic climbing wall now. I had told my kids about it and how much fun they were. I didn't think they would ever get to ride.

I first spied this merry go round after a rain. The trench caused by years of happy little feet running in circles was completely filled with water. Our fun would have to wait. Until today. I spun my youngest daughter around, took a few pictures and then hopped on too.

We laughed a lot and it took awhile for the merry go round to slow down. Then she spun me around and took some pictures of me.

My older daughter was in a dance class during our fun. After the class, spun her around too. No pictures though, it was pretty dark by 5:30. I left pretty dizzy, but with no regrets. I'd totally do it again.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mets... [sigh]

Not surprisingly, my view on sports championships kind of mirrors The Pizza Cognition Theory. In my opinion, when rooting for a sports franchise, no victory will ever be sweeter or more joyous than the first time your team wins it all.

Let me give you an example. I grew up in Connecticut and went to UConn. The UConn basketball team was slowly getting better and would make it into The Tournament. There was a miracle last second full court pass to a buzzer beating shot that basically caused the entire state to erupt. In Connecticut, this play is simply referred to as The Shot.  Unfortunately, two days after The Shot, Duke and freakin' Christian Laettner beat the Huskies with a last second shot of their own.

In the 1999 tournament, UConn went all the way. And they beat Duke for that title too. I remember everything about the night. We were at a co-workers house. I wasn't sure I wanted to go. I need space to pace and yell at the TV and generally support the team. I remember Duke coming back to tie the game. I remember being frozen and mumbling "not again, not again, not again." But UConn won. And it was thrilling. After the get together, we went home and I talked with my brother on the phone until a little after 3. That year, we spoke briefly on the phone almost every Monday night until the next tournament started. "How are you enjoying week 17 of being national champions?"

The UConn men's team has won the championship three more times. It's fun. We talk on the phone after tournament games. But it's never as good or sweet as 1999. And we don't talk about it all year long.

I was 15 in October of 1986. When the first pitch of the famous Game 6 of the Mets-Red Sox World Series was thrown, I was at a Billy Joel concert at the New Haven Colosseum with both my brothers and my buddy Rick. With Connecticut being the buffer between New York City and Boston, the crowd's loyalties were evenly split. Billy Joel would provide updates every once in awhile in between songs. There was a guy nearby watching the game on a itty bitty portable TV that probably cost a fortune - no smart phones in '86. The guy about died at one point. I'm assuming that was when Ray Knight made an error in the 7th. The concert ended but the game was still going. We hurried back to my brothers dorm at Southern Connecticut College and watched the end of the game in a common room. It was amazing. We jumped up up down. We hugged strangers. We celebrated with a beer in my brother's room (It was a long time ago so you can't be mad, Mom).

In the off chance you would like to relive that bottom half of the 10th inning, here it is, brilliantly reenacted in old school RBI Baseball.

The Mets went on to win Game 7 and their first and only World Series of my lifetime (so far). If they won it all this week, it would have been great. But it wouldn't have been as much fun as '86.

I don't watch much baseball. There really isn't time to follow the Mets. Instead, I follow a few people on Twitter who keep track of the Mets for me. Watching Daniel Murphy play was incredible. That was an amazing streak of home runs. Yes, he made some bad errors but without Murphy, there's no doubt Citi Field would have been dark this weekend.

This October was fun. And yeah the Mets lost, but they did it in classic Mets fashion - as painfully as possible. Maybe they'll make it back soon. I'm ok if it takes a little while. My kids will be older and could watch more than the first inning. You only get one shot at watching that first team victory. It would be nice if the girls could really enjoy it.

In other news, Chase Utley still sucks.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Another "We're Out"

The Mets just lost so I'm going to complain about something stupid and petty and stupid and I would have probably let it go if the Mets didn't just lose. But I'm going to bitch and moan....about ketchup.

I like to think that I'm usually sympathetic to mistakes. I get it. Things happen. I already wrote about running out of stuff already here. I get it if a special sells out. And I get it if you thought you'd have enough but you misjudged and ran out. However, if there's an easy opportunity to restock what you're missing, I don't understand why a restaurant's management wouldn't just take care of it.

Tonight, the restaurant was out of ketchup. Our waitress explained that they were out and offered a bowl filled with some to-go packets of Sysco ketchup. As it turns out, the fries were good and I wouldn't have put ketchup on them anyway. Disaster averted...for me. I'm going to guess that 75% of the plates coming out of the kitchen come with fries. Other diners got stuck with crappy ketchup, or just had to go without ketchup. I know, tragic right?

At 5:30 on a Sunday with football games and a World Series game later, they're looking at some demand for ketchup with a night full of fries and burgers on the way. All they have is teaspoon packets filled with ketchup no one wants.
There's a supermarket across the street. They sell ketchup. So does Target, BJs, Walmart and lots of other places. Buy a few bottles, squirt some in a little dish and give it to people that request ketchup. If you got lucky and caught the hours right, Restaurant Depot would have cases of it. Problem solved until your next Sysco delivery, your servers don't have to uncomfortably explain that you're out of ketchup, and your customers will be happier without old packets of crappy ketchup.

There are many difficult aspects to the food service industry. Finding ketchup is not one of them.

Did I mention the Mets lost? And I may or may not be drowning my sorrows with adult beverages. The ends of games 4 and 5 were brutal.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A dissenting opinion

Last week I went to see The Book of Mormon at Proctor's.

I thought it was an extended episode of South Park, had a few good laughs (one very good laugh) but really wasn't anything special. It wasn't hilarious and like many things Matt Stone and Trey Parker do, the play devolves into a series of dick jokes. I kind of feel alone in this opinion. Everything I had heard about the play basically said it was the best/funniest thing that ever came to Broadway.

I must have had a stunned look on my face when the lights came up for the intermission. My wife asked, "Are you OK?"

"I thought it was going to be really funny. I guess my expectations were too high," was my reply.

Then we spent the intermission keeping track of the Mets on a phone.

The second half of the play was better than the first. The play builds to a climax, that even I thought was humorous while making a very thoughtful observation about faith. That quickly went away when half of the cast started wagging fake dicks. That particular scene was funny and good and thought provoking and not made better by another dick joke. Especially since most of the scene already relies on a callback to a joke about fucking a frog.

When the play was over, they entire crowd jumped to their feat to give the cast a standing ovation, leaving me and my wife sitting there, looking at each other thinking, "Seriously?" The idea of giving this performance a standing ovation hadn't even occurred to me. I guess every kid gets a participation ribbon and every traveling Broadway play at Proctor's gets a Standing O.

I don't go to the theater often. And I'm cheap. So while walking back to the car, I couldn't help but wonder what I would have rather done with the $200 I had spend on the night (tickets plus a sitter). The last time I saw Springsteen was cheaper. If you're in New York City, you could go to The Comedy Cellar a handful of times (and laugh harder) for that money. That's also a lot of pizza. I stopped thinking about it once the list was sufficiently long.

On one hand, the play made me think about haves and have nots, faith and organized religion. There was even a kind of catchy song that was stuck in my head for a little while. And in the other's another dick joke.

My father would have said, "It wasn't terrible." My grandfather would have said, "Uch. They make up a story."

They'd both be right.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Burger time

I was recently invited to go on a local burger tour with the past Tournament of Pizza judges from All Over Albany. How can you say no to that?

For the past few years, I have tried to only eat our own beef. For the most part, I've been pretty good. When you get a side of beef, you end up with a lot of ground beef. I'd guess about 100 to 120 pounds of it depending on the year. That's a lot of meatloaf, tacos. nachos....and burgers. I've got to tell you, our beef makes a kick ass burger. I think a Prinzo's hard roll puts it over the top, but that's a minority opinion in the house. If you are looking for a cheap, white bun I'd recommend visiting a Stewart's.

Here's a summary of my thoughts on the four burger joints we visited one fun Saturday. The complete All Over Albany write up of the burger tasting is here and this is a link to the fries and kind of a wrap up.

Bun: I'd never seen a bun branded before. The only think I can think of that compares is a toaster Darth Vader toaster that burns "Star Wars" into the slice. This was a toasted potato bun and had a little sweetness to it.
Meat: The burger was well done, not much beefy flavor to it but it had a nice amount of fat to it.
Toppings: Plenty of nicely melted cheese, there was also a French's style mustard taste that I'd skip if I were ordering for myself and the lettuce and tomato were there but nothing special.
Fry Texture: Nice and crispy on the outside and very soft inside. Kind of like a mashed potato.
Fry Flavor: I really liked these fries. I think I'd try to order them well done to compare.

So while this particular burger wasn't spectacular, it made me think that if I came and ordered a burger specifying my personal burger preferences, I could get a pretty good burger here. And the fries would be hard to stop eating.

Burger 21
Bun: I liked the bun. It was lightly toasted, but the  burger removed any toasted texture.
Meat: Well done but still juicy, fatty and very rich. I did a double take on my first bite. There is no mistaking this for lean.
Toppings: There was lettuce and a very good slice of tomato. There was also a lot of yellow mustard, ketchup and mayo that combine into a special sauce. Too much sauce that also took away from the bun.
Fry Texture: These are a McDonalds style fry with not much too them. They're just salt delivery device.
Fry Flavor: I thought they had a little bit of an off after taste.

I get that fat is flavor in a burger. That said, I thought the burger was too fatty and McDonald's does a better version of these fries.

Bun: Toasted, but very soft and didn't hold up
Meat: Good flavor but I didn't notice the crust they they are known for having.
Toppings: Lettuce, decent tomato, good pickle chips, ketchup, mustard and some incredibly strong red onion. With the onion on the burger, that was all you were going to taste. I like onion, but I took it off.
Fry Texture: Thin and very crispy, but a little greasy
Fry Flavor: not much there

I had heard good things about Smashburger. Maybe this was an off day. I liked the beef, but the overall burger was unimpressive. The fries were nothing special.

Five Guys
Bun: light toasting, good flavor, and I liked the sesame seeds. Only bun of the day with seeds.
Meat: Not much crust, but good flavor and juicy
Toppings:A lot of mayo (too much), best lettuce of the day, a decent tomato, ketchup, mustard and some very strong diced onion. Maybe I don't like raw onion as much as I thought.
Fry Texture: crispy but soft on the inside
Fry Flavor: Salt. There was a lot of salt on this batch of fries.

This was the only shop I had visited prior to this tour. I wasn't impressed at that visit and never understood why people liked Five Guys. I can definitely see the appeal of that burger now.

Out of these shops, where would I go back for a burger? BurgerFi would top the list for me. I liked the restaurant and I'd like to see how they build a burger to order instead of right off the menu. And eat more of their fries. Too bad you can't make a Franken-Burger and fries combo with the best aspects of each place.

When the tour was over, I popped into to Whole Foods for a few things - basil and mushrooms for pizza on Sunday plus a bottle of seltzer - then headed home. Once there, I proceeded to fall into a minor salt induced food coma that probably involved some loud snores. When I came to, we had been invited out to diner by another family. After a day of eating burgers, I drove the family to Red Robin.

I just had a small salad. Timing is everything.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Almost time to go curling

I bring it up every once in awhile, but I am a member of the Schenectady Curling Club. Yes, that game one ice with brooms and rocks that is strangely hypnotizing every 4 year at the Winter Olympics. Sure, it is kind of a silly game but games by definition are silly. Anyone can throw a dart or hit a golf ball. The hard part is making the dart or ball go where you want it to go more often than not.

Anyone can push a stone on ice. Getting it where you want to go is the challenge. To me, the best shot is one that requires everyone on the 4 person team. The skip (team captain) calls the shot, the shooter takes the shot, but the shot can't get there without help of the sweepers. In some cases, I think the ideal shot is not within the realm of physical possibility without sweeping.

And like in Bull Durham: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes there's a blizzard. Think about that for awhile.

However, it doesn't matter if you win or lose. After the game you hang out with the team you just played, have a drink, talk about the game, life, tell jokes, stories (especially curling stories), or lose it's still a good time. The club members really couldn't be nicer.

I'm bringing this up because if you have ever had an interest in curling, this is the time of the year to look into it. The Schenectady Curling Club is having open houses this weekend (October 2nd and 3rd). At the open houses you'll get a little instruction on how to play, get out on the ice and throw a few stones. Pick up a broom and give sweeping a shot. The open houses a free and you can pre-register with EventBrite. Then, if you like it (you're going to like it), you can register for Curling School. At Curling School, you'll get some more instruction and on ice practice so you'll be ready to play in a league. Curling school costs a few bucks, but if you join the club that cost goes towards your membership.

Here's a link to the club's Open House webpage with all the details.

Maybe I'll see you out on the ice.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Playing WIth Concrete

Well, when I wrote last, I had some compacted stone surrounded by sand. Today, there is a pretty damn level 6 foot square concrete pad.

When the guys building the pool had a trench open to run gas and electric, they also put in a conduit line to bring electric to the oven. I started by digging a trench from where that line ended to where the oven was going to be built.

The conduit got glued up, and I back filled the trench. I had made a box out of 2x6s, picked up steel rebar. The box had to be set and leveled, which was actually a little harder than I thought. I made some stakes to keep the box moving and tightened everything up with some deck screws that I already had. I decided to stop chasing the square-ness of the box. I was pretty close. Definitely less than a quarter inch, probably closer to an eighth. And it doesn’t really matter because it’s just a base. Level, would be nice too, but not absolutely critical.

Once the box was squar-ish and level-ish, I put down some poly that was left over from the pool construction and laid out the rebar. The goal was to cheat a little toward the edges of the slab since it will be the most loaded area. The rest were spaced at about a foot. After they bars were laid out, I used some steel wire to tie most of the intersections together then lifted the rebar mat up to a handful plastic stands to keep the bars higher in the slab. Not too shabby. And surprisingly level.

When I posted a similar picture of the form on Twitter, I got this from Gary Dake (President of Stewart's Shops).

Still can't believe he saw the picture and then took the time to comment. Gary, if you're reading this, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE bring back Butterscotch Blonde ice cream.

By my calculations I needed a little less than ¾ of a yard of concrete. I’m not sure why, but concrete is ordered in cubic yards and no one ever includes the cubic part. Yards. It’s kind of like a square of roof, but volume. This works out to a ballpark 30 bags of Quickcrete, 80 pounds each. I lined up a mixer and was preparing to make half a dozen runs to Home Depot or Lowes to get 30, 80 pound bags of concrete mix to my house. This did not sound fun. It actually sounds kind of crappy. By the time I actually put each 80 pound bag in the mixer, I’m guessing I would have had lift and move each bag 4 times - onto a cart, into the car, out of the car, over to the mixer.  I have a dolly that might have helped. I gave one of the larger concrete plants a call. One yard delivered would have been a little over $400. Ouch. I get it. While they were delivering a tiny amount of concrete to me, they could have been selling 10 times the amount to someone else so there is a premium on small batches for one time customers.

While I mentally prepared to throw out my back moving bags of concrete, I heard about another place. Clifton Park Concrete. I think I’m kind of blabbing out a well kept contractor’s secret here. Clifton Park Concrete is a small operation. One guy. One truck with a 2 yard capacity. Compared to the bigger trucks, it looks kind of cute. And the owner/operator could not be a nicer guy.

I called and set up a time. He called about an hour before the delivery to confirm. I had originally planned to do all this myself. Another one of those self imposed tests – if I can do this on my own, maybe I can build an oven. The guys at work convinced this was a bad idea in case something went wrong – flat tire on the wheelbarrow, screeding (leveling the top) is much easier with two people and more hands makes lighter work. So Ryan offered to come over with a back up wheelbarrow and some other concrete tools.
The concrete truck came about 10 minutes early. Ryan wasn't there yet and I started moving concrete without him in my brand new trusty wheelbarrow. This was its first workout. I had about half of the form filled and I was raking concrete to fill the corners, when the truck driver asked if I wanted help screeding. So we ran a 2x4 back and forth across the form leveling the concrete. I think I got another wheelbarrow of concrete into the form when Ryan appeared. He took over moving the concrete while I raked concrete into the corners of the form. We leveled up the rest of the pour and I went to get a little more concrete in the wheelbarrow for “just in case.”

Turns out Ryan is much better with a trowel than I am. After he left, I covered the concrete with plastic to try and slow down the water evaporation. Latter in the afternoon when the kids got home, I made them feel the warm concrete. The heat of hydration is part of the chemical reaction of concrete curing. They were as impressed and as young girls get touching a warm sidewalk get. So, unimpressed.

A few days later I broke off the forms. Ta-Dah! A slab of concrete waiting for an oven.

To celebrate, I made pizza Saturday night. Here's a Utica Greens (with homemade pancetta) pizza. It's a little bit of extra work to make this pie, but I really like it once in awhile.

If you have a small concrete pour – the minimum order is a yard – I can’t recommend Clifton Park Concrete highly enough. For just under $250 (tax included), he delivered a yard of concrete and drove off with the extra. Yes, it could be more expensive than the Quickcrete. Figure 30 bags of Quikcrete is about $130. But if you add $75 for delivery or have to rent a mixer, the price is actually pretty good. And it is significantly faster and a lot less labor. We were done, everything cleaned up and the slab covered, in under two hours. I doubt that would have happened mixing 30 bags one or two at a time. So for all your kind of big but not huge home concrete projects, call Clifton Park Concrete. I plan to call again in the spring for the upper slab of the stand.

Clifton Park Concrete (518) 348-1044. (No credit cards).