Saturday, May 31, 2008

Black Rat Snake Dines While On My Deck

This morning, just as I was about to go out on the deck in order to feed the birds and squirrels, I noticed that there was a large black rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta) on the deck. It had picked up a dead downy woodpecker that must have hit the glass doors a day or two ago and was carrying it off. I guess I startled it, because it abandoned its breakfast temporarily.

One of the most interesting things to me was the squirrels' reaction to it. It's rare to see squirrels focused on things other than food and each other, so I was fascinated by their effectively taunting the snake after it had climbed into one of the chairs, as you can see in the video.

Eventually, it went back over to the dead bird to dine. No matter how many times I've seen nature documentaries, these things don't really sink in unless I see them with my own eyes. I'm not sure I would have appreciated it as much if the snake had been eating a live bird or mammal, but in this case it was doing me a service by cleaning off my deck.

Despite the fact that it was already dead, it looked to me as if the snake were going through the motions of trying to kill it again.

About eight minutes passed between when these two photos were taken and you can barely even see a lump in the second one. There wasn't a trace of the bird left on the deck, not even a feather.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Triangle Tweetup

Last night, I went to the second Triangle Tweetup, which was held at Capstrat, in Raleigh. I missed the first one, so I was extremely excited about going to the second one. I had a great time and met people with whom I'd communicated only via Twitter over the last few months. I also enjoyed talking with several people that I'd never talked to before at all, but now I'll continue to stay in touch with them on Twitter. Since over fifty people attended the event, there were several people that I recognized and would have liked to have met but never got a chance to. I got the impression that this was true for a lot of people.

@waynesutton did a fantastic job organizing this and rounding us all up. Several people showed us very interesting demos, such as @jazzychad on Twitter Movie Reviews and @critter on Seesmic. You can see my brief and somewhat awkward movie that I made of the room during one of the demos. After the more formal portion of the evening, @tarheelevan gave us a tour of the Capstrat facilities, which were very cool. One of the wildest things was a portrait of Einstein composed entirely of post-it notes in one of their conference rooms.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Blu Blogging: Oysters and Clams

Tonight was a wonderful night to go to Blu Seafood & Bar. All summer long the nights will be bright and perfect for food photography. Blu's sun room is a beautiful location for photographing an evening meal and certainly for eating it, of course. Since raw oysters are half-price on Tuesdays, I started with a dozen Blue Point oysters from Massachusetts. They were great and again, I opted for lemons instead of sauces, because I'm picky that way.

My Most Faithful Reader had the mahi special, with a filet over salad greens with orange slices, asparagus, red onions, mango and a citrus vinaigrette. She was very happy with it and did not offer me any.

My Second Most Faithful Reader had the Shrimp and Grits. I am always tempted to order this, because it's so good. I love asparagus, too, so that is a nice addition.

For the warm portion of my meal, I chose to try a clam special appetizer. The clams were in a butter broth, with shallots. It was also perfect for dipping their delicious bread after the clams were gone.
I know several of you have seen several pieces of key lime pie from Blu in my previous posts, but I couldn't resist showing you what this particular piece looked like today.

Despite a fantastic meal, the most memorable and best part of my visit to Blu was that I got to meet Chef Tim Lyons's mom, Sandy! She said that she and her husband, who live in California, enjoy reading my blog so they get to see what Tim has been cooking lately. It really made me happy to know that they get to stay in touch with their son a little better because of my blog and that's certainly an unexpected and wonderful benefit.

Guest Blogging at North Hills Buzz

Before you go to North Hills, in Raleigh, you need to take a look at North Hills Buzz, which does an excellent job of covering virtually everything there is to see and do there. Jason Peck asked me to be a guest blogger for North Hills Buzz and I am very thankful for the opportunity. You can check out my post about Hot Point Cafe and see everything that the site has to offer while you're there.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tosca Blogging: Classic Carbonara

I recently went to Tosca with a bunch of friends and it was basically marvelous. Two of my friends started out with an appetizer of scallops, bread crumbs, butter, Italian parsley and cognac. I tried a bite of it and it was delicious.

My Hippest Friend ordered the butternut squash ravioli special, which he said was awesome.

I had spaghetti alla carbonara, which has long been my favorite dish there. It had pancetta, eggs, olive oil, sweet cream and black pepper. It was fantastic and I could eat it every week. Unlike several of the dishes that I've ordered recently, it was better in the restaurant than as leftovers, so you may just want to attempt to eat all of it in one sitting. Good luck!

For dessert, several of us had decaf cappuccino, which was delicious. I should start carrying around cinnamon with me everywhere so I can always add it to my espresso drinks, because this was just lovely.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Six Plates Blogging: Eclectic Gelato

I went to Six Plates Wine Bar a couple of weeks ago and it's still memorable enough such that I want to write about it. We, of course, started out with a cheese plate. My favorite, this time, was probably the aged Gouda. I found this fascinating, because I recently had a smoked Gouda that was as close to my not liking a cheese as I thought possible. Aged Gouda, on the other hand, is divine. Also, the combination of the Elodie Farms Stilton and the honey was heavenly. I really love cheese. The tete de moine was literally a ruffledy cheese with a mild flavor.

I had this fantastic tuna tartare stack, which was slightly sweet, tangy and salty, with avocado and a mango-vanilla vinaigrette, surrounded by a cream sauce that tasted mayonnaise based. This dish was wonderful.

One of my friends got a baked scallop (yes, singular) that was served in the shell. It also contained lump crabmeat, truffle butter and fennel puree. Lamb was a popular order for us that night and it looked delicious. We got some North Carolina shrimp rolls, which were very good. Everyone also seemed very pleased with the wines that we ordered.

Dessert was actually quite exciting for me, because I never dreamed that I would try such unique flavors. Several of us tried the Flight of Gelato, for which we could pick from a list of flavors. From left to right, I had thai basil, dreamsicle and..........roasted garlic. The roasted garlic was surprisingly good, but then I am rather fond of garlic. The dreamsicle was somewhat disappointing, but I don't remember what a creamsicle tasted like, if I ever knew. The orange flavor wasn't very strong and somehow reminded me of a Necco wafer. Thai Basil was really quite nice, refreshing and pleasantly unusual.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lunch at Blue Corn Cafe

Yesterday, I had lunch at Blue Corn Cafe, on 9th Street. I'd never actually been there for lunch before, but I'd been there for dinner several times. Blue Corn belongs to the same owners as Tosca. Yesterday, they had a chicken special that looked delicious, as you can see. Apparently, it was quite good and filling, too. We considered ordering an appetizer, but the portions were so large that it's a good thing we didn't.

I ordered the vegetarian burrito, which was filled with spinach, zucchini, squash, corn, onions and tomatoes. It had a green chili sauce that was very spicy, but well within tolerable limits. I ended up eating the leftovers for dinner last night and they were excellent without heating them up.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

DFMA Hamfest and Brown Sugar Shortbread

Tonight I'm baking cookies to sell at the Durham FM Association Hamfest (also known as DurHamFest) in order to raise money for the DFMA. It's a fun event and I recommend it as the best destination this Saturday morning if you're a geek or an aspiring geek. It's been a tradition in Durham for many decades now and it's a good place to find electronic equipment, amateur radio equipment and aging computers. Plus, it's always a great gathering place for the amateur radio community in North Carolina. Like last year, it will be held at the Little River Community Complex from 8am to 2pm.

I'm making brown sugar shortbread and I can show you pictures of the last time I made these, a few weeks ago. It's almost like having one's own television cooking show, without the advertising revenue. I'm also making coconut macaroons.

The recipe is from the Cook Something cookbook, which I received as a housewarming gift from RP and still use all the time. It has lots of nice and simple recipes, such as this one:

Cream 1 cup of brown sugar and 2 sticks of butter. Add 1/2 tsp of vanilla and a pinch of salt (Yes, MFR, I know.) I don't like boring cookies, so I add a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon. Stir in 2 cups of flour. The book is accurate when it says that it will look like crumbly wet sand at this point.

Put the dough into a 9" square pan and flatten it down with your fingers, a spatula or both. I like lining such pans with greased aluminum foil, because you can just lift it out without a mess. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 min.

After taking it out of the oven, let cool for 15 minutes and then cut into the shapes of your choice. They are likely to fall apart until you let them cool more.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Parizade - Duke Staff Appreciation Night

This has been Staff Appreciation week (season?) at Duke and one of the things they did one evening last week was offer a "buy one meal, get one half off" special at several local restaurants. Several of us went to Parizade to take advantage of this. One of my friends ordered the pork loin with fennel seed crust, apple cider mustard sauce and mashed potatoes. He also ordered the tuna tartare, but I didn't get my camera out quickly enough. It looked similar to the tuna I ordered at Six Plates a few days before, which you will see if I get around to writing about how good that was.
Friend of Google Earth Evangelist (FOGEE) , ordered the tuna with garbonzo bean cous cous, zucchini, spinach and balsamic fig tapanade. I got the impression that the figs added an unusual flavor to this dish.

Google Earth Evangelist (GEE), ordered salmon with spinach and a citrus grapefruit vanilla glaze. GEE thought the sauce was a little overpowering, but I thought it was great, because I like very strong citrus flavors. The spinach was velvety smooth and wonderful. I appreciated GEE"s giving me the opportuntiy to try this and wasn't sure how much I wanted to give it back.

Over the years, my most common order at Parizade has been the salmon and pasta. For years it had a black pepper champagne cream sauce, which was wonderful. One of the constants in this dish has been the fresh, but warm, tomatoes, which I now think are an essential ingredient, if you can eat them. Surprisingly, I enjoyed this dish even more as leftovers and that's unusual.

For dessert, I had the creme brulee, which was good. The caramelized crust was slightly warm from the torch and the custard was cool. Tonali still wins the Glob award for best creme brulee in this area, as far as I'm concerned, but I was happy with this and liked the fact that it was a reasonable size. So many restaurants are making their desserts larger and larger, which I think is a mistake. Sometimes you want your own personal dessert rather than having to negotiate.

FOGEE ordered the Belgian chocolate sampler, which was rather beautiful. I was pleased to get the strawberry.
GEE ordered the L'orange chocolate torte, which had three different types of chocolate on a chocolate cookie crust. The presentation was beautiful, with cocoa sifted onto a flower stencil.

On the other side was a delicious caramel sauce, which was excellent alone. Overall, the cake was a little rich for my taste, since once bite was similar to eating a soft truffle. I was very happy to have that one bite, though.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tyler's Tuna Melt

I recently had a very good sandwich for lunch at Tyler's. It was a tuna melt that contained cranberries, apples and celery, on toasted sourdough bread. I ordered it with their garlic fries and was very pleased. I didn't even have any of their fantastically sour lemonade, because I'd stopped at Starbuck's earlier, but I'll have to get more of that soon.

Did you know that they serve brunch on Sundays? They do, from 10am to 3pm.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Good Customer Service Experience: Verizon Wireless

People complain about bad customer service all the time, particularly cell phone companies. Believe me, I can complain about Sprint all afternoon. This past weekend, I had a good experience with Verizon Wireless, so I think it's important to share that as well.

As I mentioned earlier, I attended Blog Carolinas on Friday. In preparation for heavy Twitter usage during the conference, I upgraded my text messaging plan to 1500 messages per month. I figured I'd be all set. I'd never tweeted much by sending text messages from my cell phone, as Twitter was originally intended to be used, primarily because of the high text messaging rates. I figured this was the perfect opportunity to give it a try and then, if I wanted to, I could go back to my 20 cents per message rate afterwards.

On Saturday, the day after the conference, I decided to check and see just how many messages I'd sent and received. I immediately saw that the indicator was red and had a warning that I'd exceeded my limit. Uh oh. That couldn't be good. I'd sent over 80 messages on Friday and received over 450. The problem was that I also have my parents' phones on my account and it turns out that I had added the 1500 text message plan to my father's phone. I don't believe that he has ever sent a text message before, on any phone.

I felt ill, but well enough to send Verizon e-mail and explain what had happened. I asked if they could retroactively add the 1500 text messaging plan to my phone and remove it from his. It said they would respond within 24 hours.

Guess what? They did what I asked, even though I was the one who made a mistake. Of course, it's their interest to help me out such that I continue using their services and continue text messaging, but it's rare to hear of a company's actually having realized that.

So far, every interaction I've had with Verizon Wireless has been positive. When I activated my phone, I even talked to someone with a sense of humor. That's pretty amazing. I can only hope that my experiences continue to be be positive, but I will still be more careful in the future.

Have any of you had any noteworthy customer-services experiences lately, good or bad?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I love baptisia. It's just a gorgeous perennial. Even after the flowers go by, the seedpods are rather cool looking.
These are all growing just outside the Duke library buildings and I photographed them as I was leaving work a few evenings ago.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Wooden NIckel

Shortly before going to Matthew's Chocolates last weekend, my Second Most Faithful Reader and I went to the Wooden Nickel for lunch for the first time. Back when we first moved to Hillsborough, in 1989, we practically lived at Kelsey's Cafe, which used to be at the same location, 105 N. Churton Street, in downtown Hillsborough. It's astonishing just how much they've changed the place and transformed the bright and elegant cafe into a dark and wood-paneled pub with a good-sized bar. The embossed metal ceiling is the only reminder of its old self. That, of course, is far from criticism, because it looks pretty cool and I like the dark green accents.

More importantly, I was very pleased with the food. I had fish and chips and I believe it won the Glob award for the best combined fish and chips so far, rather than just one or the other. Plus, it's a local (for me, very local) restaurant and not a chain. The types of fish they use rotate and that day I had the roughy, for $11.95 and they also offered flounder. The coleslaw was good, too, because I didn't detect much, if any, mayonnaise. Overall, I was very happy. I also wanted to try a soft pretzel, but that will have to wait until next time.

My SMFR had a half-pound of boiled shrimp for $7.95, which he said was very good. They also had standard pub fare, such as a burgers and other sandwiches.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Blog Carolinas and Twitter

Yesterday, I attended the Blog Carolinas conference, which was held at Sigma Xi, in RTP. I had a wonderful time! It was an excellent mixture of conference and "unconference". There were both planned presentations and dynamic sessions that were suggested by attendees, who led them if the topics generated enough interest. Despite the high quality of both the planned and unplanned sessions, the best part, by far, was meeting other Twitter users. It was a tremendous amount of fun observing and participating in conversations during the actual sessions while also tweeting about what the presenter was trying to convey.

I quickly discovered that it far easier to meet new people at a conference if you are using Twitter, particularly if you are tweeting using the conference hashtag, in this case #blogcarolinas. I was effectively live blogging or taking notes on what I considered to be the main points of each session and others who were attending the conference or following along from a remote location, could see them using or Here is what our aggregated conference conversation looked like on twemes. Some presenters actually viewed the #blogcarolinas Twitter stream during their presentation, as @gilliatt did in his presentation on Monitoring and Metrics, which can be seen above.

I was using my Treo 700p and sending text messages to tweet during the conference and I actually think that both using a miniature keyboard and being limited to Twitter's 140 character message limit actually improves note taking, because it forces one to condense the information and only record what is perceived to be important, which means that it's actually a lot more engaging. I can just imagine how I would have enjoyed and perhaps benefited from college even more if I could have tweeted during my classes. The possibilities in a classroom setting, including a less disruptive way to ask classmates for clarifications or provide them with supplemental information, seem endless.

One "unconference" session, led by @93octane, was on Twitter itself. In fact, this was the most lively, if not heated, discussion I observed during the day. The argument was over whether Twitter is useful and why blogs are better than Twitter. The majority of the participants thought that Twitter was extremely useful and that comparing it to blogging tools was effectively like comparing apples and oranges. Not only are they different, there's no reason why you shouldn't eat both.

Check out photos from Blog Carolinas that were posted to Flickr.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

More at

Have you all been keeping up with everything that's been added to Since I last wrote about it, they have added Orange and Wake counties and I am sure there is more to come. I recently wrote another story for the site and this time it was about St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, in Hillsborough.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Tri-IT at UNCG

Today I drove to Greensboro for a Tri-IT conference at UNCG. You can read my blog post about last year's instance of this conference, which explains what Tri-IT is all about. If nothing else, it's always fun to get together with a horde of like-minded geeks to discuss the latest and greatest web applications. The weather was beautiful for wandering around the campus today. Above you can see the Mary Macy Petty Science building, where most of the conference was held.

This is effectively a flat-topped dome in the Elliot University Center (EUC), which is a meeting place for faculty, students, staff and visitors. It contains multiple shops, at least one cafeteria and just happens to be part of the route to the Petty Building.

Overall, from what I've seen during my two visits to UNCG's campus, it looks as if it's a very nice and attractive campus with lots of open spaces and grass. It's also fairly flat, which I appreciate.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Barbecue Joint

I'm paying too much attention to the election live blogging and ustream on and so I'll keep this short.

I recently had an excellent duck confit salad for lunch at the Barbecue Joint, in Chapel Hill. In addition to the duck, it had greens, goat cheese, pecans and dried apricots.

If you've never been to the Barbecue Joint before, I highly recommend it. It's an extremely casual restaurant, with gourmet southern cooking and barbecue. They win the Glob award for the best cornbread I've eaten in the Triangle or perhaps the best non-homemade cornbread anywhere. It's southern cornbread, which means that it's not sweet at all. Sweet yankee cornbread is inedible, in my opinion. Be sure to try their pickled cucumbers, too!

Monday, May 05, 2008


I know my friends are probably sick and tired of my saying how much I miss Pyewacket. I really do, though. Fortunately, Anotherthyme provides a fix in a way that no other restaurant can. I started out by ordering iced red zinger, which used to be my beverage of choice. It still is, but when I make it at home, it doesn't taste nearly as good as it did tonight. It's so tart and refreshing. I've always thought it was crucial to add Sugar in the Raw, which will actually dissolve in the the cold liquid if you are patient and energetic enough to stir it for a couple of minutes.
I tried the pork and vegetable dumplings with Vietnamese lime-tamari dipping sauce as an appetizer, which was delicious. They were served on slivered snow peas and carrots, which added a nice touch.
At the strong recommendation of our waiter, my Second Most Faithful Reader ordered the fried Tilapia with cold Asian noodles, cashews and mandarin oranges in a ginger-mirin dressing. I was very happy to steal a nice portion of this and it was excellent.

One of my favorite salads at Pyewacket was the Morning Star Salad, but it was huge. HUGE. Anotherthyme has both small and large portions, which is a fabulous idea. I still ended up taking half of my salad home, but it's a lot more reasonable, especially if you want to try more than one dish. It's an incredible salad with granny smith apples, cottage cheese, raisins, cashews, sprouts, sun flower seeds, grated carrots and Umeboshi Plum dressing.

My Most Faithful Reader had a small French Green Salad, with avocado, egg, red onions, cashews, parmesan and lemon tamari dressing. A few of you know that I'm perfectly content to eat salads without dressing, but Anotherthyme has such wonderful salad dressings that it would be almost a crime not to eat them if they were avaialble. They used to sell them by the bottle and I wish they still did.
Dessert. I'm almost speechless, so it's a good thing I'm writing. This raspberry cocotte was stunning. This dessert had a thick caramelized sugar crust that was incredible by itself. It covered layers of cheese and raspberries marinated in Chambord, a black raspberry liquor. The flavor was intense and perfect. This was the best dessert that I've had in many years and if you've been reading for a while, you know that I've had some amazing desserts.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Matthew's Chocolates

I knew immediately that Matthew's Chocolates was my kind of store as soon as I got in the door. All of the chocolate in the display case was dark chocolate. It's a tiny shop, sandwiched between the Wooden Nickel and Gulf Rim Cafe, but it's "choc" full of flavor. In addition to chocolate, he sells coffee and iced tea.

After we finally decided which kinds we wanted to try first and the candies were weighed, Matthew put the chocolate in these nifty baggies.

These are some of Matthew's signature chocolates, berry cremes. These beautiful chocolates were very good. That's an understatement.

I chose "mendiants", which are chocolate discs, each with a piece of dried fruit on top. We also bought a few pieces of chocolate covered orange peel and chocolate covered ginger. There were many other kinds of chocolate available, some of which had already sold out for the day. There were several different kinds of nut-filled barks that looked delicious.

Here you can see the ginger, which was extremely juicy, soft, mild in flavor and covered in a thick layer of chocolate. Matthew's Chocolates opened about five months ago and I'm so glad it did. You wouldn't believe how excited I am about the new and wonderful shops, restaurants and other exciting destinations that have recently opened and are about to open in downtown Hillsborough, just five minutes from my house.