Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fujitsu Lifebook P1620

Almost a year ago, I thought about whether or not I could rationalize getting some sort of UMPC and I ended up buying a bluetooth keyboard to use with my Treo 700p instead. I mainly wanted to use it for taking meeting minutes, because that's so much faster than writing them by hand and trying to decipher them later. Hauling a heavy laptop around isn't really an option for me. It turned out to be pretty much a disaster, because the bluetooth worked with my phone only about 25% of the time. I never figured out whether the phone or the keyboard was to blame, but I have the feeling that it may have been interference of some kind.

Despite the added utility of being able to carry around a UMPC, I had difficulties rationalizing spending money on a device that wasn't much better than the older personal laptop that I had at home. I was waiting for something better. I was particularly eager to find out what Apple had cooking. Their lightweight offering turned out to be the Macbook Air, which is 3 lbs. and actually quite large, with a 13.3" screen. I wanted something lighter than Air. I wanted something smaller and perhaps something with a few USB ports and an SD card reader.

Pretty much immediately after Apple announced the Air, I decided to order the Fujitsu Lifebook P1620. It's only 2.5 lbs with the extended battery. That half pound makes a big difference to me, but many people might not care. With 2 GB of memory and a dual core processor, it's peppier than what I already had, but it's teeny. The keyboard is 75% of normal laptop size, but that's not so bad for my minute hands.

Here you can see it next to a bottle of IZZE, but it's really not that much bigger than a piece of paper, folded in half. It's also a tablet PC and I have already found the character recognition to be very entertaining. I haven't had much experience using tablets, so I will have to learn to use it efficiently.

I ordered this laptop at the end of January, so I've had a whole month of anticipation and impatience prior to its arrival today, which made this the longest February ever for me, because they changed the estimated ship date multiple times. You can also read about James Kendrick's almost identical ordering experience on jkOnTheRun.

Incidently, I wrote this post using my new baby laptop and I found the keyboard to be quite usable, had no problems reading the small text on the proportionally high resolution screen and was elated by the ease of using the integrated SD card reader. Having left my card at home half a dozen times recently, it will be nice having everything with me all the time now.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Extra-terrestrials in the Basement

Over the last two days, suspicious plastic sheeting has been hung up in the basement of Duke Library's Bostock Building, not far from my office. They have even blocked off access from the elevators. As you can see, it looks as if it's from a scene out of E.T. I am convinced that they are examining one or more aliens somewhere near the stairwell.

What else could be causing that eerie glow? A portable work light?


Monday, February 25, 2008

B.T. McElrath Artisan Chocolates

Sister Of Google Earth Evangelist (SOGEE) just got back from Minneapolis and she brought back some B.T. McElrath artisan chocolates for me.

According to their website, they are trying to "create a WOW! experience" every time you taste one. I think they've achieved that. Their truffles are extremely interesting and very good.

This one combines passion fruit mousse with layers of white and 60% dark chocolate. It's amazing. I could eat half a dozen in minutes with no problem. It tastes ten times as good as it looks and it's very pretty.
I haven't tried this one yet, but it's a kaffir lime truffle with coconut and ginger.

This is certainly the cutest truffle and it has a very unusual and delicious taste. It's dark chocolate with a soft chocolate center, flavored with zinfandel and aged balsamic (vinegar?).

It's all I can do to keep myself from finding out what the remaining three taste like, but this will give me something to look forward to, tomorrow night.

Thank you, SOGEE!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Not Exactly An Isolated Incident

Those of you who have looked at my blogger profile or my profile on almost any other social networking site have seen this line:

"I'm a scatterbrained, mischievous, incorrigible, silly, cynical, optimistic pessimist, with a flair for worrying and obfuscation."

Scatterbrained is the first adjective in the list and for a good reason, as I'm sure those of my readers who even barely know me will agree.

For example, this morning I knew that I wanted to stop by the office to check on a couple of things. I figured that it made sense to do something else in Durham while I was there, so I suggested to my Most Faithful Readers that we go out for brunch. After a long discussion, we decided on Watts Grocery. I wanted more bacon and hash browns. Since I didn't make reservations and we hit the post-church crowd timing just right, we ended up having to wait between 30 and 40 minutes.

I didn't photograph my meal, because I ended having the same thing as last weekend, except I asked for a double portion of hash browns instead of a biscuit and tried the scrambled eggs. Their hash browns are so good that I was extremely happy with the substitution. They should really make a whole entree out of them, served with apple sauce. I'm always wanting to replicate meals from my childhood.

In any case, the whole dining experience ended up taking a few hours. I drove up to my parking space with my Second MFR and discovered that not only was someone parked in my reserved spot, but there was also someone parked in the space between the two handicapped spaces, which is even worse. Someone's parking there could potentially mean that I would not be able to get back in my van, which has always been among my worst fears. Fortunately, there was a campus cop parked near the entrance to the hospital and we were able to tell him. I took the time to parallel park along the curb and left my dad with the van, in case it needed it be moved.

I went down to the basement and got all the way to the office suite entrance and realized that I had left my keys in my bedroom. That meant that we had to drive all the way back to Hillsborough to get them. You may have seen me at night or on a weekend and noticed that I was still wearing my badge and keys on my belt.

It's just safer that way.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

David Thomas Center

Yesterday, I went to a work retreat at the David Thomas Center. It's an executive conference center on Duke's campus, associated with the Fuqua School of Business. When I attended the last retreat held there, almost two years ago, I was astounded by the facility. It's almost like a resort or what I would imagine a resort would be like, since I've never actually been to a resort. It has conference rooms and residential suites. The conference rooms are well stocked with amenities and are overflowing with food and snacks.

They have a very high quality buffet in the dining area. I'm not fond of buffets, in general, but their buffet is exceptionally good, particularly the desserts. I decided to just have the one pictured above. I'm not sure what it would be called, but it primarily consisted of kiwi and meringue, with a soft and spongey crust at the bottom. The amount of chocolate on the sides was perfect, because it didn't interfere with the light fruit flavor, but it made it even more interesting.

Less than two hours later, Dove bars and Häagen-Dazs chocolate and nut covered ice cream popsicles were delivered to our room. After one of those, I felt as if I were just this side of being in a sugar induced coma for the rest of the afternoon.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Daffy Weather

Yesterday, I took these photos of daffodils outside Perkins Library on Duke's campus. The last couple of days, the weather has been great.
The weather had been great until today, but I wonder what will happen tonight and tomorrow morning? The cooler temperatures won't hurt the daffodils, but if the sleet that's falling in Hillsborough right now is also falling in Durham, they might not be quite so pretty. Hopefully our morning commute will fair better.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

I hope you all have been enjoying the eclipse tonight as the moon has been peeking out from behind the clouds. Totality starts at 10:01 PM and I haven't seen it for the last few minutes. Oh there it is. I look forward to seeing all the photos from people with better cameras soon.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bennett Pointe Grill

I was going to have a quiet evening at home with a Trader Joe's frozen dinner and a good book. Instead, at the very last moment, I decided to join in on the Durham FM Association pre-board meeting festivities at the Bennett Pointe Grill & Bar.

Bennett Pointe Grill is a restaurant that serves consistently good American food. They have a large non-smoking dining area and a smoking section, which has a full bar. They also have a private dining room that holds up to 40 people. The service is almost always good and was excellent tonight.

Over the years, I've ordered quite a variety of things from the menu, including good wings and salads, but the salad I come back to again and again is their fried oyster caesar salad. For $10.95, you get a nice pile of oysters and a heck of a lot of shredded parmesan. They could use Kraft parmesan cheese-like substance instead, but I won't hold it against them.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Watts Grocery Blogging : Brunch

Saturday, around lunchtime, I went to Watts Grocery. I've been wanting to try their churros for a long time and I was by no means disappointed. They are basically donuts that are leavened only with eggs. They were coated in sugar, crunchy and soft in the middle. They were very fresh (hot) and served with a chocolate dipping sauce. If given a choice between churros and beignets, I would pick beignets, but they were very good. I'm just a big fan of yeast.

I ordered the completely configurable Watts breakfast, which was amazing. I got it with hashbrowns, bacon, over-easy eggs and a biscuit. The hash browns were effectively a thin potato pancake and they were browned to perfection. They tasted as if they were fried with just a bit of onion. They were absolutely wonderful and I'd like to have a plate full of hash browns as my meal. Well, that would be true, except I'd also want bacon. The bacon was thick and juicy like no other I've ever had. Aaron, our waiter, explained that all their meats were cured exclusively for the restaurant, so the bacon couldn't be found anywhere else.

Half of the $4 order of churros and the $7 breakfast plate were way more than I could eat. In the future, I'll want to either split the churros with more people or just order the breakfast plate. I think it was a steal considering the quality of the food and the service. I can't wait to go back.


Friday night, I went to Vita, which has replaced Verde at Erwin Square. Vita is still a Bakatsias creation and it's still just as trendy, with oodles of martinis from which to choose. In addition to redecorating, they now have a menu consisting entirely of salads, pizza and pasta dishes.

I ordered a smoked salmon pizza with cream cheese, fresh tomatoes, onions, capers and shredded apples. It was oval shaped, enormous (at least 12" in diameter) and very good. They have a collection of spices and parmesan that can be added afterwards. They charged me $9, but from looking at the menu, that may have been the lunch menu price. Even so, the $12 that they list on their on-line dinner menu would certainly have been very reasonable. I had plenty to eat, gave away three slices to other people and still had enough to take home for another meal.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Little Potato

As I'm sure many of my readers know, our local public radio station, WUNC, has just concluded a week-long fund raising drive. One of the incentive packages they've been advertising included two CDs from Back Porch Music and each time they played an excerpt from a song with the lyrics, "You're my little potato. You're my little potato." To me, that was one extremely catchy excerpt. When I was a teenager, my nome de plume on one local bbs was Flyings Spuds from Space and my nickname was Spuddy for a few years, so I probably have an unusual appreciation for it. Even so, it's a very cute song and one that I think my readers under the age of four will enjoy!

The song, which I found streaming here, was written by Malcolm Dalglish and was recorded by Metamora in 1985. It is also available on iTunes and will have a home on my iPod shortly.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Taverna Nikos Blogging: Valentine's Day

I haven't been a huge fan of Valentine's Day since I was a little kid, when the objective was to make handmade valentines out of construction paper and present them to one's immediate family members. On the other hand, I've figured that my opinion could easily change under the right circumstances and I've never been one to turn down chocolate or flowers. I also wouldn't dream of leaving the house on Valentine's without wearing heart shaped earrings. I guess one would say that my feelings are mixed and my occasional "bah humbug" only contributes to my enjoyment of the holiday.

Tonight I discovered that Taverna Nikos is an excellent place to go for Valentine's Day, regardless of whether one is celebrating a romantic evening or merely surviving the day. Excellent food can turn any evening into a festive occasion and tonight was no exception.
They had several specials for the evening, including a whole lobster over pasta. I chose to start off with a cup of shrimp bisque, which was extremely good. It wasn't too heavily laden with cream, which is just what I was hoping for. It was very flavorful, too.

Next I had their Valentine's Salad, which was also excellent. It had spinach, greens, feta, fantastic strawberries and caramelized pine nuts, with poppyseed dressing.

For dessert we had kataifi, which are kind of like baklava, but they are made with shredded wheat and are very chewy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Toast Paninoteca

Last night I met a bunch of bloggers at Toast Paninoteca, an Italian sandwich shop that recently opened at Five Points, in downtown Durham. The brightly lit cafe was a very pleasant place to meet and choose from a wide array of interesting sandwiches. The very friendly owners, Billy and Kelli Cottler, also contribute to the cheerful atmosphere.

This chicken sandwich may have been monotonic in color, but it was by no means monotonic in flavor. I rather enjoyed it. It was a tramezzini, which is a cold crustless sandwich. Their on-line menu has definitions for the different types of sandwiches. There are many others that I'd like to try and the soup looked very good. They also have a nice selection of soft drinks, including IZZE.

Two gracious food bloggers allowed me to photograph their crostini plate, which I thought was rather beautiful.

Note that as far as wheelchair accessibility goes, there is one step at the front entrance. To the rear of the shop, they have a ramp and a door that is flush with the ground outside. There is no curb cut to the parking lot in the back, but the curb is very low and is certainly manageable with assistance. An alley leads to Chapel Hill Street.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fire in the Turtle House

This past weekend, I finished reading Fire in the Turtle House - The Green Sea Turtle and the Fate of the Ocean, by Osha Gray Davidson. As I wrote last October, I thoroughly enjoyed Davidson's Best of Enemies and wanted to read more of his writing.

In this book, Davidson describes the struggle of the green sea turtle, which has suffered from an epidemic of fibropapillomatosis (FP), which causes debilitating, and eventually lethal, tumors. He focuses primarily on observations and research conducted in Hawaii and Florida.

Unlike Best of Enemies, which slowly builds hope in the reader with a giant burst of inspiration at the end, Fire in the Turtle House is depressing throughout, which underscores the seriousness of the problem and the grave danger faced by all species on this planet.

Like Best of Enemies, Davidson explores the lives of the researchers and conveys the meaning that the fate of the turtles has for them. Humans, as a whole, go through their lives with such destructive and myopic thoughtlessness that it's refreshing to learn more about researchers with so much interest and compassion.

This book may leave you questioning your diet. From learning about the frightening consequences of hog lagoon sewage in our coastal areas and the devastating effects of shrimp trawlers on our coral reefs, you may decide that fasting for impeachment is the logical alternative.

Finally, I would say that the chapter entitled "Cells from Hell" is one of the most riveting chapters that I have read in any book. Dinoflagellates are scary little organisms.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Eastern Lights - Gimme Potstickers

Yesterday afternoon, I was recommending Eastern Lights's potstickers and it dawned on me that I hadn't eaten any of them in a while in an "Mmm.. Potstickers..." sort of way.

They make them from scratch at Eastern Lights and are the best ones I've had anywhere. I don't usually have to even order them. This proved to be difficult during my brief stint as a vegetarian, four years ago.

This is the Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, which we order almost every time, because it's one of my Second Most Faithful Reader's favorite dishes. They do a fabulous job on the shrimp. He also always orders hot and sour soup and thinks they make the very best, even better than Mary Chung's, in Cambridge. I forgot to photograph it, because I was too busy stealing multiple spoonfuls. They give you a huge vat and it's way more than I could possibly eat in addition to a meal.

This is the Roast Pork with Green Onions, which is one of my favorites. We used to order Mongolian Beef regularly, because it was my brother's favorite. Now that I don't eat beef, this is a good substitute, since it has the same green onions and crispy rice noodles. I actually like the sweet barbecued pork better anyway.

My family has been going to Frank and Lily Chao's restaurant since they first opened the Mandarin House in South Square mall, around 1980. Around 1990, the Mandarin House moved across Chapel Hill Blvd. to where the Mayflower is today. Eventually, they sold the restaurant and moved to the west coast for a time, around 1998. This made it difficult for us to find the same quality of Chinese food in this area and it felt like a tragedy. When they moved back to this area, they opened their current location, Eastern Lights, on University Drive. There was much rejoicing. When you've been going to the same family's restaurant for about 28 years, you've built up a wealth of memories of not only delicious food, but of family celebrations and even grief.

(One time we went to the Mandarin House, sobbing, after thinking that the cat had accidentally been taken away in an old couch, by Goodwill, but we were wrong. She was fine.)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Dinner at the Re-Opened Taverna Nikos!

As will be no surprise to my readers, I had to go to Taverna Nikos as soon as I possibly could. It looks pretty much the same inside, except for the disappearance of the recently painted maroon paint, which had been repainted a nice dark blue, not too different, but darker than the original turquoise. I've been going to Taverna Nikos since 1992 and I'm fairly obsessed with color, so I tend to notice such details. Matching blue napkins and a few new photographs are the only other changes I observed.

The menu, however, is completely new. Many of the dishes from the old menu are there, but some of them have different names. For example, the old Village Salad is now the Nikos salad. Thank goodness it's still there. Co-owner and executive chef, Georgios Kastanias assured us that he would be more than happy to make any of the old dishes that have been removed from the new menu.

Very hot out of the oven, sesame and poppy seed encrusted bread was served with herbed olive oil, which is a change from the basil butter that they used to serve. The new combination was very good.

Some things are exactly the same, except even better. My Most Faithful Reader ordered the calamari and it was perfect. It was tender and finely sliced, just the way she likes it. I admit to stealing several pieces and some tzatziki, too.

My Second MFR ordered bacon wrapped shrimp stuffed with crab meat. This was wonderful. I'm pretty sure that the primary herb used in the stuffing was parsley. I will definitely be ordering this entree in the future.

I ordered the Fisherman's Pasta, which was mussels and shrimp in a tomato based sauce over linguine. This was very good, particularly the mussels.

I thought the new dessert tray was so beautiful that I thought I should photograph the whole thing.
We ended up sharing the chocolate-cappuccino mousse cake, which was as decadent and delicious as it sounds.

Overall, it was a very pleasant experience. We even had a visit from our favorite roving Mt. Fuji waiter, who wanted to make one more (very welcome) political comment. I am looking forward to being a regular at Taverna Nikos once again.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Taverna Nikos is OPEN!

We received a call from Taverna Nikos stating that they are open for dinner this week! They will be open for lunch and dinner next week. I recommend calling 682-0043 for reservations.

(Yes, it is still 2008. You have not gone through a time warp.)

Monday, February 04, 2008

Vosges Caramel Toffee

For the next installment of Vosges Haut-Chocolate, I opened the box of caramel toffee. It comes in this nice purple heart box. Perhaps this is a good choice if you've wounded your valentine?

The toffee is in a plastic bag, tied with more purple ribbon.

The large pieces of toffee are made from roasted pecans, walnuts, sweet butter toffee, pink Himalayan sea salt and milk chocolate. It tastes great. Do watch your teeth if they or your fillings are at all fragile.

The hot chocolate will have to wait until this weekend, because it will keep me awake if I drink it on a weeknight. I'll definitely be looking forward to it.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

First Trip to Rue Cler

This morning I went to Rue Cler for the first time. I enjoyed probably one of the best brunches that I can remember. I had an excellent latte and Œufs Rue Cler, which is close to eggs benedict. It's toasted French bread topped with ham, poached eggs, asparagus and bernaise sauce. All of the proportions were perfect. It could not have been better.

This was also my first experience eating hot beignets. Now I understand why everyone is so wild about them!

Rue Cler is in such a great location downtown. It's a lovely place to walk around, particularly if the weather is as nice as it was today. I was very pleased to see that the sidewalks downtown are now very wheelchair accessible.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Library of Chocolate

For our next exploration of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, it's time to try the "An Aphrodisiac Library of Chocolate Love Spells". In other words, this is a sampler pack of half ounce chocolate bars. Note that each bar is 1/6 of the weight of a full-sized bar.

The chocolate bars are terribly cute and are basically miniature versions of their full-sized bars. There are five different kinds and four duplicates.

The five kinds of bars:

  • Barcelona - 41% cacao with hickory smoked almonds, grey sea salt and deep milk chocolate. This was probably the one I liked the least, but I did like it. It was just the saltiest.
  • Black Pearl - 55% cacao with ginger, wasabi, black sesame seeds and dark chocolate. This was very good. The ginger and wasabi were very mild and the sesame seeds added a nice texture.
  • Naga - 41% cacao with sweet Indian curry, fresh coconut and deep milk chocolate. I tried this last and it tasted very sweet after trying all of the others. The coconut and curry are great in this.
  • Oaxaca - 75% cacao with guajillo and pasilla chillies and Tanzanian bittersweet chocolate. This was probably my favorite or at least tied for best. It was the spiciest and the chillies almost tasted slightly fruity to me. It left my tongue with a mild burn, which was pleasant. This was, by far, the best bar of any brand I've tried with such a high cacao content.
  • Red Fire - 55% cacao with Mexican ancho and chipotle chillies, Ceylon cinnamon and dark chocolate. This has been my favorite bar for a long time, because I love the combination of the cinnamon and the peppers. It's the perfect level of spiciness.
All in all, I would highly recommend this as a Valentine's gift. It's not frou-frou and it will give your valentine informed choices, without their having to bite into a nightmarish cream-filled center unawares.