Monday, June 30, 2008

Serena Restaurant and Bar

This evening, I met some friends for dinner at Serena Restraurant and Bar, in Durham, near RTP. The atmosphere is very airy and hip, with rhythmic eletronica music playing. It looked as if most people were getting drinks after work, but several groups were dining. We sat inside, but they have a very nice patio area.

I ordered the gnocci, which I'd been looking forward to after examining their menu on-line about a week ago. It had applewood smoked bacon, dried cherries, loads of garlic, spinach, a thin slice of parmesan and potato gnocci pasta. It came with a piece of garlic bread. It sounds perfect, right? Well, it probably would have been, but it was just too much grease for me. The garlic bread, which had a lot of garlic and loads of butter, was wonderful, but I might have actually enjoyed it more with plain bread to soak up some of the Spanish olive oil that they used to sautee everything.

Serena is open all day, from 11am to 9pm, and they have free WiFi. The next time I go, I'll want to try either their Strawberry Salad or their Blackberry Salad. Both have goat cheese! Also, I should clarify that, despite the proximity to the Park, I suspect the second salad is made with actual fruit, rather than blended RIM devices.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

PTA Video Store

OnePlusYou Quizzes and Widgets*
A good friend of mine recently sent me a "virtual gift card" to a new site, the PTA Video Store. A portion of the proceeds goes toward the national PTA organization and all of the DVDs and instant downloads are rated either G, PG or PG-13. There is also a similar site, the Boys & Girls Club of America Video Store. HP is providing the services for both of them.

I ended up choosing two videos that have been my favorites since I was about eight, The Gods Must Be Crazy and the Princess Bride. I have close to a non-existent DVD collection, because I rarely ever watch movies more than once or twice. Those two movies are some of the few exceptions, in addition to Buckaroo Banzai, perhaps one of the best movies ever made. Really.

I find the notion of limiting the movie selection to PG-13 and below, to provide wholesome family entertainment, thought provoking. Growing up, starting at a very young age, I watched many movies that were rated R. My parents had no problems with my brother's and my seeing pretty much whatever we wanted. It wasn't until I was about 30 that I realized that I'd seen almost no horror movies, so it's really that my parents were effective in making us think we'd seen everything. Still, it seems to make sense for children to see such movies and perhaps learn a few things under the supervision of their parents, rather than with their peers. The same could be said for a lot of things other than movies, such as drinking.

I know that a lot of parents read my blog. What do you think? Do you or do you intend to limit what your kids watch?

*Incidently, this site rates my blog as R. That's good, because I don't want it to lose its incivility certification.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Taverna Nikos Blogging: New and Noteworthy

Chef Georgios Kastanias , at Taverna Nikos, has been trying out new recipes as potential candidates for the fall menu. Thursday night, he made a goat cheese appetizer for me to try. It had four pieces of bruschetta, topped with fried balls of goat cheese, with small pieces of goat cheese on top. It was served with a tomato and calamata olive sauce. It was definitely very good and filling, too.
He's also just introduced an impressive new dessert. It's a banana wrapped in phyllo pastry and then drizzled with caramel. I think there's also some cheese inside, but I'm not positive. It is served hot, so it's good to cut it open and let it cool a bit before quickly chomping on a bite,. The plate was drizzled with chocolate, which added just a little chocolate flavor. I liked this dessert a lot and will be eager to order it again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blu Blogging: Shellfish bake!

Tonight my Most Faithful Readers and I went to Blu Seafood & Bar, which was hosting a New England-Style Shellfish Bake. All the tables were covered in newspapers in preparation for the feast. Here you can see the butter, which, to me, looked appetizing in itself. The salt wasn't necessary for us, but then we never add salt to anything.

Look at this gorgeous plate of food that we shared. The clams, mussels, shrimp, corn and potatoes were cooked to perfection and were all delicious. The corn on the cob was fantastic.

We were celebrating my Most Faithful Readers' 42nd wedding anniversary! The shellfish bake was a wonderful way to celebrate.

We shared a nice warm serving of blueberry cobbler, which was very good.

Finally, here is yet another slice of their key lime pie, with yet another raspberry sauce pattern. It's oh so good.

Blu regularly schedules dining events such as this, including wine and beer dinners, which are listed on their events page. I was just excited to see that they are having a steamed lobster dinner on August 6th!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Not My Cat Blogging

As I was heading to the Bryan Center for lunch today, I ran across a cat that was completely terrorizing a squirrel. It chased the squirrel all around and up a tree at light speed and then the squirrel proceeded to agitatedly use a stream of inflammatory language at the cat. Eventually, the cat decided to just lie down and admire the disturbed squirrel from a distance.

The very large cat looked quite healthy with its beautiful and comparatively long coat. He wasn't nearly as afraid of me or as skinny as most feral cats that I see on campus, so I wonder if he's being well fed. Either that or the cat normally has better luck than he did trying to catch that squirrel.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Squirrel Martial Arts

This past weekend, I was testing the new Flip Mino, the new version of the Flip Video Camera, and I recorded a short video of two squirrels that looked as if they were practicing Akido or something. I think it's just begging for some music or perhaps just the appropriate battle cries.

Note that I was zoomed in all the way using the digital zoom for most of it and then you can see the default setting toward the end, which I think is nice and crisp.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Trash Can Turkey

Have any of you ever had a turkey roasted in a metal trash can? That's how this lovely bird was cooked.. J, who is holding it, ensured that the meat was juicy and delicious. This turkey was the star of a going-way picnic I attended last night, although I certainly loved the locopops I chose as side-items.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Anotherthyme Blogging : My Own Cocotte

Last night, we went to Anotherthyme for part two of my Second Most Faithful Reader's Birthday Dining Extravaganza. He had the AT Fried Chicken, which was encrusted with sliced almonds. I tried it and it was extremely good. My MFR ordered the tilapia special that my SMFR ordered during our previous visit.

I was planning on eating most, if not all, of my dessert, so I ordered a prosciutto and grilled pear salad, with white balsamic vinaigrette and grated parmesan reggiano. It was larger than it looks, because the mound of greens was densely packed with greens. This was an extremely good salad.

My MFRs shared a Romanoff, made with blueberries, raspberries, cream cheese and Triple Sec. They said it was very good, but not quite as good as what I ordered.

I had my very own Raspberry Cocotte, which is what we shared last time. It was out of this world. I cannot think of a dessert that I like more than this one and I'm very fond of good desserts. I love raspberries and I love caramelized sugar, so it is simply heavenly to me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blu Blogging : Lunch!

Several co-workers and I went to lunch at Blu Seafood & Bar today. I was excited, because I'd never been there for lunch, just for dinner. They have a very different menu for lunch and there were several things that I wanted to try, including beer battered fish and chips, which several of us ordered and I enjoyed a great deal. The fish was nice, crispy and flavorful. It was served with vinegar, tartar sauce, coleslaw and freshly made chips. I've never developed a taste for adding vinegar to my fish, but I liked the tartar sauce quite a bit. The colseslaw was slightly creamy and had a fairly mild flavor. I was pleased that the chips were comparatively thin and not heavily salted.

Google Earth Evangelist had the citrus cured salmon and avocado sandwich. She let me have a bite and it was excellent. I suspect I will order this at my next opportunity.

Two of us ordered the Oyster Po' Boy with Creole Remoulade and it looked really good.

We shared a blueberry cobbler. I had a couple of bites and it was very good. Several of us commented how much they appreciated that it wasn't too sweet, so they could enjoy the blueberry flavor. It was served warm, which was a nice treat.

Nevertheless, I concentrated heavily on one of the two slices of key lime pie that we shared. Am I not showing tremendous self-restraint by only posting a photo of one of then?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Taverna Nikos : Wonderful Appetizers

My Most Faithful Readers and I had a delightful time at Taverna Nikos last night, celebrating my Second Most Faithful Reader's birthday. It was actually the first of two dinner celebrations, since he had to attend the Durham FM Association board meeting tonight, on his actual birthday. I decided to order two appetizers as my entree, which was a more food than I could possibly eat, but I don't regret my ordering decision in the least. I ordered the Spanakopita, or "Spinach Pie", which is one of my favorite dishes of all time. The pastry was nice, fresh and crisp and the spinach to cheese ratio was very good. Georgios Kastanias, Taverna Nikos's executive chef, explained to me that he uses his mother's recipe and I think it's excellent. In fact, his mother is visiting from Greece this summer and I got to meet her! She checks in on my blog in order to see photos of her son and his cooking.

I also ordered the Tzatziki, the yogurt cheeese, garlic and cucumber dip, served with pita wedges. That was superb.

For dessert, we shared the flourless chocolate cake, which was infused with raspberries. It was very good.

One of the best parts of the experience was that Georgios sat down and chatted with us. He's extremely busy with the Durham restaurant, the location in Morrisville and his new baby.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mystery Caterpillar

Any idea what kind of caterpillar this is?

You can even see it move if you're willing to give up 17 seconds of your life. Don't worry, no living things were harmed during the making of this documentary.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Baking Bread For The First Time

Baking bread has always been something that I've wanted to learn how to do. It's one of those "life goals" of mine similar learning to drive a car (done) or learning to play the bassoon (not actually on my list). This weekend, I decided to actually give it a try. On Life as a Banquet!, I read a while back that @jpostonday, whom I'd met at a couple of conferences, had been making the same bread weekly for the last 10 years and she posted her detailed recipe, so I thought that would be a good choice.

As many of you have read, I bake yeast rolls and pizza crust now and then, so baking bread wasn't actually that daunting a task. One of the things I always worry about is whether my dough will actually rise or not. In this case, it rose incredibly well. In fact, next time I put the dough in a slightly warm oven, I'll be sure to move the top rack to the bottom. It's a good thing that I put the plastic wrap on top, as she suggested, or it would have been a real mess.

This is what it looked like after I split the dough roughly in half.

It's a neat recipe in that you stick the loaves in a cold oven, set it to 425F degrees and then turn it on for 45 min. That gives the dough a chance to rise some more as the oven heats up. How well his works has to vary from oven to oven, though, since the speed at which ovens heat up is variable. In this case, I think my crust was a little darker than the "golden brown" that it was supposed to be, but it still tasted good.

I resisted the urge to cut into the warm bread before this morning, so it had a chance to cool thoroughly. It looked good to me, but I didn't know what it was supposed to look like.

The important thing is that it tasted good! I look forward to experimenting with this and other bread recipes in the future.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Coconut Lime Sorbet

Last night, I made coconut lime sorbet, by modifying this recipe.

Since I only had unsweetened coconut milk, I added 3/4 of a cup of sugar to 1 cup of water and stirred it while bringing it to a boil. I let it boil for 2 minutes without stirring and then took it off the stove to cool.

I juiced 5 or 6 limes for 1/2 a cup of lime juice.

I opened my 13.5 oz. can of Thai unsweetened coconut milk. I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened the can, but it doesn't smell anything like the overly-processed sweetened-shredded coconut that goes in my macaroons.

Finally, I combined all three liquids and put the mixture in the sorbet maker for about 25 minutes. I put it in the freezer overnight and tried it. Actually, I ate what didn't go in the freezer and that was quite good already, so I was optimistic about the finished product. I tried it tonight with my Most Faithful Guinea Pigs and we all seemed to enjoy it. The combination is a little unusual, but I liked it. I was pleased that I didn't make it too sweet and it also wasn't too sour. It makes me eager to try a pineapple version once I get a blender.

Friday, June 13, 2008

False Dandelion

Almost exactly a month ago, as I was heading to get some lunch, I saw this flower near the library buildings and had to photograph it. As you can see, it looked a lot like a dandelion, but it's more of a lemon yellow instead of the warmer, almost buttery, yellow of dandelions.

It was also much taller, 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall.

Just a few days ago, I noticed that the plant had set seed, so I needed to photograph it again.

Just an hour after I photographed it, I left the office to go to a meeting and I noticed that most of the seeds had already blown away. That night, my Most Faithful Reader suggested that I might want to collect some seeds, if there were any left. They've been working on the landscaping in that area recently and the next day I saw that someone had pulled up the plant completely, so it was too late. Fortunately, there is another one that just finished blooming and I'm hoping that it will be left long enough for it to produce some seed.

I did some googling and determined that the plant is Pyrrhopappus carolinianus, or "False Dandelion".

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Eastern Lights Blogging: New and Nostalgic

When one has been going to a restaurant (or the predecessor of one) since 1981, you'd think there wouldn't be anything new to try. Despite my love for trying new things, I'm just as likely to order the same dishes over and over without experimenting. The ideal solution is to go to such a restaurant with someone who has been going to the same restaurant about as long, but has been ordering different things. That was the case for lunch today, at Eastern Lights. We shared an order of Sizzling Rice soup, which used to be my family's favorite until my Second Most Faithful Reader became addicted to their Hot and Sour soup, maybe 15 years ago, so it was nice to have a serving of nostalgia along with the meal. Sizzling Rice soup, which serves two or more people, contains chicken, shrimp, water chestnuts, avoidable mushrooms and crispy rice. The rice often makes a dramatic entrance as it is added to the soup, hence the name.

For our main course, we shared Spicy Shredded Dried Tofu with Pork, which I'd never tried before and was excellent. The tofu was very flavorful and the texture reminded me of thick cold-cuts, because it was denser than most tofu I've eaten. The dish also contained fermented black beans, which reminded me slightly of teeny olives with the texture of beans. It was spicy, but not excessively so. I would definitely recommend this entree, which can be found in the Chef's Specialties section of their menu.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Vita Blogging: Great Value

In this age of inflation, it's refreshing to find reasonably priced food that's actually good. Last night, the ravioli of the day at Vita was filled with goat cheese, had a roasted red pepper cream sauce and was just $8. It was very good and the sauce was just spicy enough to have just a little kick to it. I don't even like red peppers, but they can add a nice flavor to a cream sauce. I did eat the peppers instead of picking them out, like I usually do. Well, I did pick them out, but I decided to eat them anyway and I'm glad I did. As I've written previously, their pastas and pizzas have been consistently good and inexpensive. Also, all their martinis (fru-fru and non-fru-fru ) are $4 on Tuesday nights.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Torero's Near Brightleaf Square

Friday night, a bunch of my friends and I went out in search of good margaritas. We found them in at the Torero's near Brightleaf Square. Granted, we only looked for them at one place, but we were optimistic. I believe it had been exactly 20 years since I'd last been to that location of the local chain. They also had a sangria special for $3. I, of course, enjoyed a glass of horchata, since I am completely addicted now.

It was nice to see a different menu for a change and I ordered the Camerones Monterrey, which was shrimp wrapped in bacon with melted Monterrey Jack cheese, sauteed onions and peppers. It was really good. The surprising thing was that, unless I completely misunderstood the menu, it was meant to be eaten as fajitas. The shrimps had their tails still on them, so I think that would have been awkward.
Maybe the extra stuff that came with it, rice, beans, shredded cheese, and guacamole was supposed to go in the tortillas. In any case, I ended up eating everything separately and it was all excellent. I think this was really enough food for two people.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Free Obama!

I was talking with my Most Faithful Reader just a few minutes ago and she said she was going to get a free Obama bumpersticker from and asked if I wanted one, too.

I looked puzzled and asked, "Free Obama? Did I miss something? Is he in jail?"

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Chicken Divan

My Most Faithful Reader makes wonderful Chicken Divan and lately it's been the dish that I crave whenever I want something homemade. She got the recipe from my paternal grandmother, but we have no idea what the origin was beyond that. Occasionally my MFR will tinker with the recipe and change the brand of soup or do something else unforgivable. It's never as good as sticking to the exact kind and quantity of ingredients listed below. I've never tried making it myself, but maybe I will someday. Warning: I find this and the leftovers addictive.

  • enough frozen or fresh broccoli to cover the bottom of glass baking dish
  • pan-fried boneless chicken breasts to cover broccoli
  • 1 large can of Campbell's Cream of Chicken soup
  • 3/4 cup Duke's Mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder (heaping teaspoon is good)
  • shredded Swiss or mozzarella cheese to cover dish
  • plain, unseasoned bread crumbs to sprinkle over cheese
  • Mix soup, mayonnaise, lemon juice and curry powder, spread over broccoli and chicken.
  • Cover with cheese and bread crumbs.
  • Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

4th Annual Beaver Queen Pageant

This evening, I went to Duke Park to see the Beaver Queen Pageant for Beaver Lodge 1504. This annual event raises money for the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association.
Beavers, who are normally disguised as humans, performed on stage in order to compete in the pageant. Hundreds of people watched in amazement. It was very hot, but it didn't feel nearly as bad as I expected. Barry was liveblogging, so be sure to check out his coverage.

It looked to me as if everyone was having a good time, because it was a beautiful event for sitting around and shooting the bull.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Last night, I went to Merlion, in Southern Village, in Chapel Hill, with my Most Faithful Readers and friends. Merlion features the cuisine of Singapore and is actually in the same building as the Town Hall Grill, which I went to a couple of months ago. In fact, from our table, I even saw Corturnix striding down the sidewalk at a fast pace, presumably on his way there.

Ordering beverages was a little strange, because the waitress said that they out of unsweetened tea. I've heard of restaurants being out of or not serving sweet tea, but never unsweetened tea. They ended up making a single glass for one of our friends and my Second Most Faithful Reader had diluted sweet tea.

Above you can see the Merlion Sampler, which two of us, including my Most Faithful Reader, had as their main meal. It had vegetarian spring rolls, curry samosas, coconut prawns and Merlion "dumpling parcels for two", which contained ground pork, shrimp, shitake mushrooms, carrots, water chestnuts and spring onions. It came with a tangy and sweet dipping sauce. My MFR liked the samosas the best.

One of our friends had the eggplant and basil, which was served with onion and peppers. I thought this looked really good, but I am very fond of eggplant.

Another friend had Mee Goreng, which is supposed to be a "street food" in Singapore. It was a stir fry, containing egg noodles, shrimp, chicken, sprouts, tofu, potatoes, green onions, and eggs in a tomato-chili sauce. One interesting thing was that they seemed to have an easier time making this dish more spicy than less spicy, which turned out to be good in this case.

My Second Most Faithful Reader had the mango chicken. I tried this and thought it was a good combination. The mangoes weren't terribly ripe, so it was fairly tart and crunchy.

I had Char Siew and Dumpling Noodles. It had nice and thick slices of sweet roast pork over noodles and bok choy, in a sweet brown sauce. On the menu it said "Choice of noodles in a soup or tossed in house sauce.". I interpreted this as getting a single dish with a sauce. I was very surprised to get the dish you see above and a bowl of dumpling soup in addition to that.

One of our friends was really looking forward to a serving of Sago Pudding, which is a mound of tapioca pearls, covered with coconut cream and gula melaka (palm sugar syrup). There were several good sounding sorbet flavors on the menu, but I am almost always eager to try new things. I guess I'll have to remember that I'm not crazy about tapioca, but it was certainly worth trying once.