Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.



I knew not torturing animals or being cruel to people just because I can would pay off!

goinked from Myles Corcoran

After you die...

After death, you will exist in heaven. Everything and everyone you love will constantly surround you for all of eternity. You lucky scoundrel.

Take this quiz at QuizGalaxy.com



I lived in Vancouver, BC for four years with my ex-husband. It's where my daughter was born (a fact I'm thankful for nearly every day). I loved the city, the friends I made there, the climate, everything. Even though I faced some very unhappy times there as well, everything around me in Vancouver worked to help me through those hard times and supported me when I needed it, individually, governmentally, culturally.

In the early days of my separation from my ex-, I drove back to Canada frequently. I would make the six-hour round trip drive every weekend so he could see his daughter as often as he cared to. As we settled into more of a routine and came to different agreements on what his visits were going to be like, we changed some things. Tighter security after 9/11 made border crossing incredibly more tedious, frustrating, and time-consuming. I stopped going up to Vancouver on a regular basis, and I visit a couple of times a year if I'm lucky these days.

The last weekend in February, Pramas and I are taking the train to Vancouver. We'll drop Kate off with her dad and spend the weekend north of the border. Tickets are booked! We'll be staying downtown near Stanley Park, and I'm hoping for some unseasonably mild spring weather by then. I'm definitely intending to get in a brunch, perhaps at The Fish House in Stanley Park as long as we're at that end of town. If we were driving, I'd head out to The Pink Pearl but I'm sure we can find a reasonable substitute dim sum place. I'll be checking out what new dining options that may have sprung up since my last reasonably long visit to the city.

Meanwhile, I'm definitely going to want to see those folks I so rarely get to visit with anymore. VertigoGirl, Evil Jeff, MacBin, I'm looking at you: let's be sure to get together!


The Last Grandma

My mom just returned from Arizona. The word on my grandma is that she is "doing well considering her age, etc. They've determined that she had congestive heart failure." My mom is talking as if she "had" congestive heart failure, as if that's something that just goes away. A small amount of Googling brings up this dire prognosis:

Survival following diagnosis of congestive heart failure is worse in men than women, but even in women, only about 20 percent survive much longer than 8 to 12 years. The outlook is not much better than for most forms of cancer. The fatality rate for CHF is high, with one in five persons dying within 1 year. Sudden death is common in these patients, occurring at a rate of six to nine times that of the general population.

This is my last grandma. My paternal grandma died in 2003 after a long bout with Alzheimers disease. Grandma Phyllis and I have a complicated relationship that goes back to my earliest childhood memories.

When I was little, she was my favorite grandma. A spry, lively woman, she was young for a grandma and never cranky. She would turn cartwheels in the back yard with me, or come home from a garage sale shopping spree, giggling with her girlfriends over the "deals" they got on some horrific plaster statue or box of doilies. She smoked cigarettes that she kept in a cigarette pouch that also held her lighter and snapped closed like a coin purse. She quit smoking in the 70s and never looked back. She had a full set of false teeth and would crack me up by wiggling them at me. After any bath at her house, she would produce a fancy box of scented powder and dramatically set about poofing me with the powder puff "like a lady" before wrapping me in a warm towel and slipping me into a handmade robe and slippers. She played the accordion for me, set me up at the table to paint watercolor masterpieces, read aloud to me stories she'd typed up to submit to magazines. She would let me pick from a wide variety of canned vegetables in her pantry, and would praise me heavily whenever I chose and ate beets or spinach (which she would spike with a little vinegar). She would make me pancakes with rabbit ears. She taught me how to play solitaire, King in the Corner, and Farkle. She was the first in our family to discover this new game called Uno, and played so many games of Tri-ominos with me she finally got me my own copy. She taught me how to crochet, and made sure I memorized the King James version of the 23rd Psalm. I lived with her and her fourth husband, Don, in the tiny town of Babbitt, Minnesota for the first four months of Second Grade when my mom was newly divorced and trying to find work and a house for us in Minneapolis, and again over the summer of 1979 in Moses Lake, Washington where they'd moved to be closer to my grandma's brother Leonard (a Farkle shark who had a black Pomeranian named Tiger) before we settled in Oregon.

Only when I became a little older did I come face to face with the complexities of my grandmother. She's the woman who famously burst out with the line, "Mexicans I can handle, but no Negroes!" when I showed her a photo of my friend and pen pal from band camp. (Yes, I went to band camp.) When, at the age of 13, I asked her for a stamp (presumably for a letter to this same pen pal) she lectured me on how "the Bible says not to mix races" and "The children will never be accepted by either side." She none too subtly inquired about Chris's heritage as well, commenting that he seemed "a little dark". Having been a bit of a wild woman in her youth, quitting nursing school to elope with her first husband and eventually having two children with two different men, she's never been one to judge me for any perceived loose morals, though she did ask me not to tell my grandpa when I moved in with my first live-in boyfriend because "it would kill him." As she's aged and her health problems have increased she has become more and more overtly religious in ways that make me uncomfortable enough that I've increasingly kept my distance. After Don died, she remarried again and she and husband #5 have been happy together, living in Arizona and perpetually remodeling their house. She's asked us several times to come visit, but I'm afraid to. I'm afraid I'll be forced to see the uglier things about her, the prejudices and beliefs that make me feel sad or ashamed. I want to hold onto those happier memories, all the sweet and innocent, loving interactions we shared. I don't want to be tempted to make excuses for behavior from her that I would not tolerate from anyone else. I admit my cowardice.

She is my last grandma, a product of her times, more complicated than I know and as human as humans get.


Need a New Mail Program

After many months of using Thunderbird for e-mail, I'm finding that I just really prefer the all-in-one e-mail/contacts/calendar program. Plus, Thunderbird doesn't synch with my Palm.

The last time I used anything else, it was the Mac version of Outlook ("Entourage"). Now that I'm on PC again, I'm just not sure what's out there and what's good.

Recommendations, anyone?


Cookbooks and Culture

I have a fairly large cookbook collection. I've been collecting cookbooks and recipes since I was a teenager. I have a box full of index cards of recipes I copied out of issues of Family Circle or Women's Day, about four feet of shelf space take up with back issues of various cooking magazines (Gourmet, Cooking Light, Saveur, Cook's Illustrated, Bon Appetit, and others). A quick and dirty count of my shelved books was somewhere around 135, running the gamut: French, Italian, Japanese, Thai, Greek, Vegan, Native American, books on bread, tapas, chicken, vegetables, seafood, books on baking, grilling, using a slow-cooker, books from celebrity chefs, famous restaurants, and midwestern church kitchens.

This year I received a few cookbooks as gifts for my birthday and Christmas. One book that I'm particularly excited about is one I received from my brother-in-law, Beatrice Ojakangas' Scandinavian Feasts. My father's side of the family are proud Finns, my great-grandparents Finnish immigrants, and it's a heritage I embraced enthusiastically. Having grown up in Minnesota, I am intimately familiar with Swedish and Norwegian cooking as well. One thing I've been missing in my cookbook collection is a Scandinavian cookbook. I've shied away from them myself because so often they focus on the Norwegians and Swedes almost exclusively.

I was very happy to receive this book and discover the author herself is Finnish and the book focuses on the Finns and the Danes in addition to the more common recipes for Jansson's Temptation, lefse, or fattigman. The book lays out each chapter as a menu, such as "Karelian Country Buffet" or "Snacks in the Finnish Sauna" and include things that I'm intrigued to try, like Karelian Rye-Crusted Pastries with Egg Butter (Karjalan Piirakka ja Munovoi) and Blueberry Cheesecake (Mustikkapiirakka). Many of the dishes and ingredients are things from my childhood, what I considered "Minnesotan" but clearly ran deeper with my family and neighbors than that: fresh fish and game, wild blueberries, rye breads and "hardtack", sliced meats and cheese and sausage. I look forward to taking a few of these recipes out for a test run, perhaps for a traditional brunch or a full on celebration like a May Day feast or Midsummer picnic.


Lazy Weekend

Probably because of the dark, wet weather we've been having all month I'm on a soup kick. This weekend was more of the same, with me busting out Jasper White's 50 Chowders to give his New England Fish Chowder a try.

New England Fish Chowder

4 ounces meaty salt pork, rind removed and cut into 1/3-inch dice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions (14 ounces), cut into 3/4-inch dice
6 to 8 springs fresh summer savory or thyme, leaves removed and chopped (1 tablespoon)
2 dried bay leaves
2 pounds Yukon Gold, Maine, PEI or other all-purpose potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/3-inch thick
5 cups fish stock
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds skinless haddock or cod fillets, preferably over 1-inch thick, pinbones removed
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (or up to 2 cups if desired)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

1. Heat a 4 to 6-quart heavy pot over low heat and add the diced salt pork. Once it has rendered a few tablespoons of fat, increase the heat to medium and cook until the pork is a crisp golden brown. Use the slotted spoon to transfer the cracklings to a small ovenproof dish, leaving the fat in the pot, and reserve until later.

2. Add the butter, onions, savory, or thyme, and bay leaves to the pot and sautè, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 8 minutes, until the onions are softened but not browned.

3. Add the potatoes and stock. If the stock doesn't cover the potatoes, add just enough water to cover them. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil, cover and cook the potatoes vigorously for about 10 minutes, until they are soft on the outside but still firm in the center. If the stock hasn't thickened lightly, smash a few of the potato slices against the sides of the pot and cook for a minute or two longer to release their starch. Reduce the heat to low and season assertively with salt and pepper (you want to almost over-season the chowder at this point to avoid having to stir it much once the fish is added). Add the fish fillets and cook over low heat for 5 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and allow the chowder to sit for 10 minutes (the fish will finish cooking during this time).

4. Gently stir in the cream and taste for salt and pepper. If you are not serving the chowder within the hour, let it cool a bit, then refrigerate; cover the chowder after it has chilled completely. Otherwise, let it sit for up to an hour at room temperature, allowing the flavors to meld.

5. When ready to serve, reheat the chowder over low heat; don't let it boil. Warm the cracklings in a low oven (200*F - 95*C) for a few minutes.

6. Use a slotted spoon to mound the chunks of fish, the onions and potatoes in the center of large soup plates or shallow bowls, and ladle the creamy broth around. Scatter the cracklings over the individual servings and finish each with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and minced chives.

Makes about 14 cups, serves 8 as a main course.

I made a few modifications. As I didn't have any fish stock, I used 4 cups chicken stock spiked with one cup clam juice. I also had a lot of trouble getting the salt pork into a fine enough dice, so I ended up adding some crisp-fried bacon just to give myself a bit more to sprinkle over the top. I was quite satisfied with both modifications. Served with the recipe for Christopher Kimball's Baking Powder Biscuits, which is also included in the book. With a bit of practice, I think even I could get those biscuits to come out fluffy. As it was, they were fluffier than others I've tried, but I'm still not gentle enough when it comes to rolling out biscuit dough or something.



I would very much like to know how the Puget Sound Energy calculates that I used MORE gas in December 2005 than I did in December 2004. In December 2004 we did not travel for the holidays and so were home, presumably going about our daily business of cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and heating the house to its usual levels. In December 2005 we were away for 15 days, during which time the thermometer for the house was set to 50 degrees, and no cooking, showering, clothes or dishwashing took place. Yet I used MORE gas? It just doesn't seem likely.



Though I do have several pairs of cheap shoes, I don't think of myself a typical "shoe chick". I'm 5'10" and my feet are large, which puts me into the size 10s and 11s (depending on the maker) for most shoes. There's not a lot of selection for those sizes especially for someone who doesn't want to feel she must mortgage the rest of the limb to buy the shoe.

Around the time I turned 30 I started to notice that I couldn't comfortably wear the shoes that had previously been my favorites. The Doc Martins, the Chuck Taylors, even the Birkenstocks left my feet sore or irritated in ways that they'd never been before. El Cheapo shoes bought at Payless or Target were even worse, but I couldn't bring myself to buy shoes that were more expensive than everything else I was wearing put together.

The only time I've really splurged on shoes was back when I was still working at Cheapass Games. Our offices were along the Burke Gilman Trail and I was doing a lot more biking, walking, and even playing with the idea of running again (before I had to admit that my knees weren't up to it). I went down to a sports shoe store and spent at least an hour going over my options with the sales chick, trying on many different styles and brands until I found a pair of cross-trainers that fit my feet perfectly.

I had those shoes until the start of 2006, when they finally developed a hole in the sole. While my foot wasn't getting wet (yet!) I could hear the water squishing in and out of the shoe with every step. It was time.

I was reluctant to go through the whole rigamarole of trying on the different styles and brands that have undoubtedly come on the scene since I bought those shoes, but shoe technology doesn't stand still and the shoes that had served me so well had been discontinued. Putting my faith in the internet to the test, I ordered the same brand of shoe in a slightly different style.

They arrived this week and they're like walking on air. They came with a tag attached that touted this shoe had been chosen the best cross trainer by Shape Magazine, and I'd certainly vote for them myself. Last night I went out with Kate and walked around Lake Union while Chris went off for his regular minis game.

Sometimes it's money well spent to go with the premium choice. I'm very happy with these shoes and if I get even half the life out of them that I got from their predecessors, I'll still have gotten an outrageous deal. Yay for happy feet!


So, you've found my blog...

A warm hello to all the new readers who have come over to my blog thanks to a few other dust-ups that have happened elsewhere on the big o' internet.

While we're getting to know each other (or at least you're getting to know me, you sneaky lurkers!) please keep a few things in mind:

* My name is NICOLE LINDROOS. Not Nichol or Nichole, not Lindros or Lindross, and definitely NOT Pramas! I prefer Ms. to Mrs. and pretty much the only people who call me Nikki (or any derivative spelling thereof) are people who have known me since I was a little girl or people who are being overly familiar with me.

* My blog is not a secret, not private, but it IS personal. I use this blog as a way to interact with my far-flung friends and family, to keep people who care about me up to date on what is happening in my PERSONAL LIFE. I'm not posting this stuff because I assume you, oh random browser, will be so fascinated with my life that you hang on my every word. This is primarily for people who know me, or are interested in the things that interest me. Other people who find this blog interesting are welcome to read along, but you gamer types in particular should keep in mind that I rarely talk about gaming. I sometimes talk about the game industry. I often talk about food, travel, politics, my daughter, and my friends. I often rant, full-on and heart-felt, to get something off my chest. I'm nothing if not passionate.

* I've had a career in gaming since 1987. I am the General Manager for Green Ronin Publishing. That means I handle bookkeeping stuff. I don't write, I don't edit, I don't engage in the creative material generation at all anymore. I used to be a writer, I've contributed to plenty of games in the past and early in the company's existence I had a few creative contributions but these days it's all project management and bookkeeping.

* If you think I'm talking about YOU, I'm probably not. I know you saw the posts where I was ranting about a writer who turned in a pile of gobbledygook/couldn't come within six months of a deadline/couldn't take editorial direction or whatever my rant of the day was. Thought that was about you, your friends, or your favorite project? It probably wasn't. In the last five years we've worked with hundreds of authors, artists, and editors and worked on hundreds of titles (both published and unpublished). At any given time, we have up to a dozen products "in play" and believe me there's been more than one example of every conceivable type of screw-up that I might rant about here. Often you'll see a composite rant, especially if it's game related, where one specific example can be held up as typifying a trend, or where three or four rants about unrelated projects are combined into one generic rant. Unless you know you are the guy who turned over his material 12 weeks late and you know I'm talking about you (in which case, you also know you should be ashamed of yourself!), it's always best to assume that I'm talking about someone else. Or no one in particular, but a situation, a climate, or a generalized frustration.

* For the record: I've also never disparaged Graeme Davis, who is a wonderful man and a fine writer, so please don't be upset on his behalf because you think I have. Seriously.

* On the other hand, if you're free to call me names on the message board or blog of your choice, understand that I will probably come to think of you as an asshole and may indeed actually call you one. Fair's fair, you get to call me a bitch, I get to call you an asshole, and we all get to revel in our freedom of speech.

Feel free to engage me in conversation about anything you find here.


Portland a No Go

As per my mother's instructions, I called her back this morning for more details and was told "Nevermind." They're still going to Arizona to deal with the death, but apparently (unbeknownst to me, even though I talked to my mom last week) my grandmother is also not doing well and had surgery last week for clogged carotid arteries (fully blocked on one side, 95% on the other), then had vision trouble and couldn't walk when she got home so went back to the ER and that's the last my mom heard. This will be the second time my grandmother's had this surgery. With that in mind, they're going to be gone much longer than they thought so they can go to the other side of the state and check up on my grandma while they're "in the area" and they don't want me to come down for that long so they're making other arrangements.


I really wonder what is up with my mother sometimes. This is the third or fourth time this year that she's called me at night because she's all upset about something and "needs" me (chest pains, her husband pissed her off, whatever) and then by morning she seems like she either doesn't remember calling me or she's just done a complete about face and changed her mind entirely.

I'm relieved that I don't have to rush off this morning and leave things at home and work in a shambles, but I'm a little disappointed that I won't have the chance to visit Portland after all. It's been ages since I've been down there for anything other than family drama. Must plan a proper visit soon!


Sci-Fi Quiz

To take my mind off things...

You scored as Serenity (Firefly). You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.

Serenity (Firefly)


Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


Moya (Farscape)


SG-1 (Stargate)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with QuizFarm.com


Death in the "Family"

It's never good when the phone rings at 11:00pm.

My mom just called to let me know there's been a death in the "family". Her husband's brother was found dead in Arizona. She's not clear on details, but did think she and her husband will have to leave town to go sort things out and wanted to know if I could come stay at her house (the house she's owned since I was in jr. high). I'm not close to her husband or any of his kin, but my brother just started med school this fall so he's not able to help out and I'm not about to leave my mom high and dry.

Predictably, I'm up to my eyeballs in work that I can't really take with me (my mom doesn't have internet at her house, for starters) but family is family and my mom is my mom, so if a few folks can't get their mail orders filled or get answers to their e-mail queries until I return, I guess that's just how it's got to be.

I'll sort out more in the morning, when my mom knows more.

Perhaps this will be a good time for me to get together with my Portland-area friends?


Seattle-Area Artists: Call for Art

Passing this along for those arty Seattleites who might read my blog:

Call for Art!

The Columbia City Gallery announces its 1st Annual Juried Exhibition

Plugged In and Caffeinated…

The Columbia City Gallery will present artwork that examines the perception of time as a “plugged in and caffeinated” culture. The exhibit will focus on the artist’s view of time; how industry, technology, and automation influences the need for more time, the phenomenon of time “flying by”, time in slow motion, or our cultures attempt to alter the reality of time.

This show will run May 10 – July 9, 2006, with a reception opening on Saturday, May 13th. The juried show is open to all artists 21 and older living in Western Washington. Entry fee is $30. A maximum of 3 slides may be submitted. Jurors for the exhibition are Barbara Shaiman from Seattle Art Museum’s Rental Sales Gallery; Kamla Kakaria, local printmaker and instructor at Pratt Fine Art Center; and Larry Calkins, local artist and instructor at Pratt Fine Art Center.

The Columbia City Gallery is located in the heart of the Historic Landmark District of Columbia City. The Gallery is a cooperative of local artists and is an arts program of South East Effective Development (SEED). Since its opening in 1999, it has been a lively center of community involvement.

Submissions must be received by Friday, March 24, 2006 by 8 pm. More information regarding detailed entry information and application is available online at www.columbiacitygallery.com. If you have any questions, please call 206/ 854-1727. Please pass this information to others who might be interested!

Let me know if you participate! Columbia City isn't exactly my neighborhood, but it's close enough that I'm down there all the time. I really like the way the neighborhood has shaped up in the few years since we bought our house... I can only hope my actual neighborhood follows suit eventually (I mean, a coffee bar would be nice!).


Bonnie's abode

Bonnie's abode
Bonnie's abode,
originally uploaded by Nikchick.
After months of preparation, we adopted Bonnie the Bunny from the Seattle Animal Shelter. She'd been in foster care with a family for months, without a single inquiry. (There are just too many bunnies looking for homes.)

She's settling into her new digs and is being pampered by Kate at every opportunity.


Blue Rose: What you think is probably WRONG

Sometimes, no matter how clearly you think you're speaking, people are still going to look at you as if you're from another planet.

In our New Year's message, Pramas had this small comment on Blue Rose:

Our 2006 schedule is one of endings and beginnings. In the first quarter of the year, we are going to be putting out the final Thieves' World book (the Thieves' World Gazetteer, at print now), the final Blue Rose book (the World of Aldea, out next month), and the final chapter of the current Freeport saga (Crisis in Freeport, out in March).

With each ending though, there is a beginning. As Blue Rose finishes, the True20 Adventure Roleplaying game debuts. This is the system that was designed for Blue Rose and it is now getting its own core rulebook and several support products in 2006.

Now the inevitable questions pop up. Here are my answers.

1. Why are you killing Blue Rose?!
We're not "killing" Blue Rose. It was always conceived and designed as a three book game, as a small and self-contained line. We only ever announced three books for the line, we've never planned, announced, or even hinted that we would ever release anything other than a three book set. The books remain in print, we're continuing to sell them, we're continuing to use them to provide a gateway product for lovers of the romantic fantasy fiction genre to introduce them to roleplaying games. The product cannot achieve that objective if we add on book after book after book and endlessly expand the line: it was never intended to serve that purpose. This is the same reason we didn't release the book as a D20 supplement that required the D&D Player's Handbook: it is a self-contained game that is focused specifically on the emulation of the romantic fantasy genre.

2. But don't people want more? We've seen people using Blue Rose for all sorts of things besides playing in the world of Aldea!
It's true, traditional gamers have been very willing to embrace True20, the system that drives Blue Rose. However, releasing more and more books for Blue Rose both dilutes BR's effectiveness as an introductory product for non-roleplaying fans of romantic fantasy-style fiction (which is what it was designed for and the role we want it to continue to fill) while still not meeting the needs of traditional roleplaying fans who embraced the system but not the genre. Instead, the True20 Adventure Roleplaying line is the where you'll see us taking Blue Rose's system in all sorts of different directions.

3. If you're killing Blue Rose, it must have been a failure, right? You wouldn't kill it if it didn't suck.
We're not "killing" Blue Rose. It was our second best selling line in 2005, and the core book was our #2 SKU, behind only the Mutants & Masterminds rulebook. It won critical recognition, including three Silver ENnie awards last year (among them Best D20 Game) and an InQuest Gamer's Choice nomination. It is not going away. We did not announce that we were taking it off the market, we announced that we were releasing the last of the three planned books.

4. What kind of idiot kills their #2 SKU? You must be lying!
We're not "killing" Blue Rose. The books remain in print, we're continuing to sell them, we're continuing to use them to provide a gateway product for lovers of the romantic fantasy fiction genre to introduce them to roleplaying games. We can continue to sell this product in the same way we can (and do) continue to sell our D20 Character Record Folio, which has seen seven printings and is consistently in our top 10 SKUs every year (and is in the top five best selling SKUs in the history of our company).

5. And how many copies has it sold exactly? And what exactly is your profit margin? How are we supposed to believe you sold more than four copies unless you show us the numbers? If you were a real company, you'd HAVE to show us your numbers, you know.
Sorry man, I'm familiar with the folks who have invested in this company and you're not among them. If you're just another internet crank/curious competitor/armchair game designer you're just going to have to make due without that information. Things are tough all over. Of course, if you want to offer up your college grades, last corporate performance review, and recent tax filings so I can evaluate your credentials to satisfy my idle curiosity about your general levels of competence and success, we can certainly continue this line of conversation.


Restaurant Review: The Harvest Vine, Seattle

A few years ago, Chris and I gave The Harvest Vine a try. We were seated downstairs where we languished unattended for long periods, and while the food was alright I left feeling disappointed in the experience and not terribly inclined to go back again. However, in the last year or so a few of our friends have begun eating there with some frequency and when we were invited to join Jess and Shelby there for dinner last weekend, we decided to give it another shot.

Chris and I arrived a bit early for our planned 6:00 meet-up with J&S. The place was packed wall to wall, and we stood awkwardly and in the way while we waited for someone to notice us. While we were waiting, I had to chuckle as an older couple entered and the man said to the woman, "This is it?" I was stunned that two couples were there with young children (one couple with a toddler!) considering the type and price of the food on the menu. Then again, many a time I've taken Kate along with me on a foodie excursion and even if she wasn't inclined to eat anything on the menu, she could usually amuse herself with some bread. I heard one of the young couples talking about how they'd gone off to this restaurant for dinner and then off to that restaurant for dessert, and reminisced back to the days when Chris and I were both bringing in good salaries and when we could indulge our inclinations more freely. Interesting how getting ripped off for $100K changes things.

Chris and I perused the menu and were dismayed to find that the tapas dishes (the signature of "tapas" being small, relatively inexpensive dishes..."snacks" if you will) were $15 and $16 or more each. Especially distressing since we were both quite hungry. Jess and Shelby arrived and we were given the last four seats in the house, taking up the entire "wine bar" in the downstairs seating area. Shelby ordered some champagne, and we chatted a bit and before long the hostess came down to offer us the table that the family with the toddler were vacating.

Our table for four could not have been more than two and a half feet on any side. There was just enough room for a place setting for each of us, and we were constantly bumping knees and accidentally kicking the table and sending skidding into the person across form us. Even the water girl wondered aloud how we were going to be able to fit our tapas plates on the table as she filled our glasses. We ordered a few things off the menu to get started, and were chided by the waiter for mixing hot and cold tapas ("People start with the cold, then the hot!") but we didn't care. At one point, the hostess breezed by, picked up the champagne bottle and began pouring the rest out into glasses, which is normally not an intrusion, but in this case she went to great pains to top off Shelby's glass, and Chris's glass (which was still half full), taking her time polishing off the bottle while splashing the last few drops into my nearly empty glass almost as an after-thought! I was a little miffed, considering what my "portion" of the bill for that bottle of champagne was going to be. I would have liked to have had more than one glass of it!

The food that came ranged from great to tolerable, but the portions were outrageously small. For example, for $16 we got three scallops (three scallops for four people; Chris and I split a scallop between us). THREE. Scallops. We're not talking precious ingredients here. I ordered the "seared" tuna. I expected something that might look like this photo (photo taken by a Seattle-area foodie who keeps a blog and reportedly loves The Harvest Vine; his review was quite favorable and his photos looked nothing at all like the food we were actually served). Instead, we got four paper-thin slices of what resembled fish jerky, each with a small dollop of caviar. I'd have gladly skipped the caviar for an extra 1/4" of meat! Time after time, tiny and disappointing little dishes were laid before us and to be devoured in a single bite. The stuffed squid in its own ink was the only thing that took two bites to eat and that dish rates among my favorites of the night if only for that reason. The hot, red sausage was also delivered in quantity enough that everyone at the table could have more than an single bite and the two bites I had were quite delicious. Still, the dishes were not even remotely close the likes found in photos HERE or HERE.

I left Harvest Vine thinking no better of it than I had the first time around, and considering our reduced means of the last year I actively regret the amount of money we spent there. For what I spent on dinner at Harvest Vine, I could have had a much more satisfying experience at any number of other restaurants of my choosing. Camelita, Nishino, Green Papaya, Chinois, even just the simple Judy Fu's Snappy Dragon, or I Love Sushi. Harvest Vine definitely failed to win me over. Thumbs DOWN.


Restaurant Review: Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger

My mother-in-law is a great cook, a fellow foodie, so when she suggested that we have lunch at celebrity chef Ming Tsai’s Boston-area Blue Ginger restaurant, I was all too happy to take her up on the offer. Tsai has an easy-going persona and has made a career of "East-West" fusion cooking. Both he and his restaurant have garnered many awards and seemingly endless media recognition, as the wall of plaques and clippings that greet you when you enter attests. What seems to be a small restaurant from the front is actually quite spacious when you discover that it just keeps going back and back and back. Our reserved table for five was squarely between the power lunchers in their business suits and the grey-haired blue-bloods out to stave off loneliness by having lunch with the girls.

We'd checked out the menu in advance and it was clear that nothing on it would appeal to Kate, but she agreed to sit quietly and allow us to have an adult lunch for the promise of some green tea ice cream at the end. I blanched a bit at the prices, as I knew my fixed-income, retiree in-laws were going to insist on paying. $21 for a lunch entree? Wow.

Because I'd had a dinner of deep fried seafood the night before, I skipped the calamari that the rest of the table enjoyed and went for the tossed green salad, which was standard fare. Perfectly fine, nothing exceptional. Chris and his mother shared the seafood bisque (which was too spicy, and had a grainy texture from the ground seafood used in it) and the shiitake and leek spring rolls (which they pronounced to be good). The best thing on the menu was also the first entree listed: Sake-Miso Marinated Alaskan Butterfish. Chris got this entree and he chose wisely. I opted for the Hot and Sour Shrimp and Vegetable Pho. Mistake! As it was a cold and rainy day, I anticipated a steaming hot bowl of noodle soup, made with banh pho noodles and full of all the fragrant basil and crisp bean sprouts I can find at any of a dozen pho restaurants around my house. What I got was a tepid bowl, with several lovely whole shrimp doused in so much "Thai Basil Puree" that by the time I removed and set aside the shrimp heads, I was left with cold broth tainted an unappetizing green-brown and pasty, disintegrating rice vermicelli. I did my best to finish half of the expensive bowl, regretting every minute that I hadn't just gone ahead and gotten the $21 Alaskan Butterfish, which was (from the taste Chris shared with me) absolutely divine. I've had this fish prepared at three world-class restaurants: Nobu prepares it as Black Cod with Miso; at Tojo's calls it Canadian Sablefish. Blue Ginger's version is Alaskan Butterfish, but whatever it's called, I call it delicious. I will never again pass up an opportunity to eat this heavenly fish. We had a slight scare as the end of the meal came and the well-behaved Kate began smacking her lips in anticipation of her green tea ice cream reward. "Oh," the clueless young waiter said, "green tea ice cream isn't available at lunch. That's on our dinner menu." Before it all ended in tears, I politely asked (begged) him to see if the chef could make a small exception for the sake of the little girl who'd had no lunch and who'd behaved herself so perfectly on the promise of ice cream. As a back-up I ordered the almond praline ice cream sandwiches, but that proved unnecessary as they did scrape up a bowl of ice cream for Miss Katherine and no one needed to cry.

While we were there, Tsai himself made an appearance, presumably coming in to ready himself for the dinner crowd. He seemed every bit as mellow and genial as his on screen persona, and he chatted up the blue hairs sitting at the table behind us while they asked after his mother and daughter as if they knew him. I remember feeling a little bad that I was leaving the restaurant with such a disappointed feeling, with such regret over my meal, because he really did seem like a nice guy and I really wanted to like his restaurant more than I did.


Recipe Page Update

I didn't have the gumption to rewrite my restaurant reviews, but I did update my recipe pages. Recipes courtesy of this month's Cooking Light Magazine. I've made four recipes out of this issue since it arrived and they all get the thumbs up. I've already posted the Thai-Style Beef recipe, here are three more:




I've had a toothache for several days. Yesterday the constant, throbbing irritation made me short tempered enough that I actually responded to something on the WZL list (which I try to avoid at all costs anymore) AND got myself a warning from the RPGnet moderators (something that's never happened in the, what, eight? ten? years I've been a member there... and over calling someone an "asshole" too... god, if I'm going to collect moderator reprimands couldn't I have done it for something less pedestrian?). Still, it's nothing compared to a good old fashioned eye-popper headache.

It's a trouble area I've been ignoring since, oh, 1990 or so because the dentist frightens me so. The thought of lying there, mouth wrenched open, while someone goes inside with power tools scares the pee out of me. A friend once told me the story of his root canal (or began to), underestimating the seriousness of my fear of the dentist. Before he'd barely begun the tale I was already so stricken that I had to stifle my scream in a couch cushion. Terror.

So. It's would take a supreme act of courage, which I doubt I can muster, to go to the dentist for this toothache. The pain would have to be a LOT worse before facing the dentist could win out. Pain I can face. The dentist has me trembling with fear when Chris has to go. I consider the fact that I was able to even calmly walk into the pediatric dentist's office with Kate to be one of the bravest things I've ever done.



Firefox just crashed in the midst of my two-for-one restaurant reviews of Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger and Seattle Tapas-favorite The Harvest Vine. Lost, gone, all gone... Perhaps this is a sign that I shouldn't write unfavorable reviews of popular eateries?

If I can get up the gumption, I'll try to rewrite my reviews tomorrow. Tonight I think I'm going to just grab a glass of wine and head up to get under the covers and watch TiVo. I just can't face re-writing it all tonight.


Night Draws Near

Over the break I read Night Draws Near, Washington Post foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid's Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the Iraq war and US occupation and, most interestingly to me, the lives of everyday Iraqis who have to live through it.

Shadid is a born and raised American, approximately my age but of Lebanese descent. He was not embedded with the troops and he could, at least somewhat, blend in. As a reporter, he had the advantage of being able to fluently read and speak Arabic, and his ability to speak to the man on the street, interview families, understand cultural norms and even just read graffiti put him miles ahead of English-only reporters.

The book weaves together a history lesson and a year-long series of interviews following several different families with the timeline of the invasion, war, and subsequent occupation, for good and for bad. He explains why we can't just write off the insurgency to disgruntled Sadam supporters, how the United States lost the good will of the common Iraqi through its failure to provide security and basic necessities (food, water, electricity) to a country that had already been desperately weakened by decades of war and international sanctions, and how the heartbreakingly high expectations Iraq had for post-Saddam life have not materialized.

There are several reviews of the book online already (here's one from Salon, and another from The Washingtonian), and several interviews with Shadid (here's one from washingtonpost.com, and this link has a video segment of Shadid on Newshour) that give a far better picture of the tone and content of the book than I ever could. What I will say is that I certainly learned a lot from reading it and I highly recommend it to anyone who looks at the situation in Iraq and wonders how we ended up where we are.

You can listen to a sample of Shadid reading the book at Audible.com here.


Curses, foiled again!

So, yesterday I had a hankering to hear the Dickies song You Drive Me Ape, You Big Gorilla. Knowing I was going to be driving for three hours or more to drop Kate off with her dad (and driving alone for most of that), and knowing our local Flexcar only has a cassette player, I prodded Pramas to see if he had the Dickies on cassette, which being a good old-school punk, he did. Except Flexcar thwarted me by swapping out our usual car for a newer Hybrid model, equipped with only a CD player. Curses!

On the spur of the moment, being footloose and Kate-free this weekend, we decided to see Peter Jackson's King Kong last night when I got back to town. I sat down to write up my thoughts on the movie this morning, getting all of my links and references ready, when I see that Pramas has beaten me to the punch. Not only that, he stole my post title! Double curses!!

Anyway, I have to say that I'm pretty much in agreement with Pramas on the issue of the film. I've read Ken Hite's thoughts and tend to agree that the movie works better for me as a tragedy rather than a love triangle. My esteemed colleague at Grubb Street and I agree that Jack Black was excellent as misguided villain Denham. The casting of Black was a huge turn-off to Ray and the thing he expressed frustration over the most often in the lead up to release, and I doubt there's anything in Black's performance to change Ray's mind, but I thought enjoyed his take on the character. Most of all, though, I agree with my friend JD from over at Folded Space when he complains that the movie is bloated and the scene he uses as prime example of the worst aspects of the movie is the same spot where Jackson lost me: the stampede. Says JD:

The next five minutes are a dizzying mess of visual effects: flailing brontosaurus legs, snarling meatasaurus teeth, falling rocks, etc. As our heroes race along beneath the mammoth creatures, avoiding death by inches again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again, the viewer grows numb and disinterested.

Preach it, brother! As that ridiculous scene progressed, I kept thinking to myself, "Oh god, when will this end?!" By the time we get to the scenes of bugs, squicky and toothy ooze creatures, or multiple t-rexes I was completely disengaged. The computer renderings were beautiful but the action so completely unbelievable and excessive I just kept thinking, "Oh you've GOT to be kidding me!" Two hours in I couldn't wait for the story to end. By the time they got to New York, I just wanted it to be over, no matter how expressive Kong's GCI face or how many hairs on his head we could count ruffling in the wind.


Nikchick's Pantry

Pantry close-up
Pantry close-up,
originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I can't get up the energy to post any lengthy writing to my blog at the moment, but here's a little view into the world of my pantry, fridge, and freezer...


Tonight's Dinner

From this month's Cooking Light, this is good stuff. No leftovers! I'll be updating it to my recipe pages when I have a chance, but meanwhile I'll just post it here for you to enjoy.

Thai-Style Ground Beef

Cooking spray
1 cup thinly sliced leek
1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic
1 pound lean ground sirloin
1 teaspoon red curry paste
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon grated lime rind
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
3 cups hot cooked short-grain rice
Iceberg lettuce wedges (optional)
Chopped cilantro
Chopped green onions (optional)

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add leek; sauté 5 minutes. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add beef; cook 7 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in curry paste and tomato sauce; cook until half of liquid evaporates (about 2 minutes). Add milk and next 4 ingredients (through fish sauce); cook 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Serve with the rice and lettuce wedges, if desired. Garnish with cilantro and green onions, if desired.


New Year's Eve 2005

Nik and Kate ring in the new year
Nik and Kate ring in the new year,
originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Don't we look festive? I've posted some photos of how we spent New Year's Eve.


Winter Break

Jon, Nik, Erik, and Kate
Jon, Nik, Erik, and Kate,
originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I've posted some photos of my family and what we did on our winter break in Minnesota and Massachusetts.



originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I've posted some photos of our Christmas in Boston.