Discolor Online

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



This is a plug for GroupRecipes.com, a social networking site for foodies. I signed up a couple of months ago but haven't really had time to poke around with it until today. It's "in beta" but like Flickr and Gmail, I'm finding the "Beta" to be pretty robust.

The interface is a bit of a pain considering I have a lot of my favorite recipes already up on my own recipe pages, and uploading photos that are too big can choke the upload system and screw up your uploads, which I found out to my chagrin. Still, they have really neat features that I can see myself getting a lot of use out of. For example, after you enter a recipe into their system, they give you the option of cutting and pasting the code for the now HTMLitized recipe so you can put it up on your blog or elsewhere. That means if I put a new recipe into Group Recipes first, I can just put in the straight text instead of hand coding the HTML for every recipe in EditPad Lite (which is how I've been doing them all). A definite boon for a clumsy tech-lover like myself.

You can search for other users in your area or search for people who like the same recipes you do or just browse by who is active at the moment. You can watch your friends' activity and automatically see their newest recipe contributions or see comments from other users on recipes you've submitted, delivered to your My Stuff foodie homepage. There's a tastes survey you can fill out so that Roger the Recipe Robot can help predict if you'd like a certain recipe or suggest other recipes that you might enjoy. You can rate the recipes of other users, print them, flag them as interesting or unique, and manage your recipes with their Recipe Manger (including recipes on other sites, so in theory I could just add all the URLs for my own recipes pages and have them all as part of my recipe file at Group Recipes, if I wanted to). You can browse recipes by cuisine, ingredient, or "flavor", by what's popular today or what's new on the site. You can create or join groups like Crockpot Cooking or Cookbook Reviews or Brazil. You can create your own "Food TV" if you've got the ability: I watched Ani Phyo's Raw Food Kitchen's "Mediterranean Dolmas" (made with collard greens) and "Spanish Breakfast Scramble" episodes this afternoon, and learned all about raw food cooking (which is way more interesting than I'd thought). You can also add restaurant reviews (and add photos), so it's not just about cooking but about food in general.

I've only just started exploring GroupRecipes.com but so far I'm really, really liking it. I highly recommend it to my fellow foodies. If you join up, friend me. I'm Nikchick, natch.

Labels: , ,



Banana semifrio
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
I've added photos of our trip to Andaluca to my Flickr page.



As a kid I loved the Coffee Nips that my grandparents often had around the house. Nuts, too, were a favored snack. How many times was I scolded for picking the cashews out of the mixed nuts? How many hours did I spend trying to learn to crack Brazil nuts in a way that preserved the creamy interior nut intact? Oh, I remember the first time I ate the buttery goodness of a macadamia nut... and how crushed I was to learn how expensive they were.

Yesterday I discovered these Mauna Loa Kona Coffee Glazed Macadamia Nuts and threw my $4.00 down faster than you can say "Aloha!" This product lives up to the promise of combining the deliciousness of whole (or large pieces of) macadamia nuts with the sweet candy flavor of the Coffee Nips of my youth. Unlike the Chocolate Cocoa Dusted Macadamia Nuts I tried this winter, which were too-thickly covered in a bland, waxy chocolate-like substance, the Kona Coffee Glazed nuts are just thinly glazed so the nut is highlighted by the sweet coffee covering. This is even more exciting than the Hershey's Special Dark Macadamia Nut Kisses I discovered in December!

It's not my imagination that there seem to be more macadamia nut products hitting the market this year. According to this article at the Honolulu Advertiser, Hawai'i macadamia nut growers are struggling to unload their product. A bumper crop this season and last season has resulted in a glut of nuts and prices are likely to fall. While this is not great news for macadamia producers, it's a great time for a macadamia lover like me.




Today certainly felt like spring. Sunny and low 60s most of the day, which I was immensely glad to see. I spent a distressing amount of time on the phone and the web today trying to figure out the best way to solve our citizenship crisis with Kate; I was under the impression that the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 covered her even though we'd never applied for a Certificate of Citizenship or any other such thing (and in fact had been discouraged from bothering with it by the consulate). Passports are running at 10 weeks of delay at the moment, and I expect it to get worse as we approach the end of the year deadline for anyone crossing the border to need a passport. Certificates of Citizenship, on the other hand, are currently about 2 years behind. The border patrol is currently hung up because even though Kate clearly met the requirements for citizenship at birth, she was never issued any official paper other than her birth certificate and so, depending on how the border agent feels, either receives a "oh, yeah, no problem; meets all the requirements" or a "this child is missing form N-600 and stamp I-551 and has never made a legal entry into the United States at any time during the last eleven years of crossing the border!! Commence freaking out!!" I was told by one agency that she could apply for passport or Certificate of Citizenship (though they recommend the passport because it is both proof of citizenship and a travel document), but told by another that one of the requirements for a passport is the Certificate of Citizenship. Thankfully, I think we can put together the documents we need (merely a notarized list of everywhere I've lived/worked/gone to school during my life, my marriage license, my divorce decree, my own certified birth certificate, plus the same for her father...) and be able to resolve this without a two year wait and spending hundreds of dollars. Fingers crossed!

Anyway, in between bouts of governmental bureaucracy, I went out to pick up Sammy from the vet. His neutering went fine and he's pretty much his old self again already, though I have some pain meds to feed him for a couple of days. Next week sometime we have the vet's okay to start the process of trying to actually introduce him to Bonnie.

I'd planned to get a lot of other things accomplished this afternoon but after Immigration all morning and traveling hither and yon to get a remote Flexcar so I could pick up Sammy in West Seattle, I'd barely settled down to get some work done when Kate's school called to tell me she had a fever and I had to come get her. Luckily, I had the Flexcar. Unluckily, that meant I couldn't use the Flexcar for the errands I had intended the rental to cover. After bringing Kate home and making a stop at the grocery store for OJ, Tylenol, and Kate's request of sloppy joes for supper, my time was up.

I got back and decided to just call it a day and get some yard work done while the weather was nice, before the HOA decides to start policing my bushes again. Trimmed away a lot of dead and overgrown plant life and came in smelling of blood and dirt (thanks rose bush!) and rosemary and lavender.

Updated my recipe pages a little with this great recipe for some easy Avgolemono (Greek egg-lemon soup) that we just love. Also fixed the link to the excellent Thai-style Ground Beef recipe; I hadn't noticed it was broken until I went to fix it recently and couldn't pull it up from my own recipe page. Finally, for all the Guinness Cake lovers out there, I finally added the Chocolate Guinness Cake to my recipe pages.

Labels: , , ,



Last night was game night. I set up the fellas with various burrito fixings and even managed to move the story along a bit. Went to bed sometime after midnight. Not exactly sure when I fell asleep but it was definitely after 1am.

2:20am Awake. Get up, pee, get a drink of water. Can't stop my brain. After excruciatingly long time, drift off to sleep.

4:20am Awake. Horrible nightmares keep jolting me awake, as I dream about several gruesome outcomes to Sammy's neutering appointment. Get up, pee, get a drink of water. Can't stop my brain. Eventually drift back to sleep shortly before 7:00am.

7:30am Awake. Have to go get the Flexcar and take Sammy to his neutering appointment.

I spent the rest of the day running errands and feeling that horrible sleep-deprived feeling I remember (and dread) from when Kate was a sleepless baby. I felt sick with fatigue, woozy and weak and dull. My eyes hurt. All I wanted was a little more sleep.

Between 10:30 and 12:45 I tried to catch a nap, but each time I would drift off I was awoken by the phone ringing. Two calls with no caller ID. One distributor. Two different people calling the fax number but not leaving faxes. One telemarketer. One printer. I gave up.

Got my hair cut. Returned to the house and had a message from my ex- with some news that is probably going to disrupt the way things have been (generally nicely settled) for a while now. Got a call from the border police telling me that they let Kate on the ferry to come home from Victoria but I need to take care of her citizen papers "IMMEDIATELY" and she'd better not try to leave the country again until that's sorted. Lovely.

Ran off to a HOA meeting which was three hours of totally wasted time. Mandatory annual meeting, we had to have 50% of homeowners in attendance to have a quorum. We had only 25% of members in attendance (which was still over 100 people) so no official business could be conducted but they took questions anyway. Lots of BS that really leads me to think we're screwed. (May rant about the HOA, Seattle Housing Authority and CDC Management when I'm not dead on my feet. Not now.)

Ran off to pick Kate up at the Clipper terminal, where we were told to be at NO LATER than 8:45pm. Stood around until 9:25 waiting for the kids to be released from customs. Finally home.

SO tired. Losing ability to type. Bed now.

Labels: , ,


Travelgate vs. US Attorney Scandal

I've been gearing myself up for a big rant on the US Attorney scandal. Basically, I looked at so-called Travelgate [side rant: can we just stop adding "-gate" to everything to connote "scandal", please? Watergate was thirty-five years ago and came by the "-gate" honestly!] in comparison to this current US Attorney scandal and have to say, "My, how times have changed." I was working on a thorough rant, complete with references and links to more information when I discovered that Anonymous Liberal had already done a decent (and more concise) rant. So, instead of wasting any more time with links and cross-references and all that foot-note stuff I do that no one bothers to click on anyway... I'm just going to steal straight from Anonymous Liberal:


The Underlying Event: In 1993, shortly after taking office, the Clinton administration fired seven employees of the White House travel office. They were low-level employees who served at the pleasure of the president and had been replaced by previous administrations. In fact, as Joe Conason explained in his definitive article on this "scandal," there was quite a bit of evidence that the fired members of the travel office had been embezzling money and otherwise abusing their authority. The FBI investigated and charges were filed against some of the former employees. As for the Clintons, Ken Starr investigated the incident and found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The Response from the Right: Republicans were outraged by the firings and accused the Clintons of abusing their power in an effort to install their own cronies in the travel office. Their outrage was not in any way assuaged by the fact that these employees 1) served at the pleasure of the president, 2) had no reasonable expectation that they would keep their jobs when the administration changed hands, or 3) appeared to be guilty of numerous improper accounting practices, faulty record keeping, and embezzlement. When the FBI launched its investigation of the travel office staff, the Clintons were accused of using the Justice Department to exact political retribution. "Travelgate," as it came to be known, spawned a three-year long Congressional investigation and numerous front-page headlines.

PROSECUTOR-GATE [ARGH! US Attorney Scandal. Please!]

The Underlying Event: In late 2006, the Bush administration fired eight United States Attorneys for what increasingly looks like partisan political reasons and replaced at least some of them with hand-picked cronies. Unlike the staff at the White House travel office, U.S. Attorneys are high-level officials who must be confirmed by the Senate and who are vested with an enormous amount of power. Unlike the travel office staff, these U.S. Attorneys were not holdovers from a previous administration and therefore had every reason to expect that their employment would continue. Unlike the travel office staff, no one is even suggesting that any of the fired U.S. Attorneys did anything wrong, much less criminal. Unlike the travel office staff, there is mounting evidence that the fired U.S. Attorneys ran afoul of the White House solely because of decisions they made which had political ramifications (decisions regarding whom to investigate and prosecute). And, last but not least, high-ranking Bush administration officials appear to be guilty of affirmatively misleading Congress about the nature of these firings, something the Clinton administration did not do.

The Response from the Right: Quite unlike Travelgate, the near universal response from the Right has been to point out that U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and therefore there is no scandal here.

Events like this really help to underscore just how silly the so-called "scandals" of the Clinton era were. Given their "nothing to see here" reaction to the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys under highly suspicious circumstances, it's almost comically absurd to look back at how these same people reacted when seven low-level staffers in the travel office were fired (oh how scandalous!).

I would add to this that until certain language was added during the re-authorization of the USA Patriot Act in 2006, US Attorneys served at the pleasure of the President but, just as importantly, were confirmed by the Senate to four-year terms. Thanks to Arlan Specter (and this isn't the only dubious language he and his people inserted but that's also a rant for another day) new language allows "interim" US Attorneys to be appointed indefinitely and without Congressional oversight. For "national security" of course.

Bah, I might have yet more to say on this because the whole thing just really galls me.


Date Night

Kate's class left for their three day-two night trip to Victoria, BC. Since I took the hit on the OPI trip last fall, Mark is joining the kids in Victoria this time around. Kate was thrilled that her dad was coming and that all of the kids were going to get to meet him and see her other homeland. She's very proud to have been born in Canada.

Since we had a Kate-free night, Pramas and I didn't want to waste it just sitting at the house. Instead, we made plans to have dinner at Andaluca and then finally see Zodiac.

Andaluca was very nice. They're one of the 25 for $25 restaurants that we'd never been to and with that promotion coming to a close this week, we seized the opportunity. Overall, we had a nice experience. We arrived promptly and before most of the dinner crowd had filed in, were greeted warmly, served pleasantly and the food arrived in good time. Everything was delicious: sausage and cheese stuffed dates, sweet onion risotto, paella, the banana semifrio. There was some convention or other which reminded me very much of the ALA crowd, educated and bookish sorts. I met a woman in the washroom who confirmed that it's some sort of historical preservation group. Also having dinner at the next table over was Dr. Pepper Schwartz who was showing off copies of her upcoming book (Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex, Love, and the Sensual Years, not out until June. She was late to dinner because of backed up traffic on I-90 (which Googling has shown was because of an overturned semi during rush hour.

Zodiac was long and complicated but I really enjoyed it. "What a story!" as my sister-in-law would say. I'd completely forgotten some of the twists of the case. I thought the cast was great, despite the kind of dreary and cerebral central plot.

I took pics of the meal but I'm too tired to go about posting them tonight. They'll be on Flickr when I get around to it. For now, sleep in a warm bed.

Labels: , ,


Birthday girl!

Birthday girl!
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Since I know Mama Tynes has been waiting for an update...

We began the evening at Hales Brewery, the first couple of hours spent casually mingling and enjoying food, drinks, and conversation. I was so engaged in chatting with people (many of whom I had not seen since the wedding) I didn't stop to take many photos.

Cakes arrived safely and went over well (well enough that Rusty hugged me in delight and began quizzing me about the recipe). Leftovers were cleaned up and carted off for later and we all trooped over to the Late Night Show at the Moisture Festival.

The Moisture Festival was good fun, thanks to J&J for hosting their party amidst it! We saw guys on stilts, singers, comedians, clowns, jugglers, a cowgirl doing rope tricks, skits, trapeze artists, live music, plate spinning, generic vaudeville acts, dancers and other performance art. Frank Olivier ("THE Comedy Juggler" got top billing and performed twice, including riding a 10-foot tall unicycle while playing a tribute to Jimmy Hendrix on the guitar and juggling flaming torches. Seriously. (Video of a different performance of a similar stunt it on his website here.)

This morning we got up and met Evan, Rona, and Zoey at Cafe Flora for a little vegetarian brunch action (and to retrieve The Kate), where we had a nice time and were able to catch up like adults while Kate helped keep Zoey entertained. Kate apparently also read Zoey four stories before bed last night!

I'm functioning on less sleep and less coffee than usual and haven't been able to shake the yawns all day. I suspect the rest of the afternoon is going to be very mellow. I have to get up earlier than usual tomorrow, too, because Kate's class is leaving for a three-day class trip to Victoria and I have to get Kate to the send-off point before 8:00am. Kate's usually barely out of bed at 8:00am! Wish me luck.

Labels: , ,


Can't blog...baking

Chocolate Guinness Cake
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Party in T-minus three point five hours. I've made TWO of these babies this afternoon.


Making a Split?

I'm considering splitting my food-related posts off from the other personal/silly/ranty/political stuff I post.

What do you think?

Do you like the mish-mash of content?

Would you rather see a more structured Proper Food Blog without all the distracting, generic rants?

Would you prefer to read my random musings without the distracting photos of food you'd never eat/restaurants you'll never visit/things you'll never cook?

Would making a change cause you to visit more? Less?

Please leave a comment and weigh in on the issue: don't be shy, if you're reading along I want your opinion on this one even if you've never commented before.




Yesterday was not a good day

It started with the credit card charge/phone tree thing in the morning. Then, of course, there was the shooting across the street from Kate's school.

Yesterday we also found out that my father-in-law was admitted to the hospital for irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath and dizziness and had unplanned (I don't know if it was truly "emergency") surgery to insert a pacemaker. Thankfully, the pacemaker looks like it may just clear up problems that my FIL has been struggling with for months. But that makes two mortality reminders in one day...

The capper on my evening happened while I was putting groceries away. Chris had started the dishwasher and suddenly I looked up to see water flowing everywhere from the sink vent! All over the counters and all over the floor. Then it stopped as the dishwasher cycled and I pulled the vent cap off to see what was up, *while* mopping the floor and counters, as Chris and Kate just sat there gaping. Jeez, get some towels or something! Completely overwhelmed, I didn't even *think* to, you know, STOP the dishwasher or anything... so, while I'm holding the vent cap in my hand trying to figure out what the heck is going on the dishwasher cycles again and a micky fricky geyser of dirty dishwasher water shoots a foot and a half into the air and all over everything while we bumbled around like the three stooges.

That last one is kinda funny in hindsight (especially since I was able to fix the issue) but I was SO ready for yesterday to be over.

Here's hoping today is better.





Man Gunned Down Outside Seattle Restaurant

She came home and told me about hearing shots, being herded back into the school, seeing the Kiro News helicopter circling the area... I tried to be calm, told her it was probably a misunderstanding, not a dangerous situation, yadda yadda... and I hope I preserved her sense of calm and peace but OH MY FUCKING GOD.


Ok, I'm ok now...

Labels: , ,


Something I've been working on...

Essay Anthology to Feature All-Star Line Up

March 21, 2007--SEATTLE, WA:
What are the best hobby games of the past 60 years? Green Ronin Publishing and award-winning author and editor James Lowder put the question to 100 of the industry’s most influential and outspoken hobby game designers, authors, and publishers. Their answers will be revealed this August in Hobby Games: The 100 Best, a remarkable essay collection set to premiere at the 2007 Gen Con Game Fair.

One hundred different writers were asked to select a single hobby game and make a case for its place on the list. The only restrictions were the writers could not select a title they designed, or a game in which they have a financial stake. The problem for most of the authors was limiting their selection to a single game.

“The range of games the writers chose was terrific,” noted editor James Lowder. “The essays cover some titles that are familiar to everyone, but many others that will be revelations. Even the most experienced game fan will come away from the book with new titles to seek out and fresh perspectives on old favorites. And if you haven’t played many hobby games before, or only know about certain types of games, Hobby Games: The 100 Best will open up whole new worlds for you.”

The list of games covered in the book will be a tightly kept secret until its release. Speculation will no doubt run rampant leading up to its Gen Con debut.

“This is a book we simply had to publish,” said Green Ronin President Chris Pramas. “The lineup of essayists Jim recruited is impressive and both the authors and the games chosen cover our industry from its birth to the present day. If you are passionate about games, you will love this book.”

Product Information
Editor: James Lowder
Publisher: Green Ronin
Release Date: August 2007
ISBN: 1-932442-96-0/978-1-932442-96-0
Format: 400 pages, trade paperback
Cover Price: $24.95 US

In Hobby Games: The 100 Best, the top designers, authors, and publishers in the hobby games field write about the most enjoyable and cleverly designed games of the last fifty years. Their essays cover the gamut of the hobby market, from roleplaying games to collectible card games, miniatures games to wargames to board games, with titles both familiar and esoteric. These are the games that the designers themselves play, the ones that have inspired their most popular creations. Writers include such legendary designers as Gary Gygax (co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons), Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson (co-founders of Games Workshop), Richard Garfield (creator of Magic: The Gathering), and Larry Harris (creator of Axis and Allies); best-selling authors R. A. Salvatore, Tracy Hickman, Douglas Niles, and Ed Greenwood; computer industry notables Warren Spector (Deus Ex), Bruce Shelley (Age of Empires), Jack Emmert (City of Heroes), and Bruce Nesmith (Oblivion); as well as dozens of other prominent and award-winning creators, including Richard Berg, Monte Cook, Zeb Cook, Greg Costikyan, Bruno Faidutti, Jeff Grubb, Steve Jackson (US), Tom Jolly, Marc W. Miller, Alan R. Moon, Christian T. Petersen, Sandy Petersen, Mike Pondsmith, Ted Raicer, Greg Stafford, S. Craig Taylor, Martin Wallace, James M. Ward, Jordan Weisman, Stewart Wieck and Teeuwynn Woodruff. Hobby Games: The 100 Best will also feature a foreword by board game legend Reiner Knizia and an afterword by SPI founder and wargame legend James F. Dunnigan.

Editor James Lowder has authored several best-selling novels, including Prince of Lies and Knight of the Black Rose, and designed game material for a wide variety of publishers and magazines. He’s helmed more than a dozen critically acclaimed anthologies, with subjects ranging from Arthurian Britain to zombies. He’s been a finalist for the Stoker Award and International Horror Guild Award, and is a two-time Origins Award winner.

Green Ronin Publishing is a Seattle-based company known for its dedication to quality books and games. Founded in 2000 Green Ronin has won more awards for excellence and innovation than any other game company in the new millennium, and took home the coveted ENnie Award for Best Publisher an unprecedented three years running. With great licenses like Thieves’ World and Black Company, groundbreaking games like Mutants & Masterminds and Blue Rose, and a roster of top flight designers and illustrators, Green Ronin Publishing is a leading light in the hobby game industry.



Man I hate phone trees!

Every time I think I've nailed down what I want to rant about with the US Attorney scandal, something new pops up. So much for trying to be thoughtful and thorough...

Meanwhile around Casa Nikchick there is no shortage of rant-worthy material. Take automated phone trees for example.

Checking my credit card online to see if a transaction had cleared, I noticed a charge for "Marie Claire" (the magazine) from the 19th that I definitely did not authorize. In fact, about a year ago I'd had a subscription for Budget Living which ceased publication about a year ago before the end of my subscription and was offered Marie Claire in substitute, which I specifically refused because it was so unlike the magazine I had subscribed to. I was not thrilled to see a new subscription charge for a magazine I never wanted in the first place.

So, I called the number that appeared on the charge (1-866-560-9273) and got an automated phone tree. Sometimes you can get a real person by saying things like "operator" or "help" or pressing * or 0. I tried all of that but this automated service was relentless. Finally, after about 10 minutes of struggling with it (I didn't have a "renewal number on the bottom of my card" and I sure as hell wasn't about to offer up my credit card number) it finally gave me another number to call for "further assistance." (1-800-586-5234) Ah ha! Now we're getting somewhere, I thought.

Nope. Exact same phone tree, with exactly the same options, just at a different number. I tried to play stupid and all the other tricks to get a live person but no dice. Finally I said "FRAUD!" and lo, I was given the option to dispute a charge by giving the amount of the charge and my zip code, then my last name. Indeed, the system found my "order" which I supposedly "placed" on March 17th. Using the phone tree I was given the option to cancel, then before it was actually canceled it offered me a "free gift" of gas cards to offset the "high price of gas" and tried to trick me into NOT canceling two or three different ways before finally agreeing to cancel and refund my money for the balance of issues still unsent. THEN it tried to offer me two more magazines before I finally got away... and I have no idea if this is just a temporary reprieve or if I'm going to see another suspicious "renewal" on my card next year, because I never was able to talk to a person.

Angry about the phone tree, I decided to call Marie Claire and complain. There I was able to talk to an actual person who confirmed that I did have a "subscription" and they'd sent out the "May issue" already (how's that for customer service: "order" placed on Saturday the 17th and shipped out by Tuesday the 20th!) and they couldn't help me at all because I'd have to contact the "service" that set up the subscription in the first place. I got a third number to call from the Marie Claire people (1-800-321-6247) which turned out to be yet another way to get to the exact same phone tree. I made sure to tell the Marie Claire chick that I'd gone from having a benign non-interest in their magazine to having a strong negative opinion of it and that she should pass on to the Powers That Be that their association with "services" of this sort was not doing their reputation any good. Oh, and that I never, ever, ever, EVER wanted another magazine from them under any circumstances.




A friend pointed me to this political "video mashup" that uses the old Ridley Scott Apple ad as its basis. First the video:

I don't spend a lot of time cruising YouTube myself though I do visit when pointed to a good video by someone else, so I had totally missed this until yesterday. I also don't watch TV news or talk shows so I missed the media coverage, missed Obama on Larry King being asked about it and so forth.

I haven't seen a lot of feedback from the "moms of 11 year olds" crowd but but the few who have commented seem to be much more inclined to see the ad as a negative, as a "disturbing" trend because of the anonymousness of the creator. The couple of news reports that I've seen have at least been much more balanced than the comments on the YouTube video itself. I find myself in agreement with this quote:

The ad is proof that "anybody can do powerful emotional ads ... and the campaigns are no longer in control," Rosenberg said. "It will no longer be a top-down candidate message; that's a 20th century broadcast model."

You definitely hear the bewilderment and bitterness from some of the old school political types. In another quote 'Gardner said the success of "Hillary 1984" means that now "every candidate will have to worry about some guy with a video camera and a Mac being able to do whatever he or she wants."'

How funny it is that "every candidate" will have to worry about empowered citizens making full use of their constitutional rights. Unregulated free speech, political parody, how dare "some guy" make a powerful political statement all on his own... surely that's the domain of corporate sponsors or those Swift Boat Veterans-type groups alone. Reminds me of the bitterness you hear from the mainstream media over the influence of bloggers. Generally, I say hooray for an empowered, passionate, active citizenry! I think the internet is such a fantastic tool for empowering individuals. The fact that we can even have this conversation (over the internet!) is inspirational. At the founding of our country, we would have had to own and operate a printing press to have this kind of opportunity.

So, do you think the Apple/Obama thing qualifies as an attack ad? I didn't take it that way at all. It shows preference for one candidate over another, it uses powerful images by putting Clinton in the role of the bad guy from the famous commercial... but it doesn't make false claims against her, doesn't call her names, even her running commentary throughout the commercial isn't inflammatory or anything (shoot, she's talking about jump starting the conversation about the direction of the country... hardly the ravings of a mad woman or something she couldn't stand behind regardless of the anti-Clinton tone of the ad). Compare that to the despicable attack ads against Harold Ford, Jr. during the recent mid-term elections: funded by the RNC themselves! The true "attack ad" enthusiasts are already out there and are already totally dominating political discourse outside of the internet.

How about the idea that Obama is somehow responsible or obligated to disavow the ad and it's "message" because it's pro-Obama and anti-Clinton? I've seen some pretty vitriolic commentary along those lines. Another quote from those articles I linked to "In some ways, it's the democratization of the campaign process, but it's not something that we had anything to do with or were aware of and that, frankly, given what it looks like, we don't have the technical capacity to create something like this. It's pretty extraordinary," Obama told Larry King. Personally, I think that suffices.



Lovely, quiet Sunday

Fell asleep on clean sheets last night and slept pretty well. I awoke with Eggs Beatrice on my mind, so while Pramas made coffee, I whipped up the rest of breakfast.

Kate and I played a little Viva Pinata together this morning. Technology continues to hate me, as my #2 garden that I was painstakingly grooming into a water garden (god but it takes forever to dig ponds) became corrupted and now crashes if I try to load it, so once again I had to start over but I managed to attract both the elusive Fizzly Bear and an Elephanilla to the new garden, which gave me massive experience points. Yay me.

Chris left for gaming at Tim's and Kate was invited to a friend's all afternoon and evening so I was able to mop the floor, watch three TiVo'd shows that neither of them would have been interested in, do a couple of loads of laundry, play with the bunnies, measure the back yard for the loose-laid brick patio I'm determined to install this year and think about that landscaping I've been meaning to do. Maybe this is finally the year for installing that raised bed down the sideyard. The house was quiet and smelled of Mrs. Meyer's Lavender and I was uninterrupted all afternoon. Bliss!

No worries about cooking for anyone so I had Scallop Chowder left over from last night. I feel awfully close to refreshed, though I'm greedy and wish for one more day just like today before the weekend comes to an end. Still, I'll take what I got because what I got was pretty darn good.

Labels: ,



Once upon a time, I bought the Better Homes and Gardens book Making a Home (subtitled Housekeeping for Real Life) because I've never been a homeowner before and I wanted to make sure I was educated about what kinds of things (maintenance, cleaning, upkeep) a homeowner needed to attend to in order to keep their home well maintained. It's the kind of book that encourages you to make several cleaning lists (daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal!) that includes in your ideal "to do" list items like Monthly: Clean oven and refrigerator; sanitize refrigerator drip pan.

Their Spring Cleaning section lists a number of chores that without a book I never would have thought to undertake: Have pillows professionally cleaned, wash or dry clean rugs, dust or wash window blinds, wipe out cabinets and install fresh shelf paper, vacuum cooling coils under or behind refrigerator, wash windows inside and out (including storm windows and screens), flip and rotate mattresses...

I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing these kinds of chores done. Unfortunately for me, I just don't have time to do them. I've often thought I would actually enjoy being able to manage my house full time; I would hate to be a housekeeper for someone else ("Oh my god, that lazy Nicole failed to dust the top of the refrigerator again!") but to be in a position to do for myself? My little project manager heart does a flip to imagine being able to schedule carpet cleaning, to know that I've rotated the mattresses and changed the sheets, that my gutters are clean, my garage swept, my light fixtures free of dust and dead insects.

Of course, you would never know that I harbor these fantasies to actually look at my house. I've never actually changed the air filter in the stove vent, or replaced the water filter in the fridge. I'm far more likely to be checking the Green Ronin message boards or working on some company-related project than freshening my linens or contact papering my cupboards. I can't remember the last time the kitchen floor received more than a cursory Swiffering. It's a pretty good weekend when I can get a couple of loads of laundry washed/dried/folded/put away, dishes done, recycling taken care of, and the living room vacuumed.

This weekend, for the first time in ages, I wasn't traveling, sick, or just plain weary. I finally removed several large boxes filled with packing peanuts from a corner of the living room, finally put away the boxes of Christmas decorations in the attic space of the garage, and basically started paying attention to the house around me more than making sure the family has clean clothes, clean dishes and food in the fridge. As long as I'm working full time, the only driver in the household, taking care of all school- and Kate-related duties, I'm never going to fulfill my desire of running my household with precision. However now that spring is practically upon us, I look forward to shaking off some of the winter funk that has settled around us while I wasn't looking.

Labels: ,


Enough food, make with the rants!

For those who have been bored with/tortured by/uninterested in the recent heavily food-focused content around here lately, I've had some rants percolating. There will definitely be a rant about the US Attorney scandal forthcoming but it's one of those I'm trying to construct thoughtfully, since it's important and political and stuff.

Today's rant: Prudish fear of words associated with the human body! If you've been waiting to hear me sound off on the issue of the scrotum, vagina, or anus, today is your lucky day.

I'm sure no one is surprised to hear that I think the uproar over anatomically correct words for body parts is foolishness. I've been gritting my teeth and rolling my eyes aplenty over the last month as news items have popped up to spotlight yet another case of ignorance, foolishness, censorship, and (of course) the obligatory moral outrage on behalf of "the children" over words that name their body parts!

About a month ago, the New York Times covered the controversy surrounding the Newberry Award-winning book, The Higher Power of Lucky. In the opening pages of the book, the young protagonist overhears a man telling a story about his dog getting bitten by a snake... on the scrotum. Shock! Outrage! Horror! The "inappropriateness" of the term made headlines. The NYT quotes various outraged children's librarians saying things like "This book included what I call a Howard Stern-type shock treatment..." (which lets me know right off the bat that this librarian has never actually listened to Howard Stern) or "If I were a third- or fourth-grade teacher, I wouldn’t want to have to explain that." or (my favorite) "...you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature." because, as we all know, only scary, hairy, sexual MEN have a scrotum... little boys have a pee pee and everything else is referred to in hushed tones as "down there" with a dismissive wave of the hand. Of course, the fact that it's a DOG'S scrotum and not "men's genitalia" in the book is beside the point.

Next up was the Washington State bill that would set standards for sex ed in schools, namely that medically and scientifically accurate sex education be taught. Medically and scientifically accurate information in publicly funded schools? Those bastards, how dare they?! One Republican lawmaker was outraged about the word anus because "No parent wants their child to be talking about sex and anuses." (I can imagine her child's virginal wedding night now: "Up a hole, dummy!!") Another genius from the state legislature is quoted thusly, "We do not have a state-mandated curriculum for math. We do not have a state-mandated curriculum for reading, but with this bill we will have a curriculum for state-mandated sex education," to which I say FINE! Explain to me why we don't have a state-mandated curriculum for math or reading but we DO have the high-stakes WASL test that supposedly measures students on their math, reading, and science educations? If you think the WASL doesn't mandate a certain curriculum you need two hands for your crack pipe. But hey, it's not like unplanned pregnancies and rampant sexually transmitted diseases are public health concerns that are furthered through ignorance and that can be fought through education or anything. Not like the public has a pressing interest to address public heath concerns in public schools. I mean, when compared to your inalienable right for you to insist that your child be allowed to go through life in ignorance what's a couple of public health crises? It's not like cases of Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Herpes and HIV are on the increase in YOUR county. Oh, wait... they are.

Finally, the news that set me off on the decision that I'd had enough and was ready to rant this morning was this: Three students were ordered suspended after saying the word "vagina". These teens said "vagina" during a high school performance of, wait for it... wait for it... The Vagina Monologues! Actually, they weren't suspended for saying the word precisely, they were suspended for "insubordination" because they'd told the principle they wouldn't use "the word". You know, no saying "vagina" during the VAGINA MONOLOGUES. I suppose they were supposed to call the reading the "Hoohaa Monologues" or something? Good for them for making their stand, I say. Vagina is not an obscenity.

"My short skirt is a liberation flag in the women's army. I declare these streets, any streets, my vagina's country."

Damn straight, girls.

Labels: ,


Guinness Cake

I made Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake (from her book Feast) for game night Tuesday. I haven't put the recipe up in my recipe pages, but it's online at another food blog here.

This cake is REALLY GOOD. Several of the guys had second pieces. I had some for breakfast yesterday (because I was hacking off a slice for Chris to bring to John and Jenny) AND I had a second piece when Kate came home from school and wanted some cake for a snack. (I made up for it by having vegetables for dinner! Nothing but big piles of raw vegetables!)

I want more cake now. MORE! NOW!!

There is no more Chocolate Guinness Cake but I can't stop thinking about it, rich and dense and chocolaty without being too sweet, topped with its head of cream cheese frosting.

Labels: , ,


Strategies Games & Hobbies

Wall o' Board Games
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Strategies Games & Hobbies is a fairly new store that's opened up in Vancouver and we finally had a chance to visit last weekend.

From my perspective as both a publisher and a gamer myself, Darren is doing everything right with his store: it is clean, spacious, and well-lit. He has a tightly focused inventory, attractively displayed. The storefront is welcoming and uncluttered, with excellent signs and several games laid out on game tables where people can have a look at them or go through a brief demo. He and his employee greeted every person who came through the door and thanked every person as they left: just the right amount of attention in my book, as I hate to be pressured or lingered over or aggressively chattered at by over-eager staff. At no time did I ever have the feeling that I was entering the owner's private clubhouse, which is too often the feeling I've had at too many independent game stores over the years.

Strategies also has a very full and interesting event schedule. They offer free figure painting lessons on Saturdays, Flames of War games in the store every Friday, Games Workshop games on Sundays and have had great success with RPGA events in the store as well. Darren has had local experts (like painter Kelly Kim and local novelist/game enthusiast Lisa Smedman) come in for contests and clinics at the store, and has scheduled Learn to Play nights to focus on a variety of games. At the end of this month, he's teamed up with the Vancouver Independant Game Designers Association for a game design contest.

He's not just putting together a retail store but he's building community. If you're a gamer in the Vancouver area, I highly recommend checking out Strategies. If you're a professional or someone from a game company who offers support to independent hobby game retailers, Strategies is exactly the kind of store we want to nurture. If you have an organized play program, demo teams, promotional items, give Darren a ring and let him know.

Labels: ,


Bo Kong Vegetarian Dim Sum

Sesame balls
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
We were introduced to this garden of vegetarian delights on our last trip to Vancouver by our friends Theo and Kate (our wayward Vertigogirl). Kate's massage business has really taken off (they're turning people away left and right because they're so busy) and she now spends her off hours doing things other than blogging, so it's pretty much on these yearly weekends away that we have a chance to catch up with them.

This particular gathering also included other friends of theirs in town from England and other friends or ours, Mike and Toren. Gathered at a giant round table where we made full use of the huge lazy susan, we ordered up an assortment of amazing vegetarian dim sum to feed an army. I'd been looking forward to the sesame balls with lotus root paste eagerly, as I'd never had them as good.

Our dining companions were knowledgeable about the menu and also ordered several items that weren't listed, like these colorful gelatinous noodles, served cold. I didn't catch the name of the dish (something "jack"?) but it turned out that it was the ingredient but not the preparation that Kate and Theo's other visiting friends were looking for, so they ordered a second batch and were delivered these crisp-fried little nuggets that were very reminiscent of salt and pepper scallops. Very different from the cold noodles. If anyone knows what either of those dishes are called, please let me know, I'd love to be able to order them again!

Other standout dishes from that day included the tofu skin rolls in spicy black bean sauce, the wontons in spicy sauce, the vegetable shu mai, and the barbecue buns. In an additional bonus, we Bo Kong is just blocks away from our friend Darren's new game store. Where we used to make a trip out to Richmond for dim sum and a visit to Imperial Hobbies, we can now enjoy an actual Vancouver-proper dim sum/gaming nexus (particularly handy since our old favorite Richmond dim sum location no longer exists).

Labels: ,



Venison plate
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
For our big culinary excursion of the trip, Chris and I went to Nu. Nu, as they are only too happy to tell you, are the winners of some dozen awards: Critics Choice, Readers Choice, Best New Restaurant, Best Small Plates, Best New Fine Dining, even Best Parking. Nu is the third Vancouver restaurant for Harry Kambolis and just as wildly popular as the first two (Raincity Grill and C). If I'm ever in the position of having a crazy surplus of money or find myself in the company of millionaires who wish to feed me for the night, I'm going to try the Chef's Tasting Menu at C: 14 courses, plus wine pairings for $245 per person. This weekend I did not have a crazy surplus of money, so we settled for a regular ol' dinner at the less expensive Nu.

The night started out with a bit of frustration as I tried to find the best way to get down to the restaurant, whose address is on Granville street but is actually under the Granville Street Bridge. I accidentally got on the bridge the first time past, and had to circle back around across the bridge and back into downtown and the unfamiliar one-way and "no turn" or "no exit" streets. Then, upon finally getting to the restaurant, I had to fight for parking with a reckless SUV driver who was perfectly willing to risk sideswiping my rental car in order to back up past me to the one open spot in the free restaurant parking. I was not amused. Thankfully additional parking opened up and I didn't have to crack the head of the SUV guy.

The interior of Nu is "stylish" and "hip" for sure. It's a nice location, looking over False Creek toward Granville Island. We were greeted and our coats were taken immediately, then we were showed to a table for two near the kitchen and along the windows. It was very dimly lit and very, VERY loud. In fact, after an hour and a half of being bombarded by the noise, I started developing a headache which threatened to bring the evening to a ruinous conclusion. Pramas sweetly (and of his own accord, since my head was in my hands at that point) asked our waitress if he might be able to get some ibuprofen or something and like an angel of goodness she slipped me a couple of her own personal stash, staving off the worst of the headache, rescuing our evening out, and guaranteeing herself a nice, fat tip.

Anyway, on to the food.

When we looked over the appetizer menu, we immediately saw multiple items we would have liked to try. There were things that immediately called out to the both of us, though. Pramas is on a mission to try steak tartare all over the world and I have a hard time passing up a salad of wine-poached pears, beets and chevre (three of my favorite foods together? Sign me up!) so we ordered those and then an additional, completely over-the-top, unnecessary order of pomme frites with foie gras gravy and truffle oil, because we just had to know.

The pear/beet salad was not what I expected: a poached pear, cut into thick rounds, stuffed with chevre and capped with a slice of beet, served on sliced Belgian endive. The menu claimed there was some frisee involved, but I didn't see any. The dressing was thick and tart, maybe with some tarragon in it? Couldn't tell and frankly, it was so good that I ate it fast and didn't spend a lot of time dissecting it. The pomme frites were total overkill but we did our duty and then, stuffed already, worried that we'd be too full to enjoy our entrees.

Happily for our bellies the service was, shall we say, leisurely. During the long wait between appetizers and entrees we were able to digest a little and recover for round two. Chris, always looking for something new, tried the crispy braised pork belly with yam dumplings. I went with the roasted venison tenderloin. It was served with seasonal vegetables and on a bed of spinach, under which I was told, was quince puree. I never did find the quince puree (much like the missing frisee in my salad) but what was on the plate was plenty. The venison was perfect and I enjoyed it mightily.

We were both quite tired and full and had intended to pass on any dessert but decided it couldn't hurt to look (ha!) at the dessert menu and, then, as yet more time had passed, decided that we really did have room for a little cheese plate after all. Chris ordered up the Penticton Blue that was served with these lightly toasted slices of dark housemade fruited bread that, again, was perfect. Just the right amount of cheese, just the right match of flavors, an ideal end to the meal.

The food at Nu was superb (missing ingredients and all) and Claire, our server, really saved the experience for us. Even had she not saved the meal by helping me with my headache problem, she was friendly, cheerful, attentive and just generally pleasant. Her attention and great attitude did much to offset the unpleasantly noisy environment and the uncomfortable, backless (but oh-so-stylish) chairs. I imagine the experience would be even more pleasant on a sunny spring or summer day, instead of in the dark of night and during a pouring rainstorm. Thumbs up to NU.

Labels: ,


O'Doul's Restaurant, Vancouver

Smoked Salmon with Frisee Salad
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Chris and I wandered into O'Doul's without a reservation on Friday night for a late dinner. It was after 8:30pm and despite the live jazz band performing, it wasn't noisy or too crowded. There were a couple of different large parties of people out for celebrations but one by one those tables cleared and either remained empty or were replaced by couples. Every now and then there was hooting from the bar area where a few people were gathered to watch the hockey game but that didn't last long. The interior of the restaurant was very cool, including a giant old-fashioned map of the world on the ceiling that Chris would love on the ceiling of his office.

Our server was very open and pleasant, chatty but not obsequious. One thing I've always felt about Vancouver is that they have some of the best looking, smartest, most pleasant and educated waitstaff I've ever run into and that held true through all of our meals this weekend.

O'Doul's was running a tasting menu with wine pairings so Chris and I decided to go with that. Our waiter didn't seem to actually know very much about wine, or at least the wines that he was serving that night but since Chris and I don't know much about wine either, that was ok. I can imagine some wine snobs being really put out but we didn't care. I didn't think to write down the wines, though, so I can't report on what they were except that I had all white wines with my pairings and one was a Chardonnay which only reinforced that I really don't like Chardonnay.

Chris opened with the smoked salmon with frisee salad while I opted for the rich and satisfying truffled mushroom risotto. The risotto came with tempura vegetables, and the wine pairing was deliciously sweet and just right to cut through the fattiness. We waited a while for our entrees. Chris had seared scallops served with a cumin-crab ravioli and a creamy sauce. Chris gave me a bite and I didn't much care for the ravioli and preferred the scallop. He didn't feel the scallop matched well with the rest of the dish and would have rather just had the ravioli alone. Still, the dish wasn't bad, just not to my taste. Luckily for me, I had the Canadian sablefish on rice (with a little cabbage and bacon) with vegetables. My sablefish was delightful, as sablefish always is.

After the entrees were cleared away we hit the real disappointment of the night: an interminable wait for our desserts. We waited over half an hour, asked someone else to please check on them for us, and then waited a few minutes more. Our server apologized and couldn't even offer an excuse for the delay. When it arrived, the apple-rhubarb crumble ala mode was great, but having such a long wait during such a late dinner put a real black eye on the experience. The muscat paired was a darker color than I expected and reminded us both very much of port. I believe all the wines were Australian and curse that I didn't write them down.

Chris was ready to go when our waiter came by to ask if he could buy us a glass of wine to make up for the delay with the dessert. Since I'd had no red wine with dinner, I was in the mood for one nice glass of red, so I took him up on it and Chris acquiesced and had another glass of the muscat. The red I had was a blend (of what I can't remember now), again something the waiter hadn't tried himself. It was nice and I felt much less grumpy about the late dessert after I finished it, which was undoubtedly our waiter's intent.

I would recommend O'Doul's, though perhaps not if you're in a hurry to get somewhere, and I thought the food was inventive and tasty. The wine experience was less satisfying but that goes to personal taste and I'm sure that I could enjoy myself there, listening to jazz and working my way through the wine list, if I still lived in the area.

Labels: , ,


My Weekend With Kappa Kappa Gamma

Thanks to the miraculously good deals on hotels I've snagged through Hotwire (and a CDN to USD that's not quite as good as the glory days of $1.43 when I was living up there but it's way better than the conversion to the Euro or the Pound in recent memory) Chris and I have managed to enjoy a weekend at a luxury hotel in Vancouver about once a year the last couple of years. This year's steal of a deal was for the Sutton Place Hotel; it was a massive improvement in every way over the New Yorker hotel we stayed at two weeks ago at New York Comic Con and cheaper to boot. As we were to discover, Sutton Place was also the location of the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sapphire Ball... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

We arrived on Friday, dropped Kate with her dad, and checked in to our luxurious digs. We wandered out to find dinner, knowing that we were located right off Robson and so there would be wide possibilities for our late dinner. After considering sushi, and a Korean noodle joint, I spotted O'Doul's Restaurant and Wine Bar (which turned out to be attached to another neat downtown hotel, the Listel Hotel). O'Doul's makes me think non-alchoholic beer, but this place was quite nice with a great menu and win pairings, plus live jazz. Perfect for a late dinner on a drizzly night. Restaurant write-up and photos to come.

Saturday we did an abrupt about face and headed over to Toren's Saturday Morning Cartoon Party, where I added some Cap'n Crunch Choco Crunch to the table o' sugar cereals. We couldn't quite rouse ourselves to be there for opening ceremonies, and we heard the hotel hot tub calling our names before the day of cartoony goodness was over, but we did stay and watch the Harry Mudd episode of the Star Trek cartoon, a J. Michael Straczynski-penned episode of The REAL Ghost Busters, some Toby Danger, Bugs Bunny, the Voodoo Vampire episode of Superfriends (since when do vampires shoot rays out of their teeth?), Power Puff Girls, Ren & Stimpy (and a Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy singalong), Freakazoid, The Ripping Friends, and the excellent episode The Tick vs. Science. Still, after all that good fun, we went back for some long soaking in the hotel whirlpool (while listening to a dad constantly nag his 10 year old daughter and friends to be quieter and stay on one side of the pool during their birthday party) and then off to have dinner at Nu. Restaurant write-up and photos to come. It was at this point when we met several of the Kappa Kappa Gamma girls and their frat boy dates, who piled into the elevator with us and then blocked us from leaving while they dithered about whether they were on the right floor or not. I had to suggest (from the back) "How about you let us out?" before they clued back into the reality that the entire world was not actually revolving around their little sorority function. This was only the beginning of the night for Kappa Kappa Gamma.

After a fairly long day and a very long, late dinner, I was ready for bed when I hit my hotel again. Unfortunately, the Kappa Kappa Gamma girls and their rowdy dates were not ready to call it a night and kept spilling out very loudly into the hallway and lingering noisily outside my hotel room door. I poked my head out twice to ask them to please bring the party into their room and both times was waved off with assurances that "we're leaving!". After the noising talking turned to outright shouting, running up and down the hallway, and the sound of things breaking, I called the front desk who sent security around and I was finally able to fall asleep sometimes between 1:30am and 2:00am.

Of course, the Kappa Kappa Gamma girls had a pretty good idea of who called security. When I got up this morning to get coffee, the maid was in the hallway, anxious. It seems someone had put the "Please Make Up Room" sign on my door in the middle of the night, presumably in the hope that I would be awoken early by maid service, I guess. The maid did not wake us so the prank didn't work out. When I gave the maid my theory on the situation, she then told me about how light fixtures and flower arrangements all up and down the hall had been broken as well. Classy.

Anyway, we reluctantly left the comforts of the Sutton Place and after an interminable wait to get our car back from the valet we headed out to join friends at Bo Kong for some vegetarian dim sum. We'd been to Bo Kong on our last Vancouver get-away and I'd been dreaming of the sesame balls ever since. Again, restaurant write-up and photos to come.

We also stopped by our friend Darren's excellent new store, just a few blocks away from Bo Kong, called Strategies Games and Hobbies. I took a bunch of pictures of the store and will give a fuller write-up of what Darren's got happening there in a separate entry. Suffice to say, I think he's got a great set-up and he's doing everything right and we wish him all sorts of success with it.

Now, a good night's sleep in my own bed.



Pramas and I are in Vancouver this weekend. Will post about it when we get back. There WILL be food photos.



The New, New, New (NEW!) Origins Awards

It's that time of the year again. Every spring around this time, after the initial deadline for the Origins Awards has passed and been extended and passed again, someone in the game industry wakes up and says, "Hey, the rules are different! What's going on?!" sparking the annual round of "We fixed it!"/"You broke it!"/"Who cares?" bickering as people take sides (or don't) and eventually some sort of awards based on some criteria are handed out to greater or lesser fanfare.

This year, once again, the people who have not yet had their months of futile and unappreciated work burned to the ground take up the same cries of, "Just give it a chance, just wait and see, this time we've really got it!" This year, for at least the sixth time in the last ten years, the Origins Awards have been restructured, re-defined, re-positioned and (they hope) re-branded.

This year GAMA is making no bones about it, the Origins Awards are to promote Origins. This philosophy has been bouncing around out there for a while but it has finally won out as the dominant vision for the awards. This means the pretense that the Origins Awards are somehow selecting the "best" games or even "favorite" games has been largely thrown aside in favor of a system that the organization hopes will generate publicity. Of course, if some good games are rewarded in the process, all the better but the inability to reach even a working consensus about what constitutes an exceptional game deserving of recognition by peers and players alike has unquestionably brought the awards to the point of being an unabashed marketing tool first and foremost.

The GAMA and Origins and AAGAD websites remain unintuitive and incomplete (for example, there's apparently an "Origins New Release Award" but the page about it is blank and the page on submissions merely says "Origins Awards policies are presently under review. They will be published shortly."), but ICv2 has a summary of the new, new, NEW Origins Awards process here.

I've had things to say about the Origins Awards in the past. I don't really have that much to say anymore, except to observe the passing of another year, another round of changes, another series of hoops to jump through (meaning forms to fill out, samples to pack and mail, CDs with logos and cover shots to provide and whatever else). Some people will bother, some people find the awards so tainted that it's not worth the effort. Awards of some sort will be handed out. People will hold them up and say yay, or not.

Labels: , ,


Pickled trout

Pickled trout
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
It's March and that means it's 25 for $25 time again. Some of the restaurants also do $15 three-course lunches, so I checked out the list and whisked Chris off for lunch at Serafina during yesterday's brilliant spring weather.

Chris had the Insalata di Barbatietola (Beet salad with orange and ricotta salata), the Trota Salmistrato (Pickled trout with red onions, horseradish and black bread), and the Buttermilk panna cotta with pine nut biscotti. I ordered off the main lunch menu and had the Mezzaluna di Zucca (squash ravioli in brown butter-sage sauce garnished with toasted hazelnuts and pumpkin seed oil) and the Crostata d'Arancione (citrus tart of creamy blood orange curd, crčme fraîche, and blood orange-caramel sauce).

We'd never been to Serafina before as the eastlake location is a little out of the way from our normal haunts. I'm never in that area for any reason and would have to make the trip for a specific reason. Serafina is certainly a good one!

The ambiance of the restaurant is quite pleasant. Our servers were friendly and appropriately attentive. The place was quite busy even though we showed up in the last hour of their lunch block but the food came out without delay. Everything was mouth-wateringly delicious. It was bright and sunny while we were there for lunch but I imagine it would make an excellent place to have a romantic dinner for two just as well.



Bunny Boy

Bunny Boy
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
We have (temporarily?) acquired another bunny. Here's the story:

Last night, Jim was dropping me off after the lecture and as we turned drove onto my block I saw a shadowy animal form (cat) dash off the road to the left and another shadowy animal form (bunny) sitting in the middle of the road. Jim slowed and then stopped. Bunny did not seem to want to move off the road but a boy standing across the street walked out and kind of shooed the bunny who hopped over to the curb and stopped.

Jim dropped me off a few doors down at my house but I just couldn't get the bunny out of my mind (remembering my last cat vs. bunny story) so I turned right back around and went down the block to see if the bunny was still there. He was not and I couldn't see him anywhere, but I did see the cat still lurking on the other side of the street and decided to go over and menace the cat just a little to spook it out of the area. I was worried for the poor little guy.

Fast forward to this afternoon. I'm standing out on the curb talking with Michelle, who had just stopped by to pick up Rosie. While we're talking, Kate spies the bunny and I recognize it as the same one. Since Kate has Animal Empathy, she was able to (with the help of a carrot) go right up to this sweet fellow and get him eating out of the palm of her hand. He's young (at least he seems young), totally tame, exceptionally mellow. He didn't object at all when Kate tried to pick him up and snuggled into her arms when she carried him up to the house. He's got some small wounds on his ears that look suspiciously like bites or scratches like a cat might inflict.

We couldn't just leave him out there.

So for the moment, Bonnie is confined to her actual cage and New Boy is hunkered down in the living room in the playpen, where Kate has set him up with food, water, a makeshift litter box and extra hay. Kate wants to keep him and call him Clyde.


Art Spiegelman

Last night's Seattle Arts and Lecture guest was Art Spiegelman. I suspected we were in for a good show when there were signs posted across all the doorways warning that tonight's performance would feature smoking and that special air filters were running to make up for it. One lone chain-smoking comic artist in the auditorium was already stirring things up and he wasn't even on stage yet.

Spiegelman gave his Comics 101 lecture. Or performance. It was a little of both: well-scripted, peppered with zingers, Spiegelman was comfortable on stage and comfortable with the material. At the link above, Iconia reports on the same lecture where Spiegelman delivered the same one-liners, the same set-ups and the same observations. In that sense, it was indeed a performance and so Spiegelman did not lie when he began by lighting up a cigarette and announcing, "This is not a lecture, but a performance, because at a performance you are allowed to smoke." Instead of repeating the parts of the lecture the Iconia already details, I'll just direct you over there.

Spiegelman was a very enjoyable and entertaining speaker. He moved fast and packed a lot into his hour, speaking rapidly. He gave off an almost manic vibe and I left with the impression that he could have easily gone on for another hour. More than that, I could have listened.

I definitely thought of J.D. and his Four Color Comics blog throughout the lecture. J.D. is a comic geek going way back, with an appreciation for the old stuff that never even hit my radar. Not just the old Action comics, or Little Orphan Annie and Dick Tracy, but the stuff like Little Nemo in Slumberland, Krazy Kat, or artist Lyonel Feininger's foray into cartooning with "Wee Willie Winkie's World". Spiegelman covered a lot: Plastic Man, Robert Crumb, MAD Magazine, and had a few things to say about "Edu-Manga" (where Astro Boy takes you on a tour of history and introduces the reader to Helen Keller, Anne Frank or Mother Theresa...seriously). He's no fan of Lichtenstein ("He did no more or less for comic books than Warhol did for soup.") and made no mention of Alan Moore, which I thought was a fairly conspicuous omission, but he did have pretty nice things to say about Chris Ware and mentioned people like the Hernandez Brothers, Daniel Clowes and Joe Sacco in quite favorable tones.

Overall the lecture was perfect for someone like me. I have a strange and erratic relationship with comics and graphic novels. MAUS was my first comic book, though I read comic strips in the newspaper as far back as I can remember. My childhood was spent on Nancy Drew mysteries, not issues of Swamp Thing and the kinds of strips in the newspaper (Cathy, Garfield, Mary Worth, Family Circus, For Better of For Worse, Peanuts) were as plain and predictable as McDonald's hamburgers. Later I discovered strips like Bloom County, Doonsbury, Calvin and Hobbes, Foxtrot and occasionally read collections of their strips, but self-contained comic books were completely outside my experience before MAUS. In the same way that first MAD Magazine burned its way into Spiegelman's consciousness, MAUS hooked me and drew me in and so it was a great pleasure to attend this lecture and hear the man speak for himself.

Labels: , ,


Horton Hears a Who: Blog-stylee

The good folks over at Brave Humans have started an experiment. They say: We want to see if we can gather 30,000 bloggers to act as a single voice for one moment in time. We want to see if such a thing is possible, and if so just how loud we can get. Think Horton Hears a Who.

I'm curious to see if they can do it, too. If you'd like to be part of the experiment here’s how it works:

1. Send an email to brian@bravehumans.com with the subject: Yop!
2. In the body of the email list the name of your weblog, and the URL.
3. Your weblog will be added to the list of participating weblogs.
4. Tell your friends who blog about it, and urge them to send in their weblog as well.
5. When the list reaches 30,000, a date and a word will be listed on the page. On that date, every weblog on the list agrees to make a single post with the word as the title. The content of the post should be about what you want for the world, whatever that may be. The purpose is not to make a particular political statement, but simply to make a noise. If 30,000 weblogs all post the same unusual word, it WILL be heard.

Have you ever wanted to shout to the world? Here’s your chance.

My idealism ("Yes, let's see what we can do if we pull together!") is at odds with my cynicism ("Oh, some asshole or group of assholes is going to try to sabotage this before it ever gets off the ground...") but nothing happens if you don't try. So, I'm in. Come join in and "Yop!" with us.

Labels: ,


Experiences in telephone polls

I took part in a telephone poll last night. Not very far into the poll, I was appalled at how slanted, leading, or nonsensical many of the questions were. First I was asked what I felt the two top issues facing Washington state are. I answered transportation and education, which isn't quite fair as I'm not sure if those are big issues across all of Washington. They're certainly top of the list issues for me, and at least getting some serious attention along the i-5 corridor.

After this I was asked a series of straight-forward questions: Did I feel that the number of lawsuits in Washington was a problem? Did I think the warranty period on new construction should be extended to ten years? Several of the questions asked me if I would favor or oppose legislation based on little more than their telling me the basic premise of the bill ("This legislation would expand the definition of disability, would you favor or oppose?" or "The proposed legislation would redefine who could sue for damages in a wrongful death case, would you favor or oppose?") and several times I objected that I couldn't possible tell whether I favored or opposed based on those questions! Expands the definition of disability to include what? Redefines who can sue for wrongful death...to what, for whom?

After the first step the poll really got "in depth" with a bunch of seriously leading questions that made me think push poll ala the infamous John McCain "Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" push poll from the 2000 elections. Lots of questions like "If you knew that this legislation would increase prices for homebuilders that would be passed on to consumers, cause job loss, and increase lawsuits would you favor or oppose?" and they were increasingly hysterical. I swear, a few times I thought they were going to go all the way with "...and cause the apocalypse!" More than once I asked if there was an option for "we're screwed either way" because either we can't demand accountability from people who are building our faulty homes, causing wrongful deaths or discriminating against us in the workplace, or we get the right to sue and make the people in power live up to their obligations only to have them pass the costs down to us in the form of fees, mandatory "insurance" (always paying in, we should never expect to take out) and other complete BS. Not that I have opinions on some of this stuff or anything... The question about how I would feel if I knew that the proposed legislation would overturn several state supreme court rulings was also nonsense. That's part of the process: the legislature passes a law that they want to accomplish X thing. Cases come up challenging the law, the courts determine that the law does or does not accomplish X. If the court says it accomplishes something other than X and what the legislature wants is X, they're going to enact a new law to try and get X. They might as well have asked "If you knew this legislation would use the democratic process as set forth in the state constitution, would you favor or oppose it?" Nonsense.

Several times I was intentionally contrary with my answers when it was just too obvious what response they were trying to provoke. "If you knew this legislation would bring about the apocalypse, would you favor or oppose?" is such a bullshit question! If I knew it? If it was irrefutably true? I'd oppose, just like they know any sane person would. Of course, I don't "know" that their statement is true and in many cases I believe it's definitely UNtrue. How do you answer something like that?

After nearly 20 minutes on the phone the poll ended by asking me to rank how trustworthy I would find the following sources (including our governor Christine Gregoire, and some Alliance for Fairness and Accountability... not their real name but some equally inane group name I'd never heard before) and did I agree or disagree with several statements like "I oppose frivolous lawsuits." By this time I wasn't bothering to hide the fact that I was laughing out loud at this poll.

Of course the people conducting the poll are just middlemen, handed the poll and questions from a client. I asked who the poll was being conducted for and they couldn't tell me, insisting that they don't know themselves (so they can't bias the answers).


La Belle et la Bęte

We have Rosie the Dog as a house guest again this weekend. Kate is very happy about this and has been showering the sweet canine girl with attention. One small mishap: Kate left a ziplock bag that had previously contained leftover pizza out where Rosie could get it and this morning I came downstairs to a very guilty-looking dog and shredded plastic. I love that dogs have a conscience and the decency to be ashamed of themselves when they're bad. The first day Rosie was here, Bonnie was very out of sorts, running around the room upstairs thumping her foot repeatedly even though Rosie never got closer than the hallway outside of Kate's room. Her little bunny danger sense was tingling, I guess.

At John and Jenny's invitation, and after another great dinner at Panos Kleftiko, we took Kate out to see Jean Cocteau's 1946 film of Beauty and the Beast last night at the new SIFF Cinema at Seattle Center last night. Black and white French film, subtitled. Really interesting movie (if you like that sort of thing, which I do). Amazing make-up and costuming, especially for the time. I told Kate she was getting some culture. Heh. Some of the subtitles moved a little fast for her but basically it was alright and she enjoyed herself. I have to say, now the talking furniture and dancing candlesticks of the Disney film make more sense.

It was also a notable evening because it marked the first time Kate has willingly, enthusiastically brought a book she was reading along to entertain herself while the adults talked at dinner or on the bus ride. She's deep into The Westing Game which she got for Christmas from Hal. Kate's loving it.

We didn't get home and to bed until after 1:00am, so we slept in this morning and then lazed around eating pumpkin pancakes and bacon. This afternoon while Pramas was out giving Spirit of the Century a spin, I took Kate out to run errands. I've restocked the fridge and have ingredients on hand for Spicy Honey-Brushed Chicken Thighs, Superfast Kefta, Roasted Cauliflower with Brown Butter, Scallop Chowder, Avgolemono, and Sweet Potato, Sausage, and Kale Soup. I'll be sure to report back if there's anything among those recipes worth adding to my recipe pages. I've also got some salad and sandwich fixings for lunch as I've been relying entirely too much on canned ravioli to get me through the day.

Nice weekend so far. Now, Viva Pińata!

Labels: , ,


Alaska Way Viaduct

I've received my ballot for a mail-in vote on the issue of Seattle's Alaska Way viaduct and I have to admit that I'm befuddled.

Here's the situation as I understand it so far: The Alaska Way viaduct is a major north-south thoroughfare for Seattle, an elevated section of Washington State Route 99 that carries over 100,000 vehicles per day. It was damaged in the 2001 earthquake, forcing the issue of its removal or replacement. The argument about how to "fix" the viaduct situation has been going on for six years and in two week voters are being asked to vote on two options, but only as "Advisory Ballot Measures" which we're reminded repeatedly are "advisory only" (bringing to mind the FOUR pro-monorail votes that never resulted in any actual transit improvements, or the vote against funding a new sports stadium that resulted in the state legislature finding a way to go ahead with the plan without voter approval). The two plans on the ballot are the "surface-tunnel hybrid alternative" and the "elevated structure alternative".

Now, under either of these plans, the current viaduct comes down and traffic goes...somewhere...while tunnels or new elevated structures are built. They're predicting three years for the construction but having seen the construction surrounding the light rail project near my house, I know better than to believe that. They always undersell these things. More like five or six years of those 100,000 cars a day moving...somewhere...during construction.

I'm not a commute driver. Chris and I already use transit and Flexcar. I don't live near the waterfront and, frankly, I don't much care about waterfront condo views or how "noisy" the highway is. Having just been to New York, and seen the gridlocked surface streets and the constant angry horn honking, anyone who thinks that removing the viaduct and pushing those vehicles onto Seattle's surface streets is going to make the "noise" go away is living in a fantasy world.

When I look at the options, I can't get behind any of them. Seattle's roads are a mess but even people like me who really want to go transit have a hell of a time doing it because the bus system is unreliable. I can't count the number of times I've waited for a bus that is only scheduled to come every 30 minutes only to have it just flat out not show up at all. Late at night the buses stop running altogether or run once an hour while you wait out in the cold, dark, and rain. No, this is no New York. To the people arguing for tunnels along the waterfront I say "Big Dig". Surely I'm not the only person out here skeptical about digging a transit tunnel for car traffic in an area where flooding and earthquakes are a concern? Hell, we can't even get these guys to build a new bridge across the lake to the east side, and they want to talk tunnels? On the other hand, the proponents for the new elevated structure would build something that they're projecting would take between 10 and 12 years to complete and would be 75% larger than the current structure. Even if their claims that such a structure could be built so we're not at risk of having a collapse ala the Cypress Street Viaduct during the Loma Prieta earthquake in California in 1989, we're talking about a decade of moving that traffic...somewhere...during construction. At that point, after the viaduct has been closed for a decade and we've (hopefully) begun to address all the environmental issues involving cars, oil dependence, and climate change that we've been strictly ignoring thus far, why bother re-issuing the invitation to increase automobile traffic? When the solution to a problem that's been dragging on for six years already is "Fifteen years from now we'll have a nice new elevated structure," it makes me want to throw my hands up.

I would like to see Seattle improve its mass transit infrastructure. I think the light rail, if it's actually completed and running in 2009 as they're saying, is a good start but it needs to be expanded greatly no matter what happens with the viaduct. I don't think making the viaduct disappear is going to magically "bring the people closer to their waterfront" or improve low-income housing opportunities (yes, I've actually heard that one!). I think "redevelopment" of the viaduct area has condo builders slavering at the chance to build more condos (with views!) that they can sell to people who don't flinch at dropping half a mil on a shoe box overlooking the sound. Removing the viaduct isn't going to help the average working citizen of Seattle in his daily life. Something has to be done but I don't have any faith in these proposals or the people pushing them.

Labels: , ,


Katz's Deli

Pastrami close-up
Originally uploaded by Nikchick.
Look at that pastrami! Just look at it...Tell me that doesn't totally kick the ass of Carnegie Deli's thinner, fattier pastrami. So hot, so juicy...

On our final afternoon in New York we stayed in the room for absolutely as long as they would let us and then checked our bags and hopped the F Train to the Lower East Side so we could get ourselves some Katz's. Some matzo ball soup, a potato knish, and a couple of sandwiches later we were two happy campers. Katz's treated us right, as always.

With a couple of hours to kill, we took a stroll through Chris's old haunts and saw the staggering amount of gentrification. We hit ABC No Rio and talked with Steve Englander about the plans they have for the place since winning their fight with the city. Even in the few relatively short years since the last time I was back to the neighborhood I can see the incredible difference, with twee little boutiques selling frilly lady things and expensive shoes and the various frat-boy-magnet bars and upscale restaurants pushing right up against places like ABC. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like for Chris to see how things have changed since he first started going to punk rock shows there, what, twenty years ago?

After ABC we strolled over to Porto Rico for some of their Brazilian espresso beans. I've found nothing like them here in Seattle (especially in our neighborhood, which is criminally under-served in the coffee house/espresso bar category) and we walked away with two pounds of coffee to bring home, at cheaper than Seattle prices to boot. As Chris said, say what I will about NYC, it's not completely without its boons.

A walk past NYU, a stroll through the snowy and strangely vacant Washington Square Park, a brief stop at a Starbucks so I could pee and we headed back to the New Yorker to pick up our bags and catch our shuttle. An ungodly long time later (squeezed into the van with eight other passengers and a small mountain of luggage for two hours and with a ride through Queens during rush hour) we arrived at JFK and finally headed for home. I was still full of Katz's perfection of pastrami, though if there'd been a Junior's Cheesecake outlet in our terminal I probably could have done my duty and had a piece... in tribute... for science. I boarded the plane with the line from Soul Coughing still ringing in my head: And you can stand on the arms of the Williamsburg Bridge / Crying hey man, well this is Babylon

Labels: ,