Saturday, December 31, 2005

Favorite Four (meme)

Before I head off to make spankopita for a dinner we're attending this evening, here's a meme via Music and Cats.


Four jobs I’ve had in my life:

  • breakfast waitress in a Greek restaurant on Cape Cod
  • researcher for a study of Project Head Start
  • investigative reporter
  • web content producer for an e-greetings website
Four movies I could watch over and over:
  • Moonstruck
  • Amacord
  • Duck Soup
  • The Big Lebowski
Four places I’ve lived:
  • Falls Church, VA
  • New Haven, CT
  • Genoa, Italy
  • Seattle, WA
Four TV shows I love to watch:
  • Tripping the Rift
  • Firefly
  • Nero Wolfe
  • Six Feet Under
Four websites I visit daily:
  • eBay
  • Amazon
  • VersionTracker
  • Craigslist
Four of my favorite foods:
  • chopped liver
  • lobster
  • lahmejun
  • farinata
Four places I’d rather be:
  • on a Holland-America cruise of the tropics
  • Roma
  • at a dance camp
  • at a game party
Four albums I love:
  • "We've Got a Live One Here" - Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen
  • "Swing '39" - Quintet of the Hot Club of France
  • "All Old Friends" - Stacy Phillips
  • "Old and in the Way" - Old and In the Way
If you post your version of this meme on your blog, please put the link in comments or send it to mysterioustraveler (at) gmail.com

What's the "consumerist"?

The Consumerist is part of the new and rapidly growing genre of semi-commerical blogs. It's run by a freelance technology writer in New York, and appears to have several contributors. This blog version of a consumer magazine is not to be confused with the non-profit owned Consumer Reports, which has testing labs, scientific underpinnings, and a lot of lawyers.

The Consumerist is taking a purely journalistic approach, gathering consumer-relevant stories from all over the web, and offering links to sites for irate consumers who want to strike back.

At the moment, it's an odd mixture of tips on the hot online sales of the day (Amazon's Friday specials, free shipping at Zappo's) with snarky gossip (about Overstock.com's CEO, and the Catholic Church vs. an artist who draped a statue of the virgin in latex).

Well, I've often bemoaned the hopelessly drab, finger-wagging style of Consumer Reports (which likes to save us money on canned soup and, in the last year or two, finally decided that iMac and iBooks were not necessarily a complete waste of money). The Consumerist, with it's "yo, dude" in-your-face style, is certainly the antidote to that! Though I don't think I'm going to be getting my car-buying advice from them any time soon.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Holiday gifts

A huge "thank you" for all the wonderful Christmas and Hanukkah gifts and holiday hospitality.

We went to some lovely little parties at friends' homes, were wined and dined, saw old friends, and met new ones. Got to see Sally flame not one, but two, homemade Christmas puddings on Boxing Day.

I worked this week, so am just now going through my basket of goodies, most of which have a tag attached so I can thank the giver. The only two mystery gifts are the bottle of ice wine and the box of truffles that arrived with visitors. Thank you, whoever you are!

Zorg said he had a gift for me that I really wanted, but had forgotten that I wanted. And he was right: He gave me a box full of videos, each one a version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Last year we'd watched the Muppet version, and I'd wondered about all the interpretations on film. My stash now includes the 1933 version with Sir Seymour Hicks as Scrooge; the venerated 1951 classic with Alasair Sim, the 1970 Scrooge (Albert Finney); the 1999 version with Patrick Stewart; Bill Murray in "Scrooged"; animations from Mr. Maggoo, the Muppets, and Dr. Suess (Boris Karloff narration), along with one very generic version; and Vanessa Williams' "Diva's Christmas Carol."

Excluding obscure silent film versions (there are many), all I am missing now is George C. Scott (1984 - TV), the 2004 TV version with Kelsey Grammer, the 1938 version with Reginald Owen, the 1971 animation (with Alastair Sim doing the Scrooge voice!); the 1997 animal with Tim Curry and Whoopi Goldberg; a 2000 British TV version that has gotten some good reviews; a 1977 British TV version; the 2004 Italian version (Natale a Casa Deejay); a 1982 TV version narrated by John Gielgud; a 1970 TV animation directed by Zoran Janjic; a 1994 ballet version shown on A&E (one "Christmas Carol completist" notes that the ghost of Christmas Past is "unavoidably slender"); the 1953 version shown on the Kraft Television Theatre; a 1950 British TV version starring Bransby Williams; a 1943 TV version with William Podmore as Scrooge; a 1947 TV version starring John Carradine and Eva Marie Saint (keep in mind that not many people owned TVs in the 1940s); a 1949 TV version with Vincent Price as the narrator (now we are talking the inevitable!); and an obscure 1981 TV version with William Paterson.

There are also adaptions such as the 1964 anti-war special "Carol for Another Christmas"; a 1971 animation with, yet again, Alastair Sim; the New England version, "An American Christmas Carol"; a 2000 TV version with Ross Kemp; the Walter Mattau-voiced animation "The Stingiest Man in Town" (1978 - TV); a (mostly) animation with voices by Simon Callow, Cate Winslet, Nicholas Cage, and Michael Gambon ("Christmas Carol: The Movie" 2001); a 1984 French TV version with Michel Bouquet; "Ms Scrooge" with Cicely Tyson (1997 TV); a 1979 Country music version with Hoyt Axton; a 1978 Canadian TV version with Warren Graves; the 1964 Canadian TV "Mr. Scrooge"; and Rich Little's one-man "A Christmas Carol" for the BBC (1982).

Not to mention the obligatory TV show episodes from Blackadder, the Jetsons, Futurama (with a Tinny Tim robot), the Simpsons (with Mr. Burns as Scrooge), and oh so many more.

God bless us.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Fortified cereal

My day started with a furry toy mouse atop my bowl of Cheerios, and now I find myself looking at everything very closely before I interact with it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Tea party

The Boston Tea Party commemorates a gathering at which people threw a lot of tea overboard; my annual tea party does much the same thing, though for completely different reasons. I compare all the black teas that have accumulated in the cupboard and throw the disappointing ones out.

The standard for the taste test is Yorkshire Gold, a blend of Assam, African, and Sri Lankan (Ceylon) teas made by Taylors of Harrogate. I buy Yorkshire Gold from the online vendor Blue Moon Tea. Blue Moon's prices are some of the best online, and shipping to Seattle is speedy. (However, the Blue Moon site requires Internet Explorer for full access to drop-down menus.) Another fabulous site for Yorkshire Gold and other Yorkshire teas, including Yorkshire Hard Water tea, is Sarah Woods.

It appears I'm not the only Yorkshire Gold fanatic around. Check out the site of Wallingford Bicycle Parts (named after its original home in Seattle, but now in New Orleans). In addition to saddles, pumps, tools and supplies, you can ordered their favorite Yorkshire Red or Yorkshire Gold!

Here are this year's tea party results:

Top marks: Stash English Breakfast and Tazo Awake

Honorable mention: Twinings Irish breakfast (complex with smokey overtones) and Walters Bay & Co. Pure Ceylon (bright and complex).

Failed in the testing (bitter, monotonous): Swee-touch-nee, Typhoo, Red Rose, and Murchie's Keemun.

I'll stand by my top choices. However, a low rating in the test may reflect old tea or a bad batch of tea. I'm always willing to give a brand a second chance!

If you like to rant and rave about tea, this site is for you!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Mugging as a political act

Blogger and writer Clark Humphrey, who tangled with muggers in Belltown last week (fighting them off with the help the local UPS driver), waxes astonishingly philosophical about it:
I also can't stop thinking of the thieves, not as the opposite-race subhumans the conservatives would claim to protect me from, but as right-wingers without resources. These dorks wanted to take my stuff for no good reason, offering nothing in return, just because they believed they had the power to do so.

Dilbert, the blog

As someone who makes a living writing and editing, I'm intrigued by individual writers' styles. Cartoonist, essayist, and now blogger Scott Adams ("Dilbert") is what I think of as a home run hitter. Like technology columnist Andy Ihnatko, he swings hard at everything and misses about two-thirds of the time. But when he connects, you stand there goggling for a few minutes, then jump up and cheer madly. "This guy is a genius," you think, immediately forgetting that his last two columns left you scratching your head.

Adams, who is absolutely fearless about offending people, did a terrific blog entry that begins as seemingly offhand musings about disliking contemporary Christmas rituals and winds up as a neat little indictment of religious terrorists.

My own style? Utility infield player.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Mysterious Christmas

Games with Mystical Forest, True Unicorness, and friends...Scandinavian Christmas Eve music party at Anita's...phone calls with my mom and with Nina and Mike...Chinese dinner with Zorg at Hakka Cuisine...lots of kitty cuddles...and listening to the brilliant "Scrooge" monologue from Lord Buckley (Old St. Hip). Another lovely Christmas at the Shady Rest!

Happy Hanukkah

Friday, December 23, 2005

Holiday season

Check that spud

Making scalloped potatoes and ham for your Yuletime Swedish buffet? Or latkes for Hanukkah?

Don't reach for the wrong potato.

Scalloped potatoes require waxy, low-starch, small round red or white potatoes, or Yellow Finns. All these will hold their shape after nearly two hours baking the casserole.

Quick-frying latkes, on the other hand, call for high-starch russet potatoes (with those dark thick skins, the classic baking potato) or the Yukon Gold. These will yield a light, fluffy latke (if you could call a latke "light").

Thanks to the Cook's Thesaurus for the useful, and photo-illustrated, guide.

I can hardly wait for 2006!

My mother once accused me of moving (house to house, job to job) for the fun of it. She was right: I love change.

Part of me likes planning for it, but another part of me just likes sweeping away existing structures, and strictures, and seeing what appears on the empty stage, or what I'm inspired to place on it.

It's my deepest hope that 2006 will be a year of bold and exciting new enterprises and new perspective on existing ones. For the past few years, my "big excitement" has been designing things like kitchens and patios and hiring someone else to build them. Now it's time to design bigger things, and build them myself.

Watch this space in 2006.

Friday catblogging, sports edition

Kaylee, the smaller of the two Stripe Sisters, often spends two or three hours in the morning playing her feline version of handball. She goes down to the bottom of the basement stairs, where two doors and a wall form three sides of her court and the open-riser staircase is the fourth. Then she smacks a rabbit-fur mouse around.


Her big sister, Zoe -- best described as "highly energy-conservative" -- sometimes flops at the top the stairs to observe this workout. She looks like a couch potato watching Venus Williams on TV.

Like a pro, Kaylee is very picky about her equipment. Forget synthetic mice: She insists on the authentic rabbit-fur wrapped rodent, with the hard cork core that makes a swatted mouse bounce so wonderfully and renders it light enough to be flung high into the air.

A few weeks ago, Kaylee started a warm-up routine in which she would bring a mouse into the bathroom while I was showering and place it on the bathmat. I noticed that if I tossed the mouse out the door, she'd bring it back and place it on the mat again. Hmmmm....

It took only a few days for me to train her to fetch -- and for her to train me to throw.

That's how the trouble started.

Kaylee's favorite part of her workout is the beginning, where she sends the mouse tumbling down the stairs into the court and races madly after it. Now she's decided this is much more fun if I throw the mouse for her to chase. When they both reach the bottom of the stairs, she retrieves the mouse and dashes back up with it so we can do it some more. I scratch her back and fuss over her, then toss the mouse, and she's off again. Cute. At least the first couple times.

Unfortunately, Kaylee now expects me to play this game with her for several hours at a stretch. If I wander off and get distracted by something like work, she comes and scratches on my office door to call me back to the playing field. "Coach! Coach!"

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Signs of the season (blog style)

As the holidays approach, the "recent keyword activity" -- hits on my blog from particular searches -- reflects the season. Today's hits include:

"brandied pears" "kugelhopf pan" "bundt cake mix" "mincemeat" and "lord buckley's Christmas carol"

Betcha Dec. 24 and 25 see plenty of hits on the entry about the bizarre codes that Kitchenaid electric stoves return when their ovens automatically shut off in the middle of cooking your holiday feast.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The gifts of blog

The Seattle Weblogger Meetup featured holiday gifts from organizer Anita and from Jake of 8BitJoystick -- not surprisingly, game, music, and movie DVDs predominated! I got some real goodies, one of which will make a hilarious stocking stuffer for Zorg.

As usual, many interesting topics, including the Ghost in the Shell movies based on the manga by Masamune Shirow. Clark Humphrey told me a little about the process for creating his latest book, the ebook Take Control of Digital TV.

Anita reminded me that Potlatch 15, this year's West Coast SF convention, is in Seattle Feb 24-26 at the Westin. See you there?

Say it with coffee

Pointed out by John Hedtke, this gallery of barista art.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Extreme Christmas

Terra-caching is out, parkour is in. Even for Santa.

Wired underwear

The Cult of Mac blog has discovered iPod underwear. But it turns out to be men's boxers, with a little hip pocket. Hey, what about an iPod bra? That would be a whole new meaning for "underwire."

(There is a concept for the iPod bra, but when you see the design, you'll know immediately that a man designed it and why no woman would ever wear it. Scroll wheel, indeed!)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Revels

No, "The Revels" is not the name of a new TV show or British pop group.

However, the Revels, which Zorg and I attended today in Tacoma's Rialto Theater, is not easy to explain. If any of what follows piques your interest, you might want to attend one of the performances Tuesday or Wednesday evening (tickets available online) and see for yourself.

The Revels is a Solstice celebration performance grounded in Celtic tradition. It was created in 1971 by a group in Cambridge, MA, and has since taken root in eight other urban areas in the US, including The Puget Sound Revels, based in Tacoma.

Each city's Revels does its own programming, but I gather that most of them follow the tradition of changing the era and the setting of the Revels each year. This year the Puget Sound Revels is set in Elizabethan England, with a humorous and charming plot involving Shakespearian actor Will Kemp and Queen Elizabeth.

What makes the Revels particularly difficult to describe is that each of the songs, dances, and sketches it comprises is of keen significance to aficionados of English folk traditions, but pretty much obscure to anyone outside those traditions.

I realized this when, as we were leaving the theater, Zorg said he'd enjoyed the show but could have done without the monotonous dance, performed in near darkness, by shadowy figures wielding antlers. For much of the dance, they'd simply plodded in a circle, breaking the formation twice to create opposing lines and solemnly clash antlers.

"Good grief, that was the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance!" I shrieked. "I've waited 20 years to see that done!" What was monotonous and dim to him had been mystical and enchanting to me, because I know quite a bit about English folk dancing and the 20th century folk dance revival that rescued the traditions from near extinction. The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, first described in writings in 1226 (that is not a typo), is still performed by a particular family in Abbots Bromley using a set of horns that include antlers that have been carbon-dated to the 11th century. If you go to Abbots Bromley on Wakes Monday in September, you can see the six Deer-men, a Fool, a Hobby Horse, a Boy Hunter, and the Man-Woman (Maid Marion) dancing to this haunting tune.

The Revels program summarized Abbots Bromley in a sentence or two, providing little context for the outsider. Similarly, only one of the songs performed ("Lord of Dance") would be familiar to a general audience. With material this obscure, the Revels must depend on theatrical and musical talent to reach beyond the cognoscenti. While the Puget Sound troup offers superb musicians (both brass and strings) and some notable singers, the staging and lighting are undistinguished and the acting (though delightful in the "King George and the Dragon" vignette), uneven.

By involving the audience in the singing of rounds, bringing performers in along the aisles of the theater, and having several actors address the audience directly, the company makes it very clear that the Revels aims to create a sense of community. But, at least at the performance I attended, the audience, while willing, simply isn't equipped to play its part.

I'd be curious to see how the magic happens for the Revels in other cities. In the meantime, I'd recommend the Puget Sound Revels as very special holiday treat for those of you already drawn to Celtic traditions and solstice celebration.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Melting chocolate on a Wolf stove

Chocolate melts at 109 degrees Farenheit (43 degrees Centigrade). I know this because two years ago Zorg dabbled in truffle-making as a hobby and melting the chocolate turned out to be the most challenging part of the process (right up there with potential cacao overdose).

Chocolate is frustrating to melt and maintain at a melted consistency. The process, with the slightly ironic technical name of "tempering," usually requires a double-boiler and some vigilence. Microwave melting can result in a hideous grainy glob of ruined chocolate. Zorg, not the most patient of chocolatiers, looked into chocolate melters, which at the time were limited to professional models of prohibitive cost — hundreds of dollars. (There is now a home model for $30, but reviewers on Amazon rate it as better for simple melting of commerial dipping products than for tempering of chocolate for serious candy-making)

Fortunately, early in his truffle-making phase, Zorg located an electric "crock pot" cooker that had a temperature control and, at the very lowest setting, was able to melt chocolate without burning.

This weekend we've been doing a small truffle project as a Christmas gift for a friend. Last night I made a ganache truffle filling out of raspberry syrup (made from the friend's backyard raspberry crop), sugar, heavy cream, butter, and bittersweet chocolate. Today Zorg chopped dark chocolate to melt for the couverture (truffle exterior). He was headed off to the pantry to fetch the crock pot, but I was determined to try melting the chocolate on the Wolf stove. Would the Wolf reveal yet another amazing capability?

We put the chopped chocolate into a plain Revereware pot and I set the burner to "simmer." In 10 minutes, we had lovely, satiny tempered chocolate. I later dug around in some Google results and discovered that indeed, the "simmer" setting on a Wolf burner is perfect for melting chocolate. Causing me to observe that I now love my Wolf as much as I love my Mac.

I was scooping the ganache fillings with a melon ball tool, dipping it in hot water and drying it between each scoop. Apparently I didn't dry the tool well enough, and a small amount of water from the ganache balls got into the melted couverture as Zorg was doing the coating, causing the pot of melted chocolate to "seize." That looks nearly as scary as it sounds: grainy, uncooperative, dull chocolate. I dashed to Zorg's truffle notebook and found directions for reversing a seize: You add a small amount of butter or heavy cream and whisk, whisk, whisk over the heat. It worked, and we were able to get a yield of 43 really gorgeous truffles. Most of them go to our friend for Christmas, but we are saving just a few, including a pair for our friend John, the fellow who taught us how to make truffles.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Take control of something

What will they write next? The publishers of the Take Control ebook series on computers and the internet are expanding to non-technical topics. Vote for the book topics you'd like to see, or suggest a topic of your own.

Highly recommended: Take Control of Podcasting on the Mac

Monday, December 12, 2005

Adding ads

A couple months back I added Google AdSense ads to my blog. Apparently they haven't offended anyone yet, and I am enjoying watching how the AdSense program tailors the ads to my blog content. If I write about food, I get lots of ads for recipe sites; if I write about travel, travel sites; cats, pet sites, etc.

Today the ads are one big long banner for Shopzilla.com, the bargain-finding site. I'm impressed; AdSense has definitely got my number. This has got to be the most appropriate sponsor for The Mysterious Traveler Sets Out. Perhaps I should retitle it: The Mysterious Traveler Sets Out on a Shopping Trip.

I just noticed that the Shopzilla ad even has moving elements (the burning shopping cart racing around). Wonder of wonders.

Just checking in

I missed Sunday completely because I woke up exhausted, with a mild migraine, and stayed that way all day. It was extremely weird, being so tired I could hardly speak. The cats enjoyed lolling around on the bed with me all day; all I have is a vague memory of the sun being bright, the sun going down, and, then, it being dark.

Today it was as if I were emerging from a fog. I got progressively better, and by late afternoon I was my usual self. When I went to the chiropractor this evening, he commented that he wasn't surprised I'd had a migraine, based on something about my back. But I suspect that it was my annual winter migraine, something I associate with atmospheric pressure changes on the first really bright, cold day of winter. Let's hope so. I'd like to wait at least a year before I go through that again!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Fractal food

A little something for the Geeks: Fractal Food (thanks to Music and Cats for the tip).

A book for a heavily reinforced coffee table

When a book weighs twice what it looks like it should, and has a dust jacket that looks like a museum-quality photo, chances are you're dealing with top quality paper and photo reproduction.

That's part of why I lugged the coffee table cook Culinaria: The United States home from a thrift shop for $7. The other reason is that it's all about one of my favorite subjects, American regional cookery.

The photos are, indeed, gorgeous. And the writing's not bad, either. Plus, there are some unusual recipes. A check of the book on Amazon reveals that it's out of print, and selling for between $47 and $89 used. Yikes. I'll be headed over to the thrift shop this weekend to donate several brand new hardcover mystery novels. That was just too much of a bargain.

Sugar-coating the (cat) pill

Our elderly fussbudget cat, Betaille, has to take metronidazole for 10 days. I couldn't figure out why she was fighting me like a wildcat when I tried to pill her until I looked up metronidazole and discovered that it's Flagyl, one of the bitterest tasting medications around.

We give the cat only 1/4 pill once or twice a day, but the quarter pills are crumbly and thus even more noxious than whole pills. The taste is so unpleasant that there is no possibility of disguising it in cat food.

I did some research online and discovered a webpage about the metronidazole adminstration problem. It was written by a compounding pharmacy in the Midwest that will put the quarter pills into gel capsules for you.

That's when I decided to try to create my own gel capsules for Betaille.

First I tried rolling the quarter pill in margarine. That was pretty funny. It was impossible for me to keep the pill in her mouth long enough to get her to swallow it. It kept sticking to her tongue and then slipping sideways out of her gnashing jaws. I couldn't hold her mouth shut because her muzzle, and my hands, were covered in margarine. Betaille would have been traumatized by the ordeal, except she was distracted by licking off all the margarine afterward.

Then, while cleaning up some drops of honey that had dried on the counter after I'd been baking fruitcakes, I came up with an alternate solution: Roll the quarter pill in honey and let the little coated ball dry in a warm place overnight. This resulted in a coated pill with a sort of a jelly-belly texture. Concerned this might stick, I then rolled the tiny "gel pill" in regular sugar until it was completely coated and dry to the touch.

I grabbed Betaille in the middle of her lunch and popped the sugared pill into her mouth. She swallowed, and I plopped her back in front of her food dish. Even she seemed surprised at how easy it was.

BTW, it is safe to give honey to a full-grown cat, at least in this tiny amount and for a short period of time — unless the cat is diabetic.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bourbon spice cakes

Inspired by John Hedtke's industrious program of holiday baking, I went into the kitchen tonight and whipped up a batch of miniature bourbon spice cakes. I realized once again that after three holiday seasons of increasingly disheartening experiences with our previous stove, it really is safe to bake again. I'll know for sure at 11 p.m. when the little cakes (they bake slowly, at 275 F) are done.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Anarchy. It isn't well organized.

Click on Dec. 10 at Exploit Seattle (an events site, less ominous than it sounds) and you'll see some sketchy information about the local manifestation of Santarchy, a gathering of lots of Santas. Apparently it's scheduled to begin at noon Saturday at the Ballard Smoke Shop, 5439 Ballard Ave., and end at the Burning Man planning office, 500 Boren Ave. N., sometime later on.

What will the Santas do? Will they progress from Ballard to downtown on foot, by bus, or by sleigh? I guess we'll just have to go there to find out. The event is part of the general bustle that will culminate in the monthly Ballard Art Walk Saturday evening.

Next year, sudoku

The New Oxford American dictionary has announced its word of the year for 2005: "Podcast." That's slightly less of an honor when you realize that the runners up included "bird flu," "persistent vegetative state," and "trans fat." Others in the running were emerging words such as "reggaeton," "squick," and "sudoku." Start now to sprinkle these phrases into your next conversation...or podcast.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Imagine that!

A gem of a thrift shop has appeared at 7739 24th Avenue NW in Ballard/Crown Hill. Imagine That! is on the west side of the street, just north of Soprano's Pizza (follow the garlic).

I don't want to give away too about the place, so I'll just provide some hints. It's a small shop, jam-packed with goodies. It has an unusal mix of clientele. The women in charge are delightful. Everything they have is of very good quality and in good condition, with styles that vary from vintage to square to Pottery Barn trendy. Even though Imagine That! is a tight fit, they seem to welcome moms with reasonably well-behaved tots. The shop is lovingly arranged, and new items are always appearing.

While only a small percentage of their stock appeals to me, the things that do are real finds, because the prices are so very reasonable. Very.

Check it out. You might come away with the spectacular stainless steel heated chafing dish (round) with the vertical stand for the glass lid -- just $35. Unless I dash up there at lunchtime tomorrow and snag it myself! (Hint: If you're a size 8, there's a black jacket with a faux leopard collar that's to die for.)

Help from Blogger Forum

Since the folks at Blogger never acknowledged the problem with their servers today, I was forced to hunt out information at Blogger Forum. It's a great site; it covers all types of blog hosting and blogging software. The folks who publish to Blogger were discussing the outage; some felt that Blogger had been remiss in failing to acknowledge a problem with servers at their end (in their defense, I noticed that at least one of their member info sites, buzz.blogger.com, seemed to be down as well). Others on the board said that since Blogger is a free hosting site, we were getting what we paid for. I don't think it's quite that simple, in part because before Blogger was acquired by Google, I had paid for BloggerPlus service. And now my blog hosts Google AdSense ads.

One participant in the forum mentioned that in the 15 months that he's been using Blogger, this is the first unplanned outage they've had. That's been my experience as well. At any rate, we're up and running...

Testing, testing

The blogger site went haywire today and "published" one of my posts...into the ozone. This is a test to see if publishing stability has resumed.

When Zorg's away

...the cats know it.

Zorg went out of town for a couple days, and the cats immediately shifted into one-owner formation. Betaille came inside for the night and slept on (rather than under) the bed. Zoe, who usually yowls annoyingly at 6 a.m to remind Zorg that it's time to get up and let her out, didn't say a word, and waited for me to get up at 8.

I love the way the cats learn to shift back and forth between different "modes." Sheba can tell the difference between weekends and weekdays. A few months back her calendar got off, and after I ate breakfast she waited, with obvious impatience, at the door of my office under the impression we were about to start our usual "workday" together — with her snoozing behind the computer and me typing away in front of it.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Volterra exceeds expectations

This evening Zorg and I dined at Volterra, a Northern Italian restaurant that opened in Ballard earlier this year and has received high praise from the local foodies. It's not for everybody; many of the diners who left comments about Volterra on CitySearch seemed put off by the lack of familiar Southern Italian dishes featured in the couple hundred other Italian-style restaurants in King County.

Zorg and I have quite different culinary backgrounds and interests, but we both found Volterra's take on Italian impressive and tasty.

We began with two of the house special cocktails. Mine featured a homemade limoncello (lemon peel liquor). It was quite smooth and well balanced. Zorg had an espresso martini; too sweet for my taste, but he liked it. Next time I want to try the grapefruit negroni.

The appetizers and salads were small, tasty and inexpensive (about $7 each). I had wild boar proscuitto on a bed of greens, followed by a little salad of greens, sliced roasted beets, and sliced grana parmesan. Perfect! Zorg had the special of the evening, veal-stuffed calamari in a light tomato sauce. The big calamari tubes were as tender as a rigatoni, and the stuffing was complex and interesting.

The main courses were substantial. Zorg chose one of the specials, wide noodles with ragu. It was one of the best ragu sauces I've ever tasted. I had lobster ravioli in a lobster sauce. The ravioli were stuffed with big chunks of succulent lobster. The lobster sauce, with cream and tomatoes, wasn't quite on target, however. Again, both dishes were reasonably priced at about $18 each, and we took quite a bit home with us in boxes. Desserts at Volterra are intense; I had a panna cotta with an extremely fragrant floral honey and fresh strawberries. Zorg went for a semi-freddo, two flavors, with a flavored whipped cream. The combination was decidedly heady, more to his taste than mine.

Volterra's unerring selection of top-flight ingredients, from the tender greens to the out-of-season strawberries, allows them to cook up dishes with vivid and complex flavors -- without covering dishes in overpowering garlic sauces or tsunamis of dark green olive oil that leave you feeling hung over the next day.

OK, so we completely overdid it. The next time I go back, I'll likely stick with a cocktail, appetizer and salad -- in part because those were the most interesting offerings. I wanted to taste every single one they had on the menu!

I mention the prices because the evening before I'd eaten at a similarly priced restaurant in Ballard and the food wasn't half as impressive.

My only caveats: The recorded music -- more industrial trance than jazz -- is just too LOUD. And, like many of Seattle's trendy new eateries, a table for two is practically on top of the table for two next to you. This is not the place for an intimate conversation. If you open your mouth, just put a forkful of pappardelle with duck sauce in it.