Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Gourmet Classic "The Plan"

Wanted to repost this classic from last October about a massive Halloween assault of eggings and silly stringings that never happened because my friend and I were good kids instead of little buttholes.  Enjoy!

Halloween is one of the holiest days of the kid calendar, behind only Christmas and the last day of school.  Christmas = presents.  Last day of school = freedom.  Halloween = junk food.  However, as childhood continued on, you may have learned that Halloween meant something else: that "trick-or-treat" isn't just a greeting - it's a warning.  And when you turn 13 you suddenly realize, hey, not only can you eat a lot of candy on Halloween, but you can also hellraise and not get in trouble!!!  This post is about an assault of silly string and other nonsense that my friend, The Cup (a character he played in one of our childhood movies), and I planned for Halloween 2000 but never actually fulfilled.  This, my The Plan.

This epic Halloween attack received an ingenious title that took seconds, possibly even minutes to come up with

So here you go, in full, the complete battle map of The Plan:

Click for a larger view - you'll wanna see this penmanship

At 13 you're at the age where simple things take on a greater definition. Looking back, I don't know exactly why we came up with this plan, but if I had to guess it would be that at the time there was a lot of moving going on in the neighborhood and a bunch of babies were moving in.  This was unacceptable, so The Cup and I had to establish ourselves as the bosses of the neighborhood.  One way to do this was to launch assaults on Halloween...or something.  By the way, regarding the map - due to the size of the paper, I had to scan it in fourths and then put it back together in Photoshop.

Anyway, this is a map of our neighborhood.  It's basically a circle of houses harbored beside Highlands Park.  Truth be told, trying to decipher the symbols and coding on this map is like deciphering Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.  While I'm not 100% sure on any of this, here's the color coding key to the best of my ability:

Purple = Starting point
Blue = Base
Green = Stringing
Orange = Hiding Place
Black = Some sort of mayhem?

I'm guessing black was another mischievous deed, like egging or t-peeing or something.  The problem is the black X's are in pretty arbitrary spots so I'm not exactly sure what the dealio is.  The starting point was at the dead end where Rolf Geezen used to live up until 4 months prior to the scheduled assault.  My house was to be used as a base and you'll see that I blurred out a few other houses that had names attached.  These were considered "allies", or, houses of people we knew who we figured wouldn't be offended if we hid in their bushes while the cops scope out the kids who were silly stringing 4th graders.  

The starting point as well as our base

This section clearly shows how serious we were

As you can see, we went into great detail for the park drawing, including little pictures for the tennis courts, bathrooms, and the Snack Shack (a place we were regulars at).  Again we also find several orange and black X's as well as a rare green one that I had previously overlooked.  Best guess - the orange is hiding, the green is for silly string, and black is for I don't know.  

A stringing target in the middle of the street.  I'm sure that would have had zero repercussions

So the plan of The Plan was to circle around the neighborhood, launching these rogue attacks...because in the event we get caught, no one would be smart enough to figure out that we're just going in a circle.   

We drew The Plan up in mid-October and, due to its intense secrecy, decided it would be wise not to have our names on it.  So we white-ed out our names since no one would notice the blotched white stuff and wrote our aliases, Joe Schwartz and Rob Schmit, founder and co-founder, respectively.  But wait!  We couldn't leave this plan in clear plain site for anybody to find.  That would be like inviting the Nazis to a meeting about the Manhattan Project.  So we rolled it up and hid the bushes in front of my house...since no one will EVER think to look there and even if they find it, ha!  Our names aren't even on it anymore!!!  Flawless, perfectly executed plan.  

At the end of the day this plan was pretty much an afterthought.  We had a can of silly string but I think it was defective.  In reality, the plan was about as legit as saying that Ashton Kutcher is a valid replacement for Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men.   It's funny; when you're 13 the world is a big place and everyday you explore something new.  On this particular day we thought we could be tough guys but in reality...we were good kids.  It was all talk.  We were both brought up right.  Throughout childhood you think up crazy ideas and plots no matter how bizarre, inconceivable, and nutty they may be.  Childhood is a time for wonder...The Wonder Years, if you will.    This was our bizarre, inconceivable, and nutty plan for that one day.  Sure, in another dimension we probably went through with it and wound up in juvenile hall, but that's neither here nor there.

Again, maybe we were a little upset because there weren't a heck of a lot of kids our age in the neighborhood and Rolf Geezen had just moved away, so thinking of a way to "take over the neighborhood" was our response.  That's really my only logic for it, as that philosophy also paved way for the formation of the Gatorade Mafia, a gang of 14 year olds who would regularly be at Highlands Park during baseball season and do tough guy things such as eat candy, drink Gatorade, and talk trash to the players from behind the backstop.  But that's a story for another time.  

You're probably wondering what we wound up doing instead on that Halloween night.  Well, isn't it obvious?

We went trick-or-treating!

Thanks for reading!

Candy Mountain

Just felt like posting this :-)


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

THAT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH!: Is Gordon Ramsay Spreading Himself Too Thin?

I'd like to share with everyone an article I wrote on Gordon Ramsay's massively expanding popularity and the damage it may be doing to his reputation.  If you followed my MasterChef and Hell's Kitchen nightly recaps then you know how critical I was of Ramsay this season for the deterioration of what were once his "world class standards".  This article first appeared on, a tech website I'm writing for.  Check it out when you have the chance.

Is Gordon Ramsay Spreading Himself Too Thin?

I can't take it any longer. I've seen every episode of every season of Hell's Kitchen since its inception in the summer of 2005. An astounding ten seasons later, we’ve arrived in the midst of the inevitable decline from quality reality television show into the realm of piece-of-crap-even-watching-toadstools-grow-is-better-than-this-nonsense.

Let me break it down for you: people love Gordon Ramsay because of his no-nonsense attitude, his arsenal of creative insults, and his array of multiple personalities that he can switch on you faster than Mitt Romney can refuse releasing his tax returns.

The truth is, however, that Hell's Kitchen has been doing its best impression of Titanic's maiden voyage all season long and finally hit the iceberg when it crowned Christina as the season 10 winner. I can't help but wonder how many miles beneath the ocean's surface this show will continue to sink. Why is Captain Smith letting this happen? The answer is easy: Gordon Ramsay is spreading himself too thin.

I started pondering this after the second "To Be Continued" episode of the season, where we were in the midst of a fashion show hosted by a guy with one of those noses that you'd love to test the resistance of with your fist and some woman who was doing her best impersonation of a mannequin. We went straight to a TBC right in the middle of this circus, one of six this season. For those counting at home, that's one out of every 3.3 episodes that doesn't give us an ending with the most outrageous being the second to last episode, cutting right before announcing who would be cooking in the finals. Absolutely disgusting. It seems that the editors have spent more time this season creating conflict that's not really there and transforming Hell’s Kitchen into some kind of coagulated skin mold that you’d find on one of the fake tans from the orcs on Jersey Shore.  

But it's so much more than that. This season's selection of contestants is the worst it has ever been. Christina and Dana were the only legit contenders (though I wonder why Dana would always yell while speaking to the confession cam. It’s like she was pretending she was acting in the first Austin Powers film since she apparently HAS TROUBLE CONTROLLING THE VOLUME OF HER VOICE), Kimmie's vocabulary consists of the word "bitch," followed by whatever incoherent sounds hicks regularly emit from their mouths, Robyn must have missed the memo that you only need to take one 5-Hour Energy Shot at a time, Roshni is short, Clemenza is big, Patrick looks like Eddie Van Halen, Danielle looks like she's about to cry at any moment, the Rolls Royce of cooking left too early, Barbie is a contender only because everyone else sucks, Tavon I liked because he was so terrible, and Justin, Chris, Don, Brian, and Guy are all the same generic white guy because none have any distinctive personality. Heck, I can't even remember who Chris is or if Chris is even a guy for that matter. Oh, and Briana is hot.

Seriously, with the producers (i.e. Ramsay) sacrificing quality entertainment for a couple loud-mouths bitching back and forth at each other, the product suffers. Look, maybe some people enjoyed hearing Kimmie talk about how easy it was for her to down five lamb testicles during a punishment. Maybe some people found the battle of Caffeine vs. Fried Chicken (a.k.a. Robyn vs. Kimmie) entertaining. Maybe some people actually think Justin has a personality. But me? After 10 seasons of an otherwise really entertaining show, Hell's Bitchin' is now the equivalent of a garden salad dressed with rusted nails extracted from a septic tank.

But the thing that clinched it for me more than the boring contestants or the TBCs every 3.3 episodes or bringing in Lee Dewyze as a VIP (which is even lamer than when NBA bench scrub Sasha Vujacic made an appearance a few seasons back) occurred in episode 12 (which ended in a TBC, coincidentally) was when Gordon Ramsay, literally, mailed it in. In this episode, each team was asked to assemble their own menus for the next dinner service. Usually a pretty cool challenge, right? But what was so painfully vexing about this scenario is that Ramsay wasn't anywhere to be found to deliver this news to the contestants. You'd think with this being Ramsay's kitchen, Ramsay's show, and one of these people will be Ramsay's future employee, he'd be around to monitor everything. But no, you'd be wrong.

Instead, a package was mailed to the dorms containing an iPad and a pre-recorded message from Ramsay informing each team that they were to make their own menu for the next dinner service.

Ramsay mailing it in.

But it gets worse.

Ramsay didn't make his "official" reappearance until just minutes before Hell's Kitchen was to open its door for dinner service. It was at this point that he sampled the dishes put together by each team that were going to be served to the customers THAT VERY NIGHT. Like, within a few minutes.

Naturally, both menus kinda sucked.

But think about that for a second – here's a guy who has "world class standards" and he puts the responsibility into these two teams of amateur chefs to create their own menus, yet he doesn't try them until the doors to Hell's Kitchen are about to open? Dude, even the people who accidentally include rat testicles in a bucket of fried chicken have higher standards than that. If I'm going into a fine dining restaurant and am about to spend 40 dollars on a piece of meat that weighs about as much as a clipped toenail, then I want to be ensured that the meat is ACTUALLY UP TO STANDARDS!

So, why wasn't Ramsay there to announce the challenge? Why did Ramsay not even try the dishes until dinner service was to begin? It's because he's got 6,000 restaurants and 5,000 reality shows to manage. He's a busy guy – I can appreciate that. He's got places to go, people to see, things to destroy. It's cool that he gets around. But his diversification is beginning to compromise his work and "world-class standards."
Case in point: Hotel Hell. Naturally, Hotel Hell premiered in two parts, much to my displeasure, but for a series premiere I'll give it a pass. Why is this show necessary? It's two hours of name-calling with a couple segments dedicated to the kitchen, and for twenty minutes it's like we're watching Kitchen Nightmares in a different candy wrapper. It is kinda funny to hear Ramsay call people bastards in that proper British accent of his, but I just don't see the purpose of this show. Oh, by the way, the premiere featured a shot of a naked Ramsay stepping into a bathtub.  What in the name of Anthony Wiener are these people thinking? What’s the purpose of a naked Ramsay, other than to make me vomit in my mouth?

The blur is a target: vomit here.

But it didn’t stop there. Each episode in the six-episode premiere season has included some sort of a naked Ramsay shot. Seriously, guys, this program is called Hotel Hell, not The British Guide to Brothel Transformation & Improvement. In all fairness, it looks like Ramsay is having a good time with Hotel Hell, which alone makes it a watchable show because his passion translates to entertainment. But what I can’t fathom is that he’s going around telling professionals that everything they’re doing is wrong, yet here’s a guy that’s letting his own product suffer because of his lack of dedication to one project at a time.  

It seems that MasterChef has taken over as Ramsay’s bread and butter, as it requires the most energy and effort than all of his shows. But there’s still problems that could be fixed with a little of that good ole fashioned concept, shoot, what is it? Oh yeah: creativity.  For example, MasterChef has bastardized the concept of product placement this season, most notably with the steaks supplied by Walmart. “You will be cooking steaks provided by Walmart” is the common phrase with the corporate logo right beside the beef. I mean, really, guys? That’s the best you could do? Seinfeld was a master of product placement and I think it would serve Gordon Ramsay some good to watch a few of the classics (“Who’s gonna turn down a Junior Mint? It’s chocolate, it’s peppermint, it’s delicious!”).

Don’t get me wrong; MasterChef had a terrific third season with Christine, a girl who has been blind since 2003, dominating the competition. But the show that generated Ramsay’s initial popularity in America is suffering. Badly. That’s what brings us full circle to the show bottoming out during winner Christina’s (yes, it is kind of confusing: Christina with an A won Hell’s Kitchen; Christine with an E won MasterChef) victory celebration. Don’t get me wrong again; Christina deserved to win, hands down. She was terrific all season and is probably one of Hell’s Kitchen’s best chefs ever. But the fact that she was going up against a guy with zero personality who was barely even featured in the early episodes this season made for a real lackluster finale.  Seriously, I couldn’t even identify Justin until halfway through the season. That’s how boring he is. Reality shows are supposed to be known for gathering terrible people and putting them in a small room together for a drama-drowning battle royale in front of millions of home viewers.

That obviously did not happen this season and the show might have gotten away with it if this wasn’t a joint effort of suckiness from the casting people to the editors all the way to the executive producer, Mr. Gordon Ramsay. This is what happens when someone has absolute control over something and/or surrounds themselves with yes men. See also: Emperor Palpatine.

Insert bodily function joke here.

But maybe there’s some good news on the horizon. For example, Jean Philippe is scheduled to return as the Hell’s Kitchen MaĆ®tre d’ next season, assuming the reports from Twitter are correct (as they so frequently aren’t). Also, season four, which in my opinion was the second worst season of Hell’s Bitchin’ up till now, was followed by the show’s best season ever. I think the crap editing this season is like the producers admitting to a lack of content, so if Gordon Ramsay and his people are capable of improving their own work rather than that of others, then there’s still hope for Hell’s Kitchen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Homemade Pizza

Shortly after my birthday I chronicled the process of making a homemade pizza - a first for me.  The whole process had mixed results.  Ultimately the pizza tasted good, but making the dough was more annoying than the moderator interrupting the candidates during a presidential debate.  So to crack down on this difficulty it was decided that the middle man needed to be eliminated, i.e. buy dough that was ready to cook.  The results have been most excellent:


Above is a Hawaiian pizza with Canadian bacon, sliced pineapple and red onion.  Yeah, still working on getting the dough in a perfect circle but it tasted quite nice.

Circle construction is gradually improving

Went with a classic pepperoni sprinkled with a variety of seasonings and, once again, it was very tasty.  Among the seasonings were cracked pepper, basil, and garlic powder.

Honestly, it's a lot easier to make a pizza when you don't have to worry about getting the dough right.  It's seriously a difficult process, what with getting the yeast to rise, getting the dough to be, uh, doughie, and then timing everything perfectly AND THEN you can go about baking.  

A salad?  On Greg's Gourmet?  Are we in the Twilight Zone?

This is a salad my mom made and insisted I take a picture of.  It features chicken, bacon, almonds, olives, tomatoes, apples, and avocado.  And you know what?  

It was actually really good.  Yes, I liked a salad.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 8, 2012

94th Aero Squadron Review

Everyone knows how much I love a good deal.  Everyone also knows how much I love a good prime rib.  And everyone should know how much I loved the All-You-Can-Eat-Prime-Rib-Buffet-for-$11.75 before it shut down (fun fact: I once ate 4 steaks in one sitting).  While it's hard to find a similar buffet, I've found possibly the next best thing - an early bird meal purchased for $16 between 4-6 PM that includes a nice slab of prime rib, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, soup/salad, and dessert.  Bread is also included for the table.  Ladies and gents, I give you the 94th Aero Squadron.

Soup doesn't generally excite me unless I'm watching a Seinfeld episode and nobody really cares about salad, so usually the appetizer is a wash.  But the 94th features an amazing beer cheese soup that's almost a meal within itself.  Observe:

Mmmmm beer.  Mmmmm cheese

This stuff is so heavy and warm that you can feel it pumping throughout your body.  I'd imagine this would taste even better on a cold winter evening. 

The main course, of course, doesn't need much explanation:


And here's dessert, even though the picture kinda sucks cause my camera doesn't have a flash and the restaurant is very dimly lit:

Chocolate cake with a chocolate sauce

So 94th Aero Squadron is situated beside Montgomery Field and takes on a complementary World War I theme and atmosphere.  Being a history buff, I absolutely love the decor.  There's plenty of decorations of the era from the military to aviation to politics.  A portrait of Woodrow Wilson rests behind the front desk.  Overall a nice ambiance.  

Does the food live up to the atmosphere?  Unfortunately it's not always a sure thing.  There's been times where the food was excellent, yet for some reason it seems like the kitchen here struggles to cook meat at the proper temperature.  I always ask for medium and almost always get well done.  At a family dinner not too long ago my sister asked for well done and got rare.  Pretty fundamental stuff here.  There's always the thought that "well, you can just send it back if it's not cooked properly" and if it's undercooked I would agree.  But here's my issue: if it's well done (and there's no doubt about it - medium should have some pink and the steak I received had none) and I send it back then that means they have to fire up a whole new slab of meat and I'm sitting there waiting while everyone else is enjoying their dinners.  It's inconvenient and annoying.

And it's not like the well done steak doesn't taste good.  Well, okay, one time it didn't taste that good because they didn't season it properly - but otherwise the well done steak tastes fine.  It's just that I like my meat to still be kicking a little bit, you know?  And it's just really annoying that you can order a steak at a certain temperature and it'll be a total crapshoot whether or not that's actually achieved.

However, I would like to give a special shoutout to Kevin, who works as a server at the 94th.  Kevin is the epitome of quality customer service and may be the best server I've ever met at any restaurant, ever.  The experience he provides alone is reason enough to continue to come back.  Yeah, the steak may not be cooked as a perfect medium, but the food is still good, the atmosphere is nice, it's a big parking lot, and when Kevin's working the tables it's a real pleasure.  After I get my corporation going I'm gonna hire him for our human resources department.  

So - 94th Aero Squadron.  I'd recommend it.  It's a nice place, pretty typical menu, but it's a good place to go for a quiet night out.