Sunday, July 13, 2014

Savory Sweets Chocolatey Chunk Cookie

I grabbed this cookie at our newly opened Little Caesar's. Just as I've learned that Little Caesar's is not the paragon of pizza (ugh, the excessive tomato sauce on my leftovers was almost enough to make me cry), neither are their cookies the paragon of cookies. This cookie, which does not appear to be branded by Little Caesar's at all, but just something they sell on the side, was mostly a disappointment.

As soon as I opened it, it failed the Crumble Test in a spectacular way, spraying crumbs all over my desk.

My first bite was equally misadventurous—a crumb lodged in my throat, making for an uncomfortable minute or two.

Not to be daunted, I continued eating the cookie, washing down the errant crumb and learning that as you approach its center, the cookie becomes less prone to disintegration. I concluded that, while the texture is not one that I'll ever actively seek out, I've had worse.

The flavor was that of institutional mass-produced chocolate chip cookie. I imagine this coming out of an industrial-sized vat of bargain-priced refrigerated dough. It was good enough for its genre, just nothing to go down in the record books.

I paid $1.50 for this 85g cookie, setting it at a pretty average price of 1.76¢ per g.

The Bottom Line:

Taste:3 out of 5 stars
Texture:2 out of 5 stars
Price:3 out of 5 stars

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Little Dress Lost: A new kind of fashion goodbye

You might have noticed I tend to wear beloved pants into the ground, and you might have read the mournful eulogy to my favorite shirt, but even on the sad occasions when I have to let go of a worn-out item of apparel, at least I get to say goodbye. It's completely different – a veritable tragedy – when a well-liked garment just up and disappears.

Such is the case of my pink party dress.

Now, losing track of my possessions is not an unfamiliar experience to me; socks, umbrellas, and gloves disappear with astounding regularity, but they are pretty small. I have never before misplaced a whole dress! I also sell my way through a lot of clothes, frequently after only one wear, and I never miss them—but I don't have any recollection of selling this dress. And I'm pretty sure I never wanted to, because that dress was fantastic—after the first use, I might have put it away for a few months to give it time to "breathe" and bring the novelty factor back up, but I wasn't ready to give it up for good! 

I even found a
picture of it!
This dress was a keeper. I really loved it. It was hot pink and gradated and pleated and spectacular. In fact, I liked it so much that after the first time I wore it, I bought another dress in almost the same style in blue. I considered wearing it for New Year's until a more formal dress landed in my closet, and I only seriously started thinking it about it once spring rolled around.

After I traded out my winter wardrobe last spring, I got to wondering where it was. I hadn't noticed it when I was making the switch. I went through my hanging bag of off-season and rarely worn clothing, but came up empty-handed.

I began to wonder if I had abandoned it by accident. The last time I remember seeing it was the last time I wore it. That was at a wedding in Baltimore last summer. When the party was over, we stayed the night in a hotel room. I remember lots of things about that weekend vividly—the floral arrangement I took home, the chocolates I stashed everywhere, my boyfriend's state of intoxication, what I ate for breakfast the next day—but I don't remember what I did with the dress. The next day, we had the valets store our belongings in the car while we biked around the city—but I don't think I would have stuffed the dress in a suitcase to get wrinkled, and I don't remember hanging it in the car. It is quite possible that I hung it up in the room and never thought of it again.

After suddenly remembering the dress a good 9 months after its disappearance, I wrote this story to help deal with my grief...and forgot about it again. Until this week, when I ran across the unfinished draft.

I still miss that dress. As evidenced by my frequent forgetting about it, I could probably let it go. But it's the principle of the thing! Never before have I lost a dress! I'll keep looking for it. One day, we will be together again. Even if I have to pay more than 13 dollars for a replacement!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My Dream Phone

Since my phone disappeared into the shadowy depths of the Bali airport, I've been giving a lot of thought to phones. Specifically, what I want in one if I'm going to have to fork over the dollars to replace my old one. So far, none of the phones currently on the market are doing it for me. I've even considered harking back to a simpler era and purchasing a throwback...but I don't like any of them either. So, in the hopes that the Law of Attraction will work in my favor, here's what I'm looking for in a phone. Manufacturers, take note. I'm willing to pay good money (but not as good as you seem to think your new phones are worth these days) for a phone with the following attributes:

Pocket-sized. When I say pocket-sized, I mean girl pocket. Skinny jean pocket. Barely there pocket. None of those hand-dwarfing handsets that you're churning out these days. The phones that are being marketed as "mini" are still bigger than my last phone, which was too big. I am currently using an iPhone 3GS, and that's about as big as I ever want to go. If it's taller than 5 inches, it's off my radar for sure.

Foldable. As I recently proclaimed to a friend, I still believe flip phones were the pinnacle of invention. What modern phone comes with its own built-in protective case? None. But not only does a flippable phone protect the screen from damage (without having to bother with stupid and expensive plastic decals that get scratched and hideous after 2 days), but it also makes the phone fit in a smaller space! See above. Double win.

Customizable. One of the main reasons I can't go old-school on my phone is that I have grown dependent on downloadable apps. If I want to be able to do something on my phone, I like being able to grab an app and be done with it. Similarly, I want to be able to disable just about every feature at any time. There's nothing more frustrating than being stuck with a worthless feature because the manufacturer thinks they know your needs better than you do.

Reasonably fast. I have minimal use for 4G Internet, but I do expect sites to load quickly when I'm connected to wi-fi. If I start an app, I expect it it to be ready to go in 3 seconds or less. I think it is safe to sacrifice luxury features like high-def screens, dual cameras, huge amounts of internal storage, and augmented audio for this simple functionality boost. The only reason I mention this, which should go without saying, is that the iPhone 3G I was using before the HTC phone was soooooooo sloooooooooow I could never accomplish anything on it. I would have been better off without a smartphone at all.

Indefatigable. Yes, I used a big word. What I'm trying to say is, I want my phone to have the battery life phones had in the old times, when you could leave them off the charger for days and still be able to to use them. My last phone (an HTC One X, in case you were curious) died consistently after a single day, even when I didn't use it and turned off every background service I could find. That was unacceptable. The 3GS I'm currently using is delighting me by being able to hold a charge for three days. Hmm, a good size? A good battery life? Maybe I won't bother to look for a new phone at all... Except...

Compatible with my computer. My biggest gripe with iPhones is that they refuse to play nice with my Windows computer. I cannot access my pictures or music collection without having to go through iTunes, a very clunky intermediary. My Android phone gave me complete access to the internal storage with nothing more than a USB connection, but I still couldn't preview the pictures without transferring them. Surely there's a better way.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Montana Gold Bread Co. Peanut Butter Cookie

I picked this cookie up at a Farmers' Market in Richmond, VA.

I gave it points from the outset for aesthetics, because it looked delicious, and the extra-large cross hatching on its top surface was unique.

When I first unwrapped it, I caught a delicious whiff of peanut butter—no small consideration when you have a typically non-functioning nose as I do.

Once I bit into it, I concluded the flavor was a little sweeter than I like, but still good and peanut-buttery. Although a bit crumbly, this cookie still had an element of chewiness to give it appeal. However, it kept dropping crumbs on my lap as I was eating eat, so I'll have to downvote it for its textural failings.

At 1.30¢ per gram, it was a good price, and it's a genuine product of a small business.

The Bottom Line:
Taste:4 out of 5 stars
Texture:2 out of 5 stars
Price:4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Better Packing

First, an announcement. I have finally finished blogging about my vacation to Indonesia, but if you haven't had enough of it yet, you can also view my complete photo album on Google+. Be sure to read the captions for valuable information! And if you're still hankering for some travel blog goodness, well, you're in luck, because I can't stop talking about travel!

I learned a lot about travel over my 3-week voyage (including: flying frequently in an airplane makes your ears start popping all the time, even after you've been home a week!), but the most important lessons were on traveling light. Here are some of them.

I deliberately packed a lot of clothes I had been planning on getting rid of anyway, so I could just throw/give them away by the end of the trip, to make more room for souvenirs. Consequently, what I had with me was a mishmash of clothes that didn't fit, didn't look presentable, or didn't match with anything. While it was nice to liberate myself of this burden at the end of the vacation, I don't know if it was worth feeling like a fashion reject for the entirety of the trip. If I were to do it again, I think I'd rather just pack fewer, more serviceable, articles at the outset, and keep them. Wearing the same outfit twice is a minor sin compared to wearing an outfit that makes you miserable.

The next time I vacation, I'm either bringing a small backpack OR an oversized purse, but not both. And I'm going to make sure the straps on the purse aren't so long next time.

Big-brimmed sun hats, despite their usefulness, are not worth the trouble it takes to pack around their bizarre shape. Heck, half the time, the wind is blowing them off your head anyway, so just do yourself a favor and leave them home. In the end, it's probably easier to just wear some extra sunscreen or carry an umbrella.

Platform wedges, though nice for that one day you decide to go out clubbing, are just about the most bulky and heavy shoe possible for packing, and completely not worth it if you're only going to wear them once. If you do feel the need to have dress shoes with you, just in case, at least choose the kind with a stiletto heel and a single sole, so they don't take up your entire baggage allowance.

I brought along a laptop computer as well as an iPad. The laptop was mainly because 1) I wanted to work on an InDesign project, which I proceeded to leave at home anyway and 2) I needed an SD card reader or USB interface in order to get the photos off my camera onto the Internet. Those 2 benefits were definitely not worth the 8 extra pounds of baggage. Next time, I'm going to admit that 1) the chances of me working on anything while on vacation are too slim to bother and 2) it's definitely worth the expense to get an iPad camera connection kit (especially if I can get my employer to pay for it). Problem solved in 1 oz or less.

I recently purchased a new camera, which I love for its easy access to manual controls and its powerful zoom lens. But, as I learned on this trip, I don't love how heavy it is. I frequently found myself leaving it behind when I went places just so I wouldn't have to deal with the weight. The lesson is, bring a smaller camera (or don't lose your phone). What you might sacrifice in picture quality, you'll make up for in actually having pictures.

The biggest packing revelation I had on my trip was, by far, related to toiletries.

My large bag full of toiletry products proved to be impractical. It was overly padded, it sported an unnecessary and space-hogging carry strap, and overall it was an awkward shape for packing. Next time I'm going with wide and flat so I can fit it in on top of all my other stuff, since the toiletries are usually the last things I pack when I'm leaving a place. Furthermore, the things it carried could have been heavily pared down (for example: pills in a compartmentalized box, or even little baggies, rather than oversized individual prescription bottles).

However, there was one product I brought that, I realized, could have replaced almost all of the other toiletries in the bag. And that product was baking soda. No, it's not even a traditional toiletry, but it's good for so many things!
  • It makes a passable substitute for shampoo when washing your hair, and an equally passable powder to absorb grease in between showers.
  • It can be used for brushing your teeth.
  • It is excellent for relieving the swelling of insect stings, ingrown hairs, and zits.
  • It can be used as a gargle when you feel a cold coming on.
  • It makes a very effective laxative when you consume enough of it (I learned this once by accident).
  • It is also an antacid.
  • It can be used as an underarm deodorant. 
Baking soda does does the deodorant job better when mixed with coconut oil, which, incidentally, can be used to replace the following products:
  • Hair conditioner
  • Lotion
  • Lip balm
  • Soap
So there you have it: 11 of your travel hygiene needs solved by just two products! The only other things I kept in that bag were a few other medicines, sunblock, and bug repellent. Which reminds me: because of its odor-absorbing properties, you probably shouldn't store your baking soda in close proximity to your insect-repellent wristbands. I learned that the hard way.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Macaroni and cheese from Barrel

My boyfriend and I got dinner on Saturday at a new place (to us) called Barrel, because, we noted after a cursory examination of the menu, they had macaroni and cheese for me, and beer for him.

I'll get right to the point. The macaroni and cheese was divine. As soon as it arrived, it made a good impression, what with being served in its own cast-iron casserole dish and topped with breadcrumbs.

But it's the taste that really matters in a macaroni review, and that did not disappoint.

My first bite was a burst of flavor, gooey, cheesy, and with just the right amount of salt. This mac and cheese had a unique taste to it that I identified as horseradish. You would not think I would enjoy a horseradishy macaroni, but as a matter of fact, I did. I had to force myself to stop eating and save the other half for later, because I really wanted to gobble up the whole thing right then, stomach ache though it might cause.

If this macaroni and cheese had one fault (and really, I'm just grasping for anything here), it might be that the cheese sauce was kind of thin. But as it cooled, it congealed to a perfect texture that I really can't complain about.

I am not alone in my glowing assessment of this dish. Al, after trying one bite of mine, ordered a second dish just for himself.

In the end, I rate this macaroni and cheese as follows:
One happy noodle for the perfect taste
One happy noodle for the perfect presentation
One happy noodle for the unique horseradish kick
1 happy noodle 1 happy noodle1 happy noodle 

The Mood Noodle rating system is not based on a fixed scale, but is a much more subjective system based on what makes me happy and what makes me sad.
Any number of happy noodles and comparatively few sad noodles constitute a good rating.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Jun 17 - 21: Jogjakarta and Jakarta

Me being far from pleased at the airport.

We arrived in Jogjakarta late in the evening on the 17th.

What would have been an hour-long flight, if Al had remembered to actually complete the reservation — and no, I'm never letting that go — ended up being 2 flights with an hour layover. During said layover, I lost my phone, continuing the saga of misery that had begun the day before. But let's not talk about that! Let's talk about Jogja.

Jogjakarta (shortened to Jogja, and don't even get me started on whether it's actually supposed to be Yogyakarta or even Djogdjakarta, because there seemed to be no consensus on this matter at all) is Al's mother's home town. She owns a house there, which was (unsurprisingly considering my previous experiences with Indonesian domiciles) enormous, though very oddly laid out. The kitchen and laundry room were on the second floor. The back of the house consisted of one gigantic room that was two stories high. Al says the house was converted from a bread factory, so I wonder if that was some sort of store room. In any case, we did spend some time discussing how cool it would be to remodel the home and rent it out or something. I forgot to take a photo of it because, as previously mentioned, I'd mentally checked out a few days before.

That first evening, we went out to have our first meal of street food since arriving in Indonesia (everyone from Indonesia raves about how great street food is, in the same breath that they tell you not to eat it because it might make you sick). We took off our shoes, sat on straw mats on the sidewalk, and had our meals delivered to us. I had something new: gudeg (gudek?) which is made from the seeds of the jackfruit. It wasn't bad, but it was very powerful. It struck me as more of a condiment than an entree, something like a sweet version of olive tapenade. It did not make me sick.

After eating, Al and I walked around the streets for a few minutes, looking at the wares for sale, but everyone was packing up for the evening, and besides, we had planned to do all our shopping on our last day in Jogja.

But, before that could happen, we had to get through the first day, which was dedicated to tourism. First stop, the temple, Borobudur, which stands out in my mind as the place were I was obligated to pay 10 times as much for admission as Al and his cousin because I was not an Indonesian.

Unlike many of the other locations we'd visited on this trip, hardly any of the tourists were Caucasian (considering the preferential admission policies, I'm not surprised!), so I stood out conspicuously. Apparently, this temple is a big tourism spot for native Indonesians. They go there because it's awesome, being Indonesia's largest Hindu temple. But the real attraction is not this spectacular work of ancient engineering, but rather the white tourist, who everyone wants to pose for a picture with.

I'd been warned this would happen, and I hadn't been looking forward to it. I did not want to feel like some kind of sideshow freak. But when people actually did start asking for pictures with me, it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd imagined. In fact, for the first time in this long vacation, I actually felt appreciated, instead of just like a somewhat unwelcome stranger or a source of income.
Borobudur, once I escaped from the Papparazzi (I mean, locals).
After Borobudur, we were planning to go to the Prince's Palace (or something like that) but it was already closed when we got there. So instead, we got ice cream (avocado ice cream...yummy! Who'd have thought?) and then drove around basically running errands for Al's cousins and looking for ... an upholstery store? I don't know. One big disadvantage of being the only non-Indonesian-speaker traveling with a group of Indonesians is that you never really know what's going on.

The next day was the day we were supposed to go shopping. But we learned, when Al finally looked at the itinerary, that our flight out that day was not late in the evening as he'd thought, but rather at 3 in the afternoon, meaning we'd have to leave for the airport around noon (strike two on the flight planning, Al!). So our whole day of shopping was already hosed. We'd have to make a marathon run of it.

And we did our best, visiting a market and couple of shops and scoring some good deals on clothing (4 dollar dress, anyone?), but we didn't have time to get all of the souvenirs and gifts I'd been hoping for (sorry, family, the presents are going to be a little sparse).

Here's a picture of some shoes and clothes I bought, because, frankly, I'm out of good pictures.
And then it was on to Jakarta for the last leg of our journey. I'll keep this part short, because I already did Jakarta once. We basically just had one day anyway, which was spent visiting family: cousins' home previously visited to pick up our remaining belongs and a box of stuff to fly to the US with us, house of very rich aunt who may or may not have a strained relationship with Al's part of the family but it sure seemed like that from the awkward and somewhat silent lunch we had with her, and cousin in hospital (note to self and/or word to the wise: the next time you are dragged along to the hospital to visit someone you've never met, it is guaranteed to be uncomfortable. See if they'll let you wait outside and meet this person some other time under better circumstances.

And thus passed our last day in Indonesia. I wish I had more exciting photos to end this segment of my blog with a bang, but instead you will have to settle for this anticlimactic gradual trail-off...