Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nice things about autumn: An exhaustive list

Fall fell earlier last week, and so did my happiness levels. And my motivation levels. It's taken me days to finish this post that I started writing last Monday!

I really don't like fall. When I was younger, it was my favorite season because it was so crisp and windy and exciting, but now that I have a cold intolerance, fall is just a depressing season that obligates me to wear long sleeves and reminds me that winter is coming.

But who wants to be depressed all the time? There must be at least one good thing about fall, and I have finally found it!

Fuzzy caterpillars! 

I have been seeing them everywhere lately, and they always strike joy into my heart (and no small amount of terror when I have to swerve to avoid running over one of them on my bike).

I hope caterpillars can sustain my mood until discounted Halloween candy appears to take up the torch.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Shower Complex

I compare myself unfavorably to others in a lot of categories, but bathroom products has never been one of them—until yesterday.

I've been renting out my spare bedroom to short term guests on Airbnb. The most recent visitor settled in and promptly filled a shelf of the shower rack with her stuff. I took one look at it and instantly lost about half my self-esteem.

Everything she put on the rack was so pretty! She has a shower pouf that looks like a lovely blue-tipped white rose. She has shower gel that comes in an elegant gold bottle with shimmer on top. She has about 4 shampoos and conditioners that aren't anything special, but they look so nice sitting there in the rack all together.

By contrast, my shower supplies look depressing. On one shelf, I've got a bottle of Suave shampoo (the cheapest brand at Target) and a used Voss water bottle that holds a solution of baking soda and water. Next to them both sits a disk of soap acquired at some 2-star motel. On the shelf below that, because it's too big to fit next to all the other stuff, is a family-size bottle of all-purpose conditioner by Kirkland, Costco's signature brand. I have to keep it upside-down so that the conditioner will come out when I need it, and it's been sitting there so long that brownish film has formed on the bottom. To top it all off, I have a scruffy old white washcloth draped over the bar. The overall effect is one of stark apathy.

I never thought that your shower shelf could say a lot about who you are, but if it does, mine says I'm a bachelor who's given up on life. Hello, newfound sense of inferiority!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Chocolate Chunk Cookie from Noodles & Company

This cookie's claim to fame is that it contains oats. Which not many chocolate chunk cookies have the guts to do.

Its other claim to fame was that I bought two on two separate occasions just so I could give it an adequate review. The first time, I lost the receipt and forgot to weigh it. With so little information to go on, I just gobbled it up and left it unreviewed. The second time, I got all the facts. And it weighed 130 grams and cost $1.59 (meaning it weighs in at 1.22¢ a gram)

And after two reviews, I am confident in saying that the facts indicate this cookie would be better without oats. While I'm all for variegated textures to give my cookies some bite, in this case, I don't think they helped. I can't say exactly why; I just found them a distraction while eating.

Other than that, it was a fairly average chocolate chunk cookie. I have to give it props, though, for being soft enough to get seriously bent up in a bumpy trip home on my bike and still survive without crumbling.

The Bottom Line:
Taste: 3 stars
Texture: 3 stars
Price: 4 stars

Monday, September 16, 2013

On Getting Hi

This morning, I woke up to a text message: "I'm deleting your damn number. I've tired of your ignorant bullshit." The message was from a number that I didn't recognize, but our text message history showed we had texted before. The last text was from July 28, incoming: "HI".

Before that, another incoming message on July 1: "Hi.."

Before that, a 5-message exchange in early June, regarding what we had done that day, initiated by this number I had never bothered to save, and ended by me when I couldn't think of a worthwhile reply to "I went to get food."

I had to scroll up several more messages before I remembered who this master conversationalist was: a guy I met on okCupid shortly before I started dating my boyfriend. This guy lives in the wilds of Pennsylvania or some other such impossibly distant locale. We've never met in person. He always seemed to want to chat by text message, but never had anything interesting to say or ask. His boringness was obvious in the fact that I never felt the need to save his number.

All I can assume from his most recent (and I guess final) text message is that he finds my failure to reply to his aimless "Hi"s a fatal form of ignorance (Is he mistaking ignorant—a term referring to lack of knowledge—for a nonexistant adjectival form of the verb ignore? That's a whole different grammar question to be explored another day).

I know he's not the only one to be offended by my selective texting, so I'd like to tackle at least one of the pressing issues of texting etiquette—the controversial use of generic greetings.

Texting differs from an in-person conversation in that it is not instantaneous. When a person says something to you face to face, you are obligated to reply immediately or else be seen as rude. When a person texts you, they have no idea whether you've received the message. They don't know what you're doing, whether you have your phone with you, or whether you're otherwise occupied. They cannot expect a response right away. But here's where it gets tricky. Do they have a right to expect a response at all?

In the case of the two neglected "Hi"s, I'm not sure what I was doing at 5:55pm on July 28, or at 10:26pm on July 1 (but probably sleeping), but I will assume that it was not a convenient time for me to engage in a chat. Now, to avoid any kind of misunderstanding, my best course of action would have been to reply with something like "can't talk now." But even that dashed-off response would require me to actually have the phone with me, not be otherwise occupied, and be awake.

It's not unusual for me to reply to a text message hours or occasionally even a day or two after I receive it, because that's when I finally have the time for texting. But a message like "Hi"—Is that even worth a delayed response at all?

Hi is a greeting. It's what you say to someone when you see them to acknowledge their presence. It is not an appropriate phrase to sling out into the vastness of space and hope it sparks a conversation. I feel like "Hi" has an expiration date, and after a few hours, it no longer makes sense to say Hi back.

I feel that if all you can think to say is "Hi," then clearly, you don't need to talk that badly. if you want talk, you should have something in mind to talk about, and then you should just start talking. That's the beauty of text messaging—it is direct, concise, and works best when you avoid all the little pleasantries that are obligatory in face-to-face conversation.

So here's some advice for those of you who imagine that you need to start every chat with a hello: You don't. And if you still want to, go ahead, but make sure you say something afterwards that has more substance. And if you are the type of person who suddenly blows up in anger over a month after some imagined slight, well, I just hope you were looking for your reply on the internet and not on your phone.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Basket Case (a sequel to Life Without a Basket)

This whole bike basket situation is driving me batty.

The rabbit carrier did its job for a few days until the door hinges started disintegrating (I don't blame them; they were made of grass!).

My next basket was an oversized white hand basket I found at the thrift store. I held it onto the back rack with a length of bungee cord I keep in my car.

I really enjoyed tooling around with this basket on my bike, because, although it looked even more incongruous and rigged-together than its predecessor, it also had an undeniable element of cuteness. It was a goofy and fun addition to my bike. It was also amazingly spacious and easy to remove if I wanted to bring it into the house—just unhook the bungee cord and go! This basket lasted a day, until the ancient bungee cord snapped. Fortunately it did it overnight, rather than mid-ride!

It just so happened I had an old metal folding basket waiting in the wings. I had carried it faithfully on my handlebars for at least a couple years, but there were a number of things that annoyed me about it, so when it came time to replace it with a bona fide official handlebar basket, I wasn't sad to see it go.

But beggars can't be choosers, and as soon as I knew I was back in the bike basket market, I contacted my ex-boyfriend (at whose apartment I had left it) asking for it back. I brought it home just one day before it had to spring into action! I decided to hook it onto the side of my rack (it kept collapsing when placed on top, and the mounting bracket for my real basket was taking up all the handlebar space). I'd been considering using panniers, as they seem to be popular among the serious bike commuters—you know, the ones who wear helmets and reflective vests and such. So this seemed like a good time to try the side-mounted basket.

I'm not sure I'm impressed. There was very little clearance between it and the pedals; a few times I hit it with my foot. But of course the worst thing about this basket was its contents were too heavy for the Velcro straps holding it on, and it fell onto the trail halfway to work (and I think this is where I lost the combination lock that I keep in the side pockets of my backpack). I had to reattach the Velcro once more when I got on campus. Obviously, this cannot be my basket solution, at least until I find a more reliable way to keep it on my bike.

While at the office, I taped the bottom to the sides so it wouldn't collapse spontaneously, and strapped it to the top of the rack. That seemed to work better. At least it didn't fall off on my way home, though it did slide around quite a bit.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Chick & Ruth's Macaroni and Cheese

Chick & Ruth's Delly (Yeah, they spell it that way) is a pretty famous place in Annapolis that you still don't have wait in line to eat at.

I've only been to Annapolis a handful of times, and I've eaten at Chick & Ruth's thrice, but I have not yet tried their macaroni and cheese (perhaps because when I have an opportunity to eat an egg salad sandwich instead, that always seems to take priority).

In any case, I haven't been missing out on much. My last visit to Chick & Ruth's, my dining companions both got macaroni as a side dish. I tried a few bites and was very happy I'd just gone for egg salad again.

It was mushy and dry (can those two things really go together?) and not salty enough.

My friend who is a less picky eater didn't like it either. He gave me his leftovers, and I ate them, but only because I don't like paying for food when I can get it for free. My boyfriend who will eat anything thought it was fine, but he will eat anything.

The moral of this story is there are definitely better things to get at Chick & Ruth's. Like a colossal milkshake!

I rate the macaroni and cheese two sad noodles:
One for its terrible texture, and one for its terrible flavor.

 1sad noodle  1sad noodle

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Life without a basket

I went on an epic vacation not too long ago. And by epic, I mean I took a 5-day cruise, got home for 20 minutes, and left again for New York to attend Electric Zoo. That was pretty stressful, having to prepare for a second trip in 20 minutes, and I forgot to bring several things with me. But that was nothing compared to what I forgot to bring back with me when I returned home.

My bike basket!!

My boyfriend and I stayed at the house of some of his relatives in New Jersey. They gamely carried both our bicycles from the bus stop to their house in the middle seat of their minivan, a feat which I never thought possible. In order to fit my bike in the very cramped space, I had to remove the basket from the handlebars. I kept it in the room that I stayed in, and, in the chaos of trying to get everyone and everything situated for the trip back (this time, the whole family came along, necessitating that the bikes be tied onto the roof), I left my basket in their house.

Oh, the woe!

Since I use my bike to commute to the office every day, carrying such essentials as lunch and shoes and any items I happen to purchase at Rugged Wearhouse after work—and since I hate wearing a backpack while biking because it turns my back into a swamp of sweat—I had to find another cargo solution—for the entire month or so that I will be basketless until the relatives come into town for a visit!

On the plus side, this motivated me to finally attach the rear rack that I've been putting off for almost a year now. On the minus side, the new basket that I found to fulfill the task has proven wholly annoying (though popular with passers-by).

I chose to use the wicker animal carrier that I bought for my rabbit but never used for anything but storing his bags of litter. What makes this item so annoying is, well, just about everything.

It opens via a door on the side, meaning I have to bend over and feed all my possessions into it sideways. It's bigger than my old basket, but because it's fully enclosed, I have no option for an oversized load. It keeps coming open when I ride, although I have not yet had the misfortune of my stuff spilling out of it while in transit. It makes mounting the bike more challenging, and it keeps touching my butt while I'm riding, which is disconcerting.

I'm still looking for other alternatives. Stay tuned as the saga continues!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Macaroni and cheese from Hill Country

Those are our Mason jars full of beverages in the background. How southern!
I've had so many sub-par macaronis in the past months—some so bad I didn't even feel like reviewing them. It was a relief to finally have a macaroni that wasn't tasteless or mushy. In fact, it was pleasantly chewy. And rated just the right amount of salty. And with gooey lumps of cheese that stretch when you lift them with your fork. And tempting burnt patches! Of all the macaronis that I've tried since beginning my MacaroniQuest, this is the one that reminds me the most of my grandmother's.

It was just unfortunate that I had to go to a place swarming with meat to eat it.

The first time I went to Hill Country, (once I got over the pervasive odor of barbecued animals), I was pleasantly surprised by the macaroni and cheese, but I lost the photo I took of it, so I never did blog about it.

The second time I went there, I took one bite and actually said, "I love this macaroni and cheese!" It was then that I knew that Hill Country is my new favorite source for macaroni. I also remembered, miraculously, to take the photo and keep it.

I rate this macaroni 2 happy noodles for taste and chewiness. Then I'll give it another happy noodle for so thoroughly trumping all macaronis thus far. And I'll refrain from giving it a sad noodle, since it's not the macaroni's fault it came from a barbecue establishment.

1 happy noodle 1 happy noodle 1 happy noodle

Why do you do what you Doritos?

It is no secret that I am in love with Doritos. My house feels empty when I don't have  a bag or two stockpiled. I have been known to make them my entree for dinner and lunch.

But there is a secret I haven't been so keen to let on: Doritos don't love me back.

Now I can just imagine the peanut gallery out there going, "Yeah, I bet, when you eat Doritos, they must give you the runs so bad..." Get your minds out of the gutter, peanut gallery! My innards are blissfully unaffected by any amount of Mexican food, no matter how fake and heavily processed.

But what is not so unaffected? My lips.

Sadly, after almost any Dorito binge, I can pretty much expect all the skin to flake off my lips within a few days. This is annoying and inexplicable. Do I have some kind of weird allergy? Are the dry, salty chips just desiccating my flesh? Whenever I eat Doritos, I make a conscious effort to wipe with a napkin frequently and guzzle more water than I think I need, but it never seems to help.

Why, Doritos, when I love you so much do you treat me so bad!? Oh, well, no matter. My love for you is unconditional. I will continue to eat you, even if you change your recipe for the worse.

Oh, wait, you already did that.

Remember when I blogged about Doritos' impending design change and promise of a bolder flavor?  Apparently when they said bolder, they only meant more painful, because the only difference I could detect between the Doritos of the New Bag and the Doritos of old was that the new ones were spicier and made my mouth hurt (but fortunately, did not make the lip-flaking any worse than usual). And the Cool Ranch still doesn't have enough flavor.

And because I promised I would make package redesigns part of my blogging repertoire, here are the old bag and the new bag side by side.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Passel of Panera Reviews

Panera macaroni and cheese

 A few mornings ago, I went for breakfast so late that I felt more like eating lunch. I was at Panera, one of my favorite restaurants on account of all the things on their menu my picky self can actually eat! So I decided to partake of the macaroni and cheese.

I ordered a small, because a small is usually big enough. This one, however, wasn't. They filled my little 12-oz container (it could have been 8 ounces, I'm a terrible judge of size) half full of macaroni, charged me five dollars for it, and left me out to dry. Ugh. It was tasty, for sure, but if you're ever at Panera pondering the pasta, do yourself a favor and order an entree. The macaroni side dish is possibly the world's biggest smallest rip-off.

I rate this macaroni 2 sad noodles for the outrageous price, and one happy noodle for the taste.

 1sad noodle  1sad noodle1 happy noodle

Panera Chocolate Duet Cookie 

 After my utter failure to get a decent-sized lunch for a decent price, I was still hungry for cookies. Actually that's not true—I assuaged my hunger with a carrot cake muffin and saved the cookie for later.

That cookie was the Chocolate Duet. Chocolate cookie, chocolate chips, and a smattering of walnuts on top. I think it had white chocolate too, but I actually didn't notice any when I was eating it.

The walnuts really took this cookie to a whole new level, as they were crunchy. Deliciously crunchy in a deliciously soft cookie (some of that softness may be due to the extremely warm ambient temperature at which I ate it—the chocolate chips were also melted at the time of eating, which I never enjoy).

I found this cookie a surprising delight, since I'm usually lukewarm about chocolate cookies. Maybe it just takes an extreme ambient temperature to warm me up to them...

I'm assuming this cookie was 100 grams on the dot, like all Panera cookies, although its price was a little higher than the last ones I bought, at 2.09. That means they are even less of a two-star value than their Ohio counterparts.

The Bottom Line:
Taste: 5 stars
Texture: 5 stars
Price: 2 stars