Thursday, February 19, 2015

Truffle Mac & Cheese from Screwtop Wine Bar

On the way home from our Valentine's weekend trip to the mountains of Virginia, my boyfriend and I stopped at Screwtop Wine Bar in Arlington for lunch. I noticed the truffle macaroni & cheese on the menu but bypassed it in favor of spinach artichoke lasagna, which sounded like something I'd never get anywhere else. Fortunately, my boyfriend ordered the mac & cheese, so I was able to sample it for a review.

Apparently I don't like truffle, because that mac & cheese was probably the weirdest I've ever encountered. It had a vaguely sour taste and a flavor that I associate with mushroom ravioli. I like that flavor in the ravioli, but it did not suit my vision of a proper macaroni and cheese.
I wasn't too impressed with the lasagna either—it could have been greatly improved if the bits of spinach and artichoke were bigger, and it had been browned more around the edges—so all in all, my opinions of dining at Screwtop are not exactly favorable, although I can't speak for the wine that is their namesake.

As far as the macaroni and cheese goes, I rate it one sad noodle for tasting bizarre.

 1 sad 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.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Whatever happened to the Bitter Valentine Blog?

Surely you remember it...the grand old tradition I kept, for four straight years, of parading my broken heart all over the Internet every February 14th, dispensing cynical observations and maudlin musings, making Valentine's Day a true treat for all my readers, single and otherwise. Where did it go? What happened?

Well, to put it shortly, Al happened. You might know him—the guy I love? In spite of his dog? Well, he has single-handedly prevented me from Bitter Valentine's Blogging for two years running! Yeah, sure, it's hard to get into Love Sucks Mode when you're in a happy relationship, but even more, it's difficult to post a blog when you're busy traveling (see my ever-tardy Indonesia posts for further reference). And no one should be surprised when I say that I and my boyfriend who loves to travel have been out of town for our only two Valentine's Days together.

"Oooh, a romantic getaway!" you're probably thinking. But no — and here's where I think I can still work in a seed of bitterness — we've spent both of our past V-Days crammed into our lodgings with 2 to 4 other people, and both times, the trip has revolved around skiing.

Can you imagine? Me? The one who says "I hate winter" as often as she breathes? Spending her precious Valentine's Day which must be absolutely perfect outside? In the snow!? And yet that is exactly what happened. Not once, but two years in a row. Heavy sigh. The things we do for love.

I feel like I deserve some sort of medal for my dedication and self-sacrifice (no one needs to mention that, now that I have a proper coat, some snow pants, and some high-tech winter gear, the cold hardly touches me and I actually find skiing somewhat fun!), but if not a medal, at least some recognition. And I think I know just how to get it. In a conversation about our upcoming trip last week, my boyfriend made a charming little slip and referred to the holiday as "Valerie Times Day."

I like that. I have yet to experience the Valentine's Day of my dreams, but having a whole holiday dedicated to me would suit me just as well. It also gives me an idea as to what will happen to the Bitter Valentine Blog. As morose as it was, I hate to give up on a tradition.

So from here on out, I vow to always write a post for Valentine's Day. It may not always be on February 14th, and I may not be able to summon up enough angst about romance to match my previous unparalleled self-pity, but I always have plenty of energy to talk about me. So next year about this time, keep your eyes peeled, for I promise to provide you with a Valerie Times Day blog that will knock your socks off. Depending on my relationship status, it may not be the refreshing blast of unadulterated misery that you could count on in the past, but I can guarantee that I will never run short of cynical observations.

Friday, February 6, 2015

ABC Double Chocolate Chunk Cookie

As I mentioned once before, I really enjoy Alternative Baking Company cookies, in their fruity varieties far more than in the traditional flavors I usually go for in a cookie.

But for today's review, I've stepped back onto the beaten path and sampled an old cookie standby—the double chocolate chunk cookie.

The flavor of this cookie was a little too sour for my tastes—I find this is a common problem among vegan cookies, since they tend to use fruit for sweetener and often use bananas for binder. Although bananas were no part of this chocolate cookie, it still had that familiar vegan taste. It was OK, but the weirdness kind of overpowered the chocolate-ness.

The texture was not bad as far as vegan cookies go—though a bit more crumbly than your average egg-based cookie, it was soft and reasonably chewy. But I found it slightly too dry around the outside.

Sadly, in the time that I've been reviewing Giant Cookies, this brand has increased in price to $2.49, rising to 2.1¢ per gram, which is not such a good deal (although expensive is the standard for vegan cookies), so I've had to reduce the price rating down to 2 stars.

In short, while I'd turn to ABC cookies first if I ever became a full-fledged vegan, I would still prefer a standard egg-based cookie if I wanted to satisfy a chocolate craving.

The Bottom Line

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

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A better day

I have to say, after the spectacular failure of our Florida trip, yesterday was a remarkably good day. I hesitate to brag, but I feel like I need to counteract all the negativity of my last let's hear it for the victories!

I solved two big problems at work (one of which—the mysterious non-updating module—had been plaguing me for days, and one of which—the Internet Explorer Black Screen of Death—was new but terrifying).

I had been experiencing some major social anxiety about going to our Drupal Users Group meeting in the afternoon, but by the time the meeting was over, I felt like part of the team again! And I got free pizza!

On the way home, the weather was extremely nice, and I was able to bike fast, breathe, and not lose feeling in any of my digits!

When I got home, I found I had been accepted as an author on the Refashion Co-op, a fashion/crafting blog I've been following with great interest for weeks, and I made my first post, which led to a new visitor to The Unfashionista and apparently even a Pinterest Pin! I feel like my fashion blog might finally be going somewhere!

I also discovered that the mysterious issues with my client's registration system had fixed themselves overnight, so all that stress dissolved in an instant.

For the past 2 weeks, I've been trying to arrange a karaoke night and get all my friends to join me. Me being Suzy Introvert, all this social networking (and by "all" I mean hardly any) has been extremely draining, but last night I got a solid yes (actually a "HELL YE-YAHHHH!!!!!") from one of the participants, so I am highly relieved that my effort is paying off.

And finally, I heard back from my would-be Airbnb hosts in Fort Myers. They have a strict no-refunds cancellation policy, but I'd written them anyway, hoping they could make an exception since the cancellation of my trip was beyond my control. For over a day, I had no reply and I thought they were just going to rudely ignore me. But then bam! An email came in, chock-full of sympathy and at least the possibility of a refund.

I was so happy from all these developments that I had trouble falling asleep at night (it may also have been the large portion of brownie that I ate before bed). So I'm a little sleepy today, but eminently pleased that my luck has improved.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

How was Florida? I'll tell you how Florida was.

They call them "escapes," or "getaways," but to me, vacations more frequently seem like something more along the lines of "ordeals."

No word could be a more true description of the last vacation my boyfriend and I almost took.

You see, he likes to travel frequently, and I, while I can't say uprooting my whole life, stuffing it into a 3-cubic foot suitcase, and tossing it all into the hands of fate is something I like, I generally accompany him reluctantly, complaining all the way. A few weeks ago, he was perusing his many travel alerts, and he called my attention to a really cheap round-trip flight to Fort Myers, FL. Usually when he spontaneously pops a travel idea to me (this happens about once a week on average), I instantly cite some eminently practical reason to decline, but this time, the trip was short, the flight was shorter, the destination was alluringly subtropical, and the price was unbeatable.

So before I had time to really consider the consequences of our actions, we found ourselves booking airfare to Florida. The first thing that happened was the ticket price, which had been so cheap the day before, rose by a good 20 dollars. The increase in cost alone would have been enough to deter me, but Al had the travel bug now, and he wasn't about to let some 40 dollars stand in his way!

The next thing that happened was I looked at my calendar. The 3rd to the 5th had sounded like a pretty good set of travel dates — right over a weekend — when I was looking at the January calendar by accident, but when I realized I needed to look at the February calendar and found them smack-dab in the middle of the week, my enthusiasm plummeted some more. I'd have to actually request 3 days' leave from work for this pointless little jaunt.

Next I started thinking of the added costs of traveling to Florida beyond the airfare. We'd need to book a room and rent a car. Or find bus routes and get taxis to take us everywhere we wanted to go. We would have to buy most of our meals at restaurants. I tried my hardest to think positive (seeing manatees! Getting to try out my new camera! Not having to be at work! Being able to wear short sleeves!) and not worry about the rising true cost of this supposedly cheap vacation, but it was hard when every day a new expense reared its ugly head.

On Monday, the day before we were supposed to leave, after I had already packed my carry-on, Al read the fine print on our reservation and informed me we'd have to pay 30 dollars for a carry-on or 20 dollars for a checked bag. Rather than do that, I pared down my list of essentials and packed everything for the 2-night trip into a backpack that I could claim as my personal item. Now, part of me was excited about the opportunity to prove that I really could travel light, but a bigger part of me was stressed out about all the things that I wouldn't have with me but would surely need.

That night, I really wanted to focus my attention on preparing for the trip, making sure I had everything I needed and nothing I didn't, and, you know, maybe coming up with a few fun things to do once we got there. But of course that was not to be. One of my freelance clients had chosen this week to launch a new online application system for their website, and my last few hours at home were spent frantically debugging and volleying irritable emails back and forth with my surely equally frazzled client.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend was sick. For the past 5 days, he'd been battling some terrible flu. By the night before our 6am departure, he still was feeling pretty awful. I had thus far miraculously avoided catching the illness myself, but the part of me that was not busy worrying about my reputation as a web developer and whether I'd packed appropriately was worried that as soon as I stepped on the plane, my throat would start hurting, and I'd arrive in Florida sick as a dog and without the benefit of my extensive home apothecary. But Al gave me some of his Tamiflu, and together we soldiered on.

We spent the night at his house because it's closer to the airport and his dad was going to give us a ride there. Of course, settling into a new place meant a later-than-normal bedtime—and this on a night when we planned to wake up at 4. I think I managed to get into bed by 11 and was expecting an almost-adequate 5 hours of sleep, but instead was startled awake at 2:30 by Al's dad. Apparently (and of course this was a surprise to both of us) we would have to leave for the airport early so Al's dad could deliver newspapers at 4am.

So off we trundled to the airport in the 20-some-degree dead of night. I had left my winter coat behind because I didn't want to be carrying it all around Florida with me, so that was probably the coldest car ride of my life. Upon arrival at the airport, I stood miserably at the self-check-in kiosk, addled with sleep deprivation and trying to get warm again while Al tried unsuccessfully to enter our reservation number.

An airline representative came over and informed us that our flight had been canceled due to a mechanical problem, and there were no more flights to Fort Myers that day. The usual Valerie would have taken that moment to begin crying, but by that time, I was so resigned to this progressively worsening situation that I was actually relieved to have it brought to an end.

On the way back home, Al asked me if I wanted to take an alternative flight from a different airport at 5 that evening. "Meh," I said, "If you want to." I thought I was beyond caring. But then he added, "There's a layover in Denver."

"What!? No!" I exclaimed. Apparently I still had some standards. And that was the end of that. We went home, went to bed for a few hours, and I went to work while Al nursed his flu at home for another day.

Some things are just not meant to be, and clearly our trip to Fort Myers was one of them. But at least one good thing came of it all. Had this veritable tragedy not occurred, our friend would never have been inspired to email us a graphic response to our woes, and I never would have been introduced to this, the most epic pun I have ever viewed!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Macaroni from UBQ and Tommy Joe's

There comes a time in every MacaroniQuester's career when she eats a macaroni so boring that she wishes she didn't have to review it.

This happened to me twice in the past few weeks, at two separate establishments. Both times, the macaroni was so bland (not bad, but not spectacular either), that I had to spice it up with other ingredients.

Tommy Joe's


At Tommy Joe's restaurant, our latest trivia venue, I added mustard to the boring macaroni to give it a little extra kick. This is actually one of my favorite ways to eat macaroni and cheese when I want a little more out of it.

Urban Bar-b-que

Do you notice that the two macaronis even look the same?
At Urban Barbecue, I had my macaroni with a salad, and the salad came with an abundance of cheese on top. So I sprinkled the macaroni with salad cheese and thus had an extra-cheesy lunch.


Without these modifications, each macaroni would have been awarded but one happy noodle. For not being terrible.

1 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.