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We took a Viking (brand name, not actual Vikings) river cruise down the Rhine, starting in the Netherlands and ending in Switzerland, though the only part of Switzerland we saw was the airport in the wee hours of the morning. We did have a lot of lovely excursions before that, though. I had already written up much of the blow-by-blow in emails to my parents, so I only need to slightly clean them up for posterity:

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Overall

I found this all very restful and relaxing--there's a lot to be said for having no real responsibility for a period of time. (And I've eaten a ton of cheese and sausage and my insides haven't punished me for it, which likely says a lot about the impact of stress.)

We were definitely the youngest guests on the ship. I wasn't expecting us to be the youngest people on our ship, but I was expecting it to skew older, and that's been okay. I've always been good at impressing people's parents.

We’d totally take another Viking cruise and recommend them.
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- We had planned to try to go to Central Park for the They Might Be Giants concert on Saturday, but the weather report said it was going to storm, so we took ARR to Liberty Science Center instead. He had a fine time, but it neverdid actually rain, which was annoying. Ah, well, there will be other concerts.

- As Jethrien noted, we watched Moana with ARR on Saturday, to mixed success. I thought the movie was a lot of fun, on par with a lot of recent Disney fare. And I also loved the really stupid chicken.

- On Sunday night, we tried the pop-up Lutze Biergarten, which is really a collection of tables and food carts. The “frosé” (a frozen wine slushee) was fun, though hit me more than I expected. The food in general was decent, and I was crazy enough to try a bacon-wrapped sausage covered in bacon mac and cheese, which my GI system informed me several hours later was a terrible idea. Tasty, though. (ARR enjoyed the soft pretzels and peel and eat shrimp.)

- I watched the first episode (really a two-parter) of the new Ducktales series, as it's free-to-watch on Youtube. It was absolutely delightful. The characterization is stronger, the voices are less annoying, and the humor is faster-paced than the original.

- ARR has multiple cavities, which is frustrating because we've been anal about the tooth-brushing and there was no indication of this six months ago. So now we have floss picks and fluoride chewables and multiple trips to the dentist to get the cavities filled. The dentist also wants his soy milk consumption reduced (in favor of more water), so we're trying that only at breakfast for now. (I bought ARR several new rescue bot toys as incentive to get through the dental work—each two cavities he successfully gets through, he gets a new bot.)

- I've seen a bunch of doctors lately, trying to address why I seem to be increasingly tired and unmotivated over the past few months. Granted, some of it is clearly stress and depression, likely brought on by reading the news. But apparently I also have low testosterone. It's not low enough that my doctor wants to put me on hormone therapy for it (apparently the side effects can be rather unpleasant), but I've been advised to exercise more and try various over-the-counter supplements and see if that helps. I'm also going to try the Breathe-Right strips just on the odd chance that helps me sleep better. Yay, pharmacology.
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I had a bit of a rough week last week*, so I bought myself a cheap slow cooker. I've never had one before, though I've done a bunch of the higher-heat recipes in my cast iron dutch oven. B's mom was talking up making stock in one, and that idea intrigued me.

So, the first thing I tried was putting the carcasses of two roasted chickens in on low overnight (~10 hours). The result was a very rich broth that wasn't terribly complex. I think it worked as proof of concept, but next time I need to throw a few carrots, celery stalks and onions in with the chicken.

I tried a slow-cooker bread with a very standard part-wheat recipe. It cooked (on parchment paper, which made life easy) for about 3 hours on high, after doing the first rise by hand. The result was a dense, soft bread with very little real crust. I'm glad I tried it, but it's more work for no quality improvement versus just using the bread machine. (As opposed to versus baking in the cast iron, which produces a much better boule.)

Yesterday, I put in a pot roast at 6:30am before I left for work—london broil, red wine, beef stock, tomato paste, bay leaves, thyme, carrots, onions, celery and garlic. It cooked on low for 12 hours and the meat was totally falling apart at the end of it. The sauce didn't reduce at all in that time, though, as I'm used to it doing when I make this recipe in other ways. It's convenient for a weeknight, but for a showstopper dinner I need to use the cast iron so I can sear the meat, brown the veggies, and reduce the sauce.

I definitely want to try pulled pork, I'm tempted to try a chili, and the idea of slow-cooker cake has been brought to my attention. I have yet to hit on anything that I would argue was better than my existing method, but I think there's a convenience factor to be gained, here.

* I had fights with my mother and sister; several longtime coworkers who I rather liked got fired very abruptly; we were briefly afraid ARR had a UTI (he didn't, phew); I have cavities that need filling; and there's another surprise insane step in the continue saga of my house's elevation certificate.
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We checked out the new 99 Ranch Asian grocery store that replaced the Pathmark near our old apartment, and among other things (so many different types of dumplings and noodles and I am super-excited), they had preserved duck eggs, also known as "century eggs". I had never had these before, though I'd heard about them and that they were an acquired taste. But I never back down from weird food.

...Yeah, I have not acquired this taste. You know, when you have leftover roast turkey in a tupperware and the juice kinda turns into a jelly in the fridge? That's what the white of the egg looked and tasted like. Turkey jelly. The yolk, on the other hand, was blackish-green and while the texture was very much that of a soft-boiled egg, the taste was "egg with sulfury, smoky and vaguely meaty overtones." Which was very much not the taste I expect from soft egg-textured things, and the color didn't help.

Short summary: I'd eat them if I had to, but I'm not buying them again.
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- My back went “poing” on Friday afternoon, shortly before we got in the car to go. I threw my cane in the car as an afterthought, but in retrospect it made life a lot more pleasant. It wasn't until mid-week that I was willing to go roaming without it, because I was getting nasty spasms if I stood too long or bent over wrong. This was, however, probably the best possible week to hurt my back, as I had already planned to spend large portions of it lying down.

- I read and played my 3DS on an assortment of couches in our rented house, on my bed, on a lawn chair, and on the beach. (I had the option of additional lawn chairs but the mosquitoes were too much. I got some nasty bites just playing outside with ARR.) I also went to bed at 9pm some nights, and took several naps. This was the portion of the trip I actually considered vacation.

- I actually didn't do as well as Jethrien did in terms of eating lobster—I only had it a couple of times; one lobster roll and twice in assorted seafood dishes. I did, however, eat some form of seafood pretty much every day—and the scallops and mussels were arguably even better than the lobster. I also had a duck burger topped with pork belly, which was delicious and I very much regretted it the next day. I also had blueberries in the form of pie, muffins, whoopie pie, crumble, cheesecake, lemonade, and margarita. I thought the Popovers at Jordan Pond House were very good, but not worth the insane hype. And there is a LOT of good ice cream in Bar Harbor.

- The best cell reception I got all week was halfway up Beech Mountain, which was coincidentally where I was when I got the only call from work while I was away. (Also, I did exactly two hikes, this being the latter one, and they managed to call during one of them.)

- We took ARR to Timber Tina's Lumberjack show (which he very much enjoyed, especially the part where he got to try the big saw). We actually saw a lumberjack show in 2008 in Ketchikan, AK, and by intermission we confirmed that it was very similar because it was run by Timber Tina's brother. (They even had some of the same jokes.)

- I got a set of OiDroids for ARR on a whim, when I was building a collection of things to do on the trip that didn't take up much space. They're paper craft robots that don't require scissors or glue to assemble, which means that I bought a pack of 15 action figures that fold flat. That's a deal! (Also, you can cover them in glitter glue and feel okay about that.)

- Over 20+ hours in the car, the most effective entertainment for ARR was generally either his tablet or singing along to a mix of (mostly) They Might Be Giants, Barenaked Ladies, Weird Al and Laurie Berkner that I put together. But we also played various car games, played with multiple puzzle/game books, colored with crayons and colored pencils, read a chapter of The Hobbit out loud, and napped. The most effective of my pile of “car surprise” purchases was a Rescue Bots sticker book, which should come as no surprise.

- ARR got severely off-schedule via refusing to nap and staying up too late (despite being clearly exhausted from all the hiking he did), so on Wednesday, after a super-cranky morning, I wrestled him down for a nap. I haven't had to do that in months, but it clearly helped. Also, he was in full preschooler pickiness form about food for much of the week, opting mostly to eat potato chips, crackers and cereal. I suspect that some amount of dehydration and wacky blood sugar levels played a role in his moods, as well. We'd remedied a bunch of that by the end of the week. And really, he was generally well-behaved and clearly had a great time, but it's easy to forget that he's four and sometimes acts like it.

- We stopped to visit Jethrien's brother and his family on the way back, and the fact that ARR and his (year-younger) cousin FJG played for two solid hours, effectively unsupervised, with nobody crying? Blew my mind. We need to spend more time with them.
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Reunions was fantastic. We did the one-day Saturday trip via train, as usual, and we brought ARR along.

ARR discovered an appreciation for women's ice hockey, was unenthused by the marching band, ate Chinese food, played billiards at Campus, spent over an hour on a bouncy slide, then another hour in the playroom the 15th reunion had set up, took a nap during the p-rade, saw Koleinu (and thought their rendition of “Hallelujah” was “beautiful”), got ice cream from The Bent Spoon, played Rescue Bots with JG, and saw his first fireworks. There was a bit of crankiness here and there and one bathroom-related incident, but overall he seemed to have had a great time.

We joked that now Reunions has become an extended series of playdates. There were a LOT of kids brought by my cohort this year, and I got to meet Janine's son and both of Kat's kids, among many others. While I didn't see everyone I wanted to (you never do), I saw a bunch of my favorite far-flung folks and got to catch up with Craig for the first time in four years.

Jethrien took ARR home on the train after the fireworks, and I stayed another couple of hours for Cookie Night. Despite my concerns about cookies being delivered, they made it there successfully and we had plenty. Koleinu sounds amazing—they performed their award-winning new song complete with choreography, and it did indeed deserve awards. We also did a bunch of older material with alums joining in, and among other things, I was reminded that the proper tenor part to “Teenage Dream” is just a b-flat over and over. I got to duet on “Hallelujah” and “Pompeii”, which was fun.

Sunday was actually better than I feared, as well. ARR slept until 7, then Jethrien took first shift and I got to sleep until 9. I took ARR to his My Gym class and Jethrien slept until lunch, then she took him to check out a new robotics camp/maker space that opened near us. When they got home, we had a very successful family naptime where everybody got more sleep, and then watched The Lego Batman Movie together. (Including waiting through the credits to see my dad's name.) For the record, I thought that was great and ARR loved it.

Success!
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ARR has off from school last Friday, so he went out to Camp Papa and Gramma while Jthrien and I went to work. Then we went out to my birthday dinner (part the first) at Cellar335, a new tiki bar in our neighborhood. Fun drinks, a lot of high-quality pan-Asian tropical-inspired food. Not cheap, but certainly very good.

On Saturday, I did a lot of chores, but I also got a few hours sitting on the couch playing video games, and I got to sleep in. So that was nice. Then Airspaniel was in town, so she came out for dinner and I made homemade bread and grilled meats to put on it.

On Sunday, we went out to Farmingdale for my birthday seafood feast, this time including the biggest honking king crab legs I've ever seen and a whole big dungeness crab. Then my mom made my favorite chocolate cake with a dairy-free marshmallow frosting instead of whipped cream, which made ARR a very happy boy.

My birthday party had a “taco BBQ” theme—I started a pork shoulder in my smoker (with alder chips) at 6:30 am, and 11 hours later it was falling apart tender and smoky. I also slow-cooked chicken in my cast iron with garlic, orange and cilantro to make a sort of chicken carnitas. I served all that with tortillas, rice, beans and assorted toppings. And a triple-batch of homemade guacamole that disappeared in the first hour of the party. We got a bunch of new faces (probably 30 guests in total) and it seemed like everybody had a good time.

Exciting gifts I've gotten include a fidget spinner, a Star Trek watch and apron, the latest Zits collection, the first trade of the new Jughead series, a book on the history of Magic: The Gathering, a copy of Hyrule Warriors Legends for my 3DS, a pair of silver Superman cuff links, and a bottle of Old New Orleans 20th Anniversary Collection rum.

Oh, and as I was taking the trash out after the party, I realized it was Monday night and that I should take the can to the curb. I reach around to grab the far side of the can and my hand hits something fuzzy I can't see...and a squirrel goes flying off the can. Apparently it didn't see me coming at all and I managed to pop it right in the face. As I pulled the can away it freaked out and started running in circles before finally climbing away.
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Greene Hook just opened down by my office, so Mith and I gave it a try. The Yelp reviews noted the fried chicken, which was indeed really good—the breading was more herb-y than you usually see. That came with biscuits, which had an excellent flavor but were dry; and spaetzle mac-and-cheese, which was a heavy-duty truffle-and-herb affair. Very tasty, and I ended up taking a bag of leftovers back to the office. A little pricier than some of the other nearby options, but I suspect we’ll return.

When my lunch plans got cancelled last week, I instead stopped by the Omniburger food truck, which touts vegetarian food in portable form. The beet and bean-based omniburger was okay, a bit dry. Their lemon-vinegar slaw that was the side dish, on the other hand, was really good. And I suppose I felt virtuous for eating it.

I had lunch with B and J at Liberty Prime Steakhouse, which I’ve been walking past for years but had never tried. I was actually underwhelmed, because while I had a burger, my burger was over-grilled, which bodes poorly for the steaks. B had a “grilled cheese” which was actually a steak sandwich with cheese, bacon and tomato. (This is not to be confused with the three other menu items that, anywhere else, would be called “steak sandwich”.) The Lobster Bisque was respectable; the wedge garlic fries were tasty but super-heavy.

Similarly, Mith and I tried Taste of North China, as Chinese cuisine had been a gap in our lunch rotation. The General Tso’s chicken was decent, the mei fun noodles were very good, and the chicken dumplings were good but not great. Respectable all around; I’d be tempted to branch out and try the Szechuan chicken or something when we go back.

Jethrien and I hit up New Thanh Hoai with ARR from dinner last week. Which we’ve done before, but now that he’s over the peanut allergy, it’s a fantastic choice. Pretty much no dairy in anything, and lots of things he really likes. We got the seafood lo mein and it included four types of seafood and at least six different fresh vegetables—and nothing gets ARR to chow down like variety.

As a side note, I reiterate my opinion that you should get kabobs from Rumi, schwarma from Gypsy Grill, and falafel from Ibby’s.
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The Kungfu Jianbing food truck is actually very tasty—it’s apparently a popular Chinese street food, and while I’d never heard of it before, I like it. Basically it’s meat, veggies and hoisin sauce in a buckwheat crepe. Also, they gave me a free milk tea with my jianbing, and they make very nice—if, as is typical, problematically strong—milk tea.

I’ve been consistently less impressed by Incrediballs, which is best described as “bro food.” Lots of Sriracha and jalapenos, less actual flavor.

We went back to Miso Ramen and made an interesting discovery: While I was underwhelmed by their miso ramen at our past visit, their shoyu ramen is very nice. Perhaps they misnamed the restaurant.

Of note, in the past few months Porto and Tommy Two-Scoops have closed, and I’m not sure of the state of Union Republic.
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Jethrien and I celebrated our ten-year wedding anniversary with a trip to Chicago (while my parents very generously hosted their grandson for a long weekend). We did the architectural society’s boat tour, which was awesome; and the Big Bus tour, which was kinda lame. But mostly, we ate.

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On Wednesday afternoon, my throat started getting scratchy. I figured it was allergies--even though it was worse the next day, plenty of other people seemed to be having bad allergy days too and the pollen count was way up. I stumbled through the day and game night. By Friday morning, it was clear that I was not well. I called in sick and went back to bed...and slept until 12:30. Then flopped on the couch and watched Netflix until dinnertime. Yeah.

(Side note: We went to Miso Ramen for dinner, and I found that their shoyu broth is much better than their miso broth. Amusingly.)

On Saturday, I still felt kinda lousy, but improved enough to not cancel my plans. So I met J and Cubby for lunch on the upper west side, and then met up with Jethrien and ARR to go to the meme picnic that Mith and Puel organized. This was an outgrowth from a lunch conversation Mith and I had months ago, about the various foods one could make to match memes. The party included a cake that was a lie, precious cinnamon roll ice cream (too pure), Georg's spiders (an outlier that should not have been counted), creepypasta salad, some breadsticks we stuffed in a bag, the Harlem Shake, some cheezeburger we haz, and my contribution, None Pizza with Left Beef.

This morning, I took the early shift with ARR, but then went back to bed for three hours. I'm still not 100%, but I'm definitely on the mend. And in retrospect, that was one of the nastier colds I can remember having in years.
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To make life easier, when I use the phrase “smoking” or “smoked” in the following post, please mentally add “in my electric food-smoker” to the end, because common parlance seems to lead people into thinking I put a pork shoulder in a bong.

Anyways, though, because of the placement of Reunions this year, my birthday party got pushed out to this past weekend. I got a nice crowd, around 20 people (several of whom I hadn’t gotten a chance to see in a while), and it went very nicely. ARR played very nicely with the two other (younger) kids who were in attendance, and shared his toys well; and when he got bored with the adults he went over to the computer and watched some videos.

I started smoking at 7am, when I loaded peppers, eggplant and pineapple into the smoker with some mesquite. Two hours later, I chopped the peppers into a pasta salad and pureed the eggplant into a very simple dip—salt, pepper, garlic, onion, little bit of mayo, and that was all. The pineapple I had peeled, halved and put raw sugar on before smoking; and drizzled with a little dark rum after, then sliced up and chilled. Very simple, but it came out really nicely.

Then I made a traditional coleslaw and a vinegar apple slaw to round out the meal. (There was also an assortment of veggies, chips, and dips. And Bigscary brought mango clafoutis.)

Around 1pm, I loaded the smoker again with two turkey breasts (one with a traditional BBQ rub, one with a mignonette pepper and basil rub) and a boneless pork roast. I used applewood chips for that one and it took about 3.5 hours. I probably could have taken them out a little earlier—they dried out a little—but they all went over well. Even the small children liked my smoked turkey.

(Sunday was comparatively quiet. I did lots of laundry. ARR and I got caught in the rain on the way back from My Gym. Many art projects were done. I invented a pizza-pig-in-blanket by wrapping Italian sausage in crescent rolls with a dab of tomato paste and pizza seasoning.)
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I’m way overdue on this Reunions post—last week was a bit of a crazy week and apparently I find it harder to catalog my life when I’m stressed.

We opted not to bring ARR to Reunions this year; instead he went out to Papa and Gramma on Friday night; Jethrien went down to Princeton that night to see bandies and attend the Wildcats arch. I did my usual Saturday roundabout, arriving around 10am and leaving on the midnight dinky.

Not having ARR there was definitely the best plan, though it was emotionally mixed. It gave us a lot more flexibility in terms of where we went and who we saw, and took out the worries about naptime and him getting hot, tired or bored. On the other hand, our generation has had its children explosion, and I think ARR would have enjoyed playing with the other kids and I would have liked to show him off. Also, there was an amazing bouncy castle at one of the reunions and the CJL had an excellent parve spread. Especially given the heat I think we made the right choice, but even so.

We hit the Fred Fox concert, then got food from Tiger Noodles and brought it to Campus Club to eat with our friends. We helped Fyrna set up the kegs for that evening, then made trips to Bent Spoon for ice cream. I hung out at the P-Rade for a while with Aethel and made a new friend (who I hadn’t known in undergrad but lives in Brooklyn now), and then headed over to the CJL to see Koleinu and beat the heat. They had air conditioning and pitchers of Moscow Mules; it was a good decision.* I barely made it back in time to march with the ‘05s, but whatever.

Jethrien stayed at the P-Rade and gave herself mild heatstroke in doing so; we only were at the band tent for a little while before fleeing to the Campus Club reception (and, again, air conditioning). We hung out in the TV room (which had become the toddler sanctuary) with a bunch of folks until everything was back to normal, then went up to the library for a scotch-tasting party organized by ’03 bandies. Then to the orchestra concert and the fireworks, which were a particularly good show this year, featuring both Prince and David Bowie tributes and thankfully not featuring that awful ‘Lils arrangement of “Goin’ Back.”

This year, I tried something new and got catering trays of cookies from McCaffrey’s. I think the ideal is a mix of bakery cookies and packaged ones, as the trays seems a little sparse (even if they weren’t—there were a ton left over that got brought down to the tap room) and none of them were kosher. Next year, I think a mix is the ideal. But Koleinu was great and invited the alums up for most of the set (I got to sing the lead for “Hallelujah”), and while attendance wasn’t as robust as previous years it was still perfectly respectable. I pulled the undergrads aside briefly afterwards to give them a spiel about using the alumni board for networking and such.

People expressly told me that cookie night was their favorite part of Reunions (and joked about wanting to endow it). And I think that’s one of those takeaways I need to remember. Whatever happens in future years with Campus Club or with Koleinu, I have created a tradition that other people enjoy, just by sharing something that I enjoyed. Go me.

* Note that I didn’t even bother trying to log my calorie counts for that day; I just called it a loss. Even with all the walking and lifting I did, I’m sure that I netted at least two days of calories.
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- On Friday, Emily came and watched ARR and Jethrien and I went to the HPMS “Spring Fling” fundraiser (which was shades of the old boy scout Spaghetti Dinner/Chinese Auction). We had a lovely talk with the school’s computer teacher (who obviously had to put in an appearance but this “wasn’t her thing”) and several other sets of parents. We won the auction for a basket of art supplies which Alex spent the rest of the weekend enjoying, and also for a gift certificate to 9th & Coles Tavern, which we haven’t actually been to yet. (We also ended up in an amusing back-and-forth with the parents of ARR’s friend JS. They ended up with the “beach fun” basket.)

- On Saturday, Jethrien’s parents came up with a dozen flats of plants and much gardening occurred. (ARR was actually helpful this year!) Then Jethrien went to Circe du Soleil with Ivy and Mithras (which was apparently very disappointing because they spent too much time on a crappy faux-musical and not nearly enough on aerialist stunts) and I grilled pork chops.

- Jethrien’s parents left on Sunday morning, I took ARR to his My Gym class, and he did a gazillion art projects as we attempted to consolidate the existing art supplies, the new ones from the auction, and the box o’ fun that arrived in the mail from my sister. Then I went to see Captain America and get burgers with a group of our friends, and Jethrien took the evening with ARR. (Apparently playtime was great but bedtime was stressful because he keeps coming up with new and interesting ways to stall.)

- The movie trip also involved an attempt to go to Black Tap, but they have a line like a nightclub, so we ended up at Bareburger instead, and I was very happy with that choice. I had the Blue Elk burger, which was a lovely combination of things I don’t usually have at home (elk meat, bleu cheese, bacon and a sweet/spicy tomato relish).

- A conversation from My Gym. Girl: “I’ll be the princess!” ARR: “I’ll be the king!” Boy: “I’ll be Darth Vader!”

- My weight topped 195 following the cruise, so I broke down and installed a calorie counter app on my phone and I’ve been tracking for the past week. It occurred to me that among the things that triggered my initial weight gain back in the fall were both the daily Zyrtec and the fact that I switched from pushing ARR’s stroller on my commute to biking every day. The latter burns far fewer calories.
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- We went on a Celebrity Cruise with my parents over the past week, which featured three sea days and three days in port at Bermuda. (For the record: Four adults and one preschooler does seem to be a decent ratio so that everyone gets to relax and do some fun things.)

- Regarding Celebrity: The buffet was better than Norwegian, though the specialty restaurants were generally inferior (most of them weren’t accessible unless you were in a special class, and only one offered particularly different fare). The line is in general aimed at an older crowd: Norwegian had facilities for families; this was mostly retirees. The kid’s club was lovely (and ARR had a great time there, about an hour each day), but there were only a dozen kids on the ship total. Also, while the food service staff was great, the activities staff apparently couldn’t get their act together. They screwed up my mother’s room assignment (she was a guest lecturer and her room was comped), moved several activities after reservations had already been opened, cancelled activities with no notice, and just didn’t know when or where anything was supposed to be happening.

- Because of the relative age differences, (“Preschool Georg is an outlier and should not be counted”) and his general charisma, everybody knew ARR. He seriously charmed everyone. By the latter part of the week, random people in the halls and elevators would greet him by name!

- Captain Kate was a hoot: She’s only the fifth female captain in the industry (there are now 7, she’s the first from the US), and she looks like Sandra Bullock but tells “dad jokes” and “Confucius says” puns over the intercom.

- ARR’s eating habits on the cruise were actually much better than ours: He couldn’t eat most of the desserts, and we were eating cake after every meal. (I also had sausage and a variant egg benedict from the benedict bar almost every morning; and blintzes too.) He had a lot of fruit and veggies, discovered he likes hard-boiled eggs (egg allergy: clearly gone), and ate a lot of sushi and shrimp cocktails. I invented the “ugly-face salad” one day when he didn’t want lunch, pulling all of his favorites from the salad bar to design a face. (He did drink too much fruit punch, but soy milk was a little tricky to come by—it needed to be specially requested—and he wasn’t complaining.)

- ARR also seemed to master the concept of phone this weekend: He realized we could call my parents’ stateroom and really wanted to do so; and when he called he managed to have real conversations that actually transmitted information!

- ARR’s best line of the week: While my mother was sorting out her room, I commented that she’d just push people until she got her way. ARR got super upset, and eventually stammered out, “You shouldn’t push your friends! We need to find Gramma and tell her to calm down! You don’t push your friends, even if you’re angry!”

- On the first evening, we went to see the comedian. And I hate bandying about the word “problematic”, but he was a very talented, clearly intelligent black man whose routine included a lot of bad black stereotypes clearly aimed at the retired, middle-America white cruise crowd. It was uncomfortably like a minstrel show.

- We tried to take ARR to the production show (“iHollywood”) the following evening. He said “I don’t like it,” for ten minutes and then Papa took him to play elsewhere. The singers were decent (though most of the men were clearly singing parts written for someone else) and the costumes clearly came from Discount Costume Warehouse, but the aerialists were fantastic. Also, they abandoned the Hollywood theme by the second half and ended on an ABBA medley.

- The crew of the ship may not actually know how to measure the temperature: Everyone was insisting that the port days would be in the low 70s. It was definitely in the 80s; I’m not sure what they were smoking.

- On the first port day, we went to Snorkel Beach, which is a man-made beach five minutes from the cruise dock. It’s small and nothing special, but was perfect for ARR, because it’s on an enclosed cove and there’s a little slide…and there was a 5-year-old named Thomas from the other cruise ship who was interested in playing “icky sticky zone” for over an hour. Later that day (and the other two days) we went to the little playground next to it, which is a lame wooden affair that wouldn’t pass helicopter-parent safety standards, but meant that he could do some climbing and digging and work out some of his pent-up energy from the ship.

- ARR’s says his favorite part of Bermuda was the train; that is, the little trolley-shuttle that took people around the cruise dock.

- On the second port day, Jethrien and I went horseback riding. It was a delightful ride: We went through some greenery to one of the pink-sand beaches* and it was a glorious sunny day. The amusing hiccup was that I got the toddler of horses: He constantly wanted to stop to eat the foliage and needed to be “encouraged” to follow the pack; he was the only horse that forgot to visit the little horses’ room before the ride, so we had to stop several times so he could relieve himself; and when we stopped he’d either try to flirt with the mare Jethrien was riding or antagonize one of the other geldings. It felt very familiar.

- We did the ship’s kitchen tour, when they told us about their food production and walked us through the galleys, which occupied a sizeable portion of one of the decks. I’d never been in an industrial kitchen of that magnitude, and it’s an impressive affair, especially since they make their own pasta, bake their own bread, and even make the ice cream fresh every day.

- We tried the most noteworthy specialty restaurant, Qsine. It was billed as a tapas-style place where you could order up to 6 dishes each, and with the waiter and the couple we were eating with goading us on, we ordered 12 different dishes. This went poorly—when the meatballs that were the size of softballs came out (#9) we cancelled the rest of the orders. It was generally all very good, but we waddled out of there and could barely eat breakfast the next day. (This was especially surprising because cruise restaurant portions are usually entirely reasonable: A three-course meal in the main dining room feels like an appropriately-sized dinner, and I ordered a second entrée a couple of times.)

- On the other hand, they did a dinner and a show event on their film deck, and that was great. The film was The One Hundred Foot Journey, and the six dishes (all very reasonably sized) were French-Indian fusion inspired by the film. (The film is fun and well-made, incidentally. Recommended, especially for foodies.)

- The five of us attended family bingo, which was noteworthy in that ARR won a prize and picked out a pair of pink sunglasses that he wore very proudly for the rest of the week.

- We also hit family karaoke, because the time change made ARR attending a later-evening event more feasible. He didn’t seem entirely clear on what was going on, but enjoyed singing “Happy” with Daddy and Papa, and really enjoyed making roaring noises along to the little girls doing Katy Perry’s “Roar.”

- I think we’re all super glad to be home, despite the trip going really well. Back to all of our usual toys, back to our usual foods, and (starting tomorrow) back to our usual routine. There were a lot of family naptimes on the trip (including several I had to wrestle ARR down for), but the one this afternoon was probably the most peaceful.

*They have red coral mixed with the sand; I was reminded of the Hawaiian green sand beaches in that it was actually kinda lame. If we’d made the 45-minute trip just for that, I would have been disappointed.
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- We went out to Hershey this past weekend to visit Ecmyers and Fairest. The trip went remarkably well. ARR was very good with their son (who, in turn, was fascinated with him), and very patient during the car trips. On Saturday, we went to the open house at their local fire station (ARR got to “drive” a 1922 fire engine they had on display, which he loved), then played in the park after naptime. On Sunday we went to the zoo and then to Roadside America (a gigantic model train city display). The only big hiccups were ARR’s unwillingness to go to sleep in the hotel room (he had to keep giving mommy kisses), and his “doing a runner” at the zoo and needing a time-out when we caught him.

- I’ve found that ARR’s allergies tend to be the most problematic at upscale American restaurants, where they tend to use butter and peanut oil more heavily and put cheese on everything on the kids’ menu. Downscale places fry in vegetable oil; ethnic restaurants often don’t use dairy at all. The Vietnamese place we went to for dinner provided ARR the most variety of the weekend.

- Similarly, cheaper candy tends to be safer. (Unless it’s kosher candy. I buy a decent amount of parve chocolate these days.) We discovered candy dots on this trip, which he was wildly excited for.

- We took ARR to Miso Ramen, which recently opened in our neighborhood. It was…okay? Perfectly fine, but I think the ramen at both Komegashi and Union Republic is better. I probably won’t bother going back.

- As it’s Passover, I’ve been taking my usual approach: This is the time of year when I do eat matzah, rather than when I don’t eat other grains. Also, the box of Streit’s matzah I bought is officially “not for Passover use”, because it has malt and salt in it and actually tastes like something.

- When I was buying said matzah (in the holiday aisle at Shop-Rite), two men came up to me and asked if I knew where the gefilte fish was. I directed them to the Kosher aisle, which apparently none of the employees had thought to do. Call that my mizvah for the holiday.

- I didn’t get to have lunch with any of my friends this week! Mithrigil is traveling for a book thing, Fyrna is traveling for work, V is bogged down with home-buying/parenting/sick friends, and Jethrien had to get a cavity filled. It was disappointing.

- My Eagle Scout penknife, which I’ve had for 18 years, has gotten pretty dull, so I’m trying an experiment: I bought a $10 full-sized pocketknife that has (in addition to the knife, file and snips that I’m used to) regular and Phillips screwdrivers, a corkscrew, a can opener and a bottle opener. It seems like those things will be useful to have in my pocket, but I’m not sure if I’m going to like having the larger object on my keyring. If I do, then I’ll probably buy a nicer full-sized pocketknife with better/more tools. If I don’t, then I’ll get the same model of penknife I’ve always had (even though they seem to have discontinued the Eagle motif).

- I’m irritatingly close to having reviews for half a dozen things, but a few pieces short on each one—there’s a book, two PC game bundles, and two Android games. So much media! So little time!

- Mithrigil has been trying to sell me on the Shin Megami Tensai series for most of the time I’ve known her, so I finally broke down and started SMT: Digital Devil Saga (her recommendation) and SMT: Persona 3 Portable (Puel’s recommendation). They are radically different games that both have interesting concepts and both want my characters to die horribly.
chuckro: (Default)
Okay, fine, it’s not really “media”, but I still file it under “entertainment”.

Mithrigil and I had lunch at Saigon Grill in Jersey City last week, and I had a banh mi (specialty Vietnamese sandwich) for the first time in years. (I hadn’t quite realized how much I was craving one.) It was very nice and I’d totally recommend it.

While walking home a few weeks ago, we noticed a new BBQ place north of Hamilton Park. Determined to investigate, Yelp revealed that it was called Hamilton Pork, and a subsequent visit determined that the BBQ is very good. We tried pulled pork, pulled chicken, pork ribs, beef brisket, roasted cauliflower, French fries and coleslaw. (And by “we” I include ARR, who enjoyed pretty much everything. Most of the menu was safe for him.) The only clunker was the coleslaw, which is kinda bland. I’d like to go back and try both the beef ribs and the baked beans.

Since his retirement last year, my father has formed a weekday lunch club called Men Seeking Pizza. They’ve been trying all of the pizza places in the Farmingdale area and ranking them, typically by the quality of the plain cheese slice. The big winner of the first year was Mary's Pizza, which I got to try this weekend. Nice crust with a good chew, tomato sauce with a strong, distinct tomato flavor, good cheese to sauce ratio. My concern is that it wouldn’t stack up in a toppings competition, because I think the slices are too floppy to support a full veggie pie. In thirty years when I retire and start my own pizza club, my rating system can be different.
chuckro: (Default)
Now, let me just preface that Montreal was lovely, and much of our plans went off as intended. ARR went off to my parents on Thursday evening, thoroughly exhausted; then we got to the airport and to Montreal without a hitch. We enjoyed crepes and hot chocolate at Juliette & Chocolat and wandered around downtown (and bought a book from a “giant stacks” style used bookstore. We explored the underground mall, then wandered about in the snow taking pictures and looking into art galleries until we had a spectacular five-course dinner at Les 400 coups.

On Saturday, the temperature dropped into the negative teens, but we went on an ice wine bus tour, so we spent very little time outside and a lot of time tipsy. We had ice wine, and a smoky red wine Jethrien bought a bottle of, and the most herbal-tasting Riesling I’ve ever tried, and ice cider and “fire cider”; and we learned how they were made. There was cider taffy and a lovely lunch, too. The only hiccup was that I started feeling unpleasantly congested over the course of the day, and my mom told me that ARR wasn’t feeling well either.

Sunday we were supposed to go skiing, but I felt like death and the temperature was still in the negative teens. (Apparently, one of the mountains we considered going to hit -114 degrees that night.) So instead we went to the Archeology museum and learned about the history of Montreal and about Agatha Christie (whose second husband was an archeologist and who worked at several dig sites with him). Then we saw Deadpool and ate smoked meat, ribs and poutine at Reuben's. Not our original plan, but a very pleasant day despite needing a lot of DayQuil to get through it.

It wasn’t until 11am on Monday when things took their turn. We got trapped in the Montreal airport when they cancelled our flight to Newark, and then cancelled our flight to Hartford later that day. Oh, and then directed us to a one-person-staffed customer service desk. It took us over an hour to be told, “Oh, you just need to go through that door.” #$&^#$%# That door? It took us through customs, because apparently even if you don’t leave Canada, you still need to wait in line and do paperwork to leave the airport. Then there’s a different desk and wait to actually get your bag.

Fortunately, I had called Avis while we were waiting and reserved a one-way rental car. We then drove for nine hours (arriving around 2am) through the snow/ice storm to get home. We slept, my parents started here with ARR, Jethrien returned the car, I was feeling better and thought everything would be okay…

And then I discovered that a water pipe had frozen and burst, and our basement carpet was "squooshy". I've spent a lot of today on the phone. (But if you need a contractor in Jersey City, Infinity Maintenance is fantastic. They got here in less than three hours and fixed the pipe and entire wall.) Now I need to get the carpet dried and replaced, and get the insurance company to pay for it. I’m missing another day of work tomorrow to deal with that; I’m hoping that ARR will be well enough to go to school (he was good until 6ish today, then crashed, but I think some of that was residual sickness, lack of nap, and homesickness).

Oh, and that cold that ARR and I had has been passed to my parents and my sister, because no good babysitting deed goes unpunished.

Next time, I want to swap the order and have the best parts of the vacation at the end.
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- Noises Off (Roundabout Theater Broadway Revival) - This show is so awesome, and they pull it off like a goddamn ballet. Perfectly choreographed. Also brought back a lot of memories for me. (Oh, and Selsdon is being played by the guy who played Niles the butler on The Nanny.)

- South House Jersey City - The drinks are fun, but the food is only middling. Certainly not bad, but not as good as you can find elsewhere. I had the BBQ ribs and potato salad, and in both cases, my homemade ones were better.

- Last week, ARR requested that we go out to dinner at a sushi restaurant. (!!!) We took him to More Express (which is More merged with The Box…or something?) and he took down two pieces of kani sushi, most of a California roll, and a bunch of fried rice. Edamame were not the hit we’d hoped for, as he lost interest quickly, but watching the sushi chef work was apparently fascinating. The waitress commented on how well-behaved he was.

- I’ve been keeping a watch for other concerts to attend, but recently passed over the chance to see Meatloaf (who I’d like to see, but not for $200/ticket) and Sister Hazel (when I realized that they’ve released five albums since I last bought one). I’m trying to see if we can make it to either a Shawn Colvin or Jewel concert; or possibly the best of acappella finals.

- I’ve been setting out traps and poison for mice for the past month, and this morning discovered that a cockroach problem I thought had been solved has recurred. At which point I said, “Screw it, time to call the professionals.” An exterminator I found on Angie’s List will be coming by on Friday, and I signed up for their “one-year everything protection plan.” I’m throwing money at this problem because it’s pissing me off.

- ARR is three years old. How did that happen?
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- I tried getting Silk Cashew Milk for ARR, because we've been introducing tree nuts and it's nice to have alternatives to soy milk. (He doesn't like the taste of almonds or almond milk.) I thought, hey, it's made of nuts, it should have a decent amount of fat and protein, right? Wrong. It's basically water with some vitamins in: 25 calories per half-cup, very little fat. I've been enjoying it on my cereal, but there's no benefit for him.

- On a related front, ARR has tried and enjoyed pistachios, cashews, walnuts and pine nuts. He didn't particularly like pecans or almonds, but he doesn't react from them, so that's a step. I've started making him "trail mix" snacks with nuts, raisins, craisins, and various cereals. And occasionally some gummis or jellybeans, because why not?

- This was our week for bringing the shared snack to ARR's class, and I've learned a few useful lessons: 1. Most of the kids don't eat as much as ARR and don't need both an applesauce cup and also a hunk of cornbread. 2. The couple of kids who liked my homemade cornbread ate a ton of it (ditto with the latkas I brought on Monday), but most of them acted like the 2-year-olds they are and refused to try it. 3. They all eat fresh fruit; so next time I should just bring lots of that.

- I did a smoker experiment last weekend: Cornish hens marinated in tequila, orange juice and lime juice, then smoked with applewood. Came out very nicely, and I suspect that this marinade would work well for an oven-roasted bird, too. (I've been working on smoking pork belly, as well, but haven't been satisfied with my results or my glaze. I think it needs to brine beforehand.)

- We tried the vegan brunch at Tea NJ with ARR, and it did not go well--I don't know if there was dairy contamination or peanuts in something, but he ended up throwing up and needing to go home. Which is a shame, because the meal was really tasty. (I made sure to grab his leftovers to eat later.) We're not taking ARR back there, but assuming you don't have food allergies, it's worth a try.

- Park & Sixth in Jersey City has fairly standard Americana food, but their slab bacon is really fantastic. I've had both the lobster BLT and the lobster cobb salad, and in both cases the lobster and the presentation were both perfectly fine and nothing special, but the slab bacon was the real reason to be there. (Their burgers are good too, even if you don't eat pork. Mithrigil will back me up on that.)
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