Archive for November, 2008

Random Stuff

November 30, 2008

How I Met Your Mother is back! And all it took was an extended view of NPH with his shirt off. Well, that and a tight, cleverly written episode called “The Naked Man.” Gentleman, you are lucky to have that fine-looking lad playing for your team. But that doesn’t mean I can’t admire from afar. 

As I was watching the opening credits of “The Amazing Race,” I was reminded that I always actively root against the teams that appear in bikinis. 

Remember Natalie Cole’s album “Unforgivable,” I mean, “Unforgettable”? The one where she performed duets with her deceased father? Well, there’s an even worse disturbance on the musical scene this holiday season, and that is Elvis Presley Christmas Duets. Was this The King’s idea? Oh, hell no. This is an abomination. At least Natalie Cole can be forgiven because she was at least related to the person she was “singing” with, and in addition to the financial benefits, she had an emotional attachment as well. I don’t think Elvis even met half the people on this recording (and for many, that would have been impossible), much less hung out with them. It’s bizarre, much like the weird contrived hologram duet with Celine Dion on “Idol Gives Back.” 

The ninth track, “Silver Bells,” performed by the evil Anne Murray, appears to be the shiniest of all the turds on this album. There are a few musicians that make me irrationally angry (Phil Collins, don’t think I’m done with you), and she is one of them. There is something about her that disturbs me. Sure, I might have owned a couple of her 45s when I was a naive youth, but then I discovered the original version of “Daydream Believer” and I realized that she squeezed the life out of it, much like everything else in her catalog. I’m sure she’s a perfectly lovely person, but her recordings set my teeth on edge. 

(Wow, I thought I was avoiding Sunday despair before returning to work tomorrow, but I’m unusually cranky this evening.)

Re-entry After a Vegas Trip: The Aftermath

November 30, 2008

The first day at work after a Vegas trip is always the worst. You realize that you didn’t hit that life-changing jackpot and you have to return to your responsibilities, which includes your day job. Reality hits you like a blast of cold water to the face. It hurts, especially if that blast of cold water occurs when you’re standing outside in November in Minnesota.

And as a special treat, I’ve decided to combine return-to-work day with new-haircut day. So in addition to the usual banal questions, I get to hear people point out that I’ve made an appearance change. Really? No, I let my dogs gnaw on my hair at night so I can see what surprise awaits me in the morning. (Normally, I don’t mind as much, but I’m having a difficult time adjusting to this particular cut, so I want the least amount of attention drawn to it as possible.)

With that in mind, I present to you Dos and Don’ts of Conversation with Coworkers Returning from Vegas:

Do ask them, “How was your trip?” This is a nice open-ended question and it allows the person to answer it however they want. They can say as much or as little as they’d like.

Do not ask them, “Did you win any money?” Obviously, unless they are packing their things and skipping out the door, it’s doubtful they hit a huge jackpot. And any insinuation to the contrary is just rubbing salt in their financial wounds. 

Do ask them, “What did you do?” This allows them to focus on the activities that provided them with the most joy and the fondest memories. Also, if they engaged in illicit (or illegal) behavior), this gives them the chance to leave those tidbits out.

Do not ask them, “Did you see any shows?” There’s so much more to see in Vegas besides shows. Also, if they did take in a Cirque production, they can throw that in the overall highlights of their trip. 

However, before I get too cranky, I have to say I feel lucky that I’ve been to Vegas so many times that I’ve been able to experience these questions over and over again. So when someone inevitably asks me something I’ve heard several times before, I’ll take a deep breath, crank out a rote answer, and mentally go back to my happy place.

Ad FAIL

November 24, 2008

I just got an offer for a free calendar from a photo site. However, the offer ends November 31. Does this mean it’s good forever, or never?

Top Ten Albums of 2008

November 23, 2008

I present to you my favorite albums of 2008. The first five have been on constant shuffle in my iPod for the last few months. That’s not to say that the last five aren’t as solid, but listening to the first five has been as natural as breathing lately, but much more enjoyable. “More enjoyable than oxygen”– that’s a ringing endorsement if there ever was one, right?

  1. The Gaslight Anthem – The ’59 Sound: I cannot say enough good things about this album and how much I love it. The first time I heard it, I was completely blown away, and I still am. They wear all their influences on their sleeve (Petty, Westerberg, and most notably Springsteen) yet still sound original and fresh. The singer’s voice is raw and tender in all the right places, scarred but healing. The songs are melodic but the lyrics have weight. I hope they tour again so I can finally see them live.
  2. The Fratellis – Here We Stand: I loved Costello Music, and this album is another set of fun singalong pub songs. I feel like I should be raising a pint and singing loudly in a bar with about 50 other people whenever I hear this. It makes me all kinds of happy.
  3. The Foxboro Hot Tubs – Stop Drop and Roll: Yeah, so I put the EP on my top 10 last year, but the full album is equally great. I’d put this on my favorites list just for the addition of “The Pedestrian” alone. (So far we’ve established that I like retro guitar pop/rock that sounds good in a bar and contains references to death and girls named Sally. Continuing in that vein…)
  4. The Hold Steady – Stay Positive: Picking up where “Boys and Girls in America” left off, another solid, melodic, guitar-driven (with piano accents), rocking album. Near and dear to my heart with the occasional local reference thrown in (they might live in Brooklyn but their hearts are still in the Midwest).
  5. Rick Springfield – Venus in Overdrive: The perennially underrated Rick Springfield rocks a lot harder than people give him credit for. Songs like “One Passenger” and “I’ll Miss That Someday” stand up solidly beside the rest of his pop catalog, while he isn’t afraid to lay on the guitar on “3 Warning Shots.”
  6. R.E.M. – Accelerate: R.E.M. is back in rock mode (and so am I, apparently). They can be delicate and mellow in a good way, but they’ve taken their anger at the past eight years and let out their frustrations lyrically and musically with urgency and intensity.
  7. James – Hey Ma: After several years where members of the band focused on solo projects, they reunited for this release. There’s a dark undercurrent to some of the songs (particularly the title track), yet it’s emotionally moving rather than simple political posturing. I also adore the haunting “Upside Down.” They’ve created some of the most beautiful music of their career and haven’t missed a step after taking some time away.
  8. Mike Doughty – Golden Delicious: This album begins with the politically-tinged “Fort Hood” which, like James’s “Hey Ma” counters the dark lyrics with a bright melody. It ends with a profoundly lovely cover of “Book of Love.” Also, bonus points for including “bacon” in the title of one of the songs, although it’s not my favorite track– it would be a toss-up between the two previously mentioned songs, “27 Jennifers,” and “I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress.”
  9. Duffy – Rockferry: A nod to soul sirens of the past (particularly Dusty Springfield), it has that whole retro vibe that I eat up like pumpkin muffins.
  10. Weezer (the Red Album): Although some of the songs venture into rock opera territory, overall it’s Weezer doing what they do best– putting out solid fun guitar pop songs while slinging just a little attitude.

Food and Beverage Recommendations

November 22, 2008

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale: There’s nothing to celebrate about that. A friend of mine swears by anything Sierra Nevada (especially the Pale Ale), but it’s just too bitter for me. 

Charles Shaw Shiraz (that’s Three Buck Chuck to most of you) pairs well with pasta and Barilla tomato basil sauce. Not so well with White Castle. 

I stand by my initial three-beer pumpkin review. I conducted a more scientific taste test, and came to the same conclusion. 

That is all.

Things to Do Before a Vegas Trip: Pack

November 21, 2008

This seems obvious, but I think I put as much energy (if not more) into avoiding packing than the packing itself. 

For someone who likes to travel, I should be able to pack in ten minutes. I’ve even obsessive-compulsively made lists detailing all the items I’ve brought on past trips in the hope that it will serve as an easy guide for the next time. But seasons change (thank you, Expose), wardrobes change, airline regulations change… and it’s all for naught. Plus, I’m a major packing procrastinator. I’ll find anything to distract me– reading, blogging, cleaning, napping, showering, shopping… my attention span suddenly disappears at the sight of a suitcase. 

Typically, I’ll start to think about packing a month in advance. I’ll start auditioning outfits, and making sure I have comfortable shoes. Shoes are key in Vegas. The hotels look deceptively close, and the insides can also be larger than they initially appear. So even though those stilettos look cute now, you’ll be cursing them later after walking from one end of Caesars Palace to the other.   

You might want to bring a pair of nice shoes if you plan to visit any clubs (which I usually don’t). I’ve learned from personal experience that doormen do not look fondly upon sneakers, especially if you’re male. 

If you’re traveling during the summer months, make sure you bring sunscreen. You might also want to pack a light sweater for the casino, as they tend to crank up the air conditioning. During the spring, fall, and winter, bring several layers. Check the weather sites (my favorites are weather.com and wunderground.com) for the forecast. You never know if you need to throw in a pair of shorts or a sweatshirt. You can get a general idea by looking at the historical highs and lows, but the real fun begins when the 10-day forecast starts to include days you’re going to be there. 

Vegas has lots of shopping opportunities, so if you accidentally leave something at home, you can always pick it up there. I always tell myself as long as I have my tickets, my driver’s license, my cash, and my birth control pills, I’m good to go.

Things to Do Before a Vegas Trip: Plan Your Dining Options

November 20, 2008

Gone are the days of the $5 buffets on The Strip. However, with the increase in price, there has also been an increase in variety and quality, in most cases.

I find myself not wanting to waste a meal here. There are so many wonderful culinary avenues to explore. Most of them are expensive, so we try to treat ourselves to one fancy meal per trip. But to minimize having the “what do you want to eat?” “I don’t know, what do you want to eat?” exchange, I try to plan my dining options so I have a list of suggestions at the ready. 

My five favorite buffets:

(I wanted to put Bellagio on this list, but I haven’t been there in at least five years, so my memories have faded.)

  • The Buffet at Wynn: They have two kinds of bacon for breakfast. And these little hash brown balls that are crispy on the outside and are filled with love on the inside. And I discovered my love for muesli here. They have it all. A little more expensive than the others, and a bit of a hike if you’re staying mid-Strip, but worth it. 
  • Spice Market Buffet (Planet Hollywood): The breakfast quality has fallen off a bit (only three ingredients for omelettes?), but they still have a good variety of quality food. Also, the best option for vegetarians, as they feature a feast of hummus at their Middle Eastern station.
  • Le Village Buffet (Paris): It’s all about the crepe station at breakfast, although the lines can get pretty long. If they don’t have Nutella as one of the options on display, ask. They also have staples with a few fun French things thrown in (quiche, chicken a la reine).
  • Cravings (Mirage): The freshly tossed salads are a great way to start a meal here. (Get your mind out of the gutter– they have a station where you point to the ingredients, servers throw them into a bowl, and mix them up with dressing to cover everything evenly.) They have a wide variety, including a nod to Southern food along with fantastic pork dumplings and a gelato station for dessert. 
  • Bayside Buffet (Mandalay Bay): Best biscuits and gravy on The Strip (at least that I’ve found so far), though it is a bit of a hike if you’re not staying South Strip. (Paris is a reasonable equivalent.)

 

Five buffets to avoid at all costs:

  • Circus Circus: Really, do I have to explain this one? Anything with a clown theme is right out.
  • Excalibur: The equivalent of Old Country Buffet. It’s not horrible, just mediocre. And for about the same cost or slightly more, there are so many other interesting options nearby. I mean, give in to ESPNZone at New York New York if you have to.  
  • Flamingo: Or as we like to call it, House of Bland. Nothing has any flavor to it. The food is mostly beige. My mother-in-law got food poisoning here once. And it’s located suspiciously close to their exotic animal habitat.
  • Sahara: I have not personally eaten here, but I have heard horror stories. They can’t even get breakfast right, and how hard is it to screw up breakfast? 
  • Imperial Palace: I have not eaten here either, but this is also legendarily bad. However, breakfast is edible here. Barely. 

 

Five casual dining options:

  • Planet Dailies (the coffee shop in Planet Hollywood). They have a little bit of everything (burgers, Asian, Mexican, omelets), but put their own spin on it. The food is always fresh and tasty. And the drink menu is outstanding. 
  • Earl of Sandwich (Planet Hollywood): Toasted like Quizno’s, but so much better. My favorite is the All American, a blend of turkey, ranch, cranberries, lettuce, and tomato. It’s like Thanksgiving in your mouth all year long.
  • Victorian Room (Bill’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Saloon and Shootery): They have a fantastic Asian menu, served fresh and hot. They also have a decent selection of salads, sandwiches, and burgers, along with omelettes and egg concoctions for breakfast. Occasionally they have complimentary coffee cake at breakfast.
  • Payard Patisserie (Caesars): I’ve only been here for breakfast, but they make a fantastic sandwich out of pretzel bread, salmon, onions, capers, and cream cheese. They also have some amazing pastries that look like little delectable works of art. Beware the beverage prices, though– orange juice and bottled water can cost $5.
  • Augustus Cafe (Caesars): This coffee shop also serves many tasty things. While they don’t have the variety of Planet Dailies, they have consistency and quality, and they choose dishes where the flavors complement each other well. I’m thinking particularly of the bleu cheese and steak salad. 

 

Five fancy dining options:

  • Sterling Brunch (Bally’s): The most expensive buffet in Vegas, but they serve high-end items like lobster tails, filet mignon, escargot, and caviar, all washed down with unlimited Perrier Jouet champagne. (Note: Don’t be that guy who eats nothing but lobster and walks away after consuming five plates full. He’s the real reason the price has risen drastically, not the economy, so blame him.)
  • Michael’s (South Point): Like having the equivalent of an elegant pit crew at your table? This restaurant has attentive service, and the salmon makes me cry with joy. I haven’t dined at the South Point location yet, but they moved the entire staff and recreated the dining room with a few modern additions (like a bathroom), so I have high hopes.
  • Mon Ami Gabi (Paris): Speaking of things that make me cry with joy, I had a steak here with a merlot butter reduction that was out of this world. I cannot wait to ascend the steak summit at Delmonico someday to compare the two. This restaurant could also be listed under casual dining options, depending on what you order, but dinner can be fairly spendy. It earns huge points for atmosphere– dine on the patio with the Bellagio fountains in the background when the weather is bearable. Word of warning: Do not dine on the patio when it is ridiculously hot. 
  • Foundation Room (Mandalay Bay): You have to have a membership or know someone who does. We were lucky enough to meet someone who was generous enough to treat us to a meal here, and the experience was phenomenal. The view alone is worth it. You know all those travel shows that start with a view from the top of Mandalay Bay and gaze down the Strip? They all start here. 
  • Eiffel Tower Restaurant (Paris): In addition to providing outstanding views of the Bellagio fountains and the hotels in the center Strip, this restaurant also provides great service and excellent food. If you’re on a budget, try the bar menu or stop in for drinks, dessert, and a view. 

 

Five other restaurants I also highly recommend:

  • Mesa Grill (Caesars)
  • Daniel Boulud (Wynn)
  • Bradley Ogden (Caesars)
  • BLT Burger (Mirage)
  • Postrio (Venetian)

Pumpkintastic! Dairy Queen Pumpkin Pie Blizzard

November 19, 2008

I’m just waiting to accidentally type “blumpkintastic.” You know it’s going to happen, especially if I keep posting while I’m half asleep. Photographs would most definitely not be involved.

I had high hopes for the Pumpkin Pie Blizzard at Dairy Queen, I really did. For the first half of the concoction, I was extremely pleased. The last half was a letdown. They do not take their mixing skills seriously. 

My first few bites were blissful, a wonderful mix of pumpkin and crust and ice cream. It was creamy (ice cream will do that, hence the name) and crunchy and flavorful. Then, I ran out of pie. It would be one thing to go from plain ice cream to the added element of the pumpkin mixture, but not the other way around. My cup was half full… of pumpkin. 

Rating (on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest): 3 pumpkins for the first half

tinypumpkin7tinypumpkin7tinypumpkin7

0 pumpkins for the second half (because they were conspicuously absent)

Things to Do Before a Vegas Trip: Vegas Music

November 18, 2008

If you’re lucky enough to have a trip to Vegas planned in the near future, there are several things you can do to make the days leading up to the vacation almost as fun as the trip itself. 

To get yourself in the mood (and to accompany some of the other activities in this series), create a playlist of your favorite Vegas tunes. 

My top five Vegas songs are:

  • Viva Las Vegas – Elvis Presley
  • Drink to Me Medley – Dean Martin
  • People Get Really Drunk in Las Vegas – Size 14 
  • Luck Be a Lady – Frank Sinatra
  • Las Vegas Is Waiting – Kevin Bowe

If you’re looking for new music, go to your favorite purveyor of MP3s and search for “Vegas.” I recently purchased the following five songs on iTunes to enhance my collection:

  • Vegas – Adam Derry
  • Vegas – Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers
  • Vegas – All Time Low
  • Waking Up in Vegas – Katy Perry
  • Big Casino – Jimmy Eat World

I might expand this list later (when I’m not nodding off at the computer), or maybe I’ll go into a post for each song in detail. I haven’t decided yet, but that might be my next big project when I run out of pumpkin items.

TiVo Dilemma

November 17, 2008

I’m thinking about removing my season pass to “How I Met Your Mother.” This is a decision I will not come to lightly. But the show has gone from providing several belly laughs per episode to the occasional chuckle. 

I don’t know if they were getting into a rhythm, and then they got thrown off by the strike. I don’t know if we’re all just ready for the mother plotline to wrap up already so we can have all Barney, all the time. Initially, the Stella plot was good, and the last episode of last season was amazingly well done, especially the beginning sequence to “Nice Dream” by Radiohead. I love their thoughtful choices of music; the show has also featured “Here Comes a Regular” by The Replacements and “Voices” by Cheap Trick. And the high point of this season for me was their quest for the ultimate burger, because that struck a chord with my love of meat.

But last week’s episode really bothered me. Lily and Marshall began talking about having a baby, and if there’s one way to kill a show, it’s that. It can be one thing if you start out as a family show, but once you introduce the poopy diaper jokes after several seasons of adult humor, it’s over. And really, I should give the writers more credit than that because it’s a very clever show, and they’ve been excellent with keeping the continuity down to the smallest detail (although I’d love for “slap bet” to make a return any day now).

However, this piece of news was even more rattling (oh, bad choice of words) than the potential baby plot. A future episode will feature Kim Kardashian (she of the big ass and sex tape fame, in case you hadn’t heard), and two of the biggest wastes of oxygen on the planet, Heidi and Spencer from “The Hills.” It’s bad enough that MTV employs them on a badly scripted pseudo-reality show, but for a legitimate comedy to put them on the payroll, if only for one episode? I can’t get behind that.

When they had Britney on last year, they were just trying to give the poor girl a hand. She had a few issues, and she needed their help getting back on her feet, for crying out loud. And now look at her. (My husband did just that, twice, when they showed “Womanizer” on TV this morning. Oh, the magic of having a DVR. And she’s on her feet in at least half of the video.)

My DVR is recording the current episode as I type. During the December hiatus, I’m going to do some serious thinking about the sources of my entertainment. Come on guys, don’t let me down. Unless they’re inviting those evil people on to completely take the piss out of them.