Archive for January, 2010

Domino's Pizza Experiment

Posted in Recipes with tags , , on January 19, 2010 by Verge

Okay, we certainly know full well that cheese is not vegan.  But, it really irks us when people ask us “are you allowed to eat that?”  Allowed by whom?  We allow ourselves to do and eat whatever the hell we want.  That’s why on my birthday I ate raw salmon, and that’s why tonight, we decided to try Domino’s new and improved, completely re-recipeed pizza.

Now, first off, I’d like to voice my skepticism and a little pizza preference.   Pizza is delicious, no doubt, but there are a hundred opinions of what makes a good slice of pie out there, and here’s mine.  First of all, Philadelphia is known for a few food staples.  Philly Pretzels, Philly Cheesesteaks and Philly Pizza.  Now, you’ve got your Chicago-style, your New York-style, and your Philly-Style Pizza.  Most often, Philly-style is epitomized by Lorenzo’s Pizza on South Street for the late night, drunken, cheap and quick slice.

Let me make myself absolutely clear on this subject.  Lorenzo’s Pizza SUCKS!  Shitty dough, unwieldy to handle, undercooked and soft, dripping with grease…I really feel ashamed when out-of-towners are told that they have to have a slice of this train wreck of a culinary experiment.  Lorenzo’s sucks so bad then you actually have to pay extra to get a box!

A lot of people also claim that chain store pizza is horrible, but their local so-called “real” pizza shop has kick ass pizza.  That’s a bunch of bullshit.  Most of the time, the local stores aren’t run by Italians at all.  In fact, it’s a whole separate debate whether or not Italians are the best people to make American pizza anyway.  All too often, the local Italian Restaurant is run by Mexicans and teenagers who serve shit pizza, sloppy white flour pasta with canned tomato sauce, and reconstituted Coca-Cola made from carbonated tap water and syrup.

Now, everyone has their own favorite kind of pizza, but this is the way I like it.  If the pizza is greasy, it’s made from poor ingredients.  If you have to towel off your slice, or hold it vertically to drain off orange liquid, that means that your pizza shop uses high-in-fat, low cost, bad for your health mozzeralla cheese.  Also, when I hold a slice vertically, not only should there not be any cheese fat dripping off the slice, but the cheese has to actually stay on the bread.  If it does not, the sauce is watered down and cheap and will likely slide right off of the pie with the first bite.  That is certain failure in my eyes.

The crust must be cooked enough to stay horizontal when you hold it by the crust.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be thin crust, but if it’s regular crust, it must be cooked enough to be firm.  It cannot be doughy or flimsy or soft.  The sauce doesn’t have to be made with actual fresh-cut ingredients, but it better have some oregano and basil and garlic flavor.  Sweetness is a sin.  Tomatoes are acidic, not sweet, and High Fructose Corn Syrup has no place in real tomato sauce.  SpaghettiOs, sure, but not pizza.

So, I really admire that Domino’s Pizza decided to shoot its own foot and admit that it’s product sucks.  They weren’t really claiming that they made the best pizza.  They promised that they would get you and your family or friends pizza damn quick, delivered in less than half an hour or it’s free.  And they did, for years, successfully.  And, they could have for years to come and continue to be profitable without rocking its own boat.

The local Domino’s Pizza is literally a mile from our house.  In the three years we’ve lived in Atco, we’ve gotten pizza from them twice.  The first time was the day we moved in because it was close, fast, cheap, and fed our friends quickly.   I wanted to try the new Domino’s pizza because they have been so damn bold in their advertising campaign.  Their introductory deal of two medium pies, each with two toppings, for 12 bucks, made it especially tempting.  We NEVER eat fast food, but I wanted to give this a shot as an experiment and, self-fulfilling enough, as a blog entry.

In a further test of the soundness of their business model,  I decided to order online.  I’m completely at ease ordering things online, but the Domino’s website was a whole new experience.  It truly kicks ass.  First of all, it worked flawlessly.  Subsequently, it had unmatched features.  The current coupons are right there, according to your locale.  You pick one and then proceed to fulfill the details of that coupon.  You can choose crust type, sauce type, and the toppings are divided into meat and non-meat varieties.  When you add a topping, you are given the choice of regular amount, extra amount, or light amount.  Furthermore, an interactive virtual pizza actually shows you what and how much your putting on your pie, which is a damn fine novelty.

We decided on two pies with normal crust, normal sauce and normal cheese, mostly because that is what we wanted to sample of their so-called new recipe.  One pie we decided to go with black olives and pineapple, and the other we went with extra spinach and extra feta cheese, a kind of Greek inspired pie.  After placing the order for pick up, and paying a couple of extra dollars for the Greek pizza, I was amazed by the awesomeness of Domino’s website.

As soon as you place your order, the website begins an interactive update of the progress of your pizza making.  It gives you the name of the person actually making your pizza, which must honestly be the name of the shift manager.  It also gives you the exact time of preparing, baking, quality control and readiness of your pies.  I’m sure that these are all just computer generated, but it’s pretty cool, and sure enough, accurate.

When we arrived, our pizzas were ready to go.  They smelled delicious on the ride home, but honestly, when does pizza not smell great?  So, here’s the real review of the brand new Domino’s pizza.

The ingredients were tasteful:  the pineapple was delicious, although I’m sure it was from a huge can, and the spinach taste very fresh.  The sauce was not as spicy nor as spicy (if you know what I mean) as the new ads claim.  It tasted like fairly regular pizza sauce.  The cheese was not cheap and greasy.  The crust was cooked well and the new butter and garlic paint job made the crust ends taste really delicious.

I enjoyed it.  I honestly like it better that a lot of pizza that is supposedly good.  It was cooked well, it wasn’t terribly disguising, and Domino’s website, customer service and accuracy were a welcomed bonus.  I’m not going to say that it was very healthy, or that we’ll be ordering every Friday like my family did for years, but for the price, it really can’t be beat.  I’ve had so-called real pies, and generally I’m out 15 bucks just to have my chin burned with piping hot cheese when I take my first bite.

And, even Poe liked it!

Rail Road Hiking

Posted in Good Times with tags , , , , , on January 19, 2010 by Verge

Over the weekend, Monika and I went on two afternoon hikes.  In our haste, we forgot to charge our camera the first day, and the second day it was raining, so we have no photos of our excursions, which suits me just fine because the hikes were more about collecting the experience rather than a few photos.

It’s hard to explain why I am so enamored by old railroad tracks and trains because I’m not really sure myself.  I can be reasonably assured that trains have always been a fascination of little boys.  My nephew loves them and has a sizable collection, some of which I contributed.  Of course he watches Tommy.  I remember setting up train tracks in our basement every Christmas when I was a kid.  They were my fathers, and I still have them in my attic, although they haven’t been set up in years.  I don’t have a basement, but someday…

There were a lot of “right-of-ways” that ran close or through Atco.  Most of these were, in the beginning, for cutting down trees  in the Pine Barrens and bringing them to Philadelphia for the expanding city.  They also transported the glass that was made in several glass furnace factories located in the woods to the city for windows in the newly built buildings.

In later years, the destinations reversed, and trains instead hurried passengers from Philadelphia to Atlantic City in a trip that formerly took over a day to make.  In fact, nearby Berlin, formerly Long-a-Coming, was originally an overnight stop on that trip.  When the name of the local train station there began to confuse travelers, they changed the name from Stratford Station to Berlin, along with the name of the town itself.

There are two active lines that still run latitudinally through Atco.  One is right through the Center of town and has been there for as long as Atco has existed.  These days, it’s run by NJ Transit and can technically bring you from 30th Street Station in Philadelphia all the way to Atlantic city.  It connects with PATCO at Lindenwold and Amtrak at 30th Street.  There, you can catch the Northeast Corridor Line that will bring you from D.C. to Boston.

The other one is to the south of Atco and was part of the Pennsylvania Reading Seashore Line, originally called the Pennsylvania Atlantic City Rail Road Line.  I’m no expert yet, and I’m always reading more and more, but I think at one point it may have been absorbed into the Central Rail Road of New Jersey, and perhaps again reabsorbed into Conrail in the 1970’s.

This line still operates as well, but it is not a passenger line and I believe only transports freight.  It runs from Camden in the West to Atlantic City in the East and you’ll rarely catch a glimpse of a train running on the tracks.  We’ve hiked on this line a bunch of times and I’ve never seen a train running on it.  This is the railway that runs through the center of Clementon right next to Harper’s Pub, and through downtown Haddon Heights, where the original station still stands and is maintained by the local Historical Society.

We parked on the corner of North grove Street and Norcross road, and hiked east on the rails.  We’ve never been on this particular stretch of tracks.  We always bring a backpack and plastic bag to hold anything of interest that we find.  Although it’s against a lot of hikers creeds, we sometimes bring back items that we may find.  We’ll never destroy parts of history, but some old trash, rocks, or rusty rail road spikes aren’t exactly a piece of history in general, and are just cool little collectibles that I like to decorate with.

We came across a horse farm that we never knew existed, and a woman in her forties was out back feeding the horses.  We said hello and asked if the half dozen horses that were there were all hers.  She said that she only owned one of them so I guess she was boarding the rest.  The horses came over to the fence to inspect the visitors (us) and we really wanted to pet them, but resisted.  Although the woman seemed nice enough, we were in the Pineys, and you just never know what kind of people you’re going to encounter.  There were a few men on the other side of the field that glanced our way, so I wasn’t about to invade anyone’s space.

There are old telegraph poles that run down this line, and I’m always looking for an intact insulator cap, which I have yet to find.  These lines have been hiked so many times over the years that a really good insulator cap is impossible to find.  I did find one that was in pretty good condition, but in two pieces.  There are always little shards and chunks that you can pick up, and I pondered whether or not my friend Eva, who is a glass blower, would be able to melt down this type of glass and make something with it.

Further down we ran into some people riding quads and they were nice enough.  A brief hello was all that was exchanged and that was fine with me.  Off the tracks a little bit, we found the remains of an old house of some kind.  There was a well that had been filled in, and a pretty good sized foundation.  around back was a few steps and a porch, and I wondered if this had been a station at some point.  It was made of concrete blocks that kids had clearly moved around and stacked up in various ways, and there was a pole nearby that must have provided telegraph, phone or electricity at some point.  Abandoned buildings are always a treasure to find.

I also found one really unique find.  It was a ceramic insulator cap that was still attached to the pole that had been downed.  I had to unscrew it and although it had a few chips on the rim I was amazed that no one else had come along and taken it before me.  Clearly the pole had been downed for some time and all the other caps had been taken.  I’m going to use it either as an ashtray or a candle holder.  We hiked probably a mile down and a mile back, and called it a day.

On Sunday, we wanted to look for signs of the old Williamstown Brach of the Pennsylvania Reading Line which, as far as I can find, had been torn up in the mid 60s.  It’s not hard to find where it ran and there are still signs of it on satellite images that I have looked up.   Plus, there’s still a section of town called Williamstown Junction with a little store called Junction Liquors, so that really narrows it down.

We’ve been back here before when geocaching. There’s an old weigh station of some sort that is along the path of the old rail line.  A little exploring turns up a ton of really cool, interesting remnants.  For some reason, when they tore up the rails of this line, they also tore up the ties, so there are huge piles of rotting rail lroad ties all along the right of way which you can recognize by the obviously artifically raised ground.  We found the concrete and wood remains of an old mile marker, the actual sign long gone.  There was another building back here as well that must have been some kind of station.  Huge sections of brick had been toppled, but it was at some point a sizable building.  At some point there was a lot of garbage being dumped back there, and that yielded some pretty interesting old bottles.

That day was raining, but it didn’t stop us from exploring.  We looked all around this patch of wood before stumbling into the back of a rock and sand supply yard nearby.  We hiked our way through the yard without incident and out onto New Brooklyn Road, which is loaded with curiosities.  All the houses on this street are from a different time, and one of them has a little farmer’s market out front.  We had to stop and take a look inside the barn that was there because it was just too damn interesting.  There was a barn cat inside that we did not disturb.  After poking around for a few minutes, a older gentleman, probably in his 70s, came out of the house to talk to us.  We bought a small bag of tomatoes from him for 2 dollars because they looked good and we needed them.  I forgot to ask the old man what the deal was with the sign on the barn that said “New Jersey Devil Scull.”  That alone warrants a return trip.

We hiked up the tracks back to our car parked at Williamstown Junction and headed home.  For our troubles we acquired:  1 cermaic insulator cap, 3 glass insulator caps, 5 interesting bottles, 9 iron screws, 2 iron bolts, 3 iron nuts, 1 piece of talc, 2 pieces of limestone, 1 flintstone, 15 glass marbles, 2 very heavy can-shaped weights, 6 assorted couplers, a pile or iron spikes, a pile of coal, and one bag of tomatoes.

Exploring places that are abandoned or are the remnants of a long ago reminds me how fleeting life is.  And just being there is proof to me that I’m not squandering what little time we all have.  It should be spent with people we love, doing the things that make us happy.  The rain and threat of crazy Piney’s wouldn’t stop us from going hiking this weekend, and it never will.  Tell us if you’d like to join us sometime for a hike and some exploring…and remember your camera.

33

Posted in Good Times on January 13, 2010 by Verge

I spent last Friday with my wife and friends to celebrate my 33rd birthday.  It was truly a relaxing day that began with sleeping in until 10:30, a luxury I enjoy because I don’t have to go to work on Fridays.

Monika woke me with a bed full of presents that I unwrapped while still shaking off sleep.  Her choices were both practical and desirable, and her knowledge of my stylistic taste is spot on.  She gave me a jacket and vest, an antique, monogram tie clip, an awesome Fedora  (my first), and a pair of the most excellent ties I’ve ever seen.  (Check out the tie shop for yourself, listed on the right under “Wares and Wears.”)

First, Monika and I had to head to deep South Jersey to pick up Poe, our second cat, who had gotten fixed the night before and was waiting at the animal hospital.  She was not happy about being in a kennel overnight, and though I’d like to believe she missed sleeping in bed with us the night before, in reality, she probably missed her cat companion more.

The hospital is near our good friends’ house, and luckily they were both at home too.  The kids were off at school and so we enjoyed lunchtime fried tofu and Bloody Marys.  We hadn’t gotten to see one another in the past few months.  In fact, it’s quite possible that the last time we saw them both was at our wedding in May where she served as photographer and he was a groomsmen.

We got our wedding pictures and once I choose a few, and Monika doctors them a bit, I’ll post my favorites.  We talked about the Holidays and life while watching the drama of a freshly cut kitty explore the domain of a dog and two other cats.  They were relatively cordial to one another, to our relief.

For the evening, we opted to dine alone.  We hardly go out to restaurants, and almost all the time, it’s with other people.  There are only a few times a year that we decide to dine alone:  our birthdays, and our anniversaries.  We went to Swanky Bubbles, my favorite local restaurant, where we decided to order two dishes we’ve never had before.  Both were pasta dishes (one not vegan), and both were delicious.  I also ordered sushi, since it was my birthday, and we had cocktails.

There was a mix up with the bill, briefly, and the general manager spoke with me, resulting in a comped Sapphire Martini.  We had invited Monika’s parents and sisters to meet us for a brief cocktail hour before we headed to the club upstairs.  The gave me a new Salman Rushdie book, among other things, including a hip pair of 3-D glasses.

Facebook is amazing sometimes.  I had wanted to relax in the lounge upstairs with my wife, and casually suggested to her that we could invite some people to join us if they were up for a night out.  She made a quick invite on Facebook, resulting in at least 20 people showing up at my birthday party which was not ever really planned to be my official “Birthday Party.”

We danced, and chatted, and drank and had a great time. There were only a few other people in the club and so it made the atmosphere feel exclusively for us.  People trickled in and out over the course of the next few hours until it was only a handful of us.  The general manager wished me a Happy Birthday personally by buying us our last round of drinks.

We wandered home and relaxed until I don’t remember met with sleep.  It was quite a wonderful day and I’m glad I was able to share it with so many friends.  I’m glad everyone gets an annual birthday, so that we can repeat the good times over and over,  throughout the year.

The Charm of Analog & The Design Argument

Posted in Reflections with tags , , , , on January 4, 2010 by Verge

I really do love technology.   But, it can really boil my blood as well.  I have punched my computers on several occasions as if they might work better if my knuckles were bleeding.

Sometimes, analog just works.  But what’s really charming about it is its simplicity.  Like a Rube Golberg machine, the harmony of specialized parts working together in unison is just plain romantic.

Monika bought me a steampunk pocket watch for Christmas, and I’m in love with it.  I stupidly believed it to be broken until I realized that I had to actually wind the watch to keep it functioning.  Now I can’t keep my eyes off of the spinning wheels, the mechanical way the crown winds the gears, the way the seconds jerks off each passing moment in a way that the smooth movement of quartz cannot.

Recently I’ve been fascinated with nixie tubes as well.  These vacuum tubes from the middle of last century predated LCD displays.  They could display any number from 0 to 10 by illuminating different coils in a tube.  The coils were stacked neatly inside, and when a charge was applied, they would glow a warm orange.  They’re not too useful these days but for the nostalgia of the pre-digital revolution.  If I had more soldering prowess, I might buy some of these on ebay and make something useless and wonderful.

Having come from a background in audio recording as well, I can tell you that the majority of audio engineers still use analog components when they can.  They’re not as clean, not as noise free, not as perfect…but they’re perfect sounding in a whole other way.  They’re warm, and actually sound like the 50’s through 70’s when analog tape was all that was ever used.

I’m not much of an antiques collector, but I’m thinking of becoming one.  I can appreciate the amazing capacity of a micro chip to solve equations, billions of time a second, and how much that that helps make our lives easier.  But I want to see the calculations, sometimes.

I want to see the wizard behind the curtain, to be sure that what’s going on is real.  It’s just fascinating to see the unobjectionable craftsmanship of a watch working, in the palm of your hand, dividing time into hours and minutes and seconds.  In many ways, it’s the same desire as longing  to stare into the face of God.  How can such beauty in the universe not be carefully manufactured?

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