Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Earth Hour update and another video involving light

Earth Hour was a huge success. Millions of people world-wide shut their lights off for an hour to make a statement regarding climate change. Nashville, which is trying to become one of the greenest cities in America, was one of this year’s flagship cities. I headed downtown for the event and it was pretty neat. Lower Broadway, where Nashville’s Honky Tonks (Country music bars) are located was almost completely dark. Iconic neon signs like the ones on Tootsie’s, Jack’s BBQ, and Robert’s Western World were darkened. Key structures like the Bell South Tower, Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge, Sommet Center, and Parthenon were nearly lightless.

Here is a before shot of the Nashville Skyline. Please remember the event was held on a Saturday and many businesses shut their lights off before leaving on Friday. Here is the after shot. Are they as impressive as I hoped? Not really, but I still think Nashville did a good job. Those clowns in the suburbs could have done better though.

Here is a link a Boston Globe photo essay showing monuments all over the world that went dark in celebration of Earth Hour. You can click on any photo and see it go from fully lit to dark. My favorite is the one of Las Vegas. It’s amazing to see how dark a city known for it’s neon lights was able to get.

In other light-related news, check out this video. Some shepards outfitted their flocks with LED lights and through some really well coordinated sheep-hearding were able to make some art and “animations”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Trader Joes: Overrated! Give me a Rouses.

I don’t feel that my grocery buying habits are very different from the average American’s. I go to the grocery store once a week and typically prepare food at home for my weeknight meals. I try to focus my grocery buying to the outer wall of the store, buying fresh produce, meats, dairy, and bread. I try to steer away from the prepared and frozen foods but do have weaknesses for the convenience of frozen stir fry vegetables, canned soup, the occasional frozen pizza, and hot pockets (my drunk food). I do most of my grocery shopping at Kroger but have been also known to hit the Harris Teeter and Whole Foods. I do not like shopping at Publix because I feel that it’s overpriced. Nashville finally got a Trader Joe’s and I’ve always heard people rave about it, so I decided to stop in and check it out. After about five minutes in the place, I just wanted to put my shopping basket down and get the hell out of there.

I didn’t have a very extensive grocery list. I needed to get some basic staples and thought this would be a simple task. I was so wrong. The first issue was the spice section of the store was absolutely terrible. I needed to pick up a few seasonings for a pork dish I was planning on making. TJ didn’t even have sea salt. What kind of grocery store doesn’t have salt? It was already obvious I was going to have to supplement this trip with a stop at Kroger.

The second issue I had was around the meat section of the store. It’s small and there are no butchers or fishmongers visible. All of the meat is prepackaged. Most of the grocery stores I worked in did their butchering in house. Did TJ have an actual butcher that worked there or did it come in already wrapped in cellophane?

My third issue was that the store seemed to revolve around convenience. There were a ton of frozen heat-and-eat meals, which I don’t eat and lots of frozen meats. These are things I typically do not buy.

I will give TJ credit when it comes to produce. They don’t have an extensive selection, but it looked fresh and the prices were good. They also had a great selection of healthy snacks like nuts and dried fruits. I’m not a giant snacker, but if I was this would be appealing. They did have a great beer selection.

My verdict: The abundance of heat-and-eat foods and snacks reminded me of a convenience store. I wasn’t shocked when I found out that TJ’s had its roots in the Pronto Market convenience store chain. Thus, I feel that TJ’s was a convenience store with a produce section. I’m going to stay the course and make my groceries at Kroger. I just wish people in Nashville would get behind getting a Rouses here. They have the best business model in my opinion. The key word is local. The stores are locally owned and operated and sell locally grown produce, locally grown meat, and locally caught seafood (not an option in TN).

Pedestrians need to pay attention

The weather has been pretty nice the past few days. When the weather is good, I try to leave the car in the garage and either walk or ride my bike. On Wednesday, I rode my bike down to Broadway Brewhouse to have some drinks with some friends. On the way I noticed that the average pedestrian is pretty inattentive. My first observation of this was down by the Borders Bookstore on West End. A jogger was listening to her MP3 player so loud that I could hear it over my own (which was being played at a reasonable volume). The girl ran in front of a car that had the right of way and didn’t even know that she almost got hit. All I could do is look at the driver of the car and shrug my shoulders.

Later on my ride, I was heading down the sidewalk (which I will only do on the most congested streets) and saw a guy approaching me from the other direction. As is customary, each of us stayed to our right. This would mean that if we maintained course, when I rode by he would have been on my left. As I got near the guy, he darted into my path, grabbed the bars of a fence, and started staring at a building. The guy was totally oblivious to my presence and probably wouldn’t have even noticed me if he didn’t hear my bike skidding. I glared at him and he gave me a sheepish look.

The final incident was this afternoon when I was coming back from Lunch. I was behind a black hybrid and both of us were waiting to turn left onto Acklen Park Drive. We finally got the green arrow and started making out turn. A couple tried to dart across the intersection (they had long missed the walk sign) and almost got crushed by the hybrid. The hybrid almost got rear ended by me.

I started searching the internet to see if I could get any statistics on how many pedestrians get struck vs. how many bicyclists. Obviously, there are more pedestrians walking the streets than there are cyclists, but the number of incidents was pretty different. In 2007, in the state of Tennessee, there were 1,067 pedestrians involved in accidents vs. only 279 bicyclists. In Davidson County 228 pedestrians were hit compared to only 50 cyclists.

The moral of the story: while pedestrians do have the right of way, a car is typically going to win that battle. Pay attention as you walk and bike the streets.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Movie Reviews: In Bruges, Choke, and Inglorious Bastards

In Bruges: This film is about two hitmen trying to lay low in Bruges. One is excited about the sightseeing and the other is pissed that he has to hang out there. I was really interested in seeing this movie for two reasons. The first is because it was called a European version of Pulp Fiction, but main reason is because I really enjoyed my visit to Bruges a few years ago. Bruges is a quiet little medieval town in Belgium. I really enjoyed it because it’s a beautiful town and I like the pace of life. All the people there were really into were beer, food, and chocolate. I enjoyed the scenery in the movie, but found it hard to follow the plot. I give it a two out of five.

Choke: This is the second movie based on a book by Chuck Palahniuk, one of my favorite authors. It’s about a sex addict who supplements his income by pretending to choke while eating in restaurants. He also has to deal with an aging mother suffering from dementia. Like all things Palahniuk, it’s pretty twisted. I thought it was a good movie, but nowhere near as good as Fight Club. Great book though. I give it a three out of five.

Inglorious Bastards: This is an Italian WWII movie made back in the 70’s. It’s about a group of US soldiers who are heading off to military prison. They end up escaping and trying to flee to Switzerland, but are recruited to for a commando mission instead. I got it because Quinton Tarintino is making a film called The Inglorious Basterds. After watching this film I’m pretty sure the movies are not related. Not a bad flick. I give it a four out of five.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Restaurant Reviews: Coco’s Italian Market and Asian Market

I was under the weather for most of the week and never got around to going to the grocery store. I was able to live off the odds and ends lying around the house, but on Thursday I finally ran out of food and had to venture out into the world. I ended up heading down to the Italian Market, which has been bought by the folks who own Café Coco, and has been rebranded as Coco’s Italian Market. I was a little disappointed in this because I do not like Coco Café. To me their service is bad and their food is extremely salty. Coco’s Italian Market isn’t that different. I ordered the Bauletti, ravioli with spinach and alfredo sauce. Like most of Coco’s food it was extremely salty. I also ordered a muffuletta. It was ok-not as good as the original Italian markets though. It came with a side of pasta salad which was, guess what: salty. I wasn’t blown away by the food, so I don’t think I’ll be going back to this place.

I heard about an Asian market on the corner of Murfreesboro and Bell road that serves Filipino food. Like most Asian food stores, it’s a pretty shady place. What makes it even shadier is that it isn’t a true restaurant. It’s a card table with a bunch of crock pots full of Filipino foods. A decent sized serving costs $5. I ended up going with the Pancit Bihon, a very popular Filipino food consisting of stir fried rice noodles with some vegetables. Very basic, very safe.

I also got the kare-kare. This is a Filipino stew made of ox-tail, peanut sauce, and vegtbles. The version at this store did not include tripe, which I was thankful for.
I’m trying to get more in touch with my Filipino roots, so I’m definitely going back to this place. I’ve got to be careful though. I don’t want to end up eating anything too weird like Dinuguan (Pork Blood Stew) or Balut (Fertilized Duck Egg).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nashville Scene agrees with my position on lofts

The Bites Blog on the Nashville Scene agrees with me. Lofts are full of douchebags. The scene shares this joke with us: What's the difference between an apartment and a loft? Everything's exactly the same, except a pretentious asshole lives in the loft.

I also wanted to include this part of the Scene's Ubran Flats review:
The surprise came when I asked my dining companions if they would drive back to the Gulch for dinner at Urban Flats. "I love the food," one person said, "but I don't get in my car and drive to dinner at any of those suburbany-feeling places."
Suburbany? But this is Urban Flats. It's in the Gulch, for Pete's sake. It's full of stained concrete, glass and industrial-height ceilings. You think it feels suburbany?
Well, yeah, maybe a little—only because everything at Urban Flats is new and still has that just-add-water-and-pendant-lights sheen to it, like so much suburban strip-mall architecture. But the restaurant isn't a phony. It doesn't pretend to reclaim an old industrial space, as do so many new projects—which reminds again me of that joke about the difference between lofts and apartments.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Gulch and why it sucks.

I’m going to take this opportunity to vent a little about the Gulch. I’ve been spending more time than I like there lately and think it by far the most overrated area of Nashville. My reasons:
  • It’s way overpriced. A 600 sq ft condo with a poor view will run you $200K. Your association fee will run you another $200-$300 a month on top of your mortgage. You want assigned parking, get the checkbook out because it’s going to cost you as well.
  • It’s like living in a giant hotel. I’ve only been to a few units but my impression of the residential area is I feel like I’m in a giant Marriott hotel.
  • It’s basically the suburbs in the city. Why do people move to the suburbs? The most common reason is to raise children, which I can understand to an extent. In my mind it’s because they are scared of the city. They are scared of the possibility of crime and run-ins with people who are not like them. They want to be adventurous, but are scared to be. They are image conscious and have a manufactured sense of self importance. They want cool but it’s got to be new construction.

To me this embodies the mindset of those in the Gulch. It’s where suburbanites can live before they get pregnant and have to move to Brentwood. Let’s look at the similarities.

  • Image consciousness: In Brentwood you drop half a mill on a 4K sq ft home. In the Gulch you drop 200K on a 600 square foot condo. In Brentwood you park your car in your three car garage. In the Gulch you put in the private parking spot you dish out $100 a month for. The same Gulch-liver who brags about living in the ICON will eventually go on to brag about living in the Governors Club.
  • Chain Restaurants: Gulch-dwellers love to tell you about their restaurants. If you assess the situation you will see there is an abundance of national chains like Cantina Laredo, Sambuca and Urban Flat Breads. There are also a handful of regional chains Ru San’s and the yet-to-be-opened Casablanca Coffee.
  • Crappy nightlife: The best bar in the Gulch is the Bluegrass Inn, which is not frequented by most that live in the area. Outside of that they have Mai, a terrible ultra-lounge, and Sambuca, which is more restaurant than bar.

To me the Gulch is a soulless area for people who want the suburbs in the city. I’m glad we have it though because it keeps those shitty people out of my areas of the city.

Restaurant Reviews: Wintzell's Oyster House, Urban Flat Bread

Wintzell’s Oyster House-Mobile, AL: On my way down to Mardi Gras I stopped at Wintzell’s for a half dozen oysters and a shrimp po-boy. I’m becoming to establish some criteria for what I want in oysters. First and foremost, I won’t eat oysters in a non-coastal area. I’ve had two bad experiences with oysters in Atlanta, Ga so I won’t eat them anywhere where they aren’t fresh out of the water. Second, I want cocktail sauce and fresh horseradish. I don’t want you to give me some ketchup and tell me to make my own cocktail sauce. This is why I don’t eat oysters at Cooter Brown’s in New Orleans. Third, I want them to be shucked cleanly. I hate it when oysters have grime on them. The oysters at Wintzell’s met all of my criteria. They were also a good size, not too big, but not too small. I would definitely eat oysters here again. My po-boy on the other hand was a little disappointing. The first noticeable problem was it was not served on traditional French bread. It was served on some kind of weird wanna-be French bread that was covered in butter. Secondly, the shrimp were too big. I hate po-boys that are made of popcorn shrimp, but I also hate it when they just have five or six jumbo shrimp on them. I’d try Wintzell’s again, but I’m not getting a po-boy, that’s for sure.

Urban Flat Breads-Nashville, TN: Urban Flat Breads is located in the bottom of the Icon building in the Gulch area of Nashville. The Gulch is an area that has several higher end “lofts” and “flats” that have been recently constructed, thus the name. Our group ordered several outstanding appetizers: Lobster Mac and Cheese, Loaded Potato Dip, and Spinach Artichoke Dip. For my entrée I had an artichoke, wild mushroom, and Goat Cheese flat. It consisted of roasted artichoke, wild mushrooms, roasted red peppers, spinach, and goat cheese served on a whole wheat flatbread. It was outstanding, but I wish they would have gone a little lighter on the ranch-like dressing that topped it. Overall I liked Urban Flat Breads. I thought it was a great concept with a great menu. I also thought they had an excellent, but somewhat overpriced wine list. Many of the reviews I read slammed the restaurant for its décor. I’ll have to say I agreed with this. The décor is a little sterile and boring, although I did like some of the photographs of local landmarks. Would I eat there again? Sure. Will it work into my rotations of favorites? It could, but it probably won’t.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mardi Gras Recap

After spending a few days back in Nashville I headed back down to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to celebrate Mardi Gras. Many of my friends were shocked when they heard we celebrated Mardi Gras on the Gulf Coast. They were even more shocked when I told them how many cultures around the world celebrate Carnival. Mardi Gras (called Carnival in most other cultures) was celebrated in Europe well before introduced to North America. It was also observed in the previous capitals of the French Louisiana Territories (Mobile and Biloxi) before New Orleans became an established city.

I got into Ocean Springs, Mississippi late Friday night and met up with my hosts: Dave, Heather, and their little boy Carter. Heather’s best friend Anna (my date for the Mardi Gras Ball) was also in town from Washington, DC. We didn’t get into much, we just enjoyed some of Heather’s homemade jambalaya, drank a few drinks, and had some great conversation. We knew Saturday would be a big day as we were going to a Mardi Gras Ball in Biloxi.

On Saturday, the girls went out to get their nails done while Dave and I watched the kid. Later we all met up at the Harbor Landing for lunch. The Harbor is a bar and grill located on the gulf. It’s got a great, laid back atmosphere. There are several patio tables and hammocks for lounging. Food-wise, the Harbor Landing is known for its picnic baskets that are sold to boaters, its po-boys, and stuffed burgers. I went with the Isla de Mujeres burger, which was stuffed with pico de gallo and cheese, and served with a handful of homemade potato chips. It was a fabulous meal served in a great relaxing atmosphere. After lunch we headed back to the house and the girls headed down to Shearwater Pottery for a little shopping. Shearwater is a pottery commune on the gulf. It was leveled during Katrina but it’s now back in business. They produce beautiful works that can be found in the homes of coastal Mississippians.

After a quick nap we started getting ready for the Revelers ball. We put on our tuxedos and evening gowns and took Carter to the sitters. We then headed to the Bankston’s house for a little pre-party. There were plenty of drinks and appetizers for everyone. I was pretty excited about several of the dishes that I never get to eat back in Nashville: marinated crab claws, Tippah county caviar, and corn and crawfish bisque. None of them disappointed. Say what you want about coast-folks, but we can cook a mean meal.

After enjoying a few drinks and making a few new friends, we headed down to the Coliseum for the Mardi Gras Ball. The ball is an event sponsored by a particular Krewe (the organization sponsoring the parade). In our case the ball was for the Revelers. When we arrived there was a long red carpet that led to men in white gloves and tails who escorted you and your date to your table. Once you got to your table you could hit the bar and wait for the announcement of the Tableaux. The Tableaux is the royalty of the ball cumulating with the King and Queen. The theme for this year’s ball was Disney related so each member of the Tableaux was dressed to represent a Disney movie. After the Tableaux is presented the dance floor opens and the drinks continue to flow. We all had a good time.

The next few days were relaxing and for the most part uneventful. We played at little tennis at a racquet club located on the bay and enjoyed the occasional adult beverage. We also had a great dinner at a Mexican restaurant which included me spilling a large margarita all over the table. The next big event was on Fat Tuesday, when we headed down to Biloxi for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Carnival Association/Krewe of Neptune Parade. We were lucky enough to be hosted by the Denton Family. We first met up at their house located near the parade route. Most of the people there had kids so they all played together while the adults (or bigger “kids”) enjoyed beverages and conversation. We later headed down to the Denton’s law firm which was located right on the parade route. We enjoyed some snacks and took in the parade. It was fun attending Mardi Gras with the kids.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is a special place and attending this year’s Mardi Gras (my first on the coast since high school) made me realize how much I miss living there. It’s a special place full of special people. Maybe one day I can make it back there to settle down.