Monthly Archives: September 2013

All You Can Eat

Oh, Outback Steakhouse.  You are so, so stupid.

A lot of restaurant chains offer “all you can eat” deals at various times of the year.  For instance, Olive Garden has its “never-ending pasta bowl” promotion towards the end of summer and beginning of fall.  Red Lobster has “endless shrimp” around the same time.  These make sense; Italian restaurants should be pretty good at pasta, and seafood places deal with shrimp every day.

But for some reason, Outback has gotten into the game with its “steak and unlimited shrimp” deal.  Outback is known for its meat offerings; sure, they sell shrimp, but it’s not their forte.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here before, but shrimp may be my favorite food.  Like, I think eating contests get pretty gross pretty quickly, but if it was a grilled shrimp-eating contest, I could definitely hold my own for a while.  Unless a cold piece got in there, in which case, I’m out.  It could be the World Series of Shrimp, and I could be lapping the field, but it wouldn’t matter.  Just the thought of cold shrimp grosses me out.

“Look at him go!  He’s moving like a tremendous machine!  He’s just devouring the – what?  He’s walking away!  He’s done!  It’s over!”

The problem with shrimp is that it’s expensive.  So when someone wants to offer me a bucketload of shrimp, in multiple flavors, for a flat fee?  Cancel my plans for the evening.

Poor Outback never saw it coming.  They have buffalo shrimp and scampi (which is essentially garlic butter sauce) to go with the plain fried variety.  I ordered the smallest steak, a cup of soup as my side, and went to town.  The buffalo was good; it’s a flavor that I enjoy, but also find kind of intense, so I started with some of that before moving to the easier-to-crush-pounds-upon-pounds-of-it scampi.  I’m pretty sure I bankrupted the local franchise.

Okay, that’s not true, but seriously.  Don’t let me near anything offering unlimited shrimp.  I am not responsible for the damage wrought.

I Haven’t Got a Clue

I’ve always been fond of board games.  Something about popping the lid off the box, setting up the board, and developing a winning strategy appealed to me from a very young age.  I was always doing little creative things as a kid, and games were no different; I made up a couple board games as a wee lad, and they all had one thing in common: I never won at any of them.

As I got older, I found that kids my own age weren’t into board games as much as I was, so I didn’t have the occasion to play them very often.  In college, we played a bunch of Cranium, but other than that, it was slim pickings.

Fortunately, it turns out that the group of friends I’ve maintained since college has a number of people who like playing board games.  In addition, some friends from bowling host a periodic game night where we play all sorts of off-the-wall games from the past few decades.  I eat this stuff up; there are very few games I won’t try.

A game I’ve always loved is Clue.  It’s so simple, but the mechanics of the game allow for all sorts of strategic thought.  It’s basically a logic puzzle with pawns and tiny metal weapons, but it’s always different, and as you play, you can see people’s thinking and game-playing process evolve.

Here’s the funny thing, though.  I’d played some variations of it, and I had read all the puzzle books that were written and associated with the brand…but I had never played the classic board game version of Clue until last night.  Weird, huh?

Friends of mine recently had a baby, so over the past couple months, a few of us have occasionally gone over to their house to hang out.  It allows both mom and dad to join the group, and also doesn’t require them to pack up all the baby’s things and cart them across town.  I know, I know, how benevolent.

Where folks a little younger than us would just drink their faces off or play video games or watch movies all night, we’ve started bringing board games.  Last night, someone brought Clue and I was like “yes, we are playing that, done.”  Except for some reason I didn’t want to seem too eager, so I said, “I vote for one of these two,” pointing to Clue and some other game that is irrelevant.

Of course we played the other game first.

After a brief intermission for discounted milkshakes at Sonic, we returned to get our detective on.  I feared it might be a little dry for the group – like I said, it’s a fairly simple game, and I didn’t know what the others would think – but despite me winning the first game in quick fashion, we played for a couple hours.  There were four of us, and after four games, we had each won one, so we had to play a tiebreaker.  I did not win it, so as far as I’m concerned, it didn’t count.

Anyway, this kind of turned into “what did you do this weekend?” third-grade journal entry, but I don’t care.  Kids, play board games.  They’re fun.  And don’t be deterred by a game just because it was conceived in the 1940s; oftentimes, simple is effective.  Remember that.

The Apple Didn’t Fall Too Far From the Tree

Here’s another kinda/sorta product review.

Apple put out its new iOS 7 last week (or was it the week before?) and I had heard some things.  Some good things, some bad things, and no real consensus on whether I should update my phone.  The release coincided with the release of the new iPhone 5S and 5C, and I only have a 4S, so it didn’t seem like it would be a required download.

So I updated anyway.  Boys and their toys.

I’m getting used to it, but I don’t like it.  I’m usually pretty resistant to change, but when iOS 6 came out last year, I had been an iPhone user for two whole days, so it was no big deal.  I’ve had this for a year now, and when the new look of iOS 7 appeared on my phone (pro tip: take a look at some images online before you make the switch), I was…well, I mean, I wasn’t angry, but I was as close to mad as someone should be when it comes to what the screen on their cell phone looks like.

I had gotten used to, and kind of liked, the way the icons looked in iOS 6.  They had depth to them.  These new icons are flat, and everything looks kind of cartoonish to me.  I also don’t like how, when I open up a text conversation with someone, just their first name appears at the top of the screen.  I put people into my phone with their full names for a reason: so I know who they are.  Unfortunately, with iOS 7, unless I’m in the middle of sending a text, there is a slight chance I might not know which “Matt” I’m actually messaging, you know?

I will say that the method of closing apps – instead of holding down and pressing a minus sign, you simply flick them up off the screen – is much improved, but that’s pretty much the only thing I like better.  Not even the new look of old apps is an improvement to me.

Now, it’s entirely possible that iOS 7 was designed for, and looks a lot better on, an iPhone 5.  But on my 4S, on the whole, I just don’t like it.

Ultimately, though, that’s what it comes down to: all of my issues with it (except maybe the names on the messages) are just a matter of personal preference.  You may disagree, and that’s fine.  You can write nice things about it on your own blog.

Potato, Potahto

This is a crappy product review.  Not a review of a crappy product, but a crappily-put together review of a product.  Look, it was a slow day.

I’d seen commercials for some new french fries at Burger King recently.  The commercials are stupid, but I was still intrigued.  Apparently they used a different recipe, making them healthier.  More importantly, they’re crinkle cut.  Crinkle cut ranks second behind waffle on the fry spectrum, so this is a positive development.

I had the opportunity to try them today.  The first thing I noticed was the price.  They are noticeably more expensive than the normal fries, but for the sake of journalism, I paid the extra freight.  I know, I know.  A true patriot.

The commercial emphasizes that the fries are cut from whole potatoes.  I was under the impression that most fries already were, so this confused me.  It was in my head when I took my first bite, and it led to an interesting first, and really, only, analysis: these actually taste like potatoes.

That sounds ridiculous on the surface; I mean, they’re french fried potatoes.  Of course they taste like potatoes.  But the truth is that the fries you get from most places taste like salt and whatever outside battering is on the potatoes.  The new Burger King fries taste like potatoes.

In fact – and this is the second biggest strike against them – they taste just like the frozen french fries you can buy in a huge bag at literally any supermarket you walk into anywhere in America.  If you throw a tray of those in the oven, and make sure you don’t burn them (ahem, DAD), they will come out tasting just like these did.  And you can probably get a big bag of them for just a little bit more than BK charges for a large.

The biggest strike, however, is an egregious one: the name.  Burger King insists on calling its new product “SatisFries.”  Ugh.  I refused to say the name at the drive thru; I told the cashier I wanted an order of “the new crinkle cut fries.”  The name is so atrocious that it almost prevented me from ordering them.  Of course, it didn’t, because journalism, patriot, America, and all that.  I mean really.  “SatisFries?”

Regardless of the name, the product gets a thumbs-up.  They taste good, and they have less fat and less calories (and much less salt) than the normal fries.  However, knowing that you can get the exact same thing for a much better value makes it difficult for me to recommend them.  If you’re in a bit of a rush, go for it, but if you have the time, just make the frozen ones.

(Then again, if you have the time to bake a tray of frozen french fries, Burger King probably isn’t going to be one of your stops for dinner prep.  So there’s 500 words and three minutes you’ll never get back.)

Get Out the Way

Last night, Carlos Gomez of the Milwaukee Brewers hit a home run off of Paul Maholm of the Atlanta Braves.  He acted like a punk while rounding the bases, and was greeted by Braves catcher Brian McCann, who has apparently taken it upon himself over the past few weeks to be baseball’s “unwritten rules” czar.  McCann blocked Gomez from touching home plate, setting off a kerfuffle between the teams.

Gomez claims Maholm hit him on purpose in June, and he’s been waiting for the opportunity to face him again.  If he feels that way, I can understand his reaction.  He’s still wrong, but you can see why he’d take a little extra pride in hitting that home run.

McCann, it could be argued, was sticking up for his pitcher, who was on the receiving end of some words from Gomez.  But McCann reacted negatively to some primping and preening from Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez when he hit his first career longball a couple weeks ago, so this is becoming a thing with him.  I guess we all know how to rile up Brian McCann.

The fault for any fines, suspensions, or fight-related injuries lies with McCann.  This situation spiraled out of control due to his behavior; guys flip bats, watch the ball, take too long to round the bases, and generally draw attention to themselves after home runs all the time.  But if you do it in front of McCann, he’s going to lose his marbles on you because it’s against the “unwritten rules” of the game.

Here’s the thing.  If you’re a pitcher, you can bean a guy whose behavior doesn’t sit well with you.  I am already on the record as being against beanballs, but I also understand that they’re going to happen.  Sometimes, someone needs to get hit.  I get it.  And maybe before his home run, Gomez needed to be hit.  To the best of my knowledge, i.e. what I remember from when the Brewers have played the Phillies, he’s a bit of a punk anyway.

But for a batter, the only recourse he has to show up or get back at a pitcher is to hit a home run.  Gomez did that.  He had beef with Maholm, and he took him deep.  When a guy hits a home run off of you, he wins.  He got you.  Take it like a professional, and move on.  And if you still feel the need to do something, well, he’ll have another at bat.

And if you’re the catcher, get out of the freaking way.  Like I said, your pitcher got got.  The batter won that round.  Get out of the way, and figure out later how you’ll deal with it.

(Here’s a novel approach: get the guy out.  It almost always shuts them up.  You never see a guy stand in the batter’s box admiring a grounder to third, do you?)

I Want a Name When I Lose

This is going to be one of those posts where my rage/indignation/whatever burns white-hot for a few paragraphs and then disappears into the ether.  Short and the opposite of sweet.

First, read this story about California youth football.

Now, I’m not a completely heartless old codger, but at the same time, as I’ve written before, I was the kid who didn’t want a tee-ball trophy just for showing up, so I ask the question: why are kids not allowed to lose anymore?  Why can’t anyone under the age of 18 get their proverbial teeth kicked in on the athletic fields without adults stepping in to protect them?

This may sound revolutionary to some people, but the fact is, life is all about losing.  If we always won at everything, life would be easy.  It’s not, because we don’t.  And sure, it might suck to lose by 50 points in a pee wee football game, or to lose a Little League game 15-1, but getting by in life is all about how you deal with that kind of thing.

If your youth league team lost in embarrassing fashion, and your response was to go home and cry about how it was unfair that the other team was allowed to keep scoring and somebody should have stopped them and blah blah blah, well, you’re going to grow up to be someone that threatens to go to court every time someone does something totally legal that hurts your fee-fees.  However, if you go home, realize that you got your butt kicked because the other team was just flat-out better, and do your best to improve, then maybe you’ve got a shot at being a normal, un-coddled, reasonably well-adjusted adult.

And that comes down to over-parenting.  Too many people feel the need to “protect” kids from such complete, utter, abject humiliation.  Those same people, however, will be quick to point out that “it’s just a game” and not that important in the grand scheme of things.  Well then, if it’s not that important, why do you care if your kid’s team got boatraced this weekend?

We don’t protect kids from things that can actually hurt them – guns, drugs, ignorance, each other, etc. – but we go out of our way to make sure no one has to suffer the indignity of a 103-9 loss on the high school basketball court.  Because surely getting beat by too wide of a margin has spurred millions of kids to a life of crime, and we can’t afford the risk of it happening to our beloved babies.

I’m as competitive as anyone, even when it comes to pursuits in which I have no discernible skill.  When I lose, when I get utterly destroyed by someone more talented, better prepared, or strategically superior, I don’t try to change the rules.  I get up and try again.  And if that makes me better than the adults running the Northern California Federation Youth Football League, well, then, good.  Because they suck.

I Like My Sugar with Coffee and Cream

Most people I know started drinking coffee in college.  It makes sense; keeping late hours doing homework, and keeping late hours doing anything but homework, leads to a need for a little pick-me-up in the morning.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first started drinking it, but I know it was after I graduated, and even then, it wasn’t very often.  My problem was always that I couldn’t get the right mix of cream and sugar; the dark secret was that I didn’t really like the taste of the coffee, so I needed the other stuff to make it tolerable.  Which is odd, because I like coffee-flavored things, and I love the scent of coffee, and usually my taste buds are heavily influenced by how something smells.

One morning, I guess I was in a rush, because I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and just ordered a coffee with cream and sugar and went on my way.  Despite not being able to calibrate it just right, it didn’t taste half bad, so I kept going back.  Dunkin remains the only place that I will order a coffee without adding the accoutrements myself.

During the warmer months, I’ve taken to stopping for an iced coffee instead (‘m partial to the mocha variety myself).  It’s too warm for hot coffee, but as a night owl, I still sometimes need some proverbial performance enhancement to get through the morning.  The problem with this is that it gets expensive if you go more than a couple days a week.  A medium costs $2.39, and with tax, it ends up costing me $2.53 per cup.

My sister was in town about a month ago and alerted me to something she’d been drinking.  Apparently, they make iced coffee in cardboard milk cartons.  Huh.  So I figured I’d try it.  I bought a half gallon, and one of those acrylic travel cups with a lid and a straw and everything.

The verdict?  Eh.  A Dunkin Donuts mocha iced coffee tastes like coffee with chocolate syrup stirred into it.  The milk carton version tastes like chocolate milk with a hint of coffee splashed in, which oddly disappointed me.  Somehow, my palate changed to the point where I was actually seeking out the coffee taste.

But here’s the kicker: I can get five mornings of iced chocolate-milk-coffee out of one half-gallon carton for $2.99.  Two weeks of Dunkin costs me $25; two half-gallons of the other stuff costs six bucks.

So now that I’m a convert, the only thing standing in my way would be something silly, like going to the store on the way home from work to get a refill, only to arrive home and discover that I left my cup on my desk in the office.  But I mean really, who would do that?

(If you haven’t figured it out already, you’ll figure it out when I’m in line at the drive-thru tomorrow morning.)