Saturday, September 29, 2007

Seafood in Denver

When I think "good seafood", rarely does Denver pop up on that list. We're a thousand miles from any great body of water that might include, you know, fish. Oh, there are a few puddles around here that people drag their enormous boats to and apparently float around next to all the other enormous boats. I don't get it.

At any rate, we had a fabulous dinner with our neighbors (to celebrate his "re-retirement" from CU) at a new Denver restaurant called the Oceanaire. It's apparently a high-end chain with restaurants along the west coast, white-linen tablecloths and all.

Usually ordering fish in a land-locked state is a crap shoot. Never order fish on a Tuesday -- it's the last day before the weekly delivery in most cases, and you get whatever is left from the weekend. Not always a good choice!

But the Oceanaire ships in fish every single day, including up to 10 kinds of fresh oysters every day. There were fish listed on the menu that I had never heard of! And the best crabcakes that I have ever had.

Add the three-pound brownie for dessert, and we may have to add this place to our list of "nice places to celebrate". Good food, good company -- what else can we ask for?

Daycare Followup

We are going to take the weasels to daycare often!

I picked them up at 5pm and Berit collapsed in a heap in the back seat and slept the whole way home. I don't think she was awake for more than 15 minutes from the time we got home to the next morning. They were too tired to eat, much less run around or even walk around. It was a trial to get them outside to pee before we went to bed, since they schlumped outside and immediately collapsed on the porch to snooze.

The most energy we got from either of them was Rowan popping his head up on the couch so that I'd boost him into my lap -- where he slept like a snuggly, limp puppy blob for three hours while I watched TV and read a book. They're never that snuggly. That's worth the price of admission to daycare right there!

Daycare is good!

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I dropped the weasels off at Camp Bow Wow in Boulder this morning, for a day of Doggy Day Care.

Yes, you may mock me.

Mostly it's just to get them more time with other dogs, and hopefully work off some of the amazing energy that they generate during the day. Socialization is so important, and with both of us working, it's hard to get them out enough to meet other dogs and learn the "rules".

So we had an "interview" today, and were okayed to spend the day with the dogs in Play Yard 2. I can watch them on the Camp Bow Wow Camper Cam (select the camera for inside and outside views). They seem to be having a BLAST! (The snapshot feature of the camera is not quite quick enough to catch running!)

Better than the other dog day care place here in Erie -- when I called and asked about day care, they refused to take the puppies because "we don't take Akitas". Huh? THey didnt' even want to do an assessment. Just "No!" I was really upset by that. The puppies are very sweet, love everyone, and we're very careful to make sure they aren't dog or peopel aggressive. They passed with flying colors at Camp Bow Wow, and seem to be interacting with about 20 or so dogs of various sizes and ages really well.

It's hard, I think, because they are just 4 1/2 months old, but already about 50 pounds. People have a hard time treating them as puppies, since they are the size of a full-grown medium sized dog. The other dogs know, though -- "puppy" has it's own unique behavior, so they are doing just fine!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Candidate Picker 2008

Which candidates (currently) espoused views most closely match your own? Answer a few questions and see how the major presidential candidates (Dem and Repub) match up.

It was really interesting to see who matches and on what issues.

Must. Have. Now!

Call me strange, call me insane, but I really, really want to live in this place:

Well, I'd like to live in it once it's actually converted into a really fabulous house with a library and working water wheel.
The Mill dates back to 1832 and forms part of Locherlour Steadings, which were built by William Stirling of Dunblane for W K Murray of Ochtertyre. Locherlour is an interesting example of Georgian architecture with great symmetry, dressed stone and slated roofs. William Stirling is famous for many churches, mansions, grand steadings and neo classical remodelling of castles in the Perthshire area and beyond. The Mill has a wealth of features including stone steps, a doo’cot, date stone, slated roof and the original water wheel
It's part of a four-house "steading", I guess, but...wouldn't it be cool to live in a converted Mill? Take a look at the approved floor plan for the conversion!

Well, maybe only to me.

Or, if I can't have the ready-to-be-converted Mill....maybe this place?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blue or Gray?

Tabletalk is a trove of strange and bizarre links sometimes.

Everyone is familiar with the pop-soda-coke differences between the North and the South (ever been asked if you want a 'pepsi coke'? Do you sit on a couch? A sofa? A settee? Is it youse, you all, y'all, you guys?

Well, here's a quick online quiz to determine if you're a Yankee or a Dixie,

Actually, it's more fun to click each answer and see the little notes. I was only 40% Yankee. Huh?

Captain Short Bus

I missed the picture, which I will rue for a long time....I really need to keep the camera handy, with the weasels around.

So, there is a commotion in the living room. This does not usually bode well, so I get up to see what they are up to, and spy Rowan, our not-too-bright puppy (Berit is nowhere to be seen. Hm.)

He had pulled a towel down off the top of his crate, had the edge clamped in his teeth, and the rest of the towel flung over his head like a badly adjusted cape. All you could see was his chin.

With his eyes covered, he careened into the living room, crashed into the couch, crashed into the wall under the windows, finally shook the towel off and stood there, insanely proud of himself.

Our own slightly-dim superhero: Captain Short Bus.




Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Xbox is Good for You

It's always been an accepted "fact" that men are better at spacial tasks than women are. Jokes about women being unable to read maps, or the superiority of men in throwing and catching balls have been trotted out as evidence that men and woman have some sort of difference in ability.

Usually, this difference is attributed to culture -- women don't participate in sports or other tasks that require spatial reasoning very often, so they aren't as good at it. Recently, biology has been touted as the reason that women and men differ. Much research has gone into finding out just how men and women are different biologically. And yet, a recent study in Toronto has shown rather vividly that this sort of skill can be influenced by behavior.

How did they do this? Video games. First, they tested volunteers on a visual identification game. Volunteers were tested on identifying the "odd" object in a display (kind of like the 'one of these things just doesn't belong here' game from Sesame street). Women were right 55% of the time, men 68%. Then, they had some of their volunteers play Medal of Honor (a first-person shooter war game) and others play a non-action game called Balance.

Both sets were then asked to do the odd-man-out test again.
Among the Ballancers, there was no change in the ability to pick out the unusual. Among those who had played “Medal of Honour”, both sexes improved their performances.

That is not surprising, given the different natures of the games. However, the improvement in the women was greater than the improvement in the men—so much so that there was no longer a significant difference between the two. Moreover, that absence of difference was long-lived. When the volunteers were tested again after five months, both the improvement and the lack of difference between the sexes remained. Though it is too early to be sure, it looks likely that the change in spatial acuity—and the abolition of any sex difference in that acuity—induced by playing “Medal of Honour” is permanent.
Video games really DO have a positive effect and don't actually rot the brain. Who'd a thunk it?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Stemware Revelation

One of the seminars that we attended at the WineFest was a wine tasting held by Riedel Glassworks (it's pronounced REE-d'l, by the way) who have dominated the market for specialty glassware for wine tasting. They contend that the shape and size of the glass is absolutely critical to enjoying wine, and that each varietal or style of wine has a specific glass shape and style that will enhance the wine. Drinking even a great wine from the wrong glass will render it a poor shadow of itself.

To be honest, I have always been skeptical of any claims that the "right glass" will make or break a wine. I figured it was all a ploy to sell wine glasses for a hundred bucks a stem. If each type of wine needs its "own" glass, you'd have a shelf-ful of different shapes and sizes, all worth a mint!

Well, I'm a convert.

I never would have believed it without actually tasting it myself. We did side-by-side comparisons of an American style Chardonnay, a new-world Sauvignon Blanc, a local Pinot Noir, and a Cabernet Sauvignon, all in the glasses that Riedel had specified for them. Then we tasted the same wine (literally poured it from the "right" glass into the default wineglass provided by the festival) to see what happened. And then we tasted the same wines again, in the "wrong" Riedel glass. It was really eye-opening.

Neither the Adorable Husband or I usually like American-style Chardonnay; it's usually one-dimensional, too highly oaked or too oily. We avoid them if at all possible. In the specific glass from Riedel (an odd shape for a white-wine glass -- it's more like the traditional balloon glass for red wine) it was a multi-layered, complex white. We could taste the vanilla from the oak, but weren't overwhelmed by it. Pour the same wine into the "joker glass", as they called it, and it really was the one-dimensional, overly harsh wine that I love ot hate. Even with the added benefit of aeration as we poured to the bad glass, it was still harsh. Back into the Riedel glass and the harshness dissappeared.

The Sauvignon Blanc was the biggest change -- and probably cemented the realization that the glass really did have an impact. In the "right" glass (a tall, tulip-shaped glass) for Sauv Blanc, and it was a bright wine with hints of melon and pear, lightly acidic, bright and lively. In the bad glass, it was acidic, the nose was harsh, and all we could taste was the bitterness of citrus. Poured into the balloon glass we tried the Chardonnay in, it had the same flavors, if a bit acidic, but the nose was entirely gone. Repeat the same experiment with two red wines.

The shape of the bowl, where the rim is on the curve, the height of the bowl, all these things make a huge difference in how the wine tastes. Cheap wineglasses (the Target and Crate and Barrell variety, of which we have many) usually have a rolled edge, not a flat, cut edge, which really kills the wine. I may have to become a wine-glass snob. The rep running the tasting said that he knows many people who bring their own glasses to restaurants, because most restaurants have mass-produced, standard wine glasses, despite the fact that they might have bottles worth hundreds of dollars on the wine list. Of course, at the standard markup on wine at most restaurants, they could replace the stemware for each bottle sold.

I'm not going to be shelling out big bucks for the Sommelier line of glasses, which can run to that hundred bucks a stem that I mentioned, but we are definitely going to pick up glasses in their Vinum range, especially for the varieties of wines that we really enjoy. Both are 24% leaded crystal, and other than the fact that the Sommelier glasses are handmade and the Vinum glasses are machine made, there really isn't any difference in the way they work. At least, that's what the sales guy was telling us. He never even flogged the higher-priced glasses, which was a pleasant surprise, from a sales rep.

Target is selling a line of glasses from Riedel that are aimed at the consumer market. They use the same engineering, but are not leaded glass and are a bit more generic than the type/variety specific glasses in the other lines. But well-worth buying as 'everyday' wine glasses, as opposed to the standard rolled-rim glasses.

Gluttony and Sloth

You know it's a perfect vacation when all you do is sleep and eat and sample wine. Well, we had a perfect vacation!

We had dinner at The Chateau at Two Rivers winery on Saturday after spending the day at the WineFest -- eight hours of tasting wine, eating fabulous food, and listening to jazz. Just to give you an idea of the dinner:
cream of wild mushroom soup (paired with an unoaked chardonnay)
pear and gorgonzola salad with candied walnuts and citrus vinaigrette (with a semillion/viogner)
wild chokecherry sorbet
pine-nut encrusted rainbow trout with wild rice (with a riesling from Two Rivers)
proscuitto-wrapped loin of rabbit (syrah)
roasted buffalo medallions (with a lovely cab)
and finally, poached peaches and creme fraiche with a Vin de Glace from Garfield Estates.

By the end, we could barely move. We didn't get up until eleven on Sunday and drove home, where we promptly napped. We are a lazy bunch here at the Phouka household. But it was a much-needed slow weekend.

The staff at the Chateau let it be known that they were taking reservations for next years starting this morning at 8am. They have 10 rooms. They were entirely booked for the wine festival nextyear by 8:30 AM. I did get reservations for the dinner next year, though. We're not going to miss that!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Blue Block!

Alex, the African Grey Parrot who was the subject of 30 years of research into the intelligence and thought pattenrs of birds -- and who had learned 150 words and was able to communicate quite effectively with researchers, died earlier this month.
Dr. Pepperberg’s pioneering research resulted in Alex learning elements of English speech to identify 50 different objects, 7 colors, 5 shapes, quantities up to and including 6 and a zero-like concept. He used phrases such as “I want X” and “Wanna go Y”, where X and Y were appropriate object and location labels. He acquired concepts of categories, bigger and smaller, same-different, and absence. Alex combined his labels to identify, request, refuse, and categorize more than 100 different items demonstrating a level and scope of cognitive abilities never expected in an avian species
I remember watching television specials about Alex, and being astounded that he really did seem to understand the words he was saying -- he created new words and word combinations that were meaningful and effectively communicated what he wanted.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Well, our vacation is pretty stressful so far -- we drove into town, had a lovely dinner with friends of ours, slept in late the next morning, had a leisurely lunch and then napped. Drove up onto the Colorado National monument and then had another lovely dinner hosted by the winemakers.

Oh, our life is so tough, can you tell? it's awfully distressing to have a day where the only thing you HAVE to do is eat a six course dinner.

Today is the Festival in the park, with the winetastings and food and jazz, and tonight is another Winemaker's dinner. Yup, a pretty nice vacation.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Barky the Seal Girl

Ack! A whole week. I spent most of it under the influence of Nyquil (Oh, blessed Q, nectar of the gentle gods of slumber!). I have some sort of ick which I am sure I caught from a coworker over our brief lunch last week. Her kids just started school, so they are bringing home tons of germs. I was sick enough to stay home from work on Friday.

And I work from home.

At any rate, I slept most of the weekend, Nyquil or not, and dragged my butt back to work on Monday. So, no posting for the week.

However, this gem from YouTube crossed my desk this morning -- Listen to Pachelbel Bedtime and Spoiled Bumblebee. I've been chuckling about them all day, and I don't even have kids.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

And these are SAFE?

If you're like us, you've replaced at least some of your regular lightbulbs with Compact Fluorescents -- those little curlicue bulbs are great for porch lights. We have them on our porch and in all our outside lights, because we tend to leave them on most of the time. However, I really hate fluorescent lights...they don't have the right color balance, they are never as bright, they flicker more, and they can take ages to actually give off enough light. I know they are more energy efficient, but I think I'd prefer to save energy by religiously turning off the lights when I leave a room.

But what surprised me is that CFLs are considered a "green" option for lighting (less energy use!) even though they seem to be a hazardous and toxic product. They contain small amounts of mercury (less then an old-fashioned thermometer), but with the millions being made and, eventually, much safer is it to dump thousands of these things intoa landfill?

At any rate, I never gave much thought to it until the latest Consumer Reports magazine talking about lightbulbs. In a large "SafetyWise" sidebar, they outline the procedure that you need to take should one of these bulbs break:
  • Open the windows and leave the room for at least 15 minutes.

  • For hard floors, don't vacuum or sweep the mess. Instead, wear disposable rubber gloves and use cardboard or stiff paper to scoop up the debris. Then clean the area with a damp paper towel.

  • For rugs, use sticky tape to pick up any compact fluorescent bulb fragments and powder. Then vacuum the area if necessary.

  • Place the debris and cleanup materials into a plastic bag and seal it. Put that bag into another plastic bag and seal it.

  • If your area allows it and no other disposal or recycling options exist, place compact fluorescent bulbs in the trash outside. Wash your hands.

  • After vacuuming the area for the first time, remove bag or empty and wipe bin. Put bag or debris into a plastic bag and seal it. Then put that bag into another plastic bag and seal it. Place in the trash outside. Wash your hands.
Well, that sounds like a simple and safe procedure to discard what amounts to hazardous waste! Double plastic bags, rubber gloves, much hand washing.

I have to wonder if this is simply overkill for our overly-frightened modern sensibilities, or if this is actually dangerous enough to warrant a Superfund Cleanup-type instruction set. If so, I'm glad I live upwind from the landfill site in Erie.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Goats, please, more goas!

Officials at Nepal's state-run airline have sacrificed two goats to appease Akash Bhairab, the Hindu sky god, following technical problems with one of its Boeing 757 aircraft, the carrier said Tuesday.
The only comment that I can add is that, in my humble opinion, any country that believes sacrificing goats will help them fix their planes is obviously not quite ready to handle something as technologically complex as flight.