Pie redux

I got a nice comment on my Chocolate Peppermint Pecan Pie recipe (well timed, since I was just starting to make it for dinner tomorrow), asking for other cooking ideas.

I wish I could respond with some, but this is really the only recipe I’ve ever created (and even then, it was just a variation on the well-known pecan pie recipe on the Karo Syrup bottle). I did make hamburgers with cumin once — but that was widely considered a mistake, not to be repeated.

So I guess the idea is to be willing to experiment — to start from a known base and make small changes. Sometimes they’ll work; sometimes, you get cumin hamburgers.

And home again

We decided to avoid the Grapevine again (though there was nothing on the traffic reports that really indicated a need to do so), and thereby found ourselves in Bakersfield for lunch. Our original plan had been to eat at the Apple Shed in Tehachapi, but they quoted us a 20-minute wait, and there wasn’t 20 minutes worth of browsing in the shop, so we continued.

We weren’t feeling very adventurous, so we waited until we started seeing recognizable signs — I was ready to give up and go to Baja Fresh, but when we pulled into their parking lot, there were a number of more interesting looking restaurants to try. We ended up at Flame and Skewers, which served “Mediterranean” food (in other words, shwarma and kebobs), which was a great choice, especially since we’d spent the previous 90 minutes listening to Israeli music on Radio Hanukkah. After looking at the business cards at the restaurant, I doubt that they were serving Israeli food, but it was quite tasty and certainly in the right spirit.

And then on to home. Total driving for the trip: 2104 miles, most of it spent listening to Radio Hanukkah, which now has 24 minutes left in this year’s edition. It’s definitely downhill from here!

Drive, he said!

We finished our Tucson stay with yet another trip to The Good Egg (one more visit and we get free meals!); then we picked up Diane’s Dad and SO and took them part-way to her son’s house. When we last saw them, they were sitting in the Wendy’s at the Outlets at Casa Grande, waiting to be picked up (this was, of course, according to plan, though it’s still somewhat disquieting to abandon family in the middle of the desert).

From there, we took our chances with Phoenix traffic (although the Jam Factor was Green according to XM Traffic, we sure hit some slow going), but it only took us an hour or so to get through the city. And at 1:30, we were once more seated in Silly Al’s Pizza in Quartzsite for another late lunch. The place was even smokier than last time, but still worth it.

I’m not sure that stopping for gas at the Flying J at Arizona Exit 1 was worthwhile, though — sure, we saved 40 or 50 cents a gallon compared to California prices, but we only needed 5.5 gallons, and there was a line at the pumps.

The rest of today’s driving was uneventful, though we did hit some slow traffic just after CA-60 branched off — slow enough that I tried out the “Detour” function on our Prius nav system. It told us to take the adjoining road, which was what I planned to do anyway.

We’re overnighting at the Dynasty Suites in Redlands, which is a fairly standard 3-diamond motel. The most interesting thing is that they play classical music in the parking lot — I’m almost afraid to ask why.

There are a ton of franchise restaurants near the hotel (Long John Silver’s, Arby’s, Taco Bell, and El Pollo Loco are all within a two-minute walk), but we hoped to do better. So I turned to the oracle — Google Maps. And it delivered Eastern Classic Thai Restaurant, which was a great find. Jeff ordered Thai Green Curry and ate all of it, so I can’t comment on it, but Diane and I traded our dishes. She ordered Mint Leaves Chicken (with sliced chicken rather than the default ground chicken), which was very tasty; I had “Crying Tiger”, which is grilled beef with a hot sauce on the side — delicious. The restaurant was almost empty, which is a shame given the quality (and reasonable price) — I would go back happily if I were ever in Redlands again.

No sightseeing or geocaching today — driving was the priority of the day. It’ll be the priority tomorrow, too. 400 miles if we take the Grapevine.

Low energy, low impact

Today was probably the most restful day of the vacation so far.

We started with breakfast at the apartment; then Diane and I joined her Dad for a “tai-chi” exercise session. We were the only visitors, and were the youngest people in the room by a good margin. It was a good workout — I used muscles which have been neglected for a while (at least for the duration of the trip, and probably longer than that).

Then we talked for a while before having lunch at El Charro Cafe (I now have a $10 credit as a member of their frequent diner club — I guess we’ll have to come back within a year!), then some miscellaneous shopping (including a walk to eegee‘s and a drive with Jeff to Charlie’s Comics) and more talking before having dinner at New Delhi Palace (and I was right — it was better at the restaurant than as take-out). Finally, we watched the DVD that Diane’s Dad had bought at Kartchner Caverns.

Tomorrow, we hit the road for home. It will be a long day, and it will start far too early in the morning. *sigh*

They were right

Many people told us that we should be sure to see Kartchner Caverns on this trip. And it was included in the Tucson Attractions Passport, so we were even more motivated to go.

So, after breakfast at Diane’s Dad’s apartment (two days in a row of The Good Egg was enough for now), we set off for Kartchner Caverns. And it was well worth the trip. They don’t let you take your camera into the caverns (they do a lot to preserve the cave, including misting you on your way in and hosing down the path every day!), so I have no pictures to share, but their web site shows a little of what you’ll see if you go. You do need to make reservations in advance, because they only allow a limited number of people a day through the caverns, again, to help preserve them and keep the cave a living cave.

We’d watched Dark Star a couple of weeks ago; in so far as the movie has a theme song, it’s Benson, Arizona, so I was happy when I realized that a trip to Kartchner Caverns would also give us the opportunity to visit Benson, at least for lunch. Our first attempt at that was at Gallenano’s, but one breath of the smoke-filled air inside sent us reeling back to the car. The AAA TourBook listed three restaurants in Benson, and there was no “smoking section” symbol for the Horse Shoe Cafe, so we drove over there and were delighted to see a sign at the entrance saying that it was completely non-smoking. And the food was good, too. Recommended.

From Benson, we continued to Tombstone. We began our visit with a trip to the Boothill Cemetery (we even found the “Jewish Memorial” way down at the bottom of the hill). By the time we reached the main part of town, it was pretty late, so we contented ourselves with strolling down Allen Street, with a short stop at the OK Corral so that we could log at least one cache on this trip.

Then it was back to Tucson. Diane’s Dad likes to eat at Furr’s Family Dining, but it’s on the other side of town from his apartment, and he no longer drives, so we stopped there for dinner. I don’t think I’d go back on my own.


Unlike yesterday, when we hit places which Diane’s Dad and SO didn’t want to see again, we planned to spend today with them, touring Tucson before having dinner with Diane’s aunt to celebrate her 91st birthday. We’d bought Tucson Attractions Passports for them and us (and, in fact, had already more than paid for ours yesterday), so we wanted to visit places in the passport, and after a little discussion, settled on the Flandrau Science Center at the University of Arizona.

I should have looked them up on the Web first, because they were closed. Apparently, they’re working on building a new Science Center as part of a planned renovation of downtown, and so they are only open for a fraction of the schedule listed in the passport.

So we went with Plan B — art. We saw the Richard Avedon exhibit In the American West at the Center for Creative Photography, which I found somewhat disturbing; it seemed ironic that the best-dressed people in the photos were all described as “drifters”. Then we continued with the University of Arizona Museum of Art; I was fascinated by the Faithful Samurai woodblocks prints.

Dining today was not terribly inspiring; we had lunch at the Cactus Cafe at the UA Student Center, and dinner at Peking Palace. Dinner was by far the better meal. We also had breakfast at The Good Egg again.

Relics of the past

On Monday, we visited Biosphere 2 and the Titan Missile Museum. Both were impressive in their own ways.

Biosphere 2 seemed (from the tour, at least) to be the idea of one man, Edward Bass, who poured an enormous amount of money into the project. There were obviously some political undercurrents (our guide told us about disputes with Columbia University, but the story was clearly only told from one side), and the future of the project is very much in doubt. At one point, it was to be sold, razed, and the land was to be used for a high-end housing development, but that seems to have fallen through. And so the complex is in maintenance mode for the forseeable future.

The Titan Missile Museum, on the other hand, expressed a national policy (Mutually Assured Destruction) whose time seems to have passed — at any rate, we no longer have an obvious opponent at which to point missiles. Every tour features a simulated missile launch — Jeff got to turn the key on our tour — and it was unsettling to see how short a time it took to launch the missile. It was also disturbing when our guide told us that the crew’s orders ended after launching the missile — after that, they would have been on their own.

In between our sightseeing, we hit some familiar Tucson restaurants — Magpie’s Pizza and El Charro Cafe. I didn’t think Magpie’s was as good as usual; El Charro, however, was in fine form. Breakfast, unsurprisingly, was at The Good Egg, which was as always.

Arizona (and other) Eats

We started the morning by sleeping late, following with the complementary breakfast at the Embassy Suites in Palm Desert, which was exactly what I expected it to be, and which was priced right, especially on an award stay.

Then it was time to hit the road for Tucson. We avoided stopping for lunch in Blythe, because it was far too early, but when we reached Quartzsite, Arizona, 20 body minutes but 80 clock minutes later, we decided it was time (especially given the lack of options farther up the road). We drove around a bit and ended up at Silly Al’s Pizza (the name was irresistable, though the building didn’t inspire confidence), where we enjoyed something unique in our experience: a cashew and mushroom pizza. It was pretty good, too, though the mushrooms were lost to the other flavors. My only complaint was that we were no longer in California, and so there were a lot of people smoking in the bar and other part of the restaurant — but I guess that’s what happens when you leave California. Recommended.

I would have liked to spend a little time looking around in Quartzsite — it looked like there was a permanent flea market in progress alongside the main road, with booths selling meteorites, books, and more, but we were on a mission. So we got back onto I-10, where we were delighted that the traffic was light, even through Phoenix, and we reached Tucson about 5:30 (Mountain Time), just 3-and-a-half hours after leaving Quartzsite. I suspect doing the math would result in a number that the Arizona Highway Patrol would officially disapprove, but we were being passed much more often than we were doing the passing. We drove to the Hilton, our home base for the next few days, and checked in. Diane helped Jeff with his lines for Tartuffe while I picked up dinner from New Delhi Palace. As soon as I arrived, one sniff told me that I’d made a mistake by ordering take-out — we should have eaten there, instead, to get the food at its freshest. But I was committed, so I brought it back to the hotel, where we all enjoyed a very pleasant meal (they were quite helpful and gave me dishes and utensils, since, of course, we didn’t have any!). Again, recommended.

And then we visited Diane’s dad and his SO, which was, of course, the main purpose of the trip.

Radio Hanukkah continued to be enjoyable, by the way; we especially liked the Debbie Friedman Hour…errr, Miriam’s Tent. The lighting of the National Menorah was, umm, interesting — I hadn’t expected it to be an all-Chabad operation. And, as we drove back to the hotel tonight, we enjoyed The 2000 Year-Old Man, which I don’t think Jeff had ever heard before in its pure form (though he’d seen the Simpsons version).

A much better Palm Desert dining experience

Last year, we stayed at the Palm Desert Embassy Suites on our way back home from Tucson. We’re here again, this time on our way to Tucson (let no one claim that we’re in a rut!), but fortunately, we did much better for dinner this time than last.

We dined at No-Da-Te, chosen by the scientific method of taking the first Asian restaurant we saw while walking down El Paseo. The salad, miso soup, and sashimi were excellent; the chicken teriyaki was only OK. I’d go back, but only for the fish.

Earlier today, we’d eaten at the Mountain Crossing Restaurant in Tehachapi; it was a fairly typical coffee shop — the people were very friendly, the food was OK (if a bit greasy). We were in Tehachapi because we decided to avoid the Grapevine — instead, we got off I-5 at SR 58 and took it all the way to SR 14, which brought us down to SR 138, which eventually met I-15, then I-215, and finally I-10. The way we went was 10 miles longer than the obvious route over the Grapevine, but most of it was also more relaxing. And, thanks to the miracle of XM, we had things to listen to the whole way, mostly Radio Hanukkah (I especially enjoyed the “Lights of Broadway” this morning), even though we were on the wrong side of the mountains for LA stations much of the time.

30 minutes

I spoke too soon in my last post. Radio Hanukkah played The Hanukkah Song 3 at 2:30pm Pacific, only 30 minutes into their schedule. And they played the original a few minutes ago, so I guess we’ll get to hear the whole set sooner rather than later.

But far better to hear Adam Sandler than “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”!

Debbie Friedman, who else?

The first official programming on Radio Hanukkah was, of course, Debbie Friedman singing the candle blessings (in both masculine and feminine form). And it’s been 15 minutes and they haven’t played “The Hanukkah Song” yet, which is a good sign!

Niche programming, and I’m in the niche!

I’ve had XM Satellite Radio for a couple of years; there’s almost always something I want to hear, though sometimes I have to dig through a lot of garbage first. But at this time of year, finding that special something gets a bit harder, since they convert several channels to all-Christmas formats.

This year, though, they’re trying something different: Radio Hanukkah, XM 108, debuts tomorrow, the 25th of Kislev, and will play for eight nights and days.
It’s available online as well as over the satellite, and, as a special Hanukkah gift, the normal 3-day trial for XM Online will last through all 8 days of Hanukkah — use the not-very-secret promo code “TheChosen” on the trial signup form.

I can’t say that I’m likely to listen to it exclusively, but I do plan to give it a shot — some of the programming looks intriguing. A little Adam Sandler goes a long way, though….

Installing MySQLdb on Mac OS X 10.4.8

I’m in the process of deleting duplicate copies of photos from my system in the interest of saving disk space (320MB just isn’t all that much when one is playing with video!). I’ve used find and md5 to build a list of all the .jpg files on my system with their hashes, and wrote some simple Python code to find duplicates. The problem now is to choose the best one of the duplicates (“best” in this case means the one with the most useful file and directory name). But my code just creates a pile of small files, one for each set of identical photos. This is a pain.

So I decided to install MySQL so that I could crawl through the duplicates in some interesting manner (yes, I did have wine with dinner tonight. Why do you ask?). The install of MySQL itself was trivial, but trying to install the Python binding (MySQLdb) was a pain. The important tip came from a posting on Jeremy Dunck’s blog — I was using gcc 3.3, and needed gcc 4. His posting explained what to do; I did it, and now I’m all set.

Now I have to actually put the data into the database and do something with it — that’s a problem for another evening, though….

Wine with Dinner

Every so often, I look at the wines featured on the endcaps at Lunardi’s. Most of them, of course, are Chardonnay, and therefore of no interest to us, but sometimes they have something which meets two important criteria:

  • It looks interesting
  • It’s being sold at a substantial discount to claimed retail

On Sunday, I found a couple of wines which met those criteria, though we’ve only drunk one so far — the 2002 Clos LaChance Central Coast Syrah. They wanted $8.99 for it, instead of a retail of $16.99 (or the winery’s suggested $18). It’s well worth the $8.99, so we bought a couple of more bottles, and might pick up more if they’re still in stock when we next visit.

That’s not crashing, it’s thrashing

Much to my surprise, I am now the proud owner of a 300GB backup drive for my Mac Mini.

The story started earlier this week, when I decided to get back to the project of digitizing our Hi-8 tapes before they (or the camcorder) gave up the ghost. So I fired up iMovie and copied the first tape that came to hand.

Except that I’d forgotten to rewind it, so there was a 13-minute segment that was dubbed. No problem; I rewound the tape and copied that part, too. But then I wanted to move the clips into the proper order so I wouldn’t have to remember what I’d done when I finally got around to editing.

Again, no problem. Until I tried saving the rearranged file. The progress bar zipped along for a few seconds, then came to a complete halt (with the spinning beachball in place of the cursor). And I heard a ticking noise from the disk. And the noise continued. And the progress bar didn’t move. And the app was unresponsive to the “Cancel” button.

So I rebooted and tried again. Same results. I even downloaded smartmontools, only to discover that they don’t work against an external Firewire-attached drive. I did wonder how I was able to do the download and compile while the disk was having problems, but it was getting late, so I turned everything off for the night, including my brain. That was Wednesday.

Thursday, I stopped at CompUSA on the way home and picked up the special of the day, a Maxtor 300GB drive (which, for reasons best known to Maxtor, came with a 20GB “bonus”, making it 320GB). I put it in my external USB drive case (which I’d bought in the course of recovering a failed disk on a TiVo) and went to work.

I’d done some research, hoping to find a way to recover the bad sector on my old drive, and there didn’t seem to be one — but The X Lab suggested it would be a good idea to “zero” the new disk before using it, so that the system would find and bypass any bad sectors on the drive. So I started that process and went to sleep.

This morning, I fired up SuperDuper, as recommended at UNEASYsilence, to copy the old disk to the new one. Then I went off to work. When I returned, the copy had finished, so I swapped the new drive into the miniStack; it booted, and I was back in business — back to iMovie to continue where I left off.

When I went to save the movie, the same thing happened. Except this time, the ticking was quieter. And it finally hit me: copying 22GB takes a long time. And the progress bar in iMovie doesn’t reflect the amount of data moved, just the number of clips touched. And I almost certainly didn’t have any bad sectors on my old disk — it was just doing a lot of seeking.

Oh, well; I needed a place to take backups anyway.

But next time, I’ll make sure to rewind the tape before I copy it.