February 2010 Archives

My advice: Don't ever quit

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I finally was able to resume running today! I managed to run 4.25 miles - took about 34 minutes, and holy cow - I'm shocked by how much "capacity" I lost after not being able to run or do much for nine days.

So, my advice to anyone that's working on their own diet/exercise/training programs: never quit. Never stop. Don't take any significant time off. No matter how much you want to talk yourself into "taking a few days off" - don't do it. Unless of course you're nursing an injury or something like that... otherwise, stay at it. Be relentless.

I looked back at my training logs (via my GPS watch), and tried my best to recall all of my running/riding/training activities, and quickly realized that since January of 2008, I've probably only "skipped" two consecutive days of training once or twice. Taking nine days off really put a dent on my capacity; if there were anything I could've done to get back into things earlier, I would've. But based on how I had been feeling just 3-4 days ago, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to run today.

I woke up (via the cat - argh) at 7:00, put on my running gear, took a long stretch (about 25-30 minutes worth), and hit the road. My legs felt sluggish and heavy. I didn't have any feeling of "flow" - every stride felt labored. My breathing was decent, but after about the three mile mark, I started to get a bit of a side/diaphragm ache. I wanted to start walking, but I forced myself to keep going. After the run was finished, I stretched for another 15 minutes or so, and then took a shower.

I'm hoping things will restore themselves in short order, because based on how I felt today, it seems as if I "lost" a solid 6-8 months worth of training effort over a period of 9 days. It's absolutely crazy how fast your body can give-up aerobic capacity... what takes years to gain can literally dissolve over a period of days.

So, I'll say it again: no matter how cold the weather is, or how tired you feel, or how busy you may be, keep at it. A day off can easily turn into two days, and three, then four, and before you know it, you'll have lost much of what you worked so hard to gain. And then it's depressing because it feels like you're "starting over," and so it's even more tempting to quit. Train smart and keep at it.

I'm going to get up early every morning of this week and do 4.5 - 4.75 miles per day; I'll keep the mileage low for a bit, or at least until my legs feel a little more limber. I'd hate to suffer a stress fracture or some kind of dumb injury... At least the weather is supposed to be decent this week - it was actually "hot" today; nearly 40-degrees! I took off my hat and gloves about 3/4 of the way through - I was getting too warm. :-) For comparison, it was 67F in Austin today.

Pure Bliss on Parmenter: Bloom Bake Shop

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After our fish fry lunch, we decided to check out the Bloom Bake Shop. It's a small bakery that opened a few weeks ago and is located dangerously conveniently between my apartment and my office, on the corner of Parmenter and Elmwood.

We sauntered into the chic little bakery and were immediately greeted by two friendly folks, including the owner, Annemarie. As we browsed the case of goodies, they took the time to share with us information about each cupcake. There was a nice selection of cupcakes to choose from, including: vanilla, chocolate, Oreo, and peanut butter cup - oh, heck, just check them out for yourself (poor photo - sorry - iPhone and all that):

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Sorry for the shadows and poor lighting - I didn't have my real camera with me, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say the photos don't do the cupcakes any justice at all.

In addition to those offerings, there were "whoopie pies," which I believe are two cookies that are filled with a frosting of sorts. There were also traditional cookies, including chocolate chip, chocolate, and a chocolate chip oatmeal cookie with Door County cherries. Yummo. Oh, did I mention the vegan & gluten-free cookies?

Annemarie was a breath of fresh air - she shared with us her passion for not only conjuring up a host of scrumptious goodies but for being conscious of the environment - her ingredients are locally sourced from responsible farmers and suppliers. Whenever possible, products are organic, seasonal, fresh, and local. The flours are minimally processed. The coffee is fair trade.

Even the bakery itself is earth and environmentally friendly by featuring such items as VOC/toxin-free paint and biodegradable flooring materials, re-used cabinetry by way of Habitat for Humanity, Energy Star appliances, and lighting that is 100% wind-powered. You have to admire the fact that they put so much effort into being responsible and aware of the environment.

We placed our order and sampled a delightful vanilla cupcake with a strawberry rhubarb frosting (I'm not normally a fan of the rhubarb, but this frosting was top-notch). We thanked the staff and headed back to the office.

Here's our stash of goodies - check out the cool boxes (of course they're made from recycled materials):

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And just what was inside of those boxes? Pure bliss, that's what. Think I'm exaggerating? Take a look and see:

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Those are the Oreo cupcakes (chocolate cupcake with a whipped frosting that was chock full of Oreo pieces) along with a peanut butter cup cupcake (chocolate cupcake with a chocolate and peanut butter frosting with a peanut butter cup).

How were they? In a word - sinful. The cupcakes were dense and moist, without any sign or hint of dryness. They didn't crumble; with every bite they simply melted with a seamless silkiness. I've never had a cupcake that was so utterly delicious and perfectly balanced; often, cupcakes are overly sweet, or feature far too much frosting (or worse yet: not enough frosting) - these were just perfect.

And after enjoying a cupcake or two, it was time to see what was in box #2...

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Two banana chocolate chip whoopie pies with cream cheese frosting.

As hard as I try, and as much as I wish I could, I simply cannot find adequate words to describe how friggin' awesome these things were. Better than your first kiss. Better than winning the lottery. Better than - well, anything I can think of. Why?

The thick cookies were cake-like, but with a hint of chewiness. They boasted a boatload of banana flavor with huge semi-sweet chocolate chips, and they tasted just like a freshly baked loaf of banana bread. In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd say they were still slightly warm. And just like the cupcakes, the texture was so spot-on - not dry, not crumbly, just flawless.

The cream cheese frosting works so well with the banana and chocolate chip... never in a million years would I have guessed cream cheese would compliment something like that, but trust me when I say it works. After wolfing down one of those whoopie pies, I immediately regretted not having bought 5 or 6. Sure, they probably have 800 calories in them, but it would've been worth it, every last morsel.

So I realize I'm gushing about this place, but it really is stellar. The whole thing works - from the vibe, to the staff, to the goodies themselves - they're all superb. And I hate that they're so close to my apartment... thank goodness I'm finally feeling good enough to where I can start running, riding, and swimming again, because I foresee many repeat visits to Bloom in my future.

My hat's off to the folks at Bloom. I'm going on record to say that I rate them higher than the Greenbush Bakery, and that's saying something because you know what a fritter fiend I am. :-)

Fish Fry Review: Middleton Sport Bowl

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Friday lunches during lenten season can be hit or miss... Odds are if you head to a burger joint, it'll be largely empty. Hit a place that's known for its fish fry, and you'd best be prepared for a lengthy wait, so it was with some reservation that we decided to try the Middleton Sport Bowl for lunch today. They supposedly have a decent Friday lunch fish fry, so odds were that we'd be in for a bit of a wait, or have to deal with a packed house.

Luck was on our side today; we were able to quickly find a parking spot, and once inside the bar area of the bowling alley, secured two bar stools without any trouble at all. An older gentleman took our orders - deep fried cod plates with diet pepsi all around.

He poured our sodas and brought us a complimentary bowl of freshly popped popcorn. Bonus!

Within 10-15 minutes our fish plates arrived, and featured 2 pieces of beer battered deep fried cod, a nice portion of battered straight-cut fries, some coleslaw, some tartar sauce, and a dinner roll. I opted out of the slaw and tartar, as I'm not a fan. I'm told the slaw was "ordinary" and the tartar "wasn't anything special." Duly noted.

Here's my plate of fish and fries:

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The cod was decent. Nothing spectacular by any means, but for a lunch plate, it wasn't too bad. The beer batter was quite flavorful, if not a bit heavy. The fish was a bit watery and light, and it lacked a firm/meaty texture. Flavor was extremely mild - the batter easily over-powered it. Had this been "dinner fish," I'd have been extremely upset, but since it was lunch time, we cut it some slack.

Fries weren't bad at all - nicely battered and fried to perfection. I added a dash of salt and a few shakes of pepper, and all was good. The dinner roll was dry and crusty - so dry, in fact, that I didn't even bother giving it a try. Just from the feel of it alone, I could tell it wasn't going to be worth the calories.

We polished off the fish and our bill arrived - $14.64 for the both of us. Not too shabby. We tipped, thanked the staff, and headed out to the car - our adventure took just 30 minutes - very respectable.

So, Middleton Sport Bowl = NEUTRAL. Not a win, not a fail. I probably wouldn't hit this place for dinner on a Friday night, but I'd definitely go back for a lunch or two, as many of the other patrons' plates looked mighty good (especially the Philly cheesesteaks).

Stay tuned for an entry about the Bloom Bake Shop - a new bakery that recently opened...

Definitely at 90-95% - thank goodness!

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I woke-up this morning (well, I should say - the cat woke me up my stepping on my neck and face while meowing and licking my face, all in the name of wanting breakfast) and I could immediately tell that I was feeling G-O-O-D good. I sat up without any discomfort, rolled out of bed and stood up without feeling or looking like a 90-year old man hobbling without his walker.

I fed the cat, brushed my teeth, and hopped into the shower. On the way out, I figured I should weigh myself, and I just about fell over... I had to re-weigh to confirm - I figured the scale was wrong, because I felt like a big blob after not having been able to do any type of activity for a whole 7 days... I took a picture - you can see my "black toe" and the water on my feet from the shower, so I apologize for the gross nature of the picture, but:

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My camera is a bit of a beast; without it I was 1.3-lbs lighter (the 6.4% is bodyfat and the 65.0% is water). ZOIKES. Time to get my eating on!! So, I got dressed, made a hearty breakfast (a few eggs (2 egg whites + 1 whole egg), some low sodium bacon, some pico de gallo and salsa), and headed to work. I walked down the stairs to the parking garage and immediately noticed that I felt no pain. Today was going to be a good day!

After a nearly flawless morning at work, Mark asked, "You in for lunch?" I said, "Sure thing - where?" He said I could make the call. I think he was shocked that I wasn't going to run, ride or swim at lunch... normally when he asks, I respectfully decline the invite so that I can workout instead.

We decided on a fish fry; it had to be some place close, quick, and relatively inexpensive. I'd heard mixed reviews about the local bowling alley's fish, and figured it was about time I verify the quality for myself, so we headed over to the Middleton Sport Bowl for their $6.95 beer battered cod special.

(I'll create a new entry so that fish fry seekers don't have to read about my Auschwitz-like weight loss, which, as of today totals nearly 140-lbs...brag, brag... how the heck did I ever weigh so much? Read on, and you'll see how easily I could pack-on some pounds.)

After the fish and cupcakes, I wrapped-up the day at work and then headed over to "Keva" to watch Phil's daughter play in a volleyball game (his wife coaches the team as well). The team lost the series, but played surprisingly well (they're 6th grade kids). Keva is this massive indoor sports facility that has several soccer fields, several volley ball courts, a basketball court, and a huge concession stand/hang out area. They never had that stuff when I was a kid...

We wrapped-up the night by heading over to Mark's house, where a group of seven of us played No-Limit Texas Hold'em until about 1:00am. I won $10, so it was the perfect end to a good day - 5 solid hours of entertainment and I made some money and I didn't have any discomfort!

I did eat like a glutton at Mark's... munching on chips, salsa, peanuts, and cheese and crackers... so my gut is feeling quite full right now. But with any luck, I'll go for a walk tomorrow and may even try to jog for a little bit. I'm going to take it easy though, as I'd hate to provoke an injury. My goal is to run 2-3 miles on Sunday... we'll see how that goes - if all systems prove themselves as reliable, I'll work my way back up to the 42-48 mile/week range over the next 14-18 days. I can't wait!

Recovery is such an odd thing. Had you asked me on Wednesday if I'd be feeling like I do today, I would've tried to laugh and/or slug you in the arm (I would've doubled-over in pain in the process). How things were able to go from 0 to 100 in a matter of 48 hours is beyond me... I guess our bodies are pretty amazing after all.

Ahhhh - that feels better.

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I finally worked up the ability to go back to the office today, and I must say that it was awesome. Not being tethered to the couch was absolutely wonderful - I walked around carefully, gingerly got in and out of my chair, and made sure I didn't try to zoom around too much. And it felt great. I got a little tired near the end of the day, but I think I'll sleep well tonight and should feel much better by tomorrow. If I had to wager a guess, I'd say I'm at about 65% right now; with any luck I'll be 85-90% tomorrow, and with "supreme" luck, I'll be going out for a light run on Sunday.

Oh, and about the workplace... Just before I left for the surgery, they (building maintenance) relocated our cubes to a different part of our floor. My group was merged with another group, and it was determined that we'd relocate so that we could sit near our new team members. No biggie at all - we got a new layout (one that's more conducive to collaboration), and I really like the new diggs.

Unfortunately, the only drawback is that my cube is now situated under two air conditioning vents, and as such, the temperature in my new location is about 6-8 degrees colder than the old location was... so, I freeze while sitting at my desk. Not good.

My coworkers, tired of hearing me complain about how cold it is, came up with a solution:

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The Snuggie. As unmanly as it looks, it's actually quite nice. I wore it almost all day - took some flak for it, but it was worth it. Kept me nice and toasty while allowing me to work without any inconvenience. I'm not certain if I'd pay $19.95 for one, but it is pretty excellent, so who knows?

Now, if I could only talk our HR and marketing departments into: making it part of the dress code, and issuing a Snuggie with the company logo, we'd be in business. :-)

My new best friend

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Meet my new best friend: Netflix streaming video.

For $8.99 per month I can watch as many movies or television shows (including cable series) as I wish - it's unlimited, and it's all via instantaneous download to my MacBook Pro. So far, it appears to be a better bargain than the iTunes rental system, which offers movie rentals at a cost of $1.99 - $3.99 per movie, per 24 hours.

Sounds a bit confusing, I know. So here's the breakdown: let's say I want to watch a movie. I go to iTunes, and I pick "The Hurt Locker" to download as a movie rental. The movie will cost $3.99, and I can watch the movie as often as I wish within a 24-hour time period.

So, if I start watching "The Hurt Locker" at 7:00pm on Monday, the movie "expires" at 6:59pm on Tuesday, and it cost me $3.99. Rinse, lather, repeat for each additional movie.

If I rent 3 movies a week from iTunes, it'll cost me about $12 in round numbers (or $48 per month), and I'll essentially get to watch each movie rental once, because let's face it - who watches a rental movie more than once in a single sitting or 24-hour period? Not me... although there have been times when I've seen a movie and then watched it again a few weeks later (if it was really good). With iTunes, I'd have to pony-up another $3.99 to "re-rent" the flick.

With Netflix, I pay $8.99 per month, and I can watch as many movies as I want to, as often as I want to, whenever I want to, all via their instantaneous download service on my MacBook Pro (it also works with PCs).

Now here's the extra cool part... don't want to be tethered to your computer to watch a movie via Netflix? That's cool. For $79 you can buy a Roku streaming player that plugs into your TV, and viola - Netflix streaming movies on your TV (there are also DVD players and gaming systems that have the feature built-in, but Roku is the least expensive system).

Downsides to Netflix? Quality isn't as good as iTunes - iTunes movies are really well presented - HD all the way. But the Netflix isn't too shabby. And selection - Netflix has some great offerings, but for the absolute latest and greatest via download, iTunes wins by a fair margin.

But, all things considered, for $8.99/month for unlimited streaming of movies, Netflix isn't a bad deal. The best part is that you don't have to worry about scratched or damaged DVDs - there's no skipping/pausing/quitting to deal with. So long as your internet connection is decent, the movies stream seamlessly. You can pause/stop/resume movie playback just like a normal DVD player.

It's super easy to use - once you're logged in, you browse (or search) through the movies, find the one you want to watch, and choose your playback option: via download or you can opt to have the rental mailed to you on a conventional DVD... but with the $8.99 plan, you can only rent one (1) DVD/movie at a time. Here's what the options look like from "inside" of Netflix:

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Pretty cool. Never thought I'd be a fan of Netflix again, but this streaming stuff is pretty excellent. And the best part? I wasn't force-fed a steady television diet of Olympics tonight! Ha!

In other news, I worked from home again today - was quite busy, actually... didn't even break for lunch - kept chugging away at things. Conference calls, online meetings, working on documentation, and so on. I'm amazed by how much more I can get done when I'm not getting distracted by normal office stuff. :-) That said, I can't wait to go back to the office and get off of this couch!

Well, this sure does stink.

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Had some surgery on Friday morning - nothing major - but recovery is the absolute pits. No running, no riding bike, no exercising, no moving around for about 7 - 10 days, per Doctor's orders.

Great. There goes my good cardio and conditioning base that I've built-up. I tried to think back to how long it's been since I've gone more than 2 days without doing any type of workout, and my best recollection says it's been at least 18 - 20 months. I'm hoping I'll be able to do some light jogging by next weekend - even if it's just a mile or two - just so I don't lose everything.

In anticipation of the time off, I worked up to some serious mileage - I'd ran just over 50 miles by Friday morning (since Monday) and rode just over 130 miles (all on the trainer). I probably deserve a little break, but I'm scared to death about losing progress...

So this is where I spent my weekend and most of today:

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Sitting on the couch, working on the laptop, getting sick of television, and getting a sore back from not being able to move around much. :-( ARGH - I hate it!!!!

My only form of real entertainment is watching the cats do battle - they've taken to wrestling quite a bit and the results are usually quite hilarious. Shiloh loves to jump nearly straight up from all fours; he'll jump over Mack, on Mack, around Mack, and so on. My iPhone doesn't really catch the action too well, but here they are - stalking each other...

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And after they chase each other around for a while, they usually "retire" to the couch with me...

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I can't wait until I can start moving around again. The only good thing to come out of this whole deal is that I've effectively "reset" my diet - with the realization that I can't do much activity, I've cleaned-up my eating accordingly. Most days start with a 1/2 cup of Fiber One with 1/2 cup of skim milk and 1/3 cup of blueberries... Lunch is usually a light yogurt with a plum or small apple... Dinner is usually 4 egg whites with 2oz of turkey and some pico de gallo. I'm trying to really keep it light.

So... here's to recovery and the hope that I'll be able to get back on the road by the weekend. And if I have to watch another minute of the Olympics, I'm going to go insane. I've watched 7 movies so far (I love iTunes rentals), but those are getting old as well. At least I was able to work from home today - that helped quite a bit; the day actually went by rather quickly.

Thank goodness my upstairs neighbor is around and making as much (if not more) noise than ever... I swear she's got an elephant breeding farm up there... when I move out, I'm leaving a case of SlimFast and a pair of soft-step slippers for her.

More Cat Tales...

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Poor Shiloh - he's got a urinary tract infection.

I noticed he had been using the litter box a lot, and was spending a considerable amount of time "sitting" in the litter box. It started on Sunday - he went to the box at least 6 times in an hour, and when I checked the box to see what was going on, it was obvious that he was having trouble urinating. Instead of big clumps of urine, there were six or seven pea-sized marbles of urine. :-(

Urinary tract infections (or "UTI" for short) are usually quite painful for cats and quite stressful, so I knew I had to get him in to the vet first thing on Monday. Blockage of the urinary tract as a result of a UTI can lead to a prompt and painful death; males are more prone to blockage than females. I was nervous all day on Sunday.

The rescue group warned me that Shiloh was difficult to get into a pet carrier, but boyhowdy did I underestimate just how tricky and difficult it really was! After trying to corral him for a solid 20 minutes and getting scratched and bit a few times, I finally trapped him in the bedroom. Big mistake...

He was on the bed - I could tell he was worn out from the chasing - so I went to grab him and must have spooked him something fierce because he immediately emptied his bladder on the bed... which included my new comforter. :-( Got him into the carrier, then promptly doused everything with Nature's Miracle, and threw what I could into the washing machine.

Because he emptied his bladder just minutes before getting to the vet's office, they weren't able to express any urine for testing purposes (to test for stones, crystals, infection, and so on), so we took a best guess that he had a UTI. A quick shot of antibiotics later, and a few hundred bucks lighter, we headed back home. I forgot how expensive vets are when you aren't getting "the shelter discount." ARGH.

Once home, Mack stepped in and took care of Shiloh:

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I'm happy to report that he's doing better now. Made some adjustments - he's getting wet food now (Wellness Core) mixed with his dry food (Wellness Core), and then doused with a 1/4 cup of warm water. The extra water from the wet food and dousing should help flush his bladder and keep things tidy. I might also add that the cat food bill is now higher than my own grocery bill - that stuff is pricey!

And speaking of tidy, we made some changes to the litter box scene as well. His foster family used a DIY litter box system that included an unscented clay litter; I was using traditional boxes with scented litter (Fresh Step) - perhaps that was adding to stress, and stress can cause UTIs in cats. So, I figured I would try to make things as "familiar" as possible.

Thanks to the good folks over at catinfo.org, I learned how to build a "proper" litter box - it's quite simple, much less expensive than a store-bought box, and the cats seem to enjoy the extra space and privacy.

Step one: purchase a large Rubbermaid (or similar) tub, with lid. I found this 22-gallon unit at Menards for $10.

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...you can see my Trek trainer bike in the background - I found that on Craigslist a while ago for a decent price. I use it in the trainer so that I don't beat-up my Cervelo during the off season.


Step two: cut a decent-sized hole in the tub, near the top. Don't cut through the top lip, as it provides support for the overall structure. Don't cut down too far, otherwise litter may spill out or get kicked out by the cats. I used a utility knife to cut the opening as shown here:

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Step three: fill it with litter! I used Dr. Elsey's Ultra Precious Cat litter. A 40-lb bag is $15 at Petsmart, which is a reasonable price for litter. The 40-lb bag perfectly fills the big tub. It's unscented, low dust, and clumps nicely. Note that Dr. Elsey's website has a ton of helpful information for litter box training, clean-ups, and cat assistance (in general).

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... I think Mack was excited to see a familiar litter box coming together...


And that's it - put the lid on, and you're all set. Here's the finished product, in place and ready for some customers:

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All-in-all, it took about 10 minutes to make this box and the cats seem to enjoy it. I also feel better that it's unscented litter (which is supposed to be better for the cats in general) and that it may help reduce a little stress from Shiloh and Mack's new world.

I'll keep you posted on his condition, but I suspect he'll be back up to 100% in no time.

And finally... look at how my "dumb" stock pick is doing:

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If you'll recall, I purchased that stock at $0.11 per share about 14 months ago. It was at $0.81 per share a few weeks ago. Now it's at $1.05; it was up to $1.09 at one point today... sure am glad I bought that stock! Wish I would've bought 100x more than I did, but then again, I'm apparently not too sharp when it comes to this stock stuff...

I'm not normally one to voluntarily hang out in a church, but for a good fish fry, I'll do just about anything. So, when folks kept telling us (the fish fry fanatics) about the awesome fish fry from a catholic school, we decided to give the 'ole parish a shot.

The school is located just northwest of Middleton - it's about a 10 minute drive from Madison's west side. It's easy to find - just follow the long line of cars making their way down the narrow two-lane road that is Highway K. Finding a parking spot proved tricky, and figuring out the correct entrance into the place proved even trickier.

Once inside, we were shocked to find a long line (it had to have at least 150 people in it), but that shock was quickly one-upped by the most shocking thing I've ever seen in my life: a beer stand... IN A CHURCH SCHOOL... ...I'm just sayin'...

We ponied-up our $11 for a fish ticket, and then got into line. This is what the line looked like after we'd been there for about 10 minutes or so.

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As we were buying our first beverage, I asked the friendly vendor how long we might have to wait in line - I figured it would take at least an hour or so to make our way down to the basement. His response was startling - "I'd say this is a one beer line."

I was starting to like this place. I liked it even more when I stumbled across this gem, compliments of a first grade student at the school:

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Definitely a unique combination of aspirations! The line did indeed move quickly - within minutes, we were making our way down the first flight of stairs and after another 10 minutes or so, we were in the basement and ready to be seated. The dining area was packed, and it's 100% "family style" - you're placed at a table with 8-10 other folks, where you all share food from heaping plates of goodness. Here's the dining area:

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Just after I finished taking that picture, we were led to our table, where we discovered a gigantic plate filled with steaming-hot deep fried cod, along with massive bowls of fresh crinkle cut fries, baked potatoes, colesalw, green beans, and homemade bread. This was going to be a dangerous evening.

I helped myself to a few pieces of cod, some fries, some green beans, and a piece of bread:

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The fish was divine. I keep saying things like "top 3 fish" or "top 5 contender," but this was quite possibly some of the best fish I've ever had. It was served absolutely piping hot - the beer batter was perfectly applied and delightfully flavorful. The fish itself was unreal: tender, flaky, firm, meaty, moist, and absolutely superb. As good as any fish I've had anywhere, and it was all you can eat, and it was a bargain at $11.

The fries were good as was everything else; but the fish was definitely the star of the evening. Oh - the service was excellent as well. As soon as any plate or bowl was nearing empty, a volunteer would swoop in and replace the empty plate or bowl with a brand new, pile of food - be it fish, fries, beans, or whatever.

And just when I was ready to burst at the seams thanks to all of that heavenly fish, the volunteers stopped by (as if on cue) with slices of homemade strawberry cake for dessert. I swear I heard angels on choir.

Saint Peter's was definitely a WIN. The only downsides? The basement setting isn't big on ambiance, there weren't any old fashioneds, and there wasn't a baked fish offering. Oh, and they also only do the fish fry once a month on "non lent" months, so it requires some advanced planning.

But those are all very minor/petty complaints - the fish was out of this world, the price was more than fair, and the service was top notch. 5-stars all the way around. Now, if they could find a way to do a "Sunday morning fish fry," I might just be enticed to go to church every so often...

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...seriously? I think they're trying to make light of the whole "here's a beer while you're in church" thing. But whatever - it all works, and it works really well. Kudo's to St. Peter's!!!

Almost forgot - SuperBowl details

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I almost forgot to include details about Phil & Shawn's Superbowl party from last weekend and what a great time we all had. Phil and his wife, Shawn have a lovely home just outside of Sun Prairie that they share with their three daughters. They invited a few folks over to watch the game - I was lucky enough to be invited and really enjoyed it.

Why? Well, for starters, the game was entertaining and engaging, although I must admit I didn't watch it as closely as some did, and I also managed to miss a lot of the commercials... bummer. But my reasons were valid - there was a ton of awesome food, and when I wasn't busy munching on all sorts of goodies, there were plenty of new folks to chat with - Phil's friends and neighbors were in attendance as well, and they were all a lot of fun to hang out with.

I guess I wasn't the only one who wasn't tuned-in to the game as much as I should've been:

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Quite a mix - adults, kids, infants, dogs, Mark... (ha!)

They put out a great spread of food - everything from sausage and peppers to a warm beer-cheese dip to pumpkin bars... one of my favorites was this monster cookie that I believe was a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie, covered with a cream cheese frosting. Yummo.

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And as easily as I could have eaten the entire cookie, I only had a half of a slice, so I tried to be good. :-) I also sampled some incredible peanut butter/chocolate bars, and a mess of other tasty things.

Of course, the other secret to a good Superbowl party can be found in the fridge... you have to love being in Wisconsin:

fridge.jpg

Lots of New Glarus offerings, along with MadTown Nutbrown Ale, Rathskeller Amber, Founders Proper, and the 'ole standbys of Lite and Leine's.

Despite all of those offerings, Phil had us try one of his favorite beverages: Grappa. From what I understand, it's a brandy liquor that's made from the grape remnants of the winemaking process. It smelled like pure gasoline, but it's one of Phil's favorites, so we had to sample it. In the end, it wasn't horrible, but I probably wouldn't ask for it by name... I'd much rather stick with something like this:

grappa.jpg

(That's Phil in the background asking if anyone would like some more Grappa)

So, all in all - a great party. The game didn't turn out too badly, either. Thanks again Phil - I can't wait for the next Superbowl party (although I'll probably pass on the Grappa).

Fish Fry tomorrow... I'm just sayin'...

Ok, so I may become "The crazy cat guy"

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I'm not sure which title is actually worse - "crazy cat guy" or "fish fry fanatic"? Regardless, the cats are doing really well. They're adjusting to their new surroundings and are providing a ton of entertainment.

Shiloh is "Mr. Daring" - he wants to get into everything, and if there's something going on in the kitchen, he's all over it. It's nearly impossible to prepare a dinner, as I usually have a turkey wrap or something like that, and he has to keep close tabs on my efforts. The other night, he stole a chunk of scrambled egg whites directly out of the frying pan!

He's also started to enjoy hanging out in "sniper mode" as shown here:

on_counter.jpg

He climbs up above the cupboards and waits for the right moment to swoop down and grab something from the counter. While it can be annoying, it's usually too funny for me to hold any type of grudge against the little guy.

Mack and Shiloh have also found a new favorite spot to sleep - it's on my $50 craigslist couch (which, after a gallon or six of Febreze doesn't smell too badly now), as shown here:

on_couch.jpg

They love that spot and will sit there for hours while I ride bike or work on the computer. Sure am glad that I bought them a really nice bed that they never use. :-)


Oh - in other news, I saw my first "good" accident the other day... Wisconsin drivers have this wonderful tendency to "block the box" while attempting to turn left at any intersection.

"Blocking the box" refers to pulling your car into the middle of an intersection and waiting for the opposing traffic to open-up so that you can turn left (across their lanes). It's about the dumbest thing you can do, because you're literally out in no-mans land, blocking the intersection and making things unsafe for everyone.

Well, blocking the box is "the norm" around here - everyone does it all of the time. Wisconsin drivers also love to run red lights - they "sneak through" even after the light has gone from yellow to red.

Combine these two traits, and you're bound for a collision, which is what happened last night. Minivan blocking the box, waiting for traffic, with a Jeep waiting directly behind it (a double-block situation).

Lights turn red, and the van and Jeep both start to accelerate through the rest of the intersection. Bad timing, because a brand new Ford F150 was trying to run the red light as well, and ended-up hitting both the van and the Jeep. I just shook my head, because you could've totally predicted it.

Everyone got out - the van guy yelled at the truck guy; the truck guy yelled at the van guy; the Jeep guy was from another country and was on his cellphone as if nothing happened.

I pulled-in to a parking lot, started to get out and walk to the accident, but by then two cop cars were arriving, and there were two other cars that saw the accident as well. So, I figured it would behoove me to not get involved and just go home... which I did. And along the way, I saw another "blocking-the-box" move... ugh.

Next time I'll rant about how ignorant and inconsiderate the drivers are of pedestrians here.

Friday Night Fish Fry: Fitzgerald's

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We decided to stay local, and you can't get much more "local" than Fitzgerald's on Parmenter in Middleton. The place is a classic supper club - complete with paneling, a large and dark bar area, and a nice-sized dining area. It's been around for quite a while from what I'm told, and while they're best known for steaks, rumor had it the fish fry was solid, so we decided to give it a try.

Here's what Fitzgerald's looks like from the outside:

fitz_outside.jpg

Ventured inside, checked with the hostess and after putting in our names for a table, grabbed a seat at the bar. The bar featured a nice selection of craft brews on tap, and they had complimentary snacks - Gardetto's and fresh popped popcorn. I went with a Tyranena Rocky's Revenge; Mark sampled the old fashioned.

They muddled the cherries with the sugar and bitters; added whiskey, added ice, and topped it off with sour. Mark reported it was "ok" - 5.5 to 6 points out of 10.

Our table became ready and we were led to the dining room, where we passed a huge buffet line along the way. The buffet included items such as broasted chicken, deep fried cod, baked haddock, seasoned and broiled haddock, some casseroles, and a bunch of potato options.

We took a peek at the menu - the buffet was $13; the all you can eat deep fried fish was $13... and the baked fish included 2 pieces of haddock for $10. Hmm... seemed like the buffet was the best bet, so we ponied up the $13 and made our way to the line.

The seasoned haddock looked as if it had been drowned in butter, so I took a pass. I did, however, go with the baked haddock, a baked potato, and I decided to sample the deep fried cod as well. After squeezing some lemon over my fish, this is what the plate looked like:

fitz_fish.jpg

The fried fish was decent - tasted a lot like a good piece of Vande Kemps frozen fish, though... I seriously doubt they hand batter the buffet fish, so after a few bites I cast it aside and focused on the baked haddock.

The baked was quite firm, rather tasteless, and really unexciting. It wasn't offensive by any means, but it wasn't worth going back for more (although I did go back and grab one additional piece, just because I could). I've definitely had better baked fish in my day.

The baked potato was semi-hard; didn't seem as though they had cooked it to completion. I tried a few of the broasted potatoes, which were excellent - I should've gone with them instead.

All in all, a rather disappointing fish fry. I'd rank Fitzgerald's well outside of our top 10. Perhaps the menu fish is better than the buffet fish?

After Fitzgerald's we headed over to Fontana where I scored a killer new winter hat for $10 (on sale). We ultimately finished the evening at the Come Back Inn - here's Mark and I posing as "uninspired" (we were reminiscing about the fish from Fitzgerald's). You can see my new hat as well... :-D

cbi_steve_mark.jpg

So, in summary - skip Fitzgerald's. There are better options in the area.

Sunday brings us the Superbowl! I'm headed over to Phil's house (coworker) to watch the game; should be a good time.

Speaking of which, and a bit off-topic... I went shopping for beverages with Phil the other day and stumbled across this odd beverage choice:

harlem.jpg

Nothing says "refreshing" like a nice big bottle of... erm, Harlem?

Kickin' it with the Katz

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It's been a few days since I brought home Mack and Shiloh, and I'm pleased to report that all is going extremely well. They're both coming out of their shells and are quite the characters.

Mack is a bit more aloof than Shiloh - she's happy to sit next to me rather than on me, although she does follow me everywhere throughout the apartment. If I get up to grab a soda, she's right by my side. She's so cute - she just sits quietly, waiting for me to finish whatever I'm doing, and will then follow me back to wherever I'm headed.

Here she is standing behind me while in the kitchen. I think I was grabbing a Diet Mt. Dew at the time.

mack_kitchen.jpg

Shiloh on the other hand, is quite outgoing. He walks around "talking" constantly - meowing and "griping" for attention. He's curious about everything - including my cereal from the other morning:

shiloh_cereal.jpg

Just in case you're curious, the cereal is Fiber One with Silk Light Vanilla and fresh blueberries. 1/2 cup of Fiber One, 1/4 cup of silk, 1/4 cup of blueberries. Makes an excellent 100 calorie breakfast. I'll sometimes mix the Fiber One and blueberries with vanilla yogurt for an evening snack. Try it - it's awesome.

Spent the day working out. I found the "Insanity" workout DVDs on craigslist and have been working my way through them. Today was "Plyometric Cardio and Max Abs" - about 45 minutes of pretty tough core/aerobic exercise.

I followed that with 2 hours on the bike on the trainer (ick). At least I was distracted from the boredom of the trainer; I watched the "Big & Rob" series on DVD - it's a hilarious show about Rob Dyrdek (a pro skateboarder) and his bodyguard, Big Black. It was on MTV for a while and I never paid any attention to it, but a friend told me more about the show, and based on his description, I had to see the full series. If you can catch a rerun of the series, I suggest you take a look - it's really entertaining.

And then finished the morning with an 8-mile run around the neighborhood. The temperature was in the low 20s, and there was a solid northerly wind... made for a chilly run, but anything is better than the treadmill, so I didn't complain too much.

The rest of the day was rather unexciting... Cleaned the apartment (the cats don't seem to be afraid of the vacuum), did some laundry, made a dinner of egg whites, pico de gallo, some turkey breast, and a flax wrap, and am now sitting on the couch catching up with computer stuff.

Here's Mack, sitting next to me:

mack_sleep.jpg

And here's Shiloh and me, writing this blog entry together:

steve_shiloh.jpg

Fish fry review to come next!

What's up, Kitty Kat?

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I adopted two cats from the local animal shelter. Meet Mack and Shiloh.

Mack:
mack2.jpg

Shiloh:
shiloh1.jpg


I was originally planning on adopting a single cat, but these two cats have some special needs. They had been at the shelter since 2008, because both have FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), which is the equivalent of kitty AIDS. There's no cure, and no real form of treatment - they live with it, and you hope for the best.

FIV cannot be transmitted to people or other non-felines, and it's usually only spread to other cats by way of a deep bite. So, there's relatively little harm in having a cat (or two) with FIV, but for some reason, most people get scared and freak out about it. Most shelters and vets will euthanize cats with FIV because they are more difficult to place into homes than your standard cat might be.

So anyway... I saw Shiloh on Petfinder and really took a liking to him. I saw that he had FIV, but I was familiar with the condition, and knew it wouldn't be a big deal. So, I went and met him, and it turns out that he had a foster sister that he was absolutely in love with. Apparently Shiloh and Mack were best buddies, and would benefit from being placed together in a "forever home."

Shiloh is a bit scared of new people/environments to boot, so I figured that it would probably be best to keep them together, and as a result I came home with two wonderful kitties - one boy (Shiloh) and one girl (Mack). Mack is short for Mackerel - apparently the people who found her fed her Mackerel, and so the name stuck.

Mack is really outgoing - she follows me around everywhere, sleeps on me at night, and seems comfortable with everything. Shiloh is a bit more timid, although he did spend a considerable part of the night sitting on my lap and then laying next to me while in bed. I think he'll warm-up fairly soon.

So, there you have it - Mack and Shiloh, chillin' at the apartment. There'll be plenty of more pictures (and stories) to come, I'm sure. These photos aren't that great - I took some quick pictures while on lunch today. The apartment is a bit cluttered as well - I'll be cleaning/organizing this weekend (after fish fry, of course).

Dorf-Haus: Well worth the drive

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Well, there went another week. It seems like I was posting a Fish Fry update only yesterday... The time goes by far too quickly, that's for sure.

It's becoming a bit more difficult to find good fish fries that are both popular and close in proximity to Madison; we get plenty of suggestions for places that are probably quite fantastic, but unfortunately are located in rather diverse locations - these options include: "The Gone Fish Inn" in Mount Vernon, "The Night Owl," in Evansville, and of all things, a gas station in Lancaster...

We definitely want to try as many fish fries as possible, but time isn't always on our side... so, we weigh the options and choose carefully. This past Friday's choice proved to be a winner in every sense of the term. Read on.

I'd read good things about a little German restaurant known as "The Dorf Haus," especially with regard to their fish fry. A quick peek at the map showed the drive wouldn't be terrible - maybe 30 minutes or so from Madison. So we saddled-up and hit the road, our tummies-a-rumblin', tastebuds-a-waterin'.

The Dorf Haus is located in Roxsbury, Wisconsin, which is a town that appears to consist of a few bars, a church or two, and a handful of houses. Very quaint, to say the least, and we had no problem finding the Dorf Haus - the parking lot was packed (overflowing, actually) with cars. Definitely a good sign.

We wandered into the bar area and put in our names for a table. The hostess indicated it would be "at least an hour" before we would be seated. Yikes! So, we ordered a few beers (The Dorf only offers German brews on tap - another bonus) and went on the hunt for a place to sit and wait.

(All pictures are from my iPhone, so apologies for the poor quality)

bar.jpg

We eventually scored some seats near the end of the bar, which was great - we had plenty of room and it was near where the bartenders kept the snack mix, so our bowl of crisps never went empty. :-)

Mark ordered an Old Fashioned as well, and was happy to report that it was well-made. The bartenders cranked out Old Fashioneds by the dozen - no lie. They muddled sugar with bitters and a splash of cherry juice, added the whiskey (or brandy), added ice, and topped it off with a splash of soda. Total time to complete: about 14 seconds. $3.50, thankyouverymuch.

Our table became ready at around 8:00pm, and we were led into one of a handful of dining areas. Upon being seated, we discovered a basket of "fritters," which were deep-fried biscuit-like nuggets of bliss (and were still warm, puffy, and slightly crisp on the outside). Here's what one of these delicious little critters look like (with honey):

fritter.jpg

Salads arrived next - nothing fancy to report... Just your basic side salad on a chilled plate, and served by gals wearing authentic German gear (I believe the dresses are called "Dirndl").

Our fish options were limited to family style (AKA "all you can eat") deep-fried cod for $10, or an order of baked haddock for $13. Mark went with the family style, and I went with the baked. For sides, Mark chose spaetzl (a german noodle of sorts) and I opted for the baked potato.

Within 15-20 minutes our entrees arrived. Here's the baked haddock:

baked.jpg

All I can say is, "wow." Easily a top three contender for fish quality. I'm running out of ways to describe fish in a unique manner, so I'll have to rely on the old descriptors of: fresh, flaky, tender, slightly sweet, and no hint of fishiness. Just absolutely perfectly executed baked fish. It wasn't watery, it wasn't dry - it was just incredible. Haddock is a quality piece of fish, and it definitely shines when baked properly.

Mark's deep fried cod was even more impressive; they start with what has to be some of the highest-quality cod around, dip it in a light batter that has just a hint of salt and pepper, and then fry it to perfection.

fried.jpg

The batter wasn't overwhelming, nor was it greasy, and it stayed crisp until the very last bite. I sampled half-a-piece of the stuff and instantly wished I hadn't - not because it wasn't great, but because I could've easily polished off 15-20 pieces of the stuff. I would've made a scene.

The spaetzl was awesome as well - I'd never really tried it before, but man, is it some good stuff. Mark has spent some serious time in Germany, and he remarked that the Dorf Haus spaetzl was as good as any he'd had while in Germany. That's a compliment.

Our waitress offered us some lovely desserts, but we were both quite full, so we took a pass. We left great tip (the service was stellar to boot), and then drove back to Madison, raving and remarking about the Dorf Haus the entire way. Definitely a win.

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