Thursday, June 25, 2009


Do your kids like video games, but they drive you crazy? Check out Orisinal, a series of cute and inventive games by Ferry Halim. Here's the link: Try the lady bug game. It's mildly addictive.

My brother, Pete, a graphic designer, turned us on to her site year's ago. Even the music's mellow and kind of catchy. My kids love it, particularly the younger set, and it's nice to see someone's creativity in full flower.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Tired of the same old Wendy's Frosty? Try this: take it home and add Hershey's chocolate syrup to taste (half the bottle wouldn't hurt), toss in a tablespoon of cinnamon, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and mix it up good. If it's too melty, stick it back in the freezer for awhile. Now THAT'S a frosty.

My kids just think I'm weird. Genius is always misunderstood.

(Photo courtesy of Nicholas Hall on Flickr; original available at:

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Incredible stuff coming out of Iran these days. There's such a power in the struggle for freedom: Something should ring true in that account, as that same spirit animated the American Revolution over 200 years ago. It is the struggle for freedom, for liberty, and the willingness to lay everything on the altar of sacrifice for a principle, for an idea, for an ideal.

Here's some more: I'm becoming a Roger Cohen fan. He seems to grasp this historical moment better than most.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


For all you fans of period dramas (think Jane Austin's Pride & Prejudice, BBC version), fire up the Netflix queue, as I have a recommendation for you: "Cranford," a BBC adaptation of three novels by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Becky and I have become Gaskell fans since someone gave Becky a copy of "Wives & Daughters" during a trip to Europe a few years ago. We've followed the book up with movie versions of "Wives & Daughters," "North & South," and now, "Cranford," an extraordinarily good adaptation featuring a lot of fine writing and British acting (if you're a fan of English period dramas, you'll recognize many of the faces). Judi Dench and Alex Etel, in particular, turn in stunning performances. The set doesn't hurt either--the town of Lacock, in Wiltshire, England. Gorgeous.

And if you're not a fan of English period dramas ... well, watch it anyway. It'll do you good.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Gulliver on Flickr; original image (and many related images taken in the same village) available at:

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Death of the Small Town

The drive home from a recent business meeting near Yellowstone took me through Southern Idaho, and, on a whim, I pulled over in Blackfoot to see whether I could find a small town drive- in to get a bite to eat.

It's not that I wanted a burger, particularly. Rather, I hoped for some fresh cut fries (this was Southern Idaho, after all), a chocolate shake, a line of locals, an eager, fresh faced teen behind the counter, and the energy that one can feel at "the" place to be on a summer evening in small town, USA.

Alas, no drive in, though I dutifully drove the entire length of "Business 1-15." So, I tried Pocatello, the old railroad town where my father grew up and both grandparents lived out their lives. The yellow house was gone, and the chestnut tree, and even the large, smooth boulder in front of the place next door that we used to treat as a slippery slide. I looked in vain for the old feed store, Hawkes Feed & Seed, and couldn't find that either, and the warehouse district felt tired and empty. And no drive-ins to be found, anywhere. One last try at McCammon, with the same results, and that was that.

Over that same stretch of highways, backways, and business routes, I suspect I saw no less than 15 Subway Restaurants, a dozen Burger Kings, at least that many MacDonald's. I could also see--and feel--how the energy had shifted from main street to the strip malls at the outskirts of town and closer to the freeway.

The slow death of small town America isn't exactly groundbreaking news, but I felt it keenly on that little detour to find a decent milk shake. I know it hangs on, in pockets here and there, and each of those towns may hold a classic drive-in that I just missed, but the change--and the loss-was palpable, and left me feeling melancholy.

We live in a world of fast food, the internet, and iPhone, where communities are built around interests rather than geography or industry, but all this technology, even as it expands our capacity to interact with others, can feel oddly isolating and alienating. The dull monotony of the strip mall. The stranger neighbors. The decayed urban core. The rusty old warehouse districts and faded signs. We drive around, one to a car, running a seemingly endless list of errands. We sit up late, typing on the keyboard. Alone. And the glow of the computer screen washes away memories of moon and stars and fireflies, campfires, and the neon sign above the local drive-in on a summer evening.

So, where did I wind up eating? Subway. In the end, I had little choice.

(Photo courtesy of kyfireengine on Flickr; available at

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly (Restaurant Edition)

The Good

Five Guys Burgers and Fries - We fell in love with this Virginia-based chain when we lived in Maryland. Simple, stripped down menu. Sliced lemon for your diet Coke, vinegar for their superb, fresh cut fries (don't ever order the large fry if you're eating alone; we often split the "medium"), and solid hamburgers where you don't have to pay extra for the fixings. (Best way to order a burger is "all the way."). They don't freeze their meat and they start cooking it the minute you place your order. You can find an equivalent burger, but you'd be hard pressed to beat their fries.

Sawadee Thai - Great place for lunch near the Governor's mansion at about 750 East and South Temple in Salt Lake. For $7.50 you get your choice of two dishes (I almost always pick #7 (bbq pork) and #11 (Massaman curry)). Solid if not stellar Thai. Good, friendly service.

Red Iguana - No secret here as the place in invariably packed. Go off hours. A bit pricey for Mexican but deservedly so. Best Mexican around. A wide variety of great moles (no, not the subterranean rodent kind, those heavy chocolate infused smokey spicy sauces).

Setebello Pizza - Fresh salads and uber thin, wood fired pizzas with a bit of cheese and tasty toppings. Skip the gelato, though, as its expensive and disappoints (to my mind anyway).

Nielsen's Frozen Custard - For some, inexplicable reason the store in Provo never took off, but this Bountiful standby (which a few other branches around and about) serves the real deal, the pinnacle of ice-cream fabulousness: frozen custard. Can't go wrong with the straight chocolate though raspberry is great when they have it, same with the carmel cashew. Though no one orders them, they actually make a pretty good turkey and avocado grinder. I've never had bad avocado there, which says something.

The Bad
Oh, there are soooo many places that deserve to make the naughty list, but I'll single out a few of my perennial (least) favorites:

Chilies (or, as the sign reads: "Chijies") - Question: How do you feel when you leave? Answer (invariably): vaguely sick to my stomach. 'Nuff said. Only I can't stop there: Waitress: can I get a little more cheese on that or maybe a dollop of Crisco? This dish isn't quite greasy enough for me. Thanks.

Any Other Chain Restaurant That Looks Like Chilies including, but not limited to, Applebees (boo!), the Olive Garden (hiss!), and TGI Barfdays (retch!). If it looks like Chilies, chances are it tastes like Chilies.

Lame Steakhouses like Outback and Lonestar. I bet grilled armadillo tastes better than most of their steaks and the bloomin' onion type deals may taste good going down, but raise your hand (anyone? anyone?) if you don't feel just plain lousy after eating one. Salads straight from the bag and taste just that good.

DQ (and equivalents) - You call that ice cream?! Save your calories and spend them on chocolate custard instead. You'll thank me. I promise. It's like the difference between cheetos and cheesecake.

The Ugly
Hard to know quite what to do with this category, but maybe it's best reserved for restaurants that I shouldn't like, but somehow enjoy anyway:

Cheesecake Factory - A chain restaurant serving obscenely large portion sizes (Becky and usually split an appetizer, split and entree, and split a desert, and still struggle), but I gotta tell ya, their Thai Lettuce Wrap appetizer is da bomb. Also a fan of the Chicken Marsala and, alas, the Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake. At $7 a slice, their cheesecake is an absolute ripoff, and one waitress confided in us that a single piece of their "peanut butter pie cheesecake" (or some similar name) has 125o calories before adding the whipcream. Still, cheesecake is cheesecake, and that Godiva cheesecake is some serious stuff. About the most sinful food/beverage one can indulge in and still get a temple recommend. (Whether one should be able to get a temple recommend after eating a full slice of Godiva cheesecake is another question entirely ...)

Okay, so please weigh in with your own. I'm really just trying to get folks to cough up the good info. Reveal your fave hole-in-the-walls. Inquiring minds want to know.

Ed. note: this writer has no strong opinions about food. Ed note No. 2: if you don't want to drop $100 or more on a meal for two, $30-40 will buy you at least two filet mignons, asparagus, red potatoes, a pack of Martenelli's, and a pint of Haagen Daaz--and that's pretty tough to beat anywhere or at any price. Only downer is someone has to do the dishes. 1, 2, 3 ... Not it!!)