Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Seasonal ales

There are many seasonal brews that come around each winter, and some specially made for Christmas, so I thought I'd recommend some of the better ones I've tried this year.

Belgium makes an astounding number of Christmas beers, mostly double or trippel ales that are wonderfully rich and warming. Bottleworks in Seattle have a great selection, and when I stopped by a few weeks ago, the had some 1-year old Corsendonk Christmas Ale. I tried it last night, and really enjoyed it! It's mellow, smooth, a little nutty and spicy and not too fizzy. It reminded me a little of the Rogue Hazelnut brown ale, so try that one too if you like the Corsendonk...
Some of the newer Belgian beers can be really fizzy, I think the aging makes a big difference... I tried an Orval a few days previous and it was disappointingly fizzy.

Speaking of Bottleworks, they have recently opened a Belgian-style bar/cafe in Fremont, called Brouwer's, and I'm dying to try it. Perhaps there will be some moules et frites in my Christmas long-weekend!

Being a Seattle-ite, I can't write about beer and leave out the great Northwest microbrews that come out this time of year. Favourites from past years are the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Redhook Brewery Winter Hook Ale and the Bridgeport Ebenezer Ale. I've recently tried the Pyramid Brewery Snow Cap Ale, but this was too bitter and hoppy for my tastes, and not very fruity or rich, so it isn't high on my list of winter ales.

Update: 1/3/2006
A quick note on some other beers I've tried in the past week or so.

A Pacific NW one that's very yummy is the Widmer Snow Plow. Very smooth and malty, nice and warming. It's sort of like Guiness-lite. (Not as bitter and charred)

Another great Belgian beer (not seasonal, though) was a bottle of Kwak . Something about the name appeals to my juvenile sense of humour. (Which is still intact despite my great age...)

Friday, December 02, 2005

I can re-publish!

As if by magic! No errors!
I wonder if it's a coincidence that I contacted Blogger support a day or two ago? I never heard back from them, but everything seems happy now.

Well, with that fixed, I'd better not waste time. Back to the interesting stuff! Thanksgiving pics and snow pics to come this weekend!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Publishing woes...

I'm still hitting the "Broken Pipe" error when trying to re-publish my blog - even after moving the website to a new server with plenty of space. I'm beginning to suspect that Blogger is to blame. It looks like I am able to post new entries fine, but re-publish the entire blog fails. It would be nice if they gave you more diagnostics information...

Time to look into hosting my own blogging server?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Pfft! Another test

Blogger is lame and won't let me publish my blog after I change my template, so I have to publish an entry instead...

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Freaky pizza recipe

Apparently, Americans think you're weird if you put tuna on your pizza! (My girlfriend had previously only seen this in Germany, and teases me whenever I try to make tuna pizza at home).

Last night I tried something new, and it turned out relaly well, so here's a quick recipe.
  • Pizza dough (make your own, or buy some ready-made dough, e.g. at Trader Joe's)
  • Trader Joe's Indian Relish
  • 1 cup of shredded cheese (I used a Spanish sheep/cow's milk cheese from Trader Joe's)
  • 1 Small can of tuna (in water), drained
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into 1-2mm thick slices
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to season

Roll out the dough and put it on a baking sheet or pizza stone. Spread the relish on the dough (not too much, it should just cover the dough, but you don't need a thick layer everywhere). Spread the tuna over the pizza, cover with shredded cheese, then the zucchini and onion. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Bake in a 425F oven for 15 minutes or until the pizza is slightly brown around the edges and the cheese is bubbly.

The Indian relish gives this a nice spicy, fruity tang. You could substitute a good fruit chutney instead (like Mrs. Balls Chutney from South Africa)

"I got the Blue Death"

Another quick plumber story befor I forget... (See "The week from Hell" for the setup to this)

When the plumber came out last Wednesday (after the flooding and general mayhem on Tuesday), he complained about having "the blue death" while on his phone in the parking lot. I thought I had mis-heard and perhaps there was an illness in his family...
Later it turned out his phone had gotten wet the previous day, and his screen was now on the fritz and only showed an eerie blue glow.

He probably was trying to say "Blue Screen of Death" (BSOD) - referring to the bugcheck (kernel crash) screen Windows is infamous for. I think "Blue Death" sounds far better, though.

I wonder what colour the bugcheck screen in Vista is?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Time for a "Sea change"?

Bill Gates' memo to senior execs at Microsoft was leaked to the press this week. In it he calls for a "sea change" within the company - which made me wonder what the origin of that phrase is?

World Wide Words to the rescue! (More at
The phrase is a quotation from Shakespeare. It comes from Ariel’s wonderfully evocative song in The Tempest:
Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Michael Quinion runs World Wide Words and has a brilliant weekly newsletter on words and language, plus several books.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sony DRM fun

If you read Slashdot, you've no doubt seen this, but if not... Mark Russinovich's blog aired some of Sony's dirty laundry last week, when he outlined how one of their copy-protected CD's installs a kernel-mode rootkit on your machine without your knowledge.

His initial analysis is really interesting, as is his analysis of the "patch" and phone-home behaviour of the rootkit, and his follow-up to the counter-claims from the software's developers.
The ability to effect change by complaining on your personal blog depends on havign an audience, and having credibility. It's cool to see the effect these postings have had - Sony are scrambling to fix this and the press coverage means more people will be aware of CD copy-protection and copy-protection in general.

Update - Nov 9th: The next round from on Mark's blog is here, in which he slices and dices the uninstall process that SonyBMG makes you jump through.

Update - Nov 14th: Sony will no longer manufacture any CDs using this DRM technology, and is re-evaluating their DRM initiative. Microsoft's Anti-Spyware tool will include a signature to recognize the rootkit and allow it to be removed.

The Week from Hell

Last week was a doozy! (If you're South African you may think "doozy" think that has something to do with the Dusi Canoe Marathon, but they just sound the same).

I was going to go into the gory details with a long post last week, but I think a bulleted list is better. It's still long and fairly gory - sorry. Here goes:
  • Plumber finally came to install new water heater. Price had already jumped from $1000 initial quote (on the phone) to $2500 (after adding all the stuff required to bring it "to code").
  • Plumber did lots of soldering (pronounced "saw-der-ing" in the US) and found out that blowtorch + fire sprinkler head = BOOM!
  • Fire sprinkler heads dump a LOT of water when they go BOOM! Plus, the fire alarm sounds and you have to call 911 to get the Fire Department out to shut off the sprinkler.
  • Fire Department came out, were very friendly, and shut off the alarm. They actually didn't do much else - the plumber shut off the fire sprinkler and called in water damage restoration folks.
  • New water heater could now be installed in the soggy tranquility following the Fire Department's departure. Only one problem- it's too big to fit in the "closet" in my condo. (By about 2 mm)
  • Plumber: "It's not going to fit. I can't do it... I'll have to call the office... They ordered the wrong heater..."
    Me: "Are there any smaller hydronic water heaters that we could try?"
    Plumber: "Nope, they are all bigger now thanks to the new energy-efficient burners. You won't find a smaller one." (Later proven to be BS when I saw my downstairs neighbour's unit - but then they have a larger closet and easier plumbing too, so they definitely got lucky!)
  • Me: "How about you rotate it this way a little so the side pipes don't get stuck on the wall?"
    Plumber: "Nah, that won't work... Never... It's the laws of physics" (This was favourite quote of his - apparently heat rising is also a law of phsyics!)
    Me: "Let's try"
  • Plumbing proceeds without too much more drama. The fire sprinkler guy comes out to put a new sprinkler head on (after all the soldering is done), and re-pressurizes the system. The water damage restoration folks come out and put fans a dehumidifiers in my unit, and the two below me... Water damage is not too bad - and we're due to get new carpets soon anyway :)
  • Still waiting to hear from the Lowe's carpeting contractor.
  • End of Tuesday...


  • Spent the night in a jet-engine turbine - at least that's what the fans sounded like.
  • I notice a leak from one of the pipes connected to the water heater - way up next to the ceiling and the fire sprinkler head that went BOOM the previous day. Also, my hydronic heating system makes a chunka-chunka-chunka noise when it's turned on - the pump is not happy. Call the plumber - he can come out around lunch time... I head in to work, leave early, meet the plumber, and realize I don't want him to solder and risk the fire sprinkler going off again, so I call the fire sprinkler guy. He can come on Thursday at 2pm. So, we re-schedule for then.
  • Still waiting to hear from the Lowe's carpeting contractor.


  • Another night in the jet turbine. Steerpike is starting to get brave and will actually walk into the lounge within a few feet of one of the fans, but Thandi is still shell-shocked and hides in the bedroom.
  • Plumber comes out at 2pm. Fire-sprinkler guy comes out and shuts off the fire sprinkler system's water. He wraps the sprinkler head in a wet rag (if only we'd thought of that on Tuesday!) Plumber does some soldering, cuts out a flow check valve, solders in some pipe so now my water heater looks a bit like a Frankenheater.
  • Everything gets re-connected. All seems well!
  • We finally get ahold of the carpeting contractor - they can come out on Saturday. In the meantime our old carpet and floor is drying out slowly. (The carpet is dry already, but as we'll see on Saturday, the sub-floor is still damp)


  • Alyssum's car won't start, so I need to get up WAY TOO EARLY and give her a ride to work. (Getting up at 6:30am is probably even earlier than sparrow-fart...)
  • To prepare for Saturday's carpeting fun, we so a few more runs down to our storage unit to get rid of furniture we won't need for the next week or two.
  • I check my bank accounts online around midnight, and notice my credit card is strangely under water... A theme of the week, maybe? Some skelm (crook) in South Africa has helped themselves to $4500 from an ATM using a copy of my credit card! Technically, you wonder how that works... Did they get my credit card info from an online database (hacked a web merchant?), and then make a card? How did they get the PIN? Are they able to program their own?
    Frantic attempts to call my bank prove fruitless - their 24-hour support number is really a 10-hour support number with 14-hour voicemail. Still, their website lets me go "WTF?!" for each unauthorized charge.


  • Call the bank in the morning, explaing the credit card fraud. They cancel my card and let me know there are some more pending charges to watch out for. Later VISA call me and run through the same thing. This will be my 2nd new card due to fraud this year. All this re-affirms by view that the credit card system is fundamentally broken and I'm amazed VISA and the other companies haven't moved to a more secure system yet. "Verified by Visa" sounds good, but no-one is using it yet - how about forcing all online vendors to use it? How about fixing in-store credit purchases so that the clerk can't make a copy of your card number and then party on it?
  • Carpeting went smoothly, and while we had to move everything left in the condo 3 times (once into the lounge, then into the bedrooms, then back), we had stripped out enough stuff that it was not too bad.

Mark surely-nothing-more-can-go-wrong?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

South African Wine mega-tasting

From Spittoon, "The biggest South African tasting in the UK ever I believe."
Some nice tastign notes from wines I'm not familiar with...
An Eben Sadie wine is one of them: The Sadie Family Palladius, 2004. I'd never heard of him before coming to the US and only did so by way of Garagiste, but am looking forward to tasting some of his wines in the coming months.
Boutique wines seem to be the next big thing in SA?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Bought a house!

Yes, A and I made an offer last Friday and it was accepted! We're almost 7 days into the process after our offer was accepted last Staurday!

  • The house is really nice, still! I was wondering if I'd get cold feet when we went during the house inspection.
  • Speaking of the inspection, it went fairly well. The roof needs replacing, but we pretty much knew that. The siding on the southern side needs paining this year and some boards need replacing next year.
  • The furnace needs a service
  • The water heater is old (20 years old!) It's a miracle it hasn't died yet!
Now there's no excuse for not getting the condo ready for sale. So, we've rented storage and spent a busy Tuesday night moving many large and heavy things into storage. This weekend will be spent moving more stuff, and doing some work on the condo.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Listening to...

I noticed some intersting new albums came out on Yahoo! Music today:
  • The Dandy Warhols "Odditorium or Warlords of Mars"
  • David Gray "Life In Slow Motion"
  • Sigur Ros "Takk..."
  • Tracy Chapman "Where You Live"
  • Paul McCartney "Chaos & Creation In The Backyard"

So far, I've listened to some of "Chaos..." and like most of it. He definitely knows how to write pop! I love "Takk..." - I need to explore more of their albums.

Other recent discoveries of note are Michael Penn (brother of Sean Penn), who does great pop/rock in the vein of Neil Finn/Finn Brothers.
Eels are also incredible, with quite a range of style and emotion over their albums. Their new album "Blinking Lights and Other Revelations" was reviewed in NPR and got me hooked.

Dinner @ 8: Purple Cafe, Kirkland

A group of 7 went to the Purple Cafe in Kirkland last night for dinner. They're part of the Dinner at 8 promotion running in September. The place was packed (even more than usual) but we had a reservation and they seated us promptly. The noise level was a little uncomfortable, and made talking hard, but hopefully they'll return to normal after the promotion is over.

This place is a great choice for wine lovers. Their wine list is extensive, and they have a huge selection of wines by the glass, so you can explore new wines without committing to a whole bottle. That said, we decided to get a bottle to share: Folie a Deux Menage a Trois (2003 I think, around $30 at the restaurant). This was a very smooth, soft red with not much structure or character, but very easy to drink. Definitely a decent wine, but nothing exceptional.

I decided to order off their main menu, and had the crab wontons to start, then the lobster macaroni bake. The wontons were very good (a little oily), but the sauce they were served with was an odd choice and didn't work in my opinion. (It was a creamy ranch-style sauce with not much flavour. I'd have preferred an asian soy/citrus/ginger/chilli concoction.) The lobster bake was disappointing - it very oily and had very little cheese flavour - I expected a good rich cheese sauce, instead there was a oil-slick at the bottom of the dish. The lobster was good, though. The final nail in the coffin was the presentation - topped with deep-fried carrot and leek jullienne, and so hot that about 30 mins later I was still waiting for each mouthful to cool down before I could eat it. I'd avoid the deep-fried garnish and use a wider, shallower baking dish so it cools quicker.

Other ordered from the $20 fixed menu, and seemed to like their food. A ordered an apple and stilton salad to start and a pesto pasta for mains, which were both very good. Finally, the desserts looked good, although no-one seemed to rave about them. Our server forgot to ask me or A about dessert, so we didn't have any, and also never checked to see how we were enjoying our food, so service was spotty. (Skipping dessert probably was better for the waist-line though...)

Overall, an average meal out, made memorable by the nice wine and company. (It turns out we can get into quite a frenzy talking about Judge Roberts and his Supreme Court nomination).

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Wine: 2001 Fleur Du Cap Cabernet Sauvignon

Region: Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa
Score: 90%
Price: $10
Colour: Inky red
Nose: Medium blackberry with some smokiness and must/damp leaves.
Taste: Medium to heavy finish, velvety, smooth mouth feel. Good structure, well integrated tannins that are start out strong and fade as the fruit and smokiness becomes apparent. The fruit is quite subtle and there's also some gaminess and mustiness on the palate. After 30 mins of breathing, the attack is much smoother. This is a nice "meditation wine" or would go well with red meat, stews, etc.

Links: Fleur du Cap's website, their notes for this wine

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Happy Birthday TAR!

Today marks the 40th "birthday" of the Tibetan Autonomous Region in China. I wonder how many Tibetans were really celebrating? If you read the Chinese reports (like this one), everyone is ecstatic and the economy is booming.

Foreigners weren't welcome though... Some snippets from the Sydney Morning Herald:
"Ceremonies marked the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Tibetan Autonomous Region in 1965, which followed the "peaceful liberation" of Tibet by the People's Liberation Army in 1951 and a failed uprising in 1959 when the Dalai Lama fled to India.
Foreign tourists have in effect been barred from Tibet as China celebrates its widely resented rule of its restive population under a system of administration presented as autonomous self-rule. Travel agents in Lhasa said the processing of the special permits foreigners need to enter Tibet has been halted until September 10"

This article outlines the changing relationship between Nepal, India & China, and how this affects the Tibetan liberation movement.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Brand-spanking New Name

I hope you like the new name for this blog. (So far at least one person has commented positively, so that's good) I'm also trying to get RSS feeds working (via Feedburner), so hopefully IE7 will recognize this page as having a feed, and more people will potentially be able to subscribe.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Plugging my Flickr site

I have some pictures up on Flickr here.
Here's a nice one from our recent trip to South Africa on the right. (Click on the image to go to Flickr and leave a comment...)

Currently we're still going through the South Africa pictures, so there are not that many public ones, but we should have them sorted and available by the end of this week, so check back.

Flickr is truly an amazing site and makes it very easy to find interesting pictures - either using tags that people add to their photos, or groups sharing a theme, e.g.:

Redmond Saturday Market

Last Saturday we went to the Redmond farmers market for some groceries and breakfast. Their selection of fresh produce is better than the Issaquah market, which has more crafts, plants and "made things".

We had some scrumptious pancakes for breakfast (crepes, I guess, since they were made on a large flat griddle and ultra-thin). Alyssum and I shared a goat-cheese, spinach and roasted pepper crepe, and then shared a crepe suzette for dessert. (The latetr was made with yummy orange butter cream and real Grand Marnier).

Produce-wize we got lots of tomoatoes (for fresh salsa), some chillis, two bunches of baby beets, and a half-flat of raspberries. Some of the raspberries are now sitting in vodka infusing, so we'll see how that turns out. We also got some great boursin-style herbed goat cheese spread. (At $8 it was pretty pricey - why is the cheese at farmer's markets so expensive?) Plus a great bunch of flowers that is lasting well so far...

Other markets I'd like to try are the Columbia City market that Seattle Bon Vivant often writes about. (I don't shop with $60+ tote bags, though)

Other markets:

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Best bread yet

So, I made some bread last weekend, and took it to Craig & Kathy's braai. The bread was the first recipe I've tried from "The Bread Bible", and it was incredible!

I decided to make the "Heart of Wheat" recipe, since we had bought some raw wheatgerm a while before. Some things that struck me while I was making the bread:
  • Letting it rest for 20 mins when mixing by hand really makes a difference. It's a lot easier to work the dough after the rest, and it didn't stick despite being a fairly wet mixture. I used less than 2 Tbsp of flour when kneading (which is waaay less than I usually need)
  • Wheatgerm gives the bread a great flavour
  • Knowing more about what to do after each rise helped the texture a lot (doing a business-letter fold each time to keep some air in the bread and prevent over-working it)

The final loaf (a boule) came out nice with a nice brown, chewy crust and a moist, light but chewy inside. Definitely one to repeat!

Wine: 2000 Palazzola Merlot

Region: Umbria, Italy
Score: 75%
Cost: $18

WA gave this 90% with the notes: "Cotarella is a master with Merlot (much like France's Michel Rolland), and the 2000 Merlot (aged 12 months in French oak) exhibits complex aromas of sausage meat intermixed with mocha, coffee, underbrush, black cherries, and black currants. Sweet, full-bodied, ripe, sexy, and seductive, this lush, opulent 2000 should be drunk over the next 5-8 years".
Sadly, I didn't agree. The wine tasted slightly corked, so perhaps that's the problem. The nose was very subdued and flat, and the wine tasted - well, corked. I have 2 more to try and hopefully they'll be OK.

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Wine: 2004 Boekenhoutskloof "The Wolftrap"

Region: Franschoek Valley, Western Cape, South Africa
Score: 85%
Cost: $10

This is a great red blend - one review I read compared it to Rhone reds. Deep red, with a complex, full-bodied taste and great finish. This is not a light wine, and goes best with rich food, meats, or good cheese and bread. There's some definite bite - some spiciness, acidity, and tannins but not at all harsh, just beautifully well balanced. I'm keeping some for the cold fall and winter nights ahead...

Update: 11/7/2005: Spittoon has a review of this wine up, he gives it 92/100!

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Wine: 2002 Apex Outlook Vineyards Chardonnay

Region: Yakima Valley, Washington State, USA
Score: 85%
Cost: $20

I've been meanign to try the 2002 vintage for some time - the 1999 blew me away, and is getting really hard to find. The 2002 didn't disappoint
The 2002 vintage is a nice golden yellow, very smooth and well rounded, with a delicious dry yet velvety finish. There's a touch of pears and caramel on the nose and palate, but it's less cloying and rich than the 1999 (less oak/malic acid?) This went really well with the Japanese A and I served (miso, noodle salad and sushi).

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

My new pets

I have a few million new pets! They demand to be fed regularly, and are currently living in the fridge... And after a few days of service, my fabourite activity is shoving them in the oven and eating them!

Sounds barbaric, eh? I'm talking about yeast :)
After Ben's wife brought some delicious home-made bread to our wine tasting a few Fridays ago, I've been interested in making bread "the old-fashioned way". Quick bread dough is pretty good, but I thought it'd be interesting to try something new, so I've been trying bread recipes using a sponge starter.

The starter is basically yeast, flour and water - much more runny than the final bread dough. The yeast consumes the sugar in the flour and gradually multiples. Each "iteration" of the sponge uses just 3/4 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of warm water. You then let the least do their stuff (4-6 hours at room temp, or 12-14 hours in the fridge). After this time, you either use some of the sponge to make bread dough, or feed it again and keep it active.

So far, I've been using "The Joy of Cooking"as my recipe book, but last weekend I got a copy of "The Bread Bible" from the library - quite a thick tome! I've made 2 batches of bread using the sponge starter, and so far I love the texture and flavour. The flavour still could be richer and more "bready" - I have yet to get a real fermented taste from the bread, so I can probably let the starter go for longer... Anyway, more experimenting is ahead.

One of these days I'd also like to try making sourdough using airborne yeast. (And of course, lambic beer, but that needs a ton of equipment, and A wouldn't like the beer bottles sitting in the bath tub a la Alton Brown)

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Friday Wine Tasting: 2001 Simonsig Merindol Syrah

I bought this in 2002 at the winery in South Africa. Sadly, the travelling the wine has done and dodgy storage (I don't have a wine cellar or wine fridge) took their toll. This wine was not "off" but was pretty close, and my tummy didn't appreciate it.

I'd write more about the aroma and flavour that was still evident, but it'd be a sad reflection of the wine's true character. Instead, I'll keep my eyes open for well-stored bottles if they ever make it to the U.S., and start storing my wines better.
Check out the site below for information on the awards Simonsig has won recently for their Shiraz wines. Oh, and some time I should dig into why some wineries call their Shiraz 'Syrah' - is it pretention, or a difference in the grapes, or ... ? South African wineries seem to use 'Shiraz' more often than 'Syrah'


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Fun with SkypeOut

I installed Skype last week, and was very excited to get it working. The main attraction for me was making cheap long-distance calls to my mom back in South Africa - $0.09/min is a great rate, a fair amount cheaper than my current dial-around service. Plus, being able to call from work or anywhere my laptop can get broadband Internet access would have been call.

Today I uninstalled it.

Here's why:
To make calls to land lines, you need to buy credits - called SkypeOut credits, using a credit card or other online payment (paypal, etc.) "No problem", I though, whipping our my VISA card.
But several tries led nowhere - each time I got close to the final payment step, the Skype website would inform me that "one of the address fields is missing or invalid" and I'd have to re-start the process.
Firstly, this error is patheticly vague. Which field is in error? Is the information missing or invalid?
Secondly, I'd entered the information exactly as I've always done for online purchases. I've never had a problem on any other website. Clearly, Skype had issues.

Then, I finally got past this hurdle (I moved the street number for my condo, so instead of:
Street:XXX Blah St #YYY
House number: {empt}
I had:
Street: Blah St #YYY
House number: XXX

Now, the VISA authorization seemed to be in progress. Sadly another speedbump was on the way - Verified by VISA, a new credit-card validation service kicked in. My bank recently started publicizing this, but I though you had to "opt in" to the service. It looks like VISA opted me in automatically? Anyway, no problem here. The process went smoothly, and I set up the card.

However, something got gummed up in the Skype billing process anyway, and my transaction was rejected. (Probably by VISA?). I tried again, and got another rejection - both are listed in my Skype account, and now I am unable to try using my VISA card again. Payment by VISA or MC is not listed as an option anymore (possibly Skype blocks credit cards if you fail 2 attempts?)

Inline support was singularly unhelpful. They blamed me (the customer) and said I had entered my information incorrectly, with no hint that there was a problem with Skype itself.
A quick Google search brings up tons of other people hitting the same problem:
link 1 - 50% voted they can't even buy SkypeOut credits.
link 2
Google search for more...

It's pretty shocking to not see this mentioned on the Skype FAQ at all, and to see the same broken behaviour months after people started complaining publicly.

So, bye-bye Skype. I'll look for a better alternative.

Update: 5/5/2005

So after ranting, uninstalling Skype, and responding to their uninstall survey to tell them it was due to SkypeOut sucking, I tried adding SkypeOut credit again a few days later. (I must be a sucker for punishment, or just a sucker...) Anyway, it worked this time, so I re-installed and am giving it another go. We'll have to see how re-fueling my account goes...
So far the voice quality is OK - a call to my mom this past weekend worked well, although she reported a delay before my voice made it through to her. (Her voice seemed to come through without any noticeable delay).

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Music: re:Brahim

I saw an add in this month's Harper's Review for a new Abdullah Ibrahim CD that look really interesting. It's called "re:Brahim" and features remixes of his stuff by electronica DJs and musicians. It sounds like it's worth a listen, I'll post a review once I track it down.

There's also a "Best Of" CD being released at the same time, which would be a good way to add some of his music to my collection.

Technorati Tags: music south africa jazz electronica

Monday, March 21, 2005

25/$25: Lunch at Vivanda

I had lunch here on Sunday with Alyssum, Mathias, and Stephanie. Who can beat having a good 3-course meal for $12.50? Sure the portions may be a little smaller than dinner, but I definitely didn't leave hungry.

The service was good, and the place was busy but relaxed and not noisy. They served yummy Italian bread and olive oil infused with herbs and garlic. I chose the roasted eggplant and tomato terrine to start, grilled salmon with lentils for my main course, and lemon meringue for dessert. Alyssum chose a salad (they had to veggie-ify the Cesar salad), potato gnocchi and lemon meringue.

The terrine was OK, but had almost no gelatin/aspic holding the veggies together, so it was falling apart before I touched it, and may as well have been a pile of roasted veggies. The flavour of the eggplant and tomatoes was good, and the curry-flavoured oil drizzled around the plate was amazing.

The salmon was good, but lacked salt and was not helped by the lentils that were bland too. (They were supposedly "marinated", but obviously not in anything tasty!) The salmon was topped with cucumber and yoghurt (sort of like a fancy tzatziki) and this helped lift the dish - I need to try doing salmon with a tzatziki sauce myself, since the combination seems to work well. Roasted tomatoes on the side were a nice accompaniment, and were well caramelized.

The lemon meringue pie was good - not too sweet, and with a crunchy pastry shell. Great espresso, too - they use Lavazza. I tasted Alyssum's gnocchi, and thought it was good - light, not doughy, but a little bland, and the sauce could have used some kick. Alyssum found the gnocchi a little too soft (she prefers them more al-dente / chewy. So far, Firenze in the Crossroads mall, is the gnocchi king.)

Wine-wise, I had a glass of the Apex Outlook 2003 Chardonnay - I loved the 1999 vintage and had brought that to the Friday wine tasting I "hosted" a few weeks back. Sadly, the '03 vintage is not nearly as good as the '99 - it is not as full-bodied, smooth and buttery, and lacked the amazing aroma of the '99. It was still a decent chardonnay, but nothing special.

Overall, I'd give them 80%, and would definitely recommend coming here for the $12.50 lunch or $25 dinner during the 25/$25 promotion. It would definitely recommend them for a meal off their regular menu too.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

Friday Wine Tasting: La Toscana Ice Wine, Saint Laurent 2001 Solé Riché

Mathias chose the wines for today, two wines from Washington state:

#1: La Toscana ice wine:
Region: Near Leavenworth, WA, USA
Points: 76
Cost: $16

This was from a small producer near Leavenworth that produces around 3000 bottles of various cultivars each year. The winemaker is retired and does this as a hobby/business, and apparently it took him 15 years to get to the point where he was willing to release wines for sale to the public. Nothing is available in stores - you have to buy direct from the winery.

The ice wine was light and clear, with a sweet, fruity aroma (lots of pear, honey and sweet sultanas on the nose). The taste featured smooth honey, sultanas, and a slight acidity that stopped the wine from being too cloyingly sweet. The finish was quite short. This wine reminded me a lot of the Muscato D'Asti I've had from Trader Joe's (except that is sparkling). This was a little too sweet and didn't have enough body and depth for my tastes - but I admit I don't drink much dessert wine.


#2: Saint Laurent 2001 Solé Riché
Region: Columbia Valley, WA
Points: 80
Cost: $22

This is red wine blend (mainly cab sav if I remember right), billed as a table wine by the winery. A good deep red plum colour, with an aroma of blackberry and black cherry, plus a little pepper. The taste is smooth, well balanced, with a medium finish and medium tannins. The mouth feel and body are both a little light - making this a nice everyday wine, but not really characterful or weighty enough to warrant the price. (More like $10-$15)


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Thursday, March 17, 2005

25/$25: Barking Frog

(25/$25 is a regular restaurant promotion in Seattle, where 25 ‘top’ restaurants offer 3-course dinner for $25)

We went to Barking Frog on Wednesday for dinner (6 of us total), under the direction of Mathias. I've been 3 or 4 times before, also for 25/$25 dinners, and had good food previously. After a cold and blustery day, I was looking forward to some good food and wine...

The place was pretty busy (the big round table was full and had a rowdy crowd that added to the already high noise level, and made it pretty hard to hold a conversation). We were seated quickly and the service throughout the evening was great - prompt and unobtrusive.

I ordered the carrot and ginger soup, asparagus and morel pot pie, and coconut flan for dessert. The soup was a little cold, but tasted good (more ginger would have been nice). It was garnished with a mini crab cake that sounded nice on the menu, but somehow didn't pair well with the soup. (Plus it was cold and tasted like it was prepared in advance). The pot pie was also disappointing: the asparagus was woody and underdone, and the puff pastry was a little soggy. (It was actually more like a pastry sandwich filled with the asparagus and sauce). The sauce was good though! Dessert was also a little off the mark: the flan tasted of canned condensed milk, and had no discernable coconut. The fruit salad accompaniment was very good, though (kiwi, lychee and mint, I think).

Their wine list is impressive (it’s won some awards), although it's a bit confusing to not have the wines broken into red & white. Instead they have categories like "Wow", “Round and Woody” and “Bright and Easy”. Anyway, I had a nice glass of O'Reilly's Pinot Gris, from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Overall, I’d give them 75%. The dinner was still good value, but I don’t see myself paying full price ($30-$40 for entrees) if the quality is the same for the normal menu.

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Wine: Fontana Candida Sangiovese 2002

Region: Latium, Italy
Score: 70%
Cost: $9
This is an average quality everyday wine. A nice medium ruby red colour, good clarity. Salty, musky nose similar to cheese mould or sweaty feet, not much fruit. Flavor is light, crisp and slightly fruity (sour plums?), and doesn't linger for long. Medium tannins and acidity. OK with food, but not really a wine you want to savour on its own.


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Die Rooi Gevaar! - Food additives

Cook sister has an interesting entry on the recent hoopla involving the red food colouring Sudan 1. She has some nice links to websites that last all the E- additive codes and what they are, plus whether they're bad for you.

PS: "die rooi gevaar" is Afrikaans for "the red danger" - it was used to describe the Communist 'threat' in Southern Africa.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

First post!

So I too am jumping on the bandwagon and opening up a blog... What's going to be posted? Initially I'd like to save reviews of various things: wine, beer, shows, concerts, restaurants - mainly for my own use. (But hey, if other people find them useful then that's OK too).