Friday, May 26, 2006

Any touristy suggestions for my mom's visit?

So, my mom is visiting from South Africa in a few weeks. I thought I'd open up a thread for people to suggest things they'd recommend doing in and around Seattle and Oregon.
  • What would you do with your parents if/when they visit?
  • What are some of the lodges, inns and B&B's you would recommend staying in?
  • Any off-the-beaten path towns or interesting places you'd suggest we take her?
  • Any good day hikes? (Without too much elevation gain and not too long, say 5 miles roundtrip max).
My mom is a great cook and a foodie, is into beading, books, wine and coffee, and hasn't seen much of the beauty of the Pacific NW. :)

Some of the things we have thought of already:
  • Shipwreck Beads in Lacey, WA. (The largest bead store in the world?)
  • Other bead stores around Seattle: e.g. Beads & Beyond in Bellevue
  • Day trip to Mt. Rainier. Grove of the Patriarchs and other easy hikes sound good - are there others you would recommend?
  • Drive to Mt. St Helens and explore the visitor's centre.
  • Portland: Powell's, street market and walk around the Pearl district. Japanese gardens, ... Maybe Mt. Hood too?
  • Sea-kayak day trip. (Assuming I can convince my mom she will survive, but I think Brad will look after her).
  • Shows: Zinzanni. Maybe something at Benaroya hall or the Paramount. I'm not sure what's on in July yet...
  • Specilaty shops/markets: Pike Place Market, Uwajimaya
  • Dining: Gnocchi & cured meat @ Salumi, Veggie food at Cafe Flora and Carmelitas, Sushi (maybe at Kisaku)
  • Northern Cascades Highway loop.
  • The Olympic Peninsula. Maybe drive south to the Washington coast (stop and see the Capitol in Olympia), see Hoquiam and Aberdeen, drive north on the 101 and stay overnight somewhere. M-Jo recommended the Kalaloch Lodge. Include a short Hoh River hike. On the northern side of the peninsula we could do Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent Lodge. Port Townsend looks nice too. (I think the only time I've been was when I "helped" CraigH sail his yacht down from the Orcas islands.)
  • From Port Townsend we could catch a ferry to Whidbey island. Whidbey has an arts/craft village that sounds fun (I think it's Langley?) Other islands maybe worth a visit are Vashon
  • Parks: Visit Gasworks, Volunteer and Discovery park. The Arboretum and Japanese Gardens. Kubota Gardens. Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  • Museums: SAAM/SAM in Capitol Hill.
  • Small towns: La Conner (lots of interesting places to browse), Leavenworth, Roslyn (she could see how it's changed since she saw it in '99). Twisp, Chelan (we could come down this way from the Northern Cascades Highway)

Thursday, May 25, 2006


No, not the drinking kind... I was amused to see that this website lists TCP port 135 as being used by "Blaster worm". (Other ports have the correct protocol in the description, e.g. 80 = HTTP).

Free computer help != correct computer help.

Update 5/26/2006: For the not-so-geeky folks out there. :)

Yes, the website above is in fact wrong. TCP (a protocol used to send data on the Internet) uses "ports" to direct traffic to different applications or services on a machine.
Port 135 is used on Windows machine for the DCOM/RPC service. The Blaster worm targeted a bug in this service and caused widespread disruption. (Machines would usually reboot endlessly - if you were really unlucky you might get malware installed too). I remember volunteering to help handle customer support calls in Sammamish. It was amazing to see how much time it took to resolve a single call - I think one call I handled took 45 mins, and the person at the other end remained amazingly friendly and patient all the way through.

Anyway, somehow the website above thinks the worm was so important that the TCP port should be re-christened in its honour.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Two wine-related stories on Slate

Just a quick pointer to two recent articles on Slate about wine:

I've always liked Cabernet Franc's. Mike Steinberger describes it better than I ever could in the above article:

"Along with the usual cherry-and-berry aromas, cabernet franc normally sends up a seductive whiff of herbs, spices, and violets. I get particularly weak-kneed about its sweet tobacco scent (perhaps because my childhood was spent in a cloud of cigar smoke). But the gratification isn't confined to the nose; in cooler climates, at least, cabernet franc yields pleasingly crisp, somewhat rustic wines that stand in welcome contrast to your garden-variety fruit bombs."

I've only got a couple of Cab Franc's at the moment (one from the Vin du Lac winery in Washington state, another from the Loire valley).

"... the most eagerly awaited Judgment of Paris re-creation is the one being held today—an event organized primarily by Spurrier that is taking place simultaneously in London and Napa. Once more, an impressive panel has been assembled, although this one is not exclusively French; the judges include Vannequé; two British masters of wine, Jancis Robinson and Michael Broadbent; and the journalist Michel Bettane, often called France's Robert Parker. With a few exceptions, the wines are equally stellar. However, unlike the original Judgment of Paris, which became controversial only after the fact, the sequel has been plagued with problems from the outset. "

Update: 5/25/2006: American Wine wins again.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Jamie Oliver's School Lunch Project wraps up

It was great to see that Jamie won two BAFTA awards for the series. And the FeedMeBetter website won a Webby award.

We just watched the last episode of this series last night, and it was great! The series ended on an optimistic but unresolved note when the secretary of education, Charles Clarke, after agreeing to push for more funding and healthier food in schools, was demoted after the prisoner scandal. It looks like there have been two subsequent secretaries of education after Clarke. From this report:
"[Jamie] complained that three Education secretaries have done little to sort out the problem. He said at the Bafta ceremony: "The day after I met Charles Clarke, he got moved on. Then I got to know Ruth Kelly and she's got moved on. There's always the same bloody excuse, which is, 'I've just started.'"

It seems like he has won the funding battle despite the high turnover in the government.

On a related note, Nora was the dinner lady that Jamie first worked with and had a hard time winning over. She later became his greatest ally and helped convince the kids to eat his food, and also get other dinner ladies on board. (Probably the weirdest thing that this series brought to my attention is that most kids today refuse to eat anything that isn't junk food. Watch the series and you'll see what I mean...) Anyway, Nora now has her own website and a cookbook. Go Nora!

PS: It'll be interesting to see what his podcast, due later this year, is like.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Some bits and pieces

Sorry I've been so quiet recently. To make up for that, here is a random collection of things I found interesting...

Queen Anne:
This past weekend we spent a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon with M-Jo's friends Eric and Michelle in Queen Anne. We walked from their place to the McCarthy & Schiering wine store for a rosé wine-tasting - they had some very nice stuff and the shop itself is very good. A nice selection of wine from all over the world (about 5/6 South African wines too), and very friendly, un-pretentious staff.

We walked back to Eric & Michelle's place and had an amazing dinner, which was preceded by some tasty Lillet aperitif's. I'd forgotten how tasty this is - similar to Italian sweet vermouth but with more citrus. After dinner, we took a short stroll to an amazing little park that has beautiful views of the Seattle syline - a great place to watch the sunset colours painting the Space Needle.
The funny thing is that the park's name is Bhy Kracke - we joked about the name within earshot of an idling police patrol car...

Koots Japanese Green Tea opens in Bellevue:
The first US store opened on May 13th in Lincoln Square, Bellevue. Coincidentally, I was reading about it in the Seattle Times on Sunday morning, and we stopped by later that day after doing some shopping nearby. The founder is the Japanase partner of Tully's (a Seattle-based coffee chain, way better than Starbuck's). After taking Tully's from nowhere to hundreds of stores in Japan, he moved on to his lifelong dream of opening a Japanese green-tea chain in the US.

The store is spartan and Zen-like in it's clean decor and open feel. They have a tatami mat seating area, and a pretty tokonoma. Their drinks obviously mainly feature Japanese green tea (matcha, sencha, hojicha and genmaicha) either brewed as regular tea or made into lattés with steamed milk. I've been enjoying the Starbuck's Green Tea lattés recently, so I tried something similar: the kuromitsu latté, which is made with matcha powder and Japanese molasses. Pretty good, but the molasses wasn't well mixed, so the drink started out fairly better and ended overly sweet. The molasses does give it an interesting taste (if you like the stuff). The white chocolate and hojicha drink sounds interesting...

Vino100: (website)
This is a new wine store close to Koots in Lincoln Square, and they offer 100 wines $25 and under. The layout is interesting too: instead of wines grouped by region or varietal, they are arranged from light to full-bodied, and each wine has a little placard indicating the body and dryness on a scale, so it's easy to quickly find a wine you might like. They have a good selection, so I'd definitely recommend checking them out.
They also offer wine tastings on Fri and Saturday, and classes on Tuesday nights.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

SA blog and the Riebeek Valley Olive Festival

I just came across this nice SA blog. They have an interesting story about Tourist Radio - a nifty idea! A GPS receiver in the car feeds your position into what sounds like radio recorder that receives updated information over the regular FM radio network. When you are in a point of interest, the system switches over to the recorded content for that location. It can also predict where you're headed based on GPS data and give you "tour guide"-like updates. ("On your left is blah blah"). Of course, I suspect this will all be based on people paying advertising fees, so don't expect to discover a cool local restaurant or local museum...

The blog also have some entries specific to the Swartland, and mention the recent Olive Festival held in the valley where my mom lives. Too bad it's over already, but I don't think many readers of my blog were in a position to make it down to the festival. :)

The Promise

We saw "The Promise"( Wu ji) on Sunday night. It shares some DNA with "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon": mythical-magical martial arts set in ancient China, lavish costumes and sets, and loads of CGI and flying stuntwork. The script and special affects are not quite in the same league though...

"The Promise" was fun but came off more as a cross between "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" and "House of Flying Daggers". The Baron Munchausen similarity goes beyond the fantastic setting - one of the characters comes from the "Land of Snow" (think Tibet) and has the ability to run incredibly fast, which reminded me a lot of Eric Idle's character in Munchausen.

"The Promise" is at times so goofy you think it must be tongue-in-cheek, yet at other times it takes itself very seriously, so the end result is an uneven mix of tones. The acting was generally great - I thought all the central characters were perfect, and only the "baddie" seemed a little too cliched and one-dimensional.

The special effects were at times subtle and well-used, and at other times completely overblown and ridiculous. (For example, the all-too-fake looking circular city, the huge CGI battle scene, or the cartoony bull stampede). Nicer touches were the morph/blends from one scene to another, and the awesome Goddess Manshen.

If you can switch off your brain and not worry about the weak plot or occasionally silly special effects, this is a fun movie. If you want a more enjoyable goofy kung-fu movie (albeit set in the 1940's) , see "Kung Fu Hustle". (I need to check out some of Stephen Chow's other movies...)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Current reality TV addictions

So, there are a few interesting reality-TV shows on at the moment that I'm enjoying. I don't like most of the shows with gross challenges, lots of personal in-fighting and backstabbing, or stupid challenges. I tend instead to like food-related competitions (hello Iron Chef - the original series, not Iron Chef America) or historical shows (putting modern people into historical recreations).

So, currently, we're watching:
  1. Top Chef (Bravo). A fairly fun cooking-challenge show (not as good as Hell's Kitchen, though). Thank heaven Stephen finally got booted out - he's a pompous ass! :)
  2. Texas Ranch House (PBS). In the tradition of The Pioneer House, Edwardian Country House nd the 1940's House, this show puts a motley collection of cowboy wannabe's out on a huge ranch in Texas, along with a rancher and his family.
  3. Jamie's School Lunch Project (TLC). Jamie Oliver takes on British government school lunches, and tries to make healthy food for 65p a portion. So far, he's run up against several problems: kids don't like his fancy veggie-laden food, he tends to be way over budget, is disorganized and gets the food out late, and the kitchen staff is a bit of a thorn in his side. Lots of interesting details make this more of a documentary than a reality-TV show. Excellent so far!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

To cork, or not to cork?

It seems South African wines have the highest rate of corked wine in the world.

It also seems that South African consumers are not ready to accept screw-caps (and these are still associated with cheap or bad wine). The Vergelegen estate (recently named the best winery in the New World by Wine Enthusiast) tried to release their ultra-premium Sauvignon Blanc under srew cap, but had to switch back to cork after poor response from the public. Some restaurants even return any wine under screw cap...

Othering interesting bits from the article above:

  • Only 15% of Kiwi wine is closed with natural cork.
  • Domaine des Baumard is moving their entire production to screw cap.

Unrelated note: Domaine des Baumard's website seems to have been defaced at the time this was written.