Wednesday, June 22, 2005

gourmet's gallery: tastykake snowballs and jelly krimpets

Puchased at an Acme in Clifton, NJ
I rarely buy snack cakes, but made an exception on the roadtrip. I'd read raves about Philadelphia-based Tastykakes over the years, so why not give them a shot? But what to pick - Butterscotch Krimpets? Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes?

The winners, chosen through the highly scientific eeny-meeny-miny moe, were Snowballs and Jelly Krimpets.

Krimp on this!


Package Notes: Nothing oddball, just a smart blue scheme. The Snowballs were wrapped individually, while the Jelly Krimpets were in two-packs.

What's It Like?: The Snowballs were very fresh, with moist cake and non-sickly vanilla filling lying under a mound of coconut-studded "marshmallow". Didn't have an overwhelming chemical taste like some bargain-basement cakes. My mom would have liked these, even if they weren't pink like the kind she used to get.

The Jelly Krimpets did not live up to the brand name. A blah, bordering on stale, sponge cake with a transluscent red filling that barely looked or tasted like jelly. Not even worthy of being used as the bottom layer of a trifle. Had hoped for something like a jelly roll, instead got a bad Twinkie wannabe. I was never a great fan of Twinkies as a kid and it's been at least 15-20 years since I've eaten one. These don't make me want to try one anytime soon.The one upside: they're tiny, so if you discover you liked them, one wouldn't kill you.

Would You Buy It Again: Thumbs up on the Snowballs, thumbs way down on the Jelly Krimpets. Both make me understand why snack cakes are not a part of my diet (eat too many of the former, revolted by the latter). - JB

Sunday, June 19, 2005

roadtrippin': nor'easter 'bout to get me

Bedford, MA - Boston, MA - 80.5 km*
* this is the last day I have mileage for, as the sheet I kept track of my driving for the rest of the trip has decided to go on vacation. There aren't any pics for this entry either, due to the dreary weather.

By 5:30 AM, I was in full burp/nausea mode, then slumped back to bed for a few more hours. Like most down moments on the trip, there was an upside. Because I needed to rest, I missed the free breakfast buffet that came with the room...which opened an opportunity to take a second shot at grabbing a meal at Legal Sea Foods.

Once I felt ready to move, I drove in along Mass 2 to Alewife subway station. The last time I left the car there, somebody smashed into the back of the car, leaving no exterior damage but a twisted trunk latch...which proved beneficial in the long run, as the trunk no longer flew open with little prodding. This time, both official garages were full, but I was able to park at an impromptu lot at the restaurant/furniture store across the road.

The Boston subway is the gloomiest system I've been in. New York's may be more decrepit, but at least it's well-lit. Boston's makes you wonder if you forgot to take your sunglasses off, or was designed for vampires. Station-name lettering is non-descript. I hopped off by MIT and beat the lunch rush at Legal.

My stomach was gratified for being babied after the night before.

The clam chowder was the best I've ever had, extremely fresh. No resemblance to wallpaper paste. The bluefish in mustard sauce melted in my mouth. Next trip, I may be tempted to wait for an hour-and-a-half.

After lunch, I walked along Massachussets Ave towards Harvard Square, stopping by every book and music store along the way. Most of the damage was done at Harvard Book Store and their fantastic used/remainder basement. Two large bags weighed me down for the rest of the afternoon.

The rain grew heavier, so I nixed plans to walk around downtown Boston and headed for the Museum of Fine Arts. Spent an hour-and-a-half wandering around, picking up a coffee-table book on Bernard Krigstein from the bargain table in the bookstore (note: linked site does not include Krigstein's work for EC Comics - here's the New Yorker review).

Biggest mistake of the day was when I got off at what I thought was a stop in the centre of Somerville. I wandered along Mass Ave, rain intensifying, buses not stopping, neighbourhood I was looking for not in sight, obscenities muttered under my breath. I was chilly and bummed out from the Storm that Refused to End(TM). When I finally caught a bus, it took me straight to my car.

Since I didn't want a repeat of the night before, dinner was light, just a sub at D'Angelo's, just down the road from the hotel. They had lobster rolls on the menu, but the price was astronomical - excellent fresh-carved-tasting roast turkey wound up in my tummy. Hit nearby grocery stores afterwards, then collapsed in a heap before thinking too hard about the route back to Canada. - JB

Thursday, June 16, 2005

gourmet's gallery: hurst's hambeens 15 bean soup with ham

Purchased at Market Basket, Billerica, MA

Package Notes: Eye-catching label. Key ingredient: Prepared Bean Mix (Contains Fifteen of These Bean Varieties: Northern, Pinto, Large Lima, Garbanzo, Baby Lima, Green Split Pea, Red Kidney, Cranberry, Small White, Pink, Red, Yellow Split Pea, Lentil, Navy, White Kidney, Black). Adds up to at least one of these beans will not be in your soup.

This soup comes from Indiana, but I've never seen it in neighbouring Ohio or Michigan. What it's doing in New England is a good question. I know that my Mom has used HamBeens dry 15 Bean Soup packages over the years.

What's It Like?: About as close to homemade soup as I've bought, except for the use of starch as a thickener and a hint of artificial flavour. Lots of beans, lots of ham chunks. Nice smoky flavour.

Would You Buy It Again?: Yes, though it also makes me crave a bowl of Mom's bean soup. - JB

Sunday, June 12, 2005

anchors away

Busy weekend in these parts. Spent Friday night down in Cabbagetown, hearing Paul and his buddies spin tunes at the Underdown. Like last time, I made a prolonged exit. My first attempt to leave ended when I wound up being pulled aside by one girl to answer a round of 20 questions, which was fun but proved when you put me on the spot (especially by an attractive interrogator), my mind empties.

Spent Saturday on the road, on a trek with Maria down to Buffalo to the birthplace of the deity of bar foods, the chicken wing.

Me in front of the Anchor Bar. For full details, check out Maria's site (June 12th entry). I will add that the spaghetti with meat and mushrooms ($9.00) was of gargantuan proportions - the salad alone would have made a normal-sized meal (the spaghetti sauce had an average jarred tomato base, but the added meat and mushrooms were tasty).

Driving north along Main from the Anchor, we came across this charming insurance sign. It was a change from Cellino & Barnes billboards.

Just before returning to Canada, we stopped for gas in Niagara Falls. The first pump I pulled up to was out of order except for one fuel ($4.59/gallon). Every pump was equipped with racing fuel, the first time I've ever seen it. Wonder what would happen if you accidentally pumped some in... - JB

gourmet's gallery: trader joe's moroccan butternut squash soup

Purchased at Trader Joe's, Burlington, MA

Package Notes: Clear glass jar that promises "a hearty and savoury vegetarian soup...filled with tender chunks of butternut squash, potatoes and garbanzo beans, this unique soup is a quick, savoury and inexpensive trip to the Northern reaches of Africa."

Let's compare the price of a journey. flight from Toronto to Marrakech (with connections in New York and Casablanca) - $3,165.67 CDN
Cost of Trader Joe's soup - $2.75 CDN (based on today's exchange rate)

What's It Like?: It's what Amy would call a "grilled cheese soup" - a hearty tomato-based soup with the chunks promised above that would be suitable for dipping a sandwich. Nicely seasoned, not spicy, goes down well.

Would You Buy It Again?: No question. Have to wait until July to find more - hopefully TJ's Detroit-area locations carry it. - JB

Friday, June 10, 2005

roadtrippin': the headless horseman is after my stomach

Newark, NJ - Bedford, MA - 502.2 km

One last look at the hotel in Newark. I expected even at 10 am to be caught in bad traffic jams while departing New Jersey. Turned out to be smooth sailing as I passed through swamps and the Meadowlands to work my way up to the Palisades Parkway. The latter was a pretty, tree-lined route, with occasional scenic outlooks onto the Hudson.

...or else you'll fall into the Hudson. The clouds had rolled in to stay, so shots of the northern tip of Manhattan/south Bronx weren't so hot. Little did I know that overcast skies would remain until I returned to the Great White North.

At the end of the Tappan Zee bridge was an exit for Broadway, leading to Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. Decided to hop off the freeway and take the scenic drive up to the setting of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Typical street sign in Sleepy Hollow. The village is scenic, with few tourist traps (unless I missed them), where it looks like residents don't have to worry about cash.

The Headless Horseman Bridge. No pumpkin remnants to be found.

The Old Dutch Church, next to the cemetery. Scary place to drive through - narrow, steep, full of hairpin turns. I'd wager the Horseman was a design consultant.

I hopped back onto I-87/287 and headed east towards Connecticut. Traffic picked up and my stomach began to growl. I wound up in Greenwich, whose main street was mildly congested. It was difficult finding a place for a quick bite - wasn't in the mood for a sit-down meal and most restaurants appeared to be out of my price range. I finally settled on a chain I'd never been to before, Boston Market, for a mediocre chicken meal with corn.

I drove along the Merritt Parkway, an old, scenic route not built to modern standards - some of the tighest ramps I've ever seen. Construction and downpours led to backups, which made me curse the entire state. A variety of routes led me towards Massachusetts, none pleasurable. Heavy rain in Waterbury and Hartford, on-and-off traffic jams, poor lane closure markings...couldn't get to Boston soon enough.

As it was rush hour and visibility on the Mass Turnpike worsened, I used a back route to reach my hotel, via Concord. If the rain hadn't been so intense, I would have stopped at one site I stumbled upon...Walden Pond. Thoreau will have to wait for another trip.

After checking in at the Best Western in Bedford, headed over to Burlington to check out Legal Sea Foods for dinner. Looked busy, but decided to check how long the wait was.

An hour-and-a-half. At 7:30pm. On a Tuesday night.

Checked out the rest of Burlington Mall (which was near the hotel I stayed at last time I was in Boston), but nothing sounded appetizing - wasn't super-hungry, as lunch had lingered awhile. I ended up at a Chili's across the road for a large grilled chicken salad, then browsed in the Barnes & Noble next door.

Something didn't feel right as I got back to the hotel. My meal wasn't fading fast. Just after midnight came the first sulphuric belch.

Oh no, not again... - JB

Thursday, June 09, 2005

r.i.p. pulser tv

TELEVISION, Pulser - passed away peacefully on the evening of June 9, 2005 after a short illness. Adopted from a Canadian Tire store 20 years ago, it served as a faithful servant to the Bradburn family, through sitting on a toybox, displaying college basketball games while endless newspapers were cut, etc. Spent past five years in Toronto serving as an alternative to cable. Remained strong until its last two days, when periods of consciousness were brief.

A brief remembrance ceremony will be held on Wednesday, June 15, 2005, before being laid to rest on the curbside. - JB

Monday, June 06, 2005

roadtrippin': the sidewalks of new york

Newark, NJ - New York, NY - no driving
Started day 3 early with the continental spread at the hotel. Travelling through the States the past few years, the hot trend in continental breakfasts is the waffle maker with Dixie cups full of batter. They also had a better than usual selection of single-serving cereals...slipped a couple of boxes of Total for the trip home. Took a cab down to Newark Penn Station - I could have walked, but it would have meant navigating heavy traffic, heavy construction and few sidewalks. After spending 10 minutes figuring out where to pay the fare for the PATH train (a glorified subway connecting Newark and Hoboken with Manhattan), it didn't take long to reach 14th Street.

This trip to the Big Apple broke the pattern. Every other visit has been on a three-year cycle, with a few days to soak up the anger around me. Past highlights:

1995 - First university bust trip. First met EC, who's great at remembering the details of that trip (maybe she'll chime in with a comment about '95, hint, hint). I just remember it was a fun time. The nightime view from the Empire State Building was spectacular.

1998 - Second university bus trip. Caught a lot of one-act plays, including one where I was the only person in the audience who didn't know anyone on stage. Had a relaxing trip, except for being grumpy to a fellow passenger who wanted my window seat to sit with a friend (semi-sleepy me had to see the route the bus took). The trip back was notable for being the last time I ate non-liquid/"dairy" food at McDonald's, as it was the only option at the service centre.

2001 - Flew down with EC. Both of us brought the wrong types of shoes. Stayed in Greenwich Village. Felt too pooped to do much late-night wandering, though we did have fun wind up listening to jazz in a tiny cellar downtown after grimly staring at each other in another bar with Saturday Night Live in the background (mostly my fault, due to an exhausted brain). Got lucky on our return as Newark was the only airport not shut down due to a snowstorm.

2004 - Took the train with Amy. Check the March 2004 archives for that story.

My first stop was going to be Academy Music on 18th Street, but since it opened later than expect, I hit stores close to Union Square. My sister will be happy to know that the 6th Ave Daffy's is as tacky as their Herald Square store (her eyes popped last year at this remainder chain - imagine if Winners wound up with the ugliest, somebody-actually-commissioned-this? dregs of the designer clothing world. Hit the newly expanded Strand bookstore - the art books were moved to a reconstructed, roomy second floor. Walked out with the first volume of Sandman. Their claim of "18 miles of books" is an understatement.

Some signs are best left to describe themselves, like these banners on 19th St near 6th Ave.

The market on the west side of Union Square, great for organic drinks and baked goods. A four-pack of oatmeal raisin cookies provided fuel for most of the afternoon. I grabbed lunch at a snadwich shop across the street. From here, I hopped on the subway to head over to the East Village, to stroll along St. Mark's Place.

A healthy chunk of cash disappeared at Kim's Video. I restrained myself to two more discs in the Educational Archives Series (Social Engineering 101 and Drivers Ed) and Volume 6 of the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 box sets. A stop at a new branch at Bleecker and Christopher resulted in a dirt-cheap used copy of the Criterion Short Cuts box, which will make Amy happy.

Walking down 6th St, between 1st Ave and Ave A, came across this bashed-up beauty. Let's take a closer look on the sticker on the window...

Remember kids - if you bash your car and abandon it, the only person it will cause any grief for is the street sweeper.

Here's the beauty in front of it. One bashed, one burned. Perfect symmetry.

Adding to the atmosphere was a guy standing along the walkway to a public housing complex, yelling loudly at bypassers, mostly about eternal damnation. I think the front car was past the point of salvation.

I headed down to 4th St, then headed westward towards NYU and Greenwich Village. Lots of people relaxing or listening to jazzy buskers in Washington Square. Criss-crossed Bleecker several times, picking up the odd used CD and drooling at displays of pastries. New CD store discovery: Other Music (across from the Tower Records at 4th and Lafayette), a great place to look for reasonably-priced new and used indie and foreign titles (picked up a copy of Caetano Veloso's second album from '69, which I've never seen before).

Also passed lots of people yelling or singing by themselves in full religious fervour. Last year, Amy noticed everyone in NYC was busy yelling into their cellphones. This year, God has taken over.

Dinner was at Lemongrass Grill, at Bleecker and 7th Ave (technically on Barrow St, according to their website). Killer chicken coconut soup, with huge chunks of chicken and sweet peppers.

My feet were starting to ache, but I pressed on, hopping back on the subway for a quick stop at Macy's, then a trip further uptown.

Yes, it's one of the tackiest places on Earth...but who can resist spending a few minutes in Times Square? Thought about checking the TKTS booth, but it was sold out.

Notice the simple anti-PETA billboard. I checked out the site, then checked Wikipedia for the organization behind the site. Go ahead and chuckle.

After heading north along Broadway, I crashed at the Borders at the new Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. Among the other attractions to separate tourists and their money: the opportunity to have your picture taken on the Friends couch and a tour of CNN. I might have gone on the latter if I'd had an attack monkey with me to punch any right-wing pundits babbling away in the gonads.

Heading back to Newark was an adventure, accidentally winding up in Hoboken twice. Finally reached the hotel around 10, crashing in front of HBO with a pineapple soda on the rocks. - JB

Sunday, June 05, 2005

saturday night kensington potluck

Partly as a going-away party for Sheila before she heads to England for a month, partly as an idea she and Paul had at the back of their minds for awhile, spent Saturday night at a potluck at their apartment in the heart of Kensington Market.

The opening spread. British tea sandwiches, dips, toasted corn tortillas, Guiness Cheddar cheese, etc. Missing: antijitos with guacamole sauce, squash-potato-coconut curry, salad, chocolate walnut cookies, greek pastries and chocolate cake.

scenes from the first sunday in june

A pair of shots from today's Sunday Constitutional...

This is a small fraction of the birds fueling up on goodies from the ground at Bathurst and Dundas. Suspect they were auditioning for a remake of The Birds.

Sure sign summer's here - a full patio at the Cafe Diplomatico. Taken from the College streetcar. - JB

Thursday, June 02, 2005

roadtrippin': an afternoon in the catskills, a night in the ironbound

Syracuse, NY -Newark, NJ - 510.0 km
The clouds rolled in to stay as I left Syracuse, rocketing my way down I-81 towards Binghamton. Scenic for a freeway, not like the torture test 401 can be in SW Ontario. The surroundings grew nicer as I hopped onto NY 17 to first follow the Delaware River, then hug the southern end of the Catskills. Towns like Hancock and Liberty had seen better days, but were good for a quick diversion. Spent a grand total of two minutes in Pennsylvania - it would have five to snap a picture to prove I'd set foot in the Keystone State, but the sky chose that moment to open up.

Didn't hop out of the car until I grabbed lunch at an old-school diner in Roscoe. Had a hearty meal of pastitsio with salad and soup. Kicked butt on an old Ms. Pac-Man game.

The outside of the Roscoe Diner, Roscoe, NY
No borscht or borscht-belt comedians in sight. Review from

Driving down to Newark proved hassle-free, due to a knack for dodging traffic jams that would start just beyond the exit I required. Headed into New Jersey along the Garden State Parkway, where I soon discovered one of the state's quirks - no self-serve gasoline. Even odder - gas prices much lower than self-serve stations in New York (the last NY station I'd passed was $2.48/gal for regular, $2.05 in Jersey).

I reached the hotel around 3:30. First time in a Comfort Suites, where my room was nearly the size of the bunker. The surroundings weren't much (a self-storage across the street, construction sites and old factories on the other sides), but the hotel was perfectly fine.

After checking in, I headed back out to explore Newark. The areas west of downtown had seen better days and would probably scare the shit out of some friends. I headed north to some plazas I'd passed on the way, stopping at Acme (owned by Albertson's, a company reknowned for gobbling up smaller grocery chains and raising prices - I wasn't impressed) and Stop n' Shop (owned by Ahold, who also owns Tops in the Buffalo area - alas, my Tops discount card failed to work. Cross-corporate integration, people!) At the latter, I found several varieties of Fox's U-Bet Syrup, a key ingredient in one of my favourite NYC treats, the egg cream. If you've never had one, here's a recipe from the company site. Mind you, I won't be able to use the pressurized bottle, and it'll be vanilla-flavoured when I try one in the Warehouse test kitchen.

For dinner, I headed to the Ironbound, a neighbourhood consisting mostly of Portuguese/Brazilian restaurants. Cops were posted at several intersections to direct traffic jams caused by happy soccer fans.

I wound up at the Pic-Nic Restaurant, after passing a few places that were either old man bars or you'd get the sense everyone would be looking at you as the freak who didn't belong. I forgot to write down the name of the dish I had, and they were out of takeout menus. It consisted small cubes of marinated boneless pork, mixed with shrimp, fried potatoes and pickled veggies. The serving was enough for two, a steal at $7. Walked off the meal at the Pathmark down the street, where I found boxes of Yoki cheese bread mix for half the price it goes for in Kensington Market (it's a mix for thumb-sized breads much like you can get at the Red Violin on the Danforth).

The day ended with aimless driving through the industrial swamps, a landscape perfect for dumping toxic waste, disposing mob hits or falling out of John Malkovich's brain. - JB