Why Must I Choose?

They say that everyone in the state of Oregon has to make a choice: Oregon or Oregon State? They say you must take a side, that you aren't allowed to remain neutral, that you can't just be happy with whomever wins.

Well, I'm about to make a case for that very thing.

Most people who fall into the neutral category either don't like sports or don't have a close tie to either school (not an alum, don't have a kid who went there, etc.). Obviously I can claim neither of those things, since I am a huge sports fan, am an alum of Oregon, and having had season tickets to Oregon State for nine years.

So why is it I don't feel a strong desire to pick one team over the other? I don't honestly know the answer as I type this, but I think the root of it goes back a long ways.

Neither of my parents went to Oregon or Oregon State, and neither one are sports fanatics. They like the Blazers as much as the next Portlander, but their day hardly revolves around when the game starts or anything like that. Neither of them are really football fans either. Why is this important? So often a person's sports loyalties are formed by their parents at a young age - the point is I didn't have a parent to mold mine, so my sports loyalties were formed later, in my pre-teen and teenage years.

I first started to really get into sports around sixth or seventh grade. I'd listen to Bill Schonely call Blazer games on the radio every night, because at the time only 10-15 games a year were on TV and we didn't have cable. At the time both Oregon and Oregon State weren't very good at football; Oregon was barely mediocre and Oregon State was in the midst of that epic streak of losing seasons. The games were still important to Oregonians, but they didn't make an impression on me. In fact, I didn't really get excited about football until I got to high school, which for a boy who loves sports is a pretty late start. I was all about baseball and basketball, plus I loved tennis.

At this same time I kind of did pick a school: Oregon State. Gary Payton, one of the greatest to every pick up a ball in the NBA and the best player in school history, was leading the Beavers at the time and if memory serves me right they won a Pac-10 title during Gary's years. The Beavers were my first pick of an Oregon college team - a lot of people don't know that. They assume that as an Oregon alum Oregon was always my choice...but there's even more to the story.

As I went through high school and started planning for college, I picked out a couple things I wanted to study: architecture and Japanese. At the time Oregon was winning the Pac-10 in football and going to the Rose Bowl, so I'd be lying if I said that didn't make an impact. (That's right all you who would like to think sports success makes no impact on university applications - they do. No, definitely not for everyone, but a lot for some people.) Oregon has a top notch architecture program and at the time a top-ranked Japanese program (not sure if they still do or not). It seemed like an easy choice.

Well, until I went down there early in my senior year in high school and talked with the admissions people of the architecture schools. It turns out you need actual creative talent outside of drawing plans for houses to be admitted, and art is not something I have ever been able count as a talent. They showed me some of the submission portfolios (I think the ones that failed, I'm not sure) and they were amazing, displaying people's talents in all areas of art. Apparently that's what they wanted.

And me? That set me back to square one.

Studying Japanese was still a priority though. Honestly, the other priority was a school from a major conference, because college football and college basketball were both experiences I wanted. I also wanted to stay relatively close to home, so my choices then became schools in the Pac-10 (sorry Marquette and Tulane, both schools I considered for awhile). Oregon still wasn't in my top three choices for awhile, but Oregon State - being a science-oriented school - wasn't even in the discussion either.

Instead, I was looking at Washington State, Arizona State, and USC. All of them had the major sports and all had decent Japanese programs. At this point I had to start thinking about what else would whittle down the choices. I'm not a huge fan of snow, so the fact Wazzu is in Pullman was a negative. Hey, you have to eliminate schools somehow, right? And no, I didn't visit any of these - perhaps I should have. I eliminated SC due to a combination of location (not the best part of L.A. - and yes, maybe that's a naive decision, but again you have to eliminate schools somehow) and cost. That left Arizona State and Oregon, which had moved up the list by default due to the fact it was the most cost-effective school on the list.

In the end I chose Oregon. I honestly can't recall why I eliminated ASU, but it was probably related to the fact that even though Arizona is only a couple hours away by plane, it still would have cost a lot more than Oregon.

So that's how I ended up an Oregon Duck. It was the cheapest school on my list, it was part of the Pac-10, it had a Japanese program, and I could go home for the weekend (two hours by car) if I really needed or wanted to. Hardly a heartfelt choice, you can see.

But when I got there, I was all Duck. I had three different UO hats, a couple sweatshirts, T-shirts - all the trappings of an Oregon student who wants to represent their school or logo. I attended every college football game at Autzen Stadium in my three years (spent my freshman year at a community college on scholarship - there's that cost factor again) there, save for some very early September non-conference games. I attended just about every single men's basketball home game, save for a poor scheduling choice my junior year that had me in class on Thursday nights (who picked that?!) that forced me to miss epic upsets of UCLA and Arizona. I still remember my first game at ancient McArthur when Oregon hosted 12th ranked Fresno State, coached at the time by the legendary Jerry Tarkanian. Being newbies we got there late and sat in the rafters, where the seats shake when the building gets loud. To be honest, that was thrilling but at the same time scary in a I-think-I-might-die kind of way the way the building shook.

When I graduated I was pure Duck, I'll admit that. However, the bonds to that loyalty were only three years and some change deep.

When I met Wifey she was (and is, and always will be) Oregon State through and through. She jokes (or, at least I think she's joking) she bleeds orange and black - I've never felt I bled green and yellow (if I had to pick anything, it would be Blazers red and black). The first major commitment we made as a couple - besides an apartment - was season tickets to Oregon State football. I felt odd about it at first, being a Duck and all, but the 2000 season for Oregon State was epic good. That was the team that should have been the national champs. They struggled to beat Eastern Washington and then lost to Washington later (a game we actually drove up to Seattle to watch), but by the end of the season that was - and still is - the best football team I have ever seen. And yes Miami, Florida, USC and Florida State, I'm including your great teams as well.

That season, and the seasons that followed, easily trumped anything I saw as an Oregon Duck at Autzen stadium. It also started somewhat of a change for me.

That's hard for me to admit, honestly. I know friends will read this - some of whom are fellow Oregon alums - and question my sanity, question my loyalty. And to be fair, switching allegiances in a rivalry is the most heinous offense for a sports fan, isn't it? It's one thing to go from, say, Oregon to North Carolina as a fan, but Oregon to Oregon State? That's just not acceptable, is it?

I'm not there yet. But let me explain why I know that time is coming.

Wifey made a perfectly logical request during that first season we attended games at Reser Stadium - wear orange and black. The first time I pulled that Beavers T-shirt over my head I felt weird. Very weird. At the same time, what was I going to do - wear Oregon colors? Yeah, right. Maybe if they were playing that would make sense, but I was rooting for Oregon State, so wearing the colors was logical. And I wanted to, eventually. You want to be a fan.

I wore orange and black to that game up in Seattle. Wore the visiting colors as we walked amongst the tailgates and visited the official Washington Husky (which is really a malamute, since huskies are crazy and malamutes are much more laid back around large groups of people). After a very close, hard-fought game I stopped at the bathroom on the way out. Throughout the day I had gotten some ribbing from the Washington faithful, but it was all in good fun, but the guy at the urinal next to me said something that has always stuck with me (which, yes, I know, is extremely weird). After complimenting the Beavers on a great game (like I had anything to do with it) he said, "At least you aren't a Duck."

At the time I laughed to myself, knowing that I was a Duck and wondering what he would say if he knew that. As time has passed I understand this for what it really was...my first tip that Oregon fans aren't very much appreciated around the Pac-10. Be that as it may, I don't really care that much - it's not like I can do anything about it or alter the perception any. It's just interesting.

That first year with Beaver season tickets Civil War was in Corvallis. I decided, like a good Duck, I would wear my Oregon hat and sweatshirt to the game, sitting in our season ticket seats. Understandably Wifey was less than thrilled, but figured it was my own funeral. This was the day Joey Harrington threw five interceptions for the Ducks, the day both teams were ranked in the top 10 (a first for the Civil War). People around us were shocked a Duck had been in their midst all season, but when you explain you graduated from the school, they seem to accept it. Not understand it, but accept it. And they were all good to me - good natured ribbing, but never anything aggressive or violent.

That was the first of five Civil War games I saw in Corvallis - and only once did the Ducks win, in 2008.

Throughout the seasons I've managed to accept the ribbing, even though I'm not always fine with it. Wear the road team's colors into a stadium and that's just part of what you have to accept. The novelty has worn off, though. In 2008 I surprised the whole tailgaiting crew when I showed up wearing neither orange and black nor green and yellow - was Switzerland when it came to color that day.

I realized then - roughly a year ago - that it didn't matter that much to me anymore. It's not that the games didn't matter or the team I was rooting for didn't matter, it's just that I didn't think my heart was truly in rooting for one team over another. I honestly just wanted to see a very good football game. If Oregon won, great. If Oregon State won - and ended up in the Rose Bowl - that would be just as special to witness and savor. Having seen some great, great games in Reser Stadium - upsets of top-ranked USC, multiple times, for instance - I've come to appreciate those moments.

When Oregon ran the Beavers out of the stadium, I took no solace in the fact the school I went to was victorious. It was sad. The fans were sad. It was depressing. I honestly would have been happier had Oregon State won that day, because a chance at the Rose Bowl is an opportunity that doesn't come very often for either school.

My closet now has more OSU logoed items than UO, something that will probably not change. In fact, I've even worn the Oregon State gear out in public, something I never used to do unless it was a day we were driving the two hours to Corvallis for a game.

Now, one year later, here we are again, though the venue is different with this year's game to be played in Eugene. Once again my heart doesn't feel like it's in rooting for Oregon, but neither do I feel comfortable outrightly rooting for the Beavers. Oregon State in the Rose Bowl is a better story, I think, because I've always had a soft spot for the underdog.

But when the game kicks off Thursday night on ESPN, and I'm sitting on the couch with Wifey with popcorn and a beer, I don't know what I'm going to be wearing. I don't think it matters, honestly, because I really just want to see a good game. I want to see my two favorite colleges play an epic game in the most important moment in the schools' shared histories, on national television with millions of people watching.

They say you can't remain neutral when it comes to Civil War, and to a certain extent that's true. However, that's probably right where I am, and it's been a long and complicated road to get here. If one were to look at the trend it could be said I'll be a Beaver fan soon. That very well could be true.

At the same time I will always be an alum of the University of Oregon - that can never change.

Oregon and Oregon State. These are my two favorite college programs. I will cheer for either school. When they play each other, I want simply to be entertained and the game to be good.

Is that riding the fence? Is that unacceptable? Is that sports fan bigamy? Is this the worst choice a sports fan can make? The truth is it's a little bit of all of those things. That's a little hard to admit and to accept, but at the same time I can only ask myself one question.

Is it honest? If the answer to that is yes - and I believe it is in my heart - then the answers to the other questions don't mean a thing.

Cheers to a fantastic 2009 Civil War game - may the best team win.

Pac-10 Football: 11/28 Aftermath

Wins: Arizona, Washington, USC, Stanford ... Boise State

Losses: Arizona State, Washington State, UCLA

Prediction Results: 4-1

Season to Date: 49-13

Disappointments: Arizona State came so close to upsetting their cross-state rival - it was painful to watch the end of the game. With the score tied Arizona punted with plenty of time left for the Sun Devils to drive for the game-winning field goal. Instead, they muffed the fair catch call, Arizona recovered already in field goal range, and the game was over. Perhaps, actually, it was the proper end to Arizona State's season, a season of miscues, penalties, injuries, and disappointment. There is little doubt they have talent, so hopefully for their sake Dennis Erickson has something up his sleeve to make 2010 better.

Surprises: The fact the Arizona game was close wasn't a surprise, nor was the fact USC and Washington both authored blowouts in their rivalry games. But Notre Dame almost beating Stanford? That was a surprise for sure. What happened to the tough guy image of Stanford? Isn't this the team who grinds it out and runs you over? On offense they did that all day on Notre Dame...but they also gave up 38 points, tied for the third-most they have given up all season. The Irish have decent offense and just can't stop anyone, that's all true, but Stanford shouldn't have to just outscore teams. Actually, you know what? When your team gives up more than 34 or more points in a season five times, maybe you just aren't that good on defense. Coach Jim Harbaugh's image as a tough guy coach apparently only applies to Toby Gerhart's running game, because the D isn't that great.

Oh, and just a note - it would be nice if every commentator that does a Notre Dame doesn't openly root for the Irish. Brent Musberger.

AP, USA Today, BCS Rankings

Oregon - 7, 8, 7
Oregon State - 13, 16, 16
California - 19, 22, 19
USC - 20, 19, 18
Stanford - 23, 24, 24
Arizona - 29, 29, NR

Boise State - 6, 6, 6

Pac-10 Standings (Conference, Overall)

*Oregon - 7-1, 9-2
*Oregon State - 6-2, 8-3
*Stanford - 6-3, 8-4
*California - 5-3, 8-3
*USC - 5-3, 8-3
*Arizona - 5-3, 7-4
Washington - 3-5, 4-7
*UCLA - 3-6, 6-6
Arizona State - 2-7, 4-8
Washington State - 0-9, 1-11

*Bowl Eligible

There are three games left for Pac-10 teams: Oregon and Oregon State in the Civil War Thursday night, then Washington-Cal and Arizona-USC on Saturday.

The winner of the Civil War goes to the Rose Bowl - perhaps you have heard? Cal needs to beat Washington; if they don't, they could fall all the way down to a fifth-place tie with the loser of the USC-Arizona game. A win means they have a shot - maybe not a realistic one, but a shot - to go to the Holiday Bowl for second place in the Pac-10.

A loss in Civil War means Oregon could end up in the Sun Bowl, because despite a clear second place finish they went to the Holiday Bowl last year and that bowl has the right to choose someone else. A loss for Oregon State means falling into a second-place tie with Stanford, possibly Cal, and the winner of the Zona-USC game.

That pretty much lays out the stakes for the Zona-SC game. A win for SC means they will have a shot at the Holiday Bowl, and it's doubtful bowl officials would choose another team if SC is an option. A win for Zona means the Holiday choice will be wide open. A loss for either team means the Emerald Bowl (for fifth place) or the Poinsettia Bowl (for sixth place).

Stay tuned for posts leading up to Civil War...it's a wild week in Oregon!


Pac-10 Football: 11/28 Games

It's 60% of Rivalry Week in the Pac-10! While the Big Game was last week and Civil War is next Thursday (by the way, did you hear the winner wins the league title and goes to the Rose Bowl?), the rivalry games in Washington, Arizona, and Los Angeles will provide Pac-10 fans with their football fix, arranged nicely throughout the Saturday.

I love rivalry weeks. Team records don't matter because if your team isn't good, a win in this games makes the whole season better. Players fight a little harder, they dig a little deeper, and they push a little longer - it's human nature. In each one of these games and through all the rivalry games I've watched over the years, I've found a common theme: in each game an unexpected player will step up and have an amazing game. This player will become part of the university's rivalry weekend lore forever, with fans who watched the game able to recall who he was and what he did in an instant.

This player may never have another great game in college. They may never go on to play at the next level. They may not even ever start another game. But for one game, for a little bit of time, they will be famous.

What, you mean to tell me you have never heard of Jake Cookus?

Time - Game - Channel

12:30 - #37 Arizona @ Arizona State - ABC
3:30 - Washington State @ Washington - Fox Sports Northwest
5 - Notre Dame @ #26 Stanford - ABC
7 - UCLA @ #24 USC - Fox Sports Northwest

Friday, 7 - Nevada @ #6 Boise State - ESPN2

(All rankings are AP.)

I'll Be Watching: First off, it's fantastic that every game is on TV this week. Finally. Of course, it's a smaller schedule with the Oregon schools and Cal off, but we'll take it - especially since the games are spread out so we can watch all three of the rivalry games back-to-back-to-back. I guess that pretty much details what I'm watching, doesn't it? I'll check in on the Stanford game periodically just to see how badly Toby Gerhart and Stanford are running over the weak Irish. Not a bad way to spend the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend at all.

Predictions: For the most part these rivalry games should be fairly well contested; rivalry games always are, no matter what the records. I'm going to go out on a limb and take the Sun Devils this week. Why? They are at home, Zona is coming off a very emotional loss to Oregon which ended their previously hot Rose Bowl hopes, and the Devils have been hot and cold this year and now have nothing left to play for but state bragging rights. It's going to give the Wildcats a horrible end to the season with USC still looming, but I'm going to go with ASU...Washington has weakened as the season has gone on, but no one in their right mind who didn't go to Wazzu could pick anyone but the Huskies...Notre Dame is horrible and shockingly still overrated, the media is hounding them like crazy to fire Charlie Weiss, and Stanford is at home. Oh, and how about a final Heisman push from Gerhart? I'll be surprised if he rushes for less than 200 yards as the Cardinal will roll...Some people will try and tell you the UCLA Bruins have a chance - those people are either Bruins fans, will pick against USC every single week no matter what the evidence, or just want to be contrarian. The Bruins have finished this season nicely with some solid play in the running game and decent defense while the Trojans have slumped a bit, but two wins over the Bruins and Zona still likely sends them to the Holiday Bowl. Plus, they should be focused enough in a rivalry game the talent will win out. I'll take SC...The Nevada and Boise State game should be thoroughly entertaing - tons of offense. However, as much as I'd love to see Nevada knock the Broncos out of a BCS bowl it's probably not likely. High scoring, but the Broncos will score more.


Giving Thanks 2009

This is that time of year when we are expected to ruminate on just what we are thankful for. I have a lot to give thanks for - some fun, some ridiculous, some real.

  • The coffee plants in Kona, and the people who pick, process, and ship the beans. So I can grind and drink them.
  • The Copper River in Alaska, and the people who rigidly steward the river's salmon. So I can eat them.
  • The food cart scene the City of Portland has allowed to thrive. So far.
  • The pure creativity over such a broad spectrum of tastes and cuisines of the brains and hands behind the food carts. These people work long hours, they love their job, and I'm kind of jealous.
  • The fact this economic depression hasn't really impacted me personally. Which is good, since I've had to replace a furnace, water heater, microwave, stove, and dishwasher all in the last two years.
  • Sports on TV - saving me gas, dollars, and time every single weekend. And not having to stand in line for the bathroom.
  • The internet as a whole, because without it how else would I be entertained daily by things like ICanHasCheezburger and Very Demotivational?
  • The multitude of bakeries Portland has to offer - and I must try every single one.
  • Ditto the coffeeshops.
  • And the breakfasty places. I should stop - getting hungry.
  • Farmer's Markets, where I can find fantastically fresh fruit that then makes me just want to skip fruit all winter long rather than buy it in the grocery store.
  • Specialty stores like The Meadow on N. Mississippi in Portland, or Market Spice by Pike Place Market in Seattle, where you can find a range of items and flavors you never thought possible. And then realizing you are hooked for life.
  • A Civil War whose winner goes to the Rose Bowl - talk about fulfilling the dreams of an Oregon alum who has spent the last 10 years attending games at Reser Stadium. I won't lie, I'm conflicted on who to cheer for.
  • Internet access and email on my cell phone - no longer do I need to be tied to my office to get something done (and yes, that's probably as much or more a curse than something to necessarily be thankful for.)
  • To our three cats and our dog, who usually love us unconditionally. Other times they make us bleed. No, I never know which of those times is ever "now."
  • To Twitter, because without it how else would I ever know about that daily special from Koi Fusion?
  • To the people of this planet as a whole, because without them how else could I possibly be entertained and continually surprised with what they can do? And no, that's not necessarily a good thing.
  • To the state of Hawaii, for making all of their beaches public property. Otherwise my wedding would have been a lot more expensive.
  • To digital cameras, because now I can take as many pictures as I want without worrying about the cost of developing them all or having to carry multiple film canisters.
  • To email, so I no longer have to make phone calls. Can you tell I like technology?
  • To Netflix, so I can be a lazy ass and not walk or drive the four blocks to Blockbuster anymore.
  • My DVR, so I can skip the commercials and watch countless more hours of TV than I ever thought possible.
  • To Apple, because my iPod has now rendered my 400 CDs completely obsolete. And what exactly am I supposed to do with them now?!
  • To eBay, where I can find that one autographed football card of Sabby Piscitelli I never would have seen 12 years ago.
  • To Under Armour and The North Face (especially the TNF outlet in Woodburn), for helping me spend my money.
  • To Jillian Michaels, whom after watching The Biggest Loser for six seasons finally convinced me to get off my ass and lose 30 pounds (so far).
  • To the Washington County library system, whose online catalog and request system has convinced me I no longer need to buy a book ever again, and where I never have to browse again unless I want to. Goes back to the lazy thing. And about those 500 books I own...
And most of all, I give thanks every waking moment (and some sleeping ones) for my wonderful and beautiful wife, who is understanding enough to allow me my 5,000 written words a day across two jobs and 60-70 hour work weeks - and loves me anyway. Without you honey, nothing else matters. :)


Belly Up to the Bakery Bar

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Lucky for us we love breakfast food and Portland is a hotbed of breakfast deliciousity. Right near the top of our must-visit list for a while now has been a place called Bakery Bar on NE Glisan between 29th and 30th. They also have a second location on SE Water St (now closed!). The menus are slightly different, I believe.

After reading so many good things in various outlets online we headed over there around 11am on a Saturday fully expecting a long line. Surprisingly, there was no line at all. We must have arrived at just the right time because there were plenty of people eating (though there were still tables) who had already ordered, and then by the time we finished ordering there was a line of three people behind us. It was so slow at the moment we walked in, actually, that one of the cooks who was straightening things up came up and offered some insight to the menu when we couldn't decide what we wanted.

The first thing we ordered was a mint mocha. They make all of their own syrups for their coffee drinks which not only makes it seem fresher but also lets Bakery Bar make the flavors unique. If I recall right the coffee was Stumptown. The mocha was excellent, with a light mintiness very few others I've had could match. The mint leaf in my drink probably helped, though it was unexpected.

We then both ordered egg sandwiches, bypassing the more intricate things on the menu for this first outing. Wifey ordered the number 5, which is a fried egg, cheddar, and bacon-apple-carmelized onion jam, while I ordered a number 6 - fried egg, pastrami, gruyere, and reuben sauce. They offer your choice of housemade English muffins or a black pepper buttermilk biscuit for the sandwich, so Wifey got the biscuit and I ordered the muffin. To go with the sandwiches we also ordered rosemary scallion hashbrowns.

The hashbrowns were excellent. They weren't necessarily as cooked as I would prefer - I like just a tad more crunch - but they weren't underdone by any means and the flavors of the rosemary and scallions mixed with shredded potatoes was excellent. Normally I'd drop a little salt and a little pepper on my hashbrowns, top them with a little ketchup, but not these guys. It's a good thing I tasted them first because they literally needed nothing added to them. From a guy who loves his ketchup, that's saying something...

Both the English muffin and the biscuit were very good. I wasn't sure if the black pepper would be too much, because the way they called it out in the menu I was expecting something peppery. In truth I couldn't pick out the pepper at all, though I could see the black flecks. Both breads were light and fluffy.

The eggs were cooked just right, allowing the yolk to drip out a bit on the first bite. The bacon on Wifey's was actually a bacon jam, something we had read about but never tried - and it actually was really, really good. Sure, you don't get the bacon crunch in a bite, but you don't miss it either. I had never had a reuben, but with pastrami and gruyere didn't figure it could be too bad - and it was awesome. The pastrami was well cooked, the sauce the right amount to accentuate the flavors, and everything was excellent.

How excellent? Well... Bakery Bar is also known for their cakes, which they do for weddings or any other special occasions. They also have some ready and waiting in case you need one, which we actually kind of did for a birthday the next day. We knew we were on the lookout for something, and that something became a red velvet cake that was staring at us from the case throughout the entire meal. A small cake - worked out to be eight slices - for $18 seemed like a pretty good deal, so we got back in line - and it was a long line this time - to get that. Back in line, we also picked out an apple-bacon scone to take home and have later with a little coffee.

Sadly, the cake was just okay. The presentation was amazing, tall and regal, it had white buttercream frosting on the outside and red velvet cake layered with cream cheese frosting on the inside. It was topped with really well made sugar flowers with a purple ribbon of fondant around the bottom. The cream cheese  frosting was pretty good, but the amount of frosting in general really overpowered the cake - and the buttercream tasted more buttery than creamy and sweet. My preference is to have more sweet and creamy with an aftertaste of buttery, not the other way around. The cake itself was good and overall it was hardly bad - we've just had better.

The scone, on the other hand, was pure dreamy goodness. I don't know why, but my first impression what that apple and bacon in a scone was an odd combination. When am I going to learn that there is no bad combination when one of the ingredients is bacon?! The bacon flavor was in every bite, but it wasn't overpowering, and it meshed quite nicely with the sweet and cinnamon of the apple. Plus, it was drizzled with maple frosting which just added to the overall goodness.When we go back, this is the first thing coming out of my mouth when I order.

Do we recommend Bakery Bar? Oh yes, definitely yes, and we'll be going back. Or maybe we'll try the other location. Or, more likely, we'll do both.

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day you know.


Pac-10 Football: 11/21 Aftermath

Wins: UCLA, Oregon State, California, Oregon ... Boise State

Losses: Arizona State, Washington State, Stanford, Arizona

Prediction Results: 4-1

Season to Date: 45-12

Disappointments: Arizona State has been a monster disappointment all season long. Is Dennis Erickson losing his touch? I know there were a couple injuries and quarterback issues, but at the same time they just didn't make the plays - other than the penalties - we associated with an Erickson team (or, more specifically, an Erickson defense).

There really weren't any other disappointments, I don't think. I'm glad the Oregon-Zona game lived up to the hype (my heart is just now calming down), although when the fourth quarter started I didn't think it would; I thought we'd see Oregon fizzle on national TV again.

Surprises: I'm mildly surprised OSU covered the 31-point spread over Washington State. I figured at some point the weather was going to play into the scoring totals, but it stayed nice enough for them to win by 32. See, this is why I don't gamble, especially with spreads. As you can tell by my predictions I'm decent at picking a winner, but putting money on something and I'm horrible.

I also think Cal waking up and beating the hottest team in the country was a huge surprise. I fully expected the Cardinal to win that game. And of course after I talk about how great Andrew Luck is, he goes out and throws 10-30 in the loss. Give Cal's defense and especially the secondary a lot of credit - they earned the win. They didn't stop Toby Gerhart, but they absolutely shut down the passing game and managed to score just enough on their own. By the way, does Shane Vereen need to be added the list of running back studs in the Pac-10?

AP, USA Today, BCS Rankings

Oregon - 10, 10, 8
Oregon State - 16, 18, 16
California - 21, 26, 22
USC - 24, 22, 20
Stanford - 26, 28, NR
Arizona - 37, 34, NR

Boise State - 6, 6, 6

Pac-10 Standings (Conference, Overall)

*Oregon - 7-1, 9-2
*Oregon State - 6-2, 8-3
*Stanford - 6-3, 7-4
*California - 5-3, 8-3
*USC- 4-3, 7-3
*Arizona - 4-3, 6-4
*UCLA - 3-5, 6-5
Washington - 2-5, 3-7
Arizona State - 2-6, 4-7
Washington State - 0-8, 1-10

* Bowl Eligible

This is what I wanted to see - a Civil War for the ages, where the winner of the battle at Autzen Stadium would represent the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl against the Big 10's Ohio State. And crush them. Never before has this scenario happened, where both teams were meeting in the Civil War and the winner getting the Pac-10 title. (Cal's win over Stanford was nice in that regard, but Stanford didn't win any of the tiebreakers anyway.)

Kudos to ESPN for having the foresight to think that this game might possibly have significance, and to the athletic directors at both Oregon and Oregon State for agreeing to move the game out five more days for the opportunity to play it on national television, even if it is a Thursday (and I'm sure the payday helped too).

That means two weeks of state hype, sports coverage the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Portland Trail Blazers were in the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992. Actually, this is probably bigger, because the entire state is more tied to the Ducks and Beavers than they are to the Blazers.

It means two weeks of exposure in the national media as ESPN continually mentions the game. That helps recruiting and general national exposure. That puts the players on these teams more in the minds of postseason voters, which may push some players higher in the final voting for things like the Doak Walker award (Jacquizz Rodgers) or various All-American teams.

And no, don't think the blog is going to rest quietly as the hype builds...I have stories to tell and picks to make.

There is only one drawback to this scenario - and it's for the loser of the game. In a game of this magnitude, where the two teams are so clearly one and two that the winner wins the title, the team who loses should be going to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego as the conference's second place team. Unfortunately, that will not happen.

If Oregon loses they will be bypassed by the Holiday Bowl because they went there last year. That bowl will then gladly make their choice of 6-3 conference teams, most likely USC if the Trojans finish with that record. The Ducks would end up in El Paso at the Sun Bowl.

If Oregon State loses they will fall into a group of three or four teams at 6-3. Since there are only tiebreakers for first place, the Holiday Bowl gets to choose whomever will make them the most money. Again, it will be USC. If not SC, then Stanford or Cal, teams closer to them they feel will bring more tourists to San Diego. That must mean Oregon State would go to the Sun Bowl, right? Nope - Beavers played there last year, so like the Ducks and the Holiday Bowl, the Sun Bowl will choose someone else. The next stop is the Vegas Bowl, which would then be able to choose between Oregon State and either Stanford or Cal. Ideally they choose the Beavers, but they don't have to. The fifth place bowl, the Emeral Bowl in San Francisco, would then get whomever is left (and probably would love to have Stanford or Cal, both being from the general Bay Area and all). I'm thinking Vegas would be most likely, but it's not guaranteed.

It's all ridiculous, really. The winner of this game goes to the Rose Bowl; the loser should be playing in San Diego.

The game is now 10 days away and counting...


Pac-10 Football: 11/21 Games

It's crunch time now in the drive for the Rose Bowl. Stanford and Arizona both need wins to stay relevant in the Rose Bowl race (Stanford actually needs Arizona to win as well, but Zona doesn't care about Stanford). Wins by both Oregon and Oregon State will ensure the Pac-10's Rose Bowl rep will be determine by the winner of the Civil War 13 days later (Stanford would be out if all three teams finished 7-2 because Oregon State would have beaten Oregon and the Cardinal). USC could still make Roses, but it would need a lot of unlikely help (let's just say Wazzu has to beat Oregon State this week and leave it at that).

This is fun, thrilling actually. The Rose Bowl race is the most wide open it has been in years and for once it doesn't include SC. Sure, that sucks for SC and their fans, but it's nice for the rest of us.

And surprisingly, even the ASU-UCLA game has meaning this week. A win for UCLA makes them bowl-eligible, the seventh team in the Pac-10 this year that could make such a claim. If ASU wins they still have a chance to be bowl-eligible. In fact, an ASU win over UCLA followed by a Bruins win over the Trojans and a Sun Devils win over the Wildcats would give the Pac-10 EIGHT bowl-eligible teams this season, which I'm pretty sure would be a record for the conference. There may not be enough bowls out there to satisfy eight bowl-eligible Pac-10 teams, but it's technically possible.

Switching it up, let's take a look at the conference's quarterbacks. Is there a conference with the depth and quality youth of the Pac-10 right now at that position? All they hype before the season was about freshman Matt Barkley at USC, and while he's done well he's not even the best freshman out there - that honor goes to Stanford's Andrew Luck who leads the conference in QB rating. Arizona's Nick Foles, a sophomore, is third.

Then you take a look at the vets, led by Oregon State senior Sean Canfield. He wasn't even supposed to be the starter - it would have been Lyle Moevao had he been healthy. Instead Canfield is tied for the league lead in touchdowns (17, with Washington's Jake Locker), leads in attempts, completions, yards, and the team leads in passing yards per game. He has matured by light years since opening week and now will likely be a mid-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. A year ago that seemed, um, quite unlikely.

Then there is Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli, who can run and throw, making him one of the more dangerous players in the league. That's helped Oregon to the league's top scoring and rushing offense (add that to Oregon State's top passing offense and Civil War could be a shootout), although he's more likely to not be a QB at the next level.

Finally there is Washington's Locker, a junior who will be one of the top picks in the spring draft should he decide to give up his last season of eligibility. Honestly, I'm not necessarily sold he's a star quarterback at the next level any more than Canfield, but he has the build and can move a ton better than Sean.

Just about every team in the conference has a quarterback that can beat you on any given Saturday, just like there are so many good running backs. The critics can have defense from the likes of Alabama or whomever tops the defensive scoring charts from out East, but the truth of the matter is they have never seen offense on a weekly basis like is played in the Pac-10. That's just one of many reasons why the Pac-10 always does so well in interconference play.

On to the weekend!

Time - Game - Channel

1pm - Arizona State @ UCLA - Fox Sports Northwest
2pm - #20 Oregon State @ Washington State - Radio only
4:30pm - #28 California @ #14 Stanford - Versus
5pm - #11 Oregon @ #29 Arizona - ABC

Friday, 6pm - #6 Boise State @ Utah State - ESPN2

(All rankings are AP.)

I'll Be Watching: This is where I rant about the Oregon State game not being on TV, right? Yes, I'm disappointed it's not and I don't think there is a real good excuse for that. At the same time, it's possibly going to be a wintry mess of a blowout, so if there was any game not to put on TV it's that one. Don't I say that about the Cougars every week? That means I'll have the ASU-UCLA game on mute with Oregon State-Wazzu playing on the radio. Later I'll watch the first quarter of Cal-Stanford to be sure, then switch back and forth between that and Ducks-Cats until the former is over, then finish out the Ducks game. Should be a nice day of football.

Predictions: If there is one team that has been the most disappointing this season, for me it's ASU. They have shown none of the attributes of a Dennis Erickson-coached team, other than the penalties. Congrats UCLA, I'm picking you to be bowl-eligible...Do I really need to actually say I'm taking Oregon State? They are 31-point favorites last I heard, but considering the weather is going to be horrid, I'd take Wazzu and the points if I did such things; it'll only be a 20-point win or so...Cal looked pretty decent last week, but Stanford is the hottest team anywhere in the nation right now - Cardinal by two touchdowns...The Wildcats have played strong all season, but watching them the past couple weeks it really looks like they are slipping a bit. This will be a close game, but I think Ducks will win. You know, Zona has beaten Oregon State and Stanford, - if they played the Beavers or Cardinal this weekend, they'd lose...Yes, I'll take Boise State over Utah State. Is there really a question?


Thoughts on Food, Inc.

Wifey and I sat down and watched Food, Inc. last night, and it's something everyone should watch. I don't normally make too big a deal out of movies I see - mostly because there are literally thousands of review of everything out there from people who care more and will put more detail in that I would. I mention them on this blog every once in a while more for my own personal reference so I can recall how I felt about something more than necessarily wanting to share.

Food, Inc., though, is different.

It's not that I necessarily learned all that much from it or was overly shocked by anything in there - I've read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. There wasn't anything in the movie that was overly different as far as theme. The examples were different, slightly updated, and dependent on what they could get on camera as opposed to just Schlosser on his own with a notepad and a tape recorder, but the idea was the same: mega corporations have perverted what we eat on a daily basis.

So what made the movie so powerful? Video has that ability. I can read the book and have my own visions in my head of the stockyards and the process of making french fries, but when you see it on the screen in vivid color it blows away anything I had in my head (maybe my imagination just blows, but it sure can't compete with the Blu Ray version playing on my widescreen LCD TV).

The treatment of the animals on the farms as mandated by corporations like Tyson is wrong to me from a human perspective, though corporately it makes some sense if you clearly look at it from that point of view. It's not something I support, but I can see the point of view. I can't at all see the justifications with how Smithfield treats their workers, or how Monsanto treats soybean farmers. And of course, I'm not surprised at all none of those companies agreed to be interviewed for the movie. It's a no-win scenario for them. They know the premise, they know that no matter what they say on camera in that setting they will come off negative. Part of that is because the justifications they use aren't able to be backed up with facts, but still.

Wifey and I are proponents of the slow food ideals, for the most part. We shop our farmer's market and give an edge to locally produced foods when we shop at the grocery store. We enjoy going to local restaurants, bakeries, and food carts who share the same feelings, but I'd be lying if I tried to lead you to belive it was because of 100% altruistic feelings on our part.

Sure, it's all good that it's generally better for the environment, that it cuts down on fuel and energy usage and all that, but the real truth of it is this stuff simply tastes better. It's moderately more expensive to buy organic, but I do believe in the long-term health benefits (on faith, obviously, at my age) and I like my food better. The fruits and vegetables taste better and the meats are yummier as well. It could all be in my head, but I truly believe the few extra dollars it costs to get the local, organic, grass-fed, free-range foods are better.

At the same time, I would also be lying if I said this is the only factor in determining what we buy - and it goes back to yumminess as well as something even more simple: availability.

It's all well and good, but the simple fact is if you subscribe exclusively to a F.L.O.S.S. eating plan (Fresh, Local, Organic, Sustainable, Seasonal) you are going to miss out on a lot of good stuff.

For example, I live in the Portland area. If I were to completely give myself over to a slow food/F.L.O.S.S. way of eating, I'd never get coffee again. It doesn't exactly grow around here. Personally, I like my Kona beans I buy from Hawaii. Those beans are FLOSSy for Kona, but for me they are 3,000 miles away - not so FLOSSy. The fishing of Copper River King Salmon is closely watched by the local government in Alaska for sustainability, but that doesn't change the fact it's a long ways from Portland. And this one doesn't specifically apply to me, but a lot of people love their Guinness from Ireland - they don't bottle that anywhere else.

This movie isn't going to change anyone's life - or it might, I don't know - but what it will do is make you think long and hard about your own choices. You may change a bit, you might not - but you will think about it. It's something everyone should see.

Falling into The Abyss

I've never been one for dark, heavy beers, specifically stouts. Wifey can tell you I've bought Guinness multiple times over the years as my tastes have changed because this is supposedly the holy grail of beer...however, I'm beginning to think people might be a tad full of it, because it's still no good to me. Or maybe it's just me, who knows.

I've tried other stouts and only liked them moderately better. One that I did like, moderately, was Rogue's Chocolate Stout. It was still not something I would get on any kind of regular basis, but it sure made an awesome beef and stout pie (yes, you need the Stilton pastry as well).

This is a long lead-in to say I've heard a ton about Deschutes Brewery's The Abyss, with many people claiming this is the best beer they have ever had. BeerAdvocate calls The Abyss the fourth-best beer IN THE WORLD - which is pretty amazing in its own right. People apparently wait all year long for this one, they stand in lines when the beer goes on shelves in November, and apparently it's completely worth it.

I still wasn't completely sold that I would like this, even after reading some thoughts on Deschutes' own blog by the owner, Gary Fish, himself about the flavors of caramel, chocolate, coffee, and licorice. I mean, I like all those things, but it's still a stout, right?

However, the flavors, the reviews, the fact it is a Deschutes product, and a desire to try new things once led me to dropping the $12 for a bottle of this last week at New Seasons Market. (Ha! I remember back when I thought $12 was an exorbitant amount to spend on a bottle! That was all the way back in...well...July. Things change fast. Just for fun, I want to point you to a discussion on the cost of specialty beers over at the much-respected Beervana blog. And yes, I did comment in agreement with the sentiment of the post.)

Like with the Black Butte Porter XXI I loved so much, The Abyss has a Best After date on it, about 14 months in the future. I decided I had to try it now anyway. I mean, if I liked it, I'd want more, right? If I waited I'd never find it again, until next year's version. If I didn't like it, it wouldn't make a difference if I tried it now or later.

So last night I cracked the bottle open. We grilled some ribeye, Wifey made some garlic mashed potatoes, we had some corn, and I managed to get the wax seal off this bottle with only minimal damage to my physical self (just one scratch, nothing too much). There has to be an easier way to get through this wax other than the sharp end of a bottle opener, doesn't there? If you have any ideas, feel free to tell me.

I popped the top off the bottle and took a deep whiff. I could actually smell the coffee, the malt, the chocolate, and possibly the caramel as well - being able to pick all of those smells out actually surprised me. Either my nose is getting better or I'm just trying higher quality stuff lately. Could be a little bit of both.

The beer poured nicely. It's thick and smooth, almost caramelly in that way. The light head it creates in the glass is a mocha color, also thick and somewhat creamy.

Of course, the most important thing is the taste. How was it? Excellent. So excellent, in fact, I tweeted about its excellence while I was taking care of a few things online.

I could pick out the different layers of the chocolate, the coffee, the caramel, the malt, and maybe a bit of oakiness too. There is supposed to be some vanilla which I couldn't find, but if you click on that blog post by Gary Fish you'll see he notes the vanilla was stronger in the 2007 and 2008 versions of The Abyss he tried at the same time. Perhaps by the Best After date it will be more obvious.

One flavor I wasn't able to recognize is licorice, which is a flavor that is supposed to be there. It's possible it's there and I just don't have a reference point for it - could be a victim of an inexperienced palatte. However, Wifey tried it and she couldn't find it either. What's significant about that? She doesn't like licorice at all and can just about always pick out any flavor she doesn't like in anything, no matter how insignificant. Does not tasting licorice mean anything, or is it a drawback? I'm not a huge fan myself, so for me it's not a big deal.

What all of this boils down to is I really liked the beer and I'll buy a couple more bottles for saving, right next to my bottles of Black Butte Porter XXI.

Do I like it better than BBP XXI? I think my gut feeling is no, but it's right up near the top. It would be great to do a side by side taste test of the two, but I will tell you that will never happen in my house. Not unless I have a tasting party.

Why? The Abyss is 11% alcohol, which over the course of 22 ounces is almost like having five or six shots of 80 proof vodka (if I did the math right). I literally haven't had that much alcohol in my body since college, which wasn't exactly recent. If I had to crack both bottles at once (of course, I could put wine stoppers in them or something and save them, but where's the fun in that?) the outcome probably wouldn't be pretty - plus I woudn't even be able to remember which one tasted better.

I highly recommend The Abyss. If you like stouts, you'll love it. Even if you don't - as evidence here by example me - you may very well like it anyway. Kudos to Deschutes for brewing something with such an excellent flavor profile.


Widmer's Cherry Oak Doppelbock

I ran across a special release from Widmer a couple weeks back at New Seasons, something they call a Cherry Oak Doppelbock. It came in a box, so it stood out - nothing like snazzy packaging to catch my attention (take note of that vendors).

(I couldn't find info on Widmer's website about it, but I did run across this reprint of a press release announcing the brew.)

The press relase plays up the cherry flavor and oakiness of the brew, but that's not necessarily why I bought it. It sounded interesting, I had never had a doppelbock before, and the packaging was cool. Geez, that's like a trifecta. I actually had to look up doppelbock - here you go - and found out it's a sweeter beer with rich maltiness. That actually sounds pretty yummy.

I didn't really expect a cherry flavor. I've had a lot of beers and wines where I couldn't pick out a single one of the advertised flavors. That would be just my palate isn't refined enough, or maybe it's all a load of bull in the first place so they have something to put on the label other than "tastes like alcohol and will get you drunk!" Who knows.

When I popped the top on this bottle I was pleasantly surprised to get a clear aroma of cherries with a sweet background. I could literally pick out the oak, the malt, the cherry, and a couple other flavors as well (maybe vanilla?). Again, the pessimist in me didn't think I'd be able to taste them when I poured it in my glass, but I was pleasantly wrong there as well.

Not only could I taste the cherries with every swig, but they weren't overpowering at all and neither were any of the other flavors. The malt balanced everything so the cherry wasn't too tart and the oak wasn't too woody.

The bottle cost $7.99 for a 22 ounce bottle - not cheap but not necessarily overly expensive either. It was a good brew if you like a bit of fruit and a bit of sweet, both things I enjoy. I'd definitely buy it again.

Riding a Little Red Bike

If you've been reading for a while now you know that we love breakfast food. And bakeries. In fact, I hear Portland is one of the biggest breakfast food towns around, replete with cafes, bakeries, and coffee shops all making their own versions of delicious breakfasty goodness. Our list of places we want to visit is full of breakfast/brunch places, and one that was high on that list was the Little Red Bike Cafe in North Portland, not too far from the University of Portland.

Little Red Bike Cafe has a website, but it doesn't tell you much. Their blog has a bunch more information, but in neither place will you find the actual everyday menu listed.

No matter - Yelp gave great reviews and they stand for everything we like. You know, mainly good breakfast food.

First off, know how to get there. It's on N. Lombard and we were coming from I-5 North. That means taking the Lombard exit and going left - not right, like we did. Oops. After 40 blocks I figured turning around was probably the best course of action, since we had been in NE Portland (not North) for 35 of those blocks and all.

The location is right in the middle of the St. John's area, a relative quiet area right on the street. It has some outdoor seating (chilly on the day we went), some seats at a counter looking out into the street, and a few tables.

The primary item we wanted to try was a breakfast sandwich called "The Messenger." I have no idea where it gets its name, but it probably has an interesting story behind it. The Messenger comes on a ciabatta role with gorgonzola, applewood bacon, an egg, and some delicious apple butter. We ordered that and something called - I think I'm remembering this right - Rapini's Special. That was a basic egg and bacon sandwich with gruyere on a ciabatta role, came with an all-you-can-drink cup of Courier coffee, and one of their fresh-made cinnamon rolls.

If you are wondering if that was enough food for two people, yes, yes it was. In fact, we were full for hours after, which isn't a bad thing at all.

The Messenger was fantastic. The bread was soft, not hard and crunchy like ciabatta rolls can sometimes be, so there was no roof of the mouth damage. The egg was cooked just right - not too liquidy, but enough to seep out when you squeeze it - the bacon was a hefty chunk, and the apple butter worked very well to tie all the flavors together and didn't allow the gorgonzola to become overpowering.

The other sandwich was just as well-made even though it didn't have the same bursts of flavor. The overall flavor was smooth and even, with everything melding together nicely. The cinnamon roll was fine (I'm spoiled - Wifey is a fantastic baker), but one good thing in my book is the frosting was light - just for flavor, not for dominance. The roll itself was light, so it didn't weight on your stomach like a rock the way some will-leave-unnamed commercial cinnamon rolls will.

The coffee was fine - it's the serve yourself kind, but it is French pressed. Also, another note - get your own napkins and silverware from the area in the back with the coffee. Apparently I'm not very observant because when our food was brought out we didn't have any of those things, but the guy was kind enough to get them for us. Did I mention the service was excellent? It was mid-morning on a Thursday and not very busy, so that helps, but everyone was friendly.

I would definitely recommend this place and we plan on going back. When we do I'm ordering the "Rudy Fernandez" - named for the Portland Trail Blazers guard from Spain. What's on it? Well, Spanish things of course! Jamon serrano and manchego with my egg sandwich? Yes, please! And the pictures look fantastic!

Dang, now I'm hungry... Anyway, two thumbs up!


Fishing the Frying Scotsman

We're big fans of fish here at the blog. Wifey and I love the fresh salmon and halibut - some of the healthiest fish, not to mention the yummiest - you can get here in the Northwest. And while we love the salmon on a cedar plank on the grill or a foil wrapped pouch of halibut with lemon, butter and some spice, deep fried fish and chips is never a bad thing.

Enter the Frying Scotsman, a food cart run by a bona fide Scot over in the NW Industrial Area of Portland. It's in an area without food options directly nearby, tucked into a garage. The handy part about that is if its raining, customers don't have to worry about waiting in the elements for their flaky fish to finish frying. Say that five times fast.

The cart offers a few different kinds of fish - cod, halibut, red snapper, haddock - as well as a daily soup and chips (or fries, or cooked potatoes - whatever you want to call them).

Wifey and I decided to go for one each, so she ordered halibut - something we both love - and I ordered haddock, a fish neither of us had ever eaten. Each order came with two pretty good sized portions of fish and what looked to be an entire potato each. The breading is light and not oily, something I'm a big fan of since that overly oiled fish and chips you get some places just makes my stomach turn.

The halibut was every bit as good as one should expect from halbut - flaky goodness. The haddock surprised us. We weren't sure what to expect but it has a sweet flavor to it that gives it nice contrast to the rest of the meal. Note to self - keep an eye out for haddock in the store... This is apparently the most traditional fish used, so it's good to know we can be appreciative of the classic.

The chips were plentiful and yummy. Not a lot of seasoning, but just the right amount. It also came with a tartar sauce and some coleslaw (strong on the onion). We also ordered a cup of the soup of the day, a vegetable barley which was very good.

So, two thumbs up from us. But, don't listen to what we say, know this: The two people who ordered before us in line were both from the UK (I'm sorry, I don't know the accents well enough to place them exactly, to know if they were English, Scottish, Irish, Welsch, etc.) and both were extremely appreciative for this cart existing because it reminded them of food from home (my interpretation - they seemed happy). One guy even bought his food to "take to the pub" with him, which I thought was interesting.

The prices are also good. Halibut is the most expensive at $7.50 an order, but that's a lot less than you usually find it around town. Cod and snapper are $6.25, and haddock is $6.50 (prices include the chips).

Good stuff - go and enjoy.

Pac-10 Football: 11/14 Aftermath

Wins: Stanford, Oregon State, UCLA, California, Oregon...Boise State

Losses: USC, Washington, Washington State, Arizona, Arizona State

Prediction Results: 5-1

Season to Date: 41-11

Disappointments: Is SC a disappointment or is Stanford's blow out a surprise? I think more of the former, since I did pick Stanford to win (though the final margin was shocking). Now here's the thing on SC: this team is still 7-3 on the season, but they are being widely regarded as a massive disappointment. Of course, that's only to people who don't closely follow the Pac-10. When Pete Carroll made the decision to start true freshman Matt Barkley at quarterback I'm sure this outcome wasn't entirely outside the realm of possibility. A team with the depth of talent of SC starting a true freshman is a conscious decision that perhaps this wasn't going to be their year anyway; 7-3 is what passes for rebuilding for the USC Trojans. Raise your hand if you think this move WILL NOT set up the Trojans to storm back to the top of the conference next season.

No hands? Didn't think so.

Surprises: Umm...the Stanford Cardinal? This is the hottest team in the nation right now after completely dominating Oregon and USC. With all due respect to the fantastic work put in by the Rodgers brothers at Oregon State and Jeremiah Masoli at Oregon, how can anyone right now not say Toby Gerhart is the 2009 Pac-10 Player of the Year? Stanford's head coach, Jim Harbaugh, is hands down the Coach of the Year. And freshman of the year? It might not be Matt Barkley - it very well could be quarterback Andrew Luck.

When you look at how quickly these Cardinal rolled over SC and Oregon, doesn't that make Oregon State's win over them a few weeks ago look that much more impressive?

AP, USA Today, BCS Rankings

Oregon - 11, 11, 11
Stanford - 14, 17, 17
Oregon State - 20, 20, 19
USC - 22, 21, 18
California - 28, 29, 25
Arizona - 29, 26, NR

Boise State - 6, 6, 6

It's really hard to complain a ton about the rankings because overall they show the strength and depth of the conference. Six teams in the top 29 in the nation? Hard to argue with that at all.

Of course, there are always things to argue with. Stanford beat Oregon. Oregon State beat Stanford. USC beat Oregon State... You keep going down this path and it will tie your brain in knots. Do these rankings pass the gut check though? For the most part I would say yes, though Stanford is clearly the hottest team in the league and should be much closer to the Ducks. Above them? Why not - they did blow them out. I'd move Oregon State up just a tad.

Pac-10 Standings (Conference, Overall)

*Oregon - 6-1, 8-2
*Stanford - 6-2, 7-3
*Oregon State - 5-2, 7-3
*Arizona - 4-2, 6-3
*USC - 4-3, 7-3
*California - 4-3, 7-3
UCLA - 2-5, 5-5
Arizona State - 2-5, 4-6
Washington - 2-5, 3-7
Washington State - 0-7, 1-9

*Bowl Eligible

First off, the Rose Bowl Race. There are really only four contenders - here's what they need to get there:

Oregon - If they win their final two games over Arizona and Oregon State, they are in.

Arizona - If they win their final three games over Oregon, USC, and Arizona State, they are in.

Oregon State - If they win their final two games over Washington State and Oregon, and Arizona loses one more time, they are in.

Stanford - They need to beat Cal, have Arizona beat Oregon, have Oregon beat Oregon State, and then have Arizona lose again. This would give three losses to Zona, Oregon, and OSU. Not likely, but entirely plausible.

Did you ever think the Pac-10 race would come down to four teams and SC wouldn't be involved? The Vegas Bowl - or wherever SC ends up - is going to be absolutely ecstatic.

Here is what I think will happen. I think Oregon will beat Arizona and Oregon State will beat Wazzu this week. That will put Oregon at 7-1 and Oregon State at 6-2 going into the game. Winner goes to the Rose Bowl (if both are tied the tiebreaker is head-to-head).

Think about that for a minute. Think also that the game is on a Thursday night, before a national TV audience, and both teams have had 11 days to prepare. The hype in this state would be amazing, absolutely amazing. Tickets for the game in Eugene won't sell for less than four digits - for nosebleeds.

And how omniscient would ESPN look for paying the schools to move the game to be on TV?

I'm excited just thinking about the possibilities.


Pac-10 Football: 11/14 Games

There are some fantastic, fantastic matchup this week in the Pac-10 and a couple of these games are really going to clear up the muddied Rose Bowl picture (you'll see what I mean when I get to my picks below). UCLA and Arizona State can get back to .500 with wins that would put them one win away from being bowl-eligible.

Of course, perhaps the biggest story of the week is Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount returning from his season-long suspension after punching a Boise State player opening night. While there is little doubt the Oregon athletic department could have handled it better, the truth is this probably is not going to have too much of an impact on the Ducks. I mean, they already lead the Pac-10 with 233.6 rushing yards a game and Blount doesn't play defense, so it's not like getting him back fills a need. It's nice, it's flexibility, but it's not going to determine the outcome of any games for a team that already has Jeremiah Masoli, LaMichael James, and Kenjon Barner.

Speaking of running the ball, congratulations to Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and Stanford's Toby Gerhart - both are semi-finalists for the Doak Walker Trophy as the nation's top running back. Rodgers, according to insiders, is also the frontrunner to retain his crown as the Pac-10's offensive player of the year in 2009, something he won as a freshman in 2008. That right there is amazing.

Check out the league's rushing stats - and then check out the nation's rushing stats and see how well the Pac-10 runners compare. Alabama's Mark Ingram is a Heisman frontrunner? Please. It should also be noted Gerhart is tied for the nation's lead in rushing touchdowns at 16 and Quizz is tied for third at 15. Ingram? He has 8.

Time - Game - Channel

12:30 - #25 Stanford @ #11 USC - Fox College Sports Central
12:30 - Washington @ #26 Oregon State - Fox Sports NW
2 - UCLA @ Washington State - Fox College Sports Pacific
4 - #18 Arizona @ California - Versus
7:20 - Arizona State @ #14 Oregon - ESPN/ESPN360.com

12:30 - Idaho @ #6 Boise State - ESPNU

(All rankings are AP.)

Um, really? For the second week in a row there is no Pac-10 game in the 12:30 spot on ABC? In fact, unless you have cable, you get zero Pac-10 games this week? ABC is showing Iowa @ Ohio State at 12:30 instead and while that will be a hell of a game (Ohio State will probably lock up a Rose Bowl berth) I don't really see where that holds more intrigue to people on the west coast than Stanford @ USC. I suppose I should at least be happy it's on TV at all, considering some of the decisions of the last few weeks.

I'll Be Watching: We'll be watching the Washington/Oregon State tilt at 12:30, with checks of Stanford/USC at the commercials and perhaps brief glances of the Boise State game just to check the score. Have some errands to run after the game, but should be back to catch most of the second half of Cal-Zona, and then finish out the night with the Oregon/Arizona State game.

While it's very odd there are no broadcast Pac-10 games this week, it is at least nice - if one has cable - that you wouldn't have to get off the couch between 12:30 and roughly 11, watching a Pac-10 game the whole way. Might not be the healthiest thing in the world, but still sounds like a nice way to wind down on a Saturday after a busy week.

Predictions: Ah yes, prediction time. Let's start with my upset special of the day. USC has been horrible the last few weeks and Stanford has been playing very, very strong ball. If Stanford scores first, and I think they will, they should win this game even though it's in L.A. I'm taking Stanford (which will end USC's Rose Bowl hopes)...The Beavers have been getting better defensively every week and Washington's season seems to have ended after the strong start. Had they beaten Notre Dame, things might be different. However, their defense isn't good enough to stop the Beavers passing AND rushing. Oregon State has one of the most balanced attacks in the game, and the Beavers should win this handily...Have I mentioned yet this year how bad Washington State is? I might have, not sure. UCLA should get the win, but this is one of the few Wazzu might have a chance to get an upset in...Zona at Cal is one of the most intriguing games of the week. Which Cal team will show up? Can they be a threat without running back Jahvid Best on the field? Personally I think Zona is the real deal and the Wildcats will walk out of Berkeley with the win...The Arizona State Sun Devils haven't lived up to any expectations this year. I don't expect that to start this week when they lose to Oregon in Eugene...The Idaho Vandals are good this year and while no one would like to see them knock Boise State out of a BCS game more than me, I just don't think they have enough to top the Broncos on the Smurf Turf. If the game was at Idaho, I might go that way just to be difficult.


Al Forno Ferruzza Pizza

Wifey and I have been meaning to try Al Forno Ferruzza pizza for awhile. If you recall, we were going to go there one night but ended up at Podnah's Pit because apparently Al Forno had a broken oven.

So we decided to try again last weekend. It's an interesting place out on NE Alberta, so let me set the stage a little bit. The building is old and a bit rundown, a cavernous type of place where sound tends to just disappear. The decor is a mismatch of tables and chairs, perhaps meant to be received as eclectic but insteads just seems a little, well, sad. The counter, which has fresh deli items in it for sale, has obviously seen better days.

To be real honest, if it hadn't have received such good reviews on Yelp I might have been tempted to just walk out. At the same time sometimes these kind of places have the best food because that's the focus - it's not on the decor. Of course, sometimes it's also indicative of the finished product, so who knows.

Wifey and I decided to order a small margherita pizza and a calzone with sausage and pepperoni. We went and took a seat in the waiting area, which was a surprisingly comfortable couch near the door. From anywhere in the restaurant you can watch food being made behind the counter - it's a very open room - and we were entertained by seeing our pizza dough spinning 15 feet into the air as it was being readied.

A short while later, after the only other customers finished their food and left, we smelled this odd smell in the restaurant. It wasn't burning food, or really like any food at all. It's been quite a few years since my days at the University of Oregon so my nose may be a tad rusty, but it sure smelled an awful lot like something you shouldn't find in a restaurant. If not that, perhaps a candle or something - I have no idea. Right after that the pizza maker came out and opened the front door for some airflow, muttering something about burnt sage that seemed to be for our benefit. I'm not saying anything, I'm just saying. Could be purely coincidental. I would like to stress I have nothing to base this on except an odd smell. Still.

Our food took about 12-15 minutes to finish (we had ordered to go). The calzone was interesting - like no calzone I have ever seen before. Normally they look like a round pizza folded over on top of themselves, but this one was rolled into a long tube so it looked like a baguette. That obviously has no bearing on the taste, it was just interesting. Perhaps this is something Sicilian? Not sure - I do know I have never seen it before, including in my two months in Italy. I like it though. It's fun, unexpected - a different presentation with the same taste.

The dough was very good and the filling was chock full of freshness. There was no sauce inside the calzone (disappointing to me, but I love sauce), but it did come with a container of sauce for dipping.

The pizza was a nice thing crust with lots of tomatoes to go with the fresh basil and mozzarella. It tasted great, but didn't stand up very well upon reheating - it was so thin it became a droopy mess (thankfully, we've learned to use the toaster oven in such emergencies).

Overall the food was good, but I don't think I'd call it great. It's not on the same level of Apizza Schools or Ken's Artisan Pizza, both of which were outstanding. I'd go back if I was in the area and needed a fix, but I don't know that I would go out of my way.

Some Minor Blog Changes

Wanted to point a few things here, really quick. First, I added two new link groupings on the left side of the screen.

Below the Blog Archive, the first new one is called Key Topics. This is a list of links based on labelsI have used in the blog, some of my favorite things to talk about and the ones I write about most often. You can see what I like by how I ranked those - hmm...maybe football should be higher?

The third group of links is called Food by Location. I probably shouldn't have to explain this, but I have added labels to all my food-related blog posts with info on where the place is. This grouping of links is based on those labels. It's handy if you want to look up a specific part of the city or another town altogether.

The third change is the blog is now on Twitter, so you can follow to your heart's content.

Wait, you are saying, wasn't that Twitter posts box always there? Yes it was, but I decided to do something odd and open a second Twitter account. Why? Well, the first one I opened for professional reasons, as a means of connecting with readers of my other writing from all over, to talk about hoops. The vast majority of those are not in Portland, nor did they follow me to hear where I ate for lunch and whether or not it's good. I get that.

That's half the reason I opened the new Twitter account, where I can talk about the things this blog discusses to my heart's content. It's a great way to interact with some of the restaurants, food carts, and other NW-related people and places that are celebrated in the blog. I will also tweet blog posts, which was something I was loathe to do on the other account.

It's all online and people wanting to relate the two could do so it if they wanted/cared/had nothing better to do, but it's an attempt to keep the professional life and the slightly more personal life separate. Will it work? Who knows. We shall see.

Anyway, that's all the changes for now. Chances are you won't even notice. Comments and suggestions are always appreciated.


The Sugar Cube - Heaven in a Cart

I think we've made our love of cupcakes pretty clear, but just in case you aren't sure: we love them.

But, as good as any of those cupcakes in that post are, they can't hold a candle to The Sugar Cube food cart operated by Kir Jensen at the Mississippi Marketplace in North Portland. Kir apparently had a similar dessert cart previously, but had to close, re-plan, and has opened this new outpost of goodness.

Her cart is pretty - looks like Neopolitan ice cream, and you can see plenty of great pictures here. Sorry, no pictures from us - it was raining like hell when we went.

We happened to go opening day, last Thursday. Her menu is a tribute to sweet deliciousness and although small, it's amazing.

Our first item was something called Beer.Cheese.Bacon. It was a Guinness and ginger spice cake topped with Fifty Licks (a local brand) Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, bacon praline, honey, and white cheddar. I'm not usually a big fan of spice cake, but all the flavors here - which don't at first glance seem like they should go together - work in the best possible way.

The whole reason we actually stopped by was for cupcakes though. Foodies all over the Net have been lauding Kir's cupcakes and we've been chomping at the bit to get a chance at them, since we missed out the first time around (what were we thinking, coming late to Portland's food scene?!). The Highway to Heaven, in particular, was top of the list. She's doing a cupcake a week for now, and has a few she will be working into rotation. Thankfully opening week included this one.

Thankfully, as in thank the gods of chocolate across all universes. This chocolate buttermilk cupcake is easily the most moist (say that five times fast) we've ever had, and when she fills it with salted caramel center and tops it with chocolate ganache. It's absolutely, hands down, the greatest cupcake ever. No arguments. I will fight anyone who declares otherwise. Okay, maybe not, but I can't fathom anyone disagreeing after giving this a bite.

That was enough for one day...but we went back on the weekend. Since those cupcakes were simply so damn good and it might be a couple weeks before they are available again, we went back. I mean, how could we not? Pouring down rain or not, how could we turn our backs on the greatest cupcakes ever?

So went back, and got two more to bring home with us. This time we also checked out the Ultimate Brownie, topped with fleur de sel, chocolate ganache, and olive oil. Wait, what? Olive oil? Yep, we were skeptical too. But just like with the bacon and cheese mixed with the ice cream and spice cake, these flavors complement each other in a spectacular way. I believe the comment I heard from somewhere - might have been from my mouth, might have been from Wifey's - was "Where have you been all my life Sugar Cube?!"

It's that good. I know, this all sounds over the top and ridiculous, but I only save that for the best, and this is the best.

Unable to stop, we also ordered a Hot Chocolate Malted. It's a malted Ovaltine drink, whole milk, Venezuelan milk chocolate, whipped cream, and smoked Hawaiian sea salt. Again, it's not flavors I would think of mixing, but it was fantastically good. Personally we had never had Ovaltine before and really didn't know what to expect, but given the quality of the other items we figured it had to be good. And it was. It's not like some of the rich hot chocolates/drinking chocolates we've tried from places like Sahagun or Coffeehouse Northwest, but it stands on it's own as a fantastic drink on a cold, rainy day. And we've had a lot of those lately.

So, if you are keeping score, that's four fantastic items and nothing less than that. If that doesn't make The Sugar Cube a must visit, along with all my hyperbole, I don't know what will.

Check out Kir's Twitter account for updates. Her plan at the moment is to be open Thursday-Sunday from noon-7 (5 on Sunday), but that's very likely will change. With the Prost German pub right there, there is definitely the possibility of people needing yummy sweets late night, and she plans on taking advantage of those customers (that came out weird - not in a bad way, just presenting them with options).

None of these items will break your bank. Just go. Why are you still reading?! Go!

Ice Apples! Finally!

What, you've never heard of an ice apple? And you've definitely never had one? Well, all I have to say is if you like apples and have never eaten one of these, you are missing out.

So what are they? Technically they are your basic Fuji apple, very sweet with good crunch. What makes these different is they are picked during the last days of October - the last of the season - and leaving them on the tree a little longer, allowing the center of the apples to crystallize a bit, leaving a pocket of juiciness in the center. This makes the entire apple just a bit sweeter.

I don't know if this is the same chemical process used to create "ice wine" (which I also love - coincidence?) when the grapes are left to freeze on the vine to focus the sweetness before fermentation. But to me - far from an expert in the growing of fruits and making of wine - it sounds like it could be similar; perhaps these ice apples are at a younger place in the process than the ice wine grapes.

You can read the entire "Legend of the Ice Apple" here on Al's Garden Center website.

Is that weird, reading it there? It is, but this is the only place I have ever seen these apples. We ran across them literally by accident a couple years ago. November isn't typically a month people go to a garden store, so I can't remember at all why were there - it possibly could have been their annual Christmas show, an evening in early November. No idea.

Anyway, they had these huge boxes of "ice apples" and they looked good - looked like Fujis, because, apparently, they are Fujis. We bought a few and tried them out the next day. And came back. And came back again. And again. Every time we thought they'd be gone, but they still had some. I think in the month they were in the store we went to buy more five times, and then when it looked like this might be the last time, we bought a huge bag to last us a couple more weeks.

We've looked all over, but as the link says, Al's is the only place you can find these. Technically these apples aren't anything special - they are Fujis that got left on the tree too long and the yumminess was found by accident. Any grower with Fuji trees should be able to try it out, I think, but so far they seem to come only from this specific farm in Wenatchee, WA and are only distributed through Al's.

So every November we head to Al's and stock up, because these are literally the best apples we've ever had.

Wait, why am I telling people about these?

Oh well, no one reads this blog anyway...right?


Pac-10 Football: 11/7 Aftermath

Wins: Stanford, Arizona, UCLA, Oregon State, USC .... Boise State

Losses: Oregon, Washington State, Washington, California, Arizona State

Prediction Results: 5-1

Season to Date: 36-10

Disappointments: I'm severely disappointed in the Cal Bears. This team was supposed to challenge USC? They looked pathetic on Saturday against Oregon State, even before Jahvid Best landed on his head/shoulders/back in the end zone. (On another note, it's good to see Best managed to get out of that scary incident with only a concussion. Not that a concussion is anything to sneeze at, it's just that the fall looked so much worse. Hopefully he recovers completely.) Maybe Kevin Riley just isn't the answer? At 6-3 the Bears could still end up with a very good season - even more so if they can beat Stanford in the Big Game - but their losses have been bad.

Surprises: UCLA surprised me by having enough pulse to pull out a win...but of course, that wasn't the biggest surprise of the weekend. The fact that Oregon scored 42 points is expected, but giving up 51 is a travesty. And did anyone think Stanford had that kind of offensive explosion in them?! Nope, me neither. As a Duck that was painful to watch, but the way the defense was rolling over was simply pathetic. I think I pointed out previously that Stanford is a good offensive team, but they aren't the kind of team that can play from behind well because when the must throw to catch up they go away from the best offensive weapon, running back Toby Gerhart. That was the key to Oregon State beating them a couple weeks ago - they pounced on Stanford early, ringing up a big lead. The Cardinal can pass and have a good young prospect in freshman Andrew Luck, but the confidence isn't there to completely rely on the passing game yet.

So what happens against Oregon? The Cardinal started with a nice mix of run and pass, showcasing Luck's strengths early when there is little pressure. He came through, Gerhart complemented that with a school record performance, and the team had so much confidence it didn't matter one bit they couldn't really stop Oregon from scoring. Give credit where it is due - that was a fantastic game plan by Coach Jim Harbaugh and great execution by the Cardinal, led by Luck and Gerhart.

AP, USA Today, BCS Rankings

USC - 11, 10, 9
Oregon - 14, 16, 13
Arizona - 18, 19, 17
Stanford - 25, 27, NR
Oregon State - 26, 28, 23

Boise State - 6, 6, 6

Check out Oregon State's rankings - once again, the computers in the BCS are giving more respect to the strength of the Pac-10 than the voters. That can be seen in the ranking for USC, Oregon, and Zona as well. It's curious as to why Stanford didn't make the top 25 in the BCS, but if they continue to win they will.

It's worth noting that SC is ranked higher than Oregon in every poll, despite the fact Oregon beat them so handily. And both teams have the same 7-2 record. Oregon State also topped Stanford handily, but is ranked behind the Cardinal in the two voting polls - and again, both teams are 6-3.

Call me silly, but if two teams have the same record and one team beat the other, shouldn't they be ranked higher?
Pac-10 Standings
*Oregon - 5-1, 7-2
*Arizona - 4-1, 6-2
*Stanford - 5-2, 6-3
*USC - 4-2, 7-2
*Oregon State - 4-2, 6-3
*California - 3-3, 6-3
Arizona State - 2-4, 4-5
Washington - 2-4, 3-6
UCLA - 1-5, 4-5
Washington State - 0-6, 1-8
* Bowl Eligible

Arizona, Stanford, and Oregon State all became bowl-eligible this past weekend with their sixth wins.

That makes six Pac-10 teams bowl-eligible. Why is that significant? The conference has five bowls they have ongoing contracts with (from first to fifth):

Rose Bowl (BCS berth, conference champ) (Pasadena, 1/1/10, ABC)
Holiday Bowl (San Diego, 12/30, ESPN)
Sun Bowl (El Paso, 12/31, ESPN)
Las Vegas Bowl (Las Vegas, 12/20, ESPN)
Emerald Bowl (San Francisco, 12/27, ESPN)

The sixth team this year will go to the Poinsettia Bowl, but that's not a firm, ongoing relationship.

Poinsettia Bowl (San Diego, 12/21, ESPN)

Apparently starting with the 2010 season the Pac-10 has an agreement with the Alamo Bowl, matching their third place finisher with the Big 12's third place finisher, which should be good for conference exposure. I'm not sure at this point how they reshuffles the current lineup, though I know Vegas and Emerald will become the fifth and sixth bowls, rather than fourth and fifth. The Holiday Bowl appears it won't be second place for the Pac-10 starting next year.

It's worth noting the tiebreaker procedures I discussed last week apply only to the Rose Bowl. If there was a tie for second, for instance, head-to-head doesn't technically matter; the Holiday gets first choice and the Sun gets the leftovers.

So here is an interesting question: What if Arizona State, Washington, or UCLA win a sixth game? Where do they go? At this point, I have no idea - stay tuned. I'm sure there is some bowl looking for teams somewhere.

As far as the Rose Bowl race goes, with Oregon's loss Arizona controls their own destiny. They win out, they are in. It's crazy, but at this point, with only two or three league games left, five teams have a shot to go for the Roses: Oregon, USC, Stanford, Zona, and Oregon State. Each team - except Zona - needs some help, and each team needs to win out. Obviously that isn't going to happen, but the teams that do win out are going to put themselves in a very good position. As always, teams should focus on their own games and not worry about what they can't control.

It looks to be a good bowl season - again - for the state of Oregon.


Some Tidbits - Food, Books, Movies

Food Tidbits

Peet's Holiday Blend - We've been excited about Peet's Holiday Blend in the past and this year it sounded good, with plent of beans going into the 25th anniversary special. It promises smoothness and we found that - but it might be too smooth, if that makes any sense. It needs a little more flavor to it in my opinion - makes a good coffee for mixing things into it though, like chocolate and caramel.

Spella Caffe - I gave this cart another chance and I just can't get into it. This time I ordered a latte - which had some serious kick to it - but the flavor didn't really grab me. No idea why. I even ordered beans this time too, a Panama single origin bean. To me it's like the Holiday Blend - way too smooth. I want some more flavor.

Caffe D'Arte - This coffee place is on NE 15th between Broadway and Weidler, right by Lloyd Center. We went to one in Seattle on a food tour and the drinks were pretty good, so we decided to check out Portland's. Plus, we had a coupon for a free drink. We tried the caramel sauce latte and the truffle mocha and weren't excited about either one. Both the caramel and chocolate flavors just seemed to be of lower quality - they detracted from the overall flavor of the drink, which you never want. Add this to the fact we got beans in Seattle we didn't really like, and I'm crossing them off the list.

Ponderosa Meats - Everyone loves a good butcher, right? I confess - I used to think it wasn't a big deal to go to a specialty butcher, never really seeing a need. But we get this circular in the mail every week with an ad from Ponderosa Meats and a coupon for a free pound of ground beef when you spend $10, so once a couple years back we actually went. After one trip we were hooked. They have excellent prices on chicken, beef, and everything else. We no longer go out for steak, because we can get better cuts of meat here for a third of the price - and we can grill it ourselves. Their Hoss burgers are fantastic (three kinds of beef ground together) and they just recently added Kobe beef burgers, which we haven't tried yet. They can cut anything you need and also do this thing they call the Baconator. You have to see it - words can't describe it. It's a heart attack special to be sure, but would be a great item for a BBQ party. We will get it, some day. Anyway, great place, friendly service, good prices.

Other Stuff

George Morlan Plumbing - Monday I came home from work and noticed there was water all over the garage floor. Upon further inspection it was flowing out of the top of the water heater. Joyous. So I turned the water to it off and then had to figure out who I called. Not just a regular plumber, right? Nope, you go to the self-proclaimed Water Heater King. Of course by the time I called it was end of the day on Monday, so their first opening was Wednesday. Fine, whatever - it's nice to have family close by to borrow a shower in these instances, but not having hot water does suck. Really, there aren't any other words to describe it. Anyway, the guy was supposed to be out between 12 and 4, but finally called at 4:30 saying he was late and would be at our place by 6. At least he called - I've had people just not show up before. He made it at 5:30 and within a few minutes knew it wasn't salvageable. So the next day he came back out with a new water heater, did the install and everything in about an hour and a half, and it all works good now. Jim was very friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, and I think I got a decent price. He also repeatedly apologized about being late and about how busy they were (hey, it happens), and thanked me multiple times for being understanding. Apparently some people get angry when it can't be fixed immediately. Sure it was a hassle, but I'm good for 15 years now, I guess.


The Strain - Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan - This book was super creepy. Yep, it's another vampire book, but it's definitely not in the same vein as the Twilight books or Sookie Stackhouse's Southern Vampires (which I'm working on). These vampires are pure evil and they spread like a disease. It's scary (which I usually don't say), graphic, and this first book in the trilogy reads like a movie. Considering del Toro is a director, that probably shouldn't be a surprise. I'm sure it'll be on the big screen...and I can't wait for the second book to come out.

Ochocinco - Chad Ochocinco - I've been a fan of Chad Johnson/Ochocinco since his one season with the Oregon State Beavers in 2000. We have stacks of his rookie cards and he even made us fans of the Cincy Bengals. To me he's always been fun, while a lot of others simply think he's over the top. Sometimes he is, but he sees his job as entertainment, which it is. This book, written from his point of view, gives the reader a fantastic look inside his head, his mindset, and his approach to the game. My favorite part is the mini-essays written by coaches, family, teammates, and other friends (such as Baltimore Ravens stud linebacker Ray Lewis). Given the fact this is Chad's book you might expect them to be all pro-Chad - they aren't. It's all real. People keep looking for more with Chad, but what you see is what you get. It should be enjoyed. Thumbs up on the book - it's a fast, light read, and fun if you like the NFL.


Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen - I love Transformers. Loved them as a kid, still love them now. I had lowered expectations for the second movie because the first disappointed me a tad (though not because it wasn't better, but more because of my own initially high hopes), but this one surprised me. The story was better and the Transformers were, well, awesome. Sideswipe...I want that car. Lots of action, very little real violence, fantastic special effects - just don't expect more from it.

The Proposal - This was a light-hearted and amusing flick with Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock. I admit, I like both of them. Reynolds has cracked me up since Two Guys, A Girl And A Pizza Place was on TV and Bullock ever since after Speed (not including). I'm pretty sure Reynolds doesn't actually act, since every character he plays seems to have the same sense of humor, and it seems to be the same one that comes out in interviews. But you know what? I don't care - his sarcasm cracks me up. Bullock was a little unbelievable as a hardass publishing executive, but still, definitely recommend it.

Then She Found Me - We found this on Netflix that we could watch instantly on our Roku box and thought the casting seemed pretty good. I mean, Helen Hunt, Colin Firth, Matthew Broderick...it couldn't be bad, right? Whoops, we were wrong. There was a reason we'd never heard of it before. I'm pretty sure Broderick didn't think he was going to get paid for this movie - that's the vibe I got from him. I'd avoid this if I were you.