Archive for July, 2011

 Staycation Day 4

Day four of our staycation took us to see the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, a rather incongruous blend of Romanesque architecture and Byzantine art that took almost 70 years to complete. It houses one of the largest collections of mosaics in the world, all of which are stunning. The kids were impressed with the size of the space inside, and Noah really liked the stained glass windows. It’s hard to believe I’ve lived in St. Louis almost my entire life and I’ve never visited before. They currently have on display a bronze cast replica of Michelangelo’s La Pieta, a marble statue at the Vatican.

We ate lunch at the Central Cafe and Bakery that serves a refreshing menu of Lebanese cuisine. Dixie and I enjoyed the babaganoush appetizer, and I had a very flavorful salad of vegetables and herbs with some yummy lamb kabobs. Luckily their menu also includes a cheese pizza that was a hit with the kids. We followed this up with a walk around the block to The Cup for gourmet cupcakes for dessert. Dixie had a “Graceland” that is banana cake with peanut butter frosting. They even provide free candles if it’s your birthday.

We ended the day with a tour of the Herbaria Soap Factory on The Hill. They make all natural cold process soap with essential oils for scent and color, and if you ask, they’ll take you in back of the shop and give you a tour of the soap-making process, and even let the kids cut out their own bars of soap using cookie cutters. Humans have been making soap for thousands of years, and it is somewhat surprising that the process has remained unchanged in all of that time.

 Stone Soup Cottage

Having made reservations a full five months in advance, I had a long time to anticipate Dixie’s birthday dinner at Stone Soup Cottage in Cottleville, Missouri. Prior to attending the Chef’s Tasting Dinner last Friday, I had read that St. Louis Magazine had given them the Best New Restaurant award when they opened in 2009, and had named them Restaurant of the Year again in 2010, so my expectations were pretty high. Chef Carl McConnell and his culinary creations did not disappoint. However, I did find a few aspects of the overall dining experience that could be improved.

The food was simply fabulous — a unique blend of distinctive flavors, with many fresh ingredients from local farms and gardens. A bisque made with corn harvested that morning. A potato puff with black truffles and locally picked morel mushrooms. One should keep in mind that it is a tasting, so the portions are small, but with six courses and a few extras on the side, no one leaves hungry. We also chose to include wine pairings with our dinner (at an additional charge), and the selections (two white, two red) were very good.

The restaurant is a restored cottage that dates from the 1850s, with a small dining area that seats about twenty people, at well-appointed and candlelit tables. Having Chef McConnell personally deliver most of the courses to our table and comment on them only adds to the intimate atmosphere. But, my only criticism would be of the dining area itself. The room was dimly lit, and as we approched the final courses, well after sunset, I could barely see what I was eating, which is a shame since a great deal of effort goes into the presentation. With its hardwood floors, the room is also loud, and the night we were there, a boisterous party of 10 made it difficult at times to carry on a conversation. So I would think they might benefit from a few area rugs (if not wall-to-wall carpeting), and a few tapestries on the walls perhaps, as well as turning up the dimmer switch just a bit.

Overall, our meal was fantastic, and I would strongly recommend this cozy place to anyone looking for a unique dining experience to celebrate that special occasion.

 IOGEAR Wireless Keyboard

wireless keyboardLast year, I wrote about the Lenovo Keyboard I bought, and that I wasn’t a fan. It has its good points, but overall the lack of backlighting is a deal breaker. But I’ve found a keyboard that I can definitely recommend for the Home Theater PC enthusiast.

This IOGEAR wireless keyboard is not backlit either, but since it is a full-size keyboard and intended to sit in your lap, touch typing is easy. But the real story here is the ergonomics. They have built a well-designed trackball/button combo into the right side of the keyboard. There is no right-mouse button at this location, however. On the opposite end is a left/right button combo, which is a bit odd, but there is also a scroll wheel built into the front face for your left index finger to operate. This layout takes a little getting used to, but it works and I would say it works well.

The entire case is covered with a rubberized coating that does not show fingerprints, which I like a lot, and it has rubber grips built into the bottom which makes it very comfortable to hold. The keyboard also includes a range of multimedia keys (that I guess are also programmable, although I haven’t tried to set that up yet). Overall, I am very happy with this upgrade to my HTPC.

 Can We Please Stop Now?

Three thousand people died on 9/11 as a result of the worst terrorist attacks in US history. But ten times that many people die every year in traffic accidents, and I don’t hear anyone calling for an outright ban on automobiles. So this has clearly never been just a public safety issue. Maybe a 9/11-style attack once a generation is simply the price we must pay to live in a free society? There I said it.

I know the victims and their friends and family don’t want to hear that — they have no doubt found some solace in avenging the deaths of their loved ones by engaging in the sisyphean task of ridding the world of terrorists. But honestly, for the other 300 million of us in this country, who have had to endure the DHS, the TSA, and all of the other bullshit we’ve been enduring for the last ten years, we’ve had about enough of it, and we’re ready to try something different.

The stories about TSA agents groping our children, and asking our 95-year-old grandmothers to take off their adult diapers, is enough. Enough. But then, today, we are told that the next round in the arms race with al Qaeda is allegedly terrorists who are willing to have bombs surgically implanted in their bodies in order to thwart airport security. Really? If you thought cavity searches were bad before, wait until they start doing them arthroscopically.

At this point, it should be obvious to any thinking person that the government is impotent to respond to this. There are a number of quotes that come to mind. First from Frederick Douglass: “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they suppress.” I think we have just defined that limit. It is my sincerest hope that no American is going to submit to surgical inspections at security checkpoints. If you are reading this, and think this is at all a reasonable approach, do us all a favor and take your own life. The second quote is from H.L. Mencken: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and thus clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Please allow me to introduce you to the newest TSA hobgoblin: belly bombs. One with an impressive pedigree that includes nail clippers, hairspray, three-ounce bottles of liquid, shoe bombs and underwear bombs.

How much farther are we willing to travel on this bus to Crazytown, America? I don’t know about you, but this is my stop.