Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jonathan's Birthday: The Capital Grille

As the finale of Jonathan's birthday celebrations, we had a nice dinner at The Capital Grille in Philadelphia. It came highly recommended by his uncle, Dennis.

We started out with soups, Jonathan having clam chowder while I chose lobster bisque. Definitely the largest pieces of lobster in any soup I've ever had. Very tasty. The chowder (New England) was also good, Jonathan mentioned that it had great flavor.

We had a very knowledgeable server, and she helped Jonathan choose a delicious wine to accompany his delmonico steak. The steak was dry-aged and had a twelve-year-old balsamic seasoning it. He really enjoyed it, and the bite I had was pretty good. I went in an entirely different direction, choosing the sesame seared tuna with gingered rice. It was sushi-grade, so I had it rare, of course. The three accompanying sauces (soy, wasabi, ginger) were fantastic complements, and it was delicious.

Sides are ordered and served family-style, and we chose the potatoes au gratin and the oven-roasted mushrooms. The potatoes were also suggested by Dennis, and they were delightful. I can't think of any potatoes I've ever had that were similar, and even Jonathan went back for more. We had a bit to take home, and they were good reheated as well. The mushrooms were an assortment of shiitake, oyster, portabella, and cremini... all very good. We both agreed that they could have used more garlic (they were flavored with garlic butter, thyme, and rosemary), but they were still very good.

All in all, aces in our books. We were stuffed, even after pacing ourselves through the nearly-two-hour meal. We'd recommend Roz, our server. She was friendly, warm, knowledgeable, and even gave us a coupon for a complimentary appetizer next time.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cheeseburger in Paradise

We've been driving by it and talking about it since we first tried Cheeburger Cheeburger back in September. Well, the time came to try Cheeseburger in Paradise.

We were surprised when we walked in, as the restaurant had a uniquely roundish setup, and plenty of televisions (aka this is definitely a place we can watch the games! too bad football season is about over...). Rob joined us for lunch at the place, and we had very prompt service throughout the entire meal.

We ordered the fried pickles as an appetizer, and they were the best that I have had in a long time. The sauce is a sweet horseradish, but very fitting. I also tried their Disgruntled Elf Margarita, which was fantastic, especially for $6.75.

I went with the typical Bacon Cheddar burger, and Jonathan had the Bleu Cheese/Buffalo burger. I liked mine quite a bit, and Jonathan thought it was pretty good. Rob went with their mix 'n match, choosing the salad and the crab burgers. He said the crab was okay and the salad was pretty good. The fries were tasty, but beware they are the thin and scraggly kind.

Good place, I'd recommend. But, the real question is how does it compare to the nearby Cheeburger Cheeburger? Well, the onion rings at Chee beat out the fries here, but the pickles are a real contender. The shakes at Chee are wonderful, but there's cocktails here. Diner vs. sports atmosphere. The burgers I'm going to give to Chee, mostly since they're soooo customizable. I think it's gonna be a mood-dependent question. Feel like pickles or onion rings? burgers or burgers and other options (they have a cuban sandwich here that I'd love to try)?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Playing in the Snow

As we were preparing to fly to Florida for Christmas, a snowstorm hit. It was called The Snowpocalypse by the media, and for many, it kinda was. There were all kinds of historic things about it, and it hit many areas from North Carolina to Massachusetts. It ended up canceling our flight and causing us to wait two days to catch another one. And, unlike our first snow of the season, it was heavy and stuck around for a while.

On Saturday, we watched it get going. We went to the store and bought a shovel (actually, we went to two, since the first one was out). I had gone out the day before and picked up a snow brush and a saucer for sledding). Jonathan got his first taste of driving in active snow, and we hit ice several times on our ten-mile-or-so roundtrip. We came home, learned the fabulous "pull up your windshield wipers" trick, and got dressed to play in the backyard.It was still snowing, so not ideal for playing around. But we couldn't help ourselves as we made snow angels and went down our little hill a few times. I kept getting snow in my eyes, LoL. Daylight was not on our side, so the photos are not the greatest.
The next morning it finally stopped. A couple hours after we were already supposed to be in Florida, we decided to go sledding with Rob. We went to Tyler State Park first, but then went down another traffic light to Bucks County Community College. There were a bunch of people on a large hill, so they had already forged a few paths. We joined in, but our little saucer was nothing compared to their sleek, swift sleds. Still, we had a good time for an hour or so. We each got to go about five times (it took a while to drag it up again for the next person to have a turn, LoL). I'd definitely recommend the place, and we'll go back there if there's a good time for it in 2010. Of course, we'll also pick up a much better sled, hehe. Below are a few photos of the sledding, and one documenting the first time we dug the car out of the snow, haha!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Jonathan's Birthday: Atlantic City

so with Atlantic City being just 90 minutes or so away, Jonathan decided he'd like to go there for his birthday. It was just the two of us, and we only went for a day/night. It was fun, but since it's totally not season (we were there the day before the big snowstorm began), there were a lot of closed things and we didn't get a chance to see a whole lot. We stayed at the Trump Taj Mahal. We had a very spacious room (probably about the size of our Vegas room, actually). We went exploring and found all sorts of neat statues and lights. Here are a few of my favorites... Then we went looking for dinner... and it took quite a while. There are four fine dining restaurants and six casual restaurants, then a few fast food places. Private parties had all of the fine dining places booked, and half of the casual places. One casual place wasn't open. That left us two choices (we didn't really want Sbarro pizza or Mrs. Field's cookies for his birthday dinner, LoL!)... one had an $11 grilled cheese sandwich (just to give you an idea of the crazy item pricing), and the other was a burger joint. We chose the latter, simply named "Burger." I had a bacon and cheddar, he had a mushroom and swiss. Both were quite good, actually. The fries were tasty as well.

Then we went downstairs and signed up for the frequent gambler cards, LoL. We got these when we were in Vegas as well, and they ended up being a good idea, since we get offers all the time for rooms out there and stuff. Well, if you play the slots for like 20-30 minutes, you get $25 on your card to use, so we each put in $5 at the nickel slots and milked that long enough to get enough "tier points" to get the bonus money. We were playing "Wheel of Fortune" which was neat since there were bonus games if you got certain combinations and things. On that round I walked away with about $14, and Jonathan had about $23. We were doing quite well, and decided to try and win back enough to cover the hotel room and dinner. On $10 of the "fake money" dollars, I cashed out at $70, which was awesome. The rest of our fake money didn't do so well (and I tried a few other games), but Jonathan took some earnings to the blackjack tables for an hour or so. He won some more, and in the end we were $1 short of having won enough to cover food, drinks, tolls, and the hotel room, so we were pretty happy. We also kept a souvenir worth a nickel, haha.We had a nice view of the ocean and other hotels in the morning, so I got a few shots of those. We tried to have dim sum for breakfast, but both places we found were unexpectedly closed during their posted business hours. Needless to say, we were quite disappointed. Regardless, I think we'll return to Atlantic City again, especially to see some of the other big resorts, and, of course, the boardwalk. I also want to get some photos of the street signs (which are color-coded with the neighborhoods... how cool is that?!?), since they make me giggle and think of Monopoly.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Shady Brook Farm Holiday Light Show

The night before Jonathan's birthday, a group of us went to dinner (at Arirang) and then to Shady Brook to see the holiday lights show. Shady Brook is the same farm that we've gone to for a few other events, including the Saturday night concerts and ice cream.

The holiday light show is a really big event. We can see part of it as we drive by, but there are around two miles of "track" that you drive through to see everything. We were fortunate in that we had a coupon (it's $20-25 a carload depending on the night you go) and that we were the final car of the night so we weren't rushed at all. We didn't know quite what to expect, but the locals are all over this place. It causes tons of traffic on the weekend evenings, and it's been taking place annually for fifteen years now. There is a ton of history, and they have some employees who work on the lights all year long, between designing new ones and stuff.

I took over 100 photos during the 15-minute drive, and about 70 of them came out well. This should be an indication that this place was pretty awesome, LoL. I uploaded the 70 to my facebook (that link shouldn't require a log-in).

this greeted you at the start of the journeythere were a lot of advertisements for local places, like wineries and companies and even the local trash pickup. But I thought this one was cool.
one of the biggest displays is for the 12 Days of Christmas. this is 3 of the 4 calling birds
here's one of the eight maids-a-milking
and a few of the twelve drummers drumming
each year they add new exhibits... this year they added an underwater scene and a surfing Santa
this underwater scene is seriously like 100 feet long!!there are also a lot of popular characters, like SpongeBob
and The Grinch. and Dora.
there's also a section for nursery rhymes, like the old lady who lived in a shoe
and Humpty Dumpty. and Hey Diddle Diddlethere were flags and other Americana items, like the Statue of Liberty
and as you exited, you were sent off in style

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

America's Game: Army-Navy Football

So we had a Saturday morning with nothing planned. We found out that the Army-Navy rivalry football game was that afternoon in Philadelphia, so we went online to look for tickets. We found some, paid $1 each over face (not bad for a sold-out big-name game like that!), and printed them out as we hurriedly threw on coats and grabbed hats & gloves. Parking was easy, it was a nice walk to the stadium, and we were able to see the paratroopers dropping in as we headed toward the gate.The gates actually opened four hours before the game, and there were all sorts of festivities that go along with the tradition of these two teams playing one another. They have a bunch of military vehicles you could look at. We made it to our seats just as the Secretary of Defense was doing the coin toss. We saw the flyover, neat aircraft!The game itself wasn't that good. The stands were filled and there were some excited fans, but overall they were pretty quiet, which I wasn't expecting. The teams did a lot of running, some bad passes, and two missed kicks. I got a good shot of kickoff and one kick, so here's those.Low score, so we didn't get to see a lot of celebration, but I did get one of each team waving its flags. It was neat to see the "student" sections since all the kids dressed in uniform.Lockheed is one of the sponsors for the game, so there were a lot of advertisements.I was disappointed in the halftime show, since it was a small drum & bugle corps and a ceremonial color guard show. It was quite cold, 38 degrees at kickoff, so by sundown it was probably freezing. Thank goodness for my gloves! Oh, and while we technically sat in the "Navy" section, we were definitely just rooting for the offense the entire time, haha.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holiday Party at Moshulu

Lockheed had this year's holiday party down in Philadelphia, at Moshulu. That was really exciting for us, since we've driven by the place a ton of times, since you can see it from I-95.
The Moshulu is a restaurant inside a ship. But not just any ship, the only four-masted sailing ship still afloat. It launched in 1904 and had all sorts of great adventures hauling coal and copper and lumber and grain all around the world. In 1975 it opened as a restaurant here in Philadelphia. From 1989 to 1994 it lay dormant, because a fire destroyed quite a bit of the ship. The current owner and restaurateur has been in charge since 2003, and it has quite the list of accolades. (Fun fact: you can see the ship in 1976's Rocky.)
Anyway, parking was a bit of a pain, but after we found a lot that wasn't over-crowded we were good. We went in and the entryway was very crowded, as people were picking up their nametags, checking their coats, and dropping off canned goods for the charity collection. We did all that and then went exploring for a while. Multiple floors and sections made for a lot of different areas, all with something else going on. Asian appetizers were in one area, the main buffets in another, dancing with a live band somewhere else, another area for dessert and drinks in another place. It was neat overall, and the floors were slanted and definitely well-worn.

Rob and a few other people arrived, so I went to hold a table (open seating all over the place, so it was hard to find seats) and the guys went to bring back appetizers. The fried shrimp was average, the chicken satay was strange, the wok-fried veggies were boring, the stuffed peppers were good, the Korean beef was GREAT.

After sampling the different appetizers, I pioneered our table's trip to the buffet line. It was a long wait, and there weren't many choices (prime rib, carved turkey, salmon, orzo, roasted vegetables, sliced potatoes in a cream sauce, and ciabatta rolls). I tried everything but the prime rib (which the guys definitely had plenty of)... the salmon was very plain, the turkey was fatty, the rolls were fresh, and the potatoes were delicious.

Dessert was a chocolate fountain with a bunch of dippables (no pound cake or bananas tho) and some petit fours. The chocolate mousse was good, the white gingerbread was strange, and the tiramisu went heavy on the Kahlua. Otherwise, nothing notable in the petit four department.

We spent a little time dancing, but it was rather crowded up there and the night wound down fast. We both meant to have someone take our photo (Jonathan was in suit-and-tie, I had a new holiday dress on), but we forgot until we were home and I had already changed clothes and taken down my hair. It was a good time, and quite a bit more fun than the last holiday office party we went to. The only strange thing was that, since the place was so sectioned, there were no overall announcements or door prizes or anything like that.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The First Snow of the Season

Well, exactly when predicted, it began snowing Saturday afternoon. Jonathan spotted it first. He glanced out the window and then we both went downstairs. We watched the transition from a rain/snow mix to straight snow. Big, chunky, wet flakes.Twenty minutes after it began, I headed out to run some errands, and by the time I got to the mall, it was coming down and sticking to cars in the parking lot. Two hours later when I went to leave, I had a little trouble distinguishing the car... all of them were topped with snow! It was still actively coming down, and I quickly learned that driving in the dark is much more complicated than in the daylight.When I got home, the bushes were covered, the grass was patchy, and the trees were glistening. We got less four inches (I'm guessing more like two and a half?), and it had stopped completely by the time we went to dinner. There was still some on the ground the next morning, but by Tuesday afternoon most of it was gone and we saw green grass again.This coming Sunday we are likely to have snow again... and it's on the forecast straight through Jonathan's birthday on the 17th! Exciting and scary at the same time. Friends and family continue to offer driving tips, but we're always open-eared to hear more!

Additionally, there's been some confusion. The return address on the Christmas cards we're sending out is Florida, yet our letter says we live in Pennsylvania. Our mail forwards from FL to PA, but if you want our direct address, we'll gladly give it to you. Shoot me an email. :) (if you don't have my email address, click here, and on the left there's a link to it. I don't want to put it on here directly because of spammers.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Atlantic City Airport & Spirit Airlines

Let's start off by remembering that Jonathan and I fly a LOT. Both together and individually, we've hit many of the major airports in this country, and quite a few small ones as well. We have favorite airports and airports we avoid. We've had our share of troubles at various airports (like flying back to Cali from FL in March), but this was a unique experience, and worth sharing if for no other reason than so you know to avoid this airport and airline (although we did find out that some people like Spirit).

Let's start by explaining why we decided to go to an airport 60 miles away when PHL is around the corner, and how we booked little-known Spirit. Well... it's kinda simple. We didn't get around to booking Thanksgiving flights until less than a month before the holiday. So we took the cheapest we could get... and even though it's about $100 more than we usually pay to fly roundtrip from Philly to Orlando, it was the cheapest flight for those dates by faaaaaaar. And then we actually forgot it was on Spirit. For some reason we both thought it was on Southwest, and planned accordingly (meaning we intended on checking a bag, since that's free on Southwest).

Well, we go to check-in online the day before the flight and realize that it's Spirit and that Spirit doesn't let you choose your own seat unless you want to pay an extra $13-30. Okay, so we use two computers and do every step of the check-in at the exact same time so we can get seated together. Miraculously, that worked out well... except for the fact that we ended up toward the very back of the plane (the same thing happened when we checked-in for the return flight).

Fast-forward to the next day where we've loaded up the car and entered the airport location into the GPS. We proceed with plenty of time on our side, since we had no idea how traffic would be. All goes pretty smoothly until the GPS turned out not to have an updated map of part of the Atlantic City Expressway. We went right instead of left at a fork (or vice-versa, I forget) and it ended up needing to re-route us. NORMALLY, this is not a big deal. BUT in New Jersey, there are no U-turns for much of the state. Instead, they have the jug-handle system where you take a right and do a loop to make a left or a U-turn. We've encountered this many times already (we have some in our area of PA as well), but on the specific road we were on, there was no way to do this for a good couple miles.

Okay, we get turned around and back on the right road. We're now like 15 miles from the airport and there's no signs for it yet. Then we get off the highway (and pay a 75-cent exact-change toll) and see a sign for the airport. But, as we're driving a rental, we need gas so we can return it full. And this is really where things start going wrong. Using the GPS to show the nearest station (there were no signs of either when we exited the expressway), we drove in the opposite direction as the airport sign. There is no gas station (or evidence of one long gone) at the specified location, so we continue onward. There's one whopping gas station, and, of course, the jug-handle gets the better of us again so we have to turn around a couple times to get there. And then to head back to the airport we have to go use another one to turn around again.

We get back to the place where we got off the highway, and still have a good amount of time to get to the airport, so while a little stressed at the failure of the GPS to find a gas station, no biggie. Until there are no more signs for the airport. We're following the GPS in lieu of signs, and it is just completely wrong. It took us down at least three wrong roads. It wanted us to turn twice where there were no roads... just fields. Once it wanted us to get back on the highway, but we knew that was wrong. We couldn't even see the airport. We saw no planes landing or taking off. There were no other cars around so we could say "let's follow them and hope for some luck!" We went for broke and tried just being smart about what direction the airport is in (in addition to the GPS, we also had a map up). That didn't help, either. Time was ticking away and I began to imagine us dashing through the airport (a la "Run, Run, Rudolph" from Home Alone) when we finally got there. We went back to the last sign we saw, and tried following it again. Nope... back out in the middle of nothing. We went to the sign before that one (and at this point we've gone quite a few extra miles) and tried following it again. I realized it was wrong about which exit to take from a roundabout when a non-reflective ACY sign caught my eye at the last moment. After that we were fine and led straight to the airport via signs (the GPS lost all credibility at this point... we need to upgrade the maps... it has been like three years since we bought it).

We think we're in the clear since it's a smaller airport. We figure dropping off the car will be quick and we'll just walk straight to the main building and proceed from there. Nope. We follow the signs for Avis (which are poorly marked) and end up in a parking garage. No signs, nobody in the booths, nobody around at all, except one couple heading into a vehicle. We decide to park and I unload the car as Jonathan tried to figure out where in the world to turn it in. As it turns out, you fill out all the info yourself (odometer, gas reading, etc.), then drop off your card and keys inside the building. So, as he did that, I took as much as I could and made for the terminal (we had to get one bag checked-in on time). Of course I was given bad directions to Spirit's check-in... that's just the kind of luck we were having. I make it to the area where we need to drop off the bag, but there's a line. I look at my watch and realize that I'm probably fine... but still antsy. I fill out the stuff (again, mind you) and wait for the name to be called when Jonathan arrived.

There was no line for security, but it still took a really long time. The bananas I had in my shoulder bag set off some concern by the x-ray guy, so I was pulled aside to to be checked further. In the end they swabbed my bag and then let me go. We got to the terminal and after a few minutes they were announcing that they do free gate-checking if anyone would like to have that comfort. We jumped at the chance. (if you're unaware, gate-checking allows you to have them put a carry-on sized bag into the luggage compartment for no charge. You keep it until you get to the gate, and it's pulled off right away and you have it as soon as you come out of the gate at your destination. It's nice so you don't have to lug it through the narrow aisle and then lift it up to fit into the overhead bins.)

The begin to call the zones, and it's done very poorly. They call for 1, then add in 2, 3, AND 4 all at once, so it gets unmanageable. Regardless, we board without incident and quickly find ourselves in one of the smallest planes (comfort-wise) EVER. My shoulder bag wouldn't even fit under the seat, and Jonathan was hard-pressed to get his backpack under there. The curve of the wall made the window seat a little unfriendly, and the armrests didn't go completely vertical to get out of the way. My knees hit the seat in front of me... I can't imagine how smushed someone over 6 feet tall would be!

Upon takeoff we were told that it would be a smooth flight. It wasn't. Almost the entire way it was rather bumpy. Beverages (even water) were $3. The landing was really rough, and the plane did an uneven bounce after touching down.

We get off the plane only to be told that when Spirit "gate-checks," you claim your items at baggage. So we're off to baggage, where the conveyor belt was having issues. Eventually we get our items with no problem (all three bags ended up being within the first 20 items or so), but by that point we were really in no mood to deal with any other obstacles anyway!!

Fast-forward ten days. We're in Orlando taking off on Spirit, heading for Atlantic City. No problems checking in or going through security (MCO really is an awesome airport). Boarding had a similar problem to last time, but we got up during "zone 1" and just stood near the line until "2 and 3" were added. No idea why they do this. The plane was again small, but the last few rows (we were in 24 again) either had missing people or weren't sold, so there was enough space. My bag fit under the seat without incident, and Jonathan just put his in the overhead bin to avoid the potential complications.

The flight was smooth and seemed to pass by relatively quickly (of course there were many fewer crying babies than last time, haha). When we landed in ACY, the path to baggage claim was slow and crowded. For some reason we had to go through a tube-like vertical space that completely enclosed before letting you out again before we could reach the bag room. Items were already all over the conveyor belt, but it wasn't moving and we couldn't reach either of our "gate-checked" bags. After a few minutes, Jonathan pulled off our bags as soon as they came close enough, in case the belt stopped moving again, LoL. We walked over to the rental car building, were given a Hyundai Sonata (only full-size car left), and drove nearly a mile before the GPS found us and we could be on our way home.

We've completely black-listed that airport, and we're so against the airline that we didn't even bother to create accounts to keep track of the miles we just accrued. Maybe it's a fluke, but we doubt it.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Black Friday 2009

So for some reason it really only came to light for me this year that not everyone shops on the day after Thanksgiving. I mean, I've known a lot of older people who don't want to get up and fight the crowds and the cold... but I just kinda assumed that since all of my friends and I have done it for about ten years now that everyone our age did it. Apparently not, LoL.

Since we were down in Fort Pierce for Thanksgiving, Jonathan and I went shopping in Vero Beach. It took some serious thought since we couldn't remember where a lot of stores were (like Rack Room or Toys R Us and Sports Authority... the latter two ended up being closed down anyway). There were no super-sales on items we were after, so we didn't plan on being at any stores in particular for opening (which we've had a good deal of success with in the past). We got up at 5am and were at the Indian River Mall by 5:45 or so.

We hit JC Penney first, but decided against the two items we were headed for. The first didn't seem to be high quality, and the second I was kinda wavering on anyway. We did pick up a couple pairs of pants that Jonathan found while I tried on some boots. Then we went to Rack Room Shoes... the advertisement had some great pairs of men's shoes and some cute boots. The shoes ended up being junky and the boots I had my eye on ended up being children's. But, we both found pairs of boots on sale, and with an additional 20% off coupon I had, it was like $55 for two pairs of boots! We were both kinda psyched. Then we went to Sears before leaving the mall. We ended up not buying our planned item there either... too heavy to bring back to Pennsylvania.

We then split up... I went to Beall's and Target, Jonathan went to Home Depot (and tried to go to Toys R Us before figuring out it was gone). I was on the lookout for a holiday dress, but ended up buying a cruise-wear dress instead (at 66% off). Target was out of all the items I was looking for (but they had been open for almost 4 hours by that point, so that's fair). Home Depot was out of Jonathan's top item, but he was able to grab two others, which have already come in handy, strangely enough. We also hit up Walgreens, hoping that they'd have more on sale than what was actually in the flyer... but no luck. We did grab a few frozen pizzas (they were 3 for the price of 1), but no cards or wrapping paper or bows (standard items I grab on Black Friday from Walgreens).

While it was rather strange not to be loaded down with bags from ten stores by the time we were done, it sure was nice to sleep until 5am (I am often at the first location by then) and then be home for a nap by 9am (I am usually out past noon)!

I was actually able to get my Toys R Us item the next day in Melbourne, since it wasn't a doorbuster but part of a two-day sale. We also got to try out those wavy skateboards (I don't know if they're called RipSticks or if that's just a brand of them?)... you know, the kind where the kids just wiggle and they move along... they're really hard. It took me a few minutes just to figure out how to get on and balance (the front and back footpads swivel independently). I was able to go about 18 inches before falling over, LoL. Jonathan got the hang of it a bit better and managed to go about eight or ten feet. Joe didn't really get the hang of even getting on it, LoL.