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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Horrors of the Taco Bell Taste Test

I got paid $25 bucks to eat 2 burritos today. You read that correctly-As part of Taco Bell "experimenting" with some new menu items I was selected to visit the Irvine Headquarters and take part in the program. The Taco Bell headquarters was big nice corporate building with plenty of big tvs that played nothing but Taco Bell Commercials over and over and over again. I was wondering if every 7 or 8 minutes they were going to show a 3 minute snippet of scenes from "How I met Your Mother" or "American Idol."

After herding our group into a very futuristic looking elevator we entered a room that was pretty much what you would expect in a test room with a row of 10 or so side to side cubicles(or in this case side-icles) with a cup of water, a saltine, and a door connected to the wall in which the people from behind would slide out the franchises latest concoctions and a computer monitor and keyboard where we could enter our thoughts on the various products. My Keyboard looked like it needed some cleaning and I secretly longed for a bottle of Purell or a Lysol Wipe. My computer at home looked cleaner and I've got 8 and 4 Year old Sons who regularly sneeze and cough on it as they play Club Penguin.

Burrito A- Your typical Taco Bell Style Burrito with ground beef, rice, and Cheese Whip. Yes thats what I refer to Taco Bell's cheese as. I am sure they refer to it as nacho creamy cheese sauce or some other bastardization of what in reality is probably the lowest grade cheese product one could possibly ingest. Being in Southern California why anyone in their right mind would prefer this over real grated cheese served everywhere else including Del Taco, the Bells main competitor, is rightfully well beyond my overall scope of reasoning. The Beef was good with a nice balance of spice and consistency but along with the aforementioned horror that that is the cheese sauce was also some Taco Bell rice which to me, had an overly fiberous grit like quality not too much different then vacuum packed precooked rice that requires no cooking at all. All in all pretty much what you'd expect from a bunch of Corporate Suits sitting in a conference room overlooking the 5 freeway and the Irvine Spectrum with a goal of "How can we create the most cost effective burrito using the rock bottom cheapeast ingredients yet make it minimally passable to the average high school student in California or average fast foot eater in the MidWest."

Burrito B came around and while they said they were looking for strictly quality of Beef questions, the second burrito had very little rice, much more corporate cheese product, and a meat that was much smaller in grain size with a higher water/liquid content. After a bite or two I decided this was very easily a burrito in which the filling could be simply eaten with a plastic spoon and at the end of the day the tortilla serving more as a delivery vessel then anything else. Who knows-the styrofoam cup on Cup of Noodles may have more flavor and very possibly could be a much healthier alternative. Burrito B also had a lot more Corporate Cheese Whip which once mingled with the smaller, watterier ground beef ended up being what one could best summate as "industrial beef and cheese product."

I used to be a Taco Bell fan back in the day but once again they are now clearly catering to a crowd with zero regard for flavor, authenticity, health factors, and pretty much anything that may remotely hit a small percentage higher then that of rock bottom. Im really surprised at this point why Taco Bell doesnt simply Co-op with AM/PM or 7/11 as the Nacho Cheese in any of those places really cant fall much lower then the Corporate Cheese Whip being served at Taco Bell. I could honestly make a better taco using ingredients from HomeTown Buffett-a franchise that makes no bones about catering to Seniors and boasting about their use of "For Industrial Use Only" Style of ingredients.

I almost envision a full blown gasoline tanker filled with nothing but corporate cheese whip with a dirty hose on the end of the tank, while a beer bellied guy in orange stained blue overalls gets out, flips the cover of a huge holding tank, and uses his dirty boot to hit the on/off switch while a stream of Corporate Cheese Whip fills the coffers of Taco Bell's cheese holding tanks around the Nation. Have you ever seen the guy who cleans out porta pottys? Same Principle, Same Result...only one guy takes **** out and the other puts **** in. On the bright side $25 bucks is $25 bucks. I figure after $10 bucks on ipecac and an enema Ill still have $15 to go to Albertos with.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

TJs Wine Home Run and another Beef Palace plug....

Was in Huntington Beach the other day to visit my parents and stopped by Trader Joes. I picked up a bottle of BearBoat Syrah for 3.99 based on a workers recommendation. Did some homework and found this is wine is going for $20 bucks on some wine sites.  Opened and aerated it and it without question is a homerun of a wine bargain at $3.99 a bottle. At $20 you would think it was a good bottle for the price point; at $10 you would think it a best $3.99 get it, get it now, get it in vast quantities.

Black Pepper Sausage.....el yum yum
Also stopped by Beef Palace to pick up a chicken to chicken in town and the butcher comped me one of their black pepper sausage. Check out the pic....I will be buying more sausages in the future. $5.99 a pound is well worth it for this quality of meat but thats not surprising since the Beef Palace rocks.  Click the pic to see the details...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lopez Lake Epilogue-The Scenic Route isn't always so......

continued From....

Lopez Lake Day 3

We woke up in the AM and once again it seemed colder then the night was easy to take knowing we wouldnt have to do it again and besides-living in CA cold means anything below 55degrees. We packed up the family truckster, filled up the gas tank, stopped by Mcdonalds and away we went South on the 101 looking forward to stopping by the Santa Barbara pier for a chance to stretch the legs and grab a bite before making our way home.

Making the exit Tomoko mentioned she wanted to see the Santa Barbara Mission and on the way we also saw the Museum of Natural History in the area as well. Passing the Mission we both loved the dual spires but also thought it may not be as fun for the kids as the museum. Alex mentioned since we already went to the mission in San Juan Capistrano that he wanted to see the museum.

We parked, paid, and 3 hours later left with me looking at my watch thinking "we still need to go to the pier, eat, and then drive back....which means basically Id be getting home at 8pm instead of our 4-5 pm time. Oh well....nothing wrong with prolonging the vacation I suppose.

We stopped at the mission where I snapped some pics and left to find the pier. I always like Santa Barbara pier if not for the end section of the pier were the pier designers felt maybe it wasn't so important to have things like rails to separate people on the pier from falling into the ocean.  And now that I had kids made it clear and in no uncertain terms that no one was to run on the pier or even walk in front of us for that matter.

Driving through town It was a bit different then I last remembered with more homeless and panhandlers then I remembered. As a matter of fact I had to tip my cap to the creativity of some of them as they had a variety of crudely assembled carnival style games on the sand below the pier. There were target games with a bullseye with a piece of cardboard reading "Hit the Bullseye!" as well as a tripod made of sticks and an empty can with the same throw the coin type promotion. Alex couldnt take not playing one of the games so decided this was the opportunity to throw a japanese coin he had with him.  I've always said its never too late to give a homeless person a lesson in international currency. I considered trying to hit the bullseye and then demanding some type of stuffed animal or the contents of the cup that marked the bullseye.

Walking by the seafood restaurants and in particular the Fish n Chip stand almost turned my stomach given the previous days foray in the realm of ultra rich chowder and slightly reheated fish and chips later in the day. And once again no family walk would be complete without an inviting candy or ice cream shop to beckon them in. At the end of the pier we watched some of the fisherman and overhead some of them bemoaning the lack of fish on this day.

Leaving the pier we were lucky to stumble across a pizza place that was built from an old light house. From the outside you would have thought it a bit more upscale but looking at the menu found we still had 15  minutes left to order the salad, pizza, drink lunch special.  The kids were very and all you can drink soda. I was happy-I could get a nice salad(I always tend to yearn for roughage when camping) and a place to sit. Wont give a full on review but loved the interior of the place but could have done without the moss green littered filled drainage ditch that the patio offered some not so stunning views of.

Back on the 101South I decided it may be fun to take the scenic coastal route through Ventura expecting it be to similar to the drive from Seal Beach, through HB, through Newport and Laguna....truth be told the drive lacked scenery and large swaths of coast as well for that matter. Driving through Ventura I was shocked to see how shabby it was and not to mention the plethora of thrift and 2nd hand shops as well as homeless everywhere...I mean everywhere. It looked like at one time it was probably a cool little city but it clearly had seen better days-it was like Frisco only with better parking. My older brother lived in this city once upon a time and driving through imagined what life might have been like had I grew up here instead of Huntington.

We stayed on the coastal drive and finally started to see some coast but not before stopping by another mcdonalds for an iced coffee as the post lunch carb intake was dragging down my energy levels. Fueled by the coffee we continued our coastal jaunt and once again saw very little coast and I really began to question exactly what definition of "scenic" city planners had read when coming up with this little drive on Baltic and Mediterranean Avenue. Finally I had enough and lamented my decision and coming across a large street I  recognized from the map made a left and was treated to another wonderful, scenic trip through downtown Oxnard. Seeing the signs for Oxnard, Tomoko said "dont they have a famous college here?" I spent the next 10 or so minutes going some of the slight regional between Oxford and Oxnard. Later we both laughed when we actually did stumble across Oxnard College. I wondered if they had a rowing team.

We drove and drove and drove East hoping to find the onramp. After a while I began to wonder if something had gone horribly wrong and rolled the dice by asking the goth girl in the car next to us if I was on the right track....she put down the chicken wing she was eating and confirmed we were indeed on the right track but not before first spitting a bit of cartilage from the hot wing into her hand and washing it down with a Diet Soda. Nice Gal though....

Finally after our scenic trip through Hades....I mean Oxnard we found the highway again and I was never so proud to find it. Reminded me of the time as teenagers we drove to LA on a 1/4 tank of gas and on the return trip with the gas gauge on E and the light on-saw the sigh that read "Now Leaving Compton" as the engine continued to purr and take us back home.

And then as we entered LA were lucky enough to hit what remained of rush hour traffic-was a journey well planned and played immaculately. I began to feel the car seat actually conforming to the curve of my ass and though it wasnt hot-the lack of air circulation meant some parts of the anatomy about as steamy as a Florida
swamp. I couldnt wait to get home and have a bowl of cold cereal and a lukewarm shower-90 or so minutes later....I did just that.
The Wash Basin from Mission Santa Barbara...I figured in Black and White and a funky angle it might look cool...
the jury is still out.

Fountain.....yeah, just a fountain.

The Museum was having a special program about butterflys....this was the best of them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lopez Lake Day 3-Pismo Beach and all the clams that you can eat

Continued from

I awoke cold, stiff, slight back ache, a stuffy nose, and couldnt wait to feel the warmth of the sun bask upon my glorious face. Seems like each night we spent the colder it got and once again our tent while spacious is better suited towards desert and higher temperature camping as opposed to some of the lower temps we've experienced as of late.

I got up and didnt bother with the japanese coffee contraption and headed straight for the instant coffee...even taking the time to heat some warm milk up as well as I heard the wife waking up and thought she would appreciate the gesture. With the task of making a Warming, Soothing, Caffeinated Beverage out of the way I started making breakfast using the leftover fajitas, the rest of the pre cooked hashbrowns, and then adding as many eggs as could fit in the skillet. Mighty tasty but once again camp food always tastes better then food cooked at home for whatever reason.

Bellies full, off we went to the grand journey to Pismo Beach taking the same route we took to hit the groceries the previous day. Hitting Pismo, Tomoko mentioned how much the area reminded her of Seal Beach and how it had a similar vibe. I would agree a bit but sadly Pismo reminded me more of Huntington before development and Starbucks entered the picture. We strolled down Pomeroy Ave and took in all the shops they offered and meandered past the Splash Cafe where we had planned to lunch. I took in the cafe and couldnt wait to sample the world famous clam chowder once again but having eaten not an hour earlier none of us were quite ready. I was hoping to take the Kids to arcade in  one of the buildings but sadly it was closed on this weekday. I saw through the window and apart from a few ticket dispensing type games looked like they had all the same games they had when I last visited in 1999 or whenever it was.

We made it to the pier and the kids moaned a bit wanting to play in the sand and water but pointing out that the pier wasnt nearly as long as Huntington's Beach they went with...Im pretty sure them seeing a snack bar on the end had something to do with it. I looked north towards Morro Bay and envisioned what living life in this area must be like and remember the strange conversation with a fellow camper the day previous who mentioned he lived in Grover Beach tried to put aside the notion that not all people in this area had the unique manner of speech and odd look in his eye. He asked where we from and when I mentioned OC and growing up in Huntington Beach he said "I was carjacked one time in Huntington Beach and almost killed." I thought of replying with "well I hope it wasnt anybody I know" but decided not best to joke with an odd stranger in a semi-desolate part of a San Luis Obispo County campground.

For some reason this stand reminded me of a Fish n Chip stand you'd see in  London...I guess however since Ive never been to  London.
Anyhow we walked the pier and I snapped some picture of the snack bar, a pelican sitting on the pier railing while a fisherman sat with pole in the water not 3 feet over, and a heavy set older latina women who I snapped for no particular reason.

Pelican and Fisherman co-exist in this harmonious world of wonder.
Can we have Peace on Earth?
We enjoyed the view and slowly made our way back to the shore to take the kids to the sand under the guise of digging for Pismo Clams. Reaching the sand Tomoko and I commented on how the grain of the sand was akin to baby powder...arguably the softest beach sand Ive ever felt. I wanted to lay out a huge blanket and catnap under the sun but what we want to do and what we can do are two very different things with an 8 and 4 year old.

My attempt at a Panorama Shot.
We watched the kids play at the shore and start digging feverishly to try and find a clam while tomoko and I enjoyed the sound of the ocean, the soft gentle breeze, and the brief respite from the harsh rustica offered via campsite. Finally we decided to head to the Splash Cafe.....and it did not disappoint.

In spite of the 10-15 minute wait outside we found a table and ordered 2 chowders, 1 Fish and Chips, a couple of sodas and 1 Fat Tire that Tomoko and I shared. The first bite of the chowder nothing short of pure unadulterated culinary bliss with a creamy smack in the face that countered nicely with the savory herb used in the chowder and the cool brine and texture offered by the shrimp and crab mixture. Alex talked about how good it was between bites and Tomoko said it was clearly the best chowder she had ever had. The Fish and Chips were good as well with the exception of the Tartar Sauce which was nothing special....Almost tasted like your typical store bought brand of tarter sauce or put to even a more basic critique- miracle whip mixed with relish.  Since my Pantry Chef days of working at Delaneys I expect more a tarter sauce...I want bits of onion along with the occasional caper or two. All in all a small complaint as I am sure 90% of the people are ordering the chowder. Upon retrospect I would have liked to try their cocktail sauce as well. We left with belly full and ready to make the drive back to town to hang on main street.
Clam Chowder in Bread Bowl topped with Shrimp and Crab.....drool. 

This sign for Highway 1 looked better in Black and White then color.

Back on Grand Ave in Arroyo Grande we walked around the town a bit walking over one of the many historic bridges that cross the creek that flows over a deep ravine. We stopped at one bridge that a bronze historical marker on that denoted the bridge was built in 1918...but then washed away in the great storm of 23 and again in 64. The new bridge was a state of the art replica and built on conjunction with sponsorship of the local Der Weinerschitzel unit#123. Good Times.

Checking our watches we realized we were late for the in camp water slide. Doing a cost benefit/time analysis we decided it would be cheaper to simply take the kids to the local boomers for miniature golf. I found one up the road in santa maria via the cell phone app and after a short drive the 4 of us were golfing on what may be the worst kept boomers in California with the course littered with leaves and branches and a shortage of staff meant us waiting about 10 minutes before we saw anyone at the counter. Nonetheless we played and had a great time and gave Dustin a big boy sticker for coming 2nd overall. I found a wall poster that had an annoucement for boomers text club which I joined on the spot and received a message in seconds for a free popcorn. After another 10 minute wait we got our popcorn. Truth be told I really was just going to leave but Alex hearing about the popcorn would not let that be a possibility. I concerned on a couple of occasions simply walking behind the counter and getting my G D popcorn but wasnt sure about the example that would set for the kids. Finally we got it and as we has our cooler in the van already we all shared a big gatorade on the trip back to camp. 

Back at camp we wrapped our leftover Fish N Chips in Foil and threw them on the fire but it was certainly a case of the "In N Out Effect" in which the fries had a life span of about 5 minutes and any amount of time after meant consumption not recommended. Good thing it was our last night.

We got the kids to bed and once again Tomoko and I enjoyed watching the stars sans moon in one of california's least light polluted areas. As a matter of fact in the hour we sat looking at the sky we counted about 5 or 6 shooting stars between the two of us and I once again reminded myself that one day I need to learn how to properly work my telescope I was given as a gift. Ive tried it on a couple of occasions however never using a telescope only managed to see pitch black.

We each had a glass of wine and took it all in as it would be our last night of our journey with the ride back still to go.