Fast Food Perfection


I was shocked to discover this last week how many among my family, friends and colleagues have never had a McGriddle from McDonalds.  Here I was, innocently going through life assuming that everybody appreciated this lovely little concoction as much as I, only to find out that there are many who didn't even know what I was talking about.  And now, because of these conversations I've had (more on these conversations later) I feel a moral responsibility to inform the world about the unparalleled goodness that is a McDonalds McGriddle breakfast sandwich.

While the concept seems pretty simple (basically a McMuffin breakfast sandwich, but with pancakes instead of the muffin) the unexpected synergy that comes from the combination and the delight that you feel when you realize that the pancakes have maple syrup cooked right in makes for a fantastic experience.  Let's be honest, who doesn't love to eat a big pancake breakfast with bacon and eggs, especially when the syrup takes over your plate and sweetens everything up.  The McGriddle is sort of like the Turkey dinner gum from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (remember, Violet Beauregard turns into a blueberry in her haste to be the first to try it).  Anyway, the magical McGriddle is like a whole pancake breakfast wrapped up in a little sandwich.  You can get several combinations, but I am partial to the sausage, egg and cheese variety.

Now, back to my recent conversations.  I decided one morning as I drove to work enjoying some McGriddle goodness that I simply had to discover how to make a McGriddle myself.  I would eat them every morning if I could (and if my heart wouldn't explode within a couple months) but they aren't cheap, so I decided I would figure out how to make them at home.  I discussed this with the guys at work, and with Suzie to see if anybody had any insight to offer and to see if I was the only one who dreams about these little things.  Basically, those who had tried them love them and the rest of the world just doesn't know yet that they love them because they haven't tried them.  Unfortunately, nobody was able to offer any insight into how one might go about creating a McGriddle from scratch.  Furthermore, it turns out, there isn't a simple recipe to make them like you can find on Google for most restaurant yummies.  No, the McGriddle is apparently the result of years of painstaking scientific research.  That's's Science!!  It's not an easy thing to make a delicious little pancake that tastes like real maple syrup, but doesn't get your fingers all sticky and doesn't overwhelm the taste of everything else in the sandwich.  You can try adding syrup to the batter, but it changes the flavor and eventually, if you put too much, starts to make everything sticky and they won't cook right.  So McDs R&D department came up with some sort of wonderful maple syrup pellet that gets mixed into the batter to give it the flavor.  You can see them when you bite into it (they almost look like blueberries in fake blueberry muffin mix).  I eventually found a couple of websites with accounts of others who had tried to recreate a McGriddle at home.  The most successful attempts involved boiling down maple syrup until you get a sort of syrup candy which can be broken up into little bits and mixed into the batter.  I decided that I just had to try.

I have to say thank you so Suz, who let me experiment in our kitchen with A LOT of maple syrup over the last couple of weeks.  First I tried making my own maple syrup from scratch, but after many minutes of boiling and watching one of those candy thermometer thingies really closely, the whole potful of stuff instantly changed to a pot full of sugar.  It was really strange, and I'm sure it defied several known laws of physics and science (I hope Jason, the Chemical Engineer and pretty good cook, never reads this).  My next several attempts took the simpler route of boiling off-the-shelf pancake syrup down until it started turning candyish (somewhere between hard ball stage and soft crack stage for those of you who actually know something about baking).  After 4 or 5 tries, I ended up with a pretty good consistency that I was able to freeze and crunch up into tiny bits, but was still sort of soft and wouldn't be gritty and crunchy in the final pancake.

Last night I finally tried my first attempt at the whole shebang.  I mixed up some regular old bisquick pancake batter and mixed in a quarter cup of maple syrup and then added some of my wonderful syrup crystals.  I fried some eggs and bacon for filler and used your basic sliced/wrapped cheese that isn't really cheese.  I have to say, I was quite satisfied with the result.  It's obvious that I need to mix in a lot more of the crystals to get it just right, but the bites that did get some of the yummy little cooked in nuggets were really similar to the real thing.  I think I'll probably try again this week and, if all goes well, I'm thinking about making these for everybody when me and my siblings get together at a cabin in the woods at the end of the week.

So there you have my ode to the McGriddle and a first-hand account of my own quest to recreate the world's most underrated fast food menu item in my own home.  For those that have yet to experience McGriddle goodness, I strongly recommend you treat yourself this week and report back here with a comment about your experience (unless you're going to be one of those party poopers that says " was ok", in which case we'll know you're a liar and will have to publicly call you out on this blog).  And those of you who already know how amazing these things are, back me up here.

Good Music


So anybody who would be reading my blog probably knows that I love music.  Ever since I was 8 or 9, I've loved listening to all types of music and have spent countless hours browsing record/tape/cd stores and now online music services.  My reason for doing this, of course, is to find those absolute gems of musical perfection that pop up every once in a while on obscure and little known albums.  Some of my favorite albums and songs are those that most people have never heard of.  I swear it's not one of those "I love it because it's obscure and I have an insecurity issue that requires me to talk about and obsess over strange and obscure things" like a lot of the weirdos, punks and depressed kids in high school.  I really, really love some out-there stuff (like the Mighty Lemon Drops - World Without End), but likewise I really enjoy some very mainstream, overplayed stuff as well (Like the 2nd Kelly Clarkson album).  I'm just fascinated and grateful that I am wired in such a way that certain music speaks to my soul and brings me joy (I'll even admit that I've actually cried just from listening to music).  I don't find nearly as many of the unknown gems these days since I don't spend much time hanging out at the mall anymore and my awesome college dream job at Budget Tapes and Records is now several chapters back in my life story, but I still find myself wandering every once in a while through the MP3 download store, partaking of the free tracks and listening to the 30-second clips of the personalized recommendations they shove in my face.  It's a music lover's paradise!

Anyway, that was an extremely long introduction to a blog entry that I meant to write months ago, but just came back to my mind this week as I was flying to Chicago for a business trip.  I was checking my phone for some good tunes to block out all of those airplane sounds that can make you really annoyed and slightly claustrophobic if you start paying attention to them.  I put on an album that I bought a couple of months ago after downloading a freebie track on Amazon.  The album is "Keep Color" from The Republic Tigers.  This is just a great album (that word is suddenly sounding weird to the kids still use the word album today even though it's just a collection of binary

My best description of the music, which will likely not help any of you at all, is that they sound like a mix of Deathcab for Cutie with better harmonies and Blue October without so much anger and resentment.  I won't say that the album is all great, but there are a handful of songs that are just awesome and can be replayed over and over.  The freebie that I started with was "Buildings and Mountains" and if you listen to that one, I think you'll understand why I wanted to hear more.  It almost sounds like a cool 70's folk song, but has some interesting electronic sounds and layered vocals to make it modern.  Just a near-perfect alternative radio song.  You can hear this song and a couple of other good ones (though not my faves) on their MySpace page.  The band is still small enough that they don't seem to have an official homepage (at least not one that comes up on the first page of a Google search, and, let's be honest, if it's not on the first page of a Google search, it might as well not exist).  Or you can listen to the 30-second clips on Amazon.  My other favorites are "Give Arm to its Socket" with a funky tempo change that I love, the kind of spacy "Contortionists" and the totally-different-from-the-rest-of-the-album-but-still-great "Golden Sand" (very Peter Murphy-esque Nat).

Anyway, there you go.  Blog entry number 3.  I think this whole "Music I'm Currently Listening To" theme might end up being one of my oft-used cop-outs when I can't think of something earth-shattering, groundbreaking or thought-provoking.

iPhone Envy


It has taken a great deal of soul-searching and courage for me to finally write blog entry number 2.  First of all, I feel like I set the expectation way to high with my first entry, and just couldn't come up with a 2nd blogworthy topic.  Then, once I decided what I needed to write about, I nearly chickened out, but I decided it's something I need to do...for my own cathartic value if nothing else.

Many of you know I'm kind of a gadget geek.  I don't really spend a lot of money on gadgets, but I really like to stay up on all the newest, coolest geek toys and have been known to obsess at times over a well designed gizmo.  I remember saving my lawn mowing money as a 15 year-old so I could buy my own Sony CD player (which I spliced into an old record player/amplifier that Aunt Calene gave me).  I remember getting very excited in college when I bought my first DVD player, not so I could watch DVDs, but because it was the first and only model at the time that could play MP3 files (before MP3s were cool).

My latest gadget and tech obsession is my totally awesome <a href="" target="_blank">HTC G1 (The Google Phone)</a> running the Android OS 1.5.  This phone can do anything.  It scans barcodes and looks things up for you on the web to make sure you're getting a good deal (Suz and I used this a lot while Christmas shopping in December).  It will search by voice command and give you directions to any place using gps and Google Maps and even has a sky map that you just hold up to the sky and since it knows where you are and what direction you're standing and everything, it will tell you what star/planet/constellation you're looking at.  It's incredible.  The only thing is, it's sort of the not-as-cool kid in class who knows everything and can answer any question, but wears sweaters with colorful abstract patterns on them.  You totally want to study with this kid and have him in your group when you're working on a group project, but he's not the kid you want to be seen with later at the football game.  That other cool kid is, of course, the iPhone.

Again, I totally love my phone and don't regret getting it, but that iPhone is just so shiny and sleek and smooth and flawless and...did I already say shiny?  And the apps that you see on TV and on others' iPhones are just so well built and handsome (yes...I did just use the word handsome to describe mobile phone software).  Now of course I can rattle off half a dozen things my phone can do that an iPhone can't (the list was a dozen before the release of the new iPhone 3G S this week) and yet I continue to have these regular episodes of iPhone envy, which brings me to the larger issue at hand here.

I'm just not sure I'm cool enough to be a Mac, iPhone person.  And this is where my deep-seated feelings toward Apple are rooted and why their cute "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" ad campaign has totally backfired when it comes to consumers like me.  Sure, I could get one of these things, just like anybody else (I actually do own an iPod), but just owning one of them will not make me as cool as the guy in the Mac commercials.  I'm pretty sure I have more in common with the PC guy and would probably end up feeling like a total poser if I did get one.  So am I destined to always have the smart, sweater-kid phone?  Not necessarily.  It is entirely possible that as soon as my T-mobile contract is up that I will just give in and get one.  It wouldn't be the first time I've stepped outside of my own personal coolness boundaries (some of you may remember that whole post-mission long hair thing).  But I would prefer that, between now and then, somebody catch up with Apple in the slick design department and come out with that totally killer Android phone that I can really get excited about in all aspects, so that I can be confident enough to carry it around in my hand all day like those dang smug iPhone users do.

Where do I start?


I used to think that people with personal blogs fancied themselves a little too much to believe that the rest of the Internet world actually cared what they have to say.  I guess my view has changed somewhat over the past couple of years as it has become a simple thing to sign up for blogger/blogspot accounts and as I've watched friends and family spill their guts for the civilized world to see.  I kind of see it now as a way of writing and publishing your own autobiography as you're living life.  We all know we should be recording our deepest thoughts and passions in a personal journal, but since none of us remember how to write on paper anymore, why not do it on the computer and why not put it out there where family, friends and wierdo stalker people can enjoy it as well.

Now, just for the record, I actually had a blog set up about 5 years ago, but, as I said, I didn't really see any point in posting my own personal rants, so I used it as a family message board for a year or so and then converted it into my full-blown family forum and meeting place that now exists.  But I've had a few things happen lately that made me realize that 1) as a professional web developer, I should have some sort of web presence and 2) I actually love to write and might as well create an outlet for that urge and 3) I don't see my siblings/parents/aunts/uncles/friends as much as I'd like and it wouldn't hurt to give them all a little news about me and my family every now and then.

And so begins the personal blog of me.

Now, a few notes about the blog itself.  It's based on a great piece of open-source blogging software called BlogCFC written by a great guy and hard-core geek named Ray Camden. (UPDATE: I'm no longer using BlogCFC, but Ray is still a great guy.)  Next, the images in the page header are all images taken by me that represent some place or moment in my life that has significant meaning to me.  They're not all great pictures and a real photographer could have done so much more with these moments, but I don't really care.  These are the bits of my life that I always want to remember, and what better way to remember than to have them at the top of my personal homepage.  Now I say images (plural) because I've actually programmed this page to pull one of 10 or so random images each time you come to the page.  In fact, if you refresh the page right now, you'll most likely see a different image.  I plan to keep adding to the collection of images that are used in the header as I capture new moments.  Also, I was going to give credit for the title of this website, "A Good Life...all in all", but first I'm going to see if anybody besides my wife knows where it comes from.  Those who know me well should be able to come up with the source without too much trouble.

So anyway, I hope that this site will be of interest to a few people out there in interweb land.  But if not, that's ok.  It's really more for me than anything, so that I can liberate some of the thoughts and feelings that come to me which normally stay all cooped up inside my head or which my patient wife has to sit and listen to while she tries to get things done.  I'm sure I'll cover wide-ranging topics, but for now, I've created the following as my list of entry categories: General Musing, Family, Music, Soapbox, and Tech.  We'll see how far that gets me.