Sunday, November 29, 2009

many, many things...

i'm sure you've noticed the past couple blog updates, but you may be wondering what else julie and i have been up to over the past couple weeks.   i'll try to do this chronologically.  :)

julie and i celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary on november 3.  one of the things we did was go to the tempe improv a few weekends ago and saw comedian ralphie may put on a show.  he was quite funny, even heckling some of the audience members.  that following weekend, julie & i had a fun time in payson, az and flagstaff, az celebrating our 2nd wedding anniversary and my new job.   this was my first time to flagstaff.  it was nice and cold there, since it's high up in the mountains.   when we arrived in flagstaff, our 1st stop was at the beaver street brewery for lunch.  we had some great, yummy, sweet chili that hit the spot. we then went to the museum of northern arizona, where we learned about the history of native americans in the area, as well as a bit of cowboy life.  we also ate at a couple places that have been featured on diners, drive-ins & dives.  

we spent thanksgiving weekend here in phoenix.  julie's aunt kathy flew from washington d.c. for the holiday.  it was the 1st time since spring 2006 that we had seen her, when we went to d.c. to see her.  naturally we had lots of turkey in the midst of a very full house.  we also watched the detroit lions do the 1 thing they are very good at...lose.  saturday afternoon we went to the final arizona state football game of the season, when they played their rivals the university of arizona.  what did they do?  they lost, too.  walking into the game was fairly entertaining, as julie's dad trash-talked some U of A fans on our way to the stadium.  and yes, her family is VERY passionate about ASU.  i find it quite entertaining.

julie and i have decided on a church home.  we've decided on dayspring umc.  we've gone there for several sundays, and we like what it has to offer.  julie has known the senior pastor, jane, for quite a while.  i've found that i really like her sermons.  she doesn't do the normal sermon of starting with a story or joke related to the sermon, then transitioning into the meat of her sermon.  she seems to pick a topic or theme, and weave her sermon around that.  today's sermon was based on hope.  which was very topical, considering it was the 1st sunday of advent.   we thank you if you've been praying for us in our search for a church home. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

BzzAgent - Softsoap

I've been part of a website called BzzAgent which is a website promoting products via word of mouth.  Here's how being a BzzAgent works:

1- sign up for agent status at the BzzAgent Website
2- then fill out different surveys based on you and your interests/needs
3- you will then get invites from BzzAgent to sample products and share with friends, family and co-workers
4- the more you share, the more invitations and earlier invites you will get

I've participated in several campaigns and this one is for Softsoap NutriSystems body 's wash. The product was for their newest form of body wash - one with Omega 3s and one with moisturizing complexes in them.

I shared the product with friends and family and had mixed reviews.  I recently tried the product myself and chose to blog about it here.

I tried the Omega-3 NutriSerum body wash and I like the scent - it was very light and smelled good.  While I'm intrigued by the beads in the body wash which are supposed to dissolve/break apart when scrubbing up, they didn't really break up or dissolve for me just floated away with the shower water.

I'm not sure I could tell any difference when using this and other body washes I wish it would have swept me off my feet.

I look forward to sharing more reviews about the products I receive through BzzAgent.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Morton's Steakhouse

Last Wednesday we attended our second Tastecasting event.  This time it was at Morton's Steakhouse in Phoenix, Arizona.  They have locations nationwide, including their first one in Chicago.  John, the Sales and Marketing Manager, was our host that evening.  He told us that when Morton's first opened their doors over 30 years ago in Chicago, they were struggling for the first couple of weeks.  That is, until Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack unexpectedly walked through their doors.  The press heard about this, the word spread, and suddenly they no longer had a problem with not enough customers.

As Julie and I walked into the restaurant, I couldn't help but feel we were walking into a "good ol' boys" club, with the deep mahogany walls and dimly lit atmosphere.  I half-expected us to be ushered in by a server wearing an ascot and a silk bathrobe, smoking a pipe.  This didn't happen and we were brought to a private room in the back for our meal.  John had prepared a long table that included a broccoli flower centerpiece that he had made for this occasion.  

Julie: my first impressions were similar to Brian's and I was disappointed in the treatment (intentional or otherwise) from John.  I felt that he didn't seem to care about our experience and that seemed to play out in different ways throughout the evening.  I was really disappointed because I have always heard great things about Morton's and expected a high quality of customer service as I would expect of the meal/food itself.

Like our previous post about our other TasteCasting experience, Julie and I will each write about our individual experiences with the various courses that we sampled.  The focus for this was the Morton's Power Hour, when they focus on smaller, quick-serve portions that are individually priced to reach a more varied clientele than they typically serve.  The options vary by location.  We were served a total of 11 different items at this one.  It challenged us a bit, since we wanted to give each item a fair chance.  

Prime Mini Cheeseburger
Brian:  I immediately liked these.  They are very tall, juicy and warm mini-cheeseburgers served with all the fixings.  The steak was a bit pink in the middle, so it wasn't quite well-done.  I did enjoy the taste and I had to stop myself and eat just one.  Two of these would easily fill me up.
Julie: I like the idea of these upscale sliders and would have liked this appetizer if it had been cooked to my liking (well-done) and didn't have blood in the middle of the burger.  It was also a bit greasy. Aside from the undercooking, I think it would have been good since it had a small slice of tomato, lettuce and a red onion.  The cheeseburger was shaped more like a meatball and looked a little dwarfed on the bun.

Miniature Crab Cake
Brian:  The first thing I noticed about these is the size.  They were a good size for what I was expecting. As I bit into one, it tasted more "fishy" than I like my crab cakes to taste.  I had a hard time getting past this. 
Julie: I like the bite size portion and the cake included very large chunks of crab.  It was a bit mayonaise-ey and had a hint of nutmeg but it was a nice option on the menu. 

(no photo)

Petit Filet Mignon Steak Sandwich
Brian:  The filet mignon between the bread was, again, a bit pink in the middle.   It was quite juicy, though, and I felt this more than made up for the slight rareness.  They make these with a hint of nutmeg.  I wholeheartedly believe this is a great idea.  In my opinion, they could have used smaller bits of bread for it.  The bread overpowers the sandwich.
Julie: The size of the sesame seed bread/roll compared with the slice of steak was enormous.  The steak tasted good but was, again, not cooked to my own personal preference.  (This is not meant to be a slight against Morton's, simply a difference in how I like my steaks cooked and how probably real foodies enjoy and appreciate the taste of meat.)

Mini Wedge Bites
Brian:  These are little lettuce slices garnished with tomato cubes and dressing.  The lettuce was a bit dry and wilty, and to me they were a little tasteless.
Julie: I like the concept of iceberg wedges and I think that this would be a fun appetizer.  The portion that I received had a wilted piece of lettuce, but the taste of the blue cheese dressing was good.

Spinach Crab Artichoke Dip
Brian:  I didn't taste this, so I can't give an opinion on it.
Julie: This dip was quite tasty despite the large chunks of artichokes within the dip.  The small crispy breads that were served with it were scrumptous and could well have been eaten on their own.

Blue Cheese French Fries
Brian:  I'll admit, I'm a fan of french fries.  As long as their a bit crunchy on the outside and soft & warm on the inside, I'm sold.  I was on these fries.  In place of ketchup, these are served with blue cheese dressing on top.  It adds to the moistness and makes for a great comfort food.
Julie: I thought these were delicious and would make for a great comfort food as Brian said.  The fries were slightly greasy and the blue cheese wasn't overpowering.  The melted cheese went well with the bacon, chives and peppers.

New York Strip Steak
Brian:  Morton's seems to have a theme with their steaks, serve them so their slightly pink in the middle.  I really didn't mind this.  the NY strip steak was delicious.  Nice and juicy, but it was a bit chewy.  My taste buds enjoyed this steak rolling around on them.
Julie: I really enjoyed this entree as the taste was very good and had a slight cripsy edge on the top of the steak. Again, flavor was delicious.

Macaroni and Cheese
Brian:  Yes, you read that right.  Macaroni & cheese in an upscale steak restaurant.  This was, undoubtedly, my favorite part of the meal.  Not only was it wonderfully creamy and rich, like macaroni and cheese should be, but they make it with a hint of chili.  Magnifique!  I could go for some right now.  If only they delivered...
Julie:  YUMMY! This was the most magnificent comfort food ever!  So totally outweighs Kraft in the box.  Even the fancy Kraft in the box.  I loved the cavatapi pasta, and the nice blend of cheeses (parmesean, cream cheese, swiss and sharp cheddar).  It was topped with panko and had a nice crust on the top.  I also enjoyed the hint of chili taste.

Legendary Hot Chocolate Cake
Brian:  This was, as expected, yummy.  And true to it's name, it was hot.  This is a chocolate lava cake served with raspberrys and ice cream.  A nice chocolatey ending to any meal.  
Julie: I was excited about this cake and my expectations were pleasantly met.  The cake itself has a texture reminescent of a flourless cake, which I'm not sure if it is or not.  The chocolate inside was good and a bit gelatenous texture.  The creamy vanilla ice cream and raspberries and mint were nice accoutrements.

(no photo)

Lemon Souffle (Grand Marnier Souffle)

Brian:  I don't have a lot of experience with souffles, so it's hard for me to really compare it.  It did have a nice lemony taste, and was soft and sumptuous on my tongue.  However, I felt the lemon was a little weak and didn't really stand out.
Julie: I also don't have much experience with souffles although I do know what they are supposed to taste and look like.  I think I was mostly disappointed because John had substituted the original option with these two souffles.  One of the original options was creme brulee which I was completely looking forward to!  Oh well.  Back to the souffle - the flavor was good (grand marnier not lemon!) and had a nice presentation.  It was served with a scoop of rich cream.  The texture of souffles kind of turns me off, however.

(no photo)

Raspberry Souffle
Brian:  In a blind taste test, I think I would have minor bit of difficulty telling the difference between the lemon and raspberry souffles.  The flavoring is a bit weak to me.  The actual souffles were great in their wonderful fluffy-ness, I think the flavors could use some boosting.
Julie: The raspberry souffle was very light in taste but not bad.  Again, texture issues, but the presentation was nice.  Too bad souffles weren't my fave!


Brian: One thing I noticed as John was handing out the plates, specifically for the desserts, was that I was turned off in the way he handed them out.  He held them against his suit and had his hands all over them.  I know servers are trained to not do this in an effort toward cleanliness.  I'm sure the regular servers don't do this, so I won't count this against Morton's on the whole.  On the whole, our Morton's experience was good.  They have great tasting food that obviously has a lot of care and skill put into it's preparation.  
Julie: I am probably not the type of clientele in which Morton's would hit the spot for me.  I don't enjoy sparkling water, nor do I jive with the atmosphere of Morton's.  I think they do some things well (appetizers and steaks) and I hope that others are willing to check them out.  They do have wifi available and do a great verbal menu presentation.  They also do great charity work with Make-a-Wish and other local charities.  Thank you to Morton's for the hospitality and opportunity to check you out!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

yay! employment!

the past couple of months have been a bit tough for julie and i, as we have traversed the landscape of unemployment, searching for that oasis that is a full-time job.

as of today, that journey is done for me.  i accepted a position at a hospital outside of phoenix in their business office doing medical billing.  for the 1st 3 months it is actually a "temp to hire" position.  i will be working there via the placement agency that connected me to the hospital.  this hospital opened about a 18 months ago and is the flagship hospital for a healthcare corporation that has a string of hospitals across the country.  by some coincidence, the corporate headquarters is literally just a block up the road from star physical therapy, where i worked in nashville.  another fun coincidence is this hospital is where our nephew jalen was born a year ago to the day of my interview there.

i start work on monday, november 16, when training begins.  julie, in the meantime, is still looking.  we are still hoping she lands a job at ASU.  it's just taking a bit of time due to 3 things:  1) the bad economy, 2) ASU is a large organization, so it takes them a while to confirm decisions and 3) it's difficult breaking into the higher-eduction industry.  like the music industry in nashville, it really helps if you know someone.

i'm looking forward to this new challenge, especially because it's normally a bit tough to get employed by a hospital when (like me) you don't have any hospital-employment experience.  

note:  edits

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2 Years and Counting...

As we are sure you know, we celebrated our 2 year anniversary on November 3rd. We decided to take some time to remember the good and bad things that we have experienced as a couple that have brought us to where we are today, and we thought we would share some of them with you.

High Points
Our trip to Paris and Amsterdam in October 2008.  See our posts here and here.
Our trip to Hawaii in July 2008.  See our post here.
The house we rented in Nashville this past year that was a great home for us.
Driving home in a snowstorm in Nashville after hearing Tim Wise speak in March 2008.
Seeing "Romeo & Juliet" in Atlanta.
Our trip to Memphis, where we discovered the incredible story of Stax Records.  See our post here.
Seeing U2 on their 360 Tour last month here in Phoenix.  See our post here.

Low Points
Brian's Grandpa passing away in February 2009.  See our post here.
Leaving many good friends behind in Nashville after our recent move to Phoenix.  See our post here.
Julie losing her job with the United Methodist Church due to the economy in June 2009.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

not really an american?

i came across this article that shows another element of the racism that is still (sadly) running strong in this country. mebrahtom keflezighi won the legendary new york city marathon this year, and is the first american to accomplish this feat since 1982. the problem is, some people are claiming that mr. keflezighi is not an american. if he were white, this debate wouldn't be happening.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints Day

as julie & i settle in to our life here in phoenix, one of our goals is to find a church home. For the past few weeks, we've attended Dayspring United Methodist Church as part of that search.

we attended there this morning, and witnessed an interesting tradition that the methodist church carries on. all saints day. all saints day is the day after halloween, when churches celebrate the lives of those we have lost in the past year. dayspring commemorated this by reading off the names of those from their congregation who have passed on, one by one, while one of their loved ones stepped up to the front of the sanctuary and lit a candle in their honor.

i found that this moved me. it was a solemn reminder of how important our past is, and how important those who have gone before us are. it's those memories and traditions that shape individuals and cultures, and remind us of who we are deep inside. it also reminded me of my grandpa, who passed away this past february. i'm thankful for the role he played in my life, and the man he was. the way he would tell stories of his childhood growing up on a farm in mid-michigan with his 10 (yes, ten) siblings. the memories of him making oliebollen when my 3 siblings & i were kids and the 4 of us running around his yard playing tag. i remember he used to scare me when i was young when he would take out his dentures. i hadn't realized there was such a thing a fake teeth.

i'm grateful for the reminder that the tradition all saints day gives.

grandpa, this candle is for you.