Restaurant Review: Cafe Amilia

Cafe Amiliaย is located at Lawrence and El Camino in Santa Clara, California, in the former location of Flames. I went there tonight with my father, his girlfriend, and one of his co-workers who’s been kind enough to give him a ride to and from work recently in light of his broken leg.

I was surprised upon entering, as I suppose I was expecting an atmosphere similar to that of Flames. The decor was quite a bit nicer than the former restaurant’s, with yellows and golds and browns dominating the color scheme and a surprisingly open and spacious floorplan given its odd shape. The space as you enter is long and narrow, extending to the right and the left. Far to the lefthand side, the space opens out a little into a square bar area with a flatscreen wall-mounted TV. We were seated immediately at a window table about halfway between the entrance and the bar. The atmostphere was quite pleasant — I was easily able to forget that there were customers at other tables, though this may be because there weren’t very MANY of them. The lighting was low but not dim, and the furniture was simple and elegant, leading to a comfortable, uncluttered feel.

The service was pretty good, with the waitress frequently offering refills on drinks and checking to see if we needed anything, though I felt the wait times for food were a bit long.

The food was excellent, if a bit pricy. Pasta dishes ranged from $10 to $15, and entrees were generally between $15 and $25. You get what you pay for here, however — portion sizes were generous, and their dishes are loaded with the good stuff. The three cheese baked macaroni I had, for instance, had plenty of chicken and bacon in it, making it feel like a much heartier meal than you’d expect from mac’n’cheese. My friends in Portland might do well to think of Mother’s macaroni and cheese dishes as a parallel. The chocolate creme brulee I had for dessert wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, although it should be noted that I have a cold right now and my sense of taste isn’t what it usually is.

Overall, this is a pretty good restaurant — great food, good service, a bit pricy, with a nice atmosphere. Good place to take a date on payday. ๐Ÿ˜€ I give it four and a half stars out of five. Check it out!

Feb 30 Day Trial Progress

Trial: Spend at least 30 minutes exercising every single day.

2/22:
From now on, my 30 day trial updates will be posted in the Twitter block on the right-hand sidebar.

2/21:
I walked 2.8 miles today on my weekly trip to my house. No arm exercises today.

Walking: 2.8 miles (~1 hour 15 min.)

2/20:
Today I walked half a mile to the post office and 1.2 miles to get dinner at KFC. No arm exercises.

Walking: 1.7 miles (~1 hour)

2/19:
I walked about 2.5 miles this afternoon, and another 2 miles or so this evening. No arm exercises today.

Walked: 4.5 miles (~2h)

I’ve also decided to stop spamming my journal with all these posts, and instead update a single post each day. So, with that in mind…

2/18:
Today I got in my 30 minutes with a trip to the supermarket. No arm exercises today.

Walking: 1 mile

2/17:
Today was my birthday, but no rest for the weary — a trip to the supermarket and arm exercises!

Walking: 1 mile (30 min.)
Chest Dip Initial Pose: 15 sec.
Downward Facing Dog: 15 sec.
Plank: 15 sec.

2/16:
Walked 1.4 miles today, for well more than 30 minutes, but at a slower pace than usual. No Fast Circuit or arm exercises.

2/15:
I went to the supermarket today to get in my 30 minutes. I also looked into some yoga poses and thought about ways to increase my arm strength to where I can do the Fast Circuit arm strength exercises more reliably. I decided to try doing some less strenuous arm strength exercises to get my arms used to simply supporting my body weight before making them do more. I performed two yoga poses for 15 seconds each (Downward Facing Dog and Plank) and held the initial pose from Chest Dips (supporting myself on my arms between two chairs) for 15 seconds as well. My arms were vibrating and trembling and shaking the whole time. This seems to be a more reasonable place to start than a goal of 15 chest dips. So, then, here is my entry for today:

Walked: 1 mile (30 min.)
Chest Dip Initial Pose: 15 sec.
Downward Facing Dog: 15 sec.
Plank: 15 sec.

2/14:
Today I got well more than my target 30 minutes, thanks to a trip back to my house and a quick walk to the post office. I’ve decided to start mapping things out on Google Maps to see the distance I walked, as that’s a lot more informative than “to the post office” or the like. For my reference, here are some one-way distances:

Post office: 0.2 miles
Supermarket: 0.5 miles
El Camino (from where I’m staying): 0.6 miles
El Camino (from my house): 0.8 miles

So, today I walked a total of 3.2 miles between my two trips.

2/13:
I took a walk to the supermarket for my 30 minutes. It was a little rainy, but I don’t mind that too much. It’s been a long time since I’ve done the Fast Circuit routine, and I’m starting to feel a little bad about that. I don’t mind the exercises, but I find it difficult to motivate myself to get through the stretching that I do first. If I could just start with the real exercises, it wouldn’t be so bad. I’ll consider ways to overcome my resistance, and I’d appreciate any ideas you might have on how to do that.

2/12:
2/12: Took a longer walk today, to a friend’s house and the supermarket. This was quite a bit more than 30 minutes. ๐Ÿ™‚

No Fast Circuit.

In other news, please pardon the changes around here — I’m customizing the layout of this site right now, and there will continue to be bugs and oddities until I’m finished. Thanks for your patience!

2/11:
Walked to the supermarket today, making my 30 minute goal.

2/10:
I only made 15 minutes today, a quick trip to the post office.

2/9:
As expected, I got in the walking today, though it was not when and where I expected. It was later in the day, a trip to the supermarket. Also as expected, Fast Circuit is off the menu — I’m exhausted! Eleven hours at the hospital will really sap your energy. I expect to return to the Fast Circuit tomorrow, though.

2/8:
On day 8, I got my 30 minutes of walking in the form of two quick round trips to the post office. Weekends seem to be harder than weekdays, probably because of people being at home more. Tomorrow I’ll be spending a good chunk of my day waiting at the hospital — there should be plenty of time to walk, but the Fast Circuit exercises are unlikely to happen. 30 day trials are tough!

2/7:
On day 7 I didn’t complete my exercise goal. It was a busy day with a lot going on.

2/6:
Today I walked to the supermarket and did the Fast Circuit routine I wrote about yesterday:

3 Chest Dips: 3
10 Squat and Heel Raises: 10
13 Bend and Raises: 13
11 sec. Arm Hauler: 11 sec.
5/side Hip Twist: 5/side

Actually, I did the Squat and Heel Raises twice, because I realized after the first set that I’d done them wrong, so I repeated them correctly.

Other than that, not much to say. Tomorrow I will maintain the trial at least with the walking, but I am considering taking the day off from the Fast Circuit. I will, of course, update here and report what I did either way. If I decide to do the Fast Circuit anyway, I will likely repeat today’s workout exactly. Till next time…

2/5:
I almost didn’t do this today, but at the last minute decided I didn’t want to break the chain, so to speak. So I did it. Not much walking today, tho’ I did do a bit of wheelchair-pushing at the hospital. Tonight, I did the same five Fast Circuit exercises as yesterday, but more repetitions. Here are my numbers, with the longterm goal, then tonight’s goal in parentheses (i.e. how many needed to beat yesterday), then how many I actually did after the colon.

20 Chest Dips (3): 3
30 Squat and Heel Raises (6): 10
25 Bend and Raises (12): 12
30 sec. Arm Hauler (11 sec.): 11 sec.
10/side Hip Twist (6/side): 6/side

Tomorrow I’m going to set out to do about the same number of repetitions as I did today, with a couple of slight adjustments. I want to work on my form and get to where I can hit these numbers with less strain. There’s no point in adding reps of an exercise that you can’t do properly in the first place. My medium-term target is 50% of the long-term target, so I will reduce the Hip Twists back to 5 and increase the Bend and Raises to 13 (12.5 rounds up, after all, not down). So the goal for tomorrow is:

3 Chest Dips (on the way to 10)
10 Squat and Heel Raises (on the way to 15)
13 Bend and Raises
11 sec. Arm Hauler (on the way to 15 sec.)
5/side Hip Twist

After doing these tomorrow for form, I’ll see if I can adjust the reps upward the following day, and when I hit the medium-term 50% goal, I’ll probably plateau there for a little while to try to actually get good at doing that workout before increasing further. Or perhaps that would be a good time to add another exercise and work on getting it to 50%? We’ll see what happens when the time comes.

2/4:
Today I walked to the supermarket and back for about 30 minutes worth of walking. Then in the late evening I finally got around to trying out some of the Fast Circuit exercises.

I tried the following exercises, with the goal before the exercise name and my actual count after:

20 Chest Dips: 2 (low arm strength + high body weight = ow)
30 Squat and Heel Raises: 5 (I lose my balance doing this.)
25 Bend and Raises: 11 (This seems pretty easy compared to the others — maybe I’m doing it wrong?)
30 sec. Arm Hauler: 10 sec. (An endurance exercise rather than a bodyweight exercise.)
10/side Hip Twist: 5/side (My best performance, 50% of the goal.)

I passed on these exercises for various reasons:

Jumping Jacks (In a second-floor condo at midnight? Let’s piss off the neighbors! Also I’m too self-conscious to do them outside where someone might see. I should probably work on that too.)
Dive Bomber (Looks intense — not sure I’m up to this one yet.)
Triceps Push-Up (Actually, I tried this one, but I couldn’t do even one, and it felt bad for my abs.)
Half-Squat (Similar to the Squat and Heel Raise, and I’d already lost my balance enough times for one night.)
Atomic Sit-Up (This would be MURDER on my abs and would contravene doctor’s orders.)

I’ll try to add those in later, after I’m comfortable with some of the others. For now, I’m happy with the ones that I was able to do, and I want to concentrate on getting them up to speed. Hopefully that will help me get in a little better shape overall so that the ones I wasn’t able to do tonight will be a bit easier.

The goal for tomorrow, aside from walking, is to do these same five Fast Circuit exercises and at least match my performance today on each one. Till next time…

2/3:
I walked a ridiculous amount today, due in part to mistakenly heading the wrong direction when I left the house. I probably clocked a coupla hours on foot today, between my trip to the post office, walking from there to my house, walking back to the bus, walking to the supermarket…

The bad news is that I didn’t find time to work in anything from the Fast Circuit, and I probably won’t before bed — that will have to wait till tomorrow.

I’m enjoying getting out of the house a bit. As my circumstances presently require my presence here most of the time, I need to make sure to find reasons to get out and about a little bit when I can. It’s important to keep cabin fever from setting in — a topic I will explore a little more another time.

2/2:
Today I walked to the post office and to Togo’s and 7-Eleven for lunch. This was a quick trip, and didn’t get me over the 30 minute goal, so I also walked to my doctor’s appointment, which was about a 30 minute walk each way. So I wound up with nearly three times my goal. ๐Ÿ™‚

I asked the doctor about calisthenics, and he said it should be fine, but that situps are generally not the best idea for people who have had abdominal surgery (which I have), so I should look into some less intensive alternatives. So tomorrow I will review the exercises in the Fast Circuit workout and see which ones seem like the best fit for me, and add in at least one of them.

Two down, twenty eight to go…

2/1:
Today I started my first 30-day trial with a walk to the supermarket to do some shopping. Just about 30 minutes of walking. I also did laundry, which involves going up and down the stairs a few times — good exercise there! I got my 30 minutes in, and read a little bit more about the Fast Circuit workout I want to try.

Tomorrow I’ll walk to the post office and then to get lunch, and maybe round it out by walking to the doctor’s office for my appointment. That will get me far beyond my 30-minute goal. Off to a good start!

Product Review: Altoids Dark Chocolate Dipped Creme de Menthe Mints

I picked these up at Safeway about a week ago. I noticed them while I was in the checkstand, and, always interested to try new flavors of Altoids, I decided to throw them in my basket.

I think it was for these that the phrase “exactly what it says on the tin” was invented. I noticed that they do not bear the “Curiously Strong” trademark that all of my other tins of Altoids do. I put one in my mouth and was pleasantly surprised by the sweetness of the chocolate. Letting that melt in my mouth, eventually I got to the mint inside, which seemed pepperminty, but not as strong as the traditional Altoids peppermints. The texture was the same as a regular Altoid — and therein lies the problem.

The outer shell of soft, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate with a hard Altoid center means that the flavors don’t blend much in your mouth. I was expecting something that tasted like a chocolate mint, but got something rather more like eating a chocolate chip, finishing it, then having an Altoid. They were discrete, separate flavors. Overall, I’d prefer a blend of the flavors, more like what you’d get in a Junior Mint.

Nevertheless, my tin is very nearly empty, whereas I’ve got five tins of regular Altoids close at hand that are around half full and I’ve had them for years. Clearly, I do enjoy these, flavor separation or no. I give them four stars out of five, and may buy them again after I’ve finished some of my other tins, if I’m in the mood for chocolate and Altoids.

Now I want a Junior Mint.

Movie Review: Patch Adams

I am a big fan of Robin Williams, but I’ve missed several of his films over the years. Some of these are in my Netflix queue, and Patch Adams was one of them.

Patch Adams (based on a true story) is the story of Hunter “Patch” Adams, a med student who, a few years earlier, in a mental institution, formed some non-traditional ideas about how to treat patients. As he goes through med school, he takes the saying “laughter is the best medicine” to heart, and develops a philosophy of treating the patient, not the illness.ย 

There was not much about this movie that I didn’t like. There were a couple of parts where it got slow and I did find myself checking the time once or twice, but I think that had more to do with the fact that it’s a little longer than the average movie. There was one horribly sappy scene that would have been more at home in a decades-old animated Disney feature than in a fairly-recent dramedy based on a true story, but I suppose I can forgive one brief scene of this nature.

On the other hand, there was plenty about Patch Adams that I did like. Robin Williams, as always, gave a thoroughly enjoyable performance, bringing both levity and gravity to the role as appropriate. The writing was clever and the story meaningful. Although it was more serious than is my preference in films, it was enjoyable to watch, and I think any biographical film will be more inclined toward seriousness than average, so it goes with the territory. It’s a bit of a feel-good movie (though it has its darker moments), and it’s nice to see what Patch does for his patients and how his presence in their lives makes their hard times a little easier.

Four stars out of five. I enjoyed Patch Adams and took something away from it, but I probably wouldn’t watch it again. Check it out if you like Robin Williams’s more serious fare, movies based on true stories, or if you want a solid mix of laughter and drama.

Television Review: Dollhouse

Dollhouse, the latest series from Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), premiered Friday night on Fox. Whedon’s shows have always been fun and funny, even when they are dark (and when they are dark, they are very very dark). I’d been interested to see what his latest project would be like, so I marked my calendar and made an exception to my policy of avoiding watching on television what I can legally watch online. Dollhouse airs on Hulu one day after it airs on Fox, and I decided I didn’t want to wait.ย 

Dollhouse follows the adventures of Echo (Eliza Dushku), an “active” — an operative whose memory and personality are wiped before each mission and replaced with ones custom-tailored to the challenges she’s about to face. Echo is one of a number (apparently five?) of such operatives, who are overseen in the field by “handlers” — agents who merely observe and are responsible for extracting the active should things go awry. This type of oversight is deemed necessary due to the actives’ inability to remember their true identities. Woven into the tale of Echo’s first mission were snippets of what I assume was her real personality, as well as a sub-plot about a fellow who’s learned about the Dollhouse organization and aims to take it down. For comic relief, we have Topher, the wisecracking programmer who is responsible for wiping Echo’s mind and crafting and loading her custom personalities.

My experience with Whedon’s previous shows led me to believe that he could do no wrong. The first episode of Dollhouse serves as a potent reminder that nobody gets it right all the time. It started out slow, and though it picked up later in the episode, it still was nowhere near as entertaining as the worse episodes of his previous shows. It shows no sign of the wit or whimsy that are hallmarks of his other work (again, even when the subject matter is dark), and doesn’t stand out amongst the other shows on television. It is a decidedly mediocre offering from the man I’ve come to regard as the greatest storyteller of our time.

Additionally, while Whedon’s casts usually feature beautiful actresses in lead roles, Dollhouse seems to rely too heavily on this factor (and at least triply so in its advertising). I agree that Eliza Dushku is hot, but that’s a rather poor premise for a TV show (or at least one that airs on primetime network TV).

On the upside, it’s no worse than a lot of stuff on TV, and in all fairness, it is only the first episode. Perhaps it will improve with time — I would hope that eventually the script would bear some sign that it’s a Joss Whedon project — and come to take its place beside his other shows. I will give it at least one more chance, but if it doesn’t improve significantly and quickly, I don’t think I’m going to be following this one.

Two stars out of five.

Watch this only if you really have nothing better to do (or, like me, you’re desperately hoping it gets better).

Product Review: Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger Caffeine Free Herbal Tea

The fifth and final flavor in my Celestial Seasonings variety pack, Raspberry Zinger didn’t sound so great to me. I’m not too keen on the taste of raspberries in general, but sometimes I’m in the mood for them, and if this tea were sweet enough, I could see maybe wanting a cup once every several months or so.

Sadly, it isn’t. It’s tangy and a bit sour, and they seem to have focused on the flavor elements in raspberry that I like the least. I do think this is very much a matter of taste — I doubt the tea is bad, it just tastes badย to me. Raspberry fans might find this tea to be tasty, but I won’t be buying it again. Even a packet of sugar didn’t help much, though it was much better than the black cherry berry.

Three stars out of five.

Product Review: Celestial Seasonings Cranberry Apple Zinger Caffeine Free Herbal Tea

The fourth of the five teas in my variety pack, this one surprised me. Based on the name, I expected something tart and possibly a little bit sour (depending on what type of apples were used), but that assumption proved totally unfounded.

The cranberry apple flavor is actually quite sweet, reminding me of apples and cinnamon more than cranberries and sour apples. It’s the sort of tea you’d want to drink on a snowy winter day while sitting in front of the fireplace — you know, if you didn’t have any hot chocolate at the time. ๐Ÿ˜€ It would make a good dessert tea, and I may try it out that way soon — I’ve had this idea floating around in my head lately about sweetening tea with a little bit of vanilla ice cream instead of a sugar packet. Cranberry Apple Zinger is certainly a good candidate for that!

Four and a half stars out of five. Highly recommended for those with a sweet tooth and a love of sweet apple flavors.

Movie Review: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

I wanted to see this since the first one was decent and my main complaint about it was that they had to spend too much time on establishing the characters. I figured since they wouldn’t have to introduce everyone this time, they could actually tell a story this time. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Rise of the Silver Surfer is the story of how the Fantastic Four face a global threat that arrives unexpectedly on the wedding day of Reed Richards and Susan Storm — the Silver Surfer. The Surfer, a man whose entire body is silver, arrives on Earth astride a flying intergalactic surfboard. He begins punching craters in the Earth, preparing it for its ultimate destruction in only eight days. The Fantastic Four must abandon their plans and challenge the Silver Surfer, learn his mission, and discover a way to prevent the Earth from being destroyed.

This one starts out slow — for about the first half hour I was thinking, “gee, this movie could use a plot”. The writers seemed to enjoy the characters a little too much, wanting to show off the clever everyday uses they’ve come up with for their powers.

But eventually, things picked up and they got to the plot, and it was indeed a better movie than the previous one since the characters had already been introduced. It was nice seeing the characters use their powers and catch phrases more comfortably, rather than with the experimental tone they had in the first movie. There were some funny lines and amusing quips, some cool action sequences, and some awesome technology. Von Doom fans will be glad to know that he makes his return in RotSS, and those who are already familiar with the Surfer and know what his arrival portends can rest assured that his role has not been altered for the movie. I loved the Stan Lee cameo in this movie, much funnier than in the first one.

Overall, this was a good Marvel movie — not a great one, but a good one, and better than its predecessor. Three and three quarters stars out of five.

See this movie if you’re in the mood for a fun superhero story and don’t mind a little ramp-up time before it gets going.

Product Review: Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer Caffeine Free Herbal Tea

I had heard good things about this tea from a friend, so I picked some up last time I was looking for something caffeine-free. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from it, except that it should be relaxing.

Tension Tamer has a complex flavor with several different herbs. The taste is mild and relaxing, with a muted peppermint being the only thing I can identify in it. (It also contains catnip, which just makes me want to see what happens if a cat drinks it…) One downside I noticed is that although it’s very good hot, it tastes awful when it gets cold. I’ve had a couple of cups of this now, and I find it fairly enjoyable, and it does seem to help me stay relaxed (although I have yet to try it out at a time when I’m feeling particularly stressed, so I’m not sure how well it works as a remedy).

This is a good caffeine-free tea, and I will likely purchase it again. Four stars out of five.