Mini-review: Riffs Boulder

Posted in Uncategorized on February 14th, 2013 by Rick

I am not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day. My wife, after 25 years of marriage and 30 years together with me, has mostly accepted my desire not to make too big a fuss over the holiday. I do try to be extra-nice on February 14–I shaved today, for instance–but we usually don’t go out or exchange much in the way of presents (she did send me an absolutely appalling email with a Valentine’s-themed Transformers pun).

So it was just by chance that we needed to go the Boulder Bookstore tonight to get a couple of school books for the kids, and so used it as an occasion to have dinner at Riffs, which is located in the space formerly occupied by the Boulder Bookstore Cafe. It’s the second time we’ve been there, and I think we’ll probably be putting it on the rotation of favorite casual date-night restaurants in town.

I don’t see so well, as y’all know, so I can’t tell you much (anything) about the decor, but I can tell you that the noise level was pretty reasonable for a Pearl Street joint, and the service was professional, polite, and no bullshit.

I don’t remember what we had the last time we were there, though it must have been in August, since I do remember something with grilled or roasted peaches. Tonight’s menu was similarly seasonal, with lots of winter squashes and root vegetables. We started with a plate of bread with white bean spread, heavy with garlic and a bit of crunchy finishing salt (that Bonnie and I did remember from last time, which is why we ordered it).

For the meal, we shared three dishes: a plate of salmon-potato croquettes, nice and crispy, finished with lemon and a variant of tartar sauce ; a winter salad with shredded squash, nuts, kale, and parmesan; and hanger steak with roasted parsnips, sautéed greens, horseradish, and a stout reduction. Everything was good, the steak was outstanding. I am not usually a fan of parsnips, but these were as sweet as carrots with the texture of a firm roasted potato. Really, really good.

We didn’t order dessert–too full–but they brought us a couple of half-strawberries dipped in dark chocolate for Valentine’s Day, so that was very nice.

Prices about what you’d expect for a Pearl Street restaurant. Not cheap, but not The Boulder Cork, either.

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A Blind Jew and an Ordained Minister Are Going to Israel

Posted in blindness, cycling on October 8th, 2012 by Rick

Rick and Derek on the Bilenky Viewpoint

So, a blind Jew and an ordained minister are planning a bike ride in Israel…

Sounds like the start of a joke, right? But it’s true. Let me tell you why.

As I’ve explained before, I’ve been slowly losing my sight for many years, and more than a decade ago I had to give up riding a bike on my own (after giving up driving a few years before that). I really didn’t think I would ever become a regular rider again, until I bought a (somewhat unusual) tandem about a year ago. Now I can go on rides around beautiful Boulder with my friend and co-worker Derek Brouwer, who is a strong enough rider to be able to captain that great beast of a bike. Derek and I regularly go on rides at lunchtime, and recently managed to complete 85 miles at the Colorado Buff Classic bike ride.

A few months ago, I got an email from Camp Ramah, advertising a fundraiser for their special needs camping program (Tikvah, or Hope). Through these programs, they are able to provide, in addition to their regular camps, Jewish camping experiences for children, teens and adults with mental, physical, and emotional challenges (including blindness and low vision). Because I was fortunate enought to work at a Ramah camp (in Massachusetts) for a summer in high school, and my son, Daniel, was a camper during the inaugural summer at Ramah Outdoor Adventure here in Colorado, I have a warm spot in my heart for the Ramah camping movement. This seemed like a terrific cause I could support on many levels.

The fundraiser is a week-long bike ride through Southern Israel, beginning in Jerusalem and ending in Eilat, with many stops in between (including Shabbat in Mitzpei Ramon, near the Ramon Crater). I looked at the email and thought: “This sounds like fun, and what a great cause!” So I walked over to Derek’s office and said, “Hey, Derek, how’d you like to ride the tandem around the Negev for a week next Spring?” And he said, “I’ll ask my wife.” Derek’s wife, Jane, being a extraordinarily wonderful woman, told him to go for it. So we signed up. Now, Derek is, in fact, an ordained minister. He has a deep respect for Judaism, and a fascination with the history of both our religious traditions. He’s never been to Israel, so he’s very happy to have a chance to see quite a bit of it on two wheels, and to support a worthy endeavor while he’s at it. But, honestly, he’s mostly doing this for me. He’s a kind man, and knows I wouldn’t be able to do a ride like this without him.

I also can’t do a ride like this without you. We have committed, between us, to raise $7200 for Camp Ramah’s special needs programs. Please go to my donation page to give. From there, you can go to Derek’s page, and to the main page describing the ride and our cause.

Thank you so much for your generous support.

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A Conversation with My Teenage Daughter

Posted in parenting on December 7th, 2010 by Rick

Teen daughter is dancing about her room, singing at the top of her lungs, at an hour she should be in bed. Dad is trying to bring down the energy level, rolling his eyes a bit.

Daughter: “C’mon, Dad. You know you think this is charming.”

Dad: “No. You think I think this is charming.”

Daughter: “But isn’t that charming?”

At least she appreciates her own solipsistic world view.

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Posted in random thought on March 8th, 2010 by Rick

My daughter tried out for the teen version of Jeopardy last week. The first round is kind of an interesting process–they give a screener quiz to every potential contestant simultaneously, using a Flash application that’s synchronized to network time. I assume this is to prevent anyone from sharing the answers over the intertubes. Seems like a clever solution to a very modern problem.

As she was furiously trying to recall the answers to questions that would have been easy without the time pressure, I flashed back to the mid-70s when I competed on a Philadelphia-local public TV kids’ quiz show called, IIRC, Challenge. (I can’t find reference to it with a Google search, but I suspect it disappeared long before the Web.) The setup was a lot like Jeopardy, with 3 contestants and a moderator asking questions, bonus rounds and a final, high-stakes question. The prizes were small, but made quite an impression.

I won the first episode I played, and the winner’s prize was a $25 bank account. Not a check for $25, but an honest-to-goodness passbook savings account, my first. In this day of online banking, it’s hard to remember those old passbooks, but they were kind of awesome. Mine felt like a US passport. The cover was stiff, with a very light faux-leather grain, and the pages were very heavy stock so the transaction printing machine wouldn’t shred it with every use. I loved looking at the list of deposits, mostly from birthday and holiday gifts at that age. Much more wonderful than an ATM receipt.

On the second day I lost, but the consolation prize was nearly as cool as a bank account. It was a Polaroid zip camera (possibly an electric one, but probably the much cheaper manual version).

Polaroid Electric Zip Camera (blue)

My consolation prize looked like this, only red.

It was a very cheap camera (the manual version had the lowest MSRP of any Polaroid camera ever produced), but I did have a lot of fun with it–when I could afford to buy the super-expensive (for me) film packs. I can still smell the gooey photochemicals squeezed onto the prints by the camera’s rollers. Not Proust’s madeleines, but still. The best part was peeling back the cover sheet after a couple of minutes to see just how bad the picture was (I was, and remain, a mediocre photographer).

I kind of miss that old camera.

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A Modest Proposal

Posted in Uncategorized on February 27th, 2010 by Rick

I think the Libertarians are right. We should all succeed or fail on our own. No help from other people, most especially that proxy for everyone else, The Government.

So I propose the following:

Give all citizens a “grub stake” at birth. They can use it for their basic expenses, including education, until such time as they can work for their own living. Everyone would then truly have equal opportunity. Some would fail, of course. But that would be their own responsibility. Many more would succeed in growing new businesses, producing goods and services that others really want. Overall, according to the economic theories of the Chicago and Austrian Schools, the economy would grow stronger, a rising tide lifting all boats, as it were.

Of course, since everyone is responsible for their own success, inheriting wealth must necessarily be forbidden. As I said, equality of opportunity must be real. We must not have a government enforcing equality of outcome; outcome is predicated only on the result of one’s own ingenuity and labor. Being born wealthy is a matter of luck, which defeats the whole point of a true meritocracy.

Therefore, I propose funding the grub stakes with a 100% estate tax.

That seems fair, doesn’t it?

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Darn Fine Lunch in Denver

Posted in Uncategorized on February 15th, 2010 by Rick

Today, all of us had the day off for President’s Day, so we decided to get out of the house for a while to have some family time. We had some thought of hitting the Denver Art Museum, but it’s closed on Mondays, so we went for the second best choice and hit the bowling alley. We eschewed the bumpers this time, and it showed. None of us are comparable to Walter, Donny, or The Dude (though a White Russian might well have helped my rolls). I highly recommend the alley, Chipper’s Lanes, in Broomfield. Very pleasant place to bowl.

After two games, we were hungry. Frankly, we were past hungry and working on cranky. A month or two ago, in a similar state of near-arm-chewing, we tried to go to Jack-n-Grill Restaurant, but the wait was close to an hour, so we bailed and vowed we’d try again one day. So today was the day. We’re late to the party on this place. It’s been around for a good while, and has been featured on the tee-vee. Multiple times. But I’m going to tell you about it anyway.

The food is, loosely speaking, New Mexican. Lots of red and green chile. Sopapillas. Burritos. Enchiladas. The usual stuff of the state just to the south of the Square State. Also, they have burgers. Gazillions of them.

And the other thing about the food is, well, the portions are bleeping enormous. We’re not talking Cheesecake Factory here; we’re talking the scene in Spirited Away where the parents eat so much of the spirit food that they turn into pigs. Go there hungry, then share. Unless you are young and stupid and try to eat one of their 7 pound (that’s 3 kilos for everyone else in the known universe) burritos by yourself, you probably don’t even need a regular size entree per person. By the way, if you do manage that stunt-eating feat, they will put your picture on the wall, presumably as an object lesson in idiocy. But I digress.

Today, we waited about 20 minutes for a table, and spent the wait time looking over the menu so we were ready to order when we sat down. I told you: we were hungry.

Ordering went fine. The server came promptly (and called us “Sweetie” a lot–not sure if that’s the custom of the house or just a verbal tic of hers, but no biggie). For starters, we asked for a small order of “corn in a cup”, a side of fried (not breaded, though) jalapenos, and a basket of sopapillas. For mains, Daniel ordered the kid-sized burger and Eliana, Bonnie and I ordered two entrees to share: the cheese enchilada plate and the taco salad with calabacitas (both vegetarian, since E is a vegetarian and I keep kosher enough not to eat meat out). I should say that D ordered the kid burger because the regular burgers are 10 oz (about 280g) pre-cooked, and he is still a pre-teen and thus still has a teeny amount of sense about how much food it takes to fill him up. In a couple of years, I expect that sense to disappear for a while, at which time our grocery bills will double.

The service broke down a bit after ordering. The drinks took a little while, and there was one mistake, promptly corrected. The starters we ordered never came, and they suddenly brought out our entrees but got Daniel’s wrong (beef tacos instead of a burger). We asked for the sides/starters, which they brought eventually, along with the burger. Well, all except for the basket of sopapillas. The kitchen was apparently not functioning too well, but the server was also not keeping track very well. Everybody was friendly, though, and we enjoyed what we got so much that we weren’t horribly put off.

So let me break down the eats a bit:

“Corn in a cup” is whole kernel corn with butter, lime, parmesan cheese, and chile powder. We got a small, and that was plenty.

The fried jalapenos, which were all for me, are pretty much just whole peppers, fried until they’re hot and the skin loosens up a bit, but still pretty firm. Very simple, with nice chile flavor. The plate is supposed to have 2, but they gave me 3–probably because of the screwups.

The enchilada plate has five (yes, five) of the lovely little rolled up tortillas, plus beans, rice, and potatoes. Plus the usual garnishes. Huge plate. I mean massive. Enough for two people. We had it with red chile, since the green has pork, and it was satisfyingly spicy.

The calabacitas taco salad was also big (no surprise there), but quite a lot of the bulk was lettuce. Not complaining, mind you, since the greens provided some cooling from all the chiles. Calabacitas is a vegetable stew, primarily based on zucchini. The squash was nicely firm, and the heat level was reasonably high for the dish, compared to what I have had other places. This dish is served in one of those fried tortilla bowls, but, honestly, we had so much other stuff to eat, none of us touched the bowl.

The kid burger (with fries, naturally) was still pretty large (do you sense a theme going on here) was tasty, in Daniel’s humble estimation.

I am happy to report that we did not come close to making clean plates. If we had, we would have needed to go on a three-week fast, I’m pretty sure. But also, we would not have had room for dessert (I know, I know). Since we never got our appetizer sopas, we decided to try the sopa bites for a little something sweet at the end. These were a marvel. Little squares of puffy fried tortilla, with a light sprinkling of raspberry sauce and a big pile of whipped cream. Did I mention that the portion was enormous. What a surprise. For five bucks, there was plenty there for all four of us. We finished it, but none of us felt cheated.

Final tab? About 50 bucks including the tip. For all that food, two sodas and a coffee. Pretty reasonable.

Despite the screwups with the order, the food was plenty good enough for us to want to go back. But we might order a little bit less next time.

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Blog Update

Posted in Meta on February 10th, 2010 by Rick

Since Blogger will no longer support FTP/SFTP publishing to personal domains (except for Google’s custom domains), I’ve migrated this blog to a installation at my web host. The appearance may fluctuate a bit over the next little while.

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Posted in blindness, edges, retinitis pigmentosa, rp, visual impairment on May 17th, 2009 by Rick

Edges are important to me. And very, very dangerous.

About two and half years ago, I wrote a little about having retinitis pigmentosa and what it’s like to be blind, but not completely blind. RP is degenerative, so things have not gotten better. And they haven’t stayed the same, either. From one day to the next, my vision seems about the same, but it’s pretty clear that, in the past couple of years, and perhaps even more dramatically in the past year, things are worse.

On the plus side, I can still get around on my own via foot or public transit, as long as I’m reasonably familiar with the surroundings. I can do my work without needing special accesibility tools (a big mouse pointer and light on dark text are sufficient for most things). I’ve accomodated pretty well to wearing bifocals (in fairness, that’s probably more a function of age than the RP). And I am not, you know, dying or anything dire. OK, that last was too much. Really, my life is pretty good. I have a loving family, a job, good friends, and I want for nothing.

But, still…

Edges, edges everywhere, and, with luck, not a drop off into the drink.

My useful visual field is very narrow. Don’t know how narrow, as I haven’t bothered to have it measured recently, but suffice it to say that narrow describes it pretty well. When your useful visual field is effectively a small disk, it helps immensely to be able to follow edges.

Sidewalks on a normal, rectilinear street grid have these marvelous edges known as curbs. I love them. I just keep my eye on the edge, and I can navigate a fairly straight path down the sidewalk. Of course, I do risk crashing into the odd pole or fire hydrant or pedestrian while concentrating on that edge, but that’s why I carry the white cane.

Edges are everywhere for me, and quite essential. The edge where the molding meets the floor helps me avoid the walls (but not necessarily the wall hangings projecting out from it). The edges of windows on my computer screen help me to navigate my self around to the part of the display I need. The edges of the counter and the kitchen table…well, their utility should be obvious by now.

But, as essential as they are, all these useful edges are a challenge. After all, as I said, following them too closely leads me to miss other, rather important things, some more hazardous than others. I misjudged a step the other day, one foot went down about six inches off the (non-street) sidewalk, and I caught myself, badly, on a rustic fence that gave me a couple of good bruises. That was an accident.

But sometimes I dread deliberately stepping off those edges. Who knows if there’s a drop much longer than I can perceive. Who knows if there’s a car coming down the street as I step off that curb (I do look–and listen–for this, but there’s still a little clench just at the moment).

I need to think more about edges. Seems like there’s a metaphor here for something else, but I’m perceiving them quite literally at the moment.

Maybe I Should Write More

Posted in Uncategorized on May 17th, 2009 by Rick

I am one terrible blogger. Never write. Never call. Feel guilty, but keep procrastinating. I spend too much time surfing, not enough adding content to the tubes. But my neighbor just started a blog (Sir Snackalot), and I’ve been inspired to say something (anything, really). One hopes that there’s some value in sharing experience in such a public way. I’ve never really been a writer for a general audience, but I don’t really expect to be widely read, so consider this a message in a bottle. Maybe someone will pick it up at some point and go “Huh. Interesting.” Or not. No big deal either way.

Enough with the meta navel gazing. Onward.

Bought an iPhone today…

Posted in gadget lust, iPhone, mid-life crisis, rationalization on July 20th, 2008 by Rick

Unfortunately, I won’t actually possess an iPhone for a couple of weeks.

Pre-ordered (and paid for) the object of my gadget lust at the AT&T store in Boulder. They say 10-20 days for delivery. I could have tried Monday morning at the Apple Store, but, since we’re switching to a new family cell phone plan, it seemed like slightly less hassle to do everything in one place.

I know, I know. “Boys and their toys.” I have a 21 year old television, not a single console game, and this will be my first cell phone that is more than a device for making phone calls.

Also, my visual impairment means I can’t have a sports car for a mid-life crisis. This is cheap compared to one of those. Right?

Update (22 July 2008): It’s already here! Only 3 days! Not bad. AT&T has earned a small measure of goodwill, which they will no doubt sacrifice at some point in the not too distant future, if reports are to be believed. Won’t be able to pick it up until tomorrow, unfortunately. But, well, yippee!!