Monday, January 30, 2012

Honey badger YouTube video launches book career!

I don't know about you guys, but we watch a lot of YouTube videos for entertainment. It's not as much of a time-investment as a TV show, and usually more entertaining -- especially since the ones we're watching have been vetted by my astute friends on Facebook or Twitter. If you do this too, you've no doubt seen the honey badger video narrated by Randall. This YouTube video was posted on January 18, 2011 and in just over one year garnered more than 35.7 million views. Incredible! Legions of fans are clearly enamored of the hilarious, tell-it-like-it-is, profane-but-educational clip; it was written up in tons of popular media and went mega-viral. Randall subsequently was tapped for voiceovers for Grasshopper and Mythbusters and even a pistachio commercial! I was unaware that he had also written a book, Honey Badger Don't Care: Randall's Guide to Crazy, Nastyass Animals, until Chris noticed a post about Randall's book tour -- and I saw that Randall was going to be in Seattle this weekend, speaking at a bookstore within walking distance of our house. How could I not go?

Doesn't Randall look just how you pictured him? He could not have possibly been nicer or more charming. He graciously spent time with every fan -- and there were tons. The store was packed, mostly with University of Washington students, many wearing Honey Badger Don't Care T-shirts or carrying honey badger and cobra stuffed animals. One girl brought a gigantic honey badger poster for him to sign. One group of students asked him to speak at their commencement. The woman in front of me purchased books for each of her (many) siblings, and had Randall write a personal message to each one. The signing line snaked through the store, and went excruciatingly slowly. I was there for more than an hour and was about at the midway point in line to start.

Randall's father was a cameraman for "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" with Marlon Perkins. I used to love that show! He said his father would bring home fantastic footage of wildlife and Randall would narrate what was happening to his family and friends. He said wrote the book because he wants to educate people about animals to help save them; the honey badger, for one, is threatened by beekeepers who want to keep their hives safe from this predator.

The book looks like a nature book for kids -- but it's not. There are naughty words and talk about animal sex, and the author addresses the readers as "Stupid." The style reminds me of the celebrity commentator Perez Hilton's: hearts, word balloons, and enhanced photographs. In one photo, a honey badger has its hair in curlers and her claws painted red, with the caption, "OMFG--Did this honey badger get her claws did? How fierce!" All the i's in the caption font are dotted with hearts. I have to say, I laughed aloud at several points and actually did learn some animal facts; the book covers not just the honey badger but also the aye-aye, the Tasmanian devil, the emperor tamarin, the pink fairy armadillo, the tarsier, the opossum, the solenodon (I had never even heard of this one!), the wombat, the American bullfrog, and the sloth. It's a light read, though -- like an educational comic book.

Whatever your opinion on Randall's narration skills or book, you gotta hand it to the guy for making the most of his fame. He's got an iPhone/Android honey badger app, and is in talks to produce kids' books and possibly a TV show. It's a sign of our times that a funny YouTube video can launch a new career.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

XXX rated

If you're running a burger joint, I guess you need a gimmick. I thought the gimmick of XXX Rootbeer Drive-In in Issaquah was 1950s and '60s memorabilia, specifically car memorabilia. The walls in this place are plastered with vintage license plates, photos, and bric-a-brac, there's a '50s-style jukebox, the floor is black-and-white checks. The menu items are named things like 58 Impala, 49 Woody, and Traffic Ticket. The restaurant also holds something called Saturday Cruz-Ins -- special days for different types of cars -- scheduled all year long.

Of course, '50s-style diners aren't unique, but XXX Rootbeer managed to astonish us all when the food arrived at the booth. Both Chris and Oscar had ordered the XXX burger and a small root beer. What arrived was unlike anything I've ever seen before. Have you ever seen a bigger burger in your life? We should've known something was up, though, since the burgers cost $12.95 each. My fish sandwich, the White Wall, was also ginormous. Could anyone actually finish one of these sandwiches?!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Josef Frank at the Nordic Heritage Museum

I'm crazy about the bold, exuberant designs of Josef Frank! His colorful, nature-inspired fabrics look totally contemporary, but they were designed decades ago. I saw some samples of this amazing work this weekend at the Nordic Heritage Museum, which also had a few examples of Frank's chairs, sofas, lamps, and other furnishings. They even have a few Frank pillows for sale in the gift shop. If you have lots of money, you can still buy Frank-designed furniture, textiles, and accessories at the Swedish shop Svenskt Tenn, which recruited Austrian-born Frank in 1934. (Multitalented Frank was also an architect. He was born in Austria, but became a Swedish citizen.)

Besides the Frank exhibit (which, unfortunately, is small, but definitely worth seeing), the Nordic museum has an exhibit on immigration, which has visitors step through life-size dioramas that take them on a journey from the 19th century Scandinavian countryside to passenger ships to Ellis island and the dwellings and workplaces in New York, the Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest. These "buildings" and artifacts do an excellent job of giving you a sense of what life was like for these people. The visuals work on their own, but the explanatory signage provides great context as well, and happily, it's not dumbed-down for the masses. On another floor, there are rooms of clothing, folk art, household items, and bric-a-brac from Denmark, Island, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. There are also exhibits on the logging and fishing industries, which provided employment for many Nordic immigrants in the Seattle area. Like the Swedish Cultural Center, the Nordic Museum has classes, films, and events. But if you want to catch the Josef Frank exhibit, visit before February 19!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cafe Besalu

A woman I met last night told me about the ginger biscuits at Cafe Besalu in Ballard. They are so good that when her aunt visited from the East Coast she tried to buy them all. Cafe Besalu restricted her to just twelve.

We joined the long line of patrons this rainy morning and ended up buying not just ginger biscuits, but most of the pastries they had, including pain au chocolat, almond croissants, almond schnecken, plum rolls, and more. I took a bite of most of these (okay, in some cases more than a bite...) and the pain au chocolat was definitely the best I've had since visiting France (still warm, with melted chocolate). The ginger biscuit was indeed delicious as promised: light, fluffy, not overly sweet, with a very subtle ginger flavor.

Despite the massive quantity of sweets we purchased, there were still more items there that I'd like to try, including the onion and gruyere pastry, the cornmeal apricot sage cookie, and the leek and goat cheese quiche. I will be back! But I'm actually glad I don't live closer to this place. Even though it's open only 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, it could be dangerous!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Snow day 3.5

I'm officially over the winter wonderland -- especially now that it's all turned to slush. I awoke to the sound of chirping birds -- they must have been hiding over the past couple of days -- and incessant dripping. All the beautiful snow and ice is melting, and a light rain is speeding up the process. Chris drove to work today after two days of working at home, but Oscar ended up having the entire week of from school because the roads are still a mess. Chris's parents arrived from Michigan yesterday despite the airport having just one runway open. Unfortunately, after driving Oscar to the orthodontist and then his friend's house, they spent a good part of their day stuck in the slush near my house. Soaking wet in the rain, we dug around the tires and pushed the car, and with the help of a pair of good Samaritans we finally got it on its way.

Rain and wind are predicted for next week -- so, business as usual?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow day

I grew up in Massachusetts and remember well the magic of the snow day: the anticipation, most of the time not knowing until morning whether school was canceled. Sometimes we didn't find out--always via AM radio--until we had already gotten ready. And then we spent hours sledding in fluffy white powder, trudging up and down steep hills. Heaven! I moved away in 1994, and while I make it a point to see and experience snow at least once every year, I haven't actually lived anywhere with snow since then. I was excited to have Oscar experience his first-ever snow day!

Panic began yesterday. Schools started two hours late and let out two hours early, though there was just a few flurries. In the morning, the line of cars to get into the Trader Joe's parking lot stretched down the street. Safeway had just one cashier furiously checking out a line of patrons stocking up on provisions. By the end of the school day yesterday, school for today was already canceled, and most workplaces made arrangements for employees to work at home or take the day off.

Though initial forecasts called for 5 to 10 inches of snow, we seemed to get the low end of that. But still, it's definitely novel and fun to look outside and see snow-covered trees. Seemingly everyone in the neighborhood headed outside with sleds, some even with just cardboard, to sled down the slope right in front of our house. (In fact, initially I was planning to walk to the big hills at Gasworks Park, but the proximity of our own hill won out!)

However, Seattle evidently is not equipped for snow removal, so the streets are still covered late in the afternoon. Few people have bothered to shovel out their cars. Tonight, temperatures are supposed to dip into the 20s, and icy commute conditions are predicted for tomorrow. No word yet on school closure, but keep your fingers crossed!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Besides the Bavarian Ice Fest, Leavenworth offers lots of entertaining winter activities. My friends took their toddlers on a sleigh ride. Oscar and I tried cross-country skiing, which was a little frustrating due to icy conditions and lack of patience, but I had fun. I also enjoyed tromping around on my friend's snowshoes. All the kids enjoyed sledding on the super-slick hills.

We stayed at Sleeping Lady Resort, which has so much stuff on its grounds that you really don't even have to leave the property. It's situated by the Cascade mountains, with a creek running by. Buffet breakfast and dinner are included, so you don't have to worry about where and what you're going to eat every day. The food is excellent, and there are many vegetarian and healthy options, but I think everyone I was with ended up overeating. I routinely took multiple desserts. Yikes.

Unfortunately, despite all my eating I never got a chance to try the fitness room, but I did enjoy the outdoor hot pool. Nothing like stepping on ice with your bare feet before you slip into steamy water under the stars. We all played a lot of games. Sleeping Lady has a bunch you can check out at the front desk, as well as a game room with pool, ping-pong, and tables to play at. I mostly stuck with Bananagrams. The Grotto bar with faux cave paintings is also a definite plus.

I should also mention that the cabin-like rooms at Sleeping Lady are very cool. Oscar got his own loft to sleep in! The ladder was kind of scary, but it was very cozy and roomy up there. We've already booked a summer return trip, so we can see what the summer season is like.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bavarian Ice Fest

Four hours northeast of Seattle is a famous faux Bavarian village in the midst of beautiful snow-covered mountains. Obviously, this place -- Leavenworth -- was on the top of our list of Washington must-sees. Purely by magical accident, we came on the weekend of the Bavarian Ice Fest, so we got to see ice sculptors, snow sculptures, sled dogs, and lots of faux Bavarian events such as smooshing, which is a race where teams of four strap 8-foot boards to their feet -- like cross-country skiing with four people on the same pair of skis. Chris and I entered the Bavarian mug relay. One person had to run to a hat, put it on their head and say "Welcome to Leavenworth," then run to a table, grab three beer steins in each hand, fill them with ice, spin around, dump the ice, put the mugs back on the table, run to a chair and yodel, and then to their partner, who had to complete the sequence in reverse order. We didn't win.

The village itself is filled with all manner of shops selling T-shirts, cuckoo clocks, beer steins, and all the usual tourist crap. But on the plus side, all hotels, motels, shops and restaurants -- even the McDonald's -- are on theme and have Bavarian-style signage, so you never lose the feeling that you're on vacation. Also, it may be mid-January, but it's still Christmasy. The Christmas trees are still up and decorated, and there are lights everywhere.

I found it interesting that Leavenworth was a former logging town headed to becoming a ghost town in the early 1960s. The citizens Bavarian-ized the town, and voila -- instant tourist destination. Willkommen!

Monday, January 9, 2012


Whether or not you believe pie is the new cupcake, there's some seriously good pie in Seattle. One of my favorite eating places thus far is named simply Pie, a tiny shop offering a range of individual servings of pies for both your main meal and dessert. It's a great stop for a quick lunch or dinner when shopping in the Fremont district, or to grab takeout for a fast-food experience without resorting to eating fast food.

As for the pies, they're delicious, and also pretty enough to make your meal feel like a special treat. (I guess technically since they're in a pie crust, they actually are a special treat.) Chicken pot pie, English meat pie, and mac and cheese with peas pie are always on the menu, but other flavors rotate in and out. My favorite so far, a cauliflower gratin pie, seems to be rare, but I also love the veggie curry pie. Other varieties include smoked salmon with goat cheese, channa masala, meatloaf with bacon crumble -- there's bound to be something you'll like. There are also breakfast pies, which we haven't tried yet; this Sunday they had peppered bacon and potato or cheddar egg scramble. And of course, there are all manner of sweet pies. I love that some also come in a mini mini size so you can have just a bite of dessert after eating your pie dinner. (A regular sized cherry pie is next to the mini mini Berry Awesome pie in the picture below.)

Other enticements: Pie is open until 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday (just until 6 p.m. on Sunday, though!). They'll also deliver if you want to cater a lunch or party -- or if you want to eat at least $50 of pies yourself.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Lenin in Fremont

There's a 16-foot, 7-ton statue of Vladimir Lenin in the Fremont section of Seattle. It's often decorated depending on the season; right now it has a big illuminated star on its head left over from Christmas. While the giant statue adds to the bohemian feel of the neighborhood, it turns out the statue is not there because Fremont is filled with Communists, but rather because a Washingtonian found the statue of great artistic merit.

This work took sculptor Emil Venkov 10 years to create under commission by the Soviet and Czechoslovak governments, and it was installed in Poprad, Slovakia in 1988. It's thought to be the only artistic representation of Lenin surrounded by flames and symbols of war, thus depicting him as a violent revolutionary rather than an intellectual. Lewis Carpenter, an American who was teaching in Poprad, found the sculpture in a scrapyard after it was removed from Lenin's Square following the Velvet Revolution in 1989. He mortgaged his house to buy it and move it to Issaquah.

Carpenter died in 1994, and his family had the statue moved to its Fremont location in 1995 -- but it might not be there forever. Evidently the arrangement is considered temporary and the statue is for sale. Wikipedia says the price was $250,000 in 2006. Given the economy right now, you might be able to get them to cut you a deal.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ten seconds to the prettiest cake ever

Right here in Washington, Patricia Minish is creating breathtaking keepsake boxes, party favors, and cake toppers by hand. Each is made by hand of hand-cut, hand-tinted paper and lace, and glitter made out of glass imported from Germany. They are pricey, but, I mean, just look at them! One of these babies would take your cake from drab to fab with just a swipe of the ol' credit card! These beauties were spied at Trophy Cupcakes in Wallingford, but you can place custom orders for these fantastic showpieces at her website.

UPDATE: I just learned that Patricia will be holding a "Vintage Valentine" keepsake box class at Trophy Cupcakes in Wallingford Center on Sunday, January 22, from 2-4 p.m. $65 includes instruction and all materials, including German glitter glass! To sign up, call the Trophy Cupcakes Party Room at 206-390-0900 or email