Monday, December 30, 2013

2012 and 2013 in review

You're probably wondering why I would combine two years in my (nearly) annual reflective post, but I figured it was appropriate given that I forgot to do such a post at the end of last year.  Anyway, here goes:

2011 was a year of significant change for me.  In addition to some personal happenings near the end of that year, I earned my master's degree from St. Rose, earned tenure at my job in Germantown (tenure, in simple terms, means increased job security due to longevity), moved to the middle of nowhere (Coxsackie, NY, upon which I bestowed many slang names, none of which are fit for print here), and found myself with a level of (relatively) free time and mental energy that I had been lacking, honestly, for most of the 25 extremely busy, non-stop, no-time-to-breathe previous years.

What sticks out in my mind about the last two years is how fortunate I have been, particularly on the musical and theatrical side of things.  Shortly after moving to Coxsackie, I went to an open mic night at the Cask and Rasher (fantastic pub with some of the best Buffalo wings and burgers I've ever had) and met local guitarist, singer, and music personality Phil Massaro.  I've shared the stage with him, and several other great players, many times at the Cask and elsewhere, playing everything from the Beatles, to the Doors, to Zeppelin, and even some Death Cab for Cutie on occasion.  I also sat in on his latest EP playing, of all things, bari sax and trumpet.  Point being, it's a connection I'm glad to have made and I look forward to much more music making with Phil and his "symphony".

Shortly after this began, I got an email at work telling me that a local theatre group was searching for a vocal director and pianist for their upcoming production of Next to Normal (one of my absolute favorite musicals and one of my favorite piano parts to play).  I nearly pooped myself as I responded to the note.  This began an incredible collaboration and friendship with Steve Sanborn and Connie Lopez, the driving forces behind The Two of Us Productions.  To say that my ongoing involvement with them (I've done vocal direction and instrumental work for every one of their musical productions since and including Next to Normal) has been life-changing would be an understatement.  So many of my closest friends and favorite people to do music and theatre with today are people I've met through The Two of Us Productions, and they've even gotten me into doing some straight acting (I participated in a cemetery re-enactment tour a couple months ago).  My involvement with this group is something I know will continue for years to come and I couldn't be luckier or more thankful.

Including and beyond Steve and Connie's shows, I've had a great couple years theatrically.  I was privileged enough to work on such titles as Next to Normal, Songs for a New World, The Last Five Years (TWICE IN ONE YEAR!!!!), and Spamalot, among others.  Wow.  I have no words.  It's been a blast!  And the friendships I've made and strengthened with cast members, pit members, directors, etc. are incredible.  You all know who you are, so I'll save the space of putting every single name down here.

I made a resolution a couple years ago to play out more regularly than I had been, and I am pleased to report that I have succeeded with that resolution.  I've got a website up now ( and FINALLY had some business cards created, and I've been playing at the Century House in Latham pretty regularly.  One gig that sticks out is a late September show at which a handful of people from the Two of Us Productions' "Spamalot" showed up.  I was playing Piano Man and they were signing along.  I stopped at the beginning of the final refrain, and they sang through the stop-time.  It was surreal.  I've also been collaborating a bit more with some great friends from high school on some jazz standards and not-so-standards and am hoping to do some gigging with them in the new year.

I've also been fortunate enough to see some incredible performances over the last couple years and meet some cool people, including perhaps my largest influence as a pianist and music director, Mr. Jason Robert Brown.  I've seen him in concert on a few occasions, and seen several outstanding performances by the New York Philharmonic, the Birdland Big Band, and so many others!  Great live music is downright inspiring and I encourage all of you (even the non-musicians that read this) to see at least one live performance, and hopefully many more, in the new year.  It's well worth the money and it's well worth leaving the comfort of your couch and the ease of going online to see music, to see it in person.  Do it.  You won't regret it.

Another thing worth mentioning......I took a road trip across the country with my good friend Jess this summer and lived to tell the tale.  Without going into too much detail (I could write a post on the trip alone), I'll say that if you haven't seen the country, you should do yourself a favor and do some traveling.  Some highlights were the warm Pacific Ocean and even better New England Clam Chowder (on the Santa Monica pier), the sheer glitziness and opulence that is Las Vegas, the breathtaking scenery along the highways in Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, the hiking in Colorado (particularly the nearly 15,000 foot elevation of Mount Evans and the spectacular view from the top), the diners, drive-ins, and dives along the way, and the music scene in Nashville.  Such a great time!

What else?  I'm in my sixth year as Germantown Central's band director and I've reached the point where I'm in a really solid groove there.  I'm also old, given that some of my first year students have college degrees and can legally drink, and some of my first year elementary students are now in 11th grade and lead players in my sr. high band and jazz band.  I'm living in East Greenbush and sharing the bottom half of an awesome house with one of my cousins.  It's pretty sweet.  I've discovered that the best way to reheat pizza is to put it on the top shelf of a grill while cooking bacon-wrapped filet mignon on the bottom shelf.

What lies ahead?  Well, I'll be....

1.  Hitting the gym on more days than I don't hit the gym.

2.  Vocally directing a production of Les Miserables with The Two of Us Productions in the spring!

3.  Playing out regularly at several different venues, both solo and with different groups of people.  Check regularly for an updated gig calendar.

4.  Updating this blog more regularly; I have several car reviews and restaurant reviews that need to be written, so expect at least one post a week along those lines.

5.  (Hopefully) inspiring the young minds of Germantown, NY both musically and otherwise.

6.  Making some slow but steady progress on a musical project that you'll hear more about in a couple years when it's (hopefully) completed.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Until next time,

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Car Review -- 2013 Volkswagen Passat 2.5SE with Sunroof and Navigation

A couple days ago, my 2002 Passat GLX wagon was due for rear brakes, an oil change, an oxygen sensor, and a purge valve (to extinguish a nagging check engine light), so I brought it to Fuccillo VW of Schenectady.  They armed me with a 2013 Passat SE sedan with the sunroof and navigation package to drive for the day and a half that I left my car with them.  Here are my thoughts:

1.  This is a big car.  Way bigger than my wagon and comparable in size to my 2010 Accord.  It feels more ponderous than the Accord, though, and much more difficult to maneuver in tight spaces and park.  The backup camera that they added to the SE trim for 2014 would have been very helpful.

2.  The space pays dividends on the inside, though.  I never lacked for room, and actually had to stretch a bit for my elbow to reach the soft part of the door armrest.

3.  Speaking of armrests, the console rest on this car neither slides nor adjusts for height (the armrest on my 2002 wagon does both, and I missed both adjustments).

4.  However, all four windows are one-touch down AND up, which is highly convenient when one needs to quickly let a fart escape from the confines of the interior.  Also, the "tap for three flashes" directional stalk was extremely useful when making lane changes.

5.  The seats were upholstered in leatherette (the S model gets cloth and the top-shelf SEL model gets a mixture of real leather and a suede-like material).  This upholstery is awful.  It's stickier than leather and doesn't feel particularly upscale.  The seat heaters were a nice touch but not nearly as effective as those in my 2002 wagon.

6.  While it was nice to have a power-adjustable lumbar balloon in the driver's seat, it didn't inflate nearly enough.  Maybe I'm weird in that I like a nice football in my lower back when I drive, but coming from the awesome lumbar support of both the 2002 wagon and my Accord, this was a bit disappointing.

7.  A couple other features from my 2002 wagon that I missed were the automatic climate control and rain-sensing wipers.

8.  I also missed the torque of my V6 engine and responsiveness of my manual transmission.  The 2.5 liter inline-five, while decently powerful, was unrefined by comparison and much weaker throughout the rev range.  It didn't help that the six-speed automatic was reluctant to let the engine wind itself out when a quick boost of power was needed (for the record, it had a manual mode, but I hate Tiptronic systems, as they feel too much like a gimmick and don't feel connected).  Thank goodness they're replacing this motor with a 1.8 liter turbo 4 for 2014, which will help power, torque, and fuel economy.

9.  I think I would have liked this car much more if it had the 2.0 liter TDI (diesel) motor.  I drove one with this motor a few months back and loved the responsiveness and "right-now" torque.  The DSG (dual-clutch automatic) also was much more in-tune with my right-foot's power requests than the 6AT on this car was.

10.  The stereo was decent and put out some OK bass, but it lacked the crystalline clarity and Chuck Norris-esque punch of the Monsoon system in my wagon.

11.  The car was very quiet; more so than either my current rides, and the ride was comfortable and controlled.

12.  It handled pretty well for such a large car, too, but the steering was too light and too devoid of road feel for my taste.

13.  The soft-touch padding on the dash was pretty awesome and felt truly German.

14.  The Bluetooth system, as well as the design of the trip computer / information display in the gauge cluster, was outstanding.  It was easy to pair my phone and stream calls (and audio) directly through the system.  The steering-wheel redundant controls were some of the most intuitive I've ever used, and the screen between the gauges displayed the perfect amount of information.  I could also toggle between missed calls, etc. on my phone by using the steering wheel controls; very cool.

15.  Overall, I liked the car quite a bit, even though it may seem that I'm criticizing it pretty severely.  I would've liked it much better if it had the TDI motor, SEL trim, a wagon body, and a stick shift, but VW doesn't offer that combination in the US.  Here's hoping that the 2015 Jetta Sportwagen will be offered in such a configuration; if so, that's a car I would trade for.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Albany Auto Show Fall 2013

Today marked my annual trip to the Empire State Plaza for Albany’s fall auto show.  Here are my observations in no particular order....

1.  The new GM full-size pickups are quite nice, and their interiors were extremely well-finished.  I had a few issues with the seats, though.  First of all, the Chevy truck on hand had the front bench seat, which had neither a head restraint nor a shoulder belt for the front center position.  What is this, 1995?!  Also, neither truck had a rear seat with a center headrest and/or adequate comfort for my six-foot frame.  

2.  Actually, the number of vehicles with inhospitable rear seats for six-footers was astonishing.  However, the new Toyota Tundra Double Cab’s rear seat was extremely accommodating for me, even in its center position.  It made the rear of the GM pickups seem like the under-a-staircase closet in which Harry Potter spent his early years.  

3.  All of the Acuras were locked, as were the Mercedes-Benzes and the Porsches.  Lame.  

4.  Out of approximately 150 vehicles on the show floor, only two that I saw had manual transmissions.  One was the Audi S4, which presented itself as an all-around exceptional automobile, and one that I would love to own someday.  The other was the Nissan Versa Note.  It had crank windows, no cruise control, manual door locks, and a sticker price of approximately $15,000.  The shifter felt like it was stirring a bucket of rocks, and speaking of rocks, the door armrests were rock hard, unlike those in my friend’s first-generation Versa SL hatchback, which were probably the softest, plushest door armrests I’d ever experienced.  Also, while the rear seat was exceptionally comfortable and roomy (more so than that in the new Chevy Impala, to put things in perspective), it did not fold flush with the cargo floor, which seriously compromised its hatchback utility.  

5.   The Buick Verano knocked my socks off last year.  It impressed me again this year, but not to the same extent given how many other new vehicles had been introduced between now and then.  

6.   The Cadillac CTS (2014 model) was nice, but the back seat was a joke.  It also didn’t feel appreciably nicer than its many competitors that were on the show floor.  And what is with General Motors’ newfound love of enormous front head restraints that shove people’s heads uncomfortably far forward?

7.   With the exception of the new Jeep Cherokee (which was quite nice), the Chrysler products on display were disappointing.  No new vehicle should have as much vertical play in the headliner as the new Dodge Journey.  And no vehicle should have as poor seat comfort and build quality as either of the Chrysler minivans on display (a stripped Caravan and a loaded Town and Country).  And no sedan should have rear headroom as abysmal as that in the Dodge Dart.  

8.   The new Corvette looked exceptional.  I need to own one.  

9.   The refreshed Malibu wasn’t half bad.  The new Impala was slightly better, though neither sedan had enough headroom in its rear seat to justify its exterior size.  

10.  The Kia Forte (new model) was surprisingly nice.  So was the Honda Civic LX (the cheapest Civic available this year).  

11.   The new Toyota Corolla’s rear seat was not nearly as accommodating as several auto journalists have said it is.  The car also wasn’t anything special, and not nearly as special as it should be given that it’s a new design.  

12.   The Prius V, on the other hand, was awesome.  Huge interior.  Very versatile.  Hybrid fuel economy.  If one vehicle could make me give up my manual transmission, it would either be this or the Acura RLX.  

13.   The Toyota Sienna was a nice minivan and the seats were better than those in most Toyotas (which usually stink).  The Honda Odyssey was even nicer.  

 14.  There were lots of compact crossovers with nice interiors and comfortable back seats.  The Hyundai Tuscon and Chevy Equinox were probably the only exceptions.  The most impressive to me were the VW Tiguan and the Honda CR-V.  I would’ve loved to try the new Nissan Rogue but they only had the old model there.  

15.   The new Mazda3 is quite nice, and the back seat is a bit bigger than auto critics would lead someone to believe.  However, the switchgear still feels a step below that of a comparable Honda product.  The new 6 is awesome, though, and I would surely consider one if I was looking to replace my Accord.  

16.   The VW Jetta Sportwagen is an exceptional vehicle, and I can’t wait for the 2015 model.  I’d consider trading both my vehicles on one of them if they offer the TDI motor, 6-speed stick, Fender stereo, and leather interior packaged together.  

17.   I wasn’t disappointed with any of the Subarus on hand (new Forester, new Impreza crosstrek, Outback).  All were very well designed, comfortable, roomy, and versatile.  

18.   The Honda Accord EX-L has some of the best front seats I’ve ever sat in.  These thrones are just sublime.  Too bad they don’t offer the leather seats with the six-speed manual transmission in this country (they do in Canada, but that does me no good).  

19.  The Buick Encore has less space between the front seats than just about anything this side of a Smart car.  

20.   Anyone in the market for a car would be an idiot not to test everything in the segment he or she is considering; the market is so competitive and so many products are too genuinely good not to be considered.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Test Drive -- 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE DSG

As you can probably guess, this post is about my recent test drive of a 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE DSG.  Holy acronyms, Batman!  TDI stands for turbo direct injection and it refers to Volkswagen's series of diesel motors.  SE refers to the middle of the three trim lines in which the US Passat is offered. DSG stands for Direkt Schalt Getriebe, which loosely translated means direct-shift manual gearbox.  In other words, it's physically a manual transmission with two clutches, but its operation is automated and it lacks a clutch pedal.  It was designed to shift more quickly than any human (or conventional automatic transmission) while delivering the efficiency and feel of a stick shift by replacing the torque converter found on a normal automatic transmission with a clutch (or rather, two clutches) that would directly connect the engine to the drive wheels.  I am a manual transmission purist and thus do not consider VW's DSG to be a viable replacement for a manual transmission despite its paddle shifters, and I only drove a Passat with this gearbox because Nemer VW in Latham did not have any Passats with the six-speed manual transmission on their lot.

Despite the fact that this car was, for my purposes, an automatic, I really liked it.  The DSG is easily the best automatic transmission I've ever driven, with lightning-quick shifts and generally smooth behavior. I didn't try the paddle-shift manual mode, as my test drive was short and accompanied by a salesman, but I would be surprised if it did not function well.  This car, as previously stated, was equipped with a diesel engine, which makes most of its usable power low in the RPM range.  The DSG did an excellent job keeping the engine in its power band and the car never felt underpowered.  It did take a while to get used to its power delivery, though, compared to the "wind it to the stratosphere" attitude of my 2010 Honda Accord's VTEC gas engine.  I did drive a 2011 Jetta TDI with a six-speed stick just to see how the diesel motor mated with a manual transmission, and it was weird in that first gear was usable only to get the car rolling but second was too tall to start in.  Definitely different, and I hope to test drive a 2013 Passat TDI SE with a manual gearbox to see if this trait carries over.  It probably does.  I could get used to it, though.

The best feature of the TDI drivetrain, without a doubt, is its exceptional fuel efficiency.  With a stick shift, the Passat TDI is rated at 31 mpg city and 43 mpg highway (the DSG model fares slightly worse), and there have been reports of people regularly exceeding these EPA ratings.  One couple nearly doubled the EPA's highway number of 43 mpg on a long road trip, driving nearly 1,500 miles before refueling.  Read their story at

Drivetrain aside, here are my thoughts on the car in no particular order:

1.  It's huge.  The trunk is enormous.  So is the back seat, though my head did manage to brush the headliner.  Perhaps the manual transmission model (which is unavailable with the DSG model's mandatory sunroof) has better headroom.

2.  The rear seats split and fold, and they have a center ski pass-through.  Why all sedans don't have rear seats with this fantastic level of versatility floors me, and why my 2010 Accord's rear seat doesn't split is downright maddening.

3.  The SE model comes with leatherette (glorified vinyl) upholstery (base S models come with cloth and SEL models come with legit leather, with suede inserts in some cases).  I didn't like it.  It was sticky and not particularly supportive.

4.  The seats themselves seemed flat and, while generally comfortable and electrically adjustable in the driver's case, didn't offer as much lumbar or lateral support as those in my Accord (or my 2002 Passat GLX wagon, for that matter).  The back seat was also flat, which is good for three-across travel but not as great for two-person travel.

5.  The steering wheel was slightly offset to the right of the driver's side of the dash.  I noticed this when this car came out a couple years ago, but it didn't bother me on the test drive nearly as much as I thought it would.

6.  The wheel itself is awesome, leather-wrapped, and equipped with well-designed redundant controls for the Bluetooth system, the trip computer, and the audio system.

7.  The details are impressive.  The sunvisors slide to extend when moved to the side, the stalks on the steering column felt at least as finely oiled as those in my Accord (and those are pretty damn good), and the directionals flash three times when tapped (useful for lane changes).  Build quality was very impressive and, in particular, the shift knob's action was as fluid as in any automatic vehicle I've driven.

8.  The six-speed fan was a nice touch, and was strong at its highest setting on the scorcher of a day I drove the car.  It was loud, though, and I would've liked the option of automatic climate control (it is offered on the SEL model only).

9.  The stereo was good for a mid-level system, and included a touch-screen interface, Bluetooth audio, a six-CD changer (I can't think of any other manufacturer who still believes in multi-disc changers), HD radio, satellite radio, and an eighth-inch jack.  I would have liked to see a USB jack (there's no excuse for leaving this out in 2013) or at least an iPod interface, and it would be nice for the SEL model's Fender audio system to be available on the SE.  It's a significantly better system.

10.  The analog clock between the middle two air vents was a very classy touch.  I think there's a digital one in the instrument panel or on the radio touch screen for those who can't read a clock's hand.

Well, that's all great, but how does it drive?

Generally, very nicely.  Here are the specifics:

1.  The steering felt extremely light and devoid of road feel, but was surgically precise.  I would have preferred more heft, but I could get used to this.  My Accord has one of the best front-drive steering systems I've ever driven, second only to a Mazda6 loaner car my parents had several years back.  The fact that the TDI Passat uses an electric power steering system in place of the gas engine model's hydraulic system might explain the lightness and lack of road feel.

2.  As previously stated, the powertrain worked well.  I can't wait to try this car with a stick shift.  I like that the RPMs were significantly lower at highway speed than in either of my current cars.  Passing power was definitely sufficient too.

3.  It's a QUIET car!  My 2010 Accord isn't all too quiet at speed.

4.  The ride is smooth but not Buick-smooth.  Handling is pretty crisp for such a large car, though maybe not quite as responsive as my similarly-sized Accord.

My largest complaints with this car are as follows:

1.  Lack of a stereo upgrade to the Fender system in the SE model.

2.  Lack of a USB jack or iPod interface.

3.  Lack of a Siri button on the wheel (but then again, very few cars have one currently).

4.  My head grazes the rear headliner when sitting back in the rear seat.  Not enough to be annoying, but enough to make me wonder why it's happening given how huge the car is.

5.  The leatherette upholstery is sticky and inferior to cloth and leather.

6.  The steering could be a little meatier.

What kills me is that four of these six complaints would be resolved if I could order the SEL trim with a manual transmission, but I can't.  I can understand VW's desire to streamline the manufacturing process, but they offer a trim nearly identical to the SEL in Canada with a stick shift and it's built on the same line as the American Passat for a MUCH smaller audience.  UGH!!!!  Honda and Mazda do something similar with their Accord and 6, respectively.  Makes me crazy.

Upgrading my 2010 Accord to a Passat TDI SE stick shift is still extremely tempting, though.  My fuel economy would increase by nearly 20 mpg, I'd be in a quieter car, and I'd gain a few cool tech features that my Accord doesn't have.  I would also get free maintenance for 3 years or 36K miles and could probably get 0% financing for up to 60 months.  And I'd not have to worry about the few upcoming maintenance items that my Accord will need in the next couple years (tires, brakes, various inspections, and possibly a clutch).  I'd lose some athleticism in the drivetrain and in the steering/handling, I'd lose the awesome cloth seats (but gain seat heaters), I'd lose the sunroof, and I'd gain a higher car payment.

Decisions, decisions.......

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Long-Overdue Update

Hey everyone!  It's been a while since I last posted; things have been a bit crazy.  In early February, I music-directed and played piano in a production of Jason Robert Brown's musical "The Last Five Years", and it was quite possibly the best theatrical experience I've ever been involved with (and I've been involved with several incredibly rewarding projects recently).  Without getting all nostalgic and sentimental, I will say that working on that show, and doing so with the people that were involved in it, was a dream come true.

I also did a shitload of recording over my winter break (and the weeks that followed).  It was fun, and a good chance to try out the drum mics I recently acquired.  You can hear some of what I recorded at .  I'm hoping to have some type of album released by the end of calendar year 2013.

Lastly, I've been engrossed in the Germantown HS Drama Club's production of "Into the Woods".  Tech week starts tomorrow afternoon.  If I seem like I'm not around for a week, that's why.  It's a great show, though, and great fun to work on.

Anyway, my good friend Mike came into town from Stamford, CT this weekend to tag along when I went to the Albany Auto Show.  In no particular order, here are my recollections from the trip:

1.  Trying to find the free parking garage in Albany when the St. Patrick's Day parade is going on is a pain in the ass.  I ended up paying $10 to park in a privately-owned garage simply because the roads leading to the free garage were closed.  On the bright side, I got some exercise walking from my car to the show (sans jacket, of course).

2.  The Porsches were locked......of course.......

3.  The Lincoln MKZ was a huge disappointment.  Cheap interior materials, pitifully cramped back seat (especially with respect to headroom), overpriced, etc.  I much preferred its sister car, the Ford Fusion (despite the Fusion's $10K cheaper price tag).

4.  The commonality of electronic parking brakes, electronic shifters, etc. is mildly terrifying.  I can't imagine how screwed someone would be should something go awry.  At least in my cars, I can manually shift into neutral, step on the clutch, or yank the handbrake if I need to act in an emergency.

5.  I was not overly impressed with the Mercedes-Benz models on display.  What I had the biggest problem with was the fact that a $60K E350 didn't include leather upholstery.

6.  The BMW X1's interior was considerably nicer than the (more expensive) 328i they had on display. But why the heck weren't the visor mirrors illuminated?  It's a BMW, for cryin' out loud!

7.  I forgot how nice the Audi A6's interior is.

8.  The Cadillacs on display were pretty disappointing.  Why the heck does the XTS (their closest thing to an AARP-mobile) have a modern electronic parking brake, while the ATS (their sporty offering) has a geriatric foot-pedal parking brake?

9.  The shifter on the Fiat 500 was absolutely terrible.  Shifting it wasn't unlike stirring a bucket of rocks.  Actually, the interior quality of the Fiat was pretty terrible as well.  I can see why they sell it for such a low price.

10.  The Infiniti G37 convertible is a car I wouldn't mind owning.  The folding hardtop is so well-insulated that I thought I was sitting in a full-fledged coupe at first (the door-mounted curtain airbags gave away the fact that it was, in fact, a convertible).

11.  Where the heck was Lexus?

12.  The Acura ILX was disappointing.  It's little more than a glorified, overpriced Civic.  I really wanted to like this car, but I couldn't.

13.  I still think the TSX is an incredible vehicle and an even better bargain.  It won't survive past this model year, though, as it's built overseas and production costs, etc. make it less profitable for Honda to sell the TSX than to sell their American-made products.

14.  The Acura RLX knocked my socks off.  Seats were amazing.  Interior quality was beyond reproach, and better than so many of the (more expensive) German luxury cars on display.  The wood trim was beautiful.  It's supposed to get 30 mpg in the city AND on the highway in hybrid form.  This is one of very few cars that I would consider buying with an automatic transmission; it really is that incredible.

15.  The Toyotas on display didn't do much for me, though the Avalon was surprisingly nice and the interior design impressed me more than I thought it would.  Ditto for the new RAV4.

16.  Hyundai has gone downhill.  I can't think of a better way to put it than that.  Yet I was pleasantly surprised that I fit better in the back of their Accent subcompact than I did in their Sonata full-size sedan.

17.  The 2014 Subaru Forester is much improved over its predecessor.

18.  The new Nissan Sentra was extremely impressive.  Huge interior, nice materials, great seats, plush door armrests, good stereo, great value for the dollar.  I'd have to drive it to see if they cut corners in that area to create such a great interior, but color me impressed.  If only it was available when I went to Indiana this summer.  As you can tell if you read my post from last July, I was NOT very impressed with the previous-generation Sentra.

19.  The Buick Encore is REALLY tiny.  It makes sense that it's a raised Chevrolet Sonic with some more luxury trappings.

20.  The Ford Focus ST was fantastic.  I'd consider it very seriously if I was in the market for a new car.  I still can't stand MyFordTouch, but everything else (seats, space efficiency, value for the dollar, etc.) was awesome.  The Sony stereo system impressed me much more in this car than it did in the 2012 Taurus at the NY Auto Show last year.  I was able to pair my phone to it through Bluetooth and stream some music, and it sounded at least as good as the Monsoon system in my 2002 VW Passat (and that's a really good system).

21.  I was impressed with the number of cars on the floor with manual transmissions.  The Fiat 500's shifter was the only one that really sucked.  Most of the others (Audi S5, Mini Cooper, Ford Focus ST, etc.) were quite good.

22.  On a similar note, I saw a car as rare as a barely-cooked, still moo-ing steak.  They had a Honda Accord coupe with a stickshift.  It's a really rare car, and probably the only one in the area.  Honda (in its infinite wisdom, note the sarcasm) only offers limited color choices in its Accord when a buyer specifies a manual transmission, with the four-cylinder coupe model being the most limited.  In other words, you can have any color you want, as long as it's black.  Seriously.  But they had a black Accord coupe on the floor, and sure enough, it was a 6-speed model.  And it was, without a doubt, the slickest shifter I've ever sampled; it's not unlike running a knife through fresh butter.  It's tragic that they limit its availability so much, as it really is a gem!  Wow!

23.  Honda has absolutely gotten its game back.  The new Accord is world-class (save for a terrible premium sound system), and the V6 version is sports-car quick (5.5 seconds from 0 to 60 mph).  The Odyssey is still the best minivan out there.  The 2013 Civic is significantly improved from the 2012 model.  And the Acura RLX, as previously mentioned, is exceptional.

Ah.....if only I was an automotive journalist with the ability to drive all of these cars.......

Friday, January 18, 2013

Buffalo Chicken Garbage Bread Recipe

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you've probably seen my plethora of food pictures, and you've probably noticed that several of them feature my Buffalo chicken garbage bread.  I decided to share the recipe with any of you who might be interested.  Enjoy!

You will need a small package of thin, boneless chicken breast, a bottle of Frank's original hot sauce, a stick of margarine or butter, two balls of pizza dough, a cup of tomato sauce, cooking spray, flour or olive oil(optional), and a medium-sized bag of mozzarella cheese.

1.  Melt the stick of butter (or only 2/3 of the stick if you want your Buffalo sauce to have more of a "kick" to it) in a small saucepan.  As the butter melts, preheat a large frying pan on another burner after spraying it with cooking spray.

2.  Take two 13 by 9 baking sheets (preferably with some type of lip going around the edges) and, if they're the type that needs greasing, grease them with the wrapper from the butter stick.  If you'd prefer, grease with a small amount of olive oil (but only if the baking sheet requires it).

3.  Add the hot sauce to the melted butter.  Stir well.  Reduce to approximately 25% heat and cover it.

4.  Add the chicken breast to the frying pan, add 1/8 inch of water, and cover.  Reduce to no more than 50% heat.

5.  Check the chicken after a few minutes; when it's ready to be turned, turn it.

6.  Stir the Buffalo sauce and adjust the heat so it remains at the cusp of its boiling point when covered.

7.  When the chicken appears to be completely white, move it from the frying pan to a cutting board or plate.  Dice it into pieces no larger than a cubic inch per piece in size.

8.  Add the chicken to the Buffalo sauce.  Stir well and let it cook, still on 25% heat.

9.  Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees, or whichever temperature the label on your pizza dough says.

10.  Place a couple drops of olive oil or a small amount of flour on each ball of pizza dough.  Knead and toss the dough until each dough unit is thin and at least a foot in diameter.  Use a drinking glass to roll the dough out if needed.

11.  Take a knife and slice each dough unit lengthwise down the middle.  This should result in four dough units, each of which will be twice as long as it is wide.  Each dough unit will now be referred to as a loaf of garbage bread.

12.  Add pizza sauce to each loaf of garbage bread.

13.  Add a small amount of Buffalo chicken to each loaf, using a slotted spoon so an appropriate amount of sauce accompanies the chicken.

14.  Top each loaf with a moderately copious amount of mozzarella cheese, but be careful to leave approximately the first two inches in from each side of the dough uncovered (you'll see why later).

15.  Add another layer of chicken to each loaf, and drizzle some Buffalo sauce on top as well.

16.  Add a final layer of cheese.

17.  Pull the outer edges of each loaf up and pinch them together, to seal each loaf at the top.

18.  Make certain that there are at least a few inches between the loaves and the edge of the baking sheets so that you don't spill wet chicken in your oven and set your house on fire.

19.  Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until done.

20.  Remove from oven and let sit until it can safely be touched.  Slice and serve!

21.  Make certain that your stove and oven are completely turned off.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My Homemade Linguine Alfredo with Spicy Sausage

Happy New Year, everyone!  Most of the posts in this blog have been automotive in nature, so I'm going to make a New Year's resolution to focus more on the "chow" and "so much more" end of things in 2013.  As can be guessed by the title of this post, I am about to explain how I make my homemade linguine Alfredo with spicy sausage.


6 links spicy Italian sausage
Half of a package (about 7 oz) of linguine (I use whole wheat pasta but any kind would work.)
2 cups of light cream
1 cup of finely grated Parmesan cheese
Half of a stick of butter or margarine
Pepper, garlic salt, and whichever other spices you like

1.  If the sausage is frozen, place it in a casserole dish filled with half of an inch of water, and nuke it for four minutes to thaw and kill any bacteria.  Reduce this time to one minute, with an eighth inch of water if the sausage is not frozen.

2.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil on maximum heat.

3.  Melt the butter or margarine in a medium saucepan on maximum heat.

4.  Reduce heat to medium and add the light cream to the margarine.  Add pepper, garlic salt, etc., and stir for a couple minutes.  Increase heat to about 60%.

5.  Place about a quarter inch of water in a frying pan and add the sausage.  Cover and cook on about 40%, or leave uncovered and cook on about 75%.

6.  Cover the light cream/butter/spice mixture.  Let it come to a soft boil.

7.  By now, the water should be boiling.  Add the pasta to the water.  Stir as soon as the pasta is soft enough to be completely submerged in the water.  After a minute or so of stirring, cover and reduce to approximately 75% heat, or leave uncovered at 90% heat.  Leaving it any hotter will cause it to overflow; I know this from experience.  If it looks like it will overflow, reduce the heat and/or stir it.

8.  Add the Parmesan to the Alfredo sauce.  Be sure to stir constantly as you do this so the cheese doesn't gum up the bottom of the pan as opposed to blending in.  Add another dollop of pepper.  Stir for a few minutes or until the cheese looks to be blended with the cream mixture.  Cover and let it sit at 50% heat.

9.  Turn the sausage links.  Let them cook a bit longer.

10.  Slice the sausage into bite-sized, well, bites.  Uncover the pan, turn the heat to 80%, and let the remainder of water boil off so the sausage can "crisp" a bit.

11.  Stir the Alfredo sauce for another minute.  If it's frothing at the top and you can see only the slightest hint of Parmesan on the spoon, congratulations, you've nailed it!

12.  Kill the heat on the sausage and Alfredo burners.

13.  Drain the pasta, and return it to the pot.  Reduce the heat on this burner to a low simmer.

14.  QUICKLY add the Alfredo sauce, stirring it well so the pasta is completely coated.  Add the sausage in a similar manner and mix thoroughly.

15.  Cook a frozen vegetable so you can counteract the fatty goodness that is linguine Alfredo with spicy sausage.  Or don't.  You DID use LIGHT cream after all.

This should easily feed a group of four or five, or provide one person with a few days' worth of leftovers.  Freeze whatever you don't re-heat within a few days.