Monday, December 26, 2005

A Charlie Brown Christmas - Charlie Brown toy

I know, Christmas is over, and you’re probably sick and tired of Charlie freaking Brown, and his yearly attempt at understanding the materialism of Christmas, not to mention his adoration of a tiny tree that nobody else believed in.  He may be a “blockhead” to some, but he’s won a spot in my heart, and the holidays wouldn’t be the same without spinning a Peanuts DVD, and believing that, one day, he will finally kick that damn football Lucy’s always tricking him with.

Honestly, sometimes I feel like Charlie Brown myself.  I walk around, observing everyone else, appearing almost as if they’re oblivious, while I try to figure out this big, crazy world from the confines of my mind.  I have lots of questions.  Again, just like Charlie Brown, I think my first one should be: why the fuck is my beagle dressed like a World War II-era pilot, and secondly, why do all adults’ voices sound like an infant doing a trumpet solo?

Here’s our guy… Charlie Brown!  After watching A Charlie Brown Christmas a couple nights ago, I can confirm that they’ve got his outfit portrayed accurately.  I remember penning a story titled, “You Lost Your Virginity, Charlie Brown!” back in junior high; I never had the guts to turn it in, though.

Here are our accessories, although there’s not a lot here, there’s really not much more you could ask for.  We get the aforementioned seminal classic tiny tree, which inspires an entire group of children to commit the crime of stealing (Snoopy’s gaudy collection of lights and decorations) to garnish it, and then hum holiday tunes in freezing temperatures.  In fact, they’re both the same tree, just a “before” and “after” snapshot so to speak, which would increase my Christmas cheer twofold, if it was not 3:30AM.

A line of toys based upon the Peanuts characters is cool to some of us, but to spice up the concept to non-fans, perhaps, or just for the hell of it… they decided to release each character with a different facial expression.  I saw the “happy” version of Peppermint Patty, the frown depicting “sad” version of Sally, etc.  This is apparently the “high” version of Charlie Brown.  He’s obviously extremely happy, if not a bit goofy looking, and his eyes are shut to hide further evidence of his exploits.  He even adjusted his own hat, to show that he too is “gutter” and “street”, or whatever kids are screaming out of car windows at each other these days.  Personally, I know I represent my Great Pumpkin clique out there in Hoboken, and my bowling league buddies from Poughkeepsie—but I digress.

Here’s a look at Charlie in action, cajoling (I just realized how hilarious the word “cajole” is) his coveted tree with love.  This picture makes me almost as happy as when I went to the drive-in theatre to see White Men Can’t Jump, and got both nachos and a hot dog a the concession stand!

Charlie Brown: Eat my shorts!

Brian: Wait a second, Charlie; if I’m not mistaken, that line belongs to another iconic cartoon character, named Bart Simps…

Charlie Brown: Don’t have a cow, man!

Brian: Good grief!

Overall Grade: A 

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Short Christmas Comic

Magnificent Toy Theatre presents
A Short Christmas Comic

Charlie Brown: Well, Christmas turned out to be pretty good this year after all, wouldn’t you say?

Pigpen: I concur.

Charlie Brown: Something smells wrong, and by wrong, I mean like, Jessica Alba playing Invisible Woman in the Fantastic Four

Pigpen: The smell’s coming from yours truly, but I can’t justify that casting decision either.

Charlie Brown: I got this cool bracelet; it’s supposed to be like the one Kyo wears in that anime Fruits Basket.  I’m going to wear it to the posh ice cream social next week.

Pigpen: I got this glittery calculator.

Santa Claus: Ho, ho, ho!  Merry Christmas, boys!

Charlie Brown: I have some questions to ask you, Santa, about the over commercialization of the holidays and such.

Pigpen: Who in the hell are you, and why are you perched on my snowman?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Mel's Diner (Pigeon Forge, TN)

When I took a Greyhound bus with my friend Nick from Cincinnati, OH to Hollywood, CA a couple summers ago, we ate dinner twice at an amazing restaurant titled Mel’s Drive-In.  I feel obligated to differentiate between the multiple versions.  The one in Hollywood I visited is linked directly with its West Coast neighbor in San Francisco, where they filmed George Lucas’ first, and best (eat that, Star Wars fans!), film titled American Graffiti.  The restaurant serves as the local hangout in the film, and the atmosphere at the real locale resembles that 1950’s-era style splendidly.  Mel’s Diner also captures some of that spirit, although, instead of your typical eatery, here you eat inside a long trailer.  It’s not the most spacious place to eat, but on a Friday night, people are talking loudly and having a good time, and if you want an upbeat fun ambiance, you can’t do much better.

Pigeon Forge is filled with so many restaurants, so when it comes to narrowing one down as a selection, it can be quite difficult.  Mel’s, on appearance and uniqueness alone, sold us almost immediately.  The interior is fantastic, there’s lots of neon lights, and old advertisements, posters, and other decorations from the 50’s literally everywhere, including the bathroom stalls.  One long slender walkway is about it when it comes to floor space, mostly inhabited by the busy servers and waitresses, which splits the restaurant into two sides.  On our side (facing the front), in each booth, was a pane of glass that served as a large mirror.  It was neat, and I used it as an opportunity to score a picture of Amanda and I; she kept getting distracted, though, not used to constantly having a reflection of herself nearby, mimicking her every infinitesimal move.

The menu had a large variety of items, so for someone like me, who enjoys so many different tastes, it was a challenge reducing my selections to I eventually made a decision.  I went with meatloaf, given the circumstances and setting, I felt it was somewhat an inspired choice.  It was accompanied by Texas toast and my choice of two side items, which I opted for mashed potatoes with gravy, and a personal favorite, fried okra.  The meal was good—there were just so many strong flavors, it was like a battle for taste supremacy in my mouth.  The food sat a little heavy in my stomach afterwards, which, come to think of it, is about exactly what you’d expect from meatloaf at a roadside diner.  We split a chocolate shake, which was an essential ingredient in our eating experience.  Imagine Link, scurrying around dungeons in Legend of Zelda, without sword, rupees, and a whistle—that would have been us without our delicious shake.  Except, come the end, we’d have just been recipients of a smaller bill, not a grudge match with a pig faced fuck named Ganon; but, I digress.  Amanda got a chicken salad sandwich and fries.  The sandwich was overwhelmingly large, and thus a winner, and the fries, while warm, was delectable also.

In conclusion, this was a superb night out; the restaurant, complete with vinyl seats, neon lighting, and retro d├ęcor was just so much fun, and the food was adequate, if not a little better than anticipated.  This is one of those places I hope to revisit in the future, whether it is with friends, family, or perhaps, kids of my own.  There’s a lot of charm at Mel’s Diner, that’s what separates it from the pack, and makes it special.  If you can’t make it out to Tennessee, try to find a Mel’s of your own; no, not a place sharing the namesake, but a restaurant that’s kind of under the radar, a place where you can feel comfortable in, and eager to share with others, or keep smugly all to yourself.

Overall Grade: A 

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Charlie Brown Christmas - Pig Pen toy

To me, the animated A Charlie Brown Christmas is as much a part of the holidays as Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, and that reindeer with the cocaine problem.  Wait, you mean, that’s not why his nose is red?  I digress, from ecstasy schilling elves to something much more saccharine and safe.  When I found out that they were releasing collectibles based upon this famed cartoon, I was enthralled and eager.  I bought all that I could find.  As you can tell, that is, if you’re a toy collector, this was purchased at Toys ‘R Us; the obscenely bright orange tag gives it away.

Taking a closer look at Pig Pen, we find out that this is a pretty decent mold, and brings the character to life.  Pig Pen’s importance in the series is debatable, but he undeniably left his impression, and clouds of dust, upon all of us.

The accessories were the next victims of my rich analytical mind.  The first, a patch of snow, isn’t very noteworthy, and could have been left out without any major discrepancies.  I suggest unleashing your personal creativity—whip out a yellow marker, and go to town!  The second, a snowman, complete with ridiculously mammoth carrot nose, and filth.  The only place he’s not dirty is his belly; perhaps, E.T. is hiding underneath the snowy exterior, and that’s the light of his heart melting the compacted snow.

Here’s the finished product, and I’ve got to admit, it looks pretty darn good!  It’s difficult squeezing both Pig Pen and the snowman together on the snow platform; like being forced to bring your little brother with you, back in 1996, on your date to see Bio-Dome, when all you wanted was to get to second base with the girl that reeked of cheap alcohol and indifference.  Wait, Bio-Dome, you remember it, right?  That cruddy movie that fed us such earthshakingly wondrous lines like “If you were yogurt, would you be fruit at the bottom or stirred?”  I’m getting seriously off the subject here; I suppose that’s what I get for writing an article at 2:15AM.


I was throwing away the box for this item when I stumbled upon some text that boasted of a “Messy” feature.  Apparently, when you get Pig Pen wet with warm water, it rinses him of his trademark filth; but, once he dries, he’s dirty all over again.  The fun never ends!  I had to test this wacky, but admittedly charming, little feature out.  The proof is in the pictures.  There were a couple kids in my high school that had the “Messy” feature, too.  Except, it wasn’t so delightful then…

In closing, I think that this is a pretty swell toy.  We don’t have much room in our small apartment, so I paid tribute to Pig Pen and his eternal dirtiness by placing him on his temporary home of our toilet.  In my heart, I think he’d approve.  Buy one of these for a loved one, no, scratch that, buy four—who wouldn’t want to receive a toy of a dirty little boy under their tree this year.

Overall Grade: A 

Monday, December 5, 2005

Nestle Toll House Holiday Fudgy Brownies

So, Amanda and I missed the boat, so to speak, on baking Halloween goods.  We saw some interesting items marketed, but when we went to our local super grocery conglomerate, we were too late.  We promised ourselves, and anyone nearby listening, that we’d never make the same mistake twice.

We’ve actually been fortunate enough to get a couple things from the Nestle Toll House line recently, and have been extremely pleased with the results.  Imagine the feeling you got the first time you saw little Kevin thwart the nefarious robbers in Home Alone—then multiply that by ten.  We’ve tried a couple different cookie varieties from Toll House; all were defiantly delicious and nicely priced.

I’d be remiss to not mention the packaging of the brownies, featuring a stereotypical snowman blowing.  No, that’s not an insult—he’s actually blowing on the brownies.  Perhaps they were too hot?  I’m particularly envious of his righteous scarf, but his carrot nose looks more akin to a croissant than anything else.

Amanda is hardcore, and doesn’t mess around, especially when it comes to “Holiday” brownies.  I suggest, if at all possible, if you’re thinking of trying to make these yourself at home—you seek out a package-biting compatriot of your own.

Here’s the uncooked product, all doughy-like and uncultivated like Kevin Bacon’s performance in that stinker Hollow Man.

The finished product, and doesn’t it just scream happy holidays!  Wait, that’s the sound of someone getting mugged outside of my apartment—let me just close the window so I can concentrate.  Anyway, these things continued the tradition of quality desserts from Nestle Toll House.  The red, green, and white “things” on top tasted like white chocolate and were obviously Christmas inspired.  They added to the taste and texture of the already delectable brownies.

These brownies put me in the holiday mood—I now want to carol and wrap presents.  My mouth was overwhelmed, like The Thing breakdancing on my tongue, I couldn’t shake the feeling something monumental was happening in there.  Buy these now, and celebrate the holidays with fudgy brownies!

Overall Grade: B+ 

Saturday, December 3, 2005

5-in-1 Holiday Candy Pen

I got this at a Dollar Tree a few days after Christmas for some pocket change.  I probably would have put this review off even longer, if it weren’t for my niece Jade and her many attempts at smuggling this item from my room.  I guess the big gimmick here is that this isn’t just a pen, but 5 different items entirely.

The first is this little topper featuring a Christmas stocking containing some presents, a stuffed bear, and what appears to be a banana peel.

Here’s one of the more intriguing parts, some kind of light.  Although this doesn’t give off enough luminescence to brighten even the smallest of areas, I guess it’s the most advanced portion of our pen thus making it a little more noteworthy than the other parts.

After missing with this thing for a few minutes I absolutely destroyed and dismantled it beyond repair.  My pen was now in pieces.  Take note that I didn’t do this on purpose, but the cheap design of the item was to blame.

I found out rather on accident that the aforementioned topper seconded as a stamper.  The stamp is a rough rendering of the topper itself, which boggled my mind for some reason.  I suppose it’s not the oddest choice, but I was assuming it’d be a stamp of Santa Claus or a more seasonally iconic character or symbol.

Lastly, there were some little hard candies inside the tube of the pen.  I was pleasantly surprised that these were quite tasty for what they were.  I was expecting something a little more customarily bland, but these actually packed some flavor, thus making this mess somewhat acceptable in terms of an overall success.

Overall Grade: C 

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Farm Rich breaded cheese sticks

Somebody told me Farm Rich mozzarella breaded cheese sticks were good—somebody lied.  Now, I don’t know about you all (especially the guy in the “I’m With Stupid” t-shirt with an arrow pointing towards his general crotch area) but when I bite into a cheese stick, I want it to equal the combined awesomeness of Captain America’s shield and Thor’s mighty hammer.  Do you comprehend?

What does Farm Rich mean, anyhow?  Are we talking about a rich farm, and if so, my studies in Anthropology would have me believe that’d be referring to the quality of the soil on said farm.  Anyway, I digress, as now I can’t shake the mental image of some farmer tickling cattle with my breaded sticks of cheese.

Here you get a view of the sticks in my oven right as I put them in for cooking purposes.  It’s pretty self explanatory, really; but don’t ask about what other things I’ve breaded and baked in there.  My culinary adventures are best kept secret, at this time, for all of our collective sake.

This picture actually has nothing whatsoever to do with Farm Rich cheese sticks.  Amanda just happened to be cooking while I was working on this review, too, and this image enticed me enough on aesthetic value alone to warrant its inclusion.

This is the famed marinara dipping sauce, a true selling point for the Farm Rich brand, as most of its competitors didn’t include sauce with their sticks.  After peeling off the foil lid, I popped this bad boy into the microwave, and let the magic happen.

The finished product!  You’ll notice that one of the cheese sticks came out looking strangely like a narrow Santa Claus figurine—I’m still trying to figure that out for myself, in all honesty.  Judging from the picture, you’d probably guess these things were pretty damn delicious, but boy, would you ever be erroneous!  Don’t get me wrong, these things weren’t appalling; the texture, however, was kind of dry, and the overall taste was lacking a lot in the flavor department.  I’d rather gnaw on Silver Surfer’s galaxy traversing surfboard than eat Farm Rich’s breaded cheese sticks.

Overall Grade: C- 

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Parkway Pancake House (Pigeon Forge, TN)

I first visited Parkway Pancake House in November of 2004.  Looking at the image above, centering on the building’s visage, you may wander what auspicious things hide behind this humble exterior.  Breaking away from the comedic tone of the last dozen or so articles, I’m going back to my roots with a substantial restaurant review.

First though, a little background information on Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and on my trip in general.  As a child, my family took one of our only vacations to Gatlinburg.  It’s a relatively tiny tourist town, sat amongst the Great Smokey Mountains.  There’s shops galore, schilling everything from candy and shirts, to swords and hot sauce.  Pigeon Forge is its neighbor town, it’s a lot more spaced out, with dozens of gaudy arcades and miniature theme parks, as well as ice creameries, go-kart tracks, and miniature golf galore.  It’s a nice weekend getaway spot, frequented predominantly by families and the elderly.  Since my family trip as a kid, I’ve gone back a couple times with friends, and just recently, Amanda and I escaped school and work, and ventured out there.  Over the next couple months, I’m going to be posting a handful of restaurant reviews from the places we ate at during our trip.  Let’s begin, shall we?

On our far left, is the restaurant’s interior.  Comfort is key here, with the rich wood paneling, fireplace, and smug lighting.  It truly feels like you’re eating inside a wealthy Southern estate.  For our beverages, Amanda went with coffee, while I opted for orange juice.  The next picture has a bit of glare in it, but I wanted to capture the view we had from our booth of outside.  It was extremely early in the morning; notice the heavy layer of fog in the background.

It’s time to eat!  The first time I ate here  in 2004 with my friends Nick and Jessie I went with a more traditional breakfast of eggs, sausage, etc.  However, given the name of the place, we felt it necessary to order pancakes.  The menu hosted at least 20 varieties of pancakes, the majority of which I’d never seen available anywhere else.  Amanda got the strawberry pancakes, which came with humongous succulent strawberries, and the largest serving of whipped cream I’ve ever seen firsthand.  I got the blueberry pancakes, which look humble in comparison but was equally enthralling and tasty.  We had several syrup options, and as my picture (below) suggests, I went with the blueberry syrup, which was divine and the perfect compliment to my choice.

Amanda is all grins while surveying the menu before ordering.  I’m simultaneously relaxed and excited, prepared for pancake pandemonium.  My first trip here, last year, was a pretty chaotic scene.  Needless to say, this place has established a reputation, and his popular with both locals and visitors.  Amanda and I beat the crowds, though, and had the place mostly to us.

Amanda enjoyed her strawberry pancakes immensely, but as the first thing to eat in the morning, found herself unable to finish off the enormous order.  I almost finished off my blueberry pancakes, but couldn’t complete the task.  In closing, this is exactly the type of place you’d want to attend when taking a little trip like ours.  Great for families, friends, or couples; the combination of cozy ambiance and delicious pancakes makes Parkway Pancake House a must for those hungry for a big and hearty breakfast.

Overall Grade: A-