Last fall, Nat came home from Trader Joe's with an odd-shaped, flat, soft-orange colored pumpkin.  If you look carefully at the photo below (from my scarecrow blog post last fall), you can spot the pumpkin on our front porch, at the top of the stairs.
After doing a bit of web research, I figured out that saving the seeds from this beauty and attempting to get them to re-grow was pretty easy.  You scoop them out - just like you would if you were going to eat them - rinse them off, then let them dry on a piece of newspaper for a week or so.  Once fully dry, you can pop them in an envelope and keep them in a cool/dark place.  With Elmhurst winter's, finding a cool/dark place is pretty easy.  I stuck them inside a drawer in my office.

I had about a dozen seeds, so I put one seed in each compartment of one section of my non-peat greenhouse and crossed my fingers.

So far, I haven't had a ton of luck with them, but there *is* hope:  one seed germinated and up has popped a very strong seedling.
I'm still hopeful that I'll see more action from the other seeds because I'd like to grow a few of these pretty pumpkins for the fall.  With the addition of the Big Max Competition pumpkins, I have to figure out a good trellis system to keep these pumpkins from overwhelming the garden.

For those of you garden snobs, I know that I may have started these seedlings a bit too early - but I'm hopeful that they'll hang on until late September/early October for our front porch.
Last week, I planted a few different varieties of seeds in my little non-peat greenhouse including what I hope to be one of the most important pizza-related plants:  my San Marzano Tomato seeds.

I woke up this morning to some good news:  they've started to sprout.
The seed package explains that I need to "thin" them out, so as they sprout, I've begun to pull out the smaller seedlings in the hopes that the one remaining will thrive.  If all goes as planned, by the time spring comes around, we'll have 9 healthy San Marzano plants that can head into our garden (and maybe  one or two to share with family, too.).

Now, all I need to do is to start to collect some ash from the fireplace to add to the soil.
Last week, Google announced a new tool called Oscar Trends - which is the second vertical-ized view of our trend data with the first being Flu Trends.

Granted, I "drink the Google Kool-Aid" and think that Google data is compelling on any subject, but by combining the geek/chic pieces of Google+Oscars, I think we have a winner.  For a full sense of the project, let take a look at the research - which is based on past year's trends and eventual winners.  Check out this interesting set of examples from the past three years.  Each winner saw a surge in queries BOTH when they were announced as a finalist and leading up to the actual ceremony.

Each year, as you would expect, Google sees a flood of searches around the movies, actors, and film industry as the Oscar broadcast comes closer.  People want to see the movies in person, they want to learn more about them, and they also want to see what their friends and others are saying about them.  They turn to Google for all of those.  And...based on the trends, this year was no different. 

But...the REAL QUESTION is whether: Is this data "smart" enough to actually predict the winners?  Who knows, but like you, I'll be watching - but this time I'll be armed with Google's data.  Here they are to keep track at home.

Google's Predicted Winners
Best Picture - Black Swan
Best Director - Black Swan
Best Actor - James Franco
Best Actress - Natalie Portman
Best Supporting Actor - Christian Bale
Best Supporting Actress - Amy Adams and Helena Bonham Carter are running neck-and-neck.

For bloggers like me, Google has taken this one step further this year by sharing this little widget - which I've embedded below.  Pretty slick!

Speaking of Home Run Inn, you are eating their frozen pizzas at home, right?  According to their billboards on the expressway, they're the number 1 frozen pizza in Chicago!  Pretty neat stuff from a family-run business.  I usually root for the little guy, so when a operation like Home Run Inn beats back the behemoths at places like Kraft, it reinforces my ideas about entrepreneurs and success!

The company has recently rolled out a line of "Ultra Thin" frozen pizzas (at least...I think it is "recent"!  I've just started to spot them in 'my grocer's freezer'!) and for those of you who are like me - watching their waistline - this new 'Ultra Thin' pie carries with it some great news:  the 6" cheese personal ones ONLY HAVE 280 calories!

That makes these things like the Michelob Ultra of frozen pizzas! You can barely eat a handful of preztels without getting to 280 calories, right?  Home Run Inn has always boasted about using "all natural" ingredients and NEVER using transfats, but I don't think they've ever boasted about their calorie counts.  Based on these being only 280 calories for the entire personal pie, sounds like they should be!

It was just late March of 2010 that I crossed the 1000th Tweet mark, but here we are: less than a year later and I've just hit my 2000th Tweet.  Joining Twitter in early 2007, it took me 3 years to get to 1,000 messages on the network, but less than a year to double that number.  The rough math says that I'm averaging right around 3ish Tweets per day.  One comes from this blog via the FeedBurner Socialize service, but the other twoish ones per day, I'm manually generating.  Yikes.  Perhaps there's a better way to spend my time.
Look what else is popping through?  Butternut Squash seedlings!  Officially named Waltham Butternut Winter Squash, these beauties ripen in late summer and if this year was any indication, Nat will be serving them to the Babe with regularity.    The broccoli, carrots, and one of the pumpkin varieties are also doing well.  Stay tuned for updates on those soon.

The broccoli can be seen in the back of the photo with the squash seedlings up front (pardon the flash!).
A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law came home from Trader Joe's with this package of Kumatos.  They're brown tomatoes that claim to "taste good" all year around.  I think she said that the good folks at TJ billed it as a "winter tomato".  I didn't eat any of them and haven't seen them since - either at our house or my in-laws.  Maybe they weren't a hit.  Anyone had these?  Any good?  The YumSugar ladies sure seem like them!
With the election for Chicago's Mayor set for tomorrow, it is all everyone is talking about in the papers this morning.  My employer was fortunate to have Rahm Emanuel come by for an hour and a half of tour and discussion with my fellow employees about a wide range of issues including bike lanes, CPS, wind energy, crime and more.

I was able to host him and his staff on the tour and speak to him about issues and the city.  While he certainly is qualified to lead our city, I came away from my time with him impressed by his knowledge of the issues he cares about and his clear passion for getting the job done.  
Are you voting tomorrow?  I don't live in the city, so I can't, but of the choices, I think he'd get my vote.
Now that you've seen some of the seeds, I figured I should show what they're growing in:  my non-peat coconut coir temporary plastic greenhouse.  These things are pretty slick:  you place a pod in each compartment, pour water on top and they grow like Sea Monkeys.  They eventually stop being so cylindrical and fill up the whole compartment much like what would happen if you just poured soil into each one.

There's 72 little compartments - each with a few seeds.  We'll know in a week or so if anything pops up or germinates.

By the way...did you know we're not supposed to be using peat?  This dire warning came with the kit.  It takes 220 years to regrow the amount of peat we use for gardening purposes?  That's crazy talk.
Sadly, the original Home Run Inn didn't make the top 25 pizzas in Chicago, but it should have.  We went down to the restaurant and checked out the place in all of it's glory for a Score 670 live radio appearance.  It was A LOT of fun and made the experience more interesting.
As you all know by now, I have a go-to pie:  sausage and pepperoni.  The good folks at Home Run Inn are VERY deft and churning out that particular pie.  It is very tasty.
The store has expanded to cover the corner, but look at this old photo!  They should bring that old-school logo back.  "The Pizza King".  Pretty rad.  Oh...and is that BI.7 the phone number? 
Vegetable number two for my seed experiment are these Big Max Pumpkins.  As you can see, they're billed as "Competition Size" and the package boasts of pumpkins with 70" circumferences and 100 lbs of weight.  I'm doubtful, but I'm willing to give them a shot!
After having a lot of fun with my first-year garden, I figured year two warranted more attention. Some time last fall, I decided that I was going to try my hand at growing my own crops from seeds.  But, since the little plants are pretty stinkin' cheap, growing vegetable plants from seeds doesn't generally make a lot of sense.  But...the one catch is that plants that they generally sell at most garden centers are hybrids and common varieties that grow well and aren't all that unique. 

However, even if they don't make a lot of economic sense to grow,  I still want to grow unique or hard-to-find seedlings.   And that's what I'm going to do!  There isn't a better project that I can think of for mid-February, right?

First up?  San Marzano Tomatoes.  You know the ones:  the perfect pizza tomato!

Anyone know where I can get some volcanic ash to add to my soil?
Happy Birthday to me!  Well...not exactly me, rather my blog! Today marks the 7th anniversary of my first blog post.  Some of the older years (2004-2006) archives are scattered across the web and with the help of the Way Back Machine, I've been trying to rebuild them all over here at Courtesy of said Way Back Machine, here's what it looked like back in 2005 at RhodesSchool (below).  Some of you old timers may remember these days.  Lots of terrible posts, but plenty of laughs along the way.

Last year, I used the occasion to debrief my first month back at blogging every day - and I'm happy to say that I've kept at it in 2011. 

Here's to another year of living life with a great wife, amazing daughter and a really fun job.
Via Google's new Androidify Android app comes this self portrait.  What's with the turkey leg?  I figured I had to include something fun.  Aside from that oddity, what do you think?  Top-siders and baby bjorn?  Seem about right, don't they?
After our garage was built, I applied a floor coating from Rust-oleum as a DIY project.  For a few hundred bucks, we had a nice, sealed floor.  I never got around to posting these photos - they've been sitting as a draft for MONTHS - but with winter here and our garage floor covered in melted snow, salt residue and grim, it reminded me that (I hope) I'll be able to throw down a little pinesol mop away and then squeejee the moisture out the door and we'll have a perfect floor.

The process of actually applying this stuff is easy, but the prep is a pain.  You have to etch your concrete - even brand new bare concrete - with an acid and get it spotless and dust free. 

In order to get the chips down, I did one "square" at a time with each container covering 3 "squares".  Since we have a 3 car garage, that meant two kits to get it done.  You also have to cut-in the edges with a brush, but after that, it is just rolling out paint.  Easy-peasy!

These are the chips you thrown down.  Nat doesn't love them, but I like the effect they give.

I heard from a few different people that my post last year reminding everyone to change their furnace filter helped them out and motivated them to head down to their basement to check the age of their filter.  Being deep in the heart of winter - with everyone's furnaces running all the time - I figured it was time to mention it again.  If you haven't done it in a while....


In fact...if you are like me, and prone to forget when you put one in and when it is time to take one out, our good friends at Menards have the answer:   An automated nag to remind you to change the filter

You set the date you installed the filter, the duration (how long you want it to last) and viola(!), Menards does the hard part of remembering when you need to head down to the basement.  There is even settings for fertilizing your lawn, too!  (I know...this is a convenient way of selling more products, but at least there is *some* value to the consumer!)

Of course, you could do all of that yourself with your calendar and what not.  But...then, what's technology for, if not for nags from Menards?!?
During my time on the Frankfort Village Board, we often spent time in committees talking about the type of amenities that the government should undertake/build to make our downtown a bit more appealing.  Benches, water fountains, public restrooms all came up.  Those are easy.  They're all things that the local government can build that help bring shoppers down to your downtown.  That's always the goal:  improving the experience, which leads to more sales tax dollars. You know what we didn't think about?  An outdoor fireplace.  Too often, I think, we focused on the warmer months, but shoppers are out and about in the winter. 

I saw this one (above) in Holland Michigan.  Theirs is gas powered and just about always on.  While I was standing there waiting for Nat to finish up at Tip Toes, I saw a few different groups of shoppers stop by for a brief warm-up.  The fireplace was working!
I received a pair of these 'Ove' Gloves from my mom back at Christmas and I scoffed at the idea.  My mom persisted and said that they came highly recommended and in fact, the woman at Walgreens (yeah...that's where she bought them!) told her she HAD to buy 2 of them!

Guess what?  These have become my go-to oven mitt and I don't even reach for anything else.  For breads, this thing works perfectly as I can pick up the loaf directly.  Same with pizza skins.

I know what you're oven mitts are fine.  That's what I thought, too!  This is one of those "As Seen on TV" products and, surprisingly to me(!), this one really works well.  Can't recommend it more.  Sounds silly, I know!

Go buy it here with the link below:

While it appears I'm safely in the "manly" category on some of my hobbies like gardening and woodworking, it seems that "collecting Christmas Village buildings" and "baking breads from sourdough starter" both fall somewhere off the "Official Manly Hobbies List".   
*NOTE* Yes...This post is out of order.  We went to Pequod's a while ago, but I forgot to post the pics and review.

We drove up to Morton Grove planning on hitting up Burt's Place for some deep dish pizza on a random Tuesday - not heeding any warnings about pre-ordering our pies or any of that jazz.  Pulling up to the place, I was excited:  this place is a dive!  But...being the #8 pizza on the list, I was sure this would live up to they hype. 
The place seemed quiet. Eerily quiet.  Turns out...they're NOT open on Tuesdays.  Bummer.

But....lucky for us, all was NOT lost.  You see, Burt Katz - the proprietor of Burt's founded a little place called Pequod's - which just so happens to be on the list, too.  And the best part?  The original Pequod's is LITERALLY right around the corner from Burt's.  Off we went.

My only experience with Pequod's was their City of Chicago location, but turns out this place was where it all began.
Established in 1979, Pequods in Morton Grove has been churning out award-winning pies for more than 30 years - with their caramelized crust ever since.

We ordered a half-sie pie with my half being sausage and Nat's being spinach.  The sausage at Pequod's is terrific, but the key feature is that 'burnt' crust.  Seems like it is a layer of cheese that gets spread around the edge that chars up nicely at times -but there's a risk:  sometimes the char/caramelized crust goes a bit to far and imparts a burnt flavor over the entire pizza.    Unfortunately for us, that's what happened on our visit.  Still....the pizza was VERY good, but it wasn't Louisa's.
Nope...not the movie.  We haven't seen that (yet?  Ever?).  Rather I'm talking about the car, which coincidentially - for you non nerd types - isn't called the Green Hornet.  It is a tricked-out Chrysler Imperial they call the Black Beauty!  They had it on display at the auto show in Detroit and I had to stop by to see it.

Interesting to note, the movie has really driven interest in the Black Beauty. Here's a chart showing search queries in the US have gone up 100X in the last month.  Pretty amazing what a wide-released movie will do to drive American's interest in the car.

Coming in at #16 on the Top 25 pizza places list, I was excited to give this place a shot.  Natalie had scored us a groupon or living social coupon for half off, so we had already committed the money to this place, so there was no turning back.  We decided to go to the Montrose location without doing a lot of research.  The location was closer to the expressway and being suburban folks that matters A LOT.

When we arrived, I was surprised by the size.  This is a take-out place!  There is only 2 tables and a counter to sit at!  Fortunately for us, we were the only ones dining in. That probably was because we arrived before 6 - baby dining out hours.

We took two of our nephews with and had a great time in the car ride down - watching Garfield and giggling along.

When you walk in, you see the pizza prep area right away.  There were two guys working hard to create the pies.  The ovens are conventional gas ovens so they're tucked away on the left side.  Apart must do a heckuva lot of delivery business because they had 5-6 guys standing around waiting to take pies out the door. 

We ordered two different pies.  First was the tri-colore with mushrooms.  Tasty pie.  This one was right in Nat's wheelhouse.
We also bought an Apart Signature pie - which is sausage and pepperoni - right in *my* wheelhouse.

Here's the requisite upskirt shot.  Nice crispy skin, a little bit of char.

I've eaten a lot of new Neopalotian pizza and much more south-side greasy thin crust pizzas.  But...I haven't had a lot of pies that are like Apart's.  This is a hybrid pie - not quite Neopolitan, not quite Chicago-style.  They cut it into wedge-sized pieces and it cooks pretty fast (like 5-10 minutes), but it isn't floppy - rather a bit more rigid. 

The company bills it as "genuine" Italian pizzas, but there are plenty of folks who will take offense to that claim.  

Never the less...this was good pizza - NOT Great pizza.  But...there was REALLY easy parking.  However, since it really isn't a restaurant - rather a takeout place - the experience left something to be desired.  I put this a slot below Coalfire.  (my post on Coalfire is here)

I don't see any reason to go back, but if you're in the neighborhood, forgo the faux-ice cream at Drew's Eatery next door, and grab a pie at Apart.  You won't fall in love, but at least you'll be happy.

The Babe endorses Apart.  Sort of.
One of the projects I've taken on at work is developing a "voice" around sports, sporting events, and the business of sports.  The first big step forward is in the shape of my 6th Official Google Blog post which covers trends leading up to the Super Bowl.  You can read it here.  Three of my six OGB posts are now sports-related (Olympics, Stanley Cup, and now the Super Bowl), so I'm already a bit down the path of covering sports.

This post was a lot of fun to write and came together quick - once I started to type.  Having offices in both Pittsburgh and in Madison Wisconsin gave me some good fodder and some of the trends I unearthed are pretty fun.  Like....Wisconsin residents idolize the Packers much more than Lady Gaga!

However, the most interesting part (and...we'll know a lot more after the game tonight) is that I *think* I have created a new Sports Illustrated jinx.  If the Steelers win, my theory holds up:  The QB with the Google Search Query Volume lead heading into the game will lose.  As you can see in the chart below, Rodgers is up on Big Ben:

What's next for a sports-related OGB post?  I'm thinking the Masters?  But that isn't until April.  Has to be March Madness, right? 

Official Google Blog: It's Googler v. Googler this weekend as the Packers and Steelers face off

For those keeping track at home, here's the full list of all SIX of my Official Google Blog Posts:

My days as a beer-spotter continue as I found a bunch of 12 packs of Buck Range Light beer on an end cap near the dairy section at the Elmhurst Jewel.  There are both Miller and Bud products (as you can see) on the lower shelves, so this stuff clearly has priority placing by whomever is merchandising this space in the store.

Priced about the same as Big Flats 1901 Lager, Buck Range comes in at less than 50 cents a can - which isn't terribly bad, especially for the Elmhurst College crowd.  But...can't you still get a $9.99 30 pack of High Life Light these days?

As for the beer itself, there isn't much on the web to find out if this stuff tastes any good, but I'm guessing it falls down  near Milwaukee's Best and Natural Light.  I *think* it is new to market - as I sure haven't seen it before - and can't find much about it.

Even the guys over at Beer Advocate haven't posted on Buck Range Light yet!
She couldn't stop eating the snow, but loved being pulled in her sled.  What fun!
Note that some of you more nerdy types are probably up to speed on this, but I'm sure there's plenty of folks who don't stalk Techmeme who might end up finding this so I'll explain the whole deal a bit.  (Disclaimer...I work in PR at Google!  Consider this my personal opinion, not that of my employer.)
A few days ago, Microsoft and their search engine Bing were caught with their hand in the cookie jar.  Some smart folks at Google noticed that Bing's "Search Quality" (how they rank results) was catching up to Google's fast - even on particularly difficult queries.  So...they set up a sting where they seeded a few bad results in Google, watched those same results rise to the top at Bing and then told a reporter about it.  Pretty cute!  The reports have been scathing on Bing.  "Google innovates, Bing copies", etc.

But the issue isn't that easy to understand for a lot of people.  That's where Nate Silver from the NYT comes in.  I think his description of the situation crystallizes this for everyone:
Imagine that you opened an Italian restaurant across the street from Mario Batali’s Lupa. It would be one thing if you merely took inspiration from Lupa’s spaghetti carbonara — if you tried to use some of the same ingredients and some of the same techniques. Maybe you’d even go so far as to track down the butcher who sells Mr. Batali his pancetta. All of this would be in the spirit, most of us would think, of good ol’ American competition.

But this is more like, when a customer orders the carbonara, sending a runner across the street to order a plate of it at Lupa, reheating it, and then maybe adding some mushrooms or snow peas. The alterations you made to the dish, whether slight or substantial, might not be all that likely to make it better: it would be hard to improve on Mr. Batali’s carbonara (if peas really made the dish yummier, wouldn’t he already have included them in the recipe?), just as it would be hard to improve on Google’s search results.

Bing/Google image courtesy of Rick from here.
Over on Rachelle's blog, she pointed out the hilarity in Peapod's labeling of American Cheese as "Cheese product" and how certain cheeses are labeled to be "made from REAL cheese", but think I ran into a situation this week at our local Jewel that might be the BEST example when it comes to goofy cheese labeling. 

Yup.  That's right.  Although it may be a good source of calcium, this is in fact "Imitation Cheese"!  They sell it in two varieties (mozzarella and cheddar) and as I was whipping my phone out to take photo, the guy stocking the shelves commented that they may have been to honest with their packaging for consumer's tastes.  This stuff was marked down and won't be restocked, he said.  $0.94 for a package of cheese is pretty good.  But...this stuff isn't cheese!

Looking at the label, there is milk-ish items involved, but after that, the ingredient list goes downhill fast.
I'm guessing that there are plenty of other cheese products out there that aren't *quite* cheese.  Like CheeseWhiz or Velvetta, right?  Apparently the good marketing folks up at SuperValu aren't quite as creative.  They let a product go out to market with this name:  Imitation Mozzarella Cheese.  Wow.

Nat scored us tickets to see Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy perform at a fundraiser for Chicago Mayoral Candidate Rahm Emanuel on Sunday night.  We had general admission tickets which didn't guarantee us a seat, but we arrived shortly after the doors opened and snagged GREAT seats at the counter by the bar.  Unobstructed views and close proximity to the bar plus a seat = suburban dad's dream concert set up.

Rahm showed up a bit after six pm and went about greeting people.  I have to give him credit:  he worked the room - and not just the high dollar tables.  He was back by the bar where we were sitting (I even got to shake his hand!) and glad-handing with us mopes.  Total retail politics.   (shhhsh!  Don't tell him that we're not voters and we live in the suburbs!)
Jeff Tweedy came out - disheveled as usual - and performed seven songs in just a bit under an hour.  He played one new song, a few recent songs, and a few older songs (New Madrid!).  Apparently the campaign sent him an email with "Rahm Requests" - which included "Jesus, etc".  After playing it, Jeff said, "That should be good enough for Tweedy Boulevard!"
Jeff's performance wasn't spectacular - he admitted he didn't prep much - and once you see the full Wilco experience, a solo acoustic Tweedy show isn't nearly as much fun!

For me, the opening act - JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound -stole the show with a great performance of a Wilco song.  Jeff Tweedy even came out and sang along with them.  Apparently, this wasn't their first time playing the song: