Wednesday, March 17, 2010

see through

Bob Yarbrough has been anchoring WVLT's noon news solo lately. Allison Kropff got moved over to the weather desk when Jim Freeman left. They gave Freeman a cake on his last day and wished him well. They mentioned that he was not leaving the area, just the station. His departure came shortly before the surprising announcement that Michele Silva had been hired to co-anchor the early morning news.

Today Allison acknowledged that she had not worn green during the morning show but had changed into a green turtleneck for the noon newscast. She said to stay tuned because she would tell us why she hadn't started St. Patrick's Day in the green clothes. It was great fun to watch a few minutes later when she walked over to the weather wall and became a floating head!

Chef Walter did not disappoint either.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

unlucky charms

It's time to call B.S. on Gibson Greeting Cards. Last week when I was buying my wife a birthday card, I saw two cards in the St. Patrick's Day section that said "Happy Shamrock Day." That's just wrong. It would be less offensive if they discontinued all their St. Patrick's cards rather than publish ones that celebrate clover.

Back in the prehistoric days before I started this blog, I noticed some napkins with the same offending phrase on them. The idiotic marketing scheme has picked up more negative press since then, including a bit of a dust-up in Waco last year.

"Happy Shamrock Day" is as stupid as "Happy Turkey Day" on Thanksgiving. Not everyone eats turkey then. Maybe I should expect to see "Happy Hard-Boiled Egg Day" or "Happy Firecracker Day" in the near future. Would Gibson dare market a Passover card that said "Happy Flatbread Days?" I don't think so.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

don't lose your head

It's important to back up your words with actions. That's why my wife and I did our part to support the transition of Taylor Swift from singer to actress. We braved the crowds at the Regal West Town Mall 9 to see "Valentine's Day" on Valentine's Day. It turns out that a lot of the people who were there came to watch the Daytona 500 on a theater screen while enjoying pizza and beer.

The movie wasn't as bad as I feared. I had heard that it was basically a two-hour "Love Boat" episode. It finished stronger than it started, which will help generate positive word-of-mouth. The biggest disappointment was the story line involving Julia Roberts. I felt like something got edited out, such as a plausible explanation for her quick trip to Los Angeles. I expected her to at least be on her way to a wedding or funeral. My favorite story threads were those with Anne Hathaway, Jessica Biel and yes, Taylor Swift.

When the movie let out, we walked through the mall in search of a kiosk offering free samples of jAVERDE flavored coffee. My friend Lissa has suggested several times that I try it. Of the four I tasted, Shell Shock was the best. The clerk told me that they plan to open a store across from Food City on Middlebrook Pike in a space vacated by Bear Creek Coffee.

What's Valentine's Day without chocolate? Earlier in the day, my wife surprised me with a heart-shaped box of hand-dipped truffles that she bought from Belle's Sweet Boutique. The proprietor, Ann Douglas, is an acquaintance of hers. The candies are truffle-licious.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

tell me ma

Fr. Michael Woods mentioned both Amy Brace and Ashley Reisser in his homily at the 5:00 p.m. Mass tonight. He told a beautiful story about Ashley's mother, who told him she hopes they never find the men who ran from the car that dragged her daughter. She imagines that they are probably scared and praying for Ashley's continued recovery.

Although we had originally planned on eating at home, my wife and I ended up going out to dinner after Mass. We went with my wife's mother and brother, who had stopped off on their way from Virginia to Georgia. They were here on Valentine's weekend last year too and we waited a long time to be seated at Mimi's Café.

This year, I chose a place where the tables would turn over fairly quickly. We went to Hard Knox Pizzeria and used a gift certificate that I had purchased for half price (plus service charge) from the radio station's website. It's a place I've wanted to try since I first heard of it last year.

Fr. Michael was able to join us for dinner before having to head back to All Saints to give a blessing at the Mardi Gras dance which benefits Catholic Charities of East Tennessee. I asked him about Vols coach Derek Dooley, whose parents were parishioners of Fr. Michael's during his days in Athens. He said he had received a response from the coach, who indicated he would bring his parents by the church when they visit Knoxville. As the conversation turned to other topics, Fr. Michael mentioned that there is an old YouTube video of him singing at a biker bar. Why? It was to raise money for the Ulster Project.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

ring in the new

There's a lyric at the beginning of a bad song by Britney Spears called "Circus" that resonates with me nevertheless: "There's only two types of people in the world, the ones that entertain and the ones that observe."

For the second year in a row, Einstein Simplified was invited to perform during First Night Knoxville, the family-friendly event in and around Market Square. We drew a standing-room-only crowd to an auditorium in the TVA West Tower despite competing with a Tennessee Vols bowl game. I find it much more fun to entertain than to stay home and observe "New Year's Rockin' Eve."

After the two performances, I did get to do a little observing. A pair of fire jugglers were doing their tricks on a street corner. They dropped their batons quite a bit and I probably wouldn't mention them at all except that I liked the effect of the slow shutter speed on the pictures I took with a used camera that I got from a reader in a pay-it-forward deal. I tried taking a picture of the jugglers' faces but they had spun 180° by the time the camera registered the push of my finger on the button.

First Night events throughout the country are intended to be alcohol-free. However as midnight approached, people who had been drinking spilled out of the surrounding bars and into Market Square. I think it would be impossible to prevent, even if you had a cop at every bar. Like us sober folks, they just wanted to see the ball drop and the fireworks rise.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

one word or two?

Throughout November, my friend Bean's Twitter feed has been sprinkled with occasional references to egg nog and pumpkin pie. I have been encouraging him by posting Twitpics of Flav-O-Rich pumpkin pie spice egg nog as well as egg nog taffy samples and pumpkin nut fudge at Dollywood. I've been an egg nog fan for years.

When Chef Walter made an egg nog cake on the noon news today, I was inspired to list as many current egg nog flavored menu items as I could find. Bean already mentioned that he was psyched about Holiday Hotcakes at IHOP. A reviewer at LAist disagrees. Bean's reference to a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks prompted me to try a combination egg nog and pumpkin spice latte after my wife's recent concert.

Baskin-Robbins has sold egg nog ice cream each year for as long as I can remember. I saw a sign for an Egg Nog MilkQuake at Krystal while on the way to Dollywood on Saturday. If there was a Jack in the Box near here, I might have seen a sign for their Egg Nog Ice Cream Shakes.

Can you add to the list? Use the comments section to tell me what you think of egg nog treats and where I can find them.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

dessert storm

As Thanksgiving approaches, a couple of thoughtful readers sent me some tempting recipes from the Internet. The do-it-yourself marshmallow peeps on Twig & Thistle look much better than the blobs I once made with the Peeps maker that now resides on my office shelf. I'm guessing that my friend Kathy would have better results with the homemade peeps than I would. She made some great marshmallows last Christmas and last Easter. Hmm... the annual church bake sale is this Sunday.

Another recipe that may be too much for me is Paula Deen's eggnog. It's not that it's too complicated, it's just that it makes ten times more than I need. I emailed the link to my wife. She was grossed out and made it clear I would be the only one drinking it. On top of that, I still have some Weigel's eggnog in the freezer that I didn't drink last year.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

just say November

Never let it be said that I rush straight from Halloween into Christmas. Each year I write several blog posts about Thanksgiving. It bugs me to see stores displaying Christmas decorations in October. However, I did go online today and order my tickets for the Living Christmas Tree.

I went to the show at Thompson-Boling Arena for the first time last year and enjoyed it tremendously. Three of this year's shows conflict with the Knoxville Symphony's Clayton Holiday Concerts. I picked one of the two that do not, since my wife will be singing at all four Clayton shows.

Another Christmas reminder popped up in my email today. Dave & Melanie, the couple who operate the seasonal See's Candies kiosk at West Town Mall, wrote to tell me that they will reopen for business on November 12. They were kind enough to include some fun photos from their summer Workamping adventures.

On top of all that, the radio industry news had a few reports of stations flipping to an all-Christmas format over the weekend, including one in St. Louis and two in Kansas City. Despite being on the verge of a Christmas avalanche. I found two reasons to be hopeful for Thanksgiving.

On our way home from Missouri this summer, my wife and I stopped at Broadbent's in Cadiz, Kentucky. The Christmas-themed gift shop was across a parking lot from a radio station with a drive-through window. (Huh?) Amidst all the Christmas items in the store was a small display of three Thanksgiving (and one Halloween) decorations.

Perhaps most encouraging was the decent selection of Thanksgiving cards at Dollar General Market. My cell phone battery died just as I thought about taking a picture of the display. Instead I spent 50¢ to take home the card that reminded me of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

east ender

Because we had a reservation, we had to make sure we got from Newport to New London in time to catch the 6:00 p.m. Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point. The boat was almost exactly the same as the ferry we took from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson on our road trip two years ago. This time we also took two smaller ferries to get us from Greenport to Shelter Island to North Haven. From there, it's a short drive to Sag Harbor and Noyac.

Once we were on Long Island, I tuned the car radio to the so-bad-it’s-good WLNG, which does stream online if you want to hear it for yourself. Rusty Potz would ask a TV trivia question, start a song and then interrupt the song a moment later to say "we have a winner, no more calls please."

I was saddened to hear of the passing of 92.1 WLNG's legendary Paul Sidney. Somehow I find it appropriate that he died on April Fool's Day. Or, depending on who you ask, April 2, which was the 92nd day of the year.

When my wife and I honeymooned in the Hamptons, Paul gave us a tour of Broadcast House and then gave us a ride in their newest mobile unit. He drove us to Main Street in Sag Harbor where Alan Alda was filming a scene from "Sweet Liberty." I had a chance to tell Alda that my father knew him when they were both enrolled at Fordham University. In subsequent years, we would vacation in the Hamptons and go see Paul at the Southampton Fourth of July parade. Long Island won't be the same without him.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

did it all for the Wookie

The Village of Saugerties has a fairly lengthy 4th of July parade. We found ourselves not at the official reviewing stand on Main Street, but farther down the parade route at a private home on Market Street. Since 1989, Greg DeCelle and his extended family have provided their own parade commentary during a beer-fueled block party that started well before the parade arrived at their house and continued until the fourth keg was emptied, long after the parade was gone.

Each year the DeCelles choose a parade theme of their own. In the past they've been cowboys or pirates, for example. Last year they dressed in superhero costumes. This year they dressed as "Star Wars" characters. Greg, the homeowner and ringleader, was in an Obi-Wan Kenobi outfit. His fellow commentators were Chewbacca and Darth Vader. Obi-Wan and Chewbacca were on a platform with audio equipment and two computers loaded with music and sound effects. Darth Vader stood on the street with a wireless microphone.

Some politicians, including Rep. Maurice Hinchey, looked uncomfortable as they walked past with forced smiles, waving as they went. Others embraced the insanity and spoke with Darth Vader on the microphone. I found out later the ones who walked by fast were possibly the same ones who couldn't answer any of the questions about the Constitution posed to them in previous years.

Each of the passing firetrucks was exhorted to sound their horn. Some played along right away. Others had to be repeatedly goaded. I like parade balloons as much as anybody but the inflatable Quisp head being used to promote the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival needs to be replaced with a new one.

Whenever there was a slight break in the parade, Obi-Wan would announce that it was time for the Chicken Dance. Spectators spilled out into the street to flap their elbows and wiggle their bottoms, with Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper leading the way.

Darth tried to interact with several of the parade entries, none more successfully than an equestrian unit. The family recognized a woman riding her horse in the parade. As she approached, one of them announced that a beer was to be brought to the street. The rider dismounted, accepted the cup and let Darth Vader climb onto her horse. It looked more "Spaceballs" than "Star Wars."

When a the driver of a private vehicle cut into the parade route, the fans on Market Street covered his vehicle with Silly String. They also sprayed a firetruck whose rider dared shoot some water from a fire extinguisher. Apparently this was mild compared to a few years ago when a similar exchange erupted into a full-blown water fight with a garden hose and water balloons. I heard they had to promise the Village not to do that again.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

feliz cuatro de julio

Happy Independence Day! After working the last two years on this date, I am celebrating the day off with family and friends. In the blog posts ahead I'll be filling you in on my road trip and the very unusual Fourth of July parade I attended this morning. For now, let's all get ready for the cookout and the fireworks with a couple of pictures from your friendly neighborhood Walmart. Perhaps you might enjoy some star-spangled s'mores I spotted in Martinsburg, West Virginia before you bash open one of the patriotic piñatas that I saw in Knoxville.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

the mixable one

Bacardi Rum Cake has been on my mind for quite some time. I hinted to my wife that I wanted one as Thanksgiving, Christmas and other celebrations approached. We ended up making gooey butter cakes and other treats instead. I finally dropped enough hints that my wife agreed to make one that we could have for both Father's Day and my birthday. The biggest hint was when I brought home some rum on Saturday.

Because I couldn't find my wife's recipe card, I printed a 1978 recipe that I found on the Internet and took it to a nearby package store. I had to ask the clerk what happened to Bacardi Dark Rum. He pointed me toward a shelf with Bacardi Gold, as it is now called. I also had to ask which size bottle had at least a cup of fluid because they were all measured in milliliters. Fortunately he had a book which told us that 200 ml was only 6.8 ounces. Not enough. That's why I ended up with a 375 ml bottle and almost 5 ounces left over. When he asked to see my I.D. to verify that I was the person on my credit card, I asked if I could pretend I was being carded because of my youthful appearance.

The official Bacardi Rum Cake starts with a layer of chopped pecans at the bottom of a tube or Bundt pan. The cake is served upside down with the nuts on top. My son doesn't like nuts, so we talked about leaving them off one area of the cake. I thought about it overnight and decided we should try making cupcakes instead. It would be easier to omit pecans from some cupcakes and not the others.

According to the package of Butter Recipe Golden cake mix, the cooking time for cupcakes is about half that of the full size cake. The tops were perfect but when we flipped them over, some of the bottom nuts looked like they were a little overcooked. I should have looked online for cooking tips and rotated the pan. Most of the rum flavor and the kick comes from the glaze, which is made from butter, sugar, water and rum. Before adding the rum, we used some of the glaze to top the nut-free cakes. The non-alcoholic glaze turned into an opaque paste. It did not soak into the cakes, like the high-octane stuff did.

To dress up the cupcakes, we added a dollop of Betty Crocker buttercream frosting. We experimented with some right side up and some upside down. Tomorrow, I'll tell you about my family's history with Bacardi Rum Cakes. In the meantime, feast your eyes on these.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

service providers

While we pause to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day, let us also acknowledge that the holiday weekend gives many people a chance to get together with family and friends. My wife and I attended one such gathering on Saturday. It was a surprise birthday party for a friend from church.

The food at the party was impressive. We arrived as the staff from Rosa's Catering was putting the finishing touches on the food trays. Naturally, the dark-chocolate-covered strawberries caught my eye first.

As good as those looked and tasted, I was even more curious about the work that went into a tray of sliced vegetables served in hollowed-out cucumbers. I looked for them on Rosa's cocktail buffet menu to figure out what they are called. My best guess is that they fall under the "Crudités Nouveau" umbrella. Was I supposed to eat just the carrot and pepper slices? Because I ate the cucumber too.

A savory offering that looked like a cake was delicious. The menu describes it as a "Goat Cheese Torta with Sun-Dried Tomato and Pesto." We spread some on a pita chip. I love the taste of sun-dried tomatoes.

There was real cake too. Not just one but two tasty treats. They said that the one on the left had rum in it. Which reminds me, one of these days I want to have a piece of authentic Bacardi Rum Cake like my mother used to make.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009


A long line of soldiers stood waiting to board a plane at the Atlanta airport on Friday, each with a hint of green in their uniforms. They were taking a charter flight aboard Omni Air International. Where were they headed a scant few days before St. Patrick's Day? To Shannon, Ireland, of course!

Have a great holiday. Maybe I'll defrost one of the small loaves of Irish Soda Bread that have been in the freezer since last year.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

what's wrong with this picture?

There is something fishy going on at Dollar General. I thought that the chocolate fish they are selling for Valentine's Day were unusual enough to put on the blog. I mean, what kind of message are you sending to your loved one by giving him or her a foil-wrapped chocolate fish? Why would anyone come up with the idea to mold some chocolate into that shape? Is it supposed to be a trout or a bass or some other species of fish?

I had spotted some chocolate fish at Walgreens recently and taken a picture of one with my cell phone camera. When I saw the same type of fish at Dollar General today, I remembered that I had my digital camera in my coat pocket and could therefore take a higher quality photo. However a Dollar General employee asked me not to take any pictures inside the store. He said it's their company policy. What are they are trying to hide? Could it be that they are selling the fish for only $2 while Walgreens charges $2.99? I would think that they'd want to promote that. So instead of filling web space about the silly chocolate fish that come in boxes marked "You're a Keeper" and "Hooked on You," I'm left wondering what deep, dark secret Dollar General is afraid would be revealed by a photograph.

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Monday, January 05, 2009

twelfth night

Depending on the culture, the twelve days of Christmas end tonight or tomorrow. Some start counting on Christmas Day, others on Boxing Day. Either way, happy Epiphany Eve, even though my church celebrated the feast yesterday. Or maybe I should say merry Armenian Christmas Eve.

On New Year's Eve, my wife and son and I arrived downtown early for First Night Knoxville. The cold air was making my wife's nose a little runny. I thought that we could probably get a pack of tissues at J's Mega Mart, the combination wig shop and convenience store where I got the unusual Santa Claus figurine that I sent to my friend Bean. I was also curious to see if anyone had purchased the other dusty Santa that was still on the shelf when I did my shopping on December 10.

We walked into the store, peeled off our hats and gloves and started looking for tissues when, what to my wondering eyes should appear but three miniature Santas and possibly six more in boxes behind them. They all appeared to be brand new which means that the store must have had a supply of them somewhere. Since they're going out of business, I doubt that they ordered more just because I bought one. Each had a slightly different pose. Do they intend for someone to collect the whole set? There are many more black Santas available online. The one on the left in my photo has an open hymn book glued to his chest. His hand is in the wrong position to be holding it.

On another shelf, I saw lots of Little Debbie products, including the S'mores that I wanted to try last May. I probably should have spent the 46 cents but I was put off by the fact that they were not labeled for retail sale.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

party quirks

More often than not, my wife and I stay home on New Year's Eve. One year we went over to the next door neighbor's house. Another year we went to the home of some church friends. We had three memorable New Year's Eves in California.

We rang out 1999 at a spectacular black-tie party for the film "Fantasia 2000." So many people were afraid of Y2K, that we got invited to fill out a table that had been purchased by a corporate sponsor. After a screening of the movie, there was live music by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Chicago. Maybe you've heard of them.

Another year we got tickets to see the Brian Setzer Orchestra at the House of Blues. Because the tickets had come from Setzer's management, we found ourselves seated at the same table as Brian's wife. I've already written about the New Year's Eve we spent in Pasadena, getting within smelling distance of the Rose Parade floats.

I had a great time saying farewell to 2008 on Wednesday night. I got to play improv games with my Einstein Simplified pals as part of the First Night Knoxville festival. The evening started early with an appearance on "Live at Five at Four" to promote our performances. Then we had dinner at The Tomato Head, which was packed with people. Despite the huge crowd, the staff found a way to seat our party of 16. I amused myself by ordering the vegetarian chef salad and then having them add free-range chicken to it. The words bacon and salad on the menu got me wondering if there is such a thing as bacon salad. It would have mayo and celery like tuna salad but with bacon instead of fish.

I was a little anxious about whether or not we would draw an audience. Our performance space was in a conference room in an office building across the street from Market Square. I said that I hoped ventriloquist Gene Cordova could draw a crowd. He had shows at 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. in the same room we would use at 9:00. When we got to the TVA West Tower, Gene Cordova had a standing-room only crowd that spilled out into the lobby area. Another conference room across from ours had musical performances by Bantry and Tennessee Schmaltz. They had a decent sized audience too, not Gene Cordova numbers, but decent. Most of the audience who filled the room for our two shows had never seen us before. I was surprised when a former WAVA listener in the crowd re-introduced himself to me. It was Don Samples, cousin of the late Junior Samples. Our shows went very well and I think more than a few of the people will come see us at Patrick Sullivan's in the future.

We ended our second show around 11:30 p.m. and went outside to see the "ball" drop. It was more like a balloon on a tether and not that impressive. Next year they should drop an orange construction barrel, as suggested by reader Cassie. A live band on the Market Square stage made the event feel like Sundown in the City, except for the bitter cold. Like the popular summer event, there were way too many cigarette smokers blowing their exhaust on others. We found a spot that was relatively smoke-free and watched the countdown to midnight. It was 25 seconds slow but who's counting?

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

drop it like it's hot

The concept of First Night (Name of Your Town Here) started in Boston in 1976. I don't know if it was on January 1, 1976 or December 31, 1976 but that's not important right now. It has since spread to dozens of cities nationwide. Knoxville climbed aboard the First Night bandwagon a year ago.

First Night's mission
is "to foster the public's appreciation of visual and performing arts." In addition to all the musicians and artists on the First Night Boston schedule, there are two comedy improv troupes performing, Improv Asylum and Improv Boston. First Night Knoxville has followed that model by booking Einstein Simplified for performances at 9:00 and 10:15 p.m. We go on after two shows by ventriloquist Gene Cordova in the TVA West Tower. Somebody from First Night Knoxville asked Paul Simmons if I could plug the event on the radio. Unfortunately I can't because a competing radio station is an official media sponsor. Last I heard, there's a chance we could be on "Live at Five at Four" on Wednesday afternoon to promote First Night Knoxville.

Three of the other First Night celebrations were included on Trip Advisor's list of the quirkiest New Year's events. First Night Bethlehem ranked #2 because of their clever and quirky Marshmallow Peep drop at midnight. An improv group from Philadelphia called The N Crowd is among the entertainers there. First Night Talbot in Easton, Maryland, made the list because of their crab drop. At First Night Raleigh they drop an acorn. Raleigh also has a performance by an improv group called the Transactors.

The Peep drop got me thinking about Knoxville's festivities. At midnight a ball will drop from a crane in Market Square. The ball is okay, I guess. It's good enough for New York after all and could be thought of as representative of our Sunsphere. But why not drop something that just screams East Tennessee? How about a couch? Or a women's basketball? Or a papier-mâché head of Cas Walker? What's your suggestion?

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

fa ra ra ra ra

Are you thinking about Valentine's Day? Let me explain. Dave and Melanie, the full-time RVing married couple who work at the See's Candies kiosk in West Town Mall, told me something interesting yesterday. They will work here until the day after Christmas, then they will hop in their RV and head to Florida for January. The big news is that they will be back in Knoxville in time to reopen the kiosk and sell you some Valentine's chocolates for your sweetheart. In past years, the kiosk was only open for the month prior to Christmas.

I also went to Dollar General Market yesterday to get some River Ranch Garden Salad. At $1.25 a pound, it costs less than the so-called gourmet salad at Sam's Club. Last week, it was on sale for only $1 a pound, which is cheaper than even the bland, shredded lettuce I've been buying at Sam's. As I was leaving, I passed a guy delivering several cases of Valentine's Day cards from American Greetings. I will have to go back and find out if they put the cards on display before or after Christmas.

In other food store news, today was opening day for a new Asian supermarket on Kingston Pike. The first thing I saw as I walked in the door at the Sunrise Supermarket was a refrigerator case with fully cooked whole ducks, not far from some stacks of preserved duck eggs.

As I passed through the produce section I noticed that they had three kinds of apples: red, green and Fuji. They also had a sign warning "Caution Spiny Fruit" for something called frozen Durian. It's known for its foul odor, which must be why they keep it frozen.


Beyond the produce, I saw plenty of various pork parts. They had ears, feet, kidneys, livers, tongues and stomachs. I also saw large containers of pork blood, trays of beef honeycomb, fresh goat meat and individual chicken feet on ice. Over in the seafood section they had many fresh and frozen varieties of fish. I was fascinated by the things that were still alive. They had live blue crabs, lobsters, Dungeness crabs, catfish and Tilapia.

On my way out, I spied a stack of books in a rack near the door. Who knew there was such a thing as the Chinese Yellow Pages for the Southeast U.S.A?

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