Tuesday, May 24, 2011

TBG Eats: Grill 'Em All

Current Weight: 164.0 lbs.

Grill 'Em All Menu

Much to my wife's chagrin; I am not the least bit ashamed at my child-like enthusiasm towards foods I target for these "TBG Eats" features. I turned an enormous apple pancake into a
TBG trilogy. I abandoned the office early to live-Tweet my experience with KFC's Double Down Sandwich. I drove 100 miles, one way, for a ground bacon burger.

So, several weeks ago, when my friend Smitty sent me an email with "Great Burgers" in the subject line, I dropped everything and gave his note my undivided attention. In it, he sang the praises of the
Grill 'Em All Truck – an unholy union between non-traditional hamburgers and heavy metal.

I'm WAY late to the current food truck craze, but through the use of Twitter (where ravenous fans can stalk the trucks' ever-changing locations in real time) and
popular TV shows, the industry is exploding. Smitty let me know that the Los Angeles/Orange County-based Grill 'Em All Truck would be in San Diego during the weekend of May 20-22. Admittedly, my iPod only holds one or two heavy metal songs, but I've been known to support non-traditional eats in any form.

As part of Food Truck Festival, ten food trucks from San Diego were joined by ten food trucks from Los Angeles. The massive vehicles were stationed in a lot adjacent to the Boomers Family Fun Center in the Clairemont Mesa section of town. I arrived just after it opened and the line for Grill 'Em All was already three-dozen deep. Normally, I maintain a strict "I ain't waitin'" philosophy for sit-down restaurants that never extends past 15 minutes. Ordering from the side of a celebrated truck was uncharted territory for me, so I heeded Smitty's words ("It'll be worth the wait.") and scrolled through my phone's apps in search of patience.

30 minutes later, at the front of the line, I ordered three hamburgers (total price: $23). I passed on their famous fries since…y'know…three hamburgers.

"Blue Cheer" (blue cheese, cranberry gastrique and Munchos) -- Separately, the components of this burger include some of my favorite foods. I've loved the overpowering pungency of blue cheese since my morbidly obese childhood, stealing extra spoonfuls from
this omnipresent jar inside the door of my parents' refrigerator. Cranberries are tasty in all forms as their tartness and acidity work well with everything from turkey to salads to cosmopolitans.* And, Munchos – despite their Cap'n Crunch-like tendency to shred the roof of one's mouth – might be the most underrated potato chip crisp on the market. This was the burger I was most excited to eat and it didn't disappoint.

Before my first bite, my nose picked up on the otherworldly aroma. The unpleasantly-pleasing natural scent of the cheese was in an olfactory fight with the sweet and sour fragrance from the gastrique. The smells were distinct and separate even as the heat from the hamburger softened the crumbled blue cheese and hastened its symbiotic/gastronomic bond with the cranberry. As I tore into it, red and white streams pooled onto the picnic table in front of me. The flavors remained gloriously segregated, each one accenting the other to a degree and working wonderfully with the ground beef. Strong, tart, sweet, sour and salty with the Munchos adding terrific texture – I can't wait to crush another one. Grade: 500 (out of 5)

* -- Just so we're clear, I've never had a cosmopolitan. My mixed "chick drink" of choice happens to be a Manhattan – on the rocks, no cherry. I've surveyed friends, family and co-workers on this and the cumulative opinion runs roughly 70/30 that Manhattans are NOT a feminine beverage. Unfortunately, unwritten societal rules clearly require a three-fourths majority before a definitive judgment can be issued.

"Dee Snider" (peanut butter, jelly, bacon, sriracha) -- I've got a weird, irrational relationship with peanut butter. I love peanut butter cookies, but I don't find peanut butter sandwiches all that appetizing. Reese's Pieces are one of my favorite candies, but I'm apathetic towards Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.** When I was much younger, I believed the perfect PB&J equaled two parts jelly and one part peanut butter – with the inherent saltiness of commercial peanut butter, cutting some of the sticky sweetness from Smuckers. It would be quite the balancing act if, individually, these strong condiments somehow managed to NOT asphyxiate all the other flavors within.

Not surprisingly, it's the peanut butter – chunky with finely-diced peanut pieces clearly present – that dominates the palette. I only tasted trace notes of the jelly (in fact, I couldn't clearly identify the flavor), bacon and sriracha (a Thai(!) hot sauce). Underwhelmed, I finished about half of the burger, wrapped it up and took it home. The next day, I unwrapped the other half and pleasantly discovered the edible equivalent of a beautiful butterfly emerging from its brown-paper cocoon. The flavors had a chance to meld, as the peanut butter essence receded and the other toppings – especially the spicy sriracha – became more prominent. The integrity of the hamburger and bacon remained intact, too. I'm still wrestling with how to grade this one. The same-day first half might've been worth 2.5 points, while the next-day second half hovered into 4.0-4.5 territory. Oh, what the hell… Grade: 4 (out of 5)

** -- Telling people that you're not a fan of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups is – based on the reactions I've received – akin to a treasonous act. "How can you NOT like peanut butter cups?!" is the usual incredulous response. If I were to rank the shocked reactions to other fun facts about me, this falls between the ones I get when I admit to having never seen The Wizard of Oz or when I mention that I get my hair cut every Saturday.

"Samoa Joe" (cheddar cheese, "mosh pit" barbecue sauce, pineapple, beer-soaked onions) -- I was hoping the "Molly Hatchet" burger (seared fennel sausage gravy, bacon and maple) would complete my combined 21 ounces of ground beef trifecta, but it didn't appear anywhere on the truck's hastily scrawled menu last Friday. The "Samoa Joe" is ostensibly an homage to
the professional wrestler of the same name. This is pure conjecture, but I assume it was all the rage when it debuted and has since slid down towards the middle of the menu. I anticipated this burger would have a difficult time winning me over. The toppings sounded tasty, but needed to be applied in the appropriate amounts (in ascending order: barbecue sauce, pineapple, onions) to be foodie-effective.

To be fair, the barbecue sauce is awesome ("sauce-ome"?) striking the perfect sweet, smoky and "bit of a kick" balance. As the most prominent condiment, however, it covers the beer-soaked onions in a
crimson mask before the opening bell bite. Less than a minute in, the onions were practically tapping out. I was really rooting for a plentiful portion of pineapple, but it was almost an afterthought here. As with the "Dee Snider" burger, I ate half of this not long after receiving my order and saved the rest for the next day. It was better than the first day – the pineapple's sweet, citrusy flavors were much more noticeable – but, didn't make the next-day championship-level leap of the "Dee Snider". Grade: 2.5 (out of 5)


It's worth noting that the team that staffed the Grill 'Em All Truck was unfailingly friendly and exceedingly courteous. They did not, however, ask me how I'd like my burger cooked. For me, this wasn't a problem, but for those of you who prefer your patty well done, you should mention this up front. My three burgers barely reached "medium".

Then again, I'll never understand those of you who prefer red meat well done. To each their own, I suppose.

Now, pass me the blue cheese and cranberry gastrique, please.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


In nearly nine years as an anonymous internet author, the most difficult piece I've ever had to write was my final "Friday Music News Bootleg" column in February 2006.

That weekly column ran for three years beginning in February 2003 – 51 weeks before my son Jalen was born – and ended just a few days after his second birthday. I bawled like a baby as I pounded out the last few tired jokes at the expense of my favorite pop culture punching bags and wrote my goodbyes to everyone who had read and supported my work.

I remember when I decided to end it. At the two-year mark, I began to feel like I'd written everything possible about outrageous rapper behavior and the unwanted reunions of decrepit rock stars. I slogged through one more year – with increasingly uneven results – and knew the time had come.

That same feeling of finality hit me a few weeks ago – on May 1, to be exact.

It was Sunday night and I was sitting where I always sit on Sunday nights after Jalen's gone to bed and Mrs. Bootleg's just begun step three of her seven-step Sunday night hair care escapade (somewhere between "pre-wash scalp massage" and "navigating her salon-quality, sedan-sized hair steamer in from our garage"). I was less than 10 minutes in – staring blankly at the screen, overcome by the creative inertia washing over me – when I was jarred back into the real world with breaking news from my local FOX affiliate: Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

Obviously, it would be silly to question the newsworthiness of this interruption. But, if my Sunday night routine had been broken up – under similar circumstances – five years ago? I'd have lost my mind. (And, yes, I concede that I'm overwhelmingly in the minority here.) I used to be unnervingly rigid with some of my more whimsical pursuits. Three Sunday nights ago, however, I was transfixed to the television, watching this internationally impactful story unfold.

Afterwards, I could've easily opened my laptop and tried to finish my Sunday night as I usually do, but the desire simply wasn't there. Truth be told…the desire's been missing since at least last December. Some of my readers have even called me out on it. Just one more reason why I love you guys.

Earlier this week, I found myself deleting material I hadn't even half-finished. I never thought I could be so abrupt with something I once loved so much. But, like my decision to end my weekly music news column five years ago...the time, I fear, has finally come.

So long, The Simpsons.

You were a credit to dementia.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

AiAA: Coors Light -- "Cold Challenge"

One of the benefits of avoiding almost any and all political discourse is that I was able to successfully ignore last week's ridiculous Republican-driven controversy over Common's appearance at the White House. Unfortunately, this non-story took attention away from a MUCH more newsworthy issue involving a rap artist in the waning days of his fame.

Ice Cube's evolution from gangsta rapper to family-friendly actor/director/producer is one of the more fascinating transitions in the recent history of entertainment. This is a man who rose to fame in the late 1980s with N.W.A. and famously attracted the attention of the FBI with incendiary tracks such as "F*** the Police". Cube went on to a successful solo career, but the misogyny, violence and rage contained within such seminal albums as AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, Death Certificate and The Predator didn't exactly endear him to Middle America (or, at least not to the parents of the suburban kids who were excitedly scooping up Cube's CDs).

To his credit, Cube has successfully reconstructed his image over the past decade or so. He served as executive producer on the lucrative Barbershop and Are We There Yet? movie franchises, spinning them off into a pair of cable television series. Now, in his early 40s, Ice Cube has become positively cuddly -- lampooning his cartoonish tough guy persona in films like The Longshots and Lottery Ticket.

This is exactly what Ice Cube is doing in the above Coors Light commercial. So, why doesn't it work?

Well, on a personal level, it's still oddly jarring for me to see light beer commercials actively targeting African-Americans.* In my lifetime, the light beer companies never took their eyes off of their core demographics: working-class
white males and young white women hitting the club. Ten years ago, Coors Light aired a pair of spots with rapper/producer Dr. Dre, but scrapped the ad campaign fairly quickly.

* -- One could argue that Ice Cube's commercial appeal -- at the absolute apex of his rap career and not unlike most rappers from his era -- came mostly from white, well-to-do consumers. This Coors Light ad is clearly not after that audience.

Looking at it from the perspective of my mostly unused marketing degree from San Diego State University; the commercial clumsily stumbles from silly to Ludacris ludicrous. Ice Cube is just fine -- his scowl perfected, eyebrows perpetually arched in mock anger. But, who makes up his audience these days? Blacks or whites? Twenty-something fans who've never owned one of his albums or thirty-somethings who may have forgotten him?

Those muddled marketing waters still make a lot more sense when compared to Coors Light's "super cold" concept. In the pantheon of superfluous emphasis, "super cold" sits alongside
triple dog dare and the defense strenuously objects.

Friday, May 13, 2011

TBG Eats: Arby's Market Fresh Grilled Chicken & Pecan Salad Sandwich

Current Weight: 164.4 lbs.

Longtime readers know that I'm not above dropping in a reference to The Simpsons. And, one of my all-time favorite quotes from the show occurred during the season nine episode,
Das Bus:

"I'm so hungry, I could eat at Arby's."

The fatigue and restrained desperation in voiceover actress Russi Taylor's
line reading is terrific and the reactionary gasps from the other children is one of those subtle touches that The Simpsons used to do better than any other sitcom on television.

To this day, I infrequently use that Arby's dig whenever I'm in the company of m'man Smitty -- who is an unabashed fan of both The Simpsons' heyday AND the entire Arby's menu. In response, Smitty will recite his favorite Arby's items -- including anything that might be new to their menu -- with an enthusiasm that belies the omnipresent goateed scowl that sits scrunched up under his shaved head.*

* -- In all seriousness, Smitty's "separated at birth" celebrity lookalike is STUNNING in its eerie accuracy.

But, for all the good-natured jabs I've taken at Arby's, the truth is I haven't eaten there in more than 30 years. I clearly remember the downtown Arby's on Long Beach Boulevard back in my hometown. My mother would take me and my brother there for shakes and roast beef sandwiches. As the most gluttonous six-year-old in the western hemisphere -- soon-to-be majoring in morbid obesity -- I never left Arby's hungry.

Fast food, however, is roughly 25% personal preference and 75% proximity. For example, I love the Sausage McGriddle breakfast sandwich from McDonald's. But, currently, the closest McDonald's to me is a 15-minute drive on surface streets -- past Burger King, Carl's Jr., Jack in the Box and several hole-in-the-wall taco shops. For Californians, a 15-minute drive anywhere is considered a commute and is often accompanied by intermittent rest stops and bathroom breaks along the way. I haven't lived near an Arby's since first or second grade so, consequently, the restaurant took a back seat to eateries that were closer to me.

Earlier this month, the Senior Manager of Social Media Marketing for a firm called Fanscape -- working in conjunction with Arby's -- reached out to me and asked if I'd be interested in participating in a promotion to raise awareness of the chain's new Market Fresh Grilled Chicken & Pecan Salad Sandwich. There'd be free gift cards for me, a giveaway for one of my readers...it was all very professional and sounded intriguing.

The obvious problem for me, though, is that I knew I couldn't write about Arby's without the above quote from The Simpsons or without the interesting-only-to-me Smitty anecdote or without the "I haven't eaten there in over 30 years" admission.

What can I say...this is what passes for integrity here at TBG.

I do, however, enjoy chicken salad in almost every form. For several years, a dear friend of That Bootleg Family -- Mrs. S -- would invite us over to her house and serve a jaw-droppingly awesome peppery chicken salad with cashews as an appetizer. While my then-preschool aged son would usurp their Nintendo Wii system and my wife nodded off on the corner of our hosts' couch, eyelids heavy from a half-glass of wine, I'd sneak back into the S family kitchen and pilfer enormous spoonfuls of Mrs. S's chicken salad -- and then, at the end of the evening, leave with a Tupperware bowl of the balance at Mrs. S's insistence.

More recently, I wrote about
Subway's Orchard Chicken Salad sandwich. A few weeks ago, Subway reintroduced this sandwich and they've been promoting it as part of their $5.00 Footlong menu. Through the unexplainable magic of Google; I've received a small handful of tweets, e-mails and blog comments from people who searched for the Orchard Chicken Salad sandwich this month and stumbled upon this lightly-read blog.**

** -- WELCOME, new readers! Here's a quick primer: "Mrs. Bootleg" is my wife. She's 4'8" and one of just a dozen African-American women born and raised in the state of Utah during the 20th century. "Jalen" is our seven-year-old son. He...umm..."dabbles" in baseball and embarrasses me three times a week with inappropriate questions directed at servers, cashiers, gardeners and/or senior citizens. And, yes, ALL my food reviews take this long to get to the point.

So, I made the 10-mile drive from Stately Bootleg Manor -- south on Interstate 15 -- to the nearest Arby's. I ordered the Market Fresh Grilled Chicken & Pecan Salad Sandwich combo with curly fries and a soft drink. From the promotional material I received, the chicken salad is described as:

Large chunks of grilled chicken, crunchy pecans, diced red apples, celery and juicy red grapes all blended together.

It's served either on "hearty bread" (Arby's words) or whole grain flatbread and the sandwich is further billed as "not too heavy, not too light". I ordered it with the "hearty" honey wheat bread and was pleasantly surprised at the size. It's larger and stacked higher than the line of
grilled sandwiches at Jack in the Box. I did notice, though, that my sandwich was served on toasted bread. Admittedly, I didn't ask for it un-toasted, but based on these images, I assumed the bread was served soft -- which would've been my preference.

As it turned out, the bread dominated my first several bites. It's good bread -- with mild notes of sweetness and nuttiness equally comingled -- but, toasting it made the sandwich overly chewy with a prominent "toasted" taste. Thankfully, the chicken salad is plentiful. As gobs of it fell from my sandwich onto the napkins scattered around my table, I could sample the chicken salad by itself.

The apples and grapes are the strongest flavor components. This isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're willing to think eat outside the box, but I was still struck by how imperceptible the chicken is. The texture and look of the meat is perfect, but it's missing...something. Salt? Pepper? Char? Something. The chicken salad isn't especially creamy, either. I was fine without the over-mayo'd approach, but it might've help lift the chicken.

Hours after my meal, I'm still not sure where I stand on Arby's Market Fresh Grilled Chicken & Pecan Salad Sandwich. I'd like to try it again, but with untoasted bread and possibly sliced tomatoes. My gut tells me there's 3.5-to-4.0 potential here, but for now, you'll have to live with an unfinished score, Arby's.

Although, I give your unchanged-since-1986 restaurant decor my coveted 500 (out of 5) score.

Grade: 2.5 (out of 5) Calories: 880 Fat: 44g

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

TBG Eats: The NEW California Whopper from Burger King

Current Weight: 162.2 lbs.

By my unofficial count, there are only three states in America with enough weight to effectively be used as de facto adjectives. But, let's be honest: Texas is a shameless, insufferable self-promoter and any restaurant or song with a New York designation is almost certainly inferring the city, not the state. Sorry,

That leaves us with California. Below, in no particular order, are the five most prominent "California" fixtures in my life.

California Love -- Arguably, the
most enduring song to come out of Death Row Records' reign atop the commercial rap industry from 1992 through 1996. Tupac Shakur's erosion into self-parody had yet to begin in earnest and Dr. Dre still gave a damn. To this day, it still kills me that relatively lesser-known cities such as Rosecrans, Pasadena and Sacramento got shout outs on this track. "Someone send Danny Boy out to buy a Thomas Guide! We're still two cities short on the outro!"

California Angels -- Long considered Southern California's other baseball team, the Angels used an all-state moniker from September 1965 through the end of the 1996 MLB season. As an Oakland Athletics fan living in Los Angeles County; the rival Angels provided me with YEARS of howlingly awful baseball and occasional quasi-contention that would inevitably end in
delicious heartbreak for their fan base.

California Pizza Kitchen -- I don't hold any elitist aversion to national chain or faux gourmet pizza, but CPK does nothing for me. The wait to get a table always falls somewhere between 30 minutes and "Oh, that's ridiculous", while the food is uninteresting and predictable. All of their pizzas have an assembly line look – whether topped with Japanese eggplant or caramelized pears or Tzatziki sauce – and
the menu tries too hard to be cool. 20 years ago, everything would be served with Oakley blades and share a studio with Studs.

California Gold Rush -- James W. Marshall's discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in January 1848 was the flashpoint for my home state's first population explosion. More importantly, it inspired the 49ers nickname of San Francisco's terrible NFL team and one of my favorite episodes of the seminal 1970s Saturday morning cartoon, Challenge of the Superfriends. In "The Time Trap", Gorilla Grodd and The Legion of Doom
created a time-travel device. As part of their villainous scheme, they arrived at Sutter's Mill the day BEFORE gold was discovered and plundered all the precious metal.

California Highway Patrol -- I'm old enough to remember CHiPs and the waning days of the Erik Estrada sex symbol craze. The late 1970s must've been a wonderful time to be a reasonably attractive minority on television. I mean...who was Estrada's Hispanic competition for the teen idol set? Desi Arnaz, Jr? (And, he was only half Cuban...and, half
this.) If 21-year-old Aaron could've stolen Gorilla Grodd's aforementioned time travel plot device, I'd have OWNED black America. (I know how that sounds, but I'm keeping it in.) With the possible exception of Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, I was better looking than every other African-American actor the decade produced. I'm still keeping it in!

Honorable Mentions -- Fine...here's your Hotel California, people. I wish I could say the Eagles and this song meant something to me, but in the category of "California", I actually liked
this song more. I've never seen the film Kalifornia or Showtime's Californication, but I seem to have inadvertently avoided everything David Duchovny's ever done. And, Mrs. Bootleg asked that I add one of her all time favorite movies, California Suite. The ensemble cast includes Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby...which only strengthens my earlier ethnic point.

Straight from the trendy
Whopper Bar in New York City comes the regionally released California Whopper from Burger King. On it, Swiss cheese replaces American, while the familiar lettuce, tomato and onion toppings are joined by guacamole and strips of bacon.

Guacamole has been lazily synonymous with California for decades, but GOOD guacamole transcends the tired stereotype and is an especially versatile food. Burger King's guacamole is not good. There was plenty of it on my Whopper and the artificial "just add water" avocado flavor overwhelmed my sad little mouth.

BK's novelty Whoppers live or die with the quality of their sauce/soft topping. Previously, the Angry Whopper and Whiplash Whopper worked because the sauce was the star. On the California Whopper, the guacamole brings everything else down. The bacon is muted and the processed Swiss cheese isn't the least bit pronounced. The meat maintains BK's ubiquitous smokiness, but the end result isn't worth the geographic exploitation.

Congratulations, California Whopper. You've joined Jordan almonds, London broil and Manhattan clam chowder in that regard.

Grade: 1.5 (out of 5)

Monday, May 9, 2011

TBG (Quickly) Eats: Wrigley's Extra "Dessert Delights" Key Lime Pie Sugar-Free Gum

Current Weight: 162.2 lbs.

I'm not sure when it happened, but key lime pie has ascended to the top of my personal pie chart.*

When I was very young; my pie preferences were kid-friendly selections such as apple or pumpkin. Later, with feelings similar to Alicia Silverstone's
harmless adolescent appreciation of Cary Elwes, I counted down the days until my mother's homemade pecan pie – which only appeared at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Back before certain dairy products began betraying my digestive tract, banana cream pie and I had a tawdry affair for a few years. And, I've previously posted tributes to Mrs. Bootleg's holiday sweet potato pie.

* -- I suppose I should acknowledge that admittedly awful play on words. I regret nothing.

Key lime pie, however, is a dessert that's difficult to prepare properly. I'm fine with the green food coloring that occasionally added to the filling and while I can appreciate the traditional meringue topping, it's not a necessity for me. I only need two things from my key lime pie: (1) an appropriate amount of tartness and (2) filling consistency that's not too stiff. Believe it or not, both qualities are in play with Wrigley's Extra "Dessert Delights"
Key Lime Pie Sugar-Free Gum.

The gum's list of ingredients includes a polysyllabic array of artificial flavors. Surprisingly, this mix gives off a strong key lime pie scent. Seriously, you can smell it through the cellophane wrapping. An open pack of this gum was sitting on my desk at work and, after a few minutes, I had to move it inside a drawer.

The key lime pie flavor is pretty intense when that first stick of gum touches your tongue. Grading on the chewing gum curve of real food flavors, Wrigley's Extra comes awfully close to capturing key lime pie. It leans more sweet than tart, but achieves some of the pucker you'd expect from a citrus-based dessert. There's a subtle creaminess in the few chews that I can't ever remember experiencing in a stick of gum.

Like all chewing gums, the flavor in "Dessert Delights" dissipates fairly quickly. Consequently, I found myself popping sticks all afternoon as much to keep the flavor alive as for the almost-overwhelming taste of those first few chews. And, I don't know if it's a Wrigley's-only attribute, but after 10-15 minutes, chewing "Dessert Delights" was like gnawing on a Superball. Nitpicking aside, "Dessert Delights" Key Lime Pie is a tasty little gum that -- superficially -- exhibits more truth in advertising than you might think.

Grade: 4 (out of 5)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

10 Thoughts: Oakland A's -- April 2011

Cust Out -- Over the past decade, A's fans have offered frosty reactions to a few former Athletics who've left the team for a lucrative free agent contract and returned to Oakland in the visitor's dugout the following season. Jason Giambi won an MVP award with the A's in 2000, should've won it again in 2001 and was the (enlarged) heart and (steroidal) soul of a callow squad that returned to playoff contention after several years of mediocrity. Barry Zito – although eminently maddening on the mound – won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award with the A's, never missed a start and averaged almost 15 wins per season in Oakland. Maybe the Coliseum crowd's response to Giambi in hated Yankee pinstripes and Zito wearing the more hated cross-town colors is understandable.

Erstwhile A's DH Jack Cust returned to Oakland on Opening Night after playing there from 2007 – 2010. The team tossed him aside twice last year – once
before the season started and again at season's end. Undoubtedly flawed, Cust was still Oakland's best hitter during his tenure.* I'm not suggesting he deserved a standing ovation, but the incessant boos were undeserved. I might be biased, though.

* -- According to the Department of Damning with Faint Praise…

McCarthyism! -- In his first four starts, he posted an ERA of 2.10 and gave up just one home run in 30 innings. For now, can we all agree to forget
what I wrote about him in March? Cool? Cool. McCarthy is also a must-follow on Twitter. His dry, sarcastic and self-deprecating tweets are a refreshing reprieve from the uniformed political opinions, disingenuous snippets of inspiration and – most egregious of all – the use of "dat" instead of "that" by most pro athletes on Twitter.

You're Killin' Me, Coco -- The only thing worse than OF Coco Crisp over-sliding the bag on a stolen base attempt and being tagged out -- as he was on April 25 against the hated Angels -- was watching Crisp make the same mistake in the very next game. And, the only thing worse than back-to-back brain cramps on the basepaths is...

E-5 -- I'm pleased to be 500th A's fan to take 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff's jersey number/scorecard position and turn it into a cheap dig at his defense. Kouzmanoff made six errors in April – including two on Opening Night – and has seen his playing time reduced in favor of Andy LaRoche (he of the .224/.304/.338 career slash line in 1,200+ PAs entering 2011). Under normal circumstances, it would be easy to accuse the A's of overreacting, but Kouz seems completely frazzled in the field. He's bobbling easy grounders and – on more than one occasion – has ranged too far to his left, clearly cutting in front of the shortstop to make plays that weren't his. He's been equally invisible on offense (.585 OPS in April) continuing a precipitous decline from his impressive first full season in 2007. Even Jalen's
loyalty to Kouzmanoff is beginning to fray.

AiAA's -- At the start of the season, the Athletics debuted a new batch of quirky commercials. As most of you know, I haven't actually USED my marketing degree in more than a decade, but I just don't get the point of my team's irreverent ads. Watching SP Gio Gonzalez
toss cartoon curveballs under the watchful eye of his Aborigine advisor is mildly amusing, but who is the target audience? The hardcore fans don't come to the games for contrived personalities and the casual fan in Oakland has been alienated by the current ownership group or turned off by the crumbling home park. Then, again...I loved this and this and this, so what do I know?

The Bullpen of Doom -- The Athletics lost closer Andrew Bailey to injury in mid-March, but it was believed the team had enough bullpen depth to survive. Unfortunately, manager Bob Geren has been less than creative with this opportunity to use the bullpen's current fluidity in finding optimal pitching match-ups. 35-year-old replacement closer Brian Fuentes (4.96 ERA) is on pace to set a career-high in appearances, as Geren doggedly trots him out for every by-the-book save situation. The unexpected struggles of Craig Breslow (5.06 ERA) has further muddied the late-inning pitching responsibilities. Fortunately, Brad Ziegler and Michael Wuertz haven't given up a run in 17 combined innings, while Grant Balfour has been both reasonably effective (2.08 ERA) and maddeningly wild (10 wild in 13 innings). Hurry back, Andrew Bailey.

My Favorite A's Tweet in April -- Paused
Athletics game. 10th inning. 1-1 tie. Took a shower. Came downstairs. Accidentally hit "live" on remote. 8-1, Tigers. 10th inning.

Happy Mother's Day, Mrs. Bootleg! -- Two of the Athletics' top 10 prospects -- OF Michael Choice and C Max Stassi -- are currently playing for single-A Stockton in the California League. Choice hit a few moon shots in the season's first month and looked terrific during the brief glimpse I saw in-person during Spring Training. Stockton is playing up in Lake Elsinore this weekend -- just 45 minutes north of Stately Bootleg Manor. Rain's in the forecast for Sunday, but if it's dry, I've already scored authenticated kitchen passes for me and my seven-year-old son. What? Hey, I invited the wife!

The New Hotness -- The Athletics acquired LF Josh Willingham, RF David DeJesus and DH Hideki Matsui during the offseason in an attempt to boost an offense that finished 10th in the American League in OPS last year and 11th in runs scored. Here are their current OPS stats through the first month and where they rank among their positional peers in the AL: Willingham (.757, 3rd), DeJesus (.631, 11th), Matsui (.694, 6th). Willingham has mashed a little, DeJesus is barely discernable from the player he replaced (Ryan Sweeney) and Matsui is clearly deteriorating. As of this writing, the Athletics rank 12th in OPS and 13th in runs scored.

Old and Busted -- When this team falls behind, it stays behind. 1B Daric Barton won't hit .204/.336/.287 all season and CF Coco Crisp's on-base percentage is almost 50 points worse than his career level entering 2011. While those two are likely candidates to improve, there's less certainly surrounding other incumbents such as 2B Mark Ellis (.180/.216/.270), SS Cliff Pennington (.227/.267/.289), C Kurt Suzuki (.242/.314/.368) and Kouzmanoff. How dire is it? For God's sake, I'm using Men in Black II quotes here!

Monday, May 2, 2011

TBG (Quickly) Eats: Six Donut Holes and Brazilian Bold Coffee from 7-Eleven

Current Weight: 162.2 lbs.

Inspired by my friends at the Fish and Spaghetti blog, the "TBG (Quickly) Eats" feature will cover food and drink that might not merit 1,200 words -- with a focus on convenience stores, side orders, and other inconsequential empty calories.

Given a choice between highly-commercialized coffees, I'll take Dunkin' Donuts Dark Roast strictly on taste and Starbucks Pike Place for its smooth octane. Coffee snobs may scoff, but I don't want nuance at eight in the morning. I want hot black coffee (usually two commuter-sized cups) and something solidly edible so that I might buffer the inevitable peptic ulcers.

7-Eleven has been serving America's non-nuanced needs since 1927. And, there just so happens to be one just a stone's throw from my employer. Since the parking lot of the closest Starbucks is inexplicably worse than the drop-off at my seven-year-old son's school (and since the closest Dunkin' Donuts is in Arizona*) I made the one-mile drive over to 7-Eleven on a recent Friday morning.**

* -- Yes, I have a coffee maker at home. But, that's a weekend treat. My weekday mornings are spent dragging Jalen out of bed, ensuring he drinks his orange juice, inspecting his just-brushed teeth and lecturing him on yet another lost jacket. My son is an absolute blessing in the AM.

** -- Yes, I could've walked. It was a lovely morning. In my defense, I'm a Californian and it was the week BEFORE Earth Day.

I bypassed 7-Eleven's assortment of flavored coffees and went straight for something called "Brazilian Bold". (I did, however, stop to take a
picture of this. The food and drink masochist in me still wishes I threw down a small steaming cup atop my taste buds.) And, since I've long been a fan of the chain's "Dreammm" line of donuts, I picked up a package of six donut holes. An extra large coffee and breakfast for $2.84.

The Brazilian Bold coffee was surprisingly solid -- maybe a tick or two behind the "bold" that the marketing department was hoping for, but the strong roasted notes are pleasant without being overly bitter. It's not the smoothest coffee you'll ever find, but it holds its own with a consistent taste from beginning to end and it's served at an appropriately scalding temperature. The regular glazed donut holes were light and airy with the right amount of sticky-sweet coating. The sugar content may not have been the perfect pairing with black coffee, but the flavors of the two never interfered with each other.

I wouldn't walk to 7-Eleven for more coffee and donuts...but, I'm pretty sure I'd drive.

Grade (Brazilian Bold Coffee): 3.5 (out of 5)

Grade (Dreammm Donut Holes): 3.5 Calories: 440, Fat: 20g

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The LL Chronicles #7: Five Things I Learned from Jalen's Most Recent Game

Yesterday, our Rookies division Red Sox played the A's...

"Moisture wicking" and "postgame socializing" don't go together... -- Game time was at 12 noon and temperatures reached the mid-to-high 80s. The players and coaches wear replica Major League Baseball jersey/shirts made from polyester and featuring the same
Dri-Fit Gimmick Technology that's all the rage these days. The apparel is designed to "wick away" sweat from the skin while remaining relatively drier than, say, a cotton t-shirt. After two hours of "wicking" -- under the hot sun, from the first base coaching box -- I put my arm around Jalen's shoulder to congratulate him on a good game. Before I could finish my first sentence, he said, "Daddy, you smell bad." It was a good thing he told me before I put my arm around the shoulder of some of the other players' mothers and congratulated their kids on a good game. Oh, it is not creepy. I'm pretty sure most coaches and managers greet their players' mothers the same way. And, would you call future Hall of Fame MLB manager Tony LaRussa "creepy"?

Little Leaguers can loaf as well as Major Leaguers... -- Our kids are getting better all the time. But, the one negative aspect of their respective games that might cause me or another coach to go
Billy Martin on one of our little boys is the absence of hustle -- especially out of the batter's box. I should point out that there are two of our players who ALWAYS bust ass up the first base line. The first is Danica, the lone girl in our entire district and one of the most enjoyable players I've ever coached. I'll assume everyone knows who the second player is. Yesterday, two or three of our players stood at home plate and watched infield pop ups drop to the ground. This was actually progress from our first few games when one of our kids intentionally scuffled up the first base line...just to watch the dusty cloud of chalk that kicked up around his ankles.

Feuding with opposing coaches is FUN... -- In the top of the sixth inning, one of our team's best hitters was at the plate. Stephen's swing has gotten a little long lately and his attempts to hit everything to the outfield have resulted in several slow rollers all around the infield. Jalen had just doubled, so there were runners on second and third with two outs. Once again, Stephen swung for the stratosphere and the resultant groundball was easily scooped up by the first baseman who then stepped on the bag. From where I was standing -- up the first base line, looking directly into the stance of our right-handed hitter -- the ball clearly hit Stephen's foot off the bat. I successfully argued that it should've been a foul ball. This set off one of the opposing coaches who shouted unintelligibly in my direction and gestured wildly with his arms. Since I don't do confrontations; I instead outsourced my retort to Stephen -- who doubled home both runs on the next pitch.

Sometimes it's OK to root against your son... -- In the bottom of the sixth inning, Jalen almost made a terrific little sliding catch. The parents in attendance warmly applauded his effort and Jalen accepted high-fives from a couple of the opposing coaches. I ran over to check on him and as I was leaving, an A's coach said to me, "That would've been an amazing catch!" I responded, "Yeah, but if he'd caught it; I'd NEVER hear the end of it. NEVER." After the game, I learned that Mrs. Bootleg was having the exact same conversation with some of the Red Sox parents -- right down to the "...NEVER hear the end of it" quip. We know our son.

Jalen's postgame appetite is a terrifying sight... -- Our game ended around 2:00 PM. Afterwards, Jalen charmed the "snack mom" out of three bags of cinnamon-sugar Teddy Grahams and washed it down with a 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade. After a merciful shower, I took Jalen over to a regional sports bar called
Oggi's where he polished off a personal pepperoni pizza and -- for dessert -- an entire Black Magic Stout Brownie a la Mode. By himself.

Our server looked down at the scraped-plate devastation in front of Jalen and remarked, "Wow. That usually serves two or three people." Jalen smiled sheepishly and looked up at me with a pained expression that seemed awfully familiar. "Do you have to go poop?", I asked. "Yeah", he replied.

I know my son.