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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Banjo does French Press Coffee

French Press is also known as a 'Press Pot'.

With our latest escapades regarding the Keurig Model B60 coffee machine causing consternation, we have decided to try making coffee via the French Press method.

This will be updated daily, as we work our way through the process of discovery on making the best cup of coffee.

Basis of Comparison
We used to frequent a local Italian restaurant (owned and operated by Iranians' !) that simply had the best coffee we have ever had.  Unfortunately, in a recent trip there, their coffee had lost all of its exquisiteness.  We have fond memories of it, and it will constitute our basis for comparison.


  • Coffee: Starbucks brand.  Whole bean, which we ground in the store.  Note: the coffee bean chosen has one of the biggest, if not the biggest, impact on the flavor of the coffee.

This is where the majority of the variation will occur, so the different tests will center around the various aspects of preparation.  Some of the elements associated with method are:

  • Bean choice - Starbucks Espresso Roast Whole Bean Coffee
  • Grinding method (e.g., using the in-store grinder will mean you have some carryover flavor from other, previous grinds.  Same with at-home grinding, but you can better control how much of the previous grind is cleaned out).
  • Size of grind (how fine the coffee beans ground)
  • Water temperature.  Currently, we are bringing it to a full boil before placing into brew carafe.
  • Water choice.  We have the option of using tap water, filtered tap water, bottled distilled water, branded bottled water.
  • Amount of coffee grinds placed into the carafe.
  • Length of time coffee grinds sit in carafe with hot water.
  • Heated utensils.  E.g., whether the carafe, plunger, cups are all heated prior to use (prior heating will keep the utensil from cooling down the coffee)
  • What the coffee is stored in.  We have a vacuum sealer, so I may try to get the attachment that will allow us to place the coffee into Mason Jars and then vacuum out the air between each use.  Currently, we are using a big ceramic jar made for storing coffee (it has a clasped lid with gasket), but does not provide the ability to remove air.
Note: our tests are not scientific - they are just documenting our search for our perfect cup of coffee; see links for other sites that may offer you more information. 

  • Coffee: Starbucks Espresso Roast Whole Bean, ground at grocery, course grind.
  • Water: Filtered tap water.
  • Number of cups: 2
  • 8 scoops (7 gram scoop) placed into French Press
  • Cups and French Press preheated with hot water.
  • Water brought to boil, then poured over coffee and cap placed on.
  • Mixture stirred with wooden spoon
  • Timer set for 4 minutes.
  • Results: a little too strong for us, but not bitter.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Replacement Keurig Model B60 Coffee Machine - Broken!

Recently, we began to experience problems with our original Keurig Model B60 coffee machine.  We tried all of the maintenance steps to no avail.  So, we took the big step - we threw that one away and bought a new one.

Update 7/30/11: Keurig has said they are sending out a replacement.......I'll update this when delivered.

Here's some background:

All started out well, and it seemed to function fine for about 2 weeks (we've had it about a month, but we were out of town for 2 of those weeks).

We've been back about a week now, making coffee every day (4 cups per day; 2 for me, 2 for my wife).  Now, the pump won't prime itself.  It says 'prime' on the display panel after the pump motor runs for a looooonnnnng time.  Living around a farming community growing up and working with hand pumps, I know what 'priming' is, and this little pump is failing at that job.  There's plenty of water in the reservoir, the valve at the bottom of the reservoir is not plugged.  By removing the reservoir and putting it back in, doing this multiple multiple times, sometimes the machine will prime itself, but only for one cup and then the whole problem is back.

What a piece of crap - in my opinion of course!

After Googling the model and related problems, it appears to me that this is a common problem.  Many problems for many people.  Searching for - keurig model b60 problem prime - gives 66,000 hits!  Of course, not all of those would be legitimate, but it's an indication of a problem - in my opinion of course!  But this I do know for a fact - the stats for the entries I've made on this blog show that the pages associated with Keurig Model B60 problems are some of my more frequented pages, and looking at the searches that lead people to these pages (my stats show that as well) indicates they may be experiencing enough problems to end up here on this little blog of mine!

I feel really really stupid now.   $320 for two (2) machines that are documented as not working correctly per people's experiences on the internet.  And I was just the most recent sucker.  I'm sure there is yet another buyer somewhere, today, that has made another purchase of yet another piece of crap - in my opinion, of course!

So it's back to French Press coffee for us!  What's the big deal anyway?  I'm retired (yeah, I've got to do the dishes tonight...), and the French Press coffee tastes better than it ever tasted from this machine (did I mention it's a piece of crap - in my opinion, of course), more consistent in flavor, cheaper to buy (a glass beaker with plunger/filter), coffee certainly cheaper, and more flavors and brands to choose from.

They say they are "the worlds best single cup coffee maker".  That may be true, because I haven't researched all of the worlds single cup coffee makers, so I can't evaluate their claim.  However, if this is the "world's best", then in my opinion of course, the world is really struggling with this problem and has yet to solve it with a machine that will function properly.

So, here's a suggestion:

  1. Buy a French Press coffee coffee maker for $30.00.
  2. Put $320 - $30 = $290 into a drawer.
  3. Take $30 out to buy a really good coffee bean grinder.
  4. Put $290 - $30 = $260 back into a drawer.
  5. Spend $15 for really good coffee beans.
  6. Put $260 - $15 = $245 back into a drawer.
  7. Make a cup of really good coffee.
  8. Add another $1 to the drawer for every cup of coffee you make because it's cheaper and better, in my opinion of course!
  9. Take a luxury cruise every few years from the money you saved.
  10. Live longer from the loss of stress you've realized.
  11. Mount a picture on kitchen wall of Keurig Model B60 so you can look at it each morning while enjoying your French Press cup of coffee. 
  12. Smile and giggle a little, knowing you have beaten their system and their "world's best single cup coffee maker".

What was I thinking when I bought this piece of crap - in my opinion, of course!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Banjo does World's Longest Yard Sale 2011

Updated 8/26/11

TRIP RESULTS (images at bottom)
For some odd reason, I woke up about 4 AM on Friday, the weekend of the event.  So, after banging around quietly but enough to ensure the wife was awake, we got ready and left, ate some breakfast along the way, and arrived in Chattanooga TN around 8 AM for the start...only it wasn't because we forgot about the time change - it was really 7:00 AM local time!  We didn't discover our time shift until lunch, when we showed up early, just after the cafe opened along the route.

So we were early, but most places were already open.

After a while, we settled into a pattern that was right for us.

  • We only went to places that had multiple vendors ( a loose term - anyone selling is a vendor).  That meant we skipped all of the 'mom and pop' people in their own yards.  As the day wore on, and we got more and more tired, this was a big win for us.
  • We wanted places with fairly good parking, however, we did pull off to the side of the road a couple of times.
  • There are some sites that have a hundred or more vendors.  Those are pretty convenient, and we liked stopping at those. 
  • We went from Chattanooga north on hwy 127 until we got to I-40, where we left the WLYS at Crosseville and headed west to stay in Cookeville.  We did this because the hotels in Crosseville that normally charged $100 per night had jacked up their prices to $200!  So, by driving about 25 miles or so west, we saved $100.  Plus we had a bigger choice of places to stay as well as eat.
  • We covered about the entire state of TN, from south to north.
  • It's an exhausting but interesting time.
  • We shopped all day Friday; we had intended to do some more on Saturday, but bad weather made us change our mind and drive home.
  • We had a great time, and will probably do it again next year.
So, what did we see, what did we buy?  
There is no limit to what you are going to see.  There's everything imaginable - from commodes to sinks, from doorknobs to hats, from bottles to stills.  If it's ever been made, by anyone, somewhere on this route, it will show up.  The prices are all over the place.  I didn't buy a single thing!  That's very unusual for me.  Some things that I wanted to buy, I didn't want to pay the price.  However, as the day wore on, I began to see that the prices for these things were fairly consistent, so I don't think they were overpriced, just I didn't want to part with my money at that price.  I hoped to pick some up on Saturday, but weather made us cut our trip next year.  My sweet wife Pat bought a few small things - one being a dainty hand fan (the type you wave with your hand) to help stay a little cooler.  I wish they would move this to mid-late September; it was too dang hot!


  • Some vendors will try to take advantage of you.  For instance, we saw many, many cast iron skillets, most for $30-$40 for a 10" skillet.  However, we saw some that had been shined up to look glossy black that were selling for $180!  That vendor travels from show to show, has a complete tent setup, sits back in a rocking chair and waits for suckers to come by.  Everything he had had been shined up, and was 10X what it should have been.  When I see that, I'm not willing to negotiate with a thief or someone trying to take advantage of someone.
  • Shop around a little before buying, seeing other vendors' wares.  There are very few things that only appear at a single vendor.  After a while, you'll begin to notice that things have approached their own value, as you'll see fairly consistent prices from site to site.
  • Friday's aren't the best day to negotiate, but you have the biggest choice.  As the weekend advances, some things will have sold and thus be removed from the sell, but the vendors will be more willing to negotiate on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. For some vendors, this is their best and only chance to sell; keeping it will mean retaining it for another year, or dumping it at a loss, so the closer you get to the end day and time, the more willing they are to negotiate.
  • Common items, where you will see at every site, are the easiest to negotiate.  Don't be quick to buy these.
  • A lot of vendors will pack up and leave by noon Sunday.

We've never been on the World's Longest Yard Sale.  This is an annual event that starts on the first Thursday of August, and runs through the following Sunday, and takes place along hwy US127.  This year, 2011, that means the event will start on Thursday August 4 and run through Sunday August 7.  Here's a Google link for more insight.

We plan on starting our trip in Chattanooga TN, and possibly (but not probably) going to Frankfort KY.

Here's a link to my personal map.  It shows places where we may bail out to head back to Atlanta along I-75.

This is the first time we are actually planning on going; we've missed it every year since hearing about it 5 years ago.

I didn't take a lot of pictures because there was so much, and from a general standpoint, it was all the same....just different stuff.  I took these two pictures at the start, at the same place, just north of Chattanooga.  This will give you some idea of what it was like, but repeated hundreds of times.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Banjo's Restaurant Reviews

Banjo's Dining Reviews

Dining Review - Dock Street Oyster Bar, Wilmington NC

Tuesday, 7/21/11 - dinner

We had eaten here once before, in October of 2010, prior to really starting this blog.  On that trip, we had wonderfully prepared steamed oysters, by the bucket.

We really enjoyed the paintings on the walls - literally, the walls are painted with interesting, cartoonish (I'm sure there is a better description, but I'm an engineer, and don't know much about art, although I do a damn fine job of mounting it on the wall) figures.  Most appear to be female, which suits me just fine!  This place has a good, offbeat-way about itself.  It carries over to the servers, most of which appear to be local college students.

This trip, we elected not to have the oysters.  My wife had a 'seafood brunswick stew', and a 'island pork taco'.  I tasted both, and would have enjoyed having either or both for my dinner.  I elected to have 'shrimp over grits'.  Mine was good too.

I had Yingling beer (2), while my wife had Miller draft beer.

The total tab, including tax and tip, was $46.

Website for Dock Street Oyster Bar, downtown Wilmington, NC.
TripAdvisor Review

Dining Review - Elija's in Wilmington NC

7/21/11 Lunch.
This is our second trip to Elija's.  We again ate lunch here.  I think we like it because it has that perfect blend - nearby, easy to get to walking from the Hilton, good food, nice view, good atmosphere.

Today we ate at the bar.  We both had crabcake sandwiches.  My wife had spotted this on the menu yesterday, but it turned out they were only on the bar menu, not on the main dining area menu.

These were large crabcakes, with filler.  They may have been 1 inch thick!  The sauce was very spicy - too much so for my wife, but just my cup of tea.

They were serving Yingling bottled beer on special, so we each had that for our drink.

A really strong thunderstorm blew in while we were there, so we extended our stay about an extra hour, having another Yingling each.

The tab, with tip and taxes, came to about $38.

See other Elija's review for links.

Dining Review - Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Wilmington NC

Tuesday, 7/20/11 - Last night, in celebration of our 36th anniversary, we dined at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Wilmington, NC.

The restaurant is located within the Hilton Hotel of Wilmington.

Our reservations were for 8:00 PM.  We arrived promptly at 8.  We were seated in a corner location that proved to be very cool, as it funneled all of the cold air from the various cold-air registers into the corner then down to our table.  It was a little bit much, but not too bad.

Our waitress, Brook, was very pleasant and professional.  She presented the night's specials to us, along with some personal suggestions.

We opted for salads (I chose Ruth's special salad at approximately $11, and a regular salad for my wife at about $9). We each chose Filet of Tenderloin; my wife got the petite at about $36, and I chose the regular size filet at $40.  We each chose to have our steaks cooked medium-rare.  At Brook's suggestion, we also chose mac-and-cheese with lobster bits - I think this was about $12.50, but couldn't locate my receipt.  We added a bottle of Pinot Noir at $85.  For dessert, I had cheesecake, while my wife chose creme brulee, along with French-press coffee.  We were also presented with a complimentary slice of chocolate cake for our anniversary.  Since I don't have all of my receipts, I can't give a complete individual item breakdown.  However, with tax, the bill came in at $233.42.  We added $46 for the tip, for a total of $279.

We both enjoyed the salads.  Mine was totally different from anything I had before; it was julienne and placed into a mold; it was interesting and I enjoyed it.

The steaks were cooked precisely to our desired temperature of medium-rare.  This is aged beef, so it was fork tender.  It was USDA Prime.  It was exactly what I would expect for a premier steakhouse.  The outer sides were blasted with high heat to form a light crust, while the interior was uniform in its color and temperature.  I did software development for Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa FL, so am familiar with how a great steak should be cooked.  This was on-target, and the meat was a top cut.  We were both very pleased with our steaks.  I requested sea-salt instead of the regular table salt, and it was delivered to me in a side dish to add to our steaks.

Our desserts were very good.  The extra chocolate cake, which we could only sample because we had already eaten the other desserts, was also good.

The only disappointment was the coffee.  We are used to being served really great coffee at a premium restaurant, but this was not up to snuff.  Brook brought a 2nd pot to us, but it was only slightly better.  I'm not an expert on preparing coffee, but I expect the beans were not as high of quality as we are used to being served.

Summary: We enjoyed the dining experience, our server was very good, the food was excellent, our steaks were prepared spot-on, and the wine was incredible.  We would be happy to return for a future special occasion.

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse link
TripAdvisor Reviews

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dining Review - Elihja's Restaurant, Wilmington NC

7/20/11: we had our 36th anniversary lunch on the water at Elija's Restaurant in Wilmington, NC today.

We wanted somewhere that had the potential for good food, was on the water, and where we could have a view.  Elija's satisfied all of the above.

We arrived about 1:30 PM on a Tuesday; they were surprisingly busy, we thought, for mid-day, mid-week.

We entered from the water boardwalk side, which placed us into the bar area.  We went to the front to leave our names for a table, then returned to the bar where we had a drink while waiting for our water-view table.

The ambiance is nice, and all rooms are decorated in a nautical style.

I asked about Single Malt Scotch, and they only had one, McClelland's.  This is not my favorite (I prefer peaty scotches from the Islay area, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, as well as Talisker.  They wanted $9.50 for it.  I passed.

My wife and I each had a gin & tonic.  They were cold and good.  They were $6.50 each.

After a very short wait, we were shown to our tables.  As promised, we had a water-view table.

Our server arrived promptly, and took our orders for another round of gin & tonic.  While she went to obtain those, we chose our lunch.

For an appetizer, we chose the 'hot crab dip'.  We both enjoyed it a great deal.

For our lunch, we each chose the fried oyster sandwich, which comes with french fries.  We thought they did a good job with frying the oysters.  However, almost every bite I had contained small pieces of oyster shell, while my wife said she never had any.  I've eaten fried oysters everywhere, all of my life, and this is the most oyster shell I have ever encountered!  In my opinion, they probably didn't wash the oysters off properly before breading them to fry.

The total bill came to about $65.00 for lunch, which included the two fried oyster sandwiches, one hot crabdip appetizer, and 4 gin & tonic drinks (2 each), plus tip.

We enjoyed our view, the interior, the service, the drinks, and the food.

In summary: we would come back for lunch or dinner.  

Restaurant's website
TripAdvisor Reviews

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Dining Review - 22 North Restaurant, Wrightsville Beach NC

7/19/11: We will be having dinner there tonight.  Will update this page with the review.

7/20/11: Review:

  • Insight: I feel that it's important to understand that this restaurant is on an resort island, where real estate is at a premium, and where businesses have only 3 months to make their profits for a year.  Because of this, prices are higher than they would be on the mainland, and issues, such as parking, are inherently going to be difficult for a merchant to resolve.  E.g., the bigger the parking lot, the more premium land that has to be purchased, and the higher the prices will have to be to offset this investment.  So, with that, let's go!
  • Ride over to Wrightsville from Wilmington is an easy drive.
  • Parking is difficult to find near the restaurant, but we managed, so you can too.
  • Prices: given the insight above, I thought they were reasonable.
  • Appetizers - we had two; bacon wrapped scallops, and crabcake.  My wife liked both.  In my opinion, I found the bacon to be overcooked and crispy, which overpowered the scallops, which I also thought were overcooked.  In my opinion, the crabcake also had something in it that overpowered the crab.  I liked both apps, but felt they could have been better.
  • We both had the Wahoo fish.  My wife liked hers.  In my opinion, mine was slightly overcooked (my wife also agrees), but we both thought they were good.
  • Service: a little spotty, but OK overall. 
  • Wait for food: reasonable 
  • Impression: Overall, we would go back.

Restaurant's website:
Chef Brent Poteat's comments (video)

Experiencing Wilmington NC

This will be the master link to reviews of restaurants, hotels, and attractions we dine at, stay at, and visit while on our 36th anniversary trip to Wilmington NC.

We intend to try as many of the places noted by the local newspaper as being among the best in town, while running it by restaurant and other reviews in TripAdvisor and Google.


  • A Proper Garden.  This is located one block off the waterfront area of Wilmington.  This had a lot of interesting items that were both unusual as well as original.  There was a garden theme to a lot of these items.  My wife bought some candles that are inserted into a wine bottle from here.
  • Creations by Justine. These are art objects that are created by three ladies.  They are all very unusual.  I haven't seen items like these anywhere else, in any city.  We thought they were very reasonably priced.  We bought a couple of wine bottle stoppers (one a shark with a hat smoking a cigar, the other a shark with a foot sticking out of its mouth), as well as a 'mushroom' for a potted plant.  We liked a lot of what we saw, but couldn't quite figure out where we could put it in our house, so we passed on items we really liked.
  • Una Luna World Gallery. Also down by the water, one block off.  This too had a lot of interesting and original pieces.  We found a bar and two stools that we thought would look great on our back porch, but didn't feel that we wanted to put that much into them.  The bar stools, each hand-made, from Wando SC, were hand tooled leather.  Looked great, well made, and a piece of art unto themselves.  We didn't feel that the $495 price for each was too much, but it was more than we wanted to put into bar stools.  The bar top was a big slab of Oak suspended over two wooden wine barrels.  I didn't price the bar, since the stools were past our budget.
  • Crescent Moon.  This is in the Cotton Exchange, across from the Wilmington Hilton, where we are staying (we have a river view).  They had very pretty pottery, hand crafted art-glass and metal sculptures.  My wife felt their prices were very reasonable.
The Good: We stayed at the Wilmington Hilton, which is on the river.  We felt it was reasonably priced, and the room we had (river view) was a nice room.  Nothing fancy.  The King bed had 'memory foam' mattress, and we both liked it very much.  I stayed here once in 1974!  It's been updated some since then, so it looks freshened.  It has wide-open (not secured) wifi.  It also had a hard wired connection, but I didn't have a cable and they didn't supply one. I set up the Ipad for my wife on this, while I used my secure Verizon Wireless broadband card for my laptop for stock transactions.  We plan on eating at Ruth Chris' Steakhouse for our anniversary, which is located at the hotel.  Parking is available off-street, but you have to pay for it.  The hotel is convenient to the tourist stuff down by the water.

The Bad: Somehow, our room didn't get serviced by the maid service this morning.  We did have a 'do not disturb' sign out first thing, but later removed it while they were still servicing our floor.  Maybe that was the reason....anyway, we called at 4:00 PM to have our garbage removed and new towels, etc delivered.  We called back at 5:00 PM and commented that we needed to shower and get ready for going out, so we needed our linens delivered.  It's 5:30 now, still no one has come by with our linens.  I'm on the phone with the 'guest services' person right now to let her know I'm coming into the lobby with the dirty linens and garbage in 10 minutes to drop it off.  Update: the management came up while I was putting my shoes on to present my garbage and linens to the lobby.  He apologized, and presented us with free breakfast passes in the hotel for our troubles.

Overall: We would return.

River Cruise.  On Thursday, 7/21/11, we went on the noon river cruise.  We chose the larger ship "Henrietta III" for our cruise.  It was $15 each, as we opted to skip the onboard lunch.  We are glad we did, as it didn't look all that interesting to us later when we saw it onboard.  However, the cruise itself, which lasted 1.5 hours, was a lot of fun.  While going against the wind, we sat on the rear covered deck.  The outside temperature on this day was around 97 dF, and we were OK while going against the wind.  However, on the return back to the dock, we were going with the wind, which meant we didn't have any wind at all; we ended up moving inside to the air conditioned sitting.  This is an important consideration if you are going in extreme temperature conditions, such as hot hot summer!  We first headed north for a brief ways (upriver) before turning around and heading downstream towards the ocean.  We went under the bridge, and up to the state-ports area before turning around to come back to the dock.  We enjoyed it very much.

Note: the city offers a lot more in the way of entertainment, but we opted to limit our entertainment venues.  The heat index during our stay was 115!

Crime near the waterfront in the tourist section appears to be a problem, based upon city information supplied by the local newspaper.  Here's the link to a map.  We noticed the crime mainly consisted of car break-ins.  During our stay, we never had any issues or problems. While the potential to be crime victims concerned us, we took steps to avoid problems:

  • We removed everything from our car, and parked it in a highly visible area.
  • We did not walk around after dark.  Instead, we drove anywhere we were going to go.
  • We walked to and ate in the area for lunch, and drove out of the area for dinner.

TRIP SUMMARY: Since both Charleston and Savannah are closer to our home, we think we would opt to go to one of those waterfront cities instead of Wilmington, so we probably won't be back this way anytime soon.  However, if the city of Wilmington is closer for you, then I would certainly recommend it.