Thursday, May 29, 2014

Minecraft birthday party

Let me share my experience and information so that you or anyone else wanting to do a minecraft themed party, could have some ideas.  This is what we did for my son, a 6 year old. 

So, let me explain what we did:

First off, we made and printed out little snack cards showing different items from the games, like below:
Then we took some clear, square plates and filled them with some items represented by items in the game.  We had fish, cookies, green M&M's, pretzel sticks, rice crispy treats, and Rolo candies.  We bought some apple juice bottles and ripped the label off.  I then printed out the words "Healing Potion" and stuck them onto the adhesive strips left on the bottles from where the labels were.  I got some red and blue rock candy and used them in clear round cups for the Diamonds and Red Stones. The crafting work was done by making that Creeper face and printing out about 20 Creeper head papercrafts and getting them all together as party favors.  I also then got 20 brown bags and printed out a picture of the chest, cut it out and glued it on the bags, so they were like the chest in minecraft, which is where you put your stuff.  Oh yeah, we took Twizzlers and stuck them in cups labeled "TNT". 

For party games, we played a game where you have a contest to see who can keep two balloons up in the air the longest.  I made a large Minecraft pig using pink construction paper and we did a 'pin the tail on the pig'. We also then made a bean bag toss game.  I took a rectangle box and we spray-painted it green as I cut out the eyes and mouth of a Creeper.  I taped them back in as flaps and then filled four ziploc bags with about a cup of dried beans.  I duct taped over the bags completely with blue duct tape making bean bags.  So, we had it so each kid went behind a line and would see who would get the most points.

While this was a quickly planned birthday party, I do hope that something we did would either inspire you or help you prepare and plan for your next minecraft party.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bioshock Infinite and its perfect representation of America

The game: Bioshock Infinite, is by far my favorite game of all time, slowly beating out Myst. (Yes, I still love that game!)  The world that is created in the fictional floating city of Columbia, seems so familiar and so interesting while being a frightening world in reality.  The thing is, I have seen some places in America that have parts of what is being represented in that game, but no where comes as close to the similarity than Silver Dollar City.  Silver Dollar City is an amusement park set up within the outskirts of Branson, Missouri.  It has most of the city representing a fictional time they call the "World Exposition of 1882".  History buffs will quickly remember that there was no 1882 Exposition in America, so the concept is already flawed, but they go along with it.  Silver Dollar City, as I mentioned earlier, has a very large portion of its park, designed to look like it is from the year 1882, complete with an enormously large amount of modern American flags, along with their original mid 1800's counterparts.  There are many buildings set up to resemble those from the 1800's, complete with craftsmen inside such as a glass maker, blacksmith or taffy puller.  All of these buildings, still have the crafts people doing the crafts.  So, the person working at the blacksmith shop, really is a blacksmith and those swords, knives and other gifts were really made by him and his metals.  The glass factory had two guys working the glass on an elevated stage so people could watch and the items they made were for sale in the glass store opposite them.  The whole area was a mixture of these craftsmen and craftswomen, food venders and rides.

While Bioshock Infinite's world of Columbia takes place in 1912 and Silver Dollar City is in 1882, there was many things that were very similar:

Silver Dollar City is stuck in this 1882 world of American nationalism or zealot patriotism.  Like the above picture from the Bioshock Infinite world, you can see the use of the "red, white and blue" on everything from umbrellas to signs while selling items of America like flags or toys.  There were so many American decorations on the buildings, flags hung from the light posts, American flag pins worn by the workers and everyone who worked there was in period clothing.  Everyone, from the person selling frozen lemonade to the teen girl running the roller coaster, were in a recreation of an 1880 clothing piece.  The men were in hats and vests and long sleeves and then women were in bustle dresses.

Now, while the above pictures are from a fictional world within a game, some the elements below from Silver Dollar City appear to fit easily within that fictional world.
The world of Silver Dollar City is stuck in the 1880's, which is funny because so much of that style is what is in the actual Bioshock Infinite Video game. Even the trash cans are decorated in such a way:
There were rollercoasters outside of this sign:
An one outside of this one:
With American flags hanging from every post, sign, tree or light:

Let me say this, as weird as Silver Dollar City was, if you were dressed up in Edwardian clothing, you would have fit in exactly and everyone would have thought you had worked there and was just in costume.  Also, I was surprised that no one was dressed up as the main characters from Bioshock Infinite.  As the location would make for an awesome cosplay event. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Farm to table isn't a new concept here

When I was young, back in the early 80's, my dad would drive us around town on the weekends as we went to random spots for random activities.  I know that sounds pretty vague, but it was the case of random weekend summer activities.  We would sometimes drive to an old fruit and vegetable stand, in Webster Groves, where they always sold fresh and locally grown items.  I remembered seeing an old man running it, back then, and always nice.  I want to say it was called "Roger's Produce" and I would assume that the old man was named Roger.  The stand started in the 70's, from an old 1920's gas station. The thing was, on the ride from Shrewsbury to Webster Groves, this way, was about 3 minutes, since they were right next to each other across the highway.  I went to this stand, before it was the "cool" thing to do.  But along the ride, we passed many houses that had small yard-sized gardens.

The produce stand always had items fresh and from local farmers and I didn't think anything of it considering that not only my neighbors on the street at small farms, but we did too.  My dad used farming as a hobby, like his father before him and it seemed that it was completely normal to grow your own food or as much of it as you could.  I remembered seeing a small, maybe 10 foot square garden in my backyard with tomatoes, broccoli and some other vegetable plants.

My grandparents lived originally on Virginia Avenue and had a complete house to themselves.  As a young child, my grandparents would host myself and my older brother for sleepovers. There was the old television, my uncles original 13 inch tall G.I.Joe figures and some other random toys, but the highlight of those days was the garden.  My grandfather, who worked at Monsanto after he finished his run as a field nurse in the second World War, started a garden in their backyard.  I would estimate that the garden was about 10 feet wide, 20 feet long and had a chicken wire roof at about 8 feet off of the ground.  In fact, the entire garden was encased in this chicken wire cage with a wooden screen door as the entrance.  I remembered that he had everything from tomatoes to corn and squash to green beans growing inside of this garden cage.  The place was magnificent and it was such a treat to have my grandmother harvest items from their own backyard and use them as side dishes for items she prepared.

Now I know that life in St. Louis was different in the 40's, 50's, and 60's, but even when my family moved to a new house in the mid 80's, we worked to get a small garden in the backyard again.  This time, with tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and peppers.  During this time as well, when my dad would take us on drives or excursions during summer weekends, we would sometimes pass still operational produce farms in St. George off of Mackenzie or off of Union or even further off of Telegraph.  It is just amazing how much property and land was farmland even in my younger years and is now residential or commercial. Still, the concept of farm to table, as it is being used today, is the same as it was then, only now there are fewer farms.  But I don't think this area, this metropolitan area of St. Louis has anything but farms.  I lived near farms and farmers my whole life and even on the Illinois side of the river in Columbia, my subdivision is located next to farmland. I admit though, the land that we have as our yard, was once a landfill where people dumped things they didn't want so the ground is not great for farming, like the farms around us.  But, even with use of the farmland at my in-law's home, we have a large summer farm in the works with corn, sunflowers, tomatoes, squash and peppers.

I tend to thing that St. Louis is doing a better job at the farm-to-table concept than any other city based on the fact that the time between productive farms 20 years ago and new farms now, was just a short hiccup of time compared to other cities.  Think of those restaurants in Austin which claim to support local farmers and do farm to table, but get their products from farms 30-100 miles away.  About 10 years ago, the farm to table was just really becoming a popular thing again in the US and at a restaurant at the newly opened Lumiere Casino called Sleek, Chef Hubert Keller wanted to bring St. Louis the concept even though it never left town.  I remembered eating a meal at his restaurant and having the waiter telling me how everything has been locally farmed or produced and then his explanations included things like carrots harvested from Wentzville or beef from Colorado or even tomatoes from a farm near Chicago. I was then and am still disturbed because at that same time, I was fully aware of cattle being grown for their meat, just in SW Missouri, I was aware of deliciously fresh and local carrots grown on the other side of the river and even tomatoes grown just inside of Columbia, Illinois.  To me, when a restaurant says they want something local, they mean within 20-30 miles, for the record, Wentzville is about 50 miles from that restaurant.  There are a lot of really good local farms and farmers within less than 50 miles from that restaurant and yet they wanted to focus so much on what was outside the limits.

To be blunt and still remain some sort of sense in this madness, I would like to state that I have been eating farm-to-table practically my whole life.  I have never lived more than 5 miles from a farm and always support the closely local farmers.  I can't really explain much more or describe much else but I guess it would be similar to someone explaining how they are the best in Parisian Fashion when Paris is the best at that.  What would happen if a designer came into Paris and told the people there that this is how they do it in Paris and showed them things they have been seeing their whole life.

Contrary to popular belief and statistics, St. Louis is a very safe place to live.  The place that makes it listed as a dangerous city is a very small surface area of the entire area.  The rest of the city is awesome with historical landmarks, farms and gardens, and still the friendliest people in the country.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Savannah Grille's spring time boards

No real story here or article, just some food porn.  Two weeks ago my wife's family and mine were going on a road trip to Branson via Lake of the Ozarks.  So, we had one afternoon of driving and then dinner at the Savannah Grille.  I asked Chef Robert, on the phone earlier that day, if he had anything special and he told me that he had some fresh tomatoes and would make something special for us.  He also had finished breaking a pig down, earlier in the week and wanted to make a better meat plate.  So, we ordered and it came, these are the boards:


Look at how delicious everything on this board looks. He gave us headcheese, some terrine, some fresh sausages as well as prosciutto.  Then covered the board in all of these random vegetables, which he pickled.  Each pickle was a completely different spice or flavoring agent to complement the meat items.

Then, the tomato plate come out:


The board has some toasted bread on it and then these perfectly red tomatoes and a drizzle of some balsamic vinegar and sauce and these were just extraordinary.  The bite of these tomatoes tasted like that first day of summer.  

Chef Robert always makes great use of the items that he can get, always looking for fresh and seasonal.  My advice to you, is to go there, order these boards and try one of their new burgers.