22 September 2006

Say It Ain't So!

Once again, history in baseball means absolutely nothing when focused on the future and the almighty dollar. Baseball America is reporting a pretty major shake-up among the AAA baseball ranks. AAA is the level closest to the major leagues; affiliates are usually located in larger metropolitan areas; and don't shuffle major league affiliations quite as often as some of the lower level.

All the moving around started when the Phillies announced that they were moving their top affiliate from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to Allentown, via Ottawa (they purchased the Ottawa franchise, and are remaining in Canada until the new stadium in Allentown is ready next year). That left the Scranton area as a desirable destination, and the Orioles, previously located in Ottawa looking for a home. In most years, the simple thing that would have happened is that the Orioles (who, right about now might be wishing that they were still affiliated with the Rochester Red Wings) would move to Scranton. Ummm...not this year. Enter the New York Yankees.

The Yankees affiliate had been in Columbus, OH since the late 70's. Scranton is a lot closer to the Yankees fan base, so they make an attractive courting partner. The problem is - Yankees fans are EVERYWHERE. They have a great fan base built up in Columbus. They don't need a nearby affiliate for injury rehab assignments, as they have teams in Staten Island and Trenton, NJ. In a year in which the Mets are not conceding any back page headlines to the Evil Empire, they also decide that Scranton would look pretty good, so they tell Norfolk (their AAA home since **1969**) that, well, they love Norfolk, but they think they might want to see other people. If you are Scranton, who would you rather have - the Yankees or the Mets? Duh. Most people wouldn't even blink before taking the Yanks.

The Orioles (remember them?) will likely jump into bed with Norfolk. That leaves the Mets and Columbus (the former Yankee affiliate) without dance partners. OK...enter the Washington Nationals, who have been relegated to AAA purgatory in New Orleans the last few years. The Nats jump on Columbus - leaving the Mets to toil in AAA hell...New Orleans. Ugh.

I always wanted to go and see the Mets in Norfolk. I understand that the ballpark there is a top-notch minor league facility. Instead, I am left to mourn the loss of another part of my childhood.


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20 September 2006

Much Love for Money Saving Tips

During my blog semi-hiatus, I have neglected to mention (and thank for the traffic bump) the No Credit Needed blog, and the mission to come up with 100 of the very, very, very best money saving tips. I have contributed my own suggestion, and if you have something to add, please do. I am looking forward to the complete list of 100, as there are already some excellent suggestioins.

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19 September 2006

Meat, meat, and more meat!

Why would anyone go to Texas and not just gorge themselves on ounce after ounce and pound after glorious pound of red meat? I don't even think that I tried that hard, and I came away from one week in the Dallas/Fort Worth area having packed away steak three nights, barbecued beef brisket three times for lunch, and two of the most phenomenal hamburgers I have ever consumed.

Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me the whole time, and didn't get photos of the steaks (the best of which was the "Panhandle" at Love and War in Texas) or the brisket. I ate at Spring Creek, Randy White's and Sonny Bryan's - and ol' Sonny B is still the king of Dallas 'Q. However, I did take care of you, all those who seek food porn. Read on, my friends...

Finishing my high school visits in Fort Worth usually means one thing - a trip to Kincaid's. The fact that Kincaid's makes a darn fine burger is not a big secret in Fort Worth. One of the college counselors I met with even seemed a little jealous that I was headed out that way! As is standard for me, I had a hard time finding the place - it is a little hidden, just off Camp Bowie Blvd, just outside of downtown. Once inside, I made my way to the counter to place my order. The staff is sharp, and greets all guests pretty quickly. I ordered the bacon cheeseburger with fries, and it was prepared fresh and quickly. Everything is packed and prepared as a to-go meal, but many patrons eat in at stand-up counters and long, family-style tables that are anchored throughout the restaurant. For additional photos, click to see below the next review and then the fold.

I don't usually need to have my arm twisted to go and visit the uber-talented kids up at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, either. TAMS is a residential high school housed at the University of North Texas. I usually meet with one or two students while I am there, and the college counselor is excellent. Still, if I am going to drive 45 minutes outside of Dallas, there had best be a meal attached to this trip, too! About 10 minutes west of Denton is the tiny town of Ponder, which may or may not have a stop-light. I am not going there in search of traffic control devices, though - I am going for one of the best hamburgers in the country.

Ranchman's Cafe serves up some excellent dead cow. They lure a crowd from Dallas, Fort Worth, the mid-cities, and all over for dinnertime steaks. At lunchtime, they lure me back year after year by serving some of the freshest hamburgers, grilled under the watchful eye of an on-site perfectionist owner. I am a little surprised that the Texas Burger Guy hasn't made his way out to Ponder yet. This place would be right up his alley! Being a New Yorker, Texas hospitality always throws me for a little bit of a loop, but the gang at Ranchman's Cafe is straight of central casting for Texas friendly. In addition to making a meal you would want to buy, you will also feel good about spending your money will such fine folks.

Follow along below the fold and see the great pictures of the food (and menus!)....

The exterior of Charles Kincaid's former grocery store. Now, Kincaid's sells only hamburgers (well, there is a limited menu of other items, but who are we kidding?). The car on the right was my rental for the week, a snazzy (if purple) Hyundai Azera - a surprisingly nice luxury car, which is probably somewhat affordable.
This is the bacon cheeseburger I ordered. Actually, this is the replacement for the bacon cheeseburger that I ordered. I neglected to omit the mustard from my order, and when it arrived, I asked the counter guy for a an extra bun bottom to eliminate the bulk of the mustard-y taste, but he insisted on remaking the burger. The standard dressed burger comes with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, and mustard. The crinkle-cut fries were tasty, but unspectacular.
A good view of the burger, mid-meal. Note the grease-stained paper, which has already soaked up some ample burger juices.
The interior of Kincaid's. As mentioned before, the seating is all family-style, and some is not seating, at all. The oversized blow-up thingies hanging from the ceiling make for odd decor, but I think I want one of those Shiner bottle-shaped ones for my office!

For those of you who enjoy reading menus in establishments like this.
I have heard Ranchman's Cafe referred to as Ponder Steakhouse, as well. Maybe having two signs with different names on the exterior of the building doesn't help dispell the confusion! :)
Let me assure you...this is a man's hamburger. It is 1/2 pound of freshly ground beef (yes, they do their own, on site). Those fries were an actual potato mere moments before this picture was taken. Come to think of it, the hamburger may have been a cow up until just a few minutes before that. My server (Allison?) informed me that Ranchman's is now serving these burgers as DOUBLES, as well. She told me that they have a regular customer who can put away two of those bad boys in one sitting (no fries, mind you). Most people get a little freaked when they see some dope taking pictures of his food. Not Allison...she actually said that she has the same hobby. She may be my kindred spirit!
If we are going to use the food porn analogy, this would have to be the money shot. The lettuce on this burger was just filler, but the tomatoes, bacon, and melted cheddar were burger perfection. The Mrs. Baird's bun was almost enough to hold this beast together, but, in the end, wasn't quite up to the task. I am not sure there is a bun that WOULD be up to the job of holding this burger together.
The interior of Ranchman's, an exquisite historic building, built next to a bank that was once robbed by Bonnie and Clyde. The doorway in the rear leads to an addition that was built more recently for extra seating. The gentleman standing on the left is Dave Ross, owner of Ranchamn's, who offers first-time visitors an opportunity to sign his guest book, which has entries from around the world.

The only downer of the day in Ponder was that I didn't order the pie. In the past, I have had the apple pie and the buttermilk pie. They were both divine, and I knew that I wanted something sweet. Still, I had been referred to a place in Denton called the Southern Fried Pie Company. My plan was to attend my meeting at TAMS and then seek out some delicious fried pies. I researched the place previously, got directions from the gang at TAMS, and drove out to the middle of town. Unfortunately, the Southern Fried Pie Company is no more, or so I was told by a local, after making three or four passes looking for a storefront that did not exist. Not only was I bummed, but I was also pie-free as I made the 45 minute trek back down to Dallas!

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05 September 2006

Completely DIS-Interest-ed

I usually take whatever I read from The Motley Fool with a grain of salt, as it seems most of their articles are just a tease to get you to buy their premium product. This article, An Appalling Lack of Interest, is no different. However, it hits close to home for me, as I am a Wachovia customer and shareholder. The author calls out Wachovia for their pathetic savings account interest rate of .35% per year. Heck, .35% would be TRIPLE what Wachovia pays me - a paltry .11%, as of my last account statement.

I am not mad, though. I wised up along the way, and moved the bulk of my savings from Wachovia to ING Direct. My ING account pays 4.35% interest - not the BEST offer out there, but a very easy interface to use, and a very generous new account bonus, which more than offsets the loss of a few cents in interest. Had I kept the same balance at Wachovia as I now have in my ING account, I would have earned about $5 in interest over the course of the year. As of today, I have earned almost $170. By the end of the year, between interest earned and account referral bonuses, I will have made enough money to make one full extra payment on my student loans. It may not seem like much, but chiseling away at that last non-mortgage debt is coming along nicely because of the alterations I made to my lifestyle. Changing my savings account was nothing that I would even notice on a day-to-day basis, but sure pays a healthy dividend over time. Moreover, I have had more incentive to raise my balance in the savings account, because I am actually seeing the interest amount grow every month. Had I left the bulk of my savings at Wachovia, I am inclined to think that my savings would have been relatively stagnant.

ING posted my interest on the last day of the month, as they always do. I am still waiting for the shiny new NICKEL I will receive from Wachovia this month!

If you are interested in opening an ING Direct account, please let me know and I will send you a referral. With a $250 opening deposit, and no minimum balance requirements after that, you can earn a $25 bonus (making 10% on your money immediately!), and I will get $10 for referring you.

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