Resolution 04

Destruction. Debris. Decaying structures. I’ve always enjoyed seeing photos of abandoned hospitals and other buildings. There’s just something intriguing about seeing a place that was once a prime example of human civilization look as though our species has been evacuated from the planet.

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While I didn’t find anything quite that drastic, the past few weeks I had noticed an old distribution center that was in the process of being demolished. I knew before long there wouldn’t be much left, so I made a point to find time to go shoot. The weather had been nice, so I was hoping for an easier time than the last few outings. Of course we had freezing rain and 40º temps the day I went for a visit. At least it made for some interesting frosted windows and icy fences.

dangersignThe main thing I wanted to get a look at was the security gate station. Anything with danger and warning signs is bound to be good to photograph. Even though the booth and the items inside it wouldn’t normally be in motion, it’s strange how still everything seems when there’s no one around, and the area has been left to rot.

This is the first time I had the camera on full manual, typically I’d been shooting in aperture priority mode. I felt I had enough time and my fingers weren’t too cold that I could take the time to adjust everything myself. Despite the sun not being out, there was plenty of light to keep the ISO down and use a fast shutter speed to compensate for my less-than-still arms and balance.

icedfenceBecause of the solid gray sky, I had some difficulty processing the images. If I wanted to see any hint of the clouds, the rest of the image was too dark. Brighten up the whole scene and the sky was blown out and all white. I used the graduated filter and adjustment brush in Lightroom to help compensate for this. While it helped a lot, I’m not convinced I wouldn’t have been better served opening the images in Photoshop, being able to more carefully select just the sky to make adjustments.

Overall, I think this was the most fun I’ve had with this project yet. I had an interesting subject and area to capture, the time, and less frigid climate to be able to really focus on what I wanted to do. That said, I’m really looking forward to all the changes coming this spring and the opportunities they will bring.

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More photos from this are on my flickr site.

The Big Burrito Roundup

The big burrito game in town is really heating up now that Chipotle has joined the mix. For years we only had Panchero’s. Hot Harry’s eventually moved in on their territory (literally, it’s in an old Panchero’s location). Recently, we gained a PepperJax Grill and of course a Chipotle as already mentioned.

All four offer made-to-order burritos, built right in front of your eyes. So when the craving for a big oversized burrito hits, how will you decide where to go? Assuming you are equidistant from each, it could be a tough call. Luckily, I have been to all of them. Hopefully my reviews below will be helpful in your decision.

Note: Although each restaurant offers multiple other items, for purposes of this review, the general product I sampled was a chicken burrito. I don’t eat tomatoes, so all reviews were sans-tomato.

First up, the town’s classic: Panchero’s.

Fresh-pressed tortillas are the highlight here. It’s my favorite thing about their burritos. Generally, the rest of the ingredients seem fairly fresh. Occasionally I have gotten chicken that was a bit dry. You get white rice, beans (I typically have both black and pinto), lettuce, cheese, and sour cream in addition to the meat. Veggies and queso cost extra, so to be fair I didn’t get them.

panchThen there is Bob. I’m not sure why it’s called Bob, but basically they have a tool to mix up the fillings before wrapping it up. It’s beyond me why other places don’t do this. No one wants a burrito with just rice, or mostly beans, or one big blob of sour cream. A good blending goes a long way. They get a bonus point for this.

Generally, the taste is fresh, although a little bland. It is a good quality burrito with a great tortilla, but otherwise not very exciting. However, even with other options around, there are still times when I go for some Panch. They do have punch cards, which is good if you eat lots of burritos.

The original rival: Hot Harry’s.

hotharrysNo one had ever heard of Hot Harry’s when they came to town, although they are a franchise. It was nice to finally have another burrito maker around. Their tortillas are alright. They come from a bag and are warmed up before construction begins. The rice is a Mexican variety, it’s not bad, but not the greatest, either. They have two options for chicken, basically mild or spicy – spicy is my choice. It’s really not very hot, but does have a little extra kick. One thing that should be mentioned, is the chicken can be very watery. They strain it off before it goes in your burrito, but nonetheless it’s always a little drippy when eaten. Beans, cheese, lettuce, and sour cream finish it off. They also offer a wide variety of sauces such as ranch, buffalo, and a number of others I’ve never paid attention to. This affords you some options, such as a chicken bacon ranch or buffalo chicken burrito.

To me, the variety of flavors beyond your basic chicken burrito are what Hot Harry’s adds to the burrito scene. Basic fillings on their own might not be the best, but you get the option to have something a bit different when it’s all put together. The best option in my opinion is the “burritodilla”. Your tortilla starts off on the grill with cheese like a quesadilla before adding the fillings and wrapping it up. This comes close to making up for not being freshly pressed dough.

They have some sort of rewards program, that you sign up with your phone number and email. Right away you get a coupon for free chips and queso, but I’m not really sure what else happens after that.

The new kid in town: PepperJax Grill.

Photo Credit: Ian Williams

Photo Credit: Ian Williams

I hadn’t heard of PepperJax Grill before it came to town, either. They’re more known for their Philly cheesesteaks, but they also have burritos. The main difference here is you pick your meat and if you’d like green peppers, onions or mushrooms. They put all that on a flat top grill before adding it in the burrito with the rest of the usual fillings. It’s a nice touch, as the rest of the places in town are either meat OR veggies, unless you pay extra. They also have ranch you can add in.

I would say the grilled on-the-spot green peppers and onions are the best part. The meat seems a little weird – it’s not a normal chicken breast. It’s more of a patty that is then diced up and feels a bit spongey. The flavors are pretty good, though, and it’s nice to have the fresh veggies included.

Hot stuff: Chipotle

Chipotle seemed to be a big deal when it was announced they were coming to town. Everyone was all excited. Years ago I ate at the Chipotle in Iowa City and remembered being unimpressed. It was dry and despite the store name, not that spicy. I saw no reason to go there over Panchero’s. However, I decided to give it a another try.

chipotleChipotle starts with a pretty good tortilla from a bag, warmed up and then filled with your choice of cilantro-lime white or brown rice. Both are very good, and I would say easily the best burrito rice in town – fresh and flavorful. The chicken is a bit hotter than Hot Harry’s and usually seems very fresh. Beans, lettuce, cheese, sour cream – they’re all there, too. After a few bites you really start to notice the flavors of the cilantro-lime rice and spiced chicken. It actually can get rather spicy, which is a quality I like. If you really don’t like spicy foods, it might be too much.

I do know that Chipotle makes an effort to obtain their ingredients from sources as close to local as possible. Their meats also come from animals that have been raised in a humane way. I think that this does make a difference. On most of my visits to the Chipotle in town, I would say their food is high quality and fresh. You can kind of feel good about eating it, too. If only they had fresh pressed tortillas and mixed the fillings…

The clear winner here?

It’s you.

If it’s about the tortilla, go to Panchero’s. If it’s about the chicken and rice, go to Chipotle. If it’s about getting something different, try Hot Harry’s. If you want the added zest of fresh grilled peppers and onions, well then you’ve got PepperJax Grill.

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DISCLAIMER: I am not a professional food critic, reviewer or journalist. I take no responsibility for any poor decisions you might make based off of my information here. Your choice to overfill yourself and endure the following bowel ache is solely yours. Eat at your own risk. I have no affiliation with any of the reviewed businesses, although I did finally sign up for Hot Harry’s rewards. Numerous burritos and bathrooms were harmed during my research.

Resolution 03

Another heavy snow means another chance to photograph things frozen, covered in white blankets of snow. I had seen railroad tracks in the park I was at before and wanted to try capturing them. While I wasn’t too excited by what I ended up with, I was much more inspired by the bright red railroad crossing yield sign.

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I wish I had framed the sign more to the left, as the angle of the power lines and slight tilt of the sign move my eyes to the right side – which is then the edge of the image. I tried finding something interesting with the shadow, but it was just too cold to keep trying. This park also has a creepy old building that’s fenced in, too. I’ll have to come back to here on a warmer day. I need to learn to not go out and take pictures when it’s only 9º.

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A week or so later, after yet another snow, I decided to find another bright color like the red yield sign. I was trying to find something that could really stand out and use the snow as a solid colored background. I was headed down a country road on the edge of town and all I could find was dull browns from lifeless plants and hibernating trees. I finally gave up and pulled onto a street to turn around when I spotted it – a bright red fire hydrant!

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After looking through my shots of this I’ve decided that the background of your image is just as important as the foreground. Some angles there was muddy snow or a housing development in the background. They just weren’t as fun as the shots that were mostly neon red on white. I also noticed that this hydrant had not been shoveled out yet, and wondered if the people at the business nearby were worried I was taking pictures to report them.

IMG_1536.JPGI really like the look of a solid background, and will probably try to achieve that with more photos in the future. I also really liked the bright colors. When I was editing them I also liked a slightly desaturated look, too. However, much like turning the bass and treble up on a stereo, it’s hard not to bring those colors out!

As always, all of these photos and more are up on Flickr.