Print in 3D

A great deal of technology doesn’t further our ability to be innovative and creative. Generally, new inventions are made to facilitate and reduce the workload in our lives. Nonetheless, we know that humans thrive on ingenuity and new ideas. We love to implement these ideas into reality. If this wasn’t the case, then we would quite possibly be living in a continuous Stone Age as self-sufficient beings.  However, self-sufficiency is wonderful. The ability to solve problems is a must in a world where critical thinking is highly valued.

The newest addition to the Westport Public Library is none other than an invention that allows the Westport Community to invent.  The days of sleep-away camp wood shops are unfortunately fading.  Most teenagers and children find wood products to be hackneyed and low in terms of potential ingenuity and creativity.  But the town’s newest addition may satiate that hunger to create the unimaginable.

A 3D printer has recently taken the town by storm. The library’s success with the new $2,200 3D printer prompted library director, Maxine Bleiweis, to order another one of these building machines. Now, the Westport Library operates two machines that build anything from flying model planes to replaceable door handles. These machines are called Maker Spaces.

They are large open spaces, and each Maker Space has a small stage in the middle. On top of the machine, an extruder glides against a pair of rails and it melds hot plastic to the stage. The work in progress (invention of some sort!) is built up with layers and layers of plastic. Each layer is roughly 2 mm in thickness.

The community is highly encouraged to participate in building products.

A Maker Space press-conference was held at the library during July of last year.

Joseph Schott, a “Maker” (builder) at the Westport Public Library, answers questions about the machine.

Check out the Maker Space at the Westport Public Library today!

Westport Public Library: 20 Jesup Road in Westport, CT

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valencia, no not Spain! But it is a Luncheria!

Westport’s dining options don’t always cater to everyone’s palette.  But for Latin-food-lovers, variation and growth in Fairfield county’s hispanic districts is coming soon.  With Bar Taco anticipated to open its Westport doors in early spring, the new taqueria will be offering its revered chocolate churros and heaps of “Baja” fish tacos.  Bar Taco already offers its simple and casual tex-mex cuisine in Port Chester, West Hartford and as of recent, Stamford.  20 Wilton Road will be the Westport home to the beach bar.  With an almost ideal location on the west end of the Saugatuck river, Bar Taco will be keeping many locals busy. But the competition for fajitas and burritos is fierce in Fairfield County, especially with rival restaurant Bodega Taco Bar. Situated in Fairfield and Darien, Bodega offers similar flavors at both locations. Both Bodega(s) and Bar Taco(s) are typical, tex-mex cuisine with well-lit locations to install an upscale ambience. But Bodega’s sister restaurant in Norwalk, Valencia Luncheria, has captured almost all the attention from fans craving a more eclectic and surprising set of Latin dishes.

Latin food, yes, of course. Why else would I have mentioned the belligerent taco shacks above? But Valencia Luncheria is something unique, something atypical. Something that only a few restaurants in New York can even match. Valencia is a taste of third-world Venezuela. Named after the city Valencia in Venezuela, the restaurant serves up corn cakes, commonly referred to as arepas. These cakes sprawl the plates of every table, and they are all served like sandwiches, stuffed with meats, cheeses and fish.

Very much like its sister restaurant Bodega Taco Bar, drinks are heavily emphasized. And often enough, the martini’s are accredited to the success of this restaurant.  Not to take anything away from the quality of the carne mechada piled to the brim of the circular disked corn cake, but if you are an adult, it is very likely that you will snag at least a mojito! Or maybe two!

For the less adventurous or those with more simple taste buds, the burritos can and will fill tummies.  But the desserts are where it is at! Empanadas are loaded with Nutella, plaintains, apple, dulce de leche and even cream cheese. So, exotic? Different? Yes to both.

The variation of terrain and beauty in this third-world South American country (Venezuela) is nicely mirrored in Valencia’s food.  The delicately prepared Pabellon Criollo is enriched with sweet tostones (fried plantains), a mound of rice and a darkly pigmented set of beans. But the cynosure of this meal, shreds of meat, helps bring me to the rugged tepui (tabletop) mountains in Canaima National Park.

(Note: Canaima National Park is an area in Venezuela that is often recognized as being some of the oldest land on Earth. It is characterized by these tabletop mountains called tepuis.  These mountains roll high and to the heavens. Inside of Canaima, the tallest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls, spews tons of water off of one of the largest tepuis, Auyentepui. For movie-goers, Pixar’s “Up” was modeled on this area in Venezuela, and the scenery in Jurassic Park is often compared to this area.) To see the true beauty of this magical location, check out the video below:

(I tried to apply a real Venezuelan theme to the review, as hinted above.)

Guy Fieri’s guest appearance at our local areperia helped Valencia expand and move to a better location at 164 Main Street in Norwalk. The following footage is taken from Triple D (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives).

Be adventurous and get a different flavor of our southern hemisphere. Escape the Chipotle addiction! Valencia, here I come!!

Resources/Works Cited: Youtube.com for videos, valencialuncheria.com, bartaco.com, bodegatacobar.com

Sorry for the links (I will try to embed them as soon as possible!).

Harness the Sun

The sun. We love it.  Is it the extra dosage of vitamin D, the summer tanning sessions, the growing plants in the spring garden or is it the capability of lowering every human’s cholesterol? No matter, we all should appreciate its power on every level. The 12 hours of light, which we are accustomed to on a regular day, is hardly seen for 1/2 of the year in the Polar regions. We take this for granted. We don’t fly out of our covers at 5 AM to watch the sun rise from the east, and we don’t ramble home and glance to the west as the tangerine glow slowly veers away. But we can harvest the sun’s power in other ways. Even while we are drinking the morning Jo at the office, taking the MCATs, or defending a criminal in court, the sun can also take a burden off of your wallet.

Solar energy is commonly heard around our neck of the woods.  “It’s expensive,” and I keep hearing, “It’s expensive.” And that may very well be the case for some.

But unfortunately, many of you, who would love to embellish your houses with the neat flat-screen-TV-like solar panels, can’t. Why? It is the exposure.

Southern exposure (when a roof is facing the south) maximizes the total amount of light that can be absorbed by these photovoltaic cells. Westport’s Green Task Force, a group of bright Staples students, used Google maps and tax assessments of town properties to find 300 ideal residences for solar energy. (Ideal being financially reasonable, and effective in energy conservation.)

But the process to provide renewable energy in our town did not just start with our students. The CEFIA, known as the Clean Energy Finance Investment Authority, opened a subsidized program to make solar energy more accessible in 4 CT towns. Along with Westport, Fairfield, Portland and Durham are participating in the pilot program.

ENCON, the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) company that provides solar power to the Westport area, ended the program in the later half of January. More info on solar power: http://solarizect.com/our-towns/solarize-westport/

Encon Truck All Equipped for Installation

Encon Truck Equipped for Solar Panel Installation

Now, Westport has a total of 58 homes with solar power. Other offers may be seen quite soon for more CT towns. It is rumored that the program may be reestablished in Westport for the near future.

Installation of Solar Panels

Installation of Solar Panels

A few weeks back, ENCON, installed some of these radiant panels on my very own roof.  And yet while my very own mother grouses that the aesthetics of our house are diminished by the panels, my father and I remain ecstatic to reduce our monthly heating and electric bills.

Control Board for Solar Energy!

Control Board for Solar Energy!

All kidding aside, the initial cost didn’t burn holes through our pockets. With over 30 percent of my family’s house being powered by solar energy, government rebates/subsidies bring the total cost down to 9K. (Note: These costs are determined by an assessment of each home.) It is estimated that the panels will pay for themselves within 10 years.

Pressurized System improves Energy Efficiency

Pressurized System improves Energy Efficiency.

Even if you don’t have the option to solarize your house, another excellent service can still cut those heating and electric bills.  The Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge recently received a large sum of money by the State. As a result, the price for an energy evaluation is reasonably set at 75 dollars.  These men visit homes, provide up to 40 energy efficient light bulbs, and they analyze every little crack and crevice.  More specifically, the workers use a negatively pressurized system that is attached to the house’s front door, and then they measure the amount of cold air that enters the house through the opening of doors, ceiling lights (surprising, but yes, air can enter the house through them) and fireplaces. When this system was in place, you could feel cold air blowing through each and every one of these perforations (into the house).  This would signal an opening to the outside environment. The workers would then seal off this particular area and get rid of the aperture. Originally, the rate of cold (exterior) air entering my house was 5,500 cubic meters/second.  After all these repairs and modifications were made, that rate went down to 2,100 cubic meters of cold air entering the house/sec. Note: a cubic meter is about the size of a basketball. More information at http://ctenergychallenge.com/

Even in a town that is so politically irresolute over school cancellations and other affairs, the motion for a green planet remains a priority to most.

iFloat, you float, maybe we should all float?

Above the clamor and bustling traffic on Main Street, rejuvenation lies not too far away from the local favorite Oscar’s. Hard working Staples students, busy businessman and all Westport folk use iFloat’s floatation tanks to reestablish their minds and learn about themselves through a new, safe and easy method of relaxation.

So one may be wondering: What is the history behind the use of floatation therapy? What are floatation tanks and what are the benefits and effects of this therapy?

John Lilly, a physician and philosopher, who earned degrees from the California Institute of Technology, Dartmouth Medical School, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Medical School (nowadays, the school is known as Perelman), was the first to pioneer the concept of sensory deprivation. Sounds painful, doesn’t it? Well, you would be completely wrong. Lilly developed this idea of isolating the body from stimuli to help slow down brain activity. Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta. One may be saying, it is all Greek to me! Don’t worry, it won’t be. Each Greek letter signifies a particular frequency of brainwave activity. From the visual below, we can observe that delta has the lowest frequency and beta the highest. Our brains have the tendency to remain in an activity frequency most closely associated with alpha and beta waves. Stimuli (which is not pronounced as stimul-ae but rather stimul-e) are almost always affecting us. Even when we sleep, we are exposed to the tangerine street lights, we may hear the muffling of SNL on TV, we will feel the drafty winds that cause us to shake, and we may still smell the wooded air of southern New England over a crackling fire. Sounds like a dreamy book. But what if you want a break from the traffic infused in our lives? What if you want to slow down and help dissipate the pain of your weary eyes that wander this computer screen? This is was what Dr. Lilly wanted to do. He tested and tried all sorts of drugs and items and he kept searching for a solution. He shifted from the Ketamine use which helped mitigate his migraines, to LSD and even high doses of acid, all of which he utilized and self-administered while experiencing the wonderful effects of the tank. Of course, Lilly was by most measures insane. But the sensory deprivation chamber (floatation tank) is still considered to be one of the greatest contributions to the development of the mind.

Varying Brainwave Frequencies

The tank is 7 ft tall and extends to 7 and 1/2 ft in length. There is plenty of room and space to crawl around. When you step in, the water will climb to your patella. You will lie down, your arms will be scattered behind your head, and to your own surprise, you will float (that is a guarantee!). 950 lbs of Magnesium Sulfate (otherwise, known as Epsom salt), a salt that enriches the skin, will keep you floating. With a density greater than that of our bodies, the solution allows your back to lie comfortably on the surface of the solution (which is a combination of Epsom salt and water). The water and salt solution is kept at the temperature of 93.5 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of human skin. No light, no sound, its all a litote.

Float!

Along with the relaxation associated with sensory deprivation, there are numerous physical benefits. Your neck will release tension, your back will feel great, and your mind will be cleared from all the unnecessary stresses and emotions that have haunted you for the past few weeks.

iFloat? In Westport? Really? Wow!

Gracious Hosts: David on left, Andrew on the right

Gracious Hosts: David on left, Andrew on the right

David Conneely and Andrew Shinn were searching for a floatation center to spread the joys of rebooting and reviving the mind to work at optimal efficiency. Andrew was bounded north in Boston, and David was dwelling south of us in NYC. Both men heard that a facility was already built and established here in Westport. They arrived and found the front door open. Apparently, the previous owner had skipped town and banked out on his investment. And so the eager men seized this opportunity to establish one of the largest floatation centers in the country!

Both hosts are lovely! The facility is first class: each shower shines with a little wood log that props up Dr. Bronner’s shampoos (one must shower before and after entering the tank). Scrubadubdub! Tanks are comfortable and for those who are afraid of the dark, you can gently tap a button near the door to turn on a blue light.

After your float, you discuss the experience, how you felt before, how you felt after, physical transformations, mental transformations and so forth with either David or Andrew. One of them will bring you a hot mug of tea with Chinese herbs (yes, really from China!). And you can gaze out into the livelihood of town from the wooden table of the debriefing room while sipping on a light and refreshing tea.

Ever since December of 2011, iFloat has captured a community of happy New Englanders. iFloat has been a great supporter to the people of Newtown. They are offering free floats to anyone who has been deeply affected by the recent tragedy.

The spa is also offering a special discount for teachers and students: If you mention this blog post on your visit to iFloat, and you are a student or teacher, you will save $50 on the 3-1 hour floater’s beginner package. (Quite a snag! That is $100 for 3 float sessions! Please bring student/teacher ID with you!)

Photo Sources: http://www.progolfiq.com/learn-more-about-progolfiq.php

http://www.chchealth.co.uk/Pages/FloatationFloatTankStroudGloucestershire.aspx

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeqmKwsvM58

iFloat Spa: 163 Main Street Westport, CT USA 06880 Phone Number: (203)-226-7378 Website: ifloatspa.net

(More videos/photos coming soon)

Coffee An': A Home Close to Home

Wood tables and chairs glance out onto Main Street.  Through the glass window, cars fly by from 6 in the morning till 9 at night.  And every few minutes from 7 to 3, a lucky machine strolls into the parking lot at Coffee An’.  Checkered floors, turquoise-green walls that reach high above my knees, an intricate breakfast bar and of course, a lavish display case for the sinkers are all commonly associated to the warmth of this Connecticut doughnut shop.  For many Westporters, it is the Sunday breakfast.  Dad drives out early to get a fresh batch of jellies, glazed buns and apple turnovers.  He doles out a dozen to mom, son and daughter.  The cycle continues every other weekend of the year.  And before you know it, when your eldest child comes back from college for the Winter break, and he or she is screaming for doughnuts, the majority of townspeople know where to go. (Photo credits go to Christopher Mckinney)

Along with the delectable doughnuts that are freshly baked and garnished with cinnamon, powdered sugar and the sweet jelly, the kitchen serves up some mean sandwiches on your choice of white, wheat or rye. Clubs with cold cuts, hot pastrami and tender corned beef warm you in the wake of Winter.  My personal favorite is the patty melt, a burger, “grilled-cheese” style, topped with fried onions on rye or white.

Mmmmmm!

Mmmmmm!

The Glass Case!

The Glass Case!

But really, the main reason that Coffee An’ is a consistent winner for me, is the warmth and atmosphere.  Nostalgia rings in my ears. It reminds you of the good-old days when Westport was a less-trendy and a more quintessential New England village. George and Elias run this long lasting shop, and frequently George’s daughter Stacy can be spotted at the front counter.  People keep coming to see the pillow-like doughnuts and people keep coming to enjoy the great company and warmth of this local joint.  Either way, it’s a good eat, and for those of you nearby, if you haven’t stopped by, you probably should!

(As it says in one of the photos, Credit and Debit cards are not accepted and paper plates/plastic goods are used.)

For those of you who don't believe me!

For those of you who don’t believe me!

Photos on the Walls

Photos on the Walls

The Menu!

The Menu!

Fresh baked goods in the afternoon hours

Fresh baked goods in the afternoon hours!

The Whelk: A New England Gem

A good portion of the Westport population is well-educated and well-equipped with the tools to live in balance and harmony. Fortunately, one of these tools is our wealth and ability to purchase higher-end groceries.  With a great percentage of Westporters trending towards the locally grown foods at the farmers market down on Imperial and the majority of our townspeople buying all organically-grown vegetables at Westport’s very own Fresh Market and Whole Foods Market, Westport’s dining and grocery options are rising in selection and quality.  (Tip: For those of you that don’t know: The Whole Foods in Fairfield is brand new and was just developed to cater students at both Fairfield and Sacred Heart University.  Our Whole Foods Market in Westport, which straddles the Norwalk line, was retro-fitted after the Whole Foods Company bought Colorado’s Wild Oats markets (who previously owned the Westport location) for an estimated $565 million.  Both markets are great, however, I have a tendency to escape the tighter and more closed spaced market in town and wander over to the endless aisles in the Fairfield store.)  Now that we have established a couple of places where you can find your typical Westport foodie shopping during daylight, I can offer my favorite restaurant for locally grown seafood at night.

The Whelk, a long and moderately narrow hallway stretches on the Saugatuck, and in its range, the more casual and less refined experience of the Black Duck sits on the riverbank.  Thin glass windows and the bright fluorescence add an ambience similar to Hemingway’s, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”  At the Whelk, Friday nights are loud.  People munch on glazed pork belly that is stashed with a serving of cranberry beans, and the squid ink cavatelli spices the night with sun-dried tomatoes, mexican chorizo, and the accompaniment of red shrimp.

The Inside of Chef Taibe's Seafood Heaven

The Inside of Chef Taibe’s Seafood Heaven

The first question that one asks me when I talk about the succulent flavors of this restaurant is, what is a whelk?

A “whelk” refers to a sea snail, however, seafood experts and those who shuck oysters often describe a whelk as a “conch” shell that is extremely prevalent in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Chef Bill Taibe runs the restaurant along with his first institution in Westport, le Farm. Le Farm offers a more continental and formal approach to the local New England cuisine. Less seafood, and my better recommendation if you are vegetarian, kosher, or living with any specific dietary requirements.

Alright now, let’s get back on track. So, what ultimately makes this booming and upscale restaurant a NY Times recommended eat?

It’s the oysters.  The chilly taste of the sea, the variety and specifically, the local ones. Copps Island Oysters, otherwise known as Connecticut Blue Point Oysters, are harvested in Norwalk’s waters and are part of the Whelk’s mission to revive the local economy. Farms sprawling the hills of Easton, Litchfield, Bethel and Wilton all assist in providing generous servings of sweet and sour brussels sprouts that are garnished with rosemary and pumpkin seeds.  Crab fondue, topped with endless fronions and a side of grits, offer another flavor to this seafood fusion.

Oh, those oysters!!

Oh, those oysters!!

For those of you who like a little liquor, the Whelk incorporates a long list of wines that are often well-paired with the most expensive item on the menu, the 1 ounce Siberian Caviar.  For those of you who perceive me as being a, “snob,” I will let you know that I have not tried this item (nor the wine! 5 years to go!) because my pockets would be empty!

The Whelk is pricey, but for a seafood fanatic like myself, this place is not common for Fairfield County.  The flavors are unique, and the restaurant has a tendency to deviate from your typical American food, with the exception of a burger.  Yes, they do have a mean burger for you meat-lovers (a higher grade beef, and yes, we are talking Morton’s Steakhouse quality) and a nice serving of fries. But be aware the smoky mayo french fries may be a little salty.

As I said before, flavors here are unique. If you have an exotic palette and the cash, make a reservation NOW. It can be difficult to get a table if you call the night before or show up at the door, unless you take a seat at the modernized bar.  For singles who are in their 20’s: Saturday night is your time to shine.

For families especially, this is the place for a SPECIAL OCCASION. Even though dress code is quite lenient, you probably shouldn’t walk-in with adidas sweatpants, an onerous Mr. T gold chain or a hat embroidered with a green leafy substance.

Make your way down to my new town favorite, the Whelk.  In the Winter, nothing is more wonderful than the vision of snow falling over the bright lighted Cribari Bridge while delighting in a culinary experience.

Chef Taibe and his Locavore Love!

Chef Taibe and his Locavore Love!

http://thewhelkwestport.com/

The Black Duck: A Little More than your Casual Affair

Its 9:30 on a Saturday night.  I spent the majority of my day surfing the vast cyber-world, and watching countless reruns of my favorite television show Breaking Bad.  My parents are hungry, my brother is gone, and my desire for predictably good food is on the rise.  We were destined to reacquaint ourselves with the Black Duck.  For those locals that don’t know, the Black Duck Cafe is a DIVE.  Perched on the Saugatuck River, this barge stands stern, steady and still, even through Sandy’s whirling waters.  If one is lucky enough to pass through the line of scrimmage backed to the dark blue deck in front, that individual will be able to fully experience the artist community that characterizes Westport.  In the galley, blue boat lamps fly with suspended speedboats.  Walls are crunched together, and embellished with photographs of bikini babes, the original Black Duck Racing Boat, and even the greatest attraction to this salty old establishment, the signed photograph from Guy Fieri’s television show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”  Even though one may not appreciate or look fondly upon Guy’s newest collaboration and restaurant in Times Square, his praise has always been sought after by any institution in the food industry.  The wooden tables, flattened and coated with shellac, match the captain’s chairs.  TV’s are hung in the corners.  By day, the Duck services families, friends, and your common Westport folk.  At night, this place is something else.  For me, that was very much the case tonight.  It was 10 O’Clock and this very cool girls band “Sister Funk” had roared the audience, most of whom were LGBT.  The band’s eclectic music shook the stalwart of a bar, and the friends and family faded to drunks as the hours flowed with the beer. Chantings of Mustang Sally, You Shook Me All Night Long, Street Light, and even Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff reverberated through the restaurant.  As the youngest lad in this establishment, I felt more mature than all of these successful suits of businessmen as the only individual not under the influence of alcohol or other substances (which I will not disclose!)  Along with the pleasure of seeing men and women, who were at least 15 years older than me, getting smashed, I was able to enjoy the heavy comfort food. But nothing beats the experience of watching waves of people getting inebriated on the barge.  My beefy burger was blazoned with a healthy serving of steak fries.  Brie cheese oozed on top of the beef, and thick bacon simmered down and then rested below the cool bun.  My parents had already received a wide, charbroiled flat-iron steak adorned with a serving of beer-battered onion rings.  By 11:30, gin and tonics had covered the plank.  On my half of the table, clear cylindrical-based Solo cups sat with a pitcher of cool ice-water to keep me hydrated in this food-fest.  The band was loud, cussing, screaming, rocking, and rebelling like the Big Top in the 70’s (currently, McDonald’s in Westport).  With alcohol omnipresent and wonderful drunks all around and about, the Black Duck at night is a darn good time, especially for 16 year old boys looking to see older people make stupid decisions.  If it is snowing, make sure you stop by the Duck. There will be 1/2 priced drinks (yes, alcoholic drinks for you too mom and dad), along with 1/2 priced wings for football fanatics.  So, at this point of my post, one is wondering, is this place safe to take my kids? Absolutely, but try to get out before 10 o’clock.  Things get interesting after that! And for the more audacious devils looking for excitement, the Duck sometimes runs till 2 on Sunday morning. For families looking to completely avoid the crowds at night, Sunday brunch is always a treat. Batches of cornbread, omelettes, and pancakes always can stir a sailor’s appetite.  Now, my favorite segment, the BATHROOMS.  Men’s room: Make sure you use the toilet before you go, and if you do need to go, bring a light, and be aware, it is tight! Women’s Room: From my sources, its cleaner! Lucky!

In my review above, I did not emphasize the quality of the food.  The Duck serves some of the best food I have ever had! Clams Casino, topped with bacon and lemon, wings fried to a crisp, seafood platters soaring to the sky, and burgers are some of the flavorful choices at the Duck!  Try over about 15 different variations of burgers, some of which are stuffed with cheese, and toppings of your choice.

Make sure you get down to this wonderful dive. Its a rare restaurant in this day and age, especially for an upscale town in Fairfield County!

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View of the bar

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Seafood Platter with Cornbread and Onion Rings

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Bacon, and Brie Cheese Burger with portion of tender steak fries

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Flat Iron Steak with a cooked potato!