Exciting flights, boring flights

Actually, neither flight was exciting, which is just fine with me.  I spent the past half week in RTP at a business meeting, which was actually quite fun, considering you’re on the go from 8AM to 10PM each day.  Luckily my back pain had cleared up enough that I was down to a single dose of ibuprofin, so the flight was fine, although the office chairs were a little stiff.

Travelling for business is fun – as long as you don’t do it too often.  Except for this month (several trips unfortunately planned very close together), I’ve been successful in travelling just enough to still be exciting.  I must admit that having a big company travel agency really helps.  While the policies are byzantine, and you can get really strange looks if you try to do something out of policy, the travel website is actually pretty easy to use, and has a good variety of flights and hotels.

Stupid benefit I enjoy almost out of proportion to it’s value: we get a Hertz #1 Gold club membership just for signing up.  Along with earning miles or something that I’m not too sure about, the coolest thing is that Gold members have the cars waiting for them at the lot: your name is on the board (an interesting privacy issue, I suppose), you walk to your spot and drive away.  Much cooler, somehow, than standing in yet another line at the rental counter.

I was also almost absurdly lucky with dinners: a local co-worker suggested a place called Piedmont that turned out to have excellent food, the two people I went with each had a love of good food equal to my own, and a manager paid for it, saving me the trouble of putting that line in my expense report.  Yum and simplicity all in one.  And the team dinner the next night was at a kitchy place called Bogart’s, so we saw The Maltese Falcon in the background, although we were having too much fun to bother watching.  The food was surprisingly good, nearly as good as the first night, too.

The one disappointment was the bar staff.  What would you order at a place called Bogart’s?  I suppose there are a couple of valid answers to that, but if you love Casablanca as much as I do, you’d order a Champagne Cocktail.  Disappointingly, the waiter (who was pretty funny) came back and said the bartender didn’t know how to make it, what should he do?  I will admit at this point that I myself neglected to mention the bitters when I told him how to make it.  The result was pretty good nonetheless, probably because he ended up giving me a generous amount of a decent cognac.  Whoo!

Coming home, I was again struck by the oddity of air travel.  I rush out of one meeting, wait in lines at the airport wishing I had worn shorts and a lighter colored shirt.  Just two hours later, I walk off of the plane to sleet and frozen rain atop a dusting of wet snow.  Very discombobulating for the body to make the change.  I think it really struck me since I’ve been reading the Aubrey/Maturin novels, and was thinking about the human condition in a much earlier time.

The hot chocolate marshmallow trick

Since ’tis the season, I figured I’d share this recipie.  Technique, really, since I rely on Nestle, Swiss Miss, Godiva, or the like for the ingredients.  Does anyone else do this?  Or is this an original Shaneism?

  1. Start the hot water in a kettle.  Might as well do that first, so it’s ready when you are.
  2. Take your of hot chocolate with mini marshmallows packet. Open the top carefully and pour into your empty mug.  Fold the top of the packet down so you don’t spread the last dusty bits all over, and make a gentle crease down the middle.
  3. Take your spoon (dry) and carefully fish the mini marshmallows out.  I generally swish the spoon gently until a few marshmallows come to the surface.  Then carefully scoop them against the side of the mug to get the most powder off you can, and scoop just the marshmallows out and place them on the packet.  See why you saved the packet?  Continue until you have most of the marshmallows out.
  4. Fill with hot water and mix up with your spoon the now mostly plain powder mix.  A tiny touch of cinnamon now is fine too.
  5. Immediately before serving, pour the saved marshmallows atop your hot chocolate, and enjoy their crunchy goodness for a while longer!

This way, you get distinct marshmallows atop your hot chocolaty beverage for much longer than if you mixed it all up together.  A small thing, I admit, but a very satisfying one sometimes.

(With apologies to Mark, for getting his little daughter hooked on this technique!)

ApacheCon: Hackathon Day #2

Whoo-hoo, this is getting fun.  Once again lunch snuck up on me unawares; in fact I was so surprised, I’ve already forgotten where we ate.  That happens sometimes.

The hackathon was fairly productive for me, although I didn’t really hack much code, just conference stuff and people stuff.  I really wish I could regularly make our Europe conference, since I hate to have to wait a year to reconnect with all these wonderful people.  😎

I did sneak in a swim between bouncing from here to there, which was nice.  Then came the member’s reception which was great, both for the beer and finally getting to talk about my upcoming paper with a few folks and getting a couple of great new perspectives.  Plus geeking wil a fellow gamer who’s playing a barbarian these days: it was nice finally finding one of us who also does the RPG world as well – I almost expected that to be more people.

Dinner was passably good but completely hilarious with Rich, David, Chris, and (Rich’s friend who’s name I’ve forgotten).  Dinner was mexican with a completely spaced out waiter (I wonder if that’s a theme for the week), but it was outside on the deck above the fray and so comfortable.  Then we argued about where to continue drinking – of course.  The first bar wasn’t acceptable, so I helped convince people to walk to the Martini Bar, which I was looking forward to.  Oh well.

Call me a traditionalist, but only having three gins in stock (Tanq, Bombay, and Sapphire), plus no limes, really means you don’t deserve the name of Martini Bar.  At least the bartender was really nice about it, and everyone else was happy with a beer for the time being as we told stories and got sucked into the TV behind the bar.  I’m so glad we don’t have cable at home; it’s really worth watching unless you have a crowd that’s drinking.  Praised be the MST3K ideal.

Late for our anniversary – but well worth it

We were only a little late doing something for our anniversary, although I’m very late at blogging it.  But that’s OK; we actually did something nice this year.

At a friend’s blogged reccomendation, we tried the Craigie St. Bistrot for a nice dinner out – with the babysitter home with Roxanne!  At the risk of losing the price of a Happy Meal, I will tell the truth: it was wonderful.

The restaurant is almost tiny, hidden away in the basement of an apartment building.  As their website says, their kitchen is probably smaller than yours.  It’s intimate and very subtly but nicely decorated with touches of Frech whimsy and prints all around.  The waitstaff was amazing – not the formality, but certainly all the pleasantness and services you’d expect at any of the absolutely top places in town. I was wondering how the hierarchy of waitstaff went: what other restaurants do you have to work at first, and then where else, before you can work in a place like this.

Since it was our anniversary we got champagne cocktails from the chef to start with – a nice way to start, reminicent of Casablanca. Although the whole menu was tempting, we both went for the 3 course prix fixe, Amy for the veggie version.  Let’s see if I can remember all the wonderful things we had:

Amy had a warm green veggie soup (I forget what) – with an amazingly creamy green and fresh taste.  I had the tempura soft shell crab, perfectly done with some nice sauce and a bit of green stuff as a counter point (oh boy, I’m tired, can’t even remember what it was).

For dinner Amy had a sort of pasta primavera, so to speak: fresh veggies, with ricotta gnocci.  I had the softest, richest pork chop I’ve ever had.  I don’t know how they cooked it to such perfection: it’s not just getting it barely hot enough to cook it without drying; there was something much more – I didn’t know chops could be that – lucious.  I also went for the Vouvray for a glass of white with dinner – the waitress was just right in confirming the choice.  As IO and LR confirmed, while the wine list is only moderately sized (all French, by the way), it’s cheap for the caliber of food you get.

We got the desserts – which each came with a paired dessert wine.  They split the glasses, since we were splitting both desserts.  First a cheese plate – it was me, of course.  Goat, sheep, cow: each interesting and complex on many layers; plus good french bread, dates and sweet fruit, and a touch of bitter greens to cleanse in between.  Then a fruit crumble with a pistachio crumble topping.  Both wines were wonderful – very complex and appropriately sweet without being cloying, even a touch of dryness in one.  Heck, I’m a very dry fan, and I’d be happy drinking one of these with an appropriate dinner myself.
The funniest thing about the staff was the bathrooms.  It’s tiny: there is a front door, and the only other exit is a long twisting hallway that goes to both the kitchen and bathrooms.  Every time a patron goes to ‘go’, the staff quietly says “diner coming thru” and they all carefully get out of your way.

Menus change daily; they are printed shortly before the restaurant opens, after they’ve done their day’s shopping.  Deal that can’t be beat: Wed & Sun, at 9pm, they offer a Chef’s Whim tasting menu for only 39.95!  You’ll never know what it will be, but I can’t wait to try it.