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November 30, 2006

Snow in Dallas, Apparently

You guys are hilarious. :)

Oh, and since we're here and (baby) it's cold outside, the hot chocolate (and submarino) lovers among you should check out this recipe from Orchidea for cioccolata calda!

November 22, 2006

The Travel Season: Part 4

Tomorrow (or, rather, later today), for the next step of this winter's travel itinerary, I will fly to Houston to hang with Amy and the family. Also, there are vague plans for Tamara to visit Andrew at the weekend, so perhaps Amy and I could join them for a casual dinner sort of thing. I anticipate thorough enjoyment of the trip, despite the weather forecasted to be about 40 degrees too warm for my taste (and for November in general, in my opinion!).

Meanwhile, I must tell you about the belligerent idiot from last Sunday's flight. If I could only remember his name...

A quick overview of my flight plan may be divulged thusly: My plane was late to leave Birmingham, so I had a very brief lay-over in Atlanta before flying to Pittsburgh. Fortunately, the flight out of Atlanta was delayed, but we made excellent time nevertheless.

So, you see, upon landing in Atlanta, I had to make the familiar jaunt at ungodly speed down the unnecessarily long corridor of terminal B where Delta has all their gates, and I arrived at the gate for the Pittsburgh flight only to see, to my relief, that nobody was boarding yet.

Over the next five or ten minutes, I caught my breath and observed the throngs, which included a guy standing at the gate agent's counter. The guy seemed obnoxious when he was talking with the gate agent and then even more so when he was talking with a girl who was sitting near the gate a little later. He inquired after the girl's residence, occupation, age, business in Atlanta, and so forth, and she was clearly nonplussed with his prying.

The prying ended soon enough, much to the girl's relief, I'm sure, when the gate opened and we first class passengers were allowed to board the plane. All queued up like good jet set automatons, we stood with boarding passes in hand, when out of nowhere came the idiot guy, shoving his arm across our ranks and yelling, "I'm in first class!" To which the gate agent responded, "yes, yes, you are in first class."

As a result of his urgency, he boarded the plane a minute or so before I did, and he was already seated when I entered the cabin. Guess what? My seat was 1C, and his was 1D, which meant we would invariably share the same arm rest, among other things, for what, at that point, seemed like the rest of my life. "Wonderful," I said to myself, and I rolled my eyes in the general direction of the already-seated passengers.

In the following 15 or 20 minutes, while the rest of the plane boarded, idiot loser guy did a number of things. First, he attempted to be polite and curious with me, which prompted me to tell him I'm an electrical engineer who works on micro-robots at Carnegie Mellon. That turned out to be a horrible idea on my part, but how could I have known? Then, after he established that I had something interesting in my head, he tried to extract it, constantly asking me questions like, "what is nanotechnology?" and "will you help me learn about robots?" To these questions I responded in the general form of, "I'm sorry, but I don't feel like explaining all that right now, and I just want to read my book." Actually, I wanted to spend the next hour or so thinking about my weekend in Birmingham, but by that point, my real motives were quite irrelevant. At any rate, I was never impolite.

At some point after most of the coach cabin had boarded the plane, the guy put his head against the window and pretended like he was asleep, making fake snoring noises and everything. It was at this point that I realized the camaraderie in first class was beginning, since the guys in row 2 started to crack jokes about the snoring moron. The first class steward also started joining the fun, though he had previously been busy and was at that point only beginning to appreciate the entertainment that the guy in 1D would provide for the next hour and a half.

The faux nap did not last very long, and the loser "woke up" in time to be reasonably attentive to the steward's safety demonstration. It was, in fact, during this demonstration that the steward noticed the guy in 1D was chugging a bottle of whiskey and, per FAA regulations, forcibly removed it from his hands. That eventually turned out to be symbolic, anyway, since the bottle the steward retrieved was empty. The steward then informed the moron that he was cut off and he would not be served any alcoholic beverages during the flight. "No problem," was the response.

Remember, the safety demonstration happens just after the plane leaves the gate, so at this point we still had several minutes before the plane could possibly get to the runway, even if it weren't a Sunday evening in Atlanta when a couple tens of thousands of people were trying to get to their road warrior hotels on Delta.

After a while and surely more nanotechnology inquiry, the guy decided it would be a good idea to lower his seat-back, despite the cockpit's previous warning against doing so. The steward requested that the guy return his seat-back to the upright position, and it was done. This happened again about a minute later, with perhaps a little more delay in the idiot's obedience.

The cockpit then came on the horn and announced we were second in line for take-off and we would be availing ourselves of that opportunity shortly. This as a prompt, the steward approached the guy in 1D and ensured him that his alcoholic beverage privileges were suspended. The conversation went roughly like this. "Sir, I just want to be clear that you are cut off from alcoholic beverages for the rest of this flight." ... "uhhh" ... "I want to make sure we aren't going to have a problem if I need to refuse your order for alcohol later" ... *pause* ... "nope, no problem." Well, then, that was settled.

Almost immediately after that little conversation, the guy put his seat-back down again.

Note that at this point, we've obviously turned onto the runway, and the engines are beginning their initial throttle-up or whatever they do.

The steward asks the guy to raise his seat-back again, and after a long pause, the response comes loudly: "Why are you picking on me!" A verbal altercation ensued for 15 or 20 seconds, and the steward grabbed the black phone that connects him to the cockpit. Threats were thrown around, variously about sending the plane back to the gate and calling the police and so forth, and everybody in first class except me was telling the guy, "just shut up so we can get home!" or "shut your mouth!" or "we just want to get to Pittsburgh!" With milliseconds to go, the guy raised his seat-back, the steward hung up the phone, and the wheels left the ground.

Take-off, and we're stuck with this guy for the next hour and a half.

And, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Stay tuned for the continuation of this story, which I hope to write in the next couple days. :)

November 20, 2006

A Flight to Remember

Amy and I had an absolutely fantastic time in Birmingham, wandering from history conference to wine bar to barbecue joint and back again. While four days there was a bit much in terms of the city, I can't wait to fly to Houston this Wednesday and head back out into the fray, to a rock concert, with Amy.

My flights took me through Atlanta because I flew Delta, and the last leg of the journey, this evening's flight from Atlanta to Pittsburgh, was the worst flight I ever could have imagined. Briefly, an incredibly belligerent lunatic happened to have the seat next to mine, and by the time our entire first class cabin banded together in friendly unity after getting cussed out, berated, and yelled at, the Pennsylvania State Police took the loser into custody. The abridged story takes about 20 minutes to tell on the phone, as I've found three times over, so it may take some time for me to get a blog-worthy version of it posted here. I assure you it will be worth the wait.

Meanwhile, check out my new threads! ;)

November 13, 2006

The Travel Season: Part 3

I was recently in Boston, and this week will see me flying to, of all places, Birmingham, Alabama. Next week, I'll be in Houston.

I never thought I'd end up voluntarily going to Alabama, but I intend to do it in full-on southern style: first class flights, on-call limousine service, black tie dinners at various mansions just outside the city limits, ballroom dancing, attendance in the first row of a famous Baptist church on Sunday, and so forth. Well, not really... at least not the part about attending the church service.

Actually, the Journal of Southern History is having a shindig in Birmingham this weekend, and I've decided to join my traveling companion and lady friend Amy there for a few days.

Do any of you have any insight into anything interesting a metropolitan person such as myself might do while in Birmingham? And, another pressing issue... when is last call in Alabama? :)

November 12, 2006

Kick Your Ass Stew

Kick Your Ass Stew being reheated this morning. Click to enlarge
A couple years ago, when the weather was cold and I had some extra time on my hands, I made a soup that became quite well-renowned among my friends. This happened at a time when I wouldn't balk at the idea of paying $25 or $30 per pound for a special fish and then turning around and giving generous portions of it away to my friends. As such, the first incarnation of this soup was quite amazing and kept people coming back for more.

The soup is very spicy, and I have been known to nurse a bowl of it for an hour, just to keep my mouth from exploding. This particular property of the soup was eventually the driving force behind the recipe's name, kick your ass stew.

The following recipe is more or less what I cooked for a neighborhood barbecue yesterday. I used all organic ingredients, but if that sort of thing doesn't matter to you, then you're welcome to use chemical-laden food, instead.

Yesterday's stew served about 20 people, once each, with almost an entire stew pot left over. I made one pot spicy and one pot mild to cater to the tastes of my neighbors, and, this morning, I combined both pots and added another habanero pepper.

This recipe will make one spicy stew pot worth of glorious soup.

Kick Your Ass Stew

  • 1/4 cup kidney beans, soaked at least 12 hours and drained
  • 1/8 cup adzuki beans, soaked at least 12 hours and drained
  • 1/8 cup black beans, soaked at least 12 hours and drained
  • 1/8 cup red beans, soaked at least 12 hours and drained
  • 1/8 cup anasazi beans, soaked at least 12 hours and drained
  • 1/4 lb. hot Italian sausage, cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
  • 1/3 lb. applewood smoked bacon, cut into small squares
  • 30 sea scallops
  • 1/2 lb. swordfish steak, cubed
  • 8 small red potatoes, halved or cut to bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 large Spanish (yellow) onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 habanero pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 2 tsp. dried parsley
  • 3 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lamb chop bone (optional)
  • 1/3 cup 12-month manchego cheese, shredded
  • spring water or filtered water
  1. In a medium pot, heat bacon to the point where about 1/8 inch of melted bacon fat appears in the bottom of the pot. Transfer bacon, sans melted fat, to a different pan and continue cooking. Add garlic, onion, and habanero pepper to pot with melted fat. Cook bacon until nearly done and cook vegetables until the onions hint at turning transparent. If the vegetables sear, add a little olive oil to supplement the bacon fat. Add bacon to vegetables but leave fat in pan.
  2. Heat the bacon fat in the pan until it starts to bubble. Reduce heat slightly to keep the fat just bubbling. Slowly add flour while stirring vigorously. You may not need to add all the flour, depending on the amount of fat your bacon produced. This is the roux for the stew. When all the flour is added, turn off heat and wait for pan to cool to a temperature suitable for pouring. Pour roux into pot with vegetables and bacon. At this point, you may store the roux mixture in a refrigerator in preparation for continuing the recipe at another time. Otherwise, keep it around while you follow the next few steps.
  3. In a large pan (or two) on medium heat, combine olive oil, scallops, and fish. Stir frequently for about 10 minutes or until seafood is nearly thoroughly cooked. It will finish cooking after combining with beans later.
  4. In a large pan, cook sausage on medium-high heat for about 12 minutes or until sausage is thoroughly cooked.
  5. In a large stew pot, combine beans with enough water to just cover them. Add lamb bone. Cover and heat on low for 20 minutes. Remove lamb bone to garbage. Add roux mixture and stir. Add sausage, seafood, potatoes, crushed red pepper, rosemary, and parsley. Add water to cover all ingredients. Cover and heat on low for 45 minutes.
  6. Serve each bowl, topped with manchego cheese, with a dark red, spicy wine. Pairing suggestions include Frescobaldi Mormoreto and Château Cabrières. Inexpensive suggestions include Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon, Ravenswood Icon, and Broquel Malbec.

November 07, 2006

Transit Trickle

Get out and vote!
First, I am obligated to point out that if you are an American citizen presently in the country, you need to take ten minutes and go cast your vote. Go. Right now. You don't need your voter ID card or anything. Just tell them your name when you get there. Go!

And, if you don't know where your polling place is, you can look it up. It's that easy!

Now, then...

A couple times over the past few weeks while riding the venerable 61C bus to and from Carnegie Mellon, I have been approached by a lady who has been handing out surveys to people who utilize the mass transit system in Pittsburgh. The survey is a quick little thing that, in each instance, I've completed and returned before alighting from the bus.

The premise of this survey, apparently, is to gauge system ridership and to become more familiar with particular riders' habits, so as to minimize the inconvenience of an inevitable downsizing due to a lack of public funding. That's right: according to the lady on the bus, the Port Authority has contracted a third party to figure out how best to downsize the bus system.

I've never been particularly fond of the transit system here, as compared to other systems I've used, but I use it often, and it lets me down less frequently now than it did when I lived in Shadyside.

This morning, I received a stern reminder of the plight of Pittsburgh's transit system. After I cast my vote at the polling place in the elementary school down the street from my house, I went to wait at the bus stop where I usually catch my morning buses. I waited there for about 25 minutes before a 61C, overflowing with people, pulled up and opened its door. The driver told us the bus was full and that we'd have to wait for the next one to come along. At that point, my class had just about started, so I figured waiting another 20-30 minutes for the next 61C, 61D, 61F, or 59U would be somewhat pointless. Besides, standing in the cold, damp air had caused last week's respiratory ailments to become irritating again, and that wasn't particularly pleasant. So, here I am, skipping class in the comfort of my study at home, drinking some hot coffee and writing an entry in my blog.

For the sake of all the people who depend on the Port Authority to get them from one place to another every day, I hope the situation here doesn't degrade too badly any time soon, but it certainly doesn't look like it's getting any better right now.

November 05, 2006

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

November 03, 2006

Trader Joe's

Today, a week after it opened, I visited the Pittsburgh branch of Trader Joe's, next to the McDonald's on Penn Avenue, a bit south-ish of Penn Circle. I've known good ol' Joe for a few years now, and I've found him to consistently be a bit strange in terms of the grocery store world, even though the stores are a favorite among foodies across the country.

You see, Joe sells organic veggies. But, they're wrapped in plastic. He sells high quality wild and farm-raised fish. But, it's frozen. He sells eggs. In bulk. He sells wine (well, in California, he does). For two dollars. (Who remembers Two Buck Chuck's!)

Despite the idiosyncrasies of Joe's business, it's a decent enough place to buy groceries; indeed, I spent about $50 there today and am quite pleased with my purchases. However, I must point out Trader Joe's will probably not become my market of choice, since the selection is somewhat limited, and damnit, I want to look at the entire length and circumference of a zucchini before I buy it.

Anyway, I'm glad Joe has moved into the 'burgh. It seems businesses here are finally starting to cater to the high-end and health-conscious residents of the city, and I think that's a sign of good things to come.

In other news, the Carnegie Mellon Tartans football team is now 8-0 for the season and have just won their first UAA title (whatever that is) since 1997. Hooray Tartans!