Thursday, May 21, 2015

Cooking Fever!

Coming back from Euro Spring 2105, I was filled with the lust to cook.   So Wife and I two weekends ago had a young couple we know who are into wine and food over for dinner.  I like having folks younger than us because they eat a lot.  When I have a group of our peers (in addition to the conversation mostly being about our mutual ailments -yech), everyone eats a couple of bites and then says they're full.

As has become my normal practice, the photo journalizing of the meal was erratic at best.

I started of by creating an aperitif.  I was inspired by those we had at Italian restaurants in Amsterdam.  The Italians love bitter things and have a host of vermouth like products that tend to the bitter side...some substantially so.  I combined one part of one of these bitter sweet vermouth with two parts orange juice and two parts sparkling water which all agreed came out pretty nice.

For my first course, I did a riff on the asparagus and ham dish we had in Belgium.  As luck would have it, I still had some of the Ardennes ham I brought back with me.  I made a mayonnaise with walnut oil and lemon juice.  I was particularly pleased with the subtle flavor difference the walnut oil made over using olive oil which I usually do.

I was particularly pleased with my second course, a fusion dish using French techniques with Southeast Asian flavors.  It was an expansion of something I've done for our regular meals with a sauce to take it to a higher level.  The basic concept was a sauteed fish filet with a cream deglazing sauce.  But the twists were as follows.  I marinated the fish in a coating of Thai Curry Paste loosened with some Vietnamese fish sauce.

While this was marinating, I made a side dish, a seared corn salad. 

Ingredients - Shallots, corn kernels (off the cob frozen from last summer), red and green bell pepper, tarragon from the garden

Getting caramelizing on the vegs

To finish the dish, I sauteed the fish quickly, put it on a warm plate, and deglazed the pan with brandy, fish stock, and coconut milk - this took the place of cream that would be used in a normal French preparation.  I was very happy with the outcome.

My third course was a variation on the theme of lasagna.  In Italy there are a wide range of fillings and sauces that can be put into layers with noodles not just the tomato, ricotta, meat, mozzarella one we associate with in the US.  I wanted something with a more meaty focus.  So first I slow cooked some pork shoulder for 12 hours at 275 degrees until it literally fell apart.  I also made a stock from veal bones (I cheated and used my pressure cooker) and used that to make a brown sauce.  My cheeses were Italian Fontina and fresh Mozzarella.  For a tomato component I use fresh sliced Campari tomatoes.  Finally, I made my own lasagna noodles to get a very thin light pasta component.  I decided to make four small personal lasagnas instead of one big one.  It turned out that one of these was enough for two people.

The pasta making station

Assembled lasagnas before and after final sauce topping ready for cooking

Out from the oven

They were spot on.

Finally Wife did a great dessert making a strawberry parfait.

First she made a cream of strawberry preserves and cream cheese

When she saw the texture was not to her liking, she called in the rum reserves

No not to assuage her frustrations but to thin out the cream!

Almond cookies and almonds for crunch

The finished product

Monday, May 18, 2015

Junior Jet Setters

Or maybe Jet Setters Second Class?

We've been back from Europe for a week and a half so of course we were going to run out to the East Coast for a weekend to attend a wedding.  Now if we'd been REAL jet setters, we'd have had our private jet pick us up in Albuquerque and whisk us off directly to Easton, a town on Maryland's Eastern shore.  However, as only junior/second class jet setters, it meant taking 7 hours of regular airline to Washington, D.C., meeting up with daughter #3 who came all the way from Amsterdam for this, then driving through the morass of the Washington rush hour and traffic to the weekend escape East Shore for two and half hours.  Kind of less glamorous and way more tiring.

Dinner at diner in Easton Friday night
Wife and # 3 just about ready to keel over and sleep in their soup.

But after a nights sleep we're significantly more chipper and exploring the historic are of Easton.

Farmers Market in town?  #3 is going to check it out.

History happens

If you're on the Chesapeake Bay, you've got to find some good water scenes right?

My niece and nephew-in-law (???) are really wonderful people.  They helped so much at the reunion we had at Christmas time.  They've had to deal with a lot of challenges in the course of becoming married.  I take a less romantic view of marriage than many.  I believe that a long, successful marriage is the result of commitment and work...the ability to overcome the inevitable challenges that life throws at any relationship.  I've watched both of these two deal with a variety of situations and their long road to get to marriage.  I'm very confident they will be a long-term success.

Niece and Nephew-in-law tired from making sure we all had a great time but glowing with happiness.

On Sunday after a quick stop at the post celebration brunch it was reversing the whole process, slogging back to D.C., taking our long flights east and west and for Wife and I getting home at around 11 PM.  Just another weekend in the life of the jet set second class.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Transittion Report

Having completed our first 'official trip' in the transitioned state, it's a good time to reflect on the lessons learned and the changes that seem to have been successfully made.

It was very easy to go from the thrill of the travel to the daily life in Albuquerque.  I'd done work while I was traveling as I had planned to and it did not interfere with my travel enjoyment.  I walked through the door of our home and was happy to be back and thankful to have such a wonderful place (home, city, environment, life) to come back to.  Within days I was 1) back to my daily routine and 2) planning our next trip.  This is just the way I wanted it to be.

Observing what's happening in the 'semi' side of retirement - meaning the time that I'm devoting to work - I believe that the hard lessons I learned during the transitioning phases have truly been absorbed.  I've actually had a really good run since I've been back and have signed up a couple of new clients and have a shot at a third in the next few weeks.  But I feel no desire whatsoever to really build on this.  In fact it's the opposite.  I feel that I need to be careful that things don't get out of hand and I get too much work.  So the demons of ego seem to have been put to rest.  Nothing to prove to anyone.

Finally there is a real peace in enjoying this time of life.  Wife and I have had plenty of tough spells.  Maybe not as bad as many in the world but certainly not a breeze.  It seems that it is easier in some ways to accept "God's Will" when things are going poorly.  I call it the Book of Job effect.  It feels guilty somehow to accept good fortune.  But I'm working hard at not being guilty but accepting what I have as what is right at the moment...

...because it's going to end.  Bad times will come.  They have to.  It's all part of the aging, dying process.  It's not if, it's when.  And I want to enjoy every minute of the good times and be as peaceful and accepting when the bad times come.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

This And That

This happens every time I get back from one of our trips.  I blog like a maniac while I'm traveling because there's so much to write about.  Then I get home and it's like everything is so humdrum how can I write about this?  But no.  I will not get caught in that lethargic miasma!

Eldership Officer's Lounge

While we were on our away mission, we managed to scrounge up some funds from Elder Fleet Command to finish decorating the new Officer's Lounge

 Spring Colors at the Tower

 Wife's Magnus Opus, The Hanging Gardens, is coming into its own with the flowering of all the plants she put in last summer and some recent additions this Spring.

And there's nothing better (at least for us) than enjoying the beauty of the gardens with meal in the Crystal Palace.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The 2015 Spring Trip - Reflections

We've been home for three days and we are fully back into the swing of things.  It is a good time to reflect on the trip and where the trip and travel fit into the transitioned life of semi-retirement.

Bravo the Jet Lag Fighting Experiment - We both have bounced back much, much quicker than in the past.  The stopping after the first leg back and spending the night works great.  Think we can tweak it to get even better results.  And we found that only upgrading the West to East overnight air leg was fine with us.  Saves tons of money.

We Really Love to Travel - This trip confirmed it again.  There is something about the whole challenge of it.  The figuring out how to get around and all the various aspects of living in a place.  You see so much and meet so many people you never would.  I suspect it will continue to be a major part of our lifestyle as long as we can physically do it.  I'm already looking forward to our next trip in the fall.  

Home Is Awesome Too! - Coming home is like going to another great place in the world except that you know it real well and you have THE best rental you could ever have.  I am always blown away by how beautiful our home and how that beauty brings joy to my soul every time we get back.  And I think that New Mexico (at least our part of it) continues to be a feast for the eyes and as great a place to look at as any place we go.

Travel Is Really Healthy for Us - Neither Wife nor I gained a pound over this whole trip.  I did work in the garden today and commented to Wife how much stronger my back felt.  I think this is because we are walking, carry our packs, for easily three hours every day when we travel except for those few rest days we build in.  

The Dollar-Euro Rate Makes Things So Much More Fun - The rise in the dollar compared to the Euro really reduces the costs of lots of thing and makes the whole trip more affordable.  This is especially true of eating out.  We had this horrible reverse sticker shock when we had our dinner in Chicago on the way back when, for not that much food, we paid 50% more than the most expensive meal we had on our trip.

This Trip Was a Gastronomic Home Run - We had some many great experiences from our food tour and the restaurant on the Princes Islands in Istanbul, to our meals at Ta Kris in Malta, to our wonderful dinners in Amsterdam, and the world class cassoulet in Bastongne just to name a few.  And never did we pay all that much!

I Love Transitioning So Easily from Semi-Work to Travel and Back - I did a little work on the trip but mostly things were taken care of before we left.  And I had things set up so that I was able to immediately pick up things when I got back.  I really like that ability to switch back and forth.

Five and a Half Weeks May Be The Limit - I think the thing that gets to us eventually is sleep.  Whether it is a rental or a hotel or visiting someone, it 50-50 at best that you will get (or I should say we will get) a bed/mattress that is really conducive to great sleep.  In the first part of the trip you are very excited and it doesn't quite matter as much.  But as the weeks go on it can wear a bit.  There is nothing quite so sweet as sleeping in your own bed when you get back.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Economy Plus Plus? Or Busines Minus?

We're almost back.  We flew from Amsterdam to Chicago and we are going to spend the night here as part of an experiment on handling the long distance travel challenge. 

Living in Albuquerque means that you have a pretty long flight any time you travel internationally.  This is in part because we are just not that close to anything but also because of the deterioration of air travel service to smaller cities throughout the country.  With fewer flights from smaller cities to major hubs, the ability to schedule flights that are not overly long is difficult. 

In general there are two factors we're trying to manage:
  • Wear and tear
  • Cost
Let's deal with the wear and tear issue.  Flying from Albuquerque to Europe is a 17 to 20 hour journey.  ALL of the flights from the major hubs in the US to Europe are red eyes - they fly over night.  You leave Albuquerque some time in the morning usually, catch a flight from the hub in the early evening, and arrive at the European hub in the morning European time.  The ideal situation is to go business class with a lie flat seat because you can actually sleep and start getting yourself adjusted to the new time.  Whereas sitting up over that period of time leaves you totally wasted (at least it does Wife and I). 

Coming back is different.  The flights leave late morning from Europe and arrive at the US hubs in the early afternoon local time - the early evening your European body clock time.  If you lived in the hub, you'd be home and get adjusted fairly quickly.  However, if you go on to Albuquerque, you would need to change planes (a few hours at best), a 2 to 4 hour flight, another hour and a half to get luggage and get home, and then you need to get settled at home before you can try to sleep.  This adds another 8 hours to the process and puts your local European body clock time at 3 to 5 in the morning making it really tough to sleep.  Using the business class option is nice but it doesn't necessarily solve the body clock problem.

Buying a full fare business class ticket is way pricey.  Getting upgrades is a better option if you have the miles and status.  You can be selective on the legs you upgrade.  You do have to play a bit of gamesmanship as most of the time the upgrades are not available when you first make your reservation.  On this trip we bought a very low cost economy fare and used the upgrade on our flight out.  We decided to try breaking our flight home into two pieces.  We reasoned that since I get the Economy Plus seats as part of my status, and we were flying during the waking period, that would be sufficient.

As it turned out, there were a lot of open Economy Plus seats so Wife and I were able to get a row of three to ourselves.  They actually feed you on an international flight in coach and it wasn't all that bad (a Thai chicken curry), certainly not terribly worse that some of the meals we've had in business.  As we did not pay for that upgrade (not an inconsequential amount) we felt free to buy a couple of drinks each.  So assuming we can get the three person row in Economy Plus, we have a flight that really is not that difficult on the body.  I'm calling this new service Economy Plus + or maybe Business Class minus a bit.

We'll see how sleeping goes tonight, getting home tomorrow and getting adjusted

Monday, April 27, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 33 - Time To Head Home

Where Our Heroes
  • Immerse themselves in family
  • Make sure they are Fritified one more time
  • Make sure they honor the King
  • Look forward...very their own bed!
Hard to believe that our trip is just about at an end.  We fly back to the US tomorrow, spend the night in Chicago (an experiment to confirm a methodology for reducing the effect of jet lag) and get back on Wednesday.

We've been chilling in Amsterdam with the 3's and totally immersing ourselves in our family especially the grandchildren.  I've been especially doting on 3.2 as she is just 1 year old and in a phase of totally loving to be mushed up.  This will most likely be the last one we have in this phase and I've been totally taking advantage of it.

On Sunday we cruised around the neighborhood.

Found Daughter #1's International Empire continuing to expand

Found places for our sons-in-law

Had to have more frites before we go right?
(Kids weren't convinced)

More street food

And on Monday it was Kings Day Again!

The 3's celebrating!