Monday, June 30, 2014

Reunion Interlude

Every three years whether one is ready for it or not, Wife rounds up her clan for a reunion.  It is our very good fortune that this year they selected a location in Colorado - only a 5 hour drive!  Most of the time it has been in the Midwest, the demographic epicenter of the clan, which means multiple days of driving in both directions for us.

As part of the clan likes to do camping with huge campers and part of us are more citified folks liking a cabin, and always wanting to be somewhat frugal, it is a challenge to come up with venues that will work.  They are always 'interesting' to say the least.  This year the camping group is dealing with woefully poor camping facilities including minimal electricity, shower facilities, and no waste dumping site.  But we will have fun as always.

Also this time is a little less well attended.  My family based on the prodding of my younger brother decided to have its first reunion (in spite of my best efforts to kill the idea) later this year plus it is also the year that we have our kids home for Christmas.  So it was too much money and vacation time for many.  So we only have around 16.  In some ways it will make it more intimate and easier.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Starting The Hanging Gardens - A de-I/Wife Construction Adventure

It's almost been 3 months!  3 months without any construction going on.  What kind of way is that to transition into one's golden years, one's post work life?  No one must build, build, build.  Bigger and grander, right?  Oh wait a minute...hmmm....oh this says that most folks my age are...What! Downsizing?????   Going into smaller less grandiose homes?????  Never mind.  I'm not going to pay any attention to that propaganda.  It's probably all a neo-conservative, uber-liberal, Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street plot to keep me from making de-I Tower THE most spectacular house in the city.

Any way, diatribe aside, yes we are onto another project - the redoing of our backyard.  Actually this has been in Wife's sights for a long time as we have a lovely setting but it is really, really showing its age.


From a distance the yard really does look nice

But when you get close you see things are really starting to deteriorate

The railroad tie retaining walls are nearly collapsing

The wood on the deck and the stairs going up is warped and falling apart

When we put in our first improvement, a brick patio, we got a bad batch of bricks which have disintegrated


Always the first step of the project

With the WWI anniversary it kind of looks like the trenches of no man's land

Bricks all gone

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cooking Up A Storm

I'm not sure how it quite came about but I have been having one cooking event after another for the last week or so.  A week ago Saturday, we had our friends Cabinet Lady and Dr. Debbie over for an Asian meal.  The next day on Sunday, I did a custom retirement party dinner for good friend Agent W.  On Tuesday lunch time I had two of my business colleagues over for a 'Euro' style lunch.  And just yesterday I did another Pewter Chef impromptu meal in Santa Fe that I had auctioned off at a charity event.  The details

Introduction to Asian Dinner

Neither Cabinet Lady or Dr. Debbie have had much experience with Asian cooking.  Ever since we got the new gas cook top and brought the trusty infomercial wok out of retirement, I've been cooking Asian with a passion.  We had arranged this meal the last time the two of them visited just before we had left for Europe. The meal was focused on two dishes that I had done when I had my last Pewter Chef dinner in January.  I prepared some pot stickers (pan fried dumplings) as the first course, then two fish dishes - a Cambodian Fish Amok and a Chinese style fish with noodles flavored with a fermented tofu.

Cabinet Lady loves making cocktails and wanted to know if a blood orange Margarita would qualify as Asian.  I said it does now.

CL really gets into her cocktail making 

All of the ingredients for my two dishes.  Starting from the bottom:
Shitake mushrooms and Napa cabbage for the noodles
Garlic, ginger, scallions, and cilantro - flavorings for the noodles
Carrots and green pepper for the Amok
Fish for both dishes
Along the back right various flavorings - coconut milk, shrimp paste, fermented tofu, homemade Amok paste, fish sauce.

Cambodian Fish Amok

Chinese style Fish Noodles

Retirement Dinner

As I was unable to make Agent W's official retirement party, I asked her if I could do a custom meal for her...and I would bring everything to her house!  Because of scheduling and already having committed the Saturday evening to CL & DD,  we made this a big Sunday lunch.  Agent W's special request was for Chicken Marsala.  The Marsala preparation (be it the original veal or chicken as is more common nowadays because of cost) has never been one of my favorites because it is usually sweet as a result of the Marsala wine.  But when I researched the recipe, I found it called for dry Marsala.  I didn't even know they had dry Marsala.  I was fortunate to be able to find it at our local Total Wines.  What a difference it made in the dish.  Now I know why it is such a classic.

All the prep before leaving to go to Agent W's

In the first picture is pre-cooked Fennel, grated cheese, and Escarole with garlic and olive oil

Strawberries, Chicken broth, Pounded flat chicken breasts

Home made pasta

Then it was off to the Agent W secret hideaway

Gaius Derf evidently lost status somewhere along the way in the Agent W hierarchy and was assigned to sous-chef duties

Fennel final cut for the Baked Fennel and Cheese

Plated Baked Fennel with the Escarole in olive oil and garlic

On to the Main Course

Cooking up the Chicken Marsala

Plated with the fresh pasta
(needed some kind of more colorful garnish don't you think?)

Happy Agent W in Chicken Marsala bliss

The Dessert

Eggs and sugar being whipped for Sabayon (a wine custard)

Whoa - trying too much wine

Strawberries with Sabayon

The Business Lunch

(Sorry no pictures for the last two)

I told my colleagues that if I was going to make lunch for them, I was going to serve wine and they should have nothing planned for the rest of the afternoon.  This we did even though it was a Tuesday.  They came at 1 PM and left at 4:30.  That's the way to do lunch!  I made a salmon salad with roasted salmon, home made aioli (garlic mayonnaise), fennel, hearts of palm and capers.  I also had a fusion frittata with cabbage/onion Amok flavored filling.  There cheeses from the Netherlands and tomatoes with olive oil and fresh oregano.  Prosecco (an Italian sparkling wine) was the accompaniment. 

The Pewter Chef Meal

The guests brought three proteins - ground beef, pork tenderloin, and a whole chicken.  There were fresh green beans, a variety of berries and brown rice.   I made:
  • Moroccan inspired grilled beef sausages with a cucumber/yogurt sauce
  • Pork Tenderloin Escalopes with a wine/cream and caramelized green beans
  • An Old Style Chicken Fricassee with Gewurztraminer wine and fresh rosemary served with brown rice
  • Fresh Berries with Sabayon (yes, yes, yes I know I just did that but this group didn't have it)
Probably time to take a break!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Street Fight - Another de-I / Magical Unicorn Pony God of Travel Battle

After all those weeks traveling to, in and from Europe without really any problems to speak of, it was easy to become complacent and forget the ongoing threat that is the Magical Unicorn Pony God of Travel.  But on Monday as I was getting reminded that horned juvenile godlet never forgets when there is vengeance on its mind.

The battle we had was not high-minded battle of minds.  This was brutal street fight.  MUPGT let it be known right from the start that we were going to be at war when before I even left the house, I got a text from the airline that my connecting flight from Houston to Chicago was canceled and I was put on a later flight then one text, and then another, each telling me that my flight from Albuquerque to Houston was being postponed later and later.  We were running two hours late when I got to the airport at 1 PM. 

I saw that a flight scheduled for 10:30 AM was running four hours late.  My flight to Houston kept being put back.  Unicorn Pony God was just whacking me again and again with horn and hoof.  I picked myself up and went to my friends at the premier desk and got myself rebooked on flight going through Denver.  Hah! Take that little horse with horns godling!

Literally minutes after my rebooking phone call a text comes in telling me that my Albuquerque to Denver flight is pushed back by hours. 

“Ha stupid human de-I take that!  There's is no way you’re going to get to Chicago!”

Back on the phone with premier desk – I’m going to miss my connection in Denver so I get saved on the next and last one.  More delays on the Albuquerque to Denver flight but that’s OK because both my original Albuquerque to Houston and Houston to Chicago flights have now been canceled and I would have been screwed if I had stayed on that route.  So this is the only route open for me. 

One-horned Pony God keeps throwing delays at me.  I check hotels in Denver (thank you AinA for app!) and there are plenty of rooms.  If necessary, I will spend over night there. I get myself a back-up reservation for a 6 AM flight on Tuesday.  Our flight finally comes in.  It is 8 PM and we will be 8:30 before we get off.  It will be near impossible make my connection in Denver.

MUGPT –“Yes, yes, yes, yes, I have defeated you de-I.  Go rot in your hotel in Denver and then see how I screw up your attempts on Tuesday morning. Bwahahahahaha.”

But de-I is the Zen warrior of business travel.  There is no panic.  What will be will be.  Our flight gets into Denver.  It is a tiny regional jet.  I have to spend valuable time waiting for my bag.  Normally this flight would be at a gate way the hell out requiring a very long walk to get to the main set of gates.  But de-I uses some of his accumulated luck and has the plane arrive just 10 gates away from the departing gate.  As I get into the main terminal I hear the final announcement for my flight.  No panic.  No running though walking is with purpose.  I can feel the semi-divine equine juvenile realizing that I’m slipping through its grasp.  I arrive at the gate.  They are getting ready to close the plane.  I’m the last person aboard. 

“Noooooooo, how can I have failed!  de-I I hate you!”

To rub salt in the wound, I get a first class upgrade and there is plenty of room for my overhead bag.  I finally get into Chicago at 1:30 and to my partner’s at 2 AM.  But I’m there, bruised and battered but victorious.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

New Mexico 2014 ...Oh Wait, I Already Live Here

One of the joys of our life is that we live in a great place.  I love going and traveling.  But every time I come home, I'm reminded that I live in this fabulous place with scenery and glorious weather and a different culture and in a house that's fantastic.  It's like being on another trip.  A couple of pictures from my hike yesterday and after dinner as a reminder.