Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tax This

Recently I received a letter from the state of California[1] informing me I needed to create a use-tax account. For those of you who aren’t familiar with a use-tax (I wasn’t), a use-tax is the sales tax you owe for anything purchased outside the state of California. Most every state in the union has laws regarding use-tax. And the use tax also includes anything purchased online.

In case we haven’t met, I’m a bit of a technology dork. I do basically all of my shopping, outside of clothes, online. I’m an Amazon Prime customer. And I will admit the biggest reason after convenience I shop online is to avoid sales tax. Or at least I thought, like I’m sure most people did, I was able to avoid sales tax by shopping online.

The reason this is becoming an issue is states are increasingly facing smaller tax revenues and it’s nearly impossible to raise taxes as that takes, well, an act of Congress. States are looking for anyway to increase cash-flow and it only makes sense for them to go after every possible resource. The problem they face is enforcement. Essentially it’s all self-reported. And attempts to go after online retailers to find out about customer’s purchase history can be challenging if not completely unsuccessful. In order for a state to have any chance of collecting anything more than a small fraction of the taxes owed to them the online retailer would need to start collecting the tax like a normal brick and mortar store. Enforcing such rules, and requiring online retailers to navigate through 40+ different sets of rules for sales tax, would border on the impossible.

Here’s what I propose instead. As the current law stands, online retailers are required to collect sales tax for any state in which they have a physical presence. Keep that law in place. But for any sale that takes place where the above condition isn’t met, the federal government should place a 5% sales tax on that sale. Since the sale would qualify as interstate commerce it is subject to federal laws. Of that 5% collected, 1% goes to the federal government, and 4% goes to the state in which the customer lives. While 4% is almost certainly less than the state would have collected normally, it’s still much more than they are currently collecting or would have any reasonable chance at collecting. The 1%, while not earthshattering, would certainly help a nation languishing in debt.

In the past I’ve always been opposed to taxing online sales as I feared a tax would discourage online commerce and kill an infant industry. Today shopping online is as commonplace as using an ATM, and a relatively small tax won’t have a noticeable effect on the industry. States, while not collecting the full amount, would still increase their income. The federal government would see a new source of income. This is a compromise that works for everyone.

[1] It’s really impossible for me to type or say the name of my state without hearing my soon-to-be former governor saying it in my head.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Welcome Back, Fall

At least, I think so anyway.

I spend the majority of my time south of the Mason Dixon Line so my views on weather are generally skewed. Between living in San Diego and spending a good amount of time in places like Houston and Tampa my body and mind are used to moderate to hot temperatures. When I find myself somewhere with even a bit of “real weather”, like St. Louis, my body always seems surprised that it can actually get cold.

Cold, mind you, is relative. I was cold this morning – it was 45 degrees out. I know that 45 isn’t really cold. But when you’re not really expecting it and your body’s just not used to it, 45 is at least a bit chilly. In any event, this morning reminded me that it is in fact Fall.

I enjoy fall quite a bit. It means it’s football season. It means I can wear my sweaters and sport coats without having to worry about going outside in 90 degree heat when I leave whatever venue I’m visiting. It’s the lead-in to my favorite 5 weeks of the year, which stretches from Thanksgiving to New Year’s; a stretch which includes our annual Prethanksgiving Dinner, my birthday, Christmas, and of course a trip to Vegas for New Year’s.

But it also means darkness during the majority of the day. In the past it wasn’t that big of a deal, but now that I’m running[1] it makes it hard to find a time during the week when I can run during daylight. It also means I need to pack for cold weather when I travel, which is a challenge for me because A) I don’t always remember to and B) because I really don’t own the proper clothing. And of course fall is the precursor to winter, a time of year I really loathe.

For now I’m going to focus on the positive. I’m going to break out my sport coats and sweaters. I’m going to enjoy the cold crisp air in the morning. And enjoy football. Well, football played by teams other than the Chargers, anyway.

[1] I don’t think I posted this here – I finished the San Jose Half Marathon in 1:54:55, 5 minutes faster than my goal.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Do you have a blog?

Recently Abram, my baby brother, texted me asking if I still had a blog. If you’re curious, you can peruse his blog here. But I thought that was a pretty good question.

The answer? I don’t know. What I do know is I’m completely burned out on the Friday Five. Over the last 3 years I’ve done just about one a week, and it’s become a bit of a drag. Frankly, it’s become tedious.

However, ironically I do miss telling little stories about the week, and I definitely miss sharing my thoughts and opinions.[1]

So what now? Well, I’m not sure. I think going forward I’m going to try to post more just little things about life. I also think going forward I’m not going to try so hard to be perfect in every posting (outside of the Friday Five that is).

And who knows, maybe there will be the occasional Friday Five.

But for now, there is still a blog. It’s just going to change form a bit.

[1] You say pontificating, I say sharing thoughts and opinions.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

Believe it or not I found myself back in Houston this week. Granted, Houston isn’t an odd city for me to find myself in, but it had been quite a while since I’d visited. However, despite my lengthy absence I picked up right where I left off, visiting a couple of my favorite places and battling the heat and humidity of August. There really isn’t anything you can do to prepare yourself for Houston weather, except maybe spend some time in South America. The part I just can’t get over is the the fact that it never truly cools off; I did my running in the morning and it was still 80+ degrees and 90% humidity. No, that’s not an exaggeration.

The Travel Note

My Miata is now 4 years old. I still have less than 17,000 miles on it. And that includes about 3,000 miles for the round trip drive it did to Houston, TX.

The Restaurant Cocktail Bar

The last time I was through Houston it was for the IT Grand Prix.[1] My friend Gordo, cocktail connoisseur extraordinaire, found out about a cocktail bar named Anvil. Unfortunately by the time we landed in Houston it was simply too late for me to muster any strength to actually visit said bar. Finding my way back in Houston meant I had to stop by. Fortunately I was about a $15 cab ride away[2] made it pretty convenient to make the trip.

The first thing you’ll notice upon walking in, besides of course the anvil logo in the middle of the wall behind the bar, is how down to earth the atmosphere is. No loud music. No TV’s. Nothing flashy. Very simple, friendly bar with a great vibe, enhanced by a great music selection. That night (among other songs) were Under the Milky Way (The Church), In Between Days (The Cure), Age of Consent (New Order) and Flowers (Talking Heads). If the drinks matched I may have found my new home.

I can assure you the drinks matched. In case this is your first time reading this blog, I informed the bartender that I wanted to start with a Manhattan, as that’s my favorite cocktail, or his take on it. He quickly informed me that you really can’t improve upon the classic Manhattan and that’s what he was going to make me. He then proceeded to take no less than three minutes to explain every ingredient choice he was making and why (and mind you there are three ingredients – rye, vermouth and bitters). He went very simple on the rye – Wild Turkey. He went high end on the vermouth (I can never remember the name of it). He went classic on the bitters – Angostura. Stirred and served up with a cherry that was house aged in bourbon and spices.

Just in case I needed further convincing, I discovered they only carry one vodka and zero cocktail olives. The way that I discovered this was a soon to become irate couple sat down next to me to order a “martini”[3], with Kettle One and just a splash of olive juice. He then lost his mind after finding out the above facts, and proceeded to complain up one side and down the other that the martini bar couldn’t make him a “martini”[3]. It took everything in my power to inform the gentleman that he was not ordering a martini, at least not in bar that specializes in classic cocktails.[4] A true martini is gin, a healthy dose of dry vermouth[5], a dash or two of bitters and a twist. No olives, and no pansy vodka. The bartender took a better tack, explaining this fact by making them their house martini, a martini made the correct way, on him. They still weren’t impressed, and finished their vodka tonics, complaining the entire time, and left.

And just in case all of the above didn’t convince me that this will make my list of top cocktail bars in the US, they also feature a great beer selection, including a cask selection. I’ve been to Houston many, many times and did not think this city was capable of supporting a place this stinkin cool. I was wrong. Anvil is the real deal.

The Five

I’m not superstitious. Well, not much, anyway. There are a couple of things, however, that might classify as superstitions. They’re basically all around sports and gambling.

  1. When the Chargers are playing I must be wearing a jersey.
  2. At a pai gow table I try to be the last person to pick up my hand, and I slowly open it exposing one card at a time.
  3. I’d list everything I do or don’t do at a craps table but, well, this posting is getting long enough as it is and I’m not sure I have enough server space.
  4. I believe in the power of the rally cap.
  5. I don’t like having 13 unread messages on my phone.

[1] In case you’re curious, the Gold Team (the one headed by Susan and myself) won.
[2] One doesn’t drive to a great cocktail bar.
[3] His words, not mine.
[4] Closed circuit to Abram – Yes, I am my father’s son.
[5] I like mine on a 3-1 ratio.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Friday Five

Editor’s Note

Yes, I am behind. To my credit, I did in fact say that I would have trouble posting over the last couple of weeks. I don’t have a good excuse for this past week, but the two prior were a bit of a challenge as Karin and I were in Australia for two weeks. I promise a posting and pictures on our adventures down under in the near future, but for right now I’m going to focus on doing a posting for this past week just to get back in the saddle.

The Week

Because there’s no rest for the weary, my flight schedule has been rather insane lately. I flew straight from New York to Australia without a stop at home, with Karin meeting me at the airport in LA. Upon our return stateside, Karin went home and I went straight up to San Jose. Despite the long flight from Australia to LA, I was able to still figure out the way to San Jose.[1]

IMG_0706 My week in San Jose was rather simple. It consisted of my rather typical sleeping, running, and working. However, I did treat myself to a trip up to San Francisco[2] with the express purpose of trying Manhattans. In my favorite posting, The Perfect Manhattan, I referenced a San Francisco Gate article that talked about the history of the Manhattan and how best to craft one. In it the author listed a few bars in San Francisco that offer unique versions of the Manhattan, and I’d been wanting to take a trip up to San Francisco to do some sampling. This week afforded me just that opportunity. It was also just nice to be able to explore San Francisco, a city that I do love.

The highlight for Karin, however, came when I arrived home on Friday night. Mind you, the highlight wasn’t me getting home. Instead, it was our trip to Cucina Urbana. Having not been there for over a month I was craving a fix. We decided to stop by a cocktail bar I’d be wanting to check out for quite a while first and do dinner afterwards. Because we were running just a little late for our reservation, when we walked into Cucina Urbana I made a beeline for the hostess stand to check us in. When I turned around, Karin was engaged in a very pleasant conversation with Jerry of Jeff and Jer.

IMG_0721For those you not from San Diego, Jeff and Jer were longtime hosts of a morning radio show and Karin’s favorite. In fact, her devotion to the show was the specific reason she bought a shower radio. Unfortunately because terrestrial radio is going through a bit of turmoil, Jeff and Jer are no longer on the air in San Diego.

In any event, upon walking in Karin noticed Jerry in the lobby area and just simply walked up and said “Hi, Jerry”. The two of them started a very pleasant conversation, and eventually Karin and I wound up meeting both his wife and mother-in-law. I’m not normally the type to ask a celebrity for a picture, but since Jerry was so happy to be talking to Karin it didn’t seem inappropriate to ask for a picture.

The Travel Note

A few notes that I’ve collected over the last few weeks.

  • Five weeks was the longest stretch I’ve been away from home for. By the end of it I was very ready for my own bed.
  • To answer someone’s question, yes I did remember the way home from the airport. Although I think the car could navigate that drive on its own.
  • Australia allows liquids as carryon, which worked to our advantage simply because it made transporting all our wine that much easier.
  • I set a new personal record by clearing security 4 times in a single 24 hour period. I had to clear security when leaving Sydney, when I transferred to my flight to LA in Auckland, when I went to board the flight in Auckland, and finally in LA to catch my flight to San Jose. There is a special extra screening area you need to go through after clearing normal security if you’re flying internationally to the US, which is why I had to clear security the extra time in Auckland.

The Restaurant

The first place I stopped on my exploration of Manhattans in San Francisco was a restaurant named Pebacco. Pebacco is in the middle of the Financial District, with a rather small facade that belies the size of the restaurant inside. I of course situated myself at the bar and, after introducing myself to the bartender, mentioned that I heard they do a great Manhattan. With pride he replied, “We absolutely do”, and he put one together for me. The Manhattan was very good; it was well assembled, but it didn’t have quite the level of bite I was looking for. The best way to describe their Manhattan is it’s one with training wheels; if you’re new to classic cocktails and are just looking for somewhere to start, this would be the Manhattan for you. It was mellow, approachable, but still tasty.

IMG_0710 For dinner I decided to start off with the pesce crudo. Frankly, I had no idea what it would be, but the ingredients included hamachi, basil, ginger and a little jalapeño, which all sounded good and I took a chance and went for it. I’m glad I did. The flavors all came together perfectly, and the jalapeños were sliced thin enough that they brought just a little heat to the party but didn’t overwhelm the dish. I went with IMG_0711 the scallops for my main, which was served with corn and pearl onions. Scallops, like shrimp, are very simple to do well, but also very easy to overcook. I’d say that a good 80% of the time when I order either one in a restaurant it’s rubbery and overcooked. These, however, were cooked to perfection. The wine the bartender recommended (a sauvignon blanc) matched nicely. With great food, service and cocktails Perbacco is the perfect place to start off any evening.

The Five

Recently I’ve been asked the same questions by multiple people so I want to do another FAQ Five section. Those of you who know me well probably already know the answers to these questions, but just in case here you go.

  1. Do you enjoy the travel?
    I don’t know if the word “enjoy” is the correct word. I think more than anything I have accepted the travel. Certainly there are great weeks like trips to Seattle or New York, but then there are others where I’m stuck in San Jose or Killeen, TX. I think the hardest part of the travel is simply trying to maintain friendships; being on the road so often doesn’t afford me the opportunity to visit with friends as often as I would like.
  2. How do you and Karin deal with you being gone all the time?
    For lack of a better way to put it, we just do. We have spent quite a bit of time over the course of our marriage apart for one reason or another, either because of my travel or working different shifts. We make sure to spend quality time together when we get the chance, and just accept the fact that we’re apart a lot of the time.
  3. Wow, that sounds so glamorous!
    I can assure you it sounds much more glamorous than it actually is. When you’re stuck overnight in a fleabag hotel room near the Houston Intercontinental Airport[3], I can assure you it’s the farthest thing from glamour.
  4. When are you going to cut back on the travel?
    It’s a long story, but for right now things will pretty much be the same for the foreseeable future. The issue is I love training, and right now doing what I love to do requires I be on the road fulltime. There may be a situation where I can start working more in San Diego in 2011, but that’s still tentative. As of right now it’s still pretty much all travel all the time.
  5. Have you visited all 50 states?
    I have not. My rule for counting a state as being visited is that I have left the airport. Driving through the state counts. I have yet to visit Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia. I’m not sure about Maine; I think I visited there as a child, but unfortunately I don’t remember. Of the states listed, Hawaii is the one I want to visit most.

[1] I went a long way for that one, Brenda. Hope you appreciate it.
[2] Not San Fran or Frisco.
[3] Not International.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Friday Five

The Excuse

As I mentioned before, the next couple of Fridays were going to be a challenge for me in regards to getting a post done. As it turns out, I was prophetic. Although to my defense I was at a conference last week, and as at least one reader will attest it’s hard to accomplish anything at a conference.

The Weeks

In an odd switch, I started last week at home, well at least for the weekend. While I wasn’t home long Karin and I made the best of our time together. The theme of the weekend turned out to be “favorites”.

We started off by doing dinner at Cucina Urbana on Friday night, which is officially my favorite San Diego restaurant. Having not been home in a few weeks it was nice to be able to reconnect with Karin away from everything and everyone.

IMG_0632 Saturday was a treat from start to finish. Karin and I did dinner at Parkhouse Eatery, our favorite breakfast place. Then we took in the San Diego showing of [title of show]. I’ve mentioned [title of show] in the past – it was a small Broadway production that was a semi-autobiographical story about how they went from entering a simple contest to eventually making it to Broadway. Karin and I happened to see it on its first preview night in New York and fell in love with the show. It is my favorite musical. The cast the theatre assembled for the show was nearly flawless; they hit not only the look of each original character but also their personalities and voices. Fantastic show and Karin and I were thrilled to have been able to make it.

That night we closed it off with a simple dinner party at our house. It was a shame that I wasn’t able to spend more time with my friends while I was home, but it was still good to share some good times, good laughs and good food. And yes, dinner at home with good friends is probably one of my favorite ways to spend an evening.

The weekend could have set me for the week, but the hits just kept coming. That Sunday morning I flew up to Seattle for a conference. I may have mentioned it before, but I do love Seattle. Downtown is very accessible, plenty to do, and a great vibe. No less than two of my favorite cocktail bars are there, and my favorite (bar none) restaurant is there. It’s also a great chance to catch up with friends I only get to see at conferences. The week wasn’t quite what I was expecting (see the restaurant review below), but it still turned out to be a fantastic time.

Tini Bigs 2 At the end of the week Karin made the trip up to Seattle. While she was there we were able to make a trip down to Tini Bigs to meet up with Shane. For those of you who’ve read the blog in the past you may remember Shane – he’s the one who made Karin the Blue Dolphin at the end of the night last time we were there. There were four of us the first night (Neil, Susan, Karin and myself), and just Karin and I the second night. And yes, Shane took great care of us, and every cocktail he put in front of us was a homerun.

IMG_8201 The week was capped off by a trip to Pike Place Market and Elemental. Karin loves Pike Place Market, and was more than happy to stop by nearly every stand and, of course, walk into the dog store. That night we met up with our friends Matthew and Ren for dinner at Elemental. IMG_0654 Again, I’ve mentioned Elemental in the past. Elemental does a prix fixe menu all of the chef’s choices, and the chef is just brilliant. The company was almost surpassed by the food, which is a statement about how great the food is and not an indictment of the company.

Because this is my life, that Sunday Karin flew home and I boarded a plane for New York City. Have I mentioned before how much I’d love to live there? In case I haven’t, I’d love to live in New York City. This trip in particular was an absolute blur. I was able to meet the newborn of an old college couple friend and enjoy a great dinner with Megan, an good friend from San Diego.

IMG_0669 In the middle of the week Abram came down for a visit. When Abram visits there’s a couple of trips that must happen. The first is to Lombardi’s, which makes the best pizza in the world. The second stop that must happen is the Pegu Club, which we visited both nights he was in town. They still do the best manhattan I’ve ever had. The bartender that took care of us was Scott, who’s a bit young and inexperienced but shows great promise.

And really, the above doesn’t begin to capture what an amazing two weeks it’s been.

The Travel Note

Two items this week.

One – I’m still a firm believer that if you don’t see a weirdo in your subway car then you’re it. On one of my trips I had a guy next to me shucking corn on the train. I figure I’m in the clear for that trip.

IMG_0672 Two – I’m just fine enjoying a good beer from time to time. But I don’t know that I’m all that comfortable with a pilot in full dress uniform advertising a beer on his luggage. Or at the very least, he could have picked a better beer.

The Restaurant

Susan, my “conference wife”, and I have a standing date for every conference. At least once every trip we go find somewhere to have a great dinner, which affords us many things – the opportunity to enjoy a great dinner (we’re both foodies), the chance to get away from conference food (ugh), and the chance to escape the bustle that is a conference. We got a recommendation from someone to visit a place called Avila. We were both very excited to visit, right up until the point when we arrived at the restaurant to discover it had closed not 5 days before our reservation.

Because of the way the day had gone we laughed the experience off and roamed over to another recommended restaurant a couple blocks away named Joule. Joule is a Korean fusion restaurant. We wound up sampling a good portion of the menu, including the lamb dish, the shrimp, and a corn bread with gouda. We found most of the dishes good but not great, although the lamb was dynamite.

This will not be making the list of must visit restaurants. There’s a very good chance we were still a bit disappointed with Joule because we weren’t able to go to Avila, but I think we were disappointed just because we were disappointed.

Friday Five

I know I’ve already spoken quite a bit about the last two weeks, but there’s still plenty more to tell. Here’s a list of five things that didn’t make the cut above but I really wanted to mention.

  1. I met Murray. Outside of a couple people that probably means nothing to anyone. Murray was recently voted the best bartender in America. Having met him I can say I can understand why. In fact, it was amazing the amount of respect every Seattle bartender had for Murray.
  2. The location I was teaching at in NYC is right at the southern tip of Manhattan and on the 23rd floor. It offers an amazing view of The Statue and Ellis Island.
  3. I had dinner at a great vegan place called Blossom Cafe on Columbus between 81st and 82nd.
  4. It’s not the best hotel around, but the Club Quarters by Wall Street is very affordable for Manhattan.
  5. Next time you see me remind me to tell you the story about the gyro guy.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

The theme of this trip is “No rest for the weary”. Granted that statement has gotten rather weary in itself, there really isn’t a more apt description for the three weeks I just finished.

Upon finishing up in Rochester I hopped back in the car and drove back out to Burlington. The original plan was to do dinner/drinks with Abram and then do brunch with my mother in the morning. Well, I didn’t get into Burlington until about 9p, much later than I had hoped. Abram and I did track down dinner, but alas we did stay out a bit too late and we slept the entire morning away.[1] It was at the very least, though, nice to reconnect with Abram, something we hadn’t done in way too long.

Saturday afternoon found me flying to Tampa. Tampa in July is certainly, well, an experience. It’s hot, but fortunately it’s humid as well. In fact, when I landed at 10:30 on that Saturday night it was 90°. That’s 10:30PM. 90°. There really aren’t many words to describe that kind of weather. It’s Africa hot. Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot.

The nice thing about Tampa is the opportunity to see friends. Disappointingly I was not able to see “Anonymous” (as he comments from time to time here), but I was able to see Michael. Beyond that, the week turned out to be a pleasant one while not overly exciting.

The Travel Note

I don’t know what it is about the Burlington Airport’s TSA contingent, but they just hate me.[2] I’d say about 3 out of every 4 times I fly out of that airport I am pulled aside for special treatment. Usually it’s just my computer bag that gets the extra attention (I often wonder if they’ve seen technology), but this time it was both me and the computer bag.

As for the bag, well they pulled basically every piece of electronics out of the bag and scanned them separately. Anyone who knows me knows that’s quite a bit. It also meant I had to completely repack my bag. Granted, the TSA agent was nice enough to offer to repack it for me, there wasn’t any way I was going to let him do that.

As for me, well they decided to frisk my pockets on my cargo shorts. In the lower left pocket I had a bit of cash and my boarding passes. The agent asked to inspect those and I of course handed them over. He took a glance at them, placed them on the table, and then continued his inspection of my pockets. After confirming I had nothing else in them, he grabbed my miscellaneous papers one more time, placed them back on the table, and said I was free to collect my belongings and move on.

Now, let me be very clear here – I’m in favor of the TSA’s job.[3], as I’ve blogged many times in the past. But there’s a little bit of common courtesy that I think should come with the job. The agent picked the papers back up, inspected them one last time, and tossed them back down on the table before telling me I could collect them. Common courtesy here – just hand them back to me. Just sayin…

The Restaurant

475

Just keep that number in mind for a couple of minutes. I’ll get back to it later.

While I generally try to avoid chains, there are times when convenience wins out, and others where it’s just too hard to avoid a chain restaurant.. I found myself heading to Maggiano’s when I saw a new restaurant in the parking lot of the mall I was headed to named Seasons 52, which, as it turns out, is a chain. Either way, I decided trying a new restaurant was better than my original plans. I was not in the least disappointed.

Regular readers know of course I settled in at the bar for dinner. The first thing you notice at the bar is the piano player on a small platform in the bar area. The first night (yes, first night) I went there the singer was a guy in his 60’s who was both talented and very “loungey”, to coin a phrase. I love me some live music, and I was already sold on the place.

The bartender came over, took my manhattan order, and introduced the menu. He explained that the restaurant focuses on seasonal, fresh and local ingredients, and that they’re health conscious. In fact, he explained, they don’t cook with butter or oil.

Wait. Hold on. Say that again?

“We don’t cook with butter or oil.”

I’m going to pause now for effect.

It’s the butter/oil content of many dishes served in restaurants that turn what would normally be a healthy dish into anything but. As a perfect example, the night before I ordered a cedar plank cooked sea bass. The sea bass was awesome, but it was also cooked in bacon. While I do try to stay healthy, I also know that basically anything can be improved by the addition of bacon, and the word “fat” is shorthand for “flavor”. And now here’s a restaurant cooking with no butter or oil. I’m intrigued.

I start perusing the menu when I notice the sentence at the top: “Seasonally inspired cooking with every item under 475 calories”. Yes, 475 was the max calorie count of any dish on the menu.

IMG_0624 On to the food, then. I decided to start with the arugula salad, which came with goat cheese (one of my favorite things on the planet), grilled golden beets and a light dressing. The salad also had a light curry dressing that gave the entire thing “pop”. For an entree I went for the “tiger shrimp penne pasta” which was done in a lemon basil sauce and a bit of parmesan cheese. Dynamite. The shrimp was cooked flawlessly and the dish had a ton of flavor.

The one thing that the entire meal reminded me of was this – you don’t need to douse things in heavy sauces. Food in and of itself has flavor. Let the food shine, and use spices to accent the flavor, not overpower it. Awesome.

So awesome, in fact, that I went back the next night. The place was hopping and I couldn’t find a spot at the bar. Fortunately, the bartender recognized me, came out from the bar, and informed me that a couple was going to be leaving very shortly and I could have their spot. Full marks for that!

IMG_0626 This time around I went for the specials – gazpacho and a grilled lamb. I’m actually not a huge gazpacho fan, as it always reminds me of tomato juice. I learned that I’d just been having bad gazpacho. This was amazing. The lamb… Well, the lam was just out of this world. Now granted, j’adore lamb, so it usually doesn’t take much for lamb to be a homerun for me, but even still this was just outstanding.

Yes, it’s a chain. And I feel guilty for loving a chain restaurant this much. But I’m sorry, the food was just that good.

The Five

General nonsense this week.

  1. I generally don’t do dessert. But if you offer me something with peaches, I’m going to have a hard time turning that down.
  2. I think I may have mentioned this before, but one of the things I miss most because I’m on the road so often is cooking. This is why I try to host many dinner parties.
  3. Only because I get asked this rather frequently, yes I do sometimes forget what town I’m in.
  4. If I’m doing something where I’m trying to disengage my brain (driving long distances, running, etc) I need either a podcast or talk radio. Music just doesn’t do it for me.
  5. I’m very thankful I can sleep on planes. I can sleep almost anywhere, really.

[1] Sorry, Mom.
[2] Or I suppose love, depending on your perspective.
[3] I’m not just saying that to suck up to any TSA agent who might be reading this, but I suppose it can’t hurt.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Five

The Excuse

Wow. Will you look at that. I have a blog!

Well, if I have any reader[s] left out there, I do apologize. I have been slacking quite a bit on the blog. I don’t really have any other excuse besides that I needed a bit of a break. It wasn’t that I planned on a break, but I really just didn’t have the desire for a while to sit down and type anything out.

Fortunately for me, and I guess you[1], I am back and ready to go. The one warning I will give you is the next couple of months might be a bit sporadic, but that’s just because of my schedule and not because of a lack of motivation.

The Week[s]

It’s been so long I actually had to go look at where I’ve been recently.

3 weeks ago found me in San Jose. Despite the fact that I haven’t been blogging in a while, I still know the way. A trip to San Jose is generally, well, a trip to San Jose. This was a huge shift in mentality after the fun week I had in New York. While it was nice to do dinner with friends, and I’m not discounting that in the least, it certainly wasn’t New York.

IMG_0602 The following week found me back in Tampa, FL. Tampa is nice as it’s an opportunity to see friends, which I was able to take advantage of. On in particular was kind enough to invite us out for a trip on his boat, which couldn’t have been better. The weather was perfect, the sunset was gorgeous, and needless to say a great time was had by all.

IMG_0604 Then life got interesting. Well, busy, anyway. This week I was teaching in Rochester, which is about 6 hours away from where my father and mother live. Since I was this close I had to stop by, especially since my father was hosting a “Gathering” and I hadn’t seen my mother in quite a while. The weekend was an absolute blur, seeing me land in Burlington, drive to my fathers, and then drive back to Burlington to see my mother, before driving out to Rochester. Phew! Fortunately, I did not get my annual speeding ticket in Vermont. But all was not lost; there was good beer to drink.

IMG_0608 And in case you  didn’t already pick up on it, I was in Rochester this week. I know I’d been to Rochester, or at least the area, years ago but I have no real memories of the place. I certainly won’t have a lot of memories to leave with as it was a typical business trip, but I did get to jog along the Erie Canal. I will say this much about being a runner[2], it’s a great way to see an area.

The Travel Note

See the five

The Restaurant The Cocktail Bar

I’ve been visiting a lot more interesting cocktail bars than restaurants lately. I think a big part of that is I’ve been visiting places I know I love and haven’t felt overly adventurous in the restaurant department. That said, I have come to the realization that this fact needs to change, and thus begins my quest to find a good cocktail bar in San Diego.

A Yelp search led Karin and I here on a fateful Friday night, and while I did wind up giving the place four stars it's not quite what I was expecting. Let me explain...

My wife and I took the little hidden elevator up to the second floor to this place - you can see the sign, but it's very easy to walk right past the elevator you use to actually enter the place. When the elevator door opens you're instantly greeted by a great lounge atmosphere. There's a little dining area, nice bar and a huge patio.

There's also a stage where there was a piano player and singer playing. I dug the music (they were very talented), and I appreciated the low volume level (you could actually have a conversation), it was actually a bit too low (you couldn't understand what he was singing).

On to the main reason to come to a cocktail bar - the drinks.
I want bitter. I want savory. I want, well, I want basically the exact opposite of what this place serves. They have a huge menu of fufu drinks which Karin loved. Me - I wanted a good manhattan. We ordered, and the manhattan I got was good but nothing special. Karin loved her drink.
When it came time for the second I decided that since I was in Rome... I grabbed the menu and looked for something that I thought would be up my alley - "cool as a cucumber", which is gin and muddled cucumbers. Karin, of course, went for another fufu drink.

The following sums up the approach of the bartenders at Martinis Above Fourth: Karin's drink involved no less than four different liquors, a martini glass with chocolate sauce drizzled inside of it, and I think there may have been lemon juice squeezed fresh between the thighs of a virgin. Mine? My drink involved the following steps:

Add pieces of cucumber to bottom of glass.
Muddle.
Fill with ice.
Fill with Hendricks gin.
Shake.
Serve.

Don't get me wrong - my drink was actually very tasty. And again - my wife loved hers.

And this leads me back to the point I made at the top of this review. This is not the place I was expecting. But I had an absolute blast. And while I'm generally not looking for fufu drinks, when I am I know where to go. And I also know where to take Karin when she wants to get her drink on.

The Five

Every week I go through airport security at least once, if not twice (coming and going), and it amazes me the number of people who still struggle with this process. Granted, I’ve done this many times (no less than 50 times so far this year). But there are still simple things I see people do constantly that get themselves into trouble, or make the process more excruciating than it has to be. There are really just a few things that, if followed, will make your lives easier.

  1. Accept the fact you’ll be in line for a while. There’s nothing you can say/do that’s going to make the line move faster. Just accept it and your life will be easier.
  2. Wear easy to remove shoes. Granted, I do violate this one when I wear Chucks, which are a PITA to take off. But I do unlace them while I’m waiting.
  3. 3 ounce bottles in a zip top bag. It’s very easy. Yes, that means anything spreadable, sprayable and pourable. The number of times I see people having those items pulled from their suitcases is innumerable.
  4. Have your ID and ticket ready when you reach the front. Ready does not mean in the bottom of your purse.
  5. Above all else – do whatever the TSA agent tells you. Shoes, socks, patdown, bag search, whatever it is. Arguing is only going to delay your trip through TSA, or worse. I’ve witnessed my fair share of arguments, and never once did the passenger win.

[1] Really, after all, blogs are rather narcissistic. It’s more about me, isn’t it? ;-)
[2] Can I call myself a runner now?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Friday Five

The Excuse

I’m a bit disappointed this section has started to creep back in. But I just didn’t have a chance to finish this on Friday before my flight, and Karin and I went out right after I landed.

The Week

Ah, Manhattan.

Yes, this week found me in the city so nice they named it twice – New York, New York.

Usually when my travels take me out here I warn Karin that I’m going to want to move out here. New York has a special place in my heart; I love everything about it. The culture. The food. The atmosphere. Everything. And as this week comes to an end and I’m about to head to the airport, I can say this trip was no exception – I want to move to New York.

Before anyone begins panicking and thinking we’re leaving San Diego, we’re not. I couldn’t convince Karin to move to New York if I tried. And, honestly, I don’t know that I truly want to move out here. I think in the end moving to New York for me is probably one of those wishes that’s best left unfulfilled. I can see myself getting tired of the constant stimulation you get when walking outside after a couple years. The weather would probably drain me.

But still, I want to move to New York.

As is usual for my trips to New York, I was able to see friends and family. I was able to get together for dinner with Megan and David, old San Diego friends who returned to New York. My Aunt Mary also invited me to an opening at a museum celebrating the 150th anniversary of a Japanese delegation arriving in New York City.

It was a great week.

And yes, I want to move to New York.

The Restaurant Cocktail Lounge

Despite being in New York I really didn’t do a lot of fine dining. Oddly enough, the opportunity just didn’t present itself. But what did present itself was an opportunity to visit one of my favorite cocktail bars, The Pegu Club.

I don’t think I need to cover (yet again) my love of a good cocktail nor a good cocktail lounge. The Pegu Club is the picture of the latter, and they make the former flawlessly. You can walk past the entrance to the place without realizing it[1]; there is a very classy sign on the door and little else denoting the place’s location. The main seating area is all low tables and comfortable couches and chairs – the perfect place to relax with a good group of friends or cozy up with that certain someone. They do have a cocktail menu, but really – why? One of the signs of a good cocktail lounge is the ability to have a conversation with the bartender and ask him for what he’d recommend. After all, you’re at a good cocktail bar because you want a good cocktail made by a skilled mixologist. Let the man do his work.

IMG_8177 Regardless of the cocktail lounge my first drink is always a manhattan.[2] Not only do I love manhattans, it just gives me a good base to establish the level of cocktail I should expect. When it comes to the classic manhattan, this is the best I’ve ever had. First, the entire experience in crafting[3] the manhattan at the Pegu Club is something to behold. The bartender starts with an empty glass and adds to this (in order) bitters, 100 proof Rittenhouse rye whiskey, and sweet vermouth. He then takes three ice cubes, cracking each one in half[4], and adds them to the glass. Three more whole cubes are added before stirring vigorously. Now it’s time to turn his attention to the presentation, which involves a small bowl with crushed ice and a hole for a small carafe. Half of the drink is poured into a chilled cocktail glass, while the remainder is poured into the carafe. The garnish is, of course, cherries soaked in (I believe) brandy.

Believe it or not, there is a reason behind everything that’s done. First, the Rittenhouse 100 proof rye cuts through the vermouth and bitters more than a normal bourbon. I’ve mentioned before the reason that I like a manhattan rather than just a straight bourbon is the manhattan rounds off the edge of the bourbon. The rye leaves enough of a roughness to the drink that you know you’re enjoying something made with a whiskey, but not so much that it kills your palate. The ice cubes are cracked to encourage some melting. Cocktails such as a martini and manhattan should be about 20% water. The carafe for the “angel’s share”[5] is so you can enjoy the entire drink while it’s as cold as possible. If the remainder was left on ice the ice would melt and thus water down the drink.

The result – the best regular manhattan I’ve ever had.

The Travel Note

I generally don’t like bragging about the upgraded experience, but this week I was upgraded both to and from Newark, which is rare. The breakfast in first class on the flight out involved cinnamon roll french toast, and the flight back was a four course meal including shrimp cocktail and a sundae bar. That is a civilized way to fly.

The Five

Not feeling very creative this week, so I went back to the Friday Five site with the questions and found this:

  1. When is your usual bedtime?
    I usually crawl into bed around 10p, although I frequently watch a little TV or check Facebook before going to sleep.
  2. How many hours of sleep do you need?
    7-8 works just fine.
  3. Do you usually remember your dreams?
    It depends on the dreams. I often have rather lucid dreams that I do remember and frequently have a hard time deciding if it was real or not.
  4. How many pillows do you sleep with?
    At home just one; I love my pillow at home. In a hotel room I usually need two because they’re rarely firm enough for me.
  5. What is the wildest dream you’ve ever had?
    No comment.

[1] In fact, when Abram and I first visited the location we did exactly that.
[2] I’ve become so predictable that I had someone ordering for me within 3 days of meeting me.
[3] You’ve read the description. Yes, crafting is the right word.
[4] One of the signs of a great cocktail bar is large ice cubes. Large ice cubes melt slower and allow you to enjoy cocktails served on the rocks longer.
[5] I don’t know that it’s actually called the angel’s share, but it should be.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

I don’t know any other way to describe this week as compared to the last two other than “let down”. Major let down.

This week found me in Killeen, TX teaching at Fort Hood. About the only reason to come to Killeen is if you’re stationed at Fort Hood or related to someone who is. Otherwise, there’s really a bunch of nothing in the area. The heat here was rather familiar (although it wasn’t as humid as it was in New Orleans), but outside of that this week had nothing in common with last week.

I guess I can’t always have amazing weeks.

The Restaurant

This would have been the restaurant I’d have featured last week, but since I didn’t feature a restaurant I am stealing this one from last week.[1] When in New Orleans Susan and I treated ourselves to dinner at Commander’s Palace. Commander’s Palace is one of the older institutions in New Orleans, and one of its most famous restaurants. Upon hearing I was going to New Orleans I knew I had to go there; I was not disappointed.

The restaurant has a great old feel to it. It’s huge, which a great courtyard in the middle. Upon being seated the decision for dinner was obvious – Chef’s Playground, which is a 7 course tasting menu. The items served up ran the gamete from crab cakes with caviar, to foie gras, to soft shell crab. The wine pairings were also both perfect and adventurous, including a sherry for one of the middle courses. Nearly everything was a homerun, with a couple items being doubles instead. The service was flawless and almost a little too efficient. This is one place that lives up to it’s reputation.

The Travel Note

IMG_0504Notice the image on the right? Is there any wonder I have a god complex at times?

The Five

We’re going to see if I can come up with 5 odd things about me.

  1. I can’t do cooked salmon. I don’t know what it is about it, but it makes me nauseous. However, I love raw salmon.
  2. I think most people know this about me already, but I came *this* close to going to college to become a pilot rather than an IT geek. I think I made the right decision.
  3. Despite the fact that I spend quite a bit of time in front of a computer if I’m going to read a book it needs to be a real book.
  4. As much as I try, I just can’t get into the NBA.
  5. I’ll take a 20 minute nap over a 2 hour nap every time.

[1] It’s not as if there was a lot of fine cuisine to be had in Killeen, TX.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

As I mentioned during my last Friday Five, I was going to be late - and as promised I am late. Very late as it turned out. But I have a great reason.

IMG_0496 Two weeks ago was an absolute blur. It started off on Sunday with the LSU Alumni Crawfish Boil. If you’ve never been there, basically what happens is there’s many tables of 8, and each table gets 50 pounds of crawfish. You spend the entire day pinching tails and sucking heads, and washing the crawfish down with beer. It’s a great way to spend a day.

However, that paled in comparison to what followed – the IT Grand Prix. The IT Grand Prix was an Amazing Race-style event sponsored by Microsoft Learning (MSL). 4 teams of two competed in both online challenges to raise MSL exposure and ground challenges where we worked with different nonprofits to assist them in their IT needs. I was invited to participate by my good friend Susan and was thrilled that I accepted the invitation.

DSCN4133 The first day found us in DC, where we worked with two great organizations – Byte Back and Back on My Feet. Byte Back is a community training center, offering computer training to underprivileged people in the Washington, DC area. Back on My Feet is an nonprofit that works with homeless in DC, offering job skills training – the training comes at a cost, however. In order to qualify for the training, the members must maintain 90% attendance over the last 90 days at the thrice weekly morning runs. The reason Back on My Feet does this is to have the participants show commitment to the program and to their own lives, as well as help rebuild their self-esteem. Our task while there was to teach a group from Back on My Feet (at the Byte Back location) basic search engine skills.

Day two sent us to Brooklyn[1], where we were introduced to the fine people at NPower. NPower’s main goal is to work with nonprofits to hook them up with technical volunteers to assist in their IT needs. This particular location also performs another great service by offering training to underprivileged young adults in the New York city area. Our task while there was to act as mentors to invited alumni of past classes. It started with an “experts panel”[2] followed by small group breakdowns where we were able to share our own areas of expertise with about 8 students at a time.

Our third day of the competition sent us to Houston to work with the Audubon Society. We were sent there to help them with their IT needs, as their IT staff consisted of two part time volunteers who were rather overwhelmed. While not as rewarding as our first two days, it was still great to be able to help an organization in need of assistance.

IMG_3706 Our last day was spent in New Orleans. This day was spent recording a video for one of the nonprofits we’d worked with earlier in the competition (Susan and I chose NPower). Then it became a real amazing race style challenge that sent us all through New Orleans finding different landmarks.

IMG_3710 Eddie Izzard may say that San Francisco is a “no taxi city”, but I’m here to tell you that New Orleans (at least during the day) is a “no taxi city”. This meant a lot of running with backpacks and in the middle of the day for me and Susan. While the shot on the right does justice to how tired we were[3], it doesn’t do justice to how soaked in sweat I was. With a little help from another team, we were able to polish off the first few clues very easily, but were unable to figure out the last one in a timely fashion so we finished in third.

In all, the “ground challenges” that I listed above were rewarding for us and helpful for the nonprofits, but we just got beat up the entire week, finishing no higher than third save for one second place finish. But there were online challenges as well that Susan and I spent quite a bit of time focusing in on. The online team that we built and the efforts we put into rallying our great troops won us first place! Yes, that’s right – we won the first ever IT Grand Prix. Our reward[4] was the opportunity to award $10,000 to our chosen charity, which as I mentioned before was International Development Enterprises (IDE).

IMG_7943 My crazy two week period didn’t stop there, however. Because of this race I missed the 15th anniversary of Karin making me the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Considering the fact that her birthday was that Saturday I knew I needed to make it back for that. I flew out Saturday morning from New Orleans for her birthday festivities. We celebrated in grand fashion at Baja Betty’s. A great PG-13 rated time was had by all.[5]

IMG_8016Now, if you thought my crazy two weeks over was done at this point, well, you’d be wrong. What better way to spend the morning after Karin’s birthday party than running the San Diego Rock n Roll Half Marathon. Yes – the old, fat, out of shape man from 6 months ago ran 13.1 miles without being chased the entire way.[6] I was figuring a time of 2:45. I was hoping for a time of 2:30. I was secretly wishing for a time of 2:15. My time? 2:10:49!

IMG_8038Please indulge me for a couple of seconds here while I thank Karin, Jumbo and Susan. In their own unique[7] ways they both helped me in ways I can’t even begin to explain. I can honestly say if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have finished. Karin was the solid rock that I needed the entire time. Jumbo was the pain in the ass that kept me motivated. Susan was my virtual running partner during my training. Thank you to all of you – I love you all more than I can express.

IMG_0547 While a mere mortal would call it good at this point and sleep for the next week, there’s no rest for the wicked. After finishing the half marathon[8] I boarded a plane back to New Orleans for TechEd. Upon my midnight arrival in New Orleans I was greeted by friends who led me to the party to celebrate both the IT Grand Prix and my half marathon – a party that included gold medal winning bobsledder Steven Holcomb.

IMG_0535I’ve mentioned many times that while I don’t believe in past lives, I’d be convinced I’m originally from New Orleans if I did. My body isn’t necessarily built for the heat, but I’m certainly  built for the culture and the cuisine. Dinner at Commander’s Palace. Bananas Foster. Gumbo. Great cocktails at Cure. Oh, and somewhere in there I delivered three presentations at TechEd.

Yes, it’s been a crazy two weeks. Regular reader[s] know that at this point I’ll highlight a travel note, a restaurant, and list off 5 odd items about myself. This week I’m going to take pity on you and my fingers and call it good at this point. If you made it to the end of this I am both impressed and appreciative.

[1] Don’t worry, there were no references to a Beastie Boys song during the trip.
[2] I don’t know how they put me on the panel either.
[3] I forgot to mention the fact we also ran 3 miles in the morning.
[4] That’s not to mention the bragging rights
[5] Big props to Richard for taking most of the shots during the party, including the one pictured here.
[6] Best sign held up by a fan during the race – “Run like Tiger’s wife was chasing you.”
[7] Dysfunctional?
[8] Did I mention I finished in 2:10:49?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

Look at me getting a Friday Five done on time. Miracles never cease.

In any event, as I teased last week this past weekend was a big one – my baby brother graduated from law school. That sentence is both very natural and very strange to me. (Warning – you’re going to have to indulge me for a paragraph.)

IMG_7469 It’s strange only because it doesn’t seem that long ago that he was graduating high school. It’s natural because Abram’s always been the smart kid in the family, probably the smartest person I know. He took a circuitous route through his undergrad, but has been focused ever since, taking the year off he needed, attending one year in San Diego and transferring to American. While there he did basically everything he wanted to. He’s wanted to be a lawyer/politician since I can remember (well, outside of a phase where he wanted to be a robot), and now he’s one step closer. I couldn’t be prouder of him. (Pics here if you’re interested.)

Abram – Congratulations.

(Indulgence over)

Unfortunately, because of the nature of my job and life, I had to fly out literally right after his ceremony to San Jose. About the only good part there is I know the way.[1] This week I was able to have dinner with some good friends while up here, which is preferable to not having human contact outside of the classroom. Of course the downside to visiting San Jose is, as always, the fact that it’s San Jose.

A small editor’s note here – there’s about a 90% chance I will not be able to put together a Friday Five next Friday.

The Travel Note

Finally had a chance to ride the Acela from NYC to DC this past Friday. It’s a nice ride, and allegedly has free wifi. The reason I say allegedly is because it was only up about 50% of the time – and even that’s being generous.

The Restaurant

This I’m highlighting a place that isn’t a restaurant – Iowa Meat Farms. They are a butcher in the classic sense of the word. The quality of meat they sell tops most anything you’ll find in any restaurant. They don’t sell anything outside of choice and prime cuts of meat, and they offer dry aged steaks as well. Dinner is as easy as stopping here, finding a couple good steaks and heading home and grilling…

The Five

Because I wasn’t feeling imaginative, I went to The Friday Five again to find questions to inspire me. This week was about grilling:

  1. What side dish do you like the most?
    Very easy – my father’s macaroni salad. He may add crack to it, I’m not sure, but it’s unlike any that I’ve had anywhere else.
  2. Do you prefer charcoal or gas?
    I prefer the taste of charcoal, but gas wins simply because of the ease of cleanup.
  3. Do you want just one meat item or a mixture?
    Depends, but if I’m grilling at my house it has to be a steak from Iowa Meats. Preferably a prime aged rib eye.
  4. Do you want to eat outside or inside?
    As much as I enjoy eating outside, we don’t have the yard to do it in.
  5. Does it bother you to have citronella candles burning?
    Citronella candles? We live in San Diego. We don’t have mosquitoes.

[1] Again, Brenda – You’re welcome.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Friday Five

The Excuse

For reasons I’ll mention next week, I absolutely did not have a chance to post this weekend. As for Friday, once I was done with my class I met up with my aunt and brother which killed any chance of me pecking out a Friday Five.

The Week

People always ask if I enjoy travel. Generally I enjoy it, although it’s hard when I’m sent to tiny towns in the middle of nowhere or to San Jose. This week I found myself in the city so nice they named it twice – New York, New York. In case you haven’t been paying attention, New York is my favorite city on the planet, with the exception of Las Vegas (maybe).

New York affords me the opportunity to visit with family and friends – and this week was no exception. Monday I was able to visit my aunt dinner at a great Indian restaurant), and Tuesday saw me with my good friend Megan (sushi and barhopping).

IMG_0472 The highlight of the week was Thursday, when I was able to do dinner with Abram at Lombardi’s, and then meet up with Jumbo for drinks later than night. It was great to be able to catch up with them both, who both happened to be in the same city on the same day.[1]

Every time I visit Manhattan I hear a strong calling to move there. I love basically everything about the city and if given the chance would move there in a second.[2]

The Travel Note

All cities should follow New York’s lead and force their cabs to accept credit cards. I rarely carry cash, and it’s nice to be able to just pay with a card – especially when it’s a business trip.

The Restaurant

This is yet another “I can’t believe I haven’t highlighted this place” entry. I am generally a fan of classics and originals; oftentimes the first version to really catch on is the best. It’s true with movies, it’s true with cocktails, and it’s true with food.

Lombardi’s is the first pizza joint in the US, and by far the best. Coal fired, tasty sauce, and best as the classic cheese with a little basil. Just out of this world. After eating here I really can't do pizza for another couple months because everything else just pales in comparison.

The Five

I’ve been many places in the US, but there are still a few I’ve yet to visit and would like to. Here’s a list of 5 US locations I’ve never set foot in.

  1. Miami, FL - This is just because of the show Dexter. I’ve seen enough shots of the city that I’d like to visit on my own.
  2. Hawaii – Hard to believe I’ve never been over there, but it’s true. But on the other hand, when you live in San Diego with its perfect weather why travel 6 hours on a plane to visit a similar location?
  3. Nashville, TN – After visiting Memphis, I decided I’d like to check out the other Tennessee city as well (even after the flooding).
  4. New Orleans, LA – With my love of Cajun/Creole food, it’s a crime I’ve never been to New Orleans before.[3]
  5. The Bourbon Trail, KY – The only thing I’d need is a designated driver.

[1] That wasn’t entirely a coincidence as you’ll see next week.
[2] Or should I say a New York minute?
[3] Astute readers of this blog will note I did stop in MSY (the New Orleans airport) on a flight home one week. I don’t count the city (or state) unless I leave the airport.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

International Development Enterprises

Life is finally slowing down to a point that I can start getting caught up on things like blogging. I haven’t forgotten about my monthly charity post – I just haven’t had a chance to post it.

And now that life is settling down there’s only one thing to do – sign up for more!

This summer I’ll be participating in an Amazing Race style of event for Microsoft called the IT Grand Prix. Four teams of two people will race from DC to NYC to Houston to New Orleans. Along the way our challenges will involve stopping at different non-profits and solving some IT issue they’re having. The winning team gets to donate $10,000 to a charity of their choice. I volunteered to race with Susan, a fellow MCT and good friend of mine. And we’ve chosen the International Development Enterprises (IDE) as our charity.

While IDE may not have the flashiest name, they do great work. Their goal is income and job creation in impoverished rural areas. One thing that really drew me to this charity is their focus isn’t on handouts but rather on teaching people skills to improve production and their way of life. They work in 11 different countries and have touched the lives of over 19 million people.

If you’re interested in IDE, you can find out more here. And if you’re interested in finding out more about the IT Grand Prix, you can do that here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

Well, my life is nothing if not consistent. Because I haven’t spent enough time in San Jose, I found myself back here again. It’s a good thing I still know the way.[1]

While there are many people I know up here, this was just not the week for hooking up apparently. One friend was out of town, I was busy a couple nights, and the other friends here weren’t available. I’m sure I’ll be back again soon, though.

The Travel Note

It seems every airport has a looping video just outside the TSA checkpoint explaining the basics for those people who have been living under a rock and still don’t know the rules. They seem to fit the city they’re played in. The San Diego one is very fun, including people from LegoLand and the Padres Friar. The one in Vegas has Carrot Top and the Blue Man Group. The one in San Jose is very dry, very professional and very to the point. No laughter, no fun.

The Restaurant

I realized I’ve yet to highlight the Strip Club in this spot. The Strip Club is a steak place with a racy name and theme. But what makes it unique is the fact you grill your own steaks here. Yup – you order the NY strip (their specialty, of course) and it’s delivered to you raw, wrapped in saranwrap. You then take it up to one of the community grills and away you go. It’s a very social experience, and a guarantee you’ll get your steak the way you want it (and it’s your own damn fault if you don’t). Their sides are also great, including possibly the best onion rings in town.

The Five

I was asked a question earlier today by someone who knows me very well, the answer to which I thought everyone knew. So I guess it’s time for another set of travel notes for my five.

  1. Yes, I do sometimes forget what town I’m in. I find this happens most commonly in the morning[2], or when I’m trying to plan out my dinner. Trying to remember what restaurants are in what city and where becomes a bit of an adventure.
  2. On more than one occasion I’ve tried to drive away in the wrong car. Considering I’m in a different car each week, it becomes a challenge trying to remember what one I’m in.
  3. I have gone to the wrong room on more than a handful of occasions. It’s impossible to go to the front desk and ask, “What room am I in?” and not be sheepish.
  4. Yeah, I get tired of going to the same towns over and over again. Unfortunately I don’t have that much control over it. If there’s a class in a city that has my name on it, I have to go.
  5. Fittingly, I’d love to learn to fly some day. Now if only I’d be home enough to make it happen.

[1] You’re welcome, Brenda.
[2] Although Karin will attest I don’t know much of anything first thing in the morning.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

Strange things this week. Not only did I go somewhere new, I didn’t board a plane to get there. This week I got to visit Apple Valley.

That’s Apple Valley, CA for all of my Minnesota readers. And trust me – there’s a lot less green and a lot more sand in the Apple Valley in California, although no less apple logos everywhere. Small desert towns are certainly not known for excitement, and this place was no exception. Although there was an Oggi’s out there, which at least gave me a small taste of home.

The Travel Note

As I mentioned above I didn’t have to board a plane, instead driving up there. My nearly 4 year old Miata now has 16,000 miles on it. You read that correctly.

The only issue I ran into was driving through the Los Angeles area and dealing with traffic. Fighting traffic while driving stick makes for a sore thigh.

The Restaurant

Not really a high class place, but Oggi’s is one of my favorites. It’s a San Diego born chain that’s expanded quite a bit over the last few years, boasting over 17 locations. They do very good (if not great) microbrew beer, and their pizza is nothing to sneeze at. On top of that, they feature a great collection of salads[1], which is a nice change of pace. The one in Apple Valley was new, had their usual selection of beers (although they did have a couple of yellow fizz taps, which disappointed me), and a very friendly barstaff. Don’t know that I want to go back to Apple Valley any time soon, but if I do I know where I’m going.

The Five

Didn’t have much in the way of ideas, so I’m going to The Friday Five for questions this week.

  1. What is your favorite book and why?
    High Fidelity, without question. It’s dating from a guy’s perspective. It’s absolutely spot on – Rob (the protagonist) is everyman.
  2. How many languages do you speak?
    3 fluently – English, C# and SQL
  3. How many family members are named Bill, Jim, etc?
    None, really. In our family it was always your full given name – Christopher, not Chris.
  4. What’s your all time favorite song?
    A Letter to Elise by The Cure
  5. What can’t you image your life without?
    Karin. Yes, it’s sappy. But it’s true.

[1] Yes, I highlighted salads. I’m trying to eat healthy. It’s working.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Friday Five

The Excuse

Ok. It’s been quite a while since I've been this late on posting my blog. Unfortunately, life just got away from me the last couple days. As you’ll read below, I flew home on Thursday night and the weekend was an absolute blur. Next thing I knew, it was Tuesday and I still hadn’t posted a five. So let’s fix that.

The Week

Houston.

Yup.

Houston.

Again.

Trust me – I’m as tired of going there as you are of reading the fact that I’m going there. Well, I hope you’re not tired of reading about it. But I’m certainly getting tired of going there. I did manage to actually do dinner with a friend out there who, coincidentally[1], was also in Houston for business that week. But beyond that it was a week of work, run, eat, sleep.

The one bonus was being able to fly home on Thursday night. Short work week also means more time at home. This gave me the opportunity to spend time with Jumbo on Friday. In an effort to get out and do things I’ve never done before we went rock climbing. Frankly – it left me just more frustrated than anything else. I’d like to try it again, but on the whole I found it just annoying.

IMG_3652That night I got a chance my first Padres game of the year that night Karin and Donna. (Special thanks to Donna for scoring sweet seats.) We intended to take advantage of the beer festival before the game, but as you can see we weren’t the only ones with that idea. After fighting our way through the crowds and seeing the lines to get beer we abandoned that plan and just went to the bar to pregame. The game itself went the Padres way, 3-0.

The Travel Note

I really wish every hotel offered guest laundry. There have been many occasions I just needed to wash a couple of items and just can’t bring myself to pay $5/item.

The Restaurant

This is another “I can’t believe I haven’t highlighted this place yet” restaurant – Gulf Coast Grill. This is one of our standby restaurants – when we can’t figure out where else to go, we head here. Their food is terrific – a good hearty creole/cajun. They do their core dishes very well – their jambalaya is the stuff of legends, and catfish crawl here just to be deep fried and covered in their mustard tarter sauce. It’s also a hidden secret on weekends for breakfast; unlike almost everywhere else in North Park, there’s never a wait for brunch here.

The Five

As Karin and I were enjoying dinner at Urban Solace on Thursday night, it dawned on me it’s blatantly obvious I’ve worked food service in the past. Here are my top 5 signs you’ve worked food service in the past.

  1. When you walk behind a waiter/busser you say “behind”. It’s just drilled into your head to always let someone know when you’re in their blind spot, and I do it without even realizing I’m doing it.
  2. You start your tip range at 20% and move up/down from there.
  3. You know what software a restaurant is using on their kiosks.
  4. You have a towel on your shoulder while cooking. Karin is convinced this is because I’ve worked in a kitchen before. I really just want it in the drawstring of my apron, but I refuse to wear an apron at home.
  5. You use the phrase “86” rather than “no”. Eg: “86 the blue cheese” when ordering a salad.

[1] Not ironically

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

Unbelievably, I found myself in Syracuse, NY this week. Trust me – nobody is more confused than I am. I guess the one advantage to being on the road is being able to see new places, but really – who wakes up and thinks, “Gosh – I really want to go to Syracuse, NY today.” Needless to say, it was just a work/run/sleep kind of week. And, as luck would have it, the one friend I do have out here was out in Seattle. C’est la guerre.

The Travel Note

I will say one thing for small airports – I was off the plane and in my car driving away in under 15 minutes.

The Restaurant

Upon finding out I was heading on a trip to Syracuse for business, I contacted my friend who's a local and knows good food for restaurant recommendations. His reply was, "This is why [my wife] and I are such good cooks." He then went on to say that many people would suggest Dinosaur but he wouldn't. In my short time here he was proven right on both counts - many people would point me in Dinosaur's direction, and now that I've been there I wouldn't recommend it.

The place has a great vibe - old wood everywhere, very lively and packed nuts-to-butts. I was able to score a spot at the bar only because two people were leaving when I arrived. The bartender who helped me out was very friendly and amazingly efficient considering the crowd that was there.

The beer selection is rock solid (which is why they got their second star). The Syracuse Pale, which I had, is a pretty standard pale ale - not overly hoppy, but still tasty. With 22 taps I'm sure you could find something there.
On to the food. I did the ribs/brisket combo with sides of slaw and macaroni&cheese (which the bartender recommended). The mac&cheese was very good, with (I believe) jalapeños. The rest just wasn't that good. The slaw was dry. The ribs came out room temperature and didn't have that much flavor. The brisket was fine, but brisket (as far as I'm concerned) is just a carrier for BBQ sauce. Their BBQ sauce was just bad. I don't know that I can describe it, but the flavor just wasn't right.

I'm glad I went as it seems like the "must visit" place in Syracuse. But I certainly won't be heading back.

The Five

When you start to visit various cities and parts of the country, you start to run into strange rules and laws – mostly involving alcohol. Here’s a list of 5 rules I’ve found rather odd.

  1. In Oklahoma beer over 3.2% ABV cannot be sold in liquor stores cold. On top of that, while you can buy 3.2 beer in grocery stores it must be placed in a bag before leaving.
  2. In Benton County, Arkansas you can’t purchase alcohol of any variety in a store. However, you can enjoy it at a “private club”, a requirement than can be met by any bar or restaurant by having a sign-in sheet at the front door.
  3. In order to play poker at Turning Stone you have to “join the club”, which means paying $2/day to become a member.
  4. In the Houston, TX airport on Sundays, you can’t get an alcoholic beverage before noon. However, between 11a and noon you can have a drink as long as you have food in front of you.
  5. Nevada state law prohibits any municipality from making a criminal offense of public intoxication. This explains Vegas.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

<voice style=”Larry King”>Houston, Hello.</voice>

Yeah, back in Houston, again... But visiting here in April isn’t that big of a problem weather wise at least. No snow, and it’s not 90 degrees and humid. And on the plus side I managed to get in dinner with a friend. But, still, it’s Houston.

The Travel Note

As luck would have it, Drew Brees was on my flight – 2 seats away from me actually (I was in 2F, he was in 1B). Turns out he drinks cranberry & vodka, and is willing to sign every autograph and take every picture.

And, no, I didn’t ask for an autograph or even say anything to him. As far as I’m concerned, he’s just trying to live his life, trying to fly home. He doesn’t need me bugging him (much in the same way I don’t like being bothered with computer questions by random strangers). I do appreciate the fact that he’s friendly enough to put up with it. I will add, though, that I thought the flight attendants asking for pictures was rather unprofessional on their part.

The Restaurant

Ever since we've moved to San Diego, we've had many people tell us we need to do dinner at Busalacchi's. According to rumor, it was a favorite Tommy Lasorda who used to visit every trip to San Diego. But despite living in San Diego for 11 years now we'd never made the trip, similar to how you never take advantage of the museums and other tourist attractions in the town you live in. When we heard they were closing to move to a new location, we finally decided to give the place a visit.

The first thing that indicated to me it was going to be closing soon was that we were able to call on Wednesday and get a reservation for Friday - and call on Friday and push that reservation back 30 minutes without a problem. Upon arriving at the restaurant we saw why it was so easy - the place was empty, like tumbleweeds rolling through the restaurant empty (although I suppose that should be tumbleweeds made out of dried spaghetti to fit the location...) We sat outside on the patio, where there was one other couple who left about 20 minutes after we arrived giving us the patio to ourselves.
We started out with drinks - my usual manhattan (which was very good) and a white wine for the lady. We were informed of the specials, and settled on a lobster crepe with a cream sauce. Despite the cream sauce it was still remarkably light and very tasty.

For dinner I went with the lamb chop special, which was just dynamite. The veggies it was served with were cooked well - a nice al dente. My wife had a seafood pasta dish with scallops and shrimp. She enjoyed it, but thought the shrimp and scallops were a bit overcooked (although she is picky about that).

I was fine going without dessert, but when the dessert tray arrived my wife had to have their apple tart. This was the first time the experience fell flat on its face. Dessert was *terrible*! How do you screw up dessert? It's by far the easiest thing. The dessert tasted like it had been microwaved - the crust had no flakiness, no crisp - it was just terrible.

The service was very attentive, with just one faux pas at the end - the waiter gave us our check before we were actually done eating. Beyond that, he was very friendly and took great care of us.

It will be sad to see this place close down. If you haven't been here already, I'd definitely recommend a visit. But skip the dessert.

The Five

As I mentioned above, Karin and I really don’t take advantage of the city we live in, which is really pretty typical for most people I believe. Here are five things we either need to do or need to do more often.

  1. Visit the beach. It’s less than 10 miles away, yet we make it there about once a year (tops).
  2. Do more on the water. Sort of related going to be the beach, but different. I think I’ve been out on the water about twice in our 11 years.
  3. Spend a day in Balboa Park. There’s There ARE many, many museums and sites there that we’ve never visited.
  4. Roam the shops in La Jolla. Not that we could afford anything there, but it’s a great way to spend a day.
  5. Hike up one of the mountains. Not once have I done that.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Friday Five

The Week

Take a guess as to where I was this week. Go ahead – guess. I’ll give you a minute.

If you said “Houston”, I’d say move to the head of the class, except of course for the fact that the question was way too easy. If you said “San Jose” or “Tampa”, I’ll give you 2 points for a good guess. If you said “San Diego”, well, then, you must be new here.

This was a rather stressful week for me as not only did I have to teach, but I also was delivering a keynote for the MCT Virtual Summit on Wednesday night. Actually that’s not completely true – the session started at midnight on Wednesday, so it was technically Thursday morning. But despite all of that, both the keynote and the class went off near flawlessly. In all the week went as well as it possibly could have – although I was dragging for about 3 days in the middle there.

The Restaurant

My favorite sushi joint in Houston closed since my last visit. Brokenhearted, I’ve begun the search for a new location, and I may have already found it.

I’ve long believed that there’s an inverse relationship between the “coolness” factor of a sushi restaurant and the quality of the sushi they serve. When you’re spending that much money on being hip, something has to suffer and it’s usually the food. Besides, people there are more interested in being seen than actually enjoying a good meal.

Sasaki further proves this point. Sasaki is a tiny, unassuming restaurant in a strip mall. There’s maybe about 15 tables, and about 10 seats at the sushi bar.

I was warmly greet upon walking in, and settled in at the sushi bar. I went for my standard Kirin and asked for “chef’s choice sashimi plate”. (For those of you who’ve never done sushi, the best way to get the freshest fish and expand your horizons is to let the chef lead the way.) The chef, who was very friendly, put together a plate with tuna, salmon, some form of a bass(?) and snail.

Yes, snail.

As I said above, when you trust a sushi chef you never know what you’re going to get. I’ve had snail before in the form of escargot, and while I liked it I could never get my mind over the fact I was eating snails. But, the chef served it up, and I’m going to eat it.

And I’m glad I did. It had a very delicate flavor. I don’t know that I could truly explain it, but it was real nice. As for the rest of the fish – outstanding.

I may have found my new spot for sushi in Houston.

The Travel Note

I finally saw Up in the Air. The movie itself left me rather flat (it really didn’t go anywhere), but it did a decent job of showing the life of the road warrior. In particular, George Clooney’s suitcase – you’ll notice he was very careful about where he put everything. I’m the exact same way. With my eyes closed I can tell you where everything belongs in my suitcase.

The Five

There are perks to being on the road as much as I am. Below are the five best things about travel.

  1. Upgrades – in particular on airplanes. Yes, the decent food is nice. And the free alcohol is great. But really it’s all about the seat – greater comfort and more room.
  2. Visiting cities I wouldn’t have otherwise. I never would have chosen to go to Boise; it’s now one of my favorite towns to visit.
  3. Seeing friends in other cities. I’ve been able to get out to DC to see Abram many times, Memphis to see old college friends, and many others.
  4. Free travel. I’ve been able to use points to get many free tickets. I was also able to purchase two roundtrip tickets to Australia for just over $700 total.
  5. Being able to shortcut lines. In particular the security line. Can easily cut 30 minutes off the time it takes to get to the gate.