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?