December 29, 2007

Excellent essay on Airport Security

I guess we all need to send this to our congressmen:

The Airport Security Follies - Jet Lagged - Air Travel - Opinion - New York Times Blog

Coyote

This morning we were walking Blaze a little later than usual – it was close to 7:00 AM, and was starting to get light.

We walk Blaze every day – rain, shine, or cold. This morning was chilly (about 45º according to the Mighty Weather Station) and cloudy. We were walking briskly on our standard walk when we saw what looked like a loose dog.

When we walk, we each have our particular chores. Mine is to hold the dog. Doreen’s is to guard us from stray dogs, or even dogs on leashes with inattentive owners. So when we saw this “dog” off leash, she started walking toward it.

As we got a bit closer, it was apparent that this was not a dog – it was a coyote! So I have Blaze to Doreen and starting toward the coyote. I raised my arms and my voice. It took a gander at me and started trotting away down the street.

It was a good looking animal, about the size of a small German Sheppard, gray to brown (not the black and tan typical of dogs) with long legs and a thick mane around its shoulders.

We know that there are dogs in the city, but we have never before seen one in the ‘hood.

December 28, 2007

Interview with Bill Haast - the snake guy

I read everything he wrote when I was about 12 years old:

Bite Me | Outside Online

And I know a guy (who works for ExxonMobil) who knows him.

Brush with greatness!

A few more photos

We cooked up our traditional Goose Gumbo last night. You can see some photos of it here.

December 25, 2007

Christmas and Birthday Feast

I will write more about it later, but for now you can see photos of our celebration here.

Merry Christmas to all!

December 24, 2007

Houston Chronicle editorial about Hermann Park

Following is a Houston Chronicle editorial about Hermann Park. My wife is the Executive Director of the Hermann Park Conservancy mentioned:

On the right track:Phase 2 of Hermann Park revival follows the huge success of Phase 1 Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

They are doing a great job!

Here's to more parks!

December 23, 2007

December 22, 2007

Brave Combo

We took the night off and went to see Brave Combo at the Warehouse Live this evening.

It started at 8:30 and they played until 11:30, so that was good value for our $14. We also dance, and danced, and danced as if nobody was looking. It was great fun.

It was a funny crowd – not very diverse. I would say that we were representative of 80% of the audience – white and middle aged. There was a smattering of others (two black guys, a couple Hispanics, and plenty of gays and lesbians) and most people danced. One poor guy sat on a sofa the whole time, not even tapping his toes. What was that all about?

They did a lot of their Christmas music, and of course they did the Hokey Pokey and the Chicken Dance.

And what could be better than that?

A Math Limerick

(12 + 144 + 20 + 3 x sqrt(4)) ÷ 7 + 5 x 11 = 9² + 0

…which reads…

A dozen, a gross, and a score
Plus three times the square root of four
Divided by seven
Plus five times eleven
Equals nine squared and not a bit more

December 20, 2007

Mind Body Control

This will boggle your mind and you will keep trying over and over again to see if you can outsmart your foot, but, you can't! It's preprogrammed in your brain!

Here goes.......


1. WITHOUT anyone watching you, as they will think you are GOOFY.....while sitting where you are, at your desk in front of your computer, lift your right foot off the floor and make clockwise circles.



2. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand.



Your foot will change direction.



I told you so, and there's nothing you can do about it! You and I both know how stupid it is, but before the day is done you are going to try it again, if you've not already done so. So send it to your buddies to frustrate them too!

December 19, 2007

December 11, 2007

Peace Prize Concert and Reception with Al

I was fortunate to attend a reception for Al Gore and the International intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IIPCC – represented by Rajendra Pachuari) as the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize this year. Following the reception, I attended the annual Peace Prize Concert, hosted by Kevin Spacey and Uma Thurman.

The reception was fun and interesting. It was hosted by Hydro, the big Norwegian Aluminum producer. (The CEO of PGS is on the Board of Directors of Hydro, hence our attendance). They had also commissioned a piece of art made from discarded and recycled aluminum pieces. It was cut and constructed to look like a house of cards. The artist was Magne Furuholmen, who is evidently a big pop star here in a band called a-ha. I chatted with him afterwards, and asked if he had a card with his name on it. He must have thought I was crazy, as all these Norwegians were crowding around to talk to him. Oh well. My pop quotient of Norwegian rock stars has gone up by two (one more later)



Al and Pachi gave nice little speeches about how it is good that Hydro is starting to try and fix their energy consumption problem. But Aluminum production takes a lot of energy.

We had some nice Norwegian (read that fish) treats, from Salmon to Cod Fritters at the reception. Quite nice.

Then we took a bus to the Peace Prize Concert. It is held at the Oslo Spektrum Arena, and is televised locally. The arena holds 10,000 and it was full.

Kevin and Uma started out with some jokes and introductions. She is certainly tall! A good 6” taller than Kevin. She was wearing some sort of a fancy gray gown. It was probably by some famous designer.

The concert started with Kylie Minogue. I can not name any of her songs, but she is a good looking Australian girl who can really belt them out. She hops around on stage seductively. We were not close enough to be seduced, and the camera never focused on the seducing parts. So we listened to the songs, which were nice.

Then was another a-ha singer – Morton Harket (I can’t find a website or even a Wikipedia entry. Poor Morton!). He was OK. He had a boy’s choir traipse out on stage. Been there…

Then we had Melissa Etheridge. She won an Oscar for the them song (I think it is called What About Tomorrow) from An Inconvenient Truth. She really rocked out the place. But it was not without irony – she had dry ice form a fog on stage when she started playing. Dry Ice, isn’t that, uh, CO2?

Then Juanes played a couple of songs. He is a Colombian who only sings in Spanish. Good stuff.

The first half ended with Alicia Keys. I tell you what!

I was thinking about Alica Keys,

I couldn’t keep from cryin’

But she was born in Hell’s Kitchen

And I was livin’ down the line!

Can she ever sing! She can play the piano kneeling on the piano stool! She can dance seductively, too! What fun!

Then we had an intermission.

When we returned, we had Earth Wind & Fire. (yes, you read that right) They rocked the house, too. They jump and dance, and sing, and even got the whole arena up! (they had to say, “everyone get up!” and the dutiful Norwegians did. They all looked like Garrison Keillor trying to rock out. Except for the women, who looked like blond valkyries rocking out. They were a lot better at it than the Garrison Keillors)

Then we had an Irish Folk Rock Queen named KT Tunstall. I think that I have seen her on the Irish Music (Whistle and Shamrocks? Something like that) show that follows A Prairie Home Companion. She was fun, but didn’t dance seductively enough. She was very short.

After that we were treated to a Pakistani Rock and Roll band called Junoon. It means something like Chaos and Destruction. I am not sure. Fun to listen to, though.

The concert ended with Annie Lennox. Sweet dreams are made of these.

December 10, 2007

Oslo

I am about to get on an airplane to Newark. A couple hours after I land, I will beheading to Oslo on another.

While in Oslo, I will be attending the Nobel Peace Prize Concert. Look for me on your TV.

I can’t wait to see Earth, Wind, and Fire.

No, really…

December 8, 2007

Sales

The first fellow quoted in this article - Carl Herman, used to work at Landmark when I was there:

A sales career is often a hard sell | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

Sales is hard. It is not for the faint of heart.

December 6, 2007

This is enraging

Add this to the list of things that the Bush administration has done to make us embarrassed to be Americans:

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

December 1, 2007

Thank Goodness for Quicklime!

Last Sunday Evening I let Blaze out into the yard to hang around outside, as she is wont to do. I walked to the back yard to do some chore, and Doreen called to me from our sun room to ask if Blaze was outside, as she heard a big ruckus from under the house. Remember our house is pier and beam.

SO I called to Blaze and she didn’t come. I called some more, and she still didn’t come. I called a third time and heard some feint barking from way under the house. Doreen then came to the back yard to see what was going on.

Some of you may recall an earlier story where Blaze spent some time under the house to no good effect. This is a similar story.

So Doreen crawled again under the house. (Note to all: Doreen is much smaller than I am and fits under the house much better. As a matter of fact we now call the area under the house “Doreen’s Domain”. So you shouldn’t fuss at me. We all have our particular chores. Mine involve high things, and hers involve low things) There she finally found Blaze, covered in dust, chomping on something under the house. She was able to get her out (by gentle persuasion) and when I saw her (Blaze, not Doreen) I was not sure that she was even our dog! She was completely gray, with a spot of blood on her snoot.

We had to give her a bath in our shower that evening and waited for the inevitable decay to commence.

By Thursday we could not spend any time downstairs because of the smell of death. So today Doreen had to reenter her Domain with a shovel, a rake, and a bag of quicklime. I won’t go into any more details, but needless to say she got the job done. And now, this afternoon, the scent is slowly dissipating.

All I can say is Thank Goodness for Quicklime!

November 27, 2007

Good site to see what sort of traveller you are

This was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal today, so it may be a bit slow for a couple of days.

It is interesting, though, and worth the five minutes it takes:

Best Trip Choices | Home

November 26, 2007

John Browne on Energy

While the following contains no astounding insights, it is interesting to see what someone of Lord Browne's stature has to say about energy, carbon, global warming, and the economy:

John Browne on the Future of Energy

November 14, 2007

Hong Kong on the flop

On the way back home we had one more night in Hong Kong. This time, we stayed at the Mandarin Oriental. It is on Hong Kong island itself (the Peninsula is in Kowloon) and one of the other great hotels in town. We were greeted by a nice German girl at the front counter who was planning a trip to Cambodia herself. We gave her a few tips as we went up to the room.

The room was done in a very modern style. It was nicely done, but not necessarily to our taste. We wandered about the city a bit before a bath and then off to dinner.

We started with a nice coup of champagne in the bar on the top of the hotel. As we were heading up to the bar, we happened to run into the sommelier for the Pierre Garnier restaurant that is located in the hotel. We asked for a recommendation for a champagne, and he gave us great one that they import solely for their own use.

After the champagne we headed to the Peking Kitchen for Beggar’s Chicken. We had to order this in advance by at least 24 hours. We had arranged this meal before we left Hong Kong for Cambodia.

Now, Beggar’s Chicken is quite good. But for some reason they didn’t ask us to order anything else! I guess they thought “these dumb quai lohs don’t know what the heck they are doing with the Beggar’s Chicken, never mind!” But it is pretty good. You take a chicken, stuff it with some muchrooms, some meat, and then wrap it with lotus leaves. You then cover the lotus leaves with wet clay and back the darn thing. It was quite good. But we could have used some rice, or maybe baby kalian, or something or other.

The next day we headed to the central train station (we took the train rather than getting picked up by the hotel on this leg) so we could check in and hope for lucky transportation. (they have a check in counter at the train station, which is nice)

I had handed over our passports and the guy behind the counter typed our names into the computer. He then stopped, made a phone call, and handed me the phone. Now THAT can only be bad news!

The Continental Concierge told me that we really did have a confirmed seat on our flights. But if I would be interested, they would re route us through Narita (Tokyo) and get us to Houston 5 hours earlier than our original plan. Not only that, but that meant that we would avoid Newark and almost certain delays. We said “You bet!” and were told to hop to it to the airport. They had to get us on a JAL flight that was leaving an hour before our Continental flight.

We got to the airport and were met by a JAL and a Continental person. They hurried us through all the official procedures, and told us we would not be able to sit next to each other on the four hour Hong Kong to Tokyo leg. We were both in center seats, one behind the other (I was behind Doreen). But the seats were very comfortable, we had on demand video, and a pretty good Japanese meal.

We got to Narita and had to proceed briskly to a different terminal. We once again had seats in different rows, but one in front of the other. We were able to secure a trade once onboard, and that is where we are now. Doreen is sleeping, and I am not.

Tonle Sap

The last day in Siem Reap we did not have a temple pass, so we decided to tuktuk down to Tonle Sap lake with Mr Phaunna (the sad driver). It was about 17 km. quite a ride, and when we got down there we had to buy a boat to take us out ON the lake. It was different than anything we had done before. This is the largest lake in Asia, and its size changes from a 3,000 diameter to a 1,000 km diameter. This is because of the monsoon flooding upstream in Thailand and China. It is one of the few “inundated forest” ecosystems (the only other one I know of is in the Amazon basin) where the trees are underwater for about ½ the year, and exposed the other half. Fish thrive in this environment, actually eating fruits off the trees. Spectacular.

We were there just as the rainy season had ended, so the lake was starting to recede. There are many people who live on the lake, and as it recedes, they follow the water in their houseboats. So we saw several boats being towed to deeper water. We even saw a Catholic Church being towed to the lake!

Even here, the tourists are a way to make money. There were many boats trying to sell soda, beer, and fruits. On the lake itself a boat came alongside with a momma, poppa, and young girl (maybe 5?) with a baby Burmese python (my guess on the species). She was playing with this snake, it was very docile. I took some photos and gave her a small rial bill. She immediately put it in her pocket and climbed on out boat. I took the snake (I am pretty sure that there were going to eat it when it got to big to be cute) and the boat driver took our photo with the little girl. She flashed a peace sign (the second time I saw this when a photo was snapped) and then she got back on her boat and they drove away. There was another boat with another family, and another snake waiting nearby as we started our way back to land.

That night, our last in Cambodia, we ate at one of the fancy restaurants in Siem Reap. Fittingly, one of the courses on the tasting menu we had was “Pounded Dry Bar-b-Que Snake”. Snake or no, the meal was great. The next day we headed back to Hong Kong.

Siem Reap.


We arrived in Siem Reap after a short 1/2 hour flight on Siem Reap air. The flight was mostly empty. We got to the hotel, another Raffles and checked in. We didn’t like the room we were given and asked for another. They said none were available, but Doreen persisted, and they found us one with a better balcony overlooking the gardens, not the pool. This sort of set the stage for our relationship with this hotel. While it wasn’t a bad hotel by any means, everything seemed just about a half beat off. Nothing was horrible, but plenty could have been better.

The hotel had arranged for a tour guide to get us to Angkor Wat the next day. We left about 8:30 and made it to the temple after buying a three day pass to the ruins at a very efficient waystation run by the richest guy in Cambodia (who we were told is Vietnamese).

The temples are something. You can see my photos in my Picasa albums. I won’t try to describe them here, others have done a better job than I could even start to do. I would recommend visiting these places to anyone who can take the travel.

Since we stayed in Siem Reap for five nights, we had quite a time arranging transportation and food. We were lucky with the food. We used several resources to uncover some interesting places to eat. The Robert Parker bulletin board (ebob) was extremely useful in getting ideas of places to eat. Doreen got a bunch of ideas from Patricia Wells (we love her recommendations for Paris) and the hotel as well.

The food ranged from fancy cooked by creative Australian Chefs to a local kitchen where we could not spend much more than $10 if we tried, but the food was outstanding.

The geegaws in Siem Reap were much more expensive than in Phnom Penh. I think that was because there are so many more tourists. The shopkeepers were less willing to negotiate as well.

You had your standard contingent of dissolute ex-pats and hippies in Siem Reap. You could find places to stay for under $5 a night! And some of these people were odd, and some of them sort of mean. I saw one guy negotiate with a little Khmer kid until he started to cry (the kid, not the hippy). We saw another couple go to a café, (which served food) then proceed to pull out a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter and make sandwiches and comment on the local (male) talent.

But the strangest thing about Siem Reap is how you developed a relationship with your transportation. As in Phnom Penh, the tuktuk was the most common way to get along. And once you used a tuktuk drive, you were his, and he was yours. You were expected to use that same guy whenever you saw him (or more like, he saw you). The good thing about that was you could honestly answer you had a tuktuk waiting when the others came by to bug you. You had better remember his name, though. Because they would ask. (we used number 555 for a while, but our favorite was Mr Phaunna – he was one sad looking guy. But he was a good driver. One night I negotiated a different guy too low for his preference, so he got drunk when we were eating dinner. You have not lived until you have been driven around Siem Reap by a drunk tuktuk driver)

November 7, 2007

Phonm Penh, last full day

The next day we decided to go to the Royal Palace, and then the Russian Market. Lunch would be leisurely and we have a quiet afternoon. So after breakfast we walked outside the hotel to negotiate with the phalanxes of Tuktuks for a daily rate. We sat in two (it is important to be able to see out the front of the Tuktuk, we discovered. It makes the ride much more enjoyable) and negotiated a day rate with Pol, one of the few drivers who uses a helmet.

We told him the plan and started down the road. We got to the Royal Palace and were dropped off. Pol told us he would wait across the road. We walked in and tried to buy tickets (One of the few places with prices in Cambodian Baht – it was B/.25,000 – or $6.25US – also one of the most expensive places.) and were told that Doreen could not come in. She was wearing a top that had very short sleeves (see photo) and that was not allowed. We went back out, grabbed Pol and were headed back to the hotel so she could change.

We decided it that we ultimately wanted an FCC t-shirt, so we turned the tuktuk around and rode to that bar. We bought her an XXL shirt so that I will be able to use it later, and headed back to the palace.

This time they let us in with no problems. We walked in and the place looked like it is some third world country’s idea of what a palace grounds should be. Plenty of buildings with fancy roofs, and some of the buildings you needed to take your shoes off before you walked in. The coolest place was the Silver Pagoda, which housed a “crystal” Buddha. It had a silver floor! Yes, a floor made out of silver. They did not allow photos in there (so we had to sneak some).

Another interesting building was a wrought iron building built by the French to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. Then Napoleon III decided to give that building to King Norodom. And it was shipped to the palace grounds. Go figure.

We then went to the Russian Market – so called because so many foreigners shop there and there was a time when the only foreigners here were Russian. And because Russians are so cheap, they have the best prices in town. We looked at silk and picked up a small Buddha, but mostly just wandered around.

Then back to the tuktuk and on to The Metro for lunch. It was a great lunch with pork and beef satay, green beans and bacon and chicken wings. The best chicken wings in the world, by the way.

More Phnom Penh

On our second day in Phnom Penh we started with breakfast at the hotel. We then took a tuk tuk to the National Museum to look at some statues that had been rescued from around the world and reunited (bodies and heads). It was interesting.

You really need to understand how traffic works here. First of all there are millions of scooters on the streets. Many have two people on them. Several have three people on them. And some even have four. We did see one with FIVE people on it, but two of them were babies. Few people wear helmets, and many of the women sit side saddle. Doreen even saw a gut texting while driving, with his girlfriend sitting sidesaddle in the back reading what he was texting. That is skill!
The tuktuks are like little open air cabs pulled by motorcycles. They are everywhere, and they are cheap. To make a left turn they will pull into oncoming traffic, and then slowly wind their way across the traffic flow. Don’t ask me how, but it is quite an efficient way to get around. Scary, but efficient.

We had a light lunch and then went to the Genocide Museum at the old high school where the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed so many people. It was extremely sad and disturbing. It didn’t help to see some idiot wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt. As we walked by I said that Che would have really understood that museum. It was just want he wanted.

It was also disturbing to see a waterboarding table, as well as a dunking table. Horrible that we, the USA, would think that things like that are OK. Trials without juries, secret evidence, punishment without due process. This is the end result of such actions. We should make everyone in Bush’s administration come here and look at this.

Then we came back to the hotel and relaxed by the pool a bit. Some bigshot (no doubt here to do good deeds) came to the pool with his 18 year old Cambodian girlfriend, his bodyguard and his Personal Assistant (who was wearing a suit and tie)

We got up to leave. Doreen is now getting a massage.

Phnom Penh day one

Leaving Honk Kong was as uneventful as arriving. The queues were short and all the officials were efficient. We boarded the plane on time, we left on time, and we arrived in Phnom Penh on time.

But when we got to Phnom Penh, we knew we had entered the third world. We were the first off the plane, and we had our visa forms all filled out. Now, I had a photo (as required) but Doreen did not. So I said we did not have the necessary photos. The official muttered something about us needing to pay an extra $1 (which we knew. Thank you Jack!) and they passed us down the line.

You need to think about this line. Picture a cafeteria serving line except on the other side of the line there are eight officials dressed in uniforms. Some men, some women. All sitting down looking at something in front of them (which you cannot see). You proceed to the end of the line where you have to pay your $20 entry fee. The first person attached a visa to your passport and hands it to the next person in line. The next person stamps the visa and passes it to the next person in line. The next person writes something on the visa, perhaps the expiration date and passes it down. Well, you get the idea. By the time it reached the end of the line (about five minutes) it was completely processed. But they don’t come in order. Two people’s passports came before ours did. Then you pay your $20 (each)

You then take your duly authorized passport to the immigration line. There, then check to make sure you are not a bad fellow, and they take your photo! (remember the $1 fee?). But they take EVERYONE’S photo. It goes pretty fast and by that time your bags are already on the belt. You grab the bags, walk through customs (no problems there) and proceed to every third world airport in the world.

The airport is teeming with people. Some are holding signs, some are milling around. They are all behind a barrier. The official Airport Taxi people are on our side of the barrier. So we grab one ($7US into town) and proceed to some small Toyota taxi into which I get shoe horned. I cannot sit upright in the Taxi, but of course he wants to be our tour guide for the week. We say no thanks.

We get to the hotel and it is very nice. We are greeted with a welcome cocktail of some tropical fruit juice. John Spooner, the Guest Relationships Manager meets us as well and tells us a bit about Phnom Penh. Our friends Jack and Bruce had been to Cambodia this past summer and met John up in Siem Reap. He is now working out of Phnom Penh and gave us some nice hints about the city.

That night we grabbed a tuk tuk ($2US) and drove into the city. We started at The Metro Cafe and wandered down the riverfront. We ended up eating at the Foreign Correspondents Club. We started with a couple of beers on their great balcony overlooking the street and the river. Nothing ever stopped while we were watching. We had some treats and then tuk-tuked back and called it a night.

Hong Kong last outbound day

During our last day in Hong Kong we took the tram to The Peak and walked around the mountain. It was about an hour’s walk, and had some very spectacular views. It was very scary for me, being afraid of heights.

We had lunch at a great place called The Pearl at The Peak. It was Sunday, so they did a brunch. We started out with a beer, then a glass of champagne. We had a Seafood Platter (crab, oysters, two sorts of clams, a small conch like thing, some crabs) and then we each got the “Toasty” which was a poached egg inside a yeast roll with salmon roe on top. It was great! We also had two seared Japanese scallops on the side.

Finally, there was some sort of dessert stuff. I didn’t partake. We had a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to go with the food. It was all quite nice.
That evening we went back to the Spring Deer and had dumplings and some sort of a crispy chicken. It was all good.

The next day we checked out. It was a nice hotel with great staff. As we were leaving the clerk asked us where we were heading next. We told him we were going to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

“Cambodia!” he said. “Wow. That is exotic!”

And here I thought that Hong Kong was exotic.

November 4, 2007

a Toasty



This is a Toasty from the Peal at the Peak, a restaurant at the Peak in Hong Kong.

It is a poached egginside a toasted yeast roll that is then covered with a garlic mayonaisse and topped with salmon roe.

It was accompanied by seared Japonese scallops and a dry New Zealand SB

Delicious!

(I took this photo of a neighboring table's toasty. They were expats from the UK, Oz, and the US. more on them later)
Posted by Picasa

November 3, 2007

Hong Kong Day Two

We slept rather fitfully last night, in spite of taking some Melatonin for relaxation. We both woke up about 4:00 AM, after getting to sleep about midnight. We lounged in bet until about 7:00, and then got on the road about 8:30.

We stated off by taking the Ferry (HK$2.20 each) to the Hong Kong side of the island (we are staying in Kowloon). Once there, we walked and walk for several hours. (Check out some of the photos by clicking on My Picassa Albums to the right). We saw some interesting antiques, and some interesting fake antiques.

We ate lunch at a Dim Sum place called Victoria Seafood. It was good (Hairy Crab Coral Dumplings – both steamed and fried) but not great. We took the ferry back to the hotel.

Doreen is having a spa treatment. I am reading.

Fancy dinner tonight

November 2, 2007

Asian Adventure - Hong Kong

We had the good fortune of arriving in Newark on time, en route to Hong Kong. The first flight was normal, and we arrived in Newark about two hours before our scheduled departure
.
The Newark airport was crowded at the gates. There was a family that was particularly annoying as they were trying to get on an earlier flight than they had booked. The kids were screaming, the parents were whining and yelling. Let ‘em walk.

Our flight left about an hour late, but that time was made up in transit (!). We flew on a 777, which are now beginning to show their ages. Neither my seat nor Doreen’s worked that well. They had to substitute one movie for another (The Simpsons for Harry Potter. Good for us! “Spider pig, spider pig. Does whatever a spider pig does. Weave a web? No he doesn’t. Because he is a spider pig”)

This flight flew over the North Pole and over Russia. I looked out the window while over Siberia. It was very clear, and it was very white. There was no sign of life.

When we arrived we were greeted by two little (short) women from The Peninsula. They took our claim passes and guided us to Customs. There was about a 20 minute wait there, and then we were scooted off to the hotel.

It is an excellent hotel, and we have a harbor view. Click on My Picasa Albums to the right to see some of the photos.

We went out to eat at a place called The Spring Deer and had Peking Duck. It was a very large place, and the food was great. Crispy duck skin with abundant fat. We also ordered some Baby Kai Lan with Garlic. I bet we STILL smell of garlic this morning. This is a Food City!

More later.

October 31, 2007

Fixin' to leave

We will be packing in a couple of hours, and are taking off tomorrow morning at about 9:00 AM. We will land in Hong Kong about 6:30 PM on Friday, November 2. Remember – Asia bound, add a day. State bound, subtract a day. Flight time is about 19 hours, elapse time is about 22 hours.

When you start a trip like this you surrender your free will to the airline industry. You can’t make any changes, and you pretty much have to just do what you are told. It is not that much fun, but at the same time it is not really time “lost” because it is more like you are in suspended animation.

We will be picked up by the hotel (an indulgence, indeed. But this is a vacation!) at the gate and escorted through all the complexities of immigration into Hong Kong.

SO think of us winging our way over the North Pole tomorrow. And the day after that.

October 21, 2007

Where is the outrage?

Suicide Is Not Painless - New York Times

Shibboleth

I am in London. I am between obligations - one ended Friday here, and other starts Monday evening in Oslo. So what do you do in London? Call up and old friend and go to the Tate Modern.

The feature show at the Tate is something called Shibboleth by Doris Salcedo. Here is a picture of my friend Keith at the exhibit:



It was really something to see. It is a crack that goes down about a meter in spots into the concrete floor (or is that a cement floor, Matthew?) of the museum. The museum itself used to be a power plant, so this is one BIG floor

We also went to the British Museum yesterday to make sure that the Rosetta Stone is still behind glass. It is.

Then we met my younger sister, who is coincidently enough here this weekend also, for a drink in a pub. They have very good beer here.

Other than that, it was just a lot of walking around. The weather cooperated by being coolish but not cold, sunny and not damp. Overall, an excellent time to kill a weekend here.

(But the truth is I would much rather be home with my sweet ever-lovin')

October 12, 2007

People!

Doreen was working late (ish) last night, and we had not been out for a drink alone together in a while. So we decided to try a new little wine bar that just opened this weekend down the street called SoVino (South American wines according to their tag. We didn’t have any of those. Not that we don’t like them, we just didn’t see any we wanted to order.) We walked over there about 7:10, and sat outside as the temperature is starting to cool off in the evenings.

We started with a couple of nice glasses of California Sparkling Wine. But this post is not about the wine or the food. It is about a fellow patron.

We had just been sipping our wine for a while when this skinny dark haired woman comes bouncing out of the restaurant. She has a cigarette in hand (Houston recently banned smoking in all indoor buildings – bars included) looking for a place to sit down. Inexplicably, one of the busboys had just placed a “reserved” marker on the table next to us (there were several empty tables) and she said, “Oh, this table is reserved!” and we told her to go ahead and sit down. There were no people coming to that table for a while.

SO she sat, and she chatted. And I mean chatted! She told us that she was about to sell a house that she had owned with her ex-husband, and she had a three year old kid, and oh my! did she ever want to move back to Austin! And he ex-husband was from east Berlin, and you know he was really good with the cats when they had cats so she thought that he would be a great father and he was an extremely talented bio-mechanical engineer and now he was in sales but he was moving back to Germany because he couldn’t take the stress and she just had ristoline and goddAM but that hurt and her father moved out of his condo so she could move in because her ex husband was satying in the house and did she mention that she was closing on her house tomorrow?

Whew.

They her fiancé came outside, looking like an imperious controlling, demanding jerk and said, “Karen, the doctor was wondering where you were.” She hopped up and went inside.

Not more than five minutes later she came back outside and asked if she could sit with us!

We said sure, and she proceeded to tell us how “Lance” (her fiancé) was really a nice guy but he was under a lot of pressure because he left his big law firm for her and opened up his own practice and he has to do all the copying and phone calls and scheduling himself and he is working on a really big case and she wants to move into West Univeristy with him because he has a nine year old daughter and they need to go to good schools and Lance’ parents are living in the house that THEY should be living in but they aren’t moving and they are getting married in Napa in November and it will only be a small wedding and she had to give her two dogs away and don’t you dare judge me because you don’t have a three year old kid and I am allergic to dogs and Lance has a dog and he is now living in a condo and her father is giving away the dogs tomorrow and she is very sad about it and if you don’t approve why don’t YOU take the goddamed dogs and I met my ex at a New Year’s Eve party and he was really nice and smart but growing up in East Germany down weird things to you and I only smoke two to three cigarettes a day.

Check, please.

Nice to meet you, good luck, and enjoy the rest of your life!

Whew.

October 7, 2007

Dinner with a spy?

Last night we had a delightful dinner with Jim and Gary to celebrate Jim’s birthday. As usual, they had some interesting friends there as well. One is the managing partner for Baker and Botts – a woman from Mississippi who still carries an extra strong southern accent. She can be very entertaining.

They also had three neighbors over for the dinner.

It was a great meal – we started with a pink Veuve Clicquot champagne with some cheese straws, and several selections of nice artisanal cheeses.

The three neighbors were a mother, father, and their daughter who had recently graduated from Northwestern with a masters in Journalism. She was moving to The Hague to work for a non-profit organizations that helps journalists do good deeds in third world countries.

Her father, who must have been in his mid to late 70s had been an executive at Gulf Oil. But his earlier work history is what intrigued us.

He served in the US Army during WWII (he must have been very young) and as soon as he got out he went to the Harvard Business School. After graduating from there, he went to work for the US Foreign Service. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear US Foreign Service in the early 1950s I think of only one thing – CIA.

He started his service in Copenhagen (you know, part of that alliance thing) and the was posted to Saigon in 1953. The Quiet American! While he denied any association with covert operations, well, that is what he would have to say.

After Saigon he was posted to Phnom Penh! What a coincidence. Doreen and I are heading to PP this November.

While he stayed with his story about being only a Foreign Service employee, you could see that he was dying to tell the true story.

Maybe after a couple of drinks we will get to the bottom of it all.

October 4, 2007

When I lived where

My brother Chas recently posted on an e-mail thread all the places he has lived. I went into a little more detail, and here are the different cities where I have spent at least three months:


Start Date

End Date

Location

Start Age

Years

July 1957

August 1975

Appleton, WI

0

18

August 1975

June 1976

Madison, WI

18

.75

June 1976

August 1976

Marcona, Peru

18

.25

August 1976

January 1976

Madison, WI

19

.5

January 1977

August 1977

Greenville, IL

19

.5

August 1977

June 1978

Madison, WI

20

.75

June 1978

December 1978

Kemmerer, WY

20

.5

December 1978

June 1980

Madison, WI

21

1.5

June 1980

July 1981

Houston, TX

22

1

July 1981

July 1982

Denver, CO

24

1

July 1982

April 1993

Houston, TX

25

10.75

April 1993

January 1995

Caracas, Venezuela

35

1.75

January 1995

October 1996

Singapore

37

1.75

October 1996

Present

Houston, TX

39

11

October 1, 2007

The Recipe

French-Style Pot Roast (after Cooks Illustrated)

This takes about 5 hours

A medium-bodied, fruity red wine such as Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir is best for this recipe. The gelatin lends richness and body to the finished sauce; don't omit it. To prepare this dish in advance, follow the recipe through step 7, skipping the step of softening and adding the gelatin. Place the meat back into the reduced sauce, cool it to room temperature, cover it, and refrigerate it for up to 2 days. To serve, slice the beef and arrange it in a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Bring the sauce to a simmer and stir in the gelatin until completely dissolved. Pour the warm sauce over the meat, cover it with aluminum foil, and bake it in a 350-degree oven until heated through, about 30 minutes.


Serves 6 to 8

1

boneless beef chuck roast (4 to 5 pounds), pulled apart into 2 pieces and fat trimmed

2

teaspoons kosher salt

1

bottle red wine (750 ml), medium-bodied

10

sprigs fresh parsley leaves

2

tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

2

sprigs fresh thyme

2

bay leaves

Ground black pepper

4

ounces bacon , preferably thick cut, cut into 1/4-inch pieces crosswise

1

medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 cup)

3

medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)

1

tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

2

cups beef broth

4

medium carrots , peeled and cut on bias into 1 1/2-inch pieces

2

cups frozen pearl onions

3

tablespoons unsalted butter

2

teaspoons sugar

1/2

cup water , plus 1/4 cup cold water to bloom gelatin

10

ounces white mushrooms , wiped clean, stems trimmed, halved if small and quartered if large

Table salt

1

tablespoon unflavored gelatin (powdered)



1. Season meat with kosher salt, place on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet, and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, bring wine to simmer in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until reduced to 2 cups, about 15 minutes. Using kitchen twine, tie parsley sprigs, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves into bundle.

3. Pat beef dry with paper towels and season generously with pepper. Tie three pieces of kitchen twine around each piece of meat to keep it from falling apart.

4. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Cook bacon in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate and reserve. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat; return Dutch oven to medium-high heat and heat until fat begins to smoke. Add beef to pot and brown on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer beef to large plate and set aside.

5. Reduce heat to medium; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, 2 to 4 minutes. Add garlic, flour, and reserved bacon; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add reduced wine, broth, and herb bundle, scraping bottom of pan with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. Return roast and any accumulated juices to pot; increase heat to high and bring liquid to simmer, then place large sheet of foil over pot and cover tightly with lid. Set pot in oven and cook, using tongs to turn beef every hour, until dinner fork slips easily in and out of meat, 2 1/2 to 3 hours, adding carrots to pot after 2 hours.

6. While meat cooks, bring pearl onions, butter, sugar, and 1/2 cup water to boil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook until onions are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to medium-high, and cook until all liquid evaporates, 3 to 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon table salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are browned and glazed, 8 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Place remaining 1/4 cup cold water in small bowl and sprinkle gelatin on top.

7. Transfer beef to cutting board; tent with foil to keep warm. Allow braising liquid to settle about 5 minutes; then, using wide, shallow spoon, skim fat off surface. Remove herb bundle and stir in onion-mushroom mixture. Bring liquid to simmer over medium-high heat and cook until mixture is slightly thickened and reduced to 3 1/4 cups, 20 to 30 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Add softened gelatin and stir until completely dissolved.

8. Remove kitchen twine from meat and discard. Using chef's or carving knife, cut meat against grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Divide meat among warmed bowls or transfer to platter; arrange vegetables around meat, pour sauce on top, and sprinkle with minced parsley. Serve immediately.

9. Guard remaining meat against canine predation.

September 30, 2007

Boeuf a la Mode and the dog

On Sundays, we usually cook. It is not a hard and fast tradition (sometimes we see friends, sometimes we go out) but it is pretty common for us to do so. Today, we cooked French Style Pot Roast from the latest Cooks Magazine (usually called Boeuf a la mode). (The recipe is at the end of the posting).

IT is a fairly straightforward braising recipe – brown the meat in fat, sauté aromatics, add an acidic liquid, cook in the oven for several hours. Here are the photos of the meal:

















We had a very nice 2005 Domaine de la Charbonnière Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Mourre des Perdrix with the meal. It was really a simple meal, and one of the things we value about cooking like this is the leftovers. We have ever purchased a food saver to give us more time to consume these meals.







Another Sunday evening pastime we usually partake in is watching old TV shows on Doreen’s computer. This evening we watched some of season three of Gilmore Girls and season three (1992!) of Law and Order. (Hey, I don’t get to choose all the things we watch!)

At one point I went back to the kitchen to get a tad more wine. One of the cats was on the counter, about to help himself to some of the pot roast. But it was too late! This is all that was left:






This is what we started with:


Our sweet dog had eaten almost four pounds worth of meat!

So much for leftovers…




September 28, 2007

September 26, 2007

Trains and planes and boats and busses



Characteristically

Evoke a common attitude of Blue

Unless you have a suitcase

a ticket and a passport

and the cargo that their carrying is you.

---Tom Waits

September 23, 2007

San Antonio

I drove to San Antonio today. My company is exhibiting at the Society for Exploration Geophysicists annual convention. This is a pretty big deal for us – it is our biggest convention of the year. We get clients and prospects from all over the world coming by to see what we have new.

Conventions are not fun. I have to go there this evening and have a few drinks we people I see only occasionally, and almost always in a business setting. I have to be nice, because nice sells. I am by nature pretty nice, but this is small talk for cash. It is work.

The drive over here was pretty nice. It is almost exactly 200 miles door step to door step. I did it is about 3 hours (legally. The speed limit is 70) There was not much traffic so it was clear sailing most of the way. This was the longest trip I had made in the new car since I got it. Now I am contemplating a cross country road trip.

I listened to some “books on tape” (actually short stories on DVD, but who’s counting) and enjoyed them quite a bit. It is sort of like getting bedtime stories read to you. The narrators even did voices.

Back to work!

September 19, 2007

aperçu

Your word of the day.

See it here.

I am going to start having aperçus daily.

Lawsuit against Google

Techdirt: Handwritten Lawsuit Accuses Google Having A Name Similar To Accuser's Social Security Number

Amazing. This person is suing Google because if you turn their Social Security number upside down, and scramble it, it spells Google.

He is asking for $5 Billion.

September 18, 2007

Tony's for Dinner

For our anniversary dinner, we decided to go someplace we have never been before. It is sort of hard, for while we don’t go out every week, we do not hesitate to go out when we feel like it. So we thought about all the old favorites, and then decided on Tony’s – one of the old line fancy places to eat in Houston.

Now, Tony’s is one of the places where the movers and shakers eat. That means that the tables are pretty far apart (so that you can have a private conversation) but the place is relatively well lit (so you can see who walks by. This is a place for your business, not your mistress). The décor is quite nice (be sure to check out the link above) and we even saw a mover and a shaker while there. David Dewhurst, the Texas Lt Governor, came in while we were there for supper.

I had called the place earlier in the day (Doreen made the reservations) to find out about a dress code. They said “No athletic shoes, no shorts, coats preferred, ties optional”. I went with my chinos and a blue blazer. Doreen, as always, looked much better than I did in her Pucci skirt, scoop necked blouse, and little pink sweater. (it was chilly)

In spite of my sartorial banality, we were greeted with much pomp by the valet. Doreen’s door was opened and she was “handed out”. My door was opened, as was my rear door. The valet grabbed my sport coat (too hot to drive with it on here in Texas) and helped me on with the coat. Nice. He then stepped in front of us both so that he could get the automatic door started and then pulled the interior door open. The Maître‘d was ready and waiting for us. As it was a week night, we were eating rather early (7:00 PM) and the place was not too crowded.

They led us to a nice table with a view of the room. Doreen also had a view into the kitchen, which was visible through a large glass window. It is always nice to watch a kitchen work. The waiter came by asking about a drink, and we each ordered a coup of the Nicolas Feuillatte, Brut Rosè from Epernay. We both love champagne, and pink champagne is always a delight.

But much to our chagrin, about five minutes later, the waiter came to tell us they had sold out of the Feuillatte last weekend. We had to “settle” for some Taittinger. It did its job nicely.

After a while the menus were brought by and we started looking at what was available. There were some special appetizers and entrées, and we thought about each of them.

We had preordered the Whole Salt Crusted Gulf Coast Snapper, which I had read about as being their signature dish. I had no real idea what it was, but it sounded good. But we still had to decide on appetizers.

Doreen chose one of the specials – which was Burrata Cheese with Prosciutto and Figs. I ordered the Beef Carpaccio. At the same time, the waiter wanted to know if we were going to have a soufflé for dessert. You need to order these well in advance as well. We decided “What the heck!” and Doreen ordered the Pralines Soufflé, and I ordered the Bananas Foster Soufflé.

We also had to order a wine for the meal. I am a big fan of white Burgundies, so we chose a 2004 Meursault, “Les Clous” from Domaine Bouchard. A nice, deep minerally chardonnay.

The wine came and was poured. Very nice. The appetizers followed. My Carpaccio was outstanding, but Doreen’s Burrata was unbelievable. The cheese, a mozzarella type cheese was rich and flavorful. Almost nutty. It peeled off in strips that you would then wrap with the prosciutto and stab a fresh fig. The play of salt, fat, sweet, and savory exploded in your mouth. An outstanding treat.

We cleaned our plates and chatted some more, watching the room like a couple of tourists. Oddly enough, Doreen is certainly a mover and a shaker in the park world of Houston, so she knows many of the politicos in town.

As we were talking, the waiter came by our table and set up a serving tray. On the tray he placed a mallet and a chisel. Ha! I though. Tough salt.

About five minutes later, Doreen almost gasped, and then broke out laughing. From the kitchen, a waiter held a platter that was about 3’ long. On that platter was a brown fish shaped mound about 18” high. It was in flames. He walked slowly around the entire room, while everyone “ooed” and “ahhed” at it. It was then placed next to us as the table directly behind us broke into applause.

The fun began as the Maître‘d came by to crack the salt with the chisel and hammer. It was quite a spectacle, and the whole place watched. Underneath was a beautifully cooked red snapper that was quite large. He skinned it and extracted the choice bits for our plates. (the plates were full of fish). He then spooned some Barolo red wine reduction on the fish. There were four asparagus spears on the plate, and for side ordered we had French Whipped Potatoes and Sautéed Roman Artichokes.

The Maître‘d then made a small plate of the fish for the table behind us. One of the fellows there said that they had wanted to order the fish, but were deterred by the hour it would take to prepare. So they got a taste anyway. (I fussed jovially at the table and the waiter for stealing our fish)

The Potatoes were good, but they were no Joel Robuchon. That is a hard standard to live up to.

Finally the Soufflés came. They were both great, the Bananas Foster a bit better. They had sparklers on top to honor our anniversary, along with a complimentary Berry Tree. They table behind us clapped.

We were stuffed full as we waited for the evening to wind down. The table behind us ordered a big Chocolate Soufflé to share, and had the waiter carve us off a bit. Chocolate is a great way to end a meal.

We waddled out the car and drove slowly home. It was a fun evening.