Happy Anniversary

Yesterday was a big day. For one thing, it was my first day of school. Hooray for school! I’m feeling more educated already.

However, yesterday was also my third wedding anniversary. Yes, three years ago this morning Rachel and I were jumping in a lake. Three years might not seem that long, but since we’d been dating for seven years before we got married, 2007 is in some senses our tenth anniversary, which seems like a biggish deal. Just like last year, we decided to have a nice dinner in rather than a nice dinner out, and so I turned to my fanciest cookbook, The Elements of Taste by Gray Kunz and Peter Kaminsky.

(This is a really cool book, by the way. I picked it up for a song at a used bookstore in Northampton, and every recipe in it is guaranteed to impress the hell out of your guests. Last night was my second time making a recipe from the book: about a year ago I made the Braised Short Ribs of Beef with an Aromatic Barbecue Sauce. I’m kicking myself that there are no pictures of that meal, since the recipe is four damn pages long and people seemed to like it.)

We got another ridiculous haul of incredible tomatoes from Ledge Ends, so it was clear they’d be involved. I happened to flip the book open to:

Two-Tomato Coulis with Three Basils

Except here’s the thing: I couldn’t find purple basil, or basil flowers, but I did have a bag of fresh Ledge Ends green basil, so I just made:

Two-Tomato Coulis with One Rather Delicious Basil

Two-Tomato Coulis Two-Tomato Coulis

The recipe for this is pretty ludicrously simple. Just chuck a whole bunch of red cherry tomatoes in a blender, and puree the crap out of them. Then do the same with some yellow tomatoes, and put both purees in a bowl with some basil, white pepper, and kosher salt.

The recipe called for 2 pounds each of red and yellow cherry tomatoes, which is ridiculous, so as I was only trying to make two servings I used a pound each, and supplemented the cherry tomatoes with some fabulous heirloom globe tomatoes. I also left out the sugar because, uh, I forgot it, but it didn’t need any. Delicious, sweet, and garden-y.

This was by far the most visually striking thing I’ve ever prepared. So cool. When we started eating, we discovered that the colors stay separate even as you move them around a bit, so if I ever make this again I might go for swirlier patterns instead of just the yin-yang.

Fun With Spoons

When we were in Maine a few weeks ago, Rachel reminded me how much she loves lobster so it seemed clear that would be in the main course. Kunz and Kaminsky provided:

Lobster in Syrah Reduction with Aromatic Grits

Lobster in Red Wine Reduction with Aromatic Grits Lobster in Red Wine Reduction with Aromatic Grits

I mean, delicious, right? Not even too difficult to make.

The sauce is a piece of cake: sauté onions, garlic, shallots, carrots, and celery until soft, and then pour in a bottle of red wine. Reduce, strain out the vegetables, and reduce again until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Whisk in some butter at the end, and you’re good to go.

The grits were also easy and delicious. I couldn’t find the quick-cooking grits the recipe calls for, but a pretty standard 4:1 milk and water to cornmeal ratio produced what I wanted. A little nutmeg and white pepper and butter go in at the end.

Finally the lobster: the hardest part was buying them, since Whole Foods apparently doesn’t sell live lobsters any more. However, I was pleased to discover Captain’s Catch in North Providence, which does, and has a pretty good looking seafood selection. Once I got the doomed fellows home, they were blanched in boiling water for 5 minutes, shocked in ice water, and relieved of their shells. (I now have a Ziploc back full of lobster parts ready for the stockpot.) Five to ten minutes in a 350 degree oven (with butter, of course) finished the cooking.

‘Twas damn good, and we even had room left over for dessert:

Lemon-Basil Sorbet

I’d bookmarked this recipe for Lemon-basil vodka gimlets as they looked delicious and refreshing, and indeed they were, but the fact is I don’t drink anywhere near enough vodka to use up all that syrup. As soon as I tasted it, though, I said: sorbet. Now, the syrup is way too sweet to make a sorbet on its own (and yes, I went through the trouble of making a batch to find that out) but with the juice of about four lemons added to it, it because perfect. Light, tart, with a subtle herbitude.

Lemon-Basil Sorbet

So, that’s three years. Believe it or not, Rachel just gets better and better. Don’t think for a second I fail to realize how lucky I am to have a wife willing to support us while I quit my job and sleep in every morning go back to grad school. A plate of lobster and a song are the least I can do.

Our Third Anniversary Dinner

Happy Anniversary

24 Season 6. Episode 12, 5 PM – 6 PM

5:00: So the President got blowed up. Judging by how long that takes people out of commission in past seasons, President Palmer should be in major surgery for all of this episode. We should see him back in indecisive action sometime next week.
-Wouldn’t the Russians know President Logan was under house arrest or was that some sort of secret deal?
-Why isn’t Jack Bauer using this time productively instead of chatting with Logan? This should be a long car ride.
-So Assad died. You’d like to think the US Government is more sophisticated than to blame Assad for this, but, well, this is “24” we’re talking about.
-I just missed that. Did the doctor say that President Palmer escaped getting directly exploded. Then he said that it would be a miracle if he survived? What does that mean?
-I’m thinking that when Reed Pollack’s plot gets foiled, he’ll be the first person to spill is beans in exchange for immunity.
-Why doesn’t Tom Lennox just say he agrees and then turn them in?
-I don’t think Tom Lennox is going to do the right thing.
-The three of them look so guilty.
-YES!!!!!!!
-FINALLY. FINALLY SOMETHING ON “24” GOES THE RIGHT WAY.
5:16: So do we think Lennox is going to be overruled in favor of the US attacking Assad and his unknown Arab Nation?
-Why is the VP calling Buchannon? This is like Cheney calling folks at the CIA. Oh wait, that happens.
5:18: Jessie thinks Logan “is a fucking villain.” Aside from being shocked at her foul language, I’m not quite sure what he’s up to, but it’s not villainy.
-Oh, great. Afghani veterans.
-So this Russian guy was part of last season’s plot? Interesting.
5:22: Jack Bauer loves going into other countries consulates. He really needs to stop this shit.
-What’s that saying? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
5:29: “They won’t know the full extent of his injuries until he regains consciousness.” What the hell does that mean? When Palmer wakes up, he’s going to tell the doctors what’s wrong with him.
-So this is Karen Hayes how is worked back into the show.
-The VP has Ann Coulter as an assistant?
-Why didn’t anyone tell the VP about the assassination plot? Oh, they’re telling him now.
-Reed Pollack and Bruce Carson are going to say Tom Lennox is the mastermind.
-“Until I have all the facts, I’m not about to tell the country that Assad is innocent in all of this.” Uh, so, let’s tell the country that we think Assad is guilty even though we don’t have any proof he had anything to do with it and do have proof that he didn’t? Right.
-Let me tell you what’s happening here. This is exactly what Bush and Cheney did after 9/11 in regards to Iraq. This is yet another example of the creators of “24” aping the Bush Administration. What I STILL don’t understand is who watches this and thinks it makes any sense at all? How could even a supporter of Bush watch this, see how ridiculous the VP is being by ignoring any and all information contrary to his beliefs, and think it’s a good thing? How? I’m not saying this right, so let me try again. The VP is being made to look like a jackass for ignoring information that doesn’t jive with his beliefs. This is exactly what has happened time and again in the current administration. What I don’t get is why the creators of “24” want to make the current administration look like jackasses.
5:35: Jack Bauer speaks great Russian.
-Jack Bauer is a whispery international incident. All the time.
5:43: “A situation has developed at the Russian Consulate.” “What kind of situation?” “Jack Bauer…” OK, you don’t need to go further than that.
-Is this the way that government works? The Russian President phones his counterpart mere minutes after Markov is taken hostage, and the VP calling a press conference 40 minutes after an assassination attempt on the President. My guess is that if an assassination attempt happened in the White House bunker, there’s no way we’d hear about it for several hours.
-The Russian President seems nervous.
-Torture Scene: 10 (Russian Consulate)
-Uh, oh. You screwed up big time, Mr. Russian Consulate.
-I’m thinking he loses at least 1 finger before telling.
-There it goes.
-So they’re launching aerial drones in two hours? Why is the Russian consulate smiling and laughing about it?
-Jack Bauer just got blowed up without even being able to communicate his info…
-That means Jack Bauer will be in custody for just around two hours before escaping somehow or getting released and then getting the drones exploded, right?
-Didn’t they shoot down something with a nuclear bomb on it a couple years ago?
-5:54: YES! Buchannon is the man! Drawing up plans to storm the consulate.
-This is better than I thought it was going to be, but it’s still suspect that the message is going to get out of there.
5:58: This is where the Russian gets shot.
-Too easy.
-How’d that Russian guy know to kill that other Russian guy?

It was definitely a better episode this week, but it didn’t end strongly. The scenes from next week do look kind of cool when the US goes to war with Russia. At least on a little part of Russian soil in CA.

24 Season 6. Episode 12, 5 PM – 6 PM

24 Season 6. Episode 7, 12 PM – 1 PM

12:00: What are the chances that President Palmer caves to Tom Lennox? There are reasons that people like Tom Lennox are aides instead of presidents… I wonder if “24” respects that. If it was so easy for Wayne Palmer to be persuaded, he would be a Tom Lennox type of guy and not a President.
-So Karen is going to be on the show, a couple hours from now. Lame.
-“It’s my job to worry.” Oh Graham, don’t be so dramatic. You sound like a high school theater student. It’s Jack Bauer’s job to worry, not yours.
12:08: Uh, right. Graham sent two guys to kill Jack Bauer? Only two? More importantly, Jack Bauer knows they’re going try to kill him. Could it be any more obvious what’s about to happen?
-JBKC: 6 (Grahams’ guys). Nope, it couldn’t have been any more obvious what was about to happen..
-Is it suspicious that Jack Bauer’s dad shot that guy right in the heart?
12:10: I wonder who the new engineer is. Is it possible it’s Morris? Chase? Why else would they make a point of saying “He won’t work willingly.”
12:16: So by 12:26, we should be able to see the picture on the profile.
-Hal Turner, wonderful. I’d love to be Agent Hal Turner. Also, I’d love to know how Graham is the leader of a multi-national terrorist organization, one that reaches presidents, and he doesn’t have guards or cameras in his house? He’s going to be surprised in his own house? Uh, yeah, right.
-And his wife says he’s the worst liar and always has been? HOW DID HE FOOL JACK BAUER?!
-You seem to be a little overmatched, Graham, you ought to put the gun down.
-I hope Jack Bauer stabs him in the knee this time.
-Oh Marilyn, stop looking at Jack Bauer that way. His heart feels love in a whispery way.
-Marilyn knows what happens when Jack Bauer tries to protect people… We’ve all seen it, Marilyn, and you’re right.
-“I panicked.” That’s why you tried to kill your brother and father? Um, I’m not sure that’s going to fly.
-So Graham really is a terrible liar and always was. And yet Jack Bauer believed him? I’ve never been more disappointed in Jack Bauer.
12:27: Morris’ brother is sick? Is Morris going to take off and then get coerced into making Nukes?
-Chloe, you have a tender way that brings all the Morris’ to the yard.
-Torture Scene 4. I never would have thought that “24” would have Jack Bauer torturing a family member twice in three hours.
-Graham sweats a lot.
-Hold him, Jack Bauer, he needs you now. I’m thinking it’s unlikely this is going to end well for Graham Bauer. Jack Bauer was shown up by Assad in a torture showdown and now he can’t relent.
-Why is Graham dropping this now? This is a Patriotic thing? This doesn’t have anything to do with nukes…
-I wonder if any of that is admissible in court.
12:40: I was kind of hoping that “24” was going to do the usual thing and just drop Walid as a character. It’s pretty cool that he’s all patched up and resting now only one hour from when he got beat down. I don’t think that’s feasible.
-Morris was supposed to be done with the photo unscrambling 15 minutes ago or so.
-Morris is a warez pirate! Downloading an unlicensed application.
12:44: For some reason today, all the TV stations are tuned to CN8 or something. They were all on Fox a couple hours ago. I wonder why the change.
-Jack Bauer DID deserve a better family.
-I’m pretty sure that Jack Bauer’s dad is going to either kill himself or do more plotting. That’s what they’re setting up anyway.
12:50: Who is it? Who is it? Who is it?
-Another conniving power grabbing Vice President? It seems a little soon to be reusing a plot line, isn’t it? They used this LAST YEAR.
-Yes! Wayne Palmer has a spine. Tom Lennox and the VP must be shocked, SHOCKED.
-The Founder’s intended for the Constitution to be used during war and during peace time. Tom Lennox is going to blow a gasket.
-Wayne Palmer is pretty much saying some revolutionary stuff. Too bad he wasn’t around for the 2004 election.
-“We are governed by the rule of law and not by the politics of fear.”
-“The discussion on this matter…is over.”
-If Morris just drove out, why wouldn’t they get someone to follow him.
-Oh shit. Again, it seems like if Morris was going to be expecting that, he might have been better suited to escape.
12:56: Jack Bauer’s dad is up to no good.
-“I’ll hold my mud, dad.” “Everything is going exactly as planned.” “Meanwhile, the company lives on.”
-So I guess they didn’t have those monitors on Graham anymore. Too bad.
-His death was predictable.
-They didn’t have a medical team on scene at Graham’s house?

If I do say so myself, I had a brilliantly successful prediction earlier in the show (Morris), and a slightly less brilliant more predictable prediction (Jack Bauer’s dad killing Jack Bauer’s brother). This is why you tune in, right?

24 Season 6. Episode 7, 12 PM – 1 PM

How Continental Raised the Price on ALL Their Tickets, (at least to me).

I’m back from JR’s Family’s Lake Erie Reunion. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and indeed, I actually had a little fun. However, the major excitement was Sunday when we arrived at the airport to fly home. Somehow, I made the colossally idiotic mistake of buying my ticket for Monday the 18th instead of Sunday the 17th. I’m not quite sure how it happened because I AM quite certain I never entered the 18th as an option for flying. I do take responsibility for not confirming the information on my ticket was correct before buying it and for not checking it sooner to make a change.
I hoped the flight hadn’t sold out and that I would be able to sweet-talk my onto the plane at minimal extra cost. At worst, I figured, I’d pay the industry-standard $100 change fee. When I went to the Continental counter, the woman told me Continental has a strict policy of not allowing people to fly standby until the day of their original flight. She also informed me it would be $320 on top of what I had already spent in order to change my ticket to fly that day. Flabbergasted, I asked her how much it would cost to skip my original flight and buy a new ticket on the flight I had planned on taking. Incredibly, buying a new ticket and forgoing the next day’s flight would only cost $280. I didn’t understand how buying 2 tickets could be cheaper than changing my old ticket and if I was going to buy a new ticket, I wanted to do some comparison shopping.
First stop was Southwest Airlines where the woman was shocked Continental wouldn’t change my ticket or allow me to fly standby. She seemed genuinely offended as an employee of the airline industry that another airline would have such ridiculous policies. She informed me that the best she could do was a flight from Cleveland to Baltimore to Providence for $185. She even reserved the ticket for me without making me pay so I could check with some of the other airlines. She also suggested I call Continental to try to talk to a supervisor. United was $611 and Independence was $250.
Having collected my facts, I dialed Continental’s 800 number and waited on hold for several minutes before reaching Helen. Helen told me the same thing the woman behind the counter had, that there is a strict policy against allowing people to fly standby unless it’s the day of their original flight, that the cost to change the ticket would be $320, and that a new ticket would be $280. Helen didn’t seem to care when I argued that it didn’t make sense they would charge me so much (or charge me at all) since they obviously had seats available. I mentioned that Southwest was willing to fly me for $185 and told her that they may get the $280 out of me because I was desperate, but I would never fly Continental again. I also mentioned I would spend the next month telling everyone I knew how stupid I had been to buy the wrong ticket, but especially how greedy Continental had been in trying to take advantage of it. Helen told me there was nothing she could do and something to the effect of “You should probably fly on Southwest if you don’t want to pay $280.” She then suggested I try to get someone at the airport to do something about it.
I got back in line steeling myself for what I knew could be an epic battle. The problem as I saw it was my total lack of leverage. Continental didn’t need to do anything for me because I had already paid for a ticket for the next day’s flight. They didn’t need to do anything for me because they had their money and that was final regardless of what I decided to do. I had a minor scuffle with the woman directing people to the counter after she was offended I was talking on my phone while in her line. I don’t remember much about the incident, but I include it as further proof that Continental needs to focus harder on customer service.
I approached the woman at counter 19 tingling with trepidation and excitement. I felt excitement because I envisioned an intense match of verbal sparring where I could pontificate loudly on issues involving efficiency, logic, customer service, money, and right and wrong. I felt trepidation because the last thing I wanted was to spend $280 more than I had already spent.
And then nothing. I explained to the woman behind the counter that I had mistakenly purchased a ticket for Monday’s flight when I really wanted to fly today. She nodded and told me she could change my flight, but she’d have to charge me a $100 change fee. I quickly handed her my credit card before something happened to increase the price of my fare and walked away stunned after telling her she had made my day. I think she really appreciated me saying that. I had never been so happy to spend $100.
I don’t know if Continental thought someone else was going to rush into the airport 25 minutes before boarding willing to pay the premium price they had assigned to the ticket. That can be the only explanation for not allowing me to fly standby on a flight that clearly wasn’t full. And I don’t understand why 2 different employees refused to let me fly standby or pay $100 to change my ticket citing strict company policies before a third employee did so without pause. You’d think Continental and every other company would try to fill up every plane all the time and would willingly sell tickets to people at some small margin above cost 25 minutes before the plane boarded. Much like an ice cream store giving out ice cream in the event of a power outage, giving it out in exchange for good will and nothing more, Continental should have welcomed me aboard in an effort to fill up every sellable bit of space on that plane. (Empty seats are giant tubs of melted ice cream, as it were) In the end, the flight took off an hour late further lowering the value of the service Continental provided me. As far as I’m concerned, every flight I take on Continental leaves at least an hour late as my flight from Boston to Cleveland took off an hour and a half after it was supposed to.
In the interest of full disclosure, what I said to Helen about never flying on Continental again isn’t totally true. At this stage in my professional career, I can’t afford to be so stubbornly principled. The next time I’m looking for flights, I’ll fly on Continental if it’s significantly cheaper than any other option. This means that the Continental flight will have to be direct and cost at least $40 less than the next lowest option. So in reality, what I should have said to Helen was “You may get your $280 out of me, but it’s going to make each of your flights appear $40 more expensive than they are for the next 5-15 years. However, I will certainly stop flying Continental as soon as I make enough money to base economic decisions on terrible prior experiences.”

How Continental Raised the Price on ALL Their Tickets, (at least to me).