Monthly Archives: December 2007

Family Visit 2007: The Recap

So, when last we left our intrepid heroes they had arrived in Nashville, en route to South Carolina.

Our intention had been to grab a quick breakfast at the Pancake Pantry before heading out of town. Before we left I noted comments about long lines, and found an alternative – Fido, just a half-block away. Sure enough, the line for the Pancake Pantry was out the door, so we opted instead for Fido. I have to admit I was attracted to Fido not just by the name, but by the vibe of the place; it reminded me very much of Gillies in Blacksburg, VA, home of many fond memories for me. I had the “Bayou Benedict”, which was a poached egg with Hollandaise sauce over cheese grits with an andouille sausage on the side. Excellent! The French press of coffee helped too 🙂 We finished off our Nashville mini-tour with a quick stop by the cookware shop across from the Pancake Pantry; Dan picked up a few small things, but the best part of the visit was talking with the proprietors, who were real characters. We were glad we stopped in.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We got down to Anderson, SC, and checked into the La Quinta Inn there (verdict: cheap and clean. What, you wanted more for $50 a night?). Over the course of the weekend I discovered that my laptop power supply connector was over-flexed enough at the laptop end that moving it while plugged in made interesting clicking noises and smelled of ozone, so I elected to stay off the net (but for my cell phone) and quick-order a replacement power supply.

Takaza, my sister, and I did the majority of the cooking for the weekend. I made a penne pasta with Italian sausage on Sunday night, then on Monday night Ruth (my sister) made fettuccine with scallops and shrimp in a cream sauce while Dan made his famous Macaroni and Cheese (with bacon!). For Christmas Day, I made the turkey, the stuffing, and the gravy, Dan made mashed potatoes, and Ruth made green beans with pancetta, as well as pecan and pumpkin pies. We weren’t hurting for food 🙂

There was the usual last-minute shopping, and gift giving and receiving. Everyone was happy, especially my nephews. Mom stood out in the cold on a Sunday morning a few weeks back to score a Wii for them. Once they received that, they were pretty much dead to the world for the rest of the day.

We got on the road at 6 AM on Wednesday morning and, as noted before, drove 15 hours straight to get home at exactly 8 PM Central Time. It was a fun trip and I’m glad we went, but man am I exhausted.

So, today. I have today and tomorrow off from work as well as Monday; Dan has to work today and tomorrow, but has Monday off as well. He had some interesting stuff happen with work this morning, but that’s his story to tell. Suffice to say that things are looking very good for him in the coming year. I’ve been doing load after load of laundry all morning, and mainly bumming around on the net. Around noon I’ll take a shower and see about doing some shopping in preparation for the coming weekend – Sam’s Club and the grocery store, here I come! I need to get pretty much all of my errands done today since it appears that the weather is going to be horrid tomorrow, with 5-7 inches of snow falling between 9 AM and 6 PM. What fun!

We did snag a few pictures from the weekend, including the 2007 Christmas Family Photo:

From left to right, that’s Me, Dan (aka takaza), Bella (in Dan’s arms), Dad, my nephew Tim, my brother-in-law Marvin, my nephew Chris, my sister Ruth, Holly (in Ruth’s arms), and Mom.

Click for more pictures!

…And Here We Are in Nashville

We pulled into the hotel by the Nashville International Airport about an hour ago. Long drive, with an interesting detour through Newton and Olney, Illinois and Evansville, Indiana. We passed only a few cops and one fully-involved Car-B-Que. Traffic through downtown Nashville was remarkably congested, with some stop and go traffic on the I-24 East ramp to I-40 East for no apparent reason. Tomorrow, assuming we can get motivated early enough, we hope to hit the vaunted Pancake Pantry before getting on the road. Off to bed now…

Hittin’ the Road

And here we are at launch day, so to speak. In a few hours, takaza and I will be getting into his car and heading southwards. Our tentative itinerary will take us through Chambana and Effingham, then down to Nashville, TN for the night. Then tomorrow morning, we’ll continue through Chattanooga, Atlanta, then up to Anderson, South Carolina. (Apparently many Chicago furries migrate to South Carolina at Christmastime. Who knew?) I do hope that we’ll be able to hit some back roads along the way, and I grabbed a subscription to Roadfood in hopes of discovering some nifty little out-of-the-way restaurants along the way.

Dan and I did our gift-giving last night. As I had mentioned before, since we bought ourselves a freezer we were just going to get each other small gifts for Christmas. Anyway, I did succeed in getting two of Dan’s presents to him: a book on digital photography, and the collected Firefly miniseries “Serenity: Those Left Behind”. Dan surprised me with something that has been in the back of my head but I had been holding off on: a whole new set of brewing equipment! This was an awesome surprise and I’m looking forward to getting back into brewing after the holidays. Unfortunately, one of Dan’s packages is still en route, and at this point it appears that it’s going to be delivered after we leave. Awesome! As I was writing this the package was delivered. He has to wait until I get home to open it, though 🙂

Looking ahead, it sounds like this is going to be a busy holiday for us. Dan, my sister, and I will be in charge of cooking while we’re in South Carolina, and coming up with a selection of foods that pleases everyone. Tuesday night will of course be the traditional Christmas Turkey (a la Alton Brown, natch). Then Wednesday the 26th we’ll be driving all the way back to Chicago in one shot – won’t that be fun? Dan has to work the 27th and 28th, but I have those days off for a change. I suspect I’ll be quite busy those days, cooking and shopping for the weekend. We’ll deal with that later, though.

Midwest FurFest 2007 Registration Report

And now it’s come to this: After seven years, my final Midwest FurFest Registration Report.

Executive Summary: Proper Prior Planning Prevents P*ss-Poor Performance.

In hindsight, I can see that it is a good thing that this was my last year as Registration Director for Midwest FurFest. A whole lot of the planning that went into this year fell into the category of “let’s do it like we did last year”, which is great for maintaining the status quo but also stifles creativity and innovation. If you don’t change, you don’t improve. So while everything went well this year and there were no complaints, I’m still leaving somewhat dissatisfied, but glad things are being turned over into good hands.

Pre-Convention Planning

Fun With Food Safety!

So after lounging around all morning yesterday I decided to get a start on the cooking for Wuffmeet. The plan was to make Curried Lentil, Tomato, and Lamb Stew. After some annoying issues that included having to buy the lamb sirloin bone-in (and subsequently getting about 2 pounds of lamb from a 7-pound hunk of meat, bone, and fat after butchering it myself), I got a later start than I would have liked. By 11 PM, the stew was done cooking, so I packed it off and put it down in the garage. I figured that the low temperature was going to be in the teens so it would chill quickly, a tall order for eight quarts of stew.

This morning I checked the internal temperature: 86 degrees F. That would mean that it spent 8 hours in the “danger zone” of between 140 and 40 degrees F, providing a fertile breeding ground for bacteria. And after some online research to confirm my suspicions, I found that even if you kill the bacteria by reheating to 165 F the toxins that the bacteria generate will still be present. And as much fun as it would be to give all of our friends food poisoning, I think I’m going to take the safest course of action and throw it all out. It sucks, but I’ll chalk it up as a learning experience. Besides, the overwhelming flavor of the stew was curried carrots, which…well, it’s not what I was going for. So I think I’ll be making something else in its place, though I’m not sure what just yet.

Tonight’s entertainment: Cooking up the Chili Con Carne (and then properly cooling and storing it!). The recipe looks delicious, and I have a couple of tweaks that I am sure will be very good.

Plans Thwarted

Yesterday was a bit of an oddity. Both takaza and I had to work; Dan had to help out in his office for a bit following their relocation on Friday, and I had to go in as part of a plant-wide work day in exchange for everyone getting Monday the 24th off. I was OK with this. The majority of my department sacrificed a vacation day not to come in, but considering I went in at 9 AM and left at 1 PM, I’m glad I went in (plus I don’t have any vacation days left!).

Once I got home, I worked on the dish I was making for datahawk‘s birthday party while waiting for Dan to come home from work. And waited. And waited. Right when I really started to get worried I heard the garage door open. You see, it was snowing heavily by that point, and he had to drive Route 12 from Palatine to Volo at 25-30 mph. After he got home, the snowfall intensified, and after much discussion and deliberation and worrying, we decided that it just wasn’t a good idea to try to make the 42-mile drive down to the party. We’re sad we couldn’t attend, and I hope that everyone had a great time.

Instead, we spent the evening relaxing, watching the snow fall, and catching up on some of the tons of stuff we have on the Tivo. Dan also made some tasty macaroni and cheese. I trundled off to bed early, while he stayed up to watch stuff I’m not interested in, like “ER”.

The sun is out this morning and it looks like the snow has ended. The Magical Snow Elves have come through and plowed our driveway and shoveled our sidewalk, which is lovely. We don’t have much plans for today besides laundry and making plans for Christmas. I may try to get a bit of cooking done for Wuffmeet, though, if I feel motivated to run to the store. This is the first time in a few months that we’ve had a day completely that we didn’t need to do anything, and it’s a lovely, though strange, feeling!

Catering, Meat, Freezing Rain, and Talking Ferrets: Great Weekend!

I had all kinds of plans Friday of the wonderful cooking I was going to do when I got home from work, but as the day wore on…not so much. Instead, we opted for a simple burrito dinner and spent the evening relaxing and making plans for Saturday.

Saturday, on the other hand, things were hopping! We got a relatively early start (11 AM) and headed north towards Antioch. We got sidetracked, though, by the realization that we needed lunch and we needed to line up food for New Years Eve. How fortunate that we were going by one place that would provide a solution to both problems: Scott Dogs! Following a delicious lunch (I had the pulled pork BBQ sandwich), we sat down with Scott’s aunt, who runs the catering business, and we got a quick education in planning a catered event. Our original plans were for three appetizers, three entrees, three side dishes, and two desserts – all for $15 per person.

She was nice and didn’t openly laugh at us, but we had a great conversation about buffet psychology, serving portions, and the virtues of having too much food vs. too little food. We scaled things back a bit in terms of options and upped the number of portions, and we only came in a little over budget (mostly due to taxes and delivery fees, which were still very reasonable considering they were planning on being closed that day and will be coming in expressly to make our order and bring it to us). So now we’ll be serving roast pork and stuffing and Chicken Vesuvio, with garden salad and pasta Alfredo on the side. For dessert, we’ll have homemade apple strudel and three-layer chocolate cake. Yum!

It was a great experience and extremely educational, but unfortunately also took a couple of hours we hadn’t budgeted for. We scrambled to stop by Antioch Packing House and pick up stuff to put in our shiny new freezer, but had to pass on Antioch Liquors, where we had planned on buying champagne for the New Year’s toast. Following a quick stop by the house to drop off our meaty purchases, it was off southwards to Schweppes, my favorite restaurant supply store. We shopped around a bit there and got some items we needed for Wuffmeet, as well as some much-needed items for our kitchen (like replacing our old, scarred cutting boards with nice new color-coded cutting boards). It wasn’t a cheap visit, but we got a lot of very useful items.

From there it was down to Yorktown Mall, where we met aeto for a showing of The Golden Compass. Many others have reviewed it, but my thumbnail version: great cast, wonderful effects and scenery, nifty armored bears, but…it seemed to lack an essential something. I’d give it maybe a 7 out of 10, which is a heck of a lot better than the 5 out of 10 I’d give Enchanted. Still, it was a fun way to kill a couple of hours so I won’t complain. Afterwards we grabbed dinner over at an Irish place in Glen Ellyn (the bangers and mash were quite tasty, though Dan’s burger was less so). The evening was spent at perro and darkwolph‘s place, celebrating Wolphy’s birthday; Perro documented that disturbingly well already, though.

When we left, we got to chip our car out of the ice that had encased it (gotta love freezing rain), then make a very short drive over to justincheetah and calapurr‘s place, where they were kind enough to put us up for the night. Following an excellent night’s sleep and a pleasant morning chatting, we had an excellent, if rather heavy, lunch over at Juicy-O. Oooh, so good. Then we all headed over to Sam’s Wine to do the booze shopping we had skipped the day before. An excellent cava was procured for New Year’s Eve, as well as a number of other tasty drinkables. We parted ways from the kitties and drove home to relax and recuperate from a busy weekend.
The one thing we did accomplish that evening though was to divide, bag, seal, and freeze our meat purchases of the day before, so now we have 10 pounds of hamburger patties, three one-pound packages of bacon, and a 2.5 pound package of stew meat in our freezer, with more to come. I’ll be running to Target this week for more Foodsaver bags, though!

As for the coming week, I’ll be finally getting back to making that lamb, lentil, and tomato stew for New Year’s, as well as a chili con carne. Oh, and I have to work on Saturday (boo!) but in exchange I get Monday the 24th off (yay!). I expect that will be a pretty laid-back workday, though.

Menu for Hope – What a Great Deal!

If you like food and want to help raise money for an excellent charity (The UN World Food Programme) I highly recommend clicking over to Menu for Hope 4 which just started today over at Chef Pim. For $10 per virtual raffle ticket, you can buy chances for a stellar array of prizes, including some one of a kind dining experiences all over the world (many nifty things in the UK!), cookbook packages, specialty food products, homemade food, kitchen equipment, and more! (I’m being a big ol’ fanboy at the prospect of lunch with Harold McGee!). It’s a worthy cause and great prizes. Check it out!

Time to Cook!

Well, the snow came and went, as predicted. I think when all is said and done we got about eight inches up here. It’s not too big a deal, but the roads were pretty sloppy this morning. It took me twice as long as usual to get to work – 15 minutes! Man, I love living nearby.

So takaza is still off in Detroit training, which means one more night of living the bachelor life. Last night was terribly exciting: relaxing on the sofa, reading the paper, chatting with folks on the muck and by IM, and listening to a good net radio station. Woo, life in the fast lane! 🙂 Tonight may be a bit different, though. Now that we have a little extra freezer space to work it, it occurred to me that the dinner that we traditionally cook for the first night of our New Year’s shindig could be made in advance and frozen. This would take a lot of pressure off me right before the party, which is always a Good Thing. I’m thinking about making a curried lamb and lentil stew tonight. I also want to make a tasty chili, and Dan will be making a beef stew. How crazy will we get? Who knows. This adds an extra bit of flexibility, though, and I love the idea of being able to offer a couple of different dishes.
I expect I’ll be stopping at home after work to track down the recipe(s) I want, then it’ll be off to the store to pick up ingredients.

Hm, need to make some plans for the weekend, too. I’ll work on that.

Time to Play Catch-Up!

My goodness, where to begin. I’ve been remiss in updating things (yes Mom, I know 🙂 so I have quite a bit to write about.

Last week was a bit of a blur – mainly just getting back into the swing of things after the previous short work week. Saturday was takaza‘s birthday party! After kicking around ideas of how to celebrate his birthday, he finally settled on spending time with friends, so a party it was. I was a bit worried about the weather – a nasty mix of snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain – but most everyone got to us OK and everyone got home safely (sorry you got lost, awfulhorrid and bookwurm! We’ll see you again soon, though, I hope. Barbarian, check your e-mail!). We had about 20 folks, various snacks and desserts, and three huge pots of chicken and dumplings. We got in some Lupus in Tabula, which was fun, but not quite enough games – we’ll need to work on that at New Year’s.

On Sunday I had lunch with unclevlad and datahawk at Osteria di Tramonto (yum! The roasted duck cavatelli is to die for!) then we toured the Westin Chicago North Shore to give them an idea of the Security challenges for the coming year. It was a great meeting and there was a lot of good discussion. I’m feeling really good about Security for next year, and I hope that Vlad is feeling a bit more comfortable with me in the chairman role. Afterwards I stopped by the Hyatt Woodfield to pick up a bag of mine that they found after MFF (yay!), then picked up some dinner for Dan and me on the way home.

Yesterday Dan took a day off to celebrate his birthday with a little time away from work. We had agreed that this Christmas we would get a single big item for ourselves, then get each other a smaller gift. Dan went out and bought that item yesterday: an 8 cubic foot chest freezer. We got a good deal through Best Buy on a Frigidaire that Consumer Reports recommended. To go with that he also got a Food Saver vacuum bag sealer, which will be a big help if we’re going to be laying in a supply of frozen stuff. We started things out by breaking up a 4-lb. tray of chicken breasts into small packages, and I’m pleased to say that everything worked splendidly! I expect that the 20 feet of bag stock that they supply probably won’t last very long, though, so we’ll need to pick up more of that.
Now we need to experiment a bit and see what other fun stuff we can do with the Food Saver (sous-vide, anyone?).

So today, Dan is flying off to Detroit for a few days of training, weather permitting. Although it’ll be weird being around the house alone, the quiet time can be nice, too. I have a couple of projects I want to work on, and maybe a bit of shopping as well. So, not a very exciting week, but after last month who needs excitement?