Sunday, April 26, 2009

Makin' Sushi and Other Random Acts



In March, Rachel and I took a sushi making course at one of the area high schools. The following Sunday afternoon, we decided to apply our new trade with Tim and Nicole Callahan, who also joined us for the class. The photo above is of Nicole and Rachel preparing the ingredients in our kitchen in preparation of making maki-rolls.

All sushi purveyors know that the key to good sushi (in addition to fresh fish) is properly prepared sushi rice. Sushi chefs in Japan will train on preparing sushi rice for 5-10 years before they are allowed to move on to the next steps of sushi making. If the rice is bad, the sushi is bad. Below is a video of us completing the sushi rice preparation. Nicole is demonstrating the cutting and folding motions of finishing the rice. Tim is adding the proper amount of rice wine vinegar, which is key to giving the sushi rice its stickyness, but not clumpyness. I am fanning the rice as the vinegar is added and the rice is folded. In addition to making me look ridiculous, it serves a very important purpose in the rice preparation. If you don't fan the rice while it cools and vinegar is added, it will clump. "Rachel K" (not to be confused with Rachel Ray) is the narrator.

video

Once the ingredients were cut into strips and the rice was properly prepared, we rolled our sushi. We made some nigiri sushi (fish strips sitting on an oblong small packed pile of rice. However, most of our sushi was prepared in maki- rolls and cut into slices, such as the ones shown here. As this was our first time, some of our rolls (mainly mine) tended to open. Rachel rolled pretty tight rolls, so hers are shown for display purposes.

In the end, we had an excellent meal and afternoon of socializing - all while watching the NCAA tournament. It was a great time!!! We also found a good Asian food store with fresh and cheap ingredients (we will probably buy some of our produce there from now on, as the prices and quality were good).


Random Crap - Not Really a Reflection
This picture does not really belong with this or any other blog. We celebrated Nicole's birthday (she is 25...whatever) by surprising her for a bowling evening. She is sporting her fratty pink monogrammed bowling shirt, so I had to work the picture in somewhere.



Also in March, I made it to my first Philadelphia Flyers game. The fans are rabid!!! We had a good time, even though they beat the Predators. My buddy, Keith Edwards, went with me to the game. Although not a Flyers Fan (he is from Buffalo), he is one of the bigger hockey fans I know - he is also our hockey expert for trivia. We left the women folk at home and headed out to the Wachovia Center for hockey and $40 worth of junk food.

Finally, I will brag on my wife one more time. In addition to smoking me in the Out-And-Back 4 mile run this past Friday evening in Philly (the second race in a row where she has beaten me), she won the award pictured with her here at her February run, part of the "Winter Pickle Race Series". Awards were given based on who could most closely predict their 5K time. Watches, IPods and other devices that could be used to pace were not allowed. She guessed her time within 3 seconds and won the pickle. Very nice...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The PT Girls Visit Philadelphia


The PT girls (Becky Sexton, Sara Pigg Walker, Jennifer Kain Richardson, and Rachel - pictured above) came to visit us in March.

Becky arrived Thursday night. Rachel picked up Sara and Jennifer at the airport Friday morning, and Friday afternoon, they toured historic Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Flower Show was in town, and the girls were able to get tickets from our friend Meg. The Philly Flower Show is an annual event, and is apparently a very big deal because it significantly increases train traffic the week it is in town. Even the later trains leaving the city are full, when the Flower Show is in town.

The girls visited the Liberty Bell on Independence Mall. They also took a tour of Constitution Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the first Congress met. They went to the Constitution Center and saw "The Story of We The People" (if you ever visit Philadelphia, visit this multimedia show; it will make you proud to be an American).









They also visitd Ben Franklin's grave (pictured here). The grave is in a church graveyard near the Constitution Center. People throw pennies onto Ben's grave for good luck. The church actually uses the proceeds of the pennies to fund maintenance of the graveyard. You can see the feet and broom of one of the maintenance guys who collects the pennies. As he told us, "Ben used to say, 'A penny saved is a penny earned.' As we say here at the church, 'A penny tossed, is a penny lost.'"

Friday after I got out of work, we took the girls to Jim's Steaks for an authentic Philly Cheesesteak. The outside world all knows Pat's or Gino's as the king of the Philly Cheesesteak. Many locals would consider Jim's to be king. Rachel and I really like it (plus, they have a Veggie steak for Rachel). It is located on South Street.



The girls enjoying the first bite of their cheesesteak.






Me wolfing down my cheesesteak.





Saturday morning, we took the girls to Valley Forge National Park and looked around. We also had a picnic while we were there.



Saturday afternoon, it was time for a little Guitar Hero. Becky, Sara and Jennifer made up the band. Rachel and I were rotating members. We lacked a good drummer.

Sara "Hendrix" and Becky "Van Halen".



Sunday morning, before we took them back to the airport, we took the girls to the Art Museum so they could run up "the Rocky Steps". This photo is a view from the top of the Art Museum steps.








REFLECTION - The Before and After - Locks of Love Public Service Announcement

Ironically, Bill Langston commented after my last blog on how long Rachel's hair had grown. It was a very timely comment, as Rachel got a haircut the following Friday. When I say haircut, I am not talking about a "trim" or a "shape-up", but a full-fledged cut. To the right is the "Before" picture, taken Friday morning before Rachel went to work.

The "After" picture (to the left) was taken the same Friday evening, after Rachel visited her hair dresser, who removed 11 inches of her hair. We celebrated the event by going out for Asian Fusion food at a new restaurant to us - Fuzion (it is about 1 mile down the road and is excellent).


The "casualty" went to a good cause, too. Part of the reason Rachel had grown her hair out so long was so she could donate it to "Locks of Love". Locks of Love (locksoflove.org) is a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from long-term hair loss from any medical diagnosis. Volunteers can donate at least 10 inches of hair, which is then used to make wigs for these children. So, Rach's hair went to a good cause. For more information, visit locksoflove.org.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Commercial Meeting and R&R in Arizona


The first week of March, I was in Scottsdale, AZ for my company's annual sales meeting. Rachel flew in Thursday evening, and we took a long weekend of R&R. Late March/early April is the perfect time to be in the Phoenix area, as the weather was sunny and mid to high 70's all week.


We stayed at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort, which is absolutely beautiful. The lawns were very well manicured, and the flowers were already in bloom.






Our sales meeting ended early on Thursday. I caught a ride with my coworkers (who were flying back to Philadelphia) to the airport, where I picked up our rental car for the weekend. I then drove to Phoenix Municipal Stadium for an afternoon Cactus League Spring Training game.


I chose to see the Oakland A's, for no other reasons than: 1) their spring training location was between the Phoenix Airport and Scottsdale and 2) the Oakland A's are an easy spring training ticket to obtain. My planning was not perfect, as the A's were playing the hometown Diamondbacks, so the stadium was pretty much full. Luckily, because I was a single, I was able to get a ticket in the shade behind home plate.




It was an extremely relaxing afternoon. Perfect weather, baseball and good food - three of my favorite things. I sat next to a family from Chicago, who had retired to Phoenix (the grown daughter was visiting for the week from Chicago). They were very nice, loved baseball, and were a fun group to sit with.

On Friday, I sent Rachel to the resort spa for a massage and pedicure, as part of her birthday. It also allowed me to catch up on work email and get a few things done. I was surprised how much more enjoyable it is to do work from beautiful, sunny surroundings, than it is from an office (don't worry folks, I did take a day of vacation. I just took this opportunity to make up for my detour to the spring training game on Thursday.)


After her spa pampering, Rachel and I caught lunch at one of the resort restaurants. We then headed to the pool for the afternoon. The weather was warm enough to get into the water. However, with the low humidity, you quickly dried off once you got out of the pool.



I took Rachel to dinner at my favorite restaurant in the world - Element at the Sanctuary. I ate there twice last year with customers. The food is awesome, and the views are spectacular, especially at dusk. Chef Beau MacMillan cooks the best steaks I have ever eaten (he beat Bobby Flay on a Kobe Steak challenge on Iron Chef America). Unfortunately, Rachel was suffering from a sinus and ear infection and couldn't really taste her food.
Although she was unable to taste the food, Rachel was able to enjoy the scenery and views from Element. Positioned on the side of a hill, Element at the Sanctuary, sits over the resort pool and overlooks Paradise Valley, which is adjacent to Scottsdale.



After dinner, Rachel and I met up with some of her friends from high school back at the resort. David Latimer and his wife, Dani, and Jason Payne and his sister, Samantha, met us at the resort restaurant. We had a really nice time catching up with them (David, Dani and Jason all live in Phoenix now; Samantha was in visiting Jason for the weekend).




Saturday, Rachel and I headed into Phoenix, where we visited the the Arizona Biltmore. Owned and managed by Waldorf Astoria, the Arizona Biltmore was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, who served as a consultant on the project for several months during construction in the 1920's. His trademark style architectural is obviously displayed throughout the resort.
The inside of the resort is also obviously inspired by Wright, as most of the structures display his horizontalism design. The furniture is also obviously Wright designed and matches much of the furniture at Falling Water, just outside of Pittsburgh.


Passing through the lobby from the front of the hotel, you enter a courtyard in the rear. This courtyard has beautiful gardens and a multitude of restaurants and shops. It is a very nice area to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.


Rachel on the lawn chess / checkers grounds. Apparently, this was an extremely popular pastime for the rich in the 1930's and 1940's. Several old photos in the hotel showed guests playing lawn chess.
The pool area at the Arizona Biltmore was spectacular. It was large, well maintained, and on this particular Saturday... crowded.
The most awesome aspect of the pool was the large waterslide.
Adjacent to the pool area were more flower gardens. The Arizona Biltmore is certainly an oasis in the desert.
Saturday afternoon, Rachel and I headed two hours south of Phoenix to Tucson, to visit Jeremy and Ginny Graves (pictured with us in this blog's title picture). Jeremy is one of my best friends from college. His wife Ginny is also one of our favorite people (like many of my other friends, he definitely married up). We spent Saturday afternoon and evening with the Graves family eating pizza, playing Wii and socializing.

Jeremy's and Ginny's daughters, Olivia and Madison, are absolutely adorable and extremely well-behaved. They let us Wii bowl with them. We also enjoyed watching the Graves family establish their Wii sports ages.

After Olivia and Madison turned in for the evening, Rachel and Ginny humiliated Jeremy and me by beating us in a round of Tiger Woods Golf on the Wii. Rachel and I then had to head back to Scottsdale to turn in for our early flight on Sunday morning.

The rest and relaxation was much needed, and catching up with old friends is always an enjoyable event.

Due to the length of this blog, there will be no Reflection. You are probably tired of reading by now anyway.