potpourri

Welcome to November!

I’ve been working a lot — seems like my department has become Fire-Fighting Central. I like being the guy who can put out the fires (it’s nice to be needed), but even that gets old fast when everything is on fire. That’s bad for my goal of getting and keeping my accumulated comp-time hours under control, but good for future long-weekend trips, which are bad for getting and keeping my accumulated comp-time hours under control…

As a distraction, we’ve been experimenting a little in the kitchen:

new suitcase…and outside of the kitchen with our vacation photos. While making new friends at the WEBMU in Bremen in September, one of them handed us a neat little card with his contact info. It was about half the size of normal business card (by American dimensions — standard business cards here are a little different, just like Letter vs. A4) and had a photo on the front and his contact details on the back. I thought that was so slick. I visited MOO.com and got a set of our own printed minicards for 13,79 € and a nifty little holder for another few Euros. The best part: you don’t have to re-upload those photos if they’re already hosted on flickr. Ordering those, and a set of postcards also based on our flickr photostream was a snap, and they turned out great. So I’m vouching for MOO.com. I like that the Europe-based orders get shipped from the U.K.

Using QOOP was just about as easy — they offer the same kind of behind-the-scenes link to flickr.com. Their focus seems to be not just printing your stuff, but also allowing others to print your stuff (if you like) for fun and profit. I went to them because they offered custom luggage tags, and having recently bought a new suitcase without an integrated luggage tag, I wanted something eye-catching and MINE. Paid too much for it, if you ask me ($9.95 + $6 shipping!). But it looks pretty cool and seems durable. Oh yeah, and if you’re a cutting-edge surfer and using the Google Chrome browser, designing your photo products won’t work…stick with Firefox or MSIE (boo!) I guess.

Glühweinapfeltorte (Spiced red wine apple cake)

Welcome to the lab! We reverse-engineered this cake from one that we bought in a bakery when a couple of friends were coming over for dinner. Any leftover syrup would probably be wonderful on vanilla or dark chocolate ice cream. It’s pretty simple, but labor and time intensive – don’t make it the same day you want to serve it. It gets better as it chills.

Red wine stewed apples
6 large tart apples, peeled and cored
3 c dry red wine (Burgundy is recommended)
2 c water
1/2 c sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 t ground ginger
1 t lemon zest

Shortbread crust
1 c butter, room temperature
1/2 c powdered sugar
2 c flour
1/4 tsp baking powder

Cinnamon whipped cream
1 c whipping cream
2 T sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t vanilla

First, the apples:

Bring wine, water, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and lemon zest to a boil in a stockpot or large Dutch oven. Add apples to wine and lower to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes or until apples are tender. Remove apples with slotted spoon to cool in a bowl and set aside. Keep wine at a low boil and cook down to a syrup (45-50 minutes), stirring constantly. When the apples have cooled (1.5 to 2 hours), slice them into bite-sized pieces.

Then, the crust:

Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C). In a large bowl, cream butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder and blend into butter mixture until crumbly dough forms. In a greased 9- or 10-inch springform pan, pat dough on to bottom and sides to 1/4 inch thickness. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges are golden. Set aside to cool.

Whipped cream time:

Pour cream into chilled bowl and beat on high speed. Slowly add sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.

Assemble the cake:
Pour sliced apples into cooled shell and drizzle with wine syrup (don’t feel you have to use it all – you don’t want it to soak through the crust and get soggy). Spread whipped cream on top of the apples and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Homemade Sausage Patties

I had a hankering for some breakfast sausage patties recently. Checked with Mom via Skype and she said it would be easy to make ourselves. She was right. I cobbled the below recipe from stuff I found by googling and trial-and-error.

Here’s what you need:

1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/3 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pinch ground cloves
1 lb. ground pork — finely ground, if you can get it.

This is not an exact science, so mess with the proportions according to your taste. I like it sagey and peppery (both red and black) and this recipe reflects that. Actually, I forgot the cloves in this trial run of the recipe, and they were great without it, but I’m putting them in next time for sure. And we didn’t have dried sage, but oddly enough, we did have ground sage, which worked fine.

Mix all that stuff up together in a bowl. Some advice I read said to mix the stuff together by hand; some said that the body heat from your hands will negatively impact the texture of the meat. I opted to distribute the herbs and spices throughout the meat by using a thin wooden spatula with sort of a chopping motion. Seems to have worked. I got 4 hamburger-sized patties out of that recipe.

Burn After Reading [the] Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Sarah and I just watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I know, I know, Welcome to 2004! Well, better late than never. Actually, we bought the movie on a whim at an HMV in Ireland at a drastically reduced price. Shades of Being John Malkovich*and 12 Monkeys make it intriguing and more than a little creepy at times — but in a really emotionally engaging way. So, yeah — don’t ever erase someone who cares about you from your mind; it’s pretty much the cruelest thing I can think of.

Earlier this week, we hit the movie theater for the latest Coen Brothers flick Burn After Reading. Maybe I’m going soft in my old age, but that one didn’t sit nearly as well with me as Fargo or The Big Lebowski.* It just didn’t seem as clever, relying much more on screamed curse words and lame sex and adultery themes for the entertainment. Even the Brad Pitt character was funny but vapid — and mostly just vapid. I don’t know, maybe I’m getting crotchety, but I expected more of them.

I’m back and I’m tired

Whew. I’m tired. That week was bumpy, even with a one-night stay at home from Thursday night to Friday morning.

dinner in Sibiu #1 Arriving in Sibiu was fine and smooth for me, but one of the guys from Iași had a six-hour layover in Bucharest — travel inside Romania is not always easy. And my travel buddy from Nuremberg on this trip got there with about two hours late, which caused us to postpone the plant tour to next morning…cutting into our work time. But we had a lovely dinner at a very traditional restaurant.

I thought we would be able to get past the slightly bumpy start after a night’s sleep at the Ramada Sibiu. Maybe it was too comfortable — when we finally finished the plant tour and started to get down to business, I realized I’d left my little bag of cables and connectors and Elektroschrott back at the hotel. Which means I couldn’t get us onto any part of “my” company’s network (since we got bought last year, our networks have been completely separate). How embarrassing. But I tried to rectify the situation by grabbing a taxi back to the hotel on my lunch break. It took a half an hour just for the taxi to arrive, and then forty-five minutes to get from the plant (outskirts of town, 1 minute from the airport) to the hotel and 15 minutes to get back from the hotel to the plant. What did I learn? Traffic in Sibiu can be extremely chaotic.

PA144758_autoexposure_adjust_ufraw We had another very nice, traditional dinner in Sibiu that evening, and I was playing around with my tripod and remote shutter, trying to take some interesting low light (no flash!) pictures. I think I still have some learning to do in that realm. Oh, and it would help if everyone would stop moving while I’m shooting, please.

PA144763 Checking out of the Ramada Sibiu the next morning was also somewhat chaotic. There was a mad dash of businessmen yelling at the lone receptionist guy about how they were going to miss their flights because their taxis to the airport hadn’t yet shown up (even though the poor receptionist guy called twice, pleading for a taxi to show up, etc.). I was a bit stressy too, but it turns out we had nothing to worry about. We got to the airport just fine and were delayed in boarding our plane for TWO HOURS due to foggy conditions both in Sibiu and Timisoara. Then after boarding, we waited another one hour in the plane on the tarmac before the weather finally broke.

Of course, all of this put a big time squeeze on our meeting in Timisoara and frustration levels there rose again. Walking around downtown Timisoara at night after a meal at a fancy restaurant helped us relax a little. The next day in Timisoara was stressier again (fortunately not for me — I was mostly observing on this part of the mission) due to time constraints and personal objectives of the participants, but thanks to the team assistant in Timisoara, I budgeted plenty of time for the trip to the airport and all went smoothly on the way home.

10 hours after arriving here though I was already on a train headed out to Nuremberg, in meetings all day with my boss and his boss and my Nuremberg travel buddy from the first four days of the week. I’d planned to finish the week with a 16:31 departure from Nuremberg to Regensburg, but the discussion got kind of involved, so I opted to catch the 18:31 instead. And then the discussion caused me to miss that train as well, despite running all through the Nuremberg Hauptbahnhof and actually pressing the button to open the door to the train. Missing a train by less than 5 seconds is really, really frustrating. So I waited an hour at the train station and finally made it back to our apartment around 21:00. I am glad that week is over.