Sunday, March 27, 2011

Brooklyn Pizza & RedEye Coffee

When we're in Florida, we tend to eat at places we've missed. In Tallahassee, that means a stop at One Fresh Stir Fry. In Melbourne, that means Thai Thai or Siam Orchid, or both. In general, we like to grab subs from Publix, sandwiches from Chick-fil-a, and after that it's a bit of a wild card. Personally, I also like to get in Zaxby's, but that's contingent on several things, but I did make the time to stop at an exit with one when I was driving back from Tallahassee.

This time around, I went to two new places, both in Tallahassee. The first was RedEye Coffee, which I stopped at on both Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. It's on Thomasville, but I really suggest coming from Monroe, cutting over on Fifth, then turning right. The parking lot is a bit of a ways down, and it's pretty crowded. Just a head's up. The hot chocolate was pretty good, and so was the mocha frappe. The prices were pretty reasonable, and I tried both the indoor and outdoor tables.

Brooklyn Pizza is where Heather and I got dinner the first night that I was in town. It's down on Pensacola Street, and I can't speak much to the ambiance, as we got carry-out.We got calzones, which were pretty good. Maybe they were slightly pricey, but we each got two meals out of one, so maybe not. The flavor was good, and I'd get them again.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring in Florida

We just got back from a trip to Florida. It wasn't spur-of-the moment, but it wasn't that long-planned, either. A little more than a month beforehand, my thesis was given a defense date, and that's what prompted the trip. I booked almost immediately, going with the cheapest airfare option, which ended up putting me in Florida a little more than a week. Over the next week, Jonathan decided that he'd also go, since we hadn't been in Florida since Christmas and we had a bunch of things to catch-up on anyway.

We took a red-eye out of San Jose on Sunday night, which wasn't fabulous, but it wasn't the worst experience, either. We were able to gate-check our roller-bags, which made for an easier transition in Atlanta. Monday was pretty low-key - I slept, Jonathan worked, and we saw some Melbourne people. Tuesday, I left for Tallahassee around 10am, and spent the night with Heather, my old roommate. I also got coffee with Aaron, a colleague from grad school.

Wednesday was my thesis defense, and although it took longer than I expected, I passed. I now have some revisions to do, which are at the forefront of my daily routine at the moment. I celebrated with another coffee hour with Aaron, and then dinner with Heather and Steve at One Fresh Stir Fry, my favorite restaurant in Tallahassee. I was pretty exhausted, so Heather and I played some Wii MarioKart before I went to bed. My Thursday started early, as I had a meeting at 9, a meeting at 10, an impromptu meeting immediately following that one, and then a few errands to run while I was on-campus. I got on the road around noon, so I got back to Melbourne around dinner. I caught up on some online things, then went to bed as the guys went downtown to the St. Patrick's Day Block Party.

Friday started as a workday for me, and as the boys headed to Orlando around dinner for a weekend conference, I drove to Vero to have dinner and spend some time with BK and Tori. Saturday, Jonathan was in Orlando. I went to Port St. Lucie for my friend, Michelle's bridal shower, and then I spent some time with Tori in Melbourne. Jonathan and I spent Sunday with his family in Fort Pierce. Monday morning I had a dentist appointment, then I saw my mom for about an hour and a half, and I made it to Melbourne in time for lunch with some friends. Then we dropped off our tax information with our accountant, and spent the rest of the afternoon working. We had Thai for dinner, and I fell asleep pretty soon afterward. Tuesday morning we worked, and then we left for the airport... (and that takes up the rest of this post, so if you're not interested in the traveling aspect, nothing exciting happens after it, LoL).

We were booked on a 4:30pm flight that connected in Atlanta and took us to San Jose, where we would land about 9:30pm. But, on the way to the airport, there was an accident that caused traffic. Dead-stopped traffic (bad luck #1). And, we were less than a mile from the scene, with no exits between us that would allow for a re-route. So, we sat there. We didn't move for a long time. We eventually inched here and there. Time went by. I began to panic when we hit an hour before our plane departed. Fifteen minutes after that, I called the airline. I had always been told, and have read online as well, that if you know you are going to miss a flight, call ahead (and Jonathan was also under this same impression). The idea is that something can be worked out, the sooner the better. Well, that wasn't the case yesterday. And maybe it's not the case anymore. Or maybe it's just not the case with Delt@. After multiple voice-prompts, I got a woman who tried a few different things before finally offering me a flight to San Francisco, which connected through Minneapolis. It was only about an hour after our first flight, and got us in two hours later. But, it would cost $171 EACH. I wasn't thrilled, and handed the phone to Jonathan. After only a few seconds, he had determined that it didn't matter whether we re-booked now or later, so we opted to wait (good decision #1).

We eventually made it to the overpass where the accident was, and we were routed off the highway and back on, but in a VERY slow process. Turns out, the accident happened less than ten minutes before we were stopped, but cost us much more than ten minutes to get past. Bryan tried hard to get us there as fast as possible, and we began the mad dash about 4:03. After our boarding passes were checked, we told a security agent our dilemma (good decision #2). He helped by making the aisle wider and allowed us to ask people in line if we could skip them. Everyone obliged and we began to feel that we'd have a chance. But, that was halted when there was a problem with the trams. For whatever reason, one was closed. This caused us to have to wait behind a barrier (bad luck #2), which slowed down the tram process by several minutes. On the tram, we shoved things back where they went (we threw things together after getting through security, in an effort to save time), and decided that there would be no trying to stay together. Once the tram doors opened, it would be a free-for-all to try and make it to the gate. The first person there would just stall until the second made it. The doors opened, and we took off running. Jonathan got an early lead, but I was close behind, hollering "excuse me" left and right. We came around a corner and I had to slow down. We were easily lugging 75 pounds each, between our roller bags and laptop bags. It was rough. I instantly regretted not being able to sprint the entire way, but in the end it wouldn't have mattered. The gates were out of order, and Jonathan got past 74 and hit 76, looking around for 75. I saw 75 first, and read that our flight had been moved to 73. And, just like you see in the movies, I ran up to the desk of 73, huffed and puffed out "Atlanta" while throwing my boarding pass onto the counter, and was promptly shown the window, with our plane pulling away from the jet-bridge. As I caught my breath, the agent explained that they close the doors ten minutes before takeoff, and my watch showed 4:27. We had missed it by 7 minutes. Jonathan showed up as I looked at my watch, and I repeated what I had just learned.

To their credit, both the agent who broke the bad news to me, as well as the other one at the desk, immediately took my boarding pass and began searching the computer for other options. However, after they realized that they couldn't get us on a later flight with the same route, they told us we'd need to go to the main Delt@ customer service area. Jonathan immediately began heading that way, and there was only one person in front of us, so it went pretty quickly. However, the woman at the counter did not know California very well, and was trying to put us on a flight to Los Angeles, rather than San Francisco, which I explained was our second-choice airport (if you're also not familiar with California geography, LAX is approximately 400 miles south of SFO). She then mentions that she can't do anything anyway, that we'd need to use a courtesy phone and speak to someone at HQ anyway. So, we head over there. Jonathan gets a lovely woman from Atlanta, who books us on a flight to SFO via Salt Lake City. It will get us to California only an hour later than the original, and will only cost $100 total for both of us. So, we book. Then, we head to the gate, take a moment to relax, and then we take turns going to change our shirts and drink some water.

The flight to Salt Lake wasn't bad. We were on a newer Delt@ plane, which had individual screens. I listened to some new Broadway soundtracks and played the trivia game until I had the highest score, LoL. I also got through several magazines, which had been piling up at home. We landed on-time, and as soon as we got off the plane we saw that our flight was delayed for 45 minutes (bad luck #3). The Delt@ flight to SFO before ours was delayed 90 minutes, so I thought it was weather right away. We found a place to put down our stuff, and Jonathan went to see if he could get us on the first flight instead of the second. That didn't work, but it was a long shot anyway. Then, they changed our gate. So we moved again. Jonathan looked for a customer service area, but wound up on the phone yet again. He was told that it was a mechanical delay, and that we may qualify for meal vouchers. When he came back, I took our boarding passes to try for the vouchers (good decision #3). I was ultimately unsuccessful, as it was deemed weather, though the woman checked again.

And then it got delayed again (bad luck #4). It went from like 8:30 to 9:15, then to 10:00. At this point, it's after 9, and we realized that we're going to need to eat (since we woke up on Eastern Time, it's after midnight for us. And although we had sandwiches on the plane and bought snacks, we were hungry). So, Jonathan went to find food around 9:30, with the idea that we'd eat it on the plane. And, it ended up being good decision #4, since he had to go pretty far to find anything that was open, and even they only had one item left... so we planned to share a pepperoni stromboli from Sbarro for dinner. I was shocked that it wasn't even 10pm, and there was no more food to be found. But, about 9:40, they announced that we were delayed again. The rain in San Francisco hadn't gotten better, and the projected take-off was now 11:15 (bad luck #5). So, we ate the stromboli. It was pretty good.

At 10:45, I heard several people ask the gate agents (which had changed multiple times already. And at this point we are the only gate with people in the entire terminal) about boarding. They were told that at 11pm, they'd hear from the Captain. And, at 11:05, we began boarding. We didn't actually take off until about 11:40 (bad luck #6). It was a regional plane, so we needed to gate-check our roller-bags again. But, it was jet-way checking (meaning you get your bag at the jetway at the other airport), which we greatly prefer to regular gate-checking, LoL. We had our seats moved back a row so that we'd have the recline option (good decision #5). Jonathan was able to sleep a little bit, but I couldn't really get beyond closing my eyes.

It's at this point that I should mention that I'd panicked off and on all day regarding our ride back from the airport. We had a friend lined up, but after the first change, Jonathan had trouble getting into contact with him to update him and make sure the change in airports was fine with him. He did, eventually. But, since we had multiple delays in Salt Lake, hours went by before we heard back from him (turns out he was napping, LoL), and we had started discussing other options, which were all not that great, given the time of day and the rain situation. But, in the end, Andy was there when we walked out of the airport, and we got home just fine, albeit after 1am. It was not the ideal day of travel. And, now we know the processes of re-booking due to mechanical problems, and because of natural disasters, and because of personal delays.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

More Cake Decorating

I mentioned in my first post about cake decorating that I would do a follow-up about the other two classes in the first course.

The third class was all about flowers. We learned a TON. We did drop flowers, swirl drop flowers, rosettes, shaggy mums, and pull-out pokey flowers (I forget the name). We also learned three types of leaves and how to do shells. And we learned how to ice cupcakes with that swirly look that you see at Publix. Needless to say, it was a very busy class that led to a lot of practicing during the week for me!

For the final class, we needed to bake, fill, and ice a cake, prepare a "cake plan," and bring any flowers that we wanted to use that needed to be transferred (as opposed to made directly on the cake). We also had a great deal of icing to make, in various consistencies and colors. This is where I struggled the most... in weeks 2 and 3, it took me a long time to make the frostings because I was doing it by hand. In week 4, I had a hand mixer (though it's pretty crummy, at least I didn't have to take breaks in order to finish mixing!), but had a difficult time deciding when "thin" became "medium" and "medium" became "stiff." I agonized over this way too much, and quickly realized that it's much easier to make frosting thinner than it is to make it stiffer. Additionally, I think I struggled because I was changing recipes a bit. I mentioned last time that I didn't care for the sweetness of the class icing, so for week 3, I used Buddy Valastro's (from Cake Boss and Kitchen Boss) buttercream recipe. It was pretty easy to work with. But, the shelf life is shorter (it's made with butter rather than shortening), so I didn't want to make it again for week 4, and I went with a store-bought icing and class-recipe icing instead. Store-bought icing is ridiculously difficult to change the consistency of, because it seems to get thinner with each stir, regardless of what you're adding in. So, note to self, plain frosting can be done with store-bought, but decorations really need to be from scratch.

Anyway, I thought about my "cake design" multiple times throughout the week... in the shower, while watching tv, falling asleep at night... and I just kept coming back to an idea that I found on a website, but modifying it to incorporate what we learned in class. So, after much deliberation, I went with it. I made four large flowers ahead of time, and a whole bunch of small accent flowers (many more than I needed, it turned out). I also used our favorite recipe and did a layered cake my way, instead of how we learned to do it in class. I did level my layers with a cake leveler, and that did help quite a bit. But I still honestly think that I got more height using three pans instead of one. And then I made my only real mistake. I forgot to add meringue powder to the thin consistency I used to frost the cake. This meant that, when I went to smooth out the top later, the top layer of icing pulled off the cake... forcing me to re-ice the top, and give up the idea of smoothing the sides via waxed paper. No biggie, though I was a bit sad that I wasn't going to have a really smooth cake to work with in class.

It took some finagling, but I came up with a way to transport my ready-made flowers... inside my brownie pan that has a lid with handles. I just put all of my decorations on a cake circle (so I could get them out again), cut the edges of the circle so it'd fit in my pan, and slid the pan up on my arm so I'd be able to carry everything else. The first part of class was devoted to writing in print and script with icing, which was fairly easy for me. Then, we learned to make ribbon-roses, and spent half an hour or so working on those. They were difficult, and they're definitely a flower that I need to spend some more time practicing. I also think that my frosting could've been a bit stiffer, even though I saturated it with powdered sugar the night before to ensure tat it would be super-stiff. Again, this may be one of those times where, if you didn't get it stiff from scratch, you just buy stiff at the store in order to be sure it's the right consistency.

Then, it was time to start our "finals." Because of where people sat this time, I didn't have any of the stronger decorators near me, which I was a little sad about. Instead, I had two girls to my right who were doing basic pattern transfers, and the woman to my left focused on simple borders and just a message in the center of her cake. I could tell that, across the room, more detailed cakes were being made. And that was good, because mine was fairly detailed. As you'll see in my photos, I did eight flowers around the top edge of my cake, alternating types between my favorites. I did "Hooray!" as my message because I wanted something simple, yet I still wanted to showcase writing. Then, I began outlining the flower pots on the sides of my cake, coordinating the colors with the flowers above each of them. As I began filling them in, the instructor realized what I was doing and came over to watch for a bit (she had been circling the room before that). She made some positive comments (which was encouraging), and I moved on to drawing stems and leaves. I added a grass border, and then transferred two roses onto the cake, adding leaves for them as well. I finished by placing some of my drop flowers on the sides and top, but ultimately only used about 1/4 of the ones I made, since the cake was looking pretty "busy." Apparently, in my head, an eight-inch cake is a lot larger than it is in real life, LoL.
 
 
And, looking forward, I am planning to take two more courses (one specializing in more flowers and one dealing with fondant and gum paste), but not for a bit. I'm going to wait until the classes are on-sale again, and I'm also not sure when I'll be able to commit to a class for 4 weeks again. Plus, I need to pick a new location (I'm not the only person who wants to switch, either. I know of at least one other girl in my class who is planning to continue elsewhere).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Crazy Buffet

We've passed Crazy Buffet many times, as it's on a major road that we take often. We've also talked about going multiple times, but it just hadn't happened. So, I was really in the mood for Chinese, and Jonathan was just hungry, so we set out to eat there on a Saturday night.

It's pretty poorly organized when you walk in... we thought we were in a line to put out name on the list. Five minutes later, we realized that wasn't the case. We probably only waited about 20 minutes total, but that's a long time for a buffet, LoL! The entire experience was mediocre, really.

The water was good, but refills consisted of a server taking away our cups and we didn't see them again for five minutes... with the salty nature of many Chinese dishes, this was a problem. There was fresh sushi and sashimi at one of the buffet lines, which looked great. The tuna and salmon were pretty good. The problem was that the plates were very hot, so by the time you were back to your seat, your raw fish was starting to get warm...not nearly as appetizing. Still, we each had a few pieces (plus whitefish, a spicy roll, and a few other non-descript items).

There was a heavy seafood emphasis, with crab legs, oysters, and clams all being out, plus salt-and-pepper shrimp, crawdads, and other crab items. The crawdads were okay, but I passed on the crab, clams, and oysters. There were frog legs, which I found to be decent (my first time having them, so I don't have any other background on them). The roasted duck was hit-or-miss: I had it on my first plate, and it was extraordinarily greasy; Jonathan tried it later and found it to be dry. The pork shu mai was pretty good, though the potstickers were kinda mushy. The spring rolls were average, the sweet-and-sour chicken was dry, and the vegetable-fried noodles were bland. Jonathan tried the prime rib, which he found to be okay. We both tried the pepper steak, which I found to be pretty good, but Jonathan found it to be mushy and fatty. The vegetables I had (celery, onion, peppers) were pretty good. As always, you can't completely remember each item you tried at a buffet, but I think that this is probably enough to note that it was an overall average place.

The Chinese donut was excellent (if I still had room, I would've had another), the soft-serve was fine (though they were often out of dishes), and the cantaloupe was fairly fresh. The jello, however, was very tough. Overall, the place was a little overpriced for us (though if you like all-you-can-eat crab legs, salt-and-pepper shrimp, and oysters, you probably would have found $14.99/person to be a steal). We probably made up for the cost by having the sushi, though. We also had a 10% off coupon that we found in a paper - I'd recommend doing that. Oh, and as a final note, you might want to avoid Saturdays simply because of the number of birthdays being celebrated - we heard the birthday song over the loudspeaker 4-5 times while we were there... and it's a very long version. Of course, maybe it was just a fluke on the night we went..

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gobi Mongolian BBQ

Gobi is pretty close to Jonathan's work, so he's been there multiple times. For the first time, I went with him and our friend, Andy, on a Friday for lunch. The line was out the door when we arrived, and I was pretty concerned. The guys acted like it was no big deal, and I realized pretty quickly that they were right.

From the entrance, you go straight into the line, and after you've received your food, you are given a table - and that part goes pretty smoothly. For $8, you can go through the line multiple times, and you pick exactly what you want. Chicken, pork, or beef is chosen first (or a combination if you prefer). Then veggies - tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, water chestnuts, pineapple, celery (which I thought was green pepper at first because of the way that it was sliced), etc. Then, you can add noodles if you want. Last, sauces... there were quite a few to pick from, and they're much more potent that the Mongolian place in downtown Mountain View. After your plate has been cooked, there are a lot of options as far as what you can top it off with - garlic powder, lemon pepper, cayenne seasoning, sesame seeds, etc. There are also spring rolls to munch on if you like.

Everything was really good, though the celery kinda dampened my first bowl a bit, since I was expecting peppers. Jonathan liked both of his bowls, too, but of course he was an expert at the combinations at this place. Andy liked his first bowl better than his second, but on his second he was going for a sweet sauce instead of spicy, and that's hard to do since they don't clean the hot stone between cooking meals and sometimes the liquids from another person's spill into yours (we actually think some of Jonathan's spiciness got into Andy's in this case, LoL). I'm not sure that I like it more than the one in Mountain View, but it was a nice change. It was also nice for me because I love stir-fry and don't get it all that often.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Red's Java House

If you've been wondering why so many of the things we've done lately have included Jim, it's because he was our roommate for about three months (not sure if I ever mentioned that). But, he moved out recently, and we helped him move his stuff to his new place in San Francisco. After we got everything upstairs, we went out to eat at a burger place close to his new apartment.

Red's Java House isn't a coffeehouse, as one might guess. Instead, it's off Pier 30 and is kind of a hole-in-the-wall place, even though it is stand-alone. They were pretty quick, but I imagine that's because the menu is pretty simple. Jim, both of his new roommates, and I all had cheeseburgers. The patty was nothing special (similar to Burger King, really), but it was on a slab of sourdough bread, which was incredibly fresh and delicious. There was plenty of mustard, some onions and pickles, and nothing else. They actually pride themselves on the fact that they don't carry lettuce or tomatoes, which I thought was interesting. Jonathan went with the fish & chips. The battered outside was good, but left the inside a bit mushy. The portion was also HUGE, and Jonathan finished just half of the fish. The fries were thin, oily, and squishy... which is a no-go for me. Jim got the onion rings, which were heavy on the breading, but still pretty decent. It's a place that is frequented by his roommates, but I wasn't really taken with it. They have a daily special that varies from corned beef hash to tuna fish, but none of them really sounded fantastic to me. The sodas were also a bit overpriced, but I needed the sugar after moving so much stuff, LoL.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

More Pho Places...

We tried a place close to our house - the California Noodle House, which also seems to go by (or used to go by) Pho Xe Lua. The summer rolls were average, and the pho was served with lemon. Jonathan and I agreed that there was not nearly enough noodle in the bowl to balance out the broth and meat. I had a difficult time seasoning the broth, and gave lemon a try in my pho for the first time. It was pretty bad. But, at least now I know that it's not worth it, LoL. Jim got a different dish and thought it was okay, but when we go for Vietnamese, we generally want pho, so that won't really work for us.

A week later we went to Pho Quyen, which Jonathan had been to before, but I never had. He said that the place was hit-or-miss, and that's kinda how I felt about it. As I've mentioned before, I get very upset when I ask for lime and I receive lemon. I understand that the translation on the other end is the same, but if I specify "green lime" (as I often do), I'd like to know up-front if that's not what you have... because I will order differently if I can't get lime with my pho. Well, it's kinda tacky to admit, but I've taken to bringing my own lime when we go for pho, in case they don't have it. And, that was the case this time. Lemon was served on the side, and I had pre-cut limes in a tupperware under the table, LoL. There were too many noodles in the bowl for my liking, which made the broth pretty starchy. Also, the chicken was less than ideal... many dark spots in the meat. They did, however, have some very good pork summer rolls. Jonathan also thought that there were too many noodles in the bowl this time, but he also said that he liked it, so it wasn't a total loss. The best pho is still in Mountain View, which is a shame since it's not as easy to get to as it was when it was a half-mile's walk! Still, we'll continue to try out pho, that's for sure!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cabritos

Vanessa, a girl in the same rotational program as Jonathan, was visiting Sunnyvale for business for a few days (she lives in Denver right now). So, she organized a dinner for some people she knows to catch-up and whatnot at a Mexican place nearby.

Cabritos was pretty empty, even for a Monday. We were the only people in there when we arrived (around 7:30), and only two or three other tables ever arrived. Toward the end of the night, there was a sound-check of sorts, and the schedule showed that they have music there multiple times a week, so I guess it just must hvae been a particularly slow evening.

Half of the table got chimichangas, the other half got burritos, and I think there were 1 or 2 people who chose something different. The complimentary chips and salsa were decent - the chips were good, but the salsa was spicy and watery. We also all had a little of the restaurant's version of queso fundido, which is a melted cheese with sausage. It was good, and I think everyone would agree. The chimichanga was pretty good, and the guacamole was excellent. The issue I had was the price of the chimichanga for the portion... I was one of the first people finished with their meal, and I've met many a chimichanga that I couldn't dream of finishing. We would consider going back for the queso and for the guac, but I think we'd both try other items (we both went with the chimichangas).