Author Archives: Bill Owen

About Bill Owen

Happy 60-ish husband, parent, grandpappy, activist, foodie, traveler, and lover of life here! 4th generation Texan, living in the heart of the MetroMess (Dallas/Ft. Worth area). Happily married to my husband, Kent. Three kids and two grandkids. Life is good!

QUARANTINE DOESN’T MEAN UGLY WITH A CAPITAL “EWWWWW!”

Okay, in case y’all don’t know, I’m an extrovert. On the Myers-Briggs test I tested in the 99th percentile as an “E.” This self-isolation thing is super hard on hard-core “E” people. (ENFP in my personal life, ENTJ in my work settings, in case you speak Myers-Briggs) Now my Kent, who is way far on the introvert side, is perfectly working from home and never leaving except to go wade in the pool. (It’s getting warm in Texas!) Adding to that, the hotel is still open, so I’m working at my Wonderful Westin behind plexiglass two to four days a week, so I get out….sweet release!….masked, gloved, and temperature-checked twice a day. But also I was brought up by my awesome Mom to shop every day, so I’m at WalMart, or Kroger, or Whole Paycheck daily to pick up stuff for dinner.

So let’s talk, peeps. If you go out, don’t go out looking like shit. Yes, we still notice. At least shower. At least put on clothes that aren’t as wrinkled as Sophia Petrillo’s body (she was the mom on “Golden Girls”). Splurge a bit and shampoo your hair or at least run a comb/brush through it, and wear more than pajamas and a bathrobe (and YES I have seen that multiple times) to the store. Imagine a 400-lb woman in pajamas and a bathrobe and a mask waddling through Kroger in slippers. It ain’t pretty.

And, just think, if you are clean, coiffed, and dressed at least half-way well—you can proudly look around and think “I just may be the best looking person in this establishment.” In these times we need validation however we can get it!

Let’s discuss store protocol. Do you really need to squeeze EVERY tomato and avocado in the produce section with your un-gloved and who-knows-if-they’re-sanitized hands? No. So stop it. And at the check-out counter, stay back. Socially distance. I *WILL* turn around and tell you to back the hell up and follow the red stickers on the floor. And if you give me shit about that I will eagerly verbally rip you to shreds.   (It’s usually the people that don’t care how they look that violate the Social Distancing rules.) (And those that know me, know I am NOT making threats I won’t follow through with!)

Please, please, be safe. Whatever safe is today. Use the sanitizer when you go into the store. WEAR THE MASK. Our government has gone back and forth—“Wear the mask!”—“Don’t wear the mask!”—“Wear the mask!”—“Don’t wear the mask!”—but since they can obviously not figure out what the hell to recommend, wear it. Be safe. And if you’re female, take a cue from Dr. Birks. Stylish neckware is always attractive addition. And although I disagree with his politics, if you’re a guy take a clue from Senator Dr. Rand Paul. Let that crazy hair fly! Since most of us haven’t seen a barber in months, embrace the hair. His curlies look great on him. And in the miniscule chance he reads this—thank you, Dr. Paul, for pulling shifts in the ER in your downtime from the Senate during this pandemic. Your politics have nothing to do with this. Your Hipocratic Oath does.

So: be the best looking person in your grocery store, WEAR YOUR MASK, remain socially distant, and be careful, including washing your hands, frequently. Y’all stay safe. Stay alert to the ‘rona, but not fearful. God knows there is more to be fearful of in these bizarre days! More content in soon.

LUV,

Bill

Instant Pot Canellini Bean and Kale Soup

INSTANTPOT CANELLINI BEAN AND KALE SOUP

I am in love with my InstantPot. Hopeless deep love. I could almost get rid of my cooktop for it—except I’d need to keep my ovens. It’s so useful. Pressure cooking when I was little was a “get out of the kitchen, kids, in case this thing blows up” thing which just scared the hell out of me. But pressure cooking in the InstantPot is no more scary than Betty White as Elka in “Hot In Cleveland”—a little edgy but easily handled!

In our household Kent and I do Meatless Mondays so I’m always on the lookout for great meatless meals. This one is a mash-up of several recipes I’ve seen before, and this one incorporates something I don’t normally like: kale. Growing up kale was that weird indestructible green that was used as decoration around salad bars—it looked pretty but it was for decoration. But then again, that’s how parsley used to be used when I was growing up. Who knew it was actually delicious and added flavor to food besides being a garnish? Live and learn. And I have learned. I learned, the hard way, that kale is one of the sandiest vegetables you can buy (right up there with leeks) so WASH IT THOROUGHLY. I’ve also learned that it has a tremendous amount of fiber in it, so if you eat enough of this soup, let’s just say you can lay off the Metamucil for a day or two.

This beautiful Italian recipe is insanely easy. Have the kids make it. You can’t screw it up. It’s that simple. And the results are DELICIOZO. Service it with garlic bread…even store-bought garlic bread works which makes this one of the easiest meals ever with the exception of delivery!

Ingredients for 4 to 6 servings:

4 15-oz cans of Canellini beans

2 15-oz cans of diced tomatoes

1 large diced onion

3 smashed garlic cloves

1 large bag of chopped baby kale

3 tbsp. butter

Salt and Peppa (What A Man, What A Man, What A Man……😊 )

Wash kale THOROUGHLY and drain. Melt butter on “saute” mode and saute onions for about 4 minutes. Add in garlic and Kale. Saute 3 more minutes. Dump in beans and tomatoes, juice included. Turn pot off, fasten lid, set the pressure valve to “Sealing” and turn pressure cooker on “high” for 15 minutes. After that is done use Quick Release, let cool until it’s not boiling hot, and serve with garlic bread. (Note: if you want to do this non-meatless, it is great with smoked Keilbasa, chicken-jalapeno sausage, or even Lil’ Smokies. Be creative—but if you are using any uncooked meats add about 5 minutes to the pressure-cook time.)

Awesome served with crusty bread and a salad if you wish. Enjoy. MANGIA!

MY UNRESOLVED LIFE

If you’ve ever heard Billy Joel’s achingly beautiful song “And So It Goes,” it’s played very simply with just piano and vocal. Although the song’s lyrics talk about a man who is giving his heart to a woman knowing she’s going to break it (and in fact it was written about his short-lived relationship with model Elle MacPherson, who was 19 while he was 34), the most interesting thing about the song for me is the music itself. The song is full of unresolved chords—intentionally dissonant chords, which then with the addition of the “correct” notes are resolved. If you listen to the song, listen to the piano chords for the first stanza—“In every heart, there is a room….” And at the word room, he hits an unresolved chord, then drops into the notes half a beat later that resolve the chord. Those notes complete the chord, if you will. The song is full of them, and it ends with a bar of perfectly resolved chords. All is then right with the music world. (Not so much for the relationship between Elle MacPherson and Billy Joel…..)

Like most everyone, my life has been full of unresolved chords. Issues, ambitions, desires, and relationships that wound up at a point of dissonance and left me needing resolution. Sometimes it’s that I didn’t know how to handle, where to turn, how to go forward. Through fortune, determination, or Providence, nearly all of them resolved. The latest one is the problem, however. When I retired from Southwest Airlines I did so with the intent of writing, full-time, and making money at it. A double rainbow and the “inner voice” played a large part in me making that decision. I always thought that was some sort of sign. Yet I never found the discipline to see the task through—so at least for a time I flunked retirement, and that’s how I wound up working at the hotel. And while it’s been a lot of fun, the chords of my life have been increasingly dissonant with no definitive resolution. I knew I wanted to write. But how, and what about my hobby-job at the hotel?

So a couple of months ago, we spent four glorious days in one of my favorite places, San Francisco, celebrating my birthday and the one-year anniversary of my retirement from “my” airline. After three days of frolic, I was going to take the Cable Car over the hill to North Beach for a nice breakfast. I was running late, but as I’m walking past the line of people waiting to board so that I can get my ticket, an elderly black homeless man sitting in the sun looks straight at me and says “Hey! You sleep late or something? I been waiting for you! I need to tell you something.”

I wanted to ignore him but something told me to stop. “I’m sorry? Are you talking to me?” “Yeah, you!“ he replied. “Let me just axe you—why you ain’t writin’?? You know that’s what you’re s’posed to be doin’ but you ain’t doin’ it!” I felt like someone had hit my ass with an electric cattle prod. “Most folk don’t get even one sign, let alone two. You better pay attention! You don’t want to piss you-know-who off!” By now people were looking, whispering, and pointing. All I could think to do was turn around and head back to my hotel. Quickly.

As I passed the Burger King right up the street I heard him yell after me “Don’t you forget what I told you, now!!” I turned the first corner and, breathing heavily, went into first bar I saw and ordered a nice double Bloody Mary and think about what had just happened.

So, I’m significantly downsizing my time commitment at the hotel, and spending a lot more time writing here at thebillowen.com as well as on three books that I’m working on. The chord of my life is still unresolved but now I know which notes are needed for my resolution!

Please come back frequently. I plan on at least two updates to this page and to the food page per week (take THAT, Ree Drummond!!). Updates to the Gaming page as well as the Travel page at least once a week. The comments section is now useable without having to joining WordPress, and I’ve got a firm that is going to help me with Search Engine Optimization. That beautiful resolving note is coming soon! I’ll update this page on Monday, Memorial Day, May 25.

 

 

Let Me Show You Why I Love TORG

In the summer of 1989, during a comic convention called “The Dallas Fantasy Fair” someone posted an advertisement for a multi-genre role playing game, in other words, instead of just playing in fantasy, horror, or sci fi, the players can be in all the different genres of literature. That Sunday, I first met Torg: Roleplaying the Possibility Wars. The game that the person ran was a train wreck. However, I could see the potential this game had. After I read the rules and ran my first game, the potential became love, and this became my favorite role-playing game of all time.

Let me describe the setting of the game. Some day in the near future, Earth becomes invaded, not by aliens from space but creatures from other realities. In America, a primeval reality takes over causing building to crumble, technology to fail, and people to convert to primitive humans. In the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, a fantasy reality takes over. Dragon’s fly the sky and people begin to cast magic spells. In France, a computerized religious uprising begins bringing forth the age of the Cyberpapacy. In Egypt, a mad villain takes over and expands an empire fueled by pulp powers and fantastic gizmos. In the Philippines, horror dominates the land. While in Japan, a silent business organization with futuristic technology corrupts the government and people. In each different version of reality, a High Lord plots to take over more land and drain people of Possibility Energy. The players, called Storm Knights, fight against the High Lords and their minion to reclaim the land and people for Core Earth.

I could see myself in this game, I could actually play Kent Henry, Storm Knight (and often did as a Non-Player Character who sent other Storm Knights on missions). Creating a character in Torg was extremely simple. The game allowed for the villain to not only be killed but could also be stumped by a great quip or dazzling display. This made dialog just as important as weaponry. The game came with cards that allowed the players bonuses, allow the players to escape harm, or create a subplot to the game to involve the player in other opportunities to role play. The makers of Torg created a newsletter with adventure ideas and the gaming group could fill out forms to send back to the publisher and that would influence the game setting so Torg would change based on player input.  

So, through the early ‘90s, I ran Torg. However, all wars must end and so did Torg, in a complete anti-climax module called “Wars End.” The publisher of the game, West End Games, gave the rights to another company to keep going with Torg. The company used this thing called the Internet to replace the newsletter. One issue was published and then nothing happened after that. Torg slipped into obscurity. Then in the early 2000s, a new rule book was published by West End and it seemed, for a time that Torg would come back, until the company folded. Then in 2015, a news report that a German Company, Ulises Spiel, would revamp Torg. The new game called Torg: Eternity was being developed. I kept cautiously optimistic. I mean I heard this before…twice. However, in 2018, Torg: Eternity made its way to the market.

The new Torg, takes all the great things about its older version, the cards, the easy character creation, and the use of verbal skills and action to taunt and tease a foe. It removed some of the less savory aspects of the game like the dreaded “glass-jaw ninja problem.” A complicated magic creation system (at this time, I’m not sure the create-a-spell system is being replaced, but if it is, it has GOT to simplify the spell creation system).   

Currently, the main game book is on the market and the first sourcebook, “The Living Land” just finished a successful campaign on Kickstarter. The Living Land covers the primitive reality that occupied Canada, the United States, and Mexico. It describes what has happened to the nations under the new reality and how the nation struggles to fight the invaders who use faith and forces everyone to use primitive weapons instead of modern firearms.

I love to run this game for new people and to listen to storied of those that have played the game. I invite you to try Torg: Eternity, my favorite role-playing game. Let me show you.

Take A Vacation With Snacks From Cozumel (06/24/2018)

The food of the awesome island of Cozumel—at least the snacks—is as refreshing as the island.  Beautiful, light, care-free, and full of Island sabor. We all know how to make salsas, we all know how to make heavier dishes, but here are two snacks we’ve had in Cozumel that they (the cooks there!) have been good enough to share with me.

Cozumel Shrimp Cocktail

This recipe is so insanely easy it’s hard to believe how wonderful it is.  It’s also hard to believe what’s in it—my beach-loving Mom and Dad and their equally Gulf-addicted family would turn their nose up at this as quick as if I’d served them Crab with a “K.” But it is absolutely delicious, easy to make as an Island day is long, and the use of a seldom-used part of celery just points out how inherently frugal these people are!  I’ve tried to Americanize these to keep them isla fácil yet very easy.

2 5-lb. bags of extra small (“salad size”) frozen cooked, peeled.  tail- and shell-off shrimp

1/2  lb. de-seeded and chopped tomato (heirloom are best—no need to peel)

Tops of 1 bunch of celery, chopped, including leaves (see note!)

1 c. ketchup

1 T. tomato paste

1 c. spicy Bloody Mary mix (I like Mr. T and Tina)

1 c. shrimp juice *or* clam juice

1 sm. Red onion, finely diced

2 t. Garlic puree (the kind in the plastic tube)

1/2c. bottled Key Lime juice

2 T. hot sauce, like Cholula, Tapatio, or Valentina (if available).  (Cajun style is NOT the same!)

½ bunch finely chopped cilantro

Salt, chile, and lime powder to taste

Mix everything together.  Chill for 2 to 4 hours.  Serve with avocado and tortilla chips with beer, wine, or…see note #2 below!!

Note #1—for the celery use all the top from the stalks up—including leaves AND the little connector things between the stalks and the leaves.

Note #2—wanna get un poco loco?  Serve this in a nice Margarita or cocktail glass and add a shot of good tequila to each glass.  Let the fiesta begin!

Jicama Cozumeleño

I saw Javier, the bartender at El Cozumeleño make this super simple and easy snack last year and, between my poor Spanish and his attemped English, I got it down.  Raw Jicama is unusual, like a cross between an apple, a water chestnut, and a potato.  This is refreshing and GREAT for you—serve it on a hot day or better yet poolside!

2 medium-sized Jicama. Peeled and sliced into French-fry sized sticks

½ cup Key Lime juice

1 t. Chile-lime salt

Dash of Mexican hot sauce (like Cholula) to taste

Mix.  Serve with chips and either an ice-cold beer or a Margarita!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vacation Goeth Before The Fall (6/24/2018)

Sorry it’s been so long since the last update.  Typing with one hand really slows you down!  Let me tell you about how a great vacation can change in a Mexican momento!

Kent and I wanted to return to beautiful Cozumel this year so, luggage and passports in hand, off we flew Dallas-Houston-Cancun-Cozumel on May 16th

SO excited!  Got to the hotel, checked in, a couple of drinks for Happy Hour then off on the town.  We were back!

The night was awesome.  Great food, a nice stroll through town, followed by our Cozu tradition of a nightcap at Senor Frog’s.  But the town was dead;  of course, it was Wednesday, off-season, and only two cruise ships had called that day and they were both gone.  It became a fairly early night for us but the day had started at 2:30a.m., so we headed back to the room with plans to start in earnest after a good night’s rest.

Dawn came early, beautiful and warm, and with our morning refreshments we sat on the balcony and watched all three cruise ships arrive and dock—all Carnival.  This was a good thing, because even though we’ve never been aboard a Carnival ship (or any other, actually!), Carnival passengers are a BLAST.  Plus, our resort—Ed Cid Cozumeleño—offers cruise shippers a day-pass option to their pool area, so when the fleet’s in port it is PARTY TIME by “our” hotel’s pool!

The day didn’t disappoint…the early part, anyway.  After a delicious, sun-drenched, waterside breakfast, a stop at the bank to exchange US$ for Mex$, and a quick slathering of SPF30, it was pool time.  Except it was barely 10am, and the pool was still a little chilly but the large hot (warm?) tub was hoppin’ with Carnival folks.  The warm-tub also has a swim-up bar counter—which I swear is purely coincidental to this story.  In the tub we joined two retired firefighter/EMT’s from the ATL, their wives and their 19-ish old sons.  What a GREAT crowd!!  As the day wore on and the drinks kept flowing, my sweet Kent was out beer-ing me (which NEVER EVER happens!) two to one.  Of course, I had taken my diuretics that morning, so one beer in meant two trips to the baño for me, which essentially slowed my pace.  We were having a GREAT day.

Lunch, eaten from the hot-tub was light, delicious, and so Yucatan.  But we could see the storm clouds moving in—nice metaphor!—and the deluge soon started. About 3pm Kent and I closed out our tab, wished our hot-tub peeps a great rest-of-the-cruise, and we headed to our room.  Once inside we took off our wet things and while Kent used the facilities I went to put the suits on the balcony to dry overnight.

And that’s when it happened. As I came back into the room I was suddenly airborn, and while the takeoff was smooth, the landing was not one I was able to walk away from.  I fell with all my (considerable) weight directly onto my right upper shoulder.  When I hit I felt, and actually heard, the crack of the bones.  I must have yelped, because Kent came running from the bathroom, yelled “Oh my God!!” and ran to help me.  I told him I thought my shoulder was broken, and as he helped me sit up the blinding pain confirmed that something was badly wrong.  Because of the pain I was pretty shaky and weak, so try as we might we could not get me off the floor onto the bed.  Kent stood up and declared, “I AM GOING TO CALL FOR HELP!!” sounding as if he were about to call in a dozen knights on white horses.  “Really?” was my completely exasperated answer as I looked up him from the cold tile floor.

Now let’s review the scene.  We had both taken our wet trunks off, so we had no clothes on. I, in particular, was butt-ass nekkid stuck on the floor, slowly freezing both cheeks solid onto the cold marble floor, and was not exactly prepared to “receive” strangers.  Sure, I thought, call the cavalry for help, as long as they are strong, blind, and will sign non-disclosure agreements.  Finally, though, we were able to get both underwear and jean shorts on me, and after Kent dressed he called the front desk for ayuda.

My first rescuer came to the door.  He was a lobby bellman, about 200 years old, and weighed no more than 80 pounds.  He had brought an old, clunky, huge transport chair with a broken seatbelt.  Besides still wondering how I was going to get off the floor, there was no way he could help me, and no way the chair would fit in one of the tower’s airplane-bathroom-sized elevators.  Enough of my high-school Spanish came back to ask him ¿cómo bajamos al primer piso? How do we get to the first floor?  Escaleras abajo he replied.  Down the stairs.  I so did not think so, at least not with the world’s oldest Mayan sherpa as my rescuer!  ¡Absolutamente no!  Finally he was replaced with an English-speaking staff member who said they’d call an ambulance.

Within minutes the paramedics arrived—two big, burly guys and a wispy, beautiful young lady—and guess who the powerhouse was?  Yep.  She had me up in the chair with no pain in seconds and moments later I was in the ambulance on the way to the “Commercial” (good) hospital.  The hospital was as spotless and modern as any I’ve ever seen.  After popping in an IV and giving me some awesome pain meds, it was off to x-ray where both of the patients ahead of me were Americans.  I was seeing a pattern.  I found out the Hospital Comercial was primarily for International visitors, expats or wealthy Mexicans, while the Hospital Publico was for the “rest” of the populace.  I was in no mood to quibble.  The care was outstanding.

Pain relieved, x-rays done, the doctor (who looked like Mario Lopez and spoke perfect English) came in with the films to explain that my shoulder was indeed fractured in two places, directly under the ball of the shoulder bone.  He said surgery would be needed, and both Kent and I said we would prefer to have that done at home, *if* I was cleared to travel.  He said I was fine to fly, fitted my arm in a sling, gave us our paperwork and a a doggie bag of pain meds, and called a cab for us.

Back at the hotel, we knew vacation was over early, and there was no way I could get onto the Cozu-Cancun puddlejumper.  I talked Kent through how to get us passes online AA.  The next morning (of course) dawned achingly perfect, with the sun and the wáter beconing.  Unfortunately, we had to pack and shower—for one-armed me, no easy feat (it’s gotten easier since!).  We went down to Brunch where the staff could NOT have been more accomodating (I wonder why?).  I wasn’t even charged for my meal.  At checkout the staff was more than accomodating, with the Front Office/Reservations Manager telling us not to worry about the early checkout and that they would make certain we were not penalized—and our Wyndham points would be refunded.

At the Cozumel airport, the American Airlines staff was so sweet.  That is not the pain meds talking.  They immediately gave us bulkhead seats in Main Cabin Extra and ORDERED us to preboard.  The supervisor then said “we don’t like to see people leave our island hurt.  Please come back again soon.” My spanish kicked in again and I said “un día regreso, yo lo sé.”  She blinked twice then said “that’s a Gloria Estefan song isn’t it?” “Well, yeah, but it fits!!”  We all laughed, and they wished me well.  Through Mexican immigration in 90 seconds, and a few beers later we preboarded.  On climb out from Cozumel I looked out over the island, the cenotes, the beautiful beaches and Carribean waters.  Yes, I thought.  Un día regreso, yo lo sé.  Es la verdad.

Bill

 

Flying on the cheap (or as cheap as possible!) (5/10/2018)

As a 40-year Airline employee, everyone is always asking me about good ticket deals for their next trip.  I mean, ALWAYS.  Like I have pricing power.  (I don’t!)  But I have been around long enough to know how the cadence of the game goes, how to get a good deal, how NOT to get a great deal, and how to successfully double-dip if the price goes down AFTER you purchase.  And let’s face it, as we get a little older, that wanderlust just gets more intense—and when the kids are finally out of the house we might just have a little extra money to spend on travel!

Here are my top tips on how to get the best bang for your airline buck for upcoming travels.

1.       Plan early but not TOO early.  Airlines practice revenue management, which means they analyze and parcel out their cheapest seats based on highly complicated mathematical algorithms supported by sophisticated and expensive software systems.  However—if you’re looking waaay out before departure, like 120-plus days, cheap seat availability may not be updated super frequently.  So START looking early…but watch for a few days before you make your purchase. **UNLESS**….

2.       ….you are flying on points.  If you’re going to a dream destination, the free seats are gone pretty much as soon as they open.  Most airlines begin selling 331 days before departure (others, like Jetblue and Southwest, are a little closer-in), but if you’re wanting to book seats to Hawaii or Europe or Asia using your miles, start looking almost at the stroke after midnight 331 days before you want to depart.  If you don’t know how far your airline is booking into the future—just call their reservations line and ask.

3.       DO NOT wait until the last second, but if you have to, still look for good deals.  Sometimes airline will dump cheap seats the week of departure to fill up empty markets.  Plus, if you’re “of age” some airlines still offer Senior Citizen Discounts.  Unfortunately, there is no way to predict this, but sometimes the “Travel Gods” will just smile on your last-minute trip!

4.       Pic the time of day of your booking intentionally.  Fares are usually filed early in the day and again around noon, and the number of cheap seats typically are adjusted overnight, so keep both of those facts in mind when you’re trying to find the bargain of a lifetime for your trip of a lifetime!

5.       You will almost always get the cheapest prices in coach on the airline’s own website.  Sorry, all those other guys.  If you’re looking for cheaper up-front seats, then some of the consolidator websites are definitely worth a look. 

6.       The “common wisdom” that Tuesdays are the cheapest days to fly AND the cheapest days on which to book your tickets.  Neither are always true; it all depends on what’s going on.  The best way to get a cheap deal is to “stalk” your airline(s) and use their tools.  Most airlines have “bargain finder” tools on their websites to actually help you find the best days and prices for your trip.

7.       Watch, or read, the news.  If a fare war breaks out, you could easily benefit by taking advantage of the sale fares for your trip!

8.       Join the frequent flyer programs for the airlines you are most likely to use to your destination, AND sign up for their email updates.  Yes, you may get a lot of spam in your inbox, but airlines are very intentional in communicating fare sales with their frequent flier members.

9.       Check your airline’s change policies very carefully.  What you want to be able to do, without a lot of hassel, is downgrade your ticket if a better price comes along.  Some airlines will charge their full change fees for that downgrade; so if your fare has gone down by $120, but your airline charges a $200 “change” fee (which is so ridiculously bogus I still don’t know why the DOT allows them), you’d still end up paying $80 to get a cheaper fare.  That’s stupid.  Other airlines don’t charge change fees, so you always have a great shot at getting the cheapest fare available as long as (1) you find out about it! and (2) there is inventory available.

10.   Frequent Traveller points behave just like cash purchases, so all of these suggestions work without regard to whether you’re paying with cash or with points.

After all that, once you’re buckled into your seat and in the air, celebrate all the money you’ve saved by enjoying a beverage.  *CLINK*  Enjoy, folks.  Next time:  tips for my absolute, all-time favorite big-city international destination:  LONDON!

 Bill

 

I’ve Drawn My Last Map of Mummy’s Mask (5/10/2018)

 

I used to be a kind and benevolent Dungeon Master (DM). I never killed a Player Character (PC). A Dungeon Master or Game Master (the terms are interchangeable) controls a role-playing game. The DM creates the story, draws the maps, and prepares what happens in the story for the players. The DM acts as all the other characters the PC’s interact. These other characters are called Non-Player Characters or NPC’s. Being a DM does give a license to kill the PC’s; it can sometimes happen, but the DM isn’t out to kill the player’s characters (players put a lot of effort into creating character so just slaughtering the character is frowned upon).

Several months ago, I met a group of people at my local gaming store and began to play the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. We all had a great time and I suggested we actually play the Pathfinder Role Playing Game. They agreed, and we started down the Mummy’s Mask Adventure Path. Pathfinder Adventure Paths are a set of six magazines containing a complete adventure. All six together from a campaign that can take a group of PCs from level 1 (The very beginning of a PC’s career in adventuring) to a high-level character (typically somewhere between level 14-18). Each set of Adventure Paths offers a different flavor of story. While not wanting to spoil the Mummy’s Mask Adventure Path plot, I might drop parts of the plot inadvertently. If you are playing or want to play in Mummy’s Mask or want to play, you have been warned of spoilers.

Mummy’s Mask starts very simply. The ruler of the fictious country has decreed that the city of Wati open its expansive necropolis to plunder by adventurers. The local priests aren’t all that happy about it and have set forth a lottery to ensure that looting is kept as orderly as possible. Enter the PC’s, who happen to have one of the many winning tickets and the adventure progresses from there. As a plot, Mummy’s Mask is very straight forward. The players jump from one tomb to another in search of treasure. One of the treasures they find gets the attention of the villain and the conflict continues till the very end. Because this is incredibly linear (for a game of this type, anyway!), this makes it an excellent beginning campaign for a beginning Dungeon Master. I might have been a DM and GM for many years, but I haven’t run a lot of Pathfinder until this Adventure Path.

I learned a lot going through this Adventure Path. Pathfinder runs best when a map is used, and players mark where they are on the map and I place the monsters they face. Tactics come into play with how far a player can charge to a monster or where a magic spell is placed. At that, Pathfinder becomes a tactical miniature game. So, I had to draw maps…. a lot of maps. I learned to hate drawing outdoor maps or mags in an underground cavern. Rooms with square corners are easy! And some of the maps were expansive. One particular complex took up several tables to lay out. The last complex could paper the floor of one of the bedrooms of our house. The gaming group played on the floor for that one. One thing I would beg for the makers of Pathfinder to do in the future, keep in mind the size of the map! Huge maps look great on paper, not so much when you have to draw it.

This campaign had a lot of firsts for me. It was the first campaign I ever completed. Before either the group or I would lose interest, or one horrible instance, I lost all the player character sheets. I got to play with rules and spells that I only read in the game book (the players are not allowed—BWAAAAHAHAHAHAH!). As the game progressed, the monsters that the players fought got more complicated requiring more attention and took more time. It wasn’t unusual for one combat to take hours of game time, not exactly a bad thing, but sure slowed the game down when we approached the end of the campaign. One particular first, I killed a player character in the game for the first time. The monsters in Mummy’s Mask can get particularly deadly and it seemed to take its toll on the Player Characters. None of the original characters from the very first game survived to the last game. The last character of the original group died in the fifth book when a fellow player character accidently shot him in the back. The deaths piled up till the second to last game of the campaign. At the end of the campaign, I created an “In Memorium” for all the fallen player characters.  I figured they deserved it!

I enjoyed Mummy’s Mask for the most part. While I enjoyed its straight-forward approached, the lack of sections in the game where the player characters could interact with other non-player characters outside of combat frustrated me as the game progressed. If your group isn’t into the acting part of role play, this Adventure Path is perfect. The Adventure Path offers little in deviation of the plot, the characters are pretty locked into one path through the game, which can actually make the player characters resent being forced into going to the next complex. Mummy’s Mask, great for beginners but more experienced players might not enjoy it as much.

Next issue:  the joy of TORG!!!

Kent

 

 

Nanny’s Banana Pudding (5/10/2018)

For those of you who have never had it, banana pudding is very definitely indigenous to Texas and the South. Down here, this is a special treat, one drenched in family history, and revered as an heirloom recipe handed down from our parents’ and grandparents’ era. It’s fattening, unctuous, incredible, and in every way delicious.  However–before I tell you how to send your guests into dessert heaven with my Grandmother’s Banana Pudding, you get to read a few things about her life and times.

Her name was Dollie Sue Nichols, but we called her Nanny. She was born way out in the country near the town of Glen Rose, Texas near the turn of the century–the 20th century. She was one of a whole passel of children, raised by a stern but loving set of parents in the days before supermarkets, automobiles, television–even before radio. Quite literally, Nannie and her brothers and sisters were their own (and only!) entertainment. This forced reliance on each other for support and amusement forged a bond that would last quite literally for over a century. The cool thing about Nanny, and about the whole Nichols clan, is how intensely they shared that singleness of mind. They hung together through everything–those Nichols kids were literally a band of best friends that just happened to have the same mother and father.

Nanny and her sister, Mamie wound up spending a lot of time in the Nichols’ kitchen cooking for their siblings and parents. Thinking of what life was like that far out in the country in the very early 20th Century, I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been for them to make a banana pudding like this recipe creates. Most certainly there were no last-second dashes to Whole Foods for organic bananas back in their day, no Kitchen-Aid stand mixers, no exact-temp ranges, not much of anything!

Things probably got easier when Nanny moved to Fort Worth’s North Side after World War I as a blushing bride who soon had three small babies of her own. To hear my mom, aunt, and uncle tell it, Nanny was a frequent visitor at the neighborhood grocery store where, during the Great Depression, she’d often barter the beautifully hand-stitched clothes she had made for groceries for her family. Still, evidently Nanny preferred the country life, because by the time I was born in 1958, Nanny had moved out of the city to a farm northwest of Fort Worth, where she was again able to harvest eggs from the chickens in the henhouse, get milk from the (surprisingly mean) cow, and in her spare time grow the most delicious tomatoes, cucumbers, and peaches this side of heaven. And the chicken Nanny fried was always…ahem….very “fresh.”

My brother, cousins, and I clearly remember three things about spending time at Nanny’s…..one, how different the weekends we spent working on the farm were than our normal, boring suburban lives…two, how much fun we used to have just out of Nanny’s watchful sight (dirt-clod fights and playing in the hayloft are memories that half a century have yet to blur!)…and the most important of the three, Nanny’s cooking. She had a number of signature recipes for which she was famous in our family, in her church, and in a surprisingly large swath of Wise County–like her fried chicken, her black-eyed peas, her fresh peach cobbler, and of course, her banana pudding.

So here it is…although, I have to admit I’ve had to make a few changes to Nanny’s original recipe. Nothing drastic (no instant pudding here, thank you!!), just a little update to reflect the differences of today’s ingredients. For example, I think the fresh cow’s milk–unpasteurized and just full of cream–must have made the pudding thicken better, so I’ve switched to half-and-half and added just a little unflavored gelatin. And store-bought eggs today have little dinky tiny yolks, not at all like the jumbo double-yolks that Nanny got fresh from the “girls” in her coop. So I’ve upped the number of eggs in this recipe. But the resulting product still tastes remarkably like Nanny’s.  And as for her other three stand-out culinary achievements–her fried chicken, peach cobbler and black-eyed peas? Who knows, maybe one day I’ll share those recipes with you as well. Or–maybe not. After all, some family secrets are worth keeping!

NANNY’S BANANA PUDDING

Ingredients

6 eggs yolks (save the whites)

1 ¼ c. granulated sugar

4 ½ c. half-and-half

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 package unsweetened, unflavored gelatin

1 box Vanilla Wafers (don’t even think of using reduced fat!)

4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced

1 stick of unsalted butter (room temp)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

For the meringue:

6 egg whites from the eggs above

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Ground nutmeg for garnish

Separate ice-cold eggs, keeping both the yolks and the whites–just keep them separate! Beat yolks just a bit and set aside. Mix sugar, cornstarch, and half-and-half in a double boiler, and bring them to just below the boiling point (a candy thermometer is a great help here). Stir VERY frequently. If you scorch it–game over, start again.

When the liquid mixture begins to thicken slightly, slowly put spoonfuls of the hot sweetened cream into the beaten egg yolks to temper them, whisking the yolks constantly. When they are warm, *slowly* add them into the hot cream mixture, stirring like crazy (see, you get a great dessert AND a workout with this recipe!). Stir for another 5 minutes, still over the heat in the double boiler. Then add the vanilla extract, butter and the unflavored gelatin, mix thoroughly until the butter is incorporated, and cool the mixture for at least three hours.  It helps to cover this with plastic wrap with the wrap actually touching the top of the pudding to prevent formation of a “skin.”

Just before you assemble the pudding, peel and slice the bananas and set aside. In a very clean and dry bowl, pour in the 6 reserved egg whites to begin the meringue. Two words of caution. First, if there is even a speck of egg yolk in the whites, the meringue will never stiffen. The oils in the yolk will just kill it. Second, meringue does not set up well on rainy or humid days (which makes me wonder if cooks in Seattle or New Orleans ever successfully make meringue). So plan to do this on a dry, sunny day. If it’s too humid for a meringue, then make some home-made sweetened whipped cream instead and top the pudding with that. However, assuming you’ve passed these hurdles, it’s time to make the meringue. In a mixer, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar on “high” until you get to the soft-peak stage. Then add the sugar slowly. Continue to beat and as you approach the stiff peak stage add the vanilla.

To assemble, put the oven on “broil.” Spoon a bit of the cooled pudding mixture on the bottom of a glass dish. Then, put a layer of vanilla wafers, a layer of bananas, and smother them with the pudding-then repeat. You should get either 2 very generous layers or 3 skimpy ones. You’ll use the whole box of vanilla wafers–and I HOPE you use all the pudding!  (Note:  if you do not use all the pudding—and WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU??—add some blueberries or sliced strawberries to the remaining pudding and save for the next morning for a fantastic breakfast!)  When that’s assembled, mound the top with the meringue mixture, making pretty little peaks on top. Put the entire dish under the broiler, watching extremely carefully, until the meringue starts to brown (usually no more than 2 to 3 minutes). Be CAREFUL-once it starts to brown it progresses QUICKLY! When it’s just a little less brown than you want it, pull it out-it will continue to brown a bit after you remove it from the oven. Finally, sprinkle ground nutmeg sparingly on top and serve.

 

 

I LOVE L.A.! (I LOVE IT!) (5/10/2018)

I love to travel, and I certainly do have my favorite destinations.  And one of them is Los Angeles.  And why not?  95% of the time it’s beautiful, sunny, warm, and for an airplane geek LAX is perhaps THE best plane-watching airport in the country, if not the world.  Great beaches, amazing food, celebrities, show business, what’s not to love?

So after a pleasant and uneventful flight from Dallas to the SoCal, I get to the Avis car rental pickup near LAX.  My assigned car, a white Toyota Camry, didn’t have a key in it so I had to go back to the Customer Service kiosk, where an Asian woman with a thick accent was in the middle of throwing a fit at the agent.  “How you can give me a car that is WHITE?  I ask for RED car!  I no drive a car that is WHITE!”  and I mean she is full-on hissy-fitting this scene.  The Avis agent, bless his heart, is non-plussed by this hysteria and says repeatedly “Ma’am let me see what I can find.” 

He is click-clicking on the keyboard as she becomes more and more worked up.  Shouts were becoming shrieks and the accent was getting thicker as she got madder.  I was thinking “she’s gonna blow!!!”  as the meltdown continued.  Of course, I had noticed a HOT red Mercedes in a Premium spot just outside the office door, and wondered if that was what she was working to scam the agent out of.  But she keeps hissy-fitting, for a good four minutes.  Finally he hands her new paperwork and keys to a red….Ford Fusion.  “That not the one I wanted!” she screams.  And out of nowhere the Avis agent, who did not at all look Asian, raised his eyebrows and starts to bark at her for a good two minutes in what I believe was Cantonese.  Looking shocked, she eventually gave him a haughty stare, took the keys, and stormed out. 

I was next in line, and before I walked up to the counter I quietly asked him “You need a minute?”  He says “nah, we get those all the time.  This just happens to be when a lot of the flights from Asia arrive.”  I blurted out “MAN, you did an INCREDIBLE JOB with her!!!!!!  Where did you learn that language??”  He just looks at me, smiles and says “This is LA.  You learn!”  Then he asked me what I needed and I told him I needed keys for my car.  He asked for my name, told me to wait a sec…..printed out some paperwork….and handed me the paper and a set of keys and thanked me for my business.

I drove out of the lot in the red Mercedes.  In just a few minutes I was rollin’ down….Imperial Highway….big nasty Husband at my side….Santa Ana winds blowin’ hot from the north…..we were born to ride…..

I LUV LA!  (And I love what being nice to customer service people can do!)