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!

TheBillOwen Decadent Lobster Mac-And-Cheese Recipe (4/28/2018)

Full disclosure.  This is NOT a family recipe.  Good Lord, I shudder to think what my parents, ancestors, or anyone else upstream in my gene pool (with the possible exception of my beautiful and elegant Aunt Pat!) would think about this amazing, decadent, and delicious recipe.  But after having this at a restaurant in NYC once, I came home and after a bit of tinkering came up with this version.  I’ve made it for both work and family and received loud and exuberant rave reviews!

So, a few facts about Mac and Cheese here in Texas and the South.  One:  mac and cheese was a country, po’ folk dish.  This one is not.  Two:  our Mac and Cheese below the Mason/Dixon has a pinch of mustard powder in it.  It adds a nice little zing that plays nicely with the cheese(es).  You seldom see that in Northern versions.  Three:  Mac and Cheese is never every-night fare.  It is a special occasion treat, with the obvious nod that around here Sunday dinner IS a special occasion.  And if you eat mac-n-cheese daily it’s probably the boxed kind, which I refuse to put in the same category as home-made (although honestly I do like it, just like I like McDonald’s burgers—I just don’t call those “real” burgers just as I don’t call boxed Mac-N-Cheese made with the yellow cheesey powder real!)

With that said….this version is ridiculously off-the-tracks good, and just enough different to be awesome.  In addition to the mustard, I add a little Old Bay seasoning, a nod to the star of the show, the lobster!  I break the normal Cheddar (or God forbid that stuff in the yellow box) used into 3 different cheeses, all complimentary yet distinctive in their own right.  This makes a meaty, filling entree—there is a LOT of lobster in this dish—all you need is some good bread (sourdough with garlic butter would work) and a great salad with a nice vinaigrette is a complete meal.  A meal fit for royalty.  Or a Vanderbilt, or a Gates, or a Bezos, or a….well, you get the idea.

 

BILL’S LOBSTER MAC-AND-CHEESE                        (Serves 8 to 10)

 

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

1 lb pasta (I normally use Penne Rigate—love the ridges)

3 lbs. cooked Lobster meat (frozen cooked meat is fine—save the juice!)

12 oz. each extra-sharp cheddar, gruyere*, and chevre goat cheese

1 stick butter plus 2 tablespoons (divided use)

1 c. flour

1 quart milk

1 cup heavy cream

½ cup dry Sherry

½ cup seafood stock, shrimp stock, *or* the reserved juices from frozen lobster meat packages

2 tsp. Old Bay

1 tsp. salt

1 T. black pepper

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

1 c. Panko breadcrumbs for topping

*–you can substitute aged Swiss for the Gruyere.  If you do, add 2 T of Parmesan.

 

TO MAKE THIS DECADENT DISH:

1.       If frozen, defrost lobster meat.  Allow to come to room temp.  Chop into the size you want in the finished dish.  (Save the juices from the packet!)

2.       Cook pasta to package directions and drain.

3.       Heat oven to 350 degrees.

4.       Over medium-high heat, melt 1 stick (8 T) of the butter.  Add the flour and whisk for 2 to 3 minutes just to cook the flour taste out—you don’t want to brown this.  Blonde is the color to aim for!

5.       Add the milk and cream and stir continuously until the sauce begins to thicken.

6.       Add the sherry, thyme leaves, mustard, Worcestershire, and seafood juice/stock/whatever.  Stir for 1 more minute then remove from heat.

7.       Add cheeses and whisk until sauce is smooth.

8.       Combine pasta and sauce and place into a deep 9 X 13 casserole and place in oven for 15 minutes.  (DO NOT PUT LOBSTER IN AT THIS POINT!)

9.       Melt the remaining 2 T of butter, and toss the Panko in the buttery goodness.

10.   After 15 minutes, remove casserole and THEN add the lobster, stirring it thoroughly through the dish.  Turn oven to Broil.

11.   Top with the buttered Panko and place under the broiler for 3-4 minutes (watching carefully) and remove when it’s golden brown.

12.   Serve hot, and just enjoy it!

That’s the secret recipe, folks.  If you make it—leave a comment and let me know.  DAYUM it’s good!

Bill

 

 

The Great GenCon Rush (4/28/2018)

Every role-playing gamer should go to Gen Con at least once in their life. Gen Con is the largest game convention in North America, and while it primarily caters to the role-playing side of the gaming industry, board, miniature, and collectable card games get represented as well. The retailers show upcoming products. Attending had always been a dream of mine, and now this will be my tenth Gen Con!

              Attending Gen Con requires a lot of planning. Tickets go on sale in January, and I suggest purchasing them early because of the two online stampedes that happen. In late January/early February, Gen Con housing opens for hotel reservations. You want to be part of that rush because the downtown hotels near the convention site sell out quickly. In years past, it was first come/first serve but those days of mad clicking on the day the Housing Portal opened to get to the housing portal are now history. A lottery replaced the first come/first serve system a couple of years ago. People love the new system when they get an early time, meaning they usually get the hotel that they want. When they don’t, they go to Facebook and complain. Every year Gen Con attendees are assured that the system will be more accommodating and downtown hotel rooms will be parceled out slowly. In reality, I have seen little evidence of that. This year by 3 pm on the first day of hotel bookings, all the hotel rooms were gone. Roommates increase the odds and there are still plenty of rooms in the outlying areas. The outlying hotels are cheaper, but the money you gain from the hotel room, you lose in rental car and parking fees getting to and from the Indiana Convention Center downtown.  Other ways to get a hotel room for GenCon that I have heard are more problematic and more $$$ – Air B&B, VRBO, or you can pay for a “Very Important Gamer” (VIG), though those go fast as well.  You can also check the Gen Con Forums for people who can’t make the convention or need roommates (obviously you take your chances with this method), or you could book from the hotel’s own web site (this can be very expensive because the hotels are already nearly at capacity).

              The next gear rush for Gen Con is purchasing events tickets This is first come/first serve and individual games tend to fill up fast. A week before opening day of event registration, Gen Con lists the events and can be downloaded as an Excel file. Get the file and find the events you want. In your Gen Con profile, you can create a wish list of events. You are able to also list in what priority the events you want. For example, I need to be in the Torg: Eternity game, then I want to put that as my highest priority. Pathfinder goes to the bottom of the list (trust me, there are plenty of tickets for Pathfinder Society events). When registration begins on May 6 at noon Eastern, submit your wish list and pray you got in early.

              Once event registration is done, sit back and get ready for the best four days in gaming!  I’ll be there again this year.  Let me know if you are and let’s game together!

 Gen Con website: www.gencon.com

Add me as a friend on the GenCon website!Dalhyp@yahoo.com

Kent

The Case for Las Vega$

Vegas is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition.  And what’s always astounded me is how the dividing issue so often is gambling.  “Oh, I love to play the slots!” or “I’m a craps man, myself!” will put you in the “love it” camp.  “I don’t gamble at all” or “I work too hard for my money to waste it at a casino” usually puts you in the “hate it” camp.  And “you have to walk too far” or “too many kids running around” puts you in the Mature camp!

WAKE UP, PEOPLE!  Vegas has SO MANY MORE THINGS to do than sit in a casino all day and night.  I can fill a couple of days just people watching!  I kid you not, last time I was there at a Stripside outdoor restaurant, I looked up and saw an Elvis impersonator (the old, large Elvis) riding up the sidewalk on a Hoveround scooter.  You just don’t see that in LA or NYC.  I nearly choked on my nachos!

It’s easy to find cheap travel options (land *or* air) to Las Vegas, so it’s worth a trip.  Airport transit is either rental car, cabs, or a transit service (like Bell Transit).  Once you get to your resort, especially if you’re on the Strip, don’t bother with the monorail (expensive and inconvenient).  Many hotels are connected by their own monorails which are free, the bus is inexpensive, and you can always walk (note:  wear comfortable walking shoes!)

Here are some great ideas of what to do in Vegas that doesn’t involve gambling.  And if you like to gamble, to quote Effie from “Hunger Games”—“May the odds ever be in your favor!”

  1. The Pools. Most all of the huge resorts have amazing pools, from the tropical paradise pool at Mandalay Bay to the sand-bottom pool at the Rio to the Roman pool experience at Caesar, and everything in-between.  You can find Lazy Rivers, wave pools, or —you can find a pool more shallow “splash” pools—so any taste can be satisfied.  And let’s not forget downtown, where the Golden Nugget has a glass-enclosed water slide that actually shoots you safely through a real shark tank (and I’m not talking Mr. Wonderful or Mark Cuban here!).  Some of the more upscale resorts that cater to a younger crowd throw bona-fide pool parties, complete with DJ’s, during peak periods.  But if you’re a sun-seeker and it’s pool season (which in Vegas can range from March through October), grab the sunscreen and head down for some water-borne fun.
  2. The Shows. I’ve seen everyone from Cher to Elton to Celine to Rod in Vegas.  World-class staging and music.  But other shows cater to any interest—Comedy, Stage Hypnotism, Musicals, the traditional Vegas-style review, and the famous Cirque-style shows.  But not all shows cost, and that’s one of the recurring themes in Vegas.  If you just want a drink or several while listening to some good live music, you can find that in nearly every resort by just walking around and following the sound of the tunes.  The best shows and bands tend to perform later in the evening, but you can find it almost anytime—and if you’re there for a special event (i.e., Rodeo in December), they adjust the performers accordingly.  In every way possible, Las Vegas has your number.
  3. The Shopping. Vegas used to have shopping limited to schlocky evening-wear for ladies in the high-price resort shops accompanied by endless t-shirt and curio shops.  Not anymore.  Resorts like Caesar’s, Planet Hollywood, and the Venetian/Palazzo have world-class and architecturally awesome malls right in the resorts.  But if you want bargains, head to the far South of the Strip (take your car or just the bus) just south of Sunset you’ll find great outlet and discount shopping of every variety, on both sides of I-15.  And if you’re going to hunt bargains, make sure to either leave room, or plan to ship your new treasures home!
  4. Get out of town. Vegas sits right near some AMAZING sights. Thirty minutes out of town is Hoover Dam—one of the technical wonders of the world—and you can spend a lot of time just touring and exploring the dam.  But if you’re not wanting to follow the herd, rent a boat at one of the many marinas on the shores of Lake Mead and spend a day gliding on the surface of a lapis-blue 700-foot-deep lake!  Pack a lunch, set sail, pull up into a canyon and enjoy a little lunch with your solitude. And if you really want a lake adventure, grab some friends and share a houseboat on the lake for a few days.  It’ll change your perspective of Southern Nevada!
  5. Get out of town, part II. The Grand Canyon is about 250 miles from Las Vegas, making a day trip a little extreme.  However, there are tons of air and helicopter tours that will whisk you down, fly you through the canyon, and bring you back to McCarran by dinnertime.  Some offer ground transport around the canyon, others offer lunch, but all have the beauty of the Grand Canyon to offer.  Check with your hotel, or just look at one of the dozens of “what to do” magazines available.  However, be warned:  use your phone, tablet or computer to check the safety record of whichever company you choose for this.
  6. Get out of town, part III. If you want some mountain beauty that’s really close, head just northwest of Las Vegas and wind your way up the roads to Mt. Charleston.  Incredible views, great hiking, and best of all it’s about 20 to 30 degrees cooler that it is on the Strip.  Best of all it’s an inexpensive use of your rental car!
  7. Thrill yourself. Vegas has no shortage of ways to get that heart rate up.  If you’re a roller-coaster fan, there is an awesome one at the New York New York that takes you Stripside and then turns you upside down at blinding speeds.  Two others are in the Adventuredome, the pink-glass-covered adventure park behind the Circus Circus on the North end of the Strip.  The top of the Stratosphere tower has several thrill rides which, at nearly 1,000 feet above Las Vegas Blvd. are *guaranteed* to give you your aerobic burst of the day.  Or, get off the strip for numerous Bungee Towers or Zip Lines from which to get your hollers in.  These are all guaranteed to get you to scream louder than a high-stakes Craps game!
  8. THE FOOD. Las Vegas food is no longer an endless stream of all-you-can-eat buffets.  Almost every major chef and upscale restaurant in America, and increasingly the world, has an outlet in Vegas.  Bobby Flay, Emeril, Morimoto, Wolfgang Puck, Giada DeLaurentis, Gordon Ramsay, they’re all represented here, as well as are East Coast stallwarts like Carmine’s, Rao’s, even the venerable and recently departed Manhattan restaurant Le Cirque.  But Las Vegas restaurants on the Strip and off the Strip are awesome, unique, and worth a visit.  You can get food from anywhere in the world in in this city—the hard part is deciding where to eat!  Here are a few of my favorites:
    1. Mon Ami Gabi (Paris Hotel)—excellent French bistro food. Prices are not cheap for dinner but French food is seldom inexpensive!  However, to lower the bill a bit, arrive and order from the lunch menu before 5pm (when the menu, and prices, change to dinner).  The selection is basically the same and it’s about one-third less expensive.  If the weather is nice (meaning under 100 degrees in Vegas!), sit outside and enjoy the view of the Strip walkers and the Bellagio across the street.
    2. Canaletto (Venetian Hotel)—wonderful Italian with a view of the inside “canal.” Killer smoked swordfish carpaccio and the Zuppa di Pesci (which would be Cioppino in San Francisco) was one of the best I’ve ever had!
    3. LobsterME (locations in Shops at Miracle Mile in the Planet Hollywood and in the Venetian)—this place is just so unexpectedly good. The star here is the lobster, and if you want the best lobster roll this side of the Pine Tree State, pay LobsterME a visit!
    4. The Buffet at Wynn (Wynn Resort and Casino)—if you absolutely must have a Vegas buffet, this one is the best. Opulent setting, and surprisingly good food, await.  The brunch on Saturdays and Sundays is astounding as well (although I ate so much smoked salmon I’m not sure I’ll be allowed back!).  This one is not cheap but you pay for what you get, and what you get here—be sides quantity—is quality.
  9. Nightlife. Some of the hottest nightspots in the world are in Las Vegas.  Most all of the larger resorts on the Strip have one, from the Marquee at the Cosmopolitan, Omnia at Caesar’s, XS at the Wynn, or Tao at the Venetian.  Shades of Studio 54!  Get your bling on and dance, dance, dance, dance!
  10. The People. Just walk around.  LOOK around.  You can see people from all over the world in lots of cities in this country but nowhere are they all unified a plan to have a “what happens here, stays here” time like in Las Vegas.  Get out and just enjoy!

Vegas has something for everyone, for sure.  They’ve gotten away from the 90’s focus on the family, but there is MORE than enough to keep a family with kids of any age occupied. Adults?  OH wow do they have us covered.  Luxury or budget?  No problem on either end.  Visit!  It’s like nowhere else on our planet!

 

Bill

 

The True Squirrel Story (4/28/2018)

I love to laugh.  My whole family does.  We laugh at weddings, we laugh at funerals, we laugh THAT we laugh.  We all laugh, all the time.  At, and through, almost anything.  And I come from a very long line of pranksters, on both my paternal and maternal sides.  Which has always given us that much more to laugh at!  But just to illustrate how laughter can help heal in the midst of sorrow, I need to tell you the squirrel story.  Some of you may have heard parts of the story, but few of you have heard it all.  So allow me to pull a Paul Harvey on you and give you “the rest of the story.”

My sweet-and-sour mom, Dorothy, passed away just after midnight on a very foggy December 12, 2007.  She was 79, and her decline and passing were both quick and quiet.  We never had a chance to say those all important words of farewell.  (No need for the “I Love You” scene.  We all knew how much we loved each other.)  Our family got through the funeral and its aftermath the same way we have gotten through everything—we laughed through tears, then we laughed about that, knowing that that is just the way our family does it. 

Then January came, and with the holidays over, moods got heavy.  I missed my Mom dearly.  We all did.  To compound that, my Mom’s sister, “Munner,” had gone into the hospital on New Year’s Eve and was declining by the day (I’ll always think she died of a broken heart over the loss of her best friend, her sister, Dorothy Wayne Owen).  But we supported each other completely and tried our best to keep our spirits up.

One bright January morning I woke up, got out of bed and went into the bathroom to do what everyone does in the bathroom when they wake up.  And when I looked down in the toilet bowl, I saw…..something.  Fluffy, wet, with big eyes, looking up at me, and obviously not living.  At first I thought it was a stuffed toy animal, which turned out being halfway right.  I (literally) rubbed my eyes, turned the light on, and realized it was…….a dead squirrel.

In my toilet.  Dead.  And Ex-squirrel.  Its metabolic processes were history.  He’d shuffled off his mortal coil and joined the choir invisible.  (If squirrels sing, that is.)

Both of my dogs were still sound asleep, so I knew our little visitor hadn’t done an Esther Williams water-dance number before making its final dive into the pool.  (The dogs would have had a fit!!!)  But I remembered that squirrels seldom travel alone, so I quickly and nervously looked in the hamper and the shower to make sure the squirrel’s little friends hadn’t assembled for its funeral.

I knew not to try and flush the little guy back down (I didn’t need a clogged commode to compound the already strange day!), so I needed to extract the little bugger from its watery grave.  But how??  Kitchen tongs, I thought!  I’ll get those!  So I ran to the kitchen, came back, grabbed the little thing’s shoulders, and pulled.  No-go.  That squirrel had birthin’-hips that were stuck in the drain.  So with both hands I yanked again.  POP went the rodent!  I pulled it out………and had nowhere to put it. So one more trip into the water for the poor thing and one more quick trip to the kitchen and back to the bathroom with a plastic WalMart bag.  As trash pickup was not for 3 days, I put the little plastic-wrapped carcass in the garage deep freeze.  And yes, I threw the tongs away.

On the way into the office later that morning, I called my cousin Melissa, who was with Munner (her mother) in the hospital.  I told her the strange happenings of my morning, and she said “wait, let me put this on speaker….tell Munner.”  And I did.  Then I heard Munner start to laugh and she said “Billy, that’s just Dorothy pulling a joke on you!!!”  My cousin and I laughed with her, I told her I’d call back later, and hung up.  Then I pulled into a parking lot and had a big ol’ ugly cry. 

As I cried, I Iaughed.  And when I stopped crying, I laughed some more.  That SO did sound like a prank Mom would pull.  Even though we never got to say goodbye, our history of love and laughter would, and did, see us through.  It still does on dark evenings or warm summer days when I find myself missing Miz Dorothy.

That, friends, is just one of the ways you can laugh your way through the chaos that tragedy will eventually come into all of our lives.  Laugh at what was good as you cry at what was lost.  Dr. Seuss said it best—“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”  You get through it—and I still giggle about it, and not cry, when I think about the squirrel, the prank, and my Mom!

More new content soon, so please return.  And remember to laugh today!

 

Bill 

 

Welcome to my world of gaming! (4/23/2018)

Howdy everyone! I’m Kent, Bill’s husband! My page is devoted to games. As I grew up, my family played a LOT of games (and I mean that in a very good way!). My parents played bridge and canasta almost every week. I watched my parents play and I played Monopoly and Clue with anyone I could find. I eventually discovered my aunt and uncle had entire closet full of games! Every time we visited I would l play the multitude of games that they had. I fell in love with Risk. (To this day I want to go to Siberia and visit Irkutsk just because that was the name of one of the countries in the game) I didn’t understand the rules until we played and I lost quickly. So I played a lot of Parker Brother board games…until a friend introduced me to a new kind of game.

He called it a “role-playing game’ called Dungeons and Dragons. I instantly fell in love with the Magic-User class. I soon discovered other role playing games:  Traveler, Gamma World, and then there was the Star Trek Role Playing Game. Yes, I learned quickest way for me to part with my money is to slap “Star Trek” on the label of a game. I coasted while in high school, just sticking with the game I knew, and besides I didn’t have the money to pay for new games!

Christmas of my senior year of high school, my brother gave me the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. He got me a game called “Star Fleet Battles”. Star Fleet Battles technically isn’t Star Trek. That means it’s not licensed by CBS, the network that owned the original Star Trek series.  The game began from a book called The Star Fleet Technical Manual, which skirted under the eye of CBS and Paramount. In the book, there were other ships besides the Enterprise we all know and love. Based on the drawings provided, someone created a game where each person flew a starship and that damage inflicted during the game by other players was represented by a picture of the ship with boxes that were checked off as damage was given.

The rules of this game are incredibly complex as they were written by a copyright lawyer. You could play as a member of the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, or Gorn. I loved it!  It remains one of my favorite games of all time and I had just the first set (which, if it wasn’t worn out from use, would be amazingly valuable!). There was more to the game—expansions designed to broaden the scope of the game AND to make more money for the producers—and I had to go buy each and everyone one! That’s when gaming for me became a hobby. From that I now have a closet filled with games (much to my husband’s dismay). I have games in there that I’ve never played, which I discovered is a way to differentiate a casual gamer from an avid gamer. I still play both role playing and board games. I did have a brief flirtation with collectable card games. I’ll even bet you can guess the game. I’ll give you a hint – it has the word “Star Trek” and “Card Game” in it. I still have the cards, I’m sure they will be worth something in the far future. Actually, I just want to burden the kids with what to do with them after I die. That’s the Pakled in me.  (Pakleds were a humanoid race that were in an episode of “Star Trek Next Generation” but it’s also a play on words that I am a PACK RAT!  😊 )

Now that you met me and know a bit about me, let me tell you want I want to do with this blog. I want to explore new games and share with you some games that I love. I want to share my view of the gaming industry from the games themselves to conventions. I want you to share my journey.

In other words–I want to get you to love games as much as I do!

Please come back here often.  Like the other pages in this site, content will be updated often, and if you have questions of comments, please leave one.

And if any of you are going to GenCon in Indianapolis—let me know!  I’d love to meet you!

Kent

Coming soon: a novel! One chapter—or essay—at a time (4/23/2018)

To give you just a little history of me….I have always loved to write.  My first novel attempt was in third grade, in Mrs. Hanes’ class at Paul Keyes Elementary in Irving, Texas.  It was called “The Day The Sun Went Out.”  (How cheesy is that??)  But after I showed it to her one Tuesday afternoon, she asked me to read it to the class after lunch period the next day, Wednesday.

Now every Wednesday, Mrs. Hanes’ husband—W.T. Hanes, who at the time was the head of the Irving School District—came to the school to have lunch with her.  We’d all met him, so it wasn’t that weird that he came back to our class with her after lunch.  So Mrs. Hanes asked me to read the first two chapters of my “novel” with her husband sitting next to her.  (They were a wonderful couple—looking back they remind me a lot of George W and Barbara Bush).  So, ever the ham, I got up and read—emoting, playing to the audience, but really trying to sell it.  (Remember, this was third grade.  I am thankful there were no video cameras or iPhones back then!)

The class laughed in the right places, clapped at the end, and I bowed and took my seat.  Shortly thereafter Superintendent Hanes came by and kneeled by my desk and said “Billy, that was pretty impressive for a third-grader!  I sure hope you keep writing.  Please let me or Mrs. Hanes know how we can help you!”

As a kid I didn’t realize how incredible of a vote of confidence that was.  It took me years to have the “WOW” moment of realization!  But now, for many reasons, it’s time for me to write.  So the plan on this tab is to publish my novel, still in progress, one chapter at a time.  But here’s the cool thing I want y’alls help on:  let me know how you want me to change characters, plot, or anything else. This could be a new way of producing a novel—almost like a “crowd-sourced” book!  I hope you’ll join me.

First chapter will go up on here in about a week.  So come back.  You’ll want to be part of the crowd!

Bill

Ready for takeoff—let’s go somewhere, dammit! (4/23/2018)

Nothing, except perhaps a face-time call from my grandbabies, gives me as much sheer pleasure and excitement as travel.  Which is probably a good thing, as I’m just about to complete 40 years of employment in the airline industry.  During those 4 decades, I’ve been to a lot of amazing places.  But WOW what changes I’ve seen.  Travel can be difficult these days.  Harried at its best, and stressful at its worst.  I get it.  Everyone in the industry gets it.  But before I start sharing incredible destinations, hotels, resorts, and restaurants that I’ve visited, let me give you a few tips from a pro how to travel much more stress-free!

PLANNING AHEAD

1.       If you can afford it, the best way to get right through the security lines—and one you have to plan well ahead to obtain—is enrolling in TSA Precheck.   With TSA Pre, shoes and belts stay on; pockets still must be emptied, but laptop(s) can stay in your bag, and the wait times are usually MUCH shorter.  Now, depending on how often you travel, there may not be a price-to-value return here.  TSA Pre costs $85 for 5 years, requires an in-person interview, and isn’t in use at *all* US airports (although it’s at all the big ones).  According to the TSA website it cuts wait times to no more than 5 minutes for all TSA Pre Customers.   However, warning:  at super-heavy-business-traveler airports, like the LaGuardia Flight Delay Machine in NYC, it’s not unheard of for the TSA Pre line to be longer than the standard line.  Just ask an attendant which one is quicker, and usually it’ll be the TSA Pre line despite the added length.

2.       Print out your boarding documents before you get to the airport.  Every airline that I’m aware of has that functionality on their website, and the paybacks are enormous, as your goal is avoiding the ticket counter lines at all cost!  Even if you can’t print your boarding pass out in advance, at least go to your airline’s website and write your confirmation number (some will call it a PNR number) down and take it with you.  Armed with this info and your credit card and/or Driver’s License or Passport, you can use the self-service kiosk for your airline.

3.       3.5 ounces per bottle of liquid in carry-on luggage is the max.  They mean it.  However, if you insist on taking your 20-oz. bottle of super-expensive shampoo or sun block with you, there are two choices.  One, pack it in your checked luggage, if you’re going to have a checked bag anyway (and note that some airlines don’t charge for checked bags).  But if not—pack the liquids up in suitable bubble-wrap, and overnight your treasure to your hotel, marked “hold for expected guest arrival.”  Your hair, or skin, will thank you.

4.       Pack light.  I’ve done seven-day trips through Europe, including dress dinners, with just a roll-aboard bag.  But if you need things only for the destination—such as tux, or even a wedding dress—and want them to arrive in pristine condition, ship them ahead.  Make sure you insure them, but most major shippers like Purple and Brown have clothing shipping bags that will minimize wrinkleage.  Take advantage of this if possible, because it’s all about getting you AND your belongings there with the fewest new wrinkles possible!

DAY OF TRAVEL

1.       Charge your electronics BEFORE you leave the house.  Some airports have charging stations; some airlines have onboard power.  Not all do.  Why worry about it?  Charge everything you have up to 100%, then take your USB cords in your carryon so you can “share” power between your devices if need be.

2.       Big laptop charging apparatus is best put into checked bags.  Let’s face it—for anything larger than a tablet, the chargers can be bulky, heavy, and a pain.  If you’re going to check a bag anyway, just put the heavy charger in the checked bag (but always be mindful of the maximum poundage allowed per checked bag!)

3.       WEIGH and MEASURE your bags.  Only so much will fit in the overheads, or under the seat in front of you—and you don’t want to have to gate-check and risk THAT hoo-hoo.  Be smart.  Plan ahead!  The allowed dimensions for carryons can be found on your airline’s website.

4.       Thirsty?  You get that way at 41,000 feet, and it’s extremely dry in an aircraft cabin at altitude.  Some airlines offer free, non-alcoholic drinks in the main cabin, but some don’t, so it’s best to BYOW.  But you can’t carry a filled water bottle through TSA.  What to do?  One of two things.

a.       Carry an empty water bottle with a cap through security, then fill it before you board.  Boom.  Problem solved.

b.       Take a regular, plastic water bottle, fill it ¾ full.  Then freeze it solid.  Frozen water doesn’t count as liquid, it’ll get through security, and then it melts you can enjoy ice cold water during flight. Note:  please don’t try this with alcohol or with super-fizzy sodas. 

5.       SMILE at your crew as your board.  Do what your grandma told you—be nice.  If you’re really thoughtful bring wrapped candies (little mini-Snickers or Reeses are always a hit!) and just hand them out with a smile and a thank you.  Look, they’re not just there to show you their underarms as they come through the cabin checking to see if your seatbelt is on and your cellphone is off.  They’re there to save your butt if something bad happens, and you’re going to spend quite a while with them in charge, so why not just be nice?  You’d be surprised how much easier it makes your trip!

After that—board, sit, buckle, and have a great flight.  And I’ll be talking about WHERE to fly, and how to find good DEALS, soon!

Bill

Wyatt’s Eggplant Casserole (4/23/2018)

OH. SO. GOOD.

Many years ago in Texas there was a cafeteria chain called Wyatt’s. It was wonderful—great food, excellent quality, low prices (which probably explains why they went out of business). When I was young and Dad travelled a lot, Mom would take us there once or twice a week. And I got the same thing, every single time—two devilled eggs, a blueberry muffin, chicken-fried steak, and Wyatt’s signature Eggplant Casserole. That casserole was AMAZEBALLS. You never even really knew eggplant was in it (so if you’re not an eggplant fan, try this anyway!). It was rich, bready, slightly sweet, cheesy, and just so good you wanted to wriggle naked in it! (But it was served hot and that’d burn your “gingerbread,” so…..)

I thought the recipe was lost, but recently, I came across their original recipe in my grandmother’s recipe box, and I’ve updated it just a bit. The original recipe used Wyatt’s day-old rolls, which were a little sweet, so I’ve updated it using King’s Hawaiian Rolls and simplified the rest of the ingredients. And it’s still awesome.  No, that’s a soft-sell.  To be honest it’s just freakin’ wonderful.  Your family will love it as much as mine does!

Fixin’s:

  • 1 ½ lb eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes (yes, please, PEEL it!)
  • 1⁄2 lb King’s Hawaiian Bread, dried or toasted and chopped fine
  • 1 cup canned evaporated milk
  • 1⁄4 cup butter, melted
  • 1⁄4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1⁄4 cup finely chopped green pepper
  • 1⁄4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • ½ cup chopped pimiento (finely chopped jarred roasted red bell pepper works just as well)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon dried sage
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Directions:

  • Soak eggplant pieces in salted water for 4 hours if you can. If you don’t have time, add a teaspoon of sugar to the recipe.
  • Chop the King’s Hawaiian Bread and leave it out overnight to dry or put it on a pan in a 250 degree oven for about 15 minutes. You want to dry it—not toast it!
  • Simmer the cubed eggplant in water until tender. If you didn’t salt the eggplant beforehand, salt the water you’re simmering in. If you did salt and soak the eggplant, no salt in the water is necessary.
  • Soak the dried King’s Bread in the milk.
  • Preheat oven to 350 (just turn up the oven you used for the bread. Saving energy = saving money!)
  • Melt the butter in a pan, and slowly sauté the onions, celery, and pepper (the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Cajun cooking!) until they’re tender, about 12 minutes.
  • Lightly beat the eggs.
  • Mix the eggplant *with* any un-absorbed milk, sautéed vegetables, eggs, and spices in a buttered or greased 9 X 13 casserole (or any 2 quart or larger) dish.
  • Cover with foil, and put into pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and cover with the wonderful cheeeeeese. Return, uncovered, to oven for 10 minutes.
  • When done, remove and either serve to your family or take down to the church social and see who remembers the cafeteria where this dish got its start!

(note: freezes well BEFORE cooking.)