Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Clean hotel sheets?

What do I have to do to get clean hotel sheets???  Does every hotel have to have "nail polish" on all the sheets? I'm not staying at a dump tonight, it is a Westin for god sakes....

Let me clarify - I just checked in tonight, so this isn't my red stain on the sheets. Gross.

Am I the only one who has this problem or am I the only one who looks for it? Off to crawl into these sheets on my Heavenly Westin Bed...



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Initial Thoughts on the Doubletree Richmond

I was in Richmond for one night this week and since I'm a Hilton Gold, I decided to stay at the Doubletree Downtown. The rate was good and it was close to my meetings.  Win-Win, right? Not so much.

I will provide a full hotel review shortly, but I wanted to talk briefly about the check-in and check-out process.

We arrived at the Doubletree around 21h30 last night.  We attempt to valet park our car and can't find the valet. I go into the hotel to ask if valet was still operating.  It was and the front desk clerk said the valet is outside, wearing a green shirt. We look out the window and see him crouched down (almost hiding) from guests.  After we track him down he takes our car.

I am in line to check-in and after the front desk clerk tells us where the valet is hiding, I give him my ID, my credit card (Chase Sapphire Preferred) and my HHonors Gold Card (just to make sure the Gold Benefits are properly associated with my reservation. He says they don't take that card. Only Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Discover. I tell him it is a Visa and the logo is on the back -- his response: Visa logos are only on the front.  He does begrudgingly attempt to run my card -- which works just fine.

I then ask him to remind me of the Gold Benefits at this hotel (I wanted to confirm a free breakfast as well as complimentary internet access). He tells me the benefits are in my room.  I don't understand. I ask him to explain and he says I will see when I get to my room.  Huh?  I then specifically ask him if Gold HHonors status allowed for a free breakfast and internet. He said it did, all Gold members get that.  Exactly what my initial question was.  I take my cookie and go to my room.

Full room/experience review coming soon.

Upon my departure, I was checking-out, which I usually never do, but I wanted to make sure my colleague got some alternate compensation because her room smelled horrible -- she had a VERY moldy (smelling) room. We didn't see the mold, but it stunk.  No other rooms were available, but an Engineer did come up to spray air freshener. My colleague did get some bonus points, which was nice - although she would gladly forego the points for a mold (smelling) free room.

When I'm checking out, the dialog with the clerk went something like this:

Doubletree Clerk: How was your stay?
Me: It was fine, thank you.
DC: I am happy you had a good stay with us.
Me: I didn't say it was good, I said it was fine.
DC: Oh....Ok.
Me: <smiling, waiting for the valet>
DC: So, what wasn't good?
Me: Well, my colleague had a bad room that I had to hear about it <laugh>, but thank you for taking care of her with points.  I was also disappointed you all don't offer adult films in the room.
DC: Oh.......oh.....

Now, I don't watch these films, but I do love the titles.  How disappointing for me. It was OK, because this woman was horribly embarrassed by my comment. That was not my intention, but was truly disappointing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chicago Pride 2012 - A Photo Essay

This past Sunday, Chicago hosted its annual Pride Parade. There was a new route this year, which had the parade pass right by my home.  The parade had over 850,000 spectators (a record) and nearly 200 floats (scaled back from about 250 from last year).  I took some photos of the setup, the parade and the teardown. Quite an interesting show all around.

Streets and San setting up the parade barraiades

Very efficient setup of crowd control barricades

How many City wokers does it take to watch people work?
Almost all the vehicles in this shot are City vehicles

Pride Brunch Crepe Station

Homeade coffee cake, muffins and cooikes for brunch

What is brunch without 3 pounds of bacon for 8 people

The crowds lining up 90 minutes before the Parade starts


Governor Quinn marching in the Parade

Crowds at the start of the Parade
  
The Obama supporters - sans Barrack

Friends marching for Obama

Jews for queers? Why not?

My favorite float - American Airlines

Immediately following the American Airlines float, you see United. Pretty lame.





The Baton - a great Drag Club in Chicago

The Gay ROTC, protecting Chicago from Soviets with fake guns


My brunch guests enjoying the Parade









This was Lilly's favorite float

Shock Top



Final float can't make it down the road as it is too tall.
You'd think someone would have measured before they got this far...


Streets and San clearing the street

Chain gang cleaning


The Sheriff and Team monitoring the cleaning efforts

Fleet of street sweepers doing a phenomenal job



An urban ballet
One of the most interesting parts of the Parade is how quickly the City cleans up fully after a major event.  I have some fun videos too -- if you are interested.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

New Skills from Chopping Block Classes

One of the reasons I love the Chopping Block is not only that they give you great recipes and help you all along the way in preparing a great meal, but they give you the skills to continue this cooking like this at home.  If you are struggling with some aspect of the preparation they don't take the knife from you and do it, they guide you, show you the proper technique and let you practice on your own.

On the calendar of classes, the Chopping Block not only tells you what you will be cooking but also what skills will be covered in class.  The skills from Rendezvous Under the Stars are: How to Set up Your Grill, Grilling Vegetables, Roasting Peppers, Determining Meat Doneness, Roasting Garlic, Grilling Fruit and Balancing Flavors.  Two skills that I thought were beneficial that weren't outlined on the course guide, but we did learn were: Segmenting Citrus Fruit and making a flavored salt.

Segmenting isn't a tough task, it is just something that you need to practice. One thing that I never did before was to "top and tail" the fruit -- this just means chopping off the top and the bottom of the fruit, thus giving you a stable bottom so it won't roll all over while you segment it. Of course, this seems pretty obvious now, but I never did it before.



Making a flavor salt is extremely easy, but again, it isn't anything I ever did before.  For the pork chop recipe, we needed to use Rosemary Salt. To make this salt, you take two stalks of rosemary, pulled from the stem and add it to 2 tablespoons of sea salt.  You either use a mortar and pestle or just a knife and cut the salt and rosemary together until it becomes a fine powder. This brings so much flavor to he meat. I've only used it for pork and it was great -- I bet paring it with lamb would be great too.


What is your favorite homemade flavored salt combination? How do you use it and how long can you store it?  What unexpected skill have you picked up from a cooking class or from watching a friend cook?

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Hotel Porn #2

I love the names of porn movies showcased in hotel rooms.  I wrote about some great titles from the Doubletree in Anaheim.  My colleagues were kind enough to send me the list of titles from the Hilton Anaheim.  I don't think these titles are as clever as the options at the Doubletree.
  • Pound my Round
  • My Backdoor Wh*re
  • Big D*ck in a Latina Chick
  • Old & Nasty
  • Mommies Gone Bad
  • American $luts
  • Spring Break Pu$$y Patrol
I like titles that rhyme or are a take off of traditional movie titles.  Truly every title from the Doubletree was more clever than this crap, don't you think?  Pretty disappointing, eh?

When staying in a hotel, do you check out the titles of the porn selections? What are the best titles you've seen...I'm really asking about the titles, not the films themselves...c'mon!

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rosemary Grilled Pork Chops

The main course in our Rendezvous Under the Stars was a Rosemary Grilled Pork Chop.  You know me, I love me some pig: bacon, chops, tenderloin.

The pork chops themselves were very simple - not too fancy at all. I really hate when recipes get too elaborate. I say buy good quality ingredients and dress them minimally just to draw the true flavors out. This recipe does just that with a total of three ingredients: pork, salt and rosemary (plus olive oil).  Simple, minimalist ingredients that make this dish perfect.

The detailed ingredients are:

Four Bone-in Pork Chops
2 Sprigs rosemary, stemmed and roughed chopped
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Here is how you make these great chops (again, these recipes are created by the fine folks at the Chopping Block - I made no substitutions or alterations).
  1. Heat the grill to medium heat
  2. Place the chopped rosemary and salt in a mortar and pestle (I didn't use the M&P, I just used a knife to chop the salt and rosemary into a fine powder
  3. Brush the chops with oil and sprinkle with the salt/rosemary powder
  4. Grill the chops on the first side until you have well-distinguished grill marks, 2-3 minutes then rotate the chops 90 degrees turn to achieve a diamond grill pattern and continue to grill until well marked.
  5. Flip the pork and repeat. Continue to cook until an instant read thermometer reads 135-140 degrees.  
  6. Allow the pork to rest before serving
This recipe pares with a Roasted Peppers, Capers and Pine Nuts (which will be reviewed later on).




How do you cook your pork chops? Grilled? Baked? How do you prepare them? Marinade? Rub? Plain with salt and pepper?  If you've got a favorite pork chop recipe please share it and I'll review it in a future post.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Grilled Fennel and Radicchio Salad

The first thing we made in our Rendezvous Under the Stars cooking class was a Grilled Fennel and Radicchio Salad.  I've grilled Radicchio before and really loathed it. It was just too bitter for me, but I did like the way it looks when grilled.  I wasn't too excited about this salad, when I saw it on the class handout. I'm not a big fan of the anise flavor of Fennel either -- if I was just leafing through a recipe book I would just skipped this recipe.  I'm quite happy this was part of class - it was so tasty and refreshing on a hot summer day.

The recipe is from the Chopping Block - I have made no alterations to this recipe.

Serves 4-6 people as an appetizer salad

2 fennel bulbs, cut into 1/2" slices (we just quartered ours in class)
1 head radicchio, quartered
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
2 oranges, cut into segments
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

  1. Heat the grill to medium
  2. Brush the cut sides of the fennel and radicchio with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste
  3. Grill the fennel on the first side until nicely caramelized (2-3 minutes), flip and repeat. Continue to grill until tender. Set aside to cool
  4. Grill the cut sides of the radicchio until slightly charred (1-2 minutes)
  5. Cut the grilled fennel into slices and place in a bowl. Cut the radicchio into rough medium dice and mix with the fennel
  6. Dress the fennel and radicchio with lemon zest, lemon juice and olive oil to taste. Toss in the parsley leaves. tarragon, oranges, almonds and cannellini beans
  7. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve at room temperature
The sweetness of the oranges and the citrus from the lemon really cut the bitterness of the radicchio and the anise of the fennel.  I had a very low expectation of this recipe but it really shocked me, it will definitely make it into my recipe box.

Grilling the fennel
Chef-instructor Michelle showing
us how segment an orange
Michelle offering guidance on the radicchio chopping
Jamie segmenting an orange 
Mixing the herbs with the orange segments.
Completed salad - it is much tastier
than this picture leads one to believe.
Have you made a recipe full of ingredients that you don't really like on their own, but when put together you really dig it? How do you cut the bitterness of vegetables like radicchio? Do you have a great summer grilled salad recipe - if so, post it in the comments and we can all enjoy it!

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