Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Spam! Courtesy of Cailey

It's been awhile since I've had a good spam email, but thankfully, my friend Cailey is on the case and sent me this beauty today. Most of the email is pretty boring and appears to be related to insurance, but the first bit is pure gold and almost makes me want to reply.
From: Prophet Ogidiga
First off, if someone named "Prophet Ogidiga emails you with a subject line like "CONTACT ME NOW," doesn't that kind of make you want to know what they have to say? This person is a prophet! They might hold your life in the balance! And then you open the email, and yes, I do need a powerful spell caster.

The next bit of the email is not in English. At first I thought it was Latin and, therefore, the beginnings of a powerful spell. You know, to show what Prophet Ogidiga can do. But alas, it was just Spanish with an English translation below. And, as I said, it was about insurance coverage, but I have to wonder if they mean real insurance or the kind of insurance that you can only get when you've enlisted the services of a powerful spell caster. The double indemnity clause in that contract must be amazing. 

#1 Google Images result for "powerful spell caster"
Thanks, Cailey, for your excellent contribution. And, dear readers, if you would like to review some of my awesome past emails, check out the links below:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Heathrow Airport makes life difficult

Several times in my life, I have had the grave misfortune of catching a connecting flight through Heathrow Airport. I did not enjoy those experiences. I am specifically thinking of a time back in 2010 when I studied abroad in Ireland (back when I started this blog. Nostalgia!). Let me tell you about that horrible experience now:

The first time I landed in Heathrow it was only to change plans so that I could go to Shannon, Ireland. But whenever you land at an airport having just come from another country, they make you go through some kind of Customs check-point. Having just spent 7 hours sleeping, or as I like to call it, "recovering from the 48 hours I didn't sleep because I had just come home from Korea," I was not not at my most alert. I joined the Customs line with my fellow passengers and, noticing, that it was not moving particularly quickly, pulled out a book and started reading in the line. So absorbed was I by the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and, later, chatting with a fellow queuer, that it wasn't until I got to the Customs agent that I realized I was in the WRONG LINE. I was then directed to an out-of-the-way corner of the room, where one tiny sign indicated where to go for connecting flights. Thanks, Heathrow. It would have been great to know that AN HOUR AGO when I first got into the wrong line. Lucky for me, I had a long layover, so I wasn't totally screwed by the lack of clear instructions. 

The same cannot be said for the next time I darkened Heathrow's doorstep. 

At the end of my lovely month in Ireland, I had to return home through Heathrow. Getting home was kind of a big deal for because I was returning the week of my graduation from college. The memory of the line kerfuffle still fresh in my mind, I set out hoping not to find myself in similar circumstances again. Not until I reached Heathrow, however, was I informed that my United flight to the US was being operated by Continental Airlines in a different terminal. The next step was then to get to the correct terminal for Continental. However, unlike other airports that have one tram that goes back and forth between the terminals, Heathrow's tram system is like a full-on train station, including multiple platforms and the possibility that if you accidentally board the wrong train you will find yourself in downtown London before you can do a damn thing about it. Thankfully, that didn't happen to me, but you can see how this process could become time-consuming and frustrating.

While I didn't accidentally go to London, I did board the wrong train, ending up in Terminal 4, rather than Terminal 5, and ultimately wasting far too much time correcting the mistake. The real icing on the cake was that, this time, I did almost miss my connecting flight. When I finally arrived at Continental check-in (because, oh yeah, they didn't check me in all the way to the US when I started this trip in Shannon), I was told the flight was closed and I would have to buy a ticket for another flight. At that point, I almost had a breakdown. As many of my friends can attest, few things stress me more than traveling complications. Or just traveling in general. I refused to ride the bus in Edinburgh for a long time because not knowing when to get off made me so anxious. It was only after I downloaded an app for it that I finally felt comfortable enough to ride. (This message brought to you by the Apple App Store.)

Anyway, as I was saying, my flight was closed, I wasn't checked in, I was told I have to go the booking counter to book a new flight, and I was on the verge of tears. So I went to the booking counter, and as the woman there was looking for new flights for me, I happened to mention that my stuff was already checked through to Tampa. These were, apparently, the magic words, because she said, "Oh, then we need to get you on that flight!" Then she hustled me back over to the check-in counter, where she made someone call the plane to tell them I'm coming, get me checked in, and take me to the security line. AND when I was waiting in the line, who did I see going through security? Gordon Ramsey!! So I guess it worked out all right in the end. I made my flight, and the Continental plane was totally baller. But I could've saved a whole lot of time and heartache if Heathrow weren't such a terrible airport.

So in conclusion and in summary, fly through Gatwick.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

IKEA 2: Return to Sanity

A long time ago, I wrote about my nightmarish inaugural trip to IKEA. It was a dark time for me, and it almost turned me off from the Swedish retailer forever. But more than a year has passed, and things've changed. I've changed. Maybe IKEA's changed a little too. And I feel I must return to this topic so that we can all have a little closure.

As I may have mentioned,* I spent a good part of the past year in Europe: Home of IKEA. Living in a residence hall, it wasn't long before some of my fellow residents proposed a trip to our local home store for some inexpensive dorm accoutrements. I was, in a word, hesitant. My last visit to IKEA was not something that I cared to repeat, but in the spirit of fostering new friendships and overcoming obstacles, I agreed to go. It also helped that I was accompanied by a group of people who both knew and liked IKEA, as opposed to my parents, who were as clueless and uncomfortable as I.

Two things made my experience that day not only bearable to downright enjoyable.

Number one:
Crowds. Or lack thereof. The Tampa IKEA was swarming with people. I believe I referred to them as "the mindless hoard." Whether because this IKEA was more local, less new, or just less novel to the Scottish, it was not terribly crowded, so I was able to take my time and not feel quite as overwhelmed by the simple experience of walking around a store.

Number two:
MEATBALLS. There may have been other things that made that day good, but--- nope, meatballs. All the meatballs. I had heard IKEA had good meatballs, but ohmygod meatballs.** I don't know what makes these things so good. Yes I do. Gravy. Also lingonberry jam, which is just so so Swedish, but absolutely essential. My whole trip to that store was given purpose when I tasted those delicious balls of meat. I'm not kidding you when I say that I have since returned to IKEA just for the meatballs. Sometimes I get other stuff too, but usually not. I would brave all manners of hell just to have those waiting for me after checkout. My big mistake that first time was bypassing the food stand that sold them.

With lingonberry drink!
Oh, also, IKEA has one of the most comfortable chairs I've ever owned. By now a staple of dorm rooms everywhere, the POÄNG chair is so much greater than you would ever think it could be.

Ultimate comfort
Add the footrest, and this is my definition of luxury. The day I get a new one of these (I had to leave mine in Scotland) is the day I feel whole again.

So there you have it, dear readers. I have made a 180 with regards to the IKEA store. It really does have its merits.

Like all these straws! 
Or these many lamps! 
This weird fork? 
This part still makes me kind of nervous.

But for those of you who have still never gone or, like me, had a terrible first experience and haven't gone back, here are a few tips:
  1. Go with someone who knows what they're doing.
  2. Go in with a game plan. Check the website before you go so you know what you want. Browsing is possible in IKEA, but it's totally overwhelming if you're not acclimated to it. 
  3. Eat some goddamned meatballs. If you don't love those things, you can GTFO. I kid, I kid. You don't have to love the meatballs just because I do. But at least try them. 
They might change your life. 

*Once or twice
**Have I typed the word "meatballs" enough yet?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dublin: Part 2: History Day

Bet you never thought there would be a "Part 2" in my series of Dublin posts, did you? If you're interested in reviewing, here is the Preface and Part 1. Now I will tell you about the nerdy, nerdy way I spent St. Patrick's Day this year.

My comrades and I spent a large portion of the day learning about Dublin's history and trying (most unsuccessfully) to avoid crowds. We started off by heading to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is a very old illuminated manuscript of the Gospels of the New Testament. It was created c. 800 by Celtic monks, and it was, obviously, all done by hand, which is truly amazing. The exhibit is about the creation of the book, going into detail about how the inks would have been made, who likely worked on it, how long it would have taken, and other things of that ilk. And while that may sound stuffy, it really is incredible and totally worth checking out. In this day and age we take easy, machine-aided work for granted, so it's important to be reminded of a time when painstaking craftsmanship was the only way to do things. It's mind-blowing what they were able to achieve and that those achievements have remained intact to this day.

At the end of the exhibit, you get to see some pages of the Book itself, which they turn every so often, so if you go more than once, you're likely to see different pages. Admission to the Book of Kells usually costs around €8 for students, but for St. Paddy's Day, it was free! And because everyone else in the city was pretty focused on stumbling blindly through the streets, the exhibit was almost empty, so we got plenty of time to press our faces up to the glass and take it in. You are never allowed to photograph the Book of Kells, so here is a picture I got off Wikipedia of one of its more famous pages:

Next we went to the National Museum of Ireland primarily to see the bog bodies! The bog bodies, if you've never heard of them, are the mummified corpses of people from hundreds, even thousands, of years ago who were murdered and then thrown into Irish bogs. The lack of air in the swampy land preserved the bodies so well that, when they were found, they still had skin, hair, and clothing. A few even still had the contents of their stomachs, allowing scientists to analyze their final meal! These things are as creepy as they sound, and just as cool. I saw them a couple of years ago and almost passed out; mostly because of the terrible ways most of these people were murdered. But they are so fascinating to look at. I don't have any pictures of the bodies because a. they are kind of gross and b. I felt like it was sort of disrespectful to photograph the dead, but they're worth a look if you ever get the chance. Or if you want to read this Wikipedia page.

Making our way through Dublin was an ordeal that day. The streets were packed with people who didn't even seem to be going anywhere, just wandering in a (presumably) drunken stupor. If ever I've understood the plight of the salmon, it was trying to walk around Temple Bar.

Despite the difficulty, we made it to the historic district and Christ Church Cathedral. As you can read on Wikipedia, Christ Church is the older of Dublin's two medieval cathedrals. It was founded c. 1030, but it still looks amazing today. In addition to its fabulous architecture and beautiful stained glass, Christ Church has some very cool underground vaults with an exhibition about the history of the church.

On our way back to the hotel, we stumbled upon Dublinia, a super-fun interactive museum about the various stages of Dublin's history, from the Viking era to the present day. Unfortunately, we arrived there about an hour before closing, so we didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked. We were also sharing our experience with a group of very obnoxious Spanish men, who impeded my ability to play dress-up. I still managed a few good costumes, though.

As you can see, Dublinia had all kinds of awesome. It also had this fake man, sitting on a facsimile of a medieval toilet: 

And so, after a lovely day of learning about Dublin's history (and medieval plumbing), we ate dinner and shared a few drinks in honor of St. Patrick. Sláinte!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Halloween Party Recipe Roundup

I just wrote a long and thoughtful post about the Halloween party I threw last Saturday, and then Blogger decided to delete it. So instead I will cut to the chase and post recipes for my two favorite dishes from that party.

Mozzarella-Stuffed Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • mozzarella string cheese
  • olive oil
  • 2 jars tomato sauce

  1. Combine everything except cheese, oil, and sauce in a bowl and mix thoroughly with your hands. It's very satisfying. And gross.
  2. Form mixture into 1.5" to 2" balls.
  3. Cut string cheese into cubes. Put one cheese cube inside each meatball, and then reform meat to seal it in.
  4. Heat some olive oil in a large skillet. I used cast iron. For flavor!
  5. Brown meatballs on all sides in the oil, taking care not to horribly disfigure yourself from oil burns.
  6. Set aside browned meatballs, and pour tomato sauce into the skillet and bring to a simmer.
  7. Add meatballs back into the sauce, cover, and let simmer until cooked through (about 30 minutes).
  8. Enjoy delicious meatballs.
As you can see in my photographic representation of the final dish, I used tons of sauce. You can probably used less, but the sauce was really good, so the more the merrier. Also, some the cheese managed to escape its meaty prison, but as the old saying goes, "Cheese tastes delicious, whether inside meatballs or out." You know that old saying, right?

Butternut Squash Pie

  • 1 (or 2) unbaked and chilled pie shell(s)
  • 1/2 cup pureed butternut squash, about the yield of a small to medium squash
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • a dash of pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Cooking the squash:
  1. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise. The squash is tough and does not wish to be rent asunder, so be careful not to injure yourself trying to divide this thing. Take it slow and easy.
  2. Remove seeds, and then place squash halves facedown on a cooking pan lined with greased foil, to facilitate cleanup, as the cooked squash will tend to stick. 
  3. Pour 1/2 cup water into the bottom of the pan, cover loosely, then cook at 400°F for about 55 minutes, or until squash is tender. 
  4. Scoop cooked squash out of its skin and puree with an immersion blender (or your preferred method of squash squashing). 
  5. Set aside 1/2 cup of pureed squash. Save the rest for eating with some butter and salt, maybe. 
Assembling the pie:
  1. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. 
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine squash and brown sugar and beat with an electric mixer until combined. 
  3. Add eggs, evaporated milk, spices, salt, flour, butter, and vanilla, and beat until well blended. Note that all the spice proportions can be modified based on your tastes, but trust me when I say this pie was hella good the way I made it. 
  4. Pour filling into pie shell. I ended up having enough filling for two 9-inch shells, so I made two not-entirely-full pies. If you have a bigger shell you might be able to use all your filling on one pie, but since the shells usually come in sets of two, I recommend just making two pies. 
  5. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until filling is set. After 35 minutes, I checked the pies and put crust protectors around the edges to keep the crusts from burning. If you don't have the fancy silicon crust protectors my dad bought, you can fashion some out of tin foil. Just be careful not to burn yourself on hot pie. 
  6. When filling is set, remove from oven, allow to cool, then enjoy some pie. 

These pies were fantastic. I decided to make them because I was once told you could substitute butternut squash for pumpkin in a pumpkin pie recipe, and that fact intrigued me. Making pumpkin pie from scratch was an odious ordeal that I never intend to repeat. Fresh pumpkin is not worth the trouble when canned pumpkin tastes just as good. It's all about the spices, anyway. But the butternut squash was easy to cook, and it really tasted excellent.

So there you go, dear readers, maybe try out these recipes at a holiday party. You won't be disappointed!