April 28, 2009

High Five!

Posted in work at 10:47 am by Michael

Choice 5

Choice 5

The voting:

#5: 47

#4: 29

#2: 28

#1: 25

#3: 5

The comment stream would seem to agree – its #5!

Thanks to all of you who voted, I have my new corp bio picture.

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April 24, 2009

VOTE: New Corporate Bio Picture

Posted in work at 1:46 pm by Michael

I had new corp bio pictures today… Faithful friends and readers, I need help!

Please click on your favorite to vote! Remember, this is *corporate*… for when I’m all pro-fo and stuff.

Choice 1

Choice 1

Choice 2

Choice 2

Choice 3

Choice 3

Choice 4

Choice 4

Choice 5

Choice 5

 Thanks in advance for your help!

April 18, 2009

Restaurant Miramar

Posted in food, travel at 3:20 pm by Michael

12, quai du Port
13002 Marseille
Tel: 04 91 91 10 40
http://lemiramar.fr/

The House of Bouillabaise

The House of Bouillabaise

Miramar is probably the most famous bouillabaisse restaurant in southern France, if not all of France. We had the opportunity to have lunch there, and it was as good as advertised. Quai du Port rings the south side of the main marina, and along that road are a set of restaurants offering French maritime cuisine. On your way to #12 do not stop, do not pass go, just keep going. Miramar is a different beast. They have both inside and outside seating (we sat outside), and the tables were mostly filled with well-dressed, middle-aged French businessmen enjoying a three-hour lunch.

Many of the main-courses are for two (we found this to be pretty common). There are three versions of the bouillabaisse (with and without lobster and one “special” – we couldn’t get a great explanation of “special”). Other super interesting courses for two included various grilled fishes, salt encrusted and baked fishes, and fish in pastry (which are expertly filleted and plated tableside by the “Chef du Table” – a roving outside chef).

We were there for the bouillabaisse, so we went for it. (Regular, no lobster).

To start we had the lobster salad.

Cannibal Lobster

Cannibal Lobster

This was perhaps the most beautiful lobster salad that I had ever seen – note how the claw seemingly grasps the tail. The lobster was nicely cooked (steamed, served cold), however the flavors in the salad (peas, beans, carrots, greens, with a light pesto-cream sauce) while independently beautiful, I didn’t hang together cohesively to make the dish.

We also had the scallop starter.

Truffles: Is there anything you can't do?

Truffles: Is there anything you can't do?

Also very beautiful. The scallops were lightly pan fried, and sat on top of a bed of slightly crunchy, pan-caramelized onions. On top, there are the thick sliced black truffles. Need I say more?

This dish did hang together much more cohesively. A single bite incorporating all of the elements was an amazing pleasure… it just melted in your mouth.

Next came the bouillabaisse…. It was a production. First, the seafood comes out.

Platter of Happy

Platter of Happy

Rockfish, a few kinds of whitefish, mussels, small crabs and potatoes are all delivered beautifully, topped with the “Certificate of Quality”.

The server then brings the garlic, mayo and toast platter. There is a process to follow with those – a delicious, garlicky process.

Platter of Process

Platter of Process

Step one: Select your toast.
Step two: Select a garlic clove.
Step three: Take garlic clove, and “scrape” on toast, liberally.
Step four: Apply dollop of spicy mayo stuff on toast.
Step five:  Drop in bouillabaisse broth.

Oh, the broth.

Now, you don’t just get the broth with the seafood – no. While your seafood is being filleted and prepared tableside by the Chef du Table,  you are given a fullsize bowl to enjoy. You get to play the above toast game with *that* broth.

Swimming Toast

Swimming Toast

I had this preconceived notion that bouillabaisse broth was thin and white. Far from it – here it was very much like a thick, fish bisque (without cream). It was also heavily seasoned with saffron and was somewhat curry-like, with a definite yellow color. With an almost spicy background, it went perfectly with the garlic toast previously prepared.

When finished, the Chef du Table presented us with the complete product – with a new base of broth of course.

Almost there....

Almost there....

While the serving was for two – honestly two people could have shared one bowl and been quite satiated. Each of the elements retained its own flavor and texture, and worked well together.

We did finish with dessert – which was ordered right after the main courses were ordered since each was cooked to order as well. I was ready to burst, but we had selected a Gran Marnier soufflé.

Shh!

Shh!

And, a Baba au Rhum.

....and a bottle of rum!

....and a bottle of rum!

The Baba au Rhum came with its own separate shot of rum (for drinking) – I know it was for drinking as the cake was supersaturated with rum – and perfect of course. The Baba and the topping strawberry glistened – with deliciousness.

Shining Beacon of Strawberry

Shining Beacon of Strawberry

As a bonus, a petit-fours plate was delivered, including these delicious raspberry tarts.

More Shiny...

More Shiny...

Samwich *loved* these, and when we told the ever-accomodating staff, ten more promptly showed up. I kid you not. Samwich then proceeded to eat the raspberries off the top of each one in a maniacal production line of yumminess.

Restaurant Miramar was an absolute treat. The setting was perfect for people watching along the quai. Eating outside in early spring was like a sneak preview of summer. Honestly lunching there was a great combination of luxury and laid-back-ness that I don’t think we would have had at dinner.

Marseille was an hour-plus from where we were staying, but Anh and I considered going back the next day to try more of the treats… only a fear of another post-lunch-caloric-coma caused us to not make the trek.

Go to Miramar… go after fasting… go with friends so you can try everything.

April 17, 2009

CARES Strap

Posted in Air France, Samwich, travel at 4:59 am by Michael

This was our first trip with Samwich using a CARES Strap (http://kidsflysafe.com/) instead of a car seat on the plane.

Most of the time we’ve used a “Sit-N-Stroll” (http://www.strollerdepot.com/items/sit-n-stroll/) which is a convertible car seat/stroller that can sometimes even be rolled right down the aisle. Its super convenient when you have a rental car on the other side.

We didn’t want to take the Sit-N-Stroll this time because we weren’t going to have a car for most of the time we were gone, making it a bunch of dead weight. In addition our experience with France is that it’s not super stroller friendly (curbs, cobblestones, narrow sidewalks).

Additionally, Air France planes (transcon A330’s) have extra-wide armrests that do not completely fold up – this makes it hard to put a carseat in.

The last time we red-eye’d to Boston, Samwich ended up out of his carseat, laying across Anh and I anyway – in that case, the carseat was a detriment, as that was space that he couldn’t use.

For this trip, we had the flight to Paris, and then a flight from Paris to Marseille.

We were able to use it effectively on all the legs, although on the return from Marseille to Paris the flight crew questioned us a bunch, and the FAA stamp didn’t carry weight, since it was France. In the end, they were ok w/it.

Samwich was way more comfortable, and sleeping worked out much better him. On the Paris-Seattle legs, the seat configuration was 2-4-2, and we had window-aisle-aisle, with Samwich on the window, with Anh next to him. On the Paris-Marseille legs, it was 3-3 – so we had three across and chose to put him in the middle. This was a benefit over the carseat, which needs to go on the window, or in a two-aisle plane (2-4-2, 2-3-2, or 3-5-3) has to be in a middle-middle seat.

The only challenge is that the shoulder straps tended to pull the lap belt “up” – so it was a little high. Because there is no “between the legs” strap, he could slide forward too. This isn’t a big deal in an airplane crash, since airplanes typically aren’t rear-ended, but you need to stay vigilant to make sure that he’s properly positioned in turbulence. We fixed this a bit by having him sit on a pillow, which seemed to work pretty well. (Although I’m not sure that’s “approved”).

In the end it wasn’t perfect, but it was better than the alternative, and certainly reduced the lugging weight.

Bad Day

Posted in life at 4:40 am by Michael

I had a bad day yesterday. Not a galactically bad day – nothing *bad* happened, but I didn’t have a good day.

Maybe it was the jet lag. Maybe it was being stressed at work (first full day back in two weeks).

In a meeting of about fifty or so people, someone referred to me as “He”. This is not new, and yes, it still happens. This time it really bothered me… a lot. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t worked w/this person before, and he never knew “Michael”.

I think it bothered me so much because it reflected how I was feeling inside: Not Cute. Not enough running, too much food, not enough electrolysis (what an utter pain in the ass), my eyebrows are out of control, and I need new hair (cut and color).

Deferred human maintenance isn’t a good thing….

The Case of the Curious Customs Agent

Posted in Identification, transgender, travel at 4:31 am by Michael

We (Me, Anh, Samwich) went to France for a couple of weeks (more on that to come). We have travelled internationally a bunch since I’ve transitioned, and never previously had any challenges getting into other countries, or back to the states. (We’ve been to France, Italy and Spain (Canada too!), and I’ve been to Israel as well)

I was initially concerned that because my passport still (and will) says: Gender M; that it would raise questions or we’d be stopped for additional questioning. In fact, the only time we ever got stopped was coming back from Spain – and that was at customs, not passport control – as it seems like they additionally screen everyone coming back from Spain because of the prevalence of Ham Smuggling (I kid you not, and this is NOT a euphemism). We had no ham, just some gummi bears in that international smuggler Samwich’s backpack that under x-ray appear ham-like.

Now, I also do something a little trouble-maker-like (I know you are shocked) – I fill out only one customs form for the three of us, as we are a family, and it asks “Number of People in Your Family Travelling with You”. We are legally married, and I see no reason to do anything different.

Anyway, we got back Wednesday, glad to have gone, glad to be back. We flew direct on Air France from Paris (nice airline…. order the kids meal for your kids). When we got to passport control, I gave the passports and the customs slip to the agent, who was a late 30’s, early 40’s Latina woman. (The agent who I’ve gotten many times before, who is a big, bald, white guy was in the next booth, but we didn’t pull him. The most I’ve gotten from him before is “Where do you work?” and then a hearty “Welcome Home!”. It was not to be that simple…)

She starts….

“Where are you going?”

Me: “Home? We live in Seattle.”

“Are you carrying any food items?”

Me: “Yes, chocolate.” (And declared on the form).

She flipped the form over a couple of times, looked at me, Anh, Samwich….. paused.

“How are you all related?”

Me: (Slowly, and looking right into her eyes, leaning forward slightly) “We are legally married.”

“Is this your son?” (Looking at all three passports again)

Me: “Yes, we are his parents.”

Here’s where it went totally off the tracks. She’s now holding my passport, looking at it intently, and she clearly sees the “Gender: M” thing.

“I have to ask, because of your appearance…. Can you explain?”

Me:  “I am transgendered. I transitioned from male to female, because of the passport rules, I am still ‘Male’. However, we were legally married before, and we still are.”

“And you like it better, being a girl?”

I had no idea how to even answer that.

Me: “I am who I am.”

“And you are still married?”(To Anh) “What, are you just like best friends or something? Not really ‘married’?”

Anh: “No, we are married. Married.”

“How does that work?”

Anh: “It just does. We are married.”

“And you are ok with that?”

Anh: “Yes.”

“And this is your son?”

Anh: “Yes, this is our biological son.”

“And you just like live together now, like friends.”

Me and Anh: “No, we are married.”

“Were you like best friends or something before?”

Anh: “No, I didn’t know about this before we got married.”

She shook her head, and kind of gave us that look like “Well, Whatever”

“I have to ask.”

I’m not sure she did.

“Huh…. I’ve never seen *this* before.”

What like, heffalumps and woozles?

“Ok, thanks for telling me your story.”

Like I had a choice?

“You can go.”

Anh and I looked at each other, kind of shocked as we walked to get our bags. It felt not great, and certainly not within the bounds of normal customs practice. I’m sure the fifty people in line behind us really appreciated her intensive questioning of the trans-family.

Don’t you feel safer knowing that Homeland Security is on the job?

March 27, 2009

Oh, The Humans

Posted in life, travel at 1:43 pm by Michael

I love traveling. I love observing the differences, the similarities, and everything in-between.

For the last week I’ve been working in our Microsoft office in Israel. One cool thing is that our badges work everywhere. It’s kind of odd to walk up to a building eight thousand miles away from home, swipe your badge: “Boop – Green Light”.

(On the subject of badges, here’s a story that I’ve heard about an old-school Microsoft manager. When told that they didn’t give enough positive feedback, they replied:

“Positive feedback? Positive feedback? I give you positive feedback every morning. Every morning, when you walk up to the door and swipe your badge, you get the green light. Isn’t that positive feedback enough?”)

I digress.

Israel is an interesting place. Service comes from a totally different frame. The customer is *absolutely* not always right.

The first night after arriving, we were looking for a place to eat. We went down to the concierge to ask for a recommendation. He asked what we’d like to eat – we told him “Meat, Hummous, Kebabs, that sort of thing.”

“Oh, you want to go to Benny the Fisherman – very good. They have meat too.”

We go to “Benny the Fisherman” – known for the finest of meats in all of Tel Aviv.

We walk in, sit down, and the waitress walks over after a bit.

“So, what do you want to eat?”

(Israel, even though it is an English speaking country, is fiercely, loyally, a country of Hebrew speakers. It is not uncommon for signs and menus to be only in Hebrew. This restaurant did not have English menus – this was the reason for the question.)

Thinking that we were going to a place featuring meat (oddly named after a fisherman), we said:

“Well, meat, kebabs, salad?”

“Eh? What, no fish? You come here, you don’t want fish?”

Eyeroll. Dismissive hand wave.

“We have fish. You want fish, I will bring it.”

Me: “Can I have some meat too?”

“After the fish. I will bring it. You will see. You will like it.”

What, is Sam I Am our server?

We were given meat after two fish courses, begrudgingly.

“The fish was good, no?”

I’m not sure they liked me.

It added insult to injury that as we were there, it started to pour. Biblically. (It is the land of the Bible after all). On the way out the door, while trying to run for the door, I planted my left foot, starting to run, and it slipped out from underneath me, dumping me unceremoniously on my meat-eating ass.

I’ll eat the fish next time, I promise.

While there, our local team had scheduled a team event which included a walking tour of Old Tel Aviv. We got to hear about how Tel Aviv came to be, built by five original families from the sand outside of Jaffa. Interesting…

There were less interesting bits. It turned out that a highlight of the trip was the stop in front of the tourguide’s childhood apartment house.

For fifteen minutes we got to hear about all of the neighbors, where they came from, where they are now. All the time, I was wondering, what the point was – who famous was there? How had this house played into the founding of Old Tel Aviv?

Not in the slightest. Really.

We did hear about the elderly neighbor from across the street. Her house was described as an exact replica of her childhood home in Poland, but with the addition of a Star of David over the door.  Invited over for Easter, she ignored the advice where to sit, and sat in the seat in front of the bowl of very hot horseradish. After sitting down, she asked what this dish was exactly, and was told it was very hot horseradish, and that it should only be eaten sparingly, and later with the main course. She blissfully ignored the advice, got a big spoonful, and took it in whole.

Her face was said to explode in a cataclysm of gagging and spitting. The party’s attempts at reviving her with water and matzo were not enough. The neighbor did not speak to them for five months. (Not four, not six – five. Seven would have been more locally appropriate).

Look, I was paying attention to this story. This story was a load of crap.

First off, it’s a Jewish neighborhood. Our tour guide was Jewish – she said as much.

Other problems with story:
– Invited over for Easter. Yes, Easter. Not Passover. Jews do not celebrate Easter. They celebrate Passover.
– Sitting places. Again, this is a Passover thing. See above.
– Horseradish. This is a *staple* of the Seder. I’ve been to two Seder meals in my life and I know this. How the neighbor from across the street did not know about this, given that she too was Jewish (Star of David on the house), is beyond me.
– Matzo. Another proof point of the non-Easterness. Does the Easter Bunny bring Matzo? NO! Unleavened bread… leave the house quickly…. It’s Passover!

Anyway, on our walking tour we stopped at a number of small food places, which was cool. We got to experience the oddly named “Hummous Sticks” – which are like potato sticks made out of dried mashed chickpea and tahini. I need to increment the Crappy Look Counter after going there though, the elderly lady at the front looked me up, down, up, down, and then went “Beah!”. I think I need to rename it the “Crappy Look and Beah! Counter”. We also had some fresh marzipan, which was melt-in-your-mouth yummy. No crappy looks.

Anyway… the actual walk was fun and the commentary while odd, was at least blog-fodder.

Our flight out was at 10:30pm, and keeping with the tradition of Israeli airport arrival, we planned to get there at about 7pm. (Really, you need to leave that much time). After spending a lovely hour and a half getting through the pre-security, bag security, checkin, passport control, and gate security lines, we were through.

At the airport we had a last Israeli meal of pita, hummous and schwarma at “Cumin”, which was a far better choice than Kosher McDonalds.

Traveling brings out interesting traits in people. I’ve seen some pretty selfless behavior, but also some super wacky behavior too. In my humble experience, elderly travelers can be *the worst*. We were in the passport check line, waiting, when an elderly eastern European woman and her husband got in the adjoining line. (I saw her passport cover). She quickly sidled over to half-cut in front of me. I saw it coming.

As the line moved forward, she inched forward – cutting further into line, while her husband proceeded in the adjoining line. Like no one was noticing.

As the lined moved to its conclusion, with a big kerfuffle, she tapped her husband on the shoulder, and dramatically moved fully in front of me. Look, we had been in this line and others for an hour and a half and I was done.

I tapped her on her shoulder….

“Excuse me. You were in that line with your husband. You cut in front of me. Move back to your line.”

Oh, the Crappy Looks….

Then, a grumble fest from the other line-standers “Yeah… no cutting….”

Shockingly, she complied.

Other line-standers turned around and smiled at me, like I had fought some silent injustice that they themselves had suffered silently.

Thirteen plus flight hours later, we arrived into Atlanta….

It’s fun to travel – love the food – but after that long of a flight, comfort food is needed. I found to my delight that in the Atlanta Airport, in Terminal A is a Dunkin’ Donuts.

“Large iced regular please….”

Welcome home…..

Favorite Search Terms of the Day

Posted in goooofy stuff, Samwich at 3:52 am by Michael

“give me back my samwich songs”

M() is the #1 search hit for this on Google! I have *arrived*….

Ha!

“trangender best way to get rid of a bear”

I didn’t know that trans-people had different methods to get rid of bears. This will require more investigation.

No kidding. Who searches for this stuff?

March 23, 2009

Samwich and the iPhone

Posted in life, Samwich at 8:04 am by Michael

The Object of His Affection

The Object of His Affection

Lots of our friends have iPhones. Samwich remembers which ones do, and tends to see them, give big smooches, and then go for the phone. He’s a “Bubblewrap” addict.

Last week, after absconding with our friend Angie’s phone, he demonstrated that he not only loved the games, but was able to navigate (back, and the direct flick motion).

Anh gave me this look like:

“Are you going to deny our son any longer?”

We talked about it, and decided to get a family iPod Touch, and load educational apps on it.

I went to the local Apple store to get it, feeling genuinely sheepish, given my overall attitude on buying “local” (i.e., Microsoft stuff).

I walked in, and was greeted by a super perky Apple greeter.

“Hey, can I help you.” (I loved the casual “Hey” – very Cupertino).

“Yes, I’d like to buy an iPod Touch, 32 gb please.”

“Ok, all of our experts are busy, but one should free up in ten minutes or so.”

DAMMIT! I don’t want to hang in this place any longer than necessary.

“I don’t need help. I just want to buy one. Can I do that?”

“Yes, but I can’t do it. You need to wait. What’s your name, and I’ll get you on our list.”

DOUBLE DAMMIT!

“Um……. Megan?”

“Ok, well, just enjoy the store, and we’ll call you as soon as someone can help you.”

Enjoy the store…. Yeah, like a million pins poking me…..

I was able to acquire the goods, and called Anh:

“I have the package.”

I brought it home, set it up, copied over a bunch of content, and got a few apps for Samwich.

He loves them, and he can really use it.

Technically, it’s a beautiful device, no doubt.

Samwich gets the direct connection of touching stuff on the screen and a result. The touch effect is so much more learnable than the indirect model that the keyboard/mouse/pen combo on other devices.

I hope he lets me borrow it sometimes.

The Bazaar

Posted in food, hotel at 8:00 am by Michael

Fun at the Bazaar

Fun at the Bazaar

When in LA with Peri a few weeks ago we went to The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel. It’s a new (opened in December ’08) Jose Andres restaurant. This was his first LA restaurant – his other places are in DC. He was recently (2008) on “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain for his restaurant “minibar” (in DC).

Go.

It was one of the top 5 meals that I’ve had in the past year.

The menu is an eclectic combination of traditional Spanish tapas, and playfully re-imagined modern plates.

I’m a fan of a nice Mojito. They had two on the menu – regular, and “Magic”. Of course, I got the Magic one… What makes it Magic? Well, they first bring a martini glass overflowing with cotton candy, and pour the Mojito less-sugar over the cotton candy. The candy melts, making the Mojito complete (not to sweet even!).

Not at the fairground

Not at the fairground

Three other favorites: rice (risotto) with field mushrooms and two types of caprese salad.

Yum! Caprese

Yum! Caprese

Now, the first type of caprese had cuvee’ed cherry tomatoes, served with little balls of mozzarella, all served over lovely pesto. When you took a spoon with a tomato, mozzarella and pesto, it just melted.

 

The second type of caprese was even more funky – instead of mozzarella balls, the liquid was put in a pipette, and you put the tomato in your mouth, then squirted the pipette in. Lovely.

Pipettes can be used for food

Pipettes can be used for food

Go… order lots of stuff. It was fun, funky, and yummy.

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