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Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Birthday Trip

Ok, here's the whole story, as best as I can remember it:

My wife's birthday was on Thursday. So for her birthday I planned out a little "mini-vacation/getaway for two".
First I called my brother and asked if he could babysit while we were gone. He said he would be happy to. Then I called my wife's mother and let her know that we weren't going to be home. That way, she wouldn't send flowers or stop by for my wife's birthday. I called the hotel and made reservations, and then I made a mental list of everything we should bring with us. This was all on Teusday.
Ok, so far so good. Now remember, my wife was totally in the dark about all of this. It was all to be a surprise. The only part that she knew about was that her birthday was coming up.
So I told her that I needed to go to the store and shop for her birthday presents. So I went and bought her some sentimental gifts and put them in the back of the van nice and safe (my favorite hiding place)
Then I called my wife on my cell and asked her if it would be OK if my brother came over for the night because he wanted to get some files off of my computer. I told her it was some pretty big gaming files, so it would take forever for him to download them from me, so it would be better if he just brought over his computer and hooked up to our home-network and transferred the files across the network.
Then he could spend time with the kids while they transferred. He's got to go back home first thing in the morning though, I assured her.
"I guess." she told me, in that voice that says she would rather not, but she's willing to if it's important to me.
We hid his bags in the back of my other van (My second favorite hiding place)
and went in the house, remembering to take his computer in with us.
I spent quite a while packing some bags up in secret and sneaking them out to the van. Then I made sure to pack my wife's medicine. I left gave my brother a stack of money in case they needed anything, and then I hid my wife's cell phone so she wouldn't be able to bring it with her. Then my brother and kids could get in touch with us easily if they had to because of the friends and family plan, we wouldn't get charged for minutes.
Then I told my wife that we were out of milk and that I was going to go up to the corner store to get some. Did she want anything while I was up there? Or she could come with me if she wanted to. She said she would like to come with me, since my brother was there, we could go without the kids, which is a rare thing.
So I made sure the kids gave her a hug and a kiss before we left, and I got her into the van. Oops, I said, I forgot my keys in the house. I'll be right back. But I told her that her birthday presents were in the back of the van so she was on her honor not to peek while I was inside. But she's not the type to peek. Which is good, because our luggage was back there.
I went in to "get the keys" and called the kids over and told them what was up and that we would be back in a few days. They were cool with that because my brother is the favorite uncle and they knew that they would have a blast with him. (yes candy, no bedtime)
So I took off with my wife and the first thing that she noticed was that I didn't turn the right way to get to the corner store.
So I told her I need to get some money out of the bank to buy the milk, and I'm going to the other store that has our bank's ATM in it so I don't have to pay a fee to make a withdrawl. Why would I want to pay to get my own money out of the bank?
Then we stopped at the other store and I gassed up and bought some cokes for the ride. I didn't buy any milk though, so I had to make sure they bagged the stuff up and then I put the bag in the back seat really fast so she wouldn't notice.
And then when we pulled out, we went AWAY FROM the house.
Ok, now there was no mistaking it.
Where are we going?
What do you mean?
Home is that way.
We're not going home.
Where are we going?
What makes you think we are going anywhere?
And so on...
So we drove. It's about seventy miles to the coast. I made it about thirty before she decided we were going to a hotel for her birthday.
But you know that my birthday isn't for two days.
So I gave her a stupid smile.
But you said your brother has to be back home tomorrow.
Another stupid smile.
And so you lied to me?
And so giving my best Forrest Gump impersonation I told her that momma said it was just a little white lie and didn't really hurt nobody.
And so eventually the road signs all started saying Galveston on them and she pretty much had it. So she asked me to tell her the name of the hotel and then she wouldn't ask any more questions.
So I told her. It's the San Luis hotel in Galveston.
But I already knew that she didn't know any of the Galveston hotels, so I was still pretty safe.
And of course, I knew that she didn't know that the hotel was right on the water.
So we got to Galveston and drove all the way across the island until we reached the southern coast. And we turned and drove down the seawall blvd. Then we came to the spot where most of the hotels are, all in a row. She asked which one is ours. So I told her to tell me when she saw which one she liked.
So I said, there's the holiday inn....there's the ramada...there's the day's inn...etc.
And then she said, "There. That's the one I like right there."
"oh, I said. That's the San Luis hotel"
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We pulled up and three valets came over. One to park the car and two for the luggage. But I can carry my own bags, thank you.
There is a long ramp up to the front entrance and as we went up it, she was looking at all of the fountains and plants in the front. She was quite impressed with it.
"But one more thing," I told her, "This isn't really the San Luis Hotel. This is the San Luis RESORT. With SPA."
As we went in the front door, the scent of Lavender was pretty strong in the air.
"Smells expensive." she said.
Now I could have gotten by with the regular room. But what the heck. I booked the deluxe. It's the corner room, facing the water, with a private balcony and a bar.
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And a nice view.
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The really cool part is that everywhere you go, there are more surprises.
There are over thirty acres of property. The landscaping is beautiful, while at the same time being set up for privacy.
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There is a heated pool with a waterfall and a bar in the pool.
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And inside the hotel there are little surprises around every corner.
From the player piano with the statue who plays it....
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....to the giant bird cage with the world's stupidest bird....
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....to the decorations drawn in the ashtrays in the lobby.
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It was just really well done. The hotel staff was absolutely professional. And if you were walking down a hallway and they were coming the other way, no matter what they were doing they would stop, step all the way over to the side of the hallway, and stand quietly with their hands folded until you passed.
And my wife just ate it all up.
By the time we got checked in and made it to our room, it was after 7pm. We decided to go eat and just get settled in today.
So there is an expensive little steakhouse down in the lobby. Four diamonds. Nice.
We had three waiters at our table all the time. The service just never stopped. They even peeled my wife's lobster for her.
I was really proud of my wife. She tried the escargot. Now if you don't like it, nobody ever has to know. But if it's good, then you can tell everyone that you tried it. I tried it too. It was my first time to taste escargot.
To me it kind of tastes like a cross between a mushroom and a twenty dollar bill.
But the wine....wow. I had two glasses and it knocked my across the room. It was either the best steak I ever had in my life or the best wine. Maybe both. Wow.
When we finished eating it was like ten oclock. The (help me spell this one....) Maitre D got us and took us across the back way to the hotel elevator. I guess we were pretty drunk. By we, I kind of mean I. But like I said, I only had two glassees of wine. I just wasn't prepared for the quality of it. I wasn't so much drunk as the wine went to my head. Fifteen minutes later, I was fine.
Wow. And that was day one.

When I woke up the next morning, my wife was out on the balcony.
We went down and ate in the little cafe they had downstairs and then went exploring. We found the spa.
It has it's own elevator.
It has it's own stairs.
It is big. It smells like a woman. It is expensive.
My wife got an appointment to get her hair done, and then we went and sat out by the pool for a while.
She ended up getting her hair highlighted in different shades of blond with a few red strands running through.
"Sassy and a little bit mysterious"
That's how she described it.
Then we went shopping for her a new outfit. We found some good bargains on the island.
We spent quite a bit of quiet time together and then went out to eat next door at the Rainforest Cafe. It has a volcano on top and a jungle inside.
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And every half hour or so the volcano erupts on top.
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It doesn't sound like a really busy day, but it was, because it took a few hours to get her hair done, and we drove around doing shopping for a few hours, too.
And then we went to bed, with her wondering what I had in store for her the next day on her birthday. I was kind of wondering the same thing myself.

On Thursday I woke up to room service banging on the door. I had forgotten that we had hung an order form on the door the night before. But we had put down for them to bring it at about ten or ten thirty, and here it is freakin nine AM and they are delivering the food. That was the only real screw up the whole time we were there.
It worked out OK though and we weren't at all upset about it.
Then I had to go down to the valet and get the van to get her presents out.
But what she didn't know is that while I was down there I talked to the concierge and they made some arrangements for me.
Shelley (that's my wife's name) had a one oclock appointment in the spa and was supposed to be there for three hours. So I figured four thirty.
So after breakfast we got dressed and went down to the seawall for a walk along the beach. Wheelchairs and sand are not made for each other, so we walked along the seawall walkway. It was nice, because it was the first day that the sun was really out. It wasn't icky the other days. Just mostly cloudy. Not dreary at all though.
But this day we got a bit of sun and had a lot of fun watching people do stupid things.
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It was a lot of fun, but then we had to get back to make Shelley's appointment at the spa.
She got a manicure and a pedicure, as well as a one hour facial. She looked like a million bucks afterwards.
She twisted my arm and made me get a swedish massage while I was there.
"You're getting a massage. You can either get one here, or I will give you a BEAT MASSAGE when we get out of here."
It was very relaxing, but rather awkward being undressed in a room with a woman who is not my wife, even if I remained covered the whole time. Call me old-fashioned, I don't care.
After Shelley was finished at the spa, we went back to the lobby, and I had to piddle-fart around and stall until four thirty, and then talked her into going out front. She actually made it easy to talk her into it, because she said she was getting hungry, so I suggested we go get the van from the valet and go drive through somewhere.
When we went down the long ramp to the valet, she saw parked down there a great big stretch limo.
Now Shelley has always had a thing for limo's. "oooh, look, a limo"
Every time she sees a limo she says, "one of these days....."
She's been doing that for ten years now.
So she sees the limo at the end of the ramp and say's oooh, look, a limo. So I said to her, "you'd think it was someone's birthday or something."
And then the driver comes out and goes, "should I put the wheelchair in the back?"
Suddenly Shelley is speechless, which is quite a feat.
Before she knows it, the driver has her in the back of the limo and puts the wheelchair in the trunk.
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I ask him to just drive around the island for a little while.
Shelley sat there for a good twenty minutes just silently staring out the window. I think she was in shock or something.
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And then she started playing with the buttons.
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And then she says she wants him to drive past where there are a lot of people so that they can all stare at her in a limo.
It was really funny, but he did it for her.
So Shelley, true to form, says, "Where can we go so that people can see me get out of it?"
So we decided to go out to eat. The driver took us to Willie G's, which is a great seafood place. He pulled the limo up across the railroad tracks, down the sidewalk, and right up to the door. Then he got out, chased away any bystanders, got out the wheelchair, and unloaded Shelley in style. He then proceeded to push her in the wheelchair all the way into the restaurant past everyone waiting to be seated and took her over to a table for six out on the patio and seated her himself. Then he went and found the waiter and brought them over to take our order. I don't know how he pulled that off. He really had it down though.
After we ate, we got back in the limo and he drove us through the hood. Now that was a riot. People came out of the woodwork and out to the street to watch us go by. The driver slowed way down so they could admire the car, but I think mostly because Shelley was enjoying being the center of attention so much.
Then he gave us a whole tour of the island and brought us back to the hotel.
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After that, we went and saw the sunset. It was the first good sunset we saw the whole time, because of the clouds on the other days.
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And then after that we went down and sat in the hot tub up under the waterfall for a couple of hours or so.
Skinny dipping? Nope. Uh-uh. No way.

And then off to bed. Our last night on the island.

I woke up the next morning to Shelley crying. It turned out that it all finally settled in on her. She said she could believe that I did all of this for her and that I had really gotten her a limo. That made it all worthwhile.
And what else can I say?

We packed up and left. We drove straight home, except we stopped and bought the kids each a new bicycle.
Oh, and we also picked up a gallon of milk.

"Thank you for the best three days of my life."

Monday, April 24, 2006

My wife's birthday is coming up

It's going to be my wife's birthday on Thursday. That's always a big deal around here. It's become a tradition around here to try to outdo yourself when it comes to planning each other's birthday. Last time I got my wife front row tickets to WWE RAW, because they came to town on the week of her birthday. We had a blast going to see them. My wife and children really get into professional wrestling (i don't, of course)
But it's hard to outdo.
How do you compete with baby oil, sweat, blood, and men in tights?
This year, I'm planning a surprise trip. We will be leaving Tuesday night and won't be back until Friday morning. There's this nice hotel down in Galveston that I think she will enjoy. It's right on the water, and it has a nice steak house, day spa, private balconies, room service, pool, and no kids. I would like to rent a limo and get her a tour of the island. She's always wanted to ride in a limo.
I got the motivation from Leigh Ann. Her photo of the drink (Shirley Temple) made me start wishing I was there.
So that's what I'm doing.
Now all I need is a babysitter. And to pack the bags without her knowing. And make reservations. And get some cash for blowing.
But keep in mind, I had to save up for this.
I hope she enjoys it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Breaking in my new bar-b-que, Texas Style

There is no food in the world that even comes close to a good ole Texas style steak, hot off the barbie. If you don't believe me, you've never had one. There's no way around it. Tri-tips? Crap. Lobster? Bland. Sushi? Feminine. No, really, feminine.
Texas style steak. That's all there is. Ask anyone who's ever had it.
Here's one of my own recipes, off of my own table:

To start with, always start with the freshest ingredients. Fresh, never frozen.
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This includes the meat. In fact, this is ESPECIALLY true for the meat. You don't use supermarket meat. Always go to the butcher, and use fresh cut meat. If you want to age the beef, put it in the refrigerator yourself. Don't rely on the supermarket to have properly aged beef. If you don't know what aged beef is, it's best you just use fresh. I am using fresh beef today. Start with ribeye steaks. About one pound to one and a quarter apiece.
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Take a VERY SHARP knife and slit one end of the ribeyes all the way in. That is to say, make a pita out of it. Leave three sides uncut. Cut as near to those three sides as you can without breaking through. Do not let the knife come out in the middle of the steak. That's very important. Take your time. And be careful. And did I mention, use a sharp knife.
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After you have made a pita out of all of the steaks, place them in a large bowl.
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If you want to add spice. Now is the time. Today, I put on some crushed red pepper (fresh, dehydrated, crushed) and some generic "steak seasoning powder".
Normally, you would add garlic powder, but not for this recipe.
Add a whole bottle of red wine. Don't spash it over the meat, because this will wash off the spice. Just pour it down the side. It's OK to take a swig or two if you like red wine. I used a dry Merlot today.
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Put it into the refigerator. Hopefully the night before. I left mine in for about five hourse because this was all on short notice. That's the least I have ever left it in. I would have preferred about 12-15 hours.
The alcohol in the wine acts as a meat tenderizer, and makes the steak more tender. It also brings the spice into the meat.
For those of you who don't drink, it's ok. The fire will take out all of the alcohol. As an aside, any alcoholic drink works well, but red wine for red meat, white wine for chicken and fish. Beer for brisket. It works wonders.

Now a word about charcoal. If you use propane, you're missing out. Charcoal is the only way to go. Wood works well, too, if you know how to do it.
Don't use the regular kind of "charcoal briquette" that you see in the stores. Those are absolutely useless. Just a piece of trivia. The original Kingsford charcoal briquettes were made from packing and shipping wood from the Ford Motor Company crates. That's just so you know what you are eating there.
Use "no additives" all the time. The additives that they use to make it burn easier and longer are, to me, like drinking gasoline. Same thing goes for the starter fluid. You want it to be zero residue.
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You can tell the difference just by looking at the pieces. See how my pieces look like pieces of wood? That's because they are.
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At this time, I put them in the pit and hose them down with the fluid and let them soak. They are typically hard to light, because they have no additives to make them light faster. While they are soaking, I went back into the ingredients.
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I cut up one onion and two garlic. Save the peelings and the outer skins.
Sautee them in an iron skillet. I have an eight inch cast iron skillet that is only used for garlic and onion. Then you never have to wash it. If you are familiar with cast iron, this is perfectly normal.
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I use real butter. If you are not from Texas, it is ok to use margarine.

While that is cooking, put a whole bunch of mushrooms in another pan with at least a whole stick of butter.
The idea is to boil the mushrooms in butter instead of sautee. I ended up using one and a half sticks of butter for them today.
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When that is done, it's time to light the pit. Hose it down one more time with fluid and strike a match. A word to the wise, never squirt more fluid into a lit fire. (Although everybody does it.)
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It should make a big fire. Don't cover the pit. Let it burn until it burns itself out. This makes sure that the fluid is all burned off.

Ok, now it's time to talk about beer. There's an age old argument as to whether beer was invented for bbq's or if bbq's were invented for beer.
The type of beer you drink is very important. You have to drink bud light. If you are drinking Micholob or Heineken, you cannot call it bar-b-que. You would have to just call it meat.
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By now, your butter is probably melted and starting to boil. You want to wait until the butter tastes more like mushroom and less like butter.
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Then you add the garlic and onion mix to it and stir it up.
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If the fire is all the way burned down now, you can go ahead and add your "extras".
If you don't have any extras, just put the lid on. Make sure there is enough airflow to keep the coals hot.
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And of course, being HNT, here's a picture of my wife.
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Ok, while the "extras" are cooking, go back inside and turn off the heat to the skillet. As soon as you turn it off, add a whole pack of shredded cheddar and mix the whole thing up.
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And then mix the whole thing up to make a big "slop"
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Take the meat out of the refrigerator and drain the wine off. There will probably be a bit of a purple tint to it. That's OK. That's normal.
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Take the goop and stuff it into the meat. Fill it up, but not overflowing. Try to get all of the mushrooms, garlic, and onions that you can and if you have to leave some in the skillet, leave mostly cheese. If you happen to have the waxed "butcher string" you can tie them up to stay closed, if you want to.
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And now it's time to put the meat onto the pit. Just before you put the meat on, take all of the left over onion and garlic skins, and a couple of extra garlic cloves and throw them right down into the coals. As they burn, the will give the meat an extra "kick"
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When you slap them onto the pit, it should be hot enough that there is a "hissing" noise coming from it.
Then cover it and wait. The trick is to leave it alone. Don't even open the lid.
You can regulate the temperature by watching how much smoke comes out of the vent. You should make sure there is a steady stream of smoke coming out.
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If the smoke starts coming out the sides of the pit, around the edges of the lid, the vent is not open enough. If you look down the lid and see open flame, it's open too much. Close it some.

Now the question is, how do you want your steak cooked? If you like it medium rare, you can flip it over when the hissing more or less stops. If you like it medium, flip it when you smell the cheese dripping down into the fire and stinking up the whole yard. Yes, burning cheddar stinks a lot. That's normal. That just means that it is time to flip it.

When you flip them over, always use the tongs. Also known as "corncob pullers".
Never use a fork. Just take my word for it. It's very important.

If you have a seasoned grill, the grill marks will be really pronounced when you flip them. And it really adds flavor to the meat. A lot. That's why you never use aluminum foil, and you never wash, scrub, or wire brush the grill.
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When you flip them over, it's OK if some of the goop has come out onto the grill. Just leave it. As soon as you flip them, get the cover back on. When you take the lid off, it increases the oxygen to the fire and makes it burn hotter. So the quicker you flip them, the better.

Then you wait just a little while longer, and they are done. The second side always takes less than the first.
Take them off and it's time to eat.
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See how I still have some drippings left on the grill? Just leave them on there and leave the lid off of the pit. They will burn off. It just adds seasoning for the next time.
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Also, see how the fire has flared up after I took the lid off? Keep that in mind when you are flipping the steaks.

I served this up with potatoe salad, corn on the cob, mixed vegetables with cheese (in honor of our readers from California), red beans & rice, and my wife's famous ranch-bread.
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Complexity.............7 out of ten
How did it turn out....8 out of ten (the sausage was a little over-done)
Time it took...........4 beers
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Don't be afraid of it. It's worth the risk. If you need a little extra help, find any person who lives near you that is from Texas. They will be more than happy to help you get started.

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