Ireland

I went to Ireland earlier this month. I flew in and out of Dublin but I had visited the capital city about 10 years ago on a long weekend when I was studying in London so, I took the opportunity to quickly catch up there, but I tried to spend the rest of my time in other parts of the country. In that vain, I took a daytrip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, and then went to Cork for one night (basically two days). I enjoyed my time in all the cities. Cork was very quaint and Belfast was larger than I imagined. All of the political murals in the city are pretty far from the city centre and I took a Black Cab tour to see them.

The visit there was pretty quick and there was a lot of time spent on Irish Rail, but it was nice to get away and relax and not be hurried into seeing a million things.

A few photos from my trip are below and the rest can be found on my Flickr page.

The MAC
Lobby at The MAC
streetlight
Streetlights in Cork
Cork
View of Cork from the Church of St Anne
pews
Pews in St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork

Thomas Keller’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

For a friend’s birthday, I decided to make chocolate chip cookies and I used the opportunity to bake Thomas Keller’s version. The recipe deviates from the standard recipe by not using vanilla and by using two types of chocolate, one dark and one semi-sweet. The two chocolates combine to give the cookie a more complex taste than your average cookie. However, using chocolate that is not pre-chopped is the most difficult part of the recipe. It took a good 30 minutes to chop up all the chocolate used in the recipe.

The recipe comes from Keller’s book “Ad Hoc at Home,” which features a range of “do-it-yourself-at-home” recipes, although most recipes are still pretty advanced. I received his “Bouchon Bakery” cookbook for Hanukkah that features all desserts, so I am excited to try recipes from there, too.

The recipe and a picture of the final product follows.

Ingredients
2 1/3 c plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
5 oz 55 percent chocolate, cut into chip-sized pieces (I used Baker’s)
5 oz 70-72 percent chocolate, cut into chip-sized pieces (I used Scharffen Berger 70 percent)
8 oz (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 c packed dark brown sugar, preferably molasses sugar
3/4 c granulated sugar
2 large eggs

Instructions
Position racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 350° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift flour and baking soda into a medium bowl. Stir in the salt.

Put chips in a fine-mesh basket strainer and shake to remove any chocolate “dust” (small fragments).

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat half the butter on medium speed until fairly smooth. Add both sugars and the remaining butter, and beat until well combined, then beat for a few more minutes, until mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before adding the next and scraping the bowl as necessary. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine. Mix in chocolate.

Remove bowl from mixer and fold dough with a spatula to be sure the chocolate is evenly incorporated. Using about 2 level tablespoons per cookie, shape dough into balls. Arrange eight cookies on each pan, leaving about 2 inches between them, because the dough will spread. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the tops are no longer shiny, switching the position and rotating pans halfway through baking.

Cool cookies on the pans on cooling racks for about two minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer to the racks to cool completely. Repeat with second batch of cookies. (The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two days.)

cookies
Cookies, ready to eat

747-800I and Dolomites Ski Trip

I had the opportunity to take a ski trip to Italy where my father was working and was fortunate enough to be able to fly Lufthansa’s newest aircraft, the latest Boeing 747, the 747-800 Intercontinental. Lufthansa was the first commercial airliner to take delivery of this plane, and service between Washington Dulles and Frankfurt launched last April, the aircraft’s first route. The bird features Lufthansa’s redesigned business-class seat (the upper deck is all business class), and I was excited to get to try it out.

Since I was flying business class and have gold status within the Star Alliance, I was able to go into the Senators Lounge in Dulles (as compared to the “regular” Business Class Lounge next door). I mostly fly United and am pretty familiar with the fare offered at their United Clubs, which mainly consist of free beer, wine, trail mix and chocolate-covered pretzels. To say I was wowed by the Senators Lounge would be an understatement. Servers were always walking around the lounge making sure everything was okay, offering you more beer or food, and picking up your empty plates and glasses. The food spread was pretty remarkable, and it allowed me to get an early dinner thus creating more time to sleep on the plane.

lounge entrance
Entrance to the Lounge
sandwiches
Sandwiches and Salads in the Lounge
dinner
The beef and the potatoes were my favorite
desserts
Desserts

On the plane, the seat was extremely comfortable and it did fold out into a 180° lie-flat bed. I found the firmness of the bed to be particularly conducive to a sound sleep (and the Ambien I took after dinner). Note for next time: even though I enjoy the aisle seat, there is a large storage space at the window seat so next time I will pick a seat there.

Lufthansa Business Class Seats
Lufthansa Business Class Seats
Leg Room
Ample Leg Room

The dinner was fine but seeing that I had somewhat of a dinner service in the lounge and not wanting to waste valuable time not sleeping, I chose the express dinner service, which was the dinner meal without the hot item (beef or fish in this instance). To make up for it, the flight attendant was pretty insistent that I have both desserts – the cheese plate and chocolate cake – and really, who am I to resist?

dinner
Dinner

The one “problem” with these flights (and this is about the ultimate in first world problems, I know) is that you are served a breakfast before landing in Frankfurt, you have access to the lounge in Frankfurt with ample breakfast options, and when you board your next flight, you are given a descent breakfast, too. I didn’t eat in the lounge so I figured that two breakfasts wouldn’t kill me. The breakfast on the flight from Frankfurt to Milan was quite good, actually, and the muesli may have been one of the best I’ve ever had. Of course, then I realized that the milk they give you for the cereal is whole milk and when you are used to skim, it’s hard not to notice the difference.

breakfast 1
Breakfast on the Flight From DC to Frankfurt
breakfast 2
Breakfast on the Flight From Frankfurt to Milan

Once in Milan, we made our way to the Dolomites to go skiing. The Dolomites (Dolimiti in Italian) are in the northwestern part of the country, just south of Austria. In fact, German is widely spoken in this region of the country. We chose to ski here since we hadn’t yet, the scenery is amazing, and on the recommendation of friends. And it truly was a great experience. We bought the “Dolomiti Superski” pass, which provides access to 12 different ski areas (all connected by runs and lifts) with 1,200 km (750 mi) of slopes making up 1,300 runs. Each day was €45 ($61) as compared to the measly hills available about a two hour drive from my house at Ski Whitetail, which charges $67 for a day to access its 23 runs.

Dolomites 1
The Dolomites
Dolomites 2
The Dolomites
skiing
Me skiing

Before hitting the slopes, I downloaded a program to my phone from the Google Play store called “Ski Tracks” that uses your phone’s GPS to track your day’s ski trek. You can output the data to GPX files and load the information into Google Earth to visualize your run. It was a lot of fun.

day 1 map
Day One in Google Earth

day 1 data
Day One Ski Tracks Profile

day 2 map
Day Two in Google Earth

day 2 data
Day Two Ski Tracks Profile

The flight home, in United and back in economy, was long and uneventful. The lunch, a chicken in white sauce, was not the worst meal I’ve had on an airplane, but it did show off the difference between economy and premium cabins pretty sharply.

lunch
Lunch from Milan to Newark