Random Happenings

Random notes and pics about events in the life of a not-your-typical Computer Science grad student. (Yes I am a nerd, but I don't live and breathe the SciFi channel, well maybe Stargate SG-1...)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Bonaire Adventure, 2007 - Getting There

by Nathan and Shawna Thomas

Nathan and I just got back from a wonderful vacation to Bonaire for sunbathing and scuba diving. We definitely had a few misadventures along the way. In the next few blog posts, we will describe some of the high (and low) points. Here is the first installment.

For those who haven't heard of Bonaire, it's part of the Netherlands Antilles in the Carribean, along with Aruba and Curacao. It is located right off the northern coast of Venezuela, placing it (lucky for us) far south of typical hurricane activity. It's best known for its diving, with a lively coral reef no more than 50 feet offshore all around the island, making it perfect for shore diving. So tourists typically rent a truck for the week and are on their own to explore the numerous dive sites. Definitely our kind of place.

Traveling to Bonaire

Late Friday evening, the adventure begins. Already lacking rest after a Thursday night spent dealing with shopping, packing, checking, and double checking for a diving trip to a foreign country, we board our plane in Houston at 11:30pm. We nod hello to the neighbor (another diver, just like probably everyone else on the flight to a country whose official motto is "Diver's Paradise") and start to doze off just as...

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this plane is broken" (Words you never want to hear. Oh but wait, they're not done yet.) "Also, there's a problem downtown. There's been a terrorist threat, and the building is on fire." (Don't think they were supposed to tell us that. Besides, what building are they talking about?) Not to worry, they've already found another plane for us. All we have to do is move from a gate at Terminal E to another at Terminal C. We all sleepily gather our belongings and march down to Terminal C. At least divers tend to be a pretty easy going bunch. An hour later, we finally depart on a working plane (yea) with a little extra fuel to navigate around the remnants of a hurricane in the Gulf.

The flight was non-eventful, and we arrive in Bonaire at about 7:00am local time and quickly get through customs. We already expected both a taxi driver and a rental car to be waiting due to a mixup with the hotel. However, the third person waiting for us (another rental company) was entirely unexpected and just the icing on the cake :) Our rental for the week was a maroon, 4 door Toyota Hilux mini-truck. Not pretty, but good for diving as well as laughing at Nathan's near inability to handle a manual transmission.

The Bellafonte Chateau de la Mer

Our apartment for the week at the Bellafonte Chateau de la Mer (ooh la la) was only a 5 minute drive from the airport. It is a beautiful place. Absolutely gorgeous! Walking in, we felt like we were in a palatial suite, very refreshing after traveling. The apartment has a full kitchen (although later we found out that what we thought was a microwave was really an oven with instructions only in Dutch --- we never figured that one out), a kitchen table, a spacious living room, and a nice bedroom. Both the living room and the bedroom open out to a lovely balcony overlooking the ocean with palm trees, a light breeze, and the sound of waves hitting the shore --- perfect!

Our apartment on the 2nd floor The living room
The bedroom What a view from the balcony!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Just like Christmas morning

All day today, Nathan and I waited in anticipation for a big brown truck. Not just any brown truck, mind you, but a UPS truck bearing lots of fun toys to play with. Okay, okay, it was bringing some new scuba equipment we ordered this week, but come on, we all know scuba equipment are just toys in disguise with fancy looking knobs, dials, and shiny things. Here is what the wonderful truck brought us this afternoon (BTW, I just love ordering things online because it is so much fun to get packages in the mail!):

Nathan and I are taking a scuba diving vacation (this time tomorrow, in fact, we'll be in the air and headed to our tropical island paradise, Bonaire!), and we had to stock up on a few items. You know, you can't just take a vacation willy-nilly; you have to be prepared.

We each got new (matching) neoprene booties with better, thicker soles (since Bonaire is basically one big coral reef and the beaches can be a bit bumpy) and two dive lights, a primary and a secondary --- you wouldn't want your main dive light to get lonely now would you? Nathan's special item was a "hydroalloy" (super-Ninja) dive knife. Totally necessary for looking cool (think James Bond) and defending against possible attack from hungry popcorn shrimp and damselfish of course! My special items were an underwater writing slate and a compass. Curiously enough, I have been designated the Navigator, a position I hope to keep at least past one dive if I can only figure out how to keep that dang compass from wobbling about every time I turn... just kidding!

I hope my next blog post finds me sipping a colorful tropical drink and wiggling my toes in the sand. :) Here's to vacations, they are absolutely wonderful!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Covered in flour

Last weekend I was covered in flour after making some homemade pasta for the first time. It took some time and was a little messy, but it was well worth it. I had so much fun and the pasta was very yummy (if I do say so myself)!

For my birthday this year, I finally got a pasta roller. I've been secretly wanting one for a very long time. The great thing about the one I got is that it attaches to my stand mixer for easy, crank-free, rolling. Everything is motorized. Ah, don't you just love technology!

I absolutely love love love all kinds of stuffed pasta: ravioli, tortellini, manicotti, cannelloni, ... So, for my first pasta endeavor, I decided to make eggplant stuffed ravioli from my favorite FoodTV chef, Giada De Laurentiis. You know me, got to always try the hard stuff first! I picked the eggplant recipe so we could use up some of our eggplant surplus from the garden. (Well, not quite a surplus, but close. With only two of us, it's not hard to do!)

I hesitantly made the pasta dough. I haven't had a good history with making doughs and bread, so I wasn't too confident that it would actually work. Giada's pasta dough recipe was pretty easy and surprisingly successful!

Here is the ravioli making in action:

First, I turned on the machine. Here we go!
Then, I kneaded the dough by passing it through the roller at the widest setting a few times. No reason to get your nails dirty with manual labor!
After passing it through the roller at narrower and narrower settings, I finally got one really long and really thin sheet of pasta dough. There is absolutely no way I could have done that by hand.
Now for the really fun part! I used my fun cookie scooper Nathan got me to dish out little mounds of eggplant and cheesy goodness along half of the pasta sheet.
Next, I folded the other half of the sheet over the filling and pressed the top dough to the bottom. I used another fun gadget I got for my birthday, a ravioli cutter, to separate the ravioli and trim up the edges. It makes it look pretty fancy! (Silly I know, but I love it!)
Finally, we boiled them up, drizzled on a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, sprickled on a little extra fresh oregano, and serve!
Yum! Yum!