So my father twisted my arm to come fly out to my sister's place in California for Thanksgiving. We hadn't made any plans yet (although we probably should have been less shy about wangling an invite to richenza's, which was fun last year), and seeing the rest of the family did have a fair amount of appeal, so I eventually let myself be convinced. Truth to tell, the only reason I was reluctant at all was because I've gotten a tad phobic about big airplanes lately. (Not because of terrorism -- because of sheer hassle. Between anti-terrorism measures, and the degree to which they're packing airplanes these days, it's gotten downright unpleasant to fly.)
Anyway, we decided to fly out of Manchester. We've more or less written Logan Airport off as more trouble than it's worth. Manchester isn't much further in terms of actual driving time (more distance, but uncrowded highways the whole way). It's smaller, and is mostly staffed with people who speak English, are reasonably friendly, and are often in possession of a clue. This time was no exception. Even the TSA agent who pulled me out of the x-ray line (my shoes apparently have steel shanks in them) was briskly polite. Small airports rock.
The disadvantage of reserving late is that the computers seem to be tracking it now. We got seats on all four legs there and back. But we were in the next-to-back row on both outbound legs (not optimal) and the rear bulkhead row on both return legs (downright nasty). The worst was the main return leg from San Jose to DC -- five hours crammed into straight upright seats behind a family that was determined to lean their seats as far back as they could. Rather claustrophobic.
The final leg, a commuter flight from DC to Manchester, was actually horribly overbooked, by something like 15 people on a small jet. My best guess is that their calculations are based on business travelers who often reschedule, so they overbook that line heavily; however, this was entirely made up of families, all of whom showed up. There were actually plenty of seats -- bad weather had resulted in many connecting flights being late -- but they were so desperate to get off the ground in time that they pushed back before most of the people waiting could be reticketed. I was the only person on standby who actually got in, and that only because I was rather unpleasantly pushy about it. (We literally ran to the airplane -- they were closing the doors to the jetway as we went through them.)
Ruth (my sister) got us in on the cooking. We both did classic Thanksgiving staples: I did pecan pie, and msmemory did Green Bean Casserole. We can do both of those dishes more or less in our sleep, but they're favorites, so it was fun getting to help. Sadly, my pecan pie was entirely overshadowed by the pumpkin cheesecake that Ruth made, out of last month's Cook's Illustrated. Dangerously good stuff.
I got drafted to make a sweet potato recipe out of the Joy of Cooking that proved to be excellent, despite my having to make many substitutions. (For example, my stepmother had accidentally used up all the onions in the stuffing, so I used shallots instead. Mmm -- shallots...)
The turkey was an interesting experiment: my stepmother's High Temperature Turkey recipe, combined with Ruth's stuff-under-the-skin chicken preparation. The result was excellent, save for the fact that the turkey came out looking like a plague victim: the enormous amounts of herbs under the skin left about half of the turkey a deep, blotchy velvet green.
Ruth has a 2-year-old son; one of his playmates came over with her parents for dinner. That wasn't as problematic as I'd feared -- I don't deal with small children especially well, but both were pretty well-behaved.
However, anyone who says that small children have a short attention span needs to have their head examined. Ruth has a spelling-blocks toy on the fridge: a large magnet block for each letter, and an electronic frame to place them in. When the child presses a button on the frame, it sings a little jingle about the sound of the letter. Every letter makes a sound! "R" goes "rrr". Over and over and over and over and over and over again.
Of course, Joshua (my nephew) did prove that he has a budding DJ in him -- his timing for hitting the button is getting delightfully syncopated, and he seems to have managed to confuse the chip from time to time. Every letter makes a, makes a, every letter makes a sound! "R" goes "rrr"; "rrr". Max Headroom would be proud.
I was both pleased and amused to find that Ruth's A/V setup is even more complex than mine, enough so that even she and her husband (both professional geeks) are having trouble using it. When I asked to put on the football game, it took them something like five minutes of discussion to figure out how to turn off the Tivo player first.
Ruth lives practically right next to Castro Avenue in Mountain View, and I am horribly jealous. I think of Moody Street as being FoodieLand, but Castro is practically Mecca. Block after block after block of restaurants, most of them ethnic and interesting. There must be a couple hundred places to eat within walking distance of her house. We would blow so much money eating out if we lived there. The family went out to eat on Castro two of the three evenings we were there -- Wednesday at a tapas place (first time I've done tapas, which is really fun with a good-sized crowd), and Friday at a Thai restaurant.
On Friday, we took our lives in our hands, and went shopping. Actually, the mall wasn't horrifically crowded, which I think is a pretty damning indictment of the idea that we're in the middle of an economic recovery. I managed to keep my spending within reasonable limits, largely because I anything I purchased would have to fit into my duffel bag to get home. I wound up only buying stuff from Calendar Club: a really cool Lizards calendar for ladysprite, a Two Towers one for tpau, an unusually artistic fractals one for myself, and the Apple Crate edition of Apples to Apples for my sister. (That being perhaps the best non-geekly party game I have ever encountered. Not as good as 1000 Blank White Cards, but less demanding.)
Friday afternoon also proved just how thoroughly our family breeds true. At one point, we had four laptops set up on the dining room table, with everyone chatting as they surfed. It was the first time I've ever used Mac OS X, and I was surprised at how pleasant it was. Once I picked up some of the basic UI ideas, it was fairly intuitive, and it's very nice-looking. And playing with the built-in browser was my first time actually using one that has tabs, a feature I've been hearing about for ages but haven't had available to me. That was nice enough that I finally installed Mozilla, the day after we got home.
Finally, after flying home, msmemory and I stopped at Jay House, our favorite susherie (in Middle of Nowhere, NH), for dinner. We tried the Caterpillar Roll for the first time -- a line of six eel-based maki, with slices of avocado laid over the top, a slice of octopus and two big fish eggs for eyes, and a shrimp tail for tentacles, facing a roll of squid with roe on top for it to nibble on. Sooo cute, and tasty to boot...