Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hatteras - The Food

We didn't eat out much in Hatteras. Mostly because there really wasn't much need to and there aren't a whole lot of places. We had a house full of really good cooks and a ton of groceries. It worked out well. We did venture out a few times though. Here is what I can remember.

Teach's Lair. It was literally across from where we stayed. We ate lunch there a couple times. It's right on the water and is part of a marina. It's the first place we ate in Hatteras, as we met my aunt and uncle there after we hooked up with my parents. We were killing time until we could get the keys into the house. They also had the favorite item of the week. Their snow crab legs were absolutely amazing. At some point in the week, most of us had a plate of them for the meager price of $9.95. It was a steal. Their other food was really good as well. I loved my dirty shrimp and their homemade potato chips were great.

Pop's Raw Bar. This was a definite sleeper. My parents had been told it was really good, but when you first went in, you were greeted with a fairly seedy looking bar with a strong tobacco smoke smell. My brother later told me it's one of the rougher bars later at night. We went for lunch, though, so it was fine. I had some amazing crab cakes that totally belied the rest of the place. Perfectly fried, moist, and incredibly delicious. They also have killer hush puppies. I got a few as part of a lunch combo, but asked for a separate order because they were so good. Mom loved their raw oysters, but I took her word rather than trying them. I'm not a fan. Everyone else like their meals as well.

Dirty Dick's at the Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry Landing. Meh. DD's is a chain along the Outer Banks. The food was ok, but nothing special. I ordered snow crab there as well, but they were pitifully small compared to Teach's Lair and more expensive. We went with my sister, her husband, and our brother for a night out without the kids. My brother and brother-in-law each had a smoked steak that was the nightly special and loved it.

The Jolly Roger in Ocracroke harbor. This was recommended to us by our aunt and uncle who ate here the day before we visited Ocracoke. It was about 30 degress colder with high winds, so it wasn't quite as enjoyable on their semi-enclosed deck. The food, however, was top-knotch. A wide-ranging menu and nothing we had was a miss. Tara had a great sandwich who's makeup I forget, but it had several layers of tastes. Spectacular. Just go on a warm day or dress appropriately.

A lot of places weren't open for the season during our visit. Overall, Teach's Lair and The Jolly Roger were our favorites. I did love the hush puppies at Pop's, but they have a limited menu compared to the others. The harbor-side dining reminded me a bit of Maine, but it definitely has a tropical vibe.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Printer Ressurection

Having had pretty good luck on our Goodwill run a last month, Tara and I decided check out the various stores on the last 50% Saturday. We had a couple things we were looking for. Tara wanted to find a used fax machine instead of being reliant on the local Kinko's. I kinda wanted to look for a waffle iron. Yeah, I dream big.

In one of our first stores, we found a really nice Brother i770 fax machine for $6.50, after the discount. She spent $3 alone just faxing a page or two, so this seemed like a good deal.

We hit several other locations nearby and found a pair of jeans and a book I liked. Most of the waffle irons were either beat up or of questionable electrical standards.

At the Dunlap/7th Street location, we noticed that they seemed to have a ton of late-model HP printers. In looking them over, I noticed one that seemed to be Wi-Fi-enabled, a Deskjet 6840. I did a search of the model on my trusty BlackBerry, and it was indeed a wi-fi printer. There was no power supply, but for $7.50, it was too good for geeky me to pass up.

We ended up going from Happy Valley in N. Phoenix to checking out a few stores we hadn't been to before in Scottsdale and Mesa/Tempe. Tara found a desk she loved for $10, but we had no way to transport it, so she had to pass. Our final tally was the fax, printer, Lonesome Dove novel, two pair of shorts for me and a pair or two of jeans for her.

After we got home, I was able to go online and found a used power supply for $19 including shipping. It arrived on Thursday or Friday. I plugged it in and it came to life immediately. One hurdle down. Now we just had to get some ink cartridges for it. This past Saturday we went around to the various electrionics and office supply stores looking for refilled ink. New cartridges run from $25-$34 and since we weren't sure if the printer worked, I didn't want to spend that much only to find there was a problem. Even the few refills we found were over $20.

On a whim, we stopped into Big Lots and found a refilled color cartridge for only $8. We snagged that and proceeded to look at other Big Lots to see if they have the black one. No luck. We started our search too late to go to the local Cartridge World. They were closed by the time we got there. (They turned out to be nearly as expensive as the big stores) We went to K-Mart and they had a few refills, but no black. I installed the color cartridge when we got home, but all that came out was red ink. So now I didn't know if it was the printer or the cheap cartridge. The next morning I tried again, and it did all three colors for one test sheet, and then only red and yellow. So the printer seemed to work, but the ink seemed bad.

Sunday we tried some stores further away and had no luck either. On a random suggestion from Tara, we stopped into a Walgreens near where we were in Mesa. They actually had cartridges for the best prices so far: $12 for black and $15 for color. I grabbed a black one and we headed home.

I went to install the new cartridge and it didn't fit. Upon close inspection, it was a color cartridge that was in the box of a black one. Since the other color wasn't working right, I put the new one in and got all three colors. It worked great.

Monday I picked up a black cartridge at Walgreens (I checked before I bought it to make sure) and it worked too. After some trial and error, I was able to get the printer to be recognized on our wireless home network and now we can print from anywhere in the house. And for about half the price of a new printer. Not too bad in the current economy.

Oh, and the fax machine worked great from the moment we plugged it in.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thai Basil - Phoenix location

We are huge fans of Thai Basil in Tempe. Tara loves their Pra-Ram and they make some great Tom Kha Kai. Service on all our visits has been spotty at best. They are also typically very crowded, as well.

Tonight, we decided to try their outpost at Central and Earll, just north of the Thomas/Central intersection. It's somewhat hard to see and find, but it's there. The location is smaller than the original but has the same decorating theme. Upon entering, a waiter immediately greeted us and showed us to a table. Shortly after that, a waitress brought us glasses of ice water and took our drink order. The menu is the same as the other location (we checked prior to visiting) so Tara got her usual chicken Pra-Ram and I got chicken Panang. We both opted for mild spice levels. We an order of chicken satay for an appetizer.

The satay surprised us. In addition to the four grilled, curried kabobs of chicken, peanut sauce, and the usual cucumber salad, there was a small greens salad with what tasted like sesame peanut dressing. Everything on the platter was excellent and we made short work of it.

My Panang came out next. The bowl had bits of chicken, brocolli, carrots, green beans, green and red peppers, zuchini, and crushed peanuts all in a nice peanut curry sauce. A bowl of jasmine rice came with it. The heat level was on the low side of mild, which suits me fine, and I loved the dish. The sweetness of the coconut milk went great with the mild curry heat. Once I finished the veggies and chicken, I poured the remaining sauce over the bowl of rice. Good curry sauce with rice is like dessert for me. No complaints at all.

Tara's Pra-Ram had a pile of chicken and brocolli covered with a peanut sauce. She also got a bowl of jasmine rice on the side. She loved hers as well. I tried a bite and it was very good, but I enjoyed the extra kick the curry gave the peanut flavor in my curry better.

Service was excellent as well. Water was refilled in before I the glass got below 3/4 full. The waitress checked to make sure everything was going well. Our visits to the Tempe location always require us to flag down a waitperson for refills.

There were only a few other tables when we were there around 8pm. Similarly timed visits to the Tempe location usually find them nearly full. It was nice not being elbow to elbow with other tables.

All-in-all, we really enjoyed our visit to this location and will come here instead of the Tempe location from now on. Service is better, parking is much easier, and the food is as good or better. Plus it's a closer than the other location as well.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hatteras - Deep sea fishing

(Click on any of the photos for a larger view)

The one activity we had planned for Hatteras was a day of deep sea fishing off the Outer Banks. I'd never been and was really looking forward to it. My Uncle Bud is a fishing fanatic, and has his own 25-foot or so boat back home in Maine. He always goes deep-sea fishing on his Hatteras visits. For the past decade or so, he's gone on the Sea Creature. He's good friends with the captain/owner.

The Sea Creature is a 58-foot boat, the largest charter that leaves out of Hatteras Harbor Marina. Trust me: you want a large boat when you go 30 miles off-shore, especially in rough seas. My brother, uncle, dad, brother-in-law, and myself were the only ones who went fishing. The prior two days had been incredibly windy and rough off-shore and no boats with any brains went out. It was forecast to be better but still rough, so those of us who hadn't been out in deep water took no chances. We had ample supplies of Dramamine. And we were very happy about it.

We got to the marina a little after 6:15am. 3:15am for someone who was still on Arizona time. It was a gorgeous morning, though. No clouds, the rain was gone, and the wind had died down significantly. We loaded our gear onto the boat, threw our lunch in the fridge, and by 6:30 we were under way.

Hatteras is on the west side of Hatteras Island, facing Pamlico Sound. The Outer Banks shelter the Sound and it's generally fairly smooth water. After leaving the harbor, it was a nice smooth ride. As an added bonus, we got to watch a spectacular sunrise.

The smooth water didn't last, though. To get out to the "blue water", as it's called, where the Gulf Stream is, you need to go through the Cut between Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island to the south. This is a very rough patch of water due to all the tidal flows and can be tricky to navigate. There are tons of barely-covered sand bars all over the place to add to the fun. Luckily Creature knows his way and while rough, it wasn't anything too dramatic. The sea was pretty choppy once we cleared the cut, with 5-10 seas and the occasional larger one.

At this point, let me briefly digress. While getting ready that morning, old age crept up on me and decided to play a practical joke. While brushing my teeth, I bent over and managed to pull a muscle in my back, 20 minutes prior to cast-off. The timing was impeccable. Undaunted (or just stupid), I downed some Ibuprofen and went anyway.

So back to the boat. The trip out to the fishing grounds took about 90 minutes. Sea Creature is a very fast fishing boat. We caught and passed many boats that left before us. We were catching some pretty good height going over waves, and quite frequently we'd crash into the next wave with a very painful jolt. I was seriously regretting my decision at this point. Add in the copious sea spray the wind was swirling around the boat and my lack of rain gear, and it was a truly miserable time.

Why didn't I go inside the large cabin, you ask? Well, if you want to ensure you get seasick, that is apparently the best thing to do. Sitting outside in the fresh air with something to focus on far away is your best bet. And did I mention that the Dramamine makes you wicked drowsy? I was nodding off from time to time and after we got back, I found out that my brother and B-i-L were as well. The night before there'd been large amounts of Cabo Wabo and Don Julio shots and apparently my brother was fighting more than just sea sickness.

This is a little video I shot with my camera. It will give you a little taste of what the sea was like, but this was taken after it had calmed down a little. I'd planned on taking more pictures, but between my pulled muscle and the rocking of the boat, I wasn't too mobile. Running into the cabin to get my camera took some effort and keeping it with me would have probably ruined it.

At around 8am, we arrived to the fishing grounds and they got all the various poles and lines rigged. We had probably 8-10 fishing lines of various sizes trolling behind us on the outriggers. It's kind of hard to tell from these pictures, but the ocean is an incredible blue color out there. I can see why they call it "blue water". You just don't see it close to shore. I grew up in Maine less than a mile from the Atlantic and hadn't witnessed it like that before.

Fishing is all about patience. And boredom. It seemed like forever before we got any bites. In reality, it was about 90 minutes.

Around 9:30, one of the reels started to whiz frantically. Shane, the mate, told someone to get into a chair. My brother took a seat and Shane gave him the rod. Immediately after, a second rod started to play out and my uncle took that rod. After several minutes of reeling, the fish were close enough to the boat for Shane to use the gaff hook to try to land them in. My brother got a nice looking Yellowfin tuna, our first trophy. As fate would have it, my uncle, the most experienced fisherman among us, had his get away just as he got it to the stern of the boat for Shane to gaff. Still, we got a nice tuna, so I was quite happy. I LOVE tuna in all it's forms.

After another wait, two more rods hooked something. I sat in the starboard chair and Shane handed me a rod. B-i-L sat in the port chair and took the other rod.

As I frantically reeled, pulled, lowered, repeat, I was surprised at how much line there was to reel in. Plus the whole time Creature was yelling instructions/directives to each of us from the flying bridge. (I never saw him the whole trip once we cast off. He stayed up there the whole time) It didn't help that I'm a lefty and the handle was on the right side. Eventually, though, I was able to get the fish to the boat and Shane gaffed over another Yellowfin. He tossed it into the fish locker on the stern and then jumped over to help B-i-L land his own Yellowfin. With that, I decided I was done fishing. I got the experience of hauling in a tuna and didn't want to risk hurting my back any worse than it already was.

We weren't alone out there. If you look closely between the two large rods, on the horizon you can see a large container ship. It eventually got fairly close, but I didn't get a shot. It was huge. I guess one of the main shipping lanes was just a few miles from where we were. We saw several large container ships. First part of the day, though, we didn't see any other fishing boats.

Over the course of the day, we caught six dolphins (fish, not mammals). My brother, uncle, and B-i-L rotated rod duty. I really wish I'd been able to get a picture of a dolphin on the hook running beside the boat. They are a cool bluish color underwater.

Near the end of the day, Shane started packing up the gear. We weren't quite done, though. As a surprise, Creature took us over the wreck of the E.M. Clark for some jigging. Unlike the tuna and dolphin, a fish called an Amberjack hangs out at the wreck and are incredibly easy to catch. After literally two jigs of the rod, Shane hooked one. Instead of the chair, you wear a belt that you put the rod in to bring them up. While catching is easy, they are renowned for the huge fight they put up once you start to reel them in. The short, stubby rods used for the AJs bent over double to the point you thought they'd snap. Eventually, we caught five, but released three back.

Once we let the last AJ go, Shane stowed the gear and Creature headed for home. I'd been fighting nodding off all day, so once we got back into smooth waters of the Sound, I went into the cabin and lay down on the bench/couch. Next thing I know, B-i-L was shaking me awake. The boat was docked and they were getting ready to unload the fish. I was told that Dad tried to wake me up first, but I was completely zonked.

Here's the final catch of the day. From left to right, three Yellowfin tuna, six Dolphin, and two Amberjack. Total weight was about 200 lbs and we got 80 lbs of fillets. One boat had over 500 lbs, but our fish were higher quality. My uncle was disappointed we didn't catch a Wahoo, as he and my aunt say they taste better than any of the other fish in the area.

We cooked up some of each fish for dinner. The tuna was very good. The dolphin as well. Surprisingly for all of us, the Amberjack was amazing. None of us, even my avid fisherman uncle, had ever tried it. Lightly seared in some oil, it was great. All of us regretted letting the three that we'd caught go after dinner. My brother has never been a huge fish fan and this was the first time he'd tried fresh tuna. He absolutely loved it, likening it to the best steak he'd ever had. Our bad luck is that Tara and I are in Phoenix, and all the fish are in my uncle's freezer in Maine.

Overall, I'm glad I got to experience deep sea sport fishing. Would I do it again? I'm not sure. Without the pulled muscle, I'm sure it would have been much more enjoyable. Finding out how good Amberjack is was worth it. And catching my own tuna? That was pretty cool. I just wish some of it was it our freezer. :)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hatteras Vacation, Part One

We got back a week or so ago from Hatteras, NC. My aunt and uncle have vacationed in Hatteras for nearly 42 years now and my parents have gone a few times with them. This year they rented a huge house and fourteen of us went for part of all of the week. Tara and myself, my parents, my brother, my sister and her family, my aunt and uncle, and their daughter and her boyfriend. Not quite The Waltons, but close.

We haven't been home since Christmas 2007 and this was the first time we have seen any of my immediate family since then. We hadn't met my newest nephew, Jacob, yet, and that was Tara's primary objective. Once she got her hands on him, she was reluctant to let him go. He's just too damn cute.

We flew into Norfolk, VA, on Friday, as it cut $150/ticket off our airfare. We couldn't get into the rental house until Sunday, so we stayed at the Hyatt Place in Chesepeake, VA, until Sunday morning. It was a great place. Each room has a 42" plasma with inputs for computer monitor, external DVD, you name it. The rooms were huge. I'd found a great deal on it, and my sister's brood had a room booked for Saturday night.

Everyone else drove down from Maine. My parents and aunt/uncle drove straight to Hatteras. My sister and her family had planned stops, as you can only drive so far with energetic 8 yo and 6 yo boys and a 14 month toddler. They visited a dinosaur museum near Hartford Friday and we met them at the Virginia Zoo on Saturday afternoon. They had been watching the zoo's various webcams for months and the boys could barely be contained. This was the boys first trip outside of Maine and New Hampshire and it was fun to see them take in things they'd never seen live, like lions, elephants, and fennec foxes. It reminded me of my family's first visit to a zoo when I was about their age. We went to the National Zoo in Washington, DC. After that as your first zoological experience, other places can't quite compare. The boys had a blast and took tons of pictures.

After the zoo, we headed to a restaurant near our hotel for an early dinner. After dinner they all got dressed to use the hotel pool, only to have it be closed just as they got there. Someone got sick in the pool and we decided to skip it, despite it being "cleaned" and reopened a few hours later.

I had some on-call work to do late Sat night/early Sunday morning. Between that, the 3 hour time difference, and incredibly uncomfortable sheets, neither Tara or I got much sleep. Around 6am or so, we decided to just get ready and head down to Hatteras. We grabbed breakfast at the free buffet in the hotel and headed out. For the record, my sister slept fine on the sheets, so we may just be overly picky.

It was a nice relaxing drive. There was very little traffic and the lush green scenery was a nice change from the dessert landscapes in Phoenix. We stopped at a few road-side vegetable stands and generally played tourist. Before we knew it, we hit the long bridge between the mainland and the outer banks. A few more hours, and we'd be down to Hatteras and vacation could officially start.