Sushi

One of our goals this year is to try new things. New experiences, new activities, and new foods are all par for this year’s course. While sushi isn’t new to me (in fact, I am a big sushi fan), Amanda has only ever had it once. We’ve never tried to make it at home, so for our date tonight, we’re going to make sushi!

The first step to making sushi is gathering all of the ingredients. This might also be the hardest step if you live in a rural area like we do, but luckily we were able to find all of the ingredients after checking a few local stores. The one thing we couldn’t find locally was a bamboo rolling mat, but we found a cheap one on Amazon that we Prime shipped right to our front door.

Once we had all of the ingredients, we did some research, asked some friends for advice (thanks, Katie!) and were finally ready to start. We made a vegetarian California roll for Amanda and a salmon roll for me. For these two sushi rolls, you will need:

  • Bamboo rolling mat
  • 2 sheets of 10″ nori (the seaweed wrap)
  • 1 cup of short grain rice
  • 1 Tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 large carrot
  • 3-4 oz salmon filet (you only need a couple strips, so a small filet will be fine)
  • 1 avocado

The longest part of making sushi is cooking the rice. We used Alton Brown’s Sushi Rice recipe, which takes about an hour. His recipe calls for two cups of rice (and double the vinegar, salt, and sugar), but for just the two rolls, even using slightly more rice than we should have, we had a lot of leftover rice so we recommend only using 1 cup. First, you add the rice to a medium mixing bowl and cover it with cool water, then swirl the rice around. Drain the water off and repeat adding water then draining until the water remains clear when you swirl the rice. Alton’s recipe recommends 2-3 times, but we did 5 times because our water was still pretty cloudy until then. Add the rice to a medium sauce pan with 1 cup of water and bring to a boil uncovered. Turn the heat to the lowest setting and cook for 15 minutes, stirring a few times. When the 15 minutes is finished, remove the pan from heat, stir the rice once more then leave covered for 10 more minutes. Toward the end of the 10 minutes, mix the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small bowl and microwave for 30-45 seconds just to warm it up. Transfer the rice into the medium mixing bowl you used, and stir in the warmed vinegar mixture to coat all of the rice. Let the rice cool to room temperature.

While the rice is cooking, prep your fillings. Peel the cucumber and carrots, then cut both approximately in half, so you have one piece that is about 5 inches. The nori is 10 inches, and you want to have the veggie pieces extend all the way across the nori, but not overlapping in the middle too much so it’ll be uniform. Slice the cucumbers into quarters lengthwise, then slice off the middle part of the cucumber with the seeds. You only want the firm, outer part for your rolls. Cut the firm part in half, then in half again to get roughly square pieces. Cut your carrot in half lengthwise, then place the flat side down. Cut off one of the rounded parts to make a flat surface then turn the carrot onto the new flat side. Repeat the cuts around to create a square piece of carrot. Cut the square in half, then into quarters to have slightly thicker than matchstick pieces. Open the avocado and remove the seed. While in the skin, slice the fruit into thick pieces, then remove with a spoon and place onto a place off to the side. Finally, slice four approximately quarter inch pieces from the edge of the salmon filet.

Lay your bamboo mat onto the counter with the flat side up. On your bamboo mat, lay a sheet of nori shiny side down (rough side up) near the edge of the mat. Wet your fingers and grab about half of the rice. It will be sticky, so work quickly to get it onto the nori. Spread it evenly to the all of the edges. For the vegetarian California roll, lay strips of avocado in the middle of the sheet, then lay strips of carrot and cucumber on each side. Grab the edge of your bamboo mat and slowly start rolling. Hold the ingredients in place with your other fingers as you continue to roll to the other side of the nori. Once the roll is complete, gently, but firmly squeeze the bamboo mat to form the roll. Unwrap the bamboo mat and transfer the roll onto a cutting board. Wet your chef knife to help avoid sticking, then slice a little, maybe 1/4 inch off each end to make the ingredients uniform the edge. Eat the pieces you cut off immediately, because they’re delicious. Wet your knife again, then slice the roll in half. Cut each of the halves into four pieces, wetting the knife as necessary, to have a total of eight pieces.

Vegetarian Caifornia Roll

For the salmon roll, repeat the above setup of the mat, nori, and rice, but put the salmon in the middle instead of the avocado. Add avocado and cucumber on each side of the salmon, then roll it up. I added carrots to mine, but I think it was one ingredient too many, so I am not including it in these instructions. Cut off the edges and slice into 8 pieces.

Salmon Roll

Serve the rolls with some soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger.

Finished Sushi Rolls

There were a lot of steps to this date night, but the end result looked amazing and was delicious. I really enjoyed mine, but Amanda wasn’t as convinced. Oh well. It’s not about always liking the new things we try. It’s all about trying them. It’s always a lot of fun cooking together, but it was especially fun tonight with learning new techniques.

Links:
Buy Bamboo Mats on Amazon
Alton Brown’s Sushi Rice recipe

Office Space

I had a long week at work, and while I didn’t get asked about my TPS reports or about my “case of the Mondays”, there was a lot going on, so it ate into our date time. A great remedy for the stress of a long week of office work is to realize that your office situation isn’t really that bad. So to cap off this week of dating, we watched Office Space.

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that epitomizes its subject. It nails every stereotype. It makes intelligent commentary. It simply does everything right. Office Space is that kind of movie. Peter gets promoted even though he does nothing and even admits it to the Bobs. Watching Milton try to protect his stapler, his precious, precious stapler, while getting shunted from bad cubicle to each worse cubicle is comedy gold. Seeing Tom, the guy with people skills who talks to the customers so the engineers don’t have to, have a giant meltdown is always fun. Watching Peter and Joanna both continually being told to do all sorts of random, ridiculous things because of absurd company policy just nails that stereotype.

Office Space came out in 1998, but it is surprising just how much of the commentary is still relevant even today. Everyone still hates printers. Morning commutes through traffic are still awful. And I think everyone has a desire somewhere deep inside (or maybe not so deep down) to take a power tool to their cubicle walls and give themselves a view.

So yeah, work is stressful sometimes, but at least we don’t work for Initech. If you haven’t seen Office Space, we would highly recommend it.

Links;
Buy Office Space on Amazon

Hyrule Warriors

Tonight’s Video Game Thursday was Hyrule Warriors. It began with a long series of unfortunate events and ended with awesome. So far, we’ve been pretty lucky with our dates. We’ve planned them loosely and everything has just worked out. However, tonight, we didn’t have a lot of time for our date, so when we put the game in, of course it had to download every update. All the updates. Approximately an hour later, we finally got into the game. What we didn’t know is that at the beginning of the game, there is an unskippable single-player intro mission. So, due to our limited time, for date night, I watched Amanda play the first mission.

Even just watching, this game is a lot of fun. The story starts in Hyrule Castle with Zelda wandering around commenting that they haven’t seen a true hero emerge in a while. Right about then, as she oversees the training yard and spots Link, a giant horde of monsters charges toward the castle. Because of course. Zelda should know better than to tempt fate by saying things like that. So, as Link, you have to wade out into this giant sea of monsters that are coming right for you and lay down the law. Monsters are attacking that keep? Nope, not any more. You’re Link. Now they have reinforcements over there? No problem. Meander over and be a giant boss.

Everyone around you is pretty much incompetent. While you’re clearing like half of the battle field, not even stopping to take names, everyone else is standing around looking dumb. No wonder Zelda was commenting about there not being any heroes. But that’s ok. You’re here now. The main characters walk around the battle field and tell you to do stuff, like “come clear this rock out of the way” or “Go defend that keep” or “We have to stop that monstrosity!” And of course, by “we”, they mean you. Chop, chop. Time’s a wasting.

There was a lot going on during the game play, so Amanda occasionally asked me to read some of the text on the bottom of the screen while she was knocking minions down. The graphics for the game are fantastic. The colors are as vibrant as a non-apocalyptic Zelda game should be. Amanda had a lot of fun being the hero and I had a lot of fun watching her. Even though we had a hassle getting it set up because of the time constraint, it turned out to be awesome and fun. There is a lot more to this game that we haven’t gotten to explore. Amanda got slightly addicted and ended up playing most of the night after I had to go to bed. We’ll be coming back to this game for an actual two-player experience soon.

Link (get it?):
Buy Hyrule Warriors on Amazon

Reading Date

One of our favorite activities is just hanging out together while reading. Recently, because we have spent so much time doing other dates, reading together has fallen by the wayside. Tonight, though, we wanted to catch up on some much needed quiet time and make some progress through our backlog.

Amanda has been following The Chronos Files series by Rysa Walker for a few years now. The latest in the series, Time’s Divide, has been on her Kindle since October waiting to be read. My list recently has been dominated by the catalogs of some of the great Sci-Fi authors, including Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, and William Gibson. I’m still surprised that no one has revoked my geek card for not having read some of their classics by now. Tonight, I’m digging in to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick.

A great thing about reading dates is that they can be as short or as long as you want. We had a couple of free hours before bed, so we filled that time with our reading date. Another great thing about reading dates is scented candles. Since reading dates are relaxing anyway, burning a nice scented candle can make it even more relaxing, especially before bed. Tonight, we lit I Need a Vacation, made by our friend Cathy at Bubble and Geek. We frequently spend time reading on cruises while enjoying the sun and fresh smells of the water, and this candle smells like the cruise we took on the Mediterranean Sea.

Reading together before bed is a great way to spend an evening, and as a bonus, it means the bed is already warm for when you’re ready to sleep on a cold night.

Links:
Buy I Need A Vacation at Bubble and Geek
Buy The Chronos Files books on Amazon
Buy Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep on Amazon

Loot

Tonight’s Tabletop Tuesday was Loot, a card game that friends recommended to us a couple years ago (thanks, Lucas and Val!). It is a pirate-themed card game for 2-8 players. And if you’re going to play a pirate card game, you need to do it right: wear pirate hats and talk like pirates. And no pirate theme party is complete without listening to a little pirate metal, ala Alestorm.

Loot game box topped with a pirate hat

Loot is pretty simple to pick up, but takes a bit of planning for a few turns in advance. There are four kinds of cards: merchant ships, pirate ships, pirate captains, and an admiral. There are a total of 100 points worth of merchant ships with each ship ranging from 2 to 8 points. Your goal is to have the most loot (points) captured at the end of the game. Each turn, you can play one card from your hand, or draw from a central pile. That’s where the strategy comes in.

The interesting part of the game is managing how you play because you have only one action each round. When you play a merchant ship, if no one uses a pirate ship to attack it, you get to add its loot to your collection. If someone does attack it, you have to defend it if you want its loot. There are four different colors of pirate ships with values ranging from 1 to 4. You can’t use a pirate ship of the same color as anyone else who has played a card on that merchant ship, and you have to defend with an equal or higher value ship than was played to attack you. If it comes back around to your turn and you have the highest value of pirate ships on a merchant ship, you win it. If the points are tied, the merchant ship just stays in play, contested.

The four pirate captains (one of each color) and the admiral work as trump cards. To use a pirate captain, you first have to attack or defend with a pirate ship of the same color. After a pirate captain is played, only another pirate captain or the admiral can beat them. The admiral is special because it can only be played as a defense on a merchant ship you play, and it doesn’t require you to have played a pirate ship to defend first. Whoever plays a pirate captain or the admiral last, wins the contest for that merchant ship, so it’s almost always better to play a pirate ship to defend your merchant ship first if you also happen to have the captain of that color.

Loot Gameplay

The game is a delicate balance of hand size and collecting loot. The other thing you have to plan for is that once the draw pile runs out, as soon as any player runs out of cards, the game is over. If you are holding any merchant ships in your hand at that time, their point value is deducted from your final score, so you want to play the high-value merchant ships as early as you think you are able to defend them. Players can also discard their pirate ship and captain cards, but not merchant ship cards, as one of their actions to try to end the game faster.

The game is best played with more than 2 players, honestly. When Amanda and I play, it typically devolves into a war of who can get the most cards in their hand the fastest, so we typically end up dealing the draw deck back and forth. One person typically gets really lucky and ends up with most of the pirate captains and the admiral, so it involves even more strategy trying to determine where to spend your enormous collection of pirate ships in trying to sneak past the trump cards. Is that little two point merchant ship really worth spending pirate ships on, or should you save them for a bigger haul? In tonight’s game, Amanda got the admiral and all but one of the pirate captains. I tried as hard as I could, but just there was no overcoming her pirate captain onslaught. I put up a solid 46 points, but Amanda scored 51 (with one 3 point ship remaining contested, for those at home counting) for the win.

It was a great pirate-themed date and we’ll certainly be playing more of it in the future.

Links:
Buy Loot on Amazon
Loot on Board Game Geek

Sin City Double Feature

Tonight’s Monday Movie Madness is our first Double Feature: Sin City and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. I saw Sin City nearly a decade ago when it came out, but Amanda hadn’t seen it yet. I’ve been excited for the sequel since it was announced, but it took so long to come out, that I missed it being released. Amanda had never seen either movie, so we decided to make a long night of it.

Sin City is stunning visual piece. It’s mostly in black and white except for a few colors as accents. It is an extremely violent movie, but incredibly interesting to watch. It tells the stories of multiple characters whose paths intersect across fictional Basin City, riddled with crime and corruption, all of which is controlled by the Roark family. The setting is dark and gritty and the effects call back to its graphic novel roots. The cast is star studded, featuring Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Elijah Wood, Michael Clarke Duncan, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Powers Boothe, and even Nick Offerman, plus so many more.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is meant as a prequel/sequel/timeiswibblywobbly movie to the original. Parts of it take place before the story in Sin City, parts take place after, and parts take place, well, I don’t actually know when. There are parts that happen in what should be after the first movie, but don’t make sense given what happens in the first movie to some of the characters. I gave up trying to figure out the time line and just enjoyed the story. Visually, it was a worthy successor to Sin City. A large part of the original cast was back, with additions of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Meloni, and with Dennis Haysbert stepping in for Michael Clarke Duncan. There were also guest appearances by Christopher Lloyd and Lady Gaga.

Both of these movies were fun to watch. There was action, drama, love, loss, and of course, a dame. That world is not a place I’d like to live, but it makes a fantastic setting for these movies. Definitely watch them if you get a chance.

Links:
Buy Sin City on Amazon
Buy Sin City: A Dame to Kill For on Amazon

Symphony At Home

Today’s date was supposed to be The Pokemon Symphony performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This was actually the very first date we had planned for our year long adventure a couple months ago. Jonas, however, had other plans. As much as we enjoyed the snow for building a snowman yesterday, today it meant that we couldn’t make the drive to Pittsburgh. Luckily, we were able to exchange our tickets for a gift card for a future performance, so we’ll try this date again later. However, that left us without a date for today. We were really looking forward to a symphony, so we decided to do a Symphony At Home.

We decided to listen to the Lord of the Rings Symphony because it was available on Amazon Prime Music. This turned out to be a really fun date. Howard Shore does amazing work. We were able to chat quietly while enjoying the music, reminiscing about our favorite parts of the movie, right from the comfort of our own couch. It wasn’t quite the same as actually going to the symphony, but it was a decent experience nonetheless. We were able to pause and go get drinks in the middle without interrupting anyone or missing anything. And the best part? Gizmo got to enjoy the symphony with us. It put him to sleep almost immediately though.

Gizmo enjoying the symphony with us

We’ve joked for years about recreating experiences we enjoy, but at home. Cruising? Cruise at home! Concerts? Concert at home! Spa? Spa at home! Those are all future dates we have planned, by the way, so stay tuned for those. This was our first experiment in actually creating one of these, and we were happy with it overall. It was a pleasant couple of hours of relaxing while we enjoyed the music. The only downside is that in choosing The Lord of the Rings Symphony, it made us really want to go back and watch Lord of the Rings again, and ain’t nobody got time for that (at least until we decide to marathon it some weekend).

Links:
Buy The Lord of the Rings Symphony on Amazon. It is also available to stream for free if you have Amazon Prime Music.

Do you want to build a snowman?

We’ve been huddled indoors for a couple days now, waiting out the weather. When we emerged from our mini-hibernation, Jonas had come and gone, but left two feet of snow in his wake. Our first priority was trying to unbury ourselves a bit from the snow, but immediately after we cleared our walkway, we saw just how deep the snow was and had to play in it. What’s the best way to deal with a huge pile of snow? Build a snowman.

Yardstick in snow

Building a snowman is way harder than I remember as a kid. We made three good snowballs for the cores of the three parts we needed, but after that, progress was slow. We tried rolling the balls around in the yard, but the snow was too powdery to stick to the snowball properly, so it just fell right back off. We ended up having to slowly pack tiny amounts at a time onto the cores to make them larger. Luckily, we had more than plenty of snow to work with. The powdery snow condensed so much as we packed it that we actually cleared off our whole front landing of snow to make the three balls. I had to go get a shovel full of snow to make the balls larger.

Unfortunately, because it took so long to pack the snow, we started to get cold before the snowman was as large as we wanted to make it. We settled on making it about half as big as we wanted. Amanda finished the bottom first, then gathered the other pieces we needed for a snowman. She ended up wading through the snow over to some bushes in front of our house to gather a couple twigs to use as arms and a couple rocks to use as eyes and buttons, then went inside to grab a baby carrot for the nose. I finished up the middle and top balls while she was gathering.

Adding the nose to the snowman

We stacked the snow balls from largest so smallest and started adding the rest of the pieces. This was also a lot harder than expected because we had packed the snowballs so hard that they were practically ice balls. We had trouble getting the nose in especially, so we ended up building a bit of a bridge under the carrot just to keep it in place. We did finally prevail, and have a nice new winter decoration for our house.

Finished snowman

World Travel Planning

Since the snow is falling tonight and we are stuck indoors, we are dreaming of being somewhere warmer. We have talked for a long time about making a list of all the places we want to travel, and tonight seems like a great night to sit down and pick places we’d love to see.

We love to travel. Every year for our anniversary, we take a cruise, usually to new locations. This past summer we took our first flight together to Barcelona for a cruise. Slowly, but surely, we’re making our way around the globe, but there are so many places throughout the world that neither of us have seen. Usually the way that we book our vacations is by looking at a few cruises and picking the one with the most places we haven’t been. With a list of places that we’d like to go, we can choose our trips easier and see even more new places.

We started by looking back at where we’ve been and wrote down all of those locations, which was a lot of fun because it let us reminisce about our previous travels. Once we had that list made, we started writing down new places that we want to visit. We made a giant spreadsheet of interesting things we’ve heard of, then looked around the internet to find places we hadn’t heard of. There are a lot of lists of interesting places to visit all over the world and we added nearly all of those suggestions to our list, which is now huge and unruly. We are going to need another whole date night to just sort it and prioritize it. Once we’ve cleaned up our list, we’ll share it so you can get ideas of places you’d like to see.

This date was a great way to spend an evening stuck indoors. It might have only been in pictures, but we got to spend our evening globe hopping and getting excited for years of travel to come.

Injustice: Gods Among Us

Surprise, surprise. Tonight’s Video Game Thursday is a Wii U game we recently bought. After our Arcade Date, we were in the mood for more two-player fighting games. Injustice: Gods Among Us was on sale during Nintendo’s ‘Winter Warm Up’ sale and Amanda had enough credits on her Wii account to get it, so that’s what we played tonight.

Injustice

I bought this game for Xbox 360 when it was much newer, but since my 360 got the red ring of death, we have been unable to play it. It’s a pretty standard fighting game using characters from the DC Universe. It has a really fantastic single-player story mode where you play as different characters through a progression of fights following a story line set in an alternate universe where Superman goes a little crazy and basically becomes the iron-fisted ruler of Earth. Even if you don’t play the game, it’s worth watching the cut scenes on YouTube for the story. On top of the story mode, there are also single-player challenge fights for each character that are fairly difficult, but a lot of fun.

Character select, Superman vs Ares

Tonight, though, we played the multiplayer mode, which is a more arcade-like fighting game. Both players select a character from the list of all of the heroes and villains. Each character has a set of abilities that match their powers from the comics. Superman has laser eyes, Green Lantern has green energy weapons, Wonder Woman has a lasso, and so on. You then get to choose from a variety of environments to fight in based on maps from the story mode, including Wayne Manor, Arkham Asylum, and the Fortress of Solitude. Each map has special features that you can interact with and use to fight your opponent.

Superman vs Hawkgirl

I played as a variety of different characters throughout our 10 rounds. Amanda tried a couple different characters, then found Ares. She really loves summoning an axe and kicking me onto it. Admittedly, that is really metal, but ow.

Green Lantern vs Wonder Woman

At the end of the night, we had each won 5 matches. We’ll definitely have to come back to this game to feed our budding fighting game addiction.

Links:
Buy Injustice: Gods Among Us from Amazon