Sunday, October 29, 2006

Busy weekend, also recipe for Sweet Potato Chips

Yeah, no actual gaming this weekend. I did throw a bunch of paper on my dining room floor, though. It was bad paper and it deserved to go away. I figured out health plan details from switching jobs, which was terrible. It is mind-boggling how much money it costs. I pay 20% of my gross pay just so my family can have health insurance. This ignores the further costs of actually using that coverage. My new employers also switched insurance providers and I won't get another enrollment period until next August, but I don't know how that applies to the child-care paycheck deduction, since I've already spent far, far more than the total $5,000 annual maximum Dependent Care Account.* Oops, I threw up, mostly into my empty wallet.

I special-ordered some games at Tri-Games; specifically, the new Power Grid map, the new Blue Moon deck, and something for Chris B.

I did give Alex the remaining pieces of an Amazing Labyrinth I bought at a thrift store early this year. It was missing 3 tiles and one pawn, aargh, so close to being complete. Plus, the kids would tear it up anyway, so light thrift store wear is no big deal.

Anyway, Alex had a great time with all the tiles and cards, and was definitely entertained for quite some time. The labyrinth tiles have white paths outlined by brown stones, and Alex didn't understand that... she was perfectly happy to line up the outsides, without lining up the path edges. Interesting. We took turns adding tiles and moving a small toy puppy along the paths, and having him find the stuff in the maze.

The illustrations are weird. "Okay, here's a ghost, honey. Here's a pig-girl. Here's another ghost, wait, it's got a bottle, so it's a genie. Here's the ugliest dragon ever printed, right next to horrible princess. Man, those Germans are nuts."

I also fried more sweet potato on both nights. I am at the desired point where all the family will eat what I fry. The first couple of batches turned out iffy. Strangely enough, the secret is to not worry about it - I started by frying little tiny batches, which made the oil heat unevenly and burned the too-thick chunks. I have also ruined two plastic spatulas**, which CAN be dipped in hot oil, just not really hot oil for more than 2 seconds as you try and fish little floaty bits of sweet potato out before the smoke alarm goes off***.

Todd's Sweet Potato Chips, with extended commentary

Get your mise en place before you start. Once you're cookin' with hot oil, don't turn your back on it for a second.
  • 1 medium-sized sweet potato for 2-3 people, or one hungry person.
  • Canola oil, possibly with a splash of olive or sesame oil. This is what was in my pantry, so it's what I used. I'm going to experiment with peanut oil next.
  • Salt, powdered sugar, brown sugar, or ranch dressing. I didn't have much luck with the brown sugar or powdered sugar because I'm too lazy to sift confections over one batch when the next batch needs to go in.
  • Metal pan or pot with fairly high sides to prevent spatter, and a lid in case your pot starts sizzling too much and you need to remove it from the heat in a hurry.
  • Metal slotted spoon - plastic won't cut it, duh.
  • Big, sharp knife and cutting board - using a little knife just makes it take longer, and you're going to make a lot of thin slices.
  • Plate with paper towels
  1. Cut thin slices with boldness, as thin as you can get them near the middle of the potato, slightly thicker near the ends.
  2. Put enough oil in your metal pan or pot to cover the bottom to a depth of about an inch and a half. Turn this up to high heat, but don't let the oil smoke - that means it's too hot.
  3. Toss a lot of slices at once into the oil, which brings the temperature down a little, and helps them all to cook more evenly. I usually do about 1/3 a potato per batch, unless I get bored and throw more in at once. The water in the sweet potato is going to make it pop and sizzle a little. Any water you drop in will pop like crazy, so if you rinse your slotted spoon mid-cooking to cool it off, dry it first.
  4. Stir frequently so you don't space out. Scoop the slices out when they're done to your liking.
  5. Put on paper towels to dry, but don't dry the top until you salt like crazy.
  6. Study what you've created, and sneak a few as you cook the next batches.
  7. You cooked 'em, now eat 'em, possibly with Hollandia, or another fine beer from Holland.
Technically, if you get most of the crunchy bits out of the oil, you can put it in the fridge with the lid on and use it the next day, just like a real fast-food joint. I've detected no difference in the results, even on day 4, batch 3. This is due to improving my cutting technique to produce fairly regular slices, thus reducing debris. Of course, that means you have a big pot of grease in your fridge.

* Yes, technically, I spend almost half my income on health insurance and child-care. If you want to be rich, might I suggest being born rich and then not having kids?
** Like a dumbass.****
*** I think one of our downstairs smoke alarms is off, basically permanently. Opening the oven sets it off, opening the toaster with a medium bagel sets it off. Pretty much anything I do sets it off.
****Sober, too. Hot oil's just too dangerous to play with under the influence. Watching that plastic shrivel makes me a little nervous, but not too sick to eat fried sweet potato chips.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I owe you some posts, also floppy dogs will not eat Alex

Oh, internet, how can I stay mad at you? Even when Blogger is slow/down/hanging, you're with me forever.

I owe (*see below for terms and conditions) you posts about:

-the Order of the Stick release party, including more waxing rhapsodic about Tri-Games.
-Thursday gaming where Larry showed up.
-being sick as a dog with sick kid Saturday; how sick? so sick, I missed a good birthday party and drank a non-alcoholic home remedy instead.
-Sunday hanging out with Larry a bit, plus showing off a zillion games.

Yesterday Cori, age 1, made her first intentional "more" sign in a reliable and convincing way, and Alex, age 2 and a half, sleeved her first Magic card.

Is it any surprise that we call Alex "Alex-monster?" She called Cori "Cori-monster" the other day. She also talked herself through an encounter with two dachshunds on the playground by narrating out loud, "Two dogs. Two floppy dogs. Dogs not gonna eat me. Dogs not going to eat Alex."

As a reward for reading, have a picture of Alex with a duckie:

He's a wild-west duckie, with a cowboy hat.

*Comes with Paul Anka's guarantee/guarantee void in Tennessee.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Catch-up: Last Thursday: Dream Factory and Blue Moon

(This is a catch-up post from being sleep-deprived and too lazy to post for over a week.)

R.J. has been buying games like crazy now that he's got a great job, so we're seeing a constant influx of new titles hit the table. Tim and Chris also made it in.

Last Thursday's offering was Trauframbrik, which translates from German as "Dream Factory." It's a bidding game by Reiner Knizia about making classic movies to get points. Players bid on different movie elements (actors, special effects, music, guest stars, and the all-important directors) to complete the best movies they can.

Overall, it's satisfying to see movies come together, and as each movie season (out of 4) completes, stand-up Oscar statues get passed out for quality movies. R.J. had forgotten to tell us that the contracts we were trading around in the auctions were worth victory points at the end, which we learned only two bidding rounds before the game's conclusion. This had little effect on the endgame, since R.J. had been accumulating great movies. Everyone agreed it was neat and they'd play it again.

Chris and Tim had to head out, so R.J. and I broke out some new Blue Moon decks and played 3 games before calling it quits. I can already see I'll end up with all the Blue Moon decks ever printed, but it is such an elegant system. There's a starter set with two decks and a little board and 3 plastic dragons, along with the rulebook with all the rules you need for every deck. You can either buy more decks, or not, and be fine at any time. There are a finite number of decks, which aren't randomized or collectible, and there's no real order to acquire them in, for the most part. (Blue Moon x3)

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 160, New game titles played for the year = 32.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Tri-Games rocks (5th Saturday summary)

Last Saturday, I headed out to Tri-Games, up on the northwest side of Houston near Highway 249 and FM 1960. Tri-Games, a.k.a. Games Games Games, was the site of the 5th Saturday's Houston Gamers meeting. I've met Joy, the owner, before, both when she was an employee at another store, and also as one of the playtesters Kevin Nunn brought to my house when he was playtesting the Chinese artisan game Zhong Shi.

This will probably end up as a longer post later, but the short version is: this is possibly the best game store experience I have ever had. Wow, Joy is doing SO MUCH RIGHT I cannot stop grinning about how awesome it was to see a game store run well by an enthusiastic, friendly owner. Next Saturday, she has a release party for the Order of the Stick game, which was designed by my fellow Houston Gamer Kevin Brusky, not to be confused with Kevin Nunn or Kevin Horovitz. I hope I get to make it - I hear a rumor that this first printing is going to sell out very quickly.

I also got to hang out a lot with James Spurney, up to and including playing his latest prototype, which I liked quite a bit. It was a card game with trading goods to build up a civilization by buying various advances - much like the classic board game Civilization, except that James has made his game :
  1. a card game, so it's smaller, easier to transport, and will be cheaper.
  2. take about an hour, in contrast to Civilization's 4-6 hour duration.
  3. fun, unlike Civilization, which has never done it for me, perhaps because I have never come close to winning a game.
He also taught me MetroMania, which I thought had great bits but didn't like the game much, and Dead Money. Dead Money was a card game with a cool concept that failed in execution and seemed to be a step backwards from the earlier card game Give Me the Brain: Deluxe Color Edition. The zombie theme and mechanics are still used in Dead Money, but this time, it's now a poker tournament with zombies. It went on too long and someone finally played a card that made another player win, just to have the game end. Not a good sign.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 156, New game titles played for the year = 31.

Catch-Up: Thursday summary and mini-review of Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation

R.J. and Chris got here as Lee and I were putting the girls to bed, so they got to hang around downstairs and play Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, a cute little two-player game.

R.J, Chris, Tim, Lee, and I played Medici. It was Tim's first taste of the game, and he did well. I lost, lost, lost, lost-ity-lost, for the second time in a row. I think Chris and I have different bidding strategies that aren't complementary. Lee won, also for the second time in a row.

Tim had to go, and after that.

R.J., Chris, and I were talking about games, and we decided to play a quick game of Ra (he is the sun god, that really cool one god, rah rah RA!). All three of us like it and are fairly familiar with it, and both of them own a copy. Chris ran away with the game and got a million-billion-bazillion points. I got an okay score (lost points on pharoahs each round, missed getting best bidding tiles by only 1 and giving those to Chris), but I did manage to get all my tiles used up. I've lost Ra twice in a row because I waited and waited to bid, then the round ended before I got much. Fun stuff.

R.J. headed out, and I examined Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation. It's a two-player game in a small box about the size of Transamerica. There's a square gameboard that is turned so each player has a corner pointed at them. A series of rectangular territories on the map have Lord of the Rings territories on them. Each player gets 9 action cards and nine stand-up hidden characters each with a different numerical strength rating and a special power. It plays a lot like Stratego, except faster and more Tolkienian. Not that there's anything wrong with that. There are extra, different action cards that can be added in as a handicap for one side or the other, and it was a cute game that I was happy to learn and play, and would play again. I

We hung out a little after that, and talked about good 2-player strategy games that last around 30 minutes. Lost Cities came up, as did the 2-player Settlers of Catan Card game, which is NOT anywhere near 30 minutes - more like 60-90 minutes instead. I also opened up my Cities and Knights of Catan box to talk about the many differences.

Gamecount: Individual game sessions played for the year = 153, New game titles played for the year = 28.