Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Reluctant Tour Guide

Our tour guide stepped onto the bus and announced, "I have a special surprise for you." "While you were touring the soft-shell crab facility, I got us permission to attend tonight's debutante ball!"

It was a tour for tour operators, a whole tour bus full of tour types getting the low-down on the southern Louisiana tour circuit. Our host was from Houma, located about 40 miles southwest of New Orleans, but the debutante ball would be in this nearby town of Terrebonne.

This swampy area is an incredible maze of bayous that eventually empty into the Gulf of Mexico. Almost every street ends at a slough or swamp where one can encounter swamp tours, fishing outfits, and shrimp factories a-la Bubba Gump.

Keeping to an exhausting schedule of touristy things, among them, visiting a toothless alligator hunter living in a shanty along the bayou, we attended the ball. I have to admit I was at first intrigued to see this event that is generally closed to the public, but at the same time I felt it might just be a boring exhibition of ostentatious privilege.

For some reason tourists have an insatiable curiosity of the rich and here is one more example. The event was originally intended to present young women from families of means to high society. It marks the time when these women are of an age appropriate for marriage. Nowadays it is more of a traditional way to have a party, like a bar-mitzvah coming-of-age celebration.

It is a ritual of grand proportions as the "debs" are escorted into a grand hall by their fathers. They make several tours around the hall on the arms of young male escorts, then are formally introduced to society one-by-one at which time they curtsy and are lined up for the receiving line.

After being greeted by the invited guests - guests are formally invited, but have to buy a ticket since it is a fundraiser for charity - everybody is seated for a formal dinner with live dinner music. Dinner is followed by music and dancing.
Our group sat up in a mezzanine for viewing the presentation, then left before the receiving line and dinner.

I have to admit it was kind of fun to see the gowns and dressed-up ball room, but beyond that I think one must be upper crust to fully appreciate the spectacle.

I enjoyed our visit to the soft-shell crab farm better!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chili Relleno Recipe Tricks

I have a couple suggestions about preparing chili rellenos that might help inspire you.

When roasting the poblano peppers (preferably over flame), make sure to cook the pepper somewhat because the frying will only brown the egg batter and melt the cheese.

I have found an easy light batter that's even better than beer batter.
Separate eggs (one egg will coat 2 rellenos), Whisk whites until stiff peaks form.... gently fold in whisked yolks. That's all, it's that easy!
Dust the relleno with flour so the batter will stick and fry in a little oil until it's as brown as you like.

I used Jarlsberg Swiss, some fresh mozzarella, and a little chevre, which adds a creamy mouth feel.

This "sauce" is a rough-chop tomatillo (roasted & peeled), tomato, onion and cooked down a bit.

Don't rub you eyes after working with the chili!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Snowshoeing... One Foot in Front of the Other

New experience, this shoe shoeing.
It's a good way to get out in the wilderness when the snows try to keep you close to home.

The snow was only a foot or so deep and we planned out a walk to Boody Pond (again, a lake to most of us). The trail was up and down and virgin snow for only part of the mile-or-two walk. Jim looks back to see what's taking me or perhaps he's concerned I've taken a face-plant and can't get up?

Did you know there are cramp-on like teeth under snowshoes? That allows you to climb a fairly steep incline without sliding back and is better footing if ice is hiding below the snow.

I found it harder to walk in fresh snow than on tramped-down snow because you must lift your legs higher and not "drag your tips" when bringing your back leg forward. I'll just let someone else lead, thank you very much.

Michael adjusts while Jim and Iris look on. Christopher beckons us onward.
On the way back, Michael has taken his snowshoes off to walk in a snowmobile track.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Lessons in Airport Security

It happened again this week. Someone ducked under a security tape to greet a friend at Newark airport causing the terminal to be shut down for 6 hours and all passengers had to be rescreened. This is what it looked like.
When will the public demand these largely theatrical "security" measures stop?

What Israel can teach us about security
Cathal Kelly Staff Reporter ""
At Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, screening is done in 30 minutes. The key? Look passengers in the eye.

While North America's airports groan under the weight of another sea-change in security protocols, one word keeps popping out of the mouths of experts: Israelification. That is, how can we make our airports more like Israel's, which deal with far greater terror threats with far less inconvenience.

"It is mind boggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago," said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy. He has worked with the RCMP, the U.S. Navy Seals and airports around the world.

"Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don't take s--- from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for – not for hours – but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, `We're not going to do this. You're going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.'"

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel's largest hub, Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Ben Gurion is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?
"Two benign questions. The questions aren't important. The way people act when they answer them is," Sela said.

Once you've parked your car or gotten off your bus, you pass through the second and third security perimeters. Armed guards outside the terminal observe passengers as they move toward the doors, again looking for odd behaviour. At Ben Gurion's half-dozen entrances, another layer of security is watching. At this point, some travellers will be randomly taken aside, and their person and their luggage run through a magnometer. "This is to see that you don't have heavy metals on you or something that looks suspicious," said Sela.

You are now in the terminal. As you approach your airline check-in desk, a trained interviewer takes your passport and ticket. They ask a series of questions: Who packed your luggage? Has it left your side? "The whole time, they are looking into your eyes – which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds," said Sela.

Lines are staggered. People are not allowed to bunch up into inviting targets for a bomber who has gotten this far.

At the check-in desk, your luggage is scanned immediately in a purpose-built area. Sela plays devil's advocate – what if you have escaped the attention of the first four layers of security, and now try to pass a bag with a bomb in it?

"I once put this question to Jacques Duchesneau (the former head of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority): say there is a bag with Play-Doh in it and two pens stuck in the Play-Doh. That is `Bombs 101' to a screener. I asked Duchesneau, `What would you do?' And he said, `Evacuate the terminal.' And I said, `Oh. My. God.'

"Take (Toronto's) Pearson (airport). Do you know how many people are in the terminal at all times? Many thousands. Let's say I'm (doing an evacuation) without panic – which will never happen. But let's say this is the case. How long will it take? Nobody thought about it. I said, `Two days.'"

A screener at Ben Gurion has a pair of better options. First, the screening area is surrounded by contoured, blast-proof glass that can contain the detonation of up to 100 kilos of plastic explosive. Only the few dozen people within the screening area need be removed, and only to a point a few metres away.

Second, all the screening areas contain `bomb boxes.' If a screener spots a suspect bag, he/she is trained to pick it up and place it in the box, which is blast proof. A bomb squad arrives shortly and wheels the box away for further investigation.

"This is a very small, simple example of how we can simply stop a problem that would cripple one of your airports," Sela said.
Five security layers down: you now finally arrive at the only one which Ben Gurion airport shares with Pearson – the body and hand-luggage check.

"But here it is done completely, absolutely 180 degrees differently than it is done in North America," Sela said. "First, it's fast – there's almost no line. That's because they're not looking for liquids, they're not looking at your shoes. They're not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you," said Sela. "Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes ... and that's how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys."

The goal at Ben Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in 25 minutes tops.

And then there's intelligence. In Israel, Sela said, a coordinated intelligence gathering operation produces a constantly evolving series of threat analyses and vulnerability studies.
"There is absolutely no intelligence and threat analysis done in Canada or the United States," Sela said. "Absolutely none."

But even without the intelligence, Sela maintains, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – who allegedly tried to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day – would not have gotten past Ben Gurion's behavioural profilers.
So. Eight years after 9/11, why are we still so reactive? Sela first blames our leaders, and then ourselves. "You can easily do what we do. You don't have to replace anything. You have to add just a little bit – technology, training," Sela said. "But you have to completely change the way you go about doing airport security. And that is something that the bureaucrats have a problem with. They are very well enclosed in their own concept."

And rather than fear, he suggests outrage would be a far more powerful spur to provoking that change. "Do you know why Israelis are so calm? We have brutal terror attacks on our civilians and still, life in Israel is pretty good. The reason is that people trust their defence forces, their police, their response teams and the security agencies. They know they're doing a good job. You can't say the same thing about Americans and Canadians. They don't trust anybody," Sela said. "But they say, `So far, so good.' Then if something happens, all hell breaks loose and you've spent eight hours in an airport. Which is ridiculous. Not justifiable."