The pie maker

(OK, now I can’t stop thinking of Pushing Daisies.) As you may know if you’ve been following my tweets, one of my new hobbies is baking pies. It started last November when I decided to try and make one of my favorite Thanksgiving must-haves, pumpkin pie, for our family get-together.

I enjoyed it so much that I decided to start making one pie a month. My favorite part is the crust: forming it, rolling it out, fluting the edges. Most of the recipes I’ve used are from Cook’s Illustrated, whose master recipe for pie crust includes a couple of tablespoons of vodka. Apparently it keeps the dough moist and helps the texture better than water only. That reminds me that the fillings for the pecan and cherry recipes I’ve made use bourbon. (Hmm, is there some reason I keep coming back to these?)

So here’s where we are so far:

  • November: Pumpkin
  • December: Cherry (I also made this for Thom’s folks over Christmas)
  • January: Lemon meringue
  • February: Pecan
  • March: Apple-cranberry
  • April: Cherry (yes, again; I had leftover frozen cherries, so why not?)

They have been mostly successes, though the lemon filling of the lemon meringue pie didn’t quite set up completely. Still they taste good, as far as I can tell. I made the most recent pie as presents to give to my family at our Easter get-together last weekend. Two skills combined: pie-making and gift-wrapping!

Sweet Cherry Pie

Sweet Cherry Pie

At Michaels I found these cupcake boxes which are actually the perfect size for one-fourth of a pie. (¼π, har har.) The plain cake boxes they had are a little tall, presumably for layered cakes.

If anyone has suggestions for pies to make, let me know! I’m also open to making savory pies, so at some point maybe I’ll try something like a meat pie. Check out the adventures in pie-making in my Flickr set. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry now!

Tax time: new federal rules for domestic partners

Thom and I filed our taxes earlier this week, and a new twist is that the IRS now wants couples like us—registered domestic partners (RDPs) in community-property states—to split their income on their federal returns. This affects Washington, Nevada, and California. From Publication 555 (Rev. December 2010):

For 2010, a RDP in Nevada, Washington, or California (or a person in California who is married to a person of the same sex) generally must follow state community property laws and report half the combined community income of the individual and his or her RDP (or California same-sex spouse).

It’s great (and just) that the IRS recognizes state community-property rights (i.e., as with married couples, any earned income and deductions are considered to be held jointly), but by virtue of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage, gay couples still have to file as single persons. That means unlike federally recognized married couples, we can’t file one joint federal return. (Well, in any case we’re not married in California by virtue of Prop 8, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue.) No, that would be too easy. We still have to file separate returns while evenly splitting our income and other community property, and taking into account any separate property (like inheritance, assets gained before the partnership, associated interest, etc.).

So we filed by mail and included a cover letter explaining our situation, just in case some IRS agents aren’t up to speed with the new rules, and a worksheet showing the allocation of our community vs. separate property. The bottom line is, due to our particular circumstances, we have a lower tax liability this year compared to last year under the completely single-person tax treatment, but it would be nice if we could file one federal return and not have to do the extra accounting.

California gives RDPs basically the same rights as married spouses, and for the last two years we’ve filed our state tax returns jointly (and electronically). Easy peasy. For this—not just convenience but more importantly, equality—and a whole lot of other reasons, DOMA has got to go.

» See also: Lambda Legal FAQ (PDF); New York Times Bucks blog entry, “Tax Season Gets Trickier for Some Gay Couples“.

SF Ballet’s Tiit Helimets and company to tour Estonia

San Francisco Ballet dancer Tiit Helimets is leading an ensemble of eleven dancers on a performance tour of his native Estonia this summer. Fellow SFB dancer (and photographer and videographer) Quinn Wharton filmed a great video preview of the project, for which they are also soliciting financial support.

I love videos of ballet class and rehearsals as much as, if not more than, those of final performances. So inspiring!

‘Swan Lake’ on ‘DWTS’

I’ve pretty much stopped watching Dancing with the Stars with this season, but now that I’m getting back into ballet I did catch this segment from last night’s episode, a piece “inspired,” if you will, by Swan Lake, featuring Lorena Feijoo (San Francisco Ballet), Lorna Feijoo (Boston Ballet), and José Manuel Carreño (American Ballet Theatre). Swan fight!

I will give DWTS credit for continuing to showcase diverse dance styles in their Macy’s Stars of Dance performances. Ballet on prime-time network television? Thank you!

Though, I do realize they’re riding the Black Swan wave. For some reason I’m not completely digging Swan Lake in this setting. I’m not saying that ballet needs to be compromised for a mass audience, but that I would’ve preferred maybe a more modern piece (or even just costuming) that pushes away from the frilly classical-ballet stereotype.

SFO T2 open house

On Saturday afternoon Thom and I went to the community open house for the completely redesigned Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport. As a travel geek I was totally excited, and since T2 is the new home for Virgin America, as a VX loyalist I was doubly excited. This terminal is on the site of one of the original buildings at the airport and for several years served international flights. I remember coming here as a kid with my parents several times to drop off and pick up relatives traveling to and from the Philippines. For a time you could go to the gates if you weren’t traveling, and I’d even bring a bag with me so that I could put it on the conveyer belt and run it through the X-ray machine at the security checkpoint. I was just fascinated by the whole airport experience. Travel geek in training!

SFO T2 open house

A detour: These are those kinds of moments when I miss my dad, who passed away almost five years ago now. He was an architect and was always interested in keeping track of new projects in the area, especially transportation infrastructure. So this was an event he would have loved. For example, several years ago he and my mom attended the groundbreaking for the Colma BART station near our house, and they were also at the opening of SFO’s new International Terminal. That sort of fascination has rubbed off on me. Back when I was living in D.C., one of the times I came back to visit my parents, I told my dad to pick me up not at the airport, but at a BART station along the then-new SFO extension, so that I could ride BART from the airport for the first time. He completely understood.

OK, back to the open house. As I said, T2 is the new home for Virgin America, as well as for American Airlines. I will say that Virgin America’s previous location in the International Terminal was nice too and was actually easier to get to from the airport BART station. Now that they’re in T2, from BART you either have to connect to AirTrain or walk a long-ish way through Terminal 3.

The open house was a free, ticketed event, and thankfully no security to get through, since flights were not yet operating. I was saying this was probably the easiest access to the gates that I’ll ever see. Red carpet, even:

SFO T2 open house

The terminal is chock-full of shops and restaurants on the way to the gates. (We stopped inside a bookstore to browse, and I had to fight the instinct to load up on magazines. Force of habit.) Overall I’m impressed with the terminal; it’s light and airy with lots of windows for planespotting, and plenty of good places to eat. However I’m not sure there is enough seating at each gate area. We shall see. My next Virgin America flight may not be until August, so my first chance to actually use the terminal as a passenger will not be for a while.

SFO T2 open house

SFO T2 open house

SFO T2 open house

The open house had a bunch of information booths and entertainment going on: bands on stage at the food court, prize raffles, and so on, including this Virgin America photo booth:

SFO T2 open house

We were so on board with this. The lady with the props was like, do you want to be captains or flight attendants? Well, we couldn’t resist. We put on the little hats and red scarves and decided to do emergency-exit hands, and it’s hilarious how we instantly did the same Charlie’s Angels-like stance. Flight attendants, ready!

SFO T2 open house

Most of the other visitors’ portraits were kind of “normal,” so I think the staff got a kick out of us. Fun times.

» See also: The rest of my photos from the T2 open house are up on Flickr.

Travel slideshow: Valentine’s Week in Las Vegas

We were in Las Vegas for Valentine’s Week, and while I don’t have a full-on travel recap for you, you can view a slideshow of photos below or go to the Flickr set. Our home for the week was the Encore, and while in town we saw three shows: Zumanity, Le Rêve, and The Beatles–LOVE. One day we drove out and took a tour of Hoover Dam.

By the way, thanks again for your restaurant suggestions on Facebook and Twitter. We were able to fit in Raku (off the Strip) and Bradley Ogden (at Caesars Palace), among other places, and they were fantastic.

Las Vegas sign

» Previously: “Travel preview: Valentine’s week in Vegas.”

Online again, finally

Certainly I had meant to blog about our recent Las Vegas trip, but a couple of weeks ago our home Internet access went down. (Ha, I conveniently blame the Internet for my lack of posting. Right.) Actually our phone line began to hover between staticky and non-existent, thus our DSL signal would only trickle through intermittently. After a lot of back and forth between Sonic.net (our ISP, with whom we have bundled home phone and Internet services) and AT&T (upon whose phone lines the DSL still relies), almost eleven days of frustration after the phone line first went down, we got back up and running this past Sunday.

During that week and a half, since I usually work from home, I was shuttling with my laptop to my mom’s house to work there. And most other times Thom and I were using the web access on our smartphones (and pushing up our data plans). But anyway, all is well again.

By the way, we’ve pretty happy with Sonic.net (we’ve been customers of theirs for about five years, and their Fusion package is a great value at $39.99 plus taxes per month). As compensation for the downtime, they’re giving us a month’s worth of credit, which is more than we expected, so good on them. But it is unfortunate that DSL is only as good as the phone line it’s running on. AT&T, boo.

Blog bells and whistles

I’ve been tinkering under the blog hood (more than actually writing posts, as you can tell lately), and am trying out a WordPress plugin called Wordbooker. At first I was just looking for a plugin to automatically post a link on Facebook when I write a blog post, which this does, but it also can push blog comments to Facebook and pull Facebook comments to the blog, thus keeping them in sync periodically, in either or both directions as one pleases. It can even place Facebook “like” and “share” buttons in posts; I don’t know how useful those will be for this personal and infrequently updated blog, but we’ll see.

At some point last year I quietly installed some other bells and whistles… one is this theme by WooThemes called Bueno, and another is fonts by Typekit. Yay, typography. Also noteworthy is a nifty plugin called WPtouch, which transforms my blog into a pared-down, faster-loading format for smartphones. You’ll see this if you’re visiting on an iPhone, Android phone, BlackBerry, and so forth. I like this plugin so much that I shelled out for the paid version, WPtouch Pro, which among other things includes support for iPad.