Markus' Travel and International Living Blog

Markus is an enthusiastic traveler, who lives in Houston, TX (USA) most of the time, but also spends some time in Saalfelden, near Salzburg (Austria). He is fascinated by travel and also by his experiences gathered by living in two different countries and continents.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007
Vegas, Love, and Pools

Last weekend, we spent a few days in Vegas. We went there Sunday morning and stayed until Tuesday (early) morning. We often wonder whether it is better to go to Vegas on a weekend or during the week, and I have to say that missing the Friday/Saturday crowd worked out pretty good and everything was plenty busy.

We stayed at the new Planet Hollywood hotel (former Aladdin). The hotel itself is still relatively similar to the Aladdin. They changed the casino decoration (it now has a vaguely Japanese flair), but for the most parts, the hotel is still the same hotel. The rooms haven't really changed at all (except for the pictures on the wall). They also still have one of the best (if not the best) buffet on the strip.

The one thing that really sucks there is the pool. I was kind of looking forward to spending a relaxing afternoon at the pool. Usually, I do not care so much, because we have a nice pool at home. But the weather in Houston has been so crappy this year that we didn't get to use out pool much, so the hotel pool seemed like a good idea. However, the PH pool area is a large concrete slab with an indentation that holds water:

To make matters worse, it is also a construction site. And nobody thought about putting up any umbrellas (except for the one for the life guard). Being there during a 120 degree heat wave made that part worse. I like warm weather, but this was a bit much. No cocktail waitresses in skimpy outfits either. Very disappointing overall.

I mean, which pool would you rather use? The Planet Hollywood one (above), or the one in our yard (below):

Exactly! Although I have to admit: There usually aren't any cocktail waitresses in skimpy outfits at our pool either. ;-)

But anyway: Pool disappointment or not, we had a good time in Vegas. We gambled some (I made my donation... which Ellen recovered it seems), and we went to the Bar at Times Square at the New York, New York hotel. This is always one of my favorite places in Vegas. A real feel-good sort of place. Check it out when you have a chance.

We also went to see Love, the new Cirque de Soleil show at the Mirage. It was very good. If you like Cirque, you will like this show. If you like Beatles music, you will like this show. I would say it isn't quite as good as O and KA (my report here), which are my favorite Cirque shows, but it was still very good and enjoyable. (Although on the expensive side, I might add...).

Other than that, there is not much to report. We went shopping at Ceasar's Palace and at the Venetian. I am not usually a big shopper, but this was actually kinda neat...


Posted @ 1:00 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (20)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Friday was lasagna day. I am a complete sucker for lasagna. Not the monstrosity you are fed at Italian restaurants int he US, mind you. All the tomato sauce and ricotta cheese they use! Yikes! No, real Italian lasagna has no tomato sauce (and relatively little tomatoes at all, actually), and no ricotta cheese. It has meat and bechamel sauce. It has flicks of parmesan on top, which bake to a slightly crunchy top layer. Awesome! I think right after Fogo (Brazilian steak) and Sushi, lasagna is one of my favorite foods. (And I could eat lasagna several times a week, which is not necessarily true for Fogo or Sushi...).

So when Ellen decided to make lasagna last Friday, we first just wanted to make it a dinner for ourselves. But then we said "ah, what the heck... we could just ask a few people whether they want to come...". So we shouted "Lasagna!" down the (virtual) EPS hallway, and low and behold, almost everyone showed up. (Apologies for the late notice that made it impossible for some to attend). And people even brought their own foods too. Cleo brought salad. Mariaelena (and Thom) brought homemade bread. (And I love bread!) Tammy and Simon brought the ingredients for ice cream sundaes. And Claudio brought some Brazilian beer.

Unfortunately, the weather has been really bad this year in Houston, but we got reasonably lucky. It rained just before people started to show up, but it was OK the rest of the evening. So before we knew it, a party broke out! Due to all the other things people brought, I was already stuffed before the lasagna was ready (especially the bread prooved to be problematic in that regard). Nevertheless, the lasagna was awesome (as always when Ellen cooks it). Here is Claudio digging in:

Ah, those Brazilians...

Talking about Brazilians: After the lasagna, we had Tammy's ice cream sundaes, and she brought so many different things, the ultimate setup almost rivaled a Brazilian ice cream buffet. Check it out:

Ah, that gotta do wonders for one's figure.

Luckily, we all got a good workout in the pool afterwards. Cleo almost drowned me, making me jump after the frisbee for 20 minutes in the deep end of the pool.

This was also the first time that we had a motorized vehicle in the pool:

Way to go Tammy! Isn't she elegant (bless her heart!)? Just stay away from the waterfall in the background...

So how do you make that awesome lasagna, you ask? Well, you are asking the wrong person, since I know next to nothing about cooking. But luckily, Ellen offered to provide her recipe, so here it goes (in her own words):

Ernie’s (Markus’ Mom) Authentic Italian Lasagna

This recipe was passed on to me by Markus’ mom and is Markus’ favorite. It’s how they make lasagna in northern Italy – light on the tomato sauce and no mozzarella or ricotta – only thin layers of béchamel sauce. If there are leftovers, you can cut into individual portions and freeze, then microwave to reheat.


  • 10 TBS Butter (1 stick + 2 TBS)
  • 1 cup White Flour
  • ½ Gallon Whole Milk (I’ve used 2% with good results)

Meat Sauce

  • 2 lbs ground meat (any combination of beef, Italian sausage, turkey, pork. For the veggie version substitute any chopped veggies – broccoli, zucchini, spinach etc. Or you could do a mix of meat and veggie.)
  • 2 large onions (chopped)
  • 2 – 3 large garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 large can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes (could also be diced if you prefer)
  • 4 small or 2 large Beef Bouillon cubes
  • 2 TBS Oregano (to taste)
  • 1 tsp Black pepper (to taste)
  • No cook (oven-ready) Lasagna noodles (about 3 boxes)
  • 12 oz. Parmesan cheese (grated)

How it all goes together

  1. (I cheat and do the béchamel in the microwave – that way there is no danger of it burning and much less stirring! However, you can of course do it on the stovetop over low heat. Just be sure to stir continuously!) Melt butter in large glass bowl in microwave, wisk in flour and some of the milk until it forms a smooth paste. Gradually add remaining milk and wisk until smooth. Microwave about 10 minutes, remove and wisk until smooth (note that when you first take it out, it will be very lumpy. Just keep wisking. If for some reason you can’t wisk all the lumps out put it in the blender.). Repeat microwaving and wisking in 5-10 minute intervals until it comes to a boil. Should be slightly thickened, but not really thick since we are using the no cook noodles.
  2. While the béchamel is “cooking”, cook meat in large frying pan or pot. Drain any fat. Add onions & garlic. Simmer until soft. Add remaining meat sauce ingredients and simmer on low for about 30 mins.
  3. To assemble:
    1. ¼ of the béchamel in the bottom of the 15” x 10” x 2” pan (or could use 2 smaller ones)
    2. Single layer of noodles
    3. ¼ of the béchamel
    4. Single layer of noodles
    5. ½ of the meat mixture & 1/3 of the Parmesan sprinkled on top
    6. Single layer of noodles
    7. ¼ of the béchamel
    8. Single layer of noodles
    9. ½ of the meat mixture & 1/3 of the Parmesan sprinkled on top
    10. Single layer of noodles
    11. ¼ of the béchamel on top. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the Parmesan cheese and dot with butter (the butter makes the crunchy top that is Markus’ favorite since it’s kinda like “bottom scrapings”!)
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 mins until top is nicely browned. May want to let it stand 10-15 mins before cutting it to let it firm up. Easy huh? :-)

There ya have it folks! Now you can have your very own lasagna party! :-)


Posted @ 9:05 PM by Egger, Markus ( -
Comments (15)








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