Tuesday, December 21, 2010
This year we at least decided to cut back on the excess nonsense. Primarily Christmas at the homestead means a full house-plus of dogs . Some people don’t want to share the holiday with their dog, traveling or some other excuse, so they board them with us. We don’t mind really, it’s our business. If I recall correctly we will have about six thousand extra dogs over Christmas weekend. Okay, maybe not that many, but be it six or six-thousand it means constant work, dawn till dusk.
This Christmas since it’s just the three of us adults, we decided to not overspend, not over think, and just get one gift for the household, then little stuff, stocking fodder for each other. I was able to comply with only two hours total of shopping, barely leaving Walmart. We didn’t even put up the normal tree. We did get out the foot-tall ceramic tree that we plug little red plastic bulbs into. It takes about two minutes to erect, another five to plug in the bulbs, voila, done. And of course my 73 nutcrackers have been standing up on the hutch since Thanksgiving. There are three stockings on the mantel, stuffed probably with candy, chapstick, ink pens, pocket puzzles and the like, mostly stuff that can be found at a checkout line. It’s all the fun of unwrapping gifts without the expense and dismal sense of failure you get from mis-guessing the other person’s wishes.
Then there’s the birthdays, mine on the 21st, Adam’s on the 22nd.
All I ever really want for my birthday is a decent meal. This caused enough problems. Angel would simply not allow the place I actually wanted to go, Burger King. After a week or two of “I’ll think on it” the time had come to actually make a decision, I opted for shrimp and a baked potato, at home. This describes perhaps, one of my favorite dining experiences, ever. Adam wants pizza, so on his night we’ll do that. He will be getting gifts, he spent much of the year out of work so we got him a thing or two. I offered to replace the speakers in his car, but with his work/school schedule being almost the exact opposite as mine, I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
On Christmas day Angel and maybe Adam will head down to Springfield to celebrate with her family, leaving me to tend to the six thousand dogs, and everything else. No time for a traditional meal, we’ve decided to repeat last year’s tradition and pick up a couple of family buckets at KFC. Enough to cover several ad hoc meals. Mmmm, KFC.
Needless to say with all the dogs starting to come and go, and with our relentless work/shopping schedules, we did not exactly eat out this past weekend.
Saturday morning I was up early (around 8:00) Angel had already been up with the dogs for an hour. I had things to do so I showered and dressed immediately. First things first, I poured more antifreeze into the mighty Alero, it’s the only way to make that stupid red light on the dashboard go out. I asked Angel if she wanted some breakfast since I felt like a good cup of coffee and such things are just not available from the swill pot Angel brews up at home. She said sure, as long as it had meat in it. I suggested Hardees since I knew they made decent coffee. She replied that yes, that would be fine, and that she wanted a breakfast burrito. I’d never heard of such a silly thing but acceded. It only took a few minutes to get there, sure enough that pesky little light stayed off, and I knew what I wanted.
#3 Combo medium-ized, with coffee for me, a breakfast burrito and tots for Angel. Total cost five dollars and change. A #3 is an egg/cheese/sausage biscuit with tots. I like tots. I like tots a lot. I took it all home and while still warm we had breakfast together. By together I mean there were no walls between us and we ate at the same time. I was at the dining room table, my faced buried in a book (‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’, the second in the ‘Millennium’ series by the late Stieg Larsson ). Angel sat in the living room watching Sponge-Bob on TV, and balancing her netbook in her lap. It was downright romantic, we hardly ever get to eat together at home.
She had a class scheduled for 10:00, I had things to do, haircut and shopping, which is twice the amount of things I am usually comfortable doing in one day. The haircut fell through, the clip joint had a full house and anticipated a thirty minute wait. That blew the deal for me so I went shopping. I picked up my usual HBA’s (Health and Beauty Aids, in our house we buy our own so as not to rile up the other with faulty choices, flawed substitutions, or bad assumptions.) and a few stocking stuffers.
After about an hour I returned home, class was out but Angel had left to show a couple of dogs at PetSmart. These two female dogs had been with us for a week or two, a small mini-pinscher 'Star' (I call her Peggy, Angel doesn’t) and ‘Sunshine’ a brown, medium sized and overweight boxer or ridgeback mix we also refer to as ‘Fat Deedee’ since she has the same color and facial features as our Deedee, but about fifteen extra pounds.
While at the store I’d also strategically picked up some sugar, oatmeal, butter and cocoa powder. I had never made no-bake cookies before but I was determined. It took less time than I’d thought and there was plenty. They cooled while I checked email and Facebook.
I goofed around long enough to cycle the dogs, something that has to be done every couple of hours, then I took a nap. Naps are required activities on the weekend, it’s not debatable. By the time I got up Angel was home, and we were hungry. I looked in the refrigerator and found exactly one half package of lunch meat and some leftover chili. I made Angel a ham, egg and cheese sandwich, I had the chili. I offered Angel another cookie, it was obvious she’d had a few already, she growled at me. She accuses me of trying to make her fat. I just like making her things she likes and wants but refuses to make for herself. She’s perfectly welcome to NOT eat any.
I still needed a haircut. Angel gets to nap on Sundays, I tended the dogs for an hour or so, made some mashed potato waffles* (yes it can be done!) and headed out. I also needed to finish shopping. The Great-Clips in Festus was not too crowded, a ten minute wait at best, so I was in and out pretty quickly, especially since the lady that cut my hair was not overly-meticulous or detail oriented. She asked me how I wanted it cut, I replied my usual “Just start trimming and only stop when I’m pretty.” This has backfired on me on more than one occasion. Like this time. She didn’t recognize my natural beauty as quickly as others have. It’s not too bad, but it certainly accentuates the cowlick more than anything else. But that’s okay, I’m a middle aged man with a full, thick head of hair. . . things could be much worse.
I had to drive to Fenton after Festus, no small jog. I was after a specific gift and knew only one place to get it. In the meantime I stopped in Target and found a couple of books. I needed to gift myself to appease the in-laws. I picked up the third in the Larsson series ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest’ as well as Steve Martin’s new novel ‘An Object of Beauty: A Novel’. Both hardback, I actually paid full price, something I rarely do. Merry Christmas.
I made it home in time to find Angel out with the dogs, our plans to take the boy out for a late lunch somewhere (a place that would have been critiqued here) were dashed by the now-taggered doggy-pickup schedule that Angel had to stick around for. She did offer to go get something to eat since there was even less lunchmeat and no chili left.
We couldn’t decide on what or where so Angel just chose Hardees. I declared that I wanted one of those burgers with the bacon and sourdough bread, Adam wanted a chicken sandwich. She was gone for only about twenty minutes.Angel just got some sort of Chicken Club, because she lacks imagination.
1/3 pound Frisco Thickburger, Fries, (home made) Ice tea.
The Frisco is probably my favorite fast-food burger anywhere. The meat is good, char-broiled, with Swiss cheese and bacon on sourdough bread. The fries are merely so-so, but the burger was delightful.
We ate together, by that I once again mean at the same time without walls between us, my face was buried in my book, Angel with her Sponge-Bob and Netbook, Adam in the recliner with his laptop.
It’s not unusual for the three of us to be together watching TV with all of our laptops opened up. We can actually talk with each other through Facebook’s chat feature that way. It’s important for families to dine together, spend time together and chat. Technology just makes it much easier for us devout introverts. I didn’t have my computer on so I don’t know if there were any actual conversations taking place, the book was getting really good.
I finished quickly, started my laundry (we each do our own, yet another tip from a happily married man) walked a couple of dogs, watched a few minutes of TV, Facebook, Email, then went down for a nap. I only really need one nap per weekend, but I must get that one, so the second one goes into the bank in case the subsequent weekend doesn’t allow for one. I’m currently ahead by about three years.
I got up and was not especially hungry, so normal dinner time came and went. About 7:00 though Angel made herself a sandwich so I figured I must be hungry too, just not for much. So I made my special soup.
Sautee to desired level of doneness 1 chopped slice of onion. Pour in tomato soup, ½ can of water, ¼ can of milk. Simmer until patience wears thin, serve.
That and a handful of chips and I was good to go. Then we each had a cookie or two.
None of this was typical or atypical, really, just a busy weekend at home, doing normal stuff, whiling away yet another weekend. Did I mention it was also normally grocery day? The hectic dog schedule prevented us from re-stocking the fridge, so we were really just utilizing the dregs that were left over from the last trip. Hardees happens to be the closest chain to our house, so it is convenient and fast. It doesn’t hurt that they make their sandwiches pretty darn tasty.
Tuesday will be shrimp, Wednesday pizza, then on Friday we pick up the Holiday feast, buckets of KFC with all the trimmings. Christmas day afternoon and most of the day afterward I will be by myself, with six thousand dogs, a boatload of chicken and a few good books. Not exactly traditional Christmas card stuff, but I will indeed be filled with the warmth of a loving, if not highly communicative family, a cozy home filled with happy, furry critters, some good food, and enough pleasant memories to keep me quite content.
Happy Holidays to all!
My personal gift to you, my fans:
Mashed potato waffles:
Mashed potatoes 2 cups or so.
Shredded Cheese, whatever your cholesterol level can take.
2 TB chopped/diced onions
¼ cup (approximate) crushed crumbs, Corn flakes or Ritz-type crackers.
2 eggs, separate the shells from the insides, discard the shells.
1 tsp Baking powder
Warm up the waffle iron, set it to ‘Dark’.
If you have leftover mashed potatoes, fine, if not, make some with flakes, the smallest listed serving size. While the water boils and the butter melts, sauté some chopped onion, a couple of tablespoons is all you really need.
Once the potatoes have set up add in a handful or twelve of the shredded cheese, the onions, and mix it all about. Toss in the crumbs, add the eggs and the baking powder, stir till smooth. The glop should be batter-like but not too wet. Let set for a couple of minutes. (Add more crumbs or milk to correct the texture.)
Toss the batter onto the waffle iron and step away. These will take some time due to the high moisture content, your patience will be rewarded.
No need for syrup, that stuff is just nasty, but if you must, at least try a bite or two without. The taste is better than mother’s milk… not that I remember or would know.. I just mean they taste great all by themselves.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
6110 S Lindbergh Blvd, St Louis
Golden Corral originated in the early 1970’s by a couple of guys that gave up trying to buy into other franchise restaurants. They started in North Carolina and expanded, slowly at first, to a couple hundred in the first few years. They then added nearly two hundred more by buying up the suffering 'Sirloin Stockade' chain in the early 80’s. There are now nearly five hundred Golden Corrals, spread across forty states.
In the late 80’s through early 90’s when the U.S. bought into the myth that red meat was a bad thing, the business suffered and GC added salad bars. That way people could pretend they were going there to eat healthy. Most of the original salad bar items are still there, since to date, no one has ever actually served themselves a salad at a Golden Corral. (un-researched assumption). There are unconfirmed rumors that the salad bar produce is not even real, but is instead Disney-like animatronics, merely projected images of actual produce.
On Lindbergh, east/south of Highway 21 (Tesson Ferry). It was quite a chore to get there. We went on Sunday evening, Adam’s work scheduled allowed for an evening meal, finally. It had snowed a couple of inches overnight, I had spent most of the day shoveling off our 400 foot paved, curved and uphill driveway. Klondike road had been cleared though so we assumed other roads had been as well.
The wind was kicking up, the temperature was dropping, it was around fourteen degrees when we left the house, the wind gusts were topping twenty mph. At that temperature even a slight breeze can become a deadly weapon.
Angel had doubted my driveway clearing as it appeared to have just turned the driveway into an Olympics-sanctioned luge track. The snow was cleared, but the underlying thin slush coat had turned into a hardened, shiny and slick, refreeze.
We climbed into Angel’s Trailblazer, (which I had cleared and warmed up earlier because I’m a great husband) she twisted the knob to 4WD and we made it up and out without a slip. (I was more worried about the return trip, downhill)
The rest of the roads were not in as good of shape as Klondike. In fact they got worse the closer we got to the city. It appeared that in order to save precious highway dollars some of the crews were waiting for the snow to completely stop falling before seriously attacking the roads in their care. There was refreeze and slush patches in most of the inner lanes, and quite often on the primary lane. Passing was infrequent and a bit scary. We never exceeded fifty mph. Inside the first suburb the roads had been barely treated at all. The run on Lindbergh was like a scene from upstate New York, snow-covered, drifting, thick, gusting white-outs. Angel likened it mockingly as ‘Ice Road Trucker’* stuff. (She drives on these excursions since I’ve totaled more vehicles (one) than she has.)
The trip should normally take about thirty five minutes, on this trip it took closer to an hour.
The place was surprisingly, nearly packed. The parking lot was almost full and the tables we could see from the outside appeared to be as well.
We walked in, stepped into a short line, grabbed a tray and shouted out our drink order, tea, tea and Pepsi. They served the drinks in plastic tumblers and we slid up to the cash register and paid up the fixed price. We were told we could sit anywhere we wanted, there wasn’t a lot of choice as all the tables within arm’s reach of the serving lines were all taken.
We set our tray down on a table in the back forty and headed for the lines.
It’s a buffet. And a pretty good one at that.
GC made its name by offering fresh meat, steaks, etc. rather than the frozen/shipped steaks in other steakhouse buffet chains. On this night they were cooking fine steaks to order as well as fresh ham and brisket. I put on my buffet hat, which is not a hat, but really only a way of thinking, and grabbed a small plate and loaded it up with about a tablespoon full of a dozen or so choice items. No, I didn’t stop at the salad bar, the staff was busy, clearing the cobwebs off of it.
There was a section for foreign food, Chinese and Mexican mostly. I grabbed up some ‘Brandy Chicken, a couple of shrimp, and some pepper steak. At the meat island I skipped the chicken and dipped up some pot roast. I added white beans, macaroni and meat loaf, then found ‘fish and chips’ and grabbed a couple of nuggets. At the bakery section there were about a dozen possibilities. I grabbed a fat, flaky looking biscuit as well as a condiment packet containing about a quart of margarine. There was also another type of shrimp, pretty much just breaded and fried. A couple of those and round one was ready to eat.
I was first back at the table, Adam showed up with a roll the size of a bowling ball as well as some of the brisket. He really liked the glaze. Angel had some fried chicken as well as potatoes, some of the fish, and some veggies. My biscuit was a huge disappointment. Though it looked fresh and flaky, it was actually as hard as a rock. I tried cutting it open with my steak-like knife, it merely shattered, even adding some margarine didn’t soften it up. I sat it aside on a napkin of shame.
Everything else was quite good indeed. Unlike at Ryan’s where it was hit or miss, the food here, entrees as well as sides were well prepared and quite tasty.
Round two, I decided on more of the same, with a couple of differences. I passed up on the granite biscuits and chose one a cheesy biscuit instead, much better. I skipped over the Chinese and got more pot roast, meatloaf, white beans, fish and added a small dollop of mashed potatoes with brown gravy.
Angel opted for a steak and a small baked potato, then polluted her plate with cauliflower and boiled cabbage. She had apparently forgotten that the great depression was over and we don’t have to eat that disgusting stuff anymore. She did let me try her steak, it was very, very good. Ryan’s offered nothing near this quality.
Adam’s second round included ham, which looked kind of dry, but he insisted it was not.
Dessert was only an option for Angel and I, Adam skipped it since he’s dating. ( I assume that’s the reason) Angel sampled the chocolate-chocolate-chocolate cake and some peach cobbler, I had a small slice of apple pie and some banana pudding, with sprinkles. By sprinkles I mean candy corn. Angel finds this completely disgusting, which I admit is the real reason I add candy corn to banana pudding.
The service was not much to speak of. Our server only came around for drink refills once, plate-clearing was satisfactory but not complete. The food, except for those biscuits was all very good. Much higher quality than at Ryan’s.
The place was quite messy though. The well-worn floor was littered with discarded food items, fries, beans, etc. This I attributed to one enormous fault of the eatery; they allow children.
I don’t mind the teenagers so much, they’re pouty and sulky and arrogant, but not very loud. It’s the smaller ones, the sticky, screaming, crying, food-tossing tykes that really get my goat. And of course when the tykes scream, everything stops and mommy has to make a massive fuss about it. Geez lady, the kids SAW the desserts, they SAW the ice cream machine, but you think they’re going to settle for chicken nuggets, fries and beans? HAH! They can SEE what they want and they KNOW you’re going to let them have it, so why not just eliminate the noise and the mess and let them have their ice cream cone! You want them to eat nutritious food? Then don’t give them such obvious options! Feed them at home!
The price was reasonable, forty two dollars and change, not bad at all considering we could pick and choose between scores of items, and have as much of each as we wanted.
*'Ice Road Truckers' (IRT) is a series on one of those Discovery/Learning channels. It’s about truckers, mostly fat and out of shape, driving truckloads of oil drilling supplies across the frozen tundra and even the frozen lakes and sea in the really, really far north areas of Alaska and Canada. They drive hundreds of miles in desolate wasteland, often alone and often with poor visibility. There is no place on the entire road that is not either made of ice or snow covered. The roads are not so much constructed as they are carved out of the ice and snow by sadists. They go over impossible mountains and are too narrow and poorly marked. For all this effort and terror, the hapless drivers make less money per year than I do.THAT kids, is why you should stay in school!
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
343 North Creek Drive
The local paper arrived on Thursday, I was browsing through it and came across an article about this place. It just opened in November, replacing a Pizza joint that I never visited.
On a hill above Walmart, near Ryan’s and in a shopping center next door to the ATT store. Not very large, its maximum occupancy was posted as 65. Clean, neat, painted in muted shades of red and olive green. The floor was large, dark ceramic tiles, the tables and other furnishings black and wood-trim. The art on the walls was all about New Orleans. Along one wall were taller bistro tables, and the large bar was lined with bistro chairs. On the bar was a large potted bromeliad (a thick tropical flowering plant, related to the pineapple). There were several French/Spanish style clocks and a few other items lying around to evoke the style of the French Quarter. The ceiling fans were on, which Angel didn’t care for since the air outside was about twenty degrees and the breeze inside just prolonged the chill.
The music was eclectic, not booming or fast paced, but consistently too loud. Bar-loud. The only song I recognized was a ukulele version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” I think it was the original Israel Kamakawiwo`ole* version, but it could have been a really good cover.
The wait staff seemed entirely female, the hostess/bartender, mostly female. We were seated immediately by our waitress, whom Adam insisted looked like the actress Kirstin Dunst. I agreed that she did, though I’ll admit that I had to look it up after I got home. He was right, there was a resemblance, the smile especially.
Above the bar was a chalkboard, artfully listing specialty wines and drinks. I cringed, I nearly panicked.
I have survived several Hurricanes in New Orleans, though I only barely survived them.
I’m not talking about the hurricane that George W. Bush used to wipe out New Orleans in 2005 (just kidding). I’m talking about the hurricanes that originated there back in the 1940’s and can still be found in frightening abundance. These things are the cause of more sorrow, domestic destruction and moral and financial ruin than could possibly be wreaked by mere high winds and flooding.
The Hurricane is a drink, very sweet, very fruity, usually very large, and polluted with bad alcohol. It was invented as a way to get rid of a stockpile of lousy, cheap rum that was plentiful in post-prohibition New Orleans. The fruit punch had to be very, very sweet to mask the taste of the rum, and they did it well, lime juice, star fruit, whatever sickeningly sweet juice could be found.
Hurricanes are so sweet that there is no sense that there is any alcohol at all. A small, middle aged, out-of-towner can actually drink two or three of these things before he realizes that the devil has yanked out his entire soul by the tender parts.
Hurricanes were invented at Pat O’Briens in the Crescent City, this was the very establishment where I was first corrupted by the drink. I’m not the biggest drinker in nearly any room and never have been. I didn’t even casually drink much at all until my first marriage fell apart. The first few weeks of that breakup were painful, frightening, and unfortunately mentored by a so-called friend that was a true believer in the alchemistic, medicinal properties of mixed drinks. My first swirling, spinning, churning night with three-too-many rum drinks ended up with me waking up in the floor of my bathroom, pressing my swollen brain into the cool tiles, an acrid, vile taste in my mouth and the stench of rum-fueled upchuck still in the air. I didn’t drink much at all after that long, terrible dark month.
I occasionally, and only occasionally, would have some beer, but not even to the level of modest regularity.
In 1992 I discovered Chardonnay while on a business trip to New York City. I was at a loss as to what to order on IBM’s generous tab in the fancy French restaurant so I just ordered what the lady next to me did. I remain in that camp still. A glass or so of a fine boxed chardonnay late in the evening and my life-long struggle with insomnia remains a thing of the distant past.
Since then I occasionally have had one too many, but to that level, the violent spinning, gag-inducing level, not. Hurricanes are delicious, they are tempting, they are deadly, they should be avoided altogether except in the case of horrific natural disaster.
The menus were simple printed sheets of green paper. The offerings were limited but not severely. This was lunch (once again due to work schedules) and our needs were not great. I hadn’t read the entire newspaper article to find out what all they offered, all I really needed to see was “Po’ Boy.” So I already knew what I was going to order. I ordered the catfish, Angel the shrimp, and Adam the grilled chicken. All came with fries. Our drinks were delivered in real glasses, tea, tea and coke. (unremarkable)
A po’ boy is a sandwich, usually seafood, served on toasted French bread. Shredded lettuce, tomato slices, and some form of appropriate mayo are traditional. Taytro’s boasted a ‘citrus chipotle mayo’ which I was a little afraid of. Chipotle is a pepper that, like an attractive woman, is tempting, but also potentially dangerous. It can be overdone, very, very easily.
The wait for the food was a little longer than expected, exacerbated by the arctic gust coming from the ceiling fan. In the meantime we asked for and were given a dinner menu to look over, It was on orange paper and covered both sides. It had additional entrees, steak, etc.
Both menus listed Gumbo and Jambalaya, but none of us had the nerve or desire to try them. I’ve had those dishes before, in New Orleans, and had to pick at them. I’m not a fan of some of the traditional ingredients like okra, andouille and snotfish (clams/oysters) so I was unable to appreciate the dish fully and properly. I didn’t just want to pick at something this lunch, I was hungry, I wanted a po’ boy.
The meals arrived finally and we wasted no time. The fries were medium thick, and cooked perfectly, the sandwiches were half-baguettes, about six or seven inches long. The bread was crunchy on the outside, soft inside. The catfish, shrimp and chicken portions were very generous. Adam showed off a cross-section of his chicken, nearly an inch thick. The catfish, breaded and fried, was perfect, tender, moist, flaky. Angel had some lightly-breaded shrimp in every bite, to the last. Along with the sandwich and fries was a delightful dill pickle spear. The mayo at first added a smoky taste with only a hint of heat. Near the end of the sandwiches though, the additive properties of the capsaicin was more noticeable. At no point was it the main event however and though it was pronounced in the last few bites, its lasting effects were rather short lived. This was chipotle properly, perfectly managed. Enough heat to start a thin sweat, but not near enough to send you retching.
Adam finished his first, a testament to his liking it. Angel was very pleased, stating repeatedly that there was never a bite that did not include at least one whole shrimp.
As we finished, Kirstin Dunst returned with a small plate containing three complimentary pralines. Adam asked what they were, Angel immediately answered, loudly enough to be heard by all the other people in the joint: “Well your father won’t eat them because they contain nuts, but they’re like pecan pie candy.” He ate one, her another. The third, mine, was left on the plate. I don’t like nuts as an ingredient, everybody knows this. The meal was late enough, and substantial enough that we cancelled plans (as if there ever were any) to make anything for dinner later. I simply settled for a small bowl of cream of tomato/ onion soup** and a grilled cheese sandwich.
The service was friendly and very attentive, the price, thirty dollars and change, was very reasonable. The food was simply wonderful. We are already looking forward to going back for dinner sometime, to sample some of the expanded offerings. We highly recommend it and extend kudos and applause to the proprietors. Quality New Orleans styled food in a convenient location, at a very reasonable price. Very high marks for originality and quality!
* Israel Kamakawiwo`ole: A very large, native-Hawaiian guy, he died in 1997 at the age of 38, supposedly of complications from morbid obesity (at one time topping the scales at 760 lbs.). He was considered by people whose job it is to consider such things as the Bob Marley of Hawaii. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
** Cream of tomato/onion soup : Chop and sweat or sauté in a teaspoon of olive oil, some onion, a small amount, maybe ¼ cup or less. Let them just soften or caramelize, your choice. Open a can of tomato soup and pour over the top of the onions. Fill the empty can halfway with milk and half the remaining space with water. Stir and heat until piping hot. Mmmm.