Posted in Food, Life

Call the bacon guy

So we are on our way somewhere in suburban Dallas when this work van pulls up next to us. I quickly snapped a picture, then pointed it out to my wife and some of our grandchildren riding along with us. I asked, “Wouldn’t it be great to work for bacon?”

That’s all it took to spark our imaginations. A granddaughter asked, “Who wouldn’t want to work for bacon?” I can almost smell bacon frying on the stove as I worked to solder copper pipe to fix a leak.

“How much bacon would it cost to fix the leak in your house?” My grandson added, “I helped the plumbers when they came to our house.” He’s considering that career path, although at age six, he may change his mind a few times. I asked, “How much would you charge to fix the AC?” He said, “A package of bacon!” “How about a BLT?” “No thanks, just bacon.”

“What if you get a free package of bacon every time you hire them for a repair?” “That would be great! The plumber comes to our house all the time.” This is true. My son has had a number of plumbing issues over the past year. A pound of bacon would take the edge off that flat-fee for just showing up.

It’s a win when your family name is the perfect marketing strategy. Who’s going to forget this logo-wrapped van? The next time there’s no hot water, someone’s going to say, “Call the bacon guy!”

Posted in Food, Life

A slow food restaurant

As we walked into the restaurant, I noticed this sign at the host station. This was a small breakfast/lunch place with both indoor and outdoor seating, lots of diners enjoying a meal or a cup of coffee brought by the waiters. No drive through window. No tablet ordering kiosks. Nothing resembling a fast food restaurant.

So I couldn’t help but wonder, “What have you experienced here that would make you order and post such a sign?”

I didn’t get the chance to ask anyone that question, but I can just imagine some of the comments and behaviors they have had to deal with. Patience is a virtue, but it is not a common virtue. People want want they want when they want it, and generally, they want it right now.

There may be another dozen tables in the restaurant, but some want you to get to work on their order immediately. Ten minutes has become too long to wait for food?

It could be that people just don’t cook that much at home. They forget how long it takes to prepare a meal. The longest they ever have to wait is two minutes for something to come out of the microwave.

I wonder if the customers who need to read that sign are the ones who see those words? Does a sign like that silence the impatient and demanding clientele? Do words like that really change anyone’s behavior? Do folks read that and react, “OK. I guess I’ll go somewhere else”?

If you don’t have time to wait for a table, don’t have time to sit and have something to drink and look over the menu, don’t have time to wait for the cook to prepare your food, and have to eat and run, then why did you come here at all?

There is something so nice about not having to rush, not having to cook, and not having to clean up. You can focus on the people you’re with, enjoy the place and sometimes the view, and be off the clock for a while.

Posted in Food, Life

I don’t think this is our food

My wife and I stopped at Starbuck’s after church last Sunday, and since it was already after noon, we each ordered something to eat. She went with her usual egg bites and I decided on an egg and bacon muffin sandwich. The shop wasn’t too busy, but since there weren’t too many table to sit at, I figured most of the business was drive thru and mobile order pickups.

Our coffee was ready first. The food took a little longer. At some point in our conversation, I thought I heard my name, meaning that the food order was up. I went over and quickly looked at the bags and saw what looked like our orders. Upon returning to my table, I took a closer look and saw someone else’s name. The label also stated “mobile order.”

Oops. For a moment I thought that the label had been misprinted. Or maybe those folks had taken ours by mistake. But then I decided to put it back and wait a little longer for my actual order. I’m glad I hadn’t taken a bite before I glanced at the label.

I wonder if that ever happens or how often that happens. The baristas crank out coffee after coffee and out out pastry after pastry. They cannot monitor who picks up what. Mobile orders are ready and sitting out before those folks even get to the restaurant. It’s all based on the honor system. I believe most people are honorable. I’m one of them – you don’t have to worry about me grabbing your food. But I know that not everyone is. And not everyone is paying close attention, either.

How many customers come in only to wonder where their order is? How many customers pick up an order and discover that a bite or a sip is already missing? I’ll bet some of you think that is amazingly disgusting. Yet sometimes I don’t look in the bag. I pull out pieces of lemon cake or a scone, assuming the whole thing is there. I wouldn’t even know. I wouldn’t know if someone took a sip of my latte, realized it had no flavor, and put it back on the counter.

Ew, right?

Posted in Food, Life

That’s a lot of jalapeños

As I grabbed a few green and red peppers in the produce aisle, a guy next to me had a big bag of jalapeño peppers. I mean big. He had all of them. There were none left on the shelf. There must have been at least sixty in his bag.

I should have asked, “What are you going to do with those?” But I didn’t, so I can only imagine what someone would do with that many jalapeño peppers.

  • He works at a Mexican restaurant and peppers were missing from most recent the food order. His manager sent him out to get as many as he could.
  • It was contest time. He and his friends argued loud and long about who could eat the most jalapeños. Now it was time to find out. Someone’s going to feel the burn. Twice.
  • Someone lost a bet. Their team lost. They lost at eight ball. They were late. Again. It’s time to pay up.
  • Party food time. Everyone’s coming over for a celebration. “You’ll make your jalapeño poppers, right?” Of course.
  • Salsa time? The pepper shelf was first. Next stop: tomatoes. Onions and cilantro, too.
  • What about resale? If there’s none at the grocery store, you create demand and jack up the price at your roadside stand.
  • Prank time. It’s fun to watch an unsuspecting victim bite into some food with a jalapeño hidden inside.

As I was starting my shift at Subway (a long time ago), my assistant manager was getting ready to head home. We got to take home a footlong after every shift. “Make me a BMT on white.” No problem. Just for fun, I lined up about twenty jalapeño slices between the cheese and the meat and veggies, sliced it in two, wrapped it up, and stuffed it in a bag. The next day, he asked, “Who put all those hot peppers in my sub? I almost died when I took a bite!” Very entertaining.

Much later I found creative ways to hide slices or bits of jalapeño in my youngest daughter’s food. Inside a hamburger patty. Hidden amongst the green beans. Between scoops of ice cream. It was hard to keep a straight face, waiting for the cry of “jalapeño!” Never gets old.

Posted in Food

The joy of grilled cheese

“What do you want for lunch today? How about a grilled cheese sandwich?”

My four-year-old grandson exclaimed, “Yes!”

A few minutes later, he bit in and with a giggle, stretched out an eight-inch string of melted Colby-jack cheese. He did this over and over, enjoying every bite and every inch of the cheese.

So I’m wondering, “Why is a grilled cheese sandwich so good?” It is so good that there are restaurants dedicated to nothing but grilled cheese sandwiches.

When one of my daughters was playing high school lacrosse, I volunteered to work the concession stand. My job was to make grilled cheese sandwiches. Equipped with a loaf of white bread, a stack of Velveeta slices, margarine, and a spatula, I was in my glory. These items were very popular on cool spring evenings when fans just couldn’t endure another foil-wrapped hot dog or hamburger. And I quickly learned that a diagonal slice was critical to a successful melt.

Who came up with this idea? Who invented the grilled cheese sandwich?

Melting cheese on bread isn’t a new idea. Some ancient Roman texts refer to it. You can find it in French recipes from the early 1900’s. Navy cooks in World War II melted grated cheese on plenty of slices of bread.

In 1949, Kraft began selling “Kraft Singles,” individually wrapped slices of processed cheese. It was easier than ever to slap a few pieces between bread and cook for a few minutes on each in a frying pan. The sandwich was official called grilled cheese in the 1960’s.1

I like to imagine Moses and the nation of Israel trying to figure out something creative to do with manna about twenty years into the exodus. Maybe someone suggested, “Hey, I know. Take some of that flat bread and try melting goat cheese in the middle. Doesn’t that sound yummy?”

Who knows? All I know is that it’s good to be alive in the age of grilled cheese sandwiches.

1The History of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Posted in Food, Stories

“Does this taste right to you?”

Photo by Yasmine Duchesne on Unsplash

Last week after swimming with the dolphins for my wife’s birthday, we stopped for lunch at one of our favorite beachside restaurants. It was a gorgeous, sunny, gentle breezy, not-too-humid day, so we sat outside in the shade. Wahoo was the catch of the day, so I had that grilled in a sandwich. My wife chose the ceviche.

My food was excellent. But my wife pushed her plate over towards me and asked, “Does this taste right to you?” I took a bite and knew exactly why she asked. The shrimp had a very strange consistency. It wasn’t overcooked and rubbery. It wasn’t undercooked and translucent. It was kind of tasteless, with the consistency of tofu. I Answered, “No, I don’t think you should eat that.” We put it aside and I gave her half of my sandwich.

When the waiter came by to check on us, he noticed we were sharing the fish and asked if everything was tasting OK. We looked at each other and said that we were our meals. I don’t know why, but we were reluctant to say anything. We never, ever send food back at a restaurant. We felt awkward and embarrassed to complain about the food.

Towards the end of our meal, one of the floor managers came over to make sure everything was good, as they typically do at this restaurant. Again, I hesitated, but said, “I hate to complain, but I think there’s something wrong with this shrimp. It just doesn’t taste right.” He didn’t taste it, but thanked me, said he would take it off our bill, and let the chef know, too. He said, “We count on your feedback for quality control. Thank you for saying something.”

Thinking back over that moment, I wonder why we’re so reluctant to speak up about something like that. We both had a little work experience in food service, so maybe we just didn’t want to be one of those who are demanding, hard to please and quick to complain. We know how hard restaurant staff works and didn’t want to be the cause of a bad day for them.

I like to eat and there’s not much I don’t like, so this was a rare day in my life. Maybe that’s why it was uncomfortable. This was unknown territory.

Posted in Food

Our sugar-free quest

A couple of years ago we started paying attention to how much sugar was in the food we consumed. We quickly became aware that it’s challenging to find foods that don’t have a lot of added sugar. Those that don’t have added artificial sweeteners which are an issue for us. I am talking about things like tomato soup, barbecue sauce and pasta sauce.

The solution: you have to make your own. Here are a few of my favorite recipes.

  • I found this recipe for marinara sauce in the New York Times years ago. Simple, easy and so good. Sometimes I’ll add a whole bunch of sautéed mushroom slices, and my wife will love me even more.
  • I love this barbecue sauce I found at Wholesome Yum. I did not add any of the suggested sweetener they recommend, and it was delicious.
  • Tomato soup? I don’t have any favorites yet, but you can find many recipes online. I’ve learned that you can leave out any sweeteners, and still end up with a delicious bowl!
  • We make a batch of Flourless Blueberry Banana muffins weekly. The fruit provides all the sweetness you need. You have to try these. I make large muffins and bake them for 17 minutes.
  • The Gluten-free Almond flour pancakes we like the best are here. We make a double batch and freeze what we can’t eat. They microwave back to life when we want them for a quick breakfast!

I am not the best sugar-free eater on the planet. Not by a long shot. But we constantly strive to do better, and I am sure we are reaping the benefits.

Posted in Food

One of these things just doesn’t belong.

I did not stage this. I would never do that to ice cream or beer. But this sight at Publix made me think of few story nuggets…
  • With a cart chock full of food for the family for the week, there was room for one more item. The ice cream aisle is so long and looks so good. Why not? Grab a 1/2 gallon. But then you turn the corner and you think to yourself, “I may have made a mistake.” However, it’s one you correct. Abandoning the ice cream, there is just enough room in your cart for something from this beer aisle that is just as long and looks oh so good.
  • You made the mistake of bringing the kids to the store with you. The non-stop whining for this and that finally got to you. At first, you agreed to some ice cream. But the pleas for more didn’t let up. That’s it. No treats for you. But there will be a treat for me!
  • Uh-oh. Here she comes. I can’t let her see this. I thought I could slip it into the cart between the spinach and the eggs. I’ve got to ditch this somewhere. Whew, that was close.
  • I hate it when the ice cream is so hard that you can’t scoop it out of the container. I’ll just let it soften up in here for a minute.
  • “I already got some double-chocolate fudge brownie turtle swirl sundae. Put that vanilla back, and let’s go.” Yeah, like I’m walking all the way back there. This freezer is good enough.
Posted in Food

Burger King!

I vividly remember when the Burger King came to Ridley Park. I don’t remember the year, but I it was somewhere around 6th or 7th grade, so that would put it about 1969? Not only did it come to our town, but they built the restaurant less than a quarter mile from my house. We were so excited! All we had to do was walk down the hill and down the pike (Chester Pike) and we were there.

These were the years when fast food franchises started popping up everywhere. I can’t remember if there was a McDonald’s in town. But there was a Gino’s where we would sometimes get a sack of hamburgers for supper. Wendy’s and Arby’s didn’t arrive till high school.

Now just because Burger King was a stone’s throw away doesn’t mean I went there very often. But it seemed like all the other kids on the block did. They always seemed to have money for fries or a coke. My parents only gave us money on allowance day. I might have gotten $1 a week or maybe every two weeks when my dad got paid. Even though a burger only cost about $.15 back then, I didn’t often blow an allowance on fast food. Come to think of it, I don’t think I was even allowed to go there by myself.

In retrospect, I’m amazed at how enthralled I was with fast food while growing up. It was new, convenient, exciting and delicious for young palettes. I ate plenty in college and as a young adult. Now, I hardly ever eat fast food. Chick-fil-A might be the exception, but even’t that’s getting old. Either that, or I am.