Tag Archives: food

Lunchtime

11 Oct

brownbaglunchappleWhen I lived in Des Moines and worked at a law firm downtown, I was pretty good about bringing my lunch to work. I lie. Actually, I lived in a downtown apartment and would walk back to reheat leftovers or occasionally I would sit in the skywalk Bruegger’s Bagels and sip on some hot soup  – but that was once a week, if that. And then when I moved back home, I would always drive a few blocks back for my mom’s cooking or walk a few steps to the sandwich shop nearby.

Now, my lunches take a little more planning. Since I have a 30-minute commute (by train and walking), I either have to spend a few extra minutes at my apartment assembling a sandwich or throw a Lean Cuisine haphazardly into my lunch bag. By the way, is anyone ever satisfied by one of those frozen meals? Seriously, it would take at least two to calm the hunger pains in my stomach midday. In the past couple months, I have been great at packing my meal, as my morning schedule routine didn’t seem to change. I’d throw in a beautifully built sandwich, an entree from the crockpot or Papa John’s pizza from last night’s takeout. Most of the time, I’d bring food back home to bring back the next day.

Lunch places around Battery Park have been sparse since the hurricane, but the numbers are larger each week. And while the deli, soup restaurant, and grilled cheese specialty shop are quite lovely – they also wreak havoc on my tiny pocketbook. Looking for a sandwich? Make sure to have 10 bucks or more, and that is not counting your side, drink or tip.

So I usually limit my Chipotle run or Potbelly splurge to once a week, but lately, I’ve been absolutely horrible at it. With all the wedding planning, my sleep patterns are pretty off. That means, I wake up usually an hour later than usual, still tired, and sprint around the apartment to try and get cleaned up before work. If I remember to throw in an oatmeal packet for breakfast and a stick of string cheese in my purse, I’m lucky. Some days I will get by at work on a package of chips or trail mix from the vending machine, but other days, it is likely that I go to the diner for some comfort food – usually mashed potatoes and whatever panini or wrap looks good that day.

My wallet is chock full of receipts from going to this place and that, and I end up feeling guilty after counting up each piece of paper. When I had an individual checking account, I would look at my bank book and total it up and say, “Never again.” This would be followed by a couple really good weeks and then a downward spiral. A cycle of cravings. Now, with a joint checking account, I feel pretty damn awful when I’ve enjoyed consecutive days at Lenny’s, Subway and Hale & Hearty (their tomato-cheese soup was made by some sort of god, I’m sure of it.) While N is busy making his PB&J’s and hauling his all-day food fest from the train to Newark.

I can’t imagine spending $30-50 on lunch during a five-day span (unless I’m on vacation somewhere), but I totally have. Combine that with happy hour drinks or dinner dates, and you’ve got quite a hefty food bill. This weekend, on top of my wedding To-Do’s and the pileup of thank you’s I’ve still to write, I’m hoping to get this whole cash for burritos thing under control.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who gets stressed over their lunchtime spending.

I Want My Iowa State Fair

10 Sep

This year marked the second in a row that I missed the Iowa State Fair. A record for this gal. And while I have partaken in the fried butter, fried Twinkies, and well, basically most things fried, what I miss the most from this yearly extravaganza is the people watching. It’s a mecca of awesomeness. So while I mourn the fact that I missed Iowa’s largest pig and the llama limbo (llamas do limbo, I saw it with my own eyes), here is a column that I wrote a couple years back.

Iowa_State_Fair_-_CITR_14

This is the perfect time of year for certain items: 1) Buying mosquito spray in bulk just to keep your current blood supply at its necessary level; 2) Finding that certain Spider Man or Pokemon (or whatever cartoon creature is hot these days) backpack. And lunch box. And folders; and, 3) Meandering your way to the Iowa State Fair.

The third item is just necessary. There is no other event like it … anywhere. Where can you people-watch and see not one, not two, but four women in their muumuus and bedroom slippers outside in public? You can go from building to building – and each year there is something new. Either a new food, a new display or a new, albeit, weird experience.

A few summers ago, I worked as an intern in the Iowa State Fair marketing department. I worked on the daily schedule, press releases and various events at the fair.

For the 10 days of the fair, I worked a vigorous schedule from morning ’til night. Most of the time, I was stuck at a desk writing press releases about all of the contests and shows happening.

So that I would not go crazy – I decided to do something out of the ordinary to make my time there a more memorable experience. I was going to try it all – the food, that is.

The staff received a few food vouchers but not many, so it was also an experience on my wallet. It made me sad watching the debit machine pump out cash as my balance dwindled.

And I wasn’t going to just eat my favorite foods, I was going to eat everything (or try to). This will sound absurd to those who know me as I have a very particular appetite. With the way that I eat, I could almost be considered semi-vegetarian as I don’t prefer to eat a lot of meat.

I started off slow on my journey – going for the familiar. Every morning, I would try a new stand for coffee and something breakfast-oriented. That was easy – I’m not a huge breakfast fan but I’m okay with the bakery variety.

But when it came to lunch, that was where I got creative. Most of the items were portable – on a stick or easy to carry in one hand. From the average corn dog to the pork chop on a stick to fried pickles, anything was fair game.

Around the sixth day of my experiment, I decided to try the food I most dreaded: The grinder. The smell of the stand made me want to gag. But I went for it. And it wasn’t horrible. It didn’t make me throw up. But I probably won’t try it again.

For desserts, again it was the food on the stick variety: fried Twinkies, Snickers, monkey tail (chocolate-covered banana) and ice cream bars.

Weighing probably a good 10 pounds heavier after the fair, I judged what was good for me. It was surprising on what I found the best and the worst. For example, I thought I would enjoy a salad on a stick. Found out it wasn’t really worth the money. But here are a few of my favorite finds:

Coffee and pastries: From the Wooden Shoe food stand outside of the Varied Industries Building on the Grand Concourse. Amazing Dutch letters.

Best homemade lemonade: Surprisingly not at any of the stands. It’s in the indoor stand of Peterman in the Old Pioneer Building. (Try their cheeseburgers.)

Pork chop: The Iowa Pork Producers’ stand.

Fried anything: Anything from the Veggie-Table stand outside Varied Industries Building.

Root beer: Griffin stands.

Best dessert: Cookies in a cup out of the Barksdale stand outside Varied Industries Building.

Corn dog: Campbell’s Concession stands, located everywhere.

Best overall: Hot beef sundae located at the Beef Quarters’. Trust me, totally worth it.

Damn you, Pinterest!

4 Apr
Yeah, this will never be me. Although, it does sound appealing every now and then.

Yeah, this will never be me. Although it does sound appealing every now and then.

I’m in a lunch rut, and I blame Pinterest. Every day, new recipes appear en mass on the website. Instructions to create “alternatives” to your boring lunch routine. Fresh wraps, deconstructed sandwiches, and salads that pack more gusto than that turkey and cheese on wheat that you are currently holding. And I’m that sucker who pins these recipes on my “Lunch Time!” board, writing the ingredients down for my next grocery shopping extravaganza. And while said food items are stocked in my refrigerator and cupboards, just awaiting me to put my chef’s hat on – they stay waiting in their place, instead of filling my lunch bag.

I just can’t do it. Oh, I physically can – but mentally, it’s just not happening. I could make a fantastic lunch ahead of time the night before, or I could spend that time laughing along with Blake Shelton on “The Voice.” And I could wake up a few minutes earlier, yet that time is usually spent catching up on much needed sleep or getting my ass kicked by Jillian Michaels. With five minutes left before I absolutely have to head out the door, I fling a frozen entrée, bagged carrots, and some sort of fruit in my purse – while tripping over various items in all my frenziness. And while I promise myself that tonight or tomorrow morning will be different, that has yet to be seen.

Pinterest has been a godsend and a burden since it’s arrival in my life. I can’t live without it, yet I feel so worthless with it’s intrusion all at once. My crock pot has never felt as loved as it does now, and I thank the website for that. A few soup and casserole recipes have finally made my purchase of a Ninja seem reasonable, and more than one apple crisp has been deemed delicious in my apartment. Yet, Pinterest makes me feel like I should “do more,” “create more,” and just “be more.” If I were a “better” person, I would assemble freezer-bagged mixes on the weekends for easier weekday dinners. If I could organize my time more efficiently, I could color-coordinate my apartment, whip up infused scents, and make my own soap – saving money and instilling a bit of Feng Shui all at the same time.

Basically, I feel inadequate and pushed to become the “ultimate woman.” Our society already pushes the female gender to have it all, Pinterest just keeps us in line – reminding us that are no limits on the road to perfection.

I’m starting to come to terms with this double-edged sword Pinterest has bestowed on us. While I could make dinners on a Sunday afternoon, I could also spend time conversing in a local bar over one of my favorite red ales. And like I said, I could wake earlier and create a noon dinner inspired by the lunch lady gods, I could also hit the snooze button again so that I don’t prowl around the office in a bitchy mood all day.

So I shake my fist at Pinterest and say, “Whatever.” Yeah, I’m not that incredibly pissed, just aggravated that I allow a website to make me feel that way. And yet, I won’t quit it because I find it so damn useful. I would never have made sweet and sour meatballs or Panera-inspired broccoli and cheese soup part of my regular supper routine without it. Pinterest has made my “want” list super long, because of all the pretty dresses and shoes that I never knew I HAD to buy. So, thanks for that.  I won’t ever be that flawless individual and I know it. So I will continue to pack boring lunches packed with preservatives, while stocking my fridge with ingredients that won’t be used. My Granny Smith apple may not be accompanied by a sweet caramel/vanilla drizzle and my ranch dressing for my veggies may not be homemade – so what? It’s hard enough finding two matching shoes in the morning.

Chili and cinnamon rolls: A match made in food heaven

19 Feb

Chili & Cinnamon Roll

When I think of Iowa food, the first items that come to mind are bacon and sweet corn. I would also pay homage to loose-meat sandwiches, pork chops and an assortment of garden vegetables.

Whenever I have ventured off to another area of the country, I always try regional food from Chicago hot dogs to the seafood in Boston. There are always questionable fare options which make visitors wonder – who signed off on that?

When I’m visiting with people from out-of-state, when it comes to food, they don’t ask me how good Iowa sweet corn is or how juicy a piece of bacon can be.

At least a dozen times I have been asked if the state’s residents really eat cinnamon rolls with their chili. The first couple of times, it caught me off-guard. One, why would they ask that question, and two, who doesn’t eat that combination?

I hadn’t thought that the chili/cinnamon roll combo was considered regional cuisine and had mistaken it for a common delight shared across the nation.

“What does it taste like?” and “Have you always eaten it that way?”

First off, I’m not sure how you eat chili another way. Sure there is always cornbread or crackers, but those are not as satisfying as a frosting-covered sweet roll that probably qualifies as half your daily calorie allotment.

Almost every other week at public school, I could expect a bowl full of red bean chili and a giant cinnamon pastry on the other side of the plastic tray as one of the meals. Probably not the healthiest – but definitely one of the lunches I looked forward to most as a child. When the lunch lady would scoop the roll off the tray, you hoped that it was the biggest, chewiest, and with the most frosting.

So imagine my surprise to find that the idea is contained to the Iowa/eastern Nebraska area of the U.S., according to the blogosphere.

People are really missing out.

It’s hard for me to even ponder why the pairing tastes so good. Maybe it’s because both the entree and dessert give off that made-from-scratch aroma. Two smells that say ‘I’m home’ and give comfort when its needed. I’m not usually into eating my feelings, but in this case I am.

The people I talked to found the combination a disgusting mix, and shuddered when I suggested that chili makes a great dipping sauce for the roll.

There are many Iowa foods that I do find unappealing and rather disgusting though.

It seems that any good potluck can be ruined with one too many casseroles with that cream of chicken flavor and a sprinkling of crunched-up potato chips. Without fail, every one of those casserole tastes the same.

And the joy women seem to get by putting vegetables and fruits in gelatin. I don’t know many kids that enjoy a good carrot Jello or its ugly cousin the gelatin/whipped cream concoction, but they continue to make it.

With all these soggy foods, I wonder if we Midwesterners are yearning for the times when we used to eat out of baby food jars, or whether we are too lazy to use our jaw bones and would rather swallow food whole.

Relatives in Dubuque have told me about the city’s staple turkey and dressing sandwiches. Now that’s one food item that I have a hard time swallowing.

But when it come’s to Iowa’s beloved cinnamon roll/chili combination – when people ask the question “why,” I now just reply “why not?”

Junk food love affair

2 Oct

A McDonald’s Fish Filet is the way to this girl’s heart.

http://www.freemanjournal.net/page/blogs.detail/display/30/Junk-food-love-affair.html

Pillsbury Simply chocolate chip cookie dough.

My neighborhood grocery store has it in stock reasonably priced. So I get it often, about twice to three times a week. Oh yes, it would be cheaper to buy the ingredients and make these wonderful staple cookies, but that doesn’t make much sense to me. The unwritten rule is that homemade dough is for baking. You buy the ready-to-make stuff to eat as a snack on your way home. I buy the 12-count package and only half is left by the time I’m unlocking my apartment door. It’s a beautiful thing. I haven’t had luck with other pre-made cookie dough, as they have this plasticky, disgusting flavor. These taste more like the real deal, and I appreciate that. It’s gotten bad though, as I have started to replace regular meals with cookie dough tastings.

Yesterday, the cashier finally asked me how the dough was, as I seemed to get it a lot. I panicked. I thought my cookie obsession was a secret that only I knew about. Even if she didn’t know me, I like to come off as someone who has selective taste — like many of the New Yorkers around me.

I am in the land of foodies. People will shell out big bucks for something unusual that is plated with an artistic flair. A unique and expensive endeavor, for sure. Maybe you’ll like it or perhaps not. But in any case, the small portions allow for no leftovers to be stored in the fridge for lunch and a pretty empty wallet besides.

After such an experience, I will usually walk to the nearest Taco Bell and load up on cheap hard-shell delights. A complete 180, but so satisfying. Or I’ll go into McDonald’s (please, gasp) and pick out a fish sandwich or whatever looks great on the dollar menu. Anyone who wants to give me tons of grief on my fast-food love affair isn’t worth talking to, in my opinion.

And if a restaurant is nowhere in sight, I will venture to the nearest convenience store to stock up on my staples. Hard-core junk food. The bright colors and cheap prices draw me in. I can’t help but smile as I load up on beef burritos made out of meat paste. Delish. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese always hits the spot, as does chicken strips topped with ketchup and ranch dressing. White tortilla chips with medium salsa, sour cream and cheese is always a delight. Taquitos. Jalapeño poppers. A box of oatmeal Little Debbies. Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Off-brand potato chips with a giant vat of French onion dip. While I spent $30 on some chef’s fancy entrée, for a third of that, I can go into a decadent food coma. And while that $15 glass of Merlot was somewhat tasty, my large $5.99 bottle of Gallo Family wine also does the trick.

So while people fill up on fancy cuisine, I will try it, but likely will continue my secret junk food lifestyle. You may turn your nose up at it, but my stomach is quite content.

The Waiter Rule

18 Jan

What impression do you want to leave people with? Maybe it is of certainty, of power. Or perhaps it’s as humble. Whatever it may be, most likely you choose positive attributes. But there are a certain few people whose negative personas show through and leave a lasting mark. And those character flaws are most blatantly obvious in this situation: Going out to dinner.
In a USA Today article, it was described as “the Waiter Rule.” That you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she treats a waiter.
Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson first wrote about the idea in a book called “Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management,” — 33 of his leadership observations.
He said “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person.”
“Watch out for people who have a situational value system, who can turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person they are interacting with. Be especially wary of those who are rude to people perceived to be in subordinate roles.”
I can vouch for that.
While out for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory recently, a friend and I were seated quite close to a middle-aged couple (a little too close for comfort, I might add.)
At first, I thought nothing of the duo, other than they were dressed nice. Talking about their children, their jobs — you know, commonplace talk. But after awhile, my table was quite absorbed with the two, because of their manners or lack thereof. We didn’t even make much conversation due to our astonishment.
First, the couple made the waiter repeat all of the specials at least three times. Which is fine, maybe they were hard of hearing. But then the woman asked about the tea selection. The wine selection. The water selection. What?
After the waiter was gone, anytime another server (not their own) walked by, the husband snapped his fingers at them with a new demand. Not exaggerating on the snapping part. An absolute no-no in my book.
“I need a knife for this bread, did you think I couldn’t eat it without one?” (Always a non-subtle jab accompanying the request.)
And.
“I need a new knife this one isn’t clean enough.”
And.
“Did you think the last one was clean? This is worse.”
Finally after receiving a third knife, it was time for refills. Of his soda. Of his wife’s hot water for her tea. Twice. Before the appetizers.
A nervous waiter accidentally brought my table’s food to theirs. Which was mass hysteria. The horror! The rude male brought that to their and our attention. And when their fancy fish appetizers came, the table was too small for all of their food. Didn’t think we would ever hear the end of that one. The waiter had to apologize for the smallness of the furniture, even if it was the company’s design.
Ten minutes or so after their appetizers arrived, their food did as well. The husband sat and berated the two female servers for bringing the food out so early.
“Send it back, bring it in five minutes. It better be warm,” he said while shaking his finger at them. It was not a joke. They were shocked and my jaw stayed open at his unabashed remarks.
Our waiter (who wasn’t his) was avidly avoiding their table while trying to wait on ours. My companion and I tried to convey our apologies through eye language.
“We’re sooo sorry. We aren’t anything like this. Hope the rest of your night goes well.” (I hope he understood the eye movements and eyebrow raises as such. Otherwise, we just looked plain crazy.)
I even suggested that he didn’t need to get our cheesecake for us and that we would pick it up at the register and eat it at home, so as to not inconvenience him. (He smiled, and I think then understood that we were sending our sympathies.)
While we stood up to leave, the snapping by the gentleman (or non-gentleman) continued toward another poor unsuspecting waiter.
I wanted to turn around and tell him how rude he was — how he was making other people’s lives miserable while trying to assert his dominance. Was he lacking in something and trying to compensate for it? Or has he just always been allowed to behave in such a way? But I just shook my head, hoping he’d see my disregard for his behavior. If he did see it, I am sure he wouldn’t have gotten it.
All I knew is that he was a jerk. And all the waiters, servers and bartenders knew it. The people sitting around the couple knew it.
People like that want others to know they are above them. When, yes, maybe they have more money or a more prestigious job, but that’s it. Maybe they hope that others will talk about them, in jealousy — but for us, we just talked of the couple’s notoriety. Not the same thing.
I believe what Swanson says about people who are rude to those they feel are beneath them. Completely.
And I also believe that some waiters will spit in your food if you aren’t careful. Just saying.

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