Apr 12

Friday Five: Eating out

This week’s Friday Five is all about restaurants.
1. What is your favorite restaurant and why? Anyplace where I can get lots of vegetables. I love Chinese restaurants that have an all-you-can-eat buffet, and steak houses (such as Golden Corral) that offer the same thing. Cafeterias are good too. Why? Because I’m on the Weight Watchers plan, and I can eat a lot more vegetables than anything else within the limitations of my diet.
2. What fast food restaurant are you partial to? Chick-fil-A and Subway. Since I started on Weight Watchers, those are just about the only fast-food chains I set foot in.
3. What are your standards and rules for tipping? 15% for decent service. More for exceptional service, and somewhat less for an all-you-can-eat buffet format, because that’s basically self-service. Perhaps I should reconsider that, though, because the waitstaff still have to refill drinks and replaced used plates with fresh ones.
4. Do you usually order an appetizer and/or dessert? I always like to start with a salad. If a diet-friendly soup is available, I’ll sometimes order that too. But never dessert. Restaurants never have diet-friendly desserts, and I usually don’t have room left for it anyway.
5. What do you usually order to drink at a restaurant? Water. Except at Chick-fil-A, which is the only restaurant I know of that has Diet Dr. Pepper on their fountain. I’ll occasionally order hot tea in a Chinese restaurant if the weather is cold. And since acquiring the coffee habit, I like to finish with a cup or two.
I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry now. Is it lunchtime yet?

Feb 15

Friday Five: Good eats

This week’s Friday Five is about food.
1. What was the first thing you ever cooked? Probably scrambled eggs and bacon. I vaguely remember working with my siblings to prepare breakfast for Mom on Mother’s Day.
2. What’s your signature dish? I’m not a competent enough cook to really have a signature dish, but my family seems to think I know how to prepare pizza. It’s true that I worked for three summers as a cook at Pizza Hut, and I can competently build and bake a pizza, but if you ask me to make the crust, I’m more or less helpless. At Pizza Hut, the dough was premixed by the time I got hold of it, and I used a spiffy electric roller to produce nice, even, flat crusts. When I’ve tried to produce a crust by hand with a rolling pin, it has always come out uneven and lumpy. So these days I prefer to use one of the ready-made pizza crusts you can buy, and build on top of that. Bobolis also work OK.
3. Ever had a cooking disaster? (tasted like crap, didn’t work, etc.) Describe. Sure, lots of them. That’s why my family rarely lets me cook any more. I’m just no good at it.
4. If skill and money were no object, what would make for your dream meal? No object? Hmm, that means I could hire a team of biotech researchers to develop low-calorie versions of some of the foods that I used to scarf down when I was in college, but wouldn’t dare eat nowadays (because I don’t ever want to weigh 230 pounds again). I could also hire Stephen Hawking to build me a time machine, so I could visit restaurants that closed years ago. With that infrastructure in place, I would take my family to eat at Adger’s Wharf in Charleston, SC, circa 1985, when it was the best seafood restaurant I had ever set foot in. (I don’t even know if it’s still in business, but the last time I ate there, sometime in the late ’90s, it was under new management and was a mere shadow of its former self.) And if calories were no object, I would also want to visit Yesterday’s, in the Five Points neighborhood of Columbia, SC, and have the Confederate Fried Steak one more time.
5. What are you doing this weekend? Tonight, having dinner with with Miles (a friend from way back who’s been living in Europe for several years, but is in town for a couple of weeks). Saturday, attempting to install a second satellite dish with the help of several friends who actually have a clue how to do that. Sunday, attending a party in Miles’s honor. I also have a new computer, monitor, and laser printer that are still in their boxes because I haven’t had time to unpack and install them. I like to think I’ll get a chance to do that this weekend, but I wouldn’t want to bet on it.

Nov 01

Coffee continued

Of course there is a downside to drinking coffee. And it’s not the caffeine addiction (I already had that) or the risk of coffee stains. No, it’s that joining the global fraternity of coffee drinkers has made me aware of a whole new realm of human dimwittedness: coffee idiots.
I don’t mean the people who pour themselves a cup and leave half an ounce in the pot instead of brewing more. Everyone knows about those idiots. I’m talking about the ones who, as soon as a new pot is brewed, immediately reach past the previously existing one and go for the pot that’s ten whole minutes fresher. And, for that matter, the people who brew a new pot when the previous one (I refuse to say “old,” because it’s not) is more than half full. What are they thinking? At first I theorized that these people couldn’t stand the sight of an empty pot, or that they were simply anticipating future demand. But yesterday, I had both of those theories shot down. I walked into the break room and saw a mostly-full pot of regular coffee, another pot just starting to fill with more regular coffee, and, on the rear burner of the coffee maker, the decaf pot sitting completely empty.
And what’s the point of these plastic or wooden stirrers? If you put the sweetener and creamer into your mug first and then fill it with coffee, you generate more than enough turbulence to dissolve everything. As far as I can see, the stirrers are completely redundant.
No, all the caffeine is not making me cranky. Shut up or I’ll whack you with my thermal mug. (Hey, it’s empty — time for a refill.)

Oct 31

Livin’ la vida mocha

On October 16, I started drinking coffee. It was the exact opposite of going “cold turkey”; that morning, I changed from a lifelong coffee-avoider to a person who sips the stuff more or less nonstop throughout the work day.
Blame Weight Watchers and IBM. When I started on the Weight Watchers plan in 1999, I suddenly had a very powerful incentive to reevaluate my taste preferences. I was drinking several canned drinks a day, and their sugar content was a major reason why my weight had reached 230 pounds. I needed an alternative. I had tried diet sodas in the past, and had always found them to taste nasty. So, during the first weeks of my diet, I drank a lot of water. But eventually, I broke down and drank a diet soda, and found that it tasted just fine. In fact, all diet sodas now tasted good to me.
Apparently, once the sugar content of my bloodstream came down out of the stratosphere, I could taste the artificial sweetener. (I should have expected this; years before, I had stopped salting my food, and had discovered that foods had flavors of their own.) So instead of sipping Dr. Pepper all day, I could now sip Diet Dr. Pepper. It was still expensive buying all those drinks from vending machines, though. I tried bringing store brands from home, but lugging several cans of liquid to work every day wasn’t much of an improvement.
Over the next two years, I discovered that diet drinks were just the tip of the iceberg. Virtually every food I thought I disliked, I found that I enjoyed eating or could at least tolerate. My diet gradually shifted from meat and carbohydrates to semi-vegetarian, as I learned that collard greens, brussels sprouts, and squash were not the inedible horrors I had always believed. I even found that my childhood allergies to raw vegetables and fruits had disappeared, and I could now eat bananas and watermelon like everyone else.
When I started work at IBM in May, one of the perks of the job was the free drinks. Coffee and tea had been free at many of my former workplaces, but not Coke and Pepsi products. Now I had access to vending machines that would dispense Diet Mountain Dew and Diet Pepsi without payment. At last I could get my daily caffeine without worrying about the calories or the expense! If only the drinks didn’t run out so often.
Of course it was too good to last. The drinks were running out because IBMers had no incentive to limit their consumption, and the cost of refilling the machines was becoming prohibitive. Finally IBM put its corporate foot down. Drinks would now cost 25 cents. This was still a bargain, but it started me thinking. “If what I’m really after is the caffeine,” I reasoned, “why am I ignoring the free coffee?” The last time I had tried coffee, it had tasted horribly bitter and nasty to me, but how long ago was that? Ten or fifteen years? If I could learn to love Brussels sprouts, it was time to give java another try. So, on the morning of October 16, I took the IBM thermal mug that I had owned for over a decade (since my previous stint as a contractor) and filled it with coffee for the first time. And found that with the proper amount of nondairy creamer and artificial sweetener, I like it a great deal.
So now I drink coffee all day. It’s a little thing, but I feel as if I’ve finally completed the transition into adulthood. At the age of 41, I’ve joined the worldwide fraternity of coffee drinkers at last. I’ve been initiated into the mysteries of grounds, filters, little plastic stirrers, and the magic button that sets the brewing process in motion. I’ve burned my lips and tongue with coffee that was too hot, and learned that the interval of enforced patience between pouring and drinking can enhance the joy of the first sip. And although I’ve managed to avoid getting coffee stains on my clothing, I know that it’s only a matter of time before I bear the Mark.
Best of all, I never have to sleep any more.
Note: I borrowed the title of this post from an Onion article.