Category Archives: Food

Veggie burger in paradise

Whenever I order a veggie burger at a restaurant, I ask if the patty is grilled with the regular burgers.  More often than not, they are.  For a vegetarian, this defeats the purpose of a veggie patty.  Hell, it defeats the purpose for a health nut because they’re still getting the grease from the burgers on theirs.  Last I checked, Chilis and Denny’s were both perpetrators but one that isn’t: Cheeseburger in Paradise.

I never would have gone to Cheeseburger in Paradise if it hadn’t been for Judy, a pesco-vegetarian*.  Still, before I ordered my veggie burger, I checked with the waiter.  “Are the veggie burgers cooked with the regular burgers?” I asked.  His answer surprised me.  “Everything has a separate grill.  One grill for the beef burgers, one for the turkey burgers, one for the grilled chicken, and one for the veggie burgers.”  I cannot describe how ecstatic I was to hear this.  Why didn’t other restaurants do this as well?  Pushing aside space issues, this is really a great idea.  What if someone had a severe allergy to, say, chicken but their beef burger was cooked right next to a chicken patty?  Or on the same space a chicken patty had just been and the grill wasn’t cleaned between the two?  Why risk contamination and a possible lawsuit?  More restaurants should take a page from Cheeseburger in Paradise’s book.  Not only are they safe for vegetarians and those plagued with allergies, but they have a little something for every taste.

*Pesco-vegetarians eat fish but not meat.

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Posted by on August 4, 2010 in Food


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Generic headline here

I can be a bit of a snob.  Looking around my apartment, one wouldn’t be able to tell because I don’t keep it meticulously clean nor do I have high-priced furniture (most of it has come from Target and Ikea).  But when it comes to buying groceries, I’ve been known to spend more just to get a brand name.  I know I’m not the only one to do this; millions of people do it every day.  Most of the time we don’t think about it.  It’s ingrained in us to just pick up the soda brand that we’ve been drinking for the past twenty-some years or to purchase Kraft’s frozen pizza because Kraft is well-known and it, therefore, must be good.

Years ago I saw a report on a show like Dateline about generics versus brand names.  The report even had a blind taste test and most people went for the generic over the brand name.  They also reported that many of the products were produced by the same people as the brand name one; the only difference was the label.  Even after seeing this report, I was in full denial.  I wouldn’t change my shopping habits.  Once I did experiment a little and tried the grocer’s version of Honey Nut Cheerios but I was disappointed.  The taste was alright but the crunch was not the same.  I didn’t buy them again.

Fred, on the other hand, is a firm believer in generics.  Why pay more when you can get the same thing for less?  So, it was because of him that I tried my grocer’s version of Diet Dr. Pepper.  I was surprised.  It was actually pretty good, even a little better than the “real” thing.  The next time I was at the grocer, I picked up a couple of packs and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was $2 for a 12-pack.  The brand name 12-packs are at least twice that much.  No, thank you!

Now, I haven’t completely switched over to buying all generics, but I’ve come quite a way.  Bread?  Sure!  There’s another $1.50 in savings.  Chips?  Throw that in the basket as well!  Yet another $2 in savings.  It’s a great natural high to see how much less I spend at the grocery store now.  With each trip, I think about how I the $5 or $10 I saved right then will add up greatly over time.  Maybe one day I can actually have a decent savings account.

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Posted by on August 3, 2010 in Food


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This one takes the cake

Saturday started off well enough. I met Judy at Einstein Brothers Bagels for breakfast. We try to gt together every few weeks to catch up (and it gives us a good excuse to go out to eat). As we munched we chatted and Judy asked me to help her with an errand after our meal. Her niece was turning 9 and she was bringing the cake. She needed someone to hold it and keep it steady as she drove home. I agreed so we headed off to the bakery after breakfast.

Judy brought the cake out to me and set it on my lap. It was beautiful. It was a two-tier stacked cake with pink frosting and colorful dots. It was tempting to eat but somehow I restrained myself (maybe that’s why we had breakfast before getting the cake). We drove off. Thankfully Judy lived only a few miles away. Still, I was tense the whole time. The cake was expensive and I didn’t want to be responsible if something happened to it. I balanced that cake as if my life depended on it (knowing Judy, it did). I kept it level on turns and as we drove up the steep driveway. I finally let my breath go when Judy took the cake from me. We walked through her garage, I opened the door to the house, and as Judy moved up the two steps inside, she tripped over a cat carrier.

As I watched her fall and the top-tier of the cake go flying through the air, turning over on its head, my first thought was, “At least it wasn’t me.” But then my thoughts turned into a string of curse words because I knew that this was something that Judy would beat herself up for a long time.  With both of us cursing loudly, Judy’s husband, Tony, came running to see what was wrong.  When he saw the cake on the floor, he stopped short.  “Oh, I thought you killed a cat or something.”  All living creatures were fine but the cake was most definitely not.

We stood staring at it for a while, Tony holding the black cat that was very curious as to what that yummy smelling stuff was on the floor.  The party was in 24 hours and the bakery closed in less than 2.  But before we could even think about how to fix the cake, we first needed to get it off the floor.  Judy grabbed two spatulas and, me on one end and her on the other, we scraped it off the floor.  We started to turn it over but the icing made it slick and it started to slide off, dangerously close to landing on its side.  We set it back down on the floor and I asked Judy to fetch a plate.  I placed the plate upside down on the bottom of the cake.  Once again, we scraped the tier off the floor.  Then, holding onto the plate, we flipped the cake in one fluid motion so it was right side up.  We removed the spatulas and observed the damage.  It was not pretty.  The icing was completely smudged and there was a 2 inch dent in the side.

The silver lining was that the base of the cake was unharmed.  Judy called the bakery to explain what happened and they said to bring it back.  We hopped in the car and took the cake back (still being cautious not to damage it further).  By the time we got to the bakery, there was only 45 minutes left in their business hours.  They told us to come back near closing and we could pay for it when we picked it up.

As Judy and I ran another errand, we contemplated how much the fix would be.  I tried to be comforting, saying that they probably dealt with this sort of thing all the time (after all, they bake a lot of wedding cakes).  Still, I suggested that next time she look into their delivery service, just in case.  Thankfully, she laughed.  That’s always a good sign with Judy.

As asked, we returned to the bakery 45 minutes later.  As we pulled up, my phone started ringing.  The caller ID said Judy was calling so I knew it had to be Tony.  The bakery had just called the house saying that it would be 2pm before the cake was ready.  “Shit!” Judy exclaimed.  Yes, there was plenty of time before the party but if the bakers had to stay two hours past closing, this was not going to be a cheap fix.

We went back to Judy’s and waited.  At one point, Judy picked up one of the spatulas loaded with pink icing and started licking.  “That was on the floor!” Tony yelled.  “I forgot!” Judy yelled back.  “I just saw the frosting and I had to have it!”  I thought her argument was rather valid.  Who could resist sugary, pink icing?

When 2 o’clock rolled around, we went back to the bakery (for the last time).  Before Judy went in, we placed our bets.  I thought the fix would cost $50.  Judy guessed $60.  We were both wrong.  They only charged $10!  “They’re getting my business from now on!” Judy exclaimed as we drove off.  I suggested that they should sell cake insurance for occasions such as this.

We made it to the house in one piece, though both of us were tense.  This time I was driving and I was afraid to go too fast or to take sharp turns but everything was fine.  Judy started for the door once more and this time I made sure the damn cat carrier was not in her path.  She successfully placed the cake on the counter and made sure it was well covered and that all chairs were far away from the counter (so as not to provoke the cat into jumping onto the counter and eating/ruining the cake).  Thankfully the cat behaved and the cake remained intact through the night.

Sunday was hot and Judy needed to transport the cake an hour north to her sister’s house.  I was also going that way for a meeting in town so Judy and I drove together.  Once again, she held the cake in her lap as I drove.  This time, though, it was a bit scarier for several reasons.  First, there was no fixing the cake should it be damaged.  Second, most of the trip was along a US highway so the speed of travel was much greater.  Third, it was hot out and melted cake did not sound appealing.  We had the air on full blast, but Judy also tried to keep it out of the sunlight.

We finally made it to her sister’s.  Judy carried the cake through the garage and into the house, careful not to trip on anything.  Once it was safely on the kitchen counter, we both breathed a final sigh of relief.  I didn’t stay for the party so I don’t know how the cake tasted but I hope it was sweet and everything that Judy’s niece wanted.  She has no idea what a long journey it took to get to her party.


Posted by on June 28, 2010 in About me, Food


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Don’t call me a picky eater

One of my pet peeves is when people call me a picky eater.  I am a vegetarian and I made that choice 12 years ago.  I am not “picky” about what I eat; I am conscientious of what goes in my body, as we all should be.

I became a vegetarian after watching my sister go through the transition.  I looked up to her and wanted to be like her so I followed suit.  The first year was a bit rough.  Jess was away at college, which made it hard to consult her, and we didn’t own any vegetarian cookbooks.  A lot of peanut butter sandwiches were consumed that year.  The second year was a bit easier since I was just starting college and the cafeteria always offered a vegetarian selection.  As the years progressed, Jess and I found some vegetarian cookbooks we enjoyed and when we visited Mom and Dad, they were always willing to try out a new recipe.

When a vegetarian stops eating meat, after a while the body will stop producing the enzymes that break down and help digest the meat.  Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way.

About 8 years into being a vegetarian, I took a little trip and visited my two best friends from high school.  We went out to eat at one of my favorite local Italian places.  My family and I had gone there on countless occasions when we lived in Illinois.  But after I moved away, I missed it, especially the warm bread and butter that came with every meal.  Imagine my excitement as I sat down in one of my favorite restaurants after a decade of being away.

There weren’t many vegetarian options on the menu so I went with the cheese ravioli with marinara sauce.  One of my friends ordered the same thing.  As we chomped away at our salad and bread (yummy!), we chatted and caught up on our lives.  The entrees came and I eagerly dug into mine.  About half way through the meal, I started to feel a little dizzy and something was not sitting well with my stomach.  I excused myself to the bathroom.  When I came back, I felt better and figuring that it was just a fluke, I started eating again, finishing off my ravioli.  But the same thing happened.  Again, I went to the bathroom.  I was feeling a lot worse this time and so I stayed in there a little longer.  At one point some teenage girls came in and one exclaimed, “It smells like shit in here!” and I thought, “Well, we are in a bathroom…”

After paying for the meal I was starting to regret eating, my friends and I headed outside.  I’d moved to the stage of nausea and it wasn’t easy to walk without wanting to throw up.  We couldn’t figure out what it was that was making me so sick.  It wasn’t food poisoning because no one else was sick.

I refused to get in Lynn’s new car until I felt better so we stayed out in the cool night air for a bit.  As I emptied my stomach behind my once-favorite Italian restaurant, Celeste crossed the road to get me some water and gum (I’d never fully appreciated gum until that point!).

I felt a little better after that but still nauseated.  Lynn drove me back to her place, a plastic bag gripped in my hands and the window rolled down so I could feel the air on my face.  I crawled into bed that night, apologizing profusely for ruining the evening.  Like any true friend, Lynn was only concerned about my well-being.

The next morning I woke.  The nausea was still present but considerably less than when I’d fallen asleep.  I forced myself out of bed and through my morning routine.  My sister was taking the train up from the South and I had to pick her up.  The station was halfway between Lynn’s place and my place, but still a good hour and a half away.  I figured that if I could just make it there, then Jess could drive the rest of the way.

It was a rough ride, but I didn’t get sick.  By the time we were close to home, I’d started to crave crackers.  My health improved as the day progressed.

It wasn’t until three months later, when Lynn was visiting me, that I learned why I’d gotten so sick.  The marinara sauce was actually the same sauce as the beef sauce.  They just strained the beef out.  So all the beef juice was still in the sauce that I’d so readily consumed.  After 8 years of being a vegetarian, my body knew of only one way to deal with the beef juice: expel it.

Now I know to ask when eating out if my veggie burger is cooked on the same grill as the hamburgers (a surprising number are; I have to shout out to Cheeseburger In Paradise, the only restaurant I’ve found that has a separate grill for everything).  So, if you’re dining out with me and I start asking questions about how my food is prepared, don’t make a snide remark about “picky eating.”  (And don’t tell me I can “just eat a salad.”  Do you eat salads for your meal?  No, and neither do I.)  If you do, I may just purposefully eat something cooked with beef juice just to throw up on you.


Posted by on June 23, 2010 in About me, Food, Rants


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Why my sister is not allowed to eat cupcakes around me

My older sister, Jess, and I talk on the phone at least once a week. For a while now we’ve had a rule: no eating cupcakes while on the phone. It’s not because they make a lot of noise or because we find it rude to be eating and talking on the phone at the same time. No, our reason is so no one dies.

A few years ago Jess and I were chatting away as usual. I don’t remember what we were even talking about, but I had Jess in stitches. I enjoy hearing her laugh and I continued on with my story. After a few silent minutes, however, I said Jess’ name. There was no answer. I tried again but still with no avail. I looked at my phone to make sure the call hadn’t dropped (it hadn’t) and that there was a signal (there was). I was dumbstruck. What had happened?

Shortly there after Jess came back on the line by announcing, “I’m back!”  I asked where she’d gone and silently wondered why she hadn’t informed me that she was going somewhere.

It turned out that while she was laughing at my hilarious story, she was also eating cupcakes. At one point she inhaled some of the cupcake crumbs and started choking on them. She dropped the phone and ran to the bathroom to try to get it out.  Meanwhile, I’d continued rattle on, unaware of the danger that was happening on the other end of the phone.

We laugh about it now (with empty mouths) but we learned a lesson: food and funny do not go together.

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Posted by on June 21, 2010 in About me, Food


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