Tag Archives: meals

Tis the season for…

J writes via email:

It occurs to me that with Thanksgiving next week, we have now officially entered the holiday season. Retailers, desperate to squeeze the last dollar out of a beleaguered consumer, started their sales a lot earlier this year which makes me wonder, are there any chumps who pay full price for anything anymore? Probably we all are because retailers aren’t chumps either and they likely mark everything up so they can mark everything down in time for us to fill each other’s lives with a lot of cheap imports so we can alleviate the guilt that comes from ignoring each other all year.

Christmas is a uniquely obtrusive holiday because it leaves everyone depressed. First there are the truly less fortunate who can barely make ends meet throughout the year and certainly don’t have the resources to fill the area under the tree with a lot of wrapped up crap, or even much less afford a tree. My heart breaks when I think of kids who don’t get anything for Christmas, especially when I consider that most everyone I know will exacerbate the trade imbalance with China as we fill our kids lives with a lot of cheap plastic crap that will either be broken inside of two hours, forgotten inside of three weeks and out in a garage sale inside of four months as the weather gets warm and we go a wassailing through people’s driveways in search of things that they couldn’t even care enough about to get all the way down the driveway to the trash can.

Seriously, ever notice there is only a one letter difference between garage sale and garbage sale? It’s as if someone one day was trying to take out their trash, threw their back out or something and then said, “well maybe I’ll just start putting price tags on things and see what happens.” Thus the underground economy of the garage sale was born, but that’s a topic for another post.

The thing about the holidays is they require a lot of forced socialization. First there are our families—and did you hear the surgeon general wants us to spend Thanksgiving Dinner talking about our family medical histories so we can better understand our genetic risks? True story. I can just see it now.

“Uncle Ed, no one wants to hear what color your shit was yesterday! We’re trying to eat.”

“Hey, I’m just following the surgeon general’s recommendation.”

“Have another glass of gravy and blow it out your ass.”

“Speaking of…”

As if families were not bad enough, there is a lot of forced socialization with our co-workers as we go to departmental Christmas parties, office-wide Christmas parties, industry-convention sponsored Christmas parties, important client Christmas events, and the one at the boss’s house that only a few people are invited to. These are the worst social chores. If you are lucky enough to have gainful employment in this era, you likely spend most of your waking hours there and the last thing you need is to spend even more of it at a holiday party I don’t care how much you like everybody.

Can we all give each other the best Christmas present ever and acknowledge that just because we work together it does not mean that we have to be friends? This does not mean that we don’t like each other, but if you are lonely it’s not my fault and you should not make me feel like it’s my obligation to give you a social life just because we share a cube wall. If you want to be part of a community go join a church. It’s not hard to find one that doesn’t expect all that much from you, especially this time of year. Yes, I’m talking to you Christmas and Easter folks.

But the Christmas Party is the worst social chore.

Employers want to celebrate the end of a good year.

Except…

Unless you work in bankruptcy foreclosures this year pretty much sucked for you. You didn’t get a raise, your sales barely held on and you likely lost your job. If you didn’t lose your job you lived in constant fear of losing it, and you were asked to do more with less as everyone tried to save money. So it seems like the easiest way to save even more money is to not have a catered affair with a lot of alcohol, the bill for which could easily have paid the salary of the staff assistant that was let go to save money.

That level of holiday cheer never happens...in offices.

The holidays are a reason to celebrate.

Except…

No one can agree on if it’s ok to say Merry Christmas because we’re all walking on eggshells trying to be polite to everyone. So I’m just going to say it. Starting on November 26, when I say goodbye to you, I’m going to say Merry Christmas. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, fine, but don’t get all huffy and remind me of your right to ignore a holiday that 99.9 percent of the country celebrates without incident. When you decided to celebrate one of the other holidays you knew you were going to be in a minority, so own it.

That said, I don’t think anyone should be forced to celebrate at a holiday party. Last year at my office there were Christmas carols, and there was talk of a Christmas play. It’s pretty diverse here in terms of faith and I could not think of any way this would not be offensive to someone and fortunately eventually the powers that be saw clear to eliminate the play. The songs stayed, but I compensated by singing “walking round in women’s underwear” as loud as I could.

The Christmas party gives people a reason to socialize with co-workers we wouldn’t normally see…

Except…

I have heard of no stories where this turns out well. Yes, I suppose you could finally meet that cute girl from accounting, but here’s the thing, if you haven’t hooked up by now, she’s probably married or attached, and if she’s not she’s really lonely and you do not want to have to deal with the dysfunction of a lonely person around the holidays.

Plus, if you work in a big office, you won’t see each other again and you’ll likely engage in a drunk hook up that everyone in the office will remember even if they don’t talk about and you’ll become the subject of a whisper campaign that will last until at least the following Christmas party where you’ll get the chance to do it all again.

For some reason, the Christmas parties will go on though and I’ll go to them because I’m obligated to. Because no one wants to be the Grinch.

But I won’t have fun, and neither will you. Maybe we should all just say so.

Now who wants pie?

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Chinese Buffets-An American Staple

I hate it when my eating plans get screwed up because it never works out.

I’m not talking about the sort of screwed up eating plans where you plan on eating a bowl of soup by yourself in your one bedroom apartment with no air conditioning, but instead you wind up sitting in a fancy french cafe with the new love of your life because of some fancy new app on your i-phone, which, if the advertising is to be believed, has the capability of making that love connection even if it can’t connect phone calls outside of New York City.

No, I’m talking about when I have set an eating plan for the day and it doesn’t work out the way I wanted.

Normally on Mondays, I eat lunch out and then eat my packed meal in my car on the way to class. Not to bore you with minutiae, but it takes me about one hour and ten minutes to get to my class door-to- door, so I leave at 5:00 and get there in plenty of time for a 6:30 p.m. start time, which is good because I have perfected the art of embarassing students who come in late.

Lately I’ve been rotating my lunch between the food truck that serves the good lamb gyros on 5th and Chestnut outside the Lights of Liberty ticket center; these have been particularly good lately because he’s switched from sliced lamb meat to a big hunk that he cooks and chops up. The other item in my rotation is the bacon cheesesteak with cheez whiz that I discussed previously.

But today, I was tired of both, so I decided to reward myself with Chinese food.

Now, Philadelphia has a lot of Chinese food options; so many as to be overwhelming.

First, there is Chinatown, which has everything you could want in a city where the population is actually mostly African-American or Italian, but our friends from the Far East do try to be as authentic as they can. That’s why I mostly stay away. For every good deal you can get on General Tso’s chicken, there’s the chance you might order General Tso’s chicken feet, which I’m not into. I suppose I could send it back, but what if it’s like their national delicacy or something? I don’t want to offend someone who can talk about me behind my back without me knowing what’s going on.

Fast food Chinese is almost always a bust. I have a cast iron stomach, or I used to–I feel like I’ve been more susceptible lately, but Chinese fast food is almost always disapppointing whether they call it China Express or Panda Village or House of Hung Lo where they serve Creme of Sum Yung Gy, it all sucks. I’ve never had a good experience with fast food Chinese.

And then there’s the truck. Now everyone knows I am a huge fan of food trucks, but the Chinese trucks always disappoint. As far as I can tell, they just deep fry chicken and then put sauce on it. Yes, I know that’s essentially what Chinese is, but we can at least pretend it’s something more when they serve it on a plate with white table cloth.

So my plan was to hit the Super China Buffet on the way to class where I can get a delicious as-many-courses-as-I-care-to-consume for $10.95.

Deep fried meat in sauce...more varieties than colors in the rainbow.

China Buffets are a wonder of modern capitalism. The food is always good, and, this is key, you can avoid the vegetables.

This has always been my beef with Chinese food. Whatever is really good about it often comes mixed with snow peas or brocolli or some other such nonsense that can have the effect of ruining what was otherwise a previously delicious combination of deep fried meat and sauce. But with a China Buffet you can always go back for more if you’ve been overcome by vegetables.

Sometimes I’ve even taken food items that were half meat and half vegetables, left the vegetables on the plate and pushed them aside. When my waitress comes to take my plate, she asks if I’m done and I say “Yes I am.” Yes, I know I’ve left half the food on my plate, but I ate the part that suffered for me and thus kept the balance of the universe in tact, so it’s all good.

N-if I gave you my vegetables next time we are out for Chinese would that be considered sharing?

 As you might guess, the China buffet didn’t work out. I wound up getting out of work too late because of some stupid meeting about a meeting that won’t happen until next year. Moreover, the meeting actually accomplished no action items, which is far too typical of most work meetings, but this blog isn’t about work, which is good because if it was I’d probably use a lot of meaningless phrases like “action items” that almost got caught in my throat as I said it out loud because it’s the sort of corporate gobble-di-gook I said I’d never use, but there it is.

So I would up getting an Italian chicken sandwich from Steak Out to go and woofing it down before class. It’s not a bad sandwich, but its chicken cutlet with provolone and brocolli rabe. No, I don’t pick out the brocolli rabe, but can someone please tell me what’s Italian about brocolli rabe?

And that’s all that is.

Now who wants pie?

Making a Difference, One Food Truck At a Time. Next Up: McDonalds.

J writes on Monday at 1:26 p.m.:

I’m back from vacation today and my first stop was to my favorite food truck on 6th and Chestnut, the one that I wrote about last time when I complained that he had switched to the thin gyro meat.

When I ordered the gyro today, I noticed that he had switched it back to thick meat. I’m not sure if he reads this blog. I’m not sure if my post had any impact, but in a world where we sometimes wonder if one person can make a difference, I’m proud to imagine that perhaps I did.

So today I’m taking on McDonalds.

I took the family on vacation this week. My kids eat fairly healthy at home. They are not vegans, but they do eat a lot of fruit willingly. When you are on the road though, it’s surprisingly hard to order fruit in a restaurant. So by the end of the week I thought my kids were going to become a Chicken McNugget.

But here’s one thing I noticed. EVERY TIME I WENT TO MCDONALDS I HAD TO BRING MY ORDER BACK.

Did you add sauce? Yes, sir, we put the sauce in. Get back to my table. Nope. Have to go back and get it. Listen, I don’t actually think you put sauce in here, can I get a pack? I’ll have to charge you ten cents for it, sir. WTF? When did McDonald’s Chicken McNugget sauce become its own commodity? So in these cases my kids just dipped their nuggets in ketchup because on principle, I will not pay for a cup of sauce.

They're made almost exclusively of corn!

Then I ordered one of those Chicken Clubs, which are supposed to come with bacon, tomato and Swiss cheese. Got it back, it just had lettuce and mayonnaise. I brought it back with a head full of righteous indignation and even cut in line (I’m sorry, but I had had a long day at the zoo) to announce that they had shorted me my bacon, cheese and tomato. They apologized and gave me a new sandwich.

But the piez de resistance was when my ten nugget value meal only came back with nine nuggets. Yes I counted, and yes I brought the box back. The minimum wage flunky working behind the counter looked at me as if I had lost my mind, but he gave me a new ten pack of nuggets and then watched me count them. And yes, I got an extra pack of sauce too.

I know this seems like a small thing, and on the individual level it is. But McDonalds doesn’t just sell one box of ten piece chicken nuggets a day. They sell thousands or millions depending on the store location, and if they are shorting everyone a McNugget, then they are making out at our expense. Same thing with bacon and Swiss cheese.

I for one am not going to put up with it anymore, and the fact that I have to check my order every time before I bring it back to the table sort of defeats the purpose of fast food.

I’m just saying.
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I point out:

Maybe Chicken McNugget sauce became its own commodity because they read your Ode to Honey Mustard.

Maybe you ARE making a difference…yikes. Better watch it buddy.

Dysfunctional Family-style Dining

Via email today at 2:05 p.m., J writes:

I like the Atlantic, mostly because it can be smart and pretentious about just about anything including now ordering Chinese food:

http://www.theatlantic.com/food/archive/2010/07/the-dos-and-dont-of-ordering-chinese/60324/

The money quote for me is here:

Finally, enjoy your food communally. A Chinese meal is a social event meant to break down boundaries, not build them. There’s nothing sadder in a Chinese restaurant than seeing a table where eaters guard their individual portions of beef with broccoli or sweet and sour pork like inmates in the prison mess hall. There’s nothing happier than sitting at a big round table where every diner is eager to try everything. The tea is poured; the waiters cover the table with an array of fragrant, multi-hued dishes; and the chopsticks dart here and there. The lazy Susan revolves as the diners discuss the relative merits of the dishes. A sweet air of contentment settles over all.

Dress it up anyway you like, dude, I’m still not giving you any of my General Tso’s chicken. I notice that his lyrical description of what could be did not include anyone fighting over pea pods or steamed broccoli.

I’ve spoken on this before, but it still rings true. If you want something, order it. If you have food envy, that’s not my problem.

Just lay off my food, OK?
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I write:

Also, something tells me that the “communalism” that he is searching for when dining Chinese, does NOT extend to P.F. Chang’s, which, conveniently serves all of their dishes “family style.”
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J responds:

Family style. That’s so dysfunctional. I can eat a whole “family style” dish on my own and in my family everyone knows to stay away from everyone else’s food.

J is the salty looking boy to Nanna's right.

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I reply:

!

I enjoy the use of “dysfunctional” with reference to “family style”…very much so.

In my family, my brother used to go around picking food off of people’s plates. He would sidle up next to you and eat what was still there. Luckily, I was a picky eater (probably because of my blasted food allergies) so he could go to town, family style, all over my dinner. In my family, it is well known that I am an extraordinarily slow eater. I’d still be eating when the dishes began getting washed.

I know you’re going to go bananas about this and tell me it’s a sacrilege or something, but I don’t care:

I am finally, FINALLY eating the falafel pita I have been craving for TWO WEEKS. Since before my bike race, and even more intensely thereafters.

If you’re not down with falafel then you’re missing out. It’s the closest dining experience you can get to a burger when you’re a vegetarian without consuming simulated meat. It’s glorious.
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J questions:

Where did you get a falafel pita?
________________________________________________________________________________________________
I answer:

Maoz Vegetarian, on 12th and Walnut.

By the way, this article is so pretensh I can barely stand it.

“Only barbarians spear their meat with forks; learn how to use chopsticks.”
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J supplies:

Cool.

Speaking of eccentric restaurants, I discovered a Turkish place on my walk today
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
Me quoting The Atlantic article:

“In enjoying a meal, you express not only your tastes but your bonds to the other diners and your connection to the larger, human culture. That’s something to think about the next time your order at any restaurant.”

The whole point of Cake In The Conference Room.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
J agrees:

Yep. If we can’t make the Salt and Sweet Snack Expo, perhaps we can get placement on Atlantic.com.

I sort of want to go to Comic Con anyway.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Me:

1)      We will.
2)      Is there a way to blend food and comics? I think we should find a way. And graphic artist.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
J:

Anyone in this office who can draw?
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Me:

It also just occurred to me “communal” is a lot like “communism” and this article is about the cuisine of China and The Atlantic is liberal.

Just sayin.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
(This next part was spoken-or rather shouted over the tops of cubes-between J, E, and myself.)

J: This just occurred to you?! I thought it was obvious. So obvious, in fact, that I didn’t even bother to point it out. Wow, you really fell asleep at the switch on this one.
Me: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You’re just making a big deal out of this because I called you out for saying “fox reservation” instead of “faux reservation” this morning!
J: Maybe! Maybe!
(I explain to E how J came by my cube and mispronounced “faux.”)
E: Ooooh! When you said “faux” I thought you mean he had a reservation for “pho”…like the Vietnamese food. I found that pretty unlikely, that he would want pho, but he has been trying to expand his palette.
________________________________________________________________________________________________
(The following correspondence is an edit to the original post, which did not include the email conversation below):

I email: New post is up.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
J writes:

You’re a genius.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________
Me:

I’m only as good as the material I am given to work with.

I almost named the post “Faux Sho’” but that would have…

1)      Been reference something much further at the end of the post and not indicative of the post as a whole, and

2)      Have sort of violated that thing I have about putting an apostrophe to take the place of letters at the end of a word.

So, I didn’t.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________
J replies:

No, your genius is in getting my faux pas about faux into the post, which I think has been your intention all day.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________
Me:

IT HAS!

I’m sly like a faux.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________
J:

Or you just need more to do.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pho sho.

Pre-eating

Via email at 3:53 p.m. yesterday, J writes:

When your blog is about food at an office where you do a lot of talking about food, you often get requests to blog about something you are talking about. I’m truthfully not sure if the people who make these requests are actually interested in the topic or if they just want me to shut up and go back to my desk.

Nevertheless…

I tend to pre-eat before business lunches and dinners. I do this because I’m a big eater and I don’t like to talk with my mouthful. If this is a lunch or dinner where I have to be “on,” that is either lead the conversation or make a presentation, I’m not going to get a lot of eating done. So I eat before I go.

There’s also the issue of I may not like the food being served. This was the case when I went to Nabu in Las Vegas with a couple of clients for my job at the time. Nabu was a nice restaurant (Ivanka Trump was sitting two tables away; no I didn’t get her phone number), but it serves sushi. I normally don’t like sushi, so I ate some nachos alone in my hotel room before we went out. Ironically, I actually enjoyed the sushi so I went home feeling quite full despite the fact that I had to do a lot of talking. It has basically ruined sushi for me since, as you might imagine, any restaurant that caters to a Trump has much higher quality food than my favorite Chinese buffet that serves all you can eat sushi, among other items, for $10.95.

Frankly, a lot of restaurants are not designed for eating. Some serve heavy hor dourves, which are nice, but always leave me wanting more, which is supposed to be the purpose of hour d vors. They are not supposed to be a meal.

Or Tapas. God help me but if I never see a Tapas restaurant again I’ll be just fine. Tapas is just a fancy word for expensive food on little plates and leaving hungry. There has to be a lot of sharing. Again, if I have to do a lot of talking, those who are less required to do talking will wind up taking my food. Or maybe they won’t, but they could, so the risk is there and so I pre-eat.

Ironically, food is our main social venue, but it also inhibits conversation. Seriously, notice it the next time you go out. Conversation will be lively until the food arrives at which point everyone will start eating. Then someone will make a funny comment about how we’re all hungry and the food must be good or something like that and then the conversation will start again, but it won’t be as lively as before because people will be alternating between food and conversation. If I don’t have to eat, I can still talk. So I eat before I go.

It’s actually a good idea. Try it sometime.

On Free Samples at The Gallery

Via e-mail yesterday at 1:56 p.m. (I took a sick day Tuesday)
____________________________________________________________________________
J writes:

So in my never-ending quest to act like a homeless person even though I make enough money to support a middle class lifestyle, I managed to scrounge an almost complete lunch today from free samples.

The Gallery Mall is a smorgasbord of this.

The cheese-steak stand (not a truck, so the sandwiches are about three times the price and frankly not as good—I think it’s called Charley’s Fried Subs or something) is always giving away samples of its California Chicken Cheese steak (a chicken cheese steak with ranch sauce and cheese) and its pretty good. Word to the wise though, the samples are better than the actual sandwich. I believe it was at the point where I suspected I had consumed a sandwich worth of samples that I broke down and bought the sandwich. The sample girl smiled; she had done her job that day she figured. Thing was, the sandwich itself was not as good as the sample. Not sure why, just know what was.

There’s also a collection of sort of Chinese places that give out samples of a chicken that I think is either bourbon chicken or teriyaki chicken, depends on the place. Either way it’s pretty good. Another word to the wise though, these Asian women are pretty sharp. If you walk the length of the Gallery mall and try to make another pass through for a free sample, she’ll pull the tray away and say, “no you’ve already taken a sample,” in broken English. It’s pretty gutsy and probably a power trip for a just-off-the-boat immigrant making a living passing out chicken on a toothpick, but then again I’m trying to scam an extra free sample on my way back to work, so it’s hard to know what’s more wrong with this picture.

I’ve sort of made a game about collecting free samples and I consider it a red letter day when my retarded friend is passing out samples at the Chic-Fila. I have no way of knowing if he’s actually retarded or not, but I do know he takes an inordinate amount of pleasure from passing out free samples, so I figure he’s not quite all there. This man is king of the sample universe as far as I’m concerned. Some days he gives out chicken nuggets, other days those milk shakes the store was promoting. One day, he actually gave out pieces of a chicken sandwich. I was in flavor country. He even let me take two unlike that Asian bitch from the sort of Chinese stand. You’d think his generosity would make me buy more items from Chic Fila, but alas when they charge $3.09 for their new Spicy Chicken sandwich it just makes me hope that he’ll put more samples out.
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I respond (at 11:52 a.m. today):

Edgy and awesome.

Also, you spelled Chik-Fil-A wrong. Or whatever.

Food and Office Bonding

Via e-mail today at 12:11 p.m.
_________________________________________________________________________________________
J writes:

We’ve got a lot of new people starting at the office today, which of course means a lot of food because you can’t say “welcome to your new job” without a cupcake or a cola, I figure. It’s just part of the culture. When someone comes to your house you offer them something to drink unless you’re socially inept, so in a world where the lines between work and not-work are increasingly blurred, and where we spend conscious time at the office than we do at home, it follows that when someone comes to our office we’d offer them something to eat.

I have always marveled at the popularity of office food. People who work in offices are obviously employed, but we attack community office food as if we were homeless victims of starvation.

There’s an interesting sociology going on here…particularly for those involved in employee retention.

Food is a good measure of how close your relationship is. First dates are often done at restaurants where someone else is responsible for the food. As we get closer to a person, we invite them to eat at our house. If you want to know who your best friend is, ask yourself how comfortable you’d be with them coming over to your house, opening your refrigerator and fixing a sandwich. If you’re fine with that, you’re very close.

In the office, food forms an interesting social bond that creates an artificial closeness. Leaving a job for another job often becomes more complicated than it needs to be. I’ve spoken with several people who are looking to make a switch from one job to another, but can’t make the leap for some subconscious reason they can’t quite articulate.

I remind them—a job is not a marriage; your co-workers are not your family. You haven’t made a lifetime commitment. It’s blindingly obvious, but like most blindingly obvious points only gets recalled after a reminder.

I suspect people feel this bond because, well, they’ve had a lot of cake in the conference room.

But I’m just speculating.