Monday, April 30, 2012

Reececliff Restaurant, Lakeland

When you live in a town like Lakeland, you're likely to find many restaurants that have been around forever. Like, Reececliff for instance, which has been around for over 70 years. Heck, the pie baker, Jeanette, has been making pies for over fifty years. You don't find many places that can make that kind of claim.  Ed and I went here for lunch sometime last year and we both were impressed with the way the wait staff knew the names of almost everyone coming through the doors. It's like Cheers, but without the bar.

So, this morning, I wanted to do some reading for a class, I wanted to do so where there was no WiFi to tempt me away from the 758 page textbook/PDF I have loaded on the iPad and I didn't want fast food. Since I was shooting some preliminary video for a class project on Lake Hollingsworth nearby, it made sense to come to this Lakeland establishment.

Like I said, Cheers without a bar, even though there is a counter that people can belly up to. You walk in and usually seat yourself in either side of the large dining room. It's large, and can probably get very noisy when all the tables are occupied, but I came after breakfast rush and the sound level was fine.

Each table has a dish full of half and half cups, so they must do brisk business in coffee-but I wanted something cold. Fresh brewed iced tea and lemons were delivered to me quickly and I have to say, I'm a fan. It's not overly sweet, the way I prefer it. Both servers were friendly and efficient, too.


The back of the menu features side items, with grits prepared several different ways.

They serve the usual breakfast fare, but since I don't care for eggs, I went for a Belgian waffle with bacon. I wanted something that I can't make at home and it sounded really good. They did not disappoint, as it was crispy, had a nice light flavor of malt and came with a small pitcher of warm syrup. In fact, the server warned me to be careful of the hot syrup. The bacon was cooked to a perfect crisp, was salty and not the slightest bit greasy, which was a perfect balance for the sweetness of the syrup.

For about the same price as a breakfast at Bob Evans, Denny's, or Cracker Barrel, I got a good meal in pleasant surroundings with good service. Remind me to go back and try that lunch menu again! Reececliff Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Shadow

If you're looking for the cat around here, he is up in my grill all.the.time.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

One Down, Two to Go

The work is finished for one class. 

I still have a video to shoot, since I'm not doing one on USF Poly now.  That will be a frenzy of editing on Wednesday, no doubt.

And I've got a pile of JavaScript programming to do...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sore

I've mentioned before that I work for a secret shopping agency.  They're local, I've met the owner in person (which is how I eventually applied for the job) and for the past four years, I've enjoyed the occasional work it brings.

This month, one of my assignments was to do a health club shop.  The company gave me a membership, they're okay with my exercise limitations and I pick a class that I reasonably can do.  Except that when I scheduled it for the beginning of the month, I ended up with a conflict, so we went for a date near the end of the fiscal month.

That was this morning.  I couldn't cancel out, because there is no time to reschedule.

Even though this was a modified workout for people with mobility limitations, and I did what I could and avoided what I shouldn't, I am sore.  Really sore.

I wish there had been a yoga class instead!  At least those, the soreness seems to be relieved with gentle movement, like the yoga positions themselves.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Purpose

Ever since I saw Tony Attwood speak eighteen months ago, the plans have been crystallizing in my head about that doctoral program.  A few changes later, and I'm on my way, always refining how to achieve my end goal.

However, other than GameTeen, I've had limited exposure to kids on the spectrum.  Yes, I've been to his school, observed students and talked to parents, but the encounters are fleeting.  I've read many journal articles and in talking with the director of his school, I feel I have a good handle on how the minds of these students function, how repetition and consistency minimize meltdowns and anxiety.

This week, though, I've helped out at the school and as a result, I've spent some time with some kids who need some more help than GameTeen.  A lot more help, but thankfully, there are some wonderful teachers who have what seems to be an unending source of patience.  One has asked me to cover her bathroom break, which she  takes at the same time every day, because she doesn't want to upset her kids with a disruption to their day. 

In that few minutes, each time a student came up to me.  Curious,  because they didn't know me or that I was GameTeen's mom.  One was fascinated by the shirt I was wearing, the other just wanted to know why I was there and asked me questions about his favorite thing.  The thing is, those who don't understand autism think that these boys don't communicate well.  They do, they're just doing it their own way. 

In seeing more of the student population, in their own environment (rather than at a school event), I see so much potential-and so much life.  These students have passion for something, it's just different from what society expects or wants them to have.  It's enjoyable, learning about these different things.  Sure, it's frustrating, too, but the most important thing to take away is that we all thirst to know, to be, to do and to have something that makes us happy. 

That first part of it, to know, is what I want to help with.  My focus right now is on doing the research with kids like GameTeen, ones who can articulate (maybe overarticulate is a better term!), but are stifled in the traditional classroom by the noise, the rules, heck, even the air moving around.  But I realized that while I am starting with kids like GameTeen, the work I do will benefit all of these students.

It just makes me want to work that much harder, because just as much as they want to know, I want to know how to help them achieve that. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Crunch Time

I've got a new video to shoot and a boat load of programming to do.  It's going to be a very busy ten days!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie

As a kid, there were a few meals that came from a package or dining out that I loved.  Chef Boyardee Beef Ravioli is one (though I find that sauce nasty in anything else) and Pot Pies are the other.

A long departed restaurant across from Lincoln Center served one of the best Chicken Pot Pies ever, and it is one of those items that if I find it on the menu, it'll be hard to talk me out of it.  More often, though, I'll pick up one out of the freezer at the supermarket and be quite content.

I don't know why I never bothered to try to make them, considering that it's a meal that always satisfies, but today, when I was driving home from a friend's house, I'd suggested it as a dinner option to Ed and got an "oooooooooohhhhhhhh" that told me I had a very good idea.

The thing is, I make a damn good chicken gravy (otherwise known as chicken a la king) and a great chicken soup, but the consistency of pot pie falls somewhere in the middle.  I found a recipe that included chicken stock and a basic roux, and that was all I needed to get mine rolling.  (the rest of the recipe was full of stuff I didn't think a pot pie should have).

I thought phyllo dough was the way to go, but it really was lacking (the top got crispy, but the rest wasn't).  Next time, I'll make empanada dough, which turns out very flaky.


The recipe I cobbled together made about two quarts of filling, and I thought I had a quart to put in the fridge.  Little did I know, Ed and Chef devoured most of it when I wasn't looking-so I guess they really liked it.

Homemade Chicken Pot Pie Filling

2 chicken breasts, cooked and diced (I think I probably had about 8-10 ounces)
3 medium potatoes, diced into 1/2 chunks
2 celery stalks, sliced in half, then sliced into thin pieces
3 carrots, sliced in half, then sliced into thin pieces
1 medium sweet onion, cut in half, then slivered very thin
1 quart chicken stock (I used unsalted, because I prefer to put kosher salt in)
8 oz half and half
4 oz butter
4 tsp flour
1 teaspoon ground rosemary
1 tablespoon granulated garlic (I actually use a garlic/rosemary blend from Tone's)
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons parsley
2 teaspoons pepper

In a 5quart pot, put in the chicken stock, onions, celery, carrots and spices and cook over medium heat.  At the same time,  boil the potatoes for about 5 minutes in a 3quart saucepan, then drain an add to the large pot.

In the saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, add the flour and stir until blended.  Add the half and half, then allow it to barely bubble to thicken.  Add to the large pot, then stir.  Once it boils, add the chicken and cook for five minutes. 

It is now ready to put into the crust of your choice and bake.  Next time, I think we'll use some flaky Grands biscuits, split them in half and bake for ten minutes at 350.  If I have time, though, I'll be making a batch of empanada dough, since that comes out so flaky.

Wondering how long it will be before Ed and Chef bug me to make this again...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Traitor

This is supposed to be the hand that does everything.

With the Chiari, the right side is weak.  Even when it isn't in pain, the right side does not like repetitive  tasks, like doing laundry.  It's the side that has most of the neck and shoulder pain, had all but one of my wrist surgeries, the one that my neurologist spends the most time checking for nerve damage.

So when the left side starts displaying the tingling and numbness, I start to worry.  Especially when I'm doing laundry, because the right isn't there to help. 

I will say this-it is strange to watch your fingers type on an iPhone keypad, know your fingers are touching it and seeing the letters show up (with quite a few typos, though), yet not feel the phone under the fingers.

To say it's disconcerting would be an understatement.

Traitor. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Food Quirks

For someone who writes a lot about food, where I eat and what I cook, I realized that I haven't ever mentioned my food quirks. This came to mind when deciding what to eat at Fat Jack's, knowing that the expected side to a club sandwich is fries.

Yes, I like fries, just not a lot of them.  Heck, if they're fresh cut, I even like those cold.  So I don't see the point in ordering a side of them, only to leave most on the plate when I'm done.  The only way that finishing my fries might happen is if there is a side of barbeque, brown gravy, sour cream or tsitsiki sauce to dip them in.

Which leads to the next quirk:  I hate ketchup.  Give me anything else tomato based, and I am all over it.  Insalata caprese?  Bruschetta?  Marinara sauce?  BLT?  Sign me up, but the pureed condiment is not one of my favorites.  Guess it's a good thing I didn't go to a NY Public school where it was served as a vegetable.  (the Long Island school districts didn't seem to have the same approach.)

While we're on condiments, Miracle Whip is not the same as mayo and I'd rather have a dry sandwich than Miracle Whip.  Yes, I know they have commercial airing currently that most people who say they hate Miracle Whip have never tried it, but my mom's coupon clipping days brought a free jar to us every few months, just long enough for me to forget that tuna salad is HORRIBLE when made with that stuff.  Hellmann's, Duke's, Best's or even the Publix store brand is fine-but if it says 'salad dressing', it is not the same!

Eggs are another thing that surprise people.  If they are a component of a recipe (like a cake or bearnaise sauce), I am fine.  Omelets, scrambled, over easy-you can have them.  This actually has been something that the menfolk in my life adore about going out to breakfast with me-they get my eggs.

See, if you order a la carte items anywhere for breakfast, the meal typically costs two dollars more than if you order the same things with the eggs.  So, if I'm alone, I'll tell the server to 86 the eggs, but if Ed or GameTeen are with me, they get eggs.  (Chef shares my dislike)

I love the flavor of mushrooms, but hate the rubbery texture.  I'll end up chopping them very fine to use in food, because I want the flavor.  Love peas, hate pea soup.  Actually, I did an unscientific study of that a long time ago and found that 80% of the population likes one or the other. 

Pork and Beans are nasty, but Boston style baked beans are awesome.  My favorite comfort food breakfast involves crispy corned beef hash and baked beans on top of a toasted English muffin.    I know it as a Navy breakfast, because it's what my dad had in the Navy and it was a frequent Sunday breakfast when I was little.  Meanwhile, my stepdad was in the Army and ate so much creamed chipped beef that he never wanted to see it ever again.  (That's another breakfast I adore.)

Mounds and Almond Joys are great, but I don't like coconut.  Figure that one out.

Sweet cole slaw is something I won't eat, but if it's a mustardy/savory batch, count me in.  In fact, Ed and I end up trading off on slaw-I'll take a bite and determine if it's his or mine to eat.

I drink my tea with lemon, and my coffee needs a lot of cream, but those aren't that quirky.

What about you?  What things do you eat that people raise their eyebrows at?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fat Jack's, Lakeland

Before we'd even moved to Lakeland, Ed and I found a Chinese restaurant we liked in the most unlikely of places, a repurposed fast food restaurant. It didn't look like much, but boy, it was good stuff. However, it was adjacent to a strip mall with a Little Caesar's and a couple of other restaurants that we paid no mind to at all.

Then I started my job and had several people tell me they liked Fat Jack's, one of the businesses located there. I was told it was 'diner food' and since I grew up in a mecca of diners, Fat Jack's was on my list of places to try.  Yesterday, I had a nail appointment nearby and was helping out at Game Teen's school, which brought me past Fat Jack's at lunchtime, so I finally ventured in for a meal.

Okay, first a distinction. Fat Jack's is not like a diner, rather, it is more like a luncheonette. The difference? Diners are open 24 hours and have expansive menus. Luncheonettes lean towards shorter menus that focus on breakfast and lunch basics, have a large selection of sandwiches on the menu and have more limited hours. Got that? Okay, then you'll understand what I say in making the statement that Fat Jack's is a respectable luncheonette.

The decor is a row of booths along one wall, with tables and chairs squeezed into two dining areas in the front and the back. Both are small and you'll have to suck it in if you go back to the bathroom. Cozy is the word-if you don't like dining in surroundings like these, you might not enjoy.

The menu was full of the usual suspects, and I was tempted by the hot open roast beef with mushroom gravy, but opted for a club sandwich instead.  I don't know why, but good ones are few and far between around here.    I prefer these on rye toast, but I didn't think to ask.
The sandwich had a good ratio of lettuce, tomato, bacon and meat, a little light on the mayo and came with a pickle.  Good flavor, sliced deli turkey, so if you're expecting fresh roasted, you're going to be disappointed.  I've been away from NY for long enough that I don't expect it anymore.

A note here: everything you'd expect on your plate, like fries, are side orders.  To me, fries are good, but I rarely eat more than 8 or 10 of them, so I asked for home fries with onions, and got a nice side order plate.
 

These delivered on what I was looking for.  Crispy and tender potato chunks with sauteed onions, slightly buttery in flavor.  They're a great deal-under 2 bucks for something that reminds me of LI.

Now, the service, that was excellent.  There were four waitresses working, but at one point or another, each one checked in with me.  The only quibble I had is that they had no lemons for their sweet tea.

All in all, this was a very good, basic meal.  If you're visiting this type of place expecting a 4 star meal, well, you're just missing the point of a luncheonette.  They feed you good food at a good price-and for that, Fat Jack's delivers on both.


Fat Jacks Deli & Pub on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 20, 2012

Shellac, Tutti Fruitti Layered

Pink is not a favorite color of mine. I think I overdosed on it in the '80's and '90's, then the final nail in the coffin for pink was six years of looking at princess merchandise working for Disney. The fact that Shellac comes in many colors that aren't pink have really endeared me to the product line.

 In fact, when I walked into my appointment this morning, Katie took one look at my shirt (product review coming Monday) and assumed I was going for Hotski to Tchotchke. No, I was going radical. (Well, for me, anyway.)

 Tutti Fruitti was just a little too pink, but I mentioned to Katie that I owed it to those who visit the blog for my pictures to add something I haven't worn before. She suggested layering Beau over the Tuttie Frutti to tone it down a bit, then showed me a nail mock up (I don't know what those things are called) and I liked it.

Sold.



 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Well Read

I've been in the process of reorganizing my bookshelves. Now that I'm using the iMac, the Ikea desk I bought last year is getting used regularly, so the bookshelf next to it is also getting a workout.

Last week, I pulled out anything non-school related to stuff into my other bookshelf (we'll ignore the fact that there are about a dozen boxes full of books in the garage-I'm a girl in need of a library and no extra space in the house!). Anyway, the reorganizing placed stacks of notebooks, of folders, and of various journal articles between the shelves of books. There is also a space barely kitteh sized, and Scamp, not finding a flat space of at least 3" that he hasn't tried, decided he had a new perch when I'm studying.


Well, he did until he shook the bookshelf too much, looked up and had a JavaScript pocket guide fall in front of him. That spooked him, he shook the bookshelf some more, and my painting of a mountain range fell from the top and landed on his head.

I don't think Scamp likes mountains, because he ran off.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Last Package

When we get delicacies from elsewhere, using the last package is a little depressing. Last year, I'd mentioned that we found Zweigle's White Hots in two local supermarkets. I struck while the iron was hot and got something like 20 packages.

Game Teen had asked for them for dinner tonight, and I got a package of Brats instead. However, there were only five, not enough for my menfolk. So, I dug in the freezer and opened the last package.

They were good.


Waaaaaaah.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sixteen

I'm not sure where the time goes. A little boy, proud of himself for yelling out "PIZZA!" as we drive by a strip mall when he was not quite two (not sure how he knew that word, as we'd never gone there for it!). A three year old, naming the make of every car on our block as we walked around the neighborhood. A five year old, tickled to death with meeting Buzz and Woody at Walt Disney World...


And now, sixteen.


GameTeen, you've blown me away with the progress you've made. You inspire me to seek out better educational opportunities for other kids like you. You fascinate me with the way your mind turns over the things we talk about, the way you remember the slightest thing for conversations months before.

I'm lucky to be your mom.

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's Been That Kind of Day


Mmmmmmm, alcohol!

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Abundance

As I've mentioned in the past, one of my goals in school is to make at least one new friend in each class I take. It definitely helps to have someone to talk about the experience while you're going through it, and sometimes, they've got information that is helpful to you (and vice versa).

This semester, though, it seems like the connections I've made with peers have just multiplied. There are people from all of my classes that I'm connecting with daily, and while the conversations may just be school related, it's not just the classroom experience. Instead, we're talking about the other classes, professors, our educational plans and how to accomplish them. In short, we now have an outlet for all those questions that lie ahead.

I think the biggest compliment is when another person who is continuing on (or is already in the Ph.D program) asks what classes I'm planning to take in the fall. It says they value me as a classmate and hey, having a known quantity in a class is always a good thing.

As one goes higher in the higher education journey, there are less peers coming along for the ride, so it feels good to know that the desire to foster those connections is shared by others. It's what will make the next four to five years go by faster!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

BubbaQue's, Lakeland

When we moved to Florida, one thing the family was happy about is the abundance of barbeque joints. Or, at least it seemed that way.

Right up the road from our first house was this fantastic place, Potbellies. They were later purchased by another restaurant owner, but he kept both locations until the lease was up. (and it was replaced by yet another 'que joint, but it wasn't nearly as good). Then there was another 'que joint about 2 miles from the house in another direction. If we drove down to Brandon, between our house and the mall one could find a half dozen places, each pretty darn good.

Then we moved to Lakeland.

We had a Smokey Bones right by the mall and back then, it was good stuff. Then Darden sold off that concept to someone else, and it is now horrible. We also have Sonny's, another chain that is okay. Put it this way-if you can have Golden Corral or Ruth's Chris for steak, which would you go for? The independent 'que joints are much less common in a bigger town. It makes no sense.

However, there are a few decent options. Over by the Poly campus, there's Boss Hawg's, a weekday lunch operation by the owners of the place where we bought our grill. There's a few more on the south end of town, a decent independent, Jimbo's and then there's BubbaQue's, a quick casual place where you order your food, then they bring it out to your table and check in with you throughout the meal.

It's a smaller chain, small enough that you feel like you're going to the independent guy who knows what he's doing (read: First Choice, in Brandon and Plant City). It's not so big a chain that they've lost all sense of uniqueness that 'que places need. They've got a bigger menu, but they still focus on the things that are important when you're looking for smoked and grilled meats:

Pulled Pork
Brisket
Chicken
Ribs

They also have the complement of sides that make us happy: sweet baked beans, homemade macs and cheese, fries, baked potatoes, broccoli, onion rings and my favorite, sweet potato fries. I love how they come out crispy and slightly caramelized from frying.

There are platters and sandwiches. The platters have two sides, one piece of Texas toast and the sandwiches are one side and served on that same Texas toast. I find the
sandwich and side the perfect size for me, but I suspect Ed would probably be happy to spend the $1.99 more on extra meat with his dinner.

The meats have the perfect amount of smoke ring, burnt ends and tender center. They don't need a stitch of sauce, but there are plenty of options. The Tractor Grease is the most popular, slightly sweet, slightly tangy and a hint of vinegar flavor. Old Yeller is a nice mustard based sauce. In all, six sauces are on your table to satisfy a variety of palates.

And if you have someone who likes their chicken (like Chef), the Mother Clucker is his favorite. It has all his favorites, like chicken, cheddar, sauce and bacon.

There are desserts and daily specials and the best part, BEER if you like some suds to wash it all down. We haven't tried yet, but it looks like it's Miller products IIRC.

When in Lakeland, skip the big chain locations near the mall. Head out 92 and get some decent 'que.

BubbaQue's on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 13, 2012

Continuing Roles

I will be a TA for the summer. Same professor, same class. However, this time, the class is 100% online and will be delivered in 7 weeks, rather than the normal 15 week semester.

In other words, a slightly insane pace.

While it will be the same course, I've been tasked with looking at the assignments and trying to figure out how to downsize them to something students can do in a compressed timeframe. It's a good thing I've been through them once as a student and once as a TA.

I am looking forward to this.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

New Roles

In all the group projects I've done, it has always fallen to me to do the writing and editing. This is my strength, I really enjoy doing it, and it seems almost everyone is happy that they don't have to do it.

This semester, though, when the time came to compile our group project first draft, someone else stepped up to the plate. Since I was up to my eyeballs in work for the class from hell, I wasn't about to complain. She's an excellent writer, and she's probably been like me, the designated writer.

So, my role is a little different this semester. The course is for all Education majors, not just my specialty, so we have students who haven't had other tech-based classes. L (the writer) and I are, and have offered up ideas on how to present the project to the class.

I realized a couple of weeks ago that a year in, I really have a good grip on most of the things used in the industry and they're well-used tools in my arsenal now. The suggestion was made to present in Camtasia or Captivate, then I realized that I needed to mock up a unique Powerpoint slide to use with our product.

Except for creating the slide, it's old hat, but the slide creation is pretty cool. In the past, the graphic designer on the team got to create. It's fun, and I may just switch roles in the future!



Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Non Apology

If you're here in Florida, the news is awash with coverage of Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen's statement last week that he admired Fidel Castro.

Yes, in Miami, where many of the residents can tell you about harrowing escapes from the dictator. The manager got a five game suspension, and yesterday's NPR broadcast covered the manager's apology. To me, there was something not quite right about it.

Guillen said:
"I'm here on my knees to apologize," Guillen said.

"I'm very sorry about the problem, what happened. I will do everything in my power to make it better. ... When you make a mistake like this, you can't sleep."


Do you catch the semantics, the thing that rubbed me the wrong way? "I'm sorry IT HAPPENED." Nothing about I'm sorry I hurt and offended people, I was wrong or any number of sincere things that one should be offering up when they've made a mistake, especially one that is a slap in the face to the residents of Miami who are of Cuban heritage. He's sorry it happened, the uproar, not that he said something that is offensive to people.

The sad thing is, I'm hearing a lot more of these press conferences, the ones with insincerity, that I'm wondering if non-apologies are the way of the future. Don't admit you're wrong, don't ask forgiveness and never ever tell people you're sorry you've upset them. In the past year, I can count at least four occasions where my ears caught the change in phrasing. (and I'm really trying to remember the other instances to offer up as examples)


Is this the way of the future? Have we become a society that can't fess up to screwing up and sincerely apologize for hurting someone?


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The House Smells Like a Bakery

I entered a bake off at work. After drawing a blank for several days, I realized I should make my Mom's Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe. However, making one coffee cake is not a good idea, especially when the house smells like this.

So I made three. One for the coworkers to enjoy, one for the bake off and one for the menfolk. Chef probably thought he was going to stay up to get a warm piece as soon as it came out of the oven.

Not quite, but he'll have a nice breakfast tomorrow.

Oh, and if you're wondering, 24.5 cups is critical mass for a KitchenAid Professional mixer. Good thing I didn't get the notion to quadruple the recipe!

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Incredible Disappearing and Reappearing Blog

I broke it.

It came back. Then it went away again.

I'm still figuring out the bugs, so for now, you'll still find me here. I'll port things over the weekend, once I've had a little time to read what I need to do.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Packing It Up and Moving!

Not in the real world, not yet (thank God for that!), but the virtual home on the net will be moving here in the next few days!

The past 6.5 years at Blogspot have been awesome, but I need to practice my web skills and think that hosting the blog myself is one of the things that will help me on that front. I'll also be hosting an online portfolio on another URL, but it'll still be the same blog-just at another address.

Blogger should automatically redirect, but if it doesn't, I'm at www.suzannecalling.com.

See you there!



Saturday, April 07, 2012

Hopping By

My boys are old enough now that they've told me the games they want for Easter and I can skip the candy, as long as I buy it the day after Easter when it goes on sale.

Well, not quite.

Chef was on board with this idea, until we got to the supermarket tonight. I ended up coming home with a bag of Snicker snackers, because he wanted 'some candy' now.

Inching closer to being a teen, but not quite ready to let go of being a little kid...

Friday, April 06, 2012

OPI Gelcolor-I'm Not Really a Waitress

When OPI announced they would be entering the soak off gel manicure market, I wanted to know if their signature color would be included.

It is.



Ed requested red, so I went with the classic I'm Not Really a Waitress, though I think Big Apple Red would have been a good selection, too.

As far as the peeling situation, so far, Katie says she hasn't many issue with this one (I had trouble with Ink, Suzi Says Feng Shui and Here Today, Aragon Tomorrow), but she's going to try two layers of top coat on the colors I mentioned. Other clients were having the same issue with their manicures lifting and peeling well before two weeks are up, too.

We shall see how this one fares.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Food From a Truck-Taco Xpress, Lakeland

If you live in or around a major city, you have mobile food carts. In NY and DC, we had the hot dog carts or trucks, and one would become a connoisseur. "Oh, that one has Sabrett's and grilled onions, but this one has Footlong Nathans and Sauerkraut." Some would be at vacant lots and many would be on street corners, but you knew you were going to get a decent, cheap meal from the mobile vendor.

Then we moved to Florida, land of the Taco Truck. Usually, they're a white utility truck, some are parked in one place, others travel from spot to spot. If they're good, they've got an avid customer base who anxiously await their arrival.

A curious thing when I started at Poly was the white taco truck parked on Highway 98, about a 1/3 mile south of Edgewood Drive. It was the variety that didn't move, had permanent signs affixed to the top and if I passed by at regular meal times, a line of people from the various nearby commercial and industrial establishments. It took a long time to work up the gumption to stop at this taco truck, but I finally did during the second semester I took Spanish.

I was kicking myself that I'd hesitated.


That first visit, not knowing what I was in for, I ordered two tacos. The owner looked at me funny, but quickly filled me order for two El Pastor tacos. Off to campus I drove with my bargain $2.00 dinner.

I got there and understood why he was confused-these were small tacos, two 5" round soft corn tortillas filled with expertly seasoned beef, a little bit of onion, and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro. On the side were two lime wedges to squeeze on top. And honestly, they were perfect little appetizer tacos. (I got razzed for making the classroom smell so good, though.)

The next time, a little wiser, I scoped out the menu. It's small, but that's a good thing. Burritos, those tacos, quesadillas, and tortas make up the menu. You have your choice of chicken, el pastor, carnitas, carne asada, and another seasoned pork to stuff these traditional delights. Drinks range from bottled Jarritos, Mexican coke (the kind with pure cane sugar) and canned soda on ice, as well as chips.

I don't even mess with the chips, because whatever I get will be more than enough for a meal. In fact, their burrito is huge and frequently becomes two meals-or I split it with a coworker. Your mileage may vary, but Ed finds the burrito a good hungry-man sized meal. The homemade tortilla is stuff with more than a half pound of those meats, lettuce and tomato. On the side, you can get sour cream and one of their sauces.

The sauces? They're homemade. The red has a wonderful bite to it and they sell bottles for those who become addicted. The salsa verde is a nice slightly chunky sauce that isn't as hot, but is just as flavorful.

The only thing on the menu I haven't had is the Torta, and that's because I didn't look beyond Mexican Hamburger on the menu to see that it really has the same well seasoned and chopped meats as all the other dishes. Last month, I was in the mood for one, but he'd sold out of the rolls that it's served on. (Yes, they sell out regularly!).

The quesadillas are the same huge tortillas that get stuffed for the burritos, filled with mexican melting cheese that is more like mozzarella than cheddar (as it should be), but you may have a hard time realizing the cheese is in there for the quantity of meat that is pressed into the quesadilla, too. It comes with one of those sauces-but I tend to get that and a sour cream, then mix them together and spread it on top.

I've lost count of how many people smelled my lunch from Taco Xpress, asked about it, then had to go try some for themselves. This is one of those classic examples of the hidden culinary gems that blow you away. It's homemade, authentic food, simply prepared, priced well, and the bonus is that the owners are so nice, too.

If you're happening down Bartow Road (Hwy 98 South) and you're hungry, don't waste your time rolling through a drive through. Check out this truck and you'll soon be back for more. Trust me.

Oh, y gracias mi amigo para las comidas muy delicioso!

Taco Express on Urbanspoon




Wednesday, April 04, 2012

What's in Your Pantry?

I'm going to introduce you to a couple of workhorses in my kitchen. No, not any person, but a product (really, two versions of the same product) that pack a wallop at meal time.


If you ever look in my fridge, you will find a tub of each one, and you may find a seafood base, too. This one little thing can do so much. With it, I don't need to make sure I have chicken broth for homemade soup. I just add a teaspoon to the stock I make with rotisserie chicken, more if I don't have bones to boil into stock.

Onion soup gets done with the beef base, and the other day, I made a homemade Hamburger helper that relied on this to deepen the flavor. See, the only HH boxed stuff I ever liked is the Italian Herb, a flavor that has long been discontinued. Ed and the boys, they would eat most of the flavors Betty Crocker puts out-and that would be reserved for nights I was at work.

But I had almost two pounds of ground beef a box of penne and a desire for something quick. Thus, I went about my own version of the meal, and it turned out pretty good, thanks to that beef base. I think the next time around, I'll add tomato sauce and write down the measurements to share.

Tonight, I had some pork chops to grill, the kids weren't into having rice and I didn't want to deal with making potatoes the way they like. Instead, I boiled a half bag of egg noodles, then made a simple roux with 2 tablespoons of butter, about a teaspoon and a half of chicken base and 2 tablespoons of flour. Then I added about a cup of milk, stirred together and added the drained noodles. It was a huge hit and probably better for us than the Lipton packages.

Do you see a pattern here? I usually grab it when I want to make something quick, and my pantry is lacking in many of those prepackaged dinner items, mainly because I don't like them and they are overloaded with stuff I'm not exactly sure occurs in nature. No, I'm not an organic food person, but if there's a way to cut down the strange stuff in my meal, I'm all for it.

You might want to give it a try, too.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Why the MacBookPro is Better Than an iMac

I sit with my legs elevated and avoid this:

Monday, April 02, 2012

April is Autism Awareness Month

1 in 88.

Some think it means autism is on the rise, and that may be true, but I really think that it points to better diagnostic tools. Paying attention to our kids when they seem to be struggling to communicate with others.

There was a time when I thought we needed a cure, but that's not exactly where I am now. Instead, we need to learn how to understand how those with Autism communicate with their world (because they do) and interpret it better. A few weeks ago, GameTeen's school director pointed out this YouTube video and I was fascinated.



She is absolutely correct that just because we don't communicate with each other, that doesn't mean she's not communicating at all.

We are all making progress, but still have a long way to go to understand.


Sunday, April 01, 2012

Romeo's Pizza and Pasta-Lakeland, Florida

In gathering up restaurant reviews to submit to Urban Spoon, I was shocked to find that I'd never done a review of our favorite local restaurant. I've mentioned it many times, but a full scale review has never made it to the blog.

Today, that changes, especially since we enjoyed a meal at Romeo's tonight.

A little over two years ago, Ed and the boys didn't feel like cooking on a night I was attending class (honestly, that happens a lot around here), and Ed decided he'd driven by this place too many times to ignore. You have to understand, I am extremely picky about eating Italian food out. Olive Garden is NOT Italian food to me, because I was raised on my Mom's marinara, eggplant parmesan, baked ziti and other rustic dishes.

That night, though, he figured that they could go try the pizza in the name, since the local pizza is horrible-unless you like the national chains. He walked through the door and saw a menu board filled with inspired daily specials, rather than a walk up pizza counter and the plans took a rapid detour. GameTeen got pizza, Ed got Tortellini Emiliana (a cream sauce with ham chunks and peas) and Chef got the Mare e Monte over gnocci, a creamy dish with porcini mushrooms, shrimp and white truffle oil drizzled on top.

They were blown away. The sauces were delicate, the pasta the perfect al dente and each came with the choice of an appetizer sized salad or homemade soup. That day, they got salads.

I got home from class and found a piece of pizza waiting and Chef told me I could have ONE bite of his leftovers, because he was planning to have them when he got home from school the next day. Wait a minute, he has leftovers? He's the original member of the clean plate club.

Two nights later, the call of Romeo's was too great to deny and Ed took the whole family this time. The boys got various things, Ed went for that Mare e Monte over angel hair pasta and I got Penne Russea, because it is so rare to find that creamy tomato sauce on a menu around here and it is something that I don't make at home. It is an abundant bowl of penne, with a pale orange cream sauce that is filling without being heavy.

Since then, Romeo's has become a fairly regular haunt. It's that diamond in the rough of strip mall, run by a family that moved here from Italy about 15 years ago. The decor is unpretentious, but as Ed has mentioned in the past "you can serve these dishes at a white tablecloth restaurant for twice the price and people would pay it."

It is rare for me to find a restaurant where you can blind fold me and tell me to randomly point on the menu and I will be happy with the choice. In fact, Chef has done this to me, which netted ordering a dish I make at home:

I had three meals from this, the chicken cutlets pounded thin and fried crisp, the marinara slightly sweet and acidic, with ample mozzarella on top. If you're looking for traditional, rustic food-this is it. Ed insists the veal parmesan is even better, and I'll take his word for it. Order it, and you will have leftovers.

The Gnocci is made fresh in house, and Manuela often makes another variety. If you are in the mood for fresh, ask your server what she's made that day. Each day, the specials board lists 4 or 5 items that feature special ingredients. I'm partial to the pork Caprese, but I haven't had a dud yet in the dozens of times we've dined there. One thing: if you see that they've got Rice Balls on the specials board, get them. That's a rare treat, with a crispy bread crumb outer crust around a ball of rice (at a risotto consistency) with seasoned beef at the center.

Also on the pasta side, consider the Spaghetti Casarecchi, a baked dish that has a thick meat sauce, sausage and mushrooms. It is piled high and if you're like me, will be two meals and Ed sometimes doesn't finish it all. The linguine with clam sauce appeals to our seafood lover, while GameTeen loves their cheese ravioli in alfredo sauce. Manicotti, stuffed shells and the ravioli are served with your choice of red or white sauce on top.

The initial draw was and still is Romeo's pizza. It is so good that we no longer feel the urge to order pizza when we visit New York. Thin crust or Sicilian, they have the amount of crunch and perfect sauce ratios. I loathe cold pizza, but will eat their Sicilian pie that way anytime. The picture is a family favorite the Rustica. Even my picky kid chows down on the fresh slices of meat and generous dollops of ricotta on top of a traditional Neopolitan cheese pie. If you're especially hungry, the meat lovers stuffed pizza is similar.


Romeo's serves traditional Calzones and garlic knots, the former with a dough that is spun to the extra large 18" pie size, then folded over for a huge stuffed calzone filled with ricotta and whatever topping you choose. We tend to get the ham. All are served with a nice side dish of marinara. If you go for a Calzone or the stuffed pizza, you may opt to eat them with a fork and knife, as they are huge.

As I mentioned before, the entrees come with your choice of soup or salad. The salads are basic, but I tend to go for the Romeo's salad (walnuts, cranberries, and Gorgonzola on top of mixed greens and served with a raspberry vinaigrette.)

The soups, though, are made fresh in house daily. Usually, you'll find a white bean or minestrone, but tonight, it was a sausage and pepper that we'd never seen before. The broth was evocative of minestrone, but the seasonings had a nice, spicy flavor. Soup and salad are served with a dense, semolina bread. It has a garlic butter served on it, but it may be the weakest thing served when you dine here.

Now the food sounds wonderful and you're right to think you will roll out of Romeo's, but save room, because Manuela could easily open a bakery and have an avid following. From fresh made cream puffs (filled with fresh chocolate, cream or strawberry), to buttery jam tarts you can see as soon as you walk in the door, she has a gift for making desserts.

Two of my absolute favorites:
Italian Rainbow cookies

These fresh made ones were far superior to the bakery favorites I must get every time we're in NY, but they're time consuming, so she doesn't do them very often.

Meanwhile, we have dubbed this cake better than our incredible wedding cake. Lemoncello is a dense cake with light, creamy filling. We've learned to split one slice between us, because it is so filling.


The tiramisu has yet to sit unmolested for me to get a picture. All four of us agree that it is the lightest filling we've ever had in one. Even the Spumoni comes with a homemade cookie on top.

If you're in Lakeland, and you want to know what real Italian food is like-trust me. Romeo's is the real deal. Odds are high that you'll become regulars, too.

Romeo's Pizza & Pasta on Urbanspoon