Saturday, June 30, 2012

My 'Light' Summer Reading

You really thought you'd see Fifty Shades of Gray in there? Don't you know me by now?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dad

I wish you were here, to bake you a cake and spend time with the kids. I think you'd get a kick out of your five grandsons, and be proud of Giggles and me-we both have college degrees.

Mets opening day, 1970-when dad and I dressed up for going to the ball park and it was crazy hot.

Your ball teams are still in the fair-to-middling ranges, but that wouldn't stop you from rooting for them, would it? Maybe you'd watch racing with Ed and Big Joe, too?

I'd like to think so.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mel's Hot Dogs, Tampa

When we first moved to Florida, this is one of the very first unique places that people steered us to, especially after hearing that Ed lived in Chicagoland for a while. Vienna Beef hot dogs and Italian Beef sandwiches and close to Busch Gardens, what could be better?

Well, if I'm perfectly honest, the price. The price could be a LOT better. We got two average size dogs, not even coney length, no extra meats on them, and having one as a combo, one drink and a small order of onion rings set me back almost 18 bucks. I was kicking myself that I didn't talk GameTeen into going to Tijuana Flats, or go to his first suggestion, Five Guys, because we would have left either place stuffed to the gills for a few bucks the gills for a few bucks less.

Yes, those prices are for only the sandwich. I've spent less for burgers at sit down establishments. (I know, I am harping on the price.)

These dogs are boiled and placed into a steamed poppy seed bun. You can get a variety of toppings, and I opted for mustard, onions and sauerkraut (the Mel's), while GameTeen opted for a plain dog with ketchup and mustard.

I was worried that splitting an order of fries might not be enough, so I got a small order of onion rings. Oh yeah, the combo-it's either beans or cole slaw and those fries. I didn't state my choice, so mine came with cole slaw. It's slightly sweet, slightly mustardy. I liked it.

The onion rings are made to order and were nice and crisp. They had good flavor, and the fries were hot, crispy and slightly salty, which is perfect, IMO.

I still can't get over my sticker shock and paying the usury rates you get at a ball park, though.

Mel's Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Moving Up in Ranks

(I was going to do a What's For Dinner Wednesday, then I looked at the quantity of food posts in the past week and decided to skip it!)

I've always been somewhat tech savvy. Not an expert, not a pro, but I seemed to know enough to fix the basic issues. If I didn't, I knew where to seek things out to get things repaired. What this meant is that at various jobs, I'd be the go-to person.

It was funny at one job that my first call to the tech support people had the guy manning the phone asking me "are you new?" when I'd been there a year. Honestly, the biggest issues there were the paper jams the piece of crap Okidata tractor feed printer was prone to give me, especially since it sat on a shelf 7 feet off the floor and I had to climb like a monkey to get to it. That guy laughed when I told him there was nothing control alt delete can't fix, then responded that he understood why I hadn't called him. (I saved that employer hundreds of dollars by changing the timeclock ribbons because they were just like UPI teletype ribbons)

With one employer, we'd have Intranet issues on a fairly regular basis and hardware problems every once in a while. It was not uncommon for me to call with my problem and a list of the triage items I'd already done. (In fact, at one location, I labeled all the wires under the desk, so I could tell them ahead of time (the ethernet cable is fried) what I found. Then they'd do the diagnostics and agree.

Still, many of my friends are in computer industries, from network security, to programmers, to tech support, that I still feel like a newbie most days, but I realize that more and more, I don't sound like a poser anymore.

The CSS I created wasn't working, and I was able to figure it out (it wasn't calling my external page.) Instead of blindly looking at code, I was able to identify item after item.

A friend had a strange pop up come up on screen and I was able to walk through whether it was friend or foe and how she could suss out the difference.

I'm teaching in the fall and one of the bosses and I converse about the tech side of the house-and I hold up my end of the conversation without difficulty.

No, it's not much, but it feels pretty good that I'm moving steadily into an advanced realm of knowledge. Just in time for a doctoral program to knock me down a few pegs!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

You Know You're a Regular When

You walk into a restaurant, sit down, and the server comes up and says the exact order you usually get.

Five times at Bosphorous in a year and that's what happened tonight. Of course, it was just Ed and me and we'd decided we were ordering different things this time!

So, Ed had a lamb saute that was wonderful, and I had lamb kebabs. They brought us extra bulgur because they had been out the last time we were there. As much as we love the mixed grill, the lamb was so wonderfully seasoned and tender.

We were so stuffed that we brought the baklava home. Seriously, theirs is so amazing that I wasn't passing it up. I probably won't have room to eat it until tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, Ed has designs on all the leftovers. When it tastes better than these pictures look, could you blame him?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Daily Eats, Tampa

In the time I worked down in the Hyde Park section of Tampa, I found a bunch of places to get a decent lunch or dinner. My first day on the job, the boss treated me to a meal at the Wine Exchange, and that became the special treat that I'd enjoy with the laptop every once in a while.

The nearby SoHo area has an abundance of little bistros and restaurants that made it easy to find good food, no matter what cuisine I was in the mood for. One day, I tried Daily Eats and their special that day was a greek burger and I was sold. As my work shifts meant I was there for lunch or dinner, the brunch menu never passed in front of me. (The sweet potato fries, the burgers, and their wonderful bowls? Oh, my yes!)

Yesterday, though, the lure of some shopping nearby brought us down Howard street and of course, that meant I was going to visit this old favorite once again. Not surprisingly, the restaurant was packed and had a wait, but it appears that those in front of us were parties of 4 or more, which meant my friend Jenn and I were seated in under five minutes. It's a good thing, too, because where I was standing was the perfect spot to smell the chocolate chip pancakes of the diner sitting the the next booth and my stomach started saying "FEED ME NOW".

A brief word about the place-it's like a hip, funky, way too crowded diner, but that's okay. If it hadn't been raining buckets all morning, I might have opted for the outdoor seating area, but while the dining room is crowded, we never felt that way at our table. Nice trick, that one.

So, the question on your mind at noon on a Sunday is whether to get breakfast or lunch, and while the call of the burger was great, when I found out their crispy french toast was coated in Captain Crunch, I was sold. Unlike other diners, there is a side item included and I went for their home fries. (I usually went for these instead of fries when not feeling love for the sweetness of sweet potato fries.) Jenn got the chocolate chip pancakes and the bacon cheese grits, otherwise known as crack in a bowl.
They only make these on the weekends, so keep that in mind if you're in the mood for edible crack.

Jenn proclaimed the grits the best ever and said it was now her entree. I don't think I can argue that point, just look at those! The pancakes are loaded with so many chips (that tasted like Ghirardelli to me), that it was more like chocolate with some pancake as a side. As such, they do not need syrup.

Speaking of not needing syrup, the crunchy french toast was sweet enough on their own to skip anything but the dusting of powdered sugar on top. I didn't know what to expect, whether it'd be like the Blue Moon Cafe's interpretation I'd seen many times on Food Network, with the captain crunch pieces mostly intact, but it was crushed and more like a panko coating of peanut buttery goodness. I liked it, and especially liked that the French toast wasn't the slightest bit 'eggy' (personal pet peeve).

The home fries. I could probably order those as a meal, much like Jenn could the grits, and I'd be happy. They're crisp on the outside, with just the right amount of salt and a hint of pepper, but tender inside. They'd do a New York diner proud.

Now I'm wishing Daily Eats was closer to Lakeland, but it may be good that they aren't-it just gives me a good excuse to head over that way on weekend mornings.

Daily Eats on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Not So Little Debby

We have a stalled tropical storm overhead. It's not pleasant.

If there was some way to get this rain to relocate over those wild fires in Colorado, I'd send it in a heartbeat.

One thing I will say is this: the news station that embraces social media and uses it all the time is the one I will now turn to for most of the news. I was a WFLA girl, but the ABC affiliate was hosting a giveaway a couple of months ago (16 iPad 2's), so I started following all the air talent.

Denis Philips, the lead meteorologist, posts throughout the day, every day and has been doing so through this weather situation, in between hosting their web channel and a chat, too.

He has called tornadoes that touched down before the National Weather Service, by analyzing the doppler images during the broadcasts, checking the wind speeds and other activity in the area. It's impressive.

Those of you here in Florida, please stay safe.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Olde Town Pizzeria and Pasta, Plant City

While New York style thin crust is my absolute favorite pizza, there is a place in my heart for Chicago Deep Dish, too. When Pizzeria Uno expanded years ago and opened one on LI convenient to the movie theatre my dad, sister and I patronized most often, it got a lot of our business. Years later, I even got a job waiting tables at Uno's, because I loved their product.

Here in Florida, we've got several places that serve the pizza that you eat with a fork and knife. This is good, because the nearest Uno's locations flank either side of Walt Disney World and are way too hectic to consider on anything but a weeknight. Enter Olde Town.

Their Brandon location is in the same little strip mall as Carvel, so it was a matter of time before we decided to give them a try. When we did, we agreed that it was dumb to wait so long, because their representation of deep dish is so good: flaky crust, bright tomato sauce, plentiful fillings and an atmosphere that is pleasant and relaxing. Even with a full house, it's not too loud.

What we didn't know until about six months ago is that they have a location closer to us in Plant City. We found this out about the same time that we'd realized Down Under Chicago was right in Lakeland, so we waited to try. Down Under got progressively more disappointing after several really good visits and ultimately closed last month, so the desire for deep dish meant we were going to finally do a 20 minute (instead of 40) trip down 39.

When we walked in the door, it was almost like we'd walked into a carbon copy of their other location. Same dark woods and red and white checkerboard tablecloths. The servers are just as friendly and we were at a table in moments.

Something to know: the menu: they are not joking about that famous Strawberry salad. It is probably the best restaurant salad we've ever had. There was no question (nor is there ever) that if we're going to Olde Town, whether we're getting it. The question is just what size. Tonight, a large:

This salad has diced strawberries, shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheese, candied walnuts and romaine leaves, tossed in a red wine vinaigrette. If decorum didn't reign, I think the men would be licking the bowl. It's light, slightly sweet and a good balance between the flavors.

(The funny thing is that I make my interpretation of this salad with candied pecans, bring it to school potlucks and then get begged for the recipe-the combination is well loved)

It must be noted that they serve appetizers, sandwiches and pasta. We've had several of the appetizers, the cheesy garlic bread is a nice starter, the Italian beef a respectable nod to the Chicago staple, but we have yet to try a pasta. Their gnocci comes in a vodka sauce and I probably will order it next time, just to resolve my curiosity about those.

Now, the pizza. They do thin crust and deep dish. As with any place, deep dish is going to take longer-but it's worth the wait. That said, after the last few visits to Down Under and waiting almost an hour, the 25 minutes to get them here is fine-and in line with Uno's, Giordano's and the other Chicago style places. While we've had the thin, it's like going to Portillo's in Chicago and asking for a hamburger. Good, but stick with the specialty, okay?

We ordered the Olde Town, which comes with smoked bacon, sausage, and pepperoni. Tradition states that these pies are assembled meat, cheese, then sauce. It seemed like we had a stuffed crust, the way that the meats went all the way out into the crust. As mentioned earlier, their sauce is very bright, sweet and acidic, a good balance to the salty meats. The crust is crisp and on the lighter side. Cheese melted perfectly, too, which means you'll have strings of it following your slice to your plate. Cut them with a knife or twirl the pie server, you'll eventually get them to let go!

The sauce wasn't quite puree, with a few chunks of tomato here and there, which was nice. In the ratio of meats, the bacon and sausage were ample, the pepperoni was there, only less than the other two-but still, a generous amount of meat overall.

Ed worried that I had only ordered a large for the three of us, but I didn't quite finish a piece, Chef had 2 1/2 and, Ed had two and the rest of mine, so they'll each have pizza tomorrow, too. Follow the guidelines at the top of the menu as far as ordering your size-they are accurate.

I think the best news was that our server told us that they are in the process of opening a location in Lakeland. While this one was definitely nice, not driving is nicer.

With all the dining options that have cropped up in Plant City the past five years, it can be easy to overlook some of the restaurants in town. Olde Town is not one to be passed by, definitely a good filling meal for a reasonable price.
Olde Town Pizzeria & Pasta Co on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 22, 2012

Crazy Buffet, Tampa

We have lived in Central Florida for eight years, half of those just outside Tampa, and there are quite a few places we haven't tried yet. An avowed carnivore, I am definitely in the doghouse for not getting to Bern's. Soon, though.

Meanwhile, other than Sam Seltzer's by RayJay Stadium and Wright's in South Tampa, we haven't been to any of the restaurants dotting Dale Mabry Highway. Several people had mentioned that Crazy Buffet is a superior location serving Asian food, so when we were passing by on the way over to International Plaza today, Ed asked 'Why not?'. I couldn't argue, and a filling meal was in the cards.

If you want variety, Crazy Buffet has it. I counted over 30 varieties of sushi rolls, with types I'd never seen before, like salmon skin. These were being prepared as we chose them, and the ones we sampled definitely were fresh. I'll be honest, if I'm going to a place that has sushi on a buffet, my objective is to visit those places on Friday or Saturday, when they're turning over those rolled treats fairly quickly.

From looking at these pictures, you'd think they were all boards of the same rolls, but they weren't. There was white tuna, salmon, crab, salmon, tilapia, shrimp and then various veggie rolls.

Despite a large portion of the buffet devoted to sushi, there were plenty of other usual suspects when you're looking to dine on Asian dishes. A hibachi chef was at the ready with several vegetables, beef or chicken and six sauces to whip up something to order. (I had a spicy beef plate that did a fantastic job of clearing my sinuses up-I think it was loaded down with szechuan pepper seeds!). There was pho, hot and sour, and wonton soups, dumplings, asian spare ribs, general tsao's, pepper steak, crispy beef, lo mein, fried rice, and about 40 different choices to satisfy various palates.

These were on a par with other buffets, but even at the end of their lunch hours, everything was fresh. Several of the beef dishes (pineapple beef, beef and green beans, for instance) were heavy on the vegetables and light on the beef, but I'm not sure if that's because a previous patron picked out all the meat, or the way they usually prepare it. Their barbequed spare ribs had a flavor I've never encountered in those before-they tasted like the sauce had almond extract in it. Not bad, just an interesting flavor to add to the mix-sweet with the savory.

The salad bar was full of savory salads, such as seaweed and a spicy shrimp salad that was like an Asian ceviche-very nice. I'm the odd person who actually likes to get a salad at a buffet and I was quite happy that they don't wimp out on theirs, as so many places do.

If you have room for desserts, there are plenty of options, including a chocolate waterfall. The chocolate didn't taste very chocolately, but hey, we probably got our money's worth on the sushi, so they get a pass. Ed says the orange buttercream cake was pretty light, despite it looking like a very dense frosting, which was a pleasant surprise for him.

So, is Crazy Buffet the end all, be all of Asian dining? No. That said, if you're looking for a decent $10 lunch, good sushi and a full belly, they definitely fit the bill.

We'll go back.

Crazy Buffet on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Obligatory Schoolwork Photo

I think I missed a couple of semesters, but this is one of the rare occasions where I'm not typing documents on the computer...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


I've been watching a tempest brewing for a long time. Not a friend, not a person I'd even associate with if not for the kids. Perpetually amazed at this one person whose life makes the afternoon soap operas seem boring. Of course, none of it is ever her fault.

Well, things have blown up around her lately, the husband walked out, the car needs $1,000 in repairs, and strangely, all the buddies she claims to have are nowhere to be found when she's in need. The Facebook wall tells a dramatically different tale from the reality, but I'm seeing both sides of it and neither one is pretty-or accurate.

Last summer, I fell for the stories and the little mouths to feed. Had money to share, so I did. The offer of a check to repay it was contingent on me giving her some cash when I had none, so of course, that check was not handed over. Oh well, I chalk it up to a lesson learned. Wiser this time, I wasn't going to help her out. She's notorious for 'can you watch the kids for me while I run to the store?', then disappears all day. Nope, not happening.

Today, she pinged me. No food in the house, just got food stamps, can you take me to the store, my car is broken. Sure, but I'm not going to walk around the store with you, I'll sit and study, thanks. The offer of $100 in food to repay what she owed was made and turned down several times. I am NOT taking food away from those kids.

The drive to and from the store was an exercise in biting my tongue. I kept telling myself that the kids need the food, that's why I was doing this. If it was just her, I would have told her to walk to the store herself. All the excuses, all the blaming of others just ticked me off. When you've got kids, you move heaven and earth for them. They come first.

So the way she talked about how her life was impacted and not a word about those kids? It was kind of easy to keep my mouth shut, because I was rendered speechless by the I, me, my monologue.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Shells, South Tampa

Living in Florida, one does not travel far before finding a seafood restaurant. Here in Lakeland, for instance, we've got Red Lobster (it started here), Bonefish Grill and easily a dozen independent restaurants serving the fruits of the sea. (Mr. Fish, you're on my list!). As you get closer to either shore, the number of places increases exponentially.

When we lived near Brandon, we would opt for Shells probably about as often as we went to Red Lobster. The food was good, the prices were about the same and they didn't have the insane crowds. It never disappointed, but we were sad to find that the chain was shuttering several locations, including Brandon. As that was a couple of years ago, before the economy really tanked, I thought that it was gone, especially since the last newspaper article about the chain wasn't very optimistic.

Tonight, however, we were over in Tampa around dinner time and spied a Shells location on Dale Mabry. (At that point, I think the family would have eaten just about anywhere, they were really hungry). It was a welcome sight for both Ed and I, as we knew we'd have a hard time picking an entree, a sign of the quality of meals past.

Our server was a little busy when we were seated, but she greeted us warmly and apologized for the delay. It was probably a good thing, for it gave us time to choose an appetizer. The rest of the service was very, very quick (Tuesdays are Maine Lobster nights for 18.95, so it makes sense that the place was a little busy!). Clam strips were ordered and arrived in no time at all.

These are probably some of the best you can get: lightly breaded and clearly not from a bag. They were very tender and very lightly seasoned, so that the clam flavor rose above the breading. On the side was a house prepared cocktail sauce that leaned slightly to the horseradish side,w which we loved. What was impressive is that GameTeen generally avoids sauces and he partook of that cocktail sauce, so kudos to Shells for making that happen.

Ed ordered the Shrimp Mezzo Mezzo, and was very happy with the penne and tomato cream sauce with his shrimp. It looked fantastic, but I'll have to take his word for it-he didn't offer a sample. This one comes with mushrooms and plenty of shrimp

Chef couldn't decide what to order, and I mentioned that their Shrimp Pasta was his favorite back in the day. He decided to revist it and was not disappointed. I think we were all surprised that he waved the white flag before he was done with his meal. this has spaghetti in a nice wine cream sauce, and usually is two servings for me, not Chef.

Meanwhile, there were too many good choices that I went to my fallback, fried shrimp. Like the clams, these were fresh and very lightly breaded and were served with parsley potatoes and cole slaw. That coleslaw was creamy, crunchy and slightly sweet, which normally would not appeal to me (I like mustard based slaw), but I almost finished the whole container before I ate a single shrimp. A rarity for me, I did not bring home leftovers.

GameTeen usually goes to the kids menu for his choices, but he saw the fish and chips and was very eager to get it. When it came to the table, I think I would have ordered it, too. The filets were batter dipped and nice, flaky whitefish was found within. He ended up eating the first filet with a fork and is quite excited about having leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Our only complaint is that they're not local to us, but that just gives us a place to eat when we're over in Tampa and don't want to battle the crowds at the restaurants near International Plaza and Westshore.

Shells on Urbanspoon