Friday, September 4, 2015

WiFi, Skipper!

I love books, and I love food.  It's a good day if I can get away from work for lunch and spend about an hour in a nearby restaurant eating and reading.  I used to choose my restaurants based on the quality of their fries and the soda selection, but a new trend with some restaurants has me changing my standards.  

It all started one day when I was at my favorite burger place and as usual had ordered the #5 combo (pastrami cheeseburger with fries and a soda).  I filled my cup with Cherry Coke and sat down at my favorite booth (the one next to the soda fountain).  I started reading an eBook on my tablet when I noticed the new signs indicating free WiFi.  "Hmmm," I thought.  "I wonder if anything interesting has happened on Facebook since I left the office 15 minutes ago."  After spending 10 minutes on Facebook making sure that nothing interesting was happening, I figured I might as well fire up Netflix and catch some Arrested Development.  That's when the frustration started.  Netflix would not work.  Grrr!  Okay, you stupid burger place, I guess I'll get back to reading stupid Treasure Island.  I bet stupid Jim Hawkins wishes he had WiFi.

After that I started going to Zupas more often.  They have an excellent WiFi connection and I could get Netflix without any trouble at all.  Until the day when I couldn't get Netflix.  Grrr again! I suspect Zupas blocked it on purpose to prevent guys like me from taking up table space for too long. But wait, Hulu still works!  Ha ha, Zupas, now I'm going to sit here for another - (looking to see how long this episode of Bones is) - 44 minutes and 26 seconds drinking creative soda concoctions and eating oyster crackers.

A few months ago when Subway put up a sign advertising free WiFi, I realized that I could really use more meatball subs in my life.  And there's nothing quite like that feeling when you've racked up 75 Subway points so you can go in for a free twelve-inch sub.  It is a little deflating when you realize that also means that you've already spent over $75.

Ever since I was a kid, there has been a Skippers restaurant in my hometown of Orem, Utah.  I think I went there once with my mom when I was about seven years old.  I don't remember exactly why I didn't like it, but I think it had something to do with the fact that I was expected to eat fried clams.  Over the years there has been some remodeling of the building, and half of it has been re-purposed as a Jamba Juice.  I assumed the Skippers half eventually went out of business because, who would eat there?  I must not have been the only one making this assumption.  I was genuinely surprised when they put up a sign to make sure passers-by knew that they were still making a go of it.  Not only that, but I also learned that they now have WiFi.

After doing a little reconnaissance, I chose a Tuesday to venture back to Skippers because that is the day you can get the all-you-can-eat fish n' chips and clam chowder special (which means it's something like a dollar less than usual).  The first thing I noticed was that the restaurant seemed cleaner than I remembered.  Even though I knew what I was going to order, I spent a little time looking at the menu.  It struck me that with very few exceptions, everything is deep fried.  They do have salads on the menu, and I wondered what kind of person would order a salad from Skippers when there's a Zupas just down the street.  I bet the kitchen staff freaks out every time someone does order a salad.  I imagine a heated argument in the back between the server and the cooks, ending with the server returning to the customer and saying, "I'm sorry, but we're all out of lettuce.  Would you like some popcorn shrimp instead?"

When they brought my food out, there was a little cup of coleslaw on the side.  I quickly checked to make sure none of the food had touched it and I immediately moved it to the far edge of my table where it couldn't cause any mischief.  The clam chowder was better than I expected, the fish was pretty good when the right ratio of tartar sauce was applied, and the fries - I mean "chips" - were about average.  But the WiFi connection was superb and since it was all-you-can eat, I always had food in front of me while I was watching what Agent Coulson was getting up to.  But that coleslaw cup kept staring at me, and I kept wondering if it had any purpose other than to unnerve me.  I did learn that all-I-*should*-eat was two small fish fillets, one serving of "chips," and one bowl of chowder.  All-I-*can*-eat is a little less than twice that much.

But why do they put the coleslaw on there?  Is it some sort of weird FDA requirement?  I've been back to Skippers several times, and yesterday I overheard the server at the next booth apologize for forgetting one of the coleslaw cups.  To my amazement, I heard one of the group say that he wanted it.  What?!  I couldn't ignore this.  I just had to know what he was going to do with it.  After an appropriate interval I got up with the pretense of refilling my soda, making sure to casually glance over to get a look at this strange person and see if I could discover his diabolical plan.  To my utter horror, he had a fork and was actually putting the stuff in his mouth!  Then, and I am not making this up, his mouth started making chewing motions and I swear I saw his Adam's apple move as if he had swallowed it. And he just sat there, cool as a cucumber, as if he were not doing something unimaginably repulsive.  I don't know how the rest of his group could sit in such close proximity to him.  They must be his minions.  This won't stop me from going back to Skippers because there are still limited restaurants that have good WiFi.  But I'm definitely keeping a wary eye out for that coleslaw guy.  Someone like that could be capable of just about anything.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Dad Can Cook - You can really taste the scratch

Being a dad of young kids is a pretty sweet gig.  They are almost always delighted to see me when I get home, and all I have to do to be a hero is make pancakes.

I grew up in a home with eight kids.  Mom did most of the cooking, which couldn't have been easy with that many mouths, many of which belonged to boys who were always hungry.  She also worked full-time as a teacher starting when I was five and the oldest was seventeen.

Mom made the very best comfort foods, the most notable being fried chicken almost every Sunday.  Occasionally she would experiment with new things, like the time she made cow tongue.  We were all weirded out by it, but we knew better than to say anything other than "thank you" and "please pass the tongue."  The oldest sibling, Biff (names have been changed), missed dinner because he was at work, or had some school thing.  When he got home, a few of us watched to see what he would do about the tongue.  He started right away on making a sandwich, sliced a few generous pieces of tongue and fell to eating his tongue sandwich.  After a few bites Fritz said, "You know that's cow tongue, right?"  Biff said, "Huh, I thought it was ham." And then he just kept right on eating.

Dad would occasionally make breakfast where we could choose 1, 2, or 3 strips of bacon, a "Daddy's Best Egg" which was fried with either a "runny" or "broken" yolk, and toast or sometimes pancakes.  Dad was also always in charge of making breakfast on Mother's Day.  We kids were always in awe because this was the only time during the year that we could have his delicious apple pancakes.  Thinking back, I wonder if Mom ever felt slighted how we would rave about these pancakes, but rarely acknowledged her efforts every other day.  Sorry, Mom.

My kids love oatmeal, which is what they have for breakfast most mornings.  I like oatmeal as much as the next guy, but it's not particularly exciting.  So one Saturday morning about 4 or 5 years ago I made pancakes, sausage, and "Daddy's Best Eggs" for breakfast.  My kids thought I was the coolest dad ever.  The following Saturday they asked if I was going to make a "Big Daddy Breakfast" again.  I said, "No, if I make it every week then it won't be special." So we all had oatmeal, and I felt a little bit sad that I had disappointed them.  Soon it did become a weekly thing, and I'm okay with being in charge of breakfast on Saturdays.  Now that the boys are vegetarians I no longer make sausage for them, but sometimes I'll fry some up for myself and try to tempt them with it.  It never works.

I used to make pancakes with Krusteaz mix, which for a pancake mix is probably the best one.  But when I discovered how ridiculously easy it is to make pancakes from scratch with ingredients that are always in the house, I never bought a mix again.  And, I'm going to share with you the best recipe right here.

Daddy's Best Classic Fluffy Pancakes

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/8 cup powdered milk*
*If you don't have powdered milk, you can use milk instead of water in the wet ingredients. Almond or soy milk also works well.

Wet Ingredients:
2 cups water (use milk if you didn't add powdered milk to the dry ingredients)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil*
*I haven't tested this with waffles, but I'd probably use 4 tablespoons oil if you do use it for waffles.

Heat a griddle or skillet to about 325 degrees.  Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients, whisking the eggs to combine thoroughly.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing thoroughly, but don't overmix.  Pour the batter in 4-5 inch rounds (or funny shapes, or whatever size you want).  Flip the pancakes when bubbles start to form holes.  Let's face it, if you don't know when to flip your pancakes, there's little I can do to help you there.  Makes around 20-24 four-five inch pancakes.

The powdered milk is really the secret to this whole thing.  Sometimes I'll pre-make several bags of the dry ingredients to save time when I want to make pancakes.  I have also used powdered eggs, and it worked pretty well, but I don't like the flavor as much.  The kids didn't seem to notice, though.

Occasionally I'll make a "Big Daddy Omelette" or "Big Daddy Hash" which are always big hits too.  The secret is cheese.  Lots and lots of cheese.