Monday, November 29, 2010

May I Take Your Order?

We don't go out to eat very often, so when we do, I want to have a good time.  I want the food to be tasty, the atmosphere to be fun and the service to be good.   A local morning show recently had listeners call in with what they consider "deal breakers", or experiences that would keep them from going back to a particular restaurant.  I didn't call in, but here are some experiences that were deal breakers for me.

Waiting Too Long To Be Seated -  There is a restaurant a few miles out of town that makes great fish and chips and killer Long Islands, so it's usually our first choice for dining out without going very far from home.  Once, when my niece was visiting my parents, we all decided to go there for dinner.  It was a Friday evening and it was pretty crowded, so we were prepared to wait for a table.  There is no real waiting area, so we stood near the door.  The owner's wife had a problem with this and told us to "quit blockin' that door!".  We asked if we could get a chair for my dad to sit in because he has back problems and can't stand for very long.  The answer was no.  We asked if he could sit at the bar and wait.  Again, no.  We asked how much longer we could expect to wait for a table.  The owner's wife said "How in the hell do you expect me to seat seven people on a Friday night?"  We left. 

Waiting Too Long For Food - We had dinner in a restaurant while on vacation in North Carolina.  We were seated almost immediately and our order was taken right away, but after that, it was a long wait.  We asked our server about it several times and the response was always the same, "Not much longer".  After nearly an hour, our meals were finally brought to the table, for the most part, cold.  The manager came by to explain the delay.  The restaurant was out of bread, and because I had ordered a club sandwich, he had to drive to the nearest store, choose a loaf of bread, stand in line, drive back and then have the kitchen make my sandwich.  He seemed rather put out by the whole ordeal.  I couldn't understand why they didn't just ask me to order something else!

Bad Food - This has happened so many times, it's hard to narrow it down to just a few experiences.  There was the place that served us chicken sandwich that were still raw in the center, the Italian Ristorante where my Alfredo sauce was rancid, the Chinese restaurant where the lobster sauce looked, smelled and tasted like low tide, the seafood joint where the drinks tasted like antibacterial cleaning fluid......I could go on and on.....

Bad Service - Another all too frequent experience.  You know how it goes, you get the wrong food or it hasn't been prepared the way you specified (rare instead of medium, fried instead of baked, Italian instead of Ranch, etc.) and the server is rude when you ask him/her about it.

Overly Friendly Service - Pleasant and conversational is great, but there is such as thing as being overly friendly.  We had dinner at a Jamaican restaurant on a slow evening.  Because she had no other tables to wait on, our server pulled up a chair and sat with us while we ate.  We heard all about her multiple ex-husbands.  It was awkward.

Disappointing Atmosphere - We had a gift certificate to an Inn in Canada.  When we checked in, we were told to dress for dinner as their bistro was very high-end.  After being seated, we noticed that Mr. Willoughby was the only man in the dining room wearing a jacket and tie and I was the only woman in the room wearing a dress.  The favored attire seemed to be sweat suits because most of the other diners were wearing them.  Still, we wanted to have a nice dinner so we asked for a bottle of local wine.  A bus boy dropped it off at our table, so we waited for a server or sommelier to come by and open it.  When neither did, we asked the bus boy if he could bring us a cork screw.  "No need, I can do it for you", he said while he unscrewed the top.

Dirty, Dirty, Dirty -  From lipstick on the cups and glasses to food encrusted utensils, dirty restaurants are a real deal breaker for me.  If my sleeve is stuck to a puddle of syrup that hasn't been cleaned from the table, how can I enjoy my food?  And how clean do they keep the kitchen?  I don't have a lot of experience with this category because if a restaurant is dirty, we don't eat there.

Assorted Objects In The Food - I should probably skip this category.  After all, you probably don't want to know about the scrap of hand written shopping list I found at the bottom of my macaroni and cheese or the fish bone Mr. Willoughby found in his pulled pork sandwich.  The hair in my sandwich is too gross to think about and........I should stop now.

How about you?  Got a good deal breaker story?  Do tell!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In My Free Time, I've Been Wondering.....

  • Why is the cord on my mouse so long?  How far away from the computer do they expect me to sit?
  • When was the first American Thanksgiving?  In history books, the illustrations always show the Pilgrims and the Indians having their feast outdoors.  It seems highly unlikely that anyone would have an outdoor dinner in late November in Massachusetts. (An internet search narrowed it down to autumn of 1621, no actual date)
  • Why, when unemployment and foreclosures are skyrocketing, are local governments spending time and money deciding whether McDonalds should be able to sell Happy Meals?
  • Is daylight savings time really necessary?  I have yet to find any benefit to turning on the lights at 5:00 pm.
  • In countries where languages other than English are spoken, do they ever use English expressions?  Here, in the US, we say things like "Ciao" (hello in Italian), "Gracias" (thank you in Spanish), "Au Revior" (goodbye in French) and so on.  Do they do that in other countries?
  • What percentage of air travelers have malicious intent?  Is it enough to justify the cost of the body scanners, the labor to install them, repair and maintenance of them, and the training for employees to use them?  Have they revealed any weapons or substances that would have gone unnoticed by previous screening methods?
  • Why does my cable company advertise on cable channels?  If I can see their advertisement, doesn't that mean I'm already using their product?
  • If I could look through someone else's eyes, would colors look the same?  Do we all perceive colors in the same way?  What about tastes, do we perceive the taste of food differently?  It would explain why some people love certain foods while others loathe them.
  • What would the world be like if animals could speak?
  • Why are advertisers in such a rush to push the holidays on us?  I've seen Christmas merchandise in the stores since August.  Today, I heard an ad for New Years party supplies on the radio.  I'm wondering if they'll start setting up the Valentine and Easter displays before November is over.
Still contemplating......


Friday, November 12, 2010

Your Thoughts Wanted and Scenery Worth Sharing

I'm not an idiot.  I may look like one sometimes, I may act like one sometimes, but I'm really not an idiot, so I hate to be treated like one.  Recently, I was in situation where someone was talking down to me and treating me like an idiot.  This was someone I had never met before, so the condescending attitude was unexpected.  How did I handle it?  I didn't. 

While I'm not normally confrontational, I'm most certainly not opposed to opening up a can of verbal whoop-ass when push comes to shove (metaphorically, not physically).  Now, I can't help thinking about what I could have or should have said. 

Did I keep my mouth shut because I was caught off guard?  Was I simply being polite?  Does it make me the better person?  Would I regret it now if I had been equally rude?  I just don't know, but it's bothering me.

So what are your thoughts, blog friends?  When do you speak up for yourself and when do you let it go?  I'd like to hear your thoughts.


Have you ever been to Michigan?  If not, I wonder what comes to mind when you think of our mitten shaped state.  I've known people who have relocated here from other states and were surprised to find it didn't fit with their preconceived notions.  Detroit gets so much media attention that I think that may be part of the problem.  I assure you, the rest of the state does not look like Detroit!  A large portion of Michigan is still very rural.  Northern Michigan and the upper peninsula have particularly beautiful scenery.

I subscribe to Pure Michigan on Facebook.  They post a variety of Michigan information including local events and trivia (your state probably has something similar).  Recently, they posted this gem.  It's Kid Rock's newest video, filmed entirely in the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Whether this -

- or this -

is your idea of Michigan (and even if it isn't) I hope you'll take a few minutes and watch the video.  It shows the Michigan you've probably never seen and the song is pretty great, too.

(Neither the state of Michigan nor Kid Rock paid me to endorse this video.  I wish.)


Monday, November 8, 2010

Hungry? How About Some War Shu Gai with Bonus Shrimp Rings?

What dish are you most likely to order if you go to a Chinese restaurant?  One of my favorites is Almond Boneless Chicken, also known as War Shu Gai.  Never heard of it?  I'm not surprised.  I recently learned that it is a local dish, created somewhere in the Detroit area to appeal to American palates.  As disappointed as I am to find out it's not authentically Chinese, I still love it and wonder why it hasn't made it's way to Chinese restaurants in other parts of the country. 

Basically, War Shu Gai is boneless chicken that has been dipped into a light batter and fried.  It is served with either white or fried rice, a sauce/gravy for dipping or pouring over the dish, and garnished with almond slices.  Since you probably can't get it at your local Chinese restaurant, I'm going to show you how to make it.  It's simple, but can be a little time consuming.  If you've got a sous chef to help, all the better.

First, you need to get your oil heating.  You'll want it at 375 degrees to cook your chicken.  Any higher and you will likely burn the outside of the pieces before they are fully cooked on the inside.  Any lower and too much oil will be absorbed and you will have greasy chicken.  We use a deep fryer, but you can use a pan of oil and a candy thermometer if you don't have one.  (Side note:  we use our deep fryer outdoors, even in the winter.  It doesn't make the house smell greasy and their is much less mess to clean up.)   

We're going to use about 2 pounds of boneless chicken.  You can pound each piece to a uniform half inch thickness, or you can do what we do and cut the chicken into strips.  Either way, prepare your chicken and set it aside.

Now we'll make the batter (scroll down to the bottom for complete ingredient list), starting with the dry ingredients.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, corn starch, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Add the vegetable shortening and cut it into the other ingredients with a fork or pastry blender until coarse crumbs start to form.

For the liquid ingredients, we need 1 cup of cold water and three egg yolks (save the whites, you can use them in your fried rice or make an omelet).  I find it easiest to use a measuring cup for this.

Next, beat the eggs and water together with a whisk until they are well blended.  Then, add them to the dry ingredients.

Mix well.  Your batter will probably be a little lumpy.  That's fine, it won't be a problem.

Now, if your oil has reached 375 degrees, you can start cooking.  Dip a piece of chicken in the batter (make sure it's well coated) and gently place it in the oil. 

Continue with several more chicken strips, being sure not to crowd the fryer.  Let the pieces cook for 5 to 7 minutes, using a wooden utensil to turn them if necessary.

Remove cooked chicken and place on a paper towel lined plate to drain.  Transfer pieces to a baking sheet and place in a 250 degree oven to keep warm while you cook the rest of your chicken.

(When we make this dish, Mr. Willoughby handles the frying while I make the gravy so that they are both done at about the same time.  If you are working alone, you can make the gravy while the chicken is keeping warm in the oven.  This is also a good time to make your rice or fried rice.)

To make the gravy:  Over medium heat, melt three tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan.  Add three tablespoons flour and cook for one or two minutes, until the mixture starts to become golden.  Add three cups chicken stock and three tablespoons soy sauce.  Increase heat to medium high and continue to cook until sauce thickens and begins to simmer.  Turn heat to low and keep warm until ready to serve.

Ready to serve?  Place a heaping scoop of rice on plate, place chicken strips on top of rice.  Drizzle sauce/gravy on top and garnish with sliced almonds.
I forgot to add the almonds before I took this picture!
  As you can see, we also made some fried shrimp rings.  To make them, peel and devein 2 pounds of shrimp.  Remove the tails.

To make the rings, dip two shrimp in batter and place carefully in fryer with ends touching to form a circle.  Fry for 1 to 2 minutes, turning if necessary.

This batter is also great for fish.  You can substitute 1 cup of cold beer in place of the water to make a traditional beer batter. 

War Shu Gai

Batter -
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup ice water
  • 3/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Gravy -
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Sliced almonds for garnish




Monday, November 1, 2010

Hangin' On Halloween, Willoughby Style

In past years, Halloween wasn't much of a family event because I would be home by myself handing out candy while Mr. Willoughby took one or both of the kids trick or treating.  Yesterday, though, we were able to spend it together.  Of course, my son hasn't gone trick or treating in years, but this year, my daughter decided she was too old to go, too.  She said she would rather stay home and help hand out the candy.  When we weren't able to change her mind, we made the decision to decorate like crazy so we could all get involved and have fun.  We didn't exactly have a theme, but we knew we wanted to make it a little scary.

Usually, we decorate the front porch and that's where I hand out candy.  This year, we wanted to try something a little different and have the trick or treaters come to the back yard.  We live on a corner and have an arbor with a gate that opens to the sidewalk; the perfect place for handing out candy.  We lit a fire in the fire pit and cranked up some Halloween music, so it was the perfect place to hang out, too.  To keep anyone from coming to the front door, we roped off the entire front yard with "Danger" tape and hung a sign with an arrow that said "Ghosts and Ghouls and Treats Await, Around the Corner at the Haunted Gate".

  We draped the arbor with Halloween lights.

And added a greeting to the gate.

   There were some surprises in the windows that face the sidewalk. 

Ghosts and bats hung from fishing line across the yard.  The wind kept them fluttering all night long.

A strange glowing liquid sat on the patio table.

There were some scary pumpkins leading the way to the Haunted Gate.

 Karen Cooper from Night of the Living Dead.


 A creepy skull.

 Jack Torrance from The Shining.

Dr. Bernardi from The Twilight Zone.

We also made a stuffed dummy and hung him from the tree next to the arbor.

 He looks pretty real, doesn't he?

We rigged him to dance to music.  See for yourself.

Sorry, I couldn't figure out how to rotate the video!

I'm sure you've guessed that it's not a dummy.  It's my son (with a nylon stocking over his face).
And yes, that's me laughing at the end.

He was hanging from a climbing harness so he was in
no danger of falling and huring himself.
He scared and amused lots of trick or treaters.
You want to know what question he was asked the most?
"How's it hanging?"

I hope you had a great Halloween, too!!