Recently in Food Category

I've been reading a handful of personal finance blogs for the last six months or so and seeing the same advice over and over - clip the damned coupons. In particular, The Simple Dollar (favorite grocery/coupon posts: 1 2 3) and Get Rich Slowly (favorite grocery/coupon posts: 1 2) hit the grocery strategies with some frequency. I decided to pick up the Sunday paper today and find out if the coupons inside would actually save someone like me any money. There are a few factors I considered in this exercise:

  • The value of my time. There are a lot of factors that go into a valuation of my time, and that's perhaps appropriate for another post. I'm going to be very conservative for the purpose of this evaluation and say that my hourly rate is $25. If I don't save more as a result of the circulars than my hourly rate, I am calling it a fail.

  • The decisions I am trying to make about the food we (Sam and myself) eat. We've been making a concerted effort to eat less processed "junk". A great deal on Little Debbie Snack cakes - even one that makes them free - is of no benefit for me. There are places that we still often eat processed food (as opposed to making from fresh ingredients): salad dressing, broth, dips, spreads, cured meats, canned tomato products (when we run out of garden tomatoes), and occasionally soda. If we wouldn't have considered eating something without the coupon discount, I am not considering the coupon as something to clip.

  • The decisions I am trying to make about the home and hygiene products we consume. Sam and I are long-time LUSH fans - one of our biggest indulgence is their soap and solid shampoos - but we buy them for (green!) reasons that go beyond just enjoying them. Same with our house-cleaning products: I'm trying to back away from mysterious chemicals (Industrial All-Purpose Cleaner X) and excessive disposable products (wipes), and get back to basics (vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils). Just as with food, if we wouldn't have considered bringing a home and hygeine product into our home without the coupon discount, I am not considering the coupon as something to clip.

So what kinds of coupons did I clip? I clipped coupons for:
  • products I already use and planned to buy (bonus!),
  • products of a similar type to something I use and planned to buy (off-brand),
  • non-expiring products I use but had not planned to buy for some time (stocking up is fine).

The coupons I wound up with:
  • $1.00 off Ken's dressing
  • $1.00 off Ken's marinade
  • $1.00 off Ken's dressing spray*
  • $0.50 off Roberts Dairy, any gallon milk
  • $0.35 off Roberts Dairy, sour cream or French Onion dip
  • $0.35 off Eggland's Best eggs (any size)
  • $1.00 off two packages Farmland smoked sausage
  • $1.00 off one package Farmland ham or turkey
  • $0.35 off one jar Smucker's natural peanut butter
  • $0.35 off one jar Smucker's low sugar or sugar free fruit spread*
  • $1.29 discount price, 60oz. Clorox bleach (normally $1.99, for sanitizing garden tools)
  • $0.99 discount price, 3 pack Ivory bar soap (normally $1.39, for in-between LUSH orders)
  • $0.99 discount price, Carmex (normally $1.29, stocking up)
  • $1.00 discount price, 2 liter diet Pepsi (normal price estimated $1.29 - guilty pleasure)

Coupons for laundry soap, dish soap, paper towels and toilet paper were rejected even though they fall under "stocking up" - we're already stocked up on these, and the coupons aren't as good as the deal we get at Costco for these items.

Outside the coupons (in the ads), I found out Staples is offering a $40 "easy rebate" (you can submit them online instead of mailing) on a paper shredder, which we're looking to acquire.

So, what's the total score? The coupons are worth a total of $8.59. It took me about an hour and twenty minutes to go through the circulars. Why so long?
  • Inexperience. I haven't clipped coupons since I helped my mom when I was... oh, nine?
  • Thoroughness. Since I was trying to be semi-scientific, I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing coupons
  • Junk. There's a lot in the circulars that isn't coupons, and the Omaha World-Herald glossies are substantial. Also, the coupons I did find were almost all for highly-processed junk food that I wouldn't eat for free, or home and hygiene products that conjure World War II imagery for me.
In any case, to break even with an hour and twenty minutes of my time and $1.50 for the paper itself, I needed to find $34.83 in coupons I would definitely use. In order for the $8.59 worth of coupons to have broken even with the time and paper cost, I would have to be able to get through the coupons in less than 19 minutes 27 seconds. (This is what you get when you have a science nerd analyze these things.)

Was it worth it? I'm a little torn. I wouldn't have known about the deal on the shredder if I hadn't bought the paper. However, that isn't a coupon, and I was planning on visiting Staples to look at their selection anyway. My inclination is to say that the venture wasn't worth the cost (in money and time). It's a sunk cost, now, so I'll happily use the coupons I've clipped, but I don't think I'll be scouring the Sunday paper for coupons again, at least not until I can try some of the more sophisticated strategies from the posts I linked up top. In any case, $8.59 may not be worth an hour of my time, but the value of knowing that for sure leaves me feeling like my time was not wasted. It's science, baby.

My advice: see for yourself. If you eat a lot of processed or pre-packaged foods and use a lot of specialized commercial cleaners, I suspect clipping coupons makes much more sense. There may also be places and/or papers that have a more extensive selection of coupons for fresh produce, meat, and dairy. If either of these is true, you could save quite a bit of money on your grocery bill each week.

Two Timing (Salmon Time!)

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Salmon Salad

I'm in New England, again! This visit has been too short, largely because I've slept through so much of it; I had to have unexpected surgery last week to remove my gall bladder, which was apparently the source of many of the stupid-headed ailments I couldn't shake. Here's looking to better health. Anyhow, I've been hopped up on the narcolepsy-inducing wonder-drug Vicodin for a good deal of my trip. I have, however, managed to do some cooking, which is a favorite activity to do when I'm out here. Particularly cooking with fish. It's so jealousy-inducing fresh! Bliss. So, Will and I visited the grocery store Wednesday evening in search of good food to welcome me to New England for my second visit. Also, because of the aforementioned surgery, I'm on a (lower sodium) diet that's not terribly compatible with a good deal of his pantry. On our trip, we purchased:
  • leeks
  • asparagus
  • white wine (Sauvignon Blanc - cheap stuff)
  • red potatoes
  • olive oil & black pepper triscuits
  • lots and lots of jello
  • a bar of dark chocolate (Chocolove Extra Strong Dark 77%)
We also stopped by the seafood counter to ask for fish heads, hoping to find a good bunch to make fish stock. They had none. "Have anything you want to get rid of soon?" I asked. "Well, if we keep it between you and me..." said the man manning the stand. And so we wound up with four nice looking salmon steaks that were just going to be thrown away about an hour and a half later, for a total of under ten bucks (about half price). Win. Salmon is not traditionally a choice for making fish stock. It's too fatty. But you know what I say to that? POOEY. I for one am willing to try (and fail) once. Using four perfectly good salmon steaks just to make fish stock seemed like kind of a waste, or as we say where I'm from, a fucking travesty. So after the stock was suitably stocky, we decided that there would be a salmon salad made afterwards. That's how we roll. Without further todo: Leek & Potato Soup with Salmon Stock Ingredients
  • Four salmon steaks
  • One bottle cheap Sauvignon Blanc (or other relatively dry white wine)
  • Four large red potatoes, cubed to about 1 inch
  • Four large leeks, thin-sliced, dark green parts discarded
  • About 8 oz portabella mushrooms, finely diced
  • 10-12 leaves fresh lemon basil
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • black pepper
  1. Heat some extra virgin olive oil (to cover pan bottom) in a large saute pan over medium heat. Bruise lemon basil by rubbing it between clean hands (or however you like to do it); toss in the pan. Stir in with the olive oil to flavor the oil well. Cook until leaves are a little brown but not crispy.
  2. Put salmon steaks directly into lemon basil olive oil. Pan will be crowded. Don't worry about it. Let the steaks brown very slightly on one side (about a minute). Turn, allow to brown for a minute, then add a quarter bottle of the wine.
  3. Turn down the heat and allow the salmon to gently cook through. This takes a little bit, about 15 minutes.
  4. Transfer everything in the pan to a stock pot. Add the rest of the bottle of wine. Crush fish a bit without completely destroying it to release some flavor. Allow to cook another 15-20 minutes.
  5. Strain fish stock off using a fine mesh strainer, reserving the fish and other solids. If you don't have one of those, a collander lined with cheesecloth works. In case of utter stock-making ghetto-i-tude (i.e., no fine mesh strainer and no cheesecloth), paper towels work for lining the collander, but will absorb some of your fish stock and will also pass the stock very slowly.
  6. Back in the stock pot, put the fish stock along with an equal part water, your potatoes, leeks, and portabella mushrooms; allow to cook for an hour on low heat, long enough for potatoes to become tender. (Posterity note that is absolutely not advised: This is the point at which we also added milk. I like milk in my leek/potato soups; it matches well with the mild onion flavors and such. What I had failed to remember is that we had started this culinary adventure with wine, which is acidic enough to (upon addition of heat) make young cheese out of milk. Our milk started foaming after about 30 minutes, and by the time we got the heat turned down, we had a lot of cottage cheese in our pot. I think this soup might well have been very good with paneer in it, but cooking it this way also left all of the whey in our broth, and the cheese was not compact and well-made. We skimmed off and discarded as much as we could.)
  7. Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread - regular old Italian works great.
Sweet Salmon Salad Ingredients
  • Salmon steaks left over from leek & potato soup
  • Two medium apples, finely diced
  • One heart of celery, thin-sliced
  • 1 tbsp nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • mayonnaise to prefered texture
  1. The salmon steaks, after pulled out of their bath of extra virgin olive oil, lemon basil, and white wine, were still delicious-smelling and ready to be used in another recipe, but somewhat unfortunately still full of bones. We washed our hands well and manually deboned the entire mass of salmon. A number of the bones were soft enough that simply amounted to extra calcium, but some were still firm and pokey, so this step was necessary.
  2. Mix apples, celery, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a half cup or so of mayonnaise in with the salmon. You will probably need more mayonnaise to acheive a lumpable salad, but mixing in a half cup at first is more manageable.
  3. Serve, either on bread or on crackers. We had ours on Olive Oil & Black Pepper Triscuits, which was optimal - the sweet flavors from the apples and celery played very, very nicely with the savory flavors from the cracker. The salmon flavor was present and well-represented without being overpowering.
Having shared both dishes with self-proclaimed foodies, I can confidently say they were good and it's not just me liking my own cooking. Recipes approved for general release. P.S. Go Sox!

Gigantic Squash Strategies

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If you have a garden and you're anything like me, you've walked out and found that there is an obnoxiously large squash or zucchini (or five). You know the drill: squash picked when it's 3 to 5 inches long is the most tender, perfect for grilling up in a minute or two with steaks, and if they get too much bigger they're tough and useless. Right? Actually, I only got a couple of specimens in the "good" range, this summer; travel and school and illness meant I wound up keeping very poor track of squash growing progress. I did a crazy harvest yesterday in the tomato and pepper patches (even discovered some okra!), and the summer squashes I picked a few days earlier were giving me accusing looks. We'll wind up in the compost heap, they despaired. So to use up not only the massive harvest of tomatoes and peppers I found myself with, but also the squash, I turned to that brilliant series of tubes, the intarwebs. Apparently, humongous squashes can be stuffed, and to excellent results. Not satisfied with any of the recipes I was finding, I developed my own. It was delicious. A little time-consuming; all told, about an hour of work to put together. But it was so, so very worth it. Incidentally, I had intended to use leeks in place of the onion I used, but I spaced it. I had also intended to use cream cheese (I love cream cheese on pizza, and this has many similar flavors), but there wasn't room. Your mileage may vary. Erica's Stuffed Squash Serves 6 (in my family) to 12 (on TV). (We have lots of leftovers.) Tools:
  • Large stock pot
  • Large skillet
  • Baking pan
  • Food processor (I use a Magic Bullet and, marketing methods aside, I love it. No other tool I have in my kitchen sees the kind of use this thing does, aside from perhaps my standard issue knives.)
  • Bowl
  • Sundry implements of cutting, scooping, and serving
  • 2 Gigantic garden summer squash/zucchini
  • 1 tube of bulk sausage (I used Jimmy Dean's extra bold)
  • 8oz container sliced mushrooms
  • 5-6 small-to-medium tomatoes (from the garden)
  • 2-3 small-to-medium bell peppers from the garden
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 loaf asiago ciabatta
  • fresh oregano and basil
  • kosher salt
  • 3 cups or so of any acceptably Italian cheese, shredded (I used a blend of mozarella, provolone, asiago and... something else. I forget.)
  1. Blanch the squash. To do so, bring water to a boil, then drop the squash in. For your little teeny "picked-at-the-right-stage-for-eating" squashes, this takes 5-8 minutes. For gigantic "oops-I-let-the-garden-go-a-few-days" squashes, it takes 10-15. The big ones are better for this, anyway.
  2. Start the stuffing on the stove while the squash is blanching. Empty your tube-o-sausage into the skillet over medium heat. Run the onion in the food processor to whatever consistency you like (I like mine very small for this recipe; plenty of texture elsewhere) then add to the pan. Repeat this with your tomatoes, peppers, and basil. Add your mushrooms and oregano whole (leaves for the oregano). Add a bit of kosher salt, then let that cook for a bit.
  3. Now's a good time to pre-heat the oven to 400F (about 205C).
  4. Pull the squashes from the stock pot. Split them, length-wise. Scoop out all the seeds; discard. Continue scooping the flesh out, carefully, and set that aside in a bowl. You want to have a squash-shell remaining.
  5. Arrange the shells in your baking pan. You may have to cut them down to fit. Rip some pieces of the ciabatta bread and put in the bottom of the shells. This will help to catch the juices and make this dish less messy. (Plus it tastes awesome.) Add the sausage stuffing on top of this. Be liberal with the amount of "sauce" (mostly tomato juice) you use, but conserve some.
  6. Take the squash flesh you set aside and put it in the food processor with the conserved tomato juice. Puree. Layer this sauce over the top of the sausage stuffing. Top with cheese. Use all of it. Yes. All of it.
  7. Put in the oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove. Allow to cool for a few minutes. There are two serving options: with shell or without. I like it both ways - the shell is edible and tasty. If without, I recommend cutting a slice of bread and eating it on that as an open-faced sandwich. Yum.
I suck at keeping up with this thing. Therefore, I provide here a mostly-complete update before I have to once again retreat for the evil that is school. I spent a good deal of late July and early August simply taking time for myself. I made a to-do list, and I used it. I cleaned up my office (most of the way). I handled some obnoxious financial badness, and also took some positive steps to clean up our finances without requiring disaster conditions as impetus. I took wedding photos for a friend of my mother, did loads of Spanish, and prepared for the upcoming school franticness - I always know it's coming, and I'm never ready. Then, last week, I flew out east. I flew from Omaha to Chicago to Boston on Monday, and landed early Tuesday morning. (As in, a few minutes after midnight.) I was slated to be delayed on my first flight enough to make me late for the second, so United booked me on a couple American flights, then proceeded to try to dick me out of the miles. (I still have to mail them the boarding passes to get credit for the flights.) Well-kept Boston secret: the shuttle from the airport to the train station stops running long about midnight. P.S. so does the train. My original transport with Kara from plane-landing-place to bed-sleeping-place fell through, so the plan was to take the shuttle to the train (subway, I suppose: do not call it either of these things when you are there, for it is the T, and if you call it something other than this, you will get funny looks) and the <strike>train</strike> T to the MIT campus to chill until Live Entertainment became available (i.e., the person I was visiting made it back to town). So I hopped on the wrong shuttle, and I wound up at the Chelsea Employee Station. Yes, it seemed a touch odd that everyone on my shuttle seemed to be an airport employee, but I chalked it up to hopping on around midnight - shift change time, yeah? Anyway, the very nice shuttle driver - Alberto - chatted with me for awhile (my favorite bit was discussing the many ways Spanish has to tell a woman you love her) and took me back to the airport to wait for the 4:30am shuttle to the 5:00am T. The only food open was a Very Suspect Dunkin' Donuts With No Shortage of Ghetto But a Definite Shortage of Croissants; I bought a twisty glazed donut, then a few hours later, an everything bagel with cream cheese. (It is strange how different "everything" tastes, out that-a-way.) And copious amounts of coffee, of course. I read the rest of American Gods (which I started on the plane), finishing just in time to catch my shuttle. (Reading American Gods and other Gaiman-foo on the trip has made me itchy to write. I have story ideas. This always happens when I fly.) Shuttle to the T station, blue line to the green line to the red line to Kendall/MIT station. I got off there around six in the morning, then proceeded to wander aimlessly, no thanks to a couple of helpful folks who, when queried, told me that MIT was "all over [there]". I struggled until normal-ish business hours to find a restroom, eventually finding one at the Coop. And a wireless internet connection, courtesy MIT! I took an amusing video to highlight my toilet frustrations, then dorked around online for awhile until stuff started opening. After a couple hours, I grabbed a map and navigated my way on over to 14N to check out the Science Writing graduate program. The lady in the Science Writing department - Shannon Larkin, I believe (and I think she'll forgive me if I'm wrong, as she's aware of how sleep deprived I was when I met her) - was extremely genial and very thorough in describing the program. She didn't seem put off by my tangential train of thought, which might reflect well on her, the department, MIT, or some combination. She was effusive and competent and just nice to talk with. That's so underrated - all of it! As a result of my talk with her, I'm pondering the brutal stabbing of the voice in my head that says, "But I'm tired of school!" and possibly an application to the program. I had lunch at a nifty little (Greek?) place up near Central square, Brookline Lunch. They have an excellent idea for what should be in an omelette, which is to say, everything. Then I hopped back on the T (thanks to my handy week pass) and dashed up to Harvard. Harvard left me completely cold. Everything that felt like home at MIT felt like an overstuffed and still uncomfortable chair at Harvard. Which is not to say that it's a horrible school, or ugly, or even unpleasant - I'm sure people get a fantastic education there, the campus is pretty, and so on. I suppose it was just that: Harvard seemed so conventionally pretty, so uniform, that I was struck by the overwhelming sameness of everything I saw. I like surprises and disconcerting nooks and pockets of space for my many moods, and MIT seemed to play well to that (even if my predominate mood during my visit was tired). So pretty well immediately after arriving at Harvard, I took to the streets and the T tunnels on my tired feet and went back to MIT. I found a couch up in the Writing department, figured out what was up with Kara, and promptly attempted troubled naps. It should probably be noted that I packed light, carry-on only style, to avoid carting around five-piece Samsonite hell during all of this. I had my purse and my laptop backpack, which contained reading material, toiletries (all of the dry variety), clothing, and the laptop. It was really all I needed. So the wandering was not loaded down, but the sleep was hampered by my rampant paranoia; though I was tucked away in a very quiet corner, I was committing some sort of cardinal sin by Traveling With Many Valuable Possessions. Sleeping curled around a backpack is fitful. A few hours and some obnoxious traffic hassles later (5pm-ish, at this point), Kara rolled along my way, and we headed to her place. Recollections get fuzzy, here, but I believe there was showering and Red Bones for dinner, then we struck out on an ill-advised and ultimately failed attempt to find a drag show. Sometime around 11:00pm, I decided that the feet just could not take it anymore, and after nearly 36 hours of nearly-awake, I had to call it quits. Back to the T station, back to her place, and we retired to el bed-o. Wednesday (which, if you're keeping track, was both my second and third day there, sort of), we woke up late, had Indian food that apparently didn't agree with me (but tasted good!), then set off to LUSH for requisite stocking-up-on-bath-foo. We grabbed some henna for our hair while we were there, bought a couple books off a street seller, then pondered going on a duck tour. Given a combination of weather, cost, and lateness, we opted to check out The Garment District instead. It was kind of a bust - little to nothing in the XL+ range, so nothin' doing for me - but looking at obnoxious hats was fun; it was determined I should wear pimp hats, and Kara should wear top hats, particularly ones with Hideous Numbers of Sequins. We then walked home, primped briefly, and drove to the wrong Melting Pot for the gift certificate I had for a Fondue Experience. They honored the certificate, and we had the promised Experience, though I believe I will go ingredient shopping and have the same Experience at home for about a quarter of the cost (perhaps with less capital E). Particularly if I am eating with a vegetarian-or-something-like-it again; there wasn't a veggie in the main course that couldn't have been suitably sauce'd up for five bucks. We went home and henna'd Kara's hair - we were going to both do it, but I think I erred on the thick side with the henna and we ran out almost before we were done with hers alone. Alas. But she smelled yummy and herbal for days after, which was more pleasant Experience (at about a fifth the cost of the Fondue sort, and just as gooey). Then there was more sleeping. I was apparently catching a cold, but I wouldn't be certain about that for a day or so. Thursday, we milled about, showered, packed up, and headed north to Portland to pick up Will. There was much rejoicing and hugging, and then driving in the direction of his new place. We were greeted by the arrival of his bed, and also baby kittens nesting just outside his door, because apparently someone shorted him on his damned cute quota, or wanted to see me convulse and revert to the vocabulary of my babyhood. We proceeded to shop for all manner of home stuffs for him, as his moving strategy apparently involved throwing away anything that appeared to have possible uses in a new apartment. (Tongue firmly in cheek.) Friday was a good deal more of that, plus poking at the Chamber of Commerce for Answers About The Community. This all culminated in sangria-making and some hardcore chillaxing at Casa William. Saturday, we went to Scarborough Downs for lunch and pony-watching. My chaotic influence must have been working overtime, as one of the horses broke free and tried to jet out the service entrance. After lunch and a credit card kerfuffle, we picked up a rental car. We took Kara back down to Cambridge so she could prep for further traveling fun, then proceeded to get hopelessly lost in the death spiral that is driving in the Boston Metropolitan Area. Sam, to the rescue! He helped us avoid driving past Harvard for a fifth time, and to find the evil sign for the right turn we'd repeatedly failed to make - the sign which, against all logic, is located on the far left of a large intersection, through a thicket of trees and several lanes of traffic. I liked Boston. And then I drove in Boston. We fell into bed in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Sunday was a day for relaxing in the most complete way possible. Except that part where there was life stuff that needed sorting, still. We took a little evening drive up to a suburb of Portland to check out a car - one that seemed like a killer deal, but wound up not being it because the seller seemed bent on not allowing a prospective buyer to do diligence, obnoxiously. We looked at another car Monday morning, which wound up being the winner instead. And then we bought me a new bag for my return trip, as my laptop backpack was staying with Will, along with the laptop and such, which he bought. The return trip was a minor nightmare. We packed after we bought the new bag, then drove down to Boston in the rental and dropped it off at Logan, as agreed, then found my gate with plenty of time, so I chatted with Will about the laptop a bit - showed him the essential programs, set up a user account and all that. (This is not the nightmare part, of course.) Then it was onto the flight. For whatever reason, it would only let me check in through my first stop, at New York's LaGuardia International Airport. When I landed, therefore, I had no boarding pass for my next flight. I exited the secure area, hopped on a bus to the other terminal (brilliance) since my second flight (to Chicago) was on United itself, rather than a United affiliate (US Airways). When I got there, I couldn't check in at the carry-on only kiosk - it told me it couldn't process the itinerary change. Itinerary change? I thought. What itinerary change? Turns out my New York -> Chicago flight was delayed by a couple hours - enough to kill my Chicago -> Omaha connecting flight. So, rather than getting me to Chicago and then dealing with it, they stuck me at the end of a long line of similarly delayed folks so as to delay me the maximum amount possible. When I got to the counter, I explained my situation. "Can you get me home by 8:30am? I start a new job." "No," the nice lady told me. And I must have looked sufficiently crestfallen, for that got changed to a, "Well... let me see." She wound up putting me on a flight that was scheduled to be leaving an hour and a half earlier, but was actually leaving ten minutes later than the scheduled time for my originally scheduled flight, which made silly forty minute connection at O'Hare a ridiculous thirty minute connection. A ten-minute-late takeoff made it a stone-stupid twenty minute connection. And so when I landed at terminal C at O'Hare, nineteen minutes before the scheduled takeoff of my final flight (gate F12), three terminals away from said flight and at an hour that the shuttle to the other terminal was no longer running, I hoofed it. I shoved off my plane, I ran down moving walkways and stupid halls that stupidly lacked them, up the up-escalators in defiance of gravity, around corners and passengers. I ignored my burning fucking lungs for my fifteen minute sprint-jog-powerwalk-sprint-jog-powerwalk, only to arrive at the gate and find the door closed. "I'm sorry," the lady behind the counter there was saying to a similarly beleaguered couple. "We have to close the doors ten minutes before takeoff." We had seven minutes left. In the only good news from the entire debacle, the flight crew was negotiated with, we were escorted out onto the plane, and I did, in fact, make it home shortly after midnight, Tuesday morning. I hadn't eaten in about twelve hours, and the Boston -> Chicago leg of my trip had introduced me to the joy of sitting adjacent Boys Gone Wild, a screaming child and his non-English-speaking mother, a woman with the plague, a deaf woman who was apparently surly about said impairment and anyone who noticed it, and a chatty businessman brandishing college Spanish skills with bravado. Taco Bueno soothed my hunger and the immediate sleep once I was fed soothed my surliness. And I made it to my internship on time. So there. </Travelogue> Still vaguely sick with this cold. My internship started this week. Next week: UNO classes, eight credits. Teaching at UNO, two credits. The week after: Metro classes, three credits. I'll be busy, but it's actually a decently happy busy. Ciao, kittens. I'm off to bed.

Metro | Bistro

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Hey, Omaha boys and girls. Did you know that you can get a killer gourmet meal at roughly a regular steakhouse price by hitting up the local culinary arts program? Plus, you're helping local students learn their trade. The Omaha option is the Bistro at Metro. Tip via Wise Bread.
Don't Get Mad, Get Even Man, I used to get so annoyed when someone would ring up one of my grocery items wrong. If I wanted to get money back - sometimes substantial amounts, like when someone mis-stickered some flank steaks as filet mignon - I had to run back to the store, wait in line, explain my situation, wait for them to confirm the error, and so on. What a nightmare. Fortunately, someone is using technology to make this less of a pain in the ass. If there's an error on your Target receipt, don't get mad - and don't go back to the store. Just call the phone number at the top of the receipt and ask for customer service. Explain what happened - in my case, Laura's Lean Beef was supposed to be on sale, 2 for $8, but rang up full price. They'll ask for your receipt ID and the VCD#, highlighted on the photo. Then they'll ask for the item number that was incorrect. If you paid with credit or debit card, they can issue a credit back to the card without you ever leaving home.
Because you totally need more evidence: 4:41:16 AM Tesla: Michelina's has a mystery dish which they list on none of their website-type-things. 4:41:24 AM Tesla: It is cheesy potatoes and broccoli. 4:41:32 AM Vance: Is it good? 4:41:34 AM Tesla: It is worth the WHOLE DOLLAR FIFTY. 4:41:36 AM Tesla: ... 4:41:42 AM Vance: >.> 4:41:42 AM Tesla: You decide what that means. :) 4:41:47 AM Vance: I can't say much. 4:41:52 AM Vance: I freaking eat their alfredo sometimes for lunch. ;) 4:41:58 AM Vance: Which is like $1.05. ;) 4:42:00 AM Tesla: Yeah, well. 4:42:20 AM Tesla: Soda from the machines at school is $1.25, and I usually don't finish a whole one. 4:42:21 AM Vance: So it means... UPGRADE! ;) 4:42:23 AM Vance: Hee. 4:42:37 AM Tesla: So cheap. 4:42:42 AM Tesla: But it's at least not revolting. 4:43:10 AM Tesla: But the microwave process they prescribe does do the funniest thing to the potatoes. 4:43:22 AM Tesla: Namely, makes them just slightly - and I mean -very- slightly - rubbery. 4:43:40 AM Vance: Kinda like the noodles in the alfredo. ;) 4:43:50 AM Tesla: Ah, you know of this effect! 4:43:54 AM Tesla: We should name it. 4:43:59 AM Tesla: The Tesla-Vance Effect. 4:44:02 AM Tesla: Or Vance-Tesla. 4:44:05 AM Tesla: I'm not picky. 4:44:15 AM Vance: They likely make the potatoes and noodles out of the same stuff. ;) 4:44:26 AM Vance: Neither am I. Either-or works ;) 4:44:29 AM Tesla: OMG IM EETING NOODLES EW 4:44:56 AM Tesla: Compromise: 4:45:23 AM Tesla: We can alternately call it The Quantum Tesla-Vance Effect and The Quantum Vance-Tesla Effect. 4:45:46 AM Tesla: When people ask us why we flip the names, we tell them that's the Quantum part, and their observation forced the moniker to 'take a stand'. 4:46:08 AM Tesla: BTW: That was hilarious if you both vaguely understand Quantum but not really and also hate it. 4:46:19 AM Vance: *snicker* This semester has warped me so thoroughly.
It's a podcast. It's a long podcast. It was actually fun to put together. If you're really not interested in Somalia - stick around past 2:35. The stuff about Somalia is good information, but sort of tangential. Listen to Somalia, College and Snobs [m4a format; iTunes recommended]. Depending on what y'all think of this one, I may or may not do podcasts in the future. Leave comments! (And if you're reading this on LJ, as always, I only see comments on the actual site.)
Sam and I, after much waffling this evening, decided to visit Firebirds for dinner. Sam and Jess recently had dinner there, and both seemed very pleased with the place. Which is great; at the price point, you should expect excellence. Firebirds lists prices for dinner as in the $12.95-$23.95 range. Our typical dinner out tops out at the bottom of that range, unless we're having top-dollar items (steaks, seafood), in which case we get into the $18 range sometimes (though I'll note that you can get a damned good steak around Omaha for $12.95 - you just have to know where to look). Seating and Service We were seated promptly upon arrival, though it became apparent after a minute or two at our table that our waiter wasn't notified that we were his very promptly; he seemed surprised that he was going to be serving us. He did take our drink orders quickly and deliver them as quickly. When he returned to take our order, the one concern I had was that he seemed put off that we were ordering non-appetizer items to share. I can chalk this up to imagination; the service we received was otherwise unremarkable, but also unobjectionable. Food For our appetizer, we selected the Lobster Spinach Queso at about $9. The claim:
A spicy blend of lobster, baby spinach, wood smoked tomatoes, and pepper jack cheese. Fired in our ovens, then topped with a chunky pico de gallo salsa made from scratch in our kitchen. Served with tri-colored tortilla chips.
The reality? First of all, it was not spicy in the least; the cheese was rather unfortunately more suggestive of melted Velveeta than pepper jack - perhaps a side effect of the other ingredients. (Velveeta has its place; it is not in a $9 appetizer. I'm not saying that's what they used, either - just that the flavor spoke nothing of the pepper jack cheese they claimed to have used.) The spinach merely seemed to make the cheese come out in stringy clumps, rather than adding real flavor. (Similarly, I've seen spinach used effectively in dips - just not here.) The lobster was fine, but as I'm not crazy about lobster, it seemed like an expensive ingredient put in a $3 dish to justify a $9 price. Speaking of which, it was a $9 appetizer; I understand that the menu clearly says that it's served with tortilla chips, but I think this is a serious mistake. Bring me some veggies or some thin-sliced, toasted bread - you pick what kind. (Joey's Seafood & Grill gets this exactly right with their Crab & Artichoke dip at a buck or two cheaper - charbroiled garlic toast, yum.) Moving on, we then split a Caesar salad (about $6). The claim:
With shaved Reggiano cheese and chile dusted croutons.
Reality: It did, in fact, have those ingredients, and others - though if the croutons were chile-dusted or not, I couldn't tell. Overall, it tasted like a Caesar salad I could easily make at home with one of those Caesar salad kits - even the dressing tasted like it was straight from a packet. Come on, guys. Surprise me. Astound me. Make your salad dressing in-house - it tastes better, and for $6, you'd better do that or put something more substantial on my salad than a single cheese shaving and some (maybe) chile-dusted croutons. I'm talking protein here, guys. Meat. Do it. Or don't, and sell the salad for a couple bucks less. Finally, the steak - a 14 oz. New York Strip at about $23. We elected to get an extra potato and split this, as well. The claim:
14 oz. hand-cut aged Black Angus strip steak trimmed extra lean, lightly seasoned and wood grilled. Served with a loaded Colorado Russet baked potato or seasoned steak fries.
Reality: Oh, boy. Where do I start? First of all, I was not at all impressed with the cut of meat we got. Not only was it not trimmed extra lean, it was easily the fattiest strip I've had in memory - not the melty, edible "flavor fat", either - gristly, tough, flavorless fat. (This is my favorite cut of steak; I'd say I put down two a month, on average, so I know my strips.) It was also the least tender I've had in memory, and the least juicy. I order my steaks medium rare, unless I know something about the place (like a tendency to under- or overcook them). It came out with the right colors - a warm red center, uniformly brown on the outside - so they were cooked right, which leaves me puzzled. Why didn't a nice, thick, aged Angus strip, cooked medium rare, leave my plate a juicy (but delicious) mess? The other unfortunate bit is that it was delivered to me lukewarm on the outside. The only times my steak should ever be served to me less than hot on the outside are if I order it rare, or if I paid $8 at a crappy diner. In both cases, they should both be considerably warmer than this one was. What was right about the steak? Well - it was cooked to the right level of done-ness. Also, the parts I could chew had an incredible flavor - my compliments to whomever seasoned it. I ate approximately four ounces of the seven ounce half steak on my plate. The potato was fine; I can't comment much on it, as I was already full from the other items and could only eat a few bites. All in all, the food was alright. Good, even, at a certain price point. Our bill came back at about $45 for two drinks (a soda and an iced tea) and the appetizer, salad, steak meal and the extra potato. That's steep for food that's alright - it's even steep for good food. My recommendation is to give Firebirds a pass. If you want to go out for a good steak, skip the dressing up and go to Texas Roadhouse. They've got a killer 12 ounce Kansas City Strip that I'd pay $23 for any day - and it'll only set you back $15. (And try the top shelf margarita with Patron Anejo, too. Best. Margarita. Ever. ...tied with Sam's.)
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