Author Archives: Paul Oliver

Thanksgiving – Food and Football, but really nether

I love Thanksgiving, more than the Christmas holiday.   

Mainly because it celebrates that oh so important part of being human.

Gathering together to share a meal.

As humans, we break bread to –

simply eat

celebrate

mourn

negotiate

resolve

start and end relationships

and so on…

I have spent Thanksgivings with huge family gatherings of more than 50 people in a mid-size house with everyone crawling over everybody and eating in shifts to a simple affair with one special person.    All had in common that the sharing of a meal gave us that initial commonality that we could build on.

So, for all the massive amount of food we, as humans, gather to be together to start with that common bond of sharing a meal and then flow from that to laughter, tears and on some occasions a fist flying (been there).

We humans, not bound by country, race, or religion, but our singular – SINGULAR beingness need to eat and interact with other humans.

Good to be human, good to enjoy food and other humans company.   

Bread and why New York, New Jersey are better

In New York and In select parts of New Jersey they understand what good bread tastes, feels, smells and sounds like.

In other states they know what bread should look like.  It is light brown to a medium brown and different shapes.  And that unfortunately is it.

Good bread looks the same, but it tastes different depending on whether it is french bread, a baguette, a boule or different types of rolls.  That is in New York and New Jersey, but in most states it is all the same, just a different shape.

All the bread is soft, both inside and out from other states.

All the bread smells the same blah scent of baked bread without the aaaah in other states.

All the bread has no sound when you tap it, tear it or bite into it in other states.

But, growing up around New York City and in the wonderful part of New Jersey I grew up in, we had bread that made you stop and just be in awe of the baker.  Jealous that they got to smell that smell all day long.

They make bread loafs and rolls that are soft inside and out, yes.  They are dinner rolls, hamburger rolls they are rolls made to be soft inside and out, not just the only way we can make them.  But, they also make french bread that if you tap it makes an almost hollow sound, when you tear it cracks and a bite gives you a crunch of a crust and a soft airy inside.

A crust, yes a crust that requires you to actually tear with your teeth and crunch with your molars.  Not gummy soft bread.  Rye bread in NY/NJ has been known to crack teeth with a good crust.  Yum.

Then there is a hard roll.  Yes, it is called a hard roll.  Not a day old roll, like some misguided bakery worker in Pennsylvania ask me.  It is a crusty roll, with poppy seeds and is oh so light and fluffy inside.  I grew up having these rolls each Sunday with just cream cheese.  Lucky me.

So, if you live somewhere else and like bread, you must travel to NY/NJ and stop in a local (not Wal-Mart or Panera Bread) bakery.  My New Jersey recommendation is Vaccaro’s in Clark, NJ.

My New York City recommendation I like Rimini in Brooklyn.

 

In support of those who bring us food and drink

My mother raised me and my four brothers and sisters on a waiters salary and taught us not just respect for service workers, but also what good service is and is not.

Now I am not talking about Louis C.K. describes 20 year olds working at Starbucks service worker.  I am talking about those workers who are doing this for living for whatever their reason is to put them into a high end dining experience, a diner or a casual chain restaurant.

Out of the 300 billion people we have in the states, approximately 1.5% are serving you food or beverages on a daily basis.  They work anywhere from 4 to 10 hours per day exclusively standing and walking.  The expectation from each customer is courtesy and efficiency from the person regardless of the courtesy or respect given.

In your higher end dining, knowledge of food preparation details, accompanying beverage options to accent the meal choice and a timing of service that allows full enjoyment of the food prepared.

Customers have many options to voice their displeasure with poor service

– in person directly

– in person indirectly to management

– by not returning (the most painful option, but not helping)

– by complaining via yelp, facebook, twitter, google or other sites

Yet, if a customer is rude, dysfunctional, or belligerent outside of management banning a customer from returning the service staff have no voice.

We have all sat near that table of loud mouth people who cannot be pleased as their insecurity is so large that they perceive everything as a slight.  Returning food time and time again, complaining about each and everything loud enough so others hear them making it in someway that they are fighting for all of us.

Fools.

There are places that have poor service and good places that have poor waiters.  I am not excusing them and please voice your displeasure.

There are poor customers who because of their insecurity or feeling of superiority or likely both will feel compelled to hurt a business with no desire to improve, only destroy.

Some simple rules I suggest –

  • Give respect to get respect
  • Be clear to your waiter or server on your dining experience wishes (relaxing meal or within a certain time)
  • Tip at minimum 15%, I start at 20% and go down for obvious poor service and up for exceptional
  • Tip in cash, even if you pay with a credit card

 

Healthy eating versus dessert

We all should eat healthier.

More fresh foods, vegetables and fruits along with nuts.

Also, smaller portions than the somewhat super sized versions of american diner plates, McDonalds and so on.

Fully agree and practicing that myself.  I created a small furor at a local place that I love to go to because all I ordered was the entree’, skipping on the starter salad and dessert to keep my meal properly sized.  I had the maitre’d, the chef and a nearby customer getting on my case.

So, add to large portion sizes the cultural peer pressure to eat ‘normal’ dinner salad, entree’ and dessert.

All that said, let us please stop, STOP trying to make dessert healthy.  I am not whining about choosing fruit over cake, fruit as a dessert is fine.

My point is taking a very delicious food option and trying to make it ‘healthy’ by replacing items with lower fat, lower sugar substitutes is dumb and wrong.

Dessert is a decadent indulgence that is NOT healthy at all for your body.  The sugars spike your insulin levels, the fat provides no benefit, the combination is empty calories, headaches, minor depression chemically induced that is presided by a short, but wonderful sugar and emotional high.

Moderation – preached by health nuts, religious figures and your mom.  Without a doubt that is the key and will always be.

Don’t have that chocolate cake for breakfast – Mr. Cosby.

Don’t have that candy bar everyday.

But, do have that slice of pie once a week or that bowl of full fat and real sugar ice cream.

You want to take things out of your diet.

Eliminate soda, even diet – drink tea and more water.

Just my mini-rant on those healthy dessert people.

My favorite dessert is bread pudding, made with half & half, eggs, brown sugar, butter with a butter, egg and rum glaze.  It is 500 calories per serving.  I make it once every few months and then get overwelmed by the richness of it.

It is wonderful and I love it.  But, I will never eat it everyday.  Best dessert ever.

Mickey D’s Shakes

Perhaps the only time I will write about McDonald’s as I love their fries, but the rest of the menu – eh.

I was having a craving for fries and a milkshake, so Mickey D’s was the only place open at 11pm, so there I am.

In the past the shakes were simple, thick and delicious – 

 

 

 

Now they are Starbuckian (my word, I am trademarking it) in design and taste –

 

 

Not so thick, though you still get the extra thick straw.

 

And as such, not so tasty.  It was not very vanilla tasting.

So, for me I have written off Mickey D’s as my late night fries and shake place.

 

Well, maybe still the fries.

Panera Bread location reviews

As a consultant I like many of my colleagues have established places like Starbucks, Panera Bread, select McDonalds and some local hang outs (Blue Sky Cafe in Bethlehem, PA) as the places to go when you need some wifi and/or a place to have a meeting with others whom have no offices.

Panera Bread is my favorite as I drink tea and they have a nice selection that you get to choice yourself, it is relatively inexpensive at about $2 and normally the music is quieter than at Starbucks.  Plus, they are not as cramped as a Starbucks.  But, there is a variety of good Panera’s and yuck Panera’s.  So here is my on-going guide with a rating of 1-4, plus comments.

Trexlertown, PA  (by the cycling track)

They rate a 3

– cleanish, could be more attention paid

– layout is very quiet with three nice areas, one way in the back which is cove like

– good power outlets near those quiet areas

– WEAK wifi, so sad 😦

– no honey, but water cups

 

Norristown, PA (just off 202)

They rate a 2

– clean

– layout is very open, no breaks so very loud, more so as the music is overly loud all the time (correction, they have a room in the back that is quieter)

– very few power outlets

– weak wifi

– no honey, but water cups

Easton, PA (just off 33 by Barnes and Noble)

They rate a 4+

– Clean, though I was told by Jennifer the Store Manager they are due for a remodel.  Good for them.

– Nice long layout with areas to sneak away for quiet (I also found out that the music volume goes down based on store noise)

– several tables that have access to power outlets (additional ones hidden in the back under the benches by the molding)

– strong wifi signal and bandwidth of 1MB or more (using CNET test)

– they have honey for the tea, free water (I like to get ice to cool down the steam blasted hot water)

Lancaster, PA (route 30)

They rate a 2

– clean

– Okay layout, somewhat cramped

– limited access to outlets

– strong wifi

– they have honey and water cups (darn it Jersey)

– very slow staff, friendly but not real quick especially when a crowd appears – it seems to unnerve them

Wyomissing, PA (just off of 222)

They rate a 4.

– clean

– good layout, one of the best outdoor areas from a viewpoint driving up

– good access to outlets

– strong wifi

– they have honey and water cups (darn it Jersey)

– very friendly staff

North Wales, PA (near Blue Bell) on 309

They rate a 4.

– Clean

– Nice long layout with areas to sneak away for quiet

– several tables that have access to power outlets

– strong wifi signal and bandwidth of 1MB or more (using CNET test)

– they have honey for the tea, free water (I like to get ice to cool down the steam blasted hot water)

Allentown, PA (off of Airport Rd by Five Guys)

They rate  4

– Clean

– Nice long layout with areas to sneak away for quiet

– several tables that have access to power outlets

– strong wifi signal and bandwidth of 1MB or more (using CNET test)

– they have honey for the tea, free water (I like to get ice to cool down the steam blasted hot water)

Phillipsburg, NJ (between 78 and 22)

They rate a 3

– Ok clean

– Good layout with quiet areas (though music is louder here than in others)

– Only two tables with access to power

– strong wifi signal and bandwidth of 1MB or more (using CNET test)

– they have honey for tea, but you have to ask for hot water (so free refills uncomfortable) and no free water cups

Edison, NJ (near Menlo Park mall)

They rate a 3

– Clean

– Good layout with quiet areas in several places

– A few places with access to outlets (could use more)

– strong wifi signal and bandwidth of 1MB or more (using CNET test)

– no honey for the tea and no free water cups

Piscataway, NJ (off of 287)

– They rate a 0 (yep, zero)

– God awful, smelled like a bathroom and I was not sitting near the bathroom, table dirty, chairs

– Quiet, but that is because no one was in this one

– a few places for outlets

– crap wifi, only 300kps (using CNET test)

– yes they had honey, but no free water cups (again what is with Jersey Panera’s)

* I will not be visiting this one again

Harold’s of Edison – each order a deli challenge

Met up with my daughter for an early dinner and catching up on our going’s on.  A midway point from both of us is Edison, NJ.  Plenty of places to go there, but I chose Harold’s Deli as it was featured on Monday Night Football game (go Giants) and I was lusting after some pastrami.

Well, there is nothing done small at Harold’s.  There is nothing done large at Harold’s.  Normal large is the kid’s meal at Harold’s.

While pricey, but not when you consider you will be having the sandwich for 3 days and you can take a good amount of rye bread (a loaf) with you in your to go bag, it was just yummy.    So this is the couple of sandwiches we ordered.  She turkey, me my beloved pastrami.

That is a side order of lettuce and bacon (looks like 1/2 pound) along with our 2 pound of meat sandwiches.  The extra bread is to the right and could not fit in the picture.

The pastrami was very good (needs to be much warmer to be called Hot Pastrami),

 

 

but still so the perfect meal with a Dr. Brown’s Diet Black Cherry soda.

 

 

 

 

 

My daughter was so hungry and the turkey, bacon, rye bread so good she had three (really 2 1/2) sandwiches.

I had one good size sandwich knowing I would eat the rest over the next two days – yes yes.

Now, as we were leaving we saw this fridge of cakes (no the image is not photoshop-ed at all).  These things are almost two feet tall, never mind the apple pie slice that could not make the picture as it was a foot long and 4 inches high.

My daughter commented that this place is made for giants and the tables should be extra large.  I recommend Harold’s, but come hungry and bring a crowd.