Guest Post: Eli at Coach Daddy

Today I’m proud to announce that Notes from the Shallow End is hosting its first guest post! And the honor goes to Eli at Coach Daddy, one of the blogs I’ve been following since I started down this crazy path. Eli is a soccer dad, a coach,father of three daughters, and a fantastic writer; also it turns out he is as food obsessed as I am, which makes him the perfect guest poster!  Trust me, you’ll be inspired to hit the fridge after you read this.  Take it away, Eli.

 

Cooking is a highlight of my existence – right up there with coaching soccer and tickling my girls.

By Miia Ranta from Finland (Curing salmon  Uploaded by Fæ) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Miia Ranta

Seriously, I probably spend considerably more hours per week thinking about food than actually preparing it.

I realize this makes me sound a bit obsessed and perhaps unhealthily attached. Someone will probably retweet this column with the hashtag #dadswitheatingdisorders. They’d be completely justified, as I recognize I’m a bit dreamy when it comes to preparing food.

I actively seek nourishment in any way that especially involves me, a kitchen, kids, tortillas and cheese. I’ve made pancakes for no special occasion; planned my study time around pizza specials on campus, and would undoubtedly attend parties hosted by friends I might not like very much due to their propensity to serve delicious fare.

I used to love walking down Tryon Street on my dinner break when I worked uptown, for exercise, sure, but mostly to smell all the incredible aromas from the restaurants along the way.

Just nose shopping, I suppose, and trying not to look too hungry.

My kids have heard the phrase, “What do you want for breakfast?” to start almost every day of their lives, because breakfast is the most important meal. I’ve taught them that a well-balanced meal consists of at least two waffles, an egg, milk, juice if we can afford it that week, and should always lead right into thoughts about what we should have for lunch.

We’ve spun through the mall’s food court in hopes we’ll get to sample everyone’s chicken specialties.

“I’d love some!” I say as I consider wearing fake glasses or taking off my jacket or using a fake accent to give the appearance of being someone else for another run through the free food.

Food, while greatly appreciated when prepared by others, is a huge source of joy for me if I prepare it myself. I’m so food oriented; I know what I wore when I had a great steak four years ago, can’t wait to hear about the seafood specials, and although, I don’t know much about the term “fair market value,” I’m all about restaurant.com gift certificates.

I’ve been told that I’m an ideal dinner companion, as I have no particular restaurant preference, and I can get sauced on half a glass of wine. I am also likely to help you finish your entrée, and I’ll never forget to bring the leftovers out to the car.

Seriously, put some food in front of me so I can savor it, talk about it, and think about my next meal.

My girls, ages 8, 13 and 15, are similar to me in this way. In their world, food is a carnival, and they can go long periods of time just thinking about what to stuff in their crepes or who will get the first tortilla off the skillet.

And because breakfast is the most important meal of the day for pediatricians, clergy and President Obama, I can
celebrate our enthusiasm when it comes to nourishment. I’ve trained myself to embrace my affinity for it, and set aside each Saturday morning during the soccer offseason to prepare a breakfast chock full of yumminess, visual appeal, enticing aromas, and double whatever our favorite ingredient might be.

By [cipher] (http://www.flickr.com/photos/h4ck/2301135433/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Cipher

I realize that my dedication, as is true for all parents who like serving as the occasional family chef, will be appreciated. The sugar cookies I made from scratch? Dipped in hot cocoa, and scarfed in unreasonable numbers. The omelets I prepared with “too much” cheese (as requested by Elise) and whipped up fluffy and delicious? Devoured with reckless abandon when they realized the inside tasted a bit like the county fair, Christmas and a birthday all rolled into one.

But rather than leaping from the couch to hug me and kiss my face after providing this culinary circus, or even just bring their dirty plates to the sink, they’ll simply prop their feet, conjure up H2O or the Andy Griffith Show on Netflix, and leave me to enjoy my own omelet in peace.

There’s a considerable portion of me that wishes to simply shrug internally and think, “Meh, they’ll cook for themselves when I’m not around. They’re not some entitled divas in a mansion in South Charlotte; there’s no way they’ll actually be helpless when it comes to making their own breakfast.”

I know this is true. The Wii fit all but admits this. That little animated circuit board sizes my girls up standing barefoot on it, in their form-fitting Aeropostale gear and soccer shirts, their strong leg muscles and taut bellies lean enough to give them enough power to overcome both parents if they wanted to; but it once murmured to me about one, “Maybe you could feed her a carrot once in a while. I mean, will she eat a carrot?”

I’m like, “Sure. I mean, I would imagine so. I think we have some in the refrigerator.”

By Whitney from Chicago, IL (Ranch Dressing  Uploaded by Diádoco) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Whitney from Chicago

(Grace, the child who can go long bouts eating like starving artist, wriggles with joy at hearing carrots, because
it means copious amounts of ranch dressing, too).

Marie’s interest in food and ability to demolish a plate of nachos like a category 4 hurricane compels me to kick it up a notch. I mean, I have wheat flour; I’ve heard it’s healthy. I also realize that if I really succumbed to my inner foodie, I’d splurge the meager grocery budget on things such as cream of tartar, heavy cream, and fennel seeds.

With all those resources, it would seem the odds would be in my favor to produce something legendary.

But, with the newfound realization I’ve earned like a jester – not a king, I resolved to visit allrecipes.com, type in the not-so-exotic ingredients we actually have in the kitchen, and simply cook/bake/prepare. This is what evolved:

Two Saturdays Ago: I discovered a new recipe for crepes – thinner, yummier.

Verdict: They flew off the grill like hotcakes. Well, better than hotcakes. Elise would have loved to roll six or seven of them up in a row; she didn’t say the words, but I could see it in her love-drenched eyes. (I hope crepes are the only thing she gets dreamy about rolling up. Every time I think of her going to Appalachian State or UNC Wilmington.… ).

Last Saturday: I made pancakes from a recipe that called for mixing milk and vinegar, allowing the mixture to “sour,” but promising a glorious result of the fluffiest, tastiest proportions.

Verdict: An instant classic. Marie sheepishly finished a conservative serving of three silver-dollar sized pancakes, and then returned to the kitchen several times before lunch to steal more pancakes. “They’re like cookies,” she said, and I swear her eyes googled a bit like Cookie Monster’s.

Sunday: I baked cookies for a church outreach mission to a women’s prison – Grace and I found a recipe for molasses cookies, and after I convinced her we wouldn’t have to kill any moles in the process, we dug in. (Don’t ask what part of the animal she thought we’d be using.)

Verdict: Grace sampled many cookies as they sat on the cooling rack, declared them fit, and we agreed they’d be an enormous hit in prison. (Of course, the girls’ concept of “prison” is restricted to describing school lunch and Elise’s recent social studies unit on Alcatraz).

Tonight? I have this hankering to make tortillas, and pots of beans and beef and bowls of cheese and lettuce and jars of salsa and sour cream, and just let the kidlets express themselves on their tortillas.

Predicted verdict: “This is what heaven must be like, Daddy.”

It really must.

I can’t wait. (For dinner; heaven can wait.)

 

When he isn’t cooking or coaching, Eli writes about fatherhood, food, and futbol on Coach Daddy. Follow him on Twitter.

The Cheese That Wouldn’t Die

The Cheese That Wouldn't Die

Here in Ohio, the sun has finally made an appearance. Speaking of which, what’s up, May? I have to say I’m disappointed in your performance. It’s already May 8th, (pauses to check ink and crayon-covered calendar) Yep, May 8th. Lordy! You are very late to the party this year. If this nonsense keeps up we’re going to have to talk about a job re-assignment. So be a big girl and quit acting like March, or that’s just where you’ll find yourself. You’re dismissed. Good day. I said good day!

Before I head out to finally tackle the weeds in the garden beds, I thought I’d share something that happened yesterday. Something that means I likely will never eat this particular food again. And I’ve been eating it for my entire life, and feeding it to my kids, so I didn’t make this decision lightly.

My family has a cabin deep in the North woods of Michigan. Being in the North woods, it tends to attract, um, critters, in the off season when the cabin is closed up. It’s an old cabin, so somehow they manage to find their way in and all winter long it’s like, “Duuuude! House party! Jeb’s gonna score some acorns from his older brother! It’s gonna be sweet, bro!”

"So then I was all, 'I double dog dare you to eat it, bro!' and he was all 'No way! That's disgusting!' Dude, it was epic!"

“So then I was all, ‘I double dog dare you to eat it, bro!’ and he was all ‘No way! That’s disgusting!’ Dude, it was epic!”

So, when the place gets opened up again in the spring, the party leavins are abundant. The place is littered with leftovers. And poop. Lots of poop. Scenario set? Good. So when  VP decided to head up there for a couple of days of fishing,  he was the first one up there since the cabin got closed up in September.

When he got home from his trip, he told me this story.

The first thing he noticed when he walked in is that the refrigerator door had been left slightly ajar, which is a normal thing to do when you turn off power to a refrigerator for 8 months. Otherwise the inside gets all black, mildew-y and nasty. (Y’all, adorable woodland creatures aside, even Cinderella’s not going to be singing a happy tune if she has to don the rubber gloves and scrub down that mess.)

The next thing VP noticed is that someone had stored a bunch of rolls of paper towels and toilet paper in the open refrigerator.  Weird, but whatevs. Can’t trouble myself with the whys of that. Anyway, the paper towels and toilet paper had been pretty much destroyed by the various furry creatures who took a romp through the refrigerator. Yep, they ate the toilet paper and paper towels! Guess they ran out of chips and salsa. Hey-o!

But, as VP reports, sitting in the middle of the mess were three slices of cheese. Perfectly pristine in their wrappers. So pristine that they looked as if someone had put them in there the day before. But no. These slices of cheese were sitting in a refrigerator that had been turned off for eight months, and were completely unaffected by lack of refrigeration or the passage of time. Hey, who wants a sandwich?

I’d like to mention  that the cheese slices  were also completely untouched.  Untouched. As in, the animals that had been partyingtheir furry little fannies off in the cabin for the past eight months wouldn’t even eat them. Folks, these were critters that ate paper towels and toilet paper.  They obviously weren’t picky.   They just didn’t recognize those cheese slices as any form of food.

VP was appalled and horrified, not by the animal detritus that littered the refrigerator, (okay, he thought that was extremely disgusting too) but by the amount of chemicals and trickery that it must take in order to render this so called “cheese” not only indestructible, but also apparently inedible to scavengers. That’s right: When the end of the world comes the only survivors will be cockroaches and processed cheese slices.

Now, I love a good grilled cheese as much as anyone.  But I think from now on, with that picture in my head? It’s gonna have to be made with something other than “processed cheese food” (as it says right on the package).  Because if a mouse won’t even touch it? I’m thinking I probably shouldn’t either.

Plus now I can justify buying the expensive French cheese. Vacheron, here I come. Who’s winning? This gal. Have a great day!

 

 

 

 

No Breakfast for You!

My girls Alice, Vera, and Flo would never have let this happen. Preach it Flo!

See, my girls Alice, Vera, and Flo would never have let this happen. Preach it, Flo!

 

Let me start by saying I haven’t yet used this blog as a forum to complain about lousy customer service. That ends now, people. Because today I’m ranting. Because I tried to go out to breakfast with my daughters, and it turned into a really bad, not funny episode of Seinfeld.

This weekend my daughters and I drove to Lexington Kentucky for the Taylor Swift concert.  Great show, the girls loved it. I loved it. Blah blah blah.  (Taylor, dear, if you happen to be reading this, I have one thing to say to you: Please eat something.  Right now. Child, you are way too thin. I suggest fried chicken and mashed potatoes.)

So, the plan was to stay overnight in a hotel, get up in the morning, grab breakfast, and then get on the road for home. Magpie had a soccer game in the afternoon that she didn’t want to miss. I figured with an hour and a half to drive home, we would be fine getting on the road by 11:30.

Did I do my homework and find an awesome breakfast spot, which served fresh locally sourced food, and got rave reviews? Of course I did. I am me, after all. I love a big breakfast, and a restaurant that specializes in breakfast, with a great menu? I’m all over it.

So we arrived at about 10:30 to see a lot of people waiting. I asked the hostess how long the wait would be for a table. “About twenty-five minutes”, she said, not smiling. So I gave her our name, and stepped about five feet away from the counter in the tiny, crowded waiting area to wait with my girls for our table.

We perused the chalkboard menu, practically salivating at the offerings. The girls were excited. I was excited.

And we waited. And waited some more. And got hungrier. Group after group was called, and the crowd began to thin. Finally, at about 11:10, since it had now been about 40 minutes, I stepped up to the counter to inquire where we were on the list, as I had seen a few other people do.   “I was just wondering where we are on the list for a table,” I asked politely, making sure to smile and be friendly because this poor girl was probably having a rough morning with this large of a crowd.

She looked at me for a beat. “What’s the name?” She asked. I told her, and she glanced down at her list.

“There are two people ahead of you,” she said flatly. Sensing a weird vibe, but telling myself I was being paranoid, I thanked her and stepped back to our waiting spot, my ears perked up to listen for our name. We would have to eat really fast to make it home for the game, but it was still doable.

A few minutes later, she called, “Robertson!” and they got their table. And then “Williams!” and they got their table. We should have been next. But no. That was followed by “Peterson!” and then “Brandenburg!” then “Reeves!”  And then some more names. Another twenty minutes went by, so I approached her again.

“Um, I was just checking again to see where we are on the list?” I said, again politely, thinking that maybe she was just waiting for a spot for three to open up.

So image my shock when she looked right at me and said, “I called you, you weren’t here.”

Now, folks, I was done being polite. And I was certainly no longer smiling.

“But, you never called our name. We have been standing here the whole time! We would have heard you!” I protested.

“Yes I did. I called your name twice inside, and then I even went outside and called your name twice. You weren’t here.”

“I don’t understand this! We have been waiting here for an hour. Right here.  Five feet from the desk. We never left! And you absolutely never called our name!”

She didn’t say anything, so I tried again. “Twenty minutes ago you told me there were two people ahead of us. I stood right here after that and listened for our name. We didn’t go anywhere. Please. We’ve been waiting for an hour.”

She shrugged her shoulders, and looked at me with a level gaze. A gaze that clearly said, “I win. You lose.” And I realized that she had no intention of giving us a table. At all. Ever. Perhaps she never did.

Despite my desire to stand there and pitch a fit, I had no choice but to grab my children and leave in frustration. It was 11:30, the time that we needed to be on the road home in order to make it back in time for the soccer game. My children were starving by this point, and we damn sure weren’t going to get served there. The sign I spotted over the counter said it all: “Be Nice or Leave.” I knew instantly that in that place, the power was given to the employees, and that arguing would be futile.

“Mom, she never called our name,” Lucy said sadly as we crossed the parking lot. “Why did she do that?”

“I don’t know, honey. I just don’t know,” I said quietly.

Did she accidently cross our name off, and not want to admit her mistake? Did the power of tapping her little wand and granting tables at one of the most popular restauranst in town go to her head? Did she cross our name off on purpose because she didn’t like my shoes? Or maybe she doesn’t like children? I don’t know. I’ll never know.

I get that being the hostess in a crowded breakfast place is a hard job. I get that there are probably a lot of jerks that come in there and misbehave. I get that “The Customer is Always Right” doesn’t need to apply when the customer is acting rude, and I certainly appreciate an employer who will back up his employees in those situations. I always think of that scene in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” when the guy got fired for refusing  to accomodate the rudest customer ever. But, you guys? We were none of those things. It appears that this hostess just took an arbitrary dislike to my little family of northerners. No soup for you!

The good news is we found a delightful bakery a few minutes away, called Spalding’s, with fantastic fresh yeast doughnuts hot out of the fryer, and the nicest man with twinkling blue eyes behind the cash register. The girls happily munched on their doughnuts as we sped north, putting Lexington and the rudest most dishonest hostess I have ever encountered far behind us.

I debated even saying the name of the restaurant in this post. Truly, I don’t want them to get the publicity that would come from mentioning their name. Should I? Should I not?

Oh, what the hell.

So, Doodles in Lexington? Hear me now. That was the worst, most humiliating customer service experience I have ever had in my life, and y’all, I’ve been to the DMV in Washington DC, so that’s saying something. Your hostess made me and my two young children wait an hour for breakfast, then blatantly lied to my face, and refused to seat us. Didn’t even apologize. I have never been treated that way at any restaurant in my entire life.

Your food may be just fine, I don’t know. I’ll never find out. I will never, ever, come back to your restaurant again. It’s just not worth the humiliation of feeling and looking helpless in front of my children. And, I have a blog, and twitter. And I will make sure to tell anyone I know who is heading to Lexington to stay far away from your restaurant.

Because hell hath no fury like a mother who can’t get breakfast for her kids.

 

The Bagel from Hell

 

It's a bagel, not quantum physics.

It’s a bagel, not quantum physics.

 

Scene: Hotel, spring break.  Continental breakfast bar. 8:00 a.m. I haven’t yet had coffee.  This fact is important.

Five: Can I have a bagel?

Me: Of course you can.

Five: I don’t know where the bagels are.

Me: I’ll come with you and help you find them.

I get up to search the breakfast bar.

Me: Oh, look, here they are.

Five: That has seeds all over it. I don’t want it.

Me: That’s the only kind they have. They’re just sesame seeds. If you want a bagel, that’s your only choice.

Five: Okay. I’ll have it.

Me: It’s really big. How about you just have half?

I glance around for a knife. Meanwhile, the line behind us grows longer. The person next in line offers his knife.

Using an elaborate system of tongs and butter knife, I attempt to remove half of the bagel without touching it so it doesn’t go to waste, while the line of impatient breakfast eaters behind grows even longer. Finally successful, I am unsure what to do with the guy’s knife. I attempt to hand it back to him but now he looks at the knife like it is carrying the Black Death  so I put it down.

Five carries the  bagel to the table. Sits down. And then…

Five: Can I get it toasted? I want it toasted, Mom.

Me: Yes, you can toast it.

Five: But, I don’t know where the toaster is!

I point out the toaster, and he goes off to toast his bagel.

A minute later, he is back, looking glum.

Five:  Mom, I don’t know how to use that toaster.

Husband gets up to help him toast the bagel. They come back in a few minutes. Victory! Oh, wait…

Five:Mom, I want butter on my bagel!

At this point I’m growing slightly impatient with the whole process of the bagel. This next bit may have been said with clenched teeth, but I’m not sure.)

Me: Then. Go. Get. Butter.

He goes to get butter, comes back. Attempts to put butter on bagel unsuccessfully.

Five: Mom, I can’t spread this butter!

I reach over and put the butter on the bagel. Kid settles in to eat buttered, toasted bagel. Happy, he swings his feet while he chews.

One minute and two bites later:

Five: Mom, I don’t want this anymore.

Aaaaand, scene.

 

Happy Spring Break, everyone! May your week be sunny, or at least less complicated than a kindergartener ordering breakfast.

Cancel My Order for Buffalo

Coming soon to a suburb near you!

Coming soon to a suburb near you!

Dear Livestock Supplier,

I am writing to ask you to please cancel my order for the herd of buffalo I recently placed while in a jet-lagged stupor.

Allow me to explain. I just returned from a trip to Italy, and it seems Italy does funny things to your psyche. Probably something to do with a lack of pasteurization, but I digress. While in Italy, I had the most amazing buffalo milk mozzarella, the kind of thing that, once you eat it, you just know that once you go back to the United States all of the food is just going to suck. Life changing, this stuff.

So of course, me being me, I started to think, “Hey! How can I get this stuff into the U.S.?” but of course I never even considered smuggling it back in my suitcase packed in dry ice and wrapped in many layers of sweaters so the customs agents wouldn’t find it. Because that would be wrong. (Whoo hoo! Shout out to the USDA! I love you crazy guys!) I mean, we have buffalo mozzarella here, but trust me when I say it’s not even in the same league as the stuff in Italy.

Again, me being me, I started to think, “Hey! I can learn to make it myself! That’s it! I will become an artisan cheesemaker, specializing in fresh buffalo mozzarella!” This was possibly after having an espresso. Like drinking paint thinner, but really gets the thought process jumpin’, ya know? Oh, it was going to be fantastic! We would of course have our own small farm, and I’ve always wanted a farm.

And of course, to learn to make the cheese, we would have to move to Italy for a few months, where we would rent a small farmhouse somewhere near Campania, and where a local cheesemaker named Luigi would take us under his wing and teach us his traditional, secret, cheesemaking ways, but only after we cracked his irascible exterior, which is a result of his beloved wife Carmela being killed in a bizarre cheese-making sort of accident, and he blames himself, but we help him see that it IT WASN’T HIS FAULT and then there is a heartwarming scene with hugs and tears and then he teaches my kids some Italian. (Aaaand scene.)

Or something like that. Where was I?

Oh yes, I had it all worked out. Until I realized that in order to make buffalo mozzarella, you need buffalo milk. From an actual buffalo. Which would involve milking buffalos. Buffali. Anyhoo. That’s where you came in. After I placed my order for said buffalo, I read the fine print. I find it necessary to reverse my decision, and here’s why.

Aside from the obvious size issue (buffalo aren’t exactly space-savers, amiright?) It turns out they’re not docile at all. Buffalo (buffali?) are incredibly cranky animals, and being milked pretty much makes them want to kill people. I saw the pictures – there’s hate in those eyes, people. (Cut to scene of my children fleeing to the house in a panic with an angry, snorting buffalo on their heels.) I’m not envisioning many people lining up for the job, is all I’m saying.

Also, we don’t have an actual farm yet, and these animals need to be surrounded by a 6-7 foot fence. Therefore our attractive split rail fence which contains the dog so nicely might not work out so well. I can just imagine the calls from the neighbors: “Um, hi, it’s Brenda, from down the street? Yeah, I just wanted to let you know your buffalo herd is out again. They’re heading toward Mrs. Miller’s… Whoops! They just trampled Mrs. Miller. Oh, that’s a shame. Anyhow, see you at the block party! Toodles!”

Lastly, according to your website, it only takes 3 to 4 generations of calving to make them docile enough to milk. And that involves lots of blecchhy artificial insemination, of which I am certain I want no part. Of. I just wanted some cheese!

In closing, please cancel my order. I may be interested in some goats, however. Everyone loves goat cheese, right? See, I have this idea, that involves a small farmhouse in the French countryside, and an irascible goat cheese maker named Pierre…

All the best,

Lisa