Sunday, April 18, 2010

Grits and Bear It

Gastronomically speaking, there’s not much in the world that I love more than grits, and apparently I’m not alone in my admiration. The state of Georgia declared grits its official prepared food in 2002 and a similar bill has been introduced in South Carolina with Charleston’s The Post and Courier proclaiming in 1952, “An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, grits should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of grits is a man of peace.” My husband is not that man.

I come by my love for grits honestly; I grew up in the south where grits are fit for every meal. Any diner worth its salt will offer a choice of hash browns or grits with your breakfast, and if you want more you can always add a monkey bowl of grits as a side order. You’ll regularly see “shrimp and grits” on a menu, as well as with other kinds of meat, and especially cheese, but rarely vegetables.

Grits can be served hot or cold, porridge-style, or cubed and fried, but my favorite is simply hot and made a bit soupy with some butter, salt, and pepper. Grits are international, in Italy it’s called polenta and considered gourmet (hey, it’s basically the same thing) and in South Africa I was thrilled to find “pap”, a traditional porridge made from ground corn, so in a word – grits. Despite this far reach, grits can’t seem to make it over the Mason-Dixon line. My years living in the northeast after we returned from a few sun-soaked years Florida were dire; any trip south of DC required an early stop at a roadside Waffle House for a fix.

It was on our first trip together while dating that our grits rift was exposed. I shrieked with excited at the site of the first Waffle House, he – not so much. “What are grits?” he asked, I tried to explain but suggested that he just order them and find out for himself. He refused and despite never having tried them (he was born in New York; upstate – not the city – but as far as grits are concerned, it doesn’t make a difference), he knew he didn’t like them (huh?). “Ok, that’s fine, but you’re not getting any of mine!” That didn’t seem to bother him.

I didn’t give up; convinced that homemade grits, the kind that take 20 minutes to cook, would do the trick. Once he tasted that, he’d be a convert and bye-bye hash browns. Nope. He refused to season it, took one bite and almost spit it across the room. “You have to season it” I said, “just add a half a stick of butter and a handful of salt.” He disappeared back into the kitchen and returned to try again. Another bite and the same reaction, “What did you put on it?” I asked. “Some maple syrup and brown sugar” he replied. NO! What was he thinking? I explained that grits are savory; this is not oatmeal! But that was the end of it and he’s never eaten them again. Now he revels in telling all our friends that I like to eat ground-up corncobs, the part of corn that the cows won’t eat.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Downside of the Upsell

I hate upselling. Don’t know what that is? Sure you do, you just might not recognize it by this name. “Do you want fries with that?” That’s upselling. You thought you knew what you wanted, that was before you met “upseller”, now you have to figure out how to get past him or her without spending more money / consuming more calories.

Restaurants have been upselling for years. I was recently at a business lunch where the server would just not give up.

“Would you like to order any appetizers today?”

“Ah, no, thanks very much, we’re good with just the entrees.”

“Are you sure? The buffalo wings are real good.”

“No, thanks, really – just the entrees please.”

“How about some mozzarella sticks?"

“No, really, we’re good. Thanks.”

“How about…

“Look Pete, stop the upselling, we don’t want any appetizers.”

It was a battle, like trying to cancel a credit card – crikey – I’ve had an easier time ending relationships than trying to cancel a credit card; those people will not let you go, but I digress.

Shipped anything at the Post Office lately? Then you’ve had the upsell treatment. Any of this sound familiar?

“Hi, I’d like to ship this first class mail please.”

“Would you like Priority Mail, guaranteed 2-3 day delivery for only $3.45 more?”

“No thanks, first class is fine.

“Would you like to insure the package?”

“Nope, I’m good.”

“Would you like a delivery signature? Delivery confirmation? Registered or certified mail etc. etc.?”

“Just first class mail please.”

A couple of weeks ago I had to ship 6 packages on the same visit and we went through this routine for every single package. After the first box I informed the clerk that my answer would be the same for every box, that I just wanted the same, plain, service for every package; she informed me that she had to ask for each one, it was the rules.

And the worst, which for me has forever ruined a New England (if not American) icon, is the upsell at Dunkin’ Donuts. I moved away from New England (and thus Dunkin’ Donuts) almost 15 years ago. Back then life was simple; they sold coffee and donuts. Period. You could get your morning breakfast (with a cup of the best coffee in the world) in less than 2 minutes. The only thing that held up the line was someone with decision issues buying a dozen donuts.

Dunkin’ Donuts has recently come to my local airport and the first time I saw it I had all I could do to keep from running through the terminal to get in line for a cup of the best coffee in the world.

The line that I remembered moving at break-neck speed now crawled as servers offered up an array of items that I’d never seen served at a Dunkin’ Donuts before. Orders were placed for double non-fat, extra whip, vanilla lattes (hey, go to Starbucks if you want that!), and bacon-and-egg bagel sandwiches, and sausage/egg/cheese croissants - all of which have to be assembled and cooked on-order. There were 4 people in line ahead of me and I almost missed my flight.

Wikipedia states that upselling is a sales technique whereby a salesperson induces the customer to purchase more expensive items, upgrades, or other add-ons in an attempt to make a more profitable sale. Now you know; good luck with your waist and your wallet.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sleepless in (insert your city here)

The older I get, the less I sleep, what’s up with that? When I was seventeen I could sleep until noon, and now that I’m middle aged I struggle to get in a solid eight hours (and I love to sleep). At this rate by the time I retire I’ll be down to twenty minutes. The reasons for my sleeplessness are many, let me review a few of them here:

My husband is the human equivalent of a nuclear power plant. He throws off more body heat than a wood stove. Nice in the winter, but brutal in the summer – and no one can sleep when they’re hot.

We have dogs, one of which is an early riser – and I mean early. If you’re not up and out of bed by 5:45 AM she’s on your case. First comes the staring, then hot dog breath in your face, followed by pawing, and if none of this works she brings out the big guns – she licks your face. Yuck! There’s nothing quite like starting your day with a big, wet, stinky, dog kiss.

Another dog is not an early riser (he squints his eyes and rubs them with his paws when you turn the light on in the morning), however he’s fond of the midnight foray to faff around the backyard for five minutes and just “check things out”. He gets the backdoor opened by masquerading this little jaunt with an “I have pee NOW” whine. I get sucked in every time, what if he really does have to pee?

I travel internationally for work, so am often jet lagged. Either traveling ahead or behind, it doesn’t matter; your sleep just doesn’t pick up where you left off despite the fact that you revel being back in your own bed.

I can’t stop thinking about, well, everything. Work, friends, my desk, the kitchen, Will it rain on Saturday? I really need to clean the guest bedroom closet. When should we have the yard sale? We should bathe the dogs this weekend. STOP. But I can’t and it drives me crazy and keeps me awake.

And if all that weren’t enough, I suffer from occasional bouts of insomnia. You know what I’m talking about; you get in a rut that you cannot break. You wake up at 2:00 AM one day and then – boom – that’s it, you wake up at 2:00 AM everyday, with no end in sight. I try to stay in bed and will myself back to sleep, but ultimately I end up flopping around like a fish out of water – sometimes for hours at a time.

A couple of years ago I got to the breaking point, a person can only go so long without a good night’s sleep. I made an appointment with the doctor for some help. Yep, the “better living through chemicals” kind of help. My husband was alarmed (note: he was sleeping through ALL of the above) as soon as I hung up the phone he made a comment about my forthcoming addiction to the sleeping pills that the doctor would – I could only hope - prescribe for me. My response was quick and sharp, “how about we wait until I actually leave the house for the appointment before we start worrying about addiction”.

I have to preface my husband’s concern by stating that he has a general aversion to the “better living through chemicals” lifestyle. He takes an aspirin for everything. Got a cold? Take an aspirin. Drive a nail through your finger? Take an aspirin. Cut your arm off with a chainsaw? Take an aspirin. I, on the other hand, am quite happy to occasionally take a magic pill.

A week later I had a prescription for an extremely low-dose sleep aid in my hand and I promptly went to the pharmacy to fill it. That evening I took a pill and…I almost tear up thinking about…I had one of the best night's sleep of my entire life. Eight hours, straight through. I woke up feeling great. It was fantastic, right up until the moment my husband asked, “Do you recall driving, binge eating, sleep talking, or performing any other daily tasks while sleeping last night?”