Worst Baked Potato Ever

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I normally don’t make a habit of complaining about free food. If someone wants to give me something to eat, they usually either took the time to make it or spent their money on it, so it would be pretty rude to talk about how bad it is, but what if there is something so terrible that you just can’t keep quiet about? It would be an injustice to society not to warn the people about my lunch yesterday, even if I didn’t pay for it myself. It snowed yesterday, and it was a painstaking, not to mention dangerous, driving to work, but we were going to be opened for a few hours, so as a thank you for risking our lives to service the few customers who actually came to the bank in the hours that we were opened yesterday, the company bought us lunch, which seems like a pretty even tradeoff.
 
Since the roads were in terrible condition, our only option for lunch was McAllister’s Deli because it’s located in an adjoining parking lot to the bank. So my choices were either soup, sandwich, or baked potato, and even though soup sounded perfect given the sub-freezing temperatures outside, I was pretty hungry and didn’t feel that soup was adequately satisfy that hunger, so it narrowed down to sandwich or baked potato. I don’t go to McAllister’s often, but when I do, I usually get a sandwich and they’re generally pretty good, albeit nothing special, but I suppose I was feeling adventurous yesterday, so when my eyes scanned across the description for the Spud Ole’, a giant baked potato topped with chili, cheese and jalapenos, I knew that’s what I wanted.
 
In my experience, it’s pretty difficult to mess up a baked potato. You bake a potato in the oven, which is pretty straight forward, then you top it with delicious ingredients, and voila, you’ve got a fantastic meal, but apparently that’s too much for McAllister’s to handle, because the Spud Ole’ was one of the most all around disappointing meals I’ve ever had for a couple of reasons. First, I’m sure we can all agree that baked potatoes are best served hot, correct? I’ve never known anyone to intentionally serve cold potatoes of any variety, so I don’t know if McAlister’s was trying something new and edgy, but the Spud Ole’ wasn’t even warm. If the potato was in fact baked, it was done so many hours before being given to me. Yes, it was cold outside, but I find it very hard to believe that in the short distance from the restaurant to the car, my food became that cold. If I had been stranded on an island and was starving to death, then perhaps I would’ve eaten the potato, but since it wasn’t necessary to my survival, I didn’t eat very much of it at lunch, deciding I would take it home and reheat it for later, so then it would be edible.
 
Later last night I popped the potato in the microwave for a couple minutes, thinking that the lack of heat was the sole problem with the potato, but sadly, I was mistaken. The toppings just weren’t very good either. The chili meat had a kind of gritty texture to it, making me wish I’d gotten something else, or better yet, something from a different restaurant altogether. The bad news is that I ended up throwing most of the baked potato away, but the good news is, I was enlightened to the mediocrity of the Spud Ole’ from McAllister’s, plus I learned something new, that it is possible to screw up a baked potato. I’m not going to swear off McAllister’s forever or anything, but I don’t think I’ll be getting another baked potato from there any time soon, if ever again.

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Braving the Icy Roads

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After hours of snow and ice falling down, it’s usually advised, especially in a town like Memphis that doesn’t have the same kind of firepower to combat the winter weather on the roads like cities up north where it is more common, that you shouldn’t drive unless you have to. By staying at home and off the roads altogether, you completely eliminate the risk of having a car accident from sliding on the slick ice and losing complete control of your vehicle. While it’s encouraged that you don’t attempt driving unless it’s absolutely necessary, it is much more dangerous doing so at night when you can’t see all the patches of ice on the road, but about 7:30 last night, my wife and I pulled out of our apartment’s parking lot and onto the dark, frozen streets of the city, with one goal in mind, finding something to eat.

It’s not that we didn’t have anything to eat at home, because we did, but sometimes cooking is the last thing you want to do, so we figured we’d go somewhere near the house and pick up something to eat. We’d been home all day, both of the companies my wife and I work for were closed due to the weather, and by the time night descended on us, we were getting restless and just felt like getting out of the house for a little while. The plan was to go to Subway, which is one of the closest fast food places to where we live, a journey that would only require us driving down one back road where there wouldn’t be much traffic if any and then we’d arrive at the sandwich shop, eating fresh within a couple of minutes. The road leading to Subway goes downhill and has a couple of turns, so I took it very slow, careful for the story of my death not include the words “on his way to Subway,” and all of a sudden the strip of businesses came into view, one of which was the sandwich shop, and to our dismay, all of the lights were off, closed due to the weather.

The other place close to us is Popeyes, and that actually sounded better to me than Subway, so I took a right and started driving toward the chicken restaurant. We were on a street that was a little bit busier at this point, surrounded by streetlights which cast a bright yellow light on the snowy ground below, giving the appearance that all of the dogs in the world had decided to pee in that exact spot. There’s a saying or creed that the Postal Service abides by saying that “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” which is nice, but apparently not a sentiment shared by the Louisiana based fried chicken company known as Popeyes, because they too were closed, which was unfortunate because spicy chicken was really starting to sound good. My wife and I agreed that we didn’t even care what we got to eat at this point, but would settle for whatever was opened, if anything was actually opened. We drove on.

I’m more open to eat McDonald’s for dinner ever since they started their all day breakfast, which is obviously the highlight of that particular fast food establishment, so when I saw the golden arches in the distance, I didn’t exactly hate the idea of stopping there. With cars in the parking lot, they were obviously open, so we pulled into the drive thru, but instead of asking what we would like, or how she could help us, the person on the other side of the speaker only said that their system was down. They could only accept cash, which neither my wife or I had, so I told the voice goodbye and left the McDonald’s, growing hungrier by the minute. A little ways up the road we pulled into a Taco Bell that was open, which probably would have been my first choice that night had it not been so far from our apartment, but somehow we’d made it that far and I couldn’t have been happier. The systems at Taco Bell were up and running so we placed our order and before long were turning out of the parking lot and on our way home. I made sure to drive extra carefully on the drive back, because while dying on the way to Subway would be terrible, dying with uneaten Taco Bell would probably be the worst way to go.

Food and Football: The Perfect Night

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I’m exhausted today, like trying not to fall asleep at my desk tired, but that’s okay, because it is totally worth it. You see, I didn’t get much sleep last night, because I got home late and then once I got home I was too excited to fall asleep, so I tossed and turned for hours, and eventually got a few hours of rest sometime between the hours of 1:30 and 4:50 this morning. I may be tired, but I’m very happy, still living off the high from last night. I’ll explain.
 
Last night my wife and I went over to my grandparents house about six o’clock for dinner with them, my dad, and my uncle Brett. My grandparents had just gotten back from Orange Beach, Alabama earlier that afternoon, and brought back with them some shrimp fresh from the gulf of Mexico, a delicious and succulent treat that everyone was looking forward to. Mimi had made some potatoes and corn on the cob to go along with it, which were good, but the shrimp, as I sat there taking bite after bite dipped in cocktail sauce, seemed to be the very best thing I’d ever eaten in my life. We ate and ate until we could eat no more, easily one of the best meals I’ve had in a while, and while the food was great and we all enjoyed ourselves, that really wasn’t why we were there. We had serious business to attend to.
 
Throughout the college football season, it is mandated in the Curtis Family Creed that we must gather together and watch the Crimson Tide of Alabama. In good times and bad, we stand by our team, although admittedly it’s been a lot more good than bad lately, which definitely makes it a lot more fun, and last night was no exception. We sat in the dimmed light of the living room, my grandpa on his throne, the leather recliner that sits to the right of the couch, where my wife, Mimi, and myself were seated. In the rocking chair sat my dad, the perfect seat to for letting out all of his nervous energy in the form of rocking, and on the other side of my grandfather sat my uncle Brett. By halftime we knew a change needed to be made, because our offense was stagnant and with short, three play drives that ended in punts, our defense would no doubt grow too tired to continue putting up a fight pretty soon.
 
For weeks now, at our football gatherings, we have talked about wanting our backup quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa, to get some playing time, because clearly, between him and our two year starter, Jalen Hurts, Tua has the much better arm, able to zip passes across the field with pretty good accuracy, and last night we finally got our wish as he ran out onto the field to start the second half. From the first touchdown drive that Tua lead, hope re-entered my grandparents living room and we started to believe again that we could actually win this football game. It wasn’t easy, or all that pretty at times, but Alabama eventually won the game in overtime, and it was glorious. Everyone jumped out of their seats, high-fiving and hugging, basking in the victory of our favorite team. I told my grandpa, who records all the games, not to erase this one, that way I can come back later and relive that wonderful night all over again. As we left, I told him “let’s do it again next year” and hopefully we will. I don’t know when our good fortune is going to come to an end, but I know that for right now, we’re enjoying every minute of it while it lasts.
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My Wife’s Birthday Dinner

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Never in my life had I ever uttered the words “too much beef,” and before yesterday, I would have thought it impossible for those three words to exist next to each other, because in my experience, beef is good, and more beef is better, but it turns out there’s actually a limit, and I happened to reach mine last night. My wife’s birthday is on January 4th, so my dad took us to dinner last night to celebrate, and my wife chose to Playita Mexicana, my favorite Mexican restaurant. Although it wasn’t my birthday, I was pretty excited about the night; a free dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, what’s not to love? We arrived around seven, and my dad was already waiting at a table for us, and as soon as we sat down, a server took our drink orders, as well as an order for some cheese dip, or as I like to call it, white gold. The server returned with our drinks and cheese dip, and took our order, the red snapper for my dad, carne asada for my wife, and the combination number (numero) eleven for me, which included a burrito, enchilada, and a taco. We talked and laughed and my wife opened up the birthday gifts my dad had brought for her, and in no time, the entrees arrived, piping hot from the kitchen.

The other dishes looked good, but I didn’t spend much time admiring them, because lying right before me, was the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes on, a plate of food, covered in white cheese dip. Sure, I’ve had enchiladas and burritos topped with the queso before, but in those instances I normally have to pay extra to substitute cheese sauce for the traditional red sauce, but not at Playita where they don’t even bother making you choose between the queso and the much more inferior, red sauce, plus out of all the Mexican restaurants around, their cheese dip is my favorite, so you can imagine how thrilled I was to have it basically covering my plate. Now, when people talk about how they feel the first time they hold their baby in their arms, I’m going to be able to relate, because I’m sure it’s the same way I felt looking down at the plate. I took a bite of the enchilada first, then the burrito, and finally the taco, and individually each one was good, but together, it was just too much.

I didn’t realize when I was ordering that everything on the plate would have beef inside of it, and it did seem somewhat unlikely given that basically a taco, burrito, and enchilada, consist of the same ingredients, figuring that there would be some chicken or steak somewhere to break up the monotony of tortilla, ground beef, and cheese, but unfortunately there was not. Granted, none of the tortillas were exactly the same, the enchilada made of corn, the burrito and taco made of a flour tortilla while the burrito was fried so it was almost like a chimichanga, but it did seem to be too much of the same thing. About halfway through my plate of food, I realized that it was just too much beef, and knew that I would never order the combination number (numero) eleven ever again. My dad and wife liked their food, and my dad let me eat one of the fish eyes, which is something I’ve wanted to try for a while, although it didn’t taste that great or anything. To me it basically just had a fishy taste, so personally, I don’t get what’s so special about it, but I finally tried it, and that’s the important thing. All in all it was a really good dinner, with good food and good company, and while I won’t be ordering the same thing ever again, there’s no question about whether or not I’ll go back; Playita Mexicana is still my favorite Mexican restaurant in town.

Chili’s: Too Much Food

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Yesterday my wife and I left the house to run some errands, which given how things usually go, is really just a guise for going out to lunch, with a couple of quick stops at a store or two sprinkled in after we eat. We started off by dropping a belated birthday card off at my cousin’s house, because I was supposed to take the card to my grandparent’s where the family was gathering for dinner and to watch the college football playoff game, but I forgot the card, and didn’t realize until about one minute after I left my apartment, so rather than getting back out of the car in the below freezing temperature, I decided to wait and make a special trip the next day. Such is the life of a procrastinator. After that we discussed lunch options, which if we’re being honest was the whole point of the outing anyway, and we decided on Chili’s. Given that it was a Tuesday, and most people were back at work following the holiday, the restaurant was relatively empty, meaning we were ushered to a booth right away.

The waitress approached and took our drink order, unsweet tea for me, and water for my wife, which if you ask some of my relatives, they’ll tell you those two drinks are one in the same, but as far as restaurants go, Chili’s consistently has good tea in my opinion, so I was happy to pay a few dollars more for the water based beverage. We looked over the menu, which at a place like Chili’s, where I’ve eaten countless times, is irrelevant and a waste of time, because I know what food they have, and I also know that I won’t make up my mind until I’m put on the spot and have to give my order. I can pick out something that looks good to me, and then I’ll change my mind at least two or three times before the server comes back. We knew that we wanted the spinach queso, which is like spinach dip with cheese and guacamole and tomatoes, or rather my wife wanted that, and I wanted the complimentary chips and salsa that came alongside it, a win-win for the both of us. We used to always get the spinach and artichoke dip, and it was great, but for some reason, a couple of years ago when Chili’s had their midlife crisis and started experimenting with the menu, adding things that would make them seem younger and more hip, the traditional spinach dip disappeared, and I died a little inside.

Both of the entrees we were thinking about getting, were on the two for twenty-two dollar menu, so we figured we might as well get that since it would be a little bit cheaper and includes an appetizer, the only problem being that the spinach queso was not one of the limited number of appetizer choices given when ordering off that particular value menu, but I figured we could get that and just pay the difference in price. I figured wrong. For some reason that is completely inexplicable to me, we were not allowed to order that appetizer with the two for twenty-two dollar menu, even though I told the server that I understood it wasn’t one of the choices and I would of course pay the difference in price. Nope. So we ordered the appetizer we wanted at full menu price, then sticking to the two for twenty-two thing, we both ordered the chicken and bacon quesadillas, and for the appetizer that we didn’t want, southwestern egg rolls. Sometime between ten and fifteen minutes, the waitress returned with three large platters, one with egg rolls, one with chips and salsa, and finally the skillet of spinach queso, which lined up, basically stretched the entire length of the table. It was in this moment, that I thought perhaps we had ordered too much food.

I shoved my doubts to the back of my mind, and replaced them with happy thoughts about the food I was eating. The chips and salsa, as always were really good, and the southwestern egg rolls were as well, an interesting twist on a culinary classic. The spinach queso was fine, but not anything special, and I would have been just as happy had we not ordered it in the first place. Less than five minutes since our appetizers were brought out, someone from the kitchen approached the table with two more plates, our quesadillas. It was a literal struggle to fit them on the table amongst all of the other food, but it was managed, with plates pressed up against each other and the entree sitting slightly to my right so that it wouldn’t hang off the table. I think the chicken and bacon quesadillas are probably my favorite thing to get at Chili’s, because it’s the perfect combination of meat and cheese, with a side of ancho ranch dipping sauce that is delicious, and this time did not disappoint, but given how much food we already had on the table with the appetizers, there was absolutely no way that I was going to be able to eat the quesadilla as well, so I focused on the chips, salsa and egg rolls, content to take home the entree to enjoy at a later time. I took home all but two of the triangles of the quesadilla, and I’m happy to report that it was just as good reheated as it was at the restaurant.

My past couple of visits to Chili’s have been really good, in terms of taste, so it’s safe to say, I’ll be going back in the future, but I do have a couple of complaints. First, I think it’s dumb that you can’t order any appetizer you want on the two for twenty-two dollar menu and just pay the difference in price if it’s one of the more expensive items. Because of that, we ended up purchasing that appetizer for full price, while also getting one that we didn’t really want in the first place. Secondly, if someone orders an appetizer, give them ample time to munch on whatever it is before bringing out the entree. The point of the appetizer is to have something to eat while waiting for the main course, so if you bring out the main course less than five minutes after the arrival time of the appetizer, that appetizer basically becomes irrelevant, because the entree is really why we are at the restaurant to begin with. Other than those two things, everything was great, the food and the service both were very good, and for those reasons, I’ll look forward to the next time I visit. IMG_4631

Houston’s, We Have a Problem

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If you show up on time for a dinner reservation, but have to wait more than half an hour longer to be seated, then my question to you is, what is the point of having the reservation in the first place? It reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where Jerry is at the rental car place to pick up a car he’d made a reservation for, and the employee tells him that he’s sorry but they don’t have that car available for him, which launches Jerry into a hilarious argument about reservations and the importance of keeping those reservations. My wedding anniversary was a couple of days ago, but I had the foresight to call ahead to the restaurant we wanted to go to and secure a reservation in advance, because the restaurant we were going to eat, tends to have some long waits at peak meal times. The reservation was made for seven, and we pulled into the parking lot a few minutes before that, because the early bird gets the worm, and I was really in the mood for worms that night.
 
We walked into the packed lobby of Houston’s and I tried not to look to pleased with myself for having the foresight to secure a reservation, keeping us a step above the bedlam before us. I side stepped through the crowd and shimmied my way to the hostess counter, and told her who I was and that I had a reservation for 7 o’clock. She smiled and said we would be seated in ten minutes. No problem, we stepped out of the way. We waited and waited and waited, while people came and went, while the names of other diners were called as they were summoned back to their tables. Ten minutes came and went, and we still we waited. At least we had the reservation to hang on to, because as new people piled into the tight space at the front of the restaurant, the wait time was announced as an hour and a half. By the time it was twenty minutes after seven, I thought about leaving. I fantasized about walking out, going to a less crowded restaurant and being seated right away, and if it wasn’t our anniversary or my wife hadn’t been with me, I would have walked out on Houston’s, but my wife was really looking forward to the food, so I said nothing and continued to wait.
 
As the clock inch neared 7:30, I decided to take action and figure out what was going on, which goes against my strict anti-confrontation policy that has gotten me absolutely nowhere in life. I walked to the hostess and asked how much longer it would be, because more than half an hour ago, I was told I would be seated in ten minutes. She asked for my name, and she scanned the list when I gave it to her. She asked for it again, assuming she misheard me because she didn’t see my name on the physical list lying next to her on the hostess stand. I again said “Curtis, reservation for 7” and when she didn’t see it on the list again, she checked the computer and found my name. Apparently the first hostess hadn’t moved my name over from the digital reservation list to the physical one for whatever reason, so the servers that were calling people from the lobby and leading them to their tables had no idea that my wife and I were there waiting. After it got cleared up we were finally led to our table a few minutes later, nearly forty-minutes after the time of our reservation. The food was pretty good, but was it really worth waiting such a long time to get it. I think it’s safe to say, Houston’s, we have a problem.

The Anniversary Breakfast

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I had it all planned out. Four years is a solid amount of length to be married you know, so I wanted to make sure the anniversary went perfectly, so I started it off by surprising my wife. Even though I didn’t have to work until eleven yesterday, the day of the anniversary, I still woke up pretty early so I would have time to shower and make my wife a special breakfast before she had to leave for work at 8:30. It’s not like cooking breakfast for Leticia on December 27th is a tradition or anything. We’d gone out for breakfast a couple of times on the day, but I’d never cooked for her before, mostly because she doesn’t really like breakfast, but a thought popped into my head of something I thought she would like, that she’s never had before, so I decided to surprise her.
 
Over the past few years, my wife went from hating dark chocolate, to really liking it. It’s really been quite a disgusting transformation from making fun of me for liking dark chocolate, to her buying dark chocolate candy bars that are 90 percent cacao. Aside from eating straight cocoa powder, a mistake I made once that I’ve vowed never to repeat again, the dark chocolate candy bar that she likes is the single most bitter thing that I’ve ever tasted. In her journey to the dark side, my wife discovered that a great pairing for the bitter chocolate is raspberries, and I’ve got to admit, as someone who was never a big raspberry fan, aside from the sugary flavoring mixed into tea and lemonade, I actually enjoyed the berries, which are a nice compliment to the chocolate, so that was the basis for my grand breakfast idea. I would make my wife some dark chocolate raspberry pancakes for breakfast, making it a happy anniversary indeed.
 
It had been a while since I’d made pancakes, not because I don’t like them, but I guess because I never really think about them. When I was younger I used to make them more frequently, most of the time for my younger brothers, because they more than I were seemingly comfortable starting their day off with sticky syrup all over their hands and everything else that they touched. I remember one time on their first day of school when I decided to get up and make them breakfast. We were living at my grandparents house at the time, so I pulled my grandmother’s griddle out from the cabinet beneath the stove, then went about preparing the pancake batter. I don’t remember whether I added chocolate chips or not, but what I do remember, is that I wanted it to be a special pancake, the best they’d ever had, so I proceeded to cover the entire griddle in the pancake batter, attempting to make the world’s largest pancake. I don’t know how I managed to flip the thing, but the pancake gods were looking over me, and managed to help me slide it off the griddle unbroken and unscathed. The only problem was, I have two brothers, so I immediately had to cut the world’s largest pancake in half to feed them both, so sadly there is no picture evidence of my accomplishment, but the fact remains that it happened, proving that I used to know my way around the griddle back in the day.
 
But it had been years since I’d flipped a flap jack, and never had I made them with raspberries, so I looked online for some recipes, and while most of them were complicated and required like an hour of prep time, I did find what I was looking for, a confirmation that It would be okay to mix the raspberries into the batter with the chocolate chips and that the heat wouldn’t do them any harm. I pulled out a mixing bowl, which was actually just a really large bowl, not your typical glass mixing bowl that a professional might use in the kitchen, because apparently we don’t have one, and began scooping the powdering pancake mix from the cardboard box into the bowl, making a mess as pancake dust fell from the measuring cup and onto the counter. I studied the box for a moment, then added the correct amount of water to make the perfect pancakes. Next I opened the jar of dark chocolate chips on the counter and added a handful of those, because in all the best cooking shows, the featured cook adds a pinch of this or a dash of that, without conforming to the monotony of directions forced on society by Betty Crocker, so I followed suit.
 
I did the same with the raspberries, following the recipe of my heart, dropping the berries one by one at random intervals as the splashed into the batter as it swallowed them below the surface. Once I was satisfied that there would be a good enough ration of pancake to chocolate to berry, I stirred until everything was mixed then began the search for the griddle. I was sure we had a griddle, the ideal cooktop for making pancakes, but each cabinet that I opened and peered into, revealed no such thing, so I doubled back and looked again. No such luck, so I figured I could just make them in a skillet. I turned on the stove, placed the skillet on the burner, and sprayed some pam cooking oil onto it so the pancake batter would not stick to the pan. Something compelled me to open the fridge and check for butter, and there it was, sitting on the shelf on the inside of the door, just waiting to make the pancakes even better. I know I’d already sprayed pam, but since butter is just so much better, I cut off a little piece and dropped it into the already hot skillet where it melted almost instantly, converging with the cooking spray and filling the bottom of the skillet in a hot liquid that seemed to be spitting at me. If you’re ever making pancakes and you’re wondering if it might be a good idea to use cooking spray and butter on the pan, don’t, because it’s not. Trust me.
 
I lowered the temperature on the stove until the hot butter started to calm down a little bit, then poured in some of the batter, which formed a shape that was less pancake round, and more like the deformed head of an ogre. I waited until bubbles started to form in the topside facing pancake batter, then wedged my spatula around the corners and underneath, then gently flipped it over, causing the dangerously hot butter to splatter out of the pan and onto the stove and counter. It didn’t look great, but pretty soon my first pancake was finished and I started in on the others, which seemed to get better as I went on, looking more and more like the pancakes of old. I finished just as my wife was getting out of bed, and told her to come into the living room where the stack of pancakes were sitting on the table topped with three fresh raspberries.
 
She totally wasn’t expecting that and was completely surprised, so I started off the day in a good way. We sat together at the table, drizzled some maple syrup over the warm pancakes and ate together in romantic bliss. Personally, I thought the pancakes were fine, but certainly not the culinary masterpiece that I built them up to be in my head. The taste was pretty good but it could have been a lot better, but they looked absolutely terrible and wouldn’t be on the cover of a magazine anytime soon. My wife was abundant in her praise, talking about how delicious they were, and I suppose she could have been being honest with me, but in my opinion, it seemed a little over the top which makes me think that she might have been trying to cover for the fact that she didn’t actually enjoy them. Either way, she ate them all and told me how much she loved them, so it was something of a nice ego boost, as if I needed a bigger head than the one I’ve already got. It was a successful breakfast, not because of the food, but because of the person I was able to share the food with, my best friend.