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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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.

Thoughts About Some Books

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Let’s talk about books today shall we? Well, seeing as how this isn’t your blog which gives you zero say in the content decision making, I’m going to do it anyway, because that’s what I want to talk about. I know I’ve already written a book review this week, but I’ve read three books since then, so to keep from falling behind to the point where I have to cram too many books into one blog post, it only makes sense that I do them after several books, regardless of how much time has elapsed since the last one. So here’s what I’ve read the last few days, ranked from least favorite to favorite.

3. Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner: It’s not that this book was terrible, because it was actually pretty interesting, but the other books I read were just better, which is why this one has the lowest ranking. It’s the story of an above average income family living in New York, a father, mother, and their only child, a teenage daughter. Despite having enough money, the household is in disarray as the mother and daughter constantly butt heads, allowing the father to step into the role of favorite parent, which only furcates the mother further. When someone moves into the penthouse apartment above them and begins a renovation project, things take an unexpected turn when the construction crew shows up, causing dramatic actions to be taken. I can’t say anymore without giving it away, but it’s definitely an enjoyable and quick read, less than a hundred and fifty pages, so it’s definitely worth checking out. The one thing I didn’t particularly like about it was how quick everything happened in the end. With all of the buildup in the story, page after page of crescendo, the peak was quick, short lived, and left me wanting more.

2. The Girl Who Lived by Christopher Greyson: Days before her birthday, a young girl witnessed the murder of her dad, sister, her best friend, and her best friend’s mom in the family’s lakeside cabin. Ten years later she is still unable to come to grips with what happened, convinced that the police were wrong in thinking that it was in fact her dad who had committed the killing before turning the gun on himself, because she was sure the man she saw leaving the cabin was somebody entirely different. Her personal struggles and substance abuse keep the police from seeing her as a reliable resource when she sees the man she calls “rat face” driving past her outside of a bar late one night. She’s convinced that he’s the man who killed her father, and if the police won’t do anything about it, then she has no choice but to take matters into her own hands. “The Girl Who Lived” is a fast paced thriller with action packed just over the course of a few days, with unexpected twists and turns around every corner and will keep you guessing until the very end. If you are a fan of suspense and reading late into the night to find out what happens next, this is the book for you.

1. The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine: If you’re unfamiliar with Liv Constantine, it is the pen name adapted by two sisters who write together, which for some reason, an unknown notion that I hold, did not appeal to me. I don’t know why, but I just figured that two people writing a book together wouldn’t be as good or flow as smoothly as a single author, but I was an idiot, because “The Last Mrs. Parrish” is definitely one of my new favorites. It’s the story of Amber, a girl who befriends the rich Mrs. Parrish with the intention of getting close to her family, especially her husband, with the hope that she will eventually be able to steal him, and replace Mrs. Parrish with herself. Told from two different perspectives, the first half of the book by Amber, and the second by Mrs. Parrish, it is a very unique and enjoyable read. There are lots of secrets and you come to realize that not everything is what it seems. I would highly recommend “The Last Mrs. Parrish” to anyone that wants a lighthearted and fun read, that is also full of secrets and betrayal.

What to Read: 2018 First Edition

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It may be a new year, but I’ve got one of the same goals that I had the last two years, read fifty-two books. I’ve fallen short each of the previous times that I’ve made the attempt at averaging a book per week, but I’ve gained momentum, reading more last year than I did the year before, so perhaps 2018 will see me actually reach my goal. As always, I’ll keep you up to date on my progress, reviewing what I read along the way, recommending good reads, and warning you against bad ones, that way you’ll know what to add to your reading list, and what to scrap. Aside from not telling you about them at all, it’s literally the least I could do. You’re welcome. Anyway, the year is off to a good start as I’ve already read two books in the first four days, which might seem like I’m off to a great start, but I started off strong last year, and slid back as the year progressed, so I’m not putting much stock in my quick start to 2018.

The first book I read was “A Stranger in the House” by Shari Lapena, one of the books I got for Christmas that I was probably the most excited to read because of how much I liked her debut novel, “The Couple Next Door,” last year. Much like her first book, “A Stranger in the House” is a very quick and thrilling read, the suspense doled out liberally all the way through, keeps the reader hooked and turning the pages, eager to find out what happens next. It’s the story of an upstate New York housewife who has a car accident, which wouldn’t normally be something to think twice about, but this one is different. Following the car accident, she doesn’t remember anything about that night, why when she left her home earlier in the evening, she did so without taking her phone or purse, or why she didn’t lock the doors, but more importantly, she doesn’t remember what she was doing in that part of town at that time, where a murder had just been committed shortly before her car wreck. It’s very fast paced and with plenty of twists throughout, you won’t be sorry that you picked up this book. While I liked Lapena’s first book, “The Couple Next Door” more than I liked this one, Stranger was a very entertaining read and it did not disappoint.

The other book I read this year was “The Book of Joe,” by Jonathan Tropper, an author I have never read before, but one I look forward to reading more of his work in the future. A bestselling writer, Joe, who grew up in Bush Falls, Connecticut, hasn’t been back home in seventeen years, and has thought of doing so, until he gets the call in the early hours of the morning, informing him that his father had a stroke, and is in a coma in the hospital. Although he isn’t close to his father anymore, Joe feels that it’s his duty to be there, so he leaves Manhattan the next morning, heading for his Bush Falls, where just about everyone in town hates him, since his bestselling book, titled after the name of his hometown, made many of its residents, the people in the town growing up and the inspiration for the characters in his book, look bad as he wrote about them, exaggerating facts and jumping to conclusions about the people that he hated. Now he has to face them, and what follows is an entertaining story of one man’s struggle to survive a trip back home, while trying to reconnect with his estranged family and staying out of the way of everyone that his book pissed off. The pages flow so smoothly and quickly that I finished “The Book of Joe” in a day, and I would highly recommend you checking it out.

Whatever your goals are, whether you want to read more or do something else, like learn Portuguese, I wish you luck, and hope you are off to a fast start. If you want more book reviews and recommendations, keep coming back to the blog, where I’ll dedicate to writing about books at least once a week, and feel free to share this with your friends, because I’m sure everyone could use a good book every once in a while.

Final Book Review of 2017

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It’s the last day of 2017, which means that if I’m going to give you my last book review of the year, I’m going to need to do it now. I put it off so long because I had a goal to read 52 books in the year, and I wanted to reach that goal before I gave my final review so I wouldn’t leave anything out, but unfortunately I didn’t reach my goal. I fell short by ten, only having read 42, but there’ve been some good and some bad, and to this point I’ve told you all about forty of them, so get ready for the final two, because here they come.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus: Have you ever seen the tv show Gossip Girl? If not then you’re really missing out, as it’s one of the greatest television shows in history in my completely biased opinion. It’s about a website called gossip girl that posts rumors and secrets about the kids that go to a private Manhattan high school and the quest to find out who is behind the website. That’s kind of what this book is about. A group full of kids is in detention after school one day, when one of them mysteriously drops dead, poisoned by the glass of water he’d just gulped down. The dead kid had started an app much like gossip girl, where he posted secrets about other kids in the school, the only difference is, everyone knew that he was behind it, and every single person in detention with him that day, had a reason to make sure he didn’t make his next post, because he had secrets about all of them. It’s a thrilling whodunit story that will leave you guessing about who the culprit is until the very end. It’s a fun, quick read that will keep you turning the pages late into the night, desperately searching for the truth behind the murder.

John Dies at the End by David Wong- This book, written and narrated by twenty something video store clerk David Wong, is the story about his unfortunate discovery of paranormal forces existing in the universe. It’s something he would like to forget, or better yet un-know, but something is always lurking around him, lurking in his brain, a constant reminder of what he knows and what might happen. Along with his friend John, they must save the universe or at least protect their loved ones from meeting the same unfortunate fate as other people in their small midwestern town. It’s part sci-fi, part humor, and all exciting. A four hundred plus page book that you will not be able to put down once you start. I’m not really a fan of science fiction, but this book hooked me in from the beginning, and I can’t wait to read the final two books in the series because the story is just that good. I highly recommend checking this one out, because if you like an exciting story, then John Dies at the End is the perfect book to get lost in. I wish you all a happy new year, and I think starting the year out reading either of these books will guarantee that your 2018 gets off to a great start.

El Porton: A Family Dinner

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If there’s one thing my family loves, it’s Mexican food. Okay, I’m sure they love more than just that, like me, for instance, but in terms of things you eat, Mexican food is pretty near the top of the list. It seems like whenever we all go out as a family, which is generally to celebrate a birthday, we always end up at El Porton, which is how we ended up there on Wednesday night. We were having a birthday dinner for my uncle Brett, and a welcome to town dinner for my Aunt Kathryn and cousin Bailey who just got to Memphis from their home in Greenville, South Carolina to spend the holidays. If you were closely studying our family’s restaurant dining habits, it would be clear that we eat at El Porton much more often than anywhere else, and you might draw the conclusion that surely, by now, we would have grown tired of it, but you would be wrong. My grandpa sometimes says that he could eat Mexican food multiple times a day and still not grow tired of it, and I would have to agree with him, because, in my humble opinion, there is no greater food in the world, except maybe breakfast, but we can talk about that later.

No matter how many times I eat at El Porton, I always have to spend a few minutes looking over the menu, because unlike a lot of my other favorite restaurants, I rarely get the same thing to eat here very often, not because it wasn’t good food or anything, but because there’s just so much to choose from, and I want to try it all, or at least most of it. I’ll pass on the menudo. I’ve been to so many Mexican restaurants and have tried so many different varieties of salsa that it’s hard to keep them all straight, differentiating the ones I like from the ones that use too much cilantro or those that are too chunky, so I don’t remember if I’ve always been a fan of the salsa at El Porton, but Wednesday night, it was really good. It was very smooth with no overwhelming flavors, and while I wouldn’t have minded it being a little spicier, it was nice and mild. After looking over the menu, and changing my mind seventeen times, I finally decided on the combination number eleven, something I don’t think I’d ever gotten here before. I guess you’re probably wondering what the combination number eleven is, and I guess I’ll tell you, even though it’s obvious that you don’t go to El Porton as often as you should. Amateurs.

What I ordered was a plate with an enchilada, a beef burrito, and a taco. I’m not a big fan of crunchy tacos, so I asked to substitute the hard shell for a flour tortilla, and because you only live once, I willingly shelled out an extra dollar fifty to have my plate topped with cheese dip instead of red sauce. The food arrived and the waiter made sure to warn me that the plate was hot. Gracias amigo, but this isn’t my first rodeo. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a plate of Mexican food topped with cheese, but if not, the only word to describe how it looks, is heavenly. The sight is so aesthetically pleasing, that there’s a good chance by the time you’re reading this that I’ve put the picture of my queso covered plate as the lock screen photo on my phone. I took a deep breath, and dug in, first starting with the enchilada. I didn’t specify what I wanted inside the enchilada, but I figured it would be beef like the burrito, which turned out to be a wrong assumption. It was filled with cheese sauce, the same kind of queso that was covering the exterior of that very enchilada, making it possibly the cheesiest thing I’d ever eaten. There was so much cheese sauce that it thickened and stuck to my gums, caking the inside of my mouth. Having a lifetime of things stuck to the inside of my mouth, most disgusting and ibuprofen tablet that got caught between a dental spacer and the roof of my mouth where it had to stay until it dissolved, cheese dip is easily one of the least offensive tastes.

The burrito was great, full of seasoned beef and topped with the queso, and was the best thing on the plate. The taco on the other hand, could have been better. One would assume that the same ground beef from the burrito would be used for the beef taco, but the taco meat lacked flavor that was abundant in the burrito. Everything else about the taco was good, the flour tortilla that was heated to the perfect temperature of warm, but not so hot that you couldn’t pick it up, and the cheese was melted over the beef. If the meat had been seasoned properly, I would have said it was one of the best tacos I’d had at a Mexican restaurant in Memphis, but it wasn’t so I won’t. All in all it was a pretty good meal made better by the addition of cheese sauce, but the best thing about that dinner at El Porton wasn’t the food, but the family that I got to sit around the table with. I’m a lucky guy.

IHOP. You Hop. We All Hop.

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Back in December of 2014, my wife and I were spending our first ever Christmas together as a married couple, and we wanted to start a tradition that we could share together until one of us dies, so that morning, after we got up and exchanged gifts, we decided to go to Ihop, and thus the tradition of going out for breakfast on Christmas morning was born. We didn’t go back to the international house of pancakes for nearly three years, thus abruptly killing the tradition we’d started with such high hopes and wide eyes on that first Christmas together. It was never a conscious effort to avoid Ihop all those years, in fact we even attempted to go back on MLK day a year later, but apparently most everyone in the city of Port St. Lucie had that same idea, and we weren’t about to wait more than an hour for breakfast. It’s good enough, but it’s certainly not worth waiting a long time for. Of the big chain places that serve breakfast, I prefer Perkins, Waffle House, which I know is so unsanitary and disgusting, but some of their breakfast food really hits the spot, and possibly even Denny’s, over Ihop, and if I’m being honest, the main reasons are because Ihop’s lack of biscuits and sausage patties on the menu, which are two of my favorite breakfast foods, although sausage beats a biscuit any day of the week.
 
While we were in Branson on Saturday, we were looking for something to eat near the hotel we were staying in, and it just so happened that we were staying near an Ihop, so that’s where we went for dinner. As we sat in the lobby, waiting to be seated, my wife asked me if I was going to order from the breakfast menu or from the dinner menu, which might be the dumbest question I’ve ever been asked. I think I’ve gotten non-breakfast food once at the pancake house, and it was TERRIBLE, but it taught me an important lesson;
if you’re eating at a restaurant that is known for their breakfast, then you order the breakfast, duh!
 
Looking over the menu, I was pleased to have my wife point out to me that a sausage patty was on the list of sides or a la carte items, and when I asked the waitress if I could substitute it for the sausage links, she said yes, but I would only get one patty for the two links, which I was more than okay with. I knew I wanted eggs, because at this juncture in my life, few things are as enjoyable to me as an over easy egg and a sausage patty. I love breaking the yolk and dipping sausage in it. It’s delicious and if you’ve never had it, quit being a caveman and give it a try. I ended up getting the breakfast sampler, a dish that consisted of two eggs, over easy of course, two strips of bacon, two pieces of ham, hash browns, a sausage patty, and three pancakes. My granddad used to take us to Ihop quite a bit when me and my brothers and cousins were younger, and that was his favorite thing to get, so even though it was a lot of food, I was able to justify it in my head by calling it a tribute to him. He would have been so proud.
 
The food didn’t take too long to arrive, but the coffee refills happened as often as I wished, given that a full pot of coffee was left on the table for everyone drinking coffee, which was just me. I can’t express to you how much I love having refills already on the table, because there have been countless times, where I’ve been forced to wait on a server for a refill, while my food starts getting cold. Having an extra drink on the table is a very simple fix to the problem, that very few restaurants employ. The food came and was just as I remember, not great but good enough, as any respectable breakfast should be. The eggs were cooked great and perfectly runny when I sliced the yolk and watched the glorious yellow liquid pour over my plate, lovingly colliding with the other food. The hash browns were fine I guess. It’s hard to really judge how good something is when it’s covered in ketchup, but that’s just how I eat hash browns and I’m not going to apologize for it. The bacon was good, as was the ham, although I’ve never really understood its place on the breakfast plate, which you wouldn’t have noticed that I had any qualms about because I ate all of it, and quite ravenously I might add.
 
The sausage, the one thing that holds Ihop down below other restaurants that I prefer, wasn’t that good. While it was slightly better than the sausage links that I’ve become accustomed to being disappointed in, it was so greasy and soft, like almost like butter, that I was unable to enjoy it. The pancakes were pancakes, which is to say that they were fine, and they certainly put enough butter on them for at least an additional serving or two, and the syrup, the ole’ fashioned classic maple syrup, was a delicious compliment as always. All in all it was a good meal, which breakfast usually tends to be. It’s easily my favorite meal throughout the day and if I were to die with any regrets, it would be that I didn’t eat breakfast more often. While Ihop may not still be my favorite restaurant, when you’re in the mood for breakfast, it certainly has the capability to scratch that itch.