Free Drinks

Although I have gotten free drinks (these are the non-alcoholic type) in the past, I had some good fortune over the past week.  Two different establishments volunteered to give me a free drink even though I was willing to pay for it.  This was no scheme.  It did not involve taking advantage of any unique promotions.  Neither did it involve dressing up like an employee and wondering into the back with an empty cup.  Since I am sure the curiosity is killing you (it is killing me as well.  Can I walk the story thru with enough warping to make it more interesting than was the original experience?), let me begin….

With a dentist appointment ahead of me that morning, I was concerned to brush before I went.  My breakfast of 2 cups of coffee and a piece of toast was followed by my mouth being molested for 2 minutes by my electric toothbrush.  After the near silence common to parents who drive their teenage children to nearly any activity(in this case school), I chose to stop at a Panera before my dentist visit.  As I lugged in my laptop and threw on my cap, I must have done something to very negatively affect my appearance.  After being asked what I wanted, my response of a “medium coffee” was followed by an, “It’s on my today.”  My billfold quickly dropped back into the comfortable recesses of my pocket.  I gave a hearty “Thank you” at the time I received the cup and again a few minutes afterward.  Was I wearing the “secret hat color of the day”?  Was I the 125th customer?  Did I look so haggard it was all about pity and nothing to do with some mystery to remain unsolved?  Or, did my new friend know the dentist would tell me I had been a very, very bad boy lately.?

Just yesterday, my son decided nothing presently living in our refrigerator–a survivor of one of our dinners over the past couple of days–was worth of his consumption.  He requested I run him up to the local Whataburger for a hamburger.  Since leftovers translate into, “I am not buying you your next meal.”, he knew he would be buying whatever he ate.  While driving him there–a five-minute drive even if driven in reverse, I received a phone call.  The call was quick but not so quick that I finished it up before my son had his order placed and paid for.  After completing my call, I walked to the register.  As I pointed my thumb at my son, I said, “I was hoping to place it on his order so he could pay for it.”  The employee felt some pity or exercised some liberal interpretation of some company rule dictating when a drink can be given away for free.  He handed me a cup and said, “Enjoy.”  Without hesitation, my mouth uttered a, “Thank you.  I will.”  Maybe he sensed father/son time is better when dad has a root beer.  Or, maybe he just sensed the free drink would make sure the conversation would stay away from the topics that sometimes strain the father/son relationship.  Whatever his logic, it helped!


Brisket – Take 1


The brisket ready for its 7+ hour visit into the oven.

Oh So Tender Brisket

Prep : 15 m

Cook:  6 h

Ready In 6 h 15 m (I used a 5 pound brisket, so I went closer to 7.5 hours of cooking)

Ingredients (Due to me using a larger brisket, I adjusted the ingredients slightly.)

  • 3 pounds beef brisket
  • 1 (1 ounce) package dry onion soup mix
  • 1 3/4 fluid ounces liquid smoke flavoring
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour


  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C).
  2. Coat the inside of an oven roasting bag with flour. Place brisket inside of bag. Pour liquid smoke over the brisket and sprinkle on garlic powder, dry onion soup mix, and ground black pepper. Seal bag. Using a fork, make two sets of holes in the top of the roasting bag.
  3. Lay bag in a broiling pan. Bake in a preheated oven for 6 to 8 hours.


This meal was a new experiment with brisket.  My first experiment with brisket was okay, but it did not go over quite as well.  The biggest downside with this meal was it tied the oven up for a few hours.  We would have liked to have different side items, but the lack of a double oven limited what else we could make.

We knew the meat was done at the 7.5 hour point when we were able to “tickle/poke” the meat and it felt very soft.  Ideally, we would have had a thermometer to penetrate the bag and get the 160 degree F reading.  The poke method worked for us!

Was it good?  Absolutely!!  I would be very hesitant to make brisket without a bag in the future.  I am not sure the seasoning above was the best possible taste profile for us, but it was good.  In previous brisket attempts, the brisket was moving toward the dry end of the spectrum.  This was not an issue with this recipe.  It had ample fat which contributed to a very juicy meat.  The 6 of us probably ate about 4 pounds of meat–just a little bit of leftovers.  Next time, I may use the bag and use a rub and the liquid smoke.  Regardless, the bag is your brisket’s friend.

Green Shirt Danger

When you walk into the wrong supermarket with the wrong color shirt (read this as, “The local store we like for bulk and produce wearing a shirt very similar to the shirt worn by the store staff.”), you shouldn’t be surprised if you get questions from some of the customers.

Today was my day to get a question on the cooking of organic quick oats.  As the customer struggled to open the bin (the hinge was not where he expected it to be.), I stepped in to point out the handle cleverly disguised as a handle.  

The customer seemed slightly embarrassed to need help with the bin, so he felt the need to engage me with a question.  “How do you cook those?”  

As I prepared to answer to answer, his eyes played across my t-shirt. While it was a close kin of the store’s employee shirts, mine was a lighter shade.  He quickly had another question, “Do you work here?”

Never being one to run from a conversation, I let him know it was not a problem.  “I have never done the organic, but I am guessing you double the water.  If you use ¼ cup of oats, you add a ½ cup of water. Set the microwave for a couple of minutes.”

He seemed to feel comfortable with that recipe.  I then went on to say, “If it runs over the top of your bowl, you know you did it too long.”

He also seemed to identify with the “messy microwave” phenomenon.  He spoke with an accent and has trouble bins, but oatmeal allowed us to bond.

Leftover Lane

Last night we took a drive down Leftover Lane.  It was not a completely miserable “drive”.  I made sure the “cars” occupants had snacks to make the drive tolerable…..

After over a week of staring at the plastic containers in our refrigerator without fully committing to emptying them, the day finally arrived.  The male members (As the father, I am technically a male.  My appetite disqualifies me from sharing in complete male status) were both off work today, so the chances were good the refrigerator would soon by emptied and open for new residents (leftover food items).  As further enticement, we stopped at a bulk food store where bribery was offered as a pathetic but effective closing technique.  Although no signatures were captured in blood, my threats of repercussions seemed to properly prepare the diners for my expectations.  I was even willing to purchase a couple of bottled specialty soft drinks to virtually guarantee our “drive” of being a successful one.

As luck would have it, they were good to their word.  Despite recently consumed apple fritters with a side of gummy bears and the effects of carbonation on an already rather crowded appetite , the protein was all consumed pretty quickly.  (Young men do like their hot dogs)  I could also depend on my daughters cooperation when it comes to visiting Leftover Lane.  Unfortunately, their portions are usually only capable of slowing working away at a leftover rather than fully demolishing it in a single visit.  I am generally content being a cheerleader until everyone gets their plates full and their obligations fulfilled.  This usually leaves me as getting the “leftovers-of-the-leftovers”.  (It is not as bad as it sounds.  Some unlikely combinations have yielded some good eating.) With a guest appearance by my wife who was not expected home until much later in the evening, we emptied five houses on Leftover Lane of their residents.

Now, we start plotting on how to refill the “houses” on leftover lane.  Mexican is good.  And, my son at college comes home for fall break next weekend.  Chicken on the grill always makes for a nice neighbor.  The houses(refrigerator containers) should fill up quickly!!



High Velocity Ketchup

I think the mother was doing a great job!!  She had her 3 children following her and the tray of Happy Meals to their seat.  The twin girls and brother (they could have been triplets….they were all that close in age) sat at the circular table waiting for their specific Happy Meals to be placed in front of their smiling, happy faces.  The first delivery hit a snag when a cheeseburger appeared where a plain hamburger was expected.

With the rest of the Happy Meals being passed out without any problems, “mom” prepared the kids to sit still while she went and exchanged the faulty hamburger.  (I was prepared to jump in, but people with kids are wary of strangers volunteering to help them with their precious kids…)  Before mom got to far into her “be good for just a minute” speech, the male member of the party decided to go for some attention.

Twin#1:  Waaaa!

Mom:  What is it?  What happened?

Twin#1:  He got ketchup in my eye.

Mom: Looking at son, “You don’t even like ketchup.  What were you doing playing with the ketchup?  Gimme that ketchup.”  Looking at daughter, “It was just ketchup.  It is not worth getting that upset about.”

After she returned with the hamburger defrocked of its cheese, my fellow Mickey D-ites pretty much kept to themselves….almost.  As I was preparing to put my laptop back in its case, I noticed a ketchup looking substance on the top of the case.  And, the table top by my case had a few splotches of ketchup as well.  They were easily dabbed up with a napkin.  But, their presence set me to wondering…

The table with the triplets (or twins plus one) was probably 8-10 feet from me.  For the little ketchup packet to spit out its contents with enough velocity to reach my table, it would likely have stung someone pretty well if it hit them in the face with the rest of the “spit” heading to my table.  Obviously, I felt a little more sympathy for the ketchup-welted daughter.  And, mom gets some sympathy, too.  A son doesn’t stand a chance when he has two sisters right near his age.  He likely made a habit of dispensing some creative justice as he attempted to get some attention–any type of attention.   Likely, one or both of the girls were also very good at making sure he got away with little—aren’t family dynamics fun?


Cantaloupe Goes Airborne


I have been doing this trick with balls of all sizes for sometime….a few decades. To try and put more pressure on myself, I allow myself to propel the occasional fruit into the air.  It may not seem like pressure to anyone else, but my wife’s “encouragement” in the background should I have to clean up anything resembling exploded fruit does give me a mini-rush.  Apples are only a small rush because any errors only results in bruising.  It is the cantaloupes, tomatoes, and maybe someday the watermelons that will give me the assurance my heart is still in tip-top shape.


Kimchi Suicide

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As we enjoyed another meal from our exchange students (it has been awhile between family visits and Thanksgiving and overall busyness), we had a healthy discussion around the table.  My youngest daughter was overnighting with a friend (she would appreciate us saving her some of the curry chicken w/ carrots and potatoes and the soup with squash, tofu and a few baby shrimps in the soy based broth.), so she missed the fun.

Since this meal was made by our Chinese student (our other student volunteered to help as well as myself), it did take a little time to pull together after school.  Maybe it was hunger that loosened our lips more than usual.  Whatever it was, we had a laugh (for our Korean student) and a tear (for our Chinese student) before the meal was over.

Our Chinese student had worked so hard to prepare Chinese pancakes for the International food day at school a couple of weeks ago.  The night before, she spent over 2 hours in the kitchen preparing and cooking the egg/flour batter.  She attempted to fry them into near perfect, untorn pancakes for people at school to try.  Because of her desire for perfection and her need to make sure there was ample pancakes for all, she made nearly 20 of them–each done individually in our small, cast iron frying pan.  I was a little concerned about the texture of the pancakes when they arrived at school the next day.  When the sampling began at school,  this was the one story she told….

EX (Chinese exchange student):  I am so happy you like the meal I made tonight.  The last time I cooked they did not like it.
US:  What are you talking about?
EX:  (Her English is very good, but my retelling is certainly not exact.) When I took the Chinese pancakes to school, not everyone liked them.  I was okay they did not like them, but one person really hurt my feelings!  She tried my pancakes and told me she liked them.  When I saw her a little later, I heard her tell someone, “I will never eat Chinese pancakes again.  They tasted awful.”  She (since it is a small school, my daughter could not help but guess which person at the school was rude enough to say something like this) saw me and knew I heard her.  She lowered her head, and she walked away embarrassed.
Daughter: I am sorry about that.  That person is not a very nice person.  I would not worry about it.
EX:  Again, I am so happy you liked the food I made for dinner.  When she said that, it really hurt my confidence.  (Her smile is covering her whole face.)

After a meal cooked by our Chinese student, we had a little discussion about what our Korean student might next cook.  Since kimchi is a such an important part of a Korean meal, we do have half of a jar sitting in the refrigerator.  In Korea, they have refrigerators for ONLY their kimchi.  Not having that luxury, the kimchi has to share its surroundings with our other “American” items.  The first jar of kimchi was able to participate in two meals while the remainder of the jars contents met an untimely end….

Me: What is [our Korean student] going to cook for us next? The last jar of kimchi decided to commit suicide rather than let [Korean student] make another meal with it! (Our Chinese student gets quite a laugh out of this comment.  She seems to really appreciate my wit–or whatever it is called.)
EX (this time our Korean student): Yes, I do not know what happened to it.  It turned green and even for kimchi, it did not smell good.
Me:  Maybe we need to go back to the classic Korean Barbecue.
EX:  Yes, we could make our own barbecue sauce with pears and other fruits.
Daughter:  I really liked what we got out of the store bought jar.
EX:  We would include the same things in our sauce they include in the bottled sauce…

And, so it went.  We will likely have Korean cooking again with either kimchi or barbecue or both.  We will likely have more Chinese variations on some already cooked meals.  And, we will likely look back at many moments during this school year with our exchange students and realize how much we miss them, and the year we shared our lives together.  Maybe the food around the table was not always our favorite, but if the food is shared with some of your favorite people, then you are blessed–no matter what country you are in!

Would You Like A Paper With That?

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  Do you have your ads yet?

As my wife and I got up this morning, she made the coffee while I wondered out to Walmart to get the paper.  (I do feel badly they are working today.  However, due to a dispute with the “Fort Worth Star Telegram” over their vacation policy when subscribers “hold” their paper, we are not getting a paper over the past few weeks.  It is my hope my wife and I will come to a resolution before Thanksgiving arrives next year.)  As I drove the mile or so to acquire our paper, I found I was not the only one on a similar trek.  As I walked through the doors, I quickly looked to the right where the papers are usually stacked.  With the “paper” area completely clear, I quickly glanced to the left.  Fortunately, a space on the left was full of papers! I grabbed one, used the self checkout to pay when I found the bar code, and after a couple of “Happy Thanksgivings”, I was out the door and heading home.

As I pulled into the garage, I noticed a small problem with the paper–it was “The Dallas Morning News”.  The shrunk wrap bag of ads was still prominent, so I was pretty sure the presentation of the paper would be well received.

Me (to my wife):  Do you want the good news or the bad news?
Wife:  They were out of papers with ads?
Me:  No problem with the ads; I just grabbed the wrong paper.  I just hope you like their puzzles, too!

After looking over the  ads, eating our crockpot pumpkin oatmeal w/ coffee, and doing some initial shopping strategizing, the food prep continued.

Our little re-purposed, brightly wrapped tissue box is waiting to gather all of the Thanksgiving notes (What are you thankful for?  Write it down and stick it in the box.)  today’s attendees deem worthy of the effort.  As we set down at our meal, we pass around the contents so they are equally distributed to all who share our table.  You may or may not get your written contributions to read from the box, but you will hear your “thanks” read to those you are sharing the table with.

Regardless of how you express “thanks” in your home, please make a special effort to be thankful for the abundance of blessings – both appreciated and under-appreciated.  May all of our lives be richer for this “holiday pause”.  May we look across our lives and find some area where we struggle to be thankful and commit to trying a little harder.  May we look across the table and commit to be nicer or more patient with someone with whom we are sharing this meal.  And, since we are Americans, may we forget what we don’t like about our country for a few hours.  May all of our eyes be open to see the blessings that are daily all around us!

Meatloaf Fingers


As we made a recent trip to Sam’s and bought a “tube” of hamburger, the hunk of meats fate had already been decided.  One-third of the meat was for a meatloaf, and the rest of it was going to be browned and frozen to make a rapid appearance in some other meal.  (A “rapid” meal might be tacos, Hamburger Helper, or a meat-enriched spaghetti sauce.)  Since I am the one who prepares the meat “best” and has the time (Best is generally in reference to browning the meat–I don’t like the chunks very big.  My wife’s tolerance are not quite as stringent.), I spent part of my morning  dividing and conquering the meat.

It is my contention that meatloaf cannot be made by using a spoon to mix the ingredients.  (Simple ingredients of meat [80/20 is best – 90/10 is to dry], onion soup mix, a couple of eggs, and a couple handfuls of quick oats)  I suppose a  glass cooking dish could also be used to do the mixing, but I really need to have the sides of the bowl to allow the meat and ingredients to be more successfully mixed.  If you insist on mixing your meat while using a spoon, I suppose it may taste okay, but your fingers will never achieve the nirvana that is “meatloaf fingers”.  When mixing the meat with your fingers, a chill starts in the fingers and work its way almost to the elbows.  As frostbite nears and the fingers are approaching unresponsiveness, the fingers are allowed a couple of brief breaks from the meatloaf.  After two such breaks, the eyes and fingers typically agree-the meatloaf can now be handed off to the oven.

Prior to sticking the meatloaf into the over and after it was chilled for a few hours (the chilling may or may not be necessary, but making it ahead always seems to be a good idea.), the loaf is divided into thirds-1/3 is plain, 1/3 gets covered in ketchup, and 1/3 gets deluged in barbecue sauce.   About an hour an a half later at 350, we are eating.

I am proud that we make the effort to eat meals together frequently.  I feel so very blessed my kids have their favorite meals and make special effort to make sure they are home for those meals (and sometimes making an effort when it is not their favorite meals). As my wife and I watched a “family-ish” commercial the other day, I commented, “We may not be perfect parents, but we have tried really hard to eat meals together.”  If we had it all to do over again, the only thing I might change is finding some way to put a little more love in each meal we sat down and ate together.

Fun Parents

As I sat down at McDonald’s today to tap into their internet and slurp on an slightly sweetened iced tea, I was greeted by a family sitting two tables in front of me.

The dad in his early 20’s had droopy jeans, a knitted hat pulled over his head with a bit of hair sticking out, an unshaven face, and a couple of tattoos above his elbow peaking out from under his t-shirt.  The mother had her back to me.  She had shoulder length black hair with a black t-shirt.  The youngest child (under 2) was in a highchair with his hair combed into a rooster type style.  The older brother (no older than 4) was facing me, but blocked by his mother.  He looked to be his younger brother PLUS 2 or 3 years.

As I notice the youngest brother begging pancakes off of his father’s plate, I see the smile on dad’s face as he continues to fill the nearly perpetually gaping mouth.  I see little brother reach for dad as he goes to refill his Dr. Pepper (Don’t leave me dad.) .  I see mom haul little brother to the bathroom to change a diaper.  I see big brother watching everything going on while keeping the hand moving from plate to mouth.  I see how both boys are wearing clothes that could easily be described as pajamas.  I decide I will say something to the parents (see Blessed Eggs), but as they get up from their table, they go into the play area.

When they emerged from the play area, I couldn’t help but make a comment.  I am not sure it was the best comment, but it was the one I had:

"You must be fun parents.  Not every parent would let their kids wear pajamas on a     drizzly day."
"Thank you. The boys insisted.  They just got their new pajamas yesterday.", she       replied.
"You guys enjoy the rest of your day.", I said with a smile.
"You, too.", the dad said with a bigger smile

It isn’t your appearance or my standards that make you a fun parent.  It is how your kids see you.  I have no idea what this family’s home looks like, but I know this family knows how to love their kids.  I am not so arrogant to think my words made any difference in their day, but saying the words did in mine.

Syrup on the pajamas? No problem.  I am sure this loving mom will have them washed for bed tonight.