Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Embassy Suites in Memphis, TN

Sometimes you just need a change of scenery. Last Saturday afternoon, my husband and I decided that was what we needed and headed out of town for the night. We ended up in Memphis, Tennessee for dinner and checked in at the Embassy Suites just off Poplar on Shady Grove Road.

We did not have reservations, we just decided to surprise ourselves when we got there. After discussion over dinner at The American Cafe, we decided to check out a nearby Hilton. The Hilton was once the Adam's Mark, and before that the Omni Hotel. It's a round building, a unique architecture to the area. After staying there several years ago, at the time under the Adam's Mark name, I wasn't too impressed. It was in need of updating and just overall not that nice. I stepped into the lobby and my view was immediately changed. It clearly has been remodeled, at least in the front entrance areas. After searching for parking within a reasonable distance given the cold wind that night, we gave up and went just a short distance away to the Embassy Suites. The lobby is standard fare for the class of hotel, with an open atrium that all rooms overlook. In the atrium are walkways connecting various areas of the hotel, lined in plants. It's a nice touch compared to others of similar class, but I think the atrium aims to be in a Gaylord hotel when it grows up. I think I've come to the conclusion that all hotels with rooms that open to an atrium have both an upside and a definite drawback. On the upside is the wonderful view, especially in the layout such as found with the Gaylord properties. Their balcony rooms are well worth the extra few dollars to have a birds-eye view of the goregous gardens below. The downside? Noise. It seemed worse in the Embassy Suites, I presume due to a blend of architectural elements and their subsequent acoustical effects. Also I think being a more "family friendly" hotel, we saw several taking advantage of a trend: parents take the kids to a nice suite hotel and get a room for the kids to have their pajama party. Just make sure you request the room not next door to the 13 year old girl's birthday celebration. The design of the suites helps significantly, as the bedroom is at the back of the space and once you close the door, the sound all but disappears.

The included hot breakfast is better than the average hotel continental service. It's nice that it's not an additional cost. Admittedly, unless I'm staying someplace swanky, I look for the hotels that have a good breakfast included. I guess that makes me cheap, but when the basic Holiday Inn Express rates run in excess of $100 regularly, I like to know at least a glass of juice awaits my groggy head in the morning.

I'd rank this Embassy Suites as a reasonable value for the dollar. It includes a good hot breakfast with a larger than average selection of foods, a larger suite than in many hotels and with adequate parking. For families, it would be a suitable choice; for those seeking a quiet, relaxing space, I would look elsewhere.

I think my next trip I'll give the Hilton a try as the first impression did get my attention.

Friday, January 26, 2007

My Next Destination?

I've found my next trip, or at least how I want to get there. I just seem to be having trouble finding it on Google Maps...
Cartoon from Non Sequitur. Click the image to see a larger version.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Got Milk?

Every week I buy two half half-gallons of milk. I drink skim and my husband drinks whole. I say whole is like drinking a milkshake; he says skim is water with white and blue food coloring. I suppose we are both right in our own way. He finally has decided to make the jump to go to skim. To make it easier to change, I suggested that I buy 2% next time and just work his way down to skim.

Then at the encouragement of friends, I purchased a different brand of milk this week, Horizon. Their fat free milk is some of the best tasting milk I've ever found. It doesn't have the blue hue that most skim has and the consistency is more like that of 1% or 2%. Even the finicky husband likes it. It is definitely more expensive than the Kroger brand I've been buying, but there are several benefits that make it worth the purchase. Besides the great taste, the expiration date is much later thus the milk I've been pouring out after it expired isn't likely to happen. Since we both like it, I can now buy one carton instead of two. Being labeled "organic" isn't a sudden blessing turning a food or substance instantly healthy, but I'll go on the idea with milk that a cow fed better food and not pumped full of steroids probably produces a milk that's better for me to drink.

I think I'll go have a glass of milk...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cheese Anyone?

I've been enjoying another of my culinary related Christmas gifts lately, a 3 month subscription to the Cheese of the Month club from Bedford Cheese Shop.

The first of the three months selection arrived recently. They sent three cheeses, selected according to Bedford's website "based on seasonality, quality, ripeness and for the manner in which they complement one another." All three were very good, one of which I will definitely add to my regular cheese purchases. Here's a little bit about each of the three:

Brescianella Stagionata - This one was described as "for those who love some stinky ooze." That description, combined with the definitely pungent aroma of the cheese left my husband a strong reason to not just avoid tasting it, but to leave the kitchen altogether. He and a friend claim their olfactory senses haven't lead them wrong thus far, and they'll keep trusting their evaluation of the situation at hand. In small portions the scent is less noticeable, and this is truly one of the creamiest cheeses I've ever eaten. Despite some who won't override their sense of smell, anyone I've shared this with liked it.

Colston Bassett Stilton - The prettiest cheese of the bunch, I've been wanting to try a good English Stilton to compare to the basic blue cheeses I can get at the local grocery store. The resemblance ends with appearance. Maybe that's too harsh... but this does have a far superior taste over any blue cheese I've had in the past. It's great with crackers.

Raschera - My favorite of the three, this semi-firm cheese has a good flavor that goes well with anything. It melts nicely, I topped a pita with turkey and the cheese one day for lunch. I've already found that I can get this one via Amazon if not locally. Yea!

In my travels, I'm finding that more and more of the tasty eats can come to you. The internet certainly makes it possible to expand your palate with a minimal effort. Not to worry though, I'll remain always ready for a trip to find good food straight from the source.

PS Thanks to my hubby for the great gift!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sometimes enough is enough

Do you have any companies with whom you refuse to do business? It seems a lot of us do, for any number of reasons. How about restaurants where you do not dine? Until the new smoking ban took effect July 2006, there were a few of those in my area that I simply avoided. But what about other reasons, such as lousy service, bad food, or the worst of the crimes, poor cleanliness? Are they enough to make you stay away from a restaurant long-term, and if so, for how long?

Tonight I gave the one restaurant that has remained on my "avoid" list, Ruby Tuesday, another try. Without going into a long diatribe about the incident, let's sum up my last experience there as not at all good, leaving me feeling personally insulted. It was enough to make me walk away for at least a year. After that long, my frustration had softened and my memory had faded enough to let me give the restaurant another chance to win back my patrionage. After two visits, which I felt was more than generous, back to the avoidance list they returned. Fast forward to this evening, about another year later, and my next attempt to see if they'd improved. I vowed to be optimistic and not go into the meal with a grudge. To their advantage, I had good company to keep me distracted from what I would have otherwise deemed a lengthy wait for my meal. The food quality was as good, as expected. Their menu has changed, and while some of the new selections sound good, I do miss the bit of nutritional info they once provided. I suspect someone in Marketing tried that trick and when sales of the 1000 or more calorie higher priced dishes sharply declined, the menus were in for a rapid redesign. The service was the downfall; the waiter had about as much personality as a dull brown brick and had to be chased down for drink refills. If the restaurant had every table full I'd have probably been more forgiving, but with numerous empty tables, why the disappearing act?

Since the food was reasonably good, I'll probably not flat refuse to go the next time family or friends want to eat at Ruby Tuesday. They've got another chance to redeem themselves. If the service remains poor next time, I'll vote with my dining dollars and give them to a more appreciative business.

Friday, January 12, 2007


I came across a blog of interest and I thought I'd share. Evan, the site's owner, spend the entire month of November eating on $1 a day. What he learns along the way, detailed with his easy to read style, makes for a worthwhile read. You can visit his blog here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Weather and Travel

I would love to go somewhere exciting this weekend, but with the weather forecast indicating enough rain to make me purchase ark-building materials, I think I'll stay home and see what experimental dishes arise from my kitchen.

Yesterday I stopped in at one of the best BBQ restaurants I've found anywhere, The Rib Crib. It's a smaller chain located in about eight states; the location I visited is in Searcy, Arkansas. What makes them unique to me is that they don't simply offer Pulled Pork and Beef Brisket, plated in 15 million different ways. Included on the menu besides the two classic standbys are two types of chicken, smoked turkey, smoked ham, ribs, polish sausage and even bologna. I haven't found anything bad on the menu, and after a few visits I can say the service is top-notch too.

(A "Create your own dinner" of brisket and pulled pork is what's shown here, not including the side items, from which there are plenty to choose. )

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Blender Tests

I couldn't wait long to try out the new blender (Blendtec, just got it in, see previous post for details if you missed it.) I picked two very different recipes from the included cookbook to test it's abilities. I would classify both as successful.

After a quick spin with 4 cups of ice just to see if it really did make snow and some thoughts of making snowcream, I dumped the ice and went forward with the experiments. Given the warmer winter we've had, I can't say snowcream is out of the running long-term. First I made Peanut Butter Ice Cream. The only advance preparation required is to make ice cubes out of non-dairy creamer. Toss those, peanut butter, a bit more creamer, vanilla and some sugar into the blender and press the "ice cream" button. A few seconds later you have Peanut Butter Ice Cream, but in more of a soft-serve texture. I put it in the freezer to firm up, which after about 3 hours made it very good. The only flaw in this experiment wasn't the blender or the recipe, but my idea to use natural peanut butter, which simply doesn't have the sweetness you need from the sugar in regular peanut butter to make an excellent ice cream.

My next choice was Taco Soup. The interesting ingredient was 3 tablespoons of unpopped popcorn kernels. Yes, unpopped, teeth chipping kernels. You'd never know they were there when the soup was complete, and it added a touch of a corn taste to the soup. I used hot water, where the instructions indicate from several of their soups you can use cold water; just press the Soups button two or three times. It comes out nice and hot. It makes a great base for soup, and to accomplish more complex or blended flavors, you could simmer the blended base for as long as you like. Just the idea that I could put together a fresh soup in a matter of minutes is great; it would be good for last minute or surprise guests or to make a quick batch for lunch.

The only complaint I can think of about the machine is that it is quite loud. You won't be chatting while making your soup or ice cream. Since it only takes about a minute and a half for most recipes, the break in conversation might be just what you needed.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Will it Blend?

If you have a Blendtec Blender, it most likely will. Mine arrived today. So far I'm very impressed. For those who haven't heard of this gadget, check out the Blendtec website. Once you see the Total Blender and you get past the sticker shock, check out their videos to see why they are appropriately proud of their product. Tom Dickson lets his personality add to the demonstrations, making them even more entertaining. As tempting as it is, I've avoided the Matchbox cars and Rake tests so far. (That's not to say something not intended to be blended will avoid all confrontations. If you know my husband, you know I will have to guard it closely.)

Shipped with the blender is an exceptionally good cookbook. Usually the cookbooks that arrive with any small kitchen appliance are a few pages that are a mere tiny step above some photocopied pages stapled together. The one included with the Kitchen Aid stand mixers is decent, but this is better than some cookbooks I've picked up at bookstores. Full color, almost 250 pages, all recipes that heavily rely on the blender. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the book is that every recipe includes very thorough nutritional data. For example, their Carrot Cake recipe has 14.36 ug of Selenium per 1 slice serving. Yes, that over-the-top kind of complete data you can only get from a very unique company.

It has a one-line display on the front and a series of pre-programmed buttons designed for everything from smoothies to soups. It also has buttons to speed up, slow down and pulse.

And yes, four cups of ice will make snow in 30 seconds.

The Taste of 2007

Just when I get tired of eating the same old thing, over and over, I find an article talking about the McCormick(R) Flavor Forecast 2007. I know there's the weather forecast, which is only mostly reliable in the next hour, but a flavor forecast?

What is on this forecast? Will it be something I'd ever eat? I'll let you decide.
The top 10 flavor pairings of 2007 are:

• Clove and Green Apple
• Thyme and Tangerine
• Tellicherry Black Pepper and Berry
• Sea Salt and Smoked Tea
• Lavender and Honey
• Crystallized Ginger and Salted Pistachio
• Cumin and Apricot
• Toasted Mustard and Fennel Seeds
• Wasabi and Maple
• Caramelized Garlic and Riesling Vinegar

I could try some of the list, but there are a few that I think maybe not. I'm wonder how many restaurants use this to influence their menus as they develop new items for the coming year. Somehow I'm not visualizing the McDonald's test kitchens producing a new "Cumin and Apricot Big 'n Tasty." Picture the guys having lunch at Big Bubba's BBQ, "Hey Jimmy, pass me that new Lavender and Honey sauce, it adds just the right earthy sweetness to balance the smoky flavor of the meat."

I'm all in favor of creativity, but sometimes it takes a little faith and closing your eyes to try something new.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year!

I'm not much of one for new year's resolutions, but this year I do intend to make better use of the stacks of cookbooks in my kitchen and try out some new recipes. Thanks to a generous family I have a wide range of books to choose from when I'm perusing for a new dish. I'm also lucky to have a very understanding husband, who will bravely sample whatever it is I may put on the plate and call "dinner." As he says, if it's not a real winner there's always pizza delivery. I owe him dearly for some of my experiments, although the time between disasters is steadily growing longer.

My newest additions to the resource stack include "I Like You" by Amy Sedaris and On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee.
The book by Amy Sedaris combines her quirky sense of humor with a variety of recipes and tips for entertaining. The second book, by Harold McGee is the ultimate reference tool for the hard-core kitchen junkie.

While cookbooks are a wonderful tool, I have to admit I do regularly rely on the convenience of the world of recipes at my fingertips. If I have a specific set of ingredients handy I can easily find something interesting to do with them or find a recipe that provides a starting point. There is something to be said for having a real book in your hands. I have the odd habit of reading cookbooks like they're novels. I'll read a good one cover to cover. Take for example virtually anything by Alton Brown. He adds enough personality and useful information into his books to make it worthwhile to read them cover to cover.

So pick up a cookbook and take to your kitchen for a new taste at dinner. Do what I did tonight, starting with plans to get myself back into the kitchen tomorrow night for a new, exciting and healthier meal rather than just heating up the leftovers from tonight's pizza.

It's easy to talk big... it's easier to order pizza.
But it's more fun to make the pizza from scratch.