Archive for November, 2009

Costco Fine Dining

November 18, 2009

A Free Lunch, After All

by Donald Baillargeon

In the hallowed days of the old West, settlers would travel for a couple
of days to make their thrice yearly trip to the general store, stocking
up on supplies to get them through the next three or four months.

Nothing much has changed since then except the trip now takes about 20 minutes, happens just about every week and the modern general store is not an outpost on the remote frontier, it is Costco.

Costco is an amazing phenomenon of 21st century consumerism; you can almost feel the glaring eyes of Lenin and Mao as they realize from the afterworld, that this kind of abundance of choices is what doomed the ideology of communism. Had Costco been around during the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, they would no doubt have seen selling souvenir stones within a week.

The amazing selection of food at Costco is also a sight to behold and I
am not only referring to 40 ounce cans of tuna or a four-pack of quart
jars of chunky peanut butter. Visit Costco on a weekend afternoon and
you discover that Robert A. Heinlein was correct in his 1965 novel, The
Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
, a free lunch can and does exist.

On my most recent visit to the Costco Buffet, as I like to call it, I
was presented with myriad opportunities to sample the finest in frozen
and vacuum-packed bulk cuisine.

The Chicken Chow Mein had been thawed at warehouse temperature and sauteed with great care in a portable electric skillet, directly across
from the display of tube socks for men, six pair for $10. The noodles,
chicken bits and finely chopped vegetables were served in a paper cup,
accompanied by a plastic spork. The blending of flavors was sublime, yet
satisfying. I did not see the package, but I am sure five pounds of the
stuff would set you back no more than $16.99.

We passed on the Egg Rolls, which has been heated in a toaster oven
contraption that appeared to be a veteran of many Costco Buffet
weekends. They must have been indescribably delicious, because as they
came out and were cut into thirds, they disappeared faster than Bobby the attendant could restock his trusty Black & Decker.

I was delighted by the Spinach-Basil Ravioli in a Parmesan Cream Sauce.
I actually went back for seconds. No spork needed here, the paper
cupcake holder allows you to simply scoop these up in a single mouthful,
not even a napkin is necessary. These were so good, you would have no
trouble fooling a few people with them at a dinner party or pot luck.
Uncork a nice Sangiovese and you are good to go.

With so many more choices ahead of us, it was time to cleanse our
palates a bit and the strawberry yogurt seemed like the perfect choice.
The 1 ounce cup samples were the perfect size and I was also able to
load an 18 pack of paper towels into the underside of our shopping cart
at the same time.

It was about that time we met Jake. Jake is a delightfully seasoned
citizen and while I would not venture to guess his actual age, it was
obvious he had kissed some lucky gal in the streets on V-E day. Jake was
putting out the sample cups of Vita Drink, which provided the energy and stamina to continue our trek. Jake admitted to loving his job, but told me he hoped they wouldn’t ask him to work Sundays during the second half of the NFL season or he may have to quit.

We maneuvered around the short line waiting for the Pad Thai to come off the skillet and made our way to the deli section, where you can purchase five pound blocks of virtually any cheese known to the world.

We resumed our feast with a little salad sprinkled with Pecorino and
were then stopped cold in our tracks by something called Salsa-Coated
Salami. Now I am unaware of any history of war between the countries of Italy and Mexico, but this potentially combustible combination of
flavors could certainly be suspected of being a WMD. It was also being
presented too far enough away from the Tums display for most anyone’s
comfort. No line to circumvent here, I strode forward and offered myself
as a guinea pig. The bite of the salami is followed by a swift right
cross to the jaw from the salsa. If you enjoy spicy food, you will love
this. Just keep some bottled water nearby.

Madalena was busy frying up some Tequila Lime Turkey and several people were pretending to have a conversation close by, in order be first in line when she served it up. As for me, it was time for dessert and the
Macadamia Roca was perfect. Some ice cream to sooth the latent burn from the Salsa Salami would have been nice, but there is a Tastee Freeze out in the parking lot.

We did manage to drop about $300 at Costco that day, but came home with a new fax machine, 64-ounce bottles of shampoo and conditioner and a 4 pound block of Parmagiano Reggiano.

But the lunch was free and no one in the family was even hungry for
dinner that evening.

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Coffee Bilingualism

November 17, 2009

Coffee Bilingualism

by Donald Baillargeon

It is said that coffee dates back more than one thousand years, the
first plants apparently having come from the Horn of Africa on the
shores of the Red Sea. Interestingly, it was considered a food, not a beverage back then, the coffee cherries ground and mixed together with animal fat.
Rolled into little balls, the mixture was an energy boost for warriors in battle.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Coffee is enjoying
a renaissance in the 21st century as a stop by the coffee shop on the
way
to work prepares the warrior in us for the upcoming day’s battles.

The comedian Jackie Mason is appearing in a one-man show in New York’s
Broadway District, during which he pontificates on coffee’s surging
popularity. “You can go to a coffee shop, get a good cup of coffee for
fifty cents”, he muses. “But then you can go to Starbucks and get a cup
of
burnt coffee for 3 bucks. That’s a good deal?”

On the first day a new coffee establishment opens, there are instantly
25 people sitting on its patio, sipping coffee and reading. I always
wonder
where these people were drinking their coffee yesterday; were they just
aimlessly wandering the sidewalks, seeking their java jolt?

Buying a cup of coffee has become increasingly more complicated as the
availability of choices abound. I know it is just a matter of time
before I
meet someone who introduces themselves as a coffee sommelier at the
local java joint. I received some Spam email last week offering me the
opportunity to acquire a distinctive Sumatra coffee from Indonesia which
had been aged for five years. Aged? Five years? I am sure I have some
Gevalia vacuum packed hazelnut in the pantry at least that old, but it
did come with a free coffeemaker.

I endured one of my most embarrassing moments in a Starbucks a few weeks
ago. Out and about on a Sunday morning, I called my wife and asked
if she wanted me to pick her up a coffee as I was stopping off to get
one myself. “Yes, please get me a Tall, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato”, she

replied, to which I simply said, “A what?” She repeated her order into
the phone and I spent the five minute drive repeating it to myself, over
and
over. Tall Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato, Tall Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato,
Tall Non-Fat Caramel Macchiato. I was ready.

You walk into a Starbucks on a Sunday morning and you instantly realize
that no matter what career path you have chosen, it was the wrong one,
because you are standing in line with 20 other people offering to pay
two to four dollars for coffees with exotic names like what my wife
asked for,
a Tall Non-Fat Caramel Macadamia. As your internal abacus slides back
and forth, calculating revenues versus costs equals earnings, the
thought
process is compounded by the fact that the line behind you has become
longer as you approach the counter.

It is then I became nervous, because I was now hearing people order
exotic coffee drinks like Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino or a Vente Non-Fat
Mint
Mocha Chip. Nonetheless, I was confident, self-assured and able to
deliver on my promise to bring home a Tall Non-Fat Caramel Michelin.

Starbucks employees are the most cheerful and effervescent people on the
planet, fringe benefits must include free sampling of the product. “Hi,
how are you today, what can I get for you this morning?’, cheerfully
said through a huge smile with amazingly white teeth with no evident
stains of
coffee. No matter. I was having a black coffee for myself and a Tall Non
Fat Caramel Mozzarella for my wife.

My order was easy. “One large black coffee and a…”. I could almost
hear the sounds of screeching tires as I was cut off in mid sentence.
“Tall,
Vente or Grande….Verona, Gazebo or LightNote?’, asked The Smile. My
lip quivered, I stammered. “Ummm, your largest size….black…please?”
I
thought sure the “please” would be the universal diplomatic approach,
but The Smile’s smile soon disappeared as I was given a hasty education
in
small was Tall, and large was Grande, Verona was bold and LightNote was
Decaf. I wanted to be at McDonald’s where coffee was coffee. The line
behind me was getting uneasy.

“Anything else?”, asked the former smile. I threw back my shoulders and
said in a large voice, “Yes, a Tall Non Fat Caramel Machiavelli!”

There was a stunned silence in the room, followed by muffled laughter in
the line. The Smile was smiling again, but this time from amusement
rather than customer service. “Do you perhaps mean a Tall Non-Fat
Caramel Macchiato?”

I had held the power walking into the shop and was losing my grasp as I
stood there dumfounded. Machiavelli had said the only skill that counts
is
getting and maintaining power and knowing exactly what to say for every
situation.

“I am so sorry”, I said to the smile and the growing line behind me.
“But I am not yet Coffee Bilingual!” Everyone laughed. Someone in the
line
repeated what I had just said and everyone laughed again. They were all
having a wonderful time.

The smiles and the smirks continued as I collected my coffees and made
my way out of the door. About halfway home in the car, it dawned upon
me that I was never charged for my coffees, I had made it out of there
without paying. Maybe it was the confusion, perhaps The Smile took pity
on
me.

I like to think it was my subconcious Machiavellian recapturing of
power.

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November 17, 2009

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