Friday, December 22, 2006

If it keeps mice away, I don't want it on my cloth napkins...

Brian and I rarely get to eat out sans kiddlets; usually we have to strategize so that a restaurant has something bland and colorless on its menu to satisfy the little people. But one evening we found ourselves liberated from this restriction (kiddos at Granny's house) so we decided to try a new place that would have some spicy food: Banh Na Laos and Thai Cuisine out on Washtenaw.

The meal we had was of a mixed quality: the Tom Kah Kai soup was one of the best I've ever tasted--rich and thick with coconut milk, perfect balance of galangal and and lemon grass and spicy without searing your throat shut. It really nailed the hot/sour/salty/sweet balance. I'd be tempted to drive across town for a quart of this stuff alone. We also had some decent drunken noodles with chicken, basil and red and green peppers. I'm a sucker for big wide rice noodles and they were generous with the basil.

The other two dishes were not of the same quality: the green papaya salad was actually inedible due to someone's extreme enthusiasm for the dried shrimp. Way, way too many. Dried shrimp, like fish sauce, is not something to be enjoyed on its own, but mixed in the proper proportion with other seasonings like lime juice, it can transform a dish. But overload it and you are left with a fishy mess. Brian took one taste and wouldn't eat any more. I tried to extract some threads of green papaya, but gave up after realizing the taste approximated licking the floor of a fish market.

The other dish was just sorta so so--a Musselman curry. It didn't taste bad--maybe a little too much cinnamon in the sauce and not enough ginger or fish sauce to cut through the richness of the coconut milk, but my big gripe was that it was just butt-ugly. Looking at the ingredients (pork, potatoes, onion, red and yellow apples, peanuts, coconut milk) didn't make me expect a beautiful dish, but unfortunately the kitchen decided to use purple onions which did no favor to the appearance--the purple bled into the light brown sauce to make it Puce colored. (Go on, click that link to see puce and also discover that puce is the official color of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada. Those wacky Canadians!)

Would you want to eat something that color?

The atmosphere of the place is sadly lacking--this was heightened by the fact that we were the only customers in the restaurant and Brian pointed out the fish tank behind my head that was empty of fish and had about 2 inches of stagnant algae clogged water sitting in it.

And the final nail in my decision to keep this restaurant (for its soup and noodles) in my take-out menu file but not on my visit-in-person list were the napkins.

I LOATHE fabric softener and the cloth napkins at the table were soaked in the stuff. They left their stinky fumes on my hands and overpowered the pleasant scent of the dishes we had ordered. Believe me, "Mountain Fresh" scent does nothing for Thai food.

I was just doing a little catch-up blog reading and it turns out that a while ago Kitchen Chick reported that Bounce fabric softener sheets have worked well as a mouse repellent in her kitchen! They also work well as a Kate repellent in a restaurant.

Three or four customers came in while we were there to pick up groaning bags of take out. Whether it was the sight of pond scum or the fragrance of the napkins that turned them off to the in-person dining experience, I don't know. But I do want some more of that soup and I think I'll follow suit and pick some up and flee the premises next time.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Blogger has changed some of their software and I'm now using the "Beta" version. It seems to have a few more tools and a few less annoyances, but the hitch is that switching to Beta seems to have screwed up the feed (at least in Bloglines). You might need to re-subscribe and delete the old subscription.

Of course, if you depend upon Bloglines which can no longer retrieve said info, you probably won't be reading this....

Monday, December 18, 2006

And the winner is...

Maple Almond Cranberry Granola

I did a little recipe testing over the weekend to decide what to give to Ian's (super patient) teachers and the granola kicked ass. I know you are thinking "how can a woosy, hippy food stand up to the decadence of chocolate peppermint bars, or the savory delights of blue cheese pecan crackers?" It might have been a fairer fight if the recipe for the chocolate peppermint bars was decent, but it sucked. They turned out greasy and chewy and I was pissed that I had wasted good cocoa, and plus gras butter and had upgraded their stated chocolate chips for hand-chunked Ghiradelli. The kids each ate one and then wandered away--if the small sugar fiends aren't clamoring for more, there's probably something wrong. We were so underwhelmed with these that we ended up throwing away 3/4 of the pan.

And the blue cheese pecan crackers were tasty, but very crumbly and they just didn't look very special. I think they'd make a good gift if, say, they accompanied a nice bottle of port, but I'm pretty sure that getting your kid's teachers drunk is frowned upon in this town.

I'm further justifying the granola crunch factor with the detail that my kid goes to the "alternative" elementary school in town; you know, the one where you call all the teachers by their first names, there are big squishy couches in the middle of the class rooms and kids are encouraged to work at their own pace, whatever that pace may be. That should be the kind of audience receptive to a granola gift, yes?

Honestly, I wouldn't be giving this if it wasn't so damn tasty. For such an easy recipe, the payback is really high. All weekend we were grabbing a handful of this stuff to munch (while simultaneously averting our eyes from the icky chocolate peppermint bars), and not just at breakfast time.

Maple Almond Cranberry Granola

2 T ground flax seeds (grind in a spice or coffee grinder, or buy pre-ground)
3 C old fashioned oats, organic preferred
1 C sliced almonds
1/2 C hulled raw pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
1/4 raw sunflower seeds
1/2 t salt
a little less than 1/2 C canola oil
a little less than 1/2 C maple syrup, grade B preferred
1/2 C dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 325.

In a big bowl mix all the dry ingredients except for cranberries.

Stir in oil and maple syrup and stir until evenly coated.

Spread mixture evenly in a large shallow baking pan with sides. Bake for 15 minutes then take the pan out, stir and re-spread and rotate. Bake for another 15 minutes (30 minutes total). If your oven has hot spots, you may want to break it up into 10 minute increments and stir again to make sure none of it burns.

Cool in pan. Then stir in dried cranberries.

Makes about 5 cups. Doubles easily (so long as you have two pans).