I really like it when a business values you enough to take extra steps to resolve something gone awry. We periodically order pizza delivery from Pizza by Marco, Carrollton. We like to get the optional wheat crust with the pizza we order. When you order online, you can add an amount as a tip for the delivery driver, and we did that last night. I am used to giving delivery drivers cash tips, so doing it this way always makes me wonder how well the tip portion is communicated to the drivers before they make their run. I feel funny not giving someone a tip at the door, but if we’ve already included it, then so be it.

Last night, when our pizza was delivered, I took it in the house, opened it, and saw it was pretty badly burned around the edges, so I headed outside as quickly as I could to try to catch the driver before he left. I was successful. When I told him that the pizza was burnt, his response was “well that’s the way it was made sir”. (Huh?) So I said, “it’s supposed to be burned like this?” His response: “well, I guess when we have 5 deliveries all going out at once.” I told him thanks, I’ll just call the store. When I called, the manager was very apologetic, asked me to describe the driver, and he was putting a replacement in the oven immediately. I asked him to please insure the same driver did not come back, he assured me it would be someone else.

When the new pie arrived, I received additional apologies, with a coupon for a free pizza of similar size for the next time we order, as well, as a very well made pizza. In addition, about 15 minutes later, we got a follow-up call from the manager, Deke, asking if it was alright, and if we had received the coupon from the driver. He further explained how we can use it when ordering again, and apologized once more for the issue.

You know, things like this can happen, you don’t quite get what you expected, and generally, if you bring it up, someone (at least those that I continue to give my business to) will work to correct it. I think what completely threw me in this case was the driver not willing to do a thing to help in the situation.

Thanks to store management, not only for fixing it, but for going above and beyond to keep our future business. We appreciate it.

Spent the week in New Orleans on business. Stayed right downtown, but I prefer to get off the beaten path to eat. 1) it’s quieter; 2) it’s generally less expensive than eating at the hotel. The only real work to be done was finding places that would offer some good food for a vegetarian. Here’s what I found and enjoyed while I was there:

Mona Lisa Restaurant, 1212 Royal St. Just far enough away from the crowds to give some serenity while enjoying a nice meal. The decor is, as you might imagine, all sorts of renditions of the painting of the Mona Lisa all over the walls. I had caprese as an appetizer, the mozzarella was fresh with equally fresh tomato and basil that looked like it had been pulled right from the garden. For an entrée, I had Pasta Alla Nonna. It’s a penne pasta with a wonderful tomato sauce (with chunks of tomato, just the way I like it), and the standard comes with Italian sausage, but they left that out for me. The pasta was cooked perfectly, the sauce absolutely great. The only downside in my mind (and I find this in many places), I was charged the same price as if the meat was included. I would love it if restauranteurs would think a little more about this and offer a discount for those of us who don’t eat meat. It wouldn’t keep me from going back, but it would sure be a great gesture.

SukhoThai. This was the best meal I had while in town. About a half hour walk from my hotel (which I don’t mind), at 1913 Royal St (this is not the location pictured on their website). Far off the beaten path, surrounded by typical French Quarter architecture, quiet, a great place to have a relaxing meal. They prepared vegetable rolls for me that were not fried, and served with a peanut sauce (got my peanut butter fix for the day in that sauce). Great starter. I was going to get garlic tofu for my main course, until I asked my waiter if I’d like that or one of the specials, stir fried tofu and veggies in a ginger sauce. He recommended the special. I’m glad he did. Veggies were “al dente”, tofu was cooked so it wasn’t falling apart, but also not quick fried. Had a great texture to it, looked like it had been marinated beforehand. What a great meal. I checked in there with 4square, and one of the tips listed was to try the coconut tea. Coconut tea? Never had it before (never heard of it). It was just what it said, coconut tea, I got a porcelain pot filled with water with a basket inside for the blend to steep. It was great! I would definitely recommend adding that to your meal. If you look to relax while eating by sipping on hot tea, that’s the way to go.

My last night there, I stayed in Metairie, about a 20 minute drive from downtown. Had some difficulty finding veg friendly places that looked appealing, so took a chance on my fallback position for food – an Italian restaurant (you can usually get a decent eggplant parmesan). Well, I lucked out, and went to Vincent’s, 4411 Chastant St, Metairie. What a great find this place is. Small, very friendly staff, and excellent food. I had a small house salad with a Bleu Cheese vinaigrette dressing. What great flavors to add to an otherwise plain salad starter. The eggplant parm was one of the best I’ve had. I had been in Vegas the week before for a trade show, and ate in 2 fairly high-end Italian restaurants with limited veggie choices. Had eggplant parm both places. This stood head and shoulders, far and above what I had in Vegas. What was disappointing in Vegas is that in one particular restaurant, I’m certain my hosts paid top dollar for anything eaten, including the eggplant. I suspect they don’t get much calling for it, as it was one thick slice of eggplant, and it looked as if it were an afterthought, something handed out in a school lunch room (keep that in mind if you eat at a restaurant in the Mirage). I really went into Vincent’s with low expectations, but walked away pleasantly surprised. Seeing what others were eating and hearing their reaction to it, my guess is that all their meals are prepared with equal attention. definitely put this place on your list.

I have to say rather sheepishly that I finally tried Ali Baba. I say sheepishly because of the number of times I’ve passed by it traveling on 75 through Richardson. Mary had told me about it some time ago, because a business associate of hers told her how good it was. Can’t say what it was that kept me from exiting to go try it, but boy, am I glad I did.

I’m not sure what it was that prompted it, but getting back from a trade show one Saturday night, decided to eat there “just to say I tried it”.

Well, sorry to say, my other Mediterranean restaurant friends, I’ve found a new place to call favorite.

We’re the types that typically like to sit and go slowly through a meal. There were so many things on the menu that appealed to us, we decided to start with some appetizers. We ordered the French Feta cheese and olives,  and an order of Hummus. Well, we could have stayed there for hours, having them refill just those two items for us. Because of the years we lived in Greece, we tend to gravitate to Greek Feta whenever we get it, can’t say I’ve had French Feta before. The French Feta struck me as being somewhat milder than what we experience with Greek Feta, but very enjoyable nonetheless. When combined with the olives, some black pepper, and olive oil, it’s very soothing. A winner for sure.

So much of what we eat has emotional ties, things that bring us back to periods of enjoyment. Well, the Hummus took us right back to Greece. This is without question, the best Hummus I’ve had in any restaurant, anywhere. The smooth texture, the flavors of chickpeas, tahini, garlic and the smattering of olive oil and paprika on the top blend together perfectly. Upon first taste on a piece of pita, we just looked at each other. Whoa! That was it, we were hooked.

After finishing what was in the bowl (think being a kid, and using your fingers to get the last of the frosting  out of the bowl your mom had mixed it in), we then had the monumental task of ordering something else. What to do? It all looked SO good, but surely, we couldn’t eat all we could order. Wait! We can come back! Yes, the realization that we can come back whenever we want took away the anxiety of missing something good. We both ordered a side of Falafel (we’re thinking, 4 pieces, we should both get an order). These were larger portions than what we’ve been used to getting, we could have easily shared it after what we had already eaten. The flavors just popped out on our tongues, the outside shell providing just enough crunch before savoring the flavors inside. We finished all we had.  No taking any of this home and re-heating later, just would not be the same.

Now I could just leave it off here, but we decided to go back the next day for their brunch buffet (hey, you never know, this visit could have been a fluke, right?). Oh man. I wish we lived closer (not that we’re that far away, but you know, when you want what you want, and you want it NOW, anything that stands between you and your prize needs to be dealt with), we had so many things to choose from! Salad, roasted veggies, stuffed grape leaves, Hummus, Baba Ghanouj, Tzatziki, a hot chickpea and eggplant dish that was out of this world. There were potatoes, rice, that I didn’t try, and in addition to pita bread, slices of pita covered with garlic, parsley, oil, and, and, sorry, I didn’t ask. I was too busy eating.

Check this place out if you haven’t been. Click on the name above to go to their website and check out the menu. Look at the prices. A tremendous value for the amount of food you get.

As we’ve switched to a plant-based diet in the last year or so, we didn’t try any of the meat dishes, but I will tell you, from the looks and the smells, it seems like everything that used to bring us great pleasure when we lived in Europe. You’ll have to see for yourself, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

They serve alcohol as well (again, took that out of our diets a couple of years ago).

Ali Baba. Go. As fast as you can. Here’s the website again: Ali Baba They have 3 locations, we went to the one on I 75 in Richardson. Enjoy!

Memorial Day is a day for us to honor the fallen men and women who have given their lives for what they believe in. This is a story of what I witnessed as true American spirit.

I am honored to call myself a member of the Patriot Guard. It is a privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, with one thing in common: the capacity to care deeply about others.

I joined over five years ago after attending the military funeral of a relative of a member of the American Legion post I belong to. I was so touched by what I saw, that I searched out who they were and joined immediately. Little did I know it would lead me down a path to an instance that would truly become a lasting memory to me.

I have been on a number of “missions”, but this one in particular helped change some of the cynicism I had for the way returning veterans were viewed by the general public.

It was a number of years ago, about a week before Thanksgiving. My son had shared with me that one of his childhood friends had tragically lost his life. This young man was on active duty, had done two tours in Iraq. My son knew a little about my involvement in the Patriot Guard, and I took the opportunity to tell him more about it, and to have him ask this young man’s family if they would consider the involvement of the Patriot Guard upon the return of his remains. They agreed.

Now typically, involvement of the Patriot Guard would mean a procession of motorcycles and cars, escorting the family and soldier for the duration of the funeral, through to his/her final resting place. This situation was somewhat different. First, there had been a number of soldiers from our area killed in action in the same time frame, and resources were strained, meaning that there weren’t people available at the time the soldier was returning home. Second, I knew the family personally. Because of that, I offered to be their escort to the airport and back, they accepted. I had also offered to make arrangements with our local police department to have a motorcycle escort meet up with us at the city limits, and escort us back to their home (they had his remains cremated). They accepted.

What transpired after all this brings tears to my eyes still. I drove them to the airport in my vehicle, where we were met at the terminal by their CAO (casualty assistance officer, assigned by the military to the family to see to it that whatever needs they may have are taken care of, in whatever time frame they may need it in), and airport police, who parked their motorcycles around our cars while they sat, waiting for our return.

We were escorted by airport police through the terminal, and to an American Airlines club lounge, where we were given a private sitting room while we waited for the flight to come in. An officer also waited outside the room, ready to escort us at the correct time. There was awkward silence mixed with nervous chatter while we waited. When the plane was landing, we were taken to the gate. It must have been quite a sight. Two airport police officers in front of us, leading the way, two military escorts behind, and us in the middle, with me carrying a large American flag.

Upon arrival at the gate, the family sat while we waited. Looking around, I observed the people waiting for this plane to take them on to their own destination. As they observed us, many smiled, probably expecting that this was a joyous return of a soldier home, many were in conversations on their cell phones. The door to the gateway opened, and the CAO was escorted to the plane by an airline representative. At that point, the family stood, anxiously waiting for the return of their precious son.

In a few moments, the CAO walked out first, followed by the military escort that traveled home with the remains. He was carrying a ceremonial box containing the soldiers remains, made out of wood, with a large Army logo on the front, and a plaque with their son’s name on it. He approached the family, saluted them, and spoke briefly with them. What happened next absolutely blew me away. Everyone in the gate area stopped what they were doing, stood up, stopped mid conversation and put their cell phones down. They realized what this was all about. Some cried. They remained standing and silent until we left the gate area. We were provided a golf cart to take us back to the entry point where our car was. As we were driven through the terminal, men and women in uniform stopped what they were doing, stood at attention and saluted. Other travelers stopped and put their hands over their hearts, others stopped and bowed their heads.

We got back in our car. The military escorts, with the soldiers remains, were in a car behind us (the escort was duty bound to escort him home). The airport police provided us escort until we reached the outside of the airport. We then drove a short distance, until we came upon the city limits of where we live. Seemingly out of nowhere, a police car came in front of us, and four motorcycle police surrounded us, providing us escort and “protection” through traffic, to their home.

It was an emotional day, one in which my spirits were buoyed by the reactions of those around us. I was proud, not only of being a Patriot Guard member, but of being an American.

God bless our troops, may He provide peace to all those families who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the loss of a loved one, and may God bless America.

If you would like to learn more about the Patriot Guard, perhaps get involved yourself, click on the words “Patriot Guard” highlighted earlier in this story – it’s a link to their website. You don’t have to be a veteran, you don’t have to have a motorcycle, all is required is the desire to show your respect.

Photos: Vegas Uncork’d wins raves; Steve Wynn’s vegan lunch a highlight http://ow.ly/4R85G

So we went to 99 Ranch Market in Plano yesterday after haircuts in Richardson. We hadn’t had anything to eat since our green goddess smoothies for breakfast earlier in the day. It was probably about 2:00 now, and we were walking around the store sampling things and saying “oh, let’s get this, oh let’s get that too!” (we actually DO know better than to shop when we’re hungry). We realized what we were doing once we stopped and looked at one of the products and said “why are we getting this again?”. We left the store to get something to eat.

It’s in a shopping center at 75 and Spring Valley, so there were a number of choices to try. We saw a restaurant called “Mr Tofu” – Korean BBQ and decided to try it, even though we had tried something with a similar name in Carrollton once and were fooled by the name. Looking over the menu, they did have some tofu dishes, with pork, with beef, with chicken, only one listed with veggies was a veggie soup with tofu. We told them “thanks, we changed our minds”, and instead went to a chinese restaurant there, Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant. What a GREAT choice!

Coming from New York to Texas many years ago, really good Chinese food was something we struggled to find. We finally did find a couple of places in Richardson that we frequent and are happy with.

We ordered Mongolian Tofu and Eggplant in Garlic Sauce (note, the eggplant was on the menu under “Tofu and Vegetables”. Other places, when we order it, it normally comes with pork, and we have to always ask for the pork to be left out. This was a nice change).

Wow. I mean, WOW. We took a few bites and were absolutely blown away. The tofu was in small bites, with a nice crunch to it, served with sautéed onions and some red peppers on a bed of crispy rice threads.

The eggplant in garlic sauce was by far the best I think I’ve had. The sauce was rich and flavorful with just enough “bite” to it after it went down. I don’t normally eat the white rice supplied with the meal, but at this sitting, it became an integral part of my meal, as I used it to sop up any remaining garlic sauce on my plate. Mary and I sat there as we were eating and kept saying how much we were enjoying it, and, after we left, continued to talk about how great it was. I don’t remember the last time a meal had that sort of effect on us.

After lunch, we went back to 99 Ranch Market, walked around mostly (we liked what we saw, by the way), and ended up not buying a thing ( reminded ourselves we absolutely MUST eat before we go shopping).

They have another location in Plano at Coit and Park (in the shopping center with Elliot’s Hardware) and we made plans to go there Friday night to celebrate Mary’s birthday. It’s closer to the house, and we’ll try something new (perhaps) I’m sure, but we’re interested to see how closely the items are made between one location to the other. From the information I’ve seen, the restaurants home base is in Seattle, and they’ve been around (in Seattle anyway) since 1992. Here’s hoping they keep a tight control on their recipes between locations. If for some reason we feel it’s not the same, we’ll go back to the one at 75 and Spring Creek, for sure.

What a great find. If you’re transplanted northerners like us and miss really good Chinese food. I would whole heartedly suggest that you try Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

epicureanvegan.com: Vegetable-Barley Chili: This morning, I awoke to this:And this is how it is now . . . (same day… http://wp.me/pMv4h-W6

So glad our CSA Comeback Creek is @coppellfmarket ! Kale, lettuce, radishes, onions, happy the spring season is here. http://ow.ly/i/arPF

So I’ve gotten the itch to plant a vegetable and herb garden. I decided before I went nuts with it and watched it turn into a box full of weeds, I’d start slow. I got 3 large 25 gallon containers and some vegetables and herbs to work with this year, and if I learn well from it, maybe next year I’d build a box to put a garden into.

One of the dangers in having these is that my wife runs a licensed day care from our home. Little kids, and big pots with plants don’t necessarily co-exist well together. Our grandchildren are currently part of the day care so I took aside the oldest (4 years old) and showed him the pots, explained to him what they were about and what we could get to eat from them if they’re taken care of properly. I also told him, that if, when they were outside, if he saw any of the kids messing with them, to be sure and tell “Miss Mary” (my wife).

Well, he and his little sister stayed overnight with us. This turns into a treat for all of us, because we try to distinguish with them the difference between “day care time”, and “grandma and pop pop time”, and tonight was going to be grandma and pop pop time. So while I stayed home with his sister, and we spent time in the front yard throwing out bread for the birds, he and my wife went to run a few errands (which generally ends with a stop in the toy aisle). While they were out, they bought some small plastic watering cans for a project my wife had planned to do with the class during the week. In addition, he and his sister got their own, personal ones to take home.

After dinner that night, they were taking a bath, and after my wife had taken out my grand-daughter to dry her off and get her in PJ’s, I stayed with my grandson, still in the tub. He was playing with the watering can he had gotten, pretending it was “raining”, and then pretending he was watering the flowers with it. At one point he said to me, “pop pop, can I water the vegetables?” I said sure, but we’d do it the next day after the sun came out. He was satisfied with that answer and played some more. Then he said “pop pop, I want to water your bagels”. I said “what?” He repeated, “I want to water your bagels”. I said “my bagels?” He said “yea, your bagels.” I sat puzzled for a moment and started to say “but I don’t have any….”, and then I realized. I asked him, “do you mean you want to water my basil?” He said “yea, your bagels.”

“Sure pal, tomorrow you can water my bagels.” 🙂

I read an article recently about internet privacy. Just a few months ago I was extremely reluctant to “put myself out there” as it was. I made a decision a few weeks ago to reverse that. I have for many years encouraged others to “embrace change”. It generally was in the context of a discussion about a business, usually one that was going through significant change. The more time I spent thinking about it, the more I realized I was setting myself up to basically live on an island, looking through binoculars at what was happening on the shore of the land in the distance. Always the observer, never the participant.

I am quite wary about the amount of information that is available to companies about me. I would rather not even think about hackers. I take solace in the fact that I live such a relatively tame lifestyle, don’t have valuables that I think anyone else would be interested in, or have such stellar credit that anyone could use it for their own gain. I try to be careful, but not obsessed, over the security of things done while surfing the net.

Having said that, I realized as I went through my junk mail, and ignored yet another call from “unknown”, that I’m already “out there”. So I decided to take my own advice and embrace change. This blog is the result of my doing that. I spend my time learning more about the internet, how things work, and if there was some way for me to utilize it to my benefit. I’ll let you know what I find out.

What I didn’t really think much of though, was the fact that as I go from internet page to internet page, there are windows that companies are looking through to track what I do. Not necessarily me by name specifically, but the steps I take each day while surfing. This article woke me up to that. It named a number of sites that provide you with a of list companies that you can opt out of being tracked by them, and one in particular, “Ghostery” that I could download, and then see, in a pop up window, the companies that were tracking me as I surfed from page to page.

I downloaded it (it’s free, and you can take it off if you’d like), and the first time I saw the window pop up, it kind of freaked me out. It was as if someone had walked by my house, stopped and was watching what I was doing through a window. My immediate thought was to get rid of it, but I didn’t. After a while, I got comfortable with it. I think that knowing that I had a few choices, one being to take it off and try to forget that it was happening, stop my activity altogether online (so no one could know what “I was up to”), or, I could accept that it’s the newest form of ways that companies have to find ways to sell me stuff that I may want, leave it on, and know who it is that’s looking. I chose the last. I’m not getting off the internet, I can’t cloak myself in secrecy (I guess for the right price I could), and I want to have access to the world available via the web. But at least with my new “Ghost friend” showing up as I move around, giving me a heads up that someone’s watching, I feel like I have SOME control. Check them out by clicking on their name below:

Ghostery