Restaurant Review: Grecian Delight, Milwaukee, WI

For obvious reasons, which are three, nine and 11 years old, we don’t eat out a lot. When it happens, it is generally a hurried and exciting affair and typically ends with us paying an enormous tip to placate wait- and bus-staff.

The other night we found ourselves with few groceries and a mid-evening social engagement, so we decided to take the kiddies out to eat. For reasons known only to our subconscious and perhaps the pantheon of Greek gods, we choose Grecian Delight. As Michael’s friend used to say, I guess we were “hankering for a hunk of grey meat rotating on a spit.”

For those unfamiliar with Grecian Delight, it is a typical “Greek” restaurant near a university and strip of bars/nightclubs featuring gyros, chicken sandwiches and the like. The busiest hours are between Midnight and 3:00 AM.

Neither my husband nor I had been to such a place in a real long while, so I guess we thought this would be “fun” and “nostalgic.”

It was definitely nostalgic. First off, Grecian Delight must be one of the last remaining restaurants in the city where you can smoke, and more importantly, where there does not appear to be any designated non-smoking section. Seriously. Ashtrays, with ashes and butts, where on every other table throughout the restaurant. Awwww, how 1990.

The kids were a little freaked.

The menu was about as I remembered, it, with the addition of some true Greek classics like jalapeno poppers and chocolate chip cheesecake.

A man with many gold chains and a reluctance to button his shirt took our order.

Number one son ordered a hamburger; number deux ordered a fish sandwich. Third child went for that famous Grecian specialty, French fries and pita bread. Mr. Healthy got the grilled chicken pita (sans onion, but they put the onion on anyway).

Not me. If I was at this smoky, smelly place, I was getting a gyro, dammit (sans onion).

(Yes, our 13-year marriage is built on a solid foundation of onion hatred. What of it?)

Wow. Gyros are not good. I realize I was probably shit-faced the last time I ate one, but really, is there any level of drunkenness that could make a gyro taste good?

I tried to finish it -- really, I did. In the end I just couldn’t do it and surrendered it over to number one son, who thought it was delicious.


Foodstuff's Review: Trader Joe's Three-Cheese Pizza

How bad does pizza have to be for kids to reject it? Pretty fucking bad.

I don’t like to trash Trader Joe’s products. I like the store, I really like the prices and I like the fact that I can purchase a chunk of blue cheese without 1) borrowing money or 2) having to interact with cheese personnel who must fetch my gorgonzola from behind the glass case – I’m looking at you, Whole Foods.

But as we’ve discussed before, the ‘Trader sometimes peddles foods that just aren't that great. And some are downright God-awful. Like the three-cheese pizza.

Every good pizza needs a solid foundation—the crust. To describe the TJ’s pizza crust as “cracker-like” does an injustice to crackers everywhere. Try “cardboard-like.” Actually, cardboard is softer, moister and likely has more flavor. The crust is also weirdly powdery/floury which doesn’t exactly help with the dryness.

Next, the sauce. Way, way, WAY too sweet. It’s more like some type of gag-inducing sweet tomato preserves instead of pizza sauce.

This pizza claims to have three cheeses. With so many cheeses to choose from, you’d think they’d be less stingy. They could double, nay, TRIPLE the amount of cheese and it still probably wouldn’t be enough.

The overall flavor is very bland. You get the grossly sweet flavor of the sauce, and that’s it – you’re left desperately trying to choke down the crust.

Our children have never rejected pizza of any type until the Trader Joe’s three-cheese pizza.

So if you love candy-sweet yet somehow completely tasteless pizza, or if you love eating cardboard and hate cheese, or if you’re trying to get your pudgy kids to loose a little weight, then Trader Joe’s three-cheese pizza is for you.


Family Movie Review: The Ladykillers

Sometimes it seems I have less common sense than any other person on the planet. This phenomenon is caused, in part, by the fact that I tend to believe whatever people tell me.

Case in point. I believed a total stranger (and oily teen) when he suggested that my mother-in-law and I take her 82-year-old mother and my eight-year-old son to a matinee of the Coen Brothers “The Ladykillers.” When we pressed him on the appropriateness of the film for our little group, I believe his feedback was “It shouldn’t be a problem.”

We were supposed to see something much more inter-generationally friendly and appropriately rated, but, sadly, it was sold out, or maybe we were late. Regardless, this is when said oily box office drone suggested that “The Ladykillers” might be an acceptable substitution.

Why would this boy have any reason to lie to me? To my son? To Grandma?

Should we have shied away simply because of the Coen Brothers moniker? Maybe, but really, it could go either way. “Raising Arizona?” “O Brother Where Art Thou?” Both great family films.

“The Ladykillers?” Not so much. This wasn’t one of the Coens’ more popular (or better) films, so perhaps you’re not familiar. I can sum it up pretty quickly:

1) Someone’s dick gets blown off
2) Sophisticated, subtle humor based on the trials and tribulations of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
3) The words fuck, fucker, fucking, mother-fucker or mother-fucking are used at a rate of once every 1.67 seconds
4) Lashings and lashings of the good old ultra-violence
5) Tom Hanks

That’s pretty much all I remember. I was a little distracted. I spent a lot of my time watching the exits, thinking Dane County Child Protective Services was going to bust in at any minute. I spent a lot more time imagining I could feel the eyes of our fellow movie patrons actually boring holes in the back of my skull. The remaining time was occupied by slyly monitoring grandma’s respiration and pulse, in case some sort of medical intervention was required.

Our son? Best two hours of his life. Couldn’t believe his luck. I’m sure he remembers every second.

Why didn’t we just leave? I can’t really tell you. I guess I like to give everything a fair chance. I kept thinking “The Ladykillers” would redeem itself, and that our little family outing would somehow all work out in the end. And you know what? It kinda did.

Our son was thrilled I found him mature enough to see such an adult film and that I trusted him so much I knew he wouldn’t repeat any of the language or content, say, at school (this was the line I gave him, and I still think it’s pretty good). Grandma was thrilled someone took her to see a movie not written with 11-year-old girls in mind. Besides Tom Hanks, my mother-in-law and I quickly recovered and agreed that we didn’t have to tell anyone if we didn’t feel like it.


Foodstuffs (?) Review: Let's dip Dracula (Fuchs Brand)

My very cool friend Gina brought me this gift from her adventures in one of the “ania” countries of Central Europe. She knew I would appreciate nothing better than a powdered dip mix bearing the excellent name “Let’s dip Dracula.”

It’s the best gift I’ve ever received.

This review will be somewhat incomplete, since I haven’t the heart to open the package and actually prepare the dip. And since I don’t read Romanian (I think it’s Romanian) I probably shouldn’t prepare the dip anyway. If I ever do prepare it, I probably shouldn’t eat it, or feed it to anyone else, especially our small children.

Anyway, most of the discussion about Let’s dip Dracula has to do with punctuation.

I can’t shake the feeling that the Fuchs corporation omitted a critical piece of punctuation in the product name, Let’s dip Dracula.

Amongst my friends, family and former co-workers, there is much disagreement as to which punctuation mark is missing.

Most of us agree it’s one of two things:

1) It’s either missing an exclamation point, as in: “Let’s dip Dracula! Grab him! Totally submerge him in dip!”

2) Or, it’s missing a comma, as in, “Let’s dip, Dracula. Let us, you and I, cast caution to the wind and dip together in delicious dipping delight.”

Please feel free to weigh in, unless you just want to tell me I’m obviously over-thinking this whole thing and it’s nothing more than a product name written by someone with a less than firm grasp of English. I’ve heard THAT one before.

Healthstuffs Review: Olbas Pastilles

Like almost everyone else I know, I’ve had a cold for about 39 days. It pulls the old dangle and snatch -- I’ll feel better for a day or two and then WHAMMO! I’m a dribbling, snotty, throbbing, pounding mess again.

Last Friday was particularly bad, from a virus-count standpoint. Mid-afternoon found me wandering aimlessly around Ye Olde Health Foode Shoppe, searching in vain for something that a) I could taste and b) would easily pass the giant chunk of phlegm in my throat. As I was approaching the checkout line, I spied these little beauties.

Olbas Pastilles!

I was instantly drawn in:

1) The product seemed to hail from some pastoral European country, possibly Switzerland, maybe Norway.

2) The words “Powerful Vapors” were featured prominently on the box. I am in serious need of some powerful vapors. I’d huff Pledge if I thought it would do any good and wouldn’t set such a terrible example for the children.

3) I felt the tagline “Clears the Head Soothes the Throat,” was written with me in mind. (The secondary tagline “Extra Strong and Penetrating” made me a tad uncomfortable, but I wasn’t going to let that get in the way.)

4) The ingredient list included juniper berries. Don’t they flavor gin with juniper berries? Couldn’t hurt.

5) The ingredient list also included chlorophyll. Cool. Remember Clorets gum? It’s the gum that freshened your breath – with SCIENCE!

After paying the stunning price of $4.95 for these throat lozenges (sorry, “pastilles”) I settled into our 2001 Chevrolet Venture Minivan (Warner Brothers Edition) and busted open the cute little box.

The first thing I noticed is that some type of white power kept sifting from the Olbas Pastilles box -- all over my skirt, coat and the seats of Vannie. Was is sugar? Chlorophyll? Gin dust? Whatever is was, it was fucking messy. I’m a bit on the OCD side, so I wasn’t loving the white powder.

After dusting myself off, I extracted a pastille from the box. It was dark green (chlorophyll?), a bit on the small side, kinda shaped like a beetle. Basically looked like your typical throat lozenge, but it was covered in that white powder, which I now decided was sugar.

Preparing myself to be “extra penetrated with powerful vapors,” I popped that puppy in. The first few seconds were ok, and then the sugar coating wore off.

Sweet baby Christ these things taste like shit. Sure, there are some menthol-y vapors, and a faint eucalyptus-y flavor, but there’s also some type of musty, rotting vegetation-y taste that was powerful enough to penetrate even my dulled taste buds.

And lozenges are supposed to be hard, right? You suck on it until it disappears to a tiny, sharp sliver and then you crunch it up. Not the Olbas Pastilles. After teasing you with the illusion of hardness, they turn gummy and sticky, and you’re left like a cow, chewing her cud. Cud, by the way, also contains chlorophyll.

In conclusion, the next time you need powerful vapors, do yourself a favor, save the $4.95, and get yourself some Halls.


Auto Review: 2001 Chevrolet Venture Minivan (Warner Brothers Edition)

Historically, we’re minimalists when it comes to our vehicles. We’ve never owned a new car, and traditionally our cars are a) inherited from family members and b) the most basic editions of Japanese sedans. We also hate mini-vans. However, with the advent of our third (and one might say “late in life”) child, there was no getting around it – to keep the kiddies safe, we needed a vehicle with three rows of seats. The mini-van seemed to be the lesser of two evils, when compared to the Canyonero-esque array of SUVs on the market (“Smells like a steak and seats 35!”).

We weren’t too picky about brand, model or year. My only deal breaker was color (couldn’t be white or red), Michael’s only deal breaker was he wanted it to be free. After that didn’t work out, we became the proud owners of a 2001 Chevy Venture Minivan (Warner Brothers Edition).

The price was right, the inner workings checked out, the color was acceptable, and besides the annoying metal Bugs Bunny/WB logo on the side, it seemed ok.

Our children were flabbergasted we would choose such a wondrous vehicle. It had at least eight thousand buttons, power everything, leather seats, and most amazing of all – a theatre/entertainment system, complete with wireless headphones for the kids! We were overwhelmed. One son kept asking when we had to return this amazing van.

I know a lot of these features are now standard on most minivans, but remember, our last family vehicle was a 1997 Nissan Sentra.

After signing the loan paperwork, trying to avoid too much eye contact with the creepy sales guy, shrewdly (we thought) purchasing the optional one-year “bumper-to-bumper” warranty, we proudly piled into “Vannie” and took a little spin to grandma’s house.

This is the last time I remember a problem-free ride in this vehicle.

You know it’s a bad sign when your mechanic rolls his eyes when you mention the make and model of your vehicle and says “Oh God, I had one of those once.”

Here’s a (probably incomplete) list of everything that’s gone wrong with Vannie since the summer of ’04.

1) Gas gauge inoperable. Estimate to repair - $700. This still isn’t fixed, so we reset the on-board computer thingy to keep track of gas consumption, sometimes with disastrous results – sorry Kelly!
2) Gas tank dicked up, as in, we couldn’t put any gas in the tank. Gas is sorta critical for an internal combustion engine. Repaired to the tune of $600. This problem occurred within two weeks of purchase but was not covered by our “bumper-to-bumper” warranty. I guess the gas tank is somehow outside of the range encompassed by the front and back bumpers. Who knew?
3) Viewing screen for entertainment system breaks. Children inconsolable. Parents gleeful. Seriously, that thing was more trouble than it was worth. We had to create all kinds of weird rules like, “No movies on a trip less than 45 minutes long.”
4) Head gasket replaced. I’m not going to pretend I know what a head gasket is or what it does, but I do know it is critical and costs $1,200 to fix. This was the repair that caused our mechanic to regretfully admit he thought the ’01 Ventures were “lemons.” Excellent.
5) Heating and air conditioning system completely malfunctions. No heat, no air, no defrost, no blower. $600 to get the heat going (it was winter), air conditioning still inoperable (actually, worse than inoperable, it blows a gentle stream of heated air if the blower is on at all).
6) Car overheats and ceases to run. I can’t remember the reason why, but it cost $500 to get it going again. It took the mechanics a while to diagnose this problem, partially because when taking it out for a test drive, they ran out of gas (see #1, above).

Other than that, no complaints!

So, if you want a car your kids will love (until the entertainment system breaks) and that will strip you of most of your expendable income, you could do worse than the 2001 Chevrolet Venture Van (Warner Brothers Edition).

Foodstuffs Review: Trader Joe’s Korean Style Marinated Short Ribs.

I’m embarrassed to admit we bought these twice. I honestly thought I got a bum package the first time we made them, so like a total douche I went back for a second helping of pain.

1) These ribs contain an approximate 1:3 ratio of meat to fat, gristle and bone. And that’s on a good chunk.

2) The ribs are so whisper thin the merest kiss of heat renders the meat well-done-to-burnt. With the possible exception of official Olympic Games stopwatches, there is no timer setting short enough to prevent this meat from overcooking. The packaging suggests grilling to be the optimal cooking method, however, I would postulate that placing these slender ribs over an open fire would render them to charcoal.

3) They are pricey -- $7.99 for a pound -- and remember, three-quarters of that pound is fat, gristle and bone. I guess this would be a better deal if you had a dog, pig or secret, deformed child you fed only fat, gristle and bone.

4) When you can find it, and extract it from the fat, gristle and bone, the meat itself is strangely delicious (how could it not be, so completely laced with beef fat) but like some punishment hatched in the bowels of Hades itself, the more you want, the less there is to be had. You think Tantalus got a bum deal, try watching three hungry carnivores sit down to a plate of these short ribs.

5) The ribs are cut “against the grain”, which means you see a cross-section of the bones. I don’t like to look at that much marrow while I’m eating. Just me.

So in conclusion, if you’re into burnt stuff, fat, gristle, bone, marrow and unfulfilled desire, indulge your tastes in Trader Joe’s Korean Style Marinated Short Ribs.


Babystuffs Review: White Cloud "Supreme" Diapers (Size Five)

I'm not going to explain why I was at Wal-Mart, but rest assured it is an extremely unusual experience for me—like less than once a year unusual. Not only do I oppose Wal-Mart from a community and human rights standpoint, I find the experience of entering a store extremely unpleasant and, how can I put this delicately, really fucking white-trashy.

But in Wal-Mart I was, and like 27 billion other people in the country, I was lured lemming-like to the mind-blowing savings offered by Wal-Mart house brands.

Honestly, can you blame me? A similarly sized package of White Cloud Supreme (WCS) diapers was like NINE whole dollars less than our tried and true Huggies Supremes. The package claimed the same features, had a cute, racially indiscriminate boy on the cover, and amazingly, no licensed characters on the package or the diapers themselves. I quickly rationalized that the diapers must be exactly the same as Huggies Supremes, but so much cheaper because they don't pay licensing fees to whichever evil corporate conglomerate owns Pooh, Piglet and Tigger. See!? I might be shopping at Wal-Mart, but I’m still sticking it to the man. Power to the people!

My empowered feelings diminish once I get home and strap the WCSs on my sweet unsuspecting boy.

First let’s talk absorbency. Try none. You know those maxi-pad commercials where a manicured female hand dribbles a tiny eyedropper of scientific-looking blue liquid in order to demonstrate absorbency? The volume of that dropper would stretch this diaper’s capabilities to the very outer limits.

Now imagine the urinary capacity of a potty training toddler, who is very good at holding it for hours before releasing the floodgates. These puppies didn’t stand a chance. Absolutely useless. Nay, MORE than useless. I’d rather have him go commando so I wouldn’t have to deal with wet clothing, bedding AND the horrifyingly gross task of picking up the millions of globules of urine-plumped gel that burst forth at a whisper-soft brush of the “cloth-like covering.”

By now, you may have guessed that I’m not real impressed with the White Cloud nappies.

I'll leave you with a frightening thought. These were White Cloud SUPREME diapers. God help those who were suckered into buying the basic White Clouds.

Fun fact! When I spell-checked this piece, Microsoft wanted me to replace “Huggies” with “Haggis.” Awesome! Actually, maybe Wal-Mart should take heed – sheep casings may work better as a diaper cover than whatever material they’re using now.

But not all was lost…for as you will see, I also purchased Wal-Mart’s organic cotton baby wipes, which were a pleasant surprise (esp. after the useless fucking diapers)!

Toy Review: Harry Potter Electronic Wand

You’re probably thinking, “Hey, there’s been a lot of hoopla about this Harry Potter thing and the holidays ARE fast approaching – maybe I’ll get my kid this neato Harry Potter wand!”

That would be one of the biggest mistakes you’ve ever made in your entire life.

We’ve owned this product for five years. None of us has any fucking idea how it works and even less how you play the “game.” And this is after thoroughly deconstructing the printed directions, calling the manufacturer, consulting web sites and just dicking around with it for an ungodly period of time.

Mostly what happens is, when you turn the wand on, some of the buttons light up and the wand starts screaming “Wingardium” over and over again. Push a button, wave it around, and pretty much the same: “Wingardium! Wingardium!”

Every so often it terrifyingly threatens: “You win – THIS TIME!”

What? What did I just win? And how? This time? What’s going to happen next time? Who are you?

We also couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. We would think it was off, then it would randomly come to life, screaming “Wingardium!” and scaring the holy bejebus out of whichever child was unfortunate enough to leave it in his room.

So, in summary: Randomly blinking lights. “Wingardium!” “You win – THIS TIME!” Disembodied voices. No fucking idea how to play or, more importantly, how to turn it off.

Babystuffs Review: Wal-Mart Brand Organic Cotton Baby Wipes

If you’re like me, you use diaper wipes for a lot more than cleaning waste products from your child’s nether-regions. I’ve used wipes for, but not limited to: makeup remover cloths, spot cleaners, earplugs, dust cloths, auto interior cleaners, whole body sponge baths, shoe shines, pathetic hand puppets, chocolate ice cream cone disasters, Kleenex and one desperate day, toilet paper.

In short, a good, sturdy wipe is important to today’s family on the go.

The organic cotton diaper wipes are soft, perfectly moistened and have a pleasant nubby texture not unlike a cotton wash cloth. If the wipes were scented, it must have been subtle, because I didn’t really notice it. Plus there’s the whole organic thing that really appeals to my guilty conscience, especially since these things came from Wal-Mart.

They are priced less than the non-organic national brands and the texture is hands-down better. So five stupid yellow smiley faces for Wal-Mart Brand Organic Cotton Baby Wipes!


Family Movie Review: The Ring

If you’re like us, you see PG-13 and think “Eh, 11 years old -- close enough.”

Usually true.

However, do not, I repeat, do not -- despite the innocuous PG-13 MPAA rating and pleadings from your child that, “Mom, the last Harry Potter movie was PG-13” -- show “The Ring” to an 11-year-old at 9:30 on a Friday night.

Here’s a synopsis. Nostalgic VHS format turns anthropomorphic – TO KILL YOU. Goth/emo type girl comes out of the television – TO KILL YOU. Loving parents go nuts and decide -- TO KILL YOU.

This is an 11-year-old boy’s worst nightmare. And make no doubt about it. This is one scary fucking movie -- and I’m not just talking about the acting or gaping holes in the plot (hardy-har-har).

So, if you need to stay awake some night to finish making clothespin reindeer for holiday gifts, re-grout the tub or crank out that work project you procrastinated on, by all means show “The Ring” to your 11 year old at bedtime. He’ll keep you company if you can just ignore the whimpering and shaking.