Observed at the Breakfast Buffet

The Mena House

Waiting for Izzat

TRAVEL THERE: MORNING AT THE MENA HOUSE

After the wedding, four of us went to the Mena House, while everyone else went to Sharm el Shiek, a beach town on the Red Sea.    Our nephew and his friend had headed to Sharm as I repacked our luggage the night before and Izzat would be picking us up to take us to the airport.  I regretted leaving the Mena House.  There was so much more of it I wanted to enjoy.  I wanted to laze around the gorgeous pool, enjoy my patio and continue to eat marvelous meals.  We had one more meal to enjoy at their remarkable buffet.

Breakfast at the Mena House

I won’t bore you with the details of yet another breakfast buffet.  I actually got tired of them while I was there.  Morning after morning each hotel had a massive spread of food and I had to walk the not-so-fine line between satisfying my hunger and becoming a practicing gourmand.  I will share an odd situation I observed, however.  On our first morning at the Mena House, Bill remarked on a woman who had piled a plate high with carbs.  He assumed she was gathering her own breakfast and in his opinion she needed to modify her diet.  On the second morning, she was back and I watched her, because I doubted anyone could actually eat the mound of pastries she had gathered up.

Come to find out, she wasn’t serving herself at all.  She gathered up several plates heaping with food on a table and had a bus boy deliver it to her room for her on a large tray.  Of course, I’m wondering all kinds of things, like why doesn’t her family just come down and get their own food, but most of all I felt sorry for her.  I even speculated that her husband was one of the towel wearing pilgrims I’d seen at the airport and wondered if his pilgrim status kept him from making the trip to the buffet.  Whatever the reason, she didn’t have the demeanor of someone who was enjoying their role.  She seemed huddled and secretive.  Her posture suggested she expected to be berated for her performance.  I realize I was imposing my own western ideas on her, but it was not the fact that she was performing this task for her family that bothered me, it was how burdensome the job seemed to be.

I’ve filled a tray at a breakfast buffet for Bill before and taken it back to the room.  It wasn’t a mound of pastries, but I certainly didn’t mind doing it.  I even enjoyed it, smiling as I thought of ways to make the meal more attractive.  When we’re at a buffet together we take turns serving each other.  Each of us will fill our own plate and then if we head back for beverage refills or to get a missed condiment, we always check to see if the other needs something.  Sometimes when we go back for the refill we’ll spot an item that we think the other must have missed and carry it back for their enjoyment.

My silent observation at the Mena caused me to watch for similar situations in the other places we traveled.  I did not see an exact replication of the circumstances with the huddled woman, but I did see echoes of it.  In Sharm I would see tables full of men loudly enjoying their breakfasts.  On the table were large stacks of pastries like the one prepared by the woman in Giza.  Meanwhile the women scurried around preparing individual plates for the men and for the children. Over several mornings I watched one woman and I don’t think she ever got the chance to eat.

I’m all about different strokes for different folks, but one thing really bugged me and it was those huge mounds of pastries.  Each plate seemed to have about 20 pastries carefully stacked on it and there were several plates scattered on the tables.  When the families would leave the table it seemed as if all 20 pastries were still there.  I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to those mounds of pastries.  American hygiene would demand they be thrown away, but I saw so much poverty and want through out the country that I couldn’t help but wish these gorgeous tidbits were in some way passed on to people who needed them.  I couldn’t help but think that they might be taken to the kitchen for recycling on the buffet – so I pretty much stayed away from the pastries.

The red one is mine and the silver one is Bills. Farewell Mena House!

Farewell Mena House

From the buffet we made our way to the lobby and settled our bill.  Our luggage was already waiting for us.  Before long, Izzat pulled under the portico and our next adventure began – and once again it was at the airport!  Come back next week and laugh with me about Egyptian security measures.

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Happy Holidays

My house, ready for Christmas

TRAVEL HERE: CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

When I was a kid, my Christmas activities were tied to my school, my church and my family.  The other constant was driving around to see Christmas lights.  We moved back to Dallas in 1966 and hit the Christmas bonanza.  Highland Park, specifically Beverly Drive, was the most amazing Christmas array of outdoor decorations you can imagine.  Nowadays there are many neighborhoods vying for top dog status, which is probably a relief to the Beverly Drive residents.  What’s more, my hubby is just not to excited about crawling bumper- to-bumper through any neighborhood for any reason that does not involve profit.  The other big deal in my childhood days was the After Christmas Sales.

Post Christmas Shopping Frenzy

This Black Friday business is a recent phenomena.  The big shopping event used to be the day after Christmas.  Aunt Edie, Mom and I were enthusiastic about this annual event.  My sister Susan and Aunt Tommie would often join us, but they weren’t quite as pumped about rising early to fight the crowds.  For us the primary focus of the day was Christmas decorations.  Susan and I would stand in the long lines while the adults rushed about gathering the deals and parking them with us.  Sometimes I’d make treks out to the car to unload the purchases into the trunk and then hurry back in for the next retail foray.  Sometimes we would fill up the car at one mall, deliver our goodies to the house and head to another mall.  It was madness.

In those days, Mom and Aunt Edie used to trade off Christmas and Thanksgiving.  One year Mom would do Thanksgiving and Aunt Edie would do Christmas.  The next year Aunt Edie did Thanksgiving and Mom did Christmas.  One of the benefits of this was the variety it added to our post-Christmas Shopping Orgy.  In Dallas we hit all the big malls and shopped the department stores.  Aunt Edie lived in Temple – a much more boutique experience.  Aunt Edie’s shopping habits made her a known quantity in her small town and her arrival was always treated with elaborate gestures of welcome.  We’d visit florists, small shops, hardware stores and drug stores.  On occasion, we’d hit Salado rather than Temple.  What fun we had!

All this started when I still lived at home and eventually I did have my own place, but I still didn’t have a lot of discretionary income.  Collecting ornaments was something I did as a traveled, on a one-by-one basis, rather than stocking up at years end.  In defense of Mom and Aunt Edie, they used the sales to buy up on holiday gifts for the next year.  They both belonged to a wide variety of organizations which required them to participate in gift exchanges.  By December 27th of one year, they’d be stocked up for Christmas in the coming year.  Occasionally I noticed, however, that what one December was bought as a gift, might actually end up on our tree or coffee table.

Eventually, the day arrived that I could afford to join in the fun.  I was married with my own two-story house to decorate.  In a few years we moved out to California and built an even bigger house.  Mom and Aunt Edie would come out to visit and though they were no longer so interested in the holiday decor for themselves, they were more than happy to help me find things I couldn’t live without.

Thrice Blessed at Christmas

Now Mom and Aunt Edie are gone.  Aunt Edie didn’t have any kids and my sister didn’t catch the holiday decor bug, so I inherited two houses worth of Christmas.  While I did do some culling and selected only the creme de la creme from both collections, when I declare it’s time to start decorating, I’ve got a lot of Christmas to spread around.  It is a task of joy.  I’m a visual sort, so the very sight of these treasures unleashes so many memories.  I can recall the very day we bought them and from which store.  If they were Mom or Aunt Edie’s I can tell you where they used them around their house.  For the entire month of December, it’s as if they have come for a visit.  We reminisce about the Christmases of the past and enjoy the season together.

I don’t go to the after Christmas sales now.  Why would I?  Every nook and cranny already has it’s own bit of Christmas and there’s always plenty left over, just-in-case.  When we first moved into our house here in Heath, I did realize I suddenly had ten windows on the front of the house, something none of us had contended with before.  That first year I was Scrooge – until I could hit Hobby Lobby the day after Christmas.  In about 10 minutes I’d picked up 10 wreaths with big red bows and made it through the lines.  Bill went with me that day, but so did Mom and Aunt Edie – at least they were there in spirit.

 

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De-Cluttering is Critical — spotonimages

Spotlight on StagingThe Big StuffWhen a potential buyer looks at your home online, you want there to be enough furniture in a room to tell them what room they are viewing, but you don’t need much more than that. Here are the pieces a room needs:Living Areas – Sofa or couch, 1 or 2 chairs,…

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Step Up to Saqqara

TRAVEL THERE: VISITING THE STEP PYRAMID

The Egyptians didn’t wake up one morning and have the perfect formula for pyramid building.  They had hundreds of years of practice before the elegant examples at Giza were built.  (There’s a nick in the Ancient Alien theory!)  At Dashour we saw pyramids of various shapes and sizes.  Their most successful attempts led them to give step pyramids a try and the best example of these Step Pyramids is up the road a bit from Dashour and down the road a bit from Giza at Saqqara. 

Getting There

When we departed Dashour, our military friends didn’t seem quite so intimidating.  They barely glanced at us as we passed by.  Izzat got back on the main road, the one with the dirty canals in the middle, and headed back north.  Zuzu continued to regale us with the history lesson and before long we were at another military installation.  This one was not quite as intimidating, but to a certain extent a little more scary.  The soldiers at Saqqara were a little less serious, but also a lot more careless.  They all carried guns and seemed to be having several different conversations, and in each the guns were being casually waved about as if they were extensions of the gesticulating soldiers’ arms.  I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if someone’s finger slipped a bit.

If you don’t count the threat of wayward bullets, the site seems more tourist-friendly.  In Dashour everything was a street and a parking lot because it was just wide open spaces for as far as you could see.  At Saqqara, there were actual gravel-covered parking lots and roads that looked regularly traveled. 

The Museum

Another tourist- friendly feature was a small museum.  There’s actually a lovely promenade from the parking lot to the museum that looks as if it could accommodate a gift shop, a concession stand and perhaps even a small cafe, but everything was closed down tight and no signs indicated that any of it had ever been anything.  I wondered if there had been more there once or whether they were presently developing it, but Zuzu did not provide that kind of information.  He looked at me as if I’d suddenly begun to speak a language he didn’t understand and shrugged his shoulders.

We grabbed a few pictures and headed inside.  This had to be a recent development, because the interior looked like something you might see in other countries.  It was clean and neat.  The items were advantageously displayed in glass cases and lo and behold, there were placards there to identify the pieces and give a little history.  Pictures were not allowed or I would be glad to show you the lovely facility.  The museum was not large, but I liked it very much.

Wandering the Ruins

Saqqara is a significant archaeological site.  They have found a number of ruins dating to a variety of periods.  Some have been restored.  Some look as if they were once available for viewing, but have been closed up. Some areas are currently under renovation.  Even though the ruins come from different eras they are all very close together.  You can see everything without having to walk very far.

I’d say of the three Pyramid sites, Saqqara was my favorite – not more important than Giza, but more enjoyable.  Each is worth a visit.  If you can convince your guide to do them in chronological order, then kudos to you.  I think that would be an interesting progression, but that guide would not be Zuzu.  He’s going to do Giza first, no matter what.

A Little Entertainment

As if to prove they’d gotten the tourist thing figured out a Saqqara, they actually had a cultural performance!  A toupe of dancers, both male and female, performed energetic renditions of folk dances, brandishing swords, swaying their hips and stomping their feet.  The colors were a little too Hollywood to be traditional, but I appreciated the effort.

The drive back to the Mena house was daunting.  It was five o’clock traffic Egyptian style.  I was appreciating Izzat more and more.  Back at the hotel we did a little exploration, wandering around at will.  We’d been on the official tour and they encouraged us to wander the hotel – so we did.  We also had another fantastic meal, this time at the Khan-il-Khalili restaurant which specialized in Egyptian cuisine.  Back at the room I packed up.  In the morning Izzat would be there fairly early to take us to the airport for the next phase of our adventure.

 

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Is Variety the Spice of Life?

TRAVEL HERE: AND THE WINNERS ARE…

We give up.  Perhaps the perfect meal kit service doesn’t exist, but we’ve identified some dogs.  He likes Hello Fresh for this and that, but if Home Chef is going to continue to delight me with dishes like Yorkshire Pudding, well I want it, too. Blue Apron, finally fell off the wagon for a variety of reasons. So for now, I’ll be juggling two services and hopefully I’ll figure out a system to insure that we don’t end up with two boxes of food for any particular week as I did a few weeks ago.  Perhaps someday down the road, one of the services will pull ahead of the others, but for now, I’ll just claim variety is the spice of life.

Why Not Blue Apron?

This journey began with several months of Blue Apron.  I’d done my research and read from several sources they were the best value – not the cheapest, but the one who provided the best product for the greatest value.  I loved it so much.  It wasn’t perfect, but it beat my own meal planning and food management, for a while.  Then Bill demanded a change of pace and did he ever get it!  He’s dizzy from the carousel of meal kit services.

As we sat down to discuss who would win the brass ring, I recounted all the reasons I used to love Blue Apron:

  • Interesting gourmet touches with every meal and lots of variety
  • Unique ingredients never available at the local grocery store
  • Usually the highest quality in meats, fish and vegetables – with some uneveness in the beef department and the occasional vegetable fail
  • Clever packaging that was fun to open and unload
  • Cute knick knack bags for their special ingredients
  • Great recipe cards with easy to follow instructions, helpful upscale photos of the cooking process and finally the best pictures of the plated meals
  • They’d made me feel like an accomplished chef

Even with all these pluses, I had to admit they couldn’t be THE meal kit service, because quite frankly, for the last few months, every time we used them all we had were problems and the food wasn’t as good as it used to be.  All the great recipe cards in the world can’t make up for food we don’t want to eat.

Why Hello Fresh?

Can you say Chicken Under a Zucchini Blanket?  Of all the meals we had from any service, this was Bill’s favorite meal – and I have to admit it was a winner.  Their other strengths were:

  • Not a single packaging or quality issue in six meals (something that no other besides Blue Apron can claim)
  • User friendly recipe cards that did the job (if not as well as Blue Apron)
  • Ingredients that were as least as good as what I would pick out for myself at the store
  • Good healthy food that Bill and I both enjoyed (but nothing in the least exotic)

I didn’t want them to be THE meal kit service because:

  • Unpacking my meal was just not as much fun
  • I don’t like the big brown bag per meal or their graphics
  • A little too main-stream-all-the-time for my palate
  • They said Parmesan Crusted Fish and it turned out to be tilapia
  • While the recipe cards did their job, they were less than excellent
    • less than pristine utensils used in cooking photos
    • a downgrade in overall ambiance
    • instructions were good, but not a s good as others
    • finished plate photos are not inspiring

Why Home Chef?

They had me at Yorkshire Pudding!  Not merely the fact that they offered Yorkshire Pudding, but because the dish was easy to make from scratch and it turned out perfect.  Their other two dishes for the week were quite tasty.  Here’s the other reasons they made the cut:

  • While not as adventurous as my friends at Blue Apron, Home Chef does get creative and almost exotic.
  • None of the ingredients were particularly unusual, but they came up with some unique dishes nonetheless
  • Great quality and no ooops yet
  • Clear plastic bags hold most of the ingredients together for each meal.  While this is not as exciting as obsessing over all the separate items in a Blue Apron Box, it beat the big brown grocery bags from Hello Fresh
  •   The recipe cards are great.  They actually offer a few items of information not provided by Blue Apron, but no points for plated dish inspiration.  They use the same distressed wood table for each shot and the same boring white plate.  (YAWN!)
  • I feel more like a chef with Home Chef than I do with Hello Fresh.

Some day they may actually pull ahead and be THE meal kit service, but till then, I’ll keep juggling.

And there you have it.  Wondering what I’ll come up with next week?  Come back and find out!

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Less Can Be More or Not — spotonimages

Spotlight on StagingDon’t Move Out, YET!So you’re selling your house. The first order of business is to make it ready for the fussiest of white glove inspections, but as you clean, you should also de-clutter. Everybody says that, of course, but what exactly does that mean? From the most simplistic point of view, that means you…

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Nothing Beats Clean — spotonimages

Spotlight on StagingClean is Better than CuteWhen it comes to staging a home for sale, nothing beats clean. That’s easy to understand when you think about open houses and showings, because dirt is easy to see up close. Dust, fingerprints, crumbs, cobwebs and their pals will tell the tale on you when your house is not…

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