Yesterday afternoon, after getting home from work and Vons (the one on East Tropicana Avenue), Meridith showed me the triple cheese enchilada frozen dinner she picked out for me for dinner tonight. Mom wanted something reliable, Stouffer's macaroni and cheese for herself, because she can't risk an upset stomach from anything, being that we're going to the final American Idol broadcast, the second live show, in Las Vegas, at the Beatles Love theater at the Mirage, the remaining guys competing. The taping of three episodes of the Jeopardy! Teen Tournament that we went to a few years ago was fine, but the taping of Two and a Half Men that Mom and Dad went to with a few people Dad knew from work, back when Charlie Sheen was well-entrenched on the show, was a hassle for Mom in climbing stairs since her energy is never at full strength, and Everybody Loves Raymond, the fourth-to-last episode entitled "Sister-in-Law," was the same problem. Wheel of Fortune is Mom's favorite game show, but she said that she'd only go to a taping if they come back here to Las Vegas. We never thought about that for American Idol, in going to a regular taping. When contests were up for tickets to the season finales, we always entered, but never won. So now here is American Idol in Las Vegas, our home, and we're taking that opportunity. We have to arrive in line by 2:30 p.m., ahead of the live broadcast at 5 for the east coast that'll end at 7.
Anyway, that's not the reason I'm writing. I have a choice for tonight's dinner, an easy one to make. I also have a frozen turkey lasagna dinner in the freezer, but being that I've happily had spaghetti for the past two nights, I don't want to become tired of pasta, which may well be at the top of my list of favorite foods. There was a choice in the freezer and I made it. I hope that Safeway Select triple cheese enchilada will be decent, because I remember another dinner I had from that brand and it must have been really great because I don't remember exactly what it was. Hopefully it's better here than it was in Santa Clarita. Maybe there's different regulations to meet here, or even less regulations, what with California being so over-regulated.
It got me thinking about the second half of 2nd grade to 5th grade at Riverside Elementary in Coral Springs, Florida. In the cafeteria, the salad bar was available every day if you didn't want what they were serving, and I remember many times overloading my tray with their salad bar offerings. I still do that today at Sweet Tomatoes and any other buffet that has a salad bar. What I was then, I still am now.
I remember that there was Mexican Pizza some Fridays that I always went for. But the days they had baked chicken were the worst. I don't know how they could have called it baked chicken with how greasy it was. It got all over my hands, all over my face, and the napkin in the utensil collection we got, wrapped in plastic, seemed like half-ply. There was no napkin there, just a rumor of one that was quickly dismissed as such. You could not wipe your hands with this napkin and get all the grease off. If you wanted another napkin, if you could get another napkin, you had to get up, go back to the kitchen area and see if you could get another utensil collection. I don't remember them ever having napkins available on the side. I now realize that I probably should have made friends in elementary school as best I could, just so I could get the napkin if they weren't using it.
There was a choice in elementary school lunches. It was this, or this, or the salad bar. But once you made that choice, you got everything that went along with it, including what they were serving on the side, which I've forgotten. Maybe there were fries. Soggy fries at that. I'd count on it, because the macaroni and cheese at Riverside tasted like gasoline. I'm not kidding.
Sometimes I miss that, choosing that one main dish and getting everything that comes with it. Looking at the March elementary school lunch menu on the Broward Schools website, I see that there are a lot more choices than there ever was when I was in school. For example, today, Tuesday, there's beef taco, Latin style black beans over brown rice with salsa, homemade tuna salad with crackers, "Garden Fresh Entree Salads," steamed corn, Capri mixed vegetables (apparently carrots, green beans, squash, and zucchini, according to what I found through Google), green apple juice, and fresh fruit. Choose the taco and you likely get the black beans and brown rice. The homemade tuna salad gets you crackers. And the rest would seem to be up for grabs. If you want the salad, you probably wouldn't want the steamed corn or mixed vegetables with it because you already have vegetables. But perhaps you want the steamed corn with the beef taco and the black beans and rice. The menu doesn't indicate if the corn or vegetables are attached to any of the main entrees. They're not separate from the entree listings because there's so much to list that they couldn't make a space in between. But because other listings in March are separated by a space indicating the entrees at the top and the sides below, I guess you can mix and match if you want. But generally, this is what there is, although the salad bar seems to have been replaced by the pre-made salads. More convenient for the school, less costly, and less messy. However, I'm appreciative of Riverside Elementary instilling in me a love of salad bars.
What really got me thinking about all this was last week when we each received the monthly rewards brochure from Ellis Island Casino & Brewery on Koval Lane, which faces the asses of some casinos on the Strip. In it is when you can get five times the points (Mondays and Fridays this month on video poker, reel and video reel slot machines), six times the points, 10 times the points, and so on. They also tout their cash drawings, and that every Tuesday & Saturday, you can visit any Passport Central Kiosk to print your coupon for a free slice of pizza and an El Beer or an El Root Beer at Metro Pizza inside the casino. There's also coupons for $5 in free play and coupons for free food if you earn 100 points or 150 points by playing. I'm never tempted to play just to rack up points. I'm not going to spend that much money.
I don't know if we'll go to this on Easter Sunday, or even if it'll be noticed by Easter Sunday. But the restaurant inside Ellis Island has something interesting on that day, beginning at 11 a.m. $9.99 gets you the Easter Dinner Special, which is honey baked ham, corn stuffing, baked yams, buttered corn, and pumpkin pie dessert. The pumpkin pie dessert is what worries me because if it was straight pumpkin pie by the slice, then it would say "pumpkin pie." But what does pumpkin pie dessert mean? Mousse? Parfait? Pudding? We've been to the restaurant once before, and I liked the spaghetti there, so I trust that their plans for this menu will go well. They really make an effort for good food and an enjoyable experience that gets you away from the cigarette smoke for a while. You can't beat that.
There's that chance in Las Vegas, just like I had in elementary school, of picking that one entree and getting whatever comes with it. And I'm not talking about substitutions. I mean that you pick that, and you get all of that. You put your taste buds in the hands of the chef and you experience whatever has been on their mind, and you hope it's a great meal. And even if it isn't as great, a few slip-ups here and there, you still get a sense of the personality of the chef that way, perhaps not wanting to go there next time, or maybe you will, because you like the atmosphere and certain other portions of your meal, and maybe the chef was just having an off day. But it doesn't stop you from placing your trust with another chef or even the same chef because you want to see what they can do with the menu they have planned, what they can do with things you like. I think there's a good chance of that Easter menu being done right because it's not something they have to do every day. It's once a year and they can be as elaborate or as low-key as they want, either turning the menu lopsided a bit, doing something different than expected with the same ingredients expected for Easter, or sticking with what works and adding their own comforting touches.
I know that we put our trust in any number of chefs whenever we order off of any menu, but the ultimate trust is here, ordering courses that are entirely up to them. That's when eating becomes most interesting.