Saturday, November 14, 2020

"C" May Be For Cookie, But "O"?

I just found out this morning that my longtime friend, T, has passed. Technically it was last Tuesday, but the obituary didn't show up in the local paper until yesterday. A mutual friend, who knew I had gone incognito from Facebook many years ago, had seen talk of T's passing from family members on social media and wondered if I had heard the news. In addition to not participating on Facebook anymore, my path with T's family (and T himself) had diverged back at the end of 2014. I was glad my friend called, because I was blissfully ignorant.

I met T for the first time during the summer break between my freshman and sophomore years at Case. My father, who also worked at Bridgestone/Firestone, managed to set me up with T in Office Services -- a fancy name for a group of people who moved office furniture and cut keys for office locks -- and although it was quite the manual job, often in brutally hot parts of the old warehouse, I really clicked with T and my coworkers. At the time, I was 19 years old and he was just under 40; however, we instantly bonded. From that point forward until the end of my college career, I looked forward to spending every summer (save one) and Christmas holiday working with T.

When I went off to college in the fall of 1990, my father had the half-baked idea of sending me to school with a personal fax/copy/answering machine combination. I protested the idea as being idiotic since no other college freshman would show up to their dorm room with a fax machine (and I was correct about that). His overriding argument was that since long distance calling was still very expensive and email messaging wasn't even on the horizon, he insisted that faxing each other was a cost effective way of communicating. He offered that we could send each other pages and pages of handwritten or typed out text instead of calling on the phone. All of those faxes would pay for themselves, wouldn't you know?

I mentioned all of this to T at work one time -- that I was the only freshman with a fax machine -- and completed the delivery of this information with an appropriate teen-aged eye roll. Wouldn't you know it, the only two people I received faxes from for the entirely of my college career were my father (mostly my freshman year) and T. Every year on my birthday, he and my Bridgestone coworkers would all sign and fax a piece of paper with birthday wishes on it. I remember getting back from class on my birthday, walking into my room and my roommate saying, "Dude, you actually got a fax while you were at class." The sight of seeing a curled up fax hanging off the machine, ready to be cut from the main roll, always left me with a huge grin on my face.

Over the next couple of years, I began to slowly meet and become friends with his family, both immediate and extended. My second summer working for T, I was invited to a surprise 40th birthday party being thrown at his home by his wife. That summer, during a down time at work, I was nonchalantly flipping through a dictionary that T kept in the office and I came across the word, "octoroon". It struck me as such a silly word and something I had never heard before that I couldn't imagine ANYONE knowing the actual definition, so I brought it to T's attention and challenged him to its meaning. T had never heard of it either and we had a tremendous laugh about the whole thing and relegated it to some weird work conversation. Fast forward to that surprise 40th birthday party where I met T's mom for the first time. Somehow, octoroon came into the conversation and without missing a beat, T's mom recited the (correct) definition for us. We were both stunned.

One thing that I quickly came to learn about T and his family was that -- on the whole -- they were snacking people, not necessarily meal people. "Snicky snacks" is how they referred to the spread that would inevitably be laid out around mid-to-late afternoon. Snicky snacks would be things like cubes of cheese, cut up pepperoni, bunches of grapes and strawberries, crackers, and potato chips and dip. I have no problem with snacking, but at some point, I'm used to a proper meal. T's family had grown use to this snacking-as-a-meal concept and for them the spread would often be plenty. I can't tell you how many times I remember guiltily slinking off and hitting up the local Wendy's for a proper sandwich just to tide my appetite over lest I be hungry all night. I laugh about it now and would trade all of my "proper meals" for just one more night of "snicky snacking" with T.

I was fortunate that my relationship with T and his family extended beyond my employment at Bridgestone. I graduated with my Bachelor's degree in 1996, but enjoyed nearly another 20 years as a family friend, being involved in weddings, births, funerals, and my favorite thing of all, just general merriment. I sometimes felt like I had two families in my life, my biological one and the one of my choosing. It was not unusual at all to spend holidays at multiple houses. Holidays proper were spent with my family until about 4 pm in the afternoon. Then I would head over to T's house for a rousing, fun-filled conclusion. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy spending time with my family, but there was a marked contrast to the two environments. It isn't ironic that the splitting of the day was very much like the splitting of the meal. I ate the savory part of the meal with my family (the much more somber -- and sober -- part) and then got to cut loose with dessert at T's house -- the fun part.

I was privileged and honored to be in T's world for as long as I was. But as things happen, towards the end of 2014, I was getting a fairly distinct signal that it was time to move on. I had made several overtures towards reconnecting with T and his family, but felt that the reciprocity and enthusiasm just wasn't there. All good things must come to a close and instead of lamenting it any further, I quietly slipped away. Then, in mid 2018, having just suffered through another security breach from Facebook (plus the eternal time-suck that is Facebook), I made a rather unannounced and curt decision to just leave Facebook altogether -- and with it any chance of monitoring T's family conversation, even if I wasn't actively part of it.

It turns out that T's health problems (which started around 2009) continued to plague him. Every time he seemed to get back up, life knocked him back down again. That makes me incredibly sad, because the T in my mind's eye is one of life, of exuberance, of happiness. And, honestly, I think that is how I will choose to remember him. I've always been sad with how things ended up -- although with time and perspective, I've come to accept them. But with T's passing, I truly feel like a major chapter of my personal history has come to an end.

My life is so much better off because of T and his family. Sometimes you just don't know how good things are until they are gone from your life. T always did appreciate a good Kennedy reference and I personally think of the golden years between myself and T and his family as the Camelot years. What I hope for T's family is peace and comfort from his years of struggle and his ultimate passing. T had made a lifelong indelible impression on me and I will always remember him as the affable and loving instigator of mischief and longtime proponent of ABBA (on vinyl, of course). Dancing Queen or Waterloo? Waterloo!

I'm currently sitting here at my keyboard drinking a Guckenheimer and 7-Up in his honor while listening to the Sibelius violin concerto and alternating between being small and contemplative and loud and ugly crying. To be fair, I feel like this will probably continue for the rest of the night. And I'm okay with that.

Just know that you will be forever missed and I will love you always.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

No Salt Added at The Annex Bar and Grille

I must have driven by The Annex Bar & Grille on Pettibone Road in Solon several dozen times over the last number of years. Friend and fellow food blogger Nancy lives close by The Annex and every time I would drive to or from her house, I'd pass by the small structure. I never even gave it a second thought until recently when Nancy contacted me to tell me that two old friends, Walter Hyde and Scott Slagle (of Fat Casual fame) were now working certain shifts behind the bar and the grill. Not only that, but apparently they were doing some low/no sodium items on the menu for lunch.

After doing some initial research with Walter, I met up with Nancy and her husband for lunch just a few weeks ago to check things out. It turns out that The Annex has a policy of not salting anything on the menu. Here I was all prepared to say, "no salt, please" to everything I ordered, but as it turns out, there was no need to. Now, that being said, there are still only a couple of menu items that can be done low/no sodium successfully because much of the food is traditional bar food -- highly processed frozen items that can be quickly cooked or deep fried during service. These items (and there are many of them) can't be done without salt because they are seasoned even before they are cooked.

The first item I tried was the burger. The burgers come in two sizes, a one-third pound patty and a two-third pound patty. I was feeling particularly hungry that day, so I went with a two-third pound burger, medium rare with just some lettuce and tomato on a toasted (but not buttered) bun. While The Annex doesn't use salt, it does use butter, so if you want a toasted butter-free bun, make sure to order it that way. Paired with my burger was an order of their fresh-cut fries, also completely salt-free:

I have to say, for a measly $8 for this combination, this was a pretty damn good burger! Now, of course, there was some natural sodium in the beef and the bun was just a regular hamburger bun (so probably around 200-250mg of sodium), but for around 300-350mg of total sodium, this was a great way to kill the craving for a burger and fries. And at two-thirds of a pound of ground beef, it was VERY filling.

On every table (and presumably the bar), there was a container with standard condiments. Since I knew I wanted some ketchup and mustard with my meal and knowing that regular ketchup and mustard pack a large sodium wallop, I brought my own. I've done that twice now and nobody seems to care, so if you want sodium-free condiments, do what I did and bring your own. To be fair, malt vinegar was available for your French Fries, but I kind of prefer ketchup.

It was also during my first visit that Walter informed me that the chicken breast wasn't brined and would therefore be a good choice, too. I decided to take him up on that bit of information and several weeks after my first visit returned to order the grilled chicken sandwich with a side of the same fresh-cut fries:

In the second image you can see my sodium-free ketchup and mustard in the background. Heinz makes a nearly sodium-free ketchup that you can find in most regular grocery stores. Unfortunately, the downside to this ketchup is that it uses high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as the sweetener. It turns out that you can't have your (condiment) cake and eat it, too. Either you get the "natural" ketchup with real sugar that has salt or you get the no salt added ketchup that has no added salt but HFCS. I figure that as rarely as I eat this ketchup, having it twice in six months was acceptable. The sodium free mustard I used was one from Westbrae and is available at Mustard Seed Market (the one in Fairlawn) for about $3 per jar. It comes both in organic and non-organic varieties (and the price varies accordingly). I've found this to be an excellent mustard that I can use liberally since it has 0mg of sodium per serving.

But I digress; back to my chicken sandwich. Based on how the menu reads, the chicken sandwich normally comes between two slices of bread. Figuring a hamburger bun would be slightly lower in sodium than two pieces of sandwich bread (200-250mg vs. 300-350mg), the only change I made was to ask for it on the hamburger bun, again without butter. While it was nice to have the option of either the grilled chicken or the burger, were I to do it again, I'd probably stick with the burger. In the end, it was just the better tasting of the two. The fresh-cut fries, however, were great both times.

The only other option you really have if you're not in the mood for a sandwich is to order a house salad with grilled chicken on top. The only problem is that while they have malt vinegar to dress your salad, I don't know that they have oil to go along with it (you might just want to bring your own).

Will I go back to The Annex? Absolutely. For $8(ish) for either a healthy-sized burger or chicken sandwich with fresh-cut fries, it's a great deal. Is it the best burger I've ever had (price aside)? No, but it's pretty darn good and I wouldn't hesitate recommending it to others, especially if they're looking for low sodium options.

The Annex Bar & Grille is located at 36200 Pettibone Road, Solon, OH 44139 and can be reached at 440-248-5725. Hours listed on their website indicate they are open Monday through Saturday from 10am-2:30am (kitchen 10am-10pm) and on Sunday from 12pm-12am (kitchen 12pm-10pm). That being said, I know they recently added breakfast hours on Saturday mornings.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Low Sodium Fast Food Compendium

It would seem, at least at first, that the notion of eating a very low salt, no butter, no cheese diet would be at complete odds with the current state of the fast food industry. And to a large extent, you would be correct. However, in the vast sea of salt, fat, and sugar that comprises most of the fast food industry's offerings, there are a few nuggets of goodness that you can cling to when you are looking for a quick fix or are traveling and haven't had time to research local restaurants.

Having combed through more than a dozen published nutritional guides on the Internet, I've come to a few conclusions:

1) Many fast food restaurants offer some type of "garden salad" which is usually okay. Almost all only offer salted dressings, although as you'll see, some dressings are better than others.

2) Of those that offer garden salads, that's usually all they can offer that would be acceptably low sodium.

3) There are some fast food chains that offer nothing acceptably low sodium.

4) Grilled chicken breast is often as salty or saltier than beef (thanks to brining).

So, how do I differentiate between fast food and fast casual? I know it isn't a completely cut and dry set of rules, but in general, if the restaurant has a drive thru, I'd consider it fast food and not fast casual. That being said, I consider Subway to be fast food although I've seen very few Subway locations with a drive thru.

And with that distinction out of the way, here are the only fast food restaurants at which I've had any success.


While none of the proteins (chicken, beef, or fish) at Wendy's would even remotely qualify as low sodium, the one thing that Wendy's has on their menu that I find appealing is the presence of a baked potato. Now, of course, when you load up that baked potato with cheese, bacon, and sour cream, it is no longer low sodium, but according to their published nutrition information, a plain baked potato by itself has almost no sodium and if you decide to splurge and add chives and sour cream (just one container of sour cream), you top out at 35mg of sodium.

And while the garden salad has nothing particularly salty on it, you do have to be careful of the dressings. Your two best choices are the pomegranate vinaigrette (150mg of sodium for the entire packet) or the ranch dressing (170mg of sodium for the entire packet). Since I tend to not like overdressed salads, I usually use only half of the packet. Thus, for about 100-110mg of sodium, you can walk away with a baked potato with sour cream and chives and a garden salad with half a packet of pomegranate vinaigrette. Not bad.


Just like Wendy's, every single protein and cheese option is out at Subway if you are considering a sub sandwich. Which means that the only real choice you have if you want a sub sandwich is a 6" Veggie Delite on either 9-grain wheat, Italian, honey oat, or multigrain flatbread. Each of these types of bread has between 280mg and 290mg of sodium for the 6" version. Skip the cheese and load up on non-salty vegetables (lettuce, tomato, red onion, spinach, cucumber, green peppers, etc.). Fortunately, Subway is one of the few (maybe only?) fast food restaurants to offer plain old oil and vinegar as a dressing. Other non-salty toppers include ground pepper and dried thyme. Pair that with a package of apple slices from the kids menu and you've got a decent meal with about 300mg of sodium total.

If you're wanting to go more of the salad route, you can certainly go with the Veggie Delite option at 75mg of sodium or, the one protein-based salad that seems acceptable to me is the oven-roasted chicken salad at 280mg of sodium. Again, dressing will be limited to oil and vinegar. A possible third option is the Monterrey chicken melt salad, but it clocks in at 360mg of sodium. Plus, with the addition of cheese, you up the fat and saturated fat by a couple of grams each. Nothing heart-seizing, mind you, but the first two salads are the healthier options.

Steak 'n Shake

As you've seen so far, fast food proteins and low sodium don't mix. However, at Steak 'n Shake, you can get either the single steakburger (310mg sodium) or the double steakburger (330mg sodium) if what you crave can only be satiated by beef. Of course, realize that cheese is out, as are all forms of condiments. The standard burger toppings of lettuce, tomato, and onion will be okay additions.

For sides, you could go with applesauce (0mg), apples and caramel (75mg), small French fries (80mg), regular French fries (140mg), small garden salad (105mg), or a cup of Mandarin oranges (15mg). I'm guessing by the fact that the garden salad has 105mg of sodium that it probably has cheese or croutons, which you can either pick off yourself or ask for it to be served without, which would substantially lower the sodium content. While I don't see oil and vinegar as an option from the salad dressings portion of the nutritional spreadsheet, one ounce of the honey mustard dressing does clock in at only 115mg of sodium. As with Wendy's, a light touch with the dressing can reduce that number by half.

If breakfast is what you are after at Steak 'n Shake, you also have a couple of options from that menu, too. Two eggs, any style, will set you back 140mg of sodium. Other choices include a cup of Mandarin oranges (15mg), the parfait (95mg), oatmeal (260mg), or hash browns (300mg). While the combination of eggs and hash browns is a bit high for my liking (440mg for both), combining two eggs with a parfait seems like a perfectly reasonable amount of sodium (235mg for both) when eating out at a fast food restaurant and getting something that is nutritious and filling.

So, there you have it -- three recommendations for those looking to both maintain a low salt lifestyle and still be able to occasionally stop in for a quick meal at a fast food restaurant. Are there others out there that might qualify? Of course, I'm sure there are. I really only researched fast food chains that are common to the northeast Ohio area. And for those that hoped Swenson's might make the list, even though it is a local chain here in northeast Ohio, unfortunately, they haven't published any nutritional information about their food, so I ruled them out.

Please feel free, gentle reader, to suggest other fast food chains (and more specifically, menu items) that might make the cut.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Return Visit To Flury's Cafe

As any long-time reader of Exploring Food knows, I've reviewed Flury's Cafe several times before on this blog. And I've been enjoying owner Kimberly White's food from my very first visit many, many years ago. I find it ironic when I reread my previous reviews that I occasionally ding'ed particular items she made for having too little (or no) salt, such as her hashed browns or eggs. Interestingly, it is exactly that feature that now draws me in on a regular basis for breakfast or lunch.

I was quite surprised when I first approached Kim with my new diet that she was able to point to quite a few items on her current menu that would be appropriate for me. I also learned that she shares my philosophy that there is way more salt in our food than is necessary. When possible, she would rather make dishes lower in sodium and allow the guest to add salt where he or she thinks it appropriate.

While there are certainly items on the menu where salt is inherently built in (anything with cheese, sausage gravy, fried sides such as French fries or onion rings), I thought I would point out a few of the items on the menu that I've been able to order off of the menu without too many substantial changes (other than my usual request for "no salt, butter, or cheese").

Let's start with the potato pancakes, scrambled eggs, and a small cup of sour cream, all lightly dusted with paprika:

The difference between the potato pancakes and the regular hashed browns is the addition of onions and eggs to the potato pancakes. Cooked in a combination of canola and olive oil, the potato pancakes are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The majority of salt on this plate comes from the scrambled eggs, about 120mg of sodium for two eggs. The sour cream, interestingly, does have sodium, but at only 10mg of sodium per tablespoon, it is an acceptable amount and adds a nice acidity and richness to the pancakes.

Next up is my standard breakfast order, the vegetarian omelet with hashed browns. Occasionally Kim makes awesome homemade jam, and if it is available, I may also get a slice of dry wheat or rye toast as a vehicle for jam delivery*:

* The omelet comes with hashed browns and toast, I sometimes just omit the toast.

Kim uses regular sandwich bread for her toast (which can have anywhere from 150 to 200mg of sodium per slice). Considering that the only other sodium in the dish is the 120mg in the eggs for the omelet, having a single slice of toast is an acceptable amount. The omelet is filled and topped with sauteed spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and red bell peppers. Both the original Tabasco sauce (the red one) as well as the jalapeno-based sauce (the green one) are available if you like things a little spicy. The green one is completely out (150mg of sodium per teaspoon), but every now and again I'll shake on a bit of the red one (35mg of sodium per teaspoon).

While regular sandwich bread is used for toast, Kim bakes her own buns for sandwiches and revealed to me that each bun only has about 150mg of sodium. Paired with a single or double burger or the grilled chicken breast, it makes for a delicious sandwich that can be kept under 300mg of sodium:

Of course, you have to forgo any condiments or the delicious housemade pesto (which I adore, but can't have due to the presence of cheese in the pesto), but you still get a juicy burger or chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato that's also filling. Unusually, Kim uses chicken that isn't brined before grilling, so the chicken is 100% okay to order at Flury's.

As I mentioned before, none of the usual sandwich sides like French fries or onion rings are on the low sodium list, so whenever I get a sandwich, I usually order the spinach salad minus the bacon and substitute the housemade balsamic vinaigrette for the warm bacon dressing:

The vinaigrette isn't necessarily low sodium, but if I just use a very small amount to lightly dress my salad, I'm not too concerned about it.

Kim always has some kind of baked good to tempt you with at the end of your meal. In the past I've normally said no to these (even when I was eating salt). However, in the past couple of months, she has also had fresh fruit available to be eaten at the restaurant or to go. I almost always say yes to an orange, apple, or banana, even if I don't intend to eat it at that very moment.

Normally I hit up Flury's Cafe for breakfast on days that I don't walk in the early mornings, so maybe once a week. But Kim and Flury's Cafe has been on my no-salt radar since I first realized I had to change my diet. Whenever I'm craving breakfast food, this is the first place that pops into my head. Most breakfast/diner places can offer you eggs without salt, but Flury's appeal is that you have additional options, too.

One thing to note about Flury's Cafe is that they recently moved from their old location on Sackett Avenue in Cuyahoga Falls to their new location on the corner of Front Street and Portage Trail, also in Cuyahoga Falls. Free parking is available in one of the two parking garages just north or south of the restaurant. They are open Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch and can be reached at 330-929-1315.
Related Posts with Thumbnails