Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Odyssey's "Luau Extravaganza"

Last Friday was my birthday. I wanted to do something special, but I didn’t want it to be stressful. I thought about a beach day, but with traffic, that sounded stressful.

We live in the valley, so my husband made dinner reservations at The Odyssey since that’s not very far away and would have a nice sunset view. I always enjoy a sunset view.

The day before my birthday, I went to The Odyssey’s website to glance at the menu, and I noticed that they were having a special event on my birthday, a “Luau Extravaganza.” I asked my husband to call and see if we could get tickets to the luau. He called that night and asked if we could order the luau food while sitting in the restaurant at a table by the window. I’m not sure who he talked to, but the guy said “I don’t see why not.” I didn’t think that sounded right. It was a luau “extravaganza” after all, and it said you needed tickets and that there would be live entertainment. I pictured a guy playing a slack key guitar and another guy on the drums. “Live entertainment” usually translates to “live music” in my mind. So, my husband called back the next day, and he was told that there were 10 tickets left for the luau. He was told that the event started at 6pm and that seating would be first come first serve. He was also told that there would be tray passed appetizers at 6pm, dinner at 7pm and entertainment at 8pm with games after that. He filled out an online form and emailed it back to reserve the tickets.

island cocktails
My mom came over to babysit (yay for grandmothers!), and we arrived at The Odyssey a little before 6pm. We wanted to make sure we got seats with the best sunset view possible. We were told to wait because they weren’t seating yet, so we went down to the bar area and looked at the view.

Then I noticed that people were outside on the patio, so we went over to the hostess desk by the bar (where we were told to go to be seated for the event) and gave her our name. We were asked “Do you mind sharing a table with another couple?” I immediately said “yes.” My husband added, “it’s her birthday.” We were told that the seats were assigned. That they were not in fact first come first serve upon arrival but upon buying the tickets. We were told that they added 10 more tables just that morning. We were told to wait and they’d see what they could do. Turns out they found another couple who didn’t mind sharing their table, so we were given our own table.

Oh, there’s so much to say. Let me just say that I don’t want to write a negative review. I really don’t. I hope that the things I say in this blog post, that if they’re read by the management at The Odyssey, that these comments can be used to improve future events.

When giving feedback they say to give positive feedback first, right?
-       Well, the hostess did manage to get us our own table. That’s good.
fruit display
-       Each ticket included a drink voucher which you could exchange for either an “island cocktail” or two non-alcoholic beverages. There were two island cocktails, a mai tai or a blue Hawaiian. We got one of each so we could try both. The bartender poured the drinks right in front of us. The blue Hawaiian got a nice garnish. The mai tai was just given a cherry dropped inside. I liked the taste of the mai tai better, and my husband preferred the blue Hawaiian, so it worked out. So, the drinks were good. That’s positive, right? 
-       The weather was perfect.
-       Of the luau food, I liked the huli huli chicken, the macademia crusted fish, and the fruit display was impressive. 

What else? Let me go on to the negatives.
-       I already mentioned the confusion about whether seating was first come first serve or not. It seems that the employees aren’t on the same page since we were told the exact opposite on the phone as we were when we arrived.
-       If we were supposed to share a table, that’s something we should’ve been told when making the reservation.
-       There were tiny ants on our table.
-       There were tiny ants on the table next to us, so the ladies sitting there asked to move tables. They were moved to another table without a problem. (But I thought the seating was assigned?) A couple that arrived late was later seated at the ant table next to us. The ladies that were originally sitting there pulled the person who sat them there aside to tell her about the ant situation, but they were told it had been taken care of. It hadn’t. We were sitting right there. Nothing changed.
-       The layout of the tables was bad. You either had your back to sunset or to the entertainment. If the chairs and been arranged just the opposite, everyone would’ve had a view of both the sunset and the entertainment.
-       The centerpieces on the table were disappointing. It was just a yellow napkin opened up with a few shells scattered on it and two votive candles. I could’ve done better than that, especially for the price per person.
table decorations
-       We were given leis, but they were the cheapest leis possible. At luaus in Hawaiian you get real flower or shell leis. I didn’t expect that, but these weren’t even the $1 leis at the party store. These were cheaper than that. I know because I’ve bought leis for my own luau parties.
-       I saw the lady who seated us standing on the stairs eating appetizers. It looked unprofessional.
-       They didn’t offer us water glasses, and when we asked for water, it took about a half hour for it to arrive. When it did arrive, there was an ant in my husband’s water glass (which he promptly exchanged).
-       The tray passed appetizers were tiny and if you didn’t want raw meat or spam, your only option was Hawaiian (pineapple and ham) pizza. Again, the pieces were tiny. It was just okay.
-       Appetizers were passed around at 6pm, but we didn’t have appetizer plates until 6:30pm, and the plates weren’t clean. I wiped dirt off of mine.
-       The buffet dinner started at 7pm, but there was no announcement when it was ready. I saw people with plates of food, so I told my husband, and we got in line.
-       They really did cook a whole pig, but it tasted undercooked. I’m not saying it wasn’t safe to eat. I’m saying it wasn’t fall-off-the-bone delicious. It was kind of tough. I’ve eaten at luaus in Hawaii. This needed to be cooked low and slow.
-       The cooked plantains were cooked with the peels on them and with the stickers still on the peels.
luau buffet
-       There were more tables set up while we were eating. I’m assuming they were overbooked or people arrived for dinner without tickets to the luau and were sold tickets right then and there. Anyway, there were tables set up where the entertainment was supposed to set up. The hostess looked pretty distraught when she realized that. They ended up (politely and apologetically) moving our table back to make room.
-       During appetizers and dinner, Hawaiian music (like Elvis) was played on a loop, which is fine, but the music stuck on the song “Hawaiian Superman.” It’d cut out halfway through that song and then start over at the beginning of the CD or whatever they were playing. It seemed unprofessional.
-       The live entertainment consisted for four hula dancers who looked high school or college aged. They were supposed to perform in one row, but there wasn’t room due to the added tables, so there were two in front of our table and two behind it. They started performing when dessert was set up (once again, no announcement about it, we just saw other people eating it). It was my birthday, and I wanted cake, and I was stuck. I was literally surrounded by hula dancers. It was like being on the stage. It was kind of annoying.
-       The music used for the entertainment was through a portable speaker that cut in and out. It seemed pretty unprofessional.
-       When there was a break between dancers, I went to get up to get dessert and almost tripped because the tablecloth on our table was too long. It was touching the floor and then some. That reminded me that when my husband and I went to the Sunday brunch at the Odyssey a couple years ago, I did trip on the tablecloth that was dragging on the floor, and that knocked the complimentary champagne on my lap. They’re square tables. Fold the tablecloths in half if you have to.
-       I was hoping for coconut cake. No such luck. The desserts were okay. Nothing special.
-       After the entertainment, there was a raffle. Each guest had a raffle ticket. The hostess had different guests draw the raffle tickets. We actually won a free brunch. That’s nice, but it’s one free brunch, so unless you want to eat alone, you have to buy brunch for someone else.
-       They never refilled our water glasses.
-       We got a free ticket for the photo booth, but the photo booth in the lobby said $3. We asked about it, and it was $3 per person, and the ticket was good for one person. So, if there were two of you, the picture would be $3. If there were three of you, the picture would be $6. They were charging per person not per picture. We gave our ticket to another couple so they could hopefully get a free photo.
-       The backdrop for the photo booth was a blue curtain. It was a luau. They should’ve had a Hawaiian picture for the backdrop and perhaps some Hawaiian props.

Like I said, I don’t want to write a negative review. If I had been given a comment card, these would’ve been my comments. I felt bad for the hostess. It seemed like she knew how things were supposed to go and everyone else was doing something different (such as setting up tables where the hula dancers were supposed to perform) without her knowing it. I will go back to the Odyssey. We have a Sunday brunch to use after all. And, the bar area looked nice. I might try happy hour. Their drinks were good. However, I will not go to another event at the Odyssey.

Happy eating!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Baby's First Cookies

I have a 10 month old son, and he’s been eating solid foods since he was 6 months old.  He used to love the purees I’d make for him, and some of the puree combos I came up with even inspired me to create recipes my husband and I could enjoy, such as my Pumpkin Banana Muffins. 

About a month ago, my son started enjoying feeding himself more than having us feed him purees.  I got tired of having him knock the baby spoon full of food out of my hand (messy!), so I let him have his way and feed himself (also messy!).  Fresh fruit like bananas, strawberries and mango cut in little pieces are easy for him to pick up and eat.  He also likes cheese, bread, peas, green beans, etc. 

The only problem I had was figuring out how to get my baby to eat the infant baby cereal my son’s pediatrician recommended that he have at least once a day (twice a day before he started eating meat).  She stressed that the infant cereal is an important source of iron for babies, so I knew I shouldn’t just stop giving him this cereal just because he’d moved past purees. 

I searched Pinterest for baby led weaning recipes that incorporated baby cereal, but I just couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for.  Necessity is the mother of invention, right?  So, I made up this baby cookie recipe. 

What makes this recipe perfect for baby led weaning is that it uses baby cereal instead of flour, and there’s no sugar.  The cookies get their sweetness from bananas, my son’s favorite food.  In fact, I think they taste a lot like banana bread. 

My son absolutely loves these cookies.  My husband and I even have a hard time staying out of them! 

When my pediatrician asked if I was giving my son baby cereal, I told her about these cookies.  She loved the idea, stressing again how important the baby cereal is for iron.  She even asked for the recipe!

These cookies are great to bring with you on outings for a quick, healthy snack or meal for your baby.  They can be a little messy since they’re soft.  I’ve found that it helps to break them into pieces for your baby if you want to keep his/her hands from getting too sticky.

I’ve had trouble getting a good picture of my son eating a cookie since he devours them so quickly.  I hope your little ones enjoy these cookies just as much as we do.

Just one final note: before making these cookies for your baby, make sure your son/daughter is not allergic to any of these ingredients.  Also consult your pediatrician about the appropriate age for you to introduce eggs and nut butter.  I had the go-ahead on those ingredients before creating this recipe.

Baby’s First Cookies
Makes about 5 dozen small cookies

2 bananas, mashed
½ tsp baking soda
1 c Gerber multigrain baby cereal (or your little one’s favorite baby cereal)
2 eggs
1 tbsp butter, softened
¼ cup natural peanut butter, almond butter or your favorite nut butter
½ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Mush the bananas, baking soda, and baby cereal together with a fork.  Add the eggs and incorporate thoroughly.  Add the butter, nut butter and vanilla extract.  The dough should be mushy and thinner than regular cookie dough.

Drop the dough on the cookie sheets in small mounds.  Mine are maybe about a heaping half teaspoon.  I make them small since they’re for a baby, but you can do whatever size you feel is best for your little one.

Bake for about 7 minutes or until set but still soft.  The time will depend on your oven and the size of your cookies.  It’s always best to check them early and add time than risk over baking them.  Maybe try 5 minutes and check it, adding a minute each time until your desired consistency.  Mine are usually a little brown on the bottom and hardly look cooked on top.

Let the cookies cool completely and loosen them from the parchment paper.  Try one.  It should melt in your mouth.  You should be able to mush them up just with your tongue, which is important if you baby doesn’t have (many) teeth yet. 

You can leave the cookies on the counter for a couple days, but if you plan to make them ahead, they maintain their softness in the refrigerator, freeze well and defrost quickly.

Happy eating!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Peanut Butter Danishes and Nutella Danishes

Want a quick, easy, delicious breakfast that the whole family will love?  That's a silly question.  Of course you do!  Well, for my husband's birthday, that's exactly what I needed, and with a baby in the house, I obviously needed something easy.  Cresent Rolls to the rescue with a little help of peanut butter and Nutella.  You see where this is going, right?  I created something similar to my Easy Cheese Danishes recipe but instead of cream cheese I used peanut butter and Nutella.  Here's the quick and easy recipe so you can treat your family (and yourself).

Peanut Butter Danishes and Nutella Danishes

1 tube Pillsbury Cresent Rolls
2 tbsp of your favorite peanut butter (I like Jif Natural Creamy)
2 tbsp Nutella
1 packet Truvia (or 1 tbsp sugar or your favorite sweetener)
I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray (or melted butter)

Use the cresent roll directions for baking.  Go ahead and preheat your oven.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and open up the tube of cresent rolls.  Separate them into 4 pieces so you have 4 rectangles (instead of 8 triangles).  Press the lines together to get rid of the triangle shape and cut each rectangle in half so you now have 8 squares.

Put 1/2 tbsp of peanut butter in the middle of 4 of the squares, and put 1/2 tbsp of Nutella in the middle of the remaining 4 squares.  Spread the peanut butter and nutella to fill the center, but leave room around the edges (kind of like a pizza crust).

Fold up the edges of the dough to hold in the filling.  Spray butter on the edges of the dough, and sprinkle Truvia on the edges of the dough and on top of the peanut butter (but not on the Nutella...that's sweet enough).

Bake according to the cresent roll directions.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  You can keep leftovers on the counter, but I doubt they'll last very long!

Happy eating!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash soup is one of my favorite soups.  Luckily, my husband is great at whipping up a large batch.  Here's his recipe.

Butternut Squash Soup

Makes about 7 cups

  • 1 package Costco butternut squash cubes
  • 3 cups water
  • 18g chicken bullion
  • 12 oz sweet onions, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh if possible
  • 14 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 14 teaspoon sea salt
  • 18 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tbsp thick plain Greek yogurt (per serving)
  1. In a large pan, combine the squash, water, bullion, onions and bay leaf, bringing to a boil.
  2. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low, simmer for 20 minutes or until squash is tender, then remove from heat.
  3. Take out the bayleaf and blend with immersion blender until smooth.
  4. Season with 1/4 nutmeg, sea salt and pepper.
  5. Ladle into soup bowls and swirl 2 tablespoon of yogurt into each bowl.

    I suggest serving it with biscuits and my Everyday Salad.  

    Happy eating!

Orange Sweet Rolls

After my success with Pumpkin Banana Muffins, I decided to be daring and modify another recipe.  I’ve had a recipe for Lemon Poppyseed Bread for years.  I’m not sure where I got it, but I remembered liking it well enough.  We have an orange tree in our backyard, so I thought, why not leave out the poppyseeds and make it with an orange instead of a lemon? 

These rolls would be perfect for Easter brunch, a potluck, or just for snacking.  They’re slightly sweet, and they’re delicious without slathering on any butter.  You’d never know they only have 100 calories each.  You might want to make a double batch because it’s hard to eat just one!

Orange Sweet Rolls

Makes 12 rolls

2 tbsp butter (softened)
1 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
¾ c Splenda (you can substitute an equal amount of sugar)
2 servings liquid eggwhites (you can substitute 2 eggs)
1 tbsp orange juice
zest of one orange
1 c white whole wheat flour
1 c bread flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¾ c milk

For the glaze:
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray or insert paper liners.

In a stand mixer, combine the butter, Greek yogurt and Splenda.

Add the eggwhites and orange juice.

Add the milk.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder and salt.

Add the dry ingredients and the orange zest to the mixer bowl.  Mix to combine.

Bake about 10 minutes or until the tops of the rolls spring back when you touch them.
Combine the orange juice and powdered sugar for the glaze. 

Put the rolls on a serving plate.  Brush the glaze on top of the rolls while they’re still warm. 

They’re delicious warm, or you can store them at room temperature for a couple days, if they last that long!  I haven’t tried freezing them, but I don’t see why you couldn’t.

Happy eating!