My Blog Has Moved

Well folks, I've finally done it. I've switched to WordPress and my blog is now on my own domain. So say good-bye to Blogger and good-bye to the bling. But don't be sad. Life is full of change. Change is a good thing. It keeps us on our toes. It challanges us and makes us stronger. And as your next President... oops, I got a little speechy there, didn't I?

Anyway, check me out at:

http://www.meandtheblueskies.com/

I'll look for you there.


Friday, May 8, 2009

I've Moved to Meandtheblueskies.com


This is just a reminder post that I have moved my blog to www.meandtheblueskies.com. If you are following my blog, you need to go to my new blog and click on the RSS feed link so you can follow my new blog. So if you have been wondering why you haven't seen any new posts from me, now you know. So please, go check out the new blog and leave me a comment telling me what you think. And if you have a link to my blog on your blog, make sure you change it from the blogspot adress to the meandtheblueskies.com address. And don't forget to follow the new blog. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Leisurely Brunching at The Painted Cottage Cafe in Collingswood

I realize that my last post was partially about a brunch in Collingswood, but I had a fabulous brunch at a different restaurant in Collingswood and I needed to blog about that as well. The Painted Cottage Cafe is located in the heart of Collingswood on Haddon Avenue sharing the old Woolworth’s building with it’s sister stores, The Painted Cottage and the Painted Cottage Studio. I love that they have kept the original Woolworth’s facade dating back to the early ’60’s. It adds to the charm of the place.

They have been advertising an all-you-can-eat brunch on Sundays for only $14.95 per person. Since I love brunch and I love buffets, this sounded right up my alley. Instead of parking on Haddon Avenue, I parked in the back and walked up to the back entrance. A covered porch sits outside the back which provides ample outdoor dining in good weather. I would have requested a seat on the porch but it appeared to be occupied by a party group.

Outdoor dining on a beautiful day.

Whether you enter from the back or front, in order to get to the hostess stand, you have to walk down a narrow hall that also occupies the buffet line. Once you reach the dining room, the ceilings are high and the space is open and generous. The walls are adorned with murals and a mock restaurant front with a real awning. The whole resaurant has a shabby-chic appearance. I really felt like I was in a cafe in Paris or New Orleans.

The counter is lined with teapots and two-tiered servers laden with pastries. How cool is that?

I was quickly seated and handed a menu. The Painted Cottage only serves breakfast and lunch and the regular menu is available on Sundays in addition to the all-you-can-eat brunch buffet. The menu is extensive and the prices are very reasonable offering items like Home-made Biscuits and Gravy ($7.95), Eggs Benedict ($7.85), and Old Thyme Chicken Salad Sandwich ($7.45). However, I had already decided that the buffet was for me.

A cafe inside a cafe!

The wait staff is dressed in casual khakis and white shirts. My waiter (I want to say Chris but I can’t remember for sure) sauntered over to the table to see if I wanted coffee and was ready to order. I did and ordered the buffet. Although friendly, he never asked if it was my first time or offered any explanation as to how the buffet worked.

How shabby-chic is this?

I strolled over to the buffet station and quickly figured out where it started. I was first greeted by a really cool, shabby-chic tea cart piled high with an eclectic selection of mis-matched china plates. I grabbed a pretty piece of Noritake and moved on down the line. The buffet features eggs benedict, cottage potatoes, pancakes, bacon, sausage, biscuits, and sausage gravy. I was looking forward to the biscuits and gravy and was taken back, at first, by the yellow-ish tint and creamy texture of the sausage gravy. I decided to try it anyway.

Prime Rib, Eggs, or Waffles

A cook stands behind the line and performs several tasks: Carve a piece of prime rib, make scrambled eggs or omelets, or make you a belgium waffle. He gave me a nice slab of prime rib and even offered to saute it for a minute if it was too rare for me. I chuckled. (There is no such thing as too rare.) He quickly scrambled me some eggs and I returned to my seat.

Everything on the plate was fantastic. The Prime Rib was cooked perfectly and not overly fatty. My eggs were scrambled just right without being runny or overcooked. But the best thing was the Biscuits and Gravy. I’m used to the white, chunky gravy that most restaurants down South sell. This gravy was silky smooth with a slight buttery taste that transformed this traditional mainstream Southern dish from everyday to gourmet. Yum.

Bisquits and sausage gravy to die for.

As I finished my plate, I noticed two woman who had been seated near me as they chatted to each other. One of them gestured to a server and I heard her complain that no one had offered them a menu yet. Now these gals were seated when I came in and I had been seated, gotten a plate of food, and eaten the plate and no one had been to their table during that whole time. A small pow-wow ensued in the corner with several servers as they decided who was supposed to take care of the table. A server went to the table, apologized, and took their order. To the restaurant’s credit, two huge salads were delivered to the table less than five minutes after they placed their order. They seemed pleased.

Here's to the ladies who lunch...

In addition to the two ladies lunching, the restaurant was full with seniors dressed for church, young couples in jeans and flip flops, gay couples, and khaki clad yuppy families. I loved the mix of patrons as well as the casual atmosphere of this place. It is set up to give you the feeling of a leisurely breakfast or lunch dining experience and it works. The wait staff carries this “air” of casual dining with them and move at two speeds: Saunter and Mosey. Now don’t get me wrong. They are casually attentive and never appear to be disinterested or intentionally slow.

Pretty in Pink

I returned again to the buffet line to check out the other side which included mashed potatoes, a hot vegetable, a pasta salad, fruit, yogurt, granola, bagels, and pastries. I picked up a totally cool Eames era (1950’s/60’s) pink plate and made my selections. See how pretty the food looks on the pink plate. (I am so gay but plating does make a difference, even at a buffet.)

The waiter returned after I had finished to see if I needed anything else. I said no and he dropped of the check with no explanation. I had to stop him to find out if I paid him or at the hostess stand. In addition, he never cleared away my old plate when I finished with it, which is a big pet peeve of mine at buffets. The hostess, after passing my table several times, finally decided to clear it away for me.

Overall, I have to give The Painted Cottage Cafe a high rating for a wonderful atmosphere and excellent food, far above what one would normally expect from a buffet. As far as the ala carte meals are concerned, the ones I saw delivered to the tables around me looked awesome and whetted my desire to return and sample some of them. So, if you want shabby-chic cafe experience with an eclectic menu of tasty food, The Painted Cottage Cafe is the place to go, just plan to take your time.

The Painted Cottage Cafe is located at 712 Haddon Avenue in Collingswood.  They are open 7 days a week, 7 am - 4 pm.  Visit them at http://www.paintedcottage.biz/ or call them at 856-854-8060.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Tortilla Press in Collingswood, NJ - Oustanding Brunch and Dinner

For those of you who don't live in my area, Collingswood has become THE town to go to when you want to dine out in South Jersey. A dozen amazing restaurants have popped up in this quaint, dry town and the Tortilla Press (TP) was one of the original restaurants that helped pave that road.

I've been to the Tortilla Press several times and even blogged about their wonderful brunch so I was pleasantly surprised when the contacted me to tell me that they really enjoyed and appreciated my last review. They also offered me a coupon for a free meal if I would come in and try out their "steak night" on Wednesday. Since I am one to never refuse a free meal, I happily accepted.

Now before I start in about the meal, let me tell you that I decided that the free meal would in no way impact my review. Whatever I ate, I would review it based on how I (or my guests) enjoyed the meal.

Amazing $5.00 Brunch

Every Saturday and Sunday, the TP offers a special $5.00 brunch menu from 10am - 12 noon. With offerings like Cheese Chiliquiles Verde & Scrambled Eggs, Pan Perdidas (Mexican French Toast), and Breakfast Enchiladas, this is no watered-down menu.

This past Sunday, my friend Scotty called me and wanted to know if I wanted to go to the mall with him. After I picked him up, I suggested we stop at the TP for the $5.00 brunch. It was 11:30 and we had just enough time. They start you off with a complimentary bowl of sugar and cinnamon tortilla chips accompanied with a cinnamon and honey infused yogurt dipping sauce. An amazingly delicious combination and what was even more amazing was that it was still complimentary, even with the $5.00 brunch menu.


I ordered the Huevos Rancheros which is my favorite. TP's version is two eggs sunny side up served with a tomato cilantro sauce over corn tortillas, then topped with crumbled queso fresco, rajas poblano and tortilla strips. It also comes with rice and black beans. I am pleased to say that the plate looked as pretty as a picture and tasted just as good. And such a huge platter for five bucks.


Scott ordered the Spinache & Bacon quiche which was filled with a creamy chihuahua cheese, then topped with a home made hollandaise sauce. It is also served with a side fruit cup. Scott raved over the quiche and said the sauce was so good he wished they would bottle it. But don't take my word for it, take a look at the picture I took of him after the first bite.


Here's the Beef Wednesday Night Special

So when I decided to go for dinner on Wednesday night to take advantage of the free meal and their "Here's the Beef" Wednesday special, I was worried that TP would have a difficult topping such an amazing brunch. But boy were my worries missplaced.
I invied Amy to join me and Sean and Scott wanted to come along as well. We arrived at 5:30 and were promptly seated even though the restaurant was already fairly full. Our waitress, Cait, (and I am spelling it correctly) was friendly, efficient and just plain nice. She definitely added to our dining experience. If you go for dinner, make sure you ask for her.
They start you out with chips, salsa, and a bean mixture. The offering is a little sparse for 4 people, but the bean mixture added a delightful taste and texture to what would be basic chips and salsa. We then ordered the Blue Corn Calamari with fried jalapeno for $8. The blue-green tinted calamari and jalapenos arrived on a plate of greens with a wonderful creamy mexican tartar sauce. We housed it.
Scotty decided to order the Wednesday special ($15.95), which included an 8 oz. filet, chipotle mashed or au-gratin potatoes, a spicy sauce or a bernaise sauce, vegetable, and a salad. Scott chose the au-gratin potatoes and the bernaise sauce. The filet was cooked perfectly and Scott savored every bite. The potatoes were creamy with a nice crisp topping and the green beans were crisp and fresh. I heard another patron at a different table comment on the generous size of the steak.

I ordered the shrimp fajitas for $18. TP does fajitas a little different as there is no greasy, sizzling skillet. The shrimp, onions, and peppers were pre-grilled in a sweet and spicy mexican bbq sauce and served on a plate with the beans and rice. Served with soft tortillas, salsa, guacamole, and mexican creme. I was a little surprised by the different presentation but the bbq sauce added a wonderful flavor and I appreciated the lack of splattering grease. The shrimp were big and meaty and everything was supplied in ample portions except for the salsa which I practically used all of on my first tortilla. Otherwise, this was the tastiest fajita this man has had in a long time and considering that I worked part-time at Chi Chi's for almost 8 years, that is saying something.


Sean ordered the Coconut Habanero Shrimp for $20. This delectably sweet and spicy dish included the same large and meaty shrimp fire grilled in a sweet, spicy coconut & pepper confetti salsa. Served with chipotle mashed potatoes, grilled pineapple & fresh green beans. Sean is afraid of the heat and he found the sweatness of the coconut milk counted nicely with the slight heat of the dish. He also enjoyed the subtle smokey flavor of the chipotle mashed potatoes and insisted we all have a taste.

Lastly, Amy ordered the Rainbow Shrimp for $20. (We all wanted shrimp--what can I say.) This meal included the same meaty shrimp sautéed with peppers, onions and mushrooms in a garlic chile butter sauce. Served with poblano spinach rice and fresh vegetable medley. Amy said the chile butter sauce added the right touch of heat without being overwhelming. The veggies were fresh and crisp. I forgot to ask her about the rice but she ate it all, just like the rest of us, so she must have enjoyed it.
The deserts look similar but they were very different. Scott, Sean, and Amy ordered the desert special, chimi fried cheesecake. The dish was NY style cheesecake and blackberries wrapped into a tortilla and fired crispy. Served coverd with powedered sugar, more blackberries and a dollop of cajeta. (mexican whipped creme I am guessing.) They all were in heaven. I had a small taste of Sean's and this is one treat that they should keep on the menu.
I had a similiar dish called the Banana Buritto. The Banana Buritto is made of Ripe Banana and sliced strawberries drizzled with chocolate and cajeta, then rolled in a flour tortilla and lightly fried. Served with a scoop of ice cream, more chocolate sauce and cajeta. I had a choice of ice cream so I went with cinnamon. This dish is amazing. The flavor of the bananas and strawberries with the crispy tortilla and the spicy cinnamon ice cream dance all over my taste buds.

After we finished eating, Sean turned to me and said, "This is now my favorite restaurant." Considering that his is one picky fellow, I'd have to say that was some accomplishment. I've eaten at the TP many times and I would be hard-pressed to say anything negative about it. Chef Owner, Mark Smith, has a real gem here in Collingswood and he truly is making an effort to keep dining out in SJ affordable. In addition to the $5 brunch and the Wednesday filet special, the also offer a 3 course twilight menu Sun - Thurs, 4:00 - 6:30 for only $16.50 pp.

The Tortilla Press is located at 703 Haddon Avenue in Collingswood, NJ. Visit them at http://www.tortillapress.com/. Walk-ins are ok but I recommend calling 856-869-3345 to make a reservation. And tell em Mr Blueskies sent you.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Coming Soon: Meandtheblueskies.com

Yup, that's right kids. I went ahead and purchased my domain name at GoDaddy.com.  I am now the proud owner of meandtheblueskies.com.  Oh, it's not set up yet or anything like that.  And yes, I don't know what I am doing but for less than $15.00, I now own that domain for the next two years.

I still haven't decided to switch over yet from Blogger to WordPress but I am leaning heavily towards WordPress.  I just have fears of BIG separation anxiety if I leave Blogger.  But I want something new--something fresh--something different.  And I want that damn "read more" feature without having to add a code into every post I make.

So, I will continue to post here and copy the post to my WordPress blog until I have decided what I am going to do.  I would love to have everyone come to my blog via my domain name.  And I want a blog that's smoother, cleaner, and a little bit more professional looking.  Is that such a bad thing?

So watch out world, I just may create my own logo and open my own website with my own little blog. As soon as I figure out what the hell I am doing...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Blogspot or WordPress: What's Your Opinion?

I am seriously considering switching my blog from Blogspot to WordPress. Now the reason I originally used blogger was because it is easy to use and has tons of templates that are very easily modified. WordPress requires knowledge of CSS code to modify their templates.  Since I am not a code expert, I choose Blogspot for my blog.

And don't get me wrong, I'm not necessarily unhappy with Blogspot. And I do love the blingy look of my blog and my Me and the Blue Skies header. I ADORE my header. But I hate that I blogger does not have a read more post feature where you show only a little bit of the post and thenclick the read more button if you want to read more and leave a comment. I think this makes blogs look much cleaner and certainly easier to navigate. So I exported my blog to WordPress and came up with a cool template that I really like.

Unfortunately, the template I finally decided to use does not have a custom header feature so I lose my Blue Skies header. Of course, if I want to customize my CSS code and add a header, I need to pay WordPress $15/year. Not really a bad price to pay. And WordPress does have some templates with customizable headers but I just love the clean, three column look of this template.

Anyway, the whole point of this is to get YOUR opinon. That's right! I want to know what you, the Me and the Blue Skies reader, thinks about both blogs. Tell me which one you like better. (My "About" page is a mess right now. I'll fix it up later.) Tell me why you use Blogger or WordPress. I wanna know. To go to my blog in WordPress, just click here. You can leave a comment there or come back here and leave your comment. I'll be checking both blogs. And thanks, in advance, for your advice and opinions.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Texas May Be "Gone With The Wind"


It seems that Texas Governor Rick Perry is so fed up with Obama and the Democrats in power that he feels that Texas' secession from the Union may be a viable option.  As reported on CNN Politics.com, these words were said at one of the dozens of Republican sponsored "tea parties" throughout the country.  Calling his supporters "partriots" Perry exclaimed,

"We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot." 

He went on to incorrectly state that "when Texas entered the union in 1845 it was with the understanding it could pull out."

Hmm...so it took Texas 164 years to decide it doesn't want to be part of this great nation?  If these words aren't treasonous, they sure do spit in the faces of not only our forefathers who fought and died to make America free but also in the faces of the men and women who continue to fight and die so we can still enjoy those freedoms today.
And he said all that during a "tea party" designed to evoke patriotic memories of American opposition to British control.  But that fight was about taxation without representation NOT because we're mad that we're not the party in control anymore.  And the cries of Socialism that I hear are designed to scare the masses and smack of McCarthyism.  Even Joe the Plumber has gotten into the tea party act. What do you think that does for credibility? (At least his agent is finally earning his keep.)

So what do I say about Governor Perry's thoughts about a possible Texas Secession?  Well if Texas did secede, we'd lose a big chunk of staunch, NRA supporting Republicans.  And Texas is anti-abortion while being number 1 in state executions.  AND it gave us arguably the worst President ever to sit in the oval office, George W. Bush.  So I guess I'd say to Governor Perry, "Frankly, Rick, I don't give a damn!"

Editor's note:  One small consequence could be the removal of the Dallas Cowboys from the NFL.  Not that I am a Cowboys fan--I'd just miss those great rivalry games between the Cowboys and the Eagles.