When having dinner with strangers isn’t strange

Don’t talk to strangers. We’ve heard it all our lives. So having dinner with strangers would be even an even bigger faux pas.

Wouldn’t it?

Not if you’re on a cruise ship. In fact, the fancy dining room setup using cozy tables for six or eight added the perfect touch to our cruising experience.

By the end of the trip, these dinners marked in the top three of things I enjoyed most about the cruise overall.

Top three? She must be crazy!

The Company

I talked about the dining room seatings in an earlier post. For a refresher, click here.

Sunday night (the first night of the cruise), my husband and I were both feeling a little nauseous, and I had a headache. I didn’t feel up to making polite conversation. In fact, I only went to dinner because I hoped putting some food into my stomach might convince it to behave.

(Side note: we both took Dramamine after setting sail. After taking it, I felt WORSE than I did before. We didn’t take it the rest of the trip and felt no ill effects from the motion of the sea.)

But I had built the dining experience up to incredible levels in my mind and since I wasn’t feeling especially pleased with everything else (it’s hard to be happy when you feel sick), I wanted to experience the high class dining environment.

Before dessert on the last night, all of our servers serenaded us
Before dessert on the last night, all of our servers serenaded us

I wasn’t disappointed.

Your table number is on your sea pass (the card that works as room key, passport aboard ship and credit card). We had scoped out the location earlier when we’d been exploring the ship.

sea pass

It was a round table set for six people. We arrived first (every night except for one).

A pair of ladies, petite and older than we are, joined us. We introduced ourselves with handshakes.

Catherine had a lovely British accent. So I was quick to point that out and ask where she was from.

“Houston.”

My eyes widened. For a second I thought maybe she was mispronouncing our last name (had we mentioned it?), but then she laughed and waved her hand.

“I live there now. I’m originally from England.”

Obviously.

She was a dear woman who wasn’t shy about expressing her opinions about everything from the indecorous comments of people at a nearby table to inappropriate sanitation. (It’s dinnertime, so I won’t elaborate on how THAT subject came up.)

She was a seasoned cruiser, but her companion was a newbie (like us). Apparently, Catherine and her mother were scheduled to take the cruise but since her mam’s health wasn’t cooperating, she invited her sister-in-law.

Margaret reminded me of a silver-speckled sparrow. She was tiny and thin with doe eyes. Her home was in Ohio, but she’d been spending the winter with her brother (Catherine’s husband) and sister-in-law to escape the cold.

I could go on and on with tales about these two lovelies. But that’s not the point. The point is at that moment at 8:05 pm on the first night of a week-long cruise, they were strangers.

And we were being forced to have dinner with them.

The Service

I mentioned the amazing service we received in Isaac’s Dining Room in an earlier post. I’m sure I gushed about our servers, Shirlynn and Tyronne.

Our amazing servers: Shirlynn and Tyronne
Our amazing servers: Shirlynn and Tyronne

As soon as they handed us the menu that first night, Catherine began to expound on her earlier cruises. We discussed each of the starter items and entrees listed on the lovely, custom list of offerings.

I chose the chicken, a standard dish that was on the menu every night. I didn’t want to tempt my uneasy stomach to rebel in a violent manner.

Conversation ranged abroad. What were our the plans for the cruise? How we had settled on this ship with these destinations. It was all very surface, stranger-friendly conversation.

By the time dessert and coffee (decaf for me, I wanted to sleep) came, we were laughing, everyone much more relaxed and open.

I’d like to say it was my bubbly persona that won them over, but I think Catherine is the type of person who’s never met a stranger.

In retrospect, I think the fine service -and how we all noticed and complimented it-played the largest part. Our servers treated us like family and friends, so it was easy to step into those roles.

From Stranger to Friend

Margaret, Catherine and us at our table aboard Freedom of the Seas
Margaret, Catherine and us at our table aboard Freedom of the Seas

No, we didn’t exchange personal information. These two lovely ladies who enjoy reading as much as I do took my business card. They claimed a desire to read my books.

We’ll see.

Whether or not they become a fan of my writing, they will be considered friends.

Why not? There are a multitude of people I’ve never even met face-to-face on my Facebook “friends” list. Shouldn’t someone I spent quality time with during a week-long vacation earn the same status?

The word friend is loosely defined these days. I would say a friend is someone you know and enjoy talking with about some subjects. In this case, whether social media or socializing on a cruise, my list of friends has grown longer.

The fact: Catherine and Margaret are no longer strangers. If they aren’t strangers, they must be acquaintances. Having shared a unique experience with them, I promote them to the level above acquaintance-ship.

Having dinner with strangers is only strange if you don’t convert them into friends by the time dessert is served.

Thanks for making me your friend, Catherine and Margaret.

Have you ever shared a unique experience with a person you only met that one time and yet you consider them a friend?

Cruises are for People who love to Eat

Do you love to eat? Would you be happy to have access to well-prepared food twenty-four hours per day? Yes? Then a cruise is your dream vacation.

I love food. Good food can be as comforting as cozy sweats on a chilly day.

I especially like food prepared by someone else. It’s doubly delightful when I don’t have to clean the kitchen before, during or after preparation.

A cruise is the closest I’ve been to food heaven.

Good News

Gluten free, sugar free, low calorie, fried, roasted, broiled and breaded. You name it, you could find it in the Windjammer Cafe.

This was the place for buffet eats on Freedom of the Seas. It was on the eleventh floor (or would that be deck eleven?). The first day, we climbed the stairs because the elevators were worse than an obese person’s clogged arteries.

Think of all the extra calories we burned. That meant an extra helping of French fries or gravy or dessert.

And it never happened again. (Climbing the stairs not the extra helpings.)

Thai, Chinese, Cajun, American. The major food ethnicities were represented. At every meal. Even breakfast.

Egg fried rice this morning? Yes, I think I will.

A few staples were there at every meal – order up an omelet at breakfast and make your own salad at lunch. I can’t speak intelligently about dinner in the cafe because we ate our meal in the official dining room each night.

Why not? They had a menu of amazing, highbrow choices served to you at the same table by the same friendly people every night. A two-hour dining experience is worth every bite.

Our amazing servers: Shirlynn and Tyronne
Our amazing servers: Shirlynn and Tyronne

I was seriously ready to take the chef, maitre d and servers home with me.

Bad News

Day or night, you could find something to eat.

All-you-can eat pizza was available free of charge (included in the price of your cruise) on the promenade deck around the clock.

They would even deliver anything you wanted straight to your cabin. Any time, day or night.

A midnight snack? No problem. You don’t even have to get up to raid the refrigerator.

Not good for the waistline.

All this food is no big hindrance, is it? If you do get up and walk the wind blown track every morning. Or run on the treadmills in the fitness center. Or show up for circuit training or fab abs classes.

Maybe not if you have gargantuan willpower.

You have to resist the call of free ice cream on the pool deck. Just say no to the friendly servers offering you warm-from-the-oven cookies. Ignore the sensual aroma of cheesy pizza when you walk down the prom.

And every time one of these temptations presents itself in a flowing robe of delectability, your brain will say, “You’re on vacation.”

After all, regular life will reinsert itself soon enough. There will be Shakeology for breakfast and berries and yogurt for lunch. Carrot sticks or apple slices for mid-morning or afternoon snacks.

Did I mention you should pack your Incredible Hulk-sized willpower on your next cruise?

In the end, I’m happy to be back home where my own lackadaisical attitude toward cooking for two people will bring the same-old dinners. Low calorie meals with lean protein and double the vegetables.

There won’t be anyone to take my order, bring out the next course or recommend a culinary masterpiece.

I should be able to fit into my clothes again in a week or two. I guess that’s the best news of all.

Five Reasons to Adore a Corn Roast

Roast Corn Meme

I adore summer. Summer means blue skies, sunshine and eternal warmth. Yellow sun that ripens ears of corn.

Summer brings a berry-full bounty of fresh fruits and crisp vegetables. There’s plenty to smile about.

One thing that doesn’t arrive until summer is on its way out: corn on the cob.

Golden (or white or bi-color, if you prefer) kernels of sweet juiciness that are perfect for the grill. Lip-smacking delicacies that beg for a gob of creamy butter and a few sprinkles of salt.

Which is why September and early October are the perfect months for a corn roast in Oregon. By the middle of the month, the biggest corn farmers in the West are mowing mazes into the former gold fields.

If you love a barbecue and you love corn on the cob, you’ll find an old-fashioned corn roast is the best of both worlds.

Old-fashioned?

I’m as in to microwaves and gas grills as the next person. I own both and use them as often as I shower.

But to get the best nature has to offer from sweet corn, even a charcoal grill won’t do.

Mound up your favorite flavor of wood and set it afire. Cut the tassels off the unshucked corn. Once the coals are hot, tuck the corn around it and turn them occasionally.

It’s worth waiting for. The water inside the husk steams it to perfection.

Five Reasons

1. Freshly cooked-in-the-husk corngrilled-corn-sl-1218736-x

2. Sweet, succulent juices dripping down your chin

3. Laughing at your friends trying to pick corn from between their teeth

4. More corn on the cob begging to be eaten

5. Dental floss that travels

Quick update: Using frozen corn on the cob and wrapping it in tin foil for the fire will do in a pinch. However, it doesn’t hold the same juicy appeal as roasting fresh corn sans husk in the fire. Just saying.

What’s your favorite sign of fall? Is there a food that must be cooked a certain way to meet your approval?