Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 18, 2007

Foodie With Family: Loud kids, voice prompts don't mix

BY REBECCA LINDAMOOD

I spent hours upon hours on the phone both before and after my move trying to get all my address and utility changes made.

My kids inevitably crave my attention when I'm on the phone. Having all five of them using me as a maypole or trampoline while trying to make all these phone calls was rather trying. I had a little time to reflect on what I'm about to say, and I don't think there are too many people who will think I'm exaggerating when I observe that voice prompt customer service hotlines are evil incarnate.

Much to my chagrin, it seems that these voice prompt systems are the hottest fad in the customer service industry. At least 10 out of the 15 or so companies I had to call had one of these torture devices in place.

After four calls to one particular company where I would reach a critical point in the process and one of my kids would yell something causing the system to either hang up on me or say, "I'm sorry, I didn't understand your response. Please repeat your account number," I was close to going loopy. I put the phone back on the receiver. I wheeled around on my heel (a move I've perfected despite being none-too-graceful) and faced the handful of kids who were looking up at me with wide, innocent eyes and cat-eating-yellowjacket grins. After being asked, "Why is that one vein sticking out so far on your forehead, Mommy?" and "How come your mouth is shut so tight, Mom?" by the child who had been practicing yodeling while holding onto my ankles with one hand and beating a drum with the other for 30 seconds, I paused. After taking several deep breaths, I suppressed the urge to call a convent to navigate their system in order to join. I reminded myself I only had 18 years to go and said, "OK guys, it's like this. I have to make this phone call. These people have a system that responds to sounds. Any sounds. Especially loud sounds. If you make noise, it sends me to a different part of the company where they cannot help me. It will take me much longer to finish this if you keep making noise. Can you all please go out on the porch and wait? I will call you in as soon as I am done. Oh, and if you're all really quiet, we'll make a batch of cookies and eat them all when we're done."

The kids all promised they'd be good, stepped out on the front porch with quiet toys and sat themselves down to play. I started my call.

"Thank you for calling The Ubernational Energy Utility Conglomerate. You are a valued part of our client family. Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed. If you are an existing customer, please say '1.'"

I said "1."

--¦If you need to cancel your utility service or if you want to move your service, please say '5.'"

I said, "5.'"

--¦If you have your account number, please say '7' now. If you do not have your account number please hold the line for the next available operator. At any time while you are waiting you may say, '9' to return to the voice prompt system."

I was on hold for 27 minutes, not that I was counting, when one of my heretofore quiet children burst through the front door and made a sound that he later explained was his attempt to sound like a dog barking very hard with a mouthful of chicken. (I am not making that up.)

Apparently they meant it when they said "at any time" because the full-mouthed dog sound redirected me to what I'm pretty sure was the Hebrew language division of the voice prompt system. I gave up for the day and went to the kitchen, where things do what I make them do.

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Do you have an overabundance of huge, thick-skinned zucchini lying around? Do you have picky kids? Make these and tell them they're "Krabby Patties." Trust me, it works! Even my confirmed self-proclaimed "vegetable hater" loved these. Not only are they good for you they're wonderfully easy on the wallet.

Crispy Zucchini Patties

3 c. super fine shredded zucchini

3/4 c. Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs

3 eggs

1/2 c. shredded Romano or Parmesan cheese

1/2 t. each garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, dried basil and dried oregano

Neutral oil, such as canola, for pan frying

Optional: Marinara or other red sauce for serving.

Combine everything but the oil in a large bowl and stir until evenly moistened. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium high heat. Pour in enough oil just to cover the bottom of your pan. When oil is hot, measure 1/4 cup portions of the zucchini mixture onto pan, spreading gently to form a patty shape. Cook 3 minutes or until the underside is crispy and dark brown. Using a spatula, flip carefully and cook for another three minutes or until other side is crispy and dark brown. Remove to a plate covered with paper towel and continue until all batter has been used. Serve hot with marinara sauce.

Because we didn't have our stove hooked up for the first two weeks in the new house, I had to get mighty creative with my slow cookers. Martha and Jude worked overtime and turned out Japanese Curried Beef, Homemade Granola and, among other things, this fantastic bread pudding ... Try it with any soft fruits you have. You won't regret it.

Brown Sugar Custard Blueberry Bread Pudding

6 c. diced stale rich white bread, Challah or French bread. (Remove crusts before dicing.)

2 c. fresh blueberries (or raspberries, peaches, plums, pitted cherries, etc ...)

2 c. heavy cream

2 c. whole milk

11/4 c. lightly packed light brown sugar

6 large eggs

1 T. vanilla extract

2 T. butter, softened

Whipped cream or ice cream for serving

Coat inside of slow cooker with softened butter. Layer half the bread cubes in the bottom of the bowl of the cooker, top with half the berries, and repeat the layers.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs until lighter in color. Add the heavy cream, milk, brown sugar and vanilla extract to the eggs and whisk until smooth. Pour over the contents of the slow cooker. Press lightly on the bread cubes and blueberries to ensure that everything is evenly moist. Cover and cook on high for 2&1/2 to three hours.

When bread pudding is cooked through, it will be puffy and the internal temperature will be 190 degrees. When correct internal temperature is reached, remove the lid and cook on high for another 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the pudding to cool down slightly. Serve warm, room temperature or chilled with whipped cream or ice cream.

Rebecca Lindamood is a northern Lower Michigan native now living in New York state. A food lover and mother of five children, she writes occasionally about preparing creative, yet affordable, meals for a family. Drop Rebecca an e-mail at shakeyourfoodie@yahoo.com or write to her care of the Record-Eagle.