Traditionally, spring is the time to clean up your act. I began by delving through a stack of unanswered mail. I won't say I have been negligent in keeping up with my correspondence. I'll just say to all those December and January letter writers: Your moving testimonials on the joy of fruitcake made me weep. But, please, no more recipes.
Now on to more seasonal topics, such as Baltimore's taste or lack of it for Tex-Mex food, puffy pancakes, and the quest for separate checks at restaurants:
JJTC Tough talk from Texas
From: Trish Campion, La Marque, Texas
Re: Baltimore's below-average consumption of Tex-Mex foods
Dear Happy Eater: As a native of Charm City, I moved to Texas in 1978 and was not thrilled about Mexican food. Fortunately, I . . . now enjoy the zillion of good Mexican restaurants here.
My sister came to visit recently and thoroughly enjoyed the good Mexican foods from well-established restaurants and small, family-run places. The only drawback is that I see myself supplying her and her friends with lime-chili corn chips for the rest of my life. She is unable to find them back home.
I have to tell you that I strongly doubt that "Toto's Gourmet Salsa" (made in Baltimore) can hold a candle to Old El Paso Picante and Salsa. If it ain't made in Texas, it ain't real!
Eater replies: Sounds like you have adopted that fabled Texas world view which holds that nothing north of the Red River is worth sneezing at. I'll concede that your chips are better than ours. But Charm City salsa packs some heat. Moreover, I got a tip on a tortilla factory that has set up shop in our state. So don't look back, Texans, we're gainin' on ya.
From: Doris Bernhardt, Baltimore
Re: Feeding kids oven-baked pancakes
Dear Happy Eater: I recognized your super simple baked pancakes (from "Pancakes and Waffles" by Elizabeth Alston) as ones I've been making for 25 or more years.
My little ones, now 37 and 41, loved the pancake. I am tempted to try and make it again for me and my husband.
Eater replies: This is additional proof that reliable recipes, like trustworthy baseball gloves, are passed down from generation to generation. Comparing these two pancake recipes, I notice you sprinkle your baked pancakes with powdered sugar and lemon juice. I might try that. One of my kids considers these pretend pancakes, too big and puffy to be real. But powdered sugar can be a powerful persuader.
The quest for separate checks
From: Curious in Cockeysville
Re: Difficulty of getting separate checks at restaurants
Dear Happy Eater: My wife and I recently returned from Florida where we visited a number of cities and restaurants. One of the things that struck me there was that when there was more than one couple dining together, the waitress, almost without fail, asked customers if they wanted separate checks.
When we have asked for separate checks in this area the response is always "No!" and is often accompanied by a look that seems to say, "Are you kidding."
Being retired, we eat out frequently with other couples. Since we invariably split the check evenly, there is often a reluctance to order a meal or drink more expensive than our friends' choice. I am sure this happens with other couples.
I'm not sure why writing separate checks is such a big deal in this area. But restaurants could go one step further in making their customers happy.
Eater replies: Honoring your request for anonymity, I read your letter to Marcia Harris, vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland. She, in turn telephoned a few restaurant owners and asked why waiters might be reluctant to issue separate checks.
She reported that, from the server's point of view, writing only one check for each table makes the order easier to keep track of. Moreover, sending the food order from the table into the kitchen on one check increases the likelihood that all the food will be ready to serve at the same time. Conversely, writing orders on separate checks can string out the preparation of the food, and therefore its arrival at the table. That having been said, the restaurateurs agreed that a skilled server should work around the difficulties presented by separate checks. She added that the increased use of computers in area restaurants should make splitting the bill easier.