Day 465 – National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day

This will be an easy one to celebrate although it may take home the title for the longest named holiday with 42 total letters. It’s like the Jarrod Saltalamacchia of holidays (for all you baseball fans reading along). Last year on this day, I made my own. I melted some bittersweet chocolate, tossed in some almonds, and then just let them cool (after I sprinkled with some sea salt). Lola was away last year too at this time and so I just enjoyed the treats by my lonely ol’ self. I did note that I brought some over to Pete and Cherie too which seemed odd. Then I realized, after decoding my cryptic blog messages, that I had done so because our little nephew was in the hospital. It reminded me of what a sad little night it was and how my heart was hurt to see him in a hospital bed. Today would be different. Today I would not make my own treats. Today I would just do what every normal person would do when confronted with the dilemma of needing Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds. I just went to the store, CVS specifically, and bought some. I found a bag of Bittersweet Chocolate Almonds from the folks at Dove Chocolate and that was good enough for me.

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There’s a candy dish at my Mom’s house that has been in her living room for years. It used to be in a more high-profile spot but now it has found a home on the countertop of the corner cabinet, a spot where my Mom can easily access it. It came from, I think, the International Silver Company which was where my Dad worked as a manager (it later became the Webster Wilcox Company). He’d often come home with random pieces of décor and this candy dish was one of them. It had a silver top like the lid of a pot and it set atop an elegant crystal dish. My Mom used to fill it with random pieces of candy and you would peek inside every now and then to see what was in there. Sometimes you’d hit pay dirt and it would be filled with M&Ms or jellybeans. Other times you’d find Canada mints or lemon sours. When you would take the lid off, the steel would inevitably tap the crystal and it would create a ringing sound that indicated someone was in the candy dish. Over the years I learned to get stealthy at this. I figured out that if you palmed the whole cover with your hand and lifted it straight off the bowl, you could muffle the tone and silence the alarm. Putting the lid back on was more difficult, but required the same diligence and patience. I felt like the Pink Panther when it was successful. I spent way too much time trying to hone this skill. I mention all this because nowadays, the candy dish is almost always filled with Dove chocolates. I’m not sure when Dove became the sole resident of the candy dish, but it has happened. In fact, my niece and nephews have probably come to always expect Dove chocolates in that bowl. I suppose that’s where I first became aware of Dove chocolates. I knew about Dove bars. Those were they original Dove product. Vanilla ice cream on a stick covered in luscious chocolate. But the candy, those came to the market later, and then they landed in our candy bowl.

Their chocolate covered almonds were as good as their other products which allows me to say with certainty that Dove puts out a good chocolate. They are part of the Mars conglomerate and although they started as a candy shop in Chicago, to have caught the eyes of Mars must have meant that they were doing something right. I am partial to milk chocolate but when it comes down to it, I can eat bittersweet chocolate and be ok. Their chocolate is creamy and rich. There were definite hints of bitterness to it but that was ok in the presence of the salty, roasted flavor of the fresh almonds. It was, as so many of these posts are about, good balance in every bite. They were nice and fresh too. Sometimes chocolate covered nuts can feel a bit old (at least the nut part). These tasted like they were just shelled. I opened the bag when I got home from work and nibbled on them as a pre-dinner snack.  Then I had some more before I went to bed.

You hear so much about the health benefits of eating dark chocolate and almonds that you would think eating them together would make you a regular health nut. Obviously that all boils down to moderation which I still have some troubles trying to understand. I am partial to milk chocolate, but these snacks proved to be quite satisfying and delicious. It made me realize that maybe when I get those twinges for something sweet in the late afternoon, maybe reaching for dark chocolate covered almonds would be a smart alternative (in moderation). I know that’s still not the healthiest of choices but choosing the almonds over binging on a container of fudge is certainly a better choice. It will give me that chocolate boost I’m looking for plus some energy and protein from the nuts. It’s all about teaching an old dog a new trick and don’t forget, this old dog can still sneak it out of the candy dish undetected.

Next up: National Cappuccino Day 

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Day 463 – National Nachos Day

It’s almost comical that I would opt for nachos for dinner tonight. I was only doing it because of the holiday (probably), but beyond that, it made me feel like the typical man left on his own who couldn’t find his way around the kitchen. It was the second day of Lola’s trip and I was living the single life but so far my choices for dinner reflected the sad diet of someone who had never fended for himself in the kitchen. Last night, out of laziness and because we happened to have one in our freezer, I had a TV Dinner (turkey with mashed potatoes). Tonight I was having nachos. For some reason, when Lola goes away, I forget I can cook.

A day that you HAVE to eat nachos is not an altogether bad day. I am no stranger to nachos – eating or cooking them. When you spend a chunk of your life in a Mexican restaurant, you learn how to make a good nacho. The key, I find, is to layer the chips with cheese as you go which may mean that you have to put the chips in the oven for a second to start the cheese melting and then build on top of that. You also have to make sure that all the tips of your chips are facing downwards (as best they can). This prevents the tips from being exposed and burning (“the ends are not our friends” is how the training goes). You don’t make nachos; you build them. You have to add every ingredient with thought wondering how it will taste in the end. You can tell a good nacho because you get a little of everything in every bite.

For my nachos, I went to Clements for supplies. I was going to get a rotisserie chicken while I was there and add some chicken to the nachos as a protein, but they were sold out of chickens. (And yes, I see that Bachelor Dan was going to buy a grocery store chicken – another indication that I had become a hapless man in the kitchen). In any case, Plan B was to get some BBQ chicken which comes in little tubs from a company called Lloyd’s. I have had this product before and it’s pretty good. Not as good as fresh-made, but good enough in this scenario. When I got home, I turned my oven on 400 degrees and started building: chips, cheese, more chips, cheese, shredded BBQ chicken, a  few sprinkles of garlic powder, diced tomatoes and a bit more cheese. I popped them in the oven. About halfway through cooking, I turned the sheet pan around. Rotating nachos in the oven was a standard procedure at the restaurant to ensure a balanced melt. I’m not sure if it has the same effect in a regular oven, but old habits are hard to break. When they were done, I topped with fresh arugula and then a dollop of sour cream.

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I’ve learned one little trick from cooking nachos at home and that’s to cook them on aluminum foil. That makes for an easier cleanup, but also allows you to slide the whole tray of nachos off the hot sheet pan and onto another platter or room temperature sheet pan so you don’t burn yourself. I did this and then dove right in watching television as bachelor’s are required to do when they eat their dinner. I’m not surprising anyone by saying the nachos were good. How can you go wrong with melted cheese and chips? The chicken was a nice addition adding the sweet and tangy flavor of the BBQ sauce into the mix. I like having lettuce and sour cream on nachos because it gives you a cool sensation that combines with the heat of the nacho. It’s all about balance. I dug in and worked my way through. I didn’t have to fight Lola for that last chip with cheese at the bottom either. Then for clean up, I just rolled up the foil and tossed them away. Easy peasy.

The more I think about it, enjoying nachos for dinner as a bachelor was an ideal way to celebrate National Nachos Day. It’s a testament to their easiness, their cheesy indulgence and their simple appeal. You can make them anyway you want. There’s no such thing as a bad nacho, just a bad nacho preference. And at the end of the day when you are home watching television in your underwear missing the company of your wife, there’s nothing more comforting that the joy of melted cheese delivered on a crisp, warm, salty chip. I think I may just survive my week without Lola. As long as I have chips and cheese, I can survive anything.

Next up – National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day 

Day 462 – National Doughnut Day

I was so excited about National Doughnut Day that I set my alarm clock for 3:30 am. I wanted to get up and at ‘em. Ok, not really. I did set my alarm clock for 3:30 but it was because I had to take Lola to the airport. She was heading down to Florida for a writer’s workshop where she would be for the next week. This was a god-awful time to be awake and moving, but I was happy to get the extra time with Lola in the car and to see her off. Her flight was at 6:30 which meant we had to be at the airport by 5 am the latest. We made it in time. Nothing out of the ordinary happened in our travels and traffic was light at the airport too (we thought it might be busy on a Sunday). I pulled up to the curb, heaved Lola’s 60-pound suitcase out of the trunk, gave her a kiss and a hug goodbye, wished her luck, and then I was back in the exit lane from the airport. Lola waved as I drove away, a giant smile on her face and that was that. Now I was a bachelor with a whole day in front of me to celebrate National Doughnut Day.

My biggest problem was that it was still early. It was Daylight Savings Day and even though the extra hour of sleep was much appreciated, it didn’t change the fact that there wasn’t much open at 5 am on a Sunday morning. Not even Dunkin Donuts opens that early (excepting the 24-hour spots). As I drove down Route 24, I started to think about all the places I could get doughnuts. I thought about the specialty doughnut shops in Providence like PVDonuts and Knead Doughnuts, even Allie’s Donuts in North Kingston. All of them would have been at least a half hour out of the way and I was unfamiliar with their hours. I’d hate to go all the way there only to find out they don’t open until 7 am (perfectly normal for a bakery) and have to wait around until they opened. There was always Ma’s Donuts which is open 24-hours, but they are on the other end of the island. The closer I got to home, the lazier I was getting (a reflection of my increasing tiredness).  I remembered that there was a spot in Tiverton (close to the Fall River border) that was only an exit or two away from home. It was a place called Sip n’ Dip Donuts.

Sip n’ Dip is a small local chain in the area with eight locations. They’ve been around since 1985 and while they seem like a spot that might be iconic, I don’t hear much chatter about them. I’m not even sure if Lola would be aware of their existence. That doesn’t mean they’re not famous, it just means they are not a Rhode Island institution like Del’s or Newport Creamery. I went to their location in East Providence on National Coffee Day last year and the coffee was fine. I think I had a doughnut there too and it was good as well. I have seen the spot in Tiverton over the years and always wanted to check them out. Now, at 6 am on a Sunday morning, it seemed as good of a time as any.

When I pulled in, I wasn’t sure they were open but as I drove around the drive thru lane, I could see someone inside. Then I saw their hours posted and confirmed that they were indeed open for business. I had never realized it before, but it is actually just a drive thru shack. Small enough for a few employees inside but not a place where you would walk into and sit down. The best I could tell there was only one person working inside and she was still setting things up for the day. I pulled up to the window and was greeted by some kind of old lady nicety like “hun” or “sweetie”, I ordered one of my favorite doughnuts, the glazed cruller, and then waited in anticipation. After some scruffling in the back the lady came back with the bad news: they hadn’t delivered any crullers today. In a fit of anger, I reached up and grabbed her through the window. No. No I didn’t. But my heart was broken. In my dejected state, I glanced at the list of other doughnuts and settled for a honey dipped doughnut. That’s kind of like asking the most popular girl in school to the prom and ending up going with your cousin. I took my doughnut and went home. When I walked inside, I immediately crawled back in bed and then fell asleep for another hour or so. When I woke up, I made a cup of coffee and then sat down to enjoy my doughnut.

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I love a good doughnut. This was an ok doughnut. I don’t think it is Sip N’ Dip’s fault, I just think that as a doughnut, a honey dipped is no cruller. It even fails by comparison to the glazed doughnut. A glazed doughnut, like a Krispy Kreme, has a sweet crust of glaze on the outside bringing in sweetness to every bite. This one didn’t have enough of that sweetness. It was light and airy, which is good, but more starchy or yeasty in taste. It just wasn’t the doughnut of my dreams. Had they delivered crullers on this fateful day, this story would have a more happy ending. But the honey dipped was a mere taste of doughnut that could be something better. I’ll still happily go back to Sip N’ Dip, I just won’t be catfished by the allure of a fancy-named honey dipped doughnut.

For a guy home alone, it wasn’t that raucous of a Doughnut Day celebration. That’s ok though. I needed a day to recover from my early rising. In any case, if I was going to go overboard with a celebration, I would have preferred Lola to be there. Maybe next time. I had a Lola-less week ahead of me, so I was planning on keeping things pretty tame in these parts. Lola, on the other hand, was off on an adventure in the company of some supportive friends. It’s going to be a long week. I’m going to need more doughnuts if I’m going to make it through this.

Next up: National Nachos Day

Day 461 – National Bison Day

I did something I probably shouldn’t have done today. I knew it was National Bison Day and my plan was to make some bison burgers when I got home from work with ground bison meat. That sounds exotic, although finding bison meat isn’t as hard as you think it is. Over the past years, bison has become identified as a healthier red meat and is promoted as having less fat and less calories than your run of the mill beef from a cow. Because of that, it finds its way onto the shelves at your grocery store. I had hoped to find some at the Farmer’s Market at the Vineyard and I gave a quick look around, but I didn’t see anything and I didn’t have the free time to do a table by table hunt. Instead I waited until the end of the day and stopped at Clements on my way home. I was pretty sure they carried it and I knew right where to look. To my delight, they did – neat little cubes of packaged ground bison.  I went home and cooked them up just as I would a regular burger and then I served them for dinner. However, I didn’t tell Lola they were made from bison until she was halfway through her burger. I feel bad about that.

There’s actually some history to National Bison Day. It started back in 2012 as an annual commemoration of the ecological, cultural, historical and economic contribution of the American bison to the United States. Thanks to early Americans who liked to hunt (slaughter) bison, they were on the brink of extinction in the 19th century. However, they have recovered and the population is now considered as having “Near Threatened” status (which is still concerning). For the record, a bison is technically not a buffalo although people call them buffalos. Buffalos are only found in Africa and Asia (think water buffaloes). Early settlers thought the bison looked like the water buffalo, so they called them that and it kind of stuck. I also recently found out that real buffalo mozzarella cheese is made from the milk of a buffalo. That has no relevance here, but nonetheless an interesting fact. Regardless, today was a day where we should be honoring the bison for its cultural and ecological contributions to the history of North American and its native people. No better way to do that then by grilling some up and serving it on a bun.

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If you were to ask people what bison tastes like they’d probably guess gamey. But it’s not really. In fact, it didn’t taste that much different than the meat of a cow. Perhaps it was a tinge sweeter and more tender. I liked it and that kind of surprised me. I was expecting a bad taste. Lola jumped right into her burger and was happily munching along. I cautiously asked her if she liked it, and she did, but she could tell I wasn’t telling her something. The truth had to come out so I said it was National Bison Day and that she was eating a bison burger. She wasn’t upset, but it almost changed her opinion on it. She was enjoying it all but with this new info, she wasn’t sure if she liked it. It’s funny how that happens. I’m sure she would have been onboard right from the get go had I just told her, but discovering this info halfway through was jarring. It may have changed the experience. In the end though, Lola liked it. It really made for a nice burger and something we would consider having again.

I know eating Bison is not the ideal way to appreciate what these magnificent beasts have meant to our continent and to the native culture. If you read about their history, you’ll discover a horrible story about slaughter and the destruction of a whole breed in the name of progress. Thankfully, conservationists have built up the population and they are back (of course they are now being commercially farmed for low fat meat, but that’s a different story). I’m not sure what all that means but I am glad that there are bison roaming our land right now and that the next generation, unless they eat them all, will see them too. I also learned that you shouldn’t hide what types of food you are serving from those you love. It was a risky move mostly because Lola was traveling the next day (she had a 6 am flight out of Boston), so I served her a meat that she never eaten before hours before she was about to be buckled in for take off. That could have created a situation. She liked it though and there were no issues otherwise. From now on though, I’ll be honest about what’s on the table.

Next up: National Doughnut Day 

Info from Wikipedia 

Day 460 – National Sandwich Day

I get pretty excited for a day like National Sandwich Day because I am a fan of sandwiches. I’m really a fan of anything that you put between two pieces of bread. I also fancy myself a pretty good sandwich artist too. That title should have much more of a reverence in our society because the making of a good sandwich takes skill, passion and insight. Making a good sandwich is much more than just tossing together agreements. You have to think about every ingredient from the type of bread, to the condiment, to the filling. I hate that Subway has coopted that title for their employees because their sandwich making is far from artistry. It’s downright cold and mechanical. I know that the people making your sandwiches at Subway are working hard (and overworked), but their creations are literally assembly line products. They are paint-by-number creations using a recipe created in the lab of a statistician and a marketer. With due respect, let’s save the title of sandwich artist to those that truly earn it.

The hard part about celebrating National Sandwich Day is what kind of sandwich to have. There are so many options out there worthy of either making or purchasing. In the end, I decided to make a sandwich that Lola particularly enjoys: the French Dip. I was surprised when I first realized that she liked this particular sandwich but it delivers a lot of things Lola enjoys: a nice crusty roll, warm, flavorful beef, gooey melted cheese and the pièce de eésistance, a side of flavorful broth you can dip every bite of your sandwich in. It makes perfect sense especially with Lola’s affinity for soup. The French Dip originated not in France but in sunny Los Angeles in 1918 at a sandwich spot called Philippe the Original which is still in business today. The story goes that Philippe was preparing a sandwich for a policeman and accidentally dropped the sliced French roll into the drippings of a roasting pan.  The policeman liked the sandwich and came back the next day with some friends to order it again.  Another happy kitchen accident helps the world discover a gem. (Info from What’s Cooking America.com)

For my French Dip, I went on a bit of a scavenger hunt. I picked up the beef, cheese and broth from Trader Joe’s because I was there to do some shopping and then I picked up fresh crusty rolls at Clements on my way home. They are super easy to cook. I toasted the rolls in the oven, heated the roast beef in a sauté pan cooking it in beef broth (almost poaching it). When that got hot enough, I pulled out the beef and placed it gently into the rolls and then melted some cheese over the top. I kept the broth cooking adding in a hint more spice to it (garlic and pepper). When all was ready, I cut the sandwich in half and placed it on a plate and then poured out some of the au jus into a ramekin on the side. I served it with tater tots which seemed like a good pairing.

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These were excellent as expected. The beef was hot and flavorful and the cheese added a hint of creaminess to every bite. The bread was nice and crusty which is key to a good French Dip because it still holds a bit of its crunch after you dip it in the au jus. The au jus was right too – salty and lots of beef flavor. We ate our dinner, dunking our sandwiches into the ramekin and sopping up all that juicy goodness in each bite. I hate to be Mr. Braggadocio, but these sandwiches were a work of art.

Artistry should not be limited to the canvas or the page. It comes from wherever you take your passion and express it. Making a good sandwich takes love and skill. It requires finding balance and an understanding of the parts in order to make the whole. It’s about wanting to make something remarkable rather than something mass-produced. There are true sandwich artists in the world and that’s who we celebrated today (I guess we specifically celebrated Philippe Mathieu). Anyone can make a sandwich, but it is the true artist that makes a wonderful creation (and they are usually not wearing a green Subway uniform).

Next Up: National Bison Day 

 

Day 459 – National Deviled Egg Day

Last year when I celebrated National Deviled Egg Day, I didn’t realize there were so many fans of deviled eggs in the world. I thought they were a bit of antiquated food – more typical of post-war America with homemakers in aprons and men smoking pipes while reading the evening newspapers. But it turns out that Deviled Eggs still have some fans around the world and they are just as popular as ever. In fact I was surprised to see them on the actual menu at one of the concepts where I work. Apparently deviled eggs are making a comeback.

To call them a comeback would be a bit of a misnomer because deviled eggs, or stuffed eggs, have been around since the ancient days. In fact, wealthy Romans would begin their fancy meals with a course of stuffed eggs. The term Deviled Egg did not come around until the 19th century when the term was used to eggs stuffed with a spicy or hot filling. They are not associated with Satan in any way, although if you have ever seen the movie Angel Heart you would think that the devil has an affinity for hard-boiled eggs. But who doesn’t? When made properly, a nice deviled egg can bring joy to any party (unless that party is the ozone layer).

I kind of hurried through making deviled eggs tonight because I didn’t have a lot of time. Lola was visiting her sister so when I got home, I put a pot of water on and tossed in a half dozen eggs (I should say gently placed a dozen eggs into the pot). I let them come to a boil and then after about five minutes, I turned off the heat and kept them on the burner for another five minutes. Then when I felt they were ready, I dropped them into some cold water to chill. Making hard-boiled eggs is easy but so much can go wrong. Tonight however, I got it right. After they cooled, I cracked the shell on each egg carefully and peeled them. Then I sliced each egg in half and scooped out the yolks which I was glad to see were cooked all the way through. Then I added some mayonnaise to the yolks along with some spices. I used our favorites mostly – salt (lots of salt), pepper, garlic powder and some onion powder. I mixed it all up and then carefully scooped them back into the halved egg whites. I had some pre-cooked bacon in our fridge (naturally) so I heated that up so it got nice and crispy then chopped it up into bits which I sprinkled atop the eggs. My deviled eggs were done.

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When Lola got home, she gave me her usual greeting for whenever I am cooking hard boiled eggs, “Why do I smell farts?” She has a very sensitive nose. I told her about the deviled eggs and then offered her one. She liked it. She wasn’t in the right spot for deviled eggs so I understood her not wanting more, but she did like them. I liked them too. They were not spicy so technically a small failure to be called deviled eggs, but they were full of flavor. The eggs were cooked perfectly – not overdone and rubbery. The stuffing came together nicely and all those spices came through in every bite. But the addition of the bacon bits was what made it notable for me. The extra savoriness added a special touch to every bite. I would be excited to be served these at any party, especially a party of two.

I guess if stuffed eggs were good for the Romans they are good for anyone. I don’t think it’s fair to pigeonhole deviled eggs into being that Eisenhower era cocktail party hors d’oeuvre. They are a delight in any era. Plus they are simple to make too and full of protein. This is a holiday well worth celebrating if just to remind me the joy of deviled eggs. I think their time has finally come (it only took 2,500 years).

Next up: National Sandwich Day 

(History of Deviled Eggs from History.com)

Day 458 – National Calzone Day

Just like George Steinbrenner, I love a good calzone. That’s a Seinfeld reference in case you didn’t know. On the show, George Costanza works for the Yankees under the legendary Steinbrenner. When Costanza brings a calzone in for lunch, Big Stein becomes enamored with the food and demands George to get him one. I too am enamored with calzones. Growing up, I was never a huge fan of pizza. I just didn’t appreciate the sauce and the cheese (although I do now), but I did love the crust. When I discovered the calzone, which is mostly all crust and can be filled with everything that you like on a pizza, it was a happy medium. I felt like it was made just for me.

Like pizza, calzones originated in Naples. It was designed to be a kind of walk-around pizza that you could travel with (the Naples pizza back then was damp in the middle and had to be eaten with knife and fork). In fact, the word calzone literally translates to “pants legs” giving the indication that these were meant to be on the go (although that’s an odd choice for a name). I feel like in today’s world, it’s just the opposite where pizza is good for being on the run while a calzone is more of the knife and fork meal. It’s really just a turnover, but much better.

Today, Lola had a meeting in Boston and she wouldn’t be home for dinner. This meant that I could indulge in a calzone for my bachelor supper. I have had calzones from all the local pizza places and they are reasonably good (Martino’s brushes theirs with a garlic butter and is outstanding), but I have heard about another pizza restaurant about a mile and a half away that has good calzones. The source for this intel is my sister-in-law Cherie and I will always take her advice on anything pizza. The place is called Rocco’s Little Italy Pizzaria. I looked at their menu and then as I was driving home from work, I called in my order for pick up. I ordered something called a Lasagna Calzone which was made with Italian sausage, home made meatballs, ricotta and mozzarella. Sounded good, right? The guy on the phone who took my order seemed a little too laid-back, like a textbook surfer dude, so I was a bit worried but still I made my way there.

When I got there, the place was hopping. There was a small wait for people looking for a table. This surprised me as I never saw Rocco’s as a place where you would go to eat, but apparently I’m missing out. It did have that small pizza parlor charm to it complete with red and white checkered tablecloths. When the guy behind the counter saw me, he asked how I could help and I told him I was there to pick up my calzone. I realized this was the guy who took my order, and in person, he still seemed a bit confused. Nonetheless, he said it would just take another minute or so, which was fine. I paid and then sat down to wait. I was probably there for about five minutes although it could have been a bit longer because I got lost in my phone. There was a girl behind the counter now and when she saw me, she asked what I was waiting for and I told her a calzone. Then she started looking around. She looked to the cook, the cook looked back at her, a moment of confusion ensued and then the cook reached up and pulled a box from atop the oven. It was my calzone. He gave it to me but as he handed it over he told me in a friendly tone that it had just come out of the oven. This perplexed me because I saw him grab it from the top of the oven and it had clearly not come right out of the oven. He saw me watch him take it from the top of the oven too. Also, the bottom of the box was super warm as if it had been sitting on top of an oven. I didn’t care. It wasn’t a long wait at all, but I just couldn’t understand why he told me it came from the oven. I left feeling a bit odd about my experience there, but I took my calzone and made my way home. It smelled fabulous and filled the car with a great aroma. When I got home, I cut it in half (saving half for Lola) and then dug in.

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Wow, was this good. It too was brushed with garlic butter so it had that delightful fragrance in every bite. Inside was perfectly stuffed with both the meatballs and the sausage – not too much or too little. The star was the ricotta and mozzarella which were fused together in light, creamy but stringy bites of joy. The crust was perfect too giving you enough hardy texture in every bite to keep it all together. This could have been one of my top five calzones ever. I had been to Rocco’s once before but I don’t think I got a calzone. I’m going to keep them in our rotation now for the next time we are craving calzones (I’ll just now to be patient). When Lola got home, I heated her up the other half and she found it to be just as good as I had. It was nice to have a hot meal waiting for her when she came home as she had been working hard all day in preparation. Plus she was surprised to have a calzone too, especially one that was this good. Maybe when she has her next meeting, we’ll go out to Rocco’s and live it up a little to celebrate. That’s what the magic of National Calzone Day can leave you feeling.

Next Up: National Deviled Egg Day 

(Info from EaterNY.com)

Day 457 – National Caramel Apple Day (Halloween)

I’ve tried to be clear about my views on caramel apples. I don’t like them. They are good in concept, but fail in a practical world. Essentially, they are just a big, messy ball of sweet goodness hiding a crunchy piece of fruit that is perfectly fine all by itself. Apples are not meant to be eaten off of sticks especially when you cover them in caramel. To eat one, you have to contort your face in all kinds of weird ways just to get at it. Inevitably it falls off in your hand leaving you with a sticky face, messy hands and a deep dissatisfaction. I feel like Christy Brown when I’m trying to eat one and I probably look the same way (now there’s a topical reference for you). In any case, I just don’t get it. Sure, I know that they look cool. They look like you are about to eat the biggest piece of caramel you could ever imagine – it’s almost as big as your head. But then you find out the truth. It’s just an apple. It’s just an apple trying to be something it shouldn’t be.

I looked around the store to see if they had any actual caramel apples for sale. It was Halloween so it was actually the perfect timing to find a caramel apple in the store. I have vague memories of seeing them in the supermarket before so I went to Clements and wandered around the sections where I would imagine a caramel apple would be. Nothing. My back up plan was to hunt down the caramel apple making kits which meat buying apples, going home, melting the caramel, dipping the apples in, letting them set. This was also Halloween and Lola and I had four pumpkins to carve before nightfall which meant we only had about 45 minutes. Making my own caramel apples was not going to be easy given the time restraints. Then I looked at the area next to the caramel apple making kits and I saw a product called Marzetti Old Fashioned Caramel Dip. A whole cup of caramel waiting for fruit to be dipped in it. This was my answer. I picked it up, made my purchase and headed home. When I got home, I immediately cut an apple from our fridge into wedges and then started dunking them into the sweet, creamy sauce.

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Compared to the typical caramel apple, this was an ideal solution. I could pick it up with my fingers and eat it civilly. I could control my caramel intake. It was less messy but all the same flavors. The caramel was nice and sweet. It was smooth and did not require any preparation. The apples were fresh and crisp. I used a Gala apple which seems to be our apple of choice in our house. They are a bit on the sweeter side so maybe a more tart apple would have worked better with the caramel, but it was still a good combo. I wouldn’t call it my favorite treat, but as a solution to my usual critique of a caramel apple, it was a good bite. It gave me the energy to carve those pumpkins.

We always end up saving our pumpkins for carving to the last minute. Maybe it’s bad planning or just tradition, but usually on any give Halloween late afternoon, Lola and I have knives and scoopers in hand and are gutting the pumpkins before us. I work a bit faster than Lola and because of that, I end up gutting all the pumpkins. I’m getting pretty quick at that. We didn’t do any fancy designs this year – just the traditional pumpkins with jagged smiles and triangle eyes. We got them out on our porch and lit just as dusk was falling into darkness. I usually decorate our house for Halloween and even though I didn’t go all out this year, we still had some fun little displays. We had the Barry Mellow hand-painted witch and Frankenstein cut-outs hanging on the house along with a few other cutesy pieces and some Halloween lights. For the more macabre decor, I had some creepy ghosts and ghouls scattered about that would move with the wind creating a creepy effect. We have one that hangs above our driveway that creeps Lola out every year especially because it essentially stares into our kitchen. Then I had a few dummies in strategic places made from old clothes stuffed with leaves and headed with some creepy masks. My favorite this year was making a little kid dummy right by the sewer drain on the street. It was dressed in a raincoat and I placed a creepy clown mask subtly hidden underneath the hood of the coat. Then I tied a big red balloon to the hand so it would look like the IT movie poster. I think I scare my neighbors sometimes.

As far as Halloweens go, this one seemed pretty low-keyed – not just at our house but just in general. Maybe it’s because it was a Tuesday or maybe because times are changing. Lola and I ordered pizza just to keep it simple. We had maybe five groups of people come to the door all night. The first group had a kid who took three or four monster handfuls of candy and almost wiped out half our supply all while the parents watched. The next group however was more fun (and respectful) and Lola chatted with them for about ten minutes. We like low key holidays in these parts, so I guess this made for a perfect Halloween. And a nice sweet one too, thanks in part to the sweet creamy taste of a caramel apple.

Next up: National Calzone Day

Day 456 – National Candy Corn Day

I get why this day would deserve its own holiday. I do. But of all the candies in all the world, I think candy corn is probably the most accepted unpopular candy out there. They are right up there with starlight mints, malted milk balls and nonpareils. They have so few fans and yet it still pops every year at Halloween as if it’s a big treat. And while some people loathe candy corn (Lola), I don’t mind it. I’ll always grab some if it’s available but I’ll do so more as a reflex rather than grabbing some out of wanting the taste in my mouth. Candy corn is there and ok, I’ll have some. That’s not the kind of kid-at-the-Willy-Wonka-factory excitement you want to see as a reaction to your candy dish. But that’s candy corn. When I was thinking about all this, I realized that candy corn was best summed up by comedian Lewis Black in one of his rants. He described it as follows:

 “The worst thing about Halloween is, of course, candy corn. It’s unbelievable to me. Candy corn is the only candy in the history of America that’s never been advertised. And there’s a reason. All of the candy corn that was ever made was made in 1911. And so, since nobody eats that stuff, every year there’s a ton of it left over. And the candy corn company sends the guys to the villages and they collect out of the dumpsters all the candy corn we’ve thrown away. [Don’t worry] They wash it!! They wash it!

I’ll never forget the first time my mother gave me candy corn. She said, “Here – Lewis, this is candy corn. It’s corn that tastes like candy”. [high pitched sound] This tastes like crap! And every year since then, Halloween has returned and I, like an Alzheimer’s patient, find myself in the room, and the room has a big table in it, and on the table is a bowl of candy corn. And I look at it as if I’ve never seen it before. “Candy corn”, I think. “Corn that tastes like candy. I can’t wait”. Son of a bitch!!”

It was like he looked into my soul and saw me in my mom’s living room reaching into the candy dish. That’s all the lecturing I’ll do on the good and the bad of candy corn. I really don’t mind it on occasion and if that occasion is National Candy Corn Day, I’ll indulge for sure.

Last year I made really good cookies with candy corn. The only complaint about them was there was candy corn in the cookie. I felt making that again seemed a bit senseless. Instead, I went old school. Like a little old man, I went up the street to Rite-Aid where I bought a bag of candy corn. I used my Plenti Card to get the points. I walked out with the candy and half a ream of receipt paper and I was back home. Then I opened the bag and put them in a candy dish. We don’t really have a candy dish (maybe we do, I’m not sure), but it was a nice glass bowl which seemed decorative enough. I put it on the kitchen table and left it out for all to enjoy – the ‘all’ being me and Lola.

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It was an assortment pack so it had the typical yellow, orange and white candy corn triangles, it had some that had a chocolate bottom (I think that’s technically called Indian Corn) and it had the candy pumpkins (which are called Mellowcremes – a name which Lola wants no part of). All of these are essentially made the same way – with sugar and corn syrup. They are just molded and colored differently. Of the three, the pumpkins are my favorite. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because you get a hardier bite when you chomp into one that allows for more sugar in the bite? Who knows, but a mellowcreme is actually a pretty good time. As the name suggests, it has a little more mellow taste to it than the corn. My least favorite was the Indian Corn and that’s because the chocolate at the bottom didn’t meld with the candy corn. They are two different sweet flavors and there isn’t a balance in your bite. They clash on your tongue. The candy corn on the other hand was perfectly candy corn-ish. Sweet in the syrupy way. You have to admire a candy where you can say, “I really taste the high-fructose corn syrup!” But that’s the taste. They were fresh, which is a plus and added to better flavor as well. I found you couldn’t really grab a handful and have the Indian Corn and the Candy Corn in the same bite as there would be a clash in taste. But on their own, it was as good as candy corn gets. And then, because it is the season, I did the obligatory pose of putting the candy corn in your mouth as fangs. You are almost required to this, especially on the day before Halloween, in the same way you have to put Bugles on your fingers.

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Candy Corn isn’t going away anytime soon (I mean forever – obviously it will be packed away after Halloween until next autumn). It is what it is. It’s not a bad candy; there are just better candies available. Candy Corn’s seasonality makes them a victim of having to battle giant bowls of trick-or-treat candies which are put out at the same time of year. If you are reaching, you are going to go for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup before a piece of Candy Corn. But, I suggest always giving Candy Corn a try just to give you a taste of yesteryear. I guess that’s where Candy Corn is best honored – in the realm of nostalgia and the good old days. That’s worth celebrating. Now go dust off that candy corn your grandmother packed away in the 1920’s. It’s their time to shine once again.

Next up: National Caramel Apple Day (Halloween)

 

Day 455 – National Oatmeal Day

On the positive side, starting your day with a nice bowl of oatmeal is a good way to begin your day. It’s not the typical way I start my days and in fact, I don’t usually have any breakfast at all. But oatmeal is close to being a superfood so it would be worth the effort today. Oatmeal helps lower your cholesterol, it’s good for your heart and it also helps reduce the risk of cancer. Plus oatmeal contains an antioxidant compound called avenanthramides which are said to be anti-inflammatory. That’s are some pretty impressive statistics for a breakfast food. I was not a person that grew up with oatmeal. We were a cold cereal family – never warm. From the times I have eaten oatmeal, I understand the allure of a nice hardy, warm bowl of seasoned oats in the morning. It just fills you up in all the right ways. When I think about all of this, I really wonder why I don’t have oatmeal more often? Maybe I will start.

Part of my hesitation about jumping on the oatmeal bandwagon is I don’t know what kind of oatmeal to buy. There’s some many options: old fashioned, steel cut, rolled, instant, Irish, quick cook, ribbed and more. The only oatmeal I ever knew was the one with Ben Franklin on the can (and that’s not even Ben Franklin, nor is it Wilfred Brimley). Apparently the Quaker has a few different varieties in his can (hee hee) so I still don’t know exactly what kind to buy. When I was at the store, I saw an individual container from Quaker that was for something called Overnight Oats with raisins, walnuts and honey. I had heard about this phenomenon of overnight oats. Essentially you leave your oats soaking in milk overnight and when you wake up in the morning, they are good to go. It’s kind of trendy, and the folks at Quaker have jumped right on the bandwagon. I decided to give them a try. Before I went to bed, like a little boy leaving cookies for Santa, I filled up the container with milk to the fill line, and left it in the fridge to soak. In the morning, oatmeal would be waiting.

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I was kind of excited to wake up and have breakfast ready. I made a nice cup of coffee and had that first and then I reached for the oatmeal. I sat down with a spoon and got ready to suck down my antioxidants. Well, these were gross. Maybe that’s too strong, but I didn’t like them. They tasted somewhat bland and although the raisins were a nice touch, it wasn’t enough. I ate it all, but it wasn’t the nice enjoyable breakfast I had hoped for. It was kind of the yuckiness I had come to think oatmeal was.

I won’t hold this against oatmeal as I still kind of have a craving for it. I just think I don’t like this particular version. Thankfully, there are lots of other versions of oatmeal out there for me to try. I’m looking forward to that. Next time, I think I definitely want them warm too. That’s part of what my overnight oatmeal was missing. Next time, I’ll put in the effort to make them the old fashioned ways. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always instant oatmeal too. I see plenty of options in the future and that’s going to keep this celebration going. Ben Franklin will be proud.

Next up: National Candy Corn Day

(Info on oatmeal from Health.com)