Day 412 – National Cinnamon Raisin Bread Day

I planned ahead for this one and actually picked up a loaf a cinnamon raisin bread at the grocery store on Friday. It was a loaf of Pepperidge Farm Swirl bread which is their signature line of sweet breads (not sweetbreads – that’s something completely different). It’s a good product as are most Pepperidge Farm products are. When I woke up, after I had my cup of coffee, I threw four pieces in our toaster oven, toasted them up and then spread each piece with a slab of butter, then I cut each piece in half on the diagonal. I served it to Lola and then had some myself. I ate mine in my office in front of my computer. Lola had hers in the family room while reading on her iPad. A pretty chill Saturday morning and the smell of toasted cinnamon in the air added to the ambiance. The toast was good. Hardy, a touch of sweetness, good cinnamon flavor and the added joy of warm, plump raisins.  It was a nice way to start the day.

IMG_2996

Lola told me that cinnamon raisin bread is one of her favorites. I didn’t know that. I knew it was a treat her mom would make for herself, probably as a late breakfast with her coffee while sitting at the kitchen table. But Lola likes it too and very likely for the same reasons. It’s a simple little treat. All you have to do is pop it in the toaster. It brings you warmth in both aroma and in taste. It’s a nice sweet start to your day or even a special treat to have alongside your afternoon coffee or tea. It’s homey. Like a fire in the fireplace, a Christmas song on the radio or even the sounds of rain on the windows. Lola’s mom was one who appreciated those kind of little things, and so is Lola. Sometimes I feel bad that when I buy a loaf of something or a whole bag just to be able to fulfill my quest that the rest of it will go to waste. I don’t have to worry about this one. This is one that Lola will work her way through with her afternoon tea or coffee. She’ll need a little break in her day and, as it was for her mom, cinnamon raisin bread will be there for her.

I thought I might be able to buy some fresh made cinnamon raisin bread for toady. I looked around Clements in their bakery section to see if they had a loaf there but I didn’t see one. They had cinnamon raisin bagels, but I wasn’t sure if that would count – those of you keeping the rules on this quest of mine can discuss. My other hope was that they might have some at the Farmer’s Market. The local market is in the field next to the Vineyard every Saturday and there is a bakery there from whom I usually buy my lunch. They are called Olgas Cup and Saucer and they have a great line of products including beautiful looking breads, tarts, scones and muffins as well as a very good breakfast calzone (my usual lunch choice). I thought they might have a nice fresh loaf of cinnamon bread for sale and I could buy it on my lunch break and then stow it away for after work.  But, I ended up bringing my lunch today and never had the chance to make it out into the market. I’ll check next week because I’m sure Lola would enjoy having a nice fresh loaf in the house.

Cinnamon was introduced to Europe in the 15th century and that’s likely the time that bakers started sprinkling it into bread. The raisins were probably just thrown in for giggles. Can you imagine how good those loaves must have smelled to your run of the mill 15th century person whose nose was probably used to smells of plagues, rotten mutton and dysentery? It would probably create a commotion, perhaps even fights, as people would be driven into a frenzy at the alluring aroma exiting from the ovens. Today we are no stranger to the smell of baking cinnamon and we may even be unfazed by that kind of goodness in the air. But amongst are those folks who know how to appreciate the little things in life. The stop and smell the roses people. Those souls who enjoy the little victories of every day. That’s what I learned about the joy of cinnamon raisin bread – a simple treat for any day. That’s what I celebrated today – just the way Lola and her mom taught me to appreciate it.

Next up: National Monte Cristo Day

Advertisements

Day 411 – National Double Cheeseburger Day

A day so nice I celebrated it twice. I actually did do this but that wasn’t my intention and in retrospect, that’s a lot of beef for one day. It all started as a late lunch. I was working from home this morning so that I could swing by Newport to see the Boat Show at some point during the day. The Boat Show is a Newport institution where every year, mariners and boat sellers alike descend upon the city to show off and sell their boats, yachts, sails, ropes and nautical wares to enthusiastic buyers. It’s a big deal and has been for almost 50 years. It brings a ton of people into town which is good for the hospitality industry too. My company is behind it all. They organize it and run it, so they thought it would be a good idea for me to check it out to see what it’s all about. My plan was to head in early, around 10 am or so, and then come home and finish up my day there. But then they asked if I could pick up a sign at the local FedEx Office and bring it with me to the show. That was no problem but the sign wasn’t going to be ready until 2 pm or so. That meant I didn’t leave my house until 1:30.

It was a beautiful warm Friday afternoon and as I left, I mentioned briefly to Lola about possibly meeting me out in Newport for a date night (depending on how we were feeling.) With that idea running through my brain, I began to think about how this day was going to play out and more importantly, how I could secure a double cheeseburger for my quest. I could push going to a hamburger place for dinner and get my double cheeseburger in that way, but that seemed too casual and we would probably want something a bit more sophisticated. Even if we went to a pub or casual spot that had hamburgers on the menu, the chances of them having an actual double cheeseburger on the menu was extremely slim. As I gave this dilemma serious thought, the Golden Arches suddenly made an appearance on the horizon. I realized this was the easy solution. I could grab a double cheeseburger here now, which I knew they sold (in fact, I knew it was on their value menu). Then I could say the day’s quest was fulfilled and I go about my Friday as usual. I pulled into the drive-thru and ordered the sandwich along with a small Coke. Then I was off to Newport.

IMG_2988

The lack of enthusiasm that McDonald’s puts into their burgers is almost laughable. I should say that I order mine plain because I hate mustard and I can do without pickles, ketchup and onions, so my order is not their usual offering. Nonetheless, the emphasis at putting their food together is all about speed and in doing so, they lose some of the prettiness. This burger looks like I pulled it out of a couch cushion and whoever is in charge of putting the cheese on the burgers has poor depth perception. Still, it was as good as any McDonald’s burger. Salty, meaty and a nice soft bun. I ate it in my car rolling down East Main Road and it did the job. Now I had the rest of the day to explore Newport and not worry about where I could get a double cheeseburger.

I ended up parking at my brother’s office on Bellevue because I knew parking would be a bear down by the water. The walk was pretty easy, right down Pelham Street. The only issue arose when a breeze whipped up which would change the poster I was carrying into a sail flying in the wind, but I was able to get a handle on that before I hit America’s Cup. I had to find the Guest Services tent where I could drop off the poster and pick up my credentials. That took some navigating, but the workers were all helpful and pointed me in the right direction. I found someone I knew from my office and gave her everything and then I was off to explore. I first went into the tents and I was amazed at what people were selling. There were a lot of motors and mechanical stuff which was a whole new world for me. Then there were ropes and chains and anchors and floatation devices – it was everything you needed for your boat and then some. The salespeople at each booth were friendly and eager to sell. You could tell it was going to be a long four days for them. There were three or four giant tents each packed with rows of vendor booths all selling their different wares. There were also financial services there too in case you needed a sudden loan to make your boat purchases. After I covered all that space, I walked out onto the docks to see the boats.  People were actually selling and buying boats here!

For the boat portion, you walk out on the floating docks where all the boats are moored. The boats are packed into the marina – all docked side by side and the docks wove around it all so you could walk around. Bringing in all the boats and adding the docks must have been quite an undertaking requiring expert seamanship. I’m told our crew has been doing this for years and they are pretty incredible at it. When you are walking around, you can go out on the boats and check them out if you like. I mean if you are buying a $250,000 vessel the least they could do is let you on board and check out the insides. They do ask that you take your shoes off before boarding any vessel – any effort to keep the boats clean. That was something I didn’t know about boat shopping. Meanwhile, the floating docks are all lined with shoes from people checking out the boats. The dark passenger inside me wanted start kicking the shoes in the water, but I refrained. It was really quite a sight and a whole world I never knew existed. There were small wooden boats to million dollar yachts all spread out – and people were asking questions, kicking the tires and buying the ones that tickled their fancy.

IMG_2991

When I walked around on my sea legs for about an hour, I figured out I pretty much had covered the whole thing. I didn’t buy any boats which was probably a good thing, nor did I buy any nautical ephemerae (as I’ve been known to do). It was getting close to 4 pm, so before I left I checked in with Lola to see what she was doing but I got no response. That meant she was writing. I decided to just go home and do some more work from there. I walked back up Pelham Street (which was a pretty steep hill) and by the time I got to Bellevue, I had a nice sweat going. I texted my brother to thank him for the use of his lot and I was on my way home. I really wasn’t feeling like doing the Newport thing so going home was perfect. When I got home, I went into my office and got everything squared away for the weekend with work. Eventually I came out to the kitchen and so did Lola, so we discussed our Friday night plans. We decided to stay in and watch a movie which sounded perfect to me. I made a quick jaunt to Clements to get us some dinner. Because I was having a tough time trying to think of what to have for dinner, I decided to make my own double cheeseburgers. I got everything I needed and started grilling as soon as I got home. My burgers looked much better than McDonald’s.

IMG_2995

To be honest, these weren’t my best. I may have overcooked the meat too much or didn’t season them enough. I had all the right fixings. I had a couple of fresh, soft bulkie rolls that I toasted up on the grill. A little grilling tip: to get your buns nice and toasted, spread mayonnaise on them before placing on the grill. That sounds gross, but really you are essentially just adding a little fat (oil) to the bun in an easily spreadable form and when it sits over the flame, you get a nice even toast over the bun. I used arugula for the lettuce which I like – gives it a nice peppery taste. I had a fresh tomato in the fridge, so I sliced that up and put it on the roll along with the arugula and some mayo. I had a “stacker” pickle on mine although Lola opts against a pickle on her burger.  Then the burger patties were topped with American Cheese. It looked pretty great. But it was just ok. Maybe I was burgered out. I used smaller patties for this which cooked pretty fast and is likely why I overcooked them. I think bigger burgers give you the chance to have more flavor and juiciness. But if you are having double cheeseburgers, you can’t have your burger patties too big. Otherwise you are eating over a pound of meat.

I understand the allure of a double cheeseburger. If made right, it allows you to get a layer of cheese in the middle of your burger which is a great innovation. Plus, you get everything you enjoy on a regular cheeseburger with just a little more meat and cheese. Nothing wrong with that. However, making a good double cheeseburger is a skill. You can’t just toss it all together. It has to be well-balanced so you get a little bit of everything. It’s not just supersizing a burger – it’s creating a balance in taste and enjoyment. Plus, you can’t overcook it. So today I learned to appreciate the double cheeseburger for what it is – a finely crafted burger. That’s something I can get behind. And looking ahead, I hope I learn to make a better one. I plan on serving them on my boat.

Next up: National Cinnamon Raisin Bread Day

Day 410 – National Cream Filled Donut Day

I learned two things today in my hunt for a cream filled donut on National Cream Filled Donut Day. And to be honest, to call it a hunt is a bit of a euphemism. I really just drove around the corner to Dunkin’ Donuts. Sure, I could have gone on an actual hunt for a special donut. I could have gone to the gourmet donut places like PVD or Knead in Providence. I could have checked out the new donut shop in Newport, Liberty Donuts. I could have even gone to the two classic and heralded Rhode Island donut shops: Allie’s and my personal fave Ma’s. Instead, just as many New Englanders are apt to do, I went to Dunks. It was a choice of ease and convenience. The Dunkin’ Donuts by our house is a good one too. Nothing special about it other than the crew that seems to crank through long lines with happy smiles and chatter.  There’s always a gaggle of regulars inside too (all of whom seem to have unusually large beards) and that gives the place character. I parked my car and then went inside so I could get the overview of what donuts they had available.

The first thing I learned today was that the glazed stick donut has returned to Dunkin’ Donuts. This has been an issue of great concern for me over the last few weeks and I’m not even sure if the rumors of the glazed stick’s demise were true. All I know is that it’s my favorite donut there and when I ordered one at the drive thru back in August, I was told that they were discontinued. I let out an audible gasp that amplified through the drive thru headset. The glazed stick gives you the density of a cake donut and the sweet joy of glaze all in one phallic hunk. It’s basically a cruller and apparently, those are being phased out. But today, they were back. They had a whole tray of them in a prominent spot. I’m not sure if this was a change of heart by the company overlords who had a mea culpa and brought it back or if it was a regional decision by our local franchisee owner trying to please his demanding customer base. But they were back. I wasn’t ordering one today though. Today’s donut had to be cream filled. I stared up at the wall of donuts looking for what to have and the one that caught my eye was sitting right next to the glazed stick. It was a vanilla cream filled donut. My selection was made and I was ready to go binge in celebration.


The second thing I learned today is that a vanilla cream filled donut is a terrible food to eat while driving. First, let’s talk about the cream (which was delightful – nice with strong vanilla flavor which paired nicely with the soft, flaky insides of the donut). I’m no physicist but if I fill something with cream through a tiny hole, then I apply pressure on the object as a whole (biting down on it), the cream inside will need to escape and this means pushing the cream violently through any available space for escape. Or in other words, I got the money shot as soon as I bit in to the donut. To make matters worse, there was a thick coating of powdered sugar on the donut (again, another delightful addition to the pastry adding more sweetness to it all). But if you have ever eaten a powdered donut, the sugar goes everywhere. Even if you just breath in proximity of the donut, you stir up a cloud of confectionary soot. I was a mess. I went through about twenty-five napkins eating this donut. I leaned way out over the passenger seat to avoid getting it on my clothes. I had cream and sugar in my beard, on my chin and in my hair. It was a mess. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, but a delicious mess.

Those were my lessons today for National Cream Filled Donut Day. I like cream filled donuts. I used to not appreciate them but my aging palate has taught me to appreciate the cool, sweet texture of cream mixed with the fluffiness of cake. I’m just not a fan of the mess. I suppose if you ate your donut at the table with a knife and fork you could avoid this, but that’s not how you eat a donut. It’s a food you eat with your hand and if it’s filled with cream, you just have to be ready to get messy. Sometimes it’s not worth the hassle (especially if you have a black shirt on). Other times, and particularly on National Cream Filled Donut Day, you throw caution to the wind and you give yourself to this sweet treat and just accept the mess. It’s really a small price to pay.

Next up: National Double Cheeseburger Day

Day 409 – National Peanut Day

This was an easy one to celebrate, no doubt. And while there are hundreds of recipes that contain peanuts in all sorts of forms, from Thai Chicken to Fudge, I figured it was a good day to celebrate the peanut at its roasted best. Just me and a bag of nuts. Luckily for me too, our office has bags of nuts up for grabs if you are so inclined for such a snack. When I peeked inside the snack basket, the only nuts left were honey roasted peanuts. That would do just fine. I brought them back to my desk and enjoyed a bag for some mid-morning energy.

IMG_2978

I’m from a generation that learned a lot about peanuts as we were growing up mainly because our President at the time was a peanut farmer. Peanut farming was something unique to the world stage and as school boys and girls, we were taught what peanut farming was all about to help understand where our President came from. (Dear God, I hope today’s schoolkids are not learning about being a fascist, racist con man in the same vane.) I remember seeing all this in the classroom and in World magazine. I remember seeing a paragraph on George Washington Carver on a reading comprehension test at the same time too. I think I win that test for still remembering that info 40 years later. Carver was an African-American scientist and botanist who as born into slavery but would go on to promote peanuts as an alternative crop to cotton. Peanuts were cheaper and easier to farm plus they had nutritional value and other uses outside of nutting. In fact, Carver came up with hundreds of uses for the peanut like using them to make plastics, paints, dyes, cosmetics, medicinal oils, soap, ink, wood stains and more. He turned it into an industry which helped the farmers and the economy. He did the same for sweet potatoes too. He’s quite a hero and he was getting a lot of press back in the 70’s when a Georgia peanut farmer was suddenly President of the United States. He (Carver) is a guy we should allows tip our cap to on National Peanut Day.

Honey roasted peanuts are a great snack. They deliver the sweet and salty factor we all crave, plus the roasting creates an extra crunch to the nut that makes it perfect texture. My family was always a Planter’s cocktail peanut family growing up – the ones that are extra salty. Any time my uncles would come for dinner, a bowl of these nuts would need to be put out for cocktail hour. They were very rigid in their traditions and if the nuts weren’t there, it would be noticed. Never would we have dry roasted peanuts out which were an abomination in our world but sometimes they were picked up by accident. In retrospect, those aren’t so bad. Honey roasted nuts are a newer thing, relatively speaking, and I am not sure if they would go over at those old cocktail hours. I doubt they would appreciate the change. But they are a fine nut and when you need something to munch on in the middle of your workday, they are pretty awesome. The new office puts out some really great snacks for us like nuts, granola bars, pretzels and more. It’s a nice little fringe benefit that I take advantage of almost daily, but especially when it’s National Peanut Day. My only complaint for the day is the packaging of nuts. They get it wrong. The size is perfect and just what you need for a snack. Put you can’t tear the top of the package straight off. You can only tear a whole in the corner which means you can’t pour them right into your mouth. I have to poke a finger in there and try to fish out each one (not unlike my Doctor yesterday). It’s a design flaw. There is a seam down the back of the package that strengthens the package so it can hang in the convenience store but it makes it more difficult for the consumption. Just a pet peeve I guess. Still, why can’t they fix this?

Today’s celebration was nice and simple, just the way a nut celebration should be. The peanut is an important part of our world – at least that’s what I learned back in the 70’s. They were a crop that made life better for generations. If you look at all the uses for peanuts, it’s hard not to be wowed by all their greatness. And don’t forget all the tasty foods peanuts are found in too – from peanut butter, to Cracker Jacks to pie. Today however, I went for just enjoying nuts at their basic self. Just something to give you energy. Something to bring the sweet and the salty. It was kind of perfect and just the way George Washington Carver would want it served.

Next up: National Cream Filled Donut Day

Day 408 – National Chocolate Milkshake Day

You know when you experience a life event and then you eat or drink something afterwards and you forever after associate that food with that event? I worry that the synapses of my brain created one of those connections today with chocolate milkshakes and from here on out I may associate this chocolatey delight with the proceedings of today. I had what you could call a traumatic day and while I was still processing it all, I decided to celebrate it with a cool, refreshing, chocolate milkshake. This could be trouble.

In general, I would say I’m not a milkshake fanatic. I like them and I’ll give them a try every now and then if interestingly tempted, but I’m never seeking them out. I probably went through the first 30 years of my life without having one (with the exception of a few Friendly Fribbles which are not technically shakes). I’m not sure why exactly. What’s not to like about ice cream and milk? But I just never got excited about them. Nowadays I’ll give them a try every now and then and I’m never disappointed – it’s just never something I crave. I think I’d rather just have the ice cream.

My day started in Providence where I had to swing by one of our restaurants for a photoshoot. I wasn’t taking the pictures (nor was I the model), but I helped coordinate everything and was there to follow through. It was a beautiful sunny day on the banks of the Seekonk River and it was an interesting way to start the day. I was done by noon and headed back over to our offices in Warwick. Then, after a few grueling hours of work, I left early because I had to go back to Portsmouth for my yearly physical. I made the appointment last year when I was unemployed at which time they probably asked me what my schedule was like for a date that was over a year away. As far as I knew, it was pretty wide open. I agreed and then promptly forgot about it. Then I got the reminder call two days before (a reminder text actually – I love modern technology) and I figured it was too late to change now. So, I left work early and arrived promptly at the doctor’s office at 3:30.

Surprisingly, I didn’t have to wait too long. I got right in and the fluffer started taking care of me right away. I’m not sure if that person is a nurse or just a trained technician, but she greeted me, took my vital signs, checked my height and weight, and gave me instructions on how to put on my Johnny Coat. Before she left the room, I made sure I clarified if I was supposed to strip everything off or if I could keep my underwear on. I had visions of greeting my doctor with a little Basic Instinct leg cross. She told me to take everything off but the underwear was cool with me (these are actually the same rules they have for me at Dunkin’ Donuts). I waited a little bit for the doctor, but it really wasn’t too long before she knocked and entered. She went over all the info that was on her screen about me. We chatted about my general health and how I’ve been feeling. All was nice. Then she just wanted to listen to my heart and my breathing (they always want to listen to your breathing when you’re an asthmatic). Then things started to take a turn. She started gently feeling around my neck for any swollen glands. She pressed around my abdomen for anything unusual. Then she said she was going to check for any unusual moles or skin conditions. Suddenly she was peeking at all parts of my skin and my personal space was shrinking. And then, as I knew it would be, it was time for more exploration. As politely as she could and with all the professionalism one could expect, she said it was time to check my prostrate. While she said this, the gloves were coming on. Then my doctor dropped one of those casual lines that only a doctor could deliver without laughing: “First I’m going to check your testicles.” They were both still there and from whatever her juggling them was able to prove to her, they seemed alright. Then it was time to turn on my side.

Lying on an exam room table on your side is never comfortable. The paper that covers the table starts bunching up. The table is in an incline position so you’re lying at an awkward angle. And then of course, you can hear the “floop” sound of lube coming out of the tube. It’s on. Again, my doctor couldn’t be more professional and even coaxed me with a few gentle whispers of “relax.” Apparently I was resisting down there. But my doctor is not one who takes no for an answer, even by the most stubborn of sphincters, so she persisted. I was now her finger puppet. It was over in seconds. All seemed to be ok in there (and I think she checked my back molars too as long as she was in that deep). I sat up and adjusted my Johnny Coat. She took of the gloves and added it to her scrapbook. There was an awkward goodbye. I invited her to come have a chocolate shake with me. She declined and I was left in the cold emptiness of an exam room to slip my clothes back on along with my dignity. I walked out, head held high, and proceeded to my car with the slight sensation of lubrication dripping from my haunches.

I went to Anna D’s cafe which is less than a mile away on East Main Road. This is a cafe and ice cream shop that has been changing over the last few years. They have expanded their cafe side and now offer lots of great paninis, sandwiches, baked goods and coffee. They have a good breakfast too. The food is always great although the wait for everything can tend to get long. I guess they are still working out the kinks. For the summer, they open their ice cream shop which is an annex to their restaurant building. The ice cream building is a small spot, almost like a garage, with just the necessities inside for serving ice cream. It has the counter where you order and behind that are the coolers for the tubs of ice cream. Plus there’s a little table on the side for the waffle cones and the blenders. The building has a small outside deck with tables and umbrellas and it’s a nice spot to sit and enjoy your ice cream as you look out over the fields across the busy street. It’s a popular spot but still fails to drive the Frosty Freez level of ice cream business. I went inside and there were two guys getting cones. They looked like they worked for a landscaping company and I was happy for them that they rewarded themselves with some cool ice cream after a long, hot day. While I waited, another guy came in behind me who was old and impatient.

I ordered my two chocolate milkshakes – the extra was for Lola (not my doctor). The clerk asked if I wanted chocolate syrup and I said yes. I thought that was an odd question, like being asked if I’d like tequila in my margarita, but I guess there must be an anti-syrup community out there. I’m not a member, so I said load me up. She scooped out the chocolate ice cream having to lean way over into the ice cream cooler to get each scoop. I thought she was going to fall in. Then she put it all in the blender along with the milk and the syrup. Impatient guy behind me was getting antsy and then he joked with me saying I was going to spoil my dinner. I punched him in the face. The ice cream girl gave me my shakes and I was back outside in the sun to enjoy.

IMG_2976

As always, they didn’t disappoint. It was actually just what I wanted. Sweetness, coolness, and chocolateyness all in one handy container. It was well-made too – not too thick so that I couldn’t suck it up a straw, but not too watery so that you couldn’t tell it was ice cream. I finished it by the time I got home, making those trying-to-get-the-last-drop slurp noises with the straw as I got out of the car. I gave Lola hers too and she was appreciative. She was in the middle of writing so I tried not to disturb her, but she was excited to get a chocolate milkshake delivery in the middle of her day. I went into the other room and relaxed after cleaning up a little. Today was a yet another day I wished we had a bidet. My belly was now full with the delight of a chocolate shake and I was a little happier for it all.

Like I said, I’m never the one reaching for a chocolate shake but when I do get them, I am pleasantly surprised every time. As a fan of ice cream, there’s not much not to like about them. They give you the joy of ice cream in an easily deliverable system. I may have to switch to becoming a shake guy. Then again, the next time I order a shake I may get a sense-memory sensation in my lower regions. I may try to lie on my side. I think I can work through all that however. The taste of sweetness through the lips, especially with such deep chocolate tones, can overcome any thoughts of uneasiness or trauma. Nothing bad happened today, I was just getting tested and that’s never something we should be afraid about or ashamed of. It’s life. It’s getting older. It’s taking care of yourself. That’s worth celebrating so I am glad I could end this little journey with the joy of a chocolate shake. If I think about it, I’ll take the advice my doctor bestowed upon me as she daintily placed a digit to where few digits have gone before: “Just Relax. It will be over in a minute.”

Next up: National Peanut Day

Day 407 – National Hot Cross Bun Day

I remember this holiday from last year. It bugged me then and it bugs me now. I understand celebrating the Hot Cross Bun. It’s a nice pillowy baked good topped in sweet icing and sprinkled with raisin flavor. I get it. They’re good. But why celebrate it now, in September? They are an Easter thing. That’s where the cross comes from on the cross bun. I guess if we draw a cross in icing on hot pastry we are reminded of how Jesus manned up and took one for the team. I’m not exactly sure what the thinking is behind that, but it is a food specifically associated with that holiday. While I’m not opposed to eating anything out of the proper season, my dilemma comes in when it becomes impossible to find a hot cross bun at a bakery – a spot where they know what they are doing and can guarantee you a sweet treat. When you can’t find them in a bakery, it means that I have to make them at home and I’m not great at baking buns. Plus my heart wasn’t in it. It was a long Monday and I just wanted to go easy. I wanted to just buy one at a bakery. But no luck there and so I’d be baking. This is my contention with this whole holiday.

I searched online for the easiest recipe I could find and I found it courtesy of the folks at Pillsbury. It made the buns from crescent rolls, so you really couldn’t get any simpler. I picked up the rolls and some raisins at Clements, then I went home to start baking. You pop open the rolls, tear apart the individual triangles, scoop a few raisins inside each triangle and then roll them up. That was it. Then they go in the oven for about 12 minutes. When they come out, you let them cool and then you ice them with a glaze made from milk and confectionary sugar. When adding the glaze, you mark them with a cross like you are anointing each roll. I like to chant in Latin when I do this to add a little more drama to the process. In truth, I messed up on the glaze and it was a little too liquidy. I think I put in too much milk. It was still sweet and tasty, but my crosses faded away soon after each bun was marked. Even though I was baking these under protest, it really was as easy as pie and simple clean up too.

IMG_2970

The rolls were good, but they weren’t quite great. They were crescent rolls which are always enjoyable, but they had a center filled with raisins which I didn’t need. The raisins didn’t really distribute throughout the whole bun – they were just clumped in the center. It also had no element of cinnamon inside which I think it needed. If you are eating clumps of raisins, you need some cinnamon. The icing was good and sweet, but it wasn’t plentiful enough even though I pretty much soaked each bun in my watery mix. It just didn’t taste glazed or frosted. I’d say it was a collection of good flavors but the flavors never assimilated together. Not my best work, but truly my heart was not in it and that will always come out in whatever you are cooking. That’s why you need to cook with love.

The other thing I knew about today was that if I mentioned Hot Cross Buns to Lola, she would immediately turn into Ms. Braggadocio and say how she could play “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder. Lola is not usually one for boasting, but she takes great pride in her recorder accomplishments and when her nieces were introduced to the recorder in their schooling, Lola was right there to show them the proper fingering technique. True to form today, when I asked Lola if she wanted a Hot Cross Bun, she told me she could play that tune on the recorder. She even gave me an air-recorder version of the song, singing the tune along with her playing. “Hot, hot, hot. Cross, cross, cross. Bun, Bun, Bun.” It’s a fun little part of her personality – her inner musician. I think she felt like if she had practiced a little more, she may have made a career out of being a professional recorder player – opening up for Kenny G. Those are the dreams that come with every recorder and from every hot cross bun. As far as my baking was concerned however, Lola felt the same as I did – it was a miss. It was all those raisins in the middle that did her in.

I celebrated Hot Cross Buns today albeit under protest. I would have loved to have celebrated this day back in April when Easter was approaching. I’d go to one of those awesome bakeries in Providence and get a fresh bun right from the bakery. I’d buy a dozen to bring to Easter dinner. They’d be good and everyone would be raving about the joy of Hot Cross Buns (while reveling in the resurrection of Christ and all that jazz). That would be appropriate and timely. In September, it’s just weird. It’s like eating candy canes in March or Valentine edible underwear in August. Just the wrong time. Still, I celebrated. I made the buns. I ate the buns. I even learned a little bit about them and the tradition behind them. That will have to do for today. Sometimes that’s all the holiday you can muster. At least I had my professional recorder player playing me out on this one.

Next Up: National Chocolate Milkshake Day

Day 406 – National TV Dinner Day

I saw this holiday coming and it is kind of an easy one to shop for. You just pick up your dinners at the grocery store and toss them in the freezer until you’re ready. I picked ours up on Friday while I was shopping for my chicken and waffles. Now normally I would go for the fried chicken dinner if I were selecting a TV dinner for myself. But while I was peering through the freezer doors of the frozen foods aisle, I already had an eight-piece box of fried chicken in my cart. To have more fried chicken on Sunday after a fried chicken binge on Friday seemed a bit much, so I had to find a new flavor. I picked up the turkey dinner for Lola which I somehow knew was her favorite (not that she is a frequent TV dinner eater). I scanned the rest of the shelves and opted for the immensely more healthy choice of Country Fried Steak. My TV Dinner shopping was done and I was two days early. That’s convenience. That’s TV Dinners.

TV Dinners actually owe their start to a rather large miscalculation. In the early 1950s, someone at Swanson wrongly estimated the level of need for Thanksgiving turkeys, leaving the company with some 260 tons of leftover frozen birds. One of their salesmen named Gerry Thomas came up with an idea inspired by the fancy compartmentalized trays they served on airplanes. He took a turkey dinner complete with potatoes, stuffing and peas, placed them in the special trays, flash froze them and he had himself a solution to the leftover issue. Swanson ended up selling ten million units in the first year – a smashing success. Homemakers enjoyed the convenience and ease. Others just liked the novelty of it all. From there, an industry was born. Desserts were added in 1960 and in 1969, the first frozen breakfasts were being produced. In 1973, Swanson launched their Hungry Man line trying to appeal to the manly men who needed larger portions. Football icon Mean Joe Green was the spokesperson. The biggest development came in 1986 when the first microwavable TV Dinners were introduced and the industry was changed. It was no longer thirty minutes in the oven – it now took five minutes for a fresh hot balanced dinner. That’s how long it took me to cook my Country Fried Steak, although I had to take it out halfway through and stir the potatoes.

IMG_2967

I was working for most of Sunday and by the time I got home, Lola had already eaten some chili and she wasn’t much craving a TV Dinner. I still heated mine up though and as always, it was just as good as I wanted it to be. It wasn’t pretty – the mashed potatoes covered the steak and it was a big mess in the tray, but it was still good. I still don’t know exactly what a country fried steak is. It’s a battered and fried steak, but your never quite sure on what kind of meat it is. It doesn’t look like steak. It looks like chicken, but I assume that the color of the meat is because of the frying. My best guess is that the meat is a cube steak that was tossed in batter before frying, pounded nice and thin before cooking. If it’s not that, I don’t really want to know what is going on. Still, it comes out crispy outside, juicy inside. I mixed every bite so I would get some potatoes and corn in each forkful. The potatoes are always great – you can’t really mess them up and it was all covered in a country gravy that was nice and salty. I actually enjoy the corn in these packages. I usually only eat fresh corn so when you get a taste of frozen corn, it’s an odd little treat, especially when they are all mixed into your gravy and potatoes. The dessert was just ok. It was some sort of gelatinous apple thing. The apple pieces were diced into tiny pieces that were essentially floating in a liquid. It had good cinnamon apple taste, but it needed something to give it texture. I have to admit that I really wanted that TV Dinner brownie as the dessert, so anything less was going to be a disappointment. I guess that’s the downside of TV dinners- you get what you get.

Just as they were intended, my TV Dinner was super easy and gave me a nice hot meal with little preparation in just minutes. It was tasty too. I would feel guilty if I were eating these everyday. There’s kind of a sadness to a frozen dinner. But there doesn’t have to be. It’s just good food. You have to look at them as if someone was nice enough to cook an entire dinner and they wrapped up a plate just for me. All I had to do was heat it in the microwave. There’s nothing wrong with that. So no more looking down on the TV Dinner, especially on their day of celebration. Instead we should be trumpeting their success and we should be grateful for all those years of time-saving quality food that we’ve been able to eat in front of a TV. They are the true hero to the hungry man (and the hungry woman alike).

Next up: National Hot Cross Bun Day

Day 405 – National “I Love Food” Day

Ok, ok – this holiday was bit of a stretch. It was one of those days that I couldn’t figure out what to celebrate (there have been a lot of those lately). It was National Wiener Schnitzel Day and I suppose I could have made this or gone over the bridge to Redlefsen’s, our local German restaurant. (Doesn’t everyone have a local German restaurant?) That’s where I celebrated last year and it was good. But tonight, I didn’t feel like making the trek after a long day of work so I landed on celebrating this day called “I Love Food” Day which I had found on one of my holiday websites. There wasn’t much info on the holiday, but I figured that I love food, so I could just celebrate good food. Then Lola made it easy for me. When I got home from work, I asked her if she wanted anything special for dinner and she said she did. She wanted pizza. She wanted either Buffalo Chicken Pizza (with no onions) or BBBQ Chicken Pizza from North End. There was no waffling here, no “I don’t care” – she was having a craving and that’s what she wanted. It sounded good to me too and I figured that was an adequate celebration of “I Love Food” Day.

We ended up ordering both – a small pie of each. That would feed us tonight and then we could have some leftovers for the days ahead. Lola called it in and I went to pick it up. When I got home it was nice and hot. We sat down and ate it while we watched Ozark on Netflix. We were almost finished with the season which was pretty good – a few criticisms here and there, but good entertainment. The pizza was great and everything Lola wanted (and me too). In an out of character request, Lola also wanted to have orange soda with her pizza so I picked that up too. The soda was a nice complement to the pies – a cold refreshing beverage to cool down the pizza hotness. Buffalo Chicken and BBQ Chicken are great pizza flavors, although very different. You get the sweetness of the barbecue sauce coming through on one and the spiciness of the Buffalo sauce popping on the other. The Buffalo one is great to eat with a side of blue cheese to dunk in. Ranch dressing is better to dunk the barbecue one (if you like dunking your pizza). Either way, they are two great flavors that have really bumped up the pizza game in the last decade or so when they have risen to popularity. These are two flavors that we both love, and Lola especially likes how North End prepares them. And because we loved them, we could actually call this an “I Love Food” Day celebration.

I really had to examine what this day meant to be comfortable with celebrating it. What does loving food mean? Well, it’s not about binging and eating everything in sight. It’s not about losing control of your appetite and sensibilities. It’s about enjoyment and appreciating what food brings into your life. Obviously, food is an essential part of living – you need nourishment and sustenance. But loving food is appreciating the food itself. It’s eating to enjoy and not just to survive. There are a lot of choices of what we can eat out there. Loving food is being selective about what you eat and enjoying what you select as a special treat. We are no strangers to pizza, but tonight’s selection was different. It started from a craving and Lola’s brain sending signals of what she wanted. It was enjoying every slice for the craftsmanship behind the creation – the love that goes into the cooking. It was the comfort and simple pleasure of eating in our living room with a glass of soda and dipping sauces on the side. It was allowing ourselves to have both Buffalo and bbq without guilt. It was just loving what we were eating because it was the perfect food at the right time. That’s how you celebrate an “I Love Food” Day and we passed with flying colors.

Next up: National TV Dinner Day 

 

Day 404 – National Waffle Month

Another day with no major holidays so I decided to celebrate a couple of the month long celebrations. September is not short on things that are celebrated throughout the month such as Fall Hat Month and Baby Safety Month, so it was an easy resource. I landed on National Waffle Month but because I had just celebrated Waffle Day not too long ago, I decided to concelebrate with National Chicken Month too and have myself some chicken and waffles. Seemed pretty festive, right? I stopped at Stop and Shop on my way home from work. I ended up going to the store in Bristol because I like that Stop and Shop better compared to the other ones in the area, but I forgot how bad the drive there can be with traffic when coming from Providence. By the time I got there, I was a little frazzled from having to deal with stop and go street traffic for about an hour. This was poor planning on my part. They will tell you to not go grocery shopping when you are hungry; I’m telling you not to go when you are frazzled. It sours your decision making.

My shopping wasn’t going to be all that hard. I was going to pick up some fried chicken at their prepared food section which was really cheap (8 pieces for about $5). I’ve had their fried chicken before and it can be ok depending on how fresh it is. I was there at dinner time, so I figured it must have been pretty fresh and it looked ok in the package. Then after perusing the bread aisle, I found a product that intrigued me, especially as I was on the hunt for waffles. They were waffles – Belgian Waffles – individually wrapped and sold. They weren’t frozen. They were billed as a waffle you could eat while you are walking around. They looked good and were super thick. The company was called Jacquet and I decided to give them a try. Then I went home to prepare our big fancy Friday night dinner.

I’m not sure where the phenomenon of Chicken and Waffles has come from. It is a dish that finds its roots in both the African American culture and in the Pennsylvania Dutch. The Pennsylvania Dutch originally served waffles and fried catfish, but when catfish were scarce, they substituted in chicken (the PD are known for their practical sensibility). It was a tradition that went back to the late 1800s. In African American culture, some believe that the dish became a special treat because chicken was not always affordable, so when the occasion arose to have their usual waffles AND add in chicken, it was a special meal. There are soul food restaurants that became famous for the chicken and waffle combo most notably Tillie’s Chicken Shack in Harlem and Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles. The latter is probably where I first heard about the dish as it is often referenced by Will Smith on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In recent years, chefs have been adding chicken and waffles to their menus in restaurants all throughout the country and it’s not uncommon to see it in the fanciest of restaurants or gastropubs. That’s what we do – we take food of simple great tradition and try to make it better – fancy it up. Still, as much as the chicken and waffle trend has cruised across the culinary scene, I really haven’t taken advantage. I suppose there is a guilt factor about ordering this – do I really need this? I usually see it on menus and get curious, but opt for something more sensible. Today I would try to recreate it at home with a  little help from Stop and Shop.

I put the waffles in the toaster oven for about five minutes to crust up the outside. Upon reflection, this particular brand of waffles is more suitable for the grab and go waffle – eating it on the run without reheating (whatever deviant this behavior describes). Probably for the person who wants to eat a waffle on their commute but doesn’t want the whole hassle of syrup and plates and all that jazz. The waffle itself is pretty good – nice and fluffy with deep sweet flavor. However, a frozen waffle would have crisped up nicer. When the waffle was toasted, I put it on the plate and poured on the Mrs. Butterworth’s and then topped each waffle with a well fried piece of chicken. Dinner was served.

IMG_2962

Ok, so chicken and waffles are a pretty good combo, but I’m not sure why they necessarily go together. I’m sure the thinking is the syrup tastes good with the fried batter of the chicken, but syrup goes well with everything. I could eat old bandages with syrup. I also imagine that there is a sandwich element here too – the soft chewy dough of the waffle combined with the savory, moist chicken in every bite. Who knows, but when I ate it, I kind of ate it in two separate portions – waffle first, then the chicken. It was like I was at the Hometown Buffet and filling my plate. The waffle was fine and tasty, as was the chicken. The Stop and Shop fried chicken is crispy and they don’t skimp on the batter or the frying. The chicken is good too, but as it cools down, you end up getting more bites of batter than chicken. Outside of the two or three great pieces in the batch, you get a bunch of chicken parts that you really have to dig at to get any chicken. You pay for what you get, and you can almost taste the chicken antibodies. Still, it was a nice easy dinner to make and the pieces I served were juicy, crispy and mixed well with the syrup. I’m still on the fence about chicken and waffles, but I think I have to have them prepared at a place that specializes in this treat to really get the true chicken and waffle experience. That’s something to look forward to.

When you get stuck for what to celebrate, sometimes you get smacked by a great idea. Other times, you make do with what you have. Today’s celebration was a little combination of both. I am one who will always celebrate the joy of chicken and the joy of waffles, however today was my first venture into celebrating them together. Looking at the history of this combination, it’s nothing I want to turn my nose up at. Like most classic comfort food, it has it’s roots in a culture where the dish was truly celebrated. I didn’t really recreate that feeling today, but I did capture the spirit. I enjoyed the bounty of a long week with a meal that was as homey as could be (with a few twists of modern living mixed in). That’s worth celebrating any day. I’ll revisit this one again when I am confident that the preparer spent more time making it rather than just perusing the aisles of Stop and Shop. Maybe I’ll see if Will Smith wants to meet me and Jazz at Roscoe’s.

Next up: National TV Dinner Day 

 

Day 403 – National Salami Day

My favorite Salami trivia has nothing to do with the cured meat. It has to do with one of the characters on the old television show White Shadowabout an inner-city Los Angeles high school basketball team coached by a former NBA player (their white shadow). It was always one of my favorite shows and I still would rank it right up there (even though I’m sure the quality doesn’t hold up to today’s standards). One of the players, who was one of the few white kids on the team, was called Salami. I always thought that was a pretty funny name for a kid. Well here’s the trivia: the kid who played Salami was the son of Dick van Patten, the father from the television show Eight is Enough and Princess Vespa’s father in Spaceballs. Moreover, Salami, whose real name is Timothy van Patten, went on to become a pretty accomplished television director too and was at the helm of some pretty important episodes of The Sopranos, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones, just to name a few. That’s quite a career for a Salami and I felt it appropriate to share that knowledge with you today. Go Carver!

Naturally today was about the cured meat and not the second-string swing guard on a seventies television show. I like salami, although I’m somewhat new to its charms. It was never on my mom’s deli-counter shopping list when I was growing up, so it was never around. When I grew older, I would find it every once and awhile on some cheese platter or charcuterie platter. I found that you could wrap the salami around a piece of cheese and plop it on a Triscuit and it would be a tasty treat. I knew it was on sandwiches too, like the Italian hoagie and the Subway BMT. But to be honest, I never really went for those sandwiches. I was more of a turkey and cheese guy. I’m sure I ate a few of those sandwiches along the way, but it was never my first choice. Lola, on the other hand, was a big salami fan. She and her family were known to indulge in a salami sandwich on rye with tomato and mustard every now and then, although they were never getting deli-counter salami. If they were feasting on salami, it was inevitably one that her father had acquired from a special Jewish deli or direct from New York or Chicago. The real salami. He would cut chunks of it off the long roll for each sandwich, sometimes eating it right off the whole salami. That was fresh and it was always a treat for the family. Still to this day, if I were to roll up with a big salami and some fresh rye to one of her sister’s houses, I would be greeted with great cheers and hungry mouths. They made having a salami a happy occasion – a holiday almost – and that’s how you truly celebrate a special food.

I found out today that technically, a salami isn’t cooked. It’s fermented then air dried. It’s a whole process that I’d describe for you, but you probably don’t want to hear about. It involves grinding meats, fermenting agents and bacteria. All that and some time to hang your meats in some dry air to get that classic salami taste. It might ruin it for you.

For my salami, I decided to go back to my new favorite sandwich place – the Sandwich Junction in Warwick. Now that I’ve gone there two or three times, I can honestly say this place is a gem. It’s run by a group of ladies that are always busy making sandwiches. They make most of them in the back which is just off the service line, but they sometimes spill out into the main area to use the toaster oven in the front of the store to toast the sandwiches (yes, an actual toaster oven). They just know how to make a good sandwich. I had gone there the other day and while I was there, I noticed that they had a sandwich called the Mail Car (if you recall, they have a railroad theme). It was a sandwich with salami and provolone cheese. When I saw that, I made a mental note to come back today for National Salami Day, so I did. I ordered it and then took a seat in a wooden booth while I waited. The train actually went by while I was sitting there and the building shook like Jake and Elwood’s apartment. I could see why it was train themed. But the sandwich making kept happening and soon, I had my own Mail Car to feast upon.

IMG_2954.JPG

They use really fresh bread – that always makes for a good sandwich. The salami was fresh too (as far as fermented meats go). It had a nice spice to it and the provolone was a great balance to that. I’m usually an American cheese guy all the way, but the Mail Car has long been established to be a provolone type of sandwich and who was I to argue. Lettuce, tomato and a little mayo rounded it all out. That’s pretty much the holy trinity of sandwich fixings. It was another fine sandwich from the folks at the Junction. I really have found a great spot for lunch which makes holidays like today a little more fun.

fullsizeoutput_ec8

Do you see the picture on the back wall there? I haven’t been able to figure this out:

“Try our delicious sandwiches. Nobody likes a coward.”

Does that mean I should be afraid to eat one of their sandwiches? Is there some element of danger to this? Trying new foods can be brave, but is not trying one an act of cowardice? It just seems odd. Maybe I’ll get to the point that I can chat to the ladies about this. Maybe not – I don’t want to ruin a nice relationship.

I’m a fan of salami. At least I was in this sandwich. I am oddly overly excited to have found such a good sandwich spot and that’s something I can thank this quest for. I guess that’s really because my previous sandwich spot was either Subway or the deli at Stop and Shop. This is a big upgrade. Plus I appreciated how salami has been around me for so long from the cheese platter to a special Mellow feast – it’s the cured meat that keeps on giving. There will be more salami in the future for me and that’s something to be happy about. It might come as a sandwich on rye or as part of a special hoagie, but there will be more. That’s not too shabby for a swing guard.

Next up: National Waffle Month