Day 298 – National Grape Popsicle Day

I love grape popsicles. Of all the popsicle flavors, grape would be my favorite. I kind of lean towards grape flavored anything. Grape soda. Grape Bubble Yum. Grape Nuts. Grape is my jam (literally). I should clarify that I am not sitting on a mountain of grape flavored products nor am I that Radar O’Reilly guy ordering a grape Nehi at a crowded bar. I just like grape taste so when the option arises, I go grape. When it comes to popsicles, I’ve always leaned that way. Even as a youngster, when we would have a box of them in our freezer, I would hold the white wrappers up to the light to see if the treat inside was a dark color so I would know it was grape. You think they would label them somehow? I’m not sure why I enjoy this particular flavor. It’s just sweet, fruity and refreshing. I just like it.

I learned today that Popsicles are named after someone. I never really thought about the name but it’s actually a combination of the term “Pop” with the term “icicle”. Pop was a guy by the name of Frank Epperson from San Fransisco who invented this treat in 1905 by accident when he left left a cup filled with powdered soda, water, and a stirring stick on his porch overnight. Low temperatures caused the mixture to freeze overnight and in the morning, Frank had created a sensation. He originally called them “Epsicles” but his children who had been calling them “Pop’s ‘sicles” convinced him to change the name. By 1925, Epperson had joined forces with the Joe Lowe Company of New York which helped him distribute the treats nationwide. Today, two billion popsicles are sold annually throughout the world with the most popular flavor being cherry. I think they world is overlooking the joy of grape. (History from CountryLiving.com

I was working for most of the day today and it was one of those days when you were waiting for something refreshing at the end of it. A grape popsicle would be perfect. Then as the day started to grow a little longer, I started thinking about how good a nice cocktail would taste after work. That’s when I had a vision. What if I combined the two? A nice cocktail with a grape popsicle right inside? I immediately thought vodka because that seemed like it would be the best fit. I would need a liquid too to add to the mixture to help combine the flavors and soda water seemed like the obvious choice. I could see it now – my vision coming to life.  So after hours of daydreaming about this drink at work, I decided to make one when I got home and by that time, I needed a drink.

On my way home, I picked up a box of popsicles at Clements. They don’t sell whole boxes of grape popsicles. They come in multi-flavored packs and the one I got was a mixture of grape, cherry and orange. After I grabbed them, I was stopping to pick up some pizza for dinner (that seems to be our Saturday ritual now). Before I went inside to pick up the pie, I looked at my box of popsicles and realized that I only wanted the grape ones. Then I looked into the window of Northend Pizza and saw the crew hard at work in front of the oven. As someone who has been in that spot before, I thought it would be nice if I gave them all the cherry and orange popsicles. So I rooted through the box and pulled out all the grape and then went inside. The clerk at the counter seemed a bit confused by my gesture but grateful. I convinced her I had just purchased them and they were totally fine, I just took out all the grape flavored ones. I hope I was able to bring the crew a moment of relief in the midst of their Saturday night. Hopefully the popsicles brought them some joy. That’s what popsicles are especially good for. On a side note, our buffalo chicken pizza was fantastic.

IMG_2089

When I got home, I grabbed a glass and filled it with ice. I poured in some Grey Goose vodka which actually finished off the bottle (I love when we go through a bottle of liquor – one less piece of clutter in our liquor cabinet). On top of that, I poured in some soda water. We didn’t have any plain soda water, so I used some lemonade/raspberry flavored. I still felt this flavor would pair well with the popsicle and it did. I then unwrapped the popsicle and dunked it upside down into the drink so that only the wooden handle poked out. My drink was ready. When I got home, I asked Lola if she wanted one too and she did not. Then she saw me make it and it looked pretty refreshing, so when it was done, she asked for a sip. However, she forgot that I had put vodka in the drink – she thought it was just soda water over ice with a popsicle. When she sipped it, she immediately made that face you make when you drink something that has alcohol in it when you weren’t expecting it. I felt bad. I offered to make her one without the vodka, but she was over it. She actually just sipped some of the left over soda water from the can to help rid the taste.

IMG_2087

This is actually a cool photo of it because it looks like half the drink is grape. That’s actually just the popsicle leaning against the inside of the glass, so a bit of an illusion. It really just looked like a glass of clear liquid with a popsicle in it (as you would expect), but it did look refreshing. It tasted pretty good too. At that point of my day, anything cold and icy was going taste great. The truth is that the popsicle didn’t melt fast enough in the drink to add in any additional flavor. It was basically a vodka and soda water. It also had that annoying addition of a stick popping out the top which would have poked me in the eye had I not been wearing glasses. I gulped the drink down and it was indeed refreshing, it just wasn’t very grapey. After it sat for a while and the ice and popsicle started to melt more, it started forming a grape slush on the bottom of the glass which was tasty but hard to drink without a straw plus all the vodka and liquid was gone so it was just slush. I could make this a better drink with more trial and error, but this first test drink wasn’t the grape delight I had hoped for. That’s how it goes.

Later in the night I had just plain ol’ grape popsicle in the traditional way with the white wrapper crouched down around the stick and a bright purple, phallic treat in front of me. A popsicle is the perfect treat for when you are thirsty. It brings joy to your mouth and coolness which slides gently into delicious liquid that glides down your throat. It’s a taste that was just as good today as it was when I was 7 years old. A classic flavor and treat and the perfect way to end the day.

When Lola saw that it was popsicle day she was excited to have popsicles in the house because they are so refreshing. It’s nice to have a box in the fridge during the summer months so when we spend too much time in the sun and are a bit dehydrated, we can bust out a popsicle for some instant refreshment. They are perfect for that occasion and it seems appropriate to be celebrating them today as we officially launch into the summer months with Memorial Day weekend. I’m going to make sure we have a supply in our house moving forward because when you want a popsicle, you want it then. I’ll make sure we have plenty of grape too. Who knows, by the end of summer my grape vodka-sicle cocktail might just get perfected as well.

Next up: National Hamburger Day 

Day 297 – National Blueberry Cheesecake Day

Today’s celebration came with a hearty dose of kindness, love and partnership with a final twist of deliciousness. It’s not the Blueberry Cheesecake that did all that. It was actually Lola, but it was all in the name of Blueberry Cheesecake.

My schedule has been a bit off this week adjusting to the new gig and office hours. I knew that was all coming, so I was ready for it, but I’m still in that adjustment phase. My posts from this week were delayed and at unusual times (for me). In fact I ended up posting my tale of escargot in the early evening of the day after the actual holiday (I usually try to post the morning after). So my timing is off. I appreciate your patience. I’ll figure it all out eventually, it’s just that transition time. As I was heading into Friday, I saw that it was National Blueberry Cheesecake Day which meant that I would have to make a cheesecake. Normally that wouldn’t bother me, I just happened to have a pretty busy schedule for Friday. I was working the office job in the day and then heading right to the Vineyard afterwards. I probably wouldn’t be home until 9 pm. Cheesecake needs at least an hour to cook (possibly two) and then more time to rest. My options were to either cook the cheesecake on Thursday night or at the end of a long day on Friday. Cooking on Friday was kind of an impossibility because not only would I not have the energy, I wouldn’t be finished until early Saturday morning which meant I’d miss the whole holiday. Thursday night cooking it would be.

When I found my recipe, it was about 8 pm. It was still light out and I had some energy left in the tank, so baking at this hour was a still possibility, but then I realized I didn’t have some important ingredients like cream cheese and blueberries (which are important ingredients for blueberry cheesecake). I could still make the trip to Clement’s to grab everything or I could even try Cumberland Farms or the Dollar General up the street (they may have frozen blueberries), but the logistics of this plan started to hit home. I reread the recipe and it said that the cake cooks for an hour and then you turn off the oven and let it sit in there for another hour. Then it has to cool overnight. The more I thought about it, the probability of me making this cheesecake at this hour started to dwindle. I may have had the energy at eight pm, but that wasn’t going to last too long. This is when Lola popped in my office and she probably noticed an expression on my face that showed I was in a dilemma. I told her what was on my mind and so very thoughtfully she asked, “Want me to make it?”

This was that dose of love was talking about. What made it a generous offer was that I knew Lola had a pretty busy day planned for herself. She has been working hard lately and because I was not going to be home all day on Friday, I knew she was planning on hunkering down and writing all day. She was probably looking forward to a day without interruption so she could get down to it. Yet, when she saw I was in need, she immediately offered her services. She had never baked a cheesecake either. Nope, she would have to tackle the whole thing from scratch. It was really a generous offer. I felt loved and supported. There’s no real reason for this crazy quest other than a personal challenge, but Lola has been behind me on it the whole way. She has believed in me from day one and has done whatever it takes to help me along the way (excepting eating some snails). The offer to cook the cheesecake just filled me up with gratitude for all Lola does for me.

We started looking at the recipe together. It wasn’t incredibly difficult but it wasn’t particularly easy either. It had three different steps to it: making a blueberry filling, making a pie crust and making the cheesecake. It was intimidating to me and I have been pretty involved with making recipes all year. I could only imagine how daunting it looked to Lola. Yet she still offered to make it. I tried to explain that I still needed to get the ingredients and that making it would eat away half her day on Friday, but still Lola wanted to help. She wanted me to know she had my back (as she always does). With hesitation, I tentatively agreed to this plan, although I didn’t feel great about stealing her day from her. One of the things you need to learn about love is that sometimes people want to help you. They make you offers and gestures out of love to help you and make your life easier. Accepting that offer is accepting their love. They are reaching and you are accepting. It’s a balance.

After Lola went to bed, because I was still uneasy with taking up Lola’s time, I happened to do a quick search for the best blueberry cheesecake in Rhode Island. The most popular response was from a restaurant called Gregg’s which is a bit of a RI original. It’s a small chain of restaurants with good food, big portions and a pretty amazing bakery where they make fresh cakes and goodies. It’s one of my brother’s family’s favorites and I have gone there with them before. Their Death by Chocolate cake, which is six layers of decadence, is legendary and my niece Kate’s favorite. When President Obama came to Rhode Island, he stopped at Gregg’s and brought some desserts back to Air Force One for the jaunt home (don’t tell Michelle). It’s a pretty famous place and when I peeked at their dessert menu where I saw they had a Blueberry Cheesecake. I was excited because I knew the quality of their baked goods. Then I looked at their location list and saw that there was a spot in Warwick less than 5 miles from my new office. I could easily stop there on my way home, grab a cheesecake to go and be on my way. This plan could work.

When I went up to bed, Lola was still awake and I told her that I found a spot to get Blueberry Cheesecake. Her first reaction was to make sure I knew that she had no problems with making the cheesecake, and I knew that. I knew she would tackle it like a champion. She would take out her special apron, get all the ingredients together and bake away. I would come home to a clean kitchen, a delicious cheesecake and a smiling Lola. Lola can actually do anything if she has the time and the proper instructions. She enjoys the challenge. So I knew that her cake would be wonderful, but after some chatting, we both knew that picking up a slice at Gregg’s was the most practical solution. It would be easy to grab. It wouldn’t implode Lola’s day. It would be delicious. Together, we agreed this should be the plan although Lola still said she would be on standby to bake if needed. Lola was also kind enough to call Gregg’s in the morning to see if they had enough in stock. Because I’m still the new guy in the office, I didn’t want to make that phone call from my office so that everyone could hear me asking some random person on the other end of the phone if they had blueberry cheesecake. I’ll ease into those kind of calls eventually, but I thought it might be an odd first-week impression to make today. Lola made the call for me and texted me the answer – plenty of cheesecake to go around at Gregg’s.

That was what I did. I headed there right after work and within minutes, I had two pieces of fresh blueberry cheesecake in hand and was on my way home for a quick uniform change. When I got home, I put the cake in the fridge for safekeeping and after some quick chat with Lola, I was back out the door and off to work, part deux. It was a quick night of work and everything seemed to go ok. I got home about 9:15. Lola was already in bed watching a movie so I unpacked the cheesecake, put it on a plate, and then joined her for a sweet snack alongside my love.

IMG_2085

The bakers at Gregg’s sure know what they are doing. This was their standard New York style cheesecake topped with a generous portion of fresh blueberry topping. For some reason, they put the piece on it’s side when they put it in the box which I didn’t quite understand, but it didn’t make a difference. It was more of a visual concern for me. It was the perfect treat for the end of a long day. The cake was hardy and dense, like good cheesecake should be, with that creamy cheese taste coming through. The graham cracker crust added sweetness and some crunch to each bite. On top was a thin layer of cream, like an icing but more similar to whipped cream. It was sweet and added a little more flavor to the party. And finally, the blueberry topping brought it all together. That rich berry flavor seeping into every bite and giving you a pop of sweet goodness in every morsel. It was outstanding. I must say that I was impressed with Gregg’s quality.

Lola liked it too although she was on the sleepy side so not much into eating cheesecake at that hour. She did comment that her Aunt Kathy used to make a cheesecake and we both reflected on that info for a second because today was actually the one year anniversary of Kathy’s passing. We both thought of the odd coincidence of that, to be celebrating cheesecake of all things on this day. Perhaps it was a sign. In any case, we thought about her and hoped she was having a nice slice of cheesecake with us, perhaps with her sister Gigi by her side.

While Gregg’s cake was delicious, I bet you Lola’s would have been better. Today’s celebration wasn’t just about blueberry cheesecake (which actually became my favorite kind of cheesecake today – I love that blueberry addition). Today was about knowing your limits, knowing what your schedule can handle and accepting help when need it. It was about being loved and supported and knowing how to accept that as well. It was a celebration of our partnership. Dan and Lola. Lola and Dan. I know I’m the author of most of these posts, but Lola’s been there the whole time. She’s been my taster, my sidekick, my champion, my trumpeter and my strength. She always seems to be right there to pick me up when I’m down, and that’s what I celebrated tonight. A piece of delicious blueberry cheesecake in bed alongside the person who makes me feel I can do anything. That’s a pretty great way to end the day.

Next up: National Grape Popsicle Day

Day 296 – National Wine Day

There are some holidays that are just made for celebrating and National Wine Day is one of those days. Oddly enough however, I didn’t feel the need to go too over the top on this one. What would that look like anyway? Would I drink all the wine in our fridge? Would I make my own by stomping grapes ala Lucy Ricardo? Would I search out some exotic wine tasting location and test my new wine skills and palette? No, at the end of the day I just felt that a nice glass of wine with Lola would be perfect. That’s the true simple joy of wine.

I know that sounds like I wussed out on this one. I mean, having a glass of wine at the end of the day is how half of the world ends their day. Well, that’s the point. That’s how wine is intertwined into our everyday life and represents relaxation, happiness and simple celebration. It marks the end of the work day and the start of me time. Fun time. I actually don’t have wine all that often so having a glass at the end of my day today was a bit of a novelty. But Lola is prone to have a glass every now and then, usually when she’s had her head buried in her writing all day long and her brain has started to turn to mush. She pours a small glass of wine and takes a stroll in the yard to help her reset. That’s why there was an open bottle of wine in our fridge from yesterday. So when I got home, I poured a glass for both of us.

IMG_2080

It was raining when I got home so a stroll in the yard was not in the works. Instead we talked in our kitchen which was actually kind of nice. This has been the first week in a while that we haven’t been around each other during the day, so we are still trying to figure out how it’s all going to work. We’re still adjusting. When I get home, I am actually curious to know how her day went and she is just as curious about mine too. The last two days, we actually ate dinner at our kitchen table – that’s something we don’t often do opting more for dinner in front of the tv. Eating at the table wasn’t planned. It just happened naturally, because we were talking. We just sat down and next thing I knew, we were eating there. Tonight’s dinner was actually Thanksgiving Toasted subs from D’Angelo’s which I picked up on the way home because I happened to stop at a place on my way home that was next door to the sub shop. I was hungry and it sounded good, plus it was an easy solution for the what’s-for-dinner question. Nothing too good for my Lola. We did find a Thanksgiving Toasted pairs well with a nice Sauvignon Blanc from Oyster Bay. We ate our subs, sipped our wine and talked to each other. That’s what wine was made for too – for bringing people to the table.

IMG_2078

The wine was pretty tasty. Oyster Bay is one of Lola’s favorites and I believe her sister Becky turned her on to it. It’s on the dryer side yet silky and refreshing with hints of tangerine, cut grass and citrus. To be honest with you, I looked that up. It did taste dry to me, but I felt it tasted more like apples. I kind of always get that apple taste to white wine – that soft sweetness. I have to learn how to train my palette to be better at that. As a person that has been working in the wine business over the past few weeks, it’s funny how you start picking up the lingo and culture. I can talk the talk now although I’ve yet to really learn the walk. I make things up as I go, but I am tuned into wine related things now. I’m learning more and more by just being in the arena. However I wasn’t working at the Vineyard today. That would have been a unique way to celebrate National Wine Day. Still, a glass at home with Lola is always more fun.

National Wine Day was popular on social media today too and I find that of all the national days I celebrate, the days that celebrate alcohol are the ones that get the most traction online. It seems people get behind these days. I suppose that meant that I could have gone to a local restaurant that was featuring wine day specials. But it wan’t in the cards nor did I feel I was missing out. I was pretty content with our celebration.

Today’s celebration was about as low key as I have ever gone on this quest and I am kind of happy for that. I tried to celebrate the joy of wine which has been rooted in every culture for thousands of years (except the Mormons I suppose). My celebration was about enjoying the every day comfort of wine. Wine is family, friends, love, relaxation, triumph and pleasure. It’s the joy of the harvest. The appreciation of life and all it’s little joys. That’s what I celebrated today and I did so by just pouring a glass for Lola and myself. We sipped it at our kitchen table over an exotic feast and we talked to each other about what happened. We relaxed and toasted our good fortune which was simply the joy we bring each other. That’s how you celebrate wine. To life, to life, l’chaim.

Next up: National Blueberry Cheesecake Day  

Day 295 – National Escargot Day

This journey is not all cakes and cookies. Every once and a while, a celebration comes around that makes me dig deep and pulls me out of my comfort zone. Today was one of those days when after a long day, I had to reward myself with a nice plate of snails. Yep, those little creatures that sludge across the ground in their safe little shells. That was dinner tonight. This wasn’t going to be pleasant.

When discussing snails (or escargot as they are known in the culinary world), they are usually classified as a delicacy which is really doublespeak to let us know that you are about to eat something particularly gross. As food, snails have been around since the ancient Roman times and they even appear in the cookbook of Apicius who is credited with creating the oldest surviving cookbook in the year 1 B.C. In modern times, it has been the French who have propelled the enjoyment of escargot and who consume nearly 40,000 tons of snails per year. That’s dedication. In truth, snails are an easily accessible protein and are relatively easy to farm (the science of growing snails as food is called Heliculture), so they do have value as a food source throughout the world. But what made them popular? I have no idea. And what keeps them popular in a world in which you can order a burger through a loud speaker and have it delivered hot and in your car within minutes? Still I have no clue.

My first run-in with escargot was going out to dinner as a young boy with my family to celebrate a milestone in the life of one of our family friends, Fr. Harlow. Growing up with two uncles that were priests meant that I would meet all kinds of priests at family occasions. Fr. Harlow was a very close friend of my uncle Bernard and the two had worked together at various churches throughout the years. I don’t remember exactly what the occasion was we were celebrating – probably an anniversary of his being a priest, but as part of the happy occasion, Fr. Harlow took us all out to eat at a fancy restaurant. I don’t remember where the restaurant was other than it was located some place in Connecticut which as a kid, seemed a million miles away. (I want to say it was the Griswald Inn, although I could easily be making that up.) It was your typical swanky restaurant of that time, with dark lighting, fancy tablecloths and dark wood and leather as the overriding decorative theme. I know my Mom made a big deal that we were going there. Fr. Harlow was seated across the table from me and I noticed he had ordered something called escargot as an appetizer for himself. I had never heard of such a thing. I watched as the server brought the dish out and much to his delight, Fr. Harlow had a plate piled with neat looking spiral shells in front of him. I looked on in astonishment. He was going to eat that? First I thought he was going to eat it all and I waited to hear the crunch of the shell in his mouth, but then I watched. He picked up a tiny fork which he fished inside one of the shells and after some tinkering, out came a clump of meat that had been cooked deep inside this spiraled shell casing. He offered me a taste and I refused. Then he ate it up. He seemed pretty happy about it too. I think my Mom was grossed out as well as she is not known for her adventurous culinary side. My Dad may have tried it – I don’t recall for sure – but he was always open to trying something new.

Today was National Escargot Day and I was not looking forward to it. I looked around for anything else I could celebrate. It was National Brother Day so I tried to see if I could get my brother out for some fun, but his schedule didn’t have much flexibility. That was out of the question. Nope, it seemed like I was heading for a date with escargot. I suppose  making yourself try something you have never tasted before is more appropriate for this quest – to push myself out of my comfort zone. It seemed kind of festive too. So despite my hesitance, I eventually realized escargot was the way to go. Now where to get some? I searched online for restaurants that served escargot in Newport and I found a few. As it happens, I was also going to be in downtown Newport in the latter half of the afternoon, so there was hope this would all work out. The two restaurants I found that had escargot on their menu were located on lower Thames Street which isn’t the most convenient spot to drive to (especially since I was already south of that area near Fort Adams.) To access the street, I would have to backtrack and go to the start of Thames Street which is a one way street. And, if I were to reroute myself, I would still have to deal with parking which is rare to find and expensive. The reasons not to stop were piling up and after being tired and not wanting to deal with pedestrian traffic, I decided to skip it all together. I would leave Newport as I have always left it – snail-less.

I had one hope and it’s the same hope that I always have on this quest: Clement’s. It seems odd that our local supermarket would carry escargot but there was some morsel of memory in my head that made me think I had seen it there before. Was it in the pre-made food section? The seafood section? When you see a package of snails for sale in a store, it kind of stands out in your mind. It was my last hope and worth a try. So after the 30 minutes it takes to get from one end of the Aquidneck island to the north end, I stopped. I walked right to the freezer in the seafood section and lo and behold, a package of escargot was waiting for me. They were already prepared with some kind of green sauce stuffed inside each shell (and a good thing too because I am not sure what the preparing snails requires) and the instructions for cooking them were right on the package (10 minutes in a 400 degree oven). They were relatively cheap too – just $4.99 for six. I know that’s not exactly ramen prices, but I expected them to be more expensive as their French origins would make you believe. When I got home, I put them in the freezer and told Lola I put a special treat in there. Then I immediately told her that they were snails because I didn’t want her thinking there was special ice cream in the fridge only to discover a tub of escargot.

I actually made them while we were watching the Survivor finale. I thought that this might even be a fun way to eat them as freshly cooked snails would be a treat for anyone trapped on an island without food. It would be like playing the home game alongside. The directions seemed to be spot on and when I pulled them out of the oven after ten minutes, the green sauce was bubbling and the shells were nice and hot. I plopped them on to a plate with a wedge of fresh lemon and sat down to a nice serving of French boogers in the shell (it’s a delicacy).

IMG_2072

 

I squeezed some lemon over all the shells and took a deep breath. I had a little fork as my implement of choice and then I just dug in. The fork went deep into the shell, farther than I thought I would have to go, and it was actually not easy to plop out the meat. It was adhered to the shell and at an angle that was hard to reach (there must be a specific long fork for this kind of thing that I am sure Becky has a matching set of that she keeps next to her cracker tray). We almost had a Julia Roberts moment with the shell flying across the room, but I managed to hold onto to everything. After some prying, out popped the booger I was looking for. I have eaten clams and mussels before and while your treasure inside those shells are odd looking, they are usually not that big. The meat from the snails was big and thick and meaty. It was everything I didn’t want. I swished it around my plate in the green sauce to soak up all I can, and then I eased it in my mouth. It actually wasn’t too bad. The sauce was nice and tasty – a mixture of garlic, butter and some kind of herb. I tasted mint, but the standard recipe seems to call for parsley, so maybe that was the taste. But it was refreshing and good in that hearty sauce kind of way. It covered up the taste of the snail meat which really wasn’t all that ba…..WAIT! Oh gross. Yuck. When I got my first bite into the heart of the snail I got all that snail flavor at once which just wasn’t my thing. It was earthy and slimy and seafood-y all at once. I felt like I just licked a slug. I swallowed it but by now my nose was crimped and my mouth was locked in that grossed-out pose. I felt like my palate was violated. Lola laughed. I tried another one, because you kind of have to and it was more of the same, but it built upon the yuck-taste that was already in my mouth, so my displeasure was growing fast. That was all I could stand. No, escargot was not for me.

Today I learned officially that I do not like escargot. That may seem like a pretty sad way to celebrate National Escargot Day, but I did try them. I went on a search for them, I cooked them and I gave it the ol’ college try. I liked the sauce but I just didn’t care for the snail part. I discovered that today and I think that process of discovery is all part of this quest. Did any readers have escargot today? You would have had to make an effort to try them and that’s what I did. I will say that if I was ever at a dinner table and someone offered me a taste of their escargot, I might try them again. Maybe I cooked them wrong or was missing an important part of the eating ritual. Maybe they used a better sauce or had a different way to prepare them all together. If the French eat 40,000 tons of these bad boys, then I can keep trying them to see what the big deal is all about. Maybe I’ll spit them out again, but at least I can say I tried. That’s what this quest is all about – working outside the norm of my every day. So today was a victory, albeit one that tasted like piquant elephant snot.

Next up: National Wine Day 

[Snail facts form Mobile-Cuisne.com]

Day 294 – National Taffy Day

Today was a day I actually planned for. Well, sort of. You see last week I glanced ahead at what holidays were approaching and I noticed National Taffy Day was coming down the pike. Now that piece of information was in my head although I really had no further plan of action for it. I just knew it was coming. Last Thursday, we happened to take a trip to Watch Hill, RI and when we were walking around, we stumbled upon one of the few shops that were actually open at this stage of the season: a candy shop. It was kind of out of the way, tucked behind the main shopping area just behind the famed carousel. I’m sure in the height of summer, the shop has a steady influx of customers but on a random May weekday, there wasn’t much happening. We could see the shopkeeper sitting behind the counter glancing out at the lonely shelves filled with candy. We almost didn’t go in but then I realized it was National Taffy Day and this would be perfect. They had a whole display of Salt Water Taffy in various flavors. I picked up a box of assorted flavors and we were on our way. I had my plan for National Taffy Day all buttoned up.

fullsizeoutput_d25

There’s something about seashore excursions and taffy that seem pretty well connected and in fact, the origins of taffy can be found on the boardwalk of Atlantic City. While there is no exact spot where it was first created, in the late 1800s, taffy started to become popular in county fairs throughout the midwest at the same time it started gaining popularity on the Jersey Shore. It was a candy pioneer by the name of Joseph Fralinger who helped the candy become a seaside fixture. He came up with the idea of selling the candy to bathers and strollers along the Boardwalk in boxes that could be carted home as a souvenir. That idea took off and soon more people joined him at selling sweet treats to frolicking vacationers. Fralinger’s taffy is still being sold today which is a tribute to the quality of his candy and his salesmanship.

There is no salt water in salt water taffy. There is a little water in the taffy and a little salt, but no seawater. There’s no definitive answer to why it’s called salt water taffy although the most popular story is one that involves a shopkeeper on the Atlantic City Boardwalk named David Bradley whose store fell victim to a raging tidal surge from a summer storm in 1883 and left all his merchandise underwater. The next day a girl asked for some taffy as Bradley was mopping up and he sarcastically told her to help herself to his ‘salt water taffy’. Bradley’s mother liked the sound of that and he encouraged her son to start using that name for his taffy as it had more of an allure to it. Moms know best, I guess.

Making my own taffy was not an option because to make taffy, you need to pull it. It’s made from sugar, cornstarch, corn syrup, water, butter and salt and is usually cooked in copper kettles and cooled on marble slabs. Then the pulling begins. Pulling taffy is designed to add air to the candy. As Wikipedia says:

“By draping 10 to 25 pounds of cooled taffy over the hook and then pulling away from the hook, the taffy stretches. When the taffy reaches a 5- or 6-foot length where it might become too heavy for itself and fall off the hook, the puller loops the taffy back over the hook, folding it onto itself and trapping air between the two lengths of taffy. This process of aeration helps to keep the taffy soft.”

Most of that is done by machine now and if you have ever walked by a candy store that makes their own taffy, you’ll be mesmerized by how this is done. The place for watching this that stands out in my mind is Goldenrod in York, ME. They have their machine right in the window and their building is located at the center of action in this great little seaside town. The window watchers block the sidewalk to see the taffy being pulled and then the vacationers snatch up boxes of the Goldenrod taffy like they were treasures. They are really. There was always a mystique to salt water taffy purchased at the beach. It was always presented as something so very special – a humble brag that you had candy that was only available at exclusive stores down by the beach. The mere offer of such candy would evoke utterances of wows. That allure isn’t the same anymore as taffy is pretty much widely available but for a time, it was a big deal much in the same way oranges from Florida were. Today’s world has gotten smaller and a bit too convenient to make taffy feel special.

I managed to not eat any of my Watch Hill taffy until today. Taffy is actually pretty good. Its sweet, chewy and fruity. I seem to recall not being totally sold on taffy as a kid and that’s probably because they’d throw in random flavors so you could have two pieces that were nice and fruity and then you’d get a cinnamon or, even worse, licorice flavored. Why would they do that? I guess I had trust issues with taffy because some pieces I loved and other pieces I hated. As an adult, I find it all good (except for licorice) and they are always a welcome sweet treat. It’s fun to unwrap them too, like having a box of presents all to yourself. The Watch Hill taffy was really good. It was fresh and still nice and soft and the flavor was outstanding. Each piece of different colors surprised me with how fruity they tasted. Made me really appreciate how good taffy can be.

IMG_2062

When I told Lola that today was Taffy Day, she envisioned another kind of taffy. She thought of Laffy Taffy and specifically she thought about walking up the street to Cumberland Farms as a young girl to get some. That is technically taffy, but kind of a different breed. Laffy Taffy is made by the Willy Wonka candy people and while it’s still nice and fruity, it’s not quite as soft as the kind you get at seaside resorts. It has a slightly mass-produced taste to it but still a classic taste to the grown-up kids of today. Laffy Taffy had a different shape too – it was thin and rectangular with bright wrappers plus it was somewhat stretchy so your bites would create a string of taffy from your mouth to the bar. There were silly jokes on the wrappers too which would amuse you for the ten seconds it took to read them, and any candy that builds up your joke catalog is good by me. Laffy Taffy is everything a kid would want and definitely worth the trip to Cumbys.  What a perfect way to celebrate!

That’s what I did. When I got home from work, I asked Lola if she wanted to take a walk up the street for candy, like we were two ten year olds on a middle school date. Lola was game for the trip too so we locked our doors and were soon hoofing it up the hill to Cumberland Farms. It’s kind of fun to take a walk to get candy. It reminded me of trips to the penny candy places when I was a kid. In my home town, it was the Old Mill which was a really old building on the other side of town that sold antiques but also had a counter full of candy that you could order. The owner of the shop was a little old lady who spoke in and odd southern accent which would toss you for a loop because it was so out of place. She’d keep the tally as you went so you could concentrate on the candy selection and not have to tally your own spend. The typical exchange was like this:

“Can I have four Fireballs?”
“Ok, that’s 8 cents.”
“Can I have two candy cigarettes?”
“28 cents.”
“How about three Zots please?”
“You’re at 36 cents”

You’d leave with a brown bag full of goodies that you would make last as long as you could. It felt like you had gone on a Stand By Me type adventure although with more candy and less dead Brauer boys. When we would spend the summers at our summer cottage, there was a spot there called The Knolls which had a similar set up for penny candy. The route there was more treacherous though as you had to literally walk the perimeter of a lake and even swing out over the water by grabbing a willow tree. Rumor had it that some kids never made it back. But in the end, it was all worth having a bag of candy complete with Laffy Taffy.

Lola told me about how she would go to Cumby’s for her Mom as a kid and how they would even give her cigarettes (for her Mom) because they knew her and her family. She said that she would get Laffy Taffy there but sometimes she would branch out and get OK Soda (which I have never heard of) or even Cheese Fries if she was feeling salty. There’s a certain joy about going to the store when you are a kid with your own money and being able to pick out what you want, especially when you have to take a little journey to get there. It’s a simple pleasure and instant gratification. It’s that feeling of being an adult, but not quite. The hardest part of our trip was crossing over East Main Road which is kind of a busy road. We managed to dart across safely but the vision of a young Lola running across the street made you wonder if it was the safest place for her to travel. In any case, we were in Cumberland Farms now and we made a beeline to the candy section and Laffy Taffy was not jumping out at us. We started a pretty thorough search going row by row. We found a spot where there was candy similar to taffy, but no real taffy. Then I peeked around the corner and I found a little display that had loose mini candy on display like Lindt chocolate balls, CowTales and Ice Cubes – the stuff that used to be penny candy in my day but was now priced three for a dollar or similar. That’s where I found the Laffy Taffy. They had three flavors: strawberry, sour apple and banana. It had changed though. They were now long straws of candy and not the famous Laffy Taffy rectangle. Still, mission accomplished. We bought one for each of us and then Lola also bought a Charleston Chew because she was already running down memory lane. Then we marched on home.

IMG_2064

Lola had a strict rule that you couldn’t eat the candy until you made the East Main Road crossover. I guess that indicated you were safe so when we were back on the right side of the road, we both opened up our taffy and chewed on it as we walked down the hill. Lola was a bit concerned about the new packaging but after a few bites, we found that the long straw shape made it actually easier to eat and little less work for your teeth and jaw. It was actually pretty tasty and a lot softer in texture than I had imagined. It was good strawberry flavor and kind of the perfect size. It took me the length of the street to finish it up. Lola enjoyed it too and we had a good little date walking down the street as she shared some stories of her past journeys to the Farm with me. Cumberland Farms has really been right up the street for Lola her whole life and although it has seen a few iterations over that time, it’s always been there for what they needed. Even Laffy Taffy.

Later in the day, Lola enjoyed her Charleston Chew too which she was pleasantly surprised with – it tasted just like she remembered. It was chocolatey and the marshmallow center was nice and sweet with almost a taffy like texture to it. Some people will freeze their Charleston Chew but to me, those folks are crazy. I hate frozen candy. It makes me feel like I am eating a dog treat that is designed to clean your teeth. Candy is for eating, not gnawing. Lola agreed upon the non-frozen variety too. This too was another trip down memory lane for her – a taste of her childhood and that’s what we revisited today.

See how just a little planning makes these celebrations easier? I guess I’m saying that to myself so I learn to do it more often. In any case, it was nice to be ready for this day and even though it was kind of a simple celebration, it ended up being a good one. I learned about taffy, I discovered a new appreciation for it, I discovered what it meant to Lola and I also got to share a journey into Lola’s past to enjoy the sweet taste of taffy alongside her. I’d say that’s a celebration. So whether your a bather walking the Boardwalk on Atlantic City or a young girl going on an adventure for sweetness right up the big hill in your neighborhood, taffy is always a good find. Appreciate it for what it is and what it makes you remember. It tastes great but it is packed in memories too. Any food that can do that is ok in my book, just as long as it’s not licorice.

Next up: National Escargot Day 

(History from HungryMonster.com)

Day 293 – National Vanilla Pudding Day

I enlisted the help of a guest chef for today’s featured cooking. That would be Lola. For the record, Lola is actually a good cook. She has some really good recipes that she can always deliver on including spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant parmesan and on the sweeter side, banana cream pie. I do most of the cooking in our house and that is by choice. I like to cook. But Lola has the skills too and when put to the task, she always comes through. Today I asked her to make some vanilla pudding and she was ready for the challenge.

Today was my first day of work in my new office job, so I knew I wouldn’t be home during the day. I would have had time to make pudding later in the day, but I knew that pudding has to set up for a few hours before it is ready to eat, so as I was walking out the door, I asked Lola if she could make it. Lola was being especially sweet to me this morning too. She knew I had the first day jitters so she did whatever she could to make me feel ok. She made me coffee. She packed a bag of snacks for me. She even hid a special card in the car for me so that I would see it as I was departing giving me that final message of encouragement. It’s nice to be loved like that and to have someone by your side to calm your soul just when you need it the most.  Lola also put the pudding worry to rest too and happily accepted my request.

In truth, pudding is about the easiest thing in the world to make, at least the instant variety is. Lola admitted this too when I got home. I didn’t mean to give Lola the easiest thing to make as her first recipe along this quest – it just turned out that way. But I’m glad she had the same reaction to the recipe as I did. I happened to make chocolate pudding a few weeks ago (for National Chocolate Parfait Day) and I was shocked how easy it was. You essentially just add in two cups of milk, whisk it together, then put it in the fridge and you are done. It probably took Lola less than five minutes to make it and clean up. When I came home, I peeked in the fridge and there was a big bowl of vanilla pudding just waiting for us.

I actually got home early today (around 4 pm). Work let me go a little early today because there wasn’t too much I could dive into today without the proper tools, permissions and understanding. All in all it was a pretty good first day. Traffic wasn’t too bad on the way there. The office was nice. I have my own little cubicle and should be set up on my own laptop in the next day or so. People seem nice and friendly. The work seems interesting too. I had those first day moments when there was nothing for me to do so I had to awkwardly sit and wait, but that’s what you do on your first day. Tomorrow will bring actual work, more understanding and more opportunity. I’ll stick with it for another day for sure. Meanwhile, we I got home, because it was such an early time, I had myself a little snack and that snack was fresh made vanilla pudding. I felt like I just came home from school and my mom gave me a pudding cup.

IMG_2052

I never much cared for pudding as a youngster – I’d always prefer Jell-O gelatin instead. But as an adult when I learned to appreciate the texture of a good creamy pudding, I started to enjoy them more. When I was growing up, pudding cups were not as easily accessible as they are nowadays. If you were having pudding, it would have been made in the same way Lola made hers today – in a big bowl. I think the generation that came after me had pudding cups ready to go in the fridge and that made them more popular. There was a time when I would buy pudding cups as an adult as a sweet snack to have at the ready and you can’t deny the convenience and good taste of having a pudding cup when you are hungry. I guess I became a later in life pudding fan. Vanilla is actually a pretty good flavor for pudding too. It delivers on that sweetness which when mixed with the cool, creaminess of the custard is spot on. It’s the perfect little treat for after school (or after work as the case may be). Plus it was nice to have it all ready for me in the fridge so I just had to scoop it out and enjoy.

In the end, I think I gave National Vanilla Pudding day the celebration it deserved. I honored it’s ease of making (or rather Lola did) and by just having the box in house and ready to go, it made for a convenient and easy homemade snack. I think that’s how the pudding world wants you to view their special treat: quick, easy and homemade. I also enjoyed it as an afternoon snack which seems to be the perfect time of day to enjoy pudding. In the lull of the afternoon when you are hungry, hankering for something sweet and still a few hours away from dinner. Pudding fills that need in a most delicious way. I enjoyed mine after coming home early from work, but it certainly felt like an after school snack. I should have curled up on our couch with it and watched an After School Special. No matter your age, your situation or the state of your day, pudding makes a great little treat, so that’s what I celebrated today. Plus, I had someone in my kitchen making it for me. I am not sure if pudding is really about making someone feel loved (that would be a bad comparison with the whole former Jell-O spokesman’s current court trial), but today by making a bowl of vanilla pudding, Lola made me feel loved. She always delivers. Thanks puddin’.

Sea Monkey update: Today was the day I was supposed to begin feeding them. So far, I think all is ok. There are little specs in the water that could be actual life (or they could just be debris). I gave them the appropriate amount of food and we’ll see if they take off from here. Why do I feel like this is how Alien Covenant starts?

Next up: National Taffy Day

Day 292 – National Strawberries and Cream Day

Sounds simple enough, and delicious too. Fresh strawberries served with whipped cream. This was one I could tackle pretty easily.

I had strawberries in our fridge and when I woke up today, while I was waiting for my coffee to finish up, I started cutting them up. I cut each berry in half and then sliced each side into smaller pieces. I find that cutting them this way gives you good bite sized pieces of strawberries that work well when you are eating them in salads or soaked in cream. After I cut them, I put them back in a bowl and sprinkled in about a teaspoon of sugar just to help them mascerate as they rested. The sugar would bring out all the sweetness from the berries and would also start breaking them down creating a little bit of a natural syrup which would be outstanding with the cream. My plan was let them sit there all day while I was working and then pick up some cream for whipping on my way home. It would be a nice way to end the day.

It was kind of an odd coincidence that I was celebrating strawberries and cream while my sister just happened to be taking a trip to Wimbledon in the U.K. It’s not odd that my sister was visiting Wimbledon. She actually lived there for a brief time. Her husband Doug’s work is based out of London and for a while, they took up residence there. They happened to find a nice spot in Wimbledon to live which was a Tube ride away from Doug’s office, so that’s where they stayed. The famed tennis court was less than a few miles away from their front door. Wimbledon was where their son Zack first attended school and I still have a coffee mug with his school’s name on it. While there, Marybeth actually met a bunch of pretty cool friends who she stayed in touch with even after moving back to the US. This weekend was an opportunity for her to go back to Wimbledon and meet up with the gang for some fun and catching up. I only mention this because she was in Wimbledon which is obviously known for its annual tennis tournament. The tennis tournament is famous for lots of tennisy things, but it has also become famous for the whole show around the tournament including the dress, the fans and the food.  And the most famous food served at Wimbledon is Strawberries and Cream. That was a long way to go to make a connection.

In any case, I don’t think MaryBeth had any strawberries and cream this weekend. In fact, she probably stuck to a diet of prosecco. However, the tournament does not happen until July, so the strawberries and cream consumption has not yet skyrocketed. But it will soon. They say that during the tournament, over 20 tons of strawberries and about 7,000 litres of cream will be consumed. That’s quite a feast. They say that strawberries and cream go back to the Tudor era of the 1500’s and many people credit a man by the name of Thomas Wolsey as introducing them to England. Wolsey ran a kitchen that served over 1,000 meals a day and was always on the lookout for quick desserts that they could prepare for the masses. Strawberries and cream definitely fit that description. While strawberries had been around for a long time, adding them to cream was kind of a new idea as most people associated dairy products with the poor. But together, the two made for a great fresh taste that even the upper echelon of society loved. It was eventually King George V who introduced the dessert to the tennis tournament in the late 1800’s. At that time, eating strawberries in general was kind of fashionable for the muckety-mucks,  so it was a natural fit for Centre Court. Of course having strawberries in season at that time of year made it a natural choice for a summery, festive dessert even though they risked spilling strawberries on their fine summer whites. (Source: Tantemarie.co.uk

I had a fairly easy day at work today although we were still there late cleaning up. I was probably in my car at about 6:45. Meanwhile, Lola was in Newport finishing up a birthday dinner with her sisters in honor of their other sister, Tina. Tina’s not really a sister but she has been part of the family for a long time and she certainly qualifies as family. Tina (and her husband Mike) have been there at every family event and holiday and are always part of all the moments of life that make you love you your family. Today was the day to celebrate Tina so the whole crew was at Plumby’s atop the Brick Alley Pub. I texted Lola to see if they were still there and they were, so I drove down to Newport to meet them and have a beer. I caught the tail end of the festivities so I was able to sit down, sip a refreshing beer and join in the fun. When we eventually left for home, it was probably about 8:30 and I still had to get some cream, so I made plans to stop at Cumberland Farms where I have picked up heavy cream many times before. But apparently they had a run on heavy cream this weekend (must have been all that strawberry and cream celebrating), and they were out. Uh oh. Then I remembered that the Dollar General next store carries heavy cream too, so I made the dash over there and they too were sold out. It was too late to backtrack to Clements and I think they were closed at this point anyway, so I had to improvise. So I picked up some Cool Whip.

I’m not exactly sure if Cool Whip qualifies as cream. It’s made with some cream although its primary ingredient is vegetable oil. The cream that’s in there is skim milk and light cream, both of which do not deliver that authentic cream flavor of a good heavy cream, but it would have to do. There is a lot of science that goes into those tubs to help create that cream sensation, so I would have to trust that. I scooped out the strawberries which had a nice little collection of juice on the bottom of the bowl and then I layered with Cool Whip. It went strawberries, Cool Whip, strawberries, Cool Whip.

IMG_2049

I served it to Lola who was actually busy ironing my shirts (because she’s awesome). Lola was not at all interested in this dish when I told her I used Cool Whip. She’s a purist. But she gave it a try and she disapproved almost immediately. She said it tasted like summer and hospital – the summer being the fresh taste of the sweet berries, the Cool Whip tasting like hospital. That summed it up pretty nicely. I didn’t think it was that bad but the Cool Whip definitely has a processed food kind of taste which is not as enjoyable as the real thing. A few days ago we had strawberry shortcake with fresh made whipped cream at a restaurant and that was amazing. Tonight’s offering was just not the same. The strawberries were nice and ripe however. They were just sad that they didn’t get to bathe in the delightful sweet and creamy fluffiness of homemade whipped cream. On the next big holiday, I have to remember to buy my heavy cream early before the Cabbage Patch Kid rush happens.

Strawberries and cream are a simple treat that brings a lot of happy flavors to the table. They highlight the beautiful bounty of strawberries that is the promise of summer. The cream seems like it was made for wrapping around the sweet berries and delivering more magic to the party. Just like Thomas Wolsey figured out, strawberries and cream delivers in taste and ease. I bet you if he had access to tubs of Cool Whip he would have substituted that into his recipe too. He was one to take the shortcut if it saved him time and money. My journey tonight to the land of Cool Whip came from necessity rather than shortcut and while it still delivered a creaminess to the party, it’s just not the same as the homemade stuff. Maybe that’s how I learn to appreciate the pureness of this dessert. No matter, it was still a delightfully light and sweet way to end the day. I felt like I was court side at the grass courts, the sounds of tennis grunts in the air, and the Queen nearby sucking down her third bowl of fresh strawberries and cream. That’s the true experience and why it deserves to be celebrated throughout the empire. Long live the Queen.

Next Up: National Vanilla Pudding Day 

Day 291 – National Quiche Lorraine Day

Today’s celebration was made possible thanks to the folks at Clements’ Market and Hans Kissle. They are not the creators of Quiche Lorraine but it was because of them that I was able to celebrate today. They got the save for the day and I was grateful.

My day started as usual and as part of my morning ritual, I looked ahead at what the celebration for the day was going to be. Today was Quiche Lorraine Day. I’ve heard of this before, but never really knew exactly what it was. In my mind it was a quiche made with Swiss cheese and spinach. Turns out it’s actually a quiche made with cheese and bacon. This day was getting better already. I peeked at a few recipes online and they didn’t seem too complicated, so I looked for an easy one (I literally searched for “Easy Quiche Lorraine which, if Lola saw this, she would probably make the joke that this was her nickname in high school) and I found a recipe where you basically toss your egg ingredients into a pre-made pie crust and it cooks in about an hour. That seemed feasible. I had to work today so I figured I could stop at Clements on my way home, get all the stuff I needed, and then get home to some quiche making.

Then work happened and I was essentially running around for about 8 hours straight. I was finally on my way home at 7 pm. I was tired and not very motivated. Lola had messaged me with the idea of just getting some pizza for dinner and that sounded like the best idea I had ever heard in both taste and in ease. Then I remembered my quiche plans. Even the idea of making a quiche at this point was distressing to me. Nope, it wasn’t going to happen. Quest be damned, I just didn’t have it in me. I started thinking about how else I could celebrate this day and was coming up empty. For the first time, I really felt that this would be a day I couldn’t deliver. I was just about to call our pizza order in when I had the idea of stopping in at Clements just to see if they carry any quiches. It was a long shot – I don’t recall ever seeing them there before – but it was worth the five minute stop just to check. If this quest was going down, at least I can say I put up a little fight.

Clements is our local supermarket and they have been a godsend to me throughout this quest. I probably have gone there 4 or 5 times a week over the last 300 days which is not only a testament to their convenience but also insight into the life of the unemployed. I have mentioned them a lot throughout this quest as they are always my go-to spot for supplies, although I do branch out to a few other local places depending on what I need. They have helped me find some unusual items (Scrapple stands out in my mind as well as Centerville Pies) and they are sometimes tuned into my quest, at least on their social media channels. In the store, I suppose I am just some weird guy that comes in far too often looking for the oddest array of food items. That’s what I looked like today when I came through the door – a tired, hungry, probably sweaty guy in search of his Quiche Lorraine. When I entered, I paused for a moment and thought about what section I should look in. There is no established quiche section there, at least that I am aware of, so I didn’t know if I should look in the freezer section, in the bakery or in the deli. For some reason, perhaps instinct, I made a beeline for the prepared food section where I will sometimes pick up their seven layer bean dip, some sandwiches or some other grab and go foods. There, on the top shelf, was just what I needed: quiches.

Not only did they have quiches, but they had ample supplies of Quiche Lorraines. There were two different brands of them, even available in two different sizes. It was like I had unlocked a special section in the Clements video game that unleashed the quiches and I was the Mario swooping in collecting points. I wanted a beam of light to come down from above with an angelic chorus of praise ringing out to signify my discovery. I let out and audible, “Yes!” cementing my reputation as that crazy guy coming through the store. I was excited. My quest would continue.

I went with the large quiche from a company called Hans Kissle. I have heard of them before, I think they make a potato salad, so just having that familiarity made me go with their product. They are based out of Haverill, MA, so pretty local on the grand scheme of things, plus the quiche just looked good. It had a nice crust and the egg part looked nice and fresh. The directions said it would reheat in about 30 minutes in the oven, and that was perfect too. Sometimes frozen foods take over an hour to cook and I couldn’t wait that long. This quiche was not frozen so it would reheat pretty fast. I made my purchase and went home to tell Lola about my find. She was actually excited too which is nice of her because if I had visions of a pizza in my head and someone brought me home a quiche, I’d be pretty mad. I turned on the oven and within forty minutes, I had a nice hot Quiche Lorraine on the table.

A quiche is actually a savory custard made with cheese, meat, seafood or vegetables and served in a pastry crust. It’s an egg dish and it is the eggs that are the key to making that custard which creates a more solid texture for the filling than you get in an omelette or frittata. Quiche Lorraine gets its name from the Lorraine region of France where the dish originates. While Lorraine is in France, it used to be under German rule in medieval times so the dish is actually German in origin. The original Quiche Lorraine was made with cheese and lardons which is kind of a cubed pork fat. Bacon was eventually substituted for the lardons and that is what the modern day version has become. It was actually really delicious just as you might imagine because it’s essentially eggs, cheese and bacon in a pie crust. But it does have a unique flavor to it, and that’s partly because of the custard which gives the whole tart a distinct texture. Firm but full of flavor. There were lots of bacon pieces mixed throughout and the Swiss cheese, which I am never a proponent of, actually gave it a nice creamy addition. Finally the pie crust was nice and crusty too adding a bit more texture to each bite. I was a fan and Lola was too.

That’s how Clements saved me again. Just when I was giving up hope, they delivered. They came through. That’s what your local supermarkets should be all about. A spot you can rely on, that delivers what you need when you need it. They care about you. They can be a bit pricier than the other supermarkets but they give you something you can’t get at the super stores. They give you the service and personal touch. They are the community and they care about the neighborhood as much as we do. I guess I am just grateful for having them so close by. They turned my National Quiche Lorraine Day into a win that ended with a tasty dinner. So thanks Clements! I look forward to more days tackling this quest with your continued support. I’ll keep being that weird guy browsing for lardons and spumoni.

Next up: National Strawberries and Cream Day

 

Day 290 – National Devil’s Food Cake Day

When I read that today was National Devil’s Food Cake Day, I read it as Devil Dog Day. I’m not sure why. I don’t think about Devil Dogs all that often so there’s no real reason why they would take over the part of my brain tasked with identifying what the day’s holiday would be. It made me slide into a relaxed feeling that this would be easy to celebrate. I’ll just go up the street and grab a box of Devil Dogs and all would be good. It wasn’t until later that I realized it was actually Devil’s Food Cake.

Devil’s Food Cake is actually a chocolate cake with a medium-dense but light-texture. There’s more chocolate in the cake which is where the name comes from as you are creating a more sinful cake and it tends to be a bit reddish in hue. The redness comes from the reaction of the cocoa powder to the baking soda and some people will even add in red food coloring to bring out more of the reddish hue. (Info from CooksInfo.com) However other recipes create a nice rich chocolate cake of usual chocolate color. There’s some confusion out there about what exactly a Devil’s Food Cake actually is. In the end, it’s just rich, delicious chocolate cake. And, much to my delight, the cake on the outside of a Devil Dog is considered a Devil’s Food Cake. I could still celebrate as planned.

Devil Dogs come from Drake’s Cakes who have been making them since 1926. They are essentially cream sandwiched between two Devil’s Food Cakes. The name, I assume, comes partly from the Devil’s Food Cake and the latter part from their resemblance to a hot dog. We were never a family that had many of these kind of cakes in house, although we always seemed to have Drake’s Coffee Cakes around. But in regards to Twinkies, Yodels and that sort, my mom never really cared for them. Devil dogs however were different. I think she liked them. I recall my brother did too and on occasion, she would buy a box and my brother would even get one in his lunch. I never much cared for these kind of sweets. I was a cookie guy. Still, I can recall seeing the box in our bread drawer and the name always stood out to me. Today I bought my first box of Devil Dogs. Sadly, there was no public celebration of this. The store manager didn’t take my picture, the clerks did’t cheer, balloons did not fall. To them, it was just moving another box of merchandise.

Today was a scorcher with temps in the nineties so I naturally decided to mow our lawn. This made me particularly hot and sweaty (not to mention covered in pollen, grass and bugs). When I was done, I came inside and enjoyed a nice relaxing shower that brought some life back to me and then I realized I was parched. I chugged a bottle of Gatorade, but I was still thirsty. Plus it was Friday evening. I decided to go with an adult beverage and when I made that decision, I realized I could make a drink with the Devil Dogs. In my last job, I tended to come up with a lot of stupid ideas (some good ones too). But one of my silly ideas was something called Twinkie Drinks which was essentially frozen drinks made using Twinkies or other such bakery creations. My thinking was that they would be popular in that obnoxiously big, silly menu item kind of way. Like those crazy milkshakes that are all the rage. I could never get anyone else behind me on this idea even though we made some one day just to see. Still the idea never left my mind. Today would be a day I could try again. To celebrate today, I created the Frozen Devil.

IMG_2041

I started by throwing two Devil Dogs into the blender and then I topped it with some coffee liqueur and some whipped cream vodka. I put in some vanilla ice cream next, along with milk and some ice cubes. Then I blended. It came out a little less-thick than I wanted (and a little boozy), so I added in some more ice cream and ice and blended again. Perfect. I poured it into a glass lined with chocolate and then garnished it with half a devil dog on the brim. I’m not one that usually likes creamy frozen drinks, but this was actually really good. The Devil Dog got blended up so there were no noticeable chunks in the drink (which could have clogged up the straw). It had a nice milk shake kind of taste to it, but in an adult way. You could still taste the booze but just enough. It was creamy, cold and refreshing. I kind of impressed myself. Lola liked it too, but she was not in a spot where she wanted a frozen, sweet drink which I totally understood. You kind of have to be in the mood. Still, she agreed it was tasty. She said it felt like a frozen drink you would get at Fridays which was kind of the taste I was going for. I have to patent this.

I realized that drinking my Devil’s Food Cake might not be appropriate for celebrating so to make sure, later in the night, I had just a plain ol’ Devil Dog. They still come individually wrapped and that’s kind of the whole experience – unwrapping it and licking off any of the cream that seeped out. The cake is really moist and chocolatey too. It’s tasty. There is an element of mass-produced cake to the taste which you would expect, but it was still good. The cream was sweet and light and balanced the chocolate. Plus the cream went from end to end, so you had a bite of it in every bite you took. It’s just a good little snack cake. It was probably a big hit when it hit the streets in 1926 and it still delivers that taste of simple joy in a pinch.

fullsizeoutput_d1b

Although I didn’t spend all morning in my kitchen baking an elaborate cake, I still think I gave Devil’s Food Cake a good celebration. I celebrated the joy they bring and I saluted probably one of the most well-known makers of this particular cake. Maybe you turn your nose up at the bakery products that are mass produced and sold at convenience stores, but you should appreciate them for what they are. Drake’s have a long history in America and that’s a tradition that deserves to be recognized. Every package for the last one hundred years has brought sweetness and joy to the purchaser and that’s how any cake should be enjoyed. Plus I got to make a Twinkie Drink®. The Frozen Devil may not catch on right away, but when history unfolds and the folks in the latter part of this century are all abuzz about the joy of the Frozen Devil, let history show that is was created in my kitchen on a very hot day in May and was made in celebration of National Devil’s Food Cake Day. I’ve left my mark. Let the balloons drop now.

Next up: National Quiche Lorraine Day 

 

Day 289 – National Cheese Soufflé Day

To celebrate National Cheese Soufflé Day, I did what any person would do when the task of making a soufflé is in front of them: I went on a road trip. It was kind of spur of the moment idea and when it was time to go, I didn’t quite feel like saying, “wait, I have to make a cheese soufflé.” Saying yes to a road trip is seeing the big picture kind of stuff, so I didn’t want to be bogged down with the details of this particular holiday. I had the tiniest of hopes that we would come across a restaurant that is famous for their Cheese Soufflés in our travels, like Susie’s Soufflés (as seen on Travel TV), but I had my doubts this even existed. No, this was just a road trip for Lola and I – cheese soufflé be damned.

The reason for the road trip is that on Monday, I begin my new job. I’ll get more into the details of that in the upcoming weeks, but starting Monday, I’ll be back at a Monday through Friday job in an office and working for the man. I’m kind of excited about the opportunity, but it will also mark the end of a time in our lives when Lola and I spent a lot of time together. Sure we had some moments when we were up in each other’s business and all we wanted was just time alone, but for the most part, it was a time when we really learned to be partners and friends. It was special. Seems that even after being together for sixteen years, you can still grow closer to someone and that has been a lot of what this past year has delivered. And although Monday ushers in an exciting new chapter in the book of Dan and Lola, we are both realizing that our time together will be changing. We needed to celebrate our last days of freedom (so to speak) and the universe could not have delivered a more beautiful day in which to celebrate. So we just threw caution to the wind and decided to go on a road trip. We departed around noon and made our first stop about ten minutes later for coffee.

Initially we had thoughts about heading to Cape Cod to Chatham which is always a nice little place to getaway. We have vacationed there a few times as guests of Becky and Jeff (Jeff being a native Chathamite) and we have even gone there on our own for some respite. It’s not too far away and it gives you kind of everything you want: beach, fun town, good restaurants and that vacation feel. But then I had the idea about going some place we had never been before and the thought of Watch Hill, RI popped in my head. I didn’t know much about Watch Hill but had heard good things and it was a place we had never been before. Lola was game too, so now we had a destination that was only a little over an hour away. To get there, we pretty much drove down Route 1 through all the beach towns on the mainland (as us Islanders will say). We went through Narragansett, Matunuck, Charlestown, Westerly, etc. and the closer we got to Watch Hill, the more it started to feel like we were heading to a vacation town. When we pulled off onto Route 1A, we started seeing the hills that roll towards the beaches and all the houses, cottages and mansions that line the streets. Really beautiful properties in the area. Eventually we landed at the end of the road which is where the shops, inns and attractions of Watch Hill are found. We parked and started to walk about.

At the end of the road was the famous Watch Hill Carousel which when I saw it, made me realize I had been here before. It was when we were younger and although I had no idea where it was, it has always stuck out in my mind because not only was it a merry-go-round, it was one where you could lean out and try to grab a brass ring. Normally a carousel was kind of boring, just going in circles, but adding in this dimension of grabbing something as you went by made it more of a game. It made it fun and for years now, I have always had that memory of it being my favorite carousel which was somewhere that my parents took us. Apparently it was Watch Hill. Lola felt she had been here too at a birthday party for her friend Steph. The brass ring stood out in her mind as well. It was a funny moment of recollection to suddenly have this place from your memory make sense, as if it was only a dream prior to today. The Watch Hill carousel is apparently the oldest continuously operating carousel in the United States, or at least that’s what the sign said. But apparently that means “in season” because it was still packed away for the summer. No horses, no brass rings, no calliope – just an empty gazebo building strewn with beach sand and empty promises. That’s when we realized we were there in the off season so not everything would be open and full of life today. However, because parts of the state were hitting ninety degrees, there were people walking about and heading to the beach. There were a lot of young kids there too which I didn’t understand. Maybe they were college kids home from school (which made me feel old because they looked like kids), or maybe they were high schoolers ditching school (do kids still ditch school?). But there were families on vacations around too which was confusing because you wouldn’t think families would go on vacation in the last weeks of school.

Our first order of business was to get a drink and something to nosh on and we stopped at the first place we saw that was open. It was called the Olympia Tea Room and apparently it’s kind of a famous place. We got a table outside and the host made us feel like that she was doing us a favor by allowing us to have drinks on the patio, so not the friendliest of greetings, but we got a seat and ordered up some drinks and some homemade chips and salsa. Lola got their signature mojito which was pretty good and came served with a stalk of raw sugar cane which is always Lola’s favorite. But my drink was by far the best. It was a Gin Lime Rickey and this may just become my summer drink. It was gin with fresh lime, simple syrup and soda water served in a tall Collins glass. So refreshing. I love the name Lime Rickey too, so I will be recreating these at home very soon – it was that refreshing. The chips and salsa were good too, although the place was pretty pricy. In fact everything in Watch Hill was on the pricier side which we soon realized was the vibe they are going for. Kind of snobby. No matter, it was a beautiful spot and I had a particularly beautiful view.

IMG_2023

We walked around town for the next hour or so and kind of soaked in all we could. Most of the shops were closed down, although you could tell everyone was gearing up for the season to kick in. If we were to come back in a month, it would have a whole different vibe to the place. Still, it felt like vacation and nothing better than the feel of warm sun on your face as you walk about a new land and explore. After we saw all that we could, we hopped back in the car and took the long way home. We drove by Misquamicut Beach which is a spot that we would sometimes go to as a kid (the beach with the big waves, as we would call it) and that seemed to be a bit more active but I am sure it was mostly college kids taking advantage of the walk up bars right off the beach. Nothing wrong with that, but not for us. It was still beautiful out and we decided to stop on our travels for an early dinner. We were driving by one of our favorite spots, the Matunuck Oyster Bar, so we decided to head there. In the summer, you can expect a long wait to get into the place but because it was early and off season, we were able to get right in (although they were still very busy).

We originally came here back on on our anniversary in August (which was Day 4 of this quest). We loved it and had a great dinner. Tonight we started with a sampler plate of oysters which every time we order, we are amazed that we like them, but we do. The oysters were from the local river and also from Watch Hill, which we thought was an odd coincidence. As always, they were delicious and it was a great way to start off. For dinner Lola had two appetizers – a quinoa crab salad and scallop ceviche. She was in heaven. Lola loves eating little bites and this was perfect for her. We had a big table in an out of the way corner that gave us a great view and also gave us the perfect volume for the music that was playing which was an eighties station. It was so making everything right. Lola spread out her plates and took her time enjoying every morsel. I went for the whole belly fried clams and that was a bad choice. Nothing wrong with the way they were prepared, I just don’t like whole belly clams and I didn’t realize that when I ordered them. I almost never have fried clams, but for some reason I had a craving, but I was thinking about clam strips. Whole bellies, to me, are like licking the snot out of a clam and frying it up. Sometimes you pick the wrong thing. I still filled up on french fries, their fresh cole slaw and their homemade rolls served with olive oil to dip in. I was happy. To finish, we shared their homemade strawberry shortcake which was made with a fresh baked drop biscuit, strawberry ice cream and really fresh, sweet strawberries. It was the perfect ending.

We were on our way home and the sun was just about to call it a day as we passed over the bridges onto Aquidneck Island. When we got home, Lola went outside to play in the garden while she still had some sunlight to work in. I just kind of putzed around and chilled. Then I started looking up recipes for cheese soufflés.

I landed between two recipes: Alton Brown’s and Rachel Ray’s. Alton’s recipe was easy enough, but it was for a big soufflé and I do not have a big soufflé dish, only small ones. Rachel’s recipe was for mini soufflés and that was more what I needed. In the end, I kind of merged the two recipes to what I wanted. Alton had you coat the pan in parmesan cheese while Rachel had you use regular flour, so I used Alton’s method. Alton actually used cheddar too and I went with that over Rachel’s gruyere preference. I like gruyere, I just had cheddar cheese in house. Alton’s instructions got very science-y as he tends to get, which was fine, but not what I wanted. Rachel’s recipe was more relaxed and off the cuff, as is her style, so I followed her instructions. I melted the cheese with some flour and milk, tempered in some egg yolks and then when that was ready, I folded in some freshly whipped egg whites. Rachel did not have you use Cream of Tartar for making the egg whites, but I kind of felt that any soufflé or merengue calls for a tiny pinch, so I added it in. When the eggs whites were at stiff peak, I folded them in slowly. When I had my batter, I scooped them into the prepared ramekins and they went in the oven for 15 minutes. I cleaned up everything while they were cooking so now all I had to do was wait and then eat up. It was about 9:30 and I wasn’t particularly hungry, but I couldn’t let my quest falter now. I hard to push on. Thankfully when they came out, they smelled and looked awesome.

IMG_2034

So a cheese soufflé is basically a super fluffy omelette. Really fluffy, like airy. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious and I say that after eating it and not being remotely hungry, but it wasn’t a new experience to me. It was a taste I knew. The cheddar cheese flavor was nicely balanced throughout and the parmesan from the edges of the dish added in a slight little twang that helped complete the taste. It was a perfectly cooked egg and it was so light and fluffy that it brought a whole new dimension to eating eggs, but it was eating eggs. This is good too because I love eggs, so I really enjoyed it. From a presentation standpoint, they are kind of neat and having them rise high above the edges of the dish made them look cool, but like all soufflés, after a while, they shrink down. Rachel suggested serving these with an arugula salad and I think that would be perfect as a nice little brunch item, so I could see the allure. However, as a late night snack, you are probably better off just cooking an omelette than going through the whole rigamarole of soufflé making.

That was a day. Lola is probably my favorite person to go on any road trip with because she’s good company, she’s always up for adventure and we always seem to be on similar pages. Today’s trip was special because it was so spur of the moment and we went to a place that we had never been (or at least we weren’t aware that we had been there). It was a gorgeous day outside – hot sun, beautiful blue skies, rolling seas – you couldn’t ask for better, and I’m glad we stopped our lives and smelled the roses. Changes are coming to our life and while we are both full of hope of what the future is bringing, we couldn’t help be a little sad to say goodbye to the closeness Lola and I have forged over the last year. It was a bittersweet day of relaxation for us. But what we realized is that we can always just roll with what life gives us. No matter the road we take, no matter the turn or the detour – we have each other to help us get through. Even when that means making a cheese soufflé at the end of a long day – we’ll get by and we’ll do it with smiles on our faces. Today’s celebration may be under the headline of National Cheese Soufflé Day but it was really a celebration of Dan and Lola. We rise greater than any soufflé. (I think Maya Angelou said that).

Next up: National Devil’s Food Cake Day