Day 60 – National Coffee Day

I woke up at 4 am this morning.  No reason really.  I woke up to go to the bathroom and then couldn’t get back to sleep.  I stayed in bed to about 5, but then went downstairs because it didn’t feel like I was going to be able to get back to sleep and I didn’t want to keep Lola up.  When I came down, I turned on the tv and lay on the couch in the glow of the screen hoping sleep would kick in.  It didn’t.  After watching the morning show on Channel 10 news for a while and seeing Frank Coletta drink from his 1980’s FRANK mug (have you ever seen that thing?  – it makes me laugh every time), I decided that was time to get up and start my celebration of National Coffee Day.  I put the kettle on, put the milk in the frother and I was on my way to my journey of celebration.  Was I ever.

We use an Aeropress Coffee Maker for our coffee at home.  It makes a good cup of coffee and allows me to make a nice latte which is kind of my thing for coffee.  Lola likes a good latte too, but she was born and bread as a straight up coffee drinker.  She was always partial to a good Dunkin Donuts medium coffee.  She tells me how she would always get her coffee there when she was in high school and anyone who knew her up in New Hampshire when she first moved up there will surely picture her with a DD in her hand. When she and I first met, her car used to have a supply of red stirrer-straws from the Dunk which she used to drink her coffee to help avoid spilling (an anti Mellow-clumsy tactic).  They don’t carry those straws at Dunkin’ anymore but they do carry sandwiches that use waffles as the bread (a small indication of the DD business focus these days).  Lola also comes from a family that enjoyed a nice Taster’s Choice coffee every now and then.  She will bust that out one of them every once and a while, usually when she is thinking about her Mom who was partial to them.  Me?  I just stick with the lattes.

My first coffee this morning was ready at about 6:30 and I took it into my office and played on my computer.  That’s when I busted out my blog entry for yesterday (Beer Day) and made sure I was up to date on all the events of the day.  Usually I don’t have any early appointments, but today I was taking a very special class at the Becky Breslin School of Cookie Design so I had to be at her house at 9 am.  On my way there, I stopped at Dunkin Donuts for my second cup of the day – a latte – and also picked up some coffees for Becky and Jeff so they could celebrate the day too.  Class went until about 11 am and afterwards I had to head down the street to Cox Cable to make sure they are still jerks (sorry, we have Cox frustrations).  While there, I stopped at Starbucks for another small latte.  This is when I decided my Coffee Day celebration should involve coffees throughout the day from all the different local spots.  This, in retrospect, was a bad idea.

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After Cox, I had to drive to Providence to take care of some insurance stuff.  Before I left town, I stopped at Cumberland Farms for a coffee.  They had a promotion today that if you texted “coffee day” to them, you would get a free coffee.  For some reason, this caught my ear while I was watching Frank sip his morning Joe on tv, so I texted and had the free coffee waiting for me on my phone.  I don’t think I have ever had Cumby’s coffee before although Cherie always gives them a good grade.  I got a small one with some milk (lattes are not an option) and was delighted to get it for free and enjoy it on my drive.  After the appointment, around 2:30, I stopped at Sip n’ Dip Donuts which is a local chain with about eight locations in the MA/RI area.  I have never been here but I see them around and have always wanted to stop in.  I got a small coffee (which was good) and a glazed stick (which was excellent).  This was my fifth coffee of the day.

When I got back to town, I had a follow up class at the BBSCD (Becky Breslin School of Cookie Design) so on my way there, I stopped at Empire Coffee.  Empire is a coffee shop that has been in Newport since 2004 and they have four locations around the island.  Their newest location shares a space with Subway sandwich shop in Portsmouth, so when you walk in, the right side of the building is a typical Subway while the left side has a small counter with all the coffee set ups.  Seems like an odd coupling, but they make good coffee.  I picked up a coffee for my teacher and also an espresso for myself.  I figured a quick shot of coffee wouldn’t be as filling.

After class, around 5 PM, I made my last stop of the day at the Portsmouth Publick House and had a small coffee (which is actually 16 ounces).  They have good coffee here and I have used this spot before as a virtual office using their WiFi as I sipped coffee.  However, they are always trying to build their business and what used to be primarily a coffee place is now a full restaurant with drinks and really good food.  They still offer coffee, but their focus is definitely more on the restaurant end these days.  Regardless, I picked up my 7th cup of coffee for the day and headed home.

Help.  I’m cracked out.  I am exhausted because of that 4 am thing, but my eyes won’t close.  My stomach hurts.  My hands are jittery.  Focusing is squirrel.  This was a bad idea bear.

Some celebrations you try to get a jump on and while they seem like good ideas at the time, once you start going, you realize you have made an error in judgement.  That’s where I am right now.  So I celebrated coffee today, but I think I may have overdone it.  Maybe some coffee ice cream will calm me down?  You live and learn.

Next Up: National Chewing Gum Day 

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Day 59 – National Drink Beer Day

You’re telling me all I have to do to celebrate today is drink beer?  Challenge accepted.

This seems rather random in the land of holiday celebrations.  It’s not very specific and it’s  also something that a large portion of the world’s population does everyday anyway.   Still, you can’t ignore the celebratory nature of beer.  Sure you can drink a beer for the pure refreshment of it, but you can also enjoy beer when you are commemorating or bemoaning any of life’s events.  I decided that today should be about that kind of celebration.  It’s not the beer we are celebrating but rather how beer brings us together.

When I saw this holiday coming, I decided to reach out to my former marketing mates Mike and Patrick to see if they wanted to celebrate.  We have been in contact via texting over the last two months and we have made promises here and there to get together, so I figured this was as good of an occasion as any.  Surprisingly, it worked out schedulewise for all of us and just like that, the plan was set in motion.  We decided to meet up in Framingham, MA which just happened to be the geographical center for all three of us (Mike lives in New Hampshire and Patrick in Connecticut).  Patrick suggested the British Beer Company which worked for us (and also an excellent choice for Drink Beer Day.)

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Definitely half full.  

We met up at about 5:30.  The place is designed to look like an English pub (which it does in that Americanized version way) and it seemed somewhat busy for a Wednesday night.  Mike and Patrick had already sat down in a corner booth and it took me a minute to find them (it’s kind of dark in there), but I could hear Patrick’s voice over the din of the crowd which made it easier to locate them.  We gave some hearty welcomes to each other and quickly ordered up some beer.  The beer menu here is impressive with 33 drafts available and probably another 50 bottles.  I ordered a lager that is brewed locally in Framingham, Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union.  It was good, although as I explained before, I’m still a Miller High Life/Bud Light guy at heart (sorry, I just am).  I stuck with the Jack’s Abby though to keep in the spirit of the day and ended up having three by the end of the night.

It was the first time I had seen these guys since August and the last time I had seen Mike, we were having a beer together to help us wrap our heads around our being “removed from duty” earlier in the day.  But these were the two guys that I spent most of my time with when I was working, so getting back to being comfortable around them and laughing with them came with little effort.  I thought that the night would bring a lot of commiserating about everything that happened, and there was some (deservedly so), but for the most part, we were just back to laughing and having fun.  It was good to be around them.  We got the opportunity to discuss some things that we still were trying to understand and we also got to hear about what was happening now in each other’s lives.  I realized that if I’m raising glasses, there are few people more fun to hoist a few with then these two.

Later in the night, Patrick had a friend join us who lived nearby in Natick so our chatter broadened to more universal subjects like the debate and television, but we still kept having a a few good laughs.  Were it not for a 75 minute ride ahead of us for each of us, we probably could have spent a lot more time together (and had a lot more beer) talking about  the good old days, the good old people and having more fun.  Still, it was great to see their faces and to celebrate with them.  Sometimes when you are having a beer, you look around and you realize you are with the good people in your life and that makes you want to celebrate.  That’s what we did tonight and it really made me hope we have more chances to do it again in the future.

I would also like to point out that tonight was also the night that the Boston Red Sox clinched the American League East.  As a Yankee fan to the core, that’s a hard sentence for me to write, especially because they celebrated their clinching in Yankee Stadium (as a side note, tonight was a great night for the Yankees who beat the Sox with a Grand Slam in the bottom of the ninth – the Sox just happened to clinch thanks to a Blue Jays loss).  But if you watch their celebration, you’ll see the players are pouring champagne everywhere but they are drinking beer in true holiday form.  That’s what drinking beer is all about – marking life’s special occasions with a little happiness and fun.  Well done Sox.

Next Up: National Coffee Day 

Day 58 – National Corned Beef Hash Day

I could never understand the appeal of corned beef hash when I was younger.  My Mom loved it, as did my grandmother.  It must be an Irish thing.  I can remember them making it on random occasions because when they did, they would break out the grinder which was a cast iron device that must be well over 100 years old now.  It would attach to the edge of the table.  You would feed corned beef into one end, turn the hand crank and the ground corned beef would pop out the business end.  Naturally as a curious kid, you’d want a turn at the crank. The sound of meat grinding has a very distinct squishing sound and watching it push through the grinder gives you that same satisfying appeal that you get from watching zits pop.  The grinder would get the corned beef finely chopped up which when added to a pan with onions and potatoes, a nice hash could be created.  I never much liked it though.  Corned beef was too extravagant for me – I was kind of a plain burger kind of kid back then.  My mom still has the grinder somewhere in her kitchen cabinets and will use it sometimes to make her famous bologna and pickle combination.  That’s still gross to me, but I do hope when the time comes, I am the lucky child that gets willed the grinder.  I can’t imagine my brother or sister putting up much of a fight for it.

Corned Beef Hash was a taste I acquired in my adulthood when I came to the realization that corned beef is delicious and why wouldn’t cooking it with potatoes and onions be more delicious?  Somewhere along the line, I ordered it at some breakfast joint and a fan was born.  It has been my go to breakfast order ever since as either a nice side with some over-easy eggs or in an omelette.  Hash seems to taste better from a breakfast place because they cook it right on the flattop, so the outside gets nice and crispy while the inside stays moist and tasty.  Whenever I order it, I’ll ask Lola if she wants a taste.  She used to always says no thanks with a “that looks like Alpo” comment.  Recently though, she has been joining the party.  However when she goes for hash, it has to be a good one, maybe made with local chouriço or some good fresh herbs.  She’s not much of a fan of breakfast joint quality hash, but I am, so that’s why I went to get some today by myself.

I went to a local breakfast place called Foodworks which is less than a mile away.  Foodworks has always served some good meals and they serve an excellent Portuguese Sailor sandwich which is an egg and cheese sandwich with chouriço served on a grilled sweet bread.  While it’s not as good as the one Our Tina makes, it’s still a great time.  I sat down at a booth and the server brought me the menu right away.  While it wasn’t on the menu, I asked if they could make a Corned Beef Hash and cheese omelette for me and they were happy to oblige.  I also ordered a chocolate milk because today is National Chocolate Milk Day too.  I think this was the first time I have ordered a chocolate milk from anyone since I ordered it from the lunch lady in the 3rd grade.

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Breakfast places amaze me because when you catch them on off peak hours, your food comes out blazing hot in less than three minutes.  That’s what happened today and I was glad.  Whenever you are at a restaurant by yourself, you appreciate getting your food fast.  The chocolate milk came out lickety-split too and it was ice cold.  I’m not much of a fan of chocolate milk or milk in general.  I’m not sure what happened because my entire childhood I had a glass of milk with dinner, but now the thought of gulping milk is gross to me.   But it was the holiday, so I went with the chocolate milk and I will say I was pleasantly surprised.  The folks at Hershey have been working hard at getting this down and it shows.  It tasted like a melted milkshake which I suppose is a good thing.  Still, given my druthers, I would have preferred a nice latte as my accompaniment.

The omelette was great too.  The taste of the corned beef really came through and it made for a nice balance with the eggs and cheese.  For my bread choice I opted for a grilled English Muffin which I highly recommend.  I feel like that’s a secret more people should know about and take advantage of.  I used the muffin sparingly making sure I saved some so I would have a piece for my last bite of omelette.  There’s a lot of things about this meal that made me happy.  First, I love going out for breakfast – I’m kind of a breakfast fiend.  I’m not sure why, but there’s something about the variety of options you get at breakfast (sweet to savory), the low-key atmosphere and the readily available bacon that just makes it my favorite meal to go out for.  Second, the hash was as good as I had expected.  I don’t think hash is the signature offering of Foodworks, but it’s always a good indication of the quality of the restaurant if they can do hash right.  They do.  I was in and out probably within a half hour which was perfect.  I left with a full belly and a happy heart.

The cons of a nice corned beef hash breakfast is it puts  you in a food coma.  When I got home, a five minute drive, I had to lie down.  The other negative is that when you leave a good breakfast place, your clothes smell like breakfast, so before I could lie down, I had to change my clothes.  But all in all, if your only complaint is you had to lie down and change your shirt, I would say that you had a pretty good celebration, and I did.

Today is also my sister’s birthday which seems almost appropriate to fall on Chocolate Milk Day.  She was always a big fan of chocolate milk growing up, scooping spoonfuls of Nestle’s Quik into her milk so it would get good and dark.  I seem to recall her having it every morning with her cinnamon toast.  She told me today that she hasn’t had it in a long, long time which surprised me (although I suppose we all have an age limit on how much chocolate milk we drink).  Her son Zack however texted me a picture of his afternoon snack: some fresh chocolate milk.  That made me smile because one, it’s nice to have your nephew text you random pictures of chocolate milk and two, because he is joining in the celebration.  Zack and MB have been on board for this celebration thing from the very beginning!  So I hope MB was able to celebrate her day in style – she deserves a most happy birthday.  Maybe she celebrated with a nice cake of corned beef hash?

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Zack’s chocolate milk.  A Hershey’s man.  

Next Up: National Drink Beer Day 

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Day 57 – National Pancake Day

Now we’re talking.  I had three ideas on how I should celebrate this one.  My first thought, which seemed rather obvious, was to head to the hallowed halls of pancake worship not just for these great United States but for the whole international community: the International House of Pancakes.  They seem to have a pretty good grasp on the pancake thing and they actually seem to be doing good work in research in development as they keep introducing new breakfast items like Pumpkin Spice and Apple Ring pancakes.  But the IHOP in town is on the other end of the island which seemed like a long trip for just pancakes.

My second idea was then to keep it local, as in up the street and around the corner local.  That would be Reidy’s – our local breakfast restaurant (they serve lunch and dinner too).  It’s really a five minute walk away and although we don’t go there that often, when we do, there’s always a warm feeling.  Lola usually knows a waitress or two from having gone there all her life.  They always ask about the family and our sincere in their asking.   The tables there are along the walls and the lunch counter is in the middle, usually filled with locals talking about Patriots football, local issues or just politics in general.  It’s clean (in a way) and the food is good – just what you’d expect from a local place like this.  More often than not, you usually end up seeing someone you know there (which is not always fun).  Today was one of those days when we didn’t feel like bumping into anyone we knew, so we decided to skip Reidy’s.

That brought us to the third option which came down to me cooking at home which I was fine with but if I was cooking, I wanted to create something a little out of the norm (I can cook pancakes any day – this needed to be special).  Not too long ago, a recipe popped up on my Facebook feed from the NY Times Food page which was for an incredible looking pancake.  A quick side note, the NY Times Food page has some really great recipes.  Sometimes they get a bit complicated to make, but it’s a great source for recipes you might not otherwise think of.  I dug into their archives and found the recipe I was looking for and decided to make it.  The day had gotten away from us, so I also decided that we would be having pancakes for dinner, which seemed like a a more festive way to celebrate this dish.

The recipe was for a Dutch Baby pancake.  A Dutch Baby is also known as a German pancake or a Dutch Puff (oddly enough, that was my nickname in high school).  It’s origins are from Germany, although in regards too being a Dutch Baby, its origins are traced to a Seattle restaurant from the early 1900s.  Locally, it was a featured dessert pancake at a New England favorite Bickford’s.  It’s easy to make – add eggs, milk, sugar, flour and nutmeg in a blender and then put it in a hot skillet and cook in oven for 25 minutes.  The results when you pull it out of the oven are spectacular.  It fluffs up and fills the whole skillet with this delightful pastry of insane goodness.

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If you were looking for the typical pancake taste, this is not for you.  I described it as more of a French Toast taste although Lola nailed it and said it was like a popover (which it really is).  Still, if you douse it in syrup, it tastes good to me.  Lola thought it would taste good with some maple butter or some jam (which is how she eats a popover) and it would be (serving it with jam was a recommended serving suggestion from the Times).  It’s also not quite as filling as a short stack of pancakes.  We split the Dutch baby in half and I could have easily eaten the whole thing by myself.  Still, I would say it was a fun twist on the standard pancake.  It was also nice to be able to finally try the recipe as I had been thinking about it for a few weeks.  In the end, we celebrated the delight of pancakes and made the day a holiday, and better yet, we doused it in syrup.

Next Up: National Corned Beef Hash Day

Day 56 – National One Hit Wonder Day

“Come On Eileen” was named the number one One-Hit Wonder from the eighties by VH1 in a poll they shared back in 2013.  The eighties are, to me, the best source of all one-hit wonders, but maybe that’s because that’s the era in which I grew up.  Still, we have some powerhouses in contention from that decade.  “867-5309/Jenny” by Tommy Tutone, “Too Shy” by Kajagoogoo, “She Blinded Me With Science” by Thomas Dolby – that’s just a few, but let’s not forget entries by celebrities including Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time,” Bruce Willis’ “Respect Yourself,” and of course Jack Wagner’s “All I Need”.  Let’s face it – we all have our guilty one hit wonder pleasures.  We can sing them and know all the words, we get excited when we stumble upon them on the radio, and they instantly bring us back to another time and place. That’s how and why we celebrate a day like National One Hit Wonder Day and I definitely took some time throughout the day to crank up the Aldo Nova right after some Harold Faltermeyer to set the mood.  I hope you did too.

The truth is that today was actually a hard day to celebrate in a real way.  There were a lot of holidays happening today, but they all involved people or events that were hard to personally celebrate.  Sure, I played some one hit wonders, but that doesn’t make much of a celebration.  Similarly, National Comic Book Day, National Research Administrator Day, Math Storytelling Day and National Gold Star Mother’s Day (all which were today) were equally hard to celebrate.  They all deserve their day, but for the purposes of my quest, it was really hard to do anything with them.  Did you really want to watch me read a comic book?  So my friends, I took the easy way out.

At the beginning of my quest I said that this may happen where there would be a day that I wouldn’t know how to celebrate.  And on those occasions, the prime directive allowed me to celebrate whatever the national month observation is as a fill in for the day  of celebration.  So that’s what I did.  September happens to be the national month for a bunch of things (Baby Safety, Fall Hat, International Square Dancing).  I decided to celebrate September as National Chicken Month.

To start my celebration, I had some chicken salad for lunch.  I usually opt for Willow Tree Chicken Salad, but today I went for Clement’s homemade rotisserie chicken salad which was made with fresh celery.  It was surprisingly good and fresh and made a nice lunch, especially while I was watching some football.  For dinner, I went the roast chicken route.  I had picked up some fresh rosemary and some lemon, so I mixed that with some butter and then coated the chicken with the mix.  I sprinkled the bird with salt and pepper too then stuffed the cavity with lemon and rosemary before throwing it in the oven for a little over an hour.  It came out looking pretty nice with a nice golden brown skin.

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Lola was still not feeling well tonight and I think she is officially the first victim of the fall cold.  Because of that, she wasn’t very hungry.  I however dug in and enjoyed a nice roasted chicken.  Roasted chicken was always my favorite growing up.  I can remember naming it as my “last meal” if I was ever to find myself in a last meal situation.  I’ve cooked lots of chicken over the years (don’t mean to brag – I’m sure you have too), and it’s still one of my faves.  In the history of Dan and Lola, roast chicken is the first meal Lola cooked for me.  She surprised me one day by cooking a full dinner in our tiny apartment in New Hampshire.  It was one of the hottest days of the summer and she not only cooked a full chicken for us (using a recipe from Ted on Queer Eye For the Straight Guy, just to give you a timestamp), but she also made a homemade clam chowder from scratch.  I couldn’t believe how ambitious she was.  When I came home, the house smelled as good as it ever had.  Lola had set the table and had all ready for me.  She was almost overheated from cooking all afternoon, but she looked especially cute in her well-used apron.  It was probably the best meal I had ever had.   So if this month is about celebrating chicken, count me in, because chicken deserves our cheers for all the happy memories it brings.

I know, I know, kind of an easy out for me today.  I’ll come back strong this week.

Next Up: National Pancake Day 

Day 55 – National Cherries Jubilee Day

When looking at what holidays were happening today, I saw it was Schwenkfelder Thanksgiving and that naturally intrigued me. The Schwenkfelders are a small Protestant sect founded in Germany by Caspar Schwenkfelder, a reformist theologian.  In 1733, a handful of his followers arrived in Philadelphia, and a second group emigrated from Germany on September 22, 1734. The next day they swore their allegiance to the British king, then they spent the following day, September 24, expressing their gratitude to God for having delivered them from persecution.  In the Pennsylvania Dutch counties where Schwenkfelders still live, this day is observed as a special Thanksgiving Day.  My vision to celebrate this was to invite the family over and have a traditional Schwenkfelder Thanksgiving (we would put the swank back in Schwenkfelder).  Come to find out, their Thanksgiving tradition tends to be a little less lavish than a typical American thanksgiving.  Their thanksgiving is celebrated with a simple meal of water, bread, butter, and apple butter as they give thanks to God.

For a minute I thought it would still be fun to invite the family over for a thanksgiving celebration and not give them the details.  Explain to them we want to celebrate traditionally, so don’t bring anything – we’ve got it all covered.  They’s come over ready for a feast.  Then, when everyone was finally here and sitting down at the dinner table, bust out the water, bread and butter.  That would have been cruel, and the number one rule of Mellows is never mess with their hunger.  I’m sure apple butter is a pretty tasty treat, but it wouldn’t have satisfied the tribe, nor would the water.  No, I think I had to pass on Schwenkfelder Thanksgiving.

Today was National Cherries Jubilee Day and that seemed more doable.  Again, I’m not sure why it falls on this date because we are long past cherry season, but still it’s easy enough to celebrate.  Did you know that this dessert is believed to have been created as part of one of Queen Victoria’s jubilee celebrations, hence the name?  That Vicki sure knew how to throw a jubilee.  I found an easy recipe from the folks at Food Network.  While it called for a pound of fresh, pitted and stemmed cherries, there were no cherries at the supermarket, so I went with frozen cherries instead.  Not ideal, but they will work in a pinch (plus they are already pitted).  I let them thaw for about an hour before using them.

It’s kind of easy to make.  You throw the cherries, some sugar and some lemon juice in a pan to heat up, then after a while you toss in some rum, then you light it on fire to flambé. Once the flame goes out, you are ready to serve and you just ladle it over some vanilla ice cream.  It’s still nice and warm when it hits the ice cream.

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Obviously this would have been better with fresh cherries, however it was still surprisingly fantastic.  The combination of the ice cream and the sauce was delicious. They melted together and the taste was almost like a sherbet, but creamier.  It was a good combo of cold and hot.  I liked it way more than I thought I would.  The cherries were good too.  I used rum to flambé it, and that all cooked out – I was worried it would taste too boozy.  Lola took the first bite (she wasn’t up for a whole portion) and she liked it too.  She could taste the lemon, so maybe it could have used a bit more cooking time, but it could have been the bite she took.  All in all a flaming success (get it?).

Lola was a bit off her game tonight (seasonal allergies kicking in), so she was kind of tired when I was making the jubilee.  I wanted to capture the flambé part on video, so I asked her if she would film that part for me as a video.  She’s a trooper, because when I asked her, she was wrapped up cozily in a blanket but still she popped up to help.  The instructions said that if you are using an electric stove, which I was, to warm the rum in a small sauce pan on the side, light the rum, then carefully pour the flaming rum over the cherries.  It was the money shot I was looking for, so I gave Lola my phone.  I had opened it up to the camera but did not put it on video.  We got ready and Lola even gave me a countdown to begin.  The rum sparked up right on cue (all contained within the pan), and then I carefully poured it over the cherries, the flames traveling into the other pan in a dramatic bubbling of ingredients.  I gave Lola the nod that it was done, and then, in classic Lola fashion, she dropped my phone on the floor.  That was the big finish.  So we laughed together – a jubilee of laughter which is what we do best.  The phone was fine too.  When we sat down to eat, I looked at the pictures to watch the video and that’s when I saw that Lola took a picture, not a video.  In fact she took two pictures – one when I was about to light the rum and one moments before she dropped the phone.  That made us laugh too.  Even though it was neat to see the flambé, the story of how we didn’t record it will be much more meaningful in the grand scheme of events.

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It’s about to go down. 

Cherries Jubilee was celebrated.  And because it’s  Schwenkfelder Thanksgiving, I want to thank God for giving me Lola, because through all the trials and tribulations of life, the good times and the bad, I have someone by my side who is going to make me laugh every day and to keep me going through it all.  That’s what I’m grateful for today, and every day.

Next Up: National One Hit Wonder Day   

Day 54 – National Great American Pot Pie Day

There comes a time in any quest when you find yourself up against it and you have to dig deep to find the right path.  It’s in those moments when our faith is shaken and our heart disillusioned that we call out to a higher power and hope the answer comes.  Today I did that, and Oprah answered.  Praise be to Oprah.

A few years ago, Oprah (My Oprah as Lola calls her) selected a relatively new pie shop located on Cape Cod as one of her Favorite Things.  That’s a hefty endorsement.  I mean – this is Oprah.  Apparently, Oprah and Gayle King (Oprah’s best friend, until she meets Lola) were on Cape Cod to attend the funeral for Eunice Kennedy Shriver.  One of the two friends who run the shop thought it would be nice to send Oprah a Chicken Pot Pie from their store, so she wrapped one up and brought it to the hotel where Oprah was staying (probably the Days Inn, but I’m not sure).  Somehow the pie ended up getting to Gayle and Oprah and they both thought it was da bomb (I’m glad to know celebrities will sometimes eat what you give them as someone who just gave a raspberry cream pie to David Sedaris).  Can you picture Gayle and Oprah in their jammies jumping up and down on their hotel double beds while eating a plate of Chicken Pot Pie with a spork?  That’s my vision.  In any case, when the time came for Oprah to name her favorite things, she named the Centerville Pie Company as having the best Chicken Pot Pie.  Overnight, they went from selling 20 to 40 pies a week to selling 100 to 200 pies a week.  Praise Oprah.

If Lola hears that Oprah endorses something, she listens.  So not long after Lola heard about the pot pie, we happened to be returning from a trip to Chatham to visit the Breslin’s on their vacation (aren’t they nice for inviting us on vacation?)  We thought we would take a little detour and stop for some pie on the way back, and that’s where things went overboard.  The shop has two sides – the pie side and the restaurant side.  We started with lunch on the restaurant side.  Lola had the Chicken Pot Pie and I had the Shepherd’s Pie.  It was everything Oprah had promised.  It’s a tiny place – maybe ten tables and a counter – but everyone is friendly and there was a sense of family there.  The pie ladies were walking around too, but everyone was busy doing their pie jobs.  We naturally had some sweet pie for dessert (I forget what kind), but a double pie lunch is always a great way to enjoy your journey back from vacation.  Afterwards, we walked over to the pie side for some pie to go.  We had to take this delight home, so we bought a Chicken Pot Pie (with a side of extra gravy) and a Shepherd’s Pie to satisfy our savory side.  Then we branched out to try some sweet pies: apple, all berry, blueberry, maybe a pecan, strawberry-rhubarb – I forget exactly what it was.  I just remember leaving with eight pies.  Yes eight pies for a family of two – it was that good (we shared them, I think).

Fast forward a few years and I’m doing my shopping at Clement’s.  They have been known to carry some local specialties and our big supporters of local business.  I glanced down into the freezer cabinet and noticed a sign that said they were now carrying pies from Centerville Pie Company!  I think I shrieked in delight.  They carry a limited supply of large and small pot pies and shepherd’s pies and I have even seen a clam pie mixed in there sometimes as well.  When I saw that this day was coming, I could think of no better way to celebrate National Great American Pot Pie Day than by heating up one of Oprah’s favorites, so I headed to Clement’s and grabbed a pie.

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Their Shepherd’s Pie is off the hook too – they also make one with sweet potatoes. 

The thing you should know about pot pies is that they take a long time to cook.  You can’t rush them because the crust has to get nice and golden brown.  These take 90 minutes in the oven, so you really have to plan ahead.  There’s no microwaving these.  Just give them the time to work their magic.  They also suggest cooking on the bottom rack in your oven and this helps too – it makes the crust on the bottom cook more evenly.  There’s another equally good pot pie place in Massachusetts (although not yet Oprah endorsed) called Harrow’s Chicken Pies which has six locations all located north of Boston.  Really, really good pie and if you go, you have the option of getting a pie that is heated up for you (order in advance).  We picked up a pie to go there once and they suggested brushing the top of the pie with milk before placing in the oven.  So now, whenever we cook a pot pie, we always brush with milk.  It gives the crust that golden color.  Here’s how our pie came out:

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I should have invited Gayle and Oprah over to celebrate.  They would have really loved it.  We could have watched some Narcos together.  I would have put some sheets on our couches and some blankets so they could spend the night.  We could wake up and do some yoga together (Downward Facing Oprah).  Nonetheless, Lola and I celebrated together which is really my favorite way to celebrate any day.  The pie was perfect especially with the cool autumn breeze coming through the windows.  It tasted like fall which is a great taste when you have been craving it.  Praise be to Oprah.

On a side note, I also made a recipe today that was one of my grandmother’s specialties.  Because she is my influence and inspiration for all the cooking parts of this quest, it was fun to make this recipe.  It was for Carrot Bread which was one of my all time favorites growing up and sometimes Gram would make a whole bread just for me.  She’d serve it up sliced with lots of butter spread on every piece.  I don’t think I have had carrot bread since my grandmother passed away in 1996, and even a few years before that when her carrot bread production had slowed down.  I have asked family for the recipe but it was kind of a mystery.  Someone had it, they thought, but maybe not.  About a week ago I got a text from my cousin Clare who was going through recipes at her Mom’s house and she found the Carrot Bread recipe.  She sent me the picture.  It was typed out (from a typewriter) and had a few handwritten notes on there as well. The paper was clearly aged and weathered, as all good recipes should be.  I was looking at the recipe this morning and I noticed we had all the ingredients in house, so I decided to make it.

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There were a few steps missing in the recipe (my grandmother could make this in her sleep so I am sure she didn’t feel the need to right down the instructions to the T) but because I have made a few banana breads in my day, I was able to adjust.  When it came out of the oven, I was a little worried because it was lighter in color than I recalled.  But after it cooled, I cut a piece and it was everything I remembered.  Moist, sweet, crunchy from the walnuts – even the smell brought me right to the table where my grandmother was giving me a piece.  So thanks Gram for giving me this bread, for giving me the confidence to cook and for showing me the kindness and love you can share with recipes and food.  It was nice having a break with you today.

Next Up: Schwenkfelder Thanksgiving

Day 53 – National Ice Cream Cone Day

Why would they make the first day of autumn the day to celebrate the Ice Cream Cone?  We had all summer to celebrate.  That seems more appropriate.  Not that it wasn’t warm enough today for an Ice Cream Cone.  It was actually perfect weather for it.  Still, it seems like an opportunity was missed to host this holiday on a nice warm summer night when it’s still warm and light out at 8:30.

I happened to be in Bristol today and I thought that a nice ice cream cone on the waterfront would be a nice farewell to summer.  There’s an ice cream stand right on the dock that makes it easy to get a tasty treat and take a nice stroll overlooking Bristol Harbor.  However, because it’s autumn and a Thursday, they were closed and I was met with a sign that says they are only open Friday to Sunday.  That makes sense.  The name of the stand is Gray’s Ice Cream and fortunately, they have another location not far away in Tiverton, so I decided to go there as a Plan B.

Gray’s in Tiverton is located at the historic Four Corners and has been in business since 1923.  The spot in Bristol is just for summer business.  It’s a shack really.  The place in Tiverton is the real deal and the place where they make all there ice cream.  In the summer, there are usually four windows open to take orders and the line at each window can be five or six people deep.  On a Thursday in late September at lunch time, I had to poke my head in the window to see if they were open.  They were.

I went with the ice cream cone that I would always get as a youngster.  I figured this was a classic holiday which deserved to be honored classically.  I ordered up a sugar cone with chocolate chip ice cream.  I was running solo on this one as Lola was out for an appointment (plus she needed a little break from the sweet son this quest).  So I got my cone, grabbed some napkins and then sat on the stone wall which surrounds the property to enjoy.  The parking lot was empty, so it seemed silly to sit on a wall so far away from the building, but sitting on that wall is kind of the tradition and it let’s you scope out what’s happening as you eat your treat.  The ice cream melted pretty fast which made me step up my “conelingus” efforts so I could keep my cone in check.  That’s kind of the one fault of the cone – you have to race through eating eat to get it to a manageable size and shape.  But I was able to get it under control and I enjoyed a nice little treat in the afternoon on a random Thursday sitting by myself in the warm sun.  There’s something a little decadent about an ice cream cone in the middle of the afternoon on a workday – it felt like I was playing hooky. Maybe that made it taste a little better.  All in all, not a bad way to celebrate.

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One of the reasons why I had been in Bristol earlier in the day was to drop off some of the cookies I had made yesterday to Jackie, one of the blog fans.  She wrote a note this morning on the Facebook page that said the cookies looked delicious.  I knew I was going to be in Bristol (where Jackie works), so I asked her if she wanted some delivered to her.  She took me up on the offer.  That brought a new dimension of fun to the quest where I can randomly share our bounty with supporters and friends.  I don’t think I have actually ever met Jackie (she’s an FOL – friend of Lola), but I have always heard nice things about her.  The least I could do was share some cookies with her.  I dropped a small bag of cookies for her in her office and even though I have still yet to meet her (she was with a client), I felt like I shared some celebration today which is what the quest is all about.  I hope I can do that more of that in the future.  So you never know – if you see something on here that I made that looks interesting, give me a shout.  I’ll do what I can.  But don’t ask for that ice cream cone – that was gone before I left Gray’s.

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The best place in Bristol for Jackie spotting.  

Next up: National Great American Pot Pie Day

Day 52 – National Pecan Cookie Day

It’s been a while since I celebrated a straight up cookie.  I don’t think I’ve ever made a pecan cookie before but I knew the internet would have some recipes.  The only pecan cookie I could think of was the Pecan Sandie, the handiwork of those Keebler elves.  I thought that maybe I would just go out and but a box of them to celebrate, but there’s something about homemade that makes this quest a bit more special.  After a very bad detour on Urban Dictionary which gave me a whole new definition of pecans and pecan sandies (don’t ask or look), I found a recipe that looked pretty tasty and easy.  Even better, I had all the ingredients in house.

The recipe came from Sally’s Baking Addiction which is an interesting blog for recipes.  I never realized it until I started this quest, but the internet has upped the game for recipes out there and the blog format along with the accessibility of high quality photos and videos from your phone really brings everything to the next level.  The blog format allows the writer to talk about the recipe in detail and give you pointers along the way.  It allows for step by step instructions along with pictures to show you the progress without confining you to the one or two pages of a recipe book.  It’s really a great evolution for the home cook and for technology.  It makes even the most difficult recipes seem possible (I think I can make that Puffer Fish sushi now).

Sally called these cookies buttery and bursting with pecan and brown sugar flavor.  That drew me in.  I made the batter in the morning because Sally was very specific that the batter needed to chill for at least three hours before making the actual cookies.  I was a little worried that her instructions called for using a stand mixer (something I don’t have (unless Kitchen Aid wants to send me one in exchange for advertising …wink, wink).  However, I just used the ol’ hand mixer and it worked out fine.  That thing has been getting quite a work out lately.  The batter came together quickly and without incident, so I wrapped it up and left in the fridge to chill.

My vision was to have the cookies fresh from the oven while Lola and I watched the season premiere of Survivor.  That meant that I had to start popping the trays of cookies in the oven around 7:30.  I got everything ready.  The oven was preheated and the dough was cooled to room temperature.  You rolled these cookies into little balls and then dragged them through some sugar before lining them up on baking sheets.  After they were all rolled up, I started the rotation: Cookies in, rotate tray in oven, remove cookies, new cookies in, place cookies that were done on cooling rack, rotate tray in oven, remove cookies. It keeps you on your toes throughout the cooking process, but all worked out well.  I had fresh cookies all ready and cooling before we got the first glimpse of Jeff Probst’s knees.

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These cookies are good.  Damn good, and buttery is the perfect description.  Our only critique would be that they needed more pecans (and Sally even said that she thought they needed more pecans).  I think the key to them is they are still doughy in the center (intentionally, not undercooked).  So you get a soft crunch from the outside and then bite into the soft inside dotted with bits of pecans and it’s a great combo.  Maybe I chopped the pecans too small?  After her first bite, Lola turned to me and said that they were the best cookies she ever ate.  I think she may have been exaggerating but they were good.  Keep this recipe in mind for the holidays.  I bet they taste even better with a chill in the air, a hot cocoa in your hand and a fire in the fireplace.

The pecan cookie was celebrated, as was the return of Survivor.  Now we are ready for autumn!

Next up: National Ice Cream Cone Day 

Day 51 – National Punch Day

I know what you are thinking: how can you possibly celebrate on the day that Brangelina broke up?  Well, the show must go on.  It just goes to show you the daily rigors of this quest and how you have to keep pushing on despite all the peaks and valleys, just like poor Brad has to do.  Today was National Punch Day which was a bit vague.  Do I celebrate with a cold glass of Hawaiian Punch (do they still sell that)?  Do I celebrate with a nice knuckle sandwich for Lola? However, after some further investigating, I saw that this day is also recognized as National Rum Punch Day, so I decided to go in that direction.

Not to criticize the Board of National Holidays (if there is such a thing), but don’t you think combining Talk Like a Pirate Day with Rum Punch Day would make sense?  More sense than Butterscotch Pudding.  Regardless, I was out to celebrate, but where?  My first vision of rum punch was a Chinese restaurant where you get a fun drink in a festive glass served with a large straw.  Mai Tais, Scorpion Bowls, Suffering Bastards – those kind of drinks.  Cherie suggested a restaurant in Middletown called Ching Tao where she used to go after her shifts at Carmella’s (back in the day).  However, I don’t think I could get Lola to go there as it looks a little homesick from the outside (especially now that their neighbor Rocky’s Hardware is going out of business).  I’d have to find something with a bit more atmosphere and a little closer to home.

Punch is pretty loosely defined as a beverage usually made with liquor (although it doesn’t have to be) and a variety of fruit juices.  It’s also one of my least favorite alcoholic beverages.  They always taste the same to me and the sweetness of the juice is just too much.  I wasn’t much looking forward to this.  I started looking at the online drink menus at some of the restaurants close to us to see if anyone had a punch.  I saw one at the Boat House in Tiverton and thought it might be a nice place to go for the sunset, but the day ended up being super foggy and the view would be lost.  Plus, their punch was a little too highbrow for me (made with VSOP rum).  I then noticed that Aidan’s Pub in Bristol has a drink called the Bristol Bay which was made with Bacardi White Rum, peachtree, pineapple, orange juice and blue curaçao.  Then I saw that they had Trivia on Tuesday nights, so our decision was made.

First, let’s look at that drink.  It’s everything a rum punch is to me in all it’s awful sweetness.  For the juices, it’s made with pineapple and orange juice which are the juices you’ll find in every punch.  Somehow that makes it tropical and, having worked behind a few bars, it also just happens to be the two juices that are easily available for any bartender to pour.  The blue curaçao gives it a blue color and maybe a tad more sweetness.  While a blue drink is usually pretty to look at, it’s really just a product of boozy food coloring.  Finally, by adding in peachtree, you have just pushed the sweetness of this drink over the top.  This was as classic a rum punch as there could ever be.

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When I tasted it, it was everything I thought it would be.  No, it was not my cup of tea, but if I was out to celebrate National Rum Punch Day, it was the best way to celebrate.  Lola tasted it and she said it “tasted like a fraternity party.”  Exactly.  They really nailed the rum punch.  Aidan’s is actually a great little place and I’d happily recommend it to anyone.  It’s more of an Irish Bar so their forte is really beer and they get that right.  It’s a great spot with two floor and an outdoor patio with views of the Bristol waterfront.  Aidan’s is actually the first place where Lola worked in a  restaurant. She didn’t really work there, but her sister Katie did and apparently, one time they were really short staffed so Katie had Lola come in to help her and run food and bus tables.  Not sure what the labor laws are on that one, but that was the auspicious start of Lola’s life in restaurants.

While we were sipping our drinks and munching on some buffalo chicken ravioli, we jumped into the Trivia game.  Back in our New Hampshire days, we would sometimes play Trivia at a place called the Holy Grail in Epping.  It was a fun bar and always made for a good little date night.  We even won some prizes every now and then.  It felt good to get back into the Trivia game right here at home.  We arrived a little late and missed the first round (there were six rounds of play), but we were able to jump in and finish the game.  Not to be Mr. Braggadocio, but we were crushing it.  We were able to get four rounds in a  row completely right.  We make a great team.  I got the question about what Keanu Reeves movie gets its title from a B-52s song (My Own Private Idaho) and Lola got the question about how many types of words does and adverbs modify (three).  That’s kind of how the night went.  Lola knew what I didn’t know and vice versa.  We went into the final question tied for second place just nine points off the lead – not too shabby after missing a whole round.  The final question was worth up to 15 points and we decided to go all in for the win. The question asked you to put five items into the order in which they were invented (Kevlar, Dialysis Machine, Non-Stick Frying Pan, Traffic Signals and Microchips*).  We took our time on this one and had some differing opinions.  I wrote down my answers and then Lola wrote down hers, then we submitted our answers from a composite of both our guesses.  In the end, we got it wrong although let it be known that my first guess was correct which meant had we gone with my gut, we would have won the game.  But that’s how Trivia goes and even though we came in 5th place, we both walked out heads held high feeling like we were the true winners of the night.

That’s how this quest is really making life worth celebrating.  While I was not looking forward to Rum Punch, it did get us out of the house on a Tuesday night and we ended up having a lot of fun playing trivia.  It pushed us into a whole new experience and a whole new night of fun.  That’s why I’m on this quest and I can’t wait to see where it brings me next.  Hopefully, Brad Pitt can join me on the journey too.

Next Up: Pecan Cookie Day 

*The answer was Traffic Signals, Dialysis Machine, Non-Stick Frying Pan, Microchips and Kevlar.