Day 91 – National Candy Corn Day

Naturally Candy Corn would have its day right around Halloween.  Like it or not, Candy Corn is kind of an iconic Halloween candy, although I wouldn’t suggest handing it out for trick or treaters.  It should be just around during this holiday sitting in a candy dish like a decoration and as a small temptation as you walk by.  Some folks are tempted.  Others are not. There are rumors that some people put the same bowl of candy corn out every year and it never gets eaten.  I could believe that (in fact, comedian Lewis Black has a whole routine on it).

Me?  I like candy corn.  It’s just a nice sweet little treat with a great texture for a candy.  It also has a cousin called the mellowcreme which is typically shaped like a pumpkin.  Those are even better and a personal favorite.  Lola does not much care for candy corn in any form.  She doesn’t spit it out, but she’s never getting excited at the promise of having the sweet treat.  I guess you either love it or hate it.  But let’s be honest, it’s pretty much just sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, so what’s not to like?

Candy corn is named as such because it is designed to look like a kernel of corn.  If you strategically stack them up so that the yellow bottom faces out, you can see the resemblance to corn (see photo).  It was created in the 1880s in Philadelphia at the Wunderle Candy Company.  Around the turn of the century, the Goelitz Confectionery Company (which is now called the Jelly Belly Candy Company) started selling the candy under the name Chicken Feed, which is the name I heard it being called growing up.  Now, 20 million pounds of candy corn is sold every year.  That’s a lot of sweets, so someone must be enjoying them.  Be honest, have you never eaten a candy corn by biting off each color separately?  Have you never made fangs from it by sticking two pieces between your teeth and gums?  It’s a holiday tradition and it’s a fun food to eat.

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(Photo courtesy of Tumblr)

I bought a big bag of Candy Corn today and had a few tastes of it throughout the day.  You really can’t eat too much of it because it is so sweet.  I then decided to make something with the rest of my candy corn so I found a recipe for Candy Corn and White Chocolate Softbatch Cookies from my old online pal, Averie Cooks.  Her cookies are usually pretty awesome so I trusted her recipe, plus it was a nice easy recipe with ingredients I had in house.  I gathered everything together and started making the dough.  It’s the usual ingredients: sugar, flour, egg, butter,vanilla, etc. although this one had a little bit of half and half added in.  I mixed it all up and when it was combined I folded in the candy corn and the white chocolate.  I then put it in the fridge to chill for at least three hours.  The batter alone is one of the tastiest things you’ll ever eat.  I gave Lola a spoon so she could try and she was in heaven.

After dinner, I threw a tray of the cookies in the oven and they came out about ten minutes later, then I let them cool.  When you pull them out, they look like they are not ready, but they firm up as they cool.  Then, just as the Cubs game was heading in to the first inning, we tried one.  I think it’s because they are softbatch or possibly slightly undercooked, but theses cookies are so damn good.  Lola said that it’s like eating raw cookie dough but in a cooked-cookie form.  The white chocolate was a great little complement too, giving it a bit of a solid bite which you needed as you chewed the softness of the cookie.  The candy corn was good too, although to be honest, the cookies would have been just as good without it.   All in all, the combo of the batter, the chips and the candy corn was a festive holiday treat and a great way to cap off our celebration.  Plus, the Cubs are now undefeated in World Series games every time I make a batch of these cookies.  Maybe I should make some more on Tuesday?

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Next Up: National Caramel Apple Day 

Day 90 – National Oatmeal Day

I’m not sure why but oatmeal was never really a thing in my house growing up.  It was there – I can remember the container being around – but I think it was used for baking and cookies and that sort of thing.  I don’t recall ever getting a nice bowl of hot oatmeal to start my day.  I feel I missed out on something.  Lola was the one who introduced me to oatmeal as a breakfast option.  She would sometimes make a bowl for herself and it would always look pretty good.  She’d doctor it up too – add in some nuts, fruit and maybe even a little honey.  Then she’d eat it up, usually wrapped under a blanket on our couch engrossed in some kind of book or article.  It always looked like a nice and warm treat.

Because today was National Oatmeal Day, I figured a nice bowl of oatmeal would be the appropriate way to celebrate.  We have lots of oatmeal in our pantry from Steel Cut, to instant, to Irish.  I never knew there were so many varieties.  I think we have so many because Lola asked me to pick some up and I kept picking up the wrong kind, so we started stock piling.  For me, I went with the one with the smiling face on the box that I most associate with oats, Quaker Oats Old Fashioned variety (in fact, in my mind, the Quaker on the container talks like Wilford Brimley – that’s advertising working in your subconscious).  The recipe is right on the container and it calls for 1 cup of oats to 1.75 cups of milk (plus a pinch of salt).  I also added in a few sprinkles of cinnamon and about a teaspoon of brown sugar just for a little bit more flavor.  It takes about five minutes to cook and afterwards, I poured in some Sun Maid raisins to complete my breakfast (those are two nice smiling faces to share your breakfast with).

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Oatmeal is still a pleasant surprise to me after having pushed it away for so many years out of stubbornness.  It’s nice to have a nice warm dish that sticks to your ribs.  It definitely needs to be doctored up, like adding in the sugar and cinnamon, but it really is a sweet little bowl of warmth which is perfect for a cold morning.  I would say oatmeal is kind of glutenous as it all sticks together and makes it kind of chewy which is a weird quality for a cereal.  It’s another item that I have been pleasantly surprised to discover I am a fan of.  This quest keeps bringing out the surprises for me.

I was going to continue my oatmeal celebration by making some kind of baked good (like oatmeal cookies or bars – there’s no shortage of great recipes for oatmeal), but I was heading out of town for a Fantasy Basketball draft, so my time at home was limited.  I even had to rule out the nice hot oatmeal bath I was going to take later in the evening too because I wouldn’t have the time.  So even though my celebration was kept to just my bowl of oatmeal in the morning, that’s the kind of sweet, simple celebration that seems perfect for oatmeal.  Easy, sweet and warm.  That’s how you celebrate National Oatmeal Day!

My draft was in New Hampshire and it was the first time I was back in those parts since August.  It felt a little weird driving back into town.  I got to see some friends I haven’t seen in a while and it was good to be back there having some laughs on a cold Saturday afternoon.  To be clear, I am possibly the worst fantasy player ever to have played for ten seasons or more.  I had actually retired, but thanks to old friends for keeping in touch, they let me back in.  I guess they missed beating me every week.  In any case, it was a nice way to spend a day.  Now I just have to figure out who Karl-Anthony Towns is and why I picked him in the first round.

Next Up: National Candy Corn Day 

Day 89 – National Chocolate Day

You would think this is a holiday I could get a little crazy with.  Kind of like the day that all the other days were leading up to.  I mean, it’s all about chocolate!  What would I do today?  Would I create a bust of Lola’s head made entirely of chocolate?  Would I tour the Necco Candy factory?  Would I fuse chocolate into a savory dinner – a nice mole sauce perhaps?  Would I stand on the corner and throw chocolates to people as if I was some kind of deranged mash up of Willy Wonka and Rip Taylor?

None of that happened today.  Sometimes, you have to know your limitations and I couldn’t find the motivation.  It happens and when you are on a 365 day journey, there will be days (maybe even multiple days) where you just do enough to get by.  I think that’s where I was today.  It was cold out and the wind was making it feel like it was yelling at us to stay inside.  Lola was sick and we both were tired.  It had been a long week, so I took it easy and kept my celebration easy as well.

We did motivate to join Cherie and Pete for some Trick or Trunk at Brickie’s school – I suppose that is a celebration of chocolate.  It was a cute little scene.  Cherie had decorated the back of their car with all kinds of construction vehicles (Brickie is what you would call a truck enthusiast and has a vast collection of Tonka trucks.  He’s actually pretty proud of his collection and he will ask you to come see it if you are ever chatting with him).  She added in some construction tape, some tools and some orange cones to add to the trunkscape which made it fin and festive.  Then her and Pete (and Calix too) were all dressed up like construction workers with hard hats and safety vests.  Becky was there too and she was in her construction gear as well.  Lola and I were the odd balls as we came dressed in a liberty mohawk mask and a tiger mask.  We didn’t fit the scene, but we tried to be festive.

Brickie was dressed as Batman and he gave us the biggest smiles when he saw us.  The kids would all walk around the parking lot from trunk to trunk of all these decorated cars and fill their bags with all kinds of goodies from strangers, and yes chocolates were given out too (it was the holiday). You couldn’t help but smile at the cuteness of it all.  Afterwards, we were all serenaded by the class with a few Halloween jingles to add to the festiveness of the day.  It was a pretty nice little pause to take in the midst of our busy chocolate day.

When I was skimming through my Facebook feed on Chocolate Day Eve, I noticed a recipe for a brownie that looked pretty amazing.  I thought this was a sign from above because I was still up in the air about what to make for chocolate day.  The recipe was from a site called Recipe Girl and it was for something she called Basement Brownies (brownies so good you have too hide them in the basement).  I was intrigued.

They only require a minimum of ingredients including a box of cake mix, a bag of caramels, butter, chocolate chips and some condensed milk.  The hardest part was unwrapping all the individual caramels which you would then place in a pan on the stovetop and melt.  For the brownies, you cook the base first for a few minutes, then take them out of the oven, add on the chocolate chips and the melted caramel, top with more batter and then cook the rest of the way.  They look and smell fantastic when the come out of the oven.

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If we are celebrating chocolate, then these did not disappoint.  The batter, which is made from German Cake mix, firms up to brownie texture and gives a nice underlying chocolate taste to the whole brownie.  The chocolate chips melt down but give every bite that extra little chocolate kick and also keep it nice and moist.  Then the caramel kicks in and struts its stuff all over every bite.  I’ll admit, it’s a lot of sweetness.  I might even say the caramel was too much, but to be truthful, they are just ridiculous.  We dug into them before they really had time to set up because we’re human and we were hungry.  It was nice to try them good and warm and melty and oozy, but they were kind of messy.  I think they are going to get better as they set up.  We will see.

So that was the extent of my Chocolate Day celebration.  Nothing too big, but I took time to try a new chocolate recipe, I got to enjoy it with Lola and I also got to be part of chocolate distribution to a bunch of little kids who were as excited as you could be to be getting big bags of chocolate.  All things considered, that’s a pretty nice way to spend your chocolate day.

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At night, we watched a movie called “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” which is a movie about a boy from New Zealand, his foster family and a journey that the embark on.  This has nothing to do with chocolate or with chocolate day, but it was probably one of the best movies we’ve watched in a long time (and we watch a lot of movies).  I won’t spoil it (as I can sometimes do), but it’s just a story that brings you all the feels and all the laughs and it’s a movie I want more people to know about.  Check it out.  It’s in the new release section at Blockbuster under “Lola’s Picks” (also available for rent on your streaming devices).  Enjoy it with a nice brownie.

Next Up: National Oatmeal Day (It’s also National Cat Day, but I can’t find any good cat recipes). 

 

 

 

Day 88 – National American Beer Day

In this turbulent time of political debates and ideological back and forths, it’s nice to have a holiday that celebrates one of the great things about these United States of America: Beer, the beautiful elixir of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Our country was founded on great beer.  Not really, but it was founded by great men who enjoyed great beer.  Washington, Franklin, Jefferson and Madison were all known beer fans and even dabbled in brewing their own.  John Adams fancied a nice cold brew and I can only assume his cousin Sam did too.  I also hear that Aaron Burr was the kind of guy you that you could grab a beer with (just don’t sit him next to Hamilton, who needs to learn how to talk less).  There’s some deep rooted beer loving in America.

When I saw that it was American Beer Day, it made me think of the true blue American beers (the American lagers) that have become the foundation of this great nation.  The Budweisers.  The Coors.  The Millers.  And although most of those brewers are now owned by multinational corporations and not based in the United States, the beer is still made here and celebrated here.  That’s what American beer is to me.  Sure, we have thousands of micro-breweries throughout the states that have changed the perception of beer in America for the better.  Those deserve celebration too.  But let’s not forget what got us where we are today.  It’s your first beer that will always have that special place in your heart, and when you were underage sipping beer with all your friends around a fire at the beach and celebrating the audacity of youth, you were sipping on this kind of American beer.  (Can you hear that Kid Rock song playing in your head now?)

I myself fancy only the finest of beers.  In fact, you may even say that I go for the champagne of beers.  That’s right, Miller High Life.  I’m actually not sure when this became my beer of choice.  I used to be a strictly Bud Light guy.  But the High Life just seems to suit me lately.  When they are good and cold, they just hit the spot.  I guess I’m just a traditionalist at heart.

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How do you celebrate American Beer Day?  You drink some American Beer.  So I did.  Only a couple.  It was kind of a cold, rainy night, so I wasn’t feeling particularly festive (or like getting my drink on).  I had one at my desk while I was finishing up some stuff around 5 PM today and then cracked another as I write this.  They were good and cold and refreshing.  Just what a beer should be.  It tasted like freedom.

I hope you took a moment to celebrate some American Beer today too.  It’s almost your patriotic duty to do so.  So in the spirit of this great country, raise your glass and toast to the tasty craftsmanship and hard working labor of all those whose efforts bring beer to our table and to our mugs.  Toast to all those who have stood on our free land and and enjoyed the spoils of good cold beer with friends and family.  Toast to every beer cracked in celebration and every beer sipped in sorrow.  It’s the libation by which the story of America is told, and we are grateful for all the beer that flows to the free and the brave.  It is with a mug full of beer that we say cheers as we work hard to promote the general welfare and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

God bless the beer of America.

‘Merica #nationalamericanbeerday #highlife #champagneofbeers🍻 #freedom @millerhighlife

A video posted by Dan Lederer (@dans_holiday_adventure) on Oct 27, 2016 at 1:10pm PDT

 

Next Up: National Chocolate Day

Day 87 – National Pumpkin Day

A day to celebrate the most celebrated squash on the planet.  Just what we needed.  I could have gone overboard on this one.  I could have started the day with a pumpkin coffee and a pumpkin muffin.  Had some pumpkin soup and pumpkin bread for lunch.  Eaten some pumpkin seeds for a midday energy boost.  Maybe a nice pumpkin cookie with my afternoon pumpkin coffee.  Had a nice dinner of pumpkin ravioli with a few pumpkin beers then a nice dessert of fresh made pumpkin pie (topped with pumpkin ice cream).  That would have been quite the day.  However, truth be told, I have not yet fallen in love with the taste of pumpkin like the rest of the world has.  It’s just not my jam (although I have not yet tried pumpkin jam, so you never know).

For my celebration, I set out to look for the most sincerest pumpkin patch I could find in hopes that the Great Pumpkin would rise and could explain all this pumpkin hysteria to me.  Only he, in all his infinite pumpkin wisdom, would know the truth.  But alas, he never came and I was left holding my bag of rocks.  I guess I’ll never know.  I’ll have to stick to my own hypothesis that pumpkin flavor is nothing more than a hyped-up marketing strategy to use a cheap ingredient to create more sales.  Maybe that’s true, but I hate when cynicism gets the best of me.  Maybe pumpkin is just a nice warm, tasty flavor that keeps people smiling.  Nothing wrong with that, and in fact, we need more of that in this world of ours.

For my celebration, I was going to make something pumpkiny.  I went to my regular sources and I found a recipe from one of my favorite bloggers Averie Cooks (which was for a recipe she adapted from Paula Deen) for Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes.  I have made three or four recipes from Averie before and she has yet to let me down.  The fact that she was borrowing this recipe from Paula Deen (of the two sticks of butter Paula Deen) only made it more enticing.  To confirm that I had made the right choice, I had picked up all the ingredients I needed at Clement’s and I had left them on our kitchen table.  When Cherie dropped by to pick up something, she saw the ingredients and was instantly intrigued.  I knew I had a believer (Cherie is a huge pumpkin fan).  That made me realize this could be a nice little treat.

It’s an easy recipe.  You start with a spice cake at the bottom of the pan that you kind of squish down to form a dough, then you top it with a mixture of pumpkin, cream cheese, butter, sugar and spices.  It cooks for about 45 minutes.  When you pull it out of the oven, the middle is still a little jiggly, but it firms up while cooling.  I let it cool at room temp for about an hour and then put in in the fridge because Averie said she likes her treats like pumpkin pie chilled, and I had to agree.  When I was ready to cut into it, I dusted it with some more confectionary sugar.  Came out pretty nice.

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Our niece Molly had a volleyball game at 4:45 and I decided to go cheer her on.  She plays her games right up the street at the high school and I actually think the games are fun to watch.  They are quick and Molly always seems like she’s having fun and smiling, which is great to see.  Before I went, I cut up the cake into bar size pieces and brought some along with me because I knew Becky and Cherie were also going to be there (yes, we are the family that brings all kinds of snacks into the bleachers for a 45 minute volleyball game).  Lola was working on a deadline, so she couldn’t make the game, but I told her the cake was on the table if she wanted some.

When I sat down, Becky and Cherie noticed that I had a bag with me and immediately asked “what do you got?”  We busted out the cake and they all got to try a piece right in the stands as Portsmouth was in a heated battle with East Greenwich.  While Cherie’s kids were not a huge fan, Becky, Cherie and Jeff all were on board.  In fact, Becky said that it was one of my best creations yet.  That was the kind of gratification that makes you feel good – having just made it and then getting positive feedback moments later.  It was a success (although I have yet to hear if Molly liked it – we had saved her a piece for after her game and she’s always a good food critic).

When I got home later, Lola was still in her writer’s corner next to the heater and she told me almost instantly how good the cake was.  “I was like ‘Oh My God!'”  That made me happy because she’s always my toughest critic.  One of the joys of making so many different things on this quest is being able to surprise Lola in a positive way.  I decided to try a bite too and I must say, it was pretty good.  The cake at the bottom takes on a crunchy texture, almost like a cookie, and when it combines with the gooey top, you get a great combination.  You get the spice cake flavor which pairs so well with the pumpkin taste (which has been amped up by the sugar).  It’s really something and it could even get me on board for the whole pumpkin thing.

Pumpkin is definitely a flavor of autumn, just like apple and cinnamon are, so it definitely deserves a day of celebration.  It’s nice to see pumpkins being celebrated as something more than a decoration.  It’s a food that has a long history that dates back to 5000 BC in early Mexico.  The pumpkin was particularly a staple of Native American life who used it not just for food, but for medicinal and practical purposes as well.  It’s a pretty versatile squash. So even though I’m not drinking the pumpkin Kool-Aid (is that a thing yet?), I will raise a glass and celebrate the pumpkin for all it has given us (it just might not be a glass of pumpkin beer).  Cheers!

Next Up: National American Beer Day

Day 86 – National Greasy Food Day

Now here’s something I know a little something about.  Me and greasy food go back a long time.  We grew up together.  We went to college together.  We were at Woodstock together.  I was best man at their wedding.  I’m godfather to their kids.  It’s been a long illustrious relationship, although not without it’s moments of destructive behavior and uncontrolled debauchery.  But we’ll always be friends. #GreasyLifeForever

It was a hard holiday to pick the right celebration.  I could have gone around town having greasy food from random places.  Some cheese fries from Reidy’s.  Maybe a nice double cheeseburger from Five Guys.  A steak and cheese sub from D’Angelo’s.  A bucket of chicken from KFC.  I thought about that, but then I thought about my intestines, and my heart, and I thought better of it.  I then started to think about some of the greasiest foods I’ve ever had.  I say that with extreme reverence.  I know grease isn’t good for you, but it sure tastes good and it brings extra flavor to the party.  Not for every day, but on occasion.

As I started going through the rolodex in my head of all the great food I’ve eaten over the years, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Potato, Eggs, Hot Dogs and Cheese sub that I used to get from Andy’s Meat Market in East Haven, CT.  That was the greasiest sub I’ve ever had.  It would be wrapped in two layers of butcher paper and the grease would STILL seep through the wrapping.  I’ve told Lola about this sandwich before and she was naturally curious too.  How could you not be?  But unfortunately Andy’s closed years ago.  It was a local treasure in my hometown, right on the New Haven border right across the street from OTB and Patmart (that’s Pathmark if you don’t speak ‘Staven).  Andy was a kind-faced, gentle man who walked with a little bit of a hunch and would always give you a nice warm greeting.  The front part of the store was for groceries and they had a little bit of whatever you needed.  You wouldn’t do your big grocery shopping here, but you could pick up what you needed for that day or meal.  It was really a butcher shop and they had great cuts of meat and fresh poultry plus tons of Italian specialties.  Everything was on display in big glass refrigerated cases and you would order what you needed from the bevy of butchers working on the other side of the glass who would always be happy to help.

The magic happened on the left side of the meat counter where you could order sandwiches. They were the best in town.  Fresh made to order, all served on Apicella’s Italian Bread.  If you went there at lunch time, the line would be down the produce aisle with everyone patiently waiting to order.  Andy would be there to greet everyone as they came through.  “How are you today young man?”  The other gentlemen behind the counter would be taking your order and making your sandwich (I think one or two of them were Andy’s brothers – it was a family affair and the place had a family feeling).  The line would be filled with people of all walks of life: construction workers, businessmen, policemen, housewives – all jonesing for a good lunch.  They’s also be filling large orders too – lunch catering before that was a thing.

I always recall one guy who worked there that seemed to always make my sandwich (maybe he was the Potato, Eggs, Hot Dogs and Cheese specialist).  He was younger than the other guys and had a thick mustache.  He looked like a mix of Keith Hernandez and the captured photo of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (but with an Italian flair).  I would order the sub and he would nod that he got it, then disappear into the kitchen behind closed doors.  Ig uses that’s where the magic was.  He’d come out five minutes later with my sub wrapped and ready to go.  It would be heavy in your hand and you felt like you had something substantial to work on.  When you put it down on the counter to pay for it, it would land with an authoritative thud.  The cashier knew right away what you were having.  She’d have to wipe the grease off the counter after you left.  I would go home and eat the sub and then drift off into a coma for the next hour or so.  So worth it.

I figured a great way to celebrate Greasy Food Day would be to recreate this sandwich at home.  I’ve tried to do this before, and I’ve never gotten it exactly right.  But if we were celebrating greasy, than this needed to be my tribute – my opus to a great sandwich and sandwich maker.

I started with a hot dog.  I’m sure Andy’s used Hummel’s Hot Dogs (of the bologna maker Hummel’s) but I used one that I had picked up at Clement’s.  I cut the hot dog up into disc shaped pieces and fried them up in a pan with butter.  I browned one side then flipped all the pieces over to brown the other side.  For the potatoes, Andy’s would use steak fries that I am sure they cooked fresh to order in a fryolater.  I am not a huge fan of frying at home (I feel the smell of oil gets everywhere), but luckily I peaked at the hot buffet line at Clement’s and they had some potato wedges as an option (already cooked) so I picked some up.  They are not steak fries, but they were pretty close and you when you bite into them, you get real potato taste.  I added these into the frying pan with the hot dogs and let them cook together.  After a bit, I added in two eggs that were beat together with some milk and let everything cook, scrambling the eggs up so it wouldn’t take an omelette form (this is more of a scramble).  When everything was cooked, I topped it all with two slices of American cheese and put a cover on the pan to help melt it.  I then cut open a sub roll and when the cheese was melted, carefully transferred everything into my sandwich. Done.

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This was the closest I’ve come to recreating this sandwich and I think the potato wedges were the key.  Not only did it give the sandwich the extra potato taste but it also added a little more grease (from the fry oil) to the combination and hence more flavor.  The element that was missing however was the bread because the fresh Apicella’s Italian bread  that Andy used made a difference. The sub roll I used didn’t have that crusty outside and soft, doughy inside that the Italian bread has.  Had I used that, I think I may have nailed the whole thing.  This is a great sandwich and I only wish more people knew about it.  I savored every bite.

So that was my greasy food celebration.  It was a good reminder to me about how food can bring back some memories.  It wasn’t just the sandwich I was thinking of today, but it was being in Andy’s Market and all those sense memories coming back from the smell of the store to the feeling of waiting in line.  Food can be a gatekeeper of memories, and worth the trip, especially when it’s delicious.  Should you eat this every day?  No. God no.  But can you make it every once in a blue moon just to share what it was like to feast like this as an 18 year old kid?  You sure can, and it’s a delicious trip to take.

Next Up: National Pumpkin Day 

Day 85 – National Bologna Day

When I was growing up, my bologna had a last name.  It was Hummel.  All our bologna came from Hummel Brothers which is a meat packing company located in New Haven.  I think that’s what they would call themselves – meat packers.  Whatever kind of people make bologna and hot dogs, that’s what they are/do.  They’ve been doing it since 1933 so not only did I grow up on it, but my mother did too.  All the deli counters in the area carry Hummel Bros.  When I was sent to our local Deli Mart around the corner, I would be told to pick up a half pound of Hummel’s bologna, a half pound of imported ham and a loaf of still-warm Appicella’s Italian Bread (another New Haven treasure) and then I could get a pack of baseball cards with the change (for eleven cents).  I was kind of raised on bologna.

I wasn’t much for a bologna sandwich back in those days.  I liked it solo along with a slice of individually plastic-wrapped cheese.  The two made a great combo.  I’d fold it in half so it would be like a double decker bite.  I also liked bologna when you would wrap the bologna around a sweet gherkin pickle although that sounds pretty gross to be now.  My Mom would actually (and still does) make a bologna and pickle salad which means grinding up the bologna and the sweet gherkins and then mixing with mayonnaise.  I was never a big fan of that.  On occasion, I would sometimes ask for a bologna and egg omelette and my mom would chop up some bologna, fry it up, and then add in the egg for a nice little taste combo.  I would say that fried bologna in general is pretty good.  Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it.  I was pleasantly surprised to see it listed as a Monday special last week at my cousin Charlie’s restaurant, Ye Olde Alpha, where it was served with American cheese, grilled onions on rye bread.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Good food is good food.

They don’t carry Hummel Brothers bologna around here (although they do carry the hot dogs).  I knew this going into Clement’s in preparation for today, so I opted for Boar’s Head bologna instead.  Not that this is news, but they have a pretty great product in whatever deli meat you select (we are big fans of their Cracked Pepper Turkey).  There are a few options for bologna: small, big, German.  I went with the small one because that was more like the size of the Hummel bologna.  The Oscar Mayer type of bologna is on the larger side, but that always tastes a little bit more processed and not as fresh.  I like the jingle, but not the product.  Did you know that bologna is actually a type of sausage?  I never realized that, although what else would it be?

To celebrate the day today, I had a bologna sandwich for lunch.  Bologna, American cheese, fresh tomato and some mayo on a fresh Portuguese roll.  And, it was pretty darn good.  It’s not something you want to eat every day, but on occasion, it’s a great little party.  It’s nostalgia but also an actual tasty combination.  I couldn’t get Lola to try one, she’s not a bologna fan, but I was able to enjoy and while I was munching, I couldn’t help thinking about how great it would have tasted on some fresh Italian bread that was still warm.

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When night rolled around, we had plans to meet one of Lola’s best friends Matt out for dinner.  Matt is out in California now and whenever he comes home, he makes some time to visit with Lola (some interesting Dan and Lola trivia: Matt actually officiated our wedding).  On this trip, he was bringing his boyfriend Brandon whom we had never met, so it was a special occasion.  We made plans to go out and I insisted that I would go anywhere just as long as they were serving bologna.  I had to cave in on that demand, but we ended up having a great little dinner at Malt on Broadway in Newport.  Really great actually, thanks to the company.  The night was filled with stories, laughs, questions, answers, more laughs and just fun.  It felt like a real celebration of old and new friends, and even though we were not eating bologna, we were living in the moment and having some fun.  That’s a good way to celebrate any day.

To end today’s post, I wanted to just share a video of the incomparable Gilda Radner as Roseanne Rosannadanna and her commencement speech routine.  At about the 3:15 mark, she does a funny bit about bologna that I always think of when I hear the word.  It’s also just a classic piece of comedy and worth the share.  So enjoy it because it deserves to be enjoyed (just like bologna).

Next Up: National Greasy Foods Day

Day 84 – Boston Cream Pie Day

Boston Cream Pies always look so much better than they really are.  You see them with their thick chocolate ganache frosting sitting atop a soft two-layer cake with a delightful golden cream oozing out the middle.  It’s the kind of cake a kid dreams about.  But when it gets down to tasting it, it’s always a little disappointing.  Sure it’s good.  How could it not be with all that packed into one dessert?  But it always seems to be missing that WOW! factor.  It’s a disappointment.  Same goes for the Boston Cream Donut.

Legend has it that the Boston Cream Pie, which has been the official dessert of Massachusetts since 1996, was created at the Parker House Hotel in Boston in 1856.  Their chef created a cake consisting of “two layers of French butter sponge cake filled with crème pâtissière and brushed with a rum syrup, its side coated with crème pâtissière overlain with toasted sliced almonds, and the top coated with chocolate fondant.” At least that’s what Wikipedia says.  I’m not sure how it ended up becoming the cake with pudding in the middle that it is today.  I’m also not sure why they call it a pie?  It’s a cake.  We can all agree on that, right?  There’s one theory that it’s called a pie because the cake is baked in pie tins.  I think we’ve let enough time go by where we could correct that.  Boston Cream Cake still sounds pretty appetizing.  On a side note (and apologies for the crassness), doesn’t Boston Cream Pie sound like one of those funny-named sexual moves? It could be the street name for engaging in carnal activities behind a Dunkin Donuts while listening to Joe Castiglione call a Red Sox game on the radio.

I found a few recipes for Boston Cream Pie online and they all looked pretty complicated.  Not too bad, but you had to make the cake, the cream filling and the frosting separately and then put it all together.  To be honest, I was beat and didn’t have the energy (more on this in a few). So I took the easy way out and picked up a Boston Cream Pie at Clement’s in their bakery section.  The desserts at Clement’s never let you down.  I had a piece after dinner and after watching the Patriots game (enjoying some Boston Cream Pie after a Patriots win seems pretty celebratory).  It was just as I expected.  Good, but not a dessert I’m raving about.  Maybe a fresh homemade one would taste a little better (of course it would), but it really just tasted like a piece of cake.  But, it was a nice sweet ending to kind of a perfect day, so it was celebrated and savored in style.

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Today was also the day that I ran the Pell Bridge Run which is why I was so tired for the rest of the day.  It was an early morning start with Lola giving me a ride to Jamestown leaving our house at 6 am.  She dropped me off where everyone was gathering and left me there with almost three thousand other Bridge Crossers.  It was still dark out but the sky was slowly waking from the east and it looked like we’d be in for a spectacular sunrise.  It was a bit chilly, but not too bad especially when we all had nervous energy running through us and the winds that had been a whooping and a whomping all last night had subsided.  After they got us all wrangled and in line, the race began and just like that, I was off.

I’ve never been in a road race or group run like this before and I found that having that many people around you makes running a little difficult to navigate.  Some folks were lallygagging and taking their time, while others were trying to pass you.  It was a lot of stop and go and I felt like I was stuck on a moving sidewalk when someone is not walking but also not keeping to the right.  I ran a bit, then slowed down to walk because I wasn’t getting anywhere, then ran some more.  This went on for about the first mile.  It was a little frustrating and it took me a minute to find a calm place in my mind where I could truly soak in everything about where I was.  When I got to the top of the bridge (that’s a steep upgrade to the top of the bridge), I broke free and ran the rest of the way (I took a slight walking respite when getting off the exit).  I’d say I ran about 65% of the whole race which was more than I thought I would (remember, I am not a runner).  There was something neat about being atop the Newport Bridge, looking out and seeing Rose Island below, a cruise ship in the harbor, and taking in the grand scope of Aquidneck Island.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be on that bridge again without thinking about running over it.

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The run ended at the Newport Visitor’s Center on America’s Cup Avenue so when you come off the bridge you are making your final strides heading down this city street.  The police have blocked off traffic and there were a few fans along the final lengths cheering you on.  When you get close to the finish line, you can start hearing the crowd cheering for everyone.  Maybe it was my tiredness or just exhausted state, but that last half mile was really emotional.  I think my head was racing to thoughts of having accomplished a goal and to having done something I didn’t think I could do.  I was thinking of Lola too who would be at the finish line waiting for me and I was moved at the thought of her support.  It was all spinning in my head.  I came to the very final stretch and I immediately saw Lola, smiling so big and wide, cheering me on, fumbling with her phone to take a picture but not wanting to miss the moment.  Then I crossed the finish line which made it all feel like I was a genuine runner, especially with all the well wishers cheering.  I did it.

After a few minutes of walking around so I could walk off a calf cramp, Lola and I headed to the Brick Alley Pub who were open for a post-run breakfast.  I couldn’t let go of Lola’s hand because she was so proud of me and I was proud of myself.  I just needed to hold onto her to replenish myself with her love.  Cherie and Katie and the kids came to cheer me on too and although they missed the finish line (it’s hard to get kids motivated on an early Sunday morning), they came to Brick Alley to celebrate.  It was nice to feel that kind of support especially when the kids started asking questions like did I win (I told them I came in third). It warmed my soul up and made it even more special.  They even had signs for me.

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When we got home, after a nice warm shower, I pretty much passed out on our couch for a good hour and a half.  After that, we spent most of the day watching football and relaxing and  Lola couldn’t stop sharing how proud she was of me all day.  I felt like this day was really celebrated to the fullest from the very first dawn of light to the last twinkle of stars and a mouthful of Boston Cream Pie.  This will be a tough day to top, but if I learned anything, there’s always more to accomplish if you put your mind to it.

Next up: National Bologna Day 

 

Day 83 – National Nut Day

Let me get all my teenage boy titters out of the way.  Yes, I love some good, warm salty nuts in my mouth.

There.  Now that that’s been said, I can get down to business.  We go through a lot of nuts here in our house, especially lately with all my cooking.  We’ve used pecans, macadamias, cashews, peanuts – the list never ends.  Our daily goto nuts however are the walnut and the almond – the perfect snack food.  Some mornings when I make breakfast for Lola, she will just have a bowl of yogurt with walnuts and almonds chopped up and mixed in along with some fresh fruit.  That’s her power breakfast.  I am not a fan of yogurt, but when I make it for her, I am always sneaking a few bites of nuts and fruits for myself.  It’s instant energy.

Nuts at my house growing up were more of a party thing.  Every Sunday dinner that my uncles would come for would begin with them fixing and drinking a round of Manhattans at the kitchen table and a bowl of Planter’s salted cocktail nuts were served as the nosh (maybe some cheese and Triscuits too).  Then, during the holidays, there was always that bowl of mixed nuts still in their shell out for display.  I used to like to crack them open because we had this devise that acted like a vice and crushed the nut.  Then I’d give my Dad the fragments to eat.  I guess nuts in shells are festive.

Nuts are everywhere!  No wonder squirrels are so busy.  Nuts seemed like a pretty good thing to celebrate, I just didn’t really know where to start.  I ended up finding a recipe from Food Network chef and saucy minx Nigella Lawson.  She had a recipe for the Union Square Cafe’s bar nuts.  I didn’t know what the Union Square Cafe was but I discovered it’s kind of a famous New York restaurant run by a very famous restauranteur named Danny Meyer (he I was familiar with).  Apparently the nuts they served at their bar were pretty famous as in the best-thing-I-ever-ate famous.  That intrigued me.  And while I contribute the recipe here to Nigella, it’s really Danny Meyer’s recipe from his cookbook.  Nigella, along with about 50 other chefs, are just passing it along.

Pretty simple actually: Heat up some mixed nuts then mix them in a concoction of brown sugar, butter, salt, cayenne pepper and fresh rosemary.  Serve ’em up hot.  Took less than 15 minutes to make from start to finish.

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I gave some to Lola who was busy working on her computer and not paying too much attention to what was happening in the kitchen except for smelling some wonderful smells.  Her reaction was, “These are fantastic!”  I thought so too.  Good variety.  Nice and salty with the warmness of the nuts bringing a new level of flavor to every bite.  The predominant seasoning was the rosemary which wasn’t overpowering but just a nice, fresh exotic taste.  Great combination.  I could see why they are a fan favorite.  I have a feeling that these might make a future appearance.  I also took comfort in knowing that this recipe is blog fan JDB approved because she has made the recipe too.  If it has her approval, we know we are making good things.

And that was our nut celebration.  It was a quiet night for us as Lola was out babysitting her nephews, so we had to squeeze in our nut party before she left.  At least I can say she left with the taste of my fresh made nuts in her mouth. (Sorry.  I just can’t stop myself.)

Speaking of nuts, here’s something nutty.  Tomorrow morning I will be waking up early and running over the Newport Bridge.  It’s the annual Pell Bridge Run and I signed up for it about 7 weeks ago.  It’s not really a big run (just about 4 miles, so slightly longer than a 5K) but it’s definitely a unique one because you start in Jamestown and run over the bridge into Newport.  I am looking forward to the view from up top.  This race will be my first race  since . . . ever.  I’m not much of a runner.  I don’t even remember having to run a mile in school.  That’s what makes this all a little nutty.

When I started the quest I realized that it would involve me eating a lot of sweet, rich food.  I began to think that this might cause some issues to my health in the long run.  I figured I needed to push myself to make some changes and when I saw this race coming, I thought it would be a personal challenge I could attack (a literal bridge to fitness).  I downloaded an app called 5K Trainer which helped pace my training over the last few weeks.  It’s been a long, slow journey, but I’ve been doing a little better and a little farther every day.  I still won’t be able to run the whole race, but I will run most of it, which will be ok to me.  In any case, I’m excited, and a little nervous. My goals for tomorrow:

  1. Don’t die.
  2. Finish the race.
  3. Don’t poop my pants (I ate a lot of nuts today).
  4. Again, I’ll go with the not die thing.

Wish me luck.  And if you happen to say someone left on the bridge slouched over and screaming for Ben Gay, don’t leave me hanging.

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Next Up: National Boston Cream Pie Day (unless of course I’m a drooling vegetable, but that goes without saying). 

Day 82 – National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day

Today was one of those days where you make plans and God laughs.  It started out ok.  Getting things done and working through the to do list.  For my quest, I was working on a plan to celebrate pumpkin cheesecake.  I found a recipe for one that looked and sounded delicious.  However, while it was easy enough to make, it was kind of time consuming to cook between time in the oven and cooling.  The more I looked at it, the more I thought it wasn’t the best use of my time.  No worries though.  I will save that recipe for another day (it looked good enough to make for the next family holiday).  As far as my celebration today, I realized I could find a pumpkin cheesecake at a bakery or restaurant and that would do the trick.

When I started searching for pumpkin cheesecake online, all signs pointed to the one and only Cheesecake Factory (any internet cheesecake search brings you there – they must have a pretty solid SEO strategy.)  I have only been to the Cheesecake Factory three or four times in my life.  It’s always been good, but it’s kind of a lot to soak in.  The menu alone is so vast it makes your head spin and to order, you feel like you are working on a term paper trying to wade through all the materials to come up with the answer.  I have some other biases against them too, but for the most part, it’s good food, a clean albeit sterile environment, and they know how to execute.  I don’t know if I’ve ever had their cheesecake (I must have tried it at some point but it doesn’t stand out in my mind), but I am going to assume that they make a pretty great one seeing how people go crazy for it.  They are also featuring a pumpkin cheesecake on the front page of their website too, so I figured this would be the ideal place to celebrate.  My only hesitation was that the closest location is in Providence and we had no plans on being out that way.

Maybe it was fate or divine quest intervention, but mid-morning Lola asked me if I wanted to go on an errand with her to beautiful Seekonk, MA (which is probably about 5 minutes outside of Providence).  That would make it super easy to go with her, swing by the Cheesecake Factory to pick up some pumpkin cheesecake and then we could be home in time for happy hour.  We left our house around noon and made our way.  Our stop was at Target.  Over the last few days, Lola has been researching cell phones and cell phone plans in the hopes we could consolidate our bill and lower our monthly rate.  She also wanted to get me a new phone too because she’s thoughtful like that.  Target was offering a plan that would allow us to get a phone today and also sign us up for a plan that would lower our monthly bill.  We marched in and Lola was armed with her notebooks full of her notes and encryptions from her extensive research (I often say that Lola could be another Lisbeth Salander when it comes to thorough research (without the dragon tattoos)).  We were ready for battle and this is where God started to chuckle.

Target seems to have different ideas for Sprint plans then Sprint does.  It took us a while to get the info from the Target people on what they’re best plan was and why they don’t offer the same thing that Sprint does.  Lola had all the numbers and facts but the Target folks had pamphlets and excel sheets which weren’t much help.  After about 45 minutes, we went outside and Lola called Sprint and they said to get the phones there (Target had the phones in stock while Sprint would have to order them) and we could switch the plans when we bring them back to the Sprint store.  We went back in to Target and said we are going to take the phones and to sign us up for Sprint who will change the plan for us tomorrow.  The Target clerk seemed unwashed by the news but then he had to go get the phones which are kept in a safe room about 500 yards away from the mobile electronics counter.  He sauntered his way there and back.  After he brought them out, we changed our minds on a phone color, so he had to go back and saunter again.  That’s when he started to put our info into the system.

I think we were victim to the widespread internet issues that were happening throughout the cyber world today.  We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on that (although they never offered that info).  It happens.  But we were there for three hours.  Not one, not two, but THREE!  The clerk would put info in, then he’d have to talk to someone, then Lola would have to talk to that phone support, then I would.  It was the most ridiculous dance and at every turn, something was stalled or slowed.  The clerk was nice, I suppose, and he wasn’t clueless about what he was doing, but he never offered us any kind of explanation or apology for the delays.  Never got a supervisor involved.  Never said he was sorry this was taking so long.  It was bad.  Really bad.  As 4:30 rolled around, my phone had been activated but our account was inexplicably locked so that Lola could not get her phone or set up.  That was enough.  We grabbed our stuff and left with one new phone, half a plan, an unresolved phone for Lola, a deep-rooted anger for Target and a spinning head of anger.  As we left, the clerk said we could come back tomorrow and get Lola straightened out.  Still no apology and not even a glimmer of realization that we had just spent three hours with him without any resolve.

When we got back to our car, the air was thick with tension.  I quickly abandoned our Cheesecake Factory plan because that was not what this moment needed.  That was a good decision too because as we got on the highway to come home, we noticed the traffic on the other side into Providence was at a standstill for miles.  If we had driven into that, Lola would have hopped out of the car, walked away and may have never returned.  The ride home was quiet.  We talked about it, but anger was still flowing through our blood, so we kept it tempered.  Like all hard moments in life, when you start talking about one issue, the other themes about your marriage and life start to peek out as the tension rises.  But we did our best to stay calm, to keep love in our hearts and to understand each other.  We did our best.

We were also starving too as all we had to eat since breakfast was some coffee at Starbucks in Target (couldn’t they have offered us a free coffee for the trouble)?  When we got home, I reheated some of the pretzel encrusted pork from yesterday along with the cheese sauce and potatoes.  I was kind of excited to do this because Lola had not tried it on Thursday and it really needed to be tasted.  We sat down and put on an episode of How to Get Away With Murder, the air still quiet and tense.  Maybe it was Rhode Island’s own Viola Davis taking us away that made the moment better or maybe it was the pork, but after some time, we were able to calm down.  We were still mad at the whole situation, but we were able to find common ground and could sit down and enjoy each other’s company.  And yes, Lola was a big fan of that pork.  It really surprised me how good it was so I was glad to get her validation on it.

I still had some pumpkin cheesecake that I had to celebrate, so I ran to Clement’s to see what I could find.  Their bakery section usually has some nice surprises so I had big hopes. Pumpkin flavor is everywhere there but I couldn’t find a pumpkin cheesecake (I searched in the bakery section, the freezer section and even the specialty section).  I did find some pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, so I picked them up knowing that it wasn’t exactly what I needed, but they would work in a pinch.  Then I found some help from my old pals Benjamin and Jerome who have a limited batch ice cream out for the fall called Pumpkin Cheesecake.  Boom.  Thank You Ben & Jerry!

They were both good.  I feel pumpkin is that flavor that makes anything pumpkin flavored taste the same.  The ice cream tasted like the cupcake, just colder.  Whenever I take a bite of anything pumpkin, my first thought is always “meh,” but then it gets better.  On your second bite, you start feeling that this isn’t so bad.  By your fourth bite, you feel it’s pretty good.  But by the sixth bite, you’re over it.  We had our treats watching the Hamilton documentary on PBS (we’re so cultured).  If you don’t feel inspired and wowed after watching that, then you aren’t really celebrating life.  From the very start of the program when you hear the first few bars of the opening song, all the happy thoughts that have come from this show come back to you.  Your skin starts to get all goosebumpy.  Your heart grows with hope and inspiration.  That kind of made pumpkin cheesecake pretty great to me.

So in the end, after God stopped laughing, I got to spend a night watching a truly inspiring documentary with the person who has been by my side throughout the whole Hamilton movement and it was sweetened up by some nice pumpkin taste.  I also had a new phone to play with too.  It wasn’t the celebration I thought it would be, but at the end of the day, it turned out to be a pretty good one with absolutely no help from Target.

Next Up: National Nut Day