Day 71 – National Angel Food Cake Day

Today was chockablock full of holidays.  It was of course Columbus Day which is why the kids, bankers and our mail carriers were all off.  For our Canadian fans, it was also Thanksgiving Day – a day to be thankful for all our Canadian harvests and other blessings of the past year.  I was going to celebrate this but after looking into it, it seems that the Canucks celebrate in the same fashion we do with turkey and all the trimmings.  I didn’t quite have the energy for pulling that together.  It was also World Porridge Day which not only celebrates the delightfulness of this warm breakfast favorite, but also in Scotland where porridge is the traditional national dish, it has become a tradition on this day to help provide rich nourishing porridge to children all over the world.  That’s a nice way to celebrate.  I tried to make porridge today, but the first batch was too cold.  The second was too hot.  I gave up then.

Today was also World Mental Health Day. Did you know that 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem during their lifetime and many more will see friends and family members affected?  I wish this day was talked about more.  It would be nice to see mental health issues being addressed with the same sort of compassion and understanding that we have for other health issues.  I wish we could remove the shame and the discomfort we have when talking about it too.  Let’s not glaze over these issues with empty words like “cheer up” or “lighten up.”  Let’s be compassionate and encourage sufferers to seek help and support with the same care and concern we would have for any one that is being affected by a disease.  We need to let our friends and family who are suffering know that we love them and we are there for them.  That’s an important message to get out to everyone in our community, so this is an important day to celebrate.

Today was also Native American Day which is a day to acknowledge the crimes committed against native Americans, and encourages people to learn about and respect the cultures of historical and modern native Americans.  It’s kind of a counter-celebration of Columbus Day which celebrates where the mistreatment of Native Americans began.  I thought this would be a good holiday to celebrate because it’s a culture we don’t pay too much attention to even though our daily life is filled with all kinds of reminders of Native American influence.  The name for Aquidneck Island comes from the Narragansett tribe word for island (although some say it translates to “Isle of Peace.”)  The Sakonnet River gets it’s name from a Native American word which is said to mean “Haunt of the Wild Black Goose.”  Native American influence is everywhere.

I’ve never looked up the history of Native Americans in Rhode Island before so in the spirit of the holiday, I did that today.  There’s a lot of history and this blog is not the place to try to incorporate it all.  But I will encourage everyone to at least read the Wikipedia entry about it (and click on the links too).  This is  our history and it’s good to know (plus you will recognize the names like Metacomet and John Sossamon.  Here are just a few takeaways:

  • The  Narragansett Tribe ‘controlled’ lands in Rhode Island and parts of Connecticut.
  • The first European contact was in 1524, when the explorer Giovanni de Verrazano visited Narragansett Bay.
  • In the early 1600s, thousands of Native Americans died because of the diseases carried to Rhode Island from European fisherman.
  • In the mid 1600s, wars started to happen between colonists and Native American tribes.  That’s when it starts to get ugly.
  • I mean ugly, as in surviving Narragansett tribe members were forced into slavery and shipped to the Caribbean while others became indentured servants in Rhode Island.  Yep, that happened here.

I wanted to honor our Native American heritage so I decided to look up Native American recipes to see if I could make something special to help mark the day.  The recipe that kept coming up was for American Indian Fry Bread.  In retrospect, especially after reading about all the pain and suffering Native Americans endured, this was a pretty insignificant way to honor their contributions to our society.  Furthermore, this was a delicacy associated more with the tribes out west in Arizona and Utah.  But it was Fry Bread!  You read that right, bread that is fried!  I had never heard about Fry Bread until recently when comedian Jim Gaffigan mentioned in his book Food: A Love Story.  He was amazed as I was that this is a thing and he also imagined what an interview would be like with someone ready to enter the fry bread culture:

INTERVIEWER: Have you ever eaten cake in the shower?
APPLICANT: A couple of times.
INTERVIEWER: You may be ready for fried bread. Ever eat in your car so you don’t have to share with your children?
APPLICANT: Every Day!
INTERVIEWER: You are definitely ready for fried bread.

It was really easy to make and just four ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt and water.  You just make the dough and after rises, you roll out little balls, flatten them out and fry them in oil.  I used them to make Fry Bread Tacos which also seemed to be a popular recipe for what to do with fry bread.  Nothing fancy, just ground beef tacos with Ortega seasoning.  When I built the tacos, I stacked them like this: fry bread, fresh arugula, refried beans, taco beef, diced tomatoes, cheese, salsa sour cream and fresh guacamole.  They were a sloppy mess and a ten napkin dinner, but pretty awesome.

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The fry bread is dense but it’s really good. Although there is only a little salt in the recipe, it had a nice salty flavor.  That outside had a nice firm texture while the inside was doughy and soft.  It also made a great vessel for the flavors of the taco fixings too.  It was sturdy enough to hold everything, but the flavors soaked nicely into the dough for an extra bit of delight.  I imagined it would have a heavy fried taste, but it really didn’t (I had drained and dried them fairly well).  It was kind of like a gordita, but better.  It was homemade.

Before our dinner, we took a second and reflected on Native Americans.  We imagined them on these lands only a few hundred years ago.  Canoes on the river.  Families harvesting the land and feasting on their bounty.  Waking to the divine joy of a sunrise over the Sakonnet.  We said thanks for their love of the land and offered up our own solemn apologies at the crimes against them at the hands of our ancestors.  Eating fry bread is not really a good tribute to the plight of the Native American.  However, we did take a break in our day to remember them and celebrate their affect on our own community.  We are going to try and learn more about their culture and history in the future.

Today was also Angel Food Cake Day too and to celebrate, I made one.  Once again, I was trying to figure out what the difference is between Angel Food Cake and Sponge Cake.  The difference is that the Angel Food Cake uses only egg whites (sponge cake uses yolks too).  It uses a lot of egg whites too – a dozen to be exact (anyone know what I can do with 12 yolks?)  For my recipe, I went with my old fictional friend Betty Crocker (no relation to Apple Betty).  I wanted it to be an easy recipe withs simple ingredients and Betty C. didn’t disappoint.  Essentially, to make an Angel Food cake, you make a meringue and then you fold in your flour and sugar.  That’s what I did and I took my time making sure not to deflate the meringue.  It cooked in about 45 minutes and came out looking pretty good.  Part of the process was letting it cool for at least two hours (they were very specific on this).  There was also a confusing instruction about putting the pan on a funnel or bottle to rest (the bottle would be the male connection to the female tube pan).  I’m not sure if I got it right or if it made a difference, but for two hours in our kitchen, the pan sat atop a bottle as some kind of weird balance exercise.

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When I told Lola I had an Angel Food Cake for dessert, she kind of gave me a “meh” answer.  I understood that completely because the thought of a plain piece of Angel Food seems rather blah.  But then I told her I had plans to pimp it up, and she was now interested.  My Pimp that Angel Food Cake plan was simply to add vanilla ice cream and top with caramel and chocolate sauce.  That pimps up anything.  So that’s how I served it and Lola was pleased.

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You use a little bit of almond extract in the recipe and that flavor really comes out in the cake.  You also get a good sugary taste in every bite as well.  The crust gives it a somewhat crunchy texture but the cake is soft and spongey.  It perfectly soaks up the other flavors too (chocolate, vanilla and caramel), so it ended up being pretty happy ending to our feast.  You did it Angel Food Cake – you own us over, and that’s why we celebrate you.

Next Up: National Coming Out Day (big announcement coming!)

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