Day 121 – National Chocolates Day

Today was another one of those conundrums.  The sources that I use to find my holidays (NationalDayCalendar.com and DaysoftheYear.com) don’t list National Chocolates Day as being today.  However, another source I use (Foodimentary.com) claims that today is indeed that day.  There’s no clear cut authority on these holidays, although I feel my regular sources have a pretty good handle on things.  The problem is that these days change from year to year, so they fall on one day one year and move to another day the next.  If you find a holiday listed on a website, there’s always the chance you are using an old calendar.  This was a particular dilemma today because the other official holidays were the National Day of Giving and National Electronics Greeting Day.  I love the intention of a Day of Giving and would have loved to have gotten behind that, but my current financial situation isn’t best suited for that endeavor.  Had I gotten my act together, I should have arranged a volunteer opportunity at a local charity because giving your time can be just as valuable a resource, but I did not plan ahead.  I also felt that filling people’s inbox with electronic Jib Jab messages would get pretty old pretty fast (plus my email list is dreadfully outdated these days), so Electronic Greeting Day was out as well.  I decided that celebrating National Chocolates Day would be the best way to go and, to make it more legitimate, I thought that I should also commemorate National Peanut Butter Month too (which it is).  That led me naturally to my Peanut Butter Balls.

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My peanut butter balls are kind of famous around these parts.  I’m kind of a modern day Pete Schweddy of holiday balls.  They’re super easy to make, just messy.  You mix butter with peanut butter, confectionary sugar and Rice Krispies into a batter.  You let it chill.  Then you roll it into little bite sized balls.  When those are ready you melt some chocolate along with some paraffin wax (which give the balls a waxy sheen and helps hold them together at room temp), and then you dip the rolled balls in the chocolate so they are thoroughly coated.  Then just let them set.  The best advice I can give you is to get some disposable kitchen gloves when you are making the dough because you really have to knead it together with your hands and the gloves allow for easy clean up.  Otherwise, you end up with really messy hands.

Lola’s family loves these balls (my family likes them, but are more fanatical about my fudge).  They have become a staple of the holidays.  In fact, many years back I came up with a Ralph Kramden-like scheme of selling them and even sent out samples to many a friend and family.  That never really panned out (pardon the pun), but they were well received and who knows, maybe that enterprise will rise again.  It’s nice to have a recipe that people rave about.  Truth be told, the recipe came originally from Becky who was making them for some kind of family party – it must have been a shower or something along those lines.  Lola and I chipped in to help and I was given the peanut butter ball task.  I followed a recipe that Becky had and I liked the way they came out, so I stored it in my head to make them again.  When I went to make them, I found a random recipe online and that’s what I made.  The rest was history.  That sounds over dramatic, but really I just started making them from that point on.

My grandmother made a version of these way back in the day, although I don’t think she used Rice Krispies.  They were always one of our faves, but she only busted them out every once and while.  They’re time consuming which was probably why she only made them on occasion.  But they were good.  It was our own little peanut butter surprise.  She’d probably like my version too.  She’d enjoy it with a nice cup of tea while watching her stories.

Lola’s a fan too.  She recommends one in the afternoon with your coffee or tea, or if you want to really treat yourself, have one alongside a nice glass of red wine.  She savors them.  I think I make them infrequently enough so they are still a surprise treat.  She hasn’t gotten sick of them yet.  Our homies up in Windham, NH enjoy them too and have partaken in many a blush-inducing Facebook conversations about my balls over the years. I think that’s kind of what keeps them famous.  Not only are the tasty and a great treat, but they allow you to giggle at all the double entendre that comes with the territory.  I’m just glad my Dad, Dick Lederer, never made them.

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So that’s how I celebrated today – with an oldie but a goodie.  There’s always something fun about making these.  It means the holidays are on the way (the big ones, not just the ones I’m celebrating).  It’s also the last days of November too, so now everything starts to switch focus to the holidays.  We’ll get the tree up this weekend.  The holiday card will be written. The caroling session will be booked.  It’s that time of year, and making peanut butter balls was a great start to easing into it all.

On another note, I do have a large tray of PB Balls just sitting here, so if you are local and interested, give me a shout out.  I’d be happy to make a delivery.

Next Up: National Mousse Day 

Day 120 – National French Toast Day

One of the small delights of being an adult is being able to make the conscious decision of breakfast for dinner.  Sometimes, it’s just easier.  I feel we deprive ourselves of some of the great tastes of breakfast by confining them to morning hours (or brunch on weekends).  Sometimes we don’t have the time or energy to prepare good meals in the morning.  We settle for a granola bar and a cup of Joe and out the door we go.  Meanwhile our eggs, bacon, sausage and other breakfast delicacies get left in the fridge.  Why not mix up your dinner menu from time to time with some breakfast foods, especially when you are battling that age old question of what should I make for dinner?  It just makes delicious sense.

I could have made French Toast today for breakfast but I really didn’t want it in the morning (and Lola was already in her writing room with her “do not disturb” sign on the knob).  It would have been a pretty uneventful celebration.  I happily waited for dinner.  To get ready, I made my daily trip to Clement’s.  The only thing I really needed was bread which we were fresh out of and so I picked up a loaf of their homemade white bread.  I was thinking about using a challah which seems to be pretty popular for French Toast making or even some festive panettone bread which we once saw a recipe for on the Food Network.  Come to think of it, some Portuguese sweet bread would have been another fine choice and would have added some local flavor to dinner.  However, I stuck with the white bread because I felt that would give me the taste I was looking for.  Their loaf was nice and fresh and I cut it thick so it would toast up nice and crispy.  I know stale bread is sometimes better for French Toast, but beggars can’t be choosers.

There’s no real secret to French Toast that I can share here.  I made my batter with eggs and milk and then added in some cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla for extra flavor.  We like extra flavor.  I will say that having a griddle pan is essential to making French Toast (or pancakes).  The flat surface makes it easy to flip, plus it assures the bread has contact with the pan at all points – ideal for browning the outside.  In our dream kitchen that we win when I am a contestant on The Price is Right, I will have a stove with a flattop grill so I can make pancakes and French Toast like this as well as an array of sandwiches too (I’ll work it like the sandwich guys at D’angelos do).  Until then, this griddle pan does the job fine.  You just have to keep it greased and watch your temperature.  I had used the pan on Thanksgiving to make our grilled burritos, so it’s getting some big use this month.  I like it when old pans get added into the high rotation loop.

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I was worried that Lola would not be into French Toast for dinner, but she was genuinely excited for them.  They came out nice too – crispy outside and soft, fluffy inside.  Naturally I served them with butter and syrup too because that’s a must.  My family grew up on Vermont Maid brand syrup but I have drifted away from the maiden lately.  I have leaned towards the two matrons of all things syrup: Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth.  In reality, they are all pretty much the same, but it’s nice to see Aunt Jemima smiling up at you or to have the figure of Mrs. Butterworth eating alongside you.  It’s an odd comfort.  Whatever marketing person came up with name Butterworth is a genius.  It just sounds tasty.  How much do you want?  Oh, I’ll just have a butters worth.  That should be our new standard of currency.  Did you know Mrs. Butterworth’s first name is Joy?  That’s my trivia for the day.  Do you know her middle name?  That’s right, Diabetes.

In any case, Lola and I enjoyed some French Toast for dinner alongside the delightful company of Joy Butterworth.  Keeping your French Toast warm is always an issue.  The first piece is always nice and literally hot off the griddle, but by the time you get to your second or third piece, they’re on the colder side.  Nothing some warmed syrup can’t fix though. I also think all meals should be served with a bottle of syrup too, but that’s a different story (and I think it’s called Elf).

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We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner tonight which looked a lot like breakfast.  It was filling and tasty.  Cleanup was easy too and it had cooked in no time at all.  Really, we should do breakfast for dinner more often.  I’m a breakfast fan and don’t just need to celebrate it on the holidays.  I’ll take it any time I can (that’s what Mrs. Butterworth says).

Next Up: National Square Dance Day (gulp)    

Day 119 – National Bavarian Cream Pie Day

Bavarian Cream is basically a pastry cream or custard but it is thickened with gelatin.  Oddly enough, it originated in France but was made to appease some highfalutin Bavarians who were visiting a certain chef in France, hence the name.  It’s not an easy thing to find at your local restaurants or bakeries either, at least in my minimal search.  Consequently, I knew I’d have to create this myself.  Nothing like a nice little cooking challenge for a Sunday afternoon.

The internet popped up a few recipes for Bavarian Cream Pie and I went, as is my modus operandi, with the easiest.  That came from Allrecipes.com.  It’s not my favorite website.  It’s kind of clunky and I’m never quite sure about how the recipes will come out, but it works in a pinch.  Their website does pop up in the top results of any recipe search, so they must be a good source (or they are dumping money into their Google optimization).  This recipe looked easy enough and the only ingredients I needed to acquire was the plain gelatin and a pie crust.  Plus, the user that posted the recipe was Ethel Mertz.  I figured if this recipe can make even crotchety old Fred Mertz happy, then it must be good.  Maybe I’ll bring a piece to the Club Tropicana later for Ricky.

The recipe said to cook a pie crust and gave me very little info other than that on what kind of pie crust to make.  I thought about using the typical pie dough crust, but my vision of a Bavarian Cream Pie pictured something else.  I feel the pie dough crust is more for fruit pies or other non-cream pies.  I could have gone with the Graham Cracker crust – a classic, but it wasn’t exactly what I was imagining either.  Then I found a Nilla Wafer crust which I did not know was a thing and I thought that would be perfect (and no cooking either).  I picked one up along with the gelatin (which were conveniently in the same aisle in Clement’s).

Lola had just made a Banana Cream Pie for Thanksgiving and after watching her make it, I realized that she made a pie very similar to a Bavarian Cream Pie.  However, for her pie, she used French Cream, not Bavarian.  The difference being the gelatin.  But at least I had a visual reference for the patience this recipe would take.  It’s easy in theory.  You soak the gelatin in cold water, you scald the milk, then you mix together the sugar and corn starch along with some eggs.  When you have all those things ready, you slowly mix them together (stirring constantly), then you heat them up using a double boiler.  When it is done, you add in some vanilla ice cream and then let it cool.  When it is completely cooled, you fold in some whipped cream and some vanilla, pour it into the pie crust and then let it set in your refrigerator.  When it’s ready, you top it with more whipped cream for serving.

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Here’s where I went wrong (I think): I didn’t let it cook long enough and I didn’t let it set long enough.  When I was cooking it, the recipe said to cook it “until it thickens and coats the spoon.”  It definitely thickened but I am not sure about the spoon part.  I think it did.  I kept lifting up the spoon and when I looked at the back of it, it definitely had the cream on there, but I’m just not sure how much it should have had on there.  I think if I had given it another five or ten minutes over the heat it would have come out a little better.  It was also supposed to set for at least four hours but impatient me cut into it about three hours in.  It was set, but could still set a little more.  Maybe it will have a better texture today after it’s been in the fridge overnight.

I ate a piece while watching The Walking Dead (which is kind of boring this year, am I right?)  The pie was good.  I couldn’t cut the picture perfect pie piece where it is perfectly triangular and you can see the crust, Bavarian Cream and whipped cream in three delicious layers.  That’s always a little frustrating especially when you end up with a plop of pie on your plate.  Still tastes the same, but it has the slightest hint of failure in every bite.  The pie crust was a good choice and complemented the vanilla flavoring throughout and also gave it some crunch which it really needed.  I think it will be better on Monday, but all things considered, the pie was really not bad at all.  It’s like any custard or cream pie – a sweet pudding in your mouth.  I am not sure if I would enter this one into the Pie Contest, but it was definitely a tasty treat for a Sunday night while watching zombies walking over bridges. And it was certainly a fine way to celebrate Bavarian Cream Pie Day.

Next Up: National French Toast Day

 

Day 118 – National Cake Day

I don’t think there’s any more celebrated food than cake.  Not that cake itself is celebrated, but it certainly pops up at a lot of celebrations.  What’s a birthday without a cake?  It’s one of the only foods that when it’s presented, it will make a group of people sing together as one.  It’s also one of the only food we make wishes upon.  So I am glad that cake gets its very own day to be celebrated.

There are lots of kind of cakes.  Chocolate, Vanilla, Bundt, Layer, Coffee – the list goes on (Wikipedia lists over 100 different kinds of cakes).  Don’t forget about Baby Cakes too (shout out to @TheCookieRojas).  The dilemma of making a cake is that you kind of want an occasion to eat it at.  It’s strange to go about making a cake, decorating it and then just eating it yourself.  It needs a celebration, and I had no such celebration planned.  The thought of this sat in my head all day.  I kept procrastinating going about making a cake because I could not think of something good to make.  I was stalled by indecision and the inspiration on what I should make never came.

As the day wore on and I knew I still had to celebrate cake.  I thought about taking a road trip to Gregg’s which is a restaurant/bakery in Rhode Island.  There is one in North Kingston that my brother’s family frequents and they have taken us there too.  But there’s also one in East Providence.  Gregg’s was somewhat famous for being a favorite of our Governor Raimondo and also President Obama who made a stop there on his visit to our state.  He ordered a whole Death by Chocolate layer cake and brought it onto Air Force One to share with his team (unless he binged on the whole thing which is a President’s prerogative). Gregg’s is famous for their cakes which are proudly on display in bakery cases in the front of the restaurant and they will make you salivate while you are waiting for your table.  The Death by Chocolate cake is no joke either.  Chocolate, chocolate and chocolate, stacked about ten layers high.  President Obama made a great decision.  I thought that a slice of that might be a great way to celebrate cake, however the longer into the day we went, the less interested I was in a trip to Providence.  Dark had settled in by now and I was even less inclined tomato that trip. In the end, to solve my celebration dilemma, I went to the place with all the answers: Clement’s Marketplace.

The bakery at Clement’s always has lots of cakes available but as I browsed through the choices, they all seemed too much for just Lola and I.  I then found their selection of pieces of cake – just good ol’ slices of cake intended for anyone craving a single piece of cake.  This could have been the answer but something inside of me wanted more, so I kept on looking.  I ventured out of the bakery section to the frozen foods section and started to peek at the cakes available there.  Pepperidge Farm, Marie Callender’s, Sara Lee – all kinds of big names in the cake world, but that still didn’t peak my interest.  Then I looked at the end of the aisle and I noticed the Lil’ Debbie Cakes were all on display.  Intrigued, I moved closer, then my eyes moved downward and I found it.  The answer.  Entenmann’s.

I think most people from these parts have a special place in their heart for Entenmann’s.  They do the mass-produced bakery items right.  Sure everyone wants a nice fresh chocolate chip cookie, but if I gave you a box of Entenmann’s mini chocolate chip cookies, you’d probably be pretty excited.  Have you tried their donuts?  Their glazed crumb donut (which coincidentally we served at our football game) is among the best donuts you can get from a box.  Their crumb coffee cake was a Sunday staple at my house for years – an after church treat for all.  Everyone has their favorite.  Just seeing their signature logo brings feelings of happiness.  They make cakes too, and they don’t scrimp on the frosting either.  Plus, they are not the cakes you associate with big celebrations.  They are small enough so you can bust them out anytime.  I found my answer and picked up their chocolate fudge cake.

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I served it up with a dollop of whipped cream on the side (one of the Thanksgiving leftovers – we don’t usually have whipped cream on hand, but it’s been a nice addition lately) along with a glass of milk because look at that chocolate!  It hit the spot.  If you were to give a taste test with an Entenmann’s cake next to a homemade cake, you would instantly know which one was homemade.  But that’s ok.  This cake had it’s own taste and it satisfied.  The whipped cream was actually a nice complement too because the cake was so fudgey that it needed that boost of cool sweetness.  It was cake, it was enjoyed and best of all, I didn’t have to clean up any pots or pans.  All in all, I’d say that was a win.

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Today was one of those days that I had so many options I didn’t know what to do.  But in the end, I just went with the universe and the answer came to me.  That won’t always happen, but when it does, it makes me feel like I am on the right path.  I even ended up supporting our local grocer on Small Business Saturday, and that’s a good thing to support too.  I’m learning that I need to be flexible on this quest so I can keep up momentum.  That’s good too because with all this celebration, sometimes it’s nice just to open a box and dig in.  And add the whipped cream too.

Next Up: National Bavarian Cream Pie Day 

Day 117 – National Parfait Day

Today was a day that I needed a little rest as I’m sure everyone else did after the hectic pace of the last few days (topped off by the overindulgence of Thanksgiving).  It was a rainy day too which always makes you feel like taking some chill time.  And although today was Black Friday, I knew I would not be partaking in that particular festivity.  That’s not really my thing.  Nothing against it – for people that like shopping, it can be a fun day.  We always hear about the crazy shoppers fighting their way to get a $5 toaster, but the idea of shopping the day after Thanksgiving is kind of a gentle way to ring in the holiday season.  It gets people together for fun and brings them joy.  That’s a good thing.  It’s just been overhyped by the mega-retailers who turned it into a craze.  Either way, it’s not my thing especially when I’m tired.

I was grateful that today was actual National Blasé Day.  Blasé is a word of French origin meaning to be indifferent or bored with life, unimpressed, as or as if from an excess of worldly pleasures.  I could do that.  I could enjoy doing that.  So most of the day, after cleaning up a little from our holiday preparation, I sank into the couch under a blanket and tried to rest.  We ended up binge watching a show on Netflix called The Crown which retells the tale of Queen Elizabeth as she took over the Monarchy.  The story intertwines with a lot of actual historical events too, so it peaked our interest.  John Lithgow as Winston Churchill too.  Worth a watch, although always a little tough to get used to the British accents.  In the afternoon, we got to partake in one of my favorite post-Thanksgiving traditions: the leftovers!  Becky and Jeff were nice enough to send us home with a stash and after the second episode, I put together a couple of sandwiches for us.

You have to craft your leftover sandwich with care and respect.  You need the right bread (we happened to have some dinner rolls that would work fine).  You need some mayonnaise to give it some flavor.  Then you layer the turkey, top it with heated up stuffing and mashed potatoes and then top it all with some cranberry sauce.  I also served a scoop of the corn casserole and sweet potatoes on the side so it really was like second Thanksgiving (they really hooked us up).  It’s the perfect meal for Blasé Day.  It only needed some ice cold Cokes in small bottles on the side which was always a staple of the famous Gigi Day After Thanksgiving meal.  I forgot to pick those up so we made due with what we had on hand.

Later at night, I celebrated National Parfait Day.  There’s a broad definition for a parfait. It’s usually served in a tall thin glass, but it is essentially layers of ice cream, pudding or yogurt mixed in with layers of chocolate, nuts, or fruit.  My mom is a big fan of the parfait. She even has parfait glasses and even more practical, parfait spoons which are long like sundae spoons and have great function when trying to eat from a tall thin glass.  My mom would serve up parfaits after special dinners and my nephews and niece all grew up enjoying a nice parfait after Christmas Dinner.  It’s a tradition.  But apart from the glass, it was really just an ice cream sundae.  That’s what I made.  I didn’t have any parfait glasses (nor do I want one), but I did have a tall thin beer glass which would serve my purpose.  I started with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, topped it with caramel sauce, more ice cream, chocolate sauce, more ice cream, both sauces and then whipped cream.  It looked good and even Lola who didn’t want one, wanted a taste when she saw it.

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It’s really an ice cream sundae.  And it was good.  The prefect nightcap to a blasé day.  I realized that today was also National Buy Nothing Day which is a day that is part of a movement against consumerism, urging the world to change their purchasing habits, to consume and produce less.  And thanks to my laziness, I spent no money today.  I don’t think Lola did either apart from going out to breakfast with her friends.  But I am proud that no giant retailers took our money today.  Take that consumerism!  So at the end of the day, on a day that started out by not wanting to celebrate anything, I celebrated the hell out of this day by pretty much doing nothing.  Those are the good days.  Celebrating the joy of relaxation and just resting.  Let’s keep those days coming because we all need them, and sometimes those days come with an ice cream sundae reward at the end.  Cheers!

Next Up: National Cake Day 

Day 116 – National Sardines Day (and Thanksgiving)

I’ll start with the unpleasantries.  I ate sardines today.  They were in a can, just like sardines tend to be served (although the can did not have that little key that rolls back the top for opening like they feature in the old cartoons).  They were skinless and boneless which made it a little easier because my vision was to actually be swallowing down whole fish, heads, tails and all.  They were preserved in water and they smelled fishy.  I brought them to Thanksgiving dinner because I’m a jerk and I also made the stakes of our morning football game be that the losers would have to eat a can of sardines.  We lost, so I paid up.  In fairness, they weren’t all that bad.  They tasted like chunk tuna from a can.  I should mention that I do not like tuna.  But it wasn’t horrible and for all those sardine lovers out there, I could see the appeal.  They are loaded with good omega 3 oils, so that was a plus too.  They do leave your mouth kind of fragrant, like what you expect the breath of a tuna would smell like.  But sardines were eaten to mark the holiday and to mark the defeat as well.

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Other than that, we had a pretty great day.  It started early and Lola and I were up at at ’em today.  We had a crew coming over to play some football as is becoming our Thanksgiving tradition.  Everyone was coming at 9:30, so we were cleaning and cooking at 7 am.  Lola finished up her banana cream pie.  I made some food for the football game which essentially was just a giant pot of hot chocolate (which we served to the adults with some Pinnacle Whipped Cream Vodka and Coffee Liqueur) and some breakfast burritos which were made with eggs, bacon, hash browns and cheese and then I grilled them so they had a nice crispy outer texture.  They actually came out really good, if I do say so myself.  When everyone showed up, we were ready to go.  We made Jeff and Molly captains and they picked the teams.  It was a five on five game (with one substitute) of flag football.  The field was long but narrow (part of the mystique of our friendly confines) but that kept all the action together and made it a little more exciting.  Jeff’s team was Jeff, his son Sam, Cherie, field legend Dave Waluk, Dave’s nephew Ryan and the hometown hero Lola.  Molly’s team was Molly, Pete, Jeanie P, Pete’s nephew Johnny and yours truly.

The day started out hopeful enough with a quick touchdown for each time: Jeff’s team on a bomb to Dave and Molly’s team on a full field scramble by Johnny.  But then Sam scored a safety for his team by chasing down our QB Pete and that seemed to change the momentum.  For the rest of the game, we were playing catchup while they were playing “let’s score a bunch of touchdowns.”  There were highlights throughout the day: Jeff’s Belichick inspired playbook, Molly’s catch right in the face of her Aunt Lola, John’s scrambling, Lola’s goal line catch in the midst of a Paolo crunch.  But the MVP of the day was unquestionably Sam who seemed to be just toying with us.  He scored a bunch of touchdowns, had the best kickoffs, pulled off the most flag tackles and kept their team going.  In the end, in was a 25 point blowout.

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The win for Dave Waluk also kept him undefeated in the yard (two Wiffleball wins and two football wins), so Dave will now be incorporated into Monument Park as a champion.  We are planning a Cricket tournament in February just to test his skills and see if we can break his winning streak.  He’s always up for a challenge.  As for my team, we could still hold our heads high even though our prize was sitting in a can on the kitchen counter just waiting for us.

The game ended at precisely 11:05 which gave us enough time to clean up and to throw some stuff in the oven for Jeff and Becky’s house where we were celebrating Thanksgiving.     We were making the sweet potatoes and corn casserole and they both needed to cook before heading over.  We also threw in some of Becky’s buffalo chicken dip which she asked us to cook because her oven was full.  Our final contribution was to make some Stuffed Arancini which needed to be fried, so while Lola was showering, I was rolling rice balls and frying them up.  They actually came out pretty good.  Here’s the recipe.  After I showered, we were off to the Breslins at about 1:30.

As always, the Breslin house was super cozy for the holidays.  Becky had put out a huge appetizer spread with an incredible cheese platter at the center (as she has been known to do).  Tara and Ben were there too and enjoying the various nibbles (including Tara’s famous Cranberry Brie Pastry).  Gravy was cooking, ovens were cranking and the house was filled with a cacophony of Thanksgiving aromas.  Soon we were joined by Katie and family (including Shy Ronnie home from Georgia) and then the Waluks (Dave, Jeanie and Mae too).  The house was abuzz with excitement.  There’s nothing quite like that feeling of a  house bursting with laughter and conversation, puppies being chased, kid’s cackling, glasses clinking and family being family.  This was Thanksgiving.  We all feasted on appetizers, recapped our day and shared some love with each other.  Then I cracked open the sardines.

Molly and Jeanie wanted nothing to do with them, and I don’t blame them.  However Pete was game and he even said that he used to eat sardines as a kid.  And even though he didn’t have to, Dave joined the sardine party too.  Together, we ate a can of sardines in the midst of this glorious feast.  Most everyone got grossed out by it, especially when the fish smell on our breath was hitting them in the face.  But a holiday is a holiday, a loss is a loss and a sardine is a sardine.

When dinner was served, we were treated to all the fixings.  Turkey, stuffing, potatoes, peas, salad, corn, yams, gravy.  It was a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat.  In a bit of holiday drama, Cherie’s Brussel Sprouts Casserole decided to shatter right as dinner was being served (glass everywhere), but the cleanup crew was swift in their action and the mess was cleaned up in no time.  We were just deprived of this beautiful casserole (and Cherie knows a good casserole).  That was the only disappointment.  Everything else was as good as you could possibly want it.  We toasted our good fortunes and enjoyed it all.

After some post-dinner cleanup which was truly impressive in both speed and efficiency (Molly deserves a little holiday bonus in her allowance this week), we moved on to desserts.  Cookies including chocolate chips from Katie, oatmeal raisin from Tara and almond cookies by Becky), pies, fudge, and Lola’s Banana Cream Pie (which is always special because it’s her Mom’s recipe). It was just what we needed to finish the meal and appease our sweet tooth.  Our Mike and Tina showed up to to join the celebration along with Mike’s mom.  It was a party!  We were then treated to some espresso martinis at the very capable hands of bartender and QB1 Jeff Breslin which were the perfect ending to a day of feasting.  As our glasses emptied the night started to wind down.  Kids were ready to go to bed.  Belt buckles were loosened.  Eyes were shutting.  We were sent home with a true feeling of thanksgiving in our heart (and also a bag full of leftovers – score!).

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Our utmost thanks to Becky and Jeff for their hospitality and for giving us a welcoming celebration.  What a great day.  When we got home around 8:30, Lola and I went right to bed.  We had a full day of celebration and we were both worn out.  But that’s when I’m most grateful – to have Lola by my side.  We talked about some of our laughs that we had throughout the day.  We watched the Thanksgiving episode of This Is Us.  We drifted off to sleep in each others arms both grateful for all our blessings.  So I hope you had the same feelings about Thanksgiving too and enjoyed your celebration.  I hope your hearts were filled with gratitude and love and your bellies were full of wonderful treats (and no sardines).  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Next Up: National Parfait Day 

Day 115 – National Cashew Day

I’ve discovered that trying to celebrate holidays while trying to celebrate holidays is a difficult task.  Today was chockablock full of days to celebrate: National Cashew Day, National Espresso Day, National Eat a Cranberry Day and National Tie One on Day.  It was also the day before Thanksgiving which means my agenda for the day was filled with preparations for that.  It was an all out celebration whirlwind tour.

Thank god it was National Espresso Day because I was able to fuel myself with extra caffeine for the day. I enjoyed my espresso in the form of a cappuccino that I bought at Starbucks which was in the same parking lot as Shaw’s where I could also pick up a few last minute tidbits.  I went there after meeting my brother and his family for lunch.  I was delivering some creamed onions to him (and some fudge).  For some reason, although I never eat them, I make good creamed onions. I think it’s because I can make a cream sauce and once you have that down, you can kind of fudge your way through anything that requires cream.  My brother likes them, and my mom also insists on having them at Thanksgiving dinner, so I make them.  I usually spend Thanksgiving with Lola’s family, but always send the onions over to my brother’s ahead of time.  He and his wife Lesley usually host my mom, my sister and her family and Lesley’s family for the feast.  I was glad I could contribute in a small way.  I didn’t realize lunch was on the docket for today, but it was a delightful surprise to see everyone, especially the kids who were home from college.  It was nice way to kick off the holiday.

Back at Starbucks, the cappuccino did me right.  It warmed me up and gave me a little boost in my step.  The parking lot there was cray-cray and I was sure I was going to see an accident.  Inside Shaw’s wasn’t too bad however.  Busy, but manageable.  I ended up with eleven items which I bravely took through the express lane that allowed ten items maximum.  What can I say; I’m a rebel.  Karma hit me back instantly because the guy in front of me forgot his wallet and had to go to his car to get it, so I really didn’t save any time.

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When I got home, I busted out the lawnmower (the machine, not the dance).  I had to get the field ready for Thanksgiving.  Our plan is to go to Becky’s for dinner, but in the morning, we are having our annual football game in the yard.  The grass wasn’t too unruly, but a nice trim helped set the tone.  I also marked off the field with some marking paint and got everything ready to go.  It’s a narrow playing field, but that will make it interesting.  The pregame banter was going back and forth today and rumor has it that veteran Jeff Breslin will even be making an appearance.  As long as no one gets hurt, this should be fun.

After cleaning up, I celebrated National Tie One On Day.  That’s not what you think.  Tie One On refers to putting on an apron and cooking for Thanksgiving.  So that’s what I did, although my apron was a figurative apron.  I wish I had used an actual apron.  Wearing an apron always makes me feel like I’m getting down to business kind of like the same feeling when you are holding a clipboard.  I was making sweet potato casserole, corn casserole, more baklava, cranberry sauce (I ate a cranberry while making it so I can say I celebrated National Eat a Cranberry Day too), and a few other tidbits to bring.  I made my project list and jumped right in.

Lola brought home some very special donuts today from PV Donuts in Providence including a Thanksgiving Donut which had turkey, stuffing, cranberry and mashed potatoes on top.  How could you not be curious?  She decided to bring some to Becky, our resident donut expert, so she could get a taste.  That worked out perfectly because I could clang around the kitchen and make a big mess and she could have a little time with her sister before the big day.

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After a good visit, Lola picked up some Chinese food on her way home so we could have a little dinner in between our cooking.  There’s something about enjoying take out on the night before Thanksgiving that just seems right.  You put so much preparation into the Thursday feast that you just want to make it easy for yourself.  I opted for Cashew Chicken so I could eat and I could celebrate National Cashew Day.

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Cashew Chicken is not our usual order.  It actually reminded me of my Dad who, if we ever went out for Chinese food, would order Cashew Chicken.  My Mom hated Chinese food and never wanted to even try it.  My Dad, I think, loved it, but he didn’t have many occasions to enjoy it.  There’s a story about when they were first married and living in New York City and my Dad was excited about how they were so close to some really, really good Chinese restaurants, and my Mom burst into tears because she didn’t like it.  That was my Dad though; always making sure my Mom was happy because I don’t think he had Chinese food again for another twenty years.  As an adult, I remember going out to lunch with him at a Chinese spot a few times and he’d always go for the cashew chicken.  It’s pretty good.   A few more vegetables than we prefer, but good tasting chicken that takes on the flavor of the nuts.  Good stuff.

We ate our food while watching Survivor (OMG! OMG! OMG!)  On commercial breaks we would run into the kitchen and clean up, then come back and watch the rest.  It was nice just to take a moment with my Lola.  Afterwards, Lola finished up the work on her Banana Cream Pie and I cleaned up the rest of the dishes.  We were super tired when we went to bed and fell asleep with the good tireds.  We have our list of things to do on Thursday too and our prep will start early.  Cook, football, cook, clean, then feast.  I’m exhausted just thinking about it, but that’s how this holiday quest goes.  But it’s all for joy, and celebrating joy is always worth the effort, especially when it comes to family. Cheers.

Next Up: National Sardines Day (and Thanksgiving)  

Day 114 – National Cranberry Relish Day

You see what they’re doing this week?  They are gearing us up for Turkey Day.  No sooner did they throw Stuffing Day at us but then they follow up with cranberry.  I sense a pattern.

There’s a lot of love for cranberry sauce around these parts, especially for the stuff that comes in a can.  I don’t know of any other food that when served, still stays in its cylinder form, ridges and all, when it hits the table.  That’s what cranberry sauce is to most people (and the folks at Ocean Spray are grateful for that).  I am not a big fan of that but I do love the kind with actual cranberries in it.  In recent years, I’ve grown partial to the cranberry sauce from Cape Cod’s Standish Farms which is available at Clement’s in the produce section.  It’s a great product.  Fresh.  Sweet.  Tart.  Cranberries in every bite.  Personally I think this blows the “canberry” away.  I’ve been known just to eat it all by itself without all the turkey trimmings.  This was my vision for celebrating this day – getting a jar and going to town.  That’s when I realized I was supposed to be celebrating cranberry relish.

Cranberry sauce is made by taking fresh cranberries and mixing it with sugar and water so it sweetens up and starts to solidify.  Cranberry relish is different.  That’s made by taking whole cranberries and mashing them up with some other flavors (like whole oranges – rind and all) along with a little sugar to sweeten it up.  The sauce is more gelatinous while the relish is more chopped.  When I discovered that, I realized that there was always a version of cranberry relish at our Thanksgiving table growing up.  My Aunt Peg made it, I think, or maybe it was my grandmother?  I’m not sure.  I always just passed the cranberry products along saving more room for the turkey.  I feel like I gave the relish a try at some point, but it was likely too tart for me.  But I definitely know it was always there.  I can taste the orange in my memory.

I found a recipe from our pals at Ocean Spray for a relish and I went to Clement’s to go get the ingredients (really just fresh cranberries, an orange and some sugar).  I had everything ready but then I decided to stop at the Stonewall Kitchen display in the store.  I don’t usually spend too much time in that area, but I know you can always find a good surprise in there.  It took a bit, but I found it!  They had a jar of their very own New England Cranberry Relish.

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Stonewall Kitchen puts out some great products.  When we lived in New Hampshire, the word headquarters were just a few miles away in York, ME and we would see their products popping up everywhere in the area (gift shops, grocery stores, markets).  Not too long ago they built a huge store in York which is a bit of a tourist attraction now with all their products on display plus some cooking classes and other demonstrations.  All good stuff.  I think we only went there once or twice, but it was an experience just to go and worth the stop especially if you are a foodie.  It’s a great company.  Their Cranberry Relish was pretty good too.  It was probably a little more jelly-like to be considered a true relish, but you could taste the bits of orange mixed in along with the cranberries, so it was definitely not your typical cranberry sauce.  A true relish would have the texture of …well relish, like you put on your hot dog.  Nonetheless, it got the job done (and definitely tasted great too).  I had it tonight with a piece of chicken and the two complemented each other nicely.  I may have some more tomorrow.  I feel like I’m just starting to warm up for Thursday.

So relish was celebrated. I think this inspired to make my own for Thursday as well.  However, I’ll probably stay away from making a relish and make my own cranberry sauce instead.  I found a recipe that Alton Brown posted which looked easy and, if I trust Alton (and I do), will be as tasty as any sauce out there.  And if all else fails, I can always just slice off a slab of the canberry and call it a day.  That’s one of the great things about Thanksgiving – so many options.  I can almost taste it.

Next up: National Espresso Day 

Day 113 – National Stuffing Day

I can see where this week is going.  Like all of us, we are gearing up for Thanksgiving and the daily holidays seem to reflect that too.  That’s not a bad thing, but it does kind of throw you off your game.  For instance, I could make a delightful stuffing today, but then have more stuffing on Thursday.  I kind of don’t want to spoil Thanksgiving.  Becky’s making her Mom’s stuffing which is always a highlight of the meal (pressure is on Beck).  Anything I made today would just fail by comparison.

I then realized I had a few options.  Wikipedia defines stuffing as “an edible substance or mixture, often a starch, used to fill a cavity in another food item while cooking.”  That’s pretty broad.  Naturally when you hear about stuffing at this time of year you think of the traditional Thanksgiving stuffing.  But there are other kinds of stuffing too.  Stuffed peppers, stuffed mushrooms, stuffed lobster.  I decided to celebrate in Rhode Island style with a Stuffie.  For you non-Rhodies, that’s a stuffed quahog (stuffed clam).

I wish I gave this more effort because I’ve never made a Stuffie from scratch.  It seems relatively easy to make and is made with some great flavors.  But, I didn’t have the time today to go about all that (maybe next time).  I decided instead to pick up some at Clement’s as they always have them available in the prepared food section.  If this was the summer, I would have gone to Flo’s Clam Shack around the corner or maybe even Evelyn’s in Tiverton and picked some fresh one’s up there.  Those are great local walk up seafood spots.  But there’s something about doing that in the summer when the sun is warm and bright compared to doing it on a cold November day.  It just doesn’t feel the same.  So I went the easy route of Clement’s.

The stuffing for a Stuffie is usually a mixture of bread stuffing mixed with quahogs and chourico sausage.  Like any stuffing, it is bound together by butter.  There are also chopped onions and peppers in the mix too.  Clement’s stuffie stuffing is some version of this.  They sell them already cooked but wrapped up for reheating.  The say microwave for one to two minutes and it’s all good.  I wouldn’t recommend that.  I cooked Lola’s first by doing this and it came out not so good. The shell broke in the microwave plus it just tasted off.  Too much clam taste.  After that, I decided to heat mine up in a pan (removing the stuffing, heating it up and then returning to the clamshell).  That actually came out much better.

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It still would have been better if I had just cooked the whole thing in the oven rather than having a reheated one.  The clams get really tough served this way and take away from the bite.  Plus it dries out fast.  Making fresh stuffing and cooking it all the way through would have been the way to go.  I will say that the chopped pieces of green pepper in the Stuffie were the stars.  Something about how tender they came out and the flavor they unleashed was right on.  I don’t think I’ve ever praised a green pepper as such.  There’s nothing like a good Stuffie when you are in Rhode Island, so I’ll keep ordering them wherever I am.  I just  happened to have a not great one today.

Later I was feeling a bit like I should have acknowledged the stuffing that was likely meant to be celebrated on this day.  I looked in our cabinet and I had a container of Stovetop Stuffing.  I made a single serving using just the stuffing, some water and butter.  It came together super fast and it was nice and warm.  I’ll tell you what – it wasn’t bad at all.  It gave you that stuffing satisfaction of cooked bread.  You taste the butter and you get the chicken flavor from whatever devious chicken flavorings are hidden within the Stovetop mix.  That was more like the stuffing we all know and love, so consider it celebrated.

Thanksgiving is coming and celebrating stuffing today made me more excited for our Thursday feast.  Stuffing is an essential part of the meal and deserves a spot of prominence on your plate.  Never relinquish stuffing space on your plate for any of the other tidbits like string beans or turnips.  Stick to the best.  And save some leftovers for those Thanksgiving sandwiches on the days that follow.  It’s that time of year, so get your stuffing priorities in line.  Cheers!

Next Up: National Cranberry Relish Day

Day 112 – National Peanut Butter Fudge Day (Santa Hustle Style)

When I saw today was Peanut Butter Fudge Day, I didn’t think much about it.  I know fudge.  I make it often enough that I am confident in my fudge making skills.  Sure, I usually make a straight up chocolate fudge, but peanut butter fudge is pretty much the same recipe – just add in peanut butter instead of chocolate.  So I knew I’d be making this today and it didn’t stress me out.  I just postponed my fudge making until later in the day.

I’m glad I was able to push it off to later in the day because I was busy in the morning.  I was up and at them today to run in the Newport Santa Hustle 5K Run.  It’s basically your typical 5K, but everyone is dressed in Santa hats and other Santa type gear.  Sounded pretty festive.  I signed up for it after I did the Bridge Run in October because I felt I needed to have another run commitment on the horizon to keep me running.  That worked.  I’ve been going out for jogs every other day or so to get ready for the Hustle.  I was ready.  Sort of.

Our alarm went off at 6 today so we could get there on time.  Lola has been trooper about this whole thing too.  Not only is she my biggest cheerleader, but she is willing to get up at 6 am and drive me to the starting line and wait for me to stumble across the finish.  She couldn’t be more supportive and proud of me, which is actually a great way to head into a race.  It gives you that extra boost of love and confidence to get you going.  When we got to the starting line (which was at Easton’s Beach or First Beach as the locals call it), it was cold.  Really cold.  The wind was whooping and a whomping and it would send a shiver up your shorts (not in a good way).  It had rained overnight and there was still stormy weather in the air.  I walked around trying to stay loose and all my fellow Santa Hustlers were doing the same. When they finally corralled us up for the start of the race, everyone was still bouncing up and down in place and you could feel the energy for wanting it to start.  Christmas music was playing for the crowd to help get in the spirit and the sun that was starting to peek through the clouds was glimmering on the shining sea which was just a hundred yards to our left. Miss Rhode Island stepped up to the microphone (is she obligated to wear her sash at all times?) and with a few words of excitement, she gave us the go to start running.  Off we went.

I can’t say I’m a fan of running in packs.  I prefer to go at a speed of my choosing and not be blocked by people walking or going at a slower pace.  That’s how it feels at the start, so my first feeling was frustration.  Then I caught a glimpse of Lola who was on the side in the parking lot cheering me on.  She was wrapped up in her winter NorthFace coat and had a big winter hat on, but I could see her looking for me and snapping pictures.  I waved, but she couldn’t see me (remember everyone was wearing a very similar outfit).  In any case, I knew she was cheering me on and that helped my feelings of frustration dissipate.  And soon enough I was able to find a spot where I could run at my own pace (which is slow, but not that slow).  We ran up Memorial (which is a steep incline if you have never noticed) and then turned left onto Annandale down to Salve Regina.  Then we turned around and ran back.

Because it was a Santa Hustle, there were a few stops along the way where you could stop for candy and cookies (water too).  I opted against stopping mostly because the thought of eating a cookie at that moment didn’t seem like a good idea.  The sun had come out for most of the race and once we got moving, you warmed up in no time.  There were people along the course cheering us on and one little girl was even looking for high fives from everyone.  That was a good feeling.  Plus Newport’s finest were at every street corner making sure we were safe.  And they did.  I hope they got some cookies too.  There was one point at about the 2.5 mile mark where I was going to stop and walk for a bit, but I pushed through.  I gave myself little goals – just make it to the next corner, just make it to Memorial, etc.  That seemed to keep me going and although I was slow, I can say I really ran the whole thing.  The finish comes back down Memorial towards First Beach.  The sun was out now and while you are excited by the finish line being in view, you are also wowed and humbled by the whole scene.  The beautiful beaches, St. George’s in the background, rolling waves on the sea, and a small crowd cheering you on.  It was a moment.

Coming towards the finish line I was kind of by myself.  I was far enough behind and ahead of the people around me that I had a whole stretch of the course to myself, or so it seemed.  I saw Lola. She was waiting along with our friend Margaret and her son Ryan.  Ryan had already finished the race (in good time I might add!) and was waiting with his mom for his brother John and father Nick to cross the finish line too.  When I saw them I waved and I could see Lola waving back with enthusiasm.  I ran past them with a smile (or as much as I could muster) and then crossed the finish line.  That’s where I picked up my major award for running (a medallion) along with a bottle of water and then searched for Lola.  She hugged me immediately and told me how proud she was.  She was excited for me and it warmed me up.  I did it!

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When we got home, we chilled for a while and, as you know, settled back in to our Monopoly game. That turned into watching football. When 4 o’clock came around, I realized that I still had to make the fudge which as any fudge maker will tell you, takes a little time to set.  I made a mad dash to Clement’s to pick up what I needed (mostly Fluff, chocolate and peanut butter – best shopping list ever).  When I got home, I went to town using recipes from the kind folks at Fluff.  Fudge really doesn’t take too long, it just needs your undivided attention for the last seven or eight minutes of cooking.  You melt the butter and add it to the evaporated milk, sugar, pinch of salt and the Fluff and boil it for five minutes.  Then you add in the flavoring which was peanut butter in this case.

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When thinking about Peanut Butter Fudge I felt like it needed chocolate too.  Lola kind of felt the same way.  So, I made a small batch of chocolate fudge too.  I poured the chocolate fudge out into the bottom of a pan and then poured the layer of peanut butter fudge on top of that.  My hope was to create a two layered piece of fudge which combined the chocolate and the peanut butter tastes.

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It didn’t come out exactly as planned.  My problem was that they never fused together.  I made the chocolate fudge first and by the time the peanut butter fudge was ready, the chocolate had set up just enough so they never became one.  At least that’s what I felt happened when I cut into the fudge at night, which may have been a little too soon (that’s where my postponement of making the fudge comes into play).  When I cut in, the peanut butter fudge jumped off the top of the chocolate so I essential had a chocolate piece and a peanut butter piece (which is not the worse problem to have).  The chocolate still needed time to set and was a little soft, but good as always.  The peanut butter set much faster and was pretty well hardened to be enjoyed.  It was actually really good as is.  You get a real sweet peanut butter flavor but in the form of fudge.  It surprised me and made me rethink my whole “it needs chocolate” thinking.  You couldn’t eat a lot of it at once (nor should you eat a lot of any fudge at once), but it was enjoyable.  A surprise hit.

I’m going to check in on the fudge again today (Monday).  If it’s not fused together, I’ll just separate the layers and pretend I just made a batch of each.  Regardless, I have fudge to bring to Thanksgiving.  So it begins.  And so ended my day of celebration.  I think it’s fitting that I celebrated the Santa Hustle run with some fresh fudge.  Santa would approve of that, especially because it sends us running into the holiday season.  Let’s just hope we keep on running and that we can stop at the cookie and candy stations along the way.  Cheers!

Next Up: National Stuffing Day