Day 182 – National Croissant Day

Croissant Day is the perfect day for me to talk about my long believed conspiracy theory.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to get political about this (you can draw your own conclusions), but stay with me – it’s relevant to the croissant.  In fact, my theory comes from having croissants; chocolate croissants to be specific.  Light, flaky bundles of dough with a layer of chocolate on the inside to give you this blissful taste of salt, sweet confectionary delight.  The perfect bait for trapping us into being part a conspiracy that has infiltrated an  entire industry.

The chocolate croissants I am thinking about were purchased at Au Bon Pain, the cafe and bakery.  The franchise, which began and is still headquartered in Boston, is everywhere these days providing their coffee, bakery items and fresh food to hungry customers. It’s pretty good too. Fresh food and quality items.  A definite upgrade from the school lunch type cafeteria food of long ago. I’ve seen Au Bon Pain in airports and in shopping centers, but I most frequently see them in the food courts of hospitals.  They run the cafeterias there and anyone that’s spent anytime in a hospital as a visitor has inevitably walked through their maze of  options before settling on some kind of nourishment from their kitchens. Unfortunately, I’ve spent some times in hospitals over the last few years as a visitor and being someone that gets restless on those visits, I tend to volunteer for walks to the cafeteria for food.  I’d pick up coffees when they were needed the most, and would always pick up some kind of sweet as a bonus.  Cookies were always a favorite, sometimes muffins, but the most popular option in those moments were always the chocolate croissant.  It kind of gave you just what you needed.  Not too sweet and not too savory.  A perfect hybrid.  Now whenever I think of chocolate croissants, I always think of Au Bon Pain and hospitals.

If you have ever had one of those days in the hospital where you are there for every meal, you start getting to know your Au Bon Pain.  The back story of that is if you are at the hospital for three meals, you are having a day full of worry and stress. Your mind isn’t in the right place, but somehow you are getting messages from your brain to eat something, so you head to the cafeteria in a strange funk. You get what looks best and walk away, not even sure if you got what you really wanted.  You look around and everyone else, except the hospital workers, are doing the same zombie-like walk as if they’ve never been to a place that serves food before.  The workers have their own repetitive motion in the cafeteria.  They know just what they want and they move more deliberately and with purpose annoyed at the lost visitors trying to figure out how to dispense their own soup.  Meanwhile, the cash registers are ringing everything in. And as any conspiracy theorist will tell you, that’s where you always look – at the cash.

My theory is that the healthcare industry is owned and secretly run by Au Bon Pain. They own the hospitals.  They control Big Pharma. They want our family to get sick so we can start ordering up their Teriyaki Steak Harvest Hot Wrap as we sit in waiting rooms waiting to hear some kind of news. Have you ever been at a hospital and they tell you “I’m just waiting for a consultation” from the attending doctor? They’re just waiting for Au Bon Pain clearance.  They want you to grab a few more coffees before you are good enough to leave.  Got a big family that likes to eat?  Maybe we’ll keep Grandma overnight for observation. The whole system is a decoy to keep the pockets of Au Bon Pain lined with money.  In fact, Au Bon Pain means ‘money through pain’ in French. Wake up America!

Ok, that’s just a theory. I should clarify that Au Bon Pain really means ‘with good bread’ in French, I made up that other translation.  But it is something to think about, especially on croissant day.  By the way, if this blog should suddenly disappear, you’ll know that they’ve gotten to me.  Tell Lola I love her, and speak my name.

This afternoon I headed on over to Clements with the hopes that they would still have bakery items available. They have fresh pastries everyday but sometimes they are gone by the afternoon.  Today however there was still a good selection and more importantly they had what I had come looking for: chocolate croissants. I picked up a couple and then headed on home. Lola had just made herself a cup of coffee and was delighted when I pulled out the bakery box and asked if she wanted one.  She did.  It was perfect timing.  Had I arrived two minutes later she would have busted into the Hostess cupcakes. Now she had a bakery fresh chocolate croissant which gave her a smile.  I made a cup of coffee for myself and had the perfect little break.

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Clements Market makes a great croissant (I’m pretty sure they make them there).  Flaky, soft and fresh.  I’ve never had their chocolate version before but it too was delicious.  It had the same flaky, sweet dough and a delicious chocolate center that was the perfect balance.  It could be the perfect pastry.  A croissant is made from a dough usually using a ratio of three parts butter to ten parts flour. When the pastries bake, the butter makes little pockets of steam in the dough, which creates the layers that give a croissant its unmistakable flakiness.*  I’m not sure why chocolate croissants are rectangular and not the patented crescent shape of a typical croissant, but no matter, it’s an upgrade from an already wonderful pastry.  Big fans here.

For dinner, I wanted to feature the croissant again but the only options I could find would be to either make a sandwich with one or to make a type of french toast using croissants.  I felt like I had made a croissant sandwich not too long ago (which was fantastic) and I had just made pancakes, so I didn’t want to serve up a repeat.  Then as I looked at my Facebook feed which is filling up with recipes for the Big Game, I realized that I knew of a perfectly good use of the croissant for such occasions, and that’s what I would make.  I had picked up a package of crescent rolls earlier in the day, so I had all I needed.  Ok, Ok, I know.  A crescent roll is not a croissant.  It merely shaped as one.  It’s a completely different product. I know this. But I will say the popularity of the croissant in the US coincides with the introduction of the crescent roll.  Completely different, but the crescent roll got the average Joe used to seeing  moon-shaped pastry. It’s part of the story, I think, and that’s why I gave myself permission to celebrate with it on croissant day.

I was going to make pigs in a blanket. I have a slight history with pigs in a blanket during Super Bowl Week.  Back in 1987 when I was Freshman in college and the Giants were playing the Bills for the championship, it was a pretty big game. Everyone was watching the game in their dorm rooms. My friend Tom and I decided to make some food for the occasion and thought pigs in a blanket would be a fun (this was before Super Bowl food was such a phenomenon).  The game was on in my friends room, so we took three toaster ovens into my dorm room as a make shift kitchen to make the pigs in a blanket. We had started the party early and were already feeling pretty good when it came time to make the food. In fact, while we were cooking, we were talking to each other like the Swedish Chef throughout the whole process.  We rolled up the hot dogs into the crescent rolls, put them in the ovens and then turned them on. Then the power went out.  Then the shouts started coming, most notably from Zeke (not his real name, but a giant brute of a soul who was the captain of the baseball team).  We did what anyone with a conscious would do in that situation and ran to the other dorm room and acted innocent. We had blown the power for the whole wing of our building. Thankfully it came back on within minutes, but it was almost a scene.  I think we were eventually able to make the pigs in a blanket, but just used one toaster oven at a time.  Lesson learned.  The rest gets kind of blurry.  I remember we played a drinking game where you had to drink if they mentioned your player’s name during the broadcast.  I had Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor.

I was using a big version of pigs in a blanket using full-size hot dogs. I cut a slit down the middle of each hot dog and stuffed it with cheese.  I then rolled it up into the crescent roll dough and then brushed it with some egg wash.  It went into the oven for about 20 minutes.  When they came out, they were golden brown with cheese ever so melting out of the dogs.  A little bit of perfection.  When I served it to Lola, she was a little bit stunned.  I wasn’t sure what that meant.  Was she insulted?  Was she grossed out? In fact, she was delighted. Pigs in a blanket were always a forbidden fruit for her growing up, although something she always wanted.  She was genuinely excited for these.

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And they were delicious too. No, not something you would want to eat every night, but every now and then, a delicious treat.  It’s not exactly like eating a hot dog in a bun.  It’s different.  It’s the lightness of the fresh dough and how it surrounds the hot dog.  The hot dogs were good too (Boar’s Head) – cooked perfectly.  I think that the hot dog cooks into the roll too so the blanket starts tasting like the pig.  This should be on your menu for the big game (here’s the recipe from Pillsbury).

All in all, I say that was a pretty good croissant day.  It brought me sweetness, flakiness, savoriness and deliciousness.  That’s quite a pastry. I’ll always be intrigued by the possibilities of a good croissant and the joy it can bring you.  We’ve had some good memories together.  Maybe some scary ones too.  But we’ll keep meeting each other because croissants bring smiles and good tastes to our life which is what we all need (and just the way Au Bon Pain wants it). #Resist

*Info from LuckyPeach.com

Next Up: National Inspire Your Heart With Art Day 

Day 181 – National Corn Chip Day

I learned a word today: Nixtamalization.  Sounds like that villain from Superman from another dimension who you can only stop by having him say his name backwards (that would be Mister Mxyzptlk).  Actually nixtamalization is the difference between a corn chip and a tortilla chip.  A tortilla chip is made using the nixtamalization process where the corn, or other grain, is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and hulled making it more easy to grind while increasing its nutritional value, improving its flavor and aroma and reducing its mycotoxins. The cornmeal in a corn chip is not subject to that process.  That’s why a corn chip is usually thicker and crunchier.  The most notable brand in corn chips is of course Fritos, which literally means “fried” in Spanish. Fritos were created in 1932 by Charles Elmer Doolin in San Antonio who tinkered with a recipe from a local man who made deep-fried corn snacks from an extrusion of masa (cornmeal). Once Doolin perfected his recipe, he took it to market and a success was born.  Doolin would later go on to invent Cheetos, so this man deserves to be in the Snack Food Hall of Fame with an honorable mention in the foul-breath Hall of Fame as well.

If you mention Fritos to people of a certain age (I am just past this age), they will tell you about the Frito Bandito, who was the playful, slightly-racist mascot of the Fritos brand in the early seventies.  It was voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc in an exaggerated Mexican accent and it included all the stereotypes of Mexican culture you could imagine.  The campaign was stopped after much protest from the Mexican-American Anti-Defamation League.  It’s kind of hard to believe this was even a thing, but it was and there are still people that can sing that song today.

When I told Lola that today was Corn Chip day, her face lit up with the thought of nachos coming later in the day. I had to tell her that those are tortilla chips, not corn chips. It’s hard to disappoint someone who just wants some nachos.  I suppose you could make nachos with Fritos, it would just be slightly different.  Anythings possible though. However I had already planned to make a recipe I had found online for Chili Frito Crescent Pie which was from a blogger by the name of Jim Hands.  I got there through a search for ‘what to make with Fritos’, and this one seemed pretty good.  I also happened to have made a big batch of chili on Friday, so I was looking for another way to serve it just to mix it up a little.  That’s how it goes when you make a lot of chili in a house with only two people.  The first two days you have your usual bowls of chili, but then you start getting tired of it.  Usually on the third or fourth day, we will have chili spaghetti (which I think is a Cincinnati thing) where you serve the chili right on top of a big bowl of spaghetti.  It’s actually awesome and something I look forward to, but not this time.  This time we would make Frito Pie.

I feel like I cheated on Clements Market today.  Sorry guys.  It’s not you.  It’s me.  I just needed to see other people.  At least for today.  I bought my supplies at the Dollar General today. It was just easier and maybe even more appropriate for making a Frito Pie. If it gives you any comfort, I didn’t even shower before I went.  I was dressed in sweat pants, sneakers with no socks, baseball cap and a hoody.  I was there and back within ten minutes. Even the supplies I bought were all a little off.  The Fritos had a Garth Brooks promotion advertised on the bag that had expired at the end of December.  The spot underneath the label on the crescent rolls where you are supposed to pop them open was in the wrong spot.  The sour cream was in a square tub.  Everything was slightly off. That made me appreciate the quality of Clements, so don’t worry, I’ll be back.  I’ll even shower.

It was pretty easy to toss the pie together. I reheated the chili in a pan.  Meanwhile, I took the triangles of the crescent roll package and placed them around a pie tin with the points towards the middle forming a crust.  Then I sprinkled some crushed Fritos along the bottom.  I ladled the chili over that and then spread sour cream over the entire pie.  Topped that with cheese and then finished it with more crushed corn chips.  It went in the oven for about 20 minutes.  About as easy as you can get (granted having the chili already made was a big help).

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I let it cool for a minute but then cut in and it kind of kept its shape while I was serving it.  I’m going to say this was damn good.  Really.  First off, not to brag, but the chili I made was one of my finer batches of chili.  I think I added the right amount of seasoning or let it cook for just the right amount of time, so it was flavorful and tasty.  That helps when constructing this pie.  Like all chili, it’s great when topped with sour cream and cheese, so no surprise there. But, it was the crescent roll dough and the Fritos that gave everything a whole new dimension. The crescent roll gave you that element of fresh bread while the Fritos delivered the corn crunch, and it all melded together perfectly.  Lola loved it too. I wondered if it would be better with some lettuce on top, but Lola thought it would start being too taco-like, and she was right.  I do think that maybe the sour cream should be served cold rather than baked on top – I just felt like it needed some coolness to balance out everything.  Either way, this was a great dinner and I highly suggest it for when you are looking to use up your chili.  A great Super Bowl party snack too!

I discovered a great dinner tonight and that’s always exciting.  I’ve been a fan of corn chips for a long time, before they were pushed aside for tortilla chips. I can picture eating them at parties when I was young, or eating some down by the water at our summer cottage with a can of Shasta cola in my hand.  They’ve always had a special place in my heart, and they undoubtedly deserve this day of celebration. They also pair extremely well with chili which is something I forgot too. I think the future will hold more Frito Pies in store for us. It’s the sensible thing to do when you have too much chili. So thanks Fritos for all the crunch you give us and for making the world of snacks a little more corny.

Next Up: National Croissant Day

Day 180 – National Blueberry Pancake Day

I like it when the national day is a breakfast item.  I’m a big fan of breakfast in all forms.  Simple food, nice variety. You can eat breakfast at any time of the day too (eggs for dinner is not weird although suggesting pot roast for breakfast will turn some heads). Plus with breakfast, you always have the option to make it at home or to go out for it.  It’s an easy thing to celebrate. That’s what I felt like heading into National Blueberry Pancake Day.  I wasn’t worried.  I had all day to make them but, as a back up plan, I could always go up the street to Reidy’s and order them there. That’s about as a low pressure as it gets.

I have quoted comedian Jim Gafigan here before mainly because he’s funny and he talks a lot about food.  A real lot.  When I was thinking about pancakes today, I couldn’t help but think of his observations about how we treat cake, specifically how there’s an unwritten rule that says you can’t have cake for breakfast.  He says, in his best mother voice:

“Young man, you’re not having cake for breakfast!
You’re having fried cake with syrup for breakfast.”

Somehow pancakes became an acceptable part of a balanced breakfast, right next to the Frosted Flakes, the buttered toast and the high-fructose orange juice.  The healthy way to start your day.  I imagine that’s where the idea of blueberry pancakes came in. Someone was trying to think how do we make pancakes healthier and they said, “Let’s throw in some blueberries.”  That’s likely not the history of blueberry pancakes at all, especially since both pancakes and blueberries have been around for thousands of years, but it makes you wonder. I suppose if you are eating pancakes, having them with blueberries would be a little better than just regular pancakes. At least you get the antioxidants and other benefits of the berries, but you’re reaching if you are putting it in the healthy column.

I decided to make our pancakes today and avoid the lunch crowd at Reidy’s. I had just purchased a bunch of beautiful looking blueberries at the store yesterday, so I was ready.  It was noon and Lola and I were both hungry, plus we were still in our pajamas, so why not?  I used the Bisquick mix to make the pancakes.  I know making your own is pretty easy and I am sure I had all the ingredients in-house, it was just easier.  You just add water milk and eggs to the batter and stir, although I also added in some cinnamon and a little but of maple syrup for extra flavor.  When it was all mixed together, I folded in the fresh blueberries.  I heated up my griddle pan and ladled on some batter and in a few minutes I had some delicious blueberry pancakes.

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I am usually a pancake purist and just order them plain.   I prefer my blueberries or fruit on the side.  But these were pretty good.  The berries heated just enough so they were starting to burst with blueberry flavor that seeped into every bite of the pancakes.  I used a lot of blueberries too, so they were definitely present throughout.  It mixed well with the maple syrup (hello Mrs. Butterworth!), and it was a hardy and delicious meal.  Lola really liked them.  She was writing by the fire, so I set her up with a plate along with extra syrup so she could enjoy it all.

To me, the meld of the blueberries and the syrup was not working as well as it should have, so I decided to try one with a little bit of sugar and some whipped cream that I had lying around.  This was better to me because the whipped cream worked better with the blueberries and the cake.  Lola still liked the syrup version best, so even though we didn’t agree, we were celebrating the blueberry pancake in two different ways.

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I think the next time I make pancakes I am going to make my own from scratch.  The Bisquick mix is fine, but I feel there’s an element of flavor to a pancake that I am missing.  It will be fun to experiment. If I were to make more pancakes, I’d probably stick to the plain version, although if I were making them for Lola, I would probably try the blueberry kind again.  Nonetheless, today was a great day to celebrate the pure joy of the fried cake, especially with the added addition of fresh and tasty blueberries.  Cake for breakfast?  Yeah, we can get used to that.  We’ll just make sure we add in the fruit, you know, so we can keep it healthy.

Next Up: National Corn Chip Day 

Day 179 – National Chocolate Cake Day

Today presented me with a real writing dilemma.  It was Chocolate Cake Day which is kind of the perfect day to celebrate because it requires cake.  Good chocolate cake, at that.  Any day that ends with cake is a celebration, so I was looking forward to it. It turns out that today was also International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day that also deserves our respect and attention, so I wanted to do something to honor that too. My dilemma comes in when I have to write about it.  How do I bridge that gap or segue from one to the other?  Can you get from the Holocaust to Chocolate Cake?

I started with chocolate cake (see, even that transition seems callous).  I think that if I were to make the perfect cake, I wouldn’t pick chocolate cake.  I’d go yellow or white but I would have it with chocolate frosting. Lola put it best (as she tends to do) that chocolate on chocolate cake is wrong, like blonde on blonde action.  You just can’t have that much chocolate.  Then again, if you have ever tried the Death by Chocolate cake from Gregg’s, you could make an argument about the goodness of chocolate squared.  In any case, today was chocolate cake day, so I knew I would have to partake in chocolate.  I had big plans to make the perfect chocolate cake and I found two recipes that both considered themselves to be the “Best Ever” chocolate cake recipe.  I wrote down the ingredients and headed to the store.  Then, when I got to the store, it happened again.  I started grabbing the ingredients and when I did, I noticed the cake mixes.  I noticed one in particular, a Duncan Hines Decadent Triple Chocolate Cake mix.  It had fudge in the mix and chocolate chips too.  The picture on the box could have been classified as chocolate porn.  I looked at the box, then at all the raw ingredients in my cart, then back at the box.  I decided there’s nothing wrong with instant cake mixes so that’s what I came home with.

When I got home I made the cake which was easy.  Throw in some eggs, a little water and some oil and bake away.  In 25 minutes I had two 9″ chocolatey cakes that I just had to let cool.  Then I had to make the frosting.  I decided to make the famous Magnolia Bakery frosting.  I’ve made this before for cupcakes and it’s easily the best frosting you ever want to taste.  I usually make the vanilla frosting, but they also have a recipe for chocolate so I decided to make that to stay in the theme for the day. It calls for 3 sticks of butter, powdered sugar, melted chocolate and vanilla and I blended that all together until it was light and fluffy. It had a different texture than the vanilla frosting.  The vanilla has a stiffness to it, while this frosting was really fluffy.  I’m not sure if it was something I had done wrong, but it still worked and it was definitely tasty with great chocolate and sugary flavor.  I put one half of the cake on the cake stand, topped it with frosting, then put the other half on top.  Then I frosted the rest of the cake.  I had a lot of frosting, so I was pretty generous with spreading it all over the cake.  When I was finished, I decided to top it all with some chocolate jimmies to just give it one more element of chocolateness.

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I served us both a piece later in the night.  Cutting a cake with jimmies on the top can get to be a bit messy – they fall off and trickle everywhere while you are cutting.  I learned that lesson the hard way.  Otherwise, all looked good.  The cake was a dark moist chocolate.  You could taste the swirls of fudge and chocolate bits that the cake mix had boasted about.  It worked well with the soft, fluffy chocolate frosting which was in every bite.  I served mine with vanilla ice cream because I believe cake and ice cream go together, especially chocolate cake.  Lola opted for a simple glass of milk.  As far as celebrating chocolate cake, it couldn’t get any better than that.

And now the holocaust.  Really, there’s now easy way to make that segue, so pardon me if it sounds insensitive.  It is not meant to be.  On this day in 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp, was liberated by the Red Army.  In 2005, the United Nations proclaimed this day Holocaust Remembrance Day to commemorate the genocide of an estimated 6 million Jewish people, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.*  Take a second to soak in those numbers.  We all know about the Holocaust, but sometimes we forget the scope of it all.  This happened folks.  Right in front of the eyes of the world.  In front of the seemingly intelligent and good people of Germany.  This happened.  This was only 80 years ago.

I toyed with the idea of going to the Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial today.  It’s in Providence at the Providence River Walk.  I did not know it was there, although we may have walked by it once on one of our trips to the Waterfire over the summer.  There are a few memorials in that park to commemorate those lost in the World Wars and the Korean Conflict, but the Holocaust Memorial is there too.  It has a path that simulates the railroad tracks that would take the Jews and other victims to the death camps.  It is surrounded by six pillars to represent the six million killed.  At the center is a giant light colored Life Stone which, “represents the survivors, the unbounded spirit of life, and the continuance of a people and a tradition.”  I ended up not going, but Lola and I promised each other we would go there when the weather is warmer to pay our respects and to reflect.

We thought that the very least we could do would be to educate ourselves and to watch a movie that would help illuminate the horrors of this event.  We opted for a movie called The Boy in Striped Pajamas which is one we had never seen.  It tells the tale about a boy who is the son of a German commander in charge of a concentration camp, although the boy is not aware of what’s happening in the world around him.  He’s just a boy.  He befriends a Jewish boy inside the camp who is on the other side of a barbed wire electric fence.  The boy sees the world through his own innocent eyes and does not see what is really happening.  He thinks the Jewish boy’s uniform are pajamas (hence the title), he thinks the fence is to keep animals from getting out, and he can’t understand why the boy won’t come play with him on the other side.  It’s a great movie, but a dark story.  But the Holocaust is a dark story (a dark reality), so it needs to be told. I recommend the movie for all.  And on Holocaust Remembrance Day, it was important that we took the time to hear about what happened and to keep reflecting on it.

While we were thinking about the atrocities of the Holocaust, thinking about how could this happen in a civilized world, news of Trump’s executive order to stop Muslims from Syria entry to the United States was breaking. It’s hard to spend a day thinking about how an entire race of people were almost eliminated simply because they were a religion that the authorities did not like, and then reading about a ban of people from our country because of their religion.  Did I say hard?  I meant alarming.  Frightening. Horrifying. All of it.  These are scary times.  And if I learned anything from Holocaust Remembrance Day, it was that we can never let this happen again.  We’re not there yet, but we should all be on alert. Resist. Fight. Speak Up. Never forget. Never relent.  We owe it to the boy in striped pajamas.

Next Up: National Blueberry Pancake Day

*Numbers from Wikipedia

Day 178 – National Peanut Brittle Day

My Dad was a peanut brittle fiend.  He didn’t have it that often (does anyone have peanut brittle that often?), but whenever he got a box as a gift or present, he would savor it.  I feel that peanut brittle would have been one of those things we would get him for Father’s Day or his birthday.  It was either that or some English Leather. I can still picture him with the box of peanut brittle sitting in his easy chair watching television.  It’s a very distinct box that I found immediately online when I did an image search for “peanut brittle brands.”  Gold color to the box, picture of the brittle across the front – that was it.  It was a brand called Sophie Mae and apparently they still make it today, although the brand was sold to another candy company (Atkinson’s who are famous for their Chick-o-Stick and Peanut Butter Bar candies).  I can see my Dad reaching into the box and pulling out a big chunk, then I can hear the crunch as he chomped away on his sweet treat.  The box would last him a couple of days and he would keep it by the side of his chair until it was gone. I remember trying some and liking it, but it was definitely billed to us as an adult candy and not for kids, so we didn’t have all that much of it.  That really meant they just didn’t want to waste it on us kids. I understand that.

I thought about looking for some Sophie Mae Peanut Brittle in local stores.  I imagine it would be near the box candy section of the drug store.  But it also seemed kind of a specialty item.  I had my doubts if I could really find it and when it came down to it, I never looked. I decided to look for recipes online instead. There’s a bunch of them and they are all pretty much the same.  Then I found one that the folks at King Arthur Flour posted on their blog.  They usually have some good recipes there and even better, they give you great instructions.  What ultimately pulled me in to their recipe was the the headline of the blog entry:

THE BEST NUT BRITTLE YOU’LL EVER MAKE: EASY, DELICIOUS, AND DONE IN UNDER 30 MINUTES.

Now I was definitely interested. I was unsure about the whole microwave thing, but they addressed that in the second paragraph saying they understood my skepticism, but to trust them.  I do trust them, so I figured I’d give it a go.  I was looking for an easy recipe so I wouldn’t have to spend that long in the kitchen, so this was perfect.  I ran up the street to pick up some salted nuts, then came home.  I had everything else I needed there.

A brittle is really just a hard candy confection that is embedded with nuts and then broken into pieces. I assume the name comes from the fact that it is indeed kind of brittle.  One slight tap and it breaks off.  There’s a bizarre folklore about the invention of peanut brittle that involves a West Virginian bloke by the name of Tony Beaver who was the cousin of Paul Bunyan.  In the tale, the local river was flooding the town, so Tony got all the townspeople to shell all their peanuts and to toss them in the river (apparently they have a lot of peanuts).  Then he got the logging crew in town to break open all their barrels of molasses into the river. The two combined creating a barrier that stopped the flooding.  When the waters receded and it was time for the wall to come down, Tony Beaver tasted a piece of the wall (because why wouldn’t you) and realized it was pretty tasty.  He took his giant axe and knocked the wall down giving all the townspeople a “dam” good treat and the world its first peanut brittle.* West Virginia doesn’t help their reputation with these kind of tales.

I decided that I would make the brittle in my kitchen and not dam up the Sakonnet, so this recipe was perfect.  You start with sugar and corn syrup and mix it up.  Then you microwave it for five minutes.  Add in some butter and a bunch of peanuts, stir it up and throw it back in the microwave for a few minutes.  When it turns that beautiful caramel color, you pull it out, add in some baking powder and vanilla, then pour it out onto a sheet pan to let it cool.  It took me about ten minutes to make and about an hour to cool completely.  Not too shabby.

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When it was cooled, I removed it from the pan.  I had sprayed the pan with cooking spray so it actually came off without struggle which I was happy about.  Then all I had to do was break it into pieces.  It was that easy. Then I tried some.  The brittle was crunchy and sweet – perfect consistency too.  Not grainy.  The nuts were in every bite too.  This could be some of my best work yet.  Sweet and salty, and dare I say as good as Sophie Mae’s.  A treat to savor, just like my Dad used to.

Here’s the recipe because it’s worth sharing and it’s worth reading the blog about it too: Microwaved Nut Brittle. Cheers to Mrs. B, the originator of the recipe (read the blog).

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I wish I could send a box of this to my Dad.  He’d be excited for it.  He’d be proud that I could make my own, perhaps even in disbelief, but would have a giant smile of gratitude on his face no matter what. He’d savor this batch too.  Keep it by his easy chair and munch on it while he watched TV.  He’d give my Mom some too.  He’s been gone for almost 20 years now but I still think of him all the time.  I’ve thought of him a lot while writing this blog.  He’s a big part of the memories I’ve shared here and it’s been nice to visit with him while I write about random food from my past.  I can almost see him reading the blog too, trying to figure out how to use an iPad, laughing at the jokes I slide in here, and talking it up too his pals. He’d probably tell me he went to school with Tony Beaver.  I’m going to enjoy this peanut brittle as a small tribute to my Dad.  Yeah, this one was kind of special.

Next Up: National Chocolate Cake Day.

*This tale is from the Legend of Tony Beaver

Day 177 – National Irish Coffee Day

Irish Coffee is how I backed my way into becoming a coffee drinker.  I spent most of my life as a non-coffee drinker and for someone who spent 20 years in the restaurant business, that’s an accomplishment. It’s not that I hated the taste of coffee, it was just never my thing.  For caffeine, I would stick to Coke or Mountain Dew, or for my brief Jessie Spano phase, Ultra Pep Back caffeine pills, but never coffee.  It was the warmness of coffee that I never appreciated.  It actually made me sleepy.  Weird, I know.  But I avoided it.  However over the years on the occasions when I would be out to dinner, when the opportunity came to have an after dinner drink I would indulge in the Irish Coffee.  Really it was just another vehicle for me to drink more booze when I didn’t want the party to end, so I would order one and enjoy.  Something about it tasted good after a big meal.  Warmed me up.  So that was my coffee intake for a while.

I am not sure exactly when I started drinking regular coffee, but a lot has to do with Lola who is a huge coffee fan. I think we were out one day and stopped for a coffee for her.  I, in need of a caffeine boost, decided to try one too.  A cappuccino actually.  I liked it.  Something clicked inside me. And from there, I started ordering it more frequently.  Now I can say I am a coffee drinker.  It’s how I start my day. I crave it, and I rely on it.  I’m hooked.  It could even be a problem.

I still love the occasional Irish Coffee too.  I thought Irish Coffee would have a long and fabled history that involved old pubs, banshees and leprechauns, but apparently its history begins in 1942 at an airport in the town of Foynes which is part of County Limerick in Ireland.  The tale goes that it was a cold, wet and stormy day in which a flight full of Americans was called back because the weather was too rough to continue.  It was a few hours of really tumultuous flight and when the passengers finally disembarked, they were cold, wet and shivering.  The chef at the terminal restaurant, Joseph Sheridan, made a pot of very strong coffee and added in some good Irish whisky to serve to the shaken passengers.  The passengers really enjoyed the chef’s secret concoction. As the story is told by WhatsCookingAmerica.net, “One passenger even asked Sheridan if they were drinking Brazilian coffee. Chef Sheridan famously replied, “No, that’s Irish coffee.”” The beverage caught on. The airport in Foynes eventually shut down and Sheridan went to work at Shannon International Airport across the estuary where his drink garnered more fans and popularity.  Today there is a plaque at Shannon honoring Mr. Sheridan for his achievement.  Furthermore, there is an air museum at the Foynes location which hosts an annual Irish Coffee Festival every June.  I may have to go check that out.

There is also a claim that the Irish Coffee began in 1945 by Joe Jackson at the Ulster Hotel, located in Ballybofey, County Donegal.  His drink was (is) made with coffee, sugar, Irish whiskey, and then a layer of cream on top which is kind of the version we think of today.  His concoction was devised also as a means to warm up.  Some say this version came first while others still claim Joe Sheridan as the originator.  We may never know.  We’ll let the debate keep raging in Irish pubs throughout the world.

I was, to use a phrase Lola has been saying, a little ‘down in the Trumps’ today.  I started reading about everything going on and I went into this dark vortex of doom.  There’s a lot of that going around these days.  In any case, I was in a funk and couldn’t snap out of it.  And it was only 2:30.  Sometimes that’s how it goes.  So I walked away from my computer, grabbed the Jameson Irish Whisky and decided to make myself a cocktail.  Truth be told, the idea of making an Irish Coffee in the afternoon had entered my mind earlier in the day because I was worried that if I had one later in the day, I would have trouble sleeping.  So I am officially old that I worry about that stuff, but nonetheless, that thought was hiding in my head. It may or may not have been the catalyst to make me have a 2:30 cocktail.

I tried to make it in the exact Joe Jackson tradition because the aforementioned article included his original recipe in the text (no disrespect to Mr. Sheridan, it just seemed like a more fun recipe).  So I made a batch of fresh whipped cream, brewed some strong coffee and got out two brown sugar cubes.  I put the sugar in the glass (which I had warmed up), I poured in my Jameson, then added the coffee.  Stirred it so the sugar cubes would be dissolved, and then topped in some whipped cream.  It looked pretty good if I do say so myself.

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We should all have a 2:30 Irish Coffee break.  It will really take the edge off of you in the afternoon.  This was very good, although it tasted a little different than I am used to for an Irish coffee.  I think it was the brown sugar, which was a specialty sugar that I purchased a while back.  It gave it sweetness, but has a molasses taste to it, so that probably changed the taste here.  It was still good though.  The hot coffee and the cool whipped cream was a treat, and the whisky is always good.  Did you know that they say Jameson is the Catholic Irish whisky (being from County Cork in southern Ireland) while Bushmills from Northern Ireland is the Protestant whisky?  How did religion get into my whisky?  In any case, it was the perfect break.

The day was done for me at that point because I couldn’t go back to my computer lest I fall back into the vortex.  Lola was in the same place too, so she suggested we get out of the house and see a movie.  An excellent idea.  We went to go see Hidden Figures which gets a big thumbs up from me.  It’s about three African-American woman who were behind the success of the NASA mission to space in the sixties and the discrimination and struggle they had to persevere to prove their worth.  I love movies about space and movies that can make math seem interesting on the big screen.  Plus, it’s important to see the fight for civil rights portrayed on screen, especially these days.  It’s history I didn’t know about, which is always enlightening.

That was my Irish Coffee day which, like the passengers on that stormy flight out of Foynes, I was called back in and had my soul warmed up my a very special cocktail.  Maybe it was a little early in the day, especially on a Wednesday, but that’s how it goes sometimes.  The movie helped too.  It took me away.  I feel like our future has more of this in store for us.  Where the news becomes so overwhelming that our sanity will be found through both kindred spirits and Irish spirits.  Fill my cup up with that.  Thank you Joseph Sheridan for delivering a warm and delicious drink to help us through the storm.  The storm is building, but don’t worry, the Jameson is well-stocked.  And so is the resistance.

Next Up: National Peanut Brittle Day 

 

Day 176 – National Beer Can Appreciation Day

This is a day that celebrates the introduction of the can as a vehicle for drinking beer. We celebrate this day on January 24th because that is the day back in 1935 that Krueger’s Finest Beer first introduced the can to the masses (even though they had started testing it over a year earlier).  Their testing found that most people found the taste of beer in a can was closer to the taste of actual draft beer than beer in a  bottle. The cans were different then.  They were made of steel and had to be opened with a can opener (like the old Hi-C cans), but they were a success for Krueger’s and soon others followed.  There is a Rhode Island tie-in to Krueger’s too.  It seems that after a successful run, Krueger’s was eventually purchased by the folks at Ballentine Ale and then eventually the Falstaff Brewing Company.  Falstaff also owned our own Narragansett Brewery and even brewed the Krueger’s brand at the Cranston brewery for a short time.  Falstaff also led to the demise of Rhode Island’s favorite brewery and moved the brewing of ‘Gansett to Indiana. Since 2005, new owners have moved Narragansett back home and they have since re-energized the brand.  Narragansett also has a famous beer can which is noted for its appearance in the classic film Jaws in which Quint crushes the can in his bare hand while out on the Orca (no easy feat in the days of non-aluminum cans).

In March 1963, the Pittsburgh Brewing Company changed the beer can game by introducing its flagship Iron City Beer in self-opening cans which came with a tab on the top with a  little ring that you grabbed and pulled leaving an opening for you to guzzle.  These are called  “Pop Tops” and revolutionized the beer can industry.  However, it wasn’t without its flaws.  Anyone who remembers these, and I can, remembers how the ring would come off leaving you with an unopened can.  Plus, back in the seventies, the streets were littered with pull tops that were cast away.  It was an issue.  In the mid-seventies,  they began to be replaced by the stay tab where the tab would remain on the can and that is what we still use today.

My info here was sourced by an article by the Brewery Collectibles Club of America.  The history of beer seems pretty well documented, at least modern beer, and I appreciate that.

Personally, I prefer beer in a bottle. It just feels better to me. More adult and less dorm-roomy. That reflects an old prejudice against the can when beer in a bottle was meant for savoring while the can was more for the bourgeois, but things have changed.  More recently, the can has been making a comeback. The actual cans are better nowadays and engineered to enhance your beer drinking optimization.  There’s also been a dramatic increase in the cost of bottles, so brewers have been embracing the cheaper cost of a can while working hard to keep up the drinking quality.  There’s no shame to beer from a can these days.

The first part of my celebration today was to go get a can of beer so I headed to our local package store and picked up a six pack.  I naturally wanted to get Miller High Life, but they only had that in a 12 pack which was more than I wanted, so I decided because it was a holiday, maybe I’ll go for something else.  I decided on a beer called Flying Jenny, which is an extra pale ale from Grey Sail Brewing which is based in Westerly, RI.  A local beer.  I’m not exactly sure why I picked it outside of it having nice, bright packaging and I thought the name was funny.  I picked it up and put it in the fridge when I got home. When happy hour rolled around, I cracked open a can and enjoyed.

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There’s nothing quite like the sound of cracking open a can of beer.  It creates a Pavlovian response because I lick my lips just thinking of that sound.  Even when someone opens a can of soda I think I hear a beer calling me.  That’s something I appreciate.  I also appreciate that they have widened the opening in the can so it makes it more drinkable.  A subtle improvement, but one that makes a difference.  The beer was good and refreshing.  I think I had been craving a nice cold beer, so it hit me right.  A nice break.

The second part of my celebration was to make Beer Can Chicken. I’ve been hearing about this for a few years and was naturally curious. I thought what better way to appreciate a beer can than to show its diversity.  I found a recipe online from a blog called How Sweet It Is which said it made the juiciest beer can chicken.  Good enough for me.  I had everything on hand, except the chicken and some lime, so I picked some up and got ready to make it.  You start by putting together some spices including brown sugar, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder and mixing it with some softened butter.  Then you get up under the skin of the chicken and massage it into the bird.  If you have issues with touching raw meat, this is not a job for you.  After that, you put a half filled can of beer (a Flying Jenny in this case), and you ram it up the underside of the chicken.  Actually, that sounds kind of violent.  Truth be told, if you take your time and if you still have butter on your hand, it eases right in there (that can be life advice too).  Then you spread some olive oil on the outside of the bird and rub in the rest of the spices so you can create a nice crisp skin.  You also slide some fresh limes into the cavity of the bird and underneath the skin to give it a citrusy tang. When it’s ready, it goes into a 425 degree oven for an hour and fifteen minutes.

It looks funny, like a puppet, when you put it in the oven.  It’s pretty much standing up in there which is an odd thing to see.  It’s also a little off-balance too.  A five pound bird trying to stay balanced by a 12 ounce can doesn’t work in the world of physics and the bird was teetering.  To help, I propped the legs in a manner to help the balance, so it really looked like the bird was walking.  It’s just an odd sight.  I let it cook.  Lola was working in the kitchen and I told her if she heard a noise from the oven, to let me know.  It would either be the bird falling over or the bird trying to escape.

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I know what you are thinking.  You burned it.  And yes, the skin definitely burnt in places.  This picture was taken right after I pulled it from the oven and when I let it rest for a bit, it definitely didn’t look quite so charred.  I had read another recipe that said if you cook it in the oven (most people cook beer can chicken on their grill), you should tent the bird in aluminum foil after a certain amount of time in the oven.  The recipe I used didn’t say that, but it would have been good advice.  But, as burned as it looked, I could tell the chicken itself was ok.  Only the skin was burnt and that makes sense because it was lathered in oil and sugars.

I pulled the can out which was a little harder than I thought because it was really hot, but I managed and I put the bird on a cutting board.  I was surprised that there was still beer left in the can.  I thought it would evaporate or soak into the chicken, but there was definitely some in there.  It tasted pretty good too.  I could taste the drippings which melded with that warm, hoppy taste. (Just kidding – I did not drink it).  After the chicken rested for about 15 minutes, I cut in.  The skin peeled right off and was actually pretty tasty.  But the chicken?  The chicken was spot on.  Moist and juicy, full of flavor from the spices.  A definite success.  Even Lola was a fan and in fact, she sampled some of the skin while I was carving and enjoyed that as well.  A good recipe, I’ll just tent it next time so it doesn’t char.

I believe it was Navin R. Johnson in the movie The Jerk who said, “What’s the matter with these cans?” Well Navin, nothing really.  They get the job done and have been making the drinking of beer easier for 82 years. Beer cans are part of our culture and deserve our appreciation.  I’ve spent a lot of times with beer cans.  I know what they fell like in my hand.  I know what they sound like when they open.  I know how full they are by giving them a little shake.  I know how to stack them efficiently in our fridge.  I know how to shotgun one (although it’s been a while).  They are part of a good life.  So thank you beer cans for all you have given us and continue to give us.  We raise our can to your continued legacy of refreshment and fun.

Next Up: National Irish Coffee Day

 

Day 175 – National Pie Day

Pie Day?  Again? I just celebrated Pie Day on December 1st.  I made a taco pie.  And I assume there is another Pie Day coming up on March 14th.  How many times can we celebrate the pie? Is the pie that insecure it needs three days (at least) to celebrate its goodness?  I feel there is a corporate pie agenda that Big Pie is pushing on the world.  It gets absurdly romanticized in movies and on tv.  It has spun its own image to be this icon in the world of comfort food, but is the pie any better than cake or cookies?  Oh pie is good, don’t get me wrong.  But does it deserve three days of celebration, not to mention all those individual days such as Raspberry Cream Pie Day and Pumpkin Pie Day?  Don’t fall for the Big Pie agenda.

It is what it is, I suppose, so despite my conflicts, I set out to celebrate Pie Day.  My first celebration was unintentional but ended up being appropriate.  On Sunday, in my post DC trip haze to Clements, I picked up a pot pie for dinner that night (along with the sandwiches for lunch).  Well we ate the sandwiches kind of late in the day and then had some blondies at night, so neither of us were really all that hungry for dinner.  That means that I had dinner ready for Monday night which unbeknownst to me at the time, was Pie Day.  So by accident, we were having pot pie for dinner on Pie Day (nailed it).

To my chagrin, Clements did not have any of our favorite pot pie from the Centerville Pie Company.  That’s Oprah’s favorite too (I’ve talked about them here before).  I’m not sure if Clements are out of the pies or if they are just not carrying them anymore (it looks like the latter because there was no empty space where they are usually kept).  That was a bummer because their pies are the best.  Instead, I picked up a Willow Tree chicken pot pie.  Willow Tree is based out of Attleboro, MA which is right over the Rhode Island border.  They began life as poultry farmers but at some point, expanded to become pot pie makers.  That’s what made their business take off.  Then they started making chicken salad.  That’s how I first heard their name, with their chicken salad.  It’s kind of a thing down here.  In fact if you mention you bought chicken salad around here, you usually get the “is it Willow Tree” question.  It’s tasty chicken salad, I’ll give them that.  This was the first time I have ever had their pot pie.  I figured they were chicken experts, so it must be a good product. It cooked in about an hour and fifteen minutes.

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It was the prefect night for chicken pot pie.  It wasn’t freezing outside but it was cold and with a Nor’easter in the air, the wind was whooping and whomping.  It just sounded bitterly cold, so the warmness of a pot pie was perfect.  To be honest, we are spoiled by the Centerville Pie pot pies because they are packed with chicken.  The Willow Tree pie was good, but it was different and definitely far less chicken.  The main difference was that this pie had a layer of pie crust over the top and beneath it was a mixture of chicken and gravy, which was almost soupy.  The Centerville Pie has pie crust on the bottom and top so it eats more like a real pie, especially with all that chicken.  The Willow Tree was more like chicken and dumplings.  Still tasty (it really was delicious), just not what we are used to.  I ate it with a  spoon so I could get all the gravy.  I guess it’s just a different interpretation of pot pie.  I would get it again, but pretty sure I would reach for Centerville’s version first.

The second part of my Pie Day celebration was to make a sweet pie since I had savory covered.  I looked at some recipes online and tried to find something tasty.  Then I thought about one of my favorite pies, the key lime.  It’s a sweet pie with a tart twist to it.  It’s cool and refreshing and despite the wintery weather, that was appealing to me.  Some of the other pies I was looking at were all sweet but seemed heavy and too much.  The key lime sounded like simple sweetness.  I found a recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction blog.  I have found some stellar recipes from her before so I always check her out to see what recipes she has. Her key lime recipe looked good and easy.  It was actually for mini pies which you would make inside a muffin pan.  I was going to make it that way, but then I wondered if I was not being pie compliant for Pie Day, so I made a full pie instead.  Thankfully, she had a note on how to to do that in her recipe.

The first step of the recipe was to make a pie crust out of graham crackers.  I took the easy way out on this one and just bought a pre-made pie crust.  Making your own pie crust, at least a graham cracker one, is not that hard, but I just wanted to give myself a little break, so I cut a corner.  I was ok with that.  If I make it again, I’ll make my own crust.  The rest was kind of easy.  You beat cream cheese with some egg yolks, add in some sweetened condensed milk and then your lime juice.  Per Sally’s instructions, I used Nellie & Joe’s Key West Lime Juice.  I had seen this recipe made with Rose’s lime juice before, but there is a freshness to the Nellie & Joe’s juice that is unbeatable, plus it’s made from real key limes. That makes a difference.  A good recommendation.  I grated in some lime zest too for extra flavor, but that was pretty much it.  I poured it all into the pie crust, baked it for about 15 minutes, then let it cool.  It was surprisingly easy.

When I made chocolate mousse a few weeks ago, I recalled my time at the restaurant I used to work at, New England Food and Beverage Company, and how the little old lady Auntie Anna would make the desserts every week in her little nook in the kitchen.  She also used to make a Key Lime Pie too (in fact it was on the menu as Auntie Anna’s Key Lime Pie).  That’s where I saw the Rose’s lime juice being used as she always had the bottle on the counter when she was baking.  Key Lime was a pie that I had no real interest in eating so I always avoided it. I had actually not even heard of it before I started working there. Then, as it happens in restaurants, a piece of pie is left out for the staff to eat (one that was not pretty enough to serve), so I gave it a taste.  It was super good.  Tangy, sweet and refreshing.  I learned to love it.  Even crave it.  Later in life after the ONEF&B, when I met Lola, we realized we both liked Key Lime Pie.  Growing up, she had spent many of her school vacations in Miami visiting her grandparents.  That’s where she first tasted key lime, and she’s been a fan ever since.  I knew I had my work cut out for me to meet her expectations of good Key Lime Pie here.

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I made some fresh whipped cream to go on top of the pie to add a little more sweetness then I served a piece to Lola when she was sitting in front of the fire.  That’s not your typical Key Lime Pie experience.  Key Lime is summery or reminiscent of warm vacations.  It’s not huddled around the hearth. But sweetness is good wherever you have it.  I waited for her reaction and soon enough, I knew I had a hit.  It was really good.  Great lime flavor and tartness with just the right of sweetness mixed in.  The crust was perfect (I think we have established that graham cracker crusts are a must for all Key Lime Pies) and the whipped cream, which was especially sweet, really melded with the tartness of the pie.  Not to brag, but it could be one of my favorite pies that I have made so far on my quest.  A success, and more importantly, a success in Lola’s eyes.

Another day, another Pie Day.  I’m running out of pies to make here.  I do like pies.  There’s something festive to them, although maybe I’m falling for the Big Pie narrative.  But like them I do, so I’ll keep celebrating.  I was able to make a pie today that I have always wanted make and it came out great, so that’s worth trumpeting.  Plus I got to eat a nice hot chicken pot pie that warmed up my soul. Another win for pies.  So I’ll keep celebrating Pie Days even though I’ll probably keep ranting about it if another pops up on the calendar.  Stay true to good eats, they say, and resist the Big Pie agenda!

Next Up: National Beer Can Appreciation Day 

Day 174 – National Blonde Brownie Day

I am still recovering here and everything is a bit delayed, so if you are an ardent follower, it may seem like my timing’s off.  My apologies.  To be clear, Sunday was National Blonde Brownie Day.  I’m writing about that on Monday morning.  I slept late (to 9:00!) this morning, but after a weekend with a total of about 5 hours of sleep (half of which was sitting in a bus), I needed it.  We went to bed right after the Patriots game and I can’t believe I actually made it through the whole game without passing out.  In any case, I still managed to celebrate the Blonde Brownie yesterday and so my quest goes on.

The blonde brownie (also know as a blondie) is like a regular brownie except that instead of cocoa powder that you use in a traditional brownie, you use brown sugar, molasses, butterscotch or vanilla.  The blondie actually predates the chocolate brownie as the availability of cocoa powder was not as readily available as molasses, so early bakers could whip up a batch of these cake-like bars which are decedents of gingerbread.  The name blondie doesn’t come into use until the 1980’s.  They are not affiliated with the comic strip character (that’s an alternative fact), but just named for their lighter hue.

I was really hoping Betty Crocker would help me here.  I was approaching the ‘Baking Needs’ aisle at Clements with all the hopes of a little boy peering around the corner waiting to see what Santa brought him.  I just wanted to see that blondie-in-a-box mix so all I had to do was add some eggs and bake.  But alas, Betty doesn’t do Blondies, or at least Clements doesn’t sell the mix (upon investigation, they do make a mix, I just didn’t find it).  So without any other plan, I searched for and found a recipe on FoodNetwork.com while I was in the aisle and made sure I had everything I needed.

I had also picked up a couple of paninis while at Clements and when I got home, I served them up immediately.  Besides my sleep pattern, the trip to DC really messed up my eating schedule too so at this point, after a bowl of cereal and a bag of trail mix when I woke up, I was starving.  I hadn’t eaten an actual meal since Friday night.  It had been all snacks on the bus and in the city with the exception of a rest-area convenient store sandwich somewhere in Jersey late Saturday night.  I was craving real food, and being in Clements was making me drool.  I almost just started eating off their hot buffet with the idea of shoveling their creamy mac and cheese into my mouth like a walker eating brains on The Walking Dead.  But I held it together until I got home.  My sandwich, their Big Beef Mac panini, was scarfed down in minutes and my hunger was appeased, perhaps overly so.  I then sat down to watch the Packers game with Lola and rested.  Tiredness was setting in.

At half time, I pushed myself to get up and I made the blondies.  It really wasn’t that taxing either.  You cream the butter with brown sugar.  Add in the eggs and vanilla, then your flour mix.  When it was incorporated together, I folded in some chocolate chips and then spread it into a pan.  It went into the oven for 25 minutes.  Took me about fifteen minutes in total to actually make the blondies, so really not hard at all.  The batter looked and tasted a lot like cookie dough. Good cookie dough.  When the timer went off, I took them out of the oven, and realized they looked like cookies too.

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I had followed the instructions and had pulled the blondies from the oven when the edges were brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle came out smoothly.  I then left it on a cooling rack and then disappeared into my office to finish up yesterday’s blog entry.  The Packers game was a blowout, so I wasn’t missing much, but Lola was keeping her eye on the game and would alert me if anything changed.  Lola is a bigger fan of watching football than I am.  I may know more about the sport and the people, but she loves watching it.  She gets excited and always roots for the underdog.  That’s my Lola fun fact for the day.

When I finished and came out to watch the Patriots’ game, I decided it was time to feast on a blondie.  I carefully cut into the pan and cut out two squares for us to eat.  They were still warm.  As soon as I pulled one out of the pan, I realized that they were underdone or that they had not set up enough.  Regardless, I was serving them because they just looked so good.  The instructions called for me to bake them in a 13″ x 9″ pan, but I thought that would make them too thin, and I like a thicker brownie, so I made them in an 8″ x 8″ pan.  I was going to give them more time in the oven, but the toothpick test made it seem like they were done.  Also, I added more chocolate chips than they called for in the recipe and I think because they were still warm, that made it especially melty.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was tempting.

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Barring any bouts of salmonella that we may or may not catch, these blondies were fantastic.  They were warm, melty and gooey.  As messy as they were (you had to eat them with a fork because you couldn’t pick them up), they were a joy.  They really tasted like chocolate chip cookies, but with a cake-like texture.  It was like eating warm cookie dough, and to anyone that likes cookie dough, that’s a good thing.  In the end, I would call them a delight.  They wouldn’t be something I could bring to a party or wrap up and sell, but if you are just enjoying good food watching a game in the comfort of your home, you are not going to find much better.  I think that by today they will have firmed up a little more and be a bit more manageable to eat.  I am looking forward to doing that later.

I promise I’ll get back to my usual routine here.  Just had a bit of a weekend, so trying to recover.  I will say that if you are recovering from a long weekend, that feasting on slightly underdone blondies is a pretty nice way to go. It brings comfort food to a whole new level. That’s how I celebrated the blonde brownie today and I think it was fitting.  Another positive for all the Patriots’ fans out there: they are undefeated when I make blondies before the game.  Maybe I’ll have to make them again in two weeks.  I hope I’m rested by then.

Next Up: National Pie Day  

 

 

Day 173 – National Granola Bar Day

I started  to write this post while I was on the bus on our way home from the Women’s March on Washington.  Maybe that will be my new thing from now on: blogging on buses.  The truth of the matter is that it had been a pretty long two days and we were exhausted.  It was dark on the bus, mostly everyone was sleeping and I was having a tough time focusing on the small text on my phone and trying to type with my thumbs as the phone jostled back and forth with every bump the bus would hit.  It just wasn’t going smoothly and I eventually gave in knowing that I could finish it at home.  That was probably a wise decision.

The last 30 hours or so have been a bit of a whirlwind. By all reports, Lola and I weren’t alone out there in our rallying.  Over half a million of us out in the streets of D.C. (real numbers, not Trump/Spicer hogwash) and millions of others taking to the streets worldwide.  It’s not a moment, it’s the movement. A cheers to all those who were part of it all, both the marchers and those who were with us in spirit.  We all did some good today.  We raised our voices.  To celebrate this, I made everyone granola bars.

Well, not everyone.  I had planned ahead on this one and I thought it was fortuitous that of all the things to celebrate today, granola bars were the thing.  They are perfect for traveling whether hiking a lonesome trail, marching through the urban jungle or even just sitting on dark buses in a cloud of old lady farts.  It’s the perfect grab and go snack.

The history of granola dates back to the 19th century and it gets a bit complicated.  It starts with the graham cracker which was created by an outspoken vegetarian named Dr. Sylvester Graham who created a new whole grain wheat flour as a new type of health food.  In 1863, Dr. James C. Jackson of Dansville, NY took the Graham flour and formed into sheets, baked it until it dried, and broke it up into small pieces then rebaked it.  He called this new creation “Granula.” In 1876, Dr. John H. Kellogg, who ran a sanitarium in Battle Creek, MI that advocated a vegetarian diet with a whole grain emphasis, created a similar invention by baking and rebaking the Graham flour.  He also called it granula.  When he was promptly sued by Dr. Jackson, he renamed his cereal “Granola.” Kellogg would later go on to invent Corn Flakes which would start the Kellogg cereal empire.  In 1898, one of Kellogg’s patients at the sanitarium, Charles W. Post, went on to open his own health retreat where he used Dr. Jackson’s basic recipe for Granula to develop Grape Nuts which would become one of the stalwarts of his new company, the Post Cereal Company.  Then, when the 1960s brought us the hippies, there was a resurgence back the idea of eating all natural, healthy foods, so granola was revived by this new health food movement.  The hippies also changed granola from the Grape Nuts version to one featuring whole grains, seeds, nuts and dried fruit, like raisins.  They upped the whole granola world to new levels – thanks Hippies!  (Info here from Yippie Hippie Granola.)

Although there is some dispute, the invention of the granola bar is generally attributed to the inventor Stanley Mason.  Granola was always packed loosely, and it was Mason who realized that you could press the granola down forming it into bar shapes to make it easier for taking on the go.  That was a pretty good idea and it launched a whole new industry as consumers enjoyed the convenience of bars on the go.  Stanley Mason was a pretty interesting guy who not only invented the granola bar, but also the squeezable ketchup bottle, disposable diapers and floss dispensers to name a few.  We owe a lot to this guy.

I made my granola bars on Friday as part of my trip preparation. I decided to use a recipe from a blogger I like, AverieCooks.com, and the recipe was for Peanut Butter Oatmeal Granola Bars. She always makes some good recipes so I trust her, plus she gives nice, easy instructions.  They came together in no time and with no baking either.  You combine some butter, milk and sugar and cook it on the stovetop and have it boil for a minute.  After that, you add in some peanut butter and vanilla which both melt into the syrupy concoction.  When it’s smooth, you add in the oats and some Rice Krispies and mix it up well. You pack that tightly into a pan and put it aside to firm up. After some time, you melt some chocolate and drizzle it on top.  After that, you cut your bars into appropriate size pieces and you are good to go.  I packed mine inside some Tupperware and added it to my bag of goodies to take on the bus.  When 6 am rolled around and hunger started to kick in, I grabbed a piece for both of us and we ate it rolling towards the March somewhere in the early morning darkness of Delaware.

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This was pretty good.  It was full of peanut butter taste with the right amount of crunch thanks to the oats and krispies. To be honest, it was reminiscent of my Peanut Butter Balls, although more of a peanut butter taste.  The only knock against them was that they were crumbly which can be a problem when you are squeezed into a seat on a bus.  But still good and a nice energy boost too.  We were ready to get our march on!

I think we arrived at RFK Stadium in DC around 10.  That’s where they were parking the buses that were coming in from all over.  There were a lot of buses.  The parking lot was full and bustling with activity.  We got out of our bus, stretched, and geared up for the day.  We knew there’d be a lot of walking ahead of us.  We had clear back packs, something they recommended for security reasons, and our poster boards on which to make our message.  Everyone was walking towards the Metro system and you started to get your first glimpse of the scale of this thing.  People everywhere.  As we walked, the folks at Kind Bars were giving away free samples to anyone walking in their path, so I grabbed one.  I thought it an odd coincidence that the one product I saw anyone giving away all day was a granola bar on National Granola Bar Day.  That had to be a sign.

It was truly an amazing and inspiring day.  There were people everywhere and even though  it was cramped, there was a sense of kindness and community wherever you turned.  Sure, there were moments of frustration.  People bumping into you, standing in your line of vision, people oblivious to personal space fields – the usual big crowd stuff.  But I was amazed at the positive feeling that was in abundance.  Oh don’t get me wrong. People were mad.  They had a message for the new administration about what’s happening.  There is outrage.  But collectively, as a group, the feeling that presided over the crowd was togetherness and hope.  That’s it – it was hope.  We have our work to do, but being there alongside everyone else made you feel like our voice was getting louder.  Peace and love, not carnage.

I could go on about the March but I’m starting to fall apart from exhaustion and losing focus.  Besides, there are people telling the story of the Women’s March on Washington with better words than I have.  Read their stuff.  Read about what happened and why it was so inspiring and what we need to do now. Join the movement.  I just came here to tell you about the granola bar that I ate on a bus.  It was good.  Was the Pop Tart that we had stashed for the ride home better?  Yes, much better.  But for me, that granola bar will always be part of a journey I took alongside 40 strangers to go walk around our nation’s capitol to let my voice be heard.  I hope it worked, because I don’t want to have to go back.

But I will, and I’ll bring more granola bars.

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We were there.

Next Up: National Blonde Brownie Day