Day 241 – National Noodle Month

I think I’m starting to find the balance in my new schedule, however today’s quest threw another monkey wrench into my plans. Today was one of those days that didn’t give you much to work with in regards to celebration. It was National Pencil Day, National I Am in Control Day and National Doctors Day, but all those are not easy things to celebrate. I actually had my annual physical scheduled for today which would have been a perfect way to celebrate Doctors Day, but I had to cancel my appointment because of my schedule change. Had I gone to my appointment today, I think that if I showed up with cookies and balloons for my doctor, it would have made the ol’ “turn your head and cough” portion of the program even more awkward than it already is. I wonder if she’d let me Instagram that? When I headed into work, I saw that it was National Take a Walk in the Park Day, so that’s where I kind of landed in regards to how I could celebrate the day. I even asked Lola if she wanted to meet me after I got out so we could stroll through the local park. That was the plan, but then after my shift, things started to change. It was sunny out, but it wasn’t particularly warm. In fact it was chilly. We were both tired too. The final straw was that there are no real parks in Portsmouth. There’s Patriot’s Park, but that’s not very big and is more of a historical marker than an actual walk through park. There’s The Glenn, but as far as I know, they are not set up for walking trails, etc. We were going to head to Colt State Park in Bristol, but it was late in the day so the gate to the park would likely be closed. It seemed like taking a walk in the park was not going to be a walk in the park. In the end, we decided to skip the walk so, after feeling like I finally got a hold on my new schedule, I suddenly found myself at 7 pm with nothing to celebrate.

In these moments, I look to what things are being celebrated during the month so I checked the list and it turns out that March is National Noodle Month. That I could do. I had celebrated National Noodle Day back in October and on that day, I made a noodle soup and also made some ramen for dinner. For today, I looked at what we had in stock and we had a box of Angel Hair pasta just waiting to be cooked. Angel Hair is perfect for noodle day because it gives you those long strands that you think of when you hear the word noodles. To go with it, I had some jarred sauce in the fridge, but I also had some chili that I had bought at Clements the other day. Perfect! I would make chili spaghetti (well, chili angel hair).

Putting chili on spaghetti is a Cincinnati thing that we learned as part of the education that Food Network has given us. While actual Cincinnati Chili is actually made with a meat sauce and not actual chili (it looks similar but there are slight differences), I knew we could just make ours with real chili. We’ve made this before. It usually comes the week we make a big pot of chili and we have nice big bowls of it for two or three days in a row. Then, we get tired of it, so we look for something to mix it up. That’s when we will make spaghetti, put it in a bowl and top with with some heated up chili. Naturally we top it all with cheddar cheese and sour cream too, just like you would chili. The pasta adds another dimension to the whole thing. You still get the meaty and spicy flavor of the chili but along with the starchy soft bites of the pasta. It turns that last portion of chili into something special.

I was excited for this. It’s always one of those surprise favorites of mine. The angel hair cooked up fast and I heated the chili up on the side while it cooked. The chili at Clements is actually pretty good too. Sometimes I will pick some up for Lola when she is looking for soup but they don’t have any other varieties that peak our interest. She likes it, especially on cold winter afternoons. She also likes it on pasta too, so I put our dinners together in no time and it came out looking delicious.

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Simple and easy, just like a Noodle Month meal should be. When we usually make this, we normally have it with spaghetti because it’s thicker and holds up well against the chili. The angel hair, which is actually one of my favorite pastas, worked fine. It was a little lighter which made for better eating. I’m not sure if it picked up as much of the flavor from the chili as usual, but I think that also was a factor of the type of chili I used. Adding the cheese and the sour cream adds in some good flavors too with the cheese giving it that creamy boost and the sour cream toning down the heat of the chili. Really, this is always a home run and the perfect thing to make when you want to use up the last of your chili (especially when you are celebrating noodles).

In the end, this day turned out to be a pretty tasty celebration, albeit one that I kind of pulled out of my ass at the last minute. Still, I was pretty excited that we had a whole month dedicated to celebrating the noodle and I’m glad I got my celebration in before the month ran out. We used noodles today in the way that they are so great – cheap, easy and comforting. I reached in to our cabinet and the angel hair was there and it was the perfect answer to our what to eat dilemma. That’s why these kind of foods deserve their days or even months – because they deserve to be honored for what they give us. Noodles bring us joy and let’s not forget that no matter if they come served in soup, in sauce or even chili.

Next Up: National Tater Day

 

 

Day 240 – National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day

My dedication to this quest is being tested. When I first envisioned going on this journey, I knew it would be tough. I knew it would mean staying up late or waking up early so I could get it done. When I first thought about trying to do this, I was working and had a pretty weird schedule. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but in my mind, before I really knew what this would involve, I knew I would just make some sacrifices. I’d work for it. I was ready and I figured it might even help to work through the monotony of my usual days. Then I lost my job and suddenly, my schedule was wide open. Not that it was always easy, but when you don’t have to sit at a desk from 9 to 5, you certainly can take some time to go on quests.

Now, here I am on day two of being back in the working world (sort of, kind of), and I am suddenly remembering about all those long nights and sacrifices I knew told myself I would have to make. I got home from work at about 6 PM today. I actually had some lunch today and I was much more balanced when I came home. But as soon as I got home, I knew I had to get my celebration going. This is where the universe is laughing at me because today’s commemoration was Lemon Chiffon Cake. I wasn’t even exactly sure what this was, but it didn’t sound simple. I wasn’t going to be able to buy a box of it at the store. There are no Lemon Chiffon restaurants around here either. As tried to figure out a recipe and game plan that I could get going on, the universe just stood back and laughed at me. Ok holiday boy – let’s see you do this one.

According to What’s Cooking America.net, chiffon cake was invented in 1927 by Harry Baker, a Los Angeles insurance agent. It was a light and airy cake made with egg whites which are beaten separately from the yolks, and it uses vegetable oil instead of butter or conventional shortening. Some considered it to be the first real new type of cake in over 100 years because it used vegetable oil. Harry was quite the innovator. As he cake grew in popularity and after years of people asking him for the recipe, Harry sold his cake to Hollywood stars and made it for the famous Brown Derby Restaurant. In 1947, he sold the recipe to General Mills and that allowed Betty Crocker to get the recipe out to the general public. From there, it kind of just grew to popularity and became a pretty popular cake in the fifties and home cooks began experimenting with flavors. I assume that’s when someone introduced the Lemon Chiffon Cake although I couldn’t find an exact history. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a chiffon cake. It sounds fancy, doesn’t it? Like we should be having it with tea in the company of the queen.

I have made sponge cakes and angel cakes before, and the recipe is somewhat similar to that, only it uses oil, etc. I found a recipe that seemed easy enough from Betty Crocker. It could be the recipe that Harry Baker sold to them, although there was no indication of that on the website. I got cooking right away, because the cake would need to cook and cool before I could ice it. It uses seven egg yolks and eight egg whites. You mix the yolks with the usual ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, the vegetable oil and of course some lemon zest for the lemon flavor). Then on the side, you beat the egg whites with some Cream of Tartar until you get stiff peaks. Then you fold the batter into the egg whites. It goes into a tube pan and then cooks for an hour and fifteen minutes. That’s how the universe is messing with me. Most cakes take about a half hour or less to cook, this one, which I didn’t start making until 6:30, took 75 minutes. When it comes out, it also needed two hours to cool. I was in for a long night.

Later, I made the icing with some butter, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. That came together in no time and was sweet and lemony. It’s odd how sweet and lemon go so well together. The lemon is so bright a flavor it just dances with the sweetness of the sugar in your mouth. When that was ready, I poured it over the cake so it would ooze over the sides and cover most of the cake. I probably could have let the cake cool a little more, but I was starting to lose steam. I figured it couldn’t hurt. Lola had gone up to bed so I went to see if she was still awake. She was. So we had a piece of lemon chiffon cake in bed to celebrate the day.

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It looked beautiful. Shiny icing across the top. The inside of the cake was yellow and looked moist (although around the edges seemed to be a bit overdone). Lola was excited – it’s not everyday you get fresh made cake in bed. She picked up the fork and gave the cake a good whiff. A small look of concern came over her face. “It smells like balls.” That statement kind of hung out there for a second, so she followed it up with a comforting, “but not your balls.” She was right. Well, I mean she was right the cake did smell, although I may not have been so colorful in my description. I thought it might have been a residual smell from the cake pan which was a silicone pan and those are always a bit different. So it was this weird smell which was mixed with the odor of lemon which was also very present that was our first introduction to the cake. We took a few bites (apparently cakes smelling like stank body parts doesn’t stop us) and it was actually pretty good. The center of the cake was moist and the sweet, fresh icing picked up the flavors in every bite. The outside rim of the cake was a bit dry and that’s where you really needed to have the icing. I guess the icing was kind of saving the whole thing because we were soaking up each piece in every spot of icing we could find on our plates. The texture had a sponge-like look to it, and I think that added to Lola’s concerns because you can’t have something that looks like a sponge and smells bad. She said it looked like a cheap Dollar Store sponge. So no, Lola was not a fan. I don’t think it was all that bad. I will give it another taste after it completely cools. I stored it in our fridge, so maybe the cold will bring out some more of the lemon fresh flavor.

When I woke up this morning to write this post, I realized what happened. I used baking soda, not baking powder. And it was 3 teaspoons of it too – not just a pinch or a little. That’s a lot of baking soda for a recipe that calls for baking powder. The chemistry of this whole cake was off. That would explain a lot of the issues we had. The smell, the uneven baking, the over-porous texture. It was a rookie mistake, but I’m glad I discovered what happened. It’s good to have answers so I can learn. Once again the universe laughed. Holiday boy thinks he can cook into the night without consequence? We’ll show him.

All in all, I kind of liked this celebration because it ended with cake in bed, albeit lemon testicle cake. Had I made it perfectly, it would have been a deliciously sweet ending to our day. It was even fun to come home and get to cooking. I’m still discovering here. I’m still finding out what my schedule means and what I am going to be able to do with more time restrictions. About 125 days left in my year long quest and the game is changing. The universe is conspiring against me but the holidays keep coming. I’m still in it. I actually kind of like this new challenge. To the universe I say, “Bring it on!” I’ll just make sure I read the recipes more carefully.

Next Up: National Take a Walk in the Park Day 

 

 

 

Day 239 – National Something on a Stick Day

I took it easy today. I had bigger plans of what I was going to do and with a day like National Something on a Stick Day, your possibilities are endless. I had visions of all those kind of foods that are great served on sticks: corn dogs, kebobs, savory skewers, even pizza (yes they make pizza on a stick). We could have made fondue and Lola and I could have fed each other cheese dipped bread on long sticks in front of a roaring fire. You know, our typical Tuesday night dinner. However, life decided to intervene today and suddenly my schedule made my vision of stick dinner a little harder to achieve.

I started training at a new job this morning. Nothing fancy but something back in the hospitality world that will help pay the bills. Today was the first day of training and that will be my life for the next two days as well (and then more after that). I had to be there at 9:30 so I was dressed and ready at 9:00 in my first day of school clothes and I was dawdling. I didn’t want to go. I was tired from our Monday travels and I was suffering from something that that Lola and her sister Katie call ‘jomit’. That’s a combo of the word job and vomit and it’s that uneasy feeling in your gut about facing your first day at work. Really it’s about any uneasy feeling caused by work – how it hangs heavy on your head and turmoil in your stomach. It’s almost palpable. That’s what I had this morning. But after some needed consolation from Lola who had to drag me out from underneath the bed where I was hiding, I headed out the door and down the road. It had been the first time I was driving to work in almost eight months.

All things considered, it was actually a pretty good first day. I met everyone with a smile. I was given the tour. I filled out forms. I was given information. So much information. And I kind of shadowed people around. It’s a new world. They weren’t very specific on the details of my first day and I thought it was going to be just a few hours of paperwork and tours. It ended up being the full shift and I was there until 6 pm. Plus they weren’t really clear on the whole lunch break thing either, so I kind of skipped it. There I was on my first day for an eight hour shift having only had two cups of coffee all day and nothing to eat. I’ll know better as I get ready for tomorrow. But today, a hunger was growing inside.  All in all, it wasn’t that hard of a day. I got a feel of everything that I’ll be doing and when the warm weather comes along with the tourists, I’ll be pretty busy. I liked the people that I worked with and everyone seemed pretty friendly. We’ll see where this road will lead. Right now, I’m just glad it will lead to a paycheck. I’ll keep you posted.

When I left at 6:00, I was in full-on hunger mode. I texted Lola that I was on my way and that I was going to stop at Clement’s Market on the way home to get something for dinner. I still had visions of grabbing a few of their beef kebobs that they have in their butcher case and then grilling them up when I got home. That would be easy enough. But when I went to the butcher, they did not have kebobs available today. I could have bought the steak separately along with the peppers and vegetables, but at this point, that was too much effort. I was too hungry. I went to their prepared food section and got Lola a bowl of chili and then I got myself a container from the hot food buffet. I almost started eating chicken wings right there, but I was able to compose myself and wait. I did however select the most random of items – obviously my hunger brain was picking my choices. Wings, scalloped potatoes and mac and cheese. When I got it all packed up, I made my way to the checkout counter but swung through the bakery section before I went home. That’s when I found the answer to my celebration dilemma. Cake pops. Sure, I could do cake pops. I picked up a package and then made my way home.

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I pretty much crashed through the front door eating wings as I walked in. I gave Lola a very dramatic “I’m famished” response as I walked through the door. She got me my slippers and my whiskey sour, and I sat down at the table and started eating, not even waiting for Lola to join in. I was too hungry. She was actually not even that hungry, but she did listen to me as I told her about my day. She’s a good listener. I tried to give her all the details and she empathized on all my concerns and thoughts. Then she told me about her day too. Even though chicken bones were flying through the air as I plowed through my meal, we had a nice little moment of being a family. Listening, talking, eating and just enjoying each other’s company. It was a nice little moment.

Later, after I washed all the wing sauce and chicken flesh off my face and my hunger had been battled, I busted out the cake pops. These were a new product that they started carrying at Clements from a dessert company called Ticklebelly, which is also what Lola calls me when she is feeding me fondue. To use their words, these were actually cake bars, not cake pops, but they were little slices of cake on popsicle sticks that were covered in a frosting. I’ll give them points for packaging, because they looked great at the store with each package containing four bars lined up like soldiers in their clear plastic containers. Clements had a few different flavors available including salted caramel shortbread, cookies n’ cream, and dark chocolate. I opted for vanilla bean which was described as soft vanilla cake dipped in a sweet vanilla bean confectionery coating, finished with a touch of colorful sugar sprinkles. That just sounded good to me at the time (and if you recall, at the time my decision making abilities were not at their optimal performance levels). The first bite was kind of interesting because I didn’t really know what to expect. The outside coating was a candy dip so it had a sweet hardness to it. When you sink your teeth in, you break through the coating and then into a very soft and moist cake inside. I think because the stick felt like a popsicle stick, I was kind of waiting for a more firm inside (like an ice cream bar), so the softness was a surprise. It was sweet and tasty. The vanilla flavor was present throughout and I thought it was actually pretty good. I’m not exactly sure why I needed it on a stick. I’m usually ok with cake being a non-portable food, but I could see them being great at a cocktail party or one of those places where you can’t sit down. Some sweetness on the go. Lola was not a big fan. She didn’t like the taste of the cake, but she was skeptical heading into her first bite, so it would have taken a lot to win her over.

That was my Something on a Stick celebration. It wasn’t the biggest celebration I have done or the most intricate, but it still counted. Plus I showed myself that I can still do this celebration thing while doing other things as well. It wasn’t easy. I’m going to have to find a new rhythm to it all. A new schedule. I’ll need to plan better. And I’ll need to eat lunch too. You may see some changes here, just some needed adjustments to accommodate a new schedule. The celebration will continue, it will just be different. That, I suppose, is life. I’m on a new road now and I just have to adjust to make it a smooth ride, but I’ll keep driving forward and trying to find out where this road will take me. Having food on a stick will come in handy while I’m driving too.

Next Up: National Lemon Chiffon Cake 

Day 238 – International Whiskey Day

Today’s tale takes an unexpected turn to New York City. A few weeks back, fresh from a recent visit to Saturday Night Live, I was full of excitement from being part of a live studio audience. That’s when I saw a tweet from the folks at the Late Show with Stephen Colbert saying they had tickets available for March. I clicked on the link, filled out all the info, and then waited. A few weeks later I got the word that we had tickets to the show. Woo hoo! I still wasn’t sure we were going to be able to go, so I kind of kept it underneath my hat and just let it play out. We still had doubts about going right up until we left this morning. But in the end, we realized that these little types of adventures usually bring us a lot of joy, so we threw caution to the wind and hopped in the car for the three and half hour journey to the greatest city in the world.

Today was National Spanish Paella Day. Had we not gone to the City, I was going to make a nice big pot of it and enjoy it for dinner. But knowing that we would be in a car for most of the day and we would be away from home, making paella was a bit of a challenge. I had some hope that we would stumble across a great Spanish restaurant in the city that offered paella, but then again we were really just heading in and out for the show. Our plans really didn’t include a nice big dinner or seeking out fancy Spanish restaurants. Still, there was always the possibility a paella restaurant would magically appear on our route – these things happen in NYC. I kept an open mind and heart full of hope. However, as a back up plan, I knew it was also International Whiskey Day, so in a pinch, that would be much easier to celebrate.

We made good time and got to the city a little after 3:00. We found a random parking garage which was actually on 53rd street and conveniently on the same block as the Ed Sullivan Theater, home of the Late Show. We got out and immediately got in line. One thing I learned about being in a studio audience is that you really have to be comfortable with standing in lines. You go from one line to the next and just wait. That’s what we did. They checked our IDs and our tickets, we got wristbands to let us in, we walked through the security check and then stood in line. We waited in this last line for a long time. It was hot inside the waiting area, cramped and not much movement, very much like cattle in a corral. If you had to go to the bathroom, you had to muscle through the other awaiting audience members just to get to the open lane that got you to the bathroom and then muscle your way back. Plus, because they kept warning you that there would be no other opportunity to use the facilities, pretty much everyone had to use the bathroom. It got pretty uncomfortable, but they played some clips from the show in the area that kept you occupied. After about an hour, they made the announcement that we were heading in, so with excitement and at a very slow pace, we entered the studio filing in row by row.

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There are two levels for seats in the studio and I was very excited to be sitting on the lower level which is on the same level as the set. We actually got some pretty good seats. If you are looking at the stage, we were in the left section towards the back but two seats from the center aisle. Stephen’s desk was right in front of us. The set is beautiful and a far contrast from the SNL set. The SNL set had a temporary feel to it, like a working warehouse, because the scenery changes so fast. On the Late Show, there’s a home for Stephen Colbert with his desk area, his stage area (where he does his monologue) and the band area where Jon Batiste and Stay Human work their magic. The stage is very clean and very shiny with lots of lighting effects to give it energy. Our seats were actually surprisingly comfortable too with lots of legroom. That’s unusual in any theater, but it made for a nice relaxed atmosphere. When we were all piled in, they started to get the audience pumped up with announcements and cheers. They said that Stephen and all his guests feed off the energy of the crowd, so they wanted us to make it lively. We cheered when they wanted us to and clapped like fools. They had a comedian come out to warm up the crowd too. He was actually from Narragansett, RI – a guy by the name of Paul Mecurio. We gave a little cheer for the 401 when we learned this info. He was funny too. He was able to work the crowd asking random audience members questions that ended up getting good laughs. He got us all cheering too including the famous “Steph-en! Steph-en! Steph-en!” chants that are part of the show’s tradition. After the comedian was finished, Jon Batiste came out and rocked the house.

A few years back, Lola and I went out to dinner in Newport with my sister and her friend who happened to be in town. We went to one of the fancy restaurants down by the water and afterwards, perhaps filled with some liquid courage, we discovered that the restaurant had a dance floor and a DJ. Oddly enough, we joined in the dancing which is not something we typically do. There we were, boogeying the night away (Lola even got in a dance off with some young chump that thought he could out bust a move on Lola). At one point, the DJ stopped the music and made a special announcement that a guy named Jon Batiste was in the house and he was going to play for us on stage. Then we sat back and watched as this guy pulled out a keymonica and started jamming. We had no idea who he was. Come to find out he was in town headlining the Newport Jazz Festival. But we were clueless, so we just sat back and enjoyed our buzz and this guy that everyone seemed pretty excited about. A few years later, I saw him again when he was named as the musical host of the Late Show. Today. He entered the stage tonight to a great round of applause (he didn’t recognize us) and his band came out too. Man can those guys rock it. They started playing the show’s theme song but intertwined it with another funky song. Each band member played a solo to get everyone pumped and it was probably the best tuba solo I’ve ever heard (definitely in the top three). Then, after the band got us all excited, Stephen Colbert appeared.

I have a bit of a man crush on Stephen Colbert. He just makes me smile. Not that you didn’t know it, but he is a very funny fellow. Brilliantly funny in fact. I was a little late to the Colbert appreciation wagon, but once I boarded, I was all in. His humor is smart and it takes that kind of intelligence to weave his way through the political climate of today’s society. He finds the funny, but if you look closely, there’s a message too. His also a great performer. He’s an improv guy and respects the rules of that art form. Plus he just seems like a genuinely nice guy. He seems like a guy I would get along with – someone I would be drawn to because he would keep me laughing and get my humor too. So yeah, I kind of crush on him. When he appeared on the stage, the crowd erupted. He gave Jon Batiste a big hug, and then waved back excitedly to the crowd and proceeded to take some questions. He was kind of hurried (he did have a show to start), but he gave some quick honest answers to some genuine audience questions. He then said that they were going to start with a cold open that was prerecorded. That clip would play on the monitors and Stephen would stay on stage and watch it along with us. When it finished, the band would start to play the theme song and then the announcer would start introducing the night’s guests, etc. That’s when Stephen would disappear back stage and reappear when he was officially announced onto stage. We were told to cheer like crazy when we saw him, as if this was the first time we saw him today.  That’s pretty much how it happened.

His first two guests were Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. Those are some pretty big deals. They were promoting their Netflix television show, but also mentioned that it was 37 years since they first worked together on 9 to 5. They are both still pretty sharp. Lily and Stephen seemed to have an immediate rapport together. He could feed off of her sarcasm and dry wit. Jane was interesting too and was ready to talk about anything. Honestly, these are two icons of strong women in the entertainment world who are still marching for rights and freedoms. Pretty powerful to see them. I feel they could have kept talking and giving more details, however the show had to move one.  The second guest was writer/director Jay Chandrasekhar who is most famous for creating the Super Trooper movie. I’ve never seen that movie but it’s kind of a cult hit and has lots of fans. He was a good guest because he could tell some interesting stories. I’d still rather have had more time with Lily and Jane, but it was an interesting little segment. The show ended with a song by Aimee Mann which was a little dark and melancholy (as her songs tend to be), but a good performance. Jon Batiste and Stay Human accompanied her band and the music and her voice filled the room making it feel very intimate. It was pretty great actually. And then after commercial break, that was it. When Stephen ends his show, he runs up the aisle and out the front door. When he ran up the aisle, he ran right past us and you can actually see our heads for a second as he sprints by. That as the last we saw of him.

After that, the party was over. The band plays one final song but as they finish, the lights go up and everyone is asked to leave. It’s kind of anti-climactic. We were craving one final curtain call from Stephen. It never came, so we marched back through the foyer and were deposited out on Broadway where the sun was still out. That was a bit confusing because we had been in a dark theater for a few hours watching a show that we would usually watch at midnight. Now it was still light out. It was still a great show however and we both knew that we had made another adventure happen by just answering the universe.

One thing we never got the chance to do before heading into the theater was eat and by the time the show was over, we were famished. I mean starving. We didn’t have a ‘sitting down to a fancy meal’ in us but we definitely needed something. We walked up 53rd Street to see if we could find a pizza place or something fast and casual and when we got to 8th Avenue we saw a sign for a shop that specialized in grilled cheeses and tater tots. Perfect. We ordered up and within minutes we were woofing down our dinners. I got a burger melt with tots while Lola opted for a bacon grilled cheese with some tomato soup. We sat at the counter which faced the street and munched away while recapping our Late Show adventure. It was kind of perfect. Except however, it wasn’t paella, or international whiskey. I still had to celebrate.

After we left the restaurant, we headed back down 53rd Street where our car was parked. That’s when I asked Lola if we could stop somewhere quick and get some whiskey so I could get my celebration in. She said, “No!” and I completely understood. We were tired, full and had a three and a half hour journey ahead of us. She just wanted to get on the road. I was ok with this and then realized I could have some whiskey when I got home. But then Lola thought about it and she thought that it would be more of a celebration if it was in New York. In case you ever wondered, Lola really supports this whole celebration thing. I couldn’t do it without her. She agreed to stop someplace for a quick drink, but she just didn’t want to go to some touristy spot in Times Square. I didn’t either. Then I looked across  the street and right next to the garage where our car was parked was a big door with a blue neon sign above it. It looked kind of inviting, yet mysterious. The sign said Duets. We went to check it out. We opened the door and there were stairs that led down. It was a clean and bright little stairwell, but somewhat nondescript. Lola was being the brave one now and she was pushing ahead. I was having my misgivings. The door at the bottom opened up and suddenly we were in a lobby which had a counter on one side and a giant bar on the other. It was a karaoke bar. It wasn’t just a karaoke bar, it was one where they put you in your own room and you get to run the machine just for your party. I was ready to turn around and forget about it, but Lola was all in. She had found her happy place.

We needed the woman at the counter to explain it to us in pretty simple terms. It was exactly what we thought, and it was actually pretty cheap. I think it was like $12 for an hour. So we went on another adventure, but this one starred us. The host took us in to a room at the end of a hallway. It had couches along the walls and two tables in the middle. The room could probably hold a dozen people, but it was just the two of us, and the room was all ours. Remind you, it’s about 7:30 on a Monday – not your peak karaoke hours. The host gave us a tablet which we could search for songs and then enter them into the karaoke machine to play. She gave us two microphones and then told us if we need anything, just pick up the phone and order it. She then closed the door behind us. It was bright in the room but we could control the lights with a dimmer switch which we did to give it some more ambiance. We could hear other people singing in the other rooms. They actually sounded pretty good. We’d change that. I looked at the drink menu and then picked up the phone. I ordered a Jameson Irish Whiskey on the rocks. Lola went with a margarita. Before I had the phone hung up, Lola had Salt N’Peppa’s “Shoop” cued up on the machine and was ready to go.

Lola will bust out “Shoop” whenever she hears it. It’s kind of her theme song. But this time, she had full accompaniment and a microphone. She was going full-out including dance moves. She only stopped when the waitress knocked on the door and brought in our drinks. Then she kept going. She was like the lost member of the group – she was Cayenne Peppa – and she was in heaven. So that’s how I celebrated International Whiskey Day. In a Japanese karaoke bar in the city of dreams with a glass of Irish Whiskey and the best musical entertainment I could ever ask for.

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For some reason, this whiskey tasted really good. I’m not one that usually goes for whiskey, especially on the rocks, but for whatever reason, this one was delicious. It went down as smooth as a lullaby and if we were not driving home, I probably would have kept going. I think my future has more Irish Whiskey in it.  And naturally I needed the whiskey to sing too. I answered Lola’s song with my rendition of “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and then hit Lola with a special version of “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”. She came back with a heartwarming rendition of “All Out of Love” followed naturally by some Michael Jackson “Black or White.” This whole scene was ridiculous. We sang loud and strong, so there was no hiding our badness. But we were having fun. It was such a strange little twist to this day but almost the perfect twist.

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This was a night of laughs. Lola busted out her Cher song (you knew that was coming), and right at the end, the phone in the room rang and it was the host to tell us our hour was up. After a spilt second thought about re-upping for another hour, we decided to quit while we were ahead. We put our last song in the queue and then for our finale, we duetted on “Don’t go Breaking My Heart.” The party was over. But a fun party it was. All we had to do now was drive home. But to be honest, the energy of the whole night was still surging through our body and that kept us pretty awake all the way home. We were in bed safe and sound by midnight.

And that my friends was a day of celebration. We both started the day with doubts about leaving home and not wanting to go, but we finished the night with big smiles from a night of memories. We got to see a hero of mine, got to see two living legends of Hollywood, heard some great music, ate some grilled cheeses and washed it down with some International Whiskey as Lola serenaded me with some “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” That’s a damn good night and I’m so glad I celebrated.

Next Up: National Something on a Stick Day

 

Day 237 – National Spinach Day

When I first told Lola it was national spinach day, she immediately started mimicking the cartoon character Popeye by holding an imaginary can of the famous vegetable and opening it up with her teeth. When the can was opened, she tossed the spinach through the air into her mouth. I could almost hear the music as the imaginary spinach landed in her mouth and her biceps turning into battleship guns. To me, the typical Popeye scene involves Popeye just squeezing the can so the spinach pops right out. I suppose most of us, at least of our generations, have Popeye as our first frame of reference for spinach. That’s a pretty powerful message for any youth – that eating this vegetable will give you instant super strength. It’s a wonder why every lad and lassie don’t scream for it. Maybe they do, but then they eat it. They get their first whiff. Their first look. Their first taste. Then they make the wise decision of passing. No, thanks. I don’t need to be like Popeye. I can hope to be bitten by a radioactive spider for super powers. That would be more pleasant than eating this crap.

I don’t hate spinach. It’s actually pretty good, but I find it works best when it’s mixed with something else. By itself, when cooked, I find it a little bitter, a little mushy, a little stinky. But I can choke it down without making funny faces. In raw form, it’s still ok but it gets a little too leafy for me. It makes me crave regular lettuce. I know it’s good for you. It’s packed with all kinds of vitamins and minerals. It’s a superfood. It’s actually pretty amazing. I happened to just read an article from National Geographic how scientists at WPI are using spinach leaves to create a beating heart. Apparently they have not been able to recreate a functioning vascular system in the world of tissue engineering. But, by studying and using the leaves of spinach, they have created an actual beating heart. This science thing is kind of amazing. Wait until the Viagra folks start working on their tissue engineering by experimenting with carrots.

I got a recipe for a smoothie that was made with spinach from the folks at Nekter Juice Bar. They are a West coast operation that create some serious good for you and good tasting drinks and smoothies. I’m not sure when people started drinking leafy vegetables, but they do now, and when you are making juice from vegetables, spinach is always the go to choice because of all the nutrients. The founder of the company, Alexis Schulze, actually wrote a children’s book called Sneaky Spinach which was a way for her to get kids to eat more spinach, by hiding it in other foods. That’s were the Sneaky part comes in. Spinach is also a habitual liar and part-time confidence man, but that comes out later in the story. (Ok, I made the last bit up.)  Her book is actually just a fun way to introduce kids to the idea of getting all the goodness of spinach in their diet and the importance of a balanced life. It’s actually a cool idea. (The book is available for purchase on their website or on Amazon and part of the proceeds go to the Festival of Children Foundation.) It also encourages you to make the smoothie, so here is that recipe:

Sneaky Spinach Smoothie Recipe
5                Frozen Strawberries
½ cup     Frozen Blueberries
½             Frozen Banana
1 ½ tsp   Agave
8 oz          2% reduced fat or 1% skim milk (or alternative)
Sneaky Spinach: add 3-8 spinach leaves

I made a smoothie for Lola today which was pretty much made with these ingredients, however I had no fresh spinach. I’m not sure how Lola would have felt about me sneaking fresh spinach into her smoothie. She probably would have noticed. She’s got a pretty good palate for things like that. She has made juice using spinach leaves, but it’s never mixed into her sweet smoothies. Maybe I’ll start doing that. We could all use more antioxidants in our diet where we can get them. Of course, I’ll have to tell her or we could have a situation like this:

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I actually had this picture in my phone because I sent it to her one day when she had something in her teeth. I like to think of creative ways to tell her when this happens. She has made it clear that it is my duty to make sure her grill is clean and I take it very seriously. Nobody wants to have food in their teeth, and when you do, you need to let them know. There’s nothing worse than being in public for hours and then looking in the mirror and seeing food in your teeth. How long was it there? Did anyone notice? Telling your friends something is going on in your mouth is part of the social contract. I recently used the new iPhone feature of Tapbacks where you can draw something. I drew a picture of a smile and then added in the piece of food. That sent a clear message which was thankfully greeted with a belly laugh.

To be honest, I was having a lazy day today. The ride to New Hampshire and back kind of tired me out, plus it was just a long week. It was overcast and everything in my body was telling me to take it easy, so I did. Everyone’s allowed a lazy Sunday. I tell you this because when I woke up I was full of ideas for how to honor spinach. I was going to make Eggs Florentine for brunch, then maybe some spinach dip for our afternoon snack. Maybe even some creamed spinach for dinner. Pretty soon I lazed through the brunch hour, so I took the eggs of the menu. Then I wasn’t very motivated to make spinach dip. Then I didn’t feel like going to the store to get spinach for creamed spinach. Yep, I lazed my way right out of celebration. Not to brag, but I’m pretty good at lazy days. When it came time for dinner, I realized that I still had to get some spinach. I was walking around the house going “Where’s me spinach? Where’s me spinach?” Then I found the menu to the local pizza place up the street, Northend Pizzeria. They happened to have something available called the Spinach Pizza: their own blend of Caramelized Onion, Garlic, & Sauteed Chopped Spinach, mixed with Feta , & piled to the edges with Mozzarella. I had found my answer.

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First off, they said it would take about 45 minutes for delivery. They were here in twenty and the pizza was fresh and hot. There are so many times when you wait longer than expected, I thought I would cheer their efforts here because it was super fast. Second, this was a really good pizza. It’s not one I would normally order, but when you have a spinach hankering, you’re in for a treat. It was actually loaded with spinach which had been cooked in the onions and garlic, so it was super flavorful. The cheese mixture was great too with cheese in every bite. I may have opted for more parmesan rather than feta, but it was good either way. Spinach and cheese go great together in any form. I love the crust from Northend. It’s crunchy and doughy. I grew up on thin crust pizza and to get a version that has more to it is a treat. I still like thin crust, but I like this kind of crust every now and then. It was the prefect way to sneak spinach into my day.

Never underestimate the joy of a lazy Sunday. Sure, you feel guilty about taking them, but sometimes they have just what you need. In this case, it was spinach, albeit in pizza form. Spinach fills your body with all kinds of great minerals and vitamins. Vitamin K, vitamin A, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C and more. I’m sure cheese and pizza dough counteracts most of that, but not all of it. Did it cause me to jump up in the air and beat up on Bluto who was getting a little too frisky with Olive Oyl? No, not exactly. But it did make me smile after a pretty enjoyable day. I may start trying to sneak spinach into more places in our daily routine. You never know what you will end up enjoying, plus I hear it keeps you strong to the finish. Toot, toot. 

Next Up: International Whiskey Day 

Day 236 – International Waffle Day

It seems like whenever the Overlords of Holiday Creations don’t know what occasion to celebrate on a certain day, they just call it a Waffle Day. It’s actually a pretty good strategy because who is going to be upset with more waffles? Still, when you are on a trudge to celebrate a year of these days, you realize that you are watching a rerun. Although today I suppose was different because it was International Waffle Day. National Waffle Day was back in August, right when I started this adventure. On that day, I made some waffles from banana bread and then also made some regular waffles in the waffle iron.  I guess celebrating the waffle at the international level is a testament to their deliciousness and far reaching appeal.

I kind of backed into this day. There were a few other holidays that were being celebrated today. It was National Medal of Honor Day, but I don’t know any Medal of Honor recipients so I couldn’t really do anything with that. It was also National Tolkien Reading Day and I can always get behind some Tolkien. I thought about following Lola around the house all day reading her excerpts from the Lord of the Rings, maybe even serenading her with one of the lengthy songs in the text that Samwise would sing to soothe Frodo. However, I didn’t see that ending well, so not the best way to celebrate. Finally it was also National Lobster Newburg Day. Lobster Newburg is a seafood dish made with lobster, butter, cream, cognac, sherry, eggs and cayenne pepper. That would have been a nice dinner that I could have made for Lola or at least sought it out at one of the local restaurants. I’m not much of a lobster fan, but I would have taken one for the team and tried it. But, I was traveling today and I wasn’t going to be around for dinner. It seemed like too much effort to put in for something I couldn’t even enjoy. I don’t know much about Lobster Newburg, but it doesn’t seem like a eat-over-the-sink kind of meal. I felt if I were to make it, I would have to take the time to enjoy it. Maybe even sit down at the table for it. No, with my schedule today, Lobster Newburg was not going to work. That’s when I realized waffles were the answer.

I probably should have opted for Belgian Waffles today in honor of the international part of the day. Belgian waffles are always so intriguing when you see them and I guess that’s really just that desire to have something that you already enjoy but bigger. There’s not much difference between a regular and Belgian waffle other than a small difference in the batter and a bigger waffle iron that gets you thicker waffles with bigger indentations. I however decided to go old school and just opt for your standard store-bought frozen waffles. I know this sounds like an easy way out, but these are actually the waffles I remember from my youth. They were always served to me as a treat, especially on Friday nights during Lent when we were not eating meat. My brother and sister would be happy with fish sticks, but not me. I didn’t much care for those. I’d get waffles. My mom would throw two in the toaster and within five minutes, I’d have a delicious plate in front of me, topped with syrup and butter. That was waffle eating to me. Since then I have learned the joys of the waffle iron and how easy it is to actually make fresh waffles. Fresh waffles taste better too. But I really do like frozen waffles, plus the clean up is much easier. Cleaning a waffle iron is never fun. Frozen waffles however are a delicious convenience and the perfect answer to my International Waffle Day Celebration.

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I happened to have a box of Eggo brand waffles in the freezer and so when lunch came around, I loaded up the toaster oven and got the syrup ready. An actual toaster is a much better frozen waffle cooker than a toaster oven. The toaster cooks it more evenly. The toaster oven holds more, but to get it right, you kind of have to rotate the waffles as they are cooking. In my stack, some were cooked just right, while others were a little underdone. Still, they were delicious. The frozen waffle gives you a much more crunchier outside of the waffle than a waffle iron does and that crunch is enjoyable. Inside they are still doughy and warm. The indentation on a waffle are the prefect holders for syrup, so it stays on the waffle more so than it would on a pancake. You’ve enjoyed waffles before so not much I can tell you about them that you didn’t already know. Still, on this International Day of Waffles, I enjoyed a delicious stack for a delightful lunch.

I was traveling to New Hampshire this afternoon to join some old friends for our annual fantasy baseball draft. That’s my official excuse for eating waffles today and not Lobster Newburg. We were having the draft at a local restaurant and I held out hope that they would have Lobster Newburg on the menu so I could feel better about my celebrating choices, but they did not. In retrospect, that would not have been the best meal to pair with fantasy sports. That’s more of a wing and nacho crowd. I believe this is the seventeenth year of the league. I joined in year two and about two years ago, I retired. At that point, I wasn’t giving my team the concentration it deserved and I felt my presence was hurting the league. So I bowed out. Earlier this year, they were looking for someone to fill an empty spot in their fantasy basketball league, and they asked me if I was interested. There was something in me that missed it – the roster setting, the daily competition, the trash talk. So I filled the open spot. True to my fantasy sport legacy, I finished in second to last place. That’s just how I do. But, when baseball season rolled around, they had an open spot in that league and they offered me the opportunity. I opted in. That’s why I was heading up to New Hampshire on a Saturday afternoon.

I’m not good at fantasy sports. In the fifteen or sixteen years I played, I never won a season. Not in baseball. Not in football. Definitely not in basketball. I made the championship game a few times, but never pulled off the win. I’m definitely not known for knowing all the stats and intricacies about players, teams and scoring. Nope, I’m there more for comic relief. I may have made ridiculous trades over the years and some awful roster moves, but I have also created some good league polls and league stories too, and that kept me safe from being booted from the league. It felt good to be back. I hadn’t seen most of the guys in over a year and even though we all got right down to drafting business, you get to have some laughs over the three or four hours it takes to pick a team. It was good to be back.

I can say that if you are in for a night of drafting, a belly full of waffles is a good way to prepare. I guess a belly full of waffles is a good way to get ready for anything. Even though I have celebrated the delight of the waffle before, today’s celebration reminded me of the simple pleasures of the frozen waffle. It took me back to a time in our family den, eating a freshly toasted waffle on a tv tray while watching Happy Days. That’s a good memory to have. Sure it’s not the same delight as feasting on a fine Lobster Newburg in a fancy restaurant, but a waffle is more my style any way. Yeah, waffles are one food that definitely deserve to be celebrated throughout the world. And if they keep having days to honor the joy of waffles, I’m happy to do my part. And if I win the league this year, I’ll owe it all to the waffle.

Next up: National Spinach Day 

Day 235 – National Chocolate Covered Raisins Day

There are a few candies that I have never really understood the allure of. They are the old-timey candies that my parents would be excited about. The most confusing of these are Nonpareils – the little dark chocolate discs covered in tiny white balls of sugar. They always looked good but when you bit into them, you realized that you could have made better choices. My parents loved these bad boys. My grandmother did too. Maybe we are just spoiled and living in the golden age of candy. But really, have you tried a Nonpareil? My parents would also rave about Goobers and Raisinets too. I get Goobers. First off, they have the best name. But second, they are just milk chocolate covered peanuts. Those are two great tastes, so you can’t really go wrong. It was the allure of the Raisinet that has always confused me. I like chocolate and I like raisins, but together? What kind of cruel joke is this? You go to bite into one expecting a nice crunchy nut or chewy caramel and you get a juicy dried up grape which, if you think about it, could really be a chocolate covered dead fly if you aren’t paying attention. Really, do we need these? Have they even noticed some of the other candy options available to us and they’re still sticking with the chocolate covered raisins?

Today was National Chocolate Covered Raisin Day and Raisnets are the number one brand when it comes to this type of confectionary. According to Nestlé, makers of the candy, Raisinets were first introduced in 1927 by the Blumenthal Brothers Chocolate Company of Philadelphia. Chocolate covered raisins were around for may years before that, but it was the Blumenthal Brothers that got them distributed to the masses. The brand was sold over the years and in 1984, Nestlé acquired them along with Goobers, Chunky, Sno-Caps, Bit-O-Honey and Oh Henry! I’m not sure how that transaction made it passed the approval board at Nestlé. Were they hoping they could get Necco Wafers as part of that deal too and go for the worst candy deal ever? Raisinets grew in popularity in thanks to the movie industry and the many movie houses throughout the United States which became the place to go for entertainment. Early in movie making history, Raisinets were sold to theaters for 1.25 cents which meant moviegoers could buy a box for just a nickel. A cheap sweet treat for a day at the movies helped them grow in popularity and is probably why they hold such a fond place in the nostalgia filled mind of our parents. In fifty years, we will probably have the same warm feelings about War Heads or Skittles and the new generation just won’t understand. Wikipedia says that “Raisinets are the second largest selling candy in United States history” although they don’t really cite where this info comes from. I’m sure they are no longer the top brand in candy sales anymore, however their impact on the world of candy, concessions and chocolate is undeniable. They have truly made a mark on the world.

I do like chocolate covered raisins. I think as a kid I was grossed out by them, but as an adult with more sophisticated tastebuds, I realized that they are a good time. The sweetness of the raisin really mixes well with the smooth milk chocolate coating which gives it a firm bite when you bite in. The chewiness of the raisin makes the taste swirl in your mouth for a few moments and as it settles across your palate, you realize it’s a good time. I have never purchased Raisinets because if I’m reaching for candy, I can think of 50 other candies that capture my imagination better. However, if you end up eating a Raisinet, it’s a great and pleasant surprise. I should say that I have never bought Raisinets until today. Today I picked up a big bag of them in honor of the holiday.

I wasn’t exactly sure how to celebrate. My first idea was to go to the movies and eat them there. They seem so intwined with movie history it may have been appropriate. In fact, many people will tell you to mix them with your popcorn so you get a combination of sweet and salty. Maybe I should have done this. The new King Kong movie is in theaters and Lola has no desire to go see it, so maybe I should have gone for a solo matinee. Seeing a King Kong movie seemed kind of old-timey to me and it would have been the perfect fare for my Raisinet indulgence. I guess I wasn’t that motivated however and I skipped the movie. I then looked online to see if there was anything I could make using Raisinets. One of my favorite recipe makers had the answer.

Sally’s Baking Addiction had a recipe for Thick Oatmeal Raisinet Cookies. This almost seemed too obvious. How many times have you bitten into an oatmeal cookie and thought it was a chocolate chip? It turned out to be a raisin, which wasn’t bad, a raisin pairs well with the oats, but a little chocolate would have been nice. This cookie resolves that dilemma by giving you both – the chocolate and the raisin. Plus Sally  is a good cookie maker. I have made her cookies before and they are among the tops of my fan favorites. I can trust her recipes. In her description, she says she likes her cookies nice and thick with a slight crisp edge. That’s what made her cookies so good in the past, so I was in. I had my Raisinets and everything else I needed, so I got to baking. You start with butter and sugar which you beat together, then you add in the dry ingredients. You mix in some oats, and then fold in the Raisinets. You actually use lots of Raisinets which is good. When the dough is ready, you roll it into balls and then throw it in the freezer for five minutes to chill. After that, it goes in the over for about ten minutes. What comes out is beautiful looking cookies.

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These finished up about a half hour before our dinner was ready and I asked Lola if she wanted to try one. How do you turn down a fresh baked cookie? I gave her one which was still warm and the chocolate from the Raisinet was still slightly melting. I had a fan. Lola made all kind of yummy noises. I had to try one too and so I did. There’s something about Sally’s cookie recipes that gives you the best textures. It’s partly allowing the cookies to be nice and thick. You bite in and cookie is soft on the inside and chewy. The oats give it that oatmeal flavor so you are not just eating a regular cookie dough, but the star is indeed the Raisinet which delivers that chewy-chocolate one two punch. I was surprised how good it was. Lola was in heaven. We actually had another one later in the night as our dessert, Lola having hers with a glass of milk naturally. This was a big hit. In fact, as I write this on Saturday morning, Lola has already had another one with her morning coffee. That’s a win.

Maybe I have been a bit judgmental on my dislike of Raisinets. Whoever first thought about covering a raisin in chocolate was actually pretty smart. They are two great tastes that go great together. It’s actually a historic candy rooted in the annals of cinematic tales that brings us to a time at the movie house where newsreels and cartoons opened up every film, there were double features on the weekends and the concessions were Coke bottles, tubs of popcorn and boxes of Raisinets. I can honor any candy that has that kind of memory attached to it. Finding them a spot in a delicious cookie was just a little bonus, albeit a tasty one. Ok Raisinets, I’ll give you the respect you deserve. I’ll salute the star you deserve to be in the candy aisle. You deserve this day today and I am grateful for the joy you have brought the world. Just keep those Nonpareils away from me.

Next Up: International Waffle Day 

Day 234 – National Chip and Dip Day

If you were paying attention to what today was you would have noticed that it was National Puppy Day. It seems like our social media feeds were filled throughout the day with all kinds of pictures of the pups in our lives. That’s a good thing as filling any feed with happy pictures of puppies is sure to bring a smile to even the darkest of hearts. I would have liked to participate here, but we are actually puppy-less. It’s my fault. I’m allergic, so I’ve never been able to have one. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the love people have for their pooches. I get it and I hope you celebrated your four-legged friend appropriately today. Maybe dinner and movie with them. They deserve a day for the joy they bring to so many families.

I instead celebrated the other holiday today which was National Chip and Dip Day. Admittedly this is kind of a broad category. I could have just eaten some chips and salsa and called it a day. Maybe some guacamole. In fact our house is really no stranger to chips and dip. Sure the chips and salsa/guacamole route is probably our favorite, but there are of course others. Lola loves a good hummus and when she has it, she is usually delighted. I can go either way on hummus. Sometimes when I am trying to figure out something to eat, I go with the dip platter which is kind of Lola’s favorite way to eat – with a small sampling of lots of different flavors. I’ll make a plate with guacamole, hummus, maybe some tabouli. Sometimes that kind of variety is the perfect little fix and it is a testament to the joy of a good chip and dip.

Chip and dips are usually associated with parties and that’s where we have seen some of our favorite varieties. A few years ago, Becky started showing up to parties with a Buffalo Chicken Dip which gave you the joy of eating buffalo wings with out the social faux pas of having bones strewn all over your party. Becky makes a fantastic one and she was ahead of her time. I feel like this dip has become the most popular kid on the block in recent years and that may or may not be because of Becky. She still makes one for every family get together and it gets gobbled up to the last drop. Tara makes a great spinach dip. I know you are thinking how good can a spinach dip be, but there is something in the way Tara makes hers that is remarkable. It’s warm and garlicky and when you sink your chip in you are rewarded with this cheesy robust bite. It’s really something. In the summer, Cherie makes a corn and bean dip with fresh tomatoes and onions. It’s almost like a corn salsa but with beans and better tasting. Great fresh tastes in every bite and perfect for summer eating. It’s addictive too so you take a bite and then have to go back for more. Yes, in terms of dips and chips, the Mellow sisters know what they are doing. I have tried to join in and I have been known to make an Italian Hoagie dip (that’s right – I see your buffalo chicken and I raise you cold cuts). It really is a dip you make with fresh chopped deli meats. It’s good though. It kind of gets eaten more as a sandwich however rather than a dip.

For tonight, I wanted to make something that wasn’t part of our usual forte. I really could have gone the simple route of chips and salsa and Lola would have been happy. I could have even made my own salsa or pico de gallo. I love that kind of fresh taste that you get from a fresh made salsa. Instead however I planned to make something new. Something that would give us the chance to have something filling for dinner and something new to our palates. I decided on an enchilada dip that I found a recipe for which was simply some ground beef mixed with enchilada sauce, cheese and a few other things. My vision was that it would be Mexican night without the trouble of all the bowls you need for taco night. Great tastes with less mess – sounded good to me. I had to take our car in for an oil change which meant I had to go to Warwick because our car can be a bit of a noodge when it comes to maintenance. I had an afternoon appointment so my plan was to go there and then stop at the store on the way home for supplies. That’s what I did. Then, when I got home, I got a text from Lola that she had gone over Cherie’s house to get a ‘fix’ of our niece and nephews. She said that Cherie invited us for dinner too so I should come over. I looked at the ground beef and enchilada sauce that I was unpacking and frowned. But hey, life is short and I haven’t seen the kiddos in a while. Plus a Cherie dinner is nothing to turn your nose up at ever. I put everything away and headed on over forgoing my enchilada dip.

It was the right decision because when I walked in, Lola was on the floor playing Memory with Brickie with Calix sitting next to her. I got big smiles from all three and I was invited to play. Cherie was tinkering away in the kitchen and you could smell the awesomeness of her cooking (garlic, sauce, cheese – it was all wafting through the house). Dinner was actually served within a few minutes and Wavy popped out of her room to come join us. She was proudly telling us about the good marks she got on her report card. We all sat down and had a fun little dinner. Cherie called it the “Tour of Italy” because it was chicken topped in a tomato sauce, chicken topped in a cream sauce and some penne topped in the red sauce too. Plus a beautiful Caesar salad on the side and of course garlic bread. It was a feast that couldn’t be beat. I was so glad I had gone over there for all of this. After dinner, Pete came home from work and we talked with him as we all monitored bath time making sure no one slipped down the drain. Afterwards, we had some pre-bedtime Memory (Wavy was the winner) to cap off a pretty fun night. We said goodnight and were on our way home. However, I still had a dip to worry about.

While I was looking for new dips, I came across a few dessert dips that I kind of looked past because I was looking for savory. On my way home, I remembered this so I made a quick stop at the Dollar General to pick up supplies. I found a recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip from someone called BrownEyedBaker.com which looked pretty good and I pulled up the ingredient list on my phone. I got what I needed and headed home. It was actually super easy to throw together. You take some cream cheese and add in some sugar. To that, you add a mixture of butter, brown sugar and vanilla and you beat it all together. Then you fold in some chocolate chips. I think I had it all made and all my dishes cleaned up within ten minutes of being home. Then I served it. It wasn’t easy digging in after having our bellies full of such a great dinner, but we did our best.

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I think this is going to be better when it chills over night because after a bite, you wanted it to be a bit cooler on the palate. But it was good. It was creamy and sweet and the chocolate chips really brought it all together. The Nilla wafers were the perfect chip too because they were strong enough to support the heft of the dip. I used dark brown sugar rather than light which the recipe called for and I don’t think that made much of a difference in taste, but it probably darkened the color of the dip. The cream cheese was a dominant flavor so that’s why I think it just needed some time to chill in the fridge and let the ingredients commingle. You can see what the recipe wanted to do – give you the taste of cookie dough without the salmonella from raw egg. I think this could be a star if we bust it out again.

Today’s lesson was one about adjusting. My plan for a nice savory dip for dinner never came through but I just went with what the universe was presenting me and didn’t fret. I knew I would have time later in the night to complete my quest. Had I stuck to my original dip plan, I would have missed a fun night with some fun smiling friends and great food. That would have been against what this whole thing is about. I’m here to join the celebration, not miss it because I had other plans. In the end, I just shifted gears which was another lesson about being flexible. It all turned out ok in the end. That’s true celebration and that’s what I learned on chip and dip day.

Next Up: National Chocolate Covered Raisin Day

 

Day 233 – National Bavarian Crepes Day

Today’s celebration just didn’t make sense to me and in truth, I may have taken a few liberties to call it a day. Today was Bavarian Crepe Day which seemed festive enough, it just came down to understanding what a Bavarian crepe really is. There wasn’t much information on it. Even the holiday sites I use as reference for this quest were vague in their definition. They told me what a crepe is but gave no mention on what makes one Bavarian. Would it have to come direct from Bavaria? I’m not even sure I know where that is – is it Germany? (It is, it is one of the sixteen German states with Munich as its capital.)

A crepe is a French creation and, to put it simply, it is a very thin version of a pancake or a batter that has been fried in a pan. They’ve been around since the 13th century when buckwheat flour was introduced into the Brittany region of France. Since then, they’ve become a bit of a fixture in French culture. When you walk the streets in France, you are not only surrounded by creperies but also street carts that make your crepes to order. They are a fascinating thing to watch being made. The batter is spread out thinly across a giant round pan and the crepe maker combs it out across the entire pan so it is smooth and evenly cooked. Then they slowly flip it over.  It’s a skill that takes time to master but a show stopper for anyone watching. Crepes are usually topped in fresh fruit, maybe some powdered sugar or whipped cream, and sometimes chocolate or Nutella. They are pretty versatile and can be made sweet or savory. That’s a French crepe. But how’d we get to Bavaria?

I did find one holiday website that gave me some insight into what makes a crepe Bavarian. According to web-holidays.com, the main difference between a Bavarian crepe and the classic French crepe is that the batter is used right away rather than letting it rest before using. Well that doesn’t seem like it makes it uniquely Bavarian. Are Bavarians known for being impatient – they have to use the batter right away? Seems odd. The website also hypothesized, as I had too, that Bavarian crepes are stuffed with Bavarian cream which is a pastry cream thickened with gelatin rather than cornstarch which is then lightened with whipped cream just before it sets up. That version I can believe. We’ve all see Bavarian cream in doughnuts and cakes. I have a vague familiarity there and I can see how it would be good in a crepe. I started to believe that I had figured out what a Bavarian crepe was, although I still had the problem of having to get one.

I respect the crepe and I know to make a proper one, you kind of need the right equipment.  You need a crepe pan or cooker which is like a griddle pan but it does not have edges so you can make the crepe super thin and not worry about it bunching up along the rim of the pan. Plus you need a crepe spreader to smooth out your batter so it is thin and even across your pan. You also need a crepe spatula to help you flip your crepe at the right time. This has to be thin enough to get underneath, but also long enough to flip the whole crepe.If you want it done right, you have have the proper gear and I did not. I then looked to the internet to find a place where I could have a professional make me a crepe.

There are always a few creperies near your bigger cities as it seems those areas always have crowds that appreciate the finer things in life like crepes. Naturally there were a few spots in Providence that specialized in crepes and they looked delicious. But then I found a place in Barrington, RI that also specialized in crepes called Crepelicious. Barrington is about 15 minutes closer to our house than is Providence and you also don’t have to deal with Providence traffic, etc., so I was pretty excited to find this spot. The menu online looked good and they were open on Tuesdays at 11. I had an appointment this morning in Middletown which meant that I actually had to get dressed (you know, pants and dress shirt, that whole rigamarole), so after that appointment, because I was dressed for success, I made my way to Barrington. Apparently I was dressed for crepes too.

Crepelicious is on Maple Avenue which is right off of Route 114 which seems to be the shopping district in town. It was a busy street but they have a parking lot behind the building which made it easy to stop. It is housed in a building that I am pretty sure used to be a house and it looked pretty homey and inviting. When I walked in, I was greeted instantly with a warm hello and I took a few minutes to look over my choices. This was where my dilemma came in because they didn’t offer any Bavarian style crepes, but then again why would they? In the end, I was ok with this. I was making the effort here. I was celebrating a new food that I had not celebrated before. I went out of my way to discover a cool new spot to enjoy it. I even got all dressed up for the occasion. The search for a Bavarian Crepe seemed to be a fool’s errand. Why not enjoy what was in front of me. For the record, I did ask if they had any kind of Bavarian cream available.  They did not. I instead opted for a crepe with strawberries and bananas and some whipped cream on the side. I was going to imagine that the whipped cream was made in Bavaria. Plus I had a nice fresh made cappuccino to go along with it.

There was one person working the counter and taking the order while another woman was manning the crepe maker. I watched her work for a few minutes, gently spreading the batter over this big round griddle. She watched it closely gently playing with the edges testing to see if it was ready to flip. When you cook anything thin, it cooks fast. Really fast. And for anyone that has ever burned a pancake, you know how fast it can go from cooked to burnt. That makes cooking a crepe a challenge. My crepe maker was an expert though and she patiently monitored it cooking with expertise and care. I think she’s done this before. I didn’t see her finish it up, but it would have been nice to have seen how she folds it up and stuffs it. It looked great when it arrived at my table.

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The crepe was nice and sweet. It was as tasty as a pancake with that sweet fried batter flavor, but it had a crispness to it as well as the outside of the crepe had cooked on the crepe pan. The powdered sugar on top gave it a little more sweetness that was a nice touch. Inside, the strawberries and bananas were nice and flavorful. The strawberries were sweet and ripe and just starting to break down as they were probably sprinkled with some sugar. That gave the filling a little bit of a strawberry syrup to it. The bananas were perfectly ripe as well and full of good banana flavor which teamed well with the strawberries. The whipped cream was a nice touch too. It was fresh and chilled and worked with every bite.  I could see where some Bavarian cream would have been nice here too. The heavier cream would have given the crepe a bit more substance and the custard-like taste would have upped the flavor. Regardless, the crepe that I was served was perfect and it was a great lunch. Plus it was a nice coffee too.

I’d recommend this spot to anyone. It was comfortable inside which made it nice too. There were three or four other tables while I was there and everyone seemed to be pretty happy. If I were to try them again, I would sample some of their savory options like a Bacon, Egg and Cheese crepe or even a Pepperoni Pizza crepe. They seem to know what they are doing. I didn’t know this, but apparently they were named best crepes in RI by Rhode Island Monthly. Maybe I wasn’t eating a Bavarian crepe, but I was definitely enjoying an award winning crepe.

I may have failed at celebrating a Bavarian Crepe today but I can at least say I tried. I really did. I’m still not totally convinced that this is not a made up thing – some kind of urban myth like the chupacabra. I did celebrate the crepe however, so that was something. I found a great new spot for all your crepe needs (excepting Bavarian) and I got to enjoy the fine skills and craftsmanship it takes to make a good one. I really enjoyed it and before I get down on myself for not nailing this celebration today, I have to realize that this is what the quest is truly about. Enjoying. Appreciating. Discovering. So in that sense, I really nailed it. Just don’t tell the Bavarians.

Next Up: National Chip and Dip Day 

Day 232 – National French Bread Day

I’ve talked about Apicella’s Italian Bread here before. It’s a New Haven institution and having grown up in the area, that was the fresh bread that was part of our neighborhood. We lived outside New Haven but our local deli, like most of the other delis in town, carried Apicella’s fresh baked bread. It was delivered fresh every morning around the same time and there would be people waiting for it. It was still warm when it arrived. They would stack it in front of the deli case and the formidable stack would slowly be picked away leaving only a few loaves if any by the early afternoon. This was every day. I remember bringing home a loaf, still warm in its white bag. I can still feel how it would squeeze, with just the right amount of give. If it didn’t have that bounce back, you had an older loaf. We’d make sandwiches with it, serve it alongside our dinner or more often than not, just slab some butter on it. It was best that way. Fresh chewy dough with a crusty exterior. That’s when I first really learned to enjoy the pleasure of a fresh made loaf of bread. The thought of getting a fresh loaf of that bread is still dreamy to me. But that was Italian bread. Today was about French Bread.

I guess two cultures that really honor and appreciate the fine art of fresh made bread are Italian and French. They both know it has a place at every table. It’s part of the whole sensual experience of eating. It’s not just tasty but it’s visually stimulating and smells great too. But there is a difference between the two types of bread. The Reluctant Gourmet helped me understand that:

To broadly generalize, while French bread is long with rounded edges, Italian bread comes in a more overall circular shape. French bread is typically baked in a long, thin shape and has become the major food symbol of the country. The baguette can be baked as long as 30 inches and is a staple in almost every region. On the other hand, Italian bread is known to be baked in more a flat and round shape. Italian loaves are also shorter and typically thicker than their French counterparts. Although it is possible to get baguette-type looking bread in an Italian bakery, on average, most Italian bread is shaped into larger rounds.

Although the French have lots of types of bread like the pain de campagne (country bread), the most common French bread is the baguette. A baguette, which literally translates to “stick” in French, is the long, stick shaped bread that is generally associated with French cafe imagery. Picture it – woman in a beret walking down a Parisian street passing by cafes, Eiffel Tower in the background, a bag of groceries in her arms from which extends a long loaf of bread. That’s the baguette. Nowadays, baguettes are everywhere. They are in the grocery store, at fine restaurants and even at the delis in our neighborhood. They seem to be a bit more popular than Italian Bread, but that also has a lot to do with the influence of culture. In any case, they sell fresh baked baguettes at Clements Market and I picked up a loaf there today to celebrate this day.

You do have to get your baguettes early at Clements because they tend to sell out. Selling out of bread by the early evening is a good thing for everyone, excepting ducks of course who look forward to being fed some stale bread. When I got there, they still had a few loaves left. I quickly snatched it up. There are a lot of ways you can serve a good French Bread, but I decided to go with a bruschetta. That’s an Italian dish which I was going to serve on a French bread. I think that’s ok though. The baguette is perfectly suited for bruschetta. It’s the perfect size whereas the Italian bread is a bit wider, so I was fine with my decision. I picked up a tub of bruschetta mix in the deli area from Joseph’s Mediterranean Cuisine. I am never opposed to making a fresh bruschetta mix using ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic, but that’s a tall order in the winter. To make it perfect, you need those in season vegetables. Because that was not an option, I went the easy route with the mix. I’ve used this before and it’s actually superb. It’s got great flavor, it’s locally made and it’s a real time saver.

When I got home, there was still a few hours until dinner and I was a bit hungry, so because I happened to have a fresh baguette in the house, I cut off a few thin slices and I spread on some Nutella. I bought Nutella a few weeks back to celebrate National Nutella Day and for some reason, I have been craving it this week. I had some on Sunday afternoon spread over some graham crackers. Today I had it on the French bread and that seemed to actually be more in line with a true celebration of French bread. That’s one of the many ways they celebrate in France. When you order it at a cafe in Paris at certain parts of the day, it gets served with Nutella. To me, it was just a good vehicle for getting that chocolate hazelnut flavor into my mouth. All in all, it was a pretty great afternoon snack.

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When it was time for dinner, I cut about half of the baguette into thin slices. I got the oven going at a somewhat high temp. In the summer, I like to grill the baguettes, but it was too chilly for me tonight and I didn’t feel like standing outside watching it. The oven would be fine. I prepped some olive oil on a plate and sprinkled in some garlic powder, then I dunked each piece of bread into the oil so it would soak in that flavor. After about ten minutes in the oven, they came out perfectly toasted.

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Then I just scooped the bruschetta mix onto each crostini and finished each piece with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. I really went pretty Italian on this serving and that’s ok. It shows the diversity of the bread and the different cultures. We have this often during the summer on our deck. It’s the perfect light meal for those long days of summer bliss. You are sun drenched, maybe tired from being outside all day. We eat it with some cold beers or even a glass of chilled white wine and we munch on our snack as we watch the sky change colors with the setting sun. Having it tonight made us really excited for summer even though we are only two days into Spring. The warm air will come soon. That’s the promise of bruschetta.

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Even though it was dark outside and still cold, the bruschetta was great as always. It’s such a perfect mixture of flavors. The freshness of the tomatoes and basil mixed with the hardiness of the olive oil. The crunch of the toasted bread which once you bite, reveals a soft, doughy interior that immediately soaks in the flavor of the topping. The hint of parmesan to balance it all out. We ate it up happily in the quiet of our family room being slightly disturbed by the crunch of our every bites. This is one of Lola’s most favorite things and not only did she like it, she began yearning for the summer as I was. Bruschetta is pretty versatile too. You can put all kinds of topping on there. I have made one for a brunch which was topped with marscapone cheese and some fresh fruit. It always delivers and that’s a tribute to the delight of French bread.

Apropos of nothing, I also made a Double Chocolate Banana Bread today. My cousin Clare had sent me the recipe after I had made a banana bread saying that this recipe was a sure fire winner. It’s been on my mind and I just happened to have three bananas that were perfect for it. It was super easy to make and Clare did not lie, it was outstanding! I know it doesn’t fall in my celebration agenda, but I realized two things. One, I enjoy taking requests and suggestions. One of the joys of this is knowing who is reading and what they are thinking about when they are following along. And two, if I learned anything from this quest it’s that I kind of enjoy cooking. It’s something I can do and it’s almost relaxing to bang something out. That’s why making this was a joy. Plus we have a delicious banana bread on our kitchen table waiting for us to dig in when we get a hankering.

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French bread is one of those things in life that become common to us but we never really pause and take the time to appreciate what it is. Somehow, when that loaf of fresh bread gets lost in the stack of groceries in our cart, we forget that craftsmanship and love that a baker puts into each loaf. That’s what the French really learned to appreciate. They made this bread part of their culture. Part of the enjoyment of life. It’s not something that ends up on the side of the plate, it is part of the whole experience and sometime THE experience. I can get behind that kind of bread love. That’s kind of how I feel about Apicella’s bread. And even though that’s Italian, today was true testament to the French attitude toward good bread. It brings us happiness and hope. Célébrez le pain!

Next Up: National Bavarian Crepes Day