Our first vision of celebrating this day was to put the Franks and Beans (or the Beanie Weenies as Lola calls them) into the empty battery compartment of a flashlight and enjoy them that way akin to the way Bobby and Cindy feasted on them when they were lost in the Grand Canyon on The Brady Bunch. We could go on a hike through the Aquidneck Land Trust property preferably with a rolling fog on the hills and we could yell out to no one in particular, “Bobby! Cindy! Where are you?!” The beans in the flashlight was an image that has always stood out to Lola and when I mentioned Franks and Beans, that was what she wanted to do. Alas, it was too wet today for hiking so Bobby and Cindy would have to go unsearched for. They probably will get eaten by a Middletown coyote. We’ll probably find a half-chewed Kitty Karry-All doll on the rough of the 13th hole at Newport National Golf Club, a last remembrance of the youngest one in curls (cue the Brady Bunch Theme played in slow, sad tones.
Franks and beans are one of the oldest convenience foods we have dating back to the Civil War. That means old Uncle Reb was eating a can full of beans and franks sitting by the campfire on the night they drove ol’ Dixie down. That makes me think of the famous bean eating scene from Blazing Saddles when they are all sitting around the campfire eating beans (and I assume franks) and then letting them rip into the night air. As a youngster, I thought this was the funniest moment ever in cinema history. Maybe it is. However, I couldn’t help but worry that this could this be the end result of the beanie weenie dinner I was planning for tonight. Would I be voted “Worst Guy in the Cubicles” tomorrow? Would Lola, who has a meeting early tomorrow morning, be shifting in her chair throughout the conversation struggling to hold them in? Would this put in motion a series of events that there would be no return from? This was going to be a dangerous meal.
I have never eaten Franks and Beans. It has never appealed to me. It looks gross. It smells gross. But I realize that this is a classic American dish – nay, a classic New England dish – so I had to take one for the team, ozone layer be damned. My journey started at the grocery store where I scanned the baked bean section. I’ve never really spent much time here before. There are really a lot of options. Country style, Classic New England Style, Vegetarian, Maple, Pumpkin Spice. The bean scientists have been working overtime. My first decision would need to be what brand. It came down to the two big players for me: Bush’s and B&M. I have to say for a time, I enjoyed the Bush’s Beans commercials and that crazy dog, but that campaign has grown tired and so has my enjoyment of the brand. B&M, according to their label, was celebrating their 150-year anniversary plus they have roots in Maine and the great city of Portland. That pushed me towards going with them. Plus, they made Brown Bread in a can. That sealed the deal. When I spent some time working in Maine, I met a few people who had a fondness for brown bread in a can. I had never even heard of it, but apparently it’s a thing and a thing that goes well with beans and franks. It’s just what you would expect: Brown Bread (pumpernickel is the flavor, perhaps) that comes in a can, so it comes out in one round cylindrical shape with the ridges of the can engraved into the bread (kind of like how your cranberry sauce looks when you take it from the can on Thanksgiving, just in bread form). I guess this is a Maine delicacy along with Moxie, Allen’s Coffee Brandy and bright red colored hot dogs.
When I got home, Lola was on the phone. She had been on the phone for six hours straight. No Joke. In fact, she was on the phone so long she got looped back to the first person she was on the phone with. I think that’s called a tilt. In any case, that allowed me to get to cooking, if you can really call it that. I opened the can of beans and dumped them into a saucepan. Then I cut up three hot dogs (Saugy doggies – a Rhode Island classic) into bite sized pieces and tossed them in. Then I let it cook on low. I was going to let it cook for a half hour, but Lola was on the phone for 45 minutes after I got home, so I used that as my guideline. When they were ready to serve, I opened the can of bread (a sentence I have never used before), pushed out the ungodly looking loaf, sliced it and then toasted it. I put a piece on the bottom of the bowl and scooped the frank and beans on top. Then I added another piece of bread on the side.
I do not like franks and beans. I do not like them here or there. I do not like them anywhere. I especially didn’t like them in our kitchen. I like the franks. I could easily eat a whole bowl of franks. It’s the beans. I like beans to a be on the spicy side. The Mexican kind. The soft warm molasses and barbecue flavor of beans just isn’t my jam. I just don’t care for them. I can eat them. I didn’t spit them out or gag them down. I just didn’t enjoy it. I had the smell stuck in my nose all night. I felt it spoiled my enjoyment of hotdogs. Lola said they were ok. She kind of likes beanie weenies. It’s a taste of her childhood, plus it’s her connection to Bobby and Cindy. The bread, by the way, was awful. It was flavorless and just added an unneeded dense starch to the dish. Maybe if each piece was slathered in butter, like a pound of butter, it night be ok but otherwise, we both didn’t get the allure. We’ll leave the canned bread to the Mainers.
Today was also National French Fries Day and it was trending hard on social media. I wasn’t going to do anything for this. I was planning my franks and beans. But then I was inspired by a post from Lola’s cousin Nick who I follow on Twitter. I don’t know Nick all that well outside of having seen him at family functions, but I have connected with him through Facebook and Twitter and he is one of my favorite people to follow. He has an interesting life, he has smart ideas and he is genuinely a nice guy. In any case, he posted about National French Fries Day and unabashedly said that vinegar is the best topping for fries. Period. Vinegar on fries, malt vinegar, is a Rhode Island thing. It came here from the French Canadians who brought it to Maine and then it traveled down to little Rhody where it became the fry topping of choice. At restaurants, tables are set with ketchup and vinegar for fries. It’s weird, but it’s the RI life. When I thought about that, I realized I have never tried it. So, when I was at the store, I bought some Heinz Malt Vinegar along with some crinkle cut fries. When I was making the franks and beans, I put a big pan of canola oil on the stove, heated it up and fried up some taters. I don’t like frying at home, but it was a special day and I wanted to make sure the fries got nice and crispy. I also didn’t want to turn the oven to 450 degrees on a humid night. The fries took some time to get nice and crispy. They never got the true golden-brown color I was hoping for, but they were crisp and that was good enough. I seasoned them immediately with some salt and pepper. Then I served them with the vinegar. I was hoping to surprise Lola with a Rhode Island classic.
I did surprise Lola. She was hungry when she got off the phone and there’s nothing like having a bowl of fresh, crispy French fries waiting for you when you walk into the kitchen after an ordeal like that. She couldn’t believe I had fried them. Then I offered her the vinegar and she was less enthused. Apparently, she is the one Rhode Islander that doesn’t believe in vinegar. She had never tried it. She was always more of a seasoning and ketchup person. We gave the vinegar a try together. You know what, it’s not that bad. You’re first bite hits you with that sour vinegar taste, but it’s not too overwhelming. Then it mingles with the salt and balances out the bite. It gives the fry some depth and complexity. I understood the attraction. I could see this being a thing. I could get behind this. Would I call it my favorite fry topping ever? No, that would be cheese and gravy. But it’s really not bad and somehow, with those simple bites, in some small way, I became a Rhode Islander today. And I thank @ROJO36 for that.
I know what you’re thinking. French fries and Beanie Weenies for dinner at the Melederer household – another fine nutritional dinner. I suppose that’s a legit argument. It’s all for the quest. No matter, today I tried a few new foods. These were foods I had known about for years yet never pushed myself to try. Today I gave them a whirl and all in all, it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t die. That’s a good day. Today was a day that what this quest was originally intended for – to try what I would not normally try. I survived, just like Bobby and Cindy. And the Native American who found me gave me the new nickname. They call me He Who Smelt It.
Next up: National Mac and Cheese Day