Day 386 – National Cupcake Day

This was a day that I wasn’t exactly positive on my holiday sources. I found it on a website I use from time to time to find the days I am going to celebrate. It clearly said it was Cupcake Day there, but I didn’t find the day listed on any other website. I like to confirm these days whenever I can but I wasn’t having any luck today. However, it would have to do because we were still in Lenox, MA and we were a long way from home and I couldn’t really dig in to research another holiday. Cupcake Day it would have to be.

We had stayed over in Lenox after the David Sedaris show. It would have been a long trip to try and make it home after the show so staying over made the most sense. I had finagled a way to take the day off at work and we had a whole Monday to ourselves in the Berkshires. We stayed at a B&B that we had found online. We don’t normally stay at B&B’s especially since we once had a real awkward situation when we stayed at one in Maine that involved a lot of one-on-one convos with the owners and the worst breakfast I have ever eaten in my entire breakfast eating life. We prefer the hotel life where people leave you alone, but B&Bs are kind of the thing to do in Lenox, so we went along with it. We slept in a little later than usual which was nice, got ourselves cleaned up and then went inside the main house for breakfast. It was slightly awkward as we made small talk with the other guest who were sitting at their tables in the breakfast nook, although everyone was pleasant enough. The breakfast however was fantastic. Nice hot scrambled eggs, grilled ham, homemade grits and even some fantastic mini cinnamon rolls. It really surprised us, but it was a good start to the day. Afterwards, we packed up the car and headed out in to town to explore.

We parked in the downtown area which was only a few blocks away. It’s not a very expansive area and it is essentially made up of two streets that crisscross. There were stores up and down both sides of the streets so we meandered about sticking our heads in to whatever stores tickled our fancy. It had the lazy, vacation town feeling although much of their offerings in town was reflective of the local area. We spent a lot of time in a bookstore (as we are apt to do) and afterwards we meandered in a local artsy-type store where the owner was surprisingly a tad racist. We left there and tried to shake that energy off us. We thought that maybe some coffee would help (and help our energy level in general), so we walked into a little bakery/cafe on the corner of the crossroads. The place was called Shots. I ordered our coffees and then Lola walked around to find a bathroom. Then I looked down and noticed they had some cupcakes in the display case. I wasn’t sure what kind of cupcakes they were, but they had all the earmarks of being a cupcake – the frosting, the mini-sized cake, the wrapper around the cake. I ordered one to go along with our coffee. We ate it outside at the tables that they had on the sidewalk in front of the store. Actually, I ate it. Lola just had a bite

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It was a good cupcake. I think it was blueberry flavored. Inside was filled with a blueberry-type jelly and it was melded within a nice, moist, chocolate cake. The frosting was excellent. Nice and sweet and sugary. It wasn’t the best cupcake I’ve ever had, but it was still tasty and it was a delicious discovery in the middle of downtown Lenox. After we finished, we continued our meandering about town and then decided to move on. We didn’t know exactly where to go, but we hopped in the car and started out on the open road. We saw a sign for Pittsfield, MA and we thought that would be an excellent place to go.

Pittsfield, MA is the birthplace of Richard Lederer, my Dad. It was always a special place for him and when we were young, we would take yearly pilgrimages to the area. His sister still lived there with her family and we would always come for a visit and stay at their house. But we really didn’t get there that often and once we got into high school and college, our visits started becoming even less frequent. I hadn’t been there in years. It was still worth driving through however because we were right there and we were looking for things to do. I was surprised that I still recognized some areas of town and when I saw the high school, I immediately started singing the Pittsfield High School fight song which my Dad used to sing whenever you mentioned his old alma mater. If you asked them, my brother and sister could sing the song too. We drove for a bit and then I remembered the street name of where my Aunt had lived, so we put it into the GPS and headed in that direction. After a very slow drive up and down the street, I found the house. It was always a unique house – custom built by my uncle. It had a wrap around porch on the second level and the front door had a intercom system. At least those are the details I remembered from my youth. When I saw the house, I was sure I had found it. I even sent my sister a picture to confirm. It was funny to be back. We didn’t stay too long as we didn’t want the people who lived there now to get worried about this odd car lingering outside their home taking pictures, but it was a fun trip down memory lane.

When we left Pittsfield, we decided to check out one more town in the local area before heading back: Stockbridge. I’ve heard good things about this quaint little town and I was also familiar with what it looked like because my Mom has a scenic painting of it in our living room. It’s a reproduction of the famous Norman Rockwell painting which he painted to show his community. At the height of his fame, Rockwell had made his home here. As we made our way to Stockbridge, we started seeing signs for the Norman Rockwell Museum. With no real agenda for the day, we decided to check it out. (Tanglewood, book readings and art museums? You can’t say we aren’t cultured.) The museum is on a gorgeous, lush property in the heart of Stockbridge. You drive up a windy road surrounded by trees and grass and you come upon a big white building up on a little hill. The museum sees over 200,000 guests per year and the facilities are set up to handle big crowds and buses. It wasn’t too crowded today although there was still a steady flow of people coming in and out. We were decidedly younger than the general population here with the exception of a few families taking their kids. Most of the visitors probably remembered reading the Saturday Evening Post. You walk in to a giant foyer where there is an information desk in the center. The ticket counter is to the right, the gift shop to the left and the museum was in front behind the desk. The tall ceilings echoed the hushed tones of everyone’s conversations giving it that typical museum or library feeling. We bought our tickets and then proceeded on in to learn more about Mr. Rockwell.

On the bottom floor, the museum plays a video on a loop that gives you the biography of the artist. The room with the video also has all the covers he painted for the Saturday Evening Post on display. These were the images you think of when you think of Rockwell. The little glimpses of Americana. The sweetness, the whimsy, the pride and the sadness. To look at all his work like this at once was overwhelming. They were arranged from his first in 1916 all the way up to the issue when John F. Kennedy died (Rockwell’s last issue). We walked slowly through them all. Lola and I are always in different spots when it comes to touring museums. I zip right through trying to keep my ADD at bay. Lola will drift into the artwork and get lost in the image before her. I made it through the whole display within minutes and Lola was still lost in the 1930s. I’m sure that gets annoying to her. I did my best to wait patiently and wandered around some of the other rooms to bide my time. When Lola was ready, we went back upstairs to see some of his actual paintings. This was where we started to get an appreciation of the social commentary that Rockwell was making with his work. Sure, his images for the Post were on the cheerful side, full of hope and nostalgia. That’s what the magazine required. But much of his later artwork contained themes about social justice and equality. This was the more fascinating stuff to us and as we walked around the gallery, we each got lost in certain pieces. There was a painting called “Lincoln for the Defense” that particularly caught my fancy as it portrayed a young Abraham Lincoln in a courtroom fighting for the defense of a shackled man. There was just something about it between the imposing figure that Lincoln made and how he stood tall in this desperate situation. Lola got lost in a painting about the United Nations with the Golden Rule transcribed across the front.

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In the center of the building, there were a series of four paintings featured in their own space called the Four Freedoms and they were paintings commissioned to reflect the famous State of the Union Address in which FDR outlined the four basic essential freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Rockwell made each of these in his usual tone by taking a scene from everyday life of everyday people and showing us what those freedoms mean to us and our neighbors. It was striking and while it made you sympathize for all those struggling in that awful time of war fighting for freedom, the messages still had relevance in the current culture. The struggle continues but somehow, looking into the soft and troubled eyes of each of the characters in his paintings, you realized that the fight is always there and that there are always those standing up for what is right. It was a call to action told with every subtle brushstroke. We were both mesmerized. The other exhibition of note was of Andy Warhol. I’m still not exactly sure of the connection but it had to do with Andy’s nephew James Warhola who is an artist and an illustrator in his own right (he has drawn for comics and Mad Magazine). He also published a children’s book about visiting his uncle. I assume the exhibition was on loan to the museum but it featured some of James work and then some of Andy’s work as well. The museum did a nice job trying to show the contrast between the works of Normal Rockwell and Andy Warhol. They’d show you Norman’s take on something, and then Andy’s on the same thing. It was cool especially to have come upon an exhibit of Andy Warhol in the middle of a Norman Rockwell museum. They also displayed one of Andy’s typical outfits complete with his white fluffy wig. He was an odd cat for sure, but we started seeing his inspirations and how he would interpret things in contrast to Rockwell. But then we had to get out of there – the sun was about to go black.

It was Eclipse Day which seems silly to retell now as we have all just survived this celestial event together, but it’s a good thing to put down on record here so I can know where I was when I look back. The peek eclipse was supposed to happen at 2:45, so I was keeping an eye on the clock while we were walking around the museum. I went outside to see if anything was changing. It was a bit cloudy but you could still see the sun high in the sky. The lawn that surrounds the property is pretty expansive and there were buckets of people in different areas scattered about getting ready. Some had special glasses, some had jerry-rigged cereal boxes and others had their phones or tablets positioned so they could watch from their screens. It was coming, so I went back inside to get Lola. We walked out and to get outside, we went through the cafeteria area. When we did that, we realized we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so we made a quick dash to the counter and picked up some prewrapped sandwiches to go along with some chips and drinks. It was the only thing we had time for and thankfully there were no delays. We took or picnic lunch out to the lawn and sat down in the grass to enjoy. That’s when we were hit by a bunch of irritants. First, it was buggy and it felt like little gnats were nipping at our skin. Then the ants came. We saw one on one of our shoes first, then another on our napkins. Then around our food. The ant threat was increasing exponentially. I still think the eclipse had something to do with the odd bug behavior. Then the annoying people were out too. Everyone was there in the tranquility of this universal experience and it was interrupted by shouts of moms yelling at their kids. Someone even had a paddleball and that annoying sound of whack, whack, whack echoed throughout the grounds. Plus, the sun seemed super bright. Even with all our precautions and protective eyewear, it still seemed like the sun was warming my eyeballs and making them itchy. It was sensory overload. We stayed out there until about 3 pm but we never really saw anything. I’m not sure what it was supposed to look like but I think we missed it all together. Maybe it was too cloudy. Still, we were there, outside  on the lawn at the Norman Rockwell Museum to see this special event. I guess that’s special.

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We stayed around for a bit longer and walked to his studio which was at another spot on the property. But soon we had soaked it all in and it was time to go. We made our way into the center of town, however on our way there, I remembered another spot in town that had some significance to me. This was the town they talk about in Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” I remembered hearing that they had taken the church where Alice lived (in the bell tower with her husband Ray and Facha the dog) and they had turned it into a performance hall and museum. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but I knew it was close by. Lola, being the patient navigator she is, found it on her phone and put in the coordinates. We were there in about ten minutes. It was a church for sure – not a very big one but pretty – and it was on a picturesque corner with green grass and shady trees. It was called the Guthrie Center and it was founded by Arlo Guthrie as a place to honor the legacy of his parents, Woody Guthrie and Marjorie Mazia-Guthrie, and to bring individuals together for cultural, educational, and spiritual exchanges. There was also a VW Microbus parked outside which seemed fitting. The church was closed, but we still poked around. The front window of the church had an image of Woody Guthrie with the words to a poem of his that I have always been drawn to. In fact, I have it on my wall in my office. There were two little benches in the front (Group W benches, I assumed) under the shade of a a few trees. It was really a quiet, peaceful little place. We could see that they have local performances at night keeping the church full of song and happiness. It was serene and I had a spiritual connection to all the church stood for and represented. This land was our land, made for you and me. I’m glad we made the trip there.

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Afterwards, we went back to main street in Stockbridge to check it out. Maybe we were tired and just wanted to go home, but it wasn’t all that special here. We found one store that had some neat stuff, but the rest of the town was a bit sleepy with nothing special. We stopped at the Inn in the middle of Main Street to have a drink on their wraparound porch, but that too seemed a little stale. In fact, it was eerily quiet on the deck even though all the tables were full. It suddenly felt like we were in a horror movie that was about to take a turn for the worse, so we decided to leave. We went back to our car and then headed East on the Turnpike back to the comforts of home.

It had really been a while since we had taken a trip, so it was nice to go exploring on a lazy Monday especially to a land that I had some familiarity with but had never surveyed up close. It made me miss that vacation feeling where you have whole days in front of you to do what you want and just chill. It was a bit of a day for us. While it wasn’t a very long trip, we packed in the sites and the special celestial events. We made pilgrimages to places that hold memories for us and inspires us. We were lost in a whole new world and still made it home by the end of the day to be able to watch Game of Thrones. Plus the day came with a cupcake. That’s always a bonus and that’s why Cupcake Day will always be special for us. The day we got a cupcake and they took away the sun for a brief moment at Norma Rockwell’s pad.

Next up: National Bao Day 

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Day 385 – National Lemonade Day

We had a bit of a day today.

If you recall from yesterday’s post, when I got home from work on Saturday I had to make a Raspberry Cream Pie. I suppose I didn’t have to make the pie. I could have gone without it, but I had made an arrangement with the author David Sedaris and I felt like I had to live up to my end of the bargain. If you don’t know David Sedaris, you are missing out on someone great. He’s an author but he’s also gained some renown for his readings. He brings his sense of humor into whatever he is writing or reading which is mostly personal observations about his daily life and his family. He’s frequently on NPR (Ira Glass from This American Life gave him his first national exposure) and although he is genuinely funny, his observations are usually a peek into the deeper side of the sadness and triumphs that taps it way into all our hearts. In any case, he’s a very funny fellow and he has been intertwined into this whole quest of mine since literally Day One. Day One was of course National Raspberry Cream Pie Day and when I started this endeavor in 2016, it was also the day we had tickets to see David Sedaris do a reading in Newport. I brought him a pie to commemorate the day. Turns out he liked it, and he sent me an email a few days later to thank me. Then this year when Raspberry Cream Pie Day rolled around again, I decided to write him and tell him I had done a whole year of celebrating. I wasn’t looking for anything; I just wanted to share my story because he was a part of how the whole thing got going. To my surprise, he wrote me back and said he remembered my pie. He also generously offered us comp tickets to see him at Tanglewood in Lenox, MA. It was a bit of a jaunt to get there, but we happily accepted the offer. Today was the night of that reading so I made sure I made a Raspberry Cream Pie to thank him.

I started making the pie when I got home on Saturday and baked off the crushed pretzel crust. Then I realized I forgot the Cool Whip and I didn’t feel like running back out to get some, so I put it off until the morning. Today I made a quick run to Clements at 7 am for Cool Whip and got going on the pie. It’s easy to put together, it just needs time to set up. I finished by 8 am and we were not leaving until about noon, so I hoped that was enough time for it to do its thing. It was, and when noon time came about, I packed it on ice and in a cooler for the ride. It’s about a three hour ride to Lenox (unless the Turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston is covered and snow), and we made it there in now time. We checked into the hotel which thankfully had a fridge inside, so we put the pie in there to keep cool. Transport was a success. The show was at 8 pm and that gave us a few hours to grab a bite to eat and explore Lenox.

We had never been to Lenox before or at least that I remember. My father is from Pittsfield, MA which is the next town over and I am sure we drove through Lenox at some point in my life on a visit to his hometown, but it never stood out. It’s small, but has a nice charm to it. At some point in its history, it was a vacation escape for the wealthy and the old houses recall that era. It’s still has a well-to-do vibe to it and part of that is the influx of vacationers there to take in the shows at Tanglewood. Today there was an afternoon Boston Pops concert and the place was buzzing with a activity. We plopped into the first place we saw for dinner afraid that the town would be flooded with people leaving the show looking for food. That never came and I think that’s because so many people bring picnic lunches to the lawn at Tanglewood. The restaurant we ate in was just ok. We had high-hopes but in truth it was nothing special. Afterwards we walked about town to see what was there. Lola had a sudden need for a coffee so we found an ice cream shop that sold specialty coffees. That’s where I ordered a nice fresh-squeezed lemonade. I had to get that celebration out of the way. I had hopes of having one at Tanglewood but I couldn’t risk not getting one so I decided to have it now (android thing I did). As we walked the streets for a bit, I sipped on a truly refreshing drink. It wasn’t too tart, it wasn’t too sweet. It was really just right and it gave me a boost of energy I needed heading into the night.

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We got back to the hotel around 7 and decided to go right to the show. It was less than ten minutes away but we weren’t sure what the crowd would be like and we still had to pick up our tickets. I packed up the pie and put it in a shopping bag. I forgot to pack any paper plates or forks so I was worried for a second that there wouldn’t be anything for David to eat the pie with, but then I made peace with the realization that Tanglewood would have something for their performers. Surely I wasn’t the first person to bring a pie to the show. The converse of that thought was David Sedaris and his posse eating a Raspberry Cream Pie with their fingers and getting their fingers and faces covered in that deep-red raspberry hue like a deranged Joker. I was really hoping it wouldn’t come to that. We got to the parking lot within ten minutes and found a spot right up front. We walked to the Will Call window and said my name and after a few flips through a stack of ticket envelopes, they found the envelope for us. David Sedaris had really left me tickets.

We walked through the front gate and luckily, because it was Tanglewood which allows picnic lunches on their lawn, I wasn’t tackled by security for entering with an unlicensed pie. In fact, I don’t think anyone cared that I had a big brown paper bag with me. We walked in and immediately on our right was a tented area with a line of people queued up across the lawn about 30 people deep. At one end of the line was David Sedaris sitting at a table dutifully signing books. We got in line on the other end and as we waited, we picked up a copy of his new book Theft by Finding which is a compilation of his diary entries from 1977 through 2002. I had heard him read excerpts of this on NPR and was excited to have the book which he would soon sign. The line moved somewhat slow and you could tell that he was talking to everyone in line. I had multiple moments of thinking we should just ditch and give the pie to one of his handlers and walk away, but Lola kept encouraging me to stay. She’s good support like that. It was getting closer and closer to 8 pm and showtime and I could tell some of his handlers were getting antsy about getting him ready, but he didn’t seem too worried. Eventually it was our turn at the table so I walked up and handed him the book to sign and then placed the bag on the table too. I said hi and then uttered those words everyone loves to hear, “I brought you a pie.”

There was a moment of pause (as there should be when someone offers you a pie out of the blue) but then there was a moment of recognition. He seemed genuinely grateful and even told me that I didn’t have to wait in line. His manager (I assume that’s who it is) had come up to the table right before I got there and David asked him if he remembered when I gave them the pie last time. He did, even recalling Newport. It was a neat little moment of realizing that they had really eaten the pie and they genuinely liked it (and remembered it). It was all a little surreal and Lola was behind me smiling away and proud of me. It really was close to show time and there were still people in line behind me, so we only had a moment at the table, but it was a special one. He signed my book and then we turned around and made our way to the seats. I had delivered my second Raspberry Cream Pie to David Sedaris.

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The reading was great. Our seats were pretty close to the stage. Mostly everyone, as far as I could tell, were in seats underneath the shed so there wasn’t a presence on the lawn like normal Tanglewood shows. Still, it was a huge crowd, especially for a book reading. He was introduced by the local NPR host and you could tell the audience was made up of mostly NPR fans. It’s a great spot for a show and I was amazed at how much space there was in the aisles between seats. Often your jammed in and when someone in your row has to get out, everyone has to get out. Not here, so good planning by the Tanglewood company. David Sedaris is really funny. It’s hard to explain why, but he really brings you into these funny little moments in his life and gives you new perspective on everything. He also is a great reader (not in the 1st grader reading a big boy book way). He reads the crowd and knows where his laughs will be and where the moments of sadness need their own moment and he weaves in and out throughout each tale. It’s really a remarkable talent and you can almost say he has created a whole genre around his skills.  And yet, he still enjoys a nice Raspberry Cream Pie every now and then.

I haven’t had much time off this summer so it was nice to getaway with Lola. We didn’t really plan for this but when the offer came across our bow, we had to go with it. I would have liked to have spent a week up there just relaxing and unwinding, but life moves on. I was very grateful for the tickets. I still doubted myself that he was really interested in the pie and that he wasn’t just placating me with kindness. But there was real acknowledgement when we saw him. I could tell he liked it. And then later (the next morning), he sent me another email thanking me for the pie. He said he had three pieces and that he was grateful. He especially liked the crust. So I guess he really does like the pie. My David Sedaris story keeps getting a bit longer. I think we are pen pals now. I’m not sure what’s next and I want to be sure to play this right – I don’t want to come on too strong. A situation like this is like a good lemonade – you don’t want it too sweet or too tart. You want it just right. That’s what I learned today as I celebrated National Lemonade Day with my Lola, and with David.

Next Up: National Cupcake Day 

Day 384 – National Soft Ice Cream Day

I almost melted today. Turned to liquid like the Wicked Witch of the West but with less drama and less monkeys doing by bidding. That’s how it was today. It’s been hotter temperature-wise this summer, but today seemed particularly brutal in regards to humidity. There was no breeze at all, just hot sun and palatable mugginess. Naturally, I stood out in the direct sunlight for most of it. I was working the outside bar today which doesn’t fall under cover of shade until later in the day. By that time, it’s too late. My face had burned, my clothes were moist with dampness. My mouth was as arid as a desert. Yet people came out for wine today and stood there with me. I poured for them. I talked to them about the Vineyard as I wiped by brow and continued simmering under direct heat. This was a day that I was truly going to relish the joy of soft ice cream at the end of the day.

Ideally I would have liked to have stopped by Frosty Freez on my way home. That’s THE place for soft cream ice cream on the island – the place to see and be seen. However I had little patience after a long day of shvitzing in the sun to stand in line with everyone from Acquidneck Island in hopes of getting an ice cream treat. That could lead to a genuine Falling Down moment for me. Furthermore, I had to get to the grocery store on West Main Road so that would lead me away from Frosty Freez. I was pretty confident that I could find another spot for soft ice cream elsewhere on the island, so I wasn’t too worried. I had to go to the grocery store because I had to make a Raspberry Cream Pie and I needed the ingredients. It was for tomorrow but I needed to get it in the fridge tonight to set. There’s more to this story but that will come in my next post, but that’s why I was hanging out at Stop and Shop after a long day of work. I was the guy wandering aimlessly with the damp clothes and brightly burned face. I grabbed a drink from the cooler while I was there and finished by the time I was ready to check out (that means it’s free, right?). I got what I needed (almost everything –  I actually forgot the Cool Whip but I blame that on the heat-induced delirium), and came outside to an early evening sky which was mostly dark yet a few splashes of the setting sun streaked across the horizon. That’s when I saw the familiar glow of the Golden Arches beaming proudly across the street. I had been shown the answer to my soft ice cream search. The search was over, you were with me all the time.

I had texted Lola earlier to see if she had eaten and she had. I wasn’t sure when I was getting home and so I didn’t want her waiting for me. However, I hadn’t eaten yet and I was hungry, so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone. McDonald’s is literally across the street from Stop and Shop so I was sitting in the Drive Thru line in less than a minute. The car in front of me was a carload of teens and I could hear them ordering and it brought back some memories of those days when you are young and you can drive but you are limited to what you can do. The driver ordered a Happy Meal to be funny and I could hear her fellow teens laughing at the order. Then there was an order for fries and then some drinks. I remembered those days – just randomly stopping at a McDonald’s on your Saturday night adventure – the carefree night of a teen. They got their stuff and moved on, probably to drive through Newport to see the boys. Then it was my turn. The idea of a whole McDonald’s meal was too much for me right now – I was too thirsty for salty fries. So I just ordered a burger and then a soft serve ice cream cone. I asked for a chocolate and vanilla swirl, but apparently they just do vanilla at McDonald’s. That was good enough for me. I pulled up to the second window and picked up my order. The transfer of an ice cream cone from the employee to the driver is not an easy handoff, but we worked it out. I had my ice cream cone for National Soft Ice Cream Day.

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Eating an ice cream cone while you are driving is not easy. I stopped for a second to try to get a handle on it which meant taking some bites that danced on the edge of an ice cream brain freeze. You can’t see in the photo, but the cone definitely had a lean to it, so I had to make sure it was balanced properly before I drove away. However, when you are super-thirsty after a long day, eating ice cream fast is not that hard. McDonald’s ice cream is good. I remember when they first started serving ice cream (yes, I’m that old). It was a novelty. Their Hot Caramel Sundae is right up there amongst the best for ice cream treats and their McFlurries, especially the Oreo one, is spot on. It’s not as charming as a Frosty Freez or local ice cream place. It’s not as nostalgic as those places and your choices are far limited, but for flavor, they nail it. It’s just vanilla ice cream, but it’s good flavor, it’s got the right soft ice cream consistency, and it’s always a treat whenever you get one (unless you are getting one every day – then it may be an issue). Tonight, they gave me the break I needed (to recycle an old slogan of theirs) and they were that shining beacon of ice cream hope after a day of oppressive humidity. That’s a win for Mickey D’s.

I am glad that there was a day to celebrate soft ice cream in the summer. It’s no secret that I am a fan of ice cream and while our freezer is usually supplied with fancy flavors from Ben & Jerry or Edy’s, you can’t deny the pleasure of soft ice cream. It has simple flavors but the flavors are good and true. It’s lighter than hard ice cream and when it comes from the machines, it lands gently upon your wafer cone. It even looks special with it’s twist and turns. I was that kid growing up who never wanted soft ice cream – I wanted the other stuff. But now, as an adult, taking a moment to enjoy a soft ice cream cone fresh from the machine is a special treat all by itself. It’s a rite of summer and it’s the perfect way to cap off a day which had left me exhausted and damn near melted me away.

Next up: National Lemonade Day 

Day 383 – National Fajita Day

The history of the fajita takes us back to the ranch lands of South and West Texas in the 1930s. It was there that during cattle roundups, some steers were butchered in order to feed the cattle hands. While the better cuts of meat were reserved for the uppity-ups (the head honchos), throwaway items such as the hide, the head, the entrails, and meat trimmings were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay. Nothing was left to waste. One of the parts of beef that were considered trimmings was the skirt steak which is a cut of beef taken from the plate (which is found just below the belly of the cow, underneath the rib cut). It’s not a tender cut but it is very flavorful. The vaqueros recognized the value of this cut of steak as good eating and from there it started gaining momentum in popularity. Suddenly this scrap piece of beef had value. In 1969, fajitas made one of their first appearances on the menu at Otilia Garza’s Round-Up Restaurant in Pharr, TX. At the Round-Up, fajitas were served on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas and mounds of condiments – guacamole, pico de gallo and grated cheese – for making tacos. They became known for this new and creative offering and that’s where fajita sales really stared sizzling. As Tex-Mex food started to grow in popularity across the states (thanks Chili’s), the fajita became a staple at every Mexican or southwestern styled restaurant. It was in demand and you could see why with the novelty of the sizzling skillets arriving at your table and then being accompanied by your own mini-buffet of fixings. It was magic. However, nowadays, they’ve lost their sexiness. Nowadays, they are kind of commonplace. (Info from the Austin Chronicle

Not that we don’t enjoy fajitas. When we lived in New Hampshire, Lola and I would have Fajita Fridays. It was always after a long week and I would pick up some up at the restaurant I used to work for on the way home (that was a nice perk of the job). Lola would always opt for a Chipotle Steak Fajita, extra Chipotle BBQ sauce, no peppers and onions. Sometimes she would have chicken. I always mixed it up depending on what I was feeling. We’d have an appetizer too, usually baby chicken chimichangas. We’d set up our spread in our living room and then settle in to watch a movie or whatever show we were currently binging on (we were binging before it was popular – like Karen Carpenter). It was a nice part of our life in the way that simple things in your life bring you pleasure. We have days when we miss that living down here. We still get take out. We still watch movies. We just don’t get fajitas. Tonight however, because it was National Fajita Day, I decided to recreate our Fajita Friday.

I had to find a spot however. Ideally, I would find a place in Fall River which is about 15 minutes from our house but right on my path home. I could try to find fajitas in Warwick where I work but I was worried that by the time I got home, the food would be too cold. I searched for best fajitas in Fall River and the place I found was called Tequila Lime Cantina. It had good reviews, good comments about fajitas and best of all, they had a Facebook post that said it was National Fajita Day. They won me over. I put the address into my phone and made my way home. Putting a random address in Fall River into your GPS is always risky because it could take you to parts that may not be all that desirable. I was really flying blind here, but I threw caution to the wind and went with it. It ended up being right in the center area of town near the post office, not far from where we played Laser Tag. (Remember that?) The neighborhood was a bit sparse – a mixture of new buildings, empty lots and old structures with new tenants. It really looked like a community primed for development. The restaurant was on the corner. It had large windows overlooking the empty lot across the street. It was small with a 10 or 12 seat bar in the front and then two dining areas off to either side. They weren’t particularly busy and the staff greeted me immediately as I walked in with smiles. I had called in my order but it still needed a minute or two to finish up, so I meandered about the bar patiently waiting. The place had a nice vibe to it. It was kind of quiet now but if it were filled with more people, you could see it would be a fun place. They had a big tequila menu. I thought about trying a margarita, but I just wanted to go home and as I was thinking about that, they brought my food out in bags and I was good to go.

I had a bit of a ride from hell on the way home from there. I came home through Fall River and into Tiverton navigating the narrow streets of the River. The worse part about driving through Fall River is that people seem to always dart out of the side streets so you have to be on full alert. There’s always construction too. It’s a bit of a free for all. On top of that, it started pouring torrentially. Buckets. That didn’t make it any easier, plus my car was in that weird state when the windows fog up and you need to turn the defrost but it’s too hot and you can’t open the windows. That’s my personal hell. Plus, I decided to put on NPR which was recapping the events of the past week and that was making my blood boil. I came home in a gruff mood. It had stopped raining but now it was super-humid. My hands were full between the takeout bags and my bag from work. I made my way towards the door and then I realized my keys for the door were inside the front pockets I couldn’t reach because my hands were full. Grrr! Then the door opened and it was Lola. My Lola. That’s when my ship righted itself – just seeing her smile. I was home for Fajita Friday.

I set out the food as best I could. Fajitas are always difficult for take-out because you don’t get the sizzling platter, so it looks different. It looks like a pile of meat with some stuff on the side. That’s essentially what a fajita is at its basic level. I took ours out and piled them onto plates and set us up in the family room in Fajita Friday style. You need space for Fajita Friday so we cleared off the top of the chest that sits in front of our couch as a table, spread out multiple placemats and then laid out the buffet. I had also whipped up some chipotle sour cream to go along with everything – that’s a Lola favorite. It looked different than what we were used too but that’s to be expected.

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I’ll tell you what, the fajitas surprised me. They weren’t the fajitas that I had known for 19 years (that’s what I have to use as a benchmark), but they were still good. The meat (we had chicken and beef) had a really good taste to them and I think it was the marinade. They were nice and juicy. The biggest surprise was the taste of the peppers. Normally I would leave the peppers of a fajita alone, but these were packed with good tang. I think they were cooked for a good long time so they were tender and they simmered in the same marinade as the fajitas so they had a lot of flavor. It surprised us both. The beans were decent as was the rice – both oddly familiar and different at the same time. The fixings were as they should be – plenty of lettuce (perhaps too much), some fresh sour cream and some pico de gallo too. The guacamole was ok as well, although I still prefer my own guacamole. It was a great surprise. Fajita Friday was back on and Lola and I were enjoying it all.

Fajitas may have an interesting history and representative of a time of cowboys and moving steers across the land, but to me, they are comfort food. I am glad they are on so many menus because they are a feats to be had. It’s like having your own taco night, just for yourself. To me however, I will always think of those fajitas we enjoyed together in our old apartment. Simpler times with lots of flavor. That’s what you can say about fajitas too. They may not be trendy now, but they still bring home the sizzle.

Next up: National Soft Ice Cream Day 

Day 382 – National Vanilla Custard Day

It was a Thursday night and was going to Trader Joe’s in search of vanilla custard. I wasn’t exactly sure if they would have vanilla custard although I had done a search on their website and it showed me that they had two products which used vanilla custard. One was Chocolate Eclairs. I knew what those were all about. The other was something called Cannelés de Bordeaux. They looked like little custard filled croquettes. I had never heard of them but it gave me hope that I’d find something custardy at Trader Joe’s. Ideally I would find a tub of custard there and that would be all I needed.  I wasn’t much in the mood for going on a big hunt for custard today, nor did I want to make anything on this particular day. For me, it was Trader Joe’s or bust.

I was going to Trader Joe’s because I had to return some underwear to a store that is right next to Trader Joe’s called the Duluth Trading Company. I discovered this company online a few years ago and I have always liked their products. One year, I ordered Lola some rain boots and overalls from them so she could have some clothes for gardening. It was good quality and I liked their company culture. Lola was pleased with my selections too. (Whew!) Since then, they send us catalogs every other day. It’s a bit much but every time I peek through them, there’s always something neat in there. Lola has bought me some undershirts from there and some underwear too and I really like the quality of their clothing. Earlier this year, they opened a brick and mortar store in Warwick in the same plaza as Trader Joe’s. As far as I know, it’s their only store in the area. I have been meaning to go in there but never seem to have the time. On my birthday, Lola ordered me some new underwear from the catalog, but she got the wrong size so I had to return them. This gave me the opportunity to take them right to the store and browse around. Then, like everyone else, go next door and search for custard.

The store was just as I expected. Some great stuff. It’s well organized, clean and plenty of people there to help you (maybe too many). There’s all kinds of clothes built rugged for durable use. And fashionable too. They had one of the largest underwear sections I have ever seen at a clothing store. Underwear is one of their specialties. I handed in the ones I was returning and they told me to go get the ones I wanted. That’s when I noticed how big the underwear section was. There had your usual offerings of boxers, briefs and boxer-briefs, but then they went into other qualities. Cooling underwear, extra-long underwear, performance underwear, corralling underwear. I was out of my league. I ended up getting the long boxer-briefs. I just felt like having them a bit longer might be comforting. I took them up to the counter, made my exchange and then watched the clerk push the three pairs I bought into the smallest bag in the store. It was strange to watch. Clearly this company does not care about paper waste (they send out catalogs every other day) but yet they were jamming my new purchases into a bag meant to hold maybe a toddler’s thong. I grabbed the overstuffed bag, tossed it in the car and went onward to Trader Joe’s.

There were no jars of custard in Trader Joe’s. I wasn’t really expecting that, but I had to look. I did however find their custard items in the frozen pastry section. They had the eclairs and the Cannelés de Bordeaux. I’ve had eclairs before. I’ve even had them on this quest. I decided to go with something new so I bought the Cannelés de Bordeaux. They came in a small box, four to a package. I added them to my cart, made my other purchases and then took the trek home with my Trader Joe spoils in the trunk. I kept the Cannelés in the fridge to thaw while we ate dinner, but then when it was time for dessert, I put them on a couple of plates. They looked intriguing.

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A custard is simply cream or milk that’s been thickened with eggs and heated. There’s different ways for it to come out depending on what you want to make. Custards range from being a thin pouring sauce (crème anglaise) to a thick pastry cream (crème pâtissière). The custard for these bad boys was baked right into the pastry so it kind of became one with the pastry (and it didn’t squish out the side like it would in the eclair). According to Trader Joe, their Cannelés are made in the tradition of pastries first created in the city of Bordeaux and baked in molds to give them the mini-bundt cake look. The molds are coated in butter to help caramelize the outside while the inside has a nice velvety, custard-like texture and a pronounced vanilla flavor. They looked impressive and tasted impressive too, although there was something slightly off. They had a chewiness to them that made you realize you were eating a boxed dessert. Lola described them best, as she tends to do, by saying, and I quote, “It’s like if somebody put a condom on a pound cake.” I’m not sure if I can add anything to that.

I tried my underwear on too. They’re not kidding about the long part! The bottom part of the boxers actually touch the top of my kneecap. My loins feel all protected now. Is this normal? Is this the new trend? When I wear my cutoff shorts, do I tuck the underwear up or let them hang low like a modern day grunge look? Have I been scammed? Can I return gently used underwear?

This post ended up going in a few directions I wasn’t quite expecting. For example, I never thought I would talk about my underwear. I guess that’s a testament to the versatility of custard. It can come many different ways and you never know where it will take you. Yeah, I know. That’s a stretch. In fact, today’s celebration was a little bit of a stretch. But at the end of the day, I was happily chewing on a special French dessert from my pals at Trader Joe’s that was filled with custard and that’s what today was about. I did it, and I even came out of it with all new underwear (that hangs over my knee).

Next up: National Fajita Day 

Day 381 – National Rum Day

Yo, ho, ho. Admittedly two things are happening here. One, I’m falling behind on my posts again. I’m not sure what’s happening. I think that I just needed a break from it all. I’m still celebrating and in fact, as I write this I’ve already celebrated Day 387 of the quest. I just have to catch up on the blog side. My goal is to catch up and then get back to more timely and frequent posts. So bear with me, please. The second thing that’s happening is that my celebrations are becoming a little less extravagant. Not that they were ever over the top, but over the past month there have definitely been a few days I’ve gone a bit easy. Today was one of those days. Last year on this day, we celebrated National Rum Day at a place called the Tipsy Seagull in Fall River – a bar located on a floating dock in the Mount Hope Bay. It was (is) also National Rollercoaster Day too so prior to the rum we had gone to Edaville Family Park and road the kiddie rollercoaster. That was a bit of a day. But today, not so much.

Today was kind of a day you could say I phoned in. I didn’t go out of my way at all, I just used what I had at my disposal. I suppose that’s a good use of resources but it just made me feel like I wasn’t going crazy. There was a moment today when I wondered if Lola wanted to go out for a drink – to recreate our Tipsy Seagull night. But as often happens on hot summer nights, once I get home, my desire to go back out starts to wane. You have to worry about where to go, what to wear. You have to get ready. You want to get out of your work clothes but don’t want to get all fancied up again. It becomes a hassle. I’d say the window of time in which I can get home and then turn back around to go back out is about a half-hour. If it exceeds that time frame, then the cons of leaving the house start to outweigh the pros and the pendulum of momentum switches. Not that staying home is a bad thing.

As you should always do on National Rum Day, I grabbed the rum. I have a bottle of Bacardi that we’ve been working on over the last year thanks to the demands of this quest. Then I thought about what to make with it. Generally speaking, rum is probably my fifth preferred liqueur after gin, tequila, vodka and whiskey. Top five seems impressive, but in actuality, that’s pretty far down the list. I have just never been a fan. Even in those days when you are young and guzzling the easy, quick drinks, I never opted for rum. Rum and coke? No thanks, I’ll go for the gin and tonic. I think rum is too sweet for me. It’s distilled from the byproducts of sugar cane, so there is a natural sweetness to it. Plus, it’s always found in sweet drinks like punches and daiquiris. I am not a fan of those Asian restaurant punches – you know the ones with the fun glasses and scary names like scorpion bowls, zombies and head hunters. No thanks. Today however, because I was having a rum drink, I had to consider them as options. My preference would have been to have a mojito. That’s the first rum drink that I ever really liked, and I still really like mojitos. But I was fresh out of mint and didn’t feel like going to the store to get some. You need lots of fresh mint for a good mojito. I considered making a piña colada or strawberry daiquiri, but those were too much of a hassle to make and I’m not really a big fan of frozen drinks. I had the ingredients but I just couldn’t get excited for either of those and I didn’t want to have to clean out the blender. Then I saw I had the fixings for a margarita in-house. Those I know I like. I decided to make a margarita with rum instead of tequila. I don’t know if that’s legal and if someone suggested that to me a few years ago, I would be outraged at the mere thought of such a bastardization. But today as I was thirsty and looking for a refreshing drink to make, it seemed right.

I made a cranberry margarita mainly because we had cranberry juice on hand. I poured in the rum and added some triple sec. I topped that off with a combination of margarita mix and some cranberry juice, then gave it a really good shake. It came out with a delightful pink hue in color. It actually looked like something I wanted to drink.

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It frothed up nicely which is always a sign that it will be a good margarita (even if it’s made with rum). I don’t mean to brag, but this drink was fantastic. It had a bunch of good flavors that just came together in a delicious way. The rum added sweetness to the mix, the margarita mix added some sourness and the cranberry juice added the tartness. Together, it was just smooth and refreshing. The rum flavor came through, more so than I thought it would, but not in a bad way. It was boozy enough but not too boozy. Maybe it was because I was thirsty or maybe the perfect froth had won me over, but no matter the reason, I really liked this drink and it was a great celebration of rum.

Rum was the drink of choice for early American colonists, so it has a long history here in the states. The Colonists enjoyed rum so much that they consumed 3.7 gallons of it a year per person. I don’t even drink that much milk in a year. Eventually the liquor of the Americas would turn to whiskey which was easier to produce with the abundance of wheat across the continent, but the Republic was built upon rum. In fact, Rhode Island, Newport specifically, got rich off of rum and well, that’s where the tale starts to get a little dark. Apparently Rhode Island was part of the triangular trade between the States, the Caribbean and Africa. Sugar or molasses would be traded from the Caribbean to New England where it was distilled into rum. The profits from the sale of sugar were used to purchase manufactured goods, which were then shipped to West Africa, where they were bartered for slaves. The slaves were then brought back to the Caribbean to be sold to sugar planters. The profits from the sale of the slaves were then used to buy more sugar, which was shipped to New England, restarting the cycle. I never knew this. Maybe I am just ignorant of our history but it really surprised me, especially that Rhode Island was in the midst of it all. It just seemed that discovering this fact a few days after a woman was killed protesting against white supremacists in Virginia seemed relevant. It was a stark reminder about how deep the issues of race and color are intertwined into our society. Knowing that slaves were traded for rum made drinking a festive drink with fancy garnishes and frothy tops seem not quite so festive. I suppose that’s the purpose for looking back at history: to learn what we did wrong and try to be better. Naturally I was questioning if this administration was really trying to be better. Are we any better than the traders who made their fortunes selling rum on the backs of the slave trade? Who knows, but I hope we are. I didn’t mean to get political here, but sometimes that’s how the drink gets poured.

Rum is a festive drink. It’s closely associated with the Caribbean now and all those who go on tropical vacations think about sipping exotic drinks that take rum to new heights. It’s the perfect liquor in the age of Instagram because it seems every rum drink has a certain photographic element to it. The blended fruit. The flowery garnish. The churned mint inside the glass. Rum makes a beautiful drink, plus a tasty one too. It’s allure goes back centuries to pirates and sailors. It seems like every bottle of rum has a story of celebration. But today I learned that there’s a dark story in those bottles too. I guess the lesson learned today was that it’s still ok to toast to rum in complete bacchanalian revelry, just never forget the story of those upon which the legend was forged. We’re better than that now, or we can be.

Next up: National Vanilla Custard Day 

 

 

 

 

Day 380 – National Lemon Meringue Pie Day

Last year on this day, I baked my own pie. I guess I was really gung-ho when I started out on this journey last year and baking a pie was no big whoop. I also had time on my hand – something that being unemployed will give you. However this year, as a gainfully employed individual, I didn’t have a lot of time. I remembered the pie from last year. I was excited to have made a meringue. It came out pretty good too. However there was something about it all that just didn’t WOW me. It was good. I like lemon in pies or cakes. It’s surprisingly refreshing. I was looking forward to it. I think the meringue had a texture issue for me – I wanted it to be crispy. It was only half crispy. Overall my impression was it was just ok. That wasn’t very motivating for me in regards to me making another one today. I opted instead to go to Gregg’s. They have lots of great desserts and pies and after a quick look at their product line, they had Lemon Meringue Pie too.

According to my pie authority (Wikipedia), people have been enjoying lemon flavored pies, cakes and custards since Medieval times. For example, Sansa Stark was rumored to enjoy a nice lemon cake with her garden tea. On the meringue side, this sweet concoction was eventually perfected in the 17th century. Meringue is simply egg whites beaten with sugar along with an acidic ingredient to help give it rise. Frequently bakers will use Cream of Tartar as this acidic ingredient which I now know comes from the fermentation of grape juice. That’s one of those anecdotal points of trivia I throw out on my tour at the Vineyard some days. The Tartar is what causes little crystals in your bottle of wine if you keep it in the fridge too long. Lemon meringue pie, as it is known today, came about in the 19th-century. The first recipe is often attributed to Alexander Frehse, a Swiss baker with a love of lemon and meringue, but as always, there’s no way to know for sure who invented it. Today it is served wherever pies are sold and that includes Gregg’s restaurants in Warwick, RI.

I went there right after work and went inside to the take-out area as usual. When I asked for two pieces, the clerk paused for a second and said he thought they might be sold out. I screamed, “NO!” as loud as I could and started kicking the display case, but then someone else came out and she said that they did have some available. Crisis averted. They packed it up nicely for me and sent me on my way. I have to give it to them – they know how to package your desserts. Each pie piece came in it’s own square box which allowed for plenty of height on whatever they were wrapping up (if you recall, one of their top sellers is a six layer chocolate cake so the box needs to be able to accommodate that). I felt like I had two neat little presents in my arms when I was leaving. I made my way home and stuck them in the fridge for safe keeping. I busted a piece out later in the night when we were ready for dessert.

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I got to give it the folks at Gregg’s; they know how to stack up the meringue on a pie. It was sky high! It was super fluffy too. The lemon custard in the pie was nice and brightly yellow too in the way you want to see anything lemon. It looked like one of the finest pies you’ll ever eat. Taste-wise, it was just like my pie – it was only ok. I guess I’m not a huge fan of Lemon Meringue Pie. I want to be. It looks great. You see that meringue with the softly browned peaks and it makes you drool. You imagine nice cool lemon curd and you picture how refreshing that can be. But the pie doesn’t deliver. In a perfect world, I would want more crunch to that meringue, almost like a meringue cookie. I’d want the fluffy part of the meringue to be more like sweetened whipped cream so it would blend with the lemon creating the sour/sweet combo. It just comes up short. I just don’t seem to be a fan of this pie. However, because I have no memory, if I see a nice alluring pie like this again piled high with beautiful meringue, I’ll probably grab my fork in anticipation.

When you enter the second year of a quest like this and you start getting duplicates of what you enjoyed last year, you start to learn more about what you like and what you don’t. I still had the highest of hopes for this pie especially when it looked so tempting. However, it didn’t deliver in the taste column. That’s ok. I tried. I gave it my best. I’ve tried my own homemade version now and one from a reputable baker. I’ve given it the benefit of the doubt and I still haven’t been wowed. I’m not done with Lemon Meringue Pie just yet. I’ll still try it when I can. I even feel I gave it a good little celebration today. It showed me how delightful a slice of pie can look and the hope that seeing a piece like that brings to your heart. I joined in tasting a dessert that’s been around since the 19th century and has nearly 200 years of bringing joy to the world. That’s always worth celebrating even if it doesn’t bring the taste I was hoping for. The memory of the pie will always be sweet, although the taste may be a little sour.

Next up: National Rum Day

Day 379 – National Creamsicle Day

Today was another down and dirty celebration however I was surprised at some of the reactions to the Creamsicle. Apparently this frozen treat has a very special place in people’s hearts. I posted a picture of my Creamsicle on Instagram and it scooped up a fair share of likes. My cousin Annie called it “her childhood nirvana.” I never knew the Creamsicle had such a loyal following. To be honest, I never quite cared for them. I liked orange popsicles and I liked vanilla ice cream, I just didn’t need them on the same stick. You learn something new every day, even about products that have been around for a hundred years.

In my perfunctory research, the invention of the Creamsicle is attributed to Frank Epperson. However, I remembered Frank’s story which I recounted back on Grape Popsicle Day. Frank had invented the Popsicle and now I was supposed to believe he invented the Creamsicle too. It’s possible. A Creamsicle is just a bar of vanilla ice cream enclosed within a layer of frozen fruit juice. If you invent the frozen fruit juice, I could see how you could invent a Creamsicle. Who am I to argue with history, although I am wary that I am continuing an internet myth. No matter, the rights to the Popsicle and the Creamsicle now belongs to the Unilever Corporation who have owned the rights since 1989. They also own Good Humor which is why you can get Popsicles and Creamsicles from the Good Humor man, if you can find one.

Lola’s Mom was a big fan of Creamsicles. It was one of her special treats, so when I told Lola that today was National Creamsicle Day, she gave me a big smile filled with happy memories. I didn’t have far to go to acquire them. I just went up the street to Cumberland Farms. There was a box of them in the Freezer section for sale alongside the Fudgsicles and pints of ice cream. The box boasted that they were all orange flavor, as if that was a big selling point. Personally I don’t recognize anything as a Creamsicle unless it’s orange flavored. I know there are other flavors out there, but orange is the one true king of the Creamsicles. The others are usurpers. I bought the box and then came back home. We busted them out later in the night, a welcome respite from an otherwise hot and muggy night.

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I think that as I have gotten older my tastebuds have adapted to enjoying the Creamsicle. I get the hoopla now. It’s the combo of wonderfully creamy vanilla ice cream ensconced inside a tangy orange shell. It’s the joy of a Popsicle with a little addition of creamy flavor. I like it. I never did as a kid and I was always up for anything orange flavored as a kid. I guess it was the ice cream that threw me – the two different textures. I imagine you learn to enjoy contrasting textures more when your palette matures. Maybe I was just in the mood for something sweet and something cold tonight. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the feeling of a popsicle stick in my hand too. It’s a flashback to youth but also an extremely practical way to eat an ice cream treat. Pops Epperson was kind of a genius.

There’s not much more I can really say about the Creamsicle other than I really celebrated it today for what it is: a great treat that has a special place in the nostalgic heart of so many. It’s also a treat that has inspired other tastes too like Orange Julius and the Creamsicle shot (I believe those were served at Boppers in downtown New Haven back in the day). Orange and cream – who would think they’d be good together? But they are. For Lola, they will always have a special place in her heart as they make her think of her mom. She could picture her mom enjoying one in the family room on the couch, nestled in to watch a movie, dressed in her nightgown and robe. She was the type of person that enjoyed simple pleasures like that and as we enjoyed ours, we couldn’t help think of what Gigi taught us about moments like this. It’s the simple joys of life that we need to celebrate and that’s what I am trying to do here. I guess I’m inspired by Gigi, and maybe a little Frank Epperson too.

Next up: National Lemon Meringue Pie Day

Day 378 – National Prosecco Day

Today’s celebration was dedicated to my sister because it seemed as if this day was created just for her. First, it was National Prosecco Day and MB (my sister) was the first person I knew who took a fancy to the Italian bubbly. That started when she was living in England and running around with a crowd that liked to celebrate. She was right at the cusp of the Prosecco craze that took off and by the time she got back to the states, she was way ahead of the curve in terms of being trendy. Even now, she is the person I think of when it comes to Prosecco and if she were coming to a party of ours, I would be sure to have a bottle for her (not that Lola and I are constantly hosting these imaginary parties – I would just know what to serve if we ever had one). The other reason this day was made for my sister is because it was National Left-Handers Day and she was the first leftie I knew. In fact, my brother and I probably picked on her being a southpaw when we were growing up. Her fancy scissors, her sloppy writing, her constant elbowing at the table. This was what I knew about being a lefty and I learned it from watching her. Today was also National Filet Mignon Day and that didn’t really relate to MB although she was currently in Argentina which is a place that is known for having great steakhouses. It seemed like the holiday gods had created a day just for her. Had it also been National M&M Day, then I would have known it really was her day.

I was working all day and I had plans to celebrate with a glass of Prosecco after work. The only problem was I was going to work at 11 and probably wouldn’t get out until after 7. That meant the package stores would be closed by the time I got out. As I left, I asked Lola if she would pick me up a bottle and she agreed. She told me to remind her later in the day and so when I texted her later, she wrote back that she had picked up the bottle but also added in the caveat that she had dropped it. That was a very typical Lola thing to happen and it gave me a smile. She said she couldn’t believe the bottle had not broken but it had not and all was ok. She warned me to be careful when I opened it. I found out later that it fell from a pretty significant height as she was getting out of the car. How did it not break? In any case, I had a bottle of chilled Prosecco waiting for me when I got out of work. When I finally got out of work, I stopped at Clements and picked up some filet mignons too. Might as well end the weekend with a bang.

I enjoy a good filet which is all about the tenderness of the meat. The typical description of a good filet is that it’s so tender you can cut it with a butter knife. However, in regard to flavor, it’s not packing all that much. That’s because it comes from a part of the cow that is really tender and does not have a lot of fat to it. The fat in beef, which you sometimes see as marbling, contains the flavor. The tenderloin should not have any marbling so for flavor, you have to doctor it up a bit. That’s why most filets are served with a sauce or wrapped in bacon – anything to boost the flavor profile. It’s still a great steak and having a filet that is truly cut-with-a-fork tender will change your life. Our favorite filet recipe is from Ina Garten and it has you cook the steak in peppercorns and then top it with a shallot-brandy sauce. That’s what I was going to make but Clements was out of shallots and my sauce plan was foiled. I had to make a quick change of plans in the middle of the store and I decided to peruse the steak seasoning section which hovers around the BBQ sauce section. There I saw a bottle of béarnaise sauce that said it was good for beef. I seem to recall hearing about béarnaise sauce being served with filets, so in the interest of getting home quick, that’s what I bought.

When I got home I fired up the grill. That’s how I was going to cook the filets but also how I was going to cook the corn on the cob that I had in our fridge. Corn takes a little longer to cook so I made sure to get it on the grill as fast as possible. I cooked it in salsa butter which is essentially melted butter mixed with salsa. I would just slather it on the corn as it cooked and add more every time I turned it. Then I got the filets ready. I decided to coat them in cracked pepper and salt which would add some flavor. As they grilled, I heated up the béarnaise sauce on the stove. It came together pretty nicely and I was ready to serve in no time at all. That’s when I popped open the bottle of Prosecco to have alongside the filet. I opened it carefully taking great precaution knowing that the contents had been shaken up when the bottle had dropped to the ground. However, after some finessing, the cork popped out without any extraordinary explosions, so I poured us two glasses. Dinner was ready.


The Prosecco was particularly good tonight. I’m not sure why. I’ve had this brand before and it’s always been ok, but tonight it was better. Maybe I was just thirsty after a long day of work and a long weekend. Maybe it was because it was National Prosecco Day. The first glass went down smoothly, so I poured another. Then maybe another. Tomorrow was a holiday, so why not? As far as the steak goes, it was just ok. The filet itself was great. Nice and tender like it should be, but the seasoning just wasn’t right. The béarnaise sauce was the issue. It’s essentially a sauce of butter and egg yolks with some vinegar. It was not something you should get out of a bottle. Next time, I’ll make my own if I have the time. I just wished I had made the shallot and brandy sauce. That would have been great. It wasn’t the steak’s fault. That was cooked perfectly and nice and tender. I just picked the wrong flavor to make it shine. The corn was awesome though. I used a salsa that I had made from scratch for my salsa butter and that gave it a really fresh taste. It’s always a star on any plate.


My sister texted me a picture from Argentina that day and it was a picture of a steak she was eating in a steakhouse there. She was in awe of the size of the portion. I bet you her steak was fantastic and it probably came with chimichurri sauce on the side. She probably washed it down with a nice glass of Prosecco that she drank with her left hand too. She was celebrating on another continent. Meanwhile, I was on the other side of the world having a similar celebration. Maybe the steak wasn’t as big and the sauce not as fresh. Maybe the drink wasn’t as refreshing because no drink is ever as refreshing as a vacation drink. But it was still a celebration and a way to honor these otherwise unrelated items. Although they were related, at least in my mind, because they reminded me of my sister. Cheers MB! Hope you enjoyed your day in Argentina! We look forward to seeing you back in the states (that’s what the Prosecco sellers are saying).

Next up: National Creamsicle Day

 

Day 377 – National Julienne Fries Day

This one seemed intimidating at first because it was hard to find out exactly what they meant. What exactly is a julienne fry? Well, a julienne cut in cooking is when you cut something into long, thin strips. There are all kinds of special cuts in cooking and each have fancy French names. The julienne. The chiffonade. The batonnet. Those seem to be all part of culinary school 101 and no, I did not go to culinary school nor do I have any formal training. I just have heard the words over the years. So when I considered what a julienne french fry was, I realized that it was essentially a long, thin fry or as we like to call them, a shoestring french fry. Now I knew what I was looking at here. Now it was going to be an easy one to celebrate. I just had to figure out how I was going to celebrate.

I started the day as I do every Saturday: by running a 5K over the Mount Hope Bridge. Ok, so that’s not my typical Saturday. I had signed up for this 5K weeks ago when they first announced it. I had run the Newport (Pell) Bridge last year and I thought it was a cool experience. The Mount Hope Bridge is less than two miles from our door and I figured it would be another fun thing to do. I signed up and then made plans to start getting in 5K shape over the weeks preceding the run. Then everything got busy and I was no longer going out for my morning runs. In fact, I think I went running once over the last month and when I did, I was sucking wind pretty significantly. Suddenly the race was here and I was ill prepared. But I was all signed up so I was in it now and I probably wouldn’t get too many opportunities to run this bridge again. I was going to do it even if I had to crawl to the finish line. I’ve discovered that bridge runners like to get an early start on the day so I had to catch a shuttle bus in Bristol at 6:30 which meant I had to wake up at 5:30 on a Saturday. Luckily Lola had to wake up early too. She was running a 5K in Boston today. Apparently we are a 5K running couple now.

Her run was in support of our friend Matt. That sounds like the race was being held to fundraise for Matt but actually he was hired to be the emcee of the whole event which was called Wanderlust.  It was kind of a big deal. The day started with the 5K, then the participants would come back and participate in a giant group yoga event on the esplanade in Boston followed by some group meditation. Matt would be the host throughout the day and on the microphone guiding people and keeping them entertained. Lola was there to be supportive. That meant she’d be taking part in the 5K and the yoga and all that goodness. However it also meant that I wouldn’t have my cheerleader waiting for me at the end of my 5K. That was ok – I mean I’m glad she went to support Matt – but I was still going to miss her. On the only two other 5Ks that I have run, Lola has been at the finish line cheering me on and each time it has filled my heart with an avalanche of love.

I was on time and ready for the shuttle at 6:30, but it took a long time to get things started at the race. Maybe I was being critical because it was early and I was tired, but it just seemed to take a lot longer than expected to get us off. However, I do understand that closing down a bridge for 15 minutes is no small thing. I waited listening intently to music in my headphones and stretched as best I could. They eventually lined us up on the street and suddenly I was in the midst of a few hundred people waiting for an air horn to blow to start the race. I was in the front of the pack as I have learned before that if you hang back, you get stuck with the walkers where you tend to get confined behind slow-moving groups as you are trying to move forward. Within minutes, I was atop the Mount Hope Bridge looking out into the bay and over at Tiverton and Bristol. I didn’t stop to take a picture as I felt that would cause a chain reaction of crashes, but soaked it all in as best I could. The bridge is about a mile long and I made it across without stopping which was a minor victory. The rest of the 5K looped its way through the Roger Williams Campus. That scenery was less inspiring – dormitories, parking lots, facility buildings. I did have to stop a few times. I was ill-prepared for this run. I suppose I walked about a half mile of the 3.2 miles, but I ran most of it. The race finished at the bottom of a hill that came out at the base of the bridge. There was a finish line with a clock to measure your time (I broke 39 minutes! – and yes, that’s slow), but there was no Lola smile to give me that last boost of adrenaline. I crossed the line, grabbed a water and then walked onto the beach at the end of the road. It wasn’t pretty, but I had done it. I have now run every bridge heading onto Aquidneck Island. I just have to tackle the Jamestown Bridge next.

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I got home around 8:30 and cleaned up. I was scheduled to go to work at 9:30 but luckily I switched shifts with someone so I didn’t have to get there until 11:30. I rested for a bit, ate some breakfast/lunch and then just waited to go in. When I left for work I was a bit achy and tired but still feeling pretty good. Then things got busy. Really busy. It was one of the busiest days I had seen there and from noon to six, I was knee-deep in the weeds pouring wine for thirsty people. It was a cruel joke to be that busy after a 5K. It took us forever to clean up too and I ended up leaving at about 8 pm. I still had a lot of energy which you get from running around, but my legs were starting to stiffen up. I was beat. I texted Lola that I was stopping to get dinner at North End Pizza. That’s all I could muster for today. She had already eaten, so I was on my own. I called in my order and when I did, I remembered it was Julienne Fry Day. I knew North End had shoestring French Fries so that would work out well. I ordered some along with a cheeseburger grinder. To make it a bit more special (at least that’s what I told myself in my very tired and hunger and rationalized thinking), I ordered cheese fries.

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These were friggin’ awesome. I was incredibly hungry and exhausted when I got home and to be able to sit right down and dig into these hot, crispy fries covered in melted American cheese was the dream. Essential to this all was that it was still really hot and the fries still had a nice crispy texture when I dug in. Had they sat around any longer and gotten soggy, they would not have been as good. You never feel great about eating cheese fries but every now and then, after running a 5K and walking almost ten miles at work afterwards, they are the perfect food. Key to it all too was the cut of the fry – the julienne. Had they been thick steak fries, it would not have been as good. The cheese wouldn’t be able to get into as many nooks and crannies as it did with the shoestring fries. This was just what I needed and the julienne fries delivered in every way.

This was a day that I would categorize as out of the norm. From both of us running in different 5K events, to being super busy at work to feasting on French Fries covered in cheese, it was just not a typical day. I am glad I ran the bridge today. Even though it reminded me of how I have not kept up with my running and how hard it was to run the whole thing, I still feel that I accomplished something. The Danny of a year ago would not have been able to run a third of that distance. He’d also never sign up. The Danny of today did sign up and he is one of the few people on the island that know what it’s like to run atop the bridge and to see our hometown from such an unusual angle. Plus, I got to reward myself with French fries covered in cheese at the end of the day. It was indeed a reward to myself. I need to say that so I don’t become a regular orderer of cheese fries – that would have long-term affects on my general health. But every now and again, I say enjoy the finer things in life. And as I discovered today, the finer things are often cut into long thin strips. Vive le julienne!

Next up: National Prosecco Day