Day 419 – National Snack Stick Day

For the first time in my life, I snapped into a Slim Jim today. It wasn’t as eventful as I thought it would be. No wrestlers crashed into the room. No sasquatch appeared. No one even yelled. I just ate it. I bought it at Cumberland Farms. If you are having a Slim Jim, you are obligated (relegated?) to buying it at a convenience store. Then I ate it in my car on the way to work. It crunched when I bit down on it. I guess that’s where the slogan comes from, but I wasn’t expecting that. It was like biting into a hot dog with an extra firm casing. It also had a moistness to it too that I was also not expecting. If I were to name the moistness, I would call it pepperoni juice because it reminded me of the grease that comes off your pepperoni pizza. The Slim Jim wasn’t bad. It was filling and chewy. Meaty, or at least reminiscent of meat. It made my breath stank and I’m pretty sure that odor was oozing out of my pores later in the day, but I had eaten my snack stick. I had celebrated National Snack Stick Day. I had a boost of protein energy all in the convenience of a foot-long thin rod of meat. Oh yeah!


According to Wikipedia, the Slim Jim was invented by Adolph Levis in 1929 in Philadelphia. Levis was a violinist, but his musical career was unsuccessful, as was an attempt at being a tobacconist. He got himself into the spice selling business and as a side gig, he and his brother pickled meat and vegetable products such as pickles, cabbage, and pig’s feet in his garage which they would then sell to Philadelphia taverns. He was quite the Ralph Kramden of his time. In the 1940s, he and a partner, Joseph Cherry, hired a meatpacker to develop a handheld dried meat stick. The snack was originally named Penn Rose (presumably after Pennsylvania and Rose, his wife). Although each meat stick was sold individually, a vendor stored the sticks as a bunch and immersed them in a large jar of vinegar to help preserve them. Eventually the product was sold individually in a sealed cellophane wrapper. The Cherry-Levis Food Company was sold to General Mills in 1967 for $20 million and Levis left the company about a year thereafter. In 2015, worldwide sales for Slim Jims were $575 million. That’s quite the snack industry success story.

Growing up, I was never one to snack on meat and I’m still not. As a kid, there was never any jerky in our house and we never even considered buying its slightly less natural cousin, Slim Jim. Lola introduced me to jerky and it always takes me by surprise that she likes it. These days, sometimes jerky provides her with a nice source of protein without the carbs – no doubt influenced by the paleo teachings of her dad. But if she’s eating jerky, she’s going with the good stuff – organic and grass fed if possible. But she’s no cream puff either. If you put a Slim Jim in her hand, she’s going for it. She’s no stranger to Slim Jims. She will proudly boast about how she used to get them at Cumberland Farms, back when Steve’s Pizza was right next door and a pack of smokes were only $3. She can get a bit nostalgic from time to time. She’ll always be tempted by good jerky but these days, a Slim Jim just doesn’t do it for her. She’s moved beyond the preservatives and separated chicken parts that make up one of these sticks. But still, she is in the know. She has Slim Jimmed with the best of them.

I don’t mean to downplay the importance of snack sticks. They are actually a pretty useful innovation in the world of snacks. They give you a boost of protein that can usually tide you over until your next meal. They are easy to eat and conveniently available, usually right at the cash register of your finer stores of convenience. They might also be the only food source around after the apocalypse – a tribute to their liberal use of preservatives. We should be ready for that. No, snack sticks and Slim Jims aren’t all that bad. They’re a part of our culture and they deserve their day of celebration. Just do us a favor and brush your teeth afterwards.

Next Up: Schwenkfelder Thanksgiving

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Day 418 – National Ice Cream Cone Day

Being the romantic I am, when I saw this day was coming and that it happened to be landing on a Friday, I thought that I could make a plan for Lola and me to go out and grab an ice cream cone together. We could sit on a stone wall or an Adirondack chair and watch the sun set as we enjoyed the final moments of the summer while licking the cool refreshing drops of cream off our cones. It was a picturesque scene. But then Hurricane Irma decided to send rain to New England and my ice cream plans were foiled. This was literally the worst thing that Irma did along her path of destruction – she spoiled my ice cream night. Still, without the help of FEMA or the Red Cross, I persisted. My ice cream cone day was not going to be as quixotic as I wanted, but it would include ice cream cones. When I was leaving work, I texted Lola about all this. It was raining and it wasn’t the best weather for ice cream coning. I gave her the choice about me picking her up and us going to get a cone together or if she didn’t want to come out in the rain, I could just get one for myself on the way home. She opted for the latter. This was a better plan. I could stop anywhere between Warwick and Portsmouth, I’d get the cone out of the way and then I could pick up dinner to bring that home as well.

Looking for ice cream on a rainy day has a different feel to it. It’s not quite as inviting as searching for it when the sun is shining. In fact, it starts to feel like a chore (#firstworldproblems). There are a few spots close to my office that look like fun ice cream places but they are in the opposite direction of my route home and I didn’t feel like backtracking. I started thinking about places around our home that I could go to. There was the Moose Café in Tiverton which is where I went last year, but it’s a bit out of the way. Tiverton has Gray’s Ice Cream too but that is also out of the way. The famous Frosty Freez is also an option, but that’s a few miles south so again, out of the way. Then I had a great idea. I was still thinking about what to have for dinner and I thought about a Thai place that we like over the bridge in Bristol. I could order the Thai and while I was waiting for it, I could go to Gray’s Ice Cream by the water. It’s the same people who run the Gray’s in Tiverton, they just also run a shack on the docks in Bristol. It’s a seasonal place that packs them in during the summer, but eventually they close for the winter. I called to see if they were open, but the number you get is for Gray’s in Tiverton. I asked them if Bristol was open and after a brief moment on hold to check, I was told they were. I then called in the Thai food. I was at the restaurant in a few minutes so I parked the car in a lot by the water and walked along the shoreline on the boardwalk towards Gray’s. It was only misting out now but I was pretty much the only one out by the water. The boardwalk loops around in front of some condos and then opens up by the developed dock area where there is a restaurant, a tent for events and Gray’s. Gray’s was closed. Not a light on in the place and the windows shut. I was lied to and now I was stuck in the misting rain on an empty pier. With a heavy heart, I walked back to the Thai place and picked up our food. I was on my way home after that heading back over the Mount Hope Bridge ironically without any mounting hope of an ice cream cone.

When I came across the bridge, the thought occurred to me that I had one other spot I could check for an ice cream cone: Schultzy’s Snack Shack. Shultzy’s is around the corner from our house down in Island Park. It is located next door to the more famous Flo’s Clam Shack, but Schultzy’s has been making name for themselves and growing their business for the last few years. Nothing fancy – just your usual snack shack kind of food like burgers, hot dogs, shakes, chowder, stuffies and clamcakes. They have ice cream too. I like them. The owner is always really nice, the food is always right on, and they make the building and area look nice. Some times the wait is a little excessive, but that will happen and I find myself willing to wait. I wasn’t sure if they’d be open tonight. They change their hours at the end of summer and eventually close for the winter, but I kind of thought they were still open on the weekends, at least for now. When I pulled down the road, I could see that there was activity and that they were open. My ice cream cone quest was about to be fulfilled.

I parked across the street along the seawall. There was plenty of room in their lot, but I wanted to pick a spot where I could enjoy the cone in my car and this spot allowed me to look out over the beach and water. There were only two cars in the lot and as I made my way to the window, someone got out and started making his way to the window too. The race was on. Luckily, he was old and my cheetah-like moves got me there first. I gave a brief look at the menu and immediately saw what I wanted. They had hand-dipped cones and I feel like I have been talking about these for a while. I am not sure if I ever even had a hand-dipped cone, so it was something I thought I should try. I asked for a small vanilla (soft serve) hand-dipped in chocolate. I paid for it and then waited for my order. That’s when old guy squeezed me out of the window. What is it with old guys who can’t be patient in line for ice cream? Is it a disease? Early onslaught Jerk-inson’s?  When my cone was ready, I had to wait for old guy to take a step to his left to get out the way, then I got my cone and took it across the street. It was a misty night but it still felt good to look out on the river.

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Hand-dipped ice cream is great in theory. It give your soft vanilla ice cream a nice crisp shell on top that you have to bite through to get at. It’s a nice chocolate boost that goes perfect with the creamy vanilla taste of the ice cream. I have no complaints on taste. In reality though, this is a disaster in a wafer cone. The sauce you dip the cone in starts out hot, and I’m not sure if you paid attention in science class but if you dip something cold into something hot, melting starts. Sure the chocolate forms a wall when it solidifies, but as soon as you bite in, the race is on. You have to choke down the ice cream walking the tightrope of a brain freeze all the way. It starts leaking all over your hands and on your clothes. I felt like a rookie cone eater. It was everywhere. I was embarrassed to go home and show up with ice cream all over myself like a hapless five year old. It was awful. I remember hand dipped ice cream cones when we used to go out as a family and my parents and my brother would get them. I’d stick to my chocolate chip while my sister would want vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup she could stir (weirdo).  I don’t know how three people could eat a hand dipped cone in a family car without looking like a crime scene. Again, nothing wrong with the flavor, just a big hot mess to eat.

That was how my Ice Cream Cone Day came to an end: with a belly full of tasty ice cream in a misting storm overlooking the Sakonnet River with a face covered in melted chocolate and ice cream. It wasn’t the National Ice Cream Cone Day I had hoped for. It’s funny how sun affects your enjoyment of ice cream. Sometimes you just need a sunny day. I could have scooped out ice cream from my freezer, but the joy of an ice cream cone is gong to the ice cream shop. It’s the variety. The choice of cones. The enjoyment of eating it right on the spot. A summer ritual that will live on forever. But it’s just not the same in the rain especially on the last days before Fall begins. Maybe it was sign of the changing seasons. At least I know I still celebrated and I have the ice cream on my chin to prove it.

Next up: National Snack Stick Day

Day 417 – National Pecan Cookie Day

Last year on Pecan Cookie Day I made some cookies with pecans. They were Butter Pecan Cookies and they were, oddly enough, full of butter which worked well with the deep flavor of pecans. They came out pretty good and for a brief while, we considered them a standout of cookie greatness. I ended up bringing some to one of our blog followers Jackie which was the first time I started to share some of the abundance from my quest. She liked them too which was a plus. Today however, my celebration was going to be a bit smaller. We still had a whole container of Butterscotch Pudding cookies sitting on our table so we didn’t really need more cookies and I didn’t really feel like baking. I figured I could just buy some cookies at the store.

I gave myself some ground rules for doing this. I was going to go to Stop and Shop at lunch which is just around the corner. There I would march through the bakery section and then the cookie aisle and find the best pecan cookie I could find. I was hoping my search would take me beyond the obvious cookie solution: the pecan sandies. Those are good cookies, but I felt like I just celebrated them. Back on Day 325, it was National Pecan Sandies Day and I ended up buying a box of the Keebler variety and then snuck them into a movie theater where we watched the comedy Rough Night. I felt like I couldn’t do the same thing again, so my search for the pecan cookie had to go beyond the sandie. I discovered that there really isn’t that much pecan variety in the cookie aisle outside of the sandie. I eventually found my answer in the iconic small white bags of cookies from Pepperidge Farm. They had a Chesapeake Cookie which was essentially a chocolate chip cookie made with dark chocolate and chopped pecans. I had found my answer.

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I had one on the way back from Stop and Shop to the office and they were excellent – just what you would expect from Pepperidge Farm. Crunchy but moist, lots of flavor from the “bigger” chocolate chunks and plenty of pecan flavor all the way through. You could see the pecans if you looked closely, but they were mostly ground up. Still, you couldn’t mistake their flavor coming through. The dark chocolate was a good choice too. Sweet chocolate may have been too much with the sweetness of a pecan. It still needed the chocolate to give you that texture contrast, but the slight bitterness of the chip worked well as a whole. A great cookie. I learned the hard way that if you leave a bag of these cookies in your car for the afternoon and then eat one after work, the chocolate will get melty and get all over your face, but that was a small price to pay. Pepperidge Farm cookies never seem to let you down. They are a taste for a more sophisticated palate meaning that they are not a cookie a kid is going to love. But as an adult, you learn to enjoy the subtle flavors with which they are made. They are meant to be enjoyed and they did the trick, even paying great respect to the subtle pleasure of a pecan.

There’s something about pecan cookies that makes Lola and I head to the movies because after work tonight, we went to Swansea to go see a special screening of a movie about noted mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. The movie is called Walk With Me and it was being shown by a local yoga studio. Lola has long held an interest in Thich Nhat Hanh so I have heard about him for years. I was excited to go, thinking it would be an interesting documentary on his life. Turns out it was more a movie about meditation and being mindful. It was interesting, even compelling, but definitely not what I was expecting. It moved very slowly as a simple reminder about clearing your mind. When the credits started rolling I leaned over to Lola and whispered, “Thich Nhat Yawn.” That gave her the church giggles at a very quiet moment in the theater. It really was a good movie for what it was, I was just not ready for such a peaceful, quiet film. I was still waiting for Rough Night.

The pecan is a nut that finds its way into lots of recipes. That’s a tribute to its sweet appeal and versatility. A cookie seems like a natural spot to find a pecan and thanks to the folks at Pepperidge Farm, I was able to get my fix. (No disrespect to Ernie Keebler – he’s been making pecan cookies for years in that tree of his.) I would say a pecan is a cookie enhancer. It can take your cookie and just give it a little boost of sweetness and flavor. That’s a powerful addition to anything your baking. And you never know, it might just bring you to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. I bet you he enjoys a nice pecan cookie every now and then. Maybe that’s why he is walking – to go find a cookie. Namaste!

Next up: National Ice Cream Cone Day

 

Day 416 – National String Cheese Day

If you have been paying attention over here in Holiday Land, you’ll notice that I’ve been cranking out the posts lately. I’m trying to catch up. I’m still celebrating every day and haven’t missed a day yet – I’ve just fallen behind on posting. Today’s post is Day 416 when I’m actually writing it on Day 421. I’m actively trying to catch up, but I still have a few to go. I’ve had a few days of double posts which has helped my cause but I’ve also kept my celebrations a bit simpler over the past few weeks just to keep the game moving. Today for example I had the choice of celebrating National Pepperoni Pizza Day, National Punch Day or National String Cheese Day. I went with the cheese which would be the easiest way to go. Plus I get to eat cheese.

To get ready for the day, I picked up a bag of string cheese at the grocery store. This is a section of the dairy aisle that I don’t usually spend a lot of time in. I usually skim the bags of shredded cheese but stop when it turns into the section for snack cheese. I was never one to snack on cheese, at least by choice. If cheese was presented to me, I’d surely and gladly snack on it. But I’m never reaching for it, especially in stick form. I missed the whole string cheese as a snack party. That was another phenomenon that happened after my time. The string cheese marketed as snack foods came in the eighties and I had already aged out of that demographic. I was snacking on more adult things by that time, like Bugles.  So, I didn’t grow up with the comfort of reaching in the cheese drawer for a stick of cheese. That’s what I did today. I actually grabbed one for my ride to work and got to snacking on my way in.

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The history of string cheese is not definitive but many attribute its creation to the Baker Cheese company in Wisconsin. The story begins after World War II when soldiers came home from being stationed in Italy where they learned to appreciate bread topped with tomato sauce and cheese. To create this at home, they had to recreate mozzarella cheese which was traditionally made in Italy from the milk of a buffalo. (Did you know this? I just discovered this factoid last week. How does one milk a buffalo?) Buffalo being scarce in Wisconsin, dairy farmers there started to make the cheese with milk from a cow (like civilized people) and with that, the pizza boom in the United States was able to kick off and keep running. People started to like the taste of this new cheese, so the folks at Baker Cheese started to think of ways to make it in smaller packages so people could enjoy it as a snack at home. Frank Baker started to experiment. Mozzarella is molded into shape from a continuous flow of cheese that is then shaped into a block or square. Frank decided to cut off strips from that continuous flow and hand stretch them. He would then roll them up and cut them into ropes, and then into little three, four, five inch pieces and then soak them in a salt brine which gave the cheese ‘stringing’ characteristics. Eventually he figured out that wrapping them in vacuum packaging would help preserve them and allow for easy travel. This was in 1976, although the marketing efforts took some time to take off. Once Big Cheese came in, American lunch boxes began to be loaded with these little sticks of protein, perfect for the on-the-go snacker.*

I started liking string cheese when I was making my commute to New Hampshire. I needed snacks for my ride because I’d be starving and I had been making some bad choices. I tried to make some better choices so I’d start packing a cheese snack along with some fruit. It was a nice break from the crap you would get at gas station convenience stores. Even when I didn’t pack snacks, if I stopped at a gas station for snacks, I would seek out the cheese. I didn’t know this but most convenience stores have string cheese available by the unit. Perfect for on the go. You have to seek them out – but they are there in the refrigerator. You’d be surprised what you find in convenience stores. Part of the joy of a cheese snack is being able to enjoy something chilled that has some resemblance of real food. I know it’s not exactly healthy, but when you are eating one, you feel like you are making a good choice. You’re not loading up on carbs or sugar – you’re eating something chockablock full of good American cow milk. It’s a small step in the right direction.

I had that feeling today as I was munching on my string cheese going across the Sakonnet Bridge. I felt like I was starting my day right. I gave myself a snack that all those good moms would give their kids as part of a balanced 80’s diet. It was good too. I’d say it filled me up but I kind of wanted another one, but that’s how cheese always makes me feel. Still, there I was in my car, singing along to the morning radio, an empty cheese wrapper on the floor and my body filled with all the energy a good snack can deliver. That’s what I would call an ample celebration of National String Cheese Day. I may be late to the party, but I’m here to stay. I may even milk the buffalo.

Next Up: National Pecan Cookie Day

*Resource: The Atlantic

 

Day 415 – National Butterscotch Pudding Day

More pudding!?! For a dessert that seems a bit old fashioned, pudding sure likes to celebrate itself with National Days. Maybe they need the attention so they are not lost in the shuffle of new-fangled desserts out in the market today. Each National Pudding Day is a shout out to whence we came. As for me though, I was sick of pudding. I have never been one with the first spoon into the pudding pot and now, because of this quest, I seem to have to slurp it down every few weeks. Truth be told, I kind of like it now but there’s only so many ways to celebrate it, especially when it’s butterscotch. I thought back to last year and making a bowl of it then. It was sweet and buttery, as you would expect butterscotch to be. But it didn’t look great. In fact, Lola said it looked like “caca”. I can’t say I was all that interested in revisiting this concoction again. I decided to see what else I could make with butterscotch pudding. As usual, the answer was cookies.

I found a recipe for Butterscotch Pudding Triple Chip Cookies on a blog called Two Peas and Their Pod. It used butterscotch pudding in the mix and also butterscotch morsels (along with white and chocolate morsels). The last cookies I made with pudding in the mix were fantastic so I figured this would be a great way to celebrate butterscotch pudding. I picked some up at the grocery story along with all my other supplies and I got to baking. I was only going to use two types of chips – chocolate and butterscotch. I figured that was enough. The cookies were really simple to make and came together in minutes. They looked a little underdone when I took them out of the oven, but I kept them on the sheet pan for some time afterwards and they started to look better. I was pretty happy in the end.

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I can now say that anytime you add pudding to a cookie recipe your end product is going to be fantastic. These were great cookies. They were firm enough to stay together as a cookie and have a bit of crunch on the outside but the inside was soft and moist – the pudding at work. The chips were abundant in every bite and the mixture of the butterscotch and chocolate chips made for a nice balance with the super sweet butterscotch being slightly tamed by the semisweet chocolate. It was really a fine cookie and I was so much happier eating these than another bowl of pudding.

A quick confession: when I was making these, I bought the first box of Jell-O Butterscotch Pudding I could find. It was actually the sugar free kind. When I started making the cookies, I realized the recipe called for a 3.4 oz box of pudding – your standard pudding box size. However, the sugar free variety comes in a 1 oz box. This was my dilemma. In baking, does the sugar free box amount equal the same as the regular box? Did I need to add three boxes of sugar free pudding or would that ruin everything? Can you bake with the sugar free pudding? I tried to search online for answers and I never got a clear one other than most people prefer the regular pudding when baking. I didn’t want to ruin the cookies, so I aired on the side of caution. I made them with a box of regular vanilla pudding that I happened to have in our cupboard (as I’m sure everyone does). I had to do it and in fact, I think I saved the cookies. But I’m feeling a bit guilty for not having used butterscotch pudding. However, I think I still celebrated the spirit of the day, I just took some short cuts to get there.

Pudding is that dessert that’s always there. It was one of the first foods we eat as kids. It’s in the lunch line at school. It’s a permanent fixture in the dessert aisle and it will be the food they spoon feed us in our elder years. I guess it deserves celebration in any form. Butterscotch pudding is a particularly sweet variety that brings in that rich, caramel-like flavor. Deep sweetness in every bite. I may not have opted for a bowl of that today, but I was able to use it (in theory) to make a really great cookie. That was my lesson today – that even in the things that have been around since our halcyon days of youth, there’s always a new way to enjoy it. You just have to look a little deeper. Who knows, you might just even find yourself a fantastic cookie. Just don’t go sugar free.

Next up: National String Cheese Day 

Day 414 – National Cheeseburger Day

Today was Monday and it was National Cheeseburger Day. But if you’ve been paying attention, you would have realized that Friday was also National Double Cheeseburger Day.  I wish I could figure out who puts these holidays together. It’s obviously done by someone with no regard for timing or seasonality. Even putting Double Cheeseburger Day before regular Cheeseburger Day is just weird, like putting the beans before the franks. Still, I’m just following along. I don’t pick the days – I just  celebrate them. Being a Monday, it was another start to a long work week. I was going to go to a burger establishment today for lunch and celebrate that way – either Johnny Rockets or Wendy’s – but then we were lucky enough to have lunch brought in for us today. There were wraps of Roast Beef, Turkey or Ham from the Smoke House. I had the Roast Beef which was very tasty, but decidedly not a cheeseburger. Since I didn’t get my burger on for lunch, I’d have to have one for dinner now. That was going to be a bit of an issue.

Tonight Lola had an appointment in Providence that I was going to take her to. It was a test to make sure everything was ok with her which seemed like a prudent thing to check in light of her family history. Everything turned out to be ok which was good news, but the test was at 7 pm which kind of changed my dinner plans. I wanted to make sure Lola had something to eat before we went there, so because we had a ton of leftover wraps at the office, I took one home to her for dinner and she was able to enjoy this on the ride to Providence. That worked out perfectly but it still left me burger-less. I was thinking of all this on my ride home from work and then I had an epiphany about the answer. I recalled seeing a box of frozen White Castle burgers in the freezer section at Cumberland Farms. I could grab these, toss them in the microwave, and I would have my cheeseburger fix. It wasn’t all that glamorous of a solution, but it would work. So that’s what I bought making a quick stop on my way home and then I heated them up later at night when we got home from the appointment.

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There are no White Castles in Rhode Island. That’s more of A New York thing. If you have never heard of White Castle, your intestines are probably grateful. But, you might be interested to know that they are famous for their little burgers. They bill themselves as the home of the original slider and that is actually a great contribution to the culinary world. The stories you hear about White Castle is that you would go there and buy a dozen or so of these little burgers and gobble them up. I’ve never actually been to one myself but the story goes that my Mom craved these burgers when she was pregnant. I could understand that at some level because she is an onion fan and these burgers are steamed with onions. That’s basically what they are: small burgers topped with cheese and onions. None of that other stuff – just the basics. But that’s the niche White Castle found and it has served them well for over fifty years. I’m sure their entry into the frozen foods market has helped their sales tremendously. Now even a Rhode Islander can get an appreciation for these little burgers and they don’t have to look any further than the freezer section at Cumberland Farms. They actually heat up nicely too. The bun gets a little soft, as buns do in microwaves, but the burger gets nice and hot and the cheese melty. I was actually surprised at how much I liked these. They were quick to make, quick to eat and hit the spot. Convenience – I guess that’s what it’s all about it.

If you’re keeping track, that brings my cheeseburger total in the last four days to six. See what the holiday gods are doing to me? That’s just a lot of beef (and not to mention my roast beef wrap was in there too). Cheeseburgers definitely deserve celebration as an iconic part of the American food scene so no matter how often I’m told to celebrate them, I likely will. It’s a simple pleasure. Having a White Castle today was a nice surprise. There was something about thinking about my Mom craving them back in those days when her and my Dad were just figuring out what it was like to be parents and to have kids on the way. I can almost picture my Dad walking down the street with a White Castle bag in his hand trying to keep his pregnant wife happy. That’s what a White Castle is to me. That seemed like a pretty nice way to celebrate a Cheeseburger today. It’s the little things in life that keep you happy, like memories and of course, sliders.

Next up: National Butterscotch Pudding Day

Day 413 – National Monte Cristo Day

Like most households, Sundays at our house start off nice and slow. We wake up, we have our coffee, we play on our computers or iPads and just enjoy a little extra time to rest. There’s a peacefulness to it. Throughout the summer, I have been working on Sundays although I don’t have to go in until 11, so it still leaves us the morning. Sometimes we just chill on our own but other times we sit together and chat because we haven’t had much time to do so during the week. Today was a day where I happened to wake up early (in the 6 am area) so I had a little more morning time before I headed into work. I was in my office working on my blog and also looking ahead to what today’s holiday was going to be. I had two choices for celebration: it was National Apple Dumpling Day and it was National Monte Cristo Day. I looked back at what I did last year and I made Apple Dumplings that I remembered being really good (they were made with Mountain Dew). Later that night, we were going to go to Becky’s house to celebrate Molly’s birthday and I thought dumplings might be a nice thing to bring. It was really easy to make too. I decided to go ask Lola for help and to see if I were to go out and get all the ingredients to make, if she would throw it together for the party while I was at work. I would actually put it together before I left, and all she would have to do is bake it. My backup plan, if that was not going to work, was to go get a Monte Cristo before work. So I went out to the family room to talk to Lola and we ended up chatting like we do on Sunday morning. Then we kept talking, and talking. We were catching up on everything and the last things on my mind were baking or grocery shopping. Soon it was time for me to get ready for work and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the stuff for the apple dumpling. My choice had been made for me; Monte Cristo it would be. I left the house about ten minutes early and called in an order to our local breakfast spot for a Monte Cristo to go.

If you don’t know, a Monte Cristo is a sandwich that uses French Toast as the bread. Inside the egg-battered and fried bread, you will find a grilled ham and cheese, typically made with Swiss cheese. Sometimes there is turkey in there too. The sandwich gets served with some syrup or jelly and is often sprinkled in confectionary sugar. That gives you a little more sweetness with your sweet and savory sandwich. It’s a great sandwich. Most food historians generally agree that the Monte Cristo is a variation of a French dish called Croque Monsieur – that’s the O.G. grilled cheese sandwich which consisted of Gruyere cheese and ham between two slices of crust-less bread, fried in clarified butter.  The Croque Monsieur was originally served in 1910 in a Paris cafe and that’s where we usually put the beginning of the Monte Cristo sandwich.* The restaurant chain Bennigan’s is usually credited with bringing their version to the masses, although they deep fry their version. Once it got popular, it became easily findable and nowadays it is on the menu at most breakfast spots. I was ordering mine from Foodworks which is a local breakfast and lunch spot that is located in between my house and the Vineyard. The plan was to call it in, have it ready for easy pick up and then scarf it down on my drive. I called just as I got out of the shower. The person on the phone said it wasn’t on their menu, but said she she would ask the cook if he could make one. She did, which was nice, and he could, so I was in business. The plan was in motion.

Leaving just ten minutes early to get this done was poor planning on my part, even in the best of circumstances. In reality, it just takes longer than that to pick up something. When I got there, Foodworks was busy because it was Sunday morning and they’re a busy place on Sunday morning. The staff there was super friendly and there were three or four waitresses behind the counter when I walked in all ready to help me. I said I called in an order for a Monte Cristo and they all kind of looked at me funny knowing that they did not serve a Monte Cristo. But then the person who took the call clarified things and they hollered back at the cook to see if it was ready and he said it would be another minute. It took them a moment or two to figure out how to ring the sandwich in, but once they worked the kins out, I paid up and now just had to wait for the sandwich to be done. It didn’t take long especially seeing how busy they were. However, when you are running late for work, it seems like every second is a little longer than normal. Plus there was no place to ideally wait for a to-go order (nor should there be), but not knowing where I should stand increased my waiting anxiety. Eventually it was ready and they handed it to me in a styrofoam box. I thanked the waitresses and tried to say thanks to the cook who was staring at the tickets hanging in front of him. I got back in my car, opened the box to see what I had. Now I had to eat it all and get to work in about five minutes.

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For a place that doesn’t have a Monte Cristo on their menu, they did a great job. The bread was nice and hot and the cinnamon gave it that sweet and savory taste that you want on your French Toast. The ham was perfectly grilled and super hot and the cheese was nicely melted. There was no turkey on the sandwich but there was a fried egg which was unexpected but a nice touch. The whole thing was piping hot and steam was still smoking off the top. It was hard to eat because it was so hot especially as I was driving down East Main Road, but I’m no stranger to eating while driving, so I was able to figure out the way. My first bite resulted in a long string of cheese going from my chin to the box and suddenly it was all over the car. I scrambled to find some back up napkins. When it cooled down a little more, it was easier to eat and I ended up woofing down the last bites as I took the turn into the Vineyard parking lot. I was a bit late for work, but it was worth it (and no one really seemed to notice). I will say that I wish I took the time to really enjoy this sandwich because it was well made (and the home fries were great too). It would have been perfect to have eaten in a booth at Foodworks along with some coffee, some Lola talk and some kind service. But somedays, you have to eat on the run. This would be my sustenance for the day so I’m glad I opted to start my day this way. It would keep my belly full for hours.

I’m glad I went with the Monte Cristo. It really is one of my favorite sandwiches although I don’t often order it. It’s a sandwich that makes you happy. It give you the sweetness of breakfast with the savoriness of lunch. I was appreciative of the kindness of Foodworks too who solved my dilemma without any hassles. They just said yes. That’s what they mean when they say the customer is always right. It’s not an edict that gives the customer the right to argue about prices, or rules or just be a dick. It’s about the business doing what they can reasonably do to make the customer happy. Foodworks did that for me today for sure. And even though I had strings of Swiss cheese in my beard for the rest of the day and I smelled like cinnamon, it gave me the joy I needed to make it through a long day. I’d rather have spent the day with Lola, but when that wasn’t possible, giving myself the treat of a Monte Cristo was a nice little bonus for an otherwise lazy Sunday morning.

Next up: National Cheeseburger Day

*History courtesy of What’s Cooking America 

Day 412 – National Cinnamon Raisin Bread Day

I planned ahead for this one and actually picked up a loaf a cinnamon raisin bread at the grocery store on Friday. It was a loaf of Pepperidge Farm Swirl bread which is their signature line of sweet breads (not sweetbreads – that’s something completely different). It’s a good product as are most Pepperidge Farm products are. When I woke up, after I had my cup of coffee, I threw four pieces in our toaster oven, toasted them up and then spread each piece with a slab of butter, then I cut each piece in half on the diagonal. I served it to Lola and then had some myself. I ate mine in my office in front of my computer. Lola had hers in the family room while reading on her iPad. A pretty chill Saturday morning and the smell of toasted cinnamon in the air added to the ambiance. The toast was good. Hardy, a touch of sweetness, good cinnamon flavor and the added joy of warm, plump raisins.  It was a nice way to start the day.

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Lola told me that cinnamon raisin bread is one of her favorites. I didn’t know that. I knew it was a treat her mom would make for herself, probably as a late breakfast with her coffee while sitting at the kitchen table. But Lola likes it too and very likely for the same reasons. It’s a simple little treat. All you have to do is pop it in the toaster. It brings you warmth in both aroma and in taste. It’s a nice sweet start to your day or even a special treat to have alongside your afternoon coffee or tea. It’s homey. Like a fire in the fireplace, a Christmas song on the radio or even the sounds of rain on the windows. Lola’s mom was one who appreciated those kind of little things, and so is Lola. Sometimes I feel bad that when I buy a loaf of something or a whole bag just to be able to fulfill my quest that the rest of it will go to waste. I don’t have to worry about this one. This is one that Lola will work her way through with her afternoon tea or coffee. She’ll need a little break in her day and, as it was for her mom, cinnamon raisin bread will be there for her.

I thought I might be able to buy some fresh made cinnamon raisin bread for toady. I looked around Clements in their bakery section to see if they had a loaf there but I didn’t see one. They had cinnamon raisin bagels, but I wasn’t sure if that would count – those of you keeping the rules on this quest of mine can discuss. My other hope was that they might have some at the Farmer’s Market. The local market is in the field next to the Vineyard every Saturday and there is a bakery there from whom I usually buy my lunch. They are called Olgas Cup and Saucer and they have a great line of products including beautiful looking breads, tarts, scones and muffins as well as a very good breakfast calzone (my usual lunch choice). I thought they might have a nice fresh loaf of cinnamon bread for sale and I could buy it on my lunch break and then stow it away for after work.  But, I ended up bringing my lunch today and never had the chance to make it out into the market. I’ll check next week because I’m sure Lola would enjoy having a nice fresh loaf in the house.

Cinnamon was introduced to Europe in the 15th century and that’s likely the time that bakers started sprinkling it into bread. The raisins were probably just thrown in for giggles. Can you imagine how good those loaves must have smelled to your run of the mill 15th century person whose nose was probably used to smells of plagues, rotten mutton and dysentery? It would probably create a commotion, perhaps even fights, as people would be driven into a frenzy at the alluring aroma exiting from the ovens. Today we are no stranger to the smell of baking cinnamon and we may even be unfazed by that kind of goodness in the air. But amongst are those folks who know how to appreciate the little things in life. The stop and smell the roses people. Those souls who enjoy the little victories of every day. That’s what I learned about the joy of cinnamon raisin bread – a simple treat for any day. That’s what I celebrated today – just the way Lola and her mom taught me to appreciate it.

Next up: National Monte Cristo Day

Day 411 – National Double Cheeseburger Day

A day so nice I celebrated it twice. I actually did do this but that wasn’t my intention and in retrospect, that’s a lot of beef for one day. It all started as a late lunch. I was working from home this morning so that I could swing by Newport to see the Boat Show at some point during the day. The Boat Show is a Newport institution where every year, mariners and boat sellers alike descend upon the city to show off and sell their boats, yachts, sails, ropes and nautical wares to enthusiastic buyers. It’s a big deal and has been for almost 50 years. It brings a ton of people into town which is good for the hospitality industry too. My company is behind it all. They organize it and run it, so they thought it would be a good idea for me to check it out to see what it’s all about. My plan was to head in early, around 10 am or so, and then come home and finish up my day there. But then they asked if I could pick up a sign at the local FedEx Office and bring it with me to the show. That was no problem but the sign wasn’t going to be ready until 2 pm or so. That meant I didn’t leave my house until 1:30.

It was a beautiful warm Friday afternoon and as I left, I mentioned briefly to Lola about possibly meeting me out in Newport for a date night (depending on how we were feeling.) With that idea running through my brain, I began to think about how this day was going to play out and more importantly, how I could secure a double cheeseburger for my quest. I could push going to a hamburger place for dinner and get my double cheeseburger in that way, but that seemed too casual and we would probably want something a bit more sophisticated. Even if we went to a pub or casual spot that had hamburgers on the menu, the chances of them having an actual double cheeseburger on the menu was extremely slim. As I gave this dilemma serious thought, the Golden Arches suddenly made an appearance on the horizon. I realized this was the easy solution. I could grab a double cheeseburger here now, which I knew they sold (in fact, I knew it was on their value menu). Then I could say the day’s quest was fulfilled and I go about my Friday as usual. I pulled into the drive-thru and ordered the sandwich along with a small Coke. Then I was off to Newport.

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The lack of enthusiasm that McDonald’s puts into their burgers is almost laughable. I should say that I order mine plain because I hate mustard and I can do without pickles, ketchup and onions, so my order is not their usual offering. Nonetheless, the emphasis at putting their food together is all about speed and in doing so, they lose some of the prettiness. This burger looks like I pulled it out of a couch cushion and whoever is in charge of putting the cheese on the burgers has poor depth perception. Still, it was as good as any McDonald’s burger. Salty, meaty and a nice soft bun. I ate it in my car rolling down East Main Road and it did the job. Now I had the rest of the day to explore Newport and not worry about where I could get a double cheeseburger.

I ended up parking at my brother’s office on Bellevue because I knew parking would be a bear down by the water. The walk was pretty easy, right down Pelham Street. The only issue arose when a breeze whipped up which would change the poster I was carrying into a sail flying in the wind, but I was able to get a handle on that before I hit America’s Cup. I had to find the Guest Services tent where I could drop off the poster and pick up my credentials. That took some navigating, but the workers were all helpful and pointed me in the right direction. I found someone I knew from my office and gave her everything and then I was off to explore. I first went into the tents and I was amazed at what people were selling. There were a lot of motors and mechanical stuff which was a whole new world for me. Then there were ropes and chains and anchors and floatation devices – it was everything you needed for your boat and then some. The salespeople at each booth were friendly and eager to sell. You could tell it was going to be a long four days for them. There were three or four giant tents each packed with rows of vendor booths all selling their different wares. There were also financial services there too in case you needed a sudden loan to make your boat purchases. After I covered all that space, I walked out onto the docks to see the boats.  People were actually selling and buying boats here!

For the boat portion, you walk out on the floating docks where all the boats are moored. The boats are packed into the marina – all docked side by side and the docks wove around it all so you could walk around. Bringing in all the boats and adding the docks must have been quite an undertaking requiring expert seamanship. I’m told our crew has been doing this for years and they are pretty incredible at it. When you are walking around, you can go out on the boats and check them out if you like. I mean if you are buying a $250,000 vessel the least they could do is let you on board and check out the insides. They do ask that you take your shoes off before boarding any vessel – any effort to keep the boats clean. That was something I didn’t know about boat shopping. Meanwhile, the floating docks are all lined with shoes from people checking out the boats. The dark passenger inside me wanted start kicking the shoes in the water, but I refrained. It was really quite a sight and a whole world I never knew existed. There were small wooden boats to million dollar yachts all spread out – and people were asking questions, kicking the tires and buying the ones that tickled their fancy.

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When I walked around on my sea legs for about an hour, I figured out I pretty much had covered the whole thing. I didn’t buy any boats which was probably a good thing, nor did I buy any nautical ephemerae (as I’ve been known to do). It was getting close to 4 pm, so before I left I checked in with Lola to see what she was doing but I got no response. That meant she was writing. I decided to just go home and do some more work from there. I walked back up Pelham Street (which was a pretty steep hill) and by the time I got to Bellevue, I had a nice sweat going. I texted my brother to thank him for the use of his lot and I was on my way home. I really wasn’t feeling like doing the Newport thing so going home was perfect. When I got home, I went into my office and got everything squared away for the weekend with work. Eventually I came out to the kitchen and so did Lola, so we discussed our Friday night plans. We decided to stay in and watch a movie which sounded perfect to me. I made a quick jaunt to Clements to get us some dinner. Because I was having a tough time trying to think of what to have for dinner, I decided to make my own double cheeseburgers. I got everything I needed and started grilling as soon as I got home. My burgers looked much better than McDonald’s.

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To be honest, these weren’t my best. I may have overcooked the meat too much or didn’t season them enough. I had all the right fixings. I had a couple of fresh, soft bulkie rolls that I toasted up on the grill. A little grilling tip: to get your buns nice and toasted, spread mayonnaise on them before placing on the grill. That sounds gross, but really you are essentially just adding a little fat (oil) to the bun in an easily spreadable form and when it sits over the flame, you get a nice even toast over the bun. I used arugula for the lettuce which I like – gives it a nice peppery taste. I had a fresh tomato in the fridge, so I sliced that up and put it on the roll along with the arugula and some mayo. I had a “stacker” pickle on mine although Lola opts against a pickle on her burger.  Then the burger patties were topped with American Cheese. It looked pretty great. But it was just ok. Maybe I was burgered out. I used smaller patties for this which cooked pretty fast and is likely why I overcooked them. I think bigger burgers give you the chance to have more flavor and juiciness. But if you are having double cheeseburgers, you can’t have your burger patties too big. Otherwise you are eating over a pound of meat.

I understand the allure of a double cheeseburger. If made right, it allows you to get a layer of cheese in the middle of your burger which is a great innovation. Plus, you get everything you enjoy on a regular cheeseburger with just a little more meat and cheese. Nothing wrong with that. However, making a good double cheeseburger is a skill. You can’t just toss it all together. It has to be well-balanced so you get a little bit of everything. It’s not just supersizing a burger – it’s creating a balance in taste and enjoyment. Plus, you can’t overcook it. So today I learned to appreciate the double cheeseburger for what it is – a finely crafted burger. That’s something I can get behind. And looking ahead, I hope I learn to make a better one. I plan on serving them on my boat.

Next up: National Cinnamon Raisin Bread Day

Day 410 – National Cream Filled Donut Day

I learned two things today in my hunt for a cream filled donut on National Cream Filled Donut Day. And to be honest, to call it a hunt is a bit of a euphemism. I really just drove around the corner to Dunkin’ Donuts. Sure, I could have gone on an actual hunt for a special donut. I could have gone to the gourmet donut places like PVD or Knead in Providence. I could have checked out the new donut shop in Newport, Liberty Donuts. I could have even gone to the two classic and heralded Rhode Island donut shops: Allie’s and my personal fave Ma’s. Instead, just as many New Englanders are apt to do, I went to Dunks. It was a choice of ease and convenience. The Dunkin’ Donuts by our house is a good one too. Nothing special about it other than the crew that seems to crank through long lines with happy smiles and chatter.  There’s always a gaggle of regulars inside too (all of whom seem to have unusually large beards) and that gives the place character. I parked my car and then went inside so I could get the overview of what donuts they had available.

The first thing I learned today was that the glazed stick donut has returned to Dunkin’ Donuts. This has been an issue of great concern for me over the last few weeks and I’m not even sure if the rumors of the glazed stick’s demise were true. All I know is that it’s my favorite donut there and when I ordered one at the drive thru back in August, I was told that they were discontinued. I let out an audible gasp that amplified through the drive thru headset. The glazed stick gives you the density of a cake donut and the sweet joy of glaze all in one phallic hunk. It’s basically a cruller and apparently, those are being phased out. But today, they were back. They had a whole tray of them in a prominent spot. I’m not sure if this was a change of heart by the company overlords who had a mea culpa and brought it back or if it was a regional decision by our local franchisee owner trying to please his demanding customer base. But they were back. I wasn’t ordering one today though. Today’s donut had to be cream filled. I stared up at the wall of donuts looking for what to have and the one that caught my eye was sitting right next to the glazed stick. It was a vanilla cream filled donut. My selection was made and I was ready to go binge in celebration.


The second thing I learned today is that a vanilla cream filled donut is a terrible food to eat while driving. First, let’s talk about the cream (which was delightful – nice with strong vanilla flavor which paired nicely with the soft, flaky insides of the donut). I’m no physicist but if I fill something with cream through a tiny hole, then I apply pressure on the object as a whole (biting down on it), the cream inside will need to escape and this means pushing the cream violently through any available space for escape. Or in other words, I got the money shot as soon as I bit in to the donut. To make matters worse, there was a thick coating of powdered sugar on the donut (again, another delightful addition to the pastry adding more sweetness to it all). But if you have ever eaten a powdered donut, the sugar goes everywhere. Even if you just breath in proximity of the donut, you stir up a cloud of confectionary soot. I was a mess. I went through about twenty-five napkins eating this donut. I leaned way out over the passenger seat to avoid getting it on my clothes. I had cream and sugar in my beard, on my chin and in my hair. It was a mess. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, but a delicious mess.

Those were my lessons today for National Cream Filled Donut Day. I like cream filled donuts. I used to not appreciate them but my aging palate has taught me to appreciate the cool, sweet texture of cream mixed with the fluffiness of cake. I’m just not a fan of the mess. I suppose if you ate your donut at the table with a knife and fork you could avoid this, but that’s not how you eat a donut. It’s a food you eat with your hand and if it’s filled with cream, you just have to be ready to get messy. Sometimes it’s not worth the hassle (especially if you have a black shirt on). Other times, and particularly on National Cream Filled Donut Day, you throw caution to the wind and you give yourself to this sweet treat and just accept the mess. It’s really a small price to pay.

Next up: National Double Cheeseburger Day