Day 319 – National Eat Your Vegetables Day

I thought this was the day that my streak of celebrating would come to an end. It almost did. I had plans to celebrate today – we were going out to dinner to celebrate my brother’s fiftieth birthday and that is definitely a celebration. However, despite what my brother thinks, it’s not really considered a national holiday. While the mission of this quest remains to celebrate every day and enjoying a dinner with family in honor of a milestone birthday is indeed celebrating, the essence of the quest has been to celebrate the National Days. That’s where the streak of consecutive days of celebration was up against the wall. It was looking bleak, even as I was sitting at a table raising a glass and toasting a fine human being.

As usual, my schedule was tight today. I was working at 9 am and would be there until about 7:15 pm, then I had to go home and shower and head back to Newport with Lola to meet my family for an 9 pm reservation. They knew I was working, so everyone was ok with a late dinner to accommodate my schedule so we could join in. That was nice. Dinner at 8:30 in a restaurant seemed so late to us. When thinking about it, Lola and I both went back and forth. It’s late for us, but it’s only 9:00 – the night is young. It was a strange little clue that led us to the conclusion that we were old. But we aren’t that old. We rallied as did our family and went with the late dinner like we were sophisticated New Yorkers. With my hectic schedule, I didn’t have much time to participate in one of the National Days of celebration of today. First, it was Apple Strudel Day. That’s an Austrian pastry that, if Maria is right, goes well with cream-colored ponies. I didn’t have time to make one and it’s not something that’s typically in your local bakery. There are things close to a strudel that’s in your bakery like apple danishes and apple turnovers, but not a strudel. On my way home I made a quick stop at Clements to see if they had any and, as suspected, they did not. It was also Cherry Tart Day. This too was something that I did not have the time to make at home nor was it on the shelves at Clements.  It’s also one of those desserts that there are similar foods to it (cherry pies, cherry turnovers), but not exactly a tart. I was out of luck on both the apple and cherry front.

It was Stewart’s Root Beer Day too which was oddly specific and in fact, I did not even see it mentioned on Stewart’s website. Still, it was right there on the National Holiday Calendar. Stewart’s is a soda brand out of Ohio where Stewart’s began as a local restaurant chain. I have seen their products before and they stand out as one of quality. I vaguely recalled seeing them in the supermarket, so as I began my day, this was going to be the holiday I would celebrate because I could just pick it up at the store. But then I went to the store and they did not have any. They had all kinds of specialty root beers – Virgils, Dr. Brown’s, IBC – but no Stewart’s. This made me start to worry about how to celebrate. I was running out of time now and still had to get in the shower and back to Newport. My plan was to hope to God that the restaurant would serve Stewart’s Root Beer or Apple Strudel although in my heart, I knew they would not.

As a final search, I realized it was National Eat Your Vegetables Day. I know I just celebrated Eat Your Veggies Month earlier this month, but this was the actual day for it, and it was my last chance to call it a celebration. The restaurant we were going to was the Midtown Oyster Bar which has a great reputation. My plan was to find whatever their vegetable of the day was and order that. I know, not much of a celebration, but it was all I had left. To be honest, I don’t normally order an a la carte vegetable. I usually just stick with my entree. So if I opted for the veggie, it would really be in the true spirit of the day that decreed to eat your veggies. It may have been rationalizing, but it was making more sense to me and I was feeling better about the celebration. Then I looked at the menu and there was no side orders of vegetables. Panic.

Midtown is one of those places that has a couple of different menus. The dinner menu, the special menu, the wine list, the oyster menu. It was like sorting paperwork on my desk. However once I figured out the system and looked behind one of the menus that were kept together on a clipboard, I found the list of sides and there it was – asparagus, my old friend. I was going to make this work. For dinner, I actually ordered a couple of appetizers – their crackling (which was fantastic), Mussels Frittes and a side order of asparagus.

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They do a great business at Midtown and are famous for their fresh local seafood. I’m sure they don’t get much chatter about their asparagus, but for a day when I was trying to Eat My Veggies, their asparagus was ideal. It was cooked perfectly, it was plentiful an it was a nice accompaniment to the saltiness of the crackling. It’s not something I would have ever ordered were it not Eat Your Veggies Day, so this was my celebration, and it was delicious. The whole dinner was fabulous although the company and conversation was even better. We could have eaten at the IHOP and had a fun time (although it might be hard to find fresh veggies there). I finally got to try Midtown too which is a place I’ve heard so much about and I could see why. We did have one little concern while we were there which I won’t discuss here, but it was something you don’t often see in a fine restaurant. Still, it wouldn’t deter me from going back.

It was actually a nice night of celebration, despite me trying to shoehorn my National Eat Your Veggie Day into the mix. It’s rare that we can all get together like this and relax. My sister and her husband were staying over at my brother’s house, so they weren’t racing to get home. They even had Kate (my niece) come pick them all up at the end of the night so there was no worry about drinking and driving. It was fun. It was later than we are used to and when I got home, I fell asleep in the chair while I was waiting for Lola to brush her teeth. I’m not sure I would have done that as a younger man. Nonetheless, it was a great night to celebrate and I even got to eat some veggies to keep the steak alive. That’s a win in my book.

Next up: National Go Fishing Day 

Day 318 – National Fudge Day

This would be an easy one. I know fudge. I make fudge. I make good fudge.

I’ve actually made fudge multiple times along this quest, although most recently for National Nutty Fudge Day. That was a batch I made with nuts which is not my usual recipe. As I have discussed, my recipe is the Never Fail Fudge recipe that’s printed on the jar of Marshmallow Fluff. It’s actually the recipe that used to be on there. They have changed it over the last ten years or so but I stick with the original. The fudge is always good. Super creamy, wickedly sweet and decadently chocolate. You probably don’t want to do a calorie analysis of it because it’s made with 5 cups of sugar and a jar of Fluff. Yep, it’s a little high in the sugar department. But it’s good. Real good.

I made mine today as if I was in a race. I actually made two batches. The first batch I made when I got home from work. I got home around 5 pm and Lola had just left to go to a wake. I immediately sprang into fudge-making action. Heated the butter and evaporated milk, added in the salt, sugar and Fluff. Stirred like crazy. Watched it boil for about five minutes. Added in the vanilla and chocolate chips. Stirred it again until the white liquid turned that brown, chocolatey hue, then poured it into a prepared pan so it could set. It took me about a half hour and when Lola got home, the fudge was made, the dishes were clean and I was ready for a Friday night.

We decided to go out for dinner which is something we hadn’t done in a while and we headed to Pomodoro’s in Bristol which is a very small neighborhood Italian restaurant where you bring your own wine. It was raining when we went, so we had to battle the rain as we made our way to the front doors, but once inside we just had to wait about 20 minutes for a table. We were getting impatient but we kept telling ourselves it was worth the wait, and it was. We eventually got a table and had a great little dinner. Good wine, great company and delicious food – everything you want. We started with a clam in white sauce appetizer which was probably the best clams I’ve ever had. Lola had the gnocchi for dinner, I went with a calzone. We really needed a date night and this was the perfect recipe for that. We got home around 9 pm. At that point, I naturally decided to make another batch of fudge, so I went through the whole fudge rigmarole again as Lola made her way to bed. I was actually finished within a half hour – I guess that’s my prep time for fudge now. I cleaned up and went to bed happy that I now had two big batches of fudge waiting for me in the morning. You can’t eat fudge right away because it needs to set, but I did give it a little taste and it was spot on. Nice and chocolatey.

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I’m not sure how I became the Fudge Guy. I made it for the first time years ago when I was looking for something to make for Christmas. I remember making that first batch and the instructions telling me to heat until it turns to the “soft ball” stage. I had no idea what that meant (and still don’t). I pictured that the mixture would start to form a dough that would be as soft as a softball, but it never gets hard like that when it is heating. I think I kept stirring that first batch over heat for 15 minutes waiting for the change. Eventually I gave up and just added in the chocolate. It came out ok and ever since then, I’ve been making fudge. The key to fudge is to keep stirring to keep it smooth and so you don’t burn the sugar. Also, by stirring constantly you reduce the risk of the sugar boiling up and out of the pot. It will still pop and spit, but stirring allows you to limit that. Getting hit with the hot sugar popping out of the boiling mixture is never fun. It grabs your skin and keeps burning until you wipe it off. It would be a pretty effective weapon if you happened to be making fudge and an intruder came into your house. That’s one of those ‘dark passenger’ thoughts I have whenever I am stirring.

I really like the fudge I make and that could be a problem, and that’s one of the reasons why I like sharing it too. It means I won’t eat it all but it brings smiles to a lot of faces. I cut mine up into bite size pieces which makes it particularly good for sharing. You can grab a piece and go. My fudge is usually requested around the holidays. My mom actually asks for it every time I see her. She has a few friends that ask her for it too. Lola’s family are big fans as well. I think that’s why I made two batches today – so I would have plenty to share. We are celebrating my brother’s birthday on Saturday, so I will bring some to him. That means I’ll have to give some to my sister too. I might bring some to work as well. Are you in the mood for fudge? Hit me up – I may be able to hook you up.

Every once and a while along this quest I get a day that is right in my wheelhouse. That’s what fudge is. You  may think that I took the easy way out on this one, but I did make two whole batches of fudge. That’s not as simple as it sounds. In the end, it will all be for the greater good. It will bring some smiles. That’s the kind of food fudge is to me. It’s a little treasure of sweet goodness that hits you in the happy spot. I see fudge in the candy shops in beachside towns and in supermarkets (they sell it at Clements). I see how people fawn over the chocolate goodness as it sits in splendor behind glass case. It’s a special treat deserving of vacations and other days of celebration. That’s probably why I’m a fudge man – because it makes any day an occasion to celebrate. Today, I did just that.

Next up: National Stewart’s Root Beer Day 

Day 317 – National Iced Tea Month

Today was National Lobster Day and I do not like lobster. I’m not allergic to it. It doesn’t make me retch. I can see it, I can touch it, I can even eat it. I just don’t like it. I know that part of this quest is to venture outside my comfort zone and to try things I wouldn’t normally experience, but I’ve tried lobster before. Boiled lobster. Lobster salad. Lobster rolls. Lobster bisque. I’ve tried it all and haven’t been sold yet. Lobster just tastes bland to me. The best bites I have ever had have been the ones most soaked in butter. I just don’t understand the craze some people go into when you mention lobsters. I could have sucked it up today and tried some in some new kind of form – I keep hearing about lobster mac and cheese which intrigues me – but lobster ain’t cheap. I didn’t want to have to spend a ton of money on something I knew there was a big probability I would not enjoy. It was the economical choice and I was ok with that. So for the third time this month, I fell back on the backup plan: celebrate with whatever was being celebrated for the month. I decided on Iced Tea because it’s National Iced Tea Month and I skipped National Iced Tea Day last Saturday when I opted to celebrate World Gin Day instead.

I should have started my Iced Tea celebration by buying a can of 4C Powdered Ice Tea Mix. That was my first foray into the Iced Tea world. I wouldn’t have said I knew what kind of powdered Iced Tea I liked as a kid, but when I thought about it, the 4C brand popped right into my head. I feel at some point we declared as a family that this was our favorite. I think it was extra sweet, which is what I like about iced tea. I’m not much for actual tea flavor – it needs to be sweetened up. 4C had this down and if my mom made a pitcher of iced tea, she would use 4C. She probably used other brands too – Wyler’s, Lipton, Nestea, whatever she had a coupon for – but in the end, we all preferred 4C. Oddly enough, that’s our favorite grated parmesan cheese brand too. What’s happening over at 4C? What came first – the cheese or the tea? And who decided that they needed to branch out in the other direction? No matter, I didn’t buy any 4C today and it has been a longtime since I have stocked a can of powdered drink mix in our cabinet. Still, 4C was the reason why I first started to enjoy Iced Tea, so I tip my cap to them for being my gateway powder.

I came up with two ways to celebrate National Iced Tea Month. First would be the Iced Tea that I have probably had the most over the last three decades: Snapple. It’s the classic iced tea in a bottle that has delivered a consistent product since they first hit the market with their tea made from the best stuff on earth. My second way would be to enjoy an adult version of the drink which meant making a Long Island Iced Tea. If you ever want to tell a bartender you are an underage drinker, order one of these concoctions. It’s an easy tip-off. I was considering my options on my drive home from work. Getting the supplies I needed to have both was simple. I had all the booze I needed for the Long Island Iced Tea, I just needed some Coke for it. I could pick that up along with a Snapple at Cumberland Farms which I did. Then I just had to figure out what order to have them in. I had to mow the lawn, so that was going to take up a chunk of the evening. Did I want to reward myself afterwards with a nice refreshing iced tea or with a well-deserved cocktail? I opted to have the cocktail first and then have the Snapple after the lawn was done (and I would be sweaty and thirsty).

A Long Island Iced Tea is a combination of five liquors (vodka, rum, gin, tequila and triple sec) mixed with some sour mix, shaken and then topped with Coke. The coke adds a slight carbonation to it but really gives it the color to make it look like tea. It has a funny reputation because the usual person who orders one is someone who doesn’t want to taste alcohol. That’s why it is (or at least used to be) popular by underage drinkers. They wanted to get drunk fast with as little interaction with the bartender as needed. I can’t say that I have had one of these drinks in a long time, but I was game. I made it in a pint glass. When you are making one behind the bar there’s a certain flair to it because if you’re good, you can pour four bottles at once. At home, I didn’t have speed pourers (which help you control the pour) and all my bottles were different sizes so pouring four at once was not possible. I had to go one at a time. When it all came together, I added the sour mix. Then I shook it up and added the Coke (always shake before you add the carbonated beverage). It actually looked pretty good.


I offered Lola a sip. She had never had one before. I asked her why and she explained it was because, “She didn’t want to get roofied.” That’s Lola’s take on drinks that you would associate with underage drinking and frat parties and all that fun stuff. I’m glad she’s ever vigilant. I didn’t tell her what was in a Long Island Iced Tea until after she took the sip. Knowing what was coming could spoil it. She actually liked it. It is surprisingly a pretty tasty drink if you ever have one. The booze blends together nicely and they kind of round each other out so you don’t get any too much liquor in any one sip. The sour mix is the predominant flavor, but cut with the sweetness of the Coke. To be honest, it was a great drink. It went down dangerously fast (which I suppose is another part of the allure). It was refreshing too. Maybe next time I won’t be so judgmental of someone ordering a LIIT.

I then suited up for some serious lawn mowing. I know they tell you to not to operate heavy machinery after having an alcoholic beverage, but that lawn wasn’t going to cut itself. Any buzz I caught from the drink was sweated out within twenty minutes of pacing the lawn. It ended up taking me about an hour and a half to finish after which I was dirty, sweaty and thirsty. I hopped in the shower first because that had to be taken care of, but then I came down to the kitchen to quench my thirst. My Snapple Lemon Tea was waiting for me.

There’s a ritual to drinking any Snapple. First you shake it. I take an inhaler for my asthma that is supposed to be shaken before each use and I am more fastidious about shaking a Snapple than I am about shaking that inhaler. Snapple shaking is almost an ingrained body response – maybe it’s the feel of the bottle, but put a bottle in my hand and I start shaking. Some people turn the bottle upside down and hit the bottom of the bottle. I don’t go that far. I trust my shaking will do the job. Then you pop the cap which reliably comes off with an audible pop. Before you even take a sip, you flip the cap over and read the message on the bottom. It’s usually a fun factoid. Today’s message was somewhat relevant, if not eerily personal. It read:

“Real Fact” # 1290 – Love blueberries? Celebrate them all year round, but especially in July, National Blueberry Month.

Once you digest the factoid, it’s safe to proceed to drink your Snapple. If you keep the cap off, you don’t have to shake it anymore, but if the cap goes back on, then you are obligated to shake it again. Sorry folks, I don’t make the rules, I just follow along. I really have been a fan of Snapple for a long time. I once got a letter from Wendy, the Snapple Lady. This was before social media and the internet allowed you to just message people randomly. I wrote her an actual letter and mailed it. It was when her commercials had become a sensation and she would respond to actual letters in the ads. I was working with a guy who was particularly fond of Snapple but whenever he would buy them at the store, the bottles would break as he rode his bike home because they kept smashing into each other. Wendy wrote me back and suggested we buy him a basket for his bike. I was hoping she’d make a commercial from my inquiry, but instead she just sent me a letter with some actual useful advice. That letter is somewhere in my archives. I’m hoping that someday when a distant ancestor uncovers it, it will be like finding a letter from Abraham Lincoln.


Snapple is still as tasty as ever, especially their lemon tea. It has good sweet tea flavor that’s mellowed by the addition of some lemon. It did its job today because it quenched my thirst, just like any iced tea should do. I know that Southerners have a whole culture of Iced Tea and Sweet Tea that they serve on trays to callers in seersucker shirts on the swing that hangs from their front porches. I know it goes well with Southern cooking too. I can’t speak to any of that. I noticed that McDonald’s started selling Sweet Tea a few years ago and I still don’t know what the difference is between that and Iced Tea. I wasn’t really concerned though. Snapple is the perfect iced tea for me. The perfect package, nice and sweet, easy to chill and even some sage advice under the cap. That’s a fine iced tea in my book. Incidentally, because the fun fact seemed to speak to me, I immediately ate a handful of fresh blueberries in celebration. Wendy would have been proud.

Next up: National Fudge Day 

Day 316 – National Strawberry Shortcake Day

Nothing fancy today. No revelations. No morale of this story. It was just a straight up enjoyment of strawberry shortcake kind of day. That’s kind of perfect for strawberry shortcake too because it’s really a celebration of the simple summer pleasure of fresh berries, fresh cream all served on a sweet serving of cake.

I started with the strawberries naturally. I had some in our fridge but I also picked some up at the store too to make sure I had enough. You slice them into bite size pieces and then collect them in a bowl and sprinkle in a little bit of sugar. This will help sweeten the strawberries although strawberries don’t need much sweetening, but it also helps macerate them and breaking the berries down so a syrup will form. I did this as soon as I got home from work and put them in the fridge so they could do their thing. That’s when I also put my clean bowl and hand-mixer beaters into the freezer for when I made my whipped cream. That’s a little tip. If these items are cold when you make your whipped cream, you get a better and thicker cream at the end. Lola’s mom taught us that. I made the whipped cream right before serving. I just dumped some heavy cream into the chilled bowl along with some powdered sugar and whipped away. It took about 3 minutes to get good stiff peaks. It came out great too – perfect amount of sweetness.

The only other element of the strawberry shortcake is the cake part and for this part, I prefer biscuits. The kind of biscuits you can but at the bakery shop – they are round, nice and dense with a tinge of sweetness to them. They are great for breakfast sandwiches too – that kind of biscuit. I could have made my own biscuits I suppose but the convenience of getting them already made is worth it. They even keep these biscuits nearby the strawberries for just such an occasion (a nod to the popularity of strawberry shortcake). Some people will make their strawberry shortcake in the more traditional sense with a sweet cake similar to a sponge or angel cake, but the biscuit is generally accepted. I prefer it. The sponge cake is too soft for me. I want that biscuit texture, although I’m not one to ever toss aside an occasion to have a good biscuit.  In any case, this was the last piece to our puzzle. After dinner, I put it all together. The biscuit split in half went down first and then I topped it with the fresh strawberries and cream. I put the other half of the biscuit on top to finish it off and I was done. A small sprinkle of powdered sugar on top as garnish.

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Strawberry shortcake is just a good time and perfect for summer nights. Tonight was actually a beautiful evening with the heat of the last three days finally breaking, so there was a cool breeze coming into the house. The strawberries coolness matched the breeze and they were perfectly fresh too. The whipped cream was nicely chilled and fluffy with ample amounts of sweetness throughout. The biscuits were fresh and gave the whole dessert that texture I had wanted along with that sweet bread flavor to balance out everything. Perfect to the last bite, just as I knew it would be. It’s one of the easiest desserts you can make and still feel like you made your own dessert and it is a winner every time.

I did have two other happenings today that I thought I would share. First, after an exchange on Facebook, I decided to drop off some Peanut Butter cookies before work to Lola’s friend and loyal blog reader Jackie. I had given her some cookies earlier in this quest and she was very appreciative, so I felt it was time to share the wealth again. Although this time, she was available so I wasn’t doing the blind drop off – I actually met Jackie face to face. It was nice to finally meet her. She really has been following along this whole journey. It just made me realize how much I am appreciative of everyone who follows along. I can’t bring you all cookies but I can say thank you. So thank you one and all.

The second thing that happened today was my brother turned fifty years old. That doesn’t seem possible to me. It also means that my entry into the 5-0 club is not too far behind. We hope to celebrate my brother this weekend and I am glad because that’s something that needs to be celebrated. I thought back at our life together and we’ve shared a lot of tales. This was a guy who I shared a room with until I was 16 years old. He was literally five feet away from me every night. We’d fight naturally and do brotherly things, but Mark has always looked out for me in his own way.  Whether it was letting me tagalong with him and his friends to play baseball, standing up for me in fights with my parents or even staying up with me in all those long nights I’d wake up sick with an asthma attack, he’s been there. Even recently with my job transition, Mark was always checking in to see how it was going. We may not see each other as often as we like, but it’s nice to know he’s always in my corner. He deserves a day of celebration. Happy birthday Mark!

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Mark on the right (earlier photo). Am I rocking a silk shirt? 

That was Strawberry Shortcake Day. Like I said, nothing fancy about today, just some good dessert. Sometimes that’s all I have in me, but in this case, it’s not a bad way to go. Strawberry Shortcake is a top-ten Dan and Lola dessert. It’s just the perfect mix and easy to toss together. All life should be that easy.

Next up: National Fly a Kite Day 

 

Day 315 – National Turkey Lover’s Month

I never thought the weather would affect what I’m doing here, but it really does. I knew that if a winter storm hit and our house was buried under two feet of snow, it would make celebrating difficult. I planned for those kind of days, but happy to say we made it through all of that without harm. Today however, it was the heat. Another day of 95+ degree weather with the threat of a pending thunderstorm imminent. It was National Weed Your Garden Day too so that meant if I were to participate, I would either be working in the super hot late day sun, sweating up a storm and attracting every mosquito and crawly creature in the yard or I would be out there with my hula hoe underneath treacherous lightening bolts like a deranged mad scientist. No thanks, on both fronts. The gardens can wait.

As I do when I can’t find the right holiday to celebrate, I turn to the month long celebrations and for June, one of those celebrations happens to be National Turkey Lover’s Month. I love turkey. I happened to have had a turkey sandwich for lunch earlier in the day (Boar’s Head Cracked Pepper Turkey to be exact which I highly recommend). I was halfway there. I had no lofty goal of cooking a whole turkey (too damn hot to do that), but I could surely find a place that served up a nice turkey dinner and I could celebrate this distinguished fowl and my love for it’s cooked flesh. That was the plan.

By the way, as an anecdotal follow up to my Cracked Pepper Turkey endorsement, one time I was at the deli counter at Clements and when the deli guy came over and asked me what I wanted, I must have been distracted because I couldn’t think of exactly what my favorite turkey was called. I ended up asking for “a half pound of Crackhead Turkey.” I immediate got the self-induced giggles. The deli clerk smiled back knowingly but had the decency not to laugh in my face. I almost walked away and out the door in shame. Now every time I order the Cracked Pepper Turkey, I say it with a smile on my face as I recall my faux pas. The thought of crackhead turkey still makes me chuckle.

We’ve been having some car troubles of late (apparently brakes are important), so one of our cars has been in the shop. Because of that and because she had some things to do today that required a vehicle, Lola had to drop me off at work and take the car. That meant that she had to come pick me up after work too so I got to have a commuter buddy going to and home from work. That was nice. It makes the pains of traffic not so bad. On our way home, we were in heavy Providence traffic (as is the norm) and Lola was engulfed in the Jeff Sessions hearing on the radio. She was really listening in and wasn’t very chatty with me but that gave me time to do some research on turkey dinners on Acquidneck Island. That’s not an easy thing to look up because you either find articles about Thanksgiving Dinner specials from the previous November or you get info on sub shops that serve great turkey sandwiches. I wanted the dinner, so my choices were limited. I then recalled two places that serve turkey dinners. One was the Blue Plate Diner in Middletown and the other was Reidy’s right up the street from our house. Either of those places were fine with me, but I know Lola wasn’t a huge fan. She’s not much for that nostalgic diner feel. She prefers a place with fresh local food, good drinks and character. Those places don’t often serve turkey dinners however. We had a conundrum. We discussed our dinner options after the Sessions hearing was over and we toyed with heading out to fancier place, but couldn’t come up with a specific spot. So we ended up going home and decided we would get take-out turkey.

Lola wanted no part of a turkey dinner. She wanted a good Thanksgiving sandwich. I on the other hand had a vision for the quintessential turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, stuffing and the works. Then I realized I could get both – there are no rules here. I knew Clements made a great Thanksgiving panini that Lola would love and I had to go there anyway to get some milk. I figured out all the logistics of my freshly hatched plan: I would call Clements and order the sandwich, I’d get in the car and drive there. When I parked the car I would call Reidy’s and order the turkey dinner, then go inside Clements to grab the milk and the sandwich. By the time I paid and drove over to Reidy’s, my Turkey Dinner would be ready. This is all within a one mile radius from our house, so this was a very doable plan. And in a strange twist of fate, it went pretty much according to schedule. When I hit the deli counter at Clements, the sandwich lady was just wrapping up my sandwich. It wasn’t that busy so I breezed through checkout. And when I got to Reidy’s my dinner was mostly ready. It looked like that they were just coming out of a nasty dinner rush at Reidy’s because there were dirty tables and plates on most of the empty tables, so my dinner was a bit delayed, but I was in no hurry.

I always feel like I can help a restaurant in those moments. I see the “weeds” happening as soon as I am in a restaurant and I can see the server starting to sink (or already sunk). I can see what happened and how an extra set of hands, even for five minutes, would help the server right the ship. I wish I could pull out a badge and say I can help, I am a trained professional, not unlike an EMT in an emergency situation who is qualified to start CPR. I can’t help it. I watched the server work her way through the mess until my order came up. Then she gave me my bag and I was on my way home. When I got home, I set us both up for a turkey feast.

I’ll give them this – Reidy’s knows how to put together a good turkey dinner. It wasn’t Thanksgiving fresh, but it had all the elements I wanted. First off, the turkey was genuinely roasted and thick sliced. It wasn’t deli meat or some kind of turkey loaf, it was actual roasted turkey. That was the kind of turkey I was looking for. The white meat that you would expect on a turkey dinner. In fact, it was slightly dry like so many Thanksgiving turkeys are, but they took care of that with a sizable dose of good turkey gravy. They weren’t shy on tossing this on. It was flavorful and on the salty side but kind of brought everything together. The mashed potatoes were soft and fluffy – the kind you get with your hot lunch at school, but still good especially with the gravy. I was most surprised by their stuffing because it was homemade and especially good. They must bake it as a casserole because the portion is a generous square slab. It was thick chunks of bread (I’m sure they are never at a shortage for stale bread), and there was a distinct apple flavor to it.  Not too shabby for a little family restaurant. The final touch was the corn which was frozen kernels but still good in that way you like frozen corn. However, they went a little heavy on the portioning. It was a good dinner. My only complaint would be that they slopped it all together when they packaged it. Maybe it was because they were working out of the weeds when I got there so they skipped the finesse plating that made them famous. I transferred it to a dinner plate anyway, just to give it a touch of class.

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The reason I knew that Reidy’s had turkey dinners was that it was one of Lola’s mom’s favorites there. In fact, a few days before our wedding, Lola went out with her sisters and friends for a kind of bachelorette party. Dinner, drinking and dancing that kind of thing. That has its own tale that Lola can recap someday, but on that night, I stayed home and kept getting the house ready for the wedding. It ended up being just me and Gigi for dinner that night and we decided to splurge and get some Reidy’s to go. I got a cheeseburger, I think, and Gigi went with the turkey dinner. We ate our dinner right from the styrofoam boxes on the back deck overlooking all the wedding preparations we had made. It was a moment of relaxation and calm in and otherwise whirlwind week, and it was nice time with my soon to be Mother-in-law. As I think back on that night, it was a special little moment and it was all over a turkey dinner.

Tonight, Lola had the Thanksgiving Sandwich which I’ve talked about here before. Turkey, stuffing, cheese, a little mayo and cranberry sauce. Clements makes theirs as a panini and the nicely toasted bread transforms the sandwich into something special. It’s actually one of the better sandwiches I have had in Portsmouth. You just have to order ahead of time because they take a while to craft, but ordering ahead is easy. This sandwich gave me 9 out of 10 punches on my sandwich club card too which means one more and that free one is mine!  For the record, Lola thoroughly enjoyed her dinner, but we knew she would.

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As far as Turkey Lover’s go, I’m a pretty big one. I eat a lot of turkey sandwiches, so that counts for something, but I’m also a turkey dinner connoisseur like the Old Man in A Christmas Story. It was always my favorite meal as a kid and even as an adult, it always tempts me. It’s tough to get a good one outside of November. It pops up on some of your more folksy restaurants – diners, family spots, senior citizen demographic places. Maybe that’s what my palate leans towards. A turkey dinner is a little bit like the taste of home. It’s that holiday dinner amidst friends and family. And sometimes it’s that easy meal to enjoy with your soon to be mother-in-law while your future wife is dancing the night away that never leaves your mind.

Next up: National Strawberry Shortcake Day 

Day 314 – National Peanut Butter Cookie Day

The early bird gets the worm and in this case, he also gets the cookie. The peanut butter cookie to be exact. How do I know this? Because I woke up at 4 am to make cookies.

That’s not exactly true. I did wake up at 4 am, but it wasn’t to make cookies. I woke up at 4 am because there was a bright light in the sky shining in on me. It was still dark out although the sky was beginning to change. The light was a star, I think, but it was the only one in the sky.  It wasn’t straight above me either, it looked like it was only a few miles up in the sky. Our bed faces the door to our porch and so if I wake up in the middle of the night, I am staring right out into space, although on this night (morning), I was staring out at a super bright light. It startled me. I felt like it was either Jesus coming to take me home or it was a spy satellite pointed right at me. It didn’t flash, it didn’t move, it didn’t do anything. It just shone in the sky.   Eventually it would disappear into the daybreak, but when I awoke to a sudden bright object in the sky that’s not usually there, it kickstarted my brain into working. That’s what woke me up and after that, I was up. So I got out of bed and came downstairs so I wouldn’t wake Lola with my stirring.

I didn’t make cookies at that time. That was too early. I started my morning routine. Coffee. Put away the dishes. Sat down for a quick game of Nintendo hockey. Jumped into my office and checked the web. Wrote my blog post about Corn on the Cob. Made another cup of coffee. Now it was about 6:30, the time I usually get up. I still had time before I went to work. Lola was up now, but she needed her morning time so I left her alone. I decided to make cookies. I knew it was Peanut Butter Cookie Day so at some point during the day, unless I splurged on some Nutter Butters (an excellent cookie), I would have to make my own. I looked online for a recipe and I found one on Sally’s Baking Addiction.com. She’s one of my faves. Her recipe was for Big Bakery-Style Peanut Butter Chunk Cookies which were a copy-cat recipe of ones they sell at Wegman’s. I am not familiar with the Wegman’s cookie. I have only been to a Wegman’s once and had lunch in their buffet line (which was amazingly diverse and tasty). I figured they made good cookies too, so I was in. It was a good thing I read the recipe too because these are the kind of cookies that you need to chill the dough for a few hours before you bake them. This would work out perfect. I would make the dough, toss it in the fridge, go to work, come home and bake the cookies.

My only snag to my plan was that I didn’t have enough peanut butter or butter to make them. No worry though, Cumberland Farms was open so I made the quick jaunt up the hill. The Farm was bustling with morning people grabbing their 99 cent coffee, their doughnuts, their smokes and all kinds of supplies to start them on their day and I was there in my shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops buying butter and peanut butter. For the record, they stock Jif peanut butter which I know choosy-moms like, but choosy-Lolas prefers Skippy. She’d be ok with the substitution though. She’d probably never know – until now I guess. I was back home in minutes and jumped right into cookie making. I creamed the butter and sugars, added in the eggs and peanut butter, then mixed in the flour mixture. To finish it off, I added a bag of milk chocolate chips. The dough went into the fridge and then all I had to do was clean up my sizable mess. Now it was 7:45 and I had fifteen minutes to get ready for work. I had been up and at them for four hours at this point.

While I was at work, something happened. The sun stepped up its game. When I popped out for lunch at about 1 pm, the outside temperature reader on my car was pinned at 102 degrees. It was a scorcher. A full on heat blast. By the time I got out of work and was driving home, it had cooled down to a balmy 97 degrees. Perfect baking weather.

At this point I couldn’t not make them, so I took the dough out of the fridge and let it warm up a little so I could work with it. I also preheated the oven to 350 degrees, about 50 degrees above room temperature in our kitchen. I got to work. For these cookies, you roll your dough into balls, but your all them bigger than you would think. They came out bigger than golf balls in size. Then you roll them in sugar before you place them onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. When they are all lined up eight to a pan, you push them down slightly so they are not so round before they go into the oven for about 15 minutes. I got three trays out of the batch for a total of 24 cookies. When they came out of the oven, I damped them down slightly with the backside of a spoon and let them cool right on the sheet pans so they would still keep cooking out of the oven. They didn’t look exactly done, but I trust this recipe maker implicitly, so I knew they would be fine once they cooled. They were.

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These were top notch. They were still nice and soft (even long after they cooled) and full of flavor. The peanut butter was front and center and it was nicely cut by the chunks of chocolate mixed throughout. The hints of sugar on the outside gave it a tinge of extra sweetness (which it needed to match the peanut butter). They were slightly crumbly with the softest of centers. Really one of the best cookies I have made. They would have been even better were it not 95 degrees out. It was just too hot to really enjoy a fresh baked cookie. Even when I tasted one, I wanted to bring one to Lola for her to have a taste, but then I realized she was sitting outside in the shade and the last thing she probably wanted was a warm cookie. She did have one later in the night and she agreed that they were spot on. A great, great cookie.

That was my story today and I hope the NSA, the KGB, KAOS or whoever was behind that glowing orb in the sky can collaborate it with their extra footage from this morning. I guess you can get a lot done if you wake up at 4 am, although I will say at 8 pm, you kind of turn into a puddle of nonsense. Still, I was able to crank out some pretty great cookies today. I celebrated in the middle of a heat wave. Peanut butter cookies aren’t my favorite. I prefer my peanut butter in different forms. However these cookies were one of the best, so there’s always time to appreciate new things, appropriately on National Peanut Butter Cookie Day too. I’ll make these again, preferably in the fall or when the temperature falls below 75 degrees. I might not wake up at 4 am to make them, but I will take my time. There’s a difference in how you view time when you busy yourself doing things you enjoy. Had I woken up early to get a jump on work, or taxes or root canal, I would have been exhausted by the end of the day. After waking up early and making cookies, I was still tired, but it was a good kind of tired (and a good kind of sweat). It made me feel like I was productive. That’s a win in my book and one that comes with a damn good cookie.

Next up: National Turkey Lover’s Month  

Day 313 – National Corn on the Cob Day

When did we start allowing people to shuck corn in the grocery store? This seems like a newer phenomenon but apparently some grocers are ok with it. They even leave out a trash receptacle for your husks. Just doesn’t seem right to me. That’s part of the social contract we have with our grocer when you buy corn – you stock it, I’ll bring it home and clean it up. Sure, we allow the grocer to shuck some corn and sell it as such, a little added convenience for the shopper on the go, but I’m talking about fresh corn that is piled into bins that shoppers pick out and apparently strip naked right there in the aisle. I’m not allowed to break out my knife and prep my fresh pineapple in the store, so what makes corn so special? Are corn husks a bigger problem in the home kitchen than I am aware of?

Surely these in-store huskers did not grow up in a place that didn’t have something called “outside.” That’s where my mom would send me with corn – go outside and husk the corn. She’d give me some newspaper upon which I would begin my prep-work so as to contain my mess, or sometimes a big paper bag to work over. But if I was outside, I wouldn’t have to worry about the rogue corn silk that would blow in the breeze. I wouldn’t be too concerned about making a mess because I was outside with all the other kids on KP duty husking corn. That’s how it was done. Your reward would be fresh corn which usually makes any kid happy. Husking corn on the cob was a summer ritual like making s’mores or having a lemonade stand. It’s where you first start helping in the kitchen (ok, so technically your out of the kitchen). But it’s a tradition. Don’t leave your husks at the store because I didn’t want to watch you husk in public. Go home and do it in the comfort of your home and enjoy the beautiful outside sky.

When I got home tonight after work, I had picked up some fresh corn at the store. Now you may think this is hypocritical but I opted for the package of five that came husked. But, these weren’t husked in the middle of the produce section. These were professionally husked in the back produce room at Clements by there professional husker. There’s a difference. Frankly, it was late in the day and I wanted dinner to be easy as possible, so I took the shortcut. But, even in this package of husked corn, they still leave one side of the corn unhusked. I don’t quite understand this – does it make the corn look more natural? Are they trying to make the corn as easy as possible to take home and use, but not completely easy? Whatever the reasoning, I had to remove the last bit of husks and silks from the corn before cooking it. Because it was dusk out and the bugs were out, I didn’t feel like going outside, so I grabbed a paper bag, ripped it open to create a large surface upon which to work, and I shucked the corn on the counter over the paper. Lola saw me doing this and it reminded her of how her Mom would send her outside to shuck corn when she was growing up. That made me think of all this in-store husking nonsense.

The last few times I have made corn on the cob, I have grilled it and I like the way the corn comes out that way. I baste it in a salsa butter as it is cooking so the outside gets a nice char to it and it soaks in the flavor of both the butter and the salsa. It’s a fan favorite. However for today, grilling was not an option because our propane ran out on Thursday and I have not yet gone to fill it back up. Today would be corn the old fashioned way – boiled. But I did do a quick search for any recipes that could help me up my game and I found one from a website called Spicy Southern Kitchen.com.  The article was called “Best Way to Cook Corn on the Cob“, so I figured it had to be pretty good. It basically called for adding a stick of butter and some milk right into the water the corn is boiling in and then the corn can soak in all that goodness. That’s what I did. I filled my pot halfway with water, brought it to a boil and then added in the milk and butter. When that commingled, I added in the corn and let it cook for about ten minutes. The water turns a creamy buttery color and when the corn starts to cook, you get that beautiful aroma of fresh corn mixed with a hint of butter. It looked really tasty as it cooked away.

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We were eating late tonight because I was at work for longer than expected so when the corn was finally ready, it was about 8:30. I served it up along with some ribs so we had a nice little summer picnic watching the Tony Awards. When I told Lola I wasn’t grilling the corn and serving the salsa butter, she was a little disappointed as that’s one of her faves. When she saw the corn, which was brilliantly yellow and steaming as it sat on her plate, she was uninspired. But then she bit in and she was won over. The corn really does soak in all that flavor from the butter and milk. It adds a creaminess to it all. It was corn that you didn’t need to add more butter to. The corn itself was cooked perfectly – nice and firm but not underdone. Every bite into a kernel gave you a little burst of corn flavor. It made me think about adding some sugar or even some salt to the water to bring in more flavor to the party. No joke, this was really great corn so if you are making some this summer, consider the recipe. You won’t be disappointed.

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We ate our corn until we were left with a plate of empty cobs and well-stripped rib bones. There’s something sad about a cob of corn that’s been eaten, like the party is over kind of feeling. It reminds me of raccoons because I can recall seeing raccoons break into our trash cans at our summer cottage and always feasting on the cobs eating it down until there was no presence of corn left. Odd little creatures they are. But that was our corn feast for National Corn on the Cob Day. This is a great time of year for corn fans because the fresh corn is just hitting the markets. It’s a special time of year to really enjoy locally grown corn. The sweetness of summer. I made a bunch of corn yesterday because I plan to make a Texas Caviar for Lola which is essentially a mix made with corn and beans. It’s refreshing and one of her favorite snack foods. It’s always good to have some corn left over. Lola’s father used to eat it for breakfast. The whole family would be around the table holding onto their coffee and waiting for it to bring them back to life, and her father would be in his chair plowing through ears of cold corn. It would usually be all over his face and chin too. That’s a sign of good corn – when it’s all over your face.

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This is my nephew Ben who was a corn fan at a very early age. I wish someone would look at me the way Ben looks at corn. 

A great day to celebrate especially at this time of year. I learned a new way to cook corn and the results are fantastic, so that was a big plus on the day. Corn is always easy to cook too, no matter how you do it. It’s a true bounty of the soil in this area, a celebration of one of our most productive crops. It’s a sign that summer is here. So get out there and get your hands on a cob. Summer will only be around for a few months, so enjoy all of its spoils. That’s the lesson to take from National Corn on the Cob Day. But for the sake of all that’s good, don’t husk it in the store. Take it home and shuck it in the great outdoors like our moms taught us.

Next up: National Peanut Butter Cookie Day 

Day 312 – World Gin Day

The world of holidays was kind of demanding that we take a drink today. Usually these national days of celebrations offer different kind of things to celebrate. Food, events, phenomenas – it runs the gamut. Every once and a while there’s a beverage in the mix which, as a guy who tries to celebrate every day, is a welcome break because celebrating a beverage is usually pretty easy. Perhaps the holiday gods knew that this day would be a particularly warm day, the warmest Saturday we have had in a while, and that’s why they piled on the beverages to celebrate today. I had my choice of celebrating three kinds today because it was National Iced Tea Day, National Rosé Day and World Gin Day. As I tend to do, I went with gin.

I suppose you could say that I celebrated National Rosé Day too because I certainly participated in the enjoyment of it. I was pouring it all day at the Vineyard. In fact, we went through about 30 bottles of it. I was surprised to see that some people actually new it was National Rosé Day too. I shared that info as best I could, but a lot of guests already knew it when they came through the doors and that pushed them towards the rosé. My brother and sister-in-law were actually there today too, stopping by to watch the performer that was playing outside – someone they have known about since college. I gave my brother a small taste of the rosé (which he pronounced as ‘rose’, like the flower) and I suspect it was his first taste of a rosé. He didn’t much care for it, but I thought that fitting that I had my first ever discussion of rosé with my brother on National Rosé Day. Apart from Mark, there was a lot of pink liquid in glasses today by people that really enjoyed it, and I was part of the machine that was making it happen. That’s a celebration. I thought about bringing a bottle home to keep the celebration going, but I was already thinking about the gin. The gin was coming.

I celebrated Gin and Tonic Day back in October as Cleveland was clinching the American League pennant. I shared with you how I have always had a hankering for gin. That was the first time Lola had ever really tried a gin and tonic and she actually liked it. I didn’t think she would because gin has a pretty boozy smell and taste, but Lola enjoyed it. She said she wanted to enjoy it when the summer rolled around, and now that the summer is rolling around, there will probably be more gin cocktails around here. About a month ago when we were in Watch Hill, we had a Gin Lime Rickey and it was a drink we instantly fell in love with. Now that it was World Gin Day, I knew the Lime Rickey would be the perfect way too celebrate. That was the plan – to enjoy some after work. And as my day moved along and I was slinging up the rosé for hours, I was really looking forward to a relaxing adult beverage when I got home.

According to Serious Eats.com, the Gin Rickey was created in a Washington, D.C., bar called Shoemaker’s during an especially brutal heat wave in the 1890s. It was invented as a way to cool down in the warm sun. The name Rickey purportedly comes from Colonel Joe Rickey who was a distinguished guest at Shoemaker’s and who enjoyed a morning cocktail of bourbon and mineral water. Someone added a lime to his special beverage and that’s when the Rickey was born. Eventually one of the bartenders made the drink with gin instead of bourbon and that’s where we are today. The ingredients of the recipe are still basically the same: gin, soda water, fresh lime and a little simple syrup for sweetness. While I was at work, Lola was nice enough to make the simple syrup (basically you add a cup of sugar to a cup of water and heat until the sugar dissolves) so I had everything I needed when I came home – except Lola. Lola had gone out for her nightly walk and wasn’t there when I came through the doors with my slippers and pipe as our wedding contract demands. I like when Lola gets a walk in at the end of her day because it’s a way for her to transition from the depths of her work to enduring the follies of her bungling sidekick. My only problem was I couldn’t wait for her to have a drink.  I needed one now. So I went to work. It was super easy to throw together and when it was ready, I took it outside to our deck along with a bag of chips and I put my feet up after a long day.

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I still can’t believe I’m only discovering this drink now. It’s incredibly refreshing with the lime juice and that hint of sweetness from the syrup. The taste of gin is present as it should be, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s just a well-balanced drink and the effervescence of the soda water adds to the refreshment level. It’s just good. I sat on our deck and sipped it looking out at the fading daylight and the always changing river. I heard neighbors down the block having a little get-together. Birds were chirping and I could see the swallows diving after bugs in the air. It was serene and just what I needed to transition from work guy to home guy. The chips were fantastic too (I was hungry). It was my own little decompression chamber with no walls, warm air in the breeze and my new favorite cocktail in my hand.

When Lola got home I was excited to see her. I had just made my second cocktail and I offered to make her one too. She wasn’t in the mood but she did have a sip of mine and she was excited. She said I had nailed the recreation of our Watch Hill Gin Rickey. I’m sure we will be enjoying this drink again in the very near future. We chatted for a little bit. We tried to stay outside but at a certain moment the mosquitos came out all at once and we had to duck back inside. We made some dinner and then just chilled for the rest of the night. It was a pretty nice Saturday night if I do say so myself.

I felt like I should have watched a Law & Order SVU marathon as my final celebration of the day – a way to celebrate National Iced Tea Day by watching Detective Fin Tutuola (aka Ice-T). But we stuck with House of Cards instead. I did enough celebrating today between the rosé and the gin. I really am super-excited to have discovered the Gin Rickey. It’s definitely my official summer drink now (I’ve filed the appropriate paperwork). Plus I celebrated it in the way a good drink should be – as an earned respite from the hustle and bustle of the day. I enjoyed every sip. Not only did I enjoy the taste but I also looked around and took in the whole scenario and savored that as well. There are few things more enjoyable than sitting in the peace of your neighborhood as you toast to it all with a cold beverage in your hand. That’s what today was and I was grateful. Cheers!

Next Up: National Corn on the Cob Day

 

Day 311 – National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day

I was ready to delve into this celebration today but before I began I had to answer one important question: what exactly is rhubarb? I know what it is, kind of. I’ve heard of it. I knew it was a vegetable. I’ve seen it. It looks like a large stalk of red celery. I’ve even eaten it before, oddly enough in strawberry rhubarb pie form. But I’ve never really examined it let alone worked with it.

I should say that I was not going to bake today. Another day of work and I didn’t have the time to give to making my own pie, especially with an ingredient like rhubarb that I didn’t know how to use. My plan all along was to pick a pie up at a bakery or store to enjoy. That was the easy way out and also a tribute to the popularity of this pie. I was pretty sure I could find one without effort and as it turns out, I found one at the very first store I looked in. More on that later, I just didn’t want you to get all excited about my baking tales only to finish with a store bought pie.

Rhubarb is a pretty old plant. In fact, it’s about 4000 years old and the first mention of it goes back to China in the year 2700 BC. Back in those days, they were harvesting it for medicinal purposes which seems what our early ancestors liked to do with any strange plant or fruit. But the Chinese believed in this plant and used it to help heal battle wounds and even the plague over the years. Like most things, eventually the plant was imported to the West and it appears in early Greece and Rome in the first century. By the tenth century, rhubarb had become a major export of China. It wasn’t until the late 1600’s that people started eating rhubarb. The leaves of rhubarb are poisonous so it seems like the world was a bit tentative to eat the root of this plant. But just like the kid that eats the paste in kindergarten, someone always decides to give something new a taste. The first recipe for rhubarb appears in cookbooks at the turn of the 19th century. Rhubarb is a very, very tart food. If you were to bite into the stalk, you would most likely not be happy. That’s why it’s used in so many desserts where you can cut the tartness with some sweetness and sugar. You can use it in soup and stews or as a side dish on the savory side, but you will still need to deal with the tartness. In cooking, its BFF is the strawberry whose sweet flavor pairs perfectly with the tartness of the rhubarb.

Although I didn’t cook a pie, I had to investigate how to cook a pie because I was curious about how you would prep the rhubarb. Come to find out, it’s pretty simple. You just chop the stalks into small pieces, about 1/2 inch each. You use these pieces as part of your filling mixed with fresh sliced strawberries, a generous amount of sugar, some lemon zest and corn starch. The lemon and sugar will start breaking down the fruit as it cooks (and yes, technically rhubarb is a fruit according to the US classification system, although worldwide it’s considered a vegetable). The corn starch will thicken up the juices and you have your pie filling. It cooks for about 45 minutes and cools for another few hours. Or, you can just go to Trader Joe’s and have a whole pie in your cart in minutes. That’s what I did. I’m still impressed with Trader Joe’s although my cookie buddy wasn’t there today. (No free cookie make Danny angry.) Apart from that, everything I’ve purchased there has been of good quality. Their Strawberry Rhubarb Pie looked delicious. It was on the smaller side (compared to some of the giant pies you see in stores) but that was perfect for us, and it had a nice lattice pattern on top. I was pleased.

My frame of reference for a good Strawberry Rhubarb Pie was limited to the one pie I have ever tasted, but that particular pie set the bar pretty high. It was a pie that was shared with Lola’s family when her mom was very sick. That was naturally a time of sadness but also a time of receiving great kindness and love from friends and neighbors. There was always all kinds of food being dropped off as little gestures of love to let the family know we were being thought of in this hard time. There was soups and stews and casseroles and dinners. And of course there were desserts. In the midst of all that, a neighbor had dropped off  a homemade strawberry rhubarb pie and to this day, the whole family remembers it. It was everything you wanted in a pie – sweet and tart, beautifully made crust which tasted buttery and flaky. It was a star. That’s my benchmark for a good Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, so this Trader Joe’s pie had a lot to live up to. I cut a slice for both Lola and I after dinner, heated it in the microwave and then served it with vanilla ice cream.

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Was this pie as good as the other pie? Of course not. That other pie was homemade and that’s always going to have a better flavor, even in just the love that goes into baking it. But the Trader Joe’s pie wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was pretty good. It had everything I was looking for. The crust was flaky and perfectly browned. The filling was a perfect combination of sweet and tart, not too much of either but a happy balance. The ice cream helped fill in any gaps adding sweet creaminess along with that cool taste to balance out the warmth of the pie. It was really good. You could see the rhubarb in the pie too – it looked like sliced celery – but it was thoroughly cooked so it didn’t have a discernible texture to it. It was a great little treat at the end of the day, so thank you Trader Joe’s.

I wasn’t able to bake a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie today but I still felt like I celebrated the day. Sometimes buying what you need at the store is the perfect solution. Somewhere in a bakery is someone who knows exactly how to make a pie and sometimes it’s the prudent choice to go with their work. They are the experts and by enjoying their work, we are truly celebrating the magic of what they do, even if that baker is Trader Joe. I also grew to appreciate rhubarb a little more. I never gave it much thought, but now I know more about it. Next time Lola gets the plague, I’ll know just how to treat it. I also know not to eat the leaves. I learned a lot today and it all ended with a delicious piece of pie. That’s a win in my book.

Next up: World Gin Day 

History from KitchenProject.com 

Day 310 – National Jelly-Filled Doughnut Day

The world conspired against me today in my pursuit of holiday celebration. It didn’t hurt me or stop me, it just didn’t make it any easier for me. Sometimes, this can be easy. Like yesterday for instance. I just had to go running. Today sounded like it would be easy, but it did not come without complications (hence the universe’s conspiring against me theory). I feel like the deeper I get into this quest, the harder it is getting.

The first force moving against me was pain. I was straight up sore from my running, lawn-mowing and ice-cream jaunting of yesterday. It hit me when I woke up and then as the day went along, my muscles were getting tighter. Every time I got up from my chair, I would hobble for the first 100 steps, hunched over hoping that this adopted Neanderthal posture would make it easier. It did not. There may have been some audible grunts alongside it too. I never stretched yesterday and I’m sure that had a lot to do with it. I’ve got my work cut out for me to make it to August. In any case, when you’re sore like that, your motivation for going all out for a celebration is not really there.

Then I had my usual problem of trying to select what day I should celebrate. I found National Jelly-Filled Doughnut Day on a website that I use as a back up to my back up website. All the other holidays on this day were intriguing, but they were not ones I was motivated to celebrate (or even could celebrate in any meaningful way). I didn’t discover this until about mid-day, so I missed my window for that glorious morning doughnut with my coffee. My plan would be just to pick up a jelly-filled doughnut after work.

I’ve never been a fan of jelly doughnuts. I never saw the allure of having a doughnut squirt out any type of liquid, but I suppose I’m a purist. In fact, if ever I order a dozen doughnuts or a box of Munchkins, I always make the caveat of “No jellies or creams”. I just feel the jelly is messy and unnecessary. I have anger held over from my youth when you would see this round flaky pastry covered in white powdered sugar that you couldn’t wait to eat and then when you bit in, you were hit with a gush of jelly. Beyond that surprise money shot, I was never a big fan of jelly in general. I’ve snubbed my nose at a jelly doughnut all my life. But, I suppose could tolerate one today for my quest though. It’s all about making sacrifices.

After work I stopped by Clements because they were probably missing me, but also to pick up something for dinner and while I was there, I figured I could get the doughnut. They have a bakery there and usually have a whole trolley filled with fresh made doughnuts and pastries. It was late in the day and at some point, they pack away the day’s pastries away because they are no longer fresh. When I got there, I could see there were still some doughnuts left although I couldn’t see if there were any jellies. There was a lady standing in front of the whole display and she was talking to her husband or partner who was standing to her left. They were in full discussion on what pastries to get. There was no room for me to get at any of the doughnuts. I was blocked and also getting a little peeved. I hate when it takes more than one person to go shopping. Just get what you want and go. You don’t need to discuss. You don’t need consultation. Keep moving – that keeps everything else moving. Just a pet peeve of mine. In any case, I couldn’t hang around the doughnuts anymore and wait for them to discuss if they should commit to a lemon-filled danish as a couple, so I angrily pushed my cart away. I made a beeline for the frozen food section. I had a memory of having had a frozen doughnut when I was a kid that my mom baked in the oven and when it came out, I had myself a nice hot doughnut. I recalled it being really tasty too. Not tasting exactly like a doughnut, but a good warm pastry. They were glazed doughnuts. I have never been able to find them again. I didn’t even know if the frozen doughnut was a thing or I imagined it, but it was worth a shot. And if it was a thing, then they would probably make one in jelly flavor. I perused the frozen aisles in the pastry and breakfast sections but came up empty. I wonder if these doughnuts were taken out of stores for a reason or if I really remember them correctly? In any case, they didn’t have them at Clements.

I rolled back to the bakery section and the chatty pastry hoarder and her liege were gone, but so were all the doughnuts. Did that really just happen? Did I just lose a doughnut battle at 5 PM? I was stunned. I started peeking around the rest of the bakery section to see if they may have had doughnuts any place else. Then I recalled that Clement’s make their own mini doughnuts and those were on display in front of the bakery counter. There was plenty of them too. Naturally, there was a dude standing in front of them and even though I made it clear that I was trying to look at the doughnuts, he was not giving up his ground. Apparently he couldn’t discuss how he wanted his cake decorated if he moved just two feet to his right. He had to stand in my way. I was able to awkwardly look through his legs and see the mini doughnuts. They had some good flavors available (including marble which I had never seen before), but no jelly. I kicked the man in the back of the calf and went on my way empty handed.

I was now reduced to stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts which was uninspired but would do the job. Going into the Dunk at 5 pm is a completely different experience than going in at 8 am. It’s way more relaxed. It’s not super busy. There’s no line out the door. And their inventory has been gradually depleted throughout the day. A quick glance however let me know that they still had a good selection of doughnuts. My eyes immediately focused on the bottom row of doughnuts and I saw the distinct glow of powdered doughnuts stacked and leaning onto one another next to a small stack of similar colored munchkins. The counter person asked me what I wanted and I said loudly and proudly, “Can I have a powdered jelly doughnut?” My answer was, “No.” That wasn’t a jelly doughnut, that was just your run of the mill powdered doughnut. I screamed. After we both regained our senses, our discussion continued with more civility. Apparently the only doughnuts they had left were the plain ones filled with strawberry jelly. Beggars can’t be choosers. My quest needed to be fulfilled and it was.

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It’s really not a plain doughnut. There’s a fine sprinkle of granulated sugar on the outside of the doughnut that helps sweeten it up. The doughnut itself is light and fluffy and somewhat flavorful, although not totally. When it is in your hand, it has the texture of something you just want to squeeze (although you shouldn’t squeeze it because there’s stuff inside). It’s hard for me to admit but the jelly is kind of the star. It’s sweet and flavorful with the taste of strawberry right our in front. It has a coolness to the taste too so as your mouth works through the soft dough, the jelly brings refreshment. It really wasn’t bad at all. It was probably an older doughnut too (being about 5:30 in the afternoon), but still had a fresh taste to it. I was kind of sold on the joy of a jelly doughnut although when it’s time to decide between a jelly or a glazed, I’ll lean towards the glazed every time (it’s my Sophie’s choice). Apparently I am eating doughnuts as dinner appetizers now.

After all the trials and tribulations of the day, from the soreness in my legs to the late start to Bob and Betty Getoutoftheway blocking me at Clements, it was nice to actually enjoy a sweet and fruity doughnut. I learned to appreciate a jelly doughnut today which is kind of fitting on such an auspicious occasion. This quest really is getting harder as I can begin to see the finish line on the horizon. My new schedule and just my generally being worn down by the routine is taking its toll. I’m still pushing along though. I ain’t quittin’ now. I’ll find the way. You can try to keep a doughnut away from the man, but you can’t keep a man away from the doughnuts. That’s what my epitaph should read. And when you are all gathered around reading that and mourning, bring some munchkins for everyone to snack on. I’ll even allow a few jellies in the bunch.

 Next up: National Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day