Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The theme from yesterday was therapy. We are one week removed from what is (pseudo) scientifically deemed to be the most depressing day of the year. We swim in stress while a storm of anxiety blasts us from above, yet we don’t drown. How do we remain afloat? It helps to have a few tricks in the arsenal.

Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day

The popping of bubble wrap. It’s an act of vehement destruction, yet it is completely self-contained and non-violent. One can channel one’s rage, anxiety, fear, or unfettered jubilation through one’s fingertips and feel that surge of annihilation, yet in the end there is no mess to clean, and nothing to regret. Provided you don’t have a fragile item to ship and now have no way to protect it. Plan ahead a little – that’s all I’m saying.

I (Marty) was feeling a funk yesterday, one brought about by the sheer Mondayness of it all, and bubble wrap became my therapy. I grabbed a chunk from our print and mail room upstairs, then squoze a few satisfying mini-big-bangs on the elevator back down. I ran into a couple of colleagues in the hall and allowed them to satisfy their innate human need to destroy and conquer. Before long I was going office to office, cubicle to cubicle, offering free therapy to everyone on the team. I was like Santa for mental health. Call me Sanity Claus.

(at this point, Chico Marx laughs… “You can’t fool me – there ain’t no Sanity Claus…” – someone will get this joke)

I found I could understand how people’s days were going by the way they approached this therapy. One lady popped just three bubbles with care and announced she felt better. Another grabbed the batch and squeezed it like a sponge, clearly venting a day’s worth of frustration and angst. She also felt better. One lady declined, finding the sound to be akin to fingernails on a chalkboard – I respect that. With this action, I was able to bring joy to each of my coworkers this afternoon, which was in itself a powerful form therapy for me.

As for its primary purpose – packing things for shipping – yeah, it’s great. Bubble wrap was originally unleashed upon the world by inventors Alfred Fielding and Marc Chevannes in 1957. They were trying to make 3D wallpaper. They should have kept trying, because as impractical as 3D wallpaper sounds, I’d kind of like to see it.  But yesterday was not about appreciating bubble wrap’s use in shipping. It was all about the pop, and the therapy.

National Chocolate Cake Day

If bubble-pop therapy doesn’t spritz your lapels you can always tackle a slice of chocolate cake. Friends and family provided us with a few recipes for today, but in the end expediency won the day, and the victorious variety of chocolate cake went to Ms. Betty Crocker. Yes, we have dined on cake much finer than this, but it’s still chocolate cake.

White cake might be more malleable in its potential frostings, but chocolate cake is the dessert of midnight mischief. Forget spice and carrot and lemon – those quirky outlaws of the cake shelf may have their own quirky dance moves, but that creature in the shadows, that lump in the moonlight that coaxes a lump into your throat… that’s chocolate cake. It’s unflappable and unmappable, charting a course to the mightiest and most grateful taste buds.

Back in 1828 a Dutch chemist named Coenraad Johannes van Houten built a device that could suck the fat from cacao liquor, creating cacao butter and leaving behind a batch of solids that could be ground into powder. Suddenly chocolate was cheap and easy to get – the common-folk could enjoy it. Chocolate cake has evolved from those first devil’s food mixes during the Depression, through the fudge-bleeding volcano cakes of the 90s to the fancy artisan artworks you can buy in every major city today. This was a thoroughly delicious celebration.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Not a celebration, but more of a commemoration. First, a revelation: a recent survey of Americans showed that half the nation does not know that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust. This is unacceptable. Ignorance is where it all begins. It’s the asphalt on the road to horror. I’ll say nothing else about this solemn day, other than it’s up to us – those with at least a tenuous grasp on actual history – to keep the fire burning. Don’t let this act of evil be forgotten.

If yesterday was a mansion built on a foundation of therapy, today will be a bouncy house, packed with the warm air of insoluble fun.

  • National Have Fun At Work Day. Jodie always has fun at work – the kids see to that. I will be hosting a home-made Family Feud event over lunch for my coworkers. As if the bubble wrap wasn’t fun enough.
  • National Kazoo Day. For this we will make some horrible, horrible music.
  • National LEGO Day. I get to play pretend game show host, pretend amateur garbage musician, AND I get to build LEGO? Oh hell yes.
  • National Blueberry Pancake Day. The highest form of pancake evolution. Nothing beats blueberry pancakes for dinner. Especially with bacon.
  • Data Privacy Day. Time to update all those passwords I never remember and have to reset anyway.

Monday, January 27, 2020

The tendrils of every celebration yesterday were snuggly wrapped around the notion of food. I feel I can use the word ‘tendrils’, which is an unappetizing little pair of syllables, because the food itself was so smackingly delicious. And none of it served from within a sheep’s stomach.

National Irish Coffee Day

We postponed this event from Saturday, as it seemed unnecessary to pile more alcoholic intake on top of the copious amount of scotch whisky we’d employed to keep down the contents of our Robbie Burns Supper.

Irish coffee is a brilliant way to launch a day, in particular if that day is destined to be spent weaving between the lines of productivity and sloth with absolute abandon and zero attention to detail. It’s a toasty blend of Irish whiskey, coffee, cream (whipped to perfection) and sugar. Just one frothy mug left me giggling and giddy by 11:15 yesterday morning.

The origin story of the Irish coffee is as vague and murky as the meandering daydreams the beverage may produce. Was it Joe Sheridan, the head chef of Foynes Airbase in Limerick? Was it Stanton Delaplane, the San Franciscan travel writer who tried it at Shannon Airport? Or is it most likely that, upon learning about coffee, the Irish decided to add whiskey to it pretty much right away?

Admittedly, we used whipped cream instead of the more traditional method of pouring thick cream over the back of a spoon so that it floats upon the whiskey-coffee cocktail. Perhaps we were adding our own spin. Perhaps we just wanted some left over whipped cream in case we needed to stage another pie fight. Perhaps the scotch from the night before simply hadn’t fully worn off.

National Green Juice Day

Such a curious concept… the green juice. What flavour is “green”? Is it lime? Is it kiwi? Is it kale? Mint-chocolate-chip ice cream?

We have wandered the dark alleys of viridescent beverages before, back in 2009 at the behest of Howard Stern’s sidekick, Robin Quivers, whose claims of supreme health in verdant fluids we took to heart. I don’t recall what the concoction was, only that it contained kale, and it tasted like the glaucous scuzz beneath a longshoreman’s boot. It was not only my sole vomitous experience at work, it remains my lone upchuckery within the metal confines of a public bathroom stall. That particular cleanse was done by noon on the first day, and delightful cheeseburgers were later devoured by all.

Yesterday we picked up the beauteous bevvy above, a kiwi-apple-mango treat that tipped the wallet at $3.49, but poked our taste buds into an elevated and enlightened fresh opinion on the potential of pastoral potations. It was actually good. “Actually good” was not a phrase during the Scottish feast the night before (the Scotch eggs were great, but we’d anticipated that), nor was it uttered at dinner tonight. Why?

Australia Day

We could have simply thrown a boomerang. We could have watched St. Marys pummel Palmerston in some thrilling Aussie Football League action. Hell, we could have downed a Foster’s lager and it might have been a better idea than this.

I opted to recreate the Bloomin’ Onion, a staple of the Australia-themed Outback Steakhouse. Why? I have no idea. We have no deep fryer so we turned instead to a baked version. It was wholly unsatisfying, and Jodie’s inquiry as to whether or not this was actually an Australian food was valid. Alas, by then it was too late.

I did some research and found that this onion dish, consisting of a single sweet onion cut to pop open like a blossom, then breaded and fried, is not an actual Aussie delicacy. Its origin seems to be… Outback Steakhouse, when it opened in the US in 1988. Tim Gannon, the co-founder of the chain, was inspired by a New Orleans dish and came up with it himself.

So no, this was not an authentic celebration, but we celebrated nonetheless. We mourned the loss of dozens of human lives, thousands of homes, and gazillions of animal souls in this year’s fires. We contemplated the places in Australia we’d like to see in person, then remembered there are places where it literally rains spiders from the sky and we reminded ourselves that we probably will never go because of that. The Australians we’ve known can be brash and blunt, but tend to have massive hearts and a sense of humor that could pierce the shell of a Macquarie tortoise from 50 feet.

So to all of Australia we open our hearts. You deserve better than bushfire arsonists lighting the wick of climate change and singeing those glorious koalas. You have the most bad-ass backstory of any nation on the planet, a global reputation for being tough motherfuckers, and your take on football is one of the greatest spectator sports on the planet.

Plus, you had the sense not to invent the Bloomin’ Onion.

Be Kind To Food Servers Month

The US Department of Labor launched this concept to remind people to be a little nicer (and maybe a bit more generous) to food servers. It’s well-documented that in many regions, food servers who receive tips can be paid significantly less than the minimum wage. People expect a lot from servers, and often those expectations are not followed through with an appropriate thank-you. And I don’t just mean the act of tipping.

But let’s talk tipping for a moment. Growing up, my father taught me that I should tip 15% for good service, 10% for poor service, and nothing if the service was garbage. I worked in the food industry and married a former waitress, so I tend to land on 20% for good service, 15% for poor service, and more than 20 for great service. I can’t remember ever experiencing service so poor it deserved no tip.

Food service is a mostly thankless job that requires stamina, concentration, and a consistently high level of hard work. People snap their fingers at servers, bark criticisms at them, and treat them more like food servants than servers. I’ve seen people throw food at fast food servers because an order wasn’t right. I watched my grandfather (who was not cruel, though unfathomably cheap) tip $2 on a $60 bill. I have yet to hear any waiter or waitress finish a shift with pain-free tootsies.

It’s a tough job, and these people deserve our love. Treat this month not as a contained holiday, but as a reminder to be kind and patient with food servers all year. And for Chrissakes, leave ‘em a decent tip.

National Mocktail Week

This one just wrapped up, but we felt it deserved a mention. Most everyone I know began their journey into cocktaildom with something on par with the Shirley Temple or the Roy Rogers – drinks that taste like fruity cocktails but without the bite of booze to send them home. Our venture into the mocktail world would look very similar to the Irish Coffee pic above: Jodie had hers without Irish whiskey, but with all the rest of the fixin’s.

Here are a few other options if you’re looking to keep your beverages virginal:

  • The Arnold Palmer, a blend of iced tea and lemonade, was actually popularized by Mr. Palmer himself, who adored them.
  • The Freddie Bartholomew, a mix of ginger ale and lime juice, was also named for a child actor, but unlike Shirley’s drink (which she hated), we have no idea whether or not he enjoyed it.
  • The Tortuga cocktail is similar to sweet tea – it’s just iced tea, brown sugar, some cinnamon and a lime wedge.
  • The Gunner was big in Hong Kong. Mix ginger beer with ginger ale, add a dash of Angostura bitters and some lime cordial. It won’t have booze, but it’ll knock your thirst out.
  • The Virgin Mary is just a Bloody Mary with all the spices, the tomato juice, and no vodka. Sounds great, but I bet it won’t cure your hangover.

National Peanut Brittle Day

At last, a treat that could not possibly steer us wrong. Call it pasteli, call it croquant, call it gozinaki or call it chikki, the brittle is a brilliant treat. It’s quite simply sugar and water, heated to become caramel, mixed with nuts and ultimately brought to that perfect temperature (about 300 degrees Fahrenheit) where it will harden. There are a few other steps of course – trade secrets that I neither know nor need to know, since I didn’t make the stuff – but the end result is pure decadence.

We headed to our favourite candy shop, Carol’s Sweets, and grabbed the batch pictured above. It was an ideal dessert, one which closed the book on a weird weekend of munching.

Spouse’s Day

This one was easy. I have a spouse who completes, solves, and proves the equation of my existence. Celebrating her yesterday was a joy.

We may pepper in a couple of National Month celebrations today, because the menu for official revelry is pretty limited.

  • National Bubblewrap Appreciation Day. A poppin’ we shall go – who doesn’t love bubblewrap?
  • National Chocolate Cake Day. This is a reminder that some of the best days are popping up early in the year. Grab a slice tonight and join the party!