Sunday, February 2, 2020

What sort of madness inspired me to pursue this project even while my trusted partner was enjoying a vacation weekend out of town… I just don’t know. This was a day off in the loosest sense of the word; I spent no time in my beige-grey work cube, but I didn’t stop moving until I was weighted down by chili and ice cream.

Ice Cream For Breakfast Day

What a great way to launch into February – on a rocket fuelled by sugar and dairy. Ice cream may be the single greatest food creation humankind has ever concocted. It’s creamy, it’s sweet, it’s a visceral experience. And it doesn’t belong anywhere near breakfast, or so our parents would have told us. But fuck that, we’re grown-up, and the calendar dictates we misbehave every so often.

And this is the greatest form of misbehavery. I scooped up some mango sorbet and some of our leftover strawberry ice cream from January 15 and watched Saturday morning cartoons (that I’d PVR’ed – turns out that isn’t a thing anymore). The dogs looked at me like I was nuts. I looked back at them, sensing their ruse, and knew they just wanted me to share. They are remarkably easy to read.

Jodie and Abbey joined in from Vancouver, because this is not the kind of celebration you simply skip. If you missed Ice Cream For Breakfast Day, I recommend you dig in to some tomorrow. Just don’t make a habit of it – our parents may have had a point.

National Serpent Day

Had we both been in town and not burdened by a healthy heap of kitchen work yesterday, we would have ventured to our local snake-pit and checked out a few slitherers in person. The local snake-pit, of course, is at our nearby mall, in the same permanent exhibit that houses our local penguins. It’s a strange mall, that one.

Jodie took a photo op with some stuffed serpents, and that will have to do for our celebration. I’m a fan of the creatures myself, but my mother has an aversion that no amount of friendly cartoon snakes or ludicrous Samuel L. Jackson films can overcome. Since she was my company for last evening’s feast (and since the extensive kitchen work yesterday was bordering on crazed), a live snake encounter was not meant to be.

Finding one in the wild around these parts is not easy. We are located at the very northern tip of snake inhabitation in North America. I have never in my life seen a snake in the wild, and it’s not likely I ever will at this latitude. There are over 2,900 different species of snakes squirming around our globe. Some live in water, though strangely not in the Atlantic. You won’t find snake one on some of our larger islands, like New Zealand, Iceland and Ireland (courtesy of Mr. St. Patrick, if I am vaguely recalling that legend correctly).

The largest snake in the world used to be the Titanoboa cerrejonensis, which stretched as long as 42 feet. They are long extinct now (which some may see as a comfort), but you can still find a reticulated python that pushes close to 23 feet. That’s plenty long to give you nightmares.

National Texas Day

And speaking of big, let’s take a trip to where everything is bigger (or so the locals insist). The Lone Star State is known for a wide swath of interesting cuisine, but I was drawn to the chili con carne, a chili made without the use of beans (which Jodie can’t stand anyway, as we learned on January 6). This was the bulk of my yesterday afternoon; a week ago I was running errands like a shmuck until dinnertime – yesterday I was in the kitchen all day.

Texas has saluted numerous nations over the centuries. Spain moved in first and grabbed control of the land from the locals. France edged its way onto the land in 1685, but that only lasted a couple years. Mexico called Texas its most northern district until 1836 when Texas shed its wardrobe of flags and became an independent republic. Nine years later it was part of America. Sixteen years after that, it was part of the Confederate states, but we all know that was short-lived. After some rough years, Texas became a bastion of prosperity, thanks to the cattle, bison, timber and oil industries, and also Tom Landry and J.R. Ewing.

Who do we know and love from Texas? Thousands of folks. Here’s a truncated list of some of our favourites: Wes Anderson, Carol Burnett, Michael Dorn, Jamie Foxx, Woody Harrelson, Steve Martin, Leon Bridges, Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly, Freddie King, Stephen Stills, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Roy Orbison, Billy Preston, Sly Stone, and a whole lot of country musicians with large, impractical hats. Texas is #2 in state size, #2 in population, and yesterday it was #1 in our hearts. The chili was pretty fantastic too.

National Baked Alaska Day

I have never tried baked Alaska before, let alone made it. This was a gauntlet of unknown proportions, thrown down at my feet and left for me to correctly identify. Upon doing a smidge of research, I learned that baked Alaska is baked for all of five minutes, or not at all if you have a torch to brown the meringue.

I began building the bones of this weird masterpiece on Friday evening. It was constructed in stages: pack a bowl with ice cream, let it sit. Sprinkle some wafer crumbs, let it sit. Add more ice cream and some pound cake, let it sit. Make meringue, smear it all over and spike it up so it looks like something you’d find in an oft-regretted 1987 yearbook photo. Let it sit once more in the freezer. Then take it out and torch it.

The baked Alaska is a thing of absolute beauty. The ingredients dance with one another in a thoroughly magical pas de deux, and it may be one of the most perfect desserts one could ponder. But you know what else is great? An ice cream sundae. And you can make that shit in less than two minutes.

So why is it called a baked Alaska? This is another one of those unconfirmed gaggles of possible origins that clouds so many histories of great treats. Some think it came from the chef at Antoine’s in New Orleans, others say it came from Delmonico’s in New York. When a dessert just like it was presented at the Paris World’s Fair in 1867, it was called a Norwegian Omelette. In the end, it’s an old-timey dessert that is quite the eye-feast (and taste-bud-feast), but which may be more work than necessary.

National Dark Chocolate Day

I had aspirations for this day, to meld it with National Candy Making Day and concoct my own version of a chocolate-covered cherry. But after having spent the majority of my day off in the kitchen, I felt I might breach the point of exhaustion with another massive, messy undertaking. Alas, I have opted for a few quick words about the wonder of dark chocolate.

When a box of chocolates arrives at our home, Jodie and I have no issues in dividing them up: she takes the darks, I take the milks. I prefer the lighter edge – I like the sweet, and feel no obligation to commit my taste buds to a gustatory journey of history and exploration with every bite. But the fact is, if you want to be placated you eat the milk chocolate. It tickles the sweet sensors and satisfies the body’s natural craving for chocolate (not a scientific thing yet, but give it time – they’ll figure it out). If you want to be challenged, to explore the outer limits of chocolate’s true innate potential, you need to find yourself some quality dark chocolate and dig in.

Dark chocolate does to the palette what a complicated wine or whiskey can do. The flavours will start with one tone of voice, then travel through a range of harmonics and even dissonant counterpoints to bring you to an entirely different place by the time you’ve swallowed. Milk chocolate is pop music; dark chocolate is jazz.

I haven’t ruled out creating those little candy morsels some day (though National Chocolate Covered Cherry Day has already passed us by). But when I do, if I want it to taste beyond its potential, I’ll be using dark chocolate.

I’ll be picking Jodie up from the airport shortly, and we’ve got a lot to get to today.

  • Super Bowl Sunday. I mean… come on. It doesn’t get more important than this, does it?
  • Groundhog Day. I didn’t go outside and look for my shadow at dawn (I was sleeping), but I will report on what various groundhogs have found. Also, if I have to repeat a day over and over again like Bill Murray in that movie, I hope it’s not yesterday with all that kitchen stuff.
  • National Ukulele Day. Lots of great uke music out there to enjoy. That will accompany our non-football-watching time.
  • National Hedgehog Day. Rather than seek out some pet-store rodent to mingle with, we’ll be dining upon some top-notch chocolate-hazelnut hedgehogs with the game.
  • National Heavenly Hash Day. And also this stuff, made from marshmallows, cherries, pineapple and coconut.
  • Bonza Bottler Day. We each have a special bottle to mark the occasion. It all goes down better with football! Go Chiefs/49ers!

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