Monday, March 30, 2020

So we are back again, screeching into the abyss with another pack of celebrations. Our road to 2021 remains the same, though our intentions may have shifted. Where we began determined to rally a steady party of celebrants through the year, we soon abandoned that mission and sought instead to see if all this revelry would provide a medicating effect upon our mental health. A couple weeks ago we began celebrating simply to drown out the noise of each day’s increasingly dire headlines. Now it seems we are doing this simply to see if it can indeed be done under this year’s wonky circumstances. Our friends and family are enjoying this on social media, but these articles, where the true party is focused, see us simply… well, screeching into the abyss. Screech along if you’d like.

National West Virginia Day

It was but a week ago when our weekly journey from state to state was supposed to land us in the Mountain State. Alas, we were one ingredient short, and this is not the time to be racing to a grocery store for a single forgotten item if it can possibly be avoided. So yesterday we paid tribute to this wonderful place that neither of us have ever seen in person.

West Virginia may have the greatest origin story of any state. As the Civil War was stretching its gruesome gore across the country in 1861, a bunch of Virginians decided they didn’t want to mess around with the Confederacy, and that they were fine not owning other humans. So they separated and formed West Virginia, which fought for the Union side. The state sits completely within the Appalachians, so it’s chock full of mountains. It’s a gorgeous place, though surprisingly uneducated. Only 17.3% of West Virginians have a bachelor’s degree, the lowest in the US. They also have one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. And to make things worse, for five consecutive years West Virginians have rated themselves as being more miserable than people in every other state.

So the state is not without its problems. And I’m sure it doesn’t help that their coal industry, which was once a beacon of energy, is drying up. But the state is packed with vistas you won’t find anywhere else, and some cool people have come from that place. Like Randy Moss from Rand. Steve Harvey from Welch. Don Knotts from Morgantown. Northern Exposure’s John Corbett from Wheeling. Joyce DeWitt, also from Wheeling. Filmmaker and McDonalds aficionado Morgan Spurlock from Parkersburg. Not a bad list.

The classic West Virginia dish, as I learned through numerous sources, is the pepperoni roll. These made for a great Sunday snack – simply stuff some pepperoni and cheese into a Pilsbury crescent roll, spin it up and bake it, then dip into some warm pizza sauce. A great way to celebrate the state.

National Nevada Day

And now to the Silver State, a place noted for being a den for aliens, gambling, and quickie divorces. Jodie and I have spent a lot of time in Nevada – strictly in Las Vegas though, not venturing around the numerous ghost towns and the vast desert that encompasses them. Nevada also has an interesting origin story. Eight days before the 1864 election, the state separated from Utah Territory in a bid to add an extra state that would support Lincoln’s Republicans in the election. The minimum requirement to form a state at the time was 60,000 people, and Nevada was home to only about 10,000. Still, the paperwork was pushed through, and though Lincoln wouldn’t end up needing the help, Nevada was born.

Nevada was built on mining, so the frontier lifestyle, which also included gambling and panning for gold, was the state’s first personality. Gambling was outlawed in 1909 (just as the fable of the Old West was retiring), but it was legalized again in 1931 as a response to the Great Depression. Eight days earlier, the Hoover Dam project had been approved, so there were plenty of workers to take advantage of the new laws. A few enterprising gangsters saw the potential, and Nevada’s new bold face emerged.

Prostitution was legalized in the state, and left up to each county to decide how they want to handle it. They made divorces easier to get than anywhere else in the country, at least up until the 70s. The state features no personal income tax, and no corporate income tax. In 2018 Nevada became the first state to have a female majority in its legislature. There’s a lot going on in Nevada outside of those casinos. And the state has produced some cool people: Dawn Wells (Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island) is from Reno, Matthew Gray Gubler from Criminal Minds was born in Las Vegas. Edna Purviance, Charlie Chaplin’s first great muse and co-star, hails from Paradise Valley. Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the Killers, is from Henderson.

We dined on a Nevada classic for dinner, shrimp cocktail. We used this recipe for the cocktail sauce, and improvised with the shrimp. We haven’t been to Nevada in more than a decade, but we hope to go back – ideally when they finally outlaw tobacco smoking in the casinos. And when we’re allowed out of the house again, of course.

National Lemon Chiffon Day

This was, as my mom made a deliberate point of telling me, a difficult recipe. She is our team baker, and has produced such luminous treats as coconut torte and lacy oatmeal cookies. This fluffy concoction, which was creamy and smooth with a blast of lemon glory, was a challenge. It had to be created in stages. At one point a large bowl of ice water was required to regulate the temperature. The candied ginger had to be abandoned, because the ingredient was too hard to find.

But oh, the result. This cake tasted like a gentle swell of strings, rising up to the roof of an auditorium. The crust crumbled with a satisfying chortle, but the contents were all pillowy clouds and decadent dreams. We are without dessert celebrations for a few days, but this will carry us through.

The chiffon pie was created by Monroe Boston Strause, who was known as the Pie King. It dates back to Los Angeles in 1926, and is an off-shoot of the chiffon cake, which uses vegetable oil instead of butter or shortening. We could have opted for a cake instead, as lemon is the reigning king of chiffonery, but then we’d have missed out on this glorious creamy swirl of otherworldy bliss. And that wouldn’t do.

National Mom & Pop Business Owners Day

This was going to be a road trip day, with us popping in to our favourite locally owned businesses. Instead we find ourselves quarantined with no business in sight. So instead, we’ll detail where we would have gone.

We’d have started out at Barb & Ernie’s Old Country Inn, now owned and operated by B&E’s son and daughter-in-law, Thomas and Char. They make the greatest eggs benedict in the city (at least), serve perfectly-brewed coffee, and mix it up with a delightful array of other breakfast greats, from bratwurst to crepes to potato pancakes. From there we’d scoot over to Audrey’s Books on Jasper Avenue, one of the last great independent bookstores in the city. They are, for any interested local readers, still open during the COVID crisis – just give them a call and pick up your books curb-side. Keep supporting local.

Next we’d have headed west to Carol’s Sweets (obviously), where the owners make their own line of astounding chocolates, and also feature the best selection of candy in town. Maybe not the biggest selection, but the greatest variety of fresh, outstanding candy. Every other place I’ve visited just has a larger selection of the same stale bulk candies you can find at the grocery store. And for licorice fans there’s simply nowhere else to go but Carol’s to get this much to choose from. Lastly we’d have dropped into Da-De-O, the Cajun diner that fuels our joy and inspires our taste buds to expect greatness. Karen, the owner, has created the perfect blend of neighborhood pub, gastronomic wonderland, and lively hangout.

This would have been a really cool day, and when all this madness is behind us, we will play it out. These local businesses, all the ones you love and frequent, will need our support. The big chains will survive just fine, but these businesses depend on the love of the community. Keep them in your thoughts, and if possible, in your wallets.

Back to work for Jodie, albeit in a weirdly altered capacity. I’ll be working from home once again, free to focus my energy on this:

  • National Take A Walk In The Park Day. So long as we keep a good distance from strangers, this will be a great idea. Except it’s snowing. Why is it always snowing?
  • National I Am In Control Day. A questionable concept, but we’ll have a look at what we truly can control in this weird little chunk of history.
  • National Pencil Day. Jodie will take the helm for this one, boasting about the specific pencils she adores.
  • National Turkey Neck Soup Day. Not going to happen. I might look into how this became a thing, but we won’t be cooking it.
  • National Virtual Vacation Day. The only kind of vacation we can do, unfortunately. We’ll look at some options.
  • Grass Is Always Browner On The Other Side Of The Fence Day. What’s better than to imagine how much shittier things could still be?
  • International Laundry Folding Day. Laundry day was yesterday, but we’ll celebrate by not having to fold any today. Interesting how that works.

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