Monday, April 6, 2020

And then there are the days which will bite you. Yesterday I awoke with the weight of reality thudding against my skull, and I wanted nothing to do with celebrating. Sometimes a day off is in order. Unfortunately, taking yesterday off would have disrupted the steady stream of devotion we’ve poured into making 2020 incredibly weird, as though the world itself hadn’t taken care of that already. So off we went, trudging forward into all of this:

National Deep Dish Pizza Day

People who argue between Chicago and New York style pizza don’t get it: both are fantastic, and both for very different reasons. A New York slice is greasy and thin – otherwise quite simple. It’s the best way to eat a hand-held slice, and it tastes a little different in New York than anywhere else, possibly because of the water. Chicago style is a thing unto itself. It’s still pizza, but the order of ingredients is a bit wonky. And it’s notably difficult to eat by hand, making it a sit-down meal.

What passes for deep dish pizza around here is absolutely not the same thing. We have a place in town, Chicago Deep Dish Pizza, which makes a thick, doughy crust, and tops it with normal pizza toppings. That food is an abomination. It’s just regular pizza with more dough. Who wants more dough? The dough is the canvas – does anyone look at a great painting and wish there was more canvas behind it?

Chicago style pizza may have been invented by Ike Sewell, or maybe by Rudy Malnati. Could be it was Saverio Rosati. Who knows? It was invented in Chicago and became intertwined with that city’s culture over the last century. A Chicago style deep dish has a thin-to-medium crust along the bottom, but that crust rises up the side of a deep pan. The cheese gets poured in first, followed by the toppings, then the sauce, and a bit more cheese up top, because cheese is awesome.

We were going to make ours with chorizo sausage, as I finally tracked some down. As I prepared the sausage though (which was seasoned somewhere along the line), I noticed it smelled distinctively like… B.O. I mean it smelled ABSOLUTELY like B.O. It didn’t make it onto the pizza. Instead we went with a selection of Italian meats and some onions. It was a lot of food, and it left us with a lot of leftovers, which is great because we have no specific food we have to make today. A huge win all around.

National Caramel Day

If I happened upon a road-fork which prompted me to give up either chocolate or caramel for the remainder of my days, I’d have a long think, wipe away an eternally-staining tear, then opt for the former. I would find little joy in a life without chocolate, but little point in carrying on without caramel. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, and it’s entirely possible once this year of celebrating is behind us my doctor will advise that I stay away from both chocolate and caramel, and maybe lose a few pounds. But yesterday was all about cheering on our caramel gods.

Caramel is simply heated sugar. Once sugar nudges its way up to 340 degrees Fahrenheit, it starts bubbling and liquifying, turning into that amber goo that graces the inside of Rolos and Caramilk and numerous other treats. Mix it with cream for a perfect ice cream topping. Toss in some butter, maybe some liqueur, and you’ve got a variety of caramel incarnations, each more delicious than the last.

We paid tribute already to toffee, which is a close relative of caramel. In fact, we discovered that we still have some toffee in our freezer from National English Toffee Day, way back on January 8. That’s great news, but caramel needed its own flag-bearer. We considered swinging into Carol’s Sweets for some home-crafted caramel chocolates, but they are now in phone-ahead curb-side pickup mode, and we were running short of time yesterday. So instead we enjoyed some of the traditional caramel from our youths: that inside the Caramilk and the Wunderbar, where it dances with a crunchy peanut butter swirl.

For being a miracle of chemistry and one of the greatest dessert foods on the planet, we thank caramel for continuing to brighten our lives. As long as our doctors allow it.

National Nebraska Day

And this week sees us showing up in the Cornhusker State, a place neither of us have ever been, nor do we see a set of circumstances that will launch us there at any time in the future. I’ve been told that when the University of Nebraska plays a football game that stadium becomes the third largest city in the state, after Omaha and Lincoln. I don’t know if that’s true, but for the purposes of today’s piece, I’ll believe it. Actually, given that the next-largest city would be Bellevue at 53,424 people, I’m certain that factoid is true.

Nebraska is the nation’s only triply landlocked state, meaning you have to travel through at least three other states to get to a major body of water. Nebraska is not the place to book your next beach getaway.

Nebraska is home to Warren Buffet and his empire. It houses the world’s largest train yard. It’s the only state where all the electric utilities are publicly owned, which strikes me as a good thing. And it’s the birthplace of the following cool people: Fred Astaire from Omaha, Larry the Cable Guy (that’s a big ‘maybe’ on the ‘cool’) from Pawnee City, Marlon Brando from Omaha, Paul Revere (the rock star, not the American Revolution guy) from Harvard, Henry Fonda from Grand Island, Elliott Smith (RIP) from Omaha, silent film star Harold Lloyd from Burchard, Dick Cavett from Gibbon, Nick Nolte from Omaha, Thurl “Tony the Tiger” Ravenscroft from Norfolk, and Wade Boggs from Omaha. Not a bad group. Must be something in that wide-open air.

Our journey to Nebraska saw us tasting some delicious cherry Kool-Aid. Kool-Aid was invented by Edwin Perkins (from Iowa, but we’ll forgive him) in the town of Hastings, Nebraska back in 1927. He invented it in his kitchen, derived from a liquid concentrate called Fruit Smack, which sounds far more addictive. Kool-Aid moved to Chicago in 1931, and was bought up by General Foods 22 years later. It is definitive of Nebraska cuisine, and it washed down our deep-dish nicely.

National Read A Road Map Day

Do you still have a road map laying around? We don’t. We have an atlas downstairs, and we might still have the plush globe toy our kids used to ignore when they were young, but I think we gave up on physical road maps once our phones started providing much more useful and complete information. And just when I was mastering the art of folding them too.

To celebrate this day, I popped into that Random Street View site I found last week, and zoomed out to look at the map on my screen. It was that simple.

Taking a road trip without having a map can be a costly endeavour. We did that once, a trip with all our kids (we were fostering at the time, so there was a crowd) from Edmonton to Peachland in the heart of British Columbia. For the record, I suggested we get a map. Jodie disagreed. So, once we wound up in Kamloops, having taken a wrong turn that would require almost six hours to correct, our lesson was learned. Read a road map.

Besides, maps are fun to look at. To see the diversity of town names throughout a region you thought you were familiar with, to imagine what life must be like in Nowhere, Colorado (a real place) – it’s a foray into geographical fantasy. In this age there’s no shame in opting for the digital equivalent. Read a road map or surf your way through Google Earth – either way, explore the outside world in the only truly safe way to do so for the time being.

First Contact Day

This one is sacred. It may be the only celebration of the 3-5 million we’re undertaking this year to be commemorating something that has not yet happened. According to Star Trek lore (no, not Data’s brother – I just realized how confusing that may sound), on April 5, 2063, Zefram Cochrane takes flight in his ship (the Phoenix), and breaks the warp barrier for the first time in human history. This sends a signal to the Vulcans that it’s time to drop in on Earth and say hey to us human-folk. I wonder if they’d come to regret that?

So yesterday we paid tribute in the most logical way (heh), by tracking down the eighth Star Trek film (First Contact, in case that wasn’t obvious) on Amazon Prime and giving it another watch. And guess what? It’s listed right there, alongside several other Star Trek films on Prime, but when you click on it, it says “Video Unavailable”. What the fuck, Bezos? Why tease me like that? So instead we jetted over to Netflix – who didn’t screw us over – and watched the 15th episode of season 4 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, an episode called “First Contact”. It wasn’t nearly as good as the movie, and it featured a weird and out-of-place scene in which an alien Bebe Neuwirth forces herself on Commander Riker. But whatever – TNG always tickles the soul, and it does so even more after having concluded the most excellent first season of Picard last week.

So live long, prosper, and pay proper tribute to one of the greatest franchises of all time by indulging in its one fictitious celebration. I mean – so far, anyway. Perhaps we’ll learn the date the USS Enterprise was first launched into space and that will become a day to celebrate later this year. Anything’s possible beneath the stars.

Today we’re back to virtual work, and another great Monday of partying:

  • National Sorry Charlie Day. A day devoted to a tuna mascot, and to think about the times that rejection has spurned us onward to success in life. Wait.. really?
  • National Caramel Popcorn Day. How will we celebrate? Hint: we’ll eat caramel popcorn.
  • National Student Athlete Day. I don’t see a lot happening with this one, given that students are not currently in schools at the moment.
  • Plan Your Epitaph Day. A fine day to contemplate one’s own demise, on a Monday in an endless winter while a plague melts the planet. Cool!
  • National Tartan Day. I’ll have a look at my family tartan, and discuss how it has affected my life. It has not, but maybe I’ll make something up.
  • National Teflon Day. A day of pan awareness.
  • New Beer’s Eve. The first of two beer-related celebrations this week, because life is good.

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