Thursday, May 14, 2020

One day spent dancing the music of counted syllables and apt-spaced accents leads me scurrying back into the warm embrace of comfy prose. Once again I can prattle freely, and lull myself into a state of hypnotic reverie through the self-indulgent sounds of my keyboard taps. And for one day we return to the frantic maelstrom of a celebrate-heavy day. Without any further ado – or really any ado at all to speak of – let’s dive in.

National Crouton Day

We launch right away into the important celebrations – those which help to define our culture and give meaning to our daily toils. The almighty crouton: part bread, part seasoning – the sprinkles atop the proverbial ice cream of a Caesar salad. When I worked in a professional kitchen I learned to bake my own croutons from day-old bread and garlic butter. I still do this from time to time.

There is no heroic origin story of the crouton. Its name comes from the French word croûte, which means ‘crust’. For as long as we’ve had bread and the ability to bake it, we’ve had croutons in some form. They can be tiny like Monopoly dice, or large slices like melba toast. In addition to salads you’ll find them in soups, in stuffing, or eaten out of a box on a park bench at midnight by a psychopath. It’s a versatile food.

We made our own croutons from scratch yesterday, using some French bread diced up, soaked in garlic butter and dashed with seasoning. They were great – I don’t know if I’ve ever had store-bought croutons that were “great” or really any better than “fine”. These ones exceeded our expectations, which was what we’d hoped for.

National Apple Pie Day

In our effort (mild as it may appear) to reduce our consumption of dessert-oriented food items, we nearly opted to forgo the ingestion of this great and noble symbol of American patriotism and down-home eatin’. My grandmother used to bake apple pies a few times a year, and when our family would venture over for our weekly Sunday dinner visits, my first stop would be to swing by the microwave to see if she’d baked a fresh one to warm up after the meal. Then I’d say hello.

Apple far from my favourite fruit, but when thrust into its pie receptacle it tops any other fruit-filled pastry thing on the shelf. Maybe it’s the cinnamon, maybe it’s the way it blends so effortlessly with a glop of melting vanilla ice cream on top, I don’t know. But it is the pie supreme, however you like it.

Maybe you’re into the Dutch style, which may include butter, raisins and almond paste. English apple pie can contain pears, figs and raisins. Some folks eat it with double cream or even custard on top. The French caramelize the fruit and only use a bottom crust, which appears on top, as you serve the thing upside down. Swedish style is more like a crumble. And some folks – mostly in America – slap a slice of processed cheese on top, which sounds far more disgusting than it actually is.

Our apple pie last night was an unenthusiastic mini-pie from the bakery, but it was as delicious as an apple pie just can’t help but be. We’ll cut out a dessert we don’t like quite this much. Maybe.

National Fruit Cocktail Day

And back to the kitchen we go, slaves to the calendar and the need to devour whatever it tells us to. We cracked open a can of Del Monte goodness (with extra cherries, because duh) for dessert, and then Jodie made the from-scratch fruit salad you see up there. What’s not to love about fruit cocktail? It’s fruity, there’s sugar added so it’s always sweet, and it’s easy to prepare.

Fruit cocktail is nothing but fruit salad, crammed into a can or little single-serving plastic container for consumption. The word ‘cocktail’ implies alcohol (and that implication gets rewarded later in this article), but it’s more like a shrimp cocktail: just bits of fruit cut up and served together. In that sense, I suppose a salad is just a vegetable cocktail, ideally with bread cubes.

The USDA actually clamped down on fruit cocktail, insisting it must contain a certain percentage of peaches, pears, pineapple, grapes and cherries. This seems unnecessarily heavy on government meddling, but I suppose this is to prevent the travesty of getting all pears and grapes and none of the good stuff. We celebrated this as it was intended to be: with spoonfuls of sweet, fruitish goodness.

National Receptionists Day

If you work in an office, or any situation where a receptionist is present, and you don’t treat that receptionist with respect and kindness then you deserve the hell you will no doubt face. In many places the receptionist gets you your mail, forwards you your calls, orders your supplies, contacts IT on your behalf, and books your meetings. He or she is the spinal column the rest of the office depends on to function. And if you’ve ever had to fill in for your receptionist you would likely learn just how much they do behind the curtain.

We celebrated Administrative Professionals Day (and even Week) in April, but receptionists get their own cheers on this day. As they should. Our receptionist, May, will be celebrating 50 years of public service soon. She works tirelessly to keep our little office humming and we’re not sure what we’d do without her. To celebrate this day I sent her a note of thanks – I’m hopeful our bosses did the same, but then this one doesn’t usually pop up on most commercial calendars so it’s likely they didn’t know about it.

The thing about receptionists is that they need to do their job from the office. While some of us are fortunate enough to be pantsless in our home offices, slapping a hat over our unwashed hair for morning meetings and stumbling away from our desks to play with dogs every so often, May has had to show up in our little beige-grey office and work on the spot for the last couple of months. I don’t know how she does it – maybe there’s some magic in the plethora of cat pictures on her desk.

Thanks, receptionists everywhere. You rock.

National Frog Jumping Day

This one takes us all the way back to 1849 to a place called Calaveras County, California, tucked far away from the coast or any of the state’s major cities. That’s when folks who were presumably too uninterested in gold-related wealth a few miles to the northeast decided to hold a frog-jumping contest. This was immortalized in Mark Twain’s 1865 story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” and of course the locals were thrilled with the publicity.

Every year (except, of course, this one probably) they host a Frog Jumping Jubilee, which features the frog jumping contest as well as… I don’t know, funnel cakes probably. Who cares – it’s all about the frogs. Actually, the 1849 story may be false – according to the folks who run the Calaveras County Frog Jump, it has only been rocking since 1928. We may never know the truth. I suspect our lives will progress undisturbed because of it.

To celebrate we watched this video, which is an ESPN report on the competition. What struck me most was not the looks of determination on the faces of the frog jockeys (as they call themselves), or the looks of utter confusion on the faces of the frogs, but rather the way people would leap and yelp behind the frogs in order to get them to leap. I guess the object here is to terrify the frog and force the amphibian fight-or-flight response to kick in, thus propelling them to make three jumps. Their distance after their third consecutive jump is their score.

The record holder, at 21 feet and 5.75 inches, is none other than Rosie the Ribeter, who made her leaps back in 1986. I don’t think I need to know any more about this glorious piece of sport.

International Hummus Day

Hummus, or houmos, or houmous, or even apparently homos, is a delicious spread of chickpea yumminess. The word itself translates as ‘chickpea’ in Arabic, so the full name of the spread in Arabic is actually hummus bi tahina. Whatever you call it, it’s a fantastic treat and we are both thrilled it gets a day this year, even if it has to share it with fruit cocktail.

I’d never heard of hummus until I was 17. That’s when my best friend’s parents opened up a middle-eastern themed restaurant where we proceeded to hang around every day, drink coffee and eat whatever free food we could get. The place didn’t last long. We may have been to blame. But they shouldn’t have made such great hummus.

The earliest recipes for hummus go back to the 13th century, but the food itself stretches deeper into the cradle of civilization than our history can project. It is still a massive part of middle eastern cuisine, bridging the gap between Arabs and Jews in the region with something they all can agree on. The best hummus features some actual chickpeas and olive oil, but variants can include eggs, paprika, olives, pickles, pine nuts and mint leaves. On grocery shelves in this part of the world you can find a multitude of varieties. We opted for pine nuts on ours.

This gave us the opportunity to turn our dinner into a great little nosh-fest of salad, pita and hummus. It was delicious. Hummus freaking rocks.

Donate A Day’s Wages To Charity Day

The One Day’s Wages campaign began 11 years ago, with the logical suggestion that we can probably all afford to lose a day’s wages to charity. If everyone did this, the amount of money flowing to charities would be life-changing for a lot of people. If Jeff Bezos did this it could probably solve world hunger. We have the privilege of not having to worry about such tremendous guilt if we don’t take part. Hooray for us.

Our charities of choice tend to touch close to home, as I’m sure they do for most people. We support Alzheimer’s and Heart/Stroke research, as well as cancer obliteration, but we also try to lend a hand to arts organizations – even CKUA, a public-funded radio station we hardly ever listen to since we got satellite. But they do great things, sponsor our favourite festivals, and provide tremendous support to local artists.

So this is one of those celebrations that, tragically, requires a bit of math. Figure out how much you make in a day, before or after taxes – no one is watching or judging – and donate. Yesterday we plotted out our donation, but recent weird events has required us to postpone the actual cash infusion until payday. These expensive ingredients won’t buy ourselves, and lately our support through generous donations to our Patreon page (link at the top) has been… slow. Very slow. That’s okay. This is a celebration that makes the celebrant feel good and do good for others. Time and money well spent.

Cough Drop Day

I could find one source and one source only that refers to May 13 as Cough Drop Day, and that source was not very descriptive as to who came up with this day or why. It’s weirdly located past the end of traditional cold and flu season, when few people are ingesting cough drops. Yet here we are, celebrating them.

Cough drops, or throat lozenges if you want to get all technical about it, are occasionally effective at curbing coughs or soothing a sore throat for the amount of time they last in your mouth. If you’re a born lozenge-cruncher such as myself, you’ll be seeking more relief within minutes. Some are medicated with stronger stuff, and can have a numbing sensation on the throat. Those are the ones you’ll want to save for the really nasty days.

Cough drops, or some form of them, have been around since ancient times. They were called lozenges because that was the shape they had – a lozenge is a diamond-shape. They became much more popular in the late 1800s when the traditional cough cures – morphine and heroin – were discovered to have some unpleasant side-effects.

Yesterday we celebrated the fact that we haven’t needed cough drops in a few months, and that our continued lockdown will likely keep us safe from any lingering cold and flu germs in town. I also took one for the team and enjoyed a Halls honey lozenge, which is about as unmedicated as you can get, and really quite tasty.

World Cocktail Day

On May 13, 114 years ago, a publication called The Balance and Columbian Repository, based out of New York, published a definition of a cocktail: a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters. That definition has changed and morphed into a wealth of options over the last several decades, but that was the first published attempt to classify the drink, and thus we celebrate it on this day.

Most cocktails today are served with fruit juices, soda, cream, and a mix of other ingredients. The thing I find most interesting about cocktails is how few of them come with a definitive origin story. It seems as soon as a cocktail becomes trendy and popular, a heap of folks pile on with their own claims to have created it. The original cocktails to have their recipes published consisted solely of drinks involving bitters, and only featured a handful, like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned.

The first cocktail party (though I’m sure others would contest this) is credited to a Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. of St. Louis back in 1917. The party took place over lunch and lasted only an hour, so clearly Mrs. Walsh had plenty to learn about how to throw a cocktail party. Cocktails were all the rage at Prohibition-era speakeasies, in part because of the rising popularity of gin (which didn’t have to age), and in part because the alcohol of the time was pretty lousy, so the sweet stuff was necessary to mask it.

Last night we celebrated with a rye-based cocktail known as the Fillibuster. There is a wide world of brilliant cocktails out there – we can only hope we get the opportunity to celebrate them all this year.

Tulip Day

When we moved into our last home, a lovely little townhouse that proved too small for our dog and hammock needs, we were delighted to witness a burst of tulips appearing along the fence when springtime arrived. They just kept popping up every year, and required no effort on our part to maintain. Tulips have been muses for great artists, and have become an art form all their own.

Tulips used to grow wild in the Tien Shan Mountains in Central Asia, but the Turks brought them home and started to cultivate them in the 10th century. Some time in the 1500s they were brought to western Europe, which eventually set off a period of history officially known as ‘tulip mania’, which is when the Dutch went all coocoo for tulips and began growing them in glorious field of unfathomable hues all over the country.

The tulip is still the showpiece of the Netherlands. They produce over 3 billion bulbs every year, mostly for export around the globe. I like that: an item of absolute beauty, whose only purpose on this planet is to project absolute beauty, is a major contributor to the Dutch economy. I shouldn’t say their only purpose is beauty; you can eat them as well. Their petals are fully edible. Their bulbs look a little like onions, and were eaten as such during the Dutch famine of 1944-45, but it is not recommended to do so.

We celebrated the tulip simply by looking at beautiful pictures of them. We are hoping to plant some this year and get another great surprise of colour and magic next spring.

Today we launch into a handful of celebrations, most of which we can probably pull off.

  • National Decency Day. Are we decent? Usually. I suppose we have to be today.
  • National Dance Like A Chicken Day. No, we won’t be doing the Chicken Dance, that most horrific of wedding atrocities. But we will figure out something.
  • National Underground America Day. This is all about people who live and/or work underground. We don’t, but we have a basement!
  • National Buttermilk Biscuit Day. This would have been easy – Da-De-O, our favourite hang-out spot, serves up little buttermilk biscuits before every meal. Alas, they aren’t making them for their curbside pickup, so we may need to give this one up.
  • International Dylan Thomas Day. We will rage, rage as we read some classic Dylan.