Friday, May 29, 2020

We have found ourselves scrapping with the seconds on the clock to keep up with our madness. Things are getting bumped and there is little we can do to prevent it. Time, even time in lockdown, is fleeting, and our assertive mirth-making must be tempered with employment obligations and the preservation of our final few trickles of sanity. Here’s our attempt to get caught up and pointed once more toward the sunny horizon:

National Brisket Day

Brisket, or cow-pecs as we call it in the business, is an unusual cut of beef. While still attached to its bovine host, this muscle holds up roughly 60% of the cow’s weight, so it can be a tough and unpleasant cut for us omnivores to chew through. Some people – and I’m not sure who these people are or why they’d do this – will boil the meat. Of course, you can bake it while basting the hell out of it. But why would you? This meat is meant to be smoked, or slowly cooked over indirect heat above charcoal or wood. A properly prepared brisket can out-perform any other chunk of cow, flavour-wise.

Brisket is the source material for corned beef, and when smoked it becomes pastrami, the finest of all sandwich meats. The Jews over in Montreal – undoubtedly the hippest Jewish community in all of Canada – came up with Montreal smoked meat, a close relative of pastrami. By contrast, the Maori in New Zealand boil the brisket with vegetables and potatoes, which can’t possibly taste remotely as good.

A kind and generous friend has been roasting his own brisket for a while now, and he shared some of his creation with us. It was immaculately seasoned, tender as can be, and when steamed (you don’t microwave this stuff) and slapped atop some rye bread with mustard, it was the perfect sandwich. I’ve bemoaned the tragic dearth of quality pastrami in this city many times, including many times on this page, but if I can continue to score snippets of Boris’s brisket, I’ll be a happy guy. This was fucking delicious.

National Grape Popsicle Day

Grape, cherry and blueberry Popsicles each get their own day this year. This makes sense; we all know that orange Creamsicles put Popsicles to shame, and no other flavour really stands out. Blueberry might be tough – I didn’t even know they made those. But that’s a problem for September 2. Yesterday we merely had to track down a grape one, which wasn’t difficult.

The Popsicle, much like the Kleenex and the FlameThrower, is a brand name that we naturally call any generic equivalent. Technically it’s an ice pop: frozen flavoured sugar-water with a stick in it. The Popsicle is the OG ice pop though, invented by accident (as the best things are) by an 11-year-old boy. Frank Epperson was mixing up some powdered soft drink mix with water back in 1905 Oakland, when he was called inside suddenly, perhaps to hear from his parents how the Russo-Japanese War was going. He left the stuff outside on the porch with a stir-stick in it, and came out the next morning to find an ice pop.

Frank held on to this thunderous revelation for 17 years, then debuted the product at a fireman’s ball. It was a hit. He called them Epsicle Ice Pops, which was a horrible name that his children thankfully encouraged him to change to Popsicle. Six months after nabbing his patent, Frank was sued by the Good Humor company who were making something similar. Good Humor was not true to their name; they crushed Frank and settled out of court. Shortly afterward, Frank sold his rights to the Popsicle because he was flat broke.

It’s an ugly beginning to a tremendous legacy, but the Popsicle has become a staple of summer. I wouldn’t call what Edmonton is going through right now as ‘summer’ yet, but a good Popsicle is always a good snack.

National Hamburger Day / National Hamburger Month

Here it is, the day we get to celebrate that most basic staple of North American cuisine, the glorious hamburger. I know, we’ve still got National Cheeseburger Day on September 18, and Double Cheeseburger Day on September 15, but this is the all-encompassing one.

So who invented the hamburger? Crap, don’t get me started. Its roots go back to the Hamburg steak, a similar, albeit bun-less concoction from Hamburg, Germany. But here’s a list of folks who tried to take credit for the burger we know and love:

  • Louis Lassen, owner of Louis’s Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut. 1900 is pretty early, but the claims that some sailors from Hamburg tried it, loved it, then named it after themselves is unlikely. Also, Louis used toasted bread.
  • Charlie Nagreen from Seymour, Wisconsin, sold a meatball between two slices of bread in 1885. Pretty close, and he did get the nickname “Hamburger Charlie” at some point. So far I’m rooting for Charlie. In fact, I think he was cited as the reason for our devouring burgers for National Wisconsin Day.
  • Otto Kuase gets the thumbs-up from White Castle for being the inventor, though his was with a fried egg on top in 1891. Does White Castle know the truth? Should they be considered the experts on burgers? Have you ever tried their food whilst sober?
  • Oscar Weber Bilby, also an 1891 claim, but his family says it was served on a yeast bun on his farm. This is the first claim involving a bun, but Hamburger Charlie’s claim predates it by six years.
  • Frank and Charles, the Menches Brothers, claim to have substituted beef from a butcher when they ran out of sausage for their sandwiches, then to have named the thing after Hamburg, New York, not the one in Germany. This was at the 1882 county fair in Akron, Ohio, but the brothers were from Hamburg, NY. This is the oldest claim, and it does have a link to *a* Hamburg, but given that the Hamburg steak was already a thing in Germany, I’m suspicious of this one.
  • Fletcher Davis of Athens, Texas, claims to have sold a hamburger steak between slices of bread at his lunch counter in the 1880s. It then became popular when he had a stand at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Maybe.

So ultimately, we have no clue who invented the hamburger. We do know that having a barbecue once again means our burger game will be fantastic going forward, as evidenced by the ones we devoured yesterday. Wherever it comes from, the hamburger is always good eatin’.

The Slugs Return From Capistrano Day

Thank you so much to Thomas and Ruth Roy, that wacky duo that has gifted us with so much weirdness during this year already steeped in unanticipated kookiness. Mission San Juan Capistrano is an important site in southern California, known as the birthplace of the Orange County, or “the OC” if you’re the type to use that sort of shorthand (and you really shouldn’t). Every year around March 19 the migratory swallows return to the area, and much like how New Yorkers flock to surrounding states to view fall foliage every autumn, people gravitate to Capistrano to check out the swallows. Maybe not this year – nothing is normal this year.

So Thomas & Ruth decided that for one of their manufactured-holidays-for-the-sake-of-manufacturing-holidays they should extend the spirit of this day. Since the slugs tend to leave when the swallows show up, not desiring to be anyone’s dinner or mid-morning snack, they presumably meander back to their less-bird-infested homes elsewhere. They move slowly (being slugs and all), so it takes them a couple months to get there. But on this day they’re back, messing up your garden and praying you run out of salt.

There’s no proper evidence for this, and that’s fine – Thomas and Ruth didn’t make up holidays rooted in scientific observance. The ideas for ‘celebrating’ this day involve taking precautions to secure your garden against slug infestation, but given that we don’t have a garden, nor do slugs live in this part of the tundra, we’ll be happy simply acknowledging the day and adding it to our hefty roster of writing topics. After all, the only place they should really be celebrating this day is in Capistrano, where they don’t have to worry about all those pesky slugs hanging about.

Lyme Disease Awareness Month

Okay, this isn’t so much a celebration as a public service message. When we can leave our house these days it’s mostly to outdoors locales for hikes, walks, and possibly Frisbee-related shenanigans. It’s important to know that ticks are still out there, immune to COVID and eager to mess all our shit up by passing on this delightful little condition. Lyme Disease is a massive pain, and we should keep it in mind when we participate in any outdoor activity, be it a shenanigan or something else.

You never hear about a single shenanigan, do you? Weird.

Lyme Disease is a tough bugger to catch. Symptoms may appear within a few days or it might take months or years to pop up. Most of the time the first symptom is an expanding bullseye pattern rash around where the tick bit. It’s a warm rash, but not an itchy one. Still, it’s one that you should pay attention to. You might then get some viral type symptoms, like fatigue, body aches and fever, but your respiratory system will be fine and there will be no up-chuckery involved. If you’ve got that roster of symptoms, get yourself checked out, because the stuff that can happen later on is a lot more unpleasant.

Antibiotics will treat the disease, but it can come back. Lyme Disease is not a simple one-shot-and-it’s-gone deal; and it’s not something exclusive to humans – if your pets have been wandering around in the tall grass you should be checking them for ticks or bites. Hell, it doesn’t have to be long grass; the critters can live in your lawn.

Of course I tend to employ the #1 method for preventing Lyme Disease, which is to be really into movies and video games and other indoor hobbies. All those times your parents said it was healthy for you to go and play outside? They were lying. Outside will murder you. Take care, and be vigilant with these creatures.

Today we journey forth into another fun-filled Friday. Isn’t every day fun-filled? It had better be, or we’re not doing our job.

  • Put A Pillow On Your Fridge Day. For prosperity & good luck. Of course.
  • National Paperclip Day. Well, it ain’t gonna get more wild than this.
  • National Coq Au Vin Day. We’ll probably be making this over the weekend, as we have much more fun plans for dinner tonight.
  • Learn About Composting Day. We will… learn about composting I guess.
  • End of the Middle Ages Day. A day to celebrate advancing to the next era, which is something I understand as an avid player of Civilization VI.
  • National Heat Awareness Day. We will contemplate heat, and thus be aware of it.
  • National Biscuit Day. Biscuits for all!
  • World Digestive Health Day. Okay, sure! Let’s talk about being healthy, digestively speaking. What a party!

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