Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The first weekend of summer was a bead-curtain of tip-tappery as my computer’s keyboard clocked in some serious overtime. If you managed to peruse both of our last two articles in their entirety, we congratulate you for your devotion and question the amount of free time you have. There were upsides to our extensive toils: we tasted the sweet nectar of over 25 unique celebrations in a very short span, and it gave us permission to ease off the throttle should the calendar allow it. And yesterday it did, leaving us only with this:

National Chocolate Eclair Day

There comes a point in each manic project of weirdness when choices have to be made. We have, in the interests of my escalating blood pressure and our expanding waistlines, chosen to abandon celebrating some of the dessert moments of this project. Cherry tarts and apple strudel were the fallen heroes last week, and yesterday saw us switching the chocolate éclair from the “taste” pile into the “learn about” pile. Sacrifices must be made sometimes.

The name ‘éclair’ comes from a French word that means ‘flash of lightning’, because that’s how fast people eat them. If that sounds unlikely and far-fetched, then congratulations, you have become as jaded and suspicious as I am.

Eclairs made their debut in France in the 1800s, first under the name ‘pain à la Duchesse’. The dough is pure delicate pastry dough, same as you’ll find in a cream puff. It’s baked into an oblong shape, then stuffed with some sort of custard: chocolate, pistachio, vanilla, coffee, or even a rum custard if you happen to live near the best baker ever. Then a topping of fondant is smeared as the crown. It’s a perfect pastry treat, which makes me really question why we opted not to eat this celebration.

Of course we could have swung by our local Tim Hortons and purchased a Long John. Long Johns are the North American version of the éclair: made with doughnut pastry and stuffed with a vanilla custard or whipped cream, topped with a chocolate glaze. The Tim Hortons versions of this are disappointing, but then most of their doughnuts are disappointing these days. A Long John wouldn’t cut it.

And unfortunately, for health reasons neither would an éclair. But we can dream. Oh, can we ever dream.

National Onion Rings Day

So if we’re abandoning some dessert celebrations, should we not also abandon some of our deep-fried ones? I’m voting with a hell-no. We can’t drain all the enjoyment from this little project, can we?

Hey, here’s a fun fact I wish I hadn’t learned: you can also make onion rings out of onion paste. That involves boiling onions and mashing them into a viscous goo, then presumably forming that goo into a ring shape, breading it and dropping it into the deep fryer. This sounds like a lot of work for a food that separates into ring shapes all on its own. But I’m a little curious to try this.

Let’s face it, the only real hassle of onion rings (unless you don’t like onions to begin with, in which case there are two hassles) is when you bite into one and pull the entire onion innards out of its crispy shell. This can be messy and lob droplets of grease onto your favourite shirt. I assume if you were working with onion paste you wouldn’t have this problem. I hope someone tries this out and invites me over to sample.

I say this because I have no intention of trying this myself. I don’t have the onions, the patience, or the deep fryer to make it happen. I do, however, have access to a number of stores and restaurants that can put together a half-decent onion ring, so that did the trick for us. DQ’s rings are known for being particularly greasy, crispy, and magnificent.

Crisco put out an ad in 1933 with a recipe for onion rings, likely the first published recipe for the stuff. Kirby’s Pig Stand, an American restaurant chain that also claims to have invented Texas toast, says they invented the onion ring in the 1920s. But there’s a recipe from an 1802 cookbook that describes the process almost perfectly, though includes parmesan cheese as part of the batter. That sounds better than anything Kirby’s Pig Stand would have created.

Onion rings are always a favourite for us. This was a tasty one.

National Kissing Day

I’m not sure about this one. International Kissing Day, and according to another site, National Kissing Day, shows up on July 6. Perhaps the site that suggests it should be on June 22 is erroneous. Perhaps this world could simply benefit from more kissing so this should be celebrated twice. That’s the approach we’re taking with this one. Let’s unleash the lips and do this.

So how did we celebrate? We kissed, of course. But since that’s so obvious it barely merits a mention, we also did a bit o’ book-learnin’. Some anthropologists believe the kiss is a natural act, derived from our infantile suckling, or from checking out potential mates by inspecting their saliva – an approach that almost never worked for me when I was single. Others believe the Europeans started it, and spread it around the globe.

Kissing can mean all sorts of things, depending on where you happen to be, both geographically and historically. It can be an act of affection – in many cultures kissing someone on the mouth can be a platonic emotional statement. In religious circles it can be an expression of reverence and respect, such as when Christians kiss a bishop’s ring (or that of a mafia don). It can be a sign of simple friendship or a cultural greeting.

In this COVID age, kissing is reserved mainly for folks who live in the same house. I imagine Europeans are struggling with this, as the tradition of cheek-kissing friends and acquaintances gets pushed aside for social distancing. But Jodie and I share no such fears for one another, and we made out like bandits yesterday. Not all great celebrations are around food. Can’t wait to do this again in two weeks.

Stupid Guy Thing Day

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Thomas and Ruth Roy, inventors of 80+ of the weirdest celebrations in our calendar this year. I swear, when all this is over we need to take the Roys out for a meal and discuss a few of these.

Stupid Guy Thing is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a day to commemorate the idiotic activities that only a guy could come up with, due to our natural instincts to endanger innocent lives in search of arbitrary things our buddies can cheer us on for. Nowadays guys often do these things for likes, for Reddit upvotes, or in the hopes of appearing in some video montage, hopefully not entitled Epic Fails.

I felt it would be a humbling experience to recount some of my own stupid guy experiences, as I have done a few. I should note that while I expect my wife may lose respect for me as I go through this list, I have already celebrated National Kissing Day with her, so I feel as though she might still like me enough to stick around. I guess we’ll see.

In junior high, some friends and I climbed around the cliffs of the river valley, including beside Quesnell Bridge. In high school we found the walkway beneath that bridge, and scaled out to the edge of one of the support beams, despite there being no railing or anything to grab hold of to steady ourselves. It just seemed like an optimal place to smoke a joint. My buddy and I went on a spree one night of lighting recycling blue boxes on fire, leaving little puddles of melted plastic on the sidewalk near his house. In winter we’d head down to the zoo parking lot and not only do donuts on the slick roads, but we’d also take turns riding on the hood of my buddy’s Buick while doing so. Another adventure saw us piled on the running boards of my friend’s Suburban as it bounded over the grassy hills beside the zoo.

And that’s just the surface – I dare not scratch further as the stories will become even stupider and guyer. Let’s just say all guys have tales of idiocy in their pasts. It’s what we do in the present that we should be judged by. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go shotgun the rest of our vodka, just for a pick-me-up.

Take Your Pet To Work Week

Pet Sitters International launched this celebration in 1999 as a lead-up to Take Your Dog To Work Day, which lands on Friday. Funny thing about Friday, neither Jodie nor myself will be at work, though I will be bringing my dogs to my upstairs office, where I’ll be working on that day’s article.

But yesterday was Monday, and we were both at our actual places of employment. Sort of. Jodie had to go into school so kids could return their books, but she was advised that bringing in a dog would not be allowed. This makes sense, and I’d just as soon not have one of my beloved canine research assistants racing from germ-filled kid to germ-filled kid to germ-filled staff member. So the job fell to me.

Given that I spend much of my every day in my home office now, including my work days, this was easy. The dogs follow me to work, in particular if I’m bringing food to eat at my desk. And having dogs (or really any pets you care about) makes a workday flow so much easier. Sure, they provide a distraction, and Rosa, our French bulldog, emits this weird whining noise whenever she sees the neighbour’s cat outside, but once you get past that having them at work is a delight.

I have been celebrating Take Your Pet To Work Week ever since the last week of March, and I hope to continue celebrating it for the rest of 2020. This might be the big winner of the greatest celebration of the year. Though those onion rings were pretty damn tasty…

African-American Music Appreciation Month

Okay, as natural as kissing may come us snog-happy married folks, this one is even more natural. African-American music is without question the greatest music this floating, spinning rock has ever produced. They gave us jazz. They gave us gospel – not the mournful, chanting kind but the kind that kicks and swings. They gave us the blues, which formed the basis for R&B and rock ‘n roll. They gave us soul. They gave us funk. They gave us hip hop. They gave us Hootie, if not specifically the Blowfish.

Jodie and I were raised on African-American music. Her dad used to play in a blues band, so Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Jimmy Reed were mainstays to her childhood soundtrack. My dad was enamoured by the sounds of classic Motown and Stax, so I grew up with those songs in my blood.

Our daily music selections are packed with these artists and more, whether it’s through the month of June or any other time. With all those genres to choose from, it’s hard to pinpoint one unifying concept that binds African-American music together, but if I were to guess (and I am to guess; it’s my article and I’ll allow it), it would be a deep sense of feel. Jazz may be a style packed full of technique and mathematics, but it’s the feel of artists like Miles, Mingus and Holliday that bring it to life. Soul music is almost always a standard 4/4 beat, but it’s the essence of the vocal stylings and the gelling of the instruments that make it real. Funk is also a simple construct, but it’s the way the surge of intangible oomph hammers the 1 that gives it a spark. Hip hop is often constructed through samples of other work, but it’s the way it’s all put together and the passion and poetry of the lyrics that makes it triumph.

African-American music is pure music, and we are happy to celebrate it pretty much every day of our lives. If you aren’t, if you lean more toward country, classical, or something else entirely, this is the month to make an exception.

And on we roll to the next great batch of greatness:

  • National Hydration Day. We’ll drink plenty of fluids.
  • National Pink Day. Should we listen to some Pink? Wear some pink? We’ll find something to do with this.
  • National Pecan Sandies Day. Thanks, mom! Our team baker will be coming through with some tasty cookies today.
  • Let It Go Day. No singing that song from Frozen. We’ll release some of our inherent bitterness I suppose.
  • National Columnists’ Day. We already celebrated newspaper columnists once this year. I guess they get two?
  • Runner’s Selfie Day. Ugh. More selfies, and whilst running too. These won’t be flattering.
  • Pink Flamingo Day. With none around to entertain us, we’ll learn about these creatures.
  • Typewriting Day. Oh to hear the thwack-thwack-thwack of a typewriter again.

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