Monday, July 13, 2020

Yesterday marked a significant milestone for us, not in respect to this project but in respect to the clusterfuckery that 2020 has become. We had friends come by. Actual human friends, in actual human form. We sat outside, socially distanced, not sharing any bowls of Doritos or pitchers of beverage. But we socialized, and it was fantastic. I even got to be slightly day-drunk, which set the stage for the writing of this article, at least 50% of which was written in that state. So if I ramble, if I meander, or if I slip off the rails of reality and stop making sense, let’s blame it on the rum. If that happens any other time, just blame it on me. I can take it. Here’s what was up yesterday:

National Simplicity Day

A big ol’ happy 208th birthday to Henry David Thoreau, who advocated living the simple life in quite respite from the madness of the world. Haven’t we all contemplated such a move? Abandoning the trappings of modern culture, doing away with the conveniences of delivery-on-demand, of technological dependence, or of social expectations? Of finding our own Walden and communing with the sounds and smells of nature?

There is always something holding us back though. Something we aren’t ready to give up. For most of us now it’s our connection, our tech. The ability to listen to any song we want or watch almost any TV show or movie we’re craving at any moment. That can all be done from a cabin in the woods, but if we continue to have that ability, that connection to the cyberverse, is it truly the simple life?

In the end, I really just don’t care. I feel we have sacrificed complexity this year, with our lives now consisting of work (in Jodie’s case, schoolwork), this project, and occasionally watching some TV. This is the simple life – a life of routine and repetition, but not really taxing or gruelling in any way.

We have been embracing simplicity for nearly four straight months with almost no deviation. Thoreau may have mastered quietude and solitary self-actualization, but if our lives were to get any simpler, we’d probably implode. Simple is good, and simple is reality for the moment.

National Pecan Pie Day

Pecan Pie – of all the magnificent desserts that have originated in the sultry, smouldering depths of New Orleans, pecan pie ranks a solid #2 for us, right after the coveted beignet, and just a notch above the delectable Bananas Foster. It has its roots in the treacle tart and the chess pie that has been the rage in Europe over the last millennium, and it can also be considered a distant cousin to the Canadian delicacy known as the butter tart. The pecan pie, when made correctly, should be a creamy, sugary masterpiece.

The pie’s specific origin is lost to the ages, but most will link it to the French population in New Orleans, who did some impressively creative work with the pecan that is native to the area. There’s something about the geography of Louisiana that has lent itself to incredible food and unbelievable music. Is it the heat? The humidity? The crawdads? I have no idea, but it’s all so damn tasty.

We ordered from Da-De-O on Friday, as there is no greater purveyor of Cajun culinary goods in this town. We usually opt for the key lime pie or chocolate cake as a dessert, but this week it was all about their magnificent pecan perfection.

There are variations on the pecan pie that we would love to try, including the butterscotch option, the whiskey chocolate chip (both of which would be a welcome inclusion in a pecan pie context), and something called the sawdust pie, a Kentucky creation that features an egg-batter filling with coconut, graham cracker crumbs and pecans, topped with whipped cream and sliced bananas.

When the hell is Kentucky Day, anyway?

National Delaware Day

Our weekly sojourn around the United States took us to the tropics of Hawaii last week, and this week drops us into… Delaware. It’s known as the First State because they were first to ratify the Constitution. It’s also a state I know almost nothing about, and whose cuisine seems mostly like variants of other New England states, with a few random dishes that don’t make much sense. Our initial plan for this day was to enjoy some crab dip on Ritz crackers, which is apparently a hot item in Delaware, except none of us were feeling it.

Then I found a list of Delaware cuisine options, one of which boasted chicken as a pure Delaware food, due to the “single craziest story you’ve ever heard” according to one website. I clicked on the link, as that’s a big sell for me. The single craziest? I’m en route to celebrating up to 2,000 holidays in a single year, and this will be even crazier???

It seems a lady named Cecile Steele ordered 50 chickens to her home in 1923 so her family could have eggs. They screwed up and sent her 500, which led her to become a chicken farmer. That is all.

That is the most oversold crazy story I’ve ever read. It’s hardly even a story, it’s just a thing that happened. But, it pinpointed chicken as a Delaware delicacy (a Delawaracy, if you will), and so we ordered in some chicken burgers last night. The party never fucking stops.

So what else can we learn about Delaware? First off, it has no airport. I mean, it does have Wilmington Airport, but they stopped running passenger service out of there in 2013. Because of its status as a tax haven, more than half of all American publicly-traded companies and a full 63% of the Fortune 500 list are incorporated there. In fact, there are more than a million corporations that call Delaware home, and only about 973,000 humans. So that’s messed up. As for famous humans from Delaware, we have Valerie Bertinelli from Wilmington, all of the du Pont family from Wilmington, Henry Heimlich (a.k.a. Mr. Maneuver) from Wilmington, Ryan Phillippe from New Castle, Aubrey Plaza from Wilmington, Judge Reinhold from Wilmington, and for whatever reason, DJ Jazzy Jeff has lived there since 2004.

I wonder how many chickens he has.

National Pina Colada Day

As a passionate imbiber of rum and its ensuing cocktails, I must sadly confess that I am not a big fan of the pina colada. Or, for that matter, getting caught in the rain. That’s a pain in the ass – you get all wet, your clothes stay soaked for hours, and you can’t see through your glasses. Stupid damn song.

I opted for sourcing a pre-mix, just-add-rum route from the grocery store, as I didn’t feel compelled to purchase the ingredients to make it myself. Coconut cream and pineapple juice seem unlikely to find a home in anything else we make. It seems silly to buy all that to make one drink I won’t really enjoy.

The beverage does signify tropical chill in a big way though. It’s believed it was invented by Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresi to boost his crew’s spirits in the early 1800s. But of course that story is disputed. Every food or drink origin story seems to be disputed. Ramon “Monchito” Marrero gets official credit for inventing the drink at the Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan, and Puerto Rico has dubbed it their official drink.

Lovely. But I’m still not a fan. Give me a mai tai, a zombie or a fog-cutter for my tropical fix. Let me swim in simple syrup and ooze through the orageat. That was how I felt going into this celebration, but the ensuing drink wound up striking my soul with the most sonorous and glorious tones. I actually can’t wait for my next one.

National Mojito Day

Kudos to whomever was planning the succession of alcohol days for July. I was ready to either skip over Pina Colada Day or just grab one at an outdoor patio somewhere, but then I realized I’d need to pick up some white rum for Mojito Day anyway. And since the idea of dining out – even at a patio – isn’t sitting well with our germ-phobic selves these days, this just gave us the opportunity to make a little more fun in the kitchen.

The mojito is a great drink, a far better use of white rum than Puerto Rico’s official beverage, at least to my taste buds. Simply muddle some sugar with mint leaves and lime juice, add soda water, rum and ice, and drift off to happy-town. I’m sure making a full night of mojitos would land you in hangover prison – though not as much so as an entire night of pina coladas – but having a couple on a pleasant summer day is pure delight.

Havana, Cuba is the birthplace of the mojito, though of course the story behind it is as muddled as the mint-lime-sugar goop before you add the other stuff. Some trace it back to a variant on local indigenous herbal remedies, as discovered by English explorers in the 1600s. Others credit African slaves working the sugar fields two hundred years later. Still others say it doesn’t matter, the drink didn’t achieve its rightful fame until Ernest Hemingway declared it to be among his favourites. And there are even others who say that never actually happened.

We do know, through a 2016 poll, that the mojito is the most beloved cocktail in Britain and France. And it’s right near the top in our household too.

National Paper Bag Day

If you have the option between paper and plastic at the grocery store, the planet kindly requests that you opt for paper. That’s really all this day is about, being aware that plastic bags will be sucking the earth’s lifeblood dry, whereas paper bags will not. We enjoyed looking at a paper bag yesterday (well, “enjoyed” may be a bit excessive), but we didn’t actually go shopping.

We picked up dinner from local eatery The Cactus Club, but they put their to-go containers in a reusable cloth bag, so that’s even kinder to the environment. So why use paper? What makes paper bags so damned special?

They will bio-degrade in about a month. They are completely recyclable, so long as you don’t get food grease all over them. They are safer for pets, so if you have the type who will eat pretty much everything (I’d like to direct your attention at this time to Liberty, the wonder-schmuck who has twice now grabbed a pound of butter off the counter), paper is much better for them. You can also use paper bags for compost if you’re into that sort of thing.

Reusable bags are better if you have them, but paper is the best transitory sack-product at your local grocer. Paper all the way.

Etch-A-Sketch Day

It would have been far more ideal if we could have played around on an Etch-a-Sketch yesterday, but alas the one that was at one time in our possession seems to have disappeared. Having had one in my own youth, and then having played around for (probably too many) hours on the one my kids owned, I feel I’ve done my time etching sketches. It’s one of the greatest toys our culture has ever produced, combining the freedom of artistry with the confines of a strict medium, with some delicate hand-eye training, with the mastery of the act of destruction through violent shaking.

We have all drawn passable creations on one of these toys, yet we know if it gets jostled even slightly that masterwork is in danger of vanishing. So we enter the artistic process with full awareness that anything we create will be destroyed before anyone sees it, unless they happen to be in the room at the time. In that sense it’s actually a tremendous liberating medium, if you have the talent to pull it off. And if you don’t, just create something shitty and shake it free from the mortal plain before anyone has a chance to mock you. It’s beautiful.

The Etch-A-Sketch features aluminum powder coating the screen. You then control the knobs and guide a stylus through that powder, so what you’re seeing as a black line is actually merely an absence of aluminum powder. If you color in enough of the screen, you can see the innards of the toy, as all-black means the screen is at its most transparent.

A huge thanks to electrician Andre Cassagnes, who invented the toy, and to the Ohio Art Company who had the foresight to release it to the public for Christmas, 1960. It’s a toy so simple and so magical it has transcended generations to be a favourite for decades. And while we couldn’t play with one yesterday, just learning about them warmed our hearts.

Can we power through another day? Do we have a choice? Does anyone have the element of choice anymore? Shit is getting deep…

  • National French Fry Day. The most glorious achievement of potatory gets its day at long last.
  • National Beans & Franks Day. Nobody else in this household is willing to eat this. I absolutely am.
  • Embrace Your Geekness Day. We’ve had several days about geekness already; I think we’re up to this.
  • Gruntled Workers Day. This is a day for us to praise what we love about our jobs. It shouldn’t take too long.
  • National Beef Tallow Day. Unless it’s an ingredient in Heinz Baked Beans, I don’t see this happening.
  • National Nitrogen Ice Cream Day. Apparently all ice cream is made with nitrogen. So this is just ‘ice cream’.
  • Barbershop Music Appreciation Day. I am positive we already did this, because one doesn’t forget listening to a barbershop playlist. So we do it again?
  • International Town Criers Day. I suppose every antiquated profession needs its own special day.
  • Go West Day. So we’ll either listen to that band from the 80s and early 90s, or we’ll just move in a westerly direction.

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