Friday, July 17, 2020

A mostly eventless day yesterday, yet I reached a conclusion regarding the essential crux of this entire experiment: distraction. I witnessed someone close to us who is so profoundly bludgeoned by conspiracy, fear and suspicion that they will cut loved ones from their life simply because they don’t share their rage at the proverbial machine. This is someone who clearly spends too much time drinking in alt-news with alt-facts and alt-science that it has ultimately thwarted their sense of perspective and priority. It was sad to watch, but it made me realize that spending a sizeable chunk of every day focussing on things like tapioca pudding, chocolate wafers and Bonza Bottles is likely saving our sanity from the onslaught of bummers that seep through our feeds and timelines regularly. These distractions are keeping us afloat and keeping us focused on the minutiae that makes this world magnificent. It is with a renewed vigor that we turned our attention to the real issues, stuff like this:

National Corn Fritters Day

The origin of the glorious fritter is lost to the ages, but it’s believed to come from the American south, where deep-frying everything has been tried at one time or another. Corn was, of course, a staple of pre-European North America cuisine. Native peoples came up with numerous ways to squeeze corn into different permutations, such as cornbread or arepa. What they didn’t do was craft it into fritter form. That would have required equipment for frying that they didn’t have, as well as a bountiful supply of cooking oil, which was also not their thing.

There are many ways to fritter up some corn. Da-De-O, the restaurant we frequent most often and are always happy to plug, has four different fritter species on their menu, all of which were bound to be tastier than whatever I could make at home. But we are operating on a slim, almost laughable budget right now (thanks to our daughter, who is an expensive 23-year-old child). So I was ready to crack open the pan (note: that’s not how to correctly use a pan) and try my hand at making corn fritters for the first time.

The recipe, which I grabbed here, was remarkably easy to recreate. And the result, which we served with a garlic aioli, was terrific. They were crunchy and flavourful – another rousing success in this year’s efforts to expand my kitchen abilities. We have no idea who came up with this particular celebration, but at this point does it really matter? The calendar says “corn fritters” and we obey – it beats reading another essay on the efficacy of wearing masks.

That said, wear a damn mask. It’s literally the least you can do for your fellow humans, and everyone wearing a mask knows it. So if you’re not wearing one, you know what the rest of us have realized about you, and it ain’t pretty.

Fresh Spinach Day

Back on March 26 we celebrated National Spinach Day. How? We ate some spinach. I know – a bold departure. So when yesterday rolled in with a very similar day, we weren’t fully prepared for doing anything different, especially with our dinner menu already jam-packed, as evidenced above and below.

I also wrote a bit about the nutritional benefits and history of spinach in various cuisines, or at least I’m pretty sure I did. That’s usually what I do, anyway. So for this somewhat redundant entry I’m instead going to trot out a personal spinach anecdote. It’s literally the only one I have, and it’s not at all interesting so I’ll punch it up with some literary embellishment. I do this for you, the reader, out of love.

When I was a kid, I went through a brief phase in which I was, for some reason unknown to me, a big fan of Popeye. The cartoons must have aired at some point on Saturday mornings, and I was weirdly passionate about the 1980 Robert Altman film starring the guy I already loved as Mork. My aunt and uncle took me out to a restaurant and in an act of sheer bravery I ordered a spinach salad for my entrée. I was a kid who never ate red meat or pork at home, so a restaurant trip almost always meant a burger, or if I was lucky, ribs. And veggies were, as they are for most pre-teen males of a certain disposition, unappealing to me. But dammit, if Popeye loved spinach so much I’d have to try it.

The moral of the story is that sometimes a childhood role model can lead to positive results. I loved the salad much more than I’d expected, and devoured every leaf. Then, as we were walking to our car in the parking lot, the restaurant exploded behind us. Using my suddenly-discovered super-strength, I pulled my aunt and uncle to safety.

There you go. Slightly embellished, but a fine tale of self-discovery and nutrition. Last night we had some spinach in our dinner salad. Nothing exploded.

World Snake Day

Our team baker (hi, Mom!) will not be happy about this celebration, nor will she participate in it even a little. Watching Raiders of the Lost Ark with her as a child notched up the tension in the snake-related scenes to maximum. She’d jump, she’d shudder, she’d cover her eyes, all of which made the scenes far more exciting to me, even though I didn’t share her loathing of the creatures. My mom and Indiana Jones – so much in common.

Snakes are truly fascinating creatures. They move with astounding aplomb through the world with no legs beneath them. There are 3,600 species of snake on our planet, stretching out to a massive 22.8 feet in length (for the reticulated python). Only a handful of snakes are venomous, and most of those only use their venom for killing prey, not for defending against larger threats, like us.

One of the most interesting things about snakes is how little we know about their entry into our ecosystem. It’s believed they came from lizards and probably popped up sometime around the Jurassic period, but because of the nature of their innards there aren’t a lot of fossils on record. Pythons and boas, who are among the most primitive snake species, actually have reticulated limbs at the back. Those are known as anal spurs, and they are the remnants of a pelvis and femur. They aren’t attached to anything; they simply float in the muscles near those snakes’ rear ends. They are apparently used for ‘grasping and tickling’ in mating, so please, allow your imagination to take over from here.

I have seen snakes only ever in zoos or in the occasional weirdo’s terrarium. They exist in the wild almost everywhere, but Edmonton is just about near the northern tip of their presence in North America. Given that I’m not into camping or spending a great deal of time in the rural wilds of the province, I simply haven’t run into one on its own turf. And if I ever do, I promise I won’t bring it home as a pet, mom. You can still come and visit.

Guinea Pig Appreciation Day

My experience with domesticated rodents is roughly the same as with snakes. I’ve seen them in controlled settings, admired the qualities that make them unique and fascinating within the animal kingdom, but then I find something interesting on TV, like a quality rerun of Night Court, and I move on.

I joke, of course. Night Court hasn’t been on TV in this town in decades. I lived briefly with a roommate who had a hamster, but while it was a lot of fun to put the hamster into its hamster ball and watch it clumsily bounce around the apartment, I didn’t really get the appeal. But today isn’t about not getting the appeal. It’s about getting it, and distilling it to you, the beloved reader, in a way that will prompt you to race out and buy seven or eight guinea pigs of your own because I sold the experience so damn well.

The German word for guinea pigs is Meerschweinchen, which translates as “little sea pig”. The Russian word is derived from a Middle High German word for ‘dolphin’ because of the similar sounds they make. In Spanish they’re known as conejillo de Indias, or ‘the little rabbit of the Indies’. The weird thing is, no one knows why they’re called guinea pigs. They don’t come from Guinea, though ‘Guinea’ was often used as a generic country that’s far, far away, so maybe that’s why it got that part of the name. They are somewhat pig-like in that they make little grunting sounds, have no significant tail, and spend most of their time eating.

They were first domesticated in South America, probably about 7,000 years ago, to be used as food. That said, the Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped the guinea pig, among other animals. The good news – if you will see it as ‘good’ news – is that if you want to know what a guinea pig tastes like, they are still used as food in that region.

So there you go. Ready to buy a bunch of them yet? They are of dubious name origin, and can serve as a snack in a pinch. The perfect pet!

National Anti-Boredom Month

I recall as a child being bored in the summer months. I was an only child, with only a small handful of friends near my age in the neighbourhood. I had video games and an imagination that some clinicians may refer to as “sanitorium-worthy”, but I’d still manage to find spells of inactivity which no creative idea could fill. Kids have been on summer vacation since late March in a way, since the ground here was covered by an unrelenting epidermis of dirt-smattered snow. So if you have kids and they haven’t yet become bored, you should be thankful.

Boredom is a facet of humanity’s privilege. We don’t need to be in a constant hunt-and-gather mode, so we have more free time. So much free time that even the things we love can saddle us with a dreary sense of ennui. With just about every piece of cinema, television and recorded music available to most folks at any time, with a bevy of online distraction, including games, chats, personality quizzes and pornography, with so many recipes for broiled guinea pig to consider, how on earth could anyone be bored?

Yet I know we all are, at least sometimes. I feel fortunate that I can be easily swayed from boredom by dogs and word puzzles on my phone. But you may need to employ some strategies. This is an ideal time to do it – put together a list of things you can turn to in your next battle with the tediousness of civilized existence. Not “clean the cupboards” or “scrub the hubcaps” – no, come up with some fun shit you’ll actually want to do. This can range from finding goofy photos to attach to your Spotify playlists to building a jigsaw puzzle and making a drinking game out of it, to looking up a Youtube video on origami and trying to make a paper spatula or something.

Stock your quiver of activities for the next time you feel beleaguered and restless. I’ve got a solid list, one that will keep boredom at bay for the rest of 2020, and if you’d like to hop on board this one-way express ticket from boredom, just check out the celebrations we’ve still got to tackle over the next five and a half months.

You may, like us, find yourself wishing for boredom after that.

Wild About Wildlife Month

We have tackled snakes and guinea pigs – what’s left to explore in the world of wildlife? Fortunately I never get bored anymore, so I have the ability and desire to answer that (patently idiotic) question.

The World Wildlife Fund advises us that, between 1970 and 2014, the global wildlife population has decreased by as much as 60%, all thanks to humankind spreading its shit all over the globe. It used to all be part of the food chain: we’d hunt and kill the wildlife that we would then either eat, wear, or presumably kick the skulls around in a primitive incarnation of soccer. Other wildlife would be slaughtered for medicine, captured for pets, or snared so that their parts could be ground into an aphrodisiac, because it’s more important that humankind gets laid than the rhinos can defend themselves, apparently.

Look, we haven’t been particularly kind to wildlife for the most part. We have introduced species where they don’t belong and mucked up ecosystems with pollution, over-population, and our grotesque footprint. We have carved out a significant portion of the map and designated that as a human-only (not counting pets and potential food) zone. This is a fine month for us to have a second look at our actions and maybe figure out how to do better.

I recommend everyone pop in a nature documentary of some sort this month. If you’ve got Disney+ (and why wouldn’t you? Fucking Hamilton is on there!), there are a pile of National Geographic specials to watch. Head over to Netflix and punch the word ‘Planet’ into the search engine and you’ll get another bevy of possibilities. Learn what you can, then maybe throw a few bucks to the WWF (the aforementioned wildlife people, not the wrestling people). I’d say we still have quite the debt to pay to those critters.

World Kebab Day

I learned that World Kebab Day existed just a week and a half ago, the day after I’d made kebabs on the barbecue without taking a photo of them. Then, when preparing for this day, I learned that I have no idea when World Kebab Day exists. One site says July 14. Another says July 10. Another says July 12. At this point, I don’t care. We are celebrating this day because kebabs are an amazing culinary concept.

What we call kebabs tends to refer to the ‘shish kebab’, which is cubed meat on a skewer. The word ‘shish’ comes from a Turkish word for sword or skewer, and the word ‘kebab’ refers to a meat dish. Gyro meat or ‘doner kebab’ is a worldwide delicacy which we call ‘donairs’ here in Canada. It’s served with no skewer, but cooked on a giant, often rotating one.

But the kebab around the globe may have nothing at all to do with skewers. Tas kebab, a popular Iranian and Turkish dish, is a stew. In Bulgaria the ‘kebap’ is a meat stew with few or no vegetables. Kebabs can also refer to plain ol’ meat dishes. Skewers are optional.

But while it’s good to learn about global kebab customs, the real meat of the celebration (pun unfortunately intended – sorry) is in the eating. We grabbed some kebabs from the grocery store: some beef and some chicken, and on Wednesday I crafted some Korean barbecue sauce from scratch, which I used both as a marinade and as a baste. It made for a delightful main course to complement our corn fritters and spinach salad.

Next time we do this project I promise I’ll have World Kebab Day on the correct day. Heh. Next time. Right.

We are back in the thick of childless celebrating, so let’s roll up for this batch of mayhem today:

  • National Lottery Day. Last time we bought a lottery ticket for this project we won… a free lottery ticket. Maybe we’ll get luckier.
  • National Peach Ice Cream Day. Gotta love all the ice cream this month.
  • National Tattoo Day. I had actually planned to get a tattoo today. Alas, I will stick with planning one, as we are still in pandemic mode.
  • National Yellow Pig Day. This is actually not about yellow-colored pigs, but about the number seventeen. Why? Tune in and find out!
  • World Emoji Day. I guess we’ll use lots of emojis.
  • International Firgun Day. This is all about expressing joy at those who have done some selfless good in the world. An apt celebration that should lift the spirits.
  • Wrong Way Corrigan Day. A day to celebrate a truly hilarious news story from 82 years ago.