Monday, March 30, 2020

So we are back again, screeching into the abyss with another pack of celebrations. Our road to 2021 remains the same, though our intentions may have shifted. Where we began determined to rally a steady party of celebrants through the year, we soon abandoned that mission and sought instead to see if all this revelry would provide a medicating effect upon our mental health. A couple weeks ago we began celebrating simply to drown out the noise of each day’s increasingly dire headlines. Now it seems we are doing this simply to see if it can indeed be done under this year’s wonky circumstances. Our friends and family are enjoying this on social media, but these articles, where the true party is focused, see us simply… well, screeching into the abyss. Screech along if you’d like.

National West Virginia Day

It was but a week ago when our weekly journey from state to state was supposed to land us in the Mountain State. Alas, we were one ingredient short, and this is not the time to be racing to a grocery store for a single forgotten item if it can possibly be avoided. So yesterday we paid tribute to this wonderful place that neither of us have ever seen in person.

West Virginia may have the greatest origin story of any state. As the Civil War was stretching its gruesome gore across the country in 1861, a bunch of Virginians decided they didn’t want to mess around with the Confederacy, and that they were fine not owning other humans. So they separated and formed West Virginia, which fought for the Union side. The state sits completely within the Appalachians, so it’s chock full of mountains. It’s a gorgeous place, though surprisingly uneducated. Only 17.3% of West Virginians have a bachelor’s degree, the lowest in the US. They also have one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. And to make things worse, for five consecutive years West Virginians have rated themselves as being more miserable than people in every other state.

So the state is not without its problems. And I’m sure it doesn’t help that their coal industry, which was once a beacon of energy, is drying up. But the state is packed with vistas you won’t find anywhere else, and some cool people have come from that place. Like Randy Moss from Rand. Steve Harvey from Welch. Don Knotts from Morgantown. Northern Exposure’s John Corbett from Wheeling. Joyce DeWitt, also from Wheeling. Filmmaker and McDonalds aficionado Morgan Spurlock from Parkersburg. Not a bad list.

The classic West Virginia dish, as I learned through numerous sources, is the pepperoni roll. These made for a great Sunday snack – simply stuff some pepperoni and cheese into a Pilsbury crescent roll, spin it up and bake it, then dip into some warm pizza sauce. A great way to celebrate the state.

National Nevada Day

And now to the Silver State, a place noted for being a den for aliens, gambling, and quickie divorces. Jodie and I have spent a lot of time in Nevada – strictly in Las Vegas though, not venturing around the numerous ghost towns and the vast desert that encompasses them. Nevada also has an interesting origin story. Eight days before the 1864 election, the state separated from Utah Territory in a bid to add an extra state that would support Lincoln’s Republicans in the election. The minimum requirement to form a state at the time was 60,000 people, and Nevada was home to only about 10,000. Still, the paperwork was pushed through, and though Lincoln wouldn’t end up needing the help, Nevada was born.

Nevada was built on mining, so the frontier lifestyle, which also included gambling and panning for gold, was the state’s first personality. Gambling was outlawed in 1909 (just as the fable of the Old West was retiring), but it was legalized again in 1931 as a response to the Great Depression. Eight days earlier, the Hoover Dam project had been approved, so there were plenty of workers to take advantage of the new laws. A few enterprising gangsters saw the potential, and Nevada’s new bold face emerged.

Prostitution was legalized in the state, and left up to each county to decide how they want to handle it. They made divorces easier to get than anywhere else in the country, at least up until the 70s. The state features no personal income tax, and no corporate income tax. In 2018 Nevada became the first state to have a female majority in its legislature. There’s a lot going on in Nevada outside of those casinos. And the state has produced some cool people: Dawn Wells (Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island) is from Reno, Matthew Gray Gubler from Criminal Minds was born in Las Vegas. Edna Purviance, Charlie Chaplin’s first great muse and co-star, hails from Paradise Valley. Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the Killers, is from Henderson.

We dined on a Nevada classic for dinner, shrimp cocktail. We used this recipe for the cocktail sauce, and improvised with the shrimp. We haven’t been to Nevada in more than a decade, but we hope to go back – ideally when they finally outlaw tobacco smoking in the casinos. And when we’re allowed out of the house again, of course.

National Lemon Chiffon Day

This was, as my mom made a deliberate point of telling me, a difficult recipe. She is our team baker, and has produced such luminous treats as coconut torte and lacy oatmeal cookies. This fluffy concoction, which was creamy and smooth with a blast of lemon glory, was a challenge. It had to be created in stages. At one point a large bowl of ice water was required to regulate the temperature. The candied ginger had to be abandoned, because the ingredient was too hard to find.

But oh, the result. This cake tasted like a gentle swell of strings, rising up to the roof of an auditorium. The crust crumbled with a satisfying chortle, but the contents were all pillowy clouds and decadent dreams. We are without dessert celebrations for a few days, but this will carry us through.

The chiffon pie was created by Monroe Boston Strause, who was known as the Pie King. It dates back to Los Angeles in 1926, and is an off-shoot of the chiffon cake, which uses vegetable oil instead of butter or shortening. We could have opted for a cake instead, as lemon is the reigning king of chiffonery, but then we’d have missed out on this glorious creamy swirl of otherworldy bliss. And that wouldn’t do.

National Mom & Pop Business Owners Day

This was going to be a road trip day, with us popping in to our favourite locally owned businesses. Instead we find ourselves quarantined with no business in sight. So instead, we’ll detail where we would have gone.

We’d have started out at Barb & Ernie’s Old Country Inn, now owned and operated by B&E’s son and daughter-in-law, Thomas and Char. They make the greatest eggs benedict in the city (at least), serve perfectly-brewed coffee, and mix it up with a delightful array of other breakfast greats, from bratwurst to crepes to potato pancakes. From there we’d scoot over to Audrey’s Books on Jasper Avenue, one of the last great independent bookstores in the city. They are, for any interested local readers, still open during the COVID crisis – just give them a call and pick up your books curb-side. Keep supporting local.

Next we’d have headed west to Carol’s Sweets (obviously), where the owners make their own line of astounding chocolates, and also feature the best selection of candy in town. Maybe not the biggest selection, but the greatest variety of fresh, outstanding candy. Every other place I’ve visited just has a larger selection of the same stale bulk candies you can find at the grocery store. And for licorice fans there’s simply nowhere else to go but Carol’s to get this much to choose from. Lastly we’d have dropped into Da-De-O, the Cajun diner that fuels our joy and inspires our taste buds to expect greatness. Karen, the owner, has created the perfect blend of neighborhood pub, gastronomic wonderland, and lively hangout.

This would have been a really cool day, and when all this madness is behind us, we will play it out. These local businesses, all the ones you love and frequent, will need our support. The big chains will survive just fine, but these businesses depend on the love of the community. Keep them in your thoughts, and if possible, in your wallets.

Back to work for Jodie, albeit in a weirdly altered capacity. I’ll be working from home once again, free to focus my energy on this:

  • National Take A Walk In The Park Day. So long as we keep a good distance from strangers, this will be a great idea. Except it’s snowing. Why is it always snowing?
  • National I Am In Control Day. A questionable concept, but we’ll have a look at what we truly can control in this weird little chunk of history.
  • National Pencil Day. Jodie will take the helm for this one, boasting about the specific pencils she adores.
  • National Turkey Neck Soup Day. Not going to happen. I might look into how this became a thing, but we won’t be cooking it.
  • National Virtual Vacation Day. The only kind of vacation we can do, unfortunately. We’ll look at some options.
  • Grass Is Always Browner On The Other Side Of The Fence Day. What’s better than to imagine how much shittier things could still be?
  • International Laundry Folding Day. Laundry day was yesterday, but we’ll celebrate by not having to fold any today. Interesting how that works.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A strange turn of events over the last few days. We finally had something that went viral – not one of our celebrations, but rather a semi-political joke repost of a meme that has infuriated our provincial health minister. And so, after hundreds of calculated celebrations packed into fewer than three months, with most of our revelry clanging through the relatively empty halls of receptive social media, this is what catches fire. It’s almost like I’ve been channeling my efforts into the wrong thing. But I haven’t. This is where positivity exists in abundance, where we can wrap our fervent arms around what’s important. Like:

National Weed Appreciation Day

There is no logical way to avoid chuckling at this celebration title. And less than a month away from 4/20 too. But this day wanders to us from naturopath country, where numerous weeds have been identified as medicinal, or as a quality food source.

What we call mustard is a hybrid of three different species of wild mustard plants. Crucial to hot dog enhancement. Wild rose, the official plant of our little province, is actually a weed. It produces rose hips, which are used in tea. Blackberries grow from a weed whose prickles can keep animals away. Motherwort attracts bees. Watercress, which is a food I have never given more than a passing consideration to, is also a weed in many cultures.

Having some trouble getting the ol’ #1 to flow? Dandelions are great for that, and are also used in other medicines. Clover is actually a legume (who knew?). It keeps moisture in the ground, and attracts bacteria that regulates nitrogen in the soil and helps to fertilize nearby plants. Just don’t plant tomatoes around them, as it does too good of a job, and that mucks up the balance tomato plants need.

The stinging nettle can cure your kidney stones. Purslane, with bulbous little leaves that pop up in empty garden beds, can ease everything from a bug bite to a bee sting to hemorrhoids. Chickweed, which produces daisy-like little white flowers, can soothe a cough. Even daisies themselves are technically a weed, but you can eat them to ease respiratory tract disorders, and also use their pedals to determine whether someone loves you, or if they love you not. So many weeds to enjoy and celebrate. And all I did was smoke a bowl.

National Black Forest Cake Day

We accidentally doubled up on this celebration, and the result will likely weigh us down for desserts all throughout next week. On Friday we picked up a small Black Forest cake from the grocery store, then when out buying doughnuts yesterday (still open, still an essential service) we came upon a Black Forest doughnut from Destination Doughnuts (the finest in the city). So now we are set for desserts for days. Which is fine, because we have no dessert-related celebrations until Friday. Well, except for the entire lemon chiffon pie we’ll have tomorrow… damn, we are going to get fat.

It would be so easy to state that this cake was named after the Black Forest mountain range in Germany, but alas that would be false. Some believe it was named from that area’s specialty liquor, a cherry-distilled treat called Schwarzwälder Kirsch. Others say it’s named after the traditional costume women wear in that region, which features big pom-poms on top, much like the cherries atop the cake. It doesn’t matter – Black Forest is iconic.

For those who have somehow missed out on this treat, it consists of several layers of chocolate sponge cake, crammed with whipped cream and cherries. Up top you’ll usually find more whipped cream, whole maraschino cherries and some chocolate shavings. Occasionally booze is worked into the ingredients list, either rum or the aforementioned kirschwasser.

Black Forest, which combines chocolate and cherries (a blend that in my mind even supersedes the magnificence of the chocolate/peanut butter combo), is one of the greatest hits of the cake world. I’m glad we got to doubly toast it.

Children’s Picture Book Day

Another COVID-spoiled celebration. Our plan was to head to the local library and peruse the children’s section in search of some weird titles. Instead, we’re at home, looking for weird titles online. Here are a few actual children’s books. These have all been verified as real and available for purchase. The book above, of course, was referenced on Dr. Seuss Day on March 2, back when the world seemed oh so normal.

A very good question.
This one should be made into a movie.
Teach ’em about anal fissures young, that way they’ll know what to expect.
Teach them about the more obscure medical conditions as well.
Again, this is an actual book.
Okay, this one is fake. But it’s funny.

Eat An Eskimo Pie Day

Eskimo Pies, now marketed by the grotesque and horrific corporation known as Nestle, is vanilla ice cream enrobed in chocolate and popped onto a stick. It’s a classic treat, at least for those who have been privy to it. I don’t think we have ever seen an Eskimo Pie in this part of Canada, though it’s a big seller in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and various former Soviet nations.

The treat – oddly named since it bears no resemblance to a pie at all – was created by Christian Kent Nelson in Onawa, Iowa, back in 1920. Nelson, a schoolteacher who owned a candy store (so, like, a really awesome schoolteacher), noticed a boy in his shop who couldn’t decide whether he should spend his money on ice cream or a chocolate bar. Nelson worked his magic, and the following year it was being sent to store freezers courtesy of Russell Stover. There was a patent on the product that covered all such choco-ice-cream novelties, but that was invalidated a few years later.

Russell Stover and Christian Nelson both got rich off Eskimo Pies. Stover sold his share to start his candy business. Nelson wound up selling his share to the US Foil Company who made the packaging.

Not having access to these particular treats, we instead enjoyed some Magnum Double-Chocolate-Cherry bars, similar in shape and concept, but likely far tastier. Whatever you can find, it’s worth picking up a treat like this and savouring it – especially with this being the 100th birthday of its creation.

National Something On A Stick Day

It simply took a single evening at a schmancy-ass party for us to realize that food simply tastes better when it’s served on a stick. It seems silly and implausible – and, if you want to get all serious and analytical, it is – but we have reinforced this theory numerous times. Not a fan of something? Skewer it and try again.

We considered spending yesterday cramming everything onto a stick before eating it, but that would have been cumbersome and messy, especially with our Black Forest cake / doughnut. Our Eskimo Pie substitute was served on a stick, but that seemed to be more coincidence than a reason to call that one gustatory experience two parties. So we opted to go a different way.

For dinner last night, I suggested we make it into a date. Instead of chowing down at our kitchen table, we moved to the dining room. We set up some candles to make it romantic (and environmentally-friendly – see below). Then we adjourned to our lesser-used downstairs television to enjoy a film. For dinner we ordered from Koutouki, a magnificent Greek joint that will deliver to us way out here on the west edge of town, but also offers 20% off for pickup orders. Their souvlaki – stick-bound – was insanely tasty, and it was nice to pretend we’d gone out for a special meal, even though the same ol’ dogs were carousing around our feet.

Earth Hour

The World Wildlife Fund has been promoting Earth Hour as an annual event to demonstrate our commitment to climate change and keeping our little planet nice and healthy. It started in Sydney, Australia back in 2007 and quickly became an annual planet-wide tradition. Among some. Lots of us, even when we had intentions to celebrate it, have forgotten over the years. Alas, we did not this year, as we had this entry in our calendar to remind us.

The actual act of Earth Hour doesn’t have a substantial effect on anything. Even if the entire world shut off their lights for an hour, the overall impact would be minimal. But the point is to raise awareness, and if you’d like, to boast to your neighbours that you are more climate-forward than they are, and that even though they bought a Prius they can suck it because they still had lights on all over their houses during this sacred chunk of time.

It only took a year for Earth Hour to catch on, with 35 countries, 400 cities, and numerous well-known landmarks shutting down their lights for an hour in 2008. It has gained momentum in the years since, though of course there are those who criticize it. Some say it doesn’t focus on the right sort of climate damage. Some say the effect is too minimal. Some say that the candles people instead choose to burn for that hour are made from paraffin, which is derived from crude oil and is just as much of a drain on the environment as a light bulb. There’s simply no pleasing everyone.

We enjoyed our dinner-on-a-stick by candlelight last night, keeping our lights off because dammit, we don’t care if people want to bitch. We just want to celebrate.

Piano Day

The 88th day of the year ties in with the 88-key instrument we all know and love. We’ve celebrated the beloved guitar, as well as the less-beloved kazoo and bagpipes, so it was a thrill to give a little love to one of the greatest instruments ever built. A piano is versatile enough to be a staple in almost every genre of music (hiphop and electronic varieties notwithstanding). It can soothe the soul or jostle it into an absolute fervor. It’s the instrument most of us who are conscripted into childhood music lessons will start with, and I believe it’s the easiest instrument with which to learn the basics of music theory.

Bartolomeo Cristofori created the piano sometime around the year 1700. It’s a percussion instrument, consisting of a bunch of hammers that thwack some stretched-out strings. The oldest surviving piano was built by Cristofori, and can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (as soon as they reopen their doors). That little piece of music gear is 300 years old this year. The forerunners to the piano are the harpsichord (which has a similar shape), and the dulcimer, which also involves smacking some tight strings with a mallet.

We paid tribute to the piano by listening to some of the greatest and most forward-thinking piano pioneers of our time. We dabbled with some Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and Dave Brubeck, who all helped to ensure jazz could not survive without the piano. Then we enjoyed some Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder and Bernie Worrell, who drove their pianos into electronic variants of the instrument, and demonstrated the effectiveness of funk in keyboards. Then it was over to Elton John, Billy Joel, Little Richard and Ray Charles, who solidified the piano’s place in rock and pop. Then a bit of Ben Folds, who showed that a piano can be used as an expression of punk sensibility. And we finished with Dr. John, because it’s hard to get better than Dr. John.

I even tried playing a bit of piano on our keyboard downstairs, with uninspiring results. Whatever – we love the piano, and it was a treat to toast it.

Respect Your Cat Day

We do not, as we have previously stated numerous times, own a cat. It’s not that we dislike them – they are fine and noble creatures – but we are simply dog people. We have both met scores of cats who demonstrate mostly disinterest with their humans, apart from those special moments that we, as guests, don’t get to see. Dogs are more goofy, more hilarious, more outwardly loving, and they’re just our kinds of folks. That said, today is more about the cats.

Those cats up above are Phoebe and Baillie, and they live with Colton, our son, in Toronto. We are reluctant to say that Colton “owns” them, because as anyone with a pet will tell you, there is a mutually dependant situation going on here. Sure, Phoebe and Baillie need Colton for food, shelter, and the comforts of life. But Colton needs the cats for companionship, for comfort, and for having someone to talk to when his girlfriend is out, or when he just needs to vent to someone who won’t vent back. We do that with our dogs. We get it.

Cats, though they appear to express disinterest much of the time we’re around (maybe it’s us!), can be very loving and very affectionate. This tends to happen often when food is a motivating factor (as with dogs, and probably other, weirder pets like birds and snakes), but the affection can pour out at any time. It’s just that with cats, they get to decide when that is. With dogs we simply need to say their name in an excited tone and we’ll get the response we’re after.

So a big ol’ salute of love and respect to cats all over the globe. May they continue to brighten the lives of their human companions, and keep things interesting for Youtube videos for eons to come.

National Hot Tub Day

Hey, we can actually celebrate this one without driving down to our local YMCA and breaking in. We bought a hot tub back in 2007, when we were young and innocent and believed we’d use it every day. We don’t. I’d say we have used it enough over the last 13 years to justify the purchase, but we actually end up using it more in the summer than at any other time. Crank the temperature all the way down, and it provides a lovely pool of chilled water to act as a counterpoint to the sweltering sun whilst lying in a lawn chair or hammock. Those days seem like fantasy right now, as winter continues to beat us senseless.

Humans have always enjoyed soaking in super-hot water for reasons other than simply cleaning ourselves. Hot springs have been enjoyed all over the world for millennia. The Romans created public baths – not because people didn’t have private ones at home… they did – but as places where people could get together for a soaking schvitz and while away the time. There may have been sex involved too, but let’s keep this clean.

Hot tubs as we know them started to gain popularity in the 40s in North America. The Jacuzzi company figured out hydrotherapy pumps and how to spurt jets of air into the tubs, and they became a phenomenon of the 70s. Our hot tub is chlorine based, but there are other options for keeping things clean and bacteria-free.

We had planned a nice soak last night during Earth Hour and before our movie. Unfortunately our hot tub is in need of some repair, and we instead had to reminisce. Perhaps if the hot tub weren’t located a good 25-30 feet from our back door we might use it more in the winter, and we might have stumbled upon this glitch a little earlier. It would have been a great little soak, but we are both eagerly anticipating the day we can turn the temp down and make it into our little beach.

Sunday is truly a day of rest today. Here’s what’s up:

  • National Lemon Chiffon Day. Our resident baker – my mom – created a lovely lemon chiffon pie for us.
  • National Nevada Day. What screams Nevada more than shrimp cocktail, a staple of Vegas hotels since the 40s? Also, we’ll be indulging in West Virginia Day, which was postponed last week.
  • National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day. This one saddens us. We had planned to visit our favourite locally-owned businesses today. Instead, since all of them are closed, we’ll give them a proper shout-out, and encourage folks to drop by and help them out as soon as it’s legal to do so. Stay safe!