Monday, June 8, 2020

Much like the unending flow of weirdness 2020 has been delivering, an ever-flowing cascade of rain kept us barricaded indoors yesterday. This worked out well, as we had only indoor celebrations to tend to. It didn’t work out well for my hammock, which has been used only once so far this year, and is in need of some love. But yesterday wasn’t about laying prone beneath a boisterous sun, nor was it about tuning our clocks to the rhythms of nature. It was, let’s be honest here, pretty much about the food. With Covid having ravaged our world for much of this year, all we’re left with some days is the eating. But damn, we love the eating.

National Oklahoma Day

And at last we get to the Land of the Red Man… wait, let’s use the other official slogan… to the Sooner State. The one state whose name evokes memories of vintage musical theatre. The state with a weird rectangular panhandle that keeps Texas from having to make physical contact with Colorado or Kansas (or is it the other way around?). The state with the cutest nickname for its residents (Okies). The… wait a second. I have to learn why they call this the Sooner State.

Apparently it refers to the white folks who swooped in and staked their land claims before the official opening date for the territory. Well, that’s one piece of trivia I’ve wrestled to the ground today.

The name comes from a Choctaw term that literally translates as ‘Red People’. No, it’s not racist; this was a term Choctaw folks used to refer to all American Indians. The part that nudges up my eyebrows is that the name was suggested by Chief Allen Wright as he was negotiating a treaty with the federal government. He envisioned the region being an all-Native-American state. That certainly didn’t happen. Allow me to pause to reflect on how little that surprises me.

Some great folks have entered our world within the borders of Oklahoma, only to go on to do awesome things. People like Kristin Chenoweth from Broken Arrow, Bill Hader from Tulsa, Chet Baker from Yale, director Blake Edwards from Tulsa, J.J. Cale from Oklahoma City, James Garner from Norman, first lady of rockabilly Wanda Jackson from Maud, Ron (and Clint) Howard from Duncan, Leon Russell from Lawton, Rue McClanahan from Healdton, Chuck Norris from Ryan, and Tony Randall from Tulsa. That’s a fine batch of Okies.

In researching the cuisine of Oklahoma I learned that chicken-fried steak is a beloved classic there. I’ve never actually tasted this dish, which is just tenderized steak, breaded and fried. That’s fine, it’s really just wiener schnitzel with steak instead of a veal or pork cutlet, right? Also, topped with a gravy that we made using bacon fat. So it isn’t a health food, but whatever – it was delicious, though it left me feeling like I needed more vegetables. Another great state, another great meal.

National Chocolate Ice Cream Day

In 1775, an Italian doctor named Filippo Baldini felt it would be prudent to prescribe chocolate ice cream as a cure for gout and scurvy, among other things. I’m not sure how long his patients lived, but it must have been great having Dr. Baldini as your family physician.

Chocolate has always been one of the most popular ice cream flavours, dating back to the late 1700s when ice cream began to enter into American culture. At first it was a treat for the rich folks, but eventually technology leveled the ice cream eating field. But if we go back a little further, ice cream was an extension of frozen drinks (which were invented first). As such, coffee and tea flavours were among the first flavours of ice cream. Chocolate, which was served as a hot drink in Europe at the time, was also ported over to the ice cream world, long before vanilla.

There wasn’t much we could do to celebrate this day except to simply celebrate it. We had some Rocky Road left over from last week, and that works with a chocolate ice cream base. But of course we had the actual stuff, because we are purists. At least whenever we can be. But alas, the chocolate ice cream betrayed us with a thick coating of freezer burn, so Rocky Road was our only… road, so to speak. We have several more ice cream celebrations coming up over the next 2-3 months, so we are anticipating a terrific and delicious summer.

National VCR Day

What an utterly strange day to celebrate in 2020. Where at one time in my childhood we owned about 10 VCRs in our house, we now own one. I think. It’s not connected to a TV and I honestly don’t know if it works. If it does, we’ve got a bevy of old Disney movies on tape, and I might even have some old episodes of SNL laying around somewhere. Given that I have the SNL app on my phone and our subscription to Disney+ has rendered all of that stuff useless, we didn’t feel we needed to plug one in to celebrate this day.

Video tape is, much like Shreddies, Eggo Frozen Waffles and Sting, a product of the 1950s. In 1956 the Ampex VRX-1000 hit the market, opening up possibilities for networks to record their own creations, and to work in a medium different from live performance. The first at-home recorder was the Telcan, produced in the UK in 1963. It was a few steps down from the tape players we grew up with. First, it cost the equivalent of about $2000 in modern Canadian dollars. Second, it came as a kit you’d have to build, and we’re not talking IKEA-type construction here; it was tricky. Third, it only recorded about 20 minutes of black & white footage.

There were home recorders available throughout the 60s, mostly looking like large reel-to-reel machines. There wasn’t anything that was actually called a videocassette until 1972. The technology exploded in popularity in 1975, and by the end of the decade there were three formats available. Soon there were only two. Betamax used smaller cassette tapes, recorded in better quality, and were better overall machines. They might have won the battle for the soul of VCR technology, except that Sony wouldn’t let anyone else make the players. JVC’s VHS technology was leased out for any competitor to manufacture, which led to more VHS machines on the market, and the ultimate judge of technology survival – the movie rental industry – threw its weight behind VHS technology.

My dad swore by Beta, and only begrudgingly bought a couple of VHS machines for rental purposes. But once DVD became the new standard in the late 1990s, no one wanted their VCRs anymore. There was simply no point, except to honour someone’s collection of tapes. We never looked back, and we likely never will. Even our DVD player is collecting dust now. I think if anything, that’s what we need to celebrate: the fact that we are no longer dependent on VCR technology. That is a big win for society.

Canadian Homebrew Day

The first ever Canadian Homebrew Day was held in 2019, and the date was meant to be honoured on the first Saturday in June going forward. Then they realized that the first Saturday in June this year was going to be June 6, which deserves solemn respect and temperance as the anniversary of D-Day. So yesterday was it: a day to gather and taste the home-brewed efforts of our fellow Canucks. There were virtual events all over the place, including a Calgary homebrewer who was going to make a cream ale on a live Zoom call.

Neat. Unfortunately, we don’t know anyone who crafts their own basement hooch, nor do we possess the equipment to do it ourselves, so watching the call could provide no practical advice. Or really, the desire to craft our own beer. I love beer, but I love other beverages more. Also, the beer that I love is quite varied, so I’m happy popping over to one of our well-stocked retail establishments and just buying the damn stuff I want to drink. I enjoy eating elaborate meals that I cook; I really don’t care about creating something to drink too.

So instead I enjoyed a can of local brewery Alley Kat’s Main Squeeze Grapefruit Ale, which is ideal more for a summer than the 7-degree rainfest we had all day yesterday. It’s refreshing and dangerously easy to drink. Perhaps over the next year we’ll get to know someone who has undertaken this hobby and we can dive into this day full-on. Maybe I’ll even write about it. More likely I’ll be too drunk to write about it, and that’s okay too.

Cancer Survivors Day

We have, as most everyone on this planet has, a network of cancer survivors who are very near to our hearts. I have an aunt who dodged its blade, and friends who have come disturbingly close to slipping off this mortal plane by cancer’s roughshod shove. We are so deeply grateful to still have all of these people in our lives, and we reached out to a few yesterday to let them know that.

Cancer is not a death sentence. The statistics for surviving some cancers are phenomenal: over 90% if it’s your thyroid or your balls that are stricken. For others it’s not so good: only about 13% of esophagus cancer patients and about 7% of pancreas cancer patients make it through the next five years, according to stats published by the Cancer Society in British Columbia.

The key, as I’ve learned from very powerful second-hand experience, is to act as soon as you have even a maybe diagnosis. My dad had a concerned furrowed brow from his doctor, followed by a written recommendation to get a biopsy on his prostate. That sounded gross and painful to him I guess, which is why I found out about this diagnosis on the paperwork that was left to me after the cancer got him. No one wants to be a cancer survivor, but the alternative the universe presents may be far more grim.

But yesterday was meant to be a celebration, and I do celebrate these people very day – literally every time one of them pops into my Facebook or Instagram feed I smile a little, just glad that they’re still around. If you missed this day, reach out to your people. And if you are one of these people, give yourself a hug and know there are a lot of folks who are damn glad you’re here.

Another work-week, another batch of weirdness to tend to:

  • National Name Your Poison Day. A day to drink anything we want? Sounds like a time to invent a new drink. Prepare to be grossed out.
  • National Best Friends Day. Since we are each other’s best friends we’ll just hang out together today. Is that cheesy as fuck? It sure is.
  • National Upsy Daisy Day. This is another day to keep a positive attitude. So we’ll haul that old chestnut out for another roast.
  • World Oceans Day. Well, since all of our favourite oceans are world oceans I guess that’s what we’ll celebrate today.
  • National Gingerbread Day. We haven’t forgotten. Just need to get supplies.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Today I open with a confession: as jam-packed and wall-to-wall as this day appears to be, our hearts weren’t 100% in it yesterday. This has been a week of worldwide upheaval, and while we have lent our voices to the side that will obviously be viewed as right by history’s pen, we have also had to maintain our outbound positivity. Hooray, cognac. Yippee, cheese. Woohoo, doughnuts. But yesterday (and really, today too) we need to take our foot off the gas, both from reading and joining in the conversation on race and violence and disease, and from writing 3,500 words a day about moonshine and veggie burgers. I offer this as an upfront apology, as I don’t know how many topics I’ll get to today (note: I still wrote on plenty. I may be addicted to this). Still, there’s this:

National Eyewear Day

An eyewear company called Zyloware started this celebration four years ago in order “celebrate the benefits of improved vision” – which is code for move some product. I was first forced to wear glasses around the age of 13, and I fought it. I didn’t want to be reliant on this thing sitting on my face. Could I ever ride a roller coaster again? It didn’t help that my father (who didn’t wear glasses) was convinced that anything smaller than massive Discs of Exceptional Nerdiness would take away my peripheral vision and leave me vulnerable to wayward frisbees and such. At the beginning of the age of violently awful self-image, I looked horrible.

Today I sport the tiny round glasses I’d always wanted – Lennon-style, but these ones are a bit funkier. I love these glasses. That said, if I ever scrounge up the change to get the laser treatment done, I’ll do it. Even though it would also mean giving up my dream sunglasses, which resemble the Blues Brothers’ shades, but match my present prescription.

Jodie’s journey through the joys and perils of eyewear started in her 40s, when reading led her to becoming a pro-level squinter. But she doesn’t need to wear them during her day-to-day life, and she looks damn cute in any pair. She’s got it easy. She took the reins on the actual celebration of this day, by making her first post-COVID eye doctor visit.

So for those of you who are slaves to your eyewear, just wear it proudly. And wear the pair you want to wear. And for god’s sake, don’t force your kids to look like schmucks if they need glasses.

National Higher Education Day

University of Alberta – Edmonton, AB

The purpose of this day, according to its official website, is to promote how awesome higher education can be, and to get students ready for the experience with scholarships and strategies. As strong supporters of education (that happens when one half of a couple is a teacher), we give this one a big thumbs-up. Did you know Shaq has a doctorate in education? We just learned that yesterday and it applies, so I’m cramming it in right here.

Jodie went to university right out of high school. She fell short of completing her degree, but then returned a decade later to blast through an Education degree whilst raising two kids. I mean, not alone – I was there. But still, it wasn’t easy. I managed to flake out on getting any education until I turned about 25 and realized I really should get around to it. It took a while to get my four-year degree, as I had to keep working and keep raising those same (clearly needy) kids. I graduated six years ago this week, at the geriatric age of 39.

Jodie is working on her Masters degree now, and to celebrate this day she worked on it a little bit yesterday. It’s mostly a correspondence degree, which leaves her able to continue working, and to continue celebrating weird arbitrary shit with me.

Post-secondary school isn’t for everyone. Some will be happier with in a trade, others will find their joy working jobs that don’t need any extra education. I only finished my degree because I had risen to the highest level of government drone possible without one. Sure enough, I changed over to a more brain-oriented (and rewarding) job within four months of graduating. Plus, learning in college is far more interesting than in high school. The subjects are richer, the ability to think and be creative is stretched to new lengths, and the teachers are, for the most part, more engaged and greater experts in their field. If you’re on the fence, look into getting some more education. If you’re already done, find your degree and give it a hug.

Bonza Bottler Day

Every month, when the number of the day lines up with the number of the month, we down a bottle of something special and interesting. Something we don’t usually consume. Jodie has enjoyed some Stewart’s Root Beer, while I found it in me to sample Maple Coca-Cola. This month we both opted to try something completely new.

Jodie opted for a Jarritos Mexican soda. Founded by Don Francisco “El Guero” Hill in 1950, this soda company offers a rainbow of fruit flavours. I strongly recommend clicking through their flavour selections with the sound on. With each new flavour a voice says the name out loud in a way that somehow made me inexplicably thirsty, especially the way he says, “Lime.” It was really tasty; she was happy with her choice.

I sampled a stout from the Tofino Brewing Company, located on scenic far side of Vancouver Island. I was a little surprised to learn that the Kelp Stout is actually brewed with local, sustainably-harvested kelp. I don’t know what I expected, maybe that it was just a name. It was a remarkably smooth and rich little brew, just bursting with flavour. I’ve always been a fan of the aftertaste of a good stout (and appalled by the aftertaste of a bad one), and this one did not disappoint. I would absolutely try this again, maybe even on July 7 when Bonza comes a-callin’ again.

National Drive-In Movie Day

Edmonton lost its last drive-in movie theatre about twenty years ago. It was a fixture of many people’s youths. I think I may have seen one movie with my parents at a drive-in, but my friends and I used to go in high school. I remember sitting through Navy Seals, an astoundingly mediocre film, while we just giggled like idiots, making up stories about the people in the vehicles around us. At a drive-in you can talk as much as you want and make a complete ass of yourself, so long as you stay inside your vehicle and don’t allow the noise to bleed over to the next stall. You want to make out instead? Go for it.

The first drive-in opened in New Mexico in 1915 as an experiment. Silent films were shown on outdoor screens throughout the 20s, but it took until 1932 before a guy named Richard M. Hollingshead got a patent on the drive-in concept. The biggest hurdle to getting a drive-in to work was the sound. At first they hung speakers up near the screen, but folks near the back had to deal with low volume sound, as well as a syncing concern as the sound travelled slower than the images on the screen. It was in 1941 when RCA came up with the volume-adjustable in-car speakers.

The era of the drive-in peaked before I was born. It hung on through the 80s and 90s but it was destined to fail. What brought people to the movies were giant, immersive screens and astounding sound systems. None of that was guaranteed at a drive-in. There has been a recent resurgence due to COVID, and maybe that’s what will spark a full-on rebirth of the drive-in theatre. Nothing up here in Edmonton though, at least not this year. A local organization was putting on some (mostly kids’ movies) presentations last summer, but it seems to have stalled in 2020.

Maybe we’ll get another chance to try this nostalgic relic out. Time will tell.

National Applesauce Cake Day

Prior to learning about this celebration, I had never heard of applesauce cake. I’ve heard of applesauce, heard of cake, but I’d never thought of combining the two. Neither had our team baker (hi, Mom!), but damn she did a fine job with this one.

This one dates back to colonial times, and apparently the stuff was all over cookbooks in the early half of the 20th century. I guess one rule of thumb is that the chunkier the applesauce, the less moist the cake will be. My mom must have used applesauce so smooth it could ooze through a sieve because this cake was as fluffy and perfect as a cake can be. And the icing – the icing was nothing short of breathtaking.

I’m not sure where she got the recipe from, but there are a bevy of options out there to choose from. You can’t really taste the applesauce – it ended up tasting a bit like a spice cake. It’s a great option for dessert lovers.

National Bubbly Day / National Moscato Day

National Bubbly Day was indeed yesterday, but we let National Moscato Day slip right past us last month. We’d picked some up, but completely forgot to drink it or celebrate the day. How fortuitous that we were afforded another opportunity.

Moscato – or more specifically, Moscato d’Asti, which is made from the Moscato grape – is a dessert wine. So it’s sweet and relatively low in alcohol, neither of which is going to get me to reach eagerly for my wallet. It’s an Italian creation, mostly produced in the chilly northwest area of Italy. This was known as the winemaker’s wine, because they could down a bunch of it at lunch and still work through the afternoon.

We had ours last night after dinner, when we were working on our 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. I was in need of something with a bit more kick, and as it turns out, a different flavour. It was horrible. Jodie and I each managed a good sip (I actually tried two), but it was so sweet we could literally smell the hangover that awaited us if we finished the bottle. Or even the headache that awaited us if we finished a glass. In short, it got dumped. And we’re the people who stomached an entire serving of haggis. We’d had some prosecco last week for National Mimosa Day, and honestly that was a lot tastier. That’s just us – I guess we prefer to keep our wines and our desserts as separate things.

National Prairie Day

If anyone is keeping track, this is the point of the article where I begin to lose steam. I mean, I’m happy to live where I do, deep in the bowels of the Canadian prairies, and I admire the landscape every time we venture out on a road trip. It’s a shame that the next-nearest city is a three hour trek through the prairies, which gets a bit tedious after a while, but it’s still quite spectacular.

The soil of the prairies was made for agriculture. The plants that grow here are resilient to drought and excessive rains. Most of the prairie has been tamed and humanized now, either razed for our cities or put to work as farms. Those who seek to preserve the prairie are concerned about this, whereas I see the farming as simply the prairie at its best, offering its bounty to humankind.

Of course, what do I know? I haven’t looked into conservation efforts, and I have no idea just how bad the situation is. Can’t there be one facet of geological science that isn’t depressingly being crushed beneath the boot-heels of humans? No, apparently not. We have driven out numerous species, from microbes to buffalo, in the interests of satisfying our digestive and economic will. The prairie needs to be saved just like everywhere else.

To celebrate this day, we simply learned why. There are a number of organizations who are working on this, and they’ve got a lot to teach us prairie-dwelling city-folk about what’s going on around us.

National Black Bear Day

The American Black Bear is actually the smallest bear roaming around our continent. That aside, I still wouldn’t advise picking a fight with one. Let’s just say they’ve got a lot of friends; there are more black bears in North America than double the amount of all other bears combined. There is no conservation effort in place to keep these bears alive, as they are doing just fine by themselves.

The Asian black bears, which thrives mostly in the southeast corner of that continent, are more closely related to our black bears than our local brown or polar bears. They’re omnivores, which means you might be able to talk one out of eating you if you offer it a quality salad. But keep in mind, they can see better than you can. They can hear better than you can. And their sense of smell is going to be about seven times more acute than that of your dog. They can swim, they can climb trees, and if Russian circuses have taught us anything, they can even ride a tricycle.

The average lifespan of a bear in the wild is 18 years, though one made it to 44 years in captivity. Their real biological benefit is hibernation, the ability to skip right past all the crappy winter months by hunkering in place. That’s sort of how we’ve spent much of our 2020 – hibernating at home, and only emerging to gather supplies and chicken wings.

Black bears have been a part of indigenous lore for millennia. But of course modern humans have cheapened the species for their own benefit (as we do). Apart from those cruel circus performers, Terrible Ted was a toothless, declawed black bear who wrestled in the ring with humans from the 1950s through the 70s. On the happier side, it was a black bear cub named Winnipeg who became the inspiration for the golden-coloured Winnie the Pooh, and a black bear cub who survived a forest fire in 1950 who would go on to be the real-life representation of Smokey the Bear.

The key to surviving bear attacks – and I am passing on 45 years worth of wisdom and experience here – is to stay home, far away from the woods. Respect the black bear; their numbers and their power speak to a species that has figured out how to thrive on this planet. Let’s hope it stays that way.

And from Saturday we head back into the mixed-soup of Sunday, including a delicious (hopefully) dinner plan.

  • National Oklahoma Day. The cuisine of Oklahoma apparently includes chicken-fried steak, which will be interesting to make.
  • National Chocolate Ice Cream Day. Now we’re talking. Dessert (apart from the cookies and cakes we still have around here) is planned.
  • Canadian Home Brew Day. We don’t have access to anyone with any home brew, but we do have a terrific beer brewed in our hometown (well, my hometown).
  • National VCR Day. Who still uses a VCR?
  • National Cancer Survivors Day. We know a few of those. We also know a few who didn’t make it to the other side. Some love to those who have conquered and lived to tell the tale.