The Early Bird

As we all know, the early bird gets the … chocolate. In preparation of Thanksgiving — hey! it’s not that far away! — I’ve finally found the perfect Thanksgiving Day turkey. Well, the perfect one would be a pet turkey named Henry, but since the condo board likely wouldn’t go for that one (ugh!), this alternative, I must say, is pretty damned awesome. I make no promises whatsoever on whether or not this gem actually makes it to Thanksgiving.

click the pic to see where you can get your own!

When Pumpkin Spice is Less Than Nice

It’s that time of year. Fall. My favorite season, to be honest. But it also means our world is briefly transformed into a pumpkin spice hell-hole paradise. You may think that pumpkin spice is just a Starbucks thing – which my daughter loves by the way – but alas, there are more pumpkin spice things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

A friend of mine (yeah, a friend, not me, a friend) went to a veterinarian recently to get some medications for her dog.  She was glancing around the office as the receptionist ignored her and was caught by a sign posted by the office’s groomer that boasted pumpkin spice shampoo and spa for dogs.  Yes, this is a thing, and I can’t imagine what a wet-dog pumpkin spice smell would be. In fact, I try not to think about it at all.

If you’re wondering about other bizarre pumpkin spice offerings (and really, why wouldn’t you be!?), wonder no more.  I have researched the most incredible pumpkin spice products, that actually exist, and compiled them here for your enjoyment.

Pumpkin Spice Protein Powder:  For those guys who want to bench press five hundred pounds while staying in touch with the purity of the season.

Pumpkin Spice Hershey Kisses:  For the love of all things pumpkin, why? If you are a bit more high-browed in your chocolate choice, never fear: chocolate royalty Ghirardelli has a version as well.  Still not enough?  Check out pumpkin spice truffles.

Pumpkin Spice Oreos:  I think this one is the most offensive one on the list.  Is nothing sacred?  Don’t panic, there is also pumpkin spice milk for dipping these atrocities.

Pumpkin Spice Sparkling Water:  Carbonated pumpkin; who could ask for anything more? Personally, I hate sparkling water … especially flavored sparkling water. You expect this delicious, refreshing beverage and all it is, really, is just angry water. Who needs that kind of negativity in their life?

Pumpkin Spice Burrito:  I guess this makes your post-burrito bathroom experience a little more pleasant to those on the other side of the door?  Rest assured, there is also a pumpkin spiced hot salsa to complement these.

Pumpkin Spice Bagels:  Yep.  Never fear; there is also pumpkin spice cream cheese and pumpkin spice butter to spread across these New York Hell Spawns. Prefer pumpkin spice English muffins?  Yup.  They’ve got you covered. This one might actually not be so bad, all things considered. It’s kind of like a pastry in a way, so I might could get on board with the whole pumpkin spice thing here.

Pumpkin Spice Candy Corn:  As if candy corn wasn’t already awful enough.  On a side note, the dreaded pumpkin spice Peeps are on the shelves as well.  If you want to deter trick-or-treaters forever, offer them a handful of both. I’m stocked up. Just in case you were wondering.

Pumpkin Spice Pasta:  There are no words.  I suppose pumpkin alfredo would require pumpkin pasta. If you’re feeling especially spicy, there is also a pumpkin spice pasta sauce.

Pumpkin Pie Spiced Pringles:  I bet you CAN eat just one.

Pumpkin Spice Vodka:  Well, after the first drink I suppose this one won’t really matter. If you’re not a vodka lover, there is pumpkin spice moonshine as well.  Follow this up with a little pumpkin spice chewing gum, and you can’t go wrong.

Pumpkin Spice Toothpaste:  There is a fake meme about Crest’s pumpkin spice offering, but Breath Palette does offer pumpkin spice toothpaste.

Pumpkin Spice Toiletries:  Soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, beard oi, lip balm, nail polish, and body spray are all available in pumpkin spice aroma.

Mentholated Pumpkin Spice Cough Drops:  Turn your cough into a gag with these medicated nightmares. At least you’ll forget about your cough!

Am I the only one that thinks pumpkin spice has gone a little overboard?  Sure, we all love a little pumpkin spice candle on a fall night, but these other monstrosities have got to go.

The saddest thing about all of this, is I just know that some of you are already Googling these to see where you can buy them.

 

Cookbook of the Cursed

I apologize for the recent radio silence.   I thought I would make up for the unexpected peace and quiet silence on my part that you’ve been blessed forced to endure, I would regale you with a real-life incident that really happened, no really, it did, or, as they loosely say in the movies … “events portrayed are based on a true story.”

I was browsing the used book store a couple of weeks ago and stumbled across an old cookbook from the 1930’s, well-loved and dog-eared, with lots of pen scribbles in the margins of the recipes. To be honest, some of the chicken-scratch in this dusty, old tome read more like a “how to” on summoning a demon than your typical Sunday dinner recipes, but who was I to judge?  I had to have it.  It was high time to bury myself up to my elbows in flour and try something new, or old, however you want to look at it.

I flipped through the book and found a bean casserole; what could be easier or more wholesome than a bean casserole?  I decided to make it that very evening for dinner. I parked in the lot in front of the grocery store and jotted down the ingredients.  Difficult to spell spices, Devonshire cream, Hawaiian sea salt, banana flour, Lychee and sea beans?  Easy-peasy.

An hour later after a lengthy search for obscure ingredients, I came out of the store with my Devonshire cream, on sale for just $8 a quart, my $25 Hawaiian sea salt, my $18 banana flour, and a variety of top shelf – if not odd smelling – spices.  I was also given directions to a produce market about two hours away for my lychee.  I was in it to win it, though; I don’t know what a lychee is, but if it’s in this book it’s got to be good.  I plugged the directions into my navigation, and off I went.

I pulled into the dusty, broken down roadside shack and got even more excited.  What other culinary delights are hidden in there? The bells jingled behind me, and a German Shepherd barked menacingly behind the counter.  There, in the back, was a faded sign that read, “Lychee.”  The recipe called for ten bunches of Lychee …at $15 per bunch.  I was feeling a little less than thrilled, but still determined.   I forked over the $150 for my bunches and mentioned that I hadn’t seen any sea beans.  He handed me a sack and directed me to a swamp about five hours south.

A quick stop by a Wal-Mart outfitted me with my rubber boots and pants, on sale for $169!  I couldn’t believe my luck.  Five hours later, I arrived at the swamp.   I wandered through the murk until I found them; sea beans!  I would have shouted for joy, but I didn’t want to wake the napping alligators on the banks. There was already a water moccasin watching my every move.

Around midnight, I got back home and took my finds into the kitchen, eager to get started.  First, it seems, I needed to “bruise” the lychee.  I hesitated to do this, I was rather fond of the fruit by this point.  I took the bunches and began bashing them with a hammer.   Although it was a great stress reliever (you don’t even know!), this just didn’t seem right, so I looked up the term only to find it means “gently” crushing the fruit.  I slopped the remains into a pot; it couldn’t matter that much, really.   I peeled the sea beans, only to read a pen scribbled note in the margin of the recipe that the beans shouldn’t be peeled. That can’t be too important, right? At any rate, I dumped them into the bowl with the remains of my Lychee. Looking good so far, folks!

Now, on to the fun!  I grabbed a measuring cup and my imported Devonshire cream.  I checked the cup several times but found no measurement for a “jigger.”  Undaunted, and remembering back to the days of my youth when my own mother cited this oft-used but heretofore forgotten in my mind measuring increment, I poured the entire quart into the soggy mess of lychee and sea beans.  Ok, next I needed a saucer of flour.  I still am not entirely clear what measurement a saucer is, but I gamely dumped several cups into the mixture figuring a saucer is pretty big … you know, to catch all of that spilled coffee.  Next, I included a stick of butter in response to “butter the size of a walnut” (because …butter), a quarter cup of garlic powder (one saltspoon? What the heck is a saltspoon?) and, of course, a pinch of Hawaiian salt.  I have small fingers, so I added a few more pinches to make sure.  I mean, who knows who wrote these recipes?  It could’ve been Paul Bunyan for all I know, and you know what size fingers he must’ve had.

Next, I needed to cook my delicious dish in a “slow oven” for 30 “scruples.”  Not sure what a “slow oven” is, since mine has never shown any inclination to run a marathon, I heated it to 425, poured my mixture into a casserole dish, set the timer for an hour and a half, and sat at the table waiting with excitement.  This was going to be awesome; I could see myself serving this dish to my neighbors, bringing it to office picnics, offering it for holiday feasts.

The smell hit me first; somewhere between skunk and sulfur, the smoke was billowing out of the oven and the casserole was on fire.  I took it out to let it cool “for a few moments” before having to admit, I was defeated.  $370, including my fishing outfit, and hours later, I had a congealed scorched mass of I don’t even know what.   I put it outside for the crows and raccoons, but so far, they’ve only been sitting around it, in a circle, mumbling to themselves and periodically looking up at my window as though they’re plotting my demise for having insulted their taste buds in such a manner.

Come to think of it, summoning a demon might’ve been easier, and certainly a lot more interesting. Smell probably would’ve been the same. Still, there are 153 other recipes in the book, and I can’t wait to try them all …once I pay off the credit card debt from this one.

Lies We Tell Ourselves

So, this is getting posted late, but I wanted to share anyway. As it is, I’m just sort of throwing this together. Mondays just aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and this one has been especially hectic. Luckily it’s almost over. Maybe you’ll share in my frustration. Or laugh at it. I’m good either way.

Anywho, Monday morning I went to McDonald’s to get some breakfast…yum, right? You’d think, but well, no. Even though I was there during prime breakfast hours — 8 a.m. — I still had to wait for the hashbrowns. It seems I spend half my life waiting on McDonald’s hashbrowns. Since I was using the drive-thru (I mean, of course, I was), I had to wait in “Spot A” — one of two designated spots for people to wait when the food isn’t ready. Although at my McDonald’s, it’s really just the entire parking lot, because I don’t think they ever have anyone’s entire order ready at the same time, so we’re all just sort of sitting around checking out every worker that comes out, hoping it’s our car they’re headed to with their bag of goodies.

I’ll just interject here, being told by the drive-thru person that my hashbrowns will be out shortly is like when I say I’m leaving in 5 minutes. Oh, sure, the stated time frame might be the same, but we both know it’s not going to happen.

I should also say that I ordered a breakfast that came with hashbrowns. Duh. I mean, that’s the whole point of breakfast at McDonald’s…hashbrowns. But, being the glutton I am, I ordered an extra hashbrowns. I just roll like that at 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning. So here I am, waiting for my hashbrowns and, despite the assurances of “it’ll be out in 3 minutes,” no less than 10 minutes go by. Keep this in mind when I tell you I’m leaving to meet you anywhere, lest you be disappointed…my sense of time is very similar to McDonald’s.

Lo and behold, after I had decided that no food was actually coming at all and I was just destined to spend this dismal Monday morning listening to my stomach berate me, I view the black-shirted bearer of food coming towards my car and I’m at once elated and relieved. Finally, I can leave this cursed asphalt wasteland for a better land beyond, a land where hashbrowns go hand-in-hand with coffee and all is right with the world.

In my pent-up frustration and rush to leave, however, I made a grave error. I. Did. Not. Check. The. Bag. I got where I needed to be, and you guessed it. No. Hashbrowns. Like, at all. Not the original hashbrowns that went with my pancake breakfast, and certainly not the extra order of hashbrowns. Just none. Zip. Nada.

Of course, the question I asked myself, and to which I have no easy answer: just what in the hell did they have me wait for??  What was the point of that entire exercise??

And to that, I say, well played, Monday.  Well played indeed.

 

Facing My Darkest Fear

I came across an article the other day about dining etiquette. Always searching for ways to improve…okay, so fine, always searching for ways to complain about my fellow diners, I perused the article eagerly. Much to my dismay, it was a “how-to” on eating sushi. Did you know, you shouldn’t use a fork? Or chop sticks apparently. Sushi was meant to be eaten with one’s hands. Sashimi on the other hand, IS supposed to be eaten with chopsticks. Forks are just a no-go altogether. Go light on the soy sauce. Ginger is a palate cleanser, not a condiment.

So yes, I did read the article – I’m nothing if not tenacious…when reading. As for putting these dining rules to the test? That will be a resounding no, thank you very much. I have absolutely no desire ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever (to save blog space, just add about 100 more evers when you’re reading that) to ever eat raw fish in any form. But hey, it’s not my fault.

Ichthyophobia – “the fear of fish, eating fish, or touching raw fish.” Now, I love fish – to look at, that is. I used to keep Bettas (such beauties!) and I would love nothing more than to have a huge, complex tank set up with all kinds of different, beautiful aquatic creatures. The National Aquarium is one of my favorite places. However, the thought of going the distance by eating raw fish drives me into paroxysms of revulsion.  I guess that makes me a “super ichthyophobe.” In case you couldn’t tell, I just don’t like sushi.

Now a lot of my crazy insane sushi-loving friends give me a hard time about it, reminding me that hundreds of millions of people worldwide eat the stuff. They’ve even forced me to go with them to a sushi restaurant, determined to alter my views – forcibly if necessary (by forcibly, of course, I mean alcohol-induced). Upon relating my son’s green pea fiasco and explaining that he is after all, my son, and got his attitude will-power from my genetic contribution, they opted to forego their plan and I ended up, happily, with fried rice.

After giving it some thought, and following up on the old adage, “Know thine enemy,” I decided to do some research into the food that I hate. I discovered things that made me wonder even more, “Why in the hell do people eat that stuff?”

The first thing I discovered is that the meaning of the word “sushi” doesn’t have anything to do with fish.  Sushi is specially made vinegar rice. It is served in a wide variety of ways. Some common types are:

Nigirizushi (hand-pressed sushi) – A small, thumb-sized piece of sushi than can be topped with vegetables, cooked egg, fruit, and yes, even raw fish. Not sure why they have to ruin it with raw fish, but there you go.

Makizushi (rolled sushi) – These are the “rolls” you find on a menu. A bed of dried seaweed is laid down and then covered with sushi rice.  That can be covered in turn with a variety of vegetables, sauces, and yes, even raw fish (enough with the raw fish, already!). The entire thing is wrapped into a roll and cut into six or eight pieces and served. It can also be rolled into the shape of a cone and be eaten as a hand roll.

That doesn’t sound too daunting…except the fish part. Further exploration of my darkest fear led me to the real villain.  It wasn’t sushi.  I never realized that I could order sushi without raw fish.  My arch-nemesis is in fact, sashimi…raw fish!  That was the Kraken lurking in my subconscious terror.

I found that there were different levels of sashimi “adventure.” At the “basic” level the most popular types of sashimi are:

Maguro (Blue Fin Tuna) – This is the most popular type of fish for sushi and sashimi. Because of the worldwide demand for it, a whole tuna at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market can sell for over $70,000. Some restaurant owners, for the publicity, have paid over $1,000,000 for a whole tuna. I don’t know why.  To me it still reeks of fish Jell-O. And not in a good way.

Toro (Blue Fin Tuna Belly) – This cut is very expensive.  It’s very high in fat and supposedly melts in your mouth like butter.  I’ll take their word for it. I have no desire to eat a fatty tuna belly.

Uni (Sea Urchin Eggs) – Definitely a “no go” for yours truly. Ugh. This gooey stuff looks like something you’d find in a diaper. Seriously.

Ikura (Salmon Eggs) – Basically, caviar.  Been there, done that. Long story short, I was tricked, won’t happen again.

There are many more varieties of “basic” raw fish. But the basic level barely scratches the surface.  Here are some of the more esoteric types of sashimi:

Shirako (Cod Milt) – The male equivalent of caviar!  That’s all I’m saying about this. You figure it out. Google is your friend.

Fugu (Puffer Fish) – This can only be prepared by licensed chefs as the fish’s liver contains high levels of lethal neurotoxins.  In fact, one puffer fish contains enough toxin to kill 30 adult men. If prepared incorrectly for consumption, well, you get the idea. Um, yeah, no thanks. I have absolutely no desire to play Russian roulette with my dinner. Precariously calculating the number of tequila shots I can do where I’m at the point of not caring how I look on the dance floor but just shy of throwing up is the only risk I like to take while dining out.

Shiokara (Fermented Fish Viscera) – Viscera sort of gives this one away. It is said that every part of the pig can be used for food except the oink (blech). The same is true here. The insides of a fish are mashed and salted, then left to ferment. Yummmmmmm

So, yeah. I did my research. It hasn’t gotten me any closer to trying any form of sushi and/or sashimi in any way whatsoever. However, it has given me an arsenal of useful, albeit gross, trivia that I’m anxious to try out on my friends the next time we go to dinner. Anyone hungry?

 

 

A Push for Flexible Morality

If you have five minutes to spare, I invite you to read this article.

Don’t worry. I’ll wait…

Okay, are you back? Good, because I have a lot to say on the topic. But you knew that, right? If you didn’t get to read the article, the long and short of it is that vegetarians shouldn’t beat themselves up when they decide to have a pork chop or two when amongst friends – in fact, they should feel obligated to do so just to show others that veganism and vegetarianism is “flexible.” You know, to make people comfortable around it… and therefore low-key encouraging others to give part-time vegetarianism a try.

There are so many things wrong with the author’s position in this article. Just at the surface, I find the concept of vegetarians being encouraged, nay, guilted into breaking their own moral code for the sake of others to be so misguided. From the article: “So the vegetarian guest eating meat when offered has probably shown the host that it is possible to be a (flexible) vegetarian and, at the same time, occasionally enjoy some meat without feeling guilty.” In reality, could doing so inspire others to adopt the vegetarian lifestyle if they see that it’s not such a rigid or strict discipline? Doubtful. Like with most things in life, people eat what they eat for a reason and they will change their lifestyle only when they’re ready and for reasons of their own, not because they saw a vegetarian breaking their own personal code of ethics at that dinner party last week.

My own response to this article?  It is NOT the guest’s job to convince the host or any other guest to become vegetarian, nor is it their obligation to be flexible in order to show that others can eat less meat while still maintaining a sort-of, kind-of vegetarian lifestyle.

I feel the article gives a negative portrayal of vegetarians, assuming every one of them brings a soapbox to stand on wherever they go because it’s their civic duty to coax people over to their side. But I can only really speak for myself. Do I wish people would eat less meat (or no meat at all)? Yes. Do I tell them to eat that way? No. They’re adults. They can make up their own minds on what they want to eat. But if someone is curious and asks me about vegetarianism, I’m more than happy to give them information as to why that particular diet appeals to me.

But it’s not my job to show others that vegetarianism can be flexible and therefore “easier” to the masses. Why should a vegetarian anyone be forced or encouraged or guilted into doing something that makes them physically, mentally, and emotionally ill — and is contrary to everything they believe in — just to show someone else it can be done?

To me, what should’ve been addressed is the host’s lack of manners for forgetting the dietary restrictions of a guest they presumably like and respect enough to ask to dinner. In case you didn’t read the article, the whole point that started this conversation was that the fictitious host and/or hostess forgot their guest was a vegetarian and therefore gave them a pork chop to eat. I also find it odd that out of all the meats out there in the world, they chose pork chops. But I digress.

Back to the whole “flexibility” thing… every vegetarian and vegan has their own reason for choosing that kind of diet, not least of which is to do their part in ending animal suffering. Contrary to all the jokes and memes out there, this is not a trivial reason. Some people are vegetarians for religious reasons. Does the author expect flexibility when it’s for religious reasons? Or is it only when it’s for other, non-religious, reasons? I wasn’t aware that morals were flexible, or rather, that it’s not a big deal if they are flexible. I mean, basically, the writer is asking a vegetarian to be flexible in their morals just to be polite to a host.

Then, the writer tells vegetarians to take heart in the decision to go against their beliefs and strongly held “code of ethics” because it could — could, mind you — have the positive effect of showing others that vegetarianism can be do-able for those who still want to eat meat sometimes. That’s a hell of a lot of responsibility for one person who simply does not eat meat, if you ask me.

Show and tell on the part of a dinner guest is not and should not be necessary to get this point across and I think it’s appalling to expect otherwise.