Froot Loops

Our hotel in Austin had a great breakfast bar that included an omelet-to-order option, freshly baked biscuits, and lots of other tasty breakfast options—including two gigantic containers of Froot Loops. The cereal must be popular in Texas, because two of the three dry cereal options were Froot Loops. The other was Raisin Bran.

I successfully resisted the temptation to chow down on a bowl of Froot Loops, but it was a challenge, because one of my childhood memories involves that cereal. In the early’60s Grandma and Grandpa Neal took UJ and me on a trip to Battle Creek, Michigan, where we took a tour of the Kellogg’s cereal factory. At the end of the tour Kellogg’s served every visitor with a little dish of vanilla ice cream topped with Froot Loops, which had just been introduced. I liked my Froot Loops sundae very much and asked Mom to buy the cereal when we got home—which I’m sure is what Kellogg’s was hoping for. (I liked Toucan Sam, too.)

Froot Loops remains a favorite cereal to this day, although my metabolism doesn’t permit me to eat it anymore.

Dinner With The Killer Bs

Years ago, I went to dinner with a business associate who knew a lot about Italian wines. He took control of the crucial wine-ordering responsibilities at our meal, studied the wine list carefully before ordering a bottle, inspected the bottle when the waiter delivered it, instructed the waiter to decant the wine, and then noted that we would let it breathe for 15 minutes or so. When I remarked on his impressive command of the wine-ordering function, he shrugged and responded: “In reality, all you really need to know about Italian wines is the three Bs — Brunello, Barolo, and Barbaresco.”

I’ve always remembered that lesson in fine wines, although I quickly realized that “The Killer Bs”–as those three wines are known among at least some wine lovers–must regrettably be reserved for very special occasions, because they are pricey. Last night was just such a special occasion, as we celebrated the new year and a wonderful performance by the Austin Symphony Orchestra and, especially, its principal oboist. We went to a terrific restaurant called It’s Italian Cucina, had a very fine meal, and the sommelier selected two bottles–a Brunello followed by the Barolo above–to accompany our dinner. (There were only four of us at dinner, so we couldn’t reasonably complete the Killer B trifecta with a Barbaresco.)

I don’t have an educated wine palate, but it wasn’t hard to conclude that we were enjoying some pretty spectacular wines. The taste of the Brunello changed and ripened and became even more delectable as it continued to breathe in the decanter, and the Barolo was simply wonderful and went perfectly with our main courses. It was great to be able to enjoy a fun celebration with the Killer Bs. I definitely look forward to the next opportunity to implement my friend’s wise advice.

Graphite

For years, I stoutly resisted the notion–expressed on driver’s licenses and other official, descriptive documents–that I had brown hair and brown eyes. The word “brown” simply doesn’t really capture all of the virtually infinite, subtle variations and shadings of that hue, in the same way that “blue” doesn’t convey the obvious difference between a navy blue sport coat and the color of the water on a brilliantly sunny day on a Caribbean island. After careful analysis, I concluded that–to be precise–I had mahogany hair and burnt sienna eyes.

Alas! Although the eyes remain that sharp, piercing burnt sienna, the mahogany hair has turned on me. And as my hair color has changed, I’ve searched for words that aptly describe the new shade. “Gray,” like “brown,” is simply too generic. “Silver” isn’t a good match from a color standpoint. I briefly toyed with “pewter,” but decided it has too much of a colonial dinner plate connotation. “Smoke” and “fog” are evocative, but were a little too ephemeral for my taste. “Fossil” was rejected for obvious age-oriented reasons.

Eventually the choices were narrowed to “slate,” “graphite,” “lead,” and “flint.” Each has a clear mineral overtone and thereby communicates an entirely appropriate degree of personal ruggedness. After some meticulous color analysis, I’ve decided that “graphite” best captures my current hair hue, so that’s what I’m going with.

I wonder if “graphite” will be among the hair color options the next time I renew my driver’s license at the BMV?

Cooking With Deer Meat

Russell brought home this bag of ground deer meat when he visited from Maine recently. He got the meat from a hunter friend up there, but didn’t get around to cooking it during his visit, and as a result it’s been sitting in the freezer. I’m intrigued to try it, so I’ve thawed it out and am trying to decide what to cook with it tonight.

Other than, perhaps, a piece of venison jerky years ago, I don’t think I’ve ever tried any food made with deer meat. However, in the past I’ve eaten bison burgers and some elk meat at a wild game night at a local restaurant. I don’t mind the stronger flavor you tend to get with meat from wild animals–although you never know, venison meat might be different, and of course the preparation is critical.

I have no idea how to prepare and cook ground venison, so I did the normal modern thing: a Google search. To my surprise, a search for “recipes for ground deer meat” yields a treasure trove of suggested dishes, from tacos to goulash to “hunters’ casserole” to meat loaf, chili, spaghetti sauce, and of course burgers. The recipes for venison–like this one for chili from a website with the delightful name “Rustic Recipes”–often point out that it is viewed as healthier than domestically raised meat, because it is lower in saturated fats, doesn’t have artificial hormones or antibiotics, and is “a good source of iron.” That last comment means you might want to make sure you add some flavoring to the dish. Recipes for venison burgers, like this one, also note that because venison has less fat, you need to add something (the recipe suggests butter) in preparing the patties to avoid a dry burger and avoid overcooking them. The recipe also recommends adding garlic powder, onion powder, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, as well as salt and pepper, for seasoning.

Tonight I think I’m going to start with the basics: venison burgers.

Wine Of The Month Club

Today we effectively “unwrapped” one of our more interesting Christmas presents–a subscription, courtesy of Richard and Julianne, to a “Wine of the Month” Club at Wine On High, a wine shop in the Short North. We walked down to WOH on a bright, cold winter’s day, presented our membership card, and made our selections for December and January. At WOH, the Wine of the Month Club members are invited to tastings and then can select from among specific wines that have been chosen for the members.

A Wine of the Month club membership is a great gift for people who like wine. And if you’re lucky enough to be gifted with a membership, you have to decide how you want to use the membership. You can play it safe with wine varieties you know, or you can try something totally different. I took the latter course, trying a 2018 pinot noir from a German winery–who ever heard of a German pinot?–and a 2019 Uruguayan red made from the Tannat grape, a variety that I’ve never tried before.

I figure getting free wines (as the Wines On High sommelier aptly put it) liberates you to really let your freak flag fly. Why not do some experimenting?

What Makes A Great Year?

I ran across one of those traditional “end of a calendar year” stories, recounting how people felt about the past year. This one noted that “just” one in three people surveyed felt that 2022 was a “great” year.

I was struck by the use of “just” in the description of the survey results. Given all of the really bad things that happened in 2022–war in the Ukraine and the resulting increase in the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons, an American economy on the brink of recession, a horrible year in the stock market, a fresh outbreak of COVID in China, and so forth–how could even one-third of people surveyed possibly think that 2022 was “great”? Who in the world are these people, and how do they define “great,” anyway?

And that’s just it, isn’t it? When people are deciding whether a particular year was “great,” do they consider national or geopolitical developments, or do they focus only on a smaller circle of their families and friends? Did the members of their family stay happy and healthy for the year–or not? Was a marriage joyfully celebrated, or the arrival of a new child, or a special achievement by a high school or college student? Did everyone in the family have a successful year on the job, or were some laid off in some cost-cutting exercise? Can they heat their homes and put food on the table? For some people, at least, troubling national and international news might be storm clouds on the horizon, but it doesn’t really have an impact until it directly intrudes upon that group of family and friends.

The greatness–or crappiness–of a year depends a lot on your perspective. It’s nice to think that one-third of the people surveyed experienced enough happiness and healthiness and satisfaction in 2022 to call the year a “great” one. However you define a “great” year, I hope that 2023 meets that definition.

A Moosehead Lake Weekend

Mother Nature threw a curve ball at our plans for an outdoorsy weekend at Moosehead Lake. The big storm soaked the area in torrential freezing rain, and the high winds knocked down many trees. When we tried to drive to a hiking area the morning after the storm had passed, we discovered we were penned in by fallen trees and downed power lines. So, we contented ourselves with exploring the downtown areas, where these photos were taken, eating meals at the excellent Dockside restaurant, and checking out the shops.

Alas, I did not see a live moose, but we’ll have to try again. I liked Moosehead Lake and would like to come again in the summer, when — hopefully— freezing rain and ice are not part of the forecast.

Running Time

The baking weekend is not over until the tins have been assembled with care, so this morning I enjoyed some quality tinning time, which special attention to layering and cookie distribution. (Fudge, almond bars, and gingerbread men bring up the load-bearing bottom, for example.). There not too much left over, either, which is good news!

I

Baking Day — 2022 (II)

Good progress was made yesterday, as we got the hang of the internal oven temperature and made a meaningful dent in the repository of supplies and the pile of recipes. With the excellent Sirius XM Holiday Pops channel providing the essential Christmas carol soundtrack, I was able to prepare some old favorites and one of the new recipes from this year. The crucial taste testswere positive, too.

We are well-positioned to finish up with the baking today and get the tinning done today, too. And once that happens, I have checked the box on my last Christmas to-do list item!

The Single-Oven Challenge

This year’s Christmas cookie baking process will present a new challenge. After years of working with a double oven set-up, we are back down to a single oven. Part of the preparation for the annual baking frenzy therefore will involve thinking through the logistics of which cookies should be baked in what sequence, in order to maximize the efficient use of the standalone oven.

Double ovens are a luxury, because there is always an oven ready to receive the next sheet of cookies ready to be baked. The rotation and preheating decisions therefore were a snap, and the option to rely on the very existence of the second oven admittedly encouraged less precise baking and timing techniques. The use of only a single oven eliminates that safety valve and will demand careful advance analysis of order of preparation, preheating needs, and other important considerations. Because I will be baking cookies where the dough needs to be refrigerated, for example, I’ll need to make sure that other cookies are baking while that dough is being chilled, and I’ll have to time the decorations as well.

There’s another issue with ovens: until you’ve done some heavy duty baking, you aren’t quite sure whether to trust their heat readings. I knew the idiosyncrasies of our old, double ovens, which tended to take a bit longer to bake than recipes specified. I can’t make that assumption with our new, unfamiliar single oven, or I’ll risk burning batches of cookies–so the logistics planning will also have to account for regular checks of the oven contents to avoid such mishaps.

Bakers are, by nature, focused on logistics–planning, assembling ingredients, and making sure that all of the necessary tools and implements are at hand–but also are ready to improvise in a pinch. The single-oven challenge will just be part of the fun this year.

VapoRub Days

It seems to be the cold season in central Ohio. Hearing the sneezes, coughs, and sniffles around town made me think of having a cold when I was a kid–and the home treatments that were inevitably applied in response.

In our household, Mom was the family medic. If you were sneezing or coughing, she would feel your forehead and take your temperature with a thermometer, and if you varied much from 98.6 you were sent to bed. Then Mom would head to the medicine cabinet and a closet shelf to retrieve the same crucial pillars of treatment that were applied to every cold: Vicks VapoRub, Dristan nasal spray, St. Joseph’s aspirin for children, Smith Brothers cough syrup, and a humidifier that was set up in your room. (In those days, long before prescription drug commercials for every known medical condition came to dominate TV broadcasts, all of the medications we consumed were of the over-the-counter variety.)

It wasn’t clear whether Mom had received any meaningful medical training, or advice or instruction from the pharmacist at the neighborhood drug store, but she took her doctoring duties seriously. And her treatment sent an unmistakable message: when your chest had been liberally swabbed with pungent, seemingly radioactive VapoRub, you had a harsh blast of spray shot into the far reaches of your nasal cavity, and you swallowed a few gag-inducing spoonfuls of bad-tasting cherry-flavored cough syrup and heard the hum of the humidifier, you accepted that you were, in fact, sick, and just waited until you got better. The only saving grace on the medicine front was the St. Joseph’s aspirin for children, which had a piquant orange flavor and actually tasted pretty good. You came away thinking that St. Joseph, whoever he was, must have been a nice guy to invent a kid’s aspirin that helped to get the taste of the cough syrup out of your mouth.

Did the rotation of VapoRub, Dristan, Smith Brothers, and St. Joseph’s, along with the constant whiffs of humidified air, actually have a therapeutic effect? We’ll never know for sure, but we do know one thing: the colds eventually went away and we did get better, even as the powerful odor of VapoRub lingered for a day or two thereafter.

Cleveland Christmas

I came up to Cleveland yesterday and had a chance to walk around Public Square before dinner. It was brightly decorated for the holidays, and with the Terminal Tower in the background I got the full sense of a Cleveland Christmas.

My visit reminded me of Christmases long ago, when my grandparents would take us to Cleveland to visit the department stores—Higbee’s, Halle’s, and Polsky’s—look in the display windows, enjoy the bright lights, go to the toy department, have lunch, and of course visit Santa. Our annual trips to Cleveland made the holidays even more special.

A Day After Thanksgiving Vocabulary Builder

It’s the day after Thanksgiving in America. If, like most Americans, you went a bit overboard in the food and drink departmentyesterday, you are undoubtedly feeling the after-effects today. But how to adequately capture the curious mix of sensations that you are feeling today–that unique combination of a desperately overworked digestive system that has been shoved into once-a-year overdrive by your gluttonous consumption of proteins, starches, carbohydrates, and sugars, washed down with more than a few of the adult beverages of your choice?

Bloated is always an apt description on the day after Thanksgiving, but if you want to sound more sophisticated, tumid or tumefied are good words for describing that still lingering stuffed-to-the-gills sensation.

If your overindulgence is leaving you feeling foggy and cotton-mouthed, katzenjammer is a useful synonym for a hangover.

And if you are feeling a deep sense of regret at your failure to celebrate Thanksgiving in moderation–again–or your inability to adhere to your vow to avoid a pointless political discussion with a family member, note that remorseful might well capture your mood, as would compunctious, penitent, and contrite.

As for your likely sense that today you need to refrain in order to make up for yesterday’s wretched excess, abstinence is a pretty good word. Willpower is going to factor in as well, since there are bound to be leftover pieces of pie ready to provide temptation.

The Three-Day Thanksgiving

Most of us are generally familiar with the story of the first Thanksgiving, as the Pilgrims and the Native People in the region–called the Wampamoag–gathered to feast and celebrate the bountiful harvest that, with the assistance of the helpful Wampamoag, ended a period of severe want and deprivation and helped to save the Pilgrims from starvation.

We tend to visualize the event as a kind of stodgy sit-down dinner, but the only surviving account of the actual first Thanksgiving suggests that it was a slightly different and far more relaxed affair. The account was written by Edward Winslow in the fall of 1621 in a letter later delivered back to a friend in England. Winslow described the event as follows:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”

In short, the first Thanksgiving was at least a three-day feast that featured hunting, other forms of entertainment, eating five deer and a variety of wildfowl (including, in all likelihood, wild turkey as well as duck, geese, and swans) thanks to the efforts of the Wampamoag and the Pilgrims, and enjoying the company of the entire Pilgrim settlement and more than 90 members of the Wampamoag, too. Other records of the Plymouth Colony suggest that the feast also would have included a variety of vegetables, maize supplied by the Wampamoag, fruits, and nuts.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for good health and prosperity among my family members, friends, and colleagues, and for many other things–including the generous spirit shown by the Pilgrims and the Wampamoag (who you can read about here) in sharing the bounty of the land just over 500 years ago. I’m also grateful, frankly, that while we have maintained the tradition of a Thanksgiving celebration, we’ve shortened it from three days of revelry to just one. I’m not sure my waistline could endure three full days of feasting.