On The JT’s Rave Train

JT’s Pizza and Pub has done it again. The premier Columbus-area pizza emporium and sports bar, located in Linworth, has received another rave, this time from Jim Ellison of Columbus Underground.

As Mr. Ellison explains in the article linked above, he treats pizza as a serious culinary experience. In fact, his wife and son basically demand nothing less. And his approach to pizza analysis is intriguing. He thinks it is important to use a tried and true standard as the starting point for evaluation:

“The standard order for evaluating a new pizza place is large pizza, half pepperoni and half cheese. This is Columbus so the need to evaluate the quality, quantity and pairing of pepperoni with the rest of the pizza is critical. For any pizza, regardless of style, location, philosophy, etc., it is important to be able to try it plain sans toppings. A cheese pizza without any other ingredients – lets me evaluate the base pie without anything else to interfere in my assessment. A plain cheese pizza has nothing it can hide behind.”

This rational approach to comparative pizza analysis makes a lot of sense to me, as does the Ellison clan’s focus on the crust, which I think is a crucial element of any excellent pizza. And I’m happy to report that JT’s passed the Ellison family acid test with flying colors. You can read Mr. Ellison’s detailed analysis of JT’s offerings–as well as an interview of proprietor (and my nephew) Joe Hartnett and a shout out to my brother-in-law, the namesake of JT’s legendary Big Al pizza–at the link above. Congratulations, JT’s!

A Sad Feathered Tale

When I came home from work the other evening and opened the gate to the small courtyard in front of our house, I was greeted by this mass of feathers on the bricks. I looked around for a bird–or more accurately, a bird’s mortal remains–but they were nowhere to be seen.

The array of feathers itself tells part of a sad tale. Some poor bird evidently breathed its last on our little walkway, and the feathers indicate that it only occurred after a serious struggle. I would guess that the bird was jumped and brutally attacked by a predator–a cat, perhaps–the feathers flew, and after the bird was defeated the cat trotted off to do what it will with the bird’s carcass, leaving only the pile of feathers behind. That’s a bit strange, though, because I’ve never seen a bird land in that area, and I also haven’t seen any cats or other bird-catching creatures in our dog-oriented neighborhood. An alternative explanation would be that the bird was captured and killed somewhere else, and the assailant brought the body through our fence to perform the defeathering at its leisure before heading elsewhere. Of course, we’ve never had anything like that happen, either.

It’s weird and disturbing to think that some poor bird may have spent its last moments in a desperate struggle for survival on the bricks of our tiny courtyard. I’ve now respectfully disposed of the feathers.

A Wing Thing

I’m pleased to report that JT’s Pizza continues to garner accolades for its food, beer selection, live music, and general ambiance. The latest recognition is an article recognizing JT’s as one of the nine best places for chicken wings in Ohio.

Why nine places, rather than ten? What criteria were used to compile the honorees? Beats me! But I think there is no doubt that JT’s belongs on the list, because its wings really are terrific–meaty, well-seasoned, available in different flavors and heat levels, and the perfect complement to a cold brew while you are cheering on your favorite sports team. The wings are one of the reasons JT’s has become the go-to spot for many foodies and sports fans in the Columbus area.

Back In The Bobby Era

When I was a kid, our standard Christmas decorations included Santa cups for every member of the family. Each of the kids had his or her own mini-cup, suited to small child hands and carefully labeled in festive red ink with our names, and Mom and Dad had cups that were larger, about the size of a coffee cup. The Santa cups went out in a line on the dining room credenza and then were put in front of our place settings at holiday meals. Mom loved to put out M&Ms for birthdays and holiday occasions, and I think she may have filled the cups with those little chocolate candies.

Amazingly, the cups survived years of excited Webner family Christmas celebrations without being broken, although my Santa cup has its paint rubbed off here and there. When Mom moved out of the family house years ago, she distributed the labeled cups to each of the kids, and now it is one of the Christmas decorations we put out in our house.

Of course, in those long-ago days I was called Bobby by everyone in our extended family. That was fine with me until I got to be 11 or 12, when I concluded that “Bobby” sounded childish and I asked everyone to start calling me “Bob” instead, which sounded a lot more grown up and adult. For some reason, it seemed very important to make that change at the time. Since then, I’ve gone by Bob, so there was a clear line of demarcation between the Bob and Bobby eras.

Now, looking at the Santa cup always makes me smile and reminds me of the long-lost Bobby days, when things were simpler and more innocent, and the appearance of a set of Santa cups on the dining room credenza was part of the build-up for the excitement and fun of a Christmas to come.

Light Sight

In addition to finishing up our holiday baking, we’ve also gotten ready for Christmas by putting up our outdoor lights. Unlike the cookies, however, I had nothing whatsoever to do with the light design and placement. We hire a service to do it, they do a fine job, and I avoid personal involvement in the light-hanging mishaps that made the Clark Griswold light scenes of Christmas Vacation a hilarious holiday classic.

These days, baking cookies is more my speed.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2021 (II)

The first step in holiday baking, for me, is taking stock of what I’ve got, figuring out what I need, and then preparing my shopping list to ensure that I’ve got all of your ingredients and don’t get caught short and need to make an emergency run to the store for a missing item. (Of course, that typically happens, anyway.) That means pulling out what’s in the cupboard, in terms of spices and other essentials, then going through my stack of recipes to determine which cookies I’l be baking this year, and then matching up what’s on hand with what’s needed as I assemble my shopping list. It takes some time, so I’ve decided to get an early start this Saturday morning and, I hope, beat the rush at our neighborhood grocer.

I always like to try baking some new cookies, and this year one of new efforts will be White Velvet Cookies, using a recipe suggested by Webnerhouse reader Betty. Thanks, Betty! It’s her grandmother’s recipe, and the cookies get Betty’s highest recommendation. You can find the recipe, in her grandmother’s excellent handwriting, at the link above, along with a photo of Betty’s grandma and the cookies, too.

As a general rule, handwritten recipes are good recipes. I’m an admitted exception to that rule, however: my handwriting is illegible to everyone except me, and sometimes even I can’t read it. Fortunately, Betty’s grandmother has excellent penmanship.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2021

A Winter Etching

Russell and Betty are back up in Stonington. Winter comes early up there.

Stonington is located on the far eastern edge of the Eastern Time Zone, so the sun sets much earlier there than it does in Columbus, which is on the western edge of the same time zone. Once Daylight Savings Time ends, total darkness comes to Stonington during the afternoon hours. For example, my weather app says the sun will set over Stonington at 3:56 p.m. today, whereas the sunset in Columbus won’t come until more than an hour later, at 5:06 p.m. During the winter months the sun’s daily path through the sky also nudges closer to the horizon, which makes for longer shadows and less direct overhead sunlight.

That means conditions are just about perfect for the natural ice art shown in the picture above, which Russell took after he arrived. That’s a photograph of ice covering some of the rocks in our down yard. Accumulated rainwater froze over, and then the water under the ice layer evaporated while the ice remained, unmelted by direct sunlight. The result looks like an etched, frosted pane of glass that you might see in a doorway during the Victorian era.

If I recall my childhood winters accurately, that ice is just waiting for a bundled up kid in a stocking cap to step through and shatter with a satisfying crunch. I kind of wish I was there to do it.

Swept Out

On Sunday I was in a house project mood. On long weekends that’s not an uncommon impulse for me; after a few days relaxing at home I get antsy and want to do something productive. When the urge struck on Sunday, I replaced some burnt-out light bulbs and generally straightened up, but my big project was sweeping out our screened-in back porch.

The back porch is our gateway to the back yard. During the breezy late autumn weeks, when we open the screen door to take out the trash or let Betty out to answer the call of nature, brittle brown leaves are blown into the porch. The leaves swirl and tumble and accumulate against the inner wall, get stuck in the cracks of the wooden floor, and find every imaginable nook and cranny. After a few weeks, the porch looks pretty ramshackle and in clear need of a good sweeping.

Sunday I took on the job and quickly discovered that the elements were working against me. The wind was blowing from the west, which meant that a good percentage of the leaves I tried to sweep out of the porch were immediately blown back in. Such minor setbacks only increased my resolve to see that the job was done right, however. I moved the furniture around, used the bristles of the broom to get at the leaves in the corners, and bent down to pick out the leaves that had become devilishly lodged between the slats or in the crevices between the screen and the porch floor.

By the end of the project I was on a fervent search and remove mission, striving to get every last leaf, stem, and crunched brown remnant out of the porch. I took the rug out to the patio and gave it a good shaking, to set free the little bits of crumbled leaves, and swept off the back steps for good measure.

When I was done, I surveyed the little porch, saw that it was clean, and gave an approving nod for a job well done. With my impulse thus sated, I went back inside, enjoyed the warmth, and settled down to read my book.

Post-Pie Remorse

After a terrific Thanksgiving, with lots of family time, football, food, amber ale, thorough analysis of The Game, and a few friendly hands of euchre, today I’m dealing with the traditional bout of post-Thanksgiving remorse. Specifically, I’m feeling guilty that, when we returned home last night, I was unable to resist scarfing down a piece of pumpkin pie, followed immediately by a piece of pecan pie.

At that point, sated by my late-night pie intake, I went to bed and slept soundly. But the morning’s light always seems to bring second thoughts, and there is no doubt that the two-piece-of-pie nightcap drove my overall caloric intake into the red zone, setting the stage for the equally traditional winter weight gain that typically occurs over the next few months.

But this year, I vow to resist the norm. There was only one response, therefore, to my post-pie guilt: leash up Betty and take a few laps around Schiller Park on a cold, gray morning with snowflakes drifting down, hoping that the prompt walkabout will burn the calories before they find the waistline.

In reality, if I hope to make a meaningful dent in yesterday’s calorie count, multiple walks will be in my future, and maybe a short jog, too.

Sportsgiving

We’re celebrating Thanksgiving with a pot-luck family gathering at JT’s Pizza, which is closed for the day. That means we get to watch football on JT’s bank of TVs.

It’s not a bad way to celebrate the classic American holiday. My Dad, my Uncle Tony, and my Aunt Bebe would have loved this. Mom and Grandma Webner, on the other hand, would have hated it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I’m a big believer in specifically identifying at least some of the many things I’ve got to be thankful for, and then reflecting on them when Thanksgiving Day rolls around. Here’s this year’s list:

  • I’m thankful that I and the other members of my family made it through the last, star-crossed year in good health.
  • I’m thankful for the family, friends, colleagues, and clients who have added color and dash and interest to every one of the 365 days that have passed since last Thanksgiving.
  • I’m thankful that I have happy memories of Thanksgiving days gone by that I can recall with pleasure, like the little wax turkey candles (like the ones shown above) that Mom put out on the dinner table when we sat down for our big meal.
  • I’m thankful that, this year, our extended family will be able to get together to celebrate Thanksgiving as families ought to do, after skipping last year due to the COVID pandemic.
  • I’m thankful for the fact that the apparent supply chain problems won’t keep us from enjoying turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and a slice or two of pie today.
  • I’m thankful for living in a free country where my friends and I can agree to disagree, even about crucially important things like appropriate Thanksgiving pies.
  • I’m thankful for the people who laughed at my jokes, for those who gave me the benefit of the doubt from time to time, and for the kind words, the compliments, the encouragement, and the attaboys that helped me make it through every day.
  • I’m thankful for the people who take a few moments from their day to read my random thoughts on this blog, post likes, and leave comments.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

Cherry Pie (And Other Odd Family Thanksgiving Traditions)

Yesterday at lunch, the Bus-Riding Conservative, JV and I got to talking about the Thanksgiving family meals we enjoyed as a kid. Thanksgiving is one of the most tradition-bound celebrations in the pantheon of American holidays, and you could tell that everyone participating in the conversation was enjoying their memories about their particular Thanksgiving family food rituals.

Until, that is, both the BRC and JV shocked me by saying that it was traditional for them to have cherry pie as part of the Thanksgiving meal. That really stopped me cold. Pumpkin pie? Obviously! Pecan pie? Of course! Apple pie, or mincemeat pie? A bit on the edge perhaps, but . . . acceptable. But cherry pie? Cherry? Shouldn’t the only red fruit served on Thanksgiving be cranberry?

Then I realized that I was being unfair and improperly judgmental. The strength of America lies in our diversity, and our willingness to embrace and value differences–even if it involves something as basic and beloved as Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t particularly care for cherry pie. In fact, I find it rather cloying and would never voluntarily order it. But I’ll defend to the death some family’s right to install it as a treasured Thanksgiving family tradition. And upon reflection, I’m sure that some of our family traditions, like the cranberry relish plopped out directly from the can so that it can be sliced with a knife with only a sprig of parsley as a garnish, might strike others as a bit odd.

So let those special Thanksgiving traditions run free! Jello molds with embedded grapes? Hell, yes! Tofurkey? Why not! Squid on a stick for an appetizer to go with the early football game? It’s just another thing to be thankful for.

The Concept Of Applause

On Saturday we had the pleasure of watching the Austin Symphony Orchestra perform in a program that included a beautiful choral selection from Mozart and ended with a bravura rendition of Beethoven’s titanic Ninth Symphony. After the last, moving notes were sounded the crowd leapt to its feet and gave the performers (who included Julianne Webner on the lead oboe) a richly deserved and prolonged standing ovation. In fact, it was probably one of the longest and most genuine standing ovations I’ve ever experienced, as everyone in the audience clapped furiously until their hands hurt and their arms grew tired.

After the performance, I thought about the concept of applause. The concert had been such a wonderful experience, shared by both the performers and the audience. Imagine how different the experience would have felt if, after the concert ended, the audience had simply quietly filed out of the auditorium without any reaction, while the musicians gathered their scores and packed away their instruments! Fortunately for us all, the basic human urge to show appreciation for such a fine performance and to participate directly in the shared experience is irresistible. The impulse to clap like crazy and cheer loudly under such circumstances seems to come from deep within.

That’s why I suspect that, although some people date the concept of applause back to the ancient Greeks, I suspect the history of applause is much, much older. I imagine it probably dates back to the first performances of music, dance, epic poetry, or plays around a campfire by fellow members of the tribe. The notion of making positive noises to express approval is intuitive; it bridges the gap between performer and audience and establishes a connection and a feedback loop of encouragement and support. And since every audience member has hands and mouths, clapping and cheering were pretty much inevitable.

I love going to live musical performances and live sporting events, and part of what makes them so enjoyable is the chance to participate in cheering and applauding. To whoever first beat their hands together and shouted with pleasure, at the dawn of human history, I salute you. In fact, I applaud you.