Done, And Done

Last night I iced and decorated the sugar cookies, and then I got up early this morning to finish putting the cookies into festive tins and writing notes for the recipients of this year’s holiday baking — who I hope will enjoy the new recipes and the new twists on old favorites.

And, because no job is truly completed until the clean-up work is done, this morning I also stashed the baking implements and remaining supplies and wiped down the countertops, so there’s nary a sign of a marathon baking effort. Now, I can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee . . . and, admittedly, a warm feeling of accomplishment, too.

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The Ghosts Of Johnny Marzetti

It’s amazing what you can learn just by looking at signs in downtown Columbus.  Yesterday, as I was walking past a building that is being rehabbed and rebranded near the intersection of Broad and High Streets, I learned that its first floor space once housed Marzetti’s Restaurant — and its signature creation, Johnny Marzetti.

Really?  Who knew that, for more than 30 years now, I’ve worked less than a block away from the birthplace of one of the most hated school cafeteria offerings of my childhood?

johnny-marzetti-2It’s hard to imagine that Johnny Marzetti was actually created by any human being, much less somebody in middle-of-the-road Columbus, Ohio.  I never ate the Johnny Marzetti created by the former Marzetti’s Restaurant, but the dish served under that name by the hair-netted cafeteria staff of the Akron-area schools seemed like it must have been concocted by the devil — or perhaps was the residue of nuclear detonation tests on the island of Bimini.

Inevitably tepid, baked to a concrete brick-like consistency with a sharp-edged crust, flavored with tooth-curling, industrial strength tomato sauce purchased in garbage can-sized drums, shot through with suspiciously chewy ersatz meat by-products, and plopped on to your tray with a resounding thwack, Johnny Marzetti was always greeted with a groan by the kids at Rankin Elementary and Eastview Junior High.  And when, as was inevitably the case, the rigid pile of Johnny Marzetti went largely unconsumed and was returned at the tray drop-off at the end of lunch period, it was carefully scraped into a container — presumably to be recycled for another lunch next week, or perhaps used as mortar on the foundation of the school addition being constructed next door.

Johnny Marzetti — along with the other dish that my sister Cath and I loathed and called “hairy fatty chicken” — was largely responsible for converting me into a dedicated bring your own sack lunch student.  Why expose yourself to the possibility of picking at that inert pink mound of glop when you could have a PB and J made by Mom, with an apple and a Twinkie, too?  In its own demonic way, the Johnny Marzetti served by school cafeterias made us all appreciate the loving cooking efforts of our mothers.

That location being rehabbed at 16 East Broad Street now carries a lot of baggage for me.  I wonder if a restaurant will ultimately start up in that space — and if so, I wonder if I’ll have the guts to overcome the ghosts of Johnny Marzetti and try it.

Neighborhood Wish List

The spot in the middle of German Village where the original Max and Erma’s once operated for four decades has been vacant for a few months now, without any apparent signs of activity. Recently, though, stickers that look like those irritating “My name is” name tags that always fall off your suit coat appeared on the front windows. Yesterday Kish and I took a closer look, and the stickers represent some people’s wishes for what business should now occupy the property. I’m not sure whether the stickers were filled out by neighbors, former employees, Trader Joe’s shareholders, or somebody else who likes comics. Seriously . . . a comic book shop?

I’d like to see a restaurant in the spot. Something ethnic, perhaps. Maybe a good Szechuan spot?

Baking Day, 2017

Every successful holiday baking day starts with a carefully prepared shopping list. Preparing the list is, and should be, an involved process. You need to sift through your recipes, decide which ones you’ll be making this year, and take inventory of what you’ve got in the cupboard already — and whether you’ve got it in sufficient quantity. If you’ve made a good list, you won’t be caught short on a particular recipe and have to make an annoying one-ingredient dash to the store midstream.

The list is the first step on the journey.

The Random Restaurant Tour (IX)

Yesterday Kish and I met for lunch. We try to get together for lunch about once a week, where we can eat in peace and talk without an aging dog hoarsely barking at us to give her people food. We try to pick a spot somewhere between home and the office, and we’re always game for something new.

Yesterday we checked out the Blind Lady Tavern on Mound Street. It was a bitterly cold day, with a sharp wind that chilled to the bone. It felt good to finally reach the Blind Lady, which has a warm, welcoming ambiance complete with a cool pressed tin ceiling and a single room shared by the bar and lots of wooden tables.

After my walk through the arctic wind tunnel, I decided to warm up with the fried chicken sandwich and chips. The sandwich was excellent, with fried chicken that was crunchy but moist, with a nice sauce and tasty coating that wasn’t overly breaded. I also want to commend the chips, which looked to be homemade and were crisp and blessedly not over-salted. I left nothing behind. And because I knew I would be venturing back out into the brutal chill, I decided to end the meal with a cup of very good coffee that was served piping hot in a huge cup that was just begging for a shot of cream. All in all, it was a completely satisfying meal. Kish got the blackened fish sandwich with an enormous pile of greens and also said her food was very good.

According to our pleasant waitress, the Blind Lady — the name of which refers to the blindfolded depiction of Justice, in deference to the nearby Franklin County courthouses — has been around for two years, in a building that has housed the Jury Room lounge and other courthouse-related spots. We can attest that it is now a first-rate place to have a beagle-free lunch.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2017 (II)

Every year, the Columbus Dispatch publishes a holiday cookie section with some new recipes.  Knowing that I would be doing my holiday baking, Mom would send me the Dispatch cookie section to give me some new ideas, and to say thanks I would always make sure that a big plate of cookies went her way at the end of the process.  Mom always enjoyed a good Christmas cookie!

So, as a tribute to Mom, I visited the Dispatch cookie guide webpage for 2017 and tried to pick out a recipe that I thought Mom might like.  She had a taste for the simple sugar cookies, and this rosemary cookie recipe (from Margaret M. Titerington of Ostrander) looked intriguing — the sort of straightforward cookie that Mom might have liked and that might have been baked back in old England during the holidays and consumed with a cup of tea with lots of milk.

Rosemary Cookies

dsc_0046_resize_colorcorrectIngredients: 1 cup butter; 1 cup sugar; 2 eggs; 1 teaspoon baking soda; 4 cups flour; 1 cup oil (I use extra light olive oil); 1 cup powdered sugar; 1 teaspoon vanilla; 1 teaspoon cream of tartar; at least 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all ingredients, except rosemary, in mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly. You might need to add a little more flour if dough appears sticky — add 1 tablespoon at a time. Add rosemary and gently mix into batter. Chill the dough thoroughly until very firm.

Roll dough in small balls and then in sugar and flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar.

Bake, watching carefully until light golden — about 5 to 10 minutes. Baking time depends on how large you form the cookies.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes — 2017 (I)

A Taste Of Old Akron

The Webner family social media wires were burning up yesterday with the news that Swensons, an Akron-area tradition, may be planning on opening up a new hamburger joint in the Columbus area.  According to the article, Swensons has begun franchising and has indicated an interest in the Columbus market — they’re just looking for the right place.

e2fb43610d0ce3cec3e0f3ac6dabdfd1-akron-hit-theThis potential development burst like a bomb among the members of the Webner clan, because Swensons’ hamburgers were one of the foods we associate with our days growing up as kids in Akron.  Some days, we would buy sacks of burgers and milkshakes at Swensons, where to my recollection the meat had a very distinctive, somewhat sweet taste, and then go to the nearby McDonalds to get french fries because Grandpa Neal insisted that McDonalds’ thinner-cut fries were preferable to the Swensons’ variety.  Other times, we would go to Sky-Way, just a few miles down Market Street, which also was an old-line burger place.  At Sky-Way, you would drive up and park and then get served by kids who would skate up to the window of the car, attached a tray to the drivers’ side door, and bring your order directly to you without falling down.  The Sky-Way burgers were good, too, but it was the delivery method that really made an impression.

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Swensons, or Sky-Way?  In Akron, it was the eternal question and the basis for endless debate.  The Webners were enumenical on the issue — we happily consumed both.

I haven’t had a Swensons burger in years, but it and Sky-Way are enshrined in my fast food memory banks, right up there with the cheeseburgers UJ and Grandma and Grandpa Neal and I got at Riviera Lanes and broasted chicken and the old-fashioned pizza Mom got from a place with an Italian name that I don’t remember.

And when I hear that a Swensons might be opening up, I think two things.  First, if I go there, will the burgers taste like what I dimly recall and live up to my expectations?  And second, if Swensons is coming, can Sky-Way be far behind?