All About The “Applewood”

Recently Kish and I went to a brunch buffet.  One of the heated chafing dishes held “applewood smoked bacon.”  Last week when I went out to lunch, my cheeseburger was topped with “applewood smoked bacon.”

IMG_1086“Applewood,” “smoked,” and “bacon” have become inextricably linked.  No one has plain old Oscar Mayer anymore.  No, it has to be “applewood smoked bacon.”  It’s become as ubiquitous on restaurant menus as quinoa and kale.

The prevalence of applewood on our menus, adding just the right smoky flavor to our favorite fatty meat, raises questions.  First, why is it called “applewood” instead of just “apple”?  It’s the wood from the apple tree, sure, but nobody calls the wood from the pine tree “pinewood” or the wood from the oak tree “oakwood.”  “Applewood” sounds like a made-up word that was invented precisely because a focus group decided it sounded upscale and would appeal to restaurant goers.

Second, exactly how much “applewood” is there?  Americans consume a lot of bacon, all of which apparently must now be smoked with “applewood.”  I’m concerned that Johnny Appleseed’s hard work is being chopped down and our national strategic reserve of apple trees is being devastated by our ravenous demand for “applewood.”  This is another good reason to support the efforts of “Emily Appleseed.”

I’m as big a fan of bacon as anyone, but I’d like to save a few apple trees for the next generation.  I’d be perfectly fine if my next rasher were smoked with “cherrywood,” or “peachwood,” or even “orangewood.”  Heck, I’d even make the ultimate sacrifice and settle for sowbelly in its plain, unadorned state.

On The Squirrel Superhighway


The bird feeder in our backyard broke, sending birdseed falling to the ground — and in the process turning our back fence into the German Village Squirrel Superhighway.  As I write this, no fewer than four squirrels are racing over the fence lines, romping through the backyard, twitching their tails, eating as much birdseed as they can stuff into their gluttonous buck-toothed mouths, and then skittering back up the trees that serve as the squirrel superhighway on and off ramps.

Squirrels are basically rats with tails, but they are industrious little buggers and fun to watch.  Hard-working and personally greedy, they are the prototypical capitalists of the animal kingdom.  When an opportunity presents itself, they are highly motivated to get their share and will do what they can to maximize their personal gain.

Now that I think of it, I’m surprised somebody hasn’t tried to tax them.

Working On The Friday Before The Memorial Day Weekend

It’s the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, the first big three-day weekend of 2016.

The Martin Luther King Day and President’s Day three-day weekends don’t really count, do they?  They come during the winter when the weather stinks and it’s not much fun to go outside.  The Memorial Day weekend is different.  Now, people want to get outside and get going.  The traveling types want to hit the road, even though they know the traffic will be a pain, and get to their destination at the beach or the mountains or the national park as quickly as possible.  The stay-at-homers are looking forward to partying with friends and family, grilling out, playing catch, and swimming at the public pool on its opening weekend.  And everyone, whether they are staying or going, is looking forward to donning sunglasses and putting on shorts and drinking a cold beverage in warm sunshine.

empty-office-007We’re on the verge of the unofficial beginning of summer.  You can feel it in your bones, and today you’ll feel it in your workplace, too, as you walk past lots of empty offices and darkened cubicles and overhear co-workers talking about their fun weekend plans and see them anxiously looking at clocks and watches  and cell phones .

I’ve always thought the Fridays before the Memorial Day weekend and the Labor Day weekend are two of the toughest working days of the year.  If you’re smart and have the seniority, you take a vacation day and enjoy that magical four-day weekend.  If you’re a marginal employee, or worse, you wake up this morning and somehow convince yourself that you can plausibly call in sick on one of the days when workplace absenteeism undoubtedly is at its peak.  But if you’re a solid, responsible adult like the rest of us, you show up for work today, accept that it’s part of the job, and feel like a kid on the last day of school, just waiting for the bell to ring telling you that you can run out the school doors without coming back for three months.

I look at it this way:  working on the Friday before Memorial Day just makes the three-day weekend all the sweeter.

Blackened Walleye Tacos

IMG_1088Next to, perhaps, pizza, tacos have changed the most since I was a kid.  In those days tacos were a tasty, but extremely limited, food option that inevitably consisted of a somewhat stale hard corn shell that broke into smithereens when you bit into it, ground beef browned to within an inch of its life, a dollop of refried beans, and taco sauce — along with the vegetables of your choice, if you wanted to ruin a good thing.

At some point, however, some culinary visionary realized that taco-ey goodness should not simply be a means of delivering browned ground beef to the digestive tract.  So chicken tacos were introduced, then pork, and the hard corn shells were ditched in favor of flour-based soft tacos . . . and then the food and flavor floodgates opened.

All of which leads us to the blackened walleye tacos that I had for lunch yesterday at a place called Pura Vida, just off Public Square in downtown Cleveland.  These delectable eats could trace their lineage to the tacos of my youth, I suppose, but they bore as little relation to those basic staples as modern humans bear to our pre-mammalian ancestors who crawled the earth during the Cretaceous period.  The walleye, which is one of the best eating fish you can find anywhere, was absolutely fresh, and the blackened preparation gave it a very tasty kick.  Add a light citrus avocado creme sauce, throw in some red cabbage slaw, corn, and tomato bits, and liberally douse with freshly squeezed lime juice that you supply through the grip of your own two hands and you have the perfect, flavorful light summer lunch — as opposed to the gut-busting tacos of days gone by.

Pura Vida allows you to choose a side with your taco treat, and I went for the African peanut stew.  It was a sentimental choice, because I once worked with a guy from Africa who prepared a curry peanut soup that was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and I’ve never seen it served anywhere else.  The Pura Vida version, which is made from sweet potato, kale, curry, and peanuts and includes a healthy spoonful of diced peanuts on top, had just the right combination of sweetness and spice and also had a nice, coarse texture.  It was an excellent pairing for the tacos.

Where with the continued evolution of the taco take us?  I can’t wait to find out.

Hotel Room Carpeting


There’s a certain skill to picking hotel room carpeting.  It must be louder than the carpeting any rational person would select for their home, so stains won’t show, yet at the same time absolutely generic and forgettable.

Do they teach a class in carpet selection for hospitality management majors?  If so, I bet the person who picked this green pattern got an A.

Dog Bites Newspaper

Today the Columbus Dispatch carried a story noting that Columbus ranked number 8 in the country in the number of dog bites of postal workers.  There were 43 dog attacks on postal workers in Columbus in 2015 — more than twice the number of dog attacks the prior year.

ambulldognnewspaperWhat’s weird is that the Dispatch considered this to be news at all.  Literally, it’s a “dog bites man” story, and therefore is the classic definition of non-news.  Dog bites happen regularly in our humdrum, everyday lives.  Postal workers get bitten by dogs so often they train postal workers to deal with it, and they even keep statistics on it.  And when Columbus isn’t even at the top of the dog-bite list, but comes in at number 8 — which is a pretty undistinguished number, too, when you think about it — and trails Cleveland in this dubious category, its clear there is absolutely nothing noteworthy about it.

From the Dispatch‘s publication of this quintessential non-story, I think we can safely assume that today was a slow news day in Columbus, Ohio.  Tomorrow we’ll probably crack open our newspapers to look for breathless front page reports that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Attempting An Eclogue

For years, Kish has gotten a “word-a-day” calendar as a Christmas stocking stuffer.  The calendar gives you a word, its definition, and its pronunciation, and then uses the word in a sentence, like you’re the contestant in the national spelling bee.  It’s an interesting, relatively painless way to learn new words and build that personal vocabulary to ever more impressive heights, and occasionally — O, happy day! — the word is one you actually knew already.

afghan_shepherd_by_ironpaw1Sometimes, though, the words aren’t exactly easy to fit into everyday conversation.  On Monday, for example, the word was “eclogue.” What’s an eclogue (pronounced ek-log), you ask?  Why, it’s a poem in which shepherds converse, of course.  The sentence the calendar offers to illustrate its meaning is:  “The poet’s new volume offers modern translations of Virgil’s eclogues.”  Even at an erudite workplace like mine, it’s hard to imagine a discussion where you could smoothly use “eclogue.”

Although I can’t see ever using the word in actual conversation, and therefore am likely to promptly forget it, I thought it might be fun to try to write an eclogue, just to give ol’ Virgil a little competition.

A Brief Eclogue

Far out yonder, on grassy plain

Where sheep did graze, were shepherds twain

As they silently did walk

One shepherd felt the need to talk.

Said Shepherd One to Shepherd Two:

“It’s time for dinner.  I brought stew.

The sheep all graze o’er by the lake.

No wolf in sight.  Let’s take a break!”

Said Shepherd Two to Shepherd One:

“I’m sad to say that I’ve brought none.

I’ve got no food, but none the worse.

Let’s use our break, then, to converse.”

Said Shepherd One to Shepherd Two:

“I’d start, but I don’t have a clue

What we’d discuss, or what I’d say.

I’ve been out tending sheep all day.”

Said Shepherd Two to Shepherd One:

“There’s nothing new under the sun.

And what is new I won’t discuss.

Clinton and Trump just make me cuss!”

So shepherds two sat ‘neath a tree

And watched as sheep grazed peacefully

It wasn’t much of an eclogue

But ’twas enough to fill this blog.