Category Archives: Food

A Quick Thought

Just a quick thought for today.
Why is it that I can go to the store for one thing and find that I inevitably need to get something sweet to eat? One thing and one thing only turns into six (actually seven with my wife needing me to pick up buns).
You may remember from earlier conversations that I love sweets! Especially homemade things. But within the past few days, I have had a hankerin’ for those cheap powered sugar donuts that come in a bag. So I went to Kroger and got some. But then I thought I’d just swing by the ice cream (it is extremely hot outside, you know) and see if anything was on sale. Low and behold, it was!
Pints that normally cost $3 were on sale for $1. Well, I just had to take advantage of a sale like that! The maximum number to get was five, so that’s what I got (generously providing one for my mother-in-law, who was over to the house visiting).
We’ve all got our issues. I guess this one is mine. In the Big Picture of things, that’s not so bad.
Catch you next time, my friend.

The Grape-Nuts Factor

Have you heard of a breakfast cereal called Grape-Nuts?  Ever eaten it?  Whether you have or not, there is a story about this cold cereal that will warm you right up!

As kids growing up, the majority of our breakfasts involved eating cold cereals (the unceremonious act of pouring cold milk over dried cereal).  Of these, we were rarely allowed the unspoken right that should be given to all children everywhere:  The right to consume “sugar cereals”. These consisted of cereals like Frosted Flakes, Honeycomb, Fruit Loops and Sugar Corn Pops. That, of course, meant that the “healthy cereals” like Cheerios, Mini-Wheats and Grape-Nuts were always in the cupboard.  Most people are familiar with Cheerios and Mini-Wheats but maybe not so much with Grape-Nuts.  Grape-Nuts is a wheat-and-barley cereal that is shaped into very small pieces that look like grape seeds and comes in a fairly small box.  A little goes a long way (something important to note for later).

If you’ve been with me any length of time, you’ve already become familiar with Rick.  If you haven’t, you really should.  It would be worth your time and laughter to do so.  He was my best friend in high school and we are still in contact after all these years.  Why am I suddenly telling you about him instead of cereal?  Well…..

As you may know from previous stories, our family cabin is on Carp Lake in northern Michigan.  (If you haven’t been able to visit northern Michigan, you really need to go!  It’s absolutely beautiful up there.)  We usually went up to the cabin twice during the summer months.  Now, it just so happens that it was these family trips to the cabin that provided a special privilege:  My brother and I were each allowed to pick out our very own box of whatever sugar cereal we wanted.  It was like Christmas in July!  We’d spend the whole time Mom was shopping in the grocery store picking out which two cereals we were going to pillage.  And never did we pick out the same one!  No sir, we knew better than that.  If we each got a different one, we both knew that we were guaranteed at least one bowl of each other’s cereal to be able to “taste test” and enjoy our spoils together.

Well, it was on one of these trips to the cabin that I was able to bring Rick with us.  We shared our treasured cereals with him, but Mom had also brought along the healthy choices.  On this trip, that meant Grape-Nuts and Cheerios.  My brother and I weren’t touching either one, but Rick had never had Grape-Nuts before.  On one particular morning, he decided to try them.

(You should know that the go-to bowls for cereal at the cabin were these old porcelain bowls that were deep enough to house a generous amount of whatever you poured into them.  You should also know that it was an unspoken rule in our household that whatever you serve yourself, you eat.)

My Dad was sitting in the cabin’s kitchen with us as Rick began to pour himself a big bowl of these cute little nuggets of goodness.  We all watched as Rick filled his bowl well over half-way with Grape-Nuts.  The more he poured, the bigger my eyes got.  Then Dad spoke up and told him that he wouldn’t need that much cereal and really ought to pour some back into the box.  There was a great camaraderie between Rick and my Dad.  But that didn’t stop Rick from insisting that he was fine and could easily polish off this bowl of Grape-Nuts.  My Dad then made sure that Rick was aware of our “You pour/You eat” policy and promptly bet him that he couldn’t finish the bowl.  And so it begins…..

My brother and I ate our sugared treasures as we watched Rick dig into his bowl of Grape-Nuts spoonful after spoonful.  As he did so, he would have to periodically pour more milk into the cereal.  He was discovering that those little nuggets of goodness had soaked up all the milk and were expanding into larger pebbles of sogginess.  It was like they were multiplying.  He wasn’t making any headway at all.  In the meantime, we had all finished our breakfasts and were now contentedly sitting back and enjoying the scene that was playing out before us.

Eventually, Rick looked at the soggy brown nastiness that still remained in his bowl.  He heaved a heavy sigh as he leaned back in his chair, his belly pooched out like a pregnant cow.  His eyes were glazed over as he slurred through his speech that he couldn’t handle anymore Grape-Nuts.  Dad had won the bet!  I don’t remember what he had bet Rick–whatever it was, though, it was quickly forgotten in the “aftermirth” of watching Rick suffer through the rest of the day with a bloated belly and enough gas to light up the Carp Lake community for the next two years.

That Christmas, Dad found Rick a very touching gift.  You know those huge family-sized boxes of Cheerios at the store?  Sam’s Club had boxes of Grape-Nuts for sale that were only slightly smaller than that.   Dad bought one just for Rick to call his own.  I don’t know that Rick saw the same thoughtfulness in the gift that Dad did.  I know he didn’t the following Christmas when I got him the same gift.

Some people just don’t appreciate meaningful things….

Of Ghosts And Flying Reindeer

The Christmas season certainly has a lot of traditions attached to it, doesn’t it?  From what we actually celebrate (namely Santa, Hanukkah and the birth of Jesus) to countless family practices within countless households, traditions hold a significant place within our society.  We’ve all got our favorite ones, too, don’t we?  But do you ever stop to think about where they came from?  “How did this tradition start?”, is a question that can produce some interesting answers.

Hanukkah and the birth of Jesus are both historically accurate occurrences (although tradition has put Jesus in a manger on Christmas, when he actually was at least a few months old by the time the wise men found him on December 25)*.  When it comes to Santa, though, the earliest accounts of this fable only date back to 1821 with a children’s poem (author unknown) titled “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight”.  At that point, the earliest drawings depict Santa being pulled by just one reindeer** (and you’d think that Rudolph would have been that reindeer, what with Santa needing his glowing nose and all).

As a result of these foundations for most of our holiday traditions, it has led to one of the biggest and most well-known traditions of them all:  Christmas carols!  Obviously, many are about the birth of Jesus and quite a few are about Santa as well.  But then we also have carols that are simply about our traditions:  sleigh rides, children playing in the snow, chestnuts roasting over a fire and the food we eat during the holidays.  One of these songs is called, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.  Ever heard that one?  I didn’t hear it until I was working for an upscale hotel restaurant in my early twenties.  My first Christmas season there, I actually heard a few songs that I never even knew existed (and I was even one of those kids growing up who would listen to Christmas carols as soon as Thanksgiving was over)!  This one really threw me for a loop, though.  And let me tell you why…..

George Wyle (the vocal director for The Andy Williams Show), along with Edward Pola, actually wrote this song for Andy to sing on the show in 1963.***  It’s a song that’s all about traditions.  But when I heard the lyrics within a certain part of this song, it stopped me in my tracks and forced me to do a double-take on what I had just heard.  Here is that part of the song:

There’ll be parties for hosting

Marshmallows for toasting

And caroling out in the snow

There’ll be scary ghost stories

And tales of the glories of

Christmases long, long ago

Do you see it?  Who on God’s green earth associates scary ghost stories with Christmas??  What does that even look like?  Can you picture it?  You and your family are sitting in a comfy room in front of a cozy fire that crackles and hisses in the fireplace.  The smell of pine fills the air from the garland of real pine that lines the mantle above it.  Across the room is a beautiful Christmas tree, glowing warmly with the colors of red, blue, orange and green.  The gentle flames of candles scattered around the room cause firelight to dance on the walls around you.  You have just taken part in one of the best Christmas dinners you’ve ever had–every dish that every family member is known for making the best of was part of that meal.  Suddenly, as everyone is basking in the serene atmosphere that surrounds them, Uncle Joe blurts out, “Hey, just between you, me and the fence post, has anyone heard about the ghost of the truck driver that was killed in that horrible accident a few years back?  They say he still roams these parts, looking for the kids that ran out in front of his truck.  Anyone seen Billy lately?”

Apparently somebody thought this was a good idea, but why?!  Talk about a really weird and disturbing tradition!  After much contemplation, the only connection that I can make is that this could be referring to the ghosts in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.  Then recently, I learned that it was actually a Victorian tradition to tell ghost stories at Christmas time (could explain why Dickens’ story was considered such a classic).

So, needless to say, not all traditions are worth carrying on!  Personally, I’m glad that that one has fallen by the wayside….

Enjoy your traditions, my friend.  And have a very blessed and Merry Christmas!!

 

* DVD entitled “The Star Of Bethlehem”.

**Wikipedia, “Santa Claus’s reindeer”.

***Wikipedia, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.

The Coffee Snob Returns

Do you remember me mentioning a while back that I have a “Coffee Snob” in my life?  If you don’t, I’ll gladly remind you right now that it’s my brother.  No worries…he wears that title with pride.

As you already know, I and my family are vacationing at a campground just outside of Mackinaw City in Northern Michigan.  It’s been absolutely beautiful having Lake Huron just down the way from us with an incredible view of the Mackinac Bridge which connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan.  As you can imagine, nothing is more relaxing on a vacation like this than going down by the water’s edge with your chair and your coffee and watching the morning unfold before you!

Well, we met my brother at the half-way point (he lives close by) to take delivery of a bag of freshly roasted coffee beans.  (He has a friend of his that roasts his own and does a fantastic job with it!)  We had originally thought that we would bring a coffee grinder and have this coffee every morning, but at the last minute decided that we would use up the year-old coffee that we already had in the camper and save this new bag for home.  Nice idea at the time, but in hindsight, it was regrettable to say the least.

Then the Coffee Snob found out about it.

My being a “coffee simpleton” in his exotic coffee-press / pour-over / get-your-secret-beans world, I have now been accused of letting perfectly good coffee age and lose some of the nuances of its flavor (being freshly roasted and all; really, it’s not even an accusation–that’s what freshly roasted coffee does when it has no preservatives in it).  And what makes it worse is the fact that we are meeting up with him on the way back down to get another bag of a different kind of freshly roasted bean.  So we very easily could have gone through this first bag and thoroughly enjoyed our morning coffee instead of drinking in what is apparently known in coffee snob circles as “compost” and “swill”.  I threw a scripture at him about knowing the good I ought to do and yet not doing it; he threw one right back at me, something about “woe to those who call evil good and good evil, that put darkness for light and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (that last part being communicated to me in all caps; I detect a subtle message in there, but it’s kind of faint).

So we totally missed exceptional coffee by the water’s edge while we got away from it all.  And, instead, we drank year-old coffee (already ground) and didn’t even finish it up.  Say, I think I just got an idea for a Christmas present for him….

Big Appetite

Well, I promised I’d give a “live” report from our Northern Michigan destination of Mill Creek campground.  It needs to be quick because of WIFI limitations, so this will be a quick read.

A few years ago, a new restaurant opened up in Mackinaw City, and today was the first time any of us ate there.  Decent food, but it was more for the idea of what the restaurant itself represents than it was for how good the food was.  What kind of food are we talking about? Take a look at our boys in these pictures to get that answer, and I’ll catch up with you next time with an intriguing report of life up here in the “North Country”!

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Sweet Snob

I love desserts!  Wait.  Let me qualify that.  I love homemade desserts.  Huge difference, right?  Of course, you may be one who couldn’t care less where something sweet comes from.  Nope, a package from the store or made from scratch at home doesn’t matter.  All you care about is the fact that you’ve got something on-hand to satisfy that craving when it suddenly shows up on your radar.  Or maybe you’re like my brother.  He has never really had a “sweet tooth” (I’m sure you’ve heard that saying before).  For the most part, if something sweet is on the table, he can take it or leave it–even if it’s homemade.  I don’t get that.  I’m still praying for him and his affinity for sweets, but in all these years, I don’t think it has helped any.  Except for the fact that he does seem to enjoy his wife’s homemade desserts.  So maybe she has become that Superman’s kryptonite.  Hmmm…..Maybe those prayers have been working!

Myself, I tend to be a “Sweet Snob”.  If something isn’t homemade, I typically turn my nose up at it (unless I haven’t had something sweet in a long time and what’s available at that moment is the only option for me).  I have noticed, however, that the older I have gotten, the more snobbish I have become when it comes to sweets.  I’ll bet my wife is to blame!  She is a magician in the kitchen, hands down.  But in the last 14.5 years of being married to her, she has made some absolutely incredible edibles when it comes to desserts.  So now, at this point of my life, I usually don’t touch anything unless it’s homemade–no matter how long it’s been or what’s currently available.  If the only desserts to be had are store-bought cookies, pies, cakes or what-have-you, I will usually leave them alone and just wait until I can have the real thing.  Might not be for a while, but when I finally get it….oh, let’s just say that people put “Better-Than-Sex” in the name of their desserts for a reason.

I do need to mention here that my wife’s magic in the kitchen with desserts has usually been what has led to the “Bethisms” that I told you about before.  That being said, she learned her craft from her Mom (who, for a couple of years, made me a homemade turtle cheesecake for my birthday that was beyond description).  So when I get a really good homemade dessert in front of me, my eyes dilate and everything goes into slow motion.  I’m like a connoisseur, swishing cake or pie or cookie around in my mouth (really hard to do since it’s not wine)–trying to pick out each ingredient (how much of each was used, when they were manufactured, where each one came from,  whether it was raining or sunny the day they were harvested, which ones were organic), when the dessert was put together, what temperature it was baked at and for how long–the usual connoisseur-type habits that befall an individual who appreciates such delicacies.

So I have no problem admitting to someone that I am a Sweet Snob.  It is with pride in my craft that I bow to such a name as that.  My brother can relate.  He’s a Coffee Snob.  Maybe we’ll talk about that sometime soon….

Grandma’s Horseradish

Remember the town I told you about that I grew up in?  (In case you don’t, just type “Bath” in the Search bar and you’ll read about it.)  Remember the story of watching the volunteer firefighters at my Grandparents’ house?  They were my Dad’s parents and lived about a mile away from us.  My Mom, my brother and I would often walk or ride our bikes up to their house.  We did that a lot through the summer months.

They had a small garden in the back of their yard and grew a variety of things–one of them being horseradish.  Now, if you’ve never had horseradish before, it is a preferred taste.  Horseradish is actually a root that has no smell to it until it’s cut open.  Once that’s done,  however, you’d better be wearing a gas mask, because the aroma will burn the hairs right out of your nose as it makes its way into your sinuses.  It’s a great way to clear your nasal passages if you’re fighting a cold!  But it has to be homemade to work like that (the sissy stuff that you find in the store next to the ketchup is hardly worth calling “horseradish”).

I have never particularly cared for the taste of this decadent condiment, but my Dad absolutely loved it–but only my Grandma’s homemade stash.  This stuff was so strong that you could stand on the other side of the kitchen with your eyes closed and simply let your olfactory senses warn you that they are being assaulted by a jar of this burnin’-hunk-a-somethin’ that someone has had the gall to open on the other side of the room.  My Dad would eat this straight out of the jar, a big smile on his face as his nose would begin to run like a sieve.  He lived for late summer when the time for making homemade horseradish was nigh upon us.  More like nigh upon my Grandma, who didn’t seem a bit bothered by the overwhelming aroma that always emitted from her kitchen when making it.

We always steered clear of their place for a few days when we knew she was in the middle of this annual assault on the senses.  But that didn’t always work.  One day, the three of us decided we’d walk/ride up to Grandma and Grandpa’s house unannounced–beautiful day, nice breeze, perfect for being outdoors, right?  When we got up there, though, we found out that she was in the middle of making a batch of this homemade horsey-sauce.  My Mom told us both to stay outside (because the aroma was so strong in the kitchen that she figured it would drive us right back out anyway), so we rode our bikes around in the driveway.  It wasn’t but a few minutes later that we heard a very strange and unnerving sound emanate from Grandma’s kitchen.  It was something between a whoop! and a scream and it was coming from Mom!  We came off our bikes at a full run and bolted into Grandma’s kitchen, only to see Mom standing at the counter, her hands up to her nose and tears in her squeezed-shut eyes as she stood there laughing.  For some reason known only to herself and God, she thought she would take the top off of one of the jars of horseradish and take a whiff.  To the best of my knowledge, she only did that once.  It was at that moment that I vowed I would never touch a jar of that Dad-beloved, nasal-hating sauce in my life!

Bagels Anyone?

I’ve had a boatload of jobs over the years.  One of those jobs was for about six to eight months in my early twenties.  There was a Jewish delicatessen in the area called Bagel Haul Deli that had absolutely fantastic bagels!  Of course, they also had other goodies like muffins, cookies and croissants to tempt the taste buds.  I was looking for a different job at the time and saw one day that they were hiring for a baker.  Thus begins our tale….

I lived about twenty minutes away from the deli–assuming traffic was good–so it wasn’t just around the corner.  My hours as a baker were 2:30a.m. to approximately 10:30-11:30a.m.  My first four hours were spent baking everything up and my last four hours were consumed with delivering everything I had just baked (minus the stash kept at the deli to sell there) and cleaning everything up once I got back.

A second baker would come in somewhere around 3:30a.m. to assist, namely with the bagels.  Why?  This style of  bagel was known as “Chicago-style bagels” (this is what I was told, although I understand that they are actually known as “Montreal-style” bagels).  This style is more dense than the other style, known as “New York-style” bagels, which are puffier and more airy than their counter-part.  Either style, though, gets boiled before being baked.  So at this particular deli, the boiling was done in a huge circular vat of boiling water that stood about four feet high and was about two feet in diameter.  Once these were boiled for a specific amount of time, they were put back on the trays where toppings such as garlic, poppy seeds, sesame seeds and salt were put on.  Once this was done, they were wheeled over to the oven where the other baker took over.

This wasn’t your Grandma’s oven, by the way.  The oven itself was a room about six feet wide, ten feet long and eight feet high.  It had at least six metal racks that were a good three feet deep and ten feet long, all rotating like a drum around the inside of the oven.  The oven baker accessed those racks by opening an oven door that exposed an opening about two feet high and eight feet long.  So between these two bakers, everything got baked up and ready to deliver by 6:30a.m.

The more pleasant of the two jobs was manning the oven.  Since I was the new guy, I usually got stuck with the first job.  To this day I cannot eat an onion bagel.  Go ahead…ask me.  “Why is that??”  Well, imagine yourself getting up at 2:00a.m. in order to get the baking process started by 2:30.  Now imagine yourself an hour later, standing over a vat of boiling water with all kinds of steam getting all up in your face.  Then imagine yourself dumping tray after tray of onion bagels into that boiling water and steam that is now saturated with onion-stench enveloping your sinus cavities and overwhelming your olfactory senses.  It about made me want to have a puke bucket nearby.  That wasn’t the only one either:  Cheese bagels gave off some rather obnoxious fumes and rye bagels had a weird and nasty smell when put in boiling water.  On the bright side, blueberry bagels gave off a rather pleasant boiled aroma, while cinnamon-raisin bagels just about made you want to crawl into the water with them.

One thing you didn’t want to do was be late!  If you started late, you never got caught up–and that also meant that you had to call the owners and have one of them meet you there to help you.  That happened to me twice while I worked there.  The anxiety of that possibility, coupled with a habit I had at the time of reading in bed by lamplight, resulted in the culmination of my quitting that job.  I know, I know…how does reading in bed add to a person’s stress level?  It’s supposed to be relaxing, right?

To answer that question, I should probably tell you that I had another habit.  This one involved my alarm.  When it would go off, I would sometimes hit the snooze button and turn the lamp on that was by my bed.  Mind you….sometimes.  Not all the time.  And sometimes I would find myself falling asleep while reading.  Which meant that my lamp never got turned off.  So I would stir in my sleep just enough to realize that the lamp was on and then fly up and out of bed, standing in the middle of the room hyperventilating with adrenaline, because I had no idea whether I had dozed off from reading or if I had hit the snooze button and was now late for work!!  Usually I had just dozed off, but how do you recover from that and just go back to sleep?  I remember many times just sitting on the edge of my bed, rubbing my temples and trying to get over that “post-adrenaline-rush” headache that always followed.

Bagel anyone?

Christmas Cookie Mahem

I suppose it’s probably the same in your household.  The Christmas lights are up….the tree has been put securely in place….(ahem)….next would have to be the annual making of the family-favorite Christmas cookies.

So what is that for you?  Cut-out cookies with lots of frosting in all kinds of colors?  Sugar cookies?  Mexican wedding cookies?  Snickerdoodles?  Candy cane cookies?  Molasses cookies?  Oh, man, the molasses cookies….

Just about every Christmas during my childhood, my Mom would decide to make a molasses cookie recipe that my Dad absolutely loved–and my brother and I hated (which says a lot when you consider that usually almost any kind of a cookie recipe will leave a kid drooling at the smell and anticipated taste of said baked cookies).  I don’t remember everything that went into this recipe, but I have very distinct memories of my parents buying those nasty colored fruit bits that go in fruit cake and lots of molasses.  Mom had these really old wooden bowls that she loved to use for things like this and would fill the biggest one with a double-batch of this molasses cookie recipe.  She would let it sit for a day or two to let all of the flavors meld and then she’d start baking them up.

The smell of these cookies baking was….well….pungent.  I like molasses cookies.  But these were–shall we say–intense.  Every year I would try to convince myself that I could handle eating them (what kid in his right mind refuses  a fresh hot cookie from the oven?  Especially when enough time has passed that he forgets just how much he hates that candied fruit?).  Those cookies had so much molasses in them that they were almost black, which worked very well for hiding all of the red, green and yellow bits of fruit hiding in each one, just waiting to explode with nauseous viciousness on the unsuspecting taste buds of an innocent child such as myself.  I would try my best to find one with the least amount of fruit bits showing, but it was a gamble on what I would find once I bit into it.  Then my Mom would frost some of them.  I love frosting!  So I already was faced with the obvious problem that none of these cookies had enough frosting on them to sustain my taste buds for any length of time.  Besides, I knew that the frosting would do something for hiding the taste of those vile, evil bits of colored nastiness.  But that only went so far.

I never did develop a taste for those.  And year after year I would inevitably try.  I’m devoted like that.  So my Mom made up for it by baking up some amazing cut-out cookies with an amazing recipe (that my wife still uses every December) and lots of wonderful frosting in plenty of holiday colors.

Merry Christmas to me!

Bethism #2

So the other Bethism that my wife likes to periodically repeat occurs in the kitchen and usually involves the use of her KitchenAid mixer.

Long ago, we not only bought one of these fine machines but also purchased the “splash guards” that fit the top of its mixing bowl.  They’re apparently handy for preventing ingredients from flying up out of the bowl and attaching themselves to your face, hair, clothing and any objects in the immediate vicinity.  We wouldn’t know, though, because all they have done in our family is sit around and collect dust.  Whenever either one of us grabs the mixer, we always set the guards aside, figuring we really aren’t going to need them.  After all, what could possibly happen?

Enter my wife, stage right.

She is very good at what she does in the kitchen!  She had a great teacher in her mother as my wife grew up, and she has learned many tricks of the trade over the years that we’ve been married.  But whenever I know she is going to do something that involves the mixer, my antennae is up, alert to any peculiar sounds emanating from either her or her equipment as she works her mojo in her kitchen.

The most recent event occurred about a year and a half ago, probably involving Christmas cookies.  I was in the other room and heard a whoop from the kitchen.  I had a feeling that I knew what had just happened as I made my way to her domain with phone camera in hand.  Sure enough, I entered the kitchen to see her standing in front of the mixer with flour and miscellaneous ingredients all over her front.  I found out from her that she dropped one of the attachments in the bowl as it was running (I later realized that I never thought to find out why or how this happend).  I looked down on the floor and there’s dough and flour splayed out in a perfect “V”, an arm of it spread out on either side of where she was standing.  Then I looked up.  The same V-shaped splay of dough and flour was cast acrossed the ceiling, the dough hanging in suspended strings of floury goodness as it spread out from the location of the mixer.  It was a masterful display of Bethism finesse and prowess if ever I saw it!  So I promptly took pictures and video to record this, her most daring and artistic Bethism to date.

(I still have the pictures and videos of these events for promotional purposes.  They are not for public use as of this juncture, but for a fee, I could let you “borrow” them….)