356/365: National Date Nut Bread Day (Round 2)

Don’t forget to check your calendar, you crazy person, you! December 22 is National Date Nut Bread Day. (Apparently, the closer we get to the end, the more of a stretch these puns become).

And also, the less original the holidays, as we already celebrated National Date Nut Bread Day on September 8. I warned y’all back then we had another duplicate holiday! There were no alternatives back then, and there are none today. So we’ll add date nut bread to the list of duplicate food holidays.

With our challenge nearly over, I’m planning a special post afterwards, and would love to answer any questions you might have! The ones we most often hear are,

  1. What was the worst food you tried?
  2. What was the best?
  3. Which was the most difficult challenge to celebrate?

I’ll be answering all those, of course, but if you’ve got more – fire away! I’m also interested in knowing whether you’d see any value in turning this year’s challenge into a book. It would be a simple self-published Kindle edition costing no more than $2.99 or so. Be honest – my feelings won’t be hurt if you say no! I just need to know if it’s worth the effort to format and try selling. I also have friends in the app business (shout out to Heidi and Ross) who have approached us about making a National Food Holidays app based on the blog. It sounds like an intriguing idea to me. Thoughts?

But onto more important matters. That is, the date nut bread. Even though the holiday was a duplicate, the recipe was not. This time Tara tried a new recipe. It calls for soaking the dates in orange liqueur. ‘Nuff said!

National Date Nut Bread Day

Categories: Bread | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

259/365: National Cinnamon Raisin Bread Day

You’ll be toast if you don’t take advantage of today’s food holiday. September 16 is National Cinnamon-Raisin Bread Day!

OK, you don’t have to toast cinnamon-raisin bread in order to enjoy it. But it sure helps! Especially with a pat of butter on top; the toast makes the butter melt, where it seeps into every little crevice, filling them with its rich goodness.


Oops, sorry. Cinnamon raisin bread is classified as a sweet bread; different versions have existed since the 15th century, but oddly enough, raisin bread was invented by Henry David Thoreau, the famed author, poet, and philosopher best known for Walden. According to historical accounts, while baking bread at his home on Walden Pond one day, Thoreau tossed a handful of raisins into the dough. Hardly a culinary stretch, but the housewives of Concord, Massachusetts were used to baking in a very particular manner, and this breach of protocol was quite scandalous at the time. Stunned though they were, one taste was enough to convince them that ol’ Henry was onto something good.

Our brief honeymoon ended today, and it was back to reality for us. We picked up a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread, and toasted it (with butter, of course) for dessert this evening. Yum!

National Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Categories: Bread | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

251/365: National Date Nut Bread Day

Mark your calendar, today’s date is important. Today’s date, in fact, is front and center and baked into bread. September 8 is National Date Nut Bread Day!

In yet another weird twist, December 22 is also devoted to date nut bread. I checked, I double-checked, and then I double-checked again. ‘Tis true. We pay homage to date nut bread twice this year. By then we’ll be steaming down the home stretch, so I probably won’t complain too bitterly that “we’ve already done this holiday!”

The word date is derived from dáktulos, the Greek word for finger. So the next time somebody cuts you off in traffic, give ’em the ol’ dáktulosThey were named for their resemblance to a finger, actually – though that’s a pretty shriveled-looking fat finger, if you ask me. Dates “date” back thousands of years, and were an important staple food for those in the Middle East. Evidence of their existence dates back to as far as 7000 B.C. Wow, were there even people around then? In fact, dates are mentioned more than 50 times in the Bible. They grow on palm trees and ripen in four stages: kimri (unripe), khlal (full-size, crunchy), rutab (ripe, soft), tamr (ripe, sun-dried). They favor warm climates and grow abundantly in regions such as the Middle East, Africa, California, and Arizona.

It’s unclear who first thought of combining dates and nuts into a loaf of bread and baking it, but we’re glad they did – it’s a tasty, slightly sweet and crunchy treat. I used this recipe and baked it up myself. We were both very impressed!

National Date Nut Bread Day

Categories: Bread | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

197/365: National Corn Fritters Day

I’d better cob-ble together some facts in order to educate you on today’s food holiday. July 16 is National Corn Fritters Day!

Corn fritters originated in the Deep South, and are related to hush puppies. No surprise there; isn’t everybody related to everybody else down South? (This is the part where I could insert a gratuitous joke about cousins getting hitched and follow that up with a real belly-slapper over inbreeding, but I’ll take the high road instead. Wouldn’t want to offend any Southerners, after all). Corn fritters are closely associated with cowboy cuisine, but in fact, might have originated with the Native American culture. All we know for sure is, they are made with corn kernels, egg, flour, milk, and butter, and may be either fried or baked. They are similar in appearance to Johnnycakes, a flatbread made of cornmeal.

Seeing as how we live about as far from the South as you can possibly get while still calling the United States home, corn fritters aren’t exactly commonplace up here. Meaning, we had to make our own. No big deal, though – they’re very easy. We used the following recipe from Bisquick, with a slight modification (the addition of green chilies):

1 egg
1/4 c. milk
1 c. Bisquick
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 4 oz. can diced green chilies
Black pepper

Blend together egg, milk, and Bisquick. Stir in corn. Add pepper to taste. In a wok or frying pan, heat 2 inches vegetable oil. Using 2 teaspoons, gently drop a rounded teaspoon of fritter batter into hot oil. Fry 6-8 fritters at a time, turning until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

They were simple to make, and delicious! We weren’t sure what type of dipping sauce to use, so we opted for ranch. I think a spicy chipotle mayo would have been even better.

National Corn Fritter Day

Categories: Bread, Too Weird to Categorize | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

134/365: National Buttermilk Biscuit Day

You don’t need a lot of bread to be able to afford today’s food of honor. May 14 is National Buttermilk Biscuit Day!

Biscuits are small “quick breads” that use baking powder or baking soda as a leavening agent rather than yeast and are similar to British scones. European settlers appreciated their simplicity and brought them to America, where they caught on in the early 19th century when cooks were looking for a bread that could be made without yeast, which was expensive and difficult to store at the time. Biscuits were preferred over bread because their harder consistency enabled them to be used to wipe up gravy; as a result, biscuits and gravy became a popular meal. Pre-shaped, ready to bake refrigerator biscuits were introduced in 1931, making it easy for anybody to prepare biscuits whenever the biscuit mood struck.

Buttermilk became a popular ingredient in biscuits, particularly in the South, and are usually served as a side dish topped with butter, syrup, honey, or jelly. They are often used as a base for fast-food breakfast sandwiches, and are traditionally served alongside fried chicken at restaurants that specialize in spaghetti fried chicken.

To celebrate buttermilk biscuits, we didn’t want to take the obvious or the simple approach. We opted instead for a cheesy chicken casserole recipe that uses refrigerated biscuit dough as a topping; as it bakes the dough rises, and you end up with a crunchy, chewy top layer. In other words, deliciousness!

Buttermilk Biscuits

Categories: Bread | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

102/365: National Grilled Cheese Day*

You just might melt with desire over today’s food holiday. April 12th is National Grilled Cheese Day – a favorite of kids and adults alike! At least these two adults. In fact, last year Tara and I did a grilled cheese challenge on my regular blog…long before this one ever got started. You can read about it here. Suffice it to say, we both love grilled cheese, and were happy to be able to celebrate it today.

For the record, it’s also National Licorice Day. We both despise licorice, so choosing which holiday to celebrate was a no brainer! Besides, not only is today National Grilled Cheese Day, but April is Grilled Cheese Month. How could we resist?

Bread and cheese have been served together at mealtime for centuries – a practice dating back to at least Roman times. However, it wasn’t until the 1920s – at least here in the U.S. – that the bread and cheese actually joined forces, when people who were flat-ass broke and struggling to survive the Great Depression took two inexpensive ingredients, sliced bread and American cheese, and turned them into a cheap meal. They were a staple of the armed forces during World War II; navy chefs prepared countless “American cheese filling sandwiches” aboard ship. Early versions of the sandwich were served open-faced and initially called Cheese Dreams, and then “toasted cheese” or “melted cheese” sandwiches, remaining popular well into the 1960s. That was when enterprising chefs realized they could add a second slice of bread and create a more filling meal, one that was capable of being eaten by hand. And also when they were first referred to as “grilled cheese” sandwiches. The very definition of comfort food, grilled cheese sandwiches fell out of vogue for a number of years, but starting in the 1990s have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. They can be made with any cheese that will melt, and an endless array of toppings (see link to our blog post above).

For today’s challenge, we kept it simple and went back to basics. Just bread and cheese (cheddar for Tara and American for moi). After all, why mess with perfection?

Grilled Cheese

Categories: Bread, Dairy | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

91/365: National Sourdough Bread Day

The yeast you can do is help us celebrate today’s food holiday: April 1st is National Sourdough Bread Day, and that’s no joke!

Today also marks a quarter of a year for our project. We’re 25% finished! Woo-hoo! Which means we still have 75% to go, of course, and that’s a sobering thought. But we’ll just keep taking this one day at a time, and we shall persevere. Mark my words.

Sourdough dates back to ancient Egypt, around the year 1500 BC. It is the oldest form of leavened bread, and was discovered by accident when somebody left the bread dough out too long, enabling wild yeasts in the air to settle into the mix, causing it to ferment. I’m not naming names, but that Tut character was always a bit flaky, if you ask me. By the way, a leavening agent is any substance added to dough to make it foam, causing it to lighten and soften. Once the Egyptians learned that they could make a starter – a mixture of flour, water, and sugar left out for a few days until it begins to ferment – and keep it going indefinitely, sourdough became the bread of choice for hundreds of years, until beer and then cultured yeast were substituted. Sourdough starters are often passed down through families, and can be kept “alive” for decades if cared for properly. All you’ve got to do is add equal parts of flour and water to the refrigerated starter dough every couple of weeks. Talk about leftovers that never disappear! Pioneers in the West relied on sourdough starter as a ready source of fresh bread while on their adventures panning for gold in Alaska and California. In fact, legend has it that Alaskan miners slept with their starters to keep them from freezing. Legend also has it they slept with their dogs because women were scarce, but that’s a story for another blog. Sourdough became synonymous with the California gold rush in 1849, and has been associated with San Francisco ever since.

I love sourdough bread, and usually pick that as my toast choice when dining out for breakfast. Tara can’t resist the sourdough pancakes from the Original Pancake House. You might say we both love the power of sour! We decided to honor San Francisco’s rich sourdough history by making clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls for dinner. These are a great invention: sturdy enough to withstand a thick soup, and delicious enough to eat afterwards! Which means fewer dishes to wash, too. Dinner was great!

Sourdough Bread Bowl

Categories: Bread | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

82/365: National Melba Toast Day*

Feeling all warm and toasty inside? Perfect! It’s National Melba Toast Day!

It’s also National Chips and Dip Day, and as tempting as it is to celebrate that one, Melba Toast seems more exotic. Besides, we’ve got a story to finish here! Remember our old friend, Auguste Escoffier? Famed French chef who created both Pears Helene and Peach Melba? Well, the Melba is no coincidence. If you’ll recall the story posted way back on January 13, Escoffier was enamored with opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, and attempted to woo her with a fancy dessert served in an ice sculpture, only that backfired when she was afraid the cold would wreak havoc with her vocal cords. The French are a romantic lot though, and ol’ Auguste was bound and determined to woo his lady, so he tried again five years later. It was 1897, and the famous soprano (Ms. Melba, not Tony) had taken ill. Some say she got what she deserved; Nellie was quite the diva, and had the kind of personality only a mother (or a famous French chef) would find endearing. When Escoffier learned that her diet at the time consisted largely of toast, and (DIVA ALERT!) she would complain that it was never sliced thin enough, he took a piece of toast, sliced it in half, and toasted it again. The result? A super thin and crispy toast, which he consequently named…Toast Marie! It’s no wonder this guy never did get his girl. Marie was the wife of his boss Cesar Ritz. Talk about kissing ass! But Cesar said “yo dude, you got the hots for this honey, so name it after her – chicks dig that shit.” Or something to that effect. So, Toast Marie became Melba Toast. Sadly, the two never did hook up. Although, it should be noted, this was probably a good thing, as Auguste’s wife Delphine might have disapproved.

Ironic that there is no Delphine Toast…

So, what became of them? Nellie got better, toured the world, raised all kinds of money for charity during World War I, was the first Australian to appear on the cover of Time Magazine (1927), and her face now appears on the Australian hundred dollar bill. As for Escoffier, in 1898 both he and Cesar Ritz abruptly left the Savoy Hotel amidst a scandal; £3400 of wine and spirits went missing, and while the duo were suspected of making off with the booze, this was never proven. They did alright, though – Ritz opened both the  Ritz Hotel in Paris and the Carlton Hotel in London, and hired Escoffier to run his kitchens. Auguste managed the hotels until his retirement in 1920, and passed away in 1935, a few years after Dame Nellie Melba.

Nellie Melba: the face that launched two desserts.

Nellie Melba: the face that launched two desserts.

And thus concludes our trilogy on Auguste Escoffier and the desserts he created for famous women.

I had only ever tried Melba Toast once or twice in my life, and in fact, had no idea where to find it in the grocery store. I checked the baby food aisle first, having remembered seeing it there years ago, which makes sense considering that Melba Toast used to be given to infants who were teething, but maybe times have changed as it was not there. Tara finally found it in the cracker aisle sandwiched between Cheez-Its and graham crackers. I guess that makes sense. We ate ours with a variety of toppings – peanut butter, cheese, Nutella – as an afternoon snack. It was pretty good – like a really crisp cracker. I liked mine with cheese best, while Tara preferred the Nutella-covered one.

Melba Toast

Categories: Bread | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

80/365: National French Bread Day*

Bonsoir! Today’s food holiday is c’est bien. It’ll please even the crustiest of individuals and fill their hearts with loaf. It’s National French Bread Day!

It’s also National California Strawberry Day. No offense to Californians, but your strawberries pale in comparison to the ones grown in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, we have to wait until June until those are ripe. So, French bread it was!

By law, French bread must contain four specific ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. The French, you have to understand, love their bread, and even went to war over it. The storming of the Bastille in 1789 was more about bread for the commoners than freeing enemies of the crown; mass starvation gave way to anger and led to the French Revolution. Think about that the next time McDonald’s screws up your order and forgets to give you your six-piece chicken McNuggets. Afraid that history might repeat itself, when Napoleon ruled he passed laws establishing standards for French bread. The classic baguette is long and slender, but it wasn’t always so; wide, flat loaves were popular until the 1920s, when the French passed a labor law prohibiting bakers from working between the hours of 10 PM and 4 AM. (Boy, the French sure have a fondness for silly laws, don’t they)? “Sacré bleu!” they declared in unison. In order to get around this loophole, French bakers started making their loaves of bread long and thin, no more than 2.5″ in diameter, in order to speed up baking time. It’s got a soft, chewy interior and a crispy, golden brown crust and is cooked in a steam oven, which leads to a light and airy loaf that is, to borrow a phrase, c’est magnifique! French bread in other countries doesn’t adhere to such particular standards. In America, loaves are typically fatter, and available in whole wheat, multigrain, and sourdough varieties.

Since Tara and I can’t afford a trip to Paris at the moment, we had to settle for an American-style loaf of French bread instead. Not that either of us was complaining; French bread is quite tasty even if it is made contrary to Napoleon’s original desires. We served it two ways: with bruschetta as an appetizer, and sliced with a smear of butter to go along with grilled steaks.

French bread with bruschetta.

French bread with bruschetta.

Categories: Bread | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at