Too Weird to Categorize

352/365: National I Love Honey Day*

If you’re not fond of today’s sweet food, buzz off! December 18 is National I Love Honey Day.

And while I have nothing against honey, it’s not the holiday I wanted to celebrate. Today is also National Roast Suckling Pig Day. How fun would that have been?! There’s only one problem: try finding roast suckling pig on a dinner menu in Portland. I scoured Yelp for suggestions, but the handful of restaurants where it was listed all serve the dish seasonally, or as a special. Sadly, it wasn’t on any of the menus in town. We could have ordered a roast suckling pig from the butcher and cooked it ourselves, but the few leads I found indicated we could expect the smallest one to weigh between 40-50 lbs. and cost in the neighborhood of $130. Gulp. Sorry, but there is no way we can swing that! I’m just thankful there are other options on the calendar today.

So, honey. Wonderful product. As most people know, honey is produced by bees, who collect nectar from flowers and regurgitate it inside the honeycombs of their beehives. Unsavory though this sounds, honey has long been a valued human food source. Cave paintings indicate humans have been seeking out honey for at least 8000 years. Greeks and Romans believed it was a food fit for the gods, and in ancient Georgia, it was packed in tombs for an individual’s journey to the afterlife. Egyptians took things one step further and actually embalmed their dead with honey. Man alive, early humans must have had one hell of a sweet tooth to go to all this trouble collecting bee vomit.

To celebrate, we made tea after dinner, and drizzled some honey into it. Yum!

National I Love Honey Day

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351/365: National Maple Syrup Day

I’ve got a sticky proposition for you: how’s about you come help us celebrate today’s food holiday? December 17 is National Maple Syrup Day!

By maple syrup, I don’t mean Aunt Jemimah or Mrs. Butterworth. We’re talking real maple syrup – the sap from maple trees (usually sugar, red, or black maples). These species store starch in their trunks and roots; this is converted to sugar that rises in the sap during springtime. The trees can be tapped by boring holes in the trunks and the sap harvested; this is then processed to evaporate most of the water, leaving the concentrated sap behind. European settlers learned this trick from Native Americans, who were the first to collect and use maple syrup in this fashion. Originally used as a concentrated form of sugar, maple syrup became a popular topping for pancakes, waffles, and french toast, and is used to flavor everything from fritters and ice cream to fruit, sausages, baked beans, squash, and hot toddies.

To be classified as true maple syrup in the United States, the product must be made almost entirely from maple sap. A number of less expensive imitation syrups sprung up over the years, giving consumers the flavor of maple without the cost. By law, these cannot be labeled as maple syrup but are called, instead, “waffle syrup,” “pancake syrup,” “table syrup,” etc. They are usually made with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors, are artificially thickened, and contain no real maple. As much as I enjoy Log Cabin, it’s not really maple syrup at all. A Rhode Island man was recently sentenced to two years probation for trying to pass off an imitation syrup as genuine maple syrup.

With such a strong emphasis on what constitutes genuine maple syrup, there was no doubt we would have to buy a bottle of the real stuff to complete today’s challenge. Which we did. Tara got up early to make us pumpkin pancakes (another wonderful Trader Joe’s find this season). Topped with real maple syrup, they were a sweet and filling start to the day!

National Maple Syrup Day

Categories: Breakfast, Too Weird to Categorize | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

339/365: National Comfort Food Day*

Today’s food holiday is a throwback to simpler times, and is sure to evoke a sense of nostalgia. December 5 is National Comfort Food Day!

It’s also National Sacher Torte Day. I was intrigued by this, as I had no idea what a Sacher Torte is. Turns out it’s a specific type of rich chocolate cake made only in Vienna and Salzburg, Austria. It’s been around since 1832 and consists of two layers of dense chocolate sponge cake, separated by a layer of apricot conserve in the middle and covered in dark chocolate icing. Holy cow, that sounds good! Fortunately, it can be shipped globally. Unfortunately, when I went to the website, here’s what I saw:

Screen shot 2013-11-07 at 3.48.54 PM

Sadly, my experience with the Austrian language is limited to…umm…nothing. I don’t know one damn word. I mean, I get that the cake is 12 cm, but that’s about it. After some online research I was able to convert the price from Euros to dollars. $27.51, at the time of this writing. For a 12 cm cake. Plus international shipping. As dedicated as we are to this challenge, and as wonderful as I’m sure the torte is, I think we’re going to have to stick with comfort food instead.

The concept of comfort food may have been around forever, but the term wasn’t added to the dictionary until 1977. It is defined as food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking. Comfort foods vary by culture and region. Some of the dishes commonly associated with American cuisine include apple pie, baked beans, chicken pot pie, chicken soup, fried chicken, green bean casserole, hot dogs, ice cream, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, spaghetti, tomato soup, and tuna casserole, according to a poll conducted by about.com.

With so many comforting choices, we weren’t sure what to make! We’re experiencing bitterly cold weather this week, with highs only right around freezing. So a hearty mac ‘n cheese sounded like the best bet! We combined that with a kielbasa sausage and ended up with a soul-satisfying comfort meal to ward off the chill!

National Comfort Food Day

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320/365: National Fast Food Day

Hurry up and enjoy today’s food holiday! November 16 is National Fast Food Day.

Dietitians may cringe, but fast food is wildly popular worldwide, especially in the U.S. It is estimated that 41% of Americans eats fast food at least once a week, according to Pew Research. Fast-food and drive-through restaurants are a direct result of he popularity of the American automobile in the years following World War I. Walter Anderson built the first fast-food restaurant, called White Castle, in Wichita, Kansas in 1916. A second location in 1921 made White Castle the first fast food chain of restaurants; they were known for their 5-cent slider hamburgers. White Castle was a success from the very beginning, and spawned many imitators. The earliest included A&W Root Beer, who revolutionized the concept of franchising in 1921; 7-Eleven in 1927; Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1930; McDonald’s in 1940; and In-N-Out in 1948. The term “fast food” first appeared in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary in 1951, and the concept became especially popular during that decade. Fast food is often vilified for being a highly processed nutritional nightmare, but it is this emphasis on speed, uniformity, and low cost that has made fast food popular with consumers. No big surprise: who doesn’t appreciate a tasty, cheap, quick meal?

As you might imagine, different variations of fast food are popular in other parts of the world. Japan’s got their sushi, the Middle East has kebab houses, Asia has noodle shops, and the U.K. is known for their fish ‘n chips. The Dutch serve French fries with mayonnaise (and other sauces) and meat, and in Portugal, local dishes such as piri-piri (marinated grilled chicken), espetada (turkey or pork on sticks), and bifanas (pork cutlets) are served with – once again – French fries. The common denominator.

I would personally love it if White Castle expanded to the West Coast. I’ve only ever been there once in my life, on a road trip to the midwest in 2011, and it was like the Holy Grail of my vacation. Alas, no such luck, but we do have Jack In The Box out here, which is hard to find back east. Kind of makes up for the White Castle slight. We were in Salem, the state capitol of Oregon, tonight to get our culture on and catch some dance. Afterwards, we swung by the aforementioned Jack In The Box. This photo was taken in the car at 10 PM, and isn’t nearly as impressive as it tasted. Trust me…my Sourdough Jack and french fries were delicious!

JITB

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310/365: National Nachos Day

It’s nacho fault if you’re craving Mexican food today. November 6 is National Nachos Day!

Unlike many of the foods we have celebrated, there is no confusion over who invented nachos. That honor goes to Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, a restaurateur in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, just across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. In 1943, a group of soldier’s wives on a shopping trip across the border entered Anaya’s restaurant, El Moderno, after it had closed for the day. Pissed that he hadn’t yet locked the door, Anaya was nevertheless gracious to his gringo guests, and put together a snack with the few ingredients he still had left in his kitchen: tortillas, which he cut into triangles, and shredded cheddar cheese. He heated them up until the cheese melted, added sliced jalapenos, and served them to the grateful group. One of the women nicknamed the dish “Nacho’s Especiales.” They raved over it, and word spread throughout Texas and the Southwest. Over time the apostrophe was dropped, and “Nacho’s Specials” became “special nachos” and then, simply, nachos. Anaya died in 1975 and a plaque was erected in Piedras Negras. El Moderno still serves Anaya’s original nachos to this day. Arlington Stadium in Texas began serving a modified version of nachos with a prepared cheese sauce in 1976, and broadcaster Howard Cosell further popularized them by mentioning the dish frequently in his football telecasts over the next few weeks. Nowadays, nachos can be as simple as Anaya’s original snack, or complex and loaded with a variety of toppings including meats, beans, vegetables, salsa, and sour cream.

To celebrate, we made nachos-for-dinner. As opposed to nachos-for-an-appetizer. We used seasoned ground turkey, pinto beans, cheese, onions, black olives, jalapeno slices, and sour cream. The result? Muy bien!

National Nachos Day

Categories: Snacks, Too Weird to Categorize | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

301/365: National Wild Foods Day/National Chocolate Day*

Those who appreciate nature will go wild over today’s food holiday. October 28 is National Wild Foods Day!

It’s also National Chocolate Day, but c’mon…how many separate chocolate holidays can there possibly be? (25 so far this year, to be exact, ranging from chocolate covered raisins and chocolate mousse to chocolate covered insects and bittersweet chocolate. And there are still more to come). I appreciate chocolate as much as the next person, but can you say overkill? So we’re celebrating wild foods instead.National Wild Foods Day

Wild foods are defined as those that can be gathered from outdoors and eaten without any processing. Many different foods fall under this category: blackberries, huckleberries, chanterelle mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, wild rice, maple syrup, juniper berries, dandelions, salmon, elk, oysters, etc. I love the idea behind this holiday – foraging in the woods, gathering edible plants and berries to eat – but I question the timing of it. November is just a few days away, which means many of these wild foods are out of season. I don’t trust myself to pick wild mushrooms, because one misidentified fungus and it’s lights out, and I’m not a hunter, so it’s not like I’m going to go out and bag myself a deer. Instead, we’re going to have to rely on the grocery store for our wild foods fix, which feels a little bit like the definition of “defeating the purpose,” but it’s not like we have much choice. Especially on a day in which we are flying back home from Denver.

So to celebrate, we bought a bag of elk jerky at the Denver International Airport. I suppose it would have been better if we’d bagged the elk ourselves, gutted it, smoked it, and made jerky, but we do have our limits, you know? The airport-wild elk jerky was pretty tasty!

Oh, and yeah…we also had chocolate. Oops.

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298/365: National Greasy Foods Day

Health nuts are going to have a coronary over today’s food holiday. October 25 is National Greasy Foods Day!

Greasy food gets a bad rap, and rightfully so; foods fried in oil are packed with calories and fat and can lead to a variety of health problems including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. But sometimes tofu just won’t cut it; instead, you find yourself craving a big, juicy burger. Or sizzling hot french fries. It’s okay to give in once in awhile and indulge, as long as you don’t make it a regular habit. And according to studies, many people do just that – fried chicken is the most-ordered restaurant meal in the U.S. It’s certainly one of my favorites! Probably the greasiest thing I ever ate was a strip of chicken fried bacon one morning courtesy of a restaurant called Slappy Cakes. As you can probably imagine, it was delicious, and evidence of the fact that the worse a food is for you nutritionally, the better tasting it is. Here’s a fun link to some of the greasiest foods around the country, courtesy of The Today Show. 

Tara and I are headed out of town today for a long weekend in Denver, Colorado. It’s a sort-of honeymoon that will include our first NFL game ever (go, Broncos!). It’s always trickier to complete food challenges away from home, but the menu these next few days doesn’t look all too difficult, so I’m sure we’ll do just fine. To celebrate greasy food, we picked up breakfast from Jack In The Box before hitting the airport. Breakfast sandwiches and hash browns? Plenty o’ grease there!

National Greasy Foods DAy

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287/365: National Chocolate Covered Insect Day

Today’s food holiday is going to bug you, and I mean that quite literally. October 14 is National Chocolate Covered Insect Day!

No, they weren't actually LIVE. Scared me for a sec, though.

No, they weren’t actually LIVE. Scared me for a sec, though.

No, this is not an episode of Survivor or Fear Factor. It’s a real holiday, created by some demented nut job aspiring individual to honor edible insects. If you’re the squeamish type, relax; most insects are not only edible, but they are quite nutritious, and considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. They are cheap, plentiful, and chock full of protein; in places where pasta bolognese is hard to come by, insects are a coveted food source. Some of the more popular edible bugs include ants, spiders, termites, grubs, lice, mealworms, scorpions, crickets, grasshoppers, and beetles. The United Nations reports that more than 1,400 insect species are eaten by over 300 ethnic groups in 113 countries around the world, especially in less developed nations. In all, 80% of the world’s population regularly consumes insects. If it makes you feel any better, you’ve probably inadvertently eaten insects several times in your life!

No? Not feeling better?

When we first began this food challenge, I knew the day would come where we’d have to eat bugs. There is no other food holiday on October 14*, so it’s not like we’ve got options. Tara knew this, too – and still agreed to the challenge. As the day drew closer, I became increasingly excited; of all the interesting foods we’ve consumed this year, none has been as unusual as chocolate covered insects! Since it’s rare to find them on grocery store shelves, some planning ahead was necessary. Fortunately, there are a number of places online that sell edible insects. We chose Fluker Farms, because they had reasonable prices and a good selection. I opted for a four-pack of chocolate covered crickets, and my parents insisted we include them in this challenge. Considering they cringe at the slightest sign of spiciness, I was quite surprised (and pleased) when they insisted we break bread…err, break crickets…together.

There's a cricket in there.

There’s a cricket in there.

*Actually, I recently discovered that some sites list today as National Dessert Day. No way are we taking the easy way out now, though! I’m ready for this. Besides, chocolate covered insects are dessert, right?

I should also point out that today is our one-month wedding anniversary. I can’t help but laugh over the fact that our celebration included eating bugs.

Following our beef stroganoff, we unwrapped our chocolate covered crickets and eagerly bit into them. Honestly, we couldn’t even tell there were bugs in there. The consistency was similar to a Hershey’s crisp bar – no dangling legs or antennae hanging from our lips afterwards. Which is kind of a shame, really. I say, if you’re going to eat a bug, EAT a bug!

We were duly rewarded for our efforts.

We were duly rewarded for our efforts.

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277/365: National Taco Day*

Even gringos will shout “ole!” when digging into today’s food of honor. October 4 is National Taco Day!

It’s also National Vodka Day, and that’s a shame; a more appropriate pairing would be tequila or margaritas, but alas, both have already had their day in the sun. Tacos always sound good, but vodka is tasteless, so we had no problem deciding which of today’s dual food holidays we would celebrate.

Viva la taco!

Tacos originated in Mexico (duh) and consist of a tortilla wrapped around a filling. The name is generic; like a “sandwich,” a taco can consist of pretty much anything that fits inside the tortilla. The sky’s the limit when it comes to ingredients and toppings; popular fillings include beef, pork, chicken, and seafood, and toppings such as lettuce, onions, tomatoes, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream are all common. The word “taco” originated in 18th century Mexican silver mines; it was the name given to an explosive charge that was wrapped in paper, filled with gunpowder, and used to break up the ore. The tortilla-and-meat combo resembled this little bomb (and could also be considered a “gut bomb” in its own right, depending on the spiciness level). Tacos date back centuries; early inhabitants of the Valley of Mexico enjoyed theirs with small fish, while residents of Morelos and Guerrero preferred live insects such as ants (shudder), and those in Puebla and Oaxaca opted for locusts and snails. The first taco recipes in the U.S. appeared in California in 1914; in Bertha Haffner-Ginger’s California Mexican-Spanish Cookbook, tacos were described as “made by putting chopped cooked beef and chili sauce in a tortilla made of meal and flour; folded, edges sealed together with egg; fried in deep fat, chile sauce served over it.” Tacos became especially popular in America after World War II, where Mexican-Americans introduced them to their caucasian soldier buddies. (We, in turn, gave them Twinkies).

To celebrate, Tara and I headed into Portland to check out ¿Por Que No?, a tacqueria that gets a lot of good press and that we had been meaning to try for some time. They did not disappoint! We sampled carnitas, chicken, chorizo, and brisket tacos amongst us, and found them all to be very good. Best of all, the line that usually snakes halfway down the block was only about a dozen people deep when we arrived, so we didn’t have too terribly long a wait to contend with.

National Taco Day

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241/365:National More Herbs, Less Salt Day*

Well-seasoned cooks will appreciate the challenge presented by today’s food holiday. August 29 is National More Herbs, Less Salt Day!

It’s also National Chop Suey Day and National Lemon Juice Day. Wow, lots going on today! We decided Chop Suey is too fake (it’s Americanized Chinese food, kind of like the fortune cookie) and lemon juice is too easy, so we’re increasing the herbs and putting down the salt shaker today.

More Herbs, Less Salt Day promotes a healthier lifestyle by encouraging us to use fresh herbs in place of salt, which – as wonderfully as it adds zip to food – isn’t the healthiest ingredient in the world, especially for those with high blood pressure. Granted, there are some foods that absolutely need salt. Certain cuts of meat benefit from a nice dose of salt to bring out their flavors, for instance. And for me at least, I can’t imagine eating popcorn without it. I tend to enjoy savory, zesty flavors, and salt is definitely a mainstay, though I try to keep it in moderation.

“Try” being the key word.

Great on cottage cheese...

Great on cottage cheese…

Interestingly, this is one of the few food holidays that was created by a company – specifically, Wellcat Holidays and Herbs, founded by Thomas and Ruth Roy – and is actually copyrighted. A note on their website says we are supposed to obtain permission to use their holidays in any fashion. Maybe we should have stuck with chop suey! No, I did not contact them first. I figure, I’m doing them a favor by generating free publicity!

Most herbs belong to either the mint family (basil, oregano, rosemary, sage) or the carrot family (dill, parsley, cilantro). Late August is an excellent time to celebrate this holiday, as fresh herbs are at their very peak. They have been used for centuries for cooking, medicinal, and even spiritual purposes. They are distinguishable from vegetables because they are used in small amounts and provide flavor, rather than substance, to food. They are nutritionally insignificant but a great way to boost, or enhance, flavors. Hence, today’s holiday!

...and on scrambled eggs, too!

…and on scrambled eggs, too!

To celebrate, Tara and I took different approaches. Tara dished up some cottage cheese and liberally added Mrs. Dash, probably the most well-known herb-based salt substitute out there. I scrambled up some eggs and did the same. I have to say, the cottage cheese was really good. Probably because it’s naturally salty. The eggs? Well…they needed salt. But I resisted! And we’ll make an effort through the remainder of the day, as well.

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