173/365: National Onion Ring Day*

You might just cry if you don’t get to try today’s food holiday. June 22 is National Onion Ring Day!

It’s also National Chocolate Eclair Day, but I’ve whined about desserts enough this month for you to realize why, when given the opportunity, we are choosing savory over sweet. No offense to chocolate eclairs, of course. Normally I love ’em.

If foods were like The Brady Bunch, onion rings would be Jan and french fries would be Marcia. Meaning, they tend to play second fiddle and are frequently overlooked, but personally I love onion rings and – if given a choice – usually pick them over fries. While their exact origin is unknown, a once-thriving restaurant chain from Texas called  Pig Stand claims to have invented onion rings in the first half of the 20th century (along with Texas toast and chicken fried steak). The first official recipe – calling for onions dipped in milk, dredged in flour, and deep fried – appeared in a Crisco ad in The New York Times Magazine in 1933. A&W Restaurants added onion rings to their menu in the 1960s, a move that is credited with broadening their reach and widening their popularity.

I wish this food holiday was about a week and a half later. Every July, our local Burgerville chain begins serving seasonal Walla Walla onion rings. Walla Walla onions are the best – they are large and incredibly sweet, so much so that they say you can eat one straight up, like an apple. (I tried taking a bite once and, let’s just say, while they are sweet and juicy, no onion should ever be eaten like an apple. End of story). Sadly, this holiday falls just a little too early to take advantage of Burgerville’s onion rings. But, Walla Walla onions are available now, so Tara had the bright idea that we have another friendly little competition to see who could fry up the best onion rings. She wanted to make up for her “devastating loss” in the cheese souffle challenge, and I was looking forward to pulling ahead 2-1 overall in challenges, so it was Game On!

We both chose beer batter recipes. Tara’s included a buttermilk soak, while mine was seasoned with a mixture of garlic powder, parsley flakes, and oregano. I did mine in the deep fryer, and she used a frying pan. It was interesting how the consistency between both differed. As for taste, they were both very good. Hers were a little on the salty side, while mine could have used a bit more. Go figure. This was a very tough decision and could have gone either way. In the end, we asked the opinion of a neutral third party who did not know who made which onion rings: my teenaged son. He agreed that they were both good, but gave the slight edge to Tara. In the end, I agreed with him: hers were a little crispier and just a bit more flavorful. Congrats, Tara!

L to R: Tara's onion rings, Mark's onion rings.

L to R: Tara’s onion rings, Mark’s onion rings.

Categories: Vegetables | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

168/365: National Eat Your Vegetables Day

What’s this? A healthy food holiday tucked in amongst all the desserts this month?! Be still my heart! (Or, more accurately, keep beating). June 17 is National Eat Your Vegetables Day!

After a plethora of pies and a crapload of cakes, has broccoli ever looked so beautiful? Peas so pleasing? Spinach so scrumptious? Chances are, you’ll only appreciate this holiday if you’re a grownup. Kids tend to dislike veggies, and as a youngster, I was no exception. There were a few vegetables I didn’t mind. Corn, for starters, but isn’t that pretty universal? Corn hardly “counts” as a veggie. I did always appreciate canned spinach and peas, and never minded green beans or asparagus, but there was one vegetable I hated with a passion and avoided at all costs.


I was not alone in my contempt for this relative of the cabbage with the flowery head and the tough stalk. Show me a kid who says he or she likes broccoli, and I’ll call that person a liar. Former President George Bush Sr. famously declared a hatred for broccoli, and I’m convinced that’s the one and only reason I voted for him in 1988. (That was the only time I ever voted for a Republican President in my life. Can’t be a coincidence). For me, the texture as much as the taste turned my stomach. Those little flowery pieces on top always seemed to get stuck in my throat and make me gag.

And then, a funny thing happened. I started to not mind broccoli so much. I think this started out slowly. A spoonful of broccoli cheddar soup here, a random floret that accidentally got impaled on my fork when I was eating broccoli beef there. One day, I discovered I could eat it without gagging. Before long, I found I actually liked the flavor. I still don’t know how that happened. I know our tastes “mature” as we age, but I’ve never started liking watermelon or cauliflower. Broccoli, on the other hand, is delicious. Some people cover it in butter or drown it in cheese. I feel like that’s cheating. Tara steams hers with chicken broth instead of water, and it’s fantastic.

For National Eat Your Vegetables Day, we had to celebrate with broccoli. It was wonderful!

National Eat Your Vegetables Day

Categories: Vegetables | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

115/365: National Zucchini Bread Day

Squash any thoughts you might have about giving away a garden’s worth of zucchini today. Turn it into a sweet, savory dessert instead: April 25 is National Zucchini Bread Day!

Similar to banana bread, zucchini bread is considered a “quick bread.” These bread types don’t use yeast as a leavening agent and require no fermentation, so the dough can be baked immediately. Quick breads originated in the United States in the 18th century with the discovery of pearlash, a leavening agent that produces carbon dioxide gas in dough. They became a favorite during the Civil War when food was scarce and a loaf of bread could be whipped up quickly to feed the soldiers, hence the name. Zucchini itself is the result of a squash plant, native to America, that was brought back to Italy and mutated. Which is not to say it grew teeth and started eating people ala Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, though that would make for a rather interesting history. Zucchini grow rapidly and can become quite large, exceeding 3′ in length. They are usually picked when they’re smaller, as the flavor is better and gardeners won’t break their backs hauling them into the kitchen that way. Because they are so easy to grow, they have a reputation for overabundance. Stories persist of people waking up to bags full of zucchini on their front porches, left there in the dead of night by gardeners seeking to rid themselves of excess squash. That’s never happened to me, though I did find a steaming bag of something else on the front porch once. Zucchini bread is the result of home cooks trying to come up with something, anything, to do with all that damn zucchini. The first time I heard of it I though, eww, even though I love zucchini. It didn’t sound very appealing in a bread – but it’s actually very good that way.

For today’s challenge, Tara baked up a loaf of zucchini bread ourselves. It turned out delicious!

Zucchini Bread

Categories: Vegetables | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

110/365: National Lima Bean Respect Day*

For the record, I like beans. Let me rephrase that: I like most beans. Lima beans, however, are one of the few varieties I can’t stand. Not only do I not like them, but I absolutely do not respect them. So when I learned that April 20 was National Lima Bean Respect Day, I thought, no way is that happening. Especially since it’s also National Pineapple Upside Down Cake Day. P.U.D. Cake is something I most certainly do respect. But then, the more I thought about it, I started to realize that the whole point of this food blog is to embrace the challenges and try new things. It would be easy to celebrate P.U.D. Cake, but there’s nothing adventurous in that. I thought it would be fun instead to celebrate a food both Tara and I despise. It took some convincing for her to agree, but in the end she was on board.

Lima beans, also known as butter beans, were first cultivated in Peru around 6000 B.C. They were discovered by European explorers in the capital city of Lima, which they were named after. They were discovered to have a long shelf life – rivaling even Twinkies! – and became a popular food item for ships setting out on long ocean voyages. They arrived on America’s shores sometime in the 19th century. Lima beans have excellent health benefits: they are high in fiber, which lowers cholesterol and prevents blood sugar levels from rising too quickly following a meal, making them an excellent protein source for diabetics; and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, including iron, manganese, and molybdenum. Beans, beans, good for the heart? In this case, very true.

Too bad they taste like crap.

Oops. That wasn’t very charitable of me. I’m not helping the cause at all, am I?

We bought a bag of frozen vegetables advertised as an “Italian mix.” It contained carrots, cauliflower, green beans, and lima beans. We picked those out and ate them separately. I found them very starchy, and Tara said they had little flavor. However, we both agreed that they weren’t as bad as we’d thought.

“Not as bad as we’d thought.” Does that count as newfound respect?

We weren't happy that we had to eat lima beans.

We weren’t happy that we had to eat lima beans.

Categories: Vegetables | Tags: , , , , , | 15 Comments

90/365: National Tater Day, National Oranges & Lemons Day*

If whoever created these food holidays had a sense of humor, then the last day of March would be dedicated to lamb. (You know – “in like a lion, out like a lamb” and all). But alas, it is National Tater Day. Not to be confused with National Potato Day (October 27). Oh, and it’s also National Oranges and Lemons Day. And National Clams on the Half Shell Day. And on top of all that, it’s Easter, too. Sheesh! (I mean, Happy Easter). After learning about the clamming accident that has led to supply shortages, we decided to focus our efforts on both potatoes and oranges and lemons, Knocking them all out in one sitting.

Potatoes grew wild throughout the Americas, and were first domesticated in Peru sometime between 8000-5000 B.C. A well-kept secret at first, when the Spanish conquest decimated the Inca Empire, the Spanish brought potatoes to Europe in the 16th century. Over the next couple of hundred years they spread around the world, becoming a staple crop in many countries. Plentiful and easy to grow, the potato is responsible for an estimated 25% of the world’s population growth during this time. Some of this population gain was wiped out in 1845, when the Irish Potato Famine devastated that country, wiping out the entire crop and leading to approximately one million deaths, and causing a mass exodus from the land o’ leprechauns.

Oranges and lemons are two of the most popular citrus fruits. I feel bad leaving out limes and grapefruit, but rules is rules, man. There’s a popular English nursery rhyme about oranges and lemons that goes,

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

Yikes! That’s supposed to help a kid fall asleep? How will that work, with the threat of decapitation looming? Seems like something the brothers Grimm might conjure up. It is believed that oranges originated somewhere in Asia around 2500 B.C. In Europe, oranges and other citrus fruits were grown largely for medicinal purposes; Vitamin C is still considered an excellent cold remedy to this day. Lemons came from the same region, and are a cross between the sour orange and the citron. Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds along on his voyages, introducing them throughout the New World. Today, they – and oranges – grow exceptionally well in Florida and California.

We celebrated both food holidays with a delicious breakfast (using the taters and oranges) and later, iced tea and sweet tea vodka with fresh lemons. Everything was great!

Taters, oranges, and lemons. That's two food holidays in one!

Taters, oranges, and lemons. That’s two food holidays in one!

Categories: Fruit, Vegetables | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

85/365: National Spinach Day

I’ll POP you in the EYE if you aren’t strong enough to celebrate today’s food holiday. March 26 is National Spinach Day!

Spinach originated in Persia (modern-day Iran) in ancient times. Indian traders brought it to India and China, where it was known as “Persian green.” It is still called this today, though I’d feel funny walking into a public market and asking for Persian green. I might get arrested or something. It made its way next to Sicily, and became so popular in the Mediterranean it was christened the “captain of leafy greens” in Spain, an honorary title that really pissed off kale. It was introduced to Europe in the 14th century, and was such a hit with Catherine de’ Medici, the Queen of France in 1533, that she insisted on eating it with every meal. Nowadays, spinach dishes are known as “Florentine” reflecting Catherine’s birthplace of Florence, Italy. In the U.S., spinach gained popularity in the 1930s thanks to Popeye the Sailor Man, who was portrayed as gaining strength anytime he ate spinach. This was actually based on a misunderstanding; in the 1870s German scientist Emil von Wolff misplaced a decimal point when measuring the iron content of spinach, making it appear that spinach contained ten times the amount of iron it really did. “Oh well,” von Wolff said later, nonapologetic. “I yam what I yam.”

Spinach is one of those vegetables that a lot of kids wrinkle their noses over, but growing up I loved the stuff. Or rather, the canned stuff. Heated up and sprinkled with salt? That was a childhood fave! I remember the first time I tried “real” spinach. I was like, what on earth is THIS?! It resembled lettuce more than anything from a can. Disappointed though I was, I still liked it.

How to make green eggs.

How to make green eggs.

There was no eating spinach from a can today, though. Tara has a great way of preparing it, and I’ll let her talk about that.

A gal I work with mentioned she makes ‘green eggs and ham’ for her daughters a few times a week.  Rather than dye the eggs with green food coloring, she blends baby spinach with eggs and scrambles them up.  Served with crumbled turkey bacon and a little bit of shredded cheese, it’s an often requsted favorite of her youngsters.  Since I had just bought a Magic Bullet and there was fresh spinach leftover from Mark’s last batch of Italian Wedding Soup (something he SHOULD be making today…hint, hint, babe) I wanted to try the green eggs for myself.  I’m glad I did because they really are delicious and nutritious.  After blending the spinach and eggs for a few minutes, the mixture will be very frothy.  This is a good thing because it makes for light and fluffy eggs and the spinach flavor is very subtle.  Paired with a whole wheat english muffin and some orange slices, it’s an easy, healthy breakfast I can throw together quickly, even when we’re running late.  Sorry about leaving all those dirty dishes, sweetie!

No problem, darling. That’s why they invented dishwashers!

I do love Tara’s green eggs, and have become addicted to them myself. This is also a fun, great way to sneak a serving of vegetables onto a kid’s plate…they’ll never even taste the spinach. And if they balk, tell them it’ll make ’em big and strong. Just like Popeye.


Categories: Vegetables | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

75/365: National Artichoke Hearts Day

Today we celebrate the innards of perhaps the oddest-looking vegetable on the planet, the artichoke. Covered in spiky leaves, it’s hard to believe that beneath all those layers lies a soft, edible, fleshy center, but ’tis true. Happy National Artichoke Hearts Day!

Artichokes originated in the Mediterranean region, and are actually a flower with an edible bud (the “heart”) surrounded by a “choke” or beard of florets. The ancient Greeks called them kaktos and were the first to cultivate them. It was a brave man (with pricked fingers) who first decided that such an odd-looking plant might actually taste a-peeling. From Greece they spread to Rome, and throughout Italy. They made their way to the U.S. in the 19th century, where French immigrants introduced them to Louisiana, and Spanish immigrants brought them to California. Nowadays, almost all artichokes are grown in Monterey County, California, Louisianans abandoning the crop in favor of beignets, which flourish in the rich, moist Southern soil. Artichokes are sold whole, or you can skip the trouble of peeling them and buy a jar of artichoke hearts instead. Often, these are marinated.

I love artichoke hearts (and the leaves, boiled and dipped in mayonnaise; Tara introduced these to me last year, and they are surprisingly good). She also makes a really good artichoke dip, but today turned out to be crazy busy. We were on the go for hours, after a very late night that technically bled into this morning. It’s little things like that, that can wreak havoc with this challenge. Another obstacle: teenagers. We plan ahead as much as possible, which means we’ll set aside ingredients days in advance. Imagine our surprise yesterday morning when we discovered the slivered almonds we’d purchased for the Pears Helene were gone. As in digested, days ago, by my son. This necessitated a last-minute scramble, before work, because we had to make the recipe for lunch. Had we not done so, seeing as how we returned home after midnight, we technically would have failed in our mission. It’s countless little things like that that bedevil us, but we soldier on, and are more determined than ever to be successful! I actually came to a realization last Monday, after successfully preparing Oatmeal Nut Waffles on a busy morning before work: if I could do that, then nothing will stop us. We’ve got this thing in the bag.

Err…in another 9.5 months, anyway…

Because one of our stops happened to be Costco, and because I am a fan of their spinach and artichoke parmesan dip, we grabbed a container of that to honor the holiday. Heated it up in the microwave and served it with homemade pita chips. Yummy stuff!

Artichoke Dip

Real quick, because I never get a chance to add to these posts, I wanted to give a shout out to Mattie’s Bar and Grill in Elko, NV.  I’ve spent many an evening there with friends and they have THE BEST artichoke dip I’ve ever had.  Super rich, cheesy, and just a tiny bit of  spicy bite…makes my  mouth water just thinking about it!  So, if you ever find yourself traveling along the I-80 corridor through northern Nevada, do yourself a favor and stop in for a taste.

Categories: Vegetables | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

48/365: National Cabbage Day*

Happy February 17th! There are three holidays on the ol’ food calendar today: National Indian Pudding Day, National Cafe Au Lait Day, and National Cabbage Day. When given an option we’re likely to avoid a dessert, since there are so many. And drinking coffee is too easy. So, we opted today to celebrate National Cabbage Day.

Do you know where cabbage grows? In a cabbage patch, dolls and guys.

(See what I did there?)

Wild cabbage existed long before creepy looking dolls, first appearing in England. It was cultivated and domesticated around 1000 B.C. and spread throughout Europe, where it grew very well in the cool northern climate. Greeks and Romans believed cabbage had medicinal properties, and could help those suffering from gout, headaches, and poisonous mushroom ingestion. Dutch sailors went so far as using sauerkraut to prevent scurvy. By the 17th century it became a food staple in many countries, including Germany and Russia, and is in fact considered Russia’s National Food (a fact which surprises me…I’d have guessed beets). Cabbage is considered a good cash crop due to its short growing season (three months). It can be used in many different ways: from eaten raw to steamed, pickled, sauteed, stewed, and braised. But the reward for Oddest Use Of Cabbage Ever goes to baseball legend Babe Ruth, who wore a cabbage leaf beneath his cap during games in order to keep his head cool. He would switch it out for a new leaf every two innings. I’m not sure what he did with the old leaf, but I gotta admit it wouldn’t totally surprise me if he just ate it.

Cabbage is closely related to broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts, and my aunt Nancy. Interestingly, I despise cauliflower and Brussel’s sprouts, but am quite fond of broccoli and cabbage. (And my aunt Nancy, too).

Given the variety of preparation methods, we could have gone in a dozen different directions for this challenge. In the end, Tara made fish tacos topped with a mixture of onions, Anaheim chilies, and strips of raw cabbage. The crunchiness of the cabbage perfectly complemented the soft chewiness of the fish and the kicked-up tartar sauce. It was delicious, and the cabbage was a perfect accompaniment.

Cabbage on fish taco

Categories: Vegetables | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

35/365: National Stuffed Mushroom Day*

There are two food holidays celebrated on February 4, but since I’m a fun guy, we’re going with National Stuffed Mushroom Day! (The other is Homemade Soup Day. I actually did an Italian Wedding Soup a little over a week ago, but haven’t had stuffed mushrooms in ages. This decision was pretty much a no-brainer).

Besides, Tara and I both love mushrooms. We joke about this, because whenever we write up our weekly grocery list, we always put Mushrooms on there. And, in parentheses, add the word “lots.” I don’t think a week goes by where we don’t buy mushrooms…yet, we had never stuffed them before. Go figure.

Mousseron. Wait, no...that's Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation.

Mousseron. Wait, no…that’s Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation.

Mushrooms are a type of fungus that grows either on top of soil, or another food source. Mushrooms bear spores and contain a stem, cap, and gills. The word is derived from the French mousseron, which means “moustached man named Ron.” Err…wrong. It means “moss.” I need to work on my French translation skills. Mushrooms are known as “the meat of the vegetable world,” which explains their popularity with vegetarians, and are cooked in a wide variety of dishes across many cultures. They became popular in the 19th century, when the French began growing them for use as a food source. I’ve often thought it was a brave man who first decided to pluck a fungus from the ground and eat it because, let’s face it, the average mushroom does not look very appetizing, let alone edible. Plus, with so many poisonous varieties out there, it had to be like a foodie version of Russian Roulette.

Stuffed mushrooms are considered an Italian delicacy, typically made with breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and olive oil or butter. However, they can be stuffed with just about anything!

Tara found a recipe online. There are about a million different versions of stuffed mushrooms, and this one is basic but good. Bacon, green onions, cheese, bread crumbs – can’t go wrong with that combination!

Stuffed Mushrooms

Categories: Vegetables | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

7/365: National Tempura Day

January 7th is National Tempura Day, which may seem like an odd choice for an American food holiday. But tempura actually refers to the Japanese method of frying vegetables and seafood, and is not an actual Japanese dish like sushi or udon. In fact, the foods we cooked tonight were all distinctly American (and the side dish, Chinese). But more on that later.

Tempura didn’t even originate in Japan. Jesuit missionaries from Portugal introduced it to the Japanese in the 16th century, while visiting Nagasaki. They also brought over panko and tonkatsu (though the Japanese are responsible for origami, haiku, and vending machines that dispense everything from live crabs to soiled panties). Tempura is derived from the Latin word tempore, which means “time period” and refers to Ember Days, holy days in which Catholics eschew meat in favor of fish and vegetables. Regardless of where it came from, the Japanese took to tempura like a fat kid to cake, dipping everything they could find in batter and deep frying it in hot oil.

We were both excited for this challenge because it allowed us an opportunity to cook an entree. Squirting a dollop of whipped cream from a can is easy, but where’s the fun in that? (Actually, it could have been very fun, if this were an R-rated blog. Sadly, it is not). Neither of us wants this challenge to be too simple. We’ve been looking forward to getting down and dirty with some of these ingredients! So to speak.

By the way, one week in and we are beginning to get a feel for things. We’ve learned some lessons already: preparation is key, and do not take the easy way out. While we’re still finding our rhythm, I think from this point on you’ll start seeing us stretch ourselves a little bit more.

Back to tempura. I’d actually been craving it for some time, and had mentioned making it for Tara a while ago. I’ve owned a deep fryer for years (though using it remains a novelty), and I know from experience that tempura isn’t a complicated dish to make. We picked up a bunch of veggies – onions, mushrooms, yam, and zucchini – and a few large prawns. Those, a box of tempura batter and a bottle of dipping sauce, and we were all set. Tara’s not a fan of white rice, so she suggested we make fried rice to go along with it. Cross-cultural culinary conflict aside, I was game. She said she’d “pick up the packet” from the store on her way home, and I just looked at her. Packet? What packet?? Fried rice is easy enough to make without any preservative-laden help. But I feel I should offer her the chance for a rebuttal here.

Here’s another one I’m never going to live down…  In my defense, I’ve never cooked fried rice and the one and only time it’s been cooked for me at home was just last year, and compliments of my dad.  He did use one of those seasoning packets, along with the requisite diced ham, onions, eggs, and peas.  It must’ve been all those preservatives Mark mentioned that made it taste so good.

On paper, tempura is easy to make. Pour the oil in the fryer, heat it to around 350 degrees, combine the tempura mix with ice water to form a batter (the colder the better – this prevents the batter from absorbing too much oil and leads to a crispier coating), dip, fry until golden brown, and voila! You’ve got yourself something hot, crispy, and authentically Portugese. The reality is a little different, however. You have batter dripping all over the counter and floor and sticking to your arms (where you don’t discover it until later, when it’s good and dry), and the house smells like fried oil for 48 hours afterwards. But at least it tasted good!

Especially when Tara has to clean up the mess.


Categories: Seafood, Vegetables | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

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