Whamageddon Memorial

On the 24th of December, at 1:12 PM in the afternoon, I have ascended to Whamhalla. It’s my own fault, I suppose- I was listening to a Pandora holiday station, but I thought I was going to be safe because they were playing the likes of Tony Bennett and Gene Autry.

Good luck, my fellow Wham Warriors who are still in the game- just eleven hours remain on the East Coast!

#whamageddon

Mulled Wine on a Cold Day

Today is Pepper Day!   While Nano Poblano is only in November, Pepper Day is the 22nd day of every month, so it's extra Peppery!  Post something today.  A blog, a photo, a poem- anything at all! Tag it PepperDay!  Enjoy, and Happy Peppering!

A few weeks back, I mentioned the seasonal return of eggnog and Glühwein, and while I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my nog all this time, it wasn’t until a few days ago that I finally had a chance to crack open the bottle of Glühwein I picked up from Trader Joe’s.

A quick refresher about the beverage: Glühwein is mulled wine, served warm. I’ve talked about it a number of times on this blog. It’s usually part of my retelling of going to a Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) with friends.

I don’t think I’ve ever talked about sharing Glühwein with office-mates, though. I spent three Decembers working in a German office, and it was a semi-regular occurrence during the season that someone would heat up a bottle or two of Glühwein or Glögg on the stove, and then would summon everyone to the office kitchen to share in the drink. (Glögg is also mulled wine like Glühwein, but it’s from Sweden instead of Germany.)

We would linger around the kitchen and enjoy the drink and chat about absolutely anything. Sometimes there were seasonal treats, like Stollen, which I do not like at all. Even the Muslim guy who didn’t drink alcohol would still come to the kitchen and hang out. Technically, drinking at work was against the rules. I don’t feel bad about spilling the tea though, because the company no longer exists and it’s fairly unlikely anyone will get in trouble now.

Connoisseurs of Glühwein will tell you not to heat it in the microwave, since the delicate blend of spices can be easily damaged by that much rapid heat. Instead, you should pour your preferred drink into a pot and heat it gradually over the stove. Stir it often, and don’t let it come to a boil!

Once the drink is heated, pour it into an appropriate vessel to drink it. Coffee mugs are fine, but I chose to use my glass from the 2013 Kuchlbauer Christmas Market in Abensberg. In hindsight, I wish I had thought to keep one souvenir glass from every Christkindlmarkt I attended over the years, but I only ever brought this one home.

Have you had Glühwein this year?

53/52! Goal achieved!

Ever had a New York Egg Cream?

During NanoPoblano, November’s blogging challenge, I stumbled across a note that March 15th is National Egg Cream Day, and that got me thinking. My parents loved New York Egg Creams when I was growing up. I didn’t really know that much about the drink, but I remember my mom having them all the time when I was younger. I never enjoyed them when I was younger because I don’t really like seltzer water.

I should back up and explain Egg Creams. I realized when I started talking about New York or Brooklyn Egg Creams over the last few days that a lot of people don’t know about these, or have never had one. So let’s talk about the drink itself.

First of all, an Egg Cream contains neither egg nor cream. It’s a misnomer. There’s a lot of theories as to why this is, but most of them circle back to anecdotes from the early 1900s. This drink was historically most popular with Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the New York area. This totally fits with my parents- My father was a first-generation American, and my mother is a second-generation American. About a hundred years ago, we were all in the old country. But I digress. Back to the etymology of the egg cream!

One theory holds that someone was saying “echt keem” in Yiddish, which the Internet tells me is close to Yiddish for “pure sweetness,” and the name caught on. Another theory is that a guy named Boris Thomashefsky asked a New York soda jerk to make the Parisian drink “chocolate et creme,” and the correct pronunciation of the word was lost in translation. A third theory goes much simpler and just says that since grade A milk was used in the making, “chocolate A cream” was eventually shortened to “egg cream.” Nobody alive today really knows for sure why it’s called an egg cream, or who first made one.

A popular theory attributes the egg cream to a man named Louis Auster, a candy shop owner on the Lower East Side. The story goes that he made the first one by accident using a store-made chocolate syrup, and became instantly popular.

Historians are quick to point out that there was a popular drink made in the 1880s from chocolate syrup, cream, and raw eggs mixed into soda water. While that sounds positively disgusting to me, the theory goes that the version of the egg cream that we know today was a version served in poorer neighborhoods.

What it does contain is milk, seltzer water, and chocolate syrup. If you go hunting for Egg Cream recipes on the Internet, the vast majority of them will specifically point you toward either Bosco or Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup, and with good reason. In my opinion, Fox’s is thicker and more chocolatey than other brands. It contains real cocoa ever since it was introduced in 1900, and you can taste that clearly. Both of my parents loved Fox’s U-Bet, and I was happy to discover when I started looking at recipes that it’s still readily available.

It’s impossible to make a real New York Egg Cream at home. An actual egg cream is made at a soda fountain, and a big part of what makes the drink so delightful is the foamy head. You can get close mixing them at home, but it will never be quite as fizzy and ephemeral as the originals- because they used old-timey soda fountains, the drink would have to be enjoyed within a few minutes or it would go flat. (I wonder if one of those SodaStream doo-dads would work for this…)

That’s not to say that you certainly can’t give it a good try! While researching for this post, I found no less than eight different recipes for a New York/Brooklyn/Bronx Egg Cream. Most of the differences are about the percentages of the ingredients.

Here’s the recipe I used to try an egg cream:

• Fox’s U-Bet chocolate flavor syrup
• Cold whole milk or half-and-half
• Ice-cold club soda or seltzer water

How to make it: Pour 3 tablespoons of chocolate syrup and 1/4 cup of milk or half-and-half into a 16-ounce glass. While beating vigorously with a fork, slowly add club soda or seltzer until the glass is almost full. Add a straw and serve very cold.

I made some adjustments, of course. I don’t usually keep milk in the house because I can’t drink it without some discomfort, so I used oat milk. My seltzer water was refrigerated but hardly ice-cold. And of course, I didn’t measure a damn thing. I don’t know if I used three tablespoons of U-Bet, or if my milk-to-seltzer ratio was even close to right. I didn’t drink it with a straw. And I’m almost positive that my frothy head wasn’t nearly frothy enough.

I do know that it was pretty damn tasty, though. I think I get why my parents love these things.

Have you ever had a New York Egg Cream?

52/52! Achievement unlocked!

Prowling on little cat feet, December is upon us.

While I have been writing a post for every day of November to be a part of NanoPoblano, I have also been reading the posts of the other Peppers. Their lives and their writings are amazing, and I am reminded of something Ray Bradbury said:

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

– from “Zen in the Art of Writing,” by Ray Bradbury

It’s been lovely to watch each of my NanoPoblano compatriots tipping themselves over each day. I wanted to also say thank you to those of you who spent time reading along and commenting during this NanoPoblano month- having comments to read and interact with made it a far more entertaining venture than simply writing into the void.

I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do for the last post of November- I considered a recap of the month, but considering how much I dislike clip shows on tv, that seemed ill advised.

I considered a few brief thoughts on some random links and articles that I’ve been collecting all month, like geese and egg creams and weird winter relationship rituals, but I don’t think I want to do that right now. Maybe I’ll come back to that in December.

I thought for a while that perhaps I’d talk about all the things that I want to do when the pandemic is over, or the things I’m looking forward to coming up. I don’t want to do that now, though, because looking forward when there’s still so much Covid to endure just seems like a special new form of torture. We’re not there yet.

I considered wrapping up with a post I’ve had stewing for a while about St. Elmo’s Fire, growing up, and suffering through limerence… but that post isn’t cooked all the way through yet, and if I serve it too early, it will give my friends food poisoning.

I thought about posting some photographs of food, because good lord I sure do take a lot of photos of food, but this isn’t Instagram and I’m not a food blogger, although I sometimes pretend to play one on TV.

I thought I would have trouble coming up with something to write about every day this month, but I never really wanted for ideas, even if sometimes those ideas were a little cheesy, and even if sometimes I had trouble finding the time and concentration to make them real.

I am delighted by the fact that I can make a blog post out of all the things I’m not making into a blog post. I like the weird symmetry of that.

One last thing, before I turn my attention to an unrelated but very important piece of bloggery… I cannot believe that not a single one of you commented on my “Chairman Meow” joke during the Hong Kong posts!

And now for something completely different:

As we roll into December, I begin the annual challenge of Whamageddon. The rules are very simple:

  1. The objective is to go as long as possible without hearing Wham!’s Christmas classic; “Last Christmas”.
  2. The game starts on December 1st, and ends at midnight on December 24th. (I use my local time zone, but not everyone follows the rules in an identical way.)
  3. You’re out as soon as you recognize the song.
  4. Only the original version applies. Remixes and covers do not send you to the fields of Whamhalla, although they might raise your pulse a bit.
  5. If you like, post on social media with the #whamageddon hashtag when you get hit.
  6. The intention is that this is a survival game, and not a battle royale. In other words, don’t be a dick and don’t play Last Christmas to your friends. No Whammied Rick-Rolls, please.

I play Whamageddon every year, because it’s a really silly bit of fluffery and I enjoy pretending to anguish over my fallen brethren as they ascend to Whamhalla. Two years ago, I was taken out by a Wham-grenade planted by someone I trusted, foolishly. Last year I survived despite some perilous journeys to places where piped in Christmas music is the norm.

This year will be strange. On the one hand, I work from home and live alone, so my media control is pretty straightforward. On the other hand, I sometimes take the metro and go into places where I have no control over what I might hear. Even a walk across the street to get a sandwich might expose me to The Song.

Will you join me on the battlefield? Will you play Whamageddon with me? C’mon, it’ll be fun!

How was your NanoPoblano month? And will you play Whamageddon starting tomorrow?

51/52 (and 30 of 30, y’all! ::dusts off keyboard::)

Five Stars.

I am stingy with my five-star ratings.

I’ve been tracking the books I read on Goodreads.com for about ten years now. 257 of them are in my “read” category, and of those 257, I gave ten books five stars.

When you’re rating a book and you mouse over the stars, here’s what the mouseover text says:

★ - did not like it
★★ - it was ok
★★★ - liked it
★★★★ - really liked it
★★★★★ - it was amazing

Well obviously these are very, very high standards and are not to be taken lightly. Most really great books don’t top a four-star rating for me. The vast majority don’t even break three stars, to be honest. And for me to call a book amazing, it has to blow my socks off in a particularly memorable way.

When DiAnne talked about books all the way back on day 9 of NanoPoblano, I considered a top ten list… but top ten lists shift and shimmy based on mood and the passage of time. My five-star books, on the other hand, remain five stars.

With that in mind, I’d like to share six of the books that I rated five stars on Goodreads.com. These are all fiction, although not all of my top-rated books are.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Kelly Barnhill

This book is the newest one on the list by a wide margin, and was also the 2017 Newbery Medal winner. The story is full of magic and moonlight and witches and one Perfectly Tiny Dragon, and I don’t want to say more because it would just spoil the story- you only get a first time reading book this magical once. This is technically written for young readers, but I enjoyed it perfectly well as an adult. The story definitely did not go where I expected it to go, and I’m in love with half the characters, especially the aforementioned Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Really now, who doesn’t want their own Perfectly Tiny Dragon companion?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (series) – Douglas Adams

The link above is to the “Ultimate” edition, which really just means “five of the novels and a short story.” I love this entire series, end to end, and I have for most of my life. I started reading this series when I was about nine years old, and I remember being absolutely delighted when new books in the series kept coming out over the following years- my first exposure with the habit of great genre titles to make you wait for the next installment.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide series has been books, radio shows, an LP, a television miniseries, still more radio shows, comic books, trading cards, and so much more. When I went to Edinburgh in 2012, the entire trip was built around the fact that the cast of the radio show was doing a live performance, with Neil Gaiman as the voice of The Guide. Going to that show was the culmination of three decades of love for the HHG franchise. The entire series is fluffy good fun and I enjoy re-reading it once every few years.

Pyramids – Terry Pratchett

While all of the Discworld novels are entertaining, the seventh book in the series is somewhat separate from the rest of them- it has no shared characters from the rest of the series, and has little to do with the story arcs from the other novels.

The book is a hilarious satire of religion and faith, set in the desert kingdom of Djelibeybi, which is basically Discworld’s answer to Egypt. The story is about a twelve-year-old Pharaoh named Pteppic (the P is silent), newly graduated from the Assassin’s Guild, as he tries to meet his responsibilities, build a pyramid for his recently deceased father, and deal with a headstrong handmaiden named Ptracy. (Again, the P is silent.) There are mad priests, sacred crocodiles, and a mathematical genius named You Bastard who happens to be a camel.

I’ve always been a little bit fascinated by Egyptian culture, pyramids, and the like, so this was just a delight to read from cover to cover.

Stranger In A Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange Land is another one that I like to re-read every so often. First released in 1961, it tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human being who was raised on Mars, away from any other humans. The story begins with his return to Earth, and shows him learning to deal with other people and their complicated lives for the first time. So-called “Human Nature” is alien to him, and he introduces the world to his own beliefs and values.

This book is the origin of the term grokking, or “to grok,” a word that has its own Wikipedia page and is now in the dictionary. The Library of Congress named it one of 88 “Books that Shaped America.”

It’s really, really good.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch – Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

Whenever someone asks me what my favorite book is, I usually answer this one. I love it dearly and it’s another one that I re-read once every few years. Here’s what it’s about:

What if the end of the world was going to happen next Saturday, just after tea, and the major players in the end times have misplaced the antichrist? This book is the story of that eventuality. Among the very large cast of characters is Aziraphale, the answer to “what if C-3PO was a fussy angel instead of a fussy droid,” a fast-talking, fast-living demon named Crowley, witches, Witchfinders, hellhounds, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and of course the antichrist.

Good Omens was notably adapted for television last year, and that was one program I had been waiting for since the first time I read the book in the early 1990s. I was utterly convinced that it was completely unfilmable, but if modern technology can give us a convincing Balrog and an updated Howard the Duck, it can certainly show us the end of the world. It turned out to be completely delightful and I’m incredibly happy with it, but it still only captured about two-thirds of the wonderfulness that is this hilarious, amazing book.

Still Life With Woodpecker – Tom Robbins

While most of this books listed in this post are in no particular order, I chose this one for last because it is the only title that is neither science fiction nor fantasy. Still Life was written by Tom Robbins in 1980, and it concerns the love affair between a red-headed environmentalist princess and an outlaw.

The novel repeatedly addresses the question of “how to make love stay.” Although it is set in more or less the real world, it most definitely has elements of fantasy. It is at times quite funny as well.

As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve also been looking at other people’s reviews of these books on Goodreads, and this one is divisive- a great many people leaving reviews did not like Still Life With Woodpecker. Ah, well, to each their own.

What are some of your top-rated favorite books?

50/52 (and 29 of 30!)