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!

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com

On being alone.

Over the last two weeks, my social calendar has thinned out a lot. Everyone is trying to stop the rapid spread of Covid-19, and social distancing is super important for that. In my area, there’s a curfew. Restaurants are not permitted to open their dining rooms- delivery and takeaway are the order of the day there. Grocery stores are limiting their hours. Companies and schools are transitioning largely to work-from-home where possible. For those scenarios that can’t be done remotely, lots of layoffs are happening so that their employees can try to find something else or sign up for unemployment. And so it goes.

While I understand and agree with the reasons behind all of this, I’m very frustrated with the end result. I’ve lost nearly a dozen concerts from my schedule, as venues close in an abundance of caution. I’ve canceled airfare and hotels for two different out of state trips, and there’s another two that may be on the chopping block over the next week. My weekly trivia and monthly karaoke are canceled for the time being. The only thing left on my calendar for the next ten weeks aside from work stuff is MegaCon and one doctor’s appointment. I suspect both of those could wind up canceled before much longer. (Edit: Two hours after this was posted, MegaCon was rescheduled for June.)

For most of my friends, our new weird quarantined reality is a big adjustment. For me, it’s not really all that different than my previous life. I work completely remotely, live alone, and eat most of my meals alone. I actively enjoy not leaving my apartment- I can stay here for days without ever feeling bored or stir-crazy. There’s always something for me to do here. There’s a pitfall, of course- the longer I stay in, the harder it is to break the inertia and get out.

My extrovert friends are losing their minds right now, but for me this isn’t bad at all. Doing stuff alone has always been easy for me. Movies, concerts, trips to other countries: I’m perfectly happy going by myself. Having companionship for these jaunts is enjoyable, but never necessary. I’ve learned over time that while I usually have anxiety about leaving the house, I almost always have fun once I get to where I’m going.

These are the two warring sides of my personality: the loner and the social animal. Am I an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert? One of my friends told me a while back that he thinks I’m very social even though it’s sometimes really difficult to get me out of the house- he’s not wrong. Crowds drain me. Too much of that kind of noise makes me glaze over. Too much ambient noise (other than music) depletes me.

There was a brief time a while back where I thought that my loner tendencies might be some sort of personal or psychological failing on my part, so I read a bunch of books about being alone. In “Party Of One: The Loner’s Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus, there is a paragraph about how children played with the original GI Joe doll, the 12-inch version that my brothers had. (This is not to be confused with the four-inch toys that came out in 1982 with all the vehicles and accessories to compete with the similarly sized Star Wars toys at the time. The first GI Joe, the 12 inch one, was only one Joe. They didn’t introduce the snow guy and the ninja guy and the metal-faced guy until later on with the four-inch GI Joe friends.).

Anneli Rufus writes:

“Creating scenarios with only a single doll validates the power and wonder of the individual. Even if this is only a molded-plastic individual with painted-on hair and a mass-produced costume, it is a vessel through which the child projects his own visions of himself as an independent thinker, doer, adventurer, and winner. With only a single doll, the child celebrates self-reliance, learns to strategize, and learns the most potent lesson of all: The doll- or the real person the doll represents- requires nothing in order to do things and have experiences. Its adventures are sparked and carried out through ingenuity, imagination, creativity. In playing with a single doll, the child discovers how to entertain himself. A lone doll gives the message that one is enough.”

— “Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus

The book goes on to talk about how the four-inch toys came with their personalities already set, predetermined. Reading this, I thought back to my own childhood. Whenever I was playing with my armada of the tiny Star Wars toys, I didn’t follow the preinstalled personalities or their already-written adventures.

Instead, I would put a blanket on the floor in a blobby unfolded state so that it would make caves. Then I’d select one particular character, never a Luke or a Han- generally some smaller, less important character, and I’d make that character go live by themself in one of the caves. I only chose one, and I stuck with that one. On the far side of Blanket Mountain. Far away from the rest of the action figures. When I was playing Star Wars with other neighborhood kids, this usually led to some frustrating times, because they wanted to interact, and I wanted to be a hermit.

I think a therapist would have a field day with that one.

How are you handling quarantine and social distancing?

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Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com
Header photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com
https://www.pexels.com/photo/crowd-reflection-color-toy-1679618/

61.

I was thinking about a party my parents had when I was a tiny, tiny person, in the house we lived in until I was seventeen.

The second house I have any memories of was in a neighborhood called Florida Gardens.  It was five bedrooms and two bathrooms on a quarter-acre of land, and Zillow says it was constructed in 1973.  The house was built at roughly the same time as I was!

This is the house as it appears on Google Maps. Our landscaping is all gone now, and the driveway is in worse shape than when we lived there. The house on the left is, hilariously, the house we lived in before this one- I still remember carrying my own toybox between the houses when we moved, even though I don’t think I had a room yet when I carried it over.

I lived in that house through all of middle school and most of high school.   It started out as a three-bedroom, but the garage was sealed off and converted into two more bedrooms at some point before we moved in.  My parents took the master bedroom, which was on the far side of the dining room. My room was in the back-right corner, with my elder brother’s room right next to mine. The garage-converted bedrooms were given to my other brother and my sister. They had a shared door between their rooms, which gave them plenty of opportunities to be co-conspirators when they were supposed to be otherwise engaged. I remember wandering into my middle brother’s room often to listen to his 45 records.  After my sister went off to college, some of her room became a miniature office, and my brother ran a BBS from a computer sitting in that room.

I remember when our grandmother came to visit from New Jersey in 1979. We had HBO and I was watching The Black Hole in the living room when she arrived. She would stay on the second bed in my sister’s room, and in the morning she would make us Farina. I still have a fondness for Farina, despite how bland and grits-like it is.

I digress, however- I was talking about the party. I must have been seven or eight years old- old enough to know I wasn’t allowed into the party, but also old enough to want to be involved. The Formica bar on the back porch was in use for drinks, and there was music on the eight-track player in the living room. I do not remember any of the people my parents invited- I just remember there were other adults there, and my tiny little brain wanted to see all the unfamiliar people.

I’m not sure what made me think about this house party from another time, and I’m not sure that this post even has a point, other than to distract myself from all the weirdness happening in the world right now. It’s nice anyway to think about some interesting memories from back when I was a tiny, tiny person.  Like this:

Do you have any fond or interesting memories from your childhood home?

12/52

Music History*: Notes (both Major and Minor) from my childhood

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always liked comic books. When I was growing up, there were always comics around- old tales of the Green Lantern Corps, silver-age Superman stories with Jimmy Olsen, and even some Legion of Superheroes stories with Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl.  The Greatest American Hero hit television when I was eight years old, and it was a foregone conclusion that I’d love it.  With my nascent love of music already running strong,  I also loved the theme song by Joey Scarbury.  I remember sitting on the end of my mom’s bed, singing along to the song on the radio.  Mom was super amused that I knew all the words.


Along with my love of superheroes, I have a long-standing fondness for all things Disney.  One of my earliest Disney Music loves was the Main Street Electrical Parade.  This goes beyond mere Disneyana. I used to have a tape of a 1983 album by Michael Iceberg, the composer of the theme, with all kinds of neat stuff like a Robot Revolt theme.  One year, Michael Iceberg brought his pyramid-shaped synthesizer cubicle, the Amazing Iceberg Machine, to the South Florida Fair.  I got to meet the man after the show, and I remember someone commenting that he was spectacularly drunk at the time.  In any case, the original parade is long gone from Disney, but the music lives on as an amazingly persistent earworm. Mua ha ha!


Speaking of all things Disney, let’s talk about EPCOT.   When I was ten, my dad drove both of us up to Orlando one weekend to go to the theme park for the first time.   I brought back two souvenirs from that trip. The first was a brochure book about the park, detailing all of the pavilions, including the still unopened Horizons (coming soon!) and also detailing the planned but never built World Showcase pavilions for Israel, Spain, and Equatorial Africa.

The second souvenir from that trip was The Official Album of Walt Disney World EPCOT Center.  On vinyl.  I listened to that thing so much it’s a wonder the grooves didn’t flatten out.  I can still sing large swaths of the original music from memory, and the vocals in the American Pavilion song “Golden Dream” are directly responsible for an ill-fated and poorly considered audition for the Voices of Liberty that I may or may not have attempted in the early 1990s.

Some of the album is very, very dated – “The Computer Song” specifically comes to mind- but I will always love it anyway.  “Makin’ Memories” is another long-time favorite, left over from the early days of EPCOT when the pavilions were all sponsored by corporations.  See if you can guess which mega-corporation sponsored this one:

As an aside-  anyone who has ever gone on Journey Into Imagination with me can attest that I will always-and-forever sing the ORIGINAL version of Dreamfinder and Figment’s song, very very loudly, over the current iteration.


I’m skipping around my personal timeline a little bit, but I wanted to talk about 8-track recordings.  When I was a wee lad, cleaning day was a family affair.   We had an 8-track player in the living room, and we got those Columbia House shipments of new titles every so often.  On family house cleaning days, we’d fire up the stereo, throw a tape into the 8-track player, and everyone in the family would pitch in to clean the house.

I suspect that a hefty percentage of my readers have probably never heard an 8-track tape, so you may not know that an 8-track splits the album up into four sections. Our player had no fast-forward or rewind, but you could switch between the four tracks, and the music would loop.   If you let it play all the way through, our player would automatically switch from track to track in sequence.   It’s because of the 8-track of the original Star Wars soundtrack that I whenever I hear The Cantina Band theme by John Williams, I expect to hear a fade-out, track change, and fade-in at roughly the middle of the song.  That’s what it did on the 8-track.  You can hear the fade-out at one minute and 40 seconds in the video below.

Here are samples of other artists that twisted the mind of proto-Steven from cleaning day 8-tracks- The Lettermen (Put Your Head On My Shoulder), Neil Diamond (America, September Morn), and John Denver (Country Roads, Thank God I’m A Country Boy).

(I just know I’m gonna get flack for the John Denver tunes.)

What music do you remember listening to with your family?

8/52

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*This post is the second in a series on music throughout my life.  Part one is here.

Music History: Firsts

I love music.

This may be the most understated thing I will say all year.   Long-time readers of this blog probably figured out a long time ago that most of my non-work trips start with me going, “Ooh, a concert I want to see!”    I’ve talked a great deal about music on this blog already- I’ve talked about They Might Be Giants, and Leonard Cohen, and Eurovision.   I ‘ve posted about musicals in general, and about Starlight Express and A Chorus Line in particular.   I’ve also talked about my first ever concert (New Edition), and about my memories of the Ghostbusters soundtrack in that glorious red plastic Arista case back in 1984.

And of course there’s a page on this blog that I keep updating to show the artists that I’ve seen play live.

I’ll say it again:  I love music. I need music.  If I don’t listen to music for a while, I can get downright cranky.  It’s as vital to me as breathing, and I go to concert after concert after concert for the love of music, even though I hate crowds and I have a fair amount of travel anxiety.  I can’t not go. (FOMAC, or Fear of Missing a Concert, is an entirely different blog post that I may come back to later.  Shut up, it’s a real thing!)

With that introduction in mind, I want to talk about music throughout various parts of my life.  I’ll start at the very beginning.

My earliest memory of music, any music, was all the way back in 1978.  I was five years old, and I remember being in some sort of a school or daycare center or something along those lines- it wasn’t a usual place for me.  I was waiting near some other kids while we picked up one of my siblings. The kids I was hanging out near were playing with original first-generation Star Wars action figures. I remember they made me be C3PO. While we played with the Star Wars toys, there was a radio on.

There were two songs in heavy rotation on the radio at that time, and they were the first songs to ever penetrate my tiny little head.  Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” and John Paul Young’s “Love Is In The Air.”

Those two songs played back to back. I can’t remember ever hearing music before that day. I’m sure I did, but I don’t remember it.

I also recall the very first album that I ever owned.  When I was ten years old, there were advertisements in the back of comic books that said that if you sell stuff from their crappy catalog, you could win prizes.  This company sent an army of tiny Willy Lomans (Lomen?) door to door to sell magazine subscriptions, Christmas cards, pecan turtles, and wrapping paper.  With enough sales, you could get yourself a tent, a bicycle, or any number of other “fabulous prizes.”  It took a hell of a lot of sales to get anything substantial, but in 1983, I used my hard-earned prize bucks to get a voucher for a cassette tape from one of those music places like Columbia House or BMG, only not quite as obnoxious. That first album?  I was grooving to “Future Shock” by Herbie Hancock.

I had seen the video for Rockit, of course, and the kicking-pants robots made me want to dance.  Or something.  The entire album turned out to be really phenomenal, but I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much in 1983 as I do now.

My mom got me the second album I ever owned- we were in a Richway, which was sort of like the larval form of the retail chain now known as Target.  Richway’s parent company sold all of their stores to Dayton-Hudon Corporation around 1988, and that company closed all the stores, stripped them for parts, and then reopened most of them as Target stores.  The specific Richway from this story is actually some other non-Target store, according to Wikipedia.

But I digress.   We were in Richway, in West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1984.  It was an amazing day for eleven-year-old Steven because not only did I get my first transforming toy there, a red Gobot sports-car named Turbo, but  Mom also bought me a cassette of Rockwell’s first album.   Again, I was familiar only with the first single released, a popular song called “Somebody’s Watching Me,” which had Michael Jackson on backup vocals. The rest of the album was a lot of fun, though, and I still listen to it sometimes.  “Obscene Phone Caller” was always one of my favorites songs, even though it would be years before I actually understood how pervy the song really is.

What was your first album?  Your first concert?  The first song you remember hearing?

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