Doorstop Topper

The word nerd in me thinks it’s cool when one can be modified to make four others simply by changing the same vowel. Batter will be in abundance the next several weeks with all of the baking. The holidays are always better when shared with others. Colorado’s bitter cold winters are a thing of our past now that we’ve moved to the South. The chaos of the holiday season doesn’t really “bott_er” me (okay, that one’s reaching). But finally, we have butter. Ah, there’s nothing better than (or bitter about) butter, is there?

The topic of butter is brought to you today by an utterly ridiculous here-today-gone-tomorrow suggestion to make your holiday hosting more glam than your neighbor’s: butter boards.  When I saw this picture I didn’t even understand what I was looking at.  Even more insulting to this word nerd: the opinion piece I found describes a butter board as “charcuterie”.  No, it’s not.  Charcuterie is meats, not dairy.  This unappetizing appetizer is nothing but butter, spread on a board, with toppings designed to take your attention away from the fact that it’s, well, butter on a board.  I mean, if you’re gonna do faux-fancy at least go with peanut butter on a board, right?

Butter boards are an insult to butter.  I think we can all agree, butter stands alone.  You don’t need nuts or roasted garlic or dried fruit to hide dress it up.  As long as your butter comes from fresh, quality ingredients, it makes anything it pairs with better.  Except a board.

Can you tell I’m “bott_ered” by butter boards?  It’s because my wife and I take our butter so seriously.  Ever since a trip to Ireland, we learned the best butter is not only about quality, but quantity.  At dinner in a quaint hotel in the Connemara region north of Galway, the waiter brought us a big serving of bread with an even bigger serving of butter.  Seriously, the butter was more “brick” than “stick” (and certainly not “pat”).  Ever since, our go-to butter is a brick.  It also makes a great doorstop straight from the freezer.

Our butter dish is even designed for a brick, see?  A stick would be lost in this Irish pottery; a pat even more so.

Speaking of butter pats, I must make mention of the device in the photo below.  I wrote a whole post about it once called Sentimental Utensil.  Who knew this petit guillotine was a timesaver to make butter pats?  It showed up mysteriously in one of our kitchen drawers one day and I can only assume I inherited it from my mother.  But inherited it shall stay.  I can never get enough memories of my mother, as I alluded to in this paragraph from the past post:

And thinking about it even more, I can picture my mother using her butter cutter when I was a kid, leaving a perfect little pat beside the crescent roll that was positioned carefully on the bread plate beside each place setting at the dinner table. Because that was my mother. She was all about the dinner table. Everything had its place, even the pats of butter.

If you read the article on butter boards (please don’t) there are several dead giveaways on how forced this holiday trend feels.  The first is right up there in the teaser subtitle: “Butter boards have gone viral…”.  No, they haven’t, else this topic wouldn’t be worth warning you posting about.  “… because of their novelty and shock value.”  Their novelty?  Shock value?  Is one of your guests going to look at your butter board and say, “Well now, isn’t that novel?”  And just what about a butter board causes “shock” other than the writer’s excuse to use (part of) the overused phrase “shock and awe”?  It’s just butter, people.

The article should’ve gone with just the title so we could draw our own conclusions.  Instead, you’ll find phrases like “… how fun the concept is…”, “… what’s fascinating about butter boards…”, and “… extremely versatile as an appetizer…”; none of which are true.  The writing takes itself way too seriously and goes on way too long about something I will way never prepare.  Unless it were frosting, of course.  A “frosting board” would get my attention for sure.  Put out a plate of cookies with a frosting board and I’m all hands.

But enough of the butter boards.  You’d have to be blind as a bat to fall for this faux-fancy offering.  I’ll bet you’ve already stopped reading.  If you did make it this far, thanks for sparing a bit of your time.  Comment so I know you’re not a bot.

Some content sourced from the Food Network article, “How to Make the Perfect Butter Board for the Holidays”.

Feast of Family

  • The turkey reminds me of my father-in-law, who always assumed the carving duties and insisted all dinners begin precisely at the top of the hour.
  • The dressing reminds me of my mother-in-law, who insists you taste-test as you go to make her meal-in-itself recipe just right.
  • The whipped cream reminds me of my son, who would top off his pie and then tip the can directly into his mouth for a second helping.
  • The crescent rolls remind me of my other son, who never lets the meal go forward without them.
  • The sweet potatoes (in scooped-out oranges) remind me of my daughter, whose version is best described as a work in progress.
  • The Waldorf salad reminds me of my dear mother, whose recipe – as I discovered years later – is notably different than the one served at the famous New York City hotel.
  • The mincemeat pie reminds me of my dear father, with whom I was the only family member to indulge in this carb-laden throwback treat.
  • … and finally, the pumpkin pie reminds me of my beautiful wife, who always doubles the spices to make the dessert (and everything else about the meal) twice as nice.

Today reminds me of the bounty of family and friends; a Thursday best spent with those you love (instead of reading blog posts).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Decades to Decadence

Waiting in line for the bank teller, as I did last Monday, is decidedly old-school. It’s a face-to-face experience so much more inefficient than the drive-thru lane or smartphone options. But sometimes we still go brick-and-mortar, don’t we?  Stopping into the bank is either convenient in the moment or perhaps the transaction demands a real, live person. And so we wait.  But at least cashing a check doesn’t take thirty years.  It just seems that long sometimes.

Every now and then you see a headline and say, “Wait a minute… WHAT?”  And then, even with no interest whatsoever you still read the article.  Such was the case this week with a story about Kobe beef.  I’ve never eaten Kobe beef.  I’m too cheap to even give it a try.  I’ll concede the price is justified by the high quality, high demand, and low supply.  But what if you had to wait until Thanksgiving of 2052 to be able to enjoy it?

Here’s the gist of the story.  A small, family-run butcher shop in Japan makes a beef croquette so popular it’ll take you thirty years to get one.  Asahiya, about to celebrate a century in the meat business, began producing its croquettes shortly after World War II.  The deep-fried meat-and-potato dumplings were designed as a tease; a mere taste to draw customers to its larger, more expensive products.  The strategy didn’t pan out so well but the croquettes themselves became an Internet sensation, and the inevitable hype that followed created a line of customers thirty years long.

[Note: If a Kobe beef croquette sounds “decadent” you’re probably right, but you’re using the wrong word to describe it.  Decadent actually means “excessively self-indulgent”.  Instead of the food itself perhaps you’re talking about a customer willing to wait thirty years.]

I hear what you’re saying.  I wouldn’t pay big bucks for something like this Dave, let alone wait thirty years for it.  But go figure; an Asahiya beef croquette costs only $3.40 USD.  You could buy a box of ten for less than you probably paid for your Thanksgiving turkey.  You just need a very comfortable chair as well.  Asahiya makes only two hundred croquettes a day (or twenty customers’ worth) so it’s no wonder you have to wait so long.

Technology being what it is today, we’re not patient waiters anymore.  Amazon and others are getting close to same-day delivery on the items we consume regularly.  Many amusement parks and tourist attractions have adopted Disney’s approach, where you can pay more to “jump the line”.  Want tickets to the next Taylor Swift concert?  Pay a “line-stander” to buy them for you.  Want season tickets to the Green Bay Packers?  Okay, sorry, there’s no way around that one.  The seats at sold-out Lambeau Field simply pass down the line from generation to generation.  But you can still join the list for this impossible get, just to say you’re on it.

This week’s visit to the bank felt like an impossible get.  I made it to within one customer of the front of the line before things came to a grinding halt.  Only two tellers were open out of the four.  One was preoccupied by a woman who wanted cash and a money order, with terms so specific you knew she was going to be awhile.  The other was completely preoccupied by an older gent, carrying on a personal conversation while constantly losing track of whatever he was asking for in the first place.  Meanwhile, the back window drive-thru teller was cranking out transaction after transaction after transaction.  Shoulda, coulda… I know, I know.

I thought the beef croquette story was timely, not because I went to the bank but because next Thursday is Thanksgiving, when Americans wait all day long.  We wake up early, get the oven going, prep the bird, and spend a long time putting the rest of the meal together.  We eat earlier than most dinners (does that make it “supper”?) but it’s still a waiting game.  Hours and hours of anticipation before the food is finally brought to the table.

If there’s any good news about Asahiya’s Kobe products, it’s that they have options besides the “Extreme” beef croquettes.  There’s a more accessible variety called the “Premiere”.  You only have to wait four years for those.  When you consider how fast we’re going through U.S. Presidents lately, four years doesn’t seem like a long time at all.

Some content sourced from the CNN Travel article, “These Japanese beef croquettes are so popular there’s a 30-year waiting list”.

Big Shoes to Fill-y

Last Sunday, the day before Halloween, our neighborhood hosted a lively parade. Kids of all ages dressed in adorable to “a-horror-full” costumes, to trick-or-treat past each driveway… on horseback. In a bit of a role reversal, we residents walked treats out to the horses and riders (because trust me, a stallion trotting up your front walk is not recommended). Candy for the kids, cookies for the parents who walked beside them, and carrots for the hardworking horses. As you would expect, a steady “clip-clop” filled the air for hours. Yet it could’ve been a lot quieter.

Here’s an idea I never ever would’ve thought of.  Take a pair of sneakers, break them down into their component parts, and reassemble them to fit a horse’s hoof.  Making a statement of purely fashion (vs. function), Horse Kicks allow your equine to sport two pairs of your favorite New Balance, Adidas, or Nikes. These giant “tennis shoes” are built on top of a pre-made protective boot so they really do support an animal weighing a thousand pounds or more.  Order yours today for only $1,200.

Sorry, I’m not buying.  I don’t think sneakers are a good look on horses, any more than when paired with formalwear on a human.  If a filly could talk, she would say, “Get those ridiculous things off of me!”, even though ladies love shoes.  Sneakers are best left to walkers and athletes, while steel horseshoes, as they have for thousands of years, fill a horse’s bill as comfortably as a couple of pairs of flip-flops (er, “clip-clops?”)

I can’t imagine the effort it takes for Horse Kicks to create their shoes (besides the seventeen hours of assembly time) but they don’t work nearly as hard as a traditional horseshoer.  That person, a farrier, might as well be an ironworker.  Watch one in action sometime as he/she trims a horse’s hoof or hammers the steel shoes to achieve the perfect fit.  It’s the kind of backbreaking work that can lead to early retirement.

Occasionally a horse throws a shoe, which is probably the origin of horseshoes as a game.  The first time I “threw a shoe”- besides getting it nowhere near the stake – I remember thinking, “Man, these are kind of heavy”. (A horse wouldn’t agree.)  And weight matters in the game because the shoe needs to fly a long way, like forty feet, for the chance for a “ringer”.  Yes, horseshoes is basic (and predates similar games like ring toss, cornhole, and bocce) but it has its finer points.  You flip a shoe to determine who goes first.  After players throw two shoes each you’ve completed an “inning”.  And a “dead ringer” really is a horseshoes term (too complicated to explain here), not just someone who looks like someone else. 

[Snack break.  Speaking of horseshoes, if you’re looking for “the best darn donuts in Colorado” you should check out Horseshoe Donuts, where we used to live just north of Colorado Springs.  You’ll pay upwards of $25/dozen but trust me, these shoes… er, doughnuts are huge and worthy of expensive tastes.  Most are shaped like traditional rings but the raised, glazed variety are giant horseshoes.]

Even if I never buy a pair of Horse Kicks, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.  You’ll probably see several on display this weekend at the Breeder’s Cup races in Lexington, KY (close to where they’re created).  Part of the company’s initiative is to “bring awareness to the Bluegrass State”.  And 10% of the proceeds go to central Kentucky charities.  All of which makes Horse Kicks a worthy product.  Not that I expect to see any in next year’s neigh-h-h-h-borhood trick-or-treat parade.  It’ll be, as usual, clip-clops in steel flip-flops.

Some content sourced from the CNN Style article, “You can now buy $1,200 sneakers — for horses”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Drinkin’ Problem

Thanks to social media, product advertising is a complex challenge these days. Hiring an “agency” no longer suffices, at least not for major corporations. They depend on “brand builders” instead – Interbrand, for example. Interbrand boasts “…a global team of thinkers and makers [encouraging] bold moves to leap ahead of customers and competitors.” Interbrand also values the companies they help build. On their list, well inside the top ten: Coca-Cola.

My brothers and I gathered in Atlanta last week for a semi-annual reunion.  Our initial stop wasn’t Coca-Cola’s world headquarters but rather, its popular “World of Coca-Cola” tour.  If you haven’t walked through these doors, Coke has turned an impressive three-story building into a glittery three-ring circus to promote its products, with a side of historical context.  As if Coke needs more promotion.  The genius of this soft drink, as we learn on the tour, is the relentless, boundless effort to put Coke’s brand everywhere imaginable.  Cans, clothing, and cars, just to name a few.  But pixels?

Here’s a weird suggestion.  Go into your home laboratory, create a flavor, and label it something that doesn’t have a flavor.  This is Coke’s latest go-to gimmick to retain market share.  Coca-Cola Zero Sugar “Byte” has come and gone (limited-edition products are another way to retain market share) and you probably didn’t have a taste. And what does “data” taste like?  According to drinkers it’s pretty much the same as Coke Zero, adding in the sensation of the old “Pop Rocks” candy.

Coca-Cola also developed “Coke Starlight”, somehow determining the taste of “outer space”.  Drinkers said it tasted like Coke with an aftertaste of cereal milk (ewwwww).  Go to the store today and you can purchase the latest of these curiosities: “Coke Dreamworld”, which has been described as “Coke soaked in sour peach rings” (ewwwww again).  As the saying goes, there’s no accounting for taste… or should I say, with Coca-Cola there’s no caring for taste.  Instead, the bottles and cans promote music, videos, and other products through a QR code.  And there’s the branding concept in a nutshell.  You’re attracted to the purchase because it’s a Coca-Cola product, but the draw is anything but the drink itself.

I shouldn’t be surprised how far the taste of Coke has, uh, evolved in the one hundred and thirty years since its market debut.  The variations on the original formula are myriad, including Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Diet Coke, and “Coke Zero” (no added sugar but plenty of artificial sweeteners).  Let’s not pretend any of these drinks are actually good for your consumption.  But at least vanilla and cherry are tastes we understand.  Dreams?  Not so much.

“Dreamworld” and the other recent flavors target “gamers and younger audiences”.  My brothers and I saw a lot of kids on the “World of Coca-Cola” tour so maybe the advertising is working.  Regardless, Coca-Cola has a bigger challenge to confront.  Sales of soft drinks are on a serious decline, in favor of bottled water and healthier options.  Coke recently cut its portfolio of soft drinks by fifty percent (bye-bye Tab) in an effort to improve its bottom line.  To me, that’s a sound business strategy.  But flavors that aren’t really flavors?  That’s desperate.

Coca-Cola had a big red flag in the 1980s (appropriate color, no?), one that should’ve discouraged future dabbling with their products.  Who among you doesn’t remember the debacle of “New Coke”? The flavor variation – the first in Coca-Cola’s long history – debuted to rave reviews, with claims it was better than Coke or Pepsi.  But here’s what Coca-Cola didn’t see coming: consumers immediately defended the original flavor.  Instead of buying New Coke, they cleared the shelves of the original flavor for fear it would go away forever.  Begrudgingly (and very quickly), Coca-Cola returned the original flavor to stores under the name “Coke Classic”.  But New Coke never found legs and eventually disappeared from the shelves altogether, while “Coke Classic” returned as simply “Coke”.

” Coke Dreamworld”, as you would expect, features prominently in the “World of Coca-Cola” tour.  The flavor that isn’t a flavor, along with a silly 3-D movie and a giant retail store, targets the youngest of consumers.  But let’s be honest, most people go on the tour for the tasting room, where they can sample Coca-Cola’s products to their heart’s content.  “New Coke” is not among those choices.  Pretty soon I don’t expect to see any flavors-that-aren’t flavors either.

Some content sourced from the CNN Business article, “Coke’s latest bizarre flavor is here”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Cim-ple Memories

My weekday breakfasts are routine.  Besides a cup of coffee I’ll have yogurt and fruit one day, eggs the next.  That’s about it, alternating between one or the other.  Something about this relatively healthy repeat comforts me.  On the weekends, however, we fancy it up.  Maybe homemade waffles or pancakes.  An omelet with whatever leftovers we can find in the frig.  Or even breakfast out, where someone else does the cooking.  And very occasionally, especially on Sundays, I’ll step back to my childhood and bake the earliest breakfast I can remember – homemade cinnamon rolls.

Last week, my son texted to let me know he was making breakfast with his young daughters.  The three of them were putting together eggs, fruit, and rolls to start their Saturday right.  The rolls – the Pillsbury variety where you whack the tube on the counter and separate the rolls onto a cookie sheet – are topped with a distinctive orange icing my son remembers from many of his childhood breakfasts.  Now he’s carrying on the tradition in his own kitchen, which warms my heart.  But I also realized it’s time he joined the succession of family members who still bake our trademark cinnamon rolls.

If you’re hoping I’ll include a recipe at some point in this post – something with secret ingredients to make our cinnamon rolls the best ever – you’re about to be disappointed.  These rolls are as simple as it gets.  Begin with… Bisquick.  Maybe you’re not familiar with this breakfast-in-a-box product from General Mills but it’s still on the shelf.  You just add milk to the mix and voila, you’re making anything from pancakes to biscuits.

Our cinnamon rolls use the Bisquick biscuit recipe with the dough pressed out flat, adding sugar and spice, and then rolled up to be cut and baked in the oven.  The process is designed to crank out the rolls in hurry, as for a family of seven on the clock before Sunday church.

Now here’s where I pay homage to my father.  He steps into the story because he was the one who made the cinnamon rolls, almost every Sunday without fail.  I’d shuffle into the kitchen bleary-eyed from the night before and there’d be my bathrobed, unshaven father, preparing what we affectionately called the “cims”.  As soon as he rolled out the dough, a kid could help the rest of the way.  Sprinkle brown sugar from one end to the other.  Add raisins here and there.  Dust with cinnamon for a final flourish.  Roll up the dough from one side of the board to the other and cut into segments.

Some of my brothers didn’t like raisins so Dad upped his baking game a bit by leaving them out of some of the rolls.  Eventually he even made “jelly rolls”, substituting the sugar and spices with one of our favorite flavors from Smucker’s or Knott’s.

Speaking of ingredients, our cinnamon rolls were brand dependent.  Besides the essential Bisquick, the brown sugar came from C&H, the raisins from Sun-Maid, and the milk and butter from a local dairy called “Edgemar Farms“.  Funny how those come back to me like yesterday, yet I never thought much about the names until now.  “Bisquick” is literally “biscuit” + “quick”.  C&H is the “California and Hawaiian Sugar Company”, their product refined from sugar cane (instead of beets).  Their jingle still dances around in my head (“C&H… pure cane sugar… from Hawaii… growing in the sun…”)

The updated “Maid”

Sun-Maid put the spin on “Made”, of course, but I never “made” the connection between the name and the woman in the logo until now.  They’ve updated her image several times over the years the way KFC and Wendy’s updated theirs.

Here’s the real point of this post.  My dad and the family cinnamon roll recipe are forever inseparable.  Even though his sons (and their children, I hope) carry on the tradition, it’ll always be Dad and the rolls.  One is not a memory without the other.  I realize – all these years later – Dad made the rolls to give Mom a break from the countless meals she made the rest of the week.  Honestly, the only memories I have of Dad in the kitchen are mixing drinks, tending to the barbecue, or making the “cims”.

Soon after my son texted, I sent him the cinnamon roll recipe.  I hope he “cim-ply” abides as part of his Sunday morning routine.  I hope he refers to the leftover dough bits as “collywobbles” the way my dad did and his dad did before him.  I hope his daughters mispronounce “cinnamon” as “cimmanin” the way I used to (which maybe inspired the nickname “cims”).  But most importantly, I hope he remembers his Grandpa every time he rolls out the dough, preparing breakfast for the family just to give Grandma a break.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Conifer Confetti

When you move to a new city and state, you deal with the expected and the unexpected. The expected includes boxes that don’t unpack themselves (but what a great invention, right?), over-the-fence greetings with neighbors (categorized as “nice”, “cranky”, and “utterly weird”), and enough wrong turns on roads where you finally pull over and mutter, “Where the heck am I?” Unexpected includes the drip of a leaky pipe ($$$, sigh), chew-crazy squirrels in the backyard (anything plastic is fair game), and, oh yes… pine cones. Lots and lots of pine cones.

Five acres may seem like a lot to some of you readers but to us it’s downsizing from our ranch in Colorado.  You’d think a property a sixth the size of the former would suggest lower maintenance.  After last Sunday I’m not so sure.  My wife came in from the barn the day before and said, rather gently, “We should probably pick up the pine cones in the back pasture before they get out of control.”  Simple enough.  After we fed and watered the horses, we went out to the field with the muck rakes and began picking.  A muck rake can hold ten pine cones.  Around the first tree I figured I picked up fifteen rakes’ worth.  Again, simple enough… except we have at least twenty pine trees.  Do the math.  Our pickup amounted to a motherlode of pine cones, somewhere between two and three thousand.

Back in Colorado we had, like, one pine tree on our property (a magical one actually, which I wrote about in My Dandy-Lion Pine Tree).  After last weekend I’m thinking I should’ve amended our purchase agreement on the new place to say, “Remove nineteen of twenty pine trees”.

I need the “giant” version of this

What does Dave do with all of his pine cones?  Nothing, for now.  The most efficient system of gathering is to throw them against the base of the trees and then haul them away to the “yard waste” dump.  But in the three hours we collected cones, I had plenty of time to think about better ways to do it.  The neighbors suggested a “pasture vacuum”, which is like one of those big spinning brushes you see in the car wash, dragged behind the tractor.  Others suggested a big bonfire, pretty much the last thing a person from Colorado wants to see in their backyard.

My new pet

Here’s thinking outside of the box: I could get a pet Parasaurolophus, the dinosaur with a distinctive crested head.  The Para has thousands of teeth perfectly suited for their favorite meal: pine cones.  But I’d need a time machine so I can bring one back from sixty million years ago.  Looks like it’s still me and the muck rake for now.

Conifer cones”, which include pine cones, play a vital role in the evolution of the trees.  Between all those little wooden scales are the seeds, first pollinated and later released.  It’s a sophisticated process which you can read a lot more about here.  In its simplest terms you have the smaller, meeker “males”, who release pollen for the “females” to catch.  Then the females release the seeds, even after they lay in my pastures by the thousands, seemingly dead.

“He” (lower) doesn’t even look like a pine cone

There was a moment in all that raking where I followed a squirrel as he bounded across the grass and onto the trunk of one of the trees.  Up, up, up he went until he disappeared into the umbrella of the branches above.  And that’s where, to my horror, I noticed how many thousands of pine cones sat poised above me. Maybe millions… almost all of them female.  It’s like having the world’s biggest sorority row above my backyard, and every house is about to disgorge its girls for a giant party on the ground.  Maybe I should hire Sticky Vikki & The Pine Cones for the music.

“Widowmaker” cone

I know, I know, it could be worse.  I could live in Maine, where there are so many pine trees the state flower is the pine cone (and a pine cone is not even a flower).  Or I could have Coulter pine trees, with cones so big they’re nicknamed “widowmakers”.  Seriously, these ladies are massive – you don’t want one falling on your head. Speaking of falling, the mere sound of a plummeting cone is unnerving enough.  It’s like a warplane flying overhead and releasing a bomb, only the bomb whistles straight to the ground without detonating. “THUNK”.

I’d have a massive herd of these Scandinavian toys

We shared the story of our pine cone bounty with my brother-in-law, who promptly encouraged us to do something creative with them.  Make wreaths for the holidays.  Turn them into coffee and jam like they do in Eastern Europe.  Sell them as the fertility charm they’re supposed to be.  Nah, I don’t have time for all that.  We’re expecting extra wind in the next few days courtesy of Hurricane Ian.  I have another three thousand pine cones to pick up.

Some content sourced from the HuffPost blog, “Thirteen Things You Never Knew About Pine Cones…”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Blue-Blood Spuds

As I was digging into dinner last night, I surveyed the contents of my plate and decided the food was looking rather pedestrian. Yes, I’d topped the roast pork with a tasty sour cream and onion sauce. I added lemon zest and shredded cheese to the broccoli. But the potatoes were run-of-the-mill, simply diced and baked with nothing but salt and pepper. I could’ve done more there; a lot more. Starting with potatoes from La Bonnotte.  It’s just, I don’t want to spend $300 for a pound of them.

$300 for potatoes – yikes.  It sounds ridiculous unless you’re British royalty or the finest restaurants in Europe.  A couple of medium-sized Russets – the ones we bake – weigh a pound, but the Bonnotte potato is more like the small red ones you cut up and season. 10-12 Bonnottes in a pound; so like, $30 each.  That’s a pricey bite (and not exactly “small potatoes”).  But if you’re willing, you can purchase your share of this delicacy; that is if you’re quick.  They’re only on the market ten days a year.

What makes the Bonnotte the aristocrat of spuds?  Here’s the meat and potatoes of it:

  1. La Bonnotte potatoes are found on a small island off the Atlantic coast of France, and nowhere else.  It’s as if they’re grown in some fortified castle, surrounded by a wide moat.
  2. The potato field is limited to fifty square meters, so they’re not even using the entire island.  You could walk the perimeter of the entire crop in about five minutes.
  3. Even though the island soil is ideal for growing La Bonnottes, the “secret sauce” is nearby seaweed and algae, mixed into the dirt by hand.  This is perhaps the first time I’ve heard of a good use for seaweed.
  4. Every Bonnotte is harvested by hand, then treated, cleaned, and sold by a small cooperative of local farmers.  Talk about an exclusive club.
  5. As I said, the harvest is only available for purchase ten days a year.  Mark your calendars for May 1-10, 2023.
The island of Noirmoutier-en-l’ile has a church, a chateau, and very expensive potatoes.

Here’s my favorite reason to buy this hot potato (and for heaven’s sake, don’t drop one): you don’t peel them.  You shouldn’t peel them.  Their unique flavor – tastes of lemon, earth, “the sea”, and chestnut – is most concentrated in the skin.  You eat them just the way they come out of the ground.

Luxuo is an online news portal whose mission is “to uncover the values which permeate the fiber of the world’s most recognizable luxury brands” (Got all that?) The Luxuo website has a dropdown menu for timepieces, yachting, motoring, properties…. and now you’ll find potatoes, because La Bonnottes (you don’t even call them “potatoes” at this price) are the most expensive potatoes in the world.  By some measures they’re one of the most expensive foods in the world.  Saffron, macadamia nuts, Beluga caviar, and white truffles are the top four, followed by La Bonnottes.  Blue-blood spuds indeed.

[Author’s Note: I just had to know why we refer to things as “blue blood”.  The term originated in Spain.  It was used to differentiate between people with light skin from those with darker complexions. The veins of southern Europeans appeared bluer due to their pale and translucent skin. Wealthy landowners or their descendents were part of an upper class in Spain, and somewhere along the line the veins were associated with wealth.  Not a look I prefer, but the money is tempting.]

Couch potato fare

After the La Bonnotte harvest and sell, a small number of the potatoes are reserved for a local festival, where they’re served plain, just as you see them in the entertaining video below (because no other ingredient deserves to share the pan).  Who can blame the farmers for throwing a party?  They’ve convinced the world to purchase potatoes for $300/pound yet again, just as they’ve done for decades before.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

P.S. I Love You

When it comes to snack foods, I’m not a fan of variations on a theme. Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts debuted in the 1960s with just four flavors: strawberry, blueberry, apple, and brown sugar cinnamon. Today you choose from more than twenty Tarts, including “Hot Fudge Sundae”. The original Triscuit cracker was a baked whole wheat square with a little salt. Today you’ll find a dozen Triscuit flavors on the shelf, including “Fire Roasted Tomato & Olive Oil”. Then we have the Oreo cookie. The original, of course, was two chocolate wafers sandwiching just the right amount of vanilla cream filling. Now Oreo flavors are too numerous to count.  But there’s one you can be sure is a whopping success: pumpkin spice.

 Welcome to mid-September, Americans, and the beginning of our pumpkin spice delirium.  For the next two months you can expect an endless parade of “P.S.” product advertisements.  My wife & I, we’ve already caved to the obsession.  We have a package of “Pumpkin Spice Snaps” sitting on the counter.  We have two leftover pieces of this year’s first homemade pumpkin pie sitting in our frig.  And it’s only a matter of time before my car veers off the road and right through a Starbucks drive-thru for one of their classic P.S. lattes.  (I’ll take a grande, if you please).

My daughter just reminded me Starbucks also brings back their pumpkin cream cold brew this time of year.  That’s a good one too but let’s be real: none of Starbucks’ P.S. offerings should be considered “coffee”.  We buy them for the spice and the sweet, not for the taste of the beans underneath.

Lest you think Starbucks gets the credit for our pumpkin spice mania, the record must be set straight.  McCormick and Company, they of the little red-capped spice bottles, debuted their “Pumpkin Pie Spice” in 1934.  At least three of the following are in the bottle: cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.  Do I have this spice blend?  Yes.  Do I use it?  Heck, no.  My wife’s family recipe for pumpkin pie contains a different proportion of the individual spices than McCormick’s, which may be the secret to its delectable flavor.  Plus, pumpkin pie is easy enough to make without having the spices combined for you. Dump the ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Pour into a pie shell.  Bake. My kind of dessert.

Starbucks can’t even take the credit for the first P.S. latte.  That accolade goes to Mexico’s Candle Company in 1995.  The Starbucks version debuted eight years later.  But you could argue Starbucks kicked off the forever-trend where we infuse P.S. into everything imaginable, including the good (Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Cheerios, candles) and the ridiculous  (lip balm, deodorant, beer).  As of 2016, “pumpkin spice consumables” accounted for an annual market of over $500M. Yep, we’re hooked.

The “Pumpkin Spice Flavored Creme Oreo” is not even an Oreo, at least not in my pantry.  Nabisco attached the word “Oreo” but c’mon, let’s just admit it’s a seasonal wolf in sandwich cookie clothing.  “Golden” Oreo cookies… with “festive pumpkin spice flavored cream” (and is it cream or creme?)  Nope, the only Oreos in my book are black and white, though I will allow shelf space for the “Double Stuf” variety.

I’m not sure why this topic caught my eye because I haven’t had an Oreo in years.  The last time I did I realized the taste was different from the Oreo of my youth.  The cookies are not as soft, and there’s less cream filling in between (which is like messing with the ratio of chocolate and peanut butter in a Reese’s, a sin for all mankind).  Like the misfortune of many other snack foods though, size and ingredients change for the sake of profit.  And new varieties pop up to keep consumers buying.  At least we’re not talking about the Lady Gaga Oreo.  You’ll need your sunglasses for that one.

Now you’ll excuse me as I head off to a doctor’s appointment.  My drive will take me past several Starbucks, which means I could be caving to my first P.S. latte of the season.  Not that I’m worried about missing out.  As soon as the P.S. season is over I can look forward to Starbucks’ Chestnut Praline latte all the way through New Year’s Day.  Now we’re talking!

Some content sourced from the CNN Business article, “Oreo is bringing back this flavor after a 5-year hiatus:, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Local Fare for the Win

When you pick up and move to a new town 1,500 miles from where you used to live, “getting the house in order” is a little overwhelming. Thirty years in the same spot creates a lot of favorite “thises” and preferred “thats”. So whenever my wife & I step away from the endless unpacking, we’re trying out supermarkets, large-animal vets (for the horses), and restaurants, to figure out which ones best replace those we chose time and time again in Colorado. And here’s what we’ve quickly discovered about life in the South (of the U.S.): good Mexican food is a tough ask.

Pizza as it should be

Let’s take a bit of a detour. (Don’t worry; we’ll be back on the main highway before you know it.)  In a surprisingly candid post from fellow blogger Brilliant Viewpoint, her recent trip to Rome and Florence determined pizza – at least the classic Italian version of the pie – is not what it used to be.  The writer suggested the crusts are like cardboard, the mozzarella chunky and unappetizing, and the pizza itself a little soggy.  Having spent a college year in Italy (when I survived on pizza and not much else), I found her conclusions shocking.  Maybe this is why Domino’s – they of the generic-but-convenient home-delivered product in America – decided to give Italy a try?  It’s true.  In 2015, a Dominos franchise opened several stores across Italia to capture the then non-existent delivery market.  It almost worked.

No matter what the state of Italian pizza these days, Domino’s Pizza stores in this of all countries lands on my “you’ve got to be kidding me” list (alongside Starbucks coffee).  Put yourselves in their shoes to understand the absurdity of it all.  You’re an Italian.  Pizza was invented in your country, which has thousands more years of history than America.  You can choose from any pizzeria on any block of any street in your town and the homemade product will be excellent.  Yet you’re going to call Domino’s to order a mass-produced American knock-off instead?  At least Baskin-Robbins was sensible enough to stay away instead of going head-to-head with gelato.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn – after a seven-year run – Domino’s Italian franchisee filed for bankruptcy in April.  “Of course“, you say. “Their product just couldn’t compete.”  Well, that’s not quite the story.  It was more about pizza delivery itself.  Remarkably, Italy had very little delivery before the pandemic.  You wanted a pie back then, you went out into the streets and got it.  But just like American restaurants, Italian pizzerias did whatever it took to survive the pandemic years, and that meant delivery to front doors.  Domino’s thought they had the market cornered before they ever entered it.  Next thing they knew, everyone else was doing the same thing.

No matter the reason, I’m happy to say arrivederci to Domino’s Pizza in Italy.  Franchise food doesn’t feel right in a country with so much history and wonderful local food.  Shortly after my college year in the 1980s, I learned a McDonald’s restaurant somehow landed a lease at the base of Rome’s famous Spanish Steps.  That’s like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.  America has much to offer the world, but fast food is not our proudest accomplishment.  I’m not even sure it’s an accomplishment.

Let’s get back to the main highway now.  Up top we were talking about Mexican food… er, the lack of it, in the American South.  It’s true, if our new little town is any indication.  Yes, we have several options to beat a sit-down at Taco Bell, but they’re only a whisper better.  Everything looks and tastes so generic.  What should be salsa roja inside of enchiladas tastes more like pizza sauce.  What should be a margarita with the sublime afterbite of tequila tastes like syrupy lemonade.  The chips might as well be Doritos.  Yet you look around and the restaurant is packed.  These people don’t know what they’re missing, but they seem happy enough.  As a result, just like Dominos, I don’t expect a Mexican restaurant from outside of the region to waltz into town and do well.

My theory on good Mexican food goes like this: the further west and south you go the better it gets.  Colorado and Tex-Mex trump anything east of the Mississippi.  Arizona and Southern California fare trump Colorado and Texas.  In other words, my favorite Mexican place in my new hometown is destined to be close to my front door. In fact, it’s inside my front door.  It’s my kitchen.  Time to start making my own margaritas and enchiladas. 

Some content sourced from the CNN Business article, “Domino’s tried to sell pizza to Italians…”, and the Brilliant Viewpoint blog.