Sweeter Than Honey

We all have favorite name-brand products, and crackers are no exception. I grew up on Nabisco’s Wheat Thins. Years later I developed a taste for the more sophisticated shredded-wheat Triscuit. When I first met my wife, she introduced me to Kellogg’s buttery Club Crackers. Each of these products is a little different (and today we prefer healthier versions of all three). But I think most would agree, there’s nothing quite like the taste of a graham cracker.

As I put graham crackers under the spotlight today I wonder what comes to your mind first.  For me, it’s two things.  First, I’m taken back to childhood mornings at Sunday school, where the preferred snack was honey graham crackers and pineapple juice.  I can’t think of another time or place where I ever had that combination of foods.  Maybe the sugar overload was a strategy to keep us awake during the Bible stories?  Second, I endlessly debate whether a graham is a cracker or a cookie.  If you’re at all familiar with the ingredients, grahams lean towards “cookie”.  They’re called a cracker, they look like a cracker, but nine out of ten stores stock them in the cookie aisle.

Graham cracker or “graham cookie”?

It’s appropriate my first memory of graham crackers is at church.  They’re named after Sylvester Graham, a nineteenth-century preacher whose constant message was temperance.  In Graham’s time, temperance was a movement against the consumption of alcoholic beverages, but also encouraged what may have been the first vegetarian diet.  Wheat was its cornerstone, and wheat (flour) is the primary ingredient in graham crackers.  To be clear, Sylvester didn’t invent the graham cracker (we’re not sure who did) but his preaching inspired its name.

“Blackstrap” molasses

The sweet ingredient in graham crackers used to be molasses, one of my favorite items in the pantry.  Inevitably, molasses gave way to processed sugar.  But as I discovered recently, honey is a key ingredient in today’s best-tasting grahams.

For you, maybe graham crackers taste best in s’mores (which I wrote about in Toasty of the Town), or the crust of a cheesecake, or even Moon Pies for you baby boomers.  But for me, grahams taste best all by themselves.  They play like a “cheat” to the more sugary options out there, and I can pretend I’m just snacking on a “cracker”.

I keep a stash of grahams in my office drawer to satisfy my occasional sweet tooth.  I only need a couple of the 2″x 5″s and I’m back on track.  The other day however, I pulled open the drawer to nothing but crumbs.  Horrors!  Grahams have been my go-to since the beginning of Lent because I’ve given up chocolate and “sweets”.  So I quickly added them to my store list and vowed to shop later in the day.

But as so often has been the case during the pandemic, I immediately paused and thought, “Wait a minute. Why buy graham crackers?  Maybe I can make them from scratch?

Here then, I present what is the best graham cracker recipe I’ve ever tried.  (Okay, it’s the only recipe I’ve ever tried but it doesn’t matter; I don’t need another one.)  Gemma’s Bigger Bolder Baking takes grahams to a way higher rung on the cookie ladder (including a helpful video if you’re baking-challenged like me).  I’ve eaten a million Honey-Maids yet it took me sixty years to realize grahams can be SO… MUCH… BETTER.  Why?  Because these contain a lot more of the good stuff and a lot less of the nasty chemical flavorings and preservatives.

You should expect these homemade grahams to taste better when you see the ingredients.  The ratio of flour to brown sugar is 2:1 (emphasis on the “1”).  Now add another 1/3 cup of honey.  That’s a lot of “sweet” for a cracker, er, cookie that looks like a thin cardboard rectangle.  But I’m talking delicious with a capital “D”.  Think chewy instead of crunchy, with a rich “graham” flavor lingering much longer than store brands.  They’re almost too good to be called a graham.

My grahams

Okay, let’s close the box on graham crackers with a quick review:

  1. They were invented as an alternative to unfavorable indulgences.
  2. They’re a cookie by definition but a cracker by name.
  3. They make you want to try Moon Pies (if you haven’t already).
  4. They satisfy a craving for sweets without being “a sweet” (disregard earlier comment about brown sugar and honey).
  5. They are unquestionably better made from scratch than store-bought.
Yum!

If I haven’t sold you on how much better the humble graham cracker can be, consider this.  They’re simple to make and you already have all of the ingredients you need.  So, what are you waiting for?  Go bake some crackers, Graham!

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

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #10

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

We worked entirely underneath the piano today, with the instrument flipped onto its back. Bag #10 – of 21 bags of pieces – contained an intimidating pile of tiny parts. I didn’t realize what I was even building until somewhat magically, pedals, legs, and castors appeared before my eyes.  That’s right folks, this baby-baby grand now rolls.

I also took a deep breath and tackled the “loose piece” I’ve mentioned with the last two builds.  Sparing you the heart-stopping details, let’s just admit I installed a tiny piece ninety degrees wrong.  Correcting meant removing all the piano strings and working in a deep, dark corner, with the assistance of an X-Acto knife, eyeglass screwdriver, and pliers.  Like I’ve said before, don’t get any part of this performance wrong.  It’ll cost you later. Dearly.

Elevated!

Running Build Time: 8.1 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Satie’s Gymnopidies 1, 2, and 3 (a deliberate choice to soothe me while I repositioned the loose piece). Leftover pieces: 3

Conductor’s Note: The tiny pedal to the right is called the “damper”. It’s used to sustain the notes you play after you take your hands off the keys.  Remarkably, the Lego Grand Piano has the same mechanical action you’d find with this pedal in a real piano.  Sit down at a keyboard some time, press the right pedal with your foot, and (with the piano lid raised) you’ll see just how many moving parts it takes to sustain notes.  You’ll find those same moving parts in the Lego Grand Piano.

Five High

Last Thursday, my brothers and I took an overnight train from Northern California to Northern Oregon as part of an every-other-year reunion. The trip, which would take eleven hours if you drove from San Jose to Portland instead, took twice that long on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. But the meals come with the ride and everyone gets a bed and a hot shower, so it’s a cozy way to watch the world go by. In hindsight, for all the time sitting and staring out the window, we could’ve been stacking M&M’s. Just five of the colorful candies one atop the other would’ve landed my brothers and me in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  Buy a bag of plain M&M’s (you’ll have zero chance with the peanut variety), count out five, and let the stacking commence.  You’ll get to a tower of two quickly.  You’ll get three one atop the other with time and patience.  But that’s the proverbial end of the line, my friends.  You won’t make it to four.  If you did, you’d join the two co-holders of the former world record.  Last January, Will Cutbill, a twenty-something British engineer, pushed the record to a stack of five.

The “original” M&M’s

The history of M&M’s suggests it’s only appropriate a Brit broke the stacking record.  M&M’s were copied (and somehow uniquely patented) from British-made Smarties, the first candy where a hard-shelled coating protected the chocolate inside from melting.  Here’s another interesting M&M’s factoid.  The first “M” is for Forrest Mars, Sr., the founder of the Mars candy company.  The second “M”?  Bruce Murrie, the son of the president of Hershey’s Chocolate.  No, the companies didn’t join forces to create M&M’s.  During the wartime years of the 1940’s Hershey had a monopoly on rationed chocolate so Mars was forced to use them as their supplier.  Today, M&M’s have evolved to a “fully Mars” product.

It’s safe to say Will Cutbill wouldn’t have broken the M&M’s stacking record without the pandemic.  He was in the middle of the UK’s third lockdown earlier this year when he pondered a lifelong dream of getting into the Guinness book.  He also had a bag of M&M’s in his hand at the time.  Practice led to more practice, and as you’ll see in the video here, the record-breaking moment came as a happy, unexpected surprise.

Marawa Ibrahim – Most hula hoops spun simultaneously

Maybe you’re thinking what I’m thinking.  Why can’t one of us become a world record holder as well?  As I type, I’m munching on Triscuit wheat crackers.  I just built a stack of five on my desk.  What if I went to the store and bought several more boxes, then stacked all those crackers to the ceiling of my double-height living room?  Wouldn’t I and my Triscuits join the Guinness book as well?

Eliud Kipchoge – Fastest marathon

Not so fast, record-setting wannabes.  As you should expect, Guinness has a tried-and-true process, not only to establish world records but to decide if they’re worth pursuing.  You must submit a formal application (even if attempting to break an existing world record).  Your attempt must be deemed ethical (ex. no killing of animals).  Your attempt mustn’t be harmful to the participant (ex. excessive consumption of alcohol).  Your record must be deemed environmentally friendly.  Finally, Guinness must approve the process by which your record will be adjudicated (which in Cutbill’s case included a video instead of an in-person judge). Oh, and unless you’re willing to contribute several thousand dollars to speed things up, plan on a year or more to complete the process.

Mya-Rose Craig – Most northerly climate protest

Now you know why the Guinness book hasn’t grown to a ridiculous number of pages and entries.  The content is regularly reviewed against cultural, societal, and environmental standards.  Records even slightly in question are removed.  For example, Guinness used to list the “largest fish on record” of a given species.  Then people started overfeeding fish just to break the record.  Guinness realized this kind of manipulation was not only cruel but potentially a source of litigation, so they removed the entries.

This quick dive into the pool of Guinness World Records has me thinking my brothers and I made the right choice in not challenging the M&M’s stacking record.  We’d be better off drinking a Guinness than breaking one of their world records (yes, the beer and the book come from the same family).  Besides, how would we stack five M&M’s on a rocking, rolling passenger train anyway?  Nope, not interested in breaking world records today.  But if you don’t mind, I’ll get back to stacking my Triscuits now.

Some content sourced from CNN Business video, “Good luck breaking this deceptively tough world record”, the Guinness World Records website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.