#928 Eating those foods you loved when you were a little kid

Grab a spoon and turn on Saved By The Bell

The flood of memories that come shooting back when you eat food you loved as a kid is a giant, neuron-splattering head rush.

You get transported back to the kitchen you grew up in and can practically see the avocado-green stove, three-hundred pound microwave, and plastic alphabet magnets covering the fridge.

So come on, let’s all go back together now:

Mac N’ Cheese N’ Chopped Up Hot Dogs. Call it Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, call it Kraft Dinner, call it whatever you want. But after you whip up a box of it, nothing’s better than chopping up some hot dogs to go in it. Optional here are the massive squirts of ketchup. Not optional is eating the whole box.

Thank goodness for canned pastaCanned pasta. Whether your fancy is Chef Boyardee’s Mini-Bites, Beef Ravioli, or the tangy ketchupy sweetness that comes from a soupy bowl of Spaghetti-Os, these piles of of sodium and meatpaste definitely tickle the memory bone.

Squished up balls of fresh bread. This one involves taking a piece of really soft, really fresh bread, ripping off all the crusts, and then rolling it into a tight, white ball of dense deliciousness. Feel free to hide a wedge of butter in the core there, too.

Tang. The beautiful thing about Tang is that as you get older, you can just water it down a bit if you can’t handle the sweetness anymore. Or you can do the opposite and have yourself a glass of Super Tang.

Melted Cheese. This is one that my sister and I used to love. We would put a piece of bread on a plate, slice up five thin slices of cheese, and then nuke it for 30 seconds. We had it down to an exact science. Once in a while things would get a little crazy and we’d put some tomato sauce on it, but mostly just Melted Cheese. A perfect name for a perfect after-school snack.

Liquid antibiotics. Okay, it’s not really a food, but how about that banana penicillin you used to get? You can apparently still ask for it as an adult, but you might need to take eight teaspoons three times a day.

Ritz can take the crackers, but don't mess with the cheese

Those Cheese Spread Cracker Kits with the Red Plastic Stick. Who else always ran out of cheese way before they ran out of cracker?

Your favorite sandwich. Maybe today you’re on a health kick, but remember when your favorite sandwich was bologna and Kraft singles cheese? Or salami and mayo? Or how about that weird-looking macaroni-and-cheese ham? Of course, you might have had your own personal favorite, like my friend Scott who used to eat Ketchup and Mustard sandwiches or my friend Mike who was a fan of the ol’ peanut butter and tomato. Not bad, not bad.

A tasty box of saltLunchables. If you could get past the portion control, you might remember building a decent cracker-cheese-ham pile with these things. Of course, there was the time when they suddenly released a pizza version and totally blew everyone’s mind.

Cooking up deliciousnessMom’s Spaghetti Sauce. Was your mom a Ragu in a pot kind of gal? Or a slow, all-day simmering type of lady? Did she leave the mushrooms chunky, chop them real fine, or leave them out completely? What was her position on onions, on melted cheese on top, on meatballs versus meat sauce? If you grew up with homemade spaghetti sauce, I’m willing to bet it’s still something that tastes amazing today.

Cold hot dogs straight from the fridge. Oh, don’t worry. The worms all died in the factory.

Barely won out over Family Circus cereal or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Cereal

Sugar Cereals. I ate Corn Pops every day for breakfast for nearly a decade and somehow I survived. These days, you can always ‘cut it’ with an adult cereal if it’s too sweet. Throw some plain Cheerios on those Honey Nut Cheerios or some Corn Flakes on those Frosted Flakes. Just don’t tell anybody, old man.

Now, let’s be honest, sometimes the foods you loved as a kid slowly drift away and disappear. Grandma passes on and her secret meatball recipe is buried with her, you move away from the sibling you used to bake your special squares with at Christmas, or the sugar in your sugary cereal suddenly turns into a more profitable high-fructose aspartame syrup.

But that’s why it’s doubly important to treasure those adult glimpses into your childhood tastes. That’s why you gotta love those perfect little loves at first bite. That’s why the memory-jolts from the sugary treats and salty snacks are such amazing little highs. Because even though your stomach may not always thank you for it, your brain surely will.

AWESOME!

Served open-faced for presentation

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#929 Your actual colon

Love your colon

Have you ever run the last leg of the relay?

If you have then you know it’s a stressful experience, because you either make it or break it. I mean, you’re either ahead and it’s up to you to hold the lead, or you’re behind and it’s up to you to make it up. Everyone else is done, so they’re just standing behind you relaxing and catching their breath while you give everything you’ve got to sprint for the finish line. And of course, because you’re last you’re dealing with a sweaty baton, a trampled path, and cold muscles.

It’s not easy.

Well, guess who’s running the last leg of the relay in your body? Guess who’s anchoring the team? Guess who’s picking up the slack? Guess who’s taking the baton for the final leg of race?

Dude, it’s your colon. Or Cole for short.

Now, Cole’s a humble guy. I mean, call him colon, call him large intestine, call him big snakey, call him whatever you want. He doesn’t care. He just shows up to work, all 1.5 meters of him, day after day, week after week, year after year. He punches his timeclock and starts working in the dark, tight recesses of your abdomen from the day you’re born, twisting himself up into all kinds of positions, kicking it into high gear from the get go.

Now, Cole does a lot of work:

  1. He stores and dumps waste. This isn’t a pleasant job, but somebody’s got to do it. This man is the garbage man and the trash can, think about that. He doesn’t get one of the nicer jobs like looking at your food or tasting your food, no, he just stores and dumps it after everybody else has had their way with it. I mean, they’ve done such a number on it that it’s no longer food — it’s called chyme, a partially digested semifluid mass that probably smells like what would come out of a dog if you fed it raw pork, bleach, and hot sauce. Thankfully, Cole’s a real professional.
  2. He gathers water from the waste. I know what you may be thinking. “Doesn’t my esophagus, stomach, and small intestine already do this?” And actually you’re right, that is true. But Cole picks up where they left off. Yes, he smiles backwards at the gang, flashes them a big thumbs-up, then quietly finishes the job when they aren’t looking. What a team player.
  3. He absorbs vitamins. What, you thought he was just a chymebag? Just a water-sucker-upper? No man, he’s also rooting around for vitamins, too. He’s the guy at the dump with an eye on your discarded clothes and furniture, aiming to spot those hidden gems that are useful somewhere else. You know all this talk about reducing, reusing, and recycling? Cole’s been doing that for thousands of years. He practically invented it.

Now, Cole the Colon is a huge player in your body, but you’d never know that from talking to him. If you try he’ll ignore you and you’ll just hear the deep, quiet sound of chyme processing. And that’s sort of the point. He’s always there, always grinding, always working the gears, always helping the younger guys along, and most importantly, always getting the job done. And just try getting him to take a vacation!

So — this one’s for Cole. Pat yourself on the belly today and thank your colon for being a true servant leader, a humble team player, and a bona fide nice guy.

AWESOME!

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#930 Finally getting that tiny stuck piece of popcorn out of your teeth

Don't be fooled by the sunny exterior

You know when you can just feel that popcorn kernel stuck back there in swampy recesses of your mouth and it’s totally infuriating?

Yes, your tongue slides past its smooth surface unsuccessfully, your toothbrush’s flimsy bristles just can’t shake it, and even your fingernail can’t quite unwedge it from the tight molar deathgrip it’s stuck in.

So the fork is dropped and the dessert lays unfinished, the conversation fades to a blurry, distant noise, and the world stops around you as you just keep trying and trying and trying to get that popcorn kernel out. You close your eyes and squint, you tilt your head, you emit a deep-bass “nnnnnnn” noise, as your body directs all available faculties at flushing this thing out. But it just sits there tightly, clogging and gumming up your entire system like a pile of defaulted mortgages.

Then suddenly it falls out.

AWESOME!

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#931 Intergenerational dancing at weddings

Have you ever felt too old or too young on the dance floor?

Maybe you and your husband signed up for a Saturday morning ballroom dancing class and noticed everyone else arriving on a shuttlebus from the old folk’s home. Or maybe you surprised your wife with a romantic date night on your ten-year wedding anniversary and accidentally stumbled into a local college hotspot full of white baseball caps, bead necklaces, and Jello shooters. Or maybe you just find out the hard way that All-Ages usually means All-Under-Agers.

I mean, if you’ve ever found yourself saying “Man, I feel old here,” or “Does anyone else smell Ben-Gay?”, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s not that people of different age groups don’t socialize, it’s just that they don’t often groove to the same beats is all.

I think that’s why wedding dance floors are a real sight.

They’re a breeding ground for that amazing intergenerational dancing that’s just so rare and beautiful to see.

You’ve got grandmas slow-dancing with their five-year-old grandchildren to What A Wonderful World, old men crowd-surfing over a pack of sweaty teenagers, snaking conga lines of all shapes and sizes, and circles forming around anyone who happens to be doing something interesting — whether that’s a father and daughter team waltzing in circles or a slightly inebriated bridesmaid shaking her booty with a ninety-year-old great grandpa in a wheelchair.

Yes, intergenerational dancing is a rare and wonderful thing. It’s a magical moment where boundaries are broken and the thumping power of music sort of sweeps us all together into a tiny little place where everything’s just cast aside in favor of living for the moment.

AWESOME!

 

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#932 Wearing sandals when you definitely should not be wearing sandals

I went to college in a small town that got hit hard by weather extremes.

In the Fall, the summer winds would quickly cool and sharpen, ripping into your cheeks on your way home from class, leaving them red and finely shredded, like you’d just applied blush with sandpaper.

In the Winter, the roads and sidewalks would be covered in piles of wet slush, little bombs of slippery ice-dirt and road salt that would explode onto your pants and shoes and leave nasty stains when they dried.

In the Spring the snow would melt away, leaving soggy grass everywhere. You would see that grass and think it was pretty solid, but your foot would just sink into it, cold little mud bubbles rising around your shoe from all directions and soaking right into your sock. It felt like you were walking on a peat bog covered in smushed worms and last year’s dog poo.

No, it wasn’t pretty.

My roommates and I were left with just two choices:

  1. Try to predict and adjust for the weather. You know, wear lots of layers, carry umbrellas on sunny days, build a collection of waterproof boots, and start using phrases like “bunker in” and “venture out.”
  2. Ignore it completely.

Well, we chose to ignore it. And we faced the consequences, let me tell you.

We got wind burn and had sleet slip down the back of our T-shirts. We would get massive dirt soakers and permanently stretch our socks peeling them off our feet at the front of our door. We got dry legs, we got bone chill, and brother, we got rain hair bad.

And eventually, we got good at ignoring it all.

My roommate Dee was the master of ignoring the weather, the biggest proof being that he wore sandals year round. Wind, snow, rain, it didn’t matter. “The toes need to breathe,” he’d say sternly, “breathe.” And he’d emphasize the point with a sturdy lip and a firm strapping of the Velcro. Then he’d slap on his heavy backpack, give you a wink, and trudge out into a blizzard, navigating ice patches and slush piles like a pro.

Sure, there was the occasional Bad Day that came with being chronically unprepared for Mother Nature’s worst blows, generally involving a dirty-puddle splashing all over your feet from a passing truck or maybe being unable to feel your toes until you put them in the toaster oven for twenty minutes. But we made it through.

And come on, there is something really nice about wearing sandals when you shouldn’t be wearing sandals. It’s liberation from shoe shackles, freedom from the oppressing sock, and a violent rebellion against those frostbite warnings on the weather channel.

People of the world, let’s face it: if we can come together to take down the shoe then really, nothing can stop us.

AWESOME!

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#933 That first big scoop out of a jar of peanut butter

When I peel the top off a new jar of peanut butter I like to pretend I’m a scientist peering through the world’s most powerful telescope, catching Earth’s first glimpse of a new, strange and distant planet. “It’s got a smooth surface,” I exclaim to the lab of giddy professors standing breathlessly beside me. “Yes, it’s a beautiful airless landscape, untouched, undisturbed, and light brown.”

Because seriously, that’s what the top of a jar of peanut butter looks like to me. I almost feel bad thinking about what I’m about to do, because it’s just so perfect, smooth, and dense. But I put some bread in the toaster anyway, grab a spoon from the drawer, and then go right ahead and dig that spoon in there deep, catching a heavy handful of thick PB when I pull up, a loud, wet, satisfying schthlop plopping out of the jar.

It’s a great feeling.

After that, I’m an artist. I can just leave a big, gaping hole right in the middle of the jar, or I can do it all up real fancy and twirl and swirl it around a little, or I can painstakingly carve a moat around the outside of the jar, leaving a perfect, flat island in the middle, becoming more and more unstable with every passing day. The options are unlimited.

Really, I think getting the first dig in a jar of peanut butter is the kitchen equivalent of stabbing a flag into the moon and claiming it as your own. I mean, you mark that peanut butter. You brand it. You add your little stamp and you put it back in the pantry, ready and waiting for the next big schthlop.

AWESOME!

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#934 A sudden jolt of adrenaline

Did you know you have two little yellow, nine-volt-battery-sized adrenal glands in your body, just chilling out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool on top of your kidneys? Someone told me this and I checked it out. Turns out it’s true.

It seems as though your adrenal glands are kind of like those British Royal Guards with the big, black fuzzy hats who stand like statues in front of Buckingham Palace. They just stand there quietly, not doing much really, just enjoying the brown, slippery beach that is your kidneys.

However, if anything startling should happen that requires your attention — like say you’re about to give a speech at a wedding or you hear a twig crack outside your tent or your doorbell rings in the middle of the night — then they leap into action, jumping out of their peaceful slumber to squeeze out a big dose of adrenaline right into your body, pumping you up, and turning you into a primal, warrior-like version of yourself.

When tension runs high and adrenaline is secreted into your body some crazy things can happen — sometimes called the fight-or-flight response:

  • Your heart rate increases. And specifically, your body starts sending blood to all your big muscles and diverts it away from “non-critical” parts of your body, like your brain, immune system, and digestive system. I guess someone figured you could digest the sandwich after you killed the bear.
  • Your pupils dilate and you get tunnel vision. Quite literally, adrenaline also reduces your peripheral vision, which together with your big, wide pupils helps you focus on what lies ahead. You can’t quite see through walls, but if a crow is diving at your eyes you might be able to swat it away better.
  • Your body gets ready to boot it. In addition to the rising heart rate, your body starts turning lots more stuff into sugar, raising your blood sugar level and filling you with energy. You might not even feel pain as easily, so the raspberry bushes that shred your legs when you’re running out of the forest won’t slow you down.

But what’s also great about adrenalin is that, first of all, you don’t have to control it. It just sort of kicks it into high gear when it figures you could use a boost. I think it’s kind of cool knowing that your body will help you out when you need it most. Punch me in the face and suddenly my internal British Royal Guard tosses away his fuzzy, black cap, cracks his neck, and rolls up his sleeves.

And really, isn’t it that little dose of adrenaline that helps you do a better job when you need it most? It’s a natural upper, helping you nail the big speech, ace the final exam, or perhaps flee both of those scenes.

There’s a reason some people become adrenaline junkies. The boost you get from your adrenal glands waking up and getting out of bed is intoxicating. Sure, it fuzzes up your thinking a bit and sends your intestines on sabbatical, but it sure does pump you up. And remember: when something important in your life is about to happen, you can count on your good pal adrenaline to be there, juicing you up, helping you fight the good fight.

AWESOME!

Getting ready to throw down

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#935 Stuffing your face with cookies like Cookie Monster

It sure is a sign of gluttonous satisfaction when you find yourself home alone, slouching on the couch in front of the TV with your eyes half open, a steady trail of cookie crumbs dripping from your mouth onto your shirt and pants, chocolate smears on your lips and fingers, and the telltale cookie package laying beside you, the plastic tray peeled all the way out of the bag, entire rows laying vacant except for a bit of brown dust and maybe a rogue chocolate chip or two.

Yes, it’s satisfying all right, because many delicious cookies were eaten, without witnesses, in a very quick and steady stream, by shoving them into your mouth, chewing a few times, and then swallowing quickly to make room for the next one. You’re a cookie monster and you love it.

Eating cookies like Cookie Monster is great because, more than anything, it represents freedom. Yes, free thought takes you to the pantry, free will makes you grab that cookie package and sit down on the couch, and free Wonder Years reruns keep you company while you sit down and enjoy. You’re the Executive Chef in your personal Dessert Kitchen here. Just tell me that’s not liberating.

I mean, sure, we all know it’s not the greatest idea to eat a pile of cookies just before bed, but that’s not the point. The point is: you can do it. Yes, you’ve come a long way from the portion-controlled cookie snacks you got when you were a kid, that maybe two or three cookies in a small plate with a tall glass of milk that just whet your appetite for more. Now it’s all you all the time, baby. Nobody is going to stop you except you. You can eat a whole row. You can eat two whole rows. You can plough them in there. You can savor them slowly. The point is, it’s such a great feeling to scarf cookies without abandon like Cookie Monster.

Truly, he was the role model for us all.

AWESOME!

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#936 Nailing that parallel-parking attempt on the first try

Have you ever been driving down a busy, two-lane road with cars parallel-parked on both sides and a long line of people driving in front of you and behind you? I have, and I tell you: it’s a terrible feeling.

Most of the time I’d rather drive right on by a plum parking spot rather than face The Audience, the group of cars driving behind me and strangers walking beside me that stop to briefly witness the awkward reality show known as Anyone Else’s Parallel Parking Attempt.

Yeah, my stomach gets knotted up and I lose confidence in my abilities to pull it off. I know the people behind me aren’t just watching me, either. No, they’re judging me too — since the quality of my parking has a direct effect on the length of their drive. If I suck, they wait, and they know it. They stare at me coldly, locking glances tightly with mine through the rear windshield, just daring me to pull it off.

Then finally I give it a go, in one of two ways:

  1. The Driving School Method. This is where you really don’t pay much attention to your car or the space you have to fit into. You just follow the book — pull up beside the car in front of the spot, put it in reverse and spin the wheel until you’re forty-five degrees out into the intersection, and then keep backing up while quickly spinning the wheel the other way really fast. If all went well, you should end up right in the spot perfectly. Then again, this method is equivalent to building an IKEA bookshelf using the instructions only, without pausing to evaluate your work throughout the process. You might just finish and then stare up at the crooked, unbalanced pile of plywood you just nailed together, and wonder what went wrong.
  2. The Advanced Spatial Skills Method. There’s no rhyme or reason to this one. You don’t do anything, except size up the space, and then fiddle and turn your wheel until you fit in. You’re just really good at aiming a big piece of metal into a small square hole, really. You’ll go in any which way you can and then it’s presto, finished, simple as that. People who can do this amaze me, because I cannot do this.

No, for me it’s the Book Method all the way. I have no choice. Of course, I obviously do something wrong, since I usually end up a good three feet away from the curb. Then I’m forced to try frantically to “drive in” to the spot with an awkward twelve-point turn, failing to properly understand the impossibility of this maneuver each time. Eventually I just give up and speed off, fleeing the scene and distancing myself from this horrible embarrassment as quickly as possible.

I guess that’s what makes it so great when you really do nail that parallel-parking job on the first try. When you pop into the spot perfectly and tightly — like a battery into a remote control — you get a huge high, a smile reveals itself on your face, and there’s an extra spring in your step. Yeah, there’s really nothing quite like it. The other cars behind you zoom ahead, happy to keep moving, but a little upset you got the spot and they didn’t. And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, an old guy will stumble out of the nearby restaurant patio he was watching you from, extend his hand, and say “Sonny, now that was impressive.”

AWESOME!

Get in there...

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#937 The smell of fresh rain on a hot sidewalk

Hot fumes coming at'cha

There’s just something about the smell of rain on a hot sidewalk. It’s sort of like the rain cleans the air — completely hammering all the dirt and grime particles down to the ground and releasing some hot, baked-in chemicals from the pavement. It smells best if it hasn’t rained in a while and the sidewalk is scalding hot — then it sort of sizzles and steams up into a big, hot, intoxicating whiff.

AWESOME!\

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