A solution to arguing on Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving is upon us. A day of food, family, and friends. A day of giving thanks for all our good fortune.  

And with it, the prospect of strife at the dinner table.

Democrats vs. Republicans
Rex Sox fans vs. Yankees fans 
Carnivores vs. vegans
Beatles vs. Stones
Cat people vs. dog people
Mouth breathers vs. nose breathers

These feuds can sometimes ruin an otherwise festive holiday. I've witnessed a few of these turkey day battles in my time, and I’ve participated in a few as well. 

In fact, I’ve angered the fathers of girlfriends on Thanksgiving to the point shouting at least three times in my life.

I once encouraged folks around the table to pass on food they don’t like while the father - a self-proclaimed chef - watched in horror at the rebellion that I’d stirred.

Eventually he and I had words.

I once repeatedly left the room every time the father of a girlfriend made a racially insensitive remark. That father eventually realized what I was doing and had words with me.

I was also once, (unbeknownst to me) fed my pet rabbit on Thanksgiving, which eventually caused a bit of a row.

I’ve also argued economics during the height of the Great Recession with family members who didn’t know a credit default swap from a toxic asset, debated the future of the NFL with my father-in-law, and argued the stupidity of trickle-down economics with my uncle when I was about fourteen years-old.

I drew a political cartoon that year to make my point, and decades later, my aunt sent me that cartoon. She had saved it for me.

None of these incidents made for a good Thanksgiving. I’m a guy who loves to argue, but not on Thanksgiving. Today is the last day that anyone should be verbally sparring, and yet we do.

When you see an argument erupting this year or you feel like the family is on the verge of an argument, here is my suggestion:

Tell a story.

Rather than jumping into the fray with disagreement and debate, try to tell a story instead. Return civility and joy to the table by capturing the imagination of your friends and family with an entertaining return to the past. Rise above the ruckus with something like:

"Guess what happened to me last week!"

"I attended quite the birthday party a few months ago!"

"Do you remember the Christmas when the raccoon broke into the house and tore open a bunch of the Christmas presents?"

That last one really happened. I had a pet raccoon as a kid. He managed to sneak into the house on Christmas Eve.

I should tell that story someday. 

Maybe I'll tell it at the Thanksgiving Day table this year.

Anything is better than a fight.

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Behold: The inventor of the chocolate chip cookie

I don’t like it when people of import are forgotten by history.

William Dawes, for example, made the exact same ride as Paul Revere on that fateful night. Took the same risks and accomplished the same goal, but because William Wadsworth Longfellow failed to mention Dawes in his famous poem, Americans do not know his name.

I hate that.

This is why I’m also annoyed that Ruth Wakefield’s name is not known by every American from sea to shining sea.

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Ruth Wakefield is the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie. Something that has brought joy to almost every American at some point in their life. Something that I thought had existed for all time was actually invented by a woman known for her baking and cooking skills.

Wakefield was brainstorming about cookie dough while on vacation in Egypt when she first came up with a new recipe, a variation on another popular treat called Butter Drop Do pecan icebox cookies.

Her original plan was to have involved melting squares of unsweetened chocolate and adding it to the blond batter. But the only chocolate she had available at the time was a Nestlé semisweet bar, and she was too rushed to melt it.

Wielding an ice pick, she chopped the bar into pea-size bits and dribbled them into the dough. Instead of melting into the dough to produce an all-chocolate cookie, the bits remained chunky as they baked.

Thus the chocolate chip cookie was born.

Wakefield and her husband owned a travelers inn Whitman, MA. That establishment, the Toll House Inn on Bedford Street (about a mile from where I once shared a bedroom with a goat) became a destination, famous for Wakefield’s recipes, which she eventually included in a cookbook, “Ruth Wakefield’s Tried and True Recipes” that she published in 1931.

Her chocolate chip cookie recipe first appeared in a later 1930s edition of the book.

Her Toll House cookie recipe was later reprinted in The Boston Herald-Traveler, and Wakefield was featured on “Famous Foods From Famous Eating Places,” the radio program hosted by Marjorie Husted (who was known as Betty Crocker).

In 1939, Wakefield sold Nestlé the rights to reproduce her recipe on its packages for $1 and was hired to consult on recipes for the company, which was said to have provided her free chocolate for life.

Soon afterwards, the chocolate chip cookie recipe spread beyond the confines of Massachusetts, thanks in part to World War II soldiers sharing their cookies from care packages with fellow soldiers from around the country.

Today you would be hard pressed to find a single American who has not enjoyed a chocolate chip cookie at some point in their life.

I know it’s only a cookie, but when something interacts with so much of American culture in such a positive way, and we know the name of the American who invented the thing, we should make a better effort to celebrate her and her accomplishment.

Ruth Wakefield, inventor of the chocolate chip cookie: A true American hero.

I don’t drink. For my health and other good reasons.

Bad news for all you non-teetotalers:

There's no amount of liquor, wine or beer that is safe for your overall health, according to a new analysis of 2016 global alcohol consumption and disease risk.

Alcohol was the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in men and women between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide in 2016, accounting for nearly one in 10 deaths, according to the study, published in the journal The Lancet.

Those deaths include alcohol-related cancer and cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, intentional injury such as violence and self-harm, and traffic accidents and other unintentional injuries such as drowning and fires.

For someone who drinks on only the rarest of occasions, this was great news. Not that I wish ill will upon all my alcohol-drinking friends, but validation of your chosen lifestyle is always appreciated.

If only the same thing could be found to be true about vegetables.

Though it’s great to hear that avoiding alcohol might be good for my health, here’s another reason why I’m glad I almost never drink:

Last week I was the first responder to a serious vehicular accident. I was sitting in my car, waiting in line at a traffic light in front of a McDonald’s restaurant. In addition to several other cars waiting for the light, there was a large truck, and then a motorcycle, and then me, lined up in a row, waiting for the light to change.

The motorcycle was partially blocking the entrance to the McDonald’s parking lot.

A car traveling in the opposite direction turned left in order to enter the McDonald’s parking lot and apparently failed to see the motorcycle between the truck and me. As a result, the car plowed right into the motorcycle, throwing the rider - who wasn’t wearing a helmet - onto the pavement and under his bike.

It was not good.

The driver of the car veered right, nearly hitting my car before screeching to a halt, but she did not exit her vehicle. Being the one closest to the accident and the only real witness, I put my car into park and jumped out, running to the man. His head, face, and hands were bloody, and he was in an enormous amount of pain. His leg was probably broken, and there were likely other injuries as well.

It was a bad scene.

I managed to get him out from under his bike when an off-duty police officer who was inside the McDonald’s appeared and immediately took charge of the scene. I assisted for a bit, holding a tee shirt over the man’s head wound, but the paramedics and police were on the scene in just a couple minutes, moving me away and thanking me for my assistance.

I gave a brief statement to a police officer about the accident and then returned to me car, blood still on my hands and forearms.

It was a scary scene, capable of traumatizing anyone, but being a sufferer of PTSD, I knew that it was going to create problems for me for quite a while.

I could already feel it in my bones.

When I told my friend, Shep, about the accident the next day, the first thing he said was, “That’s not good for yourPTSD. Huh?”

It’s good to have friends who understand you so well.

Elysha and the kids were gone for the weekend, which meant that I would be home alone that night and the next, making things even more difficult.

After arriving home and showering off the man’s blood, I suddenly and surprisingly found myself wanting to drink. For the first time in well over a decade, I had the genuine urge to consume alcohol. Rather than dealing with what I had just witnessed and all that it had stirred up inside me, my sudden desire was to numb the pain with alcohol.

I think the prospect of being alone for the next 48 hours had a lot to do with it.

But as I said, I don’t drink. Except for the occasional champagne toast, I rarely consume alcohol anymore. So even though I suddenly found myself wanting to drink, the fact that I’m not really a drinker made this desire to drink surprising, odd, and inexplicable but not realistic.

It’s just not a thing I do.

My sudden desire to drink probably wasn’t very different than the person who has a tough day at work and goes home for a glass or two of wine. Or the person who receives some bad news and ends up at the bar, downing a few beers with friends. Or the person who attends happy hour on a Friday as a means of blowing off a little steam.

All perfectly normal.

My desire was to avoid confronting the issues that the accident has caused within me. I didn’t want to think about the man, his blood, his screams, and all the things from my past that the accident had unearthed. While my desire to drink made some sense, alcohol would’ve only delayed my processing of these issues.

So instead, I dealt with my issues in the way I have been taught. And yes, I suffered some nightmares. I also found myself locking doors in the middle of the day. I had difficulty moving from room to room in my house that night. The ringing of the phone startled the hell out of me.

I was more than on edge for a few days.

But I dealt with it. I processed it and moved on. I was able to push aside any desire to relax with a couple drinks (or more) because I don’t drink.

This isn’t an indictment on people who do drink. Most of my friends drink to some degree.

Most of my friends don’t also suffer from PTSD.

But I’ve also always been someone who has avoided potential problems like these whenever possible. I’ve never used an illegal drug in my entire life for the same reason. Though I had many, many opportunities to experiment with drugs throughout the years, I always said no, fully aware of the potential devastation that drugs can cause.

Many people began their drug addiction through the desire to simply experiment. I wasn’t ever going to run that risk.

While I’m not opposed to the legalization of marijuana and have no issue with anyone who wants to use it recreationally, I don’t see myself ever using it. Why run the risk of finding myself wanting or needing it at some point?

When my doctor proposed that I go on a cholesterol-lowering medication because my cholesterol was slightly elevated, I opted to change my diet instead. I ate oatmeal for lunch for an entire year and lowered my cholesterol by 50 points. I didn’t want to become dependent on a medication that was avoidable with a change in behavior and a hell of a lot of fiber.

So it’s good news that my avoidance of alcohol might turn out to be a very healthy choice, but for me, it’s always been more about the freedom from ever wanting or needing to drink.

I’ve never wanted to be the person who needs a glass of wine to relax. Or a few beers to have a good time.

Or something to numb the pain of trauma.

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I can smell mustard when other people cannot, and it's probably saved my life.

I'm allergic to mustard. When I eat mustard, my skin becomes inflamed, I get sick to my stomach, and enter the early stages of anaphylactic shock. 

I've been in anaphylactic shock thanks to my bee allergy before, so I'm a bit of an expert on the matter. 

Thankfully, I've never experienced anything close to anaphylactic shock due to mustard because I am so attuned to the presence of mustard that I've never eaten it in great quantities. 

A couple years ago, Elysha served me some barbecue chicken. I took one bite and instantly knew that there was mustard in the barbecue sauce. Though she could not taste the mustard at all, I knew instantaneously. When she check the label, she saw that, sure enough, it contained mustard.

Yesterday, at the Patriots tailgate, my buddy, Tony, opened the ziplock bag that the steak had been marinating it overnight. I was sitting about six feet away, but as soon as the bag was opened, I asked if the marinade had mustard in it. No one sitting around me, including Tony, could smell any mustard, but I could. 

Tony said no. There wasn't any mustard. In fact, I'd eaten that same marinade before. 

"Okay," I said. "The smell must be coming from somewhere else. But I definitely smell mustard."

Once again, no one smelled a thing. 

Then Tony's wife said, "Wait, we used a new barbecue sauce this time as a part of the marinade."

Sure enough, that barbecue sauce contains mustard. 

Our bodies are amazing machines. I'm able to smell mustard when no one else can, and it's probably saved my life on more than one occasion.  

My friend, Tom, doubted my mustard allergy years ago. It's admitted an odd one, but still, don't doubt a man when he says a food makes him ill. Then we were at lunch one day, and I was served a slider with mustard after I had asked them to hold the mustard. I took a large bite, sensed the mustard immediately, spit it out on my plate, and still had a reaction. 

I love "I told you so" moments, but not when they come at my expense.

Elysha recently purchased the first food item that I've ever seen that acknowledges mustard as a potential allergen and sent me a photo, knowing how much I would appreciate it. Having never met another person allergic to mustard, and knowing how often people are surprised and even disbelieving of my allergy, it was nice to see. 

Perhaps I'm not alone after all. 

We don't need another ice cream flavor. Especially mayonnaise-flavored ice cream.

Simplicity. I prize it above almost all other things.

Live an uncomplicated life, and you'll have more time for the important things. For this reason, I try to limit my choices whenever possible so that my time and energy can be devoted to other, more important matters.

I wear the same thing onstage whenever I perform.

I wear the same pair of sneakers every single day.

I eat the same breakfast and almost the same lunch every day. 

I shop in the same grocery store every time. 

The same holds true for ice cream. I've identified six kinds of ice cream that I like a lot:

Chocolate. Strawberry. Cookie dough. Mint chocolate chip. Ben & Jerry's Karamel Sutra Core and Strawberry Cheesecake. 

I'm sure there are other delicious flavors in the world (and I've even tasted some of them), but these six are delicious. Why risk ruining a visit to the ice cream shop by trying a less-than-ideal flavor?

I made this mistake this summer, deciding to give a shop's fat free, sugar free option a try. I tasted a tiny spoonful and was surprised to discover how good it was, so I ordered a whole scoop on a cone. 

Turns out it was only good in tiny amounts. I lamented my decision for the entire visit.

Which brings me to the latest flavor of ice cream to come out of a Scottish ice cream shop:

Mayonnaise-flavored ice cream

Yes, it's true that alongside Ranch dressing and pickles, mayonnaise is my least favorite substance on earth.

And yes, it's true that just about everyone on the planet agrees that this is a vile and disgusting decision on the part of the ice cream shop.  

But even if all of that wasn't true, did we really need another flavor?

A couple summers ago, Elysha took me to a Momofuku, a shop that sells ice cream that tastes like the milk at the bottom of a sugary cereal bowl. 

I hated it. 

As a kid, I loved slurping up the last bit of sugary milk from the bottom of the bowl, but cereal milk atop an ice cream cone?

No thank you. Too damn sweet and not how and where I want my cereal milk to reside. 

Someone recently told me about bacon-flavored ice cream, assuring me that it's delicious. "You'd love it!"

Maybe I would. I love bacon, so maybe bacon-flavored ice cream is delicious, but I don't need bacon-flavored ice cream in my life. I don't need it to exist. We don't need it to exist. Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors. Ben & Jerry's has more than 60 flavors. Carvel has two dozen. Blue Bell has 66 flavors. 

If the ice cream industry has resorted to bacon and mayonnaise, two products normally found on a BLT, something is wrong. We've reached the limit of our ice cream flavors. We've reached peak flavor. 

We have enough choices already.

Yes, it's true that on occasion, I will try a sample of a new flavor, and on a very rare occasion, I will order that flavor, but it's almost always a mistake. It's hard to beat chocolate or strawberry or cookie dough. Mint chocolate chip always kicks ass. If I love these flavors, why dabble with uncertainty. Why add unnecessary choice to my life? Why risk ice cream disappointment?  

My son, Charlie, almost always orders vanilla when we go for ice cream, which has been a lot this summer with our family's ice cream adventures. With every possible flavor available to him, he chooses vanilla because he likes it. Every time. 

He gets it. Simplicity. Vanilla is a solid flavor. Hard to beat. 

And infinitely better than mayonnaise-flavored ice cream. 

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Taco Bell vs. Ben & Jerries vanilla ice cream: It's not even close

My friend was recently teasing her husband for his love of Taco Bell. The gist of the teasing was this:

Taco Bell's food is bad for you. You shouldn't eat it. 

I'm not a fan of the elevation and denigration of certain foods, for many reasons, but here's one reasons that annoys me most of all:

So much of what we think about food isn't dictated by the quality or even the taste of food but instead by cultural and familial norms, childhood indoctrination, preconceived notions, the media, and more.

The classic example of this is lobster. Back when lobster was so plentiful that catching one was simple and the cost of lobster was low, Americans despised lobster. In fact, servants' contracts often stipulated that lobster could only be served once per week. 

Lobster was considered a trash fish. 

Later, when lobster became more difficult to catch due to overfishing and costs skyrocketed, Americans decided that lobster was delicious. Suddenly a food that servants refused to eat became a delicacy. 

Is lobster objectively delicious? Maybe, but if it really was tasty, why did Americans initially despise the food? And why do most people dip their lobster in butter before eating? Is there any other food that must first be entirely coated in butter? Can any food be objectively delicious if the vast majority of people who eat it must first submerge it in liquified fat?

It's at least worth a bit of skepticism, yet tell a lobster fan that their appreciation for the food might not have a lot to do with the actual taste and they will reject that possibility with the fire of a thousand suns.   

The same holds true for wine. In study after study, economists have shown that even the most sophisticated of wine connoisseurs cannot reliably differentiate between a $150 bottle of wine and a $15 bottle of wine in double blind taste tests. 

We should all be drinking $15 wine. If the experts can't tell the difference, we certainly cannot. Yet tell a wine snob about those economists and their studies, and they reject those ideas as rubbish and claim that they can absolutely tell the difference between cheaper and expensive wine.  

Americans used to hate tomatoes. Why? No one grew tomatoes in America, so when they first arrived, people found them to be inedible. 

It's predicted that our great grandchildren will be eating insects like we eat chicken, but most of us cannot fathom getting most of our protein from beetles. But it's likely that Americans of the future will look back on us and wonder why we had such an aversion to insects. 

We have to at least acknowledge that what we think about food is suspect. That taste is only one of several factors, and that preconceived notions, cultural norms, family history, the media, and what we want to be true influence the way we feel about food enormously.

What you think about a certain food item and the reality of that food item are often two entirely different things.  

Here is what I told my friend when I heard her denigrating her husband's love for Taco Bell:

The most popular item at Taco Bell, the Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos, has fewer calories, less fat, less sugar, more protein, and less cholesterol than a single scoop of Ben & Jerry's vanilla ice cream.

A SINGLE SCOOP OF VANILLA.

In fact, it's not even close. Here are the nutrition facts of the two items side by side. Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos on the left. Ben and Jerry's vanilla on the right. 

Not even close.

Yet Ben & Jerry's has a sterling reputation and Taco Bell does not.

A single scoop of vanilla ice cream on a summer day sounds lovely. An excellent choice. A measured choice. It's not a hot fudge sundae or a scoop filled with chocolate chip or cookie dough or a caramel swirl. It's just plain vanilla. 

Hell, it's only one scoop. 

But if you're on your way to purchasing a quart of Ben & Jerry's and your spouse calls and says, "Instead of ice cream tonight, I want a Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco. Can you grab one on the way home?" you might think your spouse is crazy. You might think that this choice is far less healthy than a single scoop of vanilla ice cream.  

In fact, Elysha and I had recently joined my friend and her husband for ice cream at one of these farms-turned-ice cream shack. There was no talk about the healthiness of the ice cream we were eating. No denigration of the calorie and fat-ladened food that we were all ingesting. In the light of a late summer day, surrounded by a barn, a silo, grass, rocks, and sky, that ice cream seemed heavenly.

Can you imagine what might have been said had I suggested we go to Taco Bell instead?

Can you imagine what might have been said at that picnic table had I asked if my cone of cookie dough ice cream was healthier than Taco Bell's Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos?

Am I saying that Taco Bell's Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos are a healthier choice than a single scoop of Ben and Jerry's ice cream?

No. There's a lot more to food than a nutritional label. What are the ingredients? Where were they sourced? Under what conditions was the food prepared?

What I'm saying is that Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos might be a healthier choice, and if it's not, it's a hell of a lot closer than most people would suspect. 

I'm saying that when it comes to food, the truth is often a lot more complicated than we think. What our eyes, noses, and taste buds tell us is rarely the whole truth. What common sense tells us is sometimes nonsensical. 

Perhaps a spouse's love for Taco Bell might actually be a healthier, tastier, cheaper alternative to something that you perceived as healthier and better. 

If you can at least acknowledge that your love for lobster and expensive wine might not be entirely based upon taste and that Taco Bell might be a healthier choice than vanilla ice cream, then you might also be a person who is less likely to denigrate a good choice and more open to looking at a nutrition label, asking a few questions, and entertaining the idea that what we think about food is a lot more complicated than we think.

Devil lady

I stopped at McDonald's while I was in Michigan to get myself breakfast each morning before heading off to record the audio version of Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling

It turns out that my standard McDonald's breakfast in Michigan amounts to $.6.66.

The woman who took my order saw the price and said, "Oh, I hate when that number comes up across my register."

I smiled, knowing that 666, the supposed number of the beast from Revelations, is a questionable interpretation of the number at best. Also, I don't think that God or the Devil would care if my combination of sandwich, hash brown, and drink amounted to that number.

The next day, I returned to the McDonald's. The same woman was manning the same cash register. I placed the same order, and once again, $6.66 appeared on the register.

"Were you here yesterday?" she asked. 

"Yes," I said. 

"You ordered this yesterday," she said. "Didn't you?"

"Yes."

"Why would you do that?" she asked, sounding exasperated. Annoyed, even. "If you know it costs $6.66, why wouldn't you change it a little? Order a smaller drink or an extra hash brown?"

Possible answers flashed before me:

  • I'm not a crazy person.
  • I don't allow Biblical numerology to alter my consumer decisions.
  • I'm not superstitious. 
  • I'm still not crazy. 

Instead, I said, "It's not something I worry about."

"You really should," she said, now visibly annoyed.

I returned to the McDonald's the next day, thrilled about the possibility of bringing $6.66 to her resister (and her life) once again. 

I've never been so excited to order breakfast in my life.

Sadly, she wasn't working. I ordered a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit instead of my usual Egg McMuffin. 

I was working hard. Sitting alone in a recording studio all day. Reading a book that I already knew well. I deserved a biscuit.  

But bringing $6.66 back to that woman's life one more time would've been better. 

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Which hot dog is best?

Summer is rapidly approaching. This means grilling outdoors and eating lots of my second favorite food in the world:

The hot dog.

On one of our earliest dates, Elysha and I went somewhere for hot dogs, and I discovered that Elysha and I had something monumental in common:

We don't like any condiments on our hot dogs. Plain is preferred. 

I remember thinking, "This is it. We were went to be."

I wasn't wrong. 

Last year The New York Times conducted a hot dog taste test, pitting 10 popular brands against one another for hot dog superiority.

I had issues with this article and their taste test in general. Specifically, they did not conduct a blind taste test. Judges knew what they were eating. How can anyone expect to be objective when they know the brand?

Dumb. 

I also had a beef with some of the results. For example, the two winners:

WELLSHIRE FARMS PREMIUM ALL-NATURAL UNCURED BEEF FRANKS, $7.99 FOR 8 “Smoky, herby — is this fancy?” was Melissa’s immediate response. We all loved its levels of garlic and spice.

I've never tried this particular brand of hot dog, but I have to be honest:

I've never wished for a "garlic and spice" flavor on my hot dog. It sounds awful. I'll make a point of trying one this summer, but this sounds like a hot dog that's trying to be something it's not.   

HEBREW NATIONAL KOSHER BEEF FRANKS, $6.29 FOR 7 “Classic,” Sam declared. “The people’s hot dog.”

This may be true, Sam, but it's not an actual assessment of the taste of the hot dog. Instead, it's evidence that you are not engaged in a blind taste test, and that cultural expectation and previous personal preferences have strongly influenced your perception of the hot dog. 

Sam's assessment is also incorrect. 

I like Hebrew National, too, but both Nathan's Famous Skinless Beef Franks and Oscar Mayer's Classic Wieners outsell Hebrew National by a wide margin, and neither is nearly as expensive.

Not exactly "the people's hot dog."  

The New York Times was taste-testing the kind of hot dog that you grill in the backyard, which is fine, but this also left off two of my favorite hot dogs:

The free hot dogs given out at the fire station after the Fourth of July parade in Monterey, MA, where my in-laws live.

There's something about a parade and a free hot dog that can't be beat.

The 7-11 hot dog, much maligned by people who have never tasted one themselves yet insist on mocking, disparaging, and dismissing these hot dogs because it is beyond their mental capacity to imagine that anything cooked in a convenience store could taste good.

This is a failure of imagination. An inability to see beyond their pre-ordained bubble. An unfortunate and regrettable degree of pretentiousness. A heinous prejudice against something they do not know or understand.

If you've tried a 7-11 hot dog and not enjoyed it, that's fine. Odd but fine. But to simply assume it's not good (and outwardly disparage it) is stupid.

For me, the 7-11 hot dog is tasty, convenient, and always there for me.

It's also a hot dog. My second favorite food. It's hard to screw up.  

 

Yes, they are real eggs

I found myself at dinner recently assuring someone for what felt the millionth time that the eggs cooked at McDonald's are in fact real eggs. 

"They actually crack eggs?" she asked. 

"Yes," I said. "They crack the damn eggs." 

"Really? They crack real eggs every morning?"

"Yes."

The question arose because I had been explaining to the woman that every morning I stop by McDonald's for an Egg McMuffin. When she heard this, she looked at me in horror. Possibly disgust.  

Naturally my first question was: "When was the last time you were in a McDonald's?"

Here answer, as I expected, was a billion years ago.

This always astounds me. Kind, generous, thoughtful souls are always so willing and quick to assume and judge when it comes to food. Whether it's fast food or processed food or anything in between, people make rapid determinations about food absent of any facts and experience. 

For example, people assume that fresh vegetables are the best possible form of vegetables, when the truth is that frozen vegetable are just as good for you (and sometimes better for you) than fresh vegetables. 

When I explain this fact to perfectly rationale human beings, they scoff. When I provide scientific evidence of this fact, they refuse to believe. When I show them mountains of research proving my case, they change the subject. 

Fresh food is supposed to be better than frozen food, damn it. End of story. 

Another example: Every day, almost without exception, I eat a bowl of Quaker instant oatmeal for lunch. Colleagues have repeatedly questioned my choice of lunch, the rigid consistency of my lunch, and my decision to eat prepackaged oatmeal as opposed to the fabled steel-cut, homemade variety.

I explain that I eat instant oatmeal on the advice of my doctor, and after one year of eating instant oatmeal almost every day, I lowered my cholesterol 50 points. I went from borderline high cholesterol to fantastic cholesterol, and the only change I made was one bowl of instant oatmeal every day.

Just as my doctor ordered. 

When I asked a nutritionist if I should consider switching to the homemade, all-natural, steel-cut variety, her response was this:

"Only if you prefer the taste and want to spend more time making oatmeal. The instant oatmeal probably has a little more sugar than what you'd make at home, but otherwise it's just as good for you. Oats are oats." 

Yet when a person sees my lunch emerge from a small, brown bag and cooked in a microwave, the assumption is that I'm eating a processed, unhealthy food that would never be found in a good and wholesome place like Whole Foods. And when I explain that my doctor and a nutritionist fully support this decision, and that I've lowered my cholesterol 50 points in the process, they continue to fight.

Food that comes out of little brown bags and cooked in microwaves isn't supposed to be good for you, damn it. End of story.

So back to the Egg McMuffin. I eat one a day. Over the course of ten years spent managing McDonald's restaurants I made tens of thousands of Egg McMuffins. I've cooked so many eggs that I can hold four eggs in my two hands and crack and empty them into a frying pan simultaneously.

Here is what an Egg McMuffin is made of exactly:

One real, honest-to-goodness egg, cracked into a egg ring and poached.
One English muffin, exactly like the kind of English muffin you have in your home.
One slice of American cheese, exactly like the American cheese you purchase at a deli.
One round slice of Canadien bacon.

That's it. All real ingredients. 290 calories in total.

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If I was to serve you a scrambled egg (with a little American cheese mixed in for flavor) alongside an English Muffin and a slice of bacon, you'd accept this as a reasonable breakfast. If I served it to you on a pretty plate with a orange wedge garnish (that you probably wouldn't eat) and a cup of your favorite coffee, you'd think you were in heaven. 

Yet hand that same breakfast through a drive thru window in sandwich form and people can't believe the egg is real. 

Fast food is not real food, damn it. End of story.

I'm not implying that all fast food or processed food is good for you. I'm not saying that eating an Egg McMuffin every morning is the best possible breakfast.

I often add an apple or a banana for that very reason.

What I'm asking is that when it comes to food, we try to assume less. Be less influenced by preconceived notions. Be less susceptible to the marketing of corporations like Whole Foods and The Food Network. Be a little less fetishistic about our food beliefs. Be more open-minded to the idea that perhaps food establishments or food products that you have deemed demonic are perhaps not as evil as you once thought.   

And stop doubting the fact that McDonald's cracks real eggs, every morning, in every restaurant. 

"I'll do the salmon" is stupid. I might be, too.

Elysha and I were having dinner in a restaurant last week. The couple at the table beside us was ordering their meal.

The woman said, "I'll do the salmon."

Can we all agree that this is not how regular human beings order food?

I'll "do" the salmon? 

"I'll have the salmon."
I'd like the salmon."
"Could I have the salmon, please?"
Even "I'll try the salmon," would be fine.

Not "I'll do the salmon." Never "I'll do the salmon."

Why? It just sounds stupid. Self important. Pretentious. It's the use of an action verb that has nothing to do with the actual action taking place. 

That woman would not be "doing" the salmon. She wasn't going to catch, filet, prepare, bake, or deliver the salmon to the table. Her entire involvement with the salmon was limited to saying the word "salmon" and then eating the salmon.

While someone else was "doing" the salmon, she would be sitting patiently, sipping wine, nibbling on some bread, and presumably making every attempt to avoid nitpicking tiny language choices that mean little and interest no one because that might make you sound like a stupid jerk. 

Right?

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A strong opinion on the onion volcano

I'm just going to say it:

The onion volcano that a chef creates at a traditional hibachi restaurant is seriously overrated. 

Flammable oil poured into a stack of concentric onions rings and lit on fire?

Had I done something similar to this at Scout camp (and I did), I'd be holding fire buckets for at least an hour as punishment (and I was).

Do nearly the same thing in proximity to a dozen or so patrons at a hibachi restaurant, and everyone around the grill goes nearly orgasmic.  

Are we so starved for entertainment that we find flaming oil burning from the top of an onion cone something worth of our verbal exultations? 

I really don't think so. 

The truth about red meat (and an ugly truth about me)

During our Christmas Day open house, a debate was sparked over the claim that the red juice in a piece of raw steak is blood. 

I argued that it was not blood. Everyone - and one friend in particular - disagreed. Facing a wall of opposition, I faltered. Doubted my claim. Wondered if I had been wrong about something so ubiquitous for all of my life.

Feeling uncertain, sensing defeat on the horizon, I decided to check the Internet.

I was correct. Not blood. Confirmed by many-a-website.

Apparently this is a frequently asked question. Most succinctly:  

"Meat bought from a store contains very little and in most cases no blood in the red liquid. It's actually a mixture of water and a protein called myoglobin. Myoglobin is a common protein, which has the ability to store oxygen in muscle cells."

I'm not sure if you know this about me, but I like being right a lot. I like being able to say, "I told you do" a whole lot. 

Later, after the defeated parties had left, I received a text from his spouse indicating that her husband was still mad that I was right.

His son chimed in. "Wow, I've never seen Dad be wrong before."

It was the final Christmas present of 2016, and it was a good one. Perhaps not in the true spirit of the holiday, but still, a merry Christmas indeed. 

I drink Diet Coke. Now do me a favor and shut up about it.

I drink Diet Coke. I drink a lot less than ever before, but I still drink it. 

People are exceedingly fond of telling me how unhealthy this beverage is. You cannot imagine how often I am told that this beverage is bad for me. Diet Coke drinkers can attest to this.   

I have some serious problems with this. 

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My primary problem is that people only criticize what they can see. They see the Diet Coke in my hands and open their stupid mouths.

Yet no one can see a person failing to exercise, so warnings about a sedentary lifestyle are left unsaid. As a result, on the same day that I spend 45 minutes running on a treadmill, 30 minutes walking my dog, and start my morning with 100 sit ups and 100 pushups, some sedentary jackass who hasn't elevated his heart rate since the first Bush administration admonishes me about the unhealthiness of the Diet Coke I drank at lunch. 

I hate that.  

That same person is probably walking around with a coffee laced with an artificial sweetener, the same one that can be found in Diet Coke. But because the four packets of Equal or Splenda in their coffee are invisible, coffee drinkers who consume just as much artificial sweetener as me walk the world unmolested while Diet Coke drinkers are criticized at every turn.

I hate that, too. 

The same person criticizing me for my beverage of choice probably hasn't had a yearly physical since he went to summer camp as a teenager. But since we can't see a person failing to schedule a physical, or failing to check for lumps, or failing to floss, or failing to get a mammogram or colon screening at the appropriate age, or failing to wear a seatbelt, these people get away with their unhealthy choices, and I don't.

I hate that, too. 

Diet Coke has also been on the market for 35 years. It's not exactly a healthy choice, but it's got a decent track record of not directly killing its consumers. I am not saying that it is good for me, but it ain't the poison that everyone claims it to be, either.

I exercise every single day. I don't drink alcohol. I have never smoked or used an illegal drug in my entire life. I get an annual physical. I go to the dentist twice a year. I floss daily without exception. Wear my seatbelt. Wear a bike helmet. Take a multivitamin. Meditate daily. 

And yes, I drink Diet Coke.  

So if you plan to open your stupid mouth and criticize my choice of beverage, check yourself first. Your less-than-healthy behaviors are probably just invisible to the rest of us.

Worst Halloween treat ever

When I was a kid, a woman living on our street gave out plastic bags of Chex mix on Halloween. Even though we knew that it would be Chex mix, we stopped at the house every year for the same reason that some people slow down when driving by car accidents.

Bearing witness to the horror is sometimes unavoidable.  

I did a lot of egging of houses and people in my childhood, but surprisingly, I never egged that lady's house. Perhaps even back then, I was judging people's actions based upon intent instead of results. 

However, if she had given us chocolate covered Brussel sprout, which Mark Sparrow will be giving out this Halloween, I might have burned her house down. 

But toffee-covered onions?

Hilarious. 

My son is ready for his next 15 minutes of fame

Earlier in the year, my kids were featured in a TurboTax ad after an advertising agency found a photo of them on this blog. They actually earned enough money from that gig to pay for a two night stay at Great Wolf Lodge, a place they have been wanting to visit for months.

If any advertising agencies are still paying attention, it would appear that my son would like another shot at the big time, perhaps as the new spokesperson for a restaurant chain or food company.

You have to admit that he has the right look.

11 Absolutely Essential Rules for Restaurateur and Waitstaff in Child-Friendly Restaurants

After seven years of bringing my kids to restaurants, here is the definitive list of things that we as parents want from restaurateurs, chefs, and servers as they preparing and serve our food.

1. This may seem obvious, but apparently it's not because it fails to happen more often than you'd think: SERVE THE CHILDREN FIRST. There is no point in delivering my entree if my children do not have food. Little children require attention before they begin eating. There is cutting and cajoling and blowing that needs to be done before anything is edible. It's a full time job. It's maddening. Give me their entree first so I can get to work. 

Even better, if their entrée is ready first, offer to bring it out early.   

2. We don't want our children's food to be piping hot. In fact, we would prefer it to be lukewarm, if not downright cold. Little kids are heathens who can't or won't eat hot food, and as a result, parents spend half the time blowing on their kids' food while their own dinner gets cold, too. If at all possible, have the kids' meals sitting on a counter somewhere in the kitchen while the rest of our order is completed. Give us a fighting chance in terms of eating our own food at the correct temperature.

3. We never want you to suggest items to our children. We know what we want our children to eat. We had a conversation with our kids long before you arrived to take our order. If we ask for milk, don't you dare ask if they want white or chocolate milk. Assume white, you goddamn savage. Don't even acknowledge the existence of a dessert menu unless we prompt you ourselves. It's hard enough to wrangle in our children's desires without you opening Pandora's Box to them. 

4. Crayons. You should have them. We have learned to bring our own, but only because some of you think crayons are optional. If you're operating a kid-friendly restaurant, they aren't.

If you are really good, you will have triangular crayons. The kind that won't roll off your wobbly, uneven tables. Get yourself some triangular crayons and some paper to color on, and we will love you forever. 

5. Extra napkins. We need them. We needed them the moment we arrived. 

6. Don't offer my child a balloon. Balloons are nothing more than heartaches waiting to happen when a child accidentally releases it in order to try to catch a butterfly or pick a nose. This is followed by wailing and weeping and general sadness for the next 3-900 minutes. We don't need this kind of uninvited tragedy in our lives. Balloons also make for lovely visual obstructions when driving home, increasing our chances for a vehicular catastrophe. I came to your restaurant for food. Not circus paraphernalia.

7. If you're still going to offer a balloon to our children after the previous admonition, at least have the decency to ask my children which color they want. If you think the color of the balloon doesn’t matter to a child, you have apparently never been a child.

 8. Those new computer ordering/game systems on your tables? We hate them. If we wanted a video game at the dinner table, we could've handed our kid our phone, an iPad, or any other portable gaming system. We think that actual conversation with our kids might be a good idea. You know? Socialize them at bit. Teach them to chat. Make them potentially datable in the future. At least when they are coloring, they are still talking to us. Making us pictures. Sharing crayons. Displaying their creations. You know who wants these electronic monsters on their tables? Socially inept cretins who played with Nintendo Gameboys at the dinner table as kids and never learned the value of good conversation.  

9. A footstool in the restroom is a delight. Have you ever tried to hold a child in one arm while adjusting water temperature to the single degree with the other? This might be the primary reason that Americans end up in traction. Help us out. 

10. If we ask for a "tiny amount of ice cream" for our child, give us a tiny amount, damn it. Not a little less than normal. Not three quarters of what you'd normally serve. We want less than half. We want an amount that would insult an adult. It's not because we are terrible people. We simply want to clear out sometime within the next three hours, and we know how slowly our kid eats ice cream. 

11. If we inform you that our child has a food allergy, or if our child informs you of this fact, we would like you to widen your eyes a bit, nod vigorously, and treat this news as seriously as a heart attack. Even if there is nary a peanut in your establishment, make a note of this important fact. Tell us that you understand how critical it is. Assure us that that the chef will be informed. We don't need to hear that the hot dog doesn't have peanuts in it. Just let us know that you understand the gravity of the situation and put our minds at ease.

We're not crazy. We just don't want our kid to die today.

This simple bit of grocery store advice will spare you a lifetime of regret. Give you back hours in your week. Bring sanity back to your everyday life.

I met a woman from Denmark last week. She’s been living in the United States for about a year. I asked her what she liked best about our country.

Her response (paraphrased as best as I remember) was immediate:

You're not going to believe it, but it's Stop & Shop. And all the grocery stores like it. In Denmark, we spend half of our weekend shopping for food. Bread from the baker. Meat from the butcher. Produce from the grocer. It's ridiculous. You Americans put it all under one roof. I can finish my shopping in less than an hour. It's an amazing innovation, but I still watch my American friends drive everywhere for their food. This at Whole Foods. That at Trader Joes. Stew Leonard’s. Stop & Shop. Farmer's Markets. It's ridiculous. 

I couldn't believe it. I finally found someone who agreed with me on this grocery store shopping insanity happening all around me.  

I watch my friends and family members drive all over town – seemingly everyday – for their groceries. 

Meat from Whole Foods
Produce from Stop & Shop
Coffee from the artisanal coffee roaster
Paper goods and cleaning supplies from Costco
Prepared foods from Trader Joes
Pet supplies from Petco

This is not an exaggeration. At a dinner party recently, a friend lamented that more than half of her marriage has been spent with she or her husband shopping for food.

Why?

People tell me that it's outstanding quality and low prices that they seek. This place has the best meat. That place has the best fruit. This place has the best prices on paper towels.

It's insanity. And it’s a mistake. A terrible, nonsensical mistake, for two reasons:

1. If I conducted a double-blind taste test of food quality between these stores, no person could reliably tell the difference. If I prepared a dinner of roasted chicken, asparagus sprouts, wild rice, and an apple pie for dessert using food purchased from Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, and Stew Leonard’s and asked you to tell me which one came from which store, there is no way you or anyone else could consistently tell me the difference.

It feels good to think that you are improving the quality of your family's food, but it's an improvement that exists almost entirely in your mind. 

2. More importantly, even if there was a discernible difference in quality or taste between stores, this marginal difference is not worth the time spent shuffling off to each of the stores for what my friend described as half of her married life.

This is what the woman from Denmark understands but Americans have forgotten:

Time is our most precious commodity. It should be guarded at all costs. Valued above all else. Spent with enormous care. 

There was a time when America was dotted with bakers and butchers and fishmongers and green grocers. Like Denmark, there was a time when the bulk of Saturday was spent going from shop to shop, purchasing food for the next week.

Then we built massive grocery stores and put everything under one roof, and for a time, we were happy. My mother would do all the grocery shopping in an hour at Shop-Rite while we clung to the cart and begged for sugary cereals. 

Then something changed. Americans decided that this was no longer good. We decided that the marginal improvement in the quality of our green beans was worth the hour spent driving across town in order to purchase them. We decided that even though all of the stores have organic produce, this store's organic produce must be more organic because it costs more. We decided that it's better to buy olive oil from a store that only sells olive oil (a real thing) and pickles from an artisanal pickle maker even though we never cared about pickles very much before. We decided that the more time we spent gathering the food for our meals, the better we could feel about ourselves.  

We constantly lament the lack of time that we have with our families. We bemoan our lack of sleep. We yearn for the time to read a book or watch a movie. We dream of the day when we can write a novel, learn to skateboard, take a nap, paint the living room, or simply lie down in the grass and stare at clouds.

You have that time. You spent it driving to Trader Joes because you like their crackers.

You spent it driving to Whole Foods for their salmon.

You spent it driving to Costco to save $2.86 on paper towels.

When you're lying on your deathbed, you won’t be wishing that you had eaten more flavorful green beans. You won’t be lamenting the lack of quality quinoa in your life. You won’t be regretting a lifetime bereft of farm fresh eggs.

You’ll regret the hours spent every week driving all over town in order to marginally (and probably indiscernibly) improve the quality of food in your home at the expense of time spent on better things.  

Stop the insanity.

Place time spent with friends and loved ones ahead of the desire to optimize every food item in your cupboard, refrigerator, and freezer. 

Prioritize the things you truly care about - hobbies, exercise, books, films, those project you never seem to have enough time to start - ahead of crunchier celery, more flavorful barbecue sauce,  or cheaper toilet paper. 

Accept the fact that a large amount of the difference between these products are marginal at best and likely only exist in your mind.

Time is the only real commodity in this world. It's the only real thing of value. The sooner you embrace this reality, the happier you will be.

The Ground Round still exists. Apparently for the hipster cocktail crowd.

I had no idea that the Ground Round still existed. 

It does. 30 locations in 13 sates, including Saco, Maine, where I found this one attached to a movie theater. 

I knew very little about this terribly named restaurant, but based upon what I read, I don't have much hope for its survival. 

Ground Round was well known in the 1970s and 1980s for its children’s parties, showing old time silent movies and cartoons on a big screen, a mascot named Bingo the Clown, and for passing out whole peanuts where diners were not discouraged from throwing the shells on the floor, which became one of The Ground Round’s more endearing qualities that attracted families with small children; they also often gave diners popcorn with their dinner, rather than bread. The newest incarnation of Ground Round doesn’t support such behavior and markets to the adult dining and cocktails crowd,

"Adult dining and the cocktails crowd" at the Ground Round?

Perhaps they should consider a name change if they hope to attract anyone who cares about words.