Finding a Long-Lost Relative* by Way of a Hamster

Backstory

I worked in a Wegmans bakery department throughout high school and college. One day, a coworker proclaimed that I laughed like a hamster. And a nickname was born.

I don’t remember the details, but my coworkers gifted me with an actual hamster after I had given notice. I couldn’t care for the hamster for very long…I’m assuming because of my impending move to London. A friend of mine took him/her in. Tragically, the little critter escaped from his/her cage and ended up crawling into the oven through a hole in the wall. End of hamster.

Present Day

The other day, a friend pointed me to a YouTube video of Phat Daddy Mac Dancing Hamster. As the clip ended, I noticed a link to a video called “The Story of My Hamster” on the page. “I had a hamster once,” I thought, as I clicked on the video.

OK. Right away I learn that the storyteller is (1) English and (2) we share a last name. So we’re obviously related. And (3) he is HYSTERICAL.

Dan Howell. I immediately subscribed to his YouTube channel and have been watching his videos off and on since I discovered him. He has a pal named Phil who is a riot as well. They are releasing a book this year and going on tour. Come to Boston, lads!

 

* not a fact

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Time for Dessert

I tried Indian pudding the other day. It’s a dessert native to New England, so it was fitting that I tried it at Durgin-Park, one of the city’s oldest restaurants.

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Indian pudding with vanilla ice cream on top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I loved this dessert because (A) I love molasses. Note that one needs to feel strong affection for molasses in order to enjoy this dessert. (B) It has the consistency of CoCo Wheats!!

My family ate CoCo Wheats for breakfast throughout my childhood. It’s basically chocolate grits and it’s so good.

I relived my childhood again thanks to another dessert, which I baked from scratch today.

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Behold the Chinese marble cookie. I probably ate one of these per week for at least a few years during my youth. Wegmans, our grocery store, had a “cookie club” for kids: a free cookie to enjoy while following your parents down aisle after aisle. There is still a cookie club today, but chocolate chip is the only type available.

Eventually I aged out of the program and the Chinese marble cookie disappeared from the bakery. But I never truly forgot about this cookie. I’ve thought about it off and on over the years. Something finally stuck this year and I searched for a recipe. I found this one (thanks, Monster Sweet Tooth) and made it today.

I guess I love this cookie because of the nostalgia tied to it. The two sticks of butter I used probably has something to do with it too. The flavor is not strong; there’s a little vanilla extract, almond extract, and unsweetened chocolate.

I will never be without these cookies again. What a comforting thought.

 

 

 

London Continued

 

One of the many reasons I wish I lived in London is that Londoners still read printed books and newspapers. These are MY PEOPLE.

London has at least eight major newspapers. So many people read newspapers and leave them on the Tube that the Mayor of London’s office posted this ad on the Tube:

 

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I read in one of these newspapers that Foyles bookshop would be moving to a bigger space in the coming months. A bigger space, imagine! I didn’t see one e-book reader when riding the Tube. Just printed books, magazines, and newspapers. It felt like nirvana. Unfortunately I didn’t schedule any time for bookstore browsing, but we did pop into the lovely Waterstones Piccadilly to look for Paddington Bear books.

Now I am going to switch to another love: beer. Justin and I went on two pub walks, as I mentioned in the previous post. The last pub we visited on the first walk was the Punch Tavern. Our guide told us some impressive statistic that I’ve naturally forgotten. It was something along the lines of the Punch Tavern being rated in the Top 10 of London’s 7,000 pubs. Something outrageous like that.

We had been trying beers with interesting names all night long. I skimmed the names on taps eagerly and let out something between a squeal and a screech. I pointed to this tap:

 

The tap says Shipyard

The tap says Shipyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(It was very dark in the pub.) The tap says “Shipyard.” Shipyard is a “local” brew…it’s brewed in Portland, Maine. I’ve toured the brewery a couple of times and buy it occasionally. It was the only American beer I saw on tap during our trip other than Coors Light (!). It was a proud moment.

One of the very few reasons I couldn’t live in London is that it’s ~3,500 miles away from Wegmans.

I received this postcard in the mail the other day:

 

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Two weeks from tomorrow! Squee-reech!

 

Gustatory Adventures

I indulged in my bi-/tri-annual three-course meal a few nights ago. My friends and I had dinner at a subterranean Italian restaurant that was so tiny it was almost comical. I lost count of the number of times the waitstaff bumped into my girlfriend as they squeezed by our table.

I chose a lightly breaded piece of buffalo mozzarella with greens for my first course. My second course was a scallop ravioli thing…basically a layer of thin pasta below and on top of scallops, arugula, and leeks. My friends ordered beef tenderloin with risotto and chicken parmigiana.

Artistic entrees

Artistic entrees

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dessert was panna cotta. I hadn’t been a huge panna cotta fan until I shared a positively dreamy sample a few weeks ago. This one was nice but not as dreamy.

This morning, I made a donut pilgrimage. I have ridden by Twin Donuts at least 100 times on the bus, and have always been intrigued by its vintage signage:

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I decided today would be the day I tried Twin Donuts. I had read that many of the donuts sell out by 9:00 am. So I rolled out of bed and onto the bus around 8:30. I arrived a few minutes before 9:00 and, sure enough, a few kinds were already sold out.

The place has a nice no-frills townie vibe to it. I ordered a medium coffee, a “honey dip” donut (what I refer to as a glazed ring), and a sugar cruller. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten two donuts in one sitting, but what the hell. I’m heading to England tomorrow!

I can’t remember the last time I ate a donut. I think it’s because I prefer salty breakfast foods. But I have a soft spot in my heart for this confection. I dealt with many a donut during my six years as a Wegmans grocery-store bakery clerk.

I always felt an inexplicable satisfaction working with the donuts. I mainly worked at night, which meant consolidation of the donuts throughout the shift. There were usually two full cases of donuts when I arrived, and only a few trays left by the time we closed up shop. I reckon that I’ve spent the equivalent of weeks of my life washing donut trays.

One of the great mysteries of my life in New England is the absence of my favorite donut: the white creme donut. Maybe when the new Wegmans opens 5 miles from my house next month, I will put this humble request in its suggestion box.

 

 

High School Daze

 

I’ve been visiting my high school years via memory lane this month, due to two recent and random events.

1. I went to a DIY framing shop to frame some posters a few weeks ago—one of which I had been holding onto for 20 years. I was a member of my high school chorus, and we went on a singing tour right after I graduated. It was a great experience. We had all fundraised for years, parking cars in parking lots and collecting cans and bottles from our neighbors. As we traveled around Austria and the Czech Republic, we sang in churches, we sang in public squares…we sang everywhere. We sang in a festival in Cesky Krumlov, and I brought a poster home with me.

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Days after I framed said poster, a Facebook friend posted a photo taken during the trip. Can we say spooky? I hadn’t thought about or talked about this trip in years. Maybe a decade? Who knows.

2. Around the same time that I was framing the poster, I received an e-newsletter from the Humanist Community at Harvard. Last year, the organization gave its annual award to comedian/actor Eddie Izzard, whom I love. I attended the event, having never heard of humanism. I was just there for Eddie. During the program, I learned a bit about what humanism is and was intrigued. I signed up for the email newsletter as I left the event.

I receive its e-newsletters once in a while. I read them and think that I should attend an event. But I hadn’t gotten around to it. Until…

So the e-newsletter that appeared in my inbox a few weeks ago listed a few speakers that would be speaking at upcoming Sunday afternoon programs. I skimmed the content and came to an abrupt stop at the name “Sunny Jain.” I went to high school with a Sunny Jain, I thought. I read on: he is a leader of a world fusion band. Sunny was a great drummer in high school, I thought.

I headed to Google and searched for the band’s name, Red Baraat. Looked at the band’s photo and said to myself, yep, that was the Sunny I went to high school with. I attended his talk last weekend and spoke with him afterward. It was almost impossible to believe that I hadn’t seen him in 20 YEARS. He looked the same and he was just as friendly and easygoing as I remembered him to be.

These events have made me feel (a) much older than I usually feel and (b) grateful that I had an awesome high school experience. I’m sure I’m forgetting poignant episodes of teenage angst, but 20 years on, I remember those years fondly. I had many great friends, classmates, and teachers; I loved being a member of the high school chorus and rocking the props department for the school’s theater productions with my best bud, Dais. I got a job at Wegmans so I could afford to go to Italy with the Latin club, and went on the aforementioned trip with the chorus—which led to a lifelong love-bordering-on-obsession affair with travel.

I wouldn’t call myself a wildly lucky person, but I do feel lucky to have attended R-H. Do you have fond memories of high school?

 

 

 

 

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