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Monday, September 18, 2017

Spotlight on Starburst

I have to admit that I have very few fond memories from when I was a high school student.  And you really don't need me to explain why as I've been extremely open and candid about it.  I'm at the point now where I have said what I wanted to say about it and am now focused on wanting to find some positives about that time period.

Such as taking tests at school.

Okay, I know what you're saying.  You're saying that I have completely lost the plot.  How can taking tests be considered a highlight of the school year?

Well for me, it all depended on who our teacher was.  Certainly there were some teachers that I hated getting tests by.  In particular one history teacher who had an obvious Napoleon complex who thrived on making life for his non-favourite students pure hell.  Hence the reason I will not be mentioning his name anywhere on this blog.

But if you were lucky enough to have Ms. Renusz as a teacher, you could guarantee that she'd have your back on test day - well, at least when it came to giving you a burst of sugar anyway.

During any of our history or sociology classes whenever we had a test, she would help all of us relax by giving us all candy to eat while we wrote our exam.  You can call it a placebo or you can call it a miracle candy, but I always managed to do extremely well on any test I had with her because of that.  Not so with Mr. Napoleon complex, in which I was lucky to score a 65%.

I suppose in some sense, she was sort of teaching us a bit of a lesson in the sociological manner by giving us candy in hopes that by doing so, we'd score higher on tests.  I don't know if it quite worked out that way, but I suppose she was demonstrating Pavlov's theory because whenever we had a test, we all thought we'd get candy!

Now this leads to today's topic.  It's all about the candy that Ms. Renusz used to give us the most often whenever it was test day.  It's a candy confection that was founded nearly six decades ago and has given boys and girls a guaranteed sugar high ever since.  Believe me, when I was a kid and I used to get these in my trick-or-treat bag, they were among the first candies to disappear.

I'm talking about Starburst Fruit Chews.  And as far back as I can remember, I have always loved them.  They pack so much flavour into them that each bite makes you crave more.  And they are still relatively cheap to purchase too - a standard package of 12 costs about the same as a Snickers bar.

Now, I'm sure that everyone has their own favourite flavour of Starburst.  Myself, I do love all four of the flavours in a standard pack of Starburst.  Though, I do admit that my favourite flavour is the cherry red ones.  I love anything cherry for the most part, but there's something about a cherry Starburst that makes me salivate just like Pavlov's dogs.  They are so amazing and I'm glad that they are a part of the original pack.

But they weren't always.  In fact, Starbursts weren't originally called Starbursts when they first debuted in candy stores!

Back in 1960, when the first Starburst candies were manufactured, they were actually known as Opal Fruits.  The candy was first sold in the UK and named by Peter Pfeffer (who won a contest to name the candy for a prize of five British pounds!)

And would you believe that cherry was NOT one of the original flavours?  The other three (orange, strawberry, and lemon) were present, but instead of the cherry flavour, Opal Fruits contained lime instead.  

(Okay, now I actually want to try a lime Starburst.  As far as I know, that flavour was phased out by the time I was born, as I cannot recall having a lime one.)

The candies were manufactured by the Mars company (responsible for creating Mars, Milky Way, M&M's, and Snickers chocolate confections), and though it took seven years for the fruit chews to arrive in North America, they were finally sold in American shops in 1967 - originally under the brand name of M&M Fruit Chewies.  By 1970, the name was permanently changed to Starburst.

Today, the name Starburst is used all over the world, though the UK and Ireland was using the Opal Fruits name until the late 1990s.  Over the last fifty-seven years, Starburst has experimented with brand new flavours of the popular fruit chew including Sour Flavours, Tropical Flavours, Combo Flavours, and Baja Flavours.  Some of these include raspberry, coconut, mango, passion fruit, banana, and apple, among others.

And don't think that Starburst stops at just fruit chews.  There are Starburst jellybeans, Starburst freeze pops, and even Starburst gummies (which are a weird texture but have exactly the same flavours as the original fruit chews).

Now, if you excuse me, I am going to have some red Starbursts now...but I still would love to try a lime Starburst.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

September 14, 1982

You know, I have to remember next time I feature a month long feature on food to not have it in September.  I'm telling you, there are no food related Throwback Thursday posts to be had!  Sigh...I suppose I'll just have to choose a topic at random and hope that it is interesting enough.

In the meantime, it's September 14th.  What happened throughout history on this planet?  Let's have a look...

1180 - The Battle of Ishibashiyama takes place in Japan

1814 - "The Defence of Fort McHenry" is written by Francis Scott Key - which is later used as the lyrics for "The Star-Spangled Banner"

1901 - American President William McKinley dies from gunshot wounds sustained eight days earlier by assassin Leon Czolgosz

1919 - Actress/comedian Kay Medford (d. 1980) is born in New York, New York

1917 - Russia is proclaimed a republic

1940 - The Ip Massacre takes place during World War II

1949 - Lynyrd Skynyrd member Steve Gaines (d. 1977) is born in Seneca, Missouri

1954 - Musician Barry Cowsill (d. 2005) is born in Newport, Rhode Island

1959 - Luna 2 - a Soviet probe - lands on the surface of the Moon

1960 - OPEC is founded

1969 - September 14 is selected as the first Draft Lottery date by the U.S. Selective Service

1983 - Singer Amy Winehouse (d. 2011) is born in Southgate, London, England

1984 - Joe Kittinger becomes the first person to fly a gas balloon across the Atlantic Ocean solo

1994 - Due to the Major League Baseball strike, the 1994 baseball season is officially canceled

1998 - WorldCom and MCI Communications merge to form the new company MCI WorldCom

2000 - Windows ME is released

2001 - Two vigils - one at the Washington National Cathedral and one at Ottawa's Parliament Hill - are held in memory of those who died during the September 11, 2001 attacks

2002 - Actress LaWanda Page dies at the age of 81

2006 - Actor/bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay dies at the age of 80

2009 - Actor Patrick Swayze passes away at the age of 57

2012 - Canadian actor Winston Rekert dies at the age of 63

And celebrities that are turning one year older today are the following; Zoe Caldwell, Walter Koenig, DeWitt Weaver, Joey Heatherton, Sam Neill, Ed King, Steve Berlin, Edu Manzano, Beth Nielsen Chapman, John Berry, Morten Harket, Melissa Leo, Callum Keith Rennie, Faith Ford, Michelle Stafford, Ben Garant, Craig Montoya, Mark Webber, Jeff Loomis, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Andrew Lincoln, Nas, Mike Ward, Ben Cohen, Carmen Kass, Danielle PeckAdam LambergJessica Brown Findlay, Logan Henderson, and Jesse James.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let's have a look at where we will be going to on this Throwback Thursday post. about we go 35 years into the past to September 14, 1982?

Unfortunately, my personal tales to tell of this date are rather limited.  I was only a year old at the time.  In all likelihood, I was probably playing with my Fisher-Price mobile while Dad worked and Mom watched her soap operas on television.  Her favourite was "As The World Turns".

And I can only imagine that the show might have been pre-empted when the word broke out about this person's sudden demise.  It really was quite a shock to the world, not just for who died, but how she died.

The tale takes place a day earlier, on September 13, 1982.  It was a typical day for this mother and daughter pair.  The mother, still a ravishing beauty at the age of 52, was the quintessential package of grace (pardon the pun) and class.  Her then 17-year-old daughter, Stephanie, was the beauty of her mother's eye - a woman who would later go on to become a pop star in addition to her royal title.

It had been years since Princess Grace of Monaco (also known as Grace Kelly) walked away from her Hollywood career to become the wife of Monaco's Prince Rainier, but at that time, she was considering making a brief film comeback.  She had acted in a 33-minute long independent film entitled "Rearranged" with her husband three years earlier, and after it was screened in Monaco, ABC was interested in airing the film - though it had to be at least an hour in length to make it worth their while.  It was rumoured that Princess Grace was going to approve of the deal and film some more footage that year.

Sadly, it never came to be.

While she and her daughter Stephanie were driving down a steep road on the way back to the palace in Monaco from their country home in Roc Agel, Grace lost control of the 1971 Rover P6 3500 and the car plummeted down the side of the mountain cliff (which was 120 feet tall).  Miraculously, Stephanie managed to survive the accident with some minor injuries (a fracture on her vertebra and a mild concussion).  Princess Grace was not nearly so fortunate.  She had injuries to her thorax, a fractured femur, and a severe head injury that caused severe brain damage.  After doctors told Prince Rainier that there was nothing that could be done, he made the difficult decision to pull his wife off of life support.

Princess Grace of Monaco was pronounced dead on September 14, 1982 at 10:55pm.  She left behind her husband, Princess Stephanie, and two other children, Princess Caroline, and Prince Albert.

Though the brain damage was what ultimately killed her, it is speculated that the reason why the car veered off the road was because she had suffered a stroke behind the wheel of the car and lost control.  Stephanie, to her credit, did what she could to steer the car to safety, but to no avail.

It was really a tragic end to a beautiful star.

I still remember the first time I watched Grace Kelly in a feature film.  It was about eighteen years after she died, and I was taking a film studies class in college.  One of the films we watched was the movie "Rear Window" directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  The film starred James Stewart and Grace Kelly, and was about a man who was confined to a wheelchair and watched in horror as he believed that a man who lived across from him was a murderer.  

I have to admit that it was one of my favourite films that we watched in that class, and part of the reason was that my gaze was firmly fixed on Lisa, played by Kelly.  She was, quite honestly, one of the most beautiful women that I had ever seen on film.  Her radiance made the entire film glow, and even though the film was meant to be a horror film, Grace Kelly was the type of actress that could never look bad.  She had great fashion sense, she was definitely the belle of the ball, and she had instant chemistry with almost everybody she worked with, in particular with Stewart.  On the day of Princess Grace's funeral, September 18, 1982, Stewart read a eulogy for her, which included the following...

"You know, I just love Grace Kelly.  Not because she was a princess, not because she was an actress, not because she was my friend, but because she was just about the nicest lady I had ever met.  Grace brought into my life as she brought into yours, a soft, warm light every time I saw her, and every time I saw her was a holiday of its own.  No question, I'll miss her.  We'll all miss her.  God bless you, Princess Grace."

I should also note that she didn't just shine in "Rear Window".  She was also featured in two more Hitchcock films - "Dial M for Murder" and "To Catch a Thief" (both highly recommended).  She was also featured in the film "The Country Girl", for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

And while she didn't do any acting jobs during her reign as Princess of Monaco (aside from the 1979 project she did with her husband), she took on a life of philanthropy, founding AMADE Mondiale, The Princess Grace Foundation, and hosted an annual Christmas party for local orphans.

And, here's one more bit of eerie trivia - one of the mourners who attended Princess Grace's funeral was a newly crowned princess herself - Diana, Princess of Wales.  You could say that Grace and Diana were two princesses cut from the same cloth...even right up to their deaths, as we all know that both died in car accidents.  

Monday, September 11, 2017

Comfort Foods

When it comes down to it, I think most of us have our own comfort foods.  Foods that make us feel better no matter how horrible our day was.

And that's what today's blog is all about.  Comfort foods.

I have my own stories to tell regarding comfort food, and I openly encourage all of you to share your own favourites.

And rather than come up with a simple list of my favourite comfort foods, I have some personal stories included in the mix.  After all, I have to try and keep this space entertaining!

We'll start at the very beginning, at a time in which I was really small.

One of the very first memories I have of food are plain M&M's.  I know it seems like a random memory, but it remains to this day one of my favourite candies.  I mean, I wore an M&M wristwatch for almost five years!  And, besides, the candies all had the same first initial as my name, so I told everyone who wanted some that they couldn't have any because they all belonged to me!

It didn't work, but I thought I would try it!

It might be interesting for those of you who are younger than I am to know that not all the colours of M&M's were available when I was a kid.  The only colours that we had that are still in a standard bag of M&M's were brown, green, orange, and yellow.  The red and blue ones didn't exist back then - though we had tan coloured ones.  I actually kind of miss those ones.

Anyway, M&M's were just so incredibly tasty, and whenever I went trick-or-treating, the plain M&M's were always some of the first things to disappear.  The peanut ones I didn't like as much, so I gave those ones to my sister.  Over the years, with the addition of new colours, we had new varieties of flavours including peanut butter (delicious), almond (not so much), caramel (yummy), and pretzel (surprisingly good).  In fact, one of the things that I absolutely have to do is visit one of the M&M's World stores.  They have them in Las Vegas, New York, and Orlando.  I must make this happen!

Sticking with the sweet tooth theme, chocolate chip cookies are another comfort food that I absolutely love.  And of course, fresh baked chocolate chip cookies are the most delicious of them all.  I know everyone says this about their own mother, but in my opinion, my mom makes the BEST chocolate chip cookies in the world.  Just ask anyone who has ever sampled one.  I think her secret is semi-sweet chocolate chips and the fact that she takes them out of the oven a couple of minutes before they are supposed to be done to make them extra soft.  But that could just be me.

Of course, that's not to say that I don't enjoy store bought cookies.  Oreos are a classic cookie that I still find delicious (particularly the Double Stuf ones).  And when I was a kid, one of my favourite snacks that made me feel instantly better was taking Chips Ahoy cookies and dipping them in Cool Whip. 

Let's put it this way.  I was picked on a lot because of the fact that I was the huskiest kid in the class.  So, to make myself feel better, I ate Chips Ahoy and Cool Whip.  Granted, it didn't really FIX the problem, but it was how I dealt with the pain.

And let this be a lesson to all of you.  If someone is built heavier than you, mind your business and stop picking on them.  The more people told me to lose weight, the more I wanted Cool Whip.  Fat-shaming people in hopes that they will lose weight NEVER WORKS.

But hey...I still maintain that chocolate chip cookies and Cool Whip are an amazing combo.

For that matter, another amazing combo is french fries, cheese curd, and hot gravy.  Also known as a poutine.

To me, this hot Canadian cuisine is my ultimate comfort food.  I always crave poutine when I am feeling down about things and I admit that I probably eat it more than I really should.  Back in the early 1990s, my aunt ran a chip wagon and that was where I tried my very first poutine, and I have been in love ever since.  And with so many people adding new ingredients and different flavours to poutines, there truly is an endless combo of tastes to experience.  I still remember that delicious barbecue chicken poutine that I had at PoutineFest 2016, and was bummed that they didn't return for PoutineFest 2017.  I'd have LOVED to have gotten another one.  But the popcorn chicken I had instead was just as tasty.

On that note, does anyone else find fried chicken to be a delicious comfort food too?  I'm not just talking about your run of the mill Kentucky Fried Chicken either.  I mean homemade fried chicken.  I have very rarely walked away from fried chicken, and it is a delicious comfort food.  But as delicious as hot fried chicken is, I find it even MORE delicious when it is chilled.  To me, the spices and the flavours become stronger when I eat fried chicken cold. 

And for that matter, I am one of those ones who loves eating cold pizza too.  I can't quite explain it, but cold pizza tastes really good for breakfast.  Or if you're hungover.  Not that I have any experience with that.

Another comfort food I enjoy is Chinese food.  Whenever we have a special occasion in my family, we always order from this place outside of town that makes the best chicken balls, fried rice, and barbecued pork ever.  If you're ever in Prescott, check out the Dragon Garden.  It is definitely delicious.  I don't even care that I'm hungry again one hour after eating it.  It is definitely very delicious and satisfying.

Finally, I'll end this blog off with a food combo that is unique only to me.  And chances are, it's a combo that most of you will gag upon hearing it.  Yet, it's a food combo that has given me so much comfort over the years and for a while it was the only way that I would ever eat mashed potatoes.

Some people put gravy on mashed potatoes.  Some people put salt.  But I guarantee you that I am the only one who puts mustard on mashed potatoes.

And when I say that I put mustard on them, I don't mean that I spray a whole bottle of French's mustard all over them.  I tended to use the mustard as a dipping sauce.  Again, it may sound gross to all of you, but it was delicious to me.  Seriously, try it at least once. 

So, that's what food brings me incredible joy and comfort.  What are some of yours?

One last thing...I just want to extend my support and good, positive vibes to the states of Florida and Georgia who have already or are experiencing the wrath of Hurricane Irma.  From Tallahassee to Miami and every city in between, you have my love and support.  As you come back home to assess the damage, know that we're all pulling for you.

And I also want to extend my condolences to those who lost loved ones sixteen years ago today.  We shall never forget.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

September 7, 1921

Here we are with the first Throwback Thursday post for September.  Unfortunately, this post has nothing to do with food, but it is a fascinating tale of an event that has been going on for almost a century - and despite some controversy surrounding it, it still remains a big deal.

That's your only clue for now.  It's September 7th, so let's see what else happened on this date in history...

1812 - The Battle of Borodino is fought

1863 - Fort Wagner is captured by Union troops during the American Civil War

1876 - Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang attempt to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota, but are chased away by armed residents of the town

1895 - The first rugby league football game is played in England

1901 - The Boxer Rebellion in Qing dynasty China officially ends

1911 - Guillaume Apollinaire - a French poet - is arrested after being suspected of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre

1923 - INTERPOL is founded

1925 - Fashion designer Laura Ashley (d. 1985) is born in Dowlais, Wales

1926 - Scooby-Doo voice actor Don Messick (d. 1997) is born in Buffalo, New York

1927 - The first fully electronic television system is achieved by Philo Farnsworth

1936 - Singer Buddy Holly (d. 1959) is born in Lubbock, Texas

1940 - The German Luftwaffe begins the Blitz - several cities in England, including London are bombed nightly for fifty consecutive nights

1943 - Fifty-five people die when fire sweeps through the Gulf Hotel in Houston, Texas

1945 - Japanese forces on Wake Island surrender to U.S. Marines

1957 - Singer Jermaine Stewart (d. 1997) is born in Columbus, Ohio

1963 - The Pro Football Hall of Fame is established

1964 - American rapper and N.W.A. member Eric "Eazy-E" Wright (d. 1995) is born in Compton, California

1979 - In an effort to avoid filing for bankruptcy, Chrysler asks the United States government for a $1.5 billion loan

1986 - Desmond Tutu becomes the first black man to lead the Anglican Church in South Africa

1999 - An earthquake strikes Athens, Greece, killing 143 and leaving 50,000 homeless

2003 - Singer Warren Zevon dies at the age of 56

2008 - The United States government assumes control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - two of the country's largest mortgage financing companies

2011 - Nearly the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavi Kontinental Hockey League team perish in a plane crash in Russia

2015 - Actor Dickie Moore dies at the age of 89

Now for celebrity birthdays, there's quite a lot of September 7 babies out there.  Happy birthday to Benjamin Latimore, Peter Gill, Dario Argento, Joe Klein, Susan Blakely, Gloria Gaynor, Barry Siegel, Julie Kavner, Chrissie Hynde, Morris Albert, Mark Isham, Corbin Bernsen, Michael Emerson, Mira Furlan, Michael Feinstein, Diane Warren, Toby Jones, Rudy Galindo, Tom Everett Scott, Shannon Elizabeth, Ben Hollingsworth, and Evan Rachel Wood.

Now, for today's blog entry, I thought that instead of celebrating a birthday, we would instead celebrate an anniversary.

How about a ninety-sixth anniversary?  Well, for that to happen, we'd have to set our throwback machine to the date of September 7, 1921!

Before we do this though, let's play a little bit of a game.  Don't worry if you don't know the answer.  It's all about having fun.

What do the following people all have in common? 

Heather Whitestone, Gretchen Carlson, Vanessa Williams, Phyllis George, Mary Ann Mobley, Lee Meriwether, Bess Myerson, and Margaret Gorman.

Yes, they are all women, but there's more to it than that.  Yes, in their prime, they were all considered some of the most beautiful women in the United States.  But again, that's not quite the connection.

Give up?

Well, all of the women I have listed in this group have won the Miss America Pageant!  And it was on this date 96 years ago in Atlantic City, New Jersey that the very first Miss America Pageant was held! wasn't called the Miss America Pageant when it made its debut.

The origin of the pageant actually began the year before.  In 1920, an event known as the Fall Frolic was held in Atlantic City, and it was initially meant as a way to promote the area to tourists.  A parade was launched with several hundred men pushing wicker chairs down the pathway with fair maidens seated atop of each chair.  The event proved to be a huge success, and the Businessmen's League wanted to do the event again in September 1921.  However, instead of a parade, they decided to turn it into a beauty competition.  Publications from all across the country were invited to sponsor the competition, and contestants (who largely came from the Eastern Seaboard of the United States) competed to win the title (which would not be officially called Miss America until 1922).

The winner of the very first pageant?  Well, it would be the last name that I posted in the trivia question above - 16-year-old Margaret Gorman.  Would you believe that as a prize for winning the competition, she won $100?  While a nice chunk of change for winning the pageant, it's a far cry from the college scholarships, make-up and cosmetics prizes, and fabulous fashions that the contestants win now!

And certainly the promise of college scholarships are one positive for the Miss America pageant.  There's also the chance to use the title to do good for the world and be an ambassador for the Miss America brand.  But the Miss America pageant wasn't always a brilliant shining example of good sportsmanship.  In fact, there was a lot of dirty laundry among the sashes, swimsuits and bedazzled evening gowns - especially during the pageant's early years.

Take what happened to Bess Myerson, who won the pageant in 1945.  While Myerson was the first winner from the state of New York to take the title, she was also the first Jewish-American to win.  And back in the mid-1940s, anti-semetic feelings were still a huge issue.  Myerson would later recall that she was actually unable to stay in certain hotels during her tour of the country because of her Jewish roots. 

The same thing happened to Vanessa Williams, as well as four other contestants of African-American origin who competed for the 1984 title.  She described how one contestant from North Carolina already had a cross burned on her front lawn simply for winning.  And even when Williams did win the title, she was the subject of hate mail and death threats - clearly by some insecure and hateful people, I'm sure.  Despite that, Williams stood strong and stayed true to her commitments.

Well, at least until she was forced to resign her title to Suzette Charles following that Penthouse spread.  Oh well...her film and music career certainly softened that blow quite a bit, and today she's doing just fine.

Actually, quite a few contestants went on to do great things after they served as Miss America.  Phyllis George, winner of the 1971 contest, went on to become First Lady of Kentucky and became a broadcaster.  Gretchen Carlson (above picture), the winner of 1989's pageant became a journalist and became quite the figure in 2016 when she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against FOX News CEO Roger Ailes.  And Heather Whitestone made history in the pageant by becoming the first deaf contestant to win the title for the 1995 contest.  Whitestone has since gone on to write several books.

Oh, and a couple of Miss America contestants became actresses after the crown was handed off.  Mary Ann Mobley, Miss America 1959, would become Philip Drummond's wife on "Diff'rent Strokes" in the final season of the show.  And do I need to remind you that Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955 (above photo), played the role of Catwoman on the 1960s television series "Batman"? 

And, of course, I've already mentioned Vanessa Williams - who has starred in "Ugly Betty", "Daytime Divas", "Soul Food", and many other film and television projects. 

But to all began with Margaret Gorman - the very first Miss America - crowned 96 years ago today.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

What's For Lunch at YOUR School?

Well, it's Tuesday, September 5th, and for a lot of us, we know what that day means.

It's Back to School time!  Well, for most of Canada and the northern part of the U.S.A., that is.

And, let's face it, for parents of kids who are going back to school, there can be a plethora of emotions going through their heads.  If your child is entering kindergarten, you know that it may be a sad day as you realize that your children are growing up.  By the time they enter high school, you might just be thrilled to finally get rid of them for the next nine and a half months!

For most parents, back to school shopping usually includes buying eight hundred packages of lined paper, several packages of pens (one in EVERY colour), and finding just the right binder or Trapper Keeper that looks unique enough that no other child would have it, but isn't so weird that it makes your kid stand out for all the wrong reasons.

But that's just part of the whole back to school experience.  Because I'm sure that most of you probably have a budget for preparing the perfect school lunch.'s subject in the blog is all about school lunch memories.  And believe me, I do have a few memories to share, even though I was in a bit of a unique situation.

For starters, I didn't live that far from school - my elementary school was actually a couple of blocks away from the place where I lived.  That meant that for most occasions, I just went home for lunch.  This was both good and bad for me in many ways.  It was good because I was almost guaranteed to have a hot lunch every time I went home...but it was bad because I didn't get to hang around the other kids as much as I would have liked.

(Which ultimately ended up becoming a positive as a lot of them weren't very nice anyway, but I digress.)

There were some rare occasions in which I did have to stay at school for lunch though.  Whenever we signed up for sports and games (like volleyball and broomball), the games were always held during lunch hour, so anyone who played had to eat lunch in the gym.  Also there was that time that an eclipse took place and they kept us all in school to prevent us from going blind. 

Whatever the case, there were a few occasions in which I stayed for lunch.  And any kid who ever ate lunch at school knew that the first step in preparing the perfect lunch was to have the perfect lunch box.

You see, back in my day, we didn't have those fancy, stylish looking lunch bags with the velcro strips for closing and opening and the inner linings that kept your drinks hot or cold.  Nope.  We had those plastic gigantic lunch boxes that had the Thermos attached to them with our favourite cartoon heroes or television shows decorating them. 

I can still remember my lunchbox.  It was a bright, neon orange box that had the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on it.  It definitely stood out in a crowd, as most of the other boys used Transformers, G.I. Joe, or Star Wars lunchboxes.  The girls mostly stuck with Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, or Muppet Babies.

Now, what I actually brought for can be deemed quite controversial nowadays, but back in the 1980s and early 1990s, it was considered a delicacy.  These days you wouldn't even think to bring a peanut butter sandwich to school because of all the allergy concerns, but back when I was a kid, all I ate was peanut butter sandwiches.  I was a fussy child back then and didn't really eat too much lunch meat.  Thankfully I grew out of that phase!

Of course, at my school, there was a small canteen that was available in the second floor of the school.  In fact, it was always in Room 24 - the same class where we learned French.  Every lunch period, the classroom would offer us a few things that we could add to our lunches if we wanted.  There was 2% milk, chocolate milk, lemonade, bags of potato chips, and bags of Cheetos that we could buy - and at that time, I want to say that each item was fifty cents.  I could be wrong though.  I didn't really go to the canteen that much, but I do admit that whenever they had lemonade, I always bought like three of them!

(What can I say?  Playing volleyball made me thirsty!)

Now, this set up remained throughout my school from grade one to grade eight.  Once we graduated into high school, we had our very own school cafeteria that served lunches to all of the students who brought lunch money with them - well, all of them except me.  In my years of high school, I never stayed for lunch once!  And that's because I conveniently lived right next door to my high school.  Of course, given how hard a time I had in school those years, part of it was a curse.  But hey, at least I didn't have to spend my lunch hour with them!

Oh, wait.  Correction.  In high school, I didn't get an hour lunch.  We got 48 minutes.  Yes, I went to a weird school.

Now, as a result of never eating lunch at school, I never really got a chance to sample the daily offerings that our school had to offer.  Well, okay, I did get to have a few cookies because they usually baked enough of them for us to have some during spare periods after lunch, but that was really it.  And, might I add that those cookies were fantastic?

From what I heard from other kids who went to my school, we were one of the lucky ones who actually had somewhat decent food in there.  There are three high schools in my area, and two of them were in the area that I dubbed "Fast Food Alley" - meaning that they were located just steps away from at least one fast food outlet.  One was right next door to Dairy Queen and the other one was just across the street from McDonald's and Subway.

Since my school didn't have any restaurants nearby (except for the delightful little nook known as "Pizza Pro" which made the most delicious poutines), the cafeteria served quite a few teen friendly dishes including pizza, hoagies, and macaroni and cheese.

Oh, and I think every Thursday there was a build your own nacho bar which I think most of the students who ate there agree was the best of the days.  Again, it's only speculation as I never ate at the school cafeteria, but that's what I have heard.

Would I actually trade the days of going home for lunch just to eat at the school cafeteria though?  Probably not!  Again, homemade hot lunches that were delicious and prepared with love versus nachos that were sitting out for at least an hour before lunch actually started?  Yeah, no brainer.  Still, it might have been cool to have sampled the school grub at least once.

But now I turn the floor over to you.  What are some of your school lunch memories?  What did your lunchbox look like?  What did your school serve for lunch?  And did you manage to keep it down throughout fifth and sixth periods?

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Corner Store Memories

Greetings, one and all!  And welcome to a special theme month in A POP CULTURE ADDICT'S GUIDE TO LIFE!

Now, this doesn't really mean that I will be doing a blog every day this month.  But what it does mean is that most of these blogs will be based on a specific topic.

That topic is food.

I have to admit, I came up with the idea to do a month of food topics for a couple of reasons.  One, it will serve as a lead up to Thanksgiving (well, in Canada, anyway - since it's in October), and two, my blog entry on food disappointments generated a lot of positive feedback.  So, I thought I'd try doing food themed blogs for now and see how it goes.  As always, I'll be sharing some pop culture ties to each blog - and if possible, I'll try to make my Throwback Thursday posts food themed as well.  If not, so be it. 

Either way, I hope this will help me get my writing mojo back for September, and I think that we're going to have a lot of fun.  I may even share some recipes from the various cookbooks in my kitchen and the smorgasbord of food blogs all over the Internet.

For now, I thought that I would select a subject that I think all of us can relate to.

Neighbourhood Corner Stores.

You all know the ones that I mean.  The little Mom and Pop shops that appear in residential neighbourhoods that sell a little bit of everything.  For adults, it was a convenient place to grab a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.  

And yes...I did make you remember!

But for kids, it was the perfect place to satisfy your sweet tooth and quench your thirst.  It was a place that served as a sort of hangout for preteens and little kids - a place where we could go and blow our entire allowances on penny candies, bubble gum, fruit drinks, and other confections.

(And yes...I am old enough to remember when there were still some candies that were worth one cent.)

Sadly in my hometown, some of my favourite places to go shopping for treats as a child are no longer open for business.  Some of them transitioned into other businesses, some of them closed up, and in some cases, they were even torn down.  But at least I have the memories of these places, and I hope that by sharing some of my own experiences, I will encourage all of you to share your own.

I'm in the business of building positive memories here.

My earliest memory of a neighbourhood convenience store was when I was three or four years old.  At that time, I lived really close to the downtown core of my hometown, and on the opposite corner of the street that I lived on was a place that was called the Old Fashioned Cornerstore.  It was a beautiful building that now houses a coffeehouse, but back in those days it was a genuine penny candy emporium and ice cream parlour.  I sampled loads of goodies there including sour keys, cinnamon gumballs, and I had my first ever taste of grape ice cream.  Interesting flavour, it was.

Down the street was another place called Hengeveld's, which at that time was located very close to where my grandparents lived.  I got to know everybody quite well at that store, and according to my parents, I became friends with the guy who used to deliver the bread to the store.  I wish I could say that I am still friends with him, but I haven't seen him since the 1980s ended.  Still, one thing I remember most about that store was that I always bought comic books there, and I would frequently grab a Surprise Bag once in a while.  Surprise Bags were cool because you never knew what you would get until you opened it up.  There was always some sort of candy or gum inside, a small toy, and maybe an activity book or a colouring book inside.  The fate of Hengeveld's now is that it has since closed up shop and has converted itself into a barber shop and tattoo parlour.  Quite the transition, isn't it?

As I grew older and became an elementary school student, I found out pretty quickly that there were three stores in the area that the kids in my school frequented.  There was the Quickie store - the only place that is still open - but it was way too far a walk for me.  There was a place called the Kozy Korner that many of the older kids liked to hang out at, and I admit that I went there a few times.  After all, they had some candies that no other store in the area had.

And then there was the third store.  A little store that was appropriately called "The Little Store".  It has since been torn down as a result of the hospital expansion, but back in the days in which it was open, it was a haven of all things that kids loved.  Perhaps the highlight of the store was the Slush Puppie machine which saw a LOT of action during the months of April and October.  The best part was that the owner didn't mind mixing up different flavours of the Slush Puppies.  If you wanted banana and lime mixed together, you got banana and lime mixed together.  Personally, I was more of a lime and grape guy, but that was just me, I suppose.

And I can't forget about a little corner store called Darling's.  It's now a hair salon, but when I was a kid it was the primary place where I rented video games and bought video game magazines.  Oh, and if they had Lifesavers lollipops, I bought like six of them at a time.  I loved those things.

Darling's is also the spot where I took on a bunch of high school students in a Bubble Bobble duel.  And it was where I came out victorious!  That was such a fun game to play too - I was sort of heartbroken when they replaced it with Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.

Finally, I can't close off this blog without making a very special mention to Mac's Convenience Stores.  Many of them are still around today, while some of them have transformed into Becker's stores.  But one memory that I have of that store comes from a particular contest that I won as a little three year old.  Apparently, I was also a very sick three year old, as my mom explained to me that I was battling a severe bacterial infection that lasted for a couple of months.  It was definitely not a great time.  But what helped me cope a little better was that I ended up winning this gigantic cat toy!

Seriously, this cat is like four feet tall.  I don't quite remember how I won it...I think my mom filled out a ballot for me.   But it was definitely a highlight and likely helped me along in my road to recovery.  This cat is also very special because it wasn't long after that when the company changed its mascot from a cat to an owl. 

So, those are some of my favourite convenience store memories.  Do you have any to share?  I'd love to hear all about them!